Thursday, 22 October 2009

cassowary and suicide on holiday

contemplating suicide
Originally uploaded by Scratchin Dog.
"Perhaps he found what he came here for, but the odds are huge that he didn't. He was an old, sick and very troubled man, and the illusion of peace and contentment was not enough for him... So finally, and for what he must have thought the best of reasons, he ended it with a shotgun."
'What Lured Hemingway to Ketchum?', pg. 395 in "The Great Shark Hunt" by Hunter S Thompson

So Hunter finished his piece about Ernest Hemingway's final days in Ketchum, Idaho. He could well have been writing about himself. On February 20th 2005 Hunter shot himself in the head at his home 'Owl Farm' in Woody Creek, Colorado. I have just finished rereading the long and rabid collection of his early work "The Great Shark Hunt" and it has sent me back to that hot summer holiday in Australia when I first heard the news of his death.

We flew into Cairns in mid-Feb 2005. A smart beautiful English mathematician I used to live with was visiting Australia and we took this opportunity to stay in a friend's holiday house on Etty Bay. From the airport we picked up a small red rental car and headed south through the flat stretches of sugar cane country. The heat of Tropical North Queensland shimmered over the roads creating mirage pools of water ahead that you never arrived at. Along the dust at the side of the roads were numerous stalls offering every kind of tropical fruit imaginable. Just past Innisfall we took a left and headed for the ocean and soon wound our way down to an arc of sand surrounded on all sides by dense tropical vegetation. There was not much there - a small shop and a surf club. At the shop we picked up the keys from a one armed man with leathery skin and perpetual squint. He pointed us towards a gap in the trees and up a short steep dirt road we found our holiday house - a squat concrete building with cyclone shutters pulled down over two sides. It hunkered down amongst a fecund, almost threatening abundance of plant life.

Inside was a basic beach house with a main room that could be opened to the elements by rolling up the shutters, a couple of bedrooms and a bathroom. The floor was tiled and designed to be hosed out when too much sand had been walked inside. Across the ceiling were lines of meandering dots where vines had grown in and attached their roots before being pulled away. The air was full of insects and the noises of insects and other creatures unseen. We dumped our gear into the house and changed for the beach. It was off season, so the beach was practically deserted of people. Warning signs, however, were plentiful. There was a large rectangular swimming zone surrounded by nets that were meant to keep stingers at bay. A variety of poisonous jellyfish are populous in these waters - the stings ranging from irritating, through painful to deadly. A plastic bottle of vinegar is permanently placed below the life saving ring at the top of the beach as a first treatment for stings. The nets also help keep out sharks, and caution was to be taken at the creeks at each end of the beach where crocodiles were not unknown. Poisonous spiders and snakes were also common, though those at least, I was used to.

What I was not used to was the cassowary - a couple of which we immediately met in the car park on the way to the beach. These are a huge kind of flightless bird - the third largest, and second heaviest in the world. The kind of bird you only usually experience in nightmares or whilst caught on acid in a turkey pen. They can stand up to 2m tall and weight 70kg. Their long necks are a violent blue and they sport a thick bony horn like protrusion on their head above their thuggish red eyes. Their feet are composed of three large claws - the middle one particularly savage - which they can use to disembowel whatever they find threatening and in their way. And the problem is whilst they are physically huge, their brains are very small, mean and vicious. Very much like that of inbred conservative politicians in remote country areas where unwary travelers can disappear without a trace. It is the same kind of glazed dumb eyes that assess the world in terms of food, fuck, fight or flight - and when I gazed into those eyes I backed away and didn't even try to get the camera out. They unnerved me - monster mutant chickens with a chip on their shoulder about every mcnugget that has ever been eaten.

Yet the sand was white and clean, the water near body temperature which is the only way I like it. I floated, and swam to the nets and back, and floated more and let the summer Queensland sun lick my arc-light-white body into redness. On the walk back to the house was a stretch of road where the trees on each side made a canopy overhead and a stagnant creek ran along the side. We soon discovered that it was a mosquito infested tunnel of hell where walking would guarantee you at least a dozen bites. There was no option but to wrap a towel around as much exposed flesh as possible and run like buggery to get back into the light where you could slap yourself all over in some fiendish high-speed mockery of an Austrian dance. I soon found it also helped to keep your blood alcohol level as high as possible to potentially stun the evil fuckers once they took their first sip of blood. Once back at the house, however, with the mosquito repellant on, mosquito coils burning, and thick clouds of intoxicating smoke spiraling around your head, it was possible to relax reading books until the tiredness came upon you and you slept the sweat drenched tropical sleep of the Heart of Darkness.

Each night it was important to take the rubbish of the day down to the sealed bin in the car park. If you didn't, the whole thing would be ripped apart in the night by possums, rats, bush turkeys and a dozen other denizens of the night that you could hear, but not see until you came face-to-face with them on the kitchen counter. And whilst possums look cute in daylight, something about stumbling out bleary eyed to face off with a arrogant marsupial making devil noises through its yellow teeth at 2am isn't worth encouraging. So on the third night I dosed myself with repellant, finished my joint and picked up the rubbish to make the dash through the mosquito corridor. The corridor was only about 40m long and straight - but very dark and totally infested. I picked my way over the rocks and around the curve to the beginning of the straight, then broke into a fast run. About two thirds the way along I collided heavily with something solid, soft and covered in course feathers. For the next long 5 seconds the world was nothing but my screaming mixed with a high pitched banshee squawking and a rain of garbage coming down as both me and the cassowary ran randomly around in the dark finding anyway away from each other. I heard it crashing into the foliage of the creek as I rounded the bend back to the house. That garbage had made it far enough that night and it took much scotch and sedative smoking before I regained any semblance of control which was mostly hysterical hyper-ventilating laughter.

We had brought no laptops or music systems and had to make to with the local radio station which played the usual round of cheap music and adverts for agricultural suppliers. The band Green Day had just released their latest hit 'Boulevard of Broken Dreams' and it was being played on high repeat - it seemed once for every four other songs. Despite not even liking the song, it became the defacto anthem of the trip through repetition. We would start singing along with it without even thinking... "I walk a lonely road, the only one that I have ever known. Don't know where it goes, but it's home to me and I walk alone." And I think it was after one such playing that the news came on and delivered the news of Hunter's suicide. The pithy words of the song for a moment seemed to hold some meaning, though of course they didn't, and I was thrown into contemplation of the death of a literary hero of mine. I cannot remember exactly what I was thinking back then, but having just finished 'The Great Shark Hunt' again, I have been drawn back into contemplation of what I think of him, his mythical persona and his writings.

And a week later, with copious notes and hours spent mulling what I think I am no closer to finishing this damn blog entry. One thread follows the style of writing where the journalist is a character in his own work. The role is made explicit - and with Hunter - even mythical. The style is in opposition with 'objective' reporting that still makes up the mainstream of contemporary journalism - a style dedicated to 'telling it how it is' or 'just the facts'. The years I have spent contemplating the more corrosive side of philosophy (corrosive to the concept of attaining simple value-free 'facts') have made me wary of this style of journalism. 'Objectivity' too easily is a cover for unstated bias and subjectivity. The value of injecting the journalist into the story explicitly is that usually you can tell from what perspective the story is being written from. Did anyone ever wonder what Hunter really thought of Richard Milhouse Nixon? Philosophically speaking - I see no problem with subjectivity - especially when it is explicit. Partly related is Hunter's use of his contacts. He knew many people, from all walks of politics, and was not afraid of quoting them verbatim (nearly always taping his interviews) and naming his sources. Every second opinion or 'quote' in today's papers are from unnamed or anonymous sources - with all the abuse to truth and accountability that comes with that. However, I have not been able to expand upon this thread coherently.

Another thread concerned a corollary of injecting yourself into a story - that you end up writing about yourself. I think most people would concede that writing objectively about yourself is nearly a contradiction in terms. Our everyday lives involves projecting a persona into the world, and writing about yourself is projecting yet another persona. In this sense Hunter reminds me of another two authors I respect, Henry Miller and Charles Bukowski. In each of their works - the author is loosely represented through a persona that is a hyper-real fictionalization of themselves. Miller hams up the sex in his works, Bukowski the alcoholism, Hunter the drugs and violence. Each is deeply concerned to project the individualist freedom of their self-characters. And in each case they were criticized for 'making stuff up' about themselves. And in each case, they experienced problems when people expected them as people to confirm more to their fictional characterizations of themselves. I remember the photos run by Playboy of an elderly Miller playing ping pong with a naked buxom young woman. Photos of a over-weght Bukowski climbing into a box car to represent his homeless drifting (though he never rode in a boxcar) and his famous acting the belligerent buffoon at university readings. In a 1978 interview with the BBC Hunter said: "I'm never sure which one people expect me to be. Very often, they conflict - most often, as a matter of fact. ...I'm leading a normal life and right along side me there is this myth, and it is growing and mushrooming and getting more and more warped. When I get invited to, say, speak at universities, I'm not sure if they are inviting Duke or Thompson. I'm not sure who to be."

