Making judgement calls

‘I regret nothing’, says Auschwitz selfie teen

It’s a case of “I want to explain to you why what you have done is wrong, but the fact that you have done it means you simply wouldn’t understand.” Sometimes something is so appalling it’s difficult to find words to explain what’s wrong with it.

Often this is because there is a deeply ingrained assumption, or perhaps even prejudice, underlying our condemnation of certain behaviours. Given time, we can always articulate our reasons. In this case, it’s showing that you’re having a good time at the most notorious concentration camp in history will be deeply offensive to many people whose family members or friends died there. Your photograph trivialises those memories.

It’s the same with our Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie, although her radio interview was not as outrageous as ” Princess Breanna’s” foray into social media. I am one of the people who finds Lambie a laughable caricature of what I expect from people who must make decisions that affect the lives of millions of people.

In fact, she is the ultimate anti-politician akin to a political black hole into which all hope of reason and rationality is sucked by some irresistible gravitational force.

Diana Elliott’s defence in The Age is based on the argument that Lambie is not like other politicians (and that’s true) and that makes whatever she does reasonable and acceptable.

Freelance writer Diana Elliot

Freelance writer Diana Elliot

What Elliott doesn’t recognise is that the fact that something is broadcast or printed does not make it acceptable, admirable or even important.

While deploring the criticism of “men, feminists, the political elite, male commentators (and) feminists writing PhDs” Eliott sees Lambie’s greatest crimes as “crimes against the English language. “If I can’t let me hair down a little bit and make fun on breakfast radio…”.

Yes Diana, we all have a point at which we draw the line.

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From political Lala land: The search for the well hung

Jacqui Lambie has catapulted herself back into the national limelight with her interview on Heart FM in Tasmania. While many of us would consider it pretty unedifying stuff, she will certainly be a big hit with every lad who think he’s a bit of a chance and who will now be emailing dick pic selfies to the senator demonstrating his credentials.

Then she apologised to anybody who may have been offended especially the elderly. Seeking to deflect any criticism by saying:

“Of course my political enemies will make a big deal out of my comments, but the reality is I was talking with Kim and Dave on Heart FM – not Sarah Ferguson on the ABC.”

Actually, Jacqui, it’s not just the elderly who are offended, it’s people with good taste a sense of decorum, and an expectation that our elected representatives, however narrow their electoral base may be, won’t discuss their pubic hair and their sexual preferences on radio.

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Sex and power: the sexual predator in art

In recent months; we have been treated to the unedifying spectacle of seeing one of Australia’s most popular entertainers convicted of sexually molesting underage children. History is full of men in positions of power who have exploited women. The sexual pecadillos of politicians are a constant source of outrage, amusement and amazement. But it is also true that some women are drawn to powerful men and many politicians are tempted to take advantage of this. In some cases, the relationship is consensual, in some cases it is not.

Henry Kissinger famously said that power was the ultimate aphrodisiac. Henry was a bit of a ladies’ man, which is surprising because he was not the best looking bloke on the block but his track record was impressive.

Kissinger had some pretty good-looking girlfriends

Kissinger had some pretty good-looking girlfriends

Given that politics is the greatest source of power, particularly for men, it’s not surprising that men in positions of power will take advantage of this and are frequently drawn into sexual relationships that are politically damaging when discovered.

Bill “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” Clinton is one of the better known examples of this and JFK was certainly a notorious pants man, and probably with better taste than Clinton. He certainly didn’t suffer any public fallout from his relations with other women, most spectacularly Marilyn Monroe.

JFK photographs with Marilyn Monroe

JFK photographs with Marilyn Monroe

Anyone who was ever in doubt about the relationship between Kennedy and Munroe should watch the famous “Happy Birthday, Mr President” video clip. Certainly, Jackie Kennedy was in no doubt and reportedly stormed out of the function after Munroe’s singing solo.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Professor of economics at Sciences Po, Minister for Economics, Finances and Industry IMF Managing Director and contender for the French presidency was the unacceptable side of this strange dynamic and his chickens came home to roost when allegations that he had sexually assaulted a hotel maid sank his political career and shone a spotlight on his other sexual peccadilloes


Such behaviour stretches back to time immemorial and one of the earliest accounts is from the 13th chapter of the Book of Daniel.

Two Elders, probably judges but certainly powerful and influential members of the community, watch the beautiful young Susannah bathing in her garden. They accost her and threatened to accuse her of committing adultery, for which the penalty is death, unless she has sex with them. She refuses and is brought to trial. At the trial, the young prophet Daniel cross-examines the two Elders who contradict each other about which tree the act was performed under. Susannah is acquitted and the two elders are put to death.

There are more than 80 extant paintings of the story. Some artists, such Tintoretto and Rubens painted it a number of times

Nearly all of the artists who have painted it have chosen moment when the two elders proposition Susanna. The elders are shown as wealthy, powerful, respectable and persuasive. In her 1963 book on Adolf Eichmann, Hannah Arendt wrote of the banality of evil. Here we have another aspect, the respectability of evil.

