Being There

When my eldest grandchild asked me recently to name my favourite movie I nominated ‘Being There’, starring Peter Sellers. The movie consists of one slow, quiet joke. And it is profound.
 

 

I recommend the following extract from Wikipedia. Or google the you-tube.

 

“Being There is a 1979 American comedy-drama film directed by Hal Ashby. Sellers was nominated for Best Actor.[3] The screenplay won the British Academy Film Award for Best Screenplay and the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Comedy Adapted from Another Medium. It was also nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay.

 

 

Chance (Peter Sellers) is a middle-aged man who lives in the townhouse of an old, wealthy man in Washington, D.C. He is simple-minded and has lived there his whole life, tending the garden. Other than gardening, his knowledge is derived entirely from what he sees on television. When his benefactor dies, Chance naively says he has no claim against the estate, and is ordered to move out. Thus he discovers the outside world for the first time.”

 

 

 

 

 

(Remind you of someone? I thought of George W Bush.)

 

 

“Chance wanders aimlessly. He passes by a TV shop and sees himself captured by a camera in the shop window. Entranced, he steps backward off the sidewalk and is struck by a chauffeured car owned by Ben Rand (Melvyn Douglas), an elderly business mogul. In the car is Rand’s much younger wife, Eve (Shirley MacLaine).

 

 

Eve brings Chance to their home to recover. She mishears “Chance, the gardener” as “Chauncey Gardiner.” Chance is wearing expensive tailored clothes from the 1920s and ’30s, which his benefactor had allowed him to take from the attic, and his manners are old-fashioned and courtly. When Ben Rand meets him, he takes “Chauncey” for an upper-class, highly educated businessman. Chance often misunderstands people and states the obvious, particularly about gardening, but his simple words are repeatedly misunderstood as profound, allegorical statements about life, business and the economy. Rand admires him, finding him direct, wise and insightful.

 

 

Rand is also a confidant and adviser to the President of the United States (Jack Warden), whom he introduces to “Chauncey.” The President, who is concerned about the economy, asks Chance his opinion about “temporary incentives.” Chance hears the words “stimulate growth” and following a pause goes on a short speech about the changing seasons of the garden. Chance goes on to say “there will be growth in the spring.” The President completely misinterprets this as optimistic political and economic advice. Chance, as Chauncey Gardiner, quickly rises to national public prominence. He remains an adviser to Rand, attends important dinners, meets with the Soviet ambassador and appears on a television talk show. During the show, Chance again goes into detail about the importance of gardening and what a serious gardener he is, the host and public misunderstand this to be Chance talking about running the country and being a serious President should he get the chance.

 

 

Public opinion polls start to reflect just how much his “simple brand of wisdom” resonates with the jaded American public. The President even begins to fear Chance’s popularity with the public.

 

 

Chance is present at Rand’s death and shows genuine sadness at his passing by crying. At Rand’s funeral, while the President delivers a speech, the pall-bearers hold a whispered discussion over potential replacements for the President in the next term of office. They unanimously agree on ‘Chauncey Gardiner.”’

 

 

(Remind you of someone? A figure from nightmare? Some figure – not a person – an idea, a phantasm, a nightmare figment? Never, never ever, not ever in real life could the American people choose a cretin for leader? Never a person of such surpassing shallowness and vapidity and pervading ignorance that he would make George W appear a sage by comparison? Would not the great American people choose a patriot, a person who loved her country, a person who paid her taxes? Wake me, someone, wake me please – say, in four years’ time.)

Done Because We Are Too Menny

I think maybe we are done; humans I mean.

I am a baby boomer. My generation is used to the success of antibiotics. We contracted tonsillitis, we saw the doctor and he – it was almost always a he – prescribed penicillin and we recovered quickly. We didn’t develop a strep pneumonia, we seldom developed a post-strep kidney disease or heart disease.

Same story with ear infections: penicillin cured them.

We had an ear abscess, we had antibiotics and we won.

That might have been our first mistake.

We used them so often and so promiscuously they stopped working. How long is it since penicillin – plain, old fashioned, shot-in-the-bum , narrow spectrum penicillin – worked for an ear infection?

Yonx.

Because we killed off the susceptible ear infecting germs and bred resistant ones.

Those days of successful antibiosis are going. In fact they have probably gone.

My generation never saw siblings dying from whooping cough or double pneumonia. Parents gave birth to a litter and raised the full complement to adulthood.

That might have been a second mistake: we enjoyed the survival of the second-fittest.

My grandparents’ generation – growing up in the nineteenth century – lost numerous siblings to infections. It was natural. It was not unexpected.

That was the way in the battle between germs and humans through all history. All too often, the germs won. It must have been unbearably sad.

In the ‘seventies we were visited by herpes. For a while herpes won: we said herpes is forever . Then came acyclovir, also known as Zovirax. Herpes skulked off with its tail between its legs – our legs, actually.

In the ‘eighties we were visited by AIDS: incurable by definition. But bugger me (and that might have been how some of us contracted it), anti-retrovirals slowed the virus, survival lengthened and now the disease is a disease, but not universally a death sentence.

Horrible horrible hep-C is in retreat too.

So much (and so little) for the immortal killer viruses.

Meanwhile bacteria are doing better. Go to hospital nowadays for surgery and there is a good chance you’ll emerge with a multi-resistant resistant staph. All the perfumes of Arabia, all the antibiotics of Big Pharma won’t touch those staph.

