Monthly Archives: January 2012

Classic Ellis: Holmes And The Dallas Mystery

Holmes took a long, meditative sip of his brandy-and-quince, cocked his Mannlicher 523 and fired three shots within 5.3 seconds at a passing untroubled mosquito.

‘That mosquito’s survival, Watson,’ said Holmes, as he bolted the door in expectation of his shrieking landlady, ‘proves nothing except that I missed. The room temperature may not have been right, or the barrel may have been bent in transit from its point of purchase in Munich, or the blast of air preceding the bullet may have knocked the mosquito off target. Or the cunning insect may have ducked.

‘Similarly,’ he continued, rapidly fitting together the component parts of his bright metallic Stradivarius, ‘the time between the late Mr Oswald’s rifle shots at the late Mr Kennedy, while no doubt of surpassing commercial importance to the manufacturers of Mr Oswald’s rifle and Mr Zapruder’s camera, are in themselves less important than the vital question of the assassin’s motive. What was it, Watson? What was it?’

‘Ah, but Holmes,’ I ejaculated, pausing in my ritual licking of his hand to humbly, and, I knew, hopelessly demur, ‘need an assassin, especially a hypothetically insane one, have a motive to shoot a President?’

‘One assassin need not!’ cried Holmes, triumphantly appending a chord from Gounod to his own mellow shriek. ‘So long as there is only one assassin his motive can indeed have been irrational. But if there is more than one assassin it cannot have been entirely so, for then he must convert his confreres to his madness. Therefore Mr Warren most wisely diverted his attention from the question of the assassin’s motive by haughtily insisting that Master Oswald was mad, and acted alone.

‘Put then the hypothesis of a sane conspiracy to the test of motive. A conspiracy must have wanted Vice-President Johnson in office. For a conspiracy could not have overlooked that obvious consequence of its action. If it wanted Vice-President johnson in office, why did it want Vice-President Johnson in office?”

‘Perhaps some legislation — ‘ I offered feebly.

‘ — That President Kennedy would not have passed?’ cried Holmes, removing an imprisoned morsel of snuff from his nose and feeding it to his reluctant cat. ‘Hardly likely, Watson. Their policies were very similar. Apolitical? Perhaps. Certainly it must have been someone who was to gain personally from the ascension of Vice-President Johnson to power — quite probably someone therefore whom the V.P. knew personally. Now, Watson, prepare yourself.’

I must confess I did not know what Holmes meant, though I had my deep evolving suspicions — Holmes had been to Winchester, and Cambridge, and I had often noticed his bachelorly fascination with my rough male qualities but alas I was soon disillusioned. Holmes produced two photographs — both of vulpine young men. They seemed to be the same man.

‘The one on the left, Watson,’ Holmes proclaimed, ‘is Lee Harvey Oswald. The one on the right is Robert “Bobby” Baker, Lyndon Johnson’s longtime press secretary, lately imprisoned. Bobby Baker. The resemblance is extraordinary, is it not?’

‘Is it not, Holmes!’ I cried. ‘Why, Romulus and Remus.’

‘Avoid classical allusions, Watson.’ Holmes grimaced behind his meerschaum exposing yellow teeth. ‘They ill befit the medical man. Does Catullus sing of the upper intestine?’

‘But Holmes, I am astonished. What man had more motive than Bobby Baker? Except, perhaps, Johnson himself?”

‘Exactly, Watson, exactly. Now put the case that Oswald was an FBI informer, as has been alleged. Put the case that Baker met him when he was working in this capacity. Put the case that Baker — who is known to have been the man who convinced Johnson to accept the Vice-Presidency — with what else but a convenient assassination in mind — put the case that he then offered Oswald certain benefits if he assassinated Kennedy. Put the case that among these benefits was a perfect alibi. He, Baker, would appear in clothes approximating Oswald’s in another part of town where a near-sighted witness or two would notice him. Put the case that Baker then double-crossed Oswald, did not even come to Dallas, that he arranged through blackmail that Tippett should shoot him. Put the case that Oswald shot Tippett instead. Put the case then that another person, or other people, than Oswald shared a common motive. And if they did share a common motive, it must have been a reasonably sane one, for not only were these gentlemen sane enough to act with complete success, they were also sane enough to escape the law.

‘Baker, desperately afraid that Oswald would crack and spill the beans, blackmailed another shady contact, Jack Ruby, into shooting Oswald. Put the case that Baker, having achieved all this on behalf of his vulgar master, and finding himself in due course arraigned — correctly — on a charge of bribery some years later, came to Lyndon Johnson begging not only for a pardon, but also for continuity of employment in his influential position. Put the case that Johnson then laughed in his face, and closed the door.What coukd Baker then do, Watson, but serve the sentence? And no doubt curse the ingratitude of his employer?’

‘Holmes,’ I said in anguish after no little time, ‘why are you telling me all this?’

‘Because, Watson,’ said my old friend, reaching for his morphine hypodermic, despite my futile cries of protest, ‘one needs in one’s declining years hypotheses … theorems … fictions … probabilities … to while away the hours.’

‘But Holmes,’ I blurted out, ‘what if what you say is true?’

‘Ah, then,’ said Holmes, ‘I should keep it to myself, if I were you.’ I looked with some annoyance at my serene, unhinged old friend. ‘Such information is politically dangerous. Consider the hushed-up parallel instance of Prince Arthur, heir to the British throne, also known as Jack the Ripper. In that case, you will recall …’

(Unfinished. First published in 1967, while Johnson was still in office. Baker was released from gaol in 1968. His girlfriend shared a flat with Mary-Jo Kopechne, whom Ted Kennedy, not Baker, is said to have murdered but you never know. Lyndon Johnson died suddenly in 1972 aged only 64.)

The Henderson Wars (7): Wrong Again GH, Wrong Again

No indication that Gerard has ever been right in the last forty years (on matters other than, say, the middle name of R.G. Menzies) has come in as yet, and with his near-supernatural capacity to be chronically, copiously, needlessly wrong, he spoke in his column this morning of ‘Labor’s difficulties’ and of how ‘the Coalition leads Labor by a large margin in the polls.’

He did it on the morning when even the tweaked Newspoll showed Gillard beating Abbott by 40 to 37, and, even after Australia Day, Labor was on 46, or 6 more than Howard was on in June 2001, five months before he won his third election in a row with 50.8 percent.

This would matter less if the Newspoll had not been tweaked down from 50-50, the probable actual vote (in my view), to 46-54.

It was taken on Friday night and Saturday and Saturday night of a holiday long weekend in the sure and certain knowledge that the Labor vote always drops on holidays. This is because the young marrieds and the professionals and schoolteachers and university students who usually favour Labor are out of the house and Newspoll does not call mobiles, or even, amazingly, doorknock. Not once. Not ever.

It is fair to say that no-one sound of limb under thirty was in the house when they rang. Which means that group which favours Labor 60-40 was not consulted.

It also means that those with children were in caravan parks or boats or on the beach or in 3D cinemas when Newspoll rang on Saturday mid-morning, and the septuagenarian and octogenarian and nonagenarian Menzies-nostalgics were at home and took the call; and a third at least of the Green-leaning voters, that is half a million people, were out bushwalking, kayaking or camping.

And Gillard is still favoured as PM over Abbott.  And the Labor vote was the same as it was, two party preferred, before Australia Day.

Gerard is always wrong; discuss.

And he writes very well. And he should write in to defend himself. Or debate me any time, anywhere, on any subject other than Mannix’s biography or the Nicene Conference of 325 AD.

I await his call; or, in these pages, his response.

Classic Ellis: Frank Sinatra, 1998

Of the good things and the bad things that have been said of Sinatra since his going last week (with his checked coat, I guess, slung over his shoulder), a couple are often missing. One was that his hostile, bully-boy, journo-punching ways date not from the first rumours of  his Mafia links in 1949 but much earlier than that, when the House UnAmerican Activities Committee went after him in 1945 as a likely communist. This was because he appeared in a film called What Is America To Me and throughout the war kept raising on stage the fate of the Jews in Poland and Germany, something no true American would do.

And the harsh downturn in his career in the early fifties was in large part due to that, the downturn that his Oscar for playing Maggio in From Here to Eternity rescued him from, much like the parallel downturn in those fraught, bleak years of the rising careers of Larry Parks and Zero Mostel and Melvin Douglas and Martin Ritt and Ring Lardner Jnr and Arthur Miller, when Ol’ Blue Eyes was not only Black (as Dennis Whitburn wittily observed in his fine play The Siege of Frank Sinatra) but Black because thought Red.

My first published work was about Sinatra, a feisty defence of him in the letters page of The Brisbane Telegraph (ending with the passionate plea ‘Give the mug a fair go’), an intervention that did much, I’m sure, to speed his resurrection, and I’ve thought about him a good bit since then.

Among a lot of other things, for instance, he somehow legitimised what might be called the underclass of the promiscuous, gave dignity to people — both men and women — who sleep around. Not just with the obvious one, ‘Strangers in the Night’, but much earlier, with ‘Set ‘Em Up Joe’ and ‘The Wee Small Hours of the Morning’ and ‘All The Way’ and ‘A Very Good Year’ and ‘Summer Wind’, he gave sex (if these are the words I want) its head in a way that jazz had never done for the nervous Updike middle classes, and when he sang ‘Love and Marriage’ (go together like a horse and carriage) you didn’t believe him. He was every suburban woman’s dream of a one-night stand, a man who ‘knew how to make you feel like a woman’, as one of his classier bedfellows — or broads, as he gallantly called them — Lauren Bacall once said. None who saw it will forget the oomph and sizzle when he arrived on the piano stool next to Doris Day in her respectable suburban parlour in Young at Heart, nor what a good match she was for him; Doris, we felt, would settle him down.

He was such a good actor too, reaching Bogart levels in The Detective and The Manchurian Candidate, and had he played all the roles of that curiously similar screen actor Richard Widmark, he would have done them as well. History (and his own famed impatience) denied him the great swan-song role like Fonda’s in On Golden Pond and Wayne’s in True Grit, but in another medium the album Duets is that.

His would have to be the most  American of careers — the first singer little girls squealed and threw their panties at, a husband of Ava Gardner (and Mia Farrow when that looked more like pederasty), a founder of Las Vegas, a pimp for the Kennedys, a midnight solace for a month or two of Marilyn Monroe, the first big name to call Ronald Reagan ‘dumb and dangerous’ before in the long run supporting him, a hipster, a swinger, a playboy, a lounge lizard, a man’s man, a pack leader, a Mafia don, a singing waiter, a broken-down nightclub stand-up, a washout, a comeback, a legend, the first big star to to move round with a retinue of thick-witted bodyguards and fly his classy buddies in a private jet to parties overseas, the first public figure besieged for political incorrectness (when he called Australian female journos ‘hookers’ in 1976 and he was locked inside the Boulevard Hotel by angry service unions till Bob Hawke dropped by for a scotch and ice and sorted him out), a first-generation Italo-American whose mother was an abortionist and whose son Frank Junior’s bloodied ear arrived in the mail a week after his kidnapping, a voice that as background went equally well with a cocktail party on Fifth Avenue, a gay bathhouse in San Francisco or a melancholy bar like Cheers in Chicago at four in the morning (and more, much more than this, I did it …), an elegiac voice as cool and sad as vermouth for all the lost seasons of love.

And so it goes. You might say our lives will be poorer without him but he’ll be around for a while — on CD, on cable, and on the summer wind.

The Hodges Dossier (3): The Karl Rove Strategy, Locally Deployed

The Commonwealth Police don’t think any harm was done by poor Hodges when he told a woman where Abbott was and, accurately, what he had said. Nor do they think much harm was done by the elderly demonstrators banging on some glass that did not break. It has all the lineaments of what we used to call a victimless crime except it is not a crime; a victimless sin, perhaps.

Yet the Liberals want an enquiry into what the Prime Minister knew, and when she knew it, of an incident in which no-one was hurt and only a shoe was lost, and that shoe given back and the Prime Minister and her opposite number together fled out of harm’s way, not that any harm was likely, as it turns out, in the same white car. They want to spend, oh, a million dollars on this public enquiry into what the Prime Minister knew of a non-crime that was eventually not committed, from which she and Abbott, like absconding lovers, escaped by the skin of their teeth in a shared getaway limousine.

What are they really up to? What are they really doing?

Well, the Karl Rove method is to go after your enemy’s strengths, not his weaknesses, and once you look at what has occurred through that particular cunning inverted lens you realise it was Tony Abbott not poor Hodges that probably incited violence, and should probably go to gaol.

He used Australia Day to tell the first Australians to ‘move on’. It’s a not too subtle way of saying, ‘Get off the earth.’ Or how else would you read it?

He said the Apology and the new Constitutional Amendment had pretty much done it all and they should be satisfied with that and get off the lawn. Compensation for being stolen? Forget it. Compensation for being raped, enslaved, impregnated, deprived while lactating of a child of rape? Forget all that. Move on. Get off the lawn.

So the whole frantic move for an enquiry into what the Prime Minister said or what Hodges said or what the staffers knew or let on is a desperate cover-up of what Abbott did when he said what he said, which was incite racial hatred, or racial contempt. He may not have meant to do it, I’m sure he didn’t, but that’s what he did. Otherwise they would not have come after him.

On Australia Day, which is also known as Invasion Day he told the invadees to ‘move on’. Get off the lawn. Get off the earth.

Or perhaps you disagree.

Classic Ellis: Baghdad, April, 2003

Night after night the children weep and wet the bed and wake screaming from nightmares because of the bombing. They do not sleep much any more. They ask their equally sleepless parents when it will end. They are told that the last war, which killed two of their uncles in the desert, lasted six weeks. They do not go to school any more and the schoolbooks they brought home are meaningless in the roaring, thudding, murderous night. Their President on the television urges them to repel the invader. The bombing continues in the daytime now and their father goes off to work down a street of broken windows under a dirty sky despite their screaming pleas that he stay home. There are no air-raid shelters to go to in their suburb and the noise and fear increases.

Whatever else you call it, this daily routine persecution from the sky is also child abuse. If a Catholic priest can be sued for unwelcome hints and probing fingers, then so by the laws of America can George W. Bush for the terrifying nocturnal harassment of these children scarred for life, if they live, by his Manichean view of the world and the trillion-dollar juggernaut he has flung across the planet’s oceans and continents in pursuit of what he calls ‘Infinite Justice’.

In his world view the evil are punished and the righteous — or is it the innocent? — unshackled of their tyranny. The innocent will rejoice in their liberation and cheer the invaders’ triumphal march down their smashed and broken boulevards. The innocent share his view of the evildoers and they, too, want them killed.

Well…up to a point they do. For the evildoers may include their teenage brother, a conscript in Nazariya. Or their uncle, a careerist bureaucrat in the Ministry of Defence. Or their cousin, a make-up girl in the television studio bombed last night for its propaganda. They may include their great-uncle, a gardener in the palace grounds of the President or their great-aunt, a lifelong chambermaid. Or their second cousin, a lieutenant now in the Republican Guard because of the better money and the skilful courage he showed in the First Gulf War. Or their father, a Ba’ath Party clerk who rose through the world as he found it and is getting paid well now, or he was till the bombing started, and the salary office was obliterated.

And, oh yes, their father; him.

But George Bush doesn’t see people as people that are blood relations of other people and neither do his principal advisers. They think some people are stained by sin somehow, unredeemable sin, and should be killed forthwith and their sons and daughters, aware of the stain, will either applaud or forgive the killing because those killed, and killed without trial or jury or judge, were bad people who deserved their fate. It is a way of thinking in these times that is almost unique to Americans, though in other times, more tribal times, more primitive times, Neanderthal times, it was common throughout the world, and it lingers like full-immersion baptism and the electric chair in that peculiar powerful blood-hungry country like nowhere else in the West.

I grew up in the kind of religion that the mid-aged former alcoholic George Bush converted to, and much of America clings to, and I know by heart the saints-and-sinners universe he lives in. I too believed each soul is a battleground of better angels and cunning devils and if the dark side prevails and you sign up with Satan you will thereafter howl in hell begging mercy for millions and millions of years. I too believed I had a terrible choice, to sign up with Jesus, since Jesus saves, or fry forever; and hundreds of millions of heathen fools, Mohammedans for instance, had blown that chance of salvation and were therefore horribly, justly doomed.

I got over it of course — you do if you’re intelligent — about eighteen years before my contemporary George got into it, and began his blunderous pilgrim journey to Armageddon’s fields and Baghdad’s ashes via Florida’s hanging chads, and the ruin of the world as I used to know it; a world of balanced containment, tourism, trade and some faint glimmering goodwill between people with different ways of life. It’s a pity George didn’t get over it, all in all, since the world will pay for his cold turkey decision for Christ for three or kfour hundred years.

Saints and sinners, angels and devils, the few who are saved and the multitudes now doomed, the converted and, yes, the heathen; the heathen is a most important figure in the drama. He is a kind of dark robot, or a human beast like Caliban. Bereft of God’s light, he wallows and gnashes in sinful darkness. He worships blocks of wood and sacrifices his children to alien deities. He takes many wives and eats his enemies. He gnaws on bones in a cave. He can be saved for Christ, but if he rejects the Word and the Light he is quickly beyond God’s grace, and smashed eternally. His window of opportunity is narrow and brief but he must take it or else. The sword hangs over his neck, and he must decide. And so it was the heathen Saddam Hussein was asked, like a witch in Salem, to admit his contacts with the Devil. He funded al-Qaeda. He used Chemical Weapons. He had Weapons of Mass Destruction. The Inquisitors Rice, Bush and Rumsfeld knew it, and whilever the Heathen did not confess his various nights of congress with Satan more wood went on the fire he soon would burn in. No evidence was needed. You could tell a Heathen Sinner by the look and sound of him. For him the fire was waiting, and coming soon; real soon.

The Baghdad palace of the dictator is occupied by Americans as I write this, besieged by loyal Iraqi troops and each hour a hundred more innocent wounded piling up in hospital corridors and the Witchfinder Bush unrelenting thus far, in his fiery, bloody pursuit of the Philistine, sparing not, as the Old Testament God requires, his women or his children; or even, it seems, the BBC’s reporters under friendly fire. No WMDs thus far have been used, nor chemical weapons by Saddam in this war to the death for the fabled kingdom of Babylon and the hearts and minds of the world, though cluster bombs were by his righteous pursuers. There is no need for evidence of evil any more; we know he is evil, he is fighting back.

Saddam may be dead as I write this, may have died on the war’s first night from the thunderous bunker-buster the Almighty gave, I suppose, the Crusaders to punish him with. But he played well the game he was in while it lasted with the very few small, rusty weapons he had left. He studied his foe very carefully, and the teaching of Bush’s ‘favourite philosopher’ Jesus, and before the war started, messed around with his head.

He heeded the Nazarene’s teaching, love your enemies, turn the other cheek, and whatever Bush asked of him, he did it. He let the weapons inspectors in. He let them look anywhere. He let them look anywhere immediately. He provided a list of the weapons he had, ten thousand pages of it. He let them talk to scientists. He provided a list of scientists they could talk to. He let them talk in private. He pointed out a rocket that flew too far by only ten miles. He dismantled it when they asked him to. He became more ‘proactive’ in his co-operation as the months went on. ‘If a man ask you to go a mile with him,’ the Nazarene advised, ‘go with him twain. And thus you will heap coals of fire on his head.’

The advice worked well. His meek and gentle compliance won over most western observers, and his fundamentalist persecutor looked madder and madder as the weeks went on. He isn’t complying, said Bush, he’s only pretending to. By doing everything we say he’s buying time. And he’ll use that time to build a nuclear bomb, and with that bomb he’ll blow us all to hell. To prevent this we’re prepared to nuke him, in the name of peace. But there is no nuclear bomb, said ElBaradei, we’ve done tests, we know this. Well he’s got chemical weapons, said Bush, we have this evidence. Your evidence is false, said Blix. You should perhaps calm down; have a cup of tea and a Bex and calm down. Be patient. If there are weapons there we will find them.

