Thursday, February 25, 2010

MY DAY by Pope Alexander VI, Rodrigo Borgia

My bedchamber fresco by Pinturicchio, of my lady Giulia as the Virgin Mary

Awaken in the Papal four-poster to an immaculate Vatican day. The weather has been infallible recently, or is it only me? Sweep back a lock of hair from the downy cheek of the angel beside me, only to find that it is not Giulia after all, but Maria, her chambermaid. Notum to self: check rostering.

Morning routine with my personal trainer, Brother Rocco. Assume throne after only three push ups and squats due to the rigours of the night before. Issue Papal Bull to stomach to desist from its unholy territorial expansionism.

Papal robing ceremonial, in attendance Brother Joan (undergarments, hygiene and manicure), Brother Fabio (principal frocker), Brother Boccaccio (slippers, silks and mitres).

Light Brunch of Devilled Valencian Larks’ Tongues and Grilled Cheeks. Cold as ever, but who wants to risk a tummy ache? The lion’s share had been rather too thoroughly tasted by Brother Cantarella. I should probably dispense with him but he is skilled in other areas.

Inspect progress of mural being painted outside my bedchamber of my darling little Giulia clad as the Virgin Mary. Instruct artist to cover up one bosom but make the eyes foxier. In the end he plays safe and covers both, bringing the work to a satisfying conclusion.

Issue Papal Bull declaring Lucrezia a virgin yet again, and dispatch an epistle to her with God’s blessing for the impending birth. In my post scriptum I tell her that papa really does love her, very very much.

Audience in Throne Room with delegation from the sacked city of Capua, devout and humble friars who are collecting alms for the widowed, the injured and the poor of that stricken city. Express my sincere sorrow for the people of Capua, and take into safe keeping the 2000 ducats in collected donations they have carried with them for the poor, scrupulous to provide full and proper receipting for same. They depart delighted at my Papal blessing.

Working cocktails with Cesare to discuss developments in our Romagna campaign, in the wake of his triumphant sacking of Capua. Notice Cesare keeps his back as tight against the wall as I do. Cesare looks quite well for an advanced syphilitic, although his nose could do with subtle repositioning.

Hear confession from the Conclave of Cardinals. Going rates for penances are: Giving a Papal Bribe, 1000 ducats; Taking a Papal Bribe, 500 ducats; Treachery and Deceit, 5 ducats; Fornication, 200 ducats plus the indulgence of one pontifical night with the fallen woman so that the Holy Spirit may enter her too; Gluttony, 500 larks’ tongues (Valencian); Covetousness, impounding of coveted item(s) from third party Cardinal. Finish up spot on 5.30, all sinners thoroughly absolved.

Pontifical Power Nap.

Dinner with Cardinal Rotunda. After main course he complains of stomach discomfort and dies early.

Beauty sleep with my darling little Giulia, only when I am rolled off her I discover to my surprise that it’s Maria again. Notum to self: priority to sort out rostering.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Tiger, of the most curious things about your apology to the known cosmos came at its conclusion, when you said you hoped that one day we could believe in you again.

No thinking person has ever lost a skerrick of “belief” in you. You are a golf player. Repeat - golf, player. You play a game which is for some reason of global appeal, with its preppie outfits and campy golf carts, a pastime favoured by presidents and CEOs, and men who like wearing cuff-links and sea captain caps, and women in slacks, and in the pursuit of which tracts of forest are razed for acres of heavily watered ever-clipped lawn, flapping with little flags. Funny old game really, but it’s human - like sex for instance. 

As golf players go you are one of the best, if not the best. Any loss of belief should be more the ongoing one in the society around you, the one that has medicalised your desire for sex addition into “sex addiction”, dubbed you a narcissist and all the rest of it. After all, who but a mirror-staring monster would ever want a bit more sex in their lives?

Not long ago you were striding the course,  a young man in the pink on the green. Now as you give your televised apology, you look like you’ve been clubbed with a sand wedge. You appear brainwashed, drugged and wounded, which you no doubt are after weeks of “treatment” at the hands of the Senior Anti Sex League, which has made you endure tortures as terrible as being forced to listen to whole State of the Union speeches by George W. Bush,  while a stripper pole dances in front of you, all in the purpose of shrivelling your desire to the McNugget that  is church and sponsor approved.

