Monthly Archives: December 2012

Classic Ellis: The Usual Suspects, 2007

June, 2007

Within two days of the haughty Commons resignation of Tony Blair (‘I wish everyone, friend or foe, well. And that is that. The end’) his phlegmatic successor Gordon Brown gave hints he’d pull troops out of Iraq and was faced with a flooded Stratford-on-Avon, inundations and evacuations and fallen bridges over most of Britain and an attempt by terrorists to drive a car crammed with bombs into Glasgow Airport Passenger Terminal. Men in flames came out of it and fought with police but the ill-rigged car, a Jeep Cherokee, did not explode. Flights were cancelled and Gordon Brown and his new Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, in office for only hours, announced measures to keep cinemas, theatres, restaurants, hotels, sporting venues, shopping centres, schools and hospitals ‘safe from terrorism’ and a one-bag rule on air journeys. One of the terrorists died of his burns and an Australian resident, his cousin Mohamed Haneef, a Gold Coast GP of dark-elfin appearance, was arrested and questioned by Federal police. And so it was, and so it went that the five-month Australian Federal Election campaign began.

It wasn’t by then a quiet week in Australian politics either. Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough after announcing an ‘intervention’ into the Northern Territory had sent army officers and police in khakis to ‘investigate’ child abuse, or alleged child abuse, by adult Aboriginal males in places called Mutitjulu, Imanpa, Apatula, Titjikala and Santa Teresa. A Palm Island Aboriginal man was found not to have been beaten to death in custody amid angry local protests. Gerard Henderson was appointed to a committee which would decide what Australian history was fit to be taught in schools. Morris Iemma and Nathan Rees announced, rejecting contrary advice, a desalination plant in Botany Bay. Floods overwhelmed Goulburn, Sale and most of East Gippsland. The Pasha Bulker, a container ship grounded off Nobby’s Beach, defied all efforts by the sleeplesss, bug-eyed Minister Joe Tripodi to refloat it. A Chinese man held in Villawood for two years and sent home to China was unsurprisingly tortured there and complained about it. John Laws announced his retirement. Mike Rann called the Northern Territory Intervention ‘John Howard’s Shock and Awe’.

Now read on.

Wednesday, 27th June, 2007, 4.50 p.m.

Writing in Jenny’s room in the late afternoon. Clear yellow light on the yellow walls and the hanging owl-puppet and Indonesian carvings. On PM last night Mal Brough outlined his reasons for what some black leaders have called ‘an invasion’ or ‘the Stolen Children revisited’. It’s neither, he said. It’s stabilising communities. It’s restoring normal life.

Mal Brough: You don’t get kids to school if at home at night all there is, is drunken rowdy fights and abuse and neglect, and if there’s no food in the stomach and there’s no shoes on the feet, there’s no chance of getting a child to school. Part of what we’re doing in the next two days in the first five communities . . . is to assess: are the police, are the schools, are the health services adequate? If they’re not, they have to be addressed.

Anne Barker: Minister Brough has acknowledged there are deep fears among some communities at the prospect of police and the army coming in. Some residents at Mutitjulu have reported women and children fleeing their homes in terror that police or soldiers are coming in to seize their children, or shoot their dogs. Minister Brough says he’s angry at such blatant lies.

Mal Brough: It is these very typical scaremongering tactics, standover bully-boy tactics and lies that some have perpetrated upon their people for too long to keep them scared of authority, to keep them in a state of desperation. It is essential that we have people in those communities as soon as we possibly can to reassure them and give them the security that they deserve from the authorities.

Howard claims no political motive for this but of course it’s a wedge Karl Rove could have designed. Claim it’s not racist persecution but saving children from repeated rape and you not only nail down the racist vote but pick up some Hillsong, feminist, whingeing Pom and ‘Concerned of Pymble’ votes, especially if the chosen invaders wear slouch hats and give the children lollies.

And even better than that Bob Collins, of course, is a Northern Territorian and a local Labor hero and a Federal Labor Senator, and he’s going on trial for pederasty soon for tampering with underage black boys, one of them Tom E. Lewis who played Jimmy Blacksmith; it fits. He’ll be on trial during the election; it fits. Labor doesn’t care about raped little black boys, they can plausibly say. They’re prepared to see them squashed and pleading for mercy under brutish fat Bob Collins. Vote for us.

And it may well work. Rudd is wedged and can only mumble qualified support. And the children will be told by their mothers to lie and fudge, or suffer a beating if they don’t. Breadwinners will be arrested, ‘kissing cousins’ locked up in faraway prisons and be soon found hanging from knotted blankets in their cells at sixteen.

And this is Australian hard-nosed politics today. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the rape inquiry. You send in the army to look up the anuses of eight-year-old girls. If they haven’t been abused by then well they are now, by you.

I just thought of an excellent name for Brough’s raiding army.

Arse-Prodders Without Borders.

Tuesday, 3rd July, 2007, 8.30 p.m.

A certain Dr Mohamed Haneef has been detained while trying to board a flight from Brisbane to India, his home country. He’s twenty-seven and a registrar at the Gold Coast Hospital, and thought to be connected in some way with the Glasgow terrorist incident. John Howard, asked by Chris Uhlmann what the fuck is going on, told PM:

‘A man has been taken into custody for questioning. And we should all respect that. We get a lot of lectures from people, including people from the media, about due process. I am making no allegations.’

He can be held, it seems, for only four hours. That time can be extended if a court permits it, for another twenty hours.

Australia’s threat level remains as it was.

Tonight on The 7.30 Report Ali Moore asked the Federal Police Commissioner, Mick Keelty, what the link is to the car bombings in Glasgow.

Mick Keelty: Well, it’s not appropriate to discuss the evidence. One of the things I think that has been lost in some of the reporting today, and some of the commentary today, is that this is an investigation by the counter-terrorism command in the United Kingdom and what we are doing here in Australia is assisting that investigation.

Ali Moore: So how much longer are you seeking to question Dr Haneef?

Mick Keelty: Well, under the legislation we can seek up to twenty-four hours. That does not include what we call ‘dead time’. The dead time was specifically accounted for in the legislation for such a situation where we have a significant time difference between where the activity is here in our country and where the activity is in the other country.

Ali Moore: So you could hold him for a number of days then?

Mick Keelty: We could hold him for as long as a justice approves us to hold him.

Crispin Black, an English terror expert, says the attack was linked to the Blair-Brown changeover. They claimed they were from al-Qaeda, he said, but they’d only ‘adopted the label’. And they were too incompetent to be called, in Gordon Brown’s words, ‘terrorist masterminds’.

9.40 p.m.

Night in Jenny’s room, looking down at the light on the ferry wharf. The Howard-Ruddock era has come a long way. Where once you were presumed innocent and your guilt required proof, it’s now all smear, staining and low-key libel of everyone in the vicinity. An Afghan on a leaky boat is presumed to be a terrorist. The woman with him is presumed to be his accomplice, the child she is cradling presumed to be a kidnapped child, their cover. If you once met Osama bin Laden, you are somehow assumed to be (like David Hicks) involved or complicit in three thousand deaths in the toppling towers of New York. If you have thought a thing – committed adultery in your heart, as Jimmy Carter might say – you have, by these new rules, effectively done it, sinned in God’s sight under this new paranoid legislation. And to judge by Haneef’s arrest and unending incarceration (a photo of him in a posture of despair in the back of a police van moved many to his side) you need only now be related to someone who has done something bad – or has tried to do it and failed – and you are guilty of ‘terrorism’ too.

Steathily the concept of sin has come back. If you have sinned in your heart, hellfire awaits. And, on this present reading, damnation.

The Last Day of the Republicans

It is January 31.

Barack Obama could, I suppose, arrest the thirty-one Republicans he needs to for treason, for conspiring in wartime to bankrupt their Commander-in-Chief. Or he could order a drone strike on one of them and scare the others into compliance. Or he could by executive order create a new offence, Economic Sabotage, with a mandatory twenty-five years in solitary for it.

Or he could do what he is doing now, saying America should pay its debts, and, since he was elected on this platform, of paying down deficit by taxing billionaires, no gerrymandered Congress should stop him from keeping his promise, and no Supreme Court neither.

But whatever he does, the result will be, in big-picture terms, the same. The Republicans will be dead, electorally, as of January 1, and will never, never rise again.

They started two losing wars they will not pay for, one to capture a man who wasn’t there, and one to find bombs that weren’t there, wars that will have cost trillions by the time the last wounded veteran dies in the 2090s. They did not raise taxes to pay for these wars, they brought them down. They lost all esteem they had world-wide by doing these fool, punitive, costly things. And they ended the world by not looking closely at global warming, as a President Gore would have done, and striving to fix it if they could.

And whereas it was possible once to conceal what they have wickedly done by altering the language in which it was remembered, or the headlines in which it was assessed, it is not possible, thanks to the social media and the internet and al-Jazeera and the History Channel, to do this now. People will remember after tomorrow that they let all middle-class taxes go up when they could have, by following the newly elected and well-liked President, left them where they are. Every Latino vote they might have retrieved is lost to them now, and, as the Latinos multiply, and vote more keenly hereafter, the White House, forever.

Lincoln was the first Republican President, Bush 2 the last. Civil wars did for both of them, and similar numbers of dead and wounded in avoidable conflicts each felt a need to be in.

The Republican party since Teddy Roosevelt has done much to wreck the international civility that the League of Nations first, and then the United Nations, and the Camp David Agreement, and the Olso Accords, and the Copenhagen Agreement, valiantly tried to preserve. They destroyed the democratic impulse in the Middle East by restoring the Shah and backing Nasser in Eisenhower’s time. They destroyed the democratic impulse in South America in Nixon’s time by killing Allende and Che Guevara and sabotaging Castro and Ortega in Reagan’s time. They wrecked, in Bush 1′s time, the Gorbachev Spring and propelled to world dominance the Yeltsin/Putin tyranny that burned down Parliament House, assassinated rivals, rewarded gangsters with billions and followed and bugged and gunned down dissident journalists by the score. They restored to power the lunatic Shi-ites of Iraq, bringing down a secular government, and failed to defeat in expensive battle the lunatic Sunnis of Afghanistan with a weapons arsenal bigger than any in world history.

They have a lot to answer for, the Republicans, and they will be reminded of it in the coming months, by Obama, the internet, the social media, al-Jazeera and CNN; and the History Channel ten years from now.

Some of them will jump ship, but most will not.

And this is their last day of true power on this earth.

And they will not be missed.

Prove that I lie.

Certain Housekeeping Matters (10): A Pardon

I invite Reader 1 back into the fold. It is probable I misunderstood what she/he was saying about concentration camps for women.

I counsel her to stop cursing me as she has in her two last erased letters.

Let us try to be civil, both of us, from now on.

I apologise, wretchedly, for past wrong done and wish her/him a happy new year.

Before The Wedding: Bier’s And Jensen’s Love Is All You Need

There are wedding films and there are Italian-holiday films and both do well as a rule. But there has not yet been a mingling of the two genres, curiously, till Love Is All You Need, about a Swedish girl marrying an Irish boy in an orange grove near Naples, was made by Susanne Bier and Anders Thomas Jensen (who made the fine films A Better World and After the Wedding) last year.

It is not, however, like Four Weddings and a Funeral or Letters to Juliet or To Rome With Love. It is darker than that. Ida who has cancer, no hair and a stupid fat adulterous husband, and Philip, a surly driven capitalist specialising in imported fruit whose wife died in a needless car accident, arrive in his Italian holiday home, one built for his dead wife and then in sorrow abandoned, after a bad first meeting when Ida’s car rams his in a parking station and they shout at each other, then find their children are marrying soon and initially do not like each other at all.

This changes when he finds her swimming nude and bald in a dangerous cove at twilight and shouts at her again, softening when he realises she is living on borrowed time, and her gross insensitive husband Lief has brought his latest blonde to the wedding, anguishing their daughter Vibe who is having troubles of her own. The bridegroom, Patrick (Philip’s son), doesn’t want, it seems, to have sex with her much any more, and may be gay, or just ill-matched, or indisposed, or suicidal, and goes to brood for a while in a cave he found in his childhood and think things through.

Everything is made worse by Benedikte, Philip’s dead wife’s sister, a redhead from Hell, who stalks him and claims he loves her and always did and won’t admit it and proposes they go parachuting together and is one of those organising viragos that blight the timid or diffident Anglo-Celtic and Nordic races with their energy and tactlessness and menopausal fury in any millennium including this one and should, as a rule, be throttled and flung off a cliff.

These are the elements of the film, plus a few plot twists that would not be out of place in Fawlty Towers, and they are easily imaginable I suppose, but the mood is not, as you might expect, like a Richard Curtis or Woody Allen or Frank Oz film at all. It is more like a Bergman, or a Chekhov, or Mazursky, or the Shakespeare of Twelfth Night. Terrible longings afflict it, and a yearning for a past that cannot be revivified, or compensated for now, when it is too late. Pierce Brosnan and Trine Dyrholm are superb in the lead roles, and so is everybody else, Paprika Steen especially as the redhead and Bodil Jorgensen as Vibe, who is like the young Vanessa Redgrave. Not much more should be said, I think, but that it is excellent, and it touches the hem of greatness, and it should be seen.

An Irish-UK-German-Swedish-Italian co-production, it is a Eurozone film, and a kind of memorial sonata to that great, lost noble experiment, bankrupted now, and fratricidal, and headed for oblivion. And it should be seen.

Rape, And Afterwards

(First published by Independent Australia)

The raped girl in India has died now and a whole society in uproar will find new laws, no doubt, to enact in memory of her. But this is a part of the world where forced marriage, bride-burning, and, not so long ago, suttee (the immolation of young wives on their elderly husbands’ funeral pyres) showed how little women mattered in the scheme of things, and this has not greatly changed in many households and temples and religions these thousand years.

It is the great unspoken fact of modern life that religions, even now, are written across the bodies of their women like tattoos. Girls are honour-killed by their brothers for dating an infidel because Islam, or some sects of Islam, will have it so. Amish and fundamentalist Mormon and some Indigenous girls are forcibly betrothed at eight and ten to older men, or sometimes routinely deflowered at puberty by village elders, like those of Pitcairn Island. Arranged marriages, and my mother’s was one, have been the norm in most of human history, shotgun marriages in the last two hundred years in Australian country towns a commonplace. It is as though what is owed to a woman as her right is such a new thought in the world, it has barely been defined, or even thought upon.

For what has succeeded these old enforced arrangements – the dream of Sex and the City – is not all that agreeable either. Girls in their twenties may be sexually used by a man for six months, a year, and cast aside. Or two years, aborted, and cast aside. Or, worse, for ten years, childlessly, and cast aside when they are thirty-two.

Not many laws prevent this, though it is devastating as divorce, to girls who embrace it as part of their ‘freedom’. As in Muslim countries, a man may seek a younger ‘mate’ when he has worn out the old one. Across the world, this is seen as his right, as Rupert Murdoch, Hugh Hefner and Tom Cruise have shown. You find fresh stimulus when bored by habit, and loyalty has no claim on you.

It has been pointed out that marriages, up to 1800, were five to fifteen years long. A woman dead in childbirth, a man dead in war, or plague, or prison, or chance infection, would allow the survivor to move on, marry younger, have other children, be indulged as famed men are now. And the seventy-year marriage, like the Whitlams’, is an untried novelty still, and we have not yet come to grips with it.

But this reasoning, surely, ducks round what matters most, which is a debt owed. To a woman who in pain and risk has borne your child, you owe, at the least, a constancy of cohabitation. You owe her graduations, weddings, grandchild christening photographs uncontaminated by the smiles of your new young wife.

