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.

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