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Humpty Trumpty

The mind-bending Trumpian world, which operates in a bulletproof moral and factual vacuum, has made sarcasm and irony, my tools of trade, largely redundant there. So I’ve refrained from commentary on the Big Schlanger since his election.

However, his latest diplomatic sortie, meeting his mate Vladimir in Helsinki and his subsequent press conference is obviously redolent of Alice in Wonderland. The BS explained that when he said ‘would’ he meant ‘wouldn’t’ or v.v. This famous quote below from that literary masterpiece has probably come to mind for many of us.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

 

Humpty Trumpty

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Neil MacGregor’s book is a real ‘tour de force’, to use an expression from south of the Rhine. Ex-director of the National Gallery in London and the British Museum, he has produced a unique and brilliant history of Germany, through close study of its monuments, landmarks, buildings, artworks and cultural artefacts.

I agree with (who wouldn’t?) R.J.W Evans of the New York Review of Books: it’s a ‘necklace of burnished cameos, witty and cunning, intricately constructed, but highly readable’. Each chapter offers an original and deep insight into the German universe and deserves to be digested slowly, with breaks between them to allow the ideas to settle. 

For example, MacGregor looks at the fascinating collection of ‘emergency’ banknotes (called Notgeld) produced by each German town towards the end of WWI as the central bank faltered, through the hyper-inflationary period of the Weimar Republic and Nazi use of them for their propaganda.

The book’s excellent photos do much more than illustrate his themes, they give it another cultural dimension, as a brilliant artefact itself. It was published in conjunction with a BBC 4 Radio program and 2014 exhibition at the British museum. 

As you can see, I was mightily impressed by this brief history of Germany. Apparently it’s also been translated into German and become a trending best-seller there! Finally, I also agree with Antony Beevor: ‘Anyone who wants to understand Germany should read this’.   

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Vale Miss Breville!

Today is sad, as my humble and loyal hairdresser has passed away. She had trimmed my golden locks every coupla weeks for the last eighteen years, without stress or fuss. No appointment at her salon, just walk right in and take a seat. And no annoying prattle about the weather, shopping trends or her late husbands…..just the sound of her motor!

Yes, Ms Breville (Maxum model) was purchased in the year 2000 A.D., probably from a purveyor of household-electricals, B Lee or H Norman – the memory has faded and the receipt is long gone. Ms B was a basic hair clipper with cutting attachments, comb and scissors, all neatly packed in her zip bag, and wire & plug (no batteries).

She had just completed my usual no.1 cut, tidying up scruffy body hair, when she gave a few short coughs (and stop/starts), which had never happened before. So I took off the cutting blades, cleaned her head and switched her back on, but she coughed again and then stopped (accompanied by a burning smell). For good, meaning eternally – she had passed on, karked it.

Just as modestly as she had taken care of my hirsute noggin all these years, without complaint, she had finished her last assignment to the last hair before taking her last breath! What an inspiration, a lifetime of selfless service, of truly Anzackian dimensions. 

Although of agnostic persuasion Ms B’s spirit will no doubt be recycled as her body is laid to rest on council E-waste day coming up soon.

Vale Ms B, dear Maxum, old friend, may your recycled bits be of service to another lucky human bean in your reincarnated new life. Bless you!

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Coping with Tim

Tim Cope is an Australian adventurer who made a remarkable solo trip by horseback from Mongolia to Hungary over a three year period from 2004. His book ‘On the Trail of Genghis Khan: An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads’ is a fascinating record and tale of high adventure, replete with maps and photographs.

Cope’s story of survival on the remote fringes of the Eurasian Steppes and ex-Soviet Union, with his loyal horses and dogs, is well told. They suffer extreme temperatures, dry marginal landscapes and encounters with rough locals. And are welcomed and embraced by traditional hospitality, which saves his life often.

The expedition is truncated by Tim’s return to Australia and elsewhere for various reasons, and we share his life story over those years, with some romantic interludes and companions.

I found it all engrossing, and closely followed the expedition’s detailed movements over the maps provided. His insights into the histories of those frontier territories, and the thread of nomad traditions that runs for thousands of kilometres, is fascinating. A great read!

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My friend Clare gave me an endurance test with the gift of this 866 page novel about growing up in New York mid twentieth century. Well, I did falter half way through but got my second wind and sailed on to the end of this blockbuster (obligatory cliche).

