Monthly Archives: April 2012

Certain Housekeeping Matters (3): The Quality Of Mercy, Updated

On advisement by my lawyers and after a few Pernods with friends I have decided to commute the sentences of Simon, Frank and the others and ban them till only June 25. Until then I will ruthlessly erase whatever they send in.

If they are clever, and they get up very early, they will be visible for three or four hours.

But then they will be gone.

So let it be written, so let it be done.

The Usual Murdoch Dirty Tricks (37): The Strange Case Of Craig’s Tainted Vote

It’s the Murdoch technique to announce a new rule, and pretend it’s always been in force. Yesterday it was declared by their people that a vote for a piece of government legislation should be rejected (it was not said how) by that government if the member of parliament in question was suspected of something or other but not charged with it yet.

This is a really new rule. Because when Mark Vaile and Alexander Downer were suspected of giving two hundred and ninety-seven million dollars to Saddam Hussein their votes were accepted, and not questioned, by John Howard or Peter Costello.

Tony Abbott did not speak up against their tainted votes, nor Eric Abetz.

They should reflect on this, I think.

Or perhaps you disagree.

And, oh yes. How do you, constitutionally, reject a vote on the floor of the House of a duly elected Member of Parliament? How do you do that? He can vote as he likes, can he not? What business is it of yours? The Speaker, perhaps, can throw him out. But why would she?

What an immense breach of the Constitution is being suggested here.

And not one reporter has taken note of it.


The Crabb Wars (2): Annabel And The Mad Assassins

In a week when Rupert Murdoch said he had never asked a favour from a British Prime Minister, ever, it seems unusually dotty for the apparently intelligent Annabel Crabb to be touting the Murdoch line that there are no conspiracies, ever.

There are, in fact, a lot of conspiracies. The following twenty seem to be true.

(1) A CIA-Navy Seal conspiracy that took out Osama Bin Laden.

(2) A Blair-Bush-Rice-Rumsfeld-Murdoch-Howard conspiracy that bombed and shot up Iraq and killed or displaced four million people on fabricated evidence of atomic bombs that were not there.

(3) A conspiracy of Saudis that brought down the Twin Towers and gutted the Pentagon and caused a sort of World War that bombed, aberrantly, Kabul and killed or displaced a million Afghans.

(4) A conspiracy involving Linda Tripp, Kenneth Starr and Newt Gingrich that impeached Bill Clinton and sought to depose him over a legal act of sex with an adult, and instal as President Al Gore.

(5) A conspiracy of Kerr, Barwick, Murdoch, Withers and Fraser that destroyed Gough Whitlam.

(6)  A conspiracy involving Sirhan Sirhan — a Palestinian terrorist — and some unknown people, one of whom invited Bobby Kennedy into the kitchen where Sirhan shot him.

(7) A conspiracy involving J. Edgar Hoover, some FBI people and James Earl Ray that shot and killed Martin Luther King.

(8) A conspiracy involving Jack Ruby and some CIA and Mafia people (Jack was Mafia) that killed Lee Harvey Oswald.

(9) A conspiracy involving Oswald, some Cuban people, some CIA and some Mafia people that killed President Kennedy and washed the crime scene, a car, of its blood and bits of bullet and brain and destroyed the film of the autopsy.

(10) A conspiracy involving Robert Menzies and Lyndon Johnson that with a forged letter of invitation got Australia into the Vietnam War.

(11)  A conspiracy involving J. Edgar Hoover and some FBI people who hounded the ‘left-leaning’ Jean Seberg to suicide.

(12) A series of conspiracies involving Senator Joe McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover, Darryl F. Zanuck, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan that destroyed the careers of hundreds of left-leaning directors, writers and actors in Hollywood.

(13) A conspiracy involving Harry S Truman and some State Department people that denied Charlie Chaplin his US passport, tore down his statues and ended, at 62, his Hollywood career.

(14) A conspiracy involving Rommel, Boenhoeffer, Von Stauffenberg and many, many army officers that failed to blow up Adolf Hitler.

(15) A conspiracy between Hitler and some army officers which began the unjustified assault on the Gdansk Post Office which began World War 2.

(16) A conspiracy of six young Serbian students who shot and killed Archduke Ferdinand and his bride and caused a war that killed fifty million people.

(17) A conspiracy of French army officers that framed, shamed and imprisoned Alfred Dreyfus.

(18) A conspiracy of disgruntled Southerners that killed President Abraham Lincoln and injured Secretary of State James Seward.

(19) A conspiracy involving Henry II and some knights that killed Thomas a’ Becket in his cathedral.

(20) A conspiracy of Senators that killed, with twenty-nine stab wounds, Julius Caesar.

A total of one hundred million people died as a result of these conspiracies and Annabel titters at the very idea that conspiracies exist. She has bought, it seems, the whole Murdoch mendacity hook, line and sinker.

It is very hard to think of a major negative event that was not the result of a conspiracy. The killing of John Lennon, two failed attempts on Gerald Ford and one on Ronald Reagan seem to have been by lone madmen, and, lately, Anders Breivik’s murder of eighty Young Labour people. Charles Bremer’s wounding of George Wallace…

But the list is at that point almost at an end.

One hundred million others died as a direct result of a conspiracy, or a number of conspiracies.

And Annabel, a nice girl, has been suckered in, as many have, by Rupert Murdoch.

And she should apologise for being so silly, and girly, and dim-witted, now.

The Usual Murdoch Dirty Tricks (36): Scratching Rupert’s Back In The Present Millennium

Murdoch on Thursday said the world worked on scratched backs but he had never scratched one. David Cameron said today he had asked Murdoch for his support in the 2010 election but he, Murdoch, had asked for nothing in return. Murdoch, who made no protest when Gordon Brown was bugged in his car by Sky News, claims to have not known, and now to be shocked by, three thousand other acts of bugging and hacking by his people.

Lies as big as this are being told by Murdoch, his genial beam in place, and, though no-one in the world believes them, not one of the seven billion people on this planet, a form of ritual religious observance is taking place. His ten thousand reporters are behaving as though his testimony has credibility and his judgment, this last year, has been sound.

And they are simultaneously scoffing at Julia Gillard’s judgment and credibility, and are saying she should go because she has none, or very little.

The question they should be asked today by Swanny and Shorten and Albo is, ‘Do you have total confidence in Rupert Murdoch? Do you think he should go, or stay?’

The confusion on their twisted faces will be a rare joy to behold.

It is a fascinating moment in media history, much like the moment when Pius IX declared that he was infallible. The aghast genuflecting world-wide obeisance in his people made, at that point, his religion ridiculous. Evolution, he added, was wrong, just as Murdoch now says global warming is wrong; or the WMD may still be found; or James has more administrative ability than any other person available to do his job.

It is no accident Rupert is known as the Prince of Darkness. The Darkness is a biblical idea that means, at its heart, the Kingdom of Lying. He presides there, as has no other ruler since Octavian Caesar Augustus, the first man elected a god by a majority Senate vote.

Let us all bow down therefore and worship him, just a little while longer.

You too, Paul Kelly.

You too.

Classic Ellis: Kids These Days, 1999

I have a twenty-year-old son and an eighteen-year-old daughter, and among their friends are some of the finest people I know. Their stoicism, their grace, their humour, the wily courage with which they have greeted the stacked deck that history has dealt them, undercuts any pride or smugness I might have, because they are better people.

I had a choice of careers, and they have none of that. I knew if I quit a job on Friday I could certainly have, if I wanted it, another job on Monday week – I did this twice – and to them this is inconceivable. I knew I could strive in my life to do the kind of work that suited me, and I had a fair chance of getting that kind of work, and to them that is a preposterous fantasy. I knew I would certainly make enough money to buy a house and raise a family and put them through university, and they dare not even think of that.

And yet they look forward, with a kind of joshing hope, to the one life they will have on this earth, in an era not of their choosing. They look forward to, at best, an uncertain series of part-time jobs in different parts of the world and an abiding hobby – in music, surfing, writing, ecological protest, iridology, fly-fishing, late night conversation, romantic love – that will give their existence meaning for a decade or two, and then who knows? Perhaps they will own a few acres then, and will be growing and sharing radishes when the Great Bust comes. Perhaps they will be busking. Perhaps, at last, the song they wrote this year will be a hit, or the computer game they are still perfecting, or the better beer they are hoping to brew by then. Or perhaps they will be starving, or dead of chemical misadventure, but…them’s the breaks.

If courage is grace under pressure, they have it. They have done their hundred and ten job interviews, and have been turned down. They have dressed up, and pretended, and come away rejected, and had a drink and got up the next morning. They have auditioned for NIDA, and narrowly missed. They have mixed martinis in a boutique bar that soon went broke. They have fossicked for gold beyond Kalgoorlie and found none.

And now we are lecturing them on Mutual Obligation: they must be thrilled with that. For they have put in the hard yards, in thirteen years of imprisonment in schools in crowded classrooms with overworked teachers, in obsolescent courses that led nowhere. They believed us when we told them this misery meant, at the end of it, fulfilment in life. A job. A career. A family. Continuity. Hope of personal triumph. And now they have done the hundred and ten job interviews, and found we were lying. At least one half of that Mutual Obligation is ours, and we have not delivered. And they do not trust us anymore, or believe anything that we are saying. And why should they? We have told them lies.

I love these young people and their courage and their grace, but I know now having watched them that we are losing more and more of them year by year – to drink, to heroin, to a kind of rootless euphoria that keeps them hitch-hiking with a surfboard, a guitar, a smoking habit, a dream of the Good Place they will not find. To the sullenness that follows thwarted love. To the crazier political movements. To sudden bursts of petty crime and AIDS in gaol. To suicide in the spare room of a friend.

And part of our Mutual Obligation is to understand that this is not their fault. Illiteracy is at least in part the fault of the bad schools we have given them, or of moving from school to school as their parents lose their jobs and move on. Lack of career ambition is at least in part the fault of us not giving them any real hope of career, as I once knew it, or of choice of work, as I once knew it. The accusing finger points, and it points at us.

Or it points at those economic fashions that are ripping all hope from the modern world – and restoring slavery under the usual euphemisms of work for the dole, or privatised prisons, or illegal immigrant labour, or unpaid overtime, or the free-market cargo cult that asks us to freely compete with slaves by becoming slaves ourselves, and to cop the sack from more and more places of work as the only hope for full employment at some time as yet unknown in the pig-flying future.

I love these young people – or I love the friends of my children that I know – and one by one I see that I am losing them. They might have done well in the end, had they survived. They might have had children themselves, that they would have loved. And they probably will not. I mourn them already. And I hate the society that is inch by inch eroding their self-esteem and wasting their talents and their stoicism and grace and is now persecuting them for merely being born with hypocritical word games – mutual obligation, tough love, compassion with a hard edge, downsizing, workplace efficiency – worthy of Georgian England, where nine-year-old children were hanged for stealing purses to feed their parents and siblings, and prayers uttered up from the gallows for their souls.

It is time the lying stopped, and the hypocrisy and the tyranny. It is time, and time already, for a Sorry Day for our young. They are better people than we will ever be, and we are wrecking most of them, and slowly killing some of them, day by day.

The Slipper-Thomson Sideward Shuffle (1)

Gillard’s new chess move this morning will hold things for a while. But it does show, once again, how much better a politician I am than she. (I told her to have the election in October not August; to debate Abbott three times not once; to make Debus Attorney General and Kerr Minister for Justice and so keep their seats and a Labor majority and never, never have Andrew Wilkie to deal with because he wouldn’t be in parliament). I expressed the view last year when all this was cobbled up that Harry Jenkins was the most respected man in the building apart from Bob Brown and John Faulkner and losing him was a great stupidity. He radiated integrity, and Slipper (a sleeper, my wife suggested) radiated imminent trouble.

And so it has proved. The thing to do, I suggested, was to offer him a minor ministry, or create one like Jim Hacker’s, a Minister Without Portfolio who filled in for other ministers unable alas to make the sewage treatment facility opening or the ethnic dancing, and keep Harry, the parliament’s wellbeloved frowning Eeyore, in his chair, a chair for which he seemed predestined from the beginning of the world.

But no. Once again she, or her gang, would not listen. And once again they are tap-dancing blindfold on the edge of a precipice and trying to smile convincingly.

They got it wrong this morning also. What they had to do was bring Harry back, give Slipper the minor ministry, accept with regret not a resignation from Craig, but a ‘standing aside’, like Slipper’s, from the party till the verdict comes in sometime in 2015.

And announce, of course, a withdrawal by August from Afghanistan.

But they’ve got it wrong again, if course. They’re the Mouse Pack, and it’s what they do. They’re still accepting Rupert’s Rules of what’s a scandal when he himself is straddling two thousand scandals and beaming confidently.

Have they no ear or eye for these things? It seems not.

And it’s a pity.

The True Terrorists

It will be noted by those who can add that bikies have killed more Australians than ‘terrorists’. Dozens more. On the mainland, hundreds more.

Yet bikies are allowed to cross state borders unimpeded. They come in aggressive swarms into country towns unchallenged. They can take their bikes onto the Princess of Tasmania and menace that small island unreproved. They shoot up the homes of rival ‘families’ like mafiosi and all the resources of the State are unable, thus far, to stem the momentum of their random, bullet-flying, neighbourhood-terrorising, almost nightly violence.

If one could play with the figures as statisticians do one could say, with accuracy, that bikies kill hundreds of times, thousands of times, millions of times, more Australians in Australia than ‘terrorists’. Yet billions are spent on worthless weapons of detection and fruitless house-raids in search of one sort of ‘terrorist’ when another sort are blam-blamming away uncorrected.

For bikies are by any definition terrorists too. They terrorise, kidnap, threaten, sell drugs and smuggle weapons as did al-Qaeda and, in the past, the IRA.

Yet because they are home-grown they are treated, or have been thus far treated, as a minor irritant, and ‘terrorists’, that is, swarthy Muslim heathens who may not have been born here, as an international enemy we are at war with. We are in a ‘war on terrorism’ and spending scores of billions on it though it has cost us less lives in a hundred years than car accidents in a month, and relatively relaxed about bikies who continue to kill and scare a lot of us, treating them not as ‘terrorists’ but naughty boys.

Is there a racist component in all this? Of course there is. Is there a culturist component? You bet.

It is racism, and culturism, that is ‘securing our borders’ at a cost of annual billions against a threat that is not there. No Afghans thus far have gone to gaol for violent crimes against Australians; none, I think, in one hundred and seventy years. But lots of Anglo Australians on Harley Davidsons have.

It is only blind prejuduce therefore that is waging this War on Afghans, this War on Tamils, this War on Palestinians whise cost coukd feed and house a football stadium of them for decades.

It is because we are racist idiots like white Alabamans in the 1920s that we are making war on good people, and wrecking the education of their children by locking them up, and letting Anglo hoons blam-blam away unimpeded, terrorising, literally terrorising, hundreds of thousands of us.

We are as shameful a country as that.


Classic Ellis: Childhood, 1999

Childhood is not what it was.

I lived in two towns in mine, and in each I had uncles, aunts and cousins in the same street. In one of the towns was a grandma and grandfa, and a mother always home.

We had set meals and family games of Scrabble, and games of neighbourhood cricket, and gatherings of the whole extended family at the beach. Church, too, we had, and the interlacing gossip and loyalties and feuds and picnics religion brings.

Childhood was more populous then. You might have three or four siblings, and five kids in the next yard, and six in the yard beyond. You might have twenty cousins, some your age, in the same district. Blood loyalties were strong, and there was always a favourite, forgiving auntie you could pour out your heart to, then sleep a night on her couch. Neighbours were like aunties, and were called Auntie. If your parents weren’t there, you could go next door and she’d feed you.

Some societies are still like that. Ireland. Calabria. Eritrea. Nepal. Poverty mattered less because there were blood ties and neighbours and an ethic of love. Between a child and hunger or danger there were a lot of adults, adults who really cared.

It’s not like that now, or not very often. Smaller families, working mothers and the commonness of divorce mean childhood is more solitary now. Television makes it less verbal. Computers make it less physical. Children who once would have spent all their daylight hours outdoors playing now spend them in front of a screen, murdering aliens with special weapons or pestering strangers in other hemispheres. They change address more too, as their dads lose jobs and move on, or their mums divorce and move on, and neighbourhood friendships that once lasted lifetimes are episodes now. There are fewer kids on the street, because fewer get born in the first place. Kids stay in more because they feel safer at home. They wait for mum there, behind a closed front door, for mum to come home from work, at the deli or the insurance office.

Because of television, kids know more now. The AIDS campaign revealed anal sex to them, the Lewinsky scandal revealed oral sex. The murder and starvation of Rwanda, the war in the Gulf, made real to them what to us were fuzzy, abstract concepts. War. Death. Famine. The death of children.

Childhood used to be a time of dreaming, of the imagining of infinite possibilities. Reading was a sensual delight in childhood then. You imagined your heroes’ faces, and their mighty deeds. Radio let you do that too. The mind was activated. Dreaming had an edge of amazement to it.

Now the dreams are all prefabricated, put in a blue chip, standardised. Disney dreams. Star Wars dreams. Japanese warrior dreams. Reading is a task, not a pleasure. Not now.

There is, too, a feeling that we never had, a feeling that the future has little hope in it. Because the jobs aren’t there, and the money is less and less, and love won’t last, and a nomad life, moving on and on from job to job and marriage, maybe, to marriage, is maybe all there is. And then there’s the crematorium, and that is that. No heavenly choir. No loved ones waiting beyond the Pearly Gates. Hope gone. April fool.

In the first biblical story Eve and Adam learnt too much, and are ashamed, cast out and know, in grief, of their mortality, because the Tree of Knowledge is full of bad news in the end. Knowledge likewise has polluted childhood, slimed it, in the same way as the apple of knowledge did for Eve. Knowledge is like champagne at first, but it comes with a hangover.

Many children now fourteen have already (amazingly) been through sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, and are wiser for it I suppose, but it’s too early. Many children of eight have already, through The Simpsons and South Park, learned too much disgust with the world. It improves their sense of humour, but it makes more desolate their little souls.

I hope I’m wrong. I don’t think I am. Sometimes, at Christmas, among the extended family I see them as children ought to be, opening presents, playing with the baby, curled up on the bed with grandma, lighting candles, singing carols and putting on puppet shows, squealing down the waterslide. There should be more years of this, not less.

But the information revolution and economic rationalism is ending all this, and much else too. Soon – it is pretty certain – as the laws of employment slacken and competition heats up, child labour will be back, overt and covert, as it was in the days of the cotton mills and the chimney sweeps, as it is now on the few small farms remaining and the seven-day-a-week small family stores, slavery in all but name.

Kids are tougher now, but scareder too. They see their role models daily get the sack, their overworked teachers haggard in the street. They hear of pederast priests and incest and youth suicide and Stolen Children and computer crime and a Global Economy where the rich, the lucky, the crooked survive. They have no belief now, as we did, in the power of prayer. They have no belief in the wisdom of their elders. They can operate a computer, their elders often cannot. They have no eternal scenario they can book into, in this world or the next. They can get the same rush of joy from a drug or a song or a movie, they know that. They live for the moment. The moment may be all there is.

I mourn all this, and I yearn for better times. I wish there were some place in my country, and maybe there is, in Burringbar perhaps, or Boonah, where things are roughly as they were. But I fear for our children, and the Great Bust that is coming that will overwhelm so many them, and convince a lot more not to have children themselves.

The ghost of that certainty is reaching its bony hand back into their childhood, even now. They know there is not much out there. The door is locked, and the computer busy, and the aliens hurling themselves before the zapping weapons that will provide a little victory, just this once.

