Friday, October 24, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So to this week's scoring:

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

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

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