Bonaventura Lamberti (Il Bolognese), Jacob Ernst Thomann von Hagelstein 1620, Guido Reni 1620, Guercino 1617

Bonaventura Lamberti (Il Bolognese), Jacob Ernst Thomann von Hagelstein 1620, Guido Reni 1620, Guercino 1617

Another group of artists paint a different picture. Here the Elders are less respectable and more menacingly evil.

Jacob Jordaens, 1653 Peter Paul Rubens, 1609-1610., Sisto Badalocchio, 1609, Gerrit  van Honthorst

Jacob Jordaens, 1653 Peter Paul Rubens, 1609-1610., Sisto Badalocchio, 1609, Gerrit van Honthorst

Jordaens’ Elders are grotesque caricatures, a personification of evil lechery, while Rubens’ are the personification of anger, presumably at being frustrated by Susannah’s innocence. The veins standing out on the neck of the elder in blue indicates the vehemence with which he is putting his proposition. Badalocchio’s elders are sneeringly contemptuous of their victim and the brilliantly luminescent painting by van Honthorst shows the two elders feigning concern lest Susannah draw attention to them.

In all the versions of the story, there is an undertone of violence in the portrayal of the two elders. In some cases, it is made explicit in the painting. In Alessandro Allori’s work the physical threat is palpable, with the indignant Susanna already in the lecherous clutches of the Elders.


Similarly in Claude Vignon’s painting one of the elders is already beginning to man-handle Susanna.

susanna-and-the-elders by Claude Vignon

The sense of violation is palpable in both of these paintings and it is a common theme in all of the others. In some, the sexual violence is implied and most audiences would know the back story to the paintings. But one thing that stands out in all the paintings is the sense of violation inherent in the mere presence of these splendidly dressed men in the company of a near naked women. In many of the paintings, Susannah shrinks away from her tormentors, ashamed to have been discovered naked. It’s a powerful depiction of the commonly held view that such situations are somehow the woman’s fault.

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Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (Guercino): Raising of Lazarus

This wonderful painting is an interesting contradiction between the spiritual and philosophical views of the artist and what appears on the canvas. He was a profoundly religious man who believed the Jesuit argument – that all the senses should be engaged in empathy with the events of martyrdom and ecstasy. He refused a court appointment from English king Charles I, partly because the climate but also because he didn’t wish to mix with heretics. Yet this marvellous painting emphasises the physical and human nature of the raising of Lazarus and the composition and the texture downplays the role of Christ. The raising of Lazarus is a significant miracle as it shadows the resurrection of Christ himself, yet there is no hint of this in the painting.

The Raising of Lazarus is taken from John 11:38-53 and is one of Christ’s 37 miracles.


When we look at the Raising of Lazarus, it is a remarkably physical painting, and not particularly strong on religious symbolism, apart from the slight halo around Christ’s head. Indeed, the figure of Christ, in the top right-hand corner of the painting, is a relatively muted figure compared to the luminescent figures of Lazarus and Mary, who is looking up towards him. The emphasis is very much on Lazarus as he makes the transition between death and life, an emphasis on the physical rather than the spiritual.

untitled 5

The eight figures in the painting create a powerful dynamic. Lazarus sits slumped, having just been dragged from his tomb. As his hands are untied, he appears to be reaching up towards Christ. It is reminiscent of Michelangelo‘s The Creation of Adam painting that Guercino would have been familiar with, in both subject matter and construction. Both paintings depict the divine gift of life and positioning of the divine figure in the top right-hand corner and the human in the bottom left is common to both paintings.


The dynamic between Lazarus and Christ is reinforced by the gaze of Mary who looks up towards him in amazement.


There is another dynamic connecting the left-hand side of the painting to the Christ figure and the right, it is the flow of muted light that runs through Martha, Lazarus’ sister towards the figure of Christ. Martha also anchors the two other figures, probably Pharisees (who really didn’t believe that Christ was capable of performing miracles )in the upper left-hand corner of the painting.

The figure of Christ is also isolated by the strong diagonal movement across the painting from the top left of the bottom right. Here the softer tones of the Martha and the two clerics flowing to the dazzling detail of the boy undoing Lazarus’ bonds and Lazarus himself and finally focusing on the man looking down into the tomb and holding his nose because the stench.


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Terry Richardson – fashion photographer or pornographer?

Terry Richardson is a New York fashion photographer who has worked for a number of major companies (Marc Jacobs, Aldo, Supreme, Sisley, Tom Ford, and Yves Saint Laurent) and a number of major fashion magazines ( Rolling Stone, GQ, Vogue, Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar, i-D, and Vice.). He has photographed a number of celebrities including the Beckham’s, Lady Gaga, and Miley Cyrus.

A selection of celebrities.

A selection of celebrities.

He’s even photographed Barack Obama, although it’s pretty likely that Obama is not too happy about the association now.

Regrets, I've had a few

Regrets, I’ve had a few

He has also published a book called Kibosh, a black, cloth bound monument to Richardson’s penis, which appears in most of the 358 images.