It is right that this should be so. It is part of the civility we seek in this, a fair- go society, surely. And it should be enshrined in laws more punishing than we have now.

In the older days, when families had five or six children in them, this loyalty was automatic. Too many bonds of blood and grandparenthood and family Christmases kept you together. But now, with, sometimes, one gay child and no other, it is getting more fragile. And new thoughts, new rules, new support groups where once there were churches, and church congregations, and stable neighbourhoods, and many siblings, are needed now.

We are dying alone of strangeness. And it is a pity. Discuss.

The Usual Murdoch Dirty Tricks (74): The Last Newspoll Fraud Of 2012.

Stung perhaps by my jibes or the size of Obama’s victory, Murdoch, it seems, wants now to be seen to be unsurprised by a Labor victory federally in Australia, and has therefore commanded, it seems, his haggard foot-soldier Shanahan to smooth the way for it.

And thus it is we have a Shanahan-O’Shannessy-Newspoll piece today in The Weekend Australian putting Labor on 48, two party preferred, October through December, on average, this calendar year, and the Coalition on 52.

As always Katter’s preferences go 60 percent to the LNP not Labor, though Katter loathes Newman, and 20 percent of the Greens’ go to the Liberals, though Milne loathes Abbott; and the true result, a 50-50 split, is thus concealed. Or a ‘true result’ if you do not add in the mobile phone owners not rung on the beach or their boats who, if they were, would put Labor on 52 percent; which is where Morgan put them, correctly, after face-to-face interviews a fortnight ago.

It gives Rupert what he wants, a seeming Liberal victory with the possibility of a last-minute Labor surge, so he seems not to be cheating when of course he is, that’s what he does. He’s Rupert Murdoch, and cheating is what he does. It is what he is principally known for.

The fraudulence, though, is palpable everywhere. The base Labor vote is down, we are told by poor, mumbling Shanahan, 3.7 in New South Wales, 2.8 in Victoria, 4.7 in South Australia, 3.6 in Queensland, and up only 1 percent in Western Australia. Yet it is down only 2.1 Australia wide, a statistical impossibility. There is no way on earth to construe these figures and not have Labor, Australia wide, on 46.5 or 47; no way.

Yet Rupert has thus commanded it be done and so it has been written, and so miscounted, and so done. Because he wants to make peace with Labor, as he did with Blair, and Rudd, having sniffed the wind, and he thus rewrites and reconfigures his previous frauds in order to do that, and hopes, like a fool, that I am not watching.

It is time, surely, and long past time, surely, for an enquiry into Newspoll and why, like the Fox News Poll in America, it always, always favours the tories.

Corruption can be the only answer, and the gaoling of O’Shannessy for it an optional penalty. And his paymaster Murdoch, the cheat.

It is time.

Days And Days And Days Like This: Phil Lloyd’s And Trent O’Donnell’s A Moody Christmas

It would be wrong to underestimate the achievement of A Moody Christmas, the pitch-perfect family comedy on ABC lately. A dozen characters endure six Christmases in the same house and backyard, play cricket and bicker and fail to progress the digging of the swimming pool, breach countless, nameless rules of tribal protocol and appal each other in various ways, as families do. Mum’s two mastectomies, Rhys’s new religions, Terry’s two mutinous Russian brides, Dad’s massive heart attack and Roger’s blatant closet gayness and Bridget’s urgent need for a baby despite her new fancy-man Elliot’s unadmitted vasectomy, are as nothing compared with Cora, love-object of cousins Dan and Hayden, who lives alternately with each of them here and in the UK while disliking both of them and abhorring their extended family, a character most women will identify with.

It seems impossible that so much plot and character and flaming hoops of appropriate shaming behaviour is got through in the four twenty-eight-minute episodes I’ve thus far seen, but there you go. It dwarfs in about ten minutes the life achievement of David Williamson, but so I guess does Grass Roots and Sea Change and The Slap and Devil’s Dust and Jack Irish and Laid and Rake and the better plays of fifty-six writers mentioned this year in these columns (hello David), and there you go.

Phil Lloyd, its principal writer, who did not absolutely stuff up At Home With Julia (the last episode was very fine) but showed a lot of ignorance of how backroom politics works (as The Thick Of It and Veep did not), is in no such difficulty here. He plays every note of that Aeschylean music-hall amateur-night that are the aspirational suburbs and their underskilled bores with the rapid-fire assurance of, well, Chekhov, or Neil Simon, or Ricky Gervais, or Johnny Speaight, and like Humphries and Clarke and two Connollys both delights and excruciates without ever losing (like, say, Sacha Baron Cohen) our human sympathies.

Ian Meadows is a wonderful, nervous Dan, always jet-lagged and surly and back from England with a further career failure he is covering up, and Patrick Brammall superb as his chaotic, intrusive, entrepreneurial brother Sean, who always fails to pick him up at the airport and has yet another way, every year, of losing everybody’s money on yet another gymcrack scheme for overnight success and easy millions. Jane Harber as Cora finds the money-mad urban creep Hayden (Guy Edmonds) only a little less attractive than Dan, who is penniless, mendacious, easily distracted and self-loathing, and shacks up with each of them secretly in different countries.

Dad (Danny Adcock) tries to maintain male pride in a world of mastectomy, gayness, infarct, arrest for petty theft, urgent ovulation windows, aggressive multiculture and jaw-dropping ill-manners but the world is changing, it is truly changing, and he hates it. He truly hates it, while Mum just wants to keep up appearances. A homeless person, female, is charitably invited to one Christmas dinner and thieves the presents, and this is typical, typical. Like Jonathan Biggins’s Australia Day it is a perfect bas-relief of an edgy, ramshackle post-colonial society in the Howard-Rudd interregnum, reordering its half-cocked values and dumb-bum pipe-dreams and stumbling on.

And it should be seen. It’s a perfect birthday or late-Christmas gift, and, in a way that’s hard to articulate, family viewing.

Classic Ellis: The Osama Moment, 2007

Wednesday 29th August, 2007, midnight

Last night a Blood Moon went into eclipse, a further sign of the End Time for the apocalyptically inclined. Ice was found on Mars. Geoffrey Robertson lectured Brisbane on Australia’s lost freedoms. Hamas was accused of sneaking suicide bombers (disguised, I guess, as people) into Greater Israel. The Peloponnesian fires, unabated, were fought by one man, Georgios Dinopoulos, with three hundred litres of wine. Three Iraqi soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb. And a surly George Bush, having shucked off Gonzalez, the last of his Texans, prepared to argue that the Surge was working, and anyone who proposed to save the US troops’ lives by bringing them home was their enemy. A few more years, a few more airborne battles . . .

The mistake Bush makes (and this has only just occurred to me) is to mix up wars of the mind with wars for territory, for land, for the wealth of that land in oil or treasure, mix up colonial conquest and heathen conversion. In World War 2, say, you invaded a territory, you subdued it, you held it, you proclaimed it ‘liberated’, you ran up its long-loved flag and you motorcaded in flower-strewn jeeps down its boulevards waving magnums of squirting champagne. In World War 1 you drove the Germans back into Germany. In the Korean War, you drove the Chinese back into China.

But what’s happening now, what’s happening all over, are wars for the mind, and you can’t fight those with invasion, tanks and mortars, helicopter-gunships, cluster bombs, H-bombs, bayonets and kicked-down doors. If you could, America could be made Muslim in a couple of years by gun-waving Saudis and Indonesians. And no-one can imagine that happening.

So what does the US do in Iraq? It conquers a neighbourhood, blows up a suburb, drags struggling men out of attics and basements, tortures them with dogs, menstrual blood, anally-inserted neon tubes, asking who their comrades are and where the weapons are and if they come from Iran. And it imagines this helps its cause, which is to liberalise, democratise and secularise a hyper-religious country and make its religions, after a thousand years of sectarian slaughter, kiss and make up. To bid its women remove the veil (much as you might bid nuns walk topless down the Via Veneto) and make its component tribes forgive each other for past massacres and sit down together, break bread and reason together, and form governments together.

And to make them do this you blow up their neighbourhoods, apologising for the occasional beheaded child, have edgy young soldiers unschooled in their language bully them at checkpoints, lock up their breadwinners, refuse them (I presume) insurance payments for their smashed-up homes and bullet-riddled furniture, and call this liberation from tyranny.

It would have been liberation from tyranny if Saddam had been, say, a Syrian strongman who had invaded their country. But he was one of them. He was born there. It was a war aim as stupid as liberating Britain from Churchill – himself a famous killer of many Britons in needless wars (in Turkey and so on) – or liberating the US from FDR.

If Chiang Kai-shek’s China (to put it another way) had invaded FDR’s America to save it from the socialist cripple’s myriad evils, hanged him after a show trial in which two of his judges were sacked and three of his lawyers shot dead on their doorsteps (Clarence Darrow, presumably, and Felix Frankfurter and Jerry Giesler), then urged Americans to hurry up and become fascists, Buddhists and vegetarians, and cursed them for their ingratitude after torturing forty thousand New Yorkers in Attica you would have a fair comparison, and a fair precedent for the US rule of Iraq.

You don’t win hearts and minds with guns and bombs, with obliterated home towns and cancelled pensions and the sacking of half a million civil servants, with an invasion by thirty-two Christian countries of a Muslim one. You can’t, in short, win a war for the mind with weapons designed to wage a war for territory.

Territory doesn’t mean much any more. Territory can be conquered, but in a global world, with computer images of kidnapees beheaded in unknown locations, territory matters little now. The battleground is the mind.

And the Americans are spending ninety million a day – that’s a hundred and ten million a day in real money – on things that mutilate children, and the fraught young men in uniform who point and fire them, when that day’s money might build four high schools and pay all the teachers in them for two years. Teachers who might win a few hearts and minds for secularism, democracy, liberalism, the profit motive, the American way. Teachers who might well save some souls. And the next day they’re spending another ninety million, on guns and bombs and the scared young fools who hurl them around, to win a few more yards of territory, of dirt, of bloodstained dirt and rubble they can lose the following day.

Territory isn’t what war is for any more; discuss. And wars aren’t fought with guns any more, but words and sermons and sound-grabs and prayers and songs. So Americans won’t, and can’t, win wars any more. Ergo, America is powerless now. And pretty uninfluential. Discuss.

Wednesday, 5th September, 2007, 10.30 p.m.

Bush has arrived in Sydney, and harbourside shops and cafes are cursing their loss of business. Horse flu is threatening New South Wales stud farms, which would like some government money, please, to cover the inconvenience of making this year only hundreds of thousands of dollars instead of millions. Two Belgian gas workers have dug up some Aussie soldiers in a field, and experts with DNA tests are finding out who they are. A tiny Palestine village has won a court case and forced the building of the Fence elsewhere, so they can walk to their family orchards and farmlands unassassinated.

Bush is ‘embarrassed’ by reports of the Chinese military hacking into the Pentagon computer, and will raise it with Hu Jintao tomorrow. The dingo is accused of wiping out the Tasmanian tiger. Pavarotti is gravely ill.

Thursday, 6th September, 2007, 11 p.m.

Pavarotti has died, causing Mike Rann to ring and say, ‘I want to die like Pavarotti, Ellis, surrounded by my squabbling mistresses and gun-waving bastard children, my servants stealing the furniture and cursing my lifelong selfishness. I’m really looking forward to it now.’

Rudd has upstaged Howard in greeting with a deft and mannerly oration in perfect Mandarin the Chinese leader Hu Jintao who invited him to go to the Olympics ‘as my special guest’.

And . . . Chas Licciardello, dressed as Osama bin Laden, has breached security and approached unimpeded George W. Bush’s massively guarded hotel; and he might have got into it (or been shot dead on the front steps) had he not outed himself after his car was waved through.

All it took, Julian Morrow explained while being arrested and taken away (Osama, ignored, trailing glumly after him), was a hired limousine, a Canadian flag, and two of the Chasers, him and Andrew Hansen, trotting beside it in sober clothing and occasionally murmuring into their video cameras which they pretended were walkie-talkies.

Whether they will suffer life imprisonment or be out in time to host next Wednesday’s program is hard to say. They have certainly shown our 160 million dollars’ worth of security precautions, Orwellian in their scope and dreariness, were a waste of money and shown Howard moreover to be a maladroit host of international shivoos, which may only be satire or, as it is lately known, sedition and they may get only ten years.

Howard looks a goose either way, and Turnbull, I suspect, will be Prime Minister by Monday.

Friday, 7th September, 2007, 9.30 p.m.

Putin has turned up, and all the world’s leaders posed on the Opera House steps. Bush has called APEC ‘OPEC’ and described Australian troops as ‘Austrian soldiers’. The calls for Howard to step down are mounting.

Saturday 8th September, 2007, 3.30 a.m.

Evan Williams, back from Tasmania where he and Janet honeymooned forty-nine years ago, said he was now sure Howard would go and Costello would steal attention away from Rudd and be ‘hard to beat’. ‘He’ll promise a referendum on Australia becoming a republic, let Haneef back in, close down Baxter and Nauru, declare or imply he never believed in it, win back the Doctors’ Wives, and narrowly scramble back.’

‘Well, he could,’ I said. ‘Or if he lost the contest, Turnbull could. Or Abbott. Or Brough.’

‘Brough could.’

‘Downer couldn’t.’

‘Downer couldn’t.’

‘Though he’s been playing the magnanimous commentator lately. As though he’s the heir apparent.’

‘Surely not. He can’t win. The others could.’

Annie thinks Howard won’t go. ‘He hates Costello too much. He won’t give him even a fortnight as Prime Minister. He hates him too much. He’d rather be tossed out by the nation, which he can accuse of being fooled by Rudd’s trickiness, than by his party, which . . .’

‘He serves.’

‘He serves. The party that rightly, wisely chose him, and therefore must be equally wise to now . . .’

‘Tap him on the shoulder.’

‘That’s right. That would be to admit he doesn’t.’

I’m not sure which way he’s leaning. I’m not sure Howard is either. But a bloke on the ABC yesterday morning, Annie claims, said ‘a reliable insider’ had told him that Howard on September 13th would call an election for November 3rd, so the flu-depleted Melbourne Cup three days later (will it be cancelled? possibly not) then diverts attention from Rudd’s last push, and the interest rates go up after polling day not before it.

On the radio the BBC just reported Bush saying if North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons he’ll ‘end the Korean War’. About time too, mein fuhrer. The Sixty Year War, the historians will call it, working out the figures. American determination gets there in the end. Very courageous, Minister.

The enormity of what the Chasers have done to Howard may prove – or am I wrong? – the Tipping Point in stuffing his career. They showed his government is no good at national security. They let Osama in and Haneef out. They spent billions erecting plastic walls in Sydney, herding Afghans into Woomera, building Baxter and Nauru, defaming Andrew Wilkie, paying out Cornelia Rau. Traumatising into madness the aghast naval officers who turned back into stormy seas women and weeping children under orders, and on that night of the SIEV-X let hundreds drown. Invading Iraq illegally and traumatising other servicemen – like Peter Collins – there too. National security and economic management were all they had, and Costello’s miscalculated three billion did for them on the economy. And the Chasers’ cheery Osama Moment has done for them on security. Really done for them.

The Henderson Wars (31): No More Mr Nice Guy

Gerard calls me, again, as he tends to, ‘the false prophet of Palm Beach’ in his yearly summary of the news in the smh this morning. He does not deign to say in his ‘November’ entry, though, that unlike him I got the Obama-Romney election right and he got it wrong, nor that when I wrote, in May, ‘the Liberal Party is over’, I was way ahead at the time of the Queensland, Victoria and South Australia polls which now suggest, and powerfully suggest, this might be so, and the 52.5 Labor score from 1900 Australians interviewed face-to-face by Morgan this month which argues, and powerfully argues, it is certainly so.

