The Kosovo Blunder: Moves Towards a Standing Army

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The Kosovo Blunder: Moves Towards a Standing Army

There never is a time not to worry in the Balkans. The next conflict always seems to be peering around the corner with a malicious enthusiasm, eager to spring at points of demagogic advantage and personal suffering. The centrepieces of future disaster in the region tend to be Kosovo and Bosnia. The former is now intent on formalising military arrangements, thereby fashioning a spear that will be able to be driven deep through the heart of Serbian pride.

On Friday, the Assembly of Kosovo passed three draft laws with overwhelming numbers that it would form an army. (Serbian lawmakers boycotted the session.) The current Kosovo Security Force of 3,000 lightly armed personnel is to become somewhat more formidable: 5,000 active troops backed by 3,000 reservists in the next decade. This move was brazenly chest beating in nature, an assertion that security, as provided by the 4,000 NATO troops forming KFOR (the Kosovo Force), was inadequate and, more to the point, to be bypassed altogether.

It also came as a calculated assault, timed to bruise Serbians in Kosovo – numbering some 120,000 – and politicians in Belgrade, suggesting a marked change from negotiations some three months prior. Then, it seemed that a land swap offer was in the making, one that would have reflected the relevant though tense ethnic composition in the region: the Preševo Valley in southern Serbia, predominantly Albanian, would join Kosovo; Serbia would re-establish dominion over the majority ethnic-Serb area of Kosovo to the north of the River Ibar.

Things subsequently soured. Kosovo had already agreed to raise a 100 percent tariff on imports from Serbia, a move that is economically insensible but parochially clear. Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj justified the action by blaming Belgrade’s efforts to foil his bid in admitting Kosovo to Interpol. Aggression from Belgrade was cited on all fronts: from the seething Deputy Prime Minister Enver Hoxhaj; from the foreign ministry (“abusive” lobbying by Serbia was cited); and from the prime minister himself.

To have such an army will be another feather in the cap of Kosovo’s aims to consolidate its sovereign credentials and sever the umbilical cord with Belgrade. The danger here, as ever, is how the ethnic Serbs, backed by their indignant patrons, will respond. Haradinaj’s caper here is to claim that the forces will be “multi-ethnic, in service of its own citizens, in function of peace, alongside other regional armies, including the Serbian Army, in having partnership for peace.” His officials also insist on a modest role for the new army, one dedicated to “search and rescue operations, explosive ordnance disposal, fire fighting and hazardous material disposal.” Nothing, in short, to have kittens over.

The region is already suffering a form of legal schizophrenia, one designed by the legal and security arrangements more befitting an asylum than a functioning state. Countries in Europe facing their own separatist dilemmas have been steadfast in not recognising Kosovo. Unsurprisingly, Spain is foremost amongst them. In January, the Spanish foreign ministry expressed the view that Kosovo be kept out of any plans for Western Balkans enlargement. “The concept of ‘WB6’ does not fit the enlargement dynamic. Kosovo is not part of the enlargement process and has its own differentiated framework.”

In reality, the Kosovar Albanians know they can count on much support within European ranks: the appetite for protecting Serbian interests was long lost during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. Lauded defenders became demonised butchers. Kosovo assumed the form of a pet project, one to be nurtured by Western European and US interests under the fictional tent of humanitarianism. Invariably, Serbia sought support from Russia and China, both of whom steadfastly rejected the 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia.

For Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić, speaking in Trstenik on Thursday, “Kosovo and Metohija is to us great torment, especially because of Pristina’s move and the announcement of the formation of an army, which is neither based on law nor on Resolution 1244.” Serbia’s foreign minister, Ivica Daičić deemed the formation of any such army “the most direct threat to peace and stability in the region.”

Such instances are open invitations to violence. The Kosovo authorities are keen to wave the red flag; Serbian authorities risk running at it with frothing intensity. There is also a fear that this move has received conventional prodding, this time from the United States. “Everything Pristina is doing,” according to Vučić, “it is obviously doing with the support of the United States. They have no right under international legal document to form armed formations; to us, that’s illegal, and we will inform the public about further steps.”

The assertion is not without foundation. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999) is clear that the guarantor of security in the region be KFOR. “Hence,” goes a statement from a spokesman for the UN Secretary General, “any restriction to the discharge by KFOR of its security responsibilities would be inconsistent with that resolution.” But the bad behaviour of small entities such as Kosovo often takes place at the behest of greater powers, and US ambassador to Kosovo Philip Kosnett has openly stated that it was “only natural for Kosovo as a sovereign, independent country to have a self-defence capability.”

Lieutenant Colonel Sylejman Cakaj, who had cut his milk teeth on fighting Serbia as a commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in 1999, seemed to have drunk a juice heavy with political overtones. “We are all seeing a geo-strategic changes in the world, towards the creation of a somewhat new world order. I believe it is necessary that following the consolidation of its statehood, Kosovo has its army too… the one that we are entitled to as representatives of the people, to be in control of our country.” The shudder amongst ethnic Serbs at such remarks is palpable, and the fear here is whether Belgrade will catch a terrible cold.

The response from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was more one of remorse than decisive anger. “I regret that the decision to initiate a change of the Kosovo Security Force mandate was made despite concerns expressed by NATO.” The “level of NATO’s engagement with the Kosovo Security Force” would have to be re-examined.

While patriotic foolishness should never be discounted in any factor in the region, the Kosovo Albanians have been emboldened. The wait-and-see game about whether Serbian forces are deployed to protect Kosovar Serbs is afoot. As former Serbian military commander Nebojša Jović warned with thick ominousness, “What they [the Kosovo Albanians] should know from our history is that there was never a ‘small war’ in these territories. Every time there was a conflict in Serbia, Kosovo and Metohija, it turned into a war on a bigger scale and none of us here want this.”

Be Offensive and Be Damned: The Cases of Peter Ridd and Tim Anderson

It has been an ordinary year for universities in Australia. While the National Tertiary Education Union pats itself on the back for supposedly advancing the rights and pay of academics, several face removal and castigation at the hands of university management. Consumerism and pay are the sort of quotidian matters that interest the NTEU. Less interesting is the realm of academic ideas and how they clash with the bureaucratic prisons that have been built into universities.

