Say it loud - I'm elitist and proud

Saturday, July 26, 2003

MOLESWORTH MEETS POTTER. Hear is the trew storey of a dreem where nigel molesworth, curse of st. custards, finds himself at hogwarts. he lerns some things in english bording skools never change eg GURLS are all swots and snekes.

It is shurely no coincidense (hem hem) that in How To Be Topp the Headmaster of rival skool porridge court is called 'hoggwart'.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

HOW ELITIST ARE YOU? Take the David Flint test, as detailed in his new book The Twilight of the Elites.

I'm disppointed to find I'm not as much of an elitist as I thought:

(i) republican: member of the ARM, and have even been known to put leaflets in letter boxes and fill envelopes for membership drives.
(ii) favour reconciliation: is anyone actually against it?
(iii) are weak on border protection: I think there's a case for continuing mandatory detention, but the detention centres are appallingly run.
(iv) oppose Australia's involvement in Iraq: supported it.
(v) favour a significant increase in Australia's population: favour it, just not in Sydney!
(vi) tolerate abortion: don't like it, but think the only real way to stop it is education, and support for women to have babies rather than abort them.
(vii) are soft on divorce: I'd make it harder to get married in the first place.

Saturday, July 19, 2003

TEA WITH TART. I researched and wrote this virtual exhibition for the City of Sydney History Program on Quong Tart, the 'Australian Mandarin' who died in 1903. You'll note that his establishment in the Queen Victoria Market was call the 'Elite Hall'.

The Sydney City Council webdesigners love what the History Program sends them: so much more interesting than the usual Council stuff!

UPDATE: And this is Quong Tart's great-grandson Josh, a recent star of All Saints.

IT'S TAKEN more than a year since the arrest but two men have pleaded guilty to killing Jai Jago two years ago. Until recently, flowers were still being left at the place where he died: the corner of Old Canterbury Rd and Hanks St, Hurlstone Park.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

WHAT IS AL-QAEDA? Find out here.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

WHO WANTS ETC. I'm not the only one unhappy about last Monday's Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.

Playing for $64,000, Mr McBrien, wrongly according to the network, said that five justices sat on a full bench of the High Court of Australia. The correct answer, host Eddie McGuire told him, was seven. But news of Mr McBrien's $32,000 loss has reached Australia's highest court and the ears of Chief Justice Murray Gleeson. The Australian understands the Chief Justice, who did not see the program, reckons Who Wants To Be a Millionaire got it wrong.

While it is correct that seven judges sit on the High Court, the term Full Court or Bench is defined under the Judiciary Act (1903) as a hearing comprising "two or more justices".

There was a disputed question not long ago regarding the flag of Rwanda - the losing contestant was invited back to continue where he'd left off. Doesn't look like it's going to happen in this case.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

WHO WANTS TO SHAKE HANDS WITH EDDIE MCGUIRE? Not me, after failing to be the Fastest Finger on Who Wants to be a Millionaire last night.One of those who beat me to it was a Kiwi who took an inordinately long time to answer the $100 question: 'Where does the sun rise in Australia: North, South, East or West?'

Still, a fun time was had by all. Katie had to stay home with Rosie, so my sister Ann-Maree accompanied me. We were flown down to Melbourne on a Monday night two weeks ago, were met at the airport by a stretch limo, and enjoyed 5 star luxury at Crown Towers: the marble bathroom had a small TV above the spa bath.

The next morning we were driven out to Channel Nine studios at Richmond, which were as grotty as I remembered them from appearing on Sale of the Century 16 years ago. At least the Sale set had looked much as it did on TV: when we went onto the Millionaire set for rehearsals, I thought this must just be a mock-up where we practised - but no, it was the real thing. It looks better on television thanks to flashing lights and dry ice. In the words of Oliver Reed in Gladiator: 'Shadows and dust'.

The makeup room was a time warp, lined with pictures of Darryl Somers and Jackie McDonald in all kinds of bizarre costumes and makeup from Hey Hey Its Saturday. Jokes about the awfulness of Channel 9 canteen food, which go back to Graham Kennedy's time, still apply.

It's a cliche, but still true, that 'Being on the show is a lot different from watching it'. Contestants may often seem dumb, but we had been in there since 10.30 am, doing rehearals - where to walk, how to wave at the camera, how to do the lifelines, what to chat with Eddie about if you were picked - and the recording didn't start till 5.00 pm. I, for one, was thoroughly exhausted by the end of the day. Under those bright lights, it's easy to get discombobulated.

What you didn't see was that there was actually another 'Fastest Finger First' between the two that were shown. It had to be abandoned due to a computer stuff-up: it displayed names of the previous week's contestants. (Tantalisingly, the camera was on me!) On the next attempt I came third, but the difference between me and the winner (the Kiwi) was only about 0.6 of a second.

By 6.30, it was all over: we flew back to Sydney that night. There was nothing to show for it except Ann-Maree getting a cold from the Crown airconditioning.

Thursday, July 03, 2003

IT WAS ONE YEAR AGO TODAY. On this day last year, this was what I was looking at. A few minutes later, this. Then they handed her to me: after months of feeling parts of her (a foot, a shoulder) now she was really here.

And here she is now.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

KNIGHTS OF 'NI!' Every week in the Weekend Australian Magazine, there's a 2-page ad on a 1/3 size page (no doubt there's a newspaper term for this) for New Internationalist magazine. The following endorsement tells you all you need to know about it:

"For many years I have read the NI with respect. Many an article I have written, and film I have made, have had their roots in something I have read in the NI."

John Pilger, journalist.

As the ad points out:
It can be pretty difficult when your colleague Kylie says: "I don't like what the Government is doing with refugee policy. But there's doesn't seem to be any alternative to a tough line on border protection." If only Kylie could have read the NI magazine article that set the whole issue in the global context, so that she would better understand the humanity of the situation. Then she'd know that other countries manage hundreds of thoudsands of refugees without indefinite detention. In the meantime poor Kylie relies on the shock-jocks for formulating her point of view.

Well, what else can you expect from that Kylie? What a bogan. Kath and Kim are surely far harder to manipulate.

As it happens, I'm in favour of open borders too - though I suspect NI would be shocked at the 'free-trade' implications of such an attitude! And while the world refugee problem is huge, our share of it is pretty minuscule. Why get worked up over a few illegals?

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

NOELA MORGAN 1925-2003

My mother passed away at 2PM on Saturday, 31 May 2003, at Greenwich Hospital, Sydney. My father, my sister and I were with her.

This was my eulogy for her at her funeral on Friday 6 June:

Noela was born in 1925, and grew up in Fairlight on Sydney's northern beaches.

She was the daughter of Terence O'Shaughnessy and Geraldine O'Shaughnessy (nee Foley). She clearly inherited her sense of style from her mother. There was something else she might have inherited: Geraldine's father was Larry Foley, father of Australian boxing.

Her siblings were: her elder brother Geoff, who died in March this year; her elder sister Marie; her younger sister Margo; and her youngest sister Honora, who now lives in California.

She went to Stella Maris school in Manly, then to Kincoppal-Rose Bay, then on to Sydney University for 2 years, living at Sancta Sophia College, with which she maintained close links.

She travelled around Europe in the early 1950s, and still kept in touch with her friends from that trip, many of whom are here today. (A friend to her was a friend for life.) Going through the photo albums of that trip, my sister Ann-Maree was amazed at how glamorous she and all her friends looked - you can see here [in the chapel] a photo of her at a Royal Garden Party. (A friend at the Australian High Commission had wangled them an invitation.) They may not have had much money, but they certainly didn’t look like modern backpackers!

She worked as an accountant up to her marriage to Bob in 1960. I was born in 1961, and Ann-Maree came along in 1968.

She was a parishioner of Corpus Christi, St Ives for more than 20 years. When unable to continue coming to Mass, members of the congregation visited her at home for Holy Communion. The Mass was very important to her, but her faith was a private matter – she always had an open mind, and was always approachable.

She was very social, extraverted, talkative and positive in spite of difficulties - she had a wide circle of friends, as we can see here today. And she was always well dressed! Red was her colour.

She was giving, sharing, flamboyant, loud and talked to everyone. She was always there when needed. She would spend hours and hours on the phone. She was totally honest with people, which meant that tact wasn’t always her strong point, but she never meant any harm.

Ann-Maree and Noela were very much alike, so there was sometimes conflict (often LOUD!) but they were very close.

Noela was very active. She enjoyed travel – I was living in Chicago in 1990 when Bob & Noela came to visit me. They then went on to visit my cousin Terry (her nephew and godson) at Oxford, and then went to Egypt and sailed up the Nile with the first Gulf War looming! She was a keen swimmer (she grew up near Manly beach), a keen skier into her 60s, and snorkeled on the Great Barrier Reef and regularly went to aquarobics in her 70s. The doctors later told her that ‘apart from the cancer’ her health was excellent – it certainly put more time on her side, which she lived to the full.

