Saturday, September 27, 2008

Duffy, Devils, Dali, Details, Convicts, Lawyers and Duffereneralities

Sometimes reading a Michael Duffy column for the Sydney Morning Herald is a wondrous, almost surreal, experience, with impeccable timing and contrarian insight so rare it's as tender as a piece of corn-fed Japanese beef.

This week, for example, at a time when the marketplace is in a state of imminent collapse, when the USA is contemplating pouring more than US$700 million into a failing, flailing marketplace to rescue it from the complete stuff up of the housing market (not to mention many other areas of high greed finance), Duffy clearly decided the time was right to ruminate on public jobs in private hands.

Two events seem to have prompted the Duffy pique - a tangle with Telstra's voice recognition phone answering system, with Duffy consoling himself that in the end he did have a conversation with the computer (and I'm sure the computer was suitably consoling and maternal); and of course it was hard to ignore the M5 East tunnel meltdown, one of a series of meltdowns in privately owned and run road infrastructure in NSW in the past few months.

Duffy seems incapable of understanding that the Telstra voice recognition system is in fact a product of the private sector - come on down ScanSoft and your wonderful Speak Freely technology, you little beauties - and it is just aping dozens of dud systems deployed by and for the private sector in the name of efficiency by the marketplace, albeit at the expense of any sense of service or contact between supplier and consumer (ScanSoft also helped implement solutions for Vodafone, Centrelink and Premier Taxis, but let's not go far into the wondrous world of computers, speech recognition and help desks stationed in India to solve problems in Tasmania).

Never mind. Duffy's baleful experience leads him to what we might call a Dufferenerality, which is to say a generality so mindless and meaningless as to warrant being labelled a truism for its display of truthiness. Namely: "Private operators are often better at building and running things than public servants. This is due not to the individuals involved but to the circumstances in which they work".

Not sure exactly what that means - what are these circumstances of which he speaks? What, like the way the marketplace has worked in real estate in the United States, with abject greed and outrageous abuse of desperate people? Never mind. The turn of phrase shows a blithe spirit, a Cowardian display of defiance, and it also suggests to me that Duffy must have extreme difficulty working as a public servant at the ABC, since there was never a more hopeless, inept and bureaucratic organisation, and by definition Duffy - though he might be a job contractor, just employed for the show - must surely be doing bad work, not because of his individual capacity but because of the circumstances in which he works in that reprehensible morass of socialists and leftists.

But Duffy is heading somewhere with his column logic - it seems that the problem with the tunnel is with the contracting, since a good contract needs to cannily allocate rewards, penalties and risk. And by definition, since the tunnel seems to be a fuck up, the cause is clearly and simply that the contract is a fuck up - because it doesn't give the operators sufficient inducement not to stuff up. 

Duffy then takes us into the realm of the surreal, citing an ex-Greiner expert in contracts (one Gary Sturgess) and his example of a bad public private partnership, the Second Fleet, where the terms of the deal resulted in a number of convicts dying on the voyage. Duffy seems to think that somehow this could all be solved by having a good instead of a bad contract.

Well actually at the time, the English government didn't mind too much how many convicts died, since many of them were being shipped abroad as a way of getting them out of the way for good while avoiding a mass of hangings. People had a different attitude to welfare in those days - witness the purely private sector performance of slave traders, who threw many blacks overboard as they died on voyage, being poorly fed and crammed into holds for the journey. The slave traders didn't rabbit on about contracts like a poorly paid ABC public servant - they simply calculated how many bodies they needed alive to sell on landing, and acted accordingly.

What's more, they didn't imagine their actions would be used as a metaphor for someone two hundred and fifty years later arguing that either (a) the private sector was totally immoral and greedy or (b) the private sector was completely inefficient and inept. Nor did they see the need to employ a dozen more lawyers to generate a really good contract, as if lawyers and contracts were ever the solution to anything, especially if you have to resort to the courts to enforce your really good contract. No, as wiser minds than mine have said, first things first, let's kill all the lawyers, or at least throw them in a slave hold and ship them to Africa to improve humanity's lot.

Okay, never mind, let's just say that Duffy isn't that good at history, or remembering how things once worked - since at the time of the Second Fleet, the art of staying alive for long periods was still in its early stages, and staying alive on long voyages on the kind of food which could be stored for long periods in a non-refrigerated environment was also in early days. And the idea of giving up a good rum for the officers so a couple of convicts might live is really the kind of thinking which has led us to the ABC. (You know Duffers where the team at head office head out for a slap bang lunch while the guys putting the show together don't even have folders to file their memos).

But wait, there's hope. There's a luff in the mainsails, and a turning of the wind, for Duffy is now ready to argue that if the contract is right - God and lawyers willing - then there are immense benefits to all in public private partnerships (yea, so all that talk of Macquarie going hoof up is only idle speculation). Why studies have shown they avoid cost over-runs and are hugely more transparent than traditional projects - even if that transparency only reveals how deep the stuff up is.

So once the contract is right, and a quadrillion of lawyers have generated an immensity of clauses, what else could be the problem? Well it turns out that it's usage - people actually like the road and use it, and that's all the fault of the government cash back scheme, which rewards people for using the road by giving them a rebate on the toll.