Some Reflections On Anzac Day From Some Thoughtful Respondents

hempanon April 25, 2012 at 11:27 am

I dodged the Vietnam bullet by being lucky enough to avoid conscription. The youth of my day were all too aware that war is the ultimate obscenity but today’s youth attend dawn Anzac services proudly wearing the medal of some dead relative while others go off like pilgrims to celebrate our defeat at Gallipoli.

A touch too Orwellian for me where death is glorious, defeat is victory and peace can only be attained through war. My immediate reaction to yet another death in Afghanistan is to shout at the TV….. STUPID IDIOT !

Meanwhile, those poor young fools who survive return home only to be eke out their days in their own private hell.

Canguro April 25, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Hempanon, what would you have done, had your marbled number had been pulled from the barrel?

The option of conscientious objector existed, and I’m wondering how many young men went down the rabbit hole when they learnt they were to be conscripted to fight in this war that posed no clear and present threat to the Australian community.

It’s striking how obedient we are, that we would so easily obey a diktat to abandon our circumstances, don the uniform, have our heads shorn and then after a period of preparation be sent to act as targets for hostile strangers who naturally resented our presence in their country.

If one puts oneself in the shoes of the invaded, it’s an easy stretch to see that the act of defense of one’s homeland under those circumstances is natural and desirable, and why not? You’d be mad not to, as it’s said. But to be packed off to fight in another country that has no interest in ours, no interest in expansion or invasion, simply to be fodder for the foe because of a clash of political ideology and cultural integrity, no, no, and a thousand times no. Jesus wept, that we might one day collectively develop the spine and fortitude to stand up to the decision-makers and force them to confront alternatives to the ongoing military madness that so debases us as supposed intelligent and sensitive creatures.

hempanon April 25, 2012 at 3:49 pm]

I suspect that at age 20 I might have copped it sweet and joined the ranks of the other brand new cannon fodder. I was a late developer, particularly politically, and still hadn’t worked out that my Menzies obsessed parents were barking up the wrong tree. A year or so later things were very different and I maintained the rage for many years.

Yes, the kiddies are compliant and mostly put the uniform on without much complaint which is surely an indication that the education system is ‘working’. Thank God Gough turned up in 1972 to put a stop to the insanity.

Doug Quixote April 25, 2012 at 6:05 pm

Hear Hear Hempanon. Gough got in and ended the ridiculous conscription system that even the Army did not want, in excellent time to save me from the machine; not only that, he enabled me to go to university at a time when my parents would have really struggled to enable it, and that is not mentioning all the wonderful reforms to health, family law and trade practices which were 20 years overdue.

David Black April 25, 2012 at 11:54 am

Once when I found myself in the middle of the dreary city of Newcastle, I discovered a WW1 memorial to the men of Newcastle who had “Died For The Honour of The British Empire.”

Why would anyone risk one’s life for that?

Australians in those days, thinking themselves as basically British, were probably different then.

Doug Quixote April 25, 2012 at 9:34 pm ]

Exactly that David. We were the South British. Our troops were the Australian Imperial Forces and ‘imperial’ meant just that : the forces of the empire, Australian contingent.

James April 25, 2012 at 12:54 pm

ABC TV began its Anzac Day program this morning with a portentous declaration that Anzac Day was a “uniquely Australian” day. What’s your analysis of this, Bob?

Bob Ellis April 25, 2012 at 4:10 pm

It’s the only national holiday that celebrates a defeat. There is in England no Titanic Day, in France no Surrender To Hitler Day.

We have no Granville Train Disaster Holiday, nor even one for the Newcastle earthquake.

But we have this one. Because it was the first big defeat that killed or crippled, probably, one quarter of our fit young men.

And since this is an impossible for us to live with, we have to pretend it was a victory of some kind, a test passed.

James April 25, 2012 at 5:31 pm

You’ve missed the point. The letters NZ in Anzac stand for another country that observes Anzac Day as a national holiday. I had hoped you would have something to say about the mindset that allowed the ABC to put its lie to air.

Your own points are well made, though. France could well observe its own counterpart to Anzac Day. The number of Frenchmen killed at Gallipoli was nearly as great as Australians and New Zealanders combined.

Certain Housekeeping Matters (2): A Warning To My More Pernicious Enemies

My respondents have heated up as they do from time to time and are now yelling and fighting and calling each other cunts and saying boo sucks Labor is on the way out everywhere.

It’s an old right wing technique. You distract and busy the enemy with matters other than policy, with personal attack and fabricated scandals (Slipper, Strauss-Kahn, Edwards, Lewinski) and remove him/her from contention with a tsunami of graffiti, nudges and blithering.

In the Gillard Government’s case it is an attempt — and it may succeed — to ‘overshadow’ with a charge of sexual harassment a hundred and sixty good laws and the best economy in the world and the first significant hobbling of the tobacco industry and its murderous daily worldwide poisoning of children, and give an impression that a good and busily achieving government is incompetent and tottering from crisis to crisis and bring it down. The cry used to be ‘There will never be a Budget surplus from this government.’ Now it’s ‘Peter Slipper’s Cabcharges have brought it to its terminal crisis, resign, resign.’

The hysteria has been well managed and has fooled even Fran Kelly.

But in fact it has no numerical basis. Peter Slipper’s vote will stay with Labor, and the figures are 77-73 on significant legislation with or without him in the chair. If Andrew Wilkie changes his vote, they will be 76-74. If Peter Slipper is no longer Speaker, someone else will be.

And that Speaker has the power to remove, say, Bronwyn Bishop from the House for a week at a time repeatedly and frequently and thus improve Labor’s numbers if Abbott refuses a pair, as he is likely to do, to Bob Carr or Stephen Smith or a sick, miscarrying member.

Because this is what the Liberals are like. They do not build anything (except, in Baillieu’s case, prisons), they do not make anything (name a Liberal-funded Opera House or Snowy River scheme) and prefer to tear things down as a rule (O’Farrell the monorail, Newman Queensland’s literature and its Barrier Reef); they can only work on crisis, and will feverishly forge a crisis wherever they can. War refugees escaping tyranny and seeking a better life for their children is a crisis. Stephen Conroy saying ‘fucking fantastic’ is a crisis. Kevin Rudd saying ‘mate’ to Kerry O’Brien is a crisis, nay, a ‘meltdown’. Belinda Neal speaking sternly to a waiter is a crisis. David Campbell visiting a bath-house is a crisis. But a war for ten years on the wrong country in which a hundred thousand children die is not a crisis, it’s good policy.

Like Murdoch, the Liberals cheat. It’s what they do. And it’s all they do. In the end all they want is CEOs on two thousand dollars an hour to be earning instead three thousand dollars an hour for doing very little work, and this is their guiding theology. And everything else they rail against — the arts, the friends of the forests, Slipper’s Cabcharges, Broadband- are a smokescreen over that mindless greed for more and more money for fewer and fewer people and everybody else replaced by machines or in the servant class as they were in Edwardian times.

Let my smirching, harassing respondents know therefore from this time forward that I am on to them, and whenever they advert overweeningly to personality not policy I will delete their contributions. They will not scare away my intelligent readers with an impression of carnage, obscenity, rapine, panty-sniffing and mindless riot. It may work with Peter Slipper and ruin him. It will not work with me.

They have been warned.

Classic Ellis: Rats in the Ranks, The Movie, 1996

A day later I rang Chris Noonan and he, like me, had been thinking of little else. It was a film, he agreed, that got up with you when you left the cinema and followed you home; it sat by the bed while you struggled for sleep and looked at you searchingly with one hand on its knee; it was one of the best films, we both averred, we had seen in the past ten years.

It was Rats in the Ranks of course, the stupendously patient Connollys’ ill-titled chronicle of the contest for Mayor of Leichhardt in 1994, already a ferocious talking point on its opening night when we saw it, alongside its alert, unsettled lead actors – diminished and humanized and smaller, it seemed, in the foyer – and we went to a bash with them afterwards, a few blocks down the street in Glebe; a talking point among people uncertain of why they were impressed.

Some thought it amazing such folk would so nakedly expose their own Machiavellian duplicity, as they repeatedly regrouped and went back on solemn oaths and slagged each other’s character so poisonously on film. Others thought it amazing that the stars defamed would not have attempted legally to abort its opening night or censor its more rancorous contents. How could working politicians, they wondered in sympathetic anguish, be so careless of their political future? (This latter group were then flabbergasted to hear that the Labor Party proposed to screen the film at fundraisers.)

Others, like Sydney’s Lord Mayor Frank Sartor (completely recovered, unlike me, from our eight-hour night on the family grappa a year ago), were handsomely unfazed. It had been exactly like that with him, he said, not knowing till the last minute whose votes had actually changed, and whether the weeks of schmoozing had worked. It was for this very reason, he said, he had importuned Bob Carr to change the system to one of direct election by the mere ignorant populace. Working with fratricidal shifting caucuses of three was just too fucking hard.

Some, like Trevor Snape, one of the unveiled participants, found it a little shallow. Those weeks were not entirely consumed, he said, with jostling for personal aggrandisement and catharsis. They were also putting in long hours of benevolent committees, assessing and allaying the woes of our constituents, writing reports and tending their families. There were a million other stories in the naked municipality. This was just one of them.

All, however, had in their ruminations missed the cause, I think, of the film’s popularity, which is race memory, Australian race memory at the least. These were people we already knew – Auntie Min and Flash Harry, Mervyn the gawky swot and Edna the phlegmatic washwoman, Frank the sly old lag, and the enflamed, moustachioed, hubristic stevedore Jim – from the Anglo-Celtic village all we pre-1915 immigrants sailed from and now in remembrance yearn for. They need no introduction because we know them so well already – Kate Butler, all tough durable wrinkles and conscienceful dignity, who believes it’s her turn to be Mayor; Evan Jones, the sardonic, spade-faced Labor stalwart nearing ninety who has seen it all; Neil McIndoe, a driven, red-mustachioed equivalent of Yosemite Sam, who is feeling lucky and wins the draw from the hat; Trevor Snape, the conscience-wrung young Labor schnook, all spectacles, elbows and indecision; Kate Harding, well over a hundred, who still pines dreamily for chains of office; and Larry Hand.

Larry I’d call a remarkable creation if he were merely a work of art. As a real person he pulls off the hard double of being both quite astonishing and very familiar – and much more troublingly likeable than the ‘low-rent version of Francis Urquhart from House of Cards’ that Phillip Adams so warmly hailed him to as, to Larry’s visible pleasure, on opening night.

He looks like a dark-eyed Gene Hackman and acts like, well, a handsomer Richard III, grinning with radiant ruefulness every time it seems (once more) certain he can’t arm-twist the needed numbers to his faltering cause. At once dauntless and stoic, unflappable, mock heroic and matey, quietly contemptuous too of his own dull, tugging powerlust, he behaves throughout with such admirable, gallant shiftiness (assuring telephoned reporters this is off the record mate, with the cameras ceaselessly roll) that I yearned by film’s end to run him for Mayor of the Universe, were that position vacant, and write his mighty inauguration speech. He’d win in a walk, of course, so thoroughly, archetypally, unrepentently, intergalactically is he the thing itself, Political Man, deftly offering you a crumbly cigar. He was there beside the campfires of the Euphrates Basin in the earliest times, massaging the numbers; he is here, in Leichhardt, now.

The Connollys get all this with a breathtaking minimality, at one time holding an unchanged four-shot for six or eight minutes, knowing the observed human tussle was enough, and subtly underplaying the marvellous time-worn cityscape of white municipal clock tower, mouldy council chambers and gloomy tenement rooms, while using a dramatic structure based, if I’m not mistaken, on High Noon.

This is great anthropology, great political history, and, with its ballad-like singleness of purpose (do not forsake me, oh my numbers), with its ticking-clock chapter headings and occasional shafts of unsettling music, something very close to great cinema. It speaks well of the Australian character that we accept these flawed and clawing, woundable and vengeful human souls as our fellow creatures without self-righteousness or undue mockery, much as we once in times agone copped the womanising of Bob Hawke and the fallen trousers of his majestic predecessor – with amusement, but no moral squint.

This is a decent humanistic forgiving society, unafraid (as in Joh’s Jury, and Blue Murder, and Labor in Power) to advertise its stumbling gaucheries and low cunning, and to laugh at them with unjudgmental fondness, and it makes you sometimes, as in this film, glad to be alive.

The Usual Murdoch Dirty Tricks (35): Rupert’s New ABC Foot-Soldiers

It is a pity Fran Kelly and Michele Grattan have adopted the Murdoch Method of political analysis, however unwittingly. They regard a few saucy text-messages as ‘overshadowing’ a surplus Budget, an end to a war, a potent attack on a cancer-causing drug’s world-wide marketing, an interest rate fall, a salvage of car jobs, a tax on greedy earth-ripping billionaires, a rolling-back of global warming, and so on.

No, the saucy texts overshadow all that. They are a dark day. If Bob Brown had sent them they would have ended his career. Of course they would.

What are they talking about?

They do not change the numbers in the House. The government will not fall. At worse Harry Jenkins, the best Speaker since Federation, will be back for a while. What is the problem?

The problem is, and it always was, the Murdoch Method. Its rules are these. If it is a Labor, or Labor-supporting politician he is either:

(1) A sexual beast;

(2) A corrupt, finagling double-dealer;

(3) Emotionally unstable; or

(4) Senile.

His/her policies must never be mentioned. His/her talent as a speaker, or Speaker. His/her competence as a minister. Those policies of his or hers which, enacted, have improved the world.

The Murdoch Method is to keep political achievement out of politics, and concentrate on private life, dread rumour, hair style and alleged madness.

And, oh yes, mention accurately something he/she has done, and express horror at it.

Thus, David Campbell visited a legal homosexual bath-house, driving a car he was entitled to. Belinda Neal said ‘Do you know who I am?’ to a waiter. John Della Bosca tupped for a while a comedienne. Cheryl Kernot had an affair, at twenty-four, with a nineteen-year-old  man  she had once had taught at school. Bob Carr said ’2001′ instead of ’2000′. Kim Beazley said ‘Karl Rove’ not ‘Rove McManus’. And so on. Shock horror. How dare the taxpayer sustain these vile, mendacious, arse-prodding dodderers any longer? They saved the nation from world recession? That doesn’t count. Shock horror, shock horror, he just said ‘arse’.

No horror was expressed, however, when the married Murdoch tupped, at sixty, a twenty-six-year-old employee. Or when he countenanced the bugging of a sitting Prime Minister’s private conversation in a car and professed shock and horror at the word ‘bigoted’, used accurately, and with its repeated, pummelling headlines brought him down. Or promoted his fool sons to high positions in which they wrecked their several companies and forgave them and thereafter gave them two thousand dollars an hour, or was it only fifteen hundred? Dollars? An hour? For what exactly, their surname?

Or no no. Those things were mere bagatelles. But a saucy text-message, that is a nation-smasher.

Fran and Michele should come to their senses.

Or join the Liberal Party, which is making, thus far, good use of them.

The Ultimate Murdoch Dirty Trick: His Day In Court

‘That’s the way world works, though, isn’t it. You scratch my back, I scratch yours.’ ‘And never in sixty years did you scratch a Prime Minister’s back?’ ‘Never. Not once.’

Strange to see a man whose dialogue I’ve been writing for fourteen months, this Renaissance rogue, this Jacobean shuffler, this Talleyrand-like shrewd survivor, so perfectly in character. The evasive charm. The beautiful voice. The succinctness.

I know him well by now. The selective, horse-wise racetrack gambler. The compulsive poker-player. The crash-through-or-crash man who destroyed Gough Whitlam, created Thatcher, helped cheat Bush into power, bullied Blair into war in Iraq.

And scratched the back of Nixon, who taught him a trick or two. ‘I cut off my right arm. I cut off my left arm.’ ‘The buck stops with me. I failed. I’m sorry.’

He learned well too from Rudd, who showed an Apology is enough, and Compensation doesn’t matter a damn if you look royal enough when saying sorry. If you look like you’re running the Universe, and you believe you are, there’ll always be enough craven forelock tuggers to take you at your word.

Scratch my back. But Thatcher, Bush, Blair, never scratched mine. Never. No way. Impossible. That’s not my way. Look into my eyes. Never.

One commentator said, well, no, he never asked a favour of anyone, but it’s curious how many favours were done for him. The avoidance of due process that gave him The Times. The police provided to protect him at Wapping. The license to broadcast and print after the Sacking, which he discussed face to face with Kerr four months before. The right, as a foreigner, to publish newspapers that Nixon gave him.

Like Richard III and the Jew of Malta, he beguiles us, his sworn foes too. What, hath he crucified a child? Ho ho ho.

He professes shock at the bugging and hacking of some ‘rogue reporters’ as he did not at the ‘tampon’ conversation of Charles and Camilla or the ‘Bigotgate’ bugging that cost Brown five seats and Number Ten, or the false ‘scoop’ that Margaret and Gough were divorcing a week before Labor’s landslide loss in ’75. That dirty trick, and the bare-breasted Page Three girls thirty-eight years ago did not faze him as the Dowler hacking did a year ago. Deeply shocking, deeply shocking, who’d a thunk it? Ever thus, no doubt, did Chairman Mao gasp at the Cultural Revolution. What could my dear wife have been thinking?

Will he get away with it? He might. Leveson seems to like him. It’s hard for even me and Ramsey, his well-informed assassins, to hate him; and the disgusted authors of the forty-five books about him; Willie Shawcross even, the son of the Nuremberg inquisitor who sought to destroy him and then was beguiled into ia sort of hagiography.

At the heart of it, though, are three questions. If he was a profit-seeking businessman only, why did he publish, for decades, papers that lost money? Why did those papers plug violently this politician or that? Why did those politicians give him favours? How did this happen?

It is worth asking, too, if he is simply a profit-seeking businessman, why he repeatedly employs his incompetent sons in high positions when talented people are available? Is this not the essence of corruption? And if he is corrupt in this fundamental way, why not in other places? If he will fix the 2000 election call, which he did, why not lesser elections too?

But the charm is there, the beautiful voice, the impression that he and we are in on this, colleagues, comradoes together. We get the joke, and it’s a good one, he is telling.

How many of us have come to the slaughterhouse believing we shared that joke before we found the joke was on us?

And our guts were all over the floor.

The Slipper Matter Solved Simply By Two Ten-Second Phone Calls

I am on the train from Adelaide to Melbourne experiencing diarrhoea, drinking only non-alcoholic liquids, abjuring all solid food, emailing old friends, reading my wife’s new novel and occasionally dozing.

And it has occurred to me how to solve the Slipper Sex Harassment Paralysis Of Parliament and get the nation, once again, admiring the Swan Budget, the Carr Grand Tour and the Roxon War On The Killer Tobacco, and so on. It is this.

Make Slipper, like Hacker, a Minister Without Portfolio empowered to fill in on public occasions for Ministers absent or indisposed, give him in that capacity a Minister’s wage and announce that Harry Jenkins will be filling in for him as Speaker Pro Tem till Christmas Day.

This will tactically palliate Abbott, who mourned Harry’s passing, and give him no cause to move motions of no confidence in the Speaker, or anybody. And make him very, very angry.

And the interest rates will come down and the Budget pass and the Gillard Government be on the front foot again.

If something of this order does not happen, the business of government can be held up hereafter by frivolous court action whenever an Opposition chooses, by whatever trivial fabrication, to mention a sexual matter.

It will become known as The Slipper Sideward Shuffle and pass amusingly into legend.

Please consider.

Classic Ellis: Gallipoli, The Movie, 1981

I tried to like Gallipoli, but found it shallow, trite and perverse. Everybody disagrees with me, of course, and it will make millions. Let me explain what I mean by perverse
It I were to write a film called The Battle of Britain in which two wacky Geordies rowed a kayak south to enlist in the RAF, you’d say I’d missed the point of the title; or a film called The Battle of Stalingrad, in which two wacky Kossaks drove a rusty tractor west to enlist in the Red Army, you’d say I’d used a trivialising road-film approach to a subject of national catharsis. You’d say I was perverse.

