Thursday, 7 February 2008
Individual Australians are not responsible and should not feel guilty. ‘Sorry’ does not have to
be an expression of shame or guilt. It can be an expression of empathy, as in ‘I’m sorry to
hear your friend died’ or ‘I’m sorry you got hurt in that car accident’. If people are still
confused on this front, they might recall that several years ago, John Howard apologised on
behalf on the nation to Vietnam Veterans for their poor treatment when they returned from
In any case the apology will not be made on behalf of the Australian people but rather limited
to the Australian Parliament.
Myth 2 – The Stolen Generations are a thing of the past
Of all the Stolen Generations myths, this is one of the biggest. The facts are that the removal
of Indigenous children continued well into the 1960s and early 1970s. These people are still
alive today and the effect on individuals, families and communities lasts a lifetime (and
Myth 3 - Saying sorry won’t deliver better results in health, housing or education
Saying sorry is not of itself supposed to deliver health, housing and education. The
fundamental flaw of this particular objection is that it implies Australia can’t deliver practical
outcomes while simultaneously delivering symbolic gestures. In other words, it suggests we
can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.
The government must also pursue practical measures to address Indigenous disadvantage,
but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t begin the process with a symbolic act.
Myth 4 - It’ll cost us a fortune
Contrary to popular opinion, a national apology will have no legal impact on the capacity of
members of the Stolen Generations to seek compensation. The ability of members of the
Stolen Generations to pursue legal claims has existed since they were taken and nothing
changes that. As a nation, an apology costs us nothing.
Myth 5 - The people who performed the removals thought they were doing the right thing
Good people do things that turn out to be wrong – but that doesn’t mean they’re excused
from apologising. The majority of Indigenous children were removed from families not on the
basis of the level of their care - but simply because of the colour of their skin. Many kids
experienced physical, sexual and emotional abuse in their foster families and institutions after
they were removed. For those people who believe that forced removal actually benefited the
children – it’s pretty difficult to find a member of the Stolen Generations who is happy about
being denied the love of their parents and extended family.
Myth 6 - Saying sorry won’t change the past
Sadly, it won’t. But it will have a massive impact on the future – Stolen Generations
members have already started healing since the promise to apologise was announced. An
apology means an enormous amount to Indigenous people and the nation as a whole – and
will cost us nothing.
Myth 7 - Saying sorry just leads people to think everything’s been fixed
Whether you’re for or against it, anyone who thinks that everything will be ‘fixed’ with the
apology is kidding themselves. No-one is claiming that uttering the word ‘sorry’ is going to
solve all the problems facing Indigenous Australians. Whatever your view on the apology,
everyone agrees that practical actions still need to be taken. The apology is an important first
Who are the stolen generations? The term ‘Stolen Generations’ refers to Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander Australians who were forcibly removed from their families and
communities by policies of government, welfare and church authorities as children and
placed into institutional care or with non-Indigenous foster families. The forced removal of
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children began as early as the mid 1800s and
continued until the 1970s.
The apology? A central recommendation of the 1997 'Bringing Them Home' report was the
need for a national apology to those individuals and their families and communities affected
by past policies of removal. Members of the Stolen Generations have indicated that
recognition by the Government that the policies were wrong would help in addressing the
trauma and suffering that they have experienced. The need for a national apology is also
regarded as an important component of the broader reconciliation process between
Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
Wednesday, 6 February 2008
However, there is a profound difference: the current crisis marks the end of an era of credit expansion based on the dollar as the international reserve currency. The periodic crises were part of a larger boom-bust process. The current crisis is the culmination of a super-boom that has lasted for more than 60 years.
Boom-bust processes usually revolve around credit and always involve a bias or misconception. This is usually a failure to recognise a reflexive, circular connection between the willingness to lend and the value of the collateral. Ease of credit generates demand that pushes up the value of property, which in turn increases the amount of credit available. A bubble starts when people buy houses in the expectation that they can refinance their mortgages at a profit. The recent US housing boom is a case in point. The 60-year super-boom is a more complicated case.
Every time the credit expansion ran into trouble the financial authorities intervened, injecting liquidity and finding other ways to stimulate the economy. That created a system of asymmetric incentives also known as moral hazard, which encouraged ever greater credit expansion. The system was so successful that people came to believe in what former US president Ronald Reagan called the magic of the marketplace and I call market fundamentalism. Fundamentalists believe that markets tend towards equilibrium and the common interest is best served by allowing participants to pursue their self-interest. It is an obvious misconception, because it was the intervention of the authorities that prevented financial markets from breaking down, not the markets themselves. Nevertheless, market fundamentalism emerged as the dominant ideology in the 1980s, when financial markets started to become globalised and the US started to run a current account deficit.
Globalisation allowed the US to suck up the savings of the rest of the world and consume more than it produced. The US current account deficit reached 6.2 per cent of gross national product in 2006. The financial markets encouraged consumers to borrow by introducing ever more sophisticated instruments and more generous terms. The authorities aided and abetted the process by intervening whenever the global financial system was at risk. Since 1980, regulations have been progressively relaxed until they have practically disappeared.
The super-boom got out of hand when the new products became so complicated that the authorities could no longer calculate the risks and started relying on the risk management methods of the banks themselves. Similarly, the rating agencies relied on the information provided by the originators of synthetic products. It was a shocking abdication of responsibility.
Everything that could go wrong did. What started with subprime mortgages spread to all collateralised debt obligations, endangered municipal and mortgage insurance and reinsurance companies and threatened to unravel the multi-trillion-dollar credit default swap market. Investment banks' commitments to leveraged buyouts became liabilities. Market-neutral hedge funds turned out not to be market-neutral and had to be unwound. The asset-backed commercial paper market came to a standstill and the special investment vehicles set up by banks to get mortgages off their balance sheets could no longer get outside financing. The final blow came when interbank lending, which is at the heart of the financial system, was disrupted because banks had to husband their resources and could not trust their counterparties. The central banks had to inject an unprecedented amount of money and extend credit on an unprecedented range of securities to a broader range of institutions than ever before. That made the crisis more severe than any since the second world war.
Credit expansion must now be followed by a period of contraction, because some of the new credit instruments and practices are unsound and unsustainable. The ability of the financial authorities to stimulate the economy is constrained by the unwillingness of the rest of the world to accumulate additional dollar reserves. Until recently, investors were hoping that the US Federal Reserve would do whatever it takes to avoid a recession, because that is what it did on previous occasions. Now they will have to realise that the Fed may no longer be in a position to do so. With oil, food and other commodities firm, and the renminbi appreciating somewhat faster, the Fed also has to worry about inflation. If federal funds were lowered beyond a certain point, the dollar would come under renewed pressure and long-term bonds would actually go up in yield. Where that point is, is impossible to determine. When it is reached, the ability of the Fed to stimulate the economy comes to an end.
Although a recession in the developed world is now more or less inevitable, China, India and some of the oil-producing countries are in a very strong countertrend. So, the current financial crisis is less likely to cause a global recession than a radical realignment of the global economy, with a relative decline of the US and the rise of China and other countries in the developing world.
The danger is that the resulting political tensions, including US protectionism, may disrupt the global economy and plunge the world into recession or worse.
The writer is chairman of Soros Fund Management
News and politics
Tuesday, 5 February 2008
Mike Tanier: Best first quarter ever. Two good drives, clock keeps moving. 7:05 p.m. and we are a quarter of the way home. Last year’s Super Bowl took three days.
(Eli Manning throws a pick to Ellis Hobbs at the New England 10-yard line with 12 minutes left in the second quarter.)
Sean McCormick: Ellis Hobbs was borrowing Jimmy Hitchcock’s eyes on that play. Bad luck for Eli, but even so, the early story is the tremendous job of blitz pickup the Giants’ backs are doing.
Aaron Schatz: In the second quarter, do you believe the officials should have thrown a flag on Amani Toomer when he pushed Ellis Hobbs away by the facemask, then made that great catch on the sideline? I think that was clearly offensive pass interference, although I don’t take anything away from Toomer’s good job getting the feet down in bounds.
Regarding penalties, clearly the officials have swallowed the whistles on holding, just like the rest of the playoffs. Since they are doing it equally for both offenses, it isn’t that big a deal.
Sean McCormick: That was offensive pass interference. I would say that if the refs are going to let the players play, then it was reasonable not to call it, because Hobbs was using his hands as well and you can say both players were fighting to locate the ball. But I wouldn’t have had a problem with an official throwing a flag on that play.
Ryan Wilson: Well, if it’s a penalty against the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL, it should be here, I think. Also, I didn’t think that was a delay of game on Eli Manning. The play clock just hit zero and I’ve never seen it called that early.
Mike Tanier: The Toomer catch should have been OPI. There was mutual contact but its hard to ignore a hand to the facemask.
Aaron Schatz: The Patriots need to stop sending five defenders. It is not working. Manning is fine against five. The Giants pick it up. Either send six, or send the traditional four and make sure guys are covered.
And color me shocked that the Patriots did not throw a challenge flag on the blown handoff to Ahmad Bradshaw, ruling that Pierre Woods recovered the ball and was down by contact. That was a major field position play if the Patriots win that challenge.
Russell Levine: Worse call obviously on the non-fumble recovery. That is New England ball. That is a challengeable play, is it not? Woods was clearly on the ball in possession when he was touched down.
Looked to me early on that Tom Brady was not comfortable. He failed to spot a couple of open guys and misfired a couple times.
(Late in the first half, the Patriots convert a long third down to escape the shadow of their own end zone.)
That first down conversion to Donte Stallworth on third-and-13 could end up being one of the key plays of the game even if New England doesn’t score before half.
Sean McCormick: Beautiful play design, and yes, it could well prove to be a crucial play.
(The Patriots didn’t score; Brady fumbled with about 15 seconds left in the half, and the ball was recovered by Osi Umenyiora.)
Aaron Schatz: And at halftime, the story of the game is that the Pats offensive line is getting completely destroyed, but the Giants offense has also looked pretty bad except for the first drive.
Doug Farrar: That’s been the surprise to me through the first half. New England’s line has been a clear liability. The Giants know that not even Tom Brady can get a big play off if he’s running for his life all the time. Justin Tuck might earn his entire new $30 million contract in this game alone.
Also, I gained a new level of respect for Ahmad Bradshaw when I saw him carry Ty Warren about five yards. That guy’s not just a scatback. I know that winning the physical battle isn’t New England’s game, but they have to be concerned about the fact that they’re really getting pushed around.
Mike Tanier: In the first half, the Giants have been doing it with a mix of really daring blitzes and out-of-the-mind play by their big three pass rushers. But the Patriots are complicit because they are barely using their flats-and-short-crosses game. Their few screens were mostly effective. In the second half they are going to have to run more quick-strike stuff, especially if the Giants are going to send safeties.
Sean McCormick: The second half is probably going to come down to the conditioning of the Giants defensive line. In all of the Patriots comeback games — against Indy, against Baltimore and the first Giants game — the offense was able to make big plays in the fourth quarter after the pass rush slowed down. This is the best pass rush in football, and the Giants have the depth to hold up, but they tired down in the regular season game and it sprung Randy Moss for the deep touchdown. The Giants offense is going to continue to move the ball, and they’ll probably score points But it’s going to come down to the defensive line, I suspect.
Mike Tanier: Clunk. Tom Petty started “Free Fallin’” and I died of boredom. Can we get Air Supply next year?
Doug Farrar: Agreed. Anyone who actually survived the “Five Hours of Frank Caliendo” pregame show deserved better.
Sean McCormick: So, through three quarters, where does this defensive performance rank? If anything, it seems like the Giants have been more dominating than the 1990 team was against Buffalo or the 2001 Pats were against the Rams. Both those offenses moved up and down the field, but the Giants have really tamped down the yardage.
Doug Farrar: The front seven has performed as well as any I’ve seen in a Super Bowl. Thomas Boswell wrote a wonderful article about Mike Schmidt and Robin Yount many years ago in which he talked about the fact that we sometimes don’t really understand true greatness until the player who had it retires. We know Michael Strahan because of the gap-toothed smile and the fact that he’s funny and a smooth talker, and we know that he’s a future Hall of Famer, but how many 36-year-old defensive ends do you know who can sack a quarterback before the guy blocking him can get out of his stance, then deflect a freakin’ screen pass on a different play? Truly amazing.
Bill Belichick is going to hate himself for not taking the three and going for it on fourth down halfway through the third quarter. Aggressiveness index or not. And I wrote this before the David Tyree touchdown drive. They didn’t make the Giants pay for the Eli pick, nor did they make them pay for the Chase Blackburn 12-men-on-the-field thing.
(Tom Brady throws a six-yard touchdown to Randy Moss with 2:45 left in the game, putting the Patriots up, 14-10.)
Russell Levine: Brutal decision by the Giants to go man up on Moss with no safety help on the go-ahead touchdown. Hard to fault anything about the defensive effort tonight, but that was a head-scratcher.
And David Tyree etches his name in Giants lore with that catch at the 1:15 mark, converting the third down, extending the drive, and joining Stephen Baker in Giants lore.