Ah, we're in the wonderful private sector world of Fawlty Towers, where a hotel would run really well if it didn't have any guests, and by definition, any public servant would be a master of his or her domain if only it weren't for the public expecting things. Pesky public. Yep, it's not the fault of the government, or the private owners, or even, it seems, lawyers or convicts, it's actually the fault of the Joe Blows, the Joe Public, the Joe six packs, the mug punters, who actually expected to be able to use the M5 once it was built. And worse, went and used it.

No, these sheep have strayed in their expectations. Sure they've lined up to be clipped, but they get some cash back as a reward for standing patiently in line. So what to do, muses the Duffy. Well, because of the overcrowding, the M5 is slow even on a normal day, he muses, much worse than the M4 or the north west orbital. It only offers a 40% travel time compared to alternative routes, and motorists travel at a mere 45 km an hour when it's their god given right to hoon around the tracks at peak time at a 110 km or more.

So it's off with their heads, says the Duffy. The Government should forthwith cancel the cashback scheme, so that the sheep understand that traveling in Sydney on a private public partnership is pain, pure fiscal pain. Once they've stopped using it, it'll work really well.

Never mind what the government promised, never mind how that allows the private owners to keep shoveling money into their pockets without regard for maintenance or efficient operation or actually doing any of the things Duffy started his column talking about. No, let's not focus on a rewards based, profit driven incentive to do well.

No, in the land of topsy turvy, it's easy to throw everything upside down. It can all be solved by allowing the contractor to do nothing to fix operational issues, just punish the actual users. Why it sounds exactly like how they've been running mortgages in the United States.

And if canceling the cashback scheme doesn't work by reducing traffic, Duffy has an even better solution. Build another M5 tunnel, and this time use a better contract.

You can almost imagine Duffy chortling over the keyboard as he wrote this capper - what a line, what a rounding out of the argument. An innocent bystander however is left with a feeling of have landed in cloud cuckoo land - more and bigger tunnels, more and more lawyers, this is Duffy's solution to the simple user experience of getting on the phone to Telstra or going for a drive on a motorway?

No wonder New South Wales is so comprehensively stuffed. First there's the government, and then there's its columnists, who, knowing very little of history, recommend that we keep on repeating it and repeating it, all so we don't fall into the dangerous path of having the government resume control of the tunnel and thereby jeopardise the pure market driven ideology of the chosen few. (Not that the government sounded all that serious about taking the tunnel over, it was just rattling sabers so that Joe Public knew it was on the case, was threatening to do something, for fear that Joe Public at the next election might want to replicate the results in the recent council elections).

Well at a time when socialising the losses is a way of life for some Republicans, and blaming and punishing the convicts for wanting to drive on a road that is supposed to work by attracting and rewarding its customers is the theme of an SMH column, it won't be long before the ghost of Salvador Dale turns up to explain how dripping clocks keep the best time.

Duffy finally stands revealed as a man with a very ABC, public servant mentality. If people are wanting to use a road, wanting to pay 'the man' his money, and they can't turn a profit out of that, it's got bugger all to do with the contract, and bugger all to with customers. It does however have a lot to do with the government and the private operator, and by now surely we can say it's about time the customers got better ones. While they're at it, they might think about getting better columnists too, ones who don't imagine a cute punch line means something other than cuteness.

So to this week's scorecard:

Actual solutions to M5 maintenance and operational issues: 0
Modest love of lawyers and the way they bring peace and harmony to the world: 11
Willingness to cite experts and studies in the cause of spurious arguments: 11
Willingness to sting mug punters by cutting the cashback scheme: 11
Belief that more tunnels will sort the world and Sydney traffic: 11
Actual understanding of Sydney traffic problems and solutions: 0
Heroic capacity to ignore marketplace fluctuations of an American kind to concentrate on a minor computer malfunction which caused a brief glitch on Sydney roads: 11
Ability to build surreal gossamer castles from a beach load of Dali sand: 11

Gee, an extremely high scoring column. That makes the title for this week's column all the more disappointing: "The devil is in the contract's details for public jobs in private hands." It's utterly prosaic and mundane. Sure it's accurate enough in relation to Duffy's intent, but it's dull and lacks the wonderful ambiguity of headers we've seen in the past. Has Duffy struck back at the subbies? Well next week, if the Herald hasn't decided to reduce Duffy's paycheck by half, and if this doesn't reduce his verbiage by half, then it should take up this blog's recommendation to build more columnists. With better headers. And make sure they've got a lawyer, a real good one. (Make sense? Since when did sense matter?)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Duffy, Abbott, Hockey, Nelson, Thatcher, Blair, Kennett and the chook driven NSW recovery

It's got to be asked. What makes the Duffster run? We know what made Sammy run, but what makes Michael Duffy, esteemed columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald, amble out into the fire and cop the flak of outraged dissidents?

Well it's all in the name. Think about it. Duffy is a time honoured Celtic name. According to the Intertubes - is there no end to the scurrilous gossip it ferments - Duffy's original meaning in its earliest variations was 'son of the black one of peace', and it was around in the original Gaelic in Scotland in the sixth century (there was even a saint and Archbishop of Armagh bearing the name that long ago). Then it spread far and wide through Ireland, the United States, and you bloody beauty, Australia itself (oi oi).

But as the name spread, so did variant nouns, and variant shortenings. Which is not to say they're connected but the similarities are ominous. Duff, it seems, came to mean something worthless. All kinds of usages hint at dissatisfaction with the world of Duff. It came to mean a peddler of cheap, flashy articles, something counterfeit, or an incompetent, ineffectual, clumsy person (so a duffer duffs a shot in golf), or worse still in Australia, a duffer meant either a complete no hoper or a cattle rustler (off to duff some cattle tonight Clem).

