Saturday, August 23, 2003

Blogorrhoea's Blog HeroTim Dunlop once opined that a blogger not prepared to get personal or sexy would be well advised to produce lists if they wanted to be read and have their comments boxes filled. As I can't do personal and sexy at the same time, I've downed half a bottle of Jamesons and opted for a list. Below is a response to Scott Wickstein's request to Ozbloggers to present their top ten Australians of the twentieth century.

I shan't number them, because I'm not sure of the order I'd have 'em in were I not Jamesoned.

Stretcher bearer Private John Simpson Kirkpartrick (3rd Field Ambulance, ANZAC). In 24 days, this Pommie socialist gave Australia the best of its self-defining Digger image. He and his donkey had saved 300 boys by the time he was killed. Brave, stoic, generous, cocky, insubordinate, popular, never killed another human being, never got the Victoria Cross, and died tragically. Today, probably the only Gallipoli ANZAC most Australians can name. If Australia's nation-making mythology can be said to emanate from the feats of one man, those feats were Simpson's. Good on him - and good on us for valuing the right feats (and the right ranks).

Senior bureaucrat Nugget Coombs. Did all the things for which good people give Menzies the credit. The greatest nation-builder of a generation of great nation-builders. A depression child, this bloke knew the limits and crisis-tendencies of capitalism, knew the difference between a use value and an exchange value, argued that good economics is an economics of conscious human agency, and built up a popular esteem for public service that took Keating and Howard two decades to undermine.

Townsville School Director Eddie Mabo. The first person to take Aboriginal land claims to the High Court, citing the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. Effectively did away with a national assumption that the Northern Territory Supreme Court had confirmed the doctrine of Terra Nullius rather than invented it. From then on, the burden of proof was overturned; unless unbroken possession of Crown Land by way of extant traditional custom could be disproven by the Crown, the people of that land could lay claim to it. The United States and Canada got there first, but without Eddie we wouldn't be there yet. Well, nearly there ...

Feminist Germaine Greer. *The Female Eunuch* hit the country just as puberty hit me. The proposition that society can undergo profound change in thirty years without anyone noticing is summarily proven every time a forty-five-year-old Australian reads this book, I reckon. What this country must have been, that such a book should thoroughly transform perhaps the single most fundamental human relation, I can't quite imagine. And I was there. I watched a society transformed by it, and I watched a much (but clumsily) adored girlfriend transformed by it. It's probably not fair of me to say it, but I think the book's most telling virtue is that it, unlike 90% of the self-consciously feminist books since, was readably, bitingly resonant. Then.

Prime Minister Ben Chifley. An all-round good bloke, and maker of the best speech in Australian history. Short, simple, idealistic, practical, and so damning of the besuited careerists that infest the Labor Party of today that I can't help but take a sensuous pleasure at its unintended slings and arrows. I'm sure Australians wouldn't remember it if it weren't for the fact that Chifley and his best comrades weren't doomed shortly to be destroyed at the polls (we do prefer our heroes fallen) by a Tory scaremongering campaign the likes of which we would not see again for 53 years, but it's a speech that just won't quit in a political culture that values the spoken word less than any I have encountered.

Popster Stevie Wright. Put Oz Pop/Rock on the international map and afforded a generation the soundtrack to their snogging apprenticeship. George Young and Harry Vanda were probably the Easybeats' artistic prime-movers, but Stevie scrawled a mean lyric, and no Australian band has ever been blessed with a front man who more perfectly suited his times. He was as cute and cuddly as The Monkees' Davy Jones, but twice the rocker, twice the singer and thrice the conveyor of the emotions that constitute the medium: angst and lust. The post-Easybeats (but still Vanda/Young penned) 'Evie' (of three parts) still kicks serious sonic and emotional freckle, for mine.

Cricketer Donald Bradman. The only sportsman in the Australian pantheon, perhaps the only one in the world, whose pre-eminence in his chosen sport has gone unquestioned in a country ever eager to cut down the tall poppy (Heather McKay was as great a squash player, and an international hockey player to boot, but she was a woman when it was best not to be, so no-one remembers her). No matter what the Poms tried, he pasted 'em. And amidst a depression exacerbated and drawn out by Pommie capitalists (and, of course, the servile Australian elites who to this day refuse to accept responsibility for their lapdog role in every outrage from the Breaker Morant murder to the war of aggression in Iraq), that mattered heaps. Prime Miniature Howard thinks so, too. Often.

Writer Henry Lawson . Wrote better, thought better, and saw more than Banjo Patterson ever did. Did his share of fine bush-writing, but wrote a mean city-scape, too (which mattered a lot, as even then Australia was one of the world's most urbanised societies) - and fought out the parameters of Australian identity with Patterson on the pages of The Bulletin throughout the early years of the century. "I look in vain for traces of the fresh and fair and sweet,
in sallow, sunken faces that are drifting through the street.
Drifting on, drifting on, to the scrape of restless feet;
I can sorrow for the owners of the faces in the street."

Mogul Rupert Murdoch. Started out, by all accounts, as such a nice boy. Being born into the right class helps, but to come from Adelaide and parlay an irrepressible gambling instinct, a heartfelt contempt for any established authority (from which a benefit might not be elicited), and an enduring lust for power into world domination has gotta be respected. This bloke draws what Lippmann called the 'pictures in our heads that must pass for reality'. This bloke has his trained puppies write the world for us (his iron control over his many organs' recruitment, business strategies and editorial thrust is without peer). Claims by vulgar-Marxoid types that 'he who pays the piper calls the tune' don't generally cut it in the field of media studies - except when it comes to NewsCorp. This bloke knows the business, knows business in general, and knows politics. He is currently blandishing his way to monopoly power throughout the western world, and in Australia he is on the verge of destroying Fairfax (which used to be Australia's quality stable, and remains our only chance of one within the commercial sector). Which, all in all, is a real pity.

