Saturday, April 30, 2011

Miranda the Devine, and an astonishing Wankely award winning effort, which will make you see dead people or experience nausea ...

(Above: Who? Out with the old, in with the new, and everything old is new again. Standing by the for the next commemorative 25p coin).

The irony is of course that conservative governments are just as inclined to be moralising, interfering and insufferable as the worst kinds of socialist governments you might care to drag out of the closet.

The fuss about "happiness" currently enveloping the UK is a classic example of do gooder mayhem, led by David Cameron, and no better summary of its absurdity might you find outside The Times paywall than Dominic Lawson's piece If you're happy and you know it vote Tory.

Might visitors from the UK now swarm to The Australian in the antipodes as their way of getting a Sunday Times fix?

Not to worry, Lawson, who carries impeccable conservative credentials, says all that needs to be said about "happiness" and the British government's obsessive desire to go Scandinavian, from reminders of soma through Uncle Joe to Jeremy Bentham, all considered helpful guides to happiness at one time or another. (And remember existentialist secularists know how to do "misery" better than your average dumbwit conservative ...)

Now we anxiously await the judgement of the Institute of Public Affairs, which surely should advise that Cameron and his acolytes must be swept from power forthwith. And when they're finished there, how about a series of articles on those busybodies fronted by Tony Abbott, including the Pellist heretics and the Jensenist nepotics, always insisting that their way is the only true way to happiness.

Okay it's Sunday, and I'm still dreaming. How to wake from the nightmare and plunge into a brisk bout of unhappiness?

Well surely reading Miranda the Devine is as close to being an iceberg swimmer in winter, bracing, chilling and offensive, all in one, but in The New Queen of Hearts, I'm more reminded of what used to happen in the bush on a picnic, when as children we'd eat too many lollies, then go for a swim in the brown, muddied, cold river waters.

Stomach cramps. Nausea. And a desire to rush into the bushes to up chuck, not least because the parents, knowing they'd delivered their parental warning, tended to gloat rather than sympathise.

Recently Crikey has been handing out various awards to newspapers for their coverage of royal events, as in A right royal fawning over Bib Willie and Babykins (a Wankely for the lot of them), and in their request for readers to send in any nauseating royal wedding coverage, in Royal Wedding Watch.

Stop the presses, hold the front page, the late-breaking Devine wins the nausea stakes hands down, while barely breaking into a brisk canter.

There were broadcasts of the actual event - none of which, the pond confesses, did the pond watch - but even so, from brief snatches, it seemed possible to work out who was saying what to whom, and see what was happening.

So the redundant Devine embarks on a profoundly tautological exercise by repeating it all in slavering detail, as if somehow how her enfeebled, sodden, sugar-saturated pen was mightier than the television camera.

In case you missed it, here's the Devine repeating what you saw on the broadcast:

When Prince William, his back to her, first turned and sneaked a peek at his bride as she walked towards the altar, a broad smile spread across his face, and he and best man Prince Harry exchanged a brotherly joke.

As she climbed the stairs to the altar at 11.08 am London time, William turned to her, leaned close and murmured “You look amazing. You look beautiful”, which made her beam. She licked her lips and went back to smiling demurely, the two of them a poised and determined team in the performance of their lives.

It's all there, the journalistic tricks, right down to the note about it being London time, as opposed to Moscow or Antarctic time, adjectives and adverbs littering the purple prose, weaving a garment of tripe worthy of a papal bum.

We skipped the Devine's description of the dress, in case any readers might be diabetics, and so inclined to toxic shock. But be warned, even readers with the strongest minds might find themselves plunging into a complete mental breakdown if they read on:

William’s voice was croaky when he first said “I will”, but his voice grew stronger and resolute. Kate’s voice though low in volume was clear and unwavering, betraying no sign of anxiety.

In her first job as the future Queen of England, Princess Catherine - as she will inevitably be known - showed she has nerves of steel, as she sailed serenely through the wedding ceremony, daunting as it must have been to have the eyes of the world upon her.

Oh so brave and plucky and resolute, and already promoted by the Devine to the job of Queen of England, ahead of Camilla Parker Bowes, who can never be queen of England, let alone queen of hearts.

Speaking of Chuck, the talking tampon, is there any mention of him by the Devine? Glad you asked:

How different to the nervous, doomed ceremony of William’s parents 30 years earlier. William and Kate’s easy rapport was in stark contrast to the tentative, jarring strangeness of Diana and Charles on their wedding day. His parents had met just 13 times and were already suspecting they might be temperamentally unsuited.

This is a kind of historical revisionism, the past refracted through future events, since at the time, and despite a couple of stumbles in the wording, the Devines of that time were enraptured by Diana and Chuck, and blathered in the usual way about how, in a cynical time, the marriage could make one believe in fairy tales.

Poor Chuck keeps copping it from the Devine, and on she rambles:

... Charles, a renowned detail freak who developed a bloodshot eye in the days before the wedding, looked happy enough.

His mistress turned wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, once dubbed the “Rotweiler” by her rival Diana, was smiling by his side and he seemed satisfied with the manifestation of his green sensibilities in the church decorations.

Beautiful trees lined the aisles and flowers in shades of green, cream and white, gave a beauty and freshness to the ceremony in keeping with its atmosphere of renewal and hope.
Britons feel the future of the monarchy is in good hands with level-headed William and Kate, who have proved a credit to their generation, in stark contrast with the self-engrossed hedonism of the previous batch of royals.

Yes, bugger off Chuck and your pet rotdweiler, all this greenie, save the planet, eek it's global warming time nonsense, when all you need is a lot of green in the décor to be truly greenie.

There's the usual reporting of views from the street, and the byline suggests that the Devine was actually in London, pounding the streets to come up with her hard hitting coverage of the insights and opinions of ordinary folk. How they just love the pomp and ceremony, and chatting to New Zealanders having a once in a lifetime experience, which tends to happen whenever someone leaves New Zealand and discovers there's a world out there. Revelatory, compelling stuff. Waiter, bring me another cherry ripe.

The way the Devine scribbles, you'd swear she was right inside the church with a front row view:

Inside the Abbey the moment came all too soon in the service, with its soaring music and magnificent backdrop, when the wild-haired Archbishop of Canterbury said: “I pronounce that they be man and wife together.”

Well before, in a wild-eyed, wild-haired way, we pronounce the Devine's piece an unreadable piece of drivel, so outrageously over the top that Crikey should at once sweep aside all contenders, and hand the Devine a lifetime Wankley award, can we just cover the afterglow.

Relax folks, all will be well, and remember you heard it from the Devine first:

Britons feel the future of the monarchy is in good hands with level-headed William and Kate, who have proved a credit to their generation, in stark contrast with the self-engrossed hedonism of the previous batch of royals.

The bookies are already betting on how long the marriage will last - whether they will make it to their 10th anniversary. But the faith the public has in the newlyweds was reflected in the 20 to one odds.

Yes, bugger off Chuck, you self-engrossed hedonistic greenie, the monarchy is safe, no thanks to you, and long may foreigners rule over Australia. And did we mention, take that bloody rotweiler with you ...

And then at the end, the Devine finds the time to put herself in the mind, in the head, of the unflappable Kate as she ...

... stepped through the glass swing doors of the Goring Hotel, into the Rolls-Royce Phantom VI waiting outside on empty Beeston Place for the nine minute journey to the Abbey. She travelled past Buckingham Palace and the thousands of journalists and TV crews camped out for a week in temporary buildings along her route.

And so on and so forth, until at the last moment, sweet Kate can take stock and marvel at how far she'd come, as indeed readers of the Devine can too, because they made it to the very end, the very last word, of this fine bit of wind, colour and pure Women's Weekly puffery.