(Eli Manning ends the drive that was punctuated by the Tyree catch with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress. The Giants win Super Bowl XLII, possibly the biggest upset in Super Bowl history.)
Mike Tanier: Well, that was intense.
One of the worst-called games by the Belichick coaching staff that I have seen. The fourth-and-13 was nuts, I hated the first-half offensive game plan, and I hated that single-coverage call at the end against Plaxico.
Absolutely amazing performance by the Giants defensive line. Count not just the sacks but the other plays, like Strahan breaking up that dumpoff to Kevin Faulk and all the times Laurence Maroney got stuffed. Amazing effort by the defensive staff to design that game plan, but a lot of it was just man-on-man dominance.
Brady had little time to throw, but he made some awful passes. Really bad game for him. Awful game for Matt Light. Awful game for Ross Hochstein. Rodney Harrison … it wasn’t just the Tyree catch; there were a lot of places where he was just a step too late or slow.
So much of this game was field position. The Patriots always had to drive 85 yards. That’s why I wondered about the fourth-and-13. The Giants got the ball back and were able to play punt-and-pin again. The Giants touchdown drives were both long, but the first one could have been longer if Hanson had pinned them at the 10 instead of punting through the end zone.
This game was just another reminder of how much this sport is a game of inches and seconds. Eli eluding a sack by the fabric on his jersey. Tyree pinning the ball to his helmet. Bradshaw clawing the ball away from that linebacker in the pile. Jacobs’ head and shoulders following through over Rich Seubert’s body on that fourth-and-1 at the end. Suddenly we are watching the biggest upset since at least Super Bowl III.
Stuart Fraser: Strahan or Tuck should be MVP, not Eli. You don’t give an offensive player the MVP award when his team scored 17 points.
Vince Verhei: I agree with you, but Tom Brady once won Super Bowl MVP for an offense that scored 13 points.
Stuart Fraser: The Any Given Sunday about this one is both really short and really long. The short version is “The Giants D-Line absolutely took the game over.”
A slightly longer version notes that the Giants linebackers and secondary tackled very well, limiting the yards after catch on short passes that often kill teams going against the Patriots. After the first Giants game, we talked about how the Patriots were like Tiger Woods, how they could be beaten, but you had to execute to the best of their ability play after play after play, drive after drive. You know what? The Giants’ defense did just that tonight. Congratulations to them, and to Steve Spagnuolo for the game plan. I wish him luck as head coach of the Redskins, because I think he just won that job tonight.
Whilst the Giants were playing the perfect game — at least on one side of the ball — the New England offense was misfiring on almost all cylinders. Maybe it wasn’t 2001 or 1985, but 2005: the AFC Divisional round, where the sixth seed Steelers stopped the AFC’s No. 1 Indianapolis offense with a pass rush, and the offense did enough to win out. Brady’s stats — 29 of 48 (60.4 percent) for 266 yards and a touchdown — echo Manning’s 22 of 38 (57.9 percent) for 290 yards and a touchdown, and each was sacked five times. The Patriots almost managed to win anyway — and if they’d gone to the short passing game with both Moss and Wes Welker in the first half, maybe we’d be talking about Belichick’s genius for adjustment again.
But while the offensive game plan for New England (and the call to leave Hobbs man-up on Plaxico Burress for the winning score, because we didn’t learn that this was a bad idea on the freaking first series of the previous matchup, not at all) was horrid, the execution was worse. Rushers came unblocked much of the time. Brady handled the pressure poorly — I mean, he was being hit all the time in the first Giants game, too, but it didn’t seem to slow him down all that much. Maybe he was more injured than the Patriots let on.
And where do we put the 2007 Patriots in the sporting pantheon? Now it’s easy: Best team not to win the Super Bowl.
Doug Farrar: They are absolutely the 1968 Colts, in my mind. Same “best team ever?” speculation, their quarterback was the NFL MVP, and they were beaten by a team that had weathered some major regular season struggles to win while the “better” team struggled in the big game. That Colts team won their Super Bowl two years later, so we’ll just have to see what this means for the Patriots. Of course, Don Shula and Earl Morrall rose from that defeat to find perfection with the ‘72 Dolphins. But that’s the question for the Pats now — are they the 1968 Colts, with enough left in the tank for another run, or are they the 2001 Rams, where it’s all about to go downhill and stay there for a while?
Sean McCormick: Another parallel with 2001: Remember how the Pats played the Rams unexpectedly tough but lost, then went on to not lose another game all year? It’s more impressive when you get that loss in Week 8 than Week 17, but you can argue that the same dynamic was in effect. The Giants clearly used that game as a springboard.
Russell Levine: It seems that perhaps an older Pats team wore down at the end of the year. They had to grind out a few over the second half of the season and appeared beatable in all three playoff games. The accusations of running up the score against Washington, et al., seem like a long time ago.
Ridiculously early speculation, part I: You have to wonder how the Pats will bounce back from this. They suddenly look mortal, and the defense is awfully long in the tooth. Asante Samuel could be gone. They’re potentially staring at an off-season spent combating more allegations and, if they’re proven, further sanctions. They’re already missing a No. 1 pick. I can’t imagine they won’t be huge favorites heading into next season, but watching their psyche next year should be awfully interesting.
Sean McCormick: In Vegas, maybe. Looking at the likely personnel changes, I would give San Diego the best odds of winning next year, followed by Indianapolis. New England would be third. As you said, they looked old and worn out, and they’re going to be losing a lot on defense in the offseason.
Mike Tanier: Junior Seau should go. Harrison should go. But they still have a very young core.
Stuart Fraser: They’re missing a No. 1 pick. They have San Francisco’s, which is substantially higher than the No. 31 they’ve forfeited.
If they can bring back Randy Moss, then all the key components of the offense remain in place. I’m sure Belichick (assuming he’s back and Spygate doesn’t become a critical mess) is capable of doing what Tony Dungy has done, and holding together a defense which is good enough despite the roster turnover.
Also, frankly, who else is going to win the AFC East?
Vince Verhei: I’m trying to find a metaphor that describes my surprise.
I feel like I have learned which religion is correct, and it is not my own.
I feel like aliens have been walking among us, and they have chosen to reveal themselves en masse.
I feel like my life has been one great science experiment, and I am not in the control group.
I’ve got a mini-notebook filled with play-by-play notes and reactions, but … we all saw the game. The Patriots’ pass protection was futile. If the Giants blitzed, the blitzer came through unblocked. If they rushed four, those four got pressure anyway. The Patriots were outschemed (Steve Spagnuolo is a genius) and outmanned.
