George Orwell was a stickler for plain and simple English in public discourse. He argued that one could escape some of “the worst follies of orthodoxy” by simplifying one’s language.
“When you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies
sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
Last week the OECD felt it was time for a bit of pure wind. It headed a media release “Structural reforms more important than ever for a strong and balanced economic recovery”. Really? Let’s invert the rhetorical body language and leave the literal meaning in tact. The OECD thinks that structural reforms have always been less important than they are today. Less important in addressing the economic ailments of the 1970s? Less important in the industrial revolution? Enough said.
This kind of verbal flatulence is everywhere. And it matters. Continue reading
Facts are no match for a compelling narrative, says Jonathan Green. Despite the efforts of left leaning bloggers, conservatives are winning arguments and elections because they have better stories.
Voters see themselves as struggling with an ever rising cost of living, the federal government mired in debt and the parliament paralysed by the lack of governing majority. According to Green, none of these things is true. But against a "conservative political machine happy to deal with well-calculated and skillfully deployed impressions", truth is no defence:
The blogosphere is filled with number crunchers, graph bloggers and fact checkers. The picture they provide is lucid, accurate, and challenging to many of the familiar political tropes.
But it is the tropes that leave the lasting public impression. The frustration for the left is the lingering impression that facts ought, in the best of all possible worlds, to get in the way of the story. Trouble is, the story is increasingly the story.
What works politically is in fact a compelling, ahem, narrative – whether it be manufactured from fact or fiction is not really to the point.
So here we are in chapter one of a gripping tale with heroic wonk bloggers battling against conservative spin merchants and the mainstream media they understand so well. Will our heroes be defeated? Will they embrace the tactics of their opponents and be lured over to the dark side? Or will they turn to the light side of the Force and use the power of narrative for good?
To those on the left, the American conservative movement appears as a leviathan with each monstrous limb serving the coordinated purpose of the whole. In reality the only unity of purpose is a shared opposition to liberals. Ideologically, the conservative movement is an alliance of various groups of conservatives and libertarians.
On a few individual issues, some of these groups have more in common with some liberal groups than they do with their allies in the conservative movement. Many libertarians opposed the Bush administration’s war on terror, a position they shared with liberals. Another example is welfare policy where social conservatives and third way liberals united in support of time limits and tougher work requirements (more on this example below).
Here’s a great review essay by Louis Menand on Anne Applebaum’s “Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe”. Below the fold are a few snippets of what were highlights for me, but read the whole thing if you have time – it’s full of remarkable facts about the the end of WWII in the East where over four fifths(!!) of the casualties took place and its long sad and dangerous aftermath: Continue reading
We’ve spent a long time talking about Australia’s relation ship with our near North. The recent Asian Century White Paper succeeds the interminable early 90s debates about whether Australia was part of Asia, which succeeded the end of the White Australia interregnum, which succeeded exports to the PRC and trade deals with Japan in the 50s.
But I like to go back to the 1940s, and William Hardy Wilson’s Kurrajong – a topic which fascinates me, and apparently few other people.
Wilson saw an Australia that reflected both European heritage and the influences of the region as not just desirable, but as the End of History. In his teleology, history was a series of conflicts that were the product of a benevolent global Jewish conspiracy to draw populations together and create fusion aesthetics. The last of these would be the peace of East and West, between the the traditions of the Sinosphere and Greco Roman tradition of Western Europe. This would occur in Australia if Wilson had anything to do with it, and so he set about planning a perfect city in Kurrajong (North West of Sydney), designing buildings and lobbying they Chifley government to bring in more Asian migrants. 
You’ve probably grasped by now that Wilson was, ahem, eccentric. He also really like nuclear mushroom clouds. They feature in his proposed monument to peace, behind sketches of his proposed buildings , and in one image of Kurrajong a towering cloud marks the obliteration of a site in the distance which, after visiting the lookout, I determined to be the site of the Sydney CBD. Continue reading