Sunday, November 30, 2008

Obama campaign and social media

Information from the Politics Online site about how the Barack Obama presidential campaign made use of social media to build its victorious momentum:

The Washington Post reports that in his 21 months of campaigning, Obama raised half a billion online. Equally impressive is Obama's online popularity within social networking sites.

Here is a breakdown of Obama's online operations stats:

  • 3 million donors made a total of 6.5 million donations online adding up to more than $500 million.
  • Of those 6.5 million donations, 6 million were in increments of $100 or less.
  • Obama's e-mail list contains upwards of 13 million addresses.
  • In total, more than 1 billion e-mails landed in inboxes....To put this in perspective, John Kerry's '04 campaign collected 3 million email addresses and Howard Dean had roughly 600,000 email addresses on his list.
  • A million people signed up for Obama's text- messaging program.
  • 2 million profiles were created on Obama's social network, in addition to the 5 million supporters in other social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Copyright industry working with AFP against Internet Cafe

One of the interesting things about this story is the fact that the Australian Federal Police acted against this Sydney Internet cafe for copyright infringement after "an investigation by the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) and Music Industry Piracy Investigations (MIPI)." Who is the law here is an interesting question.

Australian Internet cafe pleads guilty to copyright infringement

Late last year, on the 18th of December 2007, the Interville Technology Internet cafe at 391 Pitt St Sydney was raided by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) following a long term investigation by the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) and Music Industry Piracy Investigations (MIPI).

AFACT (Word doc link) and MIPI says their investigations “confirmed that the café was charging hourly fees for customers to view infringing movies and music and selling storage devices with capacities of up to 60GBs (capable of storing over 40 movies and hundreds of music files) which customers were using to copy infringing music, movies and TV shows.”

It now transpires that on the 25th of November, 2008, at the Downing Centre Local Court, Sydney, Interville Technology Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to 40 charges of copyright infringement.

Magistrate McIntosh decided to impose a strong fine totalling $82,000 on the company plus court costs and ordered that the computer terminals and servers seized during the raid were to be forfeited.

There were 60 computers and three servers in the cafe with a combined 8 terabytes of storage holding “hundreds of thousands of infringing movie, TV and music titles. Seized movie titles included titles not yet released in Australian cinemas including “American Gangster”, “National Treasure Book of Secrets” while numerous music tracks from over 150 well-known artists such as 50 Cent, Alicia Keys and Justin Timberlake.”

Neil Gane, the AFACT Director of Operations said at the conclusion of the case that: “The conviction and sentencing marks the successful conclusion of excellent work by the Australian Federal Police.

“It is satisfying to see sentences handed down which properly reflect the damage operations like this do to rights owners and the 50,000 Australians working in the film and TV industries. The sentences will send a clear message to all Internet café owners engaged in commercial scale copyright infringement – you will be caught and you risk severe penalties,” continued Gane.

Sabiene Heindl, the General Manager MIPI said: “This is a fantastic result for a significant case in the fight against music piracy. For the first time, an Internet café has been targeted and justly reprimanded for its blatant facilitation of widespread copyright infringement for commercial gain.”

AFACT is now taking an Australian ISP, iiNet, to court for allegedly not acting on AFACT evidence that iiNet users are engaged in piracy, with iiNet promising to vigorously defend itself in the courts.

The MD of Australia’s largest ISP, Justin Milne of Telstra BigPond, has shared his views on ISPs and piracy following AFACT’s action.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Conroy's Conundrum

In the various analyses of the first year of the Rudd Labor government, a common observation was that it has been relatively free of accidents, cries and scandals, as compared with the first year of the Hawke and Howard governments. That may be about to change very quickly with the tendering process for the National Broadband Network.

TELSTRA has set a challenge for the Rudd Government, refusing to put in a detailed bid for the $10billion plus national broadband network unless it gets a range of guarantees, including that there be no further split of its operations.

But as the Government has refused to give any such guarantees ahead of tenders closing for the project yesterday, the telecommunications giant is effectively asking the Government to force tough regulations on it or give in to its demands.

