Lest We Forget: My Lai and the question of responsibility

Last night, on the SBS documentary, The Vietnam War, we were reminded of the Mỹ Lai Massacre which was the Vietnam War mass killing of between 347 and 504 unarmed Vietnamese civilians in South Vietnam on March 16, 1968. It was committed by U.S. Army soldiers from Company C, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade, 23rd American Infantry Division. Victims included men, women, children, and infants. Some of the women were gang-raped and their bodies mutilated.

Twenty-six soldiers were charged with criminal offences, but only Lieutenant William Calley Jr., a platoon leader in C Company, was convicted.

Found guilty of killing 22 villagers, he was originally given a life sentence, but served only three and a half years under house arrest.

There appears to be little doubt that this was not an isolated incident but the American military (and American public) had no appetite for uncovering any other incidents such as this one.

Calley continued to maintain that he was simply “following orders.” Is this enough of an excuse?  Can a soldier refuse an order to kill unarmed civilians in a situation like this? If Calley is right, where does the chain of command end?

And was Calley any more or less guilty than the pilot who was flying the aeroplane that dropped the napalm that would have undoubtedly wiped out many more villages and  their inhabitants.


The program also covered the The Kent State shootings on May 4, 1970 when the Ohio National Guard fired on college students  protesting against the Vietnam war and the invasion of Cambodia.


Some of the students had been protesting while others had simply been walking to class.  As a result, four students were dead and 10 were wounded. Public opinion was deeply divided. Across campuses in the US, 4 million students protested but the parents of the dead students received hate mail condemning the students as communists.

Civil and legal actions against the guardsmen failed.  After all, they were only following orders. Who was responsible in this situation? The officer who gives  the order to fire? The bureaucrat who decides that the guardsmen should be allowed to carry live ammunition?  The students and the visiting radicals who were  part of escalating tensions over a number of days?

Certainly, I remember at the time thinking that singling out Lieutenant William Calley Jr seemed to be patiently absurd, despite the horror of what he had done as an individual, he was only one of many and stopping the war seemed to be far better solution than putting Calley in jail.

It would seem that deep divisions existed within American society long before Donald Trump came along.

The Last Jedi? Not a chance.

Judging by way the box office records that have been tumbling in all directions, we are going to be seeing Son of Jedi,  Granddaughter of Jedi, Jedi Until the Cows Come Home, Return of the Prodigal Jedi, Jedi as if there’s no tomorrow, you name it.

In The Hobbit, Bilbo complains to Gandalf that he feels ““thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” It’s an apt description of  The Last Jedi.

When Rey (Daisy Ridley) tries to convince Luke Skywalker, played by an ageing Mark Hamill, to rejoin the battle against the forces of darkness, he is reluctant to join in.


You can understand why.

The Last Jedi is a rambling poorly coordinated travesty of what was once a great franchise. Hamill was well advised to stay in his stone hut. He only reappears in the later scenes as a hologram. A good decision.

The film opens with a battle scene but there is only so much you can do with battle scenes and this one even is a throwback to some good old WWII bomber sequences.

I know I am getting old.  Perhaps I have have seen too many films

They’ve even named one of the First Order battle cruisers The Dreadnought after the British battleships first  launched in 1906.

Postively arcane.

There are other references to the past.

One that I found particularly inexplicable was the cinematic reference to The Lord of the Rings and the battle between Gandalf and Saruman in second book of The Fellowship of the Ring. It is the scene where Kylo Ren has brought Rey before Supreme Leader Snoke and he is  throwing her around the room much as Saruman does to Gandalf. Question is: Why?  What is the point of making this reference? And how many people in the audience are going to recognise it?

There are other references to LOTR which I’m sure that Tolkein fans would have picked up.

It’s indicative of the way in which the franchise is running out of ideas, actors, characters and inspiration. There is none of the star quality of Harrison Ford or Carrie Fisher at their best. Even the droids seem to have lost their lustre.

One of the things about the original films was that there were some tremendous characters but also some fabulous dynamics between them:

Han and Leia


Han and Chewy


Luke and Yoda


r2d2 and c3po


And Obi Wan and Darth Vader

There is simply no one left with the charisma or interest like these characters any longer.

Finn, General Hux, Maz Kanata, Poe Dameron, Rey, Supreme Leader Snoke, Captain Phasma and Kylo Ren are not a particularly interesting lot.

