Sunday 30 October 2011

Qantas lock-out an ambit ploy with Asia ops in view

Why are these men - Qantas CEO Alan Joyce (left) and chairman Leigh Clifford - smiling? They're at the annual general meeting of Qantas where unions protested against company policies. The next day (yesterday) Qantas management took the extraordinary step of grounding its entire fleet, locking out workers allied with unions that had been disrupting operations over the previous several months, causing economic losses and passenger frustration. A couple of months ago, I wrote about the troubles in an oblique manner when I blogged about the Qantas plan to set up a new full-service airline in Asia. I was wrong: the problems didn't go away. So the reason these two guys are smiling has more to do with managerial solidarity than with the airline's fortunes, which took a hit as thousands of stranded passengers found themselves looking for alternative carriers to take them to their destinations, checking into hotels, or sleeping on the floor in airport terminals - not a comfortable way to pass the time while on holiday.

Unions expressed puzzlement yesterday when asked the reasons for the lock-out. The federal government expressed irritation with Qantas management as there had been no prior warning before the action took place. The disruptions are embarrassing for the Labor government, whose industrial relations policies are more favourable to unions than those of the Opposition. The mainstream media was caught short yesterday - a Saturday - and to this point there have been no strong recounts showing all the factors in play and explaining to the public just what went wrong. On Twitter, overseas travellers have been reporting that their local news outlets are ascribing the disruption to union action.

Yes, there have been union-actuated disruptions over the past few months, but the general consensus - government, unions, Australians tweeting - is that this management action was excessive in its severity. I think that it is designed to bring the government into the negotiations. The Australian reported the day before yesterday (the day of the AGM), that the airline's plans for Asia expansion are the main sticking point for unions:
Baggage handlers and other ground staff meanwhile launched the latest in a series of strikes today, in a bid to force Qantas to scrap plans to refocus its overseas operations on Asia, as the airline warned its future was in jeopardy.
“The cost of us agreeing to (union) demands is the future of Qantas,” Mr Joyce said, accusing three key unions of seeking to straitjacket the company through their demands.
“Demands that restrict the company with such severe conditions will endanger the survival of the company in the long term, because it will mean that Qantas can't be flexible,” he earlier told Sky News.
Unions claim the airline is just seeking to save money by sending jobs overseas as it plans the launch of a premium new airline to be based in Asia, the key plank of its strategy to boost falling international revenues.
They are seeking guarantees on wages and job security and have vowed they will not give in.
If this is true, then Qantas' grounding is an ambit claim undertaken with one eye on the federal government and the other eye firmly focused on movements in Australian public opinion. By scripting the story in terms of union intransigence in the face of union-unfriendly business developments, Qantas hopes to wedge the unions away from these two major stakeholders. And I predict that Qantas will be successful.

It's a daring move by Joyce and Clifford. Many Australians will view with a jaundiced eye attempts to shift the totality of blame onto the unions, and may even label Joyce - an Irishman - out of touch and unable to understand the unique Australian characteristics of the players and the operating environment he's working with. But once the government enters the fray there will be pressure placed upon it to view the Qantas plans for Asia in a positive way. Suppressing valid economic activity is not the kind of accusation this Labor government will want to engender among the electorate. What we'll see in the following days will be attempts by the government to mediate between the parties. There will be further claims made by the airline, and further expressions of confusion from the unions. The outcome will be continued operation of the fleet, however. Further down the track, there will be some form of accommodation between the airline and the unions in relation to overseas operations. While it will be important for the government to ensure that business expansion into Asia continues, it will also be important to give the unions a way to save face.

Saturday 29 October 2011

New royal succession rule will have far-reaching impact

This is the kind of announcement that politicians love because it was a bombshell. In Perth at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, which was opened by the British monarch, it was announced yesterday that the rules of succession to the British throne would change in two material respects. A daughter can now enter the line of succession over a younger brother, for a start. The story was given precedence over other stories on the websites of the Guardian and the New York Times and this will be a much-discussed alteration of the political reality in many countries (there are 17 countries that recognise the British monarch as their head of state, including Australia, New Zealand and Canada) and not just those. There are 54 Commonwealth countries, for a start. Then there are the people who live in other countries that have a monarch, such as the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium and Spain. The odd thing is that the media were caught completely off-balance. There had been no inkling of such an announcement in the days leading up to the CHOGM meeting. Sure, the Queen was to attend, but nothing in the way of preparation. The PR embargo was tight, and it worked.

