Thursday, September 11, 2014

Here, have another swig, and don't you dare attempt to regulate the magic water man ...

(Above: you'll find that image at the head of a fun April 2005 Media Watch story here)

There's a reason Paul Sheehan fell for the magic water man.

It's there to be seen in the revisionism he indulges in David Leyonhjelm calls on Helen Dale to help fight for libertarianism.

Sheehan is shocked, possibly appalled, that The Australian should scribble a piece titled Literary hoaxer signed up by LDP (though it seems to have ended up being called Helen Dale, known once as Helen Demidenko, to advise key federal senator, and is inside the paywall, no doubt to avoid shocking too many people).

Sheehan is careful to deploy the inverted commas when using the word "hoaxer" is deployed in his column, as if to imply that somehow at a young age Demidenko, as she styled herself back then, wasn't involved in a hoax.

Sure, and to be sure, Ern O'Malley is a legendary real Australian poet, bless his Irish mother.

Now the pond has no axe to grind in relation to Dale, and no doubt family and friends and acquaintances are pleased that she's moved on and reinvented herself.

But she does herself no favours by having Paul Sheehan as an apologist, not when he promptly leads with his chin:

"Unlike many lawyers, I do not think the solution to every problem is 'pass a law'. Law has limits." She arrived at this belief via a circuitous path, having become famous at age 20, as Helen Demidenko, for a novel written when she was 19, The Hand that Signed the Paper. It won the Miles Franklin Award in 1995. 
Much controversy attached itself to the book, first because of spurious claims the novel and its author were anti-Semitic, then because she extended the fiction of "Helen Demidenko" beyond pseudonym and into role play. After that fiction was uncovered by the media, she created several more controversies via her media columns.

Spurious? Role playing?

At best this is an egregious distortion of a literary scandal, as if everyone has forgotten about the events, even though they're not that long ago, and even if no bones were broken.

The real trouble for Demidenko began when she used her alleged past to justify the historical errors of fact visible in the book:

Helen Demidenko meanwhile defended herself by saying that the book was based on the oral evidence of her own family and indeed that members of her own family and indeed that members of her family had been killed by 'Jewish Bolsehviks', "... most of my father's family, including my grandfather, were killed by Jewish Communist Party officials in Vynntsia" (here in pdf for footnotes and more).

This led to much mockery, with Robert Manne to the fore:

As Quadrant was going to press it was revealed that the winner of this year's Miles Franklin Award, Helen Demidenko, was the daughter not, as she claims, of an illiterate Ukrainian taxi driver from Cairns but of a Brisbane couple, Harry and Grace Darville, who arrived on our shores from nowhere more exotic that Scunthorpe. 
Even post-modernist geographers would, I imagine, be obliged to concede in the end that Scunthorpe is not in Ukraine. As I write, efforts to locate Markov Demidenko have proven no more fruitful than similar attempts, half a century ago, to locate Ern Malley's sister, Ethel. (here for much more)

Now the pond doesn't have a problem with artists being fantasists - it goes with the occupation and the pond is also inclined to a rich fantasy life (oh please Herr Freud, let's not talk of the dreams_.

Nor does the pond, as a ham to the manor born, have a problem with "role playing".

Helen Dale leads both those defences on RN in Whatever happened to Helen Demidenko? in 2006 (transcript available) - but a hoax is a hoax, and for a time The Hand that Signed the Paper was a good one.

What irritated the pond was the flurry of illogicality that followed from the magic water man.

Who knows if what Sheehan scribbles represents what Dale actually said or meant:

I first met Dale and Leyonhjelm at a libertarian conference in Sydney earlier this year where both were delivering papers. Dale's presentation focused on social changes caused by technology, not expensive social engineering. Among many examples was a correlation between the removal of lead from petrol, paint and cosmetics and a decline in crime. 
 Practising law, she saw government regulation and compulsion as frequently having both adverse and unintended consequences. 
"I noticed the extent to which government regulations often had a malicious effect," she said. 
"Unlike many lawyers, I do not think the solution to every problem is 'pass a law'. Law has limits."

Now everybody has probably heard of the theories surrounding lead in petrol and paint and a correlation with crime - it had a good outing in April 2013 at The Conversation in Childhood lead exposed linked to crime in adulthood.