At James Cook University, Peter Ridd was sacked on “code of conduct” grounds applied with a delightful elasticity. He claimed that it was for holding views on climate change out of step with his colleagues, and attacking the credibility of the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. (The pettiness of such institutions knows no bounds: Ridd’s knuckles were wrapped, for instance, for satirising, trivialising or parodying the university.)

At the University of Sydney, Tim Anderson, a full-time critic of Western interventions in the Middle East and acquitted for ordering the 1978 Sydney Hilton Hotel bombing, has been suspended pending what would seem to be imminent sacking. Causing “offense” was what mattered.

A cardinal rule applies in this case: Be suspicious of those who use good behaviour as a criterion of policing, notably in an environment where bad behaviour and dangerous ideas should hold sway over meek bumbling and submissiveness. Be wary of the demands to be vanilla and beige – behind them lies administrative venality and the dictates of compliance.

Such rubbery provisions as being “civil” or not causing offense shield the weak, spineless and fraudulent and, most dangerously, create the very same intolerable workplace that managers are supposedly opposed to. Very importantly, such code of conduct regulations are designed to immunise management from questions about their behaviour and often daft directives, letting institutions grow flabby with corruption. Inoculated, that class thrives in its toxicity.

The Deputy Vice-Chancellor of JCU, Iain Gordon, has drawn upon the usual stock nonsense defending the decision regarding Ridd. “The issue has never been about Peter’s right to make statements – it’s about how he has continually broken a code of conduct that we would expect all our staff to stick to, to create a safe, respectful professional workplace.” The thrust of this is simple: Never cause offense; be compliantly decent; be cripplingly dull and go back to your homes in your suburbs living a life unexamined. As an academic, you are merely delivering a service mandated by individuals several steps removed from the education process, not performing an ancient duty to educate mankind.

The code of conduct, the product of a corporatized imbecility, assumes the mantle of dogma in such disputes. “All staff members must comply with the Code of Conduct,” goes Gordon’s official statement in May, with its distinct politburo flavour of placing things beyond debate. “This is non-negotiable.  It is a fundamental duty and obligation that forms part of their employment.” Ridd, explains Gordon, “sensationalised his comments to attract attention, has criticised and denigrated published work, and has demonstrated a lack of respect for his colleague and institutions in doing so. Academic rebuttal of his scientific views on the reef has been separately published.”

Anderson, having found himself at stages in the University of Sydney’s bad books, has also run the gauntlet of offensiveness. The specific conduct resulting in his suspension featured lecture materials shown to students suggesting the imposition of a swastika upon Israel’s flag. This was deemed “disrespectful and offensive, and contrary to the university’s behavioural expectations”. Tut, tut, Anderson.

The Sydney University provost and acting vice-chancellor Stephen Garton followed the line taken at JCU towards Ridd with zombie-like predictability. “The university has, since its inception, supported and encouraged its staff to engage in public debate and it has always accepted that those views might be controversial.” But debate – and here, behavioural fetters were again to be imposed – had to be undertaken “in a civil manner.” Contrarianism should be expressed with a good measure of decency.

Tim Anderson

The letter of suspension from Garton to Anderson is one-dimensionally authoritarian. Principles of academic freedom were supported by the university, but only in “accordance with the highest ethical, professional and legal standards.” But the all supreme, and trumping document, remained the Code of Conduct, capitalised by the bureaucrats as Mosaic Law. “The inclusion of the altered image of the Israeli flag in your Twitter Posts, Facebook Posts and teaching materials is disrespectful and offensive, and contrary to the University’s behavioural expectations and requirements for all staff.”

Some heart can be taken from the protest last Friday on the part of 30 academics who signed an open letter objecting to the treatment meted out to Anderson, stating that academic freedom was “meaningless if it is suspended when its exercise is deemed offensive.” His suspension pending termination of his employment was “an unacceptable act of censorship and a body-blow to academic freedom at the University of Sydney.” Reaction to Ridd has been somewhat cooler.

The point with Anderson is that his views are deemed bad for university business, which tolerates no room for the offensive. This, in a place where the most varied, and, at points, tasteless views, should be expressed. But as universities have become shabby entrepreneurial endeavours which see students as obesely delicious milch cows for their existence, the idea is less important than the process.

As is so often the case of free speech, advocates of it always assume it doesn’t apply to others. It is only to be extolled as a mark on paper and university policy. But never, for instance, challenge inane university policy or the hacks who implement it. Never ridicule ideas that deserve it. Never mock the obscene nature of managerialism’s central principle: massaged incompetence and assured decline. University managers and the colourless suits aided by their ill-tutored human resources goon squads tend to hold sway over opinions, taking against anybody who questions certain aspects of their (non)performance.

The Ridd and Anderson cases, coming from separate parts of the academic spectrum, demonstrate the prevalence of toadyism on the part of those who wish to avoid questioning the rationale of a university’s management process. They also suggest an immemorial tendency of authority to savagely oppress those who ignore it; to manifest its existence through punishment. In truth, it is precisely in ignoring those officials long barnacled upon the research and teaching endeavours of the University and drawing revenue best spent on students and scholars that a grave sin is committed. Such officialdom should be ignored, treated as the bureaucratic irrelevance that it is. Time for sit-ins, occupations, boycotts and a retaking of the University.

From Oedipus to Morrison

They came to him. The Theban citizens, in pain and in prayer. They came to king Oedipus and cried for his help.

“…But, you, too, Oedipus, with your own eyes, you too can see how the whole of Thebes is in the grips of a battering sea storm of troubles and you too can see how she cannot raise her head from its murderous waves! You too, can see that our trees let drop their best flowers to the ground just before they become fruit and you can see too that our herds drop dead as they graze and that our women have all become barren.
A despicable pestilence, my lord, has taken our Thebes tightly within its murderous grip, my lord!”
Oedipus Rex 30ff.

