Megaphoning Angrily Grates Always – But No, DanStans aren’t Trumpian

There has been an emerging genre for journalists with some kind of twitter presence. Sledging the #IStandWithDan DanStans. This week, it was Phil Coorey’s turn. Journalists like Coorey are the gatekeepers, they shape how most media consumers see Twitter, because most people don’t know how it works, and don’t use it. So the images of the “extremely online” on twitter are there for the likes of Coorey to present and manipulate. So, deconstructing its premise and examples provides a neat summary of the tricks such pieces have used is important.

For those who are or aren’t extremely online, however, there needs to be a quick revisiting of the notion of the Twitter Megaphone. They are like people at a union picket line or at a process, saying the same lines, gaining comfort and power from being part of a movement, with an amplified voice. I have written about them twice – in 2013 and 2015. Their megaphoning is focused generally on repeating the same lines about the Liberal Party and media bias. They aren’t bots, they aren’t paid, they are enthusiastic amateurs. They get particularly excited when small matters of possible corruption are not grabbing headlines, more skating around the margins of media coverage. Hence, James Ashby’s interactions with Peter Slipper (remember that?) and recently, Angus Taylor’s shambolic activities relating to water. Hence these megaphones have more recently put waterdrops in their names.

My argument about these megaphones hasn’t changed. They are largely harmless. Plus, it’s possible to see where their frustration comes from – because there’s a grain of truth in a lot of what they say, especially about News Ltd media and Sky “News”. They are members of a tribe, angry about biased media coverage. However, as a group, they quickly become too hardline and inflexible, meaning that they lose credibility with each strident tweet. The leaders of these megaphones on twitter – especially Vic Rollison and lately “PR Guy 17”, have used megaphonics this time around to defend the Andrews government. And it’s these people to whom Coorey is referring throughout most of his piece.

Let’s Say Trump! The New Godwin’s Law

Getting back to Coorey, his piece this week attracted a polarised response, and it’s little wonder – that’s what he wanted. His “prediction” at the end of it was laughable especially considering that the title of the piece is “Dan’s fans and Trump’s base: spot the difference”.

“The very publication of this column will invite a similar barrage of invective and apoplexy. Most won’t even read it before reacting.”

No, really? People might be offended by that? That’s performative prediction, invoking Trump, is another example of the lazy new trope infecting opinion pieces: As Bad As Trump.

So, Coorey is asking people to compare a bunch of well meaning Victorians with the lunatics supporting Trump and expect them to accept it. Sure, that’s a rational, reasonable thing to be doing. It was just part of Coorey’s act to gaslight all of the critics of his piece to suggest that anyone wanting to criticise won’t have read all of it. But in reality, the piece is so vacuous that it doesn’t take long to take it apart.

It should almost go without saying that the headline suggestion is a dumb comparison. Even Coorey seems to know that it’s a dumb comparison, as can be seen with this credibility-stretching argument –

Premier Daniel Andrews is not Trump. In terms of character, beliefs, values or performance, he’s not even in the same universe.

But his cult-like followers, who rally around a Twitter hashtag of #IstandwithDan and refuse to countenance any possibility that he is capable of error, are in the same orbit as the Trump legions.

“Same orbit”. It raises the question – which planet are they orbiting? Which planet is Coorey on, witnessing these orbits? But getting away from Coorey’s bad metaphorical gymnastics, no, they are not in “the same orbit”. Trump’s supporters are actively seeking to undermine every single media outlet’s right to report everything, as well as promote conspiracy theories that are dangerous for the future of the US. That is nothing like a group of Victorians clinging to the hope that the Victorian Government’s roadmaps and strategies will work to bring down COVID numbers, even if some of them are repetitive, narrowcasting megaphones.

It is reasonable to suggest that there have been mistakes made by the Victorian government in their pandemic response. I said as much in my previous post about the coverage. Coorey makes these same points, but with a heavily weighted, simplistic take, so he can butcher all critics of the media’s coverage. Here’s some examples.

  • In Victoria, however, there were errors made. Quarantine was contracted to a security company not up to the job. Consequently there was an outbreak. That has not been confirmed – there is an inquiry in place to discern exactly what happened and who was “to blame”. But even if it emerges that private security firms were not suitable for that purpose, the AFR, amongst other media outlets, have actively supported outsourcing public sector activities to the private sector for some years. We shall see if they change this stance if the inquiry has shown that the private sector is not up to doing certain jobs.
  • Even today, with numbers in Victoria very low, the Premier remains reluctant to reopen, indicating the government still does not have faith in its testing and tracing regimes. This is pure speculation, based on no provided evidence. Today’s announcements about the next stage of the roadmap provides a contradiction to that speculation.
  • Moreover, after all these months and hardship, no one in government – including the Premier, his now departed health minister and the public sector chief – claims to know who was responsible for the quarantine contract. There is an inquiry on, we are told, and we must wait for that. Yes, that is how an inquiry works. Coorey would know that, but is performatively suggesting that it’s a smokescreen.
  • But Andrews, in the eyes of his supporters, is beyond criticism or scrutiny. This suggests all supporters. Plenty of the supporters of the government’s actions have been critical of elements of the response. They, however, don’t exist in the false premise behind the piece.

Coorey, like every other writer in this genre, cherry picks examples of random critics, implying that they represent the whole. Cherry picking is the first resort of the desperate columnist – and twitter makes it so easy to do. It’s easy to find these examples:

When an email emerged recently that further suggested he was less than honest in his denials about rejecting offers from Canberra of army assistance, one supporter attacked the journalist who reported it: “Didn’t you hear the Premier’s denial? Stick to the facts.”

That is, a politician’s denial carries more weight than documentary evidence.

“Blah blah – apparently the more you sink the boots into Andrews, the more popular he becomes,” taunted another.

Same with Trump.

Two responses from angry megaphones = Same as Trump.

And then comes the expected reference to the waterdrop megaphones –

Many of the Premier’s supporters incorporate in their Twitter handle a blue water drop, which is a protest against what they believe was a lack of scrutiny of federal minister Angus Taylor over a water deal. Yet they resist any scrutiny of Andrews.”

So, these Trumpian Andrews supporters are now many. There’s a reduction of the contention about Andrews supporters. The reduction becomes even more through the invocation – again – of the trivial Baxendale press conference mistake, which is an issue that was a blip on the landscape of this pandemic.

“A few weeks back, Andrews verballed The Australian’s Rachel Baxendale by insisting she had included a false premise in her question, when she had not. Regardless, his supporters piled on.”

Coorey, aside from raising a non-issue, is just plain wrong. As can be seen in this video, Baxendale asked about findings from the inquiry as if they had been released. In transcript she produced on Twitter, a pair of brackets emerged around a phrase she had intended to include, but didn’t. Andrews wasn’t “verballing” Baxendale, he was correct in his critique of the premise of Baxendale’s question. Coorey is just wrong in his defence of Baxendale. More to the point though, it’s still remarkable how this minor incident is continually referred to by journalists wishing to gaslight the critics.

It’s an irony that this Baxendale incident was the last case Coorey uses against the DanStans – because he ends with this phrase:

“That’s increasingly a consequence of an era in which people can choose their own facts and everyone is expected to be a polemicist, making the middle line the hardest to hold.”

It’s almost as if he has never read The Australian. Coorey seems to have missed the parts where Rachel Baxendale was front and centre in the campaign to hound and harass Yassmin Abdel-Magied so much that she felt as though she needed to leave the country. There is nothing “middle line” about Baxendale and her employer. There is also nothing “middle line” about this piece.

Coorey’s gaslighting hatchet job got support from what has become the usual supporters for this genre – people who have trouble responding to critics on twitter, and just like to place them in the “mad left winger” bucket.

No, it’s not. It’s yet another example of journalists playing the “we are the only sensible centrists” card, trying to point at parallels about online supporters in Victoria and the US that aren’t there. A bit like this tweet, about Joe Biden suggesting that a journalist continually asks the same style of questions makes Biden Just like Trump. No, it doesn’t. It makes him someone with a genuine point to make about the way certain journalists always pursue the same agenda.

Megaphones Do Grate

There is a cautionary note to add at the end of this piece. There are people on the fringes of any campaign that do what Coorey refers to here

“I don’t really want to dwell on the gory details, but there’ve been death threats and rape threats and photos of me circulated on the internet for weeks,” Baxendale told Guardian Australia in a recent article on the dangers of questioning Andrews.

It’s become a boring trope, suggesting that this represents the bulk of Andrews’ supporters, as is inferred in this piece.

It does need to be acknowledged that there are some people who are feeding this perception that all defenders of Andrews are mendacious trolls. An example – these pathetic comments about wanting NSW to have increasing COVID case numbers.