Constitutional Negotiator and Prime Minister Alfred Deakin. The best Liberal who ever got his mits on the country. Prepared to compromise because he was never convinced any one abstract political philosophy could be translated into the complex flux of reality without disastrous consequences. I doubt we'd have made a nation-state out of ourselves without his diplomacy, and I doubt we'd have fashioned the class compromise necessary to allow the Harvester Judgement in particular and the world's best-off working class in general (then, and for decades to come) without him. He died sad and forlorn, as befits an Australian hero.
Friday, August 22, 2003

We in the west - so many of us, genuinely well-meaning people - are not good at imagining how others might see us. I suspect the US are worse at it than anyone. But perhaps the 'light-on-the-obvious-security' UN, doomed ever to be linked in so many 'third-world' imaginations to the very government which has sought to emasculate it, aren't very good at it, either.

Certainly, that the UN, or perhaps even Sergio Vieira de Mello himself, might have been a target shouldn't cause the stunned surprise it appears to have induced throughout the west (although the raw emotion was as warranted as it was genuine - many good people dead and likely more deaths to come).

Why should Iraqis be expected to love, even trust, the UN? They've thought for years that Albright's infamous response to that little question about 500 000 sanction-killed kiddies ('we think the price is worth it') confirmed both the bodycount and their suspicion that the UN, in whose name the sanctions were imposed, was a shop-front for the US - a notion only strengthened by the sadly indignant resignations of erstwhile UN 'food-for-oil' directors Halliday in 1998 and von Sponeck in 2000 (even conservative estimates of the deathtoll exceed 100 000). You can't kill that many people in a country the size of Iraq without everyone knowing someone thus bereaved. We've been told for eight months now that Saddam was hated throughout the land for dealing death in just such numbers, so it should come as no surprise that some in Iraq might come gunning for the UN.

And the UN's role on the 'aggression-will-not-stand' issue of '90/'91 and the WMDs question throughout the following decade would not look well through Iraqi eyes, either. Whatever bits and pieces Iraq actually had at its disposal, all knew Israel had more of each. And nukes, too. And Israel has not been above treading the land of others, either. Not once has the Security Council troubled Israel in the matter, and always because the US exercised its veto in the Security Council

And hasn't the UN just endorsed the US-imposed Interim Council of Iraqis? It had to, of course. It'd be in no legal position to offer assistance unless it legitimised the Council and, by extension, a war of aggression it had always opposed. Washington had put the UN in an impossible position, and good people have died as a consequence.

As for Vieira de Mello; was the US right to insist on his appointment as UN chief in Iraq? A US nominee is a tainted man for every pan-Arabist, Iraqi nationalist, Saddamite, and jihadist - and that covers just about every guerilla in Iraq. Bin Laden also makes a lot of 'blood'n'soil' noises in his rhetoric (always a dead give-away you're dealing with a demagogue), and more than once has he called East Timor stolen Islamic territory. And was it not poor Vieira de Mello who headed the UN's Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) ?

I've this terrible feeling he and his mates have died for nothing. This mess looks thoroughly hopeless for all but the newly united guerillas and jihadists, whose strategy reminds me of the revelatory pile of little arms upon which Apocalypse Now was built ...

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Ken Parish is having trouble defining 'neocon'. Thought I might enlist the help of a few DWMs to help him out ...

The neocon position on The State, courtesy of Plato: "The ideal society we have described can never grow into a reality or see the light of day, and there will be no end to the troubles of states, or indeed of humanity itself, till philosophers become kings in this world."

The neocon position on Religion, courtesy of Rousseau: "Since, therefore, the legislator is incapable of using either force or reasoning, he must of necessity have recourse to an authority of a different order, which can compel without violence and persuade without convincing."

… and de Voltaire: "I want my attorney, my tailor, my servants, even my wife to believe in God, and think that then I shall be robbed and cuckolded less often."

The neocon position on The Executive, courtesy of Machiavelli: "[I]t must be understood that a prince, and especially a new prince, cannot observe all those things which are considered good in men, being often obliged, in order to maintain the state, to act against faith, against charity, against humanity, and against religion."

The neocon position on Social Order, courtesy of Simmel: "[I]t may even be a piece of political wisdom to see to it that there be some enemies in order for the unity of the members to be effective and for the group to remain conscious of this unity as its vital interest."

The neocon position on International Diplomacy, courtesy of Hume: "It is … a just political maxim, that every man must be supposed a knave."

… and LBJ: "Grab 'em by the balls and their hearts and minds will follow."

… and Mao Tse Tung: "[P]olitical power grows out of the barrel of a gun."

The neocon position on the consequent Moral Imperative, courtesy of Hobbes: "Force, and fraud, are in war the two cardinal virtues."

More as - and if - I discover there's any more to 'em. Dissent welcome (I'm not a neocon, you see), as are suggestions towards a more definitive list.

(I'd intended to blog happily into the small hours, but I've run out of ciggies, so I shall have to go to bed instead.)


Apologies for reality-induced silence from the blogoshed (I'll try to make up for some of that later tonight), but I just had to let blogorrheaders know that the test screening returns are in for Peter Weir's upcoming blockbuster Master & Commander. Granted, there's still time for the philistines at head office to give in to the censorious bleatings of what philistines there might have been in the test audiences, but the early mail is promising indeed. Brilliant author, brilliant director, (*contentious claim alert*) brilliant lead actor and a ship that is surely as beautiful a thing as human hands have e'er wrought. HMS Surprise should be dropping anchor in the Antipodes ere Christmas. So guess I'll be spending the hols at Hoyts.

political economic and cultural observations in the register of dismal dilettantism

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