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The Daily Briefing 9/12/05

By Wayne Sanderson
Created 10/12/2005 - 00:26

FRIDAY 9TH DECEMBER 2005          
/// The latest subscriber [2] email /// 
Your round-up [3] from today's newspapers plus the best writing, analysis, critical thinking and humour from around the world.

In today's email:
1    David Brooks on the mess conservatives are in/NYTimes (2 links below) [4]
2    Report on violence in Iraq/Der Spiegel (2 links below) [5]
3    Jim Hoagland on the spread of Islamic terrorism/Washington Post (link below) [6]
4    Robert Gott says the US is undermining Venezuelan democracy/Mother Jones [7]
5    Bishakha De Sarkar on changing s*exual attitudes in India/Telegraph (2 links below) [8]
6    Terence Kealey on bad science and childcare/Times (link below) [9]
7    Sean Gonzales uses modern cliches/Alternet (5 links below) [10]
8    MODERN MANNERS: Inside the men's room/Guardian (3 links below) [11]
9    Nicholas Hookway  on community and blogs/OLO [12]
10    Report on the return of the push-rod engine/NYTimes [13]
11    IN THE PAPERS: National, Opinion, Business round-up [14]

1Conservatives in mess
Hopefully at least some readers are as interested in the upheaval in US conservative ranks as TDB given the time devoted to it. David Brooks is arguably the most influential conservative columnist is the US - comes with getting space in the NYTimes twice a week, and it helps that Brooks is good. In the column below he gives his analysis of what has gone wrong for the movement that has gone from nowhere to holding the power at almost every level in the US.

Another powerful conservative voice, George Will in The Washington Post illustrates the gap between conservative idealists and Republicans in power as he explains how Americans now have "the inalienable right to a remote" [15] and digital television. "Remember, although it is difficult to do so, that Republicans control Congress. And today's up-to-date conservatism does not stand idly by expecting people to actually pursue happiness on their own. Hence the new entitlement from Congress to help all Americans acquire converter boxes to put on top of old analog sets, making the sets able to receive digital programming."

And liberal columnist Robert Scheer (recently sacked by the LATimes) looks at the corrupt activities of conservative lobbyist Jack Abramoff [16].

2 Progress and violence in Iraq
Reports from on the ground in Iraq continue to be horrifying, tempered by the occasional hopeful sign. This article [18] falls into the latter category. Jonathan Finer reports on evidence of growing political maturity and interest from "parties of all stripes" ahead of the December 15 election that are so crucial for the US and its backers. "In January, most candidates outside the dominant few parties largely eschewed campaigning, fearing they could be kidnapped or assassinated. Now, even long shots are getting into the act. One day this week, National Democratic Institute instructors explained get-out-the-vote techniques to a dozen members of the Free Iraq Gathering, a new coalition that "probably won't get many more votes than you see in that room," according to an institute employee."

This report, also in the Post, looks at the situation in two cities cited by George Bush as showing signs of progress [19]; and at corruption in the reconstruction effort. "In an interview yesterday, Stuart Bowen, the U.S. inspector general for Iraq, said corruption is "pervasive and very serious, particularly within the Iraqi ministries of defense and interior but not confined to the two offices." In one case under investigation, more than $1 billion is basically missing, he said."

But the most comprehensive report from Iraq TDB has come across in a very long while is the one, linked to below, by four journalist from Der Spiegel. It describes a Hobbesian hell. "Criminal statistics in Iraq no longer distinguish between politically motivated killings and conventional murder -- and no one even bothers to count the numbers of thefts, blackmailings, muggings and kidnappings. The abyss of violence seems bottomless, and the victims are almost always Iraqi citizens. "There are currently 48 Iraqi victims for each American death," says Kamran Karadaghi, the chief of staff of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.""