I should sue Gerard for this oft-repeated glimmering Biblical zinger I know, and I’m frequently told this by lawyer friends of mine, but from time to time I falter in my resolve. My vacillation comes from a bet I lost with Gerard long ago, one witnessed in 2000 by John Ralston Saul, that John Howard would lose his seat in 2001. He gloated about how wrong I was in his columns for the months, then years, that I did not pay in full the thousand dollars I rightly owed him, till John Howard did lose his seat in 2007, and I paid the hundred dollars difference at long last, six years late, with feeling.

Since then, to the best of my belief, I have never been wrong in my political predictions. I got the Iemma and Rudd elections right in 2007, the Obama election right in 2008, the election of Abbott, and the one-vote margin of it, in 2009 when every pundit was predicting Hockey, the Mike Rann squeaker within one seat in 2010, the Gillard squeaker within one seat in 2010, the Keneally loss but not the size of it in 2011, the Bligh debacle and the Obama victory (306 votes I predicted rightly on the night in the Electoral College, though he picked up Florida later) in 2012, and the Newman meltdown and the Katter blast-off now in train in Queensland. These do not, of course, o’ertop my at first much sneered at prediction, on Melbourne radio early on election night, 1999, of ‘a hung parliament, days of negotiation, a decisive byelection and a Bracks government in weeks, not months’; but they are in the league. A ‘false prophet’? No. A shrewd punter? Probably. A seer? No; of course not. But I do have many, many runs on the board.

It’s hard to see why I shouldn’t sue Gerard. I need the money, and he is a cunt, and I would vastly enlarge the national happiness and the common weal by doing so. And it’s hard, too, to find a historical instance when he predicted, rightly, anything. He said the Iraq war would be won easily and the WMD soon found. He predicted McCain in 2008, Palin in 2012 (approvingly), then Romney, approvingly, and joined Abbott in the false blackguarding of Slipper, Thomson, Gillard. And so on.

And I know no instance of him being right in fifty years. He favoured the Birthday Ballot, the sacking of Utzon, the sacking of Whitlam, the proposed hanging of Mandela, the lost war in Vietnam, the candidacy of Askin, Begin, Reagan, Snedden, Dole, Hewson, Downer, Greiner, Bush, Bush, Howard, Abbott, Newman, Redmond. He had kind words for Johannes Bjelke-Petersen, Peter Reith, Phillip Ruddock, Amanda Vanstone, Alan Jones, George Pell, B.A. Santamaria, the paedophile defender Peter Hollingworth, the half-nude oaf Peter Debnam and the sado-monetarist hell-cat Margaret Thatcher. He believes Christ’s body, devoured on Sundays, and his blood, imbibed, retrieves us — and, presumably, him — from a billion years in Hell for mastubating. He shows many signs of not being well in his mind; and being wrong almost always on almost everything he touches.

I invite him, as I have for twenty years, to debate me anywhere, any time, on the subject, say, of his charge that I get things wrong while he, by contrast, mysteriously gets them right nearly always.

If he does not, as God is my witness, I will sue this dim cranky lying Tyke spook down to his baggy underpants and hound him out of show business forever.

I pause for his reply.

Classic Ellis: Winning And Losing Wars, 2007

Saturday, 11th August, 2007, 11.50 a.m.

John Howard has asked Nouri al-Maliki to ‘make more progress’ or he’ll pull out our troops. He’ll cut and run, it seems, which he swore he’d never do as it’s not ‘the Australian way’. Whatever the issue he comes down firmly on both sides of it. This is his trick; this is his way: to seem to be doing something significant while squirrelling money away in billions for the Liberal TV ads we pay for. The sixty million he spent boosting WorkChoices, for instance, and the sixty additional million he spent changing its name, could have funded fourteen small theatre companies for a thousand years on the interest alone. And so it goes.

Ah well. Mustn’t grumble.

1.40 p.m.

Peter Andren, a good man, has cancer and has quit politics. Mortgagee sales in the US have wiped eighty billion off the stock market, hurt the French economy, and threaten, tonight, a world recession. The floods in Britain, the worst in a hundred years, have stirred Private Eye to a joke photo of Tony Blair saying, ‘Après moi le deluge.’ Michael Moore’s film Sicko, which I saw yesterday, shows many dust-sickened 9/11 heroes being treated by Cuban doctors free of charge but refused by capitalist US bureaucracies the first-class surgery they readily give to al-Qaeda heroes in Guantanamo.

And . . . a fifty-eight-year-old man has been released by kidnappers after ‘falling in love’ by internet with Natasha, a Russian beauty who did not exist. He flew to Nairobi to join her, and computer-literate black men with machetes grabbed him and locked him up, said they’d cut off his arms and legs if money wasn’t abundantly paid, and soon it was, and so it went, the Terrorist Economy that now rules us all once more asserting itself.

. . . As it did on Thursday when a reporter admitted that three hundred thousand US weapons had gone missing in Iraq. This means, I guess, half a billion tax dollars were spent on grenades and mortars now killing US troops, and half a billion more will have to be spent now replacing them, and perhaps no more than a quarter of a billion tending wounds and psychoses and comforting the widows and siblings of the sad poor trailer-trash boys and girls they blew away. This one and a quarter billion could have supported three hundred and fifty small theatre companies for a thousand years on the interest alone. And so it went.

Weapons make the US more money than even Hollywood. So if al-Qaeda steals US weapons it helps the US economy. Milo Minderbinder lives; and these days, I guess, runs Halliburton which rebuilds the towns that stolen US weapons bomb and shell, and supplies the body-bags dead US soldiers come home in. This is what I once called Jackal Capitalism; it feeds off the dead, and the frisky jackal pup John Howard, yapping and panting, leaps around the latest dead elephant wanting his tiny share of the rotting meat.

What is one to say of all this? Julian Burnside on Tuesday spoke of ‘Howard fatigue’, of burning up good parts of your brain proclaiming the bleeding obvious, that it’s wrong to kill people, it’s wrong to torture people, it’s wrong to hurt children, it’s wrong to annoy a billion people by killing fifty thousand of their children – or was it only forty thousand? – and then attempting to ‘win their hearts and minds’ by killing three hundred thousand of their adult neighbours – or was it only two hundred thousand? – and driving two million more, including all the dentists, out of the country. It’s hard to force-feed these things through the many, many distractions – the hundred channels on Pay TV, the mobile phone calls to the instant comfort of old friends the moment you’re feeling low – and the spin, the expert spin that makes it seem like it isn’t happening.

It’s very good, the spin. The verbs ‘win’ and ‘lose’, for instance, and the adjectives ‘better’ and ‘worse’ are gone from the language. We’re not winning in Iraq and we’re not losing: we’re ‘making progress’ in some areas and ‘making less progress’ in other areas. We don’t dare even ask any more if the average dentist, academic or graduate female had a better life under Saddam – not fearing daily death in the marketplace by suicide bombing for instance, or by helicopter gunship attack on a luckless neighbour with the wrong surname – or a worse life, fearing the midnight doorknock, torture and rape by Uday. We are only allowed to call this new imperilled way of things ‘the birth-pangs of democracy’; which means, I guess, it’s all right for you to get killed, wiped out of history for ever, so long as one of your neighbours gets to vote in an uncorrupt election in 2015 for a mad sheikh who then forbids your daughter a liberal education and a sexual life and a university degree. These are the ‘birth-pangs of democracy’, a phrase the childless Condoleezza Rice got some stick for. What does she know, it was asked, of even the birth-pangs women survive? What does she know about anything female at all?

‘Success’ and ‘failure’ are words not used much now either. Is Condoleezza a foreign policy success? It’s not been lately asked. Though the war on Hezbollah she refused to stop was a cock-up for both Israel and Lebanon, though Olmert’s approval rating has fallen to 2 percent, though Pakistan is mutinous, Afghanistan a shambles, Iraq the worst American debacle since Vietnam, Russia in Cold War with America again, her policies despised by a billion Muslims, three- quarters of a billion secular Europeans and Catholic South Americans and – not a small number either – a hundred million Americans.

But is she a failure? It’s never asked. She’s making progress on some fronts, less progress on some fronts, and that is the sum of what it is decreed, and what it is permitted, we know. Like Stalin’s Five Year Plan her ‘progress’ towards the desired end, the shining city on the hill of democracy worldwide, is never questioned; it is automatically assumed. It is foreordained. And fifty years from now, clustered on the slopes of the sun-parched Himalayas among the corpses of our relatives, we will know she was right.

The Usual Murdoch Dirty Tricks (73): Labor To Win In Queensland, Probably, Even Queensland, Newspoll Decrypted Shows

The lies on page two of The Australian today show Rupert panicked and ordered late last night the Newspoll figures be changed. A tired sub-editor, wrenched from his bed, then foolishly claimed Campbell Newman belonged to the Labor Party and led it in succession to Bligh and, in the next column, that Newman had once led the LNP and had been lately ousted from his position by Palszczuk.

But these brain-dead fabrications are naught compared with the other, larger lies on the same corrupt, shambolic, frantic page. They show Katter’s party on 4, down from 11.5 at the March election, and ‘others’ at 15, up from 4.6 at the March election. Any fool or drover’s dog could see that this is, in fact, or it seems to be, a 14 or 15 vote for Katter, and this means a Labor figure two-party-preferred of 51 or 52 and a likely harvest of six or ten seats by Katter, which Rupert wants to suppress, and a Labor-Katter coalition, probably. The Katter vote had to be changed to an ‘other’ vote, or Labor would win outright in this Newspoll unless it was tweaked.

And Labor will win in Queensland, win easily on these figures, and on Morgan’s figures last week of Labor 52.5 federally, and Rupert is deeply concerned, and his chafing minion O’Shannessy gritting his teeth and closing his eyes and fibbing tearfully in this, the silly season, hoping nobody notices, and crawling under the lino and putting his toes in his ears.

In the story’s last paragraph he grimly signals the true situation, tapping his nose and his earlobe, to those of his Tory cronies who can read between the lines:

‘The relatively low support for the KAP, though an improvement on the previous Newspoll, must be treated cautiously as minority parties tend to slip off voters’ radar between elections. On the basis of its debut in the Queensland election, with an 11.5 vote state-wide and more than 20 percent in some regional areas, Katter’s Australian Party will challenge strongly for a Senate place, possibly at the expense of the Greens.’

In this case ‘treat with caution’ means ‘I am lying about it’; discuss.

The underlying truth of these last two Newspolls anyway, or the way I read them, is Labor is hurtling ahead in every jurisdiction, now that Campbell Newman and Isobel Redmond, with their sackings, real and proposed, of twenty thousand public servants each in time of world recession, have shown what cruel and greedy scumbags the Liberals in power were and are and always will be. And though it is not yet safe, the Labor vote will be returning soon, when the wrecker’s ball goes into the Monorail, in even Sydney’s western suburbs. And only Turnbull can save the Liberals now, and they won’t have him.

Why has all this happened? Part of it was Carr getting us onto the UN Security Council when Abbott said there was no way in the world we weren’t wasting our money on a wild goose chase, and solving the Middle East, and saving Schapelle Corby and the rest of it. Part of it was the world not ending when the Carbon Tax came in, and Whyalla not going out of business. Part of it was the Disability scheme getting through, to universal applause because nearly everybody has a disabled relative, or friend. A good deal of it was the framing of Slipper and the sliming of Thomson and Gillard which many people, many women particularly, thought was gross and crude and unfair — as they did when Keating seemed a foul-mouthed bully saying ‘I’m gonna do you slowly’ and similar in the Chamber twenty years ago. Part of it was when Gillard said ‘My father did not die of shame’ after Abbott resuscitated Jones’s vile jibe about him, inavertedly or not.

But most of it was Newman sacking nurses and fire-fighters, and O’Farrell and Baillieu sacking teachers — everybody has a teacher as a relative, or a mentor, or friend — and losing their triple-A ratings anyway. And O’Farrell finding a spare billion in an old sock, and sacking the teachers nonetheless.

The Liberals are being seen as greedy sadistic incompetents, which is what they are.

And it’s over for them; perhaps forever.

Larkin, Orwell, Pinter, Hamsun, Ellis And The Nobel Prize: An Exchange

FW December 25, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Why didn’t Orwell win a Nobel Prize for Literature?

Bob Ellis December 25 at 2:51 pm

You have to be alive to win it, and his most famed work, Nineteen Eighty-four, came out a year before his death.

It doesn’t sound likely, but his whole career as a published writer was barely fourteen years, like, say, some current writer who began publishing magazine pieces and book reviews in 1998, brought out his first bad novel in 2001, his first book of reportage in 2004, his first great novel in 2007, his masterpiece in 2011, and died this Christmas Day.

Damien December 26 at 9:16 pm

I watched the very first episode and was so unimpressed that I vowed never to watch it again. I could not understand the fuss about it at all, and still don’t.

Doug Quixote December 25 at 3:03 pm

Regarding the Nobel Prize :

“[The main problem is] the Nobel jury. Let me explain.

There are eighteen of them, members of an organization called the Swedish Academy, which back at the end of the 19th century was given the task of awarding the Nobel. At the time two members suggested it was a mistake to accept the job. The Academy’s founding brief, back in 1896, was to promote the “purity, strength, and sublimity of the Swedish language”. Was this compatible with choosing the finest oeuvre of “an idealistic tendency” from anywhere in the world?

All members are Swedish and most of them hold full time professorial jobs in Swedish universities. On the present jury there are just five women and no woman has ever held the presidency. Only one member was born after 1960. This is partly because you cannot resign from the Academy. It’s a life sentence. So there’s rarely any new blood. For the past few years, however, two members have refused to cooperate with deliberations for the prize because of previous disagreements, one over the reaction, or lack of it, to the fatwa against Salman Rushdie and the other over awarding the prize to Elfriede Jelinek, whom he felt was “chaotic and pornographic.”

It’s not unlikely that each year they are faced with reading two hundred books (this on top of their ordinary workloads). Of these books very few will be written in Swedish and only some will be available in Swedish translation; many will be in English, or available in English translation. But since the English and Americans notoriously don’t translate a great deal, some reading will have to be done in French, German or perhaps Spanish translations from more exotic originals.

Remember that we’re talking about poems as well as novels and they’re coming from all over the world, many intensely engaged with cultures and literary traditions of which the members of the Swedish Academy understandably know little. ”

Hardly surprising that Orwell did not win : not Swedish, probably not translated, not known to the Jury.

Orwell flashed across the firmament between 1937 and 1950, but beneath the Swedish radar.

Helvi December 26 at 7:36 am

DQ, ‘everyone’ in Sweden speaks English, and other languages as well.I would think that the members of the Academy can judge books written in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian and of course in any other Scandinavian language without need to translate them into Swedish….

Doug Quixote December 26 at 10:54 pm

In fairness I do agree Helvi, and perhaps it was not clear that I was quoting from Tim Parks’ review from the New York Review of Books.

To give equal time :

“May I, as a reader for decades of your journal, give a more factual background to Mr. Tim Parks´ article in your recent issue. This year’s laureate Tomas Tranströmer has been proposed, for years, by, among others, former laureates Joseph Brodsky, Seamus Heaney and Derek Walcott. In New York 2000, Susan Sontag told me

Tranströmer was the Swede most well known in the US. He is translated into sixty languages, there are cafés named after him in China and Slovenia.

And in Sweden we have all read and loved him since we were young.

