The School of Athens

The School of Athens
The School of Athens by Raphael (click on picture to view short documentary from Columbia University)

Friday, 19 May 2017

Too much, too little, too late

Colleagues and scholars from coast to coast, across Bass Strait and all the ships at sea.

Dateline: Australia, Federal Politics, May 2017.

So the Coalition's Federal Budget was deemed to be 'Labor Lite'.

Its political positioning was near perfect to marginalise the ALP. However, its timing is 18 months too late.

Had Malcolm Turnbull brought down an economic statement or a mini budget (remember those?) before the end of 2015 that reflected the positioning adopted in the 2017 Budget and then brought down a full budget in May 2016 to reinforce that positioning, the Coalition would have won the 2016 election in a landslide. Had he done that, in his next term he then could've pursued social issues such as equal marriage with immense authority.

The public initially invested a great deal of hope in the Prime Minister and he has let them down. The time to have impressed the voters by taking decisive action was early in his term. Now it is far too late. The die has been cast.

"For of all sad words of tongue or pen; the saddest are these: it might have been."

 


Here you go, Malcolm: Johnny Mathis & Deniece Williams "Too Much Too Little Too Late" - YouTube link: here


 

Monday, 1 May 2017

Journalists are our best defence against 'fake news'

Fellow citizens,

I had been meaning for sometime to write something in support of journalists and how their professionalism and vigilance is our best defence against the madness that has recently erupted called 'fake news'.

The most excellent David Speers has saved me the trouble.




Please read this excerpt from a speech he gave at the 2017 Press Freedom Australia dinner. It was published in the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday April 29.

The danger of equating legitimate journalism with deliberate 'fake news'


Political reporting in the era of "fake news" seems to be the issue dominating media industry discussion around the world. But I've got a slightly different take in the Australian context as to what sort of threat it poses.

A good starting point is trying to work out what fake news actually is. Everyone seems to have a theory. So let's begin with a bit of a pop quiz.

"Pope Francis shocks world; endorses Donald Trump for President."

Well, plainly yes, this is fake news. Same goes for "Wikileaks confirms: Hillary sold weapons to ISIS".

Here's the thing though: I haven't seen much evidence of fake news like this here in Australia. I don't see this as a great threat to our industry. Maybe it's because those Macedonian fraudsters haven't really bothered to generate fake news stories about Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott. The two of them seem to be generating enough real news to keep up the clicks.

But that's not to say I don't think the term "fake news" is an issue. It is. And let me explain why, by returning to this question of what is fake news. What about this headline from just a couple of weeks ago: "US carrier group heading toward Korean Peninsula."

That was according to what the US Defence Secretary and the White House spokesman said at the time. We all reported the carrier group was heading to the Korean Peninsula. It is now, but at the time of those statements it was actually heading in the other direction. 

Governments good and bad get stuff wrong all the time, either through cock-up or conspiracy. I wouldn't put it in the category of fake news though. It's just politicians lying or misleading or getting their facts wrong, as they've so often done.

What's more of a problem to me, is how politicians themselves have latched onto the "fake news" label when trying to dismiss a story they don't like. Donald Trump does this more than anyone. But let's look at this in the Australian context.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop called "fake news" on a story from The Australian's Dennis Shanahan about a possible reshuffle if George Brandis and Marise Payne were given diplomatic postings. Resources Minister Matt Canavan cried "fake news" about a story from the ABC's Stephen Long about the Indian company Adani which is behind the proposed Carmichael Coal Mine, and is apparently facing multiple financial crime and corruption investigations. And, finally, Treasurer Scott Morrison called a story by Fairfax's James Massola about MPs working to bring marriage equality policy to a head "fake news".

Now I'm sure they all think they're right in the zeitgeist using this "fake news" term. But here's a tip for them: these stories aren't fake news and it's dangerous to suggest they are.

There is absolutely no justification to link entirely legitimate stories from reputable journalists to the crap from fraudsters in Macedonia and other peddlers of material designed to deliberately mislead and undermine how people are informed. 

So what can we do about it? We should call it out, even if it means us journalists defending one of our competitors. We can't let trashing journalism become a go-to response for those politicians who can't mount a better defence.

The bigger question is what we can do to restore trust in the media.  Particularly in my context, trust in political journalism. Let me be clear, I don't have a magic bullet answer to this.

As many have noted over the years, audiences are fragmenting and retreating into bubbles or echo chambers on the left and right. You can listen to, watch and read an entirely right-wing perspective or left-wing perspective on the world.  And many do. They are attracted to stories and commentary they agree with.

The business model for most media outlets is also shifting to accommodate this trend. It's not hard to understand why. Commercial media outlets live in a commercial world. People want informed opinion and they want commentary. There is no disputing that. 