At Geoff’s funeral in March, his son Peter reminded us of the O’Shaughnessy approach to teaching you how to swim: take you out to the end of the pier in Adelaide and throw you off. In my case, it was drag me out beyond the first line of breakers at Newport because “it’s calmer once you get out there” - and it was.

With all her activity, it was inevitable that she fell over a few times. She once broke her arm, in the most convenient place possible: right in front of Casualty at Royal North Shore Hospital, as she was visiting a friend there. But then if she wasn’t falling over while in a hurry to get somewhere, she wouldn’t have been Noela. She broke her leg in 1995 and was in a wheelchair for several months; it was thought she might never walk again, but she did.

We’ve all seen her indomitable spirit. I was with her when she saw her cancer specialist a few months ago: he told her that when she was first diagnosed with liver cancer in 2000, her life expectancy would only have been about 8 months – but here she was, 2½ years later. He said: ‘For you, we threw out the rule book’.

Noela’s condition deteriorated a few weeks ago after a fall in hospital. But she was always good humoured even in her last days. The greatest joy of her final year was my daughter, her granddaughter Rosemary, born in July 2002.

I was delighted that she lived to see Rosie and share in her first year. My greatest sadness is that Rosie will grow up not knowing Noela first hand. But we all have memories we’ll share with her.

Monday, May 05, 2003

ALISON BROINOWSKI, diplomat, writer and academic, is interviewed in the Sydney Morning Herald's weekend review section, Spectrum (May 3-4, 2003, no link available) about her new book About Face: Asian Accounts of Australia:

Australia, she claims, is seen [in Asia] as a second-rate Western country still tainted by memories of the White Australia policy, lacking culture and history, racist, inept in negotiation and image-promotion, "large, lucky and lazy"...

Asked why we should care what the neighbours think, Broinowski has a chilling, one-word answer: Bali.

In other words, We Brought it on Ourselves.

I agree we've done a poor job in negotiation and image promotion. But when negative stereotypes lead to acts of terrorism, that sounds a lot like...racism. And not ours.

LAST NIGHT'S heartbreaking ABC docu-drama Love Letters from a War told the story of an Australian family during World War II through their letters. Fortunately I didn't let the preview by Sasha Molitorisz in the Sydney Morning Herald TV guide (no link available) turn me off:

There are two approaches to history. One is the studious, respectful approach, in which history is consumed in any one of a number of ways: reading books, attending lectures, undertaking research. The other is the American approach - in which history is completely ignored. That way yesterday's hero (Osama, Saddam, etc) can become today's villain.

And then there's the Sasha Molitorisz approach: 'The Yanks are bad. The Yanks are bad, mmmkay?'

Thursday, May 01, 2003

N-R-M-A NEEDS H-E-L-P. Neer Korn writes about how the once-proud NRMA brand is now looking battered thanks to ugly internal politics on the board. As a supporter of demutualisation of the insurance arm of NRMA, my attitude to Nick Whitlam is rather like that of the British people towards Winston Churchill in 1945: thank you, you've done an difficult job, now bugger off.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

RYAN MCKAY, a researcher at Macquarie University's Centre for Cognitive Science, will be presenting a paper entitled Hallucinating God: The Cognitive Neuropsychiatry of Religious Belief and Experience, at a conference on evolutionary psychology in the United States in August. One scientist 'claims to have had a mystical experience of "encountering a God-like presence" - the result of stimulating his temporal lobes electromagnetically - without developing a religious belief in God.'

When I read things like this, I'm reminded of Oliver Sacks' The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1985), which contains a chapter devoted to Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) 'a nun and mystic who experienced countless "visions" from earliest childhood to the close of her life', and who painted and wrote about these visions.

A careful consideration of these accounts and figures leaves no room for doubt: they were indisputably migrainous, and they illustrate, indeed, many of the varieties of visual aura [associated with migraines].

But Sacks does not dismiss these visions as mere delusions:
Invested with this sense of ecstacy, burning with profound theophorous and philosophical significance, Hildegard's visions were instrumental in directing her towards a life of holiness and mysticism. They provide a unique example of the manner in which a physiological event, banal, hateful or meaningless to the vast majority of people, can become, in a privileged consciousness, the substrate of supreme ecstatic inspiration.

Was Hildegard merely deluded?

Saturday, April 26, 2003

ANOTHER FEARLESS SWEATSHOP EXPOSE. Or not. In this week's Sydney Morning Herald TV guide (no link available) Malcolm Knox told us about Thursday's ABC True Stories documentary Diverted to Delhi, about India's booming call centre industry.

How can we have clean hands when our wealth is built on the merciless exploitation of others? If you want to know why people in poor countries want to blow us up, look no further. Depressing, shameful, essential viewing.

Glass of water for Mr Knox, please.

That's not to say parts of it weren't bizarre. Those who wanted to work for an American company, and had to learn to talk American, were lectured to by a Scotsman with a not-very-convincing fake American accent. And they learnt about Australian culture by watching The Castle. An Indian who had lived in Australia told them Australians weren't corrupt, and any corruption there was all the fault of the Chinese and Lebanese. He obviously can't have lived in NSW.

But instead of complaining about western companies exploiting Indians, why not ask why India can produce so many smart, well-educated, hard-working people, and not find better jobs for them? It may have someting to do with the fact - dealt with in Diverted to Delhi - that customer service has until recently not been a way of life in India, where civil service attitudes persist.

One of the things the students had to learn was how to make on-the-spot decisions - instead of having the attitude that, if there isn't a rule for it, it can't be done. If you think Australian banks act like they're doing you a favour, what about the Indian bank that won't accept cash deposits unless they're bundled up properly?

Saturday, April 19, 2003

I THOUGHT this week's Time magazine cover - with nothing but a red 'X' accross the face of Saddam - looked familiar. Yes, they've used this cover concept before. Here they explain why.

Friday, April 04, 2003

A YEAR OF ELITISM. At 4.30 PM today, ELITIST turned one. I hope that despite the hiatuses (hiati?) you've been having as much fun as I have.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

SO THE long-delayed 7.30 Report story on blogging has finally hit the airwaves, featuring Gareth, James, John and Gianna.

But I'm sure there was a fraction of a second where you saw John Quiggin looking at ELITIST.

Sunday, March 30, 2003

DAMN, MISSED THE RIOT. Wednesday's demo-turned-riot in Sydney's Town Hall Square was especially shocking for me: I go to Town Hall House several days a week, working for the City of Sydney History Program. Perhaps I've sat on one of the cafe chairs that were thrown at police. But I wasn't in there that day.

The phrase 'I've seen better organized riots' may well apply to what happened. Was the march inadequately marshalled? Did the police overreact? I don't know: but I notice in the Sydney Morning Herald Friday print edition (no link available) a picture of broken stained glass windows at St Andrews Cathedral, with this caption:

Smashed...eight stained glass windows of St Andrew's Cathedral at Town Hall Square must be replaced after damage caused during Wednesday's anti-war rally. The verger of St. Andrews, Rick Filmer, who estimates the cost of the damage at about $6000, was pelted with stones and verbally harassed by a group of teenage boys who apparently mistook the cathedral for a synagogue. The cathedral's 150-year-old carved pulpit was splashed with pink paint during the protest.
Where did they get stones? Town Hall Square is paved with pebblecrete.

UPDATE, TUESDAY, APRIL 1: As I'm a volunteer at the City of Sydney History Program, I needed to get details of the Public Liability Insurance arrangements for people working for the Council. Today I called the Council's Risk Manager, but he wouldn't give them to me - I had to get my supervisor to ask for them. She did, and he emailed back the reason why: he'd been getting some 'strange phone calls' from people asking about the Council's insurance, and he'd become 'gun-shy' after last week's riot. (He described me as 'a person claiming to be a volunteer working for the Council'.)

Also today, I saw the barriers being put up in Town Hall Square for another rally tomorrow. This time they won't get near the cafe chairs.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

'BUSH IS AN IDIOT, BUT HE WAS RIGHT ABOUT SADDAM.' Salon has been running a pretty consistent anti-war line. So it's all the more surprising to see this interview with Paul Berman which sums up exactly my thinking on the war:

'...it's just tragic that the United States is led by such an inarticulate and intellectually confused and unattractive figure who personally makes me cringe -- other people should be standing up and trying to fight for issues of humanitarianism and social solidarity, of women's rights and liberal freedoms.

One of the scandals is that we've had millions of people marching through the streets calling for no war in Iraq, but we haven't had millions of people marching in the streets calling for freedom in Iraq. Nobody's marching in the streets on behalf of Kurdish liberties. The interests of the liberal dissidents of Iraq and the Kurdish democrats are in fact also our interests. The more those people prosper, the safer we are. This is a moment in which what should be our ideals -- the ideals of liberal democracy and social solidarity -- are also materially in our interest. Bush has failed to articulate this, and a large part of the left has failed to see this entirely...

This has simply been catastrophic for people in the Middle East and ultimately for ourselves. What we need is a politics as I describe in my book, a new radicalism which is going to be against the cynical so-called realism of American conservatism and traditional American policy, in which liberal ideas are considered irrelevant to foreign policy...

