Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Madness of Christopher Pyne

[First published by Independent Australia]

There may be no other option henceforth, I suspect, than redefining ‘failure’ as ‘success’.

Pyne succeeded in his reforms to the Gonski reforms; of course he did. Abbott succeeded in getting vital information out of Mrs Yuduyono’s bedroom; of course he did. Scott Morrison succeeded in giving the boat people nowhere to go back to but Christmas Island; what a good thing that was. Julie Bishop has riled East Timor, China, Niugini, the US, the UK, the EU, Russia and sixty-nine participants in the Global Warming conference, and is everywhere admired for this.

In the next week Abbott will prevent or annul ten thousand gay weddings in the ACT, his most famous victory, despite twelve million Australians wanting them to occur. This is a government that is not only successful, but barking mad.

The sanity of Christopher Pyne must be urgently investigated by a Senate Inquiry. He speaks of ‘envelopes’ and ‘a Shorten shambles’ and how ‘Unity Ticket’ meant disunity everywhere, and how the abhorrent system Gonski’s deliberations were intended to cure was a roaring success that needed no tinkering, none whatsoever. That his own academically challenged sons are doing very well, thank you, and need no additional help.

It is probable psychosis of this order has been around in politics from Year One. Henry VIII invented Protestantism in order to achieve the loins of a proud young woman and gave her syphilis because his first marriage, he swore, was ‘incestuous’ and rife with dead bastards. George III in rare moments of lucidity believed he was a peacock. Hitler, his veins agog with bull’s sperm, moved imaginary armies around a map of the world. Reagan thought rockets in outer space would bring down enemy rockets in outer space that never went there. George Bush thought that God, his ‘true father’, wanted him to level Babylon and thus fulfil Isaiah’s prophesy.

And Christopher Pyne believes ‘unity ticket’ means hobbling the lives of a million pupils and smashing the hopes of their parents and grandparents. That there was an ‘envelope of payment’ that allows him to do this. That ‘unity’ means three states get money with no strings attached, and the others after 2014 may get none at all. It is hard to think of an utterance more like ‘I am a peacock!’ in our time.

What should occur is an ambulance in the Adelaide Hills that Jay Wetherill commands to take him away. Handcuffs or a straitjacket may not be needed, sedation will probably suffice. He should then, in a small room, be shown four fingers and asked how many there are. If, as is likely, he refuses to answer, he should be delivered, bound and gagged, to the floor of the Senate and then asked to answer, with nods and headshakes, a number of questions on policy.

It is no more than he deserves. He has turned our democracy into a burnt forest in which a few singed, chittering monkeys remember how it was. He is as big a joke as Sarah Palin and should soon, like her, be frogmarched out of world history.

Homeland: The Way We Are

Homeland is the Iliad of our time; discuss. No greater drama has occurred on television, nor, to the best of my knowledge, on film — though Downfall, War and Peace and Army of Shadows nudge it closely. Brody is no less a far-flung, wandering, suffering protagonist than Ulysses (and, like him, returned after long travails to a possibly faithless wife), and Carrie Mathison like no-one in literature: whore, tortured saint, murderess, madwoman, patriot, spy.

It is a measure of the greatness of Claire Danes, Baz’s Juliet in another, simpler age — and the great polymath’s wisecracking squeeze in Me And Orson Welles — that she straddles these many ego alterations without losing us, in the blood-dimmed tide of her mutinous struggles within the CIA, and her perilous, hair’s-breadth double-agenting in the Middle East and Washington DC. We must see her go off her medication, go rogue, and plot her bomb-strapped Muslim lover’s murder, and her escape with him to Canada, and her desertion of him there, without ever tuning out of her mind; and she somehow makes us do this. Callas as Medea could do no more; and now her character is pregnant we will see more of what she can do, and become.

Mandy Patinkin’s Berenson, expressionless, wise, divided of soul, tough, torn, uxorious, complaisant, unambitious, vengeful, is almost as good; one can see him as Agamemnon, sacrificing his daughter to ensure good voyaging weather to the shores of Troy. And Damian Lewis, an Englishman, as Brody may be even better.

Seen plain, he appears no more remarkable than some pale, coked-up shift worker met at midnight in McDonald’s. But then, up close, he has the eyes of Steve McQueen and a tragic force that may give the stage yet its finest John Procter, Cassius or Coriolanus.

Not that these roles outrun what he must do here: shoot his friend, turn Muslim, strap up for a suicide bombing, run for Congress, cope with Carrie’s horny clawing madness, his daughter’s attempted suicide, his wife’s justified adultery, and the guilt of his own. No actor has endured long torture better, nor woken with bloodshot eyes and bruised face and soul to a new chapter of hell.

Many writing credits bedeck this majestic achievement – Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon and Gideon Raff predominating, with thirty-six episodes each – and show, without doubt, that Shakespeare could indeed have been a committee; and there are eighteen directors thus far, each one as good as Polanski.

But it was the series plotting committee – Gordon and Gansa I guess, plus, later, Michael Cuesta, and Chip Johannsen – who added up to the vigilant, hovering, all-seeing Homer (himself also, some say, a committee) of this classic, throbbing narrative. Since Dickens’ monthly serials there have been no better cliff-hangers: how many beatings and bullets can Brody take? How, now a suspect of the next 9/11, will he get out of this one? How will Carrie, drugged, imprisoned and charged with both treason and manic depression, get her job back at the CIA?

It is a series that engages, like Dostoevsky, the full questing mind of the reader/viewer to the top of his/her capability. None dare disparage it for shallowness of character, or simplistic side-taking, or ideological self-praise. We sympathise as greatly with Abu Nazir, his son killed by air strike, when he and al-Qaeda come to destroy America, as we do with Brody’s scarred young daughter Dana, on the run with her bipolar Romeo from her father’s infamy and in danger of her life.

Much more could be said. It is good to see American’s second best living playwright, Tracy Letts – Tony Kushner is the best – as the pale, impelled, double-dealing and Mephistophelian Senator Andrew Lockhart, and F Murray Abraham, Salieri in Amadeus, as an interfering murderous Levantine spymaster; and Rupert Friend, lately Prince Albert to Emily Blunt’s Victoria, as a thoughtful accent-perfect American assassin.

But what should most be said is it is the best drama yet made, and no education, and no life is complete without seeing it twice or three times, and considering the enormity, and the accumulated evil tidings, of what it means, and portends.

Hail, Freedonia!

The Abbott government in only seventy days of power has offended China, Indonesia, East Timor, Nuigini, the UK, the US, the EU, and the scores of Global Warming Conference nations it haughtily banished from its affections, and every parent and grandparent of a schoolchild, and every teacher in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT, no more than eight million people, though Pyne swears blind when he said no school would be worse off he was wickedly misunderstood. Next week it will seek to annul gay marriage wheresoever it occurs in defiance of the Governor-General who believes in it, offending thereby no more than six million people, two million of them Liberal voters.

More and more this mob looks like the Freedonian government of Otis T. Firefly in Duck Soup staring Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo and Margaret Dumont as Bronwyn Bishop.

An Inquiry by the Senate into the sanity of Pyne and Morrison, a hard case to argue, would finish it off.

I urge on Wong and Milne this mischievous tactic while they have the numbers. If the two crazed Ministers refuse to appear they in turn can refuse Supply.

And let slip the dogs of war.

Shock Horror

I note that Murdoch is incensed at his wife’s ‘friendship’ with Tony Blair and their several overnight ‘meetings’ without his knowledge. The old man will never speak, the smh alleges, with Blair again.

O’Brien/Keating (2)

It got harder last night for a lot of people to wholly like and admire Paul Keating, me and my wife included. He admitted costing a million Australians their jobs, but said they got ‘better ones the next week’ in the service industries. He did not mind ending, pretty much, Australia’s manufacturing industries with tariff cuts nobody in country towns wanted, and ending thus, or disordering thus, the accustomed lives of a million children when their parents moved to the city or another town.

He seemed to think that 17 percent interest rates were a mere bagatelle though they put me near suicide (I have written a lot about this) and, by losing us our big house, ended all chance of me and my wife retiring, ever. He seemed to think that ordinary people and their debts and their anguish and the effect this had on their children and their marriages didn’t matter much in the big picture, or in the Labor Party’s chances after 1993.

He believed that Button, Young, Jones, Evans, Beazley, Uren, Ryan, Walsh, Brown, Bowen, Cohen, Dawkins, Hayden, Willis, Richo had no part in the Hawke government’s success, it was all his doing. He said Hawke was an AWOL Prime Minister when he was doing all the heavy lifting, working round the clock to get the settings right — not merely putting ticks on figures Treasury placed in front of him while Mahler played, performing superbly in Question Time and going home to be with his family every night at six. He believed, he truly believed, that selling Qantas was better than keeping it. Is there a soul on Earth but he that thinks that now? Does he believe it? He believed, he truly believed, that selling the Commonwealth Bank made some sense. He believed, he truly believed, that John Curtin was no more than ‘a trier’. He believed, he truly believed, that the Whitlam government was no more than ‘Amateur Hour’.

It’s worth asking, I think, if he ever read a book on economics, or on Curtin, or Chifley, or Whitlam. I don’t think he did. It’s worth further asking if he read a book, after high school, in his entire adult life, and what that book was. I understand he worked his way through a biography of Churchill in his late teens, and not much more. This is five thousand less books than I have read, eight thousand less than I have started.

And twenty less than I have written, two on economics.

What we seem to have here is a spruiker. He’s a very good spruiker, but more and more he seems an economic wrecker, with an entire recession he admitted causing and did not repent. His most famous phrase is like saying ‘This is the Black Saturday we had to have’, or ‘This is the Newcastle earthquake we had to have’. I can think of nothing more dunderheaded, and I am beginning, with qualms, to despise him.

If he had admitted even one mistake, one mistake in his lifetime, it would have helped. But he did not. It was all hunky-dory, all of it, every bit of it, and all his doing, and any error of timing or counting was by others, others somehow beyond his control.

No, it wasn’t; no, they weren’t. He wrecked the country towns, and he didn’t have to, with bone-deep tariff cuts Hawke disagreed with. Prove that I lie.

If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. But he seems to me after last night more and more like the Cockney who sells you a watch in a pub. Know what I mean, know what I mean? Squire? Nudge, nudge?

And Whitlam was right when he said to him, ‘Go and get a degree, and then we’ll talk.’

A little education might have humbled his ego, and mitigated, just a bit, the consuming sin of his overweening pride.

Or am I wrong?

