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08 November, 2011

What Sort of Quality?

One of the benefits to posterity from the political ascendancy and alliance of C. Julius Caesar, Cn. Pompeius Magnus and M. Licinius Crassus in the late, doomed Roman republic, was that M. Tullius Cicero, having his political ambitions and opportunities thwarted for a time by the triumvirate, and forced into exile by the Leges Clodiae, turned to translating and composing philosophical works.  The Latin language, however, though well-suited for citizen-soldiers and doughty farmers, and ideal for describing fighting, warring and killing, was not particularly rich in abstract terminology; whereas Greek (refined by one of the greatest prose-writers of all time, Plato, and by many other subtle writers of philosophy over several centuries) had an abundant metaphysical vocabulary, Latin was comparatively plain.
Cicero, finding Latin unequal to Greek in abstract terminology and deficient in nuance and versatility, perforce had to invent new terms; whereby, thanks to his efforts, many words—altered only slightly (or, sometimes, not at all)—now enrich our discourse: appetite, comprehension, definition, difference, element, essence, humanity, image, individual, induction, infinity, instance, moral, property, quantity, science, species, vacuum and many othersCicero, as Paul Lachlan MacKendrick puts it, “invented the Western World’s philosophical vocabulary.”*
In one philosophical work, Academica, Cicero attributes to the grammarian M. Terentius Varro these words:
I shall endeavour to speak Latin, except in using such words—philosophy, say, or rhetoric or physics or dialectic—which are now, like many others, customarily used as though they were Latin.   I have therefore given the name qualities to the things that Greeks call ποιότητας—though, even among Greeks, as in many cases, it is a word of philosophers and far from common. Truly, the words of dialecticians are not widespread, they use their own jargon; and, indeed, almost all the sciences share this feature: for either new names are to be coined for new things or terms must be transferred from other things.
So, to render the Ancient Greek word ποιότης (“whatness”), coined by Plato from ποῖος (“of what kind”), Cicero used an equivalent Latin interrogative qualis (“of what kind”) to coin the calque qualitas; rather than transliterating the Greek word, he translated the meaning with an isomerous derivation.
A quality of a thing, then—its distinctive attribute or characteristic—can, accordingly, be very good or very bad or something intermediate.  Yet Eric Beecher recently recommended the creation of a government-funded Press Council to regulate print and online media with purportedly rousing but hackneyed, nugatory words:  “Without quality journalism, a democratic society would lose its greatest source of independent scrutiny,” he asseverated piously.
Quality journalism?  If Eric Beecher want journalism of a surpassing standard he should say so; otherwise, by calling for “quality journalism”, all he’s advocating is journalism of some sort—which, regrettably, we already have, in spades.  Furthermore, if Beecher really thought eximious journalism by effective writers were a good idea, then surely we’d see some by now on at least one of his own sites; but does any impartial observer consider the journalistic offerings of, say, Crikey’s hacks to be of consistent excellence?
Take, for example, another of Beecher’s publications, The Power Index (please), which snidely, partially and poorly “examines who really runs Australia”—only one person, apparently—, and which invites correspondence:
So send us your suggestions, feedback, corrections and criticisms.  We’re always willing to listen.
Having read an article by Paul Barry which, inter alia, sledges Cardinal Pell for daring to oppose the alleged consensus that anthropogenic global warming dooms us all unless Australia alone destroy its economy with a ruinous tax, I sent the following message:
In “Cardinal Pell’s plea for scientific evidence” you refer to Christopher Monckton, third Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, and an undoubted peer, as ‘“Lord” Cristopher Monckton’.  Why the scare quotes around Lord?  Do you doubt that he is the third Viscount and therefore entitled (so to speak) to be called Lord?
Why do you believe in the unproven pseudo-scientific conjecture of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming?
Apart from his Christianity, why does Cardinal Pell’s call for a rational, scientific discussion offend you?
The Power Index’s “contact us” page features this claim:
Thank you for your submission! We will contact you as soon as possible.
 No-one from the Power Index, so far, has responded.

UPDATE I:  see also Prof. Bunyip on media regulation

UPDATE II:  Beecher’s scribblers—indubitably, quality journalists—often have difficulty writing English sentences; for instance, in a recent article on James Sutherland, Tom Cowie writes: “his capacity to act on the challenges now facing our national sport make him powerful.”  Is not “capacity”, the subject of the clause, a singular noun which therefore requires a singular verb, “makes”?  I asked The Power Index that question, but have not yet received a response. 

UPDATE III (9 November):  Beecher proves how unimaginative he is:
In questioning Crikey publisher Eric Beecher, [Chairman of the media enquiry, Ray] Finkelstein said he had thought of an alternative to government funding of the Australian Press Council, which had been proposed by Beecher.  “I see no alternative,” said Beecher.
See no alternative?  How about no funding at all?  How about demanding funds only from those rich fools who want to expand the powers of censors?  How about a lottery to fund the press council based on readers’ accurately guessing how often Beecher’s own publications make egregious errors, such as misspelling his name, each week?  How about making the press council an unpaid committee of the journalists’ union?  How about asking such sterling citizens as Marc Hendrickx of ABC News Watch to undertake the work for much less than the current cost of one stupid media inquiry?  How about insisting that the ignorant but overpaid layabouts of the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency actually do some real, useful work for once?  How about some considered reflection for a change, Beecher, instead of your standard politically correct emesis?