You have been put on trial by that vapid, venal and ever hypocritical beast, the media, its “values” ever more closely dicktated by US Christian Fundamentalist Right. But for what have you been tried? What is your crime? Did you rob a shop, diddle your taxes, attack your spouse with a golf club? No. Your offence was to betray the trust of your wife by having sex with other women without her knowledge. It is, in other words, a matter entirely and exclusively between the two of you, and of no legitimate concern to others except as gossip and juicy trivia - and for the media, sensational profit.

The words “role model for the young” are inevitably recited, usually by advertising types who have drafted your various product endorsements, but was it your goal in life to be a public saint - or to be good at golf? And who better to preach about moral values and the dangers of booze and womanising than the original Mad Men? As for politicians preaching, nuff said.

Who then is there to cast the first stone? A multitude, the media would have us believe, from the snug, smug safety of their living room armchair, deep in the maw of their quiet sexless desperation, in the thrall of what Wilhelm Reich called “the mass psychology of fascism”.

When anything really bad happens to us short of death - divorce, disease, financial wipeout - well-meaning friends line up with homilies to help us through, viz “One door  closes, another opens”, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, “you will grow though this”. But the two which have become most common in more recent times are “everything happens for a reason”, and “shit happens”.

“Everything happens for a reason” appeals to hippies, New Age types and the religious, as it implies a higher purpose behind everything - that our lives, as difficult as they might seem at the time, are being controlled from just off camera by a divine being in a director’s chair. “Yes Tiger, I had you agonisingly stub your toe, but so that you could grow a new, stronger nail. It’s all written down here in my script for you. Which I will never show you. Next scene!”

“Shit happens” appeals to real estate agents and used car salesmen as it means they don’t have to take responsibility for their actions. Our woe and angst can instead be put down to the meaninglessness we all face on the moral stage, that universe of dark and terrifying freedom mapped by Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus and Beckett.

You are now being told by a legion of psychiatrists, psychotherapists, drug-peddling doctors, church leaders, politicians, news editors and, yes, journalists, that there is something terribly wrong with your desire for sex - your, yes, sex drive. They will also be telling you that the good news is that everything happens for a reason, and that when one door closes another opens, and that you will grow through this humiliation and public shaming, all this mindfucking “therapy”. The sad truth is that shit happens when sex, media and money come together in an unholy orgasm, an orgy of self-serving, self-righteous cant and bile, with the horrid undertones, subtle but there, and doubtless deeply satisfying to the white Christian Right, of the black man who "cannot control himself".

Can a black man be greatest golfer there ever was? Can a black man be president? Sadly there are so many who would wish it not so.

Tiger, Tiger, burn bright.

-Larry Buttrose

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Not Reg, not Morley, but Godot

In 1972 a poet friend in Melbourne wrote me a letter asking if an actor he knew could come and stay with us in Adelaide. My then girlfriend Donna had no objection, and so I wrote back with our telephone number, saying we looked forward to his arrival. 

