Monday, October 20, 2014

Henry and his bucket ...

(Above: with poetry front and centre, a Horacek poem to get the juices flowing. More Horacek here)

The pond is shocked and outraged.

That girlie man Christopher Pyne has refused to stand up for Mathias Cormann:

Also on Sky News, Education Minister Christopher Pyne declined to defend the language of his cabinet colleague. 
 "I think Mathias Cormann used a colourful phrase and I have to say it is unusual for Mathias to use a colourful phrase". (here)

What a girlie man!

Caveat: it should be clearly understood this is in no way intended as a reflection on girls, it is entirely intended as a reflection on Christopher Pyne. Further, it is entirely clear that the pond is not talking about girls, but girlies, which is very different, and means the "not a sexist misogynist remark" clause immediately kicks in ...

There's nothing gender specific here people, and so we leave Christopher Pyne where we found him, and the pond refuses here and now, and for the foreseeable future, to enter into the shocking and outrageous controversy as to whether it's better to deploy the dictionary approved spelling of "girlie" or the remarkably non-sexist descriptions of "girly" in the Urban Dictionary here.

Both are accepted, and both are strictly non-sexist, as any girlie fool could see:

girl·ie also girl·y (gûrl) adj. 
Often Offensive 
1. Featuring minimally clothed or naked women, typically in pornography: girlie magazines. 
2. Weak, timid, or effeminate. Used of men.
girlie (ˈɡɜːlɪ) or girly n 
1. a little girl adj 
2. displaying or featuring nude or scantily dressed women: a girlie magazine. 
3. suited to or designed to appeal to young women: a girlie night out. 
girl•ie (ˈgɜr li) Slang. adj. 
1. featuring nude or scantily clad young women: a girlie show; girlie magazines. n. 
2. Offensive. a girl or woman (often used as a term of address).

Enough already, because that paragon of desiccated coconut Henry Ergas is also shocked today, scribbling in white heat and blind fury at the outrageous treatment of Sydney academic, Prof Spurr.

Now the pond must leave aside some awareness of rumours of behind the doors thinking at the University of Sydney - that Spurr's attitudes and opinions and behaviour was already known within the University and they were of some concern, and that the current public controversy was therefore seized upon as a useful trigger for a long running sore.

Instead we must contemplate Henry's vigorous defence of a man silly enough to put allegedly private thoughts and private banter into the University email system:

One more time, for the record. The information technology policy of the University of Sydney – of which all staff are explicitly warned – is that their university emails are not private. It is a public institution.

You'll find that in a follow up story at New Matilda, Professor Barry Spurr Is The Smoking Gun Of Institutional Racism - which interalia refutes the stupidities of a Sharri Markson story - now there's a nanosecond wasted - while also providing an exchange of emails, in relation to a sexual assault:

The email reads as follows (and some names and details have been redacted to protect the privacy of the victim of the assault). 
TO: Barry Spur 
FROM: (CLOSE FRIEND) Goodness, what different times. Today, (A COLLEAGUE) told me of a problem at (A COMPANY). Some harlot (A WOMAN) went back to a room party when her key would not work and waiting, went to sleep on the bed. Another (PERSON AT THAT COMPANY) put his penis in her mouth, as you do, and she called the police. I told (MY COLLEAGUE) she was a worthless slut who will now cause this poor chap, who certainly did not adhere to Debretts, years of imprisonment with big black chaps because she is a worthless slut who should not have been there. In Dubai, she would be locked up as well. The muzzies are not all wrong about this.” 
Professor Spurr replied to the email the following day.  
Reeling from that story. Ye Gods. I think she needs a lot put in her mouth, permanently, and then stitched up. 
Professor Spurr then casually discusses a proposed lunch date, before relating a story which mocks a transgender person.

New Matilda addressed the 'out of context' issue  by offering up The Transcripts: The Partial Works Of Professor Barry Spurr. Poet, Racist, Misogynist, and what a fine body of linguistic word games it is ...

