xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Do authors of historical novels have a right to completely change historical facts? Tampering with the Truth is never a good idea.

It was Napoleon who said  History is written by the winners.

Hilary Mantel is not an historian. She is a gifted English writer of historical fiction. Her best selling books have won many awards and made her a Dame of the Realm. In recent years, Hilary Mantel wrote a trilogy of historical novels about the life and public career of Thomas Cromwell.

She published “Wolf Hall”  in 2009, “Bring Up the Bodies” in 2012 and “The Mirror and the Light” in 2020. They tell her story of Thomas Cromwell, King Henry the VIII’s right hand man during the Reformation in England. He  arranged the annulment of the King’s marriage to Queen Catherine and Henry's subsequent marriages to Anne Boleyn and others. As Henry’s Private Secretary and Chief Minister, Cromwell enforced the growth of the English Reformation, with Henry as the Head of the Church of England and the dissolution of the monasteries, among other things. In doing so he became very powerful and very wealthy.

In telling of these turbulent Tudor times, Mantel portrays Thomas Cromwell as a hero and Henry’s Chancellor of the Exchequer , Sir Thomas More, as a villain. In contrast, most historians hold that Thomas Cromwell was far from heroic, while Sir Thomas More was prepared to oppose his friend, King Henry, and die upholding his strong, faith based beliefs. Robert Bolt’s play, “A Man for All Seasons” promotes this popularly held view of the man whom  the Catholic Church later canonised as St Thomas More.

Fortunately for Napoleon, his career was of such brilliance and  Greek tragedy, that even respected historians of the British, who were the victors, have written of him as an heroic figure whose place in history is assured. Mantel, on the other hand has re-written history, without producing any evidence, to deliberately besmirch Thomas More and praise the character of Thomas Cromwell. In her book, Mantel devotes some time portraying Cromwell as a good, family man. Respected historian, Simon Schama, who regularly presents historical documentaries, as well as writing a number of history books, is one of many historians who are critical on Mantel's rewriting of history. Schama strongly refutes that Cromwell being a "good family man" had any bearing on his character. He says: "Sure, he was a good family man. So was Himmler."

Mantel was raised as a Catholic. At age eleven her father left the family. At age twelve, Mantel says she lost her Catholic faith.  Her book, “Giving up the Ghost”, tells of her rejection of Catholicism and her antipathy towards the Catholic Church. She says that her goal in writing “Wolf Hall” was “to attack the image of St. Thomas More that is associated with Robert Bolt’s highly principled “Man For all Seasons” view of the man.

The generally accepted facts are that More did not agree with Henry’s decision to annul his long marriage to Catherine of Aragon and  marry Anne Boleyn. He chose death before dishonour. As a devout Catholic, he also could not accept Henry appointing himself above the Pope as the Head of the Catholic Church in England. Henry saw this as treason to the Monarchy. Thomas Cromwell sided with King Henry and worked against Thomas More. As Henry’s new Chief Minister, Cromwell acquired great  power and wealth. He managed the Reformation. The Dissolution of the Monasteries  brought great wealth to the King’s treasure house and a lot of the treasure was also acquired by Thomas Cromwell. He also conspired to send many innocent men and women to their deaths.

So, what Hilary Mantel is giving us is really “Fake History.” Does it really matter? Dan Brown rewrote history in his best selling, “The Da Vinci Code”. However, in the Introduction to his novel, Brown clearly states “This is a work of fiction”. Still, millions believed it to be the Gospel truth. Mantel makes no such disclaimer, though many critics see it, not as history, but as an historical novel. Of course we are all used to American films which say that they “are based on a true story” but generally have little resemblance to what actually happened.