3 Spreading terror, corrupting journalism
Jim Hoagland captures a sentiment TDB has seen expressed many times of late, especially since the suicide bombing in Jordan - that Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism is spreading its reach out from Iraq into surrounding Arab nations. Hoagland recently attended a conference in Bahrain organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies and attended by Gulf Arab leaders, intellectuals, senior military officers and national security officials. And he reports that concerns were expressed that the US is making the situation worse. "Government representatives described Islamic-inspired terrorist networks as the urgent threat to citizens and to stability -- and then put forward some fresh ideas on what Muslims themselves must do to defeat the terrorists. Those suggestions constituted the originality and the promise of this conclave."

Also in the Post, David Ignatius, who writes for the Beirut Daily Star, contrasts the courage of Arab journalists working - at risk to their lives - to build a free press, with the actions of the US in paying for "good news" stories in Iraq [21]. "This at a time when real Iraqi reporters are risking their lives to work for The Post and other news organizations in Baghdad because they believe in honest journalism. Here's a thought for an administration that claims to love freedom and democracy: Let's try living our values, rather than just talking about them."

4 Undermining democracy in Venezuela
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez won a thumping victory in elections on Sunday for the National Assembly, a poll boycotted by a number of minor parties. Robert Gott, author of the book "Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution", describes the boycott as cynical, and says the move was backed by the US as part of a campaign to discredit Chávez. The problem, as he sees it, is that the size of the victory that resulted has given Chávez the opportunity to change the country's "generally admirable" constitution in ways that will undermine democracy. "The US-backed strategy is to use apparently neutral non-governmental organisations to tell the world that the elections are not free and fair, that press freedom is under threat, and that human rights are not respected. These allegations are then exaggerated and amplified in Washington. The complaints are nonsense. The opposition still owns most of the newspapers and television stations. The judiciary has been comprehensively reformed after the scandals of the previous decade when half the judges were found to be corrupt or incompetent. Elections have been endlessly vetted and human rights have been extended to the great mass of the people."
5 Changing societies, changing mores
Most of the articles on China and India TDB has linked to throughout the year have been on the impact of their economic growth, and the geopolitical ripples that has created. Much like this one from the NYTimes [24] on how the rapid population move to the cities is having a profound impact on a society traditionally based around village life.

So, for something different, two pieces on changing social and s*xual mores. Bishakha De Sarkar in the Calcutta Telegraph (link below) says a statement last month by actress Khushboo that an educated Indian male shouldn’t expect his bride to be a virgin caused uproar in Tamil Nadu. Get used to it, she says, "premarital s*x is now just a part of the process of getting acquainted".

And Time magazine reports on how China is "coping with an epidemic of free love" [25]. "Sparked by the easing of government control over individual lifestyle choices and the spread of more permissive, Western attitudes toward s*x, Chinese are copulating earlier, more often and with more partners than ever before. Today 70% of Beijing residents say they have had sexual relations before marriage, compared with just 15.5% in 1989, according to Li Yinhe, a sociologist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences."

6 Teach your children love
This is a follow-up to what was essentially a piece of fluff yesterday about changing attitudes to childcare [27]. Terence Kealey blames most of those changes, and a lot of the bad advice along the way, on scientists and other assorted experts. "Fixed feeding was justified by behaviourists because they claimed it built character by teaching babies to control their appetites, but we now know from wise paediatricians such as John Bowlby that the opposite is true. Character is rooted in security, and security is rooted in limitless maternal love. The more an infant is petted and indulged and adored, the happier, more self-disciplined and more robust it will grow to be."

More on the super-nanny state. The children's classic "Goodnight Moon" by Margaret Wise Brown has been edited to make it "smoke free" by digitally altered the photograph of Clement Hurd, the illustrator, to remove a cigarette from his hand. Author Karen Karbo in the NYTimes [28] wonders why stop there? "How long has this bowl full of mush been sitting here? A single drop of sour milk contains more than 50 million potentially fatal bacteria. At the very least Bunny is in danger of contracting irritable bowel syndrome. Not to mention mush is low in fiber. Suggested change: Digitally remove."