And when applied to food, all duff copped was the plum duff, a boiled pudding for sailors of no culinary distinction at all - merde Anglaise, the French might say. In Australia, it got worse, suddenly up the duff meant pregnant, perhaps a derivative of dough (said duff), following this line: duff to dough to pudding to penis to pregnant (just like a bun in the oven). So when it came to give a comical name to beer in the Simpsons, they called it Duff. It had to be, there could be no other name than Duff beer.

So it's likely that when at school Duffy copped a lot of ill-tempered bullying. I don't say this to gloat, I say it to sympathise. I've been tormented in the playground by vile dumb jocks, I know how they behave with their flexing of their muscles and their cocks. What are you looking at nosey Parker? And so on and on, you know all that wearing glasses don't get passes stuff. You just want to reach out and smite them, duff them in a manner of speaking. Then it's just a short quickstep to the Labor or the socialist gatherings to revile these hurtful people, and all the brutalities the powerful inflict on the powerless. Perhaps it might even be worth a try out in a rock and roll band to regain some glamor taken away by the hurtful teasing. 

But it turns out that the socialists are dumb and just as inclined to feral mind sapping games as the jocks, and girls for some reason usually favor the drummer for a night of brutal sex. The end result, confronted with life's Darwinian struggle for survival, is bleak. Socialists scratching and clawing as they try to get ahead, with a union appointment or an attachment to a politician's office, and women off with rugby league players, being glassed if they step out of line. So it's over to the right and a malcontent life, a world where a man like Gerard Henderson - a man totally devoid of humor in his writing - is honored as a sage, and an intellectual.

Now all this is totally fanciful and in a parallel universe (except for the origins of duff and Duffy, and the bit about Henderson being totally humor free), yet I won't change a word of it, since in the universe of Duffy actual facts and rational analysis are not needful. Nor is Freudian analysis. Instead, as the ever silly Duffy shows in this week's column, sometimes you have to invent your own fun when the subject of these Files writes a column of unendurable tedium and dullness.

It's tricky writing a weekly column - finding the story, then giving it an angle that makes it interesting and different, then writing it with pugnacity and style in a way that gives it a dynamic readability. This week Duffy has chosen for his story the NSW state Liberal party, the notional opposition to the mighty NSW state Labor machine. (Murphy, you there, stop nodding off, pay attention or it's paddywhack time).

Duffy's solution to the black hole of the NSW Liberals is to get such masters of the art of political chicanery as Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey and feather duster Brendan Nelson to move into state politics. What a breathtaking idea, why surely this will bring out the best in the Duffster (Murphy, one more fart in our general direction and it's paddywhack time).

Poor Duffy. Half way through his piece - in which he manages to extol Tony Blair, Jeff Kennett, Alan Stockdale, The Institute of Public Affairs (which it seems is responsible for Kennett transforming Victoria), and Margaret Thatcher - the Duffster admits his idea of people moving from the federal to the state sphere - from more power to less - might be considered eccentric.

No, no, cries the Duffy. "It's been said federal politicians talk while their state counterparts do."
Which is why he's nominated the two federal politicians - Hockey and Abbott - who have so far shown that their best skill is endless talking, selling snake oil to suckers, as the best people to make the jump? No, no, cries the Duffy. There's an opportunity to make a real difference. "Maybe a move from Capital Hill to Macquarie Street should be seen as a step up, not down." Why there's a budget of some A$50 billion to play with (and hell, that puts the chicken shit A$1.1 trillion Australian national economy and the chance to strut the international stage well into the shade, doesn't it? Like chalk and cheese, or the Duffy and thinking).

Thank the Lord. We can now look forward to a fervent campaign by Duffy to persuade Sarah Palin to stay in Alaska where she'll be most useful, or better still head back to Wasilla, where she can really make a difference and do something constructive by banning books.

It seems the state Liberals won't listen to outside opinion or develop a policy development process or pay Duffy's chums to dig over the entrails of Tony Blair's regime - a virtual laboratory for reform of the government sector, and a man so hated in the end by the general population that his own people voted him out of the leadership. So what's a man to suggest in the face of this policy vacuum? Well conscription is always a good conservative answer in war or peace. Conscript a few brave federal souls, send them into the state salt mines, and they'll know the way forward is to generate lots and lots of policy papers, not written by those phonies on the left, but by real people, people from the right who saved Victoria. 

And what's left after these profound insights and incisive flourishes? Well, the Duffster takes a cheap shot at Reba Meagher (though she deserves a cheap shot), quotes Greg Craven about feeding state politicians chicken feed and ending up with chooks (what was that someone said about feeding academics chicken feed and ending up with gobblededook), and manages a sideswipe at everything by quoting one of Malcolm Turnbull's idle speculations - that we'd be better off throwing away the entire current Australia constitution and embracing the American system so that people outside parliament could stand for premier and if elected select their ministry from the whole population (I hear that both Herr Schikelgruber and Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili are very excited by the idea, and are considering making comebacks, standing against Malcolm to see who will become the first leader of the new thousand year empire of the Wallaby which will flow from this profound insight into real world politics - my tip is Malcolm can take down those two phonies easily).

Well at least now it's clear that the Herald pays its columnists chicken feed, because we surely get chooks for columnists.

Yep, that's it from the Duffster. His concluding words? "These proposals deserve consideration. But it would be far easier if some of the of the former ministers of the last federal government made the move into state politics and got things moving".

