Friday, October 24, 2008

Duffy, Chokoes, Filthy jokes, Filthy Thoughts, Failed Public Policy, Failed Metros and a Failed Future for a Growing Sydney

My father hated garlic. Thought it was wog food. The very thought of chillis sent him into a frenzy of fear and loathing. His favourite food was chokoes (a kind of vine growing pumpkin), which is what the poor in Australia ate during the first great depression, as it's a rampant grower and easy to cook. As it lacks any significant taste of its own, throw it into a stew or a curry, heavily laden with garlic, and you can get the benefits of low fat fibre and vitamin C along with some flavor. Not the way my father ate it, boiled and flavourless and stringy and limp.

Funnily enough, my father loved pepper. He'd put it on anything, even if it was usually white pepper, which tended to be bland because it'd been ground and left in the shaker for months on end. He also loved mustard,  and didn't mind it hot. Worcestershire sauce was fine, but olive oil was for wogs.

But that was the style way back then - certain foods were intrinsically good, others intrinsically bad. Wog food was bad because wogs were invading the country, but the Chinese restaurant that sent left overs to the poor white trash family across the road (us) knew what worked for working class men - a healthy mix of sweet and sour, sugar and spice, and lots of white meat, even if everyone wondered about the cats of the neighbourhood making it through the night (ah yes, the good old days of racial stereotyping, still rampant on talk back radio to this day).

Luckily, after I left home, some kind person introduced me to a glass of really rough red and a bowl of spaghetti bolognese, heavily laden with garlic. And a few months later a kindly academic fed me mountains of Indian food, laden with all kinds of spices I didn't know existed. Thank the ever-absent Lord for wogs and other peoples and other lands, who have different ways of knowing, being and cooking than the wretched English, Scottish and Irish who gave Australia its peculiar Anglo-celtic tinge. The heritage we're supposed to love.

Once you get a taste of the dark side, there's no way back, though occasionally it's nice to have a lamp chop or two, with a potato mash - though there's no way I can go back to bicarbonate of soda to keep the green in the heavily boiled peas, or vegetables boiled to a soggy pulp. Instead I go to a Pakistani shop on Enmore Road in Sydney's Inner West for the best chicken tandoor in the country - call in to Faheems Fast Food to see what I mean, but make sure a glass of water is nearby when you tuck in.

Every so often, decades after the jibe became fashionable, you still see a conservative writer admonishing liberals for having a taste for coffee or chardonnay (as if it was the only form of wine that indicated decadence, when the passionfruit taste of a New Zealand sauv blanc is surely the Maquis de Sade of wines).

Only a couple of weeks ago, Gerard Henderson berated liberals in just these terms while celebrating his rooting love for Sarah Palin - though thank God David Brooks of the New York Times has fallen out of love with this creationist cancer on the Republican party. As if Gerard prefers a beer battered fish avec a Barking Duck in a long chilled glass to that poncy French crap designed to turn a man into a Continental.

I never could understand why love of good food and wine and refreshments like coffee became a term of abuse. There's something so abjectly puritan about it, so Mayflower about it, that you have to think right wing columnists don't enjoy eating, drinking and fucking. You could imagine Henderson in Cromwellian black garb roaming the streets, fining women for wearing make-up and men for laughing too loudly, perhaps because his feeble attempts at humor only manage to prompt groans, or perhaps a faint chuckle from Henry James.

One thing's certain - characters like Piers Akkerman and Christopher Pearson didn't get so portly by a diet of chicken nuggets and hamburgers. You have to suspect that along with imbibing right wing tosh, they also indulge in a glass of wine or two or three, and a good beef bourguignon heavily laden in the French style with red wine, garlic and a bouquet garni.

But that's the way it is, one law for the rich, and another for those who seek to ape their betters and are punished for their upward ostentation when it comes to drinking and eating (the Chinese emperors had it right when they left the rice to the peasants and stuck to meat).

Michael Duffy, esteemed columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald, avoids cliches like chardonnay lovers and chattering classes. Probably broadcasting on ABC radio to an audience of chattering chardonnay lovers of a hardcore Radio National kind has introduced a tad of caution into his thinking. But it doesn't stop him from playing The Shadows on air, proving that cardigan wearing retro fashions don't just belong with tree huggers - you can almost smell the leather patches on the Duffster's jackets from a mile away.

But on a meta level you also sense that Duffy takes an abstemious view of life. Take this week's column, dubbed "Why Filthy is filthy, but it could be just a relative concept". It's an attempt at humor by the Duffster, as he wrings what he can from the new NSW Premier's nickname "Filthy", and the man's capacity to shoot from the lip when he does policy on the run.

Duffy has some easy targets - Rees has made boofhead statements about the number of houses available for rent in Sydney, and even had the honesty to admit his predecessors, Bob and Morris, were boofheads who made boofhead policy decisions in relation to Sydney (which is perhaps why Duffy gives him such heavy handed treatment, because the Duffster has never resiled from his description of Morris as a visionary politician a couple of weeks before he was lost to the NSW parliament forever). Ah well, what would have got you good press one week from the right wing loons, the next week gets you an outing with a filthy nickname. 

