The artificial nature of the burqa debate notwithstanding, there appears to be no end of illogical argument about the issue, coming both from the proponents of outlawing the garment, and the defenders of the freedom to choose it as every-day attire.
I declare right now my close affinity with the latter position, but not without, I think, deeply offending the sensibilities of many of its proponents.
I call the debate in Australia artificial because it is my observation that it was manufactured by bored journalists attempting to bait one or another of our under-exercised politicians into making an injudicious comment about the proposition that some people might be ‘confronted’ by the sight of someone covered from head to foot in black or blue cloth. The underlying assumption, the bait in this trap, that agreeing with that proposition is inherently wrong, is exactly what is so dispiriting about the ploy.
What sort of a fool would argue against the observation that it is confronting? In Western culture a clear line of sight to the face is taken for granted  as a subconscious adjunct to personal communication, as a means of gauging mood, intent, sincerity and attention.
The absence of clues about a person’s focus or intentions is regarded as discourteous, sinister and suspicious. Anyone who wishes to argue that this is religious discrimination rather than reflexive behaviour based on survival instincts should dress up that way and approach a dog, a cat or their next door neighbour and take note of the reactions they get.
Despite its literary lineage and stunning debut of actor Alan Ladd, not to mention the darkly atmospheric misè en scenes of Seitz and taut direction of Tuttle, this film appears to have slipped off the horizon as a Hollywood great. As far as I’m concerned it’s a seminal work and classic film noir.
Some liberties were taken with Graham Greene’s original story, but that was to be expected given the peculiar obsession by Americans to appropriate all aspects of life and experience as uniquely American. There was also the unexpected entry of the USA into the second world war at what must have been near the middle of the production; Pearl Harbour was bombed on 7 December 1941, This Gun for Hire was released in May 1942.
Greene’s hideous, hare-lipped assassin hired by a wealthy steel magnate to kill the Czech minister for war becomes a strikingly handsome killer, Alan Ladd as Philip Raven (shades of Edgar Allen Poe?), disfigured only by a badly broken wrist and hired by a chemical tycoon via proxy to assassinate a blackmailing industrial chemist who’s threatening to reveal a secret plot to sell a poison gas formula to the Japanese.
Ostensibly a story of political corruption, betrayal and vengeance, the film is really a character portrait of Ed Beaumont (Ladd), go-to-guy for the somewhat shady political kingmaker Paul Madvig (Donlevy). More than that, the character that emerges is a hard-boiled archetype: smart, tenacious, aloof, cynical, devious, tough, resilient and possessed by his own sense of honour that is his moral compass regardless of whether it’s to his advantage or not. I am tempted to guess that Beaumont has more than a passing resemblance to Hammett’s self-image.
Without any real momentum or spark in evidence, Tony Abbott is beginning to look like losing by default, rather than Gillard winning by better campaigning. But on to the main story for the day.
I confess! I didn’t watch the leadership debate tonight. Shoot me now, but the snatches of it that I actually caught in passing were so drearily boring I’d prefer the firing squad.
At one stage a twitter message flashed up on screen suggesting something like: ‘This isn’t a debate, it’s a glorified press conference. Why has the Press Club been allowed to hijack the event?’ Indeed.
Watching again both Kill Bill films, which I believe were actually one long film that had to be cut in half because of the self-indulgent length, I started forming some opinions not entirely related to Tarantino.
These opinions are raw and generalised, but appear to me to explain a whole lot of other cultural and social phenomena. As best as I can summarise them, the idea is that the baby boomer generation gave us guilt and political correctness, which stultified the world and imposed on Generation X a crippling moral deficit that saw it flounder and fail at all its projects. This in turn led to a Generation Y which has no moral compass at all, no education or desire for it, no ability to articulate its ideas and concerns (and, again, no desire to do so).
In my house, we have representatives of all three generations. Lloyd, the baby boomer, stuck in the moral retreat of guilt, shame and political correctness, but also increasingly wedded to romanticised ideas of the past rather than looking ahead. Myself, barely Generation X, feeling guilt about everything and resenting it, leading me to wage my own private war on all things politically correct. And Seth, who thinks vigorous debate is a sign of immaturity rather than a legacy of two thousand years of Western culture. Seth who knows nothing about his civilisation or its ideas, and who doesn’t care that he knows nothing. Seth, the epitome of the ‘whatever’ generation (the word being said with an American accent, with a shrug of the shoulders, arms crossed in indifference, and noisily chewing bubble gum).
