Apparently Malcolm Turnbull is very concerned that the Government does not have an exit strategy for troops in Afghanistan. I imagine he was wearing his most serious face when made this announcement:

“We support our troops – we always have and we always will. But our troops need to understand, need to be told by our Government, as do the Australian people, exactly what the mission is,” he said.

I realise it was after the government of the day had committed our troops to Afghanistan, but when he entered Parliament Malcolm  joined the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade.

Surely this august body would have enlightened him as to our exact mission in Afghanistan? Or has there been some radical change in our defence policy since then which I have completely missed?

If the people who wrote the Bible knew what God was really doing, shouldn’t it have looked more like this?

genesis 1

1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

3Then God said, “Let there be electromagnetic radiation”: and there was electromagnetic radiation. And the electromagnetic radiation exhibited the properties of both waves and particles at the same time. And God called one frequency band of this electromagnetic radiation light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness by causing the planet to rotate about its axis. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

6And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

9And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear. And let both the dry land and the land beneath the waters rest upon tectonic plates which shall henceforth move, albeit at an exceedingly slow pace.” And it was so. 10God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11

Then God said, “Let there be life. And let living organisms pass on their characteristics via the medium of chromosomes, so that the earth may put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. 12The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. 13And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

This is still a work in progress. I’m not happy with verses 6 – 8, and of course there’s still a few verses to go. 🙂

Life is full of loneliness and misery and suffering and unhappiness…
and it’s all over much too quickly.
— Woody Allen

Found when researching George Crater.

Yeah, I’m still here.

For what it’s worth, I’m a member of Friends of the ABC and their newsletter contained some information I’d like to share with you (I’m sure they won’t mind).

There’s been a bit of fuss about Maxine McKew’s move into politics, which is being spun as demonstrating that the ABC leans to the left. As a counterbalance, here’s a short list of (one time) ABC employees who have been associated with the Coalition:

  • Pru Goward – need I say more?
  • Gary Hardgrave – was a minister in the Howard Government, is a former ABC television journalist.
  • Peter Collins – led NSW Liberal Party for a few years, is a former ABC television journalist.
  • Jim Bonner – after leaving the staff of Malcolm Fraser he held senior editorial positions with ABC radio and television in Canberra and Adelaide. He later became Director of the Liberal Party in South Australia.
  • Peter McArthur – former current affairs reporter and newsreader for the ABC served several years in the Victorian Parliament as a Liberal member.
  • Cathy Job – a current affairs presenter for ABC radio in Brisbane, resigned to become a media adviser to David Kemp.
  • Vicki Thompson – senior political reporter for ABC radio in Adelaide became Chief of Staff for John Olsen, Liberal Premier of South Australia.
  • Eoin Cameron – former Liberal member for the seat of Stirling presents the breakfast program on ABC local radio in Perth (a gig he had before he entered parliament as well)
  • Cameron Thompson – Liberal member for Blair is a former radio journalist with the ABC in Queensland and the Northern Territory
  • Rob Messenger – National Party member for Burnett was an ABC broadcaster in Bundaberg.

There are more on the list (supplied by Darce Cassidy) but these are the most recent examples of the ABC as a hotbed of the right.

Over the past decade or so, as the world lurched ever more to the right, it seemed to me that those of us identifying as on the left needed a robust sense of humour. How else to cope with the alarming realisation that Malcolm Fraser now stands to the left of the ALP? So it came as a bit of a surprise to find that we are all humourless according to John Birmingham.

Apparently John believes the left “has indulged for so long now in the guilty pleasures of relativism, protected by a value system that says discussion of certain topics is off limits, that any sense of confidence they might have had at one time has now entirely disappeared. And with it their sense of humour“.

Pretty damning stuff. Mind you, in the article he doesn’t cite any instances to support this statement and at his blog the closest he comes to an example is, “I first came across the problem twenty years ago when i was writing humor for student magazines. I regularly got my drafts returned with huge chunks excised because they contravened policy about sexism, racism, homophobia etc. The worst part of it was that I was satirizing hyper conservative opinion, but the big left wing dummies didn’t recognise that. It left a sour taste that still lingers.

Strangely enough, it was about twenty years ago that PJ O’Rourke published Republican Party Reptile, which according to John, “inspired a generation of conservative satirists to begin poking fun at the sacred cows of the left.” And again, according to John, “What is surprising is just how successfully the new right, for want of a better tar brush, has been at colonising this outpost of public discourse.” (ie comedy)

So John is telling us he couldn’t get published at the same time O’Rourke was publishing his masterpiece. Furthermore, he couldn’t get published while a generation of satirists inspired by PJ were being published (how else to explain their unequivocal success?). Something doesn’t add up, and I believe it’s probably significant that “the sour taste still lingers”.