And yet - when they were not writing about themselves - there seems to be a honesty of purpose or truthfulness running through-out their work. Each in their own way writes in a humanitarian way that seems counter the male-centric bravado of their personas. And perhaps the key to this seeming conflict of perspectives is the fierce anti-authoritarian that each author espoused. In siding against authority, they tended to side with those who are the natural enemy of authority. Those without power or position, the poor, the oppressed, those that want to be left alone to drink or take drugs without harassment. I wouldn't want to draw too many parallels between these authors on this thin thread. Many would contest my opinion of Miller or Bukowski as humanitarian writers - there are plenty who would write both off as misogynists and leave the argument there. Being labeled a misogynist is like being labeled a racist, or anti-semite - in some circles it is case closed - there can be nothing good about the writer. And I'm too tired to try and fight those battles, too tired to even have a firm opinion on them. I will stand with the anti-authoritarian nature of their writing and leave it there for others to draw conclusions from that. All authors have plenty in their writing to offend you if you are looking to be offended. All I would say is that there is also plenty in their writing to be uplifted by, if you are looking to be uplifted.

In contrast to being uplifted, I was also thinking about three books that produced strongly negative reactions in me. I remember reading 'Disgrace' by J. M. Coetzee that put me in a depressive angry funk for a week. The mathematician I went on holiday with highly recommended reading 'Broom of the System' by David Foster Wallace, one of the few books I have hurled across the room after finishing. And finally one of the books I read whilst on that holiday in Queensland, 'Something Happened' by Joseph Heller. Nearly 600 pages of waiting for Something to Happen which it only does in the last 10 pages and leaves a bitter resentful taste in the mouth. Each of these books are rightfully acclaimed as fine pieces of literature - but I hated them at the time and have no desire to return there. Strange how it works... Like how my memory of that holiday long ago as been pinned into my personal chronology with a unusual degree of clarity by the death of Hunter S Thompson.

Friday, 22 May 2009

the big question - why bother?

Usually if I post two blogs on consecutive days I feel a sense of achievement. My original excuse for coming to Vietnam was to focus on writing - and writing blog entries minimally fulfills that ambition. However, I did not feel a sense of achievement after the last two postings. They represent the completion of two mini-projects that I had started - both involving the media. The first - the world's response to Haruki Murakami receiving 'The Jerusalem Prize'. The second, to provide the only full online transcript of Hunter S. Thompson's interview with the Australian ABC.

The reason for examining the response to Haruki Murakami winning The Jerusalem Prize was a confluence of three things: My liking of Murakami's writings, my following the latest Gaza incursion, and Noam Chomsky's allegation that news that is unfavourable to Israel does not get coverage in the USA. I also wanted to know how Murakami would react to the open letters that encouraged him to boycott the prize. Two examples of such open letters can be found at and here. It took a lot of time to research this question to my own satisfaction. I concluded that with the exception of AFP (whose article was taken up by the Australian ABC) there was no coverage of Murakami receiving or accepting the prize in the mainstream US media. The only main stream coverage in the UK was by the Guardian (but not the BBC). The AFP, the Guardian and the ABC all took their quotes directly from The Jerusalem Post - which I hope I showed were somewhat misleading paraphrases at best. I did find coverage in India, Iran and Israel - and from a host of bloggers around the world. The best coverage indeed came from Israel itself (if not from The Jerusalem Post). I found Murakami's response morally satisfactory. I found the reporting of his response less so. Noam Chomsky's allegation, in this case, seems to be justified.

The Hunter S. Thompson piece was a natural confluence of my liking of his work, the fact that he was interviewed by someone in Australia, and my interest in (if not belief in) conspiracy theories. I was surprised at some of the good material that was left out of the aired interview. I don't think this in itself was a conspiracy of some sort. The Media Report obviously focuses on the media - and the interviewer did edit to keep the focus on the US media post 9/11. I just felt it was a pity that parts of the interview that pertained to the Australian media, and the Australian government's position on the yet-to-be-started Iraq war were cut. Some of the more funny parts were cut, parts that dealt in more depth as to why the US media reported the way it does were cut. I feel a slight happiness to be able to provide some of Hunter S. Thompson's views publicly in text form, but given the time it takes to transcribe audio to text, it is a small gain in happiness for a lot of work.

The sense of achievement in completing and posting these two mini-projects was small and short lived. I find myself thinking - why bother? It is much easier to write about my dreams, to write personal nostalgic pieces about my past and my failing memory. Why do a lot of work to produce relatively dry pieces that are of little interest to anyone out there? I have yet to come up with an answer to that question yet, and I have no mini-media projects planned for the future. I can only concur with Hunter when he says 'Boy, it really is lonely out here'.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Hunter S. Thompson interview with Mick O'Regan

bad reading habits
Originally uploaded by Scratchin Dog.
A really good conspiracy theory has intention going all the way back to the beginning. A true master-mind kind of conspiracy doesn't rely upon accidents happening. I stumbled across the the mother-of-all-contemporary conspiracy theories on the web recently. That the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were master-minded by those within the US administration itself. Note that the official version of 9/11 is already a conspiracy theory. A band of mostly Saudi Arabian terrorists hijacked 4 commercial airliners, with the plan to crash them into 4 buildings (3 carried successfully). This horrendous yet ingenious way to terrorize the American people was all planned and organized remotely by the nefarious Osama bin Laden from his hideout in Afghanistan. This already is a great conspiracy theory that has mesmerized the world. The extension to it is even more fantastic, even more unbelievable. That this first conspiracy is an illusion, that the savage destruction was an inside job.

I wasn't looking for this theory. I wanted to read Al Jazeera (English) for my morning fix of international news. But my hands had hangover shake over my bookmarks and I ended at Dissident Voice. What the hell, I'll read one article. And the comments. Link to, who had just announced the release date for 'Loose Change 9/11: An American Coup' by Dylan Avery. I checked out the website then went to youtube to see what I could find. One of Dylan Avery's previous full length documentaries '911 Loose Change' is there. I watched an early edition (nearly 2.5 million views so far) - I haven't yet watched the fully revised over 2 hour version that is now available out there. This made for a fully enjoyable morning of suspended disbelief.

But 9/11 conspiracy theories are not what I want to write about today. Up until 7 min 43 seconds into the movie, my paranoid fantasies were accompanied by the regular monotone trance inducing commentary running over the visuals. Then suddenly I was accosted by a nasal Australian twang. An interviewer, following by a guttural laconic American accent that really got into my brain. "American journalism I think was cowed, had been cowed and intimidated by the this massive flag-sucking, this patriotic orgy that the White House keeps whipping up". Click. I knew that husky stop-start way of talking. Hunter S. Thompson. "You sort of wonder when something like that happens, well who stands to benefit? Who had the opportunity and the motive?" This is too good to be true - Hunter S Thompson and 9/11 conspiracy theories. I had to find this interview.

It didn't turn out to be that hard. It was an interview between Mick O'Regan and Hunter S. Thompson that played on The Media Report, a show on ABC Radio National. It aired 29th Aug 2002. There were links to the audio for this program in a number of places on the web - but the audio file was no longer available from the ABC - only the transcript. I was sad to see in passing that the show ceased being produced in January 2009. I was able to locate the audio file eventually on (15.2Mb). This appears to be the full interview - not the heavily edited version that was played on the ABC. This phone interview is over 30min and had a lot more content that was available on the ABC transcript. The more I listened, the more I realized what had been cut. Some great stuff. I looked in vain for a transcript of the whole interview - and then decided to sit down and transcribe it myself. The following is the results of that transcript. It isn't perfect - Hunter is not exactly the easiest person to follow at times. I have made corrections to the text where the ABC had transcribed incorrectly, or cleaned it up too much. The red sections roughly show what was kept in the on-air version of the interview. Bits I couldn't figure out I have either labeled 'inaudible' or made my best guess and put it in brackets. It is interesting to see what hit the cutting room floor.

Interview of Hunter S. Thompson by Mick O'Regan
The Media Report - ABC Radio National - 29th August 2002

Mick O'Regan: Unlike Walter Cronkite, Hunter S. Thompson is a stirrer, a deliberately provocative commentator and a freewheeling iconoclast, infamous for his relentless critique of the American government and military.

He lives in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and that's where I found him at the end of a less than perfect telephone line, to ask his opinion of the state of the US media.