Gallipoli is about two wacky Aussies jumping rattlers and crossing in the Simpson Desert (in ever-diminishing circles) to enlist in the AIF in Perth. It’s well made, beautifully photographed, handsomely mounted, well performed (two actors in it, David Argue and John Morris, are wonderful, and two, Bill Hunter and Bill Kerr, nudge greatness in the roles of a vagabond uncle and a guilt-wrenched officer), badly miscast, lovingly edited, very perverse and fundamentally untrue. Let me say what I mean by untrue.

The young Australian men who volunteered for service in World War I came, as a rule, from families, from communities, from churches and fixed moral universes. They, as a rule, believed in the hereafter, in country, in Empire and were not unaware that war involves the risk of getting killed. Fathers and uncles of theirs fought and died in the Sudan and the Transvaal.

They were a highly literate and verbal generation, too. They knew long ballad poems off by heart. They wrote short stories and poetry, in the snow on Gallipoli beach in The Anzac Book, which is full of admiration of the Turk. ‘But I say, in your own way/ You’ve played the gentleman.’ And they were aware too of their place in world history, and in legend. ‘Across the straits to Soldier Bill/Great Agamemnon lifts his hand.’ They, as a rule, disliked Aborigines. They, as a rule, left girls behind, or dreams of girls.

The film shows little of this. Archy, the central character (Mark Lee), takes a trunk of books with him, but we never see him read any, and his conversation (‘I don’t know all the details exactly, but it’s all the Germans’ fault’) shows him clearly as a drip. He hangs around with Aborigines (‘White men’s company not good enough for you?’) and runs a hundred yards in less than ten seconds (‘Girls run. Men box.’), and forgoes Olympic success to enlist under-age, and under a false name, in the Fifth Light Horse and ruin his sorrowing parents’ lives with his fruitless death in a pointless war. He is, in short, the typical Peter Weir loner, as in Michael, Cars and Wave, suicidally inclined, at odds with his society and worried about himself. What he is doing in a national legend, one said in a fool voice-over to be ‘larger than life’, beats me.

It mightn’t have been too bad if the other characters had been any different. But they are all rather much the same: loners, wayfarers, detached from their communities, without families, without girlfriends, functional atheists, rowdy tourists (they bust up an Egyptian marketplace) and are absolutely astonished by death. They didn’t come from anywhere. They aren’t going anywhere. They resemble closely the usual American road-film heroes, a pair of exuberant kids on an innocent bender, seeing new sights, doing their thing, far out, right on. In so far as it is history at all, it is history adapted to the American teenage market. (Good luck to it, I suppose; that’s the way the world is. I just wish it had been called something else, that’s all.)

Witness the storyline. The two lads are both Olympic material, but Archy, the faster, beats Frank (Mel Gibson) in a country race, on which Frank has bet his life-savings, so he can buy a bike shop. Frank responds to this trauma by forming a deep attachment for the smirking, rose-lipped, beardless devastator of his hopes, and resolves to follow him anywhere in spite of the fact that they disagree on war. Archy wants to go to it, Frank does not, seeing no point in getting killed. None the less he drops everything to help Archy, who’s under-age, to enlist.

They jump a rattler, and on arriving by mistake in Woop Woop attempt to cross the Simpson Desert without supplies. On the point of death they are rescued by an Australian camel-driver (‘Jeez, it must be you blokes’ lucky day’), who rides shimmering out of the desert in a shot stolen from Lawrence of Arabia. When asked by the deeply ignorant camel-driver what the war is all about, Archy says, ‘If we don’t stop them there, they’ll soon be here.’

This logic, and the scorn of passing strangers, the enthusiasm of old mates and his curious affection for Archy convince Frank to enlist, like Archy, in the Fifth Light Horse. It is then revealed in a richly comic sequence that he can’t ride a horse. He has to enlist elsewhere. They race one another to a pyramid and sit atop it together, in the twilight, all but holding hands.

Much moved by this, Frank transfers to Archy’s regiment, on the grounds of the possible military use of his flying feet. They then gatecrash a grand ball, dance with each with an aristocratic female, and sail off refreshed to war. On Gallipoli beach they laughingly greet old friends while shells erupt all round them, killing thousands, and they’re all so pleased to see each other they all go naked swimming together, amid more shellfire, and the camera looks at their bums for a while and the band plays The Pearl Fishers by Bizet.

Meanwhile, the fiendish Poms are planning to put an end to the lads’ good time. We will sacrifice the Australians here, they say, to give the English an easier time over there. On receipt of the news, Bill Hunter, alone in his tent, sings an aria from Grand Opera, to what amounts to a hi-fi set with a horn on it, and sobs into his imported champagne.

Comes the dawn. Slaughter piles on slaughter. Frank, appointed message-runner because of his cowardice and flying feet, fails by a split second to arrive in time to prevent the death of Archy in another fruitless heroic charge. Archy, the faster runner, would have got there, we know, in time. We are invited to mourn, in three romantic freeze frames, the appalling loss of this finest flower of his generation, a great Olympic runner who never existed, and a good mate.

To add to these troubles Mark Lee’s performance is barely amateur. He honks and guffaws and grins like a loon, and in all of Mel Gibson’s bewildered good humour and wary comradeship there is not a glimmer of why they are friends at all.

The problem, I think, lies squarely with the writer and the director. Weir is a director of tremendous isolated sequences rather than good films. He is terrible at casting, bad as a writer, short on narrative logic, good at landscapes and superb at eerie atmospheres. His forte is the lone stranger unsure of himself in a menacing setting. He’s not very good at relationships, and in extroverted mateship, like here, distinctly uneasy. The net result is we don’t care very much what happens to Frank or Archy, champion runners though they be, and it takes the death of literally thousands around them to move us. In Breaker Morant we were much more moved by the deaths of two correctly convicted murderers sitting down with dignity on two chairs.

So the film fails on the human level. This is partly (but not greatly) to do with David Williamson, who as a comedy writer of great ability has a certain contempt for some of his characters. He is not particularly fond, I think, of anyone in Gallipoli. History, moreover, is not his long suit; nor is tragedy, as was shown in his version of King Lear (‘You bastard of a wind!’); nor is continuity of style, as was shown in Eliza Fraser, a rollicking bedroom farce with a deathly serious insert about cannibalism. He seems unaware of any generation but his own, which is why he has given to a raw youth at the pyramids in 1915 a line like ‘This is man’s first attempt to defeat death.’

Gallipoli should, in brief, have been written by John Dingwell, or Ray Lawler, or Peter Kenna, and directed by Fred Schepisi. Then it might have got to the meat of a nation at war, as did Yanks, and Destiny of a Man, and Ballad of a Soldier and Apocalypse Now. Just mentioning these names in comparison with it, I think, defines it. For such a historic event, the Butch Cassidy approach is not enough.

Many people, including the film’s main publicist, Rupert Murdoch, will disagree with this assessment and loudly suggest the emperor has clothes, but I don’t believe it. I find it sad that Australians are so readily sucked in, so eagerly grateful for anything that touches even slightly on their myths. Two slouch hats is a million dollars in the bank. It should take more than that.

I myself am considering a screenplay called Phuoc Thuy, in which the young hero is on the point of selection for the Australian Test side when he decides to volunteer instead for the Vietnam War. He motors north with a close friend, a marihuana-smoking draft-dodger, via Byron Bay and Surfers, to Canungra.

Music is by Sherbert and Mozart. I think it will make a lot of money.

Certain Housekeeping Matters

Terrance is banned for two months, till June 25. In a day or two, his name will not appear, nor any of his responses under pseudonyms.

Jim has two months to prove he can write and punctuate a clear sentence. If he cannot, he will be banned for life. He is costing me too much readership.

The Cat is banned for life plus eighty-two years. He/she will be hunted down and exterminated if he/she attempts disguised re-entrance in any cavity.

G. K. Cole will be tolerated for two months, but only if he/she so signs herself. Then we shall see.

Simon is warned. Loula is getting on my nerves.

I will be seventy on May 10, and I need less aggravation.

Those contributions I like, such as those of late of Cangoru and My Girl Pearl, I will sometimes put up unamended in the main body of the text.

Work harder. Please.

Your obedient servant,


Sacrifice Now, An Anzac Day Reflection

‘Sacrifice’ is a word we don’t hear much any more. It used to be part of our culture. We made sacrifices to get our children to a good school, our old parents to a better nursing home. We sacrificed a university career to stay home and look after Mum. If women we sacrificed our own education so our brother — Mark Latham, for instance — could go to university.

And we sacrificed our lives for our country. We still hear this awful phrase at soldiers’ funerals, on Remembrance Day and, yes, on Anzac Day. But more and more it feels like the Big Lie it is, and always was.

Sacrifice means, literally, cutting the throat of one’s beloved son, as Abraham thought to do, to propitiate an angry God. This happened now and then. The story of Jepthah’s daughter, the most fearsome — and indeed the most anti-Semitic — in the Bible, harrows the listener still, as does the sacrifice of Agamemnon’s daughter to ensure good wind and weather on the way to Troy. It always has the shimmer of dead adult children to it.

And we are told we sacrificed our adult children at Gallipoli, that others would live well, and thank us for it.

But this is not what happened. Five thousand of those children died in vain. Two thousand lost limbs there. Twenty thousand had bad dreams for fify years. No-one lived better because of it. The widows and girlfriends were shattered, the mothers never got over it. Grandchildren, great grandchildren were never born. Great poems were never written, great symphonies not performed.

And no inch of ground was gained. No colony was added to the Empire, no fistful of diamonds, no barrel of oil, no jar of raisins, no bag of myrrh was looted from its rich desert earth. And we left our dead behind. ‘They are our sons now,’ Attaturk, our great foe, said smugly. How dread a sentence that must have sounded, like a tolling bell to their mothers and fathers, who, as we know, made the sacrifice of them, willingly.

What nonsense we are talking; still talking.

No, what happened was some farm boys and country town boys, some of them with horses, were tempted by adventure and overseas travel, and goaded by the white feathers of their women, into a slaughterous debacle with no good end and had to shoot their horses before they came home, and take part in a lot of marching, saluting and bugling hypocrisy each year on this day of days. And public fools, like the Prime Minister, speaking of their sacrifice.

It was an idiotic expedition, this War of the Three Cousins we had no business in, and lost our best and brightest in, more young men than died in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden and Waterloo put together, from which no inch of gound was gained, no jar of raisins, no bag of myrrh.

We can talk of it still, but never, never, never talk of ‘sacrifice’.

Or perhaps you disagree.

Classic Ellis: Spinning Gallipoli, 2010

It was lost on the night of bombardment before the first landing, lost in the first hour on the beach, lost on each of the two hundred and forty-five days that followed, lost in the planning at Whitehall, lost in the choice of the deranged Ian Hamilton, lost in the luck of getting the genius Ataturk as our principal foe.

It was the largest amphibious operation in world history then and we lost it early and often and five thousand of our men were killed there and ten thousand crippled and twenty thousand sent half-mad with what they saw and survived. Dick Casey, Bert Facey, Clem Attlee, Compton McKenzie, Leon Gellert came home from it and God knows how many young men of equal worth like Rupert Brooke stayed on to moulder in shallow graves and be eaten by dogs and fill the dreams of the girlfriends and sisters and mothers they never came home to, sneaking out in the boats at night in gently falling snow with their mates on Christmas Eve.

It was a bloody debacle and a murderous waste and its failure meant the First World War killed twenty million more young men to no good end and World War 2 came then as a consequence. And I and my father and thirty million subsequent Australians were told it was a kind of triumph.
In a spin exercise as enormous as the one that followed the Crucifixion we were told it was Australia’s ‘coming of age’, the ‘finest sons’ of a ‘new young nation’ proving what we could do – die pointlessly in Churchill’s incompetent conception of a knock-out blow, a back door to victory.

And many of us believed it, the audacious, denialist spin that a battle ill lost from which no good came was worth being in because it ‘tested our mettle’ and ‘showed what game young men can do’.

Paul Keating, launching Graham Freudenberg’s Churchill and Australia said Australia didn’t have to prove anything. It already had the highest standard of living in the world, along with female suffrage, pensions, exemplary health care, a literate working class, good writers, athletes, musicians, painters, cartoonists. What was there to prove? That we could perish bravely in war, that great game of drongos?

‘I have never gone to Gallipoli,’ Keating said, ‘and I never will. Kokoda is more my speed. There we fought, and won, a long battle that made a difference to our nation’s future. That saved us from something, as Gallipoli never did.’

I have often thought since then that Australia’s Picasso, Gershwin, Hemingway, Eliot, Frank Lloyd Wright, Jack Dempsey, Nye Bevan, Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, Charles Chaplin, died on Gallipoli probably, or came home too limbless and smashed of soul to attempt the careers they might have had. Twenty or thirty thousand of their sons and daughters were never born. Two or three thousand of the girls that waited for them only to read their names on a post office wall, never themselves had children, or grandchildren, a hundred thousand of whom might be retiring now after useful, talented, civic lives.

And yet we are asked to celebrate this now, to ‘honour’ a ‘sacrifice’ that ‘had to be made’. It was a battle that should never have been planned and should never have been fought. It gave Turkey a nation-founding hero and us a century of bloodstained hypocrisy, ending hopefully soon.

Death should never be celebrated. It is too big a defeat. It is celebrated by men like Howard and Rudd and Bush and Blair and Bin Laden who do not believe in death and think it only a moment before the story continues, among angel choirs on green meadows with lions and lambs at play together. It is celebrated by pious dimwits, not men and women of intellect; not any more.

Some realism, to be sure, now attends Anzac Day as it didn’t when I was young. It is more a song of mourning now than a hymn of praise. But we would do as well to celebrate with marches and brass bands and bugles and flags the Myall Creek Massacre or the Granville Train Disaster or the Newcastle Earthquake or the Port Arthur Slaughter (on Anzac Day), or Black Saturday, or Ash Wednesday, as we do this holocaust of blood where more men died than at Hiroshima and Nagasaki put together, on both sides, in their youth, in the first of their strength, forever. And are not looking down on us now.

Spin has come a long way since then. We believe almost anything now. That Afghans will want to go back to the valleys where their brothers and fathers were killed, now the ‘situation has improved’. That Sri Lankans yearn to be home among ethnic cleansing. That men and women as brave as boat people are will not be good citizens and should be sent home, like my friends the Bakhtiyaris, to die at the hands of their enemies or join their cause as suicide bombers.

That it’s worth bombing a village to save its women from cruel marriages. That the drug-running Karzai brothers are worth dying for. That it’s worth immolating a country for any cause. That sending young men to gaol is a useful thing to do. That the Catholic Church’s good points outweigh its pederasty. That Christ rose from the dead and hears our every whispered prayer and is interceding for us, every one of us, in a heavenly court right now. That chasing stolen cars does more good than harm. That Sol Trujillo was worth the money we paid him.
Spin lives, and it continues. In our Anzac Day Last Post it lives and marches on. And gathers more and more good people into its great implacable cause, pointless death and needless suffering. Discuss.

How To Fix Europe At No Great Cost, Very Quickly

France and The Netherlands lost their President and Prime Minister in the last thirty hours and Iceland’s ex-Prime Minister was by a judge found guilty of catastrophic economic stupidity but not imprisoned and a feeling is growing in Europe that the punishment of the poor for the reckless folly of greedy men earning, and still earning, two thousand dollars an hour, has got to stop, and I agree.

A way to fix it is risk-free and well-precedented, and it is this.

The idea is for each country to have two currencies, the Euro, which is exportable, and another, which stays at home. Like the rouble in the Soviet Union, the latter will buy groceries and locally made clothing and pay rents and mortgages, and the Euro buy importable luxury goods like cars and cameras and fancy shoes.

Let the local currency have the same name as a former currency — the mark, the dranchma, the punt — and have the same design and be deemed to be worth an eighth or a ninth of the Euro. This value will then vary, in the old way, as demand and circumstances change.

Nothing then is required than the willingness of the European governments to play this new game, in the same way as the banks that got us into this trouble played the old games of pork belly futures and overvalued unpaid mortgages and AAA ratings for Lehman’s and Goldman Sachs, and so on.

And that’s it, really. People will continue to want to eat and live under a roof and pay cheap rents and not work as prostitutes and will seize the opportunity to do so if it is offered.

Any other proposed solution — which always involves the sackings of millions of people — exacerbates the problems. People who do not work do not pay taxes and the debt gets bigger and bigger.

It’s not as if it hasn’t worked before. Tourists to Bali in the 1970s payed in bahts the equivalent of fourteen dollars a week for a week’s food and lodging. The Balinese sculptors sold their works of art for what dollars they could get. A single sculpture might pay for a family’s upkeep for two months. And so it went.

It is easy to see how this would work in Greece and Spain and Ireland, where tourists would like to come and live cheaply for a month or two.

This is the proposal anyway.

Any questions?

The Henderson Wars (17): Gerard, Numbers Man

Gerard this morning asserts that Gillard’s deal with Slipper was unnecessary, that she had the numbers anyway, 76 to 74. He nowhere in his article mentions Craig Thomson, or Abbott’s refusal to pair him if he wasn’t sick enough, even to let him attend his wife’s difficult childbirth or, if it happened, his baby’s funeral.

Nor does he say that any MP sick or in a grounded plane or travelling, like Smith, to a warfront could be refused a pair by the capricious Liberals who might then bring on a vote of No confidence at any time and win it.

As always, Gerard minimises the situation and moves the goalposts to make Labor seem like jumpy fools. 76 to 74 is not a dangerous fix to be in, how could it be? he asks. Pig’s foot it’s not. Greiner found similar numbers fatal; Obama in the Health Care vote found them very scary and worth fundamental compromise; Gordon Brown in 2010 enough to lose office by.

But no, no, Julia need not have worried. What a friend she had in Gerard, that semi-supernatural comforter with a voice so like that of Kevin Rudd.

What an innumerate smug Papist Christ-eating dill he is.

For the eighteenth year I ask him to debate me on any subject, any time, anywhere.

Spruce On Breivik: The Question That Matters

Damian Spruce in the smh today said Anders Breivik has achieved the equivalent of tens of millions of dollars worth of publicity for his paranoid racist cause by shooting and blowing up a lot of people and raising his fist in the dock. This is not freedom of speech, he says, but a denial of that freedom to the grieving relatives of the dead young people who should be talking, and be heard talking, of how they felt, and how much talent Norway has lost. Journalism, unsurprisingly, has failed them. And us.

This kind of journalism is newer than some of us think. It is to do with Rupert Murdoch and his sensationalising methodology after 1969. If it cannot be reduced to a sexual scandal or a murder mystery or a horse race or a pistol duel at high noon he doesn’t care to report it. If it isn’t really dumb and sniggering or bloodthirsty and if it isn’t harmful to the Social Democrats of the day he won’t print it.

This last week, for instance, is for Murdoch not about the battle for Syria or the French election or the Swan surplus Budget or the Afghanistan withdrawal or the impression Bob Carr made when addressing the United Nations or even Rupert’s own upcoming and shaming public crisis when he faces the Leveson Committee enquiry into his own company’s alleged world-wide criminality, but about whether one adult homosexual asked another adult homosexual for a massage and feigned or experienced pleasure when it occurred.

And, in some sense, though it seems cruel to say it, the Breivik matter is small potatoes like the Slipper matter too. An unhinged man kills a lot of promising young people and says he is not unhinged but a warrior for truth in the coming world battle with the heathen foe, and so what? It is not actualy a big event in world terms. The twenty percent vote for Le Pen is. The Netanyahu plan to bomb Iran is. The thumbscrewed Greek economy is. The surplus Budget is. The going of Bob Brown is.

