Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Freud/Jung Wars For The Soul Of The West: Hampton and Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method

Very few films that are not war films reach out from the screen and shake you. Once Were Warriors was one; Animal Kingdom; A History of Violence; Taxi Driver; Hardcore; Snowtown; A Separation. Another such is A Dangerous Method, by David Cronenberg from a play by Christopher Hampton, and the reason is mostly the performance of Keira Knightley as Carl Jung’s mistress-patient-colleague-lost-love-and-crony-in-perversion Sabina Spielrein. The intrusiveness of her madness, her contorting face and wrenching and flailing gestures, her anorexic frame and wide dark eyes and twisted smiles and her joy when Jung is beating her, is unlike anything seen outside of a porn cinema, and the acting level outscores by about fifty percent the similar good work done by Natalie Portman in Black Swan, who got an Oscar for it.

Jung is played by Michael Fassbender and Freud by Viggo Mortensson. Disciple and guru, son and father, warring ideologues and loving enemies, they changed the way the western world thought about things, and one of them was devious, unprincipled and secretive; and almost certainly wrong. Mortensson however plays him as he seemed in his day, very wise and balanced, courageous, virtuous, bourgeois, a little dull. He resents Jung’s married wealth, is quietly sensible of his Jewishness, craves fame and fortune and hides a significant dream from Jung lest it undermine his authority. He would be recogniseable today as a leader of a cult but in those days was thought as a fearless, pioneering scientist, ripping away the hypocritical secrecies of a world in denial of the Sexual Principle and baring its naked flesh and thrusting penis.

He was, as this film shows, much more like a Spin Doctor, seeking to suppress or discourage Jung’s theories of race memory and synchronicity and accurate subconscious forebodings lest they both be thought ratbags, and the Sexual Principle contaminated by needless adjacent mysticism. It was bad politics, he implies, perhaps correctly, to risk seeming loony. We must stick to what is acceptable. In pursuit of this cold careerist course he burnt all his own autobiographical papers lest he himself be posthumously ‘psychoanalysed’ and shown to have invented his theory of sexual projection to cover up incestuous rape, or its probability, in his own family, and his own traumatic discovery of his parents fucking, which he then declared to be what happened to everybody, when quite plainly it did not.

This is not dealt with in the film but worth noting. The conversations of the two forensic brain invaders, brilliantly evoked, show how exhilarating hypothetical discourse can be; ideas were sexy then as now and what might be called The Sherlock Holmes Method moved many a medical meddler, as here, to the wrong conclusions.

Jung’s affair with his patient, and her lurid temptation of him, echoes the early episodes of In Treatment, and would, it might be noted, see him struck off, disgraced and imprisoned were it to happen today. As performed by Knightley and Fassbender, in particular the bottom-smacking and her joy in it as she stares at herself in the mirror, in flagrante, I suppose the phrase is, one can only wonder why it didn’t happen sooner or why it ever ceased.

Fassbender, who played the perfect Irishman in Hunger and the perfect Englishman in Jane Eyre, here plays, improbably, the perfect Swiss. Upright, moral, secretive, possessed of a yacht, a lake, a mansion and a rich young wife Emma (played by Sarah Gadon who seems about twelve), he dare not stray into bohemian self-indulgence too far lest he lose everything. Yet he seems a good man, of warm intellectual courage beneath the frigid Protestant exterior, and sane when Freud is mad. I wrote to him, not that it matters, in 1960 when I was a Psychology student, but he was then in his last illness and did not write back.

Cronenberg, a wily director, has instructed his cameraman Peter Suschitsky to light and frame each composition as Ingmar Bergman would have, and the effect, though initially stilted, has eventual classic authority.

What a fine Bergman actor Fassbender would have been. In a game I have been lately playing with Evan Williams he is the Olivier of today, Giamatti the Laughton, Spacey the Guinness, Tom Wilkinson the Michael Redgrave, Keira Knightley the Olivia De Havilland, Scarlett Johanssen the Ingrid Bergman, Natalie Portman the Vivien Leigh, Meryl Streep the Joan Fontaine, Kristin Scott Thomas the Katherine Hepburn, Carey Mulligan the Audrey Hepburn, Cate Blanchett the Lauren Bacall, Renee Zelwegger the June Allyson, George Clooney the Cary Grant, Hugh Grant the Jimmy Stewart, Robert De Niro the Anthony Quinn, Richard E Grant the David Niven, Colin Firth the Robert Donat; and so on. And the archetypes we always need, in any generation, up on the screen, the travelling repertory company of seventeen known faces — hey, hey, the gang’s all here — is reliably supplied by the zietgeist, if that’s the word I want, in any generation.

It is an idea that would have pleased Carl Jung, and I urge on you this picture.

Classic Ellis: The Late Bill Hunter, May 2011

‘Don’t do auditions, mate,’ Bill Hunter said when we were casting Newsfront.

I carefully asked him if he would, for payment, read certain scenes out loud to Noyce, and he paused, and thought a minute, and said he would, if I threw in ‘a six-pack of VB’.

Drink, of course (‘I’m an alcoholic, mate’), was his bane, his friend, his fuel. In the eighteen months after Newsfront when he had no offers because people thought he’d be too expensive, he was the barman at the Beauchamp, unwisely, I now assess. He put on beef he didn’t have when he was Tony Perkins’s body-double in On the Beach. But the constitution he acquired as a trainee Olympic swimmer (he was bronze medal standard but missed Melbourne through, I think, pneumonia) kept him doggedly alive through an intake that would have pole-axed other men.

Sometimes, when lodged at the Tilbury, he would drink for a week but not eat.

This led to a sometimes irregular love life. Pat Bishop broke a full bottle of Resch’s over his brow in the Gladstone once but he didn’t blink, though any other post-Neanderthal man would have dropped down dead on the spot.

I cast them as former lovers in Down Under and night after night in the Stables he said to her ‘I want you back’ and night after night broke a different chair, endangering the audience. He later married her, but seventeen days later ran off with the marriage celebrant, whom he judged ‘a good sort’ during the ceremony.

He wasn’t a difficult actor, but he was a dangerous one. He could learn a scene at a glance (like many male actors he was dyslexic and the words, once deciphered, were imprinted) but he might be too drunk to say them. He once in London failed to appear on stage at the time required because of a prolonged blow-job in his dressing room. ‘It was usually quicker,’ he explained, claiming it helped his performance.

He was the least vocally-qualified actor, probably, in world history. He couldn’t easily say the letter ‘s’ (disorderly teeth) and his gruff monotone voice knew no variant of accent, cadence, or pitch. Yet he had a seismic, impelling presence which, like that of his opposite number George C Scott, you couldn’t take your eyes off.

Initially hopeless in Newsfront, he re-voiced the whole performance and somehow, by a kind of retrospective witchery, made it immortal. His essential quality, which is called ‘theatrical weight’ in England (Laughton, Richardson, Burton, Finney, ) compelled the roles he is best remembered for, in Muriel, Priscilla, Strictly Ballroom, Chez Nous, Crackerjack and The Dismissal by a kind of magnetic defiance into some of the best film acting we have.

I remember asking him once, in the Hollywood bar, if he’d had to lose weight to play Rex Connor, and his answer, not untypical, was ‘Get fucked’. I saw both Connor and him give the same speech (‘Give me men to match my mountains’) and the resemblance was a bone-shaking equivalent of the moment history changed, a big dream was lost and Australia was never the same.

I’d like to say I will miss him always, and I will, I guess, but he could be a mean drunk, and his furious depressions taxed his friends. There was always something of the wounded elephant about him: why are you doing this to me? I never meant you harm.

He had some illegitimate sons, both good swimmers, he claimed, but no regular official family, the kind of thing that might have tamed him.

He once hired a jet to fly some friends to the Melbourne Cup, and was never safe with money. He went off the drink a few times, but always came back, alas. And that was that.

He kept his cancer secret from all his mates, not wanting to endure their un-eloquent sympathy, and stayed with Rod Mullinar, whose wife Penny Ramsey lately died of cancer too, through his last months on Rod’s farm in St Andrews, smoking and drinking unrepentantly.

He was supposed to have two hours left on Tuesday night but, cantankerously, defiantly, unforgivingly, angrily, not going gentle, persisted till ’round midnight, Saturday 21 May 21, when he died at only seventy-one in a hospice room full of mates in Melbourne.

He won’t play Nobby Russell in our Beaconsfield film now. And it’s a pity.

Only he, John Clayton and Tony Barry have given us, to perfection, the twentieth century Anglo-Celtic Australian male on film.

And we will not see their like again.

The Usual Murdoch Dirty Tricks (28): Guillotining O’Shannessy, The Rock Opera

It seems to be the case, after the Chenoweth revelations, that the new Murdoch rules have come home to roost, and bitten the bum of their elderly progenitor. If you say ‘fucking fantastic’, he decrees, you must lose your preselection. If you say ‘Do you know who I am?’ to a Woy Woy Waiter, you must lose your preselection. If you go in your own time to a place of homosexual resort, you must resign from Cabinet. If you go to bed with an attractive comedienne while wed to Belinda Neal, you must end, forthwith, your political career.

But if you bug the bed-talk of your future King, bring down with illegal bugging your Prime Minister, search the garbage of Oscar nominees, frame with rape a probable future President of France, urge on England with false evidence a disastrous war that kills half a million children, and disable and bankrupt with forged electronic pass-cards your major business competitors, you are still a fit and proper person to own a news channel and publish, it seems, The Wall Street Journal and The Times. Or so runs the Murdoch Decalogue in these more and more interesting times.

There is a contradiction here, and a failure, as we lately say, of the jaded Murdoch polemicists to join the dots. If Rupert Murdoch were to say, ‘Do you know who I am?’ to a New York hotel clerk, should he lose his position? Imre Salusinsky, apparently, thinks so. How could he think anything else? If Rupert were to commit adultery, should he lose his job, his shares, his primal family position of chief and magus and guiding Prospero of Newscorp and News Limited? Imre is adamant. Of course he should.

One person who should lose his position is O’Shannessy of Newspoll. He got the Queensland election wrong, two party preferred, by six percent. This would mean, in an Australian federal election, getting the predicted count wrong by seven hundred and fifty thousand votes.

Ignoring my warning, he rang no mobile votes, and confronted no young people in pubs and shopping malls, no soccer moms in school recreation grounds, and so got the under-forty vote wrong, dead wrong, by, oh, as much as ten percent. In Queensland, three hundred thousand votes.

He should be fired for this, and a numerate put in his place.

He should also be made to explain why no Newspolls appeared for the whole five weeks of the campaign, and only the last, disastrously mistaken one was featured on election morning. Was it Rupert Murdoch’s orders that no evidence of the upsurging Katter party’s daily menacing populist growth be published? Was that it? Or not? Why then were no polls published? Were no polls in fact taken? Really? Why? Why were no polls taken?

I’m not sure what the law is, but O’Shannessy and Murdoch smell like criminals to me.

Perhaps O’Shannessy, in this age when few young people have home home phones, and fewer use them, should review his methodology.

And Murdoch study the laws of the United States.

Prove that I lie.

What Is To Be Done (2): A Government Flood Insurance Corporation, Cheap As Chips

‘Labor is being squeezed by the Greens on the left, and the Katter Party on the right,’ a Labor Ministerial backroomer said on the phone to me yesterday. ‘And Queensland shows we can be squeezed out of existence, comrade, soon.’

There was much I fear in what he had to say. I told him they had to use emergency powers and bring all rents down by a third; put tariffs back up to where they were — under Hawke and Keating — in 1988; abolish the Minister for Deregulation, or change the ‘d’ in his name to an ‘r’; pull out of Afghanistan on Anzac Day; offer free dental care to the over-78s for a six-week trial period over winter (go to the dentist and send your bill to us, and we’ll see how it all adds up); have a lottery whose prize, every week, is a hundred fixed-rate house mortgages at three percent; buy 20 percent of Qantas and keep the jobs here; offer a HECS for artists, composers and writers, as the 2020 recommended; put up the GST to 12 percent to pay for such things, and so on.

What is puzzling about the Labor Party is their belief that they need permission from someone or other (the Reserve; the ratings agencies; the Financial Review; Dennis Shanahan; Gerard Henderson; Gina Rinehart) to do these things, or to do anything at all. They have a trillion dollar budget to squander, and yet feel obliged to spend a hundred and twenty million of it on Afganistan. You could set up three acting schools in country towns and run them for five years with that.  You could pay the dental bills of everyone over eighty-eight with that.

There are other fish to fry, surely. We, the people are not that keen on foreign wars anymore. We lost them in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq. Our boys died in vain in those places. We hate seeing Gillard and Abbott at soldier’s funerals saying it’s worth it. We know it’s not. What we’re mostly worried about is what it costs to get through the week, how often we see our kids, and whether we’ll still have a job this time next year.

Last night on Stateline it was revealed insurance companies were quadrupling, sextupling their premiums after the Queensland floods. Annie and I now have to pay flood insurance although our house is a hundred and twenty feet, thirty metres or whatever it is, above sea level, above Pittwater, high on a hill above Pittwater, and the sea level is not expected to rise and lap our doorstep for at least eight thousand years. How absurd is that. People who used to pay eight hundred a year are now being invited to pay five thousand a year. That’s eighty dollars a week less to live on, to buy shoes and school books and go on a Christmas holiday. How absurd is that.

What is to be done?

Well, the government could set up a Flood Insurance Finance Corporation, couldn’t they, an FIFC, asking an annual premium of a hundred dollars with no fine print, to cover all damage by water that comes from anywhere — storms, burst dams, high seas, tsunamis — and ban all insurance companies from charging any more than they did in 2008. And whatever it costs, it costs: a ‘flood levy’ of, what, twenty dollars a year? fifty? put on everyone’s taxes to pay for it. Is there anything wrong with this? What is it?

Is the alternative of losing power for thirty years, as we have in Queensland, a good one, comrades? Tell me why.

You do not need permission from anyone to do these things. You do not need to fear being charged with ‘socialism’ when socialism is what the people are bellowing for, and what Katter is gladly promising them, to their delight and gratitude, in northern Queensland. The Australian Army is paid for by socialism; the ABC; Medicare; the Air-Sea Rescue Service; the weather forecasts; the country universities; the Holden assembly lines; things people really love.

And we have a trillion dollars a year to spend on what they really love.

And we’re spending a lot of it on what they really hate.

Why are we doing this?

Please explain.

Classic Ellis: A State School Education, A Speech To Some High School Teachers, May 1998

I am a product of the state school system, of Lismore High in Northern New South Wales, in those years, 1954-58, the biggest secondary school in Australia, with fourteen hundred pupils and a first year that went from 1A to 1P and classes with never less that forty-two pupils. In my year and the year ahead of me were Phil Wilkins, the sporting journalist, David Ellyard the science broadcaster and weatherman, Ken Buttrum the current head of the Department of Juvenile Justice of New South Wales, Peter Arnison, the former army general in charge of the defence of the land mass of Australia and lately appointed Governor of Queensland, Robert Stitt the well-known QC, Roy Masters the famous football coach and journalist, Chris Masters the Four Corners reporter, Leyland Minter, bound soon to win the Nobel Prize for biochemistry, and John Niland the vice-chancellor of the University of New South Wales – among a formidable army of doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers, social workers equally deserving, I believe, of honourable fame as any of us.

All of us were saved by Lismore High, in the sense that none of our parents could have then afforded a private school, and the only door through to the larger and wider civilisation that is now our accustomed habitat was the big old red brick building on the corner of Keen and Magellan Street in downtown Lismore, and its acre or so or unremarkable playing fields, and certain selfless teachers I am proud to have known. I most of all owe, I believe, the saving of my soul to that school and those teachers, in particular Bill Marwood, who made me love Shakespeare, Bill Maiden, who made me love writing, and Des Davis, now head of Theatre South in Wollongong, who made me love public speaking, a soul saved from the narrow paranoid confines of the Seventh Day Adventist religion in which I was raised, that might have seen me in my life in its offshoot, the Branch Davidian, in the famous fire and shoot-out in Waco, Texas, had it not been for Lismore High and the teachers, and the spelling tests, and the history lessons, and the rote-learned French and Latin and Golden Treasury poetry, I now freely honour as my saviours, my enlargers out of neurotic flimsiness into the whole person I think I now am.

What does this mean? It means, I think, that Lismore High gave us not only the intellectual armaments that made it possible for us to prevail in the great world beyond Lismore, but it also gave us a sense of that possibility. There were Aborigines not admitted to that school who therefore had no sense of that possibility, no sense, no hope, of their admissibility to the higher reaches of our allegedly egalitarian society, who therefore did not attain them, for want of a good state high school, like children of all colours who in generations to come will not attain it for want of a good local state high school, for want of a free education of the highest order. Which means that in the coming generations the Bob Carrs and Michael Kirbys and Mary Gaudrons and Murray Gleesons, the Paul Landas and Phillip Adamses and Peter Thompsons and Greg Pickhavers and John Bells and John Doyles, the Geraldine Doogues and Sue Masters and Olga Masters and Ernie Dingos and Neville Wrans and Bruce Pettys and Bill Leaks and Les Murrays and John Howards will not have the leeway, the room to expand, as artists and craftsmen and performers and citizens and human beings, that their previous incarnations had, and may some of them fall not only by the wayside or down the cracks, but into suicidal despondency, and drug abuse, and lives of crime, and prison, and early death, for what of a good state school like mine, and Michael Kirby’s and Roy Masters’ and Bob Carr’s.

There is a theory about these days that a good state school can be had on the cheap, that less and less in some of its areas will not matter, that it can be adequately measured by the cost-effectiveness, that is the cheapness, compared with last year, of each graduation, much as you might say that the most cheaply built space rocket of course will reach the moon as well as the most dearly built space rocket.

Do not give heed to those who hold that triumph, triumph in any area of endeavour, can be had on the cheap — that if you make the film Titanic for half the two hundred million that the current film cost it will do as well as the box office. It will not. It may do very badly indeed. It is precisely as foolish as saying, and the logic is just the same, that studying for one hundred hours for a history exam will get you the same result as studying for two hundred hours.

We must look carefully before we go along with this economic anoerexia, I believe, at whom economic rationalism is for. It is not for us. It is not for the wharfies at Patrick’s soon to be retrenched and probably not paid. It is not for the miners of Cobar still unpaid. It is not for the twenty thousand public servants lately sacked in Canberra from jobs they were doing well. It is not for the pupils of the schools that were sold up by Greiner and Kennett because they were big real estate earners with handy positions and water views. It was for other people. It was for the screen jockeys and boardroom Caesars who matter.

It was for people who inexplicably do not practise what they preach. Chris Corrigan, for instance, in the week after his sacking of fourteen hundred wharfies for the absurdly high level of their wages — seventy-two thousand dollars some of them, less twenty-seven thousand dollars tax for seventy hour weeks on the night shift, working Sundays, in physical danger and bitter cold – made out of share movements in those few days 2.1 million dollars, or the average wharfie’s average wage for thirty-two years, he made in less than a week. Chris Corrigan you will not find giving up his next holiday in Switzerland, or his third house, or his next restaurant meal, for the sake of overall company profit. Oh no, sacrifice is for others. Neither will you find him driving a crane on the wharves, or managing a fork lift, or sweeping and cleaning, to increase company efficiency. Of course not. Chris Corrigan’s work is otherwise. Chris Corrigan is a stevedore. Or he is this week. When he has stripped the assets of Patrick’s, which was always his plan, and got the generous Australian citizenry to pay 250 million dollars of his debt, he will move on down the road. And so will Kennett. And so will Kemp. And so will John Aquilina. And so did Rodney Cavalier, to his baronial mansion in Bowral, where I used to visit him, when we were friends. And Terry Metherill, in his present happy ending.

You however do not have their option, as economic rationalists, of transmuting yourself into something more convenient when your decisions have brought your school to its crisis, to cut your losses when those losses are fifty or sixty or two hundred fragile human beings, who may otherwise have prevailed as Roy Masters and John Niland and Ken Buttrum and I did in the great world, who are now contemplating their first burgled household and their first stolen VCR for the price of their first fix. They are not expendable, and you must never walk away from them for any bottom line, whatever the prevailing economic fashion of the day. For fashions change. For thirty years the world economy was run on the thesis of an imminent, likely nuclear war, started accidentally perhaps, between the United States and the Soviet Union, and billions upon billions were spent, hundreds of billions upon thousands of billions that might otherwise have been spent on public education, arraigning those two great superpowers against a transfixing apocalyptic likelihood, enriching what might be simply described as Mr Burns beyond the dreams of Midas and academically impoverishing Lisa Simpson because of that bottom line, because the prevailing fashion was to fight the Reds with the ingredients of Chernobyl to the last nuclear warhead and the last life on earth, lest we all soon suffer the dread fate of the Vietnamese, a fate worse than nuclear war.

Well, the fashion has now altered from better dead than red, to never in the red, at any cost, and economic rationalism is upon us, or economic correctness as I call it, with all the fearful force of the Cold War. Economic correctness holds to the belief that anyone who is not a shareholder is expendable as any soldier on the Somme, and his life and happiness of no account and the only thing that has meaning and philosophical significance in the world is the annual increase, preferably in billions, in company profits. Thus Telecom, of blessed memory, posted an annual profit of two billion and celebrated not by giving its workers a bonus or a box of chocolates or a Christmas letter of thanks but by sacking twenty thousand of them, and wrecking or distorting or bitterly harassing the lives of twenty thousand families and the equilibriums of scores of small towns in order that it might be sold at a slightly higher price to foreign shareholders, a higher price in billions that were then quite shrewdly loaned to General Suharto.

I am currently writing a book on economic rationalism called First Abolish the Customer – One Hundred Arguments Against Economic Rationalism and I am having difficulty in keeping the number of arguments down to one hundred and one, because the arguments for it are so manifestly incompetent and foolish and probably corrupt.

What is important for you to realise is that you are in the grip of a kind of nut religion, such as was the basis of the arms race and the Cold War, a nut religion which like many nut religions, Scientology for instance, is also a scam. And you, as head-teachers, in the thrall of this nut religion, are offering up unto it human sacrifice, directly contributing to the deaths or the shrivelled lives or the ruined dreams of those initially decent young people who are its victims, to satisfy some Torquemada at Moody’s or Standard and Poors who has a different definition now of sin and redemption, of sacrifice and salvation, and believes for instance that it is more economically efficient for eighty percent of Indonesia to starve, or some sado-monetarist in the Kennett government who profoundly believes that money is always better spent in the Crown Casino than in the schoolrooms of the poorer suburbs, schoolrooms currently being turned to rubble as the schools are demolished and the real estate sold up to satisfy the bottom line.

