Diary

Gadfly
Inflight infotainment

The world, as we all agree, is in a shocking state. The old order has vanished and the barbarians are inside the gates. 

As an example of what has gone horribly wrong, take Gadfly’s Qantas flight from Melbourne to Sydney last week. 

Onto the aircraft strides one of Lord Moloch’s former pashas, the silver-haired John Hartigan, viceroy of all he surveyed on the media landscape. Passengers were amazed and delighted that the mighty Harto lowered himself into an economy-class seat. 

It was only a matter of moments later that the ABC’s taxation affairs correspondent Emma Alberici appeared and was ushered into a business-class seat surrounded by fluttering ladies-in-waiting. 

Those in steerage spent the flight thinking about the massive shifts in society’s tectonic plates.

Heide hi

One of the highlights of the trip to Yarraside was a side excursion to Heide, the former dairy farm and romping ground of John and Sunday Reed, Sid Nolan, Bert Tucker, John Perceval, Joy Hester, Angry Penguins and others. 

Gadfly was nostalgically flung back to a period when we had time to churn butter, make our own soap, swap partners, paint bushrangers and lay about in the Paterson’s curse having cups of tea. 

What heaven – soon shattered by returning to the hotel in Little Collins Street with its menacing view of the hulking Lubyanka, the Herald Sun building.

The play’s the thing

By this stage the proscenium arch is swaying dangerously and could come crashing down on the Geoffrey Rush defamation case, causing cast and crew to scatter for cover. 

Someone must have told the actor what a great idea it was to enter the lion’s den of litigation and sue the pants off The Daily Smellograph for alleging he was a “pervert and sexual predator”. 

The plot has the nation enthralled. Leading thespians have gone on stage to proclaim Rush’s greatness and purity. They never saw any wayward behaviour, even when their eyes were glued to the stage. In some instances, text messages including those with tongue-out emojis and other endearments seemed to contradict the verbal testimony. 

Actress Eryn Jean Norvill appeared unshaken in the face of heavy-weather cross-examination. More witnesses have been lurking in the wings. 

This is theatre where the directors and performers have lost control over the play. The script is supposed to focus on reputation, for as the Bard says: “The purest treasure mortal times afford is spotless reputation – that away, men are but gilded loam or painted clay.”

Best form of defence

Another case of mounting fascination is also in the Federal Court, where Ben Roberts-Smith is facing off against the Fairfax press and three journalists over articles in mid 2018 that alleged misconduct, bullying and intimidation by the decorated soldier while he was serving in Afghanistan. The media organisation also alleged he was involved in an incident of domestic violence.

Roberts-Smith is one of a number of soldiers being investigated for their actions in Afghanistan by the inspector-general of the Australian Defence Force. 

Normally, the defamation business would be enough for media organisations to link arms in common cause against attacks on their journalism, journalists and bank accounts. But not The Catholic Boys Daily, which hoots with glee when Fairfax is dragged into court to defend its reporting. The most recent instance was a front-page article in The Weekend Australian, which made the overwrought claim under the he

adline: “War widow to Roberts-Smith’s rescue as Fairfax cries murder”.

Ms Leigh Locke-Thomas, the widow of a sergeant from the Special Air Service Regiment, says it was actually her husband who was involved in a fracas at the Ocean Beach Hotel in Cottesloe and not Roberts-Smith as claimed by Fairfax in its defence pleadings.

With devastations like that, Fairfax may as well just run up the white flag.

Tesla foil

Batty but brilliant Elon Musk has denied reports James Murdoch, soon to be in a nepotism-free jobless zone, will be chairman of Tesla. The chairmanship of the battery and electric car business is up for grabs after the United States Securities and Exchange Commission said that because Elon was making so many dotty statements he must replace himself with an independent chair. 

Murdoch is already a director of Tesla and floated the idea that he would be ideal for the job. 

He had also wanted to replace Bob Iger as chief executive of Disney once it beds down the Fox takeover, but Lord Moloch scotched that one, saying: “I made it a condition of the deal that Iger would stay on.”  