When Freud read Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex” he thought that his “eureka moment” had arrived. Such pestilence he thought is natural and it comes from an innate instinctive desire, a “complex,” that has sons wanting to sleep with their mothers. I won’t go on about the conflict he had with Jung about the latter’s Elektra Complex here only to say that both were wrong to think that this was what Sophocles was on about.

Sophocles was not talking about filial sex, though this was the platform, the myth, he based his warning upon but about something far more sinister, far more dangerous and far more common than that: power.

If there is an innate disease, an instinctive desire, a “complex” of some sort or other, that keeps us in fear and despair it is that of our wish to gain power and -and here’s the “complex” bit- to hold on to it. We need to show that we are strong, strong enough not to be hurt by others, to be stronger than others, to be able to destroy our enemies. And then to be able to keep and maintain that power for our own use. Power and the fear of losing it. Power and the energy needed to keep it. From whom? From our enemies, of course.

And who are our enemies?

They are those closest to us. Our sons, our daughters, our brothers and our sisters.

The first ever god, Uranos was castrated by his son, Cronos and Cronos, in turn, was thrown into the Tartarus -the eternal jail for gods and other immortal entities, like Sisyphus and Tantalus and Atlas who had committed heinous crimes- by his own son, Zeus, who is still the ruler of the Universe to this day. Look up towards the peaks of Olympus and you will see him there, thunderbolts in hand and at the ready!

Sophocles was giving his fellow Athenians a lesson that is very similar to the one that the biblical Timothy was giving us about money: “The love of money is the root of all evil.” (1.6:10).

Substitute the word “money” with the word “power” and you’ve got the similarities.

The next two plays in the story emphasise that lesson: His “Antigone” and Aeschylus’ “Seven against Thebes” describe just how evil, how destructive the love for power is.

But back to King Oedipus of Thebes.

“Oedipus Rex” watercolour by Pamela Stadus

When the people of Thebes gathered around his palace and asked him to try and find out what the cause of this destruction was, he swore to do so and launched an investigation so thorough that Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple working together couldn’t match. This was a most meticulous, forensic search that lifted every carpet and opened every secret compartment of every chest of drawers, had every cobweb perturbed, every skeleton brought out of the cupboard, every wound put under the microscope, every foot and its heel, every foot print and finger print scrutinised assiduously and every piece of DNA  parsed thoroughly.

King Oedipus began this investigation by asking the local vicar of the gods, the prophet Teiresias and from there he went on to question servants and shepherds and other citizens, his brother-in-law, Creon, until he discovered that he was the culprit. He had killed his father. He had sat upon his father’s throne and he had taken over his father’s power.

Then he married his mother and with her had four children. But that bit wasn’t the main offence. The offence was that he robbed his father of his power.

All this, of course happened in total ignorance of the relationships involved and by those involved in the crime.

The Palace, under King Oedipus had opened its gates and a thorough examination of all pertinent facts was conducted. Eventually the problem was solved and resolved. The crime was revealed and understood, its perpetrator arrested and punished severely – by the investigator himself, King Oedipus.

In the process, a most powerful lesson was learnt, a lesson about power itself: “Those who feast in power and are gluttonous of it, will indubitably taste the famine that is delivered by the powerless.”

The same entreaties were directed to our king, Scott Morrison.

Oh, we call them “Prime Ministers” these days but they are, in effect, as powerful and as fearful of losing their power as were the kings of Thebes and elsewhere back then.

They came to him, to Scott Morrison, as suppliants in pain and concern and prayed that he let the children and the adults who are in desperate need of medical care as declared to be so by two medical practitioners, children and adults who are imprisoned in the Guantanamo-like tents of our making, in Nauru and Manus to come to Australia.

Deaths had taken place there because of our bloody-minded nastiness. Deaths, injuries, both inflicted by others as well as by their own hand but most commonly and savagely because of the conditions of the prisons and their inability, the inability of those poor inmates to see an end to it. Their inability to understand what it is that they have done which has caused this country to treat them with such abhorrent hatred as if they were not seeking help and safety but as if they were some satanic abomination. This is what they just can’t understand and this what they want investigated, and this is what any fair-minded human being also wants investigated with the same thoroughness and methodical effort engaged by Sophocles’ Oedipus. Oedipus the King!

Morrison, like Freud and Jung did not learn from Sophocles’ exhortations and warnings about power, which is that you throw wide open your palace gates, you let in the people in and you ask them questions. You investigate all crimes committed with all the punctiliousness you can master. And you go on investigating until you find a solution and work on a resolution.

You do not punish until you find a crime and a culprit.

Oedipus the King showed his love for his people by relinquishing his throne and all the power that came with it and by working at finding out what ailed them, what ailed his city, his Thebes.

Morrison, the Prime Minister, instead, shut down his beloved palace, his seat of power, the thing he loves more than his people.

No, he wouldn’t allow any questions, he would brook no investigation, seek no solution and definitely proffer no resolution. He would tolerate no human emotion, accept no human rights inquiries, seek out no answers.

The inmates, those poor children and their parents, those people who stretched out their hand to us, asking us to stretch ours to meet it, are still there. In Manus and Nauru, still suffering, still wandering what on earth might this country be like? What savage hearts live here?

I cringe and at times I scream, when I hear the mantras, “Australia is a compassionate country,” or “Australia is a tolerant country,” or even “Australia is a generous country!”

To whom, exactly is Australia all these things? And how much of it?

We should now be re-addressing JFK’s exhortation, “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

Or as Aristophanes had put into Euripides’ mouth in his satire, “The Frogs,”

“I hate a citizen who is slow to help his city, quick to cause her harm, who’s got his eyes wide open to anything that helps himself but completely shut when it comes to helping the city.”  Frogs, 1430

Ask that question and show that anger of those occupying the throne room, or the oval office, or the office of a Prime Minister.

Ask that of anyone who holds even a smidgen of power.

William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate

In the incessant self-praise of the US imperial project, kept safe in a state of permanently enforced amnesia, occasional writings prod and puncture. Mark Twain expressed an ashamed horror at the treatment of the Philippines; Ulysses Grant, despite being a victorious general of the Union forces in the Civil War and US president, could reflect that his country might, someday, face its comeuppance from those whose lands had been pinched.

