Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
History as travelogue
“Yay, we had got it. President Habibie had agreed to the peacekeeping force.”
So gushes former Australian foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer in ABC TV’s The Howard Years (Episode 2), recounting the events in 1999 whereby the Howard Government had been dragged kicking-and-screaming to lead the UN intervention in the Indonesian military-sponsored violence against East Timorese civilians.
If Alex had any capacity for humility and candour, he might have expressed himself more accurately, for instance, thus:
“Phew, we hadn’t stuffed up so very comprehensively after all. Bill Clinton had leaned heavily on B.J. Habibie to agree to a peacekeeping force.”
For, indeed, the account in The Howard Years presents a very superficial, indeed incomplete, narrative of this episode in recent Australian history. The expression puffed-up also comes to mind.
From my recollections and impressions of the period, essentially the Government gravely deplored the violence against innocent Timorese, whilst earnestly sitting on its hands, pleading there was nothing that could be done. Howard and company even seemed to feign surprise, notwithstanding that accurate intelligence had given them ample forewarning of the violence that came to pass.
The silence — indeed the deep sleep — of Australia was broken by a largely trade union-led campaign which awakened grass-roots clamour for our Government to get off its arse and do something. I well remember the Victorian campaign, led passionately by then Trades Hall secretary Leigh Hubbard.
Sadly it wasn’t so much the former PM’s regard to the pleas of his people that tipped the scales. No, finally it was a gentle but firm word in the Government’s ear from the Clinton Whitehouse that inspired Mr Howard to act ‘decisively’ in spearheading the intervention — which was, of course, all but too late to stop much of the deadly violence.
As with the economic prosperity we now enjoy, the Howard Government’s apologists tend to credit the former PM with the impetus for the intervention. But in reality the impetus for the Australian-led mission in East Timor was due to the hard work and caring of ordinary Australians.
Much of my above remarks are taken from notes I made over a year ago. And, as if to quell the cognitive dissonance provoked by the account in The Howard Years, a recent article confirms much about my recollections here.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Ahh, the serenity . . .How’s the serenity . . . ?
Oh, to be a part of that serenity
. . . forever . . .
Please, dear God, put me in that picture
. . . forever and ever!
Whoah . . . what’s happening . . . ? ?
Oh, wait just a doggone minute . . .
Oh no, please, not that!
No, no, no, not that!!
No-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o . . . !!!
The Vatican’s newspaper has finally forgiven John Lennon for declaring that the Beatles were more famous than Jesus Christ, calling the remark a “boast” by a young man grappling with sudden fame. The comment by Lennon to a London newspaper in 1966 infuriated Christians, particularly in the United States, some of whom burned Beatles’ albums in huge pyres.
But of course the Church of Rome still seeks to boost its relevance by stirring up a ‘controversy’ about an off-the-cuff remark made over 40 years ago by a guy who’s been dead almost 30 years.
And a remark no one thinks at all remarkable, outside Vatican City and beyond a vocal minority of fanatics in the Bible Belt.
Forget Lennon, O Ye Defenders of the Faith, what about poor old Giordano Bruno?
I’m sick and tired of hearing things
From uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocrites
All I want is the truth now
Just gimme some truth now
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Brilliant dude, pity about the illustration
“Verisimilitude in a narrative is always more important than veracity.”
The late Michael Crichton again, in a talk he gave to the AAAS at Anaheim in 1999.
The man whom Tim Blair summed up as a “novelist and warmy-mocker” — the latter being, for the Muftim, the really important, if typically shallow, distinction — was in fact a trained scientist and physician before becoming a novelist, screen writer and climate-change sceptic. Blair’s studiedly trite remark, of course, illustrates the very point Crichton was making above.
Although the point generalises, Crichton was specifically referring to movies, and to illustrate he drew on the following example:
If I understand the new film Elizabeth correctly it shows Mary, Queen of Scots secretly poisoned at home; although in fact she was publicly beheaded 15 years later. That’s like making a movie where JFK dies by being hit by a bus sometime during the Reagan administration.
That’s a neat and colourful illustration, but in fact Crichton hasn’t ‘understood’ the film Elizabeth at all correctly.
Mary, Queen of Scots barely features in the 1998 production Elizabeth, from memory, if at all, and is certainly not poisoned. Two Marys, however, do meet their untimely deaths in the film. Queen Mary Tudor dies of some mysterious illness, possibly poisoned. And Mary of Guise is assassinated in Scotland, as suggested in the film, by the silkily sinister Sir Francis Walsingham, turned Lothario.
No, Mary, Queen of Scots is in fact dispatched more in keeping with historical rigour in the sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, released eight years later.
But still, we all know Crichton’s statement about verisimilitude, veracity and narrative is absolutely spot on.
Why? Because it has verisimilitude!
(N.B. Note that the ABC transcript of Crichton’s talk misquotes the word ‘verisimilitude’ as ‘milieu’. See the transcript at Crichton’s website, from which, however, the Elizabeth illustration seems to have been expunged.)