Screen Australia must be exceptionally pleased too.

Their channel gets a plug with views of Perth (here it is so you can see the catalogue of old government documentaries back in the days when the socialist Ming the merciless financed docs!), with the Australian government doc producing this Spurr comment:

Barry Spurr replies: 
No Abos, Chinky-poos, Mussies, graffiti, piercings, jeans, tattoos. BCP in all Anglican chruches (sic, possibly a NM transcription error?); Latin Mass in all Roman ones. Not a woman to be seen in a sanctuary anywhere. And no obese fatsoes. All the kiddies slim and bright eyed. Now utterly gone with the wind. 
 A delight, until things turn sour around 4.00 with the emergence of the darkies.

Now in reading the material,  to any commonsense reader with any ancient memories of Tamworth, it immediately becomes clear that these are not linguistic word games, in the sense of an author exploring dark material and dark views of the world.

They read instead as the expression of common prejudices in a frequently common way, and undoubtedly worthy of Tamworth in the 1950s.

There are others, but the pond almost forgot that other prof's valiant defence of the prof:

So let's return to that game.

Now the pond can't offer a link - that only leads to begging letters of demand from the paupers of the press - but you can google this: is a scandal that the University of Sydney has suspended Spurr despite there being no claim, much less evidence, that his teaching, supervision and research have been anything but exemplary.
To make matters worse, the university has set aside Spurr’s explanation that the emails were parodies without according Spurr the prior opportunity to have that explanation tested. Whatever one may think of his emails, that explanation is scarcely implausible: parodies, satires and burlesques, often in poor taste, have peppered the correspondence of literary figures since time immemorial. 
Indeed, some of the English language’s earliest comedies were private communications making fun of religious services in terms then considered blasphemous. And one does not need to dig deep in our language’s treasure chest to savour such politically incorrect gems as Paul Dehm’s parody of Robert Herrick (‘‘Whereas in jeans my Julia crams/her vasty hips and … diaphragms’’); Cyril Connolly dispatching James Bond in drag to seduce General Apraxin (‘‘one of those’’, warns M, listing the general’s hobbies as nerve gas, germ warfare and sodomy); or Alan Bennett’s brilliant spoof of James Buchan (in which Hannay decries the possibility of ‘‘a div­orced woman on the throne of the house of Windsor’’ as a ‘‘feather in the cap of that bunch of rootless intellectuals, Jews and pederasts who call themselves the Labour Party’’).

Now there's someone living in an alternative universe when it comes to literary criticism.

It only takes a couple of minutes actually reading the missives to realise Ergas is spouting defensive nonsense like a gargoyle on one of the university buildings ...

Good old Henry realises there's a hole in that bucket, so he brings forth another bucket:

It scarcely takes much imagination to think a professor of poet­ics might similarly revel in using off-colour, if not frankly offensive, language in intimate communic­ation. But assume Spurr’s claim is a sham; that far from being banter between old friends, the emails reflected his innermost views. So long as those views do not intrude on the way he exercises his academic responsibilities, they are no more relevant to his role than the fact that TS Elliot (on whom Spurr is a world authority) (but sic so and thus, clearly not good old Henry) was an anti-Semite. 

Indeed, indeed, and if the pond may be so bold, noting the provisions of Godwin's Law, provided his views do not intrude on the way he exercises his political responsibilities, Herr Hitler's views on the Semites are no more relevant than those of T. S. Eliot (sic, so and thus).

It seems we must take the views of the likes of Ezra Pound, William Butler Yeats, T. S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, Knut Hamsun, Paul de Man, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Filippo Marinetti, Martin Heidegger, Robert Brasillach, Gertrude Stein (a committed supporter of Philippe Pétain), and others as we find them (and more on Stein here). Teach the joys of fascism and celebrate it when it's found in the y'artz.