But there is also, I believe, a vital role for journalists who try as hard as they damn well can to be straight down the middle and hold both sides to account. To ask tough questions of those in every political party, the big ones and the little ones, to uncover uncomfortable truths and yes, to tell audiences what they might not like to hear or necessarily agree with.

Journalists need to be journalists, not players. Not Twitter warriors.

I know plenty of people have said this since the Trump victory and Brexit, but it's true: journalists should get out and talk to a wider group of voters than those you usually mix with. Don't just rely on polls and talkback radio to "get a feel" for the mood.

I've picked up more insight into what Australians really think over dinner in an RSL club or at a camp ground with the kids than I would in a week talking to the political spin doctors in Canberra.  Now I appreciate there's little time or money in most media jobs these days to wander around chatting with "real Australians". The news cycle is relentless. But as individual journalists and as an industry, we need to maintain that connection with the communities we're representing.

David Speers is political editor at Sky News. This is an excerpt from a speech he gave on Friday night at the 2017 Press Freedom Australia dinner in Sydney.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

She walks in beauty

Fellow citizens,

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes.



 

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

The beauty of human creativity

Fellow citizens,

As we struggle to yet again make sense of the madness and sadness that has occurred in the human world recently, I thought you might appreciate reflecting on some of the beauty; the genius, of human creativity, and replenish your soul at this sacred time of Easter.

 


This exquisite piece: Eula Beale performing "Erbarme dich, mein Gott" (Lord, have mercy on me) from the St. Matthew Passion by J.S. Bach, with Yehudi Menuhin playing the violin solos.

YouTube link: here

And this remarkable artwork: The Resurrected Christ by Bramantino, 1490.







Prospera Pascha Sit (Happy Easter).


 

Monday, 10 April 2017

Could you imagine?

Fellow citizens,

In light of recent international events and all the negativity and hatred that is enveloping our human world; it's time, once again, to turn to the skies for some perspective and reflect on these sage words from Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan (noted below).

 

Could you imagine if every child, in every school, in every nation on the Earth learned these words?

Could you imagine if every house, in every nation, on every continent on the Earth had these words displayed on a wall?

Could you imagine if this perspective were constantly at the forefront of our minds, what the possibilities for humanity would be?

These words (see below) from Carl Sagan's book Pale Blue Dot were inspired by this image taken, at Sagan's suggestion, by Voyager 1 on February 14, 1990. As the spacecraft left our planetary neighbourhood for the fringes of the solar system, engineers turned it around for one last look at its home planet. Voyager 1 was about 6.4 billion kilometers (4 billion miles) away, and approximately 32 degrees above the ecliptic plane, when it captured this portrait of our world. Caught in the centre of scattered light rays (a result of taking the picture so close to the Sun), Earth appears as a tiny point of light, a crescent only 0.12 pixel in size. [The Planetary Society]



"Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."

Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994
 

More recent photos of the Earth from space: on the left from Saturn, and on the right from Mercury.



Thursday, 6 April 2017

She walks in beauty

Fellow citizens,

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes.
 
 
 

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

This man is out of his depth

Colleagues and scholars from coast to coast, across Bass Strait and all the ships at sea.

Dateline: Australia, Federal Politics, Scott Morrison, April 2017.

This man is way out of his depth. No ideas and no idea.



There's a personal despair for me over and above that which I feel as a citizen: Scott Morrison went to the same high school as me - Sydney Boys' High.


He would do well to inscribe its motto onto his vacuous mind. The translation reads: Truth and Courage.

Neither of which he has an abundance.

I suspect if his knowledge of Latin is of a similar standard to his knowledge of the treasury portfolio, he probably believes the motto translates as: Bluff and Bluster.

Mr. Morrison! The nation is looking for its Treasurer.......


 

Blog Archive

Our home

Our home
Earthrise over the moon (click on picture to view film)

The pale blue dot

The pale blue dot
Earth viewed from Saturn (click on picture to view film clip)

Our neighbourhood

Our neighbourhood
The Solar System (click on picture to view film)

Our Home Galaxy

Our Home Galaxy
The Milky Way (click on picture to view film)

A sister galaxy

A sister galaxy
Andromeda (click on picture to view film)

Another sister galaxy

Another sister galaxy
Triangulum (click on picture to view short film clip)

The Local Group of Galaxies

The Local Group of Galaxies
Our Galactic Neighbourhood (click on picture to view film clip).

Our farthest view of the Universe

Our farthest view of the Universe
Hubble's farthest view (click on picture to view film clip)

The virgo super cluster of galaxies

The virgo super cluster of galaxies
Galaxies within 100 million light years (click on picture to view film clip)

Galaxies within 1 billion light years

Galaxies within 1 billion light years

Universe

Universe