But wait, there's more, to be found in the comments below, with an offer of a Mills and Boon contract, and this haunting thought:

Did anybody see Camilla being haunted by Diana’s ghost at the beginning of the ceremony ? To us spiritualists that was a revealing moment.

Look Miranda, we see dead people.

No, not the current royals, the dead royals haunting the current royals...

Well with ghostly spectres at a wedding, what a relief to know, thanks be unto the Devine, that everyone in Britain is now terribly happy, having experienced a regal vision in ivory lace and diamond, a moment as magic as real life gets.

That should heat up the baked beans for breakfast for at least the next week ...

Oh and on the way out, don't let the homophobia nip you in the bum on your way out:

At its heart, the royal wedding at Westminster Abbey was an affirmation of the power of love, and the importance of the institution of “holy matrimony” to bind a man and a woman together.

Such are the bilious days of the Devine's life.

Excuse me, I feel a fresh wave of nausea coming on ...

(Below: it's been ever so long since we allowed a lolcat on these pages, but somehow it seems to fit the mood).

Christopher Pearson, and speaking of immature reactions of a pompous kind ...

(Above: Barry Humphries showing impeccable good taste, and putting the wedding in a frock perspective).

Who'd have thought that Christopher Pearson was an aspirational David Flint - not there yet, but trying hard, or very hard at being trying - but there you go, and there, for that matter, goes a Saturday, with the impeccable comedy timings of his column Wedding ban attracts immature reaction.

Flint of course excelled himself by becoming The biggest April Fools in Australian history, and for a moment, I suspected he'd had a hand in crafting Pearson's opening par:

Michael Shmith is a senior arts journalist with The Age. His mother's second marriage was to Lord Harewood who, as well as being an opera impresario, is a grandson of George V and a first cousin of the Queen.

Dear sweet absent lord, what on earth has that got to do with anything?

Well of course it reveals that Mr Shmith has impeccable lines to the firm, and so we must tug our forelocks, do a little curtsy and be ever so humble, since there's nothing so important as blue blood in the eyes of a man who learnt about poncedom in Adelaide.

And now stand by for shock horror, and for utter scandal, because Mr Shmith has been a traitor to the firm:

Shmith has spent a good deal of time in the company of his stepfather and that branch of the family, so his response to the news that the Chaser team had been prevented from providing a running commentary on the royal wedding on ABC2 came as something of a surprise.

Now why spending time with members of a family should prevent you from having your own personal opinion comes as something of a surprise, unless of course you live in the blinkered world of conservatives, where toeing the line, and personning the fort and maintaining a united front, and becoming one of the collective poo bahs is essential. Here's Pearson quoting Shmith:

"Call it what you will, fetch whichever cutting device you wish from the toolshed, this is, to me, nothing short of censorship. Worse, it is censorship initiated not by the broadcasters concerned but from within the severe stucco Nash facade of Clarence House . . . How narrow-minded, how unnecessary."

Shocking Mr. Shmith, and no matter how you might spell your name, clearly you're a treacherous traitor, and Christopher Pearson is right on your tail, his Spitfire guns (2omm cannon and .303 machine guns) blazing away, tally ho lads, what for, pip pip:

No doubt there are people who imagine comedians are somehow entitled, as of right, to footage of the royal wedding and that being denied it is a form of artistic or political censorship, but Shmith really ought to know better. Would he expect the Pope to grant the Chaser team a live feed of Easter mass at St Peter's, for example?

Oh no, not the Pope, stop giving the Chaser lads ideas.

Then of course, like a representative from Sony, the pompous Pearson delivers Mr Shmith a lecture on intellectual property rights, and the imperious obligation of the Pope to prevent the Petrine office from being profaned or held up to ridicule. When the Pope manages to do that all the time in a most satisfactory way, all by himself ...

Oops, I don't think Mr Pearson scribbled that last line, but speaking of arrogant bloated grandiose types, how's it going Sony, what with the shift from root kits on the CD to a total stuff up when it comes to preserving customer data (and if you're lucky you can sneak through the paywall to the WSJ, and the latest news here in U.S. Officials Quiz Sony on Data Theft).

Back to Pearson, and if it's a matter of maintaining dignity and status, then why was Barry Humphries allowed to do his dame routine for the cameras?

We all know why Humphries was there. His sting and his career have been in slow decline, yet the need to perform still compels, and dignity isn't his forte or stock in trade.

Indeed, as a kind of panto dame, he's been trading on vulgarity for years, and what better way to trade off and keep in the limelight than prancing about with a royal wedding in the background, in keeping with his parasitic attachment to the royals as a source of comedy stylings.

Surely Humphries should have been banned, perhaps shoved into a coal shuttle or stored in the attic like a mad aunt for the duration of the proceedings.

Ah not so:

If there is any lingering suspicion that the royal family is humourless or overly censorious, readers should remember that Dame Edna Everage was allowed a part in the proceedings, as she had been in the jubilee celebrations and command performances. In this respect she is like King Lear's jester, the "all-licensed fool". Edna's wit is no less anarchic than the Chaser team's. It's just better judged and funnier.

Yes, you see there's one rule for some and another rule for others, as befits the fickle royal prerogative, and besides Pearson much prefers the humour to be found in a man dressed in a frock, and nothing wrong with that, as where would football humourists in Australia be without benefit of being able to deliver their jokes while dressed in a frock.

It's a frock-led revival of good taste and wit, and elegant references to King Lear:

Ha, ha! look! he wears cruel garters. Horses are tied by the
head, dogs and bears by th' neck, monkeys by th' loins, and men...

Well men wear frocks if they want to do decent comedy, whereas the Chaser team has a weakness for stunts in questionable taste - not to put too fine a point on the matter - and so it's no wonder the house of Windsor would refuse to submit meekly to such mockery, or so Pearson says.

Even more sadly, those damned Jesuits and their online rag Eureka Street have joined the quisling Fairfax press in getting agitated about the ban, and there's none worse than Ellena Savage scribbling Monarchy's undemocratic war on The Chaser:

Until the ban, monarchists and the ambivalent masses alike could argue that monarchy was an effectively powerless symbol of the Commonwealth's cultural longevity and propriety, which did not impinge on liberal democratic values.

Ironically, its effective ban on democratic media representation provides a welcome jolt back to reality.

British monarchy is not the benevolent and benign institution we pretended it was, but a neurotic, self-perpetuating liability. It was their benevolence alone that guaranteed our unquestioned support, or at least tolerance, of their persistence as anachronistic figureheads in our parliamentary structure.

What ho, what say you pompous Pearson to this preening coxcomb, who sounds vaguely, offensively republican in tone?

This is all pretty silly, even by the standards of student magazines, and the fact a Jesuit organisation chose to publish it goes a long way towards explaining why the phrase "Catholic intellectual" nowadays strikes so many people as an oxymoron. But there's worse to come.

In much the same way as describing Pearson as an intellectual scribbling for The Australian is, if not an oxymoronic, then surely a conceit, a flourish, an ironic hyperbole, a satirical flourish or flowering ... but there's worse to come ...

Savage's sin, you see, is to have written and edited Melbourne University's student magazine Farrago, which is far worse than Pearson having spent his wayward youth on the Adelaide Review. And she takes a most unseemly attitude to the Windsors:

According to Savage: "We consume the Windsors as we do soap operas. We want them to get fat and to struggle. Celebrity culture is fundamentally about schadenfreude, even where it is disguised as idolatry."

Oh I say, that's just too much, young lady, far too much, with its hints of Princess Diana cavorting with men from the middle east, and Fergie toe-sucking and Harry going Nazi party gear, and so on and on, an infinity of scandals and paparazzi tedium in the past few decades, and if not that, then conservatives hoping for a palace coup so that the mad greenie, the 'talking tampon' Prince Charles, and his divorced older consort, is prevented from ascending the throne ... and the women's magazines full of it, and the general IQ dropping at least ten points in the process.

