A LITTLE LESS SEPARATION. How many handshakes separate you from Elvis Presley, whose burger-inhaling ceased forever 25 years ago? Probably not as many as you think. If you've ever met anybody who met Richard Nixon, for example, you're only three handshakes away from The King.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard has met George Bush Sr who (obviously) knew Nixon, so anybody who's met Howard is only four shakes away. Any acquaintance of Australian journalist Piers Akerman is a two-shaker. Likewise anyone who's met a Beatle. And the enormous number of people who've met someone who's met a Beatle – think of the thousands who must have met Australian fashion designer Jenny Kee – are all three-shakers.
My former brother-in-law once had cause to beat up Australian boxer Lionel Rose, who met Elvis in Las Vegas, so I've got family handshake links. If punching can be considered a form of handshake, which it is, at least in my family.
Calculate your own Elvis connectivity. It's unlikely you'll be more than four or five handshakes removed. This process is made slightly more intriguing if Elvis is considered only as a conduit to Ann-Margaret.
Special Air Service Regiment troops in Afghanistan have seized another cache of ammunition, in conditions described as among the worst ever faced by Australian soldiers.
Australian Defence Force spokesman Brigadier Mike Hannan said conditions were equal to the toughest ever faced by Australian troops, with temperatures exceeding 50 degrees Celsius.
That's around 122 Fahrenheit. Nobody warned us about the harsh Afghan summer.
GUY RUNDLE'S satire is like a Susan Sontag striptease. Performer and art form stand in direct opposition. Grim lefty Rundle is comedic anti-matter.
Here's Guy's latest – a message from Australian Prime Minister John Howard, as relayed by funny Rundle:
My fellow Australians! Greetings to you all, or moshimosh, as they say in Beijing, which means either "may the heavens smile upon your succeeding generations", or "no more egg roll thanks", we could never quite work out which.
Guy is leading with his best material. It gets worse:
As you now know, I've been flitting back and forth to China quite a bit recently, and every time we sat down to talk about business, more food appeared - and such was the importance of this deal that I was obliged to forgo the Vegemite sandwiches and jam roly-poly that Janette had packed in an old Streets Neapolitan icecream tin to tide me over in the land of exotic customs and strange cooking smells.
It's a given among the Left that Howard is unsophisticated and suburban, therefore stupid. This explains a lot about the Left's view of unsophisticated suburban Australians, and why said unsophisticated suburban Australians think the Left can go fuck itself.
As a matter of fact, the Liberal Party has always taken a keen interest in the region. While there, I took the opportunity to spend time with the governor of Yunan province, Zhao Bin Dao - or Harold Holt as he was known for a period in his life.
My former colleague is venerable but still spry as a result of regular swimming races with Chairman Mao during the final years of the Great Helmsman's life. During my stay, Harold and I took to the waterways of his wonderful province, and I can't think of a better way to see the place than through the periscope of a personal midget submarine travelling down the Yangtze.
Is this satire, comedy, or a desperate plea for intervention?
We have much to learn from the Chinese, who have raced ahead of us in so many areas that we wish to expand in - gulags, for example, which really put our piker efforts to shame. Here we hope that further exchanges will take place and that we can begin to adopt their practice of detaining nationals as well as foreigners - especially during our next major engagement with Asia, in and over Iraq.
I think I'm going to cry.
Like ourselves, the Chinese have also had problems with carping, negative, un-Chinese inner-urban elites known in a more or less untranslatable phrase as "the democracy movement".
Their innovative ways of dealing with this problem ensure that we will be importing from, as well as exporting to, the great eastern land for many years to come.
Rundle thinks Howard's opponents are the equal of China's dissidents. At last, something we can laugh at!
ALLEGED ECONOMISTS are circulating a petition calling for Australia to "ratify the Kyoto Protocol without delay".
The hell with that. If you are an economist working in Australia who opposes Australia's ratification of the sneaky, anti-Western, pro-stupid Kyoto Protocol, send an e-mail to Dr. Alex Robson at the Australian National University to sign a counter-petition.
FOLLOW THE LOGIC. An academic has attacked the jail sentence handed down to the leader of a pack of gang rapists:
The record 55-year jail sentence handed down to the ringleader of a pack of gang rapists was as shocking as the crime, a leading criminologist said today.
