Monthly Archives: December 2015

Now The Bad News

Malcolm’s fabled bad luck continues. A Minister he didn’t want in the first place, Jaime Briggs, was forced to resign after admitting to having groped in ‘a crowded bar in Hong Kong’ an attractive female staffer. A second Minister, Mal Brough, whom Malcolm had resolutely defended for years of his having been charged with the sexual harassment of a male staffer, James Ashby, resigned, or ‘stood aside’ also.

This follows days of ‘only the good news’ reports of bushfires and floods and an ‘exciting time to be Australian’ by a blithe and beaming Prime Minister; and calls for Tony Abbott to return to his Ministry, or Barnaby Joyce to replace Mal Brough and then, as Deputy Prime Minister, Warren Truss.

One shouln’t get too over-excited by this. A Minister groping a female staffer is as old, as news, as John Gorton and Ainslie Gotto. A Minister covering this up as old as Ben Chifley and Phyllis Donnelly. A Minister loyal to his friend, or staffer, as old as Petrov, or Fergin O’Sullivan. All that is different this time is how quickly it has all occurred.

What can the ‘virtuous’ Turnbull do about it? Can he let Abbott back in the tent? Unlikely. Can he praise Dyson Heydon for his righteous exposure of thye union rorter Shorten? It’s doubtful. He can be loyal, as Abbott was with Credlin and Loughnane. He can stick to the plan, altogether, and look a fucking fool. Can he demand that Shorten resign his position, as he did, once, of Rudd and Swan over UteGate? Unwise. He may be in big trouble, altogether, now as he was then.

This is a government of criminal tendency, and it will soon be known to be like that, and on its way down, with Turnbull, his chute in flames, plunging after it.

Today’s Newspoll

Labor has plunged from 34.8 percent to 33 percent in Victoria in 100 days, Newspoll informs us. From 35.00 in New South Wales to 34 percent. From 35 percent in South Australlia to, gadzooks 36 percent.

This argues that Shorten is doomed, and should be replaced. Turnbull is head of him as Preferred Prime Minister, 60-17 in NSW, 63-16 In Victoria, 60-16 in Quensland.

4.5 million people who don’t want Shorten as Prime Minister, in short, are voting for him. This is patently nonsense, and a measure of how strange in his mind Rupert Murdoch, who runs Newspoll, is getting. If Shorten were doing so badly, so too would the Labor Party.

But we are told that Turnbull is doing mightily, and Labor, to save itself, must get rid of Shorten, and an early ppll be called.

You can usually tell when these things are afoot, these fraudulences. Though Labor is on 48, two party preferred, in Victoria, this is catastrophic, and bodes its end. This even though a single of margin of error would put Làbor on 51. Or, with a sampling error, 53.

Shorten is wining, probably, of late. And Turnbull’s losing mightily. And the Shorten ‘numbers’ are all that goes againat him. And Newspoll will keep him going, until those numbers are believed.

And so it goes.

Forty Years On

Strange to have witnessed, up close, the Whitlam sacking and to be reading, now, lies about it from the loathesome Troy Bramston, told on the orders of Rupert Murdoch who helped engineer it.

The CIA, Troy says, had nothing to with it. Bjelke-Petersen replaced the dead Labor Senator Bert Milliner with a live Labor traitor Albert Field because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Kerr sacked Whitlam because he did not have the numbers, though he won them in a Double Dissolution in the Senate. He did this because he felt like it. Nobody else was implicated. The CIA? Certainly not.

Bramston tries to argue that Kerr ‘tried to keep the Palace out of it’, as if that mattered. The question is why Kerr did it.

Why should he do it? Why did he? To stop Whitlam sacking him? Why would Whitlam want to sack him? What did he suspect him of?

I was there, in the Non Members’ Bar, in the House, on the steps as the twilight came down. And Bramston was not yet born.

It is important this piece of filth be exposed for the Labor traitor he is.

And bundled out of our history.

It’s time.

Lowndes, Suffragette

(From Ginny Lowndes)

‘Women have become so powerful that our independence has been lost in our own homes and is now being trampled and stamped underfoot in public.’ So Cato wailed in 195 BC, after a few Roman women sought to repeal a law that forbade their sex to ride in chariots or to wear multicoloured dresses.

In the sixteenth century, just the possibility that two royal women might occupy thrones in Europe at the same time provoked John Knox to issue his famous diatribe, ‘The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women’.

By the nineteenth century the spokesmen of male fears had mostly learned to hide their anxiety over female independence behind masks of paternalism and pity. As Edward Bok, the legendary Victorian editor of the Ladies’ Home Journal and guardian of women’s morals, explained to his many female readers, the weaker sex must not venture beyond the family sphere because their ‘rebellious nerves instantly and rightly cry out, “Thus far shalt thou go, but no farther”.’ But it wasn’t female nerves that were rebelling against feminist efforts, not then and not now.

A ‘crisis of masculinity’ has erupted in every period of backlash in the last century, a faithful quiet companion to the loudly voiced call for a ‘return to femininity’.

In the late 1800s a blizzard of literature decrying the ‘soft male’ rolled off the presses.
‘The whole generation is womanized,’ Henry James’s protagonist Basil Ransom lamented in The Bostonians. ‘The masculine tone is passing out of the world; it’s a feminine, a nervous, hysterical, chattering, canting age . . . The masculine character . . . that is what I want to preserve, or rather, as I may say, to recover; and I must tell you that I don’t in the least care what becomes of you ladies while I make the attempt!’

Child-rearing manuals urged parents to toughen up their sons with hard mattresses and vigorous athletic regimens.

Billy Sunday led the clerical attack on ‘feminized’ religion, promoting a ‘muscular Christianity’ and a Jesus who was ‘no dough-faced, lickspittle-proposition’ but ‘the greatest scrapper that ever lived’.
Faludi, Susan (2010-05-29). Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women (Kindle Locations 1510-1519). Random House. Kindle Edition.
Billy Sunday (Tony Abbott?)

Remembering John

(From Mike Rann)

The news of John Bannon’s death was what his friends had feared for so long yet was somehow still a shock. In the days following many images of John keep recurring in my memory: a grim faced young Premier standing amidst the devastation of Ash Wednesday, very much in charge of relief and recovery efforts; being lowered on a line from a Navy helicopter on to the deck of a surfacing submarine off the NSW coast and then launching SA’s audacious bid to build the Collins Class subs 500 feet under the sea; running the London Marathon in less than three hours the day after getting off the plane; addressing Frankfurt bankers in fluent German and then joining his staff and a couple of journos in an end of trip drinking session in a beer cellar doing brilliant Churchill and Hitler impressions!

John Bannon could have excelled in any profession. He could have become a barrister then Supreme Court Judge; a professor then Vice Chancellor, or stayed within the public service to become its head. He could have entered Federal politics and ended up anywhere he wanted to go. But John Bannon was always destined to be Premier of South Australia. In 1978 all of us on Dunstan’s staff expected Don to continue and win the next election due in late 1980, and perhaps one more, and then hand over to John Bannon seasoned by a few more years as a Cabinet Minister. It wasn’t to be. Don became very ill, stood down in February 1979 and a few months later Des Corcoran called a snap election and lost to the Liberals’ David Tonkin, another good and decent man.

So 36 year old Bannon became Labor leader. Very few thought he had much of a chance to quickly return Labor to power. John didn’t waste time. His winning mantra was simple: first the party, then the Parliament and then the people. The first part proved the hardest with one group in the party working hard to undermine and defeat him at party conferences. They did not want him to win. But he did, and in one term Labor was back.

In government John didn’t want South Australia to slip into the lazy psychology of defeat that believed we could never prevail against the bigger states. That’s why securing the submarine project was so important. Sure, it was about building a new high tech industry but it was also important for South Australia’s morale and self-belief. Winning the submarines gave us the skills base to win the Air Warfare Destroyers, build Techport and hopefully secure even bigger projects in the decades ahead. The same was true with the Grand Prix. Winning and running an international event like Formula One gave us the confidence to successfully stage other world class events, from WOMAD and Clipsal to the Tour Down Under and a Mad March of arts festivals every year.

It wasn’t just about projects. There was Bannon’s major drive to build affordable housing through the Housing Trust; the building of Golden Grove; the expansion of tourism infrastructure with the Convention Centre and Casino, a big increase in the retention rate in our schools, important law reforms, ground breaking native vegetation protections, Aboriginal land rights at Maralinga, the appointment of Roma Mitchell as Governor and sister-state agreements with Shandong and Campania.

Dr John Bannon was probably the most intellectual of SA’s 45 premiers. Many leaders are smart, clever or wily but John had that rarer commodity, wisdom. He applied reason to tackle problems and meet challenges and in so doing took the long view in decision-making. Thirty years ago, in giving my Maiden Speech, I said John Bannon was rare in having the “courage to be cautious”. By that I meant he didn’t govern day to day, act on impulse or lightly react to pressure from media, interest groups or opponents. In making decisions he wanted to do the right thing by our state for the long haul not just for the next election, let alone the next opinion poll or editorial. In looking forward John, probably more than any other Premier, had the deepest understanding of our history and its currents, and why and how we had got to where we are. And in making decisions I never saw him lose his temper, act unfairly or with prejudice or malice towards others. Today’s political toxicity was alien to John Bannon’s nature. He was loyal to his predecessors, his successors, his colleagues and his friends. It would never have occurred to him to gain personal advantage by leaking, undermining or backstabbing. His calm decency was not a pose. It was real.

