Friday, December 26, 2008

Duffy, Lead Foot, Speeding, Losing Your License, In Bruges and New York

This week's meandering meditation on the mysterious musings of Michael Duffy, esteemed columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald, comes from New York City, the greatest city in the world, and so it will be short and sweet.

Between reading and parsing the Duffster, and getting out and about in the town (in the same way as a symphony orchestra is a band) is an easy choice. And in America it's all about choice, to the point where if you removed that one word from the language, the economy would dive from its current recession into a depression that would make the thirties feel like a tea party (and worse, all would be grey colored socialism).

But already one favorite has become clear. On the way over, the ineptly and inaptly named flight entertainment centre provided only one movie worth watching, Martin McDonagh's In Bruges, and we followed that up by going off Broadway to the Atlantic to catch The Cripple of Inishmaan

While it lacks the sheer intensity and black comic violence of The Lieutenant of Inishmore, the cripple's story is very slickly directed, nicely acted, and is a brooding evocation of the inferiority complex of the Irish (Ireland mustn't be that bad if the sharks like to come visit), the attractions of madness (whether talking to stones or staring at cows), the yearning for a relationship (the cripple has a letch for the feisty village good time girl), and the ambivalent desire to leave town to make it big if only so you can come back home to celebrate your bigness - the cripple tries to get a gig on Robert Flarherty's Man of Aran when Hollywood comes calling on the star struck town. Lurking behind it all is a tortured fear of the inevitability of death, barely leavened by the verbal comedy. David Pearse is given plenty of fun as the town gossip, but the rest of the cast are a match for him.

It's a good production, and because of a deal between American and Irish Equity allowing six Irish actors to star in the show in the States - something that Australian Equity has neither the wit nor the intelligence to allow on a regular basis - it remains remarkably true to its Irish origins. 

Seeing it reminded me of just why I gave up on Australian theatre, with, for example, the Sydney Theatre Company now in the hands of the talentless Andrew Upton and his squeeze Cate Blanchett, who brings star power and very little else to the operation. But then  Brian Rosen spent five years running down the Australian feature film game via the Film Finance Corporation and nobody seemed to mind much or notice, so roll on Martin McDonagh and the Irish. In Bruges is a show I'll see again on a sensibly sized screen, and his plays will surely be worth a read in lieu of being able to see them in the antipodes.

Oops, beginning to sound very Duffy about the state of the arts in Australia, so what is the venerable Duffser on about this week ... perhaps a chance to think about the glory of Shakespeare this holiday season, perhaps an exploration of some deep philosophical issue raised by Kant, perhaps a study of Beethoven's Ninth and why it exhibits an almost divine capacity to exhalt people during the stress of a Boxing Day shopping spree. So much anticipation, so much excitement, like an eight year old opening a present beneath the pine- smelling, sap-exuding tang of a dying Christmas Tree.

Sadly, it's actually a long and tedious tale about how the Duffster got busted for speeding four times over three years and lost his licence for three months - except if he elects to be of good behaviour for a year, he can keep his license on a double down principle, which is to say six months loss of license if he gets busted again.

The Duffster immediately elevates this personal issue into one of great national import - the notion that there is such a thing as safe speeding, the way other people go on speeding and never seem to get caught but create a danger for the newly slowed down Duffster, the burden of the double demerit scheme, the injustice, the inhumanity of it all. He even dresses it up with a final appeal for professional drivers - won't someone think of the workers and their livelihoods.

Well, truth to tell, the Duffster is clearly a leadfoot and loves to speed. No harm in that. Like any thinking Sydneysider, I speed wherever possible. But I know speeding is dangerous, it increases the likelihood of an accident of some kind, and I temper my speeding by knowing that the bastards are always out there, waiting to nail you. So you drive knowing the speed limits, the permanent cameras, the likely placements for radar traps on main roads, and you discover the joys of rat running to avoid the law. It's the Sydney way.

And that's about all you can say about it. The Duffster got caught, and that's the way of it, but isn't it funny how when those of a non-left persuasion get caught infringing on the law, suddenly it's the law's fault, and not theirs. Like a recovering alcoholic, the Duffster should just swear off the drink, or at least acknowledge that he's addicted to leadfoot behaviour. 

Clearly he didn't grow up in the country but here's a tip - next time he goes out to Kellyville, take the back roads and speed with a watchful eye. And if you fight the law and the law wins, take it like a man. Don't use your column to whinge and mope and moan. 

And that's all the time I can spare for the Duffster. It's off to MOMA and The Magic Flute, via the subway, which is one of the great forms of travel in a major city, up there with catching a train in Tokyo, where the Japanese also understand the benefit of mass transit by way of fixed rail. Wouldn't it be sweet if the Duffster copped a double suspension and had to spend all his time on public transport in Sydney for six months. Suddenly I think he'd discover a new issue, one dear to the heart of anyone who takes issue with the way Labor has led the state into the wilderness in the past six months. The infrastructure, especially transport, is fucked in Sydney, and no one seems capable of fixing it.

Meantime, for the odd person who drops into these pages, happy holidays - now just where did this American meme come from? Of course it's said as part of the war on christmas and a way to avoid offending people of Jewish or Islamic or secular faith. But it really means happy holy days, so any decent secularist finds it mighty odd and strange. But then America itself is mighty peculiar, an endless source of fascination. As the new Rome, it's insular and xenophobic, but in New York (the real America by the way, not Wasilla, by weight of numbers and sheer presence and fiscal muscle) it's abundantly cosmopolitan, even if in the holiday season that's mainly achieved by shipping in gigaloads of Europeans while the locals skedaddle.

As for the Duffster, it's a sad set of scores this week:

For speeding and getting caught: 0
For whingeing about speeding and getting caught: 0
For seeking to elevate a personal and deeply human tragedy into a matter of universal social principle: 0
For thinking that speeding is safe and other car-driven follies: 0
For not writing a column about the harmless effect of marijuana when used for medical purposes, and the unfair cruelty of unjust drug laws which punish minor and sensible use of drugs with disproportionate jail time: 0
For freely admitting he's a leadfoot but isn't a competent one: 2
For not admitting he needs the advice of a rice boy as to how to evade the cops and speed with pleasure and impunity: 0

Golly, for a moment there, I was thinking it was a total bust for the Duffster, but there you go, honesty is always the best policy. But this totally feeble effort by the Duffster leads me to think that the Duffy files needs to move beyond the Duffster, out into the wider world of columnist loons, in search of entertainment and insight. Getting a few speeding tickets is about as dull a read as you can muster, especially when New York calls. Happy holidays, and remember that speeding is good, drug taking in moderation is sensible, and no one ever got hurt getting totally pissed and driving. Just like speeding, it's the Australian way. Well maybe you should just get pissed and sleep it off. Have fun now, take care, and come on back real soon.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Duffy, the Classics, Luddites, Computers, Wide Combs and Curmudgeons

When you think about it for just a second, someone from one  generation who labels another generation "the dumbest" isn't looking for truth or insight, but instead is looking for controversy, headlines and book sales.

Generational bitterness is one of those bizarre manifestations of golden age thinking which bedevils conservatives. It was always so much better when we were back in the days when everybody had to read every Shakespeare play (and the Bible ten times and Dickens and Milton).

Of course in the case of Milton, if you love him and if you're the premier of NSW, the pundits howl at your stupidity and poor training for the job. It was only on October 4th this year that Michael Duffy, esteemed columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald, led his story about the state of New South Wales by making a joke about Nathan Rees' favorite poem being Paradise Lost - "an apposite choice for a man who had just become responsible for the state of NSW".

The Duffster followed up with "Rees is someone of whom we can say with confidence he knows more about poetry than economics" before snidely suggesting that Rees' degree in literature didn't qualify him for anything ("a literature degree might not be the best preparation for running the state").

But that was over a month ago, and it's never wise to expect coherence or anything approaching corporate memory in the world of Duffster columns. Back then reading the Duffster the last thing you'd expect anyone with an interest in the real world or politics should do is get a degree in literature, unless you wanted cheap, snide, half-baked, half-assed shots flung at you by people who don't have degrees in economics but do like to comment on economic matters from a noble height (yep, the Duffster has a BA in English obtained from Macquarie University in 1978 when it was in its redbrick prime and Eating People Is Wrong was probably the primary text for behavior in the English Department).

Having lived through a few generational scares, I remember when dime novels and science fiction were about to create the dumbest generation, though many experts had by then concluded silent movies had already achieved the goal. This was followed by experts who realised that the talkies truly had resulted in a VistaVision of stupidity. But that was nothing compared to television, which visibly reduced the younger generation to profound stupidity as you watched them watching television. The way Edward 'Kookie' Burns combed his hair in 77 Sunset Strip conclusively proved that the apes had taken over the planet, and Charlton Heston was way too late.

Of course television was nothing compared to comics, which in the nineteen fifties caused masturbation and hair on your hands, and which have now resulted in summer tentpole pictures that can reduce you to gibbering madness in a single viewing (and cause lead actors to kill themselves). 

Not to mention rock and roll, which singlehandedly produced more deafness and dumbness than any other art form, or the sex and drugs of the sixties which rock music surely led to, and which singlehandedly made the boomer generation the dumbest generation ever, and therefore surely the most expert generation to write stories about how dumb the following generations became.

Have I forgotten anything? Of course computer games - ever since Pub Pong swept the land, IQs have dropped by a zillion as a result of young people staring at screens. And pornography of course, but let's not go there. 

You can see where this is heading, right into the Monty Python sketch which paid out this kind of intergenerational nonsense in fine style: "I had to get up in the morning at ten o'clock at night, half an hour before I went to bed, eat a lump of cold poison, work twenty-nine hours a day down mill, and pay mill owner for permission to come to work, and when we got home, our Dad would kill us, and dance about on our graves singing 'Hallelujah'." Followed by the inevitable punchline: "But you try and tell the young people today that ... and they won't believe ya'." (you can get the whole sketch here).

Funnily enough, I remember being told that watching Monty Python was a sure sign of my stupidity because the show was stupid and silly. It was an older person who told me this, and from that moment I realised how easy it would be to get people to believe in Thetans. She also liked Kamahl. Case closed.