That's it from the Duffster? That's all? Yep, that's all there is my friends (Murphy, stop snoring, or its paddywhack time). It's like the eccentric musings of an absent minded abacus trying to tally up past glories of the neo con or conservative or new Labor causes and roll them all up into one feeble idea - shift Nelson and Hockey and Abbott into the state parliament and hand out some consultancies to my Institute of Public Affairs mates. 

Well, on the up side, it's another column done and dusted, the search for story and insight shafted for another week. On the down side, perhaps it's a fit of pique by the Duffster at the loss of his favorite politician - one Morris Iemma - political reformer of the century, and the possible - well almost certain - elevation of Barry O'Farrell to the throne (a man who ignores policy and merely presents a small target, moans the Duffster, code for a man who sensibly ignores Duffy and the Institute of Public Affairs).

But it's all such a small teabag in a teapot, whacky in a parochial way column that it's hard to get excited. In fact, it's hard not to roll over and go back to sleep. If the way forward in NSW to embrace new ideas and new policies - as espoused and enunciated by the Duffy - then we are all doomed. What better response than a snooze? Wake me up when it's time to read the next column.

Meantime, on to the score:

Excitement level induced by Duffy's wildly right field but exciting ideas: 0
Excitement level induced by hostility to Duffy's wild rantings and right field ideas: 0
Newly induced belief that Brendan Nelson, Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey hold the key to restoring New South Wales to being a state of excitement: 0
Blessed memories of living in a state run by Jeff Kennett and the Institute of Public Affairs (where was Duffy when the chips were down?): 0
Sense of existential tedium and futility induced by reading Duffy: 11
Improvement in ability to catnap while reading a Duffy column: 11

I guess we can't complain. Duffy oscillates wildly - last week a genius, this week an eccentric uncle driving all the guests away from the party. But we have to take the rough with the smooth, the sweet three wood with the duffed two iron, and look forward to a birdie rather than a bogey. With the Duffster, we can never be sure, and surely therein lies the joy of anticipation, and sadly, sometimes the dull pain of actually arriving.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Duffy, the credit rating agencies, the subprime crisis and the decline and fall of New South Wales

Fortunately god worked out a way for me to get a totally free and comprehensively complete copy of last Saturday's Herald, confirming that that dour old stick Alan Ramsey hogged the top of the page, and that Duffy's whacky railing against feminists was well down below the fold. Not sure why god did this, but I think she arranged for the copy to be dropped next door to a tenant who had moved on a week before as a way of proving that a boycott of the Herald was not only useful financially, but sensible intellectually.

 You know, in much the same way when two competing teams call on god's help to win, sensibly god knows which team to support, and the one deserving god's help always wins (while the other team knows that god is frequently grumpy, they were guilty of something, maybe wanking, and maybe when they pray next week by abstaining, god will shine brightly on them and they can thrash the other wankers). 

Much like the way when the British and the Germans called on god in world war 11, she took the side of the British - after all the Germans allied themselves with the ancestor worshipping Japanese, and as we know from deep American evangelical thinking on this matter, the war only came about because god was intent on teaching the Jews a lesson and packing them off to Israel, though severely depleted in numbers. And that's how god could bring to Sydney both Jensen and Pell, and both think the other is ultimately destined for hellfire, when really they might be both better off heading out for a night at the Hellfire Club.

Meantime the Herald ran with a neat little set of pie graphs under the heading 'your voice', indicating what voters  thought about issues if they voted online. Wonderful pie charts - is there anything Excel can't do - and completely devoid of any meaning, the kind of factoid you can pick up on the net in a trice, though at least Slate has the grace to label its effort at a straw poll as statistically meaningless, suitable only for a watercooler, if you had one.

Along with the meaningless pie charts, the Herald ran a piece by William McInnes in place of Carlton's column. McInnes is a light weight - not because he's an actor but because he's determined to write like P. G. Wodehouse. His column was a standard piece of flummory and fluxery, the kind of flim flam you'd expect from a man who wanted to be liked, wanted to be a little bit left, but didn't want to offend. He threaded a very feeble food metaphor - ranging from spaghetti marinara to a dodgy scallop - through some musings about the week's political events. He was the rough equivalent of tepid, soggy chips, oversoaked in oil and salt, and left out in the cold to get that glazed cholesterol taste choking on the tongue (even the seagulls would have been wary). 

It made me think that it didn't matter whether Carlton came back. The Herald is in terminal decline, like the Labor party and the state, and there's no point sending good money after bad. Forget it Jake, it's not Baltimore, it's Sydney town, and the smell of rum still runs in the nostrils, while the alcohol lingers in the blood.

 From now on, it's not so much a boycott in relation to Carlton, it's just a 'mad as hell and not going to take it anymore' ban which is likely to be permanent and save a Tasmanian rain forest in the process. Maybe they could do a reader 'your voice' pie chart on the number of hard copies readers they're losing each week, and help the statistics by excluding the free copies they now regularly hand out at airports and such like places.

But enough of this, because that was last week, and as surely as god turns the world around the sun, this week Duffy has vital news to impart, and we should spend our quality time with his razor sharp mind.