Naturally, a lot of Catholics are upset at the villainous portrayal of their revered St Thomas More. Simon Schama is one. However, not only Catholics and Catholic historians are critical of Mantel’s depictions of historical figures. Professor David Stanley, historian and President of Britain’s National Secular Society said there is “not a scruple of evidence” for Mantel’s story, which he describes as “a total work of fiction”. Simon Schama, writing in The London Financial Times, said that historical novelists do have some leeway for invention and imagination but that Hillary Mantel had gone too far with her “Wolf Hall” trilogy.                                

“It grates a bit”, says Schama, “that millions now think of Thomas Cromwell as a much maligned, misunderstood pragmatist from the school of hard knocks, who got precious little thanks for doing Henry the VIII’s dirty work” 

Cromwell’s eventual undoing came from his involvement in Henry’s many marriages. After helping  Henry to marry Anne Boleyn, Cromwell later arranged for her beheading and Henry’s subsequent marriage to Jane Seymour. When Jane Seymour died in childbirth, Cromwell saw an opportunity to increase Henry’s influence in Europe by having him marry Anne of Cleves. Unfortunately, Anne of Cleves was a rather plain looking lady and Henry did not like her. The marriage was not consummated and Henry was angry with Cromwell for arranging this marriage. As is often the case with people who do all sorts of things to ingratiate themselves with a powerful King, Cromwell became the King’s next main victim. He fell foul of several powerful courtiers. They saw their chance over the Anne of Cleves fiasco and prevailed on the angry Henry to arrest Cromwell for treason and have him beheaded. Some historians report that Cromwell, when he knew his death by beheading was imminent, requested that he his funeral be under the “old religion”. That is, the rites of the Catholic Church which he had persecuted with great dedication over the previous five years. Historians also say that King Henry later regretted killing in anger the man who had brought him such great wealth and power.

Schama pointed out that while researching his well regarded, “A History of Britain”, the documents “shouted to high heaven that Thomas Cromwell was, in fact, a detestably self serving, bullying monster who perfected state terror in England, cooked the evidence and extracted confessions by torture.” It is fair to point out that torture was almost standard practice in those days. Even Sir Thomas More is accused of burning heretics and traitors to King Henry VIII. That was the standard operating procedure of the 16th Century. However, Thomas Cromwell was a past master of those Dark Arts.

From time to time, other historians pop up  and tell us that what we all once knew to be true may, in fact, be closer to fantasy. In Australia, the“Terra Nullius” of the British in the !8th Century is a classic example. Despite indigenous people living in Australia for 60 000 years, the British policy of "Terra Nullius” said that nobody lived there. They planted a flag and claimed the lot for King George III. 

Historians generally produce documentary evidence to substantiate their claims. I found this out when studying Political History at the University of Western Australia in the 1960s. When studying, “The Renaissance and the Reformation” I was stunned when my learned professors expounded that the Reformation was not so much about Faith and Morals as it was about cold hard cash and the acquisition of property. As Bill Clinton once said, “It’s the Economy, stupid!” I was to learn that economic issues are behind just about every great social upheaval in human history. Certainly, economic issues have caused most of our wars, religious and otherwise.

While I was re-examining the real cause of The Reformation, Professor Geoffrey Blainey published a book about the causes of European settlement of Australia, or New South Wales, as that eastern part of our, wide, brown Terra Nullius was called in the 1780s. It was titled, “The Tyranny of Distance.” At that time every Australian schoolchild could tell you European settlement in Australia started because England sent out a fleet of ships under Captain Philip in 1788, for the purpose of establishing a convict colony. This was due the great number of convicts in London and the recent, sudden loss of the American colonies as a place to lock them up.

Blainey argued otherwise. He said Britain could have sent convicts to Canada, much closer to England and even larger than Australia. In fact there were convicts in Canada in 1788. Why, asked Blainey, did the British government send a fleet of convicts, and soldiers to guard them, 15 000 kilometres to the far side of a largely unknown world? Especially, when Canada was much closer and still very empty in 1788.