Oops, sorry, we should let the most genial and caring pompous Pearson speak:

While I've no doubt that's how Savage sees Prince William and his bride, I think most of the people in Australia, as well as Britain, who are the least bit interested in the royal wedding will think they're an attractive pair, recognise that Catherine Middleton has taken on a very demanding role and wish them well.

In the same way, people of goodwill habitually wish luck and perseverance to any couple who embark on a life commitment to one another in full knowledge of the difficulties in living up to their vows.

Yes, indeed. Any couple, provided of course that they're decently heterosexual, because really the notion that all loving couples deserve to be treated equally is entirely specious (as the pompous Pearson declaimed in Gay marriage demands should be left on shelf).

Naturally Pearson doesn't extend the same generosity to the Chaser lads:

Judging from the Chaser team's statement in response to the ban, it's hard to imagine that we'll have missed much: "To ensure that our coverage was respectful, we were only planning to use jokes that Prince Philip has previously made in public or at least the ones that don't violate racial vilification laws."

Oh I say chaps, did you mean the one about staying in China so long you'll end up slitty eyed, or the question to the Aborigine asking if they still threw spears at each other, or the one to the Scottish driving instructor asking how he kept the natives off the booze long enough to get them through the test, or observing to the student trekking in Papua Guinea that he hadn't managed to get eaten yet, or observing to the traditionally robed president of Nigeria that he looked ready for bed, or remarking on the difficulties of telling apart Pakistanis and Indians or (insert your own fond memory here) ...

Please, Mr. Pearson, give these coxcombs a serve:

Now if the Chaser team were half as anarchic and politically incorrect as they claim to be, they'd at least give Prince Philip some credit for speaking his mind.

Yes, Chaser lads, you wretched parasites, he's just speaking his mind, and what a useless royal mind it is, how wondrous in its narrow minded superficiality and superciliousness. You would do so much better in life, Chaser lads, if you just emulated Prince Philip. Why not revive Alf Garnett in a royal sitcom? Now that'd be funny, and you'd have the BBC on the hook ever so fast.

Of course, Pearson has no time for the ABC:

The ABC's director of television, Kim Dalton, had the effrontery to say he was "surprised and disappointed" by Clarence House's intervention, adding "we are a mature enough country to enjoy this particular take on this event".

Yes, Dalton, bald faced effrontery, damned cheek sir, ever so bold and improper, just like the Chaser lads:

... the truth is that the Chaser's stunts were always undergraduate and appealed to a streak of immaturity in its audience. As well, assuring us that we're "mature enough" is an attempt to ingratiate, transparent enough to be offensive, which had well and truly passed its use-by date long ago, during the republican referendum debate.

Yes, that was way back in '99.

Phew, whatever you do, don't mention The Chaser APEC prank of 2007 which so upset the Liberal government, John Howard and conservative tossers in general.

Most people, if they had half a clue, would date the Chaser's peak and used by date to that point - how could the stunt be beaten - but in his usual vindictive, mean-spirited way Pearson is always content to show he doesn't have even half a clue.

Instead, what the public was entitled to expect from Dalton was a grovelling apology that the national broadcaster had even considered commissioning that sort of immature commentary.

Yes, grovel Dalton, grovel and kneel before their collective majesties and the pompous Pearson, courtier to a bunch of drones in the beehive, or else it might be time to lop off your head, as was once the habit in the finer days of untrammelled monarchial powers. Sob, that we should never see those days again ...

Come back Henry VIII, all is forgiven ...

So where does this leave us?

Well if there was any lingering suspicion that monarchists like Pearson and Flint are uttely humourless and overly censorious, you simply have to read Pearson to have these suspicions completely confirmed, because it's been such a long time since The Australian has run such a humourless, overly censorious piece. It's been at least a full week, back to the time they ran Pearson's column last Saturday ...

And if nothing else it provides a most excellent reason for the Chaser lads to have striven and failed to send up the royal wedding, because in the process, Pearson sends himself up in a most splendid and revealing way.

Well done Chaser lads ... the aspirational Flint has moved further up the aspirational monarchical ladder, or at least further up his fundament ...

(Below: and now because the pond always considers its gentlemen readers, and deplores the paparazzi, a photograph of Kate Middleton which will surely pump up the hits for this wretchedly obscure site. Take that, Women's Weekly, take that New Idea, take that Chaser lads).

(Say what? You want more? You have an insatiable appetite for the dignity of the crown? You want Savage confirmation of the celebrity culture that surrounds the Royals? Consider it done).

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Friday, and the hills and the pond are alive with the sounds of columnists squawking ...

(Above: some nice Scopes trial material here).

First, let's pause to celebrate our "loon of the month" award, which provides plenty of status points for a lifetime loonacy achievement award, and it's presented after Obama felt the need to reveal his fully detailed birth certificate, and Texan state rep Leo Berman didn't feel to inclined to buy the stunt:

Among the questions Berman still has, the Tribune reported:

Why doesn't the hospital listed on the birth certificate have a "plaque on the door" commemorating Obama's birth there?

It doesn't?

Ipso facto! Res ipsa loquitur!! Kenyan Muslim!!!! (here, and for more Berman nonsense here).

As the pond's trip to America approaches, and signs of a deep, racist inspired, national insanity continues - with Donald Trump, who managed to bankrupt a casino, considered decent Republican water cooler chit chat - the only relief is that this time we'll be visiting New York, not Texas.

Meanwhile, over at the Daily Terror Miranda the Devine celebrates a sinister tale of immigrant queue jumping, and the terrorising of nativists enjoying the peace and quiet of their native land by foreign intruders.

Yes, it seems the Devine loves enemy aliens who turn up at the drop of a hat, without speaking the English and without any money, and worse still, who then proceed to escape from the lockup wherein they've been interned.

Next thing you know the damned squatters, foreign lingo intruders in a noble land, have bought some land, and settled down to live the life, making maple syrup, honey yoghurt and beef, and running a brewery, and irritating the locals with hideous noises presented as some kind of singing.

Dammit, even worse they had a bloody movie made about them, a celebration of a refugee family who had nothing but love and music to help them survive, which somehow means the damn thing will resonate for all time.

Yep, it's all here in The Sound of Magic Music History, and it's about as sinister a leftie greenie celebration of a bunch of wretched, boat-catching queue jumpers as we've read in recent times.

Oh wait, they were nice Austrian white folk, with a scattering of blondes. Phew, that's all right then. Just make sure the music is sloppy and saccharine and sentimental and sugar laden enough to appeal to the Devine, and she's apples mate.

By the way, let's hope Nicholas Hammond's proposed documentary on the family (he played Friedrich in the movie) is less carefree with the facts than the Devine manages. For an interesting, if anal retentive, comparison of reality and movie, why not head off to Joan Gearin's Movie vs. Reality: The Real Story of the von Trapp family. Thank the lord for the intertubes for real information.

Poor thing, is this the final sign that the Devine is sliding into terminal tabloid irrelevance? The hills are alive with the sounds of yawning ...

She really needs to step up to the Donald Trump and Leo Berman school of insanity if she's to make her mark.

But enough of that. It's Friday and the pond is feeling light headed, and so it's time to assault Elizabeth "a longish short-black is the thing, rather than shortish long; the demitasse full rather than the tasse half-full" Farrelly, and if you think she's being silly there, how about her being entirely silly in Mystery dies when we don't see ourselves as part of eternity.

To wit, as she broods about Adam Smith and Darwin and rampant materialism:

It is rather Darwin who, in constantly stressing competition as the fundamental condition of nature but never mentioning empathy or co-operation - and so filtering out half of Smith's thesis - is more truly our forebear. And although Darwin had no intention of killing Christianity, that has been his effect.