But inevitably that leads us back to the Duffster's latest folly, bizarrely entitled "Youths today read quickly but that doesn't mean they're reading well". For starters, what a terrible header, showing what happens when Fairfax Media dumps its subs and dumps all claims to being the home of quality journalism. 

Poignantly, the Duffster begins by noting how unsettling it's been for him watching his daughter study English these past two years, reading far fewer of the classics, fewer plays by Shakespeare, fewer metaphysical poems or Victorian novels. Well that's a relief, she might get the qualifications to run NSW.

Then he cautiously introduces a couple of reality checks by acknowledging the period in which the education system forced lots of adolescents to read relatively lots of classics was in fact fairly brief, and what's more kids today might actually emerge from school with a well rounded education.

Of course the Duffster's chief worry here is that they might not be able to "usefully engage" with critical theory and postmodernism, which is to say they might swallow that hideous nonsense hook line and sinker, rather than spending their time having a good read of Harold Bloom. They might even - here a gasp of horror is allowed - go French.

But after the Duffster does his queasy, double-edged concession to reality, rescue is at hand, and we can safely traipse off into la lah land, courtesy of Mark Bauerlein, professor of English at Emory University in Atlanata. It seems Bauerlein has published a work entitled The Dumbest Generation: How The Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardises Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30).

The only sensible response to a book with that title is to ask whether anyone under 30 could be as dumb as the generation that would allow a book with a title like that to be published, or to be discussed in a way that somehow suggests it should be taken seriously, since it's a profoundly post-literate title (though nothing can ever snatch away the mantle of el supremo marketing ploy for  the 'books for dummies' series of titles in terms of pitching dummy books into the dumb American market place).

Here we must briefly revert to the Luddites, who back in 1811 achieved a brief moment of fame by smashing up new wide framed automated looms that could be run by unskilled labor and resulted in job losses. The desire to blame equipment has never gone away - who can forget the fierce battle by Australian shearers against New Zealand shearers deploying wide combs. Well probably only a few diehards, since in 1984 Australia became the last country in the world to permit the use of wide combs.

In the case of Bauerlein, we can see a couple of powerful forces at work - Ludditism and curmudgeon-ism. (A curmudgeon can be of any age but is most typically a "crusty, irascible, cantankerous old person full of stubborn ideas", to which we might add ill-tempered, full of resentment, churlish and grasping).

Bauerlein has a serious fear of computers, and the linking of computers via the Internet. It's an irrational fear, but it leads him to campaign against the idea of computers in schools, in much the same way as I campaigned ferociously against slide rules (a mechanical analog computer, go look them up in Wikipedia for a bit of weird nostalgia),  and pocket calculators and all those other mechanical devices that undid the splendid fun of browsing for hours through trigonometry tables.

Duffy doesn't go into all this in his column since the basic stupidity of Bauerlein is to fear the rational use of tools - and it just so happens that the best tool that's going around at the  moment, with suitable training, is a computer connected to the Internet.

Instead he concentrates on Bauerlein rabbiting on about how using Goggle to search for the answer to questions is fashioning a cognitive habit, and in that habit lies intellectual ruination. 

Now it's true that kids no longer run off to the library to access the banalities of average summaries of then perceived truth in articles in the Encyclopaedia Britannica (sold to richer merchants on the basis that it was all their children would ever need to know). Yes, long gone are the days when you could score a passing grade in English by writing an essay using a Classic Comic instead of reading the original five hundred page novel, and no doubt the world is worse off for the loss of such skills, but everything must pass.

Well, here's a question for the Duffster - should every kid in high school have access to a computer which provides access to the Internet? Or will it spell the end of thinking and the downfall of civilisation? There's an old saying, "a tree's a tree, go shoot in Griffith Park", attributed to the immortal Samuel Goldfish, and I think we can add a tool's a tool, go give kids access to it.

The Duffster prefers to ignore this part of the equation, though Bauerlein has given hope to conservatives around the world, who hate money being spent on public education, hate subsidy and welfare, and hate the notion of poor people having access to equipment that the rich can buy as a matter of course (yes, sob, it's true, I never owned a slide rule).

But the Duffster does quote a revealing slab of Bauerlein on the effect of computers on kids' leisure time - sitting around in bedrooms at midnight, with laptops and chatting up buddies, and writing about schools and classmates and posting pictures. "It's very much oriented around peer-to-peer contact, and the language is crude, the thoughts and sentiments are puerile and adolescents. Kids will be kids, and what the internet has done is empower them to expand all these inclinations 24/7. It's all teen discourse, all the time".

Well fuck a duck, talk about irrational inter-generation hostility. Teenagers indulging in teen discourse when they should be writing like Shakespeare. What do they think they are, teenagers??!! Fuck me dead and bury me pregnant, and here was I thinking that growing up we were much more sophisticated ... especially in the country where the First Thirteen were thought of as demi gods (and did win the University Shield two years in a row), and where wogs and poofters and retards and girlies and intellectuals clustered in a corner of the playground hoping no one was going to notice, and the jocks talked of trains and what they'd persuaded the sluts to do at the party the night before while pissed as parrots ...  and we all loved to sing:

My father is a bastard,
My ma's an S.O.B.
My grandpa's always plastered,
My grandma pushes tea.
My sister wears a mustache,
My brother wears a dress.
Goodness gracious, that's why I'm a mess.

I understand now, that was our pre-computer generation's attempt to relate to Wittgenstein, no crudity there, no teen discourse all the time. In fact I well remember the class clown who later went on to play for South Sydney reading from The Merchant of Venice ... oh the stumbling, bumbling clown who could hit you like a brick shithouse, when he did Shakespeare, it was poetry, sheer poetry, and the computer and the Internet has taken it all away from this dumb young generation. The tragedy of it all ...

In the end, even the Duffster isn't buying and tries to have it both ways. How's this for a bit of half baked equivocation: "I suspect there's a lot of truth in what Bauerlein is saying but he doesn't give enough weight to the good things about modern culture." The Duffster even manages to quote Steve Johnson's book Everything Bad Is Good For You, in praise of computer games and television dramas - and so he should, since the week before he was busy pointing out just how good a show like The Wire was and how this kind of really inventive, clever drama had replaced Dickens, and where, for god's sake, is the harm in that?" 

But he can't resist a final downer, a "We shall see" about a future left in the hands of his own daughter and others like her who haven't had a decent introduction to the classics.

Fortunately none of this nonsense counts for anything or amounts to a hill of beans. The world goes on, times change, and conservatives who seek to hold back the tide are always wrong. I guess it fills in a week's column and an hour of radio, but for the first time in years I suddenly feel the need to ingest a little data, a cleansing, thoughtful classic. Must go off and load up an episode of The Wire.

So to this week's score:

Willingness to traffick deliciously with Luddites: 11
Willingness to share curmudgeonly thoughts: 11
Ability to trash people under 30 without a care about the source of his pension, suggesting he's reliant on superannuation, hopefully not in shares: 11
Ability to yearn for a golden age while coping with the age of lead in which he lives: 11
Desire to have conservative cake arguments and eat them too: 11
Likelihood of joining in a campaign to ban wide combs and computers from school: 0

By the way, as a follow up to the Duffster talking last week about the joy and beauty of mobile homes for pensioners, I found this little article by of all things a Duffy, explaining how mobile home park investment can be a money tree.

It's a compelling read, as it shows exactly how as owner of a mobile home park you can screw your tenants big time and make a fucking fortune. The bit I most liked was point E: "Most of the time, the person will be late on a payment or two and will flee during the middle of the night. In that case, the property is 100% yours again, you've pocketed the $2000 option payment and you start the process over again".

Yep it's a grand world where the best option is for your tenant to do a midnight runner. It seems like wherever you look there's a Duffy working out ways to make the world a better place.

And finally, last week the Herald published a story "How city living fights the waistband sprawl" which suggested that city living and walking was better for you than living in the suburbs and driving everywhere to shops and services (those bloody University of NSW researchers with their fancy airs and scientific ways, typical, why the hell would they love Kellyville like the Duffster). 

Here's hoping we can look forward to the Duffster explaining just how his beloved master-planned estates (through the streets of which no public transport buses can weave their way because of the lack of planning) can't be harmful to the health of their inhabitants, and certainly aren't contributing to the obesity epidemic gripping Australia. Here's hoping ... we shall see ...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Duffy, Manufactured Housing, Pensioners, Psycho Social Joy, and Trailer Park Trash

A reader kindly pointed out to me that purchasers of last week's hard copy Sydney Morning Herald - a paper now in the kind of free fall usually reserved for the gaggle of  Tribune papers or the William Kristol inflected New York Times -  not only had the joy of Michael Duffy, esteemed columnist, rabbiting on about trout farms, but were also blessed by two extensive pieces of Duffster reporting. 

The Duffster offered up a cultural trends article, which announced that The Wire was part of a new trend in television - suggesting that the Duffster might be better off trend spotting in trout farms than in television, since The Wire is long gone and anybody who can only manage the word 'interesting' to describe possibly one of the best television mini-series made to date should immediately swallow a dictionary of aesthetics. (He mentioned a few other shows already long ignored by pirates eager to catch up with the latest episode of the Gossip Girls, which does, I admit, suggest pirates have no taste either).

He even proposed that television miniseries had replaced the Victorian novel and that collecting dvd sets had replaced novels, and that this was a totally new phenomenon he was reporting to the world, which must puzzle the makers of Roots, who way back in 1977 did for blacks what Dickens did for David Copperfield (and who even got to release it on VHS as a box set once that boom got under way).

But it's true, since I boycott the hard copy Herald, that I regularly miss such Duffster delicacies. It's no burden. Really. No crocodile tears here. Not if it means handing over $2.30 to reward the current board and management of Fairfax Media.

Anyway, this column is dedicated to the Duffster's musings in the opinion pages, and the fact that the Herald is now turning him into a roving reporter suggests just how much hard times have infected the rag (sheesh, now Brian McCarthy's been put in charge, it's going to turn into the Rural Press, and cost cut and downsize its way towards oblivion. Slouching towards Bethlehem you might say, a rough beast, its hour come round at last).