Reg was a small wiry Englishman. We couldn’t tell how old he was, but as we were both not even out of our teens he seemed older than anyone else we knew, other than our parents. But he had an engaging manner and wit, and instantly charmed us. He had come to Adelaide in a production of Waiting for Godot, and got us tickets, and we were suitably stunned by the searing comedic bleakness of Beckett’s vision. The production starred another English actor, Robert Morley, but for us the play was stolen by Reg as Lucky, the tramp on a leash prodded along in a storm of insults by his monstrous master, Pozzo. 
As Lucky, Reg got to deliver the greatest speech in the modern theatre. I had read the play in high school, in French as well as English, but seeing it brought to life on stage convinced me that Beckett had succeeded in creating a language all his own. 
Reg’s tickets were a great boon to two kids hardly able to afford the rent. We had a rather sour, Dickensian landlady, and one day when Donna was alone in the house she barged in without permission for an ad hoc inspection, reducing Donna to tears. When Reg came home he gently insisted on taking Donna to the police station to file a complaint against the landlady, so that justice would be done.
The morning before he left, Reg took me aside for a word, saying “that landlady is such a awful woman - and real estate is really cheap in Adelaide... you should buy a house.” To which the young radical student/journalist replied: “Why would I want to buy a house? I don’t want to buy into the whole property thing.” To which Reg replied: “So you’d prefer to pay rent all your life would you?”
The thought resonated, and even though my parents also said “what would you want to buy a house for?”, Donna and I did buy a little house, and later on that became another house with another partner, and then other houses, a chain of them that led to the home in which I now live. It is in many ways the house that Reg built. If he had not suggested buying a place back then, and in the way he had, I might never have owned anything, certainly not with what Australian “arts professionals” earn. 
Reg himself did well enough as an arts professional. He scored parts in classic Australian movies like Mad Dog Morgan and Mad Max, and did dozens of TV dramas and soaps. I used to see his name in the papers or glimpse his face on the screen. A friend told me Reg had built a mudbrick house outside Melbourne and loved it, but I never managed to get to see him, and we never met or spoke again after those couple of weeks he stayed with us in the early 1970s. 
After the Victorian Bushfires last year I saw his name again, as one of the 173 people who had died in those terrible fires. Apparently he had been helping a neighbour fight a blaze, which from what I remembered of Reg came as no surprise at all. 
After hearing the news, I tried to remember him as he was when he came to stay with us, but my clearest memory was seeing him on stage, as a tramp in a blighted landscape, beneath a lone tree stretching its broken branches up towards a dark sky. 
Beckett’s masterpiece immerses itself in our human tragedy, in our slow, ever-gnawing trauma of nothing to be done, and casts all of us as the tramps who suspend their existence, waiting for a Godot who will not come. But Beckett did something far greater, suffusing his sombre vision with humour: sardonic, dark, gallows humour yes, but humour, our true saviour. 
The little thespian Reg Evans had that humour too, never more tellingly than that morning when he raised an eyebrow as he said to me, “So you’d prefer to pay rent all your life would you?” 
Vale, Reg. 

-Larry Buttrose

Saturday, February 13, 2010


There is a scene in the 1964 Stanley Kubrick classic Doctor Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, where after the suicide of mad US bomber commander General Jack D. Ripper, British military attaché Lionel Mandrake has a chance to prevent World War Three. 

Without the knowledge of President Merkin Muffley, General Ripper has dispatched the bomber wing to incinerate the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons, but Group Captain Mandrake (one of three memorable roles, along with Muffley and Strangelove, which Peter Sellers plays in the film) realises what is going on, and works out what to do. All he needs to do to save the world is telephone the president, tell him what has happened, and the bombers can be recalled.

Unfortunately, all lines of official communication to the air base are cut and the only way he can contact the president is by public telephone. But to do that he needs coins, and doesn’t have enough. Nor does the ramrod-backed US Marine Colonel ‘Bat’ Guano, played by the ever-crusty Keenan Wynn, who despite his suspicions that Mandrake might be some kind of a commie infiltrator, is slowly accepting the reality of the imminent global peril. Then Mandrake notices a Coca-Cola vending machine, and in a flash of inspiration asks Guano to fire into its slot to get the needed coins. Before he does so, Guano asks deadpan whether Mandrake realises that the machine is the private property of the Coca-Cola Company, thus articulating that American verity that corporate property rights take precedence over all, up to and including saving the world.

I had somewhat similar Strangelovean episode a few years ago, teaching creative writing at a regional university. One of my tutorial classes was at nine o’clock on Friday mornings, a day and time when much of the campus was quiet. The tutorial was in a room off a concrete courtyard, silent but for one thing - a Coca-Cola machine, a ruddy hybrid of Robby The Robot and Amanda Vanstone, loudly humming its busy idiot hum to chill its idiot cans, a coin-activated capitalist plot against the health of our precious bodily fluids, and turning the tutor attempting to tute not thirty metres away into something of a crazed General Ripper himself.

