Blogging the Bookshelf Blogging my bookshelf - one book at a time Wed, 13 Sep 2017 20:13:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 8483162 Yearly Reading Diary 2016 Wed, 04 Jan 2017 04:54:19 +0000 Every year I publish an Annual Reading Diary.  It’s a utility and a discipline. It creates a place that I can return to years later to track down the half-remembered books I’ve read when the need arises, as well as encouraging me to stay on track with my aim to read a book a week. It’s daggy, but useful.


  •  8 Fiction: 33 Non-Fiction – My worst year yet for maintaining some kind of balance between fiction and non-fiction reading. I have been doing a lot of reading for a few work projects I have on the go which was part of the problem. But ultimately, reading is a domestic activity and a stressful election year meant that I just couldn’t seem to clear my mind enough to concentrate on fiction reading. The Healing Party” by Micheline Lee was great, as was “The Eye of the Sheep” by Sophie Laguna, but in general I couldn’t really get in the groove. Something to work on in 2017.


  • How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS“, David France – Overly-long and US-centric, but still a powerful and instructive account of how a marginalised, often outlawed community overcame astonishing institutional hostility and indifference from the US government, the FDA, pharma companies, hospitals, funeral homes, landlords, families and the general public to fight a plague that would ultimately kill 40m people.
  • “The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between”, Hisham Matar – A memoir of exile and loss written by the novelist son of a Libyan dissident imprisoned and then killed by the Gaddafi regime that mines the rich seams of relationships between fathers and sons, between citizens and nations and between victims and escapees.
  • One of Us: The Story of a Massacre and its Aftermath“, Asne Seirstad – An account of white supremacist, Anders Breivik’s terrorist attack on a youth camp run by the Norwegian Labour Party. Gut wrenching reading but a timely insight into the process of right wing radicalisation given the return of fascism and the increasing prominence of white supremacist racists in Western democracies.
  • Not Quite Australian: How Temporary Migration is Changing the Nation“, Peter Mares – One of the most important books published in Australia in 2016. An impressive account of one of the biggest scandals in contemporary Australia; how we’ve sleepwalked into a policy environment that encourages the systemic exploitation of an underclass of millions of temporary migrants in our country.
  • The Speechwriter“, Barton Swain – Part farce, part political surrealism. An English literature graduate turned political speech writer’s memoir of life inside South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s office while he “hiked the Appalachian Trail”. Almost as cringeworthy as Weiner.
  • Big White Lie: Chinese Australians in White Australia“, John Fitzgerald – History told through the first person accounts of Chinese-Australians living under the White Australia policy. An invaluable antidote to nearly a century of myth-making that portrayed Chinese-Australians as a monolithic horde of coolies that threatened the very future of our nation through their supposedly unchangeable values, inimical to Australian egalitarianism and the ‘Fair Go’.


  • It Can’t Happen Here“, Sinclair Lewis – recent developments might have made it newly relevant, but it’s functionally unreadable. Just dire.

The List:

  1. Kinglake-350“, Adrian Hyland. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  2. Australia and India: Mapping the Journey“, Meg Gurry. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  3. What I talk about when I talk about running“, Haruki Murakami. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  4. Big White Lie: Chinese Australians in White Australia“, John Fitzgerald. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  5. The Speechwriter“, Barton Swain. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  6. Fresh off the Boat“, Eddie Huang. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  7. The New Gold Mountain: The Chinese in Australia 1901-1921“, C.F. Yong. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  8. Is Australia an Asian Country?“, Stephen FitzGerald. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  9. Becoming Australian” Migration, Settlement, Citizenship“, Brian Galligan, Martina Boese and Melissa Phillipps. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  10. Australia’s Asia: From Yellow Peril to Asian Century“, Agnieszka Sobocinska and David Walker. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  11. The Eye of the Sheep“, Sophie Laguna. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  12. Firing Line: Australia’s Path to War“, James Brown. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  13. Balancing Act: Australia Between Recession and Renewal“, George Megalogenis. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  14. The Lucky Country“, Donald Horne. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  15. Mateship: A Very Australian History“, Nick Dyrenfurth. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  16. The Healing Party“, Micheline Lee. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  17. Visiting the Neighbours: Australians in Asia“, Agnieszka Sobocinska. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  18. Behind the Beautiful Rivers: Life and Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity“, Katherine Boo. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  19. Reclaiming Patriotism: Nation Building for Australian Progressives“, Tim Soutphommasane. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  20. The Australians“, John Hirst. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  21. Hammer of the Left: The Battle for the Soul of the Labour Party“, John Golding. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  22. Death of a Red Heroine“, Qiu Xiaolong. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  23. A Loyal Character Dancer“, Qui Xiaolong. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  24. The Road to Ruin: How Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin Destroyed Their Own Government“, Niki Savva. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  25. A Murder Without A Motive: The Killing of Rebecca Ryle“, Martin McKenzie-Murray. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  26. City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp“, Ben Rawlence. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  27. Keating“, Kerry O’Brien. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  28. One of Us: The Story of a Massacre and its Aftermath“, Asne Seirstad. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  29. Exceptional People: How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future“, Ian Goldin, Geoffrey Cameron, and Meera Balarajan. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  30. The Hate Race“, Maxine Beneba Clarke. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  31. Underground Airlines“, Ben Winters. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  32. Do Not Say We Have Nothing“, Madeleine Thien. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  33. Not Quite Australian: How Temporary Migration is Changing the Nation“, Peter Mares. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  34. Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS“, Joby Warrick. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  35. Black Water“, Louise Doughty. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  36. Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis“, Robert Putnam. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  37. It Can’t Happen Here“, Sinclair Lewis. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  38. CEO, China: The Rise of Xi Jinping“, Kerry Brown. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  39. The Man in the High Castle“, Philip K Dick. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  40. “The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between”, Hisham Matar. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  41. How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS“, David France. Buy –Borrow – Toss
Annual Reading Diary 2015 Mon, 04 Jan 2016 00:58:08 +0000 Every year I publish an Annual Reading Diary to create a place where I can put my hands on things I half remember reading in the past and to encourage me to stay on track with my aim to read one book a week.

2015 was a bit of a down year reading wise – the process of publishing a book took a major chunk out of the increasingly small window of time I have for any discretionary activities these days and my reading suffered. Similarly, in order to justify the time, I found myself reading a lot more ‘for work’ this year – reading into countries I was travelling to and books that I ‘needed’ to read for the day job for one reason or another. As a result my fiction to non-fiction ratio blew out to 1:3 this year which was really disappointing – but a nice example of why it’s helpful to track these things. Something to work on prioritizing more next year.


  • Highlights:
    • Beauty is a Wound“, Eka Kuniawan –  Immersive, multi-generational Indonesian magic realism. Like a stranger and more disturbing, Asian version of “Love in the Time of Cholera”.
    • “Catch and Kill: The Politics of Power”, Joel Deane – Great insight into the exercise of power and beautiful writing. Shows why we need more poets in politics.
    • Between the World and Me“, Ta-Nehisi Coates – Visceral, psychical account of the modern experience of being an African-American in the United States. For a well-covered subject, it was impressive for avoiding cliche and offering a jolting and (for me at least) new perspective on racial inequality.
    • Confessions of a Failed Finance Minister“, Peter Walsh – Notwithstanding the outdated views on women and climate, possibly the best practical articulation of the rationale and mission of the Labor Right (regardless of his formal alignment).
    • Port Moresby Mixed Doubles: Stories of Expatriates in Papua New Guinea“, Michael Challinger – a series of fictional vignettes of post-colonial expat experiences in PNG. Bracing for the attitudes and behaviours it highlights but useful context for Australians interested in the country.
    • Comrade Ambassador: Whitlam’s Beijing Envoy”, Steven FitzGerald – lively and fascinating account of Australia-China relations over the past 4o odd years told from the perspective of Australia’s first post-war Ambassador to China. Captures the excitement of the Whitlam era and the possibilities opened up by a wave of new thinking. A satisfying reminder of what Australia can achieve internationally if we are willing to articulate an ambitious vision and back it with courage and political commitment.
  • Lowlights:
    • Fifty Shades of Grey“, EL James – just as bad as everyone says – both in style and substance. Possibly worse. 
    • 10:04“, Ben Lerner – People I respect love this guy. I just can’t get past the self-absorption and pretense.  His first book was an highly-autobiographical post-modernist prose-first abstraction about writing a novel and his second book is a post-modernist prose-first abstraction about writing a second novel? Meh.
  • Breakdown:
    • 30 Non-Fiction / 10 Fiction. I aim for a 50-50 balance here so not a great result.

The List:

  1. “The Wife Drought”, Annabel Crabb. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  2. “Australia’s Defence: Towards a New Era?”, Peter Dean, Brendan Taylor, Stephan Fruhling. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  3. The Power and the Glory“, Graham Greene. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  4. The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One“, David Kilcullen. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  5. The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a secret army and a war at the ends of the Earth“, Mark Mazzetti. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  6. War from the Ground Up: Twenty-First Century Combat as Politics“, Emile Simpson. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  7. Demokrasi: Indonesia in the 21st Century“, Hamish McDonald. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  8. 10:04“, Ben Lerner. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  9. Fifty Shades of Grey“, EL James. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  10. Diary of a Foreign Minister“, Bob Carr. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  11. The Last Vote: The Threats to Western Democracy“, Philip Coggan. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  12. The Rosie Project“, Graeme Simsion. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  13. Confessions of a Failed Finance Minister“, Peter Walsh. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  14. The Gillard Project: My Thousand Days of Despair and Hope“, Michael Cooney. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  15. The Girl on the Train“, Paula Hawkins. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  16. Geek Heresy: Reclaiming Social Change From the Cult of Technology“, Kentaro Toyama. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  17. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy“, John LeCarre. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  18. This House of Grief“, Helen Garner. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  19. Port Moresby Mixed Doubles: Stories of Expatriates in Papua New Guinea“, Michael Challinger. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  20. Throwim Way Leg: An Adventure“, Tim Flannery. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  21. The Long Green Shore“, John Hepworth. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  22. Between the World and Me“, Ta-Nehisi Coates. Buy Borrow – Toss
  23. Murphy’s Lore: Tales from the West“, Robert Murphy. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  24. Blood Year: Terror and the Islamic State“, David Kilcullen. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  25. “Catch and Kill: The Politics of Power”, Joel Deane. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  26. “The Long Haul: Lessons from Public Life”, John Brumby. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  27. “Watson’s Pier”, Joshua Funder. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  28. “Comrade Ambassador: Whitlam’s Beijing Envoy”, Steven FitzGerald. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  29. Growing Up Asian in Australia“, Alice Pung. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  30. Australia’s Second Chance: What Our History Tells Us About Our Future”, George Megalogenis. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  31. Restless Continent: Wealth, Rivalry and Asia’s New Geopolitics”, Michael Wesley. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  32. Faction Man: Bill Shorten’s Path to Power”, David Marr. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  33. Purity“, Jonathan Franzen. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  34. Holding the Man“. Timothy Conigrave. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  35. Imagined Communities“, Benedict Anderson. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  36. Condemned to Crisis?“, Ken Ward. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  37. Political Amnesia: How We Forgot How to Govern“, Laura Tingle. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  38. Start Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle“, Dan Senor and Saul Singer. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  39. Coming of Age: Growing up Muslim in Australia“, Amra Pajalic and Demet Divroren. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  40. Beauty is a Wound“, Eka Kuniawan. Buy –Borrow – Toss

Previous Annual Reading Diaries.

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Annual Reading Diary 2014 Sun, 04 Jan 2015 01:05:03 +0000 2014

  1. Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy“, Christopher Hayes. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  2. The Narrow Road to the Deep North“, Richard Flanagan. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  3. “The Blunders of Our Governments”, Anthony King and Ivor Crewe. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  4. “A Premier’s State”, Steve Bracks. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  5. “The Australian Moment: How we were made for these times”, George Megalogenis. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  6. “How Labour Governs”, Vere Gordon Childe. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  7. “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel”, Ari Shavit. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  8. “Just So Happens”, Fumio Obata. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  9. “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena”, Anthony Marra. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  10. “Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World”, Michael Lewis. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  11. “Battlelines”, Tony Abbott. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  12. “Why Australia Prospered: The Shifting Sources of Economic Growth”, Ian McLean. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  13. “Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport”, Anna Krien. Buy –Borrow – Toss.
  14. “Decoded: A Novel”, Mai Jia. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  15. The Stalking of Julia Gillard“, Kerry-Anne Walsh. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  16. Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage“, Alice Munro. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  17. The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited“, Louisa Lim. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  18. “The Silence of the Lambs”, Robert Harris. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  19. “Red Dragon”, Robert Harris. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  20. Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe“, George Dyson. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  21. The Geek Manifesto: Why Science Matters“, Mark Henderson. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  22. Weapons of Mass Diplomacy“,  Abel Lanzac & Christophe Blain. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  23. The Interestings“, Meg Woltizer. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  24. Profiles in Courage“, John F Kennedy. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  25. Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb“, Jonathan Fetter-Vorm. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  26. Let’s Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste“, Carl Wilson. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  27. The Rise and Fall of Australia“, Nick Bryant. Buy –Borrow – Toss.
  28. The Political Bubble: Why Australians Don’t Trust Politics“, Mark Latham. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  29. The Economics of Just About Everything“, Andrew Leigh. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  30. The Submission“, Amy Waldman. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  31. Disconnected“, Andrew Leigh. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  32. “Race Against The Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy”,  Erik Brynjolfsson, Andrew McAfee. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  33. The Good Fight: Six years, two prime ministers and staring down the Great Recession“, Wayne Swan. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  34. Exodus: Immigration and Multiculturalism in the 21st Century“, Paul Collier. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  35. Changing Shape: institutions for a digital age“, Martin Stewart-Weeks, Lindsay Tanner. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  36. The Divine Comedy“, Clive James, Dante Alighieri. Buy –Borrow –Toss
  37. “A Cambodian Prison Portrait”, Vann Nath. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  38. Pol Pot: The History of a Nightmare“, Philip Short. Buy –Borrow –Toss
  39. Facing the Torturer“, Francois Bizot. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  40. “Zero to One: Notes on Start Ups, or How to Build the Future”, Peter Thiel. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  41. “Her Father’s Daughter”, Alice Pung. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  42. “Laurinda”, Alice Pung. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  43. “Fun Home”, Alison Bechdel. Buy –Borrow – Toss.
  44. “Are You My Mother?”, Alison Bechdel. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  45. “The Last Vote: The Threats to Western Democracy”, Philip Coggan. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  46. “Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics”, Michael Ignatieff. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  47. “The Adolescent Country”, Peter Hartcher. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  48. “Dragon’s Tail: The Lucky Country after the China Boom”, Andrew Charlton. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  49. “Engagement: Australia Faces the Asia Pacific”, Paul Keating. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  50. “Inside the Hawke–Keating Government: A Cabinet Diary”, Gareth Evans Buy –Borrow – Toss
  51. “Reports from a Turbulent Decade”, The Lowy Institute. Buy –Borrow –Toss
  52. “There Goes the Neighbourhood: Australia and the Rise of Asia”, Michael Wesley. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  53. “Anzac’s Long Shadow: The Cost of Our National Obsession”, James Brown. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  54. “Power Shift: Australia’s Future between Washington and Beijing”, Hugh White. Buy –Borrow – Toss
Annual Reading Diary 2013 Mon, 13 Jan 2014 02:50:55 +0000 For a number of years now I’ve been publishing an Annual Reading Diary as a discipline to my resolution to read at least one book a week every year.

Disappointingly, this has been the first year since I made my resolution that I didn’t hit my target. In my defence, reading is a domestic activity and a new child and running for Parliament will change anyone’s routine! Hopefully my change in career doesn’t mean this goal won’t be achievable in the future…


  • Highlights: “The Fatal Shore”.China’s War with Japan“, “Out of the Mountains“, “Romulus, My Father“, “Remembering Babylon“.
  • Lowlights: “This Town”, the many hours I spent on The Game of Thrones books only to have but the vaguest idea of the characters and the plot six months later.
  • Breakdown: 24 Non-Fiction / 22 Fiction (depending on how you classify HhHH). I aim for a 50-50 balance here, so I’m pretty happy with that. A good excuse to sneak a few more fiction books in next year.

The List:

  1. On Warne“, Gideon Haigh. Our greatest cricket writer eschews the diary/biography construct that dominates sports writing and gives us an almost philosophical meditation on the savant-like genius of Shane Warne. As someone who loves the work of both Haigh and Warne, I couldn’t help but swoon for this book. Buy–Borrow – Toss
  2. #”Norwegian Wood“, Haruki Murakami. Along with “All the King’s Men” and “Gatsby”, I re-read this book every couple of years. Not because it is a work of literature of the same quality of those books, but because I first read it at a particular time in my life and I will forever feel like a 19 year old again while reading it. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  3. Gone Girl“, Gillian Flynn. Girl disappears leaving confused husband. Well, it was probably the stand out publishing sensation of the year (50 Shades Aside) and you can understand why. A fantastic pager turner that really sucked me in, but I couldn’t help be left a bit cold by its final fifth (which I will not spoil here). Buy – Borrow – Toss
  4. Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace“, DT Max. Pop biography of DFW. I love DFW’s style as an essayist and the humanist philosophy that he began to push late in his career really speaks to me. Which makes it all the sadder that he couldn’t seem to take any pleasure in his prose himself, nor take any comfort from the philosophy that he ultimately espoused. While a flawed work, this book left me with a great sense of melancholy thinking about this. Buy – Borrow – Toss
  5. The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia’s Founding“, Robert Hughes. The seminal account of Australia’s convict history. ‘Tour de Force’ is one of those phrases that is so over-used as to have become a meaningless, but this book represents everything of the phrase’s original import. A virtuoso piece of writing, scholarship and argument. Even given a subject matter about which most Australians now feel quite knowledgeable of (though did not when Hughes set out to write this book), readers will finish this book with a greater understanding of not just our nation’s history, but its soul.  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  6. The Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America“, Robert Hughes. A polemic against lazy post-modernism. Hughes’ mastery of both convict era Australian history and of modern culture is enough to make anyone feel inadequate. There is a lot to like in this book, but with the passage of time and the shift in the debate around many of the issues that he tackles, there are aspects of this book where Hughes talks past the modern incarnation of his opponents. That being said, his clarion call for the defence of intrinsic excellence in all forms of culture is just as valuable today as it was twenty years ago.  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  7. Pride and Prejudice“, Jane Austen. Sorry to say that it took me 30 years to get around to Jane Austen (I hadn’t even seen the BBC series before picking this up), but obviously it was my loss. I loved P&P and will have to work my way through the rest of Austen’s works in due course. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  8. Loose: A Wild History“, Ouyang Yu. A complex mix of fiction and non-fiction across a range of genres and geographic settings. Sadly, I couldn’t get into this. I admired its structural ambition, but ultimately it just didn’t hang together well enough for me to feel invested in what was going on. Buy – Borrow – Toss 
  9. After Words: The Post Prime Ministerial Speeches“, Paul Keating. A lengthy collection of Keating’s Post Prime-Ministerial speeches covering the full range of PJK’s polymath interests. Richer than the interview series with Kerry O’Brien and a testament to how much PJK still has to contribute to the Australian body politic. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  10. HhHH“, Laurent Binet. A French Post-Modernist true-fiction, first person account of the writing of a true-fiction account of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in occupied Prague (phew!). I had significant reservations about this book coming into it. In general, I find authors who insert their own stories into non-fiction works insufferably self-indulgent. Couple that with my perfectly healthy aversion to French Post-Modernism and this book was carrying a lot of baggage. But despite it all, Binet manages to pull it off in an engaging and reflective way. I ended up kind of loving this book. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  11. Dark Victory: How a Government Lied It’s Way to Political Triumph“, David Marr and Marian Wilkinson. A first class long-form piece of journalism about John Howard’s mendacious use of the Tampa affair in the lead up to the 2001 election. Depressing, but important reading. Still relevant to today’s political debate. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  12. Dark Market: How Hackers Became the New Mafia“, Misha Glenny. Former BBC Eastern-European correspondence tells the story of the early cyber-crime networks. I like Glenny’s journalism, but this isn’t his deepest work. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  13. Jarhead: A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles“. Anthony Swafford. A classic grunt history of the first war in Iraq. Entertaining and insightful. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  14. Madame Bovary“, Gustave Flaubert. Supposedly the original novel and classic tale of forbidden love, but I just couldn’t get into it. I haven’t worked out the French yet. Give me Tolstoy anyday. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  15. American Gods“, Neil Gaiman. Mankind’s gods are down and out in an age in which people worship new idols of money and technology. Entertaining pulp-fantasy fiction. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  16. The Lion and the Unicorn: Gladstone v Disraeli“, Richard Aldous. A joint history of two of the largest figures of early Westminster democracy. I loved this book, full of wonderful factoids about the evolution of the norms of Westminster democracy. DYK that while Gladstone was PM on four separate occasions, he lost his own seat twice? Or that convention used to hold that an MP appointed to the Cabinet used to have to fight a by-election in their seat before they could take up their post? Great stuff. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  17. Romulus, My Father“, Raimond Gaita. Son’s account of his father’s Australian immigrant story. Meaningful, moving, poetic. Just brilliant. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  18. Hanging Man: The Arrest of Ai Weiwei“, Barnaby Martin. The life and arrest of Ai Weiwei told through a series of interviews with the artist. Offers insights on art, repression and modern China. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  19. Rome: An Empire’s Story“, Greg Woolf. An excellent introduction to the Roman Empire. Shorter than Gibbon. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  20. Remembering Babylon“, David Malouf. Semi-historical literary account of Australian pioneers encountering a shipwrecked Englishman who had been living with an Aboriginal tribe for a number of years. I love almost everything that Malouf has written and this is one of his better books. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  21. Wars, Guns and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places“, Paul Collier. Academic economist offers a layman’s account of the application of quantitative models and field research to the study of democracy in the third world. Offers plenty of challenging ideas to chew on. Not unlike “The Victory Lab” in parts. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  22. “Game of Thrones”, George RR Martin. I kind of hated myself after reading the Game of Thrones series. They are LONG and there are so many characters and stories that everything blends into an amorphous mass of medieval fantasy very quickly. But somehow I just couldn’t stop reading them. Looking back, it’s a mystery to me why I invested so much time in these books, but I shudder to think at the opportunity cost of it. I’m not linking to it because I don’t want to encourage anyone else to start the habit!  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  23. “A Clash of Kings”, George RR Martin. As above. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  24. “A Storm of Swords”, George RR Martin. As above. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  25. “A Feast for Crows”, George RR Martin. As above. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  26. “A Dance with Dragons”, George RR Martin. As above. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  27. “The Art of Fielding”, Chad Harbach. Superstar college baseball player brought low. Beautifully written coupled with genuine and well drawn relationships between the protagonists makes for a fantastic read – but I thought it drifted a bit towards the end. Very good, but not great. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  28. “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”, Ben Fountain. A group of war heroes return to the US of furlough to attend a Dallas Cowboys football game. I thought this book was vastly over-rated. It’s an adequate account of American military pathos, but it was so heavy handed that I was groaning at times.  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  29. The Orphan Master’s Son“, Adam Johnson. I didn’t love this as much as others seemed to. I suspect it suffers from having been released so soon after “Nothing to Envy”, which inevitably makes fiction about the brutality of North Korea seem hollow in comparison. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  30. The Master of Go“, Yasunari Kawabata. Semi-Fictional account of the final, six month long match of an ageing Go Master. ‘Go’ has always fascinated me, I love Japanese literature as a rule and Kawabata is a Nobel Prize winning author… but I didn’t love this book. It was fine, but it didn’t stay with me after I’d finished it.  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  31. “The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way”, Amanda Ripley. Accessible investigation of the characteristics that underpin the best performing nation’s school systems in the OECD’s PISA tests told through the device of American exchange students studying in this countries. This book has made a lot of ‘best of non-fiction’ lists this year and it’s easy to see why. It packs a lot of information into a very digestible format. For me the biggest take-away was the significance of high-expectations and emphasising the cultural importance of education in driving student performance. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  32. How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character“, Paul Tough. Summary of recent academic literature emphasising the importance of non-cognitive skills in children’s ability to succeed academically and in the world outside the classroom. Persuasive and covers much of the same ground as “The Smartest Kids in the World”, from an individual student perspective. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  33. Information Wants to be Shared“, Josh Gans. Aussie Economist Josh Gans posits that with the increasing returns to scale enabled by digital distribution, today information wants to be shared. Offers a more nuanced take than the ‘Information wants to be Free’ crowd. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  34. The Sirens of Titan“, Kurt Vonnegut. Malachi Constant, the richest man of the 22nd century, journeys to Titan at the behest of Winston Niles Rumfoord, a man trapped between dimensions. Classic Vonnegut; wry and mind bending. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  35. Battlers and Billionaires: The Story of Inequality in Australia“, Andrew Leigh. Australia’s best Shadow Assistant Treasurer provides a persuasive and accessible summary of Australia’s growing economic inequality. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  36. Imagining Australia: Ideas for our Future“, Macgregor Duncan, Andrew Leigh, David Madden, Peter Tynan. Enjoyable blue sky thinking from a group of young and idealistic Australians. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  37. Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerilla“, David Kilcullen. Australia’s premier counter-insurgency expert posits that in the future, conflict will come ‘out of the mountains’ of rural Afghanistan and Pakistan and into the densely populated, globally and digitally connected, coastal cities of the developing world. In this environment, government, the military and criminal and para-military groups will fight for ‘competitive control’ over cities and communities. As a result, governance, and the exercise of force, have become far, far more complex than ever before. Kilcullen’s expertise in field research means that this book is brimming with detail, data and personal anecdote. Should be an influential book in political circles.  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  38. Barracuda“, Christos Tsiolkas. A champion swimmer from Australia’s multicultural working-class deals with failure. Not Tsiolkas’ best work, but laudable for continuing to give gay and non-anglo characters a greater prominence in Australian literature than they have had for some time. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  39. A Journey“, Tony Blair. Blair’s take on his time in Government. Really, you’re enjoyment of this book will be largely determined by your pre-existing verdict on the man. So a largely self-selecting readership. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  40. The Dawkins Revolution: 25 Years On“, Gwilym Croucher, Simon Marginson, Andrew Norton, Julie Wells. A worthy (if very dry!) collection or articles appraising the impact of one of Labor’s least appreciated, but most significant reforms. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  41. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia“, Mohsin Hamid. The fictional account of an Asian billionaire told in the style of a self-help book. Hamid is developing quite a unique voice and while this isn’t quite as good as “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”, I enjoyed it very much. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  42. This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral and Plenty of Valet Parking“, Mark Leibovich. Tales of how Washington is a cynical and self-interested place. I really detested this book. There isn’t much easier in journalist than writing cynical pieces about politics. Sure US politics is broken, but I didn’t come away from this book feeling like I understood any of the main actors any better than I already do. Every political actor is a two-dimensional self-promoting cynic in Leibovich’s world and the only participants in the system who are granted the complexity of being even flawed human beings are a handful of journalists from a more noble golden age. Meh. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  43. The Dinner“, Herman Koch. A family convenes at a high end restaurant to confront a family secret. Described to me as ‘The Dutch Gone Girl’, which I can see to a certain extent. It was certainly a page turner at times, but ultimately it didn’t grab me in the same way and the ending left me even colder than the ending of Gone Girl. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  44. China’s War With Japan: The Struggle for Survival“, Rana Mitter. Much as Antony Beevor used newly opened Soviet archives to popularise the story of the Eastern Front of WW2, Mitter uses new Chinese attitudes to archival material to provide a new perspective on the second Sino-Japanese War. Offers many insights to into subsequent events in Chinese domestic politics in the 20th century and particularly the tensions in the Chinese-US relationship. Highly recommended. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  45. Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East“, Ben Law. A whistlestop tour of gay communities and their varying issues in Asia. I read “The Family Law” a few years back and didn’t love it, but I’ve come to find that I like Law’s journalism. I think he’s quite talented and hope he does more reportage than cultural/personal essay writing in his career. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  46. Average is Over“, Tyler Cowen. Cowen argues that the proliferation of technology is driving new extremes of labour force polarisation creating an employment market in which there are a small number of extreme beneficiaries, a larger group of people marketing specialised services to these people and an even larger group of very marginalised people. Buy –Borrow – Toss

2014 Reading Goals:

  • I’m DEFINITELY going to read a Patrick White (suggestions for the easiest way into his writing are welcome) and ‘The Man Who Loved Children‘. I’m starting to feel a little fraudulent as an Australian elected representative who hasn’t read some of the foundations of our canon.


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Annual Reading Diary 2012 Thu, 20 Dec 2012 03:06:44 +0000 For a number of years now I’ve been publishing an Annual Reading Diary in conjunction with my resolution to read at least one book a week every week of the year.

So without further ado, here’s the list for 2012:

  1. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, Maya Angelou. Autobiography African-American poet and writer. Tackles strong themes (Early 20th C Southern US racism and poverty, child rape, family break-down etc) beautifully and without excessive morbidity or sentimentally. A worthwhile read. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  2. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”, Stieg Larsson – I resisted this for a long time, but caved when the Slate Culturefest reviewed it and gave it a tentative thumbs up. I liked it despite myself but the critiques about it’s very stereo-typically ‘male’ outlook are justified. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  3. American Psycho”, Brett Easton Ellis – Genuinely shocking. I was surprised that it is actually as explicit/offensive as claimed. I was also surprised by how little plot there was. That being said, it did have amusing stretches. The soliloquies on 80s music (particually Phil Collins) are genuinely brilliant. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  4. “20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth”, Xiaolu Guo. A teenage village girl runs away from her home to a series of menial jobs and unfulfilling relationships in Beijing.  A strong punk affectation, but an interesting snapshot of youth in a rapidly changing China. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  5. The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation”, Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon. An abridged graphic adaptation of the 9/11 Commission’s report on the events leading up to September 11, 2001. A surprisingly effective medium for conveying the chronology of what occurred, but less effective when dealing with the report’s policy recommendations. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  6. Zoo Quest for a Dragon”, David Attenborough. An old fashioned adventure story. In the mid-1950s, David Attenborough travels to remote Indonesia in an effort to capture a Komodo Dragon for the London Zoo and a BBC TV Series. The complete naivety of Attenborough’s three man production team (the knew next to nothing about the Dragons at the start of the trip and were ultimately prevented from removing one from the country at the end of the trip) is charming for its time but somewhat astonishing today. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  7. In Search of Civilization: Remaking a Tarnished Idea”, John Armstrong – An examination of the concept of Civilisation and it’s value in a post-modern world. I came to this with high expectations imagining an update of Kenneth Clarke, only to be disappointed. I’ve enjoyed Armstrong’s previous books (particularly ‘Conditions of Love’), but this one couldn’t hold my interest. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  8. Leaves of Grass”, Walt Whitman. Peerless poetry. Accessible on a superficial level, but always rewarding closer reading. Universally enriching. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  9. The Way of the Greeks”, Edith Hamilton. A very high quality cliff’s notes to the philosophy, history, drama and art of the ancient Greeks. A favourite of RFK, Hamilton’s work conveys the extraordinary achievements of this fertile period of history with the respect and depth necessary to do the topic justice, but in a way that is accessible to those innocent of the classics.  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  10. The Noodlemaker”, Ma Jian. A collection of short stories of modern China told through a series of drunken dinners between two friends with a shared history of conflict. Dark, satirical modern Chinese fiction. The book jacket described it as Kunderaesq and I have to be cheap and derivative and agree. Recommended. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  11. The Uninvited”, Geling Yan. More Modern Chinese Satire. An unemployed Chinese factory worker discovers that by posing as a journalist he can eat at the free buffet’s of Chinas nascent PR industry. The protagonist is drawn into a mystery but I’d already lost interest by then. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  12. A Good Fall”, Ha Jin. A collection of short stories exploring the experiences of the Chinese immigrant community in the United States. Ha Jin is a favourite author of mine and his simple prose is perfect for a collection of stories about immigrants struggling to connect in an alien environment. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  13. Mudslingers: The 25 Dirtiest Political Campaigns of All Time”, Kerwin Swint. A straightforward list book cataloging the roughest political campaigns in US history. If nothing else this is worth reading to comprehensively disabuse oneself of the notion that there was once a golden era of politics in which gentlemen debated the public interest in a Habermasian public sphere. The dirtiest campaigns in this book are frequently the oldest ones…   Buy –Borrow – Toss
  14. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned”, Wells Tower. Perfectly adequate collection of modern literary short stories. Promised much but didn’t quite transcend the genre.  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  15. Life and Fate”, Vasily Grossman – Epic historical fiction covering the sweep of the Eastern Front of WW2 from the perspective of an extended Russian Jewish family. With a scope that stretches from Stalin in the Kremlin, to a unit of Russian soldiers besieged in Pavlov’s House during the battle of Stalingrad, to a Commissar in a Russian tank battalion leading Operation Uranus, to a Russian General in a Nazi concentration camp, to a Jewish scientist working on an atomic bomb while being hounded by Stalin’s secret police, to a Jewish child walking into the gas chambers in Auschwitz the canvas of this book is awe inspiring. And all written by a Russian Jewish journalist who lived with the Red Army from Stalingrad to Berlin. It’s no coincidence that this book was named to invoke “War and Peace”. Truly one of the Great Books of the 20th Century.  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  16. The Road”, Cormac McCarthy. Father and Son travel across post-apocalyptic landscape with little hope or overt purpose. Grim, unrelenting utterly parodic of McCarthy’s oeuvre.  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  17. Me Talk Pretty One Day”, David Sedaris – Humorous autobiographical essays. I read this as a palate cleanser after The Road. Largely pointless and lacking in substance/meaning. I enjoyed this so little that it made me uncomfortable at my intellectual snobbery. Far inferior to Augusten Burroughs in this genre. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  18. If this is a Man”, Primo Levi – Adorno might have said that there could be no poetry after Auschwitz, but “If This is a Man” is not only bears witness for the most horrific event of the 20th century, but does so in an indisputably artistic manner. Levi marshals the moral power of art to leave the reader greatly shaken. Given its brief length this really should be a must read for all thinking people. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  19. American Born Chinese”,  Gene Luen Yang. Graphic novel of the school life travails of a Chinese-American Boy interspersed with the myth of the Monkey King and the Journey to the West. Works in a weird way but nothing earth shattering. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  20. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress”, Dai Sijie. Two young school friends are sent  for re-education in rural China as part of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. They discover a cache of European novels and use them to woo a ‘Little Chinese Seamstress’. A cute concept and elegantly written  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  21. Novel without a Name”, Duong Thu Huong. A Viet-Cong unit leader travels across Vietnam to visit his home village after 10 years of guerilla warfare. Poetic and polemical. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  22. Once Upon a Moonless Night”, Dai Sijie. A Western academic seeks a Buddhist sutra once owned by last emperor of China. I’ve like Dai Sijie’s other books and I thought the concept was interesting, but the text was too florid for me to be able to get engaged with this book.  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  23. Shakespeare”, Bill Bryson. Everything you expect from Bryson. A short, light fact-filled but analysis-light account of the life and works of Will Shakespeare. Engaging but not life changing. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  24. My Reading Life”, Bob Carr. Former NSW Premier and current Minister for Foreign Affairs writes about the books that have had the greatest impact on his life. Inspired me to make a greater effort with the French and Russian classics next year. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  25. Ready, Player One”, Ernest Cline. Ecentric billionaire and creator of a massively multi-player virtual reality world dies and establishes an elaborate 80s geek culture public contest to win his bequest. Harmless science fiction. The author gave away a Delorean as part of his book tour so that’s pretty cool. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  26. Arguably”, Christopher Hitchens. A collection of more than 100 of Hitchens’ essays on history, politics and culture. First class. Talking about Hitchens’ essays is one of the few contexts in which you can use the word ‘Orwellian’ as a complimentary adjective. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  27. Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House”, Rob Chalmers. 60 year veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery gives a first hand account of life in the gallery in Old Parliament House. Equal parts fascinating, rambling and salacious. A testament to the uniqueness of Australian Democracy. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  28. The Master and Marguerita”,  Mikhail Bulgakov – The Devil visits Soviet Moscow. Magic realism ensues. Quite bizare at times and not for everyone. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  29. Death Note: Vol 1 – 108“, Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. One of the most significant Japanese Mangas. The son of the Tokyo police commissioner finds a magical note book that enables the owner to kill any individual by writing their name in the book. The story goes through the looking glass when the protagonist begins using the book to kill of the worlds criminal class and starts mind bending game of cat and mouse with a secretive super cop. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything ‘twisty-er’ than this before. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  30. Darkness at Noon“, Arthur Koesteller. An old Bolshevik is arrested and tried by the secret police for treason against the state. It’s what you would get if you combined Kafka and Orwell and added a dimension of moral responsibility (and hence complexity). One of the classics of the 20th century, though a book that you suspect will fall from public awareness as memories of the Soviet Union fade. A story that could only be written by someone who was both an ex-communist and who has been jailed for an extended period. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  31. Huey Long“, T. Harry Williams – Barnstorming biography of Louisiana demagogue, Governor and Senator, Huey Long. Anecdotes of the craft of politics abound and while this is a hefty tome, it doesn’t read long once you get into the rythms of Southern Democratic politics. Highly recommended. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  32. God is Not Great“, Christopher Hitchens. No one does polemic like Hitchens and “God is Not Great” manages to must the same passion and rage as “The God Delusion” without indulging in the same contempt and condescension for the religious. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  33. A Moveable Feast“, Ernest Hemingway – Hemingway on Hemingway (and Fitzgerald and Stein and Pound) in inter-war Paris. A pocket-sized classic filled with genuine insights on life and the artistic process. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  34. The Western Cannon: The Books and School of the Ages“, Harold Bloom – I’ve been listening to this via audiobook for the better part of a six months now (33+hours). Bloom reads it and he sounds just as sententious as you’d expect. There’s a lot of meaty substance in this and some worthy critiques of modern academic literary studies, but the bulk is reactionary pomposity. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  35. Captain China Volume 1“, Chi Wang and Jim Lai – A Chinese nationalist response to Captain America. Captain China saves President Obama from an assassination attempt. It’s exactly as bizarre as it sounds.  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  36. Stiff“, Shane Maloney. Electorate Officer for a Western Melbourne State Labor Minister is drawn into an intrigue of industrial scheming and murder. A high quality gumshoe genre book. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  37. Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds“, Kinzer, Stephen. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  38. #”Burr“, Gore Vidal – The story of a Revolutionary War hero, Senator and the first Vice-President of the United States to kill someone in a duel while in office. Arguably better than “Lincoln” if only because of its close (and often defamatory) imaginings of the most prominent figures in the Revolutionary USA, but regardless a must read for anyone with an interest in early US history. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  39. The Rise of the Fifth Estate“, Greg Jericho.First hand account of the emergence of social media as a new voice in the Australian political ecosystem and the ructions that this caused for existing institutions. A great way for new-comers to catch up on the online events of the past six years.  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  40. #”Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen“, Hugh Lunn. Recent events in Queensland inspired me to grab this one off the bookshelf for a re-read.   Buy –Borrow – Toss
  41. Ocean of Words“, Ha Jin. A collection of short stories revolving around a Chinese military base on the Chinese-Russian border during the Cultural Revolution. In addition to being a sensitive and insightful story-teller, Ha Jin focus on the individual in a totalitarian state is a valuable rejoinder to the stereo-type of the Chinese masses. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  42. Ransom: A Novel“, David Malouf – A retelling of the encounter between Priam and Achilles in the Illiad. A moving book that works on the small scale of human emotion and the larger scale of cultural expectation at the same time. Recommended. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  43. Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets“, Sudhir Venkatesh. Sociology graduate student embeds himself with a gang leader in a Chicago housing project. Told in a narrative, confessional style rather than as a sociological treatise which makes the book both accessible and surprisingly intimate. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  44. The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns“, Sasha Issenberg – In depth study of the growing application data driven, empirically social psychology tactics in modern political campaigning. The 50% of this book that is good is very good, but it meanders a lot in the middle parts by telling the story chronologically (as campaigns and political scientists floundered while trying to get rigor into what they were doing). Buy –Borrow – Toss
  45. Freedom“, Jonathan Franzen – I had put off reading this for more than 12 months as I wanted to consume it free from the climate of hype that surrounds everything that Franzen produces. You can believe the hype though as this was an extraordinary book. Frazen’s close studies of the late 20th century American middle-class and their family dynamics really are extraordinary. If you didn’t like ‘The Corrections”, you probably won’t like this either, but in many ways this book exceeded its predecessor. Buy – Borrow – Toss
  46. Leaving the Atocha Station“, Ben Lerner – An interesting read. I didn’t like it, but might recommend it. It’s a book that’s prompted a number of good debates with friends and if nothing else it’s great source material for trolling the literary set. I’m convinced there’s an aspect of satire to the book – the author is taking the piss out of the self-seriousness of the protagonist. Sentences like this are inexplicable otherwise: “It didn’t matter; every sentence, regardless of its subject, became mimetic of the action of the train, and the train mimetic of the sentence, and I felt suddenly coeval with its syntax.” But if you take it at face value, a more  cynical interpretation is that the language of literary poetry in the book is used not for satire or to create room for the projection of meaning by the reader (a theme explored by the protagonist), but merely as a signalling tool to demonstrate literary acuity. It’s all about the author rather than the reader. In the hands of a virtuoso this can be forgivable as it’s fun just to go on the ride with them, but in the hands of even just a ‘good’ writer it serves no purpose but to stroke the writer’s ego within their community of practice. It’s no better than French Philosophy. The best parts of this book were the exploration of projection/communication that come in the sections of dialogue where the protagonist is struggling to understand the local language. I thought the paragraphs where he unfolded the potential meanings of what he was hearing in Spanish were quite beautiful and close to my favourite parts of the book: eg “she might have described swimming in the lake as a child, or said that lakes reminded her of being a child, or asked me if I’d enjoyed swimming as a child, or said that what she’d said about the moon was childish.” A nice device that I would enjoy in a poem (or even series of poems) but if it was the premise of the entire book I thought it was a reach.  Buy – Borrow – Toss
  47. Don’t Go Back to Where You Came From: Why Multiculturalism Works“: Tim Soutphommasane – One of the books of the year for those interested in Australian politics and policy making. Southphommasane makes a persuasive case that the Australian model of multiculturalism, founded on the rights and obligations of citizenship, has been uniquely successful – particularly in comparison to the vastly different approaches employed in Europe. One of those rare books that has led me to think about an issue very differently after reading than before. – Buy –Borrow – Toss
  48. This is How You Lose Her“, Junot Diaz – An entire collection of short stories about male infidelity? An interesting subject for a concept album. Diaz faculty for description – particularly of women – is very impressive, but he’s also a very sensitive writer and he paints a nuanced picture of the emotional life of his characters. Reminded me of Raymond Carver’s “What we Talk About When We Talk About Love” in some respects. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  49. The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail But Some Don’t“, Nate Silver – NOT just a book about polling and political punditry, but rather a very detailed examination of the limitations of forecasting and prediction across a range of subject areas (including weather, hurricanes, earthquakes, terrorism, baseball, politics, economic forecasting). The book’s focus on the limitations of statistical forecasting is high irony given the (generally) uninformed criticisms Silver faced during the 2012 Presidential Election Campaign. Silver’s  explanation of the limitations of Fischerian statistical inference (particularly the scourge of statistical significance and overfit models) should be included in all introductory statistics courses. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  50. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War“, Max Brooks – A pastiche of first person accounts from across the globe of a zombie apocalypse. Largely Sci-Fi escapism despite Daniel Drezner’s (partly tongue in cheek) efforts to talk up the geo-political insight of the differing international approaches to the end of the world portrayed in this book. Buy –Borrow – Toss
  51. On Our Selection“, Steele Rudd – As someone who has family roots on the Darling Downs stretching back to the days of Dad and Dave it pains me to say it, but this book has not aged well. The slapstick comedy doesn’t really translate across generations and the constant stories of animal cruelty as humour were enough to put even me off. Go to Henry Lawson if you’re looking for an Australian literary taste of this period.  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  52. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love“, Raymond Carver – Brief and obtuse, but strangely  moving. I can see why this book is still considered to be so influential 30 years after it was written. I was particularly delighted to unexpectedly come across a short story (“So Much Water, So Close to Home”) that was obviously the inspiration for the Paul Kelly song “Everything’s Turning to White” and the eponym for the Album from which it comes. If you haven’t read any Carver before, this should give you a feel for the books oeuvre.  Buy –Borrow – Toss
  53. The Great Books“, David Denby – New York movie critic re-takes Columbia University’s mandatory ‘Great Books’ course in middle age wrestling with the canon of Western Civilization alongside Freshmen and Sophomores. A good, high level introduction to the Great Books coupled with a sensible discussion of the cultural role and relevance in a modern, pluralistic society. Buy –Borrow – Toss

Some thoughts on my year in reading:

  • Highlights for the year were “Life and Fate“, “If This Is a Man” and “Don’t Go Back To Where You Came From“. Heavy going in retrospect.  I really liked “This is How You Lose Her” too which is a bit lighter.
  • Every literate member of the human race should make the (minor) effort to read “If This is a ManIt’s short, it’s moving and its important.
  • 20 Non-Fiction books and 33 Fiction books – a little out of kilter given that I generally aim for a 50:50 split here.
  • Partial-marks on delivering on my reading goals for 2012. On the positive side I got back into Asian literature with a vengeance this year and made a real discovery with Ma Jian. On the negative side, Mishima’s The Sea of Fertility remains uncompleted and the only poetry I read this year was “Leave of Grass”. I tried Philip Larkin and found him a bit too curmudgeonly for my tastes sadly. I’ve been looking for a Ruthven Todd collection for more than 12 months now to no avail.