His head aflame with coals Bush sought a UN vote, but France and Russia mooted a veto. He then sought a ‘moral majority’, frantically bribing with billions tiny countries like the Cameroons and Guinea to vote for his holy war. But they didn’t want to; war, they unreasonably felt, caused bigger problems than it solved. The pale Galilean’s method was working: non-violence, compliance, forgiveness, messianic tranquillity, and much mild Middle Eastern hospitality; you are welcome to my house; pray take a cushion and have tea.

Like Caiaphas, then, Bush snapped and with a bunker-buster had him killed, on the first night of the war. And then…he rose from the dead, and was seen in divers places, among delighted, clutching, cheering disciples. He was hailed through the Muslim world as a hero, one who stood up to the infidel bully and asserted Arab pride. He picked up a billion fans that Bush with his gnawing fanaticism lost and, in some senses, though not all, for his country is being smashed and burned and his people murdered as I write, he won the day.

And this is the story so far, though it may change: a crazed fundamentalist fool laid low by a shrewd chess-playing agnostic with a gift for public relations. The world order threatened. Economies crumbling. And children sleepless under bombardment and waiting for the dawn.

The Hodges Dossier (2): The Rudd Poll Numbers Deconstructed

The unfair dismissal of Hodges who merely told a black woman where Abbott was on a day — an Australia Day — when it was widely known where he would be, in the Lobby handing out medals to heroes, is troubling me more, perhaps, than it should.

It’s like sacking someone who told Lee Oswald, ‘Hey, The President is driving by our building tomorrow, isn’t that cool?’ Or gaoling Haneef for leaving his sim-card with a man who did not blow up Scotland with it, preferring another sim-card, and blew up only himself. It was not as if anyone was endangered by a few thumps on impenetrable plate glass.

On another Australia Day a man approached Prince Charles with a starting pistol and a Premier tackled him to the ground and lost the election anyway; but it is fair to say he had grounds for concern as the gunman ran at the heir to the throne. This Prime Minister had none, and her guards were idiots to pretend that gunfire was imminent and drag her shoeless by the nose across the front pages of the known world.

But she was wrong to sack Hodges, who I keep imagining is an oyster-eating cat, for passing on common knowledge to a black woman who overstated, or overrated, or exaggerated, what Abbott had said. How could he possibly know she would do that? And how could he possibly prevent her from doing it, when the knowledge came to her from someone else?

Murdoch is beating it up into the sort of ‘what did she know and when did she know it’ headline that is lately afflicting him and his son, and putting lots of his pantie-sniffing confederates in the slammer, or is it the Tower, in Great Britain. Whatever the Prime Minister knew shouldn’t matter, because whatever she knew, whenever she knew it, however she heard it, was not illegal. No law was broken. No falsehood was published by her office. No lie was told.

There should be no problem but the Murdochist skull-and-crossbones flagship The Daily Telegraph has fabricated one, they way they do, and it may hurt Gillard mortally. It’s a poll taken on January 27-28 when no-one under seventy was home, that gave Rudd 44 percent, Gillard 27 percent and Shorten 14 percent on the question of who best should lead the Labor Party.

1001 voters were in the sample, the kind of people who stay at home on the Australia Day long weekend — the old, the ill, the maimed, the mad, the friendless, the loveless, the grimily eccentric, the Filipino babysitters, the old age carers, the devil-worshippers, the autistic, the senile — including, unsurprisingly, 540 Coalition voters.

Of these, 237 preferred Rudd. Of course they did. They knew he’d lose, and they really liked that. The sooner we get Rudd back as Labor leader, they reasoned, the sooner we get Abbott up as Prime Minister.

Or do you think they named Rudd because they wanted him to win? Why would they want that? The 237 Coalition voters in the sample? Want Rudd to win the election? What a strange idea.

On the Labor side of the ledger, the Shorten-plus-Gillard aggregate outscored Rudd by 253 to 197. These were the people who wanted Labor to win, and the non-Rudd vote outscored the pro-Rudd vote by, well, about ten percent. Yet the Telegraph headline says ‘Rudd a wanted man for the voters’. For the Liberal voters, absolutely. Sure he is. Of course he is.

But not the Labor voters, it seems, by a margin of 56 votes in a total of 450: eleven percent. Which means the non-Rudd vote would win in a landslide a leadership contest conducted across the nation by even the ill, the old, the friendless, the maimed, and so on. Cream him. Wipe him out. Send him sobbing home to Nambour, or is it Yeppoon.

The Telegraph also says ‘invisible Shorten not the answer’ because of his alleged low profile and low visibility; Bill Shorten, this is; ‘he is not even on the voters’ radar’, the Telegraph says. He would certainly become visible if he were Prime Minister, I imagine, as visible as he was at Beaconsfield a few years ago, and even more visible when his mother-in-law swore him in and offered him and her daughter scones. There would be no chance of him seeming ‘faceless’ then.

Or now. He’s quite recogniseable now, I would think. Ask anyone. The old, the ill, the maimed …

What lies they tell.

The poll they don’t take, of course they don’t, they’re Murdochists and their purpose is the defeat of Labour and Social Democrat governments across the world and the extinction of the Labor Party forever here and the impotence of every union leader now working, is a poll that asks how well Gillard, Rudd and Shorten would go against Abbott in an election; who Australians would prefer as Prime Minister.

They don’t dare do that poll because the real question would then arise of how liked Abbott is as Prime Minister against two other considerable male contenders, or three, or four. Or five. Or six. Or seven.

And the poll would show he was easily defeatable. And that would never do.

I ask them to publish that poll forthwith. Put up against Abbott in one-to-one contests Rudd, Swan, Smith, Combet, Shorten, Albo, Burke, Faulkner, Roxon, Plibersek and Gillard, and see which one does best.

Is there any argument against this?

What is it?

Liars and cheats, the lot of them

They’re Murdochists.

And one by one they’re going to gaol.


She’s Back In Town, She’s Famous And She’s Angry: Cody And Reitman’s Young Adult

The Australian Quirky genre, as I said here a fortnight ago, has found new life in America in films like Juno, Funny People, My Best Friend’s Wedding and The Descendants. Another such a one is Young Adult, a you-can’t-go-home-again movie like Beautiful Kate, High Tide, Return Home, Mullet, and my own Unfinished Business, of course, whose punchline it partly shares.

The premise is one that Jane Austen, curiously, failed to stumble upon. Mavis Gary, a writer of Young Adult fiction, composing in her head her latest high school romance as she travels, returns at thirty-seven to Mercury, Minnesota, a town she simultaneously blames, rejects, abhors and yearns for, with a cunning plan. She will steal back her old love Buddy Slade from his present wife and new baby and take him away with her, as they planned eighteen years ago, to glamorous, international Minneapolis — the ‘Mini-Apple’ it used to be called — where she has lately mislaid a husband and found in herself, over time, and a lot of drinking, an incapacity for joy untreatable by one-night stands. Buddy, she feels, will cure all that. She must get Buddy back. He feels for her, she knows, as she feels for him. He will go with her to Minneapolis. It is written in the stars. She believes it, like one of her teenage heroines. It is foredoomed.

But the past, as Obama noted in his greatest speech, is not dead; it isn’t even past. And all over town are people who admired and resented Mavis at school — as a rival, a gorgeous tease, a boyfriend thief, a teacher’s pet, a prom night queen, a role model — and they want a pound or two of her fair and much-polluted flesh now she is back, and semi-famous, and beautiful still, or nearly, and recogniseable, or almost, and passing through.

One of them is Matt Freehauf, a pudgy lumbering cripple gay-bashed near death at sixteen, who had the locker next to hers for years and years and adored her when she barely knew he existed. Not gay, as it turns out, but a geek who in his basement fabricates malt whisky she likes to drop by and get stinking on, he becomes her Jiminy Cricket and her Father Confessor and she tells him of her plans to regain Buddy and he tells her of his twisted penis and his daily difficulties tossing off in the vague hope of her assistance in this department some rare drunk night of the quarter moon. And he studies her character, as we do.

Is she an alcoholic? A temperamental artist? A bipolar depressive in a manic phase she might soon come down from? A proud young beauty whose beauty and pride and fertility are all going south at once? A chronic fantasist whose life plans are as unreal as her teenage fiction, which we hear in constant voice-over? A brilliant, brave young woman whose dim home town does not deserve her? A classic feral marauding slut besieging one more nervous married man?

Charlize Theron rings all the changes of this wandering anthology of psycho-amorous possibility and we go with her down many dim alleys of denial and self-rediscovery. And we wish her well, somehow, in her current mad home-wrecking project, and we hope she walks her little dog now and then and she isn’t too cruel to her parents when they once more enquire if her first fool marriage might yet be reconvened over a horrible home-cooked meal. Is her trouble gynaecological? Neurological? Chemical? Psychological? We will see.

The greatest fascination for me as a man was to watch the willed and persuasive transformation — the wig, the lipstick shades, the silk shirt, the manicure, the cheery hi on the phone — of a sluggardly mess of hung-over morning stupour into a bright and bubbly visiting angel who just wants to look up her old friend Buddy and hang with him and, hey, view the baby and shoot the breeze while she’s here in town for a few days finalising, she says, a real estate deal. Are all women as good at lying as this? They probably are. They probably are. The beautiful ones for sure. Most women will find her absorbing too as they will have known at school a teacher’s pet and playground vamp like Mavis Gary, blonde bombshell, and wondered what became of her. This film provides a fair guess.

The script and direction by Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman are very fine, as they were for Juno. Patrick Wilson whom I have long thought the next Paul Newman is excellent as Buddy, copping sweet the bad hand life has dealt him, as a small-town working stiff in a dim job tending the infant around the clock and restlessly, sleeplessly heeding, oh God, his marriage vows; and Elizabeth Reaser very fine as Beth his unfazed breezy wife, expressing her milk and leaving the house to go to the pub and pummel the drums in The Mystic Nipples, a nursing-mothers-only rock band gamely trying out this very night. Patton Oswalt is astonishing as Matt, exactly like a Shakespearian Fool, limping and leering and firing off greasy epithets, as good as Giamatti would have been in the role ten years ago.

But it is Theron who is the most fearless, exact and unflinching, and chillingly real. Like Streep in The Devil Wore Prada she gives us a villain/hero that is absolutely gender-specific and could only be a female, in whom courage and fury and self-delusion fight for mastery of the soul, whose luck has been cursed and her true love gazumped by minnows, who drinks too much and loves too well and thinks too hard and has what Scott Fitzgerald once called ‘romantic readiness’ and with it, rising each dawn, tiptoes away from yet another snoring fellated hairy man who has not come up to snuff, prepared, as always, to meet the future head on, and fight it to a draw.

This is a very fine film and you should see it soon.

The Hodges Dossier (1)

The rules are being rewritten every day and I can’t get used to it.

Yesterday a media officer was supposed to put a harmful slant on his adversary’s words. It was part of his job description. Today he can’t. Yesterday an unruly mob was warned by the police to behave themselves or go to gaol. Today it isn’t.

Yesterday it was common practise that an offended group turn up with shouts and placards where a detested politician was speaking. Today it’s not. Yesterday you didn’t get sacked for saying where Tony Abbott was, and twisting his words. Today you do.

Why not call the Riot Squad and remove the shouting, thumping mob? Why treat them like assassins and run with the PM under your armpit as if dodging bullets? Why?

It’s the cops not Hodges who should have been sacked, but the PM said they did ‘an amazing job’. An amazing job, she said. She really did. A ‘truly amazing job’. It’s probably the right word. They turned Australia’s day of self-celebration into a seemingly racist melee, the PM on her knees and the flag burning, on televisions and websites around the world. Amazing. Truly amazing.

The PM’s view, or what seems to have been the PM’s view, that black folk shouldn’t be told where important white folk are drinking latte, might well be misunderstood, I fear — by, say, Rob Oakeshott, who has a black wife and a casting vote, and most of India, the Middle East and Africa.

It’s a terrible thing to even hint at. She should restore poor Hodges (his name so reminiscent of Dr johnson’s beloved oyster-eating cat) to his job immediately. He said no more than that Abbott was being ‘relentlessly negative’ about the Aborigines too. Which he was. He really was.

Or can’t we say ‘relentlessly negative’ any more? Is that a new rule also?

Just asking.

P.S. What would I have done, you well may ask. What would I have done in her shoes, or do I mean shoe?

I would have called the cops to deal with the rioters, and continued on with the ceremony and the speeches. And when Pyne said Labor had falsified Abbott’s words, I would have said, ‘What else does “move on” mean? I ask Tony Abbott to apologise to the Aboriginal people, as his predecessor Brendan Nelson did, for this crude new attack on their ethnic solidarity on what should be a day of national unity. How dare he say what he said. If we in the government have misconstrued it, will he tell us what, precisely, he meant by “move on”? What did he mean?’

And I would have bought poor Hodges a box of chocolates. Or, in the Dr Johnson manner, an overflowing bucket of shucked oysters.

As I Please: Hodges, The Man Who Knew Too Much, His Meteoric Fall Prematurely Reconsidered

In an act some descibe as a ‘Judas kiss’ Tony Hodges revealed where the Alternative Prime Minister was on Australia Day and lost his position ‘for a heinous deed,’ the Prime Minister said, ‘in the approximate vicinity of treason.’

Just kidding, folks; just kidding. She actually said he did nothing wrong, or nothing very wrong, and sacked him anyway.

And Murdochism is working around the clock on this: how could the PM be so reckless as to employ the equivalent of a Suicide Bomber on her personal staff? Did she not know that a Leader of the Opposition’s presence anywhere on Australia Day is always, always a state secret? What if it had been discovered that she herself was eating at the Lobby, like him, amid hundreds of munching witnesses? Catastrophe. Debacle. Dallas all over again.

The looniness of all this beggars description. It puts one in mind of Ronald Reagan, then an FBI informant, identifying the ‘premature anti-fascist’ Charles Chaplin at a pro-Soviet peace rally in 1948. Chaplin was then the most famous man in the world, and needed no identifying among the two thousand leftist pinkoes swarming around him. But Reagan identified him anyway, and was praised by Hoover for a job well done ‘in difficult and trying circumstances’ including, it was said, the copious third-rate champagne.

And the Murdoch Rules Of Criminal Behaviour daily multiply. It is now a crime to leave a sim-card with someone who might blow up Scotland.  It is now a crime, or so Murdoch says, to say ‘Do you know who I am?’ to a Woy Woy waiter who possibly does not. It is now a crime for a Minister to say ‘fucking fantastic’ to a room full of adults, and he should be sacked for it immediately, without a day in court. Of course he should.

But it is not a crime to machine-gun two little girls on the eve of their cousin’s wedding. That is ‘acting appropriately in difficult circumstances’; unlike saying ‘Mate’ to Kerry which of course is unforgiveable.

The spectacle of a Prime Minister being dragged face down away from shouting Aborigines on what they call Invasion Day wlll do us no end of good in the Pacific, Asia and Europe, and no-one doubts that this is so. It means they will see how tough we are. At the first sign of trouble we scramble out of there under the armpit of a headshaven copper, shedding shoes. That’s the kind of people we are, the kind that lost Gallipoli. They know that now. And they won’t forget it.

Bob Hawke so beset would have confronted the angry mob and proposed an immediate debate on Old Parliament steps. This Prime Minister fled, lost her shoe, and sacked her media man for saying where she was.

How silly was this.

And how unleaderly.

The Henderson Wars (6)

In ten days no evidence has come in that Gerard was right at any time on any subject whatever in forty years of commentating.

I ask someone to help him out.

If no-one will I ask the smh to sack him and give me his job at any rate of pay they think fair for a two month trial after which they can reinstate him if they like, or keep me on.

Or to say why they will not.

The Kennedy Assassination (4)

After a lot of comment and a new suspect and the impossibility of the three shots coming from the one direction and, most interestingly, Oswald’s two little daughters, which makes him the only presidential assassin so encumbered, I am struck by the resemblance of the Dallas head-shot and that other CIA hit, on Osama Bin Laden in Abbottobad.

In both, a suspect is murdered before he comes to trial. In both, no interrogation record or notes survive. In both, vital evidence is voided or suppressed by the killing of the suspect. In both, autopsy evidence is destroyed, in one case by destroying the film and washing the car, in the other, by dumping the body into the sea, thus avoiding evidence turning up that lies were told about his kidneys and his dialysis by the CIA for ten years. Was there a dialysis machine in the compound? No. Why then were we lying?

In both, a massive cover-up, lest officials in Dallas/Abbottobad be fingered by the accused as his associates, friends or accomplices. In both, the massive destruction of evidentiary material: the autopsy film, the hours of Oswald interrogation, the helmet-camera videos of the raid on the compound, the computer files, the letters, family photos. Why is the Oswald interrogation material lost? Why are the helmet-camera images all suppressed? Why the secrecy? Why the cover-up? Why cover up anything? Why?

The SEALs took out Obama as Ruby took out Oswald. Things had to be suppressed. By Sunday in Dallas, they knew what they were.

Oswald had no motive to kill Kennedy, but the CIA did; and the Mob. Each had been threatened by Bobby and Jack, who had to go therefore and were hit therefore. Those two had motive. Oswald did not.

As with Lindy Chamberlain, the lack of motive was a sure sign of innocence.

It still is.


As I Please: Albo, Obama, Shakespeare And George VI, Plagiarists, Plagiarists All

Obama’s excellent State of the Union speech, as good as five Gettysburgs, put him back on the map and made the election his to lose.

The critical sentence was ‘We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by, or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share and everyone plays by the same set of rules.’

And it left the Republicans with nowhere to go, or hide. Romney has hundreds of milions and has in his time sacked thousands of people and pays half the tax his typist pays. Gingrich made millions touting Fannie Mae whose dud loans provoked and fed and sped the world Meltdown. A brokered convention looks likely now, with someone as thick as Huckabee or as mad as Palin soft-shoeing out of the shadows to claim the crown.

Ailes and Murdoch meanwhile are up to their old tricks. How dare the President use this great night of the nation to discuss politics? How dare he go campaigning the day after, in an election year? You don’t ‘play politics’ with the State of the Union. No sir, you do not. It’s there for you to say what you’ve been up to lately, and what your plans are, You have to leave ‘politics’ out of it.

A similar trick is being played on Albo. How dare he use words Michael Douglas once used in a movie made sixteen years ago? To wit:

PRESIDENT DOUGLAS: We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious men to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, friend, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it, and telling you who’s to blame for it.

ALBO: In Australia we have serious challenges to solve and we need serious people to to solve them. Unfortunately, Tony Abbott is not the least bit interested in fixing anything. He is only interested in two things: making Australians afraid of it and telling them who’s to blame for it.

Not much in this, comrade. Of the seven major ingredients of each of the paragraphs quoted, only one, the last, has the same wording, or nearly. And it’s not as if the insight is unusual, it’s about the politics of fear and dread and blame. We’ve heard about this before, haven’t we? Fearing the Yellow Peril? Blaming the Jews.

How ridiculous this all is. Nobody went after John Howard, ever, for using the words ‘laid down their lives for the freedoms we now enjoy’ though fourteen hundred politicians had used the same words at cenotaphs all over the English-speaking world in the year before he said it. Or the words ‘the ongoing menace of global terrorism’, which George Bush had used before him, several times before. But if Albo says ‘Play it again, Sam’ or ‘Call that knife?’ or ‘Feeling lucky, punk?’ or ‘Make my day’ or ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn’ without acknowledging where it came from he should be deprived of his preselection or his Ministry. Or so we are told. Though it’s an utterly victimless crime he should lose his profession for it.

What a wondrous, eccentric, bizarre idea. Following the logic, Barack Obama now cannot say anything on a public stage without acknowledging who wrote the words on his telepromper. And Paul Keating should have been deselected or deposed or censured in Parliament for speaking the fine words Don Watson wrote at Redfern. And Rupert Murdoch should be gaoled for reading the Boyer Lecture he gave in the Opera House without first saying who wrote it for him.

And Shakespeare should have been drummed out of the theatre for putting into Julius Caesar the many, many lines he quoted unchanged from Tom North’s Plutarch: Why, I shall see thee at Philippi then; What touches us ourselves shall be last served; Caesar must wait until Calpurnia have better dreams. And Robert Bolt arraigned before the House of Commons for including in A Man For All Seasons many, many words that Sir Thomas More once really said or wrote. And Colin Firth sent to the Tower for quoting without attrribution the speech the King gave in 1939 without saying, and saying in the film, who wrote it. It stands to reason. Fred Niles should be defrocked for using in his casual conversation one-liners from the Bible without saying where each and every one came from, chapter and verse.You know it makes sense.