‘What is that pile of junk doing in clearly-audible hum-range of pedagogy?’ I couldn’t help but declare. ‘I need silence to teach - and you to learn! What right does the Coca-Cola Corporation have to put these things near tutorial rooms? Doesn’t it know what it is doing to teaching? And teeth, for that matter...’.

Provoked beyond all known limits by its hideous, ghastly, loathsome presence (writing students please note here my deliberate overuse of adjectives), I snapped, metamorphosing into a noughties Lionel Mandrake. Lacking a sidearm, I did the next best thing. I took direct action. Turned the bastard off at the switch. Cut it off at the knees.

‘See! It can be done!’ I shouted to my students. ‘You don’t have to put up with the machine! You don’t have to tolerate the hum! And you certainly don’t have to drink the crappola! Now I want you all to go to your windows, put your heads out and shout: “I’ve taken all I can, and I’m not taking any more!” - bearing in mind as you do of course that any more is two words and not one.’

Students being what they postmodernly are, well versed in dealing with a babbling incomprehensible tissue of texts, they feigned mild bemusement while pondering the appropriate paperwork to be filled in for a teacher pushed right over the brink of sanity by a mere vending machine. What, they also might have wondered, were the legal ramifications of interfering with the property of the Coca-Cola Corporation in the Howard era? Death by prolonged exposure to Dancing With The Stars, no doubt.

But by now my own seriously unbalanced mind had much, much bigger fish to fry. I was keeping half a mad eye on my class, and the other mad half on the Coke machine. When I was distracted for a mere half-moment, writing something on the whiteboard, it went back on. That hum! I belted out into the courtyard but the offender had decamped. I switched it off. Then it happened again... On. I switched it off. Again it was back on. Off-on-off-on... It began to feel like I was having a rather torrid affair with a Coke machine.

Week after week the mother of all wars raged. I even reported the recalcitrant gizmo to one of the blue polo shirted maintenance people, but the look on his face said it all: “A nut, another nut.”

Nothing happened. The hum, always the hum, inscribing itself into my very flesh like the diabolical gadget in the Kafka story. I was worn down. The hum haunted my nightly insomnia. But I had the last laugh. After my final tutorial I went out into the light, switched the bastard back on a moment, then off for the last time, and walked off into the sunset. Well, late morning.

- Larry Buttrose

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

An Open Letter to Miranda Devine

Dear Miranda,
Your article in today's Sydney Morning Herald (11.2.10) is a new low, even for you.  In it you remark, with regard to Gen Y:  "But while their teachers were trying to brainwash them, they were getting a more realistic education from satirical TV cartoons such as South Park, Family Guy, Futurama, American Dad and The Simpsons." 

I don't know whether you have school age children, but to say that their teachers are "brainwashing" them, and that they are being "more realistically educated" (whatever that means) by animated American TV shows, is the deep and profound insult to dedicated professional Australian teachers that you no doubt intend it to be. I take it that you do not consider cynical nihilistic American cartoons to be "brainwashing", nor the hordes of advertisements for American fast foods and the like the networks pack in with them. I don't know whether you have school age children, but if you do I presume you will be taking them out of school so that they will no longer be brainwashed, and left in front of the TV for their "realistic education" with the Simpsons and South Park.

Regarding the "anti-green" Audi advertisment at Superbowl - and how apt, you extolling the virtues of an advertisement - you neglect to mention that Superbowl is the largest single redneck gathering on the face of the earth, watched by similar in their many millions, and of course Audi's Mad Men would have know how the good ole boys would've hooted and hollered at taking the piss out of those awful carping green types who keep on suggesting that humanity may need to change its ways to keep living on the earth sustainable.

In your ongoing campaign against the vast majority of the world's climate scientists, you also conveniently neglect to put your own position. Do you advocate V8s for all, Hummers? Are you so certain of your anti-science that you truly believe there is no chance that the scientists are right and you and Christopher Monckton (who, like you, is not a climate scientist) are wrong? Many of the good ole boys at the Superbowl would also be smokers, the deaths of one in two of them courtesy the all too successful programme of disinformation run by the tobacco companies for decades against, yes, dedicated science. The campaign by climate change "sceptics" would appear to be an increasingly successful re-run of that smear and discredit campaign. So you are in fine company there.