So now we know. Of course, the current succession will not change. Prince Charles is older than Princess Anne (pictured), and Lady Di produced two useful sons in quick order. But a daughter born, say, in the next two years, to Prince William and Kate Middleton (the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge) would be next in line to succeed to the British throne.

Canada's Globe and Mail and the New York Times credited those two with accelerating the rate of change to succession rules, but I don't think it's material. The Queen is looking ahead and Britain's prime minister David Cameron - who himself made the announcement in Perth - has obviously been looking to do something about the outdated conventions, for some time.

The other rule that has changed is that, 500 years after Henry VIII split with Rome to form the Church of England, a British monarch can now marry a Catholic.

The reverberations of the first change will be widespread and enduring. Children and parents in countries where daughters are murdered soon after birth because of the taint of the female gender will live different lives, perhaps, because of the Perth announcement. Mothers telling stories to their little daughters will be able to make the point out that, yes, they have equal chances in life because, 'Look, now William and Kate, if they have a daughter first, she can become queen.' Romances and tales of wonder need to have this kind of message embedded in them so that children can dream and grow, without complicated answers being needed from unhappy parents.

But the fact that there was no heads-up in the press in Australia prior to the announcement is further proof, if any more were needed, of the irrelevance of the monarchy here. The New York Times notes that the issue had been discussed in London as part of "a series of unsuccessful attempts in Britain’s Parliament to change the succession rules in recent years". First I heard of it, David. And Australian prime minister Julia Gillard apparently told delegates that Australians supported the changes. First I heard of it, Jules. The manoeuvre to contemporaneanise the British Crown is clearly a success, and one that noone Down Under saw on the horizon. It might change the way some people view the Crown. It might give the Crown more "legs" in this country. It might do all these things. But if it stops one Indian couple killing their daughter because they cannot countenance the shame of bringing a girl child into the world, then it is a fine thing indeed.

Saturday 22 October 2011

Republic a scheme just too daring for Australians

Mike Keating, chairman of the Australian Republican Movement, knows a thing or two about Australians' sense of independence. Keating was interviewed by Fairfax journo David Marr for a long story about the republic debate that appears in today's Sydney Morning Herald. Two things in particular that he said are worth commenting on.
"People say when the Queen dies it will happen. But it's not inevitable. We are pretty resilient when things are done to us. Take world wars: we responded well. Take natural disasters, fires and floods: we respond well. Take the global financial crisis: we respond well. But with the republic issue it's not a matter of responding. We have to take the initiative. It's our issue. Unless we summon the national will, nothing will happen."
This is the first thing: Australians are reactive doers, not proactive thinkers. And this feeds into the second thing that Keating tells Marr: we are not actually who we think we are. In the story, Marr and Keating have been talking about the current head-of-state situation and Marr gets Keating to sum up, which he does.
"None of this is consistent with what we say is our Australian ethos. We say we are egalitarian, so where does this aristocratic family come in? We say we value all religions equally, so why does our head of state have to be Church of England? We say we value men and women equally, so where do they get off favouring males? We say we value people and admire people who advance by their own achievements, and our head of state just gets it by birthright."
Then maybe, I venture, we aren't who we think we are. He ventures a quiet: "Perhaps."
Australians are not great initiators and we are faithful followers. The two things don't automatically proceed one to the next but, in this case, they buttress each other to create a reliable frame of reference. In innovation, for example, Australia does not lead markets or industries. Innovation is devilishly hard to bring about in Australia where neither governments or other sources of funding respond enthusiastically to novel proposals. This is my observation from experience gleaned by writing, for the past two years, about innovation in a number of industries. We need to be told that something will work by an already authoritative source, before we will believe that it will work and venture capital to make sure it does. Just look at the way governments have dealt with large-scale solar-power plants seeking funding.

And Australians respond well when put in a position of subjection. Larrikinism is not, as many think, an independent pose. The larrikin scoffs at the unusual, and belittles the outsider because that is what his betters would do, he thinks. Without those betters the larrikin does not know how to behave. He is automatically subject and, given the chance, will run off a few objectionable lines but shuts up as soon as he is called to account. A larrikin is not a dreamer, he is only too aware of his position.

Australians actually love to be subject. As Keating says, we are not who we think we are. Then, of course, there's not a lot to find attractive about the label 'republic'. In most cases that we routinely see, republics are struggling nations that are often beset by corruption and civil discord. The alternative is America. But Americans are a bit full of themselves, a bit brash and proud of who they are. Yes, they innovate to die for but do we really want all that independence when our current system serves us just as well? Keating knows all this but is too polite to tell it straight. He mutters the truth, rather than spells it out clearly. He is, after all, an Australian.