A range of other bidders, led by Singtel Optus, have lodged bids for either national or state-based networks as part of a competitive process started in April. Optus said a new entity called Optus Networks Investments, backed by the Terria consortium of Telstra's rivals, had lodged a bid for the national network, alongside Acacia Australia and Axia NetMedia.

The Government has promised to commit $4.7billion -- its biggest single election commitment after tax cuts -- as a subsidy to get top-grade broadband services to regional and rural areas.

In a continuation of its anti-regulation stance, Telstra lodged a "non-compliant" bid in the form of a 12-page letter to Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, from its chairman Donald McGauchie. Optus Networks Investments' proposal is said to run close to 1000 pages.

"We need a clear statement on separation or we can't bid, it is an uneconomic proposition if we don't get that," Mr McGauchie told The Australian.

Several issues are set in play by Telstra's desultory response to the NBN tender process, and its demands being palced on the Rudd government as a condition for being involved. The NBN is difficult to deliver without Telstra, and the Government would have established a very powerful corporate enemy. Moreover, Opposition communications spokesman Senator Nick Minchin is one of the wiliest players, and will use this opportunity to maximise damage on the government.

On the other hand, to accept Telstra's demands now leaves the Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, open to the charge that he is a puppet of Telstra, as well as the possibility of legal action by the Optus-led consortium, who have put forward a proper bid document of 1,000 pages, as compared to the 12-page letter from Telstra.

Clearly what the Rudd government were seeking was a clean and transparent process for awarding the NBN tender. What they now have is a clear-cut political power play, of the sort that have more commonly characterised Australian media policy, during both the Hawke-Keating years and the Howard years. The issues are accentuated precisely by the dual public/private ownership status of Telstra, and its role as both the core infrastructure provider and a competing service provider.

What looms is a protracted and difficult dispute, where it will be hard for the Government to get an early win. It marks a moment where the preference for administrative solutions has come hard up against the "friends and enemies" approach to media polciy that has more commonly prevailed in Australian history.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Big Film and TV interests pursue iiNet for copyright infringement

This from Kim Wetherall's LawFont blog:

The Case Against iiNet

As I noted yesterday, a legal action has been launched by some 34 applicants from the television and movie industry against Australian ISP iiNet, alleging that iiNet has authorised copyright infringement by failing to take (adequate) steps to prevent sharing and downloading of films and TV shows via protocols like BitTorrent. A kind little birdie has sent me a copy of the Statement of Claim, so I have a bit more info. It makes for some interesting reading.

There are a number of interesting questions at the heart of this potential case:

  1. What, exactly, are ISPs required to do when they become aware that users are potentially infringing copyright? Do they have to terminate people alleged by the movie industry to be ‘repeat infringers’?
  2. How much responsibility will Australian courts put on intermediaries for ‘doing something’ about copyright infringement? So far, Australian courts have been pretty ready to impose liability on people they thought were ‘profiting from copyright wrongdoing’ - Kazaa with its P2P network, or Cooper with his ‘mp3sforfree’ website and his ISP host. What about others whose nefarious or infringing purpose is not so obvious? What, in other words, of more ‘ordinary’ service providers?
  3. When the legislation requires that ISPs, in order to ‘gain absolution’ or immunity from damages, should ‘adopt and reasonably implement a policy that provides for termination, in appropriate circumstances, of the accounts of repeat infringers’ - what does that really mean? Is it sufficient to terminate only those found liable for infringement? Is the court allowed to determine whether the policy is real or sufficient?

Politically, there are some equally interesting questions. Will the Internet industry respond to the lawsuit by looking for a settlement deal that goes some way towards creating the kind of ‘notice and terminate’ system that copyright owners have been pressing for? Will the government’s past approach of protecting ISPs from liability in order to further the digital economy hold? Or, has the tide turned: are we now in a climate where the courts, like the government, decide to hold ISPs to a higher standard, just as the government is trying to get ISPs to engage more actively in filtering adult content? And is this all just an attempt to promote a certain filter that purports to filter both porn and copyright infringement…?