But a mad murderer is, well, unremarkable. Thirty thousand Americans die every year by gunfire, some of them with guns aimed at themselves, but all are in some sense mentally disturbed, and Breivik is no more significant than any of them. He killed a lot of people, that’s all. He didn’t, like Lieutenant Calley, kill a lot of people on the orders of the US army.  He didn’t, like Paul Tibbets, wipe out a whole city while of sound mind and under orders. He acted alone and was, is, crazy.

And Murdoch is using him, and Slipper, and Labor’s numbers in the House (when it sits, there will be no change) to draw attention away from his own crumbling reputation, his own dynastic mutinies, remarriages and disinheritings, his own long history of debauching the English-speaking democracies and perverting elections with false rumour and his own imminent exposure in the dock.

It is amazing he still controls 70 percent of the Australian newspapers that influence opinion.

And it’s a pity.

Damian Spruce may not be Mayor by September, but it would be terrific if he were.

The city, and the Labor Party, need him.

And the Murdoch people already fear him.

After Sarkozy (1): Arguments For Socialism

It is likely there will soon be a Socialist President in Paris, and a socialist, Ken Livingstone, Lord Mayor of London, and the curse off the ‘socialist’ brand-name in countries other than the Former Communist Bloc.

The reason is that ‘socialism’, in the present era, makes a lot of sense. The storms, floods, tsunamis and plane crashes attendant upon global warming have made the insurance business impossible. The adventures of rogue pension funds have wrecked the world economy. Banks can no longer be trusted. Tourism everywhere is dwindling and people, fearing storms, flying less. And an ageing population has made their care and twilight comfort impossible under any low-tax regime.

To fix this, Francois Holland is proposing a 75 percent income tax on the rich, and a return to those lazy-workplace and early-retirement policies that have made France such a genial, cultured, bibulous place in the past fifty years. No-one is keen on sado-monetarism any more, especially since people like Gina Rhineheart are paying themselves two thousand dollars an hour around the clock for doing very little.

The obscenity of the fees of even the CEOs who fail at their job — Alan Joyce gets 95,785 dollars a week, Ralph Norris 68,965 dollars a day — on top of their sacking of those workers who have built up their companies’ names, not because of any wrong done, not because of any fault of design or process or attitude, but merely because already rich shareholders would like a little bit more money in the monthly cheque delivered them as they sit on their yacht on Lake Geneva, has returned the Class War gangbusters and set young people looting shops in London and massing against the ruling classes of Egypt, Syria and Wall Street, New York.

Socialism is returning in spirit if not in name, and, in France, in name also. A variant of it, in China, has conquered the financial world. MORE TO COME

The Usual Murdoch Dirty Tricks (34): The Strange Case Of Ashby’s Arse

Hard to see how Ashby, a man of thirty-four, can make a charge of harassment stick on the basis of his evidence, which is very bad dialogue indeed. Like ‘Look, look, I’m titty-fucking your mother’, it resembles nothing said by any human being since early Pleistocene times.

‘Have you ever come in a man’s arse before?’ is something Slipper is said to have said over morning coffee to a presumed heterosexual. The operative word is ‘before’, which means, must mean, that Ashby has come in a man’s arse quite recently. It cannot be read in any another way, in my view. If he had said, or have been reported to have said, ‘Have you come in a man’s arse?’, this would be a reasonable thing to ask if one were a homosexual talking to another homosexual, or bisexual, over coffee in the morning. But ‘before’ can only mean he, or they, have just done it. Very hard to read in any other way. In my view.

Ashby’s alleged response, ‘That’s not the kind of question you ask people, Peter’, supports, I think, this conjecture. The answer of an aghast heterosexual would have been ‘no’, followed by the knocking over of the chair as he left in a huff the anxious yearning predator in the coffee shop and paid the bill and hailed a taxi. It’s like a question I once put to a woman I knew well who had been married thirty odd years. ‘Have you ever had an affair?’ I asked, sensing something in her demeanour that hinted this. ‘I can’t answer that, Bob,’ she said, extremely pissed off. Which meant the answer was yes.

If Ashby is a practising homosexual, and he accepted work in the office of a man who was married but known, or widely rumoured, to be a closeted, or cautious, or wide-ranging secret homosexual and did so at the age of thirty-four, it is reasonable I think to ask, was an office wooing like this always thought by him to be out of the question? Many, many marriages, after all, have started in precisely this way. Many, many doctors have married nurses after workplace encounters and a fumble at the Christmas party, or even, as MASH attests, in the surgery. Offices are intimate places, and things happen.

What, then, is the charge precisely? That he was threatened with the sack if he did not come across? Nothing in the emails suggests this. That he came banging at the door at midnight? This is not alleged. That he hinted some things in texts and emails? Shock horror.

I think, but of course I do not know, that it might have been different had he been eighteen; or, let’s face it, fourteen. Then his employer could have been seen to be using the power of his office in a coercive or a bullying way; like, say, Charlie Chaplin over his teenage leading ladies.

But a man with homosexual experience who is already thirty-four — at his age the flamboyant bisexual Lord Byron had only eighteen months to live — expects to be come onto, surely, from time to time, depending on how he dresses, moves and speaks. And expects, in return, to have the right to say no; which Slipper, though persistent (if his account is true) did not deny him, the right of refusal, or so I thus far understand.

The Liberals are ill-advised to take this on. The personality of Christopher Pyne, and Billy McMahon, and the former Deputy Leader Neil Brown, suggest, but do not prove, there may have been similar wooings in MPs’ offices in the past. And this may come out now, inconveniently.

It also ill accords with Tony Abbott’s recent genial acceptance of his own sister’s life choices despite his Church’s insistence that she must repent, or fry in Hell. And his own daughters’ characterisation of him, for whatever jokey private reason, as a ‘lame gay churchy loser’.

It is not a good time, I would think, for him of all people to seem to be a hypocrite.

Some knives are being sharpened, and his own chequered sexual history, including when he was a trainee priest (as discussed in Michael Duffy’s book) will tell against him.

He should be careful, very careful.

And so it goes.

Classic Ellis: The Freudenberg Launch, 2008

Saturday, 1st November, 2008, 9.20 a.m.

To Keating’s launch of Churchill and Australia by Graham Freudenberg, with a fine, self-written twenty-five minute speech in which he said of Churchill and Gallipoli, ‘Churchill’s ambivalence about Australia was a mirror image of Australia’s ambivalence about itself.

’ On the one hand, we were out to prove that the British race in the Antipodes had not degenerated yet we resented being dragooned into a war which did not threaten our own country or its people.

‘As Graham says, “in an almost theological sense Australian- Britons had been born again into the baptism of fire at Anzac Cove”, questioning, somewhat tongue in cheek, whether we needed being reborn at all. The “reborn” part went to a lack of confidence and ambivalence about ourselves. Who we were and what we had become. If our sons suffered and died valiantly in a European war, such sacrifice was testament to the nation’s self worth.

‘In some respects we are still at it; not at the suffering and the dying, but still turning up at Gallipoli, the place where Australia was needily redeemed.

‘The truth is that Gallipoli was shocking for us. Dragged into service by the imperial government in an ill-conceived and poorly -executed campaign, we were cut to ribbons and dispatched. And none of it in the defence of Australia. Without seeking to simplify the then bonds of empire and the implicit sense of obligation, or to diminish the bravery of our own men, we still go on as though the nation was born again or even, was redeemed there. An utter and complete nonsense.

‘For these reasons I have never been to Gallipoli and I never will.’

Freudy, whose father was a stretcher-bearer on Gallipoli and might like a hundred and fifty thousand others have died there, followed him with some off-the-cuff remarks and many, many suspenseful pauses in which he perfected his spontaneous ironic phrases, to a standing audience for a further forty-five minutes, blithely testing the love we all bore him, a Labor historian as good as Macaulay his master and an eternal, encouraging Labor mate, seeming to end a dozen times while we who are over sixty prayed he would.

Eventually he ceased and did some signing. Keating’s girlfriend, the actress julieanne Newbould, came up to me and said she’d been in The Legend of King O’Malley, her first professional job, in the Richbrooke in 1971. I said I’d seen her there and how good she was. I added that Lex Marinos was directing with a school-age cast the play in Wahroonga this week, and she proffered her good wishes. I didn’t ask what it was like living with Keating. Across the room, he glowered at me cursorily and turned away.

On the bus home after work I read fifty pages of Freudy’s book, a masterpiece. A paragraph stood out.

‘Asquith was the cleverest British Prime Minister of the twentieth century. Kitchener was hailed as the greatest British soldier since the Duke of Wellington, and Lord Fisher as the greatest British seaman since Nelson. Churchill became the greatest wartime Prime Minister in British history. Between them they produced Gallipoli.’

The northern beach suburbs went by and I continued to read. If ever there was a man who knew who he was from his earliest years, with his Olivetti typewriter, cigarettes and Macaulay and his descriptive exactitude it is Freudy. He is Labor’s Merlin, who has lived or imagined all our past years and all the years to come.

Breivik And Oswald, A Meditation

The track record of Breivik, a genuine ‘lone madman’, puts the record of Lee Harvey Oswald, supposedly another one, in an interesting light.

Breivik brought all the weapons with him, Oswald after the assassination went home for his pistol. Breivik took every opportunity to declare his ideology — talking, for instance, for two hours in the dock — and Oswald did not. Breivik had no children (like every other US presidential assassin, and would-be assassin), Oswald had two daughters. Breivik immediately admitted his crime, Oswald looked genuinely puzzled when asked if he had killed the President.’No, sir, I did not,’ he said.

Breivik had a motive to do what he did, for him it was the first battle in the war against the foul tide of Muslim immigration, Oswald had none. Kennedy had been the Soviets’ best friend, averting nuclear war with them a year before, and lately proposing to get out of Vietnam after engineering the killing there of his fellow-Catholics the Diem brothers, and Oswald had spoken admiringly of both him and Castro, something many of us did in those days. He knew, he surely knew that Johnson, a man of Texas, would go harder on the Communists than Kennedy, a man of Massachussetts, and New York, and Harvard, who had diplomatic training and a good relationship with Khruschev.

Nothing that Oswald did after his arrest gave any indication that he was insane. He tried to get a top lawyer, one who worked for the ACLU. Visited in gaol by his wife and mother, he expressed concern for his daughters. Interrogated for seven hours, he testified so convincingly that all records of what he said were quickly destroyed. The presidential car, moreover, though a crime scene, was washed of its blood and its bits of brain (and evidence, perhaps, of a bullet from a different gun and another direction), the film of the President’s autopsy destroyed, the Zapruder film locked up for five years, the Warren Commission instructed to consider only Oswald as a suspect, and so on.

And evidence that Oswald was a madman, acting alone.

It was as plausible an idea as me saying a lone madman took out Osama Bin Laden.

Or Julius Caesar.

Or Philip of Macedon. Or King Saul of Israel. Or Benito Mussolini. Or Adolf Hitler. Or Olaf Palme. Or Salvador Allende. Or Mrs Ghandi. Or Rajiv Ghandi. Or Mahatma Ghandi. Or Benigno Aquino. Or Abraham Lincoln.

Or Bobby Kennedy, whose killer was waiting for him in a place he was not bound for but was abruptly led to by an authoritative white young man man who was never seen or heard of again.

There are not many lone madmen who successfully kill world leaders. Breivik, for instance, hoped to behead a former female Prime Minister but failed to. Usually, not always, the security is very good and it takes a conspiracy to get the assailant close enough to aim and fire, as in the case of Bin Laden. The twenty-six assassination attempts on Castro showed how hard it is. After twenty-six attempts, and six hundred CIA and Miami Cuban masterplans to kill him, he is living still.

And yet we are still told Oswald did it. And he didn’t bring his pistol with him. Had to go home for it. And another lone madman just happened to be walking his dogs near the front of the Dallas police station when Oswald, in mid perp walk, came into the vicinity of his pistol, which he just happened to be carrying, a lone madman with inoperable cancer who died in gaol two years later. What a coincidence. Two lone mad killers in the same town within three days, each of them successful, one of them with cancer. Wow. What a happy coincidence.

Give me a break.

The Lone Madman theory suits American arrogance — only a madman would want to kill our President — and closely resembles the Former Soviet Union’s longtime habit of putting in lunatic asylums those dissidents who disagreed with its policies and loudly said so.

It could be easily sorted by asking Sirhan Sirhan, under waterboarding perhaps, who the authoritative young man was, and who he was working for. It was the Mafia, probably, or the CIA or both. The ones who also, probably, took Jack out.

Oswald had no motive, but Lyndon Johnson, who suceeded Jack as President and was Dallas’s most powerful citizen, did. So did the CIA, which Jack had already fired the head of, Allen Dulles, and was planning to dismantle in 1965. So did J. Edgar Hoover, whom Jack planned to fire until he saw the many FBI photos of him, Jack, fucking, and was planning to fire in 1965 when he turned seventy.

It is usually the case that if someone without motive is found guilty of murder, the verdict is wrong. It was wrong in the case of Lindy Chamberlain, who loved her baby and threatened none of her other children. It was wrong in the case of OJ Simpson, who was wrongly said to have nearly hacked the head off the mother of his children while the children slept upstairs, and left her where they would find her in the morning.

Oswald had no motive. And he had two daughters to raise.

It is time this burden was lifted from him.

Breivik has shown what he should have been like.

And he wasn’t.

The Usual Murdoch Dirty Tricks (33): The Job On Bob Carr

The Tom Dusevik piece on Bob Carr in The Australian Magazine is a good example of Murdoch polemic at its most skilful.

Carr, we learn, is ‘footloose and kiddy-free’; old-school’; ‘prolix’; a ‘vaudeville performer’; a ‘rare bird’; the ‘controversial’ author of Thoughtlines, ‘a vanity project’; ‘not a team player’; ‘completely wrong on Libya’; ‘suspect in his temperament’; a master, like ‘media tart’ Beattie and ‘Media Mike’ Rann, of ‘the spin cycle’; a ‘decriminaliser of soft drugs’; a master of ‘outrageous slanders’; ‘yet to find his rhythm’; his left hand ‘a hyperactive extension of his arousal’; his face ‘a face for radio’; his ‘weird ideas’, ‘spilling out of a hot wok’; a man with ‘peculiar jaunts’ into Aurelius and the US Civil War (why peculiar? why ‘jaunts’?), whose office is ‘in disarray’; ‘resolved to be dull’; a ‘frequent visitor to China’; an ‘enemy of sport’; a Foreign Minister who has ‘ironically, always lived in Sydney’ (as though he’s never boarded a plane); a man ‘deficient in sizzle’; ‘cautious’; yet a beneficiary of ‘the cult of personality’; a guru with ‘acolytes’ and ‘an illusionist’s spell’; a ‘triumph for the NSW Right’; a man whose presence in the capital is ‘a bit eerie’; ‘keeping a lid on expectations’; ‘pragmatic’; ‘relentless’, and, of course, ‘an almost-pensioner, dancing in a top hat, swinging his cane’, with ‘memory slips and gaffes’ who ‘can’t beat the clock’ and best described, at his age, as ‘Lucky Bob’, now undergoing ‘rehabilitation’.

Nowhere in the two thousand words is there a suggestion that Julie Bishop would be a better Foreign Minister (if she would be worse, why not say so?). Nowhere in the multiple enumerations of his age and failing powers is there any comparison with Rupert Murdoch, 81, his doddery demeanour, his foggy twitterings and his (probably) criminal adventures in twenty or thirty countries. Nowhere in the piece is there an adjective complimentary to Carr, or any admission that an AAA rating and the best Olympic Games in 2,600 years were achievements worth noting or that they that outweighed, probably,one slip of the tongue, 2001 for 2000, and one misgiving on Nuguini that has proved to be very well-founded.

Yet it seems a mild-mannered and more or less accurate piece: such is the genius of the Murdoch snipers.

Its underlying thesis, that he is past it, losing his once-formidable faculties, uninformed on his portfolio, too willing to stray out of it (though every Minister and Shadow Minister on Q&A does this), and at 64 more senile than, say, Bronwyn Bishop, 70, or Phillip Ruddock, 69 or Nick Greiner, 65 (a pensioner now, the poor old fellow, and back running New South Wales), is baseless. But they push what buttons they can.

They will lie and lie and lie, like Rupert on Wednesday to the Leveson committee. This is what they do.

It is wrong that any honourable person work for him or his people, anymore.

But, of course, none do.

The Usual Murdoch Dirty Tricks (32): Sinking The Slipper

It has long been the habit of the Murdoch Empire to reduce all politics to salacious gossip lest good policies creep into the public awareness of any party of the Left or the Centre-Left.

Thus it was that the Socialist, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the best-qualified candidate for the Presidency of France, was falsely said by The New York Post, which first made sure he was pulled off his plane to Paris, to have raped in the mouth a woman twice his size (a physical impossibility) in world record time — seven minutes to undress, pursue, capture, struggle with, rape in the mouth, climax, get dressed again, and come out unfazed and sumptuously garbed into the corridor — before she continued to clean the hotel room, and the one next door.

Thus it was that Gordon Brown, who had saved the world from a catastrophic recession, was said, correctly, to have used, correctly, the word ‘bigot’ in a private conversation illegally bugged by Sky News, and with five days of ‘Bigotgate’ headlines, was narrowly removed from Downing Street, which with three or four more seats he could have held onto.

Thus it was that John F. Kennedy, who had saved the world from nuclear war and begun the passage of legislation at last enfranchising Blacks, was said, correctly, to have been the sort of womaniser all rich Irish-Americans were in those times, and posthumously so defamed that his brother, Teddy, despite his wonderful record of progressive legislation, was never made President, because he shared the family habit of chasing skirt, and a girl accidentally died in his company.

Similar Murdoch efforts went into the stalking of Jim Cairns, Nelson Rockefeller, Jeremy Thorpe, Gary Hart, Don Dunstan, Andrew Peacock, John Prescott, Robin Cook, Cheryl Kernot, Gareth Evans, Andrew Bartlett, John Edwards, Matt Brown, Mike Rann, Tony Stewart, Paul McLeay, John Della Bosca, Julian Assange and Craig Thomson lest good policies be seen to be enacted by parties of the Left and Centre Left and celebrated therefore.

And now it is Peter Slipper, whose vote is keeping the Labor Party in power, being accused, in a week when popular policies (care for the elderly, care for the disabled, a balanced Budget, a surprise pullout of troops from a stupid war) may have put Labor’s vote up to 49 or 50, being accused of sexual harassment in the workplace of a youngish petulant male.

We are to be told that no money passed between Murdoch’s people and the accuser, and the young man was not himself an agent provocateur. Well, we will see.

No such accusation of Murdoch himself was made, of workplace harassment of his employee Wendi Deng before their adulterous conjunction in 1997 and their subsequent marriage three weeks after his divorce, an event that bruised his wife and children and devastated his old mother Dame Elisabeth who might be said, with caution, to be a ‘bigot’ on such matters. ‘I can’t bear even to look at that girl,’ she is said to have said quite early in her second century.

One would not have thought this workplace harassment would have precipitated his exit from the chairmanship of News Limited. But these are the standards he now applies to Peter Slipper. Workplace harassment? He must go.

It is Murdoch’s firm intention that this Budget will not be announced; or, if it is, that it will be obliterated by surrounding, salacious headlines.

And, of course, that those headlines will obscure his own coming trial before the Leveson Enquiry, on a charge of, or on suspicion of, or after rumour of, among other things, blackmail.

And so it goes.