The ideas are running out as well. There’s only so much you can do with the battle for good and evil and Kylo Ren is no Darth Vader.  And Alec Guinness is gone forever

And then there’s the plot. Now it’s worth defining what a plot is at this point to see why The Last Jedi is such an unsatisfying experience .

A plot is a story. Most films have one. The plot is a series of events held together by some logical causal sequence. In other words, one thing tends to cause another, often not directly but generally in some way that the audience can understand.

In your good old-fashioned, knock’em down, drag ’em out blockbuster, like The Last Jedi,  this sequence needs to be pretty clear. The audience needs to know what’s happening and why. That’s what action movies are all about.

In the middle of this film, there is a long sequence where Finn and his sidekick, Rose, go off to find a code-breaker as some way of stopping the enemy fleet. It’s a long part of the middle of the film.

It’s meant to be part of the plot. But it’s not. It has no connection whatsoever to what has happened before or what happened afterwards.  Partly because the mission fails.

But it’s worse than that. It’s a completely self-contained part of the film with no connection whatsoever either within itself or in relation to the rest of the film.

It’s just a series of unconnected events.

Finn leaves the rebel spaceship and somehow appears somewhere else in space, in a gambling casino. He winds up in jail when he fails to find a code breaker but  coincidentally meets someone else who pretends to be a code broker. He then starts riding round on some fluffy animals.  And then gets captured by General Hux, who get blown up. And then he gets back to the rebels and General Organa (Carrie Fisher, in her last Star Wars role).


You could take this entire sequence out of the film and it would make no difference whatsoever. In fact, it would improve it.

At the end of the film, Rey has used her Jedi powers help the rebels escape through a rabbit hole and we see a small child, picking up a broom as if it were a lightsaber and then sweeping some cobblestones and looking at the stars.





Three word slogans are out. Four word slogans in. Turnbull looks for lift in polls.

Malcolm Turnbull has shown he means business in 2018. He has increased pressure on Bill Shorten.  Gone are the three word slogans.  Productivity is up by 30%

2018 will be year of the four word slogan. And he’s wheeling out his big gun to run it this finely tuned political strategy.

Cash, who has had a number of political stuff-ups in 2017 obviously still has the PM’s confidence.  The Age:  “She’s not a backroom boffin. She can get out there and take it to the Labor Party and hold an argument and is “the right kind of person” for the job. ”

She has also has been described as a very good “retail politician”

That places her in the category of our other great retail politician.


Probably not a compliment.

In a a 1000-word article  explaining the slogan,  The Age quoted Jobs Minister Michaelia Cash, who said the slogan encapsulated “what the government is all about”.

Liberal campaign stalwarts said the slogan was a clear throwback to Margaret Thatcher’s winning 1979 campaign, “Labour Isn’t Working”.

That should work.

It certainly requires less effort than tackling the critical issues facing Australia such as slow wages growth, electricity prices, climate change policy, corporate  evasion etc.

Joh Bjelke-Petersen: a carbuncle on the face of democracy

With the recent death of Flo Bjelke-Petersen, Senator and husband of Joh, it is worth remembering the corruption-riddled Queensland government that her husband presided over.

Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen. As Premier, Joe was able to recommend himself for a knighthood

Many people remember Flo as a wonderful woman, mainly because of her pumpkin scones. She spent 18 years in the Federal Senate, to which she was nominated by her husband.  There is nothing to suggest she was a particularly talented politician. Just part of the nepotistic Country Party system husband presided over her husband.

Flo and Joh on their wedding day. Many people don’t realise that Joh was born in Dannevirke, NZ.  

 Joh and Flo’s son, John, inherited his mother’s political talents being preselected on five   separate occasions for the Country Party and once for Palmer United, losing every time.  Apparently nepotism only gets you so far.

Bjelke-Petersen’s government was maintained in power by a massive gerrymander whereby a vote in a rural electorate was worth  twice as much as a vote in a city electorate. His government was never democratically elected.