Further analysis of the case at Larvatus Prodeo and Nic Suzor's blog.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

1.5 billion Internet users

It is now estimated that worldwide there are 1.5 billion Internet users, accounting for 22.43% of the world's population.

It is also estimated that there are 4 billion mobile phone users worldwide.

Friday, November 21, 2008

User-generated Content and SBS

User-Generated Content and SBS

User-Generated Content and SBS
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: sbs ugc)

Presentation given by Georgie McClean, Heidi Lenffer and I on user-generated content strategies and issues for the Special Broadcasting Service. It is based on the research undertaken by Heidi Lenffer as part of an MA (Research) at QUT.

Paper presented to Centre for Media and Communications Law annual conference, "Media, Communications and Public Speech", University of Melbourne, 20-21 November, 2008.

SlideShare Link

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Big living Brandis

Who said being Minister for the Arts and Sport wasn't fun?

SENATOR George Brandis spent an average of $8000 of taxpayers' money a week on travel and entertainment in the last six months of 2007, figures show.
The Brisbane-based Liberal senator ran up a travel bill of more than $230,000 between July and December last year while he was arts and sports minister in the former coalition government, the Seven Network reported.

His spending almost matched former prime minister John Howard and then opposition leader Kevin Rudd, who spent $290,000 each while campaigning across Australia for the 2007 election.

Senator Brandis spent $72,000 on domestic airfares, $22,000 on accommodation and travel, $26,000 on Commcar costs and $62,000 on a seven-day trip to the US and Canada.

In a statement to Seven, Senator Brandis said his overseas trip was approved by the prime minister and was within ministerial and departmental guidelines.
One issue Malcolm Turnbull has to deal with is having a Shadow Cabinet who too often resemble slightly aging student politicians. Brandis' hijinks in what is a pretty junior ministry suggest teh problem set in during the late stages of the Howard years.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I have a Wikipedia entry

While Googling for any new information about myself on the Internet (in case I want to work for Barack Obama - see earlier post), I came across my own Wikipedia entry.

As I have no idea how it got there, I am quite chuffed, although I wonder if it is an accurate statement of my body of work:

Terry Flew is an associate Professor of Media and Communication in the Creative Industries faculty at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia. He has authored the books Games: Technology, Industry, Culture (2005) and Understanding Global Media (2007). He is primarily known for these publications, which centre on a new participatory culture that has risen in the media sphere. This book provides an overview of global media production and circulation using the perspectives of politics, political economy, media and cultural studies, and creative industries. Terry Flew also explores how the industries and their audiences function on an international scale.
Now for the next question: do I edit my own entry?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Take down those stupid Facebook photos if you want to work for Barack Obama

From Personal Democracy Forum:

Uh-oh. The day has finally arrived, when future White House employees must ask themselves, "Is that Facebook wall post still up where I ______?" "Did X tag me in that photo on Flickr, or will people not recognize me?" The possibilities are endless, and frankly, absurd.

But, as the New York Times reported this morning, the incoming Obama Administration is asking applicants such questions as "if you have ever sent an electronic communication, including but limited to an email, text message or instant message, that could suggest a conflict of interest or be a possible source of embarrassment to you, your family, or the President-Elect if it were made public," and "please provide the URL address of any websites that feature you in either a personal or professional capacity (e.g., Facebook, My Space [sic], etc.)."

For more read here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bad news from China?

If you needed confirmation that China is not 'uncoupled' from the US economy, as it was once optimistically put, and that there will be knock-on effects from the US economy to China's economy to Australia, this piece by Don Lee from the LA Times would be of interest:

Shaoxing, China -- First, Tao Shoulong burned his company's financial books. He then sold his private golf club memberships and disposed of his Mercedes S-600 sedan.

And then he was gone.

And just like that, China's biggest textile dye operation -- with four factories, a campus the size of 31 football fields, 4,000 workers and debts of at least $200 million -- was history.

"We're pretty much dead now," said Mao Youming, one of 300 suppliers stiffed last month by Tao's company, Jianglong Group. Lighting a cigarette in a coffee shop here, the 38-year-old spoke calmly about the bleak future of his industrial gas business. Tao owed him $850,000, Mao said, about 60% of his annual revenue. "We cannot pay our workers' salaries. We are about to be bankrupt too."

