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catallaxy in technical exile

Archive for November 2005

Is The Monthly sinking?

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In March 2004, long before it hit the newsagents, I predicted a life span for The Monthly of a year. That may be a bit pessimistic, but the signs aren’t good.

Despite three attempts to pay for a subscription – sending in the initial form, and then two reminders to charge my credit card – I am still getting it for free. If they refuse to take my money there’s not much I can do about it, but it hardly seems like a sustainable business model if this kind of thing is widespread.

With the November issue, after having been launched in May, the magazine had a substantial re-design. To my eyes, however, this was a mixed blessing. I like the typeface better, but there is now a lot of unaesthetic white space, giving it the look of a shop that can’t afford to fill its shelves.

Today, Crikey reports that editor Christian Ryan has left. Publisher Morry Schwartz was busy spinning:

Schwartz told Crikey that Ryan decided to “leave to pursue his writing.” But isn’t it a little early for a founding editor to leave a magazine like this? He was “always seen as a launch editor,” said Schwartz, and “when you see the Christmas edition” you’ll see what a success the magazine is.

Crikey tried to contact Ryan but he’d already vacated the Black Inc premises and we couldn’t track him down. But Schwartz addressed the rumours over concerns about circulation and content, saying, “for this kind of magazine we have the greatest circulation in the country.” .

Unfortunately, the greatest circulation for ‘this kind of magazine’ in the country won’t be enough to prevent the magazine being a drain on Morry’s bank account.

Though the latest issue was relatively weak, overall I think The Monthly has been an OK read, but not a must read or something people are talking about. I haven’t been prompted to blog on an article since July. One suggestion I have is that they put articles on-line. That will help get people in the blogosphere talking about it, creating a bit of the buzz that it is so far lacking.

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November 30, 2005 at 6:19 pm

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Why Malcolm Fraser won't quit the Liberals

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Liberal dissidents have long complained about the betrayal of liberal ideals. Back in 1969 a now almost forgotten Liberal MP, Edward St John, resigned from the party and wrote a book called A Time to Speak. His criticisms sound familiar. ‘Our civil liberties have never been in so much jeopardy’, he told his readers, with parliamentarians refused ‘in the name of security’ the information needed to participate in meaningful debate, and ‘foolish and benighted censorship’ imposed. St John thought that he had shown a ‘truer loyalty to the ideals of the Liberal Party’ than those who put their confidence in John Gorton, then PM (and who in 1975 chucked his own tantrum and left the Liberals). Former Senator Chris Puplick in 1994 wrote his book Is the Party Over? and called for the party to become once again a ‘genuinely liberal Liberal Party’. In 2002, former Liberal staffer Greg Barns quit the Liberals for the Democrats, asserting that the ‘Liberal Party is liberal in no sense other than its name’.

Last night Malcolm Fraser carried on this tradition:

Delivering the chancellor’s human rights lecture at the University of Melbourne, Mr Fraser said he found his party “unrecognisable as liberal” and alien to the principles of its founder, Robert Menzies.
The catalyst for his consideration was the Government’s counter-terrorism legislation, which Mr Fraser said was wrong because “it makes the fundamental assumption that liberty cannot defend itself”….
“Over several years there has been a fundamental departure from the basic idea of liberalism as I understood it.”

It’s become so bad that Fraser says he considered resigning from the party. But Fraser is shrewder than the other dissidents. He only teases about leaving. He knows that his newsworthiness flows from being a Liberal dissident, and not merely a liberal one. When you are saying much the same thing as many other people, you have to distinguish yourself, and the drama of disillusionment and party conflict separates him from the usual suspects. As a former PM, Fraser would not slip into total obscurity but the post-resignation record of the quitters is not a good one. St John vanished. Gorton was slightly rehabilitated as he approached death, but was never really taken seriously again. Puplick survived for a while as a human rights bureaucrat, but eventually had to resign in disgrace and has not been heard of since. Greg Barns can no longer get publicity as a Liberal internal critic, and has to pester the nation’s opinion editors to get his name into the papers. Indeed, the only successful Liberal quitter was the subsequent leader of the small-‘l’ liberal Australian Democrats, Don Chipp, who left in disgust at – Malcolm Fraser.