(The version of the interview I downloaded starts here)

Mick O'Regan: This first question I had is basically to get from you a sense of how you would rate the American media in their coverage of the event of the attack last September? What's your assessment of how the American media has performed?

Hunter S. Thompson: Well let's see, 'shamefully' is a word that comes to mind, but that's not true in the case of well it depends you know you have to... the papers... The New York Times, The Washington Post, but overall the American journalism I think was cowed, had been cowed and intimidated by the this massive flag-sucking, this patriotic orgy that the White House keeps whipping up. You know if you criticise the President it's unpatriotic and there's something wrong with you, you may be a terrorist. And I've been (raging) against this from the very beginning, but I don't have much of a (constant) national platform because I've been working on this book The Kingdom of Fear which probably describes what's been going on over here - The Kingdom of Fear.

Mick O'Regan: So in that sense, Hunter S Thompson there's not enough room for dissenting voices?

Hunter S. Thompson: There's plenty of room there's not just enough people who are willing to take the risk. It's sort of a herd mentality, a lemming-like mentality. If you don't go with the flow you're anti-American and therefore a suspect. And we've seen this before, these patriotic frenzies. In wartime they declare... It's very convenient having an undeclared war that you can call a war and impose military tribunals and wartime security and then we have these generals telling us that this war's going to go on for a long, long time. Maybe not so much the generals now, the generals are a little afraid of Iraq, a little worried about it, but it's the civilians in the White House, the gang of thieving, just lobbyists for the military industrial complex, who are running the White House, and to be against them is to be patriotic, then hell, call me a traitor.

Mick O'Regan: Do you think that most of the American media, or say most of the influential American media has bought that patriotism line, and as a result are self-censoring themselves?

Hunter S. Thompson: There you go, self-censorship, yes, that's a very good point. Yes, I would say that. Now there are always exceptions to that but there've been damn few. Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, I'm trying to think of who else, there's not that many of them (at the moment?). And you get that corporate mentality of well what will the advertisers think? You know, in the times against the President therefor we won't advertise in it. A corporate kind of, we're all in this together thinking, so yes the publishers have always been Republicans, and the working press usually are Democratic, the smarter part of them, but not even the Democrats have been very strong on this, Not strong enough to get anyone excited.

Mick O'Regan: So is it the White House laying down what they think is appropriate journalism, or is it the news media outlets deciding that they have to be patriotic, that they're under some sort of undeclared duty at the moment, to somehow reflect the patriotism of the American public?

Hunter S. Thompson: Well it goes a little deeper than that, because this Administration is well on the road to seizing power, and Tom Dashell, the Senate Democratic leader the other day accused Bush of trying to seize dictatorial powers. Now that was a big breakthrough, and I'm starting to sense that the tide may be turning against the President; we have to beat this bastard one way or another. And the easiest way to do that is vote. I mean not (going to use) terrorism to beat a little fart like that. Just voting is a... should be sufficient and I have a sense that there is a... some kind of flag of courage of some sort, courage to disagree with the government. And that's what this country's all about really.

Mick O'Regan: Well historically that's obviously hugely important for America that (track breaks up) so your argument at the moment - we're not seeing that (media) coverage of the whole...

Hunter S. Thompson: And the American government is the greatest enemy of freedom around the world that I can think of. And we keep waving that flag, freedom, yes, these people are flag-suckers.

Mick O'Regan: What about the language that's being used to describe the so-called undeclared war? I mean there have been criticisms in the mainstream press in Australia that journalists have too readily taken up the language of politicians and bureaucrats, that they have uncritically declared the war against terror without really thinking it through; what's your assessment of the situation in the States?

Hunter S. Thompson: Well I'm glad to hear that - you're talking about Australian journalists?

Mick O'Regan: Yes.

Hunter S. Thompson: Yes, well that's good. Congratulations boys. There is not much of that in this country yet. The New York Times - the paper of record - has been I think they've pretty courageous in terms of this laying out what is going on. Reading the New York Times for the past year has been like, one funeral dirge, or you know, just one funeral after another. This over here is the most paranoid, most insecure country that I've ever lived in, I mean it's the worst this country has been since I have ever seen it. And I've been covering politics for a long time. Henceforth.

Mick O'Regan: So that's how you'd characterize the popular debate at the moment? That its full of paranoia?

Hunter S. Thompson: Yeah, but now on the other side we don't have what appears to be just a bunch of half-bright Jesus-freaks. But soon if look at it just a little bit with a different prism this could be a military takeover - could be called that. Have you noticed all the power being centralized in the White House, in Washington. When these super agencies taking over the FBI, the CIA, the super cabinet positions. This little bastard of a President - the goofy child President - I used to call him that but goofy is way too friendly for a President whose been nothing but a... presiding over the looting of the treasury and the looting of people's pension funds. He's done a lot of damage. And he's trying to. And he's trying to... His next step I guarantee is to over-rule the Freedom of Information Act that is key to the survival of journalism in this country.

Mick O'Regan: Do you feel like there's a restriction of media freedom, of the freedom to speak, in the freedom to martial opposition arguments at the moment? Is there a restricted space for media freedom?

Hunter S. Thompson: Well I think what happened... I wouldn't say it's a restricted space, but it's a dark and dangerous grey area to venture into. Several journalists have lost their jobs, columnist Bill Maher on ABC you get these tides of public protest when journalists [inaudible]... but some people were made an example of early on. And then you have this argument, well, you want to criticize like that you're making fun of the victims or people who died in the disasters, the crashes. I'm still not sure who did that. And I think there's a lot more too it that than we've been allowed to know over here. The media doesn't reflect world opinion or even a larger, more intelligent opinion over here, it's just this drumbeat of celebrity worship and child funerals and hooded prisoners being led around Guantanamo. No I'm very disturbed about the civil rights implications of this, and everybody should be.

Mick O'Regan: So just on journalists who may have lost their jobs, are you saying that people who came out and were fearless in their critique of the government or the government's planning, government's policy, that those people actually lost their jobs as journalists?

Hunter S. Thompson: Well I can think of two that come to mind right in the beginning. I haven't heard of any since. But I think Bill Maher, there was some kind of rave after 9/11 that all these people, cowards, you know these dirty little bastards, who snuck up on us and pulled off what amounts to a perfect crime really, no witnesses, very little cost; talk about cost-effective, that was a hell of a strike. I'm not sure I'd call them cowards, but that's what Bill Maher said on TV and he said he considered our missile attacks our bombing attacks on unseen victims, wedding parties etc. that that was cowardly. Whacko. Boy a huge tidal wave of condemnation came down on him. And that was the ABC, yeah.

Mick O'Regan: So at the moment people don't want to hear that sort of criticism, they want people to rally round the flag and support the military?

Hunter S. Thompson: I think that's right, and I think the reason for that is that they don't want to hear it because boy, that's going to be a lot of agonising reappraisal, as they say. What reality is in this country and the world right now. Yes, popular opinion in this country has to be swung over to "the White House is wrong, these people are corporate thieves. They've turned the American Dream into a chamber of looting." It would take a lot of adjustment, mentally.

Mick O'Regan: At the moment, even in Australia, the media is preparing for the first anniversary of the attacks in a couple of weeks from now. Can you give me a sense of what is happening in the United States? How is the American media preparing to sort of commemorate the first anniversary of the September 11th attack?

Hunter S. Thompson: You would never believe it, it's so insane. This is a frantic publicity. Every day on television the President's on TV at least once a day, and celebrations of the dead, the patriots, exposes on Al Qaida, it's just relentless, in fact 25 hours a day, of just how tragic it was and how patriotic it was, and how much we have to get back at these dirty little swine, and I wouldn't be at all surprised for as hideous and dumb as it sounds, an invasion of Iraq on September 11, yeah I'll get out and take a long shot bet on that.

Mick O'Regan: That you think that the occasion might actually be used as a way of using that popular fervour or that popular patriotism as an appropriate day to launch an invasion?

Hunter S. Thompson: Well it seems like that to me, because that's their only power base really, is that frenzy of patriotism, and it's our revenge strike, you know, Uncle Sam gets even. If that's going to work at all, there would be no time when it would work better when everyone in the country is cranked up into emotional frenzies. I find myself getting a little teary eyed last night watching some CNN special. Anita was crying. This reminds me exactly of the month after the attack when there was just drumroll after another. But there is some opposition now popping up in this country, a lot of it. A lot of opposition.

Mick O'Regan: I would like to come to the opposition in just a moment. But just on your arguments about what would seem to be the manipulation by the media of popular sentiments. At the moment, what do you think the leading media outlets should be doing? Because obviously there is deep feeling within the American community about the attack and the aftermath of the attack which it would seem to me that the media is obviously going to pick up on, but how to they represent that feeling without manipulating it for some other less nobel purpose?

