31 May 2007

Germany calling, 1945

Gunter Grass has, 62 years after the event, published his reminiscences of 1945. Even if you don't agree with the politics of the regime to which to lent his reluctant support, this is, IMO , a most evocative piece of writing (albeit somewhat diminished in stature by the occasionally hamfisted translation).

Reality check (and spellcheck) about ageing?

Atul Gawande in The New Yorker has some food for thought, methinks, even though he, or his New Yorker editors, have spelt "ageing" without an "e".

30 May 2007

If you change the government, do you really change the country?

Posted on Tim Dunlop's Blogocracy in response to his question "If you change the government, do you really change the country?".

Tim, IMO if the government changes so does the country.

My reasons are:

- Govts set and control the legislative agenda
- They can make changes in response to fluctuations in opinion polls etc
- They generally set media agenda: a few commentators may challenge them, but rarely have any lasting effect
- Control of purse strings gives power.

Consider Therese Rein's position. She is a beneficiary of the Howard govt's changes to employment services, ie
(1) dismantling CES and outsourcing its activities, thereby creating a government funded "market" in employment services (which Ms Rein and her companies have entered and, it seems, flourished in)
(2) changing definition of "employment" (now one hour working a fortnight) and shift many people to disability support
(3) claiming credit for reduction in employment.

In its 11 years in opposition the ALP has never, as far as I know, stated that it will revert to the old system, nor has it come up with an alternative system.

28 May 2007

Is News Ltd attempting to nobble a blogger?

In the "Weekend Talkback" section of his News.com.au blog Blogocracy Tim Dunlop announced a "new feature" starting soon:

The idea is that a bunch of bloggers will each respond to a question on a current topic. We will then all link to each other's responses so that you can click through and read what each person has to say. The first question will be composed by me, but each blogger will get a shot at suggesting a question from week to week. The idea is to get a bit of discussion going on a given topic and also to try and provide a way for each of us to introduce our readers to blogs that they maybe haven't heard of before.

In the comments section I asked him a few questions, including

Who are these bloggers? How many of them are they? Will they be like the Insiders panel with you as the Barrie Cassidy (with perhaps a dash of Paul Kelly)?

Dunlop replied at considerable length, during which he admitted

Actually, credit for the idea belongs, not to me, but to one of the guys from News ltd who thought it would be a good way to get some discussion going. After that, I suggested about half-a-dozen bloggers who we wrote to to see if they'd be interested.

Can anyone imagine "one of the guys from News Ltd " suggesting to Andrew Bolt, Piers Akerman, Janet Albrechtsen, or even Matt Price, that they recruit half a dozen bloggers to help them "get a bit of discussion going" on their blogs?

Even if Dunlop has a free hand to select his Super Six it is likely that his characteristic succinct forthrightness will be diluted. I can't see why he just can't link to the others where he thinks they've got something worth saying.

27 May 2007

Ms Rein to sell Australian part of her business

The news that Therese Rein, wife of federal opposition leader Kevin Rudd, has decided to sell her Australian business interests has been widely, and generally favourably, reported in the mainstream media, eg News.com.au, The Age and the ABC.

In her various media appearances over the last day or so Ms Rein has acted with admirable frankness and honesty.

A few additional points:

1. Given that Ms Rein's companies receive a considerable amount of govt funding, there will be a potential conflict of interest should her spouse become PM (or even a minister) at the election.

2. Conflicts of interest do not only involve spouses or people cohabiting. The Corporations Law mentions several categories of people whose relationship, whether family, business or other, might give rise to a conflict of interest.

3. Once disclosed, conflicts of interest can be managed, and not always by the type of radical measure she has embarked upon.

4. The Australian private employment services industry is largely a creation of the Howard government's policies since 1996.

5. As a number of commentators, including Janet Albrechtsen in The Australian yesterday have said, we need new rules to deal with situations like this.

26 May 2007

Forty years on

It is now 40 years since the passing, by what many at the time considered a surprisingly large majority, of the 1967 referendum amending the Constitution to empower the commonwealth government to make laws with respect to aboriginal people. It also for the first time authorised counting aboriginal people in national censuses.

