Saturday, 20 October 2007

The gut feel

And now,  an entirely unimaginative  "me too"  of a post.  I have to add my wholehearted  "amen"  to the following orison,  from Mindless Munkey:

I hate our current Prime Minister so much it's like a physical sensation.  Please please please,  Australia - make the right choice.  The Howard Era should never have happened.  It has most certainly gone on far too long.  It must end now.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Howard rallies the faithful once again

This is possibly the most blatantly repugnant thing that John Howard,  still Prime Minister of Australia,  has ever been quoted as saying.  And that is saying a hell of a lot.

The Labor party spokesman for foreign affairs recently sparked a furore when he dared to suggest that if elected his party would campaign against the death penalty in all cases,  even for the Indonesians convicted of the terrorist attack which killed Australians in Bali in 2002.  Some of the victims' relatives were enraged,  baying for the blood of the perpetrators and more or less also for the blood of the Labor spokesman for foreign affairs.  Howard immediately seized the reins of the bandwagon:

The idea that we would plead for the deferral of executions of people who murdered 88 Australians is distasteful to the entire community ... I find it impossible myself,  as an Australian,  as Prime Minister,  as an individual,  to argue that those executions should not take place when they have murdered my fellow countrymen and women.

The man has an undeniable talent for identifying the worst traits of the Australian people,  and then fuelling and exploiting those traits for political gain.  Is there any other politician in the world today who can do this with such aplomb?  Mugabe has nothing on this guy.  Karl Rove would be taking notes.

Labor leader Kevin Rudd,  probably the next Prime Minister of Australia, was quick to slap down his foreign affairs spokesman and declare that he would only campaign against the death penalty if it was being imposed on Australians,  and certainly not when imposed on the killers of Australians.  I'm sure that will go down just marvellously in the international community.  However, even despite his pathetic pragmatism,  he did not go so far as to utter anything as shameful,  as reprehensible,  as sickening,  as Howard's righteous indigation above.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

The hilarity of Thomas Mann

I'm currently making my way through Thomas Mann's
Der Zauberberg.  I never realised before how hilarious Thomas Mann is.  He clearly never ceased to be anything less than urgently aware of the great importance of the task that fate had assigned him,  namely that of being a Great Writer.  Every one of his works creaks at the seams with the weighty burden of his vocation.  They are all so terribly,  terribly serious  (it's evidently people like him who helped give the Germans their famous reputation in this respect).  It's not that his stores are entirely lacking in humour;  there are not infrequent moments of wit,  sometimes even rather crude jokes.  However, it's generally his characters who are laughing;  his omniscient third-person narrator never goes beyond a wry smile.

His portentous approach is perhaps most strongly felt in his digressions on philosophical subjects.  In the Fourth Chapter,  there is an extensive musing on the nature of time,  one of the major themes of the book.  He begins by discussing the pleasantly diverting disorientation of going on holiday,  the way it breaks up the monotony of our regular existence.  He then delves into the nature of this monotony:

Worauf beruht dann aber diese Erschlaffung und Abstumpfung bei zu langer nicht aufgehobener Regel?  Es ist nicht so sehr körperlich-geistige Ermüdung und Abnutzung durch die Anforderungen des Lebens,  worauf sie beruht  (denn für diese wäre ja einfache Ruhe das wiederherstellende Heilmittel);  es ist vielmehr etwas Seelisches,  es ist das Erlebnis der Zeit,  - welches bei ununterbrochenem Gleichmaß abhanden zu kommen droht und mit dem Lebensgefühle selbst so nahe verwandt und verbunden ist,  dass das eine nicht geschwächt werden kann,  ohne dass auch das andere eine kümmerliche Beeinträchtigung erführe.  Über das Wesen der Langenweile sind vielfach irrige Vorstellungen verbreitet.  Man glaubt im ganzen,  dass Interessantheit und Neuheit des Gehaltes die Zeit  „vertreibe“,  das heißt:  verkürze,  während Monotonie und Leere ihren Gang beschwere und hemme.  Das ist nicht unbedingt zutreffend.  Leere und Monotonie mögen zwar den Augenblick und die Stunde dehnen und  „langweilig“  machen,  aber die großen und größten Zeitmassen verkürzen und verflüchtigen sie sogar bis zur Nichtigkeit.  Umgekehrt ist [...]

This goes on for fully 629 words [abridged translation here].  One is reminded of the quip  "art is long and life is short;  here is evidently the explanation of a Brahms symphony"  (attributed to one Edward Lorne,  about whom I know nothing else).  That is unfair:  unlike Brahms,  Mann's work is a pleasure;  his prose may be long-winded but it is always elegantly beautiful.  However,  British humourist Terry Pratchett took just nineteen words to make exactly the same point that Thomas Mann did in his 629,  and he managed to be light-hearted at the same time.  Here's Windle Poons,  the world's oldest wizard,  musing on the nature of time in Reaper Man:

Everything was wrong these days.  More thin.  More fuzzy.  No real life in anything.  And the days were shorter.  Mmm.  Something had gone wrong with the days.  They were shorter days.  Mmm.  Every day took an age to go by,  which was odd,  because days plural went past like a stampede. There weren't many things people wanted a 130-year-old wizard to do,  and Windle had got into the habit of arriving at the dining-table up to two hours before each meal,  simply to pass the time.

Unfortunately for Pratchett,  it's portentousness,  not pithiness,  which tends to win Nobel prizes.