I can certainly imagine how the whole thing can be done better. Bush is probably the most inept president we've ever had in regard to maintaining foreign alliances and presenting the American case and convincing the world. He's failed in every possible way. The defeat and overthrow of Saddam Hussein is in the interest of nearly the entire world and although it is in the interest of nearly the entire world, nearly the entire world is against Bush. That situation is the consequence of Bush's ineptness.

Monday, March 24, 2003

EMAILS, WE GET EMAILS. One I got recently was a series of Q&As. I've added a few of my own:

Subject: FW: in case you're interested... Q & A on Iraq

very interesting

this is taken from a Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist, Conrado de

I'LL leave the following intact and without commentary as it summarizes best what George Bush's war in Iraq is all about. It comes from Charles Sheketoff, the executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. It's called "Take the War-on-Iraq IQ Test," and goes:

Q: What percentage of the world's population does the United States have?
A: Six percent
Q: What percentage of the world's wealth does the United States have?
A: 50 percent

Q. Why?
A. Because it has economic, legal and political systems conducive to the creation of wealth.
Q: Which country has the largest oil reserves?
A: Saudi Arabia
Q: Which country has the second largest oil reserves?
A: Iraq
Q. Who now controls these reserves?
A. Saddam Hussein
Q: How much is spent on military budgets a year worldwide?
A: 900+ billion dollars
Q: How much of this is spent by the United States?
A: 50 percent
Q. Why?
A. Partly because of all those people who want to attack the US, and partly because of all those people who want the US's help when someone attacks them.
Q: What percent of US military spending would ensure the essentials of life to everyone in the world, according to the United Nations?
A: 10 percent (that's about 40 billion dollars, the amount of funding initially requested to fund the US retaliatory attack on Afghanistan).

Q. Why might very little of this money reach the people who needed it?
A. Diversion by corrupt governments (e.g. Iraq and the Oil-for-Food Program).
Q: How many people have died in wars since World War II?
A: 86 million
Q: How long has Iraq had chemical and biological weapons?
A: Since the early 1980s.
Q: Did Iraq develop these chemical and biological weapons on its own?
A: No, the materials and technology were supplied by the US government, along with Britain and private corporations.
Q. Which country helped Iraq with its nuclear program?
A. France.
Q. Which country recently invaded the Ivory Coast?
A. France.
Q. Which country has the most alienated Muslim population in Western Europe?
A. France.
Q: Did the US government condemn the Iraqi use of gas warfare against Iran?
A. No.
Q. What had the Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran's spiritual leader, called America several years before?
A. 'The Great Satan.' Iran then proceeded to take US embassy staff in Teheran hostage for more than a year. US-Iran relations became a bit frosty after that.
Q: How many people did Saddam Hussein kill using gas in the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988?
A: 5,000
Q: How many Western countries condemned this action at the time?
A: 0
Q: How many gallons of Agent Orange did America use in Vietnam?
A: 17 million.
Q. How many Vietnamese now live in the US?
A. 1.1 million.
Q. How many Vietnamese now live in Australia?
A. 150,000.
Q. What proportion of these were escaping the regime which 'liberated' South Vietnam in 1975?
A. 100%.
Q: Are there any proven links between Iraq and Sept. 11 terrorist attack?
A: No
Q. Why would post-Sept. 11 links between Iraq and Al-Qaeda make sense?
A. On the principle that 'My enemy's enemy is my friend' (or 'They're using us but we're using them'). Weapons of mass destruction could be developed in Iraq and delivered to Western targets by Al-Qaeda.
Q: What is the estimated number of civilian casualties in the Gulf War?
A: 35,000

Q. Who started this war?
A. Saddam Hussein.
Q : How many casualties did the Iraqi military inflict on the Western
forces during the Gulf War?
A: 0
Q: How many retreating Iraqi soldiers were buried alive by US tanks with
ploughs mounted on the front? A: 6,000
Q. How many surrendered without firing a shot and were well treated?
A. 87,000
Q: How many tons of depleted uranium were left in Iraq and Kuwait after the Gulf War?
A: 40 tons
Q: What according to the UN was the increase in cancer rates in Iraq between 1991 and 1994?
A: 700 percent
Q: How much of Iraq's military capacity did America claim it had destroyed in 1991?
A: 80 percent
Q: Is there any proof that Iraq plans to use its weapons for anything other than deterrence and self-defense?
A: No
Q. Was there any proof (i.e. a signed order) that Hitler planned the Holocaust?
A. No.
Q. Did he do it?
A. Yes.
Q: Does Iraq present more of a threat to world peace now than 10 years ago?
A: No
Q: How many civilian deaths has the Pentagon predicted in the event of an attack on Iraq in 2002/3?
A: 10,000
Q: What percentage of these will be children?
A: Over 50 percent
Q. What is the origin of the expression 'human shields'?
A. Foreigners forcibly kept in Iraq during Saddam's 1990 invasion of Kuwait as insurance.
Q: How many years has the US engaged in air strikes on Iraq?
A: 11 years

Q. Why?
A. It was enforcing UN Security Council resolutions calling on the Iraqis to cease persecution of the Kurdish minority in the north and the marsh Arabs in the south.
Q: Were the United States and the United Kingdom at war with Iraq between December 1998 and September 1999?
A: No
Q: How many pounds of explosives were dropped on Iraq between December 1998 and September 1999?
A: 20 million
Q: How many years ago was UN Resolution 661 introduced, imposing strict sanctions on Iraq's imports and exports?
A: 12 years
Q: What was the child death rate in Iraq in 1989 (per 1,000 births)?
A: 38
Q: What was the estimated child death rate in Iraq in 1999 (per 1,000 births)?
A: 131 (that's an increase of 345 percent)
Q: How many Iraqis are estimated to have died by October 1999 as a result of UN sanctions?
A: 1.5 million

Q. If there is no war, and no imposition of sanctions, what else can be used to enforce UN resolutions?
A. Nothing.
Q: How many Iraqi children are estimated to have died due to sanctions since 1997?
A: 750,000

Q. Have mass baby funerals been faked for the Western media?
A. Yes.
Q: Did Saddam order the inspectors out of Iraq?
A: No

Q. Did he co-operate fully with them?
A. No.
Q: How many inspections were there in November and December 1998?
A: 300
Q: How many of these inspections had problems?
A: 5
Q: Were the weapons inspectors allowed entry to the Ba'ath Party HQ?
A: Yes
Q: Who said that by December 1998, "Iraq had in fact, been disarmed to a level unprecedented in modern history."
A: Scott Ritter, UNSCOM chief

Q. What else is Scott Ritter now known for?
A. This.
Q: In 1998 how much of Iraq's post-1991 capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction did the UN weapons inspectors claim to have discovered and dismantled?
A: 90 percent
Q: Is Iraq willing to allow the weapons inspectors back in?
A: Yes
Q: How many UN resolutions did Israel violate by 1992?
A: Over 65
Q: How many UN resolutions on Israel did America veto between 1972 and 1990?
A: 30+

Q. Which country now chairs the UN's Human Rights Commission?
A. Libya.
Q: How many countries are known to have nuclear weapons?
A: 8
Q: How many nuclear warheads has Iraq got?
A: 0

Q. Is Iraq still capable of building them?
A. Yes.
Q: How many nuclear warheads has the United States got?
A: Over 10,000
Q: Which is the only country to use nuclear weapons?
A: The United States

Q. Why?
A. Because Japan attempted an invasion of the US. The attack on Pearl Harbor (1941) was the first step in this, to knock out the US Pacific Fleet. By then, Japan had already been invading China for 4 years. Total Chinese dead in the war against Japan (1937-45): 16,000,000. Total Filipino dead (1941-45): 1,000,000 (in case 'Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist, Conrado de Quiros' is interested). When the war was clearly lost, Japan's leadership nevertheless insisted on suicidal, kamikaze-style defence of the islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, convincing the US leadership that the battle for Japan's home islands would be equally bitter. Only after the second atomic bomb did Japan finally surrender.
Q: How many nuclear warheads does Israel have?
A: Over 400

Q. Why?
A. Surrounding Arab states who wanted to 'drive the Jews into the sea.'
Q. How many Arab members does the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) have?
A. 8.
Q. What are the 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion'?
A. An anti-semitic forgery originating in 19th-century tsarist Russia that invented a secret cabal of Jews plotting to take over the world.
Q. Where are they quoted?
A. In much official Arab propaganda, and the Charter of the Palestinian organisation Hamas.
Q: Who said, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter"?
A: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Q. Who said, 'If the anti-war movement dissuades the US and its allies from going to war with Iraq, it will have contributed to the peace of the dead. Saddam Hussein will emerge victorious and ever more defiant.'
A. Jose Ramos Horta, 1998 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.
Q. Who said, 'If we should fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and care for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age'?
A. Winston Churchill in 1940.
Q. Who was he talking to?
A. Defeatists in Britain and isolationists in America who thought 'Hitler's not our enemy.'