John wasn’t just principled, he was also courageous. I saw that when he faced down an angry mob at the National ALP Conference to push through policy changes to enable Olympic Dam to go ahead. He showed courage again in his handling of the State Bank crisis. He wasn’t to blame but took responsibility. Instead of heeding calls to immediately resign he kept working tirelessly to confront the problems and challenges facing his government and community as well as front the inquiries and Royal Commission. It was not in his character to cut and run despite the tidal wave of abuse he copped for years through the media, at events and even in the street. He didn’t bend or break but the viciousness hurt him deeply even though he wore his scars silently and with great dignity. That courage was never more evident than in his eight year battle against cancer. He wanted not just to stay alive but to keep on contributing right to the very end. And he did, briefing Malcolm Turnbull on ideas to reform Federal-State relations and giving a brilliant speech at an auction and exhibition of his father’s art in the days immediately before he died.

And through good times and bad times the wonderful Angela was always there for him. A strong, independent woman with an artistic career, she stood by John through the living hell of the Bank and his gruelling battle against cancer. His final marathon. She was a superb First Lady. Sasha and I were so privileged that John and Angela came to see us in London and Rome. Together John and I had led the Labor Party in SA for 30 years, including almost 20 years in the Premier’s chair. We both also shared memories of the miserable, daily grind of being Opposition leader, and the hard yards of having to fight our way back into government. There were many stories to tell and John was the best story teller, with dry wit and brilliant mimicry. We would all end up convulsed in tears of laughter.

After the funeral and official wake today his old staff will reunite to honour his memory with, I hope, irreverent stories about John. He would like that!

When they die the lives of most leaders are defined by their careers, their titles, their honours, the statistics of their time in office. Many politicians have the word “honourable” affixed to their name in perpetuity. John Bannon earned that description not by length of time served or positions held but by his character, his conduct, his innate decency, his grace under extraordinary pressure and self-effacing sense of duty. His was a life much richer than politics. He had a diverse hinterland that included being a loving father, planting thousands of trees in the Adelaide Hills, mentoring students at St Marks, chairing the National Archives, his commitment to public broadcasting, beekeeping, theatre and music, writing history, encouraging indigenous opportunity, running marathons and his beloved cricket.

For John Bannon it is stumps, but “not out”. His great legacy of service, his inspiration and his loyal friendship will live on forever in the memories of those of us who loved him.

It’s Time, Girl, It’s Time: Morgan’s and Gavron’s Suffragette

Suffragette is very fine; and it raises the question of why the subject has not been directly treated by Hollywood before, as Prohibition was in the 1930s and IRA ‘terrorism’ in the 1990s. Can it be that its inherent, underlying subject matter — workplace sexual harrassment of twelve-year-olds, the impoverishment of the female dwellers of Dickensian London slums — has been territory inconvenient to modern feminism, being, as it is, too close to old-fashioned Marxism?

This is a very fine film, similar in mood and hue to Michael Collins, brown and yellow and blue and lamplit, conspiratorial, secretive, whispering, imbued with tragic hopelessness (this is not a battle we can win in the first generation, embrace the struggle, girl, embrace the struggle), but about the eternal war that many societies are still in, of subjected women against their nervously subjecting men (Ben Whishaw very good in this latter role) which invades the guilt of all the men in the audience.

Carey Mulligan as the twenty-four-year-old Maud Watts loses her job, her marriage, her little son George to the Struggle for women’s rights in 1911 and 1912. She is not a fanatic; not even, strictly, a ‘feminist’. She is drawn by events, and a couple of demonstrations, a House of Commons hearing, a distant glimpse of Emmaline Pankhurst (Streep, of course) in a high window, being locked out of her slum home by her fraught husband Sonny (Ben Whishaw) who gives up their child, George, for adoption, a history of being groped, in her teens, by her employer, and so on.

We learn of the medical hardship working women endured in those decades. Edith Ellyn, a good middle-class footsoldier (Helena Bonham-Carter) nearly dies of her ideological determination. We learn, to our surprise, that a married woman had no rights, of care or visitation, to her child when divorcing until 1925. Adam Michael Dodd is particularly good as the divided little boy, being told by his mother, ‘My name is Maud Watts: when you are grown, come find me,’ and we wonder if he did. We become aware that Sonny, Maud’s husband, must have known of his wife’s harrassment in her teens on the same shop floor he worked on and could do nothing about it, then, or after.

All the casting is very fine, Adam Schiller, notably, as Lloyd George, not yet women’s saviour and bound by committee numbers to do nothing, yet, to help them.

The best intervention it makes into history, though, is Brendan Gleeson as Inspector Arthur Steed. No other actor has better conveyed virtue, however misguided (consider Calvary), since Spencer Tracy. He is wise, virtuous, brave and wrong. He means well, and becomes Maud’s Mephistopheles, or tries to, and we esteem him, and half-applaud him, knowing he is wrong. Look after yourself, girl. Let me tell you how.

Abi Morgan, who wrote The Hour, contrived the script out of several biographies. Sarah Gavron directs, in an able, brownlit, BBC First manner. Alexandre Desplat’s music is, as always, excellent. Guilt spreads outward, and engulfs the audience. Romola Garai, star of The Hour, gets a telling look-in as a significant, beautiful, minor character.

A wonderful film. And it should be seen.

The Green Factor

Essential this week has the Coalition on 52, Labor on 48 percent, two party preferred. The Liberals are on 52, Nations on 3, Greens on 10, PUP on 1, Other/Independents on 9 percebt.

The Greens, on 11, are up from 8.6 percent in 2013, the Other/Independents on 9 percenf, up from 6.9 percent in 2013. PUP, on 1, down from 5.5.

Now pay attention. The Liberals got 18 percent of the Green vote, as preferences, in 2013. They will get only 8 percent this year. This means Labor gets 35 percent, plus 9.2 percent, that is, 44.2 percent.

It is likely as well that the Other/Independents (the Windsor Independents, the DLP) will lean more to Labor this year too. If, say, they get 5.2 percent of the 9 percent, that puts Labor on 49.4. If they get, as well, 0.6 perent of PUP, they will be 50-50.

Now…Turnbull said this week the Japanese could kill as many whales as they liked. It is probable he lost a few more Green votes, 0.3, say, by saying this, and put Labor in a winning position, at 50.3.

This is if the landlines Essential rang had any validity — at Christmas, in summer heat, when many were out shopping or partying. It is likely another 0.4 percent could be accounted for in this way. Labor is now on 50.7, and winning handily.

Essential, moreover, rates ‘the Australian economy’ at 23 percent ‘good’ 28 percent ‘poor’. It rates ‘small business’ at 21 percent ‘good’ and 26 percent ‘poor’. It rates ‘your personal financial situation’ at 24 percent ‘good’ and 42 percent ‘neither good nor poor’.

These figures argue a score more like 50-50 than 52-48.

It is difficult to imagine when Essential might be prevailed upon to print the actual truth.

It is time Labor did some polling of their own.

Or am I wrong?

Recommended Reading

Peter Bradshaw on Star Wars: The Force Awakens in The Guardian.

John McDonald in the afr on the same film.

Star Wars, Again

J.J. Abrams’ rendition of George Lucas’s Star Wars is closer to the original comic-strip heroic-vaudeville adventure than Lucas’s own technology-glutted later chapters — dark, interior, claustrophobic, the crablike white advancing expendable soldiery, the wooshing lightsabres, a Guinness-like Max Von Sydow, a Darth Vader-like deep-throated Adam Driver, a grizzled, sardonic Han Solo greeting after many a long summer Princess Leia, his old fond fighting love, and mother (yes) of his prodigal son — it has much of the primal, Biblical flavour of the first one, Oedipal anguish, Spitfire swoops and all, and the last image, of the still-living Skywalker, instantly recogniseable, at a cliff’s edge pondering a misted future, is truly moving.

Though it seems lost under its own armpit for a while, and working too hard perhaps to establish its new young couple, dirty ragamuffin white female ‘scavenger’, and black puzzled insurgent male innocent draft-dodger, learning on the job, it comes good, it plays, it marches, and it sings. Like the first one, it knows when to hold back, to work the characters and the back story, to philosophise a bit, to delay the cataclysmic lightsabre-swishing pugnacious climactic virility and Dambuster-style bombing-run music while Solo wonders whether it was worth it, nah, of course it was. It teaches us to wait. And even think a little.