In the garrison state that emerged during the Cold War, the New Left provided antidotes of varying strength to the illusion of a good, faultless America, even if much of this was confined to university campuses. Mainstream newspaper channels remained sovereign and aloof from such debates, even if the Vietnam War did, eventually, bite.

The late William Blum, former computer programmer in the US State Department and initial enthusiast for US moral crusades, gave us various exemplars of this counter-insurgent scholarship. His compilation of foreign policy ills in Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, was written with the US as sole surveyor of the land, all powerful and dangerously uncontained. To reach that point, it mobilised such familiar instruments of influence as the National Endowment for Democracy and the School of the Americas, a learning ground for the torturers and assassins who would ply their despoiling trade in Latin America. The imperium developed an unrivalled military, infatuated with armaments, to deal with its enemies. Forget the canard, insists Blum, of humanitarian intervention, as it was espoused to justify NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999.

His Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions since World War II, remains his best and potently dispiriting affair, one in which Washington and its Christian warriors sought to battle the “International Communist Conspiracy” with fanatical, God-fearing enthusiasm. In this quest, foreign and mostly democratically elected governments were given the heave-ho with the blessings of US intervention. Food supplies were poisoned; leaders were subjected to successful and failed assassinations (not so many were as lucky as Cuba’s Fidel Castro); the peasantry of countries sprayed with napalm and insecticide; fascist forces and those of reaction pressed into the service of Freedom’s Land.

The squirrelling academic, ever mindful of nuts, has been less willing to embrace Blum. This has, to some extent, been aided by such curious instances as the mention, by one Osama bin Laden, of Rogue State in a recording that emerged in 2006. “If I were president I could stop terrorist attacks against the United States in a few days. Permanently.” Sales surged at this endorsement from the dark inspiration behind September 11, 2001. “This is almost,” observed Blum wryly, “as good as being an Oprah book.”

Killing Hope, praised by various high priests in academe on its initial release in 1986, morphed. Various extensions and additions were not approved. Blum, considering the US in its vicious full bloom of the post-Cold War, saw the wickedness of the market in Eastern European countries, the hand of US power in sabotaging negotiations between the Muslims, Croats and Serbs in Bosnia that led to an ongoing murderous conflict, and ongoing mischief in the Middle East (the Syrian Civil War, sponsored jihadists).

Much of this, admittedly, finds an audience, if only for the fact that it excuses, to some extent, local factors and failings. Students of imperial history tend to forget the manipulations of local elites keen to ingratiate themselves and sort out problems with the aid of a foreign brute. It is worth pointing out that, in the vastness of US power, a certain incompetence in exercising it has also prevailed.

But the groves of the academy have tended to sway away from Blum for many of the usual reasons: tenure, security and treading carefully before the imperium’s minders. “It merits mention,” poses Julia Muravska, very keen to mind her P’s and Q’s before the academic establishment as a doctoral candidate, “that after the release of the last majorly revised edition in 1995, successive versions of Killing Hope have largely passed under the radar of mainstream punditry and academia, but remained stalwartly cherished not only in left-leaning circles, but also amongst conspiracy theorists and fringe commentators.”

Such is the damning strategy here: to be credible, you must wallow in mainstream acceptance and gain acknowledgement from the approving centre; to be at the fringe is to not merely to be unaccepted but unacceptable. Amnesia is a funny old thing. While Blum’s scholarship at points had the failings of overstretch, a counteracting zeal, his overall polemics, and advocacy, were part of a tradition that continues to beat in an assortment of publications that challenge the central premises of US power.

Much of Blum’s takes remain dangerously pertinent. “Fake news” has assumed a born-again relevance, when it should simply be termed measured disinformation, one that the CIA and its associates engaged in, and still do, with varying degrees of success. The Russians hardly deserve their supposed monopoly on the subject, though they are handy scapegoats.

Blum did well to note an absolute pearler by way of example: the efforts of the CIA’s Office of Policy Coordination and the US Post Office to solicit a letter writing campaign in 1948 to influence the course of Italy’s 1948 elections. American Italians, or so it was thought, were mobilised to swamp the mother country with warnings of atheistic communism and the threat it posed to Catholic authority. Should Italy turn red, US largesse and aid would stop flowing to a country still suffering from the ills of war. Italians known to have voted communist would not be permitted to enter the US.

Some individuals, guided by samples run in newspapers, offered specimens, but it soon became a campaign featuring “mass-produced, pre-written, postage paid form letters, cablegrams, ‘educational circulars’ and posters, needing only an address and signature.” Italian political parties, generally those of centre, could count on the CIA for a helpful contribution.

Empire remains a terrible encumbrance, draining and ruining both the paternal centre and its patronised subjects. It is a salient reminder as to why Montesquieu insisted on the durability of small republics, warning against aggrandizement. Doing so produces the inevitable, vengeful reaction. As Blum surmised, “The thesis in my books and my writing is that anti-American terrorism arises from the behaviour of US foreign policy. It is what the US government does which angers people all over the world.” To that end, his mission, as described to the Washington Post in an interview in 2006, has been one of, if not ending the American empire, then “at least slowing down” or “injuring the beast.”

Exhuming Franco: Spain’s Immemorial Divisions

“Of course there’s one Spain. If there was another, we’d all be in that one.” (Joke on Franco’s Spain, in LondonReview of Books, 37, July, 2015).

Beware the corpse that never truly expires. General Francisco Franco might well been tombed in the Valley of the Fallen (Vallede los Caídos) – at least for the moment – but his remains are set for exhumation, to be disturbed on the wishes of Spain’s socialist government ledby Pedro Sánchez. Fernando Martínez of the Justice Ministry, entrusted with handling matters on the delicate subject of historical memory, explains the rationale. “In a democratic society, there cannot be a dictator who is the subject of homages, or whose tomb is a site of fascist pilgrimage, or who has a monument in his honour.”

This might be all well and good, though it tends to jar with the delicate transition process Spain endured in the 1970s. It also sits uncomfortably with voters,whether as a priority or as a necessity. Sigma Dos, in a July poll for the daily El Mundo, found a mere 41 percent of Spaniards in agreement with moving the remains,while 54 percent also felt that the issue was not of importance at this time. 