But maybe I should pay more attention, because I believe the Duffster also led the front page of the features section with a full blown feature about the wonders of Kellyville and surrounds.

Now there's little new here - the Duffster has long had a profound fascination for the north west and its sprawl of McMansions, and anything he has to say about it has to be refracted through his Camelot mythologizing of dinkum crikeys living the life of Riley in the land of oz (or Reilly or whatever). 

Indeedy, there's something very strange and compelling about Duffy's fixation, and though I'm no psychiatrist, I'm guessing it comes from the same strain of delusion and despair which leads him to believe in golden ages (where nobody did graffiti and the world was full of social order).

It's significant that in his youth the Duffster was self admittedly something of a socialist, but in despair at that dream being obviously soiled, he shifted across to the right. This is not uncommon - socialism and communism by definition offer utopian dreams which can't ever be realized. 

It's a bit like the utopian dream of capitalism, which is also unsatisfying and often profoundly banal in its materialism, though sometimes people only get agitated about it when things go astray, as with the current greed-driven recession.

You get the sense that utopian dreamers often believe that life can be turned into an orderly and satisfying progress towards the grave, and that socialists and capitalists are just peas at opposite ends of the pod (or big and little enders for all the Swift lovers in the world). In Australia, this manifests as the kind of picket fence nonsense proffered by the Liberal government under Howard; in America, in the kind of suburban sprawl that now is the realm of mortgage nightmares and abandoned homes. 

If you drive across America - and especially through desolate downtowns - you soon get to realise that there's a huge dark and bleak underbelly to American dreaming. Drive to the strip mall in your auto, pick up some fructose corn syrup (in anything you buy), get obese, retire to a trailer park, and then you die.

Interestingly conservative thought in America now is shifting away from the Disney-fication of the American dream - a trend celebrated in Weeds by the heroine's willingness to survive by dealing drugs to her fellow American Beauty survivors.

Only this week David Brooks wrote a column in the New York Times bemoaning suburban sprawl, the death of downtowns all over America, the lack of community and social bonds in the suburbs, the lack of facilities and meeting places, and urging on the need for new forms of clustering, social infrastructure (focal points and town squares), and innovative transport which steps away from hub and spoke. 

Of course being a token conservative who sometimes steps outside the tent, Brooks now expects government - and more particularly Obama - to fix this with a grand social engineering program. Ain't it grand how there's conservatives that want to drown government in a bathtub and others that want it to fix anything and everything that ails you. Well Mr Brooks the market place spoke, and there's no way back for the likes of you suggesting that somehow it mis-spoke.

No doubt the Duffster will get with this program like he did with The Wire - well down the track and well into syndication. It's arguable that his fascination with Kellyville represents a deep yearning, an emotional desire to believe in alternate lifestyles and notions of suburban bliss for average Joe Plumber and his kind (though not so deeply yearning as to make the Duffster shift out of his eastern suburbs bliss and join the suckers in their car bound, expensive to run castles remote from anything but a mall where they go to consume in the way that caged beak trimmed hens get to feast on specially mixed meals).

But there's no point brooding about the past or on lost opportunities to relish the Duffster's writing, because this week he's excelled himself, in a column all about ... yep, you've guessed it .... da dah ... the joys of pensioners turning into trailer park trash, grandly entitled "Manufactured houses can make pensioners feel right at home".

First let's take a look at the Orwellian wording of the Duffster throughout his column - in olden times manufactured homes were known as portables or prefabs and many a school child suffered in sweaty forty degree heat in their own special version of portable hell. But being associated with caravan parks and trailer trash, the industry needed respectability, and like the aspirational funeral directors of the time, they began to take on American terminology.

Duffy swallows the industry outlook whole of course, and again it sounds like psychological need on his part. Here's a man so afraid of apartment living and flats and New York style cramped compression that he prefers Kellyville and caravan parks where the poor can buy into their own version of the picket fence (even if it's just two palings stuck outside the canvas awning).

Duffy starts by explaining how he's been cruising the master-planned estates of the city, "finding them impressive but pricey". That's the first bit of verbiage verging on a lie - "master-planned". Choke on it. Kellyville shows all the planning of a caged hen farm. No wonder a monster church like Hillsong, one of the few providers of any kind of entertainment outside a barroom brawl, flourishes as they tend the emotional and social despair of the suburbs by offering capitalist hope and joy (with a subtle vanilla bean Christian flavoring). 

Ever the social engineer with a private enterprise conscience, the Duffster apparently took the road up the Central Coast to discover the true joy of retirement in caravan parks in mobile homes, which you can buy from as little as $50,000 second hand way up to $150,000 (and as little as $80-120 a week for the site). What a spruiker. 

Duffy suggests this is a most happy and expedient way to pack in the retirement rats as the economic crunch hits and the poor buggers can't afford anything else. Let's just elide over the quality control issues in terms of building mobile homes - Duffy just buys hook line and sinker one manufacturer's assurance that the boxes made out of ticky tacky are designed to make them "look like they weren't built in a factory" and come complete with kitchen and bathroom fittings (in much the same way I guess that my car looks like it was raised organically on a health food farm and comes complete with a horn and steering wheel). 

I guess that the fact that mobile homes generally decay and require quick replacement (you beaut, more business) is one of those inconvenient facts that can be ignored for the greater truth and benefit of parking old people in a fenced off social slum.

So let's also elide over social issues. The Duffster notes that city councils are sometimes reluctant to embrace trailer parks (okay, manufactured homes on rental estates) because they can attract people "with various problems". You don't say - trailer parks just happen to be full of poor people "with problems". Well at least they don't get blown away at regular intervals like they do in the United States. But it's a great way to herd together unfortunates - just ask survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

But wait, one of the local developers has found one Dr. Rigmor Berg, a "psycho-social researcher", to assure the Duffster that these parks offer a proto lesbian post feminist lifestyle for over 55 single retired women who just want to spend their last years together in an Amazonian lifestyle far removed from their extended families. Group hugs will replace hospital and retirement village support services, as these single female retirees escape from flats and townhouses and frolic under their awnings to build strong informal support networks.

Once upon a time, you'd have expected the Duffster to ask just what the fuck a psycho-social researcher might happen to be, and what good they might be, and how their fine and fancy words will actually improve the circumstances of poor fuckers forced by poverty to live in a trailer park surrounded by other poor trash - it's amusing to google up the good Dr. Berg's name and find her work being roundly abused on Tim Blair's blog - but he's now so intent on huckstering and shilling for developers of all stripes that he has no shame.

Now portables have a fine future servicing remote mining camps, or things like the pilot training school at Gunnedah mentioned by Duffy where housing needs to be built quickly and cheaply, and then moved as necessary.

But the Duffster shares the kool aid about portables having a big future once their image improves. These dreamers, the Duffster suggests, have a "welcome commitment to extending the diversity of Australia's housing". What a load of horseshit. They can see an angle in the market - poor people, especially poor pensioners, are on the way down, but you can always make a buck out of them and dress it up as a kind of social nobility and charity.

If you've seen this particular aspect of the American dream in action, you'll wonder just how long before the Duffster begins to shill for Jim Jones and the need to build another Jonestown so poor black people can develop a proper sense of community and go off to a better place. 

In America mile upon mile of trailer parks house people who once were industrial fodder and now can't afford anything better than a trailer, a veehikle and cable, and who have been swept up like detritus into forgotten spaces to eke out their years.

 Sheesh, you wouldn't want to be a crippled chook out of a home on a falling pension and call on the Duffster for help. It'd be off to the trailer park for you, and if you get to live next to a neighbor who gets into an alcoholic rage on a weekly basis when his pension cheque comes in, well just give him a group hug and think what you're doing for housing diversity. You just have to hope that in a world of karma that somehow the Duffster gets to live one day in a trailer park, and enjoy the many social advantages and diversity he extols.

On to the score card for the week:

Orwellian use of language that would do a developer proud: 11
Willingness to elide over any social or practical issues to promote the cause: 11
Obsessive ability to ignore any alternative visions: 11
Willingness to embrace a psycho-social discourse in a non-dialectical way to promote syncretic communalism: 11
Capacity to blame councils for thinking caravan parks might have issues: 11
Actual empathy and understanding for the plight of poor people: 0

Once again the Duffster gets close to a perfect score. He shows a wonderful capacity for perfidy and double speak - master planned,  manufactured, factory quality, friendship enclaves, diversity, pyscho-social tendencies, and affordable housing. Gobbledegook of the highest quality, all in the service of developers pre-packaging pensioners into their new expectations - abject poverty. Such a brave new world.

Sadly he's let down by just a hint of reality he doesn't bother to explore. What it's actually like to live in a trailer park. That wouldn't take just an hour's drive up the F3. That'd take some research, some actual talking to real people about their real situations (and not a developer, a builder and an academic seeking to profit from them). And reality is something the Duffster just can't bear, even if David Brooks has now looked in the mirror and seen the reality of George Bush's America. Pray we never get there, no matter how hard the Duffster tries to make it so.

Next week, after an exhausting trip on the F3, the Duffster, in a psycho-social way, discovers the relevance of psychic intuition and star signs for pensioners seeking spiritual solace while living in trailer parks? In the interests of affordable and diverse spirituality. Here's hoping ...

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Duffy, the elusive Trout, the Gaden hatchery, brave Steve Whan, private enterprise, multipliers and Satanism

Back in the good old days of country living, there was nothing so grand as getting out the .22 (or even the .222), or a rod and line and net, and go killing things.

There was always lapin to be found in abundance, and the occasional 'roo and plenty of native fish. Once upon a time you could find fat bellied Murray cod lurking in deep holes in the upper reaches of the Namoi river, a source of endless intrigue to local fisher persons. 

Occasionally we took out the .303 to remind the creatures of the law of the .303 - the law that so enamoured the Breaker - but truth to tell, if you hit a lapin with a military weapon, there was damn little left for the pot and not even a whiff of the myxo to remind you of the poor bunny's sad future.