The anniversary has occasioned much media comment. The general tone of the comments, not surprisingly given facts such as a 17 year difference between white and aboriginal life expectancy, is one of disillusion.

The current issues, at least as they impact upon aboriginal people, are aptly summed up by Nicholson's cartoon in today's Australian. It shows a remote
aboriginal community with vignettes of drunkenness, domestic violence, aspiring AFL players (a positive note), and poverty. In the foreground a signpost points in different directions:

Hope 2000k
Education 1375k
Jobs 1650k
Longevity 1700k
Career 2500k
Government 4000k
Wet canteen 50 metres.

Another piece which IMO is well worth reading is Noel Pearson's "White guilt, victimhood and the quest for a radical centre" in the current Griffith Review.

Paunch and Judy Condi

What are we to make of this?

Having a ball … Condoleezza Rice and Alexander Downer at the Giants game.

Far be it from me to suggest that there's anything improper about this couple being seen together in public wearing matching attire, but I wonder whether Mr Downer's paunch is real, or whether it's been enhanced to give him an appearance ( or illusion?) of Churchillian / Menziean substance.

If it's real maybe he should recognise that it's a manageable health risk and do something about it.

25 May 2007

Return to Deep Creek

Here are a few photos which I took today at Deep Creek Conservation Park.

I haven't walked there for some time but was, as usual, both exhilarated and tired by the experience, especially as the weather was sunny and clear, with a strong wind blowing from what Matthew Flinders described two centuries ago as "high barren land much intersected by gullies". Anyone who has ever walked, as I did today, through the thick vegetation in the park would query the "barren " but their aching muscles would testify to the accuracy of "high... land much intersected by gullies".

24 May 2007

A sense of proportion and perspective

Tim Dunlop at Blogocracy (who links to another blogger who shares his views on this matter) takes Amnesty International to task for comparing PM Howard to Presidents Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Omar al-Bashir of Sudan. I concur.

23 May 2007

Romulus, My Father

Tonight I saw the film adaptation of Raimond Gaita's Romulus, My Father.

I throughly recommend it, especially for the performances of Eric Bana as Romulus and Kodi Smit-McPhee as young Raimond.

If you see the movie, you'll probably be interested in reading the book or listening to it read by Raimond Gaita on audio tape (unabridged) or CD.

The movie outlines, and the book elaborates upon, the author's turbulent childhood and his relationship with his father, who suffered and grieved more than most people, but who retained a solid core of humanity. Raimond spoke of this in the eulogy he delivered at Romulus' funeral:

We sometimes express our most severe judgment of other people by saying that we will never again speak to them.
I never heard my father say that nor can I imagine him saying it. That, perhaps more than anything else, testifies to his unqualified sense of common humanity with everyone he met. His severe judgment often caused pain, but the simple honesty of its expression, together with his unhesitating acceptance of those whom he judged so severely , convinces me that he never intentionally caused suffering to anyone. He was truly a man who would rather suffer evil than do it. (p 207).

If you've read this far, I think there's a good chance that you'll find the book challenging, stimulating and, in non-material senses, rewarding.

22 May 2007

Japanese midget submarine wreck located

Federal Environment Minister Turnbull has announced that the wreckage of M24, a "mini-submarine", as The Australian coyly describes it (the SMH and the ABC use the traditional term "midget"), has been located near Sydney.

Examination of the vessel, in about 54m of water 5km from Bungan Head, indicates it contains the remains of sub-lieutenant Katsuhisa Ban and petty officer Mamoru Ashibe - where they will remain, protected by a 500m exclusion zone, video surveillance and the threat of a $1.1 million fine.

Yesterday, navy divers took sand from the ocean floor to give to relatives of the submariners.

The M24 and two other mini-subs invaded Sydney Harbour on May 31, 1942. While the others were captured, and are now bolted together outside the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, the M24 evaded frantic searches.

Now that the authorities have located and protected the last resting place of the two Imperial Japanese Navy submariners will they proceed to search for the 645 Australian crew members who were lost with HMAS Sydney off WA in 1941?