Ailes and Murdoch have a lot of tricks. They made no protest when Frank Wuterich was let off on Tuesday for mistakenly slaughtering women and children in Iraq. But quoting Michael Douglas? No way.

Murdoch has done this before. When Joe Biden was running for President in 1988 and was at the head of the pack the Murdoch papers revealed that he had used, unacknowledged, in a stump speech in a small town a famous paragraph of Neil Kinnock’s, about being the first Kinnock in a thousand years to get to university. Biden had used the paragraph before, and always attributed it, saying, ‘I, like Neil Kinnock, can say of myself that I am the first Biden in a thousand years’, and so on; and he forgot the preamble once and lost the Presidency. And Bush 1 got it. And it’s a pity.

And it is another Murdoch fiction, that if words are used that have been used before by someone else, great harm has occurred. But no harm has occurred. We quote the Bible, we quote Karl Marx, ‘first as tragedy, then as farce’, all the time. We quote proverbs, unattributed, a penny saved is a penny earned (Ben Franklin) all the time.

In the meantime children are being killed by drone missiles in what Murdoch calls ‘an appropriate, limited response’. No harm in that. No crime there. But gee, if you sneer at a Woy Woy waiter, or say ‘mate’ in a heated way to Kerry O’Brien, that’s a sacking offence, and even a Prime Minister should go down for it.

These are the Murdoch rules. They have no connection with actual spontaneous human response. They are learned, in a Pavlovian way, by ignorant unreflective young journalists, including ABC journalists, who should know better and have been suckered into the Rove propaganda fog of deceit and embellishment and should be ashamed of themselves.

Or perhaps you disagree.

(There is no more to come. Ignore the curiously uneraseable headline below.)


Di Caprio’s Hoover: No More Mr Nice Guy

Many American institutions and corporations – Ford, Playboy, the Mercury Theatre, the Actors’ Studio, Disneyland, the Hughes Tool Company, Facebook, Fox News – bear a close resemblance to cults, and the FBI especially so.

Teetotal, clean-shaven, Caucasian, God-fearing, fervidly anti-Communist and mostly unmarried, J Edgar Hoover’s ‘G-men’ had the zeal of medieval crusaders and could be fired for looking at him impertinently or growing a moustache, and, like other disciples of other cults (Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons come to mind), persecuted each other as much as they did the Free World’s enemies.

Does a democracy need a secret police? Hoover never doubted it, and from Emma Goldman through Al Capone to Martin Luther King with increasing power and budget and weaponry sought out, embellished and fabricated such internal threats to America’s continuity – Anarchists, Communists, gin-importing hoodlums, machine-gun-waving bank robbers, Nazi spies, the NCC, the Kennedys – that no President dared sack him and he was reverenced like a secular Pope or Hopalong Cassidy by generations raised on the radio shows, movie shorts and comic books (‘Don’t shoot, G-men!’) that he egoistically co-authored and reconfigured, providing a role-model in adjustable paranoia for Santamaria, Menzies, Ruddock and, lately, Scott Morrison and Chris Bowen: the aliens are upon us and among us and must be named, uprooted, shamed and banished from our shores.

His implacable zealotry, in part careerist and empire-building, in part sincerely patriotic and self-mesmerised, derived, as this film shows, from his homosexuality. A mother’s boy who lived in his unforgiving progenitor’s house till the end of her days, he flinched always from feminine company and built a kind of priesthood to avoid it. The love of his life, Clyde Tolson, he lunched and dined with every day, travelling to La Jolla each year for a fortnight’s honeymoon-revelry and racehorse-betting and never otherwise left Washington: his bureaucracy was his universe, his torment of his fellow citizens his theocratic purpose and his private hobby.

In Clint Eastwood’s intricately nuanced and structured film we see his closeted, cross-dressing anguish at war with his politics. Vigorous womanising rogues like JFK and King he bugs and photographs in flagrante, and in stifled wonderment hears them over and over at their gasping, pleasured exertions. Offered sex by Ginger Rogers, and a dance by her mother, he flees the restaurant and goes home with Clyde. He later ponders marriage with Dorothy Lamour but Clyde beats him up, and that is the end of that. Like many bureaucrats he finds a kind of eroticism in his tyranny, his dress codes, his invigilations and his punishment of rivals: Melvin Purvis who stalked and shot Dillinger he demotes to a desk job and he is never heard of again.

Di Caprio, whom I had long thought a minor talent, makes a wonderful, theatrical banquet of a role that would test Olivier. Seen successively old and young and even younger, as the story flips back and forward between his turf wars with Bobby Kennedy, his hunting down of the Lindbergh baby kidnapper, his empire-building and wooing of Clyde, he seems at first too histrionic, defiant and righteous, but we realise later this is the man. The performance ranks with Seymour Hoffman’s Capote and George Scott’s Patton, and its absence from Oscar Night (and Oldman’s presence) eez, as Yul Bryner might say, a puzzlement.

Naomi Watts is very fine as Miss Gandy, the personal private secretary he initially thinks he loves and who knocks him back but serves him selflessly for forty-eight years, shredding his most contentious filth-files as the end titles roll; Armie Hammer (who played both Winkelvi) beautifully, subtly loose and aristocratic, uncaring, as Tolson old and young, reminiscent at both ages of Henry Fonda; Judi Dench as his always threatening bitch-mother (she tersely reminds him of a cross-dressing friend who, shamed at school, then shot himself, and rightly so, my son, my dear dear son, rightly so); Christopher Shyer as Nixon, baritone, foul-mouthed, mendacious, rivettingly good; Josh Lucas as Lindbergh nicely shell-shocked into a kind of stoic diffidence; and Daniel Herriman, an Australian actor I have long admired, broodily ambiguous as the (alleged) kidnapper Hauptmann.

Sometimes the ageing makeup works and sometimes not: Watts is always exactly right, but Hammer seems exhumed from a crypt and keen for a night out blood-sucking. The script, by Dustin Lance Black, is very fine, better, I think, in the end (though not in the beginning), than its model, Citizen Kane. In a marvellous early scene Edgar shows Miss Gandy by night in a semi-romantic tryst his filing system, a gigantic room of detailed probing exactitude with which he plans to change the known world into a safer, sweeter place, and we understand him immediately: the file-clerk as fuhrer. We have seen his like before. Rudd comes to mind, and Santamaria, and Laurie Oakes, and the Tony Abbott file on Pauline Hanson. Hoover has given us, along with fingerprinting and much forensic deduction, the vigilant mess that is modern politics.

Eastwood gets a few things wrong. The Bobby Kennedy of Jeffrey Donovan is too throw-away, mild, brown-eyed and tall, physically nothing like the tiny, combative, pale-eyed, gay-cadenced original. He shows Hoover surprised by the JFK murder when he was up to his neck in it; probably. He calls Bobby and gleefully tells him and hangs up quickly, when in fact he asked respectfully for instructions from Bobby, his employer, and Bobby said, ‘I’ll call you back.’ The film does not tie him to the King murder, and it must, of course it must.

There is no illustration of the McCarthy era, the hounding of Robeson, Chaplin, Seberg, Hemingway; and so on. For Edgar and Clyde, there is no first kiss: we learn only later in a fierce flamboyant hotel-room quarrel (the operative word is ‘completion’) that they’ve been what we then called ‘an item’ for decades. The dark-shadowed brown-and-yellow images, so familar from Flags Of Our Fathers and Changeling, loiter too long and by the Kent State/Watergate seventies seem outdated. We hear little of his Christian Science faith and nothing of his father’s early dementia, nor what his brother did. And we learn at the end that some of what we have seen did not happen, it was just a few more of Edgar’s big, self-serving lies; and, well, that’s a bit a worry. We should have been told; or not.

But it’s a very, very, very fine movie, breaking new ground in cinematic historiography – in, for instance, the scene when after his mother’s death Hoover dresses himself up as the dear departed, and looks at her recosmeticked ghost in the mirror, like Norman Bates in Psycho, and talks to himself in her voice. It stands alongside Capote, Piaf, Ray, Walk the Line, Amazing Grace and The Last Mitterrand as a very, very good reflective biography, and it should be seen.

Classic Ellis: The Hanging of Saddam Hussein

It’s fair to say, I think, that the freedom we fought for was evident in our view of the last moments of Saddam Hussein. He was free to wear a hood, and chose not to. He was free to speak to his captors, but we were not free to hear what he said. He was free I suppose to make a mighty speech, but we were not free to hear it. His black-hooded executioners were free to conceal their identities, but he, in the last five minutes of his life, was allowed no similar privacy.

We did not see him drop, his neck break, his neat suit fecally stained, nor the vengeful witnesses dance around his body, spitting on it if they did, kicking it if they did.

So what Iraq’s new ‘freedom’ gave us this time round was the censored version of the killing of a man, a man still on trial for other crimes, a man who in almost any other jurisdiction would not have been killed at all; certainly not on the holiest day of the Sunni calendar, the equivalent of breaking George Bush’s neck in Washington on Christmas morning.

Very, very rarely do we witness, with warning, the last moments of a life. These were pretty surprising. No rage, no railing, no sermonising, no physical struggle. A courteous, mild exchange about the black scarf he must wear. An accompanied walk to the drop, with the posture of a professor approaching a lectern in another town. And then, of course, what we in our freedom were not allowed to see.

These images will either change world history or they will not. It depends a bit on how many Americans watch them over and over and how many watch, instead, the funeral of President Ford. But those who do will imagine, surely, how George Bush might have behaved on a similar gallows, and the physical struggle, hortatory tears and loud pleadings while his captors held him down.

They may ask, too, a fairly simple, arithmetical question, and it’s this: If a Head of State can hang by the neck until he is dead for having ordered, or countenanced, or signed off on, or not punished, or failed to countermand the torture and killing of 148 Iraqis guiltless of any great crime, what will happen to the generals, bureaucrats, Prime Ministers and Heads of State who ordered, or countenanced, or signed off on, or did not punish, or did not countermand, the killing of 150,000 Iraqis guiltless of any great crime (this is now the official Iraqi government estimate of the dead) and the torture of ten thousand more of them in Abu Ghraib? And how many Americans – Bremmer, Abizaid, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rice, Bush – should on this precedent be charged and hanged?

They may also ask, as many legal experts have across the world, how much was fair about a trial in which three of the defence lawyers were shot dead and those that survived forbidden to see the prosecution’s written testimony before it was unveiled in court, and only those parts of the proceedings the government liked were telecast – lest Saddam ‘grandstand’ his cause and gain followers. And how wrong it was this trial was not aborted, and another trial begun in The Hague.

They may ask as well why Saddam died so soon. Something to do, perhaps, with his coming genocide trials, and the complicity of Germany, France, the US and the UK in the manufacture of his nerve gas, anthrax, cluster bombs and helicopter gunships, and his amiable business relationships with Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush Senior, once Head of the CIA, in past decades, and how his genocidal methods back then did not greatly annoy them, not so long as he paid his bills.

And these are the freedoms we fought for. The freedom to ask, and not be told – lest we ‘encourage terrorists’ – what really happened, and who was in the loop when it happened. Such were freedoms Nixon encouraged in Chile when he helped Augusto Pinochet to censor, torture and kill those inconvenient to the many, many secrets America wanted to keep.

These are the freedoms we fought for, and will now defend in Iraq for decades if Bush and Howard, brothers-in-arms for ‘freedom’, get their way.

In Saddam’s hanging we saw them all at once.

The Kennedy Assassination (3): Who Did It

Wednesday 25th February, 2012

7.20 pm

Drenching rain, and some surly solar activity that kept interrupting Obama’s State of the Union speech, an election-winning performance that Fox News tried to mitigate, the way they do, with long-held cutaways of the ugliest people in the room.

A lot of traffic on the blog about the Kennedy piece, and a remarkable unveiled website of all of Lee Oswald’s witnessed words from the moment of his arrest until his murder; with the omission, of course, of the thirteen hours of transcribed interrogation that the dog ate, or the cleaning lady stoked the boiler with, or whatever, and was never seen again. Like the film of the President’s autopsy.

What’s potentially most absorbing about it is Lee names, or seems to name, the true assassin; or one of them anyway. Here is what he said.

‘There was another rifle in the building. I have seen it. Warren Caster had two rifles, a 30.06 Mauser, and a .22 for his son.’

Was Warren Caster questioned? Who was he? Where was he at the fatal moment? Why did the cops, or the Warren Commission, or the FBI, not interrogate him?

The Mauser 30.06 was used as a primary weapon by the US Army from 1906 to the early 1970s. It had a range, wikipedia says, of a thousand yards. It was the rifle most favoured in those years by army snipers, because of its accuracy. What a coincidence.

Why was it in the building? Is Warren Caster alive now? How about his son?

Worth questioning, surely.

9.39 pm

A vigilant respondent, pitying my ignorance, put me on to the Warren Commission’s tepid interrogation of their namesake. He was forty-eight and ran a small publishing concern in the building. He bought the two rifles on Wednesday, November 20th, two days before the assassination, and showed them to some of the Depository’s employees, including Oswald, in the hallway, then put them back in his office, which had a window view of the motorcade from the second floor.

He then, he told the Warren people, took both guns home that night, the .22 a Christmas present for his son, and did not bring them back to the office, ever; and was out of town, by coincidence, ‘on business’, on the fatal historic world-changing Friday. He cited no alibi witness, and was not asked for one, or made to say say where he lodged, or what the trip was for.

Given the ‘pristine bullet’, and some said it was placed in the stretcher long after the shooting, and the confusion over the make of the rifle, and the inaccuracy of the Mannlicher, with which Oswald, a poor shot, allegedly pulled off a miraculous feat of speed, changed focus and bullseye precision, and the accuracy of the Mauser, I think we have our man; or one of them.

I will chase up some more, and get back to you.

11.46 pm

It is just possible we are witnessing the genesis of the Karl Rove Big Texas Lie here. In the same way as George’s brother Jeb disfranchised black voters in Dade County, enough for George to win with, just because he could, another native Texan, Lyndon Johnson, organised the shooting, in a town he controlled, of his President in broad daylight in front of a thousand witnesses, and had himself sworn in as President with Jackie, in her brain-spattered pink dress, standing traumatised beside him, we now see the hired assassin Warren Caster showing his murder weapon to the man he was framing, Lee Oswald, outside the room he fired from, just because he could; and the naming of the only left-winger in Dallas as the murderer within fifteen minutes of the crime, and the annoucing of the murder of Tippett fifteen minutes before it occurred, just because they could; and the showing to Oswald of the forged photo of him and the rifle, and the destruction of the transcripts, and the shooting of Oswald in broad daylight on live television during Kennedy’s funeral boastfully, just because they could: see what we’re getting away with, we’re Texans, we do things supersize down here; in the same way as we execute more prisoners than any other ten states put together.

The audacity of it. Imagine if Joe Biden had invited Obama to Delaware and had him shot in the head there and invited Michelle to stand beside him, covered in blood, while he was sworn in on Air Force One. That’s how daring it was. But maybe not as daring as all that. Sometimes the obvious is the best camouflage. No-one dared suggest Johnson was behind it because it was just so obvious he had to be. He was the greatest beneficiary, so it couldn’t be him.

His biographer Robert Caro believes it was him, and has for volume after volume delayed the moment of truth, which will come out, he plans, posthumously. Or so I hear tell. He’s terrified of what may befall him. Or so I hear tell. And so it goes.

Who gave Oswald the job in the Texas Book Depository? Who changed the autocade route to go beneath it? These two, plus Johnson, plus Caster, plus the two army snipers behind the fence on the hill, are all that need to have been in the conspiracy. Six people, plus four or five police and a CIA paymaster plus Hoover and Tolson. Not too hard to keep it secret.

A conspiracy theory? Oh yes. How absurd. We all know there are no conspiracies. We all know it was a lone madman that took out Osama Bin Laden and no-one else had a part in it. It was a lone madman too that took out Caesar, Socrates, Philip of Macedon, Jesus, Thomas A Becket, Richard II, Thomas More, Abraham Lincoln, Leon Trotsky, Anita Cobby and Victor Chang. How could we even think that anyone else was involved?

No, it was just Oswald and his miraculous boomerang bullets firing faster than any human being had fired before, changing focus between shots and potting two big men with one bullet because …

Because …

Look, he didn’t need to have a motive.

He was a lone madman.

Wasn’t he.

The Kennedy Assassination (2)

A lot of good argument occurred in the responses to my Kennedy piece, an extract from One Hundred Days Of Summer which came out in May, 2010. The best response, though, was from Allthumbs, who put up a website on which were quoted everything that Oswald was heard saying after his arrest and before his murder — to his wife, his mother, his brother and various police officials. All records of his interrogation (of course) were destroyed, so thirteen hours of what he also said are missing from Friday and Saturday and Sunday.

What is attested that he did say, though, is pretty close to conclusive proof that he had no idea of what was happening to him; that he didn’t own a rifle, couldn’t afford one, did own a pistol, didn’t use it on Tippett, or on anyone else, hadn’t fired a weapon since he left Russia, was keen to get a lawyer, cared for his two little daughters, didn’t want to be ritually electrocuted in Dallas, was certain a particular lawyer could get him out of there, and had nothing against John Kennedy.

I’m a dialogue writer and certain things ring true. I decided Lindy Chamberlain was innocent when Michael on television said something like, ‘I came ito the tent, the baby was gone, a stool was knocked over, there was a light sprinking of blood on the tent walls and I looked, and I sat, and I thought: ‘This … is ridiculous!’ This was a genuine remembrance of an actual emotion, one he could not have made up.

Likewise these many, many Oswald quotes. He is hiding nothing, he doesn’t know anything, he didn’t even know Governor Connally was in the car: would he make that detail up? Of course he wouldn’t.

It’s on and you should read it.

And respond to it.

Classic Ellis: The Bin Laden Assassination

There was no rejoicing in Times Square when Hirohito died, though he ordered the killing of 2350 Americans in Pearl Harbor. I remember no such gladness when Hitler died, or Ho Chi Minh, or Mao Tse Tung. Or Che Guevara. Or Salvador Allende. Or Joseph Stalin.

These laughing, flag-waving, crowded scenes outside the White House and across America have no precedent (except, perhaps, in the South when Lincoln was shot) and it is to be wondered why they occurred.

There was a magical-realist quality to Osama Bin Laden. He looked like the risen Christ, and was often thought dead and came always back to life. His broadcasts needed always to be authenticated because the CIA wanted him dead. He’d humiliated them so enormously they kept saying he was dead. He was ‘on dialysis’, they asserted, wrongly; he had to be dead by now. 9/11 was so clever. He had to be dead.

And once again they are covering up, and in denial.

As with John F Kennedy, whose brain was stolen, his car washed of its blood, film of his autopsy made to vanish, his alleged assassin murdered and that assassin’s evidence unrecorded, burnt or discarded, we have here, now, a significant body, the corpse of the world’s most wanted man, ‘buried at sea’. Why do this? Why even think of it, when identifying him forensically was critical to the peace of the Arab and Muslim world?

Uday and Qusay weren’t buried at sea, nor the twenty-four-hour burial rule applied to these two cosmeticked enemy stiffs. Saddam was helicoptered home to his tribal city (by Mike Kelly MP and Minister for Cheese) for interment in his clan’s sacred ground. Why treat Osama any differently? Why put his body where it couldn’t be checked over? Why not have an autopsy? Why not give their most famous son back to the rich Bin Laden family, and see them set him down in their family plot? What right do Americans have to a fallen enemy’s corpse? Where did that new rule come from? How dare they?

Clearly they feared the sight of his widow, wounded in the fire-fight, at the graveside of him and his dead son, and the sight of his grieving daughter and his other sons would humanise him in an inconvenient way. Clearly they feared his grave would become, like that of Karl Marx or St Thomas a Beckett, a pilgrim shrine for apostles yet unborn.

