Ben Hills’ monument to newspaper journalism

Ben Hills has a new book out – Stop the Presses! How Greed, Incompetence (and the Internet) Wrecked Fairfax. It’s published by (surprise!) News Corp’s HarperCollins. Its essential thesis is that the Fairfax media group, owner of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, is in trouble because it has been run by nongs. Boards and managements have been too dumb to exploit the opportunities of the Internet, Hills reckons. He thinks Fairfax should have bought Seek and carsales.com.au and realestate.com.au. Fairfax also needs to be run by “people who know about media”, he complains.

Hils has done some great journalism over the years, notably on the asbestos industry and medical scams. But this book looks like a mis-step.

Since Hills is making a virtue of plain language, I’ll copy him: Hills’ theory is tripe, and I’m surprised more people aren’t calling him on it. In the media, most people seems to be treating him very politely.

But Stop the Presses! also has its lessons – though perhaps not the ones Hills draws.

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Operation 2770: TACSI’s Family by Family expands to Mt Druitt

Family by Family about which Troppodillians have heard before is spreading its wings. We’ve started in Mt Druitt where we’ve scoped the program which means investigating how it should be changed to optimise it to the local community. Here’s the Scoping Report which I think makes interesting reading.

Anyway we launched the scoping report with the Minister who’d commissioned us to establish the program – Pru Goward. And here’s my speech at the function. One thing that got my attention was the fact that, according to the scoping report, quite a few people from the area have tattoos of the postcode. And the supporters of Greater Western Sydney take signs of their postcodes to fixtures against Sydney Football Club – which is now more explicitly the team from the leafy suburbs.

Here also is the audio of a recent interview on this by Alex Sloan.

Notes for a Speech by Nicholas Gruen, Chairman of the Australian Centre for Social Innovation at the launch of the Family by Family Scoping Report for Mt Druitt, 12th March, 2014

I

Welcome to our modest function at Postcode 2770

Still, I’m reliably informed that from little things big things grow.

These are the words of Mystic (pronounced Mystique). She’s 21 now but was in out of home care since she was 3.

It happened so quickly. Once I turned 18, they sort of kicked me on my arse. They said ‘here’s $750, see you later, thank you’. And I’m just like ‘what the hell?’. A book and $750. That’s for being in care all your life.

Actually it makes you feel like an outsider. It makes you feel non existent on this earth. Like you are an alien. It does. It affects when you go to school too. You’re so used to being called ‘client’ and stuff that you start looking at yourself different to everyone else.

This example is not from NSW, but it’s not such an extreme example for those who know the system. And this is after what must be a decade, perhaps two of talking about “citizen centric services”!

II

Family by Family is different.

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What’s wrong with TED talks – hint: quite a lot

I have almost certainly fulminated in various asides against TED talks on this blog, and even one full on cri de coeur against retail profundification. (I promised one on business class profundification but I haven’t managed to do it yet.

Anyway, a friend sent me this TEDx talk which is about what’s wrong with TED Talks. It’s terrific. Indeed, if you want to watch it you can, but you can also see the text of the speech reproduced on the speaker’s website and in the Guardian. It’s always annoyed me that transcripts aren’t provided as a matter of course. They save a lot of time.

My favourite quote on economics:

Our options for change range from basically what we have plus a little more Hayek, to what we have plus a little more Keynes. Why?

Enjoy.

Profundification – a trend of our times: Part One

OK so you all kind of know this, but I’m going to go out on a limb and just put it out there as one younger member of my family has been heard to say. It’s depressing how much stuff is sent our way which repackages what’s already in the ether – stuff we already know, indeed stuff we may have grown up knowing, which is then fed back to us as AMAAAZING new insights into our contemporary world. You’ll laugh, you’ll gasp, you’ll savour those ‘aha’ moments – NOT.

This is the profundification of the commonplace.

The TED Talk above is on a subject that’s dear to my heart. It’s on the over-reliance on experts, the way experts can worship their paradigm and ignore what’s pretty obvious, and in the process tyrannize the wisdom of the lifeworld. I’ve even written whole essays on subject suggesting some possible ways to tackle the problem. So you’d think I’d love a TED Talk on that subject, especially since I agree with it.

Now I’m not expecting rocket science. I know that this is retail speechifying. The speaker is trying to explain ideas about which they’ve thought for some time to people for whom it may have no special significance. They need to be engaged and, dare I say it entertained. That’s as it should be. But lots of talks like that can be really interesting. I’m sure you can point us to some in comments. (On a second run through this I offer this TED talk as an illustration).

But really, having endured the hokeyness of the introduction, gritting my teeth thinking “this is the price of her TED Talk, this person will know something or say something of interest, perhaps compellingly, with cool illustrations” it turns out there is virtually no there there. Just the rehearsal of platitudes we already know – plus the obligatory reference to a brain scan. (Having invested in the technology, Troppo is scanning your brain as you read this and in the future you can be the first to learn the amazing fact to which our research will lead simply by staying tuned to Troppo.)  Continue reading

High tide in the Anti-ABC slops bucket

Remember the last time the Coalition government was insinuating treachery on the part of the ABC, and making like it was about to take a cricket bat to it? That was back in the days when Prime Minister Howard’s government was keenly promoting our mission to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq. (And by gee didn’t that turn out well?).