Your bottom line, as teachers, as educators, as educational administrators, cannot, must not, be expressed in figures, for your bottom line is a great phantom convocation of the souls of those whose lives on earth you touch, souls that are saved or cast into outer darkness with a millstone round their neck by your decision to equip, or not, a science laboratory, or close down, or not, a language course, or buy, or not, a particular computer, or cancel, or not, a school play, souls like mine and Roy Masters’ and Les Murray’s that were better given room to grow than nipped in the bud, or starved of oxygen at birth, souls that as were the souls on the Somme were not, however the figures panned out, were not expendable, even for the noble cause of making Christopher Corrigan or Christopher Skase or Jeffrey Kennett or Peter Costello, a hundred million or so in profit to send on to General Suharto, or Doug Moran, or Keith Williams, a much more worthy cause. For what shall it profit a man, as penniless Nazarene beggar Jeshua Ben Yusif, also known as rabbi, or teacher once asked, what shall if profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul? And what shall it profit a man or a woman like you if you gain the long-fought bottom line but in its black ink lose the potential of the next Albert Einstein or the next Stephen Hawking or the next Peter Carey or John Williamson or Barry Jones or Jason Lee.

I would not be in your shoes for a thousand new shares in Telecom. I do not envy your task. I cannot easily advise on its politics. I do not know how in its thrall you will get through the day, and the night, and the morning after of every coming week in the rest of your lives as your address that question, with fear, and anguish, and conscience. But I ask you to realise what that question is.

As I Please: After Margaret

I looked around the crowd after Margaret Whitlam’s memorial service recalling my earlier definition of death: being now unavailable for interview.  Barry Jones; Paul Keating; Bob Carr; Kevin Rudd; John Brown; Mike Rann; Bob Hawke; Bill Morrison; Laurie Brereton; Tanya Plibersek; Marie Bashir; Little Pattie; Julia Gillard; Quentin Bligh; Annita Keating; Tom Uren; John Faulkner; Barrie Unsworth; Michael Egan; Evan Williams; Nathan Waks; Kim Williams; Jim Spigelman; Malcolm and Tamie Fraser; like a marble frieze of an era not quite past they stood in groups in the threatening rain aware that time was going, significant history gone, and, one by one, in a decade or so, they too would be no more.

It seemed preposterous that Margaret was not among them. Like Uluru we all of us knew she would always be there; she would stand and speak with brave humour at Gough’s funeral in Sydney Town Hall; she would joke at the party afterwards. The time was out of joint. This was the wrong order of things. It could not be; but it was.

I thought of all the times I had stood in rooms and galleries and foyers where she was, on crutches of late, or in wheelchairs, turning up for the opening night, the launching, the gallery opening, the prize night, showing the flag, and how often I had not bothered to go up to her and shoot the breeze with her, as I always used to, when I was younger and more insecure. I felt she would always be there. She was an icon of that long-established agnostic sect, the Australian Labor Party, which I paid in this life of late my dues to. She was our Good Queen Bess, or Florence Nightingale, our Madame Curie, the healing pool we went to when the aches of office, and loss of office, had grown too much for us to bear alone. She would cheer us up when we were down. She would tell Gough to shut up when he had talked too long, often in those words. She was our Ombudsperson, our better angel, an ever present help in trouble. And now she was gone.(MORE TO COME)

Male Suicide (3): An Afterword From Canguro

Years ago, in lieu of pursuit of dreams unrealised and lacking the necessary drive to chip away at the necessary hurdles standing between circumstances and goals unattained, I took a job as a trainee psychiatric nurse in one of the public asylums that still existed before the madness of the economic rationalists convinced the public service that such places could be closed and dollars saved and lost souls managed effectively within community settings.

And thus began an education of sorts, wherein a window opened through which one could step and experience another reality, such as it were, where the lost, tortured, mad, bad, seriously demented and otherwise tragically misfitted were gathered wantonly or unwittingly.

Patients who had attempted suicide were common, a dime a dozen, often rejected by family and peers as being seriously unstable and incapable of maintaining a a ‘normal’ relationship, teenaged girls with multiple scarified forearms, stomach-pumped OD’ers, fatalistic users of dangerous drugs, along with psychopaths and arsonists and murderers and the other fringe-dwellers living at the edges of the social bell-curve. And a psychiatrist who wore a t-shirt which proudly proclaimed ‘Mind Fucker’.

And amongst my peers was a colleague whom we all admired, a young man with what The Cat referred to as ‘elan vital’ just bursting out of him, energetic, joyous, smart and funny, seemingly in love with the uniqueness of existing within a human frame, and married to a beautiful wife… who began an affair, and then left him.

Within weeks, this young man, a a black-belt martial artist and musician, with his naturally attractive personality, and liked and admired by all who knew him, had a polar shift from positive to the other extreme, and taking advantage of his knowledge of psychiatric medications had himself prescribed a major anti-depressant (now descheduled), and fatal if overdosed. He would have known that. We found him unconscious in the male toilet of the hospital’s teaching rooms, and were unable, at the time, to understand why such a promising young man should have chosen to end the pain as he did.

You see, as nurses we were used to working day in & day out with the so-called loonies & nutcases, the schizophrenics and manic-depressives and obsessive-compulsives and the relentlessly neurotics, and within that framework one could rationalise that suicidal was appropriate, god, even worthwhile, after all, anything must be better than being crazy, right? But for a young man of 24 with the world at his feet, it just didn’t seem quite right. To knock yourself off just because your wife left you? Hell, there’s plenty more fish in the ocean, right? Hah! Try telling a drowning man that all he needs to do is flail a little harder, when all he’s experiencing in the moment is such fear, and pain, and tiredness, fuck it, I’m flailing away here and still sinking…

It’s a complex subject, and Bob’s done us a unique service by raising the topic. Australia of course is not unique in the phenomenon of male suicide, or in general, though he’s right to assert that men outnumber women and this is a serious concern, socially, societally.

This problem raises many questions, not the least of which is what sort of circumstances or conditions constitute ideality in the sense of setting foundations within a person’s life, such that they are psychologically robust enough to withstand the rigours of a fully-lived life with all its tests of courage and endurance.

I wonder, for example, whether our ancestors killed themselves at such a rate. Did the aborigines have a history of self-inflicted death, eskimos, amero-indians or other indigenous peoples?

What is it about language and our relationship to it that permits us to self-evaluate and then take that awful final step. It’s said, for instance, that prior to the acquisition of language skills, that we live in some sort of utopian ideal, and that we’re kind of a whole being and at one with ourselves and in the moment, so to speak, but that after we develop these higher intellectual behaviours and skills with the concomitant development of the Freudian I-ego, that there’s a kind of split from reality. I believe that. And I believe that we are fooled, gulled and hypnotised into some alternate reality by the incessant snarking of the little man in the brain, the shadow player who says “I” to everything, the ghost in the machine. Just my two bob’s worth…

Classic Ellis: Murdoch at Eighty, 2011

Rupert Murdoch turns eighty on Friday. He has been a newspaper proprietor for fifty-eight years and a television station owner for fifty-two years. 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 ten 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 per cent) 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 10 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 a year. What a Cabinet Minister earns is a public scandal, though it’s two hundred and thirty-five thousand 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 a 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.

The Usual Murdoch Dirty Tricks (27): The Dynast Strikes Back

Rupert Murdoch has been twittering in the past day alleging conspiracy theories and threatening, at last, to sue. It seems the vile misdeeds of which his company is accused were not crimes when they were set in train, because the hack-and-forge technology was new then and not yet acknowledged or enshrined or even understood in the laws of the land of the day and he may, as our Prime Minister yesterday hinted, have no precise charge to answer; she is after all a lawyer and may understand such things.

Murdoch must, however, show himself to be a fit and proper person to achieve the monopoly he currently seeks over Pay-TV in Australia, and Conroy, I guess, will have to make this decision, or influence it, as he did when he reappointed Mark Scott head of the ABC. He must show himself to be a man above suspicion like, say, Fred Hollows or Dick Smith.

In order to assist him in his choice, I hereby reprint above my year-old essay on Murdoch’s previous known character on the occasion of his eightieth birthday. It predated all his troubles in England and may in some part have impelled or enhanced them. It shows, at the very least, a man keen to cut corners and get his way in the great world and bend the law to his convenience and put in affable governments who will give him generous help in his endless quest for another winning hand in the twilight game he is always playing — roulette or poker or two-up — for a dominating influence over the ends and means and weaponry of power in our day.

Classic Ellis: Titanic In 2D Remembered, February 1998

Like the Merchant-Ivory films, Titanic, Wilde and Mrs Brown are about the overdressed classes, and keeping stiff the upper lip while the heart breaks in silence. They share a style of costume and deal with true events and actual people, those that ran the gauntlet of the pararazzi (already active) of the day. They have all done well at the box office, and there are reasons for this.

One is that, like Romeo and Juliet (and the one-line pitch for Titanic was, apparently, ‘Romeo and Juliet on the Titanic’), the stories are already well known, and the characters in some part of our tribe’s memory: Oscar being witty in the dock, the sad old Queen in crowblack mourning for Albert, the brave ship’s band on the tilting deck playing ‘Nearer My God To Thee’. In all three stories is a Mona Lisa – or Princess Di – enigma: what was he (she) really like? What did he (she) do or say in the hour of death?

In all, too, is the charm of distance, but near distance: a time close enough to feel with, to find again a morality we half remember. ‘All theatre audiences,’ the late Julius Caesar is said to have said, ‘repossess, in the dark, the simpler moral standards of fifty years before they were born.’ Thus in Titanic the poor boy’s discomfort at the rich man’s table move us yet, and John Brown’s ferocious bodyguard-love for his moody Queen, and Wilde’s absurd and suicidal protective devotion to Bosie, in ways the world may not imagine a hundred years from now – when the movies, I suppose, will be about the ill-used Camilla Parker-Bowles (my mooted title: Tampon and Squidgy) or the rush to impeachment by mad prudes of saintly President Bill for prodding the tonsils of eager office bimbos, the way one does.

We go with the stories because we can imagine our grandfather (or grandmother) somewhere in them. If the past is another country where all is differently done, it is also a country we like to visit (like Ireland or New Zealand), for that same reason; for its always pleasing mixture of the familiar and the strange.

In all three films are great performances, Fry as the soft-eyed playful Oscar and Dench as the frumpy sullen Queen, so good and clear it is hard to think they are not the actual people, and David Warner as the perfect, sinister, smoke-grey conscienceless manservant, the eighties troubleshooter in preview, as the Empire’s old money sinks in an icy sea. All (including, surprisingly, Titanic) boast slim sweet thoughtful scripts and lavish crockery and wallpaper and sentiments – sentiments nicely contrasted, in Titanic, with the foul-mouthed greedy technobabble of today. One, Mrs Brown, is too much like a telemovie – drab and dark and ablur with murky close-ups – but the one-line pitch (did the monarch twiddle the gilly’s willy or did the kilt stay firmly down?) so appealing that old women in coachloads daily dodder chumbling upstairs to catch what is perhaps no more than a royal roll in the haggis (or do I mean the heather?) with rough trade. As the eponymous phlegmatic moonlight shagger, Billy Connolly wondrously doffs his long-worn mask of a Sassenach hoon-for-all-pub-brawls to play with dignity, searing quietude and hairy hidden depths a role clearly meant for Sean Connery, who I imagine cost too much; and the great stage actor Tony Sher gives (I think that is the proper verb) a Disraeli of depth and guile and immemorial bitter sorrows, and rings, and ringlets, and fingers to the lips, that seem likewise to be the man himself – or Tony’s screen audition for Shylock, perhaps, a performance of howls and sobs and brimstone I alas have seen. A pity the director is a visual moron, but you can’t have everything. A pity, too, they cut the shagging scenes, by royal command I suppose, for the drama sorely needs them, and the film seems less portentous, and pretty pointless without them.

While the Titanic is afloat, the grandly costumed and promenading and ball-going patrician class of Europe and America show now and then what lies beneath the costuming: the ruling-class rite, for instance, of the consummated betrothal in adjoining staterooms (‘I have a headache,’ pleads Winslet in vain, when Zane seeks to plant his imperial flag before the banns), and the accustomed flesh-market of daughters to wealthy suitors when poor dear Mother’s family coffers abruptly run dry; the animal attraction to roistering Left Bank nude portraitists of spirited but corseted rich girls on the wavering cusp of wedlock, and so on; the complexity, in short, of life, and its compromising venal shoddiness enhances the social truth of the uptilting leviathan, and the screaming, and the freezing, and the music playing.

Wilde too (superbly directed by Brian Gilbert) boasts delicate depths undramatised till now. Oscar the truant heterosexual, for instance, the doting but offtimes absent father of little sons, heterosexual in practice (and besotted in his youth by several women, including Lillie Langtry) till expertly bedded and brought out by shy Robbie Ross at thirty; husband very much and loving, in his way, of all-forgiving Constance till her death, son very much of Speranza, romantic firebrand Irish rebel (here played with feverishly smiling fervour by, of course, Vanessa Redgrave), and of Sir William Wilde, medical genius brought likewise low by a public humbling in the dock, Fry’s Oscar is a gentle poseur whose arrogance (like Whitlam’s) is also a playful pose; and a very young man, we sometimes forget, whose career, like John Lennon’s, was ashes at forty, and whose rocket of celebrity took eight years, no more, to plunge into shame.

And Queensberry, the sexually dysfunctional proud atheist and fellow icon-smasher, is seen in depth too: as large a rebel himself as Wilde or Speranza, but racked with grief at the suicide of one sodomite son (past boyfriend of the new Prime Minister) and fearful of further bloodstain on the family crest. And Bosie, the mad, bad, beautiful, vengeful bitch of a boy (fierily impersoned with tigerish grey-green eyes by the lovely Jude Law), narcissistic, spoiled and shrieking shamelessly for more money, more; not Oscar’s lover (or not for long) but his roving accomplice in copulative polygamy, cruising the Soho streets beside him, in what seems now a very modern way, sharing rent-boys and gleefully watching with blazing eyes the Grand Panjandrum huffing and puffing to his adipose completion.

Most remarkable perhaps is Michael Sheen, whose Rossie Ross is that most uncommon figure (in cinema if not in life), the decent, kindly, loyal, big-toothed, worried little queen. The sex scenes, though brief, as alluringly evoke the lush nineties decadence (all red-gold windowlight and spread-eagled bronze bodies and gold wallpaper and silken sheets) of that over-painted Underworld as do Aubrey Beardsley’s elegant, lewd line drawings.

It’s a fine film, in short, based precisely on the late, great Richard Ellmann’s wonderful book, the best one-volume biography I’ve read, and full of actual dialogue (Wilde evicting Queensberry from his house in Tite Street, in Wilde’s exact words, and so on), and though a bit rushed at the finish (the imprisonment is too short, and the last sad dwindling to shabby beggary in Paris omitted altogether), the classic dramatic work, I would guess, on the subject – by Julian Mitchell, a lovely writer of, among much else, Another Country.

Peter Carey lately said that the past is a kind of science fiction we invent as much as discover, according to its usefulness to us in our time. So it is no accident that now, when widowhoods last longer than ever before, and homosexuals wear once more a leper’s bell, and the Western world’s below-decks huddled masses grow in number and clamber gasping up for air, that these three films have found big audiences. For the past will always offer more, whatever the Australian Film Commission hirelings tell us, and whenever we go there truly (as in Breaker Morant, My Brilliant Career, Shine, Flirting, Newsfront, An Angel at My Table), both praise and big money flow to the brave, true traveller in time. The past is a bigger canvas than the present, with more years to it and more issues, and interesting people to choose from. We should go there more often, and look around.

A War To The Death Of The Better Angels: Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation

A Separation is about the dread consequences of goodness, the sort of goodness that cannot, will not, yield or bend to changing times or opposing need and nearly always ends in tragedy, large or small, the sort of tragedy which all the participants can in some measure foresee but cannot, because of the way they measure things, morally evade.

Set in Iran today, it could equally have taken place in, say, Dublin or Liverpool in 1951, or in some Australian Catholic suburb like Marrickville or Collingwood in, say, 1920; or, if it existed, Lake Wobegon at any time in its last bleak mythical century. Garrison Keillor could make rare solemn comedy of it, but as it unfolds before us, in Asghar Farhadi’s brave, implacable, bruising masterpiece it is not funny, and we come out of it scalded, shamed and crestfallen but somehow comforted also, uplifted even, like (I suppose) the first-night audience of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman or of Peter Kenna’s A Hard God. It is, alas, the truth we need to hear.

The truth is doing good can kill you, and you should be careful who you do it for. Nader (Peyman Maadi) , a good husband, cannot desert his Alzeimer’s-diminished father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) and accompany his beautiful, smart wife Simin (Leila Hataini) to America, though his father does not know who he is and would not miss him. Nor can he let Simin take their eleven-year-old daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi) with her, and he can legally prevent her. Nor does Termeh want to go; she has exams, and friends, and a life in Teheran she can imagine, and plan for. Nor can Simin, knowing this, live with Nader, the coward, any more, or this is what she says. She moves out — for a ‘trial fortnight separation’ — into her parents’ flat, hoping thus to persuade him to come to America, and make, with Termeh, a new life there.

Who then will look after his father for this trial period? He is beginning to soil his pants, and does not speak much anymore. A friend of a friend of Simin’s, Razieh (Sareh Bayat), turns up, needing the money, but worried that the commute, which means she must rise at 5 am, and neglect her little daughter, who is about four, or bring her with her, will make it impossible to do it for very long.

And then she finds very quickly she cannot cope with the old man’s soiled pants, or his subsequent shameful nakedness, which she believes may be a sin, though her religious advisor, whom she phones on her mobile, tells her it’s all right, it is not a sin, it is nursing. But she hates the work; she is pregnant and fears the wrath of God will fall upon her unborn child if she persists in what she still thinks is an immoral, forbidden relationship with a sick old man; and after only one day attempts to arrange that her husband Hodjat (Shahah Hosseini) do it in her stead. He is unemployed, and always angry, and has been messed around by the authorities lately after he was wrongly sacked, or he says he was wrongly sacked, and moody and vengeful and intermittently unmedicated and sometimes violent, and looking for trouble most afternoons.

Then he is arrested for non-repayment of debt on his first day of work and Razieh, needing the money, comes back to the flat to fill in for him. Torn between obligations, she ties the old sleeping man to his bed to go out shopping with her little daughter and Nader comes back and finds his father bound, soiled and vomitous and apparently dying. He upbraids her and sacks her when she timidly returns with her little daughter. She weeps, and asks for the money she is owed. He will not give it to her. He finds, moreover, by Allah, that money from his wallet has been stolen. He accuses her of this. She swears on the Koran she would never, never do this. He bids her go, and she goes. Then she comes back to beg her lost wages from him. He threatens her with the police, and roughly pushes her out, and she slips — pregnant — on the stairs.

… In Iran, to cause the death of an unborn child is murder, and the penalty is three to five years. Or you can pay ‘blood money’ to the bereaved mother’s family, a large amount, and escape imprisonment. The subsequent court case — actually a series of up-close arguments between the furious litigants and a sullenly patient elderly Interrogator (Babak Karimi) in a small and grimy office — hangs on whether Nader knew that Razieh was pregnant when he pushed her roughly towards the stairs (there is evidence that he overheard her speaking of this, and evidence that he did not) and whether, indeed, the unborn baby was already dead when he pushed her — after domestic violence, perhaps, at the hands of her justly aggrieved, but sometimes mad young husband. And the changing evidence unfolds, as it does in Poirot, with flashbacks.

So who is in the wrong here? Nader, for refusing to go to America and leave his father behind? Simin, for moving out of the flat, and leaving the old man untended? Hodjat, for getting the sack from his job and overspending and not turning up, while in gaol, for his new job as a carer? Razieh, for tying the old man up at an hour when she believed he was always sleeping? Nader, for refusing to give her the money he owed her? Razieh, for coming back for it? Nader for pushing her, fatally, if that’s what happened, downstairs? Or .. whoever stole the wallet? The little girl, probably.

Paced like a thriller, or a Graham Greene novel-of-conscience, or a tragedy by Euripides, with occasional bursts of cathartic, wrenching violence, it draws us into the Middle Eastern cast of mind more thoroughly and more poignantly and searingly than any film I have thus far seen. The choicelessness of unchangeing virtuous principles; the quenchlessness of family obligation; the powerlessness of women, legally, still, in Iran, and the moral force they nonetheless can martial, by the age-old tactic of withdrawing sexual access when there is something they truly, keenly want; the trauma of migration; the pull of one’s home city; the bureaucratic nightmare of medieval prohibitions still in force in a world of cellphones, computers and the imminent Arab Spring; the power still of a sworn oath on a holy book by a true believer; a world where Duty means what it did in our world in 1914: of course you sacrifice your life, your plans, your marriage, you have to.

It is the Muslim, Islamic, half-modernised, guilt-wracked Iranian world, writ clear and plain; yet only one character in it has no equivalent in the world of the West we know. It is Nader, who is so obsessed with with his own self-image as a good man that he will deny himself all happiness when it is freely offered to show he is a great and mighty soul. It is a lacerous, masochistic model of the masterful stern saint that more resembles Martin Luther, or Sir Galahad, perhaps, or Sir Thomas More, or Oliver Cromwell, than any Westerner now living. All the others are readily identifiable as the kind of people we have in any society — loving, genial, pious, well-meaning, self-destructive, every one of us, and mostly unable to cope.

Some who have seen it call A Separation one of the best films ever made. I would not quite go that far. But it is certainly confronting, upsetting, potent, cathartic and universal. And when Israel nukes Iran on October 20 as I understand it plans to it will be people like this, people like us, decent, dutiful, honour-bound people with family values and a great capacity for tenacious love it will once again be killing.

And it’s a pity.

Male Suicide In Our Time (2): Some Words From A Correspondent

A frequent contributor to these columns, Canguro, a couple of hours ago posted the following, which he was moved to by my essay below on male suicide. It’s an astonishing piece of writing and I felt I should emphasise it, and cheer him up a little perhaps, by running it here. When he eventually reaches Australia, if he does, I would like to have a drink with him, and hear some more of his biography. Here it is anyway, unedited.