But there were other, forensic reasons too.

A coronial enquiry, with witnesses, would show if women were fired upon, or children. It would show if Bin Laden took his own life, as Allende did, it seems, or if his bodyguard, sworn to kill him in such a circumstance, shot him as well, in the back, perhaps.

It would show if he had his hands up, and he was therefore killed against the rules of war, or if his wife said, ‘Please, no.’ It would also get from his wife and daughter evidence of who had lodged them in their splendid quarters, who paid the bills, who took the children to the local school, and what Mushareff knew, and what Azari knew, and indeed what Benazir Bhutto knew, of his five-year stay, if that is how long it was, only three minutes’ walk from an army academy, the West Point of Pakistan.

How shabby the Americans are. How secretive and stupid.

One thinks of the six hundred plots to kill Castro: the poisoned face cream, the poisoned wetsuit, the exploding cigars, the former girlfriend who, after sex, couldn’t do it, even when he offered his gun. How low grade they are. How creepy. How overpaid for their shoddy scheming and their bungled midnight raids.

And Osama Bin Laden was buried at sea. Full fathom five thy father lies. Of his bones are coral made. Those are pearls that were his eyes. Imagine Hitler, buried at sea. Or Trotsky. How stupid can they be?

For there is no end to it now. As with Elvis, his voice, his image will recur on websites for fifty years. Was it him? Did he survive? Is he still alive? He must be. He must be. His widow will charge his American assassins with war crimes for killing and wounding civilians: her son, herself, her daughter. His family will spend millions cleansing his name. The Sunni clergy will denounce the blasphemous travesty of his last rites, not on family ground but the cruel sea.

Karzai will demand compensation for the towns destroyed in America’s vain search for him, in the wrong country. The Saudi royals will be shown to have given him money and Bush to have known this while his father took fees from them. A good few Pakistani colonels will be tortured and shot. The Navy Seals that shot him (in the face, not the legs) will get jobs on Fox News. The Taliban will seize Pakistan and its WMD. And his legend, like Che’s, will grow luminous, and more and more twelve-year-old suicide bombers go into supermarkets whispering his name.

And all they had to do was keep the body, film its autopsy, open it to media view and give it back, in due season, to his family for a proper Sunni funeral, as they did Saddam and Uday and Qusay, in the green, green grass of home.

What klutzes they are. And how dearly we all must pay for their clumsiness, in a rejuvenated al-Qaeda and acts of terror without end, in this country too. And an atomic war, perhaps.

And it’s a pity.

PS. Osama was unarmed, we now are told, but he ‘resisted’ and so was shot ‘above the left eye’ and ‘part of his brain was blown away’. This, and other details, might explain why Barack Obama spent so long rewriting his speech, his worst thus far on a great specific occasion, and why he seemed uneasy giving it. What, we may ask, is he now to say of a murder committed by uninvited American troops on foreign soil, illegally?

And what is he to do with an illegally kidnapped widow, daughter and sons, and their ongoing education in Abbottobad?

And, indeed, with the question, why are we in Afghanistan?

And with the further, larger question, why, if Osama Bin Laden was for five years in Pakistan, and Pakistan’s rulers knew of it, we are not making war on Pakistan today? In reprisal? As we did on Afghanistan?

Why are we in Afghanistan, by the way?

Is there any reason left?

(This article was first published in Unleashed on May 3rd 2011, got two hundred and seventy-four thousand hits and twenty thousand responses, many from America and violent in their language.)

As I Please: The Henderson Wars (5)

Gerard has not responded to my charge of unfair manipulation of the English language in his description of Antony Loewenstein as a ‘leftist activist’, a phrase that, amazingly, leaves out his Jewishness and his fame as a published author, and the smh has not yet responded to my offer to take over Gerard’s column for half his wage for a two-month trial period in which I can prove myself more popular, or not, as I was when we both had smh columns from 1994 to 1996. More popular, that is.

A man called Terrancepropp, however, though calling Gerard ‘a fool and a clown’ has vigorously defended their common view (or what he believes is their common view) of Israel’s right to kill a lot of people, while denying they kill many children; only twenty-six, he says, in the twenty-two years from 1988 to 2010. He denies the figure of three hundred dead children, some of them phosphorous-bombed (‘prosperous bombed’, he calls it) in the brief Gaza war of 2009, and will not say how many Palestinian children died then, in even a ballpark figure. The correspondence, under As I Please: The Henderson Wars (4), is worth looking up as it may continue.

This, then, is the only defender Gerard has been able to muster in a month of looking — or averting his eyes, perhaps — and this I think may show how unpopular he is, and how wrong it is of the smh to continue to believe he is influential, respected, or even widely read. A two-month break for him seems in order, or it seems so to me, and a trial gig for the resurrected Ellis, who did so well as their moral-issues essayist last time round.

The correspondence under Classic Ellis: The Kennedy Assassination Forty-Six Years On, is also worth reading, and very well argued on both sides of the question of Oswald’s guilt.

Classic Ellis: The Wikileaks Poem

Attend the tale of Wikileaks,
A war on government by geeks,
Which made today Assange, its founder,
Seem to some a frightful bounder.

He’s told what Rudd once said of China,
And touched, some swear, a Swede’s vagina,
Attained more scoops than all the journos
Weeping now in Hell’s infernos.

He’s dug the dirt, he’s blown the gaff
On what ambassadors say to staff.
For such he should be waterboarded,
Such revelations vile and sordid,

For pushing noses up the arse
Of the Great World’s ruling class.
He’ll do, I hear, long years in gaol,
This honest, forthright Aussie male,

And yet, like many Aussie blokes,
Like David Marr and Laurie Oakes,
He’s merely let the sun shine in,
And shouted, ‘Let the games begin!’

And this Australian of the Year
I’ll hail in print and toast in beer.
I’ll send him files, I’ll stand him bail.
Assange for sainthood, folks. Wassail.

Classic Ellis: The Kennedy Assassination, Forty-Six Years On

Sunday, 22nd November, 2009

5.35 am

Jack Kennedy’s deathday, forty-six years on from his death at forty-six in 1963. Curious (or not so curious) that in that whole spare lifetime no plausible Oswald motive has been found. If Lee had wanted to use his trial to blaze forth his Communist views he would not have denied the murder nor sought to evade arrest. If he had wanted to kill and run away he would not have gone to the movies, nor left the gun in the office, but thrown it into the lift well, say, or down the laundry chute or planted it in the janitor’s office, or somewhere, and caught a bus to Houston.

Why did he do it? And why did he say ‘No, sir, I did not’ so plausibly when asked if he killed the President? Why was his thirty hours of questioning not recorded? Where are the notes from it? Whom did he name? Has a stress-test lie detector even been used on him saying ‘No, sir, I did not’? Why not? Why was he killed? Because Jack Ruby was upset by Jackie Kennedy’s suffering? Come on.

Why did Jack Ruby do it? Why was the motorcade route changed just a day before to go past a place where three-way crossfire was possible? Why did Jackie Kennedy hear four shots from different directions when there were only three, from one direction? Why was Lee fingered after only five minutes, and no-one else in the building investigated?

Why did he do it? And why did the Warren Commission look at no other suspects?

Why did he do it?

Bertrand Russell conducted an investigation into it in 1964. He remembered Garfield’s assassination in 1880 and McKinley’s in 1901, the attempts on Teddy Roosevelt in 1912 and F.D. Roosevelt in 1932, and Harry Truman in 1949, and he was curious. So he and an impressive jury enquired – John Arden, William Empson, Michael Foot, Kingsley Martin, J.B. Priestley, Compton McKenzie, Herbert Reed, Kenneth Tynan and Hugh Trevor Roper, Lord Boyd-Orr and others – and found hundreds of instances of police cheating and tweaking of evidence.

The initial news reports were of shots from the overpass ahead of the car. The car stopped, uncertain whether to go on because the driver, too, heard shots from the front. They said they found in Oswald’s room a map of the motorcade’s route; then said they hadn’t. The make of the murder weapon changed. They said there were gunpowder particles on his face; then admitted there weren’t (meaning he fired no rifle that day). They gave him no lawyer, his constitutional right. They kept no record of his testimony. They said the President was looking back when he was shot in the throat, till film proved he wasn’t. They spent three months persuading the doctors who worked on him that the throat wound was an exit wound, not, as the doctors had thought ten minutes after the event, an entrance wound. And, oh yes:

‘Oswald, it will be recalled, was originally arrested and charged with the murder of Patrolman Tippitt. Tippitt was killed at 1.06 p.m. on November 22 by a man who first engaged him in conversation, then caused him to get out of the stationary police car in which he was sitting and shot him with a pistol.

‘Miss Helen L. Markham, who states that she is the sole eye-witness to this crime, gave the Dallas police a description of the assailant. After signing her affidavit, she was instructed by the FBI, the Secret Service and many police officers that she was not permitted to discuss the case with anyone. The affidavit’s only description of the killer was that he was a ‘young white man.’ Miss Markham later revealed that the killer had run right up to her and past her, brandishing the pistol, and she repeated the description of the murderer which she had given to the police. He was, she said, ‘short, a little heavy, and had somewhat bushy hair.’ (The police description of Oswald was that he was of average height, or a little taller, was slim and had receding fair hair.)

‘Miss Markham’s affidavit is the entire case against Oswald for the murder of Patrolman Tippitt, yet District Attorney Wade asserted: ‘We have more evidence to prove Oswald killed Tippit than we have to show he killed the President.’ The case against Oswald for the murder of Tippitt, he continued, was an absolutely strong case. Why was the only description of Tippitt’s killer deliberately omitted by the police from the affidavit of the sole eye-witness?

‘Oswald’s description was broadcast by the Dallas police only twelve minutes after the President was shot. This raises one of the most extraordinary questions ever posed in a murder case: Why was Oswald’s description in connection with the murder of Patrolman Tippitt broadcast over Dallas police radio at 12.43 p.m. on November 22, when Tippitt was not shot until 1.06 p.m.?

‘According to Mr Bob Considine, writing in the New York Journal American, there had been another person who had heard the shots that were fired at Tippitt. Warren Reynolds had heard shooting in the street from a nearby room and had rushed to the window to see the murderer run off. Reynolds himself was later shot through the head by a rifleman. A man was arrested for this crime but produced an alibi. His girl-friend, Betty Mooney McDonald, told the police she had been with him at the time Reynolds was shot, according to Mr Considine.

‘The Dallas police immediately dropped the charges, even before Reynolds had time to recover consciousness, and attempt to identify his assailant. The man at once disappeared, and two days later the police arrested Betty Mooney McDonald on a minor charge and it was announced that she had hanged herself in the police cell. She had been a striptease artist in Jack Ruby’s nightclub, according to Mr Considine.’

And so on. Marina Oswald came to the police station while Lee was still alive to identify the gun, and said it wasn’t his. And so on. It’s on the internet and too long to quote in full, easily attainable to the technologically acute, and totally convincing. Which means that three or four of Jack’s murderers – in their thirties then; in their seventies or early eighties now – are probably still with us, eating well in Florida and playing squash and swimming most mornings on their private beach or whatever it is that richly pensioned CIA murderers do.

I don’t like it either, but there it is.

And so it goes.

(This diary entry appeared first in One Hundred Days Of Summer, published by Penguin in May, 2010.)

As I Please: The Henderson Wars (4)

Gerard has learned his craft well. In his gee-let’s-treat-Aborigines-fairly-but-hell-not-yet piece this morning he calls Antony Loewenstein a ‘leftist activist’; a nice damning mix of sounds whose repeated sibilants (‘ist’) bewhisper secrecy, illegality and, maybe, sexual deviance. ‘Ist’ has the whiff of ‘extremist’ in it. Or ‘socialist’. Or ‘Satanist’. Or ‘Falangist’. Or ‘Poujadiste’. Or whatever.

If he had called Antony an ‘anti-Zionist Jew’ or a ‘pro-Arab Jew’, which is what he is, or a ‘man who doubts the direction of Israeli policy in Gaza’, he would have risked the chance of him sounding sympathetic. But no, ‘leftist activist’ removes that possibility. As does the omission of ‘Jewish’.

Consider how careful it is. ‘Leftist’ with a capital ‘l’ has a ring of legitimacy to it; ‘left-wing’ of democracy, ‘leftist’ with a small ‘l’, neither. If he’d said ‘left-leaning political commentator’ (which is what Antony is), he might have sounded worth debating, or hearing out, or meeting for coffee and a chat; or even reading. But ‘activist’, no. An activist works by night, hand-printing unsavoury pamphlets, and shouts at you obscenely in the street.

Gerard is a master at this. His designation of me as ‘the false prophet of Palm Beach’ in these last ten years implies (1) that I am always wrong, though I rarely am, and (2) that I head some sort of cult: neo-Adventist, perhaps, dingo-worshipping and baby-killing. ‘Unreliable memoirist’, nearer the truth, would have been less damaging and was therefore not used.

He knows and knows well the effect of intermittent repetition. He said, correctly, that I owed him a thousand dollars for a while, though I slowly paid him off, but after five years of public hectoring did not say anymore what the bet was, to wit, that John Howard would lose his seat; in 2001 not 2007 the bet was, with John Ralston Saul its witness. But he was silent on this in the past four years while saying, of course, ‘false prophet’ over and over on account of it.

I wonder who taught this former Howard Chief of Staff his craft? Bob Santamaria? An ASIO friend? Colonel Spry? Archbishop Mannix? Or some foreign-based master class?

‘Foreign-based master class’. You see how easy it is.

Perhaps he could tell us.

Anytime soon.

Classic Ellis: The Giffords Assassination, One Year Later

(Gabby Giffords withdrew from politics today, to concentrate on her recovery. By coincidence my collaborators Damian Spruce and Stephen Ramsey and I completed only last Thursday a draft of the Giffords chapter in our book about 2011, The Year It All Fell Down, to be published before Christmas by Penguin. Here is the chapter, as it currently stands.)

Loughner had a 9mm Glock 19 semiautomatic and ninety bullets and in a hooded sweatshirt calmly stood in line while Gabby Giffords, a Congresswoman trying that week to become pregnant, politely heard constituents’ complaints. At 10.10 he shot her in the head and at random thirty others and while trying to reload was subdued.

The dead were Gabe Zimmerman, Gabby’s thirty-year-old outreach director, who was engaged to be married; John Roll, a sixty-year-old Federal Court Judge, a Bush-appointed Republican dropping by to wish her well; Dorothy Morris, a seventy-nine-year-old grandmother of seven lately widowed after fifty-six years of marriage; Dorwan Stoddard, a seventy-six-year-old retired road grader who travelled with his wife Mave in a mobile home after getting on top of his already thrice-wounded wife to protect her; and Christina-Taylor Green, a nine-year-old girl born on 9/11 who played in an all-boys baseball team. Thirteen others were wounded in the wrist, face, leg, chest and head. It was a woman, Patricia Maisch, who grabbed Loughner’s second clip, and two men, Bill Badger and Roger Salzgeber, who held him down.

In the chaos, a paramedic, Colt Jackson, asked Gabby if she could hear him and she squeezed his hand. One of her interns, Daniel Hernandez, tried to hold her head together and watched her left hand pull down her skirt which had become hiked up in her fall, and thus maintain her modesty in even the shadow of death.

Brought by ambulance to Universal Medical Centre, she lost power in her left side but could still on command squeeze Dr Randall Friese’s hand. A breathing-tube went into her throat and she had fractures in both eye sockets and a swelling brain in which bits of bullet and bone were left lodged and possibly infectious lest the getting of them out cause worse danger than leaving them in.

Her mother Gloria, a Christian Scientist, arrived and prayed. Her husband Mark, an astronaut, was on plane flying south to join her. He had been in his youth an emergency medical technician dealing with gunshot wounds and feared the worst. He arrived in her room at 2.45 and noticed blood under her fingernails, a head twice its normal size and a face black-and-blue. He talked to her encouragingly, saying ‘You’re going to make it through this’, and squeezed her hand, and noticed a tear fall from her eye.

She was put into an induced coma, with, doctors said, a one in twenty chance of survival. She herself owned a Glock 9mm semiautomatic too, and amusedly said she would protect herself with it after gunfire blew out her campaign office plate glass window in June when she defiantly said she was voting for Obamacare.

Politics went into overdrive, Arizona’s new laws allowing the arrest of anyone who looked Mexican, and an older law allowing anyone to buy and carry a handgun so long as it was concealed, were thought to have helped stir Loughner to his massacre. Loughner had had a fight with his father that morning, and was arrested for running a red light at 7.30 am, but let go.

The anti-gun lobby availed themselves of it, and the NRA conceded nothing. Chuck Schumer called in the Senate for a law prohibiting anyone rejected for military service because of drug use from owning a gun. Homeland Security’s Committee Chairman Peter T. King brought forward a bill to prohibit firearms within one thousand feet of important officials.

The shooting was seen by many as the logical outcome to the Tea Party’s violent, negative imagery. ‘Don’t retreat, reload’ was a slogan Palin’s people put under a map of Gifford’s congressional district with cross-hairs on a website Loughner may have seen. Palin quickly removed the map from her website after it was said by some that if Giffords died she would be ‘the Tea Party’s first murder victim’.

Palin’s supporters, many appearing on Fox News, insisted the massacre was ‘not political’ and the familiar ‘lone madman’ analysis of Loughner diverted blame away from Palin for a while till she herself, in a stupid defensive broadcast paid commercial, took the Reagan line that if a criminal act is committed it is the criminal’s fault, not society’s, and then went on to say, ‘If you don’t like a person’s vision for the country, you’re free to debate that view. If you don’t like their ideas, you’re free to propose better ideas. But, especially within hours of a tragedy, journalists and pundits should not a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.’

She went on to say that debate was always heated in America but when she said ‘we should take up arms’, she was not referring to weapons but the vote. But many saw immediately that the two words ‘blood libel’ constituted political suicide. It was a phrase used by Jews about stories in the Middle Ages that they kidnapped Christian children and cut their throats on Passover Night as a sacrifice to Jehovah and used their blood in the baking of the unleavened bread, and she had used what some had thought a Holocaust-related metaphor to refer to herself.

It was as if she, not Giffords, was the female victim of political violence, and it took a while, but soon she was seen as a ‘nut’ and excluded from polite conversation. Murdoch dropped her from Fox News, and she began to fade from history.

It would have been different, perhaps, if Giffords herself had not appeared on television ten months before the multiple murder saying of the advertisement, ‘We’re in Sarah Palin’s “targeted” list, but the thing is that the way she has it depicted, we’re in the cross hairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realise that there are consequences to that action.’

On the same day as the ‘blood libel’ speech, Barack Obama, in a memorial oration for the Tucson dead that was widely admired, revived, some said, his chances of re-election as President. ‘There is nothing I can say that will fill the sudden hole torn in your hearts. But know this: the hopes of a nation are here tonight. We mourn with you for the fallen. We join you in your grief. And we add our faith to yours that Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the other living victims of this tragedy will pull through. Scripture tells us:

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.’

The Silence Of The Williamsons (4)

David Williamson has not yet said what plays of his Kristin partly wrote, if any; what money expressed in millions they have in property, shares and family trusts; what ballpark figure will go into his Williamson Fellowship and how often; and what help he has given in the past to rising young playwrights, as Nick Enright did, and Alex Buzo, and Robin Nevin, and Cate Blanchett, and Penny Cook, and Aarne Neeme, and Terry Clarke, and John Bell, and Ken Horler, and Richard Wherrett, and Anne Brooksbank, and I; what lectures he has given in writing, what master-classes conducted, what fledgling plays redrafted, and so on.

What amount, in short, he has given back to the art, and the fellow artists, and what may be called the arts industry, government-subsidised and freelance, that made his fortune and his reputation.

This I urge him to do before his seventieth birthday in twenty-seven days’ time.

As I Please: The Stoppard Possibilities Of Our Man Smith

At Wayne’s for my usual breakfast of two peanut butter and one onion sandwich and a latte and a Coke I saw David Elfick, producer of Newsfront, talking eagerly, as he does, to the taciturn Wayne, who listened carefully.

Stephen Smith, he said, is much admired by women. All around the world his good looks, mild manners, murmurous wit and copious greying hair send embassy women into heavings of lust, unavailable though he continues to be, in whatever latitude he drops in on.

