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.