Back then Senator Richard Alston was considering installing an independent censor with powers over the ABC , if they didn’t answer the 60 charges of bias against the AM Program who had offended the government by improperly focussing on the quagmire aspects of the Iraq adventure rather that the glorious patriotic motives behind the decision to send brave lads off to war. Then as now the government reaction was just the pointy end of a broader campaign by the New New Guard to dismantle the national broadcaster.

Nothing much happened that time of course other than the ABC getting a bit of a rap over the knuckles, and installing some board stacks , it all eventually just ebbed away, until we returned to the general background noise of the quasi-conservative bloggers and their semi-literate fanboys muttering their incantations and poking pins in their ABC voodoo dolls.
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Crikey Subscription: It’s on again

It’s on again folks – or at least I’ve started to receive emails about it from you people. The incredible Troppo Crikey Sub. I’ve not been able to find, on a quick search, the savings on a one year subscription, but if you can give us the link, please do so in comments. We typically get enough subscriptions to get to the lowest price.

You know the drill. Send me a request at ngruen AT gmail. Please keep it as easy for me as you can. With over a hundred subscriptions, I don’t like answering questions etc. Just send me an email which I can put in a ‘folder’ to eventually send Crikey.

Postscript: Ignore most of what’s above. I’m just leaving it up there because we get remunerated by the word here at Troppo. But the bottom line is that if we get over 50 subscribers the price goes down to $99 – they’re clever these marketers, they know that we think that 99 is less than 100 which is quite a bit of money. In any event, Crikey are now sending out reminders to you if you’re already on the list. If so, and you want to proceed, please proceed with them. Deal done. There are 58 reminders going out and we have to get 50 subscribers to hit the psychological $99 price mark. If we don’t we’ll go over $100 and that’s a fair bit of money. If you are not an existing Tropscriber, or don’t receive an email by the end of this week, send me an email at ngruen AT gmail and I’ll swing Troppo’s bargaining muscle in behind your own (evidently) puny market heft.

The Xmas quiz answers and discussion

Last Monday I posted 4 questions to see who thought like a classic utilitarian and who adhered to a wider notion of ethics, suspecting that in the end we all subscribe to ‘more’ than classical utilitarianism. There are hence no ‘right’ answers, merely classic utilitarian ones and other ones.

The first question was to whom we should allocate a scarce supply of donor organs. Let us first briefly discuss the policy reality and then the classic utilitarian approach.

The policy reality is murky. Australia has guidelines on this that advocate taking various factors into account, including the expected benefit to the organ recipient (relevant to the utilitarian) but also the time spent on the waiting list (not so relevant). Because organs deteriorate quickly once removed, there are furthermore a lot of incidental factors important, such as which potential recipient is answering the phone (relevant to a utilitarian)? In terms of priorities though, the guidelines supposedly take no account of “race, religion, gender, social status, disability or age – unless age is relevant to the organ matching criteria.” To the utilitarian this form of equity is in fact inequity: the utilitarian does not care who receives an extra year of happy life, but by caring about the total number of additional happy years, the utilitarian would use any information that predicts those additional happy years, including race and gender.

In other countries, the practices vary. In some countries the allocation is more or less on the basis of expected benefit and in the other is it all about ‘medical criteria’ which in reality include the possibility that donor organs go to people with a high probability of a successful transplant but a very low number of expected additional years. Some leave the decision entirely up to individual doctors and hospitals, putting huge discretion on the side of an individual doctor, which raises the fear that their allocation is not purely on the grounds of societal gain.

What would the classic utilitarian do? Allocate organs where there is the highest expected number of additional happy lives. This thus involves a judgement on who is going to live long and who is going to live happy. Such things are not knowable with certainty, so a utilitarian would turn to statistical predictors of both, using whatever indicator could be administrated.

As to length of life, we generally know that rich young women have the highest life expectancy. And amongst rich young women in the West, white/Asian rich young women live even longer. According to some studies in the US, the difference with other ethnic groups (Black) can be up to 10 years (see the research links in this wikipedia page on the issue). As to whom is happy, again the general finding is that rich women are amongst the happiest groups. Hence the classic utilitarian would want to allocate the organs to rich white/Asian young women. Continue reading

Nuanced Argument from an Unlikely Source

To defend free speech does not mean you cannot criticise how others exercise it. The very opposite, if anything. With weaker legal restrictions on, say, racist insults there should be stronger social sanctions – criticism, debate, counter-arguments. It’s called manners, and when were conservatives ever against those? It’s just that I believe we are safer when manners are determined organically, by free people freely talking things over, than by an elite using the organs of the state to punish opinions they do not like and silence people they like even less.

Considering the source, I’m reminded of La Rouchefoucauld. Nonetheless, Bolt stands out as the epitome of a mannerly conservative: unfailingly respectful to his patrons and superiors, equally contemptuous of his enemies and other inferiors. Including those he purports to inform and enlighten.

What’s the difference between a tabloid TV reporter and a tapeworm?*

Tabloid TV – it’s one of modern life’s little irritations but, thankfully, one that’s easily avoided – unlike Melbourne’s Myki system, the rococo convolutions of bus routes in Melbourn’s outer suburbs and numb-nuts who conduct loud conversations on their mobile phones while you’re trying to read the latest edition of New Scientist. You just have to take care, when you’re channel surfing on the TV between 6:30 and 7:00pm that you avoid Today Tonight and ACA much as a real surfer avoids surfing through a sewage outfall.

Well that’s the theory; in practice it doesn’t always work out that way. Then you’re reminded that tabloid TV isn’t merely an irritant – at times it’s quite noxious.

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