I have a soft spot in my heart for Australia, and I have spent a lot of time there over the years.
Usually I was visiting to check on my mining investments. I got into uranium on the ground floor after a particularly drunken weekend with the Roosevelts in early 1939. Once Eleanor had a couple of my special gimlets under her belt, you could get anything out of her (and I mean anything). It was a very lucrative couple of days.
I’ve also visited in a more professional capacity. After I had assisted in resettling Harold Holt into his new life as a Thai ladyboy, I got a bit of a reputation in the service for being able to speak Australian, and so I was sent there several times for fieldwork. For a few years in the 60s, it felt like we were overthrowing a new Prime Minister every year or so.
In between, I fell in love with Australia a little bit. What can I tell you? It’s a nation of burly footballers in short shorts whose idea of a big weekend is to not stop from the weekend before, and whose idea of moderation is to have a bit of a spew so more beer fits in. It makes decent wine and you can have good e and an ounce of dope delivered to your hotel room within an hour of your plane landing. It has hopping rats and tree bears and more things to make fur coats out of than you can poke a dead dingo at. What’s not to love?
Happily, there is a sanity still to their political discourse that has long been missing in these United States – if indeed it ever existed. It even extends (on occasion) to their legislatures – a right that hasn’t gone full nutcase and which sometimes recalls the old meanings of the words “conservative” and “liberal”, a centre that is actually in the centre, and a left that even gets to have a say in running the country every now and then.
Over the last few days I have been privileged, by means of my various international connections, to have watched a reality TV show called “Go back to where you came from”, which has recently been broadcast over three consecutive nights on the Australian television channel SBS. (You probably won’t be able to watch the show at that link, but there is a massive amount of background information available.)
Immigration issues have been a matter of significant debate in Australia in one form or another since the 18th century. However, the debate is particularly heated in the context of what are called “boat people”.
The first boat people – an unauthorized boat carrying five Indochinese men – arrived in northern Australia in 1976, and was followed by a further 2059 Vietnamese refugees arriving by boat over the next five years. There was a further wave of predominantly Indochinese refugees from 1989 to 1998 at the rate of about 300 people per year. Since 1999, however, boat people arriving in Australia have been predominantly (and unsurprisingly) from the Middle East. It is worth noting that boat people have never made up more than a tiny percentage of migrants (or even refugees) reaching Australia.
Public reaction to boat people has been extremely polarized. The refugee issue was used successfully by the conservative Liberal government as a wedge issue in at least one election, finally resulting in the implementation of the so called “Pacific Solution” where boat people were prevented from landing on the Australian mainland (where they would have rights under the UNHRC rules) and instead were transported to detention camps on small island nations in the Pacific.
In the SBS program, six ordinary (in some cases very ordinary) Australians were placed in the position of refugees, over 25 days retracing their steps backwards from Australia to the source countries of many refugees.
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I adore plane travel.
I love the sheer improbability of nine hundred thousand pounds of steel, people and fuel flitting through the air like Nijinsky on a coke binge. I love the fact that there are beautiful women and handsome gay men whose sole function for eight hours is to bring Grammy more champagne. I love not having to elbow incontinent old people in the head in order to watch what I want on TV.
Most of all, I love the fact that I can have a nap and wake up in Amsterdam or Barcelona or Sydney or Rio de Janeiro. I’ve spent most of my life trying to travel to as many foreign places and meet as many foreign people as possible, even if I’ve had to hock my shoes to get there.
One of the other advantages of plane travel is that the enforced down-time waiting in airport terminals gives me a chance to browse around those corners of the internets I usually don’t get to. For example, the other day, while I was at LaGuardia waiting for Gloria’s plane to be refueled, I stumbled across an unusually coherent article by little Peggy Noonan.
I’m not suggesting it is a great article. After all, when Peggy writes, you’re usually just happy if the piece uses recognizable words and the smell of vodka doesn’t filter all the way down through the printing process and transpire off the page. However, I thought her conclusion was interesting, if only because it looks like Peggy has managed to stumble in the gutter and land on her hands and knees next to half a truth:
The whole world is in the Hilton, channel-surfing. The whole world is on the train, in the airport, judging what it sees, and likely, in some serious ways, finding us wanting. And, being human, they may be judging us with a small, extra edge of harshness for judging them and looking down on them. We have work to do at home, on our culture and in our country.
My real problem with Peggy’s conclusion is that the real situation is much worse than she thinks.
The world doesn’t look at America and find it wanting. The world looks at America and worries what the hell it is up to now.
Now before anyone accuses me of being an America-hating Limey immigrant bitch, let me hasten to add that I love this country with all my heart. Any nation that produced bourbon whiskey, blues music, the cheeseburger and George Clooney’s ass can’t be all bad.
Further, many (perhaps even most) Americans are fine, generous, inventive, kind people.
I’m also not suggesting that the rest of the world isn’t messed up as well. One look at the Italian Parliament or the Japanese film industry or the slums of Brazil or anything involving Steve and Bindi Irwin or the Wiggles would suggest that the rest of the world has enough of its own problems to be getting on with.