My reading goals for 2013 are:

  • The Russians and the French  – I tried some Flaubert (“A Sentimental Education”) this year but couldn’t hack it and gave up after a few days. I’m resolved to make a greater effort next year. At the very least I’m going to break into Tolstoy – Anna Karenina has been sitting in my ‘To Read’ queue for far too long. I feel embarrassed to be 30 and not to have read any of his stuff yet given how much trash I have torn through in my life.
  • Mishima – I’m definitely coming back to The Sea of Fertility this year as well. Definitely. I’m resolved.
  • At Least One Classic  – having read Denby’s “Great Books” and Carr’s “My Reading Like”, I’m resolved to read at least one classic next year. I’m leaning towards Marcus Aurelius’ ‘Meditations’ at this point, but I’m open to persuasion from classically minded friends…
Political Behaviour as a Pro-Social Activity – “The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns”, Sasha Issenberg Thu, 06 Dec 2012 02:40:18 +0000 Rogers and Grebner were coming from a different set of questions but arriving at a similar understanding of what drove political activity. No one decided to vote in a vacuum, and interpersonal interactions mattered. In fact, their psychologically minded tests and feints were moving toward something that felt very familiar to Gerber. Rogers’s project to promote voting as popular and Grebner’s threats to expose scofflaws had, if only briefly, reconstructed small corners of late-nineteenth-century America, where voting was a community activity. Since writing his dissertation about the introduction of the secret ballot, Gerber had spent much of his time trying to isolate the slightest ways to increase turnout in the system it had created. In Gerber’s eyes, the nineteenth century, where men packed onto courthouse steps to select their leaders with raised hands or words bellowed over the din, represented a kind of Edenic political space of widespread participation.

The Importance of Voter Contact – “The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns”, Sasha Issenberg Thu, 06 Dec 2012 01:20:13 +0000 When the results of the experiment came in, the phone calls showed no influence in getting people to vote. The direct-mail program increased turnout a modest but appreciable 0.6 percentage points for each postcard sent. (The experiment sent up to three pieces per household.) But the real revelation was in the group of voters successfully visited by one of the student teams: they turned out at a rate 8.7 percentage points higher than the control sample, an impact larger than the margin in most competitive elections.

Political Advice and Story Telling – “The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns”, Sasha Issenberg Wed, 05 Dec 2012 02:40:24 +0000 “A lot of what gets done on campaigns gets done on the basis of anecdotal evidence, which often comes down to who is a better storyteller. Who tells a better story about what works and what doesn’t work?” says Christopher Mann, a former executive director of the New Mexico Democratic Party.

The people who explain politics for a living—the politicians themselves, their advisers, the media who cover them—love to reach tidy conclusions like this one. Elections are decided by charismatic personalities, strategic maneuvers, the power of rhetoric, the zeitgeist of the political moment. The explainers cloak themselves in loose-fitting theories because they offer a narrative comfort, unlike the more honest acknowledgment that elections hinge on the motivations of millions of individual human beings and their messy, illogical, often unknowable psychologies.

Ask Them About Their Neighbours – “The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns”, Sasha Issenberg Wed, 05 Dec 2012 01:50:03 +0000 One night Binder asked, “Do you think your neighbors would be willing to vote for an African-American for president?” Some of the voters answered no, and Strasma watched them closely. Something in that response—perhaps a feeling of being liberated to publicly share an unpopular opinion—convinced him that the people who acknowledged their neighbors’ racism might really be confessing a view of their own. Strasma added the neighbors question to his survey and saw quickly that it worked. Those who had high Obama-support scores but ended up backing McCain said yes to it, so Strasma made it the core of a new “openness” model: another score, out of 100, that assessed how open a voter would be to casting a ballot for a black candidate.

Good Career Advice – “The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns”, Sasha Issenberg Tue, 04 Dec 2012 02:40:28 +0000 Levitt told his students they would be smart to live below their means, so they could always have the flexibility to afford taking a different job if it was lower-paying.

The Origins of Statistical Inference – “The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns”, Sasha Issenberg Tue, 04 Dec 2012 01:20:26 +0000 Not far from Fisher, a young economist named Austin Bradford Hill was growing similarly impatient with the limits of statistics to account for cause and effect in health care. In 1923, for example, Hill received a grant from Britain’s Medical Research Council that sent him to the rural parts of Essex, east of London, to investigate why the area suffered uncommonly high mortality rates among young adults. Hill returned from Essex with an explanation that had little to do with the quality of medical care: the healthiest members of that generation quickly left the country to live in towns and cities. The whole British medical system was built on similarly misleading statistics, and Hill worried that the faulty inferences drawn from them put people’s health at risk. Hill joined the Medical Research Council’s scientific staff and began writing articles in the Lancet explaining to doctors in straightforward language what concepts like mean, median, and mode meant.

‘Baked In’ Voter Perceptions – “The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns”, Sasha Issenberg Mon, 03 Dec 2012 03:37:49 +0000 When a pollster asked if someone would be more or less likely to vote for a candidate in favor of shipping jobs overseas—a typical way of auditioning what was then a promising line of attack against Bush—they would often hear from voters across the board that it made them “less likely.” But when the AFL sent out a draft leaflet about Bush’s free-trade policies, it turned out to have little impact on the autoworkers who received it. The knowledge of factory job loss was “baked in” to their impressions of Bush, as Podhorzer liked to put it: the workers already knew what the union wanted them to think about Republican trade policy. They liked or disliked Bush regardless. But other groups, like construction workers and Republicans, did not know as much. A piece of mail that gave them information turned out to be persuasive in changing their attitudes toward Bush.

The Deep Seated Paranoia and Insecurity of Political Parties – “The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns”, Sasha Issenberg Sat, 01 Dec 2012 01:20:11 +0000 The best way to get anyone to do anything on the Democratic side—and I’m sure it’s the reverse on the Republican side—is to tell people that the Republicans are doing it. It doesn’t matter: the Republicans could be doing something completely stupid, but if you tell the Democrats they get scared and think they should do it. They all think the Republicans are smarter than they are.

Exclamation Marks Mean Accessibility – “The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns”, Sasha Issenberg Fri, 30 Nov 2012 02:40:27 +0000 The publication of Get Out the Vote! was part of a conscious effort by Gerber and Green to step out of the academy and ensure that lessons from these studies reached a nonscholarly audience. The authors believed they had made this populist mission apparent through the inclusion of an exclamation mark in the book’s title. (“This is an unusual thing,” Gerber says of the punctuation.)

The Short Half-Life of Political TV Ads – “The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns”, Sasha Issenberg Fri, 30 Nov 2012 01:20:33 +0000 The ads may have delivered sizable effects on the weeks in which they ran, the eggheads concluded, but they decayed rapidly. Much of Weeks’s folklore was right: if your goal was to move public opinion, it made sense to wait to go on TV until you would be able to sustain the buy.

That Old Saying – “This Is How You Lose Her”, Junot Diaz Thu, 29 Nov 2012 02:40:17 +0000 You nod and watch her. She is an exceptionally beautiful girl. You think of that old saying Show me a beautiful girl and I’ll show you someone who is tired of fucking her. You doubt you would have ever tired of her, though.

Falling In Love Over an Expression – “This Is How You Lose Her”, Junot Diaz Thu, 29 Nov 2012 01:20:11 +0000 You were at the age where you could fall in love with a girl over an expression, over a gesture.

Like Being Inside a Sock – “This Is How You Lose Her”, Junot Diaz Wed, 28 Nov 2012 02:40:33 +0000 My room is hot and small, overrun by books. You never wanted to be in here (it’s like being inside a sock, you said) and anytime the boys were away we slept in the living room, out on the rug.

A Mouth LIke Unswept Glass – “This Is How You Lose Her”, Junot Diaz Wed, 28 Nov 2012 01:20:31 +0000 The newest girl’s called Samantha and she’s a problem. She’s dark and heavy-browed and has a mouth like unswept glass—when you least expect it she cuts you.

Heart Plunging – “This Is How You Lose Her”, Junot Diaz Tue, 27 Nov 2012 02:40:31 +0000 Yes—it’s an opposites-attract sort of thing, it’s a great-sex sort of thing, it’s a no-thinking sort of thing. It’s wonderful! Wonderful! Until one June day Alma discovers that you are also fucking this beautiful freshman girl named Laxmi, discovers the fucking of Laxmi because she, Alma, the girlfriend, opens your journal and reads. (Oh, she had her suspicions.) She waits for you on the stoop, and when you pull up in her Saturn and notice the journal in her hand your heart plunges through you like a fat bandit through a hangman’s trap.

A Fourth Dimension Beyond Jeans – “This Is How You Lose Her”, Junot Diaz Tue, 27 Nov 2012 01:20:30 +0000 YOU, YUNIOR, HAVE A GIRLFRIEND named Alma, who has a long tender horse neck and a big Dominican ass that seems to exist in a fourth dimension beyond jeans. An ass that could drag the moon out of orbit. An ass she never liked until she met you. Ain’t a day that passes that you don’t want to press your face against that ass or bite the delicate sliding tendons of her neck. You love how she shivers when you bite, how she fights you with those arms that are so skinny they belong on an after-school special.

Thinking About the Beginning – “This Is How You Lose Her”, Junot Diaz Mon, 26 Nov 2012 02:40:17 +0000 All I can manage is a memory of the first time me and Magda talked. Back at Rutgers. We were waiting for an E bus together on George Street and she was wearing purple. All sorts of purple. And that’s when I know it’s over. As soon as you start thinking about the beginning, it’s the end.

She’s Sensitive – “This Is How You Lose Her”, Junot Diaz Mon, 26 Nov 2012 01:20:09 +0000 She’s sensitive, too. Takes to hurt the way water takes to paper.

There is Nothing New Under The Sun Sat, 24 Nov 2012 15:40:29 +0000

That which has been is what will be,
That which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which it may be said,
“See, this is new”?
It has already been in ancient times before us.
There is no remembrance of former things,
Nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come
By those who will come after. —Ecclesiastes 1:9-11 (New King James translation)

Quoted in “The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction” – Nate Silver
Where Objective and Subjective Reality Intersect – “The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction” – Nate Silver Sun, 25 Nov 2012 01:20:30 +0000 Prediction is difficult for us for the same reason that it is so important: it is where objective and subjective reality intersect. Distinguishing the signal from the noise requires both scientific knowledge and self-knowledge: the serenity to accept the things we cannot predict, the courage to predict the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Anosognosia – “The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction” – Nate Silver Sat, 24 Nov 2012 02:40:17 +0000 Schelling suggests that our problems instead run deeper. When a possibility is unfamiliar to us, we do not even think about it. Instead we develop a sort of mind-blindness to it. In medicine this is called anosognosia: part of the physiology of the condition prevents a patient from recognizing that they have the condition. Some Alzheimer’s patients present in this way.

The Accuracy of Climate Models – “The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction” – Nate Silver Sat, 24 Nov 2012 01:20:10 +0000 Emanuel’s concerns are actually quite common among the scientific community: climate scientists are in much broader agreement about some parts of the debate than others. A survey of climate scientists conducted in 2008 found that almost all (94 percent) were agreed that climate change is occurring now, and 84 percent were persuaded that it was the result of human activity. But there was much less agreement about the accuracy of climate computer models. The scientists held mixed views about the ability of these models to predict global temperatures, and generally skeptical ones about their capacity to model other potential effects of climate change. Just 19 percent, for instance, thought they did a good job of modeling what sea-rise levels will look like fifty years hence.

Shallow Betting Markets – “The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction” – Nate Silver Fri, 23 Nov 2012 02:40:27 +0000 I don’t know that political betting markets like Intrade are all that good right now—the standard of competition is fairly low. Intrade is becoming more popular, but it is still small potatoes compared with the stock market or Las Vegas. In the weeks leading up to the Super Tuesday primaries in March 2012, for instance, about $1.6 million in shares were traded there; by contrast, $8 million is traded in the New York Stock Exchange in a single second. The biggest profit made by any one trader from his Super Tuesday bets was about $9,000, which is not enough to make a living, let alone to get rich.

Velocity Trading – “The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction” – Nate Silver Fri, 23 Nov 2012 01:20:26 +0000 This furious velocity of trading is something fairly new. In the 1950s, the average share of common stock in an American company was held for about six years before being traded—consistent with the idea that stocks are a long-term investment. By the 2000s, the velocity of trading had increased roughly twelvefold. Instead of being held for six years, the same share of stock was traded after just six months.

The Limitations of Statistical Significance – “The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction”, Nate Silver Thu, 22 Nov 2012 01:20:12 +0000 The bigger problem, however, is that the frequentist methods—in striving for immaculate statistical procedures that can’t be contaminated by the researcher’s bias—keep him hermetically sealed off from the real world. These methods discourage the researcher from considering the underlying context or plausibility of his hypothesis, something that the Bayesian method demands in the form of a prior probability. Thus, you will see apparently serious papers published on how toads can predict earthquakes, or how big-box stores like Target beget racial hate groups, which apply frequentist tests to produce “statistically significant” (but manifestly ridiculous) findings.

Fisherian statistical methods do not encourage us to think about which correlations imply causations and which ones do not.

More Data Means More Noise – “The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction”, Nate Silver Wed, 21 Nov 2012 04:26:29 +0000 As there is an exponential increase in the amount of available information, there is likewise an exponential increase in the number of hypotheses to investigate. For instance, the U.S. government now publishes data on about 45,000 economic statistics. If you want to test for relationships between all combinations of two pairs of these statistics—is there a causal relationship between the bank prime loan rate and the unemployment rate in Alabama?—that gives you literally one billion hypotheses to test.* But the number of meaningful relationships in the data—those that speak to causality rather than correlation and testify to how the world really works—is orders of magnitude smaller. Nor is it likely to be increasing at nearly so fast a rate as the information itself; there isn’t any more truth in the world than there was before the Internet or the printing press. Most of the data is just noise, as most of the universe is filled with empty space.

Bayes’ Theorem – “The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction”, Nate Silver Wed, 21 Nov 2012 01:28:36 +0000 Bayes’s theorem is concerned with conditional probability. That is, it tells us the probability that a theory or hypothesis is true if some event has happened. Suppose you are living with a partner and come home from a business trip to discover a strange pair of underwear in your dresser drawer. You will probably ask yourself: what is the probability that your partner is cheating on you? The condition is that you have found the underwear; the hypothesis you are interested in evaluating is the probability that you are being cheated on. Bayes’s theorem, believe it or not, can give you an answer to this sort of question— provided that you know (or are willing to estimate) three quantities: First, you need to estimate the probability of the underwear’s appearing as a condition of the hypothesis being true—that is, you are being cheated upon. Let’s assume for the sake of this problem that you are a woman and your partner is a man, and the underwear in question is a pair of panties. If he’s cheating on you, it’s certainly easy enough to imagine how the panties got there. Then again, even (and perhaps especially) if he is cheating on you, you might expect him to be more careful. Let’s say that the probability of the panties’ appearing, conditional on his cheating on you, is 50 percent. Second, you need to estimate the probability of the underwear’s appearing conditional on the hypothesis being false. If he isn’t cheating, are there some innocent explanations for how they got there? Sure, although not all of them are pleasant (they could be his panties). It could be that his luggage got mixed up. It could be that a platonic female friend of his, whom you trust, stayed over one night. The panties could be a gift to you that he forgot to wrap up. None of these theories is inherently untenable, although some verge on dog-ate-my-homework excuses. Collectively you put their probability at 5 percent. Third and most important, you need what Bayesians call a prior probability (or simply a prior). What is the probability you would have assigned to him cheating on you before you found the underwear? Of course, it might be hard to be entirely objective about this now that the panties have made themselves known. (Ideally, you establish your priors before you start to examine the evidence.) But sometimes, it is possible to estimate a number like this empirically. Studies have found, for instance, that about 4 percent of married partners cheat on their spouses in any given year, so we’ll set that as our prior. If we’ve estimated these values, Bayes’s theorem can then be applied to establish a posterior possibility. This is the number that we’re interested in: how likely is it that we’re being cheated on, given that we’ve found the underwear?

In Medicine, Stupid Models Kill People – “The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction”, Nate Silver Tue, 20 Nov 2012 02:40:30 +0000 Much of the most thoughtful work on the use and abuse of statistical models and the proper role of prediction comes from people in the medical profession. That is not to say there is nothing on the line when an economist makes a prediction, or a seismologist does. But because of medicine’s intimate connection with life and death, doctors tend to be appropriately cautious. In their field, stupid models kill people. It has a sobering effect.

Markets for Predicting Macro-Economic Variables – “The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction”, Nate Silver Tue, 20 Nov 2012 01:20:23 +0000 One of the most basic applications might simply be markets for predicting macroeconomic variables like GDP and unemployment. There are already a variety of direct and indirect ways to bet on things like inflation, interest rates, and commodities prices, but no high-volume market for GDP exists. There could be a captive audience for these markets: common stocks have become more highly correlated with macroeconomic risks in recent years, so they could provide a means of hedging against them. These markets would also provide real-time information to policy makers, essentially serving as continuously updated forecasts of GDP. Adding options to the markets—bets on, say, whether GDP might grow by 5 percent, or decline by 2 percent—would punish overconfident forecasters and yield more reliable estimates of the uncertainties inherent in forecasting the economy.

The Limitations of Economic Forecasts – “The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction”, Nate Silver Mon, 19 Nov 2012 02:40:20 +0000 Instead, economic forecasts are blunt instruments at best, rarely being able to anticipate economic turning points more than a few months in advance. Fairly often, in fact, these forecasts have failed to “predict” recessions even once they were already under way: a majority of economists did not think we were in one when the three most recent recessions, in 1990, 2001, and 2007, were later determined to have begun.


In reality, when a group of economists give you their GDP forecast, the true 90 percent prediction interval—based on how these forecasts have actually performed20 and not on how accurate the economists claim them to be—spans about 6.4 points of GDP (equivalent to a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percent).* When you hear on the news that GDP will grow by 2.5 percent next year, that means it could quite easily grow at a spectacular rate of 5.7 percent instead. Or it could fall by 0.7 percent—a fairly serious recession. Economists haven’t been able to do any better than that, and there isn’t much evidence that their forecasts are improving. The old joke about economists’ having called nine out of the last six recessions correctly has some truth to it; one actual statistic is that in the 1990s, economists predicted only 2 of the 60 recessions around the world a year ahead of time.


Overfit Models – “The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction”, Nate Silver Mon, 19 Nov 2012 01:20:16 +0000 But the overfit model scores those extra points in essence by cheating—by fitting noise rather than signal. It actually does a much worse job of explaining the real world. As obvious as this might seem when explained in this way, many forecasters completely ignore this problem. The wide array of statistical methods available to researchers enables them to be no less fanciful—and no more scientific—than a child finding animal patterns in clouds.* “With four parameters I can fit an elephant,” the mathematician John von Neumann once said of this problem. “And with five I can make him wiggle his trunk.

The Limited Accuracy of Polls in Primary Contests – “The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction”, Nate Silver Sun, 18 Nov 2012 02:40:13 +0000 During the 2008 Democratic primaries, the average poll missed by about eight points, far more than implied by its margin of error. The problems in polls of the Republican primaries of 2012 may have been even worse. In many of the major states, in fact—including Iowa, South Carolina, Florida, Michigan, Washington, Colorado, Ohio, Alabama, and Mississippi—the candidate ahead in the polls a week before the election lost.

The Unimportance of Political News – “The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction”, Nate Silver Sun, 18 Nov 2012 01:20:08 +0000 Political news, and especially the important news that really affects the campaign, proceeds at an irregular pace. But news coverage is produced every day. Most of it is filler, packaged in the form of stories that are designed to obscure its unimportance.* Not only does political coverage often lose the signal—it frequently accentuates the noise. If there are a number of polls in a state that show the Republican ahead, it won’t make news when another one says the same thing. But if a new poll comes out showing the Democrat with the lead, it will grab headlines—even though the poll is probably an outlier and won’t predict the outcome accurately.

The Narrative and Political Prediction – “The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction”, Nate Silver Sat, 17 Nov 2012 02:40:15 +0000 You can get lost in the narrative. Politics may be especially susceptible to poor predictions precisely because of its human elements: a good election engages our dramatic sensibilities.

Hedgehogs and Forecasting – “The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction”, Nate Silver Sat, 17 Nov 2012 01:20:10 +0000 In fact, a little knowledge may be a dangerous thing in the hands of a hedgehog with a Ph.D. One of Tetlock’s more remarkable findings is that, while foxes tend to get better at forecasting with experience, the opposite is true of hedgehogs: their performance tends to worsen as they pick up additional credentials. Tetlock believes the more facts hedgehogs have at their command, the more opportunities they have to permute and manipulate them in ways that confirm their biases.

Out of Sample Problems – “The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction”, Nate Silver Fri, 16 Nov 2012 02:40:18 +0000 But forecasters often resist considering these out-of-sample problems. When we expand our sample to include events further apart from us in time and space, it often means that we will encounter cases in which the relationships we are studying did not hold up as well as we are accustomed to. The model will seem to be less powerful. It will look less impressive in a PowerPoint presentation (or a journal article or a blog post). We will be forced to acknowledge that we know less about the world than we thought we did. Our personal and professional incentives almost always discourage us from doing this.

We forget—or we willfully ignore—that our models are simplifications of the world. We figure that if we make a mistake, it will be at the margin.

Risk and Uncertainty – “The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction”, Nate Silver Fri, 16 Nov 2012 01:20:14 +0000 Risk, as first articulated by the economist Frank H. Knight in 1921, is something that you can put a price on. Say that you’ll win a poker hand unless your opponent draws to an inside straight: the chances of that happening are exactly 1 chance in 11. This is risk. It is not pleasant when you take a “bad beat” in poker, but at least you know the odds of it and can account for it ahead of time. In the long run, you’ll make a profit from your opponents making desperate draws with insufficient odds.

Uncertainty, on the other hand, is risk that is hard to measure. You might have some vague awareness of the demons lurking out there. You might even be acutely concerned about them. But you have no real idea how many of them there are or when they might strike. Your back-of-the-envelope estimate might be off by a factor of 100 or by a factor of 1,000; there is no good way to know. This is uncertainty. Risk greases the wheels of a free-market economy; uncertainty grinds them to a halt.

Somethign That Cannot Possibly Go Wrong – “The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction”, Nate Silver Thu, 15 Nov 2012 02:40:24 +0000 “The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair,” wrote Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.

The Predictable Housing Bubble – “The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction”, Nate Silver Thu, 15 Nov 2012 01:20:19 +0000 Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize–winning economist, wrote of the bubble and its inevitable end in August 2005. “This was baked into the system,” Krugman later told me. “The housing crash was not a black swan. The housing crash was the elephant in the room.”

Ordinary Americans were also concerned. Google searches on the term “housing bubble” increased roughly tenfold from January 2004 through summer 2005. Interest in the term was heaviest in those states, like California, that had seen the largest run-up in housing prices—and which were about to experience the largest decline. In fact, discussion of the bubble was remarkably widespread. Instances of the two-word phrase “housing bubble” had appeared in just eight news accounts in 200120 but jumped to 3,447 references by 2005. The housing bubble was discussed about ten times per day in reputable newspapers and periodicals.

What You Can’t State Your Innocence, Proclaim Ignorance – “The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction”, Nate Silver Wed, 14 Nov 2012 02:40:33 +0000 Nobody saw it coming. When you can’t state your innocence, proclaim your ignorance: this is often the first line of defense when there is a failed forecast.

Connecting Subjective and Objective Reality – “The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction”, Nate Silver Wed, 14 Nov 2012 01:20:32 +0000 Prediction is important because it connects subjective and objective reality. Karl Popper, the philosopher of science, recognized this view. For Popper, a hypothesis was not scientific unless it was falsifiable—meaning that it could be tested in the real world by means of a prediction.

There is no Such Thing as Perfectly Objective Predictions – “The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction”, Nate Silver Tue, 13 Nov 2012 02:40:13 +0000 Some of you may be uncomfortable with a premise that I have been hinting at and will now state explicitly: we can never make perfectly objective predictions. They will always be tainted by our subjective point of view.

The Diminishing Returns of Additional Information – “The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction”, Nate Silver Tue, 13 Nov 2012 01:20:08 +0000 Our biological instincts are not always very well adapted to the information rich modern world. Unless we work actively to become aware of the biases we introduce, the returns to additional information may be minimal—or diminishing.

Tetlock’s Study of Expert Prediction – “The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction”, Nate Silver Mon, 12 Nov 2012 02:41:28 +0000 A long-term study by Philip E. Tetlock of the University of Pennsylvania found that when political scientists claimed that a political outcome had absolutely no chance of occurring, it nevertheless happened about 15 percent of the time. (The political scientists are probably better than television pundits, however.)

Numbers Have No Way of Speaking For Themselves – “The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction”, Nate Silver Mon, 12 Nov 2012 01:20:27 +0000 The numbers have no way of speaking for themselves. We speak for them. We imbue them with meaning. Like Caesar, we may construe them in self-serving ways that are detached from their objective reality.

Men May Construe Things After Their Fashion – “The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction”, Nate Silver Sun, 11 Nov 2012 02:41:16 +0000 [But] men may construe things after their fashion / Clean from the purpose of the things themselves,” Shakespeare warns us through the voice of Cicero—good advice for anyone seeking to pluck through their newfound wealth of information. It was hard to tell the signal from the noise. The story the data tells us is often the one we’d like to hear, and we usually make sure that it has a happy ending.

Translations – “Leaving the Atocha Station”, Ben Lerner Sun, 11 Nov 2012 01:20:26 +0000 she might have described swimming in the lake as a child, or said that lakes reminded her of being a child, or asked me if I’d enjoyed swimming as a child, or said that what she’d said about the moon was childish.

I ‘felt’ in love – “Leaving the Atocha Station”, Ben Lerner Sat, 10 Nov 2012 02:40:27 +0000 She kissed me on the lips and I felt in love with her.

The Flattering Light of the Subjunctive – “Leaving the Atocha Station”, Ben Lerner Sat, 10 Nov 2012 01:20:26 +0000 The relationship I might have had in the flattering light of the subjunctive.

Nonsense – “Leaving the Atocha Station”, Ben Lerner Fri, 09 Nov 2012 02:40:18 +0000 It didn’t matter; every sentence, regardless of its subject, became mimetic of the action of the train, and the train mimetic of the sentence, and I felt suddenly coeval with its syntax.

I Said Meaninglessly – “Leaving the Atocha Station”, Ben Lerner Fri, 09 Nov 2012 01:20:11 +0000 “The language of poetry is the exact opposite of the language of mass media,” I said, meaninglessly.

An American Free Space – “Leaving the Atocha Station”, Ben Lerner Thu, 08 Nov 2012 02:40:31 +0000 …making contact with authentic Spain, which I only defined negatively as an American-free space

Infinite Disdain – “Leaving the Atocha Station”, Ben Lerner Thu, 08 Nov 2012 01:20:29 +0000 On the highway to Toledo we passed several tour buses full of what looked like Americans, digital cameras already in hand, and as we drew past them I expressed infinite disdain, which I could do easily with my eyebrows, for every tourist whose gaze I met. My look accused them of supporting the war, of treating people and the relations between people like things, of being the lemmings of a murderous and spectacular empire, accused them as if I were a writer in flight from a repressive regime, rather than one of its most fraudulent grantees.

I Had Known it and Rejected it – “Leaving the Atocha Station”, Ben Lerner Wed, 07 Nov 2012 02:40:17 +0000 Various people greeted us and Teresa detached from me to kiss them and I was acutely aware of not being attractive enough for my surroundings; luckily I had a strategy for such situations, one I had developed over many visits to New York with the dim kids of the stars: I opened my eyes a little more widely than normal, opened them to a very specific point, raising my eyebrows and also allowing my mouth to curl up into the implication of a smile. I held this look steady once it had obtained, a look that communicated incredulity cut with familiarity, a boredom arrested only by a vaguely anthropological interest in my surroundings, a look that contained a dose of contempt I hoped could be read as political, as insinuating that, after a frivolous night, I would be returning to the front lines of some struggle that would render whatever I experienced in such company null. The goal of this look was to make my insufficiencies appear chosen, to give my unstylish hair and clothes the force of protest; I was a figure for the outside to this life, I had known it and rejected it and now was back as an ambassador from a reality more immediate and just.

She Was Always Wrapping or Unwrapping Her Hair or Body – “Leaving the Atocha Station”, Ben Lerner Wed, 07 Nov 2012 01:20:12 +0000 She was always wrapping or unwrapping her hair or body in some sort of cloth, winding or unwinding a shawl or scarf, and whenever I imagined her, I imagined her engaged in one of these activities; I couldn’t picture her standing still, fully dressed or undressed, but only in the process of gracefully entangling or disentangling herself from fabric.

The Disconnect Between My Experience of Actual Artworks and the Claims Made on Their Behalf – “Leaving the Atocha Station”, Ben Lerner Tue, 06 Nov 2012 02:40:19 +0000 Insofar as I was interested in the arts, I was interested in the disconnect between my experience of actual artworks and the claims made on their behalf; the closest I’d come to having a profound experience of art was probably the experience of this distance, a profound experience of the absence of profundity.

Less a Particular Poem than the Echo of Poetic Possibility – “Leaving the Atocha Station”, Ben Lerner Tue, 06 Nov 2012 01:20:15 +0000 Although I claimed to be a poet, although my supposed talent as a writer had earned me my fellowship in Spain, I tended to find lines of poetry beautiful only when I encountered them quoted in prose, in the essays my professors had assigned in college, where the line breaks were replaced with slashes, so that what was communicated was less a particular poem than the echo of poetic possibility.

15172 Mon, 05 Nov 2012 02:40:24 +0000

Perhaps the most surprising fact in T-Bone’s ledgers was the incredibly low wage paid to the young members who did the dirtiest and most dangerous work: selling drugs on the street. According to T-Bone’s records, they barely earned minimum wage. For all their braggadocio, to say nothing of the peer pressure to spend money on sharp clothes and cars, these young members stood little chance of ever making a solid payday unless they beat the odds and were promoted into the senior ranks. But even Price and T-Bone, it turned out, made only about thirty thousand dollars a year. Now I knew why some of the younger BK members supplemented their income by working legit jobs at McDonald’s or a car wash.

“Gang leader for a day: a rogue sociologist takes to the streets”,  Sudhir Venkatesh
Corrupted Power Structures – “Gang leader for a day: a rogue sociologist takes to the streets”, Sudhir Venkatesh Mon, 05 Nov 2012 01:20:24 +0000 That a tenant leader—one who was respected by politicians, shop owners, the police, and others—would praise a crack gang and work so closely with its leader made me realize just how desperate people could become in the projects. But I was learning that Ms. Bailey’s compromising position also arose out of her own personal ambitions: in order to retain her authority, she had to collaborate with the other power groups, in this case the gangs, who helped shape the status quo. This resulted in the bizarre spectacle of Ms. Bailey’s publicly defending the very people who were shooting and causing trouble for her tenant families.

Valuing Employment – “Gang leader for a day: a rogue sociologist takes to the streets”, Sudhir Venkatesh Sun, 04 Nov 2012 02:40:20 +0000 J.T. once asked me what sociologists had to say about gangs and inner-city poverty. I told him that some sociologists believed in a “culture of poverty”—that is, poor blacks didn’t work because they didn’t value employment as highly as other ethnic groups did, and they transmitted this attitude across generations.

“So you want me to take pride in the job, and you’re only paying me minimum wage?” J.T. countered. “It don’t sound like you think much about the job yourself.” His tone was more realistic than defensive. In fact, his rejoinder echoed the very criticisms that some sociologists applied to the “culture of poverty” view.

Loyalty and Judgement – “A Moveable Feast”, Ernest Hemingway Sun, 04 Nov 2012 01:20:18 +0000 He liked the works of his friends, which is beautiful as loyalty but can be disastrous as judgement.

Stronger at the Broken Places – “A Moveable Feast”, Ernest Hemingway Sat, 03 Nov 2012 02:40:30 +0000 Nobody climbs on skis now and almost everybody breaks their legs but maybe it is easier in the end to break your legs than to break your heart although they say that everything breaks now and that sometimes, afterwards, many are stronger at the broken places.

The Discipline of Hunger – “A Moveable Feast”, Ernest Hemingway Sat, 03 Nov 2012 01:20:33 +0000 Hunger is good discipline.

“A Moveable Feast”, Ernest Hemingway Fri, 02 Nov 2012 02:40:15 +0000 We would be together and have our books and at night be warm in bed together with the windows open and the stars bright.

Happiness – “A Moveable Feast”, Ernest Hemingway Fri, 02 Nov 2012 01:20:11 +0000 We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other.

Travelling Partners – “A Moveable Feast”, Ernest Hemingway Thu, 01 Nov 2012 02:40:21 +0000 Never to go on trips with anyone you do not love.

Partnership – “A Moveable Feast”, Ernest Hemingway Thu, 01 Nov 2012 01:20:24 +0000 When you have two people who love each other, are happy and gay and really good work is being done by one or both of them, people are drawn to them as surely as migrating birds are drawn at night to a powerful beacon. If the two people were as solidly constructed as the beacon there would be little damage except to the birds. Those who attract people by their happiness and their performance are usually inexperienced. They do not know how not to be overrun and how to go away. They do not always learn about the food, the attractive, the charming, the soon-beloved, the generous, the understanding rich who have no bad qualities and who give each day the quality of a festival and who, when they have passed and taken the nourishment they needed, leave everything deader than the roots of any grass Attila’s horses’ hooves have ever scoured.

On Scott Fitzgerald – “A Moveable Feast”, Ernest Hemingway Wed, 31 Oct 2012 02:40:13 +0000 His talent was a natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless.

A Great Treasure You Could Take With You – “A Moveable Feast”, Ernest Hemingway Wed, 31 Oct 2012 01:20:12 +0000 To have come on all this new world of writing (Tolstoy, Chekov, Dostoyevsky, Gogol & Turgenev), with time to read in a city like Paris where there was a way of living well and working, no matter how poor you were, was like having a great treasure given to you. You could take with you treasure with you when you traveled too.

The Eyes of an Unsuccessful Rapist – “A Moveable Feast”, Ernest Hemingway Tue, 30 Oct 2012 02:40:36 +0000 Some people show evil as a great race horse shows breeding. They have the dignity of a hard chancre. Lewis did not show evil; he just looked nasty.

Walking home I tried to think what he reminded me of and there were various things. They were all medical except toe-jam and that was a slang word. I tried to break his face down and describe it but I could only get the eyes. Under the black hat, when I had first seen them, the eyes had been those of an unsuccessful rapist.

Daily Substitutes for Immortality – “A Moveable Feast”, Ernest Hemingway Tue, 30 Oct 2012 01:20:35 +0000 In those days may people went to the cafes at the corner of the Boulevard Montparnasse and the Boulevard Raspail to be seen publicly and in a way such places anticipated the columnists as the daily substitutes for immortality.

Everything Leaves and Emptiness When It Stops – “A Moveable Feast”, Ernest Hemingway Mon, 29 Oct 2012 02:40:32 +0000 By then I knew that everything good and bad left an emptiness when it stopped. But if it was bad, the emptiness filled up by itself. If it was good you could only fill it by finding something better.

You Should Only Read What is Truly Good or is Frankly Bad – “A Moveable Feast”, Ernest Hemingway Mon, 29 Oct 2012 01:20:35 +0000 ‘Huxley is a dead man,’ Miss Stein said. ‘Why do you want to read a dead man? Can’t you see he is dead?’

I could not see, then, that he was a dead man and I said that his books amused me and kept me from thinking.

‘You should only read what is truly good or is frankly bad.’

You Have Always Written Before and you Will Write Now – “A Moveable Feast”, Ernest Hemingway Sun, 28 Oct 2012 02:40:23 +0000 But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the splutter of blue they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’

So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.

A Book of Fiction May Throw Some Light on What Has Been Written as Fact – “A Moveable Feast”, Ernest Hemingway Sun, 28 Oct 2012 01:20:21 +0000 If the reader prefers, this book may be regarded as fiction. But there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact.

Generation Y – “Freedom: A Novel”, Jonathan Franzen Sat, 27 Oct 2012 02:40:20 +0000 His feeling of having crashed did not consist of envy, exactly, or even entirely of having outlived himself. It was more like despair about the world’s splinteredness. The nation was fighting ugly ground wars in two countries, the planet was heating up like a toaster oven, and here at the 9:30, all around him, were hundreds of kids in the mold of the banana-bread-baking Sarah, with their sweet yearnings, their innocent entitlement—to what? To emotion. To unadulterated worship of a superspecial band. To being left to themselves to ritually repudiate, for an hour or two on a Saturday night, the cynicism and anger of their elders. They seemed, as Jessica had suggested at the meeting earlier, to bear malice toward nobody. Katz could see it in their clothing, which bespoke none of the rage and disaffection of the crowds he’d been a part of as a youngster. They gathered not in anger but in celebration of their having found, as a generation, a gentler and more respectful way of being. A way, not incidentally, more in harmony with consuming. And so said to him: die.

People Came to This Country for Either Money or Freedom – “Freedom: A Novel”, Jonathan Franzen Sat, 27 Oct 2012 01:20:16 +0000 People came to this country for either money or freedom. If you don’t have money, you cling to your freedoms all the more angrily. Even if smoking kills you, even if you can’t afford to feed your kids, even if your kids are getting shot down by maniacs with assault rifles. You may be poor, but the one thing nobody can take away from you is the freedom to fuck up your life whatever way you want to. That’s what Bill Clinton figured out—that we can’t win elections by running against personal liberties. Especially not against guns, actually.

The Quiet Majesty of Long Marriage – “Freedom: A Novel”, Jonathan Franzen Fri, 26 Oct 2012 02:40:30 +0000 the quiet majesty of long marriage

Integrity’s a Neutral Value – “Freedom: A Novel”, Jonathan Franzen Fri, 26 Oct 2012 01:20:30 +0000 Integrity’s a neutral value. Hyenas have integrity, too. They’re pure hyena.

Washington’s All Abstraction – “Freedom: A Novel”, Jonathan Franzen Thu, 25 Oct 2012 02:40:26 +0000 But at least this is an actual place. Washington’s all abstraction. It’s about access to power and nothing else.

A Little Coordinate of the Universe Permanently Charged – “Freedom: A Novel”, Jonathan Franzen Thu, 25 Oct 2012 01:20:23 +0000 No mark was left on the wall there, and yet the spot remained clear and distinct forever after. It was a little coordinate of the universe permanently charged and altered by its history. It became, that spot, a quiet third presence in the room with her and Walter on the weekends they later spent alone here.

Loyalty – “Freedom: A Novel”, Jonathan Franzen Wed, 24 Oct 2012 02:40:10 +0000 (Dorothy was big on loyalty—it lent meaning to her not so pleasant life)

Good People – “Freedom: A Novel”, Jonathan Franzen Wed, 24 Oct 2012 01:20:10 +0000 Richard had a strong (if highly intermittent) wish to be a good person, and he was scrupulously polite to people, like Dorothy, whom he considered Good.

To be Dead is to be as Beaten as a Dad can get – “Freedom: A Novel”, Jonathan Franzen Tue, 23 Oct 2012 02:36:35 +0000 At the Lutheran hospital, his lifelong struggle against his father ended with his father’s death. (To be dead is to be as beaten as a dad can get.)

