Heat by Rob O’Neill


Girlie’s big sister is in town. I don’t know what it is about her but when she’s around odd things happen. On Sunday she was down on the waterfront after visiting Luna Park with her sister and Che, her beau. They were watching a busker, a very good busker apparently, when a fire broke out in the “Toaster”.

The Toaster is the controversial apartment building between the Opera House and Circular Quay. There were loads of protests about it a couple of years ago as an eyesore and for disrupting a view of the Botanical Gardens. Personally I quite like it. Anyway, smoke started billowing from an apartment and it all got quite exciting for a time.

Luna Park is back up and running. The revitalized fun-park, which many don’t realize was originally set up in Parnell and then exported, like Pavlova, across the ditch, is still stirring people up. One ride isn’t operating because local residents say it’s too noisy. (That’s what you get when you move into apartments next to a funpark, guys! Doh!) Plans for another apartment block on the grounds are being opposed by the same local residents. Mega-bucks have been spent on restoration but the job still isn’t up to scratch.

Then last night, after the kids had spent the day at the zoo, we went for a quiet beer at my local. The Oxford in Drummoyne is a good rugby pub with a bit of a kiwi flavour, despite half-baked attempts to cash in on faux Irish pub fashion. Twenty per cent of the population around here are kiwis, according to the last census.

We were upstairs and Che was giving me a rematch on the pool table after beating me when I was last over in NZ. As we were playing a girl came up and asked if we’d come downstairs to fill up the public bar. They were filming a movie and needed some free extras.


So once I’d slaughtered Che we trooped down to appear in the opening scene of a new Aussie crime flick called “Three the Hard Way”. The scene involves a cop entering a bar. He’s followed in a long tracking shot up the bar to where he takes a seat. He talks to some guy there and then the camera tracks to the left where a couple of drunk dudes are talking. They get a bit loud and the cop moves across to throw them out. They get up, lurching arm-in-arm through the bar and out, again in a long tracking shot.

All of this had to be done in one take so they had to do it several times to get it right. As the “extras” were really just a bunch of piss-heads things got more and more unruly. Some got the giggles and couldn’t keep quiet. One old local, with a huge alcoholic’s nose, kept saying “Rhubarb” very loudly. This guy had obviously spent a lot of time in pubs, far too much to be healthy. The toll of years of self-abuse was engraved around the bright purple bulb of his nose for all to see in twinkling blue eyes and a permanent and immovable smile. Such are the wages of sin.

Every time a take was completed there’d be cheers and clapping and these got louder and longer as the evening wore on.

It was all really unbelievably cool. Whenever I see film crews in Auckland you get the impression they are pretty stuck up and self-important types - and if you look pretentious in Auckland you must be really pretentious! Anyway, this was all totally laid back and fun and the result was pretty damn good too. As the film is being shot on high definition video, we all gathered to get a preview before closing time.

As the cop comes in you can see me, Che and Girlie Major in the bar. Then while the characters are talking at the bar I walk past in the background twice and so does Che. As the drunks lurch out, wait for it, we get Girlie Major’s big moment: one of the drunks en passant takes the opportunity to give her a good ad-lib slap on the arse!

Anyway, the enemies of democracy and the rule of law are at it again, selling freedom down the river in the cause of freedom. Some of the questions the US Supreme Court has to answer over the next few months are possibly the most important it has ever deliberated over. It is a conservative court and anything could happen, but if some limitations are not upheld on the ability of the executive to detain people without trial, without access to lawyers, without charge, in isolation, with continual interrogation and maybe “mistreatment” than you would have to conclude that the worst fears of the founding fathers are about to be realized: that the US has become a corrupt republic and that the safeguards and checks and balances of their brilliant labours will be undermined.

But conservative is not a bad thing. I’m really beginning to like some of the so-called paleo-conservatives. In this day and age maybe there is nothing wrong with the old values…

I’m hopeful. These conservatives could prove themselves to be lovers of law and of process as well as of security. Fingers crossed.