7 Avoid them like the plague
Something else to fret about in the morning rush to compile TDB - the inevitable use of the familiar and shared language of the cliche, even if meaning has been all but leached from them. Sean Gonzales constructs the article linked to below using nothing but every political cliche that, at the end of the day, you might hope never to hear again. "We need to fight for working families because the children are the future. Never mind the polls. I've never believed in polls. They're much ado about nothing. Bells and whistles. Besides, people will vote with their conscience, and with their hearts, and their pocketbooks. With all due respect, it's the economy, stupid."

Mark Peters at Grist [30] notices some recurring phrases have slipped into George Bush's lexicon whenever he talks about nuclear energy. "Bush used this spiffy phrase in, among other places, his State of the Union address and a spring press conference. And who knows? At this very moment, he may well be spooning with Laura and seductively whispering the four words every First Lady or nuclear plant owner yearns to hear: "safe, clean nuclear power.""

This article was linked to yesterday, but was then only available to subscribers of TimesSelect. If you are interested in what NYTimes columnist Nicholas Kristof has to say about "the hubris of humanities" [31] you can now read it for free.

The Age today publishes an extract from Harold Pinter's Nobel prize acceptance speak, in which he has some unkind things to say about the US of A. (No pleasing some people.) If you'd like to read the whole thing you will find it here [32], and the NYTimes report on it is here [33].

Don't agitate, litigate. Another chapter in the obesity-junk food debate, fashionable here as well. The NYTimes reports on legal action to ban soft drinks [34] (that'd be soda pops to you young lady) from schools. "In a lawsuit they plan to file in the next few months, Mr. Gardner and half a dozen other lawyers, several of them veterans of successful tobacco litigation, will seek to ban sales of sugary beverages in schools."

8 90 reasons to hate the nineties
After making us all feel inadequate about out grammar, Lynne Truss appears to be doing the same with manners, to judge by the number of articles her book "Talk to the Hand" has inspired. Stuart Jeffries says the picture she paints could have been worse, but for a gap in her research. "Are men similarly racing over the boardwalk of acceptability into the drink of sociopathic narcissism? This is the question that even Lynne Truss in her new analysis of modern manners, Talk to the Hand, cannot answer, chiefly because she has made the wise lifestyle choice of not going into men's loos to find out how modern technology is facilitating social change."

James Westcott in The Village Voice [36] takes the opposite tack. He draws on his experiences as an Englishmen in New York to show that politeness can be overdone. "While her anecdotes about inattentive, snotty adolescents at supermarket checkouts are pretty funny, Truss might have done better to spend her time examining a more urgent problem—actually more of a pathology, in need of a national psychoanalysis. The English can't ask clearly and directly for what they want, and this is precisely a function of our obsession with Truss-style politeness, which does a lot more than keep people safely at arm's length. It makes us terrified of strangers and ashamed of our desires. Petulance, passive aggression, and a fear of strangers result. Give me the smoothness of New York interactions— especially with their bravado or bluntness—over the mutually assured dithering in English corner shops any day."

Jacob Sallum at Reason [37] shares his thoughts on a golden oldie for lifestyle writers, "why are the things we like sinful or bad for us?", after research showing drinkers are less prone to obesity than teetotalers.

From the way we are to the way we supposedly were. Mark Ames and Jake Rudnitsky in eXile with 90 reasons to hate the '90s [38]. "7. People Who Taped Friends Episodes The Sham: Before there was eBay, before there was TiVo, there were people in the 90s who willingly, consciously recorded episodes of Friends on their VCRs, and played them back on weekend nights with their boyfriends/girlfriends/partners/roommates/gay-neighbors while wearing sweats with university emblems. They'd say, "Oh, I love this part!" and "Wait-wait, watch this!" And they'd probably share a big bowl of low-fat snacks with a bottle of Zin. If Al Qaeda hates America because we are free, then we hate America because we are Friends."