It was also wracked  by corruption. The Minister of Roads, Russ Hinze, owned all the quarries that supplied the gravel that went into the state’s roads. The Minister of Police, Sir Terry Lewis  (knighted by Petersen) was jailed for corruption.  The Fitzgerald Inquiry into corruption effectively brought down Bjelke-Petersen and his government

Here is a  brief list of  the more egregious acts of the Bjelke-Petersen government

The Joh Bjelke-Petersen government legacy:

  • Came to power by threatening to pull the Country party (as the Nationals were then called) from the Coalition.
  • Ignored longstanding traditions and protocols when appointing senators to fill vacancies in the federal upper house, including rejecting the opposition’s nominee and appointing Bjelke-Petersen’s own. His appointment of Albert Field became one of the dominos that led to the dismissal of Gough Whitlam.
  • Wielded “state of emergency” declarations as a political weapon to put down dissent.
  • Declared a month-long state of emergency to head off anti-apartheid demonstrations during the Springboks’ 1971 tour.
  • Banned street marches entirely in 1978.
  • Opposed Medicare, which the premier saw as socialism.
  • Encouraged the creation of a police state, where opponents and journalists were regularly harassed by uniformed police.
  • Openly supported police strong-arm tactics, including the raid of a north Queensland commune where officers burned huts for being “poisonous”.
  • Withdrew advertising from a newspaper that printed critical articles, redirecting it to rivals.
  • Launched publicly funded defamation actions against opposition MPs.
  • Blocked Indigenous groups from being able to own large tracts of land.
  • Bjelke-Petersen told one of his ministers (who later forced him out as premier) to allow HIV to wipe out Indigenous communities.
  • Banned condom machines, public safe sex campaigns and school sex education programs during the HIV crisis.
  • Emboldened the police commissioner, Terry Lewis (later jailed for corruption), to crack down on the gay and lesbian community; attempted to ban gay men – who were publicly denounced as “deviants” –  tried, as other states were decriminalising homosexuality, to make Queensland the first jurisdiction to make being a lesbian illegal.
  • Repeatedly warned that “southern homosexuals” were attempting to take control of Queensland.
  • Demolished historic buildings, including Brisbane’s much loved Bellevue Hotel, which was destroyed in the middle of the night after public outcry.
  • Oversaw raids on suspected abortion clinics.
  • Tried to ban women from flying to New South Wales or Victoria if it was suspected they wanted to terminate a pregnancy.
  • Fought the 40-hour working week.
  • Published the names and addresses of striking electrical workers and encouraged public harassment of them.
  • Later sacked 1,100 striking electrical workers, only hiring back those who signed no-strike contracts with worse conditions.
  • Was responsible for large tracts of infrastructure, including dams, major expressways and universities (which most likely would still have been built) but oversaw the culture that created the “white shoe brigade” among developers, particularly on the Gold Coast, where bribes for special treatment became common.

Bjelke-Petersen was charged with perjury for evidence he gave at the Fitzgerald Inquiry, but his 1991 trial ended in a hung jury, the vote being split 10-2.

Later it was revealed that the one of those votes was jury foreman, Luke Shaw, a member of the Young Nationals ( Joh’s Party renamed Country Party) and a member of the “Friends of Joh” movement.  Joh would later triumphantly claim that the jury had returned a “not guilty” verdict.

Lady Bjelke-Petersen said in 1994 “they would have plonked” her late husband in jail had not Mr Shaw been on the jury.

How Luke Shaw got on to the jury panel is a mystery and travesty of justice.

Bjelke-Petersen should have ended his days in jail.

And as a foot note: Luke Shaw has surfaced again, joining ex-Bjelke-Petersen minister Bob Katter’s Katter Party. Small world, isn’t it?.:


On spending big dollars on wine

This blog is written more in sadness than in joy.

What remains of note is:

  •  Château Lafite Rothschild 98,
  •  Château Mouton Rothschild 95,
  •  Château Cheval  Blanc 96,
  •  Château Talbot 97

We drank the last of the Grange (1978 and 1982) on Christmas Day,


Here is the commentary by Huon Hooke from Dan Murphy’s website,

“The 1978 is highly concentrated and beautifully textured with lovely, sweet, blackberry/smoky/earthy fruit and liquorice, fine grainy tannins and dry finish. Softening out well, but should continue to develop.

The 1982 has chocolate raspberry and red berries; rich and fleshy; smooth and plush. Lovely flavours and texture; a smart old wine and shows no negatives of the ’82s (ie. vegetal), but has the Ribena-like fruit idiosyncrasy of the year. Now to 15 years”.