UPDATE IV (9 November): earlier,  I submitted the first four questions of the previous update to Tim Blair’s post linked therein.

UPDATE V (9 November): talking of “quality journalism”, Jon Anderson, inBoxing great Joe Frazier never got the recognition he deserved”, reveals his inability to be professional:
I got the chance to interview him for [the Herald-Sun], the only stipulation being no mention was to be made of [Muhammad] Ali’s name.
Naturally that was too hard to resist but Joe was true to his word, politely ending the chat as soon as I raised his nemesis.
I interpret “raised his nemesis” as “mentioned Ali’s name”, and not as “summoned a spirit of implacable retribution”, but Anderson, I suppose, should be congratulated for trying to add a classical allusion to an otherwise mundane obituary.

UPDATE VI (9 November):  at The Power Index, Paul Barry continues Eric Beecher’s anti-Murdoch campaign:
Meanwhile in Melbourne, Australia’s own media inquiry got under way yesterday, with a succession of witnesses, including Robert Manne, Stephen Mayne and Dr Martin Hirst of Deakin University, who took aim [took aim?] at the political bias of Murdoch’s The Australian.
But the one man who should have been there was absent.  Rupert was actually in Melbourne, as part of his annual Australian visit, but he was too busy lunching with business leaders and touring his newsroom to bother attending.
And unlike the House of Commons Select Committee, former Justice Ray Finkelstein has no power to compel witnesses to appear.
If Mr. Murdoch were under no compulsion to attend this little show-trial, wherefore should he “bother” to attend?  Tom Cowie also gets into the act:
The Gillard government’s controversial media inquiry was kicking off in Melbourne, with plenty of opposition to Murdoch’s control of the print media in Australia.
But the 80-year-old was nowhere to be seen, preferring to lunch with powerbrokers at the Herald & Weekly Times building.
By the way, “Murdoch’s control of the print media in Australia” refers to News§ Limited’s owning of 33% of Australian newspapers, with a circulation of over 70%.  Manifestly, and unfortunately, Australians are choosing to buy and read the wrong newspapers—we must stop the swinish multitude from making such incorrect decisions!  Let’s have an inquiry and thereafter grant greater powers of censorship to unelected, nannying wowsers!

Also at The Power Index is an article on Andrew Bolt’s column on Alan Joyce, “Andrew Bolt’s queer take on the Qantas dispute”.  Tee hee!  See what some witty “quality journalist” did there?  Alan Joyce is homosexual, so Andrew Bolt’s column praising the Qantas CEO, seemingly odd, is described as “queer”—an adjective also used (offensively, some say) to refer to homosexual men!  So amusing! 

UPDATE VII (10 November):  at the ABC, play “count the errors”:
Prof. Manne, with an e, is not now the editor of Quadrant, which did not publish his recent article.

UPDATE VIII (11 November):  at The Power Index, in “Nil-nil: ‘Mafia boss’ Murdoch convinces no one”, Paul Barry continues to sledge the Murdochs relentlessly but ineptly:
James Murdoch utterly failed to convince British MPs last night that he is telling the truth about the News of the World phone hacking scandal.  But neither did he run up the white flag, accept he'd lied to parliament or admit he’d been caught red-handed.
UPDATE IX (16 November):  at The Power Index, “quality journalist” Matthew Knott, whilst misrepresenting Andrew Bolt’s opinion (either deliberately and maliciously or accidentally and incompetently), says Peter Roebuck was convicted of caning four boys:
Andrew Bolt thinks that the testimonials written by Roebuck’s former colleagues should have mentioned Roebuck’s former conviction for caning four South African boys.
Roebuck was guilty of assaulting three youths, all aged 19, under his care.

UPDATE X (21 November):  on Lord Monckton’s correct description of his membership of the House of Lords, see “Don’t mock the Monck” at Watts Up With That.