University of Sydney criminologist Professor Mark Findlay said the decision was amazing because it seemed to signal society was prepared to let certain people rot in jail.
"The sentence is as shocking as the crime," he said.
Well, shouldn't it be? Isn't that the whole idea of our legal system? Having made the point that the crime and the sentence are equal, Findlay continues:
"Proportionality is an issue in all sentencing ... so that our justice system makes sense."
Findlay’s own words would indicate that he believes the sentence is proportional. We're talking here about someone who led the gang rapes of four women. Is Findlay arguing that his sentence should be less shocking?
WAY COOL. An Australian has taken over David Koresh's Waco cult site. Next – we annex Lubbock!
A former Australian government worker has won control of the Branch Davidians' Texas compound that was the scene of a violent 1993 stand-off with US authorities in which more than 80 sect members and their children were killed.
Melbourne-born Davidian Clive Doyle, a former federal currency printer, learnt several weeks ago he had won the battle for the near desolate property, outside Waco, that he has lived on since the late 1960s.
ONE THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED. That's the number of e-mails I've just lost forever due to lumber-fingered attempts to upgrade my browser. A hundred or so were yet to be read. I am the mayor of Stupidville.
So, if you've sent me anything important or newsworthy or nice or vicious lately, please send again. Feel free to add something about the need to back up all vital e-mails on hard disk. Or just send insults. I deserve them.
SUPPORTERS OF happy wanderer Ali Bakhtiyari claim that The Australian went to the wrong village in attempting to ascertain Ali's nationality, although Ali himself had told the newspaper which village to visit:
Refugee Action Collective chief Cyrus Sarang said yesterday Mr Bakhtiyari was from the village of Charkh Knowlege which is between Khoshk-darrah and Anjeel-darrah. But he declined to say where it was or show its location on a map.
Mr Sarang said Mr Bakhtiyari's lack of education may have led to the confusion. "He is not an educated person – if you say Charkh, he says Charkh," he said.
He does? Man, the interview with immigration officials when he applied for asylum must have been a riot:
Official: So, you say you're from Afghanistan?
Official: Or are you from Pakistan?
Official: Well, which one is it? Pakistan or Afghanistan?
Official: Not Pakistan?
Official: You're certain it isn't Afghanistan?
Official: Oh, Jesus …
THEY LAUGHED when I predicted a global crisis. They laughed when I began stockpiling in 1976. They laughed when I hid all of my clothes in a secret underground warehouse, protected by lasers.
Well, who's laughing now?
As if the threat of floods, global warming and pollution wasn't enough, scientists have more disturbing news: by 2008, the world might be running low on polyester.
Unless production dramatically increases, demand for the man-made fibre favoured by Austin Powers and 1960s male catalogue models will have outstripped supply within six years.
Some polyester experts are concerned about a potential shortage in a couple of years as the demand from Asia increases.
Don't come grovelling to me when you need some of this action in a few years. It's all mine, do you hear? Mine!
THIS WEEK'S column in The Australian gives negative mentions to Bob Hawke, Neville Wran, Joan Kirner, and George Galloway, and positive mentions to John Curtin and the Niagara Café of Gundagai, New South Wales.
GERMAINE GREER'S definition of a "weird relationship": one in which couples have sex. AAP reports:
Australian feminist icon Germaine Greer has called on British prime minister Tony Blair to stop having sex with his wife and let her get on with her career as a leading QC.
Cherie Blair, 47, is currently recovering from a miscarriage suffered last week.
"That is a very weird relationship," The Guardian newspaper quoted her as telling the Edinburgh International Books Festival in an address on the unequal nature of marriage.
Of course, it could be possible that Cherie is be one of those freakish, abnormal chicks who likes sex. I've read about this peculiar affliction in science journals.
JOHN PILGER has returned to Australia with some exciting new ideas: the war on terror is all about US oil, and the West is worse than al Qaeda!
He's telling this to people at lunches sponsored by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. How do people manage to eat while Pilger is talking? Doesn't the involuntary gag reflex overwhelm them?
