As I Please: That Was The Year That Was

Friday, 7.25 pm

My new co-written book The Year It All Fell Down is not yet commenced but concerns, of course, the earthquakes, meltdowns, tornadoes, economic shambles, refugee drownings and Arab uprisings, the crackdowns, facedowns, shootouts, lockouts, arrests, royal weddings and assassinations of a year not yet completed, the fall of Mubarak, Ghadafi, Murdoch, Bin Laden, Keneally, Rann, Strauss-Kahn, Palin, Perry, Cain, the shooting of Giffords and the curious crisis Assange now finds himself in, accused of sexual bad manners in Sweden and likely therefore to be tortured and killed for something else entirely in America.

It was the year too when the wheels began to fall off the Karl Rove-Tea Party method of doing things in politics: always attack, always shout, never reason, never compromise, never give the exhausted opponent a instant of oxygen, a moment of gladness, or the smallest hint of triumph to come.The budget facedown with Congress in America, the Carbon Tax facedown in Australia, the Occupy Wall Street movement everywhere and its parallels with the Arab Spring, and the strange alliance of the Anglican church and the Trotskyists and the Facebook activists and the hoons of England, showed how adolescent the Right of politics has got to be lately, locking itself in its room and playing loud music and saying la, la, la, and denying there is a world elsewhere. Obama’s impersonation of ‘the adult in the room’ and Abbott’s hectic innumeracy have derailed or eroded a movement that seemed for a while quite likely to conquer the world not with its logic but its noisiness. And now has stubbed its toe and is hopping around on one leg, howling and bleeding.

The pivotal moment here I think was when Alan Joyce gave himself a raise of a thousand dollars an hour on Friday, disrupted the arrangements of half a million people on Saturday, offered them ninety million dollars for their needless trouble on Wednesday, and on Thursday said Qantas was running out of money and the heroes that made its name must now be sacked and their jobs moved offshore, failing to note that criticising Qantas pilots in Australia was like firing ack-ack at Spitfires doing aerobatics over Kent. It raised the question of why he was getting ten times the wage of Barack Obama and what, precisely, his punishing accountancy added to Qantas’s world reputation for air safety, cheery efficient service and calm under pressure at forty thousand feet. And how, precisely, a profit of half a billion dollars in a dreadful year for tourism, travel and luxury spending (the year it all fell down) added up to Qantas ‘running out of money’.

The lockout also had the unexpected consequence of taking the Boat People Menace out of our headlines, forever perhaps. The half a million inconvenienced Australians sitting on their luggage unwashed and frantic in Heathrow, Mumbai or Beijing suddenly knew, or pretty soon found out, what a lousy, frustrating, grimy journey to Australia was like, and how horrid it was not to know if you’d get to your destination, and if you’d ever see your family again. They suddenly understood, however subconsciously, that a journey was a serious thing, and you shouldn’t get locked up, ever, for attempting one.

And suddenly the issue was off the boil. And when today it was announced that the refugees would not be locked up any more, nor driven to suicide or  madness or thoughts of terrorist revenge, but ‘processed’ while living ‘in the community’, as happens in most European countries, and Canada and New Zealand, it passed by almost unnoticed.

Which leaves Tony Abbott without a crisis, and with time on his hands. Will he survive it? I doubt it. Will Turnbull overthrow him? Probably. Can Gillard beat Turnbull? No. Will Gillard be overthrown? Probably. By whom? Not sure.

And so it goes.

Saturday, 3.44 am

The rain continues and blurs the lights of Ettalong across Pittwater. Reading abed Kirk Douglas’s memoir The Ragman’s Son belatedly these last few nights, an unsettling anthology of snarling responses to imagined insults (he proudly calls himself ‘a difficult actor’) and surly rejections of impertinent offers of loads of money for hundreds and hundreds of pages, plus a somewhat longer list of women he went to bed with who later committed suicide, I found again an hour ago, after a long search, this passage on page 246:

‘The movie company went on to Round Hill, Jamaica, to film the beach sequences where the cannibals chase me. There were beautiful, young (I hate to think how young) copper-colored girls dancing and singing Calypso songs — “Please, mister, don’t you touch my tomatoes.” Afterward, I would take them up to my bungalow. I’m glad I never asked them how old they were. I think I should have been in jail.’

Passing strange is it not that Kirk Douglas, who is still alive, has not been thus far pursued across the world by policemen keen to question him on this utterly damning paragraph and track down the crudely exploited girls he mentions, now in their sixties I guess, nor yet by the current sort of hydrophobic feminist that has lately gone after Assange, Strauss-Kahn and Polanski. Like Polanski, Kirk is Jewish, short, priapic, boastful, old, unrepentant and proud. Like him he has confessed, with a shrug, his pederasty. Why should this ninety-five year old Jewish beast go free and Polanski go to gaol?

Some question surely arises, does it not, of the mores, norms and customs of Jamaica in those days. Everyone was doing it, doing it, doing it there at that age, so why should not he, a distinguished visitor, join in the common, welcoming, lavish, lurid, ongoing Caribbean midnight party? Why should he hold back?

But this is the same defence Polanski used a mere twenty years later. ‘Los Angeles was like that in the seventies — hot, lustful, free-loving, youthful, game. I did a deal and paid the girl off. I was not her first lover. She consented. She forgave me, and no longer wants to pursue the charge. She has asked the authorities to cease this long hot pursuit of me. I am old. Please leave me alone. I am very talented. Please leave me alone. My mother died in Auschwitz. Please leave me alone. My wife and unborn son were butchered by the Manson Family. Please leave me alone. I’m a good film director. Let me do my work. Please leave me alone.’

A lawyer might here ask, I suppose, what has one thing to do with another? A complaint was made, a charge laid, a legal process commenced that wrecked the career of a fine director, a legal process that was not initiated against Chaplin, Flynn, Brando, Presley, Tiny Tim, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and most of the travelling rock bands of the 1960s and 70s. No charge was laid against them. So Polanski alone should go in the slammer, and stuff him. Strauss-Kahn should likewise not now be President of France, although the charge was false, and stuff him too.

I make no particular judgment on this. A crime was committed, for sure, underwater in Jack Nicholson’s pool at an all-night party where illegal drugs were taken by underage girls and middle-aged men, and it is appropriate that a crime like that should be punished. But a pursuit down the decades of a man who in other parts of his life has already suffered more than most of us, a Holocaust survivor whose wife was butchered and his mother gassed, seems a little immoderate to me in the light of Kirk’s equivalent crime, unpunished these forty-six years. Or am I wrong?

It’s important to think things through now and then, to join the dots, and follow the thread, and work out where justice lies.

Or am I wrong?

If I am, should we call for Kirk’s arrest?

And who will put up their hand and volunteer to do that?

Just asking.