It is clear that this kind of garbage needs to stop. And there’s megaphones that need to realise how their tweets are providing evidence to bad faith operators wanting to gaslight all supporters of the Victorian Government. PR Guy, in particular, provides a double edged sword. His tweets are classic megaphoning, providing comfort to a group of people wanting an optimistic view to the horizon. Many of his tweets raise reasonable points about the agendas of some media outlets in their reporting of the pandemic response in Victoria. But it lacks nuance and relevance. Neither of these things are true – the Ruby Princess matter was given exhaustive coverage, and aged care shortfalls have also been covered for a long time.

Yes, we know there are megaphones. Yes, they can be aggravating. And yet, Phillip Coorey’s suggestion that somehow these megaphones are as bad as Trump’s boosters is offensive. They are, for the most part, Victorians wanting to support a government that has had to learn difficult lessons and work on a response to a pandemic that has resulted in a drop in COVID cases and spread. They might be too enthusiastic in that response. They might be too easily triggered by questions posed at press conferences. Especially by questions about hotel quarantine. Of greater interest is whether Melbourne as a city is ready for the next stage, not who texted who about security guards in March. Plus, there are substantial questions to be asked about the agenda of journalists who work for News Ltd – the same organisation that run anti-ALP campaigns every election, Federally and in Victoria. Twitter is one of those places to ask such questions. Maybe not as much as some do it. Maybe there needs to be more nuance. It doesn’t matter – bad faith columists like Coorey, using the same template as Joe Hildebrand, will continue to find the outliers.

Bad Faith – It Never Ends

Ultimately this comes down to a question of how Australian political journalists use Twitter. It is becoming clear that there are two conclusions to reach about that usage.

Conclusion 1 – They do not know how to filter out the megaphones, the trolls, the disgusting, the clowns. It’s easy to do – blocking and muting tools are there.

Conclusion 2 – They know very well how to filter out the megaphones and the fringe dwellers. They just choose to draw upon them for fodder for their columns. For most media consumers, they don’t know how to use twitter, so it’s really easy to sell that image of the extremely online. They are using them in order to be performatively offended, as well as to protect them against substantive and substantial critiques of their work.

There has been so many pieces like this over the years that the second conclusion is becoming inescapable.

In the next couple of weeks, Trump’s supporters might be rioting and killing people if Trump doesn’t win the election. In Victoria, the megaphones will dash off an angry tweet to a journalist asking a question at a press conference. A bit like a fan of a sporting team tweeting in a frustrated fashion.

People get angry reading the media, Phil. That doesn’t make them Trumpian.

Classical Music Cultural Comment

The Rediscovery of CDs – Reflecting on a bygone sound

In today’s streaming world, most of us don’t buy CDs anymore, it’s true. Especially if you are a tech minded person and use twitter to get your news. CDs? They are so old. Yet during this imposed isolation in Melbourne, I have turned to my CD collection a lot more, and placed the little plastic discs into my dedicated CD player. I am no audiophile – the CD player is an “entry level” Yamaha one I bought years ago, my amplifier is also “entry level” and my speakers are from a Philips stereo setup my dad bought in the early 1990s. Part of the reason why I have been using CDs is not because I am a Luddite – it arose because the bluetooth connection from my devices to the amplifier is glitchy. The cables that connect the CD to the amp, and the cords that connect it to the speakers has proven to be more reliable. Another significant reason is that I focus more on music played from a CD than through streaming. Psychologically, streaming is for background music, pop music and for the car. Not for really immersing in the music.

So it has come to pass that I have paid a more attention to my CD collection than I have for more than 20 years. And it has revealed a lot about what forms a person in their 20s, but also what it tells me about life as it stands at the moment.

Me as a Young Classical Fan

I was 16 when my dad bought me a CD player, mini stereo system and three CDs to go with it. Classical, of course – we were a distinctly classical only household (though that didn’t stop me from buying Kate Ceberano’s Brave soon afterwards). It was a revelation – great sounding music in my own room. Being the 80s, that was a big deal. Not long after, I drowned my awkward teenage sorrows in the Big Tunes of Rachmaninov and then explored the hard core stuff – Shostakovich’s 8th Symphony at full volume (Dad was starting to regret his purchase that that stage).

That was the start of an odyssey through music that was no longer bound to just listening to the radio. Through my early 20s and to when I got my first full time job as a teacher, my focus was on building a classical music library. To find out what to listen to, what to discover, I didn’t have access to a lot of sources locally. I also didn’t have a lot of classical music loving friends at school or even at uni. So, I listened to Martin Hibble’s Just Out on ABC FM religiously – I especially liked his inability to fall into line with what record companies wanted reviewers to say. I also used my lunchtimes at Fisher Library at Sydney Uni to pore through old back issues of the UK Gramophone magazine – generally the most respected storehouse of reviews and articles. It was the early 90s, so no internet databases, subreddits or google to help me. I investigated.

I look at the collection now and it tells me a lot about mid 20s me. I was a socially awkward 20 something manchild, I developed a lot of bad opinions, influenced by all sorts of things. I decided that I liked Georg Solti because he wasn’t a severe Nazi-looking bloke like Karajan. (I had also read excerpts of Norman Lebrecht’s Maestro Myth, so was influenced by his comments about Karajan). He was also on the Channel 4 Orchestra program with Dudley Moore. So there’s a lot of Solti there. There was lots of Ashkenazy, because Dad gave me a recording of him doing the Rach 2nd and 4th Piano Concertos, so that started me off with him.

I was also on Team Norrington when it came to the battle in the early 90s between period instrument ensembles – largely fuelled by record companies – between Roger Norrington at EMI, John Eliot Gardiner at Deutsche Gramophon / Archiv and Christopher Hogwood at Decca / L’oiseau Lyre. I plumped for Norrington because he seemed to be having more fun. Plus, he was genial and friendly on the BBC programs of him conducting the Beethoven 9 (which are, these days, completely unavailable anywhere). I grew up with Karajan’s Beethoven in my head – Dad had Deutsche Gramophon box sets at home – “the best of Beethoven”, and so on. That’s why I didn’t much like Beethoven until I heard Norrington. To me, it was also a bit of a rebellion against Dad and the older generation to be enjoying the earthier interpretations of the historically informed performances. It also helped that I was studying history at university and could see the worth of doing such research. It got so that I only listened to their interpretations of classical, baroque and early romantic music. I became a rusted on ideologue, believing the modern orchestra was not right for the music from that period. (I cringe now at those views).

There were also a lot of CDs that I could get on sale at Lawson’s and Ashwood’s second hand shops on Castlereagh St, plus at the Pitt St Virgin Megastore classical sales. I had read about the recordings in Gramophone first, of course. In those days, I was dedicated to getting one recording each of a whole lot of music – so I could have a wide ranging collection, not a whole lot of recordings of the one thing. The idea of owning 6 different performances of Beethoven’s symphonies or sonatas struck me as being indulgent.

As I said, I had a lot of Opinions. A lot of them not my own, but I stuck to them like glue.

In the late 90s, I got married (as it turned out, too soon for the both of us, and in my case, it was largely because of my terrible self esteem that I married the first woman who had shown an interest in me). As teaching, children and marriage took over – as did a massive array of bills and barely keeping our heads above water financially – the CD collection sat in boxes, barely listened to. Occasionally, if I was allowed to indulge every so often, I would buy the odd CD here or there if I was in Sydney. I was barely ever in Sydney in any case – my life was firmly entrenched in the outer suburbs, where classical CDs were usually Best Ofs or featured the likes of Richard Clayderman.

That marriage ended in a heap in the late 00s, I went into a new and much better relationship, plus I was a bit more financially stable over the next 10 years. The CD collection, however, stayed largely as it was, save for the occasional purchase influenced by Hugh Robertson at Fish Fine Music – he ran the only classical CD shop left in Sydney. I would also occasionally go onto the – appropriately named for me – Presto Classical site in the UK. At least though, this time, my other half gave me the present of a custom made home for them.

The Weighty Cabinet of Ancient Artefacts

Enjoying and Enhancing the Collection

So we entered 2020 and at the end of last year we have moved to a different house, with a nice place to sit and listen to music. I need music a lot of the time – I have a streaming setup in my home office, even though Apple Music and Spotify aren’t all that great for classical music. At the end of the day, however, if I want to be freed from the restriction of that space, I go into the back room, get out a CD and sit in the middle of the sound and connect with the experience those musicians were aiming to produce. Not a playlist, not a shuffle – the CD. It has been different, as well as lovely. Though, as I discovered, a bit limited. Thing was, through all the years, it never ceases to amaze me that the full price of classical CDs is exactly the same now as it was in the 1990s. It always struck me that someone has to be suffering because of that.

Rethinking the CD collection has become my isolation hobby. There are gaps, I realised, which seems counter – intuitive for a collection of 800 CDs. That number, however, is small in comparison with people considered to be “serious” collectors. I don’t intend to be one of those, but I did want new things, different things.