Sexual McCarthyism (1)

It is hard to think of a man of my generation who had a university degree and did not have an extramarital ‘fling’, or ‘affair’, sometimes overseas or out of town. Of the generations previous to me Menzies, Holt, Gorton, Killen, John Kennedy, Eisenhower, Johnson, Eden, Macmillan, Mitterrand, Churchill, Roosevelt, Harding, Lloyd George, Grover Cleveland, Disraeli, Lincoln, Melbourne, Jefferson were known to have had affairs and none of them lost his position because of it. Nor did Greiner or Kennett who left their wives and went back to them.

Yet lately Clinton, Edwards, Spitzer, Della Bosca, Rann, Assange and four or five Englishmen (one of them blind) were ruined or stained by it, and considerable talent ripped out of politics not by a change in public sentiment (88 percent of respondents still acclaim John Kennedy in spite of it) but by Murdoch, an adulterer himself, targeting politicians of the Left with peepshows of their bedrooms and the accused politicians panicking.

The latest of these was Nathan Rees, a Labor hero and potential great Prime Minister I have known for eleven years and worked with, and for, when he was backroomer, Minister and Premier. A more eloquent on-his-feet performer in Question Time I have not seen. A more impelled politician of the Left I have not known. A man more likely to win, as Leader, the State election of 2015 I do not know. He was, after all, the one who sought to excise the Obeid Faction from New South Wales and was brought down by them.

And it is now unlikely he will have a seat to contest. His seat was effectively abolished, and the Party was to find him a new one, and now — perhaps — will not.

And this because of a Murdoch-published ‘affair’.

It was not thought Murdoch should resign because of his affair with Wendi Deng during his marriage to Anna. Nor that Geoffrey Robertson should be disbarred for stealing Kathy Lette from Kim Williams. Nor that Paul McCartney should be made to stop composing songs because he deflowered and then discarded Jane Asher in 1964.

Yet it is thought Rees should never again be Premier because of an episode not hard to imagine, a rule that did not apply to Greiner, Kennett, Olsen, Wran or Dunstan.

Why is this? Well, it relates to Murdoch’s Fox News method, feigning shock and horror at what in fact surprises no-one (‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,’ the unshocked Nazarene said of adultery nineteen hundred years ago), a method that might be labelled ‘Sexual McCarthyism’. If a man of the Left is talented, well, you poke around in his soiled bed-linen, and see what you can find. It should be thought a crime as heinous as skyping acts of copulation in Duntroon, but it is not.

If ‘privacy’ means anything, it means this. Not many pictures of the Queen on the toilet are published these days, but if they were it would undermine her dignity, like the pictures of Diana horizontal wiith eyes closed in the gymnasium, or Fergie having her toes sucked, or Harry in a Nazi uniform. It is thought wrong to publish such pictures, but right it would seem to photograph Kate Middleton’s nipples when the opportunity affords. And reporting any instance of an ‘affair’ of anyone with anyone. Especially if, like Juni Morosi, she is mysterious and Asian.

‘Affairs’, or repeated sexual encounters, or bits on the side, are ofttimes quite complex disappointing things (as most men of my generation with a degree found out in their twenties) and should stay private if no crime is involved, and the word ‘unconsensual’ never published without proof, especially if it is later retracted.

I mourn the second Premiership of Nathan Rees, who had greatness in him.

And so it goes.

Lines For Albo (65)

In vengeance for the Shorten Shambles, the Pyne Pussy-Whip.

The cat is out of the bag.

Today’s Newspoll

It is likely that today’s Newspoll redistributes the ‘other’ and ‘Independent’ votes as if it were not 2013 but 2010. If so it is an act of deliberate fraud, and their numbers biassed towards the Coalition by three or four percent. There was no Palmer Party in 2010, no Katter Party, no resurgent DLP, no Sports Car Enjoyment Party, no LNP, and the ALP in NSW was mired in scandal. And the preference distributions would have been different.

I ask the Attorney-General of South Australia or the ACT to put O’Shannessy under arrest.

Under interrogation, he should say why he is doing this.

As if we didn’t know.

The Pyne Pussy-Whip

Christopher Pyne is assassinating a generation of needy children and he may not get away with it. His cheeky, chirpy catch-phrase ‘the Shorten shambles’ may bring down revenges on his head he may not much like. Investigations by the ACT police of rumours that he is a serial sexual harasser, for instance. A Senate Inquiry into his mental stability.

He is the nastiest little psychopath of our time (in my view), and the political equivalent of a grass-tick, and deserves hereinafter humiliation, and public humiliation, of the Peter Slipper kind, or the Craig Thomson kind, or the Della Bosca kind, and should hereinafter fucking watch it.

He is proposing to give New South Wales twenty percent only of the money they signed up to, with the justice taken out. He is attacking and shredding what I suppose must be called ‘the O’Farrell shambles’. He is destroying the careers of twenty thousand disadvantaged non-Catholic students that Gonksi was invented to help. They will now descend into drugs, prostitution, crime and suicide because of Christopher and his kind, and the world should know of it.

This government goes from bad to worse to evil and beyond, and the Senate must move to destroy it.

In Fifteen Words

Has there been an assassin without a motive in world history?

Only Lee Harvey Oswald?


Today’s Nielsen

The Nielsen Poll this morning shows Labor half a million votes ahead; or, perhaps, with a 2.5 percent margin of error, a million votes ahead.

This means the ‘undecideds’ who went warily, uncertainly to Abbott after September 3 are now flocking back to Labor after having had a look at him.

It also means (sigh) that had Shorten and not Rudd replaced Gillard he would have won a September election; or, more handily, one held next Saturday. The ‘faceless man’ tag never fitted him, never stained him, never lamed him, once anyone saw him sharp and lucid and conscienceful on Q&A, and the two and a half million relatives of the Disabled think highly of him — as, in some cases, their saviour — and he was always going to win.

The big thing he had going for him was, well, competence, and a capacity (like Combet, Carr, Clare, Plibersek, Roxon, Burke, Wong) not to insult the intelligence of the television watcher. Abbott, who mistook another man’s son for his own, who ran out of the chamber when he didn’t have to, who subjected Mark Riley to ‘the seventy-second stare’, who abused the dying Bernie Banton, who falsely accused Peter Slipper of sexual harassment and Craig Thomson of misspending half a million dollars (it was twenty-seven thousand, and not misspent) and falsely imprisoned Hanson and Ettridge after letting Oldfield fabricate One Nation in his office; and, lately, got us into Cold War with Indonesia needlessly and parted a sick newborn baby from his weeping encarcerated mother without good cause, has shown himself to be incompetent — frequently, vividly, and sometimes inexplicably incompetent — and he will never, never, never, I think, I believe, get an aura of competence back.

His abandoned boat-buy-back wheeze, his failure to apologise to the humiliated Mrs Yuduyono and his proposed annulling of his sister’s marriage add to the impression that he is a klutz, a kook, a spoiled priest, a snickering, leering, lip-smacking enemy of women, or a mad nudist uncle out of A Moody Christmas.

Competent, he is not. And he cannot, in the present age, seem competent hereafter, unless we get into some equivalent of the Cuban Missile Crisis and he performs well in it.

Come to think of it, he is in a kind of Cuban Missile Crisis already — with Yudoyuno’s tweeted fury, the cancelled war exercise, the cancelled refugee-interception partnership, the Textor twitter, the Javan cartoon of him him peeping and wanking, and the looming threat to the meat-on-the-hoof trade which will displease both Barnett and Barnaby. And performing very badly.

It is a pity the election was not on November 30. Even Rudd could have won it easily.

And Shorten have won it in a walk.

In Thirty Words

In fifty years no investigative historian has come up with a plausible motive for Lee Oswald to have elected, with two bullets, Lyndon Johnson President.

I suggest they accuse someone else.

Editorial (2)

Constitutionally, the fix that Abbott is now in is without precedent. Defying his employer the GG he will try to annul a thousand gay marriages. Defying his partners the Nationals he will not say sorry to Bambang and thus end meat-on-the-hoof sales to Indonesia. Enraging the Bali hoteliers he will continue to warn Australians it is a dangerous place. Delighting the people smugglers he will crowd Christmas Island with boat people who have nowhere else to go.

If this were Britain in 1940 he would acknowledge, like Chamberlain, his policy errors and ask the Queen — or her representative the GG — to appoint someone else Prime Minister of a National Government: Turnbull, Shorten, Truss, Bandt, or Palmer. If this were the US in 1974 he would simply resign, yielding up his office to Truss. If this were Egypt, an army coup would overthrow him.

His position is untenable, and, a week ago, unthinkable, yet he will strive to stay on. Australian flags will burn in Indonesia, and obscene cartoons deride him, refugees in their thousands on stormy seas set out for Australia, and pregnant imprisoned cows in Darwin moo in vain for death or liberation. Yet he will strive to stay on.

This Frank Brennan would call the sin of pride. A few humble words on Tuesday would have saved the nation from debacle and the region from Cold War. But he could not bear the agony of saying, publicly, those words. Even his confessor Pell will be chiding him now.

Things fall apart, as the poet said, and the blood-dimmed tide is loosed. It will engulf the hairy failed priest sooner or later. An Inqury into the abuse of seminarians will shame him; or an Inquiry into Brough, Pyne, Ashby and Slipper; or one suiciding advocate of gay marriage. Whatever it is that takes him down, the moment will come.

Was it inevitable? No. Did Snowden — and, further back, Assange — have anything to with it? Absolutely. An age of penetrated secrets came after a secretive party, a secretive religion and a secretive former trainee priest, and did for all of them. A Catholic who cannot understand how a Muslim feels about his woman refused to apologise to that woman for her violated secrecy, and that was that. A kind of border war with Djakarta was thus begun and is now heating up, and only Abbott’s removal will abate it.

And we count the hours with some pleasure, and await the day.

Assange Unveiled

The Assange film The Fifth Estate lured few Australians to it but seems to me — a likewise grimy, surly, cult-bred near-Queenslander with a similar propensity to bastard children, broken partnerships, rancorous barroom rhetoric and resistance to good advice — an excellent, well-crafted work as important as The Social Network, Wall Street, Margin Call or Platoon.

It shows us, among a number of other things, the present age. Assange, forever on planes, jet-lagged, impatiently ironic, unwashed and fearful for his life, is a very Australian, far-flung, self-doubting, Hamlettish figure, restless, roving, unsanitary and horny, mistrustful as a longtime religious fugitive would be (and I am one) of all friendship, discipleship and partnership, wanting to hog all the praise and the limelight — like Rudd, like Luhrman, like Andrews, Kosky, Murdoch, Simon Stone, Peter Weir, Paul Cox — and I begin to wonder if the Assange Syndrome (autistic? artistic? Asperger’s? manic-depressive?) is more widespread than we thought. Orson Welles had it; Howard Hughes; Lord Olivier; Lord Florey; John Lennon. It certainly afflicts those who dice with power and feel the ‘rush’ which power brings to their gonads and cerebella, however fleetingly. It shows us a good flawed man blundering into danger and egomania, careless of innocent lives but not as careless (of course, of course) as the Pentagon, Mossad, the CIA and the Global Free Market which kills with bad water twenty thousand children a day. Julian saved tens of thousands of lives, of course he did, and should be more acclaimed for it.