America is supposed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave, the refuge of the homeless and the tempest-tost, that more perfect union whose alabaster cities gleam undimmed by human tears.
And yet, most of the time what the outside world sees is a nation of bloodthirsty war-mongers and religious dogmatists who think the way to world peace is more guns and more war, that democracy can be imposed at the end of a Gatling gun, and that drilling for oil, bringing on Armageddon or the fact that the indigenous population wears their handkerchiefs on their heads are legitimate reasons for invasion.
They read their papers and they read about a nation that went to war to throw off the shackles of a hereditary monarchy and then spent the next 200 years replacing it with the most dysfunctional political system this side of Pyongyang, a hereditary argentocracy in which the electoral prospects of a fat multiply-bankrupt television star with a triple combover can be seriously discussed, rather than being relegated to the funny pages.
They wonder at a nation that has the best medical system in the world in which 90% of the population can’t see a doctor without selling either a kidney or their oldest child into slavery – a nation that has the best education system in the world, and yet 72% of the population is so terminally incurious that it doesn’t have a passport and couldn’t find America on a map with a torch and a pointy red arrow marked “You are here”.
They deal with fat tourists from Texas in walk socks and flip-flops who travel overseas merely so they can shout at the locals in English in order to be understood and get directions to the Hard Rock cafe, and thereby avoid being exposed to anything remotely foreign while in a foreign land.
They fear America as a country of cultural imperialists, racists, Jesus freaks and Amway salesmen who want to turn the entire world into a sanitized theme park of sexless talking mice, big-eyed virgins, plastic cheese and expensive time-limited parking.
In the family reunion of nations, America is the crazy aunty with halitosis and a moustache who bails you up in the corner and tells you off because you need to lose weight and stop smoking, while all the while scoffing all the vol-au-vents and bogarting the joint.
America is a great nation. Americans rightly think so. The rest of the world rightly thinks so.
The real problem is that when much of America looks at itself all it sees is a great nation.
The rest of the world looks at America and, however much they may envy or love its wealth and its celebrity and its power, they see a great nation that is often demonstrably, certifiably fucking insane.
Grammy either needs a drink or to stop reading the newspapers. Probably both.
[Image from Artrenewal.org]
I will be vaguely live-blogging the royal wedding on Balloon Juice direct from Westminster Abbey, commencing at about 10am London time (5am New York time) on Friday.
If any of you are silly enough to be up at that time and to give a flying crap about the family affairs of an inbred bunch of horse-faced Germans, I hope you will join me there.
I will post the text of the live blog here on Sarah, Proud and Tall later on Friday.
[Image from http://katemiddletonforthewin.tumblr.com/]
In which correspondence with Jarndyce and Jarndyce regarding Donald Trump’s Birth Certificate is displayedPosted: April 17, 2011
As I have mentioned before, I first met Bitsy Trump back when she was plain old Mary A. MacLeod and we were both hunting eligible husbands. She was pretty fresh off the boat and still had a brogue on her you could cut with a claymore and an unsullied British citizenship.
Old Fred Trump was a catch, and the two of them were so in love. It was very sweet.
Of course, what none of us knew was that Fred was already married.
He’d got himself into a shotgun wedding back in April 1925 with a girl called Ethel who worked in the typing pool of his construction company. Ethel was beautiful alright, but she had a soul of pure bile, and the marriage broke up very soon after that. Ethel got paid off to move to Idaho and shut the hell up. However, she was a good catholic girl and the marriage had obviously been pre-consummated, so she refused point blank to give Fred a divorce and even he couldn’t manage to buy one.
1937 rolled around. Fred and Bitsy were now happily married, in practice and name if not in actual legal effect.
One day, Ethel showed up one day at their house while Fred and Bitsy were having lunch. Fred hustled Ethel out of there as quick as Rush Limbaugh shepherding a hooker into his bedroom.
Old Fred continued paying Ethel large amounts of money every month for the next eight years. In all that time, he never asked to see or meet his first born son, and Ethel never offered.
Then one day, when Bitsy was about four months pregnant with young Donald, she found out about Ethel. I have no idea how – even years later she wouldn’t talk about that day. All I know is that she called me, and within about seven hours, she and the children and I were all on a plane to San Miguel de Allende.
Bitsy made it clear to Fred that she wasn’t coming back until he was a single man and could marry her properly. There was a discreet little article in one of Hedda Hopper’s columns that suggested that Bitsy had been having “women’s problems” during her pregnancy and was going abroad for her health.
Life went on in both Mexico and New York for the next four months.
Fred made money.
We sat around in cafes and spent Fred’s money on booze and blow.
I happily carried on three separate love affairs with three separate GI Billers – a negro muralist from New Orleans with a ten inch cock and a passion for making love on the beach, and identical twin Brooklyn-Italian brothers with lean hairy chests who both painted exquisite miniature landscapes and both cried out for their mother when they came.