…. Poignant essay, Bob. And I’m on the verge of returning to Australia after 7 years in Asia, the latest chapter of my life deliberately chosen as an escape from the madness brought on in the aftermath of a failed marriage, loss of contact with children, redundancy, slippage into dependency on the bottle, attenuation of friendships, and several attempts at suicide, some theatrical, some deadly serious, all brought on by the incessant and remorseless indwelling and self-flagellation and depression and unwillingness to unhinge my mental universe from its preoccupation with these historical events.

And my brother also, an early onset sufferer of Parkinson’s disease, who watched as his life fell apart, his business ruined, his second marriage failed when his stoic wife reached the end of her tether and his medication changes wrought psychosis on top of his physical ailments, who then found himself involuntarily committed to the psych ward of a NSW regional hospital and then farmed out to community housing where in his utter aloneness stepped off a chair with a rope around his neck, to end on the floor weeping with existential bewilderment after the hanging attachment broke.

And my father’s cousin, who shot himself on the first anniversary of his only child’s death at the age of 8, hit by a car travelling at highway speed, and both of them found by their mother and wife, who has lived 50 more years with the imprinted memories of these tragic deaths of the man & boy in her life. She could have gone mad, should have, but didn’t, and instead married my father after the early death of my mother, and spent the next 30 years caring for him, a survivor of the Burma railroad, a prisoner attached to the Konya camp, where the men slaved infamously on Hellfire Pass. Tragedy touches us all, in various ways.

Thanks for raising this topic, and now I’m weeping, alone, in China, and about to return to Australia to face my demons, again.

The Usual Murdoch Dirty Tricks (26): The Chenoweth Revelations And O’Shannessy’s Future

It is now inevitable that The Australian will cease publication soon, and Rupert Murdoch as well as James and Lachlan will go to gaol in the Dirty Dynast’s lifetime and the lifetime of his mother, probably. Today, Wednesday, 28th March is his Day of Infamy, his Pearl Harbour, and Neil Chenoweth should get a knighthood from Prime Minister Milliband after Cameron falls in June or July for his services to democracy.

It might have been possible for him to survive the bugging-and-hacking inquiry that has thus far seen thirty-two of his top-level executives arrested including Rebekah Brooks, himself humiliated before the Commons, his B-Sky-B takeover thwarted, The News of the World abolished, the Sun arraigned and James kicked off significant boards and exiled to America. But his systematic sabotage by corporate spying, forged cards and illegal secret wars on his rival broadcasters ONdigital, BSkyB, Austel, Optus and, amazingly, Foxtel, means he cannot now survive a war on both fronts by claiming he knew nothing, he knew nothing, all those years.

John Menadue was his associate on the It’s Time campaign which elected Whitlam in 1972, and yesterday told me ‘There is only one ingredient of the New Limited culture, and it’s Rupert. He is the culture.’ In a fascinating summation he went on to add that Rupert first yearned to join the Establishment, then became the Establishment, then systematically strove to change the way the Establishment operates, and to extend his power and influence across the known world, but, as all men so moved do, ‘he eventually went too far’.

It is now clear, or clear to me anyway, that my allegation that he suppressed the Newspoll figures on Katter’s party for eight weeks when it might have grown and flourished and become part of a governing coalition is correct. A man capable of all the above criminality, and of bugging and publishing the intimate phone calls of his future King, and ordering the publishing of the Hitler Diaries when Third Reich experts said they were forged (‘Fuck Trevor-Roper,’ he is said to have said) is also capable of suppressing or tweaking a poll or two, to bring down a Labor government, as he did in 1975, in his native country.

In his native country now he is accused of major crimes. And in the upshot and backwash we will certainly see in what measure O’Shannessy colluded with him in the sabotage of Katter. And who now bids for our Murdoch miniseries Paper Tigers, 120 minutes in and currently dealing with Whitlam, the page 3 girls and Watergate.

Classic Ellis: Male Suicide In Our Time, 2008

For a while I stood on Wynyard station, an hour perhaps, wondering which train I would jump in front of. There seemed no other way. Did I mean it? Or was it just a hypothetical dilemma, the sort we all have sometimes?

To be or not to be. Two of the greatest plays, Hamlet and Death of a Salesman, are about thoughts of suicide, and one of the greatest films, It’s A Wonderful Life, and one of the finer songs, Waltzing Matilda. In my case they were brought on by (yes) a rise in interest rates; our mortgage payments had gone from eight hundred and twenty dollars a week to thirteen hundred a week in six months; and this, in 1987, was hard for a freelance writer with an overworked wife and three children to contemplate. Was, in Hamlet’s dread coinage, self-slaughter an option? It seemed so, or it seemed so to me for that hour on the train platform.

One Australian dairy farmer suicides every four days, Bob Katter revealed in anguish in parliament last month, some of them friends of his. Each interest rate rise makes such men more desperate. Even selling the farm won’t get them out of it; the drought and the ARB have seen to that. A gun in the mouth, a pulled trigger, seems a better alternative. This may well be so.

In ancient Rome committing suicide was a way of sending a message to the Emperor: your curst regime, oh Caesar, has driven me to this. These days suicide bombing does much the same work: you infidels’ foul presence on our holy ground has driven me to this, American scum. Please go away.

Young and mid-aged males are most of those who suicide, during high school exams, failed love affairs, unemployment, retrenchment, divorce, bankruptcy, small business ventures going bust.

Five Australian men suicide each day and only one woman. Why is this so?

Well, men have images of themselves, as conqueror, provider, breadwinner, football star, self-made billionaire, chick magnet, local hero, which, if they fail at, darken their mood. There are so many things they can fail at, so many contests they are in, so many medals they will not win, so many promises to keep, that the gun in the drawer comes to mind pretty frequently, or its equivalent.

How many deaths by car crash are witting acts of suicide by mid-aged males, self-slaughter? We will never know.

The American concept ‘loser’ has a lot to do with it. A loser is a forty-year-old man who is not a billionaire - or an Olympic gold medallist, or pitcher for the Red Sox, or CEO at Disney, or a Hollywood hunk getting ten million dollars a film. Ninety-eight per cent of American men are losers therefore, and can buy hand-guns easily on Main Street in any leafy town. Sometimes from retrenchment to murder-suicide or marriage break-up to college massacre takes only a couple of days.

How many botched bank hold-ups are witting acts of self-slaughter, of topping oneself, of losing it altogether? We will also never know. How many suburban sieges, plane hijackings, deaths by alcoholic poisoning or medication overdose, knife fights in pubs after midnight? Always, as in Bergman’s The Seventh Seal the black-cowled tempter Death stalks you, the exhausted male, smiles behind your shoulder in the shaving mirror.

Most men who have gone broke, lost their woman, lost their children, think of doing away with themselves. Disgraced Test cricketers probably do so too, football superstars, gaoled CEOs like Rene Rivkin and Kenneth Lay. In a film my wife Anne Brooksbank wrote, Moving On, about a farmer forced off the land in 1975, is the loyal wife’s bleak line, ‘You spend your life tiptoeing around a man’s pride.’ It resounds now still.

The women watch as the men crack up. They hide the whisky bottle. They hide the rifle. They join the prayer group. They make the begging phone calls. They investigate the necessary medication. They cop the odd belt in the face. They stand by their man. This is what women, or many women, do. They cope, they deal with the children, they rally round. They bury their egos and keep the show on the road.

But men are warriors in the end. They need the testing battles that will prove their worth or end their lives. They are challenge-seeking animals, heat-seeking missiles, fools for pointless contest. They need the victory at darts, at pool, at horse-betting, marlin fishing, stock-market speculation that affirms them. They need that struggle with the numbers which proves if they are losers, or if they are not.

Is economic rationalism a cause of male suicide? Of course it is. Any change of address, any loss of job, any default in a mortgage payment, any AWA, any office downsizing that targets you or your lifestyle, is a sanity-threatening trauma, an ego-diminishing kick in the guts, a personal catastrophe. Ask any unemployed male from Leeton, Cessnock, Elizabeth or Beaconsfield who is living elsewhere now and looking for work. Anything that takes you away from your community, your siblings, your congregation, your local team, your grandchildren, your mates in the pub, your certainty of sexual relief is a suicide-inducement zone. ‘Going where the work is’, for most country town men, is the first paragraph of a suicide note to their extended family, the cousins and aunts and uncles they won’t see much any more.

Does the ARB, then, increase the suicide rate in men? Of course it does; three or four times a year, it seems.
Keating’s bland smug phrase ‘The recession we had to have’ really means, when decrypted, ‘The suicides we had to have’. The able-bodied men we sacrifice to Moloch on an altar of burning bank-notes, and their wives and children thrown on the pyre as the flames increase.

C. Northcote Parkinson once in an essay said a civilisation’s success could be measured by adding up the suicide rate, the alcoholism rate, divorce rate, road death rate, cost of health care, number of college graduates, number of deaths in babyhood, average age at death, and so on.

By these means he unsurprisingly named the world-wide winner as Holland. But suicide he ranked very high in the red column of his numbering.

And Australia today has the second highest suicide rate in the world.

How are we doing?

We have the highest mortgage instalments in world history too. There may be a connection, oh my comrades, oh my fellow Australians, there really may, between an ARB that ‘fights inflation’ by raising the cost of living (by eighty dollars a week this fiscal year thus far) and the farmer Bob Katter knows who blows his brains out; there may just be a connection.

Prove that I lie.

After Queensland (2): The Imminent Swift Extinguishment of CN

After the shortest honeymoon since Brutus and Cassius’s mere quarter hour of begrudged acclaim on the Capitol steps Campbell Newman has rabidly proposed to kill off all green power and roll back the future and murder all the koalas and lost, overnight, three hundred thousand votes.

He should be nicknamed, henceforth, Campbell Putin. Short, bald, fit, hubristic, unhinged and cold-eyed, he has like Vladimir appointed mates from the Brisbane KGB to his inner circle and well befits the nom de plume of one who works in secret, brooks no discussion, executes dissident journalists and plans the needless punishment and financial ruin of everybody in sight. Fifteen years in the army have taught him that bugling and saluting and abusive sarmajor shouting is the way to go. And it’s no more Mr Nice Guy now.

I suggest a slogan for Labor. ‘If you think Campbell Newman knows what he’s doing — wait a bit. Wait about three days.’

As I Please: Costello In Defence Of Immoderate Wealth, As Usual

Peter Costello notes in the smh this morning that if the Queensland swing were duplicated federally Wayne Swan and Kevin Rudd would lose their seats; which is true, uncontestably true. But it’s much like saying that if the Adam Bandt swing were duplicated in Costello’s old seat of Higgins that seat would be lost to the Greens too, which it would. But it’s not going to happen.

For it’s doubtful, very doubtful that the two Queenslanders who saved Australia from the Meltdown, and are proudly famed and thanked in Queensland for having done so, would lose their seats in an ‘economy, stupid’ election, any more than Costello would have lost Higgins, ever, in any election when he was Treasurer, and a widely admired money-manager. But he says what he has to say. Though on the government payroll, he sneers at that government with characteristic raucous ingratitude. As it is his democratic right to do.

He goes on to deride Bob Carr for mocking Tony Abbott, successfully and resonantly, as a ‘cheapskate hypnotist’ and for planning worse assaults on him hereafter. Bob Carr has no right to do this, he says, or he implies that he has no right. Costello should be careful about this. He should remember his own ‘hello, possum, I’m home’ gibe in Question Time, which precipitated, some say, Nick Sherry’s suicide. He should remember his own effective malice on the floor of the House, and the relish with which he deployed it, and the enjoyment many of us got from it, in the eleven years that he was Treasurer.

And it was his democratic right to deploy it. It is our democratic right in a democracy to argue with vigour and spleen and humour and contumely our point of view. It is what is meant, and precisely meant, by ‘freedom of speech’.

But the Liberals and their Murdochist pit-bull terriers don’t believe that any more. We mustn’t say things that make them uncomfortable. We mustn’t ‘play politics’ with a war their politics got us into. We mustn’t ‘play politics’ with their record of locking up and traumatising children. We mustn’t ‘play politics’ with their greed. That wouldn’t be fair. Speaking up on an issue of the day isn’t fair, or that is the Costello-Murdochist view of good manners these days. We mustn’t play politics. That’s not what politicians do.

And we mustn’t attack Twiggy or Clive or Gina for their wealth or their divine right to dig, Costello says, because this is the ‘politics of envy’. Mustn’t bring envy into politics. That would never do. Envy? Politics? No. No.

But politics is built on envy. The envy of the have-nots for the haves. The envy of the ignorant and the unschooled for the ‘metropolitan elites’. The envy of Australia for America’s ability to throw its weight around. The envy of Australia for China’s exchange-rate, and its consequent license to manufacture anything, which we have no longer. Politics is envy, voiced and punitive and combative. It has never been anything else.

Envy is the basis of the Arab Spring. Very rich undeserving unelected bastards are envied by the metropolitan poor, who have lately sought to overthrow them. Should they not practise ‘the politics of envy’? Or speak ‘the dated language of the class war?’ Should they be asked to hold their tongues? Why not?

It is the continuing trick of the Rove Right and the Abbott Right and the Hendersonite Papist ASIO Hydrophobics to say ‘You mustn’t say such things’. Which means ‘It’s wrong to argue effectively if your argument is against us. It’s wrong to rail against Gina for earning more money in a day than we earn in a year. That is just plain wrong. That is class envy, and we must maturely put it behind us, and maturely accept our impoverishment and her conspicuous vulgar wealth.’

Mustn’t we.

Peter Costello thinks we should.

And when was he ever wrong?

P.S. The anti-slavery movement was the politics of envy too.

Or was it the politics of injustice.

The Usual Murdoch Dirty Tricks (25): The Continuing Concealment By Newspoll Of The Katter Party

Newspoll predicted the Katter Party would get four percent five weeks ago, then nine percent on election day, when it got twelve. Twelve is more than the Greens mostly get and more than the National Party, federally, ever gets, these days.

And in the Newspoll this morning it is not mentioned. There is a figure of 6.6 for ‘Others’ — which includes, presumably, the combined votes for Wilkie, Windsor, Oakeshott, Katter, Crook, the DLP, Family First, One Nation, the Democrats, the Shooters, the Christian Democrats and the Katter Party.

Bullshit it does. The Katter Party got twelve percent on its own in Queensland, and has a presence already in New South Wales and Western Australia. Why is it not listed on its own? Why is the LNP not listed on its own? Why not the National Party? Does the ‘Coalition’ total include Crook? It shouldn’t; which would bring their ‘base’ vote down to 46.

Even thus on the morning of the revelation of his part in the present ‘Bribes For Cameron’ scandal in Britain does Rupert Murdoch again play funny buggers with our democracy. He got the Katter Party’s numbers wrong by one hundred and fifty thousand five weeks ago; and now he is concealing its very existence. He is doing this because this new party’s protectionist and rural-socialist policies will race like wildfire through the regions and get it, if he does not stop it, into coalition government federally next year; with Labor, perhaps, and that would never do.

I ask the fawning jellyback O’Shannessy why he got the figures so wrong, and why he is concealing them now.

And why he got the outcome, two party preferred, wrong by one hundred and eighty-five thousand votes.

Or, as he might more gently express it, six percent.

Six percent.

Something wrong with his methodology, is there?

Like I said?

Classic Ellis: The Last Night of the Whitlams, December 1977

Dazed, Ellis watched through that election midnight and after as the huge, restless, red-faced, compassionate, stubborn man who for half his life had been all his hope, at long last very real as a person of flesh and blood and vulnerability and age, strode up and down, up and down, a half glass of beer undrunk in his hand, from computer to television set, television set to grieving corridor, corridor to lonely office, returning shy embraces, accepting sloppy kisses, responding eagerly and stoically on the incessant phone to even John Ducker (‘John! So nice of you to call. Oh, all right. You roll with the punches, you know?’), agreeing with all who ventured to dream it wasn’t over (‘No, of course not. Comrades together’), playing to the bitter end of this cruel personal and national tragedy the noble part because he knew no other. In him the noble part, though still a grand performer’s role, was bred in the bone, and thoroughly believed, leading him even to hire John Kerr as Governor-General, The Grouper, instead of some affable party hack. John Kerr was a qualified man. It was the right thing to do.

‘Come on, old person,’ said Margaret Whitlam to her husband tenderly. ‘What do all those bloody figures matter? Come home.’ Wet-eyed, Whitlam turned from the television set and, looking at her, mutely agreed. ‘Shouldn’t we wait for Tony?’ he asked. ‘He said he’d be along.’

‘I don’t think he’s coming any more,’ she said. ‘Let’s go home.’

He nodded, took a deep breath, and with his other children, Nick and Cathy, began with courteous finality to leave the building. Proceeding as always like battleships down this new and final pathway of tears, the Whitlam flotilla neared the door, and there was Graham Freudenberg, as always looking up.

‘Thank you,’ he said to Whitlam, shaking his hand, and Whitlam said, ‘Thank you.’

‘I’ll call you tomorrow night,’ said Freudenberg.

‘Any time,’ said Whitlam.

‘We have heard the chimes of midnight,’ said Freudenberg to Margaret.

‘Oh, I don’t know,’ she said and gave her great lascivious smile. ‘There’s a few good years in us yet.’

Freudenberg looked all the way up to her, and she looked all the way down at him, and then he said, wryly, ‘The earth moved for me too, Margaret.’ The Whitlams laughed uproariously, and soon were at the door of the lift and the era was over. In its last moment, a woman came up to him, a woman who had no right to be there, and spoke a little hysterically to him.

‘So nice to have met you,’ he said, and the lift doors opened, and he was gone. The world never felt so empty.

Later, after midnight:

In the dark on the nineteenth floor on election night, Ellis and Freudenberg, wandering among used paper cups and the end of their reasonable dreams, looked gravely and methylatedly out at an endlessly beautiful vision of the street lights and window lights of Sydney, a civilisation they had misjudged. It was possible, they grimly agreed, that Whitlam’s victory in 1972 had proceeded from nothing more than the famous decrepitude of Billy McMahon, and in 1974 from a vague belief in a fair go. His politics, his vision, his nobility hadn’t meant a thing. At one point Freudenberg’s open, round and quizzical face, so similar under the goggles in its vulnerability and benevolence to Whitlam’s own, lapsed over into manly tears. ‘Make sure you write,’ he said, ‘how when it became clear we’d lost the election, Whitlam got us all together, all his staff, and asked us what our plans were, and if he could be of any help. His first thought wasn’t for himself. It was for us.’

After a pause, Ellis then heard himself say to this small, sad man, whom he regarded as one of the intellectual giants of an era, and the finest articulator of a civilisation that was not to be. ‘I’m not here to comfort you. I think it’s important to know when something is over, and have the grief, and not seek any consolation: to remember how it was, and close the book.’ Freudenberg paused, and then looked at him with sharp, dark eyes. ‘It’s a strange thing altogether,’ he said, ‘to know that I’m, what, forty-two years old, and my life is over. I died tonight.’

His words, like similar words when uttered in a similar setting in a Hollywood movie, fell coldly and exactly into place. In due course, he too went away, and in the empty room, among the blazing lights of a city and a people he did not know, Ellis, too, wept. It was a movie, that was all, and now the curtain was down.

I came on a great house in the middle of the night
Its open lighted doorway and its windows all alight,
And all my friends were there and made me welcome too
But I woke in an old ruin that the winds howled through,
And when I pay attention I must out and walk
Among the dogs and horses that understand my talk.
Oh what of that, oh what of that,
What is there left to say?
(W.B. Yeats, 1924)

After Queensland (1): What Is To Be Done?

So many Labor leaders have nailed themselves to the cross of privatisation — Keating; Costa; Iemma; Roozendaal; Keneally; Bligh; Andrew Fraser — that one is tempted to ask if some component of their decision is a lurid passion for self-harm; self-slaughter; suicide.

For no sold-off railway, ferry, ambulance service, hospital, road tunnel or bank has ever gained Labor one vote, and in Queensland alone four days ago it lost them half a million votes. Why did they do it? Why did they do it?

They apparently think Lachlan or James or James or Jodie or Alan or Ziggy or Gina are better at running things than Nugget Coombs or David Hill or Michael Knight; and these dim greedy philistines deserve the billions they get in pocket money for trashing OneTel and Telecom and Medibank and making planes fall out of the sky. Why privatise anything? Why do it?

They need the money, they allege.  They need the money more than they need public office. They’ll balance a budget even if, by God, it means thirty years out of power.

Mike Rann ran a ‘No More Privatisations’ campaign in 2002 and his party is still in power. Jim Bacon ran a ‘Don’t Sell The Hydro’ campaign in 1998 and his party is still in power albeit in coalition. Clare Martin gained power in 2001 and never privatised anything and her party is still in power albeit in coalition. Keneally and Bligh, against party policy, privatised things and lost astonished party faithful in aggrieved and shrieking avalanches.

Why privatise anything? Need the money, do you? Two percent on the GST will pick up, oh, twenty billion a year. A ‘temporary levy’ you could call it, as Lincoln did when he invented income tax to pay for his war, a measure that continues. And nobody would ever notice. Put a dollar tax on cinema tickets. That’s a billion for a start. On every tank of petrol. That’s a hundred million. On every parking station ticket. That’s twenty million.

But … well … oh dear … it’s too late, isn’t it? We’ve sold off the farm, and the family silver, and the old horse Josh, and we’ve shot the red dog Meggsy and strangled every goose. And nobody likes us any more. So what do we do?

A few suggestions.

Enact emergency measures to bring down rents by a third. This will be favoured by about 92 percent of the voters. Unfloat the dollar and bring it down to 82 cents. This will preserve our few surviving industries and resurrect a few more. And bring back tariffs to where they were in 1987, under Hawke and Keating, a roaring success.

It’s a Labor version of Hewson’s Fightback! No-one but fourteen thousand vulture capitalists and jackal share traders would oppose it. And a ratings agency or two.

Fuck the rating agencies. They had Lehman’s on a triple-A the day before the crash.

And, oh yes, put Beattie, Bracks, Rann, Gallop and Martin in the Senate. They won from opposition and know what works in government, and would be wonderful tactical policy wonks on the necessary Senate committees.

And do what I said about old people’s teeth, and Qantas, below.

You think you’d lose votes by doing this? Do you? Do you?

You make me so tired.

Prove that I lie.