One of the priorities was getting more CDs by some of the musicians I have heard in concert halls – if you want to listen to any artist with the English Hyperion company, such as Stephen Hough, Steven Osborne or iconoclastic harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani, you have to buy the CDs – they don’t stream a lot of their recordings. That’s good news for their artists, if they can shift CDs to the swiftly dwindling CD purchaser – artists with companies like Hyperion (as opposed to Naxos, who pay a one off fee) receive much better royalties from CD sales than they do from streams.

Another priority has also been to find CDs of works I already have, but by different conductors and performers. Make me listen in a different way. As such, I have been able to do something I could only dream of doing in the 90s – buy whole boxed sets. That’s because, while the full price of new CDs has not changed a large amount, the cost of box sets more than 2 years old and second hand CDs has plummeted. Ebay and Amazon is a storehouse of historical gold. Plus, on physical CDs, there are some recordings that are hard to find on streams. For Apple and Spotify, it can hard to find specific recordings from specific artists – and tracks downloaded in the past can disappear. As a result, I have been able to pick up box sets of performances declared legendary by various sources. $25 for 6 – 8 new CDs sometimes. I have used Gramophone articles and reviews to lead me to get boxed sets of Beethoven and Brahms, as well as looking back over back catalogues of what I would have loved to be able to afford 25 years ago. What has also really made this process richer for me is that the research behind these purchases has been a lot of fun.

Rabbit Holes!

In these months, watching Mad Men led me to speculate which recording of Beethoven Pete Campbell would have bought. I decided Leonard Bernstein’s would be his go – the American with fashionable ideas, not the Karajan of Bert Cooper. That launched me on a journey to know more about Bernstein. I ordered cheap box sets of his Mahler and Beethoven, as well as other things he has done. I then went through the existing collection and found bits and pieces of his recordings I had forgotten I had. With the purchase of the DVD of his recording of Candide, I remember a time when I watched that performance with Mum. She loved it so much that she was driven to learn Glitter and Be Gay, one of the last songs she learnt afresh, and one that suited her style down to the ground. So that was nice. I have also now purchased books about Bernstein, and I’m sure that I will find out more about him in time. I’m looking forward to the Bradley Cooper film about his life.

My rabbit hole chasing lead me to the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics (I had no idea the Vienna orchestra uses different instruments to others), and then to Wilhelm Furtwängler, discovering his complex place in German history. It struck me as curious that Furtwängler’s place, with him protecting Jewish players, refusing to do the Nazi salute and other micro pieces of resistance saw his legacy questioned, while former party member and unapologetic rising star of the Nazi period, Karajan, is still lauded. I am happy to find out more about that – I am not the Norman Lebrecht fan that I was in the 90s – but it was a question that continually arose. It is important to me who is behind the CD. That’s why, for example, I have binned my Charles Dutoit and James Levine CDs. Aside from that, however, it also struck me how different Furtwängler’s approach to Beethoven was to Karajan’s. There was something plastic, shiny, empty and a bit dead to my ears in Karajan’s. And that was before I knew about his past. Or this garish car he asked Porsche to build for him.

With Furtwangler, while his sound was nowhere near as good as Karajan’s, there’s something spontaneous and human about his performances – flawed note wise, but a fascinating glimpse to another time when being right, disciplined and consistent wasn’t the be all and end all. His recording of Beethoven 9 done at Bayreuth, and the stories behind it, provides a glimpse of music that historically and psychologically is so different from today’s. Plus, it’s at variance with the historically informed performances that I was welded to in my 20s. Beethoven and Brahms are great enough to be played in all sorts of different ways and be enjoyed.

My current rabbit hole is a more joyful one – a rediscovery of French music. Inspired by watching Tour de France, I have discovered Les Siécles, a contemporary French orchestra who are playing uniquely French instruments from various eras and playing them to breathe new life into French music, as well as music from other nations. It is in their recordings of French music that I am finding new delights into the sound world and panache that their composers bring us. And then comparing them to other recordings that bring different insights. I am no longer a period instrument ideologue. As spring has started, the light, transparent and breezy glories of the French are wafting through the house.

As I sit in my lounge chair, with the music playing – sometimes with the CD booklet in my hands, learning more about the music – or being reminded about it – it is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon after work or have blasting when doing chores around the kitchen. Music becomes an immersing experience, helping me focus, helping me relax. No longer a background. So putting on a CD is quite a nice thing.

Politics Uncategorized

To DanStan or Not to DanStan – That is Not the Question or the Answer

It has been a long time since people living in Melbourne’s metropolitan zone were told to stay at home. We have seen a lot of content. All of it made for consumption in and out of Australia’s second largest metropolis – but most of it consumed by those within it. The nature of that content has taken various forms, that can be organised in a range of categories. So I’ll start with that.

The Miasma of Quiet Despair

There have been beautifully crafted pieces floating from various media outlets catering to middle class professionals like the ABC, Age and Guardian, telling of the despair that rises from being locked down. One of the most haunting versions of this came from Anna Spargo-Ryan in July. One of the most stirring examples of the video form of this content was a video that came from the ABC 730 program, which were designed to galvanise a unified sigh from those of us who are losing their connections with the wider community and other intangible things that data, roadmaps and projections don’t take into account.

We’ve Got This – The Power of Resetting Your Rhythms

The flipside of the miasma of despair in those same media outlets have been the positive pieces telling of the power that having a new hobby or set of goals can have on mental health. The “We’ve Got This” attitude. This started with articles about the rise of hobbies. And then how knitting took hold, how people were “resetting their rhythms“. In these pieces, there was a tone of encouragement – aimed designed to unite and inspire. As the months have dragged on, however, it has been hard to sustain that kind of optimism. Again, Spargo-Ryan captured the flagging spirit of many in September.

Elsworth and Associates

Before March, most people would have struggled to recognise or remember the work and presence of Sophie Elsworth, financial reporter for News, the Herald Sun and occasional contributor to Sky News. During the last few months, however, she has outstripped most people with her outraged takes on the Andrews government. Her twitter feed has become the lightning rod of dissent for those who believe the Victorian Government’s response to COVID 19 has been wrong and dangerous every step of the way. Due to her disingenous and hyperbolic demagoguery, hers has been the biggest rise from obscurity seen on Twitter since Latika Bourke’s. With Elsworth, however, her trajectory isn’t London, it is more the Rita Panahi route, either as a more prominent columnist in the Herald Sun, or more regularly on Sky News. Or, maybe as a media staffer for the Liberal Party, considering how similar her online rhetoric is to that of Tim Smith, James Newsbury and Michael O’Brien.

There have been others who have used twitter to build a questioning tone of the actions of the Andrews government, as well as build their own profile. Most of them aren’t like Elsworth, in that their queries aren’t built on bad faith and strident hyperbole. They also aren’t as obvious Liberal friendly as Elsworth. One such example is recent arrival (like me) in Melbourne, Osman Faruqi, who has from the start of lockdown has sought to question all of the decisions of the government, as well as make suggestions about Victoria becoming a racist police state. It’s been an popular position to take on social media, considering that there has been overreach by the police and mistakes made by the government – so to express dissent is not a difficult act on political twitter, with its critical mass of middle class students and professionals who do like to question government, no matter the side. It has been a fruitful road for Faruqi, whose position as a lightning rod for progressive dissent, as well as having the energy of a skilled dissenter has led to him producing instructive and useful investigations into the mistakes made by the Department of Health and the Victorian Government at large in the Saturday Paper.

Here Come the Media Troops from Canberra and Sydney

That dissent has grown louder as lockdown has continued, with the addition of the hotel quarantine inquiry bringing out revelations of the mistakes made by the government in the early days of this pandemic. The mistakes of hiring private security guards, the mistakes of not making adequate safeguards within aged care facilities, various other mistakes. These mistakes, made under the the pressure of time and included various assumptions, have looked worse with each passing day. Time and microscopic analysis by angry, locked down journalists has exposed the dangers of outsourcing important activities to profit based private companies – the hotel quarantine and private aged care sectors have shown that. This has meant the addition of national news figures and organisations coming in to examine the issue and use their usual tactics of creating an energy of crisis around the issues relating to lockdown. An example of this is the tweet made by 730 host Leigh Sales (shown below). It has all of the hallmarks of any tabloid style sizzle for an upcoming set of stories. The problem, however, with this tweet is in the context of when it was made. At that time, there were demonstrated examples of an improvement in the contact tracing procedures undertaken, as seen with the control of the Casey cluster (which was 10 – 15 kms from our home). Plus, it was explicitly stated that the inquiry into the hotel quarantine structures was designed to help the government make better choices before the system would be allowed to restart. So, the hyperbole here was not all that helpful or relevant to September 23.