The Nobel Committee consists of five members out of the rest of the Swedish Academy. By February we get about 220 suggestions from all round the world. By April we have concocted an ”expectancy” list of twenty. By May we get the Academy to approve a short list of five to be read during next four months. No one could get the prize without having been on the list for at least two years. Be sure we read a select group of American, Canadian, Australian writers continuously!

We have of course, Mr. Parks, read even Jellinek’s Greed though it was hard going. And so much else! For my part try to to read one book a day to keep ill health away. We master thirteen languages in the Academy but when we suspect a genius hidden in an unknown language we call on translators and oath-sworn experts to give us generous samples of that writer.

We go for an individual’s life’s work regardless of nation, gender, religion. We could, if need be, give it to Portugal or the US five times in a row, or to essayists, historians, children books writers. We do not have a human rights criterion. We award e.g. Orhan Pamuk for his outstanding novels and essays; then the award becomes politically interpreted.

In the committee we are obsessed readers since childhood and so have a rich background to judge from. None of us has a university job, we are all free writers with oour own manuscripts to take care of in between.”

Per Wästberg, President of the Nobel Committee for Literature, Stockholm.

I hope that helps to correct the record!

FW December 25 at 4:44 pm

Even so Pinter in 2005, strange? And 26 English writers out of 109 winners managed to slip beneath the Swedish Academy’s radar. Orwell could just as easily won it for his body of work or 1984. Or Animal Farm considering Hem won it for The Old Man and The Sea. I know Orwell is in good company – Joyce, Proust, Conrad, Baldwin, to name a few who didn’t have what it takes [“the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”], but I can’t help wondering if Orwell’s politics hit an unknown nerve [A Clergyman's Daughter; The Road To Wigan Pier; Down And Out In Paris Homage To Catalonia] – very few social essayists/writers have gone to the belly of the beast themselves and exposed it so powerfully. Maybe Celine, Bukowski. That’s why it remains a mystery to me.

Polybius December 25 at 5:55pm

While I agree with much of DQ’s post, I must say I was never so happy to see anybody win any sort of prize than I was to see Tomas Transtromer win the 2011 Nobel prize for Literature. He’s one of the greats.

Were it not for the extraordinary provinciality of anglophone cultures, he would be better known here.

FW December 25 at 9:57 pm

Where would you start with Tomas Transfomer?

Doug Quixote December 26 at 5:49 am

Try some of this for interest :

He may lose something in translation – see ref. below to avoid delay to this post.

Doug Quixote December 26 at 5:56 am

Men in overalls the same color as earth rise from a ditch.
It’s a transitional place, in stalemate, neither country nor city.
Construction cranes on the horizon want to take the big leap,
but the clocks are against it.
Concrete piping scattered around laps at the light with cold tongues.
Auto-body shops occupy old barns.
Stones throw shadows as sharp as objects on the moon surface.
And these sites keep on getting bigger
like the land bought with Judas’ silver: “a potter’s field for
burying strangers.”

(‘Outskirts’, Transtromer)

It doesn’t do much for me; but perhaps something is lost in translation.

“Once there was a shock
that left behind a long, shimmering comet tail.
It keeps us inside. It makes the TV pictures snowy.
It settles in cold drops on the telephone wires.

One can still go slowly on skis in the winter sun
through brush where a few leaves hang on.
They resemble pages torn from old telephone directories.
Names swallowed by the cold.

It is still beautiful to hear the heart beat
but often the shadow seems more real than the body.
The samurai looks insignificant
beside his armor of black dragon scales.”

(‘After a Death’)

Much more interesting, but nothing exceptional, in my opinion. But he is Swedish, and they managed to ignore him, vis a vis Nobel Prize, until he is 81.

FW December 25 at 10:59 pm

And can I bore you for a minute, Polybius? I have a passion for Knut Hamsun. My favourtie writer. Won the Nobel Prize for GROWTH OF THE SOIL, a saga of the meaning of life surrounding hard honest toil and the true path and values held in a close relationship with the simple and natural. His is a rejection of life’s true values being eroded away by a modern artificial existence.

But for me his earlier works – HUNGER, MYSTERIES, PAN, and VICTORIA; created when he was caught between an Oslo intellectual circle and a life of an angry and hungry young man, an itinerate rousabout, fisherman and traveller, redefine the erosion of dignity in the modern world and false games between the sexes.

No-one but no-one writes on this edge like Hamsun does. When my son read HUNGER he said he didn’t realise it wasn’t a comtemporary novel. Norway didn’t know what to do with Hamsun, their greatest writer at the end of WW2. A Nazi sympathiser [he saw Britain, not Germany, as the worst of colonialist oppressors; and hoped Hitler would liberate Europe and the common people in a return to a truer state of natural and meaningful existence]; so they put him away in an institution in the hope they could prove him insane.

Which leaves a real dilemma. How much should you judge a person’s writings on what you know about their real lives?

AoT December 26 at 7:48 am

What’s being “judged” is the quality of the writing. However removing the man from the words is an almost too difficult task because it suggests that biography doesn’t count.

And maybe it should.

I think the writing is everything.

And then sometimes I think the man is everything.

Is it possible to separate the work from the man?

I don’t believe so. It seems both an impossible and foolish enterprise.

But it’s a difficult question nonetheless.

And a good one.

If the question is “where do judgements begin and end?” then of course it would be with the man.

Unless we ask: “what informs the work – the life or the imagination?”

It’s here, I believe, that the real answer lies.

Or if not the answer then at least, at the very least, a starting point.

Considering this question in the time it took to drink my cup of tea I would say that it begins and ends with the man – that all work must be viewed through that distorting lens of a life lived.

Polybius December 26 at 8:42 am

Unless we ask: “what informs the work – the life or the imagination?”

It’s here, I believe, that the real answer lies.

Or if not the answer then at least, at the very least, a starting point.

Yes, I think you’ve hit upon something. The life and the work infuse each other but they are not the same thing.

But it’s such a complex relationship.

Pound is an interesting case. His influence on modern poetry is incalculable. He said some truly disgusting things over Italian radio during the war.

When you think of Pound you think of him talking, talking, talking – Gertrude Stein’s “village explainer”.

However, in the last ten years of his life he fell silent. He ceased writing entirely. He spoke only very rarely. He granted a handful of very short interviews to journalists. This is what he said in one of them:

I have lived all my life believing that I knew something. And then a strange day came and I realised that I knew nothing, that I knew nothing at all. And so words have become empty of meaning….

It is something I have come to through suffering. Yes, through an experience of suffering….

I have come too late to a state of total uncertainty, where I am conscious only of doubt….

I do not work any more. I do nothing. I fall into lethargy, and I contemplate….

Everything that I touch, I spoil. I have blundered always.

AoT December 26 at 10:44 am


“Pound is an interesting case”

What do you think is the relationship between Pound”s silence and the question of biography and/or imagination?

“The life and the work infuse each other but they are not the same thing.”

How would one go about separating them?

Or if not that then recognising differences?

Polybius December 25 at 11:57 pm

Try The Great Enigma – new collected poems, translated by Robin Fulton and published by new directions press.

Here’s one that got into my head when I was seventeen, and I never could get it out again:


2 am: moonlight. The train has stopped
out in the middle of the plain. Far away, points of light in a town,
flickering coldly at the horizon.

As when a man has gone into a dream so deep
he’ll never remember having been there
when he comes back to his room.

As when someone has gone into an illness so deep
everything his days were becomes a few flickering points, a swarm,
cold and tiny at the horizon.

The train is standing quite still.
2 am: bright moonlight, few stars.

I have never read Hamsun, but your post has made me curious, and now I’ll hunt some out.

How much should you judge a person’s writings on what you know about their real lives?

This is an extremely interesting question. For myself, I would say not at all, trying to ignore the dizzying feeling that comes.

After all, Celine wrote some vile things about Jews, but he also wrote Journey to the End of the Night and Death on the Instalment Plan.

Ezra Pound likewise spewed poison, but then wrote some great poems while they kept him in a cage in Pisa.

If you want to complicate the notion of the writer’s personality even further, check out Fernando Pessoa. Find a copy of The Book of Disquiet and you will have a reading experience unlike any other.

Bob Ellis December 26 at 4:54 am

Shakespeare, Dickens, Orwell, T.S. Eliot and Anthony Powell seem in some part anti-Semitic too. Joyce anti-Catholic. Sinclair Lewis anti-Revivalist Protestantism. Gore Vidal mocked Saint Paul in Live From Golgotha, and Confucius in Creation. I put the boot into Seventh-Day Adventists in The Nostradamus Kid.

I don’t see why it is wrong to criticise a religion if it seems to you to be wrong in some regard. Woody Allen and Joseph Heller were very harsh on Jews. The most anti-Semitic film since those of Goebbels was A Serious Man by the Coen brothers. It’s a question that has been over-egged by Zionism — and of course the heinous wrong and unimaginable evil of the Holocaust — but the criticism of a way of life and a way of thinking is something we all have a right to attempt. Larkin was pro-Nazi during World War 2, but this does not make any of his verse less worth reading, and savouring.

It should be a non-issue. But it isn’t.

And it’s a pity.

Polybius December 26 at 8:24 am

‘ I don’t see why it is wrong to criticise a religion if it seems to you to be wrong in some regard.’

No disagreement there – which is why religious anti-vilification laws make me very uneasy indeed.

M Ryutin December 26 at 10:20 am

Ah, you jumped correctly (or just stood still I suppose) Bob. No, you don’t have to be homosexual to write about gays (as some say) – what next? Men unable to write female characters?

Is Pound or anyone else to be airbrushed from history and their output devalued due to personal lives? Or, do he have a Marxist-only (and thus half-hearted and wrong) view of DH Lawrence – as Leavis showed?

Fortunately that went out by the 1950’s – or so we thought. Literature can lead its own life in the hands of a writer methinks, no matter what the personal background or political leanings (no socialist realism in ANY form please, I have read ‘Mother’ the Origin of that Species and it is just ‘history’ now). I don’t want to know (although I do) about Dostoevsky’s tragedies and life’s ups and downs, I just want to read the brilliant interplay between Raskolnikov and Porfiry Petrovich, thanks very much.

Conrad WAS a sailor writing in a second language and wrote about some things he knew, but can any mere sailor write Nostromo and create its characters or write the storm scene from Nigger of the Narcissus?

M Ryutin December 26 at 10:52 am

Oh, and ‘prizes’ mean absolutely nothing! Neither do critics’ views. I really think that only the public ‘vote’ means anything and some of the greatest stories are of the failures of critics, academics and publishers to recognise the public’s potential to appreciate literature, drama or anything else.

Bob Ellis December 26 at 11:13 am

And, on the other hand, Bryce Courtenay.

Polybius December 26 at 11:29 am

Prizes may mean something or nothing, as might the public ‘vote’.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton was far more popular writer than either Thackeray or George Eliot; I trust you’re not going to sit there and attempt to keep a straight face while you claim that he was a better novelist than either of them?

If you are then you will probably find a copy of Godolphin or The Last Days of Pompei in some cob-webbed corner of Project Gutenberg.

Happy holiday reading.

M Ryutin December 26 at 3:54 pm

I would in no way, straight or other face, think of putting ‘out there’ comparisons of Eliot (or anyone else) with Bulwer-Lytton even if I had read anything of the latter, but how fair is it to directly compare those two anyway?

Novels of different eras are difficult for me anyway, I take them in their context and see if I like them. How do you properly compare Pickwick, Middlemarch, Nostromo, On the Road or Bonfires of the Vanities? One of the first of the ‘faction’ novels was one that I simply could not put down for 100 pages or so, but how prominent is Jackal’ on Great Books lists? Or university reading lists?

As for the rest, I have never read a single thing by JK Rowling, (or by Bryce Courtenay, Bob). I don’t judge Rowling or Courtney on their literary merit – or “non-merit”. Perhaps they were never going to pass critical muster, but many millions of people have read (and paid for) these books and who knows how many people went on to look at other books, perhaps even some passing critical muster. In any case there is a market of millions for books of every kind and I am not about to say that the reader’s choices are anything other than good ones for them AND writing.

Polybius December 26 at 4:21 pm

Eliot and Bulwer-Lytton were roughly contemporaneous, Eliot’s dates being 1819-1880, and Bulwer-Lytton 1803-1873. In my opinion, it is not unreasonable to compare.

I think my point stands: there is no external authority which can guarantee a book’s worth or otherwise, whether that be a prize or popular acclaim. Who remembers Henryk Sienkiewicz (Nobel Prize for Literature 1905) now? About the same number of people who’ll remember Bryce Courtenay in ten years time. Not that that’s any indictment of either of them.

Anton Chekhov, as well as being an exquisite writer, was famous for having his head screwed on. Here’s his take:

I divide all literary works into two categories: Those I like and those I don’t like. No other criterion exists for me.

Polybius December 26 at 12:16 pm


My answer is provisional and incomplete and probably unsatisfactory. I am feeling my way into the question and the way ahead seems dark.

To be honest, I am unsure of “…the relationship between Pound”s silence and the question of biography and/or imagination?”. But this quote fromThe Last Rower by C. David Hayman seems to bear upon the question. It describes a meeting between Pound and Allen Ginsberg in 1967:

Pound looked away, smiling, pleased. Ginsberg went on. He spoke again of Pound’s over-riding influence on twentieth-century verse. But the old man would have none of it. “The intention was bad,” he said.

“That’s the trouble – anything I’ve done has been an accident. Any good has been spoiled by my intentions, the preoccupation with irrelevant and stupid things.” And then very slowly and clearly, he added, “But the worst mistake I made was that stupid, suburban prejudice of anti-Semitism. All along, that spoiled everything.”

“Ah, it’s lovely to hear you say that,” Ginsberg responded. “Well no,” he went on, “because anyone with any sense can see it as a humour, in that sense part of the drama. You manifest the process of thoughts, make a model of the consciousness. Anti-Semitism is your fuck-up, like not liking Buddhists, but it’s part of the model and the great accomplishment was to make a working model of your mind. Nobody cares if it’s Ezra Pound’s mind but it’s a mind like everybody’s mind.”

Bob Ellis has already mentioned Phillip Larkin in the context of this discussion. Consider the poem below, one of his more famous ones:

High Windows

When I see a couple of kids
And guess he’s fucking her and she’s
Taking pills or wearing a diaphragm,
I know this is paradise.

Everyone old has dreamed of all their lives–
Bonds and gestures pushed to one side
Like an outdated combine harvester,
And everyone young going down the long slide

To happiness, endlessly. I wonder if
Anyone looked at me, forty years back,
And thought, That’ll be the life;
No God any more, or sweating in the dark

About hell and that, or having to hide
What you think of the priest.
He And his lot will all go down the long slide
Like free bloody birds. And immediately

Rather than words comes the thought of high windows:
The sun-comprehending glass
And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows
Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.

If you look through Larkin’s letters and biography, you’ll find much that is wry, snide and snarky, together with some things that are downright ugly and offensive.

But look at that last stanza, the sense of lift it has. The feeling of opening out into the air. it’s a moment of transcendence, and such moments are not uncommon in his poetry.

But where were they in his life? Did his lovers see that part of him? Or did he require the window of his work to look through before he could see the deep blue sky?

Phillip K. Dick wrote a great essay called How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later, and it seems to me that that’s what writers are really in the business of doing. And of course, much of the raw material is drawn out of their opinions and histories and thoughts and wispy things that flit through their minds when they’re hurrying through the rain to buy a coffee. But the imagination send out tendrils to make contact with something else altogether.

But here we begin to slide uncomfortably into mysticism, which is an uncongenial sort of place.

How would one go about separating them?