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November 30, 2005 at 6:23 am

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Votes and Television

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Roy Morgan has just released a report on what television shows Labor and Coalition voters prefer. Unsurprisingly, Coalition voters turn to Channel Nine for their “news” (translate: current affairs equivalent of an acid enema), whereas Labor voters prefer Auntie (or SBS):

Labor supporters are more likely to watch ABC Current Affairs programmes, The 7:30 Report , Foreign Correspondent , Four Corners , Insiders, and Lateline than Coalition supporters. The 7:30 Report has an audience made up of 41% ALP supporters (3% above average) and 36% L-NP supporters (3% below average). Foreign Correspondent ’s audience is 40% ALP (2% above average) and 34% L-NP (5% below average), while Four Corners has 41% ALP supporters in its audience (3% above average) and 33% L-NP supporters (6% below average). The Insiders and Lateline audiences are more polarised. Insiders has a 46% ALP audience (8% higher than the general population) and a 30% L-NP audience (9% below the general population). Lateline’s audience is 45% ALP (7% higher) and only 29% L-NP (a substantial 10% lower).

Channel Nine’s Current Affairs programmes: 60 Minutes , A Current Affair , Sunday and Business Sunday have an above average number of L-NP supporters in their audience. The Sunday programme has more L-NP supporters (42%, 3% above average) but an ALP viewership consistent with the general population (38%). However Business Sunday which directly precedes it, has a strongly L-NP audience with more than half the audience supporting the Coalition (51%, 12% above average). Business Sunday ’s audience is 33% ALP, (5% below the general population). A Current Affair and 60 Minutes have a higher than usual L-NP supporting audience both at 46%, (7% above the general population), ALP support in their audiences is 1% and 2% below average respectively.

Just so you don’t think I am unduly prejudiced against Coalition twits, Labor party supporters are statistically more likely to watch soap operas. Home and Away, Neighbours, The Bold and the Beautiful and other equally execrable soaps were preferred by Labor party voters. Labor voters are also fans of Big Brother (I need say no more). I was comfortably smug however, that Coalition voters were big fans of Dancing with the Stars.

Conclusion? I feel more and more like Alceste with every passing day.

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November 29, 2005 at 3:29 pm

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Anwar Ibrahim – democratic Islamist?

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Buried away in today’s SMH is a short item on Malaysian opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim which may surprise observers used to simple dichotomies like ‘Mahathir = anti-semite=all bad, Anwar =liberal” or “Islamist= anti-democratic”:

THE Malaysian opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim has burst back into the political fray after nearly six years in jail and the political wilderness, drawing a crowd of 10,000 supporters at an election rally.

Banned from standing for parliament, the former deputy premier took the boldest step in his cautious political comeback late on Sunday with a speech backing Malaysia’s fundamentalist Islamic party in a crucial state byelection.

Let’s be clear that we’re talking serious Islamic law here. Malaysia, like Australia, has a federal system. The Federal government is ruled by a mostly secularist though authoritarian coalition government with Mahathir’s UMNO as the head coalition partner. Some predominantly rural States like Trengganu are ruled by the Islamist PAS party and have actually introduced Sharia law.

The fact is that Anwar, who is seen by some foreign observers as the liberal political alternative in Malaysia, started his political life as a young Islamist activist who found UMNO too secular, and even when he ended up joining UMNO as Mahathir’s protégé, there was doubt among some insiders as to whether the leopard actually changed his spots.

Anwar’s biggest following was then and probably still is, despite his sodomy conviction, among the more religiously devout Malay Muslims. Mahathir, for all his vicous anti-semitic rhetoric is by and large a religious liberal and modernist unafraid to slay sacred cows (he made a plea that Malaysia abandon its pro-Bumiputera policies before he retired) though he obviously combines that with political authoritarianism. For example see this old article from when Mahathir was still PM:

The Malaysian prime minister has rejected Islamic criminal laws introduced by an opposition-ruled state because of their “cruel punishments”.
Mahathir Muhammad was quoted by The Star newspaper on Tuesday as saying he did not consider Terengganu’s Islamic criminal legislation as true Sharia laws.
His comments came after the state, controlled by the Islamic Party (PAS), announced a Sharia act to criminalise illicit sex, drinking alcohol and the renunciation of Islam.
Sharia punishments include stoning to death for adultery, amputation of limbs for theft, death for robbery, and 40 to 80 lashes of the whip for drinking alcohol.
For those renouncing Islam, offenders have three days to repent, failing which the punishment is death and confiscation of property.
“It is PAS’s law,” said the veteran premier, who retires on Friday after 22 years in office.
“They can implement it but if they do something which is inconsistent with the country’s laws, we will take legal action.”

Anwar seems to be more of a genuine democrat but it is unclear at this stage whether he would end up being more or less of a religious liberal if his forces got into power than the current leadership.

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November 29, 2005 at 12:29 pm

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Breakfast of Gruens?