Thursday 20 October 2011

Not much hullaballoo, Mrs Windsor

A visit from the Queen of England is not an every-day event. When it happens, there's a lot of kids carrying bunches of flowers, a lot of headlines, and a lot of speculation as to how the Australian prime minister of the day will behave - at least since Paul Keating place his arm on the Queen's back in 1992. But this time there's been a noticeable lack of excitement compared, say, to when my mother and father each grabbed a chair at the Melbourne cafe where they were eating to carry down the street to stand on to watch the Queen drive past (she thinks it was 1954 or 1956). "She was a beautiful woman," says mum.

This time, journalists got their underwear in a knot on the Queen's arrival in Canberra because Julia Gillard did not curtsey, even though protocol does not require such a manouevre from the sitting prime minister of Australia.

But apart from that undignified conjecture the visit has been very low-key, with Dame Windsor going about her duties in a relative obscurity that has been illuminated only by regular broadcasts and the nightly segments on the news. It's a bit of a dud, in reality, when titular majesty has been overtaken by irony, as in the Brisbane Courier Mail's humourous itinerary - on their website - showing 'Where one's been', 'Where one's at' and 'Where one's going'. We take our leaders with a grain of sarcasm and we don't chew for very long, unless we really care. The light touch these last few days contrasts glaringly with the soil liberally thrown at Gillard during the run-up to the recent carbon tax legislation where the attention - 'Ditch the witch', 'Bob Brown's bitch' - attests to the person's importance. Likewise, the recent ABC comedy At Home With Julia got a lot of airtime because it drew a lot of public comment. The scene where Jules and Tim do the dirty on the carpet in the prime ministerial office has been recycled multiple times by other comedians because it resonates with earthy reality.

We really do have a woman as a leader. The other woman - always away, never writes, and anyway she's stopped making payments - is not held in great esteem by the majority of Australians except in so much as we remember what it used to be like when dominion held real meaning. Now, we resolve our problems on-shore. We are independent in all ways. We are a strong and successful country and we do not need a foreign monarch to tell us what we should value, and what we should ignore.

It's fitting that the Queen should be spending most of her time in Canberra, this time round. It's where Jules lives, after all. We can only hope that the two women will discuss when and how to transfer the final vestiges of state sovereignty from the northern hemisphere to ours. A trip to visit the Aussie PM Down Under, the headlines should read. "Queen recommends native head of state in Australia." We can only hope.

Thursday 13 October 2011

Farmers can engage meaningfully with urban elites

Farmers often express regret that their interests are not given sufficient weight in urban electorates and feel left out of the national debate. You see it especially, now, on Twitter. If you didn't see it before it's probably because you're a resident of a metropolitan area and you don't read any of the newspapers that are written for - and purchased by - farmers. Those newspapers tell you a story. But even if you did read them you might be unnerved by some of the opinions they contain. Newspapers are not objective, that's an unarguable fact of modern life (it used to be worse but changes in standards that took place initially at the beginning of the 20th century made objectivity an aspiration - if not always a reality - of the news process). If you are an educated urban dweller and you read a paper online like The Land or the Weekly Times, you will come away feeling as though your interests, too, are being ignored. But you won't care because those views do not substantially alter the national debate, so you just go back to bemoaning the dominance of ignorant News Limited tabloids and ignore the virulent hatred of the Labor Party, for example, reflected in the pages of the rural press.

But the only hope for farmers, if they want to exercise more control over the national debate, is to engage with such educated urban residents. Even if these people vote Green or Labor. The uneducated urban resident will never give a hoot what farmers think - they are too busy worrying about their favourite football team. The Liberal urban voter thinks he doesn't have to worry about farmers because farmers overwhelmingly vote National and the Nats are slaves to Liberal policies. But in fact the outlook for farmers, politically speaking, has never been better than it is, now, with a minority Labor government that is beholden to the three rural independents, the Greens, and a Tasmanian independent.