To believe otherwise is to discard the distinction between vice and crime that is at the heart of a free society. Aquinas, although no liberal, put it well when he argued that rather than forcing men to be virtuous, laws exist to enforce the rules of justice; they should therefore not condemn mere vice but conduct ‘‘without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained’’. 
Locke then made that distinction central to the philosophy of liberty, when he noted that ‘‘many things are sins which no man ever said were to be punished’’, for while objectionable, they were neither ‘‘prejudicial to other men’s rights, nor break the public peace’’. And Adam Smith, in terms familiar to JS Mill, emphasised that it was therefore crucial to ‘‘carefully distinguish what is only blamable from what force may be employed to punish or prevent’’. 
In other words, Spurr is entitled to his private vices, even if repre­hensible, so long as they do not inflict public harms. Instead, the real question is how Australia’s oldest university could believe otherwise. 

This is desperate, pathetic twaddle, relying on a a parade of philosophical names, which falls at the first hurdle.

It seems the wayward prof. broke a simple, obvious rule on emails, of the kind almost everyone who has ever worked for any kind of institution, private or public, academic or corporate knows applies.

Indeed one of the many pleasures of Patrick Radden Keefe's excellent piece for The New Yorker, The Empire of Edge How a doctor, a trader, and the billionaire Steven A. Cohen got entangled in a vast financial scandal - quick, outside the paywall at the moment -  know that their phones and emails and other communications are open slather for investigators and regulators and do their level best to find ways to disguise their insider trading.

It's only in academic la la land that people seem to believe they're immune from scrutiny and they have a right to privacy.

Is there an irony in that Australia's federal government is right at the moment passing laws intending to heighten Australian inspection of private lives, while good old Henry blathers on about Adam Smith?

Of course there is, but you won't find Henry head-butting Tony Abbott.

Instead all you'll cop is blather about the authoritarian left, because apparently there is no authoritarian right.

At the most immediate level, the answer lies in what Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a great scholar and long-time Democratic senator for New York, diagnosed as the ‘‘authoritarian Left’’ spreading throughout academe. Ignorant, intolerant and incapable of contesting ideas, its only weapon is the ad hominem attack. 

Wondrous stuff.

Yes, if it's proving difficult to defend your man, attack others:

Sydney’s conduct, coming after the ANU’s witch-hunt against fossil fuels, is a disturbing sign of how far the spread Moynihan feared has gone. The university’s support of Jake Lynch’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, whose anti-Zionism verges on anti-Semitism, only leavens with hypocrisy its disregard for justice. 
But there are also deeper forces at work. Historically, intellectual elites had every interest in freedom of expression: no matter how strongly they favoured regulating other markets, they gained from freedom in their own. Now, reduced to mere wards of the state, they clamour for restrictions on competition that enforce conformity, protect mediocrity and entrench their claim on the public purse. And they find in the similarly placed ABC, as well as in publications such as New Matilda, plenty of fellow travellers to speak on their behalf. 

Even more wondrous, because New Matilda is subscriber supported.

But how wildly and wonderfully and in what a woolly way dear old desiccated Henry carries his bucket far from the well ...

Paranoid, hysterical, you name it, it's way out there ...

And now we come to the crunch, and the pond suspects it's the real reason the reptiles have reacted with such vigour and defensiveness, sending out their third rate hacks like Markson but also enlisting their frontline academic fortifications like Henry and his bucket.

You see, no matter how you cut it, the controversy reflects badly on Christopher Pyne and his education review.

It confirms what many suspected all along, that the fix was in, and some of the fix was particularly nasty. The culture wars was always part of the game.

So we cop this from Henry's bucket:

Set against that milieu, Spurr stood no chance. By collaborating in the Abbott government’s review of the national curriculum he signed his own death warrant. From that moment on, it was only a matter of time before he paid the price. 