At this point, I don’t know. But I think there are some very interesting sights to see when you begin to look for the places where they might intersect.

But I’m interested in what your thoughts might be.

AoT December 26 at 2:10 pm

Polybius, thank you for your post.

(To use your two examples) I find that the intermingling of “snarkiness” and “transcendence” to be an excellent description of man himself. I suppose my interest would be in those writers who are, above all else, “human”. By that I mean I would be suspicious of a writer, painter etc, who I felt to be (consciously, overtly) subordinating his life to his work; referencing only the palatable, the acceptable: citing only the masque.

I also feel, like Mr Ellis, that it should be a “non-issue”. But I feel that way for what I suspect are different reasons. I believe it should be a “non-issue” because rather than trying to separate the man from the work, relegating the bad and privileging the good, one should seek to understand both, as a dovetail composite, as an inseparable entity.

The (seeming) contradictions in the life of say, Pound the man and Pound the writer and Pound the anti-Semite, are to me no contradictions at all.

They are all essential features of the man – who, in this case, happens to be a writer.

I certainly would agree with you that the interface (between man and work) would be an interesting place. But is it a place of clear frontiers, or even of defined camps as a prerequisite for clear frontiers?

I’d say no.

I was looking at the architecture of Luis Barragán the other day, and one of his quotes seems appropriate here:

“I don’t divide architecture, landscape and gardening; to me they are one.”

Polybius December 26 at 3:22 pm

I believe it should be a “non-issue” because rather than trying to separate the man from the work, relegating the bad and privileging the good, one should seek to understand both, as a dovetail composite, as an inseparable entity.

Yes, I agree with that. I also agree that the interface between writer and work is not a place of clean frontiers, or defined camps as a prerequisite to the same – it’s more like a slag-heap collapsing in all directions.

Hey, they’re putting Journey on the rails again.

What a feeling it gives me.

A lot of things have happened in fourteen years.

If I weren’t under so much pressure, forced to earn my living, I can tell you right now I’d suppress the whole thing, I shouldn’t let a single line through.

Everything gets taken the wrong way. I’ve been the cause of too much evil.

just think of all the deaths, the hatreds around me. . . the treachery . . . the sewer it adds up to . . . the monsters . . .

Oh, you’ve got to be blind and deaf!

You’ll say: but it’s not Journey! It’s your crimes that are killing you, Journey had nothing to do with it. You yourself have been your ruin! your Bagatelles your abominable lingo! your imaging, clowning villainy! The law’s clutching you, strangling you? Hell, what are you complaining about? You jerk!

Oh, many thanks! Many thanks! I’m raging! Fuming! Panting! With Hatred! Hypocrites! Jugheads! You can’t fool me! It’s for Journey that they’re after me! Under the axe I’ll bellow it! between ‘them’ and me it’s to the finish! to the guts! Too foul to talk about . . . pissed with Mystique! What a business

-Louis Ferdinand Celine
from the preface to the 1952 edition of Journey to the End of the Night

Polybius December 26 at 3:25 pm


And thanks for introducing me to Luis Barragan, by the way.

Doug Quixote December 26 at 3:56 pm

You do not need to agree with a person’s politics to appreciate his or her works of art.

Kipling was a miserable old conservative imperialist; Oscar Wilde was an outrageous homosexual libertarian, Pound a fascist anti-semite, Orwell a socialist, Eliot “a Catholic cast of mind, a Calvinist heritage, and a Puritanical temperament” (from Eliot himself) and perhaps anti-semitic as well.

But all of them wrote excellent poetry.

Poetry strikes at the emotions : it engages us at a level other than the cerebral. It is said that a writer must suffer for his art, and very little great art comes from the rich and comfortable.

Mozart might be an exception, but his greatest works came as he approached mortality, as they did for Schubert.

Any thoughts, dear readers?

The Usual Murdoch Dirty Tricks (72): The Boxing Day Newspoll, Decrypted

Newspoll’s lies continue.

In South Australia 885 voters over two months — that is, 120 a week, a meaningless sample — show Labor two-party-preferred on 49 and the Liberals two-party-preferred on 51, though Redmond (Liberal) trails Weatherill (Labor) by 27 to 47 after wistfully offering her job to Alexander Downer, to Alexander’s abashed and reddening surprise, and the ‘Others’ are suddenly on 13 though most Independents are in coalition with Labor, and said by this poll to prefer, somehow, the Liberals.

After the US election can any Murdoch poll be trusted? Of course not. Redmond has said she would cut 25,000 public service jobs, and thus impoverish 150,000 adjacent voters, yet is 20,000 votes ahead, Newspoll says, in a state that has mostly, decisively chosen Labor (sometimes under a thwarting gerrymander, sometimes not) over the Tories these ninety years. She then said the figure ‘just jumped into my head’, a great relief to those aghast civil servants with guns half way to their mouths, or those of them that heard of her retraction before they squeezed the trigger.

It is growing tiresome to point this out, and to have to do so again and again in these pages, but no eight week figure garnered in summer from ‘random’ calls to home phones is anything other than Liberal-biased because the Liberal vote is old and at home and the Labor vote young and out carousing, and is more biased every week, as more and more young people buy cellphones and get in late, after pollsters have stopped calling, or go swimming or sailing or biking on weekends, taking with them cellphones no pollster calls.

And the 8 percent ‘refused’ and the 2 percent ‘uncommitted’ add up, in South Australia, to 90,000 voters rung when about to sit down to dinner, or unwilling because of language difficulties to further stress themselves after a working day, and these are more likely Labor voters too.

How long does this fraud go on? Last February Labor was on 29, according to Newspoll, in South Australia, the most progressive state on Earth in the last hundred years. And we are supposed to believe that. And the Green vote, on 14 in June, is supposed to be down to 11 today. In South Australia. And we are supposed to believe that. Not that it was out bushwalking and surfing or travelling in Europe lately, but that it had been drawn mysteriously to the thought of Alexander Downer, Premier, as the Green vote always is.

Newspoll has a CEO, and it is hard to see why, if it is honest. A CEO can be there for no other purpose than to tweak the figures and keep Rupert in good humour. If it has another purpose I ask O’Shannessy, the current CEO, what the fuck it is.

Homeland: An Afterthought

I saw the rest of Homeland on the afternoon and night of Christmas Day. It continued to astound and in its unforeseeable gotterdammerung raised, in fire and blood, some questions about America we should perhaps now think upon.

Is America in any danger at all? ‘Terrorists’ have thus far killed on its soil some 6,500 souls (I include Pearl Harbour and the Oklahoma bombing) in a hundred years, which is half those killed by gun murders in any one year, or one-seventeenth of those wounded by bullets in that same year, and there have been more killed by rattlesnakes, or backyard pool drownings, probably, in that same century.

Yet the expensive paranoia continues, and trillions are spent on electronic surveillance, targeted killings, ‘enhanced interrogation’ in Guantanamo and endless wars on regimes as unthreatening as Saddam’s because…well…Americans like to think that way. They like to stalk, suspect and overhear. They like to guess what the foe is up to. They like to agonise over who is the bad guy this week, and if he can be ‘turned’, or threatened into betraying his comrades, or killed if he cannot.

And the idea of ‘homeland security’ overwhelms any thought of what they are fighting for, what they are defending, and why and how. A secret police defends ‘freedom’ by kidnapping, torture, bugging and peacetime assassination, and agonises (or not) over what is the true, or correct, priority. They think themselves heroes for doing this. But it is likely that they do more harm than good, and waste billions every year on a twilight war that is wholly unnecessary.

For it is unlikely that Iran will risk immolation by attacking anybody. It is unlikely that Israel will be driven into the sea. It is certain the Karzai regime will not survive, and a Holocaust will kill most Hazaras when the US leaves Afghanistan.

And billions, and trillions, are being spent on war and war’s alarms (and war’s alarmists) that might else go into cleansing water, schooling orphans, giving free flat-screen televisions, with CNN on them, to the Third World, or welcoming fugitive Afghan women and Hazaras into the West.

The money is going into the wrong weapons. Hitler did not convert London to Nazism by bombing it. Ben Gurion did not convert Palestinians to Judaism by levelling their towns. No true Catholics were recruited by the Inquisition. It’s not the way change happens. It happens when secular prosperity incrementally moves the minds of the young, in campuses and colleges and newly flourishing towns, towards a social-democratic alternative to the tyrannies and pieties of the past. As in Spain. As in East Germany. As in Ireland, and South Africa. You don’t bomb people into treating their women better. You shouldn’t bomb them at all.

And yet this fool idea that minds are won by violence underpins, of course, what Homeland is about: that Islamists think of nothing but bombing America. What they are actually thinking of is ways to win, democratically, power in Egypt, which they have, and in Gaza, which they have, and in Iran, which they have. They offer social benefits – free hospitals, good schools, new rights for women – as well as jihad and martyrdom in the ceaseless war on the Great Satan.

They have the balance right, and America does not. America is impoverishing itself to fight a war it cannot win with weapons inappropriate to that war which cost a fucking fortune, and they are seen as bloodstained fools by every intelligent person now thinking on these things.

And it’s a pity.

Homeland: The Best TV Fiction Ever?

We’re almost through Homeland, three quarters of it anyway, and should by the end of Boxing Day have seen what has gone to air thus far. It is the best fictional series I have ever seen (Rome was the best of the ‘factual’ ones, with either John Adams or Days Of Hope a close second), and the question arises of why I think this.

It is because, I think, it gives you, like Shakespeare, a central character, Nicholas Brody, who has five simultaneous agendas jostling and thrashing about in his racked and suppurating soul, and another central character, Carrie Mathison, who is as torn between three or four big priorities (and definitions of madness) as Hamlet. And she is tempted, like Isabella in Measure For Measure, by whoring (or is it reckless love?) for a good, great cause, and like Brutus by principled murder. And by her palliative drugs of course, and giving them up, and her not always medicated bipolarity.

Without giving much of the plot away — and more sudden switcheroos beset its narrative than even Breaking Bad — it should be said that it is, in sum, like the Middle East, a clash of righteous causes. For each character is behaving honourably, and patriotically, and in some larger sense decently, according to his/her lights in a complex, paranoid, wired and vengeful world.

Brody, who lost in a drone strike a boy he had come to love like his own son, is right to want to kill Vice President Walden, who ordered it. And Walden is right to want to prevent, by any means, another 9/11, and Estes and Berenson are right, as public servants, to arrest illegally, kill and torture any suspicious person to assist their long twilight struggle for national salvation, if they can. To protect their Homeland, if they can. One is a Jew, and one is a Black, but ‘these United States’ are what they are sworn, like the always unseen President, to protect and preserve.

So it is above all a moral drama, of Arthur Miller or Tony Kushner stature; and Euripides would not have disowned it. These are all good people, with blood on their hands, wrestling with broken marriages and resurging nightmares and haunting corpses whose lives they might have saved.

And it is in the modern world. A cell-phone call, and its timing, can change the fate of nations. Five cameras already in place record the conversation of two people in a downtown hotel bar because the owner, not the FBI, put them there, as every private business does these days. A planned assassination is viewed live on many screens from many angles in a room in the White House by a group of ill-checked people, one of whom has the technical means to warn the assassinee, a figure like Bin Laden, just in time to save him. Torture is used, and no-one blenches. Nor do we; it is necessary.

Yet in some ways it is old-fashioned too. Koestler, Orwell, Camus, Greene and the Arthur Miller of The Crucible would have been familiar with its choices, and its contradictions, and its heart-clenching survivors’ guilt; and with Jessica, Brody’s innocent but intertangled and circumstantially adulterous wife (perfect casting as Jackie to his Jack Kennedy, Congressman, Carrie pertly remarks) and his daughter Dana who nearly, spontaneously betrays him, and embarks on a perilous Romeo-and-Juliet love affair with his enemy Walden’s preppy, tearaway son Finn.

And Shakespeare, well versed in what Brutus went through, and Coriolanus, and Othello, and Leontes, and Macduff, and Isabella, and King Hal who orders the hanging of Bardolph, his erstwhile drunken slumside crony, for chicken-theft in wartime, and Viola, who, in disguise, must woo for her lord a proud lady who disdains him, would too. It is almost incidental that the dialogue (by Alex Ganza, Howard Gordon, Gideon Raff, Chip Johanneson, Alexander Cary, Meredith Stiehm, Henry Bromell and whoever wrote the original Israeli series) is superb, and the Oscar-standard performances executed with almost laconic professionalism, Mandy Patinkin’s as the baleful, bearded, always expressionless, true-hearted Berenson in particular.

Damien Lewis as Brody is something else again. He has both the ordinariness of someone you might meet — a cop, a shift-worker, an ambulance driver — at any McDonald’s after midnight, and the quiet, intrusive, luminous charisma of Steve McQueen. He breaks through the cellophane like Giamatti and Seymour Hoffman, and, in another era, Burton and Laughton. He even outshines Claire Danes, who must be the Close, Redgrave, Streep or Emily Watson of our time (and as beautiful when she puts her face back on as Ava Gardner), and gives the greatest sustained performance by a woman in English since, I guess, the birth of television in 1937. If I am overstating this, pray give me an alternative.

This is an astounding series, whose, writing, directing, designing and pacing are peerless, and it should be seen, interspersed by acts of copulation and good wine and Japanese takeaway, over a long weekend with someone you like, very soon.

A Christmas Reflection

An Afghan female cop has killed, it seems, an American ‘adviser’, deliberately or not, in a Kabul police station on Christmas Eve; and it is time, perhaps, to reflect on what this colonial relic the Afghan War is doing to our post-Christian souls.

Any translator we leave there will be killed. Any Hazara family we leave there is in danger of being killed. Any local policeman or soldier who fought on our side will go in danger of being shot or beheaded once we leave. And any Afghan female seen in the company, however innocent, of a foreign soldier will be beheaded in a roaring stadium during the interval of a soccer game, within a year of us leaving. Any school we have built will be burned to the ground.

This is what this last western colonial adventure has cost us, and them. We divide tribes and nations and families. We set them slaughtering each other. We start vendettas that will last a hundred years. It’s a terrible thing we have done.

Should we leave there at all? Yes, I think, but we should take to the US, to Denmark, to Holland, to Britain, to Italy, to Canada, New Zealand, Fiji, Australia, any one of them who wants to come with us. We can do no less without igniting slaughter and massacre and pogrom, like that in Syria, once we leave.

We lost this war, and gave to the Taliban grounds to recruit a generation. And we backed the wrong drug lord, who fixed elections and enriched his crooked brothers when we were told repeatedly how corrupt and mad he was.

And it’s a pity.

Breeding The Numbers

The referendum won yesterday in Egypt by those who quite like Shariah Law is a warning to secular democracies everywhere.

Because religious people have more children, and Hillsong will outbreed us — and the resident Mel Gibson tyke fundamentalists, and the boatloads of incoming Shi-ites and Hindu Tamils — and laws quite unsuitable to our easy promiscuous culture swarm over us like crablice, if we are not careful.

It is the problem of Eretz Israel too: eight Arab children are engendered for every three Jews, and one of these three will scarper to America or Europe or Melbourne before they turn thirty and not come back. And there is no way round this problem of thronged insurgent humidicribs other than that of the late King Herod: a massacre of innocents now and then, as in Gaza in October.

In Australia too, I have long reflected, we aborted our majority in the sixties and seventies and eighties, and the Catholics and Maronites thereafter seized the Labor Party; and, indeed, of late, the Liberal Party. And, as in America, the crazies are taking over.

Joe Hockey, the Palestinian Maronite, may soon be Prime Minister.

And it’s a pity.