Why then did this fine film fail? The title, a distant echo of The Social Network, was part of the reason, I think. To leave the most famous surname of 2010 off it was like leaving ‘Ned Kelly’, ‘Capote’, ‘Ray’, ‘Che’ and ‘Robin Hood’ off their biopics and foolhardy. It was also unwise to ‘boost’ the story with computer tricks: a multiplicity of typing Julians at an infinitude of desks, and so on. A film about the unveiling of reality should have stayed real itself, not mucked about with it, as one might in a film about LSD.

Cumberbatch nonetheless shapes up, as he did in Parade’s End, as an astounding English talent as good, it now seems, as Gielgud, Olivier, Richardson and Guinness (like the dour Sir Alec, he has no face) put together, playing with our hopes, affections and primal guilts with the sinuousness of a Mata Hari. He leaves us, correctly, unsure of Assange and rattled by him. His motive, his mad childhood, his methodology, his puritan conscience, his masochistic lifestyle, his importance in history we must judge for ourselves as we do Liberace in Under The Candelabra and Che in Che, since he is far beyond simplicities and we must ponder his meaning, as it were, unassisted.

The script, by Josh Singer of The West Wing, from the aggrieved disciple Dan Berg’s memoir and two other books, is excellent, and all the performances first rate (the cast a cattle-call of co-stars from the better recent films and miniseries A Royal Affair, The Thick Of It, Anonymous, Rush, John Adams and Julie/Julia. Laura Linney and Stanley Tucci are especially good as two State Department backroomers (Linney standing in, I suspect, for Hillary Clinton), Dan Stevens (Matthew in Downton Abbey) unrecogniseable in mere slick black hair as a Guardian subeditor and Alicia Vikander (from A Royal Affair) delectable as Audrey Hepburn as Dan Berg’s tetchy gorgeous girlfriend Anke Domscheit. The director, Bill Condon, however should not have pushed his luck. He had a story as interesting as Dreyfus or Ellsberg and, curiously, did not tell it. The two girls in Sweden do not come into it — for legal reasons, perhaps — and it’s a pity.

O’Brien/Keating (1)

Great summary by Mike Carlton in the smh this morning. It shows how doomed Abbott is, the only question being how long (days? weeks?) he’s got.

Keating on Thursday charmed, of course, but inadvertently, smilingly, boastfully admitted he had ruined the country. He floated the dollar, thus gravely injuring our manufacturing industries. He ended tariffs, thus hobbling most of our country towns. He did this over Hawke’s protests. He let in the foreign banks, thus sending hundreds of billions of our money overseas. He sold Qantas, ditto. He sold the Commonwealth Bank, thus fuelling the house price hike that has ended our lazy, matey, neighbourly civilisation. He embraced the ‘global economy’, that is, the return of slavery. He embraced the GST, fought for it, then won an election deriding it.

It is impossible not to like him; but it is worthwhile noting that, whereas Hawke knew the limits of things, he did not.

We are shovelling banknotes into the furnace of our mortgage thanks to Keating, and not seeing our children much, and our children are going into drug-pushing and whoredom thanks in part — only in part — to the fanaticism of his brontosauran economics and his inability to say sorry (‘the recession we had to have’; really?; like the GFC, you mean), and we should keep this in mind sometimes.

Or am I wrong?

In Fifteen Words

Did the taxpayers fund Abbott’s trip to Slipper’s wedding?

We have a right to know.

In Twenty-one Words

Those who rate Morrison as not mad please put up your hands.

Just do it.

There may be scores of you.

In Twelve Words

Has Tony Abbott an admirer left on earth? What is his name?


One is dulled by the hugeness of the hypocrisy of Liberals after a while. Howard greeted Hansonism as ‘ordinary people’, people other than ‘the metropolitan elites’, having their say, their democratic say. Abbott ran out of parliament after Thomson spent, or was said to have spent, some money inappropriately, ran out of parliament, he said, in disgust; then forgave twenty-two Liberals for doing the same thing, himself included. Morrison railed against the people smugglers as agents of pure evil, then said he would help them out by buying their boats.

And this morning the creepy Mark Textor, drugged perhaps, mocked an ABC reporter for asking if he said what he said — that Marty Natalegawa had the morals of a porn star — and after a couple hours apologised for it. And Abbott, who demanded Slipper be dismissed, bankrupted and politically ruined for a mere vulval metaphor in a letter to a friend, said the tweet was ‘tacky’ and the incident closed.

It is not important, in the mix of things, that Textor insulted a man who might now urge war on us and get his way. It is important he said what he said in a tweet, and left it up. This was the act of a political dunderhead, who is still retained as an advisor. And that Abbott forgave him, risking a hot war, or a ten-year cold one.

Elsewhere it is likely, taking him all in all, that Hockey is not insane. It is probable that Bronwyn Bishop is, well, though borderline at times, mostly, functionally sane. It is probable that Julie Bishop is only ill-tempered, hot-blooded, frustrated and stupid. It is known that Robb has been depressed, but is recovering, after writing his purgative book. And it is reasonably certain that Abbott, though brain-damaged and cataclysmically religious, knows a Hawke from a Hansard when the wind is southerly.

But it is I think likely that Pyne, Corman, Bernardi, Morrison and Textor are insane, and their state of mind should be tested. Nobody in his right mind does what they do. Think about it.

The Senate should look into them.

Whatever they turn up, it will be good politics.

Another Question

Can the editor of The Daily Telegraph now say why Abbott/Bishop are a better Foreign Affairs team than Gillard/Rudd, Gillard/Carr, Rudd/Carr or Shorten/Plibersek? And why Scott Morrison has proved a better Immigration Minister than Evans, Bowen, Clare or Burke?

Can he do so with a straight face?


(First published by Independent Australia)

This is now the worst new government in our history and it cannot last. Bishop, Abbott or Morrison will need to be sacrificed, or all three, lest Indonesian presidential candidates next year promise war with Australia. A bipartisan negotiator – Carr, Brown, Smith, Husic – should be sent to deal with Bambang, and Julie Bishop, an unmarried woman unapologetic for the bugging of a woman, a Muslim woman, sidelined. Morrison must be interrogated by the Senate on the ‘spying’ that accompanied the boat buy-back, now aborted.

And we should think on the cause of all this.

It lies mainly, I think, in the various pieties of the Abbott government. Abbott believes Bambang, unrepentant, will burn a billion years in Hell. Morrison believes both boat people and Indonesians to be unredeemable heathens. A tongue-speaking Shirelove Christian, he has thus far shown such contempt for people of other faiths that he has called the separation of a mother from her newborn sick baby ‘her own fault’. He is barely sane, and should be asked to take leave from parliament and seek treatment for his mental health. Another fundamentalist Catholic, Christopher Pyne, to the untrained eye, seems mad too, and should be arraigned by the Senate and his sanity investigated.

It is wrong that lunatic fundamentalists have any relationship with Muslims, and in particular with the biggest Muslim nation on earth. The next thing to say is that this dud bunch of whooping kooks is unsuitable for government, and should either yield it up soon, or in a ‘wartime coalition’ change its composition.

A Question

It was said ten weeks ago by the editor of The Daily Telegraph that ‘We Need Tony Abbott’.

Can he now say why?

Resign, Resign (2)

It seems unlikely Tony Abbott will be Prime Minister by Christmas.

One of the reasons is his ignorance of Indonesian women.

They are mostly Muslim, and their husbands and brothers are keen to protect their privacy.

Australia invaded the privacy of Bambang’s wife in 2009 and Abbott did not apologise for it.

This is like an Indonesian sticking his head under Margie’s dress and Bambang not apologising for it.

Abbott is famously ignorant of the delicacy of women — he is accused of coarseness, harassment and one dropped charge of rape — and he should be more careful with foreign women brought up in other cultures. What he won’t say sorry for is the equivalent of peeping at nuns in the shower and broadcasting what you see on the internet.

It is hard to find anyone, today, who admires his foreign policy. Or him.

Anyone in the world.

He should go. He really should go.

If anyone dissents from this, I will publish his/her contribution.

Resign, Resign

All Tory governments work on secrecy and it is hard to see how this one can long survive when its cover, daily, is being blown.

They no longer buy Javan provincials’ boats but may not say so. They bug, even now, Javan politicians’ emails and phones but may not say so. They are trying to abolish science as a career in Australia but may not say so. They believe Global Warming will occur on earth only after Christ’s return but may not say so. They are derided and mocked by most other countries’ rulers and writers but may not admit this. They are already in a Cold War with Indonesia but are pretending we are the best of friends.

It is unusual for a government to be so derisible so soon. Thatcher’s was, and Howard’s was, yet both persisted for over a decade. MacMahon’s was, and was gone in eighteen months.

This morning, though, a new low was reached by this dread bunch of chittering neanderthals. By refusing an apology (like Obama’s) for the bugging of an opposite number Abbott made sure that no boat that comes here will be accepted back by Indonesia. He made sure, too, that many more boats will set out, and many more children drown.

It is time the Senate appointed Bob Carr as their negotiating representative in this region and asked him to sort something out, on their behalf. It is time the Opposition dealt with Indonesia separately. Abbott and Bishop’s new Cold War is disastrous, and must be mitigated by separate action lest a hot one, after border incidents, begin.

It is time too, time already, that Abbott considered his position and, after taking thought, gave way to someone with tact, like Turnbull, or Palmer, or Truss. Or apologise, abashedly, for his hairy, chest-beating global incompetence.

And he should get the hell out of national politics, as he is no good at it, and take up something useful, like surf life saving.

Speech, Speech

I went with my ninety-year-old mentor and teacher Bill Maiden, journeying fourteen hours by ferry, taxi, train and bus, to a fifty-year school reunion where he, I , Roy, Chris and Quentin Masters were forbidden to speak. I proposed a seventy two second oration only half as long as Gettysburg and Roy beseeched them to let me do it, but they were adamant and hours of dreary, unfunny, false-hearted inanity followed.

I eventually declaimed the words to a few friends by the pool but was thrice interrupted by passing dullards, men amazed to have seen Roy once on television and asking what I was doing now, Robert. It was a horrible, humbling experience that left the world poorer and some great hearts diminished and I here print the text. It can be used, I suppose, at the sixtieth anniversary, if I live, or drawn on by future generations till the the end of time. This is what I was not allowed to say.