The profound irony is that this time Rees is copping it for quoting the Real Estate Institute of NSW - a fine private sector body - who for their own reasons sold the pup of only 700 homes being up for rental in Sydney at any one time, and Rees, who clearly majored in rocket science when a degree in reality would have been much more useful, used the press release for his own mouthing off.

The Duffster leads as exhibit two Rees' riff on traffic - if you think you are in traffic, you are in traffic - which suggests the new Premier has imbibed a bit of Tarantino-lite zen. And then the Duffster rounds out the column with snide, furtive references to how Rees worked for the notorious Milton Orkopoulos but didn't know what he was up to with boys and dope. 

It's impossible to work out what Duffy is implying, since he seems to be saying Rees was clean while transparently hoping and thinking that he's not, and using the lack of evidence to indicate that Rees will keep clowning around in front of the cameras while Joe Tripodi and Eric Roozendaal will get on with the real business in the shadows, 'whatever that business might be'.

Well indeed snide innuendo and total lack of substance surely demonstrates where the Duffster's head is at. Firmly up his bum. In the same week, the Planning Department released data suggesting that Sydney is likely to reach a population of 6 million by 2036 - higher than forecasts done as recently as three yeas ago - and requiring a million new homes to be built to house new residents.

Just as we get the politicians we deserve, so we get the columnists we deserve. At the same time as Filthy was saying a few home truths about his predecessors, he set about emulating them - by announcing a brand new, ultra new metro scheme for inner Sydney which would happen to help out the Labor party in basket weaving territory over in Balmain, and would help the big end of town, which persists in driving into the heart of the city in search of extremely expensive parks because (a) they can, and (b) they can afford it, and (c) if you can't, you can get fucked. 

Yep, it's a metro here, and a metro there - this time to be exclusively funded by Federal Labor to help out their state mates - devised on the back of a coaster (as the leader of the opposition said with more wit than the Duffster) and with about the same substance as a pub lemon squash.

Meantime, the north west metro, previously announced as a policy initiative, is about to collapse in the November mini budget - as long predicted - while the other news story for the week is how comprehensively City Rail has fucked the construction of the Epping extension, most notably by building the line with such steep alignments on it that they have no trains which will run quietly on it.

Yes, at a time when NSW Labor is running the city into the ground, and yet the alarm bells are ringing loudly about how Sydney is about to have a population explosion, the Duffster is only up for jokes about Filthy's zen and his obscure relationship with Orkopoulos. There's plenty of column inches available on these disasters, and on the many urgent things that should be done to secure a reasonable future for Sydney's tortured inhabitants. Even if neither the Labor party, or the Liberals slobbering quietly below the low hanging vines waiting for the fruit to drop, have no imagination or capacity for such matters.

Yet the Duffster clearly, quaintly, happily, perkily and pathetically sits in the same policy free zone as the Labor government, bleating about a few green zones in the northern suburbs while a hard rain is about to fall on the city's inhabitants.

Yes, we get the columnists we deserve, but when they play The Shadows, it's time to say no more and switch off. In the same spirit, can The Sydney Morning Herald find someone else to write about the very real problems that Sydney faces, and explore some policy options which might go towards providing some solutions. The state government doesn't have a clue - nor does the Duffster.

I think it's likely that in the next few years we will all be reverting to eating chokoes, if we can find a patch of soil in which to grow them, as Sydney collapses around our ears. Fortunately newspapers when shredded make a good mulch in the garden. Duffy might be of use, and not just to wrap fish and chips. His future is as choko mulch. 

It's unlikely that his printed thoughts would infuse the chokoes with ideas above their station, and even if that were to happen, throw in plenty of garlic to kill off the vampire, and enjoy the chokoes. Just don't expect to catch public transport.

So to this week's scoring:

For fiddling while Rome burns and Sydney grows: 11
For cheap attempted humor about a filthy nickname: 11
For actual useful thoughts about Sydney's future development: 0
For wilful ignoring of substantial news about Sydney in preference to raking old coals about Milton Orkpoulos: 11
For proving that filth in a heading is likely to show filth in the mind of the columnist: 11
For attempting humor while wearing leather elbow patches of the mind: 0

This week it's a pathetic, tragic column, one which demonstrates that the people of Sydney are now lost and without any policy help from any one anywhere at any time. It's all too hard, and doom and gloom are the only likely outcomes. I guess even though I loathed Forrest Gump, the truth is life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get. With Duffy, why does it always have to be liquorice all sorts? Filthy is as filthy does.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Duffy, bunyip democracy, Radio National, the Religion Report, heritage, sara palin, and wild kinds of justice

Along with this site's boycott of The Sydney Morning Herald, the time is shortly coming when it will be a just and righteous moment to turn off ABC radio's Radio National.

Mysterious changes have been proposed to the programming, and the first I heard of them was an impassioned two minute spray at the start of The Religion Report, wherein listeners were advised it was about to be shelved (along with other programs) and be replaced by 'interdisciplinary programming', whatever that might mean. You won't hear that bit of direct honest and emotional broadcasting anymore - as with any self-respecting Stalinist ghetto, it was immediately stricken from the record. The thought police are coming to get you.