9 Come together over blogs
There is a slight air of "blogs for beginners" about Nicholas Hookway's piece on bloggers, but they and the internet are driving the massive shifts underway in the media landscape, so here it is. Hookway, a sociology and social work PhD student argues that blogs can be a part of community life and should not necessarily be seen as a retreat from it. "Call me an optimist, but I would argue that pronouncements regarding the “death of the social” (Baudrillard) are premature. While it might be true that old measures of private and public community are in decline I would like to explore the possibility that the “information revolution” has provided new forms of “being together” in the contemporary world. If people are “hanging out” at home rather than in pubs or cafes maybe they are online, finding cosy little worlds within their computer screens."
10 The pushrod engine
Forgive this quirky curio, readers who have absolutely no interest in the internal combustion engine. As a long-term, confirmed Ducati-nut, TDB is more taken by bevel drive and desmodromic engines, but nonetheless found interest in this report that the old-fashioned push-rod engine is making something of a comeback, in part because it is said to offer some fuel-efficiency advantages. Not forgetting the extra "low-end grunt", of course.
described them as "cultural museums" [42]. The Minister's thinking is at one with the paper's broader agenda on indigenous issues, so it gets a kick along with two other reports, one reporting that leaders of the Jigalong community think Vanstone is talking common sense [43]. (Let us hope, though perhaps not expect, that the paper will be balanced in its coverage of the issue.)

It also reports that John Howard has joined the chorus for more tax cuts [44] at the next budget, despite Peter Costello's attempts to keep a lid on speculation of further relief (another of the Oz's agendas); that the Government last night abandoned hopes of securing passage of voluntary student union laws [45] before Christmas as angry Liberal MPs accused John Howard of talking "the language of appeasement" with the Nationals; that the Government has quietly dumped a key part of its industrial relations changes [46] that would have put workers at a severe disadvantage when renegotiating their wages; that Australian resources giant BHP Billiton will tap its own mines to strike the gold, silver and bronze medals for the Beijing Olympics as part of a massive sponsorship deal [47] worth up to $52 million (a company that knows where its bread is buttered); and that Peter Costello and his tax commissioner remained at odds yesterday [48] over claims the Treasurer's top adviser regularly spoke to the tax office about the tax affairs of "people and companies".

Before moving to the Fairfax papers, John Howard last night told the 7.30 Report flatly "I am not contemplating a cabinet reshuffle" in response to yesterday's lead [49] in The Australian saying one was likely. TDB looked but could find no clarification of that story today. In may be there somewhere, but if not, it would be just another example of how gutless Australian outlets generally are when it comes to acknowledging errors - bring on a readers’ editor. And the paper's coverage of the phonics debate [50] shows all the hallmarks of putting its editorial agenda ahead of straight news reporting.

The Herald reports that Bob Carr's farewell piece of political spin - a trip to Dubai and London to announce the site of Sydney's desalination plant - cost taxpayers at least $100,000 [51], $10,000 of which was spent on chauffeurs in London; that NSW Premier Morris Iemma has vowed never again to close public streets to funnel traffic onto private toll roads as part of a "new direction" he says is needed [52] in the wake of the furore over the Cross City Tunnel (the beginning of a major shift in attitudes toward Public-Private Partnerships?); that Qantas has promised its long-haul "value-based" carrier Jetstar International will make overseas flights cheaper than ever [53] when it launches its service by January 2007 (that’ll help tackle global warming, not); that legal proceedings are under way to freeze the assets of a terrorist suspect [54], understood to include an account allegedly used to fund terrorism; that a leading employers' group, worried that business owners might get ahead of themselves, has said not to start sacking people [55] until the new workplace laws have taken effect (too kind); that John Howard yesterday appeared to contradict the findings of the United Nations inquiry [56] into the oil-for-food scandal, telling Parliament "there is no proof the AWB was involved in giving kickbacks" to Saddam Hussein's regime; and that the Northern Territory will have a nuclear waste dump by 2011 [57] after the Federal Government yesterday pushed through legislation overriding opposition to the site of the dump.