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

KOKODA UPDATE. Slatts (who has walked the Track himself) sends me sad news: 'Phil Rhoden, CO of B Company, 2/14th Battalion, Battle for Isurava, 1942, died at weekend. Buried this morning. Fine man.'

Indeed. As he put it: 'If the Japs had got through that hole, it's possible that they would have gone all the way to Moresby, because we couldn't have stopped them.' But they didn't get through.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

JUST FINISHED The Spirit of Kokoda by Patrick Lindsay. It should be an excellent introduction to what happened on the Kokoda Track in 1942, with an account of the battle and, as the final chapter, a 'Virtual Trek' showing the exact conditions one goes through when walking the track today: altitude, walking time, even temperature during different parts of the day. But scattered throughout are inspirational 'If I could do the Kokoda Track, I can do anything' stories from those who've walked the Track today. Yes, you can do the Kokoda Track: but can you deal with a crying baby between 3 and 5 AM?

MONDAY'S Australian Story achieved the impossible: it made me feel sympathy for Kerry Jones. And now I must reveal my link to the Moran family train-wreck: I was at school with Shane Moran from Grades 1 to 3. I never met him again (though I saw him in the distance at UNSW about 1980) and had no idea who his family was, till the court case brought by Brendan Moran's widow.

MY FATHER and I went to Adelaide last week for my uncle Geoff's funeral. (My mum - his sister - was too ill to go.) Imagine a combination of Ken Rosewall, Jack Brabham and Jim Hardy, and you have Geoff. He smoked Turf cigarettes till he died, a few days short of his 82nd birthday.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

MY SUBURB in Sydney's Inner West seems to have become a Sinn Féin stronghold. Recently I've seen, at the local supermarket or the station, the following:

* A woman wearing a Sinn Féin t-shirt.
* A man wearing a Sinn Féin polo shirt(!).
* A transsexual (or transvestite) reading An Phoblacht/Republican News.

Monday, February 17, 2003

I'VE JUST finished reading David McCullough's biography of John Adams: signer of the Declaration of Independence, American minister to London and Paris, and second President of the United States. I hadn't realised just how turbulent things were in America even after the War of Independence was won.

A Vice-President (Aaron Burr) fighting a duel with the first Secretary of the Treasury (Alexander Hamilton) and killing him: just one of the conflicts that the period saw. As a Federalist, Adams was attacked as far too pro-British - indeed, a 'monarchist'. The kind of ripe abuse that was thrown about makes Mark Latham seem mild-mannered. Adams's tortured relationship with Jefferson over issues including federalism and slavery seemed to prefigure the Civil War: there were calls for secession right from the beginning.

As President (1797-1801), Adams narrowly avoided a war with France over the XYZ affair. And the first 30 years after the end of the War of Independence culminated in the British burning Washington, DC in the War of 1812. Interesting times indeed, when it must have seemed the United States had no hope of surviving: either it would be ruined by further war, or it would break apart.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

I WAS told an interesting statistic on Friday: during their lifetimes, 80% of Australians will own a passport, while for Americans the figure is more like 12%. This, I was told, 'explains a lot'.

But how to explain this figure? It's not that Americans don't travel: it's just that they tend to travel within their own country. With more than 280,000,000 people, they can find more diversity - cultural, social, linguistic, geographic - at home than we can dream of with only 20,000,000 scattered around the edges of our continent.

Thursday, February 06, 2003

EVER thought: 'I wish I had that person's life'? Thus it is with me and Niall Ferguson, author and presenter of Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

KEN PARISH has moved to Blogger. I notice that he puts me among 'Centre-ish' Australian bloggers in his links. And at the top of the page he has this quote:

"The middle of the road is for yellow lines and dead armadillos." ... Jim Hightower

But Ken, I thought it was obvious that I'm not middle-of-the road: I'm all over the road. Whoever you are, sooner or later I'll hit you head-on.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

THE WORLD Social Forum - the antiglobalisation answer to the World Economic Forum - is to meet soon in the Brazilian state of Rio Grand do Sul.

At the first session in 2001, the guest of honour was José Bové - French McDonald's vandaliser - welcomed by the state's Worker's Party government. Last October, Brazil elected Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the Workers Party candidate, as president.

But at the same election in Rio Grand do Sul, the Workers Party governor was thrown out:

...the affinity the Workers Party showed for Mr. Bové also rankled because he is one of the European Union's most outspoken supporters of restrictions on agricultural imports. Rio Grande do Sul is a major exporter of meat and grain that wants those barriers removed.

"It was a paradox that the populace was quick to perceive," said Carlos Sperotto, president of the state agricultural federation. "You had the Workers Party making common cause with the same guy who impedes the entry of our products in the French market, and that had a lot of impact."

Monday, January 13, 2003

KEN PARISH gives the best summary I've seen about the Windschuttle vs Reynolds et al. debate on Aboriginal history. Like Ken, I'm doubtful that Australia's Aboriginal policy over the last 215 years can be called 'genocide', or that Aboriginal 'sovereignty' has much of a future, at least in most of Australia. But it's clear to us that something happened on the frontier in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries which helps to explain two incontrovertible facts:

1. There are vast areas of Australia where Aboriginal people used to live, but don't any more.
2. Those Aboriginal people who remain are often on the bottom rung of Australian society.

Note that I only say 'helps' to explain. What happened in early 19th century Tasmania is important, but a lot has happened since then. There's only one thing for it: more Aboriginal history! (Particularly of the period since the 1960s.) That's the great thing about History: it keeps happening.

Sunday, January 12, 2003

THEY. You know who They are: the people who are responsible for everything. Matthew Parris in the Spectator:

Used variously to hint at resentment, dismay, sometimes wonder and even admiration, it not only separates the speaker from the perpetrators of whatever it is They do, but also implies that they are almost another order of beings, inhabiting another world beyond our control. Recourse to the term suggests passivity in the speaker, as though he and his intended audience are mere onlookers to the march of history...

This habit of speech is ancient, and very English. It echoes from an epoch when most people (and especially the poor) lived much closer to the land, and all the great decisions were made far away in London. Then, They really were a different world...

I can think of no better unwitting guide to a modern individual’s estimation of his and his peers’ own powerlessness in the universe than his recourse to the third- person plural as a shorthand for other human beings. Do you think that we have set foot on the Moon, or that they have? Do you think that we are searching for a cure for cancer, or that they are? Can we fly faster than the speed of sound these days, or can they? Do we understand the origins of the universe, or do they? Will we — or they? — be cloning humans next?
Apply this to the actions of your government. Even if you voted for it, do you think it acts in your name? When it acts, do you think 'THEY are doing this', or 'WE are doing this'?

I'M IN A FISKING MOOD. And here's the Daily Mail's Simon Heffer, in the Spectator Diary, to give me inspiration:

When I first came to Australia in the 1980s the national sense of humour was less developed than now. Scarcely had I settled in my taxi at Perth airport than my driver offered, unsolicited, the following joke: ‘Mate, what’s the difference between a roo lying dead at the side of the road and an abo lying dead at the side of the road?’ ‘Er, I don’t know,’ I replied. ‘There are skid marks in front of the roo.’ Now, the Indigenous Peoples are revered, respected, fêted in an orgy of post-colonial guilt.
Ah, taxi drivers: the ultimate crutch for bad journalists trying to get a local feel.
In the Australian Museum in Sydney, on the way in to an exhibition of the life and culture of the Indigenous Peoples, a notice solemnly proclaims that if any visiting Indigenous Person should be offended by any sight or sound in the exhibition, he or she should make the offence known to the staff, who (presumably) will remove the offending object or silence the offending sound.
This sounds like the ABC's warning that a program may contain images of people who have died, which is offensive to some Aboriginal people; yet another example, not of PC, but CP: common politeness.
Australia loves laws and regulations — funny, when you consider how this place started...
Ugh, here we go again: convicts explain everything. (And, in any case, the life of a convict was nothing BUT laws and regulations.)
...and so when I got to Sydney and saw a sign ordering ‘Don’t be a Tosser’, I wondered what rule I would have to break to be so condemned. Happily, as a non-smoker, I was safe: it was about the evil of chucking fag ends in the gutter because they end up in the water supply. (Don’t ask me how: I’ve yet to see one coming out of the tap in my hotel bathroom.)
No, Simon, they just end up in Sydney Harbour and on the beaches.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s television channel is wonderfully Anglocentric, smelling of the era of Robert Menzies, Chips Rafferty and Don Bradman...Better still, it seems every night to show two or three proper British films between about midnight and 5 a.m., perfect for expat film buffs with hopeless jet lag. By ‘proper’ I mean they are in black-and-white, made in the reign of King George VI, and full of people who dress correctly and speak comprehensible English.
As it happens, I love the golden years of British film as well. But that period ran from about 1942 to 1960, while most of the films that appear on the endless loop the ABC runs (the same ones show up every three months or so) seem to come from the 1930s 'Quota Quickies' period. There's little of the Archers beyond a few favourites, and no Alexander Korda, Ealing or early Hitchcock.
One reason for my trip was to watch cricket here [Sydney] and at Melbourne. This aspect was something of a disappointment. I don’t say that because Australia retained the Ashes — good luck to them — but because of their most surprising achievement: the Americanisation of cricket.
NOW he notices?? It's been going on since 1977. We may not be very original, but we only copy from the best. If commercial vulgarisation was required to save cricket - and it was - of course we were going to copy the Americans.