It was therefore not a surprise to see this week a spike in “calls” for Daniel Andrews to resign as Premier. At least, calls from the media, couched in “just asking questions” that he was “staring down” those calls. Those calls that essentially came from the media, Sophie Elsworth, the Liberal Party and Sam Newman. At such time, it’s always useful to follow the twitter feed of David Speers – he always knows when to tweet when media energy against a politician is at its height.

“I Stand with Dan” – Stage Four Rage

The problem throughout all of this for Victorians (me included, even though I am new at it), is that all of these types of dissenting voices can elicit the same defensive response. Many people in Melbourne clearly hate the fact we are in lockdown, but also have a trust that governments – especially ones that have a progressive reputation – have our best interests at heart. The combination of Andrews, with the Chief Medical Officer, Brett Sutton, at press conferences, explaining the modelling and justifications for lockdowns has had the effect of reassuring people that the measures do have benefits. The continuing high polling numbers for Andrews, combined with the falling infection numbers backs this up. From what I have seen, what so many want right now is good news about now, and the future. People want to see Andrews say good things, have positive changes in the curve. Not a building of media energy relating to political inquiries and what happened in June. It’s really hard to be in this situation, and optimism and hope is what so many people need.

That’s why it’s been hard at times for people to keep their cool (again, me included), when we see the negative reports pile in on twitter. Over time, it becomes challenging to discern the difference between Sophie Elsworth’s posts decrying the “police state” activities of Andrews with Osman Faruqi’s similar comments. This is absurd, of course, as Elsworth’s intent is to build her own persona, while Faruqi’s comes from a position of concern for members of cultural minorities and the financially worse off who do suffer more in such times. The latter is also not after a profile on the Herald Sun. The responses to both of them, have been similar – which is understandable, but not useful.

It is also not useful for media people with twitter accounts to be gaslighting all of their critics as being #IStandWithDan megaphones. There is a place for critics of media coverage of the pandemic as it applies in Melbourne, just as there is a place for those same journalists to be asking good faith questions. Where we also have a problem is suggesting that, in a blind partisan fashion, that nothing Andrews does is wrong, and that everyone has to #Stand by him at all times. Both are examples of simplistic sloganeering, not mature, reasoned discourse.

The same philosophy to avoid sloganeering and selective cherry picking should apply to online reaction to media reports about Andrews and the hotel quarantine inquiry. Being a #DanStan, angrily responding to everything is a current feature of twitter. It is in the interests of the ABC, the Age, Guardian, Saturday Paper and especially the Herald Sun to generate questions about the mistakes that have led to this terrible second wave. And there is nothing inherently bad about asking those questions. Plus, yes, there is current obfuscation happening from Andrews, just as we see pretty much every time there is any kind of inquiry. Inquiries are set up for governments to be seen to be fixing problems, but they are also convenient because they allow for politicians to deflect questions. Yes Minister, as ever, shows how all governments in the Anglosphere work. The first clip here usefully shows how this was done through the Abbott era of government. There has been little evidence that Morrison’s government has been little different.

This second one outlines the types of excuses given for mistakes. Rarely do we see Anglosphere governments waver from this pattern.

The point here is that the Andrews government is doing the same thing as any number of governments do when at times when there has been mistakes made – they deflect and obfuscate. There have been many supporters of the Victorian government online who point this out whenever there is a criticism of Andrews. They raise the Ruby Princess debacle – which the NSW Government deflected and obfuscated about until they had a report made about it. They raise various mistakes – such as Alan Tudge committing “criminal” conduct in relation to a refugee case.

The problem with doing that is a pointless activity making that deflection. With the Ruby Princess, there was a report in which mistakes were admitted – as seen in the ABC article, language like “serious”, “inexcusable” and “inexplicable” were made about the actions of NSW Health. For all of the online noise about the inquiry, the report did little except saying “health authorities had recognised mistakes made”, and would “do things differently if they had their time again”. It would be surprising if the report into the hotel quarantine system will be much different. With the Tudge issue, it is a legally complex issue, and difficult with which to make a collective media energy. Our national media generally find it easier to pick low hanging fruit than to get out a ladder and some kind of device to obtain fruit that is harder to pick. The bigger reason, however, is that the hotel quarantine mistakes – no matter the intent and the mitigating factors – have led to more material and financial destruction than the actions of Tudge. Hotel quarantine is a much bigger story with more relevance to more people.

The Roadmap for Melbourne Media Responders – Stage Three Calm

What is next for people in Melbourne? How can we act? How can we respond as the restrictions become ever slightly loosened? Because Victorians love a roadmap (I am new to Victorian education, and it amuses me how teaching programs are called roadmaps here), here’s one from me.

1. Be Happy with the NumbersKeep Perspective

The numbers of infections are coming down, due to the efforts and sacrifices of everyone. And they are efforts and sacrifices. The science is telling us that Metro Melbourne needs to stick to the course for the next three weeks, so that needs to be a guide. Media stories about hotel quarantine and calls for Andrews to resign is going to make no difference to our material and temporal lives – so, don’t read them, unless they are useful. This piece in the Conversation outlines why the government needs to stay the course.

2. Keep an Open, Critical Mind – See the Long Game

If you want any credibility as a critic or as a supporter, there needs to be an acknowledgment of fault, as well as an understanding of context. Victoria’s health system does need an overhaul and to be better run after this, as outlined in this piece. We also need to move away from the outsourcing of essential services to for-profit operators that Liberal and Labor Governments have been doing for decades. There does need to be perspective as well – the size and magnitude of this second wave, while large in the context of Australia, is small in terms of most equivalent situations overseas. The public goodwill created by Andrews and Sutton in their messaging has led to good, empirical outcomes for society. Whatever is said at the upcoming inquiries and the fallout from them, the scale of that achievement cannot be seriously challenged.

3. Remember the Bad Faith and Keep the Receipts

There have been a lot of things said by critics of the Victorian Government that has been in bad faith. Same with many who have defended them. The key is – don’t forget the more egregious examples. One of the standouts is the continual Liberal Party criticism of the “police state mentality” of the Andrews government. This from a party that at the last state election lost blue ribbon seats, partially due to a hyperbolic law and order campaign. You really can’t have both. It’s only cool when the likes of Faruqi puts on that jacket. Fortunately, people can now have receipts of the Libs showing that hypocrisy. Take screenshots of their mednacious sloganeering. Use it when they attempt a Laura Norder campaign in the future.

4. Don’t Respond to Journalists on Twitter

One of the continuing phenonmenons that does not change is the angry responses to journalists on Twitter. It may be a great release to be angrily respond to tweets that are designed to sizzle up a story or breathlessly report an #exclusive. But what it does is continue to erode people’s credibility – and at times, gives bad faith journalists material so they can gaslight all of their critics, as well as pose an unspoken danger. If you want to provide a critique, take a screenshot. Plus, swearing at or about a verified account is never a good idea with the way Twitter’s algorithm works. Here’s an object lesson in what not to do.

5. The Rollo Principle – Don’t Put on a Tinfoil Hat

From a place at fury towards the media, there can be a development that steers people towards adopting conspiracy theories about issues such as COVID. For another lesson in what not to do, the Rollison sisters – Victoria and Catherine – are Labor activists from Adelaide, and have been attacking twitter people from NSW about the policies and actions in that state. Having seen their behaviour before, it is entirely reasonable to suggest that the attacks are mostly due to NSW being a Liberal state. To look at their twitter feed, there has been demands about NSW’s sewage system, attacks on Casey Briggs, the ABC’s COVID 19 reporter who has used data as the basis of his reports, and attacks on Anthony Macali, a Victorian who provides the Covid Live service on Twitter, as well as providing a detailed, data based commentary on how information from the Victorian Health Department could improve. Attacking people for tweeting about data and facts and accusing them of having an agenda is not helpful. It casts yourself as a tinfoil hat conspiracy theorist, rather than a reputable source of information.

This is not to suggest that the Rollisons don’t have anything reasonable to say – their passionate support for Melbourne and Victorians is clearly in evidence. There is also an understandable frustration with the way the story of the Victorian Government is being reported. They are a lightning rod for frustration in Melbourne, hence the influence they do have. Plus, one point Rollison has made which perhaps does deserve some attention is in the fact that the original source of the virus in the hotel at the heart of the quarantine case was the night desk operator, not the security guards. Not sure how that affects the situation for the government, except that it does underline just how infectious COVID is.

The problem is with this approach is that any questions that may be of interest or are relevant are obliterated by a partisan approach that erodes the credibility of anything else. Their public attack on NSW and its approach, undermining its data collection and reporting has been shown to be without foundation, rendering the questions to be embarrassing.

So – the Rollo Principle? Check yourself before you go full Rollo.