The Mel Thing Reconsidered

The most puzzling thing about the Mel Gibson affair — and, before it, the Gunter Grass, Young Nazi, affair — is that no-one wants to punish the hated man. No-one has suggested that Gibson be gaoled, or made to give up his earnings from The Passion of the Christ or Braveheart. No-one has asked that Grass be stripped of the Nobel Prize or fined half the 1.2 million that came with it. No-one wants to ban the showings of Passion or The Tin Drum, or burn Grass’s novels in the public square.

They only want to call them names.

Very, very strange.

As I have said before, it would have been handled better in medieval times. Mel would have been put innthe stocks for two days, and pelted with decaying vegetables by anyone inclined to so avenge themselves on him, and then let go about his business.

But in this far less tolerant age — for some, the thirteenth century has not yer dawned — the punishment is eternal. It is like him having the word ‘Jew’ tattooed on his forehead, or having his middle finger cut off, one testicle removed. It is a remarkable retribution on an who, personally, out of his own pocket, has given millions of dollars to Jews and, in the case of the Maccabees movie, a Jewish cause. Has never punched a Jew, or fired one, or insulted one on a set, or refused to eat with one, or buy a drink for one.

How entirely bizarre.

Terrance, a respondent in these columns, has urged that Mel be fucked up the arse and hanged in Iran. It is hard to see how his few drunken fumings merit this. Or why those billion and a half people who think Jews will fry howling a billion years in Hell are less deserving of being fucked up the arse and garrotted after torture. Or perhaps only five hundred million of them.

But that would involve a logical connection, a joining of dots, a moment if thought that some, not all, on the Left are no longer capable of. They just howl, like lynch-mobs, ‘Crucify him!’,  hoping someone else will do the work, or he will suicide, and let them off the hook.

What a vile bunch they are.

Or you are, if the shoe fits.


Murdoch, At Last, On Trial

It will be interesting to see how well Rupert Murdoch does in front of the Leveson Enquiry. He has for so long been surrounded by flatterers or daunted foes and he may by now have forgotten what true hostility is like.

It will also be interesting to see if he has actually — he, personally — broken the law.

I think he may have. There is the Delaware law that provides for the automatic arrest of a CEO whose company has corrupted, or sought to corrupt, foreign officials. His company is registered in Delaware and his people paid Scotland Yard for ‘information’, Rebekah famously said to a previous committee before James put his hand over her microphone.

And there is also, now, the Tom Watson allegation that his people threatened, or tried to bribe, members of the House of Commons committee looking into B-Sky-B. This is so much in line with what he has done in the past — and Ramsey and I are writing a miniseries on his life — that it is impossible to believe, after sackings and sackings and sackings and sideward shiftings and payouts of lesser underlings and their recent arrests — that he did not know, this late in the game, that such threats or bribes were being offered by his people in defiance of Delaware law.

And there is the old English law, as old as Magna Carta, against blackmail. So many famous people were hacked and bugged and harassed with headlines and zoom lenses that it is likely though not certain that some were invited, say, to appear cheap in a Fox movie or be exposed as a shirt-lifter or wife-beater; or something of that order.

We will see anyway. In the meantime we must question, surely, any editorial comment in The Australian about Australian politics. It will have been written at the orders of a probable criminal in the dock, the notorious rigger of the 2000 election in the US and the touter of the forged Hitler Diaries. A man whose word is not to be trusted. Can his editorials have any credibility? Or his Newspolls? Or his news reports? I doubt it.

He will wriggle and wriggle and wriggle for a few days yet. But the end is coming.


The Next Labor Premier Of New South Wales

He is the best looking candidate, and the most exciting personality in Labor politics since Paul Keating, though much more of the Left. He speaks immaculate Italian, writes English as well as Bob Carr, is acutely informed on world politics, is about to qualify as a barrister and advised, in the past, the state’s best Attorney-General, Bob Debus. At thirty-five, he will be forty-two in 2019, when Labor can win. He is currently running for Mayor of Sydney with the expectation of being an alderman in September. The atmosphere he generates is like that of Don Dunstan, whom I knew then, in 1966.

His current campaign is based on Barry O’Farrell’s coming attack on the Arts, which, the candidate says, ‘he is determined to trash like the Monorail. His postponement of the Premier’s Literary Awards is a signal that he will, like Campbell Newman, abolish them. He will sell off Carriageworks to developers, wind back the activities of the Opera House, and, after Cate Blanchett goes, halve State funding to the STC. It is my purpose to use the Sydney City Council’s considerable power of gift to roll back the philistine tsunami which the Liberal Party, nationwide, represents.’

He proposes a Cinemateque, beginning, perhaps, in the empty Academy Twin, an Australian Classic Theatre on a Harbour island to which, in twilight, holding their martinis erect, audiences will go by ferry to see the ‘six hundred good Australian plays that deserve a second airing, and a first one’, and a trial of a scheme proposed at the 2020, a HECS for artists, ‘a writer, a painter, and a musician who will get a studio and thirty-five thousand dollars a year for three years, which they then must pay back, at a low rate of interest, in the following ten years, as their novels, sculptures, murals, symphonies and operas gain an audience, out of the money earned by them.

‘The recipients will be under thirty, and if we can afford more than three of them, or if the Federal Government comes in with us, or Newcastle City Council, or the Wollongong City Council, we will fund as many as we can. It is cost-neutral and, I submit, much needed, now the cost of studio space is prohibitive in the inner city, and university campus life truncated by government cuts and the new careerism in faculties that used to encourage creativity and performance.’

He also believes that vacant offices in some city skyscrapers could be let out rent free to ‘resident writers and artists’ by corporations interested in improving their image, in return for advantages the Council could offer them.’

His name is Damian Spruce. He is a man to watch, and possibly Labor’s saviour nationally if he gets going.

I will add more to this piece as new information comes in.

Out Of Afghanistan: The Politics Of National Remorse

The politics of the withdrawal from Afghanistan are not as good for Labor as they might have been had the all-troops-out deadline been Christmas 2012 not 2013, but they are worth a couple of percentage points in the vote and leave Abbott uneasy, scratchy and floundering. They also emphasise the stature of Bob Carr versus that of Julie Bishop in foreign affairs. He will be able to authoritatively defend it in moderate, world-embracing sentences and she will be all at sea.

But our ability to stay there even another month will be vividly damaged by the fools-posing-with-suicide-bombers’-body-parts headlines this morning, and the next wave of Taliban responses to it in the Fighting Season, and Alan Stretton declaring our boys have died in vain. Soon John Kerry’s line, ‘How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?’ from 1972 will be quoted again, and the next dead Digger’s home-town funeral will be an explosive, remorseful occasion which will do I think the Liberals more harm than Labor because it was Howard that got us into it.

But one way or another it will begin a period of Australian isolationism and our unwillingness ever again to send good young lives in any numbers to their deaths in other nations’ missionary wars. It will soon be America’s longest war and it has secured, so far, a couple of suburbs in Kabul. In the same time frame a more confident US invaded and conquered Europe, recaptured the Pacific, atomic bombed Japan, resurrected Germany, initiated the Korean War and with the H-Bomb began to rule the world. Propping up the drug-running Karzai brothers in a Green Zone bastion that will fall a fortnight after they leave will be seen as a lesser achievement by historians and mark the end of America’s imperial power.

And so it goes. The politics of Australia have been upended in the last week anyway, with Bob Brown going and Bob Carr prevailing and the Disabled bill going down well and the figures that show a three percent growth, and Labor is back in the game.


The Usual Murdoch Dirty Tricks (31): The Cheated Newspolls Continue

O’Shannessy’s concealment of the Katter Australian Party, something he’s never denied, continued in Newspoll on Tuesday.

In it, ‘based on preference flow at August 2010 federal election’ (when there was no Katter Australian Party), there was 11 percent for ‘Others’, two party preferred (there are nine parties presently sitting in parliament, discuss), but no separate figure for the Katter Party.

This has to be wrong. There are at least 40,000 votes each, two party preferred, for Oakeshott, Windsor, Wilkie and Crook, and for the Katter Party at least 11 percent in Queensland (what it got last month in the state election), 11 percent in the Northern Territory, 6 percent in Western Australia and 6 percent in New South Wales. This adds up to 1,658,874 votes, or 13.7 percent of the total, of which the Katter Party, on its own, got 12.3 percent, more than the Greens, and much, much more than the Nationals.

And yet it gets no mention as a separate party.

Why is this? It can only mean that Murdoch does not want it mentioned, lest it catch fire and go gangbusters like One Nation, and reach 20 percent, and with its preferences keep Labor in power.

Under the headline Gillard Support Wanes As Abbott Closes In we see that Labor’s vote, two party preferred, has gone UP by 125,000 votes and the Preferred Prime Minister vote has Gillard on 39, Abbott on 41, and Undecided 20 percent, which is meaningless. The 20 percent Undecided is two and a half million people, and they would tend to break for the sitting Prime Minister, by, oh, 55 percent, and this gives Gillard the upper hand and means the headline, as usual, is a lie, or what is technically known as a fib.

If the Katter Party is on 12.3 percent, and 55 percent of their preferences go to Labor, this puts Labor, now, on about 47 percent, not 44, two party preferred, and after two surplus Budgets and an Afghanistan pull-out likely to win.

And this is before you consider that the poll was taken during the Easter holidays, which means a lot of the Labor vote wasn’t home.

Which means, in mid-May, Labor will be, might be on, oh, 51 percent.

But you would never know this from the front page headline, Labor Support Flatlines. You would think Labor was in big trouble and Abbott gaining, and Julie Bishop preferred as Foreign Minister to Bob Carr.

As usual Murdoch and O’Shannessy have broken no law, they have merely omitted ‘Katter Australian Party’ from their figures, and included it under ‘Others’, although ‘Others’ have gone up from 6.6 percent to 11 percent since the last election, and they don’t (of course) say why.

It is much the same thing as what was done in the polling in the eight months before the leadership challenge. Only Rudd and Gillard were mentioned as contenders, and Shorten, Combet, Plibersek, Swanny, Albo, Burke, Jason Clare — and Bob Carr, and Kim Beazley — not mentioned. What you do not mention does not exist, especially in a one-newspaper state like Queensland.

I again ask O’Shannessy did he have figures on the Katter Australian Party in early March that Murdoch asked him not to publish? Will he say if this is so?

If he keeps his silence on this, we can I think assume it is so, and Murdoch’s lifelong policy of cheating, evident in his battle for hegemony in satellite television workd-wide, continues.

And it is a national shame.

Classic Ellis: Anzac Day Speech For A Nameless Politician, 2004

In yet another April, Australia is at war in the Middle East, a war that is not going well. And we can easily imagine, eighty-nine years on, eighty-nine years after Gallipoli, how that morning felt, and the morning after that, and the morning after that to the young men crouched on the rocky beach, and to their parents and wives and girlfriends awaiting news, any news in the towns and farms of Australia.

They were volunteers. And they fought gamely for what they believed, and sincerely believed, was a way of life worth protecting. They fought for their mates, and their families, and their country towns, and a grand idea of elective, equal democracy that was barely ten years old, and almost the first of its kind in human history.

Most of them had never travelled before, not even a hundred miles to a capital city. And they crossed half the world and saw the pyramids, and the Sphinx, and Jerusalem, and Damascus, and Paris. They were part of the last great cavalry charge in history. Under Monash they turned the tide of battle, and thereby won – historians now agree – or they helped to win, what their leaders had called the war to end war. And then they came home.

Or that is part of the story we know, the valour we applaud, the mateship we embrace, the self-mockery in peace and ferocity in battle we call our national character.

The rest of the story – the lost limbs and bad lungs, the farms that went broke and the sad men on the dusty roads, jobless, heartbroken, pawning their medals for the price of a couple of meals – is less than glorious. It is the story of how, for some at least of the Anzacs, the Lighthorsemen, the heroes of Aix-la-Chapelle, their country was not there for them, when they needed help most.

This is a day not of celebration but of national memory. It is a day when we learn, and learn again, of the horror of purposeless war, a day that recalls from another April the carnage, the bravery, the loyalty, the humour, and the good souls lost for a few feet of ground, that was taken, retaken and lost again, ground over which very soon the green grass grew back, and the poppies, and the square white crosses in endless lines up gently rising hills to the sky.

This is a day above all when Australia came to know how bad the news could be, and how one must be careful, mistrusting bosses, generals and politicians, looking after your mates, cherishing your home community, your neighbourhood and family, your bushland and rivers and beaches, realising how rare Australia is, and how precious it is, our home, our blessing, our cause.

This is a day of Australian memory. Lest we forget.

Our Last Missionary War

It will be good to be jack of it and out of it but it’s amazing, truly amazing, we were in it so long.

Twice as long as World War One already and longer than Vietnam by the time we are fully out, its purpose has changed from the rooting out of Bin Laden to the bringing of democracy to the extermination of the Taliban to a coalition with them, and its aim gone from victory to saving America from humiliation to adequate training of a force that can defend the Karzai drug dynasty from arrest and beheading and the semblance of democracy in a process that will be cheated, now, the Taliban’s way, and our absence when the Great Hazara Massacre begins.

For too long Australia has been in other empires’ colonial wars, disguised each time as missionary wars — in the Sudan, South Africa, Turkey, France, New Guinea, Korea, Malaya, Vietnam, Kuwait, East Timor, Afghanistan, Iraq — only one of them connected with our national survival, the rest a traumatising waste of our Diggers’ lives and a retrospective national shame. About a hundred thousand of us died in these incompetent imperial adventures, two hundred thousand of us came back crippled, insane or genitally poisoned and siring mutant children, and the cost in personal spiritual shattering and national pride after five lost wars out of twelve has been, as we say, immeasurable.

We did die in vain, a lot of us, only about eighty thousand, probably, but we lost a hundred thousand arms and legs as well, probably and needlessly, and nine or ten thousand of us committed suicide or beat our wives to death or maddened our children or became caravan-dwelling recluses out of a stark loss of purpose, and it’s a pity. About a million of us were not born, so far, including the great grandsons and daughters of the Gallipoli dead; and it’s a pity.

Have we ever asked why all our wars were fought overseas? This is not true of Britain, France, the Soviet Union, Italy, China, Canada, Spain, The Netherlands and Cuba. It is true of us because they were not our wars. They were missionary wars — against the nightmare of Vietnam becoming what it is today, of the secular Sunni-Christian ruling clique of Iraq hiding atomic bombs in the sand, against Afghan husbands treating their women badly — and a lot of the time it was none of our business; and, as the Arab Spring shows, a business better dealt with by Facebook and cellphone reportage and al-Jazeera frontline heroes than helicopter-gunships blowing up liitle girls in the wrong mud houses at midnight.

They were wars fought with weapons already outdated — Agent Orange, ‘relocation’, bunker-busters, torture in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo — by 1955, when it became clear in Malaya that hearts and minds are not won by killing selectively the sons and husbands and fathers of grieving women and angry little boys. They are lost that way.

And one more now has been lost in the unconquerable hills of Afghanistan, a war that should never have been contemplated and should never have been fought.

When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?

And when will we?

The Esterhas Fallout (2): Mel, Anti-Semite, Employing, Like Schindler, Jews

Anti-Semitism is a big charge and it requires, I think, not just uttered words to make it stick. It requires a pattern of behaviour over decades that shows a person to be always hostile to, dismissive of, and angry about, and keen to persecute Israelis and Diaspora Jews.

But Mel has employed Jews, and worked for them and alongside them. Silver and Goldblatt on four Lethal Weapons, Warren Mitchell in Death Of A Salesman (a play by a Jew), Matt Groening and the many Jewish writers on The Simpsons he dubbed his own voice for in the episode that sent him up are significant examples of what seems an aberrant PRO-Semitic tendency in a punishing proto-fascist who seems not to put his money where his mouth is though he has hundreds of millions of it.

The most remarkable example of this tendency is in his casting of Maia Morgenstern, a practising Bucharest Jew and a star of the State Jewish Theatre as the Virgin Mary in his controversial Aramaic-speaking film about a Jewish hero, The Passion of the Christ.

It is not as though he was strapped for choices. Marisa Tomei, an Oscar-winning Catholic, was available. The cradle Catholics Anna Maria Monticelli, Greta Schacci and Judy Davis were available. Kristin Scott Thomas. Charlotte Rampling. Sophia Loren. The obvious blue-eyed Aryan Michele Pfeiffer. The tongue-speaking Sarah Palin. The ever-available Elizabeth Taylor. His fellow NIDA graduates Cate Blanchett, Rachel Griffiths, Frances O’Connor, Jackie Weaver, Wendy Hughes. Nicole Kidman, who was very big then, and a famous reconverted Catholic.

Yet he chose a Synagogue-attending Jew. Why did he do this? To secure the Romanian audience? I doubt it.

I suspect it was because he had seen her work, and he liked it.

And he didn’t think her being a Jew was a difficulty, although she would be playing the primary female Saint in the Christian iconography; the original Bleeding Heart.

Does this sound like the work of a round-the-clock anti-Semite to you? Me neither.

What then are we talking about? What then are we TALKING about? A man determined to do harm to the Jews? Or not?  A man for eight years determined to make a pro-Jewish film with some Christian colorations to it, like Ben-Hur, who sometimes in drink or drugs runs off at the mouth as his fanatical father taught him to (the exact comparison is Phillip Larkin) and has never punched a Jew in his life? Or some odious, murderous moral equivalent of Adolf Eichmann?

Does anyone reading this believe the latter?


Apologies all round then.

You first, Terrance.

The Henderson Wars (16): Hooray For Agent Orange, A Necessary Sacrifice In A Noble Cause

Gerard in his column this morning seems quite relaxed about the Birthday Ballot, which sent unwilling teenagers off to die or suffer Agent Orange in Vietnam, to sire thereafter mutant children and suicide in unusual numbers after guilt-scarred service in a war that was lost and three million people died young in.

He is concerned, though, to point out that the American Alliance did not cause the Birthday Ballot, the British Empire did. We brought back conscription, principally, he says, to defend Malaya against the Communists, a good thing to do. A very good thing to do.

So the Birthday Ballot was all right then, and the disrupted, fugitive young men on the run from it, like my perpetual collaborator Stephen Ramsey and the brilliant theatre director Aarne Neeme, were wrong to hide out for years it seems and then mount court cases — and win them — against the stern War Minister Malcolm Fraser’s view that a ‘noble cause’ would be served by the madness and mutation caused by Agent Orange, the villages burnt and the population ‘relocated’ and the young widows unable to remarry after their husbands died in their tens of thousands in the days and years after Tet, 1968, when the war was effectively lost in an afternoon but limped on shrieking ‘Peace with honour!’ until May, 1975.

The Birthday Ballot was all right, then, according to Gerard. Or have I got that wrong.

It is terrible that this moral oaf with the preppy voice and the mysterious funding gets eighteen hundred dollars a column, around two dollars a word, for being always wrong in elegant, lofty sub-Mandarin prose. His record is worth contrasting with that of Bob Brown, who is always right.

I ask him now if he agrees with Julia Gillard that we should get out of Afghanistan soon, and agrees with the view of my article, written in 2009 and published below, that we should never have got in.

I will debate him on this in front of any audience he chooses at any hour of the day.

Classic Ellis: Why Are We In Afghanistan, September, 2009

The outcry over Abdel Baset al-Megrahi going home to die in Libya and his hero’s welcome there continues, and raises a number of questions.

One of them is why we don’t bomb Libya for three months for harbouring a terrorist mastermind. We did this after 9/11, in a war that continues today.

We haven’t killed the mastermind yet, only scores of thousands of his neighbours, many of them children, but we keep on doing it.

Why aren’t we bombing Libya? Was the Lockerbie atrocity too small an act of terror to punish in this way? Or was the carpet-bombing of Afghanistan for three months, and its armed occupation for seven years, too heavy-handed a response to its government harbouring a criminal there?