Auster’s long sentences create a beguiling rhythm of thought and dialogue about growing up possibilities, as the lives (yes, plural) of young Archie Ferguson play out against the backdrop of post-war American society and events that shook the nation in the 60s, notably the war in Vietnam. The characters in his extended part-Jewish family clan and society are well drawn, and the portrayal of Archie’s childhood and intimate life convincing. The underlying goodness of the heroic Archie characters is less so.

However the device of parallel Archie lives is too contrived. The omniscient author tries to explain it all in the final pages by a what-if rationale about the fateful turns that Archie’s life could have taken and conflates him as author of this book. Too cute by far and unconvincing. Yeah, of course all lives are prone to random shocks and surprises, aka the fickle finger of fate. The title refers to disappearing Archies as Auster takes them out, but it’s actually just confusing.

A more traditional solo Archie narrative would have worked fine, and saved four hundred pages. Maybe Auster had too many storyline ideas and, with an indulgent editor, decided to chuck ‘em all in the one story. Pre-eminent novelists are often indulged (see my reviews of Winton and Flanagan).

Putting that major whinge aside, I enjoyed the ride and was both entertained and enchanted, which are two of three hallmarks of good writing identified by Nabokov. Auster’s insight into young minds and their struggles with post-war life ring true – forming childhood identities, the threat of the draft for young men, the mood of radical resistance in universities to conservative society at large and the war in Vietnam, their burgeoning sex lives, writing urges, and longing for legal tender.

If you can gird your loins, so to speak, you might enjoy the marathon ride too.

Columbia uni 68

 

Kool Kiwis

Enzed is a great little country, full of civic-minded folk. By the way, little is good. It’s a pity they decided not to join the new Commonwealth of Australia in the day, as it may have toned down that rapacious Oz mentality. Sir Robert Muldoon’s famous quote that Kiwis leaving for Australia raised the IQs of both countries, is a favourite of mine.

Media coverage of NZ election night on Saturday exemplified some admirable qualities in our Tasman cousins. Labour leader Jacinda Ardern was shown sitting at home with her mum on the couch watching developments on TV. I couldn’t see whether she had her possum ugg boots on though. Her telegenic partner Clarke Gayford had probably gone fishing.

Outgoing PM Bill English rounded up a few more family members in front of TV in a public place at least. However, no hotel ballroom with thousands of supporters working themselves into mass hysteria for our sensible, modest, down-to-earth war buddies (remember the NZ in Anzac).

The Kiwi proportional representation voting system is more democratic and often involves negotiation with other parties to form government, as in Germany. And so to another election vignette. Veteran ‘kingmaker’ Winston Peters, who dislikes that descriptor, said he would consult his NZ First party members about which side of politics to join in government. Apparently no pre-determined plan and no hurry, or is that just Wily Winston?

The Maori Party looks like losing it’s seven seats to Labor. On a TV panel show veteran NZ Nationals ex-leader Don Brash said that the Maori party should disappear and even questioned Maoridom! Although fellow panelists were shocked they remained civil: a hallmark of NZ society. That wouldn’t happen on the other side of The Pond.

Imagine PM Jacinda meeting Canada’s PM Justin (such gen Y and X names) and joining him in taking over the reins of power from dreaded baby boomers. Add in Emmanuel, and it could be a trend, though 93 year old Zimbabwean Robert Mugabe is bucking it as he apparently lines up for another term!

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Survey Waste: $121,950,000

Readers are astonished by KC’s exclusive revelations about the Federal government’s bogus $122m postal survey on ‘marriage equality’. Okay, one of you wanted to know what would do the job better and far cheaper.

I’lll recap, using survey language. A voluntary survey is necessarily biassed and unrepresentative of the population. It will most likely produce invalid, unreliable results with very low levels of confidence. A properly-designed survey constructs a representative sample based on demographic information.

Recently Fairfax commissioned an Ipsos phone poll on ‘marriage equality’ of 1400 respondents, which produced 70% YES, 26% NO and 4% don’t know/undecided. With an error margin of 2.6% that’s a clear affirmative result. Better job done for a fraction of the cost!

As noted previously your faithful scribe was a corporate marketing research manager in another life, whose job was to commission all kinds of surveys. That Ipsos job could not have cost more than $50K, so do the math as they say. It’s a massive and disgraceful waste of taxpayer money!

What’s worse is that it gives the illusion of ‘voting’, and some commentators are even referring to a ballot, both of which are incorrect; or slipping back to ‘plebiscite’, which it’s definitely not. As we know, there is nothing binding about this survey, and pollies still have to get their hands dirty, in their newly-fenced parliament.

Wasting money

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