In Les Murray’s words, ‘We all of us have our witnesses. They are the people who knew us when we were still young and vulnerable before the shell formed over us. Their price is above rubies. We should seek them out.’ And year after year we do not seek, and we do not embrace, as we do here tonight, as the cenotaph of old acquaintance accumulates the names of the dead, or say, as we should, ‘I love you, I am sorry I missed out on even a fraction of you, and it is good you were in my life.’

In my seventy-one years it has become plain to me that the purpose of life, after child-bearing is done, is adequate conversation with one’s peers, one’s witnesses, one’s fellow travellers down roads that are no more, towards destinations approaching all too soon. And I thank those responsible for this convergence tonight of memory and malice and gossip and rattled skeletons and exhumed nicknames, and, from long passed years, the stirred loins of old loves unachieved, old revenges still pending, and that vast unfaded chronicle of life intimately shared in years that only we know the flavour and the sorrow and the marrow and the meaning of.

What a blast from the past. What a waterfall of rainbowed remembrance. What a fistfull of auld lang syne. I thank you.

The Madness Of Scott Morrison (1)

Scott Morrison’s view that a woman who gives birth choicelessly in a land she is choicelessly brought to by her tyrannous husband, to a baby choicelessly sick and is not let see that baby in the first, bonding days of his life deserves all she gets because she chose to come here, is a measure of his unChristian cruelty and his mental instability. His mind should be assessed by the Senate with the help of, say, five psychiatric specialists appointed to investigate his sanity.

You do not persecute young mothers of newborn babies. You do not. You do not steal children from their mothers. You do not. There is no country in which this is applauded. It is not applauded even here.

Yet he thinks it is. This tongue-speaking dunderhead who lists ‘church’ as his ‘pastime’ is not, I think, in his perfect mind and should be henceforth detained in a padded cell till he shows some proper Christian contrition and gives the young mother, oh, ten thousand dollars and permission to live in Australia.

I ask that this happen quickly.

It is wrong to have loonies like Morrison advertising thus our country.


Typhoon Economics

It is passing strange, as Kim might say, that Typhoon Economics, or Earthquake Economics, or Blitz or 9/11 Economics, do not apply to recessions, plagues of unemployment or the smashing up of country towns by global corporations.

In the case of typhoons, money pours in from the luckier nations to rebuild the muddied and splintered shacks of the poor. In the case of the sacking of blameless auto workers, nothing happens.

In the case of sad begrimed adults felt up or buggered by priests in their earlier years, money is bayed for, and ofttimes awarded. In the case of a suddenly closed jam factory and the consequent wrecking of the education of innocent kids, no such claim or restitution is even thought of.

Why is this?

Attlee Socialism was birthed by the Battle of Britain. The nation rallied round. So people got free health care, new housing, new jobs in their resocialised industries after the war.

Why not after the Battle of Lehman Brothers and the Euro Wars that followed, and wrecked or hobbled eighty million lives?

Why not, now, a little touch of Attlee in the night?

Just asking.


I was writing the first-act curtain of a play on another drama queen, Tennessee Williams, and so missed both Rudd’s resignation and the second Keating/O’Brien.

It occurred to me when I awoke to the news that had the election been on November 30 Rudd would have won it handily. The boats would have stopped, the bushfires immolated the Carbon Taxers, and the epithet Typhoon Tony washed the Liberals out of history.

Rudd won in 07 a bugger-off-Johnny election that Faulkner, Tanner, Swan, Crean, Carr, Bracks, Beattie or Beazley could have won, and in a fever of Bonapartist self-acclamation set about ruining the Labor Party. He tyrannised caucus, hobbled his ministers and left his young staff weeping with sleeplessness. His removal was a mistake but it was he that provoked it, not anyone else’s hunger for power. He then undermined his usurper during an election, a Labor first, and after that her government, a notable blasphemy that, with other parliamentary numbers, would have seen him expelled.

He was as big a mistake as Evatt. He too was brilliant, wayward and vengeful. He truncated with his prissy Malvolian self-seeking the worthwhile careers of McMullan, McClelland, McKew, Kerr, Carr, Crean, Combet, Beazley, Beattie, Bradbury, Brumby, Debus, Ferguson, Faulkner, Garrett, Gillard, Roxon, Smith, Tanner and did not repent. He shrivelled the impact on history of Carr, Clare, Bowen, Burke, Plibersek, Albo, Shorten, Swan, Wong and five hundred fine backroomers and did not apologise. Nor will he.

None of it was necessary or forgiveable nor, in my view, entirely sane. All he had to do was consult, and not give the right people the wrong Ministries — a pacifist was put in charge of the making of war, a teacher-hater in charge of schools, a passionate ally of boat people in charge of locking them up, a childless woman in charge of babies, and so on. And to heed Garrett’s warning on the roof batts.

What a wanton waste of national goodwill. What a wanker.

And his ghost may be heard … nevermore, I hope.

What a waste.

And so it goes.

Amazing Scenes

10.55 am

I’ve had premonitory feelings for a while now that this strange government would not last, and while I felt sometimes that this may have been, for me, the wish fathering the thought, I now think that I was on the money.

Bronwyn Bishop’s idiot ruling on the epithet ‘Electricity Bill’, her bizarre threat to clear the gallery of the innocent as well as the disruptive, and the stunned faces behind Abbott as he demanded the House let the typhoons rip, gives, now, the Opposition the option of walking out altogether, and the Senate of refusing any bill that comes before it.

I had not thought my old friend could have been, in sum, so stupid. He has done what he need not have done, make a Monkey Trial of the Carbon Tax, declaring science to be the work of the Devil and sacking its adherents, and the only Global Warming that will come will be after Christ with a sharp sickle and a box of matches returns to save the righteous and immolate the damned. He has made a mad bitch Speaker. He has begun a Cold War with Indonesia. He has hailed and embraced the bloodstained Molochs of Sri Lanka. He has, now, no admirer in the world. He has a fellow traveller or two, some corrupt cash-groping bedfellows, but no admirers.

He is doomed, and there is no health in him.

He will be terminal by Christmas, and gone within a year.

‘Red Mist’ Revisited

(First published by Independent Australia)

Like the Warren Commission, last night’s Four Corners asks not who did it but how Lee did it. How did he fire three shots in the time? Not why did Lee want Lyndon as President. Not why he went home to get a pistol and did not bring one with him, and not skip town. Just how he had time to squeeze off three shots in, what, eleven seconds, from that angle. And where the first bullet went.

Inadvertently the expert showed a leafy tree in the way of the fatal third shot. But he didn’t go into that.

I was twenty-one at the time. And I remember the first argument was with Jackie, who heard three shots, one from the front, and had chased a bit of his brain across the boot, not the bonnet. And there was only supposed to be two shots then. Now it’s three, and how long it took for, yes, Lee to do it. It has to be only three. And it has to be Lee, from that direction.

The refurbished film shows ‘no-one’ on the grassy knoll, though that’s where dozens heard the shot come from, including Jackie. The first news reports were of shots from that direction, the overpass perhaps.

Maybe there were four shots, two simultaneous; or five. This would account for one bullet that ‘exploded’ and another that passed through two bodies unimpaired. And the missing brain. And the missing Oswald interrogation notes. And the missing Kennedy autopsy film. And the carwashed crime scene. And Oswald’s lack of motive. And Johnson’s big, bad motive. And his long-time acquaintance, fifteen years, with Ruby. And his wording of the Warren question, how Oswald did it, not who did it.

Always, always, always, this crime of the century, without a motive, makes no sense unless the obvious, Johnson’s motive, and why he wanted Jackie at the swearing in, and why she wore her husband’s blood and brains to the photo-op, arise as the more significant questions. Not how Lee might have done it. Anyone could have been in that building. Anyone. Any Texan. Any white American.

And it turns out Jackie thought Lyndon did it, and so did Bobby, and so do I. Bobby was killed before he could, as President, look into it afresh, killed when he, too, was re-routed. Who had the motive for that re-routing? Lyndon, again. Lyndon the US President, with power to order the Secret Service to do things. Or Lyndon’s friend Hoover, who Bobby wanted to sack.

Motive, always motive. Once again, as with Lindy Chamberlain, we’re asked not to think of motive, but forensics. Not why Lindy would have wanted to kill her newborn, healthy baby, but how she might have done it.

Lee was the father of little girls, and would never, for that reason, have done it. He is I think the only US assassin with children. He is also the only one with no handgun to help out afterwards. The only one whose interrogation has disappeared. The only one, apart from Booth killed before he was brought to trial. Booth, who was part of a conspiracy.

Give me a break. Lee being killed by a Mafioso friend of Lyndon just about sorts it, as does the vanishing of the Lee notes, the President’s brain, and his blood and brains from the washed car. Give me a break.

If Lee had anything to do with it, I’d be surprised. He looked shocked when asked if he did it. If he planned to use his trial as a platform for Soviet Communism, he would have said yes, let me tell you why.

But no, he didn’t. He was that well-known combination, a Soviet-defecting-lone-madman-FBI-informant-non-conspirator-brilliant-sniper. They twist themselves in knots with that mouthful, that absurdity.

And he had two daughters, no motive, no pistol, no exit strategy. He didn’t try to skip town. He went to the pictures.

Give me a break.

Arresting O’Shannessy (1): Today’s Newspoll Fraud

If any doubt remained that Newspoll is cheated, it will have been allayed by the one in The Australian today.

It bears the legend, ‘Based on preference flow at August 2010 federal election’.

Why not the September 2013 federal election?

Well .. um … well …It is easier to get a pro-Abbott figure from the 2010 distribution. There was no Katter Party. There was no Palmer Party. There was no resurgent DLP.

There were no shrewd shooters’ and car-drivers’ parties. There were fewer people voting, as they do now, for candidates like Windsor, Oakeshott, Crook and Xenophon, and styling themselves ‘Independent’.

There was, however, a Family First, and it favoured Abbott. So 2010, which is now irrelevant, it has to be. Abbott has to be ahead, and, since he has no admirers left on earth, this is the only way he can be.

Or otherwise the Newspoll figures would come out, like Morgan’s (the one that got it most right in the last three elections), fifty-fifty.

I ask, again, with weariness, and no great hope of result, that O’Shannessy be investigated for fraud, and be put in gaol until he stands trial.

Or that he explain, in these columns, why superseded preference flows are used in his current calculations, and not the more likely ones.

Oxford/Shakespeare: An Incestuous Commingling

In Charlton Ogburn’s big book The Mystery Of William Shakespeare, a copious, convincing work of Oxfordian heresy, he does an interesting thing half way through.