Self-Satisfaction – “Freedom: A Novel”, Jonathan Franzen Tue, 23 Oct 2012 01:14:37 +0000 There was, of course, nowhere better in the world to be than New York City. This fact was the foundation of her family’s satisfaction with itself, the platform from which all else could be ridiculed, the collateral of adult sophistication that bought them the right to behave like children.

Denial – “Freedom: A Novel”, Jonathan Franzen Mon, 22 Oct 2012 02:34:18 +0000 At the time, she believed that it was because she was selflessly team-spirited that direct personal compliments made her so uncomfortable. The autobiographer now thinks that compliments were like a beverage she was unconsciously smart enough to deny herself even one drop of, because her thirst for them was infinite.

Self-Deprecating Condescension – “Freedom: A Novel”, Jonathan Franzen Mon, 22 Oct 2012 01:03:11 +0000 There were people with whom her style of self-deprecation didn’t sit well—who detected a kind of condescension in it, as if Patty, in exaggerating her own minor defects, were too obviously trying to spare the feelings of less accomplished homemakers.

Field’s Life as a Rat – A Post Script – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Sat, 20 Oct 2012 02:20:57 +0000 Once the coup had taken place and the election was on, Field – a senator for just ninety-nine days – was quickly forgotten. Legal aid to help him fight five High Court writs stopped, promises of state government monetary aid did not materialise, and his previous ‘patrons’, the Queensland Liberal-National parties, put him at number thirty-four in the field of forty in their list of preferences when he ran as an independent in the Senate. This was nine places lower than they listed Dr. Colston whom they had rejected in favour of Field just a few months before.

Yet Field was number twelve on the ALP Senate ticket. The reason for these apparent anomalies was that each party wanted its ticket as easy to follow as possible, taking little notice of order after making sure the party occupied the first six place on the card and their main opponents the last.

We Will Select a Labor Man – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Sat, 20 Oct 2012 00:48:42 +0000 The tragedy for Labor was that the ensuing Field affair and its consequences would never have occurred had three names been put up in Queensland by the ALP on the death of Senator Milliner. A smart move would have been to put up two communists and Colston. But Labor overlooked the consequences and as the vote on Burns’s nomination of Colston was about to be taken Burns said the people would see that a state government would change their vote. To which Bjelke-Petersen replied: “We will select a Labor man.

One of the Trendy University Set, One of the Trendy Mob – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Fri, 19 Oct 2012 02:28:52 +0000 During the Parliamentary Debate in which Tom Burns nominated Mal Colston for the 1975 Queensland casual Senate vacancy:

This anti-intellectual attitude was summed up by Tom Aikens (independent, Townsville South) who told the House he was not going to make any personal attack on Dr. Colston: “I will put it mildly. Colston is one of the trendy university set, one of the trendy mob.” That was probably a more damaging smear to Colston in Queensland Parliament than the incredible fire allegations (in which Colston had been accused of arson). The Liberal member for Maryborough, Gilbert Alison, chimed in, calling out: “An academic”, to which Aikens added: “He’s worse than that.”

What The Shah Told Joh – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Fri, 19 Oct 2012 02:07:05 +0000 At Stanthorpe, Queensland’s fruit-growing centre he said: “Australians, wake up, we are on a dangerous course with these people. The Shah of Iran told me when he was here he was disturbed that we were going to communism.  Australians keep coming to me saying to do everything I can do to fight Canberra. They say they are taking us the same way their nations went in Europe. They said it couldn’t happen there too.”

National Party Freedom Bonds – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Thu, 18 Oct 2012 02:24:45 +0000 For its part, the National Party – fighting its first state election under a new name – approached the election with patriotic fervour. So much so that in the campaign the party put “freedom bonds” up for sale at $10 to $100, making them, intentionally, like war bonds. The party justified this by saying the ALP posed as great a threat to Australia’s freedom as the Japanese had in World War II. “The difference is that the ALP is making an invasion from within,” a spokesman said.

A Bad Campaign Speech – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Thu, 18 Oct 2012 00:54:11 +0000 Joh set such a campaign pace in 1974 that he made it difficult for his ALP opponent Tucker to keep up. Tucker’s chartered plane got lost in a storm while flying to Quilpie in the West. The plane was half an hour overdue when Tucker himself used a road map to help the pilot establish where they were. Then, in Thargomindah, feelings were running so high against Labor that when Tucker introduced the local Labor candidate at a barbecue the candidate was rugby tackled by an irate local as he took the microphone.

Politics and Travel – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Wed, 17 Oct 2012 02:28:59 +0000 Bjelke-Petersen described flying as the “best relaxation apart from being home”:

“You know when you get into a cockpit and get absorbed in all the instruments and takeoff and so on, it’s a tremendous feeling of relief just as you leave the ground to know that there’s no telephone, and to know that you’re right out of all the traffic and the hassles of traffic. That’s the feeling that I get in flying… We have our own aircraft, our own airstrip, as probably you know, at home and my children are used to flying. They grew up with me flying aeroplanes as I did down the years. It made no difference to my four children to get into an aeroplane or into a motorcar…

Karate Chop Political Advertising – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Wed, 17 Oct 2012 00:51:20 +0000 The big surprise (in 1974) was the defeat of Brisbane’s popular Lord Mayor, Alderman Clem Jones – or was it such a surprise, considering the advertising campaign mounted by his Liberal opponent, Don Cameron. He ran a series of television commercials in which he moved around in front of a big pile of roofing tiles warning people of inflation: “The ALP will cut your pay packet in half…” he shouted and jumped forward, smashing through the centre of the tiles with a mighty karate chop. The fact that he hurt his hand should be recorded.

The Last Queensland Senate Seat – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Tue, 16 Oct 2012 02:21:41 +0000 In the event, the Whitlam government was re-elected (in 1974) – but in an election that was so close it took two weeks to be finally decided. And again it was Bjelke-Petersen who proved the biggest thorn in Labor’s side. While Labor held up pretty well in the rest of Australia it dropped 3.2% of its vote in Queensland (to 44%). And, perhaps most important of all, while Labor won its expected five Senate seats out of ten in every other state, in Queensland it could win only four. The Labor man who missed out, Dr Mal Colston, a doctor of philosophy then working as a research officer with the state Police Department, lost by just a couple of thousand votes in more than a million. It was this Queensland senate seat which was to be a vital loss for Labor.

The Gair Affair in Parliament – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Tue, 16 Oct 2012 01:06:00 +0000 Upon the revelation of the Gair Affair:

Whitlam reacted angrily, even threatening to go to the High Court but the delighted federal opposition rubbed salt into the wound. During question time, Anthony asked the prime minister if he had ever been taken for a ride by Bjelke-Petersen: “The premier of Queensland is a very experienced pilot, and can cope with all circumstances – high-risk or otherwise. Could the prime minister tell us whether he has ever been taken for a ride by the premier of Queensland?”
Whitlam’s reply was, as usual, not without some wit: “My understanding of the premier’s interest is that he is more interested in exploring the waters under underneath the earth than the heavens above. I am not unaware of the complaints he has against the present Australian government, and the previous two Australian governments.. [which] have wanted to ensure that the nation’s interest prevailed in the waters, under the earth and off the shore, even though the premier was speculating in them to the national disadvantage. I cannot imagine why the honourable gentleman raised the Premier’s name in this context. It might be that the honourable gentleman has in mind some quite novel action that the premier took this morning.”

Queensland and Medibank – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Mon, 15 Oct 2012 02:25:10 +0000 In fact, there were many things that Labor did to put Queenslanders offside, and these ranged from kangaroo shooting to Medibank. Although the latter scheme was put into effect by a Queensland Politician, Bill Hayden of Ipswich, and with considerable administrative skill, there was one big political hitch which offended Queenslanders and this was the proposed special Medibank tax levy of 2 ½ per cent. A Queensland Labor government had, decades earlier, introduced free general hospitals in Queensland. Now, under Hayden’s scheme, they were going to have to pay a special additional tax for something they thought they already had. Of course the injection of much more federal money would, eventually, mean better hospital facilities. But, in the short term at least, it smacked of Queenslanders subsidising southerners. On top of that, Queensland’s existing free hospital scheme – which often involved long delays in waiting rooms – made many people willing to accept the state government’s arguments that Medibank would mean even longer queues and further bureaucratic tangles.

The Merger of the Qld Country Party and the DLP – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Mon, 15 Oct 2012 01:00:37 +0000 In September 1973, Mike Evans (Country Party President), called a press conference at a city hotel in Brisbane, at which the Country Party announced terms for the integration of the two parties (the Country Party and the DLP). This story appeared in the Australian the next day under the heading “State Country Party swallows the DLP”. The press conference was told that the state executives of both parties had agreed to form one new, as yet unnamed, party by November. The terms for integration included making the Country Party constitution “the basis for the new party”. This confirmed the impression that the DLP was disappearing and that its members would now vote Country Party. In fact, no DLP members attended the September press conference and later the state DLP secretary said it was a Country Party conference. He said the DLP might hold its own press conference, which never eventuated.

Bjelke-Petersen described the merger as “a strengthening of the anti-Labor forces in Queensland” but in the event the proposed integration was quietly dropped by the Country Party. It’s value was as much symbolic as actual. The DLP was falling out of active politics and the Country Party reasoned that if, as was expected, the DLP soon stopped contesting state elections, most of their supporters would vote for the Country Party. Which is what happened.

The Bjelkemander – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Fri, 12 Oct 2012 02:27:04 +0000

How bad then was the Bjelkemander in comparative terms? One means of measuring this is by the Dauer-Kelsay Index which calculates the absolute smallest percentage of electors which, in theory, could elect the government. The 1972 Queensland redistribution measured 44.9% on the Dauer-Kelsay Index, compared with a theoretically perfect redistribution of slightly over 50%. (This mean the ALP could not win power with even a theoretical 55% of the vote. After the 1977 redistribution they would have needed still more.) While that does not look too good, the last ALP redistribution, at the 1957 election, measured only 39.1% and the Playford gerrymander in South Australia reached as low as 23.4%. In 1974 Victoria registered just 40.3%.

Joh the Talkback Radio Pioneer – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Fri, 12 Oct 2012 01:02:16 +0000 Callaghan put the premier on the phone or in studios to answer questions that came up on talk-back programs – the first time a politician had done this in Australia.

Bjelke-Petersen on Medicare – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Thu, 11 Oct 2012 02:32:24 +0000 Mr Speaker,

Throughout history, man has had to cope with many disasters. Some of these disasters have become household names – the Biblical Flood, the eruption of Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii, the Titanic.

Well, as from Friday we can add another monumental disaster that will affect every household in Queensland and the rest of Australia – Medibank.

For that reason, Mr Speaker, I wish to propose that Friday, 1st October, 1976 be designated Bill Hayden Day.

On this day, each year, from now on, as Queenslanders sit down to fill out their tax forms, they will look back and shudder.

They will remember that on Black Friday, like Frankenstein’s Monster, Hayden’s Horror was officially born.

Its pedigree was by socialism out of mismanagement, sponsors Scott and Deeble and its fodder your and my tax funds….

Now that Hayden’s Horror is loose in the land, I remind the Opposition Leader and his mates of how they fought tooth and nail to get Queensland into Medibank.

I remind the leader writers of the Courier-Mail how they thundered that Queensland would suffer unless we joined Medibank.

Well to Mr Burns and his mates and to the leader writers of the Courier-Mail let me say this: “Friday is Medibank Day. It’s your day – share it with a headache.

Callaghan’s Lines – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Thu, 11 Oct 2012 01:20:05 +0000 Callaghan also became the creative source of sharp, catchy phrases for the premier to use against his political opponents. It’s a long list but includes some very effective ones:

“death-adder unions – they strike first”;

“when you go to the unemployment office tell ‘em Gough sent you”;

“help Tom Burns fight air pollution – give him a gag”.

Callaghan even helped in stirring the coalition partners, suggesting that Bjelke-Petersen question if the less rightwing Liberals were “big ‘L’ Liberals or small ‘s’ Socialists”.

When the Storm Troopers Come – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Wed, 10 Oct 2012 02:40:19 +0000 Callaghan: “When the storm troopers come Lunn, when they knock on your door I will tell them to smile”. This was Callaghan humour.

Government v Opposition in the Media – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Wed, 10 Oct 2012 01:04:11 +0000 Callaghan: “Governments make news, Oppositions give only views”.

We Feed the Gerrymander at 3PM – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Tue, 09 Oct 2012 02:27:33 +0000 Once when (Callaghan) took a Sydney journalist to lunch the bewildered man asked a question about electorate sizes that Callaghan did not like. “Separate cheques please waiter,” he quipped. “Anyway we feed the gerrymander at 3PM.”

Callaghan and Journalists – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Tue, 09 Oct 2012 01:10:20 +0000 (Callaghan) answered the phone (to journalists) like an officer to a corporal: “Speak, it’s your ten cents,” Callaghan would say, or, before you spoke, “we deny everything”. “What do you want, a medal”? was another favourite Callaghan opener in conversations with journalists, not matter how important. Reporters who asked about the Queensland Gerrymander received more than they bargained for, or less might be more accurate: “It’s in the basement with the crocodiles,” Callaghan would say before hanging up, knowing the reporter would have to face a hostile editor for failing to come up with a story.

When the Pharaoh Went the Vizier Rekhmire Went Too – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Mon, 08 Oct 2012 02:33:34 +0000 “I propose, he diagnoses,” Callaghan once said of his job when accused of being Allen Bjelke-Petersen. “If he has his own idea there is no way I can change it. I accept this completely – if I don’t like it I should stand for office. I see myself as the sort of servant the Egyptian pharaohs used to have – a vizier rekhmire, the eyes and ears of the pharaohs. But the pharaohs were still the pharaohs. And when the pharaoh went the vizier rekhmire went too. And when Joh goes, I go. Nothing much has changed in politics in 5,000 years.”

He is the Fangio – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Mon, 08 Oct 2012 01:18:01 +0000 Allen Callaghan (Joh’s Press Sec) himself has always modestly claimed to be the humble mechanic, but such men are often also engineers: “I am just the mechanic in the pits. I make sure the machine is well oiled, that it is ready to go, that no breakdowns will occur. But the chief is the man who has to get out there and ride it. He is the Fangio. He is the one who risks political death and destruction.”

Joh’s First Leadership Challenge – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Sun, 07 Oct 2012 03:34:00 +0000 There weren’t many smiles back in October 1970 when members of Bjelke-Petersen’s own County Party cabinet moved against him. He had been premier just two years, was pushing sixty, and had failed to make the grade as a popular premier. The party had lost two by-elections – Isis and Albert – and members were understandably worried about the future. On the wooden seats around the lift well in Queensland’s old Parliament House building, Country party politicians whispered to each other and to reporters. They were saying “Bjelke-Petersen must go before we all go.” And all the while Bjelke-Petersen, apparently, had no idea of what was going on – or that’s the way he tells it. It was all “like a bad dream” – and certainly his political career should have ended with this nightmare situation on 20 October 1970.

The dissidents, however, made the mistake of sending a delegation of four the night before to warn the premier that he might as well step down, as they had the numbers among Country party parliamentarians, 16-10. And why shouldn’t they have been confident enough to tell him with a majority like that? Because Bjelke-Petersen was a boots-and-all fighter who refused to be beaten even when defeat seemed obvious to everyone else.

That night, Bjelke-Petersen did not go to bed. Instead, he spent all night on the telephone ringing each of his parliamentary colleagues to talk about things like cabinet posts (which the Premier handed out himself) and loyalty. He called on all his past political credits, reminding men of his campaigning for them or of the new school building in their electorate which Joh had arranged as works and housing minister. Some of the members – including many who lived on distant properties – could not be contacted at first and Bjelke-Petersen hounded switchboard operators through the night until he got what he wanted.

By next morning he had spoken to all except an old friend, Neville Hewitt, who could not be contacted. Thus prepared, Bjelke-Petersen had only one other weapon at his disposal – native cunning. Before he went into the meeting at Parliament House he arranged for Henry McKechnie (later a Minister) to, on a signal, jump to his feet and move a vote of confidence in the Premier. Bjelke-Petersen reckoned that he stood a better chance of getting supporting votes in a motion of confidence than in a motion of no confidence.

Overnight he had turned 10-16 to 11-13 and, reasoning that no one had been able to contact Neville Hewitt, produced his proxy. Then, knowing only his own vote could save him, Bjelke-Petersen refused to to a John Gorton and resign himself. Instead he voted for confidence in himself. His opponents thus could not command the votes to get rid of him. Bjelke-Petersen had won – but only the first round.

Combative Interviewing – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Sun, 07 Oct 2012 02:07:13 +0000 [In an interview in which Joh insisted it was not improper to own shares in companies with which the Government did business despite his own National Party censuring him for the practice]

By now Bjelke-Petersen was obviously very angry and, even in the old black and white world of television, his eyes could be seen growing smaller and sharper as they focused hard on the reporter.

Bjelke-Petersen: I urge you to mind your own business because I have made it quite clear what my attitude is.

Journalist: Are you going to tell the Country Party to mind its own business too on this one?

Bjelke-Petersen: If they attempt to tell me to sell my shares and to rearrange them like you are trying to do, I certainly will. Because I have indicated to you exactly what the position is. You know it and everybody else knows it, and I certainly have been very fair to you and to the press. You are only trying to misconstrue it so I’m not going to discuss with you when you try to create a situation such as this.

Journalist: I’m not trying to create any situation, Mr Premier.

Bjelke-Petersen: You are.

Bjelke-Petersen: Do you maintain your attitude that what you did was right and proper and whether you will continue to hold shaes?

Bjelke-Petersen: I haven’t got any in this particular issue as you jolly well know.

Journalist: But you have had shares in companies which have dealings with the public?

Even as (the journalist) spoke the Queensland premier rose from his chair and looked around the room and down at the reporter. “If you’re going to try to misconstrue it just for your own political propaganda,” he said as he walked past the television camera and out of the studio, “you’ve got another thing coming.” (The Journalist) wrapped it up: “Mr Premier, thanks very much.”

Expediency, by Necessity, Out of Politics – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Sat, 06 Oct 2012 03:36:51 +0000 Bjelke-Petersen hired an outside public relations expert to help him get rid of the arch-wowser image and in December 1968 a picture of him patting a horse at Brisbane’s Doomben Racecourse appeared in the Sunday Mail. The racehorse, Kionda, unfortunately lost the first race on a protest.

(This moved his future public relations man, Allen Callaghan, then a journalist, to pin the picture on the ABC noticeboard where he worked with the notation: “A new entry into the political stakes. Expediency, by Necessity, out of Politics. His previous entry, ‘Principles’, badly scratch at the barrier”. Callaghan did not think this sort of approach would help Bjelke-Petersen’s image.)

NESB – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Sat, 06 Oct 2012 02:20:12 +0000 Their original homeland was very important to the Bjelke-Peteren family, and for a long while Danish was spoken at home most of the time. When Joh’s sister Neta went off to school for the first time, she could speak only Danish. Christian and Joh however soon got in the way of speaking English (although the Premier still has trouble pronouncing z).

Queensland Leadership – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Fri, 05 Oct 2012 03:40:08 +0000 The implications of (Joh’s) reign were clear as far back as Thursday, 25 May 1972, when, with McMahon leading Australia as Prime Minister, the Country party in Queensland took local full-page advertisements for the coming state election featuring pictures of Bjelke-Petersen with the headline: “While Australia searches for a leader Queensland has found Joh Bjelke-Petersen – that’s why the 70s belong to Queensland.

The Queensland Nut – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Fri, 05 Oct 2012 02:15:51 +0000 Southern politicians should have familiarised themselves with this hard, round, brown Queensland nut (the Macadamia Nut): they are very difficult to crack, can fly off in any direction when struck, but if treated carefully yield a sweet reward.

Queensland and the Federation Convention – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Thu, 04 Oct 2012 03:38:41 +0000 Even before federation, the colony of Queensland preferred to do things differently. In 1898 the Queensland government wanted to have its representative to the Melbourne convention on federation elected directly by the people. All other colonies appointed their representatives from their parliaments. Queensland finally reused to send anyone.

Queensland Decentralisation – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Thu, 04 Oct 2012 02:20:11 +0000 There are special needs in Queensland, and many of these arise from the problems of decentralisation. Ten of Australia’s twenty-four most populous cities are in this state, and more people live outside Brisbane in Queensland than live in the whole of South Australia or Western Australia (1,250,000 in 1977). It is true that Western Australia is much more vast, but it’s largely empty. Queensland on the other hand is crisscrossed by roads, railways, and air routes.

We Are Now Crossing the Border to Queensland – “Joh: The Life and Political Adventures of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen”, Hugh Lunn Wed, 03 Oct 2012 03:37:25 +0000 The Premier’s state government aircraft idled along at an altitude of 6,000m heading North two hours out of Canberra. Joh sat impassively at the controls and pulled levers, adjusted knobs, and talked to his co-pilot, Beryl Young. In the cabin, his press secretary, Allen Callaghan, private secretary, Bill Chadwick, and a security policeman dozed trying to stay away – because it was uncomfortable to fall asleep in the cramped seats.

Then, far to the right, a thin strip of white appeared next to the blue Pacific Ocean and the Premier reached for the cabin microphone as he loved to do. Deliberately imitating commercial airline pilots he began: “This is your captain speaking” – then broke up in much laughter – “We are flying at 20,000 feet, the weather in Brisbane is fine.. and we are now crossing the border to Queensland.” Immediately the plane came awake’ everyone applauded… there were even shouts for joy… there was an incredible air of merriment: as if we had just docked in Australia after an eight month voyage from England, yet we had only been away from Queensland for two days and one night.

Die Game – “Burr” – Gore Vidal Wed, 03 Oct 2012 02:19:29 +0000 “I am sorry. But it is a bad sign. I am disturbed, and wonder sometimes how I’ll ever get through life.”

“One lives through it, Charlie.”

“Some things seem to kill one.”

“Then die. We must all do that. But die, as they say, game.”

Indulge Your Wish – “Burr” – Gore Vidal Tue, 02 Oct 2012 03:36:58 +0000 “I do not wish to criticise you, Colonel …”

“Then indulge your wish, my dear friend, and refrain from criticism.”

What You Cannot Prevent You Ought to at Least Enjoy – “Burr” – Gore Vidal Tue, 02 Oct 2012 02:18:57 +0000 General Jackson and I had observed the scene with some delight on the ground that what we could not prevent, we ought at least to enjoy.

Democracy and the Franchise – “Burr” – Gore Vidal Mon, 01 Oct 2012 03:30:22 +0000 Of course today’s politician must deal with a much larger electorate than ours. We had only to enchant a caucus in a conversational tone while they must thrill the multitude with brass and cymbal.

The Devil is at Least Good Company – “Burr” – Gore Vidal Mon, 01 Oct 2012 02:16:37 +0000 I hate the Dons worse than the devil himself—the devil is at least good company they say

The Intensity of Abstract Hatred – “Burr” – Gore Vidal Sun, 30 Sep 2012 03:39:15 +0000 “But suppose Jefferson does betray us?” Dayton’s dislike of Jefferson was far more intense than mine because he hardly knew the President and so could despise him in the abstract. I have always found that this sort of passion is the most fierce, the least rational and the very stuff of which saints and conquerors are made.

It is a Stepping Stone – “Burr” – Gore Vidal Sun, 30 Sep 2012 02:18:15 +0000 “But I don’t want to be a lawyer.”

“Well, who does? I mean what man of spirit? The law kills the lively mind. It stifles originality. But it is a stepping-stone …”

America is a Nation of Lawyers – “Burr” – Gore Vidal Sat, 29 Sep 2012 03:38:01 +0000 It is a good thing, you know. They say England is a nation of shopkeepers. Well, (America) is a nation of lawyers. For the lawyer, anything is possible. For the rest of us impossible.

As Familiar as a Clock Strike – “Burr” – Gore Vidal Sat, 29 Sep 2012 02:18:55 +0000 Jefferson tended to strike the self-righteous note in much the same way as a clock strikes the hour and like a familiar clock one does not hear the sound unless one is anxious, as I confess I was, to tell, as it were, the time.

America Loves a Canting Hypocrite – “Burr” – Gore Vidal Fri, 28 Sep 2012 03:40:07 +0000 But Hamilton realized better than anyone that the world—our American world at least—loves a canting hypocrite.

Mistakes Unmade, the Future Bright – “Burr” – Gore Vidal Fri, 28 Sep 2012 02:20:14 +0000 Jefferson was in an excellent mood. But what new president is not? His mistakes unmade, the future bright.

Eventually All Things Are Known. And Few Matter – “Burr” – Gore Vidal Thu, 27 Sep 2012 03:39:02 +0000 Eventually all things are known. And few matter.

Jefferson’s Slaves – “Burr” – Gore Vidal Thu, 27 Sep 2012 02:18:20 +0000 We rode through a meadow filled with brick kilns. Slaves were everywhere, hard at work. I was surprised to see how “bright” they were. I do not know if that word is still in use in the south, but in those days a slave with a large degree of white blood was known as “bright.” It made me most uneasy to see so many men and women whose skins were a good deal fairer than my own belonging to Mr. Jefferson. A number were remarkably handsome, particularly those belonging to the Hemings family whose most illustrious member was Jefferson’s concubine Sally, by whom he had at least five children. Recently I learned that Sally is living with one of her sons in Maryland. Apparently the son is now considered white, obliging his mother to keep her identity a secret from their neighbours in Aberdeen. “I inherited the bright slaves from my father-in-law John Wayles.” Jefferson sighed. “It is no secret—there are no secrets in Virginia—that many of them are his children.” Sally Hemings was a daughter of Wayles which made her the half-sister of Jefferson’s late wife. Certainly the girl bore a remarkable resemblance to Martha Wayles, if the portrait in the dining-room at Monticello was to be trusted. Amusing to contemplate that in bedding his fine-looking slave, Jefferson was also sleeping with his sister-in-law! One would have enjoyed hearing him moralize on that subject.

Righteous People – “Burr” – Gore Vidal Wed, 26 Sep 2012 03:40:03 +0000 Actually the movement to abolish black slavery in the south is deeply unpopular. It is not that New Yorkers so much like the institution of slavery as they dislike the sort of righteous people who want to abolish it.

Distrust – “Burr” – Gore Vidal Wed, 26 Sep 2012 02:18:42 +0000 I would not trust Matt Davis to tell me the right time of day.

A Good Deal of Blood – “Burr” – Gore Vidal Tue, 25 Sep 2012 03:37:39 +0000 At the time of the execution of the King and Queen, their portraits hung on the walls of our Senate chamber (and everyone, including Mrs. Bingham, remarked how much she resembled Marie Antoinette). After the beheadings, various Republicans—including Freneau—wanted the portraits taken down. Jefferson’s view of the portraits is unknown but he did delight in the executions.

“After all,” he said to me, “was ever such a prize won with so little blood?” I said that from all accounts the prize had cost a good deal of blood.

What he Knew he Knew Well. Unfortunately What he Did Not Know he did Not Suspect Existed – “Burr” – Gore Vidal Tue, 25 Sep 2012 02:17:20 +0000 Yet Adams’ intelligence, though limited, was profound. What he knew he knew well. Unfortunately what he did not know he did not suspect existed.

I Need Things I Can Refute! – “Burr” – Gore Vidal Mon, 24 Sep 2012 03:39:56 +0000 IT TOOK THE COLONEL and me several days to learn how to work together. He is not used to dictation; he also refuses to rely on memory. “After all, I am a lawyer. Therefore I need evidence—books, letters, newspapers: things I can refute!”

At The Crucial Moment His Hand Shook – “Burr” – Gore Vidal Mon, 24 Sep 2012 02:16:25 +0000 “But of course there were other equally famous occasions when you hit your target.” I was ready to throttle Leggett right there in the lobby. Although the Colonel’s face remained fixed in a gentle smile, the voice dropped to a deeper but still amiable register.

“Mr. Leggett, the principal difference between my friend Hamilton and me was that at the crucial moment his hand shook and mine never does.”

Self-Love – “Burr” – Gore Vidal Sun, 23 Sep 2012 03:39:40 +0000 “What was Washington’s most notable trait?” I once asked Hamilton when we were working together on a law case. The quick smile flashed in that bright face, the malicious blue eyes shone. “Oh, Burr, self-love! Self-love! What else makes a god?

Rivalry – “Burr” – Gore Vidal Sun, 23 Sep 2012 02:17:55 +0000 It was our peculiar tragedy—or glory—to be of an age and quality at a time and place certain to make rivals of us. Yet from the beginning we had a personal liking for one another.

Curious to think that we would almost certainly have been friends had we not been two young “heroes” at the beginning of a new nation, each aware that at the summit there is a place for only one. As it turned out, neither of us was to reach the highest place. I hurled Hamilton from the mountain-side, and myself fell.

To Great a Man to Notice Weather – “Burr” – Gore Vidal Sat, 22 Sep 2012 03:39:59 +0000 Like Napoleon Bonaparte, Benedict Arnold was too great a man to notice weather.

Hear Everything, Believe Nothing – “Burr” – Gore Vidal Sat, 22 Sep 2012 02:18:51 +0000 One hears everything. But I tend to believe nothing.

Beliefs About The Past – “Burr” – Gore Vidal Fri, 21 Sep 2012 03:38:15 +0000 I am afraid that as people grow old there is a tendency for them to believe that what the past ought to have been it was.

Gracefully Acknowledge the Compliement – “Burr” – Gore Vidal Fri, 21 Sep 2012 02:17:37 +0000 The Colonel often says, “Whenever a woman does me the honour of saying that I am father to her child, I gracefully acknowledge the compliment and disguise any suspicion that I might have to the contrary.”

To be Excitingly Right in General is Better Than to be Dully Accurate in Particular – “Burr” – Gore Vidal Thu, 20 Sep 2012 03:31:55 +0000 None of this is quite true but Leggett feels that to be excitingly right in general is better than to be dully accurate in particular. That is why he is such an effective journalist.

The Man Who Does Not Know Where He’s Going Goes Farthest – “Burr” – Gore Vidal Thu, 20 Sep 2012 02:16:51 +0000 That was General Washington’s office in seventeen seventy-six. He lived in this house for three months, during which he managed to lose New York City to the British. But despite his incompetence, the gods always supported him in the end. I suspect Cromwell was right: the man who does not know where he’s going goes farthest. Talleyrand used to tell me that for the great man all is accident. Obviously, he was not a great man since he survived by careful planning, by never showing his true feelings. You must learn that art, Charlie.

We Do Not Want the Old to be Sharper Than We – “Burr” – Gore Vidal Wed, 19 Sep 2012 03:39:34 +0000 I always find his brilliance disturbing. We do not want the old to be sharper than we. It is bad enough that they were there first, and got the best things.

Colonel Burr – “Burr” – Gore Vidal Wed, 19 Sep 2012 02:20:30 +0000 In 1804 Colonel Burr—then vice-president of the United States—shot and killed General Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Three years after this lamentable affair, Colonel Burr was arrested by order of President Thomas Jefferson and charged with treason for having wanted to break up the United States. A court presided over by Chief Justice John Marshall found Colonel Burr innocent of treason but guilty of the misdemeanour of proposing an invasion of Spanish territory in order to make himself emperor of Mexico.

The Law of Self-Preservation – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Tue, 18 Sep 2012 03:34:49 +0000 Interjecting a brief homily on the art of politics, (Long) declared: “What the politician had better do is stay a politician. That is law number one with him – the law of self-preservation.”

Even Jesus Christ Had One Apostle Who Had Gone Wrong – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Tue, 18 Sep 2012 02:19:26 +0000 (Long couldn’t be blamed for corruption in his machine as) “Even Jesus Christ had one apostle who had gone wrong.”

Halitosis of the Intellect – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Mon, 17 Sep 2012 03:37:45 +0000 Long said he had “Halitosis of the intellect”

I Want to Get Into Bed With You – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Mon, 17 Sep 2012 02:18:32 +0000 With delight (Long) quoted the observation of Will Rogers: “I would sure liked to have seen Huey’s face when he was woke up in the middle of the night by the President, who said ‘Lay over, Huey, I want to get in bed with you,’”.

A Mob is Coming Here – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Sun, 16 Sep 2012 03:37:51 +0000 Long to the Senate: “A mob is coming here in six months to hang the other ninety-five of you damned scoundrels, and I’m undecided whether to stick here with you or go out and lead them.”

The Same Wall St Kitchen – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Sun, 16 Sep 2012 02:17:57 +0000 Long: “They’ve got a set of Republican waiters on one side and a set of Democratic waiters on the other side, but no matter which set of waiters brings you the dish, the legislative grub is all prepared in the same Wall Street kitchen.”

A Perfect Democracy – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Sat, 15 Sep 2012 03:37:35 +0000 But Louisiana was still a democracy (Long) insisted. “A perfect democracy can come close to looking like a dictatorship, a democracy in which the people are so satisfied they have no complaint.”

You Cannot Do Without Politicians – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Sat, 15 Sep 2012 02:15:35 +0000 Long: “You will find that you cannot do without politicians. They are a necessary evil in this day and time. You may not like getting money from one source and spending it for another. But the thing for the school people to do is that if the politicians are going to steal, make them steal for the schools.”

Long on the 1% – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Fri, 14 Sep 2012 03:38:49 +0000 Springing another Long innovation on the Senate, he had prepared and mounted a number of charts showing the continuing concentration of wealth in the country, and as he explained the bills, he pointed in schoolmaster fashion to data on the charts. His speech was largely a rehash of things he had said before, but in one section he struck a new and significant theme. He demonstrated on his charts that the middle-income group was being gradually squeezed out; a few members of it worked themselves up into the ‘plutocracy of one per cent’ that owned most of the wealth, but most of them sank back into the ‘general class,’ the ninety-nine percent of the people that owned very little of the wealth. “There is no Middle Class,” he proclaimed.

They Call me Kingfish – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Fri, 14 Sep 2012 02:20:23 +0000 (A Washington reporter) asked how their host should be addressed, as governor or senator? Huey leaned back in his chair and puffed at his cigar. “They call me Kingfish down there,” he said.

Everything I did, I’ve Had to do With One Hand, Because I’ve Had to Fight With the Other – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Thu, 13 Sep 2012 03:39:19 +0000 Long: “They say they don’t like my methods. Well, I don’t like them either. I really don’t like to have to do things the way I do. I’d much rather get up before the legislature and say, ‘Now this is a good law and it’s for the benefit of the people, and I’d like you to vote for it in the interest of the public welfare.’ Only I know that laws ain’t made that way. You’ve got to fight fire with fire.

I’d rather violate every one of the damn conventions and see my bills passed, than sit back in my office, all nice and proper, and watch ‘em die.

Everything I did, I’ve had to do with one hand, because I’ve had to fight with the other.”

The Past Was a Time of Robust Political Invective – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Thu, 13 Sep 2012 02:19:12 +0000 They demanded that the Senate expel Huey himself. Former Governor Parker and others formally petitioned Vice-President Garner to appoint a committee to investigate Huey’s fitness to be a Senator, charging that the Kingfish was “personally dishonest, corrupt, and immoral.”. In a covering letter to Garner, Parker advanced another reason that Huey should be removed from public life. He said that psychiatrists had told him Huey was a “dangerous paranoiac.” Solemnly the old conservative advised how to deal with the madman: “The Senate should have him examined by experts and to save certain trouble and probable killing have him permanently incarcerated in the criminal insane asylum in Washington.”

A Bank Run in Louisianna – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Wed, 12 Sep 2012 03:36:06 +0000 (The first man in line in a bank run) soon appeared (at the opening of the bank), waving a check for $18,000 and confident that he, at least, would get his money. Entering the office, he was startled to see Governor Long behind the desk. Huey was waving a check himself. “The state of Louisiana has got $265,000 in this bank,” he explained genially, “and here’s the state’s check for it. There ain’t but about that much cash in the bank, and I was here before you were. You insist on drawing out your $18,000, and I’ll insist on drawing out the state’s $265,000 – and I get first draw, so there’ll be nothing left to pay you. You agree to leave yours in, and I’ll leave the state’s in, and nobody’ll be hurt. I’m staying right here till closing time at noon, in case anybody else wants to draw out.” The staggered customer had no choice but to agree to leave his money in. So also did every depositor who entered after him. The bank closed at noon still solvent, and over the weekend Huey was able to bring in enough money from other banks to keep it going.

Governor and Senator at 37 Years of Age – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Wed, 12 Sep 2012 02:19:03 +0000 As there was no Republican candidate, there would be no general election. Huey P. Long was a United States Senator. But until he should decide to take his seat in Washington he was also governor of Louisiana. He had just turned thirty-seven years of age.

Write for a Six Year Old – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Tue, 11 Sep 2012 03:40:19 +0000 (Long) would scrawl a circular out on several sheets of tablet paper and hand it to a secretary to be typed. He told one secretary his concept of effective political language. “Always write everything so a six-year-old child can understand it,” he said.

A Modern Politician Should Not Quarrel Except Deliberately – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Tue, 11 Sep 2012 02:20:27 +0000 Politicians in a stable democratic society do not have to employ such methods, and the capacity to hate is not for them a necessary attribute. Indeed, if they possess it in too great a degree they may be handicapped; they will be led into needless quarrels. The democratic politician, as an astute Englishman pointed out long ago, should not quarrel except deliberately, when he cannot avoid being embroiled – and then he should conduct the quarrel with a cool head.

A Wedded Man With a Storm for a Bride – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Tue, 11 Sep 2012 00:39:51 +0000 Long: “I was born into politics, a wedded man with a storm for a bride.”

Demagogue – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Sun, 09 Sep 2012 03:39:22 +0000 Those who apply the label of demagogue to Huey or to other politicians hardly ever trouble to invest the term with any precise definition. It was coined by the ancient Greeks, who were sorely afflicted by rabble rousing orators and who described them scornfully. The demagogue, said Euripides, was ‘base-born’, ‘a man of loose tongue, intemperate, trusting to tumult, leading the populace to mischief with empty words.’ For the Greeks, the term had actuality. In a small city-state like Athens a fiery speaker could easily whip a street-corner into a frenzy with his words, could with the crowd at his back perhaps force the portals of power. Obviously such a scene could not occur in a much larger context, especially ina country as extensive and varied as the United States. But although the original concept of the demagogue has little validity for the American scene, the term has survived and is one of the most frequently used words in the national political vocabulary. It is usually applied in a special and subjective context: a demagogue is someone who arouses the people against the established order, and in this sense it has been applied to many American leaders.

Two Card Trick – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Sun, 09 Sep 2012 02:17:46 +0000 Now that the enabling legislation for the roads program had been passed, Huey was anxious to get construction started. One day he went to the office of the Highway Commission and took a map of the state and drew lines on it. The first roads were to follow these lines, he said. The engineers and technicians in the office were incredulous. Huey’s road system was a patchwork pattern. There were only a few lines, representing proposed miles of paving, in each parish. In most parishes the lines led into and out of the principal town and then stopped. Huey, delighted at the engineers’ reaction, explained his purpose. He was deliberately going to bestrew the state with samplings of good highways to give the people a taste for more. Inevitably they would demand that the links be connected, and then more, and bigger, bond issues would have to be passed and more roads would be built.

Not Satisfied With the Sound of His Own Voice – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Sat, 08 Sep 2012 03:38:30 +0000 The conservatives still did not realise that this governor was not going to be satisfied by the sound of his own voice.

No Music Ever Sounded One-half so Refreshing as the Whines and Groans of the Pie-eating Politicians – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Sat, 08 Sep 2012 02:20:09 +0000 Huey observed their response with amused contempt. “No music ever sounded one-half so refreshing as the whines and groans of the pie-eating politicians,” he said. “They say that they were steamrollered. I think that is true. The only reason that the roller didn’t pass over more of them was because there were no more in the way.”

The Dual Use of Political Advertising – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Fri, 07 Sep 2012 03:38:12 +0000 (Long) selected the quality of the paper on which the circulars (advertising material) were printed. Mindful of the sanitary practices of his rural constituents, he instructed David: “Don’t use any of that damn smooth stuff. Use some that they can use on their backsides after they get through reading it.”

Feudal Politics – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Fri, 07 Sep 2012 02:17:03 +0000 Louisiana politicians were and are much like feudal barons. They operate as rulers of geographical principalities or personal followings, independently, calculatingly, and sometimes irresponsibly or petulantly. Two barons may seem to be friends and allies, and then suddenly, because one or the other senses an advantage to be gained or is seized by a whim, they break and become enemies. Conversely, two barons may seem to be political and personal enemies, and just as suddenly and for similar reasons, they will come together as allies. Over a stretch of years the pattern can become bewilderingly complex, as leaders break, ally, and rebreak, in an endless chain of combinations. The process is peculiar to Louisiana, a product of the state’s exaggerated devotion to professional politics.

The Parker Gold Dust Twins – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Thu, 06 Sep 2012 03:34:13 +0000 The principal theme of Huey’s attacks was that his two opponents and everybody opposed to him were in reality working together, that the whole crowd was controlled by the same corporate interests. Fuqua and Bouanchaud had both been put into the race by Parker – they were the “Parker Gold Dust Twins.” Behrmann and Sullivan, supposed enemies, were both henchmen of Wall Street: “If Behrmann took a dose of laudanum Sullivan would get sleepy in ten minutes.”

I’m Going into Every Parish and Cuss Out the Boss – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Thu, 06 Sep 2012 02:16:35 +0000 Huey felt no scruples in telling people how he was going to run his campaign in 1923. “I’m going to run for governor and I’ll tell you how I’m going to win,” he said to one man. “In every parish there is a boss, usually the sheriff. He has forty percent of the votes, forty percent are opposed to him, and twenty percent are inbetweens. I’m going into every parish and cuss out the boss. That gives me forty percent of the votes to begin with, and I’ll hoss trade ‘em out of the inbetweens.”

You Can Make it Illegal But You Can’t Make it Unpopular – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Wed, 05 Sep 2012 03:38:28 +0000 (The New Orleans Mayor) is reported to have said: “You can make prostitution illegal in Louisiana, but you can’t make it unpopular.”

The Cannonball – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Wed, 05 Sep 2012 02:19:45 +0000 (Long) also won many votes by promising that if elected he would force the railroads to extend their services or their lines. It was a pledge of this kind that enabled him to sweep the vote of a hamlet known as Shooter’s Station. Its people had a burning grievance – a train called the Cannonball did not stop there on its way to larger towns. When Huey spoke at Shooter’s, he timed his remarks so that they would be interrupted by the Cannonball, roaring through town with a great whistle. When the noise subsided, he looked up with an expression of surprise and said: “Folks, do you mean to tell me that the Cannonball don’t stop at Shooter’s Station? Well, you elect me and that’ll be changed.”