What came after the general’s death was a matter of political juggling, as much a case of rehearsed, and encouraged amnesia, as it did archiving matters of the mind. This form of forgetting had much practice, perfected by Franco himself before his death through what was termed “recuperation”. Reconciliation was off the books, though Franco, in his last message, sought “pardon of all my enemies, as I pardon with all my heart all those who declared themselves my enemy, although I did not consider them to be so.”

To attain the goal of democracy came with its own distasteful compromises, not least of all an acceptance that Francoist officials would be left untouched by any prosecuting process. Victims of Franco’s Spain duly felt confined to the status of víctimas de segunda –“second class citizens”, contributing to the new, and reformed country, in painful silence.

There have been attempts to edge towards confronting the bloody past of the Civil War and Franco’s legacy. In 2000, unmarked graves of the Civil War began being opened at the behest of such organisations as the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory. Eight years later, Judge Baltasar Garzón embarked on his own mission to investigate Franco’s blood-soaked handiwork, deemed by him crimes against humanity. 

Garzón subsequently found himself in hot water, accused of knowingly exceeding his powers in ignoring the Amnesty law of 1977 injuncting any effort to initiate prosecutions against Francoists. In February 2012, the Supreme Court of Spain affirmed the law had a barring effect on the investigating efforts, though the enthusiastic examining magistrate was cleared at trial in a case brought by three right-wing organisations, including Franco’s own party, Falange España. It is a testament to the stubbornly vibrant legacy of Franco’s memory that Garzón could mount prosecutions against terrorists and authoritarian figures such as Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, but fall foul of the dead generalissimo.

From the Valley of the Fallen, where he resides in sombre reminder about wars and divisions, where then? Franco’s seven grandchildren, preferring the status quo, filed a petition with the Ombudsman’s Office in October to stop the move.

Failing that, the grandchildren insisted that a 2010 decree entitles Franco to be buried with full military honours with the whole complement of “national anthem, volley shots and a canon gun salute”. This might be, pardon the pun,ceremonial overkill, given that Franco already received one after he died in November 1975, an occasion marked by his coffin’s journey from the Victory Archin La Moncloa in Madrid to the Valley of the Fallen monument.

The monument itself attests to the slaughter between 1936 and 1939, Europe’s own variant of Syria’s current civil war where a state withers before ravishment and military molestation. It saw the collapse of the Republican government at the hands of Franco’s Falangists and paramilitaries bent on a Christian reclamation,and the death of hundreds of thousands, 33,000 of whom are buried on the site. Powers such as the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany could test their arms against army personnel and civilians; hypocrisy and cant ruled in the corridors of state across Europe. While Franco himself remained unmistakably adorned with his marker at the monument, his identity as victor known to all, most remain unmarked. To name would be to give suffering an identity, and render loss intimate.

The family’s plea now is to have the remains interred in the La Almudena cathedral,the very notion of which is unnerving to those of Spain’s political divide who fear a pro-Franco resurgence. To do so would also go against the object of this entire, potentially risky exercise, which is to de-sacralise and demystify the Franco cult. Franco, at least symbolically placed outside the perimeter of the capital, would find himself buried at its heart.

This newly invigorated drive has received some added momentum with the rise of a new political right in Spain. Since Franco’s death, Spain has kept host, in some minor form, to right-wing pretenders calling for the return of a strongman  undaunted by the effete effects of democracy. Fuerza Nueva, España 2000 and Democracía Nacional can count themselves amongst them. Previously, goes one line of reasoning onthis, there was no need for a larger neo-fascist following, if only because, in Dan Hancox’s words,“the political, bureaucratic and ideological legacy of Francoism lives on in the mainstream of Spanish power.” 

Now,the Vox party has shown its credentials at the ballot box, despite being considered previously to be a dramatic, clownish outfit led by Santiago Abascal intent on initiating his own version of the “reconquest”. They have done well in regional elections, picking up 12 seats in Andalucía’s 109-seat parliament, thereby giving the socialist PSOE party a considering bruising. Vox’s Andalucían leader, Francisco Serrano, has given some flavouring of what the movement stands for: a revived,virile misogyny in the face of “psychopathic feminazis” and a reassertion of European values.

Franco’s remains might as well be Spain’s kryptonite, a sort of character flaw that, if disturbed, will merely serve to show a country permanently riven. Íñigo Errejónof Podemos prefers to read the lay of the land differently. To move Franco, he suggested in June, “would not open any wounds. On the contrary, it would reconcile Spanish democracy with democrats.” But Paloma Aguilar’s Memoryand Amnesia (2002) reminds us how “the memory of historical misfortune and the fear of the dangers of radicalization contributed most to moderating the demands of all the important political and social groups of the time.” 

Ironically enough, for officials charged with the management of memory, disturbing such matters as managed memory may well serve to enliven, rather than bury, the very subject of the exercise. Franco remains, in a very troubling way to Spanish history, a reminder and an influence.

Deflating democracy

By Henry Johnston 

Earlier this week my neighbour asked, “Is America a democracy?”

I replied, “America is a republic which aspires to democracy via its Constitution and Bill of Rights.”

We continued our discussion from the perspective of white and non-white U.S. citizens, but our conversation eventually ended in stalemate. We agreed Shakespeare’s line, now is the winter of our discontent, best sums up the mood of Republican United States which, if you believe the commentators on MSNBC and CNN, is as far from a democracy as it has ever been in that nation’s history.

But this drift from democratic exceptionalism is not confined to the United States.

On Thursday 6 December 2018 Australia demonstrated the extent of its slide from idealism to the ignobility of brute force. The occasion was Prime Minister Scott Morrison threatening to go nuclear if Labor did not support yet another measure to battle the ongoing war on home-grown terrorists.

I leave the detail of that debacle which ended the Australian Parliamentary year to others. Suffice to say as a democracy our nation seems on the verge of a summer of discontent.

But what triggered this negativity? The answer I believe is the fallout from the Great Recession of 2008, and its most stubborn legacy; deflation.