It would have taken Farrelly only a half second of googling to have discovered that Darwin did consider and mention matters of co-operation and sympathy and its implications for society, on a number of occasions in a number of publications, as in The Descent of Man:

With mankind, selfishness, experience, and imitation, probably add, as Mr. Bain has shewn, to the power of sympathy; for we are led by the hope of receiving good in return to perform acts of sympathetic kindness to others; and sympathy is much strengthened by habit. In however complex a manner this feeling may have originated, as it is one of high importance to all those animals which aid and defend one another, it will have been increased through natural selection; for those communities, which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members, would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.

Beware deploying the "never" bomb.

It's incredibly irritating when a columnist for a broadsheet paper, who should know better, doesn't bother to know better, or imagines somehow that Darwin - a child of the Victorian era - didn't understand or consider the contradictions between a highly structured society and other aspects of his thesis, the competitive tooth and claw struggle for survival bemoaned by Farrelly:

So remarkable an instinct as the placing sentinels to warn the community of danger, can hardly have been the indirect result of any of these faculties; it must, therefore, have been directly acquired. On the other hand, the habit followed by the males of some social animals of defending the community, and of attacking their enemies or their prey in concert, may perhaps have originated from mutual sympathy; but courage, and in most cases strength, must have been previously acquired, probably through natural selection.

Here's the thing. If you don't know enough about a writer and his thoughts, shut up about him, enough already.

To blame Darwin for the death of Christianity is to leave out any number of decent rivals and contenders - Nietzsche anyone? - and it gets worse when verbal sleight of hand is invoked:

Darwin's perceived reduction of humanity to primate allowed scientism's zombie triplets - materialism, egalitarianism, populism - to suck the juice from our lives.

So it's not just what Farrelly misperceives about what Darwin said, it's enough that Darwin is "perceived" as having produced "a reduction of humanity to primate" for the man to be hanged. Or drawn or quartered, according to your preferred Christian Inquisition torture this month.

Farrelly would deny it, but she's not much better than the folks who assembled in the Scopes trial to bemoan Darwin for reducing humanity to the apes.

As for egalitarianism and populism, why ping Darwin for the French revolution, which celebrated liberté, égalité, fraternité long before Darwin headed off to the Galapogos islands to take a look at the tortoises in 1854.

Along the way, Farrelly takes a slam dunk at modernism, because there's a mass of colours in a church stained glass window, and gets nostalgic for the medieval days, and rabbits on about the merely beautiful or the merely worshipful, and before I reached the end, I longed to shout at her, why don't you just shove a demitasse full up your ill-informed nose ...

Sheesh, enough already, but on she goes, and you understand why her children mounted a revolt against a drive to Canberra to partake in sundry and diverse religious celebrations of Easter, though in the sundry services she did attend:

... even those ornate and exotic palaces with their icons, their cantors and head-dressed, bearded priests have far too many lumens for my taste, making it all too civic; too much self, not enough Other. Not enough - for want of a better word - God.

Yes, that's what we need, a demitasse god. The rest of the piece is a wispy, dreamy, ethereal kind of wankery mysticism, including standard rant against materialism, and the modern world, and the race to the bottom, and a complete confusion between practical issues of a liberal kind, and the church selling out:

As to church, it makes me weep that it must court popularity by stripping itself of all mystery, depth and texture, installing mammoth plasma-screens in the nave, salesmen in the pulpit and ATMs in the foyer just to get bums on misericords, as yet another casualty of the flat-out zombie race to the bottom.

Actually the flat-out zombie race to the bottom comes with the kind of ignorance Farrelly displays throughout her piece. I never thought I'd be saying this, but if this is the best liberal thinking in the Herald has to offer, then roll on fascism.

You get something of the flavour of the whole in the very last par:

At this rate it may soon be last supper time for us all. But what's worse, if we're reducible to primates, is how hard it is to care.

Bugger me dead, as we used to say in Tamworth, without understanding anything of the meaning of the phrase. Or should I say, well I'll be a monkey's uncle?

What's so hard about being a bloody primate?

A primate is a member of the biological order Primates (Latin: "prime, first rank") the group that contains prosimians (including lemurs, lorises, galagos and tarsiers) and simians (monkeys and apes). With the notable exception of humans, who inhabit every continent on Earth, most primates live in tropical or subtropical regions of the Americas, Africa and Asia. (here for the wiki).

Yes, primate actually means prime, or of the first rank. So somehow we're being reduced to the status of first rank? Sure we share the status with others, but hey we share a lot of the DNA too.

Yep, and monkey's uncle gained widespread use after the Scopes Trial, as you'll discover, along with some choice synonyms if you head off here.

The only advice for Farrelly, who seems to have suffered some kind of post-Easter depressive fit? Get back on the chocolate easter eggs, or resume the medication, or do whatever it takes to regain an even keel. Hey, why not order some demitasse, and as you sip away, why not actually read what Darwin wrote.

Finally, in case y'all missed it, just a brief note about Rod Benson, the ABC's online religion and ethics editor, expressing disapproval for Jim Wallace and the Anzac Tweet Firestorm, while muttering along the way about vitriolic homosexual activists, their close supporters, and Islamists (as if they somehow go together), and the whole lot of the disbelieving secularists and liberal-minded Christians taking pot shots at poor hapless Jim Wallace, who never claimed to speak for all Christians, except he runs a thing called the Australian Christian lobby, quite a grand territorial title ...

Benson finally arrives at these splendid insights:

Nor is it a secret that, especially in past generations, a large majority of Australian servicemen and servicewomen conscientiously served "God and country" under the Australian flag, and understood "God" as the traditional Christian God of the Bible.

They may not have been evangelical Christians, but I doubt they thought they were fighting for the right of homosexuals to marry or the right of Muslims to establish legislative and institutional beachheads in Australian society.

Yep, they weren't fighting for odd fangled notions of freedom, and especially not for perverts.

There's nothing like doubling down on a couple of deuces, especially when it comes to freedom:

Everyone is free to express ideas of every kind, within the limits set by law. Those who advocate otherwise are enemies of freedom. The irony is that many political liberals and libertarians, as well as some who privilege the state over individual rights, appear to want to silence legitimate debate and dissent when it comes from Christians. This was, unfortunately, Jim Wallace's experience on Monday.

Except if you believe in actual freedom, it's also the right of everyone who cares or could be bothered to call Jim Wallace a twittering twit. It's called freedom of speech and the freedom of everyone to express ideas of every kind within the limits set by law - and now the same thing can be said for Rod Benson, who seems to think it's a good idea to silence legitimate debate and dissent when it comes to vitriolic activist homosexuals, and dangerous Islamists if they attack paranoid Christians ...

My ABC online?

Don't think so. Must be your ABC. Spend your eight cents a day wisely ... or else you might have the unfortunate experience of reading Benson on a Friday, and cop a full hefty dose of righteous xian paranoia ...

(Below: now on with the substantive issues).

Chris Berg, and the usual flutter on libertarian principles ...

(Above: Tamworth dreaming. The world famous, internationally reknowned, now fallen on hard times, Tamworth Workers Club).

And so to the vexed question of poker machines, and small dinkum battling Aussie clubs just trying to live a decent Aussie struggle street existence, and the ordinary humble Australian way of life of the average joe blow, threatened as always by wowserism and activists ...

First a declaration of interests. The pond doesn't attend clubs, has no interest in clubs, and doesn't care a whit or a jot for the survival of clubs, but does remember a strange, lost, ethereal time when clubs were actually dedicated to social and community or perhaps sporting activities, and had no reason to gouge their members by way of poker machines, joined as they were by a common interest sufficient to provide ongoing funding and community participation and involvement ...