The idea of a conservative satirist piqued my curiosity. Usually I imagine conservatives as supporting the status quo, and satirists as opposing it. What on earth would a conservative satirist look like, particularly in an era when the further right parties hold power in Australia and the US? Who better to ask than John Birmingham? Surely, his research for this article would mean he had at his fingertips a list of (at least some of) the generation of conservative satirists which had been inspired by Republican Party Reptile. Alas no, and he was far too busy to compile one.

Fair enough; I decided to go looking for myself. The only comics John mentions are Sarah Silverman, and Trey Parker & Matt Stone. At first glance it appears he is using them as examples of the right wing ascendancy, but he actually states they are not on the right. So, who and where are these neocon comedians?

My search was far from exhaustive (there is only so much you can do with Google) but it turned up a few interesting things. Firstly, there are very few comedians who identify as right or left. Most of them are just trying to make people laugh. Secondly, none that I found cite PJ O’Rourke as a formative influence. This isn’t surprising because O’Rourke is basically an essayist and I would expect him to mainly influence people who are wannabe essayists (eg Tim Blair).

Just as I would expect writer/directors like Trey Parker and Matt Stone to be influenced by writer/directors. Parker and Stone both cite only Monty Python as their comedy idols in this Playboy Interview (2000).

Performers like Sarah Silverman I would expect to be influenced by performers and guess what? This interview reveals her influences were “Woody Allen, Albert Brooks, Eddie Murphy and, particularly, Steve Martin”. As well, this article describes her material as “usually not overtly political, instead attacking by subverting – by voicing the ludicrous to reveal it. She tends to leave the in-your-face political stuff to others, the Bill Mahers and Margaret Chos of the world.”

Aha; some right wing comics? Well, no. Margaret Cho, campaigning for MoveOn.org, received heaps of hate mail when she said, “You know, George Bush is not Hitler. He would be if he applied himself, but he’s just lazy!”, and Bill Maher is described in Wikipedia as “known for his political satire, most of which comes from a leftist and, to a lesser extent, libertarian point of view”.

My search found only two right wing satirists; PJ O’Rourke and Chris Buckley. This hardly amounts to the right wing supremacy that Birmingham describes, particularly since I also found two left wing comics who are described as in-your-face and political. At this point I think John’s argument disappears up its own fundamental.

In fact there are many faults with John’s article. He mixes essayists with standups with writer/directors; a bit like tracing the influence of an orthopedic surgeon on proctologists and epidemiologists. He places far too much weight on the publication in 1979 of How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink. National Lampoon was a fine example of College Humour, but that’s all it was (is?). A far more significant and influential event in 1979 was the release of Life of Brian with which the Monty Python crew really rattled a few cages and, dare I say, influenced more than a few satirists.

Then there’s his characterisation of O’Rourke as “satire’s Marco Polo, or maybe Erik the Red, getting in a little Viking-style rhetorical rape and pillage as he explored the outer reaches of what was then known to be funny“. This is so over the top as to be laughable. O’Rourke wrote (and writes) firmly in the tradition of Mark Twain and SJ Perelman. His prodding of society’s sacred cows is all very white bread, middle class and ultimately safe. To write seriously about comics who really did rhetorically rape and pillage you can’t avoid Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor (and maybe even George Carlin). It doesn’t advance Birmingham’s case, but these were the pioneers who explored the outer reaches of what was then known to be funny; PJ always stayed much closer to home.

So what is Birmingham on about? In his blog comments he says, “I guess what I was writing about, was the loss of confidence and joke making ability on the Declared Left, people who, like Blair, are avowedly political.” How much confidence does Blair really have when a dissident comment will more than likely get you banned from his blog? Why does Birmingham ignore the confident, left leaning and funny efforts of (off the top of my head) Anonymous Lefty, Daily Flute, Gummo Trotsky and His Excellency?

Seems to me this article wasn’t so much a genuine critique of the current state of humour as a puff piece for Tim Blair. There’s also an element of payback for a grudge which has apparently been nurtured over the last twenty years or so.

If anyone disagrees I’m always open to proof I’m wrong. Give me a convincing argument that the right dominates the field of comedy. Point me to examples of conservative satirists, or left wing comics who have lost their confidence. I’m always willing to learn.