08 March, 2014

A post about floccinaucinihilipilification

There is a certain anti-intellectualism about Australia. There is also a certain anti-intellectualism about politics. When you put the two together, suddenly it seems like anyone who knows how to spell their own name is some out-of-touch elitist who doesn’t understand the everyday concerns of ordinary people like you, who still wonder why the moon follows them around at night. You only have to be smart enough to construct an argument about how being smart doesn’t make you so smart and everything else will follow.

We have quite a history of mocking people who like to use big words.

In 1993, Paul Keating caused quite a stir when he implied the then Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohammad was a recalcitrant. The controversy was party because of the undiplomatic language, and partly because thousands of people had to find out what recalcitrant meant. The word has since been used by both sides of politics without any further comment.

In 2000, Kim Beazley was mocked for describing John Howard’s roads policy as a boondoggle.

And no mention of Kevin Rudd is complete without the phrase “programmatic specificity,” which, among other things, became a major punchline in one of Julie Bishop’s increasingly regular and increasingly cringeworthy comedy routines.

If war is God’s way of teaching Americans geography, perhaps politics is God’s way of expanding Australians’ vocabulary.

Cut to this week, and Malcolm Turnbull talking about “neoconrovianism,” which apparently isn’t a description of Karl Rove’s political philosophy.

Surely by any Australian standards, this is enough to have Mr Turnbull dismissed as a prize wanker.

But wait. Something is different. Where is all the mockery from the media and the opposition? After all, this doublespeak is coming from the same man who claimed in 2009 that had no idea what programmatic specificity meant, even though the meaning should be clear to a Rhodes Scholar.

What changed? Why is this different?

We report, you decide…

03 March, 2014

Setting a good example

Do you remember when you were at school? Do you remember when you got to be one of the big kids? Were you told that as one of the big kids, you were expected to set an example for the littler kids? Were you told it was because the younger kids looked up to the older kids and took behavioural cues from them? Well, it probably wasn’t put like that, but I’m fairly sure that was the message that was given. If you behave badly, others will copy you. I’m fairly sure all of us were given this kind of lecture in one context or another as we were growing up.

Which brings us to this:


The headline is misleading. It’s not Obama whose influence is limited but the United States. It’s not President Obama specifically but the US government as a whole that has lost the moral authority to lecture anyone about invading sovereign nations for dubious reasons.

Now why do you think that might be?

Much as people on both sides of American politics would like to pretend the slate was wiped clean on January 20th, 2009, it was not. Every leader has to lie in bed that previous administrations made for them.

Now I’m not saying it’s the Bush administration’s fault that Vladimir Putin seems to want to annex part, if not all of the Ukraine, but it is their fault that the world laughs at John Kerry when he says, “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on a completely trumped-up pretext.” There’s no point in arguing that Kerry said similar things about the Iraq war. Nobody cares, especially not anyone who would like to point to America’s own foreign excursions this century in order to justify their own operations, or at least negate America’s valid arguments against them. The example has been set, and by the self-styled leader of the free world, no less.

More than ten years ago, when I would argue the case against the Iraq war on forums, I was frequently told I was on the wrong side of history. I wanted them to be right, but they weren’t. “Bush is a chess player,” they would tell me as things began to go wrong. “He’s playing the long game, thinking three moves ahead.” No, seriously, people said this to me. I would kind of like to hear from them again. I doubt I will though.