There's a couple of management issues here - first the proposed changes had proceeded by stealth, but clearly management had failed to bring along some staff, and of course nobody, outside a token survey directed mainly at on line use, had bothered to consider the listeners. They'd take what they were given. And nobody had bothered to work out what was being proposed to replace the axed shows. So the news, what there was of it, was about negativity and unhappiness.

Funnily enough, the head of radio at the ABC was a nice, caring and committed broadcaster when she started out on radio 5UV these many years ago, though even then with short, spiky salt and pepper hair that evoked, or reflected, a certain firmness on many aspects of life. You'd have thought by now she'd have understood,  that while the audience for Radio National is small, its listeners are engaged and involved. They want an intelligent exchange, not the treatment dished out by talk back on AM.

Right now they're conducting a survey, but it's not actually pitched to the listeners, but to the ABC trying to work out how they can force-feed more content via the Intertubes. The bias and the irrelevance of much of the questioning (and the studious avoidance of any useful way to provide qualitative comment) ensures they will go on doing what they want, and claim the initiative is a response to public feedback (well up until the point their hatchet schemes became public before the survey was complete).

It seems odd for a comprehensive atheist like myself to be arguing in favor of The Religion Report, but there you go - it was always well researched and well presented, and it gave wonderful insights into the world of the Jensenites and Pellists, two minor heresies that have temporary control of Sydney's soul. Ditto The Media Report was always worth a listen, even if it did tend to be a tad superficial and uncritical, never quite matching the incisiveness of Media Watch (but of course that had a television budget).

Quality radio programs - which require research time, and some care in production and an ambition to cover the turf  - are relatively dear, though up against what the government pisses against the wall on feature films no one wants to see, the term 'high cost' is extremely relative.

So there's a cost benefit to the current slash and burn, but there's also a delusion about the role of the internet in quality broadcasting of a domestic kind. Right now if I wanted to, I could tune in to over 2,500 stations streaming from the US on the internet, and god knows how many more from Britain, Ireland, and so on and on. But I sometimes prefer local broadcasting, if it's intelligent and capable, because it tells me about things happening in my neck of the woods amongst the movers and shakers. 

I suspect what will happen now will be that the station will introduce more talk back and chat - cheap to deliver, and resulting in instant turn off by me. Right now, straight after the various reports in the morning - the intelligent radio half hour - comes Life Matters, and instantly I'm off to listen to something else somewhere else. I don't care if the content's streamed on the net, or podcast, or delivered by carrier pigeon, if the content is boring I'll find some better content - and right now Radio National is up against PBS and the BBC and any number of ports in between. Going cheap or going online doesn't cut it. Heck, maybe I'll just listen to the BBC on News radio, since it's usually better than the cheap-assed, non-parliamentary stuff they funnel into the hapless, poor cousin, third call sign (they also run NPR material, but again, why not just go to the source?)

Compared to some of the current RN chat shows, the Country Hour is more entertaining and engaging, and re-connects me to rural interests and concerns in a way that Macka, whom I'd cheerfully spray with buckshot, never manages.

In the afternoons, it's a similarly mixed bag, with emphasis drifting over to cheap music, a bit of book reading, and the likes of recycled Adams and Duffy, who just deliver talk, theoretically balanced in terms of political leanings, and practically balanced in that they offer all the interest of listening to a bag of concrete harden in the moist air. 

Here's a few things they could have done - retired Fran Kelly for a year. Morning radio and the essential AM suddenly became more listenable simply because we didn't have to put up with her in between stuff - especially  her faulty interview techniques and her clumsy cutting off of people so she can make some phony deadline or the news. Maybe they can find another documentary series for her. 

Similarly in the afternoon, it's time to retire Phillip Adams, who usually wants to talk about Adams even when he's talking to really interesting people like Oliver Sacks. I know there's ego in broadcasting, but when it gets to blimp size and obscures the guests, it's time to stop. Enough already with the chemical free beef and the dangers of coal-mining and the ancient antiquities and the charms of the Muswellbrook studios. Bring back Mt Helen radio I say and give him a gig playing Shania Twain.

And then there's the Michael Duffy hour (along with his fellow insipid host), which offers silly period music interludes, and soft soap questioning of serial right wing loons which can only be matched by Rachael Kohn's ability to keep a straight voice while listening to the nuttiest of religious ratbags give us the good oil on all kinds of auras, aromas and karmas. 

Duffy and his co-compere never engage in controversy or debate - they only nod sagely when some right wing loon explains how left wingers have had their brains invaded by aliens, and that's why they want to take over the world (or any other right wing or libertarian or anti-flouride or anti-anything paranoid fantasy you can imagine). It's entertaining for five minutes out of the hour, in the same way that listening to socialists is amusing until you realise they actually believe what they say.

I imagine someone deep in the bowels of the ABC thinks the changes are all about being more relevant and attracting a youthful audience instead of the old farts who sometimes take the station away from an asterix in the ratings charts. But of course it's not an age or a sex divide that counts here, it's actually intelligence and an interest in intelligent subjects, like science or music or architecture (or gasp, yes even religion and media). You can be a Radio National listener at twenty or eighty. The real and only test is whether you've ever listened to Shakespeare in a BBC recording, off air or off disc.