But when we decided we wanted decent coffee, we showed good sense and copied the Italians instead.

Thursday, January 09, 2003

WHEN YOUR PAST COMES BACK TO HAUNT YOU. Yesterday I found 4 large boxes of vinyl LPs outside a block of flats just down the street. Two eager fossickers - a man and woman apparently in their 20s - were already going through them and picking out their favourites.

When they were finished, I had a look. What I found was disturbing. No fewer than 12 of them were ones I already had, all dating from 1974 - 1986. (This includes the embarrassing ones.) And there were 3 more where, though I didn't have them, I had other albums by those artists.

And which ones did I take? No, that could be embarrassing too.

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

BOK GOES BARMY. Richard Calland, a South African, complains about Australia no longer being the land of 'she'll be right, mate':

Australia appears intent on surpassing the United States in a quest for self-control...

Since my last visit in 1994, Australia seems to have turned its collective head from Britain and Europe emphatically towards the US. The desire to put distance between Australia's compelling modernity and its colonial heritage is understandable. What is not is the apparent new deference to the contemporary imperial power.
Actually we've been looking towards America since at least 1941.
It is also a product as much as a cause of the nation's confidence and competence, both of which ave become clear to the rest of the world and to anyone who follows sport, given Australian success in so many sporting arenas in the past decade. Discussing the baffling furore around Steve Waugh's future, former skipper Mark Taylor captured the essence of the modern Australian ethos: "Our cricket is run like a business now; it is utterly ruthless." The lack of sentiment over Waugh, his legendary status notwithstanding, is not baffling to Australians. Proficiency comes naturally now - welcome to the Switzerland of the south.

But it's also the sign of a highly developed society that has lost a sense of proportion. Australians have shed the skin of their stereotype; the jocularity eclipsed now by a dogged pursuit of perfection in everything. Leaving the ground on Saturday I overhead the following charming exchange. "I come here to watch the cricket. All you lot do is sing all day. I don't understand it," a tall, earnest Australian inquired of a member of the Barmy Army. "Well," she replied, "it just goes to show: you're jolly good at cricket and we're jolly good at singing."
But is any of this really new? Geoffey Blainey argued in A Shorter History of Australia (1994) that, while excellence hadn't been encouraged in industry, it was always expected in sport. There has been a lot of sentimental talk about how Australians allegedly prefer 'heroic failures' (Gallipoli and all that) to unambiguous winners.

But there has never been a heroic failure captaining a losing Australian cricket team - just a failure. Bill Woodfull may not have succeeded against bodyline, but it was unsportsmanlike - he was a victim, not a failure, so it was all right.

The only people who really like heroic failures are journalists, because they're usually such unheroic failures themselves.

But even the Americans aren't always that efficient. I originally entered this post (and the last one) yesterday, and they were promptly chewed up by Blogger. Good thing I had copies.

THE NEW WTC. Thanks to Iain Murray for this link to Norman Foster's design for the new World Trade Center. (It's the last of 37 slides giving a detailed view of how it would look.) I must say, it's more graceful than the original. But it also incorporates the 'footprints' of the twin towers as memorials.

Monday, December 16, 2002

BOLTON WEIGHS IN. Another review of Windschuttle's book The Fabrication of Aboriginal History (also without a link) by Geoffrey Bolton in the SMH, 14-15/12/02:

A number of writers, including some who should have known better, have inflated frontier death tolls well beyond safe evidence. Reynolds himself has cautioned against histories of race relations which assume "the worse, the better" [My italics.]

Windschuttle has worked the relevant archives diligently. This primary research is particularly important because, unlike most of continental Australia, Tasmania retains little indigenous oral history to provide a counter narrative to the conventional archival and printed sources. Rigorous in testing evidence, Windschuttle discards reports based on hearsay, exaggeration over time, and ignorance of local geography to reduce the number of Aborigines slain in Tasmanian frontier conflict between 1803 and 1834 to no more than 118. Over the same period 185 settlers and convicts are known to have perished at Aboriginal hands. These figures do not discredit Reynolds' contention that the Tasmanians suffered losses proportionately greater than Australians killed in the two world wars between 1914 and 1945, with similar trauma...

Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur, writing in 1828, thought that the encroachment of white people on their hunting grounds "exasperated" the Tasmanian Aborigines, and several historians have used the term "guerilla warfare" to describe the indigenous response to settler pressure. Windschuttle won't have it. The Aborigines cannot have been starving because kangaroos and other game were still plentiful in the 1830s. Therefore, as nomads with no concept of territorial ownership, they lacked motive or capacity for guerilla warfare.

This is one of his weakest arguments. Starvation is not necessary to produce resentment at intrusion into one's hunting grounds. Windschuttle himself cites examples of Aborigines destroying large numbers of sheep and cattle without using them for food. Blood was shed in contest for aboriginal land and that must be acknowledged...

Windschuttle's explanation [for the disappearance of the Tasmanians] is unflattering...Their helplessness in the face of contact was compounded by tribal conflict and the men's practice of prostituting their women to diseased whites. A reader who accepted all this might think that the Tasmanians hardly deserved to survive. Most scholars will find it hard to agree.

He concludes:
[Windschuttle] is probably Australia's most polemical historian since H.V. Evatt wrote Rum Rebellion...Because the stakes [regarding land rights] are high, the risk of distorted scholarship is great, both among those who seek redress for wrings committed against Aborigines and those who would deny them. I think that in several places Windschuttle goes too far, but he is right to invoke Sir Paul Hasluck, who wrote:

"There have been two colossal fictions in popular accounts of the treatment of the natives in Australia. One suggests that settlers habitually went about shooting down blacks; the other, framed as a counterblast, is that every settler treated natives with constant kindness. There is no evidence to support either statement."

Like the late Paul Hasluck - politician and Governor-General as well as historian - Geoffrey Bolton is a Western Australian. He's hardly a dreaded 'post-modernist' of the type Windschuttle loves to attack. Indeed, he has sometimes been bracketed with Hasluck as an exponent of the 'gentry school' of WA history. He wrote the volume of the Oxford History of Australia covering the post-World-War II period: it was appropriately called The Middle Way.

REYNOLDS STRIKES BACK in a review of Windschuttle's book The Fabrication of Aboriginal History in the Weekend Australian, 14-15/12/02. True to form, he's remarkably polite in response. There's no link available, but here are some highlights:

Windschuttle sees unity of purpose and ideology where it doesn't exist...

For all that, Windschuttle's work on Tasmania is far better researched than his previous articles about mainland Australia published in Quadrant. He successfully attacks some of the more outlandish stories about early Tasmania that are still widely circulated, more commonly overseas these days than in the country itself. He is neither the sole writer nor the first one to do this and such myths are probably impervious to academic attack. And for all the vigour used to unpick the interpretations of previous writers, the same process will now continue. His scholarship will be rigorously examined and fully exposed to view. And this will happen sooner rather than later. So for all the rancour occasioned by the debate, scholarship will be vivified.

It does not seem unreasonable to me to suggest that Windschuttle arrived at the front door of the Tasmanian archives with his mind made up, his thesis already formed. While he does not falsify facts, his use of the records is extremely selective...

He argues that assessment of the Aboriginal motives and behaviour lack credibility in the absence of direct indigenous voices. It is a good debating point. But once made, Windschuttle provides his own account of Aboriginal actions, which has even less support from the available indirect and circumstantial evidence...

Windschuttle's general conclusions...will delight and deeply offend; they are at one and the same time historiographical and intensely political...While written about Tasmania, they will be taken as having much wider relevance.

He sums up Windschuttle's conclusions:
The conflict cannot plausibly be characterised as warfare or guerilla warfare...The Aborigines were not patriots fighting for their land but were little better than burglars and murderers. They were criminal - no more, no less...

Their actions were not noble; in fact "they never rose beyond robbery, assault and murder"...

Much of the population loss was due to the fact that Aboriginal men sold off their women to white men, which was one consequence of conditions within an indigenous society that was "so internally dysfunctional".

The implications of all this are clear. If not drawn by Windschuttle, they will be by others. The black armbands can come off and go out with the rubbish. White Australia has no historically derived obligations to Aborigines. Land rights have no justification. Reconciliation is unnecessary. If anyone should say sorry for the past, it's the Aborigines, whose criminal ancestors behaved so badly towards the white pioneers.


MORE ON WHY HISTORY MATTERS. Richard White on how History in schools has become like spinach: you don't have it because you like it, you have it because it's good for you.