The fact Australia survived this debacle is thanks to the text book application of Keynesian economic theory, universally derided by Liberal economic rationalists. In my opinion their continued scorn of the finest management of an economic crisis in contemporary Australian history, constitutes perilous wilfulness.

The Liberal Government let the 10th anniversary of the Great Recession of 2008 pass without so much as a mention.

Earlier this week a slew of financial pundits predicted the Reserve Bank of Australia might cut interest rates next year. If this eventuates, Australia is on the precipice of deflation.

In psychological terms deflation deprives individuals of a sense of well-being. No matter how hard people work their goals remain out of reach. Think low pay, the gig economy, casualisation, the marginalisation of women in the work force etc.

One way or another deflation is entrenched in other parts of the world, especially England. But despite a chronically sluggish economy, Brexit looms large for the Old Dart.

The Bank of England recently warned of a catastrophe if an unprepared Britain turns its back on Europe. But gleeful Brexiteers, led by the Conservative Party, insist the winter of our discontent will be made glorious summer by this son of York. This quote by the way is from the play Richard the Third by William Shakespeare.

The deformed body of Richard the Third was recently found buried beneath a car park somewhere up north.

But Europe too is wracked by turmoil, caused by deflation and stoked by the knuckle-duster fists of far-right thugs. And in Eastern Europe there is a real prospect of a full-scale hot war between Ukraine and Russia, over access to the Sea of Azov. Both Ukraine and Russia are also experiencing deflation. Even China with its command economy is sliding backward.

There are thousands of definitions of deflation, but this simplified version sums it up in a way that can be traced back to our disgraceful Liberal government, which continues to embrace a discredited economic rationalist model without question.

Deflation occurs when supply is high and demand low. In other words when people stop buying. Think the current housing market in Australia.

Deflation can also come about when the supply of money decreases, often in response to a financial contraction created by bad investment or a credit crunch. Think the recent Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, with its sensational revelations of predatory lending practices.

Too much competition can also trigger deflation as can and too little market concentration.

Japan is trapped by its quicksand, and no matter what economic tricks it conjures, Japan cannot free itself from its grip.

The last time the world endured a lengthy period of deflation was between 1918 and 1939, when democracy waned to the point where its beacon was almost extinguished.

This must never happen again.

As the season of good will looms, I find it hard to believe there will be a change for the better next year unless Australia rids itself of a truly awful conservative government, and prepares once more to deploy the economic levers devised by John Maynard Keynes.

But this will not happen if the Liberal Party of Australia remains in power in 2019.

Economic rationalists around the world, Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenburg among them, hate Keynes for many things, none the least of which is this pithy bon mot: “capitalism is the astounding belief that the wickedest of men will do the wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone”.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale at Brays Bookshop in Balmain an at Forty South Publishing.

Satanic Football Ban – Christian School Acts

By David Ayliffe 

Children at a remote Victorian Christian School have been forbidden to watch, play or discuss football by the conservative Principal of the school, Phil Upright, who calls the game “Satanic”.

Pastor Phil Upright, who leads the “Discriminate a right and a Privilege Independent Thinking Political Party” also heads Liberty Christian Church and is Principal of the Church’s Christian School in the small Wimmera town of Genesis.

Upright not only bans the sport but has pioneered a revolutionary re-education program called “On the Mark” to help students repent of “the aberration of football”. The course trains students to “resist the devil” through fasting and prayer, repetition of Bible verses whenever football urges arise, and a prohibition on ice cream for offenders.

Locals report that the secret weapon in the course is a huge black leather King James Bible weighing as much as three six packs of lemon squash – the beverage of choice of the church – that participants are required to carry with them all day and use as their pillow to sleep at night.

The On-the-Mark Bible, weighing in at about 6kg, is reportedly so heavy that students struggle to hold it in their arms with two hands clutched around it. Young teenagers have been seen struggling through the main street holding the Bible, only able to manage a few steps at a time before they have to stop and rest. Some have even been seen falling down under the weight.

Yet Pastor Upright claims “this has been a Godsend, the huge Bibles help our children expend energy they may have otherwise used in the addictive pursuit of Football. On the Mark is helping us curb a problem in our community and stop it reach epidemic proportions as is seen throughout the nation. It’s incredible to think that in Victoria we now have a public holiday for Football – you’ll never see that for Christianity, except for Christmas and Easter.”

Upright claims that On the Mark has been 95% successful with suffering students now able to resist the lure of the ball.

“God’s purpose for leather is Bibles, not football!”

A large black and white sign “God’s purpose for leather is Bibles not football” adorns the entrance to Liberty Christian Centre welcoming visitors to 9 to 9 Sunday services at Liberty Christian Church where Pastor Phil amazes his congregation with preaching through 12 hour worship services that draws football references from every verse of the Bible. A quiz during the service has members producing obscure verses from the Old and New Testaments to which Pastor Phil reveals the anti-football purpose in the verses. The member who proposes the most obscure Bible verse on the day receives a Six Pack of Lemon Squash from Pastor Phil.

Elders Jack and Jill Godwin, long term members of the church and repeat recipients of the Six Pack award preferred to remain anonymous when they spoke to the writer. Singing the praises of the church and Pastor Phil’s grand football fight beamed each week on the big screen, Jack Godwin held back tears as he said “I would have never known that Jesus was thinking of football in the shortest verse in the Bible, John Chapter 11 verse 35 where it says “Jesus Wept”!, “Pastor Phil has opened my eyes to it. God has given Pastor Phil an incredible prophetic gift to see what others can’t see, and worse, will never see.”

“Would you like a pikelet,” his wife Jill declared to the author as she continued on from her husband “On those two words alone, “Jesus Wept”, Pastor Phil covered the history of AFL going back to when it was founded in 1858. He preached on that for 7 weeks producing 35 hours of teaching material that is sold through his Amazon online shop and is being used around the world … in some places.”