6. Remember the Start

The final point – if the course is stayed, there isn’t (hopefully) long to go. We could perhaps remember the optimism of the start. I personally like to keep upbeat as much as possible. An example is when I couldn’t help but have a little bit of fun with 730’s “empty Melbourne” video, thinking back to the Late Show. I can’t help but see this in a wider context. It is awful to see the social media feeds of friends in other states, outside, in groups, having fun. But a short time of continuing, and that will be Melbourne as well. I’m also looking forward to reading the creative output of people in this city in a new context.

Ultimately, it’s the best to do whatever it takes to keep staying on a positive mindset. That doesn’t involve arguing with journalists and data reporters on Twitter. Or even reading pieces about hotel quarantine. It’s about connecting with people of good faith on social media, to maintain and treasure friendships. That’s because, if nothing else, we as people have probably discovered these things:

  • Who are building their own careers through this
  • Who are the people to turn off and ignore
  • Who and what outlets are reputable
  • Rabbit holes of new interests, such as my current obsession with the conducting and life of Leonard Bernstein
  • New skills with technology

After all this, there will be a lot of repair that is needed across the community. I feel especially sorry for the secondary students who face an uncertain future. There are a lot of people who will need our collective love, skills and support. And getting angry about what the media are doing won’t help with that important work. They will eventually get bored and switch their attack to something else. That’s what our media do.

Cultural Comment Politics

Snarky Jordies – The Taste of a New Generation

Every few months or so, a story that bubbles and spits around Twitter rises to the surface and reaches legacy media outlets. Like a fart in a bath. The most recent fart has risen from the work of Friendly Jordies, aka Jordan Shanks. It was decided at both at the Daily Telegraph and the Herald that his work was important enough to feature in stories. His presence, image and popularity are both explicable and understandable. His style and substance may need to be discussed and analysed, but perhaps not in the gotcha way both of those pieces attempted.

Who is Friendly Jordies? What is this all about?

When I have mentioned Shanks’ work on twitter in the recent past, I frequently receive responses of “who”, which probably is not a surprise, considering that most of my followers are Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. They are not Shanks’ audience. So, before I start, I will give a short summary of who he is and why he his bubble has risen. (For those who know he is, jump to the next bit).

Jordan Shanks is a graduate of Newtown Performing Arts High School and former model (for a fascinating and revealing read, here is an interview with him from those days) who decided, like a lot of people in their 20s, decided that podcasting and making youtubes might be fun. His thing – to belittle conservatives. To laugh at them, point fingers, giggle about their dress sense, personal style, physical features, accents. It probably helps that he looks like he could be one – such as in the video screenshot at the start of this. The big moments of a rise in his fame has come from being sued by Clive Palmer. Shanks’ gambit – that Clive Palmer was fat – was a door to open to wider critiques by Shanks of Palmer’s politics. He gained more fame recently by doing videos calling NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian “koala killer” in relation to land protection policies. More significantly, he added NSW Nationals’ leader John Barilaro to that criticism, but also being on brand by calling him Super Mario because of his Italian heritage.

These rises to fame is the main clue to understanding Shanks’ style and his popularity. He uses immature belittling tactics – teasing people for their looks, accents and personal style – to appeal to teens and their twenties who think that schtick is funny. His use of “funny” voices and bringing in assistants in pile-ons increases that appeal. His stuff, though, does have substance. It is often well researched and hits many targets successfully.

Ok, why is he appearing on the front page of the Sun Herald? Not a Twitter Thing.

Ordinarily, Shanks’ activities would assign him to the area of that of yet another youtuber, but why Shanks is important is why he is doing it and the impact of what he does. He uses these tactics to bring an audience in, so he can pursue a wider agenda – to promote the values and actions of the ALP to that young audience. His critiques of Palmer, Berejiklian and Barilaro are long and detailed – they show dedicated research and a plan to bring often politically neutral or disinterested people onboard. Hence why there has been support from within the ALP for Shanks and his continuing project – he has had a number of ALP figures as guests over the years. His style, however, has raised questions from within the ALP and elsewhere as to whether the party should be condoning and supporting what he does. Mostly though, I’m guessing, from people my age and older.

Shanks provides a dilemma. He is both a success and a problem. He is a loose cannon. As pointed out in the Herald piece, he recently spoke out against the treatment of former Labor leader Luke Foley, suggesting that his alleged assault wasn’t worth the punishment, showing a questionable attitude about sexual assault. He also tweeted a photo taken outside a journalist’s house, which caused unnecessary anxiety for that journalist. The sort of thing that makes him into a problematic figure for the party. And yet, his videos attract a lot of views, and the possibility for new Labor recruits. And that is why he we don’t see Labor people publicly distance themselves from him. The numbers.

Shanks’ most recent video, where he belittles Daily Telegraph journalist James O’Doherty, provides a comprehensive window on his agenda and style. Most of his audience – not only his usual ones, but the waterdrops on twitter who hate everything Murdoch – would enjoy the sight of Shanks and his assistant taunting and teasing O’Doherty as if they are in a schoolyard. To them, O’Doherty is a little short kid who deserves it because he works for Murdoch. For those of us who see and hear about this on school playgrounds won’t enjoy any of it. It’s unnecessarily nasty and cruel. That critique, however, does not hold up in a place where there’s no limits to what is seen to be necessary for the fight against the Murdoch media. I’m just an old uncool teacher.

But those people – like me – aren’t Shanks’ audience. Our comments are irrelevant. And the Herald piece seems to put him more in the limelight as someone of interest rather than anything else – no wonder Shanks’ spoke of it admiringly on his twitter feed. If the Herald authors were thinking that this would “get” Shanks with that piece, then they were wrong. He speaks glowingly of anything negative that is said about him in legacy media. He even did an accurate bingo card of what was going to be said in the piece before it was published. That’s the point with Shanks – he makes his reputation on being a critic of such media, and criticism of him in it just increases his popularity and makes him look even more credible.

The thing between him and the AUWU – A Twitter Thing continuing a wider agenda

The thing that has made Shanks more of a topic on twitter is his recent attack on the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union – the AUWU. It seemingly sparked from an unusual moment – Bill Shorten calling Scott Morrison a “simp” in terms of his relationship to the Trump administration. Shorten’s was a clunky moment, one which was laughed at by various Gen Y twitter people, who tend to be gatekeepers for words usually used by them. (I personally think Bill, like most Gen Xers, should never try to appear cool by using words like that unironically). Shanks, however, was having none of that – showing that he will go into the trenches to support Labor figures. One of the people responding to Shanks was Thomas Studans, one of the organisers for the AUWU. This fairly minor and pointless spat then prompted a rabbit hole of excrement being flung for the best part of two weeks.

That’s what twitter can do – but what it brought has become part of a wider campaign of Labor adjacent campaigners against the AUWU and other Greens adjacent campaigners.

Shanks seemingly decided to use this moment as an inspiration for a video outlining flaws, faults and problems in the AUWU – bringing up old arguments with previous organisers, issues of funding, the spending of small amounts of money. Trivial stuff. He said / she said petty stuff. I watched it, out of curiosity, and it featured Shanks’ tools usually used against Liberals and conservatives – his hectoring style, use of some facts to hammer home points and images scoured from the net designed to belittle and tease his targets. A video, though, that had 220k views. That’s some deep gaslighting made for a big audience.

Why the video was seemingly one of Shanks’ most pointless was that it was based purely on twitter. The whole issue appeared to come from pure Twitter – pettiness, trivial stuff that most people would not care anything about, childish name calling and voices.

That’s not a flaw, though, it’s probably the main point of the video. It seems to have hidden one of Shanks’ main agendas in targeting the AUWU – that its own social media activities is muscling into his own turf – making content that is attractive and significant to Gen Ys and younger. The AUWU is raising awareness of the problems faced by the unemployed, with mutual obligation requirements and with job agencies. The AUWUs campaign and agenda, however, is critical of Labor and its lack of support in the run up to the the 2019 election for issues such as raising the Newstart allowance. Its supporters on twitter are largely Greens and Greens adjacent supporters. There is also criticism from its campaigners of areas of the ACTU’s activities.

What Shanks has done with his video is now give ammunition for Labor supporters and members on twitter to fight back against the AUWU’s commentary on Labor policies. It’s become a proxy for the continuing battle between Labor and Greens supporters. What is has revealed is that in this battle, though, select members of the AUWU and their supporters, however, have not been their own best allies.

The Pascal Principle and the pitfalls of twitter crap

This is where we revisit a bigger issue about the way twitter is used and the bullying tone that continues to be used by mostly men in their 20s – and why it’s a problem. One point raised by Shanks on the AUWU video with which I agreed was his comments regarding the way people are personally bullied. Yes, it was highly ironic for Jordan Shanks of all people to be criticising how others are treated on social media. He did raise, though, the way minor people are dragged into the limelight and picked on – yes, another irony. As a part of this, he put up screenshots of tweets made by Thomas Studans relating to a Labor waterdrop called Pascal Grosvenor that cast a bad light on Thomas Studans of the AUWU and therefore cast a bad light on what the rest are doing on social media.

