It's Monday, and a sense of dread fills the pond. If it's Monday, it must be Paul Sheehan day. And there's always a little anxiety, trepidation, and even dread as to the insights a new column might usher into the world.
Sure enough, in How Rudd the dud dropped Australian in the alphabet soup, Sheehan achieves a new, unprecedented level of banality, plumbing the depths of the obvious in a way less flashy minds can only admire.
Not that we care that much when he bashes and flails away at Chairman Rudd. Like the scorpion in the tale of the scorpion and the frog, it's in his nature ... and it's not as if Chairman Rudd doesn't occasionally produce a flailing phenomenon in everyone.
But to organise the piece of flailing away, Mr Burns style, into the shape of an alphabet soup of woes and miseries?
Dearie me, you wouldn't allow a high school student that kind of format. Sure back in the day we used to love alphabet soup, and as a seven year old, could spend hours arranging the letters into wondrous combinations - like god and dog and mat - but really for a highly paid columnist, it's surely just a little too fey.
And of course the temptation is to imitate the device. You know, start off with 'a' for arrant nonsense, or 'b' for baloney, or perhaps 'b' for bread - the price of richly textured dough in Paddington for urban gourmets, or 'c' for compound carping cretinous comments from commentariat columnists.
But truth to tell, we just didn't have the heart for it. Sure it would have been fun when we got to 'm' for miracle water, or perhaps 'u' for urban heat sinks, which explains person-made global warming, cf 'p' for person-made warming, in which it's explained that this is a conspiracy by the United Nations, because 'u' is for UN and Copenhagen, not urban heat sinks, and global warming isn't happening, no matter what you might have read in 'u', for urban heat sinks, when you should have looked at 'b' for black helicopters ...
And sure it would have been fun to do an alphabet soup for aspirational Chairman Tony Abbott, including 'v' for virgin, and 's' for sex, one of life's great pleasures, provided no condom is used, and procreation is intended, as recommended by the Catholic church, or perhaps 'l' for lycra-clad louts, figures of loathing for Miranda the Devine except when modelled by Tony Abbott ...
But still there's a lingering fear that it's all too fey.
What's interesting however is what's left out of the alphabet soup. In using the device, Sheehan seeks to encapsulate all that's wrong with Chairman Rudd's government, and runs through a mighty list, but he nonetheless manages what has come to be known on the pond as the "Akerman omission".
On the weekend, Akerman did the same kind of listing of all the failings of the Rudd government - in the guise of an attack on Stephen Conroy - under the header Why Conroy, not Garrett, is the Rudd Government's problem. While he avoided the feyness of alphabet soup for seven year olds, Akker Dakker also avoided any mention of Conroy's 'great big new internet filter.'
Sheehan manages the same omission, and we now wonder if we moved too quickly, and whether it should have been dubbed the Sheehan Opening or the Sheehan gambit. Seeing as how Akker Dakker might just have been channeling Sheehan.
Sure, under 'n', we get the national broadband network, and under 'k' we get Mike Kaiser, both Conroy matters, but not a word about the filter. No doubt because Sheehan is keen, like Conroy, to save the children, and can't wait to see Australia dragged into line with China and Iran.
In the meantime, you get this sort of self-serving dross:
Vanity See B, K, O, Q and U.
Oh come on, if you're going to do an alphabet soup, at least do it properly. And no excuses that the manufacturer left out the 'u's and the 'x's.
Whitlamesque Spendthrift programs. Empty rhetoric. Self-congratulation. Deficit spending. Debt blowout. Two years of the Rudd government produces 20 years of debt and poses the question: worse than Whitlam?
Oh dear, banging the Whitlam drum again, and so loudly. Gone in a flash the GFC. Why we hardly knew it was there.
While at the same time talking of empty rhetoric and self-congratulation? Which poses the question: Sheehan: worse than Rudd?
And how's this for a final flourish?
X Y Z Generations X, Y and Z They will be stuck with the bill.
X Y Z Generations X, Y and Z They will be stuck with the bill.
Well my concern is that generations x, y and z, might accidentally get stuck with reading Paul Sheehan. Instead of playing with their alphabet soup.
I guess it's a living, explaining how the sky is falling in, but why am I reminded of the global warming catastrophists and doom-sayers regularly mocked by Sheehan?
Sheesh, if it's all so desperate, why doesn't Sheehan head off to a country where things are really desperate?
Instead of writing about the cost of bread in Paddington (A flour blooms - and a family classic is toast of the town), he might have to write about the cost of alphabet soup and its unavailability for desperate commentariat columnists seeking the most banal of angles for a standard diatribe to fill in a gap between the advertisements on a Monday.
Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald has redesigned its front page, in a bid to make it more tabloid, glossy and simple minded. Here's how they phrase it:
Welcome to our new front page. We’ve made some changes. It’s everything you liked before but now it’s even better.
We’ve made it easier to find the stories you want to see most, by adding more pictures and stories at the top of the page.
Uh huh. More pictures. Easier. Simpler. Like alphabet soup. More video too? Where we can see the alphabet floating about in the steaming soup? Sure thing:
There’s a new video tab, which you’ll see when the lead story is best told in video. You can choose between video and text views just by clicking on the tab.
We’ve reorganised the page to give you more choice and to present the big stories and features more quickly and effectively.
Oh yes, hit me with that tablespoon of alphabet soup. More choice. But can we make sure it's local and parochial? Sure thing:
The Sydney Morning Herald online has the best news from New South Wales, and now we’ve brought the local stories up to the top of the page.
We’ve also raised the profile of our environmental reporting by putting it out front.
So then I can flick inside to the commentariat columnists like Sheehan and Miranda the Devine so they can tell me all this environmental carry-on is a conspiracy and a waste of time?
Well there's one thing I'm grateful they claim they've fixed:
We’ve rebuilt the technical back end so your front page appears faster and takes up less bandwidth.
The Herald hasn't had this right for ages, and each time the pages refreshed, if you stayed on the site, I resented the imposition on bandwidth. Well, we'll see what we'll see, and there's also what might be taken as a jab at Chairman Murdoch:
But some things haven’t changed. We still bring you the latest breaking news as it happens, free, all day every day, in words, pictures and video.
Free! But surely being offered up the alphabet soup riches of Paul Sheehan means we should be paying handsomely for the pleasure?
Well at least some could be paying for the pleasure, while loon pond could, after donning an appropriately marked up T shirt, retire to play with the alphabet soup, and doodle and dawdle and rearrange the letters into cosmic existential gestures of futility. Here's the T:
And here's a doodle. You know, like dog and god: