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by Jon Shapiro
posted 09/04/2013

Drive Friday: 5 April 2013 – Matters Discussed

Drive Friday: 5 April 2013 – Matters Discussed

Presented by Jon Shapiro

Below are Jon’s speaking notes for discussions which broadcast during Drive on Friday 5 April 2013.

For the philosophical basis to these discussions, please see Jon’s vision for constitutional reform, Democracy Without Politics, at: www.myspace.com/dwop98


Undignified citizenship … no democracy

Days since I wrote to my local Member of the House of “Representatives”, without response …

Tanya Plibersek MHR:           151

Minister Bill Shorten:              119

Original email sent:                           5 November 2012

First follow-up email sent:                7 December 2012

Second follow-up email sent:            26 March 2013


Just for laughs

Council amalgamations

There is talk in the news of the NSW government amalgamating local councils …

Claims that this will result in overly large council areas were today denied by the mayor of Western New South Wales (otherwise known by British ex-pats living on the other side of the great divide as “Western-Super-Mayor”)!


Colosseum TV

Freak show

Promo for TV show The Biggest Loser, Channel 10, 23/3/13: they showed the lower legs of someone called “Big Kev”, who they described as the biggest contestant they’d ever had in the history of the show … his identity (and the rest of his appearance) presumably to be revealed on the next programme.

Review by Tony Squires (who recommended this show as his pick of the day), SMH, 26/3/13, page 45: “Biggest loser yet tips scales in show’s favour”:

No one knew whether to high five or burst into tears – the two recommended reactions to most things on this show

I already like Kevin.  His time being barked at by the Commando (“In a second? That’s what you’ve been saying your whole damned life”) … will be fascinating

Tuesday’s half-marathon, with the parents and their offspring tied together, is a classic example of dragging people to the end of their tether.

The motivational pop-psychology of the trainers is hard to take from the safety of the lounge chair, so it must be unbearable in the flesh.

Analysis: this is not a show about losing weight, but one of many shows where people are put into artificial conflict for our entertainment (and this show appears to put unfit people through activities that may in fact be dangerous to their health; eg, half-marathon? Not to mention the bullying) – however, this promo goes a step further; reminiscent of fairgrounds of old, this is just a freak show.  This is a show for people (including, evidently, Tony Squires) whose minds are so small they laugh at physical abnormality in others.  A show which is truly about health and fitness would be very different (I actually can’t think of one).


Matters referred to in discussion with guest Stuart Rubin

Made In Hollywood, SBS1, 1/12/12

(doco about Hollywood “blockbusters”)


Avatar is the perfect example of the fascist myth – society is weak, a hero comes down from the hills and puts everything right, gets the trains to run on time, then goes back to being an ordinary person.  This is the myth subscribed to by Mussolini and Hitler, and Stalin and Mao – give me power temporarily, and I’ll fix everything up; but they never get there, they just keep power for themselves

Analysis: by extension, this shows how apparent “democracies”, such as the USA, are actually fascist – especially at the level of ordinary people, who must find, in great number, the fascist myth appealing

Interviewee (same as above):

In my day, we’d queue around the block for the latest Bergman film, the latest Fellini film; in those days American audiences were discerning, those days have gone … cinema will go on and on, but it won’t be an art form, it will be an entertainment form

Other interviewees:

The number of movies made by the studios is declining; they’d rather spend big on a few blockbusters which will make megabucks (including all the merchandising; together “shoppertainment”), than make many different kinds of films; and show them on more and more screens simultaneously, for shorter and shorter runs (eg 4-6 weeks instead of 3-4 months – they need to make way for the next heavily advertised blockbuster, like each film is a McDonalds hamburger) – under current arrangements, films like One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest would never get produced


– the last comment reminds me of NSW (and elsewhere) electoral law, which prevents ordinary people from even nominating

– I note also the decline of arthouse cinemas, in Sydney at least – now we have the Chauvel (Paddington), but in the 80s we also had the Valhalla (Glebe), Walker Street (North Sydney), Dave’s Mandarin/Encore (City), (others?)

London Calling – Part 4 (of 4): Master of Puppets (SBS2, 25/11/12)

From that week’s SMH The Guide, blurb:

Tells the untold story of British pop, as reflected through artistic mediums [sic] beyond music.  This episode investigates the behind-the-scenes impresarios and star makers who had a hand in creating British pop.