It’s a shame Elon has declared via Twitter that reports of James taking the helm are not true. As Lord Gnome in Private Eye points out, what better corporate leader could be found than the man in charge of News International when the hacks at News of the Screws were running riot with hacking, blagging, bribing and blackmailing. 

The British watchdog found that his “exercise of responsibility was less than we would expect to see exhibited by a competent chief executive officer”.

The 1.3 per cent

How often do we read that there is no point in Australia meeting the Paris emissions targets because we only emit 1.3 per cent of the global total of carbon dioxide?  

That’s infinitesimal, so why all this fussing about emissions and renewables, when the United States and China are each pumping out 30 per cent of the total of the climate-change nasties? 

This is one of the favourite themes of nostrum-peddlers such as L’il Kris Kenny.

Yet all the countries that emit 1.3 per cent or less amount collectively to 26 per cent of total carbon emissions – a fairly big chunk. If all the small emitters did something to meet our targets “at a canter” then we would make a difference. 

It was the grouping of low-lying countries in particular that pushed for a 1.5 per cent limit in the rise of pre-industrial average temperatures at the Paris summit. As summer soon sets in, with storms and searing heat, we’ll think warmly of the Minerals Council, the coal lobby and their claqueurs in the media, who have our purblind government in a squirrel grip.

Spooky Bluetooth

The latest and most exciting piece of over-ramped security legislation to come our way is the benignly named Assistance and Access Bill. It gives Constable Plod and the spooks the power to get inside your mobile phone and, even better, smart speakers and cameras in private homes. 

If this bill goes through, you can be monitored by Benito Dutton if he thinks you might be committing a crime or even a civil offence. 

Further, it will permit authorities to demand technology companies give them access to almost any device or service that transmits information over the internet. 

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Privacy, Professor Joseph Cannataci, has criticised the government’s anti-encryption legislation, describing it as “fatally flawed”. Among other things, it has the potential to make us less safe because it will introduce vulnerabilities into the cybersecurity of all devices. 

As for reptiles of the media, it will be impossible to protect the identity of a secret source, unless we revert to connecting through the post or by carrier pigeon, or hanging about in underground car parks in dark shades.

Trumpette #93

By some time on Wednesday (our time) we should know if the Tiny Toadstool is going to be impeached. That’s when it is expected the results of the US midterm elections are likely to be known and if the Democrats secure a majority in the House of Reprehensibles then the rest of the Trump era will be tangled in impeachment shenanigans.

Everything is up for grabs, from congressional seats to town ratcatcher, the lollipop monitor at school crossings, mayors and governors.

Trump is coming up with as many “red meat” ideas as he can muster after the untimely distractions of pipe bombs and synagogue shootings. He says he could send up to 15,000 crack troops to the Mexican border to stop the “invasion of the United States” by a caravan of desperate people fleeing Central America. At the moment, the invasion of the poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free is more than 1200 kilometres away.

So much for the “wretched refuse of your teeming shore”.

Then he came up with the idea that he could change the US constitution with his squiggle signature by declaring an end to “birthright citizenship”. The Toadstool is in charge, so never mind the 14th amendment, which says all people born in the US, “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States”.

Was that our very own Jonathan Swan, son of science broadcaster Norman and now with Axios, interviewing Trump about the birthright deal, jabbing his pen and jumping out of his skin with the excitement of his own questions?

Meanwhile, if only there were more people with guns inside that Pittsburgh synagogue then everything would have been okay. Right?

Some electors may think these ideas are untethered from reality, but will there be enough of them to change the course of this demented presidency? Much of the media are exhausted from illuminating the national mayhem and even when things such as Trump’s industrial-scale tax cheating are exposed, citizens just shrug. So what?

All that the man in the White House has to offer is fear. As veteran reporter Bob Woodward reminds us in his book of the same name, Trump said while running for office: “Real power is, I don’t even want to use the word: ‘Fear.’ ”

 

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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 3, 2018 as "Gadfly: Inflight infotainment ". Subscribe here.

Richard Ackland
is the publisher of Justinian. He is The Saturday Paper’s diarist-at-large and legal affairs editor.