As for teenagers stirring the PM when given a chance - now that's a very big news story. Worthy of your by-line.

This is pap Miranda, shock jock in print. It does not qualify as journalism nor even as informed comment, but as pathetic attention-seeking. 

Yours sincerely,

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Tony Abbott, togged for the times ahead

As must now be apparent to almost anyone even vaguely interested in this debate, the global warming sceptics and deniers are winning. The average Australian - as indeed the average American, Chinese, Indian, Briton and European - by now has very little idea at all which side is right, and what to do about it. The end result will be policy paralysis, inertia, which is what the sceptics and deniers have wanted all along.

The current trip to Australia by lord chief denier Christopher Monckton, a conspiracy theorist cum standup comedian, is a case in point. Because of his likeness to another gifted funnyman, Lord Marty Feldman, and because he gives “good copy”, he has become the centre of a fawning media circus which has in effect turned its collective back upon all the good and patient work done by the world’s tens of thousands of expert climate scientists, dedicated men and women who are in no doubt that the world is warming and that at least part of the cause is our burning of carbon fossil fuels.

Lord Monckton is not a climate scientist, nor indeed a scientist of any sort. He is a conspiracist nut who believes global warming has been cooked up, literally, by a cabal in the bowels of the benighted UN building in New York, to usher in world government. He believes the EC is also the result of an international conspiracy which has ended democracy in Britain. More than anything else he is an attention-seeking media poodle.

His tour of course only adds to the campaign of disinformation already being worked effectively in our mainstream media by the likes of Devine, Duffy, Bolt, Albrechtsen, and Shockjock Jones. Their campaign, all dutifully published by people who know  better because it generates sales and hits, has now muddied the waters to such an extent that the public has no idea of what is going on and is simply switching off to the debate, which is exactly what the sceptics and the conservatives and those backing them  - I am wildly presuming coal and oil interests - want. 

As such it is a carbon (sic) copy of the entirely successful campaign of disinformation against the scientific evidence linking smoking and cancer, and thus we still have a drug that kills one in two addicts, openly on sale in corner shops today.

The science of global warming is clear for anyone who wants to take an honest look at it. The overwhelming weight of scientific opinion is united on this - which is why so many government leaders came together in Copenhagen in the first place. The fact that no effective world agreement came from it is not to do with doubts about the science, but an understandable reticence of developing nations to take their foot off the accelerator towards a developed world standard of living. We cannot blame them that for, but they have to know that if they achieve that standard of living they will do it in swimming flippers. That they also do not want the mechanisms to address global warming simply to be dictated from the old colonial capitals of London and Washington can hardly be surprising too. 

That there is now a climate of utter confusion is evidenced by the hide of the conservatives in Australia to propose a scheme which is no scheme at all, but an insult to the Australian electorate. Opposition leader Tony Abbott is being marketed as a straight-talking action man, whereas in fact he is as sly as a Jesuit double agent and as cocky as Barnaby Joyce. This “scheme” will take no action whatever to reduce the emissions of the coal and oil companies whose products are creating the problem. Its “target” is a 5% reduction by 2020 by using taxpayers’ money to try to bribe the companies to emit a bit less - but Abbott is yet to be asked by what means would deeper reductions be achieved after that. Surely this is the most glaring omission, and yet I am yet to see or read of him being questioned about it.

Abbott has no proposal to curb carbon emissions because he truly does believe global warming to be crap. His country cousin Joyce doesn’t even believe in home insulation, except as fluffy stuff in the roof that rats piss in. 

These men are not sceptics, they are deniers. Monckton is not a sceptic, he is a denier. The same goes for the posse of media commentators. If they were sceptics they would propose what Rupert Murdoch did - and many before him did as well - that while the arguments go on we give the earth the benefit of the doubt and reduce emissions effectively. That they do not propose that shows them to be deniers. Presumably Abbott’s first act as prime minister would be to order a new fleet of ministerial V8s. Why not, if carbon is not a problem? He could send it around for Miranda Devine and Bolt and Jones, and they could celebrate by lighting sparklers. And light up Marlboros all round.

- Larry Buttrose