I think I was 15 or so when I first drove there. Plaques note where racers have died. It's chilling. A few years later, I was watching a Bathurst race in which Peter Brock was competing. After handing his car to a co-driver, nine-time Bathurst winner Brock told a television reporter that the car was worn out; the brakes were gone. "But that's OK," he continued. "You don't need brakes much around here."
Uh, sure. Maybe Brock doesn't. If you ever get the chance, drive around the track and reflect on the skills needed to survive there in a brakeless vehicle.
ANTI-TELEVISION snobs make me sick. And the worst of all the TV haters were the damn Taliban. They're gone now, and television once again rocks Kabul:
After more than six years in the dark, Afghanistan's longest-running, even if limping, variety and quiz show is back on the airwaves, drawing standing-room-only crowds to the theater where it is taped and attracting people to the country's few remaining televisions like moths to light bulbs.
This story is terrific. Another excerpt:
On Saturday night, two contestants played a game often featured on the show. They were asked simple yes-or-no questions by the hostess - "Is your name Omar? Do you live in Kabul?" - and they were to say one answer while providing its opposite visually. That is, they were to answer "yes" while shaking their head side-to-side to indicate "no." Or they were to answer "no" while nodding their head in the affirmative. By the third question, the heads turn in a circular motion.
Try it. It's more difficult than you think.
As a sign of the show's popularity, the bit about shaking the head "no" while saying "yes" has been a running joke, continuing during the years the Taliban pulled the plug on the program.
There will be no subversive head movements! Bizarre to think that some in the West still believe people were better off under the Taliban, isn't it?
ALI BAKHTIYARI, the refugee from Unknownistan, began his career as a famous victim of Australia's racist cruelty when human rights lawyer Nick Poynder helped fund a visit to his family in the Woomera detention centre. This followed a publicity-seeking self-mutilation bid by Bakhtiyari's brother:
On Australia Day, a holiday similar to the Fourth of July, he climbed atop a building where other detainees were protesting their treatment. Two held a sign that read, "Freedom or Death." Mahzer, who had not eaten for 12 days, leaped into a coil of razor wire. One blade nearly sliced his jugular.
In Sydney, Poynder and his wife, Sharmini, read about the family in the Sun-Herald newspaper. The next day, they raised enough money to send Ali for a visit. On March 9, Ali saw his family for the first time in more than two years.
Shortly afterwards Poynder became the family's lawyer. I know Nick. He's a gifted, articulate, very funny, deeply ethical person. Sometimes he takes a swipe at me in the letters pages of The Australian, which is fine (we Collingwood supporters cut each other a lot of slack). What puzzles me is why he and the refugee movement in Australia have adopted Bakhtiyari as the symbol of their battle. We've read accounts from Pakistan that debunk his story; we've read accounts from Afghanistan that debunk his story. Bakhtiyari would appear to be as helpful a symbol for the rights of genuine refugees as Nancy Crick, the not-dying person who wanted to die, was for the euthanasia cheerleaders.
Didn't the refugee advocates fully investigate Bakhtiyari's claims before publicising them? Can't they find someone with a more convincing case? It's entirely possible – hey, even probable – that among the detainees is at least one person whose true (and able to be proved so) story is being dismissed by the government. So far the refugee advocates haven't found that person. Until they do, the government is winning this all the way.
PADILLA NO GUERILLA. Cops now say he's nothing but a minor terror monkey:
Attorney General John Ashcroft held a news conference via satellite while visiting officials in Moscow. Justice Department officials in Washington called him a significant terrorism figure and President Bush weighed in to agree.
But two months later, U.S. law enforcement officials close to the case say Jose Padilla is probably a "small fish" with no ties to al-Qaida cell members in the United States.
SALON FALLS for the "Ira Einhorn is a brainiac" line:
Einhorn is a famous leader of men and a seducer of women … Today he wants to talk about politics, physics, Buddhism, the economy, terrorism, ecology. He wants to tell me about Houellebecq, the French novelist du jour; about Jennifer Egan's new novel; about Hardt and Negri's popular left-wing history, "Empire," and Naomi Klein's notoriously dense "No Logo" -- unlike most American progressives, he's read and understood both.