Duffy couldn't manage a Religion Report or a Media Report, but as token right wing window dressing for the house lefties, he gets to stay, the other shows get the flick, and I get to open up my radio options. Yep, it's time to take up listening music again, from the world wide resources of the Intertubes. Come on down New Orleans public radio, though maybe I'll weaken on a Saturday morning, if only to listen to Andrew Ford at a handy time.

Duffy of course has a nice routine going whereby the work he does for Radio National usually ends up as one of the themes in his Herald column - his column about the big sort in America was matched by an interview with author Bill Bishop on air. Funnily enough, the book's title - The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart - aptly describes the clustering mind set of the like minds who foregather on Duffyradio to rail against the rest of the world.

Which is a handy introduction to this week's Duffy column in the Herald. Say it ain't so, Duffster ... not another tedious column about politicians in New South Wales, and this time with a populist tone which reflects the amazing 130 comments the Duffster got in his blog about the way people in NSW hate their politicians.

From the bleeding obvious to the obviously bleeding. To cut to the chase, the Duffster wants politicians who leave their posts early - like the current flock of rats abandoning the good ship NSW Labor - to be punished. No pensions, no golden parachutes, no office, no driver, no pay outs, no nothing, nada, zip. Or better still, make them pay for the cost of a by election if they stand down early, with a kind of reverse HECs scheme applied to their pensions.

Clearly Duffy's fulminations touched a nerve, and clearly his railing excites the popular imagination, but of course any of these steps would have to be implemented by politicians - and waiting in the wings to take over from Labor is a Liberal party that has in the past featured rorters with an even more impressive track record, often driven to the brown paper bag by a sense of their own living needs and the low pay on offer. Come on down Sir Robin Askin. By the way, when you drive your leader to a suicide attempt over relatively minor matters, and then he drops out, does the cost of the by election land at the feet of the depressive sook who tried to kill himself or the bastards who provoked it? 

I'd like to be the Jesuit drawing up the many reasons you could legitimately resign early - once you introduced any mental illness clause the whole parliament could be out the doors - versus the illegitimate excuses that would ensure you stayed handcuffed to your seat for the full term.

The ideas are so painfully childish, and so unlikely to be implemented - since it would mean politicians knee-capping their own possible futures - that they barely warrant a discussion - and all the more funny when you think that the previous day on radio Duffy and his co-host spent time discussing why any kind of cap or limit on executive payments and benefits was a complete and inefficient waste of time. Nodding in time like a couple of yo yos to the plaintive calls to let the rich executives run wild, run free.

You would have thought a desire to keep politicians in the same mind set as successful executives in this wonderful capitalist system that we have would be uppermost in Duffy's mind, but no, he's concerned at the fate of independent contractors (you know, like that dipstick Joe the Plumber who didn't happen to be a plumber). Nor does it worry him that democracy comes at a price, and that we should be prepared to pay for the pleasure of losing one rat, even if it means voting in another, the minute a politician has been required to fall on their sword. It's the least we can do.

Even the American system doesn't achieve this level of vengeful hostility to its former politicians, and the childish tone, even if populist, the 'there that'll teach 'em', suggests exactly why this state gets the politicians it deserves - because it has the columnists it deserves, incapable of setting a level of sophisticated debate.  (The Duffster even manages to evoke 'Sara Palin' as speaking of sacred political duty, which gives a new meaning to the Troopergate affair. He sure knows his tokenistic red flags, you betcha).

Meantime, we pay a fortune to big business executives to run the economy into the ground, while the state is run by people being paid relative peanuts - no wonder we get monkeys of dubious skill and talent running the state.

Finally, the Duffster ends with notice on Sunday of a rally against the state's planning laws, especially with regard to over-development and the trampling of heritage values. This piece of Nimby cronyism will only concern those people who live in the leafy north shore, where of course all they really want to do is preserve their own exclusive turf and views. This happens to accord with heritage values.

Of course in the west, if we go back to real heritage values, we'd chop down all the trees just for starters - an idea Duffy would warmly support. Take a look at period photos of western streets - note well how it was deemed irrelevant that workers get to look at a bit of greenery, and wonder how suddenly gum trees in the street came to represent heritage values to people with no awareness of history. Heritage values also seem to exclude the 'mediterranean' 'wogcrete' values migrants brought to Anglo-celtic buildings over the last sixty years. Personally I sigh with relief to see a Spanish arch, a dash of pebblecrete, an abundance of concrete, an absence of grass and Victa lawnmowers, the odd olive tree and a couple of decent grape vines. Now there's heritage values at work. 

Meantime a pox on the northerners and their lickspittle columnist lackeys because they don't want to share some of the strain Sydney is facing as it stretches to accommodate all the people who want to live here. Yep, they've got their two to five million dollar quarter acre homes with trees and a view, and that's heritage enough for them. When Duffy says we've got a bunyip democracy, he should have said that his aim is to return the state to a squattocratic burgermeister democracy where the rich can live in sheltered peace, and the rest can ... get fucked.