But Dorothy you might say, this is pretty unseemly and retrograde behavior, and you'd be wrong. In the good old days, when people were poor, a bit of Alaskan living off the land went a long way towards freshening the diet. There was nothing so tasty as a lick of catfish in the griddle, embedded with the flavorsome taste of river mud.

But you see also there was a rule - that you ate the things you killed, and you only killed the things you would eat (myxo infected lapins aside). Hunting as a sport way above eating  - you know, let's toss this one back in creek to show what good conservationists we are, and let's set a few hundred deer and a couple of gobblers loose in the back paddock - was the kind of tosh reserved for squatters and landed gentry. (Somehow I'm always reminded of Ken Loach's excellent film The Gamekeeper, in which a gamekeeper goes about the business of keeping the toffs in pheasants, then goes home to a pork pie).

There's always an interesting class, political, cultural and social dynamic at work when talking about hunting and fishing, and as usual we can rely on Michael Duffy, esteemed columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald, to ignore all of them in anything he writes.

This week sees Duffy embark on a mind numbingly arcane and dull piece of local political gossip, entitled "Fingerling good: the fishy political tale behind closure of trout hatchery".

The story involves the off and on again existence of the trout hatchery at Gaden, which the NSW government announced it would close in its mini budget, and then changed its mind after all the anglers and the Monaro locals squawked like stuck pigs. Much of the rest of the column reads like a piece of puffery for local Labor member for Monaro, Steve Whan, whom Duffy presents as a knight in shining armor valiantly battling the stupidity of Macquarie street and eventually saving the fingerlings and thereby humanity.

Duffy presents all this in a light hearted vein, as if crossing the Agatha Christie-like mystery of the tale with the comedy stylings of a Jerome K. Jerome.

Sadly it ends up neither (neither fish nor foul) but as just another example of the knee jerk stupidity of the current government, in that they could have done something sensible to get this squattocracy rort off their books, but failed on every level.

But what we do have as a result is first class evidence that deep in the soul of the Duffster is the heart of a wannabe English squire. The Honorable Duffster, esquire, meet Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, man of leisure, whose natural and sure instinct was to take the lads hunting on first news of their mother's sad demise. 

Sure the Duffster might have written an interesting story about the way trout fishing was introduced to Australia, and how the trout has basically taken over the waterways of Tasmania (as well as being implicated in the death of several native species). So that the landed gentry could cast a fly and reminisce about their long lost lives trout fishing in mother England like yeoman of old.

Sure he might have written about the very dodgy fate of species like the Murray Cod, battling introduced species like the bony carp and climatic conditions (though like his bete noir, global warming, the Duffster would probably see such perils as a figment of their fishy imaginations). He might even have written about the hard times facing even hardy fish like the catfish or the yeller belly or the bream, all native species and all facing freshwater blues.

Sure he might have written a tirade about privileged groups seeking government subsidy for their own fancy elitist pleasures, when they might have used some good old fashioned elbow grease and private enterprise to set up and run their own hatchery. (Instead the Duffster has discovered the power of the multiplier, suggesting that $600,000 spent on the hatchery produces $70 million a year in local income. Sheesh. Talk about consultancy hucksterism - source of figure please, calculations of benefit please, evidence this isn't just another piece of nonsense the Duffster would expect to decry when it came to talk of conservation, the Murray Darling basin, immigration and global warming).

No, in his heart, the Duffster aspires to be an English squire, and it's possible to have a vision of him, booted and flied up, heading up to Oberon to cast a line in search of the fierce game fishing offered by the noble trout. No doubt we can look forward to further tomes, about the importance of introducing fox hunting into the upper reaches of the Hunter valley, and the ongoing benefit the noble lapin provides to hunters seeking a little sport and a decent French stew (despite the efforts of all those nativist ratbags to kill off the dear little bunnies with their evil brews). Yep, let's stop these ghastly scientists and agri business dudes, and save the bunny for the pleasure of hunts persons everywhere.

So what can we establish from the Duffster's column:

Subsidy is a force for good, and if you can prove it's only a fleabite, so much the better. Never mind if the fleabite indulgences produce a state heading to a lower credit rating and lost services.

Government has a hand to play in doling out money to lobby groups and local agitators, never mind the effectiveness of policy.

Private enterprise needs only to be talked about if and when government can't be persuaded to hand over the lolly. (The Duffster pointedly notes that talking of selling or leasing the fingerling hatchery to private interests was a con job designed to sugar coat the government's cruel indifference. They just needed to hand over the cash, in the same way that Obama needs to bail out Detroit. Is Duffy a closet agrarian socialist? Can the next step be industrial socialism? Are his readers on the right aware of his brown speckled pink fleshed tendencies?).

Foreign fish are welcome in Australia's river systems - as John Howard put it, we will determine which fish can be released and which fish can be saved and which fish will be damned forever.  What this country needs is a damned good Englishman, like Pickwick and his club, a good port, and a bag of trout (I'm still checking to confirm the accuracy of reporting of this little known speech).

Well Steve Whan has saved the trout. Now we only need to save the Duffster and England. Can someone send him off on a round the world tour of trout fishing spots? Perhaps he could even go salmon hunting. Perhaps a bear might mistake him for a salmon. I know, I know, it's feeble fun, but then the Duffster's column this week is exceptionally feeble. 

How does the Herald put up with him? How do its readers? Is the gossip that the Alan Ramsey spot at the head of the page will be replaced by Miranda Devine true? Will we have to re-title this blog to include the doodlings of Miranda Devine? Has sacking the Kirk done enough to save the empire, or will rampant stupidity continue?

With Brian McCarthy to replace him, and a new lapdog editor to be appointed, it's a safe bet that an ongoing boycott of the Herald is the best way to save the few remaining brain cells left in the noggin. The Herald is now so relentlessly down market that even the Murdoch press laughs at it.

Talk about wabbit season. Meantime, on to the score:

For a dull parish pump column that even residents of Monaro would fall asleep reading: 11
For celebration of parish pump subsidy and the role of government in handing out lolly to local lobbyists: 11
For enthusiastic celebration of angling, fly fishing and the survival of foreign trout in Aussie waters: 11
For enthusiastic support for the government spending money on frippery and squattocratic amusements at a time of financial peril: 11
For never asking why trout have difficulty breeding naturally in Australia, though noting the fact at the start of his column: 2
For using multipliers, when to a Duffster multipliers should be a form of Satanism: 2
For sending the fish and chips wrapped in his dull musings to a perfect sleep: 10

Damn, as usual, the Duffster was heading to a perfect score, and then his Whitman-esque tendency to embrace contradiction gets in the way. Never mind that he redefines parish pump as a kind of excruciating dull parochialism not even Steele Rudd could make funny, the Duffster's heart beats soundly and steadily in step with the landed gentry and the National party (or whatever it's called wherever it continues to tread the land).

And surely the Duffster will keep rising to the surface, hunting flies, and ferreting out obscure sources of rage, while managing to ignore anything that gets in the way of stories he has to tell. Surely the noble carp, best eaten smoked, and a good fighter, freely available in any local dam or river, will be the next piscatorial marvel to enhance his column.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Duffy, the Don, Adelaide, zero tolerance, window breaking, graffiti, litter, illegal fireworks, and the Dutch

So it turns out that there's no question about Sir Donald Bradman on the citizenship test for migrants wishing to pass and become fully fledged, true blue, dinkum members of crikeyland.

Think about it. That means you don't have to know about the noble Don, nor do you have to know about Sir Donald Bradman Drive (such a cute name, though maybe Off Drive would be better), that mighty stretch of tar that links the brand new domestic/international airport to the heart of the handsomely designed square of the City of Adelaide (oh brave light on the hill). 

And by extension, it means you probably haven't caught the bus past the straw colored grass remnants of the once green and gracious playing fields and parks around the square, or noticed the brand new west end underpass, an engineering marvel, or seen how Wallis cinemas in Hindmarsh square have been torn down as the movies shift to the hideous Marion mall and the suburbs, or wondered just how Hindley street keeps avoiding being firebombed, razed and built anew.

It also means you've probably not noticed how the wretched Murdoch, imported to lecture Australians on education, has reduced The Advertiser to a newspaper with a fine, glass-fronted building, and absolutely nil intellectual content - a tabloid worse than the tabloid News he killed off, in his usual way, forsaking heritage for cash in the paw. 

The man's a cockroach, a colony of termites, a virulent brain virus come to life from Colin Wilson's The Mind Parasites, talking up the role of business in education while promptly using his empire to reduce the actual brain space available to any end readers of his product. In the good old broadsheet days, The Advertiser used to get its best copy from The Observer, or The Evening Standard, or direct from North Terrace - what a fine colonial rag it was -  but now its former golden era editor, Don Riddell, scribbles a retirement column for The Independent.

You probably also aren't aware that the festering fundamentalist Catholicism of the ponderous celibate gay Christopher Pearson, published for no discernible reason by Murdoch's Australian, first grew to pompous size while he was editing The Adelaide Review, and that the town still celebrates its convict-free settlement and development - no bird-like scratchings on sandstone for this town. 

It also means you probably can't remember that Don Dunstan wore pink shorts and safari suits and created his very own cook book and did his own olives and built the fabulous satellite city of Monarto - in his mind - as a way of matching the doings of that wonderful man Sir Thomas Playford the fourth, who, while in his capacity as longest serving ever premier, set in motion the ghetto for English folk called Elizabeth.

But ah the lifestyle. Anywhere you go, even amongst the poor people, and there are plenty of them, there's a devotion to tidiness and lawns, and a remarkable absence of graffiti. If you happen to spot the odd tag, it's almost chaste, and certainly no worse than that on view in Pompeii. 

Eight dollars for parking all day in the heart of town (provided you're out at a seemly 7 pm) and cafes and restaurants for all to nibble at, with the most modern cuisine, and movie tickets at seven bucks on a Tuesday, and a brand spanking new tram service that runs from North Terrace to Glenelg and nowhere else, but never mind, there's a fantastic bus service, and a set of trains that make like dinky toys no one wants to play with. 