There's your massive intelligence for you. Filthy Ira the murderer understands No Logo, by the notoriously dense Naomi Klein. Why, perhaps his prison guards will be able to teach him how to bend wire to retrieve food.
MANY OF us know Stephen Skubinna as a constant and clever comments poster. Turns out he's also a hero. This e-mail from Steve (sent to many bloggers) just arrived:
This is just to thank all of you for interesting reading and links, thought provoking debate, and in many cases, enjoyable e-mail correspondence. Some of you I have been reading since before last September 11, others of you I have just recently discovered.
On September 11 I called the Navy's mobilization office and asked if I could return to active duty. Sadly the answer was no, they didn't have a pressing need for 46 year old guys with my eclectic skill set (combat logistics, search and rescue, and information systems management). Had I read and spoken Arabic, or known Osama bin Laden’s ATM code, it would have been a different story. I had no illusions of me parachuting into Kabul with a knife clenched in my teeth and photos of Osama and Mullah Omar in my pocket, but I had hoped to do something, even if it only freed up somebody Stateside to go overseas.
After much thought and anguish, I considered the US Navy's Military Sealift Command. They were hiring at their entry level - Ordinary Seaman. It was a huge pay cut (over 50%) but it meant that I would actually go overseas aboard Navy support ships, such as Oilers or Ammo Ships or Combat Stores Ships. I won't be on the tip of the spear, but I'll be the gun bearer for those that are.
So next week I am reporting to Virginia Beach for my physical and in processing. Shortly after that I will be assigned to a ship, preferably one in the Western Pacific, Indian Ocean, or Persian Gulf. This is, looked at logically, the stupidest decision of my life, yet I have no regrets at making it. As Dirty Harry says, a man's got to know his limitations. As John Wayne says, a man's got to do what a man's got to do. At any rate, I still feel bound by the oath of enlistment first taken in 1975 despite having been a civilian for five years.
I will no longer be reading you daily, and making my inane or inflammatory comments on your sites, or pestering you with e-mail. Whenever I can find an internet café, whether it be in Singapore, Australia, or the UAE, I'll try to catch up on what you're writing, debating, and just plain arguing about.
So thanks again. If for no other reason, for helping me keep my frustration manageable for the past eleven months.
No, Steve. Thank you. And when you're in Australia, the drinks are on me.
NEVER HEARD OF HIM. Ali Bakhtiyari's claim to be a po' ol' Afghan fleeing the Taliban is under siege:
Drawing the photograph up to a few centimetres from his face, Sayed Mohammed, the village elder of Chaper in southern Afghanistan, shakes his head and says: "I do not know this face. If he had lived here, I would recognise him."
The face in the photo is that of Ali Bakhtiyari, perhaps Australia's best-known refugee. But, after hours of questioning dozens of people in Chaper – his alleged birthplace – and in neighbouring Charkh, where he says he was a farmer, Mr Bakhtiyari's identity appears to be as mysterious to the Afghans as it is to immigration officials in Canberra.
When presented with the counter-claims contained in this story, Mr Bakhtiyari's lawyer, Kate Chisholm, said in Woomera last night her client would not be responding.
I MISSED this blog story in last week's Sydney Morning Herald:
Sydney journalist Tim Blair's blog is a little bit Media Watch, a little bit Frontline and a lot of his opinion.
He catches the Sydney Morning Herald's TV writer out on the small matter of which party President Gerald Ford belonged to; he puts the boot into SMH columnist Peter FitzSimons - "some people mock (FitzSimons) because he is a former rugby union player, but his real crime is that he writes like a former rugby union player". Blair lets us know that the "Australian Democrats continue to howl and sulk", and he declares it a "safe bet" that Ali Baktiyari, father of the two young Woomera escapees, is not really an Afghan.
I was bound to get something right sooner or later.
GEORGE GALLOWAY: Iraq is determined about two things. It's determined to pursue the diplomatic moves that it has recently announced which do provide, I believe a diplomatic way out of the impasse, but it's determined if the United States and if there are Australian forces with them very ill-advisedly with them, but if they're with them, that they'll face very fierce resistance.
It will be a war from street to street, from house to house and rooftop to rooftop.