I did Richard's course Australia 1900-1945 in 1998 as part of my History MA: here's an essay I wrote for him. He then supervised my Dissertation.

He knows what he's talking about. Although the MA was good for me, it wasn't spinach-like - it was pure pleasure!

Sunday, December 15, 2002

KEITH WINDSCHUTTLE'S The Fabrication of Aboriginal History: Volume One, Van Diemen's Land 1803-1847 (Macleay Press) was launched in Sydney this week:

In the entire period from 1803 when the colonists first arrived, to 1834 when all but one family of Aborigines had been removed to Flinders Island, the British were responsible for killing only 118 of the original inhabitants.

I love the 'only'. As Reynolds points out in Fate of a Free People(1995) (p. 210), the overall frontier confict death toll on both sides in Tasmania during the years 1824-31 'falls somewhere between the Korean War with 323 [Australian] fatalities and the Vietnam War with 424'.

Cladio Veliz, launching Windschuttle's book, called European settlement in Australia 'a nun's picnic' compared with what went on elsewhere:
This is the first major nation in the history of the world to have secured full independence and sovereignty without killing anyone.
Wow: even Windschuttle doesn't claim that!

THE SRI Lankan cricket team were 'harassed and humiliated on their arrival at Brisbane airport on Wednesday night for their cricket tour of Australia' - or so claims Sri Lanka's state-run Daily News.

Sa'adi Thawfeeq concludes that the Sri Lankan team 'don't deserve this type of humiliation to play cricket in a nation ruled by convicts'.

Sri Lanka thus joins Britain and Malaysia as countries where Australians are clearly not covered by racial vilification laws.

What happened to the Sri Lankan team happens to anyone who is likely to bring soil into Australia. For example, all visitors are asked if they have visited a farm recently - if so, they must have cleaned their boots or shoes.

Monday, December 09, 2002

I GET three SMH Hecklers rejected, and then Katie gets published first go: her gripe is about the blanding of Sydney's gardens, the ubiquitous 'ball on a stick' standard plants especially.

If only they paid for Hecklers...

Friday, December 06, 2002

I DIDN'T write this, but it sounds like the story of my life. The link comes from my daily Jobnet email.

SYDNEY IN FLAMES. And, in the depths of winter, millions of Brits get news even worse than the cricket.

Sunday, December 01, 2002

THE MASSACRE OF HISTORY. I can’t say I'm waiting with baited breath for what Paul Sheehan describes as Keith Windschuttle’s ‘landmark new book, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History’.

Sir William Deane's reply is here.

Debate continued in the SMH letters column on Wednesday. Note Allan Tegg's comments.

Windschuttle's response came in Thursday's Letters.

Then yesterday came Henry Reynolds' retraction:

"It gives Keith a free kick. It's a bad mistake and I have to acknowledge that and thank him for pointing it out. Clearly, it will have to be changed in a new edition," he said.

"All historians are fallible and make mistakes. They are usually mistakes and not conspiracies."

At least he admits his mistakes. (Hello Janet?)

'Stolen generations', 'invasion', 'massacre', 'genocide', '10,000 dead', 'sorry': these are emotive terms, and one can pick holes in all of them. But what are we doing if we do that?

Reynolds and others have been trying to get recognition for what was done to Aboriginal people, and to offer an explanation for why they occupy their current position in Australian society: the bottom rung.

One of the key themes of Reynolds' work is that of organised Aboriginal resistance: that Aborigines did not simply give in to white domination, and that therefore the belief that the settlement of Australia was uniquely peaceful was the result of what W.E.H. Stanner called a "cult of forgetfulness practised on a national scale". There was extensive frontier resistance which deserves to be called "war".

Windschuttle has spoken of "people working with the same assumptions, methods and objectives" inevitably coming up with the same results, all of which need to be challenged. As Reynolds describes it in his autobiography Why Weren't We Told?, his own assumption was that Aborigines were on the bottom of Australian society, economically and socially, and that there had to be a historical explanation for this. His method was simply to go back over the historical record - contemporary newspapers, books, government reports, diaries and memoirs - and report the themes that he found. His objective in all this was to explain the position of Aborigines in Australian society today.

I can't help feeling that all Windschuttle's current work is an act of revenge on the leftist he once was: the author of Unemployment and editor of New Journalist back in the 70s. I’m glad he’s abandoned Marxism - I just wish Aboriginal history weren't part of his collateral damage.

If it makes Keith feel any better, Green Left thought Reynolds’ last book, An Indelible Stain?, was far too timid.

Thursday, November 21, 2002

VELCRO! It's all a baby really needs.

I just want something to get baby sick off the carpet.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

LOOK! UP IN THE SKY! IT'S STRAW MAN! Or in this case, straw women.

Tim Blair has already highlighted Margo's attempts to live out the stereotype of the we-brought-it-on-ourselves lefty intellectual.

In the Straw Stakes, my new favourite scarecrow is the Independent's Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. She was the Edwardian Country House dinner guest from hell - at least from Sir John's point of view. Then in the wake of October 12 she attacked Australians for treating Bali as Costa del Yob (now there's a straw man argument) and then for leaving. In other words, for being there - and then for not being there.

I am not saying people deserved this appalling fate just because they loved sex, surf and sand...

Then why mention it?
but we must become more aware what risks come into play when so little real connection exists between us and the people of the places we love to visit.

More straw: how do you know they had no connection? Not every Bali visitor wants to be insulated from the locals - who are surely part of the reason people want to go there rather than Surfer's Paradise.
As a black Briton I have other questions too about our relationship with Australia and the lack of criticism of that country, its history and the thousands of Australians who flood into small, over-crowded Britain, which we are told, will sink if one more Iraqi or Kenyan enters it. Look around you; white Australians are ministers, pop stars, editors, pundits, authors, even human-rights lawyers. They have been able to get to places blacks cannot dream of...So, where are these people of massive influence when it comes to the inhumane asylum policies of their government?...Geoffrey Robertson, Patricia Hewitt, Kylie Minogue, Clive James, Pamela Anderson, where are you?

Pamela Anderson? Isn't she Canadian? I suppose Yasmin assumes that anyone blonde, pneumatic and wearing a swimsuit must be Australian. Britain is apparently being 'flooded' by Or-straylians who form ghettos (like Earl's Court and the upper levels of the British arts and political establishments) and don't assimilate. We seem to be the one ethnic group in Britain not protected by the Race Relations Act.

Well, I thought I'd found a scarecrow: but then she wrong-foots me and goes and writes things like 'Let's not forget our own Muslim intolerance', 'Black history should never be safe history - Africans in Britain should be discussing the part played by their ancestors in the slave trade' and 'Manipulative as she was, Hindley didn't fool me'. Pity she's still so aggressively self-righteous.

Sunday, November 17, 2002

I'M NOT sure if history is actually sexy yet, but biography certainly seems to be - at least when Amanda Foreman writes it.

She gave this speech at Queen Mary College, University of London on 13 November:

Biography remains a commercial enterprise. It is judged by reviewers and book sales, thereby freeing writers from the dulling grip of departmental orthodoxy.
Unfortunately, this freedom is coupled with almost total isolation from the history community...
If the public shies away from academic history, it is because, unlike biography, it seems to lack narrative.

She was speaking at the launch of Queen Mary's new Centre for Editing Lives and Letters. Also involved in the launch was David 'Rudest Man in Britain' Starkey. He's clearly a very busy man: the book club of which I'm a member informs me that his latest book on the six wives of Henry VIII, which they'd promised, now won't be available till the new year. And his own website has been about to be 'relaunched shortly' for several months. He's not an idler like me, but maybe he's spreading himself too thin?

Friday, October 18, 2002

WOODY HARRELSON, currently appearing in a play in London, writes for the Grauniad.

He must have smoked some awfully good grass to have come up with some of those opinions.

IS HISTORY BECOMING SEXY? Simon Schama is profiled in the London Telegraph:

Last year, his colossal popularity helped sales of history books in Britain exceed, for the first time, those of cookery books, and applications to study history at university are increasing...

'From the beginning, we wanted to tell stories and ask questions.'

I can't think of better description of what historians do - or are supposed to do.

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

BALI: in retrospect it seems so obvious. I'd expected an attack against Australians somewhere, involving an Oklahoma City-style truck bomb, but thought it would actually be in Australia. (And I had a list of potential targets in my mind - which I'm not going to share with you.) Like the WTC and Pentagon, the bar in Bali was a well chosen symbolic target. After all, Australians in Bali do all sorts of 'un-Islamic' things: they drink alcohol (hence attack a bar), the women dress 'immodestly', and some even have sex outside marriage! I wonder what the bombers would have made of these visitors. (Nerrilee was the birthday girl at the party I attended at the Bank Hotel, Newtown earlier this year.)

I must say that the media response has been surprisingly low-key. There are special news bulletins, but not wall-to-wall coverage. I think this is due to a combination of factors: lack of spectacular footage, smaller death toll, and lack of surprise. The shock effect of Port Arthur in 1996 was greater, despite the lower death toll, because it was the last thing anyone expected.