Hunter S. Thompson: Well, the way that (grease) has been manipulated here and turned into a platform for revenge, on who? Osama bin Laden? I wrote on the day after the thing occurred that he was probably dead. (inaudible) trying to write a column for, a sports (thing) and yeah to just assume that first it was Osama bin Laden, and then it was Saddam Hussein. It may be that the secret police, and the intelligence operations of America are so much smarter than we are and knows so much more than we heard and are so much more responsible and effective than we are. That's possible I suppose... It's not possible to me but in theory, but in fact all these agencies have been embarrassed. They've been proven to be buffoons and liars. Some FBI agent lost 700 guns in two years... These agencies are riddled with corruption and it is an unwillingness to challenge the word of authority. That is, you'd think you know (inaudible) an un-American way to lean back and be a sheep and act like a good German. And it just really just a question of authority that I believe is the root of this over here.

Mick O'Regan: So you would see Hunter S Thompson in recent years there's been a failure to challenge authority so the media is actually buying the government line far to readily?

Hunter S. Thompson: No, there hasn't been much challenging of authority for quite a while and this President here, this little bastard, is just a (creation) of his father and Reagan brain-trust and a lot of those people came out of Nixon, it's really like the rebirth of Richard Nixon. Or Nixon lives. But these people make Nixon look like a liberal.

Mick O'Regan: You would argue that George Bush Junior make Richard Nixon seem like a liberal which is a startling admission from you because of the caustic way you have previously described Richard Nixon.

Hunter S. Thompson: Yeah, it shocked me when I said it. But I'll stick with that. In terms of just the programmatic mean greedy tunnel-visioned looter, these people make Nixon look like a statesman.

Mick O'Regan: Now Nixon, of course, was undone by the actions of two members of the press, Bernstein and Woodwood, who doggedly pursued him even though it wasn't initially apparent that that trail would bear fruit. Is there a new generation of that type of investigative journalism in the United States, and is this the moment when it should come forward?

Hunter S. Thompson: Oh boy, I've been looking for that... the rise of that generation for a long time. You know the... Yeah, Nixon was always convinced of there was a massive liberal conspiracy to get him. Well, he was right. Yeah. And I was part of that. And I'm proud of it.

Mick O'Regan: Now is that, so called, massive liberal conspiracy, is that emerging now in the debate around the potential invasion of Iraq or the conduct of the Bush administration at the moment?

Hunter S. Thompson: No, these Jesus-freaks have managed to give the word 'liberal' so a bad name that in this nation now its really a matter of shame to adopt the word 'liberal'. See, I've never been a liberal. I've (been know) to the bastards for years. But liberal, no, there's no ground swell of liberal sentiment driving this questioning of what the administration is doing. Now these people want to go into attack the Arab world, the Muslim world, with no allies except England and Israel...

Mick O'Regan: And possibly Australia.

Hunter S. Thompson: Oh my god! Don't tell me your god-damned Papist bastards are that off, I thought you were freedom loving (inaudible)?

Mick O'Regan: Well what's going on here as we record this interview in Australia, there is actually a debate about the degree to which the government has made clear whether it would support a first strike policy by the United States government and the call in Australia is for a much fuller debate both at a parliamentary level and in the media about what the Australian government should do, but the Prime Minister of Australia has reserved his judgement, but he's made it clear that his government is very keen to support the US if called upon.

Hunter S. Thompson: Well, thats err... that's horrible. Well I guess err... that's right, you people voted that you really are err... you're all subjects of the Queen, didn't you?

Mick O'Regan: We voted to not become a republic, that's right.

Hunter S. Thompson: No, no, you re-affirmed the power of the Monarchy as I remember, over you.

Mick O'Regan: That's right... Look its a digression, but that's right. But just on that... One of things that the media in Australia is really trying to take up I suppose is to draw from the government some clearer position. You know, will Australia support the US, what are the implications of the US striking pre-emptively against Iraq. I'm very interested in your assessment of that debate in the States. I mean, are the particular areas where criticism is coming from?

Hunter S. Thompson: Let me first say that its very important that you guys get a statement, a clear statement out of the government. And the longer they won't give you one, the more ominous it's going to sound, right? It will be... I mean if they won't tell you they won't support the United States in the event of a first strike, what do you guess their position is going to be?

Mick O'Regan: Look in Australia Hunter, there's been a policy of bi-partisanship, a history of bi-partisanship, and that's the other thing that's up for grabs at the moment it would seem. Whether the Labor party opposition to the Conservative Federal government is going to sort of strengthen its opposition to any Australian involvement or whether its going to go ahead and support the government as it has done in previous military campaigns. That's a major issue, but its an issue being played our in the press. What I'm interested I'm supposed is your assessment of how that's being played out or not being played out in your own press.

Hunter S. Thompson: Well we get a lot of encouragement, say from Germany, France, the entire Arab world. I mean, nobodies really in favor of this. I don't know who, I mean if you want to name some people? Who else really wants Saddam Hussein so desperately out of power? I look around, I don't see anyone else waving the hatchet, do you?

Mick O'Regan: [Well, no, no. Hunter] Could I take you back to September 11th. What I'd really like to know is your reactions. And I know you said you were writing a sports column for ESPN when the planes hit the towers, but could I get you to tell that story of when you found out about it and what you were doing and what your reaction was?

Hunter S. Thompson: Yeah I was really (inaudible) in a low key way. I had in fact just finished a sports column for ESPN. I've forgotten exactly what is was about. It was pretty good. No sooner it had gone over the wire than I was on the phone with John Walt, general editor of ESPN was on the phone saying 'You have to write about this disaster' and as it happened I'd been going to bed after my column, it was late Monday night, I was just going to bed, the TV was still on. I usually have it on just for the news, and I happen to see the first plane hit, and in my fog condition, I'd been up all night writing the column I somehow knew it was real. I don't know why I've seen enough real life... What is that noise? Yeah, there was no mistaking the reality of that. It didn't make much sense. And it still doesn't really, but I, oh here we go, here we go. This is the column I wrote, let's see 09/12/01. Here it is: 'It was just after dawn in Woody Creek, Colorado when the first plane hit the World Trade Center in New York City on Tuesday morning. And as usual I was writing about sports. But not for long. Football suddenly seemed irrelevant compared to the scenes of destruction and other devastation coming out of New York on TV.'

Mick O'Regan: You went on to say in that article, which I have in front of me, that 'even ESPN was broadcasting war news. It was the worst disaster in the history of the United States.' Do you think that the event completely transformed the way in which Americans see themselves and their own vulnerability?'

Hunter S. Thompson: No, the event by itself wouldn't have done that. I've seen planes hit the Empire State Building before, I didn't go totally out of my mind. People had been killed. But it was the way the Administration was able to use that event. And to use it as a springboard for everything they wanted to do. And that might tell you something. I remember when I was writing that column you sort of wonder when something like that happens, Well who stands to benefit? You know, its like murder. Who had the opportunity and the motive? You just kind of look at these basic things, and I don't know if I want to go into this on worldwide radio here, but -

Mick O'Regan: You may as well.

Hunter S. Thompson: All right. Well I saw that the US government was going to benefit, and the White House people, the republican administration to take the mind of the public off of the crashing economy. Now you want to keep in mind that every time a person named Bush gets into office, the nation goes into a drastic recession they call it.

Mick O'Regan: It sounds almost like the plot of that film 'Wag the Dog' where film producers sort of concocted a national event to inspire patriotism to take the public's minds of misdemeanors committed by the President. Are you, I mean, It seems a very long bow to me, but are you sort of suggesting that this worked in the favour of the Bush Administration?

Hunter S. Thompson: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And I have spent enough time on the inside of, well in the White House and you know, campaigns and I've known enough people who do these things, think this way, to know that the public version of the news or whatever event, is never really what happened. And these people I think are willing to take that even further, so I don't assume that I know the truth of what went on that day, and yeah, I just looking around and looking for who had the motive, who the opportunity, who had the equipment, who had the will. Yeah, these people were looting the treasury and they knew the economy was going into a spiral downward.

Mick O'Regan: From this distance it does seem extraordinarily conspiratorial that you could sit there and see the hand of the US government in this attack rather than seeing international terrorists bent on somehow hurting America and the American people. What sort of reaction did your views get among your peers or amongst other journalists?

Hunter S. Thompson: (laughs) I was greeted universally with a kind of nervousness and almost nobody agreed with me, nobody thought it was the right thing just to answer your question. No it was about 99 to 1, but since then...

Mick O'Regan: Did you publish those views anywhere?

Hunter S. Thompson: I'm not sure if I said that, if I haven't then I meant to. Now let's see...

