Monthly Archives: January 2013

In Twenty-Three Words

So: Gillard knew they were coming, did she, and she didn’t tell Thomson, the guy she was protecting? Wow. How clever was that.

The Innocence Of Craig Thomson (56)

3.05 pm

Well, the amount is not half a million any more, but ‘in excess of a hundred thousand dollars’, a sum that I hereby pledge a thousand of to Craig if he needs it. I entreat other friends of his to offer a like sum to this good man if they are in the mood.

It looks as if no film of him coming in the door of the brothel exists, or we would have heard of it. All we have is some chits for petty cash that was spent in 2005, before he entered parliament, and too long ago to incur gaol now.

I know him, and I like him, and I believe him thoroughly guiltless on every count. Why, when he was seeking preselection, in a white-bread, Protestant, lower-middle-class, low-earning beachside bowling-and RSL-club seat of tradies, oldies and commuters, would he do it? Would he do any of it? Give me a break.

It is clear O’Farrell and Baillieu are coming to the aid of the Party with a headline story that blots out the real one, which is that Hockey’s figures do not, and cannot, add up; and Abbott’s cancellation of the schoolkids’ money is political disaster for him; and Gillard is pledging money for flood relief and Abbott will not, though Campbell Newman wants him toand he will lose ten Queensland seats if he doesn’t.

More later.

4.07 pm

A Morgan Poll just out has the Coalition on 50.5 and Labor on 49.5 two party preferred, a massive swing to the tories of 0.6 percent, thus shaking our democracy to its foundations. O’Farrell’s arrest of Thomson is a response to this too, methinks. For it is clear that Nielsen, the honest poll, will have the parties at 50-50 on Monday and a lot of smearing has to be done to prevent this.

And smearing what the Liberals do. It is what they always do. It is the only thing they do well. What dung beetles they are. What pantie-sniffing filth.

No police press conference yet. They’ve probably breached some law or other, taking a handcuffed MP across state lines without muttering the Lord’s Prayer and spitting thrice on Albury station, or whatever.

4.15 pm

The press conference has occurred. And the relevant copper, Col Dyson, has lied already, inadvertently perhaps, by saying Craig was ‘invited to surrender himself to arrest in Victoria’.

No, he wasn’t; he was invited to go there and answer questions, something he didn’t have to do in our democracy, absenting himself from a family Christmas, which he didn’t want to do, and didn’t

If he’d been told to surrender himself to arrest, he would have gone to Melbourne and done so. One of the 150 charges was he bought an ice cream with stolen money, his lawyer McArdle says.

It’s going bad for Abbott already.

6.41 pm

A prediction.

Historians will pick today as the day the Liberals lost their future in Australia for good and all.

Isobel Redmond resigned; Baillieu signalled he was soon for the chop; O’Farrell corruptly cobbled up an arrest by five cops of Thomson, tipping off Channel 7 and the vile Steve Lewis; Thomson did a terrific press conference; Morgan Polls showed Labor on 49.5 percent; Abbott said eight million Australians would get fifteen thousand dollars less for their family school expenses if six million Australians elected him; and Labor decided to charge Ashby, Pyne and Brough with conspiracy to frame, harass and drive to suicide a man the Liberals or Nationals had eight times preselected and was guiltless of any sexual crime or misdemeanour; and, oh yes, Abbott and Hockey refused to say where they would find eighty billion dollars, or any fraction of it.

Today was the day the adventure ended; discuss.

8.21 pm

Watching Barnaby Joyce rant about Craig on the Murdoch channel, and say how terrible it is he should spend so much money on beer and ice creams although it is one twentieth of sum spent IN FIVE YEARS that Gina Rinehart earns in an hour, it occurs to me, tediously, again, once again, that if you don’t have a motive for doing it you probably didn’t do it.

Lindy Chamberlain didn’t have a motive for killing her healthy baby and though some cobbled-up forensics said she did it and she was given twenty years for having done it, it turned out, wow, she didn’t do it. She loved her baby, she loved all her children. Haneef didn’t have a motive to help his cousins blow up Glasgow, nor several mothers to throw their curiously passive children overboard. And Craig, likewise, didn’t have a motive and didn’t do it also. The hooker said it wasn’t him. He was in Perth on one of the nights. Why would he pay for it and not do it? And why would he do it anyway? With that drab-looking Kiwi girl? Really? Risking his whole career? Really?

What was his motive?

Has anybody thought of this?

What was his motive?

Why would he pay for a fuck and not turn up for it?

And why is he so convinced he didn’t do it? If he did it? Why?

Please answer this.

8.44 pm

Why does Barnaby Joyce have Bruce Hawker’s voice?

What is going on here?

10.17 pm

Why does Arthur Sinodinis have Graham Richardson’s voice?

Is there something I haven’t been told?

Classic Ellis: Wayne Blair’s The Sapphires, 2012

The Sapphires is the best Australian film thus far made, better even than Beneath Hill 60, Samson And Delilah, Snowtown, Newsfront, Breaker Morant, Not Suitable For Children and The Year My Voice Broke, and Wayne Blair our greatest auteur. I went to it expecting to be bored and preached at and came out elated, uplifted, and whooping with pleasure.

Not just because every performance and composition was a delight. Not just because it showed, for the first time on film, that genial Groucho cynicism which is the way modern Aborigines think. Not just because it showed us, from a new perspective, the enormity of the Occupation and the Stolen Children. Not just because it gave as a look at the Vietnam War like none before it. Not because it gave us a look at backstage wrangling as good as Me And Orson Welles, and at Irishness as good as The Commitments, and at Black American sixties politics as good as the recent film on Harry Belafonte. No. It was more than that.

It gave us the joy of performance as never before — and, in Chris O’Dowd’s wonderful, stoic, share-misery, Irish roadie/accompanist Dave, the difficulties of the management of prima donnas who are blood-related and simmering with ancient family aches, in this case Julie (Jessica Mauboy), a pale-skinned Stolen Child who came back to her mother’s funeral and spoke of ‘you people’ in the accents of a white private school and later, coiffed and platinum like Kim Novak, sold tupperware. It’s not a destiny she chose, she icily declares, and is nonetheless punched in the face by her blacker sister Gail (Deborah Mailman).

Never has this national tragedy been more succinctly concentrated into a single foul sisterly quarrel in a tiny room. Tony Briggs’s and Keith Thompson’s dialogue leaps from this to that, from the local to the universal, from the insouciant to the moral, with the thrilling genial sarcasm of Bogart in Casablanca, and the joust between O’Dowd and Mailman has gleams of Tracy-Hepburn to it: the taming of the sulphurous termagant whom he calls ‘Mother Bear’ and then, very movingly, invites to dance, in daylight, on the bank of a river in Vietnam. We know so much so quickly, and we are reminded of the enormity of life, and the cruelty of fate, and the endless unguent of laughter with every exchange.

I could go on and on, but no description of it will prepare you for it. Go see it soon — or late if you like, it will run a year — with someone you love, or a stranger, or any racist of your acquaintance, for he will be changed by it.

The music is terrific also, in this best postcard to the future of 1968, my favourite year, yet made.

… But The Days Grow Short When We Reach September

Well, it may work. It feels, like the last one, about a week too early for me.

But it will rattle Joe, who will be under pressure to produce his figures now. It will frustrate Turnbull, erase Rudd, enhance the Disabled legislation, make the Budget look good whatever it says. Ease Peris-Kneebone out of the headlines. Help Iemma into them. Take the heat off Tim.

It’s unusual, like Hitchcock revealing who did it and how he did it halfway through Vertigo and not making us wait.

It’s cleansing, somehow. It puts a lot of heat on Abbott. Can he add? Is he brain-damaged from boxing? Has he ever been right thus far, in any prediction he’s made? Does he know what he’s doing? Can he get his approval back up out of the death-zone? Can he make women like him? It will thwart Joe’s plans to replace him. And drive Turnbull, maybe, out of politics if he loses. And Bob Carr if he wins.

Will he win? Old Glass Jaw Abbott? Nah. Some grimy marital scandal awaits him, breathing in the dark.

I predict now that Nielsen will show Labor on 51 on Monday. Internal polling must have hinted something like it or this announcement would not have been made.

And so it goes.

The JWS Poll Fraud

It’s hard to see the JWS poll as a true and serious finding once you look at its details.

It was all done on the one day, somehow: on January 17, a Thursday, despite nationwide bushfires and late night shopping. 3350 people were rung on this busy single hectic day, a hard ask without robo-calling. It does not say what the average age of the respondents was, or who was home on a hot school holiday Thursday with bushfire emergencies in four states, and outdoor concerts, surfing, netball, cricket, sailing and 3D movies. Old people probably, though we were not told. Old people tend to vote Liberal, and not go out much, and eat at home, evading each others’ eyes.

Only 67 or 68 people were rung in each of the 54 seats, making the result statistically useless. Yet there was an ‘average’ swing against Labor in those seats of 6.5 percent two party preferred, we are told. And though Labor would pick up six seats in Queensland, we are told — because Campbell Newman is so detested by even the wrinkliesat home on a summer night — they would lose seats in Victoria, we are told, though State Labor is on 55 percent now, a record, and Ted Baillieu not much liked by anybody, of any age.

Five seats held by Independents ‘were not polled’, we are told (why not?). Nor, it seems, were some seats threatened by the Katter Party (why not?). ‘Liberal’ is the word used everywhere in this curious document, though in Queensland and the Northern Territory there is no such thing. And the National Party and the Green Party, Family First and the DLP not mentioned either. Why is this?

Ninety-five bushfires, moreover, were raging that day across New South Wales, distracting everybody, some of them round Cooma and the Bega Valley in the ‘bellwether seat’ of Eden-Monaro, one of the ten supposed in this poll to fall; and in Gippsland, all over Tasmania, and parts of South Australia. Who, then, we might ask, was willing to get up from the couch, and cease watching television, to take the call for twenty or forty minutes? Who?

The following day was Sydney’s hottest on record. So in surfing weather, bushfire weather, with 103 kilometre winds in parts of Sydney, and late night shopping, there were enough people of all ages indoors, were there, to take the call, and listen carefully, making this a reliable poll?

‘SA and NT not shown’, it says, ‘due to low sample sizes’. Lower, it seems, than the 67 or 68 people rung per seat elsewhere, useless, unreliable, shoddy and shonky, all over the map.

Peter Costello is on the Board of JWS, a ‘conservative research group’. I’ll bet it is. I’ll bet he is. It is hard therefore to see this ‘poll’ as anything more than a tory beat-up, by some if not all of the usual suspects. How were so many people rung so quickly? Who were they? I do not suggest this happened, but forty of the relatives and friends of the Liberal candidate in each seat would be enough to do the trick, supply the result the ‘conservative research group’ so keenly wanted to hear.

I do not by this response underrate the trouble that Labor is in. Four seats may be lost in New South Wales, two in Tasmania. But in Queensland five or six can be won from the LNP by Labor, another two or three by the Katter Party. One or two by Labor in Victoria. One or two in Western Australia. One in South Australia. One lost, thanks to the Peris foolishness, and the Intervention, in the Northern Territory. Labor could end up winning, or losing, or holding on, by one seat only. And this is a worry.

But what is mooted here is truly, madly, deeply and lavishly hyperbollical. It moots a bigger swing than any since the candidature of the sacked Whitlam in 1975. And it will be contradicted on Monday by Nielsen, the honest poll, showing Labor where Morgan showed it, on 51, or 52, or 50.

And the panic then will start, and the news will be worse and worse thereafter for the tories, as Hockey’s foolish pledge to have three surpluses and a hundred thousand consequent lost jobs in his first term kicks in, and Abbott’s crazy climate change denial in a year of fires and floods and tornadoes looks ever more ridiculous and irresponsible.