Yep, it's a town on the move. Why even the old Edmund Wright House, once home to births, deaths and marriages, is now home to a Migrant Centre, and there's a much more lively mix of ethnic and racial groupings in the city centre. The old wasp culture is under threat. As Paul Kelly put it so evocatively, Aaadeelaayeed. And yes the aunts were still on the verandah as we zoomed past, but now there's a tinge of Africa in the air. But decent, lawn tending Africa, though there's a few who will mutter that the town has gone to the dogs of late.

But what's this all got to do with Michael Duffy, esteemed columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald? Well for a start you'd have to think the Duffster would be appalled at everyone not knowing about the Don, and by extension, not knowing about the noble one million Australians going about their daily business in Adelaide. The Duffster cherishes all outlanders, and who could be more outlandish than the insular crow eaters, with their hatred of Melbournians and Victorians and their paranoid suspicions about the evil intent of all eastern staters (dig only an inch below the surface, and the inferiority complex will spill out into the bright daylight like a corrupt and diseased spleen).

Yes, the Duffster and his paranoia would be right at home amongst Adelaaydeans, which brings us to this week's column, "Don't break windows, don't litter, don't expect that alone to stop crime", wherein the mighty Duffy smites and delivers mortal blows to scientific sceptics who think that there are a hell of a lot of academic researchers out there who waste their time and taxpayers' money on stupid experiments which prove nothing. 

True, the Duffster would normally be on the other side of the track, with his intelligent design heroine Sarah Palin and sweet old John McCain, bemoaning the waste of money on fruit fly research and polar bears, but the Duffster is always a lion ready to change his spots, a leopard in zebra stripes.

You see, like a lot of right wing loons, the Duffster is compelled by broken window theories - the zero tolerance idea that if you make sure everybody doesn't litter and has a tidy lawn and is punished for even the smallest infraction, then society will be a better place. The largest and most devoted experiment in this direction of course involved Hitler's re-working of Germany.

And Stephen Conroy is about to attempt to do the same to the Internet via filtering, keeping the intertubes clean for healthy family living.

The Duffster yearns for the neatness and civility of the past, though he doesn't quite mention where and when this was to be found - perhaps in some nirvana in the fifties in Adelaide, or did he mean amongst the match girls of London's east end in Victorian times, or perhaps amongst the Irish in the eighteenth century after the English had introduced a bit of discipline? Such a stupid notion, the golden past, and so clung to by conservatives, you have to worry about their genes. They have no sense of history, at least at it applies to poor people, and the golden glory they usually yearn for involves Versailles, and Earl Grey spending years perfecting his contribution to the theory of tea.

And of course the broken windows theory provides hope for the Duffster in disciplining teenage children, and ensuring society is safe for neatly ordered lawns and the middle class, whom he often affects to despise, at least if they live in the inner west of Sydney. 

But in the even handed way of the Duffster, he's not certain about the theory, caught as it is between the right loving it and the left hating it (anarchist ratbag graffiti loving window smashing pilfering lawbreakers that they are), and it being part of the culture wars and how P. N. Grabosky wrote a paper suggesting it was all nonsense, or at least not particularly useful up against other factors (not to mention the Freakonomics theory that suggests abortion is the best cure for crime).

So Duffy, bemoaning the lack of solid research, turns to the worthy academics at the University of Groningen, who did a series of tests involving bikes and littering - testing how bicycle owners behaved disposing of a flyer, in a 'before and after' involving no graffiti and an abundance of graffiti. Similar 'before and afters' involved fireworks being illegally let off, and a mailbox containing a five euro note, where once graffiti was applied to the box, thieving went up.

There's various statistics arising which are cited by Duffy, which suggests graffiti and the presence of anti-social behavior so inflames the senses of the Dutch citizenry that they immediately cycle down the street to the porn end of town, pick a woman out of the window display, smoke some dope, shove any number of mushrooms down their throat, and then fornicate the night away. But wait, that must be the English tourists, driven to this kind of desperation by all the graffiti they see in Manchester and Liverpool, and it's certainly the graffiti that drives them to riot whenever their team is involved in a soccer match in Europe.

It has to be said that only the Dutch (and likely enough behavioralists at that) could use bicycles, graffiti, fireworks and cash in the paw in this way and think that the resulting theories amounted to more than a hill of beans. Even the Duffster (and the authors of the research paper) admit that merely fixing broken windows or removing graffiti may not be sufficient in terms of deterring crime 'these days' (because we've fallen so far below the gold standard of good civilized behavior, as exemplified in World Wars One and Two and sundry genocides).

Well, I guess it's a bit like my theory that the Dutch are completely anal retentive, and are proud of their historical attachment to miserliness (or so the Dutch I know assure me - national stereotypes are valuable and true they say). Which in turn suggests only the Dutch could construct such an arcane, bowel stifling and hopelessly contrived piece of research.

There are so many elements askew in Duffy's report of the research experiments and the results are so mind bogglingly minor as to make you wonder why Duffy took it seriously enough to write about it, and offer it as 'some consolation' to conservatives, and then make us read about it - us, that loyal band of ever shrinking Duffy lovers, who cherish him for his plum duff cluelessness. Yes if ever a conservative deserved to wear leather patches on his elbows and work for Radio National, Duffy is our exemplary middle class man.

First a disclaimer: I've picked up cash off the street and celebrated the find, and yes I've had freshly planted plants stolen from the front yard the week before christmas, and not once did I see any graffiti nearby, though there's plenty in other parts of the neighbourhood. And in my student past where poverty beckoned I never did graffiti but I did lift a few books.

More to the point, when I lived in graffiti-less Adelaide, with its wonderful Victorian urban design, and grass mown to army shortcut standards, it was the time of the Truro killings, and a solicitor's body being stuffed in the fridge by his young lover, and a lecturer being thrown into the Torrens and drowned, because that's the way the cops had fun, and a boy killing a taxi driver for no particular reason, and lately bodies being stuffed in barrels in Snowtown, and so on and on (not to mention the gangs, and the bikies, and the level of domestic violence, and of rape and so on and on). 

Well it makes as much sense to quote random senseless killings done in the absence of graffiti, as the Dutch experiment trying to set up its subjects for a fall, in search of a way of securing zero tolerance theories in the scientific pantheon - in a way that confuses conformity with a a tedious urban lifestyle in the manner of the very polite, bicycling Dutch. 

You have to think that the good Dutch academics and Duffy are completely clueless about human nature, and human desire, and human misdeeds. My suggestion: send Duffy at once to live in Adelaide for a year, writing a low brow column for The Advertiser about the perils of living in that dangerous town in the middle of a crime wave induced by the owl-loving Rann and his left-wing cohorts.

Within the year, I suspect he'll be involved in a crime of some magnitude, anything to break the quiet desperation, whether it's secular (like a little back stabbing) or biblical (like attending a key party and driving away with the owner of a Volvo).

There is of course a solution - bring back the Don to the citizenship test, with anybody caught doing graffiti made to spend an hour in the nets and then a day out in the field, properly kitted out in whites given a good clean and a dose of starch. That'll sort them out, and the world will be a safer place.

Anyhoo, it was a good and chucklesome read this week, and it suggests the Duffy is heading towards peak holiday season form. He's scored another palpable hit:

Willingness to flay academics for useless and irrelevant research that's a drain on the exchequer: 11
Willingness to flay academics for indulging in research with a political intent, especially in the case of climate change: 11
Willingness to praise and quote Dutch academics for useless and irrelevant research that doesn't offer any useful findings but offers right wingers a 'scientific' talking point:11
Yearning for a golden time when the world was safe, gardens were mowed, everybody went to a Presbyterian church, and there wasn't any murders or killings or war: 11
Capacity for thoughtful use of science in constructing an interesting column:2

Damn, and there was the Duffster heading to another perfect score. Oh well, next week we can hopefully read about how science is driving the world to doomsday because scientists are so busy politicizing everything and ripping a fortune out of the taxpayer so they can live in indolent idleness faking results. Perhaps they can tackle a research project that demonstrates how graffiti directly leads to fundamentalist Islamic terrorism and the Catholic Inquisition.

Funnily enough, between these scientists and the Duffster's musings, I'll take the scientists. And the Don of course. Never forget the Don. And pray you never have to live in Adelaayde.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Duffy, Policy Free Zones, Subsidy, Scoring, Breeding, Roasting and the Banning of Beetroot

A friend reading a recent outburst about the infidel Duffy and his evasive third column activities in The Sydney Morning Herald had the temerity to suggest that the scoring of Duffy's work lacked objectivity and credibility.

He noted that the criteria against which Duffy was marked seemed to be arbitrary, and the scoring, if not whimsical, tended to be fey, hovering either in the vicinity of 0 to 3 or tipping over ten into the 11 category, as required by legendary mockumentary standards. Duffy never seemed to be able to occupy the mediocre range of an average student, somewhere between five and seven, and rarely scored in the high distinction range.

Well it's true that perhaps mediocre markings would be a sound indication of a mediocre mind at work. But that would totally fail to capture the charm of the Duffster's eccentricities, contradictions, and waywardness. As a result, the Duffster's scoring is erratic, but frankly both the categories - inspired by his work - and the marks - inspired by his work - are designed to be extremely responsive to Duffy's inevitable failings.

Inevitable because Duffy would like to treat politics as a football match, except that he never gives much of a sign that he understands any form of football. But as a contrarian he does like to pick up the ball and run the wrong way, which might be a good way to invent rugby, but is an extremely foolish way to achieve consistent scoring if the rules of the game say 'use feet only, or maybe the head, if the head is solid enough to use'.

He also likes to cheer the wrong team, the wrong idea, and the wrong moment as a way of demonstrating that he's an independent thinker, which inevitably means he either scores highly for being totally in the wrong, or leaves the score board attendant untroubled for being perversely silly.

This week's column provides a good example of why scoring Duffy is a bit like trying to catch an eel and stuff it into a pork pie. Just when you think the Duffster couldn't be more perverse he comes up with "Memo, Liberals: Labor's incompetence alone won't carry Barry".