Saturday, September 14, 2002

SOME PERSPECTIVE ON 'PERSPECTIVE'. Tony Stephens in the SMH calls for us to 'put the coverage of the New York disaster into perspective, with some help from the Crusaders':

Well, Western civilisation produced people like Hitler, who was responsible for the deaths of six million Jews in the Holocaust, and Stalin, whose purges in the 1930s took an estimated 20 million lives.

The year 1099 provides another perspective: Christian Crusaders took Jerusalem, slaughtering every Muslim and Jew. One Crusader wrote of walking knee-deep through corpses in the streets. When the Muslim Saladin took Jerusalem in 1187, he spared everyone and allowed the people to worship where they liked.

My response in today's SMH Letters:
Like many who are appalled that people actually care about September 11, Tony Stephens ("Here's the view from the World Trade Centre to Bhuj", Heckler, September 13) calls for us to put it into "perspective".

Very well, here's some perspective: in 1996, just 35 people were murdered at Port Arthur. You might say, with the benefit of perspective, that our reaction was completely over the top. Why were we so shocked? After all, more people die on Australia's roads every fortnight or so. It's also interesting that in order to make an anti-Western, pro-Islamic point, he has to go back 800 years to the time of Saladin.

As Janet Jackson might say: 'What has Saladin done for me lately'?

Friday, September 06, 2002

TAKI WROTE this more-than-usually-nasty 'High Life' column in the Spectator two weeks ago. My response was this letter, in the print version of the Speccie (not online) of 31 August:

Were the soldiers who surrendered to the Japanese 'cowards'? Perhaps Taki (High Life, 24 August) would like to come to Australia next April 25 (Anzac Day) and tell that to the former members of the 8th Division.

In his praise of kamikaze pilots, Taki tells us 'the difference between Western and Japanese philosophy is that the former tells a person how to live, whereas the latter tells them how to die.'

Well, a fat lot of good it did them. Long before the kamikaze pilots, Japanese soldiers in New Guinea were killing themselves out of shame if they didn't succeed in their objective, often by throwing themselves at Australian guns. Fighting to the last man is one thing, but, unlike the kamikazes, their deaths had no military purpose. And if they were captured, Japanese soldiers often proved surprisingly talkative.

Thursday, September 05, 2002

CLASH OF THE TITANS - HITCHENS VS AMIS. In his latest book, Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million, Martin Amis investigates Stalin's terror, and deals with the question of why everyone knows about the Nazi Holocaust, but no-one knows about Stalin. In explaining why, he blames none other than his best friend , Christopher Hitchens, who has responded in The Atlantic Monthly:

In the fall of 1999 Amis attended a meeting in London where I spoke from the platform. The hall was one of those venues (Cooper Union, in New York, might be an analogy) where the rafters had once echoed with the rhetoric of the left. I made an allusion to past evenings with old comrades, and the audience responded with what Amis at first generously terms "affectionate laughter." But then he gives way to the self-righteousness and superficiality that let him down.

Here is Amis's 'self-righteousness and superficiality':
Why is it? Why is it? If Christopher had referred to his many evenings with many "an old blackshirt," the audience would have ... Well, with such an affiliation in his past, Christopher would not be Christopher-or anyone else of the slightest distinction whatsoever. Is that the difference between the little mustache and the big mustache, between Satan and Beelzebub? One elicits spontaneous fury, and the other elicits spontaneous laughter? And what kind of laughter is it? It is, of course, the laughter of universal fondness for that old, old idea about the perfect society. It is also the laughter of forgetting. It forgets the demonic energy unconsciously embedded in that hope. It forgets the Twenty Million.

This isn't right:
Everybody knows of Auschwitz and Belsen. Nobody knows of Vorkuta and Solovetski.

Everybody knows of Himmler and Eichmann. Nobody knows of Yezhov and Dzerdzhinsky.

Everybody knows of the six million of the Holocaust. Nobody knows of the six million of the Terror-Famine.

Hitchens responds:
But we have grown up reading Solzhenitsyn, Joseph Berger, Eugenia Ginzburg, Lev Kopelev, Roy Medvedev, and many other firsthand chroniclers of the nightmare. Names like Vorkuta and Kolyma are not as familiar to most people as Treblinka or Birkenau, but the word "gulag" (one of the many hateful acronyms of the system) does duty for the whole, and is known to everybody. Amis appears to deny this when he says that a general recognition of the toll of Stalinist slavery and murder "hasn't happened," and that "in the general consciousness the Russian dead sleep on." He should have hesitated longer before taking the whole weight of responsibility for this memory, and our memory, on his shoulders...

He tells me that this fairly unimportant evening was what kick-started his book, and in an open letter to me on the preceding pages he contemptuously, even proudly, asserts his refusal even to glance at Isaac Deutscher's biographical trilogy on Leon Trotsky. Well, I have my own, large differences with Deutscher. But nobody who read his Prophet Outcast, which was published more than three decades ago, could possibly be uninstructed about Vorkuta or Yezhov. In other words, having demanded to know "Why is it?" in such an insistent tone, he doesn't stay to answer his own question, instead replacing it with a vaguely peevish and "shocked, shocked" version of "How long has this been going on?" The answer there is, longer than he thinks.

'...the crucial questions about the gulag were being asked by left oppositionists, from Boris Souvarine to Victor Serge to C.L.R. James, in real time and at great peril. Those courageous and prescient heretics have been somewhat written out of history (they expected far worse than that, and often received it), but I can't bring myself to write as if they never existed, or to forgive anyone who slights them. If they seem too Marxist in tendency, one might also mention the more heterodox work of John Dewey, Sidney Hook, David Rousset, or Max Shachtman in exposing "Koba's" hideous visage. The "Nobody" at the beginning of Amis's sentences above is an insult, pure and simple, and an insult to history, too.

But who knows about the Gulag, other than the word itself? I'd read some of Solzhenitsyn, but I'd never heard of Yezhov until I read Alan Bullock's Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives. If they were questions on Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Adolf Hitler would be a $500 question, while Stalin would be up around $32,000 or more. Yezhov would be $500,000.

Hollywood has dealt with the Nazi Holocaust, but Stalin's terror remains largely untouched. It was in the background of Dr Zhivago, and rather more prominent in Enemy at the Gates, but both of these were primarily about Russia at war. The Gulag has no Schindler's List.
Amis says he doesn't wish that World War II had gone the other way, which is good of him (though there were many Ukrainians and Russians who took their anti-Stalinism to the extent of enlistment on the Nazi side). However, it would be nice to know if he wishes that the Russian civil war, and the wars of intervention, had gone the other way. There are some reasons to think that had that been the case, the common word for fascism would have been a Russian one, not an Italian one. The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion was brought to the West by the White emigration; even Boris Pasternak, in Doctor Zhivago, wrote with a shudder about life in the White-dominated regions. Major General William Graves, who commanded the American Expeditionary Force during the 1918 invasion of Siberia (an event thoroughly airbrushed from all American textbooks), wrote in his memoirs about the pervasive, lethal anti-Semitism that dominated the Russian right wing and added, "I doubt if history will show any country in the world during the last fifty years where murder could be committed so safely, and with less danger of punishment, than in Siberia during the reign of Admiral Kolchak." Thus "the collapse in the value of human life," as Amis describes the situation in post-revolutionary Russia, had begun some time before, perhaps in the marshes of Tannenberg, and was to make itself felt in other post-World War I societies as well.

Let's engage in some Niall Ferguson-style virtual history: what if Aleksandr Kerensky - leader of the Provisional Government which actually overthrew the Czar - had had Lenin arrested and shot on arrival at the Finland Station in St Petersburg in 1917? Russian involvement in World War I would have continued, with hundreds of thousands more Russian lives being lost. But once the Germans had surrendered, Kerensky would have had the chance to build a stable government - though he would still have had a civil war on his hands, and, undoubtedly, a lot of blood on them as well.

The lack of a Bolshevik government in Russia would have meant there was no example to hearten Communists in the rest of the world, or to serve as a bogeyman to rouse Fascists - indeed, would Fascism even have existed if not for Bolshevism? No Lenin, no Stalin. No Stalin, no Hitler. No Hitler, no World War II. No World War II, no Nazi Holocaust and, possibly, no nuclear weapons.

This outcome would certainly have been better for the rest of world, and it's hard to see how it could have been worse for Russia. As the old man, about to be stoned to death in Monty Python's Life of Brian, cried: 'Worse? How could it be worse?!'

Hitchens concludes with a spray at everyone who's anti-communist:
Writing toward the very end of his life, a life that had included surprising Stalin himself by a refusal to confess, and the authorship of a novel—The Case of Comrade Tulayev—that somewhat anticipated Darkness at Noon, Victor Serge could still speak a bit defensively about the bankruptcy of socialism in the "midnight of the century" represented by the Hitler-Stalin pact. But he added,
Have you forgotten the other bankruptcies? What was Christianity doing in the various catastrophes of society? What became of Liberalism? What has Conservatism produced, in either its enlightened or its reactionary form? ... If we are indeed honestly to weigh out the bankruptcies of ideology, we shall have a long task ahead of us.