Hopefully no one from the west will attend this wretched, self-seeking, self-serving rally.

So to this week's score:

For saying bunyip democracy when he meant rich people democracy: 0
For continuing to exist on the gulag of ABC radio while good shows whither around him: 0
For  petulant and childish solutions of the most impractical and populist kind: 11
For proposing columnists and radio broadcasters pay back their fees each time they write a dud column or deliver a dud radio program: 0
For ongoing use of the cliche 'surrender monkeys' and allowing a mis-quoted Sarah Palin to be spelled 'Sara Palin': 10

Yes, the title of this week's column is "Hit these surrender monkeys where it hurts - in their pockets", and that's more than enough about that. The online Herald thought so little of it they didn't even give it a place on the front page, you actually had to know that Duffy existed and click through to his name. As usual,  we don't link, it only encourages him. If Duffy keeps going like this, he'll become unreadable just as RN becomes unlistenable. Thank god for Shakespeare.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Duffy, the big sort, the soft sell, the rope a dope and the rusted sword in the scabbard

There's little doubt that Peter Garrett cuts the sorriest figure of any Australian federal politician, at least when you compare what he once said or sang about to what he now does. Better to die on your knees or sing on your feet, or was it better to sing on your knees and sell out on your feet, or - can't quite recall it - did it have something to do with the revolutionary philosophy of dying on your feet rather than living on your knees.

Whatever, Garrett now makes Sir Humphrey sound like a clear-cut moral philosopher whenever he tries to explain he's doing a big fat fatuous nothing about his portfolio. And even more incongruously, the bald-headed Garrett evokes images of that long lost British film by the Boulting Brothers - Fame is The Spur - the one where Michael Redgrave plays an ambitious radical politician spurred on by stories of the Peterloo massacre, and the sword handed down to him as a relic of that day. 

By film's end, Redgrave is very successful, mainly at selling out his constituents and his radical ideas, but also in terms of power and prestige, so it's no surprise that when he gets down the sword from above the fireplace and tries to release it from the scabbard, he finds it rusted tight. It's a simple visual metaphor, but an effective one, and the only problem using it with Garrett is that it gives his past as a rock singer mouthing empty radical rhetoric more status than it deserves - Midnight Oil certainly ain't no Peterloo sword, and while Garrett is now firmly rusted into the scabbard, he's not even trying to pretend he once had the sword out of the sheath and ready for action.

Now what, you might ask, has all this got to do with the esteemed Michael Duffy, columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald? Well, it comes down to trying to work out what a person believes in, since that usually determines what he does, or attempts to do. Garrett, for example, espoused an abundant number of causes, and then turned his back on them. 

But Duffy is opaque. It's hard to work out what he believes in, if anything. Each week there's a new wrinkle - for example, one week he's saying how incompetent slack supervision by credit agencies led to the subprime crisis, the next week he's whinging about the way fierce credit agency supervision is preventing the state labor government from indulging in a pre-election spending blow out.

So we can't expect consistency. But what does he think on crucial matters like fundamentalism and the belief in God? Does he believe, as Bill Maher puts it so neatly, in a talking snake? Is he on the same wavelength as creationists like Sarah Palin? Does he think that having a delusional man like George Bush, who thinks God talks to him on a daily basis, was a good choice for President, and does he welcome the prospect of the even more delusional Palin being a heart beat away from the possible Presidency of a 72 year old recovering from a potent form of cancer?

Well, this week provides no further clues, except that the study of Duffy is as compelling and intriguing as trying to find a minotaur dwelling in the depths of a Cretian labyrinth. Yep, you betcha, we have to turn to the cult of the bull to get an answer on Duffy.

The punchline at the very end of his column entitled "America shows politics of a sort is a real threat to democracy" - sorry if it's a spoiler - is that he's having second thoughts about his long held belief in favor of voluntary voting. Maybe, opines Duffy, if you look at what's happening in America, it isn't such a good idea. 

Duffy, it seems, has been stricken with the same kind of second thought thinking that's recently struck New York Times conservative columnist David Brooks, who wrote that the likes of Sarah Palin was a cancer on the Republican Party, and who now sometimes sounds like a secular rationalist where once he was a fervent holy roller for the cause.

But back to Duffy. He's read a book by Bill Bishop, The Big Sort, which looks at the way that Americans have sorted themselves into like minded groupings, because they can afford to, and political partisanship has become more extreme, and there's a growing intolerance. Lordy, it sounds just like the Republican party, and their attempts to smear Obama (with a Hussein) as an outsider terrorist interloper who isn't really American and just happens, in case you haven't noticed, to be somewhat black as well as a founding member of the SDS before moving on to join the Weathermen in their campaign to end the Vietnam war. No wonder he's political now, imagine how political he was when he was five.

The intolerance and hatred spewed out by the right - as they go about the business of losing for a change - has been a reliable subset of Rovian politics for some time, but it also reflects the benefits of power in an imperial America. There's real bucks to be made if you're in charge of the system, hence the growing divide between rich and poor, and the absolute obscenity of consumerist indulgence that saturates the whole economy.