As I Please: The Pernicious Woman, Revisited

What’s reasonably clear from Anna Bligh’s big defeat, Kristina Keneally’s big defeat, Joan Kirner’s big defeat, Carmen Lawrence’s big defeat and seven years of humiliation, Cheryl Kernot’s loss of her seat, Verity Firth’s loss of Balmain, Margaret Thatcher’s present demonisation and Aung San Suu Kyi’s undiminished sainthood, is higher standards are asked of a woman, and any hint of deception is usually death.

Anna Bligh said she wouldn’t privatise anything and then she did; and there was no forgiveness for this. Kristina Keneally privatised the electricity after Conference told her not to; and there was no forgiveness for this.

Women have to be very careful. For ten thousand years it was not certain, or never absolutely certain, who their child’s father was; and the rogue wife, the troublesome woman, the deceitful termagant, the secret witch, were so thoroughly imagined, envisioned and mythologised that girls were betrothed at twelve, impregnated at fourteen, not allowed out of the house without a male guardian, had all of their bodies covered except their eyes and hands, and were stoned to death for adultery with even Jesus’ assent, and are honour-killed, bride-burnt or decapitated for it even today.

The devious woman; the unfaithful woman; the flighty wife; the uppity teenage daughter; the treacherous mistress; all these archetypes fed into the vote, in Saturday, against Anna Bligh. She had deceived them. She had to go.

If Andrew Fraser had been leader — as he planned — by last March it would not have arisen. A man makes adjustments to reality as it changes. A woman is as good as her vows.

It may not worry the university graduate upper middle classes much, but it worries the hell out of everybody else. The Muslims with their replaceable wives. The Catholics with their virgin goddess. The Hillsongers with their hellfire for adulteresses. The Scientologists with their compulsory abortions for women who lack thetans. The lesbophobes who suspect childless women of nameless perversions or marriage wrecking.

These add up to twenty-seven percent of the vote. Immensely talented women, like, say, Maxine McKew, can win some of them over; but not for long. The suspicion is deep-rooted, and that repulsion/attraction for spirited women (Glenn Close drowning pregnant in the bath, then arising naked and murderous, eyes blazing, knife raised) hard to stifle.

What do we do about this? Preselect better women, I guess. More Glenda Jacksons, Clare Martins, Margaret Throsbys, Tanya Pliberseks, Anna Lindhs. We certainly can’t afford, and should probably cull, a lot of the scrambling mediocrities like, say, Julie Bishop, that wriggle through the process without visible excellence in any field.

Such things are worth thinking on after Saturday.

Or perhaps you disagree.

Classic Ellis: The Confidently Asserted Untruth

(From The Capitalism Delusion)


So much of capitalism works on the Confidently Asserted Untruth (CAU) — that the Head of the Federal Reserve is intelligent; that the Secretary of Defense is wise; that Israel’s Prime Minister is keen to avoid needless bloodshed; that the French President’s desire for a frequently photographed nude pop star is a pleasing eccentricity; that Russell Crowe deserves five years in gaol for throwing a phone at a shrugging hotel clerk – that we don’t know, or we don’t really know, what the truth is any more.

We are told for instance that the intercontinental mega-media corporation that Rupert Murdoch runs is a shining example of ‘free speech’ or ‘press freedom’ or ‘freedom of opinion’, so much so that one of his commentators calls himself ‘the no-spin zone’.

But if you look at things closely you will find that none of his fifty-two thousand media employees has any freedom at all.

If they put in print or broadcast any opinion other than those decided by him or Roger Ailes who runs Fox News, they will be immediately sacked and publicly jeered thereafter. These include the former editors of The Times, The Australian and The Wall Street Journal and so on.

None of his one hundred and eighty newspaper editors across the world differs with his views (though one in New Zealand was allowed for a time to advocate a vote for Helen Clark); these, in sum, are very curious views indeed. They include, in no particular order:

That the market is currently over-regulated and needs to be ‘freed up’ even more. That Bush’s Iraq adventure will ‘halve the price of oil’. That Gore in November 2000 was trying to ‘steal the election’. That Gore was ‘too cold and wooden’ to be President. That Bill Clinton’s concealment of sex with Monica Lewinsky was reason enough to remove him from the Presidency. That Teddy Kennedy should be tried for murder and Prince Charles put in the loony-bin. That the seventeen thousand young women whose breasts Murdoch exposed on page three of the London Sun suffered no serious social harm in their subsequent lives. That Margaret Thatcher was the saviour of Britain and Neil Kinnock ‘a Welsh windbag’ feared by all decent Englishmen for his Stalinist views. That Gough Whitlam deserved to be sacked in 1975 for planning to buy back Australia’s mineral wealth for four billion dollars borrowed from ‘unconventional sources’. That Glen Beck is a great American and Rush Limbaugh a ‘respected commentator’.

That Barack Obama, moreover, is a radical Muslim fundamentalist; a radical Christian fundamentalist; a terrorist; an inexperienced naïf; a soiled and cunning Chicago machine politician; that he favours detailed sex education for kindergarten children before they learn to read; that he kissed a man in the back of a taxi; that his memoir Dreams From My Father was written by Bill Ayers, the unindicted Chicago terrorist; that he ‘pals around’ with terrorists; that he is a Marxist, a Chavez-style Socialist, a devious demagogue keen to ‘redistribute wealth’ to worthless crack-addicted inner-city Blacks. That Michelle Obama is ‘unpatriotic’. That Zeituni Onyango, his aunt, should be gaoled and then deported. And so on.

Murdoch is the CEO of a big multinational corporation, News Limited, and is seventy-eight years old. It would be normal for his Board of Directors on hearing these views, and noting his age, to replace him with someone more evidently sane. They would do this on the grounds that he might bring the corporation into disrepute, political derision and legal danger.

But capitalism doesn’t work that way. It entrenches madmen at the top of things until they blow themselves up. It is, in the end, and in most cases, highly inefficient.


But it was very good, for a time, at convincing you its purposes are moral, and its policies sane.

It convinced two billion people, for instance, that Iraq had ‘weapons of mass destruction’ that it would soon rain down on Israel when it had none. What one might call the Confidently Asserted Untruth (the CAU) goes a long way with an undereducated audience, or an underinformed one (which is to say an American one) towards convincing them of what is being said (the early estimates on 9/11 of ‘sixty thousand dead’ in the crumbling towers; the repeated assertion that the Vietnam War was a ‘noble cause’, though it killed and maimed seven million people, won no hearts and minds and resulted, after our shameful defeat, in the rather nice little country we see now) very closely resembling the truth.

But it doesn’t, of course; any more than Scientology is the way back to self-esteem, or that angels are watching closely and weeping when we masturbate or drink Budweiser or fail to do our homework.

It is a CAU, that’s all, and the principal weapon of the Capitalism Delusion.

And the unexamined confident assertion is quite often believed by the asserter, the CEO on four dollars a second, day and night, all year round, whose baffled underlings don’t dare contradict him once he gets into his rhetorical stride.

It is certain, for instance, that Donald Rumsfeld believed that a ‘lean and mean’ invading force of two hundred and fifty thousand men and their megaweapons could subdue a nation of twenty-six million resentful warlike people, he heard himself say it so often. He knew it had to be right.

And so did Ken Lay at Enron. He knew and simultaneously did not know that his figures were cooked, and his company a billion dollars in hock. He had confidence, like most religious men, that the Unseen Hand would shake things down somehow, shake them down his way.

And so did the fools of AIG when they awarded themselves their million dollar bonus moneys out of government bail-out funds made necessary by their incompetence.

This eerie confidence, this self-delusion, is common in capitalism and its kissing cousin, Italian Fascism. Il Duce decides the high-strutting, chin-thrusting policy of world conquest, and his underlings dare not tell him that his tanks break down a lot and his soldiers would rather be home with their wives.


And thus it is in the matter of tariff protection.


In 1916 and 1917 General Haig, a close relative of several Scottish CEOs (they made their fortune in whisky) knew, and knew for certain, that ‘one more big push’ was all that was required to rout the stubborn Germans from their trenches and send them running back to the Motherland and a meek surrender would follow. He just knew it.

And he tried the big push; and again; and again. He tried it with tanks, a new weapon. He tried it with mustard gas, which the wind blew back over his own troops, blinding some and damaging many lungs.

And he tried the big push again. It was all he knew how to do. He knew, with God’s help, it would work this time.

And eleven hundred thousand British and Empire soldiers died before he discovered it wasn’t working.

The same delusional mentality afflicts those who espouse ‘fair trade’ and abominate protection.

They take off some tariffs and jobs are lost. They take off some more, and more jobs are lost, and factories closed. They do it some more, and the same dread things happen. And people don’t move to ‘some other sector of the economy.’ They sit there, by their ruined factories, waiting for something to happen.

And ways are worked out to alter the means by which we measure unemployment. People working one hour a week are now called ‘employed’. They hide the figures of the jobless. They wait for everyone to move into IT.

Then the IT bubble bursts, and there’s no factories to go back to.

Best become a waiter. Then the meltdown occurs, and tourists don’t come any more. Global warming has made air travel bumpy, and scary, another outcome of global marketing. People want to stay home.

And like General Haig the government thinks one more big push is all that’s needed.

And all the tariff barriers come off.

And unemployment increases.

‘We didn’t go in hard enough, early enough,’ the government says. ‘We should have done more, sooner.’ They don’t understand it was wrong to go so far, about half-way was probably right – like it was in, say, 1987 in Australia – and any further was too far.


And they don’t understand that protection worked for five thousand years. Because it did as it said it would, protect jobs, protect local crops and orchards and industries. And the free market experiment, which failed before World War I (just one more big push) and failed in the twenties (a chicken in every pot, the business of America is business, dance, little lady, dance) and failed in the eighties (greed is good, it will all trickle down) and failed in the nineties (some subprime mortgages on over-valued properties guaranteed over overseas loans will surely get the economy moving again) was a pretty shallow idea in the first place.

And if protection does what it says, protect jobs, and it usually does, it works.

And it’s coming back anyway, so we’d better get used to it.

It was always coming back.

That, or the following statement (from my earlier book) was true.

‘By 2025 all one hundred and eighty-one countries will be competing equally on a level playing field for the same global markets and all winning.’

The biggest, and shallowest Capitalism Delusion of all.

Rudd Redux, No Way (15): The Rudd Way Forward In Queensland

Let us imagine Bligh resigns her seat, and Rudd contests it, and becomes Labor leader. Some would think with his legendary campaigning skills he would be Premier in three or six years. Do these people still exist? I don’t think so.

I think they now see Rudd for what he is: a tempestuous, prissy, self-absorbed spoiler who cost Labor six or eight seats by resigning as Foreign Minister one day into Bligh’s campaign, and paralysed Labor’s efforts and its air time and its better angels till Bob Carr replaced him tempestuously ten days later. He unleashed such division, and such civil war in Queensland, Nambour old boy versus Nambour old boy, that Labor wound up with no chance of any more than twenty seats. A botched, villainising, personalised and ill-wrought anti-Newman campaign, topped up with begging and blubbering for mercy, did the rest. And here we are.

Rudd for Prime Minister anyone?

How long ago that seems.

And it’s only twenty-seven days.

The Szeps In Winter

Henri Szeps’ one-man show I Wish I’d Said That is not about himself but a man not too far from himself, a Swiss-French-Jewish ex-actor with a European sensibility immured in Australia, which doesn’t altogether suit him, and in a retirement village, which he resents but hopes to amuse soon with the (yes) one-man show he is rehearsing in his little unit.

It starts with King Lear’s denunciation of his daughters (‘just to get your attention’) and goes on to denounce his own. She’s coming to see him soon and he dislikes her. He paid big money to extend her house and she said he could see out his days in it, but then she turned him out. And now he is waiting, as he does most Mondays, to see her, and vainly, pointlessly, uselessly, seek to commune with her.

Stifled in his unchosen country and his small dwelling, he does turns for us: a summary of a speech from Long Day’s Journey Into Night, which he can’t get the rights for until 2030; a summary of a speech from The Prisoner Of Second Avenue (ditto); Eric Idle’s song about the ever-expanding universe; a Green Room tale or two; some drab Jewish jokes. He tries, repeatedly, to sing ‘To Dream The Impossible Dream’ but dissolves into tears. He hasn’t made it; he resents his his fate; he disdains his life; but he soldiers on. Will his daughter come? Does it matter? He knows all there is to know, pretty much — philosophy, science, mortality — but he hates the way he found it out.

This is the best one-person show I’ve seen — a Barry Humphries or so apart — since Lynn Redgrave’s Shakespeare For My Father; and it’s hard to say why. The breadth of reference, perhaps, as he rolls the universe into a ball, and kicks it from foot to foot and sings, like Tevye, his resentment of its Maker and the brevity of our time here. Or it may be something else.

It’s to do, I think, with his acting. It’s so close-in, so empathic, so unemphatic, so searchingly arrived at. He doesn’t say a line, he admits it. He slides from accent to accent without us ever noticing the border-crossing. He has the concentration of Tendulkar, or Rostropovich, or Elgar. Or Ralph Richardson. Or Russell Crowe. It is impossible that each line he says could be any other. What an Einstein he would make. What a Paul Cox. What a Barry Jones.

He surprised me; but, then again, remembering his earlier Lear-like old man in Sky, he didn’t surprise me. This is a formidable actor in his prime — and, I guess, his late sixties; like me, for we were in SUDS together — demonstrating that distillation of life experience imperceptibly and subterraneously shown that is great acting. ‘Dreaming to order’ was how Ralph Richardson put it. Henri does that.

He’s in Gosford, Canberra and Parramatta soon, and should be seen.

Yes, Henri Szeps, the one they joke about. He’s very good indeed.

The Myth Of Security

At Margaret Whitlam’s memorial service were six Prime Ministers including the current one, four Premiers including the current one, a lot of former cabinet ministers like Race Matthews and Barry Jones, several famous writers, directors and actors (Armfield, Gaden, Campion, Little Pattie), and the notorious international villain Phillip Ruddock.

Yet no security checks occurred at the church door. Anyone could queue up early, as I did, and get in unsearched. I had a black bag big enough for an explosive device that could have taken out most of Australia’s past and present eminences, and I was waved through.

What is going on here? Are we in a War on Terror, or not? Or is it currently in abeyance? And why weren’t we told?

Why is money spent on security checks in Parliament House, and on helicopter-gunship armed protection of Barack Obama in Canberra, if it is not also spent on eminent funerals? Or on Opera House opening nights? Or on Cat Empire concerts? Or on Opera In The Park?

What is going on here? Is it a waste of billions, or what?

Just asking.

How Bligh Could Have Won

I put to Hawker last November two ideas that I thought Bligh could win with, and he refused to pass them on. ‘They wouldn’t buy them,’ he said, perhaps correctly. I put them again in February to Jim Chalmers in Swanny’s office who was in contact with the campaign and he said thanks, with apparent sincerity. And I put them as well, perhaps too briefly, in a one-minute phone call, to John McTernan in Gillard’s office, and I don’t know what happened after that. Andrew Fraser, who hates me, with some justice, may have been the one who rejected them. Or Hawker. Hard to say.

The first idea was to do this. To call a press conference and say, in November, ‘For six weeks after Christmas anyone who is seventy-eight or over can go to the dentist and send the bill to us and we’ll pay it. This is a trial to see what we can afford and what the age limits should be of an Old Age Dental Care Scheme, which we’ll bring in when we do the figures. When we do the figures, after the election.’

My reasoning was that Queensland was full of retirees with bad teeth and they would vote Labor perhaps for the first time if this was enacted, and enacted in parliament, with the LNP abstaining or voting for it, and what could Campbell Newman say against it? ‘I stand for toothache, and I stand for the God-given obligation of octogenarians to suffer toothache till their dying day’? He’d have to support it, and what a fool he would look if he rejected it; or indeed if he supported it. He’d be cactus either way.

The second idea was this. It was to buy eighteen or twenty-two percent of Qantas and use the clout which that purchase would then give the Bligh government, as major shareholders, to offer cheap air fares to storm-smitten and flood-fouled Queensland tourist towns now doing it hard, both to Australians and overseas visitors. ‘Qantas’ means ‘Queensland And Northern Territory Air Service’, and it started up in Chartres Towers, and the slogan could be, ‘Bringing Qantas Home’. They could demand the sacking of Joyce and the return of jobs now overseas, and the re-employment of hard-working Australians Joyce wickedly punished for their long heroic years of building up a company name that was for decades known, and rightly known, as the best in the world.

And whatever it cost, it cost. Swanny, a Queenslander, could organise the money for them to do it with. He could not refuse them.

The argument against it, I suppose, was, ‘We privatised other entities, and you want us to unprivatise Qantas? We’d look fools.’ And we’d look less like fools winning only eight seats, I presume, or was it nine, and losing party privileges, and staying out of power for thirty-two years.

I need to hear of one vote Labor won by privatising all those entities, the rolling stock; whatever. I can imagine three hundred thousand votes lost by doing it. Why do it? Why was it ‘unavoidable’? Why not consult with Swanny and add one percent to the GST for two years and then bring it down again? Why not borrow money? At even the AA rate? Why not borrow money?

I will publish elsewhere my earlier quarrels with Andrew Fraser, one of them a chapter in Goodbye Babylon called ‘Shame, Fraser, Shame.’ He has been the worst news for Labor ever, or the worst since Billy Hughes, and I saw him coming. I really saw him coming.

Shame, Fraser, Shame.

Shame, Rudd, Shame too, while I’m up. He cost Bligh the first twelve days of her campaign and the two-fisted little-battler momentum she might have achieved with early policy announcements and photo opportunities. He may have cost her ten seats. What a self-indulgent, smirking prat.

And so it goes.

The Usual Murdoch Dirty Tricks (24): The Suppression Till Election Day Of The News Of Katter’s Party

11.55 am

Under the headlines Federal Labor Braces For An LNP Landslide and Crushing Defeat Looms For ALP: Newspoll, comes at last a Newspoll showing Katter’s party winning seats. I suspect these figures were known three weeks ago and if they were published then would have doubled, probably, the nine percent for Katter’s party the Murdoch pollster now shiftily admits to in the rural regions and taken six or nine seats from the LNP.

As I have said, the Katter party will get about fourteen percent across Queensland and thirty percent in some rural electorates. It will win seven or ten seats. And the result, because of it, in Ashgrove will see Jones and Newman fighting it out among the postal votes till Thursday and Lawrence Springborg, possibly, the next Premier.

Concealment of poll results and the bodgying of their methodology have characterised this Murdochist campaign in weeks when many, many of Rupert’s executives are heading for conviction for criminal practise. Bligh will lose, but the undemocratic means of her extinction are as reprehensible as the way in which Whitlam was got in 1975.

Why no polls for six weeks? Why?

It can only be that Katter would have built up a head of steam if the truth had been known as early as that, and his party might have ended in coalition with Bligh’s. In government. Tonight.

And so it goes.

5.25 pm

It feels like Bligh will lose, and Newman may get his seat. I wish I was there. No I don’t.

Some reporters are saying eleven seats to Labor, but I can’t believe that.

Watch this space.

6.10 pm

Calling it. Nineteen seats to Labor including Ashgrove, seven to Katter, three Independents, the rest to the LNP.

Defeat, by a landslide.

And so it goes.

8.15 pm

Ah dear. A swing of fifteen percent to the LNP. Labor win four seats, Katter’s mob win three. Labor started with fourteen seats, and by a technological miracle came down to four; how, I can’t imagine, and Antony Green won’t say.

Katter, unsurprisingly, on thirteen point five percent; I alone in the nation said fourteen, repeatedly in these columns.

Ah dear.

9.07 pm

Bligh on her feet conceding gamely. What a decent, likeable person.

I will write tomorrow about why Labor lost (Labor always loses after privatising things, and I don’t know why they do it) and the serial masochistic stupidity of its bald teenage Treasurer Andrew Fraser.

I wrote a chapter about him in 2002, when he was about nine, called Shame, Fraser, Shame, accusing him of having attempted to lose the South Australian election for Mike Rann, and of having successfully lost for Beazley the momentum he needed to win the Aston by-election in July 2001, and smash Howard’s leadership pre-Tampa and so defeat him in November. I refer you to pp 549-550 and pp 582-588 of Goodbye Babylon. He has been, on balance, worse news for Labor than even David Cox and should be studied closely by all young Labor people, if there are any left, as a classic example of GFMST, or Global Fee Market Suicidal Tendency, which Bob Katter and I have been put on earth to correct.

I will print tomorrow the advice I gave them on how they could win, and their bizarre decision, Fraser’s for certain, because he hates me, to refuse it, laughing heartily.

And so to bed.

The Usual Murdoch Dirty Tricks (23): Calling It In Queensland

5.05 am

Hard to tell from this distance what will happen in Queensland. My famed telepathy, which got Victoria right in 1999 when no-one else did, works best when I’m there on the ground and in the territory. I’d have been in Queensland but for Margaret’s memorial service, and so it goes.

It is certain, though, that the absence of a Newspoll in all this time is pretty significant. What is Murdoch hiding? Would the man who gave us the Hitler Diaries (with Hitler’s signature on every page) and in 2000 helped rig the Florida result with his Fox News experts’ early call, and swore Gough and Margaret were breaking up in 1975, would such a man, would such a cheat, flinch from concealing, say, an Undecided vote in Ashgrove, or a Katter win in Mt Isa, that might have diminished the Newman momentum and cost him Ashgrove? Of course he wouldn’t.

So: no Newspolls in Ashgrove, ever. No Newspolls in Queensland for four weeks. A Galaxy at first showing Kate Jones winning narrowly. Then a Galaxy showing seven hundred women changing their vote in a fortnight from a well-liked local girl to the bald, shrieking midget blow-in Newman, and eight hundred men? Has any of this readership met any of these women? Speak up.

The Murdoch headlines (Bye Bye Bligh) indicate an enormous desperation to get rid of a privatising, ratings-downgraded, debt-wrenched, storm-washed Labor government. But the Worm on Monday showed Bligh winning, hands down, the Debate. And the absence on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday of this week of a Newspoll suggests one was taken, with Bligh regaining ground, and Katter going well in some seats, bad news Murdoch did not want to print. And a Galaxy, the days and hours of whose phone contacts were not stipulated, and whose number was precisely 800, that was, in my view, in my view, dodgy.

Graham Freudenberg, a Queenslander now, at the party after the Margaret celebration yesterday told me, ‘In the first minutes we will know what Newman’s swing in Ashgrove is. It will be exactly the same swing as the state average.’