It is on page 347, and he mixes verse by Shakespeare with verse by Oxford, half and half, no more than eight lines each at a time, and asks us which is which. Condemned as ‘a cheap lawyer’s trick’ by one Shakespearian scholar, I find it utterly convincing, and here it is.

If care or skill could conquer vain desire,
Or reason’s reins my strong affections stay:
There should my sighs to quiet breast retire,
And shun such sights as secret thoughts betray;
Uncomely love, which now lurks in my breast
Should cease, my grief by wisdom’s power oppressed.
My reason, the physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
Hath left me, and I desperate now approve,
Desire is death, which physic did except.
Past care I am, now reason is past care,
And frantic mad with evermore unrest.
Fain would I sing but fury makes me fret,
And rage hath sworn to seek revenge of wrong;
My mazed mind in malice so is set,
As death shall daunt my deadly dolours long;
Patience perforce is such a pinching pain,
As die I will or suffer wrong again.
For if I should despair, I should go mad,
And in my madness might speak ill of thee:
Now this ill-wresting world is grown so bad,
Mad slanderers by mad ears believed be.
Love is discord and a strange divorce
Betwixt our sense and rest, by whose power,
As mad with reason, we admit that force
Which wit or labour never may endower,
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are,
As random from the truth vainly express’d;
For I have sworn thee fair and thought thee bright
Who are as black as hell and dark as night.
Why should my heart think that a several plot
Which my heart knows the wide world’s common place?
Or mine eyes seeing this, say this is not,
To put fair truth upon so foul a face?
Who taught thee first to sigh, alas, my heart?
Who taught thy tongue the woeful words of plaint?
Who filled your eyes with tears of bitter smart?
Who gave thee grief and made thy joys to faint?
Who first did paint with colours pale thy face?
Who first did break thy sleeps of quiet rest?
Above the rest in court who gave thee grace?
Who made thee strive in honour to be best?
Who taught thee how to make thee love me more
The more I hear and see just cause of hate?
O, though I love what others do abhor,
With others thou shouldst not abhor my state:
What worldly wight can hope for heavenly hire,
When only signs must make his secret moan:
A silent suit doth seld to grace aspire,
My hapless hap doth roll the restless stone.
Yet Phoebe fair disdained the heavens above,
To ‘joy on earth her poor Endymion’s love.
And shall I live on earth to be her thrall?
And shall I live and serve her all in vain?
And shall I kiss the steps that she lets fall?
And shall I pray the gods to keep the pain
From her that is so cruel still?
No, no, no, on her work all your will,
And let her feel the power of all your might,
And let her have her most desire with speed,
And let her pine away both day and night,
And let her moan and none lament her need;
And let all those that shall her see,
Despise her state and pity me.
Let him have time to tear his curled hair,
Let him have time himself to rave,
Let him have time of Time’s help to despair,
Let him have time a beggar’s orts to crave,
And time to see one that by alms do live:
Disdain to him disdained scraps to give.

…. I ask anyone to make their selection, and see how they go.

It was of this commingling Jeremy Dixon said, ‘Jesus wept!’, not having himself then read it, breaching thus a fixed firm rule of this blog, that you do not criticise what you have not read or seen.

I ask him now to apologise, or justify his idiot expostulation, or be fucking banned for life.

Canguro At Parramatta

Unlike most human experience over millennia, much of today’s deals with a deluge of language enabled by the successful mass-marketing of consumer electronics… tablets, smartphones, computers; all of them connected to the internet as indiscriminate information vectors and along with TV, radio and cinema all competing for attention to the extent that an astonishingly large amount of our time is given to a relationship mediated by technology.

This digital life enables much variety of material to pass before us, text in myriad styles, moving and still images along with voice or music and so on, in fact it would seem impossible to recount at the end of a single day all that one had been exposed to if one had spent a normal day on the receiving end of a net-connected device. The inevitable conclusion is that depth of content has been replaced by breadth of content, without even a difference being noted.

It is said that the philosophers Kant, Marx and Nietzsche were thinkers deeply imbued in regular daily routine, and we see, in terms of their contributions, where that can lead to. It seems that a little quiet in one’s life can be a very good thing indeed. A man can think deeply if he takes the time to do so, and under the right circumstances.

And so it is that The Word Before Shakespeare, Bob Ellis’s presentation of excerpts from the 15th and 16th centuries which vivify the words of a diverse collection of mainly English writers gives expression to such examples. Doug Quixote has already penned a passably good review and an altogether more refined piece than I am capable of, and so I shall restrict my comments to more general observations.

To the extent that you are capable of engaging with this imaginary exercise, try to see yourselves alive during this period in England in the 1400′s and 1500′s, with its warring struggles for monarchical rule, its peasants, its merchant classes, the filth of the larger urban centres, the lack of anything we expect modern life to provide; no or poor sanitation, hygeine, clean water, heating or amenities. Religious antipathies were life and death issues, and one’s station in life determined one’s relative experience throughout just as it does today. Life was immeasurably more difficult in any practical or physical sense… provision of food, shelter, health care, clothing, schooling, all unrecognizable by modern standards.

Yet from this background of turmoil and struggle came fine writings run through and through with dramatic intent and underwritten by the inevitable background of their time. The wife of an English king writing to him from the Tower of London where she remained incarcerated prior to her execution, pleading for understanding and sparing. The daughter of that same king, who herself succeeded him 11 years and two intervening monarchs after his death to become the Queen of England at the age of 25 and remain so for the next almost fifty years, whose speech to the English militia under the Earl of Leicester’s command at Tilbury in Essex on 8 August 1588 has become immortalised.

The voice of William Tyndale was heard, the man whose translation of the Bible from Greek and Hebrew texts some 100 years or so after the partial translations of John Wycliffe challenged the authority of the Catholic Church and English law and so ensure the charge of heresy and thus his fate of partial strangulation followed by burning at the stake. As was the voice of the poet and sonneteer Thomas Wyatt, rumoured to have had an affair with Anne Boleyn while in his early 20′s and dead before the age of forty after a stretch in the Tower of London. Thomas More, a Lord Chancellor under Henry VIII and like Tyndale and Boleyn housed in the Tower before despatch was also given voice, as was Thomas North, a translator of Plutarch, Thomas Nashe, an Elizabethan satirist and pamphleteer and sometime writer of erotica, and the prolific Ben Jonson, a man born posthumously of a clergyman and indentured into bricklaying and who rose above that low station to become one of Britain’s major playwrights, weathering imprisonment for satire and a murder charge after killing a fellow actor in a duel to live for a further forty years and write his famous comedies and masques.

Bob Ellis’s evening of these voices brought to life and given presence to an audience more than 400 years after their first utterings is a testament to the power of language and a foil to the modern distraction of the daily news cycle and its incessant demand that we pay attention to minutia. It deserves to be retold again and again, or at least until we regain a sense of the potential of language used well.

Lines For Albo (59)

Does the Abbott government have one admirer left in the world?

What is his name?

After sixty-two days? One admirer?

What, pray, is his name?

Don’t all speak at once.


Has there been any mention thus far of any soldier in any war who did die in vain?

There were thirteen million in World War 1, a hundred thousand in Vietnam, in combat or suicide after, and ten or twenty or thirty thus far in Afghanistan, those killed by their trainees.

They I think should get a mention, sooner or later.

Lest we forget.

Memories Are Made Of This: Sarah Polley And Michael Polley And Harry Gulkin’s Stories We Tell

Sarah Polley’s exploration of the stories of her immediate family and the remembered liveliness of her dead mother through interviews and skilfully melded home movies and photographs and some reinactments is one of the better documentaries yet made, not least because it is in part about the struggle all documentarists go through, of what to put in and what to leave out and what, in the end, is truth.

Her mother Diane, a sunny, energising, restless, fertile actress-turned-agent, lost custody of two of her children, a Canadian first, to a rich implacable husband, and had three more with a fellow actor, Michael Polley, a quiet, self-disdaining Londoner, who abandoned his bohemian career as a writer/actor/photographer to sell insurance and look after everybody. With his unfussed, unjealous, complaisant, glum permission Diane, at forty-two, left her young family in Toronto for two months to be in a play in Montreal (called ‘Toronto!’) where Michael visited her and their sex life wonderfully revived (absence for Canadians too restores true love, and erectile tissue in the male) and she came back pregnant, booked in for an abortion, reconsidered, and engendered the auteur.

It was noted the new baby looked nothing like Michael (who like Diane was not red-headed) and it became a family joke to wonder which of the three actors in the play ‘Toronto!’ was her father, the red-headed Geoff Bowes perhaps.

Sadly, Diane died when Sarah was eight; and, the other children being grown and gone, Michael raised and loved her dearly as his own and they became very close. And she in due course determined to make, in a conventional way, and I suppose a very Canadian way, a document of some sort, a film perhaps, about her dead mother, and force her father to write about her, and record the narration, and under her scolding, re-record it until he got it right.

And … well … it turns out he wasn’t her father, and so it goes.

None of the above gives any sense of the enormous touching sadsweet impact of this film (its twin theme tunes are are ‘A Perfect Day’ and ‘Making Whoopee’), or the kindliness and decency of the survivors. One brother, Tom, is gay, and weeps (briefly) for the mother who, allowed to see her kids only once a fortnight, wanted to protect them, and wasn’t able to: protect them from the daily dangers of infancy. One sister, Claire, thinks her mum was wrong to have an affair without contraception at forty-two. Again and again we see Diane herself, perky, game, irrepressible, like a Debbie Reynolds character in a kooky fifties comedy, and we can’t, like her children, quite make her out.

It turns out the actual father was a Jewish-Canadian, literate, enrepreneurial, Oscar-winning retrieved Marxist called Harry Gulkin (who made Lies My Father Told Me and thus re-energised Canadian cinema) and was almost exactly the man her presumed father Michael could have been had he not been looking after his children and neglecting, emotionally and intellectually, his bright, sexy wife. But … he is a good-hearted cuckold, like many of his generation (me, for instance) unfussed and loving, like the husband in Polley’s film Away From Her, who encourages and facilitates his daft wife’s adultery because it makes her dimly, fuzzily happy, and she no longer remembers, any more, who he is.

It is very, very Canadian and one wonders why these good people, who inhabit, I think, the best civilisation yet attempted, are the way they are. Perhaps their primary genetic inheritance, Scottish and French, explains it. Perhaps the cold weather. They are at any rate the least punishing, the least prescriptive, and the most forgiving, humans of the recent century, so different from Alabamans or Utans or Californians as to seem to have come from a better planet.

Anyone who, like me, has instances of wrong-side-of-the-blanket family members (I have a sister I have still not met after sixty-nine years), or believes, like my brother-in-law, a pediatrician, that one child in eight is adulterously conceived, should see this film, and take family members to it, including the suspect ones. It is both a caution and a tonic, and an affirmation of humanness, and those nights out of town when half of us, after a few drinks and some erotic banter, were made.