Mick O'Regan: I was going to ask you for the reaction to them because, I don't want to seem Polyannish here, but it doesn't seem an extraordinary conspiracy theory that your putting forward, that your first reaction was somehow implicate the US government in this attack, rather than an enemy of the US government.

Hunter S. Thompson: Well you want to keep in mind that I have lived, not just through, but very close to a lot of real tragedies in this country, and let me ask you, do you think you know who killed John Kennedy or Robert Kennedy?

Mick O'Regan: Look I have to say I was a boy at the time, but no, and I haven't read the Warren Commission Report, but it seems to me that that in this case there were so many more people involved it would seem to be much less likely some sort of internal conspiracy.

Hunter S. Thompson: Well it does, I mean I can see why you are a little edgy accepting this from me and...

Mick O'Regan: Well let me just ask you on that. I mean you've pioneered a form of journalism called Gonzo journalism, in which it's almost like there's no revision. What you see and feel is what goes down on the page, and it's that first blush, that first image that hits the readership. Does that mean that Hunter S. Thompson that in a way it's hard for you to appear credible within the US media because people would say Oh look, that's just another conspiracy theory from a drug-addled Gonzo journalist like Hunter S. Thompson?

Hunter S. Thompson: Yeah, that's a problem. I'm not sure if it's my problem or other people's, or their's, but I stand by this column and the one after it. I've been right so often, and my percentages are so high, I'll stand by this column that I wrote that day, and the next one. So what appears to be maybe Gonzo journalism, I'm not going to claim any prophetic powers, but...

Mick O'Regan: Well one of the things you do say in that first article you wrote, you say, 'It's now 24 hours later, and we're not getting much information about the 5Ws of this thing.' Now by the 5Ws I'm presuming you mean the Who, the What, the When, the Why and the How. Is that still how you feel, that a year later those key questions haven't been answered?

Hunter S. Thompson: Absolutely. It's even worse though. This is just a suggestion, in 24 hours we were not getting much information about the 5 Ws. Well, how much have we got beyond that? How much more do we have than we had a year ago? Damn little, I think. We know a lot about the firemen who died, a lot about the people who stole money from their charity fund, a lot about the people who donated all that blood and Red Cross had too much of it and had to throw away 5 tons of blood or something like that. That may be an exaggeration. No, I will stand by almost all my, well no no, come on, look, great a grip on yourself Tom, you can't talk like that...

Mick O'Regan: Hunter S. Thompson, let me ask you about you new book, I mean, The Kingdom of Fear: Loathsome Secrets of a Star-Cross Child in the Final Days of the American Dream. It's a very apocalyptic title. Has this book, this new book, has it come off your reflections about September 11th and the way it was handled by the American media?

Hunter S. Thompson: Well it came off of the, yeah, the atmosphere in this country as of September 12. Yeah, Kingdom of Fear. That's the way I see this country. I'm not just writing a long (scree) front-to-back, some kind of a political tract. But, in the book, I've tried to explain a little bit about how I got this way and why you should pay attention to my predictions.

Mick O'Regan: Is this a critical time for the credibility of US journalism? How this current war is being covered, and how it is being reported on, and the sort of public information that the American people get? Is this a sort of critical test of the credibility of US journalism?

Hunter S. Thompson: I think definitely, but I'm not sure how much credibility US journalism really has given that we, well let's see, in 5 years we lost two Presidents and 1 civil rights leader to mysterious bombs or assassins or (wicky haired) strangers, and US journalism has never dug out the truth about that. One of my great shames as a journalist is that I still don't know who killed Jack Kennedy and its always bothered me, always haunted me. And no doubt that I don't know, and there's not much doubt that journalism doesn't know. And in a lot of ways, that maybe because we haven't asked. When I say asked, I mean the people who, well, most of the witnesses were killed weren't they?

Mick O'Regan: But did that need for certainty, is that what underpins your critique that US journalism has failed to provide in your life the key answers to the key events that you needed answered.

Hunter S. Thompson: I would say that and I would include myself and I worked as hard as anybody. The rules really changed in this country when Reagan came in and started these test invasions of other small nations. And when they decided to test the policy of no more battlefield access for any journalist. Vietnam was totally different and that's why we got that war ended. But (I went to) Grenada and that's in this book too. And you can see it forming right there, I'd never seen it before. I'd never seen journalists beaten up by military police and hogtied in the middle of the road. I'd never had to... I'd always had a press pass and access. But when the military - the Pentagon (inaudible) - they seize the advantage they never give it up. The military is still not allowing anybody else to know what's happening in Afghanistan or wherever they're fighting. It's always, you know, press releases, staged events.

Mick O'Regan: Hunter S. Thompson, do you think that the so called 'Gonzo' style of journalism which you've become famous and some would say notorious, do you think there is a specific legacy that what makes that kind of journalism work makes it more necessary at the moment?

Hunter S. Thompson: Well, I've never properly defined that term even to myself.

Mick O'Regan: What do you think it does mean?

Hunter S. Thompson: Well, from my point of view it means being very skeptical of the pronouncements of authority, and that as a gambler I would say that its a bit of an even bet that if you question the statements and truths of the white house and the government, more often than not you'll be right. And that you'll... I don't know, I just try to get as close to what I'm writing about as possible in order to find out what's really happening. A lot of times its weirder than it appears in my stories. The truth is usually stranger than fiction. In my life.

Mick O'Regan: Hunter Thompson, will you be at home watching the commemoration programs on 11th September? Will you be among the audience, which I imagine will number tens of millions of people who watch what happens in New York?

Hunter S. Thompson: That's a good point, that's a good question, and yes, it's soon, isn't it? No, I won't. I think I'll grab Anita and take a road trip. We'll just go off and have a little fun. Why sit around and watch that stuff? Now what I'm afraid of see is (inaudible) media cover for a sudden move on Iraq. And that little monster will come on TV and say 'Today the erh...' I can't say allied forces, I can't say coalition forces anymore, he'll have to say yeah 'Today we invaded Iraq'. Now, this seems so impossible I'd be happy to loose money on it. I'd bet on it. But it seems too logical for that kind of tactless thug mind set that this is the time to do it. I can't think of a better time if I was going to do it, I'll put it that way.

Mick O'Regan: Because the nation's effectively distracted by the commemorations in New York that its almost like saying quick while no ones really paying attention let's invade another country.

Hunter S. Thompson: Exactly. It's so cynical, and so stupid and so self-defeating in the long run that you'd think that no one in their right mind - or President - would plunge us into a war like that with no allies and... on the other side of the world.

Mick O'Regan: Just out of interest, I mean, for these comments to be broadcast on Radio National in Australia which is part of the ABC - part of the public boardcasting network - it occurs to me that you probably wouldn't hear those sort of comments on the other outlets. In America (inaudible) voice to your conspiracy theories about the role of the US government.

Hunter S. Thompson: Well I definitely will be when this book comes out in December. Now, unfortunately we're going to have that election up here in November. And that is going to be an extremely key election in time to... if you care about this country to really vote. And I've been working on this book for so long I feel like I've been in a decompression chamber of some kind.

Mick O'Regan: So obviously these very critical views will appear in your book. I suppose what I'm interested in asking is where else would people hear views like yours. I know their coming out later in the year in your book, but across the US media, radio and television and print where would people be now hearing these very critical comments such as the ones you've been making?

Hunter S. Thompson: Well, heh, where else hey? Where indeed? I know a lot of journalists across the country that would agree with me. But whether their writing this stuff and saying it in public I don't know. You can ask Maureen Dowd and see what she feels if I'm right or wrong. And, I can't really tell you anybody else. (inaudible) Boy, it really is lonely out here.

Mick O'Regan: Hunter S. Thompson, just as a final question and look its a big question but let me ask it anyway. I mean, how do you see from your position as a critic on the left of America journalism, how do you see the future of journalism in your country?

Hunter S. Thompson: Well, I have a very dim view of it I guess. Yeah, the future of journalism which I really thought was unbounded after Watergate but right now I (don't see any reason) to be optimistic about it. Because of the, erh, no just one huge scam they pulled off here but because of the everyday reality of journalism is celebratory driven. The news over here barely covers. I watched some BBC stuff and then some CNN foreign news - the one that, the world news that doesn't get into this country. I read the Paris Herald Tribune. That kind of news doesn't get through in this country. Now you have to read the New York Times very carefully and to maybe see what they're talking about. But I don't think my views would be seen as crazy or absurd or out of the question in most countries in the world.

Mick O'Regan: Do you ever worry, given the current climate in the United States and the surge in patriotism that's going on that you could be personally at risk from someone that took offense at your critique? That you own personal security might be threatened?

Hunter S. Thompson: Yeah, yeah I think about it. (inaudible) to be true.

Mick O'Regan: Have there been occurrences when you've been threatened?