After spending most of the show talking about people like Brian Epstein and Malcolm McLaren, the narrator and interviewees end with a discussion of Simon Cowell.  Comments include:

As our study reaches the present day, an unforeseen twist threatens to reverse the gains achieved by many British managers – (narrator)

The basic effect of Simon Cowell and Simon Fuller, it’s almost like rock never happened – (?)

We have returned to what I was brought up with in the 50s, which was light entertainment, and the hook-up between light entertainment and the music industry, and Tin Pan Alley, which used to be the street in London and America where the song pluggers would work, and you get the same song covered by five people – Jon Savage

The public doesn’t want anything else; it wants the tear ducts to flow openly, rapidly, disgustingly, but rewardingly, and that’s what they’re getting – Andrew Loog Oldham

It’s just the great big hole of nothing in the centre of British pop culture, and it goes back to what people in the music industry always say; the records that mostly sell are bought by people who don’t like music – Jon Savage

These artists only ever seem to last a year, but why does Simon Cowell bother with artists who last a year?  The point is that’s what he wants, because next year is another series of the programme – (?)

The context for those of us that love the music for all sorts of reasons is horrifying; because, yeah, it’s television, it’s emptiness, it’s raping the history of the music to create the repertoire, and it’s a very narrow repertoire, a very dull repertoire; it’s raping the history of the music to recirculate the poses.  So, you know they know their poses, you know that Marcus is going to look like a 60s Motown act, you know that Kitty is going to have a bit of Gaga and a bit of Madonna, you know the young kid is going to look like he’s in the Small faces, you know Frankie C-C-C-C-C-C-Cocaine, you know they flip through the catalogue.  Now in the 60s and 70s when they flipped through the catalogue, in there was also Marcel Duchamp, Charles Baudelaire, Fassbinder, Jean-Luc Goddard; now unfortunately it’s Rod Stewart, it’s Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Madonna, Michael Jackson, The Strokes; it’s ceased to have that wider sense of what the music actually was, which was a wonderful way of expressing fundamental, universal ideas, so that in a way what will be the next great act that will be the equivalent of a great rock act from the 60s like The Velvets or The Beatles or The Sex Pistols from the 70s or Joy Division, won’t be a rock band, because it wasn’t that look or the music that was important, it was the idea, that happened to be turned into that because of the time and place they were in

The genius of reality TV or Pop Idol is, the whole record industry for 100 years, is you got a record and you had to publicise it and that cost money; now, the record is publicised before it comes out, it’s self-publicising, it comes out as a hit.  So, the plugging isn’t just not costing anything, it’s actually making a profit, because the audience phone in, and pay to make their calls.  So, you’ve made a profit from plugging the record; if it’s not a hit, you still make a profit.  I mean it’s turning the record industry on its head; but, from a business point of view, it’s an absolutely brilliant concept

The banality of the entertainment level goes up in direct ratio to the suppression of the masses (Andrew Loog Oldham)


Drive Friday: 5 April 2013 – Matters We Didn’t Have Time To Discuss

Below are Jon’s speaking notes for discussions which we didn’t have time to broadcast during Drive on Friday 5 April 2013.

For the philosophical basis to these discussions, please see Jon’s vision for constitutional reform, Democracy Without Politics, at: www.myspace.com/dwop98


Recommended viewing

Monstrously satirical

Ugly Americans, SBS2, new series commencing 22/4/13

Animated series, in a similar vein to Drawn Together – for broad-minded audiences only (adult themes, simulated violence, sexual references).  Set in an alternative New York, where people are not the only people (eg zombies, demons, other monsters; all with their own hang-ups and other personal issues).


Defence against the dark arts of advertising

The Mile High Club?

SMH 180313 (also 25/3/13), Advertisement for [airline], “Experience a new class of business”, page 4:

The business class you’ve been waiting for has arrived.  With a stylish cabin, luxurious leather seats and a mouth-watering [celebrity chef] designed menu, you’ll feel at home from the moment you step on board.  Add our brilliant people and you’ll see that we’ve truly brought the romance back into flying.