As a side note, I could do a whole blog post about Pascal – I know too much about him and his twitter existence, from what others have said about him. In the grand scheme of things, he isn’t all that important. However, what has been done to him and by him should show people on twitter how not to act.

Pascal – for those unaware of the thousands of tweets made to, from and about him – is:

  • An enthusiastic Labor supporter who used to live in Pendle Hill in Western Sydney, then moved to the mid Blue Mountains.
  • Was especially supportive of the NBN and was understandably angry about the way it was sidelined and treated after 2013.
  • Just another Labor supporter who stays under the radar, is not widely known in the Labor Party – even in the Blue Mountains – but turns up to branch meetings and will occasionally get out to hand out HTVs on election day.
  • Someone whose experience of the Greens is shared by a number of Labor supporters in that part of Sydney – that it is a inner city focused party that has appeared largely unconcerned with outer suburban issues.
  • He lives in an area where having a Labor controlled council has brought more tangible benefit to the area than a fractious, disorganised Greens presence on council ever brought.

I know these things because I share views with Pascal, and have also handed out HTVs for the ALP in the Blue Mountains. I, however, see him as a warning of what not to do on twitter. Pascal is an example of a well meaning campaigner that has become someone dragged into the whirlpool of excrement that auspol twitter started to become from 2013 onwards and has become a frequent target of Greens and Greens-adjacent supporters. Pascal has responded in kind – neither side is ever covered in glory. Stalking people’s Linked In accounts, for example, is not cool.

Pascal and his critics need to ignore each other, but they never will – just like kids in a schoolyard who are permanently stuck in Year 9. The problem, however, is that the silly schoolyard stuff that flies around leaves receipts. And this set of screenshots from Shanks’ video is pretty damning. If you are a fighter for progressive rights, you should never do stuff like this, no matter how aggravating a megaphone is. And I have seen worse said about Pascal by various progressives. It doesn’t stop and really, it needs to, because to the uninitiated and those out of the loop, it looks damning, because it is.

Yes, I am a Gen X Teacher

Twitter doesn’t have an office where bullies and children who fight in bad faith can be brought together and reconciled. Teachers like me know that – even though we try to create those offices on twitter, stupidly. Gen Y men on twitter and other social media do not care how they look to the rest of us. But I will still say – I can’t stomach any of it. Not the childish crap on Shanks’ videos, the memes, the sniggering. “It’s just bants” is never an excuse for being a dickhead towards people.

Most of this is not great. Jordan Shanks doing Super Mario impressions and laughing at people because they are short, fat or wearing stupid clothes is boring and puerile. As are most of the abusive memes and jokes that fly around on twitter from anyone who is professing to support those who are living in poverty. There does need to be some dignity, some respect around. Sad thing is, that there is some good substance. I like most of what the AUWU do, and have been happily retweeting things as a part of their campaigns – I worry about the way the unemployed are threatened by the way our welfare system works. I have also watched a few videos from Shanks in the recent past, and there’s good nuggets of insight. A bit like Mark Latham back in the days before he turned into what he is today. And if Shanks remains stuck in his snarky bully boy persona, that’s what may well become of him in his 50s. Running for One Nation, but doing impersonations of his opponents.

But, as I say, none of this stuff is for me. I’m not the audience, so what I say doesn’t matter much. But nor does what is written in the Herald or Telegraph. But at least if you were confused as to what this was all about, at least you now know. And can happily ignore it.


On Reliability – COVID-19, Confusion and Division

There is a new series of small books that Hachette have been publishing called “On………..”. There’s a ripe line of suggestions that could be made for titles in that ongoing series, but this is not what I’m doing here. I am writing a set of posts about things that are noticeable if you use social media for your news source.  This first one is about the reliability of sources and the crucial process of building a reliability filter. And the COVID-19 pandemic has made the process of building that filter more necessary. The phases of the coverage have fallen into the usual lines, but more hyped and hyper-divisive than before.

1. The Context Isn’t Important, Division is All

When the COVID-19 pandemic was started, the stories abounded of who wasn’t social distancing, and demanding why there could not be more done to have that happen. Rather than dig into reasons as to why society had difficulty with changing habits, the stories placed a spotlight on the divisions occurring between the Federal approach and that of the states. That was, inevitably turned into “What is the Government saying? What is the Opposition saying? What is the Labor Government in Victoria saying? What is the Liberal Government in NSW saying?” Hyping the divisions was the main focus. That division, however, isn’t a new thing, Australia has had that for as long as there has been a Federation. The states process the every day needs, issues, plans, police, schools, health procedures.  The Feds have the overview and cash. It was clear the states – especially NSW and Victoria – had a more immediate concern over necessary measures. That wasn’t really taken into account or explained by media people just looking for The Angle. They just wanted to highlight divisions.

One such division was between the ways schools were being treated in discussion of a shutdown. It was done poorly, mostly due to a lack of education experts – or even journalists interested in education. Victoria was in a position to enact a shutdown more readily than every other state, due to a difference in school holidays in those other states. Why was that important? Because education systems are not all that flexible and able to communicate to their stakeholders in an easy fashion. NSW was not ready for mass online education – I know that from former colleagues – so it wasn’t that easy to just flick a switch, as it was in Victoria, which could call their holidays four days early. Right now, NSW and the other states are still effectively in term, with all of the Year 12 implications that brings.

What was reported and said on twitter?  Most of the coverage centred on supporting the unusual position of the Chief Medical Officer suggesting that Australian students had to stay at school, like they were in Singapore and pretty much nowhere else.  The natural question should have been – in what way can we draw a comparison between Australia’s and Singapore’s education system.  We didn’t get any of those, unsurprisingly. One thing we did get was the Concerned Parent approach from Andrew Probyn – Why the experiment, which was pilloried by many. Forgotten in all of this – the teachers having to risk themselves by going to work.

2. Ermagherd, This Is So Confusing to Us

Once the “why aren’t there rules” phase was over, and rules and laws were brought into the equation, the pivot by media people was to outrage about those rules. The “Ermagherd, This is So Confusing” trope. This included highlighting confusing messaging coming from Scott Morrison originally, then to any edict or laws issued from states (NSW and Victoria mostly, because they are Australia, aren’t they?). It was inevitable that there would be confusion, because these are complex arrangements, being organised in a huge rush across a nation with different states and territories.

Where it has become very revealing of the background and position of journalists is what “confusions” have captured their imagination and stories. Hence, that middle class need for long and detailed haircuts; whether partners who don’t live with each other could visit. Things that could affect the journalists specifically. This latter, which came from a lack of clarity over what is considered a family “partnership”, was characterised as a “Bonk Ban”, with all of its Puritan overtones. It was easily clarified later by Victoria’s CMO, much to the mirth and happiness of twitter.

3. The Police State

Another trope that emerged is that the new rules and laws have turned our states into Police States. This has led to these lines of comment and coverage –

The Police will abuse these laws! They cannot be trusted on any level!

This line comes from politicians and media people whose brands have been built on highlighting cases of police brutality and malfeasance over the years. Yes, these cases are true, there has been problems with our police forces. Many of those problems have also occurred in regards their treatment of people from ethnic minorities. There is, however, also a case to be built for the police being reasonable in its use of laws. This latter case is near impossible to be built on twitter, however, because of the propensity for it to shut down discourse around areas of grey. In addition, these critics don’t seem to offer much of an alternative plan to stop the very things these same people were highlighting and discussing two weeks before.

Let’s Take Photos Of The Police Stopping People Like Us!

The next phase of this Police State confection is photos and video taken by journalists near where they live, of people Just Like Them in places like Coogee, being stopped or talked to.  The Police! Talking to People! Proof of the Police State! Not that we hear what is being said, or whether fines have been issued in those circumstances. Just the images are enough to provoke comfortable middle class outrage, and twitter the ideal medium to spread it. Twitter has shown an unusual consensus between twitter leftist journalists, commercial outrage spinners and libertarians from the IPA in regards this issue of “Freedom From the Police / Nanny State!”, due to their shared place in society.

The irony is that these same leftist journalists won’t be taking photos of areas where people from a range of ethnic minorities live, such as the outer suburbs. Most like to talk about disadvantage, but aren’t in touch with actual disadvantage.  They will therefore miss out on their particular trophy photos of the Police State In Action.


It is hard to trust the reliability of twitter for stories of what is happening in broader society, especially as the journalists in question become more even more isolated and cut off than usual. It is in this atmosphere where hope is replacing verifiable, accurate news about what is happening away from comfortable middle class areas. I hope that in those places, these new laws are not abused. I hope people can be allowed to connect with families and other people in a way that is safe. I hope that governments can continue to refine these laws and regulations in a way that takes public health and consideration of how people live their lives into account. That might be too optimistic from me, but we need to have that hope, because there’s not much out there that can hold these authorities to account in a time where decisive action has been necessary.