Harrison Ford is dusty, rueful, ill-shaven and worldly-wise as Han Solo; a sort of myth already, he inhabits the space between sad angel and practical aeronaut as no-one else can, Sean Connery perhaps, Derpardieu perhaps. John Boyega as the black buoyant cuddly brave innocent child-soldier-grown-up Finn is excellent, and Daisy Ridley as the grimy scavenging pilgrim Bey has some of the qualities of Judy Davis in Winter Of Our Dreams. Everyone else is very fine; a great actor, Oscar Isaacs, notably (he was Euan Davis), and the delicately divided Lucifer/Satan Adam Driver, and the three or four thousand other credited contributors- animators, choreographers, stunt doubles, animal wranglers, landscape scouts (a desert, a forest, a remote muddy Celtic shoreline) — artists of clear genius.

The script, in part by Laurence Kasdan, who wrote the Indiana Jones films, cannot be faulted; jovial, apocalyptic, fun-filled, underscored with Bogart gloom and Rooney hope, cannot be faulted. And J.J. serves it well. Like Skyfall it’s better than we deserve; like Singin’ In The RaIn it delights and overwhelms when we least expect it.

And it should be seen, at least twice before New Year.

The Story So Far

Turnbull’s bad luck continues. A tornado in Sydney shows how insufficient his climate change targets (Abbott’s really) have been. America’s interest rates go up, and ours will too, merry Christmas, ho ho. The co-payment, which destroyed Joe Hockey, is back in the guise of an up-front five hundred dollar fee for cancer treatments. Some of his ethno-heathenist MPs went after Muslims, and he (it seems) asked the head of ASIO to warn them, and was sprung doing so. Morrison, the worst salesman for Treasury in world history, has vanished from the airwaves, and Ley has been poignantly touting his tyrannies, not very well.

And Turnbull has vanished also. It is clear a tax-dodger should be seen nowhere near tax rises, and this, at Christmas, is all he has to offer, ho ho ho.

It is not certain how long he can go before the present Coalition crises overwhelm him. Barnaby is very angry about MacFarlane, and he is the next Deputy Prime Minister. MacFarlane will sit with the Nationals, and vote with them, for the next eight months, whatever happens. Essential is hovering near 50-50 and may soon tumble over into a Labor majority.

The ‘poltical narrative’ is moving only one way. Turnbull is being whittled, and Shorten winning, bit by bit, the economic debate. Morrison is hopeless, and Bishop a joke, and Pyne, ‘the fixer’, a waste of breath , Brough huffing and puffing, and Turnbull…dwindling.

And so it goes.

The Morrison-Cormann Financial Statement

The co-payment seems to be back, and the hundred-thousand university degrees have never gone away. There’s no chance any more this Budget will get through the Senate, and we’re supposed to be back in Surplus in 2021. This is as far away as the end of World War 2 from its beginning.

And Morrison is selling it. Would you buy a used car from this man? Would you let him shine your shoes?

Turnbull is under the lino as usual, with his toes in his ears. It’s not really happening, trust me.

Somehow, lately, Turnbull lost it. It may have been MacFarlane, it may have been Brough, it may have been Paris, where his surrender to the Nats on climate change looked ludicrous. One way or another, he’s lost his advantage. It’s not good enough to be ‘Not Tony’ any more.

I will write more on this when I know more. I invite anybody with something to contribute to write in.

And we will see what we shall see.

The Lindt Cafe Anniversary

Mike Baird is a considerable fool and in any reasonable, well-ordered society he would be in gaol.

He refused to let any army snipers into Martin Place to take Man Monis out. He advised the Prime Minister not to talk to Monis, and so end the siege then and there. He didn’t let Monis’s friend Mamdouh Habib go into the cafe and talk him out. He let the police grow tired, so tired they shot Katrina Dawson after Monis died, shot her several times and killed her.

It’s probable he knew, and concealed, the dread fact that Monis was an ASIO agent gone rogue. It may be that he collaborated in Monis’s killing to save that agency from embarrassment. It is certain he exploited the Dawson family to make himself more glorious when he might have behaved more temperately and saved their mother’s life.

It is hard to think of anything he did right that day, and yet he glories in it still. Flowers bloom in acres wherever he walks.

He should be ashamed of himself.

Secretly, he probably is.

John Bannon

I asked my friend Wayne Anthoney to do an obit for his friend John Bannon. He said he could do no better than what Michael Jacobs had wrtten. He sent me the text, and (I think) Michael’s permission to print it. It appeared first in Indaily, an Adelaide online paper, on Monday, 14th December. This is what he said.

John Bannon is dead. What can you say?

You can say this:

This was a prince among men, a human being of barely imaginable grace, decency, moral courage and capacity for love.

You can say this:

His decency gave him a blind spot – a difficulty shared by the occasional person still in public life. Because of their decency and morality, such people sometimes don’t see what is coming; the values they have internalised make them vulnerable to being blind-sided by various expressions of venality, manipulation, incompetence, hubristic aggression and simple bastardry.

This happens not because they are stupid or weak, but because such things are not only outside their own range but beyond their imagination.

And if you don’t see this stuff coming, it will get you.

That happened with the State Bank disaster which has blighted his reputation – blighted it not least because of the long-running Royal Commission which he could not avoid setting up to examine the financial fiasco which had emerged after he had been an eminent and successful Premier for the greater part of a decade.

I believe I am obliged to record at this point, by way of declaration, that that Royal Commission was presided over for most of its existence by my father.

I also record, as a measure of John Bannon, that he did not allow this acutely difficult circumstance to damage a long-standing friendship, despite the temporary constraints on its expression.

The State Bank collapse which destroyed Bannon’s political career was indeed a dreadful affair, but in the end it was not even remotely as bad as the $3 billion headline, once the slow processes of prudent asset realisation had been done when the market was ready, once determined debt-recovery had clawed back what could be gathered in.

What was eternally dreadful about it was that not a single other person raised a hand to say ‘mea culpa’ – let alone ‘mea maxima culpa’ – over the shambles of the State Bank and its associated entities radically bungling the business of banking, to the unjust enrichment of many who were responsible and to the equally unjust impoverishment of the morale of the State.

Bannon absorbed all the blame, all the shame and humiliation, all the pain and anguish of this catastrophe which was the fault of others. He did not just absorb it. He drew it to himself. He copped the self-serving whining of weak-kneed people who asserted that he had been deaf to their timorously veiled warnings when their responsibility had been to shout those warnings loud and strong. He copped the lot, and he copped it sweet.

You can say this:

For his people, he bore it, and he made no public complaint about the manifest injustice of it all. If you wonder why anyone would do such a thing, you could do worse than take a careful look at the Christian tradition which was central to his life.

You can say this:

When you think about the role of the Christian tradition and belief in John Bannon’s life, don’t forget that the Christian story includes a spectacular episode of disruption of a tacky and rorted market being operated within the walls of the temple.

John Bannon was no milksop. He was not afraid of a stoush if it was forced on him, and he was not so dainty that he would not pull on a blue if he thought there was no other way. But there are two further things to say about that. First: in combat, all his punches landed above the belt, and he was not a kicker. Second: he could usually find another way.

You can say this:

He refused several overtures to accept a role of some undefined kind from the Labor governments which have held sway in South Australia since 2002 – a role, never precisely defined because of his responses, which would have given him an opportunity to be of some further direct service to the State.

In doing so, he did serve the State. He gently repelled these invitations because he thought the presence of Banquo’s ghost at the banquet would not, in the wider scheme of things, assist his party or the government – and, and because of the political inevitabilities, it would not advance the common weal.

And the common weal was what mattered. Bannon was above all a citizen, in all the richness of meaning that the various strands of our histories can bring to that word.

You can say this:

His moral courage and his resilience was so great that he bore all this, and then fashioned a new life of service and commitment: to history – including a fine biography of Sir John Downer – to scholarship, to service to the National Archives, to the processes of reform of our federal system, to cricket – in which his later-life administrative and human skills vastly exceeded the technical abilities he had commanded as an enthusiastic player. And he lived that life, notwithstanding the ravages of ineradicable cancer, with enthusiasm, joy, and all the vigour he could muster to within a day or two of the end of his life.

You can say this:

Above all, he was a good man. If you happen to encounter another such as him on your journey through life, count yourself lucky. People of the calibre and grace of John Charles Bannon don’t turn up all that often.

You can say this, and you should say it to Angela, who has lived with him, and borne all this with him, through the decades:

We agree. He was someone to love.

Kane, Again

I’ve seen Citizen Kane about twenty-three times, mostly to introduce young friends — and, for a while in my youth, new girlfriends — to the question of whether or not it’s ‘the best film ever made’. Margaret Pomeranz put it on at the Orpheum in her ‘Hollywood Season’ and I had some time before I went to my chiropractor across the street and saw it, perhaps for the last time on the big screen, again; and, for the first time, alone.