JWS has Labor’s primary vote on 33.5, though Newspoll, even Newspoll, had it on 38 only three weeks ago. Did Labor lose half a million votes over Christmas? Really? Or were they merely not at home to take the call?

Or, on the eve of the hottest day on record, out swimming?

Death Of A Trusted Old Friend

‘My Music’ wasn’t on this morning and my life is an empty place. I beg the ABC to put it back, or allow me to download it, or someone to tell me where I can acquire it, at whatever price it costs.

How happy I was for all those years, and how desolate now.

And so it goes.

In Twenty-Five Words

Hockey is promising surpluses in 2014, 2015 and 2016 whatever it costs us in hundreds of thousands of jobs and you’re voting for him? Wow.

In Fifteen Words

Abbott is opposing a fund for the flood victims and you’re voting for him? Wow.

Soil’s Decalogue

No says Abbott from the mount.
For Gina has spoken. (Apologies to Moses.)

Thou shalt not speak strange science before me.

Thou shall make for thyself any graven image, every day is a new day and you can’t believe everything you hear or everything I say, until you get it in writing and remember, that every day is a new day.

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy Gina in vain.

Remember to keep a wholly wide berth of Leigh Sales.

Honour thy Howard and thy Thatcher.

Thou shalt not commit to anything, cost anything or contribute anything and remember rule number two.

Thou shalt not act as an adult and though shall ride as many bikes, wear budgie smugglers and sniff dirt for the cameras.

Thou shall stand opposed to all and everything that is not the lord’s will.

Thou shall not fear to bear false witness against thy fellow parliamentarians and thou should runneth away, yea, from the chamber in their presence.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, thou press secretary or campaign manager and see rule two.

Thou shalt not punch heads but holes in petulant inanimate objects.

“Joe. For Christ’s sake.”

— William Soil

The Henderson Wars (59): Lies, Big Lies And Statistics

Gerard this morning says, plausibly, that a Galaxy Research Poll shows Howard was ‘the best Prime Minister in 25 years’. Howard, the poll says, got 35 percent, Rudd 16, Hawke 15, Keating 9 and Gillard 5.

Sounds good, doesn’t it. Hands down.

But … if Galaxy had asked who was ‘the best Prime Minister in 50 years’, it would have shown, probably, Menzies on 17, Whitlam on 16, Hawke on 15, Fraser on 11, Keating on 6, Gorton on 5, McEwen on 4, Holt on 4, Rudd on 4, Gillard on 3, MacMahon on 3, and Howard … Howard … on … 2, or maybe 3. The lowest score of the lot.

A rather different result.

What a cheating, lying, low, slithery, scheming, devious cunt G. Henderson is and continues to be. He does not say that the non-Liberal vote in this poll outnumbers the Liberal vote by 45 to 35 and 20 percent have no opinion. He does not say the bleeding obvious, that any poll with one Liberal Prime Minister in it and four Labor Prime Ministers in it is bound to favour the Liberal. It would be fair if he said that; but of course he does not. Nor does he say that the Liberals’ base vote is all that Howard got, and the Nationals’ base vote, 9 or 10, he got none of.

He says Howard is ‘popular’ again, and Howard nostalgia will help out Abbott’s campaign, a swelling nostalgia for Howard’s ‘golden age’.

He forgets that Howard was kicked out of his own safe Liberal seat, a seat that a tennis player easily won back, not because it was thought by the punters his time in power was a golden age, but an age of needless lies, skyrocketing rents, lost wasteful wars, high interest rates, lost jobs, WorkChoices and ruined universities.

He is in a strange mood; and he goes on to say, amazingly, it was Curtin, not Menzies, who was pro-Hitler, although Menzies wrote and spoke in praise of Hitler and Curtin did not. He says this because Menzies, following Britain, declared war on Germany, and Labor was uneasy about another World War after losing 58,000 young men in the first one. They didn’t like Hitler, but they didn’t like war. And they were right on both counts.

Menzies, he adds, was our most successful Prime Minister, with seven election wins and Hawke and Howard, with four election wins each, are tied in second place. This indeed would seem to be the case if you happen to agree that the 1954 election, in which Labor got 54 percent of the vote, was despite this heinous gerrymander a democratic vote, and the elections of 1955, 1958, 1961 and 1963, which depended on DLP preferences — and in 1961 a hundred misplaced Communist preferences that went to Menzies by mistake — were fair contests honourably won by the better man and not travesties.

Gerard lies and lies and lies. He knows full well that it was only in 1949 that Menzies won legitimately, and that Howard in 1998 won 400,000 fewer votes than Beazley. And that Hawke’s four elections, in contrast, were well and honestly and convincingly won without a gerrymander. But he does not say that. Of course he doesn’t. He lies and he lies and he lies, and he does that most contemptible of things, he lies with figures also.

He says, on the basis of this poll, that Howard’s ‘stocks have risen’, when they could not, in fact, be lower. For if we assume the Coalition vote is 45 or 46, it must mean that some Coalition voters, one quarter of all Coalition voters, in fact, prefer Hawke, or Keating, or Rudd, or Gillard to him. Lies and lies and lies and lies, his trademark.

I invite him to debate me any time, anywhere, in front of an audience of his choosing, on the subject, ‘lies, big lies, and statistics’.

I invite him for the twentieth year.

In Nine Words

These east coast weather events are Gillard’s Tampa. Discuss.

How To Fix Australia

How long is it going to take to acknowledge the obvious, that the insurance industry cannot cope with Australian weather events any more and it is time a Federal Goverment Catastrophe Insurance Fund invited flood and bushfire victims of the past five years to pay small premiums and get, retrospectively, loads of money for damage they have suffered in that time which the insurance mongrels, trying to stay afloat, denied them.

Nobody would be against this: the insurance mongrels, the economists, the Katter Party voters, the National Party voters, the LNP voters, the Green voters, the Labor Party voters, the DLP voters, the doctors’ wives, the Catholics, the Protestants, the Muslims, the Abbott voters of Western Sydney. It would help revive the Queensland economy, the north New South Wales economy, the Tasmanian economy, the Victorian economy, the South and Western Australian economies.

Why not just do it? And add to it a levy, appended to Medicare, of five or eight dollars a week? It could be enacted by mid-February, and Tony Abbott would have to oppose it, or carp about it, or maybe support it, and would lose either way.

Why not just do it?

It’s time, comrades, it’s time.

Lines For Swanny (6)

I invite the Leader of the Opposition to tell the House why he opposed federal funding for those ruined by the Queensland floods of 2011 and why, this year, he has changed his mind.

Lines For Swanny (5)

I hereby announce a Queensland Fund of a billion dollars, to be paid for by a levy, this year and next, of eight dollars a week per taxpayer, which will finance the rebuilding and repair and refurnishing of houses and small business premises destroyed or damaged by cyclones, tornadoes, floods and bushfires, at a cost to each taxpayer of a choc-top and a latte and Mars Bar every week.

It is estimated this fund will retrieve from oblivion eighty thousand houses or small businesses in the first year and eight thousand more after that, from the interest accrued by the fund by the end of the first year of investing it, and thus restimulate the economy of the North.

If it works, it will be followed by a Victoria Fund, a Tasmania Fund, a South Australia Fund, a Tasmanian Fund, and so on. I ask for public feedback on this idea, and Campbell Newman to match it, or augment it, with a rescue plan of his own.

In Eleven Words

Queensland has flooded again and you’re voting for Tony Abbott? Wow.

The Packer Matter, Revisited

I urge those who read its beginning and tossed it aside to go back and read my full review of Howzat, one of my better efforts. If anyone wants to do a rival review of it, I will print the first one that comes in.

In Thirty-Four Words

It is bizarre to think sacking people helps an economy. Campbell Newman thinks it, and should be locked up, tortured by tooth-drilling and fined a million dollars. How mad he is, and sounds.

In Twenty-Four Words

Most migrants are economic migrants. To curse and imprison some brown-skinned ones because they are is unfair. And to send them ‘home’ wicked.

The Dylans

This morning on the pedalling machine I listened, successively, to Richard Burton reading Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan singing, and it became plain to me why young Robert Zimmerman changed his surname to Dylan. So many of the rhythms are the same, and The Hand That Signed The Paper Felled A City could be a lyric, still, to a Dylan song.

The other thing that became plain was that Vangelis’ pounding-heartbeat music for Chariots Of Fire was stolen, unconsciously perhaps, though probably not, from Bob’s bleak snarly anthem ‘With God On Our Side’. It certainly echoes the saintly Eric Liddle’s conviction that, with God’s help, and God’s permission, he will win the race.

Great Present-Day Speeches (1): David Cameron On The EU

Any student of good speeches — and those, like Obama’s, that shift the equilibrium of the times and change, as it were, the colour of the skies — would do well to look at David Cameron’s last Wednesday on Britain and the EU and his offer of a referendum on staying in or getting out.

It has echoes of Churchill of course, but also of John F Kennedy, Harold Wilson, Enoch Powell and Roy Jenkins, and is well worth reading aloud in a classroom or at a dinner party with friends. It says, in part:


This morning I want to talk about the future of Europe.

But first, let us remember the past.

Seventy years ago, Europe was being torn apart by its second catastrophic conflict in a generation. A war which saw the streets of European cities strewn with rubble. The skies of London lit by flames night after night. And millions dead across the world in the battle for peace and liberty.

As we remember their sacrifice, so we should also remember how the shift in Europe from war to sustained peace came about. It did not happen like a change in the weather. It happened because of determined work over generations. A commitment to friendship and a resolve never to re-visit that dark past - a commitment epitomised by the Elysee Treaty signed fifty years ago this week.

After the Berlin Wall came down I visited that city and I will never forget it.

The abandoned checkpoints. The sense of excitement about the future. The knowledge that a great continent was coming together. Healing those wounds of our history is the central story of the European Union.

What Churchill described as the twin marauders of war and tyranny have been almost entirely banished from our continent. Today, hundreds of millions dwell in freedom, from the Baltic to the Adriatic, from the Western Approaches to the Aegean.

And while we must never take this for granted, the first purpose of the European Union - to secure peace - has been achieved and we should pay tribute to all those in the EU, alongside NATO, who made that happen.

But today the main, over-riding purpose of the European Union is different: not to win peace, but to secure prosperity.

The challenges come not from within this continent but outside it. From the surging economies in the East and South. Of course a growing world economy benefits us all, but we should be in no doubt that a new global race of nations is underway today.

A race for the wealth and jobs of the future.

The map of global influence is changing before our eyes. And these changes are already being felt by the entrepreneur in the Netherlands, the worker in Germany, the family in Britain.

So I want to speak to you today with urgency and frankness about the European Union and how it must change - both to deliver prosperity and to retain the support of its peoples.

But first, I want to set out the spirit in which I approach these issues.

I know that the United Kingdom is sometimes seen as an argumentative and rather strong-minded member of the family of European nations.

And it’s true that our geography has shaped our psychology.

We have the character of an island nation - independent, forthright, passionate in defence of our sovereignty.

We can no more change this British sensibility than we can drain the English Channel.

And because of this sensibility, we come to the European Union with a frame of mind that is more practical than emotional.

For us, the European Union is a means to an end - prosperity, stability, the anchor of freedom and democracy both within Europe and beyond her shores - not an end in itself.

We insistently ask: How? Why? To what end?

But all this doesn’t make us somehow un-European.

The fact is that ours is not just an island story - it is also a continental story.

For all our connections to the rest of the world - of which we are rightly proud - we have always been a European power - and we always will be.