One such woman was Condaleezza Rice. So smitten was she by his doe-eyed thin-lipped preppish charm that she flew, in her own semi-presidential jet, the one always on call for the Secretary of State, across the world to be at his side and speak in praise of him at his old school Highgate Christian Brothers in Perth unannounced and unsuspected by (it is said) her boss and sometime lover, George W Bush. But Smith was again unavailable for her languorous hellcat caresses, and she flew home, through seventeen time zones, in a snit.

In one of these time zones, Moammar Ghaddafi continued to woo her. He called her ‘my little black desert flower’ and besieged her with gifts of chocolate, perfume, aromatic figs and ill-wrought Spenserian sonnets and begged her to become his First Honourable Wife outranking three teenage blondes, who were also his bodyguard, in his modest hareem and live out their days in his Tuareg tent reciting Omar Khayyam and eating stewed lambs’ guts with mineral water and pious yodelling as Allah intended. She rejected him too, very narrowly and history, as it does, then intervened, and she heard of his mortal khybering in Sirte with solemn and maidenly gin-steadied grief.

My Wharf Bar acquaintance Tom Stoppard will be told of this. The retrieved alcoholic born-again Baptist warmonger Bush; the black aspirational concert pianist and sometime campus courtesan Condi; the mild-mannered Clark Kentish accidental traveller Smith; and the international Satan Colonel Ghadafi add up to, surely, I put it to you surely, a Lobster Quadrille, a Duet For Four, a latterday Travesties he might well stage in the National and make money with.

He could add to it the ghost of Moammar’s old friend and moral tutor Don Dunstan, who inspired, it is said, his many-coloured fashion sense and his early Fabian ideals. Their discussions of what must be done with society now could be set to music by Phil Scott in the manner of the King And I patter-song, ‘But…Ees A Puzzlement.’

It has great possibilities, I think.

It may of course be a pack of Elfick lies, confected on his morning bike ride to divert Wayne’s gullible, elderly customer base, but I don’t think so.

Or perhaps you disagree.

I, Craig

It seems wrong of the Prime Minister to have delivered power over the nation to Craig Thomson, but she may know what she’s doing.

The ignorant may think she could have put Wilkie’s legislation to the House unamended, lost the vote and said ‘we did what we could’ and ‘every Labor member voted for this bill’, and ‘we really did all we could’ and kept his friendship, and stayed in government; but she may know what she’s doing.

So it’s Craig’s call now. He has the casting vote. No doubt he will want his preselection back, and she will give it to him. And she may know what she’s doing. She may have a cunning plan.

But I need to be convinced.

A further thought came to my wife a few minutes ago. It was this. Is Slipper a sleeper? Will he go back to the Liberals now in return for a Ministry he could be in by March? Was this his plan all along?

Is this, at last, the Abbott Sting, when it looked like he’d lost the game entirely?

Is Slipper a sleeper?

And is Abbott really, really smart?

We will know, very soon.

American Power In Meltdown, Two Months Later

I’ve begun the serious writing of The Year It All Fell Down with my collaborators Damian Spruce and Stephen Ramsey after a good deal of research, and a shared episode of what might be called ‘spiritual aftershock’, as we came down from our chosen year, one as momentous, probably, as 1848, 1932 or 1968; it was last year, of course.

Damian thinks the deaths of Bin Laden, Ghadafi and Kim Jongh-Il were in fact bad news for America, because what it needed most was a big, plausible global enemy, Marxist or Terrorist or Islamicist and horrendously armed, which the departure of these three Great Satans abolished or gravely mitigated. What justification is there now for all that rocketry and nuclear punch? What Satan do we aim at now? Who is he?

‘To have been deprived of one enemy in a year,’ he writes, ‘may be regarded as a misfortune. To have lost two in a quarter looks like carelessness. And, following on from the deletion of the most spectacular enemy of all, Bin Laden, the Departure of the Dear Leader from this earthly realm must have seen the corridors of the Capitol running thick with consternation, if not panic.’

Far from strengthening American power, he goes on, ‘the opposite is true. The demise of the little hitlers, the decease of these minor despots is not a symbol of American triumph but of the demise of the United States. It shows that the whole system on which US power has spread is in decline. If America cannot even muster the resources to generate and maintain a minor enemy, what hopes does it have to justify worldwide influence? How will it be able to justify having the world’s largest military expenditure if it is unable to find criminal masterminds and their henchmen against whom to deploy it? The dropping off of anti-American oppressors shows the post-war geopolitical system disintegrating before our eyes, and the rise of a new world order: one in which the ghost of Uncle Sam haunts a landscape peopled by the new giants of India, Brazil, China and a host of other nations.’

You get the idea. Anyone of an opposite view should write in and argue, like Gerard Henderson, against the obvious truth, here stated, if he can.

The Last Time I Saw Paris: Scorsese’s Hugo

There are some film people who give back, and some who do not. Robert Redford gives back, at Sundance, to young directors starting out. Paul Newman gave back, by reading every script ever sent him, and by saying yes to those he admired, and thus making sure the films proposed were made. Tony Buckley gave back, by hunting down and restoring Wake In Fright. Martin Scorsese gives back mightily, with his admiring documentaries on the Italian cinema, and the singers he likes, and the money he puts unstintingly into films by lesser, younger directors.

In Hugo, he has made what must be the best 3D film ever, and in it thanked George Melies, who invented cinema as we know it, as the fluid, fast-moving, inventive medium of universal dreams, for starting up the whole adventure. And he has done it in a way that evokes, uplifts and honours the silent era, and everything that followed.

Hugo, a boy out of Chaplin or Truffaut, lives in a clock above the great railway station in Paris. As in Rear Window, he watches the lives of the people below him. As in The Kid, he steals food and risks arrest and the horrors of the orphanage. As in Modern Times, he is fascinated with the workings of machines. As in The Tramp, he is in love with a proper, prim girl of a higher class he cannot have.

There is a robot he is rebuilding, with the spare parts of clocks and things he pilfers from garbage tins, and a toy shop on the station. A war-crippled policeman with a savage dog is after him. In one sequence he is nearly run over by a train.

As in Chaplin, the reality of the injustice of the era is always with us. Poverty abounds, and little thieves are rounded up and driven to the orphanage. Hugo is a brilliant tinkering scientist but cannot go to school. Adopted by a drunken uncle, he is enslaved by him. Millions upon millions of boys my father’s age had lives like this in Europe, America and Australia (Ben Chifley comes to mind) and in the Third World still do. Many went to gaol and were criminalised there and became gangsters and were shot dead by the police. Many still are. All this hangs over Hugo, and we fear for him, as Dickens’ readers feared for David Copperfield in each edition of his adventures they bought on the railway station, anticipating the worst in an almost erotic thrill of dread.

The railway station in 3D is a wonder of cinema: Minnelli’s Paris from Gigi, Truffaut’s from Jules et Jim, Woody’s from Midnight In Paris, alive and crowded and contentious and mercantile, falling in love and wooing with flowers and buying train tickets and lived in, and real, and breathing, and present, and close, a world in itself immaculate which we experience like a time traveller. Here Melies keeps a toy shop and refuses to think of the past. The Great War changed all that, fantasy was out, realism was in, and he sold his five hundred films to be melted down and made into the heels of ladies’ fashionable shoes. And he needs to forget them, say goodbye to all that, forever. And anyone who suspects who he is, or tries to discover who he is, or what he did before the toy shop, he snarls at and threatens and berates; like, say, Mark Latham or Rimbaud or J.D. Salinger. He doesn’t want to know. It’s all in the past, and good riddance. A lot like Rod Steiger in The Pawnbroker.

But Hugo has his robot, and needs the heart-shaped key that will set it going, talking perhaps, revealing a secret that may change humanity for the good. And then he sees it, hanging round the little girl’s neck. The little girl, Isabelle, he already, distantly loves; Isabelle, the god-daughter of Melies.

For a while the film I loved most was Cinema Paradiso, because it got so well the ache of childhood, young love and the town you left behind, and the great gap in the heart which movies filled in the lives of the poor; but this film has now replaced it. For it shows us the entirety of things, of childhood bereavement, childhood fantasy, childhood nightmares (at one point Hugo dreams he has become a robot with mechanical whirring and clanking insides), artistic obsession and the place that children once held in human society, as discardable servants, disposeable toys, like child slaves chained and whipped in plantation America.

The novel was by Brian Selznick, the adaptation John Logan, the artisic direction, an unending marvel, by Dante Feretti. The brilliant, kindly father Hugo pines for is Jude Law, the crippled policeman who pursues him (a wonderful glitched fellow-orphan and limping martinet) Sacha Baron Cohen (lately famed as Borat), the mysterious kindly old man who gives him a Robin Hood novel Christopher Lee, the ardent flower girl the policeman stumblingly woos Emily Mortimer, and Isabelle, in a remarkable glowing true-hearted performance, Chloe Grace Moritz, who packs a punch like the teenage Natalie Wood. Richard Griffiths and France De La Tour fill in, corpulently and shyly, as a couple of amiable elderly lovers much thwarted by her snarling dog. The two central characters, Hugo and Melies, chew up the screen, all three dimensions of it, with lacerating performances that in a worse year (one that did not involve, like this year, a silent film) would assure them both Oscars by universal, standing ovation.

Kingsley gives Melies much evident cruelty, the sort that would burn, or pretend to burn, a little boy’s precious notebook, the one with the vital mechanical drawings in it, the one last treasure he still has left of his father, a lascivious, Dickensian cruelty, unforgiveable but knowable, and somehow does not lessen our belief in his artistic brilliance, and his grief at having lost (as I did when our house burned down) so much of the hard-wrought rough magic of his high-vaulting former life as a travelling illusionist and, almost incidentally, cinema’s inventor. And in the role of Hugo Asa Butterfield, green-eyed, defiant, obsessed, beset, in love and afraid, is as good as Jodi Smit-MacPhee in Romulus My Father, which I think praise indeed.

Like many silent films, this technological masterpiece offers fast-approaching trains, clock-hands high above the pavement from which the hero dangles, lunging dogs, police chases up stairways, inconsummate love, sadistic drunken stepfathers, lost homes, dashed hopes, improbable dreams and that luminousness of the human heart which recent acts by bankers have stifled for a time, but not, perhaps, forever.

Perhaps not forever. Scorsese meantime has shown us with depth and power the way we were as an evolving species in the 1930s in all our intricate contradictions, with nothing left out, in a film that is not only his best, no mean accolade, but must be ranked, with a bit of jostling, as among the best five films of all time, thus far.

Well worth seeing with a child. Go urgently.

Go gently.

As I Please: The Henderson Wars (3)

No word back from Gerard yet, nor any word from anyone who thinks him wise and prescient. Nor from the smh, whose editors I’ve asked to put me in his job on half his wages for a two month trial.

Gerard should say if he still thinks the ABC should be privatised; or, if he doesn’t, why he changed his mind. It’s no small question, with the Howard Liberals (whom he and Abbott so piously identify with) of late so close, with Brown and Wilkie currently wobbling, to federal power.

I ask him to answer this question wherever he wants to, in his column, his blog, or in these pages.

I ask him to do it soon.

We have a right to know.

Ellis Classic: The John Howard Farewell Poem, 2007

He stole Gallipoli from Eric Bogle,
From Williamson the adjective True Blue;
He accorded Aussie virtues to the mogul;
When George Bush went to war he cried, ‘Me too.’
And when the dead came back he gave the sermon,
Hugged the widows, raised the flag and wept in pride:
The number that he killed, none can determine,
Those he tortured, starved and shamed until they died:
Those boat-folk, blacks and hippies he thought vermin,
The heathen scum that washed up on the tide.

He redefined Australia as Greed City,
Where every private schoolie got the nod.
He sold the phones and airports, downsized pity,
He flung tax billions round, and worshipped God.
He swaggered round the world like Walter Mitty.
The mighty laughed to see him pull his wad.

He sent the army in to probe kids’ arses,
Built a carpark on the Anzac heroes’ bones,
Paid the school fees of the struggling upper classes,
And frequently appeared on Alan Jones,
Talking like a cut-rate Saul of Tarsus
Of the pregnant lesbian menace, in hushed tones.

Some wonder how we could be so unlucky,
To score this toxic midget for so long,
When Ruddock, Heffernan or Wilson Tuckey
Might well have seized the crown and done less wrong.
Sometimes the stars don’t line up, do they, ducky,
Sometimes we learn the tune but not the song.

But anyway, he’s stuffed now, thanks to Maxine,
Though his virus lingers everywhere we look.
In time, I guess, we’ll isolate the vaccine,
Inject the twitching corpse and close the book.
His story, two part Gunston, one part Nixon,
One part horror tale by Karen Blixen,
May flap around a while yet, like a headless chook.

We should not, Primates, toast this toad in error,
Nor much rejoice before he’s clapped in gaol,
Until the last day of the War on Terror
Let the squashed grub writhe and weep. Wassail.

First read out at the Primates on Tuesday 4th December, 2007.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Where The Hell Is Norman Mailer

There are other actors who could play Smiley, of course.

Bill Nighy; Derek Jacobi; John Hurt; Simon Callow; Charles Dance; Jim Broadbent; Ian McKellen; Ian Holm; Stephen Rea; Ciaran Hinds; David Suchet; Brendan Gleeson; Alan Bennett; Kenneth Cranham; Arthur Dignam; Anthony Hopkins; Alec McCowen; Nicol Williamson; Tom Wilkinson; Albert Finney; Tom Courtney; Christopher Plummer; Donald Sinden; Michael Caine; Michael Craig; Bille Brown; Bruce Myles: all these good actors could play him and play him well but Gary Oldman, alas, because he is known in America (he was in a Die Hard and a Batman) has gazumped the role, a role he is far too young for, and really, really no good in, and has seized the day and blotted his copybook, as we old MI5 backroomers used to say; and it’s a pity.

All that a Smiley impersonator requires to succeed is what Mike Rann calls ‘hinterland’: that sense of having been on earth for a while and seen a few things and learned how to hide one’s feelings and do one’s duty by England without complaint. Alec Guinness was perfect for it and I kept feeling that if I or Rob Brydon or Mike Carlton had merely dubbed the old boy’s languid, sonorous, mannerly monotone upon poor tepid Gary all would have been well; but in the end such thoughts were useless and the Great Game was lost; he looked like a hat-rack in horn-rims and that was it; game, set and match. He’ll never drink tea in this town again.

Hurt and Hinds were already in the cast and keen, I’m sure, to swap with him — as Irons and Andrews did in Brideshead Revisited — but no, he was known in America, and the die was cast. And oh what a cock-up was there, my countrymen, as we retrenched old spooks are wont to grumble over Bovril and toasted cheese in Lyon’s Coffee House in the aftertime of the great adventure of Empire and all those pink bits on the map that are, alas, no more. Better shuffle off to Hatchards and buy a paperback and read it in the park among the pigeons, humming White Cliffs Of Dover, or Leaning On The Lamp Post, or When I’m Cleaning Winders.

All the other performances — Firth, Strong, Hurt, Hinds, Burke, Sarne, Dencik, Hardy, Graham, Cumberbatch — were wonderful, and the two women in it, Kathy Burke (old, fat) and Matyelock Gibbs (young, gorgeous, doomed) likewise terrific; and the off-grey drab crumbly images of Budapest, so like The Lives Of Others, of Hote Van Hoytema the cinematographer eerily exact, and Dino Jonsater’s editing unexpectedly abysmal, and Tom Brown’s art direction just right, and Tomas Alfredson the Swedish director from sequence to sequence very, very good; but what did it matter? It couldn’t be followed, and that was that.

Why do this? Why do this? The television series was a masterpiece, and took 290 minutes to tell a story here squelched into 127; and, as with the second Brideshead, there was no great point to the exercise except easy money from some dodgy melted-down Euro banks and some adequate food after midnight in Budapest.

So. Someone in the room is a traitor, a high-up mole for the KGB; Smiley, brought in from the cold (he’s been lately sacked, we aren’t told why) investigates; he doesn’t say much, he keeps his counsel; his glasses are too big for his tiny face; we rush though fourteen autobiographies in semi-poetic flashback; bloodshed occurs, inexplicably. Prideaux is killed outside a Budapest cafe, or is he? Alleline is to blame, or is it Lacon? Who cares? Who knows? Who are these people anyway? Simon McBurney, who plays Lacon, could have been Smiley also. Did anybody notice this? It’s all too hard. Haydon defects to Russia, misses the cricket, is shot by his male lover, back from the dead, below the left eye, expertly, after tactically fucking Smiley’s wife, who is never seen front on though we aren’t told why. It’s all too hard, old love, too hard. Old love.

There should be a law against grand pilferings of television classics like this (as there is, apparently, against remakes of North By Northwest and Casablanca), though I did notice John Le Carre’s name among the Executive Producers, a double-shuffler to the last, this intermittent adaptive Tory Marxist Cornwell, rifling the garbage of the good old days. There’s a good Christmas party scene of the era when they all were friends, and all on the same side, before Bill Haydon stroked Mrs Smiley’s bottom in the moonlit garden, long ago, her face unseen, and Smiley saw him do it and knew the worst.

This is the finest British male cast in a generation, and they would have been better placed, I fear, in Dear Octopus The Musical in Stoke-On-Trent, or Privates On Parade On Ice in Blackpool.

Waste. Waste. What a waste. See it if you want. Millions will.

It shows, if anything, not that it matters, how bizarre the Cold War was. No-one was going to nuke anyone, ever; but billions were spent on extraneous bombs and clapped-out overlapping sodomite Cambridge triple agents performing dutiful cunnilingus and decrypting codes and wearing poisoned boots; protecting secrets not worth having, till a fool botched Gorbachev kidnapping and Yeltsin orating drunk as a skunk from the top of a tank at daybreak brought the whole thing down, and the KGB now rules Russia, and shoots a journalist once a week, and Castro lives, and Che is a saint, and China our landlord, and there’s nothing we can do.

We could do War and Peace in six minutes, perhaps. That’s a challenge. That’s worth a try. Let’s get some dodgy Icelandic money and cast Tom Cruise as Pierre.

What a waste. And so it goes.

And so it goes.

War Horse Remounted

My collaborator Denny Lawrence tells me War Horse is one of the best three things he has ever seen on stage. Its New York production, involving big puppets, won five Tonys, including Best Play, last November and the London production, which won some Olivier Awards, is accepting bookings at the National Theatre for the next fifty-five weeks.

The script is by Nick Stafford from the young-adult novel by Michael Malpurgo, and was developed by the Handspring Puppet Company, which is based in South Africa, and there will be a Melbourne production of it later this year.

I have asked Denny to see the Spielberg film and make a comparison in these pages of the two experiences, but he is disinclined to do so, having read my review of the film.

If anyone who has seen both versions would like to write in and make the comparison I will publish their views in this column, or in the letters section underneath it.

As I Please: The Henderson Wars (2)

No defence of Gerard has come in yet, and no instance of his having been right in any prediction, assessment, moral opinion or change of opinion in the last forty years.

This situation may alter, and dozens of letters of support flood in. But if they do not, and less than ten such letters come in by, say, midnight on Friday, February 4, I suggest the smh fire him and, for a trial period of two months, have me as columnist on Tuesdays, a position I occupied for three years in the 1990s on a monthly basis till the Abbott and Costello lawsuit persuaded Paul McGeogh, of all people, to stand me down, rejecting an article on the death of my Auntie Jean he had previously accepted.

I will work for one half Gerard’s present wage, that is, if my information is correct, about forty-five thousand dollars a year, or eight hundred and sixty-five dollars a week. If the circulation increases on Tuesdays, let me be kept on at that wage. If it goes down, let Gerard come back, on his present wage, in triumph to his present position.

If this is not acceptable, I ask the management to say why, in these pages, it is not.

Classic Ellis: Murdoch at Eighty: Lear on the Heath

Rupert Murdoch turns eighty on Friday. He has been a newspaper proprietor for fifty-eight years and a television station owner for fifty-two. In that time he has gone from a Chifley-supporting leftist (he and Ben corresponded) to a mentor of Bill O’Reilly, Sarah Palin and the charismatic Mormon fascist Glenn Beck.