Oh yeah, coming soonish: Being Gordon King

Camp Redemption?

Aww for fuck’s sake! Come on! You have got to be joking? Camp fucking Redemption!

Yes folks, the US is renaming Abu Ghraib following the prisoner abuse scandal. If I start reading that name being used seriously in the press I am going to be physically sick.

But it seems at least half of the prisoners kept there for so long without any access to legal processes were innocents. Rightists, staunch defenders of democracy and individual rights that they are, like to characterise any detainees as terrorists or insurgents, but it is pretty clear many are just taxi drivers or their passengers or other innocent types who get swept up indiscriminately after some incident and then incarcerated for months in understaffed prisons because Donald Rumsfeld still won’t admit he cocked up and didn’t supply enough troops for the occupation.

They are now planning on releasing around 2,300 of these terrorist taxi drivers back onto the streets.

Speaking of incompetence, apparently George Bush was personally appraised of the Red Cross reports raising concerns over prisoner treatment – according to Colin Powell. Further, the man who railed against constraints against swift engagement of potential enemy targets himself turned down three opportunities to kill the man who cut off Nick Berg’s head.

Why? Because to do so might weaken the case for the invasion of Iraq. Another example of where he appears to have put US security interests second to his desire to invade.

The story gets worse in its details. As far back as June 2002, U.S. intelligence reported that Zarqawi had set up a weapons lab at Kirma in northern Iraq that was capable of producing ricin and cyanide. The Pentagon drew up an attack plan involving cruise missiles and smart bombs. The White House turned it down. In October 2002, intelligence reported that Zarqawi was preparing to use his bio-weapons in Europe. The Pentagon drew up another attack plan. The White House again demurred. In January 2003, police in London arrested terrorist suspects connected to the camp. The Pentagon devised another attack plan. Again, the White House killed the plan, not Zarqawi.

I was having a chat with an Egyptian Christian the other day, fascinating chap on several fronts, but he very pointedly described Iraq as greater Iran. He was referring to the fact that rather than hemming in terrorism and fundamentalism (two different things for the benefit of those who like to blur all sorts of lines), it had created a whole new lawless zone. Terrorism heaven and you don’t even have to get martyred.

The US is releasing quite a number of people they once described as “hard-core terrorists” from Guantanamo. And, inevitably, we are hearing stories of what went on inside.

The latest involves the beating of Australian David Hicks. John Howard (Do you remember before 9/11 when no one could name the Australian PM?) has tried to discredit these claims, which didn’t come from Hicks himself but from a fellow detainee. Why hadn’t Hicks raised these complaints earlier, he asks?

Well, he has been held incommunicado, John. His lawyer has been gagged about conversations he has with his client. On the other occasions, Red Cross visits and the like, who can really say what the circumstances were? Guantanamo isn't exactly transparent.

There are rumours the other Australian terrorist, Mamdouh Habib, who was kidnapped in Pakistan, may be released to terrorise the streets of Sydney once more.

His is an interesting case of making the rules up as you go along. The kind of thing that destroys any chance of a fair trial.

Mamdouh Habib's arrest, unlike that of David Hicks, is the story of a man travelling in a country not at war, and without warning being arrested, transferred, and treated as an illegal combatant, despite the fact that he was never any kind of combatant.

After being arrested on a bus heading to Karachi in Pakistan, where he was booked to return to Australia, his two Germen companions were released within weeks, due to strong diplomatic pressure from their government. Habib however, was unlucky, because the Australian authorities left him stranded, and refused to demand a fair trial, access to a lawyer, or to extradite him to Australia. What is worse is that after 14 months in prison, the Australian government has still not demanded these things, and he sits in Guantanamo Bay, his fourth country of incarceration, still without being charged, or convicted.

Because he was arrested in Pakistan, transferred to Egypt, and only ever spent time in Afghanistan as a US prisoner when transferred from Egypt, he has no claim to the Geneva Convention. Likewise, having never fought or carried arms, he cannot possibly be treated as an illegal combatant.