A good place to start working out how farmers can better get along with the Greens and the Labor Party is to read Judith Brett's recent Quarterly Essay, 'Fair Share: Country and City in Australia'. It tells us, from the standpoint of an Australian historian, how the dependence of farmers on government largesse has become overshadowed by the more recent dependence of the National Party on the largesse of the Liberals. Under the Lib-Nat regime, farmers have actually gotten worse off because the neo-liberal imperative that drives the Liberal Party goes against farmers' most basic interests. It's a big country and user-pays can never work, mate. Those Lib wonks are all about opening up markets, productivity, and improving profits. It's got nothing to do with giving farmers a fair go. And the fact that we've got such popular rural independents demonstrates that many who are involved in rural politics realise that the Lib-Nat structure does not reflect rural interests, in a material sense.

Culturally, it's another issue altogether. I remember when the ABC's Q and A was held in Albury, the border town in northern Victoria. There was a middle-aged woman in the audience who stood up to pose a question. When, she asked, will the seabord urban majority stop imposing its values on rural Australia? I don't remember the answer but it struck me that this is how many rural residents must see the current situation. Socially, rural residents are conservative, and hence their support of the Lib-Nat alliance. Economically, however, they are closer to the Labor-Greens side of politics. They want conservative social values to dominate in the societal arena but they need softer, more communitarian values to dominate in the economic arena. It's a pickle.

On the one hand, rural voters need to attract the attention of the educated urbanite because he or she is the only urban dweller who will put aside time to give a fart about their issues. On the other, rural residents are wedded to conservative social values embodied in the policies and statements of the Lib-Nat alliance, which are anathema to the educated urban dweller. I think that rural residents need to think about what they really want from the political process. It might be time to make a choice between earning a good living and remaining faithful to outmoded values that are going to be overtaken by liberal urban values regardless.

There are many points of common interest for farmers and urban elites. One is carbon pricing. Instead of just sucking up the garbage produced by rural newspapers who are relentlessly anti carbon pricing, farmers should ask for more information and start entering into the debate in a meaningful way. The educated urban elites will start to pay attention if farmers start talking sense instead of just recycling tired objections. Another point of common interest is the dominance of the two major supermarket chains. Urban elites are passionate about authenticity and many of them grow veges in their backyards. They buy honey from urban beekeepers and think it's manna from heaven. They care about the environment but they also need to eat food and farmers' markets are catering to these people in growing numbers in cities around Australia. So what about talking to them about soft agricultural options that farmers take seriously because they are serious about stewardship of their main asset - their land? It's an option. And then urban elites love road trips - especially when there are music festivals attached to the end of them - and when they get out into the countryside they're the ones stopping to buy five-kilo sacks of off-farm potatoes to take back to their inner city apartments where they will talk about the value, the freshness, and the friendly farmer who sold it to them.

There are many options for farmers who want to engage more thoroughly with urban dwellers.

Friday 7 October 2011

Broadcaster ABC's new series The Slap packs a punch

It was a no-brainer for me to buy Christos Tsiolkas' The Slap when I saw it high up on a shelf yesterday at a local second-hand bookshop. I'm an avowed long-time fan of Tsiolkas and Loaded, The Jesus Man and Dead Europe were all reviewed on this blog in early 2006, when I quickly made up my mind that Tsiolkas was one of Australia's best writers of fiction.

So when the ABC decided to commission a drama based on his latest book, and then started saturating their program ad breaks with trailers for The Slap filled with scenes of dramatic intensity that are overlaid with atmospheric music, I decided it was a duty to watch the first episode. I needn't have worried. The ep is good, offering plausible characters - none of whom, not even young Adam, Hector and Aisha's son, are denied agency and depth - as well as tight scripting and sound acting. As for action, the canonical moment  - the moment of the slap - is so meaningful because of what proceeds it and because of the rich tapestry of relationships that is woven through the characters and their interrelationships over the preceeding hour or so. Yes, the ep is an hour long but there's so much happening in this extremely average household that it seems to be much shorter. ABC managers should be pleased with the result. In my mind The Slap is a strong program and should do well in the ratings.

It's a bit difficult to say too much about The Slap in a review of this kind because you don't want to give away any surprises, so this post will not be overly long or detailed. Suffice it to say that the primary protagonists in this first ep are Hector, played by Jonathan LaPaglia, and his wife Aisha, played by Sophie Okenedo. Hector's turning 40 and today is his birthday party. Friends are invited. Aisha has been up since six making preparations and Hector is trying, without much enthusiasm, to give up smoking. Hector's family - mother, father and cousin - are arriving. The tense relationship between Aisha, fussing and burdened by her responsibilities as host, and Hector, who is busy with his own plans, furnish the ep with its core focus. There's also Hector's relationship with his son, Adam, who feels that his dad is too strict on him. Hector's mother and father arrive bringing presents and food (Aisha thinks her own preparations are sufficient for purpose), giving the birthday boy and his family air tickets to Greece, his country of origin, but Aisha and Hector had plans to get away as a couple to Bali. This event is typical of the way small details add further to the gamut of forces acting upon the couple.