This review originally written after attending the preview screening in Brisbane, Queensland, on 15 November 1998. Edited on 29 July 2010.
The opening sequences of the film, showing American soldiers landing on Omaha Beach in the first wave of the D Day invasion is nothing short of mesmerising. Spielberg said he tried to get the audience to be on the beach with the soldiers, and he certainly succeeded in transporting me into the nightmarishly realistic, terrifying spectacle, made impossible to witness any other way than front and centre by the onslaught of visual horrors and booming surround-sound. I was frozen by the re-enactment, unable to turn away or close my eyes.
No matter what has come since, including the superb Band of Brothers, this opening sequence re-defined the way WWII war stories can be told. The way any war film can unwind.
There was little romance to the quickly intercut scenes showing soldiers watching the landing barge ramps lower before their eyes and immediately being killed in murderous machine gun fire, heavy calibre bullets smashing through their flesh and steel helmets to brutally end the lives of men who did not even get the chance to make it onto the beach. Then there were those who died in the water, and many more on the beach itself, each death shown as coldly undignified, and anything but heroic.
Amid the limpid hubris of a despicably lame election campaign some remarkable observations about the relevance of classical liberalism and Adam Smith passed virtually unnoticed.
These observations were a signal condemnation of centre-left political totemism about indigenous policy, and a call to recognise the primacy of the individual, individual action and individual property ownership as a necessary first step in overcoming Aboriginal immiseration in Australia.
I continue to stand in awe of Pearson, whose unassuming manner, softly spoken earnestness and power of insightful reasoning more closely resembles the ideal of statesmanship than any other Australian public figure of this century that I can think of.
Speaking at the CIS Consilium (a forum of the conservative Centre for Independent Studies think tank) earlier this month, Pearson’s argument was sharp in its condemnation of bleeding hearted pseudo-socialists:
Longhand draft 30 March 2003, edited 25 July 2010.
Over my traditional Easter break in 2003 I fed my somewhat prodigious appetite for war movies with an armful of DVD rentals, offering some pretty spectacular ventures into mayhem served up by the Hollywood machine.
Blackhawk Down was one of those films. Unlike the others, though, it gave me pause.
The film fictionalises the real events surrounding a US attempt to kidnap senior advisors to local warlord and self-proclaimed Somali leader Mohamed Farah Aidid during the UN peacekeeping presence in Somalia in 1993.
On 13 October that year, 140 US soldiers abseiled from combat helicopters into the infamous Bakara Market district in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, to carry out the kidnap, which succeeded but resulted in two Black Hawk helicopters being shot down by rocket propelled grenades, and an escalating series of manoeuvres to rescue pilots and troops pinned down by murderous gunfire from thousands of Somali militia.
I remember being mesmerised back in 1993 by the TV news actuality of dead, bare-footed, shirtless American soldiers being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu by their heels at the conclusion of the action, which lasted 18 hours and resulted in 18 US fatalities, more than 70 wounded, and an unknown number of Somali casualties, said, at the end of the film, to have included more than 1000 dead.
The decision to call for an election on a Saturday would be otherwise unremarkable had it not meant that new voter registrations close at 20:00 on the following Monday, almost certainly disenfranchising a swathe of first-time voters.
One must assume that the ALP party machine was aware of the consequences of its timing for calling the election, and therefore doesn’t care about these votes, or has reason to fear them. In either case, that can’t be a good sign for Gillard because that constituency is likely to share a mind-set with a larger group of already registered voters.
One might be tempted to draw the conclusion that Gillard’s centerpiece education reforms aren’t really that popular with its intended consumers – students. One might also infer that ALP strategists have decided that the election will not be fought and won education policies; a reasonable assumption, I would think.
These matters notwithstanding, the timing of an election so soon after a leadership change was probably smart. Gillard hasn’t yet had time to make mistakes in her own right as leader of the party, enjoys a substantial honeymoon boost in the ratings, and is likely to slip in popularity the longer she waits if there aren’t any major new initiatives she can deliver prior to and separate from election pork barreling.
One of my all-time personal and professional pet hates is the ubiquitous disclaimer.
Personally it affronts me by saying: ‘I’m gonna tell you this, but don’t hold me to it; it’s likely that I’m lying to you.’
Professionally it says: ‘You’re gonna pay me to tell you this, but don’t hold me accountable for it in any way; caveat emptor, buddy.’
The following is a collection of disclaimers I have come across that either particularly irked me or that had me giggling insanely to myself. Enjoy.
Read before use
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