A couple of observations up front. I bought these wines nearly 40 years ago  for about $50. Current prices are about $800. So they are, by today’s standard, expensive wines.

Over the years,  I have drunk quite a bit of Grange and I would sum up the experience in one word: disappointing.  A lot of people rave about Grange. After 40 years, and a final Christmas, I’ve come to the sad and somewhat expensive conclusion that I’m not one of them.

The Christmas Day experience probably was one of the better ones.  These two wines were good examples of Grange.  But I have to say, I don’t really like Grange.  Its okay, but  its overrated in my opinion.

So that’s really the first important point about spending a lot of money on expensive wines. Make sure that you like them. I have kept buying Grange thinking, “Perhaps I got a crook bottle.”

This Christmas I realised, No. This is what it tastes like. You just don’t like it.  Time to give up on this one

We had two friends from the UK at Christmas lunch, one of whom is a restauranteur who had not drunk Grange before.

He liked it. He said he would serve a Grange in his restaurant and it would command around about £150, that’s a bit over $200, effectively a thumbs down from him.

So perhaps there is quite a bit of market hype behind Grange that is keeping the price up and we should all step back and take a deep breath.

He also advanced the argument, put by his wine supplier, that anything over £30 and you’re paying a massive premium for very small incremental improvements in your bottle of wine. It’s an argument that has been around for a long time but one which I’m having increasing sympathy for as time goes by.

So what have I spent a lot of money on that has really been worthwhile. Two wines that I drank with Di after confirmation of my PhD. (half bottles only) Château Mouton Rothschild and Château Lafite Rothschild.

I remember thinking at the time that this is why you spend a lot of money on wine.  I think we have bought these during a visit to Bordeaux and no longer remember what they cost. But they were stunning.

We also had a bottle of Krug Brut ‘Clos Du Mesnil’ Blanc De Blancs Champagne.

 From Dan Murphy’s  website: Krug Clos de Mesnil comes from an ancient enclosed walled, 4.5 acre 17th century vineyard! The ultimate Blanc de Blancs, and the most exalted Chardonnay sparkling plot on earth. This legendary Champagne has an initial impression of crisp freshness spilling into notes of biscuit, orange blossom, melon and Frangipane.

It had also been recommended by a wine writer called Mark Shield way back when in the 1970s when he said there were only four bottles of a particular vintage left in Australia. Di went out and bought one of them for $850 as a birthday present.

It hadn’t kept well, verging on undrinkable.  A massive disappointment. A testament to not keeping sparkling wines.

I also remember a bottle of Romanée-Conti and of Echézaux  shared with friends in the 1970s. And Opus One the Californian brainchild of Robert Mondavi and the Baron Philippe de Rothschild.

Then there was some botrytis-affected Chardonnay  produced, accidentally, by a Italian  called Gennaro who owned a restaurant on the Mornington peninsular. It was sublime but it only happened once.

For a long time I have argued that wines are like cameras. You pay a lot for small improvements. You get good photographs from your iPhone.

But I still think I get a better photograph with my Nikon but I have payed a premium for that.

While I still think it’s true for the Nikon, I’m less convinced about the wine as I get older.

And now I’ve got four French wines that are 20 years old waiting to be drunk. It’s probably not worth buying anything that is going to need 20 years ageing, I’ll be 93 when they mature. Probably won’t remember why I bought them or where I left corkscrew.





A Christmas Letter to my WA Grandson (ii)

Dear Connor

Nana Di and I have just returned from Broome having spent five days with you, your mum and dad and your Nanny.

We spend so little time with you, at best two weeks each year and there is so much that grandparents and grandchildren must discover together:

The proper forms and parchments for greetings and, sadly, for farewells.

When we arrived, you rushed to meet us with your specially prepared greeting cards.



And so we rehearsed the many mysteries of Nanas and Papas, some of which we have practiced, some of which were new, some of which we did not have time for.

The numbering of smarties


And books to be read and listened to

The singing of songs, the dancing  of dances, and the rhyming of nurseries

The mixing of potions especially mango smoothies and banana milkshakes.

The secret hiding places of chocolates

The telling of wonders


Incantations to keep big bad wolves at bay

The chants of giants and the singing of dragons

Recipes for wolf stew and fox soup (this makes you very clever)

The various forms of kisses: of Forgiveness, of Healing, of Comfort, of Joy and of Love, specially of Love

The many and varied forms of cuddles

The “Put Me Down Now Wriggle” (one extreme form of which is demonstrated here by your cousin Winton)


Cakes and Cousins and blood being thicker than water

Places to hide and places to seek


The conjugation of verbs, homonyms and apostrophes.