Which brings us back to what New Matilda said about the hows and whys of the correspondence becoming public (link above):

... Professor Spurr has expressed outrage that his privacy has been breached, and that it has been done so illegally. 
One more time, for the record. The information technology policy of the University of Sydney – of which all staff are explicitly warned – is that their university emails are not private. It is a public institution. 
Generally speaking, New Matilda does not comment on issues related to sources and leaked documents. 
However, Ms Markson’s story – and the allegations leveled within it - are demonstrably false, and the public record requires correction. 
The first error is a suggestion that Professor Spurr’s email account was ‘hacked’. This is false. It did not occur. Neither New Matilda nor the source in the story hacked Professor Spurr’s account. 
The second error relates to a suggestion in Ms Markson’s article that the source was motivated by “payback” for Professor Spurr’s involvement in the National School Curriculum review. This is also false. 
While the source was broadly aware of Professor Spurr’s involvement in the review, the source was unaware of the contents of Professor Spurr’s submissions. 
What motivated the source to come forward was two specific email exchanges.

Uh huh.

Cut it how you will, there's a discordant note there, between Henry's frothing and foaming, and the reasons offered by New Matilda.

Now one of those two specific email exchanges was reproduced above, and for all Henry's bucket of whimsical word games, they make for a problematic read, and at the end of the day, the desiccated coconut knows it:

None of that is to give Spurr the seal of approval. He may, for all I know, hold beliefs I find abhorrent. 

Uh huh:

But universities need scholars, not saints; and if integrity, in Rawls’s words, means ‘‘defending the principles of morality even when to one’s disadvantage’’, his treatment is not merely a shame: it is a disgrace. 
Reversing it should be an oblig­ation, as well as a priority.

Which is as weird a bit of special pleading as the pond has read in many a long year, but no doubt racists, homophobes, sexists, fundamentalists and rabid ratbags of the extreme right and extreme left will be pleased to have old Henry and his bucket sitting in the corner ready to duke it out with the Bolter next time he attacks an academic for holding views different to those of the Bolter and the kool aid drinkers in the Murdoch empire ...

Especially if they happen to be lefties routinely savaged by the Bolter ...

In your dreams ...

Now the pond pre-emptively apologises for talking of desiccated Henry and his bucket. It seems that sort of informality can send some academics into a rage and off on their high horse:

DATE: April 5, 2013 
FROM: Barry Spurr 
TO: University colleague, Friend, University colleague, University colleague, University colleague, Friend, Friend 
SUBJECT: The latest indignity and my response below it. 
 Professor Spurr forwards on an email from a disability services administrative assistant to his friends and colleagues. The email is address to a student with disability needs, and is CCed to Professor Spurr. It includes the student’s name and identifying information, and reads: 
 Dear [Student], 
 Barry has been in contact with Disability Services regarding your assessment adjustment request; subsequently, Barry has approved a one week extension instead of the standard extension period [which new Matilda understands is two weeks]. Please find attached an updated copy of your asssement adjustment notice reflecting this. Kind regards [Name Redacted]. 
Professor Spurr then responds to the administrative assistant – this below and the email above is what he shares with colleagues and friends, under the subject heading ‘The latest indignity and my response below it’. 
 Dear [administrative assistant], 
 Thank you for this but would please note in future that when referring to me in correspondence with undergraduates my title and surname are to be used – Professor Spurr. I have not given permission for my first name to be used and I do not want wish it to be so used in official communications with students. 
Yours sincerely Barry Spurr

You go em Bazza. That's how to win friends and influence people and get your assistants on side ...

Meanwhile, with the two Davids absent, it seemed the right time to dive into the First Dog archives here, for cartoons that might help Henry fill his bucket. These are from 2009, a reminder that things change only so they can stay the same:


  1. How nice of you to examine Henry's Hole in the Bucket. I rather enjoyed your earlier review of his venture into Strangelovian humor. It makes such a nice change from his dry economics. So his take on academic freedom has again left us wondering if he is in parody mode as has been claimed for the defence of Prof Barry Spurr?