The Rule Existed Only in the Politicians Minds – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Tue, 04 Sep 2012 03:35:05 +0000 Huey’s use of an automobile violated one of the most respected rules of Louisiana politicians: Never campaign in a car among country people; they will resent it as a pretence of superiority and vote against you. Huey knew that the rule existed only in the politicians minds. From his observation of Vardaman and Jeff Davis during his days as a travelling salesman, he had learned that the masses were more likely to follow one of their own if that man showed that in some ways he was better than they. “That young Long fellow, now, he’s a smart one, he drives a car.”

Start a Row in the Opposition Camp – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Tue, 04 Sep 2012 02:15:47 +0000 Huey liked to cite this incident later as an example of what a politician with weak support should do. “In a political fight, when you’ve got nothing in favour of your side,” he would say, “start a row in the opposition camp.”

His Mother’s Watchin’ Him, and She Won’t Let Him Go Too Far, But I Aint Got No Mother Left – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Mon, 03 Sep 2012 03:37:48 +0000 Of Roosevelt (Long) said scornfully: “I can take him. He’s a phony… He’s scared of me. I can outpromise him, and he knows it. People will believe me and they won’t believe him. His mother’s watchin’ him, and she won’t let him go too far, but I aint got no mother left, and if I had, she’d think anything I said was all right. He’s livin’ on an inherited income. I got nothin’, so I don’t have to bother about that.”

We Didn’t Even Have a Horse – “Huey Long”, T. Harry Williams Mon, 03 Sep 2012 02:18:59 +0000 The story seems too good to be true – but people who should know swear that it is true. The first time that Huey P. Long campaigned in rural, Latin, Catholic south Louisiana, the local boss who had him in charge said at the beginning of the tour: “Huey, you ought to remember one thing in your speeches today. You’re from north Louisiana, but now you’re in south Louisiana. And we got a lot of Catholic voters down here.”

“I Know,” Huey answered. And throughout the day in every small town Long would begin by saying: “When I was a boy, I would get up at six o’clock in the morning on Sunday, and I would hitch our old horse up to the buggy and I would take my Catholic grandparents to mass. I would bring them home, and at ten o’clock I would hitch the old horse up again and I would take my Baptist grandparents to church.” The effect of the anecdote on audiences was obvious, and on the way back to Baton Rouge that night the local leader said admiringly: “Why, Huey, you’ve been holding out on us. I didn’t know you had any Catholic Grandparents.”

“Don’t be a damn fool,” replied Huey. “We didn’t even have a horse.”

Talk Enough Bullshit and Sooner or Later it Ends up in Print- “Stiff”, Shane Maloney Sun, 02 Sep 2012 02:18:42 +0000 Agnelli hung around the Windsor Hotel, drinking with the political roundsmen, slipping them judicious leaks whenever the government wanted to fly a trial balloon on some contentious issue. Talk enough bullshit, he liked to say, and sooner or later it ends up in print.

Culinary Demarcation Agreements – “Stiff”, Shane Maloney Sat, 01 Sep 2012 03:39:50 +0000 By some obscure culinary demarcation agreement, Chinese restaurants are prohibited from serving decent coffee.

Wobbly Tables at Branch Meetings – “Stiff”, Shane Maloney Sat, 01 Sep 2012 02:20:26 +0000 Lindsay Tanner on Stiff:

“I came of age in politics in the 1980s, in the time and context in which the early Murray Whelan books are set. When I read them I recall things like sitting on an Administrative Committee inquiry into a Turkish branch which had numerous members supposedly living at the back of a small Turkish welfare centre on Sydney Road. And the western suburbs branch stacker whose explanation for the fact that the signatures on their membership applications didn’t match those in the attendance book was a wobbly table at the branch meeting.

Murrary Whelan is the Victorian Labor Party – “Stiff”, Shane Maloney Fri, 31 Aug 2012 03:37:49 +0000 Lindsay Tanner on Murray Whelan:

“Long-term insiders like me can attest to the fact that Murray Whelan actually is the Victorian Labor party. The peculiar composite of naivety, cunning, decency and incompetence that’s reflected in Murray is like a pastiche of my experience in my thirty years as a party member. It’s a pity we can’t get Murray to stand for a real seat, because I reckon he’d make a great Labor Premier.”

Ataturk’s Message to Australia – “Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds”, Stephen Kinzer Fri, 31 Aug 2012 02:18:47 +0000 In 1934 Atatürk learned that a ship carrying relatives of fallen Allied soldiers had docked near Gallipoli and that its passengers were mounting at the site. He sent them a moving message that is now chiseled, in English translation, into a memorial stone there.

“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives,” he wrote, “you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us, where they lie side by side in this country of ours … You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land, they have become our sons as well.”

Ataturk and Change – “Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds”, Stephen Kinzer Thu, 30 Aug 2012 03:37:03 +0000 “I am leaving no sermon, no dogma, nor am I leaving as my legacy any commandment that is frozen in time or cast in stone,” (Ataturk) said shortly before his death. “Concepts of well-being for countries, for peoples and for individuals are changing. In such a world, to argue for rules that never change would be to deny the reality found in scientific knowledge and reasoned judgment.”

For the People, In Spite of the People – “Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds”, Stephen Kinzer Thu, 30 Aug 2012 02:17:50 +0000 Yet guardians of the old order could honestly say that in their elitism, in their insistence that an “enlightened” vanguard should rule on behalf of the ignorant masses, they were in fact embracing an essential feature of Atatürk’s ideology. He had, after all, given his political party the slogan “For the People, In Spite of the People.” Popular opinion meant nothing to him, and for generations his successors scorned it as well.

Ataturk and Family Names – “Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds”, Stephen Kinzer Wed, 29 Aug 2012 03:34:36 +0000 Since time immemorial, Turkish life had been centered on villages and clans small enough that in each there was likely to be only one Abdullah, one Hikmet and one Fatma. Those days were gone, and as a logical result of his Westernizing impulse, Kemal decreed that each citizen must have a last name. The head of every family was ordered to choose one. Some thought first of their fathers, so today there are names like Berberolu (barber’s son), Karamehmetolu (Black Mehmet’s son) and even Yarimbiyikolu (son of the man with the half-mustache). Others took martial names like Eraslan (brave lion) or Demirel (iron hand). For those who had trouble choosing, books of names were sent to every town hall. Many people selected lyrical ones like Sangül (yellow rose) or Akyildiz (pale star). Only one name was forbidden: Atatürk (Father of the Turks). That was the name Kemal chose for himself. He embraced it, even dropping his first name, Mustafa, which he considered too Arab-sounding.

Ataturk on the Veil – “Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds”, Stephen Kinzer Tue, 28 Aug 2012 16:17:58 +0000 In some places I have seen women who put a piece of cloth or a towel or something like it over their heads to hide their faces, and who turn their backs or huddle themselves on the ground when a man passes by,” Kemal (Ataturk) said in one speech. “What are the meaning and sense of this behavior? Gentlemen, can the mothers and daughters of a civilized nation adopt this strange manner, this barbarous posture? It is a spectacle that makes the nation an object of ridicule. It must be remedied at once.

Ataturk and Gallipoli – “Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds”, Stephen Kinzer Tue, 28 Aug 2012 04:00:12 +0000 Turkey’s experience as an ally of Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany was disastrous, with one shining exception. To the astonishment of Europe and the world, in 1915 a Turkish force managed to resist and then repel British-led invaders whose battle plan had been drawn up by no less a personage than First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill. The battle was fought on the Gallipoli Peninsula overlooking the crucial Dardanelles strait, which the Allies needed to capture if they hoped to control Istanbul and the Black Sea beyond. In fierce fighting that lasted eight months and cost tens of thousands of lives, Turkish soldiers managed to hold their peninsula, keep their strait and ultimately overwhelm the Allied expeditionary force. The commander who achieved this, thereby winning the only important Turkish victory of the war, was Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk). Alone among Turkish officers, he emerged from the Great War as a hero.

The Young Turks – “Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds”, Stephen Kinzer Tue, 28 Aug 2012 03:56:34 +0000 While still a young officer, Kemal (Ataturk) became a clandestine operative for a subversive group founded in the 1890s and known as the Committee of Union and Progress; the world called its members Young Turks. In 1913 the committee managed to seize key posts in the Ottoman regime, but war broke out before its work could begin in earnest.

Ataturk and Modernisation – “Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds”, Stephen Kinzer Tue, 28 Aug 2012 03:27:36 +0000 During postings in Istanbul, Tripoli, Cairo, Damascus and Sofia, and in trips to Germany and Austria, Kemal (Ataturk) became aware of the wider world and the currents that were surging through it. He learned French and devoured the works of Voltaire and Rousseau, together with translations of Thomas Hobbes and John Stuart Mill. They helped him grasp the great challenge that was to shape his life. “The Turkish nation has fallen far behind the West,” he told a German officer he met in the Balkans. “The main aim should be to lead it to modern civilization.”

Ataturk’s Birthplace – “Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds”, Stephen Kinzer Tue, 28 Aug 2012 02:17:33 +0000 This titanic figure (Ataturk) was born in 1880 or 1881 to a humble family in Salonika, now the Greek city of Thessaloniki, a thriving port on the outer edge of the crumbling Ottoman Empire.

Ataturk and the Enlightenment – “Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds”, Stephen Kinzer Mon, 27 Aug 2012 03:29:04 +0000 “For everything in the world—for civilization, for life, for success—the truest guide is knowledge and science,” Atatürk declared in one famous speech.

The Young Turks and Ataturk – “Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds”, Stephen Kinzer Mon, 27 Aug 2012 02:18:05 +0000 The Young Turks were members of insurgent groups that defied the absolutism of Ottoman rule during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These groups built a rich tradition of dissent that shaped the intellectual and political life of the late Ottoman period and laid the foundation for Atatürk’s revolution. Their principles were admirable, but most of their leaders believed instinctively that the state, not popular will, was the instrument by which social and political change would be achieved. They bequeathed to Atatürk the conviction that Turkish reformers should seize state power and then use it ruthlessly for their own ends, not try to democratize society in ways that would weaken the centralized state.

Perhaps it was not suitable for a man to think every thought to its logical conclusion – “Darkness At Noon” – Arthur Koestler Tue, 31 Jul 2012 02:51:09 +0000 For forty years he had lived strictly in accordance with the vows of his order, the Party. He had held to the rules of logical calculation. He had burnt the remains of the old, illogical morality from his consciousness with the acid of reason. He had turned away from the temptations of the silent partner, and had fought against the ‘oceanic sense’ with all his might. And where had it landed him? Premises of unimpeachable truth had led to a result which was completely absurd; Ivanov’s and Gletkin’s irrefutable deductions had taken him straight into the weird and ghostly game of the public trial. Perhaps it was not suitable for a man to think every thought to its logical conclusion.

They were too deeply entangled in their own past, caught in the web they had spun themselves – “Darkness At Noon” – Arthur Koestler Thu, 26 Jul 2012 03:47:55 +0000 They were too deeply entangled in their own past, caught in the web they had spun themselves, according to the laws of their own twisted ethics and twisted logic; they were all guilty, although not of those deeds of which they accused themselves. There was no way back for them. Their exit from the stage happened strictly according to the rules of their strange game. The public expected no swan-songs of them. They had to act according to the text-book, and their part was the howling of wolves in the night… .

Show us not the aim without the way – “Darkness At Noon” – Arthur Koestler Thu, 26 Jul 2012 02:42:32 +0000 ‘Show us not the aim without the way.
For ends and means on earth are so entangled
That changing one, you change the other too;
Each different path brings other ends in view.’

FERDINAND LASSALLE: Franz von Sickingen

He could only be removed by violence – “Darkness At Noon” – Arthur Koestler Wed, 25 Jul 2012 03:33:01 +0000 ‘My father considered that one day the cup would overflow and the Party would depose him or force him to resign; and that the opposition must propagate this idea.’

‘And Rubashov?’

‘Rubashov laughed at my father, and repeated that he was a fool and a Don Quixote. Then he declared that No. 1 was no accidental phenomenon, but the embodiment of a certain human characteristic – namely, of an absolute belief in the infallibility of one’s own conviction, from which he drew the strength for his complete unscrupulousness. Hence he would never resign from power of his own free will, and could only be removed by violence. One could hope for nothing from the Party either, for No. 1 held all the threads in his hand, and had made the Party bureaucracy his accomplice, who would stand and fall with him, and knew it.’

To sell oneself to one’s own conscience is to abandon mankind – “Darkness At Noon” – Arthur Koestler Wed, 25 Jul 2012 02:20:21 +0000 ‘The greatest criminals in history,’ Ivanov went on, ‘are not of the type Nero and Fouché, but of the type Gandhi and Tolstoy. Gandhi’s inner voice has done more to prevent the liberation of India than the British guns. To sell oneself for thirty pieces of silver is an honest transaction; but to sell oneself to one’s own conscience is to abandon mankind. History is a priori amoral; it has no conscience. To want to conduct history according to the maxims of the Sunday school means to leave everything as it is. You know that as well as I do. You know the stakes in this game, and here you come talking about Bogrov’s whimpering… .’

Rubashov shrugged his shoulders. ‘Admit,’ he said, ‘that humanism and politics, respect for the individual and social progress, are incompatible. Admit, that Gandhi is a catastrophe for India; that chasteness in the choice of means leads to political impotence. In negatives we agree. But look where the other alternative has led us… .’

‘Well,’ asked Ivanov. ‘Where?’

Rubashov rubbed his pince-nez on his sleeve, and looked at him shortsightedly. ‘What a mess,’ he said, ‘what a mess we have made of our golden age.’

Sympathy, conscience, disgust, despair, repentance, and atonement are for us repellent debauchery – “Darkness At Noon” – Arthur Koestler Tue, 24 Jul 2012 02:11:42 +0000 ‘My point is this,’ he said; ‘one may not regard the world as a sort of metaphysical brothel for emotions. That is the first commandment for us. Sympathy, conscience, disgust, despair, repentance, and atonement are for us repellent debauchery. To sit down and let oneself be hypnotized by one’s own navel, to turn up one’s eyes and humbly offer the back of one’s neck to Gletkin’s revolver – that is an easy solution. The greatest temptation for the like of us is: to renounce violence, to repent, to make peace with oneself. Most great revolutionaries fell before this temptation, from Spartacus to Danton and Dostoyevsky; they are the classical form of betrayal of the cause. The temptations of God were always more dangerous for mankind than those of Satan. As long as chaos dominates the world, God is an anachronism; and every compromise with one’s own conscience is perfidy. When the accursed inner voice speaks to you, hold your hands over your ears… .’

To Sell Oneself for Thirty Pieces of Silver is an Honest Transaction; But to Sell Oneself to One’s Own Conscience is to Abandon Mankind – “Darkness At Noon” – Arthur Koestler Tue, 24 Jul 2012 03:34:56 +0000 ‘The greatest criminals in history,’ Ivanov went on, ‘are not of the type Nero and Fouché, but of the type Gandhi and Tolstoy. Gandhi’s inner voice has done more to prevent the liberation of India than the British guns. To sell oneself for thirty pieces of silver is an honest transaction; but to sell oneself to one’s own conscience is to abandon mankind. History is a priori amoral; it has no conscience. To want to conduct history according to the maxims of the Sunday school means to leave everything as it is. You know that as well as I do. You know the stakes in this game, and here you come talking about Bogrov’s whimpering… .’

In old days, temptation was of carnal nature. Now it takes the form of pure reason – “Darkness At Noon” – Arthur Koestler Mon, 23 Jul 2012 03:29:44 +0000 ‘A page Satanas!’ repeated Ivanov and poured himself out another glass. ‘In old days, temptation was of carnal nature. Now it takes the form of pure reason. The values change. I would like to write a Passion play in which God and the Devil dispute for the soul of Saint Rubashov. After a life of sin, he has turned to God – to a God with the double chin of industrial liberalism and the charity of the Salvation Army soups. Satan, on the contrary, is thin, ascetic, and a fanatical devotee of logic. He reads Machiavelli, Ignatius of Loyola, Marx, and Hegel; he is cold and unmerciful to mankind, out of a kind of mathematical mercifulness. He is damned always to do that which is most repugnant to him: to become a slaughterer, in order to abolish slaughtering, to sacrifice lambs so that no more lambs may be slaughtered, to whip people with knouts so that they may learn not to let themselves be whipped, to strip himself of every scruple in the name of a higher scrupulousness, and to challenge the hatred of mankind because of his love for it – an abstract and geometric love. A page Satanas! Comrade Rubashov prefers to become a martyr. The columnists of the liberal Press, who hated him during his lifetime, will sanctify him after his death. He has discovered a conscience, and a conscience renders one as unfit for the revolution as a double chin. Conscience eats through the brain like a cancer, until the whole of the grey matter is devoured. Satan is beaten and withdraws – but don’t imagine that he grinds his teeth and spits fire in his fury. He shrugs his shoulders; he is thin and ascetic; he has seen many weaken and creep out of his ranks with pompous pretexts… .’

TONIGHT POLITICAL DIFFERENCES ARE BEING SETTLED – “Darkness At Noon” – Arthur Koestler Mon, 23 Jul 2012 02:13:48 +0000 FUNNY – THAT YOU FELT IT AT ONCE… .

FELT WHAT? EXPLAIN! tapped Rubashov, sitting up on the bunk.

No. 402 seemed to think it over. After a short hesitation he tapped: TONIGHT POLITICAL DIFFERENCES ARE BEING SETTLED… .

Rubashov understood. He sat leaning against the wall, in the dark, waiting to hear more. But No. 402 said no more. After a while, Rubashov tapped: EXECUTIONS?

YES, answered 402 laconically.

HOW DO YOU KNOW? asked Rubashov.



DON’T KNOW. And, after a pause: SOON.

KNOW THE NAMES? asked Rubashov.

NO, answered No. 402. After another pause he added: OF YOUR SORT. POLITICAL DIVERGENCES.

He is made out of a certain material which becomes the tougher the more you hammer on it – “Darkness At Noon” – Arthur Koestler Sun, 22 Jul 2012 03:39:38 +0000 ‘When Rubashov capitulates,’ said Ivanov, ‘it won’t be out of cowardice, but by logic. It is no use trying the hard method with him. He is made out of a certain material which becomes the tougher the more you hammer on it.’

When the existence of the Church is threatened, she is released from the commandments of morality – “Darkness At Noon” – Arthur Koestler Sun, 22 Jul 2012 02:17:38 +0000 ‘When the existence of the Church is threatened, she is released from the commandments of morality. With unity as the end, the use of every means is sanctified, even cunning, treachery, violence, simony, prison, death. For all order is for the sake of the community, and the individual must be sacrificed to the common good.’

DIETRICH VON NIEHEIM, BISHOP OF VERDEN: De schismate libri 111, A.D. 1411

Must one also pay for deeds which were right and necessary? – “Darkness At Noon” – Arthur Koestler Sat, 21 Jul 2012 03:37:24 +0000 ‘Yet I would do it again,’ he said to himself. ‘It was necessary and right. But do I perhaps owe you the fare all the same? Must one also pay for deeds which were right and necessary?’

Confrontation with death always altered the mechanism of thought – “Darkness At Noon” – Arthur Koestler Sat, 21 Jul 2012 02:19:45 +0000 Rubashov wondered what other surprises his mental apparatus held in store for him. He knew from experience that confrontation with death always altered the mechanism of thought and caused the most surprising reactions – like the movements of a compass brought close to the magnetic pole.

One must tell people the truth, as they know it already, in any case. It is ridiculous to pretend to them – “Darkness At Noon” – Arthur Koestler Fri, 20 Jul 2012 03:33:02 +0000 ‘In your pamphlets,’ continued Rubashov in the same dry tone of voice, ‘of which you admit to be the author, there frequently appear phrases such as this: that we have suffered a defeat, that a catastrophe has befallen the Party, and that we must start afresh and change our policy fundamentally. That is defeatism. It is demoralizing and it lames the Party’s fighting spirit.’

‘I only know,’ said Richard, ‘that one must tell people the truth, as they know it already, in any case. It is ridiculous to pretend to them.’

‘The last congress of the Party,’ Rubashov went on, ‘stated in a resolution that the Party has not suffered a defeat and has merely carried out a strategic retreat; and that there is no reason whatever for changing its previous policy.’

You wrote: “The remains of the revolutionary movement must be gathered together and all powers hostile to tyranny must unite; we must stop our old internal struggles and start the common fight afresh.” That is wrong. The Party must not join the Moderates. It is they who in all good faith have countless times betrayed the movement, and they will do it again next time, and the time after next. He who compromises with them buries the revolution. You wrote: “When the house is on fire, all must help to quench it; if we go on quarrelling about doctrines, we will all be burnt to ashes.” That is wrong. We fight against the fire with water; the others do with oil. Therefore we must first decide which is the right method, water or oil, before uniting the fire-brigades. One cannot conduct politics that way. It is impossible to form a policy with passion and despair. The Party’s course is sharply defined, like a narrow path in the mountains. The slightest false step, right or left, takes one down the precipice. The air is thin; he who becomes dizzy is lost.’

Towards the end, most people behaved in the same way – “Darkness At Noon” – Arthur Koestler Fri, 20 Jul 2012 02:12:42 +0000 Rubashov stood stiffly between the bed and the bucket, held his breath, and waited for the first scream. He remembered that the first scream, in which terror still predominated over physical pain, was usually the worst; what followed was already more bearable, one got used to it and after a time one could even draw conclusions on the method of torture from the tone and rhythm of the screams. Towards the end, most people behaved in the same way, however different they were in temperament and voice: the screams became weaker, changed over into whining and choking. Usually the door would slam soon after.

The keys would jangle again; and the first scream of the next victim often came even before they had touched him, at the mere sight of the men in the doorway.

Rubashov walked up and down in the cell – “Darkness At Noon” – Arthur Koestler Thu, 19 Jul 2012 03:39:03 +0000 Rubashov walked up and down in the cell, from the door to the window and back, between bunk, wash-basin and bucket, six and a half steps there, six and a half steps back. At the door he turned to the right, at the window to the left: it was an old prison habit; if one did not change the direction of the turn one rapidly became dizzy.

Nobody can rule guiltlessly – “Darkness At Noon” – Arthur Koestler Thu, 19 Jul 2012 02:09:07 +0000 ‘Nobody can rule guiltlessly.’ SAINT-JUST

Folks don’t listen to you when your voice is low and patient and you stop them in the hot sun and make them do arithmetic – “All the King’s Men”, Robert Penn Warren Thu, 12 Jul 2012 03:40:02 +0000 Willie went out and buttonholed folks on the street and tried to explain things to them. You could see Willie standing on a street corner, sweating through his seersucker suit, with his hair down in his eyes, holding an old envelope in one hand and a pencil in the other, working out figures to explain what he was squawking about, but folks don’t listen to you when your voice is low and patient and you stop them in the hot sun and make them do arithmetic.

Where would your good be if there were no evil and what would the world look like without shadow – “The Master and Margarita” – Mikhail Bulgakov Thu, 12 Jul 2012 02:15:56 +0000 ‘As soon as you appeared on this roof you made yourself ridiculous. It was your tone of voice. You spoke your words as though you denied the very existence of the shadows or of evil. Think, now: where would your good be if there were no evil and what would the world look like without shadow? Shadows are thrown by people and things. There’s the shadow of my sword, for instance. But shadows are also cast by trees and living things. Do you want to strip the whole globe by removing every tree and every creature to satisfy your fantasy of a bare world? You’re stupid.’

At Patriarch’s Ponds yesterday you met Satan – “The Master and Margarita” – Mikhail Bulgakov Wed, 11 Jul 2012 03:38:03 +0000 ‘Unhappy poet! But it’s your own fault, my dear fellow. You shouldn’t have treated him so carelessly and rudely. Now you’re paying for it. You should be thankful that you got off comparatively lightly.’

‘But who on earth is he?’ asked Ivan, clenching his fists in excitement.

The visitor stared at Ivan and answered with a question: ‘You won’t get violent, will you? We’re all unstable people here … There won’t be any calls for the doctor, injections or any disturbances of that sort, will there?’

‘No, no!’ exclaimed Ivan. ‘Tell me, who is he?’

‘Very well,’ replied the visitor, and said slowly and gravely: ‘At Patriarch’s Ponds yesterday you met Satan.’

The package jumped into his briefcase of its own accord – “The Master and Margarita” – Mikhail Bulgakov Wed, 11 Jul 2012 02:20:13 +0000 ‘It’s not proper …’

‘I won’t hear any objection,’ Koroviev whispered right in his ear. ‘We don’t do this sort of thing but foreigners do. You’ll offend him, Nikanor Ivanovich, and that might be awkward. You’ve earned it …’
‘It’s strictly forbidden …’ whispered the chairman in a tiny voice, with a furtive glance around.

‘Where are the witnesses?’ hissed Koroviev into his other ear. ‘I ask you—where are they? Come, now …’

There then happened what the chairman later described as a miracle—the package jumped into his briefcase of its own accord, after which he found himself, feeling weak and battered, on the staircase. A storm of thoughts was whirling round inside his head. Among them were the villa in Nice, the trained cat, relief that there had been no witnesses and his wife’s pleasure at the complimentary tickets. Yet despite these mostly comforting thoughts, in the depths of his soul the chairman still felt the pricking of a little needle. It was the needle of unease.

Such an accumulation of grave surgical interventions – “Arguably: Selected Essays” – Christopher Hitchens Tue, 10 Jul 2012 03:40:08 +0000 Koestler’s decision to abandon Communism almost as soon as he had been freed from Spain—because of the hysterical faking of the Moscow purge trials in 1938—was expressed in such brilliantly diagnostic and dialectical terms that it bears quoting:

It is a logical contradiction when with uncanny regularity the leadership sees itself obliged to undertake more and more bloody operations within the movement, and in the same breath insists that the movement is healthy. Such an accumulation of grave surgical interventions points with much greater likelihood to the existence of a much more serious illness.

An Updated Ten Commandments  “Arguably: Selected Essays” – Christopher Hitchens Tue, 10 Jul 2012 02:21:02 +0000 It’s difficult to take oneself with sufficient seriousness to begin any sentence with the words “Thou shalt not.” But who cannot summon the confidence to say: Do not condemn people on the basis of their ethnicity or color. Do not ever use people as private property. Despise those who use violence or the threat of it in sexual relations. Hide your face and weep if you dare to harm a child. Do not condemn people for their inborn nature—why would God create so many homosexuals only in order to torture and destroy them? Be aware that you too are an animal and dependent on the web of nature, and think and act accordingly. Do not imagine that you can escape judgment if you rob people with a false prospectus rather than with a knife. Turn off that fucking cell phone—you have no idea how unimportant your call is to us. Denounce all jihad-ists and crusaders for what they are: psychopathic criminals with ugly delusions. Be willing to renounce any god or any religion if any holy commandments should contradict any of the above. In short: Do not swallow your moral code in tablet form.

Critiquing the Ten Commandments – “Arguably: Selected Essays” – Christopher Hitchens Mon, 09 Jul 2012 23:02:50 +0000 I am trying my best not to view things through a smug later prism. Only the Almighty can scan matters sub specie aeternitatis: from the viewpoint of eternity. One must also avoid cultural and historical relativism: There’s no point in retroactively ordering the Children of Israel to develop a germ theory of disease (so as to avoid mistaking plagues for divine punishments) or to understand astronomy (so as not to make foolish predictions and boasts based on the planets and stars). Still, if we think of the evils that afflict humanity today and that are man-made and not inflicted by nature, we would be morally numb if we did not feel strongly about genocide, slavery, rape, child abuse, sexual repression, white-collar crime, the wanton destruction of the natural world, and people who yak on cell phones in restaurants. (Also, people who commit simultaneous suicide and murder while screaming “God is great”: Is that taking the Lord’s name in vain or is it not?)

Why Don’t the Ten Commandments Prohibit Child Abuse? “Arguably: Selected Essays” – Christopher Hitchens Sun, 08 Jul 2012 03:37:34 +0000 As for (Commandment) Number Five, by all means respect for the elders, but why is there nothing (in the Ten Commandments) to forbid child abuse? (Insolence on the part of children is punishable by death, according to Leviticus 20:9, only a few verses before the stipulation of the death penalty for male homosexuals.) A cruel or rude child is a ghastly thing, but a cruel or brutal parent can do infinitely more harm. Yet even in a long and exhaustive list of prohibitions, parental sadism or neglect is never once condemned. Memo to Sinai: Rectify this omission.

Marx was a Fan of America – “Arguably: Selected Essays” – Christopher Hitchens Sun, 08 Jul 2012 02:12:53 +0000 If you are looking for an irony of history, you will find it not in the fact that Marx was underpaid by an American newspaper, but in the fact that he and Engels considered Russia the great bastion of reaction and America the great potential nurse of liberty and equality. This is not the sort of thing they teach you in school (in either country).

Rosa Luxemburg’s Warning – “Arguably: Selected Essays” – Christopher Hitchens Sat, 07 Jul 2012 03:37:33 +0000 Rosa Luxemburg’s warning to Lenin that revolution can move swiftly from the dictatorship of a class to the dictatorship of a party, to be followed by the dictatorship of a committee of that party and eventually by the rule of a single man who will soon enough dispense with that committee.

Edmund Burke on the French Revolution – “Arguably: Selected Essays” – Christopher Hitchens Sat, 07 Jul 2012 02:15:34 +0000 A prescient Edmund Burke on the early days of the French Revolution:

“It is known; that armies have hitherto yielded a very precarious and uncertain obedience to any senate, or popular authority; and they will least of all yield it to an assembly which is only to have a continuance of two years. The officers must totally lose the characteristic disposition of military men, if they see with perfect submission and due admiration, the dominion of pleaders; especially when they find that they have a new court to pay to an endless succession of those pleaders; whose military policy, and the genius of whose command, (if they should have any,) must be as uncertain as their duration is transient. In the weakness of one kind of authority, and in the fluctuation of all, the officers of an army will remain for some time mutinous and full of faction, until some popular general, who understands the art of conciliating the soldiery, and who possesses the true spirit of command, shall draw the eyes of all men upon himself. Armies will obey him on his personal account. There is no other way of securing military obedience in this state of things. But the moment in which that event shall happen, the person who really commands the army is your master, the master (that is little) of your king, the master of your Assembly, the master of your whole republic.”

The Lowest Imputed Motives is not Always the Correct One – “Arguably: Selected Essays” – Christopher Hitchens Fri, 06 Jul 2012 03:31:45 +0000 It is a frequent vice of radical polemic to assert, and even to believe, that once you have found the lowest motive for an antagonist, you have identified the correct one.

On Political Fiction – “Arguably: Selected Essays” – Christopher Hitchens Fri, 06 Jul 2012 02:15:58 +0000 As Thomas Mallon, one of the city’s few resident literary novelists, once put it: Washington novels, such as they are, tend to be found on racks at National Airport, the raised gold letters of their titles promising a bomb on Air Force One or a terrorist kidnapping of the First Lady. There’s a reason for all the goofiness. A serious novelist must take his characters seriously, regard them as three-dimensional creatures with inner lives and authentic moral crises; and that’s just what, out of a certain democratic pride, Americans refuse to do with their politicians.

Fiction somehow declines the responsibility of creating a realistic Washington in favor of various genre approaches.

No, the fact is that Washington is and always has been irretrievably bogged down in process. And process doesn’t generally make for electrifying pros

The Deep Peace of Being In Opposition – “Arguably: Selected Essays” – Christopher Hitchens Thu, 05 Jul 2012 03:35:35 +0000 I happen to like Stanislas/Constantine. When dealing with an incensed young Bosnian who accused him of being a government stooge, he responds with some gravity by saying:

“Yes. For the sake of my country, and perhaps a little for the sake of my soul, I have given up the deep peace of being in opposition.”

This is one of the more profoundly mature, and also among the most tragic, of the signals that (Rebecca) West’s ear was attuned to pick up.

Churchill’s Judgement of Hitler – “Arguably: Selected Essays” – Christopher Hitchens Thu, 05 Jul 2012 02:14:59 +0000 It’s important to remember that many people, before the war, could look at Hitler and see a man with whom business could be done. Winston Churchill, in a 1935 essay from his book Great Contemporaries, had this to say:

“It is not possible to form a just judgment of a public figure who has attained the enormous dimensions of Adolf Hitler until his life work as a whole is before us. Although no subsequent political action can condone wrong deeds, history is replete with examples of men who have risen to power by employing stern, grim, and even frightful methods, but who, nevertheless, when their life is revealed as a whole, have been regarded as great figures whose lives have enriched the story of mankind. So may it be with Hitler.”

I’ve always thought that—coming as it did two years after Hitler’s seizure of power—this was a bit lenient. Churchill raised his eyebrows all right at the maltreatment of the German Jews, and at the pace of German re-armament, but (as he had done earlier with Mussolini) could not withhold admiration for Hitler’s Kampf itself:

“The story of that struggle cannot be read without admiration for the courage, the perseverance, and the vital force which enabled him to challenge, defy, conciliate, or overcome all the authorities or resistances which barred his path.”

The trouble is, they are half right and half wrong – “All the King’s Men” – Robert Penn Warren Wed, 04 Jul 2012 03:36:00 +0000 “Jesus Christ,” he exclaimed, “you work for Stark and you call somebody a son-of-a-bitch.”

I just looked at him. I’d been over all that ground before. I had been over it a thousand times with a thousand people. Hotel lobbies and dinner tables and club cars and street corners and bedrooms and filling stations. Sometimes they didn’t say it just exactly that way and sometimes they didn’t say it at all, but it was there. Oh, I’d fixed them, all right. I knew how to roll with that punch and give it right back in the gut. I ought to have known, I’d had plenty of practice.

But you get tired. In a way it is too easy, and so it isn’t fun anymore. And then you get so you don’t get mad anymore, it has happened so often. But those aren’t the reasons. It is just that those people who say that to you – or don’t say it – aren’t right and they aren’t wrong. If it were absolutely either way, you wouldn’t have to think about it, you could just shut your eyes and let them have it in the gut. But the trouble is, they are half right and half wrong, and in the end that is what paralyses you. Trying to sort out the one from the other. You can’t explain it to them, for there isn’t ever time and there is always that look on their faces. So you get to a point in the end where you don’t even let them have it in the gut. You just look at them, and it is like a dream or something remembered from a long time back or like they weren’t there at all.

Peecunia non olet – “All the King’s Men” – Robert Penn Warren Wed, 04 Jul 2012 02:17:46 +0000 Perhaps the Emperor Vespasian was right when, jingling in his jeans the money which had been derived from a tax on urinals, he wittily remarked: “Peecunia non olet”.

There isn’t anything else to make it out of – “All the King’s Men” – Robert Penn Warren Tue, 03 Jul 2012 03:40:43 +0000 “Yeah, and he wanted the one last damned thing you can’t inherit. And you know what it is?” He started at Adam’s face.

“What?” Adam said, after a long pause.

“Goodness. Yeah, just plain, simple goodness. Well you can’t inherit that from anybody. You gotta make it, Doc. If you want it. And you got to make it out of badness. Badness. And you know why, Doc?” He raised his bulk up in the broken-down wreck of an overstuffed chair he was in, and leaned forward, his hands on his knees, his elbows cocked out, his head out-thrust and the hair coming down to his eyes, and stared into Adam’s face. “Out of badness,” he repeated. “And you know why? Because there isn’t anything else to make it out of.”

Argumentum ad hominem – “All the King’s Men” – Robert Penn Warren Tue, 03 Jul 2012 02:18:48 +0000 The Boss knew all about the so-called fallacy of the argumentum ad hominem. “It may be a fallacy,” he said, “but it is shore-God useful. If you use the right kind of argumentum you can always scare the hominem into a laundry bill he didn’t expect.”

Ambition, love, fear, money – “All the King’s Men” – Robert Penn Warren Mon, 02 Jul 2012 03:36:01 +0000 I lighted a fresh cigarette from the butt of the last one and asked myself the following question: “For what reason, barring Original Sin, is a man most likely to step over the line?”

I answered: “Ambition, love, fear, money.”

Byram is just something you use – “All the King’s Men” – Robert Penn Warren Mon, 02 Jul 2012 02:17:58 +0000 “He’s Guilty,” Hugh Miller said.

“My God, you talk like Byram was human! He’s a thing! You don’t prosecute an adding machine if a spring goes bust and makes a mistake. You fix it. Well, I fixed Byram. I fixed him so his unborn great-grandchildren will wet their pants on this anniversary and not know why. Boy, it will be the shock in the genes. Hell, Byram is just something you use, and he’ll sure be useful from now on.”

Tell ‘em anything. But for Sweet Jesus’ sake don’t try to improve their minds – “All the King’s Men” – Robert Penn Warren Fri, 29 Jun 2012 03:36:32 +0000 “What we need is a balanced tax program. Right now the ratio between income tax and total income for the state gives an index that-“

“Yeah,” I said, “I heard the speech. But they don’t give a damn about that. Hell, make ‘em cry, make ‘em laugh, make ‘em think you’re their weak erring pal, or make ‘em think you’re God-Almighty. Or make ‘em mad. Even mad at you. Just stir ‘em up, it doesn’t matter how or why, and they’ll love you and come back for more. Pinch ‘em in the soft place. They aren’t alive, most of ‘em, and haven’t been alive in twenty years. Hell, their wives have lost their teeth and their shape, and likker won’t set on their stomachs, and they don’t believe in god, so it’s up to you to give ‘em something to stir ‘em up and make ‘em feel alive again. Just for half an hour. That’s what they come for. Tell ‘em anything. But for Sweet Jesus’ sake don’t try to improve their minds.”

Which was his true voice? “All the King’s Men” – Robert Penn Warren Fri, 29 Jun 2012 02:21:00 +0000 But he was saying, “- and so I’m not going to make any speech –“. In his old voice, his own voice. Or was that his voice? Which was his true voice, which one of all the voices, you would wonder.

he had the face.. creamed and curded like a cow patty in a spring pasture – “All the King’s Men” – Robert Penn Warren Thu, 28 Jun 2012 03:30:58 +0000 There were four of us. There was Tiny Duffy, who was almost as big back then as he was to get to be. He didn’t need any sign to let you know what he was. If the wind was right, you knew he was a city-hall slob long before you could see the whites of his eyes. He had the belly and he sweated through his shirt just above the belt buckle, and he had the face, which was creamed and curded like a cow patty in a spring pasture, only it was the color of biscuit dough, and in the middle was his grin with the gold teeth. He was Tax Assessor, and he worse a flat hard straw hat on the back of his head. There was a striped band on the hat.

If I was to tell you, then you wouldn’t have anything to think about – “All the King’s Men” – Robert Penn Warren Thu, 28 Jun 2012 02:14:16 +0000 About twelve years later, at a time when the problem of Willie’s personality more imperiously occupied my rare hours of speculation, I asked him, “Boss, do you remember the time we first got acquainted in the back room of Slade’s joint?”

He said he did, which wasn’t remarkable, for he was like the circus elephant, he never forgot anything, the fellow who gave him the peanut or the fellow who put snuff in his trunk.

“Boss, did you wink at me that time back at Slade’s?”

“Boy,” he said, “if I was to tell you, then you wouldn’t have anything to think about.”

Folks don’t listen to you when your voice is low and patient and you stop them in the hot sun and make them do arithmetic – “All the King’s Men” – Robert Penn Warren Wed, 27 Jun 2012 03:33:27 +0000 You could see Willie standing on a street corner, sweating through his seersucker suit, with his hair down in his eyes, holding an old enveloped in one hand and a pencil in the other, working out figures to explain what he was squaking about, but folks don’t listen to you when your voice is low and patient and you stop them in the hot sun and make them do arithmetic.

Town from the waist up, country from the waist down. Get both votes – “All the King’s Men” – Robert Penn Warren Wed, 27 Jun 2012 02:11:10 +0000 He was just another fellow, made in God’s image and wearing a white shirt with a ready-tied black bow tie and jean pants held up with web galluses. Town from the waist up, country from the waist down. Get both votes.

When this conscience business starts, ain’t no telling where it’ll stop – “All the King’s Men” – Robert Penn Warren Tue, 26 Jun 2012 03:39:51 +0000 “I have endorsed Callahan,” the Judge said. He didn’t flicker.

“I maybe could give you the dirt,” the Boss said speculatively. “Callahan’s been playing round for a long time, and he who touches pitch shall be defiled, and little boys just will walk barefoot in the cow pasture.” He looked up at Judge Irwin’s face, squinting, studying it, cocking his own head to one side.”

The grandfather’s clock in the corner of the room, I suddenly realised, wasn’t getting any younger. It would drop out a rick, and the tick would land inside my head like a rock dropped in a well, and he ripples would circle out and stop, and the tick would sink down the dark. For a piece of time which was not long or short, and might not even ben time, there wouldn’t be anything. Then the tock would drop down the well, and the ripples would circle out and finish.

The Boss quit studying Judge Irwin’s face, which didn’t show anything. He let himself sink back in the chair, shrugged his shoulders, and lifted the glass up for a drink. Then he said, “Suit yourself, Judge. But you know, there’s another way to play it. Maybe somebody might give Callahan a little shovelful on somebody else and Callahan might grow a conscience all of a sudden and repudiate his endorser. You know, when this conscience business starts, ain’t no telling where it’ll stop, and when you start digging-“

“I’ll thank you, sir-“ Judge Irwin took a step toward the big chair, and his face wasn’t the color of calf’s liver now – it was long past that and streaked white back from the base of the jutting nose – “I’ll thank you, sir, to get out of that chair and get out of this house!”

After a long time Anne wasn’t a little girl anymore – “All the King’s Men” – Robert Penn Warren Tue, 26 Jun 2012 02:12:54 +0000 Adam and I hunted and camped all over the country, and Anne had been there, a thin-legged little girl about four years younger than we were. And we had sat by the fire in the Stanton house – or in my house – and had played with toys or read books while Anne sat there. Then after a long time Anne wasn’t a little girl anymore. She was a big girl and I was so much in love with her that I lived in a dream. In the dream my heart seemed to be ready to burst, for it seemed that the whole world was inside it swelling to get out and be the world. But that summer came to an end. Time passed and nothing happened that we had felt so certain at one time would happen.

If he was hongry we could guile him. But he ain’t hongry. His teeth gone bad – “All the King’s Men” – Robert Penn Warren Tue, 26 Jun 2012 01:26:52 +0000 “Here, Buck,” the Boss called.

Tom Stark prodded the dog with his toe for a little encouragement, but he might just as well have been prodding a bolster.

“Buck is gitten on,” Old Man Stark said. “He ain’t right spry anymore.” Then the old man went to the steps and stooped down with a motion which made you expect to hear the sound of old rusty hinges on a barn door.

“Hi, Buck, hi, Buck,” the old man wheedled without optimism. He gave up, and lifted his gaze to the Boss. “If he was hongry now,” he said, and shook his head. “If he was hongry we could guile him. But he ain’t hongry. His teeth gone bad.”