Classic Ellis: De Vere And Shaxper, The Jousting Bards

The film Anonymous gives us a grimy, cluttered, unsanitary, conspiratorial, suspicious, truth-managed and baby-swapping England of Elizabeth, Essex, two Cecils, the sonnetee Southampton, Ben Jonson, Dick Burbage, and Phillip Henslowe - and the great Globe itself - that beggars disbelief, so fine is the costuming and the dustily heaped interiors and the muddy Bankside vistas over miles of authentic City.

It gives us torture chambers, a paranoid court, a dotty, teetering monarch and a mob of low-bred groundlings hissing Richard as they must have been. It gives the first hushed impact of the bard’s words - and the maddened, hand-linked huzzahs that greeted the Crispin’s Day battle-speech - as they surely occurred in life. It gives us the pocky strumpets and beggars and bear-baiting and, wonderfully, the fairground stalls and whirligigs on the frozen Thames of 1603.

And it gives us as well a theory, long scorned, of the authorship of Shakespeare that suddenly seems plausible.

I’d read three books espousing the Oxford heresy, all of them intriguing, and noted in them his work as the Master of the Queen’s Revels, and the ‘entertainments’ he put on in Court, now lost, whose program notes closely paralleled the early Shakespeare love-comedies; the surviving letters home from Europe, in prose like Shakespeare’s; the surviving verse which can be intermingled with Will’s indistinguishably; his upbringing in the house of the Cecils, the younger a devious hunchback, the elder a verbose and strutting royal advisor known to be the model for Polonius; his dynastic marriage to a Cecil daughter whom, when he found her pregnant on his return from two years in Europe, he banished into a nunnery; his reclusive scribbling, royal quarrels, exiles, and melancholy returns; his early, stormy courtship of the Queen; his close and pained relationship with the beautiful young Southampton; his part-ownership of a theatre; the occasion when his wife got pregnant by disguising herself as another woman, and so on.

But I thought it all too neat, really, and his absence from rehearsals and his death in 1604 when seven of the Canon were as yet unwritten - or unstaged - insuperable. And I was, as well, I must admit, in the room when Ian Richardson said to Sir Derek Jacobi, the fanatical Oxfordian, ‘Derek, you came from the wrong side of the tracks, and were under-educated. But you crossed the Thames, and began to perform, and within very few years you were the toast of the town. Acclaimed. Unstoppable. If you could do it, Derek, why couldn’t he?’ And the irritable, wet-eyed twitching of Jacobi’s face was a wonder to behold.

But, like Malvolio, he has been reveng’d upon the whole pack of us. And this film, which he loftily comperes, the result of 20 years of feverish, Iagoish plotting, has moved me once more against what he scornfully calls ‘the man of Stratford’, showing how a tremendous forgery might have been contrived, in an era of false identities and double-agents who (like Ralegh and Marlowe, poets both), moonlighting in Satanist, Papist and sodomite circles, brought information back to their spymasters.

So, then: Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford, a wealthy, promiscuous, vagrant and well-travelled man, wrote in secret, in hugger-mugger, like the Hollywood Ten, plays which a front man, the semi-literate Will, jobbing actor, grain merchant, real estate speculator and pub bore, put his name to. And he watched them from the Gods, imbibing ruefully the groundlings’ brutish delight, and that was reward enough, though it cost him his fortune and his private life. And the male subject of his sonnets was not his young lover but his ill-gotten bastard son, the son as well of the sluttish Bess, his monarch, who forbade the boy’s beheading for treason within an hour of the axeman’s stroke and set him at liberty. And this explains, in turn, the first sonnets’ urgent theme, a wish that he must marry, and procreate sons (like Dorian Gray) as beautiful as he.

Though the film has a certain, perhaps deliberate, scholarly dodginess to it - Marlowe speaks of Hamlet, which he did not live to see; it was a specially staged performance of Richard II, not Richard III, that roused the London mob, or some of it, to follow with shouts and pikes and war cries Essex’s impetuous, doomed rebellion; the Globe burned down in 1613, not 1603; Elizabeth might well not have had sex with her son and borne his baby - it is nonetheless a joy of abundant recreative probability: Redgrave’s Bess, addled, querulous, fearful, stubborn, refusing James the Crown to her last hour, Rhys Ifan’s Oxford a massive deep-etching of imperturbability, remembrance and sadness; Rafe Spall’s Will Shakespeare a revelation by any count, the screeching mediocrity one finds in Writers’ Guilds and Green Rooms the world over. It is good to swim backstroke into its time machine, and be there, on certain opening nights of the greatest texts of the recent millennium, and think, ‘This is how it must have been’.

And as to who wrote them, well, the most damning evidence against Will Shakespeare is uttered by my pert, pernickety friend Jacobi in the first five minutes. No letter he wrote has ever turned up. No book he owned, with his name in the front, has ever been discovered. His wife was illiterate, his daughters never taught to read. The signature on his will seems to be by a hand another hand guided. There is no evidence of any speech he gave, in any church or town hall or school reunion. There were no ‘headlines’, no public mourning, no royal or state celebration of his life and work in the week he died, or thereafter, the truth by then being out, perhaps. He gave evidence in a trial once, his testimony was noted, and that was that.

And, most significantly I think, though not mentioned in this film, was his friend Ben Jonson’s verse on the First Folio of his collected work, under an engaving of the Man of Stratford’s dim sluggard’s face:

You who would on gentle Shakespeare looke,
Gaze not on his picture, but in this booke.

Quixote On Anonymous, At Last

Those of you who follow the blog and my posts may find it difficult to believe, but I have just seen the film Anonymous for the first time.

And I found it the most difficult and emotional viewing of a film that I have ever had.

The poignancy of the greatest playwright the world has ever seen unable to claim or even acknowledge his own work is just the half of it.

The film has a strong basis in truth, but however that may be it is fiction. How after 450 years can we determine the truth?

Vero nihil verius - Nothing truer than truth - was Edward De Vere’s family motto, that of the Earls of Oxford, for he was the 17th earl.

It must have been utterly tragic for him to observe another man, one William Shakespeare from Stratford, taking all the credit and all the glory for works he himself wrote.

The film is dark and tragic, from the fictional tragedy that De Vere was himself the son of Elizabeth the First, to the fictional tragedy that Henry Wriothesley Earl of Southampton was his own son. His own son, rather than his love interest, as any reasonable reading of the Sonnets will reveal.

Lord Burghley and Burghley’s son Robert are depicted as the great villains, the evil forces behind Elizabeth’s throne. For dramatic effect that needed to be done; a villain is necessary for a drama.

I suspect the truth is less dramatic : a great nobleman well tutored and well travelled wrote many fine plays over many years, for the Court. After blowing his fortune in 20 years or so and being lamed in a duel, he rewrote and updated his plays for public performance. But it was unacceptable for a great nobleman to write plays; a front man was necessary. An actor he knew with the preposterous name Will Shake-speare or some such was selected to be that front man.

In 1604 De Vere died suddenly of the plague; his works were eventually ‘liberated’ from the Burghley family and lesser playwrights ‘completed’ the work in progress so that it could be staged. No alterations or amendments were made by the Bard after 1604 (not surprisingly).

In 1609 the Sonnets were published (‘to our ever-living poet’) and immediately suppressed. The Earl of Southampton wanted no reminders of his past.

In 1616 ‘Shakespeare’ died unremarked and unlamented, save by his family.
In 1623 Southampton was still a powerful nobleman, when the First Folio was published. The identity of the Bard was still to be kept secret. The secret went to the graves of all who knew it, and so the matter was left until comparatively recent times, when text analysis and detective work have reopened the issue.

If you doubt the above account, ponder the peculiarities of the case : that no manuscript has ever been found, that the Sonnets address the Earl of Southampton as an equal (not just a love interest, many years younger than the Bard) that no amendments or alterations later than 1604 were made by the Bard . . . And there are more, too numerous to catalogue.

To return to Anonymous, it is well worth watching for the drama of it; the acting is good, Vanessa Redgrave as the Queen and Rhys Ifans as De Vere, Sebastian Armesto as Ben Jonson. Derek Jacobi gives an intro and exit speech, in inimitable style.

I regret I had not seen it until now. See it online or DVD, see it soon.

Doug Quixote

After Fifty Days

(First published by Independent Australia)

After fifty days in office it is clear Tony Abbott’s is the worst new government in our history. They have insulted our nearest neighbour, a nation with ten times our population, and brought us near war with them. They have insulted scientists, who will never now come to Australia, or stay long here. They have insulted a world conference on climate change by refusing to go to it. They have abolished the Ministry of Science, thereby declaring Global Warming will occur, if it does, when Christ returns with a sharp sickle and a box of matches. They have declared bushfires a part of ‘the Australian experience’ and encouraged eight-year-old arsonists to set them.

They will annul, if they can, a thousand gay marriages and thus distress two million faithful homosexuals and their four million relatives and drive some to suicide. They will thus affirm Cory Bernardi’s comparison of sodomy with fornication with animals. They will thus affirm the Prime Minister’s view that his sister will burn a billion years in Hell.

And they have declared the deficit no longer an emergency and a surplus not likely before, oh, 2025. They have cheated the WA and Fairfax elections, after a serially cheated election in which their policies were not revealed, or costed, until a day before it.

They have cancelled the school kids’ money, impairing or destroying a million educations. They have made it now impossible for two million people now ageing to retire in comfort. They have ruined two politicians for spending public or union money, and spent themselves taxpayers’ money like drunken sailors on football games and weddings and not, in the Prime Minister’s words, ‘repented’.

They have hidden their Prime Minister, already an international joke, and let Mathias Cormann, who looks and sounds like a Nazi dentist, speak for him. They are fighting among themselves over baby money for the rich, and selling our biggest entities to the Chinese and the Americans.

And they are saying, in a month of our worst bushfires and the worst cyclones in world history, they have a mandate to let Global Warming rip.

This, after a mere fifty days.

I will get back to you after a hundred.

Certain Housekeeping Matters (63)

I am writing some plays and screenplays and appearing on stage a bit — look out for The Word Before Shakespeare and The Gielgud Memorandum in a playhouse near you — and my one-man show for Gerry Connolly on Tennessee Williams, soon to be a staple, I hope, of Gay Mardi Gras across the known world, has absorbed my attention for the past few weeks, and those complaining I don’t write enough about the nation are, lately, quite correct. And I don’t exactly apologise, but I note that their complaints are just and fair.

It is my plan to do more soon, when I can. And soon.