1. Business v (a) feel at home (b) romance … er?

2. Four listed features aren’t important – what about leg room, priority exit, peace and quiet, eg?

3. If their people are brilliant, why are they working as air stewards?

4. Romance?  Because people are brilliant, or female employees are attractive?  What does the image of (us) handing her our jacket suggest? (like, the Oz Crawl song, Boys Light Up: “ … hopes are up for trousers down with the hostess on the business flight …”)

5. Language: “class” (headline); “you’ve been waiting for” what they’re offering us (I haven’t); “luxurious” leather seats; is “truly” really necessary in the last assertion?


New verb for boozers

[Beer brand] TV ad this week: “pioneering beering” … derrrrrrrr


Free (to air) Education

Making time

ABC1 (24/3/13), David Attenborough’s Galapagos

(a) time critical

One factor explaining the rapid evolution of life on the Galapagos islands is the absence of predators; not having to spend so much time in hiding, animals have more time available for eating and reproducing.

Analysis: this has a very broad application to human society; if we replace “predators” with “consumption”, we can replace “hiding” with “working”, and so by consuming less, we can have more time … for what?  To do whatever we want, because it is our time.

(b) the language barrier to reproduction

Small lizards vary in the way they communicate; they all do that by doing press-ups, but each sub-species varies in height, duration and intensity.  As a result, even though they can reproduce with each other, they never get to that point because they are unable to communicate that beforehand.

Analysis: this has interesting implications for human society, if we cannot speak the same language (that is, culturally, not literally).


Easter Island

Channel 10 (23/3/13), David Attenborough’s Africa: The Future

Rhinos are the most poached of all animals in the world.  Ground rhino horn can fetch up to $65,000 per kilo.  Demand comes from cultures who use it as a medicine; yet, it has no proven health benefit.  Black rhinoceros, particularly, are close to extinction (poaching is one of a number of problems, including habitat destruction), with only 300 individuals remaining.

Analysis: this disaster is because of demand for product by ignorant and/or superstitious and/or social-climbing people (the latter because of the kudos of being able to afford it – like shark fin soup); if they didn’t demand the product, there’d be no profit for the poachers, and poaching would lessen.  It is similar to the ecological disaster of Easter Island, which was denuded of trees by people who required them to roll the stones that established their relative status within the community, making that same community unsupportable – this has a broader lesson for our over-consumption culture generally; the earth may not be able to sustain us if we keep going the way we are, yet, there is enough for everyone to live comfortably (albeit modestly) and sustainably.


Media Failures

Legal redress – consumer affairs

New ABC programme: The Checkout (ABC1, 21/3/13)

… ran a story about the Canadian musician who sought redress for an airline breaking his guitar and not compensating him, by posting “United Breaks Guitars” on YouTube.

Although The Checkout recognises that using social media has a one in 12 million chance of success, they’re solution is … to set up their own social media complaint site, FU Tube; to get on the site, all a disgruntled consumer has to do is make a video and post it – simple! [Check out their website: www.futube.net.au]

Business arising (Citizens Parliament):

There should be a consumer disputes tribunal, with the power to make orders against product and service providers, which is free of charge to genuine applicants


Asking the wrong questions gets the wrong answers

Lateline, ABC1, 20/3/13 – The Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, discusses the violence in Syria and what the west can do – nonsense re “democracy”

TONY JONES: Now, I’ll just broaden this a bit because in a recent essay you raise a very interesting philosophical issue claiming that the failures of the Arab Spring spotlight the tension between majority rule and respect for rights. Can you explain what you mean there?

KENNETH ROTH: Well I think a good example is Egypt. You’ve got the Muslim Brotherhood who suffered quite seriously under Mubarak for decades. Finally they win an election and they don’t want to be told that there’s anything they can’t do. They feel that they’re in charge, they’re the majority. And what I tried to stress with that essay is the concept of human rights constrains even an elected government. There’s certain things that even a majoritarian government cannot do. You can’t torture people, you can’t summarily execute people, you can’t shut down their religious freedom or the freedom of the press and those are restraints that these new majoritarian governments in Egypt, in Tunisia don’t really want to hear, but it’s important to stress that even elected governments have to be limited in order to be called a democracy.