The Boss looked at me, and I knew what I was paid to do.

“Jack,” the boss said, “get the hairy bastard up here and make him look like he was glad to see me.”

In the Souls of the People – “The Grapes of Wrath” – John Steinbeck Fri, 15 Jun 2012 03:33:14 +0000 In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.

When Property Accumulates in Too Few Hands – “The Grapes of Wrath” – John Steinbeck Fri, 15 Jun 2012 02:14:08 +0000 when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.

The Bank is Something Else Than Men – “The Grapes of Wrath” – John Steinbeck Thu, 14 Jun 2012 03:39:11 +0000 The bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it.

Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of – “The Grapes of Wrath” – John Steinbeck Thu, 14 Jun 2012 02:11:02 +0000 I figgered about the Holy Sperit and the Jesus road. I figgered, ‘Why do we got to hang it on God or Jesus? Maybe,’ I figgered, ‘maybe it’s all men an’ all women we love; maybe that’s the Holy Sperit—the human sperit—the whole shebang. Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of.’ Now I sat there thinkin’ it, an’ all of a suddent—I knew it. I knew it so deep down that it was true, and I still know it.

There ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue – “The Grapes of Wrath” – John Steinbeck Wed, 13 Jun 2012 03:33:01 +0000 There ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue. There’s just stuff people do. It’s all part of the same thing. And some of the things folks do is nice, and some ain’t nice, but that’s as far as any man got a right to say.’

Go To Poor People – “The Grapes of Wrath” – John Steinbeck Wed, 13 Jun 2012 02:16:41 +0000 If you’re in trouble or hurt or need—go to poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help—the only ones.

I’ll Be There – “The Grapes of Wrath” – John Steinbeck Tue, 12 Jun 2012 03:38:59 +0000 Then I’ll be all around in the dark – I’ll be ever’where—wherever you look. Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there… I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’—I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folk eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build—why, I’ll be there.

Man Grows Beyond His Work – “The Grapes of Wrath” – John Steinbeck Tue, 12 Jun 2012 02:12:43 +0000 For man, unlike any other thing organic or inorganic in the universe, grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts, emerges ahead of his accomplishments. This you may say of man—when theories change and crash, when schools, philosophies, when narrow dark alleys of thought, national, religious, economic, grow and disintegrate, man reaches, stumbles forward, painfully, mistakenly sometimes. Having stepped forward, he may slip back, but only half a step, never the full step back. This you may say and know it and know it. This you may know when the bombs plummet out of the black planes on the market place, when prisoners are stuck like pigs, when the crushed bodies drain filthily in the dust. You may know it in this way. If the step were not being taken, if the stumbling-forward ache were not alive, the bombs would not fall, the throats would not be cut. Fear the time when the bombs stop falling while the bombers live—for every bomb is proof that the spirit has not died. And fear the time when the strikes stop while the great owners live—for every little beaten strike is proof that the step is being taken. And this you can know—fear the time when Manself will not suffer and die for a concept, for this one quality is the foundation of Manself, and this one quality is man, distinctive in the universe.

It is Not Necessarily at Home That We Best Encounter Our True Selves – “The Art of Travel” – Alain de Botton Sat, 09 Jun 2012 02:20:26 +0000 It is not necessarily at home that we best encounter our true selves. The furniture insists that we cannot change because it does not; the domestic setting keeps us tethered to the person we are in ordinary life, who may not be who we essentially are.

Journeys are the Midwives of Thought – “The Art of Travel” – Alain de Botton Fri, 08 Jun 2012 03:35:32 +0000 Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than moving planes, ships or trains. There is an almost quaint correlation between what is before our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, and new thoughts, new places. Introspective reflections that might otherwise be liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape.

The Anticipatory and Artistic Imaginations Omit and Compress – “The Art of Travel” – Alain de Botton Fri, 08 Jun 2012 02:20:41 +0000 The anticipatory and artistic imaginations omit and compress; they cut away the periods of boredom and direct our attention to critical moments, and thus, without either lying or embellishing, they lend to life a vividness and a coherence that it may lack in the distracting woolliness of the present.

Travel Reveals the Search for Happiness – “The Art of Travel” – Alain de Botton Thu, 07 Jun 2012 03:40:00 +0000 If our lives are dominated by a search for happiness, then perhaps few activities reveal as much about the dynamics of this quest—in all its ardour and paradoxes—than our travels.

Chifley the Butcher – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Thu, 07 Jun 2012 02:17:02 +0000 Like all prime ministers, Chifley had a private phone on his desk—the number known only to his wife, senior colleagues and advisers. It was, of course, a silent number, but apparently was only one digit removed from the number for the butcher shop in the nearby suburb of Manuka. Occasionally, the phone would ring and when the Prime Minister of Australia answered, he would find a housewife calling, wanting to leave her meat order for the weekend. And what would Chifley do? Of course, he would simply take the order for the chops, the leg of lamb, or whatever, saying nothing to the caller except, ‘Yes, madam’, then when she had rung off, he would phone the butcher himself and say ‘It’s happened again’ and repeat the order. These days, it is impossible to imagine anyone getting through, by accident or not, to the Prime Minister unless first vetted.

David Day records that Ben Chifley, even as Prime Minister, drove himself between his home in Bathurst, NSW, and Canberra in his own Buick—his pride and joy. It was not even considered necessary that a bodyguard should accompany him on this journey. Jim Snow, former Labor MP for the southern NSW federal seat of Eden-Monaro, told the author that on Chifley’s drives between Canberra and Bathurst he sometimes changed his route and went through the small town of Crookwell, lunching at a café. On one occasion, he asked for steak and onions, but the waitress told him, ‘I’m sorry, Mr Chifley, we have no onions’. ‘Well’, said Chifley, thrusting his hand into his coat pocket, ‘here’s one’, and he produced an onion.

The History of the Australian Senate – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Wed, 06 Jun 2012 03:39:57 +0000 Prior to the Chifley Government introducing proportional representation, the system that existed from 1919 gave the winner of the most votes in any State all the Senate seats for that State. Hence, occasionally one side of politics held all the Senate seats. Proportional representation has given smaller parties and independents a chance of winning Senate seats; hence governments generally lack a majority in the Upper House. Without a majority in the Senate, governments have to deal with all the other senators to get their legislation through. I was, for many years, a supporter of the Labor platform—long since properly abandoned—of abolition of the Senate. It was, in any case, unachievable, as the smaller States would never pass a referendum to abolish the Senate. The founding fathers saw the Senate as essential to counter the dominance of NSW and Victorian MPs in the Lower House.

Bob Hawke – In Touch with the Common Man – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Wed, 06 Jun 2012 02:17:57 +0000 (Hawke’s) popularity with voters was such that he could get away with comments that, in later years, no politician could copy. Asked by a journalist if he knew the price of bread (or it might have been milk or butter), he said he had no idea and had never been inside a supermarket, ending the discussion with, ‘Hazel does the shopping’.

‘Delegates, you’ll have to stop wanking’ – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Tue, 05 Jun 2012 03:31:55 +0000 Hawke was insensitive to the reaction of others to his words. As President of the ALP, he chaired a national conference in Perth, where it was apparent to all that he was bedding a female taxi driver. At 9 am one day, Hawke was at his place as chairman on the head table, obviously still the worse for liquor, and testy. In the presence of TV cameras and 300 or so delegates and observers in the hall, Hawke declared, ‘Delegates, you’ll have to stop wanking’.

Wouldn’t shout in a shark attack – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Tue, 05 Jun 2012 02:18:23 +0000 Hawke was a bad drunk and, worse, refused to shout in turn. He was lousy. ‘Wouldn’t shout in a shark attack’, in the bar-room vernacular of the time.

Murdoch and the Whitlam Dismissal – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Mon, 04 Jun 2012 03:32:53 +0000 John Menadue, CEO of News Limited’s Australian operations before heading the Prime Minister’s Department, wrote of Rupert Murdoch’s highly partisan actions in supporting the Kerr dismissal. In the gallery there was much discussion about Murdoch’s behaviour and News Limited journalists in Sydney held several stoppages as a protest against Murdoch’s stand. What was not generally known was the childhood connection between Fraser and Murdoch. Fraser’s father grazed the Victorian Western District property ‘Nareen’ and Murdoch’s father, Keith (later Sir Keith), owned an adjoining property. As small children, Malcolm Fraser and Rupert Murdoch shared the same nanny. With the crisis building, Menadue organised a lunch with Murdoch and News Limited head, Ken Cowley, in a Kingston restaurant on 7 November 1975. Complaining to them both about the coverage of the crisis, he told Murdoch he had cancelled his subscription to The Australian. ‘This didn’t put him [Murdoch] off his lunch,’ Menadue says. On 11 December, Menadue made a written record of the lunch five weeks earlier, and he wrote: Rupert Murdoch told many of his friends that Mr. Fraser had informed him that the Governor-General had given him [Fraser] an assurance that if he hung on long enough there would be a general election before Christmas…although I have no direct information. He did tell me, however on 7 November that he was quite certain there would be an election before Christmas and that he would be staying in Australia until this occurred. He was very confident of the outcome of any election and even mentioned to me the position to which I might be appointed in the event of the Liberal victory—Ambassador to Japan. Murdoch was right about that. Menadue was appointed as Ambassador to Japan and Murdoch could only have got that information from Fraser. When Murdoch later denied this account of the lunch, Menadue stated: ‘I stand by it.’ Having known Menadue well since the 1960s, the author has not the slightest doubt his was the truthful account.

Whitlam in PNG – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Mon, 04 Jun 2012 02:18:50 +0000 On Whitlam’s official visit to Papua New Guinea, the press party got a taste of Whitlam’s quirky sense of humour. The Prime Minister’s party visited Mendi in the Highlands, where he was guest of honour at a spectacular gathering of the tribes. Warriors adorned in fantastic traditional dress danced and chanted in the ‘sing-sing’ display, while the Prime Minister’s party looked on. A tribal elder approached Whitlam and solemnly presented him with what looked like a club or a large walking stick, with elaborately carved snakes—a symbol of long life—and topped with a large knob. Whitlam turned to Walsh and asked: ‘What do I do with it, lean on it or strap it on?’ Unsurprisingly, the response produced muffled laughter from the press party.

Defamation and Enhanced Reputation – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Sun, 03 Jun 2012 03:34:08 +0000 The National Times published an interview with an American director of Morgan Stanley, Dudley Scholes, who referred to Cairns’ ‘girlfriend, Morosi’. Cairns claimed the remark gave rise to a defamatory imputation that he was ‘improperly involved with his assistant, Junie Morosi, in a romantic or sexual association contrary to the obligations of his marriage and to that of Miss Morosi’. Morosi told the jury: ‘I felt insulted, angry, upset and hurt. It was very demeaning to me as a woman [to be called a “girlfriend”].’ The jury found that the imputation did arise from the article in The National Times, but that it was not defamatory. Claiming the jury’s finding was perverse, Cairns and Morosi went to the Court of Appeal. Justice Hutley at one point remarked: ‘The fact that so intelligent and glamorous a woman as Miss Morosi [Mrs Ditchburn] developed a romantic interest in him may raise his standing in public eyes.’ Cairns and Morosi lost the appeals with costs awarded to Fairfax.

Moss Cass – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Sun, 03 Jun 2012 02:16:54 +0000 With 27 ministers in the Cabinet, inevitably much time was wasted on repetitious debates and Whitlam’s exasperation was palpable. Moss Cass, a short, dark, intense man from the Victorian Left faction, was a medical practitioner before he entered Parliament. As Minister for Environment, Cass publicly advocated the decriminalisation of marijuana smoking.

About the same time, Cass’s wife (in the Melbourne Age) bemoaned the loss of conjugal rights the wives of federal parliamentarians endured. Soon after, at the weekly Cabinet meeting, Cass argued with Whitlam about some issue, telling the Prime Minister, ‘The trouble with you, Gough, is that you know nothing about the grassroots of the Labor Party’. Whitlam retorted: ‘Moss, you know a lot about grass and your wife apparently knows something about roots, but you know fuck-all about the grassroots of the Labor Party.’ Whitlam could be bitchy. Cass passed by Whitlam and Bill Hayden walking down the government lobby, and, nodding to Whitlam, Cass said: ‘Morning, Leader.’ Out of earshot, Whitlam said to Hayden: ‘I’m glad he spoke. Now we know his face from his arse.’

Freudenberg and Advance Australia Fair – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Sat, 02 Jun 2012 03:30:19 +0000 Graham Freudenberg’s skill as a subeditor played a part in the Fraser Government settling on Advance Australia Fair as the national anthem. Long before Paul Keating initiated the move to a republic, the Whitlam Government decided to ditch God Save the Queen as the anthem, arousing outrage among monarchists and joy among republicans. At the time, the feminist movement—with some influence on the Whitlam Government—had demanded political correctness and terms such as ‘chairman’ and ‘fisherman’ were to be avoided and replaced with ‘chair’ or ‘chairperson’ and ‘fisherperson’. But what to do about the words in Advance Australia Fair: ‘Australian sons let us rejoice’? ‘Australian sons and daughters, let us rejoice’ would be ridiculous. Perhaps only a complete rewrite would accommodate the feminists. Freudenberg removed the gender issue with the simple device of changing one word, ‘sons’, to ‘all’. So we now sing, ‘Australians all let us rejoice’.

He looked like a dentist ready to drill – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Sat, 02 Jun 2012 02:15:05 +0000 Fellow Labor MP Les Haylen described Ward as an unusual ‘Labor ranter’—meticulously dressed, his iron-grey hair swept back from his forehead: ‘He looked like a dentist ready to drill. He had a rocket take-off—not for him the preamble, the body of the speech, the lead-off and the peroration. He was airborne from the moment his hand hit the table.’

McEwen and Johnson – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Fri, 01 Jun 2012 03:24:34 +0000 As Prime Minister, McEwen welcomed US President Johnson to Australia for the memorial service for Harold Holt and they hit it off immediately. Both were farmers and both were in the cattle business. Johnson invited McEwen to his Texas ranch—an invitation McEwen later took up. At the ranch, McEwen had a particularly bad time with bleeding feet and the President insisted on doing something about it. The presidential plane, Air Force One, was whistled up and McEwen was dispatched to the Mayo Clinic for treatment, where he was given cortisone. It appeared to assist him although his widow, Lady Mary, later claimed it contributed to his death.

A Fist Fight Between the PMO and the Gallery – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Fri, 01 Jun 2012 02:20:15 +0000 During the 1951 election campaign, Cockburn (Menzies’ Press Secretary) was standing just to one side on the stage of the Adelaide Town Hall. Menzies was about to make his entrance and Cockburn, a bit edgy, was to give a signal to the ABC sound technician in the hall preparing to broadcast the event. The hall was well filled when Ian Fitchett came to Cockburn and demanded to know there and then details of the trip the press party was to take with Menzies to the Woomera rocket range the next day. Cockburn was saying things such as ‘in a minute, Fitch’ and ‘can’t you see I’m busy’. With this, Fitchett, who could be a spiteful bastard, said: ‘You’re a fucking Murdoch stooge [a reference to Sir Keith Murdoch, Rupert’s father and at the time running the Melbourne Herald]; ‘you’re holding it back for the Herald.’ Cockburn’s temper flared and he punched Fitchett in the face. Fitchett staggered back and then replied with a punch right on Cockburn’s chin, almost knocking him out, but Cockburn responded and landed a punch into Fitchett’s ample stomach. A police inspector and Alan Reid (Sydney Sun) broke up the scuffle. Cockburn remembers an outraged Fitchett declaring: ‘He king-hit me.’ This he repeated many times the next day in Woomera and for some days after that. Cockburn said that although most journalists and people in the packed hall awaiting Menzies’ arrival witnessed the incident, surprisingly there was absolutely no report in the media.

Before Partisan Press Secretaries – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Thu, 31 May 2012 03:24:31 +0000 Yet he was surprised to be asked by Leonard whether he would like to be Menzies’ press secretary, succeeding Charles Meeking. Cockburn agreed to be interviewed by Menzies in Canberra. On meeting the Prime Minister, Cockburn told him he had to understand that until 1949 he had not voted for any party but the Labor Party. Menzies was unmoved. He said he did not care who Cockburn voted for as long as he thought he could ‘do the job and be loyal’. (This is almost exactly what Menzies said when appointing Tony Eggleton some years later.)

Calwell’s Black Tie – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Thu, 31 May 2012 02:18:03 +0000 Calwell’s two great personal tragedies were the death of his only son, at eleven years of age—a victim of leukaemia. Calwell wore a black tie every day of his life from that point on.

The Kennedy Assassination and the 1963 Election – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Wed, 30 May 2012 03:32:02 +0000 US President John Kennedy was assassinated on 23 November 1963, one week out from the election at which Labor suffered a heavy defeat. The assumption, which I share, is that voters were alarmed by the Kennedy assassination in the Dallas motorcade, seeing it as a signal of the heating up of the Cold War. Many decided it was no time to risk a Labor government. Although he might not have won, Calwell would have made a much closer race of it but for the Kennedy shock.

The Kingo – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Wed, 30 May 2012 02:15:30 +0000 The Kingo was the venue for one of the most important conferences ever held in Canberra: the 22 March 1963 Special Federal Conference of the ALP. There were 36 delegates, six from each State—a form of federalism similarly embodied in the Australian Senate, which has an equal number of senators from each State. The conference was asked to consider whether the federal parliamentary Labor Party should support Menzies’ legislation authorising the construction by the United States of a naval communications station on North-West Cape in Western Australia. The External Affairs Minister, Garfield Barwick, described it as ‘a wireless station, nothing more nor less’. This was a cover-up. A wireless station, indeed! It was far more important than was portrayed by the Government. Together with other stations around the world, North-West Cape was a vital part of the US nuclear weapons program. These stations had the capacity to communicate with US Polaris nuclear-powered submarines capable of launching a nuclear missile strike against any target in the world and were at the very tip of US capability to deter nuclear attacks. The station at North-West Cape thus helped keep the Cold War cold, not hot. Within the Labor Party, it raised a question of national sovereignty over Australian soil. At the Kingston Hotel, the delegates debated the base legislation after Calwell had addressed it and then withdrew. Under ALP rules, the leader and deputy leader were not delegates and did not have a vote, yet they were required to carry out the decision of the conference. The conference was still debating well into the night and Calwell, impatient and accompanied by Whitlam and Freudenberg, left Parliament House to go to the hotel and join journalists waiting for an outcome. As Freudenberg recalls, on the stroke of midnight, the vote was taken narrowly accepting Menzies’ legislation, conditional on the base being jointly controlled and Australian sovereignty guaranteed. The Daily Telegraph published a bombshell picture of Calwell and Whitlam waiting in the dead of night outside the hotel for the vote. Menzies leapt on this to point out that Liberal MPs were not directed by anyone as to how they should vote. Labor MPs on the other hand were instructed by ‘36 faceless men’—a devastating term he coined.

Surveillance at the Kingo – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Tue, 29 May 2012 03:40:50 +0000 Like other pubs in Canberra, the Kingston Hotel in Canberra Avenue was home to a number of journalists and was well known to me. Directly opposite the ‘Kingo’ was the Soviet Embassy—a few hundred metres east of Manuka. From a first-floor window in the pub, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) agents kept a watchful eye on who came and went through the embassy’s front gate.

Prayer in Parliament – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Tue, 29 May 2012 02:10:37 +0000 Yet many people would believe no prayer is needed, from whatever faith. When the Federal Parliament first met after Federation, no prayer was offered. This led to a storm of protest from various Christian evangelical organisations, the Parliament gave way to the pressure and the prayer became part of proceedings. Gregor McGregor, leader of the Labor Party in the first Senate, protested that the prayer was a breach of the Constitution.


Devout Catholic Brian Harradine, the former independent senator, objected in the Senate to other senators reciting the prayer when it was being read by the President of the Senate. ‘We are not in church,’ he noted. Harradine protested that the Senate’s Standing Orders stated the President and nobody else would say the prayer. When the President began reading the prayer, in a clear protest, Senator Peter Baume would don his yarmulke (a skullcap) and recite a Jewish prayer.

Don Chipp – Customs Minister – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Mon, 28 May 2012 03:32:03 +0000 Minister for Customs and Excise in the Gorton ministry after the 1969 election, Chipp presented himself as the small-‘l’ liberal who believed in loosening up strict rules relating to the behaviour and rights of citizens. He made a name for himself by removing the ban on the sale of various books, such as Portnoy’s Complaint. Yet, to show that he was a man of family values who would not tolerate pornography, he ordered customs to crack down on imported porn. Further, to emphasise his relentless pursuit of porn, he had pornographic books and magazines seized by customs available in his office so that MPs could see for themselves what a grand job he was doing. Male MPs from both sides of politics visited his office regularly to view the porn, particularly the graphic pictorial material—of course just to be informed of the great job the minister was doing. His private secretary at the time was a young customs officer, Trevor Wright, a friend of mine. The seized porn, sent across to Chipp’s office from customs, was the responsibility of Trevor and, if an MP desired to view the disgusting material, it was produced from Trevor’s desk drawer. He noted that many MPs, some of whom portrayed themselves as high-minded adherents of the Christian faith, appeared regularly seeking to view the latest porn. Chipp also arranged showings of pornographic films seized by customs in its tireless efforts to save the population from exposure to lewd and degrading material. These films were shown over the dinner adjournments at the theatrette of the National Library—close to Parliament House. The showings were free—naturally attracting many with a close interest in the work of customs.

Sex and Australian Parliament – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Mon, 28 May 2012 02:20:19 +0000 On matters of sex, the Australian Parliament has always been broad minded, as has the Australian population, certainly post war. Sexual encounters and adulterous affairs have been well known and common in the Parliament; it is said that powerful men have strong sexual urges and many women like powerful men.

Drunkenness in Australian Parliament – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Sun, 27 May 2012 03:35:00 +0000 One of the more spectacular drunken performances of the 1960s was in the Senate chamber, when Labor Senator from Western Australia Harry Cant found himself seriously drunk and trapped by a division. The doors were locked and the division required Labor senators to cross to the other side of the chamber, sitting in the places of the government senators for the count, while the government senator moved to the opposition benches. Cant was overcome by an urgent need to vomit. Looking around desperately, he came to a decision. Opening the desk drawer of the government senator’s desk where he was seated, he was violently and noisily sick into it. When the division was over and the senators resumed their normal places, the government senator in whose place Harry had sat was understandably disgusted. The stench created by this extraordinary happening filled the chamber. He did not draw the President of the Senate’s attention to the outrage or make a fuss. Urgent action was required. All this had taken place in the full view of the journalists in the Senate press gallery and those in the public gallery.

News of the outrage was soon all over Parliament House and journalists rushed to get the story. Medical practitioner Dr Felix Dittmer, a Queensland Labor Senator, had the answer. He denied Cant was drunk and ordered that an ambulance be urgently called to take Cant to the Royal Canberra Hospital, just across Commonwealth Avenue Bridge in Acton. Dittmer stated that Cant was suffering from an acute case of ‘renal colic’. The ambulance arrived and a Labor colleague suggested to Dittmer that it would be discreet for Harry, now prone on a stretcher, to be taken through the back exit of Parliament via the kitchen. Labor Deputy Senate Leader, Pat Kennelly, rejected this. So the little procession of the two ambulance officers carrying the stretcher with Cant prone, and Dittmer leading, made its way through the Senate opposition lobby, across King’s Hall where visitors gaped, and down the front steps to the waiting ambulance.

In hospital, Cant made a speedy recovery and was discharged the next day. From then on, if an MP entered either the house or the Senate looking a little confused, the interjection would go out: ‘Renal colic.’

Parliamentary Privilege and Jailing Journalists – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Sun, 27 May 2012 02:15:51 +0000 One of the more sensational events involving parliamentary privilege occurred after I arrived in the gallery in 1951. The Treasurer, Arthur Fadden, was to deliver his budget speech in August of that year. On budget day, the lock-up for the gallery began in the afternoon. At the dinner adjournment of the house, Fadden briefed the government MPs on the contents of the budget at a special meeting of the party room. Having been briefed that excise rates were to go up on a range of items—whisky and other spirits and cigarettes—a number of government MPs rushed to the members’ bar to order these items before the price rose. ‘Insider trading’ was an unknown term in those days, but it fitted the situation perfectly. In a savage piece designed to arouse voter fury, Alan Reid reported this grossly opportunistic behaviour in the Sydney Sun. Reid also charged MPs with running Parliament as a club solely for their own benefit. At that time beer was in short supply and publicans rationed sales of bottled beer to a weekly quota for their regular customers. Reid’s point was that the non-members’ bar rationed these hard-to-get items (including cigarettes), while there were no restrictions on sales to MPs from the members’ bar. Reid reported that one Sydney-bound MP’s car was so loaded with beer that a rear spring broke. In the gallery there was great concern. While it was widely anticipated that the Sydney Sun staff might be kicked out of the Parliament, we feared the non-members’ bar and dining room might be closed to all gallery members. This was in the minds of members of the house when they ordered an inquiry by the Privileges Committee—one of the terms of reference asking it to examine ‘the wisdom or otherwise of continuing the extension of privileges to other than members of Parliament’. Fortunately, wisdom prevailed and privileges for gallery members (including Reid) remained. The special meeting of the gallery carried a resolution strongly supporting Reid and declaring ‘that the facts contained in it [Reid’s article] are correct’. The Privileges Committee conceded that the article was not ‘wholly untrue’ but was grossly exaggerated and, among other things, conveyed a false impression about the conduct of parliamentarians. It ruled there was a breach of privilege but considered ‘the house would best serve its own dignity by taking no further action in the matter’.

The ‘Abominable “No” Man’ – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Sat, 26 May 2012 03:34:45 +0000 The more influential businesspeople did not turn up at the front counter in William Street; they went to Canberra to see the Minister for Agriculture and Commerce, McEwen. What they did not know was that McEwen would have made up his mind in advance of seeing any delegation whether he could revise a licensing decision or not. If he could help and if those seeking his assistance were important to him and the Government, he would see a visiting delegation. If not, the task of breaking the bad news fell to his undersecretary, Reginald Swartz. A rotund, pleasant man, quite bald with a round face and a neat moustache (he was known throughout Parliament as ‘Curley’), Swartz had a polite manner that belied his heroic background. He enlisted in the AIF in November 1940 with the rank of captain, served with the 2/26 Infantry Battalion in the Malaysian campaign and spent 3.5 years as a POW, some of it on the ghastly Burma–Thailand Railway. He won the Queensland seat of Darling Downs in 1949 for the Liberals. Swartz would see the delegations pleading for an import licence, hear them attentively and then say ‘no’. In the gallery and among importers, he became known as the ‘Abominable “No” Man’.

The Hotel Canberra –  “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Sat, 26 May 2012 02:13:28 +0000 Some government MPs stayed at the Hotel Canberra—a convenient stroll from Parliament House. They included Fadden, Richard Casey and Liberal backbenchers such as Joe Gullett, Bill Falkinder and Bruce Graham. After the house rose for the night, there would be some serious drinking in the Hotel Canberra lounge and I occasionally joined in with Don Whitington, with whom I had then teamed up. Graham had a wooden leg as a result of a war injury and sometimes, when he had passed out, Gullett and co. unscrewed the leg to fill the top with bottle tops, creating a mysterious rattle when Graham walked. It was said (probably unkindly) that the popular manager of the hotel, Thornley Thorpe, received an Imperial Award for putting Artie to bed on many occasions.

Did Hansard record the Member for Hunter’s interjection – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Fri, 25 May 2012 03:41:56 +0000 Thompson also had the misfortune to share a two-seat bench in the house with former coalminer and colourful character Rowley James, who held the seat of Hunter (in the Newcastle area) for 30 years from his election in 1928. Rowley was a large, rotund figure, and one could observe from the press gallery Rowley’s habit of leaning on one cheek of his arse to let go a roaring fart in Thompson’s direction. Albert would lean as far as he could into the corridor alongside him to escape the noxious gas. Following one of James’s louder farts, Eddie Ward was on his feet taking a point of order: ‘Did Hansard record the Member for Hunter’s interjection?’ he asked. Rowley would take his walking stick into the chamber and was known to pound it on his desk in anger at contributions from the other side of house. Speaking in the debate on Arthur Fadden’s 1951 ‘horror’ budget, Rowley roared, ‘This is a bludger’s budget! It taxes pessaries and condoms’, emphasising his point with a whack of his stick on his desk.

Menzies War Record – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Fri, 25 May 2012 02:20:53 +0000 When Menzies was Prime Minister in 1939, the Country Party leader, Earle Page, subjected Menzies to a bitter attack in the house. Page had served on the Western Front as a doctor (his field instruments are on display at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra). Page told the Parliament that he and his party were no longer prepared to serve in a Menzies government and, with war threatening, he did not believe Menzies had the right attributes to bring about ‘a united national effort’. Page said, based on Menzies’ record, he had no confidence the Prime Minister had what was required: ‘the maximum courage, or loyalty or judgments.’ After numbering what he believed were faults in Menzies’ record, he devoted particular attention to Menzies’ war record. Page is responsible for fostering the falsehood—still widely held to be true—that Menzies resigned his commission. Page continued: I am not questioning the reasons why anyone did not go to war. All I say is that if the right honourable gentleman cannot satisfactorily and publicly explain to a very great body of people in Australia, who did participate in the war, his failure to do so, he will not be able to get that maximum effort out of the people in the event of war. All this was greeted with cries of ‘shame’. Menzies immediately replied and was heard in silence. On the charge of not serving in the war, there was real, if dignified, bitterness in Menzies’ response. He said the charge was not a novelty and represented ‘a stream of mud through which I have waded at every election campaign in which I have participated’. Menzies explained that on the issue of enlistment he had to answer the supremely important question ‘[i]s it my duty to go to the war or is it my duty not to go? The answer to that question is not one that can be made on a public platform.’ Menzies went on to say the question related to ‘a man’s intimate and personal family affairs and in consequence, I, facing these problems of intense difficulty, found myself, for reasons which were and are compelling, unable to join my two brothers in the infantry with the A.I.F’. In the political uproar following the Page attack, two Queensland Country Party MPs, Arthur Fadden and Bernie Corser, disassociated themselves from Page’s speech, saying that henceforth they would sit as independent Country Party members. (It is somewhat ironic that after Menzies resigned as Prime Minister with so many in his party room opposed to him, Fadden became Prime Minister.)

The Parliamentary Barber – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Thu, 24 May 2012 03:41:26 +0000 Cec (The Old Parliament House Barber) cut the hair of all comers from Ben Chifley down. Cec would take our bets over the phone at his home on Saturday race day and come Monday morning was the settlement—mostly in Cec’s favour. An unmarked envelope would appear in your mailbox setting out how much was owed, or hopefully won. Cec was in the news when Cameron ordered him to take down a magnificent picture of the champion horse Phar Lap from his barbershop wall. This made headlines all over Australia. Archie was a blue-nosed Presbyterian who converted to Catholicism, yet his conversion did not mean he abandoned his views of the sinfulness of gambling. He was an eccentric character and in the summer could be seen walking around the house in a Jackie Howe singlet, featuring the name of some champion shearer on the back.

Poker in Old Parliament House – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Thu, 24 May 2012 02:21:09 +0000 Old Parliament House was already crowded in 1951 with the gallery absolutely chock-a-block; MPs shared small offices and ministers’ offices were scattered all over the building. Despite the squeeze, the gallery maintained its common room, equipped with a table-tennis table. It was in this room that Archie Cameron, the Speaker of the day, climbed through a window from the roof and nabbed a poker school in action attended by Alan Reid and Oliver Hogue. They were given a severe dressing down as Cameron had brought down an edict that no gambling was allowed in Parliament House (or at least those parts under his direct control). He suspected the parliamentary barber, Cec Bainbrigg, was running the illegal SP book, but failed to get the evidence.

The Press Gallery Expenses Sheet – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Wed, 23 May 2012 03:41:35 +0000 A serious weekly chore was filling in the expenses claim—otherwise known as the ‘swindle sheet’; the funds thus acquired would help defray the substantial costs of alcohol consumption. Using whatever cunning we had, we worked the swindle sheet to the maximum, doubling the actual laundry costs, falsifying taxi fares, and it was amazing how many MPs were allegedly entertained at lunch by the Mirror staff. It was flagrant theft. These sheets had to be OK’d by Kewpie Power before dispatching them to Sydney. Kewpie did not have much argument with our claims because, as he was rorting the system himself, we were all in the same boat.

“Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Wed, 23 May 2012 02:21:41 +0000 ..most parliamentarians saw very little of Canberra, and from their point of view there was not much to see.

Statement of Views: Baz Luhrmann’s Gatsby Wed, 23 May 2012 00:02:00 +0000 I don’t usually use this Tumblr as a forum for commentary, but I can see from the reaction to the release of the trailer of this movie that I need somewhere to put my views on this on the public record.

The below was originally posted at a now virtually extinct social media site when this project was first announced. The trailer confirms my views…

As a massive fan of both Gatsby and Luhrmann (mostly) I think this is an ideal match. 

Fundamentally, “The Great Gatsby” is melodrama. It’s all over the top emotion, extreme actions and highly contrived plot development. Frankly, the prose is often so descriptively florid that it would border on the comical outside an ‘American classic’. 

This is what Luhrmann does best. His best movies (R&J, Moulin Rouge and Strictly Ballroom) are all over the top, visually intense cavalcades of emotion and melodrama. He’s less good at story telling/script writing, but working from Gatsby as subject matter, he’s got a pretty solid base to start from in this respect. 

To illustrate my point, take a passage like the below from the book, in the lead up to Gatsby and Daisy’s first kiss: 

“His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.”

Then consider the climactic romantic scenes of R&J and Moulin Rouge – the aesthetic is hand in glove. (In fact from memory, doesn’t Ewan McGregor actually jump up and touch a star while trying to seduce Nicole Kidman?)

I think a lot of the pre-backlash against Luhrmann directing this project is fans of Gatsby having to face up to the true nature of the book. There are lots of people who claim it as their ‘favourite’ book as a pitch to sophistication. As such, they project ‘sophisticated’ characteristics onto the book ie subtly, deep human insight etc, when they are really not there.

Statement of Views: Baz Luhrmann’s Gatsby Wed, 23 May 2012 00:02:00 +0000 I don’t usually use this Tumblr as a forum for commentary, but I can see from the reaction to the release of the trailer of this movie that I need somewhere to put my views on this on the public record.

The below was originally posted at a now virtually extinct social media site when this project was first announced. The trailer confirms my views…

As a massive fan of both Gatsby and Luhrmann (mostly) I think this is an ideal match. 

Fundamentally, “The Great Gatsby” is melodrama. It’s all over the top emotion, extreme actions and highly contrived plot development. Frankly, the prose is often so descriptively florid that it would border on the comical outside an ‘American classic’. 

This is what Luhrmann does best. His best movies (R&J, Moulin Rouge and Strictly Ballroom) are all over the top, visually intense cavalcades of emotion and melodrama. He’s less good at story telling/script writing, but working from Gatsby as subject matter, he’s got a pretty solid base to start from in this respect. 

To illustrate my point, take a passage like the below from the book, in the lead up to Gatsby and Daisy’s first kiss: 

“His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.”

Then consider the climactic romantic scenes of R&J and Moulin Rouge – the aesthetic is hand in glove. (In fact from memory, doesn’t Ewan McGregor actually jump up and touch a star while trying to seduce Nicole Kidman?)

I think a lot of the pre-backlash against Luhrmann directing this project is fans of Gatsby having to face up to the true nature of the book. There are lots of people who claim it as their ‘favourite’ book as a pitch to sophistication. As such, they project ‘sophisticated’ characteristics onto the book ie subtly, deep human insight etc, when they are really not there.

The Old Parliament House Bathrooms – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Tue, 22 May 2012 03:41:12 +0000 The space limitations of (Old Parliament House) imposed an egalitarian rule in the lavatories. Ministers, MPs, staffers, journalists and cleaners all used the same lavatories. Years after the move to the permanent parliament building, Mick Young returned to the House of Representatives chamber of Old Parliament House to speak at an event. I cannot remember what the occasion was, although I was present, when Young spoke of his liking for the old building. He remarked upon the fact that the egalitarian use of the lavatories also ruled in the House of Commons at Westminster. He told the story of how, after the war, the British Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee was standing at a urinal when Churchill entered and stood at the urinal at the opposite end from the Prime Minister. Attlee remarked: ‘You’re a bit stand-offish this morning, Winnie.’ ‘I won’t stand near you,’ said Churchill. ‘Every time you see something big, you want to nationalise it.’ Mick got a good laugh out of the audience.

The Speaker’s Chair in Old Parliament House – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Tue, 22 May 2012 02:20:17 +0000 During the visit (in 1926 of the Empire Parliamentary Association) to the still unfinished provisional Parliament House, the delegation presented a gift from the British Parliament: the Speaker’s chair for the House of Representatives, which was modelled on the Speaker’s chair in the House of Commons. The House of Commons burned down during the war after an attack by German bombers and the old chair was lost. When the Commons was rebuilt, the new speaker’s chair was modelled on the chair in the House of Representatives. The Australian chair was constructed partly from oak from the roof of Westminster Hall—more than five centuries old—and oak from Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory. There were spirited debates in the Parliament about leaving the chair behind when Parliament moved to the new building. Traditionalists wanted it in the new chamber, but the argument against it going was that it would look out of place in the quite different architecture of the new chamber. This argument carried the day and was undoubtedly correct.

The Wedding Cake – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Tue, 22 May 2012 01:20:51 +0000 The ‘provisional’ Parliament House in Canberra was nothing like the NSW Parliament House I was familiar with in Macquarie Street, Sydney, which dated back to the mid-1800s. Canberra’s Parliament House stood alone, south of the Molonglo, fronting on to lawns to its north; not far beyond, sheep grazed. A market garden alongside the river was on the site where the High Court and National Gallery now stand. The Treasury building and the National Library were yet to be constructed. To the north-east, across the rose garden, the Administrative Building was the only major office in sight. The long, gleaming white parliamentary building of three storeys was flanked on either side by extensive lawns and garden areas enclosed by a high hedge. It was later referred to as ‘the wedding cake’ because, when viewed from the northern bank of the Molonglo, that is certainly what it resembled. Behind the building was a lane that provided service access for the kitchen, dining rooms and bars. On the other side of the lane running parallel with the parliament building and almost as long was a dense ground-hugging hedge—the habitat of feral cats.

Ming – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Fri, 18 May 2012 05:31:18 +0000 Menzies was often referred to as ‘Ming’ after a comic-book character, Ming the Merciless, an evil Chinaman dressed in robes and with long fingernails. (Another explanation was that ‘Mingees’ was the Scottish pronunciation of Menzies.)

Chalmers’ Career – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers Fri, 18 May 2012 03:01:12 +0000 Foreword by John Faulkner:

“If the Canberra Press Gallery is an institution, Rob Chalmers was an institution of that institution. His career spanned 60 years and 12 prime ministers, 24 federal elections and five changes of government. There is not a member of Parliament today who can remember a Press Gallery before Rob Chalmers joined it in early 1951, moving up from Sydney as a young journalist.”

“If This Is a Man” – Primo Levi Fri, 18 May 2012 00:31:34 +0000 If This Is a Man

You who live safe
In your warm houses,
You who find, returning in the evening,
Hot food and friendly faces:
Consider if this is a man
Who works in the mud,
Who does not know peace,
Who fights for a scrap of bread,
Who dies because of a yes or a no.
Consider if this is a woman
Without hair and without name,
With no more strength to remember,
Her eyes empty and her womb cold
Like a frog in winter.
Meditate that this came about:
I command these words to you.
Carve them in your hearts
At home, in the street,
Going to bed, rising;
Repeat them to your children.
Or may your house fall apart,
May illness impede you,
May your children turn their faces from you.

People are neither Good nor Bad – “All the King’s Men”, Robert Penn Warren Thu, 17 May 2012 05:31:29 +0000 Jack Burden: “what we students of history always learn is that the human being is a very complicated contraption and that they are not good or bad but are good and bad and the good comes out of bad and the bad out of good, and the devil take the hindmost.”

Tragi-comic diversions – “Goodbye to Berlin”, Christopher Isherwood Thu, 17 May 2012 03:02:00 +0000 “My existence, in comparison with yours, is sadly hum-drum, I fear… Nevertheless, there are certain tragi-comic diversions.”

“What sort of diversions?”

“This for example –“ Bernhard went over to his writing-desk picked up a sheet of paper and handed it to me: “It arrived by post this morning.”
I read the typed words: Berhard Landauer, beware. We are going to settle the score with you and your uncle and all other filthy Jews. We give you twenty-four hours to leave Germany. If not, you are a dead man.

Bernhard laughed: “Bloodthirsty, isn’t it?”

“It’s incredible.. Who do you suppose sent it?”

“An employee who has been dismissed, perhaps. Or a practical joker. Or a madman. Or a hot-headed Nazi schoolboy.”

“What shall you do?”


“Surely you’ll tell the police?”

“My dear Christopher, the police would very soon get tired with hearing such nonsense. WE receive three or four such letters every week.”
“All the same, this one may quite well be in earnest… The Nazis may write like schoolboys, but they’re capable of anything. That’s just why they’re so dangerous. People laugh at them, right up to the last moment…”

Berhard smiled his tired smile: “I appreciate very much this anxiety of yours on my behalf. Nevertheless, I am quite unworthy of it… My existence is not of such vital importance to myself or to others that the forces of the Law should be called upon to protect me… As for my uncles he is at present in Warsaw…”

Interest and Power – “Goodbye to Berlin”, Christopher Isherwood Thu, 17 May 2012 00:30:34 +0000 If Otto wishes to humiliate Peter, Peter in his different way, also wishes to humiliate Otto. He wants to force Otto into making a certain kind of submission to his will, and this submission Otto refuses instinctively to make. Otto is naturally and healthily selfish, like an animal. If there are two chairs in a room, he will take the more comfortable one without hesitation, because it never even occurs to him to consider Peter’s comfort. Peter’s selfishness is much less honest, more civilised, more perverse. Appealed to in the right way, he will make and sacrifice, however unreasonable and unnecessary. But when Otto takes the better chair as if by right, then Peter immediately sees a challenge which he dare not refuse to accept. I suppose that – given their two natures – there is no possible escape from this situation. Peter is bound to go on fighting to win Otto’s submission. When, at last, he ceases to do so, it will merely mean that he has lost interest in Otto altogether.

‘Don’t start being English – “Goodbye to Berlin”, Christopher Isherwood Wed, 16 May 2012 05:31:43 +0000 ‘Do you mind if I lie down on your sofa, darling?’ Sally asked, as soon as we were alone.
‘No, of course not.’