When Brady did have time, he was highly erratic. One example: He’s got Randy Moss open on first-and-goal in the fourth quarter, and throws it way high and outside. Didn’t matter much, because he found him on third down, but it was the most notable example of his un-Brady day.
The Patriots got away from their identity for the first 55 minutes of this game. Where were the slants and quick outs? They didn’t show up until that last touchdown drive. It seemed like Brady was looking for the home run every play, and some of those sacks came because he held the ball too long.
I still can’t believe this, but the Patriots were completely outcoached today.
I’m not sure what exactly to say about the Giants offense vs. the Patriots defense — that’s the only part of this game that went largely as expected. Eli Manning was great again, really going without a turnover (that interception was clearly not his fault, and the Giants recovered both of his fumbles) and leading two go-ahead drives in the fourth quarter. Is that a Super Bowl first?
So, here’s what we say about the Giants: They were a very ordinary team for 17 weeks. They then caught absolute fire (Has any team ever beaten three better teams than Dallas/Green Bay/New England in the playoffs?) and won the Super Bowl. Why did that catch us off guard? Because there was no indication this was going to happen. It’s unprecedented. It’s inexplicable. It defies all rational thought.
Unfortunate advertising note: The NFL Network is doing a replay of the game on Wednesday. The commercial for this replay (which has been running for days) ends with Tedy Bruschi pumping his fist and screaming “That’s how you finish!” Oh boy.
And I do not understand the fourth-and-13 call, particularly because they opted to punt on fourth-and-2 in the same drive before being bailed out by the 12-men penalty. I mean, fourth-and-13? Even if you’re worried about a missed field goal moving the ball back eight yards further, well, I’d punt the ball from there before I’d go for it, and no, I’m not kidding. Worst-case scenario if you punt, Giants have the ball at the 20, instead of getting it at the 31, which is what actually happened. Really, that just made no sense at all. Which I guess makes it perfect for this day.
Stuart Fraser: Something else to think about: It’s time to re-evaluate Tom Coughlin. He made the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars a winning team from their second year, and gave the franchise an identity it’s held onto with Jack Del Rio and would be a widely recognized success story if it weren’t stuck in Jacksonville.
He turned Tiki Barber into a great back, much as Barber is loath to admit this. He was smart enough — and man enough — to know when a coaching style wasn’t working in New York and changed it to suit his players. And now he’s won a ring and he’s clearly out-coached Bill Belichick in so doing. He’s 103-89, which is pretty much the same winning percentage as Jeff Fisher — and he did most of it with an expansion team. Maybe he’s not quite up there with the absolute best, but he’s laid down another piece of what’s shaping up to be a pretty good legacy.
Aaron Schatz: As far as Coughlin, nobody ever said he was not a good in-game coach. What we said was that his personality wore down his players over a few years, and we all believed we had gotten to that point. Clearly, he dramatically altered the way he interacted with his players this year, and it was very successful come the postseason. He gets a lot of credit for that. It’s one thing to change your play-calling strategy. Not everyone can take a step back and say, “Wow, I’m an a**hole and it is hurting my ability to get the most from my employees. I need to change.” — and then actually change, and succeed. It is impressive.
Oh, and Jeff Feagles was swell. Someone should mention that.
Doug Farrar: I’m glad we’re talking as much about the Giants as we are, because I think it would be horribly unfair to tell the story of this Super Bowl as the game the Patriots lost, not the game the Giants won. A lot of people are going to do that, and it’s just not right.
As much as Brady was off with his passes, the Giants’ pass rush was tripping him up all day, and Justin Tuck should have been the MVP, because he stopped Brady from being able to step up and throw when the pressure came from the sides, and Brady finally had the chance to go play action only late in the game when that front four tired out. The New England offensive line played like crap, but that was as good a front seven as you’ll ever see in a Super Bowl. Antonio Pierce was a freak with the screens and outside runs. New England couldn’t get anything going long because they didn’t have time, and they couldn’t get consistent short gains because the defense was set up for that as well.
There are a few comparisons that come to mind. Aaron and I had a long phone conversation after the game, and we were gong through the different trends and comparisons. Vince said it best — there is no historical precedent for this. The 2001 Pats got hot a lot earlier in the season. The 2005 Steelers, who beat the NFL’s best offenses on the road on the way to their championship, were rated far higher by FO’s numbers — better in team efficiency than the Seahawks. The 2006 Colts got hot later, but we know that they were good enough to win from what they had done in their previous year. The 2003 Panthers were a bit more decisive in the playoffs, and they didn’t beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
I don’t think there is a Giants comparison, unless we go back through the 12 years of game-by-game DVOA we have and look for trend graphs which indicate teams that got very hot late, so that we can maybe, just maybe, explain why the hell this happened. Aaron mentioned to me the fact that had FO existed in 2001, he would have been all over the Rams to beat the Pats in the Super Bowl, because while there was a perceived chance that New England could win, the Rams were on the tail end of their “greatest of all time” swing.
We like to think that we can use DVOA 5.0 (or 6.0 or 7.0, eventually) to map it all out, but we know we can’t cover it all. There are intangibles such as emotion and chemistry and contrasting hot and cold streaks, and the sheer weight of momentum that defines a team either way. I thought that the Pats would win this game by 30, because I didn’t think that I’d see the New England team I’d seen over the last six weeks — the one that has won game after game by the thinnest of margins on borrowed time. In each of those games (except the Baltimore game, which they should have lost and somehow just didn’t), glaring vulnerabilities were covered up by excellence in other areas. Well, I was right. I didn’t see the team I had seen before. I saw the team with all of those vulnerabilities and none of the compensatory aspects that would have won the game.
And the Giants were a juggernaut. What an unbelievable performance. I want the Seahawks to fire Jim Mora and hire Steve Spagnuolo as Mike Holmgren’s replacement. I want Brandon Mebane to play like Justin Tuck and Patrick Kerney to be half as good as Michael Strahan in six years. I want Shaun Alexander to carry Ty Warren on his back for five yards instead of getting tackled for losses by waterboys. I love physical teams, and I’m just jealous.
Aaron Schatz: I don’t understand the fourth-and-13 either. Belichick coached horribly tonight, the offensive line was horrible, Brady looked bad — but at least give Brady credit for leading a game-winning drive. The fact that the defense couldn’t hold that lead doesn’t make it less impressive, just like the failure of the Carolina defense in 2003 didn’t make Jake Delhomme’s performance any less impressive. This is two straight years the Patriots have blown the last game in the fourth quarter, and it is time to accept that they need younger linebackers and more depth.