Then, one day late in May 1946, several things happened.
In the morning, I met Keith, my husband. He was down there destabilizing the government for the KGB, or stabilizing the government for the CIA. Or maybe it was the other way around. It’s all so long ago now, it’s hard to say. We saw each other first through a haze of hash smoke, then fell in love over one too many margaritas, and ended up in a foursome that afternoon with both Gino and Alberto.
As if that wasn’t enough for one day, when I got back to the hotel, Bitsy was already packed and a taxi was waiting. She’d got a letter from Fred informing her that Ethel had died in a freak stenography accident and begging her to come back to him in New York straight away.
We kissed each other goodbye and hoisted her luggage and we all piled into the taxi. Then, suddenly, Bitsy’s water broke so hard I thought it had started to rain.
Fifteen minutes later, by my count, we were all gathered around a dirty bed in the nearest hospital and little Donald was screaming blue fucking murder and crapping himself, while a chicken watched from the bed-head and scratched itself.
I have never seen an uglier or a crabbier baby. He was covered in long, yellowish hair that was matted in all directions all over his body, and he cried constantly from the moment he came out, a strident, pulsating, never-ending wail at the unfairness of the world.
It was just like the sound Megan McArdle makes when the gluten-free muffins have sold out.
An hour later we were all standing in the Civil Registry, having been hustled there by the doctor (who was a paranoid about being shot if the forms weren’t right) and an hour after that, they were all on a plane to New York – Bitsy in first class with the older children and with a pillow stashed down her skirt, and Donald being carried by Bitsy’s Mexican maid Rosita back in coach.
Shortly thereafter, in an empty and very private lunch room just inside Immigration, Bitsy and Fred were married, and then Bitsy walked through into America, trying to keep the pillow from falling out, and clutching the documents that proved she was, finally, Mrs Fred C. Trump.
Donald was smuggled out a back door in a large handbag and about two weeks later there was another discreet announcement in the papers that young Donald had been born at the Jamaica hospital, safely within the boundaries of New York.
Of course, by this point, Fred was so rich that I’m sure he had no trouble obtaining the requisite American birth certificate and hushing things up properly.
Hark at me rabbiting on about unimportant things. It happens when you get old.
I only met Gaddafi once, at a cocktail party that that lovely Joseph Palmer held for Gaddafi’s birthday in June 1972. My husband, Keith, had been doing some “freelance” regime change contracting in Ghana at the start of the year, and we got sent to Libya for six months as punishment.
An entire country built on camel shit, camel spit, sharia law and egomania. Not a decent bar in the whole place.
You can imagine that things were a little strained between Ambassador Palmer and the Leader and Holy Guide of the Glorious Revolution. Palmer was always trying his very best to calm things down, but all the time Dick Nixon kept sending angry telegrams ranting about how Gaddafi was a “fucker” and the US could have troops in Monrovia in two hours if he didn’t pull his head in.
(Dick had apparently moved onto his Dexedrine period at that point. Yes, he was erratic, but it was much better than the months where he was mixing scotch and Haldol.)
Palmer had organised a cake the size of a table in the shape of Libya, dancing girls, coke especially imported from Columbia – the whole shebang.
Gaddafi’s eyes lit up as soon as he hit the room. He managed to hoover up three lines before Palmer had even managed to say “Happy Birthday”. When I shook his hand, he was swaying like a pendulum and he told me my breasts were like camels around a limpid pond.
Just the way to get a girl – compare her to a bunch of bad tempered shit and spit machines.
By the time the cake cutting rolled around, Gaddafi was trolleyed. He had a bottle of Glenfiddich with a straw in it in one hand and a naked 12 year old in the other, and he kept singing the third verse of the Libyan Anthem over and over again.
“Say With Me Woe To The Enemy:
And God is Over The Invader Egotist…”
We should probably have seen that as a subtle hint, but we’d all been drinking and doing blow for three hours by that point, so you can’t really blame us.
Anyway, Palmer had (foolishly as it turned out) arranged for Dick to call through live to wish Muammar his best wishes. Dick got on the line, and he was ok at first, even though you could hear he was thinking about his next pill. Pitty Pat was there as well and she mumbled something about carpets through her schnapps-haze. Dick wished Gaddafi well, then asked him if he would like to cut the cake.
Gaddafi went off about the invader egotist slicing up the Jamahiriya just like their imperialist cake. He threw the cake on the floor. Dick started screaming that Gaddafi was a “fucking camel-fucking fucker” and that he was going to fuck him up, and the evening went downhill from there.
Five months later, Palmer was withdrawn and Gaddafi was more popular with his people than he had ever been.
What’s the lesson? Only this. As he swept out the door clutching a big hunk of cake, Gaddafi gave me a huge wink and smiled a smug smile like a 2 year old who has just done a poo on the carpet, but has managed to both shift the blame to the dog and make his parents have a screaming bottle-throwing row over it.
The more things change…