The answer, Blainey says, was the British Navy. Britain had built its vast empire, in part, by the mighty power of its navy. “Britannia rules the waves” was a truism that enabled it to rule over a third of the globe. Blainey produced documents that showed Philip’s first fleet was instructed to investigate the suitability of  tall Norfolk Island Pine Trees as masts for  British naval vessels. These tall trees had been mentioned by the great navigator, Captain James Cook, on his voyages of discovery in the Pacific Ocean between 1768 until 1779. Blainey also produced documents to show that the British Admiralty was also interested in the  Pacific Island Breadfruit Plant. It was felt these could be used to manufacture stout canvas sails.

Blainey also asked the question, why did Captain Philip, having just sailed 15 000 kilometres to a great unknown land (to Europeans), then send an expeditionary ship 2000 kilometres across the Pacific Ocean to establish a settlement at Norfolk Island less than a month after his arrival? It was a good question. Blainey’s answer was the tall Norfolk Pine Trees and breadfruit. He says these were two major reasons for Captain Philip’s First Fleet being sent to far flung Botany Bay in the first place. Actually, Captain Philip only stayed a few days in Botany Bay before relocating to a  more suitable  settlement in Port Jackson, which became known as Sydney Cove.

Well, it turned out that the Norfolk Island Pine Trees were useless as ship’s masts and the breadfruit was no good for sail making. Still, Professor Blainey made valid points and he produced documents to back his arguments.

This is not the case with Hilary Mantel’s treatment of Sir Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell. She has given us her version of history which is quite contrary to the facts. Again, does it matter? Her books are excellently written and very, very popular. However, popularity is not proof of goodness and certainly not of truth. Adolf Hitler was popularly elected by the German people in 1933. He soon became the German Chancellor and then Fuhrer of the Third Reich. Look how that turned out.

More recently, Donald Trump received over 70 million votes in the 2020 Presidential election. That is the  most votes ever received by a sitting President. Fortunately, to the relief of almost everyone in the free world, Joe Biden received about 80 million votes. Trump's popularity dies not make him right. does not always make it right.

Donald Trump made a lot of noise about “Fake News”. Anything he disagreed with was “Fake News” The trouble was that what he told his followers was often ‘Fake” news. Very, very fake! We all watched in horror as his deluded followers, fuelled with Trump’s patently fake news about voting conspiracies, attacked the U.S. Capitol building, threatening mayhem and murder on those who stood in their way. Trump’s “Fake News” made them think they were patriots. Of course, as Simon Schama says, authors should be allowed to brighten their historical stories with creativity and imagination. However, we damage the “Truth” at our peril, as the recent Trump experience sadly demonstrates

I agree with the many historians who are on record asking what responsibilities novelist have when they rewrite historical events for their own purposes? Will we have historical novelists in 200 years time writing stories about Nazi Germany and portraying  Adolf Hitler as a patriotic statesman who rescued Germany from the harsh conditions of the Treaty of Versailles, who overcame record inflation, got Germany industries working again and who was maliciously maligned by dastardly  Communists and those evil warmongers, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt?

Hillary Mantel clearly portrays Sir Thomas More in a derogatory way for her own purposes. By her own admission, she altered the facts to present historically incorrect portrayals of Thomas Cromwell and St Thomas More. We need to remember that, just likeThe Da Vinci code, her books are works of fiction with no real resemblance to the historical truth.

Freedom of speech is a wonderful gift. It is sullied when people use it to deliberately falsify the Truth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, 4 February 2021

Life as a mushroom.

Donald Trump has finally left the scene. Well, at least he is no longer President. Like a very bad smell, he could hang around, one way or another, for a very long time.

After setting "his people", AKA a riotous mob, on to the US Capitol building on January 6th to reclaim his stolen" presidency, Trump was impeached for the second time. He will no doubt be tried by the US House of Representatives in the near future.