The Giants’ defensive line is amazing. The MVP of this game should have been given to Tuck, Strahan, Umenyiora, all together. Eli Manning was impressive again, although giving him the MVP is silly. The interception wasn’t even really a bad throw. The Washington Redskins are insane if they do not offer their head coaching job to Steve Spagnuolo after this. I feel very good for Michael Strahan, a sure Hall of Famer who finally got a ring. I feel terrible for Junior Seau, a sure Hall of Famer who did not.
And don’t forget Jacksonville when you talk about the teams most likely to knock the Pats off their perch next year.
Pat Laverty: I think one aspect of the defensive scheme that’s being overlooked is the Giants’ linebackers. The counter to that kind of DLine pressure is screens. The Patriots are the best in the business at running the screen and they tried it many times, but each time they did, it seemed that Maroney/Faulk/Welker just got hit by Mitchell/Pierce/et al as soon as they touched the ball. It seemed the Giants’ linebackers had it sniffed out really well and shed the blockers really well.
Tuck/Strahan/Osi can get all the pressure they want on Brady, but if he’s dumping off for 15-20 yard screen plays, Tuck doesn’t look so good. The play of the linebackers in taking away the screens forced Brady to look a little more downfield and sit in the pocket for another moment or so.
Aaron Schatz: This is definitely a place where Spagnuolo’s scheme for the Super Bowl took away what was a clear weakness of the Giants defense in the regular season.
Ned Macey: Analytically, I think an even better comparison for the Pats is the 1999 Rams. That team had an offense come out of nowhere and just throttle teams. By the playoffs, teams had adjusted, and they won two low-scoring defensive struggles to escape with a Super Bowl. Their full-season DVOA and Pythagorean ratings are through the roof because they pounded teams early.
My point is that the Pats’ overall metrics were inflated because of the newness of their offense. Once countered, they became merely great rather than otherworldly.
New England’s offensive DVOA averaged 51.1% through eight games. The last 8 weeks, it averaged 34.5% which is in line with other great offenses. I think this offense, once figured out, is no better than the Greatest Show on Turf or the great Colts offenses. Those are teams with a history of proving they can lose a playoff game.
To go further, their scoring differential through eight games was 331-127. The second half of the year, it was 258-147. We explained it away, naturally enough, as bad weather or the weight of the undefeated season, but I suspect that these Pats were not as good as we thought they were. Of course, I have free access to write whatever I want and never had the balls to write this until after they were upset in the Super Bowl. Still, hindsight is 20/20, and the Pats were definitively not dominant in the second half of the season.
I think everyone’s reaction to Spagnuolo is a little odd. The Giants, to our eyes, were an average team who got on a hot streak. Their defense was an average defense who got on a hot streak (and, per Aaron in the preview, didn’t really improve in the playoffs until the Super Bowl.) In the regular season, they were no better than they were the year before.
Then, they have one great game against what I suspect was a wildly overconfident opponent, and we’re sure this guy is a coaching legend in the making? I’m not saying he won’t be great, but if the Giants win was just “anything can happen in one game,” I’m going to hold the same standard to the defensive coordinator. Especially since he got abused by this same team in Week 17; somehow I doubt he was holding plays for an eventual Super Bowl at that time.
Finally, in Super Bowl XXXVI against the Rams, Brady was 16-for-27 for 145 yards with one touchdown, and the offense scored 13 points. Today, he was 29-for-48 for 266 with one touchdown, and the offense scored 14 points. One time he was Super Bowl MVP, and the other time, he had a bad game.
Stuart Fraser: There was, maybe, one indicator from the Week 17 game we might have missed, though I don’t know if we even have game charting data on it yet. The Giants had a ton of QB hits and hurries in that game. The Patriots barely got to Eli until the fourth quarter. We think, but haven’t shown, that hits/hurries are often a harbinger of sacks to come. Well, certainly happened here. I wonder if in some way the Arizona surface was easier to play on for the Giants’ speed rushers over the Patriots larger linemen when compared to the Meadowlands. Maybe New York just played better. Maybe the linemen the Patriots used in the first game are actually better pass protectors than the guys ahead of them on the depth chart, at least against the sort of rush the Giants brought.
This is the third straight year that a team has come from nowhere (or some value of nowhere) to win the Super Bowl. DVOA 5.0 is 1-for-3 on picking these out (it thinks the 2005 Steelers were about 5 percent off the #1 Colts). Unfortunately, the Super Bowl it picked was kind of retrospective.
It seems in general that maybe we’re entering a different era here, where regular season performance is, for whatever reason, less indicative of playoff performance. A commenter on the board noted how the wild cards have had greater success since the NFL went to 32 teams, so maybe that’s part of the cause. Maybe it’s a change in the frequency of injuries - there’s no such thing as avoiding injuries in the regular season, but the teams that break out in the playoffs are always pretty healthy.
Obviously we’ll have to look at the Giants — and the Patriots — to see if there’s anything we should have seen. It’d be nice to have DVOA for the run and shoot offenses of the early 1990’s, to see if DVOA was systematically overrating the Patriots for some reason - I don’t see why it should be, but I’m kind of used to the experimental data confounding expectations. I can’t see any way we could have predicted this, but… well, we still have to look.
Aaron Schatz: I should clear up a misconception about the improvements we made to the formula in 2006. I didn’t spend a month doing numbers with the express goal of making the 2005 Steelers look better than the 2005 Seahawks. The goal was to make the numbers correlate better to winning and from one year to the next over a 10-year period, not a one-year period. The fact that the changes moved the 2005 Steelers up to third in the league that year are simply a coincidence.
As far as this team, nothing that has happened for the past month changes the fact that the Giants were mediocre during the regular season. The indicators just weren’t there. This team gave up 44 points to Tarvaris Jackson and the Minnesota Vikings less than two months ago. That’s what makes this accomplishment remarkable. That’s why the Giants will go down in history for doing something incredible — not by luck, but by not accepting their regular-season level of mediocrity, and raising their game for the postseason, and overcoming the hardest schedule of opponents of any Super Bowl champion in history, and taking down the team that had just completed the greatest regular season ever. The proper response to an upset is to celebrate success, not to rejoice in failure.
As for me as a Patriots fan, I’m surprisingly serene about the loss. Obviously, it is a disappointment, but they were outplayed. The better team for five months isn’t always the better team over a three-hour period, and you don’t get the trophy for being better over five months. We learned that in 2001 when we were on the other end of this. The fact is, we got three championships out of this team. We’ve had seven years of winning football. This year was an amazing ride. This team added a lot more happiness to my life over the last few years than it did sadness last night. Furthermore, that had to be one of the most exciting Super Bowls ever played. Bummer for my team, but man, it was a really exciting game, especially if you like defense.