TONY JONES: So are you saying, for example, that if a clear majority voted for a government which wanted to impose sharia law, a very strict form of sharia law in one of these countries post-Arab Spring, that that would be undemocratic?

KENNETH ROTH: Precisely. In other words, there’s certain limits that even a majority can’t transcend. If a majority of people said, “We want to shut down your freedom of the press. We’re gonna just get you off the air and we’re not gonna let you speak,” that would be wrong. You have an absolute right to speak freely; it doesn’t matter what the majority says. If they said they wanna torture or they wanna execute you, similarly, you have basic rights. That applies whether it’s sharia or anything else. Even a majoritarian government has to abide by those limits.

TONY JONES: Although it is a pretty controversial concept, isn’t it, and I imagine that some of those people who are in these majoritarian governments will be accusing you or that thought of embodying cultural imperialism.

KENNETH ROTH: Yes, they like to do that, but what I like to stress is that we’re not – for example in the case of, say, women’s rights, we’re not telling women in Egypt that they have to lead a modern secular existence. If they want to stay in the house and subjugate themselves to their husband’s will, they can do that. But what we’re saying is if women and many Egyptian women do want to lead a more liberated existence, if they want to be treated as equals of men, if they want to be able to move freely about and choose their job and choose where they’re educated, that’s their right. The West isn’t imposing that on them, that’s something that they want to do and it’s actually the right-wing government that would be preventing them. It would be the one doing the imposition.

TONY JONES: So is a democracy only a democracy when it has a constitution that somehow embodies universal principles of human rights?

KENNETH ROTH: Exactly. In my view a democracy requires three key elements. Obviously elections. But also rights and the rule of law, and by the rule of law I mean that even if government is subject to the courts and even the government has to abide by the law.


1. Roth talks about rights as if they happen by magic

2. Jones was on the right track in the last question cited above; emphasis on somehow – that is, constitutional design is the issue; how do we protect things we regard as fundamental?

3. Roth’s second error is to assume what those fundamental things are – like everything else, they need to be discussed.  There is a bit of circularity, though, for before these discussions there needs to be discussions on how those discussions will go; but this is an unavoidable problem of constitutional design

4. Constitutions should not discuss “rights”, but powers – for examples: how are the legislative, executive and judicial powers to be separated?  What are the criteria for enrolment to vote, and nomination for parliament?  Who is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces?  What are the limits on free trade and expression?  How is the constitution altered?  Etc, etc … these need to be spelt out, clearly and precisely; in the absence of which, a majoritarian government may legally do as it pleases after it is elected (as the Nazis did; the first thing they did was change the constitution, to entrench themselves in power).

5. This one of the many problems with revolutions, obscured by the spectacle of the other problems: revolutions almost always involve the overthrow of the previous regime with little or no thought as to what to replace it with; in this vacuum, in turn, this leads to the replication or worsening of what had been discarded

6. Roth’s three elements of democracy: (i) elections are meaningless without the others; my right to vote in Australia and NSW is meaningless to me, as I have absolutely no power by it (ii) “rights” can mean anything to anyone (iii) the rule of law is a complex idea, and does not exist absolutely; it exists to a greater or lesser extent, and particular features of a nation contribute to or detract from the Rule of Law (eg NSW electoral law detracts from it) …

7. … instead, I ask two questions, as the first step in constitutional design: (i) how can we ensure that every citizen has a reasonable opportunity to be meaningfully involved in decisions which affect them, and (ii) how can we guarantee that as much as possible laws are decided only on their merits and not for political, personal or other irrelevant reasons?  These questions are difficult to answer, involving careful consideration of a complexity of possible arrangements, but once they’re answered satisfactorily, the other “rights” will sort themselves out. (For my vision for constitutional reform, and my attempt at answering these questions, see: www.myspace.com/dwop98).


Media Bullying

Lateline, ABC1, 19/3/13 – end of interview with Bob Carr

EMMA ALBERICI: Okay, well you’ve already denied reports in this morning’s ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ that you’d lost confidence in Julia Gillard. Today the journalists who wrote that particular story are standing by it. Where does the truth lie?


EMMA ALBERICI: Minister, the truth is you had no choice but to deny these reports, to confirm them would mean immediate resignation or sacking, wouldn’t it?