It certainly seems like the best film ever made for the first hour or so. The crowded in-depth composition (courtesy Gregg Toland, with whom Welles, astoundingly, consented regally to share the direction credit), the stirring rapidity of the narrative (courtesy Herman Mankiewicz, who wrote King Kong), the gusto of the acting, not !east of the 24-year-old Welles playing pell-mell and helter-skelter every age group from 20 to 80, cram the mind with impacted, stirring delight…

But…then the crucial plotline kicks in, that of Kane’s obsession with the ‘singer’ Susan Alexander, and his determination, at a cost of millions, to make her an opera star, and the screeching, dumb-blonde mediocrity of the girl’s personality and the tone-deaf shrillness of her voice (prefiguring similar screeching bimbos in The Best Years Of Our Lives and Singin’ In The Rain) makes him, Kane, seem like a bit of a dill. These things do happen (John Edwards, Bill Clinton, Jim Cairns, Lang Hancock come to mind), and many are the intricate delusions in relationships that are primarily, and frenetically, and unspeakably, sexual, but …

It’s like Hamlet being besotted by Audrey from As You Like It, and it doesn’t…ring true; not least because of the rumbling magnificence of Welles’s own operatic baritone, and the dimwitted, hectic whinge of Dorothy Comingore as Susan. Why don’t they have any children? Why does he become a sort of recluse, with her as his only companion, in a big house full of the world’s treasures? We are never told.

Nevertheless…it’s a great, foundering relic of a magnificent, Titanic-like shipwreck, and the all-too-early climax of a career that, but for Hearst, and Marion Davies, and Hedda Hopper, and the shark that ate his lead in South America, and the whisky, and the amphetamines, and the obesity and the hubris, might have rivalled Shakespeare’s. ‘Images of magnificence’, as his simulacrum Christian McKay in the wonderful fiction Me and Orson Welles puts it, litter every half-minute of it. And it’s a pity it didn’t turn out as it promised, and he fought and busted up with Houseman, and his patron Nelson Rockefeller resigned from RKO too early, and he grew fat and mad before he was forty…it’s, yes, a pity…

And so it goes.

We’ll Always Have Paris

Murdoch’s American channels are not reporting the Paris agreement on climate change. Murdoch’s view is it isn’t happening. What is happening is the St Bernardino massacre, ‘the most awful terrorist event since 9/11’, and that’s the only news that’s fit to print — apart from Donald Trump banning Muslims from America, a wise thing to do.

Murdoch’s reluctant ally Turnbull is in a bit of a fix. He either favours saving the planet or what he’s pledged to do, bring its temperature up by 3 percent and immolate it, as Tony Abbott recommends.

Labor would do well to emphasise his dilemma. He’s in favour of saving the world but he’s hog-tied by the Abbott conspiracy to end it. Vote Labor for 1.5 percent. Vote Turnbull for 3.

Turnbull’s fabled bad luck continues. His campaign manager Brough is under criminal investigation, his good friend MacFarlane has deserted his party, his Coalition pàrtners the Nationals don’t want a bar of his ‘Labor-lite’ policies, he’s lost the gay vote and looks like, if Essential is right, he’s barely even-steven in the country at large and incapable of balancing the Budget in the next twenty years.

Murdoch, for sure, pretends he’s running ahead of the game and a lot of timid pundits believe him, or say they do.

What will he say about Paris? There’s no response that can help him. It’s a pro-Shorten policy event. Shorten Gazumps Turnbull, end of headline. We’ll always have Paris. Can this be hidden? Can he schmooze it out of public attention?

I think not.

And we will see what we shall see.

American Black: Fargo, The Miniseries

(From Doug Quixote)

Many years ago there was a film, a good film, called Fargo. It was quirky, and had some elements of black humour, surreal at times. It was written not long after Twin Peaks, when Americans found that quirky black humour could be successful.

The Fargo of 2015 is a whole new thing. It is based in the world of Fargo - remote small town USA - but don’t hold that against it. It ranges far beyond its remit and the humour appears very black indeed. In large parts it is quite tragic, in the sense that apparently innocent upholders of the law can be and are slaughtered along with ordinary citizens and a number of gangsters, hoods and crims of major league, minor league and in between as well.

The story, so far as I can gather is based around the cop Solveson, a minor local lad who is in way over his depth investigating the crimes of some seriously evil criminals. American jurisdictions are rather peculiar and with County sheriffs, local police and State Troopers all wanting a piece of the action, our hero is outranked and marginalized.

That is, until one group of gangsters is told that their boss’s son is held a prisoner by another gang and they invade in force - mistakenly shooting up the cops who are waiting, all too relaxed, ’til morning and their stake out to arrest yet another gang; or maybe the first one.

OK, it’s complicated.

It is incidental humour along the way, the cardboard cut-out police captain who gets blasted, rising from his bed shouting “No” as if that might save him. It is the butcher turned blackmailer who sets up the mob, unintentionally, and who is strung up himself, but not for long enough as his girlfriend saves him from the mad bad crim, who is glad to see “The Indian”, a henchman, who has turned rogue and blows him away.

It doesn’t sound funny, rendered that way; but it is.

The critic ratings are off the scale: Rotten Tomatoes reported a 100% “certified fresh” rating with an average rating of 9.1 out of 10 based on 58 reviews, with the site’s consensus, “Season two of Fargo retains all the elements that made the series an award-winning hit, successfully delivering another stellar saga powered by fascinating characters, cheeky cynicism, and just a touch of the absurd.”

More than a touch, I’d say.

Watch it if you can.

Turnbull, Dwindling (2)

(First published by Independent Australia)

I am convinced now that Shorten will win the next election.

Turnbull seems unable to project the ‘bigness’, the ‘stature’ of a statesman. He seems more like a wily, self- mocking alderman, or a guest disc jockey on Drive Time over Christmas on provincial radio.

When it comes to Climate Change, he is trapped by the Abbottite, minimalist stance of ‘as little as possible, as late as possible’. When it comes to tax reform, his slogan seems to be, like St Augustine’s, ‘Lord, make me righteous, but not yet.’

Essential has the Coalition on 51, Labor on 49. This involves preferences going the way they did in 2013, when Independent voters, and Green voters, thought Abbott was telling the truth, and there’d be no cuts to the ABC, SBS, NDIS, health, and Gonski. Decrypted, this means Labor is on at least
51.5 percent and winning handily. Whatever Shorten is scoring personally, his party is ahead.

Turnbull…is not doing very well. The whiff of Brough, engulfing Roy and Pyne, is criminalising Malcolm too. The whiff of his dodged taxes, in millions, in the Caymans, hovers over him always. The civil war with the Nationals, and his friend MacFarlane’s defiance of him, has endangered the Coalition like nothing since the McEwen-MacMahon skirmish of 1967-68. The ever-expanding deficit is incurable by anything but a bigger GST and a bigger GST is fatal to its inaugurator. His loss of the gay-marriage vote will decimate his numbers in Wentworth (‘Decimate’ means ‘reduce by a tenth’). He seems more and more a shallow, insouciant jocular rich fathead not wholly ‘serious’ in his thinking.

What he is doing seems less like ‘thinking’ than ‘manoeuvring’. So much of what he has done in the past six years has been so much like a poker game that he might have lost sight of his country’s good.

And once his numbers fall, they will stay fallen, as the returned Rudd’s did in 2013.

One thing Labor could do is threaten the electorate with Abbott returning.

If Turnbull wins with fewer seats, they could say it might tip the caucus figures Abbott’s way, and he’ll be back with all his manias and pieties foaming and shrieking and punching the air in six months. Vote Turnbull, get Abbott. Get Abbott back.

Turnbull’s in a good deal of difficulty. An election called in March before the Budget comes down might work, but it might seem desperate, a cheat, a twirl of the bullets in a game of Russian Roulette. A September election after a Budget that isn’ t working would be lethal. Morrison’s untamed lunacy would lose votes every dày of the campaign, as he has every day of the last two months.

Hard to see how he can win.

Especially since he’s losing already, according to Essential.

And we will see what we shall see.

Turnbull’s Way

A measure of the shallowness of Turnbull is the idea he came up with today.

He thought it might be nice if some fifteen-year-olds spent eighty years in gaol. This as a punishment for having unrepentant jihadist thoughts in their twenties. He also thought it might be nice if a man who beats his child with a cricket bat got some ‘counselling’.

Now…eighty years is five times what you get for raping and murdering a little girl. Eighty years for what Orwell called ‘thoughtcrime’ is a bit much, I would think.

No unrepentant IRA terrorist got that much. One of them, Martin McGuiness, is now in Cabinet, though he once blew up Lord Mountbatten, or helped plot that atrocity. The Jewish terrorist Menachem Begin blew up the King David Hotel, killing many British, and ended up as Prime Minister of Israel.

Yet Turnbull thinks eighty years an adequate sentence for a fifteen-year-old who never blew up anything, but — like Bart Simpson — thought about it a good deal.

Of course, he may not last eighty years. The confused, pimpled culprit may suicide before he has done sixty. He may suicide before he has done twenty. I would in his shoes. A week is a long time in prison. Eighty years is a lifetime.

Why is Turnbull doing this? To divert attention, obviously, from any headline about a GST. He proposes to overthrow Magna Carta, and eight hundred years of the practice of British justice, in order to rough up and torture random teenagers while letting their brutal fathers, like Luke Batty’s father, off with a warning, and some ‘counselling’.

A measure of the shallowness and carelessness of Turnbull.