In that time he has wrecked Fleet Street, debauched The Times and The New York Post (which used to publish Mailer, Steinem, Vidal, Galbraith, Breslin) and, lately, The Wall Street Journal. He invented Fox News, he told Mike Rann, to ‘provide a corrective balance to the radical left-wing tendencies of CNN’, and turned, over 10 years, British Sky News from a principled BBC-style news-gatherer to a murder-headlining politician-entrapping equivalent of The News of the World.

His various British organs bugged Buckingham Palace and with Gordon Brown’s harmless private conversation (aka Bigotgate) ended his career. His papers’ support got Thatcher narrowly in (Give The Girl A Go!) and published articles entitled ‘Why I Am Voting Labour By Joseph Stalin’ (courtesy of a spiritualist medium) and ‘Why I Am Voting Tory By Winston Churchill’ (an esteemed co-author of the Welfare State). He helped get Blair elected, then urged him into the Iraq War, saying it ‘would pay for itself in oil revenues’ and ‘bring petrol prices down by half’ (they went up by four hundred percent) and with his page three topless lovelies ruined, distorted, imperilled or stained the futures of twenty-five thousand unknowing teenage girls.

He waged a long war against Prince Charles, saying he should be consigned to a ‘loony-bin’, and till his last weeks urged Teddy Kennedy be jailed for murder. His media proposed Bill Clinton be deposed for denying sex with Monica Lewinski and Hillary Clinton be jailed for colluding in the murder of her ‘lover’ Vince Foster. His media called the Vietnam war hero John Kerry a war criminal, and Barack Obama an elitist, a naif, a grimy Chicago machine politician, a predatory homosexual, a Muslim, a socialist fanatic, an academic ignoramus, a ‘pal’ of terrorists and a fraudulent Kenyan imposter illegally in the White House. O’Reilly, interviewing him, shouted at him so much that the interview had to be released in seven-minute grabs over ten days lest it gain sympathy for Obama.

He helped get Whitlam elected, and when refused the job of Australian Ambassador to the Court of St James, (‘You must be fucking joking!’ Whitlam said) determined to destroy him, and did. He headlined a rumour in November 1975 that Gough and Margaret were divorcing, and published only ugly, sneering photos of Whitlam and a babbling half-witted woman who followed him around. He later published photos of Michael Foot that made him look like a homeless person, called him ‘Poor old Worzel Gummidge’, and television images mocking his lurching gait, the result of a near-fatal car accident. He labelled Neil Kinnock ‘the Welsh windbag’ and said his wife Glenys was ‘the one who wore the pants’ in that relationship whilst urging a vote for a female, Margaret Thatcher. He famously published the word GOTCHA! over a photo of a bombed ship in the Falklands War.

His effect on world journalism has been considerable. His buying-up of suburban dailies and weeklies has meant no journalist with any conscience is employed in eighty per cent of Australian publications. They must toe the Murdoch line (as all of his two hundred and one newspapers, excepting, for a while, The Wellington Times, now sold, habitually do) or seek work elsewhere. Under his unyielding imperium freelance journalists, such as get any work at all these days, now earn a fifth of what they did, currency value adjusted, in 1995. O’Reilly, Palin, Hannity, Huckabee and Beck, however, are paid in millions though their audience share is less than one per cent of TV-watching America.

The agenda comes first. It is probable that the number of journalists now employed in English-speaking countries has come down by as much as half since Murdoch started sacking them. When you own The London Times you don’t need a London correspondent. When you own The New York Post, likewise. The age of the honourable pundit is over, thanks to Murdoch. Men as decent as Paul Kelly and Dennis Shanahan are now his prattling pawns. Ninety per cent of those standing up to ask questions at the Canberra Press Club tout his viewpoint and serve his cause. Anti-Bob Brown (who has never been wrong about anything), anti-Abbott (he has Catholic Socialist tendencies), pro-Turnbull (a business magnate enlarged by inherited wealth, like Murdoch), his minions emphasise union ‘greed’, omit all reference to bankers’ greed (Ralph Norris on thousands of dollars an hour) and have made it a political sacking offence to say ‘bullshit’ or ‘Do you know who I am’ to a Liberal-voting Woy Woy waiter.

His assault on freedom of speech, and therefore democracy itself, has been wide-ranging and largely successful. Anything critical of a colleague a Labor politician says is an ‘outburst’ or ‘vicious attack’ or a ‘dummy-spit’, not democracy at work. Anything socially progressive serves an ‘extremist agenda’. Only unions have ‘bosses’, banks have CEOs. What a CEO earns is none of our business, even when it’s eighteen million dollars a year. What a Cabinet Minister earns is a public scandal, though it’s rwo hundred and thirty-five thousand dollars a year. The things a politician cannot say (he has my full support, his language may have been a little colourful) make every press conference a minefield. If he says, ‘My position is slightly different from my leader on this issue,’ it’s a scandal. If Glenn Beck calls Obama a friend of Al Qaeda, it’s fair comment.

Murdoch is eighty, and his King Lear rage-on-the-heath phase is beginning. Things aren’t going well for him. Mike Rann, who he’s been at war with for twenty years, is still in power, despite the waitress’s lewd ‘confessions’ and Rupert’s flagship The Advertiser is in vivid, continuous road rage. The Greens are calling the shots in Canberra. His employee Palin, following the Tucson shooting, will not now be president, and the detested Obama, having won Health Care despite his minions’ howling ‘Communism!’ and will win, now, almost certainly, in 2012.

His pink-cheeked lapdog Cameron has already lost 2014 by tripling university fees. And then he will be eighty-three with nowhere to go. And his mother will be one hundred and eight and still think him a shallow, bumptious disappointment to the memory of his father Keith, exposer of Gallipoli.

There is something near-Biblical in this family saga. Seeking the posthumous approval of Keith, the journalist-hero of the Gallipoli debacle, we see now, ninety-one years on, his nervous proud son scrambling to seek his wise, cool mother’s blessing still. And so, as a wise man once said, it goes.

He deserves no less. The Iraq adventure, which was to a great extent his project, has killed tens of thousands children and driven into miserable exile millions of useful middle-class people including almost all of Iraq’s dentists, levelled Babylon and looted or burned its glorious museums and libraries, irreplaceable now and ended the education of its women. The Bush presidency, very much his invention (when Fox News commentator John Ellis called it for Bush, his cousin, though the votes were not yet in that showed the outcome a cliff-hanger), wrecked the world economy and ended or shrank or made desperate hundreds of millions of lives.

And he has done much to hobble the English language, making all political statement a corseted, evasive half-truth and most politicians (like Gillard) blitherers of cliché. And all who work for him, except a few cartoonists, Evan Williams and the writers and animators of The Simpsons, should be ashamed of themselves.

He has helped end America’s power, and, however inadvertently, made Islam the dominant faith on earth for two hundred years.

He deserves, at eighty, his fate.

Happy birthday, Rupert. May you sleep uneasily, my dread dark lord, tonight.

This piece was first published on the 9th of March in the ABC website Unleashed.

As I Please: The Henderson Wars (1)

My most recent challenge to my always apathetic readership was to say on what occasions Gerard Henderson had, in forty years, been right and Bob Brown wrong.

Thus far one instance of Bob Brown being wrong (when he went to water on Marrickville’s ban on products from Israel) has come in, but no instance whatever of Gerard being right.

So if none appear in the next week I strongly suggest the sms fire him and apologise for his fool opinions, predictions, assessments, vendettas, harassments and overweening Papist piety in a half-page advertisement the following Tuesday. Say, ‘We had no idea he was always wrong and we unreservedly apologise for this’ and cite examples of his recent oafish iniquities, the WMD, Hicks, Haneef, Assange and so on.

Or is there some other course of action that does not smirch their reputation as an organ of conscienceful, balanced and truthful reportage and opinion?

Just asking.

Spielberg’s War Horse: Hullo To All That

Nine million horses went to World War 1 and and a dozen or so came back. Spielberg’s War Horse gives us some idea of what happened, in their last hours, to the rest. Hauling huge cannons uphill in rain through clinging mud. Cavalry charges into machine gun fire. A bullet to the brain when injured or too exhausted to carry on. Unequal contest with advancing tanks. Tetanus from the barbed wire and a bullet to the head. Not enough room on the troopships home and a bullet to the head; this was the fate of the Light Horse that took Beersheba, every one of them. Post-war auctions to French butchers who slaughtered them that afternoon. Nine million heroes, martyrs of war, unsung.

The film succeeds in the end and massively succeeds, and supplies the best infantry charge through wire and mud in rain since Kubrick’s Paths Of Glory, but its initial sensibility — Peter Weir plus Walt Disney plus Baz Luhrman plus National Velvet plus Man From Snowy River plus Gone With The Wind — had me shredding my popcorn bucket in very grief. I did not need to be told in long limpid sentences by two of Scotland’s greatest actors (Peter Mullan and Emily Watson) that twenty-nine pounds was too high a price for a fucking horse and the incensed under-bidder their landlord will evict them very very soon if they don’t get them fucking turnips planted in a rocky field and Joey the horse had better get used to fucking pulling a plough. I did not need long anguished monologues addressed to the horse by a truly embarrassing young actor, Jeremy Ervine. I did not need to be told the horse missed his mother, though it was useful for me to acquire that fresh knowledge I suppose, which I otherwise would never have known. I did not need a comical iinterventionist goose with editorial expressions straight out of Babe. I would like to have known why this Devonish couple begot in the 1890s only one child. It would make more sense to have had more hands to the plough and the winter planting, would it not? Did they abstain? How did they manage it? But I was not told this. Nor why, when the father was drunk, he wasted so much money and where it came from and how, on a peasant’s wages, he could afford much more than two dry ciders a week. He brandishes a hip-flask at one point, and I wonder where he got the ready money. I really did not need a gun pointed at the horse in the first reel. I knew the film was longer than that.

There is a Disney genre of The Threatened Pet and a J. Arthur Rank genre of The Treasured Object Successively Owned (as in The Yellow Rolls Royce and The Earrings Of Madame De…) and this film’s melding of the two is very persuasive. Joey is serially beloved by his mother, his initial owner Albert, a sensitive young British officer Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston), a merciful fat German private, Friedrich (Nicolas Bro), a melodramatic Belgian farm girl with a bone disease, Emilie (Celine Buckens), and another fat merciful German private, Brandt (Rainer Bock), and he serves both sides of a brutal, senseless war with a kind of Christlike moral force, enduring and surviving an act of self-chosen crucifixion as he rushes through more and more of the barbed wire and mud and water of No Man’s Land, and a German and a Britisher selflessly collaborate, defying their officers’ orders, in wire-cutting him out of his threshing, tortured confinement, and tossing a coin for his ownership (Hinnerk Schonemann and Gary Lidon), after which more perils await him in the British trenches on the murderous eve of the Armistice.

These sequences are truly awesome, and the suspense unendurable as Albert, blinded by gas, recognises his gruff whinny and pleads with the officer (Eddie Marsan) who has a gun to his head. This is the authentic World War 1, with its grime, futility and moral pain, and we wonder why Spielberg and his longsuffering last-ditch co-writer Richard Curtis, one the greatesit screenwriters now working (Notting Hill, Love, Actually, Blackadder), so sugared and larded the first ninety minutes with emotional overreach, poignant soliloquy and torn-scarlet sunsets out of Raintree County.

It is worth noting, and reiterating, I think, that Spielberg’s cast of mind is always pre-adolescent, and his instinct always to Disneyfy what is before him. Even the whizzbang action comedy series on Indiana Jones, initially adult and Bogart-cynical, is by episode three a dad-son movie, and by episode four a dad-son-lost-mom-gee-kids-do-the-darndest-things upgrade of Leave it To Beaver (Lost In The Amazon); and even Schindler’s List has a number of phew-that-was-close laughs unsuited, I think, to Holocaust remembrance when Sophie’s Choice and Good and The Pianist and The Pawnbroker take this dread subject more seriously. A further example is in Empire Of The Sun when the little boy sings an aria to the fighter aircraft rising majestically from the airfield on their way to killing his British kinsmen in kamikaze strikes, approvingly and longingly. In this film likewise there are too many sweet, good, gallant people on both sides of a devastating fratricidal war who are willing to risk court martial and the firing squad to help out a nice big horse and I know it’s part of the story but he pushes it, as always, into a sub-caramello flavour of young-adult fiction when he shouldn’t. He just has to do it, as Joe Wright managed to do Dunkirk Beach in Atonement, flat on: in war, the truth will suffice.

Nonetheless, it’s a movie you should see, and a movie the sort of young people who go to Gallipoli on Anzac Day will enjoy, if that’s the word I want, inhaling from it what might be called the Shock of the Known. The horse and his friend the black horse (it is, alas, a Buddy Movie too) are magnificent, and deserve two Special Oscars, Lifetime Achievement ones, perhaps, for bravery and beyond the call of duty, in horrific situations they probably thought were, on occasions, real.

Two Questions Of Ultimate Right And Wrong

Two questions.

When has Bob Brown ever been wrong?

When has Gerard Henderson ever been right?

Give instances.

And, oh yes.

On what issues has the Prime Minister been right in the last five years?

Name two.

Assange? East Timor? Aghanistan?

Name two.

Classic Ellis: The Bin Laden Poem

Beweep the fate of the great Osama,
Who, nine years late, has copped his kharma,
On his way out for a piss
At three a.m, and what is this?

Nine years it took this creeping Jesus,
Nine feet tall, with tropic diseases,
Recognizeable as Christ, or Che,
To encounter, at last, the CIA.

He dwelt eight years in a shabby mansion,
Barbed wire on the roof, undergoing expansion,
Putting the Monday garbage out,
Wondering, like Alfie, what it’s all about,

Unremarked by a million neighbours
Who watched the cricket, cleaned their sabres,
Averting their gaze, as though from a farter,
And thus they ignored the holy martyr.

He ranted each year on al-Jazeera
In the lofty style of Norma Shearer,
And fifteen million put on his head
Tempted no Judas, or so they said.

But Langley finally tracked him down,
Living well at the big end of town.
They sought him, they popped him, they dropped in the sea
Some tall corpse or other, it might have been he.

And his ghost may be heard in a billion voices
Of young Muslims who, bereft of choices,
Come strapped with bombs into shopping malls,
Believing he, or Allah, calls.

And could we, Primates, attract such esteem,
As Bottom did once in Midsummer Night’s Dream,
That fame, that glory, those cheques in the mail …
We’d probably have a VB instead. Wassail.

First read out at the Primates on Tuesday, May 3, 2011.

The Necessary Apology Of Gerard Henderson For Thirty Years Of Being Wrong

To call it ‘victory’ no matter what; to redefine ‘success’ as whatever happened; to call yourself a leader though none will follow you anywhere; to be wrong every minute of every day yet wear the calm expression of one who is always right: these are the tricks of the Right in these latter days of their fading propaganda, tricks taught by Karl Rove, Don Rumsfeld, John Howard, Hannity, O’Reilly, Henderson, Jones.

Thus Iraq was a success though suicide bombings kill hundreds a month and the Prime Minister is trying to hang his deputy; Afghanistan is nearing success though our trainees kill their tutors and the urinated-on corpses now mean the Taliban win the negotiation; our floated dollar was a superb idea though an unfloated currency, China, now rules the world; a Mormon who likes firing people is an ideal candidate for Leader of the Free World; the Global Free Market is a success though twenty thousand children die of it a day.

‘Success’ is whatever happens. There was no alternative. It’s all good. It all shakes down. It adds up in the end. If everyone is greedy, why, the better guys win. The duds, the has-beens, the evolutionary also-rans like Stephen Hawking will be weeded out.

Has ever a way of thinking and predicting and rewarding and punishing been more intellectually bankrupt in world history? Capitalism is a wasteland, a snakepit, a poisoned river, a fight of jackals over dry bones, yet the righteousness continues. The way to create jobs is by sacking people from government jobs and bringing billionaires’ taxes down, way down. That should do the trick. Julia Gillard is all in favour of it, cutting back government jobs and taxes to get nervous working people spending again. How can it be wrong?

It’s very much like Catholicism after tens of thousands of priests were shown to have buggered children last century and nuns to have enslaved unmarried mothers whose babies they stole in tens of thousands and gave away: these are but a few bad apples and Christ forgives them and God is on our side, we were told. And now we are told that it kills nine hundred infants an hour, but capitalism works. And sure Gaby Giffords got shot in the brain, but handgun ownership in Arizona is a civil right for everybody without exception including the deranged.

How dare these people — O’Reilly, Hannity, Akerman, Henderson, Bolt — keep saying these awful things? I mean, you can go to gaol for inciting terrorism, which kills five thousand innocent victims worldwide a year. And they incite capitalism, which kills twenty thousand a day. Should they go to gaol? Should they, too, go to gaol for incitement of mortal harm?

…Well, I  myself don’t think they should, frankly. Freedom of speech to me is pretty important (an inalienable human right, you might say, like handguns in Arizona), just so long as all the microphones are turned on, and all who speak are heard speaking.

And the turning on of the microphones in this past year — by the Facebook-driven Arab Spring, by wikileaks, by the revealed craziness of the debating Republican candidates week after week, and the Tea Party cranks who last August in Congress wrecked the economy — is as big a change in the way we live now as was, in its day, the motorcar. The lunacy cannot be hidden anymore. It turns up on phone cameras wherever protestors are shot at, and ships go onto rocks and sink and captains desert them, and al-Jazeera keeps broadcasting the truth twenty-four times a second, and more and more of the Third World tune in.

This combination brought down Mubarak, Ghaddafi, Berlusconi, Perry, Palin, Bachman, Huntsman, Gingrich. It will bring down Santorum, Putin and (maybe) Netanyahu. The fruits of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil are everywhere on offer, and the serpents bewhispering fresh new thought in ears no longer ignorant of the West’s vile crazy ways. America is tottering and its Missionary Wars in the Muslim World look ever more block-headed as the money runs out and it begs the Taliban’s forgiveness for pissing on the dead and al-Jazeera stays on the air and the Third World watches.

Nowhere in the world in seven years has America made a new friend. No-one sings ‘I want to be in America’ anymore, except illegal Mexican meatworkers maybe and Russian whores.

It’s time the Right opened its eyes, as the Catholic Church has done, and took stock, and asked forgiveness, and started apologizing all round for massive harm done thus far on earth to the living and the dead.

Gerard Henderson, a good Catholic, should go first.

Over to him.

Giamatti’s Version: An Alternate History Of Clooney’s Recent Glory At The Globes

It seemed a good idea after Clooney’s Golden Globe to see the man his role was written for, Paul Giamatti, give in Barney’s Version a performance greater than almost any in cinema.

Like Charles Laughton he pushes at you a truth you don’t want to be in. Like Gerard Depardieu he follows you home and sits calmly by your bed as you sleep lightly, keen to talk to you in the morning when you wake.

In Barney’s Version he plays the same Toronto soft porn producer, Barney Panofsky, a wayward, fervid, cigar-smoking Jew, at twenty-five, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty and in dementia at sixty-three and at sixty-seven nearing death. He is always drinking heavily and always in love. His eventual third wife Miriam, a perfect beautiful good woman (Rosamund Pike), he tries to run away with on the night of his wedding to Rachel (Minnie Driver), a demanding vulgar Jewish heiress, but she is horrified and he is thrown off the train.

He woos her with daily flowers in New York but she will not have him.  He finds his wife in bed with his best friend Boogie (Scott Speedman) a dissolute smacked-out failed novelist, and in a jovial drunken gun-waving brawl on a wharf causes his death, perhaps by drowning, perhaps by shooting, though his body is not found and the fat, obsessive Constable O’Malley (Paul Gross) thinks him a murderer and writes a book about it.

He marries Miriam and after twenty years of disciplined faithful happiness and two grown children strays just once, while drunk (of course), in the one week she is not sleeping at his side, and she leaves him for a tepid sonorous vegan broadcaster, Blair (Bruce Greenwood), whom he lacerously despises, and he tries, until death consumes him, every hour of his sensate life to get her back. His last years in forgetful shrieking dementia are a sorrowful horror to behold.