But wait this is the man who only the day before on radio joined in a rich and compelling discussion on how Obama would ruin the American economy, without managing to notice that the American economy was already ruined. It was a surreal discussion, melting clocks cranked up to eleven. Perhaps it's time to campaign against Radio National's ongoing waste of money on this eccentric extravagance, an hour of Duffydom.

In his Herald column, the Duffster is often concerned with more parish pump matters of a NSW kind, and really only of interest to eleven readers in Macquarie street, and maybe that's an exaggeration too, more like three or four. As usual, his perversity consists in praising the wretched Labor government and berating the wretched Liberals. It's even handed perversity without a point.

If anything, there's something Jesuitical about it, since the Duffy seems to like economic pain, the more suffering the better, and the hapless Labor government offers pain all the time. They did right, according to the Duffster, cutting the free travel to school subsidy, because it favored the rich and was, well, a subsidy.

As an anti-breeder, I'm with the Duffster on this. It's probably best if we all adopted the advice of Dean Swift, who always had excellent if modest proposals, and solved the problem of feeding an aging population by arranging for the roasting of all school age children (salad minus beetroot in preferred Obama style an optional extra). 

The Duffster is outraged at the whining of the well off minority of parents, who we know cluster with him in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. Personally, I'm reminded of my niece and nephew who bussed themselves in to and from school every day on a 60 kilometre, hour each way, trip. The whingers never thought of shifting from their remote village into town to live in a humpy, and that's what's wrong with this country today. All rural folk should be bussed into town camps so they can learn to live like the blacks in the Alice.

The Duffster rightly chides the Liberals for mounting a feeble website dedicated to the issue - a more wretched website you couldn't imagine - and berates the opposition leader for being a policy free zone. This at once establishes the Duffster's socialist credentials - slamming a subsidy for the rich and for minority breeders - and his radicalism - always finding something righteous in State Labor - and his liberalism, warning the wretches that they still might manage to do a Debnam, who notoriously lost an unlosable election by budgie smuggling in his Speedos. (Yes, that's how we judge policy in this state). 

You see, it seems Barry O'Farrell has swallowed a thesrauras, and the one thing NSW doesn't need is a smarty pants, smart alec politician who wants to speak intelligent English using a wide range of adjectives. Worse still, he lost a lot of weight, demonstrating a resolve few fatties can muster. You can't trust a thin man, or a fat man whose gone thinnish.

Lordy, you can see where this is heading - the Duffy manages to quote the Treasurer Eric Roozendaal as making sense by calling O'Farrell a policy free zone - which is a bit like the blackened pot calling the charcoal pan a carbon free zone.

The Duffster concludes by calling on the public to send policy donations to the Leader of the Opposition, and asks for people to give generously (this  passes for whimsy in the world of the Duffster and Gerard Henderson).

So let's send in some Duffster ideas - like no more building on the upper north shore to house people (let them live in cardboard boxes in the parks); no more public transport but lots more motorways, preferably run by Macquarie Bank (the trains never work anyway); no more immigration (it's ruining the country) and for those who have managed to get in somehow, let them be given a healthy dose of Christianity; abandon right now any expenditure on global warming, since it's probably a furphy, and if it isn't we'll just have some new beach side suburbs; and let's revive the North West metro, since it's not so much a functional policy idea as a dream for Kellyville, heartland of Duffydom. 

In fact let's revive all the ramshackle policy ideas the Labor government has introduced over the last farcical year, then abandoned within the month as they realised they'd run out of money. The real trouble is, we've run out of panem et circe, no more Olympics - oh for the good old days of Bob Carr, run down the infrastructure to ruin, while talking of the Civil War and the ten best books the world has produced, while offering the natives athletics and fireworks. What a huckster, what a spruiker, what a snake oil salesman, what a natural for Macquarie.

What's that you say? The Labor government is pissing away a fortune on a motor race out at the Olympics precinct, money which could have been spent on putting computers in schools or fixing public transport. Clearly you haven't been listening to the Duffster - computers are in fact profoundly anti-educational and the Intertubes are just a way to waste time.

Here's an alternative idea - instead of brand new spanking policies and philosophies, let's hand the state over to the receivers, and get in a decent bunch of managers. All they have to do is make clean trains run on time, cull lunatic bus drivers from the fleet, make the ferries seem like a form of transport, provide decent educational facilities for students and staff, develop a functional strategy for roads which avoids everyone driving into the city at 8 am and out again at 6 while attending to urgent rural needs for road maintenance, plan a little for the future (a little will be a lot more than what's happening now), and so on and on. But whatever we do, let's not send in the Duffster's policy ideas. 'Nuff is 'nuff, and sometimes too much already. 

Here's another idea - send letters to the editor of Sydney Morning Herald and to the head honcho at Radio National (she who slashed at the Religion Report in preference to hacking the Duffster) explaining why reading/listening to the Duffster has induced premature baldness, deafness in the left ear, blindness in the right eye, a tendency to stuttering and bed wetting, and an inability to think logical, coherent thoughts. As a result, we all intend to sue the socks off them, and allocate the proceeds to the destruction of federalism and the institution of a republican government of Australia.

With the Duffster gone, and the beetroot-hating Obama as president, we can concentrate on real policy matters - first of which has to be the banning of canned beetroot and canned pineapple from the land. And yes, let's save the children from tedious free bus travel, let's save them from school, and let's give them a new, happier role in helping out the baby boomers as they totter towards the grave (I prefer a nicely oiled and salted crackling if you're doing the roasting, Mr Duffy).

And so it's on to the score:

For the Duffster's unrepentant willingness to support and quote state Labor politicians approvingly: 11
For the Duffster's willingness to slash and hack at the hapless state Liberals: 11
For the Duffster's socialistic attacks on the rich, privileged and subsidised: 11
For the Duffster's free market willingness to attack any kind of subsidy for the poor: 11
For the Duffster's consistent maintenance of a policy free zone on his own turf: 11
For the Duffster's willingness to attack children - let them eat cake and walk he cried: 11
For the Duffster's beatific vision of NSW still run by the Labor party in 2020: 11

Can it be? A perfect eleven. The Duffster will shortly be inducted into the Spinal Tap Hall of Fame, a perfect rebuttal for those who believe scoring in this blog is arbitrary and comical.

Thanks to the Duffster and the Labor party, City Rail will be free of meddlesome, obnoxious, noisy, energetic - let's face it, young - school children, and the Scrooges can travel in peace. No joy here for Japanese salarymen.

Let's join the Duffster in boycotting City Rail - so, at last, the vision can be realised. No subsidy, no young 'un fuss, no passengers, no trains, no public transport, everybody walking and O'Farrell thin. Phew, what did the Duffster bake in those cookies?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Duffy, Patents, Copyight, Private Property, Public Domain, Public Enemy and the joys of Piracy

Every so often, Michael Duffy delivers a stand which befuddles and bemuses, and that's why the esteemed columnist for the Sydney Morning Herald and part time token right wing broadcaster for that nest of basket weavers at Radio National is such a shimmering, silken, gossamer web of inconsistencies and incoherence.

It' what makes Duffy the proud Duffster, fierce Quixotic tilter at windmills, and you never know who or what is going to experience his fierce vorpal blade as it goes snicker snack. Last week it was wretched scientists, who had embarked on a vast global conspiracy to conceal the truth about global warming because of their lust for gold and coin and research grants - you know, seeing as how being a scientist is the fast lane to untold wealth and riches, and getting a PhD in physics on $20,000 a year allows for all kinds of mental and physical depravity (in much the same way that blacks living on the dole for a couple of hundred bucks a week are luxuriating in the wealth they rip from the Malcolm Turnbulls of this world by way of taxes).

This week the Duffster has decided that scientists and governments and real estate agents and drug companies and Radio National are all being hard done by - for in his wondrous way, in "Economic and cultural gridlock is creating disastrous detours", the Duffster denounces patents, copyright and private ownership of property.

Yep, one week it's crocodile tears for the good folk of Ku-ring-gai as they experience the ravages of government planning, and the next it's a full on cheer squad shout out for the necessity of government planning. Has libertarian socialism ever had such a pronounced and schizophrenic supporter?

You might almost think the Duffster's gone Communist, but at the least he's starting to mutter the kind of socialist thoughts you'd expect of Wasilla Alaskan natives.

The Duffster cites a couple of disastrous and tragic examples of the way so much of the knowledge boom in recent decades is "locked up in dispersed private ownership". There's patents, which protect biotech drug companies at the expense of inhibiting other drug companies (such as one which had thought it had found a cure for Alzheimer's but was forced to shelve it because it couldn't obtain rights to dozens of patents). And there's copyright which prevents poor old Radio National from streaming music around the world at a whim and via podcast because of nasty copyright owners (well not really but because they get 1% of the market and have no budget and are just too cheap and socialist, they refuse to pay the going rate).

Shockingly this has caused the demise of hip hop and its sampled ways. So there you go, knock me down with a tail feather, the Duffster is a supporter of Public Enemy and hip hop, which as a result of rights restrictions, he thinks has become arguably less interesting. Could this be the reason the Duffster plays torpid musical treats from the nineteen thirties on his show? 

And then there are the documentary film-makers forced to pay squillions to obtain rights to use footage, music and material in their shows, and worse to pay even more when these rights expire (though if you approach the average documentary film-maker and ask them for the rights to their own films for free they seem to take a somewhat intemperant and volatile stand).

But worst of all it seems is private ownership of property, since a couple of landowners in Parramatta are thwarting the Parramatta council's desire to build a massive retail and residential development, including a new library, art gallery and heritage centre. And we all know that packing them in like rats is perfectly acceptable in the west, if not in the north.

The Duffster is concerned at this kind of medical science and cultural and physical gridlock, inspired as usual by his idea of the week, this time obtained from Michael Heller's book The Gridlock Economy (and reinforced by the death of novelist Michael Crichton from cancer after Crichton railed against gene patents, though the Duffster provides no list of gene patents which have prevented a cure for cancer) .

And as usual the Duffster's hint at a solution involves the use of eminent domain, which has become popular in some American circles of the right wing kind, and provides a mechanism whereby government can forcibly acquire property - and in America, as is the way, this often involves government acting for and on behalf of speculators and developers who can't use standard, market-based mechanisms to practise their thievery.