And there will be more.

‘Mad Dog’ Morrison Up To No Good

Morrison continues to be the worst Treasurer in our history, with two of his opposite numbers recommending he resign his position even before speaking to him.

His weird idea that an Australian government should not spend money on Australians if they can help it, and someone else should, is the doctrine of the tongue-speaking sadomasochist Shirelive faith he believes in (God helps those who help themselves) but not of the post-Roosevelt civilized world.

Money for the disabled? For schoolchildren? For seventy-year-olds who don’t want to sell the family home? Forget it. God helps those who help themselves.

This rabid mongrel is worse than Hockey, and may have to be sacked by Christmas.


Through a Prism Darkly: Ridley, Hutton, Huffman and Martinez’s “American Crime”

(From Dali)

You may have first heard of John Ridley when he scored an Oscar last year with his screenplay for “12 Years a Slave”, but he has also written seven novels, including “Stray Dogs”, which was made into the rather disjointed film “U Turn” (1997) directed by Oliver Stone and starring Sean Penn, Jennifer Lopez, and Nick Nolte. Additionally, Ridley wrote the story for “The Three Kings” and “Jimi” the Hendrix bio-pic.

Ridley is now the creator of an anthology with the inexplicably bland title of “American Crime”, whose acclaimed first season has 11 powerful episodes (three of which he directed) built around a brutal home invasion which leaves an Iraq veteran dead, and his wife in a coma. The series is a careful dissection of the aftermath as experienced by the families of the vet, of the wife and of the suspects. This extended gaze through the prism of race religion and culture, family and faith, in today’s USA of Ferguson and of calls to register all Muslims, is provocative, challenging and risky. Ozzie and Harriet meet Jésus and Maria meet Syed and Tashfeen - except they’re not the cardboard cutout versions of apple-pie American, taco Mexicans or couscous Muslims as micro-waved by the usual lazy mainstream portrayals.

The crime victims are military veteran Matt Skokie (Grant Merritt), and his former beauty queen wife, Gwen (Kira Pozehl). But as the investigation proceeds each of these stereotypes is pulled inside out and their clean-cut image dissolves. Their respective parents are all gradually revealed as dysfunctional and bereft in one way or another. And the suspects arrested and charged with the crime (all minorities: an African-American meth addict, a heavily tattooed Mexican thug, and a naive Mexican-American teenage boy) are similarly all given nuanced and personal characters that blur preconceptions that inevitably surface under the pressure of unfolding revelations..

Timothy Hutton and Felicity Huffman play Russ Skokie and Barb Hanlon, the divorced parents of the murdered soldier. They cut off contact long ago, but grief puts Russ and Barb back in painful proximity. W. Earl Brown and Penelope Ann Miller play Tom and Eve Carlin, the pious and convention parents of the comatose soldier’s wife, who soon manifest their own flaws. And a Mexican American family gets drawn into the whirlpool of the tragedy and into the crossfire of prejudices that breaks out.

The only relationship that is developing instead of disintegrating is also the most fraught: Carter Nix (Elvis Nolasco) and his girlfriend, Aubry Taylor (Caitlin Gerard) are drug users who are as addicted to their romance as they are to their meth. And Carter is black, Aubry is white, and they see themselves as outlaw lovers, a Capulet and Montague of Modesto, as if the Shakespearean dimensions of interwoven tragedies is not stark enough already. Carter’s sister, Aliyah Shadeed (Regina King), is a passionate convert to Islam who wants to help her brother but has zero tolerance for his love life. Aubry also has disappointed relatives, and they are just as intent on detaching her from Carter, and returning her to the middle-class normality that she so desperately fled.

By relentlessly maintaining a tight focus on race and culture (in the direction and editing, not just the dialogue) “American Crime” presents the many faces of bigotry, the unreliability of stereotypes and the fallacy of racial and religious profiling within the framework of the sort of crime which probably occurs on a weekly basis in the USA. By refusing to offer convenient explanations or resolution, this first season ought to stimulate the sort of debate and introspection which might make it a less frequent tragedy in the lives of those who live and struggle there. It might also slow down the absorption of the rising tide of bigoted stereotyping of people who are Muslim, or refugees, or different in other ways.

Season two begins in January 2016. Ridley has re-hired some of the same actors, but this time the drama revolves around a high school boy who accuses several players on a championship basketball team at a private school of sexually assaulting him, taking pictures and posting them online. If Season one is any guide, that will be worthy of attention as well.

A Summation

The difficulty Turnbull is in is the perception that half the Coalition believes the nonsense Abbott is lately spouting, and that if they vote Liberal these rabid policies will be enacted, with a handcuffed Turnbull nodding and winking: relax, it’s not really happening, trust me.

It’s worth noting why Abbott was so hated. It was not his personality so much as his policies: the co-payment, the billionairesses’ baby bonus, the unaffordable university degrees, the end of the Schoolkids’ Money, the cuts to the ABC and SBS and the CSIRO and health and education. It was also to do with his hunger, his need, his passionate Crusader lust for war, endless war, in the Middle East, which about seventy percent of us actually, really, truly don’t want.

Turnbull has been shown to be so piss-weak when facing down the Abbott Insurgency that no-one much will vote for him — except, perhaps, in his own constituency — for fear the sleeping crocodile of Abbott Armageddonism and Abbotto-Trumpist Ethno-Heathenism will awake, and roar, and lick its lips, and after a Turnbull victory devour us all.


Seven Days

It will be noted by future historians that the Turnbull Adventure ended, or began to see its end, in the seven days from the 2nd to the 9th of December this year.

The 13 percent swing against the Liberals in North Sydney; the putting back on the table of the 15 percent GST by the yapping innumerate Morrison; the weird ‘rewarding losers’ announcement by Turnbull and Pyne of a way of making our businessmen more daring, after centuries of cowardice; the ‘yes/no’ answer by Brough to questions of his criminality; and, last night, the Paul Murray interview with the roused and charismatic Tony Abbott, who thinks a billion Muslims should try harder and a billion Catholics are doing fine: all these events put Malcolm in a hole it will be hard, or impossible, to wriggle out of.

Is he in charge, and if so, of what? He can neither sack Brough, nor keep him on. He cannot protect Roy or Pyne if the Slipper Finger points their way. He cannot, apparently, stop Morrison from saying the money we give to Australian mothers and children must be cut to the bone. And he cannot stop Abbott calling, like Trump, for the persecution of the Arabs, a Semitic people (they call this anti-Semitisnm), and stirring young Muslims into blowing us up on trains and stabbing us in bus shelters at midnight.

Abbott was very impressive in his interview, and showed the unrepentant, charismatic madness of a true demagogue. With the zealotry he showed as a trainee priest, he wants these heathens punished. They have not undergone the Enlightenment (neither, of course, has Abbott) and they must be dealt with severely. This utterance has enraged the Indonesians, and has endangered our civilisation.

And Turnbull, the ‘smooth-talking wuss’, has no way of dealing with him. He can’t deselect him, or invite him into his Cabinet, or admonish him for his mad opinions. He does not command the party he leads; forty or fifty percent of it applaud Abbott’s craziness,and there is no way of turning them round.

It’s interesting how Abbott’s life, when examined, falls into a pattern — of enthusiasm, disillusion, and denunciation. He decided to be a priest, then found the Church too left wing, and denounced it in The Bulletin. He decided he was a Liberal, and when he sought to ban the morning-after Pill, was nearly rolled from the Ministry, whom he violently denounced in private. He backed Turnbull as leader, then petulantly resigned from his team and replaced him as Leader. He backed Hockey and Brough and Bernardi, then had to let them go.

He is an enthused friend of Pell, and will soon denounce him also. He spoke up for Nestor, the pederast, and Hollingworth, the friend of pederasts, but will denounce them, regretfully, also soon.

All this informs the sort of rabble Turnbull is in charge of, and cannot control. He longingly dreams of a party like the Liberal Democrats in England, Clegg’s party, and this, the party of Abetz, Andrews, Bernardi, Murray and Bolt, is the hand he, alack, has been dealt.

He cannot believe his ill-fortune, and is drinking more, to judge by his red nose on Monday, than he used to.

Not only the honeymoon is over, but the adventure also.

And it’s all downhill from here.

Madder And Madder

Newspoll gets madder and madder.

We are told today that four million Australians who don’t want Shorten as Prime Minister are voting for him as Prime Minister and not Turnbull, whom they prefer. We are told that Turnbull’s ‘satisfied rating’ has plummeted by a million votes but the same number, eight million, will vote for him as did a fortnight ago. We are told that that enough people were at home and answering landlines on December 3, 4, 5 and 6 (and not out surfing, or late shopping) to get an accurate figure.

We are told as well they will vote as they did in 2013, 20 percent for instance of Greens preferring Liberals. We are told that on the weekend that saw a 13 percent swing against the Liberals in North Sydney, the Liberals’ vote nationwide was the same as it was in 2013.