As I said in a post earlier this month
there is still a lot of interest in their fate. In the last few days news of the discovery in the Atlantic of a 17th century shipwreck laden with treasure shows that with modern technology (and admittedly, substantial funding) this should not be an impossible task.

21 May 2007

Cutty Sark damaged by fire

The renowned and venerable clipper ship Cutty Sark has been severely damaged by fire at Greenwich in England.

The ship, which was undergoing a £25m restoration, is kept in a dry dock at Greenwich in south-east London.

An area around the 138-year-old tea clipper had to be evacuated when the fire broke out in the early hours.
A Cutty Sark Trust spokesman said 50% of the ship was removed for restoration work. He said the trust was devastated but it could have been worse.


The fire at the Cutty Sark may mean only one clipper from the same period is left intact.

The City of Adelaide, built in 1864 to carry passengers and currently at the Scottish Maritime Museum in Ayrshire, also combines a cast iron frame with a wooden hull.

The Age has a good photo and a link to a video of the blaze.

The Cutty Sark has a special place in my affections because it's been at Greenwich, my favourite place in England, for as long as I can remember, and because I've taken my grandchildren (shown in the photo at the helm of the vessel) to see it on each of my last two visits. I must confess to misleading them by calling it a "pirate ship", but in my defence I'll say that it looks like one. I intend to tell them the truth one day (if they don't work it out beforehand).

20 May 2007

Transfer completed nine days before deadline

David Hicks is back in Adelaide, or as the ABC aptly describes it, "back in solitary confinement". The images of his arrival shown on tonight's Channel 9 and ABC TV news (which must have been filmed with the knowledge and consent of the authorities) show little change from Guantanamo: a small figure in orange (which the newsreaders described as red - look at the videos and decide for yourself) overalls between two guards.

The local law and order brigade have come out in force. While Attorney General Ruddock on this morning's Insiders and Terry Hicks have, from their different perspectives and in their different ways, maintained a civil restraint in their comments, populist ranters like SA Deputy Premier Foley have stirred the retribution pot vigorously:

South Australian Deputy Premier Kevin Foley says Hicks should not be treated as a hero now he is home."He's cost a lot of people a lot of pain," he said."He's cost taxpayers millions of dollars and he's put his father to hell and back."

Mr Foley says he hopes Hicks uses his time in prison to reflect on his behaviour. "He should be thinking long and hard about how he is going to conduct himself and rehabilitate himself when he walks from prison," he said.

On tonight's Channel 9 news Mr Foley's grasp of English syntax (has it ever been strong?) loosened as he referred to Hicks the younger's "behaviour he has conducted" [sic], while on ABC TV News he promised that DH would be incarcerated with "mass murderers [and] former magistrates found guilty of pedophilia".

And, while Mr Foley tries to maintain his rage (and spread lies - Hicks was neither charged with nor convicted by a US military commission of "aiding and abetting terrorism"), the ABC reports that a gang armed with knives and machetes carried out nine aggravated robberies across the metropolitan area overnight.

No arrests have been reported. Mr Foley has not commented.

History Week

This week (or more accurately the ten days from 18 -27 May) is SA History Week. There's an extraordinarily varied program of activities and events listed in the free 80 page program which is available in hard copy from many libraries, information centres and the like, and online from The History Trust of SA website.

The program is illustrated with a selection of historical photographs from the South Australian Glass Negative Collection, a quasi-official (my interpretation of a lengthy description on p viii of the program)
of SA history. The 35 images published in the program are available online . For anyone interested in SA History or photography they are well worth a look. Unfortunately no details of the photographers are provided, which is a pity since the program mentions that the renowned photographer Frank Hurley is represented in the collection. Alasdair McGregor's 2004 biography states (at p 348) that in 1935 Hurley was engaged by the SA government "to make two films and provide a collection of stills in celebration of the state's centenary".

I hope that more, if not all, of the 14,000 images in the collection will be published online.

Update PS (later 20 May)

As part of History Week ABC RN's Hindsight has today broadcast a documentary on G W Goyder, the 19th century SA Surveyor General who delineated the line beyond which grain growing in the Province (as it was then known) was not sustainable. The program website has some interesting supplementary material and details of how, at least for the next few weeks, to listen or download the program. I hope that the producers also make a transcript available.