But in the meantime if, like Doug Quixote yesterday, anyone wants to write a serious piece of, say, 700 words, and put it in the space under this, I will put it up in the main column, with the appropriate signature.

This is Table Talk, after all, and it should not cease because I am momentarily distracted.

Yasr And Me

Though Yasr Arafat won the Nobel Prize for Peace and was clearly poisoned, it is not thought worthwhile to ask, as in the case of John F Kennedy, who did it.

To me it is obvious the assassins were allied to the government that had been bombarding his headquarters and killing his lieutenants, to wit, the government Sharon headed, and Netanyahu served as Finance Minister.

It is not widely known that Sharon is alive, and could be arrested, and sent in an iron lung to The Hague, and Netanyahu then called as a hostile witness.

Is it a good look to ignore assassination? More and more it seems it is, with every drone strike on al-Qaeda leaders, and Taliban leaders.

The Arafat killing comes as a reminder, like the JFK anniversary, of how bad our side is, and how internationally execrated.

I last saw Yasr in Bethlehem when he attended his first Christian service in Manger Square on the night of December 24-25, 1999. He was 70, in rude good health, and very handsome, and accompanied by his gorgeous Swedish wife. He seemed to me indestructible.

And so it goes.

Quixote And Shakespeare At Parramatta

Those who struggled with the written language of Shakespeare at school may be forgiven for thinking that a performance of the English language focussed on the writings of the 1400s and 1500s would be a greater struggle.

But it was no such thing.

The seven actors of The Word Before Shakespeare brought the texts to life, their actors voices and expressions delighting the audience, who watched and listened in rapt attention to the words of the men and women of so long ago, so vibrant and alive. Featured strongly was Thomas Malory’s Morte D’Arthur, so often retold; and never, it seems to me, quite so well as in the original.

The letter from Ann Boleyn to Henry VIII by turns remonstrating with him and then imploring his mercy, whilst at the same time threatening him with God’s Judgement and appealing to his sense of justice give us the sense of this mercurial and feisty woman. That the young actress who delivered this speech was beautiful and a major talent in the
making certainly added to the occasion. Natasha Vickery at 20 years of age is one to watch and worth the watching.

Queen Elizabeth’s speech to the people at the time of the Spanish Armada was excellently delivered by Jane Harders; one may have been forgiven for seeing the Queen herself in the mind’s eye.

After interval, the Bible as translated by William Tyndale was a major feature. Tyndale did his translation at the peril of his life and eventually paid the price for the heresy of translating the text. His legacy lives on as the basis for most subsequent versions. The richness of the language is there exposed, in Genesis, and as Christ faced Pontius Pilate.

As leavening to all of this gravity, came some excellently performed songs of the period, “I Gave my Love a Cherry” and the evergreen ‘Greensleeves” which fitted very appropriately.

The Morte D’Arthur made a few returns, as the great legend wound down to its denoument; then the cast joined in unison to celebrate the Once and Future King.

Any of you reading who can get to the performance on the 12 November at Parramatta are urged to do so. It is well worth the effort.

Doug Quixote

Don’t Mess With Us, Motherfuckers: Ray, Phillips, Talty, Hanks’ And Greengrass’s Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips is a good film. But an archeologist retrieving it five thousand years from now would think it much like Goebbels’ masterpiece of racial hatred Jew Suss, so ugly, jabbering and monkey-like are the black villains, and so handsome, calm, courageous and courteous the Aryan heroes.

It may well have happened in this way, and the assailants — all four of them, taking on the entire US navy and air force — may indeed have been as apelike, drugged and crazy-brave and self-destructive as they are shown to have been. But America does not come out of it well at all.

A whole container ship, unarmed, with fifty men on it, goes into girlish panic when boarded by four impoverished fishermen from a motorboat, shrieking and waving tommy-guns. They cringe below decks in darkness hoping they will go away. They let their captain be kidnapped, and held hostage, on a boat they generously give to the pirates, who have lucklessly mislaid their own. They offer them thirty thousand dollars, then promise to ‘negotiate’ a larger sum, ten million perhaps, with certain ‘tribal elders’, and swear the tribal elders are imminent, coming in by night on a helicopter, the way you do. And they are no such thing. They persuade the leading pirate on to their container ship, to await these useful fictional elders, and then arrest him, April fool, when they do not come, and put him in an American slammer for thirty years. And they shoot dead, out of hand, a sixteen-year-old boy, despite their captain’s protests, for no good reason I can see.

Like Zero Dark Thirty this film applauds America’s weaponry and global bullying. You don’t mess with America, motherfuckers. If we want to steal your fish and pauper your fishermen and drive them to piracy, we will. You get out of our way, and give us your fish, or we’ll blow you to smithereens.

As I say, it is a good film. Barkhad Abdi, the principal, very ugly piece of sea-filth, looks like Death in a medieval painting and gives a wonderful performance, retaining our sympathy while jabbering and sneering like a leprous jackal. Tom Hanks proves himself, as he did in Apollo 13, a master of disciplined, fast-thinking inner unease, and Paul Greengrass, who made United 93 and a Bond film, a master of action/suspense and ponderous, conscienceful indecision.

But I think in the end I hate it.

Go see it, soon.

The Kennedy Killings, Probably, Solved

E. Howard Hunt I hear on his deathbed fingered Lyndon Johnson and Jackie Kennedy, who stood with her husband’s brain and blood all over her dress alongside LBJ as he was sworn in, thought he had killed Jack too and said so in an interview with Arthur Schlesinger Junior not long after the event.

It was hard, then as now, to come to any other conclusion. Lyndon had the most to gain, had suffered a massive heart attack, was already 56 and would die at 64 and was famously ambitious. It was in a town he ran. He hated the Kennedys. There was no other reason why he abdicated vast power as Majority Leader for the muggins job of Veep, only the presidential succession. He had the money to pay for it, and an ally, Hoover, who hated the Kennedys too and relished the phone call he made to Bobby, ‘Mr Attorney-General, your brother has been shot,’ and giving him details. Johnson rang the surgeon working on the still-living Jack to say the killer had been found and no further medical evidence was necessary. He set the terms of the Warren Commission: not ‘Who did it?’ but ‘Why did Oswald do it?’

Brought up on Agatha Christie, we resisted the obvious, but there it was, all along. Why would Lee want Lyndon, a foreign policy ignoramus, as President when Jack, a brilliant negotiating diplomat whom he admired, had saved his hero Khrushchev from nuclear war? Why would he? Why would a father of two shoot anybody, and then go to the pictures? Why? Would Khrushchev have a better time with Johnson? Would Castro? Why?

Oswald had no motive, and Johnson did. Oswald was interrogated for hours, and the notes vanished. Oswald was killed by a Mafioso with cancer. Jackie heard four shots. Johnson refused to make Bobby his Vice President.

And so on. It is curious that motive was never discussed. To protect his job, Hoover may have done it. To protect his Agency, Dulles, or George Herbert Walker Bush. To protect the white racist American South against the ‘nigger lover’, any KKK official or armed redneck.

But Oswald, no. Forty other men in that building were more likely to have fired a shot, one with a Mannlicher Carcano. The fatal shot was from the front, pushing the head back, not forward, as a shot from behind would have done. Jackie was filmed chasing a bit of his brain on the boot, not the bonnet.

Oswald had nothing to do with it. Why would he have done it, and then denied it? No reason.

There is, I think, or I think now, an Alan Jones part of our cortex that makes us want to bend before Authority and to want to believe what we are told, officially, with a firm voice. We were told mothers threw their babies into the sea and we believed it. We were told Saddam had WMD he buried but did not use and we believed it. And we were told LBJ, who wanted Kennedy dead, wanted him alive; and Lee Oswald, who wanted Kennedy alive, killed him. And we believed that too.

And we were told that though Lincoln and Archduke Ferdinand were killed by conspirators, and FDR and Harry Truman and Gerald Ford were shot at by conspirators, all ‘conspiracy theories’ were mad, and only a ‘lone madman’, a Communist lone madman at that, a non-conspiring Communist lone madman, would want Kennedy dead, though crowds of Texas schoolchildren cheered when they heard the news. ‘Conspiracy theory’ became a risible phrase at that point, because Lyndon needed it to.

It is likely Lyndon, Hoover and Bush (still at large) conspired it, and some Mafia people were paid well to do it, and Ruby by some form of coercion made to shoot Oswald. Nine or ten ‘in the know’ were all that were needed to bring it off; and Bobby’s shooting too. Lyndon feared Bobby, as President, would reopen the case. And so he was dealt with also, while Lyndon was yet President, Hoover still running the FBI, and Bush lining up to be head of the still endangered CIA, endangered if Bobby got in.

Motive, ‘Astings, is what we should look for. Always motive.

And, for fifty years, we have not looked for it.

And we have looked the other way.

PS. I read in The Daily Mail online this morning that Lyndon Johnson commanded Richard Nixon to put Jack Ruby on his payroll in 1947, and Nixon did so.

Curiouser and curiouser.

Sondheim In Bankstown

Sondheim’s 1962 show Anyone Can Whistle is not often put on, but got huge, well-merited applause last night in Bankstown. An irresistible convocation of local amateurs, all hitting the notes, some past their prime, included six or seven performances of high professional standard and two leads, Greg Kenyon and Melissa Goman, worthy of Broadway. A third lead, Glenda Kenyon, who, as a small-town promiscuous lady mayoress in political turmoil, was excellent but so like Julie Bishop I was moved sometimes to avert my eyes.

This is not to say the book, by Arthur Laurents, was without its problems, then and now (it resembled an early Simpsons, a Meredith Willson and a French farce, with an itchy, persistent glimmer of George Bernard Shaw), nor that its first Broadway airing closed after eleven performances without good reason. The one fixed musical rule, that a show of this sort to be successful must derive from some known thing – a play, a book, a comic strip, a famed historical figure or legend – is one Sondheim nearly always resists, and here we are again, in accursed original fiction, tilting at quaintness and falling down into aggravation.

The story, about a crumbling town like Grovers Corners whose shops and factories are closing and whose flirtatious lady mayoress needs a miracle and finds one in a Lourdes-like apparition of spring water upsummoned by a gawky teenage virgin (and supplied by secret plumbing within the sacred grotto) and the fumbled, crooked manoeuvres of some overweight municipal bureaucrats becomes pretty tiresome after thirty minutes, as does the second storyline, about pilgrims mutinously queueing at the sacred site, some of whom are escaped lunatics (from the local asylum, The Cookie Jar) who have to be separated, somehow, from the general pious melee. A third story, though, about a lunatic disguised as a doctor (as in Spellbound) and a nurse disguised, in a red wig, as a French femme fatale (and fulminous Devil’s Advocate fresh from Lourdes on God’s business), and how they fall in love with each other’s disguises, is excellent, and romantically stirring as a story of star-crossed love should be.