Government statistics show that 67,000 factories of various sizes were shuttered in China in the first half of the year, said Cao Jianhai, an industrial economics researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. By year's end, he said, more than 100,000 plants will have closed.

As more factories in China shut down, stories of bosses running away have become familiar, multiplying the damage of China's worst manufacturing decline in at least a decade.

Even before the global financial crisis, factory owners in China were straining under soaring labor and raw-material costs, an appreciating Chinese currency and tougher legal, tax and environmental requirements. When the credit crunch took hold -- prompting Western businesses to slash orders for Chinese goods and bankers to curtail loans to factories -- many operations were pushed over the edge.

China's engine slows

China's industrial decline is a main factor in the sharp economic slowdown of late. The nation's gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 9% in the third quarter, the lowest in five years and worse than what analysts had forecast. China's GDP expanded 11.9% last year. Now, economists worry that the one big remaining engine of global growth is rapidly losing steam.
For more read here.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Who did Iggy Pop vote for in the U.S. election?

"I've been waiting for someone who could communicate the joys of liberty as compared to the joys of equality", Iggy Pop in Zigzag magazine, on why he supported Ronald Reagan, quoted in Joe Ambrose, Gimme Danger: The Life and Times of Iggy Pop, Omnibus Books, 2004, p. 199.

James Osterhaus (Iggy Pop) may not be history's most unlikely Republican supporter. He gets stiff competition from Eldridge Cleaver, co-founder of the Black Panthers, exiled from the U.S. in Algeria and Cuba during the 1970s, and Republican convert from the late 1970s to his death in 1998.

But its a reminder of not only how powerful the Republican brand of conservatism was in the US, and how far its fallen now, to think that Ronald Reagan's political tent was big enough for both Iggy Pop and Eldridge Clever to get inside it.

A link sent to me by The Running Mule made it clear how Barack Obama's win last Tuesday marks the end point of a 40-year conservative dynasty that began with Nixon, peaked with Reagan, and ended with Bush the Second and the crazy gang of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove, "Heck of a job Browny" (who was that guy who managed the Hurricane Katrina events?), and Henry "The Gravedigger" Paulsen. Interestingly, John McCain was always the enemy to these guys, but when he put forward Sarah Palin as his Vice-Presidential nominee and started going on and on about socialism, Bill Ayres, Joe the Plumber, Obama the Hollywood Celebrity, the Democratic threesome etc. etc. the gig was up.

The Running Mule provides a link to P.J. O'Rourke in The Weekly Standard. Well worth a look, although I feel that, like the Repubs, O'Rourke's humour ain't quite what it used to be back in the day. His line on why Iggy Pop and Eldridge Cleaver were attracted to Reagan-era conservatism is, however, a good one:

Conservatives generally tend to be funnier in their private lives because of the hypocrisy factor. I am of course a big fan of hypocrisy, because hypocrites at least know the difference between right and wrong--at any rate, know enough to lie about what they're doing. Liberals are not nearly as hypocritical as conservatives, because they don't know the difference between right and wrong. In public policy liberals are always much more hilarious. Liberals are always proposing perfectly insane ideas, laws that will make everybody happy, laws that will make everything right, make us live forever, and all be rich. Conservatives are never that stupid.
For O'Rourke's piece "We Blew It", read here.

Late news: apparently P. J. O'Rourke has cancer. It is the end of an era.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

End of the Road to Surfdom

Today was the last post for Tim Dunlop and The Road to Surfdom. One of the original Australian political bloggers, who ran the Blogocracy site on for two years, I have provided his final post on the site below. Also check out Mark Bahnisch's commentary on Larvatus Prodeo, and his thoughts on the future of online independent media.

It was two years ago today that I (more or less) stopped writing on this blog and took up the gig with News Ltd doing Blogocracy. As most of you would know, I quit that work a few weeks ago so I could work on some other stuff. That other stuff is going very well, and it makes me realise that, at least for the time being, I don’t have the time or wherewithal to keep this joint going. With Ken moving on as well — despite the input from the other terrific writers who help out here — I’ve decided to put Surfdom into hiatus. This is not to say that I won’t come back to blogging in some form at some point in the future, but for now, Surfdom is closed.