Go to Asia for traditional sex tourism and there’s a good chance the gonorrhoea you bring back will resist all my antibiotics.

We have had our successes. We have seen off smallpox. The only copies of this germ live in research and germ warfare labs. Humans have it in our power to extinguish the smallpox germ utterly. The germ that killed many many more Australian Aborigines than shooting and starving blackfellas is abolishable. And replaceable. Whenever we change one population we affect another. Take antibiotics for your sore sinuses today and your vagina catches fire with thrush tomorrow.

I happen to be a human. I am on the side of humans in this epochal struggle. But nature does not seem to take sides: she seems to love the earthworm, the spider and the king brown snake precisely as much as she loves the species that gave rise to Moses, Jesus, Martin Luther King and the Beatles.

Nature, unlike the writer, is not sentimental. She wishes species to survive. She loves us all equally. So fondly does nature love the plasmodium (I refer to the parasite responsible for malaria, still the greatest killer of humans), that she raises the temperature of the infected human to a maximum in the evening, at just the time that mosquitoes take their evening meal. The anopheles aegyptii drink the infected blood that superheats the human skin.  Frequently the infected person expires, but such is the grace of nature, the plasmodium species survives such deaths and is transmitted by the mozzie into the next human it stings.

(If you read any of the works of plasmodial theology, you will understand that their god created humans and mosquitos alike as expendable vectors for the plasmodium, which was created in the image of that god.)

It is possible that nature – implacably fair, resolutely unsentimental, big picture regarding nature – having observed the humans that have bred so successfully that we overrun the earth, has decided that she must reduce our numbers.

Perhaps we humans, like the boy in Jude the Obscure, are done because we are too menny.

Sorry.

Copyright, Howard Goldenberg, 30 January, 2013.

(Of course, if I truly anticipated the imminent eclipse of my species, would I claim copyright?)

The title is a quote from Jude the Obscure, a deeply depressing book by Thomas Hardy. Only go to Hardy if my little article has failed to spoil your life or your day. My piece is cheerful in comparison.

I am the Community

KAKADU, JULY 1998.

I usher the next patient into my consulting room. She has fair skin
and freckles. She wears Islamic head-dress which covers her neck and
her arms. I look at her file: her name is Fatima Yasmin.
I introduce myself and she replies in a perfectly ordinary Australian accent.
Always curious, I ask: are you descended from the old Afghan cameleers?
No.
Did you marry a Muslim?
No, I’m not married.
So you converted to Islam?
Yes, and that’s when I took the name. I was a Colquhoun before that.
The rest of my family still are Colquhouns.
I wonder, then enquire: do you say your prayers five times a day?
Yes.
Which way do you face when you’re praying?
She indicates a direction north and west – the direction of Mecca, the
direction too, of Jerusalem, towards which I turn in prayer three
times a day.
Are there any other Muslims in Kakadu?
No.
So you are the entire Islamic Community of Kakadu?
Yes.
It’s a pleasure to meet you. Meet the Jewish Community.

Don’t Vote

Student demonstrators of the May 4th Movement ...

Tiananmen Square in May 1919. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don’t Vote, It Only Encourages The Bastards

When I first saw that bumper sticker message I thought it was funny. Now it seems a fair comment on Australia’s elected politicians.

In Australia the law obliges me to vote; in most other places voting is optional. The alternative to voting is to take the chance that others will do so and they’ll elect the wrong bastard. If a relatively small number of passive non-electors had gone to the polls in Florida eight years ago, this planet might now, under outgoing President Gore, be on the road to salvation.

This coming week voters in the elections that really matter will or won’t encourage the bastards. An act of God, Hurricane Sandy, has done what a thousand PR people couldn’t do: it has made Obama look like a president. Looking like is the thing in western elections, is more influential than being president.

The elections in the USA are as important to the American people as Melbourne Cup Day is to Australians.  It is the day that stops a nation.

A huge proportion of voters will not get around to voting. These stay at homes will determine the flavor and much of the content of our lives in Australia in the coming decade or two.

Those Americans who do not vote, like those who do, are exercising choice. They are electing whether or  not to vote.

Two days after the presidential election in the USA, voting will take place in the People’s Republic of China for the leadership of that country. There are a lot of citizens in China but only 2,270 voters. These are the delegates, chosen in secret, to the Communist Party Congress, the first in ten years.

In Australia our elections are always held on a  Saturday, usually late in the year.  When I was a child my parents would wait for three stars to appear in the sky, signifying the conclusion of the Sabbath, then they’d rush off to the local primary school – my school – to vote. It seemed exciting. On their return I’d ask which party they voted for. Mum would never say. Instead she made one of her Declarations of Faith: in Australia we are fortunate; everyone is entitled to vote; no-one can force you to tell whom you chose. I remember how Mum seemed to glow with the pride of being a voter in Australia.

The Chinese Communist Congress will be held in the Great Hall of the People, next door to Tiananmen Square. The results of these elections have been known for months, ever since Bo Xilai, a man of ambition and powerful enemies, was expelled from the Politburo for serial adultery, corruption and implication in a murder case involving his wife.

Chinese would-be democrats won’t be thronging to learn the outcome, singing Are You Going to Tiananmen Square?  They’ve been there, done that, seen the tanks.

We in Australia will not have a vote, while masses of Americans and selected Chinese choose the bastards who will determine our future.