But now Terry Richardson is getting in the news quite a lot lately and for all the wrong reasons. Stories about his sexually predatory behaviour are beginning to multiply in the media. Richardson clearly seems to believe that a model who was prepared to pose for him is also prepared to have sex with him and be photographed during the act. He’s a powerful figure in the fashion industry and many young models have probably agreed, fearful that he will damage their employment opportunities.

There is a sufficient number of stories of Richardson’s unwanted sexual approaches to models to rule out the possibility of a conspiracy. There are also a number of models who are quite happy to partake in Richardson’s pornographic work. Their participation is now immortalised on the web as Richardson is a blatant self-promoter and exhibitionist

The problem is that Richardson is unable to distinguish between those who are willing and those who are not willing participants in his less than edifying work.

untitled 3

An uncropped version of this is available on the Internet.

If you’re into crude and unedifying pornography, you can look at a representative sample. It’s pretty crass and you can imagine why models are distressed at finding they’ve been coerced into this type of photography and then finding it presented on the Internet.

Is Terry Richardson just a thoroughgoing scumbag? This photograph probably answers that question.


Even Woody Allen looks embarrassed in his company.

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Investigating the MH17 tragedy will require Russian cooperation

Prime Minister Tony Abbott says Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down by Russian-backed rebels in Eastern Ukraine, leading to the death of at least 28 Australians among a total of 298 on board.

“Malaysian Airlines MH17 has been shot down over the eastern Ukraine, it seems by Russian-backed rebels,” Mr Abbott told Parliament.

This prompted a predictable response.

Moscow has voiced anger over being blamed by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott for the downing of a Malaysia passenger jet over eastern Ukraine that killed all 298 people on board, calling his comments “unacceptable”.

“Without bothering himself about evidence and operating only on speculation, Mr T. Abbott assigned guilt,” the foreign ministry said in a statement. “Abbott’s statements are unacceptable.”

Given that investigating the crash scene and recovering the bodies will require co-operation from the pro=Russian militia, Abbott’s comments are unlikely to speed up either process.

There was an interesting sequence of events immediately after the crash. Audio tapes of conversations between pro-Russian rebels were broadcast on national television news services. S.B.U.(the Ukrainian State Security Service) who released the tapes, identified the callers in one part of the conversation as rebel commander Igor Bezler and Russian intelligence official Vasili Geranin.

Later in the day, newspapers were publishing pictures of the pro-Russian military commander who had fired the missile., identifying him as Igor Strelkov.

Igor Strelkov, a pro-Russian separatist commander alleged to have fired the missile

Igor Strelkov, a pro-Russian separatist commander alleged to have fired the missile

It had a nasty look of all being signed and sealed before the dust settled. It may have been more helpful if Prime Minister Abbott had been rather more circumspect, deploring the tragedy, vowing to bring the perpetrators to justice but not pointing the finger. If the perpetrators are to be brought to justice, it is far more likely to happen if the Russians are cooperating.

He would also be well advised to watch the wonderful film Wag the Dog starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro.

Hoffman and DeNiiro in Wag the Dog

Hoffman and DeNiiro in Wag the Dog

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How good are Australian spirits?

Luke McCarthy invited five experts and five spirit lovers to a blind tasting of Australian and imported spirits

One of the comparisons he made was between Courvoisier XO (Jarnac, France) and St Agnes XO (Tea Tree Gully, SA). Comparing cognac with this brandy is a little bit of apples and oranges. They are actually quite different drinks and to ask people which one they prefer comes down to a matter of individual taste rather than quality. One important point is that the Courvoisier XO is probably about twice the price of the St Agnes XO depending on where you buy.

The Courvoisier could set you back $200 a bottle

The Courvoisier could set you back $200 a bottle

That said, it is great to see someone singing the praises of the St Agnes XO, (which was actually the preferred choice of a panel). It is a marvellous brandy for those who prefer the softer chocolatey flavours of Armagnac over Cognac and it’s a wonderful choice to showcase Australian spirits. And in fact the more informative comparison would have been with some of the Spanish and Greek brandies that are available on the Australian market. At around $30-$40, these vastly inferior products justify the $80 pricetag on the St Agnes XO.

Every serious Cognac and brandy drinker should try this once in their life

Every serious Cognac and brandy drinker should try this once in their life

The whisky comparisons were interesting as well: Aberlour A’Bunadh (Aberlour, Scotland) v Lark Cask Strength Sherry Cask (Richmond, Tasmania). Both of these are cask strength which means the alcohol volume is around 60%. To my mind this leads to the alcohol dominating any other flavours. It’s interesting that the outstanding Sullivan’s Cove whisky wasn’t chosen. This is around the same prices these two and is certainly an outstanding whisky. It is also worth noting that Aberlour produces a very fine Scotch at around $60 a bottle, comparable at the price to the Balvenie and Glenmorangie barrel treated whiskys.

The article also makes the point that there is a lot of snobbery around spirits drinking particularly in relation to scotch whisky. However, a visit to Dan Murphy and a selection of some of the more exotic offerings from New Zealand and India (in particular Amrut Indian Whiskey which to my mind is totally undrinkable and which cost over $100 a bottle) confirms that if you’re in doubt you are best to stick with the Scottish version.

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