But George – and the show's host, Tony Jones – didn't anticipate blogger-like ridicule from fellow guest Greg Sheridan, of The Australian:
GREG SHERIDAN: If I could take up some of George's points. I mean, if his prognostications are as foolish and inaccurate as his factual recounting, then we've got nothing to worry about at all.
He says one million Iraqi children have been lost through the sanctions, that of course is rubbish. You only have to go to Kurdistan in Iraq, which is a part of Iraq also subject to the sanctions, but where normal life has gone on very well.
Now I notice a Blair Government foreign office Minister called Mr Galloway a mouthpiece and an apologist for Saddam Hussein.
GEORGE GALLOWAY: He had to come back to the house and apologise. Why don't you add that point.
GREG SHERIDAN: You swallow all Saddam Hussein's propaganda.
GEORGE GALLOWAY: Why don't you tell the viewers that he had to come back to the house and apologise for that?
TONY JONES: George Galloway, you've got the floor. Would you like to make that point?
GREG SHERIDAN: Don't go off your medication, George.
Ha! Poor George became upset at this point, and sensitive Tony Jones felt his pain:
GEORGE GALLOWAY: I don't know if this is normal discourse in Australia, but I've now been call a mouthpiece, an apologist and a psychiatric patient who should keep taking my medication. I am not used to that kind of rudeness and I don't tend to respond to it.
TONY JONES: It isn't normal discourse, George Galloway. And no, we will ask Greg Sheridan if he can actually tone it down a bit in fact.
Wimp. Things heated up again on the issue of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction:
GEORGE GALLOWAY: Well, in a way the West is in a double bind over this. If the Iraqis have these weapons - which they claim are the justification for the invasion - it goes without saying that those weapons will be used, because this is the last battle for the government in Iraq and it's a zero-sum game.
GREG SHERIDAN: Do you believe they have these weapons?
GEORGE GALLOWAY: If they don't have, then the justification for the invasion simply disappears.
GREG SHERIDAN: Do they have those?
GEORGE GALLOWAY: To answer the question which is so rudely being hurled at me as I'm speaking, the best way to decide whether or not they have these weapons is to accept their offer to send the UN arms inspectors back to Baghdad.
After some more ducking and diving from Galloway, Jones made a final, vain bid to get an answer on weapons:
TONY JONES: What about this critical question - do you think that Saddam Hussein really does have weapons of mass destruction and can weapons inspectors root them out?
GEORGE GALLOWAY: Why is that a critical question? Your viewers don't know me. My opinion is of no value whatsoever. The only opinion of value is an inspector's value.
That's why having spent years Iraq, let the inspectors back in we've now got people like your guest - I'm sorry I've never heard of him before, so I can't tell you his name - for years we've demanded that the inspectors be let in and now they've been invited in they've moved the goal posts.
In his final comments, George reveals that Iraqi weapons of any dimension are of no concern to him. That's because he's a slab-headed Pilgerite:
GEORGE GALLOWAY: Your guest and people like him and your Prime Minister, they want war because war is a means by which they can follow the right-wing political agenda, carving up the world in a kind of new imperialist age.
Here's to peace in our time, George.
PEACEFUL ISLAM WATCH. From The Guardian:
Nigeria has warned Miss World contestants to steer clear of parts of the country practising Islamic law during the pageant's finals in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, in November.
The beauty contest has been threatened with disruption by Islamic groups from Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north, with many objecting to the swimsuit competition in particular.
They presumably want it replaced with a burqa competition. And the section where the women talk? That's scrapped entirely.
DIANE E. has become entombed in debate with jabbering leftists. Her summation, atop a killer post:
Arguing with an ideologue is like entering a roach motel. You check in, you don't check out.
Saddam Hussein evoked the spirit of Winston Churchill yesterday when he vowed that his country would "never surrender" if America and Britain launched an attack against his regime.
In an interview in which he admitted a fondness for Quality Street chocolates and double-decker buses, the Iraqi dictator called on Tony Blair to help Britain recover its status in the Arab world by ignoring America.
Er, OK, Saddam. A shipment of Quality Street assortments is on its way – including a batch of your favourites, the Kurdish Delights ("Swirls of rich dark chocolate surrounding a delicate core of fast-acting nerve gas").