I believe this is true. But there are so few swings of seven percent (Whitlam after the sacking, 1975, was one) that my inclination is to call it, this morning, thus.

Fourteen percent statewide to Katter. Thirty percent in some northern electorates, enough to give him seven seats in toto, that is five more than he has now, two won from Labor, three from the LNP.

This will mean the LNP has to pick up fourteen seats from Labor to win government outright.

It will, I believe, pick up twelve or thirteen. And the fourteenth, Ashgrove, will be very close, and counted and recounted for a number of days. And Newman will … win it, or not win it. I  can’t tell from here.

This is as good as I can get. If I get a different feeling this afternoon, I’ll say so. Watch this space.

All of the above may be rubbish of course, and the swing eleven percent and Labor down to twelve seats, as the 60-40 poll by Galaxy last Sunday indicates. But there are no eleven percent swings, ever. And Bligh won the Worm, handily. And the Newspoll did not come out, repeatedly. Why did it not come out?

This is the best that I can do. I am usually right within three seats, so that could mean an LNP majority of six. Or a Labor-Katterite coalition.

Will Newman win Ashgrove? Not sure.

Lawrence Springborg for Premier, maybe.

Closer, anyway, than you think.

One Long Night On Wall Street: JC Chandlor’s Margin Call

Hard to imagine a better drama of the night the Meltdown began and the following day than Margin Call, directed and written by JC Chandlor and mostly set on three floors and a roof of a skyscraper at night overlooking from a great height New York and tempting one character to ponder jumping from it.  Exactly like a Philco Playhouse by Paddy Chayevsky or Stirling Silliphant or Gore Vidal in 1955, it searches the souls and tests the mettle of gigantic, momentous characters who are also ordinary people with ordinary excuses for the global villainy they wreak in the next hours unpunished, people we like nonetheless.

It starts with a minor purge of company staff, and one stubbly middle-aged sackee Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci, who was Julia’s husband in Julie/Julia) being led from the building, his cellphone disabled, with a cardboard box of his office belongings, in the usual pointless ritual capitalist shaming, and leaving with Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinton), a tall young super-mathematician who was for a while a rocket scientist but makes more money, he cheerfully owns, in risk finance, a computer stick of ‘something I’ve been working on’ and saying as the lift door closes, ‘Be careful.’

Peter downloads the complex ominous figures and forms a view of them, and with his ambitious 23-year old colleague Seth Bregman (Penn Badgley) confronts their overpaid, whoremongering English boss Will Emerson (Paul Bettany who was Darwin in Creation and the revenant roommate in A Beautiful Mind) with indisputable evidence that their company’s net exposure to mortal risk has lately, often, been greater than the total of its assets, all of which they now may lose in a rush in the next day or so. Or not.

Peter confronts his boss Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey) whose dog is dying and doesn’t want to know, but eventually comes back from the vet hospital to sort it. Sam is what we used to call the ‘Spencer Tracy role’, the man of seamless integrity who in a dog-eat-dog world has never eaten dog and whose own dog, moreover, by God, is dying. Who has been in the company for thirty-four years and lives for it and swears by it and loves it, and gives great, brief speeches in times of crisis to the staff that have survived, inspiring them to get out and sell, sell harder tomorrow.

Suspenseful, urgent and secretive, with dialogue almost British in its clipped, oblique precision (like Bolt, or Hare, or Storey, sometimes even Pinter), the film keeps enormous events, involving the fate of nations, within a few terse mannerly coded conversations of highly intelligent, highly engaging human beings (who are only incidentally the Terrors of the Earth) in the thirty-six hours in which most are smashed of soul and self and paid good money for their personal ruin and a few of them by rank survive to make millions and millions more.

We get to know very little of them. The big boss John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) may be an Old Etonian homosexual son of a Duke or a Cockney spiv enriched by a drugged race horse and lately upgraded by a good speech teacher to a seeming aristocrat; we are not sure. But we do know he has no regard for his own intelligence and at one point says to Peter, ‘Speak to me as you would to a small child, or a Golden Retriever.’ And we do know he will be the last big shyster standing, and walking away with eighty million this year as he did last year and will next year.

Jared Cohen aka ‘Baby Face’ (Simon Baker) does not look Jewish, may have family billions at his back or may be an upgraded P&O gigolo; we are not sure. And Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore) who assassinates Eric Dale yet takes the fall for Tuld uncomplaining (‘I need a head,’ he informs her genially and her face barely changes), may have been his mistress once, or Jared’s, or Will’s; we are not sure. We only know that she is childless, and probably regrets it, and that, apart from ego, ambition and greed, is the sum of her. John Tuld is reminiscent of Richard Fuld, of Lehman’s, I am told, and the nameless company he heads a slyer, more speeded-up version of Goldman Sachs.

We do however get to know Sam Rogers pretty well and the last scene with his dead dog and his ex-wife and a shovel and the possibility of a reconciliation at 3 am in the suburbs that does not take place is very moving, much like the final scene of a Philco Playhouse or an Arthur Miller or William Inge. I’m not sure, though, that such a man exists: decent, caring of his staff and his dead pet and his faraway son, a latterday Capra hero who is nonetheless capable of giving the nod to a debt-bundling wheeze and a criminal cover-up that destabilises the western world? And still broke, he tells us, after thirty-four years of capitalist shark-pool finagling on, what, a million dollars an average a year? Really? Really?

Spacey’s performance is nonetheless astonishing, with so much glimmering behind the monosyllables, and so are all the others; and none of the jostling details matter, and some don’t really add up, in the tense white-water ride through the night and the day of betrayal that follows, and threatens everyone on the screen and the vast, unseen, unsuspecting world they are minute by minute mutilating.

A great film for our time, please see it.

The Usual Murdoch Dirty Tricks (23): The Newmanists’ Biggest Big Lie Yet

The headline says ‘LNP Leader Campbell Will Easily Claim Seat Of Ashgrove’ on the Courier Mail website and the figures given are 49 Newman, 40.8 Jones and, two party preferred, 54.2 to 45.8, despite Newman having been gay-bashed by Katter and forced to sell off his family interests, or say he would, after Bligh claimed he might eventually go to gaol.

Stands to reason he would pick up votes not lose them, doesn’t it, after he lost the big debate according to the Worm on Monday and Clive Palmer, a backer of his, bellowed on Tuesday that the CIA was funding the Greens.

Of course he would pick up votes. He’s a greasy bald munchkin with a screechy voice in an electorate his opponent grew up in, and no bald munchkin with a screechy voice has won an election in world history, but he’s exceptional. He needs a seven percent swing and he’ll get it, you wait and see.

But then there comes the caveat. The poll it turns out is an automated one, by ReachTel — not Galaxy, which lately put Kate Jones narrowly in the lead. And, quote, ‘The poll is considered to be less authoritative than other methods because it is an automated phone poll.’

It is not said how ‘less authoritative’ this is, or, in other words, how inaccurate this is, and what is the margin of error. Ten percent, is it? Twelve? What? How much?

I am now convinced Campbell Newman will not win Ashgrove, so desperate has been the Murdochists’ writhings and scramblings and denyings of late of this growing probability.

I am equally convinced the Katter Party is on fourteen percent, and will have sixteen percent by Saturday, and win seven seats.

Will Labor retain power? Probably not. But it might have done so if the the true polls had been published, and the level of the Murdochists’ corruption, if corruption there was, exposed  by, say, the ABC a couple of months ago.

And if Hawker had taken my advice.

I will make my last call on Saturday morning.  You will note how accurate I was in 1998, within three seats, as usual.

If no Newspoll appears, it will be good for Katter, bad for Bligh, and disaster for Campbell Newman.

Watch this space.

Classic Ellis: Election Night, Queensland, 1998

I was in Queensland for ten days of its election and as always predicted in writing (on a grubby pad countersigned by one Sir James Killen) the result within three seats – forty-eight seats to Labor, I said, and seven to One Nation. It was a pretty scary night, in the quietest Tally Room I can remember, with everyone moving up and down before the big board in restless unbelief, till Pauline Hanson arrived very early and stayed late, in a pale gold spotlight with a jostling swarm of paparazzi, like Kim Novak at a Hollywood premiere, to gloat and preen and prattle and raise her strange yellow devil-cat eyes while everyone looked at her with a kind of erotic, stirred revulsion: how could this dread improbability be happening?

A few things should be said.

One is the obvious, that seven of the One Nation seats were won with National and Liberal preferences, and these preferences will never so slavishly go to One Nation again.

You have my word on that.

The next thing to be said is, the result that night had very little to do with racism. A poll ten days before showed Aboriginal-bludging and Asian-swamping questions important to only one in ten of One Nation voters, who like everyone else listed unemployment, health, the breakdown of rural services, the ending of rural communities and the break-up of families as the top concerns. One in ten of One Nation voters is 2.5 percent of Queensland, the usual number of racist obsessives. The usual suspects. That number hasn’t changed.

It had almost nothing to do with race. However it is interpreted by CNN, and however ‘sexy’ the race issue continues to be to the journalists who follow after Hanson, sniffing around her like dogs, they are missing the point. And so is John Howard if he believes he can call an election on Wik and win it on Hanson preferences.

What the vote was about was a revolt against Economic Correctness, and against the fool prevailing belief that less and less Australian industries with less and less Australians working in them for less and less wages and longer and longer hours and more and more sackees leaving more and more home towns and grieving families to travel further and further miles to an unknown life destination in possibly crime is good for Australia. It’s a vote against the belief that a further profit in annual billions for a board of directors already rich as Croesus or Corrigan justifies the destruction overnight of tens of thousands of ordinary human lives and families, and this destruction in turn is good for Australia.

John Howard says he knows how vulnerable people are feeling in these times of economic change. He does not. For they are feeling as vulnerable as a man who has already had his arm torn off by a lion, and sits in the corner holding his stump and waiting for the lion to finish eating and come for him again. This is something more than vulnerability. It is injury and shock and fear and rage. And he does not know the carnage that is waiting for him if he calls an election. And he will be surprised.

In the South Australian election of last year, which I also worked on, there was an 18 percent vote for the Democrats, in the week before Kernot defected. This is a figure very like the 23 percent that in Queensland preferred One Nation. The reason I believe is the same. It is universal and growing and inevitable now, and cannot be bought off by the glass beads of GST and the Telstra sale and the repeated oafish assertion that all the economic indicators are good and the freeing up of trade will bring more jobs when everyone’s experience (in the banks, in the privatised utilities, in the corner stores) is that it brings less jobs, less jobs everywhere.

There is a further big thing that should perhaps be said, and it’s this.

Like Christianity, One Nation has a savage half and a civilising, merciful half. In Christianity the savage half expresses itself in the burning of heretics, the humiliation of adulteresses, the exorcising of epileptics for devil possession, the slaughter of heathen indigenes, the burying of suicides in unhallowed ground, and so on. And the merciful civilising half is expressed in the belief that the needy must be succoured, the sick healed, the dying comforted, the prisoner visited, the forgiven sinner enfolded in everlasting arms. In One Nation the savage half is obvious, and to do with guns and Aborigines and cutting off Robyn Nevin’s money and hanging and castration and putting Asians back on the boat and sending them home.

But the merciful half is also there. The belief that families matter, and neighbourhoods, and towns, and the predictability of our life on earth and the hope of our children for good and better times. And this is the part, that, on the whole, is being voted for in a world where the cargo cultism of the major parties has brought only fractured lives, injustice, wife-beating, divorce and drunken misery. This is why people want One Nation’s solutions. And why, therefore, their solutions are not all wrong.

You heard me.

For the tariff barriers will go up again, whatever the sado-monetarist academics and the purblind gnomes of Canberra now say. And Australia will not be an outcast and a pariah when that happens. Any more than it became an outcast and a pariah when we said our greenhouse emissions were going up, not down. Funny that. It is amazing what our trading partners will put up with when they have to. The tariff barriers of Japan. Of the EU. Of the USA. The criminal greed of Suharto and Marcos. The Mafia economy and nine hundred percent inflation of modern Russia. The fatwah on Salman Rushdie. The Israeli H-bomb. The Pakistani H-bomb. The lethal injections in the gaols of America. The beheadings of Saudi Arabia. The deaths in custody of black teenage Australians. The murderous wickedness of the tobacco multinationals. East Timor. Tiananmen Square.

It is a fantasy that we have no other choice but to go the way the world is going. It is a greater fantasy that we can survive as a democracy without that choice. The true Nut Religionists are the Economically Correct brigade, the compulsive privatising Thatcherites, crying ‘efficient and competitive, efficient and competitive’, as ordinary humanity goes to hell. And it is One Nation that, however neurotically and woundedly and waywardly, is asking the actual questions that the next election winner must answer, and answer well, and soon.

The Usual Murdoch Dirty Tricks (22): Rupert’s Civil War With Newspoll

No Newspoll on the Queensland election has been published for four weeks. There is no precedent for this. Why has no Newspoll been published for four weeks of an election campaign?

It is impossible to imagine that no polling of Queenslanders has occurred. It can only mean that Rupert Murdoch does not want to publish what has been found out.

Why would he want to suppress what has been found out? There are a few possibilities.

One is that the statewide popularity of Campbell Newman (friend of gays turned enemy of gays) has crashed and he may now not win Ashgrove. This if known would make paramount the question of who would be Premier in his stead, and whether Anna Bligh is preferable to, say, Lawrence Springborg in that role.

Another is that Anna Bligh is massively outscoring Campbell Newman as preferred Premier, as the Worm suggested in their one debate on Monday, though the Labor Party continues to do very badly. To publish this disturbing anomaly might increase the chance that women voters (say) would switch their vote back to Labor in solidarity with the first female state leader to win or retain power in Australia.

Another is that the Labor vote is languishing, but the Bob Katter Australian Party is doing half as well as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party in 1997 and with 12.5 percent of the vote occasionally salvaging seats that Labor would otherwise have lost.

PAnother is that the Bob Katter Australian Party is doing as well as the Pauline Hanson One Nation Party did in 1997 and scoring 25 percent. This would give it eight or nine seats and raise the spectre of a coalition government with Bligh. And the news of it might have given Bligh momentum, as a sort of Comeback Kid, and emphasise the craziness of Campbell Newman, Stowaway Premier, in not first getting himself a seat, the usual democratic minimum, in parliament.
I ask O’Shannessy, the Newspoll CEO (why does a polling agency need a CEO?), if any of the above is true. And if not what the explanation is for there having been, for the first time in half a century, no Newspoll in the weeks prior to an election of how the contesting parties and leaders are doing.

I have demonstrated in these columns, or I think I have, that the Galaxy Poll was dodgy, taken as it was on two nights, Thursday and Friday, when no-one under thirty was home and no mobile phones were rung, and the Katter Party score of 9 percent was first put up and then taken down, or that is my strong impression of what happened. And Galaxy gave Murdoch, with its bodgy score of 60-40 two party preferred (there are seven parties likely to win seats, discuss), some of the comfort he was hankering for in these last, crumbling days of his media empire. But where was Newspoll?

It’s possible Newspoll was telling the truth. And Murdoch or his agents forbidding its publication.

I ask someone to deny this, and to say what actually happened.

Watch this space.

The Usual Murdoch Dirty Tricks (21): The Campbell Newman Gay Marriage Backflip Slander, An Agonising Reappraisal

A measure of how big a big lie Murdoch can tell was his story on November 20, 1975 that Gough and Margaret were breaking up. He knew that Margaret was hugely admired, and female voters might judge her love of Whitlam to be reason enough to vote for his party, so that love would have to be cancelled out, erased, and a few more Labor seats lost for want of it.

Similar lies were told last week, when reports were published of public outrage at Katter Party advertisement which ‘went too far’. In it, Campbell Newman was shown saying ‘I support gay marriage’ and a photo shown, its lower half blurred, of two nude men embracing. This was supposed to be an appalling libel of Newman, who quickly said that though he did indeed support gay marriage, he would nonetheless pass and speak up for legislation annulling it in Queensland the first chance he got.

The big lie was in the ‘outrage’; allegedly over the blurred photo.

It is hard to see who on earth would be outraged by it. Homosexual love is a staple of good movies now, in particular A Single Man for which Colin Firth was an Oscar nominee, and on the Broadway stage too, where Peter Allen was acclaimed in spite of it, when played by Hugh Jackman in The Boy From Oz. The ‘Stop the clocks’ poem in Four Weddings And A Funeral has been a favourite ceremonial recitation for over a decade now, although it speaks of the love of a man for a man. So what is the problem in anyone speaking up for it, as Penny Wong has, and Malcolm Turnbull, and Natasha Stott-Despoja, and in favour of a conscience vote on the question in parliament, as the Prime Minister has?

The problem is that Campbell Newman spoke up for it too, despite his voter base, including many religious fundamentalists and elderly country town rednecks, detesting and abhorring the very idea. And if Campbell Newman were thought by them to be a public supporter of perversion, an enabler of a Godless iniquity and an advocate, which he is/was, of its public sanctification, the redneck vote might go a-glimmering, and wind up in the big white hat of Bob Katter, a man shamed by his own half-brother’s mortal sin, and seats lost in the regions. And that would never do.

So a Rupertist whiff of salacity was added by his cringeing Brisbane minions to a fairly ordinary political story in which a candidate is alleged to have said first one thing and then another, and visual evidence produced and published in support of the allegation.

It was said to be a scandal. And it was nothing of the sort. They seized on the blurred image and with indrawn breath called this libellous of Newman, as though he were the unseen third partner in a threesome, or something.

Feigned outrage is what the Right do a good deal, quite often infectiously. When Keating said of Howard, ‘He has all the vision of Mr Magoo, but none of the good intentions’, many Liberal parliamentarians called it ‘a vile, digusting thing to say’, unbefitting a former Prime Minister when speaking of his blameless conqueror. And when I said of Costello in Goodbye Jerusalem that his wife had influenced his political views — it was if closely read no more than that — my publishers lost a million dollars in libel and court costs because it was said at the time to be an outrageous attack on his character.

Campbell Newman, gay marriage supporter, self-confessed, is another innocent victim of a baseless, disgusting, vile imputation, we are told.

And the wrath of Murdoch has fallen like a ton of bricks on Katter, the truthful messenger, in a one-paper state, and he will suffer for it.

Unless it worked.

And it might have.

It’s possible it did. The Worm on Monday night showed Bligh beating Newman at every turn, on almost every issue. And a tornado has arrived on cue among whose devastation she will look defiant and heroic and proud and re-electable, maybe. Maybe.j

There may be a few big surprises yet.

I will make my prediction on Friday morning.

At the moment it seems Katter will get five seats, Jones win Ashgrove, and the LNP win about fifty seats and government, and, leaderless, look like gooses.

Watch this space.

Classic Ellis: Australians All, Let Us Not Lie: A Better National Anthem, Please

We choose as our friends those we feel we don’t have to lie to, those who share with us a common set of assumptions on music, morals, reading, sport and entertainment options.

We choose as our philosophy or our religion or our creed a set of rules that makes us comfortable, that doesn’t when it’s articulated make us cringe.

And it’s for similar reasons we all hate, I think, we all inwardly hate the Australian National Anthem. We give way to untruth every time we stand for it. We give way to untruth every time we sing it. We are not stirred when we hear it at the Olympic Games. We feel vaguely shamed by it, as the Canadians, French and Finnish are never shamed by theirs.

Their songs enlarge them. Ours makes us feel, however slightly, like dickheads. Though ‘I Am, You Are, We Are Australians’ brings us to tears of pride, especially when sung by children, ‘Advance Australia Fair’ makes us cringe. And when we stand up for it, we are usually, inwardly, lying.

Every one of the first six lines rings false. We are not young. We are not free. Our soil is not golden. Wealth does not come from toil here, but from birth or short-selling or real estate. And though we are ‘girt by sea’ so are all islands, and we are an island, and this is scarcely worth noting. And our land does not ‘abound with precious gifts’, it is two-thirds desert. Unless you count uranium I suppose, and the immensity of coal that is currently choking the planet, it does not abound, it is a desert waste.

The very first line, ‘Australians all, let us rejoice’, rings as false as ‘I did but see her passing by’ or ‘tough but humane’. In real life you rejoice or you do not, you cannot be asked to rejoice. You can be asked to give thanks, for that is a form of words. You can be asked to bow your head in prayer. You cannot be asked to rejoice, for that is a spontaneous emotion, and you have it or not.

When Mrs Thatcher said ‘I say unto you: rejoice’ at the end of the needless Falklands War, she was as falsely tuned as we are when we are called upon to fill with joy at the thought of the oldest and driest land with one of the cruellest colonial histories, of poisoned flour and stolen children, and not one Indigenous person or immigrant Vietnamese, or Sudanese, or Palestinian in our Senate or House of Representatives, and give vent to our pleasured excitement. This is a problem to work on, not a victory to rejoice in.

The second verse ‘For those who come across the seas/We’ve boundless wealth to share’ is an especially big lie. Our wealth is not boundless, and BHP Billiton does not like to share it. And boat people coming here across the sea if detected are towed back to Indonesia, or, until quite recently, imprisoned in Woomera, Baxter, Port Hedland, Villawood or Nauru.

The image of easy prosperity, true for some who buy their way in for a million dollars, is not, however, true for those Kosovans who fled here from ethnic cleansing and were soon sent back to the neighbourhoods their families were killed in.

Nor those Hazaras fleeing the Taliban who were accused of being Taliban themselves, and charged a million dollars for their incarceration.

A national anthem should above all not lie to us; not lie to us clumsily, or even smoothly. It can avoid certain historical subjects, for we all have ugly national secrets, but it should not say things that are not true.

‘Young and free’ was not true of Aborigines for our first 189 years and it is not widely true of them now. Outback squalor, infantile deafness, poor education, child-betrothals, incest, wife-beating, frequent gaolings and Third World levels of health outcomes, do not add up to freedom.

Nor can the world’s oldest continuing cultural traditions, forty or fifty thousand years of them, be called young. This country is only young if we ethnically cleanse from our national memory our original people, and the half million we murdered or brought through trauma and grief to death by kidnapping, alcohol, unjust imprisonment and centuries of mockery.

Canada has a history as abominable as ours but has a good national anthem that does not slither into lying.

O Canada (it says)
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
From far and wide, O Canada,
We stand on guard for thee.

And so, in a more rousing way, does (amazingly) New Zealand.