In Victoria, in the old days, when introduced to the socially binding, community orientated notion of clubs, the boast was made that none had poker machines (and it's also true many didn't allow women as members or only as associates), and the mad scramble to go gambling along the banks of the Murray in sordid, devilish NSW clubs was viewed as pitiful, and against the spirit of clubbing. Try telling that to Crown Casino these days as it nestles in Southbank ...

Still, it has to be said that when long ago the Tamworth Workers ("the Workies") Club fell over, long after it had anything to do with workers, the pond didn't shed a single tear. In much the same way, the pond really didn't care about the closure of the Newtown RSL club, as it had bugger all to do with returned soldiers, but preferred in its dying days, to target pensioners and drum and bass fetishists. An interesting demographic mix ... and really, as it's a hideous structure, why not, in the Australian way, knock it down and build an even larger hideous structure (Losses force Newtown RSL closure).

Well it's a long and rambling disclosure of a lack of interest, but in the usual way, there's bugger all disclosure in Institute of Public Affair's Chris Berg's long and rambling introduction to the vice of poker machines in Morality and humanity in the gambling debate.

His piece is featured in the ABC's The Drum, which has now become a soap box for spruikers, mountebanks and charlatans of a political stripe, and so by stealth clap happy Mark Scott achieves a transformation of the ABC, since - like The Punch - the site is reliant on self-motivated lobby groups to provide a flow of copy ...

In his usual way - well much the same way as his libertarian take on the joys of smoking and drinking - Berg frames the poker machine debate as a matter of an aesthetic and moralistic critique of gambling. After all, everybody hates wowsers, even wowsers:

Certainly it's obvious that opposition to, for instance, poker machines, is not solely based on data revealing the relative incidence of problem gambling occurring on the pokies compared to other games.

A part of that opposition (we can disagree how big a part) is undeniably grounded on how the pokies look ‘sad’. Playing is solitary. Players appear joyless. A poker machine seems to be a mechanised and computerised tool of corporate manipulation; a metaphor of consumer capitalism made real. (‘People cannot seriously enjoy pokies, can they?’)

It's an interesting rhetorical trick, since the campaign in relation to poker machines has largely revolved around the relative incidence of problem gambling occurring on the pokies, compared to other forms of gambling.

Just today the indefatigable campaigner Nick Xenophon, punching on in The Punch, explains his basic concern on Coalition stance on pokies has nothing to do with pokies:

Stephen Ciobo’s piece for The Punch about this issue was a sad example of the knots the Coalition is willing to tie itself into, in order to ignore the bleeding obvious.

That is, that poker machines are an intensely addictive and dangerous form of gambling and that 40 per cent of all losses on poker machines come from problem gamblers.

And that's because a vast amount of human ingenuity has gone into the design and appeal of poker machines, from the flashing lights, and the whirling sparkling imagy things and the music and the sound effects, and the satisfying clunk of metal on metal as the beast disgorges its treasure.

Whenever I've played the machines, I've found them quite beguiling, a bit like video games without the difficult eye-hand coordination ...

Slip in a little alcohol, make sure the machines exist in a kind of cocoon, where you can hypnotically focus on the thing before you, station an automatic telling machine just down the corridor, and there's more than a few bob in the club's bank account.

What's not to like, especially when the house takes a guaranteed ten per cent or thereabouts, and churns back ninety. Talk about a smooth, addictive, efficient way to shear the sheep, and keep them coming back for another experience. Even those who like to offer smart gambling advice can't offer much in the way of advice about the pokies, except how to help minimize your losses, because the point of the whole operation is that the punter will always lose in the end ...

Okay so you're a mug loser, so where does your cash go? To all those long suffering community minded clubs? Turns out there's not much joy there either:

Only about 2.7 per cent of the money clubs in NSW take from their poker machines is donated to the community, an analysis of the state's largest clubs by the Herald has found, while the cost of the industry's tax concessions is $6.5 billion since 1997.

When tax concessions are taken into account, the figure is far lower.

The survey reveals that 11 clubs took $438,953,965 in total from their poker machines, but returned just $11,678,358 to the community in donations over the last financial or calendar year. (Clubs hitting the jackpot and keeping most of the booty).

You don't have to read an academic thesis to work out the rhetoric has shifted away from the reality:

The original club goals of promoting and pursuing the social purpose and community benefit for which they were established became superseded by an emphasis on expansion, market share and profits. More recently, increased competition for the gambling dollar, reflecting a shift in government policy towards economically driven stimulation and expansion of commercial gambling, has further entrenched the commercialisation of clubs in their machine gambling operations, subordinating their social agenda to economic interests. This change in focus by club management has diminished the social contract that exists for clubs to operate gambling for community benefit, the very basis of the clubs’ legitimacy as major providers of machine gambling. Indeed, the implicit assumption that social benefit was built into club machine gambling has allowed the clubs to exploit their position of market dominance in such a way that exacerbates the negative social impacts of their core product. (But you can if you want in Nerilee Hing's 2006 A history of machine gambling in the NSW club industry: from community benefit to commercialisation, loads as pdf).

So who are these poker machine owners?

Why lordy, it turns out that just as there's big tobacco, there's big pokies, and no one pokies like Woolworths, with its hotels division the proud owners of more than 11,000 poker machines, and nary a mention in the Woolies results of its care, concern or regard for problem punters (and that was back in 2008, when Stephen Mayne scribbled Record Woolies profits but what about the damage?)

Right now, Woolies is eying off an increase in its poker machines from 12,100 to 13,300, and increasing its share of hotels from 286 to 326, as outlined in Woolworths in pokie grip talks. And if a deal between Woolies and Arthur Laundy goes ahead ... would mean that Woolworths would surpass Las Vegas's top five casinos in terms of total poker machine ownership.

Ah the fresh food people at it again, just helping out ordinary folks in their quest to lead an ordinary healthy lifestyle ...

And so back to Chris Berg, who naturally is all for Woolies, and agin all this talk of poker machines being some kind of social evil.

Through gambling, people engage both the mathematical concept of probability, and the metaphysical concept of chance. It's a way to make light of risk; to tame uncertainty.

In other words, gambling is part of human nature.

Uh huh. Well we all love a flutter, but of course the point about poker machines is that it isn't a form of risk management or a way of taming uncertainty, it's a way to become a guaranteed, addicted loser, and if you play the bigger stakes machines, and play them hard, of dropping a month's wages in an afternoon session.

Okay, fair enough, shove all you've got down the throat of Woolies, but here's the kickback. Next thing you're off funding your addiction through crime, or the family is down at welfare hitting up the government for help, and so the tax dollars of the average worker are helping bail out a social issue created for benefit of clubs, Woolies and governments making an unseemly buck out of the turnover. Talk about an unvirtuous circle ...

Of course none of the sordid consequences make it through the Bergian filter.

Given gambling's cultural centrality, it's not clear why the Government should try to wall it off; to regulate gambling into an isolated and denigrated corner of the Australian consciousness.

Rather than treating gambling as alien and dangerous and not fit for children, why not treat it as a normal part of being and encourage it to be enjoyed responsibly?

Gambling is, after all, just a game.

Yes, but poker machines aren't just a game, they're highly addictive. That's their point, that's their nature. It isn't being moralistic or wowserish to observe this. They're much like the machines used in the Japanese gaming device Pachinko, and if you've ever observed a pachinko parlor going hard at it, you've seen addiction in action ...

And if you read a history of the development of the slot machine, you see a relentless quest to perfect the addictive qualities of the now multi-armed bandits ...