Decrypting the figures I give Labor 51.5 percent, two party preferred. I do this by assuming the three million who do not have, or do not much use, landlines, perefer Labor by about 60 percent; that the Greens now prefer Labor by 93 percent not 80 percent as they did in 2013; that Turnbull’s 8 percent drop is calamitous; and the Shorten Preferred Prime Minister score — 14 percent to Turnbull’s 60 percent — is rubbish.

It means four million voting for him as Prime Minister do not want him as Prime Minister. Do you know ten of these people? Do you know one? Can you name him? Please write in, in your hundreds of thousands, naming names.

Turnbull is actually in big trouble. Ever since he turned up, jet-lagged and red-nosed, to announce his ‘backing losers’ policy (if you’re a businessman, and you flame out, don’t worry, we’ll pick you up, so you can flamr out again, that’s what taxpayers are for) and to claim that McFarlane will never, ever sit in Cabinet whilever Brough, the criminal, has a place there, he has begun to visibly shrivel. It’s clear to more and more people (a million more than last Newspoll) that he’s not so much hollow as shallow, and he doesn’t know what he’s doing.

And all is not well in the Coalition. Reith says MacFarlane would better lead the Nationals than Barnaby.

The rumblings begin.

And we will see what we shall see.

The Bush Rewrite: Vanderbilt’s Truth

It’s a commonplace now that the Florida recount was crooked, and the Supreme Court stopping of that recount hastened the end of the world; that President Gore would have ended global warming, not gone into Iraq, not gone into Afghanistan, and the rest of it. It’s less well known that a Sixty Minutes producer, Mary Mapes, had the goods on Bush five months before, but her mother died and she didn’t complete the story or air it — that he’d avoided Vietnam and, worse, gone AWOL from the Air Force for a year and should have been imprisoned.

In 2004, when Bush is already trailing against Kerry, Mapes revisits the story. The story is true. It goes to air, with documents, and journalistic legend Dan Rather (the first to report JFK’s motorcade shooting in Dallas) introduces it. The Bush backroom declare the documents are forgeries. This seems plausible: the crucial documents seem to have been typed on a modern computer, not an old electric typewriter. She proves they are not forgeries (and, in an impressive speech, shows how impossible it would have been to track down the relevant people and name them, let alone use their addresses and phraseology); Bush wins; and she and Rather, thanks to a deal CBS’s partner Viacom has corruply done with the Administration, are ruined anyway; fired and never heard of again.

It’s a good story, well written by James Vanderbilt, and funded perhaps by some family money. It is not as sleekly and momentously directed as All The President’s Men or The Newsroom, but it’s in the league. And…no-one is going to it, or, in North America, releasing it. Clearly the same Bush backroomers, now working for Jeb, have seen to this, afeared that Jeb, the fixer of the Florida recount, might suffer from its fresh revelations.

Needless to say, it should be seen. Cate Blanchett as Mapes (married, a mother, commuting to Texas) gives a big, brainy, full-hearted performance such as only Streep these days could equal. Robert Redford, his face riven by surgery, his eyes encased by a wasteland, gets nonetheless Rather’s decency, gravitas, and gritty nostalgia for the Murrow years when the going for honest jounos was good. A grab-bag of investigative reporters (Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid, Elisabeth Moss) are of West Wing standard, as is Bruce Greenwood, as the torn boss of CBS. Some Australians (Quast, Hazlehurst, Fitz-Gerald, Bakaitis) are very fine too, as vacillating witnesses and cruel interrogators, as is Stacy Keach as the ugly, growling equivalent of Deep Throat.

Under normal circumstances there would be Golden Globes and Oscar nominations, but this will not happen. Unless…it breaks out from under its confinement by popular demand, and the few theatres showing it fill up.

It’s on at the Cremorne Orpheum, in the smallest space, and few other places.

I beseech you to see it.

Another Bishop Scandal

Julie Bishop should resign today. Or she should apologize for a law she made sure was enacted last year that arrested and imprisoned anyone who fought against DAESH, or against Assad, for twenty or twenty-five years. Anyone who fought in the Middle East, or tended the wounded there, was a bad, bad person, she said, anyone who went to the Middle East to fight on any side there (Kurds, Jews, Maronites, Kazidis, Anzacs) should spend more time in gaol than the rapist/murderers of children.

Yet today Ashley Dyball, an Australian who fought for the Kurds, has come home, been questioned, and let go.

What a waste of breath — and air fares — this woman is. She is still spending thousands a day on the search for MH-370. She still imagines Australia might be put on the UN Human Rights Committee after the rapes and murders and tortures we have countenanced on Christmas Island, Manus and Nauru. She still wants to bring Putin to trial for shooting down MH-17 though it seems the Ukrainians did it. She has not known her arse from her elbow in many, many years.

And she should resign or apologise today.

Or demand the arrest of the traitor Ashley Dyball.

The Grasshopper Lies Heavy: Dick, Scott And Spotnitz’s “The Man In The High Castle”

(From Dali)

December 6, 1975. Forty years ago, to the day, I picked up the imported November issue of Rolling Stone from Cosmos, crossed a rainy melted Acland Street to read it at the Danube over a plate of wiener schnitzel. On the cover, a triumphant young Rod Stewart caressing his new lover Britt Ekland, both beaming out at me, asking “don’t you wish you were me, huh?” And Britt’s sinuous tanned arm was overprinted with “The Most Brilliant Mind on Any Planet: Philip K. Dick.”

And while it poured outside, I entered for the first time the strange haphazard maze-world into which he first beckons you, and where he then abandons you. Back at Cosmos, they sold me what they had - Time Out of Joint, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and the subject of this piece, The Man in the High Castle. Over the years, I kept buying what I could find, even all the posthumously published manuscripts that each of his five wives kept finding in long forgotten cupboards. In the vain hope I would find my way back out of his time-slip labyrinth to find myself back at the Danube, with Angela saying “Ze rayn hav shtopped. Is safe to leave now.” No such luck. I was in, and it was not safe anymore.

I learned that after recently watching the ten episode series The Man in the High Castle produced by the same Ridley Scott who brought Blade Runner to a mesmerised world in 1983, but not before poor old PKD died of a heart attack. Although he’d written over a hundred and twenty short stories and forty-four or so novels, he spent most of his career as a writer in near-poverty, and never experienced the recognition mass appeal and fortune that he (and his heirs) now enjoy.

And yet, in a reality he never shared, Dick is now the most adapted SF author in the history of cinema. The list, growing all the time, includes Blade Runner (based on ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’, Total Recall (based on ‘We Can Remember It for You Wholesale’), and others like ‘Screamers’, ‘The Adjustment Bureau’, ‘Minority Report’ with Tom Cruise, ‘Paycheck’ with Ben Affleck and Uma Thurman, and ‘A Scanner Darkly’, Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder. Perhaps, gradually, Hollywood itself will be shifted into his maze-world.

Philip Kindred Dick was born six weeks premature on December 16, 1928, with a twin sister, Jane Charlotte Dick, whose death six weeks later profoundly affected PKD’s life, evidenced by the recurrent motif of the “phantom twin” in his writing.

Dick attended Berkeley High School in California, and though they did not know each other at the time, he and Ursula K. Le Guin graduated there together in 1947. He briefly attended the University of California, but dropped out because of on-going anxiety problems which would continue to dog him throughout his life, his five marriages and his long reliance on dexedrine and other stimulants.

In February, 1982, Dick was found unconscious on the floor of his home, having suffered a stroke. In the hospital, he suffered another, after which his brain activity ceased. Five days later, he was disconnected from life support and died. His ashes were buried in Riverside Cemetery in Fort Morgan, Colorado next to his twin sister Jane, whose tombstone had been inscribed with both their names when she died 53 years earlier.

His brief time at Berkley sparked his enduring interest in history, and philosophy. After reading the works of Plato and pondering the possibilities of metaphysical realms, Dick came to the conclusion that, in an entirely real sense, the world is not entirely real and there is no way to confirm whether it is truly there. Like the shadows in Plato’s Cave.

In 1978, PKD gave a talk he called “How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later.” He outlined the recurring themes of his work: ”The two basic topics which fascinate me are ‘What is reality?’ and ‘What constitutes the authentic human being?’ Over the twenty-seven years in which I have published novels and stories I have investigated these two interrelated topics over and over again. I consider them important topics. What are we? What is it which surrounds us, that we call the not-me, or the empirical or phenomenal world?”

PKD’s very first story Roog was about a dog who concluded that the garbagemen who came each week were stealing the food which his master kept storing away in a safe metal container. Every day he would carry out bags of food, stuff them into the metal container, and shut the lid tightly—and when the container was full, these strange-looking creatures came and stole everything but the can.

As he told his audience, ” the dog’s extrapolation was in a sense logical—given the facts at his disposal. Certainly, I decided, that dog sees the world quite differently than I do, or any humans do. And then I began to think, Maybe each human being lives in a unique world, a private world, a world different from those inhabited and experienced by all other humans. And that led me to wonder, If reality differs from person to person, can we speak of reality singular, or shouldn’t we really be talking about plural realities? And if there are plural realities, are some more true (more real) than others?.”