Sally pulled off her cap, swung her little velvet shoes up on to the sofa, opened her bag and began powdering: ‘I’m most terribly tired. I didn’t sleep a wink last night. I’ve got a marvellous new lover.’

I began to put out the tea. Sally gave me a sidelong glance:

‘Do I shock you when I talk like that, Christopher darling?’

‘Not in the least.’

‘But you don’t like it?’

‘It’s no business of mine.’ I handed her a tea-glass.

‘Oh, for God’s sake,’ cried Sally, ‘Don’t start being English! Of course it’s your business what you think!’

‘Well then, if you want to know, it rather bores me.’

This annoyed her even more than I had intended. Her tone changed: she said coldly: ‘I thought you’d understand.’ She sighed: ‘But I forgot – you’re a man.’

‘I’m sorry, Sally. I can’t help being a man of course… But please don’t be angry with me. I only mean that when you talk like that it’s really just nervousness. You’re naturally rather shy with strangers, I think: so you’ve got into this trick of trying to bounce them into approving or disapproving of you, violently. I know, because I try it myself, sometimes.. Only I wish you wouldn’t try it on me, because it just doesn’t work and it only makes me feel embarrassed. If you go to bed with every single man in Berlin and come and tell me about it each time, you still won’t convince me that you’re La Dame aux Camelias – because, really and truly, you know, you aren’t.”

‘Everything is at root dependent on politics’ – “On the Wealth of Nations”, P.J. O’Rourke Wed, 16 May 2012 03:01:23 +0000 It was Rousseau, and definitely not Smith, who wrote, ‘Everything is at root dependent on politics’.

Smith on ‘Theorisers’ – “On the Wealth of Nations”, P.J. O’Rourke Wed, 16 May 2012 00:31:15 +0000 The danger of theoretical systems was something that Smith addressed with his own theory in part 6 of The Theory of Moral Sentiments. This section of the book was actually written after The Wealth of Nations. Moral Sentiments had been published in 1759 when Smith was teaching at Glasgow. But Smith revised it in 1789. By then he had met the physiocrats and had been exposed to their system of political economy. In part 6, titled ‘Of the Character of Virtue’, Smith located the evil of political systems in – per the great theme of Moral Sentiments – lack of imagination. Creating a theoretical political system does take imagination, but, Smith argued, there’s an unimaginative side to putting it into practice:

“From a certain spirit of system… we sometimes seem to value the means more than the end, and to be eager to promote the happiness of our fellow-creatures, rather from a view to perfect and improve a certain beautiful and orderly system, than from any immediate sense or feeling of what they either suffer or enjoy.”

Theorisers, Smith wrote, can become ‘intoxicated with the imaginary beauty of this ideal system’ until ‘that public spirit which is founded upon the love of humanity’ is corrupted by a spirit of system that ‘inflames it even to the madness of fanaticism.’

Smith on the Balance of Trade – “On the Wealth of Nations”, P.J. O’Rourke Tue, 15 May 2012 05:31:33 +0000 Smith wrote: ‘There is no commercial country in Europe of which the approaching ruin has not frequently been foretold.. from an unfavourable balance of trade,’ Smith wrote, making the news in the New York Times and the Washington Post very old news indeed. ‘Nothing,’ Smith wrote, ‘can be more absurd than this whole doctrine of the balance of trade.’ As Smith had already made clear, every freely conducted trade is balanced by definition. The definition doesn’t change because one trade gets an iPod and the other gets an IOU.

Self Interest – “On the Wealth of Nations”, P.J. O’Rourke Tue, 15 May 2012 03:01:10 +0000 The law ought always to trust people with the care of their own interest, as…they must generally be able to judge better of it than the legislator can do.

Central Banking and the Money Supply – “On the Wealth of Nations”, P.J. O’Rourke Tue, 15 May 2012 00:31:33 +0000 A central bank is the institution that controls the supply of a country’s money. This would be a straightforward matter if it weren’t for three facts: Money is imaginary. Banking doesn’t involve money. And a central bank isn’t a bank.

Specialization – “On the Wealth of Nations”, P.J. O’Rourke Mon, 14 May 2012 05:31:59 +0000 The purpose of division of labor, wrote Smith, is “to make a smaller quantity of labour produce a greater quantity of work.” Smith perceived that the division of labor—specialization—is the original source of economic growth.

Liberty and Property – “On the Wealth of Nations”, P.J. O’Rourke Mon, 14 May 2012 03:01:59 +0000 Any definition of liberty that is not based on a right to property and a right to the same rights as all other people have is meaningless. What we have is ours, and nobody can push us around. This is practically all we mean when we say we are free. Other rights derive from these, when we even bother with those other rights.

Smith on Corporate Lobbying – “On the Wealth of Nations”, P.J. O’Rourke Mon, 14 May 2012 00:30:53 +0000 Smith was not a fan of what would come to be called lobbying:

“The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from [merchants or manufacturers] ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined… with the most suspicious attention.”

Dogs – “On the Wealth of Nations”, P.J. O’Rourke Sun, 13 May 2012 05:31:51 +0000 “Nobody,” Adam Smith wrote in Wealth, “ever saw a dog make a fair and deliberate exchange of one bone for another with another dog.

Smith and Society – “On the Wealth of Nations”, P.J. O’Rourke Sun, 13 May 2012 03:02:57 +0000 We must treat other people with respect due equals not because we are inspired by principle or filled with fraternal affection but because we’re pathetic and useless.

Smith wrote that an individual “stands at all times in need of the co-operation and assistance of great multitudes, while his whole life is scare sufficient to gain the friendship of a few persons”.

This nearly left-wing statement was the prologue to Adam Smith’s most quoted passage: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.

The whole business of authority is to interfere in other people’s business – “On the Wealth of Nations”, P.J. O’Rourke Sun, 13 May 2012 00:30:23 +0000 The whole business of authority is to interfere in other people’s business.

Wealth is not a pizza – “On the Wealth of Nations”, P.J. O’Rourke Sat, 12 May 2012 05:31:32 +0000 Economic progress depends upon a trinity of individual prerogatives: pursuit of self-interest, division of labor, and freedom of trade….

Smith’s logical demonstration of how productivity is increased through self-interest, division of labor , and trade disproved the thesis (still dearly held by leftists and everyone’s little brother) that bettering the condition of one person necessarily worsens the condition of another. Wealth is not a pizza. If I have too many slices, you don’t have to eat the dominos box.

On Trailblazing and Language – “On the Wealth of Nations”, P.J. O’Rourke Sat, 12 May 2012 03:02:43 +0000 When Adam Smith was being incomprehensible, he didn’t have the luxury of brief, snappy technical terms as a shorthand for incoherence.

Either by the splendour of genius, or the adroitness of corruption – “My Reading Life” – Bob Carr Sat, 12 May 2012 00:31:34 +0000 But (The Protagonist of Lost Illusions) is subject to what Balzac calls the ‘pitiless laws of society’. Great expression, that. And here are some of those awful laws, expressed by one of Lucien’s Paris acquaintances:

“Do you know how a man makes his way in this world? Either by the splendour of genius, or the adroitness of corruption. He must burst like a cannon-ball into the ranks of his fellow-men, or he must glide in among them like the pestilence.”

Treason is a matter of dates – “My Reading Life” – Bob Carr Fri, 11 May 2012 05:31:29 +0000 To be right before one’s time is to be wrong – I suppose this is an eternal truth. As Talleyrand advised, ‘Treason is a matter of dates.’

The Jefferson Bible – “My Reading Life” – Bob Carr Fri, 11 May 2012 03:00:09 +0000 (Thomas) Jefferson wanted to rescue all this from what the evangelists had pasted into the pages of the Bible, which seemed to be:

“of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same Being. I separate, therefore, the gold from the dross; restore to Him the former, and leave the latter to the stupidity of some, and the roguery of others of His disciples.”

And so he produced The Jefferson Bible, subtitled The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazerth, in which he stripped out the miracles but retained the moral teachings. Jefferson removes the overlays from the biblical palimpsest.

Both you and he will be dead, and your very names will quickly be forgotten – “My Reading Life” – Bob Carr Fri, 11 May 2012 00:31:08 +0000 (Aurelius’ Meditations) does however, suggest two consolations. First, men are not intentional evildoers. And, second, their ‘enmities, suspicions, animosities and conflicts’ will vanish with the dust and ashes:

“That men of a certain type should behave as they do is inevitable. To wish it otherwise were to wish the fig-tree would not yield its juice. In any case, remember that in a very little while both you and he will be dead, and your very names will quickly be forgotten.”

The Melancholy of the Antique World – “My Reading Life” – Bob Carr Thu, 10 May 2012 05:31:08 +0000 Gustave Flaubert, in a letter to a friend, speculated on the ‘melancholy of the antique world’ being more profound than that of our modern world because there was no hope of life beyond the grave. Flaubert went on to say that for the ancients therefore, that:

“’Black hole’ was infinity itself; their dreams loom and vanish against a background of immutable ebony. No crying out, no convulsions – nothing but the fixity of a pensive gaze. With the gods gone, and Christ not yet come, there was a unique moment, from Cicero to Marcus Aurelius, when man stood alone. Nowhere else do I find that particular grandeur.”

Labor: A source of Drama – “My Reading Life” – Bob Carr Thu, 10 May 2012 03:01:46 +0000 Rawson’s Book (Labor in Vain?: A Survey of the ALP, 1966) is sound political science, readable and relevant. Flciking it open, years after I reviewed it for the student paper, I’m struck now by this insight into the ALP:

“The ALP has always been a great source of drama, high and low comedy and even a little tragedy. Even when it is a political failure – or perhaps especially at those times – it is an unending source of human interest. It has provided a good broad canvas packed with a great variety of incident. It abounds in examples of nearly every human type except, of course, those who have no interest in gaining power and influence over their fellow men. It illustrates idealism and cynicism and the path from one to the other; it illustrates poverty and riches and poor men who want to become rich; ignorance and wisdom and ignorant men who seek to become wise. It shows most of the principal divisions of Australian humanity – men and women, working class and middle class, Catholic and Protestant, older and younger – in a magnified though also distorted form as they endeavour within or by means of the party to produce an environment in which they can be content.”

The Centre Must Have an Ideology – “My Reading Life” – Bob Carr Thu, 10 May 2012 00:31:24 +0000 (Crosland) believed that the Centre in the Labour Party must have an ideology, that it cannot simply disagree with the Marxists. Those at the centre must hammer the fact that they are ideologists too.

Kill a Chicken to Scare the Monkey – “My Reading Life” – Bob Carr Wed, 09 May 2012 05:31:01 +0000 Mao said to a party gathering in 1968 about a colleague, Marshal He Long, ‘Now it seems we can no longer protect him’. Chilling. It was the chairman’s perverse way of announcing a political execution. As Mao said on another occasion, you kill a chicken to scare the monkey.

When There is Much You Can’t Say, Have a Story Ready – “My Reading Life” – Bob Carr Wed, 09 May 2012 03:02:52 +0000 Vidal has Lincoln say:

“When there is so much you cannot say, it’s always a good idea to have a story ready. I do it now from habit… In my predicament, it is a good thing to know all sorts of stories because the truth of the whole matter is now almost unsayable; and so cruel.”

LBJ and the Civil Rights Act – “My Reading Life” – Bob Carr Wed, 09 May 2012 00:30:56 +0000 The Civil Rights Act of 1957, not in itself as revolutionary as its supporters hoped or its detractors feared, opened the door to later, more substantial legislative reparation to Blacks. Not until the next decade could Southern Black Children share a classroom with white Americans; not until the next decade could Southern Black adults eat a sandwich at the same lunch counter as whites. But in the context of the times the ‘meagre’ – (Robert) Caro’s word – 1957 Act was the indisputable first step.

Let’s dwell on the rhetoric of that moment – the limited advances that cleared the way for legal and political equality. In a 1957 speech a few hours before the vote, Johnson said, ‘I cannot follow the logic of those who say that because we cannot solve all the problems we should not try to solve any of them.’

A Second Class Intellect – “My Reading Life” – Bob Carr Tue, 08 May 2012 05:32:05 +0000 “A second-class intellect but a first-class temperament.” That was the verdict of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr on Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Political Speechmaking – “My Reading Life” – Bob Carr Tue, 08 May 2012 03:01:31 +0000 Of (Warren Harding’s) oratory, Mencken said:

“It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the lines; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it.”

Orwell’s Passions – “My Reading Life” – Bob Carr Tue, 08 May 2012 00:31:07 +0000 This, however, is my favourite piece of (Orwell’s) wisdom:

“So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information.”

Orwell on Journalists and Communists – “My Reading Life” – Bob Carr Mon, 07 May 2012 05:31:31 +0000 (Orwell) could say of a Russian agent encountered in Spain:

‘it was the first time that I had seen a person whose profession was telling lies – unless one counts journalists.’

The Search for Perfection is a Recipe for Bloodshed – “My Reading Life” – Bob Carr Mon, 07 May 2012 03:01:38 +0000 (Isaiah) Berlin takes his analysis a step further. He writes that such a

“search for perfection does seem to me a recipe for bloodshed, no better even if it is demanded by the sincerest of idealists, the purest of heard… To force people into the neat uniforms demanded by dogmatically believed in schemes is almost always the road to inhumanity.”

The Writer as Witness, Not Judge – “My Reading Life” – Bob Carr Mon, 07 May 2012 00:31:05 +0000 But Levi is mostly witness rather than judge: ‘I have deliberately assumed the calm, sober language of the witness, neither the lamenting tones of the victim nor the irate voice of someone who seeks revenge.’ He wrote in an afterword added in the 1980s. ‘I thought that my account would be all the more credible and useful the more it appeared objective and the less it sounded overly emotional; only in this way does a witness in matters of justice perform his task, which is that of preparing the ground for the judge. The judges are my readers.’

The Literature of Testimony – “My Reading Life” – Bob Carr Sun, 06 May 2012 05:31:00 +0000 The most important book of the twentieth century: Primo Levi’s If this is a Man. Because it is the best of all the books in the literature of testimony. Because it is a monument to all who were killed in the last century by totalitarian dictatorships. Because it tells us what humans are capable of.

Lazy Reading – “My Reading Life” – Bob Carr Sun, 06 May 2012 03:02:38 +0000 Still, for many years my own reading was lazy – too much biography, current affairs and ephemeral political economy. Why didn’t I tackle War and Peace? Or reread James Joyce, first explored at University? Why didn’t I start reading Dostoyevsky in my forties? The answer is I was scared of being bored. There were no ‘How to Read’ books, no books on the canon. I needed someone, in effect, tp place a comforting arm on my shoulder and say, ‘Now Tolstoy isn’t that hard. Persist with the Russian names in the first fifty pages. Remember that there are two key characters, Andrey and Pierre.’ A bit of guidance, a few clues. That would have been enough. A reader needs a handful of notions so they don’t think they are going to drown, some idea of ‘Where is this writer taking me?’ And that’s enough to start.

Shakespeare’s Phrases – “Shakespeare” – Bill Bryson Sun, 06 May 2012 00:30:54 +0000 His real gift was as a phrase maker. ‘Shakespeare’s language,’ says Stanley Wells, ‘has a quality, difficult to define, of memorability that has cause many phrases to enter the common language.’ Among them: one fell swoop, vanish into thin air, bag and baggage, play fast and loose, go down the primrose path, be in a pickle, budge an inch, the milk of human kindness, more sinned against than sinning, remembrance of things past beggar all description, cold comfort, to thine own self be true, more in sorrow than in anger, the wish is father to the thought, salad days, flesh and blood, foul play, tower of strength, be cruel to be kind, blinking idiot, with bated breath, pomp and circumstance, foregone conclusion – and many others so repetitiously irresistible that we have debased them into clichés. He was so prolific that he could (in Hamlet) put two in a single sentence: ‘Though I am native here and to the manner born, it is a custom more honoured in the breach than the observance.’

Shakespeare’s Words – “Shakespeare” – Bill Bryson Sat, 05 May 2012 05:31:30 +0000 Among the words first found in Shakespeare are abstemious, antipathy, critical, frugal, dwindle, extract, horrid, vast, hereditary, excellent, eventful, barefaced, assassination, lonely, leapfrog, indistinguishable, well-read, zany and countless others (including countless)… He was particularly prolific, as David Chrystal points out, when it came to attaching un- prefixes to existing words to make new words that no one had thought of before – unmask, unhand, unlock, untie, unveil and no fewer than 309 others in a similar vein. Consider how helplessly prolix the alternatives to any of these terms are and you appreciate how much punch Shakespeare gave English.

Shakespeare and Profanity – “Shakespeare” – Bill Bryson Sat, 05 May 2012 03:01:35 +0000 Where Ben Jonson manured his plays, as it were, with frequent interjections of ‘turd I’ your teeth’, ‘shit o’ your head’, and ‘I fart at thee,’ Shakespeares audiences had to be content with a very occasional ‘a pox on’t’, ‘God’s bread,’ and one ‘whoreson jacknapes’.

Appeals to Authority – “Shakespeare” – Bill Bryson Sat, 05 May 2012 00:31:29 +0000 As Shakespeare himself put it in a much misquoted line: ‘The Devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.’

London Bridge in Shakespearean London – “Shakespeare” – Bill Bryson Fri, 04 May 2012 05:31:26 +0000 By long tradition, at the Southwark end of (London) bridge the heads of serious criminals, especially traitors, were displayed on poles, each serving as a kind of odd and grisly bird-feeder. (The rest of the bodies were hung aabove the entrance gates to the city, or distributed to other cities across the realm.) There were so many heads, indeed, that it was necessary to employ a Keeper of the Heads.

Births and Deaths in Shakespearean London – “Shakespeare” – Bill Bryson Fri, 04 May 2012 03:01:14 +0000 In nearly every year for at least two and a half centuries, deaths outnumbered births in London. Only the steady influx of ambitious provincials and Protestant refugees from the Continent kept the population growing – and grow it did, from 50,000 in 1500 to four times that by century’s end… by the peak years of Elizabeth’s reign, London was one of the great cities of Europe, exceeded in size only by Paris and Naples…. But survival was ever a struggle. Nowhere in the metropolis did life expectancy exceed thirty-five years, and in some poorer districts it was barely twenty-five. The London that William Shakespeare first encountered was overwhelmingly a youthful place.

England and the Gregorian Calendar – “Shakespeare” – Bill Bryson Fri, 04 May 2012 00:30:30 +0000 Shakespeare was borng under the old Julian Calendar, not the Gregorian, which wasn’t created until 1582, when Shakespeare was already old enough to marry…. Because the Gregorian calendar was of foreign design and commemorated a Pope (Gregory XIII), it was rejected in Britain until 1751, so for most of Shakespeare’s life, and 135 years beyond, dates in Britain and the rest of Europe were considerably at variance – a matter that has bedevilled historians ever since.

The Population of England in Shakespearean Times – “Shakespeare” – Bill Bryson Thu, 03 May 2012 05:32:19 +0000 William Shakespeare was born into a world that was short of people and struggled to keep those it had. In 1564 England had a population of between three and five million – much less than three hundred years earlier, when plague began to take a continuous toll.

So Australia should never use our population as an excuse for lack of ambition…

Learning About Women – “Novel Without a Name” – Duong Thu Huong Thu, 03 May 2012 02:59:52 +0000 I had learned about women on a hill in central Vietnam, from a woman in heat, round as a sausage, slick with sweat.

And Hoa? Who had it been for her? I didn’t have the heart to ask her the name of the father of her child.

Never. We Never forget anything, never lose anything, never exchange anything, never undo what has been. There is no way back to the source, to the place where the pure, clear water once gushed forth. The river had cut across the countryside, the towns, dragging refuse and mud in its wake.

It Was Terrifying – “Novel Without a Name” – Duong Thu Huong Thu, 03 May 2012 00:33:04 +0000 It’s not our fault… Not your fault. Or mine. What’s important is that I love you.” I took her hands. She began to sob again, her whole body shuddering. She held me. Her hands burned. “Don’t cry. Listen to me.” I stuttered something. I couldn’t speak clearly anymore. I held this woman in my arms. She felt so close to me, and yet so strange. I loved her, feared her. It was terrifying. These feelings grew, crystallising inside me.

Bullets May Miss People But No One Dodged a Bullet – “Novel Without a Name” – Duong Thu Huong Wed, 02 May 2012 05:22:34 +0000 I stayed stretched out like that for a long time. The ground beneath me was scorching now; the fog had evaporated and the grass had turned a deeper shade of green. The sound of an airplane rumbled overhead. I didn’t care. Why bother running for cover? I thought: Bullets may miss people, but no one dodges a bullet. I got up and looked at the carpet of grass. It had been ten years since I had seen such beauty. What miracle had allowed this patch to survive so many bombings? It was an unreal beauty, like a satin ribbon discarded along the shattered, bumpy road of the war.

Thomas Jefferson: “Don’t Feed the Trolls” – “Mudslingers: The Twenty-Five Dirtiest Political Campaigns of All Time” – Kerwin Swint Wed, 02 May 2012 03:00:02 +0000 The inauguration of Thomas Jefferson was the first held in the new capital city of Washington, D.C. In his inaugural address, Jefferson attempted to move beyond party distinctions and unify the country once again.

“We are all Republicans; We are all Federalists,” he said. “If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union, or to change its Republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.

Adams v Jefferson – “Mudslingers: The Twenty-Five Dirtiest Political Campaigns of All Time” – Kerwin Swint Wed, 02 May 2012 00:30:55 +0000 One pro-Adams newspaper warned that if Jefferson were elected, “murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood, and the nation black with crimes.” Jefferson’s religious views were attacked as the vies of an infidel who “writes aghast the truths of God’s words; who makes not even a profession of Christianity; who is without Sabbaths; without the sanctuary, and without so much as a decent external respect for the faith and worship of Christians.”

CREEP – “Mudslingers: The Twenty-Five Dirtiest Political Campaigns of All Time” – Kerwin Swint Tue, 01 May 2012 05:31:09 +0000 The main goals of (the Committee to Re-elect the President), as Segretti and his accomplices later told reporters and investigators, were to torpedo the campaigns of Democrats they thought to be a serious threat to Nixon’s reelection, and to wreak havoc among the Democratic campaigns, creating ill will and sore feelings. “The main purpose was that the Democrats not have the ability to get back together after a knock-down drag-out campaign,” according to Segretti.

Their style of disrupting and harassing rival political campaigns was known to them as “ratfucking”. Their main target in early 1972 was Ed Muskie. According to the political pundits and pollsters, Muskie was the man to beat for the Democratic nomination. As the front-runner for the nomination, expectations for him were high heading into the New Hampshire primary – some estimates had him winning 65% of the vote.

Then came the “Canuck letter”. Segretti and Ken Clawson, a White House communications deputy, had cooked up a letter and sent it to William Loeb, the publisher of the Manchester Union Leader- an influential conservative newspaper in Manchester, New Hampshire. The letter claimed that at a campaign meeting in Ft Lauderdale, a Muskie campaign aid had cracked a joke about French Canadians living in New England. “We don’t have blacks, but we do have Canucks”, the aid supposedly said. To this, Senator Muskie was reported to have agreed and laughingly said, “Come to New England and see”.

Two weeks before the New Hampshire primary and one day before Muskie was to campaign there, the Union Leader published an anti-Muskie editorial on its front page, entitled “Senator Muskie Insults Franco-Americans”. The paper accused Muskie of hypocrisy for supporting blacks while condoning the term “Canucks”. A copy of the Canuck letter accompanied the editorial.
The very next day, Loeb reprinted a two-month-old Newsweek article about Senator Muskie’s wife, entitled “Big Daddy’s Jane.” This piece reported that Mrs Muskie was a chain-smoker, drank too much, and used off-colour language on the campaign plane.

The next morning, the Muskie campaign started to unravel. The Senator appeared in front of the headquarters of the Union Leader in a driving snow storm. Standing on a flatbed truck, he addressed a gathering of supporters, along with the media covering his campaign, and attacked Loeb as a “gutless coward”. As he spoke about the charges against his wife, his voice halted as he choked back tears.

Lying to School Children – “Mudslingers: The Twenty-Five Dirtiest Political Campaigns of All Time” – Kerwin Swint Tue, 01 May 2012 03:00:32 +0000 The next day (Charles) Robb responded with a second ad that called (Ollie) North a liar:

“After lying about President Reagan and even lying to schoolchildren, now Oliver North is lying about Chuck Robb. Chuck Robb has never had anything to do with illegal drugs – period. B what North doesn’t understand is the real issue in this campaign is the candidate’s record of public service. Chuck Robb has a proven record of public service, while North’s public record includes putting himself above the law by selling arms to terrorists and backdating documents to conceal that some of the money went to his personal use. Oliver North – people are starting to wonder if he knows what the truth is.”

Negative Information – “Mudslingers: The Twenty-Five Dirtiest Political Campaigns of All Time” – Kerwin Swint Tue, 01 May 2012 00:32:14 +0000 (Mike) Murphy responded as most consultants do: “People say that they don’t like negative ads, but negative information is an important part of their decision-making. It works. Campaigns are a ‘whatever works’ kind of world.

One of Us – “Mudslingers: The Twenty-Five Dirtiest Political Campaigns of All Time” – Kerwin Swint Mon, 30 Apr 2012 00:31:02 +0000 To Jesse Helms, politics and ideology were simple, black and white. He saw it as right versus wrong, good versus evil. His slogan for the 1972 Senate campaign was “He’s one of us.” It appeared in television ads and in flyers distributed around the state….

It also implied that the opponent was not “one of us”. It was criticised by many newspaper editorials and by the Democratic Party as an open appeal to racism. His opponent accused Helms of trying to divide North Carolinians. “He’s using an ‘us versus them’ mentality,” one local Democrat said. Who did he mean by “them”? Blacks? Liberals? War Protestors? Probably all of the above.

(In 1990,while running against a black opponent) Helms and his media consultant, Alex Castellanos, created the ad that has come to be known as the “White Hands” spot. The ad- which very likely sewed up the race for Helms- showed the arms and hands of a white male opening, then crumpling up, a rejection letter. An announcer says, “You need that job, and you were the best qualified. But they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota. Is that really fair? Havey Gantt says it is. Gannt supports Ted Kennedy’s racial quota law that make the color of your skin more important than your qualifications. You’ll vote on this issue next Tuesday. For racial quotas, Harvey Gantt. Against racial quotas, Jesse Helms.”

This ad really struck a chord with North Carolina voters, as Helms began moving up in the polls immediataely after it started airing.

Daisy Girl – “Mudslingers: The Twenty-Five Dirtiest Political Campaigns of All Time” – Kerwin Swint Sun, 29 Apr 2012 05:31:55 +0000 The ‘Daisy Girl’ spot was intended to play on the fears and anxieties about Goldwater that he himself had created. The ad opens with a young girl sitting in a field of flowers, picking daisies as she counts them….

At zero, the camera zooms in to the girl’s eyes and we see a nuclear explosion, with a billowing mushroom cloud. Then, Lyndon Johnson’s voice is heard, with a warning: “These are the stakes – to make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die.” An announcer then says, “Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.”

The ad never mentioned Goldwater by name. It did not have to; viewers knew exactly what the ad was trying to communicate. …

The ad only aired once, on the CBS Monday Night at the Movies, on September 7, 1964…. The ad created such a senation that the next day all three networks showed it in its entirety on their evening news programs, enabling many more people to see the ad and so magnifying the effects. The Goldwater campaign reacted with fury, loudly criticising the Johnson campaign and filing a formal complaint with the Fair Campaign Practices Committee. In the end, all the fuss the Republicans raise about the ad only ensured that it would get more attention.

The Johnson campaign struck again a few days later with a different little girl. This ad also aired only once, on Saturday Night at the Movies. The girl is licking an ice cream cone. No nuclear explosions this time, but a female announcer warns us that Strontium 90, present in nuclear fallout, could be poisoning her and she wouldn’t even know it. But the announcer informs us that thanks to the nuclear test ban treaty, which Goldwater oppsed, the child is safe…. When Goldwater rejected the test ban and called for more nuclear testing, it ‘played right into [the Johnson cmapign’s] hands.”

Upton Sinclair – “Mudslingers: The Twenty-Five Dirtiest Political Campaigns of All Time” – Kerwin Swint Sun, 29 Apr 2012 03:03:50 +0000 In 1934 (Upton Sinclair) abandoned the Socialist Party and then entered the Democratic Party Primary for governor. He reasoned that a Socialist could not get elected; he had to win an election before he could enact a single policy.

He based his campaign on a utopian novel he had just written, called, I, Governor of California, and How I Ended Poverty: A True Story of the Future.

Red Army Political Arrests – “Berlin: The Downfall 1945” – Antony Beevor Sun, 29 Apr 2012 00:31:58 +0000 The proportion of political arrests in the Red Army doubled from 1944 to 1945, a year when the Soviet Union was effectively at war for little more than four months. In that year of victory, no fewer than 135,056 Red Army soldiers and officers were condemned by military tribunals for ‘counter-revolutionary crimes’….

Over 1.5 million members of the Red Army captured by the Germans were sent either to the Gulag (339,000 of them), or to labour battalions in Siberia and the far North, which was hardly better. Civilians taken by force to Germany were ‘potential enemies of the state’ to be kept under NKVD watch. They were also forbidden to go within 100 kilometers of Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev, and their families remained suspect. Even as late at 1998, declaration forms for joining a research institute in Russia still contained a section demanding whether any member of the applicant’s family had been in an ‘enemy prison camp’.

Rape in Occupied Berlin – “Berlin: The Downfall 1945” – Antony Beevor Sat, 28 Apr 2012 05:31:24 +0000 Berliners remember that, because all the windows had been blown in, you could hear the screams every night. Estimates from the two main Berlin hospitals ranged from 95,000 to 130,000 rape victims. One doctor deduced that out of approximately 100,000 women raped in Berlin, some 10,000 died as a result, mostly from suicide. The death rate was thought to be much higher among the 1.4 million who had suffered in East Prussia, Pomerania and Silesia. Altogether at least 2 million German women are thought to have been raped, and a substantial minority, if not majority, appear to have suffered multiple rape.

German Chutzpah – “Berlin: The Downfall 1945” – Antony Beevor Sat, 28 Apr 2012 02:59:44 +0000 Like the other Russians present, Grossman was taken aback when a burgermeister, on being told to provide working parties to clear streets, asked, ‘How much will the people be paid?’ After the way Soviet citizens had been treated as slave labourers in Germany, the answer was obvious. ‘Everyone here certainly seems to have a very strong idea of their rights,’ observed Grossman.

The Goebbels Family – “Berlin: The Downfall 1945” – Antony Beevor Sat, 28 Apr 2012 00:31:17 +0000 Freytag von Loringhoven was at the bottom of the stairs when he suddenly saw Magda Goebbels descend the concrete stairs, following by her six children. She looked ‘sehr damenhft’ – ‘very ladylike’. The six children behind ranged from twelve years old down to five: Helga, Hilde, Helmut, Holde, Hedda and Heide. Their first names, all beginning with the same letter, had not been chosen like a class of warships, but to honour the place in the alphabet marked by the Fuhrer’s name. They descended the stairs like a school crocodile. Their pale faces stood out against their dark coats. Helga, the oldest, looked very sad, but she did not cry.Hitler knew and approved of the decision by Joseph and Magda Goebbels to kill their children before they killed themselves. This proof of total loyalty prompted him to present her with his own gold Nazi Party badge, which he always wore on his tunic. The arrival of the children in the bunker had a momentarily sobering effect. Everyone who saw them enter knew that they would be murdered by their parent as part of a Fuhrerdammerung.

History – the Lived Experience – “Berlin: The Downfall 1945” – Antony Beevor Fri, 27 Apr 2012 05:30:05 +0000 ‘These are strange times,’ she added in the large sales ledger which she used as her diary. ‘One experiences history in the marking, things which one day will fill the history books. But while living through it, everything dissolves into petty worries and fears. History is very tiresome. Tomorrow I’m going to look for nettles and try to find some coal.’

Lascivious Embraces – “Berlin: The Downfall 1945” – Antony Beevor Fri, 27 Apr 2012 03:01:36 +0000 Perhaps as a side-effect of this law linking death with sexual maturity, the arrival of the enemy at the edge of the city made young soldiers desperate to lose their virginity. Girls, well aware of the high risk of rape, preferred to give themselves to almost any German boy first than to a drunken and probably violent Soviet soldier.

‘An erotic fever seemed to have taken possession of everybody. Everywhere, even on the dentist’s chair, I saw bodies locked in lascivious embraces. The women had discarded all modesty and were freely exposing their private parts.’

Ivan is Here – “Berlin: The Downfall 1945” – Antony Beevor Fri, 27 Apr 2012 00:32:28 +0000 A telephone suddenly rang (in the German Zossen HQ). One of the Russian soldiers answered it. The caller was evidently a senior German officer asking what was happening. ‘Ivan is here,’ the soldier replied in Russian, and told him to go to hell.

Optimists and Pessimists – “The Fall of Berlin 1945” – Antony Beevor Thu, 26 Apr 2012 05:31:45 +0000 As the allied armies approached the hear of Germany from both directions, Berliners claimed that optimists were ‘learning English and pessimists learning Russian’.

“The Fall of Berlin 1945” – Antony Beevor Thu, 26 Apr 2012 03:01:08 +0000 Then Roosevelt announced without warning that United States forces would not remain in Europe for more than two years after Germany’s surrender. Churchill was privately appalled.

The US and the Eastern Front – “Berlin: The Downfall 1945” – Antony Beevor Thu, 26 Apr 2012 00:31:30 +0000 Significantly, there has been little acknowledgement by Russian historians that if it had not been for American Lend-Lease trucks, the Red Army’s advance would have taken far longer and the Western Allies might well have reached Berlin first.

A Real Refugee Crisis – “Berlin: The Downfall 1945” – Antony Beevor Wed, 25 Apr 2012 05:28:37 +0000 Between 12 January and mid-February 1945, almost 8.5 million Germans fled their homes in the eastern provinces of the Reich.

Speer’s Resistance to Scorched Earth – “Berlin: The Downfall 1945” – Antony Beevor Wed, 25 Apr 2012 03:02:30 +0000 It was Albert Speer’s latest memorandum which had suddenly triggered Hitler’s insistence on a scorched-earth policy to the end. When Speer tried to persuade Hitler in the early hours of that morning that bridges should not be blown up unnecessarily, because their destruction meant ‘eliminating all further possibility for the German people to survive’, Hitler’s reply revealed his contempt for them all. ‘This time you will receive a written reply to your memorandum,’ Hitler told him. ‘If the war is lost, the people will also be lost and it is not necessary to worry about their needs for elemental survival. On the contrary, it is best for us to destroy even these things. For the nation has proved to be weak, and the future belongs entirely to the strong people of the East. Whatever remains after this battle is in any case only the inadequate, because the good ones will be dead.’

Communism Expectations of Economic Security – “Berlin: The Downfall 1945” – Antony Beevor Wed, 25 Apr 2012 00:32:29 +0000 Red Army soldiers were astonished to see wirelesses in so many houses. The evidence of their eyes strongly implied that the Soviet Union was perhaps not quite the workers’ and peasants’ paradise they had been told. East Prussian farms produced a mixture of bewilderment, jealousy, admiration and anger which alarmed political officers.

Russian Troops and German Standards of Living – “Berlin: The Downfall 1945” – Antony Beevor Tue, 24 Apr 2012 05:31:01 +0000 (Russian Troops) were also furious to find a standard of living among peasant farmers far higher than anything that they had ever imagined. This provoked outrage at the idea that Germans, who had already been living so well, should have invaded the Soviet Union to loot and destroy.

Berlin and Stalingrad – “Berlin: The Downfall 1945” – Antony Beevor Tue, 24 Apr 2012 03:02:01 +0000 On 1 February 1943, an angry Soviet colonel collared a group of emaciated German prisoners in the rubble of Stalingrad. ‘That’s how Berlin is going to look!’ he yelled, point to the ruined buildings all around. When I read those words some six years ago, I sensed immediately what my next book had to be.

The Before and the After of Life – “The God Delusion” – Richard Dawkins Tue, 24 Apr 2012 00:30:55 +0000 Mark Twain’s dismissal of the fear of death is another: ‘I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.’

Seneca on Religion – “The God Delusion” – Richard Dawkins Mon, 23 Apr 2012 05:32:22 +0000 Seneca the Younger: ‘Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.’

For Good People to Do Evil Things Takes Religion – “The God Delusion” – Richard Dawkins Mon, 23 Apr 2012 03:01:59 +0000 As the Nobel Prize-winning American physicist Steven Weinberg said, ‘Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion.’

Blaise Pascal (he of the wager) said something similar: ‘Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.’

Picking and Choosing – “The God Delusion” – Richard Dawkins Mon, 23 Apr 2012 00:31:56 +0000 Of course, irritated theologians will protest that we don’t take the book of Genesis literally any more. But that is my whole point! We pick and choose which bits of scripture to believe, which bits to write off as symbols or allegories. Such picking and choosing is a matter of personal decision, just as much, or as little, as the atheist’s decision to follow this moral precept or that was a personal decision, without an absolute foundation. If one of these is ‘morality flying by the seat of its pants’, so is the other.

Martin Luther – an Enemy of Reason – “The God Delusion” – Richard Dawkins Sun, 22 Apr 2012 05:29:26 +0000 Martin Luther was well aware that reason was religion’s arch-enemy, and he frequently warned of its dangers: ‘Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.’ Again: ‘Whoever wants to be a Christian should tear the eyes out of his reason.’ And again: ‘Reason should be destroyed in all Christians.’

The Charge of the Light Brigade – “The God Delusion” – Richard Dawkins Sun, 22 Apr 2012 03:01:14 +0000 Quoting Tennyson’s ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’

‘Forward the Light Brigade!
’ Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldiers knew
Some one had blundered:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.

The Awe of Understanding – “The God Delusion” – Richard Dawkins Sun, 22 Apr 2012 00:32:01 +0000 It was a concept of such stunning simplicity, but it gave rise, naturally, to all of the infinite and baffling complexity of life. The awe it inspired in me made the awe that people talk about in respect of religious experience seem, frankly, silly beside it. I’d take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.

9482 Sun, 22 Apr 2012 00:32:01 +0000

It was a concept of such stunning simplicity, but it gave rise, naturally, to all of the infinite and baffling complexity of life. The awe it inspired in me made the awe that people talk about in respect of religious experience seem, frankly, silly beside it. I’d take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.

“The God Delusion” – Richard Dawkins

Jesus and Minerva – “The God Delusion” – Richard Dawkins Sat, 21 Apr 2012 05:31:06 +0000 Thomas Jefferson, writing to his predecessor, John Adams, ‘The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.’

Jesus the Mischievous Fairy – “The God Delusion” – Richard Dawkins Sat, 21 Apr 2012 03:01:47 +0000 The gospels that didn’t make it were omitted by those ecclesiastics perhaps because they included stories that were even more embarrassingly implausible than those in the four canonical ones. The Gospel of Thomas, for example, has numerous anecdotes about the child Jesus abusing his magical powers in the manner of a mischievous fairy, impishly transforming his playmates into goats, or turning mud into sparrows, or giving his father a hand with the carpentry by miraculously lengthening a piece of wood. It will be said that nobody believes crude miracle stories such as those in the Gospel of Thomas anyway. But there is no more and no less reason to believe the four canonical gospels. All have the status of legends, as factually dubious as the stories of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.

The Test of a Miracle – “The God Delusion” – Richard Dawkins Sat, 21 Apr 2012 00:29:37 +0000 David Hume’s pithy test for a miracle comes irresistibly to mind: ‘No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish.’

Moral Choice Without Religion – “The God Delusion” – Richard Dawkins Fri, 20 Apr 2012 05:31:12 +0000 If we reject Deuteronomy and Leviticus (as all enlightened moderns do), by what criteria do we then decide which of religion’s moral values to accept} Or should we pick and choose among all the world’s religions until we find one whose moral teaching suits us? If so, again we must ask, by what criterion do we choose? And if we have independent criteria for choosing among religious moralities, why not cut out the middle man and go straight for the moral choice without the religion?

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The United States Was Not Founded As a Christian Nation – “The God Delusion” – Richard Dawkins Fri, 20 Apr 2012 02:59:00 +0000 Contrary to their view, the fact that the United States was not founded as a Christian nation was early stated in the terms of a treaty with Tripoli, drafted in 1796 under George Washington and signed by John Adams in 1797:

“As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

Goldwater’s Warning On Political Preachers – “The God Delusion” – Richard Dawkins Fri, 20 Apr 2012 00:31:00 +0000 …a – perhaps surprising – quotation from Senator Barry Goldwater in 1981, clearly showing how staunchly that presidential candidate and hero of American conservatism upheld the secular tradition of the Republic’s foundation:

“There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in A, B, C, and D. Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And l am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of conservatism.”

The Old Testament God – “The God Delusion” – Richard Dawkins Thu, 19 Apr 2012 05:32:09 +0000 The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

Dawkins and Being Offensive – “The God Delusion” – Richard Dawkins Thu, 19 Apr 2012 03:03:27 +0000 “I shall not go out of my way to offend, but nor shall I don kid gloves to handle religion any more gently than I would handle anything else.”

“Despite my dislike of gladiatorial contests, I seem somehow to have acquired a reputation for pugnacity towards religion.”

Maybe he tells himself this at night, but in the following pages he describes the religious as “mawkishly nauseating”, “insipid”, “shameless”, “gullible” and goes on to note that:

So name calling and ridicule isn’t offensive?

He then goes on to note somewhat more honestly:

“Thomas Jefferson, as so often, got it right when he said, ‘Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.’”


Survival and Luck – “If This Is A Man” – Primo Levi Mon, 16 Apr 2012 05:31:20 +0000 As for survival, this is a question that I put to myself many times and that many have put to me. I insist there was no general rule, except entering the camp in good health and knowing German. Barring this, luck dominated. I have seen the survival of shrewd people and silly people, the brave and the cowardly, “thinkers” and madmen. In my case, luck played an essential role on at least two occasions: in leading me to meet the Italian bricklayer and in my getting sick only once, but at the right moment.

The Hanging – “If This Is A Man” – Primo Levi Mon, 16 Apr 2012 03:01:16 +0000 Today it is different.

Last month one of the crematoriums at Birkenau had been blown up. None of us knows (and perhaps no one will ever know) exactly how the exploit was carried out: there was talk of the Sonderkommando, the Special Kommando attached to the gas chambers and the ovens, which is itself periodically exterminated, and which is kept scrupulously segregated from the rest of the camp. The fact remains that a few hundred men at Birkenau, helpless and exhausted slaves like ourselves, had found in themselves the strength to act, to mature the fruits of their hatred.