UPDATE XI (23 November):  see “Ammo: Churnalism – Churning the Environment”, by Katabasis:
The so called “quality press” are the worst offenders for churning Environment Agency press releases—whilst there were many entries from the tabloids and local papers, their cutting and pasting was less egregarious than the “quality press”.
The BBC is by far and away the worst offender for simply repeating whatever the Environment Agency claimed in its press releases.  Out of the 393 articles where “significant” churn had taken place, the BBC were responsible for 44%.  Likewise for the forty-nine articles that had “major” churn (meaning in most cases they were almost complete cut and pastes of the press releases), the BBC was responsible for 30.6%.
UPDATE XII (10 January, 2012):  see “Shackle the free press? Crikey, it just doesn't bear thinking about”, by Gerard Henderson, in the SMH:
In his submission to the independent media inquiry, headed by Ray Finkelstein, QC, Beecher declared that there was not enough focus on “quality journalism” in Australia, which he regards as central to “civilised society”.
All well and good.  Except for the fact Beecher’s Crikey newsletter is not the embodiment of quality journalism.  For starters, it does not engage a fact-checker.  Indeed, the online publication actually proclaims the fact it publishes undocumented “tips and rumours”. Crikey also, on occasions, publishes the home addresses of people who are targets of its occasional contributors.
Last month, Crikey reported on my (alleged) poor behaviour while attending an ABC TV pre-record function in Sydney.   I was in Washington DC at the time.  On another occasion, Crikey published an article by Mark Latham containing my home address.  Both pieces were followed by after-the-event apologies.  Neither would have got through in the first instance if Crikey had proper editorial checking.  Yet Beecher sees fit to call for more government regulation of the print media and to lecture-at-large about quality journalism.
UPDATE XIII (22 February, 2013)on another aspect of “quality journalism”, it would seem, sometimes, that journalists of the popular press have not quite come to terms with the ease of using internet search engines; see, for example, Hollywood is calling chef to the stars Marco Pierre White”, by Amy Harris of The Daily Telegraph:
“It’s obviously really exciting and Marco is thrilled,” said a film insider, who added that the idea for a film based on White Heat has swirled since the book’s release 23 years ago.
“His book really set the tone for the whole celebrity chef era.
“It was one of the most influential books on cooking ever released and made him a huge presence on the international food scene.”
Having developed a cult following, White Heat is now in limited release and commands hundreds of dollars per copy on eBay and online second-hand book stores.
By spending only a couple of minutes on the web, I learned that White’s autobiography, White Slave, is still in print, and readily available, and that the most recent edition of his cookbook/memoir, White Heat (a slim volume of 126 pages, with recipes and many photographs as well as autobiographical reminiscences), is also still in print:  it’s available (postage-free!) for $21.50.  It is true that some copies of the first edition of White Heat are for sale for hundreds of dollars, but, in a simple search on, I found in seconds a first edition of White Heat, in good condition, “commanding” US$75.95.

UPDATE XIV (27 April):  the ABC’s “Media Watch” is, according to its own description:
Australia’s leading forum for media analysis and comment.
Conflicts of interest, bank backflips, deceit, misrepresentation, manipulation, plagiarism, abuse of power, technical lies and straight out fraud:  Media Watch has built an unrivalled record of exposing media shenanigans since it first went to air in 1989.
Unfortunately, Media Watch is not above its own misrepresentations; for example, last Monday, Jonathan Holmes asserted that Sen. Cory Bernardi was:
forced to resign from the Coalition front bench, after linking gay marriage to bestiality[.]
Sen. Cory did not link “gay marriage” to bestiality; he claimed that some “creepy people” approve of bestiality and wondered aloud whether theriogamous or zoogamous marriages might not be the inevitable consequence of any redefinition of marriage made merely to suit a fashion of the day.  The ABC’s Simon Cullen, in “Bernardi resigns after bestiality comment”, made the same, silly claim last year, but his article at least included Sen. Bernard’s own words, which shew that he was misrepresented:
During a Senate debate last night Senator Bernardi said the push for same-sex marriage was coming from “radicals” who were determined to overturn the social fabric of Australian society.
And he questioned where the campaign would end, if society was prepared to redefine marriage based on the “latest criterion” that it should be allowed irrespective of gender.
“The next step, quite frankly, is having three people or four people that love each other being able to enter into a permanent union endorsed by society – or any other type of relationship,” Senator Bernardi said.
“There are even some creepy people out there... [who] say it is OK to have consensual sexual relations between humans and animals.
“Will that be a future step?  In the future will we say, ‘These two creatures love each other and maybe they should be able to be joined in a union’.
“I think that these things are the next step.”
Former senator Nick Minchin rightly defended Sen. Bernardi:
“His remarks have been quite mischievously and deviously conflated and misrepresented, and I think any fair and objective reading of what he was actually saying would lead the reasonable person to conclude that his was a perfectly proper defence of the traditional definition of marriage,” Mr Minchin told ABC Radio.
The Roman Mind at Work (Princeton, 1958), p. 64.
†  enitar ut Latine loquar, nisi in huiusce modi verbis ut philosophiam aut rhetoricam aut physicam aut dialecticam appellem, quibus ut aliis multis consuetudo iam utitur pro Latinis.  Qualitates igitur appellavi quas ποιότητας Graeci vocant, quod ipsum apud Graecos non est vulgi verbum sed philosophorum, atque id in multis; dialecticorum vero verba nulla sunt publica, suis utuntur.  Et id quidem commune omnium fere est artium; aut enim nova sunt rerum novarum facienda nomina aut ex aliis transferenda. (I. vii) 
‡  an alternative Ionic form, κοῖος, better reveals the relationship between the the Greek and the Latin interrogatives.
§  News Limited was renamed News Corp Australia on 1 July, 2013 (UPDATE XV, 1 August, 2013).

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