He should have some interesting stories.

Of course while all this Abu Ghraib stuff is going on the US Supreme Court is considering matters of jurisdiction over Guantanamo. I wonder what impact these endless examples of lack of process, mismanagement and lack of accountability will have on its deliberations?

By the way, some email from the site has been blocked by my work's spam filter so apologies to those who think I'm ignoring them. I'm changing the address to point to my hotmail account.

Coming soon: Being Gordon King

Being the Girlie

I’ve been a bit disillusioned with magazines recently. I can go into a newsagency and ferret around for a quarter of an hour and still come out empty-handed, which is strange as I used to love them. Is it them or is it me?

I’m occasionally tempted by a Vanity Fair, but never buy Loaded or FHM or any of that lad stuff any more. I don’t think it’s me. I think there is another type of magazine out there waiting to be invented, like Loaded in the 1980s, that will speak to us in some new way and engage us again.

The current crop just doesn’t cut it for me.

Anyway, I was doing a sweep of the stands the other day, on business mainly looking for the latest BusinessWeek, as it was proclaiming “E-biz Strikes Back”. I need to read that sort of stuff. Anyway, to my great surprise I came out with three magazines, the BusinessWeek, a copy of Time and a Wired, which I’ve never bought before.

I bought Time because it had a cover story on the teenage brain and how it works – or, more accurately, doesn’t work. Wired I’ve avoided over the years. While a brilliant mag in it’s early incarnation I couldn’t stand its salvationary tone and later it wasn’t brilliant any more. I bought this one because Peter Jackson was on the cover and that was enough to make me want to dip in – not that I particularly want to read yet another story about PJ.

Anyway, back to the alleged teenage brain.

The article explained why the Girlie spends so much time in bed. It isn’t because she’s a lazy little sod at all, it's because the teen brain secretes melatonin later at night. They stay up late and wake up late. There is also a theory teens require a lot of sleep to to enhance learning! This from PBS in the US:

Other experiments supplied more direct evidence that sleep is crucial for learning. Human subjects were trained to identify letters that appeared for a blink of an eye on a computer screen. Then, half of the subjects were sent home to sleep, while the other half were deprived of sleep for the entire night, and only then went home to rest. Two days later when all the subjects were already rested and refreshed, the scientists checked their ability to read the flashing letters. None of the participants were tired, and yet the people who went to sleep right after the training performed much better than the ones who went to sleep a day later. This suggests that the night sleep immediately after the activity was crucial for gaining the most from the training session. Without it, the training was much less effective.

Some reckon teens need 9 hours of sleep a night, and not the 7 and a half they now average. Needless to say this was a revelation to me as the Girlie regularly throws in fourteen or fifteen hour stretches in the sack.

She must be a genius!

Also teens don’t have the control mechanisms of adults. This is because the back of the brain matures first and the control centers last. These can still be maturing up to the age of 25 according to some scientists. Looking at most of my mates, they may want to stretch that one out to 45.

Anyway the article was fascinating and the conclusions explain a lot of stuff any parent knows intuitively. I’m looking forward to more research that will reveal the biological roots of needing to be surrounded by piles of dirty clothes and dishes that never find their way back to the kitchen. Perhaps there is a part of the brain or a hormone that controls this behaviour as well.

Anyway I've scored some tickets to the Bledisloe in August so the Girlie is happiness filled.

Last Saturday was spent down the Rose, a great little pub in Cleveland St between Glebe and Newtown, watching the Tahs bow out of the Super 12 in the traditional manner - losing to Queensland. there were a lot of kiwis about supporting the Queenslanders to keep the Blues up in the top four. In fact these included some Cantabrians, but I won't mention any names in case they want to go home some day.

Coming soon: Being Gordon King.

Martinis at the RSL

A few days ago the Girlie called me a retard. It was early in the morning and I was feeling a bit tired and emotional having only gotten in at 4am. Despite that I couldn’t resist having my morning sport.

“Why aren’t you at school?” I barked, knowing full well the answer.