Onwards to 2008. In a couple days, we’ll start talking about how to rebuild the Atlanta Falcons, and the whole cycle starts anew.
Monday, 4 February 2008
Reinvigorating the National Broadcaster
I am a creature of habit. In the mornings, like the former prime minister, I rely on Radio National's Breakfast, although I am less impressed with it in its current incarnation than I was when it was presented by Peter Thompson and Richard Ackland. With the former there used to be outstanding intellectual discussions between 7.30 and 8.00, often involving key thinkers from around the globe. With the latter what I admired was the mordant wit. Almost my favourite moment on radio, ever, came during an Ackland interview with the redoubtable but garrulous Geoffrey Robertson. There was a moment when it appeared likely that a Robertson answer would never end. Ackland had sufficient mastery of the technology to inform his listeners, without interrupting Robertson, by now in full flight, that he was going out for a quick smoke. Every morning I listen to AM. On the way to work I try to take in one of the Radio National morning magazine programs on media, religion and the law, although I avoid sport because the program doesn't interest me much, and health on hypochondriac grounds. If I work at home I often listen to Classic FM, although never to Margaret Throsby, for the paradoxical reason that her interviews are so absorbing that I cannot concentrate on the task at hand. I almost never listen any longer to ABC Local Radio. I am simply not interested in the kind of middlebrow market at which it aims. Melbourne's Jon Faine is an exception. Local ABC becomes important to me only at 6.00, with PM, which I try never to miss. In the evenings, whenever possible, I watch mainly ABC Television: the news and the 7.30 Report, often what is on offer after that, and if I am not exhausted, Lateline. If I am in the garden on weekends, I like to listen to football in the winter and cricket in the summer. During Test matches the gentle patter of the commentary, punctuated occasionally by Kerry O'Keefe's insane laughter, replaces Classic FM. If I am ever in my car at 4.00 in the afternoon or at 10.00 in the evening I listen to Phillip Adams, perhaps the most remarkable broadcaster in the history of this country.
This outline of my daily routine should at least make one thing clear: the ABC plays a very important part in my life. As it does for very many Australians. There is almost no institution in Australia that is more generally trusted, valued and loved than the ABC, as survey after survey shows. There is probably no other that has so loyal and attentive and possessive a society of Friends.
It is uncontroversial that the period of the Howard government was the most difficult era in the history of the ABC. There were two main interrelated reasons for this, one ideological and the other financial. Let me deal first with the one I understand best.
As soon as the Howard government was elected, it decided to make the ABC one of the main fronts of the culture war it was determined to prosecute. The justification can be summarised like this. At some time in the past, so it was alleged, the ABC had been "captured" by its staff, who sought to use the broadcaster, in a Gramscian manner, as a launching pad for cultural revolution. As part of this cultural revolution, the ABC for a long time had supposedly pushed the agenda of the Left on issues like refugees, the republic, multiculturalism, reconciliation, radical feminism, extreme environmentalism, anti-Americanism, gay rights and so on. Because it was supposedly still influenced by Marxism, it was anti-capitalist, showing little interest in or understanding of real-world economics. The ABC had long been, it was claimed, dominated by so-called elites, who tried to force their so-called politically correct views down the throats of ‘ordinary people'. Because there was believed to be a disconnect between the ABC program-makers, who were said to be left-wing ideologues, and their viewers and listeners, who on balance were liberal or conservative, the short description of the ABC most favoured by John Howard in 1996 was the one supplied by his adviser Grahame Morris: "our enemy talking to our friends".
Although almost every element of this case was either exaggerated or entirely fanciful, at the time the Howard government came into office both it and its supporters believed something needed to be done.
Let me outline the most important elements of the strategy that gradually unfolded. The Howard years saw the rise and rise of an aggressive right-wing commentariat: Andrew Bolt, Piers Akerman, Alan Jones, Miranda Devine, Janet Albrechtsen, Christopher Pearson, Gerard Henderson, Paul Sheehan and so on. For the past 11 and three-quarter years they maintained a consistent rhetorical attack on the supposed left-wing bias of the ABC and on the apparent failure of its chairman or its board or even the government to recapture it. Of course, all this had its effect.
The attack-dogs in the media had the support of the neo-liberal think-tanks, like the IPA in Melbourne, which at critical moments during the past decade conducted pseudo-academic studies into bias during election campaigns or during political crises such as the 1998 waterfront dispute. Even though these studies generally did not show what they set out to show, they too had their effect.
The anti-ABC campaign had the support of Coalition senators, like Santo Santoro and Concetta Anna Fierravanti-Wells, who were fed material on supposed ABC bias by interested lobby groups and used it for a remorseless biannual assault on ABC executives during estimates hearings of the Senate. Such attacks by themselves would not have had as much impact if they had not been supported by Howard government ministers, most importantly Richard Alston. At first Alston demanded more elaborate complaints mechanisms be established. He then used these new mechanisms to pursue the ABC for many, many months, and in no less than three separate inquiries, over the supposed bias in AM's coverage of the early stages of the invasion of Iraq. According to the Howard government and its supporters' set of values, Linda Mottram's or John Shovelan's occasional sarcasms at America's expense were of greater moral significance than the fact that Australia was involved in an invasion of a country on the basis of false intelligence concerning non-existent weapons of mass destruction, which led to the death of tens and then hundreds of thousands of people, the flight of millions of others, the likelihood of full-scale civil war and the destruction of a nation.
For the Howard government all this, however, was not enough. To reform the ABC it first appointed to the board a key extra-parliamentary Liberal Party culture-war combatant, Michael Kroger. According to the historian of the ABC, Ken Inglis, Kroger was the first board member to try to intervene directly with a program: Chris Masters' Four Corners portrait of Alan Jones. When he could not get his way on this and many other issues, largely because of the resistance of the conservative chair, Donald McDonald, Kroger decided to quit. He was soon followed onto the board, though, by three of the most strident anti-ABC cultural warriors in the country: Ron Brunton, Janet Albrechtsen and Keith Windschuttle. Even now there was still, for the government, a problem with the board: the staff-elected director. Ramona Koval was first accused of leaking board material to a journalist, David Marr. She was then criticised for her unwillingness to accept a protocol which required all board members to keep their proceedings confidential, something Koval thought inconsistent with her role as the elected representative of the ABC staff. Because of her refusal to accept the confidentiality protocol, one of the members of the board, the stockbroker and close friend of the prime minister Maurice Newman, resigned. When Koval's term was finished, the position of staff-elected board member was abolished. And when Donald McDonald's second term expired, Newman made a return, this time as chair. Finally the board could conduct its affairs in confidence. One decision now made was not to publish Chris Masters' biography of Alan Jones. Another was, or so it was reported, to require the ABC to televise a denialist documentary on climate change, The Great Global Warming Swindle.