From Caesar’s legions to the Napoleonic Wars. From the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution to the defeat of Nazism. We have helped to write European history, and Europe has helped write ours.

Over the years, Britain has made her own, unique contribution to Europe. We have provided a haven to those fleeing tyranny and persecution. And in Europe’s darkest hour, we helped keep the flame of liberty alight. Across the continent, in silent cemeteries, lie the hundreds of thousands of British servicemen who gave their lives for Europe’s freedom.

In more recent decades, we have played our part in tearing down the Iron Curtain and championing the entry into the EU of those countries that lost so many years to Communism. And contained in this history is the crucial point about Britain, our national character, our attitude to Europe.

Britain is characterised not just by its independence but, above all, by its openness.

We have always been a country that reaches out. That turns its face to the world…
That leads the charge in the fight for global trade and against protectionism.

This is Britain today, as it’s always been:Independent, yes - but open, too.

I never want us to pull up the drawbridge and retreat from the world.

I am not a British isolationist.

I don’t just want a better deal for Britain. I want a better deal for Europe too.

Fibbing For Australia: Christopher Lee’s And Daina Reid’s Howzat!

Howzat! the miniseries fails many tests but it has that most important thing in a drama, a heartbeat, and though it gives the impression, falsely, of being what it is not, an outspoken populist Ocker truth-seeking missile, it works, it succeeds, it throbs along. It is on the money somehow; and about the money, of course.

Some of its failings are in casting. Kerry Packer and Clive Lloyd were giants, big men with hands you could sit in, and are here presented as middle-sized endomorphs. A technology like that which magnified the tiny Meryl Streep into a giantess in Julie/Julia could have been used on the actors, but was not. Bill Charlton and Bill Young, giants both, could have played Packer but were not auditioned. And the fulminous danger the real man exuded (and I have met him, and quaked before his mana) is proportionately diminished, and his bullying, sleepless, raw-throated morning tantrums less threatening thereafter.

Another fault is we see nothing of Packer’s private life: his affair (alleged) with the current Australian of the Year, his wife, his mistresses, his infant son Jamie, his obese hippie left-wing pot-exhaling brother Clyde, his inability to read, his testy, preppy lawyer Malcolm Turnbull, his difficult, lordly editor Donald Horne, do not trouble the narrative. He is presented as a lonely, ill-tempered, sex-free idealist determined to save Cricket from its nong bureaucracy and give its heroes a fair trot when what he wanted, mostly, was the exclusive broadcast rights to it, and the hundreds of millions that flowed from this down the subsequent thirty years of his life; and the fawning sycophancy of Richie and Tony too, he liked that.

We see nothing of his politics: his hatred of Whitlam, his greedy blossoming friendships with Hawke and Wran, who drop-kicked idle fortunes to him, his gambling addiction (he would lose, sometimes, three million in a weekend in Soho) and that recklessness that caused him, later, to steal his own gold bullion from his own office safe and demand the insurance for it.

Christopher Lee’s script is narratively inattentive but colloquially accurate, though almost totally free — perhaps for budget reasons — of Test and Supertest cricket though not of training. Daina Reid, the director, shows her gender, I fear, in the … well … politeness of her characterisations: the thick, protruding accents of Tony Greig and Richie Benaud pared away, the tearaway abusiveness of Hookes and Lillee pretty much concealed, Bobby Simpson, the angry principled black-hearted adversary, totally absent from the story (why?), the moody, manipulative Mason racist crook Don Bradman a mere off-stage presence (why?), and a great number of husky hunks from NIDA who look nothing like the sweaty iconic originals (Damon Gameau as Greg Chappell the one exception, and he has almost no lines) huffing and puffing about the nets and scoffing schooners, as only a female unacquainted with a dressing room or a tied Test or a Bourbon ‘n’ Beefsteak brawl would portray them.

Brendan Cowell is fine as Rodney Marsh (though he, too looks nothing like him), and Abe Forsythe, always excellent, as the initiating Machiavel, gives us a sombre SNAG Strop with a droopy-dicked conviction that may be accurate, but …

I dunno. It’s the Woman’s Weekly version, really. In real life the lads did a lot of swiving and brawling, imperilling their marriages and squandering their heady new bonuses on flash cars and fur coats and Soho hookers and we see none of that. Big money was offered some of them, and more money asked, and refused, and doors slammed and heads punched and wounds licked and schooners flung and blow-jobs given to Kerry and nods and winks to Neville Wran, and we see none of that. The innovation in the way that cricket was filmed, the most significant change in sports coverage since Leni Reifenstahl’s Olympia, gets scant attention, and the greatest artistic triumph in the whole bizarre adventure, the ‘Come On Aussie Come On, Come On’ commercial, a true classic of Ocker folk art, is muttered about but never seen in its full glory, no doubt because they would have had to re-shoot the whole thing with the current actors’ faces, not the original pumped-up athletes themselves. And that’s a pity.

So .. it’s less about cricket than it should be, and more about the lonely genius of an illiterate rich piratical cunt imperilling shareholders’ millions by gazumping, or trying to gazump, a national institution because there’s a heap of money at the end of it if he wrenches the broadcast rights away from its natural owners (and sacred site) the ABC, some of it trickling down to the players; and, of course, to the infant Jamie, who is currently wrecking Sydney’s soul as his father did, and, to a great extent, Australian culture.

But .. it has a heartbeat, it grunts along, it sort of works. It holds the attention. It educates. It marches, as the French say. It needed twenty more minutes, more characterisation, a truly Faustian Greig (stripped of the English captaincy for flirting with Mephistopheles and choosing in anguish, yet again, another country), a visible Bradman, and Simpson, and Ita, and … more balls, really.

And more of the corporate Moloch from Lachie Hulme, a good actor, as Packer.

Murdoch’s New War On Obama, Day One

The Murdoch wickedness continues. The Fox News version of the Obama Inauguration milked it of all significance, thrill and magnitude.

I noticed this when I played it back to a young friend I was giving lessons on speechwriting. I had watched live the CNN broadcast at three o’clock in the morning but recorded also the Fox News version, for safety.

And how aridly drained it was, how desolate and empty of meaning. This is how the damage was done.

The President was shown alone, deep brown in skin tone between two blood-red pillars, like a Communist dictator. He was shown speaking for three seconds and then there was a wide, wide shot of a crowd of thousands, with not one face discernible among them, zooming slowly in, or away. Then another shot from high up behind him, of him back on and the crowd, as faceless as before, as he spoke of gay love, freedom’s meaning, ‘We, the people’. Then back to him for three seconds, pausing, or saying nothing of moment, then up and away again.

The effect was a slow avalanche of nullity, all meaning overwhelmed by faceless, faceless, faceless vast crowds and a twitchy camera drifting towards and over and away from them.

My young friend and I then looked at the White House version, online. This time we saw on the stage beside him as he spoke a number of people; Senate, Cabinet, and judicial colleagues; the colours were less brown and garishly scarlet; he looked like a man, not a martinet, not a generalissimo. He was part of a group as he spoke — ‘we, the people’ — and like them a citizen. And the crowd cutaways were to three or four people whose varying expressions were visible, eloquent and sometimes poignant, responding to what he said. It was, as it was intended to be, a conversation. And every nuance of every meaning of every word spoken was clearly understandable, echoing, apprehended, heard. The CNN version was similar, showing sometimes Michele Obama in the same shot as the First Magistrate, watching him. But there was none of this in the Fox News version: he was a man alone, above the common herd, deluded perhaps, talking to himself, a madman, unheard, unheeded, in a world of his own.

It was in a similar manner Murdoch helped destroy Gordon Brown in 2010. Skynews commanded the cameras and the editing of the Second Debate only. And for the audience in front of him Gordon Brown won that debate. But the television audience thought he lost it, and the headlines the next day said as much.

This was because whenever he got going, the camera cut away to a wide shot of twenty or thirty selected Murdoch droogs looking bleary and chewing gum. This shot would be held for, sometimes, thirty seconds, breaching all the rules of editing and unsettling you, the audience. And you couldn’t hear what Gordon, who had the loveliest voice in British politics, was saying. And whenever Cameron was speaking, and getting going, the shot of his face was held, and it was a handsome shot, and there were no cutaways. And he was judged to have won on the night, and Brown to be an old and tired has-been.

Any film school student would see that this, in both cases, was what was happening: the milking of meaning from a speech by its filming. It is the exact equivalent of Murdoch’s commonest dirty trick, the publication of ugly photos. Whitlam, lip curled, eyes about to blink and vampire-like; Gore Vidal, shrivelled with age, flashing bright bridgework, sinister as Lucifer; Gordon Brown, with drooping blind eye and paralysed left cheek, looking deformed, disabled; and so on: these are the tricks, and only some of the many tricks, by which he diminishes his foes, and, oh yes, debauches democracy.

There is no more impelled and relentless cheat than Murdoch.

And none more successful.


How Goes The Weather?

The current weather events in Queensland are beyond free market capitalism and show that system doesn’t work any more, and a wartime, national-emergency response is needed now lest more and more small businesses in that storm-smitten state go broke and with them the tourist economy.

This response could be paid for, probably, by one percent added to the GST and would pay immediately for damage done by bushfire, tornado, cyclone and flood under global warning whose effects will year by year grow worse.

In my Christchurch Earthquake essay below I argue this in other ways. There was a moment, Hurricane Sandy perhaps, the Queensland floods of 2011 perhaps, when it became plain Big Government would have to come back, with all guns firing.

And it is already long overdue.


Certain Housekeeping Matters (16): An Inevitable Outcome, Deeply Regretted

Rocinante has been banned for life. He/she was told not to write in for a week, a fortnight, a month and disobeyed each of these directives, in turn, despite repeated warnings, in only twenty-four hours.

He/she is a fucking idiot, and something of a fascist, and will not be missed.

Classic Ellis: Christchurch Earthquake Blues, 2011

The cyclone, floods and earthquake of the past month have shown how useless Global Free Trade Capitalism is and how ludicrous the Level Playing Field.

Under Global Free Trade Capitalist Theory, Christchurch has competed on a Level Playing Field and lost the game, and should be asset-stripped and consigned to oblivion like Lehman Brothers or One.Tel. It has no future in the market place.

Each individual in Christchurch will take the logical decision to pull up stumps and seek market advantage elsewhere. On a Level Playing Field they have lost a fair contest and must now move on. Some justly buried strugglers under the rubble we must leave there, wriggling and whimpering. The Market has declared them a risky option and we should not invest in their future any further. They are losers, clearly.

Under Katterite Protectionism, the system I believe in, and most of New Zealand believes in by now, the approach is different. We dig out the wounded, we rebuild the shops and cathedrals, we borrow tax dollars and give the traumatised a short sabbatical, we redirect the economy, in time of catastrophe, around this new priority of rescue and restoration. We get a great tourist city back on its feet again. We help where needed. This is what Socialism, sorry, Protectionism, means.

None dare call it Socialism but this, in an age of tempest, fire and earthquake, is what, in sly disguises, is coming back. We help out with our taxes those whom Shafts of Fate have stricken. Of course we do.

The great puzzle is why we ever stopped. We used to show mercy to the tempest-tossed and the poor and huddled masses striving to breathe free but now we lock them up on Christmas Island. We used to show sympathy for the victims of Third World tyranny but now we exploit their labour. We used to follow Christ’s teaching and help the wounded stranger but now we send in helicopter-gunships and blow him up. We used to heed the plea of Oliver Twist for ‘more’ but now we drag him away from his father’s grave and wrench him back to a school-less, counsel-less prison to think, at the age of nine, of suicide.