18 May 2007

Outback services overstretched

Both the ABC and Adelaide Now report that 100 - 150 tourists have been stranded at Innamincka by the heavy yet welcome rains of the last few days.

Innamincka once had resident police and nurses, as photos on
this link confirm. The nearest SA police station is now (or was when I travelled in those parts three years ago) about 500kms away at Leigh Creek, and the nearest medical facility available to the public is ... I don't know where: probably in western Qld or NSW.

While there are no reports of anybody suffering much at the moment, events like this show how the withdrawal of services from remote areas makes it harder for police and emergency services to react effectively . In fact at the moment the emergency services are literally as well as metaphorically winging it, relying on air observation to keep an eye on things:

[SES] Regional commander Matt Maywald says the group of mainly tourists has been stuck for several days and may not be able to leave the area for another five days. He says the SES will fly over the region today to see if there is anyone else stranded in surrounding areas.Mr Maywald says the situation is not critical yet.

"At this current point in time there are enough supplies and the town is able to sustain those people for a few more days," he said."However, at this stage we believe the roads won't be open possibly for another five days and we may have some longer term issues with the sustainability and getting food in."

Mr Maywald is unsure when the roads will reopen.

"In outback areas it's now heading into the peak tourist season, the weather's lovely, the environment's generally green and no that's not ... [unusual] at all for that many people to be there, in fact, it could reasonably be quite a lot more," he said.

What measures are in place to deal with emergencies? The estimable Flying Doctor is on call, but what if the landing ground is waterlogged? Does Innamincka , like a number of other remote settlements, have a volunteer ambulance service with at least a qualified nurse available?

I've no reason to doubt that Mr Maywald is doing a good job with the resources available to him, but it would reassure travellers in the region to know that, if required, the no doubt significant resources available at the mining and petrochemical town of Moomba, which is about 100kms south of Innamincka but normally closed to the public, were available for emergency use.

I expect that there are other parts of Australia where similar situations prevail. The mining and related industries have a considerable presence in, and derive considerable benefit from, outback and remote Australia, yet they don't seem willing to offer public support in emergencies where a Good Samaritan would be handy. I may be mistaken about this, but the signs I saw outside Moomba warning people off and the notices on various maps of the region (note how Google Maps recognises the location yet doesn't identify the town) don't make me too optimistic.

17 May 2007

Premier sticks his nose into international conflict

Premier Rann, on a visit to Cyprus, has, as Adelaide Now tells us, left nobody in any doubt about his opinion:

Mr Rann, on a three-day visit to the island nation, said Australia should take an active involvement in helping to solve the political conflict. He said he would continue "to be an advocate for the cause of human rights, for the cause of international law and also on behalf of those Australian Greek Cypriots who have lost their property and have lost their freedom to partake in that property".

During his visit, Mr Rann met lawyers representing South Australians of Cypriot origin who lost their properties due to the invasion and who have filed cases against Turkey before the European Court of Human Rights with funding from his Government. "We are the only government outside Cyprus that has been prepared to step in . . . what we are seeing is a complete breach of international law," he said.

Many of the 5000 Greek-Cypriot South Australians are among the 200,000 refugees who were driven out at gunpoint from their homes and towns by the Turkish military.

"Turkey wants to join the EU but continues to violate international law. It is not a good start for Turkey in that it is violating laws and occupying a third of Cyprus, including the properties of Greek-Cypriot refugees from South Australia," Mr Rann said.

It concerns me that a state government is funding and "is prepared to step in" to an international situation which appears to be rooted in centuries old antagonism between Greek and Turkish people. The Premier has no, repeat no, power over foreign affairs and should not be, whatever the merits of his case, pretending that he has.

Like, I expect, most South Australians, I'm no authority on the country, but I've checked
DFAT's Smart Traveller advice for Cyprus , the relevant part of which says:

The Government of the Republic of Cyprus is the sole internationally recognised authority in Cyprus but its control, in practice, is exercised only in the southern part of the island which is predominantly Greek Cypriot. The northern part of Cyprus is controlled by the so-called 'Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus' (TRNC) which is only recognised by Turkey. There is also Turkish military presence in the north. A United Nations peacekeeping force (UNFICYP) patrols the buffer zone between the two sectors.