And if it was a fair and appropriate response to that government, and we have to think it must have been, why aren’t we bombing, invading and occupying Pakistan, where the mastermind is now?

Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and US President Barak Obama think we are in a just war in Afghanistan, a very just war, a war on a major terrorist organisation and its training camps. Why not bomb, invade and occupy Pakistan and Libya too?

One of the worst legacies of the Bush-Howard-Blair years is this unyielding belief that we should fight a war on an idea by bombing and killing people possessed of that idea with aerial battleships and pilotless rockets firing shells and bullets at buildings with women and children in them.

It’s a belief that has proved, over time, unreliable.

Similar aerial attack did not convert the Londoners to Nazism; nor the Honoluluans to the religion of Bushido; nor the Guernicans to Franco’s fascism; nor the Hiroshimans to Protestant Christianity; nor the Gazans to Judaism. Ways of belief tend not to be changed by acts of war.

Why then are we in Afghanistan? Why are we killing a new generation of young men who believe we are cruel, heathen invaders of their country? Why are we breeding three more generations of suicide bombers? What is the up-side of what we are doing there? Is being there, as most British, Dutch and Canadian soldiers now believe, a mistake? And if it is a mistake, in John Kerry’s fine words, “How do we ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”.

For there is some evidence it is a huge mistake, this idea that killing men, women and children, and old men and old women, and goats and dogs and chickens, and immolating poppy fields in a country that is not your own is a useful way to win hearts and minds to our democratic ideals.

It was not found to be useful in Vietnam, where America lost. It was not found to be useful in Korea, where America lost. It was not found to be useful in Nicaragua, Cuba, Chile and Bolivia, where America lost. It seems thus far that it did not help in Iraq, which America is now creeping out of, all its allies having left, with its tail between its legs.

And yet it persists in Afghanistan, where the prospects of anything that might be called “victory”, or even “peace with honour”, or even “phased withdrawal”, are widely thought unlikely in less than 100 years.

Why are we in Afghanistan?

In answering this, it is worth distinguishing between two kinds of war. One is a war to throw out a country’s unwelcome invader, as was the war in Kuwait that threw out the invading Iraqis, and the war in France and Holland and Russia that threw out Nazi Germany. This can be easily described as a “just war”.

Another is a war within a country fought by different sects of its people, a civil war, as was the Tutsi-Hutu war in Rwanda, or the Gaza war (and it was a war) in Israel, and the Shi’ite-Sunni war in Iraq, and the Taliban-Karzaist war in Afghanistan. This kind of war it is mostly wise to stay out of.

Supposing Britain had intervened, as it thought it might, on the Confederate side in the American Civil War. Would that have been a wise thing to do? Despite the many ties of blood and culture and commercial interest between the old country and the new? Would the capture and execution of Abraham Lincoln by crack British troops have helped win the North’s hearts and minds in that war? It seems unlikely.

Did the capture and execution of Saddam Hussein likewise help in the recent war? Ask any Baghdad child with his legs blown off by a Sunni lately.

Why are we in Afghanistan? Do we share a common culture? No. Can we change their culture to ours? No. Can we win there? No; not with the numbers we’re deploying. Can we form a coalition government with the moderate wing of the Taliban? There is no moderate wing of the Taliban.

Have we improved things for the few Afghan people whose lives we control? Yes, quite a few in fact, but not the ones we killed or mutilated, or their mothers and sisters who grieve and care for them, who are numbered in their millions. And not the farmers whose poppy fields we burn or threaten to burn. Or the religious schools we are closing down. Or the mosques we are bombing on suspicion of who might be in them.

Can we attract one million soldiers from China or Pakistan to fight on our side? No. Can we attract one million European or African soldiers to fight on our side? No. A million Russians? No. Are we bound to lose, then? Looks like it.

Why are we in Afghanistan? Why are we asking, probably, one of our Australian soldiers to be the last man to die for a mistake? George Bush’s mistake? George Bush’s need to be at war with someone on that dire day of the toppling towers? George Bush’s foolish idea that you bomb a country because a bad man might be in it, and you flatten and burn that country until he comes out with his hands up, even after he isn’t in that country any more. Just as we bombed Argentina till Hitler came out with his hands up. Well, gee, it worked that time.

Why are we in Afghanistan? Can we fill a football stadium full of roaring Afghans keen that we stay there?

Can we do that next week?


Why are we in Afghanistan? To save the United States, as John Howard suggested, from one more international humiliation? Looks like it. But why should that matter now, now that six billion people already think George Bush a fool?

Let us do an exercise.

Let us imagine that General Suharto accused Australia in 1986 of harbouring the terrorist mastermind Jose Ramos Horta, in Parramatta, Sydney, which was true, and demanded we “give him up”.

Let us imagine Prime Minister Hawke refused to do so. Let us imagine Suharto, then, declaring a “war on terrorism”, bombed Darwin, Brisbane, Canberra and Sydney flat and set up a puppet pro-Muslim government under John Howard, and Bob Hawke’s Labor cabinet, retreating to Albury, directed aggressive incursions against the usurpers.

Let us imagine helicopter gunship raids against “suspected Hawkists” in Albury, Wollongong, Nowra, Melbourne, Bathurst and Armidale in the next seven years killed, oh, about 100,000 Australians, including 20,000 children and injured and mutilated 70,000 more.

Let us further imagine the Indonesian invaders demanded our women wear the berka and our children go to Muslim schools, and the sewerage, hospitals, transport, public safety and market economy got worse not better, and our pig farmers were bombed and immolated because the Koran commands us not to eat swine.

Would we at that point feel friendly towards the Indonesian invaders, declare they had won our “hearts and minds” and turn out gladly to vote for the pro-Muslim puppet Howard in a rigged election in which Bob Hawke was not a candidate?

Would we? Especially when we knew that Jose Ramos Horta had been for three years living safely in New Zealand?

Why are we in Afghanistan? Why is it any business of ours that certain Muslims treat their women badly? So do certain neo-Mormons in Texas; certain Amish in Pennsylvania; certain respected aldermen on Pitcairn Island; and many, many Kenyans like Barack Obama’s father.

But no bombing raids on these outposts of male tyranny have thus far been attempted. Why is this? Can there be some reason? Why do Barack Obama and Kevin Rudd believe it?

Why are we in Afghanistan?

Why do we think that killing Afghans assists their surviving relatives to a better society, a society that will still be there ten years after we leave? Why bomb them at all?

Wouldn’t it be better to give every Afghan family a flat-screen television and ten years subscription to Foxtel, Aljazeera and BBC World, plus 50,000 scholarships to their young adolescent men and women to study at Yale, Princeton, ANU, Monash, Cambridge, Trinity College and the Sorbonne?

Why bomb and mutilate these adolescents instead? Why send in robot rockets to take them out? Why burn their parents’ crops, and force on them a man as corrupt as Karzai, the former oil executive, in elections his opponents believe to be rigged, and forbid our future coalition partners the Taliban to take part in them?

Why do any of this? What friends do we make by doing it? What friends anywhere?

Why are we in Afghanistan? How do we imagine there are friendly Taliban keen to join with our puppet Karzai in government? How do we imagine the Hazaras we sent back there, like the Bakhtiyaris, are grateful that we keep on bombing their vengeful persecutors, and imagine they will treated well by these people when we leave?

Why are we in Afghanistan?

Especially now that Osama bin Laden, target and terrorist mastermind, is alive and well, after all this slaughter, in Pakistan.

Why are we in Afghanistan?

Just asking.

The Esterhas Fallout: Jew-Hating As A Hollywood Pastime

It has been said that Mel Gibson should be eternally punished, in some unspecified way, for having on several drugged or drunk occasions, said, or shouted, several anti-Semitic things, for having said or shouted several Jew-hating and Jew-baiting things, while working on a screenplay about some Jewish heroes, with a man with a Jewish wife and son.

It has been said he had no right to say or feel these things, and he shouldn’t be allowed near the subject he is making, or was making, a film about.

As a descendant of twenty million Jews I have a problem with this. I’m not sure we should punish anyone for what is after all, in Orwell’s expression, Thoughtcrime. If we can do this we surely have to go on to the next stage, which is burning Mein Kampf, and the books of David Irving, in the public square. And the poems of TS Eliot and Ezra Pound.

And the novels of Charles Dickens.

Freedom of speech is not just the freedom to say acceptable things. It is absolute, and covers Moonies, Greenies, Jehovah’s Witnesses who rail against blood transfusions, Mormons who used to believe in twelve-year-old brides, and Cardinal Pell who hopes Hell is empty and even Hitler, I guess, is out on day-leave now. It includes the freedom to hate, and hate as a generality.

Does a Changi survivor who saw his best mate beheaded have the right to hate the Japanese, as a generality? Does a Jewish woman, like one I know (her name, absurdly, Eva Braun), who saw the smoke that used to be her parents go up in the sky over Auschwitz have a right to hate the Germans, as a generality? Do Carlton supporters have a right to hate, whatever that means, Collingwood supporters, as a generality? Do their victims have a right to hate, as a generality, the Scientologists who against their protests aborted them for having insufficient thetans? As a generality?

Will somebody answer this please.

Because if the answer is, in any of these cases, yes, it must then mean that a Gazan man whose wife and infant daughter were killed by an IDF helicopter-gunship at midnight in mistake for someone else, has the right to hate Jews as a generality.

I need arguments against this proposition.

I do not say Mel Gibson has just cause for his intermittent hatred of Jews, or that his father does. I only suggest it is within his human rights to have, and express, such feelings.

He was not so anti-Semitic in the past. He played Biff in Death of a Salesman, a play by a Jew, with a Jewish co-star, Warren Mitchell. He made four Lethal Weapons, whose director of photography was called Goldblatt, and whose producer was called Joel Silver. He made The Passion of the Christ, a story of a heroic Jew, in the languages he actually spoke, Aramaic and Latin, with Maia Morgenstern, a practising Jew from Romania, as the Virgin Mary. He has striven for eight years to make a Maccabees film, about a family one might describe as the Jewish Castros of their day.

But he may believe, like a hundred million Protestant and Catholic Americans, that the Jews will burn a billion years in Hell if they do not convert, and still have a trillion years to go. It seems wrong to me, a sort of Jew, and likewise bound as an atheist for infinite burning, that he should be singled out for vilification when a hundred million others, a hundred and fifty million others, perhaps, and a billion more in the Middle East and Africa, are by this definition as anti-Semitic as he. Why not go after Billy Graham? Why not go after George Bush, who likewise believes the Jews must be converted, or fry in Hell?

What does this bizarre Tinseltown vendetta add up to? To the idea, simply, that the punishment of Mel Gibson must be henceforth without end.

In medieval times, he would have been put in the stocks for two days and pelted with rotten vegetables, and then let go about his business.

But, for some of us, alas, the thirteenth century has not yet dawned, and the unstrained mercy Christ and Shakespeare spoke of — you must love even those who revile and persecute you — is a hundred years away.

And it’s a pity.

Classic Ellis: The Kristina Keneally Farewell Poem, 2011

Attend the fate of KKK,
A flittering moth who’s had her day,
Who felled, betimes, the goodly Rees,
And thought the Great Game just a breeze,

Who whimpers now, at power’s end,
Without a teddy-bear, or friend,
‘I did things right, I praised the Lord,
I asked my fellow-Yank, Walt Secord,

How best to corn-hole Joe and Eddie
While seeming hot, and calm, and steady;
And Walt said, ‘Kristina, iron your hair,
Conceal your brain, it isn’t there.

‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,
Claim you stand for honesty,
Go forth, look cute in a miner’s hat,
You do the tapdance whilst I grow fat.’

She cooed, she danced, she hit the spot,
And old men grunted, ‘Wow, she’s hot.’
But everyone voted for portly Barry,
Cuddly disguise for Oil Can Harry,

And now, aghast, ’neath alien skies,
So unfulfilled, and yet not wise,
Lies lovely, chirpy KKK
At the end of her working holiday.

And who’s to blame, and who’s to care,
Who’s to remember her flying hair?
The Labor diaspora weep and wail,
Their Golden Age kaput. Wassail.

As I Please: A Thought Or Two On Titanic Day

I saw bits of two Titanic films last night and began to realise why the event still has such moral force and the image especially of the band playing ‘Nearer, My God, To Thee’ on the tilting deck is so beautifully distressing.

It’s not because of the gallantry of the musicians, who know that they themselves will be dead in an hour, and their aim to soothe, uplift and sweeten the souls of their fellow travellers who have no longer to live. It’s not because the tune is so good, or the words so poignant. It’s because God, a caring God, was nowhere, truly nowhere, in the vicinity. He was far from the scene, he was out of business, he was long dead, and ‘Further, My God, From Thee’ was a fitter lyric for the sea-washed cock-up they were in. It was the first orchestral movement of the twentieth century’s atheism, of which the Great War was the second. And it was, of course, a masterful, dextrous act of Spin.

And it was Spin for the start of a century that used thereafter a lot of Spin. In Gallipoli, where no inch of ground was gained and more men died than in Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Dresden put together, while the Spin declared they ‘did not die in vain’. In America when the ‘homes fit for heroes’ were seized by the banks and the heroes of war went walking, a cardboard sign around their neck, ‘will work for food’, down the dusty lanes and rode the box cars of the New Oblivion. When millions of Jews after ‘relocation’ were promised a new life in Israel and ended, after chain-gang slavery, in the crematoria of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. Where millions of Americans, sent to Vietnam in ‘a noble cause’, found it rather less than that, and came home deranged and brutish, wife-beating and suicidal after ten years of it, a war they lost, but will not admit they lost even now.

God was no nearer in any of those places, and a hundred million ordinary yearning sorrowful people died young for want of Him, and the Spin, nonetheless, went on. The Surge is working. The War on Drugs will be won. Afghanistan is winnable. Our task is to train the terrorists to kill us more efficiently, lest al-Qaeda be put out of pocket by their training. We must kill more Taliban, then form a coalition with them, trusting to their good humour and their kindliness to their enemies when we go away.

Titanic is also about incompetence, which became the larger story of the twentieth century. The hundreds of thousands of young men killed in the wire of No Man’s Land, ten thousand sometimes in a single morning, because three cousins disagreed. The hundred thousand men that surrendered to twenty thousand at Singapore. The Agent Orange meant to ‘defoliate’ Vietnam that caused mutant children in millions on both sides. The tens of thousands of babies killed in their humidicribs for possessing Weapons of Mass Destruction — atomic bombs, that is — which were not there. The monthly killing in Gaza of children descended from Ishmael but not Isaac, a capital crime, we are told by the IDF; the Messiah, possibly, among them.

There were not enough boats on the Titanic, by a factor of fifty percent, in order not to complicate, we are told, the deck-promenades of the first class passengers in the cool of the day, and a lot of the boats left the ship half-empty, dooming hundreds of immigrant children who might have improved American life as architects, musicians, rocket scientists, had they survived. As Kenneth More said last night, there were only seconds in it. If they hadn’t been speeding, or had seen the iceberg two seconds earlier, there might have been no need for evacuation, in freezing temperatures, at midnight, of women and children first, and First Class women first, nor the Class War on the deck for anguished young stewards forced to choose which poor infants, and which poor old women, would die in an hour as they themselves would die.

Incompetence is the tale less often told of that night, and the following century.

And it is the tale, a hundred years on, a hundred years this morning, we still are in.

A Word On Drugs From My Girl Pearl

(This came in as a response this morning, and was so impressive I’ve put it up here to emphasise and publicise it. It followed my piece After Breaking Bad: A Thought Or Two On Drugs. I do not know who the author is.)

Yep, this series really does do an amazing job at setting drug use, drug trade and “the war on drugs” in context. I really like the way you drew those threads together. There’s little value in looking at drugs and their illegal trade without looking at the broader environment. Surprise surprise – when our social structures fail us (or we are excluded from them or don’t know how to navigate them) we find other ways of getting what we need. And for as long as those other ways pay better there will always be an incentive.

Do drugs make us undecided in our priorities and wants, or do some of us use drugs because we are undecided and maybe drugs give us a reason or excuse not to decide. The reality is humans like drugs because they have a physiological effect. For many people, they are used in a recreational setting after which we go back to our lives, responsibilities and priorities. For others, it takes a hold in their lives.

I’ve never been much of a partaker. I was always terrified of losing control of my life and becoming a “junkie”. Books like Andrew McGahan’s “Praise” and Welsh’s “Trainspotting” scared the bejesus out of me. But as an adult, I know that most people can take drugs recreationally on occasion and then return to their day to day lives and resume their responsibilities.

I spent my teenage years very unhappily in a coastal town about an hour out of a capital city. As seems to be the way in such places there was a lack of interest in the outside world. Lots of big fish in small ponds. Lots of surfers. And lots and lots of pot. I have distinct memories of hanging out with my boyfriend of that time and his friends while they passed the bong around for hours on end. Talking crap. I left that world long ago because I had priorities and wants that I wanted to pursue, but most of that crew are still there. Still passing the bong around and talking crap. Grown men and women now.. Some of them have lost jobs and families because of pot. Some of them never got to the families stage. Others have just never grown up, and have just never gotten it together. Did the pot make them like that? I don’t know. But because they couldn’t give it up they never grew into having any priorities and therefore having reasons to make decisions. Pot was a bit of crutch for some of them too. Something to keep them all connected so that no-one ever grew up and moved on. Moving on was frowned upon. As was thinking big. God, I hated that place.

I lived in South America in the 1990s, when the USA was still very active in America Latina, sending evangelical missionaries into every community they could find and when the Drug Enforcement Agency was everywhere. I was living in Bolivia, where coca is a staple crop. It’s used widely throughout society and is an important part of the Aymaran culture. I don’t recommend chewing the leaves, they taste like shit, but matte de coca fixes everything. You need to load it up with sugar though. The Aztecs used to have their enslaved populations use coca so that they could work for longer as it wards off hunger and fatigue. It is still used by labourers. In the mines of Bolivia there are regular offerings to appease El Tio and ward off the dangers of mining (OHS not a big priority in the mines of the developing world as we know). There is no doubt that the size of the coca crop exceeded the Bolivian consumption and that much of it probably made it into the USA cocaine trade. Because the USA wouldn’t acknowledge the futility of the war on drugs, they put much effort into the destruction of coca crops in America Latina. Most of these crops were produced by peasant farmers, and many were nestled in the ‘fruit baskets” of Latin America where the countries’ fruits and vegetables were grown. Crop dusting of coca crops was widespread, and the DEA often threatened to bomb crops. It had a huge impact on those communities. Was it the problem of these Bolivians that the USA had a smack cocaine habit? Was the war on drugs an effective framework? I think history has proved that it probably hasn’t but that it has been incredibly expensive.

What this issue needs is a policy response, not a moralising response (which is of course what crime and punishment is). Do we want to have an impact on the effect drugs have in our community, or do we want to moralise? Policy that is based on an ignorance of human behaviour is fundamentally flawed and time and time again it has been proved to fail. The response by Federal Labor to the Australia 21 report was disappointing but sadly not suprising. It showed a real lack of courage. Probably they knew they don’t have the communication skills to pull off such a strong and brave stance.

Reader 1
What do you think is the difference between the South American cultural drug users and the Australian coastal bogans?

My Girl Pearl
The contexts are entirely different. What they have in common is that they are each using it for some kind of functional purpose in their life. Another example would be someone with a terminal illness of degenerative condition using marijuana to manage pain etc. The difference is that for the pot smokers of my youth it has become a functional purpose because they are now depdendent on it. They had other options and choices to have control in their lives. Doesn’t mean I take any satisfaction in what’s happened to them. I think it’s really sad.