What has happened here? Fox News mostly, and the Chicago School of Economics, a nut religion Thatcher, Reagan and Howard imposed on the world. ‘Relaxed and comfortable’ about the victims of disaster, this theory told us to be. The Market will sort it out, over time.

Well, the Market will not rebuild Christchurch Cathedral, nor wash the mud from Toowoomba, nor the ash and trauma and sorrow from Marysville and Flowerdale and Kinglake; something else will. Some call it Mateship, or Team Spirit, or Communitarianism (Tony Blair called it Communitarianism), or Government Intervention, or Waste and Mismanagement of Taxpayers’ Dollars, or Socialism by Stealth, or Propping Up the Inefficient, or Tax and Spend.

I call it Katterite Protectionism and it is my creed, pretty much, and all of Queensland believes in it now: please sir, I want more.

It can be pretty easily effected. A seizure of the ATM transfer fees would bring in 20 or 30 million dollars a month. A levy of a billion dollars from the Commonwealth Bank, which thieved that much last year from mortgaged householders, would reduce its annual profit to 7 billion, enough to survive on. A seizure of half Ralph Norris’s wage (as a New Zealander he should be glad to give it up) would add, over five years, 45 million to our Australasian Catastrophe Fund (ACF).

A further 20 billion by an impost of eighteen dollars a week, the price of a cinema ticket and a choc-top from each Australasian taxpayer.

That’s 22 billion a year we can find pretty painlessly, we Australasian Katterite Protectionists, no more than Ralph Norris in extra interest last November. And if we make that two cinema tickets and two choc-tops, we could really help out.

With the extra 20 billion we could build regional universities, and inland fisheries and new railway lines, wind farms and Green cars. We could fund provincial orchestras and ballet schools. We could prop up dairy farmers, establish camel farms (camel milk mitigates diabetes) and Hazara Towns and Tamil Towns. We could put up desal plants powered by hot rocks in desert places. We could desalinate the water of Lake Eyre in the next year or so. We could breed fish in disused mine shafts and let them loose in the Murray-Darling. We could pipe a river in Tasmania into the Murray-Darling. We could turn the sewage inland and stop the effluent that is decimating coastal fish off New South Wales and Queensland.

We could do a lot of things, and make happy, or relatively happy, millions of devastated lives, by merely seizing the ATM transfer fees and sacrificing two choc-tops and two McDonald’s Grand Angus meals a week.

What I here propose is not particularly new. It derives from the Churchill Socialism of 1940 to ’45. Loans were begged, and War Bonds sold, and taxes of up to 98 per cent collected, to pay for those Spitfires and Hurricanes and Wellingtons that won the Battle of Britain, and the landing barges that won D-Day, in a time of national necessity like Queensland’s last month. When help was needed, it was provided. Where catastrophe threatens, it was fought.

Why our leaders don’t think of these times as the Economic Equivalent of War I can’t fathom. Brainwashed, I guess, by Fox News, and the Economic Fundamentalism of the witty dill Paul Keating, who believed interest rate hikes up to 17 per cent were a necessary thing, and sacking people in their hundreds of thousands and criminalising their children helped somehow. I will debate him on this any time and so I am sure will Bob Katter.

A threesome at Gleebooks may be in order.

So there it is, the Choc-Top Solution to the Age of Blameless Catastrophe.

Any takers?

Certain Housekeeping Matters (15): Rocinante’s Complaint

Rocinante breached the rules of the blog by comparing Phill, who has twenty million Jewish ancestors, with Hitler.

The rules stipulate that you do not unfairly attack another contributor’s character, or falsify his beliefs.

Rocinante is therefore banned for a week and if he/she does it again will be banned for life.

Australia Day: A Modest Proposal

(First pubished by Independent Australia)

We have had thus far, in the last few years, no Aboriginal Spring. But the Arab Spring has shown us by example some things which bring into question, lately, the whole idea of Australia Day.

As in Israel, a native people have been displaced and subjugated by an invader. As in Turkey and Mexico, a slaughter has occurred on a scale which, were it to happen today, would be accounted a War Crime or a Genocide and its perpetrators brought to trial in The Hague. As in Mexico and South America, the conquerors and the natives have so interbred as to deprive the Indigenes of a secure sense of their identity. As in all colonies, this interbreeding was, in its initial stages, indistinguishable from rape.

So we don’t have a great deal to celebrate on January 26, not in the current period of history, when the prevailing mood of shaking off one’s oppressors is being cautiously lauded in the Middle East and Africa and Europe, and Chavez and Mandela, both near death, are being canonised by their differing tribes and nations.

What is to be done, then, about Australia Day? It should be moved, I think, to a day connected with Federation: either January 1, when we became a nation, or June 20 when the vote of the people, white male vote though it was, declared we would become, in due course, one nation.

And what should we do about the Aborigines? The dead cannot be raised, the dead slaves freed, the raped unraped, the stolen land given back, the debauched and fouled sacred sites be again made holy, the long dead children given back to their long dead mothers.

But we can make some reparation. Two percent of all the mining profits, and ten percent of all the income of Gina Rinehart, could go to a fund that Noel Pearson and others could administer, which would prop up and rebuild the towns, and give jobs to the desolate women and men, and farms, and institutions of local culture, and schools of athletic excellence and musical excellence that would in part restore some hope and pride to those that have lost it.

They are, after all, the ‘traditional owners’ of the land gouged of its wealth, and they should share some fraction of the billions daily upwelling out of it. Ten percent of Gina Rinehart’s share would be four million dollars a day; from two percent of the rest a good deal more than that.

If we do not want to do this, of course, we have that right, the right of conquerors everywhere: to exterminate, exile, rape, enslave, and steal the children of the unfortunates we have predated upon.

But we have done that already.

We should now give a little back.

How To Fix Israel

Cut by half the money Israel gets from the US for ‘defence’. Declare helicopter-gunships Weapons of Mass Destruction and progressively abolish them. Put Bibi on trial for the poisoning of Mashaal and, if appropriate, Arafat. Give half the ‘settlements’ to the Palestinians, declaring families with a child killed by the IDF to be at the top of the queue. Do not bulldoze any of them. Keep them. They are dwellings.

Make Peres Prime Minister, with Yair Lapid as his Deputy, and Tzipi Livni as Foreign Minister. Hold elections in Gaza and Ramullah and respect the result if Hamas wins.

Offer Hamas a deal they can’t refuse: forty or eighty billion dollars to rebuild the bombed cities, start up industries, universities, TAFEs and a tourist presence, and an international peacekeeping force made up of Turks, French, Egyptians, Indians, Pakistanis, Australians and Tongans, if they agree not to attack Israel for fifty years, with even the tiniest firecracker or flung pebble.

Abolish National Service in Israel. Reduce by half the number of police. Put the 1967 borders back, with negotiated variations agreeable to both parties.

Make Jerusalem an international city, with a Jewish, Muslim and Christian Mayor elected in turnaround every two years, and a fund advantaging the working classes drawn from tourist enterprises.

A ban on private automatic weapons, with a penalty of two years in gaol for anyone caught with them. Weapons inspectors to look for Israel’s nuclear bombs, and to recommend what to do with them.

… Once you make a list like this of reasonable things to do in the Holy Land it becomes pretty plain how intractable the Zionist Experiment is after sixty-four years and how fatuous the phrase ‘peace process’ looks. And how Orwellian. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. Big Bibi is watching. The three minutes of hate, compered by Mark Regev.

But what is clear from the above is the need for a UN presence in Israel peace-keeping and arbitrating border disputes. Neither Bibi nor anyone else, with the possible exception of Peres, and maybe Lapid, can be trusted not to massacre children at the drop of a double bunger. The last Gaza ‘incursion’, provoked by fired rockets after the helicopter-gunship-assassination of a Hamas peace negotiator, and Bibi doing a US ad recommending Obama be overthrown, was the last straw. Too many war crimes, too many war crimes, have been committed by, yes, both sides, for anything other than a UN presence, and a progressive disarming of the IDF, and a deal with Hamas, to be considered.

Prove that I lie.

In Forty-Six Words

So every American has a constitutional right to fire a drone at Obama’s inauguration if they judge him a tyrant, is that the way it goes? Or his next public meeting? Or are some weapons too big and mean to be owned by a private citizen?

Classic Ellis: Overheard In Tel Aviv, November, 2012

Hillary and Bibi stood side by side, and their body language, fraught and rigid and hostile, suggested they had just gone through the following dialogue, or something like it.

‘You’re a piece of shit, Bibi. You poisoned Bill’s friend Arafat and I don’t like you.’

‘It was a cabinet decision. I spoke up against it.’

‘Don’t lie to me.’

‘Okay, okay, I went along with it. And then I had second thoughts, and I, er, left the government.’

‘You left the government because you thought Sharon was a pussy on Gaza.’

‘Well, yes, there was that. He was a pussy on Gaza.’

‘And you had him poisoned too.’


‘And you killed forty children last week.’

‘Thirty nine.’


‘Okay, forty. But the rockets kept the children of Ashkelon awake.’

‘For which the children of Gaza had to fucking die?’

‘We… do our best… to minimize civilian casualties.’

‘By bombing apartment blocks at three a.m.?’

‘Four a.m. Sometimes we bomb apartment blocks in broad daylight. After dropping leaflets saying, leave home.’

‘Bibi, if you invade Gaza we’re stopping your money.’

‘You wouldn’t dare.’

‘Fifty million a week.’

‘You wouldn’t dare.’

‘Well, you did a Romney commercial and we thought you wouldn’t dare. But you fucking did it, didn’t you?’

‘He was an old school friend.’

‘With about as much future as you after Yasr’s autopsy.’

‘Just a little invasion? A two day invasion? My voters would like that.’

‘You’ve got thirty seconds to say yes, AND stop assassinating your political opponents or Obama pulls the money. All the money, as long as you’re Prime Minister.’

‘Yeah okay.’

‘I think we’re due for our press conference.’

‘What are you going to say?’

‘That we’re rock solid behind you. As always.’

Certain Housekeeping Matters (14): Divine Forgiveness, This Once, On Appeal

I have been urged by Allthumbs to reprieve Reader 1, in whose contributions he sees value, passion, provocation, and occasional wit.

I will do this; but I warn her/him: go easy on the world-enveloping conspiracies, unfurled at such length.

Otherwise, welcome back.

Bibi, Biblical Hero

It is probable but not certain that forebodings by Chuck Hagel, the likely new Secretary of State in the second Obama administration, will speed Netanyahu out of the Likud leadership and install another in his place. Bibi cannot be trusted, Hagel will reason, to keep his word on anything, and he is keen, moreover, to wage nuclear war on Iran, and we are not.

And, more than that, he poisoned the Hamas leader Mashaal in 1998, and no peace with Gaza is possible while both lead their separate countries; and it will be shown pretty soon Bibi poisoned, or ordered poisoned, probably, Arafat the Nobel Peace Prize winner as well, and he may soon go to gaol for it if he is captured travelling outside Israel, as he tends to be in any month. His party deputy Lieberman, moreover, will go to gaol before him, on corruption charges he is currently, feebly denying, probably, and this will bring the numbers of the Right versus the Left in the Knesset back to 59-60; the Left ahead by one, only one, but in the majority, this month anyway.

This means Bibi has lost the election; and, though it may take a year for this underlying result to work through the system (my pick is two months), Yair Lapid, or, at an outside chance, Tzipi Livni, or a resurrected Ehud Barak, or even the unabashed octogenarian Shimon Peres, or another person not yet thought remarkable, heroic or foredoomed, will be Prime Minister of a Grand Coalition Government by April 2014, and a two-state solution in place by the end of 2015. This will occur if my view of Hagel, Kerry, Obama, Hague, Hollande, and the ever-more influential Bob Carr is right: and money will be cut off in significant amounts if a two-state agreement is not enacted. And things, in short, are not as they were, old friend, four days ago. Four days ago, Netanyahu was odds-on favourite.

