Does Australia Exist?

A friend of mine used to say: “I’ve never been to Australia, but I know its there.” Now, if you think about it, that expression goes a long way toward explaining how we all interact. After all, how do we really know there is an Australia?

Now, full disclosure…. I’ve never been to Australia either, but like my friend, I’m pretty sure its there in the sense that there’s a place shaped more or less like the continental United States, but sitting out in the middle of nowhere – relatively close to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Also, I’m pretty sure a lot of the elements of the narrative about Australia that we all have in common – that the people over there say funny things like “another shrimp on the barbie” and that its infested with vicious carnivores like koalas and kangaroos – happen to be true.

Anyway, so how do we know that Australia truly does exist, as opposed to being a truly imaginary place like New Zealand? Even people who have been to Australia might be wrong – after all, it might be that when you fly to Australia, what you’re really doing is circling around the Pacific for a few hours and then landing somewhere in the boondocks in Nevada. Most folks who claim to be from Australia could be in on this, Capricorn One-style, with the remainder being innocent simpletons who haven’t figured out the scam.

Well, an economist would think cost and benefits. The costs of mounting such a monumental hoax would be enormous. The benefits – well, there would be some… how could you get people to visit Elko County if you didn’t dress it up? But the financial costs would exceed the financial benefits by many orders of magnitude.

So a rational person would conclude, reluctantly perhaps, that Australia probably does exist – even if they had never been there.

Which leads me to this from one of the denizens of the National Review:

Rich, I thought your column yesterday made a very important point. The letters you post today make valid points as well. Media coverage of Iraq has been biased, and that bias has indeed helped to shape events there for the worse. At the same time, conservative distrust of the media’s very real bias has inclined us to dismiss reports about problems in Iraq that are real.
In the end, I think the media bears fundamental responsibility for this. Had they been less biased–had they reported acts of heroism and the many good things we have done in Iraq–I think conservatives would actually have taken their reporting of the problems in Iraq more seriously. In effect, the media’s consistent liberal bias discredits even its valid reports.

It goes on in this vein, and its worth reading. Now, a lot of the big name bloggers have commented on it already, but there’s still room for a little guy like me to pipe up.

One of the many problems with this is that he’s in effect saying that believing in the existence of Australia would be easier if only the NY Times had the occasional story about the Great Australian Controversy – can a creature like the platypus possibly exist, and what’s with the accent and Crocodile Dundee? The fact that the media is so firmly entrenched in the “Australia Exists” camp only serves to make a smart guy like Kurtz more skeptical.

Apparently Kurtz doesn’t think like an economist or he’d be asking himself about costs and benefits. Now, I can think of one big benefit to the media convincing the world that there is a big mess in Iraq, as opposed to a veritable orgy of drive-by school-paintings. What better way to earn a living can there be than hanging out by a swimming pool in a peaceful exotic land and writing stories about a conflict that doesn’t exist?

But the cost side of the equation is the problem, especially the cost of making sure that everyone who is in on the joke continues to play along. That includes the military, as the story isn’t credible without regular American deaths. (Apparently, to a smart guy like Kurtz, even that won’t do it.) All you need is a bit of film of some of some reporters and their families hanging out at the resort in Basra and in this era of You Tube the gig is up.

Which brings up another problem…. despite his protestations, Kurtz knew. The rest of the National Review crowd knew, the conservative bloggers knew, and their readers knew all along that Iraq was a mess. Sure, they were saying otherwise, and they might even had kept themselves willfully and deliberately ignorant, but deep down, every single one of them, except those that are truly morons, knew.

How do I know this? Well, reporters aren’t the only ones who go on vacation. Any of those people could have decided to go over to Iraq and see the painted school houses or witness the gratitude of the Iraqis up close and personal. But more importantly – these people are vehement, and they see the conflict as one in which they are personally involved. They talk about “fighting the war of ideas” on Iraq and their place in it, as if its on a par what the Marines are doing. Well, you’d figure one of these many tens of thousands of people would have some spare time and money (it doesn’t take much to travel the world, as many poor college students can attest) and would want to be the one who goes over there to amass the proof, the final incontrovertible proof, that the only thing keeping the conflict going is that evil liberal media.

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