For Duffy this seems to be some kind of revelation. Easy enough to differ with someone on health care - especially if you think the poor don't deserve it but you do - or take a different view on foreign policy, like killing off thousands just to show you can by invading a country because of weapons of mass destruction it never had, or the handing out of school vouchers, when it's better to turn a secular education system over to religious schools run by fundamentalist ratbags, and provide a handsome government subsidy to assist the process.

Oh yes, that's all just friendly shit, jolly japes amongst chums. What, you actually don't like these things going down? Well not to worry, you'll have your say at the ballot box. And so, lordy lordy, Garrett and Saint Kevin hoved into view, and we were supposed to feel grateful? 

Bottom line, according to Duffy,  it's appropriate to have any number of simple minded divisive issues - call them 'policy matters' - but strangely enough "when you differ on everything, there is a risk opponents will become enemies and democracy will start to break down."

Poor Duffy just wants to be loved. The right just wants to be loved. Why, oh why are people so unkind, easy to be cruel.

Suddenly Duffy has discovered the benefits of political moderation and apathy - it seems being indifferent, apathetic, and totally out of it, means politicians don't have to be so hard, they can cushion the nation from the shock of disagreement and change. Yep, Duffy has finally discovered that slackers rule, that dole bludgers disengaged from society who go surfing are performing a vital social service. Well let's see him write a revelatory column - how I became a slacker for democracy, extolling the benefits of a joint and a good lie down.

Having seen the light in America, Duffy's alarmed for the implications in Australia - have Australians done the big sort, is there a boom in trailer park trash, have the rich pushed away the poor? Well yes, the Duffster opines, the poor have been pushed away from the coast (evidently Duffy hasn't thought of living in Port Kembla), and worse still the middle classes are unlikely to catch public transport, except when commuting with people much like themselves.

Well flip that pancake, that's no surprise, since Duffy favors bigger and better motorways and bugger all for public transport, and seems to hate the thought of sharing a carriage with sweaty smelly lumpenproletariat types.

Even the mass media has broken up "so we can all pick what reflects our existing interests and ideas" - and publishers can impose twits like Miranda Devine (or Janet Albrechtsen or Gerard Henderson, or yes even Duffy himself) on us in the interests of diversity, and making sure there is now a profound, and hardened intellectual divide in this country. Sadly Duffy is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Still, never mind a return to better columnists - whatever happened to Mike Carlton? Never mind stupid sentimental ideas about a fair and balanced society. Policies which attempt that kind of 1984 social modeling require subtlety, nuance, and a willingness to share.

No, all might be well if we just keep on with compulsory voting - but wait, just as you think Duffy has made a really firm point, has come out against the likes of Nick Minchin and the other free market fundamentalists who think they can transform the Australian political scene by Rovian tricks, he stops short of committing to anything. In his typically obtuse way, Duffy doesn't cede anything, he just says he's having 'second thoughts' about voluntary voting. So we will never really know if he's prepared to recant, or he's just having another wank in public. 

Of course if he actually said he was in favor of compulsory voting, he'd be breaking with his libertarian colleagues, and so in a queasy way. Duffy exemplifies how we prefer to maintain the picking and choosing of 'what reflects our existing interests and ideas'. He can't even begin to become the Peter Garrett of libertarians,  and move over to the dark side.

Well you can bet that if the depression develops full time, and the rich begin to feel the wrath of the poor, the free market idealogues are going to dance around on a hot griddle a lot more, and think about changing their ideas. There's already an argument that George Bush is perhaps the greatest socialist President America has ever seen, what with his nationalising the banks and pushing forward the military industrial complex in a way Stalin could only dream about.

Meantime, Duffy can continue - along with Henderson - to rail against do gooders who like coffee and wine and take silly green bags to the supermarket so they won't bring home plastic bags. They can continue to write about how soft and pudgy and pathetic these liberals are, what a group think herd mentality they show, and they can continue to imagine they're the Rambos of ideas, the Adam Smiths of today, when in reality they're just the lap dogs of a political class which imagined, as Rove did, that they could rule for a thousand years.

It's a pity a hard rain has to fall to muddy these delusions, and the delusions seem to be getting nicely muddied as a very hard rain begins to fall, but having lived with intolerance for years, it's hard not to give a little intolerance back. Duffy just wants to be loved, but now he's discovered that being infuriating and intolerant, can lead to being loathed. And all he had to do this time was say he fervently, emphatically thought compulsory voting was a good idea - so that at least once every four or so years we could acknowledge an obligation to the polis. No, no, no, Mr udon noodles man goes limp as usual. The sword of ideas rusted into the scabbard long ago.

So to the score:

Discovery that American political system is fucked (even if belated): 3
Discovery that America itself is fucked (even if belated): 3
Realization that slackers rule dude: 11
Realization that the poor find public transport useful: 2
Understanding that denying poor slackers access to surf is a crime against humanity: 2
Realization that Australians devoted to importing American ideas will fuck the country: 3
Ability to flip flop and have second thoughts without committing to anything: 11
Titillation at being able to use Margaret Atwood's word 'pleeblands': 11
Continuing willingness to travel with the herd of right wing columnists: 11

A high scoring column. Duffy is always at his most compelling when offering to open up his entrails for scrutiny, only to make us wonder who slipped the chicken livers into the bottom of the tea cup.