IN 1983 I drove a six-cylinder 1969 Holden Monaro from Sydney to Melbourne. I've just completed the same journey – with a valid licence this time – plus the return trip in this very example of the current model, borrowed from Holden's test fleet.
How do the vehicles and journeys compare?
'69 Monaro: 186 cu. in. straight six. Single two-barrel carburettor. Three-speed manual gearbox. Four-wheel drum brakes. Cassette player plugged into cigarette lighter. Most significant dashboard feature: huge central ashtray. Friend Warren, the car's owner, was worried that his stylish coupe would be destroyed. Highest speed reached: 110 km/h, or about 65 mph – downhill, with the assistance of a tailwind.
'02 Monaro: 230 cu. in. V6. Fuel injected. Supercharged. Four-speed automatic gearbox. Four-wheel disc brakes. No cassette player, only CD. No lighter either, for that matter. Most significant dashboard feature: dual airbags (no ashtray; it's available as an option). The Holden Motor Company, the car's owner, was worried that its stylish coupe would be destroyed. Highest speed reached: ask the damn cops at Mullengandra, north of Albury. Their radar equipment measured it.
AUSTRALIA'S ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS are way stressed out, according to psychologist Zacchary Steel. The Sydney Morning Herald reports:
Asylum seekers are suffering from "anticipatory stress disorder" - or the constant fear of being returned to their native country, according to University of New South Wales psychologist Zacchary Steel, who coined the term after studying asylum seekers at Villawood detention centre for 11 years.
He said the disorder - characterised by symptoms such as anxiety, depression, fear and psychological stress - "seems untreatable" while asylum seekers are kept in detention.
Bad luck, doc. It's just as bad on the outside, as another article in the Sydney Morning Herald explains:
Scott Clark, south-west Sydney area director of mental health, told the "Anxiety in the Wild South West" conference at Liverpool Hospital today that the increasing complexity of life, along with urbanisation and growing fears about job security had made people increasingly anxious.
"Anxiety is the most prevalent mental illness in the community affecting up to 10 per cent of the Australian population," he said.
Let's trade. All the nervous illegals who are spooked about going home can stay here, replacing the jittery, job-frightened urbanites who'll be happier farming rocks in Bananastan. It's a win-win!
CURSE YOU, vile capitalism! Why must you destroy everything? The other day a spectator at a rugby union game in South Africa ran on to the field and barged into the referee. Who does The Australian's Patrick Smith blame? (His article isn't online, so no link).
The wealthier sports get, the poorer crowd behaviour becomes. Sport will soon be played in cages. As sports and their competitors become richer, they become less respectful of rules, traditions and officials … it is happening all around us.
Except that it isn't, unless I've missed Tiger Woods mooning the gallery lately. Australian Rules football is much less violent and abusive than it was in the '70s, for example, in the years before the first fulltime pro player (Collingwood's Phil Carmen) played his first game. And the crowds are much, much milder now; swearing will usually draw reproachful looks from a concerned family type.
Which is why I so rarely attend games these days.
The last serious crowd assault on umpires in AFL happened back in the '80s, at a Sydney Swans v. Collingwood match at Victoria Park, when a series of umpiring blunders caused an upset win to the Swans. Normally reticent and calm people rushed the field to … ummm … speak rationally to the umpires about their mistakes. Yes. That's what happened.
Maybe Smith has a case, though. It could be that money makes sports bad. Presumably it does the same to journalists. Is this Smith's way of volunteering for a pay cut?
EDMONTON LIBERTARIAN Colby Cosh offers his apologies to Australia:
It's time for a rethink of a country I've perpetually abused as a byword for instant comedy. The Australians, with their background as a giant prison, their weird sports and fauna, their beery ways, and their culture cringe, are always good for a laugh. Well, it's time for me to grovel. Seen in a different light, Australia's different notions of good taste and entertainment are simply the tokens of an admirable resistance to globalist homogenization.
Among the reasons for Colby's long-awaited apology:
In Australia, they still believe in the concept of citizenship, and they're rigorous enough about it to detain people who try to bypass the legitimate immigration queue. In Canada, "legal immigrant" is just another word for "sucker."