Incredibly, there are still Republican congressmen , despite the sedition, destruction and deaths that Trump caused on January 6th, who think that he should not be impeached. These "Law and Order" Republicans  do not believe that unlawful behaviour deserves any consequences, if the culprit is Donald Trump.We may  draw our own conclusions about such woolly thinking.

Trump, of course is famous, or infamous, for claiming that any news he did not like was "Fake News". Most people agree that a lot of news  is, indeed, Fake News. For years we have told ourselves not to believe everything that we read in the papers. Now we can include "or what we hear and see on TV."

The fact is that most Fake News comes from a former champion of Donald Trump, the media baron, Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch's media empire includes some of the most unreliable news  sources in the world. Indeed, one of them, The London Sun, was so bad that Murdoch actually closed it down himself. That was after  a revealing government enquiry into illegal phone tapping, which Murdoch and his senior editors claimed to know nothing about. How could they? After all, they only owned and operated the paper. What would they know? A few reporters were found guilty.

 The other thing Rupert is very good at it not printing news that should be made public. 

For instance, after Donald "I was robbed" Trump sent the mob to attack the citadel of American democracy, Rupert's son, James, said that it was the warped Murdoch media that developed such irrational thinking in Trump's followers that they saw themselves as American Patriots.

 James Murdoch's criticism of the role his father's media played in the rise of rampant Trumpism was published around the world. But not by any Murdoch media. Certainly not in Australia, where Murdoch controls about 70% of the media.

Another for instance. In December, 2020, Prime Minister Morrison and Treasurer, Josh Frydenburg flew in the Prime Minister's private jet to attend Lachlan Murdoch's Christmas Party. I cannot say if these gentlemen were accompanied by their wives because this little party trip attracted almost no media attention at the time. Well, it was Christmas.

Now, the Prime Minister's private jet was bought with taxpayers' money. By regulation, it is only to be used on official government business. Not even Scott Morrison attempted to make out that the trip to Lachlan Murdoch's Christmas Party was government business.

He really did not have to trouble himself to say anything at all. The Murdoch dominated Australian media did not comment on this unlawful use of the Prime Minister's private jet for purely personal, social purposes. Unlike the furore when our worst ever Speaker of the House, Bronwyn Bishop, used a private helicopter to get to a Liberal Party function some years ago. The media chased that story to such an extent that that Ms Bishop was forced to resign her one eyed Speakership and, with much gnashing of teeth, went and sat on the back bench.

There was actually some government business involved in the PM and Treasurer's social trip.                 It was a little matter of about $5000 which the government had to pay out for fuel and cabin crew.

So, we in Australia are being starved of the Light of the Truth and given larger and larger doses of the bovine excreta that is Murdoch's Fake News.

Just like mushrooms, really.



Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Losers, Sore Losers and Dummy Spitting Donald Trump.

 

We all know people who do not like losing.                                                                                           Let’s face it, nobody likes losing. However, some accept losing more gracefully than others.       Throughout history some losers have become infamous for their bitterness in defeat.                                The 2020 US Presidential election looks like establishing Donald Trump one of the greatest sore losers of all time. Bigly!                                                                                                                                         

 In Mid November, two weeks after the election day, Joe Biden is more than five million votes ahead of Trump. More importantly, he is well ahead in the Electoral College vote, where 270 is the critical number for victory. Biden already has 306 votes and counting. This is the same number of Electoral College votes that Donald Trump won with in 2016, when he quickly declared that he had thrashed Democrat candidate, Hillary Clinton. He used words like Huge, Awesome and Bigly to describe the scope of his “massive” victory. In 2020 he is saying, without producing any evidence, that  the election was rigged, that he “was cheated” and that he is the real winner.

Adolf Hitler was so cheesed off that his brutal 1000 Year Third Reich only lasted for 11 years, before the Russians stormed into Berlin, that he blew his brains out. However, killing yourself because of a loss is quite extreme. We can all remember the spoiled boy in our cricket playing childhood who threatened to take his bat and ball home if he was given out. Such sore losers act like petulant babies and are generally known as Dummy Spitters. Donald Trump is at present giving an Olympic Gold Medal performance in Dummy Spitting. He is also doing great harm to his country in the process.

