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.

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