BOB CARR: … There’s interesting and novel thought, it would be good for the political system, good for my party if we directed our attention to a challenging policy agenda … not to this cliché of Australian politics. Whenever we’re looking for a story out of Canberra it’s too easy to reach into the barrel and bring out commentary on opinion polls, early election speculation or leadership challenges as a journalist a card carrying journalist, I think it would be good if we left those clichés behind us.

EMMA ALBERICI: So these anxieties being raised in the media, stories of leadership tension, they’re a figment of the media’s imagination?

BOB CARR: I said earlier that it’s an obligation on my colleagues, as well as on the media, to yank the public debate back to policy substance and away from this cycle, this rather excitable cycle of leadership speculation, which is one of the great clichés of political journalism.

EMMA ALBERICI: I’m going to ask you one more question, I want you to confirm to us that you’ve never spoken to your colleagues expressing your concerns about the direction of this government or whether Labor can win under Julia Gillard.

BOB CARR: I can confirm that absolutely and thank you for asking the question, giving me an opportunity to do it.


1. I’ve left out the political parts of Carr’s responses

2. Alberici’s last question is a non-sequitur – it shows the low standard of journalism of Lateline that they plod on with irrelevant politics, with the added effect of creating the news as it goes, despite it being drawn to their attention; but at least Lateline is journalism, imagine what it’s like in tabloid TV

3. Carr was harried into submission by the time of his final response


SMH, generally

SMH 180313 – On moving to tabloid format …

(London broadsheets did this some time ago: The Times, The Independent, The Grauniad, but not the Financial Times (printed on pink paper) or the Torygraph) … the internal format of the new SMH is very much like The Independent

Pages dedicated almost exclusively to politics (ie the position-jockeying of baboons): 1, 6-7, 18-19

Pages dedicated to sport: 43-56 (ie, excluding TV guide, exactly 25% of the paper)


Politics v Citizens

Ignorance is bliss

Peter Martin, “Study finds widespread ignorance about carbon tax”, SMH, 25/3/13, at 3:

Nine months after its introduction 54 per cent of people believed the tax, which specifically excludes motor fuel, had pushed up prices at service stations

Asked about compensation, 49 per cent said they had received nothing at all, whereas the compensation package introduced with the tax applies to 90 per cent of the population

‘The findings point to an extraordinarily poor sales job,’ said David Hetherington, executive director of the [name] think tank which commissioned the study.  ‘It looks as if people have noticed the tax cuts and the upfront payments at first, and then forgotten about them.’


1. This is not an article about the tax, but about our ignorance

2. It may be a poor sales job, but that’s hardly the point (and seeing it as a marketing question distracts us from the real problem); similarly, neither is ordinary people being ignorant of issues (which can relate to the marketing question) – what is at issue here is that there is controversy about this issue and people are forming opinions from positions of ignorance

3. I confess to being ignorant about the petrol exemption, for example (I know we got some kind of compensation, but not the details) but I try to recognise my ignorance and then try not to form opinions if ignorant – although this is difficult; it’s hard to know what you don’t know, but this tax is a situation in which it is surely easier to know when you don’t know something


Playing the game

SMH, 18/3/13, Advertisement for [environmental issue], “Protect the laws that protect the places you love”, page 5:

Dear Minister Burke and Parliamentarians,

A battle is raging over the protection of the places and wildlife Australians love.

State governments and industry are demanding you hand over federal environmental approval powers to fast track destructive developments.

85% of Australians support the Federal Government’s right to intervene in environmental matters.

You need to act now to remove the part of our national environmental law that makes this hand over of power possible.

It’s time to remove this threat once and for all.

From the Places You Love Alliance

Minister Burke needs to hear your support for protecting the laws that protect the places Australians love.

Take action at [website] or [tweet]

Places You Love is an alliance of 35 environmental organisations from across Australia.


1. Appealing to an individual and encouraging others to do the same is like praying to ancient pre-monotheistic gods, and detracts from the Rule of Law (see below)

2. Language: “a battle is raging” (military); “the places and wildlife Australians love” (presuming to speak on behalf of everyone); “demanding”, “fast track”, “destructive” (hype); “hand over of power” (see below)

3. “85% of Australians” … how do they know?  I don’t remember being asked.  How was the survey conducted?  How informed were surveyed opinions?