Upright is not applauded by all in Genesis. President of the local Country Women’s Association and widow of a former Shire President, Ethel Campfort. Ethel – 86 years old – and by her own confession a lifelong AFL “tragic” Collingwood supporter, has organised protests outside Upright’s church. The protests involved fellow CWA members regularly holding cake sales outside the church with large signs around their table: “FOOTBALL FOR ALL!”, “FREE THE CHILDREN!”, “BAN THE BIG BLACK”, and “MOTHERS FOR FOOTY”.

“It’s dreadful seeing healthy young children and strapping teenagers walking down the Main Street muttering Bible verses under their breath and buckling under the load of Bibles so big they should be on wheels,” says Ethel Campfort.

“Some of these kids can barely walk carrying those Bibles. It’s a crime and should be banned. Upright should be laid low in prison.”

Rumours that Upright has argued in Liberty Church that too much Football would lead to blindness have not been confirmed.

The Hollowed Stone

(Love: The lost child of sophistication.)

Love … Do we even know what it means anymore? And if we did, how many of us would be willing to “throw it all over” … our whole lives … on a whim of passionate emotion … I mean, now that we are all aware and sophisticated and have example and warning of just where such reckless action could lead one? Seriously, ask yourself if you would throw yourself into the arms of another with reckless abandon these days of economic, material and social individualism?

I found this little bit of doggerel in a letter written by a young woman back in the war (2nd) years giving flight to her desire to secretly see her boyfriend, and as it turned out – future husband – who was a woodcutter near the Murray River.

Now I am free …
Off through the scrub I run,
Where sheep tracks only are seen,
Nothing but bush and sun.
Till all of a sudden I come
Out where an axe swings free
Cutting for love and money,
The axe bites deep in a tree.
Then the owner looks up of a sudden,
And gives me a happy smile
And says I hoped you would come,
And I stay there … quite a while.“

The words themselves give clue to both the hunger for company and the possibility for a future that only young love could be so certain was a possibility …  “Cutting for love and money” ,.. What would a timber cutter’s wages be and what future for one of such qualification? Where would such an adult find reassurance in such a relationship … a relationship with the financial support of a labourer’s qualifications? We’ve all seen the end results of low income, low housing and child support capabilities … and it’s not nice … who would want it?

And then there’s the other end of the spectrum where a person has purchased property and is getting on with a good career and then they have to consider whether it is wise to bring another person into their life and home, and risk having to pay over half the property if something goes wrong further down the line a little. It’s all a bit too much, really.

So where does love come into this picture of modern social sophistication?

Where now for the naïve young girl running through the scrub to meet her lover?

What has love to barter with against the considerations of a ultra-modern, materialist lifestyle?

Who needs or wants it?

Where to for the Catherines and Heathcliffs of our post-modern world? The Romeos and Juliets? That younger you or I? In a world of “Celebrity Meet-n-Marry” Bachelor/ette on the wide-screen plasma TVs, or type-face to type-face on some Tinder app on the mobile phone? There would appear to be little taste for chance and that “love at first sight” infatuation, let alone to go rushing off to another’s arms “bare-footed and open-hearted”.

So what has become of us that we have grown so cynical and hard of heart? I have heard some state quite categorically that having found “contentment with their choice” (of “partner”), they would rather all people now ignore the fact even of their obvious gender … a seeking of the invisible … beyond either desire from others or (perhaps?) the temptation of themselves for another. Our sophistication has made us feel secure in our pride of conquest over even our sensual emotions to a point where some seek psychological emasculation of any sexual hunger … a ultra modern world of J. Alfred Prufrock:

“The unpleasant modern world is where “Prufrock” begins. Prufrock, much like da Montefeltro in The Inferno, is confined to Hell; Prufrock’s, however, is on earth, in a lonely, alienating city. The images of the city are sterile and deathly; the night sky looks “Like a patient etherized upon a table” , while down below barren “half-deserted streets” reveal “one-night cheap hotels / And sawdust restaurants” . The use of enjambment, the running over of lines, further conveys the labyrinthine spatiality of the city. Although Eliot does not explore the sterility of the modern world as deeply here as he does in “The Wasteland” (1922), the images are undeniably bleak and empty.”

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (T. S. Eliot):

“Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky,
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question . . .
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

(More here.)

Do we seek love or social redress for perceived distress .. is there justice for the bereaved or the deceived? Perhaps today’s love can be measured in the many brilliant facets of an engagement ring diamond, or the number of ensuites in a split-level estate house within a gated community … but does it “sing” … does it sing like the lover’s hearts when again they meet?

I think we make a grave mistake going down the path of blaming and accusing either gender of exacerbating aggression and violence in male / female relationships.
Certainly men are the more violent and certainly men have fallen further into the abyss of loss of self-esteem in both work identity and family support capability … with both parties in the relationship now needing to hold down two and sometimes more jobs to pay the bills … and there may be the answer to this hardening of the hearts. There may be the enemy who is obvious but cannot be seen, is both instigator and saviour, provocateur and provider: The Capital Economy.

Speaking as the author, husband (I unashamedly confess to loathing the expression “Partner”! … it reminds me too much of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.) and father and as a man, I have to ask; “What the hell is expected of us? Are we to remake ourselves in an image manufactured on a screen-printer’s design sheet … according to a psychologist’s “balanced structure”? … some sort of “metro-man”, David Beckham look-alike that acts like a sculptured Svengali off the back-page of a woman’s magazine … the photo-shopped perfect image of “everyman gigolo” with just the right balance of money, muscle, a simpering gaze with tender intent … a designers delight … with that one failing … that many male models that cultivate such a persona have a preference for their own perfected gender?

We all fail the perfection test … that marketeer’s yardstick that seems to have grabbed the imagination of a whole generation and demands adherence from both genders to a physique, financial position and psychology absolute that is impossible to satisfy … resulting in the social chaos we hear about everyday in the news columns and airwaves. And I have to confess that it is the men who are most losing the plot on this platform of perfection … our masculinity being converted to a kind of perfumery of scents and washes that have debased our manhood and turned us into satyrs and sadists … our capacity of once serious working men of skill and calibre turned with this so-called “gig-economy” into part-time pantomime producers of silly bibs and bobs in jobs not worth a sphincter full of snow!

