Sunday, April 26, 2009

They Couldn't Get It Right, Even When It Benefited Them

The outbreak of swine flu is frightening. It may peter out (although that will still mean hundreds of deaths. Or it could kill millions.

One reassuring thought is that it seems to be fairly susceptible to Tamiflu and Relenza, the drugs based on the work of Graeme Laver. This will mean a lot of people who would have died otherwise will be saved, and even those who would have lived will have a much less hellish experience.

So the citizens of all those countries that stocked up heavily against the Avian flu threat should be feeling very grateful. That doesn't really include the US. While they probably hold the largest stocks in the world, on a per capita basis they're way behind. The funny thing about his is that apparently Dick Cheney held many shares in Hoffman La Roche, the company marketing Tamiflu. I remember reading (and responding angrily to) emails claiming the stockpiles were a conspiracy to enrich him.

So even when Chaney stood to benefit, the Bush administration couldn't do the right thing and create appropriate defenses against dangerous threats.

BTW, at one point Australia was lagging well behind the rest of the developed world in building a stockpile. Bob Brown became alarmed and asked a lot of questions in the Senate. He was told the situation had changed, and our stockpiles were being rapidly added to, and we would soon have the 2nd or 3rd largest per capita stocks in the world. It's not clear if Bob's pushing contributed to this, but naturally I like to think so.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

You Can't Always Get What You Want

In 1993 The Herald-Sun published a front page headline indicating that John Hewson had been elected Prime Minister at the federal election. It was a "Dewey Defeats Truman" moment. Hewson had lost to Paul Keating, despite the campaigning of most of Australia's daily papers, including the Herald-Sun.

Celebrating Labor supporters printed the page on t-shirts, with "You can't always get what you want" underneath.

I rather doubt the headline "Conservatives Win Power in Iceland" will achieve the same prominence, but in some ways it is actually more embarrassing. The Hun had to race to the presses and arguably went with the best information available at the time. Not only is the pressure to report on an election in a tiny country across the other side of the world rather less intense, but the facts never supported the headline here - as can be seen from reading the text. (I'm not linking because presumably they'll change it eventually. I tried for a screen shot, but for some reason it wouldn't load properly).

However, as we have seen on global warming, it is clear that The Australian believes truth is whatever they want it to be.

UPDATE: It seems I overestimated The Australian's commitment to truth, or at least their desire to not be embarrassed. Despite the fact that the headline is being mocked on blogs much more read than mine, 24 hours later its still there. We'll see if it lasts.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


This is truly disgusting.

For anyone unfamiliar with The First Stone controversy you can read about it here. But that's only the part that became public. There is a much nastier side to it, which (luckily for Garner) never came out.

A friend of mine was a student at Ormond, and friends with the women harassed by the women who made the complaint, and close to some of their main supporters. At one point she her boss told her "I've dobbed you in to talk to a friend of mine, Helen Garner". He, and Garner, were expecting her to present the women's side of the story so she could use it in her book. My friend turned him down flat, saying (approximately) "Those women have made their choice not to talk to Garner. I'm certainly not going to rat on them."

When the book came out my friend appeared as a minor character, identified in such a way that virtually anyone who had met her would know who she was. She didn't have a big part, but the description of her was completely untrue and vicious in a society where promiscuity in women is not regarded favourably. There's no doubt Garner can write, but the stylishness of her words didn't make the content any different from if she had written that my friend was a slut nine times. Garner never met my friend, but felt completely comfortable trashing her reputation for the crime of refusing to betray her friends.

My friend's contract was not renewed, surprise surprise, she dropped out of her course, broke up with her boyfriend and spent two years depressed. The break-up may not have been caused by Garner, but having colleagues sidle up to him and ask "so what do you think of X's cameo smirk, smirk" probably didn't help. Certainly the other factors were directly attributable to the book.

It's a legitimate matter for debate whether Garner's moral failings should prevent her winning literary awards. But an award for "work that advances the position of women and girls in society"? That is a disgrace of epic proportions.

Yes its true that those who gave this award would not have known about what happened to my friend - at least the aspects of having her boss try to force her. They may even have thought that character in The First Stone was fictitious. However, the fact that Garner is out to ruin the lives of any woman younger than herself who dares to cross her path is hardly a secret.

The credibility of the prize is utterly destroyed.