Duffy, AAA Credit Ratings, Milton, Rowling, Rees, Iemma, the Metro and the figuring of meaning

This blog is dedicated to a simple, powerful and perhaps ultimately terrifying notion - that the path to the truth and enlightenment can be attained by studying in detail the thoughts of Michael Duffy in his columns for The Sydney Morning Herald.

True, it's an indirect path, for the winding, twisting path relies on the fact that Duffy is infallibly wrong, and therefore intense study can always lead to an alternative, infallibly correct insight offering redemption and understanding. Thus when Duffy says Morris Iemma (remind me what did he do again?) is a great reforming politician, we know with absolute certainty and clarity that the opposite is certainly true. When Duffy proposes that the whole landscape be covered with righteous McMansions on quarter acre blocks, motivated by some deep seated primeval territorial urge and a desire to assert the truth of Rooty Hill over Paddington, we are given profound insight into urban planning and the human condition.

When Duffy demands more and more tunnels for more and more motorways, we are not too far from the need for rice boys, Marrickville doof doof, speed, autobahns and liebensraum. And so on. Of course there are dangers in any such carefree reading of the holy text. As a contrarian, Duffy opposes any conventional thought, particularly those held by inner city dwellers with a taste for the product of the evergreen bush coffea arabica, and a weakness for descendant mutations of gouais blanc. So any contrarian to Duffy's contrarianism must perforce arrive at a third place, a synthesis of the dialectic which is tinged with Duffian and arabica drinker insights, but takes us to the top of the mountain. 

This can be difficult given that Duffy, as a broadcaster for the ABC as well as Granny columnist, appears in many ways to be exactly alike to the things that he most dislikes and argues against. One small flip of the coin and you might see him hanging up his bicycle clips as he heads to the ABC cafeteria for a sip of magical brown arabica. 

This week's column - luminously entitled "I'm an AAA credit rating addict" with withering irony - raises all these issues with an almost hideous intensity - for at last it seems the scales have fallen from Duffy's eyes, and he has discovered that Morris Iemma's pet project, the North West Metro, is a folly.

Duffy has discovered this via figures being peddled by Michael Easson, snakeoil salesman for another outfit peddling another project of equal irrelevance - a western fast rail link between the west and the city which would fail to integrate in all the ways the North West Metro fails, but with bonus private sector carpet bagging thrown in for good measure (Easson, as former secretary of the NSW Labor Council, presumably got the gig so he could deliver his Labor mates to the Leighton contractors wanting to put together the boondoggle - now let's all sing along together Simpsons' style, what this town needs is a monorail, oh it's got that, ain't it grand, what this town needs is a fast, oh so fast super train duorail).

Duffy, if you recollect, in between bouts of hatred for all public transport, managed to see the Metro as a valid contribution to Sydney's transport problems and hungered for it to be built. Now - while having no knowledge whether Easson's $40 a trip passenger trip is actually a fair calculation - the Duffy is mortified: "I don't know if this figure is correct, but it fits broadly with overseas experience of new railways. If it is true, why have we been taking the metro seriously for so long?"

Only in Duffyland would such a profound reversal and a continuing lack of insight be feasible. But then the rest of his column is dedicated to wondrous illogicality. First of all he's driven by his new fixation with credit agencies and their rating of New South Wales as AAA, which threatens to drop to a lower rating (with an increase in interest payments) if the NSW government - with an election in mind - embarks on an orgy of debt and infrastructure building.

Duffy is appalled by the thought that Standard & Poors might be running the state (though how they would manage this by simply observing the debt level and credit rating of a state and dropping it a notch if it over-spends would be a mystery to most disinterested observers.) Duffy is at his most socialistic deploring standard private sector market place ratings mechanisms, and the consequence of what he is proposing would be to encourage the government in embarking on  higher debt levels and greater expenditure.

Hang the budget, we've got a point to make about Standard & Poors and we need a heck of a lot of money to boondoggle the next election, so let's spend, spend, spend. But just as you think Duffy might have made a break through, he berates the new premier - a literature graduate for god's sake - for building a useless desalination plant, and wonders about the wisdom of Kevin Rudd pouring $8 billion or so into infrastructure projects for the state. "You have to wonder whether it will be spent wisely", opines Duffy, so then you have to wonder exactly why the Duffster wants to break the credit rating, borrow money, and have the government go on a spending rampage just to show it can.

But as always the Duffy can be relied on for a key insight, one that explains everything. Like a blinding flash, he strikes when he writes: "It seems that we're best in Sydney where the state's future is concerned is talking. Unfortunately, the conversation is rarely informed or sustained and rarely does it lead to action". Substitute "It seems that we're best in Sydney where the state's future is concerned is writing blinding drivel for The Sydney Morning Herald" and the insight is complete. As usual, the sacred text has delivered a profound insight.

