Daily Archives: July 28, 2014

Abbott on MH-17

I see in an opinion poll today, that Abbott has been ranked well above Barak Obama and David Cameron on showing leadership in the wake of the MH17 disaster.  I note, too, that in terms of who respondents would prefer to stand up for Australia’s interests overseas, Bill Shorten came out on top. 

The results comparing world leaders do not surprise me at all. Neither Obama nor Cameron seem to be making it an issue of national identity in the way that Abbott has, given the relatively few victims from either of those countries.  A more sensible comparison would be with the Dutch and the Malaysian leaders, both of whom represent countries that have suffered, but who have expressed their sorrow without the hairy-chestedness of Abbott.

I do not feel at all reassured by Abbott’s handling of this tragedy. The man’s judgment is off. I have no affection at all for Putin, and I strongly suspect that evidence will point to weapons provided by Russia, but let the evidence fall where it will.  And it’s all about evidence.

In the immediate aftermath, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, Abbott declared Russia’s involvement:

I stress: it is not an accident, it is a crime, and criminals should not be allowed to get away with what they’ve done,” Mr Abbott said. “So, there has to be a full impartial international investigation and Russia should certainly not be allowed to stand in the way of that just because the aircraft has come down over territory controlled by Russian-backed rebels….

We also know who is very substantially to blame for those problems, and the idea that Russia can somehow say that none of this has anything to do with them because it happened in Ukrainian airspace frankly does not stand up to any serious scrutiny.

“I want to say to the Australian people that as far as I am concerned, when you have a situation where Russian-backed rebels appear to have killed Australians using, it may well turn out to be, Russian-supplied heavy weaponry, Australia takes a very dim view indeed and we want the fullest possible investigation….

“I just want to say that it is absolutely imperative if Russia is to maintain any international standing at all that there be complete Russian co-operation with this,” he said. “No provocation, no excuses, no blame-shifting, no protecting of people who may be backed by Russia but who may have been involved in this terrible event….

This instant rush to judgment is Abbott’s alone: both the Dutch and Malaysian heads of state cautioned the need for evidence.  No such qualms with Abbott.
Bill Shorten interjected his own bit of hairy-chested nonsense with his suggestion that Putin would not be welcome at the G20 and Abbott quickly adopted it as a “fair question”.  It’s not.  Australia may be hosting the G20, but Russia’s presence is not a matter for Australia alone.
Our response has been militaristic from the start, dubbed “Operation Bring Them Home”.  Then there was the declaration that we would be sending armed police to “secure the site”.  Oh we don’t want to get involved in the politics, says Abbott, we just want to bring our people home. As soon as Australian weapons are carried onto that soil, it’s political alright. Fortunately that thought bubble seems to have lapsed and wiser heads have prevailed.
He seems completely oblivious to the fact that there is a war going on over there. I note that neither the Ukranians nor the rebels have stopped fighting: in fact, the Ukranians seem to be stepping up their attacks to regain territory.
Australia did make good use of its Security Council seat to garner unanimous international support for an impartial enquiry: a Council seat that the Coalition had sneered at previously.  All this concern for international protocols is rather galling given the deliberate disregard for similar international protocols in relation to refugees.
It’s a good reality check to listen to European reports of the recovery effort: try BBC, or Deutsche Welle.  There you’ll learn that it is the Dutch-  those Dutch who have treated the victims with such grace and dignity, those Dutch who in the midst of their sorrow held back from lashing out until the evidence is in- who are taking the lead here.  Just as well, too.

Victor Hugo: Les Miserables From Page to Stage

Picture of Cosette from the original 1862 version. Now used, of course, in publicity for Les Mis

Picture of Cosette from the original 1862 version. Now used, of course, in publicity for Les Mis

Well, the name says it all really. The stage version of Les Mis is back in town again and this display at the State Library explores the book Les Miserables and its adaptation for film or stage. It’s a paid exhibition ($15 adults; $10 for foundation members).

The highlight of the exhibition is the 1862 manuscript of Les Miserables- a real coup for the library as this is the first time that it has been seen in Australia. It’s a huge volume, and each page is written vertically on half the page only, so that Hugo could make his changes in the space on the other half of the page. The first drafts were written on loose paper, then transferred into the large bound book for further editing. A line was drawn through the loose paper version to show that it had been incorporated into the bound text.

With the increased frequency of travelling library exhibitions over recent years in Australia, we have been exposed to more and more of these draft versions of great books. For example, the National Gallery’s ‘Treasures from the World’s Great Libraries showcased a number of first-draft documents.  It is almost unthinkable to many of us now to contemplate writing much by hand, although some writers still do ( but surely they will be a dwindling band in the future). [As an aside, there was an interesting segment on the Media Report about a journalist who decided to write everything by hand for -ahem, two days- then photographed her handwritten version to distribute electronically as usual.] I know that the State Library of Victoria holds Peter Carey’s laptop but  the machine is not the same thing as its contents. There is something so material and human about seeing the towering tome of volume one of Les Miserables with its additions in cartoon balloons on the blank side of the paper. What happened, I wondered, when he ran out of room on the blank section?

It took Victor Hugo seventeen years to write the book, much of it while in exile from France after he was involved in an attempt to overthrow Napoleon III – or “Napoleon the little” as Hugo dubbed him in a pamphlet smuggled into France.  I am rather embarrassed that I was completely oblivious to Hugo’s political involvement. On the basis of his eminence as a man of letters, he had been elevated to the peerage by King Louis-Phillipe  in 1841 and entered the higher chamber (similar to the House of Lords). In 1848 he was elected to the house as a conservative, but seemed to become increasingly progressive in his views about poverty, education, the suffrage and abolition of the death penalty. When Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III) seized power, Hugo left France.

I also hadn’t realized that the release of the first two volumes in 1862 was such a big occasion. It sold out almost instantly, and public readings were quickly organized for those who missed out. Within three months 100,000 official copies of the book had been sold, worldwide.

The exhibition is divided into two parts. The first deals with Hugo, the book, artistic depictions of the main characters, and sketches and photographic images of pre-Haussman Paris. As you might expect for a book that has been filmed so often, there were clips from the various versions, spliced together into a film loop. I was disappointed that the clips weren’t dated and labelled: there was a small panel to one side identifying the version, but once you moved back to see the film, you could no longer read the panel.

The second part of the exhibition is displayed in the Experimedia section of the library, which worked well as a space. This section is devoted to the Boubil and Schonberg “Les Mis” in its different manifestations all over the world.  It is appropriate, perhaps, that a book that had such a commercial and international debut 120 years earlier should spawn a truly global theatrical phenomenon.  There are publicity materials from productions all over the world: I found the Japanese Les Mis particularly interesting. This section was perhaps a little too commercial for my liking- capped off by the obligatory exit through the gift-shop- but I must confess to spending a good twenty minutes watching a film clip of the concert version.

And, I admit, I walked out humming “Do You Hear the People Sing?”

Exhibition open 18 July – 9 November 2014

10-6 Daily, Thursday until 9.00 p.m., State Library of Victoria

Other links:  The Conversation has an interesting review from the perspective of a Dickens scholar.