This seems to be one of the points of a Dale paper presented in Prezi form and still available here.

But how does Sheehan and presumably all the libertarians in the house get off by saying this is the result of technology, not of social engineering, government regulations and passing of law?

In Australia, the ban on leaded petrol came into effect in January 2002 by federal government fiat, with hefty fines (over $500k in some instances) and with state and territory inspectors standing by to audit suppliers to ensure they complied with the new laws.

Mention was made, in the usual way, here, to a link between high lead levels in the blood and low IQ, and since the pond routinely lived in houses full of lead paint, that might explain everything ...

But if that makes the pond dumber, then surely Sheehan, and perhaps, if quoted correctly, Dale, amongst the dumbest.

Are they bemoaning the laws and regulations that took lead out of petrol?

Do they want the lead back? You know, because lead just wants to be free and not regulated ...

Do they think everyone just got together in anarcho-libertarian style and decided there'd be no more lead in petrol? And lead trotted off obediently into the wilderness?

And so no laws or regulations would be required, because everyone would just ignore the moans of all those still driving cars that required leaded petrol?

It's that sort of stupidity - a conflation of technology used to deny the reality of law and regulation - that can lead the pond into a lead-induced frenzy, or a stupor.

The rest of the piece is a love fest. Dale loves Senator Leyonhjelm, and Sheehan loves and admires Dale, and everyone loves Hayek, and everyone hates Marx and Finnis and Foucault, but the pond is buggered if it can understand exactly how a bias towards less regulation, not more, led to the regulations that removed lead from petrol.

Ah well, time for another swig of Robert Manne:

My guess is that even those who knew at first reading that this book was deeply suspect will be lectured by literary critics on the importance of being able to separate the tale from the teller. My guess is that the defenders of Helen Demidenko will now try to convince us that someone who has displayed in her own life a Walter Mitty-like incapacity to distinguish between fact and fiction, truth and falsity, is still the kind of novelist who can illuminate for us truths about one of the darkest and most baffling events in our history - the Holocaust. 
Perhaps it is now only the echo of the peals of laughter in London or New York about the Demidenko affair which will bring our literary world to its senses. Only then will it realise that what Ern Malley once exposed about the pretensions of poetic modernism and the avant garde in a different age, Helen Demidenko has inadvertently exposed about the pretensions of academic post- modernism and sentimental multiculturalism in our own.

Indeed. Now it's time for another swig and that other magic water story here:


  1. Speaking of Quadrant and hoaxes, who can forget Sharon Gould?

    The hoax has a long history. Sokal perhaps being the best.

    Have more fun here -

    1. An excellent reminder of the joys of being Keith Windschuttle (and others) ...

  2. Apologies for changing the subject, but I've just discovered thisa.

    Eat the Rich

    Look at the menu. "Baby Koalas steamed in their own mother's milk."

    Priceless! That naughty Mr Richardson (and don't mention his name in The Blind Beggar, Whitechapel).

    1. Explanation. The Blind Beggar was a Kray pub. It was just across the road from The London Hospital (of Elephant man fame, where they display his skeleton).

      My lovely girlfriend at the time (surname Richardson) was a nurse at The London was advised not to use her real name if she ever went to the pub.

      One night I sneaked into the nurses home when she was off duty, for an assignation (OK a quick fuck), but I was seen and chased down the corridors. A cockney cleaning lady saw what was happening and grabbed me then bundled me into a broom cupboard. "Hide in here luv, till they've gone".

      I heard footsteps running past, and a few minutes later the door was opened. "You can go to her now darling, they've gone."

      Bless her!

    2. Bless her indeed, you have warmed my heart this merry morn.
      We need more like that cockney char.
      Which brings me back to Sheehan et al and their inflexible,censorious,mean-spirited, one-dimensional, non-creative, simplistic, forelock-tugging, hate-filled predictabilities.
      These are the people who present themselves as libertarians but are anything but. They are born authoritarians who hector and abuse on a daily basis.
      They are Animal Farm types and chilled us in 1984. Heel clickers. Born to the uniform.
      And they think of themselves as free thinkers!
      Lord give me strength and more cockney char ladies.

  3. We'd almost forgotten about Helen; and about skepticism; and about heavy metal concentrations at the resto not quite at the end of the universe.


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