And it should, perhaps, have occupied more minutes of the evening. Its poignant, bedside, soaring love duet, ‘With So Little To Be Sure Of’, about their intellectual differences, is as good as ‘Send In The Clowns’ and should be better known.

The lovers, J. Bowden Hapgood and Fay Apple (Greg Kenyon and Melissa Goman), stole – I guess the phrase is – the show, with their aghast duet by the unrumpled bed. But Cora Hoover Hooper (Glenda Kenyon) was very good too, as were her bulky assistants Comptroller Schub (Christopher Thurgood) and Chief Magruder (Malcolm Haynes); and Neil Litchfield, as Treasurer Cooley, was every bit as glum and feisty as the present nonogenarian (and still performing, in pantomimes) Mickey Rooney. Various homely lunatics, fumbling, pulling faces, and singing like angels, vividly impressed, in particular Glen Marie Hellebore, Renee Dimech and Vince Cairncross; and Ben Dodd as a svelte bisexual psychopath was very fine indeed, as was Arthur Pickering as the baffled, bearded, blustering Freudian analyst Dr Detmold.

The director, Diane Wilson, the choreographer, Edward Rooke, and the musical director, Greg Crease, deserve a measure of cautious acclaim. In a city where it is well nigh impossible any more to get three people in the same room at the same time, this boisterous, high-kicking congregation of fifty-seven enthused people reminds us of a community spirit that used to be common in country towns and suburbs and is not universally present now.

It also reminds us of how pleasurable big casts are, and good singing, and the generosity of older performers glad to show you how good it is to be alive.

There is one more performance, at 1 pm today, and you should get to it.

Jeeves In Blackface: Strong, Daniels, Haygood And Whitaker’s The Butler

The Butler is very disturbing, and, despite self-evident miscastings and a storyline that departs, no doubt, from a less dramatic truth, a very, very, very fine film. Dealing with Cecil Gaines’s thirty years as a White House butler and his son Louis’s twenty years as a Freedom Rider, Black Panther and militant, angry candidate for Congress, it recalls to us the vile society the US once was, and how easy it was for whites to kill young black men and get away with it.

Cecil’s father was one such black man, shot in the face in a cotton field by a young white overlord who was cuckolding him, shot dead in front of dumbfound witnesses who buried him on the spot and went straight back to work, picking cotton for Massa. (This unpunished murder, I guess, occurred in my sister’s lifetime; in my own younger lifetime were still the separate handwashing taps in public toilets for Whites and Coloureds, the separate schools and lunch counters and bus seats that stirred the young Martin Luther King — then, and always, only twelve years older than me — to idealistic work for which he was killed, and America set ablaze.) After this he becomes, as a little boy, a ‘house nigger’, then a paranoid rail-riding vagrant (‘strange fruit’, lynched Negroes, hanging above him in midnight towns wherever he looks up), then a thief (who, in a scene like that of The Bishop’s Candlesticks in Les Mis, is forgiven by his host and offered a job), then a waiter, and then a hotel butler and then, luckily …

Against his latter career ‘in service’ at the White House we see Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Reagan diffidently grappling with race relations, at arm’s length, as it were, in successive cameos, and talking to Cecil obliquely about them, in settings of glamour and luxury and haute cuisine and orchestra recitals which the vulgar Gloria (Oprah Winfrey), his wife, can barely imagine. Does Jackie Kennedy really have one hundred and twenty pairs of shoes? Cecil counts them, and it is so. Gloria sees so little of him (like the blokes in West Wing, he is married to his job), she commits adultery, gets drunk a lot, bullies the children, and chain-smokes herself into emphysema. This is a coarse and slatternly nonentity Oprah plays in depth, full of kindnesses, petty envies and sudden envenomed bitcheries, and she may get an Oscar for it.

As in Blue Jasmine, there are a lot of characters in this film, and they enter fully formed and respond to each other with bickering, ardent,, familial complexity. It is possible it was conceived as a six-part miniseries (Vanessa Redgrave is in it for about ninety seconds, as Annabeth Westfall, his first kindly Southern mentor, Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan also, and Minka Kelly as Jackie, and Robin Williams, James Marsden, Liev Shreiber and Alan Rickman as various Presidents for a minute or so) but it does not seem hurried or skimped, and none of the titans, however exhalted, and none of the backstairs Blacks, however menial, get off lightly. Cecil is a timid, flattering, almost fawning ‘coconut’, in a simmering snit at his radical son for needlessly risking his life as a roving revolutionary, upsetting his mother, driving her to drink. His other son Charlie is more normal and enlists (of course) for Vietnam and dies there. The army men come to the door to tell them, and Cecil says they have come to the wrong house. And it’s like it’s just happened to us, the audience, right then.

So what seemed from the trailer a kind of dour Forrest Gump was much more than that. The adjective for it is ‘unflinching’. Everyone is under the microscope, and the society … well .. found wanting.

Forrest Whitaker, droopy eye and all, shows himself, again, as he did with his Idi Amin, as an actor of the first rank. We understand Cecil’s cowardice, his need for apolitical quietude on a White House wage half that of his white fellow-grovellers. We understand, from him, why Louis Armstrong was known by some as an Uncle Tom. He too kept politics out of it.

It is a film that might have been written by Louise Hanberry, or James Baldwin. It has a Black sensibility. We recognise the Africanness in African-Americans and how different they were, and are, from their lordly white enslavers. We understand why they are not grateful. We understand why Obama is barely a first step, and so many smashed lives cannot, now, be compensated for.

It is a very, very disturbing film, and everyone should see it. Its director is Lee Daniels, its writer Danny Strong, from an article by Wil Haygood, and they, and the cast, deserve a swag of Oscars.

Hello, Good Evening And Fuck Off: Iannucci, Lowney, Gibbons, Gibbons, Baynham And Coogan’s Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

It was wrong perhaps of Coogan to bring back Partridge. He has become in the fifteen years since then a superb improvisatory co-auteur, in Tristram Shandy, The Trip and Hamlet 2, of wide-ranging brainy comedies as telling as Woody Allen’s, with mimickry as deft as Mike Carlton’s and a nice bleak line in hung-over self-loathing, and a very good straight actor too, in What Maisie Knew, for instance, The Look Of Love and, this week, Philomena. Partridge, the concept (a radio personality who blabbers the first thing that comes into his head) is very constricted, very claustrophobic and a bit sluggardly somehow, and belongs more to the era of Hancock, Porridge and Fawlty Towers than that of Gervaise, Jon Stewart and Malcolm Tucker.

Nonetheless, the film upgrade of the original show is pretty funny, and its concept, a very British Dog Day Afternoon, with the gunman, Pat Farrell, a sacked unfunny Irish announcer continuing, amid gagged hostages, his double act with Partridge at gunpoint to the nation’s amusement, and Partridge’s revived fame ebbing despite his vulgar, camera-hogging stunts as the days go by, full of good skit-length scenes, one of him trouserless hiding his genitals from the papparazzi with his legs. The final shoot-out on the Norwich wharf, derived in some small part from The Guard, delights with its deathward, heaven-beseechng, seagull-ascending surprises.

Armando Iannucci, who wrote or co-wrote Veep and The Thick Of It and In The Loop, had a part in the scripting, with Neil and Rob Gibbons, Coogan and the ‘principal writer’ Peter Baynham. Declan Lowney directed, adequately, and Colin Meaney, as the mild-mannered forgiving Irish terrorist, is very funny indeed.

Worth going to, as I did, at a late session after drinking a lot of sake, but otherwise, almost, almost — dare I say this — worth missing.

The Assad Solution

Assad has let his chemical weapons be destroyed, and he can kill more people now unpunished, having killed a hundred thousand of his nation’s best and brightest in the last two years. It matters how you kill people, we are told, but not how many.

Saddam didn’t have any chemical weapons, but a million of his people were killed, and three million of his best and brightest made to leave the country, after he was found not to have had them. He killed maybe ten thousand rebels before then, and was hanged for it, and his sons and grandson gunned down, and his brothers and cousins hanged also. Assad, by contrast, has been congratulated for his good behaviour.

Some things might be said about this contrast. One is that Saddam was pursued, invaded, dispossessed and killed for reasons other than chemical weapons. He had a reasonably successful socialist society that women did well in, getting university educations and free health care, but it was funded by oil some Americans wanted; so it had to go. Another is that Assad ran a disgusting tyranny, and his ally, America, thanked him for it, and sold him helicopter-gunships, tanks and fighter bombers to defend it, and even now would prefer he stay in power, lest disorder like Egypt’s replace him.

And that’s how ignorant America is. Saddam deserved a fair trial, and his lawyers were gunned down. Assad deserves to swing, yet now has twenty more years of power, slaughtering his enemies, who are mostly heroes, in front of him.

America has never sorted out what deaths are good ones, and what deaths are, by contrast, wrongful. It’s all right to blow up children, we are told, if their neighbours are on some list. But it’s wrong to gas them, so they have a bad ten minutes before they die.

I would have thought it’s wrong to kill children altogether; but America knows best, or better anyway than me. America reckons it’s how you die that’s important, not how old you are when you die, by having your brains blown out at point blank range, or hacked to death while your mother weeps beside you, after having been raped by your killers.

This attitude derives from slavery, perhaps. For two hundred years Americans sold off, raped and kidnapped children. And they still think children are dispensable, expendable, even now. But they’ve decided that it’s latterly wrong to torture them — and of course it is — and though they can be killed by gunfire in their tens of thousands, they shouldn’t be killed in particular ways that are latterly frowned upon.

Assad has now signed a pledge not to order this form of killing any more, so he’s all right then. He can stay in power. Saddam, who killed almost no children, and saw his own children killed, and his grandson, was hanged nonetheless for killing, in wartime, some people who had tried to kill him,

Is it any wonder the Americans are not liked in the Middle East, or anywhere much, any more? Is it any wonder they’re thought of as dimwits, klutzes, cowboys?

As a result of this moral confusion — thou shalt kill, it is decided, but with cluster bombs not gas capsules, gas capsules are sinful, wrong, inappropriate, cluster bombs we make money from — a quarter of a million more good minds will be extinguished, a hundred thousand of them children, in Syria; and a million more, I guess, not born. And no good will come from it. Because America, enriched by slavery, are treating still as slaves those heathens they encounter, in the Middle East and elsewhere, and killing them with drones if they are uppity, and any children sharing a bedroom with them.

It is horrible we are identified with this foreign policy. We should be done, after this, with missionary wars, and we should say sorry to Iraq and Afghanistan for what we did there. It would have been better for us not to have gone to either place.