God of nations! at Thy feet
In the bonds of love we meet,
Hear our voices, we entreat,
God defend our Free Land.
Guard Pacific’s triple star,
From the shafts of strife and war,
Make her praises heard afar,
God defend New Zealand

Men of every creed and race
Gather here before Thy face,
Asking Thee to bless this place,
God defend our Free Land.
From dissension, envy, hate,
And corruption guard our State,
Make our country good and great,
God defend New Zealand.

Ours, alas, is very different and, on most grand occasions, dismaying. What should we do about this bear-trap of denial, untruth, bad poetry and poor music?

Well, Gough Whitlam had a National Anthem Competition in 1973 (and I, not that it matters, was one of the six finalists), which was abandoned after the Musicians’ Union demanded payment every time the new song was broadcast, but it wasn’t, inherently, a bad idea, and we could do the same thing now, and get Bill Shorten to negotiate with the relevant union thugs.

New words to our best tune ‘Song of Australia’ wouldn’t hurt. Or ‘I Still Call Australia Home’. Or ‘Waltzing Matilda’ (‘Sing for Australia, work for Australia, pray for Australia at sunset and dawn’, and so on). Or we could ask Bruce Woodley, as he did for the Marysville fires, to rewrite or condense the words of ‘I Am, You Are, We Are Australian’.

Or simply sing it as it is, a celebration of our multiculturalism, our convict past, our Aboriginal heritage. There is no law that says a national anthem can’t be three minutes long. An orchestral truncation of it would suffice at the Olympic Games when we win gold medals. But at football games, and cricket Tests, and State funerals, and parliament openings, it could be sung in full, with the crowd joining in at the chorus, and stir us, as an anthem should, to love of country, pride in ourselves, community forgiveness, an extended hand across differences.

I came from the dream-time, from the dusty red soil plains
I am the ancient heart, the keeper of the flame.
I stood upon the rocky shore, I watched the tall ships come.
For forty thousand years I’ve been the first Australian.

We are one, but we are many
And from all the lands on earth we come
We share a dream and sing with one voice:
I am, you are, we are Australian

I came upon the prison ship, bowed down by iron chains.
I cleared the land, endured the lash and waited for the rains.
I’m a settler, I’m a farmer’s wife on a dry and barren run
A convict then a free man, I became Australian…

And so on. I can’t see any argument against this; can you? Or perhaps you’d prefer to stand up for the rest of your life singing ‘girt by sea’. It’s not healthy, I think, to give roaring voice at public events to a pack of lies.

Or perhaps you disagree.

Sex In The City Of Endless Night: McQueen’s And Morgan’s Shame

Steve McQueen’s new film Shame (co-written with Abi Morgan who wrote The Hour and The Iron Lady) is about life in an aimless, godless, unfettered universe and the various ugly/arousing sexual events that populate a few weeks in the life of a rich Irish atheist New Yorker called Brandon (Michael Fassbender who was Bobby Sands in Hunger and Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre) after his sister Sissie (Carey Mulligan), a love-bruised nightclub songstress and frequent suicide, comes to sleep on his couch for a while.

It is not made clear why he doesn’t want her there. They may have committed incest while teenagers when drugged or drunk; or not. She may have attempted suicide while pregnant, and miscarried and become infertile; or not. She is certainly a mess, ‘flinging herself’, as we used to say, at man after man and sobbing her love and masochism down the phone after one-night stands and crawling into his bed for comfort he refuses to give. We all know girls like this; or we used to.

What is disturbing is not so much his cruelty to her, for we can readily understand this, but his attitude to women in general. He is implacably determined not to marry any of them, or breed with any of them, or to have a relationship longer than his longest, which was four months in toto. He watches porn, and tosses off a lot, and his sister çheerfully, shamingly, catches him at it. He fails to maintain erections with ‘normal’ girls but makes it easily with hookers, whom he humps and buggers and threesomely grapples, in visible moral agony while at his grimy exertions.

It would be wrong to say this is ‘graphically’ shown, though you see almost everything that is done or attempted. It is more correct to say that McQueen, a former war artist who portrayed shattered corpses in Iraq, unveils a landscape of metropolitan desolation like that which Michelangelo Antonioni attempted, but much, much more successfully.

His visual style is both austere and ravishing. Shots in which nothing apparently happens for minutes on end are held and we look deeply into them as we would a Dutch Renaissance painting. In one of them he woos, if that’s the word I want, while ordering dinner and wine in a sumptuous restaurant and a pretentious waiter constantly interrupts the flow of his wooing, a beautiful mixed-race divorcee Marianne (Nicole Beharie) and tells her frankly and confrontingly that he can’t see why anybody would want to marry, dismaying and arousing her, and their ‘relationship’, such as it is, rises into hope and slides down into pointlessness — and, at best, a promised one-night stand —all in this one beautiful unmoving wide shot, in which you see and understand everything. And you share her shock too when next day on their first rushed exciting encounter in his flat he fails to get it up, and tells her to go, and hires a prostitute and violently has her from behind, hurting her.

It is not insignificant I think that Brandon is an Irishman, albeit one migrated in his teens to America. He may be the first Irishman in world literature to feel himself free of all family obligation, and all notion of love received and love given, temptation yielded to and sin forgiven and the power of prayer. He is a kind of psychopath, but not quite; he is moved to a single tear when his sister sings, very slowly, with a kind of lost and baffled tenderness, ‘New York, New York’ as Piaf might have sung of Paris. What he is feeling, or remembering, we do not know.

He is, I guess, what might be called the Present Human Tendency, closer in his values to a Muslim polygamist, selecting and discarding women as he chooses, from among those he despises enough to deem worth wooing. A young man who told me he found as a rule the first six months of a relationship the most interesting, and he always ended it after that, is much like him, and a dreadful unforeseen consequence of the sexual revolution that I, for one, was very keen on once, and now am troubled by.

And yet he doesn’t lie to his women. His friend from the office David does (James Badge Dale), and he despises him for it. And one night after he seduces Sissie, who responds to him in the usual sobbing, hyperbolic way, Brandon goes out into red-light streets in the hope of getting himself killed.

This is a remarkable film, as telling in its way as Snowtown or An Education or Hardcore or Taxi Driver or Samson and Delilah. It tells you things you do not want to know. They are undeniable, and yet you strive to deny them even as they pass before your eyes.

It argues, I fear, that whole Sexual Revolution of the 60s and and the 70s was catastrophic for women. It left them with no safe harbour, no real advocates and no defensive weaponry. In the old world order of shotgun marriages, hardworking harried husbands in boring lifetime jobs, six o’clock closing, cheap mortgages, four children, two miscarriages and family Christmas holidays, and the palliative legend of True Love, forty out of a hundred of them had a fair chance of getting through life undrugged, uncrazed and unsuicidal. This is no longer so. Women concentrate now on their diets, and female friends they can trust and bitch to, and try to make sense of the one-night stands and the casual regretted abortions and the fading hope of a man who will stay and the single child they may or may not be able to fit in between their other, increasingly frantic priorities as the clock ticks and their life adds up to nothing. And it’s a pity.

Michael Fassbender is shaping up as the Brando/Olivier/Depardieu of our day and gives a performance, with huge dick swinging and haunted eyes that see all and comprehend all but do not care, a performance vast as Hamlet you cannot imagine if you have not seen it. Carrie Mulligan likewise amazes us with a raw impelling victimhood and sullen traumatised poignancy and great singing that even Shirley MacLaine in her youth could not have summoned, and only Mia Wasikowska might lately on a good day equal, as she did in In Treatment and Mr Nobbs. Nicole Beeharie and James Badge Dale are especially good in the supporting roles, and the girl on the train at the start and end of the film amazing.

An astonishing film. Do not imagine you can miss it.

The Myth Of Charisma (2): For Your Voices, Your Sweet Voices

The political destruction overnight of Joe Ramos Horta, who was possessed of the best speaking voice in politics, better even than Gordon Brown or Shimon Peres, raised in my mind the question of whether most of what we call ‘charisma’ is in the ear, not the eye, of the beholder. Bob Carr’s portentous golden baritone has lately put Tony Abbott’s rancid scraggly plaintive screech in the shade. Obama’s noble mellow resonant echo of Bill Cosby, or is it Nat King Cole, outclasses Mitt Romney’s dull whingeing scoutmaster’s monotone every day of the year. Maxine McKew will always feel, because of her up-close contralto, more plausible than Pauline Hanson, Hillary Clinton than Sarah Palin, Bronwyn Bishop than Julie Bishop, and so on. One feels that Peter Costello without that schoolyard bully’s sneer in his voice might have challenged and become Prime Minister. It’s probable that had Bob Katter sounded more like Bob Brown his policies, which are no less intelligent, would have seemed more credible. And so on.

I’m driving north from Melbourne as I progressively write this, and listening to John Faine’s pompous haranguing soprano and comparing in it my mind to the soothing hovercraft tones of Phillip Adams. Authority seems to be voice-based, which makes it no wonder that Keating, who was gone for all money in 1993, beat Hewson when Hawke almost certainly would not have. Keating had the voice, Judy Davis once told me, ‘that Australian men used to have’, and Hewson, high and earnest, sounded much like john Faine, poor devil, and this affliction was further compounded by a slight r/w impediment (emphasised in my novel The Hewson Tapes) which eventually did for him; for even Alexander Downer seemed more electable eventually than he. John Laws was always more credible than Alan Jones whatever he said; Bob Menzies than Bert Evatt; Gough Whitlam than Billy MacMahon. Had Simon Crean been possessed of a good voice (I wrote of him that he sounded like a 50′s nighclub crooner singing flat) he might have been Prime Minister despite his titmouse looks; and so on.

What we are talking of here I think is a species of class distinction. There are women who sound like Margaret Throsby and women who sound like Jeannie Little; and they are the Upstairs and Downstairs of Australian female authority. There are men who sound like Paul Keating, on the other hand, and men who sound like Kevin Rudd; and they are the jovial maleness and twerpy sissiness of our post-blokey self-imaging. The nerdy schoolboy Rudd fled from rough male bullying and locked himself in his room with the radio on and came out sounding like an ABC newsreader. His less stressed schoolmate Wayne Swan played football and swam and became school captain and sounded like everyone else. It was this peculiar smug mother’s-boy twerpy tone in Rudd’s voice that did for him, I think. Had he sounded like Albo or Hawkie or Bill Hunter he would have survived as PM, whatever he did in his office at 4 am.

What are our most durable public voices, the ones that twenty more years of will not daunt us from tuning into and applauding in our far old age? John Laws, Bob Brown (his voice the equivalent if Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Chocolate), Bob Carr, Barry Jones (Hoadley’s Crumble Bar) come to mind. Phillip Adams; Tanya Plibersek; Maxine McKew; Margaret Throsby; Margaret Whitlam alas, no longer available for audition. Malcolm Turnbull. Andrew Peacock. Michael Kroger. All seem comfortable within themselves, and not, like Howard, Ruddock, Downer, Hewson, Costello, Abbott, on the crumbling edge of panic. Some, like Whitlam, Hawke and Fraser, are tainted somehow with two much rehearsal, like Oxbridge wits or music hall veterans doing encores, and are in a different class: Green Room voices, perhaps, you might call them.

It’s a fascinating study. If Churchill had sounded like Attlee he would never have led a nation at war. If Stevenson had sounded like Reagan he would have been elected. If Reagan had sounded like Santorum he would never even have made sportscaster.

And so it goes.

The Usual Murdoch Dirty Tricks (21): The Amazing Invisible Cheated Galaxy Poll

5.06 am

The Galaxy Poll in The Sunday Mail showing Labor losing 40-60 this morning was taken, we are told, on Thursday night (late night shopping) and Friday night (everybody under forty out carousing) among 800 people at home and possessed of a landline (Galaxy never rings mobiles) and prepared to answer questions for half an hour instead of cooking dinner.

The 60-40 is the result of distributing preferences. But Galaxy for the first time in history does not say where they were distributed from. We see no Green vote, no One Nation vote, no Bob Katter Australian Party vote. We only see the 60-40. Or that is my impression from what I am able to read online.

The reason for this if true is plain, and, as usual with recent Murdoch-published polls, verging on criminal. If the Bob Katter Australian Party’s vote, 14 or 16 percent in my view, were made known, a surge toward that party might occur and theaten the (equally new) LNP, and the greasy soiled stowaway Campbell Newman. And it might suggest that some of the ‘redistributed’ votes were falsely redistributed.

Why are the base figures not published? For the first time in world history? Why are they being hidden?

Clearly the Queensland situation is more volatile than the Murdochists want us to hear. And, as usual, the numbers are being gathered in a way that favours the LNP (hundreds of thousands of people who do not have landlines and have only mobile phones are never rung) and presented in a way that DOES NOT EVEN MENTION (if I have got that right) what parties are contesting the election and how they are doing. This for the first time in human history.

Cheating, cheating, cheating. It is what the Murdochists do best.

There will be an accurate poll on Saturday morning. But by then the damage will have been done.

I now predict, and it’s only a guess, three seats to the Katterites, three to the Independents, forty-seven to the LNP and thirty-six to Labor, with a five-day recount which awards, at last, Ashgrove to Jones and makes Lawrence Springborg, of all people, Premier.

This may vary a bit after the late poll announcements.

Maxine McKew should be made to campaign for Jones, and Bob Carr for Bligh.

8.30 am

More information is coming in, clearly in response to what I posted. The Greens are on 9, I now learn, the Katterites on 9 (as great a percentage as the Nationals federally most years and worth, in the North, a seat or two) and Labor on only 30 percent though 43 percent think she should be Premier.

This, as we have come to expect from the flogged and grovelling Murdochists of Brisbane, makes no sense at all. Bligh running 13 percent ahead of her party? Has this ever happened before in human history? I don’t think so.

I now suspect I am right about the Katterites, who may get as much as 20 percent. The Greens, I think, will get about 11 percent, Labor about 35 and the LNP about 30.

And lose.

Watch this space.

10.54 am

More cheating by the hour.

The Katter Party’s 9 percent has been removed from the Courier Mail’s website pages, Labor given 30, LNP 49 and Greens 11, making the total not 100 but 90.

And then elsewhere Labor is given 43. this would mean Labor wins by a landslide.

What is going on here?

These fool frazzled swindlers should get their story straight.

More to come.

12.02 pm

Hard to work out what is going on.

The reasonable explanation is that some figures are right — the preferred Premier 49-41 Newman’s way, for instance — and some are lies dictated by a sleepless Rupert a few minutes before going to press: the 60-40 two-party preferred for instance, when it’s more likely 55-45. And that’s a vote taken when no younger voters are home and many of Katter’s voters (truck drivers, farm workers, miners, tour guides) on their mobile phones, which Galaxy never ring.

I think it’s really volatile, and the gay-marriage assault on Newman worked, and knocked him out of his seat. And a lot depends on the Leaders’ Debate.

I ask the Courier Mail why the Katter party’s numbers disappeared.

And what, apart from the obvious, this can mean.

As I Please: Latham’s Modest Proposal

In a strange intervention ‘Barking’ Mark Latham has asserted in his column in The Spectator that he wants the ABC privatised.

If he is made Chairman ‘for a limited 12-month term,’ he promises, ‘my strategy will be to slice and dice: selling off the component parts of the organisation, starting with its bookshops, then the arty-farty stuff, before moving onto its radio and television assets. Australia’s last remaining mausoleum of socialist demagoguery will be dismantled.’

Nurses will support this move, he adds, because ‘they are under siege, wasting time and resources in having to repeatedly chase the Chaser boys out of children’s cancer wards. Imagine a world without these clowns tormenting terminally ill infants. As with the tragic boatpeople drownings, the humane policy is actually the right-wing policy.’

I fear, and I fear greatly, that he is not joking. He wants one of the true glories of Australia, the creative matrix that gave us Four Corners, Gunston, Frontline, Auntie Jack, The Gillies Report, The Science Show, LNL, Fran Kelly, Triple-J, The True Believers, The Brides of  Christ, Clarke and Dawe, The Big Gig, The Games, Enough Rope, Playschool, Michael Charlton, Mike Carlton, Richard Carleton, Alan McGillvray, Maxine McKew, Margaret Throsby, Andrew Olle, Paul Lyneham, Paul Murphy, Paul Lockyer, Kerry O’Brien, The Inventors, Q&A and The Slap sold off to Alan Jones or Singo or Gina Rhinehart and the squalid peasant sensibility of A Current Affair and Ossie The Ostrich put in its place.

This is the man thought to be a better alternative Prime Minister than Kim Beazley by the austere Left guru John Faulkner (and made leader by his, John Faulkner’s, inexplicable casting vote), a man who cursed his mentor Gough Whitlam on Enough Rope and will boycott, no doubt, this week, Margaret’s memorial service and blast in his column her contribution to Australia.

It is puzzling that Labor has so often picked men with so light a grip on their sanity to lead them over the cliff into certain oblivion. Hughes, who proposed we conscript young farm boys like Les Darcy to die on the Somme. Evatt, who proposed that Catholics be rooted out of the Labor Party. Rudd, who called the 2020 and then insulted every celebrity and thinker attending it by ignoring or disdaining five thousand of their ideas in favour of two of his own.

Latham is another such mad leader. He wrote two books in favour of the Global Free Market (Civilising Global Capital, one was called; I suggested it be renamed Housetraining The Crocodile), of the floated dollar that is lately hobbling our economy and the privatisation of Qantas which has has wonderfully concentrated the minds of most of its customers on their plummeting imminent deaths. Latham agreed to debate me on these things once, after a screening of Ken Loach’s anti-privatisation film The Navigators, and did not, of course, turn up.

Latham is now fifty-two, six months older than Barack Obama, and nine years older than, say, Bobby Kennedy ever got to be. And it seems to me to be worth now asking, when has he ever been right about anything?

Perhaps, in these columns, or in his column in The Spectator, he could give us a list.

Or one of his supporters responding here.

When has Mark Latham been right? Ever?

Just asking.

Classic Ellis: Margaret Whitlam, 1983

Fill the cup, and fill the can:
Have a rouse before the morn;
Every moment dies a man,
Every moment one is born.
– Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Vision of Sin.

‘Come and sit by me, Bob,’ said Margaret Whitlam. ‘On my commode.’ I positioned myself gamely on the curious big piece of wooden furniture she’d commandeered. ‘Bob and I have this annual assignation,’ she explained to the woman next to her, ‘at the Canberra Playwrights’ Conference. Every May. I love it.’

‘It’s the best,’ I said. ‘It’s always autumn, and the leaves are coming down. People working together for a common cause and eating breakfast with people they thought were enemies and finding they weren’t. Enemies are people you haven’t seen for a while.’

‘That’s true, that’s very true,’ said Margaret.

I had grown used to Margaret over the years. At first I’d found her aristocratic jocularity and rich Chaucerian world view daunting, but now I think I admired her more than anyone. She radiated hope and, like her opposite number Eleanor Roosevelt, made all who met her feel an honourable future was still attainable in a world of sin. She and Gough, like the heavenly bodies in Newton’s universe that, being the largest, pull the others towards them, catalyzed in all of us the decency of mind that might otherwise have drained away into a drunken bitterness. They were the authentic projections of our decency and our honour and in part because of their heroic size were genuine religious objects, living icons in a rightly agnostic age that in their very bearing and the optimistic irony of their gargantuan good humour showed on what level life should be lived. I remembered (and of course could never forget) how in that dawn what bliss it was to be alive and be young, when everything seemed possible, and for a time it was.

‘There’s a move to have you made Governor-General,’ said Senator Susan Ryan to Margaret. ‘What do you think?’

‘Seriously?’ asked Margaret, a little amazed.

‘Absolutely,’ said Susan. ‘Not for long if you don’t want it. Just till we get the constitution sorted out.’

‘Well, it might be diverting, I suppose,’ said Margaret. I pictured Gough Whitlam, househusband, and had my doubts. ‘In fact it might be fun.’

‘Ah yes, that’s all very well,’ I growled in my lovable rumpled marsupial manner, ‘but can she hold her liquor?’

The two women looked at me dumfounded. Then Margaret performed a save. ‘Well, I can hold you, Bob Ellis,’ she said, putting her arm around me, ‘and that takes some doing.’

‘I agree,’ said Susan, at whom I’m once made a drunken pass. ‘Indeed, it’s a kind of miracle.’

They’ll have to give her a title of course, I mused. But then I remembered Labor didn’t do that. What a pity. What a great loss. Lord Whitlam. It fitted somehow. Lord Cairns. Sir Barry Jones. It would have added such stature to their years in Opposition, and majesty to their utterances. ‘Lord Currabubbula, formerly Labor MP Fred Daly, last night reminisced on television about his years as a paper boy. Essentially unchanged in personality since those days, Lord Currabubbula gave entertaining insights into his years of struggle.’ ‘Lord Calwell in his retirement, here pictured feeding the chooks.’ The English Labor Party did it. ‘Lord George Brown last night while intoxicated and protesting his identity jumped a taxi queue and was unable to remember his destination.’ It could be done. I felt I was getting drunk.

‘My old dutch,’ I said to Margaret. ‘I’ve always thought of you that way.’

‘I don’t think I follow,’ said Margaret.

‘It’s a song,’ I said, ‘of appalling working-class sentimentality. “We’ve been together now for forty yearrr, and it don’t seem a day too much…”’ I noted with a kind of distant interest that I was singing. ‘“There ain’t a lady living in the world As I’d swap fer me dear old dududutch…”’

Fill the can, and fill the cup,
All the windy ways of men
Are but dust that rises up
And is lightly laid again.

Greet her with applausive breath,
Freedom, gaily doth she treat;
In her right a civic wreath,
In her left a human head.
– Alfred Lord, The Vision of Sin

As I Please: The Myth Of Charisma

When Bob Carr was Leader of the Opposition first in 1988 it was said he was entirely free of charisma and the Labor Party was foolish to take him on. He was bookish, uninterested in sport, a reader of Proust, a Civil War buff, a passionate bushwalker, a policy wonk, a wearer of spectacles, a periodic teetotaller, not good looking, a bit of a bore, not charismatic at all, not a leader, no way.

Within three months of him being Premier it was said he was a ‘master politician’ with a voice that the then Prime Minister, Paul Keating, ‘would kill for’, the dominant figure in the Legislative Assembly and, somehow overnight, charismatic. A leader.

This leads me to wonder if ‘charisma’ is an actual quality or a quality one fathers on those who have power.

It doesn’t sound likely, but no-one used the word ‘charismatic’ before 1960.