As difficult as this decision is, there is nonetheless something apt about the timing. The blog began life not long after I moved to the US at the end of 2001. It got up and running in the strange twilight period between the events of September 11 and the disastrous decision by the Bush Administration to launch a war in Iraq in March 2003. With the election of Barack Obama to the Presidency that period has come to something of a natural and symbolic end and thus, for me at least, some of the central motivations for this sort of writing has dissipated. This blog, and others like it, have seen off the end of the Howard Government and the Bush Administration and on that score I couldn’t be happier.

This is not to say that there isn’t now a role for the sort of work blogs do, only that I, personally, am not in position to take on that sort of commitment at the moment. In fact, the need, especially in Australia, for wise independent voices to discuss and dissect the great issues of the day is as great as it has ever been and so that’s what I want to go out with: a plea for people to support — genuinely support — independent media in this country.

The fact is, Australia’s mainstream media is moribund. Although there are great journalists and other contributors out there, the institution itself is stuck in a hopeless, self-serving, tenured cul-de-sac and is failing in its job to properly inform, discuss, debate and entertain. Not to mention, reinvent itself. The form is dominated by a handful of insiders who have grown so content with their own lot that they are immune to sensible criticism and lack the self-awareness to reassess what it is they are doing. They are supported in this self-satisfied loop by a political class that is happy to exploit the status quo, feeding them leaks and other tidbits to keep the whole charade ticking over in such a way that nothing really changes.

The narratives, the memes, the discussions of our political and social life are set in concrete and endlessly recycle. We have learned to accept the daily, largely manufactured, controversies of political and social discussion in lieu of genuine examination. The same voices — and there are only about 20 of them — continue to define what is important or useful or worthy of discussion and the few organs of the mainstream media keep churning them out. Their lack seriousness is only matched by their lack of courage.

To say that a fully-functioning independent media is the answer is glib. It is not that easy. And yet, there it is. The idea is not for such independent groups to replace the mainstream media but merely to get them to lift their game, to lead by example.

The situation as it currently stands is not completely hopeless. For all their failings, there are some new voices out there trying to make a difference. Some of them are thinktanks, some of them of grassroots organisations, some of them are blogs or other forms of online media. None of them has really “broken through” in the way that is necessary to make a real difference, but they are a start.

At the end of the day, though, they will only succeed if, firstly, they can organise themselves and offer a genuinely professional product and, secondly, if we-the-people properly support them. That means not just reading them and cheering them on but, by and large, financing them. And I don’t mean a few bucks in a tip jar once a year: I mean serious ongoing financial support. For as long as I have been blogging I’ve been hearing people tell me how wonderful blogs and other new media are and how much they enjoy and appreciate them. But I have very rarely seen those fine words and sentiments backed up with hard cash. It is about time it was.

I don’t mean you should toss a whole lot of cash at some guy with a blog. But at some point, enough of you are going to have to take a bit of a risk and invest a decent sum in this or that site so that they can genuinely operate as independent media. And the online media itself is going to have to get organised to the point where they can offer a product that is going to attract that sort of contribution, as well as money from other sources, advertising, or whatever.

Until this happens, stop whinging about the mainstream media. Spare me the heartfelt cries of how much you love this blog or that blog and just accept the fact that if you really want a functioning independent media you are going to have to pay for it. It’s that friggin simple.

As I say, Surfdom is now officially closed. We’ll go into archive mode as soon as Jon-the-tech-guy can organise it. It has been an absolute pleasure running this place for the past seven-odd years and it is hard to walk away. Thanks a million to all those who have read and contributed comments over that time.

Please don’t read the above the plea as some sort ingratitude for the fabulous support given to me personally here at Surfdom and over at Blogocracy. It isn’t. I luvs yers all. I just want to see the blogosphere and independent online media develop into something more than it is, to move into a new and more vibrant phase. To offer some genuine competition to the ingrown toenail that is the mainstream media.

