Monthly Archives: March 2013

Pressing matters

So, what do we think of today’s new sized Age?  Personally, I like it.  The Australian Financial Review has been tabloid- oops- COMPACT- for years and both the Guardian (whose advent in Australia I’m looking forward to) and the Independent in the UK are small newspapers.

Mr Judge and I divide up the paper each morning over breakfast, and I’ve got to say that sometimes, particularly early in the week, we were ending up with virtually one sheet of paper each.  Not a lot of paper for $2.00.  Thursday and Friday’s papers looked meatier, but much of the bulk comprised full-page alcohol and vitamin supplement advertisements.  Saturday’s Age has always been good value with longer articles and a more international approach . I often whinged that some of the Saturday content that took almost all day to read could surely have been distributed across the other days of the week instead. The Sunday Age is rubbish.  Today’s new edition, at least, had longer and better quality articles and more pages – but let’s see how long that lasts.  I must admit that for the first time in nearly 40 years, I hesitated before renewing my subscription this time  (I am philosophically opposed to direct debit so I had to decide whether I wanted to have a full year subscription again).   I splashed out and bought a tablet on the weekend, so I may well be tempted by the Guardian when it arrives.

I was rather amused by the holier-than-thou, lofty statements of the editorial:

The Age’s unparallelled coverage of the social, political, intellectual and cultural life of this city, this state, this nation and beyond will continue in abundance.  So will our commitment to independent journalist, free of corporate, commercial and political influences, robust in argument and fair in  analysis.  The Age’s much-envied reputation for reporting and scrutinising without fear or favour has been hard won, but deservedly so.  It is what generations of readers have come to expect, and it will continue to underscore what we do best.

I was amused because, thinking about the three newspapers in Judge Willis’ Melbourne, all three of them  (The Port Phillip Gazette, the Port Phillip Herald and the Port Phillip Patriot) each made similar claims.   Each paper published twice a week in turn, so it meant that there was daily newspaper available for each of the six days of the week.  Visually, they were very similar, even though they preened themselves on the superiority of their type and typesetting.  Each was four pages in length; each had the first page entirely devoted to advertisements;  each had an editorial blatantly  reflecting the politics of its editor; and each had a letters column stuffed with letters often written by that self-same editor under pseudonym.

I was even more interested this morning to see the response of the Herald Sun, skanky little tabloid that it is.   They led with an exclusive on tape recordings made of conversations between staffers in Baillieu’s government and eyebrows are raised about Simon Overland, the OPI, Peter Ryan etc. etc. etc.   Despite an overall leaning towards the Liberal party, I suspect that the Herald Sun had been sitting on these tapes for some time, and brought them out this morning quite intentionally.

So, fun times at the breakfast table.

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‘Thinking for yourself’ Robert Manne

Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.

manne

I learned yesterday that these were Steve Jobs’ last words but I want to use them for something closer to home:  a conference entitled ‘Thinking for Yourself’ held at La Trobe Uni on Thursday and Friday to honour Robert Manne, who has resigned from La Trobe University where he has been since 1975.  Strictly speaking, I guess that it was a Festschrift but I don’t know that we’re particularly good at this sort of lionization in Australia.  It paid tribute to a man who has made a broad contribution to public discourse in Australia. As the publicity blurb for the conference notes, he has been at the heart of many of the large debates in Australian public discourse:

During his almost four decades as a university researcher and teacher and public intellectual he has been involved in a series of bitterly contested controversies concerning the interpretation of the Holocaust, the nature of Communism, the Cold War, social democracy and its neo-liberal critics, the dispossession of the indigenous population of Australia, multiculturalism, the state’s responsibility for asylum seekers and, most recently, the politics of climate change.

He’s a man who has moved from the left to the right, and to the left again.  I don’t see this as indecision or wishy-washiness: instead I see it as the use of intellect and information in action.

Robert Manne has been closely associated with Morry Schwartz, who publishes The Monthly and the Quarterly Essay. The lineup of people who paid tribute to and reflected on Robert’s interests was almost like a roll-call of regular contributors to these publications.  Hugh White, Mark McKenna, David Corlett, Clive Hamilton, Anne Manne.  But wait- there’s more: John Hirst, Dennis Altman, Tim Soutphommossane, David Ritter, Patrick McGorry, Raimond Gaita, Pat Dodson, Mick Dodson, Ramona Koval, Ghassan Hage …. it just went on- top-flight commentators and academics (albeit of a largely but not exclusively) left-ish persuasion.  Each of the speakers was introduced by a short paragraph that Robert Manne himself had written about them, and they of course reciprocated with comments about him.  There were participants from all over the globe, on a wide range of topics.

The presentations were grouped around a number of themes that reflect Manne’s work: The Cold War and Intellectuals; Australian Political History and Culture; The Public Sphere; Universities; Multiculturalism and the Republic; European History and Politics; Asylum Seekers and the Rule of Law:  Contemporary Social Democracy/Left and Right, and Culture and Politics.   Several references were made in passing to George Orwell, Hannah Arendt and Tony Judt- writers and thinkers who have had a deep influence on Robert Manne and  in whose tradition he himself fits.

There was just so much to think about that I really can’t do it justice.  Have you ever been in the audience of something and thought “How lucky am I to be hearing this?!” It was like watching a particularly good edition of The Monthly played out live in front of you, and I could have listened to nearly all of them for hours.  Oh wow.