There have been occasional violent incidents along the UN Buffer Zone (also known as 'The Green Line').

You should avoid public demonstrations and large public gatherings as they may turn violent, especially around the UN Buffer Zone.

You should exercise caution in discussions in public areas of sensitive issues related to the problems of Cyprus' continued division. [Emphasis added].

If the Premier feels so strongly about the matter he should ask Mr Downer and DFAT to act on his behalf, rather than shooting from the hip as he's done. I'd be more sympathetic to him had he not harrumphed so loudly about how David Hicks should be treated after his release from prison as if everything Donald Rumsfeld had said about him was true, or if he'd not been silent about the detention of refugees and asylum seekers in his state.

Meanwhile back home in SA a storm in a teacup has blown up over remarks made by the MC at a Liberal fundraising function attended by Mr Costello. The joke is non-PC, but it reflects recent stories about Greek property developers making large donations to the ALP and, if not in return then almost concurrently, receiving the green light for major developments.

Art imitating life #2

Today's Crikey points out that, in the latest episode, McLeod's Daughters has become political. In the "real" world the federal government has stopped referring to "WorkChoices", replacing the term with "Workplace relations".

Update 20 May

More about the McLeod's Daughters - Workchoices/Workplace relations links here.

Art imitating life #1

John Howard (XI) , as IMDb describes him to distinguish him from his namesake and fellow actor John Howard (II), has emerged as a drama critic some days after the screening on ABC TV of Bastard Boys , a dramatised documentary about the 1998 waterfront dispute.

The PM has lambasted it as "one of the most lopsided pieces of political propaganda I've seen on the national broadcaster in years".

Others have expressed their, generally predictable, opinions. They include Chris Corrigan (who was depicted in the production looking very similar to Greg Combet), in today's
Australian ("...a tedious portrayal of predictable stereotypes....the program's only contribution to the political landscape is a well-timed piece of puffery for Combet's run for Canberra.") ; Robert Manne in The Age ("Possibly the left, certainly the right, will tell you that Bastard Boys is biased. Neither camp will be telling the truth. By its conclusion, through intellectual rigour, a historically accurate and politically fair-minded balance has been achieved") , and Michael Duffy in the SMH ("most blatant union propaganda").

Of those depicted in the drama and who have commented publicly, only Julian Burnside seems to have accepted the way he was portrayed with a measure of equanimity. He is quoted as saying that the actor who played him "
picked up on my mannerisms [ which included a penchant for Pepsi and rolling his own cigarettes] with great accuracy".

I thought that the program did make an effort to present both sides of the question yet I was left ( no pun intended)with the impression that the union side was presented more sympathetically. This was partly because the actors who played the unionists (especially Colin Friels as John Coombs) on balance were IMO better than those playing their adversaries, and partly because the unionists' lives were fleshed out with more scenes of their domestic circumstances.

One thing I didn't like, and stating it may brand me as old fashioned, was the nature and quantity of the language used: it was far too salty. Many other things were changed to fit the production: the language could have been moderated with little if any loss of dramatic impact.

15 May 2007

Alan Johnston

Alan is the BBC journalist who was abducted in Gaza on 12 March this year.

While any abduction gives cause for concern it's a sad time for freedom of speech when journalists such as Alan are punished for trying to report situations, no matter how complex, as they see them.

An online petition, which has to date received more than 82,000 signatures, is here . To find out more , click on the button with Alan's photo.

14 May 2007

More on Zimbabwe cricket

[Also posted at Nudges and Deflections]

On tonight's 7.30 Report Gideon Haigh, whose name was misspelt on the titles (the final "h" was omitted), gave an excellent summary of recent developments and good reasons why the proposed rescheduling of the series (South Africa is firming as the preferred venue) is misguided. Quite simply, Zimbabwe cricket is club, or parkland, not genuine international, standard.