These are very sudden and rushed changes that have never been attempted in our current context. There will be things that cause outrage and anger – rightfully. There may be abuses of power – there probably will be. But the question remains – what alternatives are there? What stops Australians from ignoring social distancing requests other than laws? We have proof that draconian traffic laws and cameras cut down traffic infringements, we have proof that fare evasion is cut down through law enforcement. In addition, it will be important to discover and research just how police use these laws as they are intended to be used – as a deterrent, not a way to raise revenue, not just issue them without discussion. Those areas of grey will be vital for public trust of our police. Otherwise, the other pathway could lead towards greater, justified paranoia for those people who are isolated and threatened.

But the current noise on twitter, dominated by frivolous and sensationalist hyperbole about minor issues is not helpful. As ever. The trick? Mute, soft block and filter. Be critical and questioning of most journalists – no matter their political leaning and past. Consider their contextual positionality through reflecting on their experience, position in society and what they discuss with their journalist friends. Also be discerning about who are their welded on cheer squads. As ever, if you see me on twitter, you’ll continue to know that I don’t know any of these people in the political reporting game socially or personally and don’t intend to change that. In my life, I prefer people who share cat videos, talk Eurovision, classical music, sport, literature and all the things that make society bearable.

But, amongst the media dross of this last little bit, I did find this video hilarious.





Close to the Flame – Stuart Challender’s Biography – Review Part 1

My daughter went for her P plates the other day. It was nerve-wracking for her, and a bit for me – I hoped she’d pass and have a bit of freedom.  But the day threw me back to my own past post-P plates times in ways I did not expect.

Waiting for her pre-test lesson and test, I had time to kill in Springwood Library, a place I had not visited for more than 20 years. It’s changed a bit in the intervening years. The local council and various other governments have pumped money into the previously under-funded Springwood town centre, and the new library is nice and serviceable.  There was also a poster for an orchestra of which I was a member – the Blue Mountains Orchestra, who have an upcoming concert. The orchestra was for me a place of many musical semi-triumphs and many moments of late teenage awkwardness.

Lots of memories.

In my time there I got into a book – it was Richard Davis’ recent biography of Stuart Challender, Close to the Flame.  I would be in a mood to review it properly – and one day, I will. But this post is not really a detailed review of the book. It is more about what the book was doing to my soul.

For those who don’t know who Stuart Challender is, he was the Chief Conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra for 4 years, 1987 – 1991. His life is a tragedy in so many ways. He passed away from a condition related to AIDS, just as he was hitting his stride as an Australian born conductor of the SSO who was putting in the hard yards with the orchestra, as opposed to being an overseas based chief conductor coming here sporadically.

His early life struck a distant chord with me, in that he was born into a life and context as far removed from Sydney as could be imagined, to working class parents in Hobart in a time when Hobart was not the hipster haven it is these days.  Reading of a time when he was being bullied at school for being different, and then his stories of a tearaway, ambitious conductor who was organising his own concerts at the age of 15 and then heading off to Europe in his early 20s, it threw me into a swirl of jealousy.

I was into classical music at school and was considered a freak, but I wasn’t organising my own concerts and getting scholarships. In my 20s, I was writing my honours history thesis on the Sydney Symphony, two years after Challender’s death, having never heard him in concert. I was desperately trying to find out at that time why I was so alone, without connection to others my age in Sydney.  I didn’t have the scholarship and dedication to living a big social life that Challender possessed in his 20s.  That’s why I wrote my thesis. As I was reading the book, I realised that a tragedy of Challender’s death is the notion of unfinished business. If had lived on, if there was no AIDS, I would have loved to have interviewed him. Talk about a way forward for the orchestra, how to connect with the new audience members.

My thesis was driven by that isolation from my peers at uni, and was that same loneliness that was at the heart of my notorious blog posts about the “Sydney Push”.  When I feel low and disconnected to Sydney, that’s how I get thrown back to my own early 20s. As I read, I remember the attention I got for those.

Knowing that my attention was slipping, and that I was getting a touch morose, I skipped and jumped around this well constructed biography of Challender, I could see where it was going.  The arrival in Sydney, and his ability – due purely because of his experiences in Europe –  to climb to the top of the Sydney cultural tree. It will be an awe inspiring and tragic tale when I eventually read it properly.

For me, though, I could see where it was going, and where it intersected and dovetailed with my own work about the Sydney Symphony. Here was one rare time when an Australian was being respected for work in Australia, unlike for the original Sydney Push in the 60s, who needed to leave Sydney to gain respect. And then he passed on, and the Sydney Symphony slid back into seeking and revering conductors from Europe and the US. Understandable, considering the nature of the demanding European born Sydney audiences, characterised as the “Schnitzel Squad” in the biography. I am looking forward to digging into the book, as I suspect that it will glean many nuggets of Sydney’s musical and cultural context that are largely missing from other accounts of our orchestra.

“Our” orchestra. This is where the complication comes in for me. Reading the biography threw me back into reflecting on my hate / love relationship with Sydney for decades now, ever since going to Sydney Uni.  I was always an outsider and always will be.  It was that complicated relationship with Sydney which drove my Sydney Push blog posts. I regret writing them these days, in that many have used them to insult me on Twitter. Yet, I needed to write them at the time, as a way of articulating my own anxiety issues, as well as seeking to observe cycles of behaviour, which is an abiding interest of mine.

Now, though, these years down the track, I realise the posts have done me good. They purged me of jealousy and anxiety about such a silly thing as a clique.  I have now moved on, and am much more settled in who I am and in my identity.   The people I characterised as the new push have gone onto do a variety of things and have splintered onto various pathways, even though apparently some of their connectedness lives in on Whatsapp chat group form. Good on them.

Back to the biography of Challender, however, his life had substance and abiding interest for anyone wanting to see how culture and psychology meet.  The book will bring me sustained interest and food for thoughts.  I look forward to seeing how he conquered Sydney, but more importantly, how he was able to bring to this place a heart and soul for music, even though it was all too brief an exposure.



The Unfixers – Battling against the Howardised Liberals

Christopher Pyne has gone.  No-one should have been surprised, as the project that had been worked on by him, Julie Bishop and Malcolm Turnbull has been an almost total failure.  That project – to take the Liberal Party back to the version before the current mutated version created by John Howard.

Annabel Crabb’s piece on Pyne was the most revealing – her light touch matching well with the light touch Pyne liked to think he applied to politics. In amongst that light touch, though, were some stabbing zingers.  The biggest one – served to John Howard upon Pyne’s arrival in Canberra after the 1993 election.

“You’ve had your time. We’ll never go back to you,” was the youthful Mr Pyne’s confident and career-limiting response.

This gives us a clue to the project that Pyne, along with another person spurned by Howard, Julie Bishop and Malcolm Turnbull, had been assiduously working on. To Fix the Liberal Party, to turf out the influences woven into the party by Howard in his years at the helm of the party.  To battle against the mendacious hard right reactionary moral vacuums like Minchin, Ciobo, Dutton, Morrison, Hunt and Abbott.

But, honestly, little has been fixed. They are the Unfixers.  Their trajectories have been so flat, their achievements in reforming the Liberal Party so meagre, it’s as if The Thick Of It‘s Armando Iannucci has written the script of their parliamentary lives.  This image from Crabb’s article, by Lukas Coch, summarises so neatly their times and demise.


This is not to say they did not achieve anything at all – there’s been comment made about achievements made here and there – Headspace being one – these can be easily outweighed with the many examples where their policies have been replaced or defeated by reactionary ones put in place by the hard right Sons of Howard.

Ultimately, though, despite all of Pyne’s work at deception, whispers and plots – being the underside of the duck – while Bishop and Turnbull would attempt to show themselves as gliding effortlessly above the water, what is the legacy of these three?

It’s the photos. It’s only the photos. Like this one by Alex Ellinghausen.


This one.


This one.


And this one.