It stands in world cinema as a performance greater than almost anybody’s. He gives us a life force that is also a death wish, a unanimity of romantic obsession that is also a normal male need to settle down and breed. It shows how in romantic comedy lie the seeds of murder, rape and suicide. There is none like it, and none better.

And the idea that George Clooney might play it is absurd. Yet he played in The Descendants a role designed for Giamatti and last night walked off, in an act of daylight robbery, with a Golden Globe. And somebody, somebody should be ashamed.

And somebody must pay.

Giamatti is a seismic force and his Vanya, Shylock, Willy Loman, Estragon, Big Daddy, Feste, Nathan Detroit and Harold Hill I hope I will see in a lifetime now nearing its end.

Clooney I wish well. But this is ridiculous.

The Silence Of The Williamsons (3)

Though the Williamson Question continues to rack up about two hundred hits a day no word has come back from David yet.

On his bank balance, his properties, his share portfolio and the size of his plans for a Williamson Scholarship if any, and how much Kristin wrote, if any, of Sons Of Cain, A Handful Of Friends, Corporate Vibes, Top Silk and Nothing Personal, he has been — I suppose the phrase is — vigilantly silent. And of course he may have adequate reason for this, in his tax arrangements, his company structure, the money in trust for his children, his alimony, or whatever.

In the meantime somebody called ‘Bob’ has spoken up in his defence, and done so with moderation, acuity, clarity and what looks like inside knowledge. He has insisted he doesn’t know Williamson personally, but I have lately challenged this, asking who he is, and wondering if he might be a family member, or Kristin, or David himself, or a lawyer, or an accountant, or an agent.

No reply has come in to these enquiries.

Any Noosa person who knows the answer to this I would like to hear from. Is forged identity an offense in this country, as in the case of Demidenko and Khouri? Or is it okay to say you are someone else and deny your identity?

I invite contributions.

Classic Ellis: The Errol Flynn Poem

In the final month of the hundredth year of the Primate, Errol Flynn,
We celebrate what he held dear, to wit, a life of sin.
There was no woman, man or beast he not seek to roger,
Round wars and whores and wilder shores he was the Artful Dodger.
He fought, he sailed, he roared, he railed, he made war with Fidel,
He tasted virgin flesh too young and now he dines in Hell.
No better model on this earth, both civilised and feral,
No braver Tassie bloke — save Bruce! — than blithe, uproarious Errol.

And could we, Primates, live as well and die in arms so
And be by our mortician found so sodden and
So literate, and sensuous, adventurous and strong,
Then we, who live such munchkin lives and rarely do
such wrong,
Should lift, at least, a firkin high of Cascade half-strength ale
To toast this first proud century of Errol Flynn. Wassail.

First read aloud at the Primates on Tuesday, 2nd June, 2009.

(‘Bruce!’ Refers to Bruce Venables, King of the Primates and jobbing actor.)

The Parsimonious Cuckold: George Clooney In The Descendants

There used to be something called Australian Quirky that involved Queensland houses, dysfunctional families, hot weather, vile music, death, failed sex, hoonish teenage kids annoying each other and what used to be called ‘social comedy’. All these ingredients are present in The Descendants, a film set in Oahu, whose director/writer Alexander Payne made Sideways, with George Clooney in a sourpuss/cuckold/estate-executor/thwarted-progenitor role plainly meant for Paul Giamatti, and so embarrassed by it he may well get an Oscar for his brazen, cringing struggles with it.

Never was there a man less likely to be stingy, jealous, faithful, abashed by imminent widowhood and loudly upbraiding his bereaved impertinent children than glamorous, cluey, twinkling, dishy George Clooney. Cary Grant never played a father, ever, and neither should he. Nor should he attempt an ‘ordinary man’, as he does in this film, he isn’t right for it. His personal flavour is heroic, magnetic, ironic, amusing, dashing, sexy and handsome as Lucifer the fallen angel and his income level irrelevant. In this film he plays a watchful, spooked and parsimonious multi-millionaire (he won’t buy his kids good things lest they cease to appreciate money) whose mutinous progeny nonetheless come to like him after his adulterous wife becomes a dying vegetable and he finds out who the bitch was balling and resolves to track him down, smoke him out, git him running, as George Bush did Bin Laden; cut off his nuts maybe, and that should settle things.

Out of these dreadful, silly, semi-South Park premises — and what may have been an excellent novel by Karui Hart Hemming — Payne and his co-adaptors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash have jerry-built over six or seven years, the usual time for a film to be ‘developed’ these days (the time it took De Vere to write and put on Henry V, Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Measure For Measure, Troilus and Cressida, Macbeth, Othello, King Lear, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Pericles and Cymbeline) a script that after much revision and pained retightening just about works (in the eccentric, wayward, black comic manner of Muriel’s Wedding and Submarine), found a dozen excellent actors to be in it, lavished on it the klunkiest music score since preCambrian times (Hawaiian yodelling and banjo-plunking and whooping and moaning whenever the bickering abates and a gorgeous landscape approaches), and somehow, despite massive illogicalities, brought it home.

The massive illogicalities include the rebellious teenage daughter Alexandra, first seen drunk at her private school while under threat of suspension, who keeps a thick boy friend Sid on hand at all times but never fucks him, never does drugs with him, loyally baby-sits her snaky little sister Scottie and assists her father’s quest to find and kill his cuckolder, her sudden reformation massively unexplained; her dumb boy friend Sid who laughs out loud at the dementia of her grandmother (who thinks she’s going to meet the Queen) and gets a black eye from her grandfather for it, yet is tolerated by her father still, and paid for on his travels with them; and, oh yes, Matt King, the central vengeful budding apprentice in bereavement, played by Clooney, who wouldn’t buy his boat-mad wife a boat with his idle scores of millions and now sits railing at her withered comatose unspeaking doomed remnant wondering why he didn’t divorce her.

A kind of prurient madness lies at the crux of his current hypocrisy, which Giamatti could have made sense of but not sly glamorous winning George. His marriage was ‘in trouble’, his voice-over says, and he wanted to divorce her. Had he himself been unfaithful? What else does ‘in trouble’ mean? Why then is he surprised when she is unfaithful? Why? And who was this lost intermittent squeeze? What became of her? Why aren’t we told? Giamatti could have sorted out these omission, contradictions and hypocrisies but Clooney, a man as handsome as Batman playing a billionaire lawyer who neglects his kids and goes walkabout a lot but never strays from his loathed wife’s desolate marital bed, no, never, cannot bestraddle the infinite contradictions of his role, in my view, though he will get of course an Oscar for it, or come close.

Another Hawaiian-born lawyer, Barack Obama, will enjoy this movie’s blushful palm-thronged beachscapes, tall remembered hills and white wood bungalows, so like Cairns or Murwillumbah, and the laid-back, dressed-down provincial taciturnity and sluggard selfishness that formed his character and his fabled patience with fools. He will recognise a lot of the people too, and share some part of their immemorial guilt at having occupied and exploited for centuries an earthly paradise not of their own making, inheritance, tribe or spirituality.

The best parts of this film are about this immemorial guilt, and the tremendous inheritance of a beautiful empty island from their distant ancestor King Kamehaha,with whose granddaughter a white ancestor long ago interbred, whicho Matt, on behalf of his many rich quarrelsome cousins, must now as a lawyer dispose of — for, oh, half a billion or so, to this developer or that — because of a fool new Hawaiian law that now obliges him, and them, to divest themselves of it in the next seven years. But surely, surely this is sacred ground and not theirs, morally, to pillage, loot and ravish? Yet half a billion dollars is a lot of money, cousin. We should talk about this. We should talk about this.

One of the cousins, Hugh, is played by Beau Bridges, unrecogniseably old and bloated now, with a fine mean simmering beer-bellied mendacity, and the insipid cuckolder, Brian Speer, a real estate mediocrity involved in one of the dodgy bids for the island (a further incentive for Matt to hate and kill him), by Matthew Lillard with wonderful edgy avarice and a shallow gummy smile, and Judy his knowing wife, who visits the deathbed, and shrieks abuse at her vegetative rival, superbly by the Streep-like Judy Greer. Shailene Woodley is very good as Alexandra, whose character however makes no sense, and Nick Krause a knockout as the wise klutz Sid, whose thicko motor mouth should feature (I propose) at every family funeral to lighten the occasion. Clooney is quite ridiculous, but will get an Oscar for his bungled good intentions, and his pilfering of Giamatti’s patrimony, on the good and solid Hollywood grounds that it is his turn.

Needless to say you should see this movie, and go to Queensland immediately and make one like it, with Paul J. Hogan, perhaps, directing. It is at the very least a further step of the American journey towards a European style, or Australian style, art cinema that celebrates the contradictions and follies and gaucheries and fraudulences and kindnesses and vengeances of real life as it is lived, and was always lived, in the valley of the shadow of death.

As I Please: A Melancholy Preface To Spielberg’s Movie War Horse

I will see this contentious movie tonight or tomorrow and do a review of it.

I’ve been postponing it because of an upsetting chapter in my first economics book, which reduced me to tears as I was writing it, and which inspired in turn the very good, and really distressing, Australian short film The Night Light, and the late Harold Hopkins’s finest performance, as an old soldier manning a remote lighthouse in the early 1960s.

This is what the chapter said.


A shorter, sadder example of the lunacy of cost-saving bureaucrats and their hard-nosed little ways took place at the end of World War I.

The light horse brigades that had won Beersheba (in the last great cavalry charge of history) and taken Damascus ahead of Lawrence of Arabia, and had been, overall, the best and bravest soldiers in the Middle East, were told that, in view of the limitied space on returning troopships, they would have to shoot their horses before sailing home.

These were horses from their own farms in Western Australia, horses they had trained with, sailed with, fought with, slept beside, and won their battles with. They had been their companions, fellow warriors and friends. And now they had to personally shoot them through the head.

Just to avoid the expense of bringing to the Mediterranean another couple of troopships to take the horses home.

The men complied, and some, as late as 1998, were still grieving for the friends they were told to kill.

It made a mockery of their valour and a bad joke of their victory. It made them curse their country. It traumatised them like the death of human friends. It haunted their manhood and middle age. It made them feel like criminals, Judases, murderers, fratricides.

And it saved, maybe, some twenty thousand pounds in the chartering of troopships.

The horses had names, and were friends.

Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it anymore.

Classic Ellis: Lindy Chamberlain On Trial, 1987

In the dock Lindy Chamberlain, erect, resolute, drab-voiced, her face thinner now that she was out of gaol, and more like a ravaged Judy Garland, with the memorable, magnetic, defiant, ash-black eyes that assured, I judged, both her media stardom and her initial conviction, carefully answered her earthly tormentor, word by word, hour by hour, with the same embittered precision that I recalled in other Adventists in my childhood and my youth, when I was one of them. God’s peculiar people, we called ourselves with pride.

Some things about her were different: her eyeshadow, plucked eyebrows and light lipstick would not have been tolerated in my day, not in a minister’s wife, but the tone, the sharp and weary tone, in which crushing logic, cold distance and martyred resignation contested for supremacy, was very familiar. God’s peculiar people. And you will be tried and convicted in those latter days, but the bullets will melt in their muzzles and the padlocks dissolve on the prison gates, and the Lord descending will summon you up to be with him in the clouds and dwell with him forever and ever in that golden city of light.

Martyrdom was built into our expectations then, and I guess I embrace it still. Adventists could easily see her trial as a foretaste of the final Persecution, when the righteous will be tested for their faith, and her courage as their example. They could see her too, very easily see her, as a female Christ accepting and embracing punishment on behalf of all those women who had had abortions, killed a child in their womb, and loathed themselves for committing that primal sin. Such women I noticed were the ones who were always most convinced of Lindy’s guilt, because they shared it. And she, like the Adventist saviour on Calvary, took away that fraction of their self-loathing which they then awarded to her.

In the ordinary courtroom as usual proceedings were civil, tense and absorbing. The dashboard bloodstains that were not blood. The scissor holes in the jacket that may or may not have been fang holes. The forensic tests destroyed. The dingo tracks that were dog tracks, or were they? The baby’s cry in the night that was kheard by all, or was it? How many camels could dance on the point of a needle, or was it angels? What a welter of psychological and theological inexactitude she summoned into being, and what a tidal swamp of journalistic prurience and myth and gossip and race memory she conjured up by that one cry, ‘A dingo’s got my baby!’ If she had merely said, ‘My baby’s gone! Someone’s taken my baby!’, none of it would have happened. Nor would it likewise if she had been the agnostic wife of a supermarket manager, for agnostics, as we know, are sane, and supermarket managers’ wives do not kill newborn babies, or they own up if they do. Or they do it decently, six months before, on Medicare, like civilised human beings.

No weapons, no body, no motive, no opportunity …Being of sound mind … Did cut the throat of her healthy child, and then wear twenty years in chokey rather than cop a plea of post-natal depression and get three months. Of course she did. She was an Adventist. An auslander. A moral savage. God knows what they do in those little wooden churches. ‘I’ve seen her eyes,’ Brett Whiteley said to me, ‘and she’s evil, man, she’s evil.’

I took my little daughter Jenny to the courtroom the second time I went. She was six and three quarters then, exactly Azaria’s age, and she didn’t like Lindy much, but she thought her innocent, and got very bored in an hour. I tried to imagine Lindy’s burden, that death and that blame, for all of Jenny’s lifetime, and I couldn’t. Poor little woman, to be so mocked and buffeted by a God so cruelly taunting. A dingo’s got my baby; someone’s taken my baby. Let’s print take two, shall we. No, no, too late. Too late.

It’s possible Azaria’s alive, of course, and in the uncertain care of some lone madwoman, black perhaps, whose own baby was once wrested from her by the caring white authorities, perhaps, one moonlit night when she was drunk. But it’s probable she’s dead and buried under sand somewhere to preserve the reputation of some half-breed German Shepherd, loved by its owner, loved like a child.

Lindy’s lack of grief on the following day, and Michael’s taking of pictures, was normal of course in Adventists. A baby that dies goes forth out of life without knowing sin and will of a certain arrive in heaven. Her parents, if numbered among the righteous, will see her there in heaven, and rejoice that she died untainted by sin. On the day of my sister Margaret’s funeral we all played cricket. We knew that Marg was all right, and would make it through the pearly gates. I wish I had such certitude now; Lord help my unbelief.

Religious persecution does not cease. It only finds new excuses. That Lindy suffered for her faith and nothing else is evidenced by the fact that they let her go home between her trials, go home to her other children, who should logically have been in danger, and to her second baby girl, the one born after Azaria, who should logically have been in mortal danger — from a mother who without motive and without cause had slaughtered her elder sister in the front seat of a car.

But they knew the kids were in no danger. They knew she hadn’t done it. They knew that Michael would not have gotten her pregnant if she’d done it, and he must have known.

They knew that she was innocent, entirely innocent, and they also knew that she had to be punished. The reasons went beyond the reach of words.

The Silence Of The Williamsons (2)

For three days now The Silence Of The Williamsons has had the most readership, of one hundred to two hundred hits a day, in these columns and the other Williamson pieces have done healthily too.

But very few people are writing responses to it, saying yes or no to the basic argument over whether or not theatre managements have spent too much money on David and Kristin’s ‘relaxed and comfortable’ notion of theatre and too little on better writers like Sewell and Gow and Rayson and Doyle and Gurr and Elisha and Hibberd and Romeril and, while they were alive, Kenna and Enright and Buzo, and whether or not a number of great plays have gone unwritten because of this neglect.

It would be good to see a few more people write in and say what they think. They need fear Abu Chowdah no longer, as I will print no more of his copraphagic interventions and I will be most vigilant and most punishing when he changes his name.

The Williamson matter goes to the heart of how our democracy is run, alas, and raises questions of our civilisation’s duty to quality over blandness, genius over brand-name competence, excitement over what used to be called ‘Deadly Theatre’, excellence over comfortable, cushioned mediocrity.

This does not mean that certain subject matter is not worth writing about. In Williamson territory Geoffrey Atherton with Grass Roots, Hannie Rayson with Hotel Sorrento, Alex Buzo with Martello Towers, John Upton with The War Horse and Stephen Sewell with Myth, Propaganda And Disaster In Nazi Germany and Contemporary America have done better work.

It is not a question of middle-class conversation but it is a question of what that middle class conversation brings us. From Nothing Personal we achieved the insight that publishing brave new books may be a good idea, and flying with one’s boss in his private jet to his luxury house in Byron for a weekend of champagne and career discussion may incur some risk of sex on the carpet that one had not, if one was a fucking idiot, considered a distant possibility before one boarded the plane.

There are I think more interesting things to say than this in the theatre, as eighteen Wharf Revues have shown, and the Williamsons should get up to speed on some of them. The meltdown. The boat people. The Labor Party.

Or not. They could like Ayckbourne and Cilento buy their own theatre and premiere their next plays there, improve them in performance and occasionally put on plays by other writers. It is possible the Baby Boom will be loyal and stick with them, applauding listlessly and grumbling minimally, into their eightieth year and beyond. Or not.

These are questions anyway worth raising, and it would be good if others contributed in these pages to the careful discussion of them; and if the Williamsons, of course, supplied some answers, either here or in a public debate in, say, the Sydney Theatre some Sunday afternoon.

I await the next contribution with interest.

Keating And Me On True Believers’ Night Revisited

I didn’t look at the film Anne Summers sent me a couple of weeks ago for a while, and I’m not sure why. Because, perhaps, it was about the night of the Labor victory in 1993 and also about the night before, in Suzy Carleton’s pub, when a good few of us True Believers (not I, comrade, not I) had come to believe, and truly believe, we were going to lose. And I wasn’t up to it emotionally perhaps, not really, not now, not yet; and because, perhaps, the Keating Dream if I saw it plain in its first, fine careless rapture whilst knowing what became of it thereafter in the years of its degradation, amnesia and sorrow might prove upsetting without malt whisky. And so it was, and so it went, that I got in a Dimple and watched it late this afternoon in a lowering sunset light with Annie my wife and a cheese on toast and a VB chaser; plus, as it proved, mixed feelings.

For I wasn’t that mentally prepared anymore to watch Paul Keating paying so many tributes to me. We were friends back then, I suppose (I suppose) and I’d forgotten how warmly he regarded The True Believers, our miniseries, and how much he loved its theme tune the Jupiter Symphony from The Planets which he shrewdly seized and turned into Labor’s extra anthem on nights like this, when all was joy and congratulation and he and Annita entered like Ruritanian royalty and the orchestra soared and the streamers intertangled and it looked like all would be well with Australia and the world in those last blithe days of a largely hopeful millennium long, long ago. He had rung me a few times after our house burned down with soft suave words of comfort and I had sent him lines, as I always do, every day, one of which, ‘the feral abacus’, he thanked me for on a couple of public stages, back then. And I was standing a few feet behind him when he said ‘This is a victory for the true believers’ and I felt affirmed, backstage, back then, for having restored the phrase to the language, a phrase from the Spanish Inquisition referring to those of the true faith as opposed to the Jewish, Muslim and Protestant infidels.

The film brought back all that; and showed us also (God help us) how young we were. I was only fifty, I had loads of hair, and dark hair at that, and Jenny George was sexy, and so was Gareth Evans and even, God help us, Bob Hogg. And Keating was looking his dashingest ever, like a Spanish ambassador to the court of Cesare Borgia, with a killer smile and golden skin and warm brown eyes you could drown in.

Yet this was not the first impression the film gave me of him, watching him twenty years on from the sweet irreplaceable moment, coming in and grinning and joshing and auctioning his ties. He seemed much more like a gangster to me now, cool and assured and false in his heart, and knowing exactly what words to say and whom to thank for being there, after burying what bodies had to be buried before the show began. Did I feel this because of what I know now of his rude pursuit of wealth after he left office, and his busted marriage and his depressive episodes and his always witty and cutting dismissals of so many of his former colleagues, including his mentor Whitlam, whose government he once called ‘amateur hour’, and his partner Hawke, ‘old Jellyback’, whom he kept on accusing of nervous breakdown and sluggardliness, even uselessness on the job? Or was it there in his body language anyhow, and the lithe soft comradely voice, smooth as Nestle’s chocolate, that Judy Davis once called ‘the voice that Australian men used to have’? It’s hard to say.