13 May 2007

Australia not to tour Zimbabwe

[Also posted at Nudges and Deflections]

The Australian government has forbidden the Australian cricket team to tour Zimbabwe as long as President Mugabe remains in power according to Foreign Minister Downer. On today's Insiders Prime Minister Howard elaborated:

...the Government, through the Foreign Minister, has written to the organisation, Cricket Australia, instructing that the tour not go ahead. We don't do this lightly, but we are convinced that for the tour to go ahead there would be an enormous propaganda boost for the Mugabe regime. The Mugabe regime at present is behaving like the Gestapo towards its political opponents, the living standards of the country are probably the lowest of any in the world, you have an absolutely unbelievable rate of inflation, and I have no doubt that if this tour goes ahead it will be an enormous boost to this grubby dictator, and whilst it pains me both as a cricket lover and as somebody who generally believes that these things should be left to sporting organisations to head a Government that is giving an instruction and is willing to enforce that instruction if necessary, although all of that pains me, I don't think we have any alternative.

Although others, eg Tim Lane in The Age , have pointed out some problems of sporting boycotts I think they fail to see that there are two aspects of this situation: the political context and the standard of cricket in Zimbabwe. Mr Howard has graphically, though aptly, summed up the scale of the first. True, other countries have suboptimal human rights records but most of them are at least able to feed their people and have not regressed in the last decade or so. As for the second, Zimbabwe cricket, never a strong international competitor, has suffered because most if not all of the small number of talented cricketers have left the country. For all the huffing and puffing from the international and some national authorities about breach of contracts et al (some of it echoed by Cricket Australia) it seems clear to me, as it does to commentators such as Greg Baum in yesterday's Age and Gideon Haigh on this morning's Offsiders , that the Zimbabwe cricket authorities by their own actions in purging both officials and players have made cricket in their own country dysfunctional.

The ICC's initial response delivered by CEO Malcolm Speed is predictably bland:

It is unfortunate for Zimbabwe's cricketers and supporters, all of whom need exposure to top-quality cricket in order to develop as players and to encourage future generations to take up the sport...From an ICC perspective, we will work with Zimbabwe Cricket and our members to try to ensure the game there gets the support it needs in order to continue at this difficult time.

What is the ICC doing about the report, by Martin Williamson on Cricinfo , that the Zimbabwean authorities are unable to provide up to date and accurate scorecards of the major matches played in the country?

Until this year, despite increasing reporting restrictions, the Zimbabwe board, aided by dedicated volunteers, has always supplied scorecards of first-class and List A matches to the media. But many of the old statisticians have been driven away, while others have been ostracised by the board.

Last year there were increasing problems with the accuracy of the data, and often queries had to be flagged with ZC when cards did not add up or data was missing. These were almost always resolved. However, this year ZC has failed to supply any data, even to its domestic media or on its own website, which is increasingly inaccessible and which has not been updated for several weeks.

No cards have been provided for Faithwear Cup matches, the country's List A competition, which took place more than five weeks ago. A source close to the board said that it was unlikely that they would be made available as in some instances the cards had been lost, while in others the data was so poor as to be almost unusable. "Releasing them will be more that embarrassing," he admitted.

The BBC quotes the reaction of the Zimbabwean ambassador (High Commissioner?) to Australia.

Zimbabwe's ambassador to Australia, Stephen Chiketa, said last week that politics had no place in sport and that banning the tour would hurt the development of cricket in his country.

"You have young players in Zimbabwe who want to emulate great cricket players in Australia," he told Australia's Seven television network.

"Take your politics somewhere else."

This is, of course, humbug, since the Zimbabwe government has, by politicising almost every aspect of life, weakened the country's cricket to the extent that any game between its national team and Australia's will be so one sided as to be hardly worth counting as a genuine international contest. This applies no matter where the games are played: Zimbabwe, Australia or, as has been mooted today, in a neutral country.

An intended consequence?

The Age reports that Major Michael Mori has been overlooked for promotion in the legal branch of the US Marine Corps. This is hardly surprising.