And historians looking back at recent Middle Eastern events will judge I think the cause of Bibi’s fall to be twofold; both of these in October, 2012. One was his participation in an election ad for Mitt Romney. And the other was his war in Gaza, in which forty-seven children were killed, sometimes at 4 a.m., for the capital crime of sleeping in their own beds in apartment blocks which Bibi ordered bombed. These acts were so like war crimes, so baseless, senseless, murderous, cruel and foolish, that all the many friends he once had in the State Department were lost to him now, including a number of Jews, and he thereafter stood – poor Bibi – in the biblical phrase, ‘naked among mine enemies’.

Biblical echoes punctuate — of course they do — this righteous lunkhead’s long, mad story. Rabin ordered the Entebbe raid in which Joni Netanyahu, Bibi’s adored brave brother, died. Bibi, then, as Likud leader, stood against Rabin, his brother’s killer, and Rabin was murdered by a convenient fanatic, and succeeded by the timorous Peres, whom Bibi deposed as Prime Minister by the tiniest sliver of a vote, by one half of one percent. As Prime Minister he ordered then the poisoning of Mashaal, and this was accomplished (as last night’s al Jazeera documentary chillingly showed); but King Hussein of Jordan, himself at death’s door, from cancer, threatened war if Bibi did not provide the antidote. And, lo, it was provided, and Mashaal saved, and is lately installed in Gaza, proposing the immolation of Israel if Bibi rules it.

And Peres, now President, has the right to sack him or refuse, this week, his claim to office, and so it goes. And the ghosts of Joni, and Rabin, and Arafat, whom he also poisoned, probably, urge the story on.

It is hard to think of a grander tale, or a more magnetic, more repulsive anti-hero.

And it is not over yet.

Classic Ellis: ‘Civilian Casualties’, 2011

We should look again with care, after this last week in the Middle East, at the word ‘civilian’ and what, of late, it has come to mean.

It is almost always a hyphenate now, ‘civilian-target’ or ‘civilian-casualty’. Its apparent meaning is ‘someone who should not be killed’. As opposed to ‘soldier’ or ‘service person’, who is someone who can be killed.

A civilian, though, as we hear the word, is both ageless and genderless. ‘Forty-seven civilian casualties’ may include a two-month-old baby girl, a ninety-year-old great-grandfather, a twenty-seven-year-old mother of four and a sixteen-year-old boy just about to sit for his final exam. But ‘civilian’ does not convey this human content, this meaning. It thuds on the brain like wood, or like a pawn on a chessboard, no more. Civilians. Pawns.

But if you kill a ‘civilian’, curiously, you are always forgiven. As in the ‘incident’ in which Australians at midnight blew up a wedding party by mistake, we are told that ‘regrettably’ some civilian casualties, ‘caught in crossfire’, occurred that night and ‘should be minimised’ in future. As if this ‘minimisation’ raised the dead, brought back to life the two little female cousins sleeping together on the eve of a family wedding. ‘Civilian casualties should be minimised’, and the murderers of these two little girls exonerated, nay, praised for ‘acting appropriately in a difficult situation’. The word ‘civilian’ gets these uniformed murderers, or manslaughtererrs, off the hook.

Nonetheless, it’s wrong to kill ‘unarmed civilians’ and right, somehow, to kill soldiers. This means it’s wrong to kill Shimon Peres, now eighty-seven, after a long and productive life, and right to kill Yuri Sokolov, an eighteen-year-old conscript, lately arrived from Russia and flung into a checkpoint altercation that goes badly wrong and ends in him being clubbed to death.

How is it right to kill an eighteen-year-old who has had no choice in his conscripted, uniformed fate, and wrong to kill an eighty-seven-year-old who has ordered in his long life, in his time as prime minister and president, the phosphorus-bombing of children? How can this be?

Well, the word ‘civilian’ is there to help us through all that. Civilians should not be killed, though no-one is greatly to blame if they are. And though they are armed in Libya now, and killing soldiers, that’s fine, and it’s wrong for conscripted soldiers to kill them back. In Libya, the civilians are the good guys.

In Israel, the language changes. There we learn that many civilians are not civilians at all, but ‘militants’; not soldiers at all but ‘terrorists’. And it’s alright to kill both kinds of people – without a trial, without a lawyer, without a plea of innocence – by air raid, by mortar fire, by sniper. They are not ‘civilians’ but ‘militants’. So killing them is all right then.

Especially since some militants, the bastards, use ‘human shields’. They hide among the ‘civilian population’ and ‘civilian casualties’ alas occur while we, the good guys, are assassinating them, as good guys lately do.

Thus a man in bed at midnight in his own home with his wife and with children in other rooms is using these ‘civilians’ as ‘human shields’ and has only himself to blame if we, the good guys, unexpectedly blow them all away. He has used his own children as human shields, asleep beside him in his own house, and what a bad guy he was.

Thus the language is debased and the slaughter continues as it has, I learn from Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore, for three thousand years: an on-rolling millennial Holocaust of Israelite, Philistine, Hittite, Babylonian, Persian, Christian, Samarian, Shiite, Sunni, Crusader, Knights Templar, British soldier and, yes, ‘terrorist sympathiser’ and ‘unarmed civilian’ since Joshua’s day, a day as far back as the Trojan War.

‘Civilian’ is a word that dehumanises, turns into ageless, genderless clay pigeons dead people who did not deserve to die and whose death is to be regretted, berated, condemned; but never, of course, compensated. Though the Messiah himself, aged eight, may have been killed by the illegal phosphorus bombing of Gaza in January 2009 his funeral will not be paid for, nor his house rebuilt, nor his school rebuilt, nor his grieving parents and shell-shocked siblings expertly counselled by Freudian analysts at Israeli expense, nor a dollar paid for the damage done to their lives.

No, none of that.

But the ‘incident’, yes, regretted. Regretted absolutely. He was, after all, another ‘civilian casualty’ whose numbers should be reduced, or ‘minimised’. Which means we kill twenty children with descending phosphorus next time, not thirty. Minimised. Reduced. And it was wrong to say, we now find and Judge Goldstone now admits, that killing these children was wrong. Because we did not ‘target’ these children.

No; we ‘targeted’ the ‘terrorists’ who were using them as ‘human shields’. And we were right to do so. We, the Israeli Army, were right to kill these children in a shower of hellfire, because we did it inadvertently, while targeting someone else.

And the Gazans were wrong, on the other hand, to ‘target civilians’ with their almost useless rockets, which killed only thirteen of us. And we in vengeance killed thirteen hundred of them, with bigger bombs and rockets, including three hundred children. So that’s all right then. Our cause was just because we were ‘targeting terrorists’.

Their cause was unjust, and damn near evil, because they were ‘targeting civilians’. Goldstone’s admitted we were right at last, and they were wrong, the old fool. What took him so long? And the Arab Spring is blowing warm winds through the language as well as the countries it is lately, quickly stirring. What is good for the Libyans – a say in their future, the right not to be killed, not to be tortured, the right to go to school - may soon seem right for the Gazans and Ramullans too, and the Christmas Island internees rising up against their oppressors and striving to breathe free.

A lot has happened since the Assange Oxygen entered the lungs of the world last year, and the hearts and minds, if I may put it that way, of what we tedious lefties used to call the wretched of the earth.

The word ‘civilian’ was invented to stop that happening. And the phrase ‘human shield’. And the phrase ‘stuff happens’. And the phrase ‘collateral damage’.

They are there to keep from us the fact that we kill children, and old men, and nursing mothers, and we shouldn’t. ‘Civilian’ is a spin word, and one of the vilest there is.

And we should swear off it, like tobacco, soon.

Instead of saying ‘nine civilian casualties’, we should say ‘a mother aged twenty-seven and three of her children, aged nine, seven and two, a man aged seventy, a young man, a student, aged nineteen, a girl on her way to high school aged thirteen, and a coffee shop proprietor, male, moustached, and portly, aged forty-two.’

See the difference?

I know you do.

Peris-Kneebone: A Big, Big Political Mistake

Hard to see what greater good the Peris-Kneebone switcheroo does Australia, or Labor, or, frankly, Gillard. Once more she is shown to have been ungrateful, secretive, disloyal and smart-arse. Once more, as with Latham, she has favoured a talent of the second rank. Once more, as with Beazley, she has divided the party. Once again, as with gay marriage, she has chosen to emphasise the surface of things, and not the substance of things, without much forethought or much reflection. Once again her timing is excruciating. She was ahead in the polls and cleansed of her past and looking good, and now she is controversial again.

What is usually done, and what has been done through history by those who favour the Westminster system, is you offer a post overseas, or in the public service, or in the private sector, to the member you wish to displace, and you let them announce their resignation at a time of their choosing, tactical need and emotional convenience. Or you find some adequate reason to sack them, some scandalous incident or failure in office or policy quarrel. You do not sneak up on a sister and stab her in the neck.

Gillard likes to say ‘as Prime Minister’ or ‘I’m Prime Minister’ almost compulsively, always, feeling the need, I suppose, to assert herself when it is clear it was her team, not she, who were scoring the home runs on policy. This particular self-assertion raises more questions than those it answers, and it has a whiff of disaster about it.

Questions like these: Was Noel Pearson approached to stand for the Senate, anywhere? Was Lowitja O’Donahue? Was Mick Dodson? Was Warren Mundine? Was Marian Scrymgeour? Was Aden Ridgeway? Or did she think, did she really think, an athlete a better look as a Senator than a hero of the black tribes of the nation? Did she fear the intelligence of the better known Indigenous leaders? Did she think Peris-Kneebone a tamer alternative?

‘Smart-arse’ was/is Whitlam’s term for those who do not think policy through. Gillard was a smart-arse when she appointed Slipper, betrayed Wilkie, left Rudd twisting in the wind, made Rudd Foreign Minister and called him ‘a trusted Cabinet colleague’, teamed up with Rudd to betray Beazley, begged Latham to stand against Beazley, begged Latham to stay on as Leader, got so far up the nose of Bob Brown that he left politics, lost the large talents of Tanner, and Faulkner, and Debus, and McMullan, and Kerr, and with them the seats of Denison, Melbourne and Macarthur and therefore majority government, incensed Xanana and Ramos-Horta and the gay community, the Catholics, the Muslims, the schoolteachers, the uni students and the pro-boat people doctors’ wives, and all these things for no reason, no reason at all that has anything to do with sincere belief, just the political surface of things, and Bracks and Faulkner and Carr with this, the brazen overturning of their hard-wrought, well-bethought Report on how Labor members should in future be chosen, by an uncorrupted process of democratic assembly, not this; not this; not a Leader’s vapid thought-bubble; not this.

The worst of it is the excuse Newspoll has now been given to fabricate numbers that show the Labor vote dropping away, and the panic of backbenchers this will cause, and all the trouble in the world.

Hard to see what good it has been, for anyone. Except, maybe, Kevin Rudd.

And it’s a pity.

Certain Housekeeping Matters (12)

Nick De Cusa is banned for life.

He seems to be a maniac, and may be Graeme Bird.

Odds On Bibi? Maybe

3.10 am

This is just a hunch, and I can’t guarantee its accuracy, but I think the Israeli election may have some small surprises in the next few hours. The turnout is already big, and the Arabs may be voting in greater numbers than usual.