Berg would of course rather talk about anything else than muse about the addictive power of poker machines:

Bookmakers are running odds on nearly every facet of the royal wedding: the first dance, the colour of the bride's dress, the colour of Victoria Beckham's dress, whether Prince Phillip will fall asleep during the ceremony, whether chicken tikka masala will be the main course, and whether Prince Harry will drop the ring and be too drunk to finish his speech (25-1, as of a few days ago). And, unsurprisingly, on the chances of divorce.

These bets do not detract from the wedding, which will be as painful as it would be in a world without wagers.

They do, however, make a game out of it - transforming the public from spectators to participants.

Oh dear absent lord, another appropriation of the wedding, and the sweet Chaser lads banned from sending it up, to the great pleasure of David Flint.

But you see gaming on a wedding, or even organising a sting on a rugby league match because of the sillier forms of betting allowed, isn't of the same order or consequence as the mass fleecing of punters as organised by Woolies for benefit of its bottom line.

And did we mention all the Catholic clubs? Are you wondering where you might find moral leadership from the Cardinal Pell heresy, seeing as how Berg likes to paint the whole affair as some kind of wowserism? Well you can read calls for Catholic action, as in Catholic clubs have moral duty on pokies, but naturally the Pellists have gone missing in action.

It's disingenuous, and a dissembling and misleading argument on Berg's part to conflate gambling on the royal wedding with poker machines, or to suggest that the current debate about their role is to do with a wowserish disdain for all kinds of gambling.

For moralist opponents of gambling like Nick Xenophon, such engagement only conjures up images of ruin.

But there is no need to be that pessimistic. The desire to play games of chance is a part of the human condition. Archaeologists have discovered four sided sticks - proto-dice - dating to 6000BC. In 2011, let's try not be so scared of it.

Uh huh. But it turns out that in the early days gambling started off as religious rituals, divinatory practices in early societies (as this fast and loose history of gambling explains).

As usual, as the pond has always suspected, all of humanity's problems began with religion, but only a dullard would seek to ban religion, or for that matter gambling, or as it's known in genteel circles, gaming ...

Which doesn't remove the right or obligation of government to regulate the shit out of the more socially disruptive, plague-like forms, like poker machines, and so make life hard for the Chris Bergs and Woolies of the world. Even if it costs them a little taxation revenue ...

Even if they banned poker machines and dedicated loser punters took up other kinds of self abuse, Woolies would still be there, making a motza out of its unseemly market power in the liquor sales arena.

Yep, each time you trot off to Dan Murphys you're helping Woolies achieve its 30% share of the packaged retail liquor market, and naturally Coles is in that game too. Woolies, the fresh booze people ...

As for the pond? We'll just keep walking past the shattered shell of the Newtown RSL without a care in the world, and certainly without a tear in the eye.

Talk about how clubs are central to the Aussie way of life, and how gambling is innate, and how addicted gamblers should just learn to be responsible proves yet again that there's a sucker born every minute, and quite a few are likely to be sold a pup by the libertarian Berg. If you think Berg is scribbling just for your right to choose to gamble, your right to bankrupt yourself, you'll believe anything ...

Just watch out for the bright flashing lights and the music and the sound effects as your cash disappears down the drain, and miraculously lands in Woolies' bottom line ...

(Below: astragali and dice from ancient times. The resemblance to the modern poker machine, as noted by Chris Berg, is both astonishing and astounding, and explains why gamblers routinely lost their shirts and/or blouses).

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Christopher Bantick, and a few thoughts on education, provided I get to sack everyone in the common room I don't like ...

(Above: Molesworth's thoughts on and insights into education, found here).

Talk about being offensively sackable and a sackable offence.

Surely Christopher Bantick should be sacked for the logic on display in Make poor teaching a sackable offence, but who will step up to the plate and sack him? The editor of The Australian, responsible for the worst coverage in the known universe of national broadband and climate change? Fat chance ...

Training? Instruction? Improvement? Remedial work? Help teachers mend their ways as you might in turn expect teachers to help students improve their understanding of the world?

Nah, sack 'em, it's all their fault, ne'er do wells, bludgers, no hopers, dingbat unionists, oh and by the way "let loose the hounds."

There's nothing wrong with the concept of failure, and just as a certain bunch of students must be turned into factory fodder, taught they are losers, wastrels, dummies and drop kicks, given to a lumpenproletariat life of crime and dole bludging, so we must extend the process to their failed, drop kick teachers.

What's the point of having an elite with everybody in it?

Of course Bantick makes it easy for himself by quoting Greg Craven at the start of his piece:

This view informs the position of Greg Craven, vice-chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, who wrote on this page on April 13: "If you want brain surgeons and international lawyers to consider teaching as an option, then you are going to have to supplement altruism with cash."

Yes, yes, but only a doofus like Greg Craven could mount that simple-minded argument, as he did in You can't pay peanuts for good teachers.

What about the quality of the blithe argument in Bantick's own effort, which involves an injudicious amount of teacher and union bashing? Well it turns out if you scroll down to the bottom of the page, you learn that Bantick is a senior English teacher at Trinity Grammar School in Victoria, and a complacent, smug, self-satisifed one at that...

I wonder, is smugness and certitude a sackable offence?

Those who are incompetent, who are inadequately trained or are allowed to consolidate poor performance under union sanction, secure that they will be appraised continuously rather than sacked, are the malady of Australian education.

The only way to tell a teacher they are hopeless is to remove them, as in the case of every other job I know.

Yep, it's a sack 'em, sack 'em all theory of life, the universe, education and schooling, as reasoned and rational as 42.

What about those who deliver the inadequate training that somehow allows inadequately trained teachers to worm their way into the education system? Why surely it must be sack 'em, sack 'em all.

Bottom line of course Bantick's piece is just another paean of praise to the private system:

It is obvious what will improve teacher performance. Australian schools, particularly state schools, must be given the autonomy to hire and fire. The growth in independent school enrolments is in part related to the view held by parents that state school education in some areas is in serious decline and teacher quality is a lottery. They pay independent school fees for not having to gamble on incompetence. The problem is also who gets into teaching. This is unpleasant to say but many teachers are simply not high-flyers, something that the federal government partly understands.

Uh huh. Well he would say that, wouldn't he, seeing as how he's such a high flyer, and understands things more clearly than the federal government, and so is a guaranteed way for worried parents to avoid gambling on incompetence (hmm, memo to self, ask Trinity student I know about Mr. Bantick).

But then I began to read the comments, and hang on, dammit if some of the commentary didn't make more sense than Bantick's piece, and that's when I began to worry. Chris of Orange got agitated:

There'll be plenty of others to fill the positions left by the thousands of retiring teachers over the next ten years--oh, that's right: there actually won't be plenty of others.

And so did rob of glen iris:

A poorly performing maths teacher might be better than no maths teacher at all. Where's the pool of unemployed teachers to pick and choose from? There isn't one of course, and it's only going to get worse as a significant proportion of the workforce reach retirement age, hang up their whiteboard markers and breathe a sigh of relief. Sacking teachers is the easy option, beloved of private schools. Don't make any attempt to try to improve the performance of the individual. Just replace them by offering an above award salary courtesy of high parental fees. The same goes for seriously disruptive students and the disabled. Shift the responsibility onto the state system and then take the high moral ground. I'm glad I wasn't taught by the likes of Mr Bantick.

Guys, guys, it's simple. If you want an ample supply of brain surgeons and international lawyers to replace all the inadequate, hopeless, sacked dingbat state teachers, you just have to pay them more. Ask Mr Bantick, and he'll surely agree, it's the way forward, and why private school teachers get paid so handsomely.

Who knows, in a previous life, perhaps Mr Bantick himself was a brain surgeon ...

As a result, once the losers currently teaching in the outer western suburbs of the big cities get the chop, there'll be a surge of brain surgeons rushing to do the job.