Duffy turns his laser scalpel on the subprime crisis, and those fiends in the powerful but little known (well, in Duffy's world, little known) credit rating agencies such as Moody's and Standard and Poor's. It seems these fiends are responsible for every disaster that's fallen upon the marketplace and poor hapless tiny impotent New South Wales in the last few months - well that's how I interpret his sentence: "Recent events in the state's politics and across the whole economy owe a huge amount to a tiny and rarely examined segment (in Duffy's world, at least) of the world's finance system."

Well, I suppose it's news - Duffy discovers the credit rating agencies, and better still, sheets home all the blame on these shadowy, vile figures. It was them who made all those dumb country councils spring for dodgy investments promising pie in the sky bye and bye, not greed and a failure to spend time in due diligence investigating risks. And as for the hapless state government, the interest rate is about to shoot up, unless they trim their cloth to the economic circumstances. Perverse agencies, to encourage loose investing, and then damn too casual spending.

Even better Duffy cites, as a provider of key evidence, the bald-headed former Treasurer of New South Wales, Michael Costa, who in another esteemed rag, The Daily Telegraph, has suddenly discovered that the states are totally useless and should be abolished because they're full of bald-headed spivs, con artists, and ratbags who are running the show for their own benefit.

Costa, re-born as a visionary, it seems, makes it clear to the faithful Duffy that a down-grading of the state's credit rating would be a catastrophe, and cost the state a half billion a year in additional interest payments. Duffy even feels the need to italicise the idea of it being $500 million a year.  Lordy, I'm feeling a little faint, will someone pass me the smelling salts. And horror of horrors, this is likely to prevent the state from building a north-west railway.

Well, here's a newsflash to the Duffster before he collapses into a heap in his cane chair, sniffing his heavily lavendered hankie in despair. We know he actually means metro system (not a railway which would integrate with the rest of the heavy rail system, but a separate, standalone metro system which any number of experts have advised will fail in terms of functionality and usefulness because it is a metro being designed to do a heavy rail job) - and we also know Duffy hates public transport and all aspects of it. So why should he suddenly care if a useless system goes down? 

Isn't he aware that the state Labour government has for the fast few years found the easiest way to govern is to make bold policy announcements, only to discover shortly thereafter that the state is broke, and unable to afford any of them (and that's somehow the fault of the taxpayers, because lord alone knows, the pollies are doing their level best). 

Is Duffy aware that the recent crisis in the state's finances has in part been brought on by an over-reliance on stamp duty? Is Duffy aware that the powers that be would have been tracking and crunching the numbers and have been aware for some time that they had a shortfall? And that's why they wanted to sell the power, thereby saving the budget blow out and getting a chance to blow some money on their pet follies?

But that's the Duffster all over. He likes his conspiracy theories, and for some bizarre reason he wants to find an excuse for the profound ineptness of the current state government - and the credit rating agencies seem the best to hand (though he does offer a humorous touch by noting that one economist even said that 'it was not inconceivable  some politicians might want to exaggerate the threat of a downgrade for political purposes' - no really, could any politician, especially Michael Costa, be so cynical as to be ... well, political).

But not content with tracking down the rating agencies' role in ruining New South Wales, Duffy hitches his wagon to establishing the way the credit agencies played a major part in the subprime disaster. According to Duffy, the agencies were 'substantially responsible for the subprime collapse'. He then spends some time explaining how hapless investors and tragic banks and major mortgage suppliers all relied on the favourable rating of the subprime CDO's by agencies, and that's why they invested. They were lead by the nose, they were compelled to splash out cash, and were shocked when they discovered those greedy agencies had led them down the garden path, had misled them to make some cash for themselves. How it hurts a banker to discover there's so little trust left in the world.

No mention however by the Duffster of due diligence, or greed, or the offering of credit to those who couldn't afford it, or the Bush administration policies designed to encourage a boom in the housing market to compensate for China cash flowing his warlordism. No, there's any number of reasons for the subprime crisis, as complicated in origin as junk bonds or selling tulips, but when it comes down to it, if you loan money to someone, you should securitise it in a way that makes sure you get it back - and, if the borrower can't afford to pay it back, should never have been offered the loan in the first place (especially with teaser interest rates), in the expectation that housing prices would go up and up forever, then you're in bubble land. The agencies might have helped, because they were naughty, but there were a heck of a lot of other people and institutions - all big boys, all grown up - who did their darndest to revive the 'greed is good' mentality of the eighties.

Well Duffy has caught the 'blame the agencies' conspiracy fever from the USA, where it's suited conservatives to look for baddies to blame other than Bush, the banks, the US Reserve, and a couple of dozen likely institutions who set the game running in a big time way. Funny really, seeing as how the agencies are private sector, a good example of the self-regulation of the marketplace at work, why heck a damned good example of the marketplace at work. And now we've had a healthy correction, and everything is sweet again.

Not for the Duffster. No, no. "The rating agencies played a major part in this disaster. And now they are helping determine how NSW is run." The bastards, and there was State Labor doing such a good job running the state on their own, and these agencies have just come along and ruined things.

Sometimes even irony can't capture the profound simplicity of Duffy's thinking. You might even say, if you're going to be simple minded about one thing, then you may as well be simple minded about everything. Instead of ambiguity, nuance and subtlety, there's a simple reason for the subprime crisis - someone to blame - and that's enough. It's the kind of conspiracy theory the left were once good at, but which now seems to create agitation amongst conservatives who don't want a multi hued world, preferring the simplicity of black and white. It seems Duffy, having come from the left to the right, has caught a double dose of paranoia and conspiracy thinking.