This may bring Bibi’s seats down to 30, Labour’s up to 20, and may force, in time, if Peres, the President, five times a Labour Prime Minister, and beaten once by Bibi, has his way, a Likud-Labour coalition rather than a Likud-Mad Dog Right coalition, in the troubled Holy Land after veiled threats from the US to halve their money (Hagel, Kerry, Clinton, Carter and Obama would very much like to do this) and we may see by March or April a coalition led by someone other than Bibi. Tzipi Livni perhaps, or a resurrected Ehud Barak.

It’s just a hunch; or the wish fathering the thought. But there may be more to this election day, and night, than meets the eye.

No-one likes Bibi any more, he is Israel’s Nixon, and it would be surprising if great numbers voted for his party when sincerer lunatics like Bennett are in the contest proposing a general slaughter.

We will see anyway, in the next few hours.

7.29 am

The exit polls in some measure show me right, again, or pretty right. Bibi will get 31 seats, Labour 17 and Lapid’s new anti-piety centrists Yesh Atid 19. Bibi, to form government — the right-left split is at 61-59, agonisingly close and may change — must agree with the Old Testament maniacs ‘there will be no two-state solution’ Habayit Hayehudi, and this, I think, will energise Obama, Kerry and Hagel to cut off or reduce their money.

What seems more likely … well, what seems more likely is a Lapid Prime Ministership, and the ghost of his father Tommy, a two-state man, bringing Israel back to sanity quickly, on Obama’s urging, the sanity Yitsak Rabin came to in his last years, ‘Enough of blood, enough!’, and Shimon Peres, now President, always wanted. He is, was, and has always been Lauren Bacall’s first cousin, and I find that somehow inspiriting. They are both 89, and still working.

Soon or late, it spells the end of Bibi anyway. He is too Right for Lapid and Labour, and too Left for Bennett, who used to work for him and hates him, like most of the human race, and so it goes.

And I was right, probably, within three seats, as usual. Or nearly.

3.45 pm

With 99 percent of the votes counted, the Left and the Right have 60 seats each and Bibi no friends any more. It is likely Lapid, with 19, will be asked by Peres to form a government, sooner or later.

And I was the only commentator in the world, I think, to pick or forebode the fall of Netanyahu today, this week, next month. Not that it matters. Not that it matters. But I was right again.


Classic Ellis: The Best Experience There Is, 2011

Five days into my 49th film festival – or is it the 50th? – I find myself pitying again the people who, year after year, don’t go to them.

They miss out on so much. On the experience of other lifetimes in other places. On what civil war, religion, tribe, family mean. On coping with death, migration, the bombing of one’s home town. On ill-matched marriage to a brute. On how choir music bonds remote wife-swapping snowbound communities. All of that.

And what do they do instead?

They go, I am told, to Sunday lunches with friends. They watch Tim Mathieson and Julia Gillard on 60 Minutes. They go to Pirates of the Caribbean 4. Some go to church and there learn that buggers will fry a billion years in Hell.

They miss so much.

They missed, this year, Even the Rain, about a film crew in Bolivia making an epic about Columbus burning insurgent natives at the stake and the film crew themselves getting mixed up in local riots about clean water. They missed Tyrannosaur, the best British film about social unfairness and drunken working class men since Brassed Off. They missed Khardokovsky, about the jailed Russian billionaire, and LENNONYC, about the great, murdered Beatle’s ten years fomenting revolution in New York.

They miss so much, and more as films get better and better. And their ignorance of the world grows. They will soon be as ignorant of it as Julia Gillard, or Barnaby Joyce, or Pauline Hanson, or Andrew Bolt. They will not have the emotional vocabulary to understand any of it. Not any more.

There was a film this year called Life, Above All, not only about AIDS in Africa, but how if women get it they deny they have it and how parentless teenage prostitutes can be stoned to death, this in South Africa, a currently much-praised free democracy. It was one of the best twenty films ever made, and a big surprise to all who saw it. But they had Sunday lunch with friends instead.

If I sound to some like a Presbyterian parson railing against Sunday football in 1951 I must agree I do sound like that. But I should add in my defence the caveat that my plea here, unlike the parson’s, is for knowledge, not superstition, for understanding, not dogmatism. For civilised comprehension of other cultures, not sneering isolation from them. For sympathy for those on the boats off Christmas Island, not contempt for them. For knowing well the stranger within our gates before we pack him off to ten years’ tearful torment in Malaysia.

The twenty-four hour news cycle means politicians don’t get to film festivals any more (Laurie Ferguson excepted, who is always there in the State Theatre, every year), or even films much any more, except on planes, dozing off on the way to Tokyo. And they therefore don’t ‘get’ our multi-culture, or not in the depths of its abundant, bruised and angry heart. They see the ethnic dancing, and they hear the solemn, tedious accented speeches, but they don’t experience, as those who saw Cirkus Columbia experienced, what it’s like to be thought a traitor in your town if you don’t join up to fight for a cause you know is foolish, and have to leave everything you love to flee, under bombardment, towards a life you cannot imagine.

They don’t know anything like that, and they speak like the Prime Minister of ‘making progress’ in places of routine tribal slaughter and persecution and impoverishment. And because they don’t get it, hundreds of thousands of children die in Rwanda before they even begin to notice it. And a child dies every twenty seconds from bad water because they don’t see how this happens, in places their minds never visit.

The difference between those who go to film festivals and those who do not is as great as the difference between the sighted and the blind. As in HG Wells’s The Country of the Blind they regard clear-seeing eyes as freakish protuberances that must be cut out, cut out soon, lest they see too much. Lest they see that people-smugglers have wives and children too, and dependant mothers-in-law, in the fishing village where there aren’t any fish any more; or that Palestinian children do not deserve painful death by descending hellfire for living near ‘a terrorist suspect’ - who may, in fact, be their father – in the only house they have ever known.

They do not see all that. What they see instead, these days, it appears, is on their own Facebook: the unending big pink-misted movie of their own stuffed-up life and the lives of the few friends who can still bear (like the girls in Sex and the City) to exchange repeated inanities about shoes and boyfriends.

They are dwindling into a cocoon of Self and the great world can go hang. Not for them the drug wars of Mexico, the water wars of Bolivia, the slow unceasing genocide of orangutans by the palm-oil barons of Sumatra, the children caned in the camps of Malaysia, the Libyans fighting Ghaddafi, the Syrians fighting Assad, the Tibetans being concreted under by Chinese Communist corporatism, the Karzai drug cartel stealing billions we send to them. It’s all too far away.

And so ignorance grows, and the moments when things might be saved and the world could be slightly better pass us by. And the globe warms, and true hellfire nears, and the End Times for our great-grandchildren.

If one film festival a year were made compulsory for politicians – two weekends, and an intervening week, four sessions a day – this could be perhaps a good country, with an educated ruling class, and some sense of how the world is, and what human difference means, and what it deserves. What toleration means. Which is quite a lot.

Instead of what we have now, which is a plaintive, squawking, racist innumeracy, which no other nation can credit or forgive, or not feel contempt for, deeming us, correctly, the Southern Rhodesia of our day.

A little film festival-going would cure that. Or lessen it a bit.


The Henderson Wars (31): Bring Back George Bush, You Know It Makes Sense

Unctuous, oily, bizarre and sneaky as ever, Gerard this morning heckled Obama’s inauguration by praising his hero, George W Bush. He was ‘never a neo-conservative,’ he says, wittily, ‘he has been a political conservative all his adult life.’ He was never, he adds, wittily, ‘a war monger overseas and a human rights oppressor at home’. The ‘universities’ and some ‘sectors of the media’ have said he was but they are wrong. He was not, moreover, the prime target of the terrorists (who said he was?). He has retired from politics now, he is out of politics altogether, yet terrorism, aha, goes on.

And, wow, Hollande, a ‘socialist’, is in a ‘war on terror’ too. He was thought until now ‘an inconsequential leader’ (by whom?), but Gerard, now, is on his side.

Gerard, who has not been right on anything these forty years — I ask you again to name one thing — still favours Guantanamo very much, and thinks his moral inferior Obama wrong to ‘regard the term “War On Terror” as redundant’, because terrorism is visible, now, everywhere. Why, only yesterday, eighty people died of it in a shoot-out in a gas-works in Mali; so there. Eighty people died; as many as that; and it has to be fought, and hundreds of billions have to be spent on the fight with it, every year.

Well … eighty dead is little more than the number killed in Sandy Hook, Aurora, Oak Creek, Oakland, Seal Beach and Tucson by ordinary white Americans in the last two years; and only a tenth of the total killed by gunfire in America in the month since Sandy Hook — by, apparently, not ‘terrorists’ but ordinary Americans rightly, constitutionally, bearing arms. These numbers do not trouble Gerard, however: he has seen the enemy, and it is them. ‘Terrorists’ cannot be white Americans. Terrorists are ‘them’.

Terrorism. Terrorism. Terrorism. That’s what we have to be on the look-out for, like Communism in the fifties, Gerard well knows. Terrorism killed, perhaps, five hundred people in the world last year, while tobacco, beloved product of Greiner and Murdoch, Miranda Devine and Paddy McGuinness, killed maybe eighty million. Gerard has his priorities right. Terrorism, that’s the enemy. It’s all around us. Under the bed.

Has Gerard, reader, I ask you, delighted us long enough? It is not that he is old, clapped-out, and useless. It is not that he he has nothing more to tell us. It is more than that. It is that everything he has told us thus far has been proven to be wrong (George Bush is the Winston Churchill of this century, and so on), and he has not retracted nor apologised for it, as if we had no memory or we are, like him, in perpetual denial of everything he has uttered in two millenniums.

It is wrong that this damn fool should be considered any longer worth the eighteen hundred dollars a week he is paid for his confabulated, neo-Catholic blitherings. He should be replaced, and I should be given his job.

Hands up anyone who disagrees.

Obama 2: The Overture

Logically, if the gun lobby’s view of the Constitution is correct, a drone might have been aimed by them at the tyrant Obama this morning and blown him into flying chunks of meat because an armed citizenry has the right, constitutionally, to use what weapons they like to overthrow their oppressor if they felt this, in their heart of hearts, a good idea.

It was a good speech. All love is equal, he said. We, the people, he said, pretty often. The quiet lanes of Newtown, he said. It was the best Inaugural oration ever, but we expected that. His cool; his excellence; his inner socialist tranquillity; his agnostic, humanist, unsanctimonious reverence for America, the idea; his patience; his discipline; his brimming sad sense that four years is too short a time to do what must be done; his upwelling premonition that America may be dying of the sins of the past that cannot now be redeemed, reversed, rescinded, revoked, the wasteful wars, the polluted skies, the hijack of so much wealth by the least deserving, the echoes, even now, of slavery; these were vivid and so was the tragedy in his face, for he knew it was now perhaps too late. He may die of the lung cancer that took out his mother at fifty-two, and he senses that. He knows the guns will not be taken away and he no longer, I think, can get his head around that, not now, since Newtown’s tiny faces smiled back at the world from their gravestones. Murdoch’s Tea Party may have killed his America, that ever-welcoming good place in the dreams of the lesser nations; and it’s a pity. And this was its funeral service, fine words uttered over a corpse whose good intentions and proud prayers were not enough to save him. He knew that, and it showed, too, on his face. And it’s a pity. And so it goes.

… There will be more to say about this sombre, significant occasion soon, I guess, pitch-perfect apart from Beyonce who seems to me a fucking dipstick, and I will get to it, or not, in the next day or so.

I am glad to lived to see it, and hear it; and so to bed.

Ending Up: Harwood And Hoffman’s Quartet

If I were to tell you Dustan Hoffman had made a film as good, or nearly as good, as Bergman’s Smiles Of A Summer Night, you might think I had lost a marble somewhere in the interchange. But the evidence is in, it is called Quartet, and there you go.