A Letter To Joe About Guns

It’s good Joe Biden, who has a mad streak, is in charge of the new gun laws in America. To him I commend my plan of denying guns to young males under twenty-six, and a three-month window of opportunity to hand them in, and a six-month prison sentence if they do not.

Since eighty percent of gun murders are by males of this age, and seventy percent of gun suicides, it will be clear within a couple of months if this measure is working. If it is, no other legislation will be urgently necessary; and the banning, say, of assault weapons can state by state proceed at a pace that is locally suitable over the next five years or so, or ten.

Joe, who lost a wife and daughter to car accident, will be susceptible to the argument that, even as car drivers’ licences are not given to eight-year-olds, nor should gun owners’ licences be given to male teenagers, for the very same reason, that these tools, in such hands, are a danger to life and limb.

I beg him to consider closely this proposal. There is no downside to it, and it will surely pass in Congress on the voices, uncontentiously.

It is what in other circumstances would be called the ‘silver bullet’, and the time for it is now.

Holmes And The Strange Case Of Ashby’s Arse

‘Harassment, you say, Watson? Harassment?’

‘Harassment, Holmes, indeed. Thrown out by the court.’

‘This Ashby, Watson,’ my old friend stoked his meerschaum with crack cocaine, ‘is the only thirty-four year old male so inconvenienced in history.’

‘He is unique, you say?’

‘I do say. No other man’ — raising his voice, Holmes got to his feet and addressed his macaw Montezuma, who listened keenly — ‘no other full-grown man in recorded history has professed himself to be so affronted at such mild banter, nor yet has denounced what must be adjudged the equivalent of a dirty postcard as a threat to his genitalia.’

‘Nor yet asserted so ludicrously that it was genitalia heretofore unfondled.’

‘A subject for Aristophanes, were he living, to make money with in the West End.’

‘It is a puzzle, Holmes, indeed.’

‘Or Aeschylus, perhaps, on Broadway.’

‘Or Sophocles,’ I mused. ‘Or, of course, Ben Travers.’

Holmes blew smoke at Montezuma, who flinched, and began to totter on his perch. ‘It is not a puzzle, Watson,’ he said softly, choosing his words with care, ‘it is a conspiracy.’

‘Oh, come now, Holmes,’ I protested affably, ‘these are mere Queenslanders, not skulking Venezuelan macchiavellian proto-Marxists armed with machetes. Conspiracy theories, in this day and age … ‘

‘Consider the facts, Watson.’ My friend slid the front page of The Times into the bottom of the parrot-cage, on the perch of which Montezuma was beginning to snore, and mutter selections from Hamlet in his sleep. ‘A young attractive man, Ashby, wooed by a smooth and powerful sodomite, Slipper, meets Brough, his wooer’s greedy rival, in secret, and after certain discussions in Surfer’s Paradise moves in with his wooer, refusing to leave the shower door open, accepts work in his office, begins flirtatiously to “text” him, then professes to be horrified by what he gets back, in jovial smutty man-to-man response.’

‘He is acting unworthily, surely.’

‘No, Watson, no, “unworthily” is not the word.’ Holmes slapped Montezuma about the beak until the big bird recovered his senses. ‘It is mendaciousness, cock-teasing, moral sabotage, a form of blackmail. By launching the court case, much as my friend Lord Queensbery did against the bloated woofter Wilde, he was able to make public a private, light-hearted phrase or two .. ‘

‘Cunts in brine, Holmes.’

‘Precisely, Watson.  Cunts, as you most accurately asseverate, in brine. A phrase which toppled from office the second highest official in the land …’

‘The third, surely Holmes. There is, above the GG, the Queen.’

‘In the land, Watson, in the land. Do pay attention.’

‘I apologize, of course …’

‘Which conspiracy, in wartime, against this most high official, twice elected, by both his constituents and the House, is treason.’

‘Treason, Holmes?’ I revolved this grave charge and nibbled one of Mrs Hudson’s excellent buns. ‘Punishable by … Holmes?’ I at last had the boldness to ask this.

‘Beheading, Watson. Beheading, in the Tower.’

‘For Ashby alone?’

‘For Ashby, Pyne, Brough, Brandis and Abbott.’

‘Abbott as well.’ I pondered momently, in half-dream, the good man’s hairy torso, and imagined it headless, on a slab, and my tender probing autopsy.

‘He taunted, Watson, the Speaker of the House on a regular basis, proclaiming him a slimeball, to the grief of his nation, and his wives, and his family. Hoping to unsettle his mind, and break his spirit; and drive him ..’

‘To suicide, Holmes?’

‘Of course not, Watson. You go too far.’

‘What, Holmes, is to be done?’

Holmes’s mood had improved; because, I imagine, of the cocaine; and he carried Montezuma on his shoulder now and stroked his head as he spoke with increasing fervour of this latest hypothesis to engage his brilliant, questing, unforgiving, fecund, fervid, forensic mind. ‘I have made communication, Watson, with my friend McTernan, a profound laconic Sassenach strategian of the Socialist persuasion, and urged him to enact with speed a Senate Enquiry into Liberal wrongdoing in the present millennium. Not just this, but the AWB, the WMD, the children overboard, the framing of Hanson, the stalking of Thomson, the ever-widening net of intrigue and entrapment attendant on Abbott’s and Costello’s assault on the civil rights and smirchless name of my pen-friend Robert Ellis …’

‘Surely, Holmes, you go too far.’

‘Never too far, Watson, never too far, when wickedness is to be exposed!’ My old friend grew feverish, and Montezuma concurrently apprehensive of his balance on the deerstalker. ‘As my keen young imprisoned albino friend Assange said to me only yesterday ….’ He could not for a moment recall what had been said. Then he did. ‘L’audace, toujours, l’audace!’

‘The audacity of hope,’ I murmured, helpfully but fruitlessly.

‘Just so, Watson, just so,’ Holmes muttered wearily, looked up with an air of inspiration and fell unconscious to the floor. It was not, I fear, for the first time in recent months, since his latest addiction had taken hold, that he had so succumbed in mid-peroration to its evil effects. Montezuma rose flapping in the air as he collapsed, then alighting on his prone form solemnly pecked at his ear, in vain.

Was my old friend dead? I bent with my stethoscope over him, obscurely blaming Ashby, also known as Kabuki Jim, for this ugly colonial happenstance; much like the case, now before the courts, of Greig and Christian, the dead Punjabi nurse and the briefly imperilled foetus of our future King.

‘He’s breathing,’ I said, with relief.

‘Elementary, my dear Watson,’ chirped Montezuma, not for the first time.

I gave him the rest of my bun, and sighed a prayer of thanks.

Over The Cliff

Boehner’s Plan B failed after looking good for a while and it seems now he has no great credibility with anybody, and the US will go over the Fiscal Cliff and into massive injustice, recession, panic, public lamentation and national sorrow. Thousands of soldiers will be forcibly retired, pensions cut, schools closed, hospitals bankrupted, and taxes go up in every suburb and sector. A Million Man March on Washington will emphasise how few supporters the daft Republicans, and their insane Tea Party puppeteers, now have.

And I suspect, but I do not know, that Obama is prepared to let it happen, and the sackings begin, and the dollar be downgraded, and market chaos mount, and the world economy start again to totter and stumble and vomit; and to repeatedly offer to the House thereafter his Plan A, with tax hikes on everyone making more than 250,000, until they capitulate; or, if they do not, to begin to have the FBI arrest selected Republicans on trumped-up charges (gun-running, treason, repeated parking infringements) until he has the numbers in the chamber to get it through.

It is wrong of them to imagine that a man whose mother died of the present system is not keen to change it, when he has nothing now to lose by changing it, and has been democratically elected to do nothing less than change it.

We will see. We will see.

And so it goes.

Certain Housekeeping Matters (9)

I have banned and re-banned The Shadow and Simon lately and frangipani a week ago and warned Garpal Gumnut who claims he has banned me.

I reassert what these columns are for. They are for the discussion of public policy and film and theatre and sometimes television, and of those who make and enact these things. They are not for personal attacks unfounded in truth, and lies and big lies about public personalities, including me.

It is wrong when a judge says otherwise to call Peter Slipper a bad man, or ‘Slippery Pete’. It is wrong to say Craig Thomson paid with thieved money for whores when he clearly did not and will be shown soon to have not done this. It is wrong to say I make up lies, I do not, and no instance of this has ever been found, or quoted; merely asserted, and wrongly asserted. Jokes are fine, hypotheticals are fine, questions are fine, generalisations are fine,  but deliberate, repeated, unfounded and reasserted slimeballing is not permitted on this blog, and is punished by life bans, which will be vigilantly enforced.

You do not tell lies. You do not tell lies. You do not tell lies. And you do not judge what you have not read, or seen.

And a merry Christmas to you all.

Amazing Grace: Ben Lewin’s The Sessions

It would be wrong not to recommend The Sessions. Its auteur Ben Lewin, of Melbourne, is crippled, on walking sticks, and from childhood, I suppose, well versed in the gentle self-mockery which is one of the film’s more graceful qualities. His screenplay is Oscar standard, and its principal performers, not just the main two, very, very fine.

Like many I jibbed at going to it for a while but was overwhelmed when I saw it. Like many I hadn’t known how intensely polio survivors feel with every inch of their skin the brush of a hand, or a nipple, or a lip, or a tongue, and it’s only their muscles that are inert.

And thus it is that Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes) can achieve erection and (of course) completion, all too quickly, when Cheryl (Helen Hunt), a ‘sex therapist’ keen to protest she is not a whore, first inserts him, straddling him, as FDR’s mistresses did. But she works, thereafter, to slow him down.

I had not expected to see Hunt fully nude, and she is very beautiful in that state. Nor had I expected to be moved, but not aroused by it. The phrase ‘divine love’ comes to mind, and a great sadness when it is revealed how brief their encounter was (her rules, and she is an actual person, six sessions and no more), and how short his life. How witty he was, and how much missed.

Other women look after him, one in a consummating, even kinky way, before and after his first initiation, and it is a film that affirms and uplifts (if I may try on two dull puns) of course, but also questions the Judeo-Christian ideas of sexual morality most of us live by; or give, let us say, lip-service to. William H Macey, as his priest and confessor Father Brendan, restores a timely, quirky, puzzled, wistful glint of mercy back to a lately embattled faith whose founder famously saved a slut from stoning by inviting her executioners to look into their own lustful hearts. His performance is the greatest he has done, and may get an Oscar also, along with Hawkes, who is a shoo-in, and Hunt, perhaps, whose courage is already esteemed, but whose face, alas, now looks as if it has been scraped off its bones and lies unused in a cold cream dish awaiting re-application.

It is a film unlike any other, and should be seen. It will add an extra surge of praise to the legislation lately passed that assists with millions of money the upkeep of the disabled in this country. There are as many disabled Australians as Tasmanians, and as many of their full-time carers as South Australians, and it is good we are at last looking after them.

Lines For Swanny (1)

Which forty thousand people would you sack to balance this year’s budget? In what public sector? To what good end? Can we have some evidence that you can add? What is it?

Lines For Obama (9)

I will propose tomorrow that Congress enact a new law which defines and punishes a new high crime, Enabling Murder. It will be retrospective, and will put in solitary confinement, naked, for six months, those guilty of it, and will guarantee their naming and shaming thereafter: enablers of murder.

These will include, in my belief, depending on what the chosen juries find, some NRA officials and those politicians, both state and federal, who against the common good campaigned to re-legalise those automatic weapons which have since 2003 killed scores of thousands of innocent Americans, some of them children, some of them children under seven.

It is my belief the American people will support this law, and Congress enact it. And I commend it to you.

It is time.

After The Morgan Poll, The Parliamentary Numbers

The Morgan Poll of nineteen hundred voters face to face in the last two weeks came in at 52.5 percent for Labor two party preferred.

This would win Labor Dobell, Hasluck, Boothby, Dunkley, Brisbane, Macquarie, Forde, Solomon, Aston, Longman, Herbert, Canning, Dawson, Bonner, Flynn and Leichhardt and give them a majority of twenty-two. If they lost three seats in Western Sydney and one in Tasmania this majority would be cut to fourteen. But if, as seems likely, Oakeshott, Windsor and Katter survived, it would be effectively twenty.

It is unlikely after the Slipper affair that these numbers will improve for the Liberals in Queensland, where Slipper lives and two more seats may fall to Labor or to Katter, giving Labor an effective overall majority of twenty-four.

I have been saying for a year Labor had a chance, and for three months Labor would now win, while most young Labor backroomers were talking morosely of ‘saving the furniture’ and ‘the deckchairs on the Titanic’, not noting that the Newspoll methodology was, as America proved, both wrong and corrupt and the true figures if decrypted narrowly favoured Labor.

I was right as usual, and they were wrong.

I invite responses to this from everybody but The Shadow who is a conspicuous ignoramus and liar and now banned for life.

Labor Five Percent Ahead: Morgan

This was sent to me an hour ago by ‘John Wilkins’, who is unknown to me. It accords with my own opinion, and I reprint it in his words, unchanged.

In mid December support for the ALP is 52.5% (up 5%) cf. L-NP 47.5% (down 5%) on a two-party preferred basis according to the latest face-to-face Morgan Poll conducted over the last two weekends, December 8/9 & 15/16, 2012.

This is largest lead the Gillard Government has held since holding the same advantage more than two years ago on November 20/21 & 27/28, 2010: ALP 52.5% cf. L-NP 47.5%.

The ALP primary vote is 40% (up 4% in two weeks), clearly ahead of the L-NP 37.5% (down 3%). Among the minor parties Greens support is 12% (up 1.5%) and Independents/ Others are 10.5% (down 2.5%).

If a Federal election were held today the ALP would win with a clear majority according to today’s face-to-face Morgan Poll.

Despite the increase in support for the ALP the Roy Morgan Government Confidence Rating is now at 105pts (down 1pt from the last face-to-face Morgan Poll) with 43.5% (down 0.5%) saying Australia is ‘heading in the right direction,’ compared to 38.5% (up 0.5%) saying Australia is ‘heading in the wrong direction’.

Gary Morgan says:
“Today’s Morgan Poll provides an early Christmas present for the Gillard Government with the ALP (52.5%) cf. L-NP (47.5%) holding its largest two-party preferred lead over the Opposition for more than two years — since November 2010. Importantly, the Government leads the Opposition amongst both men (ALP: 50.5% cf. L-NP 49.5%) and women (ALP: 56% cf. L-NP 44%).

“The improvement in the Government’s fortunes comes after a bad couple of weeks for the Opposition as the sustained attacks on Prime Minister Julia Gillard over her involvement in an AWU ‘slush-fund’ from nearly 20 years ago fell flat due to a lack of evidence of any wrongdoing.

“The case the L-NP promoted against former Speaker Peter Slipper involving his former staffer James Ashby backfired on several L-NP members as Justice Steven Rares dismissed any alleged sexual harassment and threw the case out of court. The Government is now floating the possibility of an Inquiry into the conduct of the case which would involve investigating several L-NP members who drove the case.

“Also favouring the Government were several pieces of good economic news with the RBA dropping Australian interest rates to 3% in the first week of December — equal to the record lows reached during the Global Financial Crisis; a significant pick-up in iron ore prices and the Australian sharemarket and a well-publicised drop in the official ABS unemployment figures (5.2%, down 0.2%) — Although the Roy Morgan unemployment estimate shows real Australian unemployment of 10.0% and a further 8.1% under-employed).

“In the environmental field the Gillard Government’s commitment to reducing Australia’s carbon dioxide emissions (most prominently via the contentious Carbon Tax) was also given a significant boost at the UN Doha Climate Summit with the latest science suggesting it is “extremely likely” humans are responsible for more than half of the observed global temperature rises since the 1950s (though this is still denied by many).