Whichever sub does Duffy's headings - assuming it's a sub and not the master himself - captures this kind of paranoia well: "From the folks behind the subprime crisis, a sword over NSW's head". There's a good Christmas cake kind of fruit and nuttiness, almost a rum-iness about that header, blazing with inaccuracy and metaphor. Damocles, you little beauty. We live in fear because of the credit agencies.

Well, not me. I think the time has come for the rest of us to relax. Duffy's reforming politician of the year, one Morris Iemma, has gone, and so has Costa, and so have an odd assortment of Labor party lollypops along with them. The North West metro was never going to be built in its current form, and wouldn't have been any use if it had. Sadly Duffy's call for even more motorways (the things he likes to call freeways) is also likely to fall on deaf ears. Can things be any sweeter in the sweet land of New South Wales, with the first warm day of spring, a gusting warm wind, and the smell of change in the air.

Well yes, god works in mysterious ways, and she has arranged for yet another Saturday Herald to be dropped on the doorstep of the now vacant house next door, the tenant long gone to a better place, and why not, when a single person is being asked to fork out 800 the week in this Labour paradise. This 'freebie edition' could last for months, in the same way we managed to get six months of free papers, until we had to cancel for a holiday and someone noticed that the local agency was delivering papers like the Mouse delivering water and chopping up broomsticks.

As usual, Duffy's piece is below the fold, the bizarre 'Your Voice' pie charts are hanging in, and dullness pervades the soul of the paper, perhaps an overhang from its dull times with the Peter Costello scoop (some scoop, helping out the publisher help out Peter so he can play petulant for as long as he likes, and that might be for a long time).

It seems this week Christopher Kremmer has been given the Carlton hot seat so he can write an abusive piece about new premier Rees because the man abused his kindly old dad (though it seems his kindly old dad told Rees in no uncertain terms to take his desalination plant and shove it). All well and good, and better than McInnes, but no cigar. No, once you've tasted something for nothing, it's hard to consider paying something for not much, even if it's only a few shekels.

So to this week's rating, and truly it has to be said that Duffy is both an economic marvel and a wonder, giving the people a sense that they might have some profound insights into the way the system works, since it seems it's possible to understand almost anything better than Duffy.

Economic analysis of causes of the subprime collapse: F
(Duffy, out here to the front of the class, do this paper again. This time consider properly all the causes of the collapse of the subprime market. Here's a Wikipedia link: Subprime mortage crisis. I encourage you to filch, borrow, and purloin, with or without footnotes).
Analysis of the role of the credit agencies in the subprime collapse: F
Over-abundant use of hysterical adverbs and adjectives, including but not limited to words like major, substantial, huge and rarely: 9
Redemptive faith in Michael Costa as a plain speaking politician: 10
Cheerleader faith in conspiracy by agencies to run NSW into the ground: 10
Ability to absolve Labor government of responsibility for economic woes in the face of abundant evidence to the contrary: 11
Willingness to tolerate wildly silly headers: 11

What a tasty read. "O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! He chortled in his joy."

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Duffy, Palin and the lovin' of dumb gun totin' anti abortionist pro creationist god fearin' wymmin

"Nothing is but what is not", said Macbeth, as he made a few miscues with prophecies, and it's got to be said that Michael Duffy, fearless defender of outsiders, is truly a veritable Macbeth of columnists.

Why only two weeks ago, Duffy was hailing Morris Iemma as a great politician, and the redemptive future of NSW politics, cleaning up the system for the good of all. Two weeks later, and Iemma is a feather duster, out to tend the chooks, look after the kids and become a house husband (thereby conforming to Duffy's idea of a real man, the kind you find in Alaska). I guess it's a warning, if you've been blessed by Duffy, beware the Ides of March. His touching you on the shoulder with approval is a bit like getting to hold the monkey's paw - be careful of what you wish for.

Sadly we can't tell you how Duffy's column this week - "Palin whacks and gives the hoi polloi a bone" - is placed in the physical Sydney Morning Herald, since we're boycotting such an anti Mike Carlton rag, nor can we link to it in the digital realm, since any increase in hits on his column induced by this blog would generate traffic suggesting Duffy is worth a read (however remote a possibility any stray, random reader with better things to do would click through to the musings of Macbeth). 

I did attempt to find out by ringing a friend, who had broken the ban, and bought the Herald, but they refused to say, and I abused them for being pro-management, and the conversation ended in tears with me none the wiser, and a friendship shot. Beware of the powerful destructive forces unleashed by the Duffy. Well at least I could apply the loose change to the purchase of the 60th year celebration edition of The Phantom for my partner, and given the eleven bucks that Frew demanded for this nonsense, it was just as well.

Meanwhile, back to Duffy, who this week is in fine jovial form. Sarah Palin has lifted his spirits. He even opens with a 'Sarah Palin, you beauty' worthy of a supporter of the bunnies - which is to say the louder the crowe-ing cheer, the heavier the loss. It's worth quoting Duffy at length - and saving you the click through: "I haven't derived so much pleasure from politics since Pauline Hanson erupted onto the scene. Politics isn't principally about pleasure of course, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't enjoy it when we can. Palin might win or lose, but she's already done plenty just by turning up. The visceral response to her from many on the left has been wonderful to watch."

And there you have it in a nutshell. Duffy doesn't really care about Palin, he just cares about sticking it up the left. Politics is a sport, you just hate and cheer and jeer. Here's hoping he's a Doggies supporter.