It is set in what amounts to the Afterlife, a gorgeous autumn-tinted country house and its manicured lawns and fruited gardens where fifty or sixty retired musicians and singers move in an ordered, softened, stoic way, still performing on anniversary occasions to local audiences, towards extinction — via, in some cases, dementia, wheelchairs or shaming runs for a pee in the bush whilst the nonagenarian ladies avert their eyes.

Does such a place exist? It ought to. The inmates read, and walk, play instruments and sketch charcoals, turn up on time for communal meals, and now and then with feigned insouciance and much tempestuous rehearsal do a show; one of them each year, on his birthday, celebrating Verdi. This year, we soon learn, it had better be bloody good, and a big crowd had better bloody be there, or Beecham House’s piled-up debts will engulf, overwhelm and abolish it; and, as in The Cherry Orchard, the dreamscape that soothes and sweetens them in this, their final, serial curtain call in this life, will be lost forever.

Reggie Paget, who wants, he says, ‘a dignified senility’, is a famous, mannerly tenor whose last sarabande with death is interrupted by the arrival, in a limousine, of his flighty former wife Jean Horton, the stupendous diva, who bolted, ran out on him, on their honeymoon, and who proposes now, too late, too late, to make amends, be friends, be friends again. He will have none of it; he hates her; he cannot forgive her; but when it is, aha, suggested she is needed, sorely needed on Verdi Day lest the whole shebang be lost and go in the last leaf-burning solstice into bankruptcy and oblivion, he grimly, decorously, sadly, unwillingly agrees to woo her back into singing, with him and two others, the quartet from Rigoletto on the day.

Tom Courtenay and Maggie Smith play these roles. The two others in the famed quartet in Covent Garden in the summer of ’62 are Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins, as Wilf Bond and Cissie Robson. Wilf, not unexpectedly, is an aggressive drinker afflicted by incontinence and ‘a touch of Tourette’s’ (he blurts out lecherous foul things close to his heart and gonads), and Cissie has twinges of dementia, gets lost in time sometimes and wonders where she is, and what the appointment was, and where her mother is, she must go home and find her mother.

Keeping one’s dignity, keeping one’s pecker up, remembering who one is, or was, or used to be, is a large part of this expert, unsolemn Rattigan-Chekhov-Sondheim search for lost, remembered things important once but now alas no more. Michael Gambon as Cedric Livingstone (‘Not Cedric, Seedric!’), the bossy, bullying, egoistic director, his false teeth flashing, of the current, upcoming Verdi spectacle, does this in more overt and petulant, histrionic ways. The others merely simmer, do crosswords and murmur of the past. They include some actual opera stars of last century — Anne Langley, Aleksandra Duczmai, Denis Khoroshko — and David Ryall and Trevor Peacock as a plausible equivalent of a wellbeloved radio act like Flanagan and Allen.

I resisted going for a good while because of Maggie Smith who had, I feared me, delighted the present millennium long enough. But in this part she has regained the dignity and presence she had as Olivier’s Desdemona: you can imagine her as a beautiful woman, loving and loved by a great and gifted man of the theatre. You pine for her lost beauty and her status, and her standing ovations at La Scala (‘Twelve, darling; you had only ten.’) and you understand her totally: she has immortal longings in her, and she fears her talent, her edge, is gone; and she might, by God, be right. It might be gone, and what is she to do if it is, and this is found out?

The honours, however, in this film go narrowly to Courtenay. Sad, scalded, honourable, old-fashioned and keen to do good (he even engages with a teenage black rap-singer, hoping to understand him, in a tutorial for high school kids of the neighbourhood), he has aged since his Billy Liar quite wonderfully, as did, in other English decades, Gielgud, and Guinness, and Scofield, into a calm, intrusive, pale-eyed magnetic perfection we wish we had seen, down long years, much more of.

Ronald Harwood, of course, wrote at 78 the play that Hoffman, 75 himself, already, has guided into gentle, uplifting, understated sonority and a kind of mild-mannered glory, dare I say hope and glory, all its own.

It is a fine, fine, fine, fine film, and it must be seen.

Israel After Tomorrow

Is it certain that Bibi will be Prime Minister tomorrow, and Prime Minister of Israel a month from now?

It is likely; but he will have lost Likud ten seats and the ultra-Right parties, more powerful and plentiful than ever before, and a US threat to reduce his money, may then remove him from the leadership and force his party into an alliance with Labour and the Left and Centre-Left and Arab parties, who will win 57 or 58 seats between them (the magic number is 61) and may look by then more attractive than the current bunch of hydrophobic Zionofascists keen to evict or kill all Arabs, stamp them out like vermin in the always-popular Biblical spare-not-their women-and-children fashion and nuke Iran and be nuked in their turn by Taliban Pakistan or a rogue rocket from Putin’s Russia, or whatever.

What will happen soon is either a swift ramshackle Two State Solution or extinction. Kerry, Hollande, Carr, Hague, Hagel and, let’s face it, Obama will put the heat on Israel as never before, the which, unheeded, will mean the Arab Spring overwhelms it.

More and more it seems a pity that Rabin did not survive a Zionofascist’s bullet in 1995 and Peres, five times PM, lost five elections, one to Bibi, and Bibi, a monster of ingratitude and baleful bull-ant self-righteousness and poisoner, probably, of Arafat, kept building ‘settlements’ after promising not to. Or that Arafat did not accept the Barak-Clinton deal for want of a few feet of tunnel under the Temple Mount.

It will be like Somalia soon. Or Ruanda. Or Pakistan. Or Queensland.

And it’s a pity.

And it’s a pity.

The Castrate Bluster Of The Murdochists (1): Penberthy/Armstrong

Auberon Waugh instituted a prize for Bad Sex Writing which the winning author (Martin Amis, A.S. Byatt, Arandhati Roy) could pick up in person if he/she chose, while a drunken crowd booed, threw bread rolls and applauded. A similar prize for Bad Moralistic Fervour should go, this year, and perhaps this decade, to David Penberthy, whose aghast response to the iniquitous Lance Armstrong in The Sunday Telegraph this morning has a crocodile-tears-and-vanilla flavour to it, augmented by truly, truly bad writing which bespeaks, I imagine, a sad lost soul Faust-bargained into howling hellfire and cringeing editorial impotence by Mephistopheles Moriarty Moloch Murdoch twenty years ago.

He said Armstrong in the Oprah interview was ‘stripped back to the very essence of his being’ and ‘looked totally, defeated, totally ashamed’; and, later, ‘totally honest’ and ‘telling the truth in such a ludicrously belated fashion’. This last memorious phrase should be considered I think for the Millennial Gong For Adjectival Or Adverbial Self-Harm, to be awarded in 3001. It is in there with a chance.

Murdochists moralising about big things are always in some trouble, philosophically and practically, I find. Their boss, after all, sells tobacco and his mouthpiece Fox News called for the availability, again, of assault weapons to any kook in America in 2003 and got their way and caused thereby the killing of twenty infants a month ago and have not said sorry yet. Murdoch gave us Thatcher, ‘Gotcha!’, the Bush 2 presidency, the Iraq War, the Hitler Diaries, the Tea Party and Kevin Rudd and may yet, by climate denial, end the world.

But Penberthy betters even him today when he sneers at Armstrong for getting cancer and surviving it and patting himself on the back, the swine, for having survived it.

‘I always regarded him,’ he writes, ‘as a scientifically challenged macho man for constructing such a hairy-chested mythology around his cancer battle. He seemed to think he was such a superhero, he just stared the cancer down. It’s rubbish. Cancer is a crap shoot. You either die or you don’t.

‘I have friends who have survived this capricious and horrible condition, and others who have died from it. The ones who carked it didn’t do so because they weren’t mentally strong or not up for the fight. It’s rubbish to suggest as much, as Armstrong did through his actions, turning it into one of the central planks of his entire marketing strategy.

‘But, as he said on Friday, “the story was so perfect for so long”, overcoming disease, winning seven Tours, the perfect marriage, great kids. Except, you know, it was all based on crap.’

So surviving cancer, young David asserts, like climate change, is crap. No doubt John Fahey, an interested participant in this high vaulting matter and one of the few humans in world history to have survived lung cancer by staring it down, will compliment him on this, his noble heads-up to the carcinogenically afflicted: don’t worry, be happy, you’re either one of the Chosen, or you’re not.

What a sanctimonious, prating dill he has proved to be. I cannot imagine what my namesake the Minister for Employment and Early Childhood sees, or saw, in him and for what cause goes so often to his bed.

What a paltry, addled, unctuous mental midget he is entirely. I ask him to reply.

Classic Ellis: Tucson Gunshot Blues, 2011

The Fox News blondes weren’t yelling as they usually do and the excruciation on their faces as they tried not to mention their acclaimed Fox colleague Sarah Palin (though Gaby Giffords was shown in her cross-hairs before she was shot in the head on Saturday in Tucson) was riveting to behold.

Talk about the moose in the room. Palin, who may be guilty of ‘encouraging a terrorist act’ is politically finished I would think now, and Donald Trump the automatic Republican front-runner, closely followed by his hair. And Fox News, which has done its fair share of enflaming domestic terrorists with its Tea Party war cries and yodellings, may lose some sponsorship and a lot of audience, fast.

Their current quarrelsome confusion is a wonder to behold. Countless shopping-mall massacres have taught them to murmur in awe, ‘Who knows what was on this crazed killer’s mind?’, but in this case Jared Loughner, if asked, may tell them. Countless provincial mass killings have taught them to say, ‘What the hapless victim thought in her last seconds of life, we will never know,’ but Gaby Giffords is alive still too, at the time of going to press, and may tell them.

She certainly gave an interview fingering Palin as an assassination-urger and this, in the context of a smashed right frontal lobe and seven surrounding innocent dead, may serve as adequate evidence that the tongue-speaking trout-clubbing beauty might make a poor First Magistrate all in all should she and the Dude be so uplifted soon.

Politically, it’s fascinating. The Health Care Bill, which Giffords passionately advocated and the Republicans want to spend a trillion dollars rescinding, may not now come to a vote in the House, lest Giffords arrive in a wheelchair to mumble against it, or her husband Todd the astronaut return from space to fill her seat and beweep her radiant posthumous desire to heal the sick and dry the tears of the wetbacks, and Obama put up the Public Option as an election promise in 2012 and defy them to run against it.

The Tea Party will look more O’Duffy’s Blackshirts or Mosley’s Cockney fascists or De Groot’s New Guard now than they did before. The verbal violence of Bill O’Reilly will ease a bit, I’m sure, and the warm Irish buddy of Bobby Kennedy resurge in his new adapted performance. And Glen Beck may be arrested, or body-searched, or psychiatrically counselled for advocating armed treason so avidly and Mormonism, gadzooks, while he was up.

If Obama wanted to also, he could rescind Rupert Murdoch’s US passport for using his media clout and world-wide microphone to advocate violent solutions to small political differences. Or see him called before a Senate Committee to confess if he is now or ever was a member of the Communist Party (he leaned that way at Oxford in 1948) and why he so wants to kill, torture or sack all humans who disagree with him, and why he sells cigarettes and who are his friends in Red China.

Power is a funny thing. It only exists if consent is present, and evident, and automatic, and unstinted, in the powerless. Palin’s cross-hairs and Loughner’s poor aim and Obama’s minute of silence may have changed all that, you can’t shoot my local member, that’s undemocratic, and show, as did Ceaucescu’s bad-hair Christmas Day, the modern limits of power.