    Henry could probably get a job on George Brandis's staff on that example of the right to be a bigot. He does touch on an important point of academic freedom, something that also extends to artists and poets. It's true that TS Eliot and others have held uncomfortable views on some issues, notably anti-semitism, and have yet been major contributors. Some of our best ideas come from those well outside the mainstream such as Swift or Galileo.

    Yet common respect for humanity does require at least a standard to be set in racism, xenophobia and sexism. When you offend on all of those areas and often, it does raise the question of how open you can be in education.

    A measure of the problem is how quickly the government ministers ran for cover in disowning Prof Spurr. Apparently his appointment was nothing to do with the minister or the government. It was merely the recommendation of the committee set up by the minister. I'd take a guess that Pyne knew exactly what he was getting, but just assumed that nothing like these emails would become public knowledge.

    The paper produced for Pyne was an attempt to give a cloak of academic respectability to a strategy of abandoning the Gonski recommendations. It was a political action for which he and his cabinet carry the responsibility. It is in fact a broken promise after having claimed to be on a "Unity ticket" with Labor on Gonski. Nothing Pyne says or does can avoid that. Exposing the values of the members of the alternative policy is quite legitimate in the circumstances.

    What irritates me about it all is that the Gonski report was not some sort of pinko class warfare document. It was simply a statement on the needs of our nation. The previous government did not complete all of the recommendations and were advocating at best a middle-of-the-road approach. But it was still a chance to address some of the more serious inequities that had crept in.

    1. Yes GD, the y'artz are an ideas zone, and here's hoping Spurr explores his skills as an Alf Garnett poet with overtones of Eliot, but wearing another hat, he indulged in the culture wars, and was encouraged by Pyne's entourage to do so, and it clearly caught Pyne on the hop because he probably didn't understand the depths of the ratbaggery of the experts he'd deployed, despite the warning signs of 'bring back the cane' and the flags about the Judeo-Christian tradition and all the rest of the pre-emptive gobbledegook ... (now if he'd talked to someone actually at the University of Sydney or noted the history produced by the review's history man)
      What particularly irritates the pond is that whenever an Islamic fundie turns up, the government is inclined to secular nation pieties; when Christian fundies turn up raging about the decline of western civilisation, it's Amanda Vanstone talking to dunderhead Theodore Dalrymple all the way ...
      They really did miss a chance with Gonski, all for the sake of ideology and chaplains in schools and at the cost of promising, then double dealing, ditching and lying ...

  2. Just add your name and many will believe anything.

  3. DP - looks like some of Labor's front bench read the pond!

    "Labor frontbenchers have attacked Finance Minister Mathias Cormann over his use of the insult "economic girly man" against Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, with one accusing him of "sounding like a dickhead".

    Opposition employment spokesman Brendan O'Connor said the joke was on Senator Cormann, who had been left looking like a "bit of a dill" in his attempt to get a headline.

    "A Finance Minister of Australia doesn't have to sound like a dickhead if he wants to make a point " Mr O'Connor told Sky News."

    1. Silly goose. At least the pond was reflexive enough to note in a mocking post ironic modernist way that dickhead was also a sexist term of abuse, while having the double pleasure of deploying it as a term of abuse ...

  4. The intelligence source for Bishop's proposed 'burqa ban' (as reported on the Guardian politics blog).

    The Nine crew on the forecourt of parliament house (apparently) got their information from 2UE tips and rumours before passing it to the police who passed it to the presiding officers who then proceeded to ban burqas in public galleries. And to cap it, it seems that 2UE got it's tip from social media rumours that two media organisations were planning to disguise a few journos in burqas and turn up at the house as a publicity stunt.

    Sharri Markson anyone?

    Makes you feel supremely confident in our security services doesn't it? More Maxwell Smart than George Smiley.


    1. A tremendous hoot.

      And yes give Shezzas tremendous FOI work, it's likely she was ready to do the burqa thing she is.

      She's taking the Mudochians to a whole new sedimentary level ...


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