Why a quintessentially dumb redhead fish and chips seller and latterly television show star like Pauline Hanson should also light his wick will have to remain deeply shrouded in Freudian mystery - unless, unless Duffy actually likes his women dumb and loud and vacuous and red-headed from the bottle, as an antidote to poisoning of his healthy bodily fluids by way of lesbian left wing feminist guile? (How did Gen Jack D. Ripper phrase it, about the physical act of love "a profound sense of fatigue ... a feeling of emptiness followed. Luckily I ... I was able to interpret these feelings correctly. Loss of essence ... Women uh ... women sense my power and they seek the life essence. I, uh, ... I do not avoid women, Mandrake ... But I ... I do deny them my essence").

Behind his infatuation with Palin and Hanson is a typical Duffy rant about diversity and tolerance and the tolerance police, and how Palin is invigorating because she's gun toting and anti-abortion. You see Duffy is all in favour of diversity and tolerance, except that diversity and tolerance leads to tolerance which leads to intolerance, which can't be tolerated, so we need to step back, take a deep breath, and understand just how bad tolerance and diversity is, because it creates intolerance, especially in Duffy, because he can't stand to be tolerated, because, let's face it, his views are intolerable.

Well bugger me, I thought Palin was just a feisty Assembly of God, god fearing, Republican out of towner redneck on the make to become an in-towner, a cynical ploy to try to crack on to disaffected Hillary voters, and if elected, a heartbeat away from the Presidency, with all the experience you can muster from organising earmarks and a town of nine thousand people (badly so it seems since she seems to have left it in debt, Bush style).

Duffy does allow himself a minor reality check - it might all end in tears but while it lasts it's a lot of fun - but he never exactly explains why having a 'teach the controversy' Creationist as President (with Iraq as God's war) would be be any more fun than having a mad Mullah in charge of an Islamic country.

But once Duffy gets on his libertarian song, he's determined to list off all the things that are never discussed because of the thought police and their control of intolerable beliefs. Let's look at the list:

Length of jail sentences. Presumably Duffy is in favour of throwing them in the clink, throwing away the key and letting them rot in the dark for life. No wonder the USA is such an inspiration to him, since they know how to treat uppity blacks. Now why were we getting upset about the Chinese regime again? Please explain.

But wait, no Duffy's real concern is the death sentence. After all keeping people in prison is expensive and counter productive and frankly not desiccated enough for an economic rationalist.  Well it goes without saying, string 'em up and let God sort out the innocent. He's the only one with perfect DNA testing (no you dumb feminists with your 'She', she's a he, unless maybe God decided being a tranny was the only way to understand both sides of the story, in which case please use shemale god/ess).

Then there's smoking - yes, go get cancer, and make sure you take out private medical insurance, because why the hell should you get treated on the public purse, you bludging suicidal socialists. Oh wait, Duffy doesn't actually think that far down the track, he's just worried about the persecution of death wish coffin nail suckers preventing them from doing what they like, including doing over the taxpayer and the medical system while big tobacco banks the profits. Yep, always socialise the profits.

Then there's immigration - well I say kick them out, the lot of them, and the blacks can get out as well because they've only been here for only 40-60,000 years. In particular, anyone with a Celtic name like Duffy can be sent back to the bogs of Ireland to eat potato mash and brood. None of this last on, first off nonsense. And as the water rises from global warming and we sink into the sea, go drown on your Pacific island while we float on our raft. (Of course Parker is an English name for keeper of the park, so who's better than I to stay and keep this soil sacred for England).

Then there's the environment. Let it flood, I say, and go underwater, who can interfere with my alienable right to drive on Duffy's premium priced motorways. Fill the landscape full of filth, despoil it, ship it off to China, and stop these yabbering do gooders babbling about how they're getting cancer from the avgas dropping all over the western suburbs. They should think themselves lucky they're so close to the airport, ready to pollute the air as they zoom to Bali. Which of course brings in another subject that shouldn't be discussed, namely climate change.

And then of course there's welfare, but only last week Duffy was busy pointing out how the intellectually handicapped could be set to profitable work (a point that seemed to upset the head of the charity, but all that can be said on this is beware the company that you keep, because what might seem like good news to some is actually an ideological axe to grind for others).

So Palin is the cherished celebrant of all these proscribed ideas - kill the moose, wipe out the polar bear, dig up the oil, save the babies, promote abstinence-based schemes to avoid teenage pregnancy. No wonder left-wing feminists are discomfited. What a valiant fighter for truth and justice. And then, according to Duffy, they have the cheek to say she's not a real feminist, but Hillary is - especially as Palin's got a husband who's going to stay at home and look after the kids, while all Hillary has got is Bill, and worse, she doesn't like to suck his cock. (sorry, Duffy didn't say that, he writes for a family paper, but if you follow his logic, that's where it ends - Palin, you see, has a real man for a husband, a member of the United Steelworkers Union and a champion snow machine racer, and she's got five kids. Gee, they must have a great sex life, and gee, suddenly Duffy likes a unionist. Will wonders never cease).

Yep, according to the Duffy, it's great that Palin offends feminists, and  most importantly, just like Hanson, a fairly ordinary person has somehow made it into the public eye. Now just think on what that inverted, perverted sentence means. "A fairly ordinary person". Oh you mean the Governor of a state of the United States of America? Why I have a beer with one of them every week down at the RSL club. Or get takeaway chips from them every Sunday night. Dumb as dishwater, and fairly ordinary, but therefore eminently qualified to be a heart beat away from the presidency of the United States of America. Just like McCain's wife. Now there's an ordinary person in ordinary clothes with ordinary jewellery worth a cool quarter million. (Didn't Harry Truman run a haberdashery? So that's the way to find someone not frightened to drop the bomb on your enemies and hasten the end times and bring on the rapture. Come on down George Bush and Sarah Palin).