Then there's the small matter of enjoying your birthday party while looking after a house full of kids, one of whom, Hugo, the son of Aisha's old friend Rosie and her husband Gary, is a real handful.

Tsiolkas and the program writers have efficiently drawn their characters with enough detail in order to give the episode's main point of drama - the slap - the impact it requires in order to generate the resonance it will have during the remainder of the series, and the book. Without knowledge of Hector's complicated relationship with Aisha (what marriages aren't filled with this kind of routine, quotidian drama?) and his philandering, the slap would not carry the load that it does. And Hector's friends are all drawn accurately to type so that you have the successful businessman (Hector's cousin Harry), the Muslim couple happy with small things, the combative bogan Gary, and Aisha's old friend Anouk, who works in TV and arrives with Rhys, a soap opera actor. The ep is mainly set in Hector and Aisha's kitchen and backyard, giving it a satisfyingly claustrophobic intensity. While Hector can escape to the upstairs bathroom to dose up and grab a quick smoke, in the main everyone is always watching everyone else; even Hector checks out the action downstairs out of the bathroom window. There are few secrets, it turns out.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Occupy Wall Street: It's our turn, says the Left

It seems to me that a lot of people would just prefer that the Occupy Wall Street protests just go away because coverage in the media has been uneven. Puzzlingly meagre, in the main, I should say. I tweeted my concern at the lack of coverage by mainstream media outlets and was told that CNN was doing a lot. But the majors I usually refer to - the New York Times, the Sydney Morning Herald - have been rather mum about the whole business. This morning, it seems about a week after protesters began to appear in the financial district in New York, the Melbourne Age put up a syndicated piece from the New York Times that expressed unease at best and disapproval at worst.

Which is somewhat surprising since Occupy Wall Street appears to be the Left's answer to the Tea Party movement. It's young, raggle-taggle and unfocused (unlike the Tea Party, which is mainly middle-aged, highly organised and supported by right-wing pressure groups). It's also late (the Tea Party began in 2009 with actions starting in Seattle and Chicago). The Tea Party is different in another sense. They mainly resented the fact that people without legitimate means to afford a home had secured one - albeit temporarily, for many, as events led to disposession and eviction in a lot of cases - and so it was a case of the middle class feeling ill-used, with the perception that it was carrying the can for the unworthy, economically speaking. Occupy Wall Street appears to be a more traditional protest by the fringe Left in the face of fiscal misdemeanours perpetrated by those bankers and other people who make a living out of manipulating global capital - the real villains in the piece.

It's a sign of how far to the Right the mainstream media has been pulled in recent times that their coverage of Occupy Wall Street has been so poor. There's really no excuse for outlets such as the New York Times and the Sydney Morning Herald - traditionally liberal vehicles that have been pretty consistently at odds with the Murdoch-controlled media that dominates the Right globally. I cannot account for the failure of these parts of the press to give due attention to the Occupy Wall Street protests, except to say that, somehow, the whole process has fairly confused them. Or maybe, faced with a rag-tag bunch of hippies with cardboard signs marked with red and green Textas, they have reverted to form as true guardians of the status quo. The Sydney Morning Herald was, for a long time until recent decades, the voice of conservatism in New South Wales, after all. Maybe the young, rag-tag nature of the OWS protests just doesn't possess the systemic gravitas that the Tea Party (middle class, organised, taking possession of the political process) has and Big News has decided that these kids in T-shirts and face paint are likely to flare out. Live fast, die young and all that.

Or maybe to acknowledge the OWS protesters would mean admitting that global banking had failed, and failed miserably, to justify the routine claims of capitalist boosters that capitalism is the best possible model for economic organisation. To admit this would mean a lot of scrutiny of a lot of entrenched interests, and so might risk losing the support of the middle class and possibly also advertisers. Maybe it's just too freaking inconvenient.

Whatever the problem, it just annoys me. It annoys me that the Australian media have given front-page attention to the Amanda Knox appeal trial (the American youngster was acquitted of a charge of murder in Italy after serving four years of an earlier sentence) while utterly ignoring what is a much more interesting phenomenon. Occupy Wall Street looks to have legs (as they say in the agricultural sector in reference to fruit that has to travel long distances to market) and we can only look forward to more balanced coverage in the coming days. Maybe we'll even see analysis pieces appearing that will give some meaning to what is, at the moment, a fissile and chaotic moment in world politics.