This means of course that eminent domain can be deployed not just in the case of helping that icon The New York Times build a relatively hideous high rise as its new home, but could also be used to benefit any gaggle of private property owners who might decide they have a grand vision for a city block or two, and don't want to have to face down the current private owners. How best to solve this kind of smackdown? Bring in the government and trample on the people! You can almost feel the New South Wales government salivating at the prospect.

The Duffster has, in his usual way, managed to conflate all kinds of issues regarding private ownership in ways that even Stalin might find difficult to accept, though I guess in the long run you can still see a collectivist mind at work in the Duffster's thinking.

Most of the problems originate in the United States, and most could be solved - but won't - by changes in U.S. law. It just so happens that American cultural exports make up the second biggest strand in the economy, behind defence, and copyright, including the Mickey Mouse extension clause, has been re-designed over the years to service the needs of big U.S. corporations.

The term of patents could be cut to ten years - they were once 14 years, then extended to twenty (design patents currently have a term of fourteen years). The term of copyright for individuals could end at the time of death of private holders, thereby protecting the rights of creators during their lifetime but ending the gravy train for family and friends who go on mining their goldmines for ever after. Corporation ownership of copyright could be limited to twenty years. That'd sharpen up the Disney mob. Forget creative commons, let's degut the Mouse.

Of course it will never happen, and that's why piracy is the new way forward. The marketplace has already spoken about copyright, and in terms of digital content, it's simply that information and ideas want to be free and will find their way around the world by other means than the usual channels. A few companies and organisations have already worked this out - hence You Tube deciding to run long form shows with advertising support, hence other companies video streaming content around the world using advertising as a base. 

There are problems with this - the streaming has proven so popular in some cases, advertising isn't covering costs, while others, still unable to understand that there is now a global economy, try to limit their streaming on a territorial basis so as to conform to studio limitations. But in the same way that a region coded  dvd is now a folly, courtesy of a simple act of ripping, so will these kinds of practices begin to feel like Noah's Ark.

So being a pirate is actually and suddenly a noble and ethical stand against unhealthy copyright practices, and will in due course force proponents of the old copyright model to realise that new revenue models are required. The times are rapidly changing.

Private ownership of property however isn't so easily tackled, especially with any power that allows government to override that ownership for whatever collective good is on offer. Where the Duffy suddenly seems to think that property development and governments and speculators are good and wholesome people, only interested in turfing out owners for the common collective good, I have a sudden desire to reach for my shotgun. 

This land is my land, not your land, and if you want my land, you have to pay for it. And if I don't want to sell it, if I want its unencumbered pleasure and enjoyment, that's my right because I own it. That used to be the creed of ownership, which only Ruskies and Alaskans would deny, and now it seems the Duffster is proposing in a socialist way - or is it Napoleonic - that if a street full of peasants gets in the way of a grand development, then they can be swept away out of sight. Well I guess that's how you end up with the grand spoke-like streets of central Paris, and who gives a toss about a few peasants, except for the peasants.

Oh I know, I know, let's face it, putting all the peasants in grand high rises with exceptional city views has worked very well in both Melbourne and Sydney, allowing for the crime rate and graffiti, and it's also allowed the middle classes to colonise the inner cityscape. 

I guess we should have allowed the government to build that motorway right through our front yard instead of suffering from the delusional notion that (a) any motorway promoted by the government of NSW is an exercise in futility and folly and (b) we'd actually prefer a suburb not bifurcated by a motorway and (c) while there's only five feet of front yard attached to the house, it is in the Sydney way a splendid place to grow dicksonia antarctia ferns and monstera deliciosa.

The fun bit is that next week we can look forward to a rant by the Duffster denouncing the development practices of the NSW government in the northern suburbs of Sydney, or a rant on the way government is infringing on the private rights of companies by suggesting that they should share the wealth around, or a rant, a cri de coeur, on the way hip hop has ruined the noble minds of blacks these last twenty years.

But then if the Duffster were to be consistent or logical, he'd lose his charm, because the quark would have been tamed and become the staid world of the atom. Or some such metaphor. Meanwhile, we can feel his pain, forced week in and week out to play Minnie the Moocher when he could be playing Public Enemy.

Power to the people
Put your hands in the air
Peace sign high
Like you really do care ...
Rather be sitting just a gettin it
Power to the people not the governments
Capitalists, Communists, Terrorists
Swear to God I don't know the difference
Makin' new slaves outta immigrants
Wanna know where all that money went
Another trillion spent by the Government
Here the bomb go. Sent by the President.

Yo man, get down and jiggy with it. The Duffster be the man, be cool with it. And so to this week's scorecard, a relatively tame affair as Duffy takes in a whiff of Radio National socialistic thinking without understanding how smelling that weed week in, week out, while lurking behind the mike is slowly turning him into a ganga man.

Capacity for confusing patents, copyright and private property: 11
Capacity for proposing solutions in relation to ownership issues:2
Willingness to embrace the novelty of eminent domain without thinking of its consequences:11
Love of inherent contradictions in thinking:11
Failure to care about the future of Mickey Mouse and the Disney folk: 8
Failure to mention the elephant in the room, piracy, or to consider its relevance to current private ownership practices: 11
Implied endorsement of the NSW government and Parramatta Council's right to trample on property rights, together with the implied benefits of bringing back Michael Costa to run things, and introduce single carriage trains in a system designed for dual carriages: 11

Well maybe that last score is stretching things - maybe the Duffster will tackle City Rail next week - but it's a high scoring, high five time for hipster Duffster, with points on the board every which way we look. But in the world of the Duffster, a high score is actually a low score, because nothing is but what is not, and words mean what we chose them to mean, and when the Duffster speaks of overturning patents and copyright and private ownership, we might only be weeks away from the peasants personning the barricades. Aux armes, citoyens, formez vos bataillons, and keep on downloading.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Duffy, the new Messiah, the Dirty Digger, Global Warming, and the Scientific Method from the people who built Frankenstein's monster

What a fine week it's been. A black man heading to the White House and the forces of evil routed, though as we know from various films, the Darth Vaders of politics can never be truly defeated.

It's almost too good a week to spend any time with the wretchedly narrow and circumscribed Michael Duffy, but the thought did arise that if ever Duffy was to be taken away from his esteemed column in The Sydney Morning Herald - snatched from us in the prime of his intellectual life - then  there'd be nil effect on that butterfly roaming the Amazon - though on third thoughts maybe the world would be a little bit more cheerful and the outer west of Sydney would be free of his baleful eastern suburbs concerns.

And this blog could turn its attention to other fruit loops and loonies, with the ascendancy of Hussein bringing out standard, grudging responses from local right wing standard bearers. Gerard Henderson is typical. This is a man who said he was rooting for Sarah Palin, thereby abandoning any intellectual pretensions, any claim he stood for anything other than cheap, superficial, sordid, supercilious partisanship (not so the McCain seagulls as they now proceed to crap on her from on high). GH kept whining about how the media was in love with Obama, especially the ABC, and guess what - the American people, or at least a majority thereof, were also in love with Obama.

Even Christopher Hitchens, enthusiastic cheer leader for colonial adventurism in Mesopotamia (a land which exists in the bible and his imagination) knew that support for Sarah Palin involved nuking the fridge, jumping the shark, or gerunding the Gerard  (as in, I love Palining). Sure enough, Henderson, at a time when his dour posturing was receiving scant attention, came out with a baleful piece about Hussein that was a fragile echo of Tom DeLay. By the company they keep so shall ye know them. Little Billy Kristol with a tangy eucalyptus smell.

And then of course in The Australian came the usual ranting from Janet Albrechtsen and Greg Sheridan, as they saw the tedious censorious world of the neo-cons shrink. They can spend the next four years polishing and burnishing the image of George W. in a private temple far away from the rest of us. He'll need plenty of elbow grease and the kind of rose colored glasses (such a nice shade of red) these wretches have been wearing for years.

Time for me to polish up my 'Obama for President' T Shirt and wear it with pride in the dusty western streets of Sydney. (Oops, am I suddenly in trouble as a furtive foreign influence trying to affect US domestic politics by sending money to the Man? Just where did he get all that private cash from, moan the rightwingers, when they suddenly realise that no one loves them, not even their momma. Or wait, maybe it's just good ol' fashioned capitalism. These are quality T shirts, manufactured in Nicaragua and sold abroad with a hefty USA premium, and don't Americans want to export their political ideals, at a fair price of course? It's a win-win for northern and central America - get Sarah Palin to point it out on a map - and a decisive blow against cheap Chinese manufacturers).

You have to love America. If it's not the World Series in baseball, it's World Championship Wrestling or some other self-bestowed crown in which only Romans compete against Romans, as if the new Rome is the world. Go to any small town, and you'll find some hot dog vendor boasting about being world famous or world renowned or the best in the universe. (Well Nathan's really is famous I guess). But this time they've really done it. They've been positively, definitively and categorically unique. The day a Jamaican or an Indian gets to be PM of Britain is the day vindaloo replaces warmed over baked beans at breakfast, and the chance of an indigenous citizen running Australia is so slim I'll have been in grave fifty years or more before it happens. 

As a result, those who had any emotions, danced in the streets and celebrated with joy. It might just be a tentative beginning - the way ahead is hard, thanks to the Republicans, and Obama will face all kinds of turmoil, and he is of course a Chicago politician, but all the more reason to celebrate a black Carcetti getting to the top. Plus any new beginning with a "liberrrul" is way better than the eight years of purgatory America has endured with the gang of three, Bush, Cheney and Rove (the gang was bigger once, but who remembers Rumsfeld or other members of the reactionary clique). Monsters, Paul Krugman called them, but he's always understating things because he's so nice.

I'm looking forward to being in New York for Christmas and being amongst real Americans - the ones the terrorists attacked, not the hixs from the stix who think that being rustic and dumb somehow makes you Palin super plus real.