Now before we go any further, let me assure you that I love to fire off the .303 we have from the war years. The gut thump of the recoil, the smell of the cordite. And me just a lit'l ol' Aussie girl from the bush. I've killed my share of lapin, broken their necks with a twist or a chop, trapped their legs in hard cold steel, torn them open at the guts and yanked out their entrails, smelled the stench of liverish myxomatosis, and eaten of their flesh over pagan fires. I've gone on kangaroo hunts and killed the national icon and never once woken in fright. But I've never thought it was somehow unique or meaningful, it's just what country folks do, and it doesn't qualify you for anything, gun toting that is, unless you happen to be taking a shot at the Olympics. (And remember it was that bastard John Howard and his Liberal sidekicks who restricted our right to bear arms, and Labour who's in good with the gun club boys as they claw back some concessions).

But back to Duffy. Right at the moment you think he's willing to have a reality check, he has to go and ruin the effect - "If you read her acceptance speech you would be struck by the fundamental absurdity of the way Palin is, in effect, running against her own party with all her rhetoric against the 'Washington elite'".

Does Duffy ever pause to ponder his own ineffable, incomprehensible fundamental absurdity?So consumed by hatred and fear of leftists and feminists is he, that he becomes a Yoda-like cheerleader for politicians who say white when they mean black, and vice versa.

But Duffy recovers for a final flourish - a woman spouting words that are fundamentally absurd is just the right sort of person to ask tough questions about Barack Obama and his experience, especially when she's been a two time mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, population somewhere between seven and nine thousand souls. Of course she would. She knows enough not to eat the yellow snow, and when she says scat she doesn't mean go away.

"Of course, it would be wonderful for a black man to become the president of the United States. But other than the colour of his skin and his smooth tongue, just what qualifications does he really have for the job?" concludes Duffy.

And there you have it, the capper for the article, the final sentence. No argument, just a question, an insinuation. A low blow which would see a boxer doing ten with Socrates lose the round. It seems Obama's only got to where he's got because he's black and he's got a smooth tongue. Not like the immensely qualified Palin, who thinks creationism has a lot going for it, and thinks abstinence education is the way to stop 17 year olds from fucking around and getting pregnant (and as America has been doing for years, wants to ship this kind of philosophy abroad).

In a way, it's fitting. Duffy stands bare in that final sentence, smug, smarmy, deceptive and destructive, the true negatarian, in the company of Pauline Hanson, a racist and a vagabond. His real inspiration isn't libertarian politics, his heart is way back with Arthur Calwell and the White Australia policy, a time when women stayed in the kitchen and if they came out, it was only so they could shoot a moose or a lapin for their man, then go back inside and cook it.

Riddle me this: if what's needed is small government, which doesn't intrude into people's personal lives, why is it all right for a government to ban abortion for women? Is having a baby part of the Ayran mission, part of the way to expand and get lebensraum, a duty to government and god and Peter Costello, and not a personal activity. Please explain.

It must truly be strange to be inside Duffy's head. We can only marvel at the opportunity the Herald provides to the world, and wonder why anybody would spring for cash for the insight, when the Internet is full of commentators provided free - try Colbert or Jon Stewart for starters on the wonders of Palin over at the Comedy Channel. Unlike Duffy, who's a humor free zone, it will boost your day and give you a laugh or three.

So it's on to the scorecard, and truly Duffy was in exceptional form this week. Duffy, you beauty, hold on to those bodily essences and sock it to those feminists:

Quality of rhetoric against lesbian left wing latte sipping feminists: 10
Support of creationism and smoking: 10
Love of a good hanging, denial of climate change and wog hating: 10
Hatred of diversity and tolerance: 11
Actual usefulness in digging America out of the hole created by Republicans these last eight years: 0
Smooth tongued denunciation of a black man without any substantiation of argument: 11

By the way, just what does the title of Duffy's piece mean? "Palin whacks and gives the hoi polloi a bone". Was it provided by a subbie with a sense of humor? Do they still employ any at Fairfax? 

"With a knick knack, Paddy Whack, Give the dog a bone" is too obvious a reference. There's something more abstruse, subtle that's going on here. Is Duffy aware that hoi polloi is a derogatory term for the masses, his favourite 'ordinary people', as bad as saying unwashed minions, plebeians, proletariat rabble, rank and file peons, riffraff, or the common herd? Still maybe hinting at calling them doggies is a hidden clue. He really is a Doggies supporter, just one forced to live in the land of the Eastern suburbs. 

No, surely it's not that simple. Is there some kind of Freudian meaning to giving the hoi polloi a bone? Is it covert wording for boner? Or are we talking moose bone here? Or is it just that Duffy is getting a boner over Palin whacking the feminists? Does he dream in the night of feminists being whipped? Is the real meaning Palin whacks the feminists and that gives me, an ordinary person and Doggies supporter, a boner?

I'm afraid it's all too deep and clever for me, will have to retire to the Algonquin for a cup of tea laced with gin, and a little tongue kissing with my friend from Park Slope.

Meantime the boycott of the Herald continues. Will someone let me know if Carlton returns to the fold?