Your place in our family.


And poems, so many poems, we didn’t even start on poems. We have had no Cats and no  Fiddles; no Black Sheep; no Doctor Foster; no Humpty no Dumpy; no Grand Old Duke; no Owl, no Pussycat; no Bad Sir Brian; no Songs of Sixpence and No Waltzing and No Matilda.

But so alas, the five days were gone so quickly, and so much still undone.

I took more than 500 photographs, mostly of you. They are a poor substitute. This one,   of you with your mum. is particularly beautiful.




Dan the Man and the Bad Apple

Dan Andrews seems to have picked very bad issue to run with just before Christmas.


Handing over a large piece of public land to large American, non-tax-paying  Corporation. Not a particularly good look.


Giving a large piece of Federation Square to the Apple corporation is rather Grinch-like,


Not to say a pretty stupid move politically. Federation Square is slap–bang in the middle of a marginal inter-city Labor seat held by Richard Wynne that is highly likely to fall to the Greens in the next election.

Now, Time will tell whether this is something that will decide an election, but it would be hard to argue that it is a vote winner and it would be hard to imagine that Richard Wynne Richard  would be a happy camper this Christmas.

So how many voters can Dan the Man afford to piss off before the next election.

Not many, if recent results in Northcote are anything to go by.



Dan Andrews and the Bad Apple

Dan Andrews seems to have picked very bad issue to run with just before Christmas.


Handing over a large piece of public land to large American, non-tax-paying  Corporation. Not a particularly good look.


Giving a large piece of Federation Square to the Apple corporation is rather Grinch-like,


Not to say a pretty stupid move politically. Federation Square is slap–bang in the middle of a marginal inter-city Labor seat held by Richard Wynne that is highly likely to fall to the Greens in the next election.

Now, Time will tell whether this is something that will decide an election, but it would be hard to argue that it is a vote winner and it would be hard to imagine that Richard Wynne Richard  would be a happy camper this Christmas.

So how many voters can Dan the Man afford to piss off before the next election.

Not many, if recent results in Northcote are anything to go by.



Can Kristina Keneally win Bennelong? Probably not.

History is against her.  After all, the seat was held by the ex-Prime Minister which means that it’s a blue ribbon Liberal seat despite having been won by Maxine McKew.

Well, actually lost by John Howard.

And this is a crucial point.  This is very much  a vote about the popularity of Malcolm   Turnbull. There will be a massive swing against a government but probably not enough to lose the seat.

This will leave the Liberal party with the continuing dilemma: What to do with Malcolm.

It would probably be better if they lost Bennelong.


That would mean that they can go  into the Christmas break with a clear message to Malcolm: “It is time for you to stand aside, do a “Sam Dastyari”, best thing for the party and all that. Save us from all  trouble of nasty leadership  spill.  Merry Christmas.”

But it won’t be that clear cut. Turnbull will claim that a win is a win despite a swing against the government and it will be a death by a thousand cuts for Malcolm.

Sam Dastyari says goodbye but the words came out wrong.

Sam Dastyari finally resigned from the Senate saying that the best thing he could do for the Labor Party was to resign. Not, “I’ve done the wrong thing and I should go.”


The spin was that he was taking a principled stand, more sinned against than sinning.

Senior members of the Labor Party stood around saying, “Sam Dastyari has paid a very high price.” Not “Sam Dastyari has extracted a very high price from all concerned.”

Everybody seemed intent on portraying poor Sam as some kind of martyr, which he is not.  To quote another  More famous and much funnier show,  He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!


It’s very hard for the Australian public to see him as some kind of martyr. It is very difficult to see him in any other the light other than someone who has actively been soliciting bribes from Chinese donors.  Than someone who has been actively taking a position directly opposite to that of his party and opposite to that of the national interest.

He then had the gall to justify his actions as an error of judgement, no errors of judgement. And after having “paid a very high price” he was slowly but surely reinstated to the position she had been dismissed from in the Federal Opposition, having  “learned his lesson” which he hadn’t.

It will be interesting to see how the Labor Party handles his rehabilitation.