The coca leaf chewing matte de coca sipping Bolivian peasant working in a mine is using that stimulant to help him work longer for his family. And he’s also hoping that the deal he does with the devil of the mines will keep him safe while he takes his life and the wellbeing of his family in his hands. By the by he has no employment protection and if anything happens to him then his family is kicked out of the house (which they might share with two other families) that comes with his job and they find themselves begging on the streets of the cities because there is no support structure. If it gives him peace of mind, comfort or whatever then so be it – cause he doesn’t have the benefit of any of the other structures that we do. I’m not saying that there aren’t other forms of drug abuse in Bolivia by the way.

As part of a uni assignment once I did a doco film treatment juxtaposing the Aymaran or Quechua myth of how coca came to be throughout Latin America against the geopolitics of the USA in Latin America and the drug trade. Wonder where that is.

I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like to struggle with drug or alcohol problem. Or to watch a loved one go through that struggle. Remember the movie Candy? Remember how she gets pregnant so they go cold turkey to get clean, and the withdrawals sends her into a premature birth and the baby is still born. That really got to me. The thought of your life being in a crappy place that you so desperately wanted to get out of, finally seeing a reason to get out of that place, trying and not making it and suffering a loss like that. Being scared perhaps even of accessing the services that are supposed to help you.

Maybe there aren’t any differences actually. Don’t we all want to escape something in our lives sometimes? Don’t we all sometimes think it’s all overwhelming?

I’m prepared to concede that there is an inconsistency in my argument here.

The Strange Voyage Of Joe Esterhas (2): Letter To A Friend

I’ve read the Esterhas letter to Mel Gibson and it may well have some connection with what happened between them and what occurred in Joe’s hearing and sight but it shows a man who is madder, at times, than the shouting, furniture-smashing, knife-wielding anti-Semite Lennon-hating Mel he describes and accuses and rails at.

Yet … a lot of what he says rings true. Mel, the Catholic fundamentalist, throws out of the house a priest who speaks up for Vatican II, the conference that liberalised the Church and, in his view, ruined it. Mel, the Catholic fundamentalist, hates John Lennon for his atheist anthem ‘Imagine’ and is glad he was killed. Mel, the Catholic fundamentalist, says a conspiracy of Jews and Liberal Catholics killed Pope John Paul I in the third week of his reign (well, somebody did). Mel, the unreformed alcoholic, rages and shouts at his guests at night and apologises sheepishly in the morning. In one of his rages he says he plans to fuck Oksana’s ass and stab her while he’s doing it. (Worth noting, I think, at this point, is that Mel has thus far in his fifty-six years killed nobody, or even, I think, broken anybody’s nose. This contrasts with Frank Sinatra, who punched waiters and barmen and bellhops, probably, four times a year.)

But Joe’s own actions seem crazy too. Fearing Mel will kill him, he sleeps beside his wife with a baseball bat in one hand, a rosary in the other; and he gives his son Nick a butcher knife to sleep with lest he become the first of Mel’s first serial killings.  He says his own father was a war criminal who may have killed Jews, and he wants to expiate that sin with a screenplay that glorifies Jews. He claims Mel never intended to make the film because he hates Jews.

He doesn’t say how much Mel paid him to write this film about Jews he never intended to make because ne hates Jews. He doesn’t mention what plot-points or characters or narrative Mel wanted changed; none, by the look of it. He doesn’t mention what drugs he, Joe, was on which might have fuelled his paranoid view  that Mel, a Jew-hater, after a lifetime of abstaining from racial murder, might want to kill Joe’s jewish wife.

He also makes no mention of his own fantasies of violence, or his many films with violence in them, upmarket snuff films like Sliver and Basic Instinct. He does not say if Mel’s alleged plan to fuck Oksana’s ass and knife her back was part of a hypothetical conversation between two stoned collaborators with separate histories of bloodstained cinematic effects, or was provoked by such a conversation, and cocaine: an hypothesis, not a plan. He plays the innocent, saying, like Brad in The Rocky Horror Show:

‘We wanted to go home, to Cleveland. We wanted to sit by the fire in our den. We wanted to go to church. We wanted to work in the snow. We wanted to be far away from Costa Rica — the aesthetically beautiful place that had turned into a nightmare for me. And I realized that we hadn’t done any “work” at all — AT ALL — on “The Maccabees”.

A druggie’s equivalent of ‘the dog ate my homework’ if I ever heard one.

Go to church indeed.

His basic charge, that Mel, an anti-Semite, hated the very idea of a Jew-praising film he, Mel, had been talking about for ten years, falls down the minute you ask, ‘Why then did he pay a name screenwriter with Oscar nominations a million dollars to write it?’ And the story falls down too the minute you realise he makes no mention of any of the ‘artistic differences’ over the screenplay that formed his view that Mel had no interest in it, or wanted to damn Jews in it, show them up for the Christ-killing scum they are.There are no artistic differences. Funny, that.

This letter is an attempted assassination of a signifcant film director and it may work. Mel may go into despondency, therapy, drugs and a fatal accident because of it. And it’s a pity.

I hate Joe Esterhas. He’s a greedy incompetent whinger and fantasist, a very bad house guest, a very rich arsehole, and a treacherous, treacherous collaborator. And I hope he never eats lunch in Costa Rica again.

Classic Ellis: Eric Bogle, 2008

(From And So It Went)

Friday 18th January, 5.10 p.m.

To Eric Bogle at The Harp, an Irish pub in Tempe, a purgative tear-splashed experience with my two sons Tom and Jack and a lot of Labor people, gnarled old girls I was at university with, Brian Langton the former Transport Minister and Damien Stapleton the vigorous party stalwart from (yes) Mosman, and a crammed standing audience, mostly over-fifties.

Eric sang with his eyes closed, his head tilted back, a wise wan smile, an expertly fingered guitar and an old friend John whose body, face and humour were a slightly enlarged version of his own, who guitar-accompanied and joined the choruses. They sang ‘The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’, the Willy McBride song ‘The Green Fields of France’, ‘Shelter’, ‘Now I’m Easy’ and my favourite, ‘Singing the Spirit Home’, about the teenage black activist about to be hanged whose weeping terror is soothed by cell-mates in chorus who ‘sang his spirit home’.

I have not been more moved in a while. Part of it was knowing Eric, too, like the mouldy cockatoo, has survived and the bleeding-heart ethic of which he was our anthemising laureate had also, though mocked and buffeted and bruised to the core, come through the Howard years and was now in its purity available for acclaim. Like the dying old farmer in ‘Now I’m Easy’, he, and we, could go to our last rest not exactly justified but proud we had a go.

For nearly sixty years I’ve been a Cockie.
Of droughts and fires and floods I’ve lived through plenty.
This country’s dust and mud have seen my tears and blood,
But it’s nearly over now, and now I’m easy.

I married a fine girl when I was twenty,
But she died in giving birth when she was thirty.
No flying doctor then, just a gentle old black gin,
But it’s nearly over now, and now I’m easy.

She left me with two sons and a daughter
On a bone-dry farm whose soil cried out for water,
So my care was rough and ready, but they grew up fine and steady,
But it’s nearly over now, and now I’m easy.

My daughter married young, and went her own way,
My sons lie buried by the Burma Railway,
So on this land I’ve made me home, I’ve carried on alone,
But it’s nearly over now, and now I’m easy.

And so on. Then Eric told a story of Tony Blair.

This handsome, ardent new young Prime Minister, it seems, had in 1997 shown a visitor to Downing Street a silver plaque engraved with ‘my favourite war poem The Green Fields of France’; by, he said, a private soldier, Eric Bogle, who died, he said (and the plaque did too), ‘in the First World War’. And Eric’s one surviving auntie, Thelma, read about this and wrote to Blair saying, ‘My nephew Eric Bogle did not die in World War 1, he is alive and famous and singing and you are a dickhead and your silver plaque, sir, is wrongly engraved’; or words to that effect. And a Downing Street flunky after only eighteen months wrote back to say the Prime Minster was ‘pleased and relieved that Private Eric Bogle was still alive and he would make his best efforts to catch his act when next he performs in England’.

How much by this small tale is told of Tony Blair, I thought, and how well informed are those impelled and sleepless minders who tell him what to do. Eric had frequently played in Blair’s home town of Edinburgh and his song was on the charts in England and Scotland, the land of his birth, and already a standard that many, many other performers performed in pubs and folk festivals. And Blair had never heard it, or heard of it. And he’s been lately ‘surprised’, he says, by how badly the Palestinians are being treated, how many starved and harassed and beaten and killed, unjustly in his opinion. Most things are news to Blair who is on the evidence, as Aunt Thelma deduced, a dickhead.

After Breaking Bad, A Thought Or Two On Drugs

People told me to see Breaking Bad so often and so heatedly that I got it out last week and watched with Annie three series in two days absorbed.

Out of only six premises — Walter’s lung cancer, his chemical expertise, his young son’s cerebral palsy, his brother-in-law the honest cop, his wife’s pregnancy, and the American health care system — a drama that reaches out into all aspects of America: the drug economy, border protection, divorce law, public education, police forensics, gun control, the unimpeded rule of gangsters in the southern states and Mexico and what, under capitalism, is an adequate preparation for death.

Walter kills a man and we still like him. He manufactures meth and we still somehow admire him. He is trying to look after his family, to do what in Scandinavia the state would do on his behalf. He is doing his best for his loved ones, his people.

What got to me though is what drugs do to you. As in A Dangerous Method it is hard to believe in the continuity of human personality any more, for the drugs change you so much. We are at the best of times just a wandering archipelago of random impulses, but drugs strip us down to less than that. We are saints and murderers, reliable providers and whingeing infants depending on what we are on. Bob Dylan’s varied incarnations from cowhand to activist to prophet to Christian wowser to suburban dad to metropolitan cynic show how deeply they cut into our being. John Lennon, chiacker, nudist, campaigner, house husband, smack addict, poet and artist, show how undecided in our wants and priorities they can make us.

They work on us like religion. They turn us into ‘the new me’, the new edition of self, the Second Act that Scott Fitzgerald said is not allowed in American lives. Worse they make deniable what has happened before: hey, lighten up, that was last year, I’ve moved on from there, I’ve shed that skin, get used to me now, I’m different, I’m another person now.

Sabina in A Dangerous Method goes from psycho to psychoanalyst, sadomasochistic sex-crazed mistress to respected medical theorist to babbling madwoman jumping at shadows depending on what drug she’s on. Freud takes cocaine and believes he controls the universe; and Sherlock Holmes does too. Churchill administers World War Two while brain-deep in brandy, Hitler on cow-dung and bull-sperm injections, and so world history unfolds. Jack Kennedy, on steroids, needs sex three times a day. I found out last week that I am V8 Juice-deficient, low on iron, and I have been jumpy, impatient, suspicious and anxious for forty years for no other reason. And I might have a different personality soon. So watch this space, as they say. Are we anything more than a space, waiting to be filled? It’s a worry.

And the ideas of crime and punishment get very wobbly at this point, as Walter White’s grim journey of the soul so ably demonstrates. Are we truly responsible for anything? What vitamin or beverage or exercise regimen or frequent sexual position will make us so? Will prayer help? Religion? Are these drugs too? It’s a worry.

These are difficult questions, old friend, and worth thinking on.


The Strange Voyage Of Joe Esterhas (1)

Joe Esterhas says he has film of Mel Gibson saying he wanted to stab his girlfriend while in an act of sex, if I’ve got that right, called the head of William Morris a ‘cunt Jewboy’, said John Lennon ‘deserved to die’ and hoped his Maccabees film would ‘convert the Jews to Christianity.’

It seems remarkable that after all this he continued to work with Mel, took a million dollars from him, or was it two, and did not give it back.

Elsewhere it is reported that Mel is carrying on without him, will make the film without him — the Maccabees film, that is, without him — and it will not be, amazingly, an anti-Jewish film, in the manner of Dr Goebbels’ Jew Suss, but more like Braveheart.

This emphasises what I said yesterday, that Joe Esterhas is as mad as a cut snake, an unreliable witness, a character assassin, a mean drunk, and, by the look of his many, many Golden Rasberry nominations and prizes, a rotten screenwriter.

He will not release the film of the stab-my-girlfriend rant, if I’ve got that right, because … it’s hard to say. Maybe he’ll release it, and maybe he won’t.

Let’s look at what’s being alleged here. That Mel, who made another film about a heroic Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, in the language he spoke and preached in, Aramaic, with his own money and made half a billion dollars out of it, proposed to make another film, about another Jewish insurgent hero Judas Maccabeus and his fighting brothers Jonathan, Simon, Eleazar and Yohanan, who cast out the Seleucids in BC 164 and were the last Jews to hold and rule Jerusalem till the war of 1967 took back the Wailing Wall two thousand and eleven years later, did so because he HATED JEWS, apparently, and hoped by spending a lot of money on a film about their most heroic struggle and victory to do them harm. During the writing of the film he cursed them bag and baggage, claimed the Holocaust did not happen, and used the word ‘hebe’, short for ‘Hebrew’, a lot, AND JOE DID NOT WALK OUT ON HIM BECAUSE HE LIKED THE MILLION DOLLARS OR WAS IT TWO.

Then Joe wrote a script which Warner Brothers didn’t think was any good, nor did Mel, and he was fired from it by the agreement of both parties, and he now says he was fired from it because Mel hates Jews, though he, Joe, is not a Jew, he is a Hungarian.

Are there any flaws in this narrative so far? Anything that supports my thesis that Esterhas is a mad bastard who ran off at the mouth in a bar somewhere then noticed there were cameras on him and had to stick with his libels and hour by hour is making a bigger and bigger fool of himself?

Because, if the reports are true, Mel is going on with the film. And we will see the film eventually. And how anti-Semitic it is.

I had a public stoush with Mel once over the Fabians and he may not like me any more but I ask him to send me Joe’s script so I can take a look at it. If it is as bad as he says it may explain a good deal of what has happened.

And necessitate apologies from a lot of people including Terrance who has defiled these columns with his unremitting libels of an Oscar-winning hero of Scotland, Christendom and the AIF.

Boat People: The Final Solution (2): The Only Answers That Matter

It comes down to two questions in the end, and I ask Scott Morrison to answer them.

(1) There were no boat people under Whitlam, and thousands of them under Fraser. What did Fraser do wrong?

(2)  There were far fewer boat people in Bob Hawke’s nine years of power than there were in John Howard’s first nine years of power. What did John Howard do wrong?

Classic Ellis: Into The Woods With Bob Brown, 2000

I took a few steps off the road and suddenly, silently all around me was a place I remembered, or half remembered — the brown broad flaking trunks and pale green ferns and the mossed and mushroom-barnacled logs of the original Forest that for an eternity covered most of Europe. The green caressing welcoming ominous Otherworld that Hansel and Gretel were lost in, and Puck the mischievous fairy taunted young love in, and black-cowled Death would wait in for the next footsore traveller with his scythe and his smirk and his mortal bargainings. It was all still there, it seemed, in south-west Tasmania, just off the dirt road out of Maydena, the Woods, the dark seductive habitat of childhood’s bedtime stories and old men’s waking dreams where Tolkien’s elvin creatures scuttered and Merlin slept.

And in it, suddenly, silently, there was what I had come to see: a big tree, pale, and straggling bark, tall and straight, tall as three railway carriages stood on end, old as Will Shakespeare would be now if he were still alive, wide as a city tenement, deep in its roots as Town Hall station 6; then another near it and a little way off, through undergrowth, a third, in shadows deepened by their own immensity. Eucalyptus regnans. The tallest flowering plants on earth. The highest hardwoods, and the second largest living things after, yes, California’s redwoods — though one of them felled a century ago in Victoria had measured 150 metres (lacking trigonometry, the admiring axemen could measure it only by cutting it down), and so was the biggest living thing on earth, till they cut it down.

Toadstools and lichens and butterflies around them, moss and mouldering peace. A clinging, attentive buzzing silence all around. We took our photographs: Ellis arms outstretched in crucifix mode against the trunk’s grey freckled enormity, Ellis and friends communing with sprouting pre-Cambric toadstools. And then we walked on, through the Woods, the ever-hypnotic and soothing dappled panoply, crunching the undergrowth, towards…what? I both knew and didn’t want to know.

And soon, too soon, we saw it, the next thing on the map. The Desolation. Clear-felling they call it, but no words are big enough for this vast and tedious panorama of splintered nothingness, this mile on mile of stricken and shattered mountainside that used to be green embracing Arthurian forest — how recently? a year? a month? a week? — and was now like Dresden the morning after, carpet-bombed, burnt out, lifeless, no birdsong, no skirring insects, no animals, the bushland equivalent of what the Biblical prophet Ezekiel called ‘a valley of dry bones’. Oblivion. Holocaust. Extinction. In a region wondrously, tellingly named the Valley of the Styx.

‘And after they chop them down of course,’ Charles Wooley of Sixty Minutes volubly noted as we posed together on a stump as wide as a Manly ferry, ‘they have to poison what life remains — what a good old forester mate of mine once called “the vermin.” And I said vermin, you mean, rats, mice? And he said, “No, Charlie, possums and wombats and wallabies and potoroos.”‘ Maybe half a million animals a year, Wooley estimated, a slow and painful death from a deciduous monofluoroacetate mix that was known as 1080 and quickly vanished from the ecosystem leaving no trace, like a neutron bomb. After which the new-planted corporation forests could grow untroubled by pesky animal life in healthy, thrusting, skyward silence.

I thought of the phrase then, and told it to Wooley: ecological totalitarianism. He liked it, because it contained within the sweep of its ugly meaning all the information people weren’t told. How you couldn’t, for instance, discover through Freedom of Information what money Tasmania made, and Riotinto made, from woodchipping; what, in dollars and cents, this ongoing unceasing willed catastrophe was finally worth. That information was ‘reclassified,’ unknowable, not fit to know.

‘This year they’ve produced more chips than in any other years,’ he said. ‘We’re up to somewhere between 5 and 6 million tonnes per year. And yet they’ll never crow about that, no way. Now if we were selling apples again — which we can’t give away — the Minister for Apples would say, “We’ve sold 5 million tonnes. This is fantastic.” When we do so well in woodchipping, they don’t mention it.’

Charles Wooley was angrier lately than in the twenty-odd years I’d known him. A prospering jocular media personality, he’d lately halved his television commitments and moved back to his island home in search of that dream of his Huckleberry childhood — fly-fishing, bushwalking, rock-climbing, rafting, catamaranning — that he now might relive with his new young family. And he saw what he called the ‘Stalinist economics’ of the Tasmanian quangos in their thick-witted bureaucratic sluggishness wrecking, uprooting, smashing his dreamtime hour by hour. World War Tree, some called it. The industry that dare not speak its name. Trees taller than the Opera House, tall enough to reach from the water high up into the arch of the Harbour Bridge, each of them a wonder of the world, being turned into garden furniture and office desks and woodchips. It made no sense.

I spent Christmas with him, in his Federation house in Battery Point, Hobart, and had an engorged and roisterous good time with his wife Red the chef and all of his children and certain bibulous, revelling, mildewed male companions. But the anger, though cloaked in bawdy stories and a journo’s acid-drop ridicule, did not cease.

‘The dog that starred in Babe retired to Tasmania,’ he said with feeling, ‘with his New Zealand-born owner. He was on a long leash in the backyard. And a wombat dying of 1080 came staggering out of the bush. He died. On his leash, the dog was just able to get at him, and gnawed on his leg. And he too had a long and painful death he didn’t deserve. Nothing deserves to die like that. 1080′s banned in the United States, and most of the rest of the world, and rightly so. It comes in little chopped piles of carrots, which the chemicals turn blue. You see it everywhere — by the road, in the waste ground, at the forest edge. It’s done with the same clear conscience that gave poisoned flour to the blacks. It’s done for a good economic purpose, and for the civilisation of Tasmania.’