The board appointed a new managing director, Mark Scott, who began his administration by making a critical admission at the Sydney salon of one of the most persistent of the ABC's right-wing critics, Gerard Henderson: even if the enemies of the ABC frequently exaggerated their case about left-wing bias, this did not mean that what they alleged was entirely without foundation. He was the first managing director to make a concession of this kind. Scott made it clear that, under his administration, mechanisms would be created to ensure that the problem of bias, both perceived and real, would be seriously addressed. He also made it clear that one of the television programs frequently accused of bias, Media Watch, would be reviewed, and that a new, conspicuously unbiased program, Difference of Opinion, would be launched, as a sign of the kind of improved cultural balance he sought to create.
How much did the persistent campaign about left-wing bias affect the ABC?
It could be argued that at least the ABC is now scrupulously unbiased in regard to narrow aspects of party politics. During an election campaign the main parties of government and opposition get equal time to put their case, as they should. Leaders of the parties get equally searching grillings by key interviewers, like Kerry O'Brien, Tony Jones and Chris Uhlmann, as they should. The problem with this argument is that none of this is new. It has long been the case. One of the pseudo-academic studies mentioned earlier found that the ABC had been biased towards Labor in the first two weeks of the 1998 election campaign and then biased towards the Coalition in the third as guilty over-compensation. Another study showed that during the waterfront dispute, occasioned by the unlawful sacking of the entire MUA workforce, the sound-bite interviews conducted by the ABC had, on average, lasted one second longer with trade unionists than with representatives of the Patrick Corporation. (I swear I am not joking.) The only conclusion that could be drawn from all this was that the man who undertook these studies, Michael Warby, needed to take a long rest.
In one way the response to the accusations of left-wing bias actually improved the ABC. I think it is better, at least in theory, that right-wingers and conservatives have a more prominent voice on the ABC than once they did. Gerard Henderson of the Sydney Institute, who has moved from Keating fan to Howard lover without so much as a word of explanation, is still heard regularly on Radio National's Breakfast. He has proven about as enduring, about as interesting and about as difficult to remove as a rock barnacle at Circular Quay. On Insiders people like Andrew Bolt and Piers Akerman appear alongside others on the Left, like David Marr. On Radio National Michael Duffy is now trying to play the long-sought-after role of a right-wing Phillip Adams. And on Difference of Opinion representatives of the neo-liberal think-tanks have regularly appeared. I said that this was a good development "in theory" for a particular reason. One of the problems of Australia (unlike the United States or Britain) is the absence of intelligent conservatives able and willing to contribute in the public sphere. It is impossible to think of people like Andrew Bolt and Piers Akerman, philistines of the first order, as the cultural equivalents of David Marr, the sophisticated biographer of Patrick White, or of Michael Duffy as an equivalent to Phillip Adams in range, intelligence, curiosity or humour. Nonetheless, in the absence of classier alternatives it is better that such voices should now be heard on the ABC than that the Right not be heard at all, as was more usual in the past.
In my opinion the long campaign against left-wing bias at the ABC, however, did far more harm than good. We live in a country where 70% of the press is owned by the Murdoch corporation. As a result of the campaign against left-wing bias, the kind of criticism that the ABC should be able to mount against its influence, the kind of balance it should be able to maintain, is now considerably eroded. Let me give a narrow example and two broad ones. Under Stuart Littlemore, Richard Ackland, David Marr and Liz Jackson, the ABC's Media Watch was once able, among many other things, to put pressure on the Murdoch press. At the beginning of this year, Media Watch was less politically combative than it had been under the previous presenters. Yet as the campaign about the left-wing bias of the program gained momentum, the Murdoch masthead in Australia, the Australian, waged an unbalanced and obsessive campaign against it. For every three minutes of Media Watch criticism of the Australian, banner headlines and thousands of frequently irrational words flowed. The relentless campaign against the program drove both the presenter and the producer to resign, for reasons that are more than understandable. As she showed in her time in Yeltsin's Russia, Monica Attard is probably the finest and most feisty foreign correspondent the ABC has ever had. In her final Media Watch, Attard showed that she had not been cowed by the Australian, revealing the misdemeanours of both the business reporter Matthew Stevens, who copied word-for-word questions contained in an email of a PR firm hired by a health-care company facing hostile takeover, and of the "colourful" Caroline Overington, who promised one of the independent candidates in Wentworth great publicity if she delivered her preferences to Malcolm Turnbull. Despite the brave joint Roman suicide of Attard and her producer, Tim Palmer, the value of Media Watch has probably been irreparably destroyed.
More serious is the case of the ABC and Iraq. It was in part because of the Murdoch press's continuing support for the catastrophic invasion and occupation of Iraq that the Howard government was able to escape the political fall-out that it deserved, of the kind that Bush in America and Blair in Britain faced. Senator Alston's attack on AM served as a salutary warning. The ABC has been muted in its criticism of government policy in Iraq ever since. It is now aware of the dangers of "going too far". On Iraq, ABC Television is now more likely to conduct an interview with Christopher Hitchens, who knows next to nothing about the Middle East, than it is with Robert Fisk, a journalist of strong views but also a profound understanding of the region. Reasonably often, over the past few years, both the architects of the invasion of Iraq, like Harlan Ullman, the author of the idea of "shock and awe", and its most extreme right-wing supporters, like William Kristol, Daniel Pipes, Robert Kagan, Mark Steyn or Frank Gaffney, have appeared on Lateline. Appearances by left-wing opponents of the war have been rarer. In the period before the recent election, if ABC Television had interviewed people of similar ideological extremity, like Noam Chomsky, John Pilger or Tariq Ali, in my view the Howard government, the ABC board, the Australian newspaper and the right-wing commentariat would have interpreted the interviews as evidence of gross left-wing bias. For the ABC, there would have been a considerable price to pay. As bullies understand, intimidation works.
Let me take another equally important example. Almost certainly as a result of pressure from the board, one of the most worthless and irresponsible British documentaries, The Great Global Warming Swindle, was shown during prime time on ABC Television, although the subsequent discussion was handled with such intelligence by Tony Jones that it probably had no effect. Yet in the same period the question of the Howard government's deplorable denialist record on global warming, until very recent times, was conspicuously avoided. This year two important books on this topic were published, Clive Hamilton's Scorcher and Guy Pearse's High and Dry. So far as I am aware, Hamilton has not been interviewed on ABC Television. Pearse has appeared on Difference of Opinion, but even then was described, rather nervously, as the author of a "controversial" rather than of an authoritative book. Nervousness in matters connected with the most ideologically sensitive issues of the day has represented the prevailing mood of the ABC. A typical example was the predictable unwillingness to publish Chris Masters' biography of Alan Jones.