The criticisms above are directed at myself as much as they are at anyone else. I just really felt, as I closed this place down and ponder what will happen next, that someone had to give us all a bit of stern talking to, to maybe encourage people to think about what needs to be done and what we can do. Citizenship matters and it is too important than to leave in the hands of the cynical gatekeepers who currently decide what is important in this democracy of ours.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Satire and the '08 Campaign

Delighted to see Barack Obama win the US Presidential election. This is an election campaign that will be studied at a lot of levels for a long time. In fact, Barack Obama fought two tough campaigns, with the Democratic Party nomination against the wily and well-organised Clintons preceding the Presidential battle. At a first pinch, some of the lessons I would take form it for any future political campaigns are:
  • The use of the Internet and particularly Web 2.0 technologies;
  • The opportunity presented by small donation rather than simply trying to woo big corporate fundraisers;
  • The rise of Silicon Valley as big backers of the Obama campaign from the word go;
  • The cleanness and consistency of the Obama campaign throughout: the 'Change' mesage, the look and feel, the focus of the rallies, the get out the vote campaign etc.
  • The wholesale shift of conservative intellectuals, libertarians and Republican moderates like Colin Powell from the Republican camp, and the disappearance of the Reagan coalition into a far-right, small town, Sarah Palin-loving anti-intellectual rump;
  • What it means for Black politics in America to have as the first Black President who is not from the usual camps.
But not to focus on all of that now, Joe Queenan in The Guardian has raised the issue of the role of satire in the '08 campaign. I think he gives too much to Tina Fey's Sarah Palin impression and to SNL (a show that has otherwise been off the pace for a long time), and not enough to Jon Stewart and the brilliant Stephen Colbert. One change from the '04 campaign was that it had become impossible to watch Bill O'Reilly and his ilk with their ridiculous Talking Points after Colbert's "Word", which directly parodies such nonsense.

Anyway, here's Queenan's point. I wonder what some of these folk will do as GW Bush and the other comedy show fodder leave the building once and for all.

In polls conducted immediately after the Republican national convention in September, John McCain finally overtook Barack Obama and seemed poised to win a trip to the White House this month. He had rallied the party base. He had invigorated the independents. He had won the kudos of the Great Unwashed. And he had firmly established himself in the consciousness of his countrymen as that quintessential American icon: the lone wolf, he who marches to the beat of a different drummer, the maverick.

Then, something truly astonishing occurred. Tina Fey, the lantern-jawed alumnus of Saturday Night Live, and creator of the critically esteemed sitcom 30 Rock, made a return visit to Saturday Night Live and began doing a dead-on impersonation of McCain's gee-whiz, aw-shucks running mate, Sarah Palin. Her send-up of the intellectually anaemic Alaskan was seen by countless millions on YouTube and soon became the No1 topic of conversation in America. Almost overnight, McCain's poll numbers began to drop precipitously, as the arrayed forces of electronically transmitted satire rained down on the GOP ticket. Before you knew it, Palin was viewed as a clown, a dolt, a joke, and McCain was condemned as a nitwit for selecting her as his running mate. For the first time in American history, a presidential candidate had seen all his hopes and dreams undone by the sheer emotive power of naked, unalloyed satire.

Obviously, Ms Fey did not accomplish this all by herself. Clearly, the savage nightly attacks by Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart played an important role in softening up the target. Surely the satirical tabloid The Onion should get some credit here. Without a doubt, the withering contempt of Bill Maher and Michael Moore played a vital role in causing the Republican colossus to come crashing to earth.

But the truth is, Moore and Maher and Stewart and Colbert had been flaying the Republican party for years without any notable effect. Not until Tina Fey stepped into the ring and began eviscerating the hapless Palin did the tide truly begin to turn. Like Horatius at the bridge, like William Tell versus the Austrian invaders, like George Washington at Valley Forge, Ms Fey had come to the aid of her country at the moment her country needed her most. She serviced it with a smile.