The ‘production values’ of the film, if that’s the phrase I want, and I’m not sure I do, aren’t up to very much: the images of the Arts Labor Launch blurred, far distant and raggedly edited, the climactic True Believers Keating speech without one cutaway, alas, to even the weeping Bob Hawke when his usurper thanks him chummilly for the first four Labor victories, before this fifth, and last, smiling triumphantly after he did so (and what a smile he had; you could almost forgive him for ruining the country), and a lot of tributes at the end of it, to always unseen people, including, to my sharp sigh, Mick Young.

He seemed sincere when he said we now had a chance to think things through and shape the future while still in government, and how well they had seen what had to be done (the dollar float, the foreign banks, the Social Contract, the individual workplace agreements) and how sinuously they’d managed it. But the trouble was that we knew by now just how wrong they were in every particular of those golden years, how big a sell-lout the whole show was, ‘amateur hour’ indeed; and how much worse Paul made it by selling off Qantas and the Commonwealth Bank and by the latter betrayal ensuring two whole generations of our people would never own a home, or a dog, or have three kids, or even two; and by the former betrayal ensuring our airline jobs would go overseas and no tourist, for fear of Alan Joyce and fatal mid-air turbulence, would want to come here very much any more.

And his attitude that night was that of a winner of course, and a founding prophet and co-architect of a new Labor order, whose bonding mateship would survive the necessary changes to the way things newly dovetailed together in a changed new brave new adapting world, and be Old Labor still. And he spoke of ‘Hoggy’ and ‘Richo’ and ‘Robbo’ in the old, companionable, menacing, chiacking way, little knowing what prissiness and cattiness and pertness, what hatred of the shop floor and the heroes on it and the union movement at the heart of the Labor adventure, and the bureaucratic snideness and dithering, and the wacko, blundering hubris the Rudd years would bring, and have not yet, under Julia, entirely gone away.

What a time capsule it was; is; and oh my countrymen, what a fuck-up historically. We had thirteen years, and the ball in our hands, and the chance to run for the goal and easily score the touchdown of the fair-go society that Labor, Whitlam Labor, Kinnock Labour, Chifley Labor, was all about. And we ran, smiling, the other way.

Or Keating did. And it’s a pity.

The movie is called A Victory For The True Believers and it can be purchased, I guess, by anybody interested, from [email protected] for thirty-five dollars, or similar. It’s both a warm bath of nostalgia and a reality check; and it’s a moral compass, really, of the way we live now, charting what we have lost and what fool good intentions and what wild notions of numeracy and what overweening pride and what duchessing by the banks who ruined us all, and what tightwire-walking backwards over Niagara went into the fall that followed, and oh what a fall was there, my countrymen, of Labor in our time.

And so it goes.

And went.

As I Please: The Anti-Urination Stratagem As Further Proof Of American Military Genius

Their fear that the Taliban might pull out of peace talks after film of US troops urinating on Taliban corpses was lately seen on television, shows, I think, just how much more primitive Americans are than the medieval fundamentalists they are fighting.

They think what you do to a dead man matters more than killing him. They thought this a few years back when they flattened Fallujah and massacred a lot of its people because some US troops were shot, burnt, dismembered, hung up on a bridge and beaten with boots.

They didn’t mind them being killed, but they hated the ‘desecration’ of their corpses — much as you or I, for instance, would burst in and gun down surgeons in mid-autopsy; of course we would. Much as you or I would shoot a heart-transplant specialist on a street in Mosman; of course we would. He’s a mutilator of corpses, a despoiler of the dead, a bad, bad man.

What happens to corpses is very, very important, and pissing on them is unforgiveable. Or this is the current American view.

The Taliban however are not as primitive as this, or as childishly superstitious. Faced with the choice of a pissed-on dead soldier and twenty thousand more women and children killed and crippled by helicopter-gunships and rogue shootings by dumb young men invading the wrong farmhouse at midnight, they’ll cop the urine stench every time. They know that crawling out from under a ten-year war with nuclear-armed bozos who don’t know what they’re doing there — bombing the locals into treating their women better was a recently stated war aim — is worth a few indignities.

But the Americans don’t know that. They like their dignity. They are very keen to ‘save face’. They take their dignity and their face so seriously they don’t even admit when they’ve lost o war; or a ‘battle for hearts and minds’, as they call it, with people they kill and widow in millions, like the Vietnamese.

And they think the Afghans want them to stay and burn their opium crops or turn them into Mormons or whatever their next fool project is. They think young Afghans really like getting paid four hundred dollars a year to train as cops and get shot dead by their cousins. The Americans think they are truly beloved, and really welcome, and much esteemed, and pissing on somebody dead really spoils all that.

And they have to say sorry, sorry, sorry about that, buddy, we won’t do that again, and hope to all bejesus the Taliban won’t go away. We’re here to get rid of them, that’s our war aim, but their going away right now is unthinkable. We might have to stay and win this war after all if they go away. And how the hell are we going to do that?

It’s worth pointing out at this juncture I think just what the Taliban’s attitude to desecrated corpses actually is. For the Taliban routinely train, fund, equip and encourage suicide bombers, some of them young women, some of them adolescent boys, who blow themselves to smithereens and in crowded locations, mutilating themselves and many other adjacent innocents, and so demonstrate their masters’ indifference to posthumous desecration, and what some would judge bad manners round a fallen foe.

They do not care too much about all that; a dead man is a dead man. When Osama Bin Laden, their friend, financier and guru, was shot in the face and dumped the sea and eaten by fish without a proper Muslim requiem with his family present, they made no murmur. They mourned him as a holy warrior and a fallen saint and that was that. He was a legend now and a pillar of flame and a new star in the sky and the fish could have him. What did his body matter? Not too much. His name would live forever.

So we can piss on their cadavers all we like, in my view. It matters little to the warlords and the mullahs if we do. They will keep talking to us, negotiating with us, believe you me.

And the apology and the arraignment and the sentencing of the guilty penises and bladders will make no difference, none at all, to the now inevitable outcome of this dread unending war: a coup, a takeover, an armed putsch, a gunpoint referendum ten or twenty days after our side leaves, and an eventual caliphate of
both Afghanistan and Pakistan run by a bunch of medieval crazies armed with nuclear weapons, plus our own considerable political difficulty in explaining to forty or fifty Diggers’ widows what in Christ’s name we were doing there for twice the length of World War 2 and why so many Hazara heads are on pikes now around Kabul.

This will not occur because we pissed on any Taliban, dead or alive, but because we bombed their children, burned their pastures, shredded their goats and cows with friendly fire and generously trained them how to kill their cousins and for one twentieth of the wage of our brave Diggers to dio the same thing they do, murder people. Murder civilians who have murdered none of our civilians. Murder the children who have murdered none of our children. Murder the husband and widow the woman with five kids and a resident mother-in-law, burnt paddocks and no bank loan. Bankrupt the small farmers and burn their crops and tell them how to run their marriages. Tell their wives to divorce them, and become cosmeticians. That sort of thing.

As to the pissing, the sensible compromise would be to choose by raffle an American corpse the Taliban could piss on.

That’s what we old stagers call diplomacy.

Diplomacy, American style.

Classic Ellis: Elvis Remembered, 1997

Anyone who lived through all of Elvis will agree that he was most than just an entertainer. He was a landscape, a mood, a moral universe, a warm bath of youthful melancholy in which we steeped ourselves when the day darkened and our thoughts took on self-pity or adolescent fury. He was truly a god to us in the old Greek way, a high flawed being who suffered in our sight, who stood in heaven’s gallows in our stead, our voice, our advocate, our elected representative on Olympus.

He was one of twins and the other twin died and his yearning for this lost companion, vividly clear in his every expression, was one we believed was our loss too, the good big brother out there somewhere, reaching out to us from the dark. Brando and James Dean gave us our sensual gloom in the early fifties but Elvis, truly, gave us our voice.

He helped invent a new kind of music, one mixing rhythm and blues with white mainstream music, and the dates suggest he was there with it first because Mystery Train and That’s All Right Momma predated Rock Around The Clock by a couple of weeks. The sound hit America square in the middle of its biggest wave of suburban hypocrisy, when washing the car and mowing the lawn and passing exams and going to church and cheering the home team were supposed to inhale into history’s hoover all that was learned and loved in the forties, in wartime travel, the novelty or working women, the free and guiltless one night stands of men in uniform soon to sail away. It showed that youth was game and turbulent and ready and sexual as any wartime soldier on London leave. It threatened the new bland suburbs and their high school anthems and careerist greed with terrible things — with all-night parties and motor cycle gangs and heavy necking at the drive-in and high school girls who now knew more about contraception than their mothers. It admitted the unadmittable, that kids do it and like it and white weddings weren’t such a big deal, not any more.

Rock ‘n’ roll embodied all that, but Elvis was something more. His full-lipped leer and greasy sideburns and pelvic movements and coital bellow had something demonic about them, like a force of nature — earthquake, tornado, eruption — that was both containable and fated. He was the first white boy to sing like a Negro, with everything sexual that meant. He moved, in Al Clark’s words, ‘like a knowing stripper, he knew exactly what he was doing, and he relished it.’ The fearful television producers tried to domesticate him, filming him only from the waist up, making him sing ‘You Ain’t Nothin’ But A Hound Dog’ to an adoring bloodhound. They tried to turn him into something cute, and mild and amiable, but the kids knew; they knew what he stood for. That connection was made, and never broken.

It happened very early. While still an adolescent, he was a millionaire and a force in the land, a famous face of Rushmore enormity, like Orson Welles at twenty, the presiding Mephistopheles of American youth. But as with Orson it couldn’t last and part of him knew it wouldn’t, ever the tragic hero prescient of his fall. He had through life the classic working class melancholy of the southern white trash towns where nothing can be afforded but cheap liquor and marital violence and nothing is learned but pinball an mateship and souped-up secondhand cars. He never grew. He stayed as he was, a bit of a hoon, a small town mug lair and so went through a lot of sadness that quicker learners - Bob Mitchum for instance, or Johnny Cash or Springsteen or McCartney - were able to evade. He was amiable Southern white trash to the end, with an entourage of similar slow-witted small town boys who played the pinball machines in his mansion and took to their beds the girls unchosen by the King from his nightly line-up of doe-eyed groupies eager for his touch.

His career was in three parts: before he was dragged off into the army and shorn, like Samson, of his menace for a time. The seven years of Hollywood movies, two a year, that made his fortune but stole the best years of his artistic development, and his last, leviathan revival as an overweight, adroit, already mythical performer. In the first part he sang in a boy’s voice, in the last two in a big formidable baritone, the cured-ham voice of ‘It’s Now Or Never’ and ‘Surrender’ that shrank his preppy piping rivals (Johnny Mathis, Buddy Holly) to the status of geldings, a voice that seemed aged in wood and old and worldly wise and belied his true condition, which was one, I believe (despite the celebrated fetishes, girls in white panties wrestling in foam and the like) of ongoing innocence. Or perhaps I mean lack of curiosity.

A kind of innocence anyway. He was always very polite, yes ma’am, thank you kindly ma’am, calling his interviewers sir, and gentle and hospitable in the Southern way. He famously loved his mother, the first celebrity so famed (since, probably, Nero) and was shattered by her death when he was in Germany being a GI. He believed in his country, not evading army service as he might so easily (like John Wayne) have done. He accepted proudly from Richard Nixon a Drug Enforcement Officer’s badge and campaigned to have John Lennon, a heroin user, thrown out of America. He volunteered for the FBI (and in some fantastical views is alive and working for them still) and believed in law enforcement. Far from the demonic tempter he was reviled as by the middle class fifties — and as such the inspiration equally of Bill Clinton, Paul Keating and Tony Blair — he became in his last flabby years an almost establishment figure, upheld by the nation corporate, tamed and benign and fit for commemorative display on a stamp. He was, perhaps, a genuine Jeckyll-and-Hyde, the mild-mannered host of daytime, the beast unleashed at night in song, the dull puzzled witness next morning: did I do that?

In his army years in Germany he met Priscilla who was then fifteen and with her dealt most like a Southern gentleman, keeping her in his mansion for six years but not (it is said) having sex with her until they were married and going into a roaring vortex of grief when four years later she stormed away from his taking his daughter Lisa Marie. It was this enormous loss of an innocent vision of romantic love (it is also said) that soured and saddened him and made him the mean mother of his final years, the Roman voluptuary fat with candy and pickled with drugs and whisky, shooting television screens with handguns and groaning long hours in his room of differing drug-fed maladies and rages.

‘His final years’ is an odd thing to say of a man who died at forty-three (the age that, say, Bobby Kennedy died) but he always seemed older than his years. When the Beatles met him (and Lennon repelled him with his genial chiacking) he was only thirty but already the grand old man. His iconic status was early and never shrank. He had only, it seemed, to wait out his time, to join the dots of his inevitable doom. He was a tragedy waiting to happen.

He suffered, like most Roman emperors, from flatterers and foolish strategic advice which, because he had talent but little judgment, he often took. ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker booked him into movies for the big easy money and not all of them were bad, Don Siegal’s Flaming Star and Clifford Odet’s Wild In The Country. But between shoots and shots and song rehearsals he indulged that sensual corpulent laziness of mind (he never, for instance, wrote any songs) that in the end was to bloat and waste him. With Priscilla forever waiting in bridal readiness back in Gracelands and L.A. broads by the busload at his beck and call, he spent in bovine stupour and carnal pointlessness and chemical peril (popping amphetamines to lose weight in Hawaii, gorging on steak and fries in L.A.) those years from when he was twenty-seven to when he was thirty-four that he might otherwise have used to shape and deepend his art. He got into bad habits, in short, and they stuck.

So when he was older there was nowhere for him to go. He was offered the fading-male-superstar role in Streisand’s A Star Is Born that might have inspired and varied his later years but he turned it down, in fear, I suppose, of its echoes of himself. He never, like lesser stars — Cliff Richard comes to mind, Tommy Steele and Normie Rowe — essayed the Broadway stage, though what a Sky Masterson he might have made in Guys and Dolls and what a Javert in Les Miz. What a title role, indeed, in Bye Bye Birdie. And so it goes.

I think of him always with a sense of loss, a wanting his life to be different, and better, and longer. The girl that might have made all the difference, Ann-Margret, was in every way his equal, and a great ignitor of his talent (their numbers in Viva Las Vegas still blaze and sizzle with sexual excitement) he used and cast aside. And that was a pity. He never became curious about anything. His head was formed in the clapboard, hot-rodding, redneck outlands and never became anything more.

Or anything much more.

These words, as I write them, seem seriously wrong. A man that conveyed and meant so much to hundreds of millions of people across the planet, and hundreds of thousands of people across the planet believe is still alive, resurrected somehow, a cultish conviction every bit as remarkable (and, in its numbers, popular) as the initial cult of the resurrected Nazarene, a man whom thousands across the planet daily and nightly mimic in dress and voice and gesture, ballrooms full of them sometimes, and run as his clones for the House of Commons as the Elvis Presley Party and to Tony Blair’s delight and bemusement pick up votes, a man whose fan club president signs off ‘Elvisly yours’, a man whose voice is heard more now than when he was alive, adds up, I think, to something more than these bare sociological excuses. There is tribal magic here, the corn got born anew each spring, of a rare and heady kind.

Because no-one thinks James Dean is still alive, or John Lennon or Bobby Kennedy. There are no Bing Crosby sightings. It can only mean that our need for Elvis, and what Elvis means, is greater; whatever it is that Elvis means. A more glamorous projection, perhaps, of our youthful bruised unease. Something like that. A need, at any rate, that his principal supplanter Tom Jones could never fill, then or now.

When he came back in 1969 he was really magic, looking better than he ever had or did again. He was Lucifer back from the underworld, Osiris reborn, in a series of swirling white capes and sequinned jeans that made him seem, at times, like a homicidal matador. The fans, now middle-aged, flocked to him and exulted around him, throwing keys and panties, as others might have done if Che Guevara, say, had returned from Bolivia scarred but alive. But soon his performances became laboured, and when it was an old song, fat and contemptuous, puffed and flabby. And then the last phases began. And so it goes.

Anyone wanting a whiff of what he was like should look at the opening sequence of King Creole. He leans with a kind of twitchy languor over the balcony, his eyes both menacing and lazy, his hips implacably active, singing ‘Crawfish’ to the rising noise of New Orleans at dawn. Later, in a nightclub, he stands bolt upright, legs moving and head tossing, singing ‘Trouble’ with the accent and stance and stubborn gaze of every kid who ever wanted to break a window. That’s the way I remember him, and the way you should meet him.

Elvisly yours.

Originally post in the Courier Mail.

After Melancholia

My second viewing of Lars Von Trier’s end-of-the-world film set me thinking on its origin, a depressive episode, he said, in which he noticed how outwardly calm he was. All of the three close friends of mine who suicided were like this too: you never would have known.

I once, however, with my then boss Alan Ashbolt of the ABC made a list of the thirty-two people we knew between us who’d successfully suicided and found in all of them a common factor: no sleep for forty-eight hours, or fifty.

One hanged himself after sitting up drinking Fosters and writing farewell notes to distant relatives and the girlfriend who had just left him, pregnant to another man. ‘Silly bastard,’ said his best friend Terry Bader at his funeral. ‘One more Fosters and he would have slept it off.’

I also addressed the funeral, to which the pregnant girl came. Toughest gig I ever played.

Many suicidal acts in politics have a similar cause. Depressed and awake for forty-eight hours Geoff Gallop resigned as Premier and shocked everyone — and started a trend that quickly took out Carr, Beattie, Bracks, Clare Martin, Beazley, Downer and Costello.

Two missed sleeps began all that, I believe, though Geoff does not (or so he told me), and his frank admission at his resignation press conference of his ‘clinical depression’, and Les Murray’s before him, and Andrew Robb’s after, and the publicity Jeff Kennett got, and rightly got, from his selfless work with Beyond Blue, made more acceptable, and even commendable, an admission of this disease, and took some of the sting, and the curse of secrecy off it.

I myself am not sure ‘clinical depression’ occurs as often as it’s cracked up to. But I’m damn sure sleeplessness does. Sleeplessness brings on paranoia, anger, bad decisions, emotional confusion, bad driving and a whole swag of divorce and AVOs.

Melancholia is a wonderful dramatisation ot this state, and the calm that hides it, but not from us, the viewers.

If the end of the world is too big a subject for you, see the first half, which is called ‘Justine’, and when the word ‘Claire’ comes up, scarper.

PS. The machinery is acting up again and it’s put my most recent and most thoughtful piece way down the column beyond your attention.

It’s called The Secret Language of Race and Religious Abuse and is I think worth reading.

The Silence Of The Williamsons

David Williamson hasn’t yet said how much money he has or how much he has given to other playwrights in the last forty years. The first sum I suspect is over eight million dollars, or, if you count his real estate and shares and money in trust for his children, over thirteen million dollars; the second under two hundred dollars, if you exclude shouts at the bar.

He will say this is none of our business but the money given to ex-premiers seems to be our business this morning and it can be argued that he is as big a public figure, with past earnings out of the public purse, as they.

The question remains of the hundred and four plays better than his best; or, taken at a slow count, the ninety-five. What compensation for their neglected genius do we, or David, owe them? Especially when we consider the plays they could not afford to write while David and his campaign manager Kristin were hogging the limelight these last thirty-eight years. How much do we owe them?

Or shouldn’t the question be raised? Shouldn’t we simply agree that the free market rules and if the free market wants Relaxed And Comfortable, that’s what it should get?

The trouble is that it wasn’t a free market, but the Socialised Arts Industry, that gave David a majority of his money, probably, through the MTC, the ATC, the STC, the QTC, the AFC, the NSWFC, the NSWFTO, the QFC, FilmVic and so on, and the question must arise, in the current Age of Transparency, of how much was that? And how much should he give back? And how much did he give back? And how much will he?

It cannot be said to be a trivial question. Many ruined or underfunded careers are at the heart of it, keen for an answer.

I invite him to use this space for his reply.

It would be good if he did some paragraphing.