The Age reports that every child will be given a "literacy plan" [58] and be tested heavily on their reading skills in the first three years of school under sweeping changes flagged by the Federal Government (and reports on a school recommending a mixed approach [59]); that Australia's anti-terror push could threaten our democratic values [60] if we don't have the safeguard of a bill of rights, warns Victorian Supreme Court judge Kevin Bell (watch out for Janet Albrechtsen judge, she'll be on to you); that former Family Court Chief Justice Alastair Nicholson has accused the Government of pandering to militant fathers' groups [61] by requiring the court to consider whether children in custody disputes should spend equal time with both parents; and that the unemployment rate for women has reached its lowest level [62] since the early 1970s, hitting 5 per cent last month as growing numbers move into the workforce.

You might also be interested to know that Nobel and Booker prize-winning author J.M. Coetzee will today launch a magazine celebrating the best of Australian writing [63]; that the battle over the estate of hardman Tim Bristow [64] has ended in the NSW Supreme Court with a judge finding in favour of the defendant, Mr Bristow's former lover Suzanne Ellis; and that the Canadian Prime Minister has appealed to the United States and Australia to have a "global conscience" [65] and join other countries in reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.


The Age: Harold Pinter [66] (2005 Nobel prize for literature acceptance speech) says the truth about the US is rarely talked about, and tells it as he sees it: "The crimes of the US have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless ... Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever"; Tony Parkinson [67] comes in defence of the US over "extraordinary rendition" and torture (in a column that TDB would love to take apart, line by line, for its errors and ignorance, but does not have the time, now at least); Sushi Das [68] challenges men to show their feminist credentials as she laments the state of modern woman - "compliant housewife in the kitchen or slut in the bedroom — what's not to like” (for men)?: and Paul Bracks [69] says the Victorian abortion debate has shown that Premier Steve Bracks is more of a social conservative than Opposition Leader Robert Doyle.

The Australian: Dennis Shanahan [70] all but says Labor can not and does not expect to win the next election as he sets about offering it advice on what it should do from here (is it a good idea to accept advice from someone who does not wish you well?); Michael Costello [71] remembers Peter Cook as "passionate and compassionate of heart for those who are on the harsh end of fate, but rigorous of mind about how the world works"; John O'Sullivan [72], a former advisor to Margaret Thatcher, is not impressed by new Tory leader David Cameron, who he fears will appeal to the "chattering classes" but not voters; and Jennifer Marohasy [73] (climate change denier and right-wing Institute of Public Affairs ideologue) on the wonders of genetically modified food.

The SMH: Peter Hartcher [74] says Costello's truce is not surrender, that he has given Howard time to think about his options and should be stay on, Costello will renew hostilities over the leadership more intensely (without accusing Hartcher of taking over Glenn Milne's role, that is exactly the message Costello wants out there, and does avoid reference to the great Costello weakness - not having the numbers to do anything intense); Richard Ackland [75] cuts through some of the cant and humbug surrounding the various Australians on trial for drugs in Asia of late, taking on the notion that we must be careful what we say lest we are disturbing, immature or insensitive; Ken Rowe [76] (National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy) argues his case for the use of phonics to teach reading; and Paolo Totaro [77] draws on personal experience to support the concept that the starting point in custody settlements should be that children spend equal time with both parents.


The Herald's lead reports Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson is willing to stump up more cash and find a new partner to buy out Virgin Blue's 62.4 per cent owner Patrick Corp [78] if Toll's $4.6 billion takeover bid for the stevedore fails. The paper also reports that the Gowing family is looking for a new tenant [79] for "Sydney's most famous retail corner", effectively signalling the end for its embattled menswear chain; and that the property spruiker Henry Kaye has been charged with fraud [80] after allegedly deceiving St George Bank to secure finance for his most ambitious development.