Whatever one's political orientation, there can be no denying that 2008 is the year that satire – previously, the weak stepsister of sarcasm – finally came to the fore in American political life, unleashing a tsunami of politically-charged ridicule and invective that has changed the republic forever. This triumph has been a long time in coming.

Satire was notably ineffective when used against Richard Nixon in 1968 and 1972, the year he won one of the most lopsided victories in history. Satire did not work against Ronald Reagan, universally dismissed as a dunce by pundits, wits and wiseacres. Nor did it have much effect on George HW Bush when he squared off against the mirthless Michael Dukakis in 1988.

Satire was equally impotent when used against George W Bush in 2000 and 2004, despite his big ears and malapropisms and earthy diction and overall resemblance to Alfred E Neuman and the widespread perception among those who ply their trade in the pith industry that he was a hapless dunce.

Why, then, has satire been so effective in 2008, when it had almost no effect on previous races? Two reasons. One: the material is better crafted, researched and delivered than ever before. Colbert and his ilk are simply funnier than Tom Wolfe and PJ O'Rourke and Woody Allen and Mark Twain and all the other satirists who preceded them.

Two, the viral element has come into play, enabling brilliant pieces like Fey's Sarah Palin shtick to be seen by tens of millions of people who do not want to sit through an entire broadcast of Saturday Night Live. Satire, previously thought of as a harmless derringer or an unreliable fowling weapon, has found a delivery system that renders it lethal. Satire has gone nuclear.

Spoilsports may argue that satire alone could not have wrecked the McCain campaign. Surely, they will argue, the implosion of the housing market, a 40% decline in the value of the Dow wiping out $7tn in shareholder equity, the disappearance of several of the largest banks in the United States, and the loss of millions of jobs have contributed to McCain's slump in the polls. Surely, the debacle in Iraq, the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and the inability of the Republican party to bring Osama bin Laden to justice have had some effect on the outcome of the race.

Perhaps. But that effect has been negligible. A presidential candidate can sidestep a controversial issue such as the grim spectre of another Great Depression. A candidate can dance around two failed wars, a trillion-dollar deficit, the instantaneous disappearance of several million jobs, or having a bunch of high-level cabinet posts staffed by clowns.

But not even the most gifted candidate can defend himself against the combined, cohesive forces of unilaterally condescending satire. Those whom the gods would destroy they first make ridiculous. A Great Depression is merely the icing on the cake.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Journalism 101: "You get the best stories at the pub, when people let their guard down a bit"

Glenn Milne's column in The Australian was full of good advice about work-life balance, and how it is not being respected in Kevin Rudd's office:

It also leads to another inevitable conclusion: that the Government is being run at the level of officials by a bunch of 20-somethings who don't have families and can sustain the energy needed to keep up with Rudd. But, with all due respect, what good are childless 20-somethings when it comes to real-world political judgments about what are for them the otherworldly lives of ordinary Australians? Not to mention the work-family balance Rudd promised to deliver when he was campaigning against John Howard.
In the interests of pursuing this discussion of work-life balance, I wanted to record the anonymous diary of a weekly newspaper columnist based in Canberra.

The Daily Diary of a Weekly Canberra Newspaper Columnist

10am - arrive at work; have coffee and pastry at Parliament House with Ministerial staffers

10.45m - sit at desk; check emails; start thinking about column

11.15am - leave for National Press Club lunch

11.30am - pre-lunch drink at National Press Club (good networking opportunity);

12-2pm - lunch at National Press Club; ask question about climate change modelling (whatever the speaker's topic);

2.30pm - return to desk; check emails; read Media Releases; download PDFs of Media Releases; cut and paste relevant sections; start writing column;

5.30pm - leave for dinner with Christopher Pyne/George Brandis/other disgruntled former Peter Costello supporter (delete) other ascendant member of the pantheon of the Federal Shadow Cabinet - split the bill (one bottle of wine each)

9.30pm - have a beer or three at The Holy Grail with Ministerial staffers (Journalism 101: "You get the best stories at the pub, when people let their guard down a bit")

11.30pm - take taxi home.

Next day:

10am - arrive at work; have coffee and pastry at Parliament House with Ministerial staffers