Tennis player, John McEnroe, typified the sore loser, though he did not lose too often. Cranky Mac would berate umpires, ball boys or even his own racquet if an umpiring call went against him.

Another tennis great, Serena Williams, was so unused to losing that she went into vitriolic meltdown when beaten in the US Lady’s Championship by a teen aged girl named Naomi Osaka. Who can forget Williams, enraged and fuming, shouting at the umpire “I’m a mother,” as if that was reason enough for her to never, ever lose. Williams outburst was so brutal that the respected tennis referee she verbally abused took an early retirement. Naomi Ozaka just stood quietly by, weeping.

Of course not all losers are sore losers. The Washington Generals is a US basketball team. They started playing the Harlem Globetrotters in 1953. In 1971 they had graciously suffered 2495 straight losses to the Globetrotters before they won their first game, 100 to 99. I am unable to find out how the Globetrotters took this rare defeat the well practised losers. I assume they just shuffled of the court, smiling and whistling their theme song, “Sweet Georgia Brown.”

A gentleman named Norman Thomas ran for President of the USA as an independent in every presidential election from 1928 to 1948. He lost each time by very big margins. He always warmly congratulated the successful candidates, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (four times) and Harry Truman.

Bob Newhart is a popular comedian who starred in TV’s Bob Newhart Show from 1982 to 1990. The show was very popular and Newhart was nominated 25 times for an Emmy Award for his performances. Each year he attended the Emmy Awards with a winner’s speech in his pocket but, despite his 25 nominations, he never, ever won the coveted statuette. Of course, Bob Newhart was a gracious loser, at least in his public persona, and made jokes about the lack of Emmys on his mantelpiece.

Yes, everyone likes a gracious loser. In the 1950s, the best amateur male tennis player in the world was Australia’s Frank Sedgman. He won major tennis tournaments, including Grand Slam finals, all around the world. He also won Grand Slam doubles championships with his friend, Ken McGregor and helped Australia to several stirring victories over fierce rivals, the USA,lry for possession of the hotly contested Davis Cup.

One day, in a major tournament in Australia, Sedgman was defeated. He was interviewed after his shock defeat by an ABC radio commentator, who remarked that Sedgman was smiling even though he had lost. I was a young boy when I heard this radio interview.

“Why are you smiling? asked the radio man. “You just lost.”

Sedgman replied, “When I  starting  playing competition tennis, my mother told me that if I won I should look as if I’d just lost and if I lost I should look as if I’d won. It's not always easy, but that's what I try to do.”

At the time, Sedgman was coached by legendary, Harry Hopman, who instilled Sedgman’s winning/losing philosophy into the other Australian players of that era, Hoad, Rosewall, Newcombe, Emmerson, Cooper, Stolle, Hartwig, Laver and others. They all won humbly and they accepted their losses graciously. Handshakes and smiles all around.

In later life, Hopman moved to America and coached the emerging volatile star, John McEnroe. Unfortunately, McEnroe mother obviously did not dispense the same advice to her son as that that given to Frank Sedgman. McEnroe’s highly successful career, under Harry Hopman, was marred by many controversial harangues.

Some find it strange that Harry Hopman, who insisted on absolute sporting decorum on the court and a strict observance of tennis etiquette by his Australian players, was prepared to let McEnroe run rampart, trampling on tennis etiquette whenever he played.

The answer is probably money! In Australia, Hopman was employed by the Australian tennis authorities to coach our national team. In America he established his own very profitable tennis coaching business and he was dependent on McEnroe’s international tennis success for his own financial benefit.