This nervousness on questions of political and ideological sensitivity has mattered very greatly. On many domestic issues, like reconciliation and the mistreatment and military repulsion of refugees, the Howard government acted in a manner that would have shocked previous generations even of Liberal parliamentarians. And on the most important international issues of our era - global warming, the War on Terror, the struggle to reduce global poverty, the settlement of the Israel-Palestinian question - the Howard government followed with lamb-like loyalty all the policies of the Bush administration. As a consequence, if a spectrum covering the ideological positions of democratic governments on global issues had been designed, the Howard government would have found itself positioned alongside the Bush administration on the extreme Right. On both domestic and international questions, then, there has never been a time when intelligent criticism of an Australian government was more vital than over the past years, for the nation to have been able to see what it had become and even to see where Australia now stands in the community of nations. But there has also never been a time when the ABC was less likely to mount sustained criticism of such a kind. The reason seems to me to be simple. The long campaign about left-wing bias and staff capture, mounted by the government and its ideological supporters, gradually reduced the political self-confidence and thus the political independence of the ABC.
It is uncontroversial that the second reason the Howard years were difficult for the ABC was financial. In the decade before the election of the Howard government the ABC's revenue sharply declined in real terms. In 1997 it lost a further 10% when the maintenance of the ABC's funding turned out to have been one of John Howard's non-core promises. The ABC then reached a lower plateau of funding than at any time in the recent past. It has never really recovered.
In my view the main impact has not been in the area of documentaries and news and current affairs, except for the ludicrous foreshortening of television programs' seasons, where Christmas comes earlier and ends later every year. Nor has it been so noticeable in the area of comedy where, despite the political and fiscal stringencies, the ABC still manages to be the national nursery for comic inspiration. Kath & Kim created an enduring image of the new suburban consumer culture no less memorable than the one Barry Humphries had long ago created of suburban life in the more modest '50s and '60s, with Edna Everage and Sandy Stone. Kath & Kim allowed suburban Australians to see themselves reflected in a Luna Park distorting mirror, and to laugh at what they saw without discomfiture, as if they were peering simultaneously at a self-portrait and at a portrait of a foreign tribe. Nor was this program an isolated achievement. The anarchic Chaser boys have revived and extended, to general amusement, the great national tradition of what is technically known in this country as taking the piss, while Chris Lilley, in We Can Be Heroes and Summer Heights High, has provided an astonishingly penetrating and perceptive portrait of the local variant on that more general contemporary Western condition, the culture of narcissism.
The main impact of ABC financial decline and retreat is, rather, in the area of film and drama. A recent survey on Crikey revealed what I had long suspected, namely that drama on ABC Television has now not only reached an all-time low as a percentage of overall spending, but also that, in the year 2006-07, of the 20 most popular ABC television dramas only two had been domestically produced. I have also read that Australian-produced drama has declined from 100 hours in its heyday to a present, paltry 20 hours. When Matthew Parris of the Spectator was recently in Australia, he was only half-joking when he observed that he saw more British television in Sydney than he did in London. Despite my sincere appreciation of British television, all this seems to me significant and disappointing. The ABC was once the most important supporter of this kind of Australian creativity.
Often, in such different programs as The Road from Coorain, Brides of Christ, The Leaving of Liverpool, The Shark Net, Changi and now Rain Shadow, ABC dramas have provided reflections of Australia's past and present, allowing us to see in individual stories the processes and experiences through which the national sensibility has been shaped. Sometimes, as in The Fast Lane or Grass Roots, they have provided memorable and unflattering images of what contemporary urban life and character is like. Sometimes, as in True Believers or Bastard Boys, they have provided the opportunity to argue about our political history, and reminded us, pace John Howard, that history can never be told as an uncontested, uncontestable, single-perspective narrative. Sometimes what has been produced has genuinely broken new ground. I think, for example, of John Clarke, Bryan Dawe and Gina Riley's series, The Games, where the curious quality of life, both local and cosmopolitan, in the media-drenched postmodern world was illuminated with genius. And sometimes, as in the idyllic SeaChange - an enchanting fantasy about the restoration of community in a fragmented world - a deceptively simple and gentle drama has allowed the nation to think about the way we live now, about what we ought to value, about the kind of world that we have lost.
In my view, the role the ABC has played as sponsor of these kinds of distinctively Australian drama is no less important than the role it has played as a site of intelligent political criticism. If the political independence of the ABC has allowed us to see more clearly what our nation might be and what it has become, imaginative ABC commissioning of original film and drama has provided a variety of national images, allowing us to see, from many angles, the collective experiences that have contributed to making us who we now are. None of the series or dramas I have discussed would have been commissioned by commercial television. The ABC as a patron of film and drama is far more important to the project of national self-consciousness and self-criticism than it is customarily understood. Its steep and steady decline in this area is of far greater national significance than either side of politics is willing to admit.
With the election of the Rudd government there is some reason to feel optimistic about the future of the ABC. The culture war will come abruptly to an end. Without a friendly government receptive to its bilious views, the right-wing commentariat will lose most of its cultural clout. The absurdity of having people like Brunton, Albrechtsen and Windschuttle on the ABC board will also be instantly transparent. In time, they will be replaced. If they had any honour, they would resign. As their presence has completely de-legitimised the system of government control over appointments to the board, a collective sigh of relief will be heard from all but the most blinkered cultural warrior when, as Kevin Rudd has promised, a new more BBC-like system of non-partisan appointment is introduced.
In my mind, the far less certain matter is that of future funding. I was interested to read in Margaret Simons' new book, The Content Makers, that hopes for a serious increase in funding for the ABC ought not to be entertained. I wondered why this was so. In an election campaign in which both sides of politics promised tax cuts over five years of more than $30 billion and made other promises of an almost equivalent amount, it seemed to me astonishing that the case for, say, a 10% increase in ABC funding could be dismissed as unrealistic even by someone as friendly to the ABC as Simons. There are many different kinds of public goods which necessarily compete with each other. The impoverishment of the ABC is not a natural state of affairs. With an additional $100 million a year targeted at the more creative aspects of the ABC's mission, that dimension of the nation which one might call its spirit or its soul would be enormously enriched. Why is this hope foolish?
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