“We have a late start, you retard!” she shouted back.

The Girlie isn’t a morning person.

This morning was pretty much the same. I get up bright and cheerful:

“Good morning little girl!” I exclaim.

“Don’t talk to me!” Her Girlieship shouts back just before she heads out the door. Even better she can’t find her keys and has to limply back down and ask me to shut the door after her.

Bliss. Desired outcomes achieved. Girlie stirred and shaken.

Speaking of stirred and shaken, I was down the RSL the other day with my mate Dan, the self-styled Hebrew Hammer, and the other veterans… Actually I was down there with a bunch of trendies, lesbians, gays and nightclub types. There was one old digger hanging tough in the corner looking highly pissed off.

The Newtown RSL, went belly up a couple of years back and private enterprise came to the rescue, turning it into a way cool club with DJs on two levels and cocktails on the top floor – though I guess it can’t be that cool if they let me in. I ordered a martini just so I could use that headline. It was damn good too, despite a bit of lemon rhind substituting for the olive.

The Hebrew Hammer was in a fragile state of mind, having to wrestle with his own Evil Santa. The single life certainly has compensations.

I was reading the other day that in NY they are serving 100 vodka martinis for every classic gin martini these days. The world really is going to hell in a hand-basket.

Vodka is bloody everywhere. I’ve accumulated a couple of bottles at home, one good and one semi-good. So in a fit of creativity on Sunday I decided to try and knock up an infusion. One bottle of vodka plus half a rock melon and…. I’ll keep you posted.

It grew legs, then wings

Cash for comment version 2.0 is here. After plugging away at the story for months, teasing extra details out about the relationships between talkback jock Alan Jones, Macquarie Radio and Telstra, ABC’s MediaWatch has finally broken through.

Alan Jones is the ultimate big-noter. John Laws, who spilled a pile of dirt on Jones yesterday, on ABC TV last night agreed disarmingly there was an element of sour grapes in what he had done. But he insisted his differences with Jones were religious:

“I just refuse to treat him like God,” he said.

The story is that Jones was at a party in 2000. He allegedly claimed he had waltzed into Kirribilli House, John Howard’s gaff, and insisted Howard reappoint David Flint as head of the “light-handed” broadcasting regulatory body the ABA (Australian Broadcasting Authority). Now Jones and Howard deny this, in a sort of “I have no recollection” kind of way.

Interestingly Jones has never, as far as I can see, denied he said what Laws says he said at the party. Given the man’s enormous ego it seems likely he may have said what Laws and others present suggest, even if he never spoke to Howard.

What isn’t in doubt is that Jones has power and neither party wants to upset him. Given the demographics of his audience, however, you'd have to say his days as a powerbroker are numbered.

Equally clear is that Flint is an admirer of Jones. He’ll take on Laws, but not Jones.

Sound corrupt? Well it is, in a very Australian old school tie, you-scratch-mine-and-I’ll-scratch-yours kind of way. There’s a lot of that here mainly caused by the fact Australian government is so BIG. Over here, unlike in NZ, even the regulators have regulators and there are at least three layers of government dealing with any given issue – not to mention the myriad quangos.

Laws was flushed out by a string of leaks, presumably out of the ABA itself. These included the media plan behind the Telstra/Macquarie deal and the contract itself. Damning stuff.

Now there are plenty around who hate Marr and MediaWatch – including a lot of journalists. He is unforgiving about slackness, plagiarism and a host of other modern media failures. But this is his story and he has forced all the other media outlets to fall in behind and start digging after most assumed the issue was dead.

The scrum is on.

Australian radio is in a sorry state. Jones is benefiting albeit indirectly from the Telstra deal and the deal was based on leveraging his opinion, not just the company positioning itself as sponsor of his show. Nobody comes out of this looking good – except David Marr whose persistence and clear enunciation of the issues can only be admired.

Margo Kingston gives her views here.

Now, back to my stinky socks. The Case of the Slippered Darner just got even more mysterious. My old Mum emphatically denies she secretly darned my socks …