Sydney is fucked, fucked by years of a derelict Labor government - especially and notably Bob Carr, so here's hoping Macquarie goes down the tubes. New South Wales is fucked, fucked by a derelict Labor government. The opposition is fucked, fucked by years of futile opposition and a devotion to internecine wars about fundamentalism and moralism that have nothing to do with running and managing a state. Consequently the state budget and the state's infrastructure are both comprehensively fucked. If I was Standard & Poors I'd give it an F and move on.

Worse still, by extension, Duffy himself is fucked, since it was only a little while ago that he was singing the praises of Morris Iemma and looking forward to the Metro. In fact it could be said that in this whole sorry dereliction of duty, Duffy and his fellow columnists should claim the credit for fucking NSW. My point being that in Duffyland, with the rules of logic behaving like a Dali clock, stretching and flexing, any truth is as subjective as a French structuralist philosopher.

But wait - that's a cheap shot - as cheap as Duffy having a go at Rees for liking Milton's poem Paradise Lost and having a degree in literature rather than economics. That would be like me asking what qualifications Duffy has for writing a column on economics and credit ratings and all that other figuring stuff  - given that when he writes his column, he doesn't bother to check crucial figures proffered like burnt offerings, but still uses them for a dialectical purposes to prove a point (thought exactly what that point is, except to say that Duffy loves rubbery figures, is moot). How else to explain a column intended to praise a "boring mathematical line"of thought, and then delivers a capper line "I don't know if this figure is correct" - but I'll go ahead and use it because it suits me, just like Humpty Dumpy, who knew that words mean exactly what I want them to mean.

Worse still, perhaps harking back to his time as a publisher, Duffy has a fondness for unseemly, cheap literary metaphors that make Rees's love of Milton positively Shakespearian. This time Duffy deploys Hogwarts and magic wands and spells to diss Rees. God, to go from disparaging a man's love of Milton to deploying J. K. Rowling is spell-binding, though perhaps not in the way Duffy intends. No wonder he apologises, but here's a tip - when you write the cliche 'with apologies' you should never have written what you wrote in the first place.

But there's a grander point here.  At a time when the world's economic system is verging on collapsing to the ground, Duffy's rant is strangely surreal and irrelevant. It seems he wants us to defy the credit rating systems when it provides a credit warning (yet whose lack of supervision he blames for the subprime crisis in the United States), with the implication of a plunge into debt the only way to prove that inept politicians are indeed running NSW. And it seems he now has a new ready made pet project - the snakeoil fast train project - as a folly to contemplate as the Metro slowly disappears up its fundament.

But you know there's one thing about being caught up in the weird world of Duffy. At least it's not Gerard Henderson. Last week Gerard, the dull, lifeless fellow columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald, said he'd be rooting Sarah Palin during the VP debate - sorry, correction, he actually said he was rooting for her, because the inner west liberal elite hated her, as well as everything about Penrith, like football trophies and bingo. Poor Gerard (and Duffy) - to so love a dumb bell because some people think she's a dumb belle. Trouble is, I can't recollect either Gerard or Duffy telling us once which team they barack for (no, we're not talking Obama).

Where do they stand on the crucial issues of the Storm and Manly and the grapple tackle? What do they feel about the All Blacks? It was easy to know where Mike Carlton stood, sad though that was for a rugger bugger sniffing the backs of men in scrums. I don't recollect this other pair, who struggle and toil for the natives of Kellyville, managing to write even once about the hot feud between VB and XXXX, or taking a position on Holden v Ford or the futility of SBS making a local car show (or the role of Japanese cars in the lives of doof doof rice boys). 

I can't even remember them waxing lyrical about the joys of poker machines, not once in their columns. In fact most of the time they carry on like a prissy, poncing Henry James, writing with fastidious care about boring politics no one in the outer west could give a blind flying fuck about - where hard nosed realists know the state government will do nothing for you, and even if they try something, it will be spectacularly useless.

You get the sense that Henderson (or Duffy), if he ever bowled a ball, would see it bounce first very close to his toes, then dribble its way towards silly leg, in a way that would make Greg Chappell give him the final over in a 20-20 against NZ. Maybe Gerard got excited about Sarah doing a field stripping on him, and claiming his precious bodily fluids. Maybe the notion that he wants to root her, if only he knew how, isn't so far from the truth. 

Get a life guys, and let's hope that Melbourne thrashes the shit out of that bunch of silvertails hailing from Manly. Yep, it's come to that, we must chose between the mortal enemy and the mortal enemy, between Southwark and West End, between soap and soap, between Reschs and Tooheys, between out of towners and northerners so far from the real world of the west they might have come from Unley. Hell, there isn't even a toad to whack with a two iron from North to South head. But that's okay, normal programming will return after Sunday, and neither Gerard nor Duffy will have to pretend they want to take an interest in western suburbs passions. 

Oh but they will, and that's the sadness of it all. We have many more Duffys to trudge, promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep, and the Herald's columnists are properly scourged.

So to this week's score:

Love of Milton lovers: 0
Love of snake oil salesman: 11
Love of Metros: 0
Love of Iemma and Rees: 0
Love of credit agencies: 0
Love of logic: 0
Understanding of economics: 0

A low scoring week, but as any Zen follower would know, nothing is being and being is nothing. Duffy, it seems, can open the gateless gate.