“Finally a recent special telephone Morgan Poll in late November shows that Abbott’s leadership is now coming under question with Prime Minister Gillard (49%, up 4%) strengthening her lead over Opposition Leader Tony Abbott (36%, down 1%) as ‘Better Prime Minister’ and even more worryingly for Abbott, showed a record high 63% (up 3%) of electors disapproved of Abbott’s performance as Opposition Leader.

“Until now, Abbott’s personal disapproval, which has consistently out-rated his approval, has not been a problem with the L-NP enjoying a comfortable advantage on a two-party preferred basis over the Government. However, if the Government retains the advantage shown by today’s Morgan Poll the L-NP may consider returning to former leader Malcolm Turnbull — who is preferred to both current Prime Minister Julia Gillard: (Turnbull: 59% cf. Gillard: 31%) and former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd: (Turnbull: 54% cf. Rudd: 38%). But, both Turnbull and Rudd have a similar problem with their Parliamentary colleagues — they don’t have their support!”

Electors were asked: “If an election for the House of Representatives were held today — which party would receive your first preference?”

Finding No. 4852 – This face-to-face Morgan Poll on Federal voting intention was conducted over the last two weekends, December 8/9 & 15/16, 2012 with an Australia-wide cross-section of 1,714 Australian electors aged 18+, of all electors surveyed 3% (unchanged) did not name a party. Face-to-face polling is more accurate than telephone polling due to the higher response rate achieved compared to other forms of polling including telephone polling and Internet polling.: December 19, 2012

Full tables:

From Peter Slipper

Mr Ellis, I have no other way to contact you except publicly.

I ask you to please refrain from saying I am suicidal or I am being driven to suicide.

I am not and never have been.

This has been a trying and difficult year for me and my family and your constant claims that I am about to take my own life or am being driven to do so is hurtful, offensive and disrespectful to me and my family.

Please do not attribute a mindset or actions to me that are not true and highly disrespectful to me and my family.

From Bob Ellis:

I apologise, and I will of course desist.

I equated your demeanour with that of Craig Thomson, who Mal Washer said was on the edge of grave self-harm and who said as much, in a doorstop, himself. I know Craig slightly and in error thought you were, must be, in a similar state.

You are a good and decent man and I have written repeatedly of your innocence and I am sorry.

What has been done to you is hateful and I broke my friendship with Tony Abbott over it.

He is a cruel and silly man and not fit to run a shoe shop, let alone a country.

Have a good Christmas, if you can.

Again, I am sorry.


Bob Ellis

In Eighteen Words

Abbott’s back, and he’s denying he tried to drive Slipper to suicide.

He won’t survive this.

He can’t.

How To Fix The Budget Surplus

Bring down the Budget six weeks later, on, say June 25. The figures will be better by then. Announce, now, a one percent federal levy on all goods and services marketed and sold, beginning December 21 and removeable on September 21, and a two percent levy on all television advertising, and a three percent levy on all goods sold on the internet. Extend to Christmas if necessary.

This should sort it.

Put Plainly

Gazans can’t have scuds or helicopter-gunships, they might misuse them. Americans can have kalashnikovs, machine pistols and pump action shotguns, and misuse them. It’s in the constitution.

As far as we’re concerned, Gazans are niggers.

And we can kill as many of their children as we like.

Labor To Win: The Fairfax Poll, Decrypted

Stirton does not say so, but this morning’s Fairfax Poll (the honest one) has Labor winning; or rather prevailing, probably, with Green and Independent help, as it did in 2010. There are two percent more ‘Others’, presumably Katter Party, and 3.5 percent more “Independent’, which means that Oakeshott and Windsor (or Wilkie) might survive.

This means a result much like the last one; but if you add, as you must, another percentage point for the younger, Labor voters away from the home phone in summer, and one more for an effective McTernan-steered campaign, Labor is on 51 percent and likely therefore to win outright.

The Abbott figures are very bad for him and his party. Labor hardly ever wins the female vote, but this week it may add up to half a million more than the Coalition’s, shop girls as well as as doctors’ wives. It won’t come back with Abbott as leader — hairy chest, lascivious grins, a near-assault of a woman thirty years ago, a pregnant girlfriend abandoned, too many witchetty grubs swallowed alive and wriggling, will not attract forgiveness readily, or soon — and it must mean he will have to go, and .. well .. Joe Hockey will contest the election; and Joe can’t add. Malcolm Turnbull can, but the Liberals resent him as much as Labor, or most of Labor, resents Kevin Rudd. A disapproval of Abbott of 63 versus 50 for Gillard means half the nation, no less, will tolerate her as leader, probably, in coalition with people they like.

And … it means … the Newspoll headlines last week, Labor has stalled, it’s back to square one, were lies, of course, like all the Romney-a-shoo-in Murdoch polls and Karl Rove predictions in America.

For a 31 first preference to a 35 first preference is a gain of half a million votes. This is not stalling. This is not square one. A further gain of half that by September is victory. And landslide victory.


How To Fix America (2): Supporting Arguments

It has recently been found that the male brain takes a while to develop, and awareness of death, and the true meaning of death, does not arrive until the male is 24 or 25. This is reason enough to deny lethal weapons to young men, young men under 26, even if Loughner, 22, and Lanza, 20, and Oswald, 24, had not done what they did, nor Ashley, 22; nor Holmes, 23; nor Weise, 16; nor Whitman, 25; nor Kukel,15; nor Hinckley, 25; nor Chapman, 25; nor Harris, 18; nor Kliebold, 17; nor John Wilkes Booth, 26.

It is a reasonable thing to try. Older people will support it, and within a month gun deaths will come down. It will cost very little, much less than the price of that year’s thirty thousand gun-related US funerals, and the counselling of the witnesses and survivors; and will be seen as a better response to mental illness and massacre than ‘checks’ in gun shops of sleepless, pale young men with no particular medical symptoms.

It could be tried for a year, and the figures compared. The parents of dead children at Sandy Hook would campaign for it, vigorously.

It’s worth a try.

Lines For Obama (8)

Gun ownership should be like car ownership, awarded to the responsible at an age when they are not a danger to themselves or others.

All the evidence proves that no young man under twenty-six can be wholly trusted, every hour of the day, every hour of the year, with a gun.

It is therefore our decision that before that age he cannot, and if he is found with a gun, he will go to gaol, without appeal, for six months.

He will be able to go to rifle clubs, but not to own or carry a weapon elsewhere. If he does, he will pay the penalty.

An amendment to the constitution will be drafted, and voted upon. In the meantime, by my executive order, this new law will be enforced.

You have a month to give up your weapons at any police station, and you will be paid for them.

God bless America.

After Sandy Hook, A Modest Proposal

(First published by Independent Australia)

‘There are so many questions to be answered,’ CNN keeps telling us, but there is only one really. It is how do we stop mad young men from acquiring, and using, guns on humans.

That Adam Lanza was autistic, a child of divorce, mathematically brilliant, scorned by his brother and father, nagged by his mother or clumsy with girls doesn’t matter much. It matters only that he was mad for a while and got three guns and used them. He wasn’t going to be cured easily, or prevented easily from doing what he did. He failed to buy a gun, and used his mother’s three guns. There were locking systems in the school, but he smashed his way in, or got in early.

What is to be done? Well, there is a solution. Most gun-murders are by males under twenty-six, and gun-suicides too. If every male under twenty-six found with a gun were arrested and put in gaol for six months, the number of grieving, shattered Americans would come down by a million, and the number of American gunshot victims come down by twenty-two thousand, a year.

It would cost almost nothing to implement. The alternatives, putting a hit squad of marines in every school, and counselling round the clock the fifty thousand traumatised survivors of gun murder every year, would cost ten billion dollars a year. This might cost a hundred thousand; a million, tops.

There is a precedent for this. It’s the law forbidding anyone under eighteen to drive a car. A car is a dangerous weapon, and you have to be old enough to handle it. And you have to pass a lot of tests to allow you to have one.

A gun is also a dangerous weapon. And it is proved that males under twenty-six are the ones who do eighty percent of the gun murders in America.

It is not true of females, and they should be allowed to acquire guns for protection if they like, so should householders aged over twenty-six, or adult men who want to protect their children. And schoolmistresses, and the rest of them.

But the core group of probable assailants should not. They can go to rifle clubs if they want. But they can’t carry guns, or own them.

They should be given three months to hand them back, and be paid the value of them by the police.

And soon there will be five thousand, not thirty thousand, deaths by gunfire annually in America. And half a million fewer survivors, grieving, maimed, made mad and arming themselves against the next assault.

It’s an obvious answer, like the age limit on drinking, or the alcohol limit on drinking and driving.

Ninety-two percent of Americans would support it, and it could be passed as a law by the end of February.

Without it, the present inferno will continue, and many more good people die.

The Right Words In The Right Order

Obama’s speech was as good and brief as Gettysburg and all who wish to write speeches or give them should study it.

It does not pretend emotions the speaker is not experiencing. It does not say ‘sincere condolences’. It says ‘heartbroken’. It does not say any more of the children beyond what they have lost. It uses place names calmly. It does not invoke a deity.

And the genius of it is in the sentence ‘There are families in Connecticut who will not have that privilege tonight’, and its placing.

This is a great man, and a great role model, and a great world leader.

And what a terrible day.


Last month Bibi Netanyahu killed forty children and was praised for doing so ‘in defense of his country’. Last week Adam Lanza killed twenty children and was condemned as evil by the same commentators.

It is hard to see how Bibi’s action was excusable if Lanza’s was not. He killed twice as many children saying it’s okay, I was aiming at someone else. I was aiming at the children’s relatives.

And it is hard to see how I, who have millions of Jewish ancestors, am anti-Semitic for saying this.

I hold that all children are born equal and remain equal in rights.

How about you?


How To Fix America (1)

Make it illegal for any male under twenty-six to own or carry a gun. Imprison all such males for six months.

This will reduce gun-murder in the US by eighty percent and gun-suicide by ninety percent. It will save ten billion dollars a year that would be otherwise spent on funerals, counselling, hospital treatment, cops in schools, treatment of maddened survivors and committees of enquiry.

It will not prevent any householder over twenty-six from defending his home, or any adult woman from owning or carrying a gun.

It would be a law like the one that prevents young people under twenty from drinking alcohol, and young people under eighteen from driving a car. These laws are there to prevent avoidable death and injury.

It would be supported by eighty-eight or ninety percent of all voters.


And Now The Good News

No doubt the two hundred schoolchildren who did not die in the Newtown massacre will find closure soon, after extensive, targeted, compassionate counselling.

What a pack of lies.

Closure is a myth, and the word should be expunged from the English language.


Woody’s Groupie: Sophie Lellouche’s Paris-Manhattan

It sounded like a good idea, a French girl obsessed by Woody Allen whose spectral moody presence taunts her like the revenant Bogart in Play It Again, Sam, but the film is largely, though not always, a mess and though Woody generously turns up in it (he made himself available for exactly an hour), he will wish by now he hadn’t.

And although bits of it work well — the performances are good and some of the lines, ‘I’m not a Jew, I’m an atheist!’, and some of the several montages-to-music — it has too many forefathers; it is Manhattan meets Manhattan Murder Mystery meets Midnight in Paris meets Hannah And Her Sisters, Crimes And Misdemeanours, Annie Hall and Play it Again, Sam, and it’s really hard to sort out who is who and which bloke Alice, played by Alice Taglioni, truly loves and whether her sister Helene is unfaithful and her niece Laura is on with a Moroccan pusher and why her Jewish parents are still believers, and so on.

Patrick Bruel is very fine as Victor, a watchful alarms-systems installer unacquainted with Woody’s ouevre, plump, unassuming, woolly-haired, sad-eyed, epigrammatic and, like most French sex symbols, shorter than the heroine. Louis-Do de Lencquesaing is excellent as the even shorter sex symbol and rat-with-women Pierre whom Alice loved once and and Helene briskly stole from her ten years ago. Margaux Chatelier is fine as Helene, and the venerable bulbous Michel Aumont and the frail, querulous Marie-Christine Adam excellent as Alice’s conservative Jewish parents, fearful her star-smitten inner life will impair her precision as a pharmacist — it is the family pharmacy, and she runs it now — and poison a customer, perhaps. It should all work swimmingly but it doesn’t. The auteur, Sophie Lellouche, is too enmeshed in her last draft but three to rescue it effectively from its own archeology and it’s a mess.

It’s nice to see Woody, and to hear his disembodied one-liners, which are deeper than you remember them, and Bruel is wonderful, like a genial wise kissing cousin you wish you had met earlier, but it’s not enough.

And it’s a pity.

Newtown, Twelve Hours Later

It is worth saying now, and clearly, that most of American foreign policy is about keeping certain states and groups from getting certain weapons – Iraq, Iran, Hamas, Hizbollah, North Korea, the Taliban – and much of its domestic policy about making sure any kook can get any weapon he wants, at any hour, and coping with the consequences, finding ‘closure’ after senseless massacres like this one, in Sandy Hook yesterday.

The hypocrisy is even worse than the lunacy. Guns for Americans is a constitutional right. Bombs for Iranians is an international peril and may end the world as we know it, and we mustn’t let them have any.

Twenty-eight thousand Americans die of gunfire every year, devastating half a million adjacent lives – in the neighbourhood, the classroom, the football changing room, the Sunday school, the family Thanksgiving dinner – and billions are annually spent on the counselling of sufferers of trauma avoidable as drowning in the surf. Fifteen thousand Americans are each year crippled or made mad by gunfire, and hobble and slur and moan their way through diminished lives. In the years since January 1, 2000, ten million Americans have been killed or crippled or traumatised or maddened by weapons that should never have been sought or sold.

And yet you can buy a pistol at any hour, and in many states a machine pistol. The idea that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, should allow Iranians to build any bombs they like. The Iranians have never declared war on anyone, not in two hundred years. They have pre-emptively bombed no foreign installation. They have killed with drones or helicopter gunshhips no foreign leader. They have been good world citizens mostly, killing almost no American hostages when they took them, and giving them back.

How ludicrous America must look in the Middle East now. Ten times as many of them died by their own hands in 2001 as died from enemy attack on 9/11. But they have declared no War On Armed Kooks as they did a War On Terror.

What utter fools they are. How mad they look.

A law forbidding sale or ownership of any weapon that fires bullets to any male under thirty would be a start, and it would bring down these deaths – a lot of them suicides – by eighty percent. By twenty-four thousand deaths a year, a quarter of a million in a decade.

What a waste of talent we saw today. A Michael Moore, probably, a Springsteen, a Madonna died today, aged eight. Breivik murdered eighty-three young people on Utoya last year, a number unmatched in Norway in centuries. Similar lunatics in cinemas, malls and schools have exceeded that number in celebrated American massacres in this calendar year alone, and there are fifteen days to go.

And it will not end. It will not end in America, it will not end.

And it’s a pity.

Lines For Albo (27)

Their aim was to make Slipper or Thomson suicide. They were warned about it, but they kept it up.

After School: Josh Radnor’s Liberal Arts

Liberal Arts is a fine film, but it’s not much like a film Woody Allen or Whit Stillman or Preston Sturges might have made of a similar story; it is much more like a Truffaut, or a Mazursky, or a Tornatore, or even (take a deep breath) a Bergman; an early Bergman, anyway. It is about age and youth, and how you use your student years, and when you should put them behind you, and what, thereafter, you do with yourself and what you count as a good, successful choice of life and life partner, and what love is, and how it should be serviced in your middle years.