A few readers tried reasoned arguments, backed by research, and one noted the thoughts of John Hattie, University of Auckland, in Teachers Make a Difference, available here as a pdf, as he sought to identify what are the major sources of variance in a student's achievements might be.

Amazingly he proposed that it wasn't sackable teachers so much as students themselves in the first instance:

Students -- which account for about 50% of the variance of achievement. It is what students brings to the table that predicts achievement more than any other variable. The correlation between ability and achievement is high, so it is no surprise that bright students have steeper trajectories of learning than their less bright students. Our role in schools is to improve the trajectory of all these students ...

Throw in a 5-10% variance for the effects of the home, 5-10% variance for schools (with Hattie including principals in the school effect), and 5-10% variance for peer effects, and then you have teachers jogging along, and accounting for about 30% of variance.

So teachers can play a significant role, but whenever you get complacent senior English teachers, and resentful public school teachers, you can get this kind of comment:

Chris, you teach at Trinity Grammar. The students and you are at the school for the same reason - to learn the subject you are teaching. Easy to criticize from that perspective. Try slogging it out for more than a decade with kids from homes who can't read and don't give a toss about anything except binge drinking for a good time. Yeah it'll be the teacher's fault that they can't turn those 125 students who he/she has contact with for less than 3% of the year (do the maths). Oh and then you need to divide that 3% by the 25 students to get the proportionate amount of time with each individual student. Chris, get a grip. You're not really in the real world, but keep writing for the Australian to get that journalism job you are chasing.

Indeed. The schools of western Sydney are standing by, waiting for Mr Bantick to descend and fix everything with a decent round of sackings ...

Meanwhile, it turns out that Mr Bantick is a regular scribbler for The Australian, and he has a reliably dullard and predictable mind, which runs along a very narrow path. The headers alone are enough to give the game away: What unions really fear about teaching to the test blazoned forth in February 2010, and then boldly strutting forth in March 2011 came My School mute on bad teachers (same song and lyrics as the current piece), and then there were a bold set of homilies set forth in Good teachers put students first.

Which concluded with this little vituperative outburst:

We don't need to wait until next year's World Teachers Day to celebrate professional teachers who put children first. Nor to expose the freeloaders, phonies, self-centred strikers and white-collar wannabes with blue-collar values who are not fit to be in a classroom.

Oh dear. Blue collar values. Quick, someone phone up Mr Howard's battlers so they won't get offended by this naked inner urban elitism ...

And so on and so forth. If you have hours to waste googling, you might find Mr Bantick disparaging preachers and interminable sermons in Hope and pray for a joke from the pulpit, or musing about memento and memorabilia in Tying the knot with the royal tea towel.

But perhaps the most astonishing news, at least for an English teacher, is that Mr Bantick is a vandal of the lowest kind, as revealed in When the pen is mightier than the type:

I have added my voice to books in marginalia where an author has caused me to be incandescent with bibliophilic rage. I noted in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, in a moment of undergraduate bile: "Does anything ever happen?" Later still, I scrawled in Peter Temple's The Broken Shore: "Overworked and indulgent tosh." Yes, I was cross, but felt liberated and secretively thrilled that I had vandalised a book and indulged my annoyance.

Nothing happens in Jane Austen, and most of all in Pride and Prejudice, and you sir an English teacher? Incandescent with bibliophilic rage at being forced to read Austen in your undergraduate days?

Wash out your mouth with a particularly vile soap, and stand in the corner for the rest of the class ...

But then it turns out that Mr Bantick values books for their decorative, coffee table, homely effect, as well as a certain cluttered mustiness, as you can discover in Books battle for their slice of real estate.

Which brings us back to his latest piece of teacher bashing and another comment:

Is there any other group, other than teachers, who are being constantly blamed for the ills of society? Who'd want to do such a low paying, long hours of work and be constantly vilified in the press?

Indeed. In a just and proper world, someone would help Mr Bantick move from the sheltered world of teaching at Trinity to scribbling for a living, and thereby save him from the ignominy of appraisals, or perhaps save his colleagues from an ominous lynch mob mentality:

Colleagues are aware of teachers who are failures. They all know who should go and why.

Yes, we have a little list, we've got a little list, and none of them will be missed.

We all know teachers who are self-satisfied, smug and foolish, but what's amazing is that some of them even head into the media to advertise the fact.

There is, however, a flickering of light today in the news with the story that David Gonski seems to be doing his work with enthusiasm, the wretched Peter Garrett is listening, and so Axe to fall on school funds deal.

It seems the biased regime that favours private schools in funding might finally be changed, and here's hoping it causes Mr. Bantick a little heartburn.

That's until you get to the line:

Both Ms Gillard and Mr Garrett have pledged that no school will lose a dollar under any changes they make.

So scientology and Exclusive Brethren and Catholic and Mr Bantick's beloved Trinity schools are safe, and everything will change so that nothing will change ...

No doubt we can look forward to a piece by Mr Bantick in The Australian explaining why this is so, just and proper, and everything actually is the fault of teachers, and if we just sacked pack of time wasters malingering in the state education system, everything will be for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

Thank the dear absent lord I stopped being a teacher a long time ago ...

There's the silly scribbles of Murdoch hacks,
I've got them on the list
English teachers who hate Jane Austen,
they never would be missed
they never would be missed

I have more empty spaces left but what is one to do?
the task of filling up the list I'd rather leave to you
But it really doesn't matter whom you put upon the list
for they'll none of them be missed!
They'll none of them be missed!

Chorus: You may put 'em on the list (You may)
You may put 'em on the list (Go ahead)
And they'll none of them be missed
They'll none of them be missed!
Little list!

(Below: more xkcd here).

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Gerard Henderson, and dullness and insularity reach new heights of determined predictability ...

Over Easter we took part in a very exciting campaign to keep Newtown free of Nazis.

Now it's true we didn't actually find any Nazis, at least not of the uniform wearing, goose stepping, sieg heiling kind. You actually have to go off to the British royals to find someone willing to dress up in Nazi uniform for a fancy dress party.

But we frequently discovered something vastly worse sauntering through the streets with an insouciant air. Not tattoo wearers, not lesbians, not hippies, but something far worse: insular left wing intelligentsia.

Yes folks we've been reading Gerard Henderson, and really if ever a dullard could turn in a piece designed as epic self-caricature, it's the quintessential prattlings of Polonius, the musings of a desiccated coconut, to be found in The way we were: quiet, maybe, but certainly not dull.

Yes, it's bloody quiet, and it's bloody dull, as the dull Henderson celebrates the dullness of the nineteen fifties, in a way which has to be said, is exceptionally dull, so dull that you might hear the dropping of dull, solemn dust through the dull morning air ...

And predictable. Did we mention predictable, as Henderson uses the current royal wedding to recall the coronation of the Queen, who was an international celebrity in her day, but somehow even though she still lives, her day and therefore her international celebrity no longer seems to apply.

Best of all?

There was another consideration. Not much happened in Australia in 1954. This in itself was no bad thing...

... Little wonder that so many immigrants sought refuge in Australia. To them, Australia in the 1950s was not a boring place, as it came to be presented later - primarily by the middle-class left-wing intelligentsia.

Funny, even though the Dunera boys arrived in the forties during the war, and copped rough treatment, they found Australia, at least in terms of philosophy, the arts, and a wide ranging outlook on life, a rather insular place.

Their solution wasn't to moan about it, but to participate in the transformation which slowly began in the fifties, as fondly recalled by Ken Inglis in his memoir From Berlin to the Bush. But then they were intelligentsia, who saw nothing wrong with being either intelligentsia or intellectual, and Australia is the richer for their coming (except for having to endure endless prattle by Phillip Adams about them).