Bob Brown, the ceaseless Green crusader and senator looked up from his breakfast coffee at Zum’s in Salamanca Place. ‘I first came to Tasmania in search of the thylacine,’ he said, ‘and if there were any alive when I came here they’re dead by now, taken out by 1080, probably round Maydena.’ It’s a particularly nasty death, he explained with his characteristic gentle dark-humoured sombre calm. ‘The animals convulse inside. They lose control of all orifices, and they just die, convulsing internally, a pain-racked death.’ Though it subsides pretty fast, it’s around for a while. He’d recently seen, for instance, three farm dogs who died of it ‘when they hopped a fence into a woodchip area and ate wallabies.’ I asked why this particular loathsome exterminant was used. ‘It’s cheap,’ he explained. ‘If they wanted to they could send out men with guns, or even build fences. But those alternatives are costly, and this is cheap.’

I looked across my copious, meat-heavy breakfast at this interesting, gently-spoken, possibly saintly man. He sometimes looked, I decided, like a medieval woodcut, carved from the same tough eucalyptine material he was tirelessly, patiently trying to save, an iconic familiar presence, a man of earnest constancy, all of a piece — the lean Abe Lincolnish frame, the angular Pilgrim face, the classless baritone voice, the sound-bite eloquence, the fundamentalist tenacity. I asked him how he got up each morning, to go on with the fight. ‘I think of the suffragettes,’ he said. ‘They had it harder than me. And the anti-slavery campaigners. They had it harder still. I’ve got it pretty easy. I get to use a Commonwealth car.’
The tiny Margaret Scott, the writer and comedy star, had emphysema that had worsened since I’d seen her last, and though she was down to four cigarettes a day she could not walk the length of her farmhouse corridor without staggering. It was true she had lately stood on a giant stump, she breathlessly admitted over a large antipasto lunch, like a poignant orating munchkin begging in her measured, sardonic, scholarly way for the life of the trees of the Styx. ‘It’s the straight tall trees that are made into woodchips,’ she said, and ‘the rubbish’, the limbs and the smaller trees, that are burned on the forest floor. ‘So in fact the cream of the old growth forests is going off to make woodchips. And it’s dreadful, dreadful that this is happening. It’s happening faster and faster, I think, because plantation wood from other countries — and one eucalyptus plantation, growing fast, in China is as big, I am told, as all of Tasmania — will very soon flood the market and they won’t get anything for what’s grown here. So they’re destroying the old growth forests as quickly as possible, while they’re still worth a few cents.’

She mourned, she added, lighting up a cigarette, not only the Forest of Europe that was part of her dreamtime too (she was born in Bristol and schooled in Cambridge and married for a time, implausibly and perilously, to the vast Falstaffian playwright Michael Boddy before she became in her witty sixties a youth cult figure on Good News Week and the ABC’s Great Debates), but also the two billion trees, or was it three billion trees, ‘and what’s a billion more or less?’, struck down since white settlement in continental Australia. ‘And as a result of course here the earth is striking back because salinity — not only the poisoning of the atmosphere but the poisoning of the earth itself — is on its vengeful, apocalyptic rampage.’

Like many forest campaigners of the over fifties generation of her adopted island she was both steadfast and despairing. What was happening was wrong and win or lose must be fought, to the last syllable of recorded time. Quickly bored by her own emphatic earnestness, she changed the subject and talked of other things. Her new book on ageing. Her ominously titled Collected Poems. Her garden. Her seven children and step-children. Her love of the Peninsula, that other Eden. I hoped I would see her again. She was one of the special people.

It was not beyond the wit of humankind, proposed Tim Morris, the lean persuasive ex-mayor of Maydena, whom I visited with Wooley before Christmas, to imagine a profitable tourist resort called The Valley of the Giants, with a steam train that came, as it used to, chuffing up the valleys to Maydena and a restaurant car on the train and a trad jazz band in the club car, and eco-tourists enjoying fine food and a boisterous left wing cabaret in the dining room of his crumbly weatherboard chalet on the night before they went out on their walk in the Forest with him as guide, or another. It would create forty jobs, at least. ‘With those forty jobs, we’d have a sustainable community. We’re about forty jobs short at the moment.’

What wrecked Maydena, he said, was the newsprint mills closing down at two weeks notice in the late eighties, when jackal rationalism at last remembered Tasmania and 1500 workers were sacked in about four years. Before then we had a paper industry, a paper industry that took some trees but preserved the ecosystem, and it made a profit. Now with clear-felling everywhere our one paper mill, in Burnie, unbelievably imports its woodchips from Indonesia, while we send ours more cheaply to Japan. Madness. Madness.

Only seven percent of Australia’s foreign tourism comes to Tasmania, he emphasised, and there was, apart from the distance, a reason for that. ‘We have this enormous civil war going on in this state, and the oppression of ten percent of the population who are out there saying, we don’t want this happening. And the government says, “Oh we’re clean and green, we like this image.” And vroom, down the road comes a big truck with a four-hundred-year-old tree on the back. And the people who are visiting the state, cruising round, really hate this. You go round a bend, just quietly looking at the scenery, and a sixty ton truck loaded with forest giants comes round the corner on your side of the road.’

And the trucks do not swerve of course, to avoid native animals dawdling across the highway. ‘In the dry weather after Christmas they come down to the rivers for water and they cross the roads because the roads are largely parallel to the rivers. And the stink of the dead animals is tremendous, and the tourists don’t like that either. And Forestry Tasmania has to send out a truck every morning in summer to pick up the carcases off the road.’

I asked him why so many people like him — literate, middle-aged, thoughtful, thong-wearing, opinionated, artistic, politically implacable — fetched up at last in Tasmania. ‘Well, it’s where people unthrilled by the money economy come,’ he said. ‘Here you can be broke in passable comfort, in a beautiful, clean, inspiring, special, still special place.’

And Tasmania, maddeningly, unstintingly, was beautiful still. The regrown trees on Mount Wellington where I stood in falling snow on December 27th looked okay to me. The museum towns of Georgian sandstone, so perfectly what they should be, and the tumbling clouds above hillsides green as Devon where horses browsed and sheep cascaded in perfect compositions, the sparkling waters of the pebbled streams and the salmon farms and the weatherboard teashops bespoke that better country the Past where they do things differently, as the man said, and more kindly and communally. Surely, trees or not, with some trees gone and others growing back, Tasmania would abide and be a better example to the distorted, polluted world of mindless numbers withering and choking elsewhere. Surely there was a time for giving over, and copping sweet and sad and stoic what was politically pragmatic and economically inevitable and giving up the fight for Tasmania’s sake, what was left of it, when what was left was pretty good.

At our second breakfast at Zum’s Bob Brown professed amusement at the deft Orwellian phrasing from Forestry Tasmania. ‘Wood production zones, which means total destruction. Tall tree management zones, which means total destruction. Harvesting, which means total destruction. I do like harvesting. It brings up images of maidens flitting through the crop with garlands in their hair.

‘And they take out trees like the regnans because they’re, quote, “post-mature and senescent” — which means they’re old, and might have only five hundred years to live. Post-mature and senescent: this description, Ellis, fits you and me. By dawn’s early light I see the chainsaws coming for us too.’

Best, he said, were their stated reasons for cutting down one section of old growth forest, then leaving one, then cutting down the next one, and so on. ‘It’s “addressing the problem of the dreary landscape,” they say, “by creating a patchwork quilt effect.”‘ His expression grew melancholy, and he said, ‘You’ve got to laugh.’

I stood among the snowdrifts on Mount Wellington on December 27th looking out over bunched clouds and sun shafts and cliffs and shores and rainstorms and patches of blissful, green-meadowed summer as if I were seeing, somehow, the whole world all at once, and I pondered as further snow began to fall the upside-downness of Tasmania. How though 39 percent of it was national park or protected zones, the largest such entities so classified in the known world, the war of the trees, more trees, more trees, went on. How, though 72 percent of its people disliked woodchipping, woodchipping went on. How its woodchips mostly went to Japan, but Japan preserved all its own trees and used the trees of the rest of the world for its famous, delicate paper and dividable virgin chopsticks. How the bitter history of Labor and the Greens in Tasmania, and the coalition between them that Bob Brown ended by bringing down the Field government after a breach of trust, or what he said was a breach of trust, and the historic links between Labor and the timberworkers’ unions (John Curtin was for years the chief representative of the Victorian branch) meant thankless, carping rancour unceasingly envenomed the discussions of two humanistic parties with a good deal in common - Labor and the Greens - here in Tasmania as nowhere else. How a pledge of a hundred dollars each from each Green voter in the Commonwealth might buy the Valley of the Styx, but what was preferred instead was the politics of whinge, and crusading kerbside slogans, and poignant song. How nonetheless the valley was beautiful, and each tree if left as a tourist wonder would over time make hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands more dollars than its component fibres turned to veneer and chopsticks and paper and kitchen tables. How the trees already in fact had made half a million dollars for Channel Nine from the commercials screened round Wooley’s Sixty Minutes story on the night, however, when the nation was watching instead the final SeaChange. How Tasmanians lacked, and most sorely lacked, a Richard Branson-style tourism entrepreneur who would bottle its mineral springs and sell world-wide its beers and cheese and take high-rolling fly-fishermen to its clear mountain waters and eco-tourists down its thrilling mountain tracks and publicise with Imax movies and popular songs this land of the day before yesterday, this wonder of the world.

I learned too that day that the three big trees I saw in the Styx had been since the fifties declared preserved, along with a fifteen hectare patch around them of token, temperate rain forest. But without the vast surrounding eco-system, the Greens, the whingeing Greens then argued, a hundred thousand more acres of it, the high winds would kill them soon and that would be that.

It wasn’t easy. None of it was easy. And time, the enemy time, was fleeting.

I got on the bus disconsolate to be leaving a place so like my childhood round Murwillumbah, remembering what I could. I remembered especially Christmas afternoon, when Wooley’s mischievous boyhood rekindled in his eyes, and he described with daunted relish the triumph he had felt as a boy when he cut down at last a bloody big tree. ‘And there it comes, and it comes all the way down. But then, then in that awful crash, and in the terrible silence that accompanies a crashing tree in the forest, a huge and awful silence after the last bit of litter comes down, it abruptly seems to us all nature, all awareness in us is saying,’ and he dropped his voice to a whisper, ‘”What the fuck did we just do?”

‘It’s like the death of God.’

As I Please: Bob Brown, Going

Bob Brown was never wrong about anything much in the last thirty years and I will miss him hugely. He came like Chifley from the Western Plains and had the lean, laconic amiability of such tall mild purposeful Gary Cooperish men who bring the clear unclouded skies of their decency into the room and with it focus their audience on the bigger things. I spent a few days in Tasmania with him once and co-wrote a book with him and when I return to the home computer I’ll put up on this blog what I said about him under Classic Ellis, 2000, above.

It’s a pity he will share so little time on the floor of the Senate with his fellow conservationist and intellectual equal, Bob Carr.

It would have been a conversation worth hearing.

Abbott, O’Farrell and Campbell Newman: The Sado-Masochist Factor

After Campbell Newman abolished the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards (and saved thereby each Queensland taxpayer one cent a month in perpetuity and awaited world applause) and then proposed to mutilate and sterilise the Great Barrier Reef and kill thereby whatever tourist industry the cyclones, floods and bushfires had not already abolished, and after Barry O’Farrell swore he would tear down and junk the Monorail and thus make children and old age pensioners walk a rancorous, whingeing mile to Darling Harbour, and agreed to ‘postpone’ the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards till Gerard Henderson had found a way to make them more denialist and right-wing, it occurred to me that these two fools and Tony Abbott shared a quality with some of their forebears, like Greiner, Howard, Kennett, Ruddock and Margaret Thatcher, a very distinct and recogniseable one.

It was what Freud called ‘sado-masochism’; and Dennis Healey nicely nicknamed ‘sado-monetarism.’

It is the desire to punish other people (and oneself) with unnecessary pain and suffering in order to gain some illusion of redemption by fiddling, needlessly and superstitiously, with very big numbers on a page. It’s not about solutions, of course, but punishing one’s enemies.

It comes, I think, from the late 1960s when most of us who had any sense were at the Orgy, and Howard, Reith, Greiner, Hewson and Kennett were standing at attention in the cadets, or praying for one another at Sunday School, or staying at home with their mother, as Howard did, and washing up on Friday and Saturday nights. They missed out on their youth and they want to punish all future generations who might be shaping up for a good one. This is why they abolished extra-curricular activities at university, tore down the Music and Fine Arts and Drama departments and the nighttime lectures, closed the campus bars at seven and cut off the money that used to go to provincial theatres.

Tony Abbott, to his credit, lacerates himself as cruelly as he does his fellow creatures. He runs each morning, evading sleep; he torments his crumbling spine with Iron Man contests and bike-rides from Sydney to Melbourne; he eats like a sparrow and keeps his weight down to an eighteen-year-old’s. In the past he pursued brain damage as an amateur boxer and now reaches, blinking, for the simplest adverb while the nation waits, unengrossed, for the next stage of his creeping dementia; and now, like fool, he promises to ‘turn back’ the boat-people when he could be moving the lot of them by flying boat to the coastal waters of New Zealand, the ideal place for ‘offshore processing’, and dumping them in the surf there.

It would be interesting to see if Eric Abetz, for instance, was beaten in boarding school; and Christopher Pyne; and Phillip Ruddock; and Bronwyn Bishop; and Julie Bishop; and, on those nights he slept over at Riverview, Tony Abbott. Being beaten in a place you cannot escape from and must night by night sleep in, fearful of the next assault by the next adjacent tormentor must be a terrible thing for a prepubescent exiled from his unloving family, as Malcolm Turnbull was, only a few miles from his father’s flat, and wondering what he/she has done to deserve it. What he/she is being punished by God for.

A map could be drawn, I guess, that links a public school education with a tendency to merciful policies in adult life, and a private, boarding school education (or fifteen years in the Army) with later cruelty of purpose, and relish in tearing down engines of joy like the monorail. It could then be decided whether such people should be allowed, as low-level psychopaths, to enter parliament, or locked up, like asylum seekers, until they have proved they are of good character.

It seems to me absolutely certain that Bob Brown and Bob Carr went to state schools; they have such merciful natures, calm voices and logical trains of thought. Bill Heffernan, by contrast, who exulted after SIEV-X in a widower’s distress in a conversation I recorded on page 591 of Goodbye Babylon, smells like boarding school to me.

I will look him up and confirm this.

God I will miss Bob Brown.

And so it goes.

Gibson, Anti-Semite, Reconsidered

Joe Esterhas’s view after he was fired from the Maccabees film (‘a Braveheart for Jews’) that Mel Gibson is violently and loathesomely anti-Semitic I find a little hard to take at the moment and very, very hard to believe. Joe was paid, probably, two million dollars for a script Warner Brothers found ‘insufficiently triumphant’, which he got in late (they expected better of the firebrand scenarist who got Sharon Stone to part then cross her legs in Basic Instinct), and probably paid him another half-million to go away.

What, then, is this newly enriched incompetent saying? That he was fired because Mel found his screenplay insufficiently anti-Semitic? Is that the reason? Really? Or that Mel demanded the Maccabees be made the villlains not the heroes of the story? Really? Is that so. Or is it just another egomaniac rant from Esterhas, a well-known drug-distorted badass who was for a while Hollywood’s highest paid writer and has not penned a good screenplay in eighteen years.

Eighteen years.

Eighteen years is the time Shakespeare took to write thirty-four plays including Richard III, Romeo and Juliet, As You Like It, Henry IV one and two, Henry V, Twelfth Night, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, Lear, The Tempest and Coriolanus, and his pay rate, currency adjusted, was always lower than Esterhas’s even after Joe’s four Golden Rasberries for Worst Screenplay of the Year; and he, with The Merchant of Venice, in his time seemed anti-Semitic too.

Can Joe Esterhas be trusted in these matters of accurate recall? I would have thought Mel’s Maccabees film was a good example of what we used to call ‘reconciliation’, of the sort that in South Africa, Burma and Ireland have thus far worked so well, a reconciliation of Mel and the scalded Jewish Americans, and quoting his casual knowing self-mockery (‘oven-dodgers’, surely, is a joke) has helped nobody much, not lately, not even Joe’s cocaine dealer. And you wonder. You do wonder.

Is a decision to spend two years dramatising a story as impactful and bloodstained as that of the siege of Masada the cunning ploy of a fascist sucking up to the Jewish lobby, or something more?

I knew Mel fairly well for a while, played cricket with him, was part of a partnership that paid him 265 dollars a week (this was after Gallipoli) to act on stage, tap-dancing and doing John Wayne imitations, in a rolling series of one-act plays called Shorts at the Stables, which I co-owned, and considered for a while buying the Randwick Ritz with him, and was pleased, very pleased, when he gave ten million dollars to NIDA in thanks for his training there. And I suspect he’s been in rehab a few times in the past ten years and this film is a kind of Anti-Semitism Rehab, attempted sincerely, at some emotional cost, and it’s a pity it won’t happen now.

It’s all very immoderate. No-one accused him of being fanatically anti-English after Braveheart, or fanatically anti-African-American after his gibes to Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon, or fanatically anti-Turkish after Gallipoli, and I’m not sure what a few drunken curses add up to.

Woody Allen’s anti-Zionism in Deconstructing Harry, Phillip Roth’s anti-Zionism in Portnoy’s Complaint, Fred Raphael’s anti-Zionism in The Glittering Prizes, and Robert Fisk’s anti-Israeli foreign policy views in his books and articles add up to a bigger and more present danger to the Jewish state than one pissed Australian yelling at cops after being pulled over. The Maccabees project, the ancient equivalent of Soderberg’s Che, about a brave warrior family who ejected the Seleucids and ruled Jerusalem as a dynasty for a while before Pompey the Great annexed it for the Romans (it was the last time Jews held Jerusalem till 1967) is a spectacle ill lost, I would have thought, over Joe’s reports of Mel’s bad language.  Joe has a history of lying, and in court has been found three times to have lied very stupidly.

I suppose if the Maccabees movie had been made it would have been called ‘anti-Italian’, and Mel made to apologise to Berlusconi and the Mafia for suggesting the Romans in Pompey’s time were anti-Semitic tyrants, so slimed is his name now; unjustly in my view.

Proportion, for God’s sake, is needed here. Albert Speer enslaved a lot of Jews and prolonged a war that killed fifty million people, yet was thought a good fellow when interviewed on BBC for having done twenty years’ gaol and so redeemed himself. Richard Strauss took money from the Third Reich and continued conducting and composing. Carl Jung adapted his theories to fit in with Nazi genetics. Oswald Mosley, the pro-Hitler fascist leader in prewar England, was a respected book reviewer for thirty years after 1945. T.S. Eliot (‘The rats are underneath the piles/The jew is underneath the lot’) was famously anti-Semitic, Phillip Larkin pro-Nazi, and are still acclaimed.

What has Mel done? Said a few things while drunk. Did he send planes crashing into towers in New York, a Jewish town? No. Did he advocate the bunker-busting of the Wailing Wall? No. Was he photographed hugging Adaminejab? No. Did he try to kill, at any point, Dustin Hoffman, Barbra Streisand or Jerry Lewis? Not that I know of. Does he oppose Israeli foreign policy? Almost certainly. So do Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, and most intelligent diaspora Jews like my late father.

It comes down to a few words said in private conversations, and I don’t think it’s fair.

I think we should take his repentance at face value and let him get on with his life, and the good films he has yet to make.

It’d be nice if he played Fred Hollows in a big film on the subject Ramsey and I have written. It’d be good if he played Willy Loman (he once played Biff, really well) on Broadway. Or Harold Hill. Or Sky Masterson. He can sing like Sinatra. He can sing really well.

What is all this nonsense?

Let him up off the canvas, just for a while.