Josh Radnor, the auteur, plays Jesse Fisher, a thirty-five-year-old Manhattan bureaucrat drawn back to his old Ohio campus to attend the farewell party of Peter Hoberg (Richard Jenkins), his soured and crumpled college mentor, and, there attracted to a nineteen-year-old cheery thoughtful virgin, Zibby (Elizabeth Olsen), he begins to correspond with her, in longhand, by delivered letter, New York to Ohio and back. They compare composers, diets, romantic poets, vampire novels. He loves writing to her. He wants to see her. He visits her again. She offers him her virginity. He gulps. Now, as they say, read on.

There is more, of course, than the age difference for Jess, and us, to brood on. Peter Hoberg, after thirty-seven years as a stirring, inspiring, self-disgusted Mr Chips, and a month’s retirement, wants his job back, and he can’t have it, and is going mad with instant, wrenching nostalgia. Dean (John Majuro), a medicated melancholic young Raskalnikov re-reading A Confederacy Of Dunces, takes an overdose, the way you do, and rings up Jess, his only confidant, who is hundreds of miles away and fears flying, to say he’s changed his mind and wants to live. A moonlit Puckish vagrant, Nat (Zac Ephron), moreover, tempts Jess with crop circles and vast and clunky simplicities he shocks himself by pondering over too many midnight foaming ales, telling him go for it, go for it, go up and kiss her. Jess begins in self-defence to woo a nice, plain, smart Manhattan girl, Ana (Elizabeth Reaser), thirtyish like himself, keen on the novelists he is keen on, from a Greenwich Village bookshop, and begins to plan to impregnate and even marry her …

I’m saying too much, I suppose; but the pleasure in this film is due less to its narrative arc than its dialogue, and the tender glow its performers give to its hesitancies and telepathies; and, on occasion, its rancid bitcheries, as when his old beloved Romantic Poetry professor Judith Fairchild (Allison Janney), beds him and bids him begone forever, now, now, from her sheets and her drunken memory, as she does all her toy-boy bonks in this, her vengeful menopause. And, of course, the wondrous warmth and leading edge good architecture gives to youth and its imprecisions: sandstone cloisters, green lawn, empty, echoing theatres, reddening ivy …

It is more a memoir, I would guess, than the wistful Scott Fitzgeraldish novella it seems to be, reflecting like Scott on how you never feel older than nineteen, however old you are, when everything seems possible because it is all before you. But it is a terrific success, one all Tropfest entrants should look to; the kind of film you could make here, with the new technology, for sixty or a hundred thousand dollars, and like the thirtyish Bergman of Summer With Monika, make your name on.

A Death Deferred

(First published by Independent Australia)

It is time, I think, we joined some dots.

A week ago, two young people accidentally caused a suicide. They were fired, their show was cancelled, they said sorry, and they wept; one offered to hug the dead person’s relatives, and money was given to those relatives by the radio station they worked for.

Two days ago, a similar story was told. Four grown men, Ashby, Abbott, Brough and Pyne, tried to drive to suicide a vulnerable man and nearly succeeded, and they did it deliberately. They falsely accused him of a criminal act, and published some private, light-hearted letters which distressed his family and ruined his career. When it was discovered they had done this they did not weep, nor say sorry, nor offer money, nor show contrition; they said his ‘potty mouth’ showed him to be undeserving of office and if he had suicided, well, big deal.

Two of the same men, Abbott and Pyne, tried as well to drive another man, Craig Thomson, to suicide, and a friend of theirs, Mal Washer, a doctor, warned them they were doing so. They did it by saying falsely he had with half a million thieved dollars paid for whores. They distressed his pregnant wife and endangered his tiny children and cost him, with these arrant falsehoods, his career. They did not say sorry for this either.

These comparisons have not thus far been made because it is common practice for the Liberals to accuse opponents of being slimeballs and harass them in the chamber and on television. One of these, Nick Sherry, attempted suicide. Another, Greg Wilton, succeeded, and is dead now and will not be alive again.

And Abbott a few hours ago did not say sorry, or weep, or offer money or contrition. He only, defiantly, asked if the ruined man would be Speaker again. He knew full well that his gang, his mob, his accomplices, his cronies had used the court processes, and used them wrongly and unfairly, to publish letters that would never otherwise have come to light and were never intended to; and this misuse of the courts by these villains made his restoration politically, and diplomatically, impossible. It resembled closely the publication by Murdoch of Prince Charles’ ‘tampon’ phone call and a subsequent campaign that he should therefore never be King, because of a conversation Murdoch people had bugged.

What has happened resembles blackmail, in the sense that a secret letter damaging to the author is revealed, and the author is asked to advantage the blackmailer if he wishes to save, or salvage, his reputation.

Blackmail is a crime, and attracts a prison sentence, and this I think should also.

Or am I wrong?

The Ashby Upshot (3): Anthem For Music Perhaps

‘Cunts in brine, oh, cunts in brine,’
Said Brough. ‘Look, trust me, I’ll be fine;
If I keep shouting cunts in brine,
They’ll soon forget that I’m a swine
In league with Ashby and with Pyne
And re-elect me to the House.
They’ll soon forget that I’m a louse,
Colluding with a queen from Hell
Who loves, just loves, to kiss and tell.

‘Unshelled mussells! Pippy’s lips!
Sweet resort of passing ships!
Those dread things Peter Slipper said,
Repeated, should preserve my head
And save my arse, but not young James,
Whose love, by many other names,
Has proved in court a tawdry lie.
We’ll tweet in prison, he and I.

‘But not yet, sweet electors! Please!
I’m smiling still, I’m saying cheese,
I’m asking for your vote, just once,
Lest you elect those awful cunts …
I didn’t say that! You misheard;
I said a slightly similar word…
Oh crap, I truly rue the day
When Chris and Tony came my way…
I didn’t say “came”! Jeez, what’s next,
I’ll send them off an angry text,
Say nothing stronger than “I’m vexed.”

‘Cunts in brine, yes, cunts in brine,
A shocking thing to say, for mine.
When I am in the House, I swear
To lift the language standards there,
To pray for nothing too obscene,
And stand up for ‘God Save The Queen’ …
I didn’t say ‘Queen’! Shit, and fuck,
I’ll never get back, with my luck.

Brother, can you spare a dime:
I’m up to here in cunts in brine.’

The Ashby Upshot (2): Recovering The Money

Paul Murray beat his breast on his show last night and mourned the forty thousand dollars Ashby  got in settlement of his complaint against the government. It was taxpayers’ money, he lamented, our money, and wasted, utterly wasted.

It cost us in fact three hundredth of a cent each and would have cost us one hundredth of a cent if Roxon had gone on with it.

These are tremendous figures and Paul Murray is a national hero. A portly statue of him should be put up in Martin Place beside the Cenotaph.

We will always owe him everything.

The Ashby Upshot (1): Abbott’s End

It is now extremely unlikely the Coalition will win the election with Abbott at its head. He has lost, and comprehensively lost, the battle for the high ground and is seen as a squalid conspirator who has fecally stained our genial democracy, tells lies and ruins colleagues and good friends without compunction or regret.

The seriousness of what he has been up to cannot be exaggerated. He approved the entrapment with flirty texts of a homosexual friend, and the fabrication of subsequent events that would wreck or hobble that friend’s career. He said the friend was unfit to be Speaker because of something he said in a private communication with a male he was attracted to. He then sought the vote of that ruined friend in subsequent legislation, while rejecting the vote of another who he wrongly said had paid for whores with stolen money and could not therefore vote with him on any issue, whatever his constituents wanted. He cared nothing for the mental welfare of the wives and children of the men he was smearing or the accuracy of the vile and slimy things he said about them. He did not care if they suicided, and kept suggesting they should get out before they did, or someone in their family did.

He cannot recover from this, whether or not a Royal Commission arraigns him for assaulting the Constitution or misusing parliament or blackmail and finds him guilty of this, or not.

It will be difficult for him, in fact, to have a press conference on any other subject this year; or next. The question of what he knew of the Brough-Ashby conspiracy and when he knew it will dog him, and Hockey and Pyne and Brough and Brandis, for months and months and blur all other issues. He already seems worse than Greig and Christian and can have, like them, after this, nothing adequate to say.

It is a bed he has made, though, and now must lie on. He has used sex doggedly to stain and corrode his enemies: Thomson’s ghostly whore, Slipper’s ghostly ‘harrassment’ of a middle-aged male, the spectral ugly ‘boyfriend’ of the Prime Minister, his bizarre splenetic refusal of a conscience vote on gay marriage, his ‘honest woman’ Gillard gags, his ‘sexism’ smearing of Slipper and Gillard, his lament for his gay sister, and so on. And now sex has come for him, and he cannot beat off its ugly head as it gnaws at him like a crocodile, and there’s nothing, nothing he can say that I can think of. He won the race to the bottom and is stuck there now, in mud that is presently choking him.

His impatience has done for him, and he will not be Leader when the Budget comes down.

And it’s a pity.

In Forty-Four Words

Hard to see how conspiring in wartime to overthrow the second highest official in the land is not treason and Ashby, Abbott, Brough and Pyne are not guilty of it and liable under existing laws to be hanged for it.

Or am I wrong about this?

Classic Ellis: Some Dialogue Tips for James Ashby, May 2012

James Ashby has less experience than me in the writing of plausible dialogue and he should have have come to me, or to somebody like me, before he put up as evidence the following exchange:

SLIPPER: Have you ever come in a guy’s arse before?

ASHBY: That is not a question you ask, Peter.

As dialogue the question is fine, but the answer is all over the place. No Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-Celt or Aussie Bloke in an intimate situation addresses the person before him, an inch or two away, or even three feet away, by their Christian name. To do that is to show aggression — as in ‘Thank you for that question, Kerry. Let me first say, and I want to make this perfectly clear, that I have NEVER, EVER’ … and so on.

You call a person by his name if you are having a fight with him, or if he’s two rooms away, and he can’t hear you and you’re trying to achieve his attention. But no-one, no-one does it when the two of you are one-to-one and up close; except for Jewish mothers, who are always angry with their progeny anyway, and shout at them most of the time.

To show how implausible it is, let us rewrite the dialogue just a little, adding only one more word.

SLIPPER: Have you ever come in a man’s arse before, James?

ASHBY: That is not a question you ask, Peter.

The superfluity of the two Christian names is hereby demonstrated. They are vividly unnecessary, both times.

So it’s likely — though of course, m’lud, not certain — that the Ashby line was made up, or misremembered. What he probably said was either ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘don’t ask’ or ‘Are you asking me were you my first? No, you weren’t, Sweetness, you most certainly weren’t.’ His line as written would have made Terence Rattigan aghast, and, if kept in the script, would have caused him to leave the production.

Another line he is SAID to have said is ‘I am openly gay, Peter’. Even with the ‘Peter’ left out (if that’s the phrase I want), this phrase as a self-description has no precedent in human speech or animal grunting since neolithic times.

It is possible, of course, it was Ashby who said it first. He is a bit of a trend-setter. He is, for instance, the first thirty-four year old homosexual male to file a civil suit for sexual harassment in world history, I would think. I may be wrong about this. But he is a trail-blazer.

And how sinister and silly and sneaky this is getting. It has what we know in the trade as the Salusinski Stain all over it, and the puppet-strings of a man unfit to run an international corporation.

You’d think Rupert could afford a better dialogue writer than this. Or would understand the need.

But perhaps he was inattentive that week, learning and rewriting and re-rehearsing his own lines, which he did rather well.

After The Slipper Verdict, The Deluge; Or Do I Mean The Shitstorm

The throwing out of the Ashby harassment claim against Peter Slipper by a judge who found it part of a plot to overthrow the Government is bad news for Abbott who has tried to overthrow the Government before; and it will be worse news when Craig Thomson is found innocent of everything as well, as he will be, and both men sue him and Pyne and Brandis for malicious libel and thereby denude the Liberal coffers of a couple of million they might need by then to fight a close election in July.

It also raises the matter of Abbott always getting things wrong. The ‘bullshit’ of Climate Change; the economic doom to come from the Carbon Tax; his support of the poisoner Netanyahu and his wanton theft of Arab land; his wrongful hounding into gaol of Pauline Hanson for things she didn’t do; and his eighty billion dollar black hole; all of which pale and dwindle, of course, beside his maudlin, mistaken, cuckolded naming and embracement as his long-lost, only begotten bastard son of the bastard son of another man; and his weird, unchanged, unrepented idea that his sister will howl in Hell for a billion years for having enjoyed the wrong sort of sex with a friend of hers outside the sacred bond of marriage and still have a billion years to go; and that Christ’s flesh is worth eating and his blood worth drinking on a weekly basis, a practice he is fond of, and proud of, and determined for some reason to keep up.

It was with the same ill-wrought, wrong-headed and superstitious conviction that he jumped up and sprinted from the Chamber when Craig Thomson (his antiChrist of the month) proposed to vote in it; and when he said Peter Slipper had ‘soiled’ it and he should be sacked from it for saying some things the Law now finds irrelevant to anything.

Is my dear old friend in his perfect mind? Is it nervous exhaustion, such as other truckies have, or something more sinister, that makes him seem as barking mad as this?

It is thought the Newspoll is the week’s big news, as if any post-Romney Murdoch poll can be trusted as far as one could throw it. But no; the big news is Slipper’s innocence, Brough’s guilt, Pyne’s collusion in Brough’s guilt, Brandis’s foolish libels, and Abbott being sprung as a dirt-file crook, and a slush-fund crook, from way back who believes really hydrophobic things and touts them as his policies.

Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?

The question is now a pressing one.

The Cattle Slaughter Scandal Encoded

Is it antiSemitic to criticise Israel for mistreating Australian cattle? Most people would not think so, though some in these columns called me antiSemitic when I objected a month ago to the midnight slaughter of children in Gaza. That, I think, has changed, changed utterly; and it is now worth asking, after the images last night of cows with an hour to live being tortured in Tel Aviv, what the current Israeli scandal signifies, and how it will be used against them.

There are a few things it probably shows. One is that Bibi’s war in Gaza was a massacre too far, and Israel is no longer forgiven for manifest atrocity, not now, not after Syria next door has made the mass murder of civilians so unacceptable; and the current outcry over cattle is a coded way of saying this.

Another is that the smaller nations are finding ways to punish Israel for killing people. Denying them rump steak is one, but there will be others. And it could be a while before it is labelled a terrorist state, but that is now a possibility.

This means, in turn, that its very existence is now in doubt, as never before. It would not have been if Bibi had behaved less like a lunatic, and not assassinated al-Jabari, a peacemaker, and not poisoned Khaled Meshaal, the present Palestinian messiah (behold, he is risen, and walking among you) fourteen years ago. If it is shown he poisoned Arafat as well it could be bad for Bibi, and not good for Israel either. It is hard to call a nation a democracy when its leaders blow up, snipe and poison political rivals.

Another thing to say is Bibi has lost America all influence in the Middle East. When he announced new settlements while Biden was still in the country, it showed the power he had over them. When he murdered forty children uncriticised by them last month, some of them after midnight, it showed they were both morally contemptible and what we used to call a paper tiger. What moral suasion they used to have in the region, and it was considerable, is gone now, and the continued fascistification of the Arab Spring will not be mitigated or diminished by anything America says, or threatens, or preaches.

Bibi, an American, has disabled both his countries, I now think, and become, like George W Bush, an international pariah while still holding office.

Both Israel and America will never now be the same because of his belligerent ebullience, and it’s a pity.

And if he loses office in January, it will be a good thing.

The cattle-slaughter scandal is a signal that this outcome is on the way, if I am not entirely mistaken.

And the Zionist adventure is in danger as never before.

And it’s a pity.