The man who is to die in front of us today in some way took part in the revolt. They said he had contacts with the rebels of Birkenau, that he carried arms into our camp, that he was plotting a simultaneous mutiny among us. He is to die today before our very eyes: and perhaps the Germans do not understand that this solitary death, this man’s death which has been reserved for him, will bring him glory, not infamy. At the end of the German’s speech, which nobody understood, the raucous voice of before again rose up: ‘Habt ihr verstanden?’ Have you understood?

Who answered ‘Jawohl’ ?

Everybody and nobody: it was as if our cursed resignation took body by itself, as if it turned into a collective voice above our heads. But everybody heard the cry of the doomed man, it pierced through the old thick barriers of inertia and submissiveness, it struck the living core of man in each of us: ‘Kamaraden, ich bin der Letz!’ (Comrades, I am the last one!) I wish I could say that from the midst of us, an abject flock, a voice rose, a murmur, a sign of assent. But nothing happened. We remained standing, bent and grey, our heads dropped, and we did not uncover our heads until the German ordered us to do so. The trapdoor opened, the body wriggled horribly; the band began playing again and we were once more lined up and filed past the quivering body of the dying man. At the foot of the gallows, the SS watch us pass with indifferent eyes: their work is finished, and well finished. The Russians can come now: there are no longer any strong men among us, the last one is now hanging above our heads, and as for the others, a few halters had been enough.

The Russians can come now: they will only find us, the slaves, the worn-out, worthy of the unarmed death which awaits us. To destroy a man is difficult, almost as difficult as to create one: it has not been easy, nor quick, but you Germans have succeeded. Here we are, docile under your gaze; from our side you have nothing more to fear; no acts of violence, no words of defiance, not even a look of judgement.

If I was God, I would spit at Kuhn’s prayer – “If This Is A Man” – Primo Levi Mon, 16 Apr 2012 00:30:31 +0000 Silence slowly prevails and then, from my bunk on the top row, I see and hear old Kuhn praying aloud, with his beret on his head, swaying backwards and forwards violently. Kuhn is thanking God because he has not been chosen. Kuhn is out of his senses. Does he not see Beppo the Greek in the bunk next to him, Beppo who is twenty years old and is going to the gas chamber the day after tomorrow and knows it and lies there looking fixedly at the light without saying anything and without even thinking any more? Can Kuhn fail to realize that next time it will be his turn? Does Kuhn not understand that what has happened today is an abomination, which no propitiatory prayer, no pardon, no expiation by the guilty, which nothing at all in the power of man can ever clean again? If I was God, I would spit at Kuhn’s prayer.

The Two Ways – “If This Is A Man” – Primo Levi Sun, 15 Apr 2012 03:00:59 +0000 We do not believe in the most obvious and facile deduction: that man is fundamentally brutal, egoistic and stupid in his conduct once every civilized institution is taken away, and that the Häftling is consequently nothing but a man without inhibitions. We believe, rather, that the only conclusion to be drawn is that in the face of driving necessity and physical disabilities many social habits and instincts are reduced to silence. But another fact seems to us worthy of attention: there comes to light the existence of two particularly well differentiated categories among men — the saved and the drowned. Other pairs of opposites (the good and the bad, the wise and the foolish, the cowards and the courageous, the unlucky and the fortunate) are considerably less distinct, they seem less essential, and above all they allow for more numerous and complex intermediary gradations.

This division is much less evident in ordinary life; for there it rarely happens that a man loses himself. A man is normally not alone, and in his rise or fall is tied to the destinies of his neighbours; so that it is exceptional for anyone to acquire unlimited power, or to fall by a succession of defeats into utter ruin. Moreover, everyone is normally in possession of such spiritual, physical and even financial resources that the probabilities of a shipwreck, of total inadequacy in the face of life, are relatively small. And one must take into account a definite cushioning effect exercised both by the law, and by the moral sense which constitutes a self-imposed law; for a country is considered the more civilized the more the wisdom and efficiency of its laws hinder a weak man from becoming too weak or a powerful one too powerful.

But in the Lager things are different: here the struggle to survive is without respite, because everyone is desperately and ferociously alone. If some Null Achtzehn vacillates, he will find no one to extend a helping hand; on the contrary, someone will knock him aside, because it is in no one’s interest that there will be one more ‘musselman’* dragging himself to work every day; and if someone, by a miracle of savage patience and cunning, finds a new method of avoiding the hardest work, a new art which yields him an ounce of bread, he will try to keep his method secret, and he will be esteemed and respected for this, and will derive from it an exclusive, personal benefit; he will become stronger and so will be feared, and who is feared is, ipso facto, a candidate for survival. (*This word ‘Musselman’, I do not know why, was used by the old ones of the camp to describe the weak, the inept, those doomed to selection.)

In history and in life one sometimes seems to glimpse a ferocious law which states: ‘to he that has, will be given; from he that has not, will be taken away’. In the Lager, where man is alone and where the struggle for life is reduced to its primordial mechanism, this unjust law is openly in force, is recognized by all. With the adaptable, the strong and astute individuals, even the leaders willingly keep contact, sometimes even friendly contact, because they hope later to perhaps derive some benefit. But with the musselmans, the men in decay, it is not even worth speaking, because one knows already that they will complain and will speak about what they used to eat at home. Even less worthwhile is it to make friends with them, because they have no distinguished acquaintances in camp, they do not gain any extra rations, they do not work in profitable Kommandos and they know no secret method of organizing. And in any case, one knows that they are only here on a visit, that in a few weeks nothing will remain of them but a handful of ashes in some near-by field and a crossed-out number on a register. Although engulfed and swept along without rest by the innumerable crowd of those similar to them, they suffer and drag themselves along in an opaque intimate solitude, and in solitude they die or disappear, without leaving a trace in anyone’s memory.

The result of this pitiless process of natural selection could be read in the statistics of Lager population movements. At Auschwitz, in 1944, of the old Jewish prisoners (we will not speak of the others here, as their condition was different), ‘kleine Nummer’, low numbers less than 150,000, only a few hundred had survived; not one was an ordinary Häftling, vegetating in the ordinary Kommandos, and subsisting on the normal ration. There remained only the doctors, tailors, shoemakers, musicians, cooks, young attractive homosexuals, friends or compatriots of some authority in the camp; or they were particularly pitiless, vigorous and inhuman individuals, installed (following an investiture by the SS command, which showed itself in such choices to possess satanic knowledge of human beings) in the posts of Kapos, Blockältester, etc.; or finally, those who, without fulfilling particular functions, had always succeeded through their astuteness and energy in successfully organizing, gaining in this way, besides material advantages and reputation, the indulgence and esteem of the powerful people in the camp. Whosoever does not know how to become an ‘Organisator’, ‘Kombinator’, ‘Prominent’ (the savage eloquence of these words!) soon becomes a ‘musselman’.

In life, a third way exists, and is in fact the rule; it does not exist in the concentration camp.

The Hierarchy of Pain – “If This Is A Man” – Primo Levi Sun, 15 Apr 2012 00:28:53 +0000 For human nature is such that grief and pain — even simultaneously suffered — do not add up as a whole in our consciousness, but hide, the lesser behind the greater, according to a definite law of perspective. It is providential and is our means of surviving in the camp. And this is the reason why so often in free life one hears it said that man is never content. In fact it is not a question of a human incapacity for a state of absolute happiness, but of an ever-insufficient knowledge of the complex nature of the state of unhappiness; so that the single name of the major cause is given to all its causes, which are composite and set out in an order of urgency. And if the most immediate cause of stress comes to an end, you are grievously amazed to see that another one lies behind; and in reality a whole series of others.

Where Are the Others? – “If This Is A Man” – Primo Levi Sat, 14 Apr 2012 05:29:22 +0000 ‘Show me your number: you are 174517. This numbering began eighteen months ago and applies to Auschwitz and the dependent camps. There are now ten thousand of us here at Buna-Monowitz; perhaps thirty thousand between Auschwitz and Birkenau.

‘Wo sind die Andere? Where are the others?’

‘Perhaps transferred to other camps?’ I suggest.

Not to Begin to Die – “If This Is A Man” – Primo Levi Sat, 14 Apr 2012 03:01:10 +0000 precisely because the Lager was a great machine to reduce us to beasts, we must not become beasts; that even in this place one can survive, and therefore one must want to survive, to tell the story, to bear witness; and that to survive we must force ourselves to save at least the skeleton, the scaffolding, the form of civilization. We are slaves, deprived of every right, exposed to every insult, condemned to certain death, but we still possess one power, and we must defend it with all our strength for it is the last — the power to refuse our consent. So we must certainly wash our faces without soap in dirty water and dry ourselves on our jackets. We must polish our shoes, not because the regulation states it, but for dignity and propriety. We must walk erect, without dragging our feet, not in homage to Prussian discipline but to remain alive, not to begin to die.

It Was Better Not to Think – “Survival in Auschwitz” – Primo Levi Sat, 14 Apr 2012 00:30:36 +0000 We Italians had decided to meet every Sunday evening in a corner of the Lager, but we stopped it at once, because it was too sad to count our numbers and find fewer each time, and to see each other ever more deformed and more squalid. And it was so tiring to walk those few steps and then, meeting each other, to remember and to think. It was better not to think.

The Most Fortunate Wagon – “If This Is A Man” – Primo Levi Fri, 13 Apr 2012 05:29:35 +0000 The doors had been closed at once, but the train did not move until evening. We had learnt of our destination with relief. Auschwitz: a name without significance for us at that time, but it at least implied some place on this earth. The train travelled slowly, with long, unnerving halts. Through the slit we saw the tall pale cliffs of the Adige Valley and the names of the last Italian cities disappear behind us. We passed the Brenner at midday of the second day and everyone stood up, but no one said a word. The thought of the return journey stuck in my heart, and I cruelly pictured to myself the inhuman joy of that other journey, with doors open, no one wanting to flee, and the first Italian names … and I looked around and wondered how many, among that poor human dust, would be struck by fate. Among the forty-five people in my wagon only four saw their homes again; and it was by far the most fortunate wagon.

The Impossibility of Perfect Unhappiness – “If This Is A Man” – Primo Levi Fri, 13 Apr 2012 03:01:12 +0000 Sooner or later in life everyone discovers that perfect happiness is unrealizable, but there are few who pause to consider the antithesis: that perfect unhappiness is equally unattainable. The obstacles preventing the realization of both these extreme states are of the same nature: they derive from our human condition which is opposed to everything infinite. Our ever-insufficient knowledge of the future opposes it: and this is called, in the one instance, hope, and in the other, uncertainty of the following day. The certainty of death opposes it: for it places a limit on every joy, but also on every grief. The inevitable material cares oppose it: for as they poison every lasting happiness, they equally assiduously distract us from our misfortunes and make our consciousness of them intermittent and hence supportable.

Dawn Came On US Like a Betrayer – “If This Is A Man” – Primo Levi Fri, 13 Apr 2012 00:28:48 +0000 Dawn came on us like a betrayer; it seemed as though the new sun rose as an ally of our enemies to assist in our destruction. The different emotions that overcame us, of resignation, of futile rebellion, of religious abandon, of fear, of despair, now joined together after a sleepless night in a collective, uncontrolled panic. The time for meditation, the time for decision was over, and all reason dissolved into a tumult, across which flashed the happy memories of our homes, still so near in time and space, as painful as the thrusts of a sword.

Would You Not Do The Same? – “If This Is A Man” – Primo Levi Thu, 12 Apr 2012 05:29:39 +0000 And night came, and it was such a night that one knew that human eyes would not witness it and survive. Everyone felt this: not one of the guards, neither Italian nor German, had the courage to come and see what men do when they know they have to die. All took leave from life in the manner which most suited them. Some praying, some deliberately drunk, others lustfully intoxicated for the last time. But the mothers stayed up to prepare the food for the journey with tender care, and washed their children and packed the luggage; and at dawn the barbed wire was full of children’s washing hung out in the wind to dry. Nor did they forget the diapers, the toys, the cushions and the hundred other small things which mothers remember and which children always need.

Would you not do the same? If you and your child were going to be killed tomorrow, would you not give him to eat today?

None of the Facts Are Invented – “If This Is A Man” – Primo Levi Thu, 12 Apr 2012 03:02:01 +0000 It seems to me unnecessary to add that none of the facts are invented.

An interesting statement to end the preface of this book in the light of subsequent fact based literary controversies.

Hatred that Needed to be Discharged – “Life and Fate” – Vasily Grossman Tue, 10 Apr 2012 05:30:08 +0000 The officer could sense the weight of emotion in the woman’s slow, penetrating look. The air was full of a hatred that needed to be discharged; it was like the electrical energy in a storm-cloud that strikes blindly and with consuming power at one of the trees in a forest.

They Didn’t Waste Their Time, They Wrote – “Life and Fate” – Vasily Grossman Tue, 10 Apr 2012 03:00:49 +0000 He quoted a line from “War and Peace”:

‘Yes, the didn’t just waste their time, they wrote.’

The Dead Pilot – “Life and Fate” – Vasily Grossman Tue, 10 Apr 2012 00:30:35 +0000 The dead pilot lay there all night on a hill covered with snow; it was a cold night and the stars were quite brilliant. At dawn the hill turned pink – the pilot now lay on a pink hill. Then the wind got up and the snow covered his body.

He was No Longer a Professor – “Life and Fate” – Vasily Grossman Mon, 09 Apr 2012 05:30:54 +0000 (Kovchenko) looked at Viktor. Viktor felt that at any moment Kovchenko might come out with the words that had been hovering between them all along, brushing against his eyes, hands and brain like an invisible mist.

He bowed his head. He was no longer a professor, a doctor of science, a famous scientist who had made a remarkable discovery, a man who could be forthright and independent, arrogant and condescending. He was just a man with curly hair and a hooked nose, with a stooped back and narrow shoulders, screwing up his eyes as though he was expecting a blow on the cheek.

Music and Death – “Life and Fate” – Vasily Grossman Mon, 09 Apr 2012 03:00:19 +0000 In Auschwitz:

People in camps, people in prisons, people who have escaped from prision, people going to their death, know the extraordinary power of music. No one else can experience music in quite the same way.

What music resurrects in the soul of a man about to die is neither hope nor thought, but simply the blind, heart-breaking miracle of life itself. A sob passed down the column. Everything seemed transformed, everything had come together; everything scattered and fragmented – home, peace, the journey, the umble of wheels, thirst, terror, the city rising out of the mist, the wan red dawn – fused together, not into a memory or a picture but into the blind, fierce ache of life itself. Here in the glow of the gas ovens, people knew that life was more than happiness – it was also grief. And the freedom was both painful and difficult; it was life itself.

Music had the power to express the last turmoil of a soul in whose blind depths every experience, every moment of joy and grief, had fused with this misty morning, this glow hanging over their heads. Or perhaps it wasn’t like that at all. Perhaps music was just the key to a man’s feelings, not what filled him at this terrible moment, but the key that unlocked his innermost core.

Yes, There Are Men in This Terrible World Who are Guilty – “Life and Fate” – Vasily Grossman Mon, 09 Apr 2012 00:31:18 +0000 There is divine judgement, there is the judgement of a State and the judgement of society, but there is one supreme judgement: the judgement of one sinner over another. A sinner can measure the power of the totalitarian state and find it limitless: through propaganda, hunger, loneliness, infamy, obscurity, labour camps and the threat of death, this terrible power can fetter a man’s will. But every step that a man takes under the threat of poverty, hunger, labour camps and death is at the same time an expression of his own will. Every step Kaltuft had taken – from the village to the trenches, from being a man-in-the-street to being a member of the National Socialist Party – bore the imprint of his will. A man may be led by fate, but he can refuse to follow. He may be a mere tool in the hands of destructive powers, but he knows it is in his interest to assent to this. Fate and the indivudal may have different ends, but they share the same path.

The man who pronounces judgement will be neither a pure and merciful heavenly being, nor a wise justice who watches over the interests of society and the state, neither a saint nor a righteous man – but a miserable, dirty sinner who has been crushed by Fascism, who has himself experienced the terrible power of the State, who has himself bowed down, fallen, shrunk into timidity and submissiveness. And this judge will say:

‘Guilty! Yes, there are men in this terrible world who are guilty.’

Liss and Eichmann in the Gas Chamber – “Life and Fate” – Vasily Grossman Sun, 08 Apr 2012 05:29:16 +0000 A small surprise had been laid on for Eichmann and Liss during their tour of inspection. In the middle of the gas chamber, the engineers had laid a small table with hors-d’oeurves and wine. Reineke invited Eichmann and Liss to sit down.

Eichmann laughed at this charming idea and said: ‘With the greatest of pleasure’.

Quarrels Between Friends and Hidden Discords – “Life and Fate” – Vasily Grossman Sun, 08 Apr 2012 03:00:20 +0000 One might have expected this quarrel to be forgotten as easily as their previous quarrels. But for some reason this particular flare-up was not forgotten. If two men’s lives are in harmony, they can quarrel, be wildly unjust to one another and then forget it. But if there is some hidden discord, then any thoughtlessness, any careless word, can be a blade that severs their friendship.

Such a discord often lies so deep that it never reaches the surface, never becomes conscious. One violent, empty quarrel, one unkind word, appears then to be the fateful blow that destroys years of friendship.

Stupid Kindness and Humanism – “Life and Fate” – Vasily Grossman Sun, 08 Apr 2012 00:31:39 +0000 This senseless kindness is condemned in the fable about the pilgrim who warmed a snake in his bosom. It is the kindess that has mercy on a tarantula that has bitten a child. A mad, blind, kindness. People enjoy lookng in stories and fables for examples of the danger of this senseless kindness. But one shouldn’t be afraid of it. One might just as well be afraid of a freshwater fish carried out by chance into the salty ocean.

The harm from time to time occasioned a society, class, race or State by this senseless kindness fades away in the light that emanates from those who are endowed with it.

This kindness, this stupid kindness, is what is most truly human in a human being. It is what sets man apart, the highest achievement of his soul. No, it says, life is not evil!

This kindness is both senseless and wordless. It is instinctive, blind. When Christianity clothed it in the teachings of the Church Fathers, it began to fade; its kernel became a husk. It remains potent only while it is dumb and senseless, hidden in the living darkness of the human heart – before it becomes a tool or commodity in the hands of preachers, before its crude ore is forged into the gilt coins of holiness. It is as simple as life itself. Even the teachings of Jesus deprived it of its strength.

Even Herod Did Not Shed Blood in the Name of Evil – “Life and Fate” – Vasily Grossman Sat, 07 Apr 2012 05:30:49 +0000 People struggling for their particular good always attempt to dress it up as a universal good. They say: my good coincides with the universal good; my good is essential not only to me but to everyone; in achieving my good, I serve the universal good.

And so the good of a sect, class, nation or State assumes a specious universality in order to justify its struggle against an apparent evil.

Even Herod did not shed blood in the name of evil; he shed blood in the name of his particular good. A new force had come into the world, a force that threatened to destry him and his family, to destroy his friends and his favourites, his kingdom and his armies.

But it was not evil that had been born; it was Christianity. Humanity had never before heard such words: ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged. For what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again… But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you… Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

And what did this doctrine of peace and love bring to humanity? Byzantine iconoclasticism; the tortures of the Inquisition; the struggles against heresy in France, Italy, Flanders and Germany; the conflict between Protestantism and Catholicism; the intrigues of the monastic orders; the conflict between Nikon and Avvakum; the crushing yoke that lay for centuries over science and freedom; the Christians who wiped out the heathen population of Tasmania; the scoundrels who burn whol Negro villages in Africa. This doctrine caused more suffering than all the crimes of the people who did evil for its own sake…

The Will of Stalin – “Life and Fate” – Vasily Grossman Sat, 07 Apr 2012 03:01:31 +0000 (Yershov’s Father) described their fifty-day journey, in winter, in a cattle-wagon with a leaking roof; day after day, the dead had travelled alongside the living. They had continued the journey on foot, the women carrying their children in their arms. Yershov’s mother had been delirious with fever. They had been taken to the middle of the forest where there wasn’t a single hut or dug-out; in the depths of winter they had begun a new life, building camp-fires, making beds out of the spruce branches, melting snow in saucepans, burying their dead…

‘The will of Stalin,’ he said without the least trace of anger or resentment. He spoke as simple people speak about a force of destiny, a force that knows no weakness or hesitation.

Matters Between A Man and a Woman – “Life and Fate” – Vasily Grossman Sat, 07 Apr 2012 00:28:55 +0000 She said this very quietly, as if to let him know, or rather feel, how easily a conversation could develop between the two of them, a conversation that would send shivers up their spines, a conversation of the only kind that matters between a man and a woman.

Fascism Annihilated Tens of Millions of People – “Life and Fate” – Vasily Grossman Fri, 06 Apr 2012 05:30:29 +0000 An electronic machine can carry out mathematical calculations, remember historical facts, play chess and translate books from one language to another. It is able to solve mathematical problems more quickly than man and its memory is faultless. Is there any limit to progress, to its ability to create machines in the image and likeness of man? It seems that the answer is no.

It is not impossible to imagine the machine of future ages and millennia. It will be able to listen to music and appreciate art; it will even be able to compose melodies, paint pictures and write poems. Is there a limit to its perfection? Can it be compared to man? Will it surpass him?

Childhood memories… tears of happiness.. the bitterness of parting… love of freedom… feelings of pity for a sick puppy… nervousness… a mother’s tenderness… thoughts of death… sadness… friendship… love of the weak… sudden hope… a fortunate guess … melancholy … unreasoning joy …. Sudden embarrassment…

The machine will be able to recreate all of this! But the surface of the whole earth will be too small to accommodate this machine – this machine whose dimensions and weight will continually increase as it attempts to reproduce the peculiarities of mind and soul of an average inconspicuous human being.

Fascism annihilated tens of millions of people.

The Greatest Enemy of Fascism is Man – “Life and Fate” – Vasily Grossman Fri, 06 Apr 2012 03:00:19 +0000 If Fascism should ever be fully assured of its final triumph, the world will choke in blood. If the day ever dawns when Fascism is without armed enemies, then its executioners will know no restraint: the greatest enemy of Fascism is man.

We Made a Mistake – “Life and Fate” – Vasily Grossman Fri, 06 Apr 2012 00:30:25 +0000 A conversation between two Bolsheviks in a Siberian gulag:

‘Listen now,’ he said, sitting up in bed. ‘Listen, my friend. This will be the last time I call you like this.’

‘Don’t talk like that,’ said Abarchuk. ‘You’re going to live!’

‘I’d sooner undergo torture, but I have to say this… You listen too,’ he added, turning to the corpse. ‘What I’m going to say has to do with you and your Nastya… This is my last duty as a revolutionary and I must fulfil it… You’re someone very special, comrade Abarchuk. And we met at a very special time – our best time, I think… Let me begin now. First. We made a mistake. And this is what our mistake has led to. Look! You and I must ask this peasant to pardon us… Give me a fag. What am I saying? No repentance can expiate what we’ve done. I have to say this… Secondly. We didn’t understand freedom. We crushed it. Even Marx didn’t value it – it’s the base, the meaning, the foundation that underlies all foundations. Without freedom there can be no proletarian revolution… Thirdly. We go through the camp, we go through the taiga, and yet our faith is stronger than anything. But this faith of ours is a weakness – a means of self-preservation. On the other side of the barbed wire, self-preservation tells people to change – unless they want to die or be sent to a camp. And so Communists have created idols, put on uniforms and epaulettes, begun preaching nationalism and attack in the working class. If necessary, they’ll revive the Black Hundreds… But here in the camp, the same instinct tells people not to change, not to change during all the decades they spend here – unless they want to be buried straight away in a wooden jacket. It’s the other side of the coin.’

Mourning – “Life and Fate” – Vasily Grossman Thu, 05 Apr 2012 05:30:12 +0000 The people at the hospital had been struck by her calm and the number of questions that she had asked. They hadn’t appreciated her inability to understand something quite obvious – that Tolya was no longer among the living. Her love was so strong that Tolya’s death was unable to affect it: to her, he was still alive.

She was mad, but no one had noticed. Now, at last, she had found Tolya. Her joy was like that of a mother-cat when she finds her dead kitten and licks it all over.

A soul can live in torment for years and years, even decades, as it slowly, stone by stone, builds a mound over a grave; as it moves towards the apprehension of eternal loss and bows down before reality.

Anna’s Letter – “Life and Fate” – Vasily Grossman Thu, 05 Apr 2012 03:01:41 +0000 A letter from Anna Semyonovna to her son, Viktor Shtrum from a Ukrainian Ghetto:

Vitya, I’m certain this letter will reach you, even though I’m now behind the German front line, behind the barbed wire of the Jewish ghetto. I won’t receive your answer, though; I won’t be here to receive it. I want you to know about my last days. Like that, it will be easier for me to die.

Night is a special time in the ghetto, Vitya. You know, my dearest, how I always taught you to tell the truth – a son must always tell the truth to his mother. But then so must a mother tell the truth to her son. Don’t imagine, Vityenka, that your mother’s a strong woman. I’m weak. I’m afraid of pain and I’m terrified to sit down in the dentist’s chair. As a child I was afraid of darkness and thunder. As an old woman I’ve been afraid of illness and loneliness; I’ve been afraid that if I fall ill, I won’t be able to go back to work again; that I’ll become a burden to you and that you’ll make me feel it. I’ve been afraid of the war. Now, Vitya, I’m seized at night by a horror that makes my heart grow numb. I’m about to die. I want to call out to you for help.

When you were a child, you used to run to me for protection. Now, in moments of weakness, I want to hide my head on your knees’ I want you to be strong and wise; I want you to protect and defend me. I’m not always strong in spirit, Vitya – I can be weak too. I often think about suicide, but something holds me back – some weakness, or strength, or irrational hope.

They say that children are our future, but how can one say that of these children? They aren’t going to become musicians, cobblers or tailors. Last night I saw very clearly how this whole noisy world of beared, anxious fathers and querulous grandmothers who bake honey-cakes and goose-necks – this whole world of marriage customs, proverbial sayings and Sabbaths will disappear for ever under the earth. After the war life will begin to stir once again, but we won’t be here, we will have vanished – just as the Aztecs once vanished.

Vityenka, I’m finishing this letter and taking it to the ghetto fence to hand to my friend. It’s not easy to break off. It’s my last conversation with you. Once I send it off, I will have left you for ever and you will never know of my last hours. This is our final parting. What can I say to you in farewell, in eternal farewell? That these last days, as during my whole life, you have been my joy. I’ve remembered you at night, the clothes you wore as a boy, your first books….. I’ve closed my eyes and imagined that you were shielding me, my dearest, from the horror that is approached. And then I’ve remembered what is happening here and felt glad that you were apart from me – and that this terrible fate will pass you by!

Vityenka… This is the last line of your mother’s last letter to you. Live, live, live forever… Mama.

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Time – “Life and Fate” – Vasily Grossman Thu, 05 Apr 2012 00:30:47 +0000 Somehow the music seemed to have helped him to understand time. Time is a transparent medium. People and cities arise out of it, move through it and disappear back into it. It is time that brings them and time that takes them away….

Such is time: everything passes, it alone remains; everything remains, it alone passes. And how swiftly and noiselessly it passes. Only yesterday you were sure of yourself, strong and cheerful, a son of the time. But now another time has come – and you don’t even know it.

In yesterday’s fighting, time had been torn to shreds; now it emerged again from the plywood fiddle belonging to Rubinchik the barber. This fiddle told some that their time had come and others that their time had passed.

Liquid Fire – “Life and Fate” – Vasily Grossman Wed, 04 Apr 2012 05:30:31 +0000 During a German artillery attack on the right bank of the Volga during the Battle of Stalingrad:

Suddenly he realised what had happened: the oil-tanks were on fire. Flaming oil was streaming past towards the Volga.

It seemed impossible to escape from the liquid fire. It leaped up, humming and crackling, from the streams of oil that were filling the hollows and craters and rusing down the communication trenches. Saturated with oil, even the clay and stone were beginning to smoke. The oil itself was gushing out in black glossy streams from the tanks that had been riddled by incendiary bullets; it was as though sheets of flame and smoke had been sealed inside these tanks and were now slowly unrolling.

The life that had reigned hundreds of millions of years before, the terrible life of the primeval monsters, had broken out of its deep tombs; howling and roaring, stamping its huge feet, it was devouring everything round about. The fire rose thousands of feet, carrying with it clouds of vaporised oil that exploded into flame only high in the sky. The mass of flame was so vast that the surrounding whirlwind was unable to bring enough oxygen to the burning molecules of hydro-carbon; a black, swaying vault separated the starry sky of autumn from the burning earth. It was terrible to look up and see a black firmament streaming with oil.

The columns of flame and smoke looked at one moment like living beings seized by horror and fury, at another moment like quivering poplars and aspens. Like women with long, streaming hair, the black clouds and red flames joined together in a wild dance.

The blazing oil formed a thin film over the water, hissing, smoking and twisting as it was caught by the current.

Hitler Will Tell You This Camp Was Set Up In The Name of God – “Life and Fate” – Vasily Grossman Wed, 04 Apr 2012 03:01:04 +0000 A conversation between and old Bolshevik and a former Tolstoyan in a German concentration camp:

‘Where acts of violence are committed,’ he explained to Mostovskoy, ‘sorrow reigns and blood must flow. I saw the sufferings of the peasantry with my own eyes – and yet collectivisation was carried out in the name of Good. I don’t believe in your “Good”. I believe in human kindness.’

‘So you want us to be horrified when Hitler and Himmler are strung up on the gallows in the name of Good? You can count me out!’

‘You ask Hitler,’ said Ikonnikov, ‘and he’ll tell you that even this camp was set up in the name of Good.’

During these arguments Mostovskoy felt like a man fighting off a jellyfish with a knife. The thrusts of his logic were powerless.

‘The world had progressed no further,’ repeated Ikonnikov, ‘than the truth spoken by a sixth-century Christian’” “Condemn the sin and forgive the sinner.”’.

The Minds of Soldiers – “Life and Fate” – Vasily Grossman Wed, 04 Apr 2012 00:29:36 +0000 Linda Grant’s Introduction:

Grossman takes us into the minds of a group of soldiers waiting in the forest: one is full of dire forebodings, one is singing, one is chewing bread and sausage and thinking about the sausage, one is trying to identify a bird, one worries about whether he’d offended his friend, one is composing a farewell poem to autumn, one is remembering a girl’s breasts, one is missing his dog. This passage leads to the substance of Grossman’s central thought, which at the time he was writing could lead to the arrest of a Soviet citizen: ‘The only true and lasting meaning of the struggle for life lies in the individual, in his modest peculiarities, and his right to these peculiarities.’

What Endures is the Individual – “Life and Fate” – Vasily Grossman Tue, 03 Apr 2012 05:29:03 +0000 From Linda Grant’s Introduction:

For Grossman, communism and fascism are ephemera. What matters, what endures, is the individual and the ordinary act of human kindness, indeed the often senseless act of kindness, as when an old Russian woman, about to hoist a brick in the face of a captured German soldier, instead finds to her own incomprehension that she has reached into her pocket and given him a piece of bread. And in the years to come, will still never be able to understand why she did it.

Only Great Literature Grows in the Imagination – “Life and Fate” – Vasily Grossman Tue, 03 Apr 2012 02:50:07 +0000 From Linda Grant’s Introduction:

Novels fade, your immersion in their world turns into a faint dream, and then is forgotten. Only great literature grows in the imagination.

German Terrorism in WW1 – “The Guns of August 1914” – Barbara Tuchman Tue, 03 Apr 2012 00:27:47 +0000 The turn of events in Belgium was a product of the German theory of terror. Clausewitz had prescribed terror as the proper method to shorten war, his whole theory of war being based on the necessity of making it short, sharp and decisive. He said the civil population must not be exempted from war’s effects but must be made to feel its pressure and be forced by the severest measures to compel their leaders to make peace. As the object of war was to disarm the enemy, he argued reasonably, ‘we must place him in a situation in which continuing the war is more oppressive than surrender’…

Although 1870s proved the corollary of the theory and practise of terror, that it deepens antagonism, stimulates resistance and ends by lengthening war, the Germans remained wedded to it’. As Shaw said, they were a people with a contempt for common sense.


On August 23 placards signed by General von Bulow were posted in Liege, announcing that the people of Andenne, a small town on the Meuse near Namur, having attacked his troops in the most ‘traitorous’ manner, ‘with my permission the General commanding these troops has burnt the town to ashes and has had 110 persons shot.’ The people of Liege were being informed so that they would know what fate to expect if they behaved in the same manner as their neighbours.

When Bulow’s army took Namur, a city of 32,000, notices were posted announcing that ten hostages were being taken from every street who would be shot if any civilian fired on a German. The taking and killing of hostages was practised as systematically as the requisitioning of food. The further the Germans advanced, the more hostages were arrested….

Through some peculiar failure of the system, the greater the terror the more terror seemed to be necessary.

Vodka and the Russian Army and Economy – “The Guns of August 1914”, Barbara Tuchman Mon, 02 Apr 2012 05:30:05 +0000 Vodka, another traditional companion of war, was prohibited (by the Russians). In the last mobilization in 1904 when soldiers came reeling in and regimental depots were a mess of drunken slumbers and broken bottles, it had taken an extra week to straighten out the confusion. Now, with the French calling every day’s delay a matter of life or death, Russia enacted prohibition as a temporary measure for the period of mobilization. Nothing could have given more practical or more earnest proof of loyal intention to meet French please for haste, but with that characteristic touch of late-Romanov rashness, the government, by ukase of August 22, extended prohibition for the duration of the war. As the sale of Vodka was a state monopoly, this act at one stoke cut off a third of the government’s income. It was well known, commented a bewildered member of the Duma, that governments waging war seek by a variety of taxes and levies to increase income, ‘but never since the dawn of history has a country in time of war renounced the principle source of its revenue’.

Relations Were Denuded of the Amenities – “The Guns of August 1914”, Barbara Tuchman Mon, 02 Apr 2012 03:00:05 +0000 When General de Selliers, the Chief of Staff, rose to explain the strategy of defence to be adopted, his Deputy Chief, Colonel de Ryckel, with whom his relations were, in the words of a colleague, ‘denuded of the amenities’, kept growling between his teeth, ‘il faut piquer dedans, il faut piquer didans [We must hit them where it hurts].

Character Begets Power in a Crisis – “The Guns of August 1914”, Barbara Tuchman Mon, 02 Apr 2012 00:31:05 +0000 In the (French) President, however, intelligence, experience and strength of purpose, if not constitutional power, were combined. Poincare was a lawyer, economist and member of the Academy, a former finance minister who had served as Permier and Foreign Minister in 1912 and had been elected President of France in January 1913. Character begets power, especially in hours of crisis, and the untried Cabinet leaned willingly on the abilities and strong will of the man who was constitutionally a cipher.

Some Damned Foolish Thing in the Balkans – “The Guns of August 1914”, Barbara Tuchman Sun, 01 Apr 2012 04:31:06 +0000 “Some damned foolish thing in the Balkans,” Bismark had predicted would ignite the next war. The assassination of the Austrian heir apparent, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, by Serbian nationalists on June 28, 1914, satisfied his condition…

War pressed against every frontier. Suddenly dismayed, governments struggled and twisted to fend it off. It was no use. Agents at frontiers were reporting every cavalry patrol as a development to beat the mobilisation gun. General Staffs, goaded by their relentless timetables, were pounding the table for the signal to move lest their opponents gain an hour’s headstart. Appalled upon the brink, the chiefs of state who would ultimately be responsible for their country’s fate, attempted to back away but the pull of military schedules dragged them forward.

The Lamps Are Going Out All Over Europe – “The Guns of August 1914”, Barbara Tuchman Sun, 01 Apr 2012 02:00:06 +0000 In Whitehall that evening, Sir Edward Grey, standing with a friend at the window as the street lamps below were being lit, made the remark that has since epitomized the hour: “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.

The Csar – “The Guns of August 1914”, Barbara Tuchman Sat, 31 Mar 2012 23:30:06 +0000 The (Russian) regime was ruled from the top by a sovereign who had but one idea of government – to prserve intact the absolute monarchy bequeathed to him by his father – and who, lacking the intellect, energy, or training for this job, fell back on personal favourites, whim, simples mulishness and other devices of the empty-headed autocrat. His father, Alexander III, who deliberately intended to keep his son uneducated in statecraft until the age of thirty, unfortunately miscalculated his own life expectancy and died when Nicholas was twenty-six. Then new Czar, now forty-six, had learned nothing in the interval and the impression of imperturbability which he conveyed was in reality apathy – the indifference of mind so shall as to be all surface. When a telegram was brought to him announcing the annihilation of the Russian fleet at Tsushima, he read it, stuffed it in his pocket and went on playing tennis.

Not a Single Tennis Court – “The Guns of August 1914”, Barbara Tuchman Sat, 31 Mar 2012 04:31:06 +0000 The (Russian) officer corps was top-heavy with a superabundance of aged generals whose heaviest intellectual exercise was card-playing and who, to save their court perquisites and prestige, were kept on the active list regardless of activity. Officers were appointed and promoted chiefly through patronage, social or monetary, and although there were among them many brave and able soldiers the system did not tend to bring the best to the top. Their ‘laziness and lack of interest’ in outdoor sports dismayed a British military attaché who, on visiting a frontier garrison near the Afghan border, was appalled to find ‘not a single tennis court’.

Glory – “The Guns of August 1914”, Barbara Tuchman Sat, 31 Mar 2012 02:00:05 +0000 “If we are to be crushed,” Bassompierre recorded their sentiment, “let us be crushed gloriously.” In 1914 “glory” was a word spoken without embarrassment, and honor a familiar concept that people believed in.

Regulations Are All Very Well for the Drill – “The Guns of August 1914”, Barbara Tuchman Fri, 30 Mar 2012 23:30:05 +0000 Though a profound student of Clausewitz, Foch did not, like Clausewitz’s German successors, believe in a foolproof schedule of battle worked out in advance. Rather he taught the necessity of perpetual adaptability and improvisation to fit circumstances.

“Regulations,” he would say, “are all very well for drill but in the hour of danger they are no more use … You have to learn to think.”

To think meant to give room for freedom of initiative, for the imponderable to win over the material, for will to demonstrate its power over circumstance.

9537 Fri, 30 Mar 2012 23:30:05 +0000

Though a profound student of Clausewitz, Foch did not, like Clausewitz’s German successors, believe in a foolproof schedule of battle worked out in advance. Rather he taught the necessity of perpetual adaptability and improvisation to fit circumstances.

“Regulations,” he would say, “are all very well for drill but in the hour of danger they are no more use … You have to learn to think.”

To think meant to give room for freedom of initiative, for the imponderable to win over the material, for will to demonstrate its power over circumstance.

“The Guns of August 1914”, Barbara Tuchman

Committed to Fight Whether the Cabinet Likes It Or Not – “The Guns of August 1914”, Barbara Tuchman Fri, 30 Mar 2012 04:31:06 +0000 Echoes of the secret meeting of the Committee of Imperial Defence angered the Cabinet members who had been left out and who belonged to the sternly pacifist wing of the party. Henry Wilson learned he was regarded as the Villain of the proceedings and that they are ‘calling for my head’. At this time began the split in the Cabinet which was to be so critical in the ultimate days of decision. The Government maintained the disingenuous position that the military ‘conversations’ were, in Haldande’s words, ‘just the natural and informal outcome of our close friendship with France’. Natural outcome they might be; informal they were not. As Lord Esher with a certain realism said to the Prime Minister, the plans worked out jointly by the General Staffs have ‘certainly committed us to fight, whether the Cabinet likes it or not’.

The Guns of August is an extraordinary example of the role that good history can play in policy making. In an extraordinary historical coincidence, The Guns of August won the Pulitzer Prize in the year before the Cuban Missile Crisis, allowing President Kennedy to learn practical lessons about the relationship between the military and political leaders in the lead up to war that might literally have saved the world. According to Wikipedia:<blockquote>“[President <a href=”” title=”John F. Kennedy”>John F. Kennedy</a>] was so impressed by the book, he gave copies to his cabinet and principal military advisers, and commanded them to read it.”<a href=”″>[4]</a> In <em>One Minute to Midnight</em> on the Cuban Missile Crisis, Michael Dobbs notes the deep impression <em>Guns</em> had on Kennedy. He often quoted from it and wanted “every officer in the Army” to read it as well. Subsequently, “[t]he secretary of the Army sent copies to every U.S. military base in the world.<a href=”″>[5]</a> Kennedy drew from <em>The Guns of August</em> to help in dealing with the <a href=”” title=”Cuban Missile Crisis”>Cuban Missile Crisis</a>, including the profound and unpredictable implications a rapid escalation of the situation could have.<a href=”″>[6]</a><a href=”″>[7]</a></blockquote>

The Disposition Not to Prepare for the Harder Alternative – “The Guns of August 1914”, Barbara Tuchman Fri, 30 Mar 2012 02:00:05 +0000 One constant among the elements of 1914—as of any era—was the disposition of everyone on all sides not to prepare for the harder alternative, not to act upon what they suspected to be true.

The Great Illusion – “The Guns of August 1914”, Barbara Tuchman Thu, 29 Mar 2012 23:30:06 +0000 A new book, “The Great Illusion” by Norman Angell, had just been published, which proved that war had become vain. By impressive examples and incontrovertible argument Angell showed that in the present financial and economic interdependence of nations, the victor would suffer equally with the vanquished; therefore war had become unprofitable; therefore no nation would be so foolish as to start one.

Prince Danilo – “The Guns of August 1914”, Barbara Tuchman Thu, 29 Mar 2012 04:31:06 +0000 The last-named, Prince Danilo, ‘an amiable, extremely handsome young man of delightful manners’, resembled the Merry Widow’s lover in more than name for, to the consternation of British functionaries, he had arrived for the funeral the night before accompanied by a ‘charming young lady of great personal attractions’ whom he introduced as his wife’s lady-in-waiting, come to London to do some shopping.’

The Opening Line – “The Guns of August 1914”, Barbara Tuchman Thu, 29 Mar 2012 02:00:05 +0000 So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration.

<blockquote>That’s some opening line for a history book…</blockquote>

Nothing in France is Free From Sexual Assignment – “Me Talk Pretty One Day” – David Sedaris Wed, 28 Mar 2012 23:30:06 +0000 Nothing in France is free from sexual assignment. I was leafing through the dictionary, trying to complete a homework assignment, when I noticed the French had prescribed genders for the various land masses and natural wonders we Americans had always thought of as sexless, Niagara Falls is feminine and, against all reason, the Grand Canyon is masculine. Georgia and Florida are female, but Montana and Utah are male. New England is a she, while the vast area we call the Midwest is just one big guy. I wonder whose job it was to assign these sexes in the first place. Did he do his work right there in the sanitarium, or did they rent him a little office where he could get away from all the noise?