Hunter S. Thompson: Oh yeah I'm constantly, I have been all my life. Yeah. My kind of journalism that goes with the territory. There are going to be threats, and there are going to be people very unhappy. And, knock knock, I don't think it is a matter of luck I think its a matter that I've pretty well stuck to my battle plan. And, they've tried to come after me, the federal government, all kinds of governments. I've got tons of warrants and courts - I have to keep like four of the finest criminal lawyers in the country on retainer. Yeah, you have to fight for these rights in this country, they didn't come in on any a... the stork didn't bring a bill of rights. A lot of people fought for it.

Mick O'Regan: So that's how you'd see yourself as fighting for freedom of speech in America?

Hunter S. Thompson: Absolutely.

(The version of the interview I downloaded ends here)

Mick O'Regan: US journalist, Hunter S. Thompson with a very personal and idiosyncratic view of September 11.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Haruki Murakami and The Jerusalem Prize

A few months back I read on ABC website that one of my favourite authors Haruki Murakami had won "The Jerusalem Prize" for literature in Israel. The ABC article makes mention of Murakami's musing as whether he should accept the prize or not - "I asked myself - is visiting Israel the proper thing to do, will I be supporting one side?" The article does not provide an answer to this question - but obviously he did turn up and collect the prize. The article did, however, provide this rather quixotic quote: "If there is a hard, high wall and an egg that breaks against it, no matter how right the wall or how wrong the egg, I will stand on the side of the egg. Because each of us is an egg, a unique soul enclosed in a fragile egg, each of us confronting a high wall, the high wall is the system". I was bemused by this quote and wanted to read the transcript of the speech, but at the time I could not find it anywhere on the web. I wanted to know what Murakami had actually said at his acceptance speech in Israel given the deadly incursion into Gaza at the time that left upward of 1300 Palestinians and 13 Israeli's dead.

The original ABC article came from AFP, who in turn quoted the Jerusalem Post. Reading the Jerusalem Post article (which quotes more Murakami that the ABC article) I was not much clearer as to what Murakami had said. If he had given a personal opinion about the Israeli / Palestinian conflict. I got the distinct impression from the article that Murakami had not given a direct opinion, rather had embedded his opinion in an obscure wall / egg metaphor. The title of the Jerusalem Post article was 'Murakami, in trademark obscurity, explains why he accepted Jerusalem award'. The first lines of the article are: "Israel is not the egg. Confused? This might be the only explanation we will ever hear from Japanese bestselling author Haruki Murakami - and in true Murakami style, even it will be somewhat vague." A little later in the article, the author with tongue-in-cheek says "And here Murakami... making a clear statement that left no room of reinterpretation. No time for ambiguity, this." Tongue-in-cheek because he then quotes a slightly extended version of Murakami's wall / egg metaphor. It is not a clear statement.

Many weeks later I remembered that I wanted to read that speech and thought perhaps it had now been uploaded. It had been. Here are four places I found the speech: (contains a Japanese translation)

I read the transcript and didn't have that much trouble figuring out what Murakami was saying. He was on the side of the Palestinians. Not that he was anti-Israeli (as people), but he certainly wasn't on the side of the Israeli State (or government). I also realized that the quotes in the paper were not very accurate, in fact they were paraphrasing. I'll take three examples:

Jerusalem Post: If there is a hard, high wall and an egg that breaks against it, no matter how right the wall or how wrong the egg, I will stand on the side of the egg.

Transcript: Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg. Yes, no matter how right the wall may be and how wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg. Someone else will have to decide what is right and what is wrong; perhaps time or history will do it. But if there were a novelist who, for whatever reason, wrote works standing with the wall, of what value would such works be?

Jerusalem Post: We are all human beings, individuals, fragile eggs," he urged. "We have no hope against the wall: it's too high, too dark, too cold. To fight the wall, we must join our souls together for warmth, strength. We must not let the system control us - create who we are. It is we who created the system.

Transcript: We are all human beings, individuals transcending nationality and race and religion, and we are all fragile eggs faced with a solid wall called The System. To all appearances, we have no hope of winning. The wall is too high, too strong--and too cold. If we have any hope of victory at all, it will have to come from our believing in the utter uniqueness and irreplaceability of our own and others’ souls and from our believing in the warmth we gain by joining souls together. Take a moment to think about this. Each of us possesses a tangible, living soul. The System has no such thing. We must not allow the System to exploit us. We must not allow the System to take on a life of its own. The System did not make us: we made the System.

Jerusalem Post: When I was asked to accept this award," he said, "I was warned from coming here because of the fighting in Gaza. I asked myself: Is visiting Israel the proper thing to do? Will I be supporting one side?

"I gave it some thought. And I decided to come. Like most novelists, I like to do exactly the opposite of what I'm told. It's in my nature as a novelist. Novelists can't trust anything they haven't seen with their own eyes or touched with their own hands. So I chose to see. I chose to speak here rather than say nothing.

Transcript: A fair number of people advised me not to come here to accept the Jerusalem Prize. Some even warned me they would instigate a boycott of my books if I came.

The reason for this, of course, was the fierce battle that was raging in Gaza. The UN reported that more than a thousand people had lost their lives in the blockaded Gaza City, many of them unarmed citizens - children and old people.

Any number of times after receiving notice of the award, I asked myself whether traveling to Israel at a time like this and accepting a literary prize was the proper thing to do, whether this would create the impression that I supported one side in the conflict, that I endorsed the policies of a nation that chose to unleash its overwhelming military power. This is an impression, of course, that I would not wish to give. I do not approve of any war, and I do not support any nation. Neither, of course, do I wish to see my books subjected to a boycott.

Finally, however, after careful consideration, I made up my mind to come here. One reason for my decision was that all too many people advised me not to do it. Perhaps, like many other novelists, I tend to do the exact opposite of what I am told. If people are telling me - and especially if they are warning me - "don't go there," "don't do that," I tend to want to "go there" and "do that." It's in my nature, you might say, as a novelist. Novelists are a special breed. They cannot genuinely trust anything they have not seen with their own eyes or touched with their own hands.

And that is why I am here. I chose to come here rather than stay away. I chose to see for myself rather than not to see. I chose to speak to you rather than to say nothing.

My apologizes for the long transcript quotes - but it shows clearly how the "quotes" in the newspaper articles were more paraphrases of sentences that occur in different paragraphs. The quotes from the Jerusalem Post are those that were picked up and transmitted around the world via AFP, The Guardian, ABC (Australia).

And how about the Jerusalem Post's claim of 'obscurity' and 'vagueness' regarding the wall / egg metaphor? Well, let's quote Murakami himself:

"What is the meaning of this metaphor? In some cases, it is all too simple and clear. Bombers and tanks and rockets and white phosphorus shells are that high, solid wall. The eggs are the unarmed civilians who are crushed and burned and shot by them. This is one meaning of the metaphor."

Not the most obscure unpacking of a metaphor I've ever read. If you add the above paragraph with the 'I will always stand on the side of the egg' quote - then it isn't hard to say which side of the conflict Murakami's sympathies lie. Murakami then goes on to outline a deeper meaning of the metaphor where we as individuals are the eggs, The System is the wall. "We are all human beings, individuals transcending nationality and race and religion, fragile eggs faced with a solid wall called The System". It would seem to me that his sympathies lie with individuals (regardless of their religion, nationality or race). It wouldn't be too much a stretch to see The System as those institutional structures of State, of Capital, of Church that seem to exist independent of individuals - yet in whose name those individuals suffer war, poverty and intolerance. But that is me putting words into his metaphor now...

I think it obvious that the original Jerusalem Post article is deeply misleading - and in as much as it is - the international press that quoted only from the Jerusalem Post is equally misleading. Not all the international press, however, relied upon the Jerusalem Post. Haaretz published the transcript of Murakami's speech on their website. And reports I read in the Iranian press appeared to be able to quote Murakami correctly.

Regarding the transcripts of Murakami's speech - I discovered that there were in fact subtle differences in the online versions of the speeches that I came across. Murakami gave his speech in English (though not particularly easy to understand English - see the excerpt on the youtube video). The Haaretz version of speech was largely re-published word-for-word on - though strangely with a noticeable exception. These two paragraphs didn't make it through to the version:

"This is not to say that I am here to deliver a political message. To make judgments about right and wrong is one of the novelist's most important duties, of course.

It is left to each writer, however, to decide upon the form in which he or she will convey those judgments to others. I myself prefer to transform them into stories - stories that tend toward the surreal. Which is why I do not intend to stand before you today delivering a direct political message.

