Latham's Law

Latham’s law

7 January 2012

10:00 PM

7 January 2012

10:00 PM

December was a bad month for the Kim family. First Kim Il-Carr was dumped from Julia Gillard’s cabinet. Then Kim Jong-Il passed away in North Korea. Dictatorships are not what they used to be, both within Labor’s factional system and inside the Hermit Kingdom.

One of the endearing traditions of the Western media is to lionise people at the time of their death. Thus Steve Irwin, for instance, is remembered as an animal kingdom hero, even though he spent his adult life tormenting animals for commercial gain. By this standard, when I pass away I will be eulogised as a Labor titan and champion of the rights of the media.

Kim Jong-Il received no such exaggerated courtesy. His corpse quickly became a punching bag for every two-bit columnist who has been on a CIA study tour. Much of the commentary was ridiculous, especially in its personalised nature. To give one example, on the ABC’s Midday Report, the American academic Joseph Cirincione described Kim as
‘a caricature of a dictator’, as someone ‘personally idiosyncratic’. As evidence Cirincione cited:

Kim’s love of expensive cognac, beautiful women, Hollywood movies, bouffant hairdos and oversized sunglasses.

By this test, every second person walking through an Australian shopping mall must be an idiosyncratic dictator. This is standard fare according to the tastes and habits of Western society. Kim would have blended perfectly into the Australian middle class – all he was missing was a McMansion and Pajero 4WD.


•••

There was a striking irony in the way in which, just 24 hours after Kim’s passing, the last American troops left Iraq — an act of symmetry within George W. Bush’s so-called Axis of Evil. The final withdrawal from Iraq ended a wretched period of failure for US foreign policy. This was the 50-year delusion, starting with the war in Vietnam, that American military power could successfully occupy nationalistic Third World countries. For the local populations, the act of occupation was a greater evil than the regimes the US sought to overthrow. Some 63,000 young Americans died in these futile tasks. Just as the fall of the Berlin War ended international communism, the Arab Spring would have cleaned out Saddam Hussein.

The folly of Iraq also inflicted collateral damage. On a visit to China in 2001, Kim Jong-Il told senior government officials he wanted to open up his country, in effect to be North Korea’s Gorbachev. He baulked at these reforms, however, after Bush’s ‘Axis of Evil’ speech. If Kim had pursued economic liberalisation at this time he would have appeared weak, as easily intimidated by American bullying. Not wanting to risk a military coup, he went back into his shell. With Bush gone and Iraq ended, it may be open to Kim Jong-Un to fulfil his father’s reformist intentions.

•••

Peter Coleman and Barry Cohen have 159 years between them — a sesquicentenary of writing experience and finesse of benefit to the readers of this and many other publications. We can, therefore, excuse them the odd memory lapse. In his last Australian Notes for 2011, Coleman wanted to know why Kevin Rudd and not Julia Gillard had held a press conference reflecting on Kim’s death. The reason was straightforward enough: the previous Friday Gillard had taken leave. Yes Virginia, even Prime Ministers are entitled to a Christmas holiday.

Coleman was also puzzled as to how Cohen’s Central Coast animal penitentiary went bust, given that it was ‘rich in native plants, birds and fauna’. Self-evidently, not many people visited the facility but I must confess I was one of them, in January 2003 with my son Oliver. The best way of describing what we saw is to place it in context.

In the nine years since, whenever the young fellow has erred on the side of naughtiness, I have told him his punishment will be a return visit to Barry Cohen’s animal farm. Today Oliver is an angel, the perfect child. As a parent, I have abandoned my faith in corporal punishment. There is simply no need, not when a boy is still haunted by the memory of a frying walk through inhospitable scrub to view the world’s scrawniest emus.

Just as Cohen failed to invest 60 quid in the paintings of the young Brett Whiteley, he failed to invest in family-friendly facilities at the penitentiary. Instead, he wanted taxpayers’ money to bail him out. Barry should have learned from Steve Irwin’s experience: the only way to make an animal farm commercially successful is to behave like an animal. Pleading for government subsidies showed that Cohen was too advanced on the food chain. He was no longer hunting for a feed, but wanted the public sector to serve up the dough on one of his porcelain plates. He put Mammon ahead of mammals.

Cohen’s delusion about the quality of his animal pen is matched by his invention of Plategate. Over lunch, it is true, Oliver accidently broke one of Cohen’s old plates (as dated and shopworn as the emus outside). Naturally I apologised, so much so that Barry told me to stop — he insisted it was his fault for not lifting breakable items out of the infant’s reach. Again I say sorry. I know how much that porcelain meant to our erstwhile host. It was, after all, where he kept his first dollar.

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