But then it's no coincidence that in his piece Henderson at no point mentions the arts, or the relatively insular mind set that led in the nineteen fifties to the shock horror treatment of an artist like Eugene Goossens.

Poor Goossens, who had the imagination to see the Opera House in its current home, got together with Rosaleen Norton, the witch of the Cross, conducted an affair, and then fatally tried to smuggle some photos and props and even gasp - sticks of incense - through Customs, got pinged, and so was sent into exile in utter disgrace, a ruined man ... (Eugene Aynsley Goossens).

It's not hard to imagine Henderson as one of the nineteen fifties mob, pursed lips, prim, proper, shaking the head in a solemn disapproving way, like some version of Australian gothic standing outside an antipodean barn with a pitchfork. Well, I never, such scandalous conduct, the tongues clucked ...

(Above: yes, yes, there's a definite family resemblance).

Henderson spends his time clucking about Manning Clark, a man infinitely more interesting than Henderson, and so subject to constant reproval:

The late Manning Clark was the historian most responsible for fostering the myth that Australia was a backward, insular society in the 1950s. His assessment was motivated by his dislike of the Liberal Party leader, Robert Menzies, who was prime minister from 1949 until 1966. In volume six of A History of Australia, Clark depicted Menzies as ''a tragedy writ large'' who ''served alien gods''.

Ah yes, and so it goes, because it's just another piece by Henderson about the evils of the likes of Manning Clark and the glories and wonders of Robert Gordon Menzies in the nineteen fifties.

Henderson is so dull he doesn't even realise he's being extraordinarily dull and insular, and intolerant in the usual Henderson way, and in much the same way as the Dunera boys were greeted by insularity way back when. Here he goes again:

It was only alienated intellectuals at the time, invariably enjoying life tenure at universities courtesy of the taxpayer, who complained of being bored and who wrote turgid, self-indulgent essays in such left-wing journals as Meanjin concerning their perceived plight.

These days of course we get turgid, complacent, self-satisfied, self-indulgent essays in journals like the Herald moaning about the current ways of the world, and the plight of alienated Sydney Institute intellectuals surrounded by ratbags who think they're moaning, whining alienated fops yearning for formica plastic and the good old days of the fifties.

It's such an innately stupid affair that it's hard to take seriously, but here we go:

The 1950s was a crucial decade for Australia. In the December 1949 election, Menzies had campaigned against the nationalisation agenda of the Labor leader, Ben Chifley. On gaining office, Menzies privatised the Commonwealth Oil Refinery ...

You there, at the back of the class stop nodding off. Mr Menzies privatising of the Commonwealth Oil Refinery is one of the most crucial steps in Australia's history, only matched by his privatisation of the PMG and the Commonwealth Bank ... (oops, I think that might be a little alternative history, just trying to spice things up a bit).

Even when Henderson scores a point, he's quintessentially dull about it.

It's true that the Menzies government introduced a generous Commonwealth scholarship scheme and that lower socio-economic groups gained access to tertiary scholarships in the fifties and the sixties, long before the Whitlam government abolished tertiary fees in the early seventies (and therefore that Phillip Adams is wrong when he suggests working class scrubbers could only dream of a university education before Whitlam, which only proves that Adams is almost as boring as Henderson).

But here's the thing, these scholarships sent young people off to universities to mingle with alienated intellectuals, and to discover that there was vastly more to the world than was imagined in the Australia of Bob Menzies.

There were ideas, there was ferment, and being intellectual was seen as praiseworthy, not some kind of ritual slur by yobboes like Henderson, blessed with a limited insular attitude familiar to those who tended the aspidistra plant in the quiet, dark Victorian hallway and made sure that the water didn't spill on to the antimacassar on the what not ...

Aspidistras? Well with a bit of luck if you attended university, your attention might be drawn to George Orwell, and to his social satire Keep the Aspidistra Flying.

Before, he had fought against the money code, and yet he had clung to his wretched remnant of decency. But now it was precisely from decency that he wanted to escape. He wanted to go down, deep down, into some world where decency no longer mattered; to cut the strings of his self-respect, to submerge himself—to sink, as Rosemary had said. It was all bound up in his mind with the thought of being under ground. He liked to think of the lost people, the under-ground people: tramps, beggars, criminals, prostitutes… He liked to think that beneath the world of money there is that great sluttish underworld where failure and success have no meaning; a sort of kingdom of ghosts where all are equal. That was where he wished to be, down in the ghost kingdom, below ambition. It comforted him somehow to think of the smoke-dim slums of South London sprawling on and on, a huge graceless wilderness where you could lose yourself for ever. (you can find the full book here at Project Gutenberg, and in other places on the web)

That probably sounds like ancient Greek to Henderson as he rabbits on endlessly about the Colombo Plan and high level political agreements with Japan, and a middle ground adequate social safety net, and all the other glories of the Menzies era, but when it comes to the crunch, this is all he's got:

Today most of the footage from the 1950s turns on the royal tour and sporting successes. This suggests most Australians were satisfied with their lot in the 1950s. For those working their way up in society, life was challenging but not boring.

Royal tours and sporting successes. Yep, the fifties and Bob Menzies, at least from the perspective of anyone interested in a life of the mind, was as boring as batshit, and Henderson is the living proof.

Only a few weeks ago he was using the Petrov affair to suggest Australia was at the heart of international conspiracies in the fifties. Oh sainted long lost aunts and uncles, role models for Barry Humphries ....

If only Henderson had mentioned that in the nineteen fifties rock 'n roll burst into Australia, and transformed the world. I still remember my grandmother shielding my innocent very young eyes so I wouldn't see the depravity unfolding on the dance floor as young lust in the dust studs cavorted with wild-eyed sluts, and the entire social fabric of the Menzies era began to unravel well before the nineteen fifties ended ...

Sure on the local front it might only have been Johnny O'Keefe screeching Wild One out of key in 1958, but it was a start, and things have got better ever since. (There's a nice introduction to music of the Menzies era here).

At least it becomes clear why the dullard prattling Polonius thinks Michael Duffy isn't a real conservative. In recent weeks, the Duffster and his co-host have taken to playing bands like Zed Zepplin, and the Kinks and Jerry Lee Lewis, and an abbreviated history of punk music from the early days, along with the likes of Jimmy Rushin and Ella Fizgerald. (Don't believe me? Here are the program details).

It's quaint, but charming, and rather like watching cumbersome conservative elephants get up on the dance floor, get down and boogie. But what the heck, at least they try, when all Henderson can manage is a genteel waltz with Ming the merciless. Not even a bloody fox trot ...

And it explains why, out of the dull Australia of the fifties, came all kinds of exciting aesthetic and philosophical alternatives and new understandings, far removed from the dullard insularity of the Gerard Hendersons of the world. Boring is boring, and rejecting boredom doesn't mean there's a need to bung on a world war to break the tedium ...

But at least it provides a reason for Henderson to exist, as a kind of lighthouse showing where the rocks of dullness are. Avoid him and them and Bob Menzies at all costs.

Go Nazi hunting, read books, listen to music, visit galleries, explore ideas, toss out the antimacassars of the mind ...

The alternative, living in the suburban fifties with a bad case of Bob Menzies idolatry, is simply too awful to contemplate, as Henderson vividly, if routinely, demonstrates. If nothing else, try living in the beat fifties for awhile, and see how it jives ...

I saw the best minds of the Sydney Institute destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night ...

In your drug addled nineteen fifties dreams, Allen, but you can howl along with him here ...

(Below: the Dunera boys in reunion, as celebrated by Ken Inglis. Their one failure? They couldn't sway Gerard Henderson from his dullard insularity. Not to worry, the rest of Australia quite likes a little more than royal tours and sports events).