Well, the Western countries (home to all of the strains of ideology Serge mentions) helped to defeat Fascism, stood firm against Soviet Communism, and have made themselves into the kind of countries everyone wants to emigrate to. Hitchens himself migrated from one Western country to another, undoubtedly the most 'Western' of all.

But after all the above, I nevertheless agree with his conclusion:

Be very choosy about what kind of anti-communist you are.

Wednesday, September 04, 2002

EVEN WHEN I'm on semi-hiatus, bizarre Google searches continue to find me:

'cpl jones they don't like it up 'em'
'naked weathergirl'

Saturday, August 17, 2002

ELITISM RETURNS. Elitist is back, if not with a vengeance, then with some occasional bile.

I'm currently reading The White Nile (1960) by the legendary Australian journalist Alan Moorehead (1910-1982). Here he describes the 1882 Egyptian rising against the British:

Since Napoleon's invasion at the end of the previous century Egypt could look back upon hardly anything but defeat and humiliation at the hands of the Christians. At the first sign of trouble British and French warships were sure to appear at Alexandria, and the possibility of outright invasion was always in the air...Even as early as 1868...even in the depths of the Sudan, the Franks (a term that applied to other Europeans besides Frenchmen) were detested, and in the years that had elapsed since then this xenophobia had increased. It had been kept underground, its spirit had faltered because of the natural lethargy of the Middle East, but still it continued to expand.

In Paris and London politicians had begun to talk of a dangerous Pan-Islamic conspiracy, a resurgence of fanatical Mohammedanism. In Cairo it seemed to the Egyptians that things were the other way about: they were being encircled by a Pan-Christian movement that was becoming more menacing every day.

Sound familiar? But I don't know about 'the natural lethargy of the Middle East' - when it comes to Middle East politics, some lethargy might be a good thing.

Thursday, July 04, 2002

NO MORE blogging for some time. Here's why.

Tuesday, July 02, 2002

BLOGGING JOHN MALKOVICH. Regarding politically violent actors, John Quiggin now asks 'how about the initals JWB?'

Yes, those initials mean someting to me too: and if Malkovich is a failed actor, the ne'er-do-well product of a famous acting family, that's cause for concern.

He continues:

To put my position seriously, once more. Any political death threat, whether or not there is any intention of carrying out, is an attack on democracy, and should be condemned unequivocally.

OK, let's be serious. [Groan.] Certainly, if such things are said in political debate, they damage democracy. The fact that they were said at the Cambridge Union sounds impressive - after all, its Oxford equivalent is one of the world's great debating societies. But look at their events last term: a whisky tasting, a Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream tasting, a ball dress sale, and as keynote speaker in Week 4, Ulrika Jonsson, former Good Morning Britain weathergirl and recent Kumars at Number 42 guest. This is The Great and The Good?

Sunday, June 30, 2002

IS JOHN Malkovich really a danger to George Galloway and Robert Fisk? Jason Soon says no: 'Obviously a face like that guarantees Mr Malkovich lots of psycho roles but he's an actor and no one would seriously regard his little burst of gung-ho bullshit as a serious death threat'. John Quiggin says yes, and asks 'Do the initials OJS mean anything to you, Jason?'

Well, they mean something to me: if Malkovich has been through a violent marriage and an acrimonious divorce with either Fisk or Galloway, I agree they have something to worry about.

Friday, June 28, 2002

IN THE next few days, my wife and I are expecting our first child. Neither of us has had children before. We are both 40.

We didn't 'wait to have children' - it was just that before we met (five years ago) we hadn't met anyone else we wanted to have children WITH. An important requirement for both of us.

Despite what this woman says, it wasn't because of feminism.

We have no regrets - but it would have been nice if Katie's brother had introduced us about five years earlier!

Thursday, June 27, 2002

WHY I AM A TISMAHOLIC. Those fun-loving yet prescient lads from Melbourne, This Is Serious Mum (TISM) several years ago came up with a solution to Middle East turmoil and described a typical day in Australia's parliament.

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

AT LAST - a critic of privatisation/deregulation who actually mounts some convincing, well-written arguments. John Quiggin, Australian Research Council Senior Fellow, Faculty of Economics and Commerce, Australian National University, has entered Blogistan. He is a frequent contributor to the Australian Financial Review, and argues here that the recent sale of Sydney Airport isn't all it's cracked up to be. And here's his take on Enron.

Sunday, June 23, 2002

THOUSANDS OF Iraqi children are dying every month as a result of sanctions, right? Er, not quite, says John Sweeney in The Observer:

Small coffins, decorated with grisly photographs of dead babies and their ages - 'three days', 'four days', written usefully for the English-speaking media - are paraded through the streets of Baghdad on the roofs of taxis, the procession led by a throng of official mourners.

There is only one problem. Because there are not enough dead babies around, the regime prevents parents from burying infants immediately, in the Muslim tradition, to create more powerful propaganda.

Sweeney's report will be on BBC2's Correspondent program tonight.

While Sweeney was in northern Iraq, 'the chairman of the Great Britain Iraq Society, Labour MP George Galloway, was in Baghdad. He popped up on Iraqi TV, saying "when I hear the word Iraq I hear someone calling my name".'

Now I understand what John Malkovich was on about.

Saturday, June 22, 2002

I'M NORMALLY suspicious of Grauniad articles about 'Bush's America' (does he own it?) but Patricia J Williams of Columbia Law School sounds dangerously reasonable when she talks about the risks of racial profiling:

"Random checks or profiling aren't going to stop the determined operatives who are trained to defy visual expectations. The moment one has a fixed image, say of a man, it'll be a woman next time." Both the British "shoe bomber" Richard Reid, and the Chicago Latino al-Muhajir, bucked the expected profile of an "Islamist terrorist".

She also asks how we'll know when we've won:
"I appreciate the necessity for extraordinary measures in wartime," she says, "but an indefinite period of emergency measures worries me more than a list of finite military objectives. We need a clearer definition of what we're at war with."

Friday, June 21, 2002

EVEN THOUGH Carl Robinson, an American-turned-Australian, writes in praise of Australia, it's not the kind of praise we actually welcome. He's like Michael Caine in Educating Rita ending up going to Australia because he's a washed-up drunk and 'there's a place for a man like me out there'. On hearing that line in a Sydney cinema back in 1983, someone behind me said, 'Great, that's all we need.'

BLAIR IS right to want a Maremma. This Italian snow dog is big, loyal and affectionate - but you don't want to be a bad guy when it's around. My former London flatmate Jacqueline (now in Derbyshire) has a Maremma called Namba, who's outlasted her marriage. She knows who really loves her.

HEY, WASN'T there a soccer match on today? Apparently The Samaritans are on standby.

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

A FURTHER benefit of globalisation.

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

BEAM US UP, SPOCK, WE'RE IN CANBERRA. An ANU team has successfully teleported a laser beam. (Found by Natalie Solent.)

DADDY WARBLOGS gets the Congo dictator's widow email, I get the Nigeria one:

From: MRS MARIAM ABACHA [mailto:mariamab007@qrio.com]

Subject: Assistance and subsequent investment







Go on, email her. I dare you. What have you got to lose?

Sunday, June 16, 2002

ANOTHER BIZARRE search (this time via Yahoo) that found me:

'naked posing sexists'

THANKS TO Scott Wickstein for discovering this whinge by Melbourne Uni historian Janet McCalman. Yes, serious history writing in Australia is in a poor state. Odd, then, that she mentions 'remarkable book men' like Peter Ryan, former head of Melbourne University Press. This is what Ryan wrote in 'The Charge of the Lightweight Brigade', Quadrant, October 1994:

[T]he state of history in Australia is depressing...History in the sense of our civic story and a source of national wisdom is less significant than the endless construction of specialised papers of interest to few.

It's still true. There's a huge demand for Australian history. That's why Gallipoli by Les Carlyon was such a bestseller - but then he's a journalist. And, far from being a 'propagandist' or 'myth-smith', Carlyon energetically tackles many of the Gallipoli misconceptions.

'Why was there a sudden burst of writing, both fictional and scholarly, from the early 1970s?' McCalman asks. 'Because of the Australia Council grants and the "book bounty".' It might also have had something to do with the fact that writers then had something to say, and knew how to say it. Former Keating speechwriter Don Watson sums up the situation today:
If only a handful of young Australians now study their own history it is possibly at least in part because our myths no longer feed them and were never real enough, or big enough, to reproduce themselves. (From his book Caledonia Australis: Scottish Highlanders on the Frontier of Australia, 1997, p. xxvii.)

Jason Soon's comments about what makes a public intellectual make me wonder: where are our public historians? There's Geoffrey Blainey and...er, that's it. Compare that with Britain, where they've got Simon Schama, David Starkey, David Cannadine and Niall Ferguson all creating meaty yet popular history.