PKD deeply explored these questions in his book “The Man in the High Castle” which was published in the USA in 1962. It is also set in the USA in 1962. But the 1962 USA in the book and the 1962 USA in which you bought the book are slightly different. You see, in 1947 the Axis powers won World War II. The United States has been partitioned into three parts: The Japanese puppet state of the ‘Pacific States of America’ in the west, a ‘Greater Nazi Riech’ in the east, and a neutral zone that acts as a buffer between the two areas, called the ‘Rocky Mountain States.’ Very little is explained. Like the dog Roog, we have limited facts at our disposal.

The ten episode TV series is the creation of Frank Spotnitz working with Ridley Scott, who’d been trying for years to get a screen adaptation of the novel funded. When Amazon entered their content producing venture, they asked Scott for ideas. He had one.

Based on PKD’s 1960 novel, with certain changes, the series essentially faithful in theme and plot. In the novel there is a book “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy” which is banned by the Germans because it contains an imaginary USA who, with the Allies, had defeated the Nazis and the Japanese in 1945. In the series, this becomes a film, of the same name, and serves the same literary purpose.

The series is well paced, with plenty of dramatic tension, but the underlying tension comes from the other reality, the one we don’t share with the characters, living like Roogs with limited facts, like the people chained in Plato’s Cave. It’s like the tension of a dull headache, it will pass, it has to pass, this is just a headache, it’s not reality, is it?

Whether you find it interesting or a waste of time is ultimately whether you can be bothered with the imponderables that nagged Heraclitus, Plato, Pynchon, Borgès and of course Philip Kindred Dick (perhaps to death).

A long time ago, PKD wrote, referencing “The Weeping Philosopher” Heraclitus: “If two people dream the same dream it ceases to be an illusion; the basic test that distinguishes reality from hallucination is the ‘consensus gentium’, that one or several others see it too. This is the ‘idios kosmos’ the private dream, contrasted to the shared dream of us all, the ‘koinos kosmos’.”

Forty years ago, to the day, I encountered PKD at a bookshop called Cosmos, but to see whether it was an ‘idios’ or a ‘koinos’ one, I would need to return there, or to Angela at The Danube, but neither establishment survives, I’m told. At least not in this reality. It rains. It is not safe.

After North Sydney

Trent Zimmerman said he was ‘humbled’ after he lost thirteen thousand votes yet won North Sydney. This was pretty accurate. For the fourth time since Turnbull became Prime Minister, a byelection swing went against the Liberals, by an average of about 8 percent.

How does this make any sense of Newspoll, which finds the swing is TO the Liberals, of one half or one percent, and five million more Australians want Turnbull as Prime Minister than want Shorten as Prime Minister?

A by-election is a real poll, a Newspoll an hypothesis. The real polls show Turnbull doing no better than Abbott.

Is Newspoll lying then? Of course it is. Is Ipsos lying? Always. And always, thus far, wrong.

Is Turnbull in deep trouble? Of course he is.

Or perhaps you disagree.

A Prediction

It looks as if Turnbull has peaked, and will be on the way down after tomorrow.

His famous bad luck and his famous foolish judgment — and, to some extent, his choice of party — have combined and will today reduce to near-debacle his party’s vote in North Sydney.

A local hero, Arthur Chesterfield-Evans, will achieve, probably, a twenty percent swing to the Greens, and a combination of Joe Hockey’s two fool Budgets and his early petulant exit from politics at fifty, and the Brough business and the MacFarlane business, and the local tradition of defiant Independent members, will bring down the raw Liberal vote from 61 percent to around 47 percent.

And this will mean there’s been an average swing AGAINST the Liberals in the four by-elections since Turnbull’s re-ascension of around eight percent, first party preferred. And this, duplicated across the nation, would give Shorten Labor a majority of sixteen or twenty-six seats, depending on how much of the beloved-local-member-departing factor is involved in the final count, and government.

It will show as well that most of the published polling since Turnbull’s risorgimento (Newspoll, Ipsos, Morgan) has been either useless or corrupt.

It is unlikely that North Sydney will be lost, but the swing will be seismic, and the Abbottite conspirators energised by it, and plotting soon a further mutiny, however vainly.

It’s worth asking why Abbott failed, and why he was thought to be our worst Prime Minister by many commentators. Only part of it was his weird, mendacious, lip-licking, ape-walking and stammering personality. The rest of it was his policies, and these policies, or the general drift of them, continue under Turnbull. And Turnbull’s charm, though considerable, is fragile, and his victory dependant on him seeming honest and measured and thoughtful, and not a smirking rich tax-dodging dill.

The ‘honest’ part has been damaged by his numbers man Brough, who stole a seat from a nice man by claiming the nice man was a corrupt harassing shirt-lifting slime, and the ‘thoughtful’ part has been exploded by the loss of his old friend MacFarlane to the Nationals and his need, now, to re-employ him and sack Brough to make way for him.

Soon his wealth will be an issue and the amount of tax he avoided, in tens of millions, in the Caymans will be asked of him in Question Time, and there is no good answer to that.

I predict he will be soiled by a big swing today, in double figures perhaps, and his party trailing in the honest polls by February.


What, exactly, is Pistorius being imprisoned for? What is the aim of this process?

If it’s to discourage him from killing his next girlfriend, it’s almost certain that aim has already succeeded. If it’s to put him through anguish over what he has done, that aim has also succeeded. From the minute after he fired the fourth shot, he’s been in moral pain that few of us can imagine.

What, then, is the purpose of locking him up, this magnificent athlete, and not letting him run competitively for ten or fifteen years? Is it to warn future cripples not to triumph, as he did, over their genetic fates? Is it to encourage them to suicide? What? For Pistorius will suicide now. And who will that have helped?

A comparison might be made with two Australian soldiers who in Afghanistan shot up a wedding party by mistake, and killed two little female cousins who lay side by side in the one bed, and were not imprisoned for it, or demoted, or admonished, and were judged to have ‘acted appropriately in difficult circumstances’.

Did they feel anguish over what they had done? Of course they did. Were they named, humiliated, imprisoned, shot at dawn? Of course they weren’t.

What Pistorius underwent might be called a ‘psychotic accident’. A drug may have been involved, a waking dream, a brain spasm, a form of self-hypnosis. A mistake certainly was. Like a father who backs over his little daughter, or throws his little son up in the air and sees his head cut off by an electric fan, it is not an intended consequence. It cannot be therefore called murder. It was an accident, a psychotic, damnable, cursed accident.

And the verdict, and the public process, and the international audience of that public process, was a form of persecution, what may be called the ‘uppity cripple syndrome’. Had Oscar not been an Olympian, or what we call in Australia a ‘tall poppy’, he would not have been so named, and shamed, and publicly tormented, and tried for a year, and punished. It was a branch, in South Africa, of the ‘uppity nigger syndrome’. He was, if you like, a latterday form of ‘strange fruit’, a member of an out-group lynched for his unacceptable outward appearance, his alien strangeness, his unsettling half-robot physique.

And we should be ashamed of ourselves.

And he should be let out, and booked to run in next year’s Olympics.

Or perhaps you disagree.

Canberra Countdown Thursday

12.58 pm

Ian MacFarlane is to leave, it would seem, the Liberal Party and join the Nationals, and others (Buchholz, Roy, xxx) may follow him, and the LNP, an always uneasy alliance, meet separately as a subsect or subcult of the Coalition and make their own crazed policy calls in another, smaller room. Barrie Cassidy thinks the Turnbull honeymoon may be over. Bill Heffernan, 73, challenges Sam Dastiyari, 32, to a fist-fight ‘outside’. The Greens have done a deal with the Liberals to protect the secrecy of seven hundred multinationals’ tax arrangements and Kim Carr, crying ‘lickspittles!’, is ropeable.

2.07 pm

Dreyfus asks Brough if he talked with his co-conspirator Pyne about Ashby and Slipper. Brough, deceiving the House again, says no. Pyne looks uneasy. Who has said what? Has Ashby been blabbing? What did he say?

2.12 pm

Pyne strives to disallow Dreyfus’ next question, and Smith goes along with him. It is to do with a document Brough either did or did not see.

2.29 pm

Brough says ‘I have not deceived the House this week’, and much laughter follows. ‘Or last week,’ he adds, ‘or any other week, or any other year.’ He is moderately persuasive when he says there are courts and police whose job it is to investigate these matters, it is not Dreyfus’ job to do so. He has thus declared that Question Time serves no purpose and should, after five hundred years, be discontinued.

3.02 pm

Shorten moves a want of confidence in Brough and begins to speak, and speak well, to his motion of rehearsed, flamboyant disgust. Pyne moves that he be no longer heard. PVO says it is wrong for a government to do this. There is no precedent in history for Leader of the Opposition being so treated in the Westminster system, not ever. It is, PVO says, ‘a horrendous look’ at this, the end of the parliamentary year.