On other David Hicks-related matters Adelaide Now aka The Advertiser online reports that Hicks is likely to be returned in the next week to ten days to serve the rest of his sentence in Yatala prison. His Australian lawyer, David McLeod, left today for Guantanamo Bay to participate in this process. As he left, he delivered a serve to the state government, warning it against political interference:

...Mr McLeod said the debate over whether Hicks should be subject to a control order was not a political issue.

"It's up to the Commissioner of Federal Police to determine issues such as control orders, whether they should be obtained, and there shouldn't be any political influence in that decision," he said. "If there is, we'd have something to say about it."

At the moment I'm reading Leigh Sales' book Detainee 002: the case of David Hicks. For a review of it see here. I'll post my own comments when I've finished it.

12 May 2007

National Party material?

This week I've spent a couple of days as an extra on McLeod's Daughters . I enjoyed it immensely, which isn't surprising given my interest in films.

The picture shows me in costume. I was only a rank and file extra, the type whose days are probably numbered as digital technology removes the need for casts of hundreds, and I didn't have a speaking part, but my stature (physical, not artistic) may have ensured that I was, if not head and shoulders, at least head above most of the other extras in the crowd scenes.

While the photo might suggest that I'd be a suitable National Party candidate I've decided not to seek pre-selection. I may look the part, but I don't feel it.

05 May 2007

More on HMAS Sydney

Two recent items about the loss of the Sydney in 1941, about which I've previously commented.

The first is an article "Remembering Anzacs and not forgetting HMAS Sydney" by Jo Green , which was posted last week on Online Opinion.

The second is an item "Saying sorry for HMAS Sydney" on the SA edition of ABC TV's Stateline. For a transcript see here.

For a summary of the "official" version see the talk "HMAS Sydney - 60 years on" given by Dr Peter Stanley at the Australian War Memorial on the 60th anniversary of the sinking of the Sydney.

Dr Green's is a strongly felt piece though unfortunately the author makes some errors, for example "Ivan Wittner" should be "Ivan Wittwer". She also could have given further details of some of her sources,for example the John Samuels book (Somewhere Below: the Sydney scandal exposed) and some other sources.

The Stateline program confirmed that there is still considerable interest surrounding the sinking of the Sydney 65 years on. There are still living former crew members of the ship, and relatives of those lost. There are, I believe, also survivors (of the 300+ originally saved)
of the Kormoran and relatives and friends thereof .

Despite various enquiries the story won't, unlike the Sydney itself, disappear beneath the waves. To my mind the government should fund a proper search for the wreck of the vessel, and not just leave it to the HMAS Sydney II Search Appeal whose efforts, judging by the long intervals between its
news releases , is becalmed. The Federal, WA and NSW governments have already chipped but have seen next to no return on their investments, so perhaps they should push harder for more to be done; and yes, to put in more money, but with tighter strings attached.

02 May 2007

Unforgettable speeches

ABC RN recently conducted a poll of its listeners to ascertain the http://www.abc.net.au/rn/features/speeches/"> most unforgettable speeches ever made.

The Top 20, which show how broadly a "speech" can defined are:

  • 1. Dr Martin Luther King Jr. I have a dream, 28 August 1963, Washington DC.
  • 2. Jesus. Sermon on the Mount. c27.
  • 3. Paul Keating. The Redfern Address, 10 December 1992, Redfern Park.
  • 4. Winston Churchill. We Shall Fight on the Beaches, 4 June 1940, House of Commons.
  • 5. Abraham Lincoln. Gettysburg Address, 19 November 1863.
  • 6. John F. Kennedy. Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. Inaugural speech 20 January 1961, Washington DC.
  • 7. Earl Spencer. Funeral Oration for Diana Princess of Wales, 6 September 1997, Westminster Abbey.
  • 8. Henry V Act IV Scene III. Author William Shakespeare c 1599. St Crispin’s Day speech made before the Battle of Agincourt (which occurred on 25 October 1415).
  • 9. Gough Whitlam. The Dismissal, 11 November 1975, Parliament House steps.
  • 10. Queen Elizabeth I. I have the heart and stomach of a king, 9 August 1588. (Address to the troops at Tilbury as the Spanish Armada approached Britain.)
  • 11. Nelson Mandela. An Ideal for Which I am Prepared to Die. Statement at trial, 20 April 1964, Johannesburg.
  • 12. Mahatma Gandhi. Non-violence is the first article of my faith, 23 March 1922, Ahmadabad.
  • 13. Socrates. Statement at trial condemning him to death, 399BC, Athens.
  • 14. Robert Kennedy. Address to National Union of South African Students, 7 June 1966, Cape Town University.
  • 15. Elizabeth Cady Stanton. We Now Demand Our Right To Vote, Keynote Address to Women’s Rights Convention, 19 July 1848 New York.
  • 16. William Wilberforce. Abolition of Slavery, 12 May 1789, House of Commons.
  • 17. Alfred Deakin. These are the times that try men’s souls, 15 March 1898, Bendigo.
  • 18. Pericles. Funeral Oration for the fallen of the Peloponnesian War, 431 BC.
  • 19. Mark Antony. Friends, Romans, Countrymen Lend Me Your Ears, Julius Caesar Act III Scene II. Author William Shakespeare c1599.
  • 20. Ben Chifley. The Light on the Hill, 12 June 1949, ALP Conference.