The events in Tucson underline too, with blood and screaming, prayer and soul-searching, America’s decline as an opinion-forming nation in a world grown more educated in its addled and feckless boorishness. No other nation agrees much any more with lethal injections, handguns for nutjobs, bigamous preachers, nose jobs, Elvis weddings, stark naked tabletop dancers, gigantic steaks with Freedom Fries, annual ‘work’ on businessman’s faces and perpetual religious wars in the Middle East in the way Americans do, and most feel the craziness has to stop.

A nation that confuses itself with a religion resembles, we pretty soon realise, that brand of schizophrenic who howls ‘I am the Christ!’ then drapes himself in hotel bed-sheets and disrupts the traffic of downtown Jerusalem on Good Friday.

America is not well in its mind. And though Obama’s eloquent, seemly, forgiving bedside manner may hold up the crash that is coming for a while, it’s probably coming anyway, and it may not be long delayed.

Until then Gaby Giffords will seem, and seem with good reason, one of the Democrats’ better angels, and the first martyred saint of the Health Care Wars of this century.

And a turning point, perhaps, just perhaps, away from her country’s downward rush to bellowing self-destruction.

In Six Words

Reader 1 is banned for life.

Armstrong Agonistes One More Time

(First published by Independent Australia)

We rewrite history now. Just as Pravda would publish different photos of Stalin on the balcony with erased faces behind him replaced by new ones, we now erase Lance Armstrong from the Tour de France victories he was acclaimed for, not so long ago.

It’s a curious decision. It’s like saying Nixon, impeached in 1974, therefore did not win in 1968 and Humphrey did; or no-one did; or Bobby Kennedy, though dead, did, and entered the White House in a coffin in 1969. Or that Germany, ‘stabbed in the back’, won World War I after all. Or that Phar Lap did not win the Melbourne Cup because we know now he was on the Anderson Mixture, a stimulating, heart-enlarging drug, and no-one won the race in 1932, we’ve now had second thoughts, and the bookies want their money back, with interest.

This is not the way things used to be done. We used to have in the old days the idea of crime, and the punishment of crime by gaoling. Speer, for instance, was tried for war crimes, and sentenced, after showing remorse, to twenty years in Spandau, which he humbly served. Armstrong, for sport crimes, should be similarly treated. Like Speer he has damaged, and sometimes wrecked, many thousands of honourable people’s lives, and smirched for all time a great Olympic endeavour as Speer did a great nation, Germany.

He should be arrested for fraud like any crooked businessman and do time for it; and having ‘paid his debt to society’, be then allowed to ride bikes again, on any track. And his Tour de France and Olympic victories should stay on the record, with a footnote under them saying how many years he did for cheating. He could then I suppose write a bestselling book on his four years in the Bastille finding God, and open thereafter a bike shop in Tulsa and ten years on tell Oprah of his new Hollywood biopic Bicycles Of Fire on his leg-pumping repentance, and make millions more, in the usual American way.

What happened yesterday is a product of the American habit, nurtured in many fundamentalist congregations, of self-cleansing by public confession, and nationwide forgiveness after televised self-abnegation and cutaways to one’s weeping, exhalted relatives in the throng. A startling number of lecherous preachers have done this and got away with it, as have Clinton, the adulterer, Bush 2 the alcoholic, and McNamara the mild-mannered killer of tens of thousands of infant Japanese, after acts of public contrition his uplifted, breast-beating fans acclaimed him for.

It is a silly Christian ritual, I think, a bit like feet-washing or Christ-eating, or Mary-hailing we should have got rid of by now and replaced by simple imprisonment for three or four years in, say, The Hague.

Corrupt drug lords do time, as a rule, when they are not gunned down by Walter White in cliff-hanging episodes of Breaking Bad, or by rival drug lords in border wars or rogue police or the CIA.

And Lance Armstrong should do time too, for bicycle fraud. As should John Howard for the WMD fraud and Peter Reith for the Children Overboard faked, or dissembled, photographs that won the Liberals government.

Fraud should be discouraged, and punished by imprisonment, as forgery was in Australia’s earliest years. Well-spoken confession is not enough.

And neither is erasure of history.


Classic Ellis: The Animal Brain, 2011

After two weeks on the Gabriel Method (thinking yourself thin) I’ve lost five kilos and mulled through its guiding premise, the animal brain.

The animal brain, says Jon Gabriel, is why our bodies react in caveman ways, defying diet and putting on weight in winter, putting on weight in wartime, depression and economic stress, in primal fear of there being no mammoth meat to feast upon tomorrow.

It means diets never work because our bodies make primitive decisions on how fat we should be, and redistribute the nutrients we eat accordingly.

It makes a lot of sense, and its treatment – conjuring images on the brink of sleep of the ideal thin person one would like to be – may help reduce diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure, impotence, and so on, among Indigenous people and sluggardly hamburger-eaters throughout the world.

But once you consider the animal brain as a fat-inducer you have to consider as well what else it is doing. Is it why, for instance, we instinctively esteem tall people (Ted Baillieu, Malcolm Fraser, Gough Whitlam) and disesteem short people (John Howard, Simon Crean, Billy Snedden, Billy McMahon) and more eagerly acclaim them as leaders? Is it why we mistrust fat people (Kim Beazley, Joe Hockey) and trust thin people (Bob Brown, Greg Combet) and always believe what they say?

Is it why we trust people with deep voices (Phillip Adams, Henry Kissinger, José Ramos-Horta, Bob Carr, Bob Brown) regardless of how many lies they tell? Is it why white Americans think Barack Obama too alien, too much the interplanetary intruder, to trust with their armies and money? Is it why, however, they elected Obama rather than John McCain, because McCain was visibly, creakily, huskily, too old? Is this what convinces white Australians, like Raquel in SBS’s Go Back to Where You Came From, that fugitive scared families with darker faces and different diets are detestable criminals who should be caned, raped, enslaved and starved in Malaysia?

Is the animal brain, in short, why George W Bush won - with a little crooked brotherly help - in America, and why Tony Abbott did so well in Australia, shouting ‘Assassin!’ and ‘Stop the boats!’ Is it why John Howard (short, meek) beat the fat, squeaky-voiced Kim Beazley when claiming diseased alien terrorists arriving half-drowned in rat-infested boats would Muslimise, infect and interbreed with our women?

Is the animal brain, moreover, the most powerful reason we have to abandon compulsory voting? Or, worse, an argument against democracy itself? Should people whose thoughts are so primitive, and whose reasons are so disconnective, be allowed to vote at all? Eight-year-olds aren’t. Why should they be?

Much of what goes wrong in modern life, I fear, is explained by the animal brain. Commuters, like me, who travel more than an hour to work undergo anguish, disconnection, apprehension the further they get from home. Men who fly overseas feel it easier to have affairs in foreign parts than they would in their own home city. Unhappiness occurs under low ceilings, happiness under high ones. A belief in God persists in spite of the Holocaust, the torture and killings of tens of millions of Africans, AIDS among faithful heterosexual wives and their baby children, the billions made by bank CEOs while some breadwinners get $50 a year, and so on. The animal brain is hardwired for God, and He won’t go away.

The animal brain, too, explains why Julia Gillard is losing votes. She fits no human image our brains are hard-wired for. She is not an athlete-larrikin-warrior like Tony Abbott. She is not a wise parson or soothing tribal elder like Bob Brown. She is not a charming womanising rogue like Bob Hawke or Silvio Berlusconi. She is not a shrewd earthmother like Tanya Plibersek. She is not a friendly whoopee cushion like Hockey or Beazley. She is not a forthright self-made mogul like Malcolm Turnbull or a fierce female pekingese like Anna Bligh.

Julia fits no type the animal brain can latch onto. She is short, crow-voiced, intermittently bulbous and living in sin with an affable barber. She is not like a nurse, nor a teacher, nor a loyal wife, nor a single supporting mother, nor an airline hostess, nor an aerobics instructor, nor a tour guide, nor a corporate CEO, nor a film star, nor a folk singer, nor a street clown, nor a nanny, nor a personal private secretary, nor even what she is, or was, a female solicitor.

And it’s a worry. Because the animal brain can get no handle on her, can channel no archetype she resembles, every speech she makes, unsettles people. Who is this? they wonder. Have I ever seen this kind of person before? Prime Minister, is she? Really? How did she get to be Prime Minister? Oh, that way, did she? That way.

And it’s a worry. The animal brain is elsewhere known as the ‘swinging voter’, and our politicians are scrambling to accommodate its inconsistencies: more services and less tax; more victories and less expenditure on war; more private wealth and less public education; more free-moving cash and weapons and more boat people locked up in cages; more compensation, heaps of it, when capitalism stuffs up; more and more capitalism after that, though a child dies every 20 seconds because of it. No carbon tax but less bushfires, tornadoes and hurricanes. Benefits we never pay for. And the animal brain must be fed with lies, or it roars, and shakes its cage, and threatens insurrection like the Tea Party does.

The animal brain and its running mate, an undereducated, philistine, dumbass democracy, may be the most pressing questions we currently have. Will the Gabriel Method, extended, save us from their likely outcome, imminent, breast beating, cross burning chaos? Hard to say, old friend.

Hard to say.

In Ten Words

Graeme Bird is banned for life and Reader 1 warned.

In Fifteen Words

This is the hottest Sydney day in history and you’re voting for Tony Abbott? Wow.

In Fifty-Four Words

Their stated view is that armed citizens rising up against a tyrannous government will defeat the Pentagon in a decisive battle and set up, thereafter, a just and righteous government of their own, which will not, thereafter, perish from the earth.

Their name is the Republican Party, and they are of sound mind.


Certain Housekeeping Matters (11): The Bird In The Bush

I find Graeme Bird’s ‘oligarchy’ theories a little hard to stomach. They resemble Glenn Beck’s ‘progressivism’ doctrines in their generation-after-generation picture of an evil, ruling, disciplined elite. And I wonder if he is well in his mind.

If Glenn Beck were writing in such abundance in these columns his paranoid treatises on the evils of the Left I would be inclined not to publish them, or publish them so often, after a couple of years. And I am getting that way with Graeme now. The violence of his responses to his detractors is a worry and so is the feverish repetitiveness of his opinion that Paul McCartney’s skull shape inexplicably changed after 1966 and he was doubtless killed by persons unknown because he offended the Illuminati who include the Bushes but not the Kennedys and the skull he has now is the skull of a paid usurper inexplicably able to write ‘Mull Of Kintyre’ and fool George Martin into thinking he is a long dead Liverpudlian taken out by a hit man for his impertinence half a century ago.

I admit to not having read all of his 250 entries on this absorbing diversion into transmillennial phrenology and I may have got some of the nuances wrong but he seems to me to be off his trolley, or off his trolley on this one though he has made some sense in many of his previous interventions in the columns of Unleashed when I was writing for it in what now seems like another life. He can’t spell ‘Labor’ or ‘Thomson’ or ‘tranquillity’ and he seems to think the many male Kennedys lately in public office or drug rehab are all dead and they are not, they are not, or this is my current impression. Robert Kennedy Junior was still alive when I last met him and he seemed at the time to have the same skull shape as his father and he did not seem to my untrained eye to be a cuckoo or a corpse or a prattling droid, just a chittering bore with a previous heroin problem and a ghastly family history but I may have been wrong and he may in fact be a visitor from Tralfamador with a pernicious Vader agenda and I wasn’t paying sufficient attention.

I need guidance on this. Does ‘Tabletalk’ mean that a Jehovah’s Witness, say, or an aggressive salesman of kiddie porn or a fervent apostle of Tupperware is to be forever welcome in these pages? Or must the line be drawn somewhere? And how is that line to be drawn and recognised?

I invite Quixote and Helvi and Allthumbs and Canguro and William Soil and Hudson Godfrey and the others to make suggestions. And Graeme Bird, of course.

We are not monsters, and we should let him have his say.