4. “once and for all” – we should not presume to know what will be best in perpetuity

5. it is unclear whether they’re saying the Act gives the minister power to delegate to the states, or if the Act itself gives power to the states … how does this fit in with the way the federal constitution works; ie, the states have power to legislate unless trumped by the federal parliament (power is not “handed over”)

6. the name of the group is important to the message; is self-promotion as important as the issue? (see next)

7. when a group’s focus is too specific, general problems are outside their brief – here, unaddressed, but maintained by this action, is (i) why these issues are at the mercy of individual ministers (detracts from rule of law), (ii) why advertising is the normal path to having a say (the unresourced are excluded from participation), and (iii) all that effort (advertising, etc) for merely one issue is not only inefficient but also dangerous, because by playing along with the game the rules don’t change, with negative effects for other issues that there’s no time for, including other environmental issues! …

… imagine if there was an industrial process which doubled the number of widgets produced per hour; wouldn’t you’d be insane not to implement it?  So it is with Democracy Without Politics (www.myspace.com/dwop98); a thousand times as many issues can be dealt with as are currently (not to mention they’d also be dealt with a lot better)


Square pegs in square holes

Emma Macdonald, “Fears over stressed children as how-to books race off shelves”, Sydney Morning Herald, 18/3/13, at 12:

Publishing houses printing how-to guides and NAPLAN-specific workbooks have found themselves winners as parents clamour for help in maximising their children’s scores.

But reports of students feeling so anxious about sitting NAPLAN that they had been sick were not new and parents needed to understand NAPLAN was ‘not the HSC for seven-year-olds.’

[Australian Education Union ACT branch secretary Glenn Fowler] said he believed merchants selling NAPLAN workbooks were being ‘opportunistic in preying upon parents’ understandable anxieties’.

‘Recently, US President [Barack] Obama said that children were in danger of finding learning boring.  Booklets like this don’t help.’


1. The environment determines behaviour

2. We determine that environment: (a) as taxpayers, requiring government accountability in terms we can measure (ie results per dollar) (b) as parents and others (employers) who value education in narrow, economic benefit terms …

3. So, we fail to appreciate the benefits of learning in itself, nor other educational priorities (eg we are ranked lowly internationally in terms of tertiary education investment, although results per dollar may show success; see next item below)

4. cf … films Dead Poets Society, Virgin Suicides, Not One Less, and my own experiences as a tutor (I do not have a DipEd or equivalent, but I have been successful)


The dumb country

SMH 18/3/13, Advertisement by Universities Australia, “University education.  The smartest investment we can make”, page 13:

[check: smartinvestment.com.au … as at 9/4/13, this address is vacant and available for purchase]

Australia now ranks just 25th out of 29 advanced economies for public investment in universities.

Our university graduates have been worth over $170 billion to our economy annually.

We have a strong base to build and to grow our economy for a more secure future.

So let’s properly invest in university education and research.

[image: what appears to be a mother and daughter; daughter wearing mortar-board and academic gown]


1. Our low ranking is a good point to make, but it is only in relation to public investment in universities; what is not discussed is (i) the extent of private finance, and why that must be resisted because of the influence it wields, and (ii) the extent of support for students, without which enrolments are demographically skewed towards those individuals that can afford it

2. The use of the word “economy”, twice, suggests the narrow interpretation to be applied to “investment”, to our peril (including, economically)

3. What is the ad asking us to do?  Who is Universities Australia?  We have to visit their website to find out, yet it is a half-page ad …

4. … almost half the ad is a picture of two women; so, when they talk of us making an investment, who is “us”?  Perhaps, both us as a nation, and as parents (ie invest in our children); ie education is primarily something which parents invest in for their children’s future?


The blame game

Sean Nicholls and Leesha McKenny, “Premiers clash over Obeid rise”, Sydney Morning Herald, 11/3/13, at 1:

Former Labor premiers Bob Carr and Morris Iemma have gone to war over who was responsible for the rise of Eddie Obeid … (blah, blah, blah) …


– Page 1 (ie most important story of the day)

– military language “gone to war”

– who cares? (i) the whole issue is largely irrelevant (ii) possibly relevant to how to prevent this sort of thing occurring, yet addressed by neither the premiers, nor the article’s authors


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