In that year, John F. Kennedy was running for the Presidency at the (then) early age of 42. He had been for six years a Congressman, for seven years a Senator, but had rarely made a speech on the floor of the Chamber and had never authored, or co-authored, a significant piece of legislation. Though he had won a Pulitzer Prize for Profiles In Courage, a book of mini-biographies of significant political mavericks, it was widely known that he had not actually written it, and his loyal speechwriter, Ted Sorensen, had written it for him, after a few up-close discussions with him. An earlier book, Why England Slept, was not much liked, and his rich father Joe Kennedy bought up forty thousand copies to make it seem a bestseller.

He was also known to have a bad back, and an AIDS-like condition called Addison’s Disease which periodically disabled his immune system till urgently administered steroids restored his strength, and he spent a lot of time on crutches. It was thought by his doctors and by his family he might die before he was fifty. He had had the Last Rites once already, when he was 37. He was furthermore a Catholic, and his controversial father, whose multi-millions were made from boot-legging Canadian hooch into Massachussetts, had been ‘soft on Hitler’ in 1940, and as US Ambassador in England had urged the Churchill government to ‘do a deal’ with the Fuhrer.

Why, then, his backroom advisors asked, should this legislatively challenged Papist cripple and book-forger funded by a mendacious old crooked pro-Nazi whom Roosevelt had fired be President? He had been brave in the war after his PT boat had collided at night with a Japanese battleship he had not noticed while drinking at the wheel but that was about it. He was a dull speaker, had wall eyes and fucked, albeit discreetly, a great number of women, Audrey Hepburn, Angie Dickinson, Marlene Dietrich and Grace Kelly being only some of thousands. Why should this ailing priapic mediocrity with no legislative track-record be President?

The backroom worked on this problem. And they came up with an ancient Greek word, ‘charisma’, which meant, roughly speaking, ‘possessed and enlarged by the gods’, much like the adjacent word ‘enthusiasm’. It was decided that Jack, who had a good deal of charm, was ‘charismatic’, and he should be made President because if it. He had a special quality, they said. Charisma.

None of this would have been tried on had he not been chronically ill and likely to die before he was 50. Joe needed a President of his engendering in his lifetime, and he wasn’t prepared to wait for the healthier, sharper, more ardent and driven Bobby who was then only 35; correctly, as it turned out when Joe had his paralysing stroke in 1961. They had to go for it, go now. And ‘charisma’ was the clue. And so persuasive was their salesmanship that it became a cliche of politics. Harold Wilson was said to have it; Pierre Trudeau; Gough Whitlam; Edward Heath; Ronald Reagan.

I am not sure it has any particular meaning, except ‘able to speak persuasively, with an element of up-close, personal, magnetic charm’. Among those I have met I suppose Jim Cairns had it; Neville Wran; Enoch Powell; Don Dunstan; Gore Vidal; Tom Stoppard; Phillip Quast; Phillip Adams; Paul Cox; Paul Keating; Kim Beazley; John Lennon; Bill Clinton; Cheryl Kernot; Maxine McKew; Cate Blanchett; Mike Rann; Bill Shorten; Nathan Rees; Verity Firth; Clare Martin; Margaret Whitlam; Margaret Throsby; Kamahl; Noel Pearson. But after he gained power even John Howard seemed to have it, and Joh Bjelke-Petersen, and Nick Greiner, and Dick Smith. It may be an illusion contingent on situation, as in the case of Mark Latham, and, let’s face it, Kevin Rudd. Would Eric Abetz, Prime Minister, be charismatic? Probably.

There may be a lesser thing, called ‘personal force’, that varies a bit from leader to leader: Keating has more of it, Turnbull less. But it is not magical, it is not remarkable, it is not divinely gifted. The Kennedy backroom would want you to think that.

And they made it up. It was their fabrication. It had no existence before then.


The Usual Murdoch Dirty Tricks (20): J’Accuse

Looked at closely, the Ashgrove Newspoll numbers make no sense at all. There are 65 percent satisfied with Kate Jones’s performance, 51 percent satisfied with Campbell Newman’s performance. There are 22 percent dissatisfied with Kate, 37 with Campbell. Kate is thought the ‘better Ashgrove MP’ by 53 percent, Campbell by 41.

Yet Campbell Newman wins the seat by 52 to 48, two party preferred. Though only 41 percent want him as their local member, he wins the seat with 52 percent. With 52 percent.

The difference is, it seems, that the Greens vote has halved. 11 percent in July, it is 5 now. Why would this be? Has word got out that Bob Brown is homosexual? Why has the Green vote halved?

Why bas the Greens vote halved?

Curiouser and curiouser. The local girl preferred by a big majority will be thrown out, and a greasy stowaway disdained by a big majority, 59 percent, elected in her stead.

It is the first duty of Newspoll to give comfort to the Tories when they most need it; discuss.

Very suspicious also is the revelation that ‘the data has been weighted to reflect the population distribution’. I’ll bet it has. ‘Weighted’ means ‘changed’. I’ll bet it was.

Oddest of all is that the households were rung and ‘the person within the household selected at random’ (I’ll bet they were) on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday,and Tuesday. Why on so many days? There is no precedent for this in world history. Why on so many days?

The answer must be, might be, could be, that the numbers on Friday, Saturday and Sunday favoured Jones. So they had to ring up on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, when only older people were at home, and students, say, were out of the house, to get a swatch of numbers that, at long last, favoured Newman. The purpose of the dirty Murdoch exercise. To comfirt the Tories as usual.

And even then they had to lie about them. Putting in the necessary puzzled caveat that more people preferred her, not him, as local member, they said, quote,’ Significantly, Ms Jones remains preferred MP by a firm majority of Ashgrove voters, outscoring Mr Newman by 53 percent to 43 percent.’

No, no, no, it was 53 percent to 41 percent. 41 percent, not 43.

Lies upon lies upon lies.

The biggest lie of all is that 504 people surveyed means anything at all. It should be 800, preferably 1000. Only 70 households a day were rung. Maybe more were rung, and 70 selected. Why would that be, I wonder?

‘A blow to Labor’s hopes’, says Michael McKenna in the adjacent column. I’ll bet it is. I’ll bet it is.

If all these unaccidental anomalies do not add up to fraud I would be surprised.

I accuse.


Answer these charges, O’Shannessy, and answer them well.

Lest you go like Rebekah to a place of criminal detention and answer them there.

Get back to me soon.

As I Please: Yesterday’s Man Costello, Ninety Billion Short Of A Picnic

Peter Costello is in a snit because the government wouldn’t give him ninety billion dollars to spend as he chooses three days after he attacked them for going ‘outside of parliament’ to find a Foreign Minister.

What a lightweight he continues to be.

He found no problem with the LNP going ‘outside of parliament’ to find an Opposition Leader in Queensland. He found no problem with Rudd giving him, a potential Opposition Leader, a job on the Future Fund. He found no problem with Rudd giving Nelson, a former Opposition Leader, a flash job in Europe. Just with Carr, a good choice, getting a job he will shine in, and outshine Julie Bishop in, and being brought in from ‘outside of parliament.’ Heaven forbid.

I have spoken in my books — and in a piece reprinted in these columns — of Costello’s laziness. Elected unopposed as Deputy Liberal Leader six times on the trot, he never lifted a phone or grabbed a sleeve or bought a meal, or cooked one, or shouted a round, to become Prime Minister. He believed it was his just desert, his foredoomed climactic place in history. He believed he was chosen by his Baptist/Anglican God for great things and like an Old Testament prophet could rail at his overlords and not be whipped or stoned or banished for it. Only rewarded. Richly rewarded.

He believed he was one of the Elect, and therefore needed no election. Acclamation, a sounding of trumpets, a choral hymn, a standing ovation was all that was needed. He was glorious, chosen, foredoomed.

What a dreadful fortnight he’s having. An early role model, Carr, is back and big in politics again and he is a nobody. And he doesn’t even have ninety billion dollars to spend anymore.

Poor spoiled little boy.

He waited for the magic carpet, and it did not come.

Or perhaps you disagree.

The Usual Murdoch Dirty Tricks (19): False Comfort For Campbell In Ashgrove

More and more cheating in Queensland.

A Newspoll shows Campbell Newman winning Ashgrove by 52 percent though only 43 percent think his opponent should be displaced, in a sampling with a 4.5 percent margin of error, which means he could lose by 47.5 to 52.5.

No Newspoll however shows the state of the parties in Queensland and how well, in particular, Bob Katter’s new mob are doing.

This is the new Murdoch technique of less and less information being touted as the only information there is. Like when it was thought only Rudd or Gillard could be Prime Minister, and Carr, Faulkner, Shorten, Plibersek, Roxon, Combet, Smith, Swan, Bracks, Beattie, Gallop, Evans, Keating, Dawkins, Rann, Hawke, Bligh, Clare Martin and Verity Firth were not worth doing polls about: Shorten versus Abbott, Carr versus Abbott, Faulkner versus Abbott, and so on.

Another example of this minimisation was the Murdoch-managed ‘debate’ last night with Galaxy picking who should be in the audience and the Courier Mail decreeing no conversational exchange should occur between the candidates as happens every fortnight in America.

Eliminating thus one way Bligh might win, the organisers eliminated another, by not asking for a show of hands from the audience indicating who did best.

Almost all debates end this way. Why not this one?

How much more blatant can this biased organisation and its grovelling sucker-fish Newspoll and Galaxy get?

There will be an honest, accurate poll on election morning. But in the meantime the momentum Katter might be getting from his undoubtedly encouraging figures (fourteen percent is my guess and rising) will be minimised because these figures have been suppressed, and only figures that help the LNP, however bodgy, are being published.

At the behest of Rupert Murdoch, serial election cheat, most of whose gauleiters in Britain are going to gaol.

The poll is an accurate one is it? With 504 interviewees, 300 less than the minimum? And two and a half percent not responding? And 51 percent satisfied with Newman’s performance and 65 with Jones? And 53 percent wanting Jones as the local member and 41 percent Newman? A poll backdated hastily to Monday before the gay marriage question ravaged Newman’s chances of even securing a seat?

Why 504 respondents? Why not 804, an accurate sample? Why Saturday to Wednesday? For the first time in history, why Saturday to Wednesday? Why not Thursday, after the debate?

Was this cheating? Of course it was.

Prove that I lie.

Classic Ellis: Peter Costello, September 2008

Michael Costa at fifty-two, Peter Costello at fifty-one, Alan Carpenter at fifty-one, Brendan Nelson at forty-nine, Morris Iemma at forty-seven, Reba Meagher at forty, Matt Brown at thirty-six, all ended their careers in these last two weeks. The most interesting of these was Costello. Smug, smirking thug or great lost Prime Minister, lightweight jesting sado-narcissist or saviour of the nation’s economy, he it was who had the magnetism, the star quality, the zest for the joust, the way Keating had. He it was who should be better known.

I read his memoir on a train and in a hotel room and an office with mounting unease in one long night and a dreary day and was none the wiser at the end of it. He was a smirking, evasive enigma still; a buffoon or a great lost leader according to your taste, a mocker, a drone, a Hamlet, a Coriolanus, a Billy Bigelow, Mark Antony, Pal Joey, Bart Simpson, Bugs Bunny, the Fonz. It was hard to tell.

For he told us almost nothing of himself. What quarrels he had with his parents, what marks he got at school, what it was like to share a bedroom for eighteen years with the Reverend Tim Costello. Why he was caned so often, and left his parents’ religion and joined his wife’s. What he thought about God, and Christ, and why he thought Christ anti-union. Whether his fundamentalist parents liked him wedding an Anglican. How long he was in and around the Labor Party and why he left. What his close Labor friends the Eassons thought of his defection to the anti-Christ, the dark side and his boots-and-all marriage to a Liberal leader’s daughter.

We don’t know if he ever saw a movie, or went to a play, an opera, a ballet, read a novel or bet on the Melbourne Cup. We don’t know if he was raised teetotal, and what pain attended his first alcoholic drink. We don’t know if he had a pet dog, or a visiting parrot he befriended and fed. We aren’t told where he stood on Apartheid, Nelson Mandela, Bobby Kennedy, the hanging of Ronald Ryan, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Pogo, Peanuts, Pink Floyd. His grandparentage, parentage, childhood, school days, undergraduate years, adolescent comradeships and rapid marriage take between them twenty-two pages; the fight for the GST seventeen.

No great emotion troubles the rising young mover and shaker - no lust, no fleshly disappointment, no drug-bust, no hangover, no detailed love of a football team, no hot, rousing day at the cricket, no beloved eating house, no details of how he fell in love or felt at first sight of his firstborn baby. No thrill at first putting on a lawyer’s wig or walking at thirty-two into Parliament House. Few feelings of any human sort are admitted. We seem to have an ambition-machine here, or, worse, a policy nerd, a number-wrestling corporate accountant, a two-legged White Paper. The caustic clown, the parliamentary Groucho, the happy Houdini, the unstoppable Woody Woodpecker has gone missing. The jesting gladiator we love to boo and clap and curse has vanished into air, into thin air, and into the Official Version, rewritten history.

This is par for the course for the Liberals, of course. They admit no lesser emotions, merely their desire to serve, their love of party, their unflinching loyalty to a stumbling leader, and their tumble-wash of humbled gratitude when chosen like Turnbull to guide the nation through troubled times; this they profess in tearful abundance. No aggravation, no anger, no furious chariot-ride to the cliff edge of spleen and vengeance, only (occasionally) disappointment, sadness that a colleague has erred. Peter Costello at no time wished a plane on 9/11 had hit and spifflicated John Howard. You better believe it, buster.
If ever there was an uncompassionate conservative, a cool head for the wrong figures and a shrivelled heart, it is this unended revenant Member for Higgins, this ever-menacing Bolingbroke, this Banquo’s Ghost at the feast of reason, this deathless pretender and eternal tease. When party or country needed him, he was the man who wasn’t there. When kingship looked like too much hard work, he didn’t bother to reach for it, preferring a bottle of Bollinger on a yacht or lobster mornay and a chat with friends in Toorak.

Like most lazy men he groans and sighs about the hard work he does, for twelve hours a day sometimes, he says. This is news, I hear, to his public servants, and it may be his fatal flaw. He was elected unopposed as Deputy six times. He could have been leader four times. But he didn’t campaign for it, he didn’t intrigue for it. In this, as in life elsewhere, he couldn’t be bothered.

He deals lazily, too, with his Christian values. Imprisoning children and warping their lives is okay with him, even when their parents afterwards prove innocent as charged. Not finding WMD after killing scores of thousands of children while seeking them is okay too; Saddam behaved as if he had them, fooling everybody, and the scores of thousands of dead children are better off without him. Aboriginal drinking is a problem he admits, but he blames this on the laws that raised their wages and made them too expensive to employ as rouseabouts or drudges. He finds fresh hope for the future of Aborigines when he sees Noel Pearson, in an aircraft seat beside him, reading Hayek.

He makes no mention of Haneef or Habib and skirts round Hicks. He swears no sailor knew where SIEV-X was on that night, and neither did the Prime Minister. He swears the Children Overboard photos were an honest mistake. He swears blind that he and Howard and Downer and Vail knew nothing of the AWB funnelling hundreds of millions to Saddam.

He does not speak, amazingly, of the court case that filled front pages and clogged the airwaves for long days against me and Random House over an ill-written sentence in Goodbye Jerusalem. He does not say why it was worth a quarter of a million dollars to him, Tony, Tanya and, amazingly, Tony’s wife for me to have said it wrongly. The book, the case, the public furore don’t even make the index, or a footnote, or a sub-clause. Funny that. Nor the harm that his cock-eyed self-righteousness that strange week did to his Prime Ministerial prospects thereafter. Why all the fuss, people wondered? Why all the money?

No mention of that. His noble narrative, purged of anguish, unease, self-doubt, resentment, embarrassment and guilt, continues unheckled to its righteous and plaintive end, a great leader sacrificed, a golden age lost, by a lying worm.

The last fifty pages are clearly aided by diary notes and deal with Howard’s refusal to walk the plank. They read grippingly and suspensefully and are written well. Had the book been only about this and a hundred pages slimmer it would have been an honourable work, like Bobby Kennedy’s memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and a certain bestseller.

But what we have instead is a campaign biography but alas after Tuesday no campaign. A blandly written work of narcissistic obfuscation enlivened now and then by well-aimed shafts of jovial malice at Howard, the evasive stubborn weakling and Janette, his keeper. Written by a man who sees reality through three thicknesses of glass, one of them a mirror, and always has, since his years as an angry latchkey kid watching Rocky and Bullwinkle and festering at home alone.

A good deal of it seems to have been drafted by his public servants, the chapters on the Future Fund, the Asian Meltdown and the failing Federation especially. This seems ill-advised, like ordering a House of Commons Committee of Review to draft the first chapters of Portnoy’s Complaint. The harsh Melbourne gutter slang is missing (he was Ginger Mick I’m sure in a former life) and a crisp emollient Sir Humphrey bureaucratese uneasily tap-dancing in its place.

The biggest surprise in the book for me was the lack of hidden depths in Peter Costello. There seems to be no hinterland, no secret Christian agenda, no merciful neo-Baptist perspective, no thinking heart, no salute at journey’s end to his brother Tim and his faith. What you see instead, I fear, I fear greatly, is what seems to be the face of a sneering, simplistic, sadistic church-hopping hypocrite and this is what, from this book, or so it seems to me, you get.

As I Please: Carr And The Hamlet Stratagem

Bob Carr has been a Minister for two days, and has already displayed a quality long absent from our politics.

This is intelligence.

I do not mean to say that others in parliament are stupid. But the quality they have mostly shown was not intelligence, but cunning. And it is not the same thing.

Intelligence such as Carr showed in his Local Radio interview yesterday, roving through our policy options in China and Afghanistan and the US, displayed a lively mind at work and as yet undecided on a number of matters he was deeply informed on and angel-wrestling with.

We have not seen a Minister so engaged with international arrangements and obligations since Beazley, a man of comparable intellect and copious learning.

He essayed what might be called the Hamlet Stratagem.  This is when, like the Prince of Denmark, a Minister comes to the forestage and in shared soliloquy admits to doubts. In their portfolios Combet, Shorten, Roxon and Plibersek do this also. It was common in Labor leaders for a long time. Faulkner, Crean, Keating, Hawke, Hayden did it likewise, with varying success.

It was the breezy, chirpy, self-confident Rudd who added an air of decidedness, authority and ease to our foreign arrangements, emphasised by his lofty use of Mandarin. It was not a wise thing to do. Certitude in uncertain times bespeaks implausibility, even foolishness, some might say fuckwittedness, like the certitude of Rumsfeld, Bush, Blair and Howard on the WMD and Saddam’s authorship of 9/11. Gillard’s unyielding certitude that we must ‘stay the course’ in Afghanistan and ‘complete our mission’ and ‘deny the terrorists a safe haven for their training camps’ (when it is we who are training the terrorists now, in our training camps, to shoot us in our beds with weapons we have given them and run away) is one of the reasons why she is so disliked by what might be called the Green Middle, and why Obama, who shapes and crafts and sculpts his doubts into immortal oratory, is so respected world-wide.

Doubt is a great public weapon. It is saying ‘come let us reason together’ not ‘follow me, peasants, over this cliff.’

Carr has thus far done doubt well, in a voice Keating once said ‘I would kill for.’ He has made the twerpy assertiveness of Rudd seem very old-fashioned; Rudd who seventeen days ago was our Foreign Minister. Imagine that.

It is probably right to say that only Carr could manage the shoals and reefs and waterfalls of policy ahead, as the Taliban demand their imprisoned ‘terrorists’ back and propose to behead last Sunday’s addled serial killer in a roaring soccer stadium and Israel nukes Iran a month before the US election. No other Australian politician — Beazley perhaps — could manage the subtleties of language, the careful cadences required, to get us through the next eighteen months of difficult world history.

As a travelling companion through some of his Wilderness Years (he asked me to go to England with him and Helena last Christmas and I was prevented by, mostly, poverty from doing so) I will watch with fond interest his joust with, at last, world fame, and the sculpting in the next few months of his legend.

Classic Ellis: Turnbull Observed, December 2007

I suppose you could call the movie “Four Deaths at a Funeral”, with Abbott, Costello, Turnbull and Nelson as the farcical mourners and John Howard as the exploding corpse.

The Liberals, meantime, are doing their version of ‘maintaining the rage’ - not saying Sorry, not shedding WorkChoices, not saying yes to Malcolm’s millions’ worth of staff and research help, and business contacts, in the long haul back to government - and showing I guess how shamed and shellshocked they were that first week and how stupid not to beg Costello, Downer and Minchin to fill in for a couple of months while they held their headaches and chundered before electing new leaders in February.

But it’s all done now and their version of the Florida Recount (two late-arriving Malcolmites were forbidden to vote and one eager Brendanite may lose his seat and so show Malcolm really, historically won) will work away like a munching tapeworm in the party’s guts till Brendan in August calls on a spill and Malcolm is acclaimed and a Double Dissolution sinks him too, and a once-great party breaks up into warring shambles and like the Democrats, the DLP and the UAP disappears from history.

It may not happen that fast of course, but it’s coming.

You mark my words. I predicted a Labor majority of twenty-eight or thirty and it’s twenty-four, and I was right about every state. And it’s coming.

Meantime, I guess, we should ask why the Liberals’ Four Stooges (Costello, Turnbull, Nelson, Abbott) all flirted in the days of their youth with the Australian Labor Party.

Carr, I’m told, beseeched Abbott to join and stand for Labor - through his wily old Catholic fixer ‘Johnno’ Johnson - but he was more DLP, or NCC, in those post-monastery, roistering, bastard-fleeing days and he wouldn’t.

Costello went to ALP workshops and was close friends with the Eassons but changed his church denomination and his party alignment when he became affianced to Tanya Coleman, daughter of Peter, the New South Wales Liberal leader.(And thereafter sued my publishers for defamation when I rightly implied that his wife had influenced his politics and got eighty-five thousand dollars for his ‘hurt feelings’).

Nelson joined the party, ran a thuggish union, wore an earring and famously shouted into a megaphone that he had ‘never voted Liberal in my life!’, mislaid two wives and Private Kovko, bought for endless wasted billions a jet no sane air force would fly, said the Iraq War was in part about oil and snuck in on the dog-whistle don’t-say-sorry-even-now vote last Thursday.

Each one reminds me of Robert Frost’s drab epigram, ‘I dared not be radical when young for fear it would make me conservative when old.’