The Australian reports that succession planning at BHP Billiton [81], the nation's largest company, stepped up a gear yesterday with senior executives Marius Kloppers and Chris Lynch appointed to the board; that Chevron has placed all of its gas from the $11 billion Gorgon LNG project with the announcement of a 25-year deal with Osaka Gas [82] for 1.5 million tonnes a year; and that the Bank of Queensland has resisted the drag of the slowing housing market to record strong growth in the first quarter of the 2006 financial year [83].

The Age reports that Australia's manufacturing sector has perhaps five to six years to undergo a significant metamorphosis or risk being "consigned to the dustbin" [84] in the face of growing international competition; that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is about to launch legal action against some of the biggest players [85] in the $1.8 billion packaging industry, alleging they colluded over several years to fix prices for cardboard boxes; that the Asia-Pacific tourist region will become a new discount airline battleground [86] as Qantas rolls its successful Jetstar model into the area by January 2007; and that gold has marched to its highest level in 24 years [87] in response to a new wave of buying triggered by a growing acceptance of the metal's strong supply-demand fundamentals.

After a break of a few days, Bryan Frith [88] returns to belt up on Coopers, says that the company's record in governance is nothing to shout about [89]; and Stephen Bartholomeusz [90] thinks next week will test the resilience of what has been a remarkably resilient share market this year, with three major floats in the pipeline.


The Daily Telegraph [91]: He grew up surfing Cronulla's famous breaks - and now Assistant Commissioner Mark Goodwin is going after the thugs who threaten to ruin the beach; A convicted paedophile who was bashed in jail will pursue a compensation payout of $750,000 after the High Court yesterday ruled the Government was liable for his injuries.

The Herald-Sun [92]: A high-profile target of an Australian Crime Commission probe into a $300 million tax fraud is allegedly a cocaine addict who beats his daughter. One of those who made damaging claims against the ACC suspect is a prominent Melbourne entertainer and socialite; Shots have been blasted into freeway speed cameras as police battle to control wild driving by rogue young drivers. The newly installed cameras on the West Gate Freeway were badly damaged when a motorist opened fire with a high-powered gun.

The Courier-Mail [93]: Every child's reading skills will be tested on school entry and a literacy plan will be drawn up for them in a huge national shake-up of teaching methods; Wild storms swept through southern Queensland yesterday leaving two dead, two recovering from lightning strikes and an emergency in Brisbane's tallest building.

The Advertiser [94]: Upset that his impending divorce had turned ugly, Simon Schaer walked into Myer's City store and shot dead his estranged wife, Carole, in front of horrified staff and customers; Two people are dead and two others are recovering after an outbreak of food poisoning in the state's public and private hospitals.

The West Australian [95]: Mining giant Rio Tinto has added fresh momentum to WA's booming economy with a $1.2 billion commitment yesterday to expand the Argyle diamond mine, which will generate more than $100 million in extra mining royalties for the State; A serial burglar who spent much of his adult life in jail and hooked on drugs has asked a judge to deny him parole because in prison he can "pass his days on heroin".

The Mercury [96]: A former Launceston nurse who tried to kill her mother and helped kill her father was remanded in custody yesterday awaiting sentence; Tasmanians were being ripped off at the petrol pump because there was no competition between retailers in the state, the RACT said last night.


New Zealand coach John Bracewell has refused to fan the flames from another incident involving Brett Lee [97] and a chest-high full toss bowled at one of his batsmen; A Queensland-led coup unseated ARU chairman Dilip Kumar yesterday after criticism of him following the recent IRB meeting that awarded the 2011 Rugby World Cup to New Zealand; As a bottom-ranked team, it will be tough for Australia in the World Cup group stage [98], but at least they can't be drawn with one of the dangerous African sides; Playing tortoise to the hares around him at Huntingdale yesterday, Nick O'Hern carded a course-record first-round 64 [99] to lead the $1.25 million Australian Masters by three shots.

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