The 47news transcript also misses out the above two paragraphs, and also the following italicized section: "Any number of times after receiving notice of the award, I asked myself whether traveling to Israel at a time like this and accepting a literary prize was the proper thing to do, whether this would create the impression that I supported one side in the conflict, that I endorsed the policies of a nation that chose to unleash its overwhelming military power. This is an impression, of course, that I would not wish to give. I do not approve of any war, and I do not support any nation. Neither, of course, do I wish to see my books subjected to a boycott."

What is interesting about the 47news article is the note (in Japanese) from the person who posted it saying that he had edited the official transcript given out by the organizers of the Prize where it differed from his own recording of the speech. And there are a number of places where his transcript does indeed differ from that on the Haaretz site. Here are the main differences I noted (there are other smaller differences):

Haaretz / Salon - Diplomats and military men tell their own kinds of lies on occasion
47news - Diplomats and generals tell their own kinds of lies on occasion

Haaretz / Salon - One time I asked him why he did this, and he told me he was praying for the people who had died in the war.
47news - One time I asked him why he did this, and he told me he was praying for the people who had died in the battlefield.

Haaretz - And I am glad to have had the opportunity to speak to you here today.
47news - And I would like to express my gratitude to the readers in Israel. You are the biggest reason why I am here. And I hope we are sharing something, something very meaningful. And I am glad to have had the opportunity to speak to you here today. Thank you very much.
Salon - the whole last paragraph is missing from this version

I am not sure what to make of the differences between the transcripts. Is it possible that the organizers added in a couple of paragraphs into the speech to emphasize that Murakami was not making a political message? Was the transcript published by Haaretz the full script provided by the organizers? Was the 47news reporter working from his/her recording not putting in those sentences because they were never said? Or did the 47news reporter take those sentences out of the organizer's transcript by accident or design when editing the script? (However - those same sentences were removed in the version which is otherwise near identical to the Haaretz verion). I have some faith in the 47news script in part because it does contain more text in the closing paragraph of the script - 3 sentences are not in the Haaretz version - 3 sentences that even the Jerusalem Post was able to quote almost correctly because they supported its case. Without finding a video or audio recording of the speech (and I have looked for one) I cannot say why these discrepancies have occurred.

One thing is for certain - Murakami was not expressing support for Israel's actions in Gaza. He later published an article in a Japanese literary journal Bungei Shunju strongly condemning Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. You can read an article about this at Unfortunately I have not been able to get a hold of this article - and being in Japanese would not be able to read it myself if I could. If anyone comes across a translation of the article - I would like see what he actually said.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Wedding 2.0

At the beginning of the year we went to Japan to get married. In April, we returned to act out the celebration before a cast of dozens - it was a lot of fun. Tick. If you want to know more - go to flickr. Now back in Hanoi and I have descended back into 'on-line research' whilst continuing my favourite past-time of quitting cigarettes. Extended hours of alcohol fueled mania investigating the news of the world at the moment have ensued - but before we get to that. Book club update:

Whilst in Japan I read:

Footsteps by Pramoedya Ananta Toer

The last book in the Buru Quartet. I have mentioned this series before - so won't repeat myself here except for this: If you want to be part of a nationalist uprising, or wish to suppress one, you can learn lot from this amazing quartet and its author.

Perfect Spy - The Incredible Double Life of Pham Xuan An by Larry Berman

Pham An was a Vietnamese Communist agent, and a reporter for Time Magazine, and this an excellent biography by a historian who sat down and talked with An and had access to his personal collection of documents. One of the things I am interested in is the media. One of the over-whelming messages in becoming a professional reporter is 'objectivity'. Now I believe quite seriously that 'objectivity' is a ideal that cannot ever be reached. My belief in this stems from my previous study in Philosophy of Science - where 'being objective' is taken very seriously, and found to be rather a complicated beast even for the hardest of sciences. In reportage, being objective seems to have various meanings. One meaning is 'balanced'. Another is 'authenticity'. What strikes me about Pham An is that he appears to have been an excellent reporter on many levels, as judged by his fellow (American) reporters, even after he was exposed as having been a Communist agent. He seemed to understand that his cover was based on being authentically good at his cover-story - being a reporter. He wasn't just acting as being a reporter - he was being a really good reporter - and had more reasons to be so than most. And by this account he successfully balanced his nationalistic duties, his reporting duties, and his duties towards his friends. That is quite a remarkable feat. There are many things in this book that made me think - and if nothing else - it is a damn fine spy read - the better for being based on fact. And also the guy was a chain smoker for life - he died of complications from emphysema. In my present state, I give honour to someone who died by these little 'tubes of joy'. (I have a feeling that 'tubes of joy' came from a quote by playwright Dennis Potter - though I am unsure. Watch this section from Dennis' 'The Singing Detective' that provides some insight into his view of the medical profession.)

Bias - A CBS Insider Exposes how the Media Distort the News by Bernard Goldberg

Whilst in Japan I visited the bookshop Bookoff that has a fine selection of second-hand English language books. I bought four. This was the first that I read. How 'Media Distort the News' - it grabbed my attention - this is what I have been currently interested in. And for only $2! Later when I read the blurbs I was confused... 'Again and again he saw that the news slanted to the left... no one listened. The liberal bias continued'. Hold on, the US TV news, slanted to the left? I needed to read the book to find out why I was so confused about the US mass media - I had always thought it was a little the other way... I read, and the book made me angry. I was also trying not to smoke, which made me angry, so perhaps it wasn't the book's fault? The basic premise of the book - the US mass TV news media slant the news coverage to the left. They continuously promote liberal observations and experts and ignore conservative observations and experts. This slant can be seen in reportage of: affirmative action, homelessness, HIV/AIDS, and men. My observations on objectivity have concluded that objectivity depends on your standpoint. And if you are a patriotic conservative in the mainstream American media - I think Goldberg is right. The media is biased to the left, a liberal bias. If you are a patriotic liberal in the mainstream of American media - I think their observation that Goldberg is a traitor to their efforts is correct. If you are not in the main stream American media - perhaps say in the media outside of the US - or perhaps a foreigner not in the media at all - you can agree with Goldberg that the main stream media in the US is only concerned about making a profit and that motivation seeps into every part of their coverage. Goldberg labels them as hypocrites. Sure. I would just like to extend the term to the 'conservative' section of the main stream US press as well. US main stream media coverage can seem strangely alien to people outside of the US - my guess is it feels the same to many within the US too.

The problem I had with the book was that it was purely domestic, aimed at the domestic audience. It barely mentioned the world outside the US. But where it did was instructive - the second last chapter 'Connecting the Dots... to Terrorism' the domestic media is lambasted... 'Why would journalists, so interested in connecting the dots when they thought they led to Rush Limbaugh, be so uninterested in connecting the dots when there might actually be dots to connect - from hateful, widely held popular attitudes in much of the Arab world straight to the cockpits of those hijacked jetliners?' (pg.211, italics in the original). And does this lead to a comment about US foreign policy? No. The dots are not connected from 'widely held popular attitudes in much of the Arab world' to possible reasons why many people may hold those attitudes. Which leads me to the next book I read...

Rogue State - A Guide to the World's Only Superpower - by William Blum

This book also made me angry - but more the anger I felt after reading The Shock Doctrine (Naomi Klein) and The Age of the Warrior (Robert Fisk). It is a very dense and concise summation of US Government's sins both overseas (largely) and domestically. If you want to 'connect the dots' here is a good place to start. Blum has been praised by both Noam Chomsky and Gore Vidal - so it is easy to see by association whether you want to read this book or not. To me this is a valuable reference book - it has a detailed reference section - unlike Bias. Find the author's (in need of a web designer) site at: Why not check out his 'Anti-Empire Reports', but beware of liberal bias!

At present I am reading Noam Chomsky's 'Middle East Illusions'. What a left wing pinky I must be ;-) Whilst reading these books I have come across a number of strange and interesting websites. This man's blog (Bill Totten) links to many articles from American's not at all happy with where the USA is going. Note - he is based in Japan and has given up his American citizenship to become Japanese. I was surprised to see how many people in the current economic crisis see the seeds of the US downfall (especially see Cluborlov). I do not follow this line of thought. I feel the current economic problems are not accidental, not unforeseen, and are largely used as the instrument to move a lot of public money into private hands. Similar in line to the main thesis espoused by Naomi Klein. I don't see this as the last gasp of capitalism - just another grab - before the next one. For more insight into the US economic crisis check out The Baseline Scenario. If you are worried about bias in the media - perhaps this is a useful link: Source Watch.