I'm not familiar with all of these yet I think it would be hard to beat the winner, which can be seen here. It's worth listening to it all.

As a spinoff from the main event, ABC RN's Bush Telegraph is running a poll to find the most inspiring speech of rural Australia. Voting is still in progress, though to vote you have to choose one of nine nominated speeches, which you can see here.

01 May 2007

May Day memories

Today is is the first anniversary of the longest day of my life where I travelled from Adelaide, leaving at 0630/ 6.30 am local time, to New York, where I arrived at 1720/5.20pm NY time.

Here are two photos: one, of the Rockies (I presume), taken not long after leaving LAX en route to JFK, the other, taken the next day from the Empire State Building, showing a sliver of Manhattan Island with the Statute of Liberty in the background.

In the State Library today I looked briefly at Ilf and Petrov's Road Trip
, a book by two Russian writers who travelled in the USA in 1935.I noted this comment about NYC : "there were too many impressions for the first day . You can't take New York in such large doses".

I didn't quite feel like this, but three days wasn't enough. I hope to return for a repeat dose or two.

Words to Screen: "Jindabyne" and "Notes on a Scandal"

Jindabyne , a two hour long movie adapted from a 24 page Raymond Carver story "So much water so close to home", has just opened in New York City, almost a year after it was released in Australia.

There's a catalogue of opinions (on balance favourable if not enthusiastic) on Rotten Tomatoes
but the standout for me is A O Scott in The New York Times. His review, which while giving due credit the film's strengths (acting and cinematography), rightly damns it for bulking up Carver's story with politically correct twaddle.

I wish I could have written his last two sentences:

It’s not just that the clean, efficient lines of Carver’s story are blurred and tangled. The real flaw is that the movie’s best features — the aching clarity of its central performances [ie Laura Linney and Gabriel Byrne's] — threaten to be lost in a wilderness of metaphor and mystification.

Scott has also produced a video review, which at the moment can be found by searching the NYT site. In this he describes Laura Linney's acting with elegant precision:"A paragon of wounded intelligence, a smart woman not quite sure of herself and in a situation that she she struggles to understand".

Notes on a Scandal is a 92 minute long movie adapted from Zoe Heller's novel which I read either side of watching the film. The book's length (c240 pages) means that the plot has been stripped down and some characters eg Sheba (Cate Blanchett)'s daughter Polly written out or down. The balance between the two principal characters: Barbara/Judi Dench and Sheba, has also been shifted to emphasise the former's nastiness. No doubt the screenwriters (of whom Heller herself was one) had their reasons for doing so, but I can't see why.

Of lesser importance, but in some ways even more intriguing, is the depiction of Bangs. In the novel he is an Arsenal supporter but in the film, where he's not one of the truncated characters, he is a rabid Spurs fan. Can anyone suggest any reason why this might be so?

It doesn't surprise me that the Rotten Tomatoes reviewers were more favourably disposed towards this film than they were towards Jindabyne. The New York Times review by Manohla Dargis is also worth a look.