Sunday 2 October 2011

Nothing impressionistic about hatred of Jews

There he is. Charles Ephrussi. In the black top hat at the back of Renoir's 1881 painting Luncheon of the Boating Party. Charles loves art, collects it, writes about it, surrounds himself with it. He's the scion of a rich banking family. He employs Proust as his secretary at one stage in his life. He's a flaneur and a socialite and a womaniser. It's the final decades of the 19th century and Charles buys a collection of Japanese sash toggles - netsuke (pronounced NAY-tsu-kay) - with his lover but he's a bit tired of them now so he gifts them to a nephew in Vienna who has just got married. In Vienna at the Palais Ephrussi, the Austrian branch of the family is a bit embarrassed about the gift and the nephew's new wife relegates the showcase to the dressing room. Here, each day in the evening, while Emmy dresses for dinner, the children will be allowed to play with the objects for an hour. For decades the netsuke remain there, sequestered away from the public's gaze in plush comfort. Then the catastrophe arrives after Hitler annexes Austria and the Gestapo arrive to Aryanise the household. Everything is lost. Emmy and her husband eventually get out, Viktor ending up in England with his daughter Elizabeth, whose grandson will one day inherit the netsuke.

He is Edmund de Waal, an English potter. The gift comes from his uncle Iggy, a rich expatriate who lives in Tokyo and who took the netsuke there from England after WWII when he was demobilised. Edmund will end up practising his craft out of a studio in London but he has other accomplishments that enable him to write a book about the netsuke and their history. Edmund has also studied literature at Cambridge and, importantly, he knows French and German. With the 264 netsuke in his possession, Edmund sets out on what he thinks will be a few months of research but it turns into a multi-year quest to chronicle the story of the netsuke and the people who came into contact with them. They are objects to be touched, and touch implies people doing the holding, and people implies societies that nurture and punish them.

What de Waal does is to write a history of anti-semitism from the middle of the 19th century to WWII. Anti-semitism began a long time before Hitler began to mobilise the masses in his quest for total global domination. It was present in Paris while the Impressionists were painting their most important work. It was present during the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was a product of the new status afforded to Jews by enlightened European rulers who, in the new spirit animating Europe since the American Revolution, took it upon themselves to dismantle old barriers to full participation in civil and commercial society as they remodelled legal frameworks that embodied social structures and prejudices dating back centuries. In England, the Catholic Church was reanimated due to changes made to laws that had been in place for hundreds of years. In France, full citizenship was granted to Jews for the first time. The Ephrussis of Odessa took advantage of these changes to move west, where they took up residence within the growing economies they had previously dealt with only from the sidelines, along with the Rothschilds and other rich Jewish families originating in the East. But there was a backlash from people who resented the wealth these families commanded and these people animated others to protest, which led in the end to the Final Solution. In his book de Waal describes this progress from ugly undercurrent to official policy by concentrating on the people who had owned and loved the netsuke.

Because they are objects with an aesthetic value de Waal is able to depict these individuals in detail as he describes the special relationship between the owner of the objects and the objects themselves. Anti-semitism is an inescapable element of life and so it enters the narrative at multiple points through the years. In promotional videos and reviews of the book this aspect may not feature prominently but this is the most insistent theme it bears. It emerges time and again as shouts in the street, magazine headlines, comments written by an artist in a letter to a friend. In the end this vocal tide of hate and fear ends up destroying the Ephrussi family in the form it had taken from the time of its migration out of Odessa into the big European cities which provided the massive profits it used to fund its lavish lifestyle. Again and again de Waal notes the existence of these voices expressing displeasure. Again and again the sound of crowds enters the story. There are only 264 netsuke but there were millions of people who benefited from the inhuman crackdown that Germany inflicted on Jews in Europe from 1938 onwards. Surely de Waal must regret many things that he has investigated.

It was de Waal in a YouTube video who mentioned the Renoir painting that I have attached to this post. When I look at it I cannot help but wonder how many of those happy boaters would one day turn on the likes of the debonair Charles Ephrussi in order to undertake the systematic process of tearing his life apart. This is the canonical moment that I experience from reading de Waal's book, Hare With Amber Eyes. Please do so if you value the unusual and the beautiful.