Onto other things:
Curing Kleptomania
I once worked at a University - and sometime lecturers would want to put up videos of themselves talking about dull subjects - talking heads streamed to your computer. It was widely acknowledged to be a terrible format for educational purposes - but still continues today. Here is a short talking head video whose dull (and problematic in my eyes) subject is enhanced by a few simple cartoons. For any online educational institution that is forced to put talking head videos online - perhaps hire a cartoonist to make them more palatable, even entertaining.
The Culinary Institute of America
Perhaps I've been reading too much reactionary material about the exploits of the CIA - but I took a double-look at this site before I could decide it was authentic. Was the web-designer possessed with a rarified sense of irony and humour? (Under Quick Links: Cooking Programs: Boot Camp, Flavors of Latin Cuisine [first 2 listed]). Or watch 'Cooking Secrets of the CIA', a PBS television show. The New Haven Restaurant Institute was created in 1946 as a 'vocational training school for returning veterans of World War II'. The Central Intelligence Agency was created in 1947. In 1951 the New Haven Restaurant Institute became the CIA (Culinary Institute of America). One of its notable alumni is Anthony Bourdain, whose book "A Cook's Tour" planted the seed in scratchindog's head all those years ago to move to Vietnam. To the paranoid, there are connections everywhere...

Music pick of the week
I have been killed only once to my knowledge. That is, cut-off so entirely and utterly from another person as to have all the appearances of being a ghost. Not that long ago I quietly and privately held a one year wake of the day I heard the absolute last word from my assassin - 'disappointed'. I deserved the treatment - I was very bad - and the following utter silence was a devilishly successful punishment if that was its intention. Walking around Hanoi with my ishuffle on random - I kept hearing some fantastic music which I couldn't place. I have tracked down who it was from playlists from before my fall from grace. I still mourn the loss of my friend - finding this band is a small bright jewel found in the rubble over a year later. Röyksopp (Norwegian electronic music duo Torbjørn Brundtland and Svein Berge) use a sample in their music (e.g. around 2:04 minutes into the version of 'Röyksopp's Night Out' I have - but also in other tracks) that sounds exactly like the default alert for gchat. It has had me switching windows for days and wondering what the hell is going on. Tricky bastards...

Little Red Riding Hood
By Tomas Nilsson, music by Slagsmålsklubben
Beautiful - but note also Röyksopp's similar video concept which is also lovely.

Friday, 3 April 2009

off to Japan - goodbye web surfing

I've been spending an inordinate amount of time internet researching - in other words - web surfing. Whole days slipping into oblivion as I trawl through the endless offerings that are out there. All wasted time, and time away doing nice, lovely things, like writing pithy blog entries.

I'm off to Japan in a few hours. A couple of weeks with wonderful distractions to keep me away from both blogging and web surfing. Could be a couple of weeks before I get back to the keyboard. To make up for it, here is a little of what I was wasting my time on before I left...

Media Stuff:
Project Censored - The news that didn't make the News. My favourite media site of the week. Featuring the top 25 censored stories from each year. Newsworthy stuff that doesn't seem to make it to the main papers. I spent a whole morning reading through this stuff - love it! Read it. Get paranoid. You should be... and this is a long term serious project involving media students and submissions from around the world.
A reader funded news agency that provides a "stable voice for independent journalism". I found many interesting and well written articles on this site.
Accuracy in Media - "for Fairness, Balance and Accuracy in News Reporting" - which stands to revert the overwhelming liberal bias in the US media. Ho hum. See for yourself how they do this. Note the Annual Report is 'Coming May 2008'.
Media Matters for America - and from the other side a not-for-profit center "dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media."
And one more step to the left - "a radical newsletter in the struggle for peace and social justice".
I couldn't quite figure this site out. A place to post your opinions, writings or knowledge about pretty much anything. The postings are vetted by the users, and can be discarded by superusers. There is a voting system, and you can 'earn' some form of non-monetary credit for your writing. Individual pieces represent nodes, and nodes are connected by readers, and interestingly also automatically by analysis of the browsing patterns of readers. It is not a wiki - your writings are not editable even by yourself. I was interesting floating around in everything2 for a while - but I wasn't attracted to the format. It seems to float between a blog and wikipedia and I don't know where that is exactly...
"Crowd Powered Media" anyone can be a reporter and have it broadcast here to the world.
A news aggregator with a particular focus on Health, Humanitarian work and Technology as it applies to both. Links to a wide variety of interesting sources - not just news sites. A project of the NGO Innovative Support to Emergencies, Diseases and Disasters (InSTEDD).

People organizing together:
Users make reports of types and locations of crimes in Brazil on a map based wiki site. If enough people participate - then crime areas are clearly identified and pressure can be brought to bare on the government to address the issue.
Taking on the Mafia. A group of shop owners and merchants who are publicly banding together and refusing to pay protection money - or pizzo from the mafia. By forming a collective and publicly listing those merchants who refuse to pay pizzo they have started to gain public support. The public also have places to shop without indirectly funding the mafia.
There have been barcamps all around the world now - and I wasn't only slightly disappointed to find out they were outside drinking meetups - but that is what bia hoi is for I guess. These are technological educational events - but without the formal structures of a conference. Often called 'un-conferences' there is no distinction between presenter and audience - everyone is expected to be willing to participate and present. This is Hanoi's attempt.

Postcards from Vietnam by Damien Frost ( Very beautiful drawings, and a nice homepage.
Some beautiful - if somewhat disturbing art. I particularly like his Repetition - strange dog men and rabbit men...

Hot Docs 2009 Festival. Documentary showcase in Toronto - why can't I go to Toronto?

Visual information management software. Again I was on a search for a way of organizing the diverse and scattered bits of knowledge, or sites, or books that I keep running across. I didn't end up downloading it - though I may yet do so. I couldn't face yet another software learning curve, and am still unclear as to what or why I want to organize. What is it I want to achieve - and given what I want to achieve, how can this facilitate it? I'm still stuck on the what.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

german daze

It has been a strange couple of days. We have had guests in town - well - people who know people who know one of us kind of guests - in short - strangers. However and whatever, we met and had dinner at Highway 4 on Hang Tre which is a fine eating establishment and the first stop to take out-of-town folk who you want to introduce to Vietnamese cuisine. Or at least, Vietnamese rice wine. Our guests were two Germans, one American, all architects. Lovely people on a one week whirl-wind tour of Vietnam. Afterwards we popped into tadioto - a place I have been able to wipe away inconvenient memories by the application of patent designed alcohol swabs. The next night, only one German, and we ate Japanese at Ky Y, and another stop at tadioto. The next night it was the full quotient of 3 again and fine French dining at La Badiane, then tadioto.

And today I spent a brief time at Cafe Cong helping a fine young sexually charged man with his WordPress site. As we sat there with our laptops, the owner of tadioto passes by making various rude gestures at us. Mistaking these as an invitation to pass by my-living-room-away-from-home, I come and sit at the black bar of contemplation to read, drink a beer and enjoy the afternoon in subdued shadows. And who should walk in but Gerhart Schröder and his entourage. Well - it is Hanoi and anything can happen on a school day afternoon when you are having a quite beer. Minding your own business.

On Friday late evening I fly to Tokyo to prepare for the celebration of the fait accompli - my marriage. Let us leave these German things behind us for the moment and think Japanese.

Friday, 27 March 2009

bia hơi and Toer

Bia hơi Quán Sứ

Ten AM bia hơi, and I am not alone
Today the sun is shining
A faint blue struggles through the smog
To sit and drink and read and write
In the morning, on the street
Watching the traffic on a busy round-about
Smoke curls through my fingers
A woman sells me a safety razor
An ode to my enduring love of Hanoi
Why has the West forgotten these simple pleasures?

OK - its all very good and well of me to wax lyrical about the joys of bia hoi in the morning - but I am in a privileged position. My wallet usually contains half a months wages in Vietnamese terms (did I walk around in Australia with two grand in my pocket? no I didn't). And even the Westerners here look upon me with suspicion as the non-tourist who is unemployed. Whilst others toil at teaching English, I sit in the sun at a bia hoi and write poetry and read books. I've got to be careful... Envy will find me and strike me down. However, after half a life of loyal service to The University of Sydney I am going to take this period laying down. I always thought salaried work was a kind of blackmail. For this short period of time I shall enjoy the opposite. What shall I call it? Whitemale?

I have almost finished the last book in the Buru Quartet - by Pramoedya Ananta Toer (This Earth of Mankind, Child of All Nations, Footsteps and House of Glass). An extended story of colonialism and the birth of indigenous nationalism in Dutch Indochina around the the beginnings on the 20th century. A must read for anyone interested in colonialism, politics, economics and class repression. Or control of the media, or how to organize a resistance against oppression. A manual for popular uprising, showing many of the wrong paths to take, the perils and successes of social consciousness raising. Or a thesis on why which language you write in counts. There are many good book reviews online, so I shall just provide my imprimatur to these books. They are good. Get on your lazy arse and read them.

Many thanks to deepwarren and hellsexy who physically relayed the last two of the quartet from Oz to here. What would isolated readers do without the international readers' conspiracy?