Donald Trump is certain to lose the 2020 Presidential election. His constant criticism of the voting system and his refusal, as the first defeated president not to follow long established conventions regarding the peaceful transition to a new president, has thrown the US into turmoil. Armed groups of civilians are clashing in many American cities. One group arguing that Trump has been robbed and the other group celebrating Joe Biden’s victory. The country is in crisis. Donald Trump seems quite happy to let the situation bubble and boil away. He is doing nothing to aid Biden’s transition to the presidency, which could even threaten national security.

Another sore losing dummy spitter in American political life was famed businessman, Henry Ford, the man who put Americans into motor cars. In 1918, Ford decided to stand for the US Senate. He was nominated by President Grover Cleveland as the Democratic candidate. However, Ford was not content with that. He wanted to be the Republican candidate as well and put his name up at the Republican Convention.

The New York Times wrote quaintly of Ford’s inexperience for the senate candidacy, “Mr Ford is a successful businessman, but he has demonstrated convincingly on many occasions, not only his lack of acquaintance with basic international and national affairs, but a certain quality of mind which forbids the hope that he will ever be able to overcome-that lack of equipment-an altogether impressionable mind for public affairs.”

To Ford’s great surprise, the Republican’s nominated a rich, well educated and successful businessman, Truman H. Newberry. To Ford’s even greater surprise Newberry won the Senate seat for the state of Michigan. Ford immediately claimed that he had been cheated. For the next four years, Ford claimed the election was rigged and constantly petitioned for a recount.(Sounds familiar.) He said he was the victim of a Wall Street bankers in a “Jewish conspiracy.”

Not only that, Ford hired teams of lawyers and private investigators to dig up dirt on Truman H. Newberry and relentlessly pursued him. He made Newberry’s life a misery. Ford took the case to the Supreme Court and, after four years, he succeeded in having a the Senate recount  the 1918 vote. Newberry won the recount. However, he decided to resign as he was tired of Ford’s unprincipled attacks.Ford did not seek to run for office ever again.

A similar thing happened in 1932 when Franklin Delano Roosevelt easily defeated Hoover. In those days the new president was not inaugurated until March 4. Roosevelt was voted in on a New Deal to provide government support to the starving, the poor and the vast army of  unemployed. He also wanted to initiate government building projects to stimulate the economy and get people working again. Hoover saw this a a Bolshevik plot and staunchly opposed it. In stalling the New Deal Hoover prolonged the misery of the depression. Trump, in stalling the transition to Biden will continue to ignore covid-19 and thousands of Americans will suffer and die as a result. America needs to work out a federal election system that installs the newly elected president one week after the polls close. Most democratic countries manage to do this already.

In obstructing a smooth transition, Trumpis aided, of course, by the horse and buggy electoral procedures put in place by the US Constitution. The Constitution actually ignores the popular vote in favour of an Electoral College. Each state is allocated members of the Electoral College based on population. Members are appointed according to which party gains the most votes in each state.  

Two states appoint college members from the two major parties on a proportional basis. The other 48 states give all of their electoral college votes to whichever party gets the most votes, even if it is just a small majority. In 2000, George Bush had a majority of about 500 votes over Al Gore in  Florida. That was enough to give him all of Florida’s electoral college votes… and the presidency.

Trump is aided in his truculence by the fact that the US Constitution says that the Electoral College does not meet to elect the president until the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December. Six weeks after the election. Unbelievable as it may seem, the US Constitution and state laws do not require the Electoral College members to vote for the party that won their state’s majority. They can vote for whichever candidate they please.

Indeed, there have been many Electoral College members who  have voted against the candidate who won their state’s presidential vote. They are called Faithess Electors. Makes you wonder just how democratic America is?

Whatever way the electoral college votes, the new president is not actually inaugurated into the position of President until January 20 of the following year. That is another six weeks after the Electoral College votes. Plenty of time for Trump to stir up even more trouble.

No doubt, in future years, dummy spitting sore losers will be looked at scornfully and said to be “Doing a Trump!”

God bless America!