The chief danger - it being America and every lunatic having the right to bear arms - is that some useless twit in search of his John Lennon moment in the sun, will take a shot at the man, thereby adding Obama to the list which includes a couple of Kennedys, Martin Luther King and Ronald Reagan. But that's where hate speak of the kind favored by shallow right wing ratbags invariably takes society, and there's no reason to expect the hating generated by talk back radio and right wing television will suddenly moderate because someone intelligent has been elevated to the White House. 

They play it hard in America - there was an amusing story in The New Yorker about a couple of men trying to get to the ballot box, with one shot and one killed for their troubles, and the results upheld because the judge determined that an ordinarily brave man could get to the ballot box to cast his vote (so it was in the nineteenth century, so it seems now for all the gilding of the new age lever-laden switcheroo machines in a few wilder parts of the woods. Why they even tried to nobble Tim Robbins, but on the other hand, maybe that's not such a bad idea).

Never mind, the wheel's turned now, and I'm not such a 'liberrul' that I can't do a little hating, and here's hoping the reactionary forces in America and Australia get a good pasting. I'm thinking particularly of Faux Noise, which surely has to make Pravda on a bad day look like exemplary journalism.

That makes it all the more poignant that this was the week that Rupert Murdoch, an American citizen, had the cheek to come amongst Australians, and pretend that he was still one of us, and lecture us on the future - like, we should all sell out our Australian citizenship and move to America to make a motza? That's being Australian, like the fearless Rupe?

I hear you can pick up a house for nothing or next to nothing if you don't mind the crack heads next door. Well on the principle that anything Murdoch touches is tainted, it's a pleasure to suggest you can survive really well in the world by never buying The Australian, and by saving the monthly fees to the cable TV monopoly racket known as Foxtel. 

Better still, I'm told by my partner that if you chose the right hairdresser, you can read The Daily Telegraph once a month, for at least five minutes, and surely you lose a few brain cells, as they store key information about which show biz bimbo is fucking which Alaskan jockette, but it's a Tele guarantee that this will allow you a full minute of vivacious water cooler chit chat. Did you hear about Madonna and Guy Ritchie? What, you didn't, it's all in the Telegraph, saving the world for us and Rupert Murdoch.

By end of week the news got even better, with a heavy downturn in News Ltd revenue, and a nineteen per cent drop in the stock price. Has the recession caught up with Rupe, or is it the Revenge of the Liberals? Either way it's happy days. Now switch off the telly, stop buying The Australian or The Wall Street Journal or The Weekly Standard or The Times, and find some other form of kitty litter. You can do it, yes you can.

Despite being Murdoched by the Sun King for a moment (I switched off as soon as he started to speak, since it's not only rightwing ratbags who reserve the right to be intolerant), it's a testament to Obama  and his oratory that it still feels at the moment like the potential for change is amongst us, and if only for a moment, it feels like a Louis Armstrong song, such a sparkling and wonderful world.

As a corollary, it almost filled me with dread this Saturday to do my duty and to open up the Duffy files, and see where our intrepid, legendary columnist hero - if only he were the donkey to someone's Shrek - has arrived in his meditative musings on the state of the world, in a week when 'liberrruls' finally had their long overdue moment in the sun ...

Last week's effort - where he wrote about the way Christians were bringing peace and enlightenment to the heathen Asians of Fairfield - was stomach churning, and reminded me that Western thinkers needed a good dose of Confucius, not to mention a lashing of Zen Buddhism. This week's effort is even more tragic, for Duffy has decided to go back to doing his Andrew Bolt impersonation on climate change.

Yes, "Truly inconvenient truths about climate change being ignored", shrieks the Duffster's column heading, as he plunges back into the debate on global warming. Last month, it seems, he witnessed something shocking, and since the Duffster is rarely shocked, this kind of shock indicates something truly shocking. It turns out it was another scientist saying that global warming was on the rise, when in fact we all know that global warming was either plateaued, or falling. You know, all those stupid people affronting sceptics like the Duffster with images of the North Pole shrinking or polar bears drowning, when any sceptic like the Duffster and Sarah Palin knows that the only thing causing global warming is scientific hot air.

Why is this so, the Duffster asks, how could this be, that scientists so willingly deceive him? Well it turns out that thanks to Professor Richard Lindzen, he's discovered that the scientists, those devious bastards, are just doing it to make money. It's all due to government funding of science, a real tragedy, because the private sector does such a good job of funding science, like the way they fund research into drugs and establish museums showing dinosaurs walking the earth with people. 

"Much of that funding since World War 11 has occurred because scientists build up public fears (examples include fear of the USSR's superiority in weapons or space travel, of health peoples, of environmental degradation) and offer themselves as the solution to those fears. The administrators work work with the scientists join in with enthusiasm: much of their own funding is attached to the scientific grants."

Yes, at just the right moment in time, the Duffster reverts to a jihad on scientists, and I quote him at length so the absurd tone of paranoia can be fully felt. You see, it wasn't politicians building up public fears - like the demonstrable fear of the USSR's superiority in weapons or space travel. You see, it wasn't politicians (or indirectly everyone engaged in the struggle) who assembled scientists to build weaponry that would become destroyer of worlds. No, it wasn't the Nazis, or the Japanese code of the Samurai,  it was that meddlesome scientist Einstein who insisted that the Bomb be built. If we just got rid of scientists, and left the world to politicians, how peaceful and advanced it would be.

Yes indeedy, it's always been scientists meddling and insisting on doing things. Mad bloody scientists playing on the fears of the public, since they are given a weekly column like the Duffster and Andrew Bolt to rant each and every week on disturbing matters designed to instill fear in the populace because they're after public grants to study fire flies in Paris. You can hear the echo of John McCain and Sarah - let's all root for her - Palin in this mantra. 

What's that, you say - there is actually no column in the Herald on a regular basis dedicated to science, and instead we have the rantings of Duffy, who's qualifications in science are exactly and precisely, zilch, nada and nil? But, but it was scientists who invented Frankenstein's monster, it was scientists who gave us vampires, and garlic, and zombies, and voo doo childs. It was scientists who ruined the fifties with the Bomb and plunged the sixties into a world of LSD and free sex, and nothing's been good ever since (damn you baby boomers, damn you to hell).

What's that, you say - science funding in Australia has fallen, with the government in 2006 cutting funding of the CSIRO (one of the main arms of scientific funding) so that Australia spends around 0.1% of GDP. A pitiful amount. Of course. It's all a clever plot by scientists, who having fallen so far behind in public funding, have to invent imaginary crises to get that funding back. You know, because the earth is running so well, just needs a few repairs and a little oil in the sump, but otherwise it's all fine, don't you worry about a thing, let's just fund the Duffster's think tank on keeping government out of everything.

As a capper, the Duffster evokes a 2005 paper by John Ioannides, and uses it to claim that most published research findings are proved false within five years of their publication. This is is a remarkably crude summary of the point and meaning of the paper in relation to biomedical research - available here with some relevant commentary - and it makes you wonder just why the Duffster strays into this turf. Amusingly, the moment Ioannidis's contention that most published research findings are false was published, there descended a flock of scientists to prove that his published research finding was false.

But that, as Ionnidis himself conceded, is part of the scientific method, and no cause for alarm. Scientists jostle and contend about the truth about the nature of things. Okay, let's agree the scientific method is a fine thing. It's just a pity the Duffster is incapable of practising it.

But he does know how to do an insinuating analogy. Duffy has a brand new,  knockdown, lay down misere explanation for every scientific problem. It's not the scientists, but the journal editors eager for a big splash, who are concerned with selling their publications. Gasp, publication practices might be distorting science.

Ergo cogito sum ipso ferret angus dei, climate science is a load of malarkey, and inconvenient truths proudly promoted by the Duffster are unwisely ignored. To which I say, go Duffster, and publish your scientific findings in a respectable science journal, and let's see where you sit after a half dozen scientists have dissected your feeble brain.

It's all so familiar and so utterly tedious, and it's been going on ever since Al Gore offended the right wing in America, and it's got bugger all to do with science or global warming. It's columnists like Duffy who want to see science politicised - since  it's the Duffster, not the scientists, promoting panic and confusion. You have to wonder why the Herald bothers with this kind of lame duck neo con controversy at a time when America and the world has moved beyond George Bush's end of world rapturism (let us not forget that the people most opposed to science in the United States are the ones who believe the world is about to end, people will flee to Alaska in the end days, and the chosen will be whisked off to heaven).

Duffy's scientific method is to cherry pick one talk and one paper and thereby build a monumental souffle that fails to rise. While Herald readers would do well to drop their subscription, and go to Scientific American or the New Scientist for a little generalist science writing - check them out, they're both online - it almost seems like the Duffster's putting up his hand for a job with Rupe.

But it's equally likely that in this new climate, the dirty digger - whose always managed to blow with the wind - wouldn't be likely to take him. It's strange and sad that the nickname for Rupe - that dirty digger tag - derived very early from his addiction to sleazoid, tabloid afternoon papers (like the long lost News and Daily Mirror), no longer applies - even if the English cable and papers he owns dig for dirt in consummate style and the English adopted and still cherish the nickname with a ferocity reserved for colonials who thrash them at business and cricket. 

Rupe and his minions might still dig the dirt, but Rupe is definitively a dirty ex-digger. Australia's gain, America's loss, the world's loss. But we still have Michael Duffy. Can someone arrange passage for him to work on a right wing blog headquartered in say Waco, Texas or Wasilla, Alaska, where he can live amongst real outer western Americans, and be so much closer to the second hand neo con opinions he recycles here as original thinking. Better still, pass me that gin and tonic so I can drop a few tears into it ...

I can barely muster the enthusiasm for a score this week but I guess it has to be done:

Duffy's scientific method: zero to the power of zero, to infinity and beyond.
Duffy's understanding of global warming: zero to the power of infinity in a galaxy far, far away.
Duffy's contribution to rational public debate: zero to the power of stupidity.
Duffy's willingness to continue neo con rants at a time when no one's sipping the cordial: 11
Duffy's refusal to acknowledge the earth has shifted under his feet: 11
Duffy's fine tribute to Obama's arrival: forget it, group hug time as the Man comes to save the world and maybe even the Thermians. But can Rupe make money and can the Duffy be saved? Stay tuned next week.