Travelling with the Wrong Person – “Me Talk Pretty One Day” – David Sedaris Wed, 28 Mar 2012 04:31:05 +0000 The two women arrived in New York on a Friday afternoon, and upon greeting them, I noticed an uncommon expression on Alisha’s face. It was the look of someone who’s discovered too late that she’s either set her house on fire or committed herself to traveling with the wrong person. “Run for your life,” she whispered.

Communists and Work – “Me Talk Pretty One Day” – David Sedaris Wed, 28 Mar 2012 02:00:05 +0000 The communists I’d known in the past had always operated on the assumption that come the revolution, they’d be the ones lying around party headquarters with clipboards in their hands. They couldn’t manage to wash a coffee mug, yet they’d been more than willing to criticize the detergent manufacturer.

Political Reasons – “Me Talk Pretty One Day” – David Sedaris Tue, 27 Mar 2012 23:30:05 +0000 I was at home braiding the bristles on my whisk broom when the museum called, inviting me to participate in their new “Month of Sundays” performance-art festival. It seemed as though I should play hard to get, but after a moment or two of awkward silence, I agreed to do it for what I called “political reasons.” I needed the money for drugs.

Every Memory Must Do Some Violence to its Origins – “The Road” – Cormac McCarthy Tue, 27 Mar 2012 04:31:06 +0000 Rich dreams now which he was loathe to wake from. Things no longer known in the world. The cold drove him forth to mend the fire. Memory of her crossing the lawn toward the house in the early morning in a thin rose gown that clung to her breasts. He thought each memory recalled must do some violence to its origins. As in a party game. Say the word and pass it on. So be sparing. What you alter in the remembering has yet a reality, known or not.

Dream the Dreams of a Child’s Imaginings – “The Road” – Cormac McCarthy Tue, 27 Mar 2012 02:00:06 +0000 This is where I used to sleep. My cot was against this wall. In the nights in their thousands to dream the dreams of a child’s imaginings, worlds rich or fearful such as might offer themselves but never the one to be.

Hitting a Dog with a Meatball – “A Good Fall” – Ha Jin Mon, 26 Mar 2012 23:30:05 +0000 Certainly I wouldn’t lend her the money, because that might amount to hitting a dog with a meatball—nothing would come back.

Commuting in Mumbai – “Maximum City” – Suketu Mehta Mon, 26 Mar 2012 04:31:05 +0000 Giresh once drew for me on a piece of paper a diagram of the dance, the choreography of the commuter trains. The Bombay Central contingent stands in the centre of the train from Borivali to Churchgate. The people around them move clockwise around the BC contingent like this: first are the Jogeshwari batch, then Bandra, then Dadar. If you are new to the Bombay trains, when you get on and are planning to get off at, let’s say, Dadar, you must ask, ‘Dadar? Dadar?’ And you will be directed to the precise spot where you must stand to be able to disembark successfully at you station. The platforms are on different sides of the train. There are no doors, just two enormous openings on either side of the compartment. So when the station arrives, you must be in position to spring off, wel before the train has come to a complete stop, because if you wait until it’s stopped, you will be swept back inside by the people rushing in. In the mornings, by the time the train gets to Borivali, the first stop it is always chockfull. ‘To get a seat?’ I ask. Girish looks at me, wondering if I’m stupid. ‘No. To get in.’ This is because the train in from Dadar has started filling up from Malad, two stops ahead, with people willing to loop back.

I mention to Girish a statistic I’d read, about the ‘super-dense crush load’ of the trains being ten people per square metre. He stretches out his arm, says, ‘One meter,’ and makes a calculation. ‘More,’ he says. ‘More. In peak time, if I lower my arms like this, I won’t be able to raise it.’ Many movements in the trains are involuntary. You just get carried along; if you’re light, you might not even have to move your legs. In 1990, according to the government, the number of passengers carried in a nine-car train during the rush hour in Bombay was 3,408. By the end of the century, it had gone up to 4,500.

Housing in Mumbai – “Maximum City” – Suketu Mehta Mon, 26 Mar 2012 02:00:06 +0000 For the vast majority of families in Bombay – seventy-three per cent, according to the 1990 census – home consists of only one room, for living, for sleeping, for cooking, for dining. The average is 4.7 persons to a room; Girish’s family exceeds this by 2.3 persons. The furniture of the room changes continuously, through the day; the bed of the night is the sofa of the morning; the dining table is the study table between meals. The residents, too, are quick-change artists, changing from nightclothes to dayclothes under a towel, behind a curtain, so quickly that you would think they are invisible. But invisibility is actually bestowed upon them, as the other inhabitants of the room avert their eyes during the moment of transformation. How on earth did the parents conceive five children in this slum room? There must have been a good deal seen and not watched, heard and not listened to.

The Rent Act – “Maximum City” – Suketu Mehta Sun, 25 Mar 2012 23:30:05 +0000 When World War II ended, another catastrophe struck Bombay in the form of the Bombay Rents, Hotel Rates, and lodging House Rates Control Act of 1947 – popularly known as the Rent Act. Bombay is still recovering from the legislative blast. Enacted in 1948, the act froze the rents on all buildings leased at the time at the 1940 levels. In the case of other buildings, the courts were empowered to affix a ‘standard rent’, which, once determined, could never be raised. The act also provided for the transfer of the right to lease the property at the fixed rents to the legal heirs of the tenant. As long as the tenant kepy paying the rent, he could not be evicted; he would not need to renew his lease. This was originally intended as an emergency wartime measure, a five-year provision to protect tenants from inflation and speculation after World War II. Bombay was full of troops early in the war. Accomodations were at a premium; Bombay was bustling. And the newcomers were rich; those who owned property in the city were not blind to this fact. So they hiked rents to whatever the market would bear. Outsiders who came in – Indians – found themselves frozen out of the city. The short-term visitors during the war were in danger of dispossessing the old-timers: thus the Rent Act.

Bu the act, once enacted, proved politically impossible to repeal, since there will always be more tenants than landlords. There are two and a half million tenants in Bombay, the most powerful political lobby in the city. All the political parties are unified in warlike support of the tenants; the Rent Act has been extended more than twenty times…

The Landlords can do nothing but refuse to repair their properties. So there’s no possibility of the housing stock of the island city improving or expanding any times soon, and more of the island city falls down every year. There are 20,000 buildings that are officially classified as dilapidated and need to be renovated by the public agencies; under 1,000 a year are actually improved.
The Greater Bombay region has an annual deficiet of 45,000 houses a year. The amoung to ne construction every year comes up to less than half the number needed. Thus these 45,000 households every year add to the ranks of the slums…

There are also 400,000 empty residences in the city, empty because the owners are afraid of losing them to tenants if they rent them out. Assuming each apartment can house a family of five people, on average, that’s two million people – on-quarter of the homeless – who could immediately find shelter if the laws were to be amended.

After 50 years of Socialism… “Maximum City” – Suketu Mehta Sun, 25 Mar 2012 04:31:05 +0000 In the post-Marxist age, we can no longer believe that redistribution solves anything, that making the rich poorer will make the poor richer. It is the death not just of ideology but of ideas. Nothing in the national debate has nay strong conviction. On the right, a vague belief in foreign investment; on the left, a vague and poorly articulated fear of it. The left is apologetic about being left. Who can defend the work habits of the employees of nationalised banks? After fifty years of experiments in socialism, who can argue with a straight face that central planning is the answer to poverty?

India is the Country of No – “Maximum City” – Suketu Mehta Sun, 25 Mar 2012 02:00:06 +0000 India is the Country of the No. That ‘no’ is your test. You have to get past it. It is India’s Great Wall; it keeps out foreign invaders. Pursuing it energetically and vanquishing it is your challenge. In the guru-shishya tradition, the novice is always rebuffed multiple times when he first approaches the guru. Then the guru stops saying no but doesn’t say yes either; he suffers the presence of the student. When he starts acknowledging him, he assigned a series of menial tasks, meant to drive him away. Only if the disciple sticks it out through all these stages of rejection and ill treatment is he considered worthy of the sublime knowledge. India is not a tourist-friendly country. It will reveal itself to you only if you stay on, against all odds. The ‘no’ might never become a ‘yes’. But you will stop asking questions.

Indian Population Density – “Maximum City” – Suketu Mehta Sat, 24 Mar 2012 23:30:05 +0000 India is not an overpopulated country. Its population density is lower than that of many other countries that are not thought of as overpopulated. In 1999, Belgium had a population density of 333 people per square kilometre; the Netherlands, 385; India, under 304. It is the cities of India that are overpopulated. Singapore has a density of 6,500 people per square kilometre; Berlin, the most crowded European city, has 2,900 people per square kilometre. The island of Bombay in 1990 had a density of 45,000 people per square kilometre. Some parts of central Bombay have a population density of one million people per square mile. This is the higest number of individuals massed together in any spot in the world. They are not equally dispersed across the island. Two-thirds of the city’s residents are crowded into just five per cent of the total area, while the richer or more rent-protected one-third monopolise ninety-five per cent.

Bombay: The Acclimatisation Station for India – “Maximum City” – Suketu Mehta Sat, 24 Mar 2012 04:31:06 +0000 The Gateway of India, a domed arch of yellow basalt surrounded by four turrets, was built in Bombay in 1927 to commemorate the arrival, sixteen years earlier, of the British King, George V; instead it marked his permanent exist. In 1947, the British left their Empire under this same arch, the last of their troops marching mournfully on to the last of their ships… Cities are gateways: to money, to position, to dreams and devils. A migrant from Bihar might one day get to America; but first he needs a spell in the boot camp of the West: Bombay the acclimatisation station.

Asian Cities – “Maximum City” – Suketu Mehta Sat, 24 Mar 2012 02:00:05 +0000 Greater Bombay’s population, currently nineteen million, is bigger than that of 173 countries around the world. If it were a county by itself in 2004, it would rank fifty-four. Cities should be examined like countries. Each has a city culture, as countries posses a national culture. There is something peculiarly Bombaite about Bombayites and likewise about Delhiites or New Yorkers or Parisians – the way the women walk, what their young people like to do in the evenings, what their definitions of fun and horror are. The growth of the Megacity is an Asian phenomenon: Asia has eleven of the world’s fifteen biggest. Why do Asians like to live in cities? Maybe we like people more.

Canberra: An Insider’s City – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Fri, 23 Mar 2012 23:30:05 +0000 That’s the way it is in Canberra: it all happens, but out of sight. With the shining light of the mighty bush outside, everything happens in that anaemic and unnatural glow inside. It’s an unnatural city. And an insider’s city, of course.

For All Of Us – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Fri, 23 Mar 2012 04:31:05 +0000 We spent the campaign circling the issue of race, knowing that our opponents had engaged in a campaign of dog-whistling, although we did not know the term at that stage and without it could not describe with much assurance what was going on. It was the unspoken message which rafts of Australians, many of whom later became supporters of Pauline Hanson, recognised in Coalition advertising and the slogan ‘For all of us’. Looked at one way, what they heard in the whistle was the cri de coeur of the old Australia;

A Part of the Equation – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Fri, 23 Mar 2012 02:00:05 +0000 The minimum gesture was one that indicated recognition of the discontent the so-called ‘battlers’ felt. If their complaints derived more from unlovely envy than actual hardship, it was all the more urgent to recognise them. The political precondition of the social wage was public acceptance, and the public would only accept what seemed to be just. This was the government’s imperative—to reinvest the social wage with a consensus view of justice. If ‘social justice’ was to be more than a cliché of Labor ideology and government departments, it needed to be vigorously extended to those who worked and earned and had ambition. The answer was not to send everyone in the town or street a cheque, but to assure them all that they were part of the equation and no-one was getting a cheque he did not deserve.

<blockquote>This was absolutely true then, and absolutely true now. Too many on the left fail to appreciate this…</blockquote>

Asian and Australian Values – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Thu, 22 Mar 2012 23:30:05 +0000 We were not Asian and did not seek to be. But then we were not European or American either. We could only be Australian. Yet many values often declared to be ‘Asian’ were also ‘Australian’: family, work, education, order and accountability, for example. And the word used to describe the core value of Australia, ‘mateship’, was ‘an ethic of communitarianism and mutual obligation which in other contexts is called “Asian”’.

So The Government is Unhappy with the People – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Thu, 22 Mar 2012 04:31:05 +0000 So the government is unhappy with the people: then let the government elect a new people. BERTOLT BRECHT

The Calling for Politics – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Thu, 22 Mar 2012 02:00:05 +0000 Only he has the calling for politics who is sure that he will not crumble when the world from his point of view is too stupid or base for what he wants to offer. MAX WEBER

The Political Landscape – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Wed, 21 Mar 2012 23:30:06 +0000 People talk about the ‘political landscape’, but it changes too quickly and unpredictably to be a landscape. It changed before our eyes and often for no apparent reason. Every time you looked it was different. One small cloud would change the colour. An event beyond the horizon, or too deep to comprehend, changed the mood from benign to belligerent in a flash. You would look back on a week or a month and wonder where the change began, but there was no saying. The experts would say they saw it coming, but they had to say it if they were to remain experts. The truth was no-one really knew. It was not a landscape so much as a seascape. That might also help explain why one minute politics seemed huge, like the source of all life itself; and a moment later a sad, puny, unarguable reminder of Nietzsche’s observation that ‘The living are only a species of the dead.’ It might also be why Caligula rode his horse into the waves and commanded Neptune to obey him. Politics was like the sea, though it also looked very like one of those television weather charts that show fronts swirling across the continent at a million times their real speed.

<blockquote>This is interesting, both Michael Oakeshott and Philip Gould have also described the political landscape as an ever changing ocean…</blockquote>

The Obsession of a Political Adviser – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Wed, 21 Mar 2012 04:31:05 +0000 What else, after all, can a political adviser do? The job demands a level of obsession. It is not always rational. You subvert your own better judgment about your own better interests. You refuse to be offended by refusal. But what is a bit of lost dignity if it is necessary to persuade the powerful? It is not power over him that you want, but seeing his power expanded. It is not making him submit, but seeing him flourish. This process, when it is boiled down, puts his dignity at greater risk than yours. And he cannot be powerful without dignity. His dignity is worth everything and yours is a trifle. And in any case you have to love the bastard. A lot of us used to say it, you couldn’t work for him unless you did.

Bipartisanship is a Sign of Weakness – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Tue, 20 Mar 2012 23:30:05 +0000 To the suggestion that he try to draw Downer on the republic by saying he hoped the new Liberal leader would take up the issue seriously, (Keating) replied that one should never invite the enemy to one’s own side because it was a sign of weakness.

Out of Ireland – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Tue, 20 Mar 2012 04:31:05 +0000 Out of Ireland we have come, Great hatred, little room, Maimed us at the start. I carry from my mother’s womb A fanatic heart.


Journalists’ Tradesmen-like Habits – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Tue, 20 Mar 2012 02:00:05 +0000 The fact is that the public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing. Journalism, conscious of this, and having tradesmen-like habits, supplies their demands.


Media Management – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Mon, 19 Mar 2012 23:31:05 +0000 The alternative, universally practised, is media management. Media management is a bit like Landcare or biodynamic farming. One works with the natural order rather than in conflict with it. One becomes part of it. Hungry journalists need feeding. The bigger ones need bigger serves and more. Friendly ones need occasional rewards, unfriendly ones inducements to come over. The food is stories. Stories contain varying degrees of fact and interpretation. Many require modification, known as spin. Some require both spin and lunch. Sometimes they need to be exclusive; but every exclusive feed has an attendant risk of retribution from those not fed.

Australian Labor Leaders Mon, 19 Mar 2012 21:44:53 +0000 stopitiloveit:

Party likes, Public likes, Winners. Updated to account for feedback.

A Victory for the True Believers – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Mon, 19 Mar 2012 04:31:05 +0000 ‘This is a victory for the true believers; the people who in difficult times have kept the faith, and for the Australian people through hard times, it makes their act of faith that much greater.’ He left no doubt that he was claiming it, in fact he might have been still campaigning. ‘It will be a long time before an Opposition tries to divide the country again.’

Keating’s 1993 Election Victory Speech

The Oldest Advice For Those Contemplating the Big Jump – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Mon, 19 Mar 2012 02:00:05 +0000 And the more it was shouted the more Keating could extend, and sound sage and dulcet doing it: ‘Let me give the oldest advice in the world to people who are contemplating the big jump,’ he said. ‘Don’t do it.’

No Plan Survives Contact with the Enemy – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Sun, 18 Mar 2012 23:30:06 +0000 No plan survives contact with the enemy, as the military strategists say;

Leadership in the Environment Movement – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Sun, 18 Mar 2012 04:31:06 +0000 (Keating) said the environment movement no longer had leaders, just people ‘matching press release for release’. The lobbies thought they had a ‘moral lien’ over the environment, but they had no such thing, he said—the issue belonged to the nation.

The Mould of Politics and Society – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Sun, 18 Mar 2012 02:00:05 +0000 When Hewson began talking about his desire to ‘break the mould’ of Australian politics Keating found the proof of his argument. Watch out, he said; this man does not understand politics, or the nature of Australian democracy, or the link between the mould of politics and the mould of society.

Power Must be Exercised Constantly – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Sat, 17 Mar 2012 23:30:05 +0000 Power, Keating said, had to be exercised constantly. It had to be moved around. The Victorian ALP was a good example of an outfit that did not understand power. The Victorian ALP were ‘boarders’. The New South Wales ALP were ‘repellers of boarders’.

Hurling a Big Piece of Meat on the Other Side of the Street – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Sat, 17 Mar 2012 04:31:06 +0000 By mid-afternoon from the press gallery came reports that a consensus was growing in favour of Keating’s GST tactic. That evening he told the ABC’s Jim Middleton that while everyone had been looking on one side of the street he had just hurled a big piece of meat to the other side and tomorrow that’s where they’d all be.

Strategy and Results – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Sat, 17 Mar 2012 02:37:06 +0000 It was hubris. It was Churchill’s axiom perfectly demonstrated: ‘However beautiful the strategy one should occasionally look at the results.’

Parliament’s Power to Jail Journalists – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Sat, 17 Mar 2012 00:47:05 +0000 The Prime Minister told his advisers that he would bring Templeman before the House as Menzies had once brought two journalists before it and put them in Goulburn Gaol. ‘You can’t do that,’ we chorused predictably. ‘My oath I can,’ he said and produced the handbook. ‘This is the ultimate court,’ he said. ‘Menzies did it. I can do it.’ ‘It wasn’t the most popular thing he did,’ we said. ‘But he had a lot of fun doing it,’ said the Prime Minister. It was the only bright moment in a fortnight.

Politics as the Systematic Organisation of Hatreds – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Fri, 16 Mar 2012 04:38:05 +0000 Politics, as a practice, whatever its pretensions, had always been the systematic organisation of hatreds.


Labor Tribalism – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Fri, 16 Mar 2012 02:33:05 +0000 Like a true Labor tribesman, Kelty was deeply attached to the traditions of the clan—including the traditions of loyalty to friends and savagery to enemies. I said to him once that all Paul Keating’s worst enemies seemed to be former friends. He reflected for a moment or two and replied that it was much the same with him. He told me how twenty years after he left La Trobe University, he was sitting at a dinner in a Melbourne hotel banquet room. The man beside him introduced himself. The name was the same as the one on the monthly government letters Kelty had received as a student on deferment from conscription. He asked the man if he had ever worked in the old Department of Labor and National Service. It happened that he had. Kelty told the man that one of them would have to leave. The man left. Until then I did not know that Bill Kelty had been conscripted, or that when he had finished his studies he went to court and acting as his own counsel proved himself a conscientious objector.

The Most Foolish Leader of the LPA since McMahon – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Thu, 15 Mar 2012 23:58:05 +0000 ‘I am not saying the Leader of the Opposition (Downer) is a racist,’ he said over the din in the House. ‘I am saying he is the most foolish Leader of the Liberal Party since Billy McMahon.’

The Life of a Staffer – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Thu, 15 Mar 2012 04:30:05 +0000 Very often people would put the very case I had put all week, and I would find myself putting the case to them that had been put to me. All week was spent in first gear going forward, and the weekends engaged reverse. It was tiring and dementing, but it helped me understand why politicians sometimes go strange.

Ah yes, I know this feeling well…

An Australian Nationalist Perspective of History – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Thu, 15 Mar 2012 02:10:05 +0000 Hewson’s reaction to what Keating believed was a perfectly proper speech to the Queen had touched a nerve. It was a deep insult, and almost certainly intensified by the press reaction to Annita’s missing curtsy. And it probably awoke another half-buried memory, that of his father’s brother who had been captured at the fall of Singapore and murdered on the Sandakan death marches. He berated the Opposition.

“I was told I did not learn respect at school. I learned one thing: I learned about self-respect and self-regard for Australia [this much had been agreed upon—the rest was entirely unexpected]—not about some cultural cringe to a country which decided not to defend the Malayan peninsula, not to worry about Singapore, and not to give us our troops back to keep ourselves free from Japanese domination. This was the country that you people wedded yourselves to, and even as it walked out on you and joined the Common Market, you were still looking for your MBEs and your knighthoods, and all the rest of the regalia that comes with it.”

Menzies and the Red Ensign – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Wed, 14 Mar 2012 23:31:05 +0000 No-one manipulated symbols better than Menzies, including the Australian flag which he made official by an act of parliament without referendum or public debate. In the half century preceding, three flags had flown in Australia’s name in peace and war—the Union Jack, the Defaced Red Ensign and the Defaced Blue Ensign. The Blue Ensign had flown at Gallipoli and on the Somme, the Red Ensign at the liberation of Changi, the Union Jack here and there throughout. Had they been asked to choose between the three officially approved flags of Australia it is likely the people would have chosen, as Menzies did, the Blue Ensign in preference to the red one or the flag of Great Britain. Even if Menzies had offered alternative designs, including some without the Union Jack, Australians probably would have voted for the one that defined them as Australian Britons. But that was 1954.

If you look at the paintings of the Australian Federation events, the Red Ensign is usually the dominant flag. Many Australian troops in WW1 and WW2 served under the Red Ensign.

Kenneth Arrow on Certainty – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Wed, 14 Mar 2012 04:31:06 +0000 Kenneth Arrow, the father of the theory of general equilibrium, one of the laws of free-market economics, once said, ‘Vast ills follow a belief in certainty.’

Offense as Defence – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Wed, 14 Mar 2012 02:00:06 +0000 It has been proved over and over again that a straight out defensive will always be defeated by a bold offensive and the best and only defence is attack.


The Dangers of Maxims – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Tue, 13 Mar 2012 23:31:06 +0000 George Eliot reckoned all sensible people ‘early discern that the mysterious complexity of our life is not to be embraced by maxims’.

The Core of Political Advice – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Tue, 13 Mar 2012 04:31:05 +0000 At the core of every conversation in a political office, including the conversations politicians have with themselves, are the questions: What will happen? and Why should I believe you? Politics is the art of the knowable. The protagonists usually divide between the empirical and statistical and the psychological and anthropological.

Politics, History and Storytelling – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Tue, 13 Mar 2012 02:00:05 +0000 Politics and history are alike and inseparable in that the craft of both is storytelling. Masters of both juggle past and present to create coherent narratives, the historian to make the past knowable, the politician to do this with the present.

Circumstances – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Mon, 12 Mar 2012 23:31:05 +0000 ‘It always remains true,’ George Eliot said in Middlemarch, ‘that if we had been greater, circumstances would have been less strong against us.’

Evil-doers and Do-gooders – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Mon, 12 Mar 2012 04:31:05 +0000 Deep in Keating’s mind resided a belief that the worst things happen not because of what the villains do, but what the non-villains fail to do to stop them. The villains, after all, are a given, like snakes and wolves and stinging nettles. They lurk in nature. That is one reason why idealists, moralists and liberals so often found Keating distasteful: he was not disposed to see such a very great distinction between evil-doers and do-gooders.

Power as a Creative Medium – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Mon, 12 Mar 2012 02:00:05 +0000 Keating liked the clash of armies: he was a politician of the older kind, not embarrassed or frightened by power any more than a financier is embarrassed or frightened by money or a dentist by teeth. Power is the currency of politics, the reason for it, the stock in trade. Power was his creative medium. He was never more at home than in its company.

The Australian and American Continents – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Sun, 11 Mar 2012 23:30:06 +0000 (Keating) made the point that Australians and Americans had both inherited continents, the ‘gift outright’ as the American poet Robert Frost called it. ‘[A]t first we were still England’s colonials. In time we gave ourselves to our new countries and the people and the land became one,’ Frost wrote. There was in there an echo of Henry Lawson declaring that Australians must choose ‘between the old dead tree and the young tree green’. Lawson’s line was a favourite of Manning Clark’s, and its inclusion in the speech may owe something to the days when Keating was prime minister in waiting and occasionally visited the Clarks at their home in Canberra’s Tasmania Circle to talk and listen to music. When many liberal intellectuals in the eighties held Keating in suspicion or loathing, Manning Clark found him intriguing. He told me that Keating was a man with a soul.

Latin and Mass Media Democracy – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Sun, 11 Mar 2012 04:30:05 +0000 They cannot expect the House to retain its dignity and traditions when those who have no understanding of either swarm all over the place like tourists at a foreign shrine. You can’t have Latin and wit and mass media democracy.

A Nickname – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Sun, 11 Mar 2012 02:00:06 +0000 Politicians are always trying to find the words which will stick. ‘A nickname is the heaviest stone the devil can throw at a man,’ said William Hazlitt, and described precisely what is meant when words are used to ‘nail’ a rival politician—‘nail it to his forehead’, as Paul Keating used to say. It is done in the hope that one’s enemy thereafter will be branded and the public will interpret his every word and action in this light: he cannot be trusted, he is weak, he is a loser, and so on.

A Political Adviser is a Funnel – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Sat, 10 Mar 2012 23:30:05 +0000 A political adviser is a kind of funnel and should be wide at one end and narrow at the other. The wide end is to take in information from every imaginable source, the narrow end to fit snugly in the prime minister’s ear. The wide end is permanently open to the media, the public service, the polls, other ministers and their staff, the caucus, the party secretariat and the rank and file, wives and friends, eccentrics, critics, lobbies, political geniuses and idiots alike. The narrow end discharges the decoction when it is all boiled down—one droplet at a time for preference, so he can quietly absorb it. It is a sure sign of the novice that he sprays his advice all over the place. Inside the funnel, of course, there must be a filter.

Australia’s National Parliament – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Sat, 10 Mar 2012 04:30:05 +0000 AUSTRALIA’S NATIONAL PARLIAMENT is interred in a vast lawn beneath a giant rattling aluminium Hills Hoist of a flagpole on a hill, an elephantine expression of the suburban dream, yet wanting only a few sheep and a Southern Cross windmill on it to also represent the rural rump. Little tractors with flashing lights incessantly mow and fertilise the grass. The gardeners wear neat brown uniforms and broad hats suggesting a sanitised link with the frontier or our Olympic team. There are always magpies on the lawns, an occasional one dead from weedkiller, and high in the eaves currawongs watch with evil yellow eyes. The north entrance is principally for visitors and tourists. Staff come in the other end—the ‘executive’ or ‘ministerial’ entrance. The building is so big, its interior so vast and confusing, that when I was first required to go from one entrance to the other I could only manage it by going outside and walking over the hill. It’s easier to get your bearings outside: there’s the water spout on Lake Burley Griffin, the Presbyterian church by Canberra Avenue, the Brindabella ranges, and the old Parliament House—and at night one can navigate by familiar constellations in the blanket of stars. Inside it wants for nothing except reality.

The Benefits of a Lack of Academic Training – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Sat, 10 Mar 2012 02:00:05 +0000 But (Keating’s) loss (ie lack of formal education) was politics’ gain. It left his language blessedly free of the social sciences, and being also free of the law, it was almost completely unconstrained. In its natural environment it served as the raw instrument of his intelligence, a shillelagh or a paint brush as circumstances demanded. With it he could sell an idea better than anybody else in the government. He painted word pictures, created images and moods at a stroke. He could turn ideas into icons, make phrases that stuck.

Before a Big Thing I Fill a Room With Music – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Fri, 09 Mar 2012 23:30:05 +0000 At our first meeting Keating said he listened because (classical music) humbled him. ‘Before a big thing,’ he said, ‘I fill the room with music. It reminds me that what I have to do is just a speck of sand.’

Don’t Apologise for A Small Population – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Fri, 09 Mar 2012 04:30:05 +0000 Australians apologise for themselves by saying that they do not have the 230 million people that the US has, (Keating) said; but ‘they weren’t 230 million when Thomas Jefferson was sitting in a house he had designed for himself in a paddock in the back end of Virginia writing the words, “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Human Happiness”’.

Skyrockets – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Fri, 09 Mar 2012 02:00:06 +0000 Lang told (Keating) that some politicians were people of weight and substance and some were skyrockets who issued a great shower of sparks but ‘a dead stick always fell to earth’.

A Duty – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Thu, 08 Mar 2012 23:30:05 +0000 But (Keating) loved the working class and believed that the articulate among them had a ‘God-given duty’ to serve their people: ‘If God has given you the capacity to handle and grapple with politics and to be articulate you have a duty to serve your own class.’

Politics as a Truth Contest – “Recollections of a Bleeding Heart” – Don Watson Thu, 08 Mar 2012 22:04:26 +0000 Daily life in the PMO was a truth contest. All day long truth was asserted, denied, demolished, reasserted. And there wasn’t a book in the place.

Lunching – “An Education” – Lynn Barber Thu, 08 Mar 2012 21:56:44 +0000 There were three-bottle, four-bottle, six-bottle lunches and it was a poor lunch indeed that finished before four o’clock.

Schoolboys and Lonely Old Men – “An Education” – Lynn Barber Thu, 08 Mar 2012 21:56:29 +0000 In later years, when I became respectable, I would have to defend myself from feminist attacks – How could you work for a soft-porn magazine? Very easily, as it happened. I’ve never had a problem with pornography. I think schoolboys and lonely old men need something to wank over and Penthouse was more tasteful than most wank mags.

Looks are Important – “An Education” – Lynn Barber Thu, 08 Mar 2012 04:30:06 +0000 Why was I so sure David was The One? Well, first and foremost, because he was gorgeously handsome and remained gorgeously handsome all his life. People say you shouldn’t marry for looks but I disagree: if I tot up all the pleasure I got from looking at David over the years I’d say it amounted to a very substantial hill of beans. Sometimes we’d just be sitting on the sofa watching television and I’d glance sideways at his profile and think, Gosh! Also, of course, having a gorgeous husband meant that we had gorgeous children, which I wouldn’t have done if I’d married some toad. So his looks were important.

Promiscuity – “An Education” – Lynn Barber Thu, 08 Mar 2012 03:20:05 +0000 But of course there were plenty of other boys for consolation, and in my second year, no longer attached to Dick, I seemed to go out with an awful lot of them. ‘Go out with’ is a bit of euphemism; I mean I slept with them; I was wildly promiscuous. I was still pining for Dick and wanting to find another boyfriend quickly so I thought cut to the chase – rather than waste endless evenings going on dates with men, why not go to bed with them first and see if I fancy them? This was quite an unusual attitude at Oxford at the time and one that gave me a well-earned reputation as an easy lay – I probably slept with about fifty men in my second year. My fantasy in those days was to meet a stranger, exchange almost no words, jump into bed, and then talk afterwards. But often there was no afterwards, either because the sex was a disaster, or because my pretence of sexual confidence scared them off. I did great, noisy, pretend orgasms with lots of ‘Yes! Yes! More! More!’ but I still hadn’t experienced the real thing. (In retrospect it is really odd that I persisted with sex as long as I did. Normally I’m so terrified of being bored I’ll go to the ballet once and say, ‘Right, that’s it, I tried the ballet and it was boring, won’t do that again.’ But somehow, with sex, I knew it would come right in the end and eventually it did.)

It Blue Helmets Turn Up, Run – “Emergency Sex (And Other Desperate Measures)”, Kenneth Cain, Heidi Postlewait and Andrew Thomson Wed, 07 Mar 2012 04:30:05 +0000 One day someone at UNHQ will commission an official report about this disaster, replete with mea culpas and lessons learned. But for me there’s only one lesson and it’s staring right at me every day as I eat lunch: If blue-helmeted UN peacekeepers show up in your town or village and offer to protect you, run. Or else get weapons. Your lives are worth so much less than theirs. I learned that the day we were evacuated from Haiti.

The Art of Cutting – “Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China”, Fuchsia Dunlop Wed, 07 Mar 2012 02:01:06 +0000 The art of cutting is fundamental to Chinese cooking. We had to learn all the different knife techniques, and the myriad of different shapes into which food can be cut. There were ‘horse-ear’ slices of pickled chilli; slivers, cubes and chunks of meat and poultry, ‘fish-eye’ slices of spring onion, wafer-thin ‘ox-tongue’ slices of radish and lettuce stem.

Cleavers – “Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China”, Fuchsia Dunlop Tue, 06 Mar 2012 23:32:05 +0000 Every student would be casually carrying around a lethally-sharp cleaver, which took some getting used to. To begin with I retained my European view of the cleaver as a bloody, murderous knife – it was only later that I began to appreciate it as the subtle, versatile instrument that it really is. (The cleaver is usually the only knife in a Chinese kitchen, and it is used for every kind of cutting, from peeling ginger and garlic cloves to chopping through meat and bone; the flat of the blade is also used for crushing pieces of ginger to release their juices, and for scooping up cut foods and transferring them from chopping board to wok.)

The Final Toll – “Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943” – Antony Beevor Thu, 01 Mar 2012 23:30:05 +0000 For Russians, on the other hand, it was proud yet sad end of a nightmare which had begun almost four years before and cost the Red Army nearly 9 million dead and 18 million wounded. (Only 1.8 million prisoners of war returned alive out of more than 4.5 million taken by the Wehrmacht.) Civilian casualties are much harder to assess, but they are thought to run to nearly 18 million, bringing the total war dead to the Soviet Union to over 26 million, more than five times the total of German war dead.

Rebuilding the Gulag – “Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943” – Antony Beevor Thu, 01 Mar 2012 04:30:05 +0000 The NKVD’s grip on Stalingrad had not slackened. German prisoners working from both banks of the Volga had noticed that the first building in the city to be repaired was the NKVD headquarters, and almost immediately there were queues of women outside with foodparcels for relatives who had been arrested. Former Sixth Army soldiers guessed that they too would be prisoners there for many years. Molotov later confirmed their fears, with his declaration that no German prisoners would see their homes until Stalingrad had been rebuilt.

The Aftermath – “Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943” – Antony Beevor Thu, 01 Mar 2012 02:00:05 +0000 The grisly evidence of the fighting did not disappear swiftly. After the Volga thawed in Spring, lumps of coagulated blackened skin were found on the river bank. General de Gaulle, when he stopped in Stalingrad on his way north to Moscow in December 1944, was struck to find that bodies were still being dug up, but this was to continue for several decades. Almost any building work in the city uncovered human remains from the battle.

Perspective – “Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943” – Antony Beevor Wed, 29 Feb 2012 23:43:05 +0000 On 21 September, the encirclement battle of Kiev ended. The Germans claimed a further 665,000 prisoners. Hitler called it ‘the greatest battle in world history’. The Chief of the General Staff, Halder, on the other hand, called it the greatest strategic mistake of the campaign in the east. Like Guderian, he felt that all their energies should have been concentrated on Moscow.

Obsessive Secrecy – “Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943” – Antony Beevor Wed, 29 Feb 2012 04:30:05 +0000 The obsession with secrecy meant that men not directly involved in Operation Uranus had not been told about it until up to five days after the start. At first sight, the most surprising aspect of this time of triumph is the number of deserters from the Red Army who continued to cross the lines to the surrounded German Army, thus entering a trap, but this paradox seems to be explicable mainly through a mixture of ignorance and mistrust. Colonel Tulpanov, the sophisticated NKVD officer in charge of recuiting German officers, admitted quite openly to one of his star prisoners, the fighter pilot Count Heinrich von Einsiedl, that ‘These Russians were most astonished to hear from the Germans the same story that had been put out by their own propaganda. They had not believed that the Germans were encircled.’

The Cost of Stalingrad – “Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943” – Antony Beevor Wed, 29 Feb 2012 02:02:06 +0000 The Soviet authorities executed around 13,500 of their own soldiers at Stalingrad – equivalent to more than a whole division of troops.

That the Soviet regime was almost as unforgiving towards its own soldiers as towards the enemy is demonstrated by the total figure of 13,500 executions, both summary and judicial, during the battle of Stalingrad.

Altogether, over three million Red Army soldiers out of 5.7 million died in German camps from disease, exposure, starvation and ill-treatment.

According to some estimates, there had been nearly 600,000 people in Stalingrad, and 40,000 were killed during the first week of bombardment.

In the whole Stalingrad campaign, the Red Army had suffered 1.1 million casualties, of which 485,751 had been fatal.

Pavlov’s House – “Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943” – Antony Beevor Tue, 28 Feb 2012 23:31:05 +0000 During the huge battles for the northern industrial sector of the city, house-fighting, with local attacks and counter-attacks, had continued in the central districts. One of the most famous episodes fo the Stalingrad battle was the defence of ‘Pavlov’s House’, which lasted for fifty-eight days.

At the end of September, a platoon from the 42nd Guards Regiment had seized a four-story building overlooking a square, some 300 yards in from the top of the river bank. Their commander, Lieutenant Afanasev, was blinded early in the fighting, so Sergeant Jakob Pavlov took over command. They discovered several civilians in the basement who stayed on throughout the fighting. One of them, Mariya Ulyanova, took an active part in the defence. Pavlov’s men smashed through cellar walls, to improve their communications, and cut holes in the walls, to make better firing points for their machine-guns and long-barrelled anti-tank rifles. Whenever panzers approached, Pavlov’s men scattered, either to the cellar or to the top floor, from where they were able to engage them at close range. The panzer crews could not elevate their main armament sufficiently to fire back. Chuikov later liked to make the point that Pavlov’s men killed more enemy soldiers than the Germans lost in the capture of Paris.

One of the better sledges on French Military prowess…

Amazonians of the Volga? – “Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943” – Antony Beevor Tue, 28 Feb 2012 04:34:05 +0000 The panzer troops were horrified when they found that they had been firing at women. Few members of the Sixth Army seem to have heard about the Sarmatae of the lower Volga – an interbreed of Scythians and Amazons, according to Herodotus – who allowed their women to take part in war.

Mine Dogs – “Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943” – Antony Beevor Tue, 28 Feb 2012 02:00:05 +0000 Several German Panzer divisions also encountered a new form of unconventional weapon during this fighting. They found Russian dogs running towards them with a curious-looking saddle holding a load on top with a short upright stick. At first the panzer troops thought they must be first-aid dogs, but then they realised that the animals had explosives or an anti-tank mine strapped to them. These ‘mine-dogs’, trained on Pavlovian principles, had been taught to run under large vehicles to obtain their food. The stick, catching against the underside would detonate the charge. Most of the dogs were shot before they reached their target, but this macabre tactic had an unnerving effect.

“Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” – Amy Chua Mon, 27 Feb 2012 23:34:05 +0000 But Lulu saw it differently. “I have no friends. No one likes me,” she announced one day. “Lulu, why do you say that?” I asked anxiously. “Everyone likes you.You’re so funny and pretty.”

“I’m ugly,” Lulu retorted. “And you don’t know anything. How can I have any friends? You won’t let me do anything. I can’t go anywhere. It’s all your fault. You’re a freak.”

Conquering Juliet – “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” – Amy Chua Mon, 27 Feb 2012 04:30:06 +0000 As promised, here’s the ending of Sophia’s essay on “Conquering Juliet”:

I didn’t quite understand what was happening until I found myself backstage, petrified, quaking. My hands were cold. I couldn’t remember how my piece started. An old mirror betrayed the contrast between my chalk-white face and my dark gown, and I wondered how many other musicians had stared into that same glass. Carnegie Hall. It didn’t seem right. This was supposed to be the unattainable goal, the carrot of false hope that would keep me practicing for an entire lifetime. And yet here I was, an eighth-grader, about to play “Juliet as a Young Girl” for the expectant crowd. I had worked so hard for this. Romeo and Juliet weren’t the only characters I had learned. The sweet, repetitive murmuring that accompanied Juliet was her nurse; the boisterous chords were Romeo’s teasing friends. So much of me was manifested in this piece, in one way or another. At that moment, I realized how much I loved this music. Performing isn’t easy—in fact, it’s heartbreaking. You spend months, maybe years, mastering a piece; you become a part of it, and it becomes a part of you. Playing for an audience is like giving blood; it leaves you feeling empty and a bit light-headed. And when it’s all over, your piece just isn’t yours anymore. It was time. I walked out to the piano and bowed. Only the stage was lit, and I couldn’t see the faces of the audience. I said good-bye to Romeo and Juliet, then released them into the darkness.

This was an essay that the teenage daughter wrote about learning and performing a piece of music at Carnegie Hall. I think it’s brilliant.

Revising Dreams for Coco – “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” – Amy Chua Mon, 27 Feb 2012 02:00:06 +0000 It didn’t upset me that I had revised my dreams for Coco—I just wanted her to be happy. I had finally come to see that Coco was an animal, with intrinsically far less potential than Sophia and Lulu. Although it is true that some dogs are on bomb squads or drug-sniffing teams, it is perfectly fine for most dogs not to have a profession or even any special skills.

Yes, she is talking about whether the family dog should serve a productive purpose in the household (after a lengthy period during which she tried to train the dog)

I Reject This Birthday Card – “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” – Amy Chua Sun, 26 Feb 2012 23:30:06 +0000 I grabbed the (home made birthday) card again and flipped it over. I pulled out a pen from my purse and scrawled “Happy Birthday Lulu Whoopee!” I added a big sour face. “What if I gave you this for your birthday, Lulu—would you like that? But I would never do that, Lulu. No—I get you magicians and giant slides that cost me hundreds of dollars. I get you huge ice cream cakes shaped like penguins, and I spend half my salary on stupid sticker and eraser party favors that everyone just throws away. I work so hard to give you good birthdays! I deserve better than this. So I reject this.” I threw the card back.

Foreign Accents – “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” – Amy Chua Sun, 26 Feb 2012 04:30:05 +0000 “Never ever make fun of foreign accents,” I’ve exhorted them on many occasions. “Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery. Those are people who crossed an ocean to come to this country.

He Went Back to Korea – “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” – Amy Chua Sun, 26 Feb 2012 02:00:05 +0000 <