Malcolm Turnbull, though, is different and resembles in many parts of his mixed, warm nature a good man, if in one small part - not often - a bull charging at a red rag. I knew him first when he was eighteen, ardent, ambitious and old beyond his years, and I began to co-write with him a musical play on his hero Jack Lang, called I think Lang Is Right!

He’d been taping long interviews with Lang at Auburn, as Keating had ten years before. What it was that drew them both to that rancorous old mountebank, then in his nineties, and his endless, festering defamations of the dead, may lie in their similar souls I suspect, and their similar teenage dreams of rapid glory. In Lang’s bellowing monomania, his rancid certitude, his boofheaded political martyrdom, his Catholic nepotistic tribalism, his messianic, bullying, hectoring style they found, I guess, as young men do, a hypnotic role model, a Labor legend to follow like a pillar of fire through the wilderness of this world to, yes, a political martyrdom of their own.

Malcolm and I became fairly close. He mimicked my third-person writing style in honi soit, caught up with me a few times in England, interviewed Enoch Powell, did a legal column for the Bulletin, became Kerry Packer’s lawyer, got him off a charge of murder, inherited money when his father died in a plane crash, with it started a merchant bank with Nick Whitlam, partnered Neville Wran in, I think, an office-washing business, and seemed at home in Labor company - not least because, like Beazley, Crean and Robert McClelland, he was a Labor prince.

His great-grandfather was George Lansbury, Leader before Clement Attlee of the British Labour Party, and his ‘aunt’ (actually his second cousin), not that it matters, is Angela Lansbury, of Murder, She Wrote (and The Manchurian Candidate, where she played the incestuous manipulative assassin and Soviet double-agent Eleanor Iselin; not that it matters).

His tendencies by his mid-twenties were Liberal Democrat. He went like Beazley, Gallop and Hawke as a Rhodes Scholar to Oxford and these tendencies grew. But then like Costello he married the enemy — Lucy Hughes, the daughter of Gorton’s Attorney-General Tom Hughes and niece of Robert Hughes of The Fatal Shore (and second cousin of Bryan Brown; not that it matters) and he found himself bifurcated politically and philosophically. I was with them one night when he suggested he might stand for Labor and she talked him out of it, in the kitchen of the house in Goodhope Street. It was not, I suspect, the last time they had that conversation.

I was in the kitchen because I was writing with Stephen Ramsey “The Spycatcher Trial”, a four-part miniseries based on Malcolm’s book about Peter Wright, the retired secret agent whose own book Spycatcher, revealing MI5 had planned to murder Colonel Nasser and Harold Wilson, and its director Hollis was a Soviet agent, was banned by Thatcher’s Attorney-General Michael Havers (father of Nigel, not that it matters) and defended in court by Malcolm and dramatised daily by the BBC.

His cross-examination of Sir Robert Armstrong, the brilliant, smooth-talking Head of the British Civil Service (and a model for Sir Humphrey Appleby), became as famous, for a while, as Carson’s deft skewering of Wilde. Is that why you did not kiss him, Mr Wilde? What precisely, Sir Robert, do you mean by ‘economical with the truth’?

The miniseries was to be made by Thames Television which Thatcher abruptly de-licensed, and so it goes. It could still be made, with Streep as Thatcher and Crowe as Malcolm and Waterman as Kinnock, Havers as his own father and McKellen as Wright, Jackman as Paul Greengrass and Watt as Lucy, its director Hugh Hudson, its producer Macquarie Bank, not that it matters; not that it matters, any more.

After that he was a public figure, but keen to make his pile before entering politics. He ran the Australian Republican Campaign, moved to it perhaps by the Spycatcher case, was thought bumptious and arrogant, lost it narrowly, said Howard ‘broke the nation’s heart’ and within six years had joined him in Cabinet, begged him to sign Kyoto, and so it goes. And the rest is recent history that needs no retelling.

Were the Liberals unwise not to choose him? Yes, they were. Would he make a good Prime Minister? I fear so. Would he make a good Opposition Leader? Well, it’s harder. He has, as Asquith complained of Churchill, ‘a zigzag streak of lightning in the brain’, and about once a week a gap occurs in his concentration for about twenty seconds, and he lets spill what he thinks, as he did when he told Fran Kelly those things he would truly do (apologise, dump WorkChoices, speed the Republic) and so lost the leadership, perhaps forever.

Do I wish him well? (Sorry to sound like Helmsman Rudd but it’s catching, and possibly even fashionable now.) Yes, I do. He shows, like Fred Chaney, Ian McPhee, Peter Collins, the Hamers, Steele Hall, Chris Puplick, John Valder, Andrew Peacock, Jim Killen, Bruce Baird and Petrou Giorgio the decent side of the Liberal Party while Howard, Ruddock, Reith, Minchin, Andrews, Alston, Vanstone and Abbott, and the wittering dim droid Eric Abetz, show the dark side, the Darth Vader side of souls ill-lost that once were human beings.

Malcolm by contrast represents an honourable, fidgety humanist Liberalism and our democracy needs that. But he seems ill-placed in a party now in acrimonious decline and leprous, festering nostalgia for better days and he may form, in good time, another, better party called the Liberal Democrats or the Australian Republicans or the Woollahra Humanists or the R.G. Menzies Movement or something, and like Churchill be PM at about sixty-five, in 2019 after Labor’s unstoppable and fractious first twelve years.

Or he may like his father-in-law go back to the Bar, and charge like a wounded bull (or a wounded Turnbull in a China shop as some sluggish wit might say) and make more millions he doesn’t need.

It will be a pity, as it was with Tom, if he goes. He brings oxygen and sulphur and ardour and conscience to our public life, to our great stage of fools, and a questing mind.

I wish this young man well in his future endeavours and hope he finds his calling.

Not that it matters.

And so it goes.

And went.

The Usual Murdoch Dirty Tricks (18): The O’Shannessy Newspoll Cover-up Continues

Another day without a Galaxy or Newspoll of Queensland voting intentions in The Courier Mail.

This can only mean, this must mean, that polls have been taken and, on the express orders of Rupert Murdoch, not published.

In my view.

As Campbell Newman totters from rumour to error (no, I am not being investigated; yes, I do support gay marriage but my party doesn’t so I’ll vigorously bring in laws against it; no, there is no Plan B if I do not win Ashgrove, it will be the end of my political career) and Julia Gillard pulls ahead of Tony Abbott as Preferred Prime Minister and Abbott vows to punish small business and reward Twiggy and Gina for overeating and Bob Katter looks more and more attractive in the Deep North, no numbers of any kind at all are coming out of Murdoch, which thrives on numbers, in Queensland, which was four weeks ago a certain LNP gain with Labor almost certainly losing half its seats including that of the Treasurer, Andrew Fraser.

Why no numbers?


In London, Rebekah Brooks is under arrest and may go to gaol soon, not least for telling the House of Commons, ‘Of course we paid the police for information’ before James put his hand over her microphone and said, ‘Just to clarify that, Mr Chairman….’

And in Brisbane, no polls are published for three weeks during an election.

What is wrong with the following statement? ‘Of course we pay the police for information. But we do not, and we would never pay Newspoll for false information. At that we draw the line.’

All the evidence out of London shows, or tends to indicate, that the Murdochists are addicted to cheating elections (‘Bigotgate’; the hanging-chad Bush Brothers Florida Show; the Obama homosexuality rumours; the millions paid to ‘Fox News Correspondents’ Huckabee, Rove and Palin) and they are cheating this one, as they have cheated others, and the cheat may actually work.

For if the drift back to Labor and the big provincial Katter surge is concealed for a few more days, in a one-paper state, and the likelihood that Newman is losing in Ashgrove is also concealed for a few more days, in a one-paper state, it is possible, just possible, that the LNP will scrape into power minus Newman because of this censoring of the polls.

I ask O’Shannessy to say what he knows.

Or any whistle-blower under him to slip me, or Assange, the concealed raw figures.

Labor on 36 I would guess, LNP on 42, Katter Australian Party on 14, Independents and One Nation on 5, Informal 3. Katter to win four seats and hold the balance of power.

Let’s see if I’m right.

Or perhaps you disagree.

Classic Ellis: We Are Mad To Stay In Afghanistan 31/5/11

After we train them to kill their cousins we can go home, in ten years’ time.

No, after we bomb them into a new religion we can go home, in ten years’ time.

No, no, after we’ve made Kandahar secure and safe for Hazara Shi-ites to live there and intermarry with Sunnis in, say, twenty years’ time then we can go home.

No, no, no, it’s when we’ve taught them, with bombs and bullets, to treat their women better, in, say, forty years’ time, then we can go home.

It will cost us a hundred more soldiers, and a generation of young suicide-bombers attacking our Test Cricket queues, but it’s worth it. You wait and see.

Why are we in Afghanistan?

Why are we in one of America’s religious wars when most Americans want to be out of it? Why are we not bombing Amish, fundamentalist Mormons, Hollywood orgies, Hillsongers, Moonies, wife-sharing Nimbin hippies, pederasts of Pitcairn?

Why are we sending Hazaras back there? Is there no joining of the dots any more? Oh yes, that’s the answer. We went mad on 9/11, didn’t we, and only Julia Gillard has not recovered her perfect mind.

Let me be plain about this. You do not improve the situation of Afghan women by killing their sons and brothers. The Taliban is not a foreign invader, its members are family. You do not make friends by blowing up wedding parties and offering three thousand dollars as recompense for a little girl who will never grow up, and marry, and have children of her own. You do not win friends that way.

So what is the plan, Prime Minister? Three soldiers’ funerals a month is fine with you, is it, and the tears and plaints of the bereaved? You can go on saying, can you, that Bin Laden’s assassination made the world a safer place? How long does this madness go on? When do we start bombing Pakistan? Oh, sorry, we already are.

How long, oh Lord, how long does this weeping madness go on? This is a religious war, a post-Christian Crusade against pious, prayerful, bread-winning men who barter their daughters, have four wives at once, discard them at will, refuse them literacy, stone them to death for holding hands with a foreigner. But is this our army’s business? Is it not rather Four Corners’ business? How is it our army’s business? How?

Is it worth killing two more Australians for? Even one? Is the Karzai Drug Syndicate worth it? Why?

Let’s imagine we had never gone there. Never flattened a mud-hut country. Never punished Afghanistan for ‘harbouring’ a man already in Pakistan. Never killed twenty thousand children (or is it forty thousand? or only ten?) with our bombing raids and house-searches and helicopter-gunships and sniping and drone attacks on the wrong villages. What would that have meant? If we had not done that?

Well, twenty thousand more children, and sixty thousand more adults, would be alive today and seeking happiness in their own particular, local, traditional, primitive way. One hundred adulteresses would have been stoned or decapitated. Two million women refused a literate schooling.

The opium trade, closed down by the Taliban, would be smaller now, and the Ice trade, probably, bigger. Fewer Americans, ten thousand perhaps, would have died of heroin. Osama Bin Laden would not now be the Arab Che, and suicide bombing would not have become the preferred indoor sport of twenty million teenage males.

And an evil regime … would have continued, sure. Persecuting women, slaughtering those Hazaras who did not get away to Australia, seizing their abandoned farms. But trade sanctions would have been put on this evil regime, and al-Jazeera, CNN and BBC would have revealed its horrors.

Two hundred thousand more Hazaras would be living in Australia, slaughtering cattle and running small businesses in country towns and mastering grade cricket. America would not be bankrupt, Australia would be two billion richer.

Increasing numbers in the Muslim world would not be strapping on bombs and howling jihad. And an Arab Spring would, perhaps, have erupted five years earlier. David Hicks would not now be a magnificent, moody celebrity, nor Julian Assange a sexy global hero in peril of his life. Kim Beazley would be in the tenth year of his prime ministership and the Liberal Party a squabbling, shrinking irrelevance led by Eric Abetz.

And yet we are in Afghanistan, when no Labor voter wants us to be there, Prime Minister.

What are we gaining there? What good are we doing? How many tens of thousands of children must we kill before you get it into your skull that we should not be there? If we were not there, a widening Arab Spring might well by now have destabilised its tyrannous government, and a memory of the civilisation there in the 1960s bestirred a new generation. There might be some hope there.

And yet we are staying.

And Improvised Explosive Device by Improvised Explosive Device observing our best men die, and their women weep at the funerals and hate you for being there.

Are we mad?

Or is it only you?

The Usual Murdoch Dirty Tricks (17): Lies, Damned Lies And O’Shannessy

Five hundred thousand voters deserted Labor last week according to Newspoll. Do you know any of these people? Yet Gillard picked up four hundred thousand new admirers according to Newspoll. Do you know any of these people? A million voters were uncommitted or wouldn’t say who they were voting for; yet Newspoll can say FOR CERTAIN that the Coalition were eight hundred thousand votes ahead. Of twelve million voting, one million won’t say who they’re voting for. Yet Newspoll knows for sure that Tony Abbott, who’s less popular than Gillard according to Newspoll, is a shoo-in.

This is because the Coalition gets 53 percent against Labor 47 percent two party preferred, or so Newspoll asserts; two party preferred; although the Coalition consists of four parties, Liberal, National, LNP and Rogue National (Tony Crook) and the Australian Federal Parliament of eleven parties, count them. It’s somehow thought by Newspoll that the idea of ‘two party preferred’ means something. How can it? There are eleven parties. How can it mean anything at all? Just asking. Just asking.

And the margin of error on the 47 to 53 is three percent, which means the vote could be fifty-fifty. No mobile phones were rung, eliminating a whole generation. And even on this shonky count Labor was no worse off than last time, on 47 percent again.

Yet Newspoll is certain Labor is losing. Labor Bounce Reversed, the headline says. Previous headlines said Labor Tearing Itself Apart, though its vote went up, not down in the last six weeks. A ‘Rudd bump’ was at first said to be the reason why Labor was on 47 again. But whent Rudd went away it stayed on 47. Curiouser and curiouser. (A Carr bump, perhaps.)

So Gillard’s vote went up while Labor’s went down, Newspoll says. Wow. What is the explanation for this astonishing contradiction?

Well, one theory is Newspoll is lying sometimes, not always, on O’Shannessy’s orders; or Murdoch’s. Lying perhaps about the 47 for Labor but not the 39 for Gillard and 37 for Abbott as Prime Minister. Lying not in the detail but in the bottom line.

Or, let’s put it another way.

Labor to get 47 would have to be doing well in Queensland and New South Wales. Yet Newspoll shows them in big trouble in both places. So, um, what’s happening really? Is there something occurring out there which Newspoll, deliberately or unintentionally, is not picking up? or knows and is concealing?

I think there is, and my evidence is an absence for three weeks, DURING AN ELECTION, of a poll on voting intentions in Queensland. Why has no Newspoll on this been published? During an election?

Clearly Katter’s party is doing very, very well, and O’Shannessy doesn’t want us to know this. And this is why we aren’t seeing any Newspolls from Queensland. Any poll showing Katter on 14 percent (my estimation), or, after the Capbell-Newman-favours-gay-marriage ad, 18 percent, would start a rush towards his party that would utterly disrupt, like Pauline Hanson, the whole election and preserve, maybe, Anna Bligh in power.

And that would never do.

And this is why (maybe) the loyal Murdochist O’Shannessy is suppressing polls that even he can’t tweak or redo that show an Eleventh Party in our politics about to mess things up for the LNP and its greasy stowaway leader Newman, already in trouble in a seat he has never held and already in big trouble over municipal kickbacks, a family member in the FBI’s crosshairs and promising to attack gay marriage although he believes in it.

I can be wrong about this. But Newspoll under O’Shannessy seems to me to be every bit as crooked as its principal client the Murdoch newspapers, thirty of whose more prominent bosses are under arrest in England. He may be no more crooked than that, and he may be much less crooked than that, or not crooked at all, not even a little bit, but his apparent manipulation of Newspolls lately — particularly the Boat People one, where only those voters who didn’t want them here had their opinions recorded; or so, in this column, thus far uncontradicted, it seemed to me — show his figures to be nearly worthless, and so manipulated to favour the Coalition (two party preferred indeed, there are eleven parties with sitting members in Canberra, get it right) as to be very, very suspicious.

Or perhaps you disagree.

Classic Ellis: Soldier From The Wars Returning: Paul Haggis’s In The Valley Of Elah

Courage; patience; comradeship; stoicism in the jaws of death; unflinching obedience to even lunatic orders: such qualities fit a soldier for battle but not for anything much that comes after. In trailer parks with shrewish wives, in shopping malls on the night shift doing security, in topless bars after midnight, the War comes back to accuse them, mock them, and they can do, they really can do something stupid. This is the warrior’s fate, his albatross, and he is never entirely happy, or entirely free of haunting faces again.

Oscar laureate Paul Haggis’s fine film In the Valley of Elah (a reference to the place where David killed Goliath with a stone from a slingshot) is about these things. It shows how spiritually shattered soldiers are today, when they come back from a War nobody likes to an army base near the Mexican border and go out carousing in the drab, adjacent, prefabricated, featureless country town, with its elderly topless waitresses, all-night gun shops and Colonel Sanders Super Specials, and how such a night out on the tiles might finish if you’re unlucky.

This is a fine, upsetting film whose end I shouldn’t tell you. Tommy-Lee Jones whose pitted, Homeric face and radiant stillness if cast in bronze would remind you equally of Bogart, Cooper, John Huston, Sterling Hayden, or a Roman statue of a wounded gladiator, plays with his usual rugged, iconic magnetism a sort of inverse Hamlet, a man in search of the killer of his son – whom he, a career soldier, encouraged into the army and did not extract from Iraq when he could have, and now can’t find out what happened to him.

Was Mike into drugs, he wonders? Did an unpaid vengeful courier kill him? What was the trauma in Baghdad that so unsettled his mind? Heat-scrambled moving images in his cell-phone are slowly clarified throughout the film and the answer, finally, is revealed to Hank, the grieving, tightly disciplined father.

Though spare, bleak, narrationless and often wordless, it ranks with The Best Years of Our Lives as a chronicle of scarred homecoming. The dehumanisation, the barbarising, of the dull-witted small-town boys, latter-day Anzacs you might call them, whom Iraq turns into lonely, bewildered, murderous droids is pitilessly explored, as is the stubborn phlegmatic army bureaucracy that won’t let Hank near the truth since military procedure is all arse-covering spin these days when a war goes wrong, as Iraq has gone wrong, a war that tried to ‘bring democracy to a shit-hole’ and failed. No-one wants to go there; no-one wants to talk about it; don’t mention the War. Anything, moreover, that happens on army land is no concern to civilians; fuck off.

Charlize Theron who plays Emily, a lovely female cop with a little boy, ill-temperedly assists the stoic Hank in his Lear-like search for solace, explanations, forgiveness; too beautiful for the role she plays, a role that seems inserted on the studio’s insistence, give us some sexual tension you bastard, there’s too much grim truth here, lighten up, she is nonetheless convincingly hard-bitten, foul-mouthed, motherly and moving. James Franco, Jason Patric and Wes Chatham are astonishingly good as Mike’s buddies, vacant of feature, bereft of feeling, icily smiling, empty of content, brutalised by experiences no-one else can imagine.

Susan Sarandon is even better as Hank’s wife and Mike’s mother, who, having lost both sons now, not to the heat of battle but to random pointless incidents, a helicopter crash in America, a murder in America, berates him down the phone. ‘Why didn’t you leave me one?’ she asks. ‘Just one of my boys?’

Even the Reverend Jeremiah Wright cannot surpass the eloquence of this anti-combat sermon; like O What A Lovely War, it pretty much says it all.

It’s possible I guess that this particular war – plus the swamping of New Orleans, the regular high school massacres and the derision greeting Bush’s threats to Burma, Lebanon, Zimbabwe, Iran – have caused a change in American cinema in these past few years, which is films with unhappy endings; tragedies, we used to call them.

Where once we saw aggressive American know-how arriving in the nick of time in successive DieHards, Batmans and Indiana Joneses we now see fraught and muddied bewilderment – in Crash, Rendition, Flags of Our Fathers, Mystic River, No Country for Old Men, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward, Robert Ford – and successive macho thickwits unable to sort things out. A nation of fugitive pilgrims in quest of a clean, well-lighted place, a shelter from the storm, or a pillar of fire to lead them through the wilderness, they trusted once in the cop on the beat, the army sergeant, the parish priest, the President, to guide them through the tempest, the blizzard, the tumbling skyscrapers on the day of ash and fury, but they can find no such saviour now. Like Estragon and Vladimir, like Feste and Buster Keaton – and Tommy-Lee Jones in his two recent films – they survey with iguana eyes a featureless desolation and offer their hip-flask to strangers in the hope of finding a friend.

Their universe is godless now and they’re scared, deathly scared.

As I Please: Last Drinks In Afghanistan, Time To Go Home (3): The ‘Crazed Killer’ Theory, One More Time

Note well how the Panjway massacre is the work of a rogue soldier not a terrorist. America does not do terrorism. Though the Osama Bin Laden assassination was precisely that, and the drone killings of the various al-Qaeda leaders are precisely that, and Shock And Awe in its very nomenclature was precisely that, and self-described as precisely that, shock and awe, America is not a terrorist nation. Terrorism is what Muslims do.

Breivik was not a Christian terrorist but a ‘crazed killer’. Though he had a political agenda and proclaimed it and shot a lot of people in pursuit of it, Labour people, that is, people who opposed his fascist party, he was not, is not, could not be, could never be, a terrorist, no, no way. Terrorist has a religious, and sometimes racist, connotation, and we do not believe in it.

Though what the US does every week in Pakistan, a country the US is not at war with, is nothing else but terrorism — remote controlled rockets taking our selected houses or moving vehicles and killing women and children in them — it is not a terrorist nation.

My contention is that it is, and has been so since it bombed Hiroshima and thereby terrified the world. Terrorism is an act that induces terror in those who hear about it, and every H-bomb test and every undeclared small war in the Carribean and South America, every armed attack on a sect like the Branch Davidian, has been terrorist in intention and effect.

And so alas were a good few things Australians have done, like attacking at midnight the wrong house and killing two little girls in it who were there for their cousin’s wedding and sharing a bed. This, we were told, was ‘acting appropriately according to the guidelines in difficult circumstances’. No doubt Mohamed Atta thought he was too.

Not that it matters. Not that it matters. On that of which we must not speak we must henceforth keep silence. Terrorism is what brown heathens do. Not us.

And so it goes.