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November 29, 2005 at 10:32 am

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God's advice on work and family

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It’s nearly a month until our religious leaders offer us their Christmas criticism of shallowness and materialism, but Anglicare is getting in early to tick us off for sacrificing relationships to the pursuit of money. These days, however, proclamation that money is the root of all evil won’t do. Instead of sermons, they offer us surveys.

According to the survey, carried out by Edith Cowan University, the National Church Life Survey Research and Anglicare, workplace pressure appears to cool marital intimacy. Forty-five per cent of respondents reported that work always or often conflicted with their home life.

The report’s authors say its findings support church fears that the Federal Government’s new industrial laws will damage family life.

This survey result is roughly consistent with other polls on the same subject – though it puts a bit of spin on subjective perceptions of the work-family trade-off. For example, a Saulwick Poll in 2004 found in response to the statement that ‘the pressures of my job make it difficult to maintain a fully satisfying intimate relationship’ that only 7% agreed that this was the case ‘very often’, with another 10% agreeing that it was true ‘quite often’, with the 22% saying ‘sometimes’ taking us up to 39%, just 6 percentage points short of the NCLSR. The year before, the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes offered the proposition that ‘my hours of work interfere with my family and personal life’, with which 10% agreed strongly, and 30% agreed, again coming out at around 40% perceiving some conflict between work and relationships.

While these time-use conflicts cause some angst, there is little evidence that overall they are having much of a negative effect on relationships. The HILDA survey (pdf) is finding slightly higher satisfaction with relationships with partners and children among fathers who work longer hours, according to both the father’s self-report and the partner’s report. A 2001 article in Australian Social Monitor using the Australian component of the International Social Science Survey similarly found slightly higher satisfaction with marriage and children among men working long hours, though slightly less marital satsifaction for women working long hours. Data from the Australian Life Course Survey of 1996 (pdf) also found no negative link between work hours and relationship satisfaction, though for low-income men time stress was linked to lower life satisfaction. A recent article in the Journal of Sociology, also using HILDA data, found that people with bachelor degrees, who work longer-than-average hours, have a lower chance of experiencing a marriage breakdown than people with lesser qualifications.

Why does the evidence not accord with the intuition? One reason, I think, is that there is a big difference between wanting more time with the family and not having enough to time to maintain relationships. While 40% see work-family conflict, this is much larger number than the the 23.4% of workers putting in more than 50 hours a week, the usual definition of ‘long’ working hours. Indeed, when I cross-tabulated AuSSA results on perceptions of long hours and actual hours worked some people working well short of normal full-time hours nevertheless felt conflict. We also need to take into account that long hours are not necessarily occurring every week, though a paper by Mark Wooden also using HILDA data did find 54% of people working long hours in the first wave also working long hours in the third wave of data collection.

Another reason is that long hours are often associated with high income, which helps eliminate one common source of tension in relationships. It may also allow these families to outsource dreary chores, so that their actual together leisure time is not as far behind that of families with shorter working hours as we may first suppose.

People like Clive Hamilton with his Well-being Manifesto want to ban long hours. The less coercive Dr Andrew Cameron of Moore Theological College suggests that:

“They might also need to ask God for moral courage to resist more extreme workplace demands.”

But the evidence suggests that people manage without Clive’s or God’s help. Both HILDA and an earlier ABS survey find surprisingly high satisfaction with hours among those working long hours. This is a case in which the trade-offs are so individual that we cannot possibly arrive at any sensible rule, whether legal or religious. Over a life cycle, both work and relationships are very important. But only individuals can determine what time to give to each at any point in that life cycle.

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November 28, 2005 at 7:54 pm

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The magic and mystery of markets

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A marketing ploy in Finland has created a strange new market in unlabelled bottles of Pepsi.

The man is lugging hundreds (yes, hundreds) of large bottles of Pepsi Max out of the supermarket on a trolley and then selling them on via the Internet at half the price he paid for them.

The reason for the hoarding and the resale market is that marketing campaign and competition referred to above. Hartwall offered as its main prize a Sony Vaio notebook computer worth EUR 2,000.
Campaign bottles and cups of Pepsi Max come with a code written into the label, which can be exchanged for points on an online bourse. One bottle is worth one point. Anyone collecting a thousand points can claim a notebook computer, and for instance 300 points will get you a 20Gb Sony MP3 player.
The Internet trade is not in individual bottles, but the minimum purchase could for instance be set at 50 bottles, or seventy-five litres. Some cola-traders have the added sales edge of offering home delivery.
Other people are in the market to buy labels. These are valued at 50-70 cents each.

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November 28, 2005 at 6:34 am

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