Twitaddiction – from 2012

This post, from a now repurposed site, is from 2012. My struggles are not new.
Hello, I’m Preston Towers and I am a Twitter addict. I check it several times a day and at night, I scroll down, watching the faces and words swim past my face. When I see a mention or DM, I seize upon it immediately, my heart leaping a tiny bit at being noticed and responded to.  I always feel a twinge of regret if I can’t think of some kind of response – I feel like I’ve let people down if I don’t.
My evenings are filled with me and the social network, socialising, sharing, conversing. Me on my couch while my partner is doing likewise or looking at other websites. Watching television with half an eye on the screen and the other on my pad, seeing the reactions of others to the same show.  When crap TV is on, I am watching it, commenting on, hashtagging my attempts at witticisms. When the football is on, I am shouting and pleading on the pad what I used to do to the TV. I am connected and I am addicted.
Whenever I see things that are interesting, I want to photograph them and tweet them. When I see an article about something irrelevant or relevant, I want to tweet it with my reaction.  In that, I am addicted to being a Twitbroadcaster.  The follower numbers feed that little addiction.
I want to tear myself away from my Twitter addiction – I am becoming increasingly disconnected from the world around me and tasks I need to do.  The connections I have developed with the people sitting behind their keyboards and pads keeps me in Twitland.  Such a great group of people.  I don’t want to appear rude if I disappear for days and weeks at a time.   I really do want to respond, engage, chat.  But I know I can’t in the long term.  This is the bind of Twitaddiction.
Having torn myself away from my blogging addiction and shutting down the Institute (for now), I still have pangs, especially if something Stupid is said about the Greens (which is often) or by the Liberals (which is almost always). I have managed, however, to stop myself via Twitter engagement. Now, however, I have to take a break from that as well. Or at least a better managed engagement.
I probably won’t succeed because I am generally an all or nothing bloke – balance is not something I have been good at achieving in my life.  I do, however, need to try. Hopefully the good people of Twitistan will understand.

No, I’ve never achieved this. *sigh*


That Sunday Evening Feeling

I am changing around my blog sites for professional reasons. I found this on a small personal blog from 2012. It’s interesting how similarly / different I feel now.
It starts to happen late on Sunday afternoons each time my children are over on their “access weekends” (such a cold expression) – I realise that I have drive off for an hour to take them back to their home, away from their temporary home. They are sad for a little time, but they know that they are, for the most part, happy with both of their places and their parents are better for being in separate lives.  That rationality, that reason, doesn’t make the leaving any easier or the time after any less gut wrenching.

It was a great deal harder when I didn’t live with my current peaceful and lovely life with my partner.  I felt like a man without a reason or purpose for a while, going back to my two bedroom man cave, wondering why I was continuing to work and see children once a fortnight.  Those weekends were a great deal more active than the current ones. I was determined to take them out to places that I never got an opportunity to do when we all lived together.  I was driven by an almost manic desire to do things, build a new form of relationship.

My “Preston Towers” years were a crazy, intense, rudderless time.

Those times have been replaced by a more easy, relaxed, lazy time. There is netball and the occasional journey somewhere interesting. However, most of the weekends are spent how the kids like to do it – plugging themselves into the iview on their ipads or half watching TV. Some of that is watching AFL with their newly obsessed dad.  Now Sydney has two teams, double the games. My son, who is on the autism spectrum, likes spending most of the weekend by himself. There was a time when he liked doing things and playing Wii with his sister and dad. Those times have slipped away as he becomes more assertive and stubborn about not wanting to go anywhere where there are a lot of people and things to disturb him.

We are all bound together, however, by church. Their mother is pretty hot about going to church, so we go – though none of us are particularly jumping out of our skins to be there. Hence, we lope in late, sit up the back and and bonded by a universal boredom. My son actually wants me to hold him at such times, and my daughter works hard at trying to make me laugh. She usually succeeds – though that laugh can be seen in my eyes, sometimes my body, my mouth, but rarely audibly. Though, after church, in the car, such times are remembered with distinct, audible sounds.

Bound by boredom – that has gone by the wayside as their mum started to drift away from church attendance – so we have as well.

We also insist on eating a big lunch together on Sunday – a lunch usually prepared by my partner, who actually enjoys cooking a lunch with a big variety of tastes – even if it sometimes takes an hour longer than initial predictions.  She has learnt, like me, that it is easier to cook a meal with a child and adult variation at such occasions.  (Indeed, when I cook on the Friday and most Saturday nights, it is strictly what I and they are used to – bland and with few surprises.) Sunday lunch is a nice time for us.

My daughter still does not like eating anything “different”.

But then the inevitable Sunday evening comes. And the sadness. Yes, it helps to come home to a friendly, welcoming hug.  Yes, you remember that everyone is happier every other day of the fortnight and that the kids are really better off with having two parents who care about them.  Nothing, however, entirely takes away the Sunday evening feeling.

And no, nothing does. That will all be a thing of the past when the kids are both 18 and they can do whatever they want to do with their lives.


“Success Rates” – What is wrong with the NSW HSC and its media coverage

Do a google of the Sydney Morning Herald this morning and you’ll see this.

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Countless parents, students, school teachers, education bureaucrats, consultants, all poring over the “success rate” figures for students and schools in the HSC examination. Only a select few of those schools reach the “honour roll”.  Each year, at the very top of the pops, the same schools regularly appear.

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This is a gamed Top 30, with selective high schools routinely dominating that segment. They gathered the “talent” through their selective schools test. That’s how they obtained those students whose abilities to pump out high numbers were either natural, socio-economically produced or brought about by rigorous tutoring from the age of 10 and earlier. It’s good PR, though, as it provides the impression that public schools are able to “compete” with high fee Independent schools, whose students are socio-economically and culturally ready to pump out the “success”.

Meanwhile, your every day high school – the one most students are attending – are left on the fringes of the “Top 150”, dropping out, or climbing in, depending on a range of factors. I know, I have taught at schools that have been in and out of the Honour Roll.  And these aren’t all public schools going on the SMH Honour Roll rollercoaster. Catholic systemic schools and low fee outer suburban Independent schools go on that rollercoaster, and parents are watching for those stats like a hawk. So are teachers, Principals as well as education bureaucrats, knowing that parents are judging where they are sending – or, more importantly, where they are about to send – their students.

I don’t write this because my own students don’t reach these “honour rolls” and “success rates” lists.  They have, many times. So this post is not fuelled out of jealousy or self interest.  It’s out of frustration of how good teachers get punished for shallow journalism.  The day the HSC results come out – and, more crucially, when the SMH data crunching results are released – can be a brutal day for teachers. The thing is – there’s often little rhyme nor reason as to rises and falls.  I have seen many good schools go up and down from year to year – there’s no pattern, instead, it often depends on the quality of students in a particular cohort. However, this consideration counts for little in the often difficult aftermath of a “less successful” year in the charts – especially if the enrolment numbers at that school are threatened.

It is for these reasons HSC Honour Rolls represent so much that is wrong with the way we look at education.

For a start, the Herald definition of “success” is limited to an unhelpful amount. To be regarded a “success” in the HSC, students must achieve a result of 90 in a 2 Unit course, 45 in a 1 unit course – otherwise known as a Band 6 or Band E4.  Having taught students who have achieved these results, it is incredibly difficult to obtain them.  It requires a consistency across school based assessment and then in the external examination. There are often very different skills at play in both forms of assessment. While in English they may produce texts like speeches, feature articles, illuminated diagrams of key moments in a play for a school, the HSC examination is an old-fashioned set of handwritten 40 minute essays, a narrative and responses to unseen texts like poems and paintings.  In the essays, the Band 6 students are generally the ones who can pump out 9 – 12 pages of answers in each 40 minute segment. Students have to be good at both skills. And that’s just in English.

Yet the idea of “success” does not include, according to the Herald’s parameters, those who achieve a Band 5, or 80 and above in a 2 Unit course.  That is still an excellent result across the range of subjects offered in this state.  And if you study Standard English in NSW, it is almost the best result you can achieve. Routinely, less than 100 students in the entire course ever achieve a Band 6. Fewer than 1% of the candidates. I taught such a student, the only one (still) in the history of the school at which I taught (which, I will add, was a school which routinely has students who obtain Band 6s in Advanced English), and now I can imagine what it would be like to see a unicorn.  “Success” on the Herald scale is not something most Standard English students can achieve, even if they are very good students.  And Standard English is also not the only one in which it’s difficult for students to achieve a Band 6 – have a look at any course considered to be less than “elite” and you won’t see many Band 6s handed out.

If we have to judge schools via their HSC results (which is problematic in itself), it should be through its percentages of Band 5s that parents and the community can gain a more accurate idea of the “success rate” of a school. A solid range of Band 5s – especially if they are the higher end of the band – will gain students entry into most university courses. Schools with high percentages of students in that Band 5 category are teaching the bulk of their students well.  And yet, the Herald does not do this. That’s because the Herald seems to be more focused on an easy headline and easily crunched data than a detailed analysis of education.

It would be great if education reporting moved on from unrepresentative “success rates”, rather looking at how schools provide quality education that works to improve the skills of students they receive. This notion of “value adding” is not something seen in the Herald, but is seen through education management. If such value adding was the focus of media reporting, there might well be a different view being presented about selective high schools and high fee independents. More importantly, we might see a more realistic picture presented about the schools outside the inner ring of Sydney.

No wait, this is the Herald. Their editors and journalists don’t seem to care much about
“out there”. Looking through the stats on their site at schools from “out there”, they aren’t much of a “success” on their terrible, dangerous Herald scale.