6.55 pm

The House of Commons voted to bomb Syria and the RAF, taking off from Cyprus, immediately did so. Hilary Benn defied his leader Jeremy Corbyn to speak up, like David Cameron, for this useless aerial slaughter with, by all accounts, uplifting eloquence; his father Tony Benn had been a Spitfire pilot in the Battle of Britain. Ian MacFarlane left the Liberals and began to seek his constituents’ permission to join the Nationals. ‘You can take the boy out of the country,’ he growled, predictably. His defiant alteration of the party numbers meant Turnbull might have to include him, now, at last, in his Ministry, from which he had lately excluded him — replacing, probably, Brough.

A Muslim and his wife left their baby at home and wearing armour shot thirty people he disliked at a Christmas party and were shot dead in their turn by San Bernardino, California, police. It was the 350th mass shooting in the USA this year. The police did not know if this was ‘terrorism’ or not. The other 349 weren’t, in their view. It seemed odd to call a mass shooting anything else, but there you go. A judge began to say if Oscar Pistorius would go back to gaol or not.

And so it went.

Nowhere Near

By a coincidence I saw again the Redford-Hoffman-Pakula-Woodward-Bernstein movie on the Watergate saga All The President’s Men last week. There was a line in it about ‘these guys in the White House’ being ‘nowhere near as smart as they’re supposed to be’. And I was reminded of this yesterday when Brough said no in reply to a question he’d previously said yes to on Sixty Minutes. These guys in the Liberal Party are nowhere near as smart as they’re supposed to be, I thought. Nowhere near.

One of them, Malcolm Turnbull, I’ve known for forty-two years and he isn’t in my view that smart either. And he’s lately, not for the first time, in a fix of his own making. By appointing his vulpine co-conspirator Brough to an ‘integrity’ position he’s endangered not just Brough, Roy and Pyne but, in the long run, himself and his government. He seems no longer, after this week, a calm, cleanskin, wise and thoughtful world statesman, but the sleekly smirking rich mentor of some grimy, conniving provincial crooks.

What dare he do now? Standing Brough aside, as most of the pundits say he must, will put Pyne and Roy in the cross-hairs of history over Christmas. And Pyne thus pinioned will grow spenetic and vengeful if he, too, is made to stand aside; the which will happen if Ashby fingers him too as a late-night co-colluder in the framing with sexual menace of Peter Slipper, the second highest official in the land.

One way or another, these wriggling grubs will smirch Turnbull, and his own tax-dodging in the Caymans, and the memory of Utegate and Godwin Grech, will once remembered smirch him further.

A six or eight percent swing against the Liberals on Saturday in North Sydney is now inevitable. And this, if duplicated nationwide, would give Labor a majority of twenty or forty seats.

Is the Turnbull honeymoon now defunct? It’s possible. Is the Coalition vote now 48 or 49? It’s possible.

And we will see what we shall see.

The Brough Descent

1.14 pm

Peter Hartcher’s series on Abbott’s foolishness and fall continues, and today unveils the bizarre Budget measures Hockey proposed (a 15 percent GST, a 14.5 percent tax reduction for most of the middle classes) as well as the good ones (a tax on the interest earned by excessive super) and the extent to which Abbott protected him from oblivion, and the curses of Howard and Costello.

Its timing will do damage to the Liberals in Hockey’s old seat, North Sydney, in the by-election due on Saturday.

So will Mal Brough’s various crimes and perjuries, and the extent to which they implicate his cronies Pyne and Roy. They give the impression of a government that doesn’t know what it’s doing, any more than its predecessor did.

It will be an interesting Question Time.

2.26 pm

Brough’s repeated ‘long walk to the drop’ in Question Time incited a growing suspenseful silence in the House each time he refused, once more, to answer Dreyfus’ repeated question, what words were you referring to when you said, ‘Yes, I did’? This growing, painful, aching silence was broken by yelps of unbelief when Dreyfus asked, again, Liz Hayes’s question and Brough said not ‘yes’ this time but ‘no’. Asked if he was treating the House, and the Australian people, with contempt, he said he would never do that.

2.42 pm

Turnbull said all this happened a long time ago and no new information had come to light in the last three years, though it had with Brough’s new denial in the last five minutes. He then said Brough had not, in his view, misled the House, and any mere assertion of Dreyfus that he had done so ‘does not make it so’.

2.58 pm

Two Dreyfus questions on the Prime Minister’s judgment have been disallowed. Not a word in defence of Brough has been uttered all day by anyone but Brough.

3.02 pm

Dreyfus has now moved the expected motion, condemning Brough for parliamentary perjury and censuring the Prime Minister for having been so indebted to his co-conspirator Brough that he put him in charge, for fuck’s sake, of government integrity. Pyne has moved that he be no longer heard.

Oh boy.

4.01 pm

The gag motions were passed.

There will be suspense now till Brough goes. It will resemble the suspense that followed Nixon saying ‘I am not a crook’, when the nation bit its nails and waited for his impeachment or his resignation for over a year. In Brough’s case the fatal words were the contrasting ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in answer to the same question, by Hayes and Dreyfus, a perfect piece of television being replayed and replayed as I write this on even Skynews Agenda.

The longer he stays in office the more it will bruise Turnbull. Day by day he will more and more seem to be the crony and patron of criminals, the ones who framed with sexual harassment — with homosexual harassment — an innocent man they drove near suicide with repeated slander, one of whom, Brough, then stole his parliamentary seat.

The dodgy ingredient in this narrative is Ashby, whom some would compare with Oscar’s beauteous tormentor/stalker Bosie Douglas. Will he name his sexual partners? Will they include any member of the Liberal Party? Anyone who is presently a Minister? What would be his price for this revelation? What would it cost to shut him up?

The public like a mystery, and are still (for instance) intrigued by Lindy Chamberlain, Jack the Ripper, Lee Harvey Oswald, the Little Princes in the Tower, the Beaumont children, Snowtown. They are likewise still keen to know what Peter Slipper did, and what lies were told about him, and by whom the liar was rewarded, and with what.

As long as Brough is in office these questions will be asked, and in the glare of them Turnbull will shrivel.

And we will see what we shall see.

You Have Ten Minutes To Vacate The Premises: Ramin Bahrani’s 99 Homes

99 Homes is a film so good it seems to be happening to you. Dennis Nash, a carpenter/brickie/handyman in his thirties, is evicted (suddenly, shamingly, in front of his neighbours) from his own modest home by a real estate shark, Rick Carver, and moves with his son and mother to a motel full of other evictees in 2008 in New Orleans where the world financial crisis bit deep. To make money, he joins Carter evicting others, people like himself, and looting, trashing and repairing their former houses, becoming the kind of capitalist vampire the American Dream now and then throws up, as it did in the Depression, Prohibition and the Eighties.

It has the impact of Wall Street and the eloquence of Death of a Salesman, and, from Andrew Garfield as Nash and Michael Shannon as Carver, performances of Shakespearian force. Garfield has the pain and anguish of the young Tony Perkins, and Shannon a big brutal Irish face that would well suit a modern Coriolanus and wonderfully fitted a recent film he was in, Assassin.

Few American films have been as Marxist as this, as unflinching, raw and anti-American. Some episodes of The Simpsons have been, but this one isn’t joking.

Its auteur, Ramin Bahrani, a young prizewinning Iranian-American, has the courage of the Hollywood Ten and the dramatic skill of his countryman Asgai Farhadi who made A Separation. The film is already a classic, and should be seen.

Recent Polling

The latest Essential Poll and the latest Ipsos poll show, on the one hand, Labor winning narrowly and the Coalition winning by the highest margin since 1931.

Essential has the Coalition ahead 51-49 but redistributes the Others,Independents and Greens as they were in 2013. 18 percent of the Greens preferred the Coalition then, and 8 percent would now. This adjustment adds 1.4 percent to Labor, making it 50.4 percent. The Others and Independents in 2013 preferred the Liberals by about 73 percent in that year, when it was thought Tony Abbott was telling the truth. They would not do so now. Assuming they would prefer Labor by 63 percent, this would add another 1 percent to Labor, putting it on 52.5 percent and winning sixteen or twenty more seats than the Coalition.

Ipsos, by contrast, has the Coalition on 56 percent and a majortity of 60 or 70 seats. Its method, ringing with machines 80,000 people at home on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights and asking questions of the 1500 who take the call has been massively wrong before, showing Rudd, Swan, Clare, Burke, Bowen and Dreyfus losing their seats in 2013 and Campbell Newman winning in Queensland this year. It is perhaps because of this record of tremendous moronic inaccuracy that Fairfax hired them, its previous pollster Nielsen having been pretty much on the money most of the time, and an inconvenience when it favoured Labor.

It is hard to discover what purpose polls now serve when they are as disparate and preposterous as this. Comforting the Coalition with a grand illusion seems to be the main aim, though one seeks with difficulty among swinging voters a friend of coal, or a larger GST, or an ending of the old age pension to anyone whose house is now worth over a million though it was bought for twenty thousand in 1970.

This comfort may be short lived. Next Saturday will see in North Sydney a swing away from the Liberals of 6 or 7 percent and a swing to the Greens of 28 or 30 percent.

And we will see what we shall see.

Recommended Reading

Hartcher on Credlin in the smh.