And they wonder why we go spare! This is no argument between the rights of the genders, that is a secondary problem … the male argument is between ourselves and the managers of capital. Thankfully, I am of an age where I no longer have to fight mammon for my measly mouthful … but I still recall those days when a full-time job was shared with working till dark – and beyond – hand-building the family home … homes … then making my way back to a rented house to attend to the fatherly/husbandly duties … but feeling that nice, tired feeling of self-respect for doing what needed to be done even with a worker’s wage. But now I see this younger generation being manipulated in and out of crappy jobs with piss-weak pay and conditions and no hope of creating that “family environment” around either themselves, their loved ones or the community … A lost generation.

And it is not just us men who will lose it. Women, ask yourself this: Do you think, after the men have been milked to the last drop of their blood and those commodifiers have finished with us … you will be spared? Not a bloody hope!

Our hearts hollowed out like a gouged stone.

And they wonder why they go spare?

“I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown,
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.“

(The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock)

Lying About Age: The Legal Efforts of Emile Ratelband

Oscar Wilde famously warned that one should never trust a woman who revealed her true age; anyone so inclined to do so was bound to tell you anything. He also, in his characteristic stab at modern manners, suggested that no woman should be quite on the money about her age for another reason: “It looks so calculating.”

Emile Ratelband, from what reports suggest, is not a woman, but a distinctly insecure man on a mission of pure calculation: to secure a different age in the public domain. While biologically impossible, despite claiming that his ageing has stopped, the Dutchman is testing the legal waters to see if he might slash off some 20 years off his birthdate, making him a more youthful 49. The world might be slowly going to hell in a hand basket, but the monumental nature of the trivial shall have its day in court.

Ratelband’s view is that of any person feeling an identity pull crying out for legal recognition. He is inspired by other role models – not merely the insufferable Tony Robbins of US, life coach optimism, but transgendered people, who supply him a shameless ground of comparison. Despite being a motivational speaker himself, his optimism does not extend to the impediments of age. “We live in a time when you can change your name and change your gender. Why can’t I decide my own age?”

Open slather has been declared in the identity market, and to that end, he has gone so far as to subject himself to a psychiatric evaluation as to whether he was a “victim of the Peter Pan syndrome”. Another evaluation might be in order after Ratelband’s address to the court, in which he claimed that President Donald Trump was “the first person who is honest” in showing his feelings on Twitter. “He’s a new kind of person.”

His fruit salad reasons are, like others obsessed with “the real me”, selfish, having “to do with my feeling, with respect about who I think… I am, my identity.” Reducing his age by two decades would open doors shut to the aged and ageing. “If I’m 49, then I can buy a new house, drive a different car. I can take up more work.” (These are things Ratelband could probably do anyway, given his frame of mind, but lets his leave his mind to its own, curiously absorbed devices.)

There is the issue of dating, that minefield of human interaction where initial impressions, toxic, deodorised or otherwise, tend to be everything. “When I’m on Tinder and it says I’m 69, I don’t get an answer. When I’m 49, with the face I have, I will be in a luxurious position.”

Why Ratelband does not take a leaf out of the book of mendacity that has characterised human dating since bipedalism became vogue is hard to fathom. Again, lie about your age; many people do so with calculation and determination. Appearance, of which he cares much about, will carry you over. But the adventurous, if seemingly vexatious Dutchman does have a point: every liar should sport a phenomenal memory, which is a damn bother if you don’t have one. “If you lie,” he told the Washington Post, “you have to remember everything you say.”

The judges of the Arnhem District Court found little to merit this effort at jigging time, and the law. “Mr Ratelband,” claimed the court bench with cool reserve, despite initially showing, according to the petitioner, a giggly, girly disposition, “is at liberty to feel 20 years younger than his real age and to act accordingly.” Altering any legal documents pertaining to age, however, would lead to “undesirable legal and societal implications”.

Some of these implications centre on the issue of assigning duties and rights by the mere fact of having an age – the issue of voting, for instance, or the obligation to attend school. (Neither apply to the applicant in this case, but courts are always distracted by the issue of floodgates and their irrepressible breach.) “If Mr Ratelband’s request was allowed, those age requirements would become meaningless.”

The judges were also concerned about the sheer number of documents that would, quite literally, cease to have any relevance. To amend the date of birth “would cause 20 years of records to vanish from the register of births, deaths, marriages and registered partnerships.” An administrator’s nightmare.

The field of discrimination could have supplied Ratelband his ammunition. The judges, however, needed more convincing. While the court bench was not immune to the possibility that discrimination might, in some cases, be open, Ratelband had failed to show that he had suffered it, suggesting that “other alternatives” were available “rather than amending a person’s date of birth.”

Ratelband, for his part, is undeterred. His irritating positivity is both balm and encouragement. “The rejection of [the] court is great… because they give all kinds of angles where we can connect when we go on appeal.”

Ratelband sounds vain, insufferable, insecure and keen to be heard. He is entitled to, but this is a selfish time that denies the immutable nature of death (delayed as it is) and presumes that those who age will do so noisily into the social media night. As Ratelband is unlikely to avail himself of time dilation, a delightful consequence of Einstein’s theory of relativity, he will have to seek his change via legal processes. That might entail moving to a different jurisdiction, and mindset, altogether.

George H.W. Bush: Cold War Ends and New World Orders

The death of certain political figures, notably those of a vast imperium, is bound to provoke less criticism or critical insight than soul searching pursuits. With the US in the mauling clutches of Donald J. Trump, the nightmare that was supposedly never to happen, nostalgia prevails in establishment circles. What ever happened to traditional duplicity and dynasty politicians, with their sanctimonious call upon the good Sky God benefactor and the messianic mission? The US Republic, even as it was being emptied of its worth during their tenure, could at least be assured of predictable corruption. Decay, yes, but on their controlled terms.

The death of the forty-first president, George H.W. Bush was a fine reminder of that point, a man of standing and missions who could be said, by Time, to be a creature of Aristotle’s “practical wisdom”. A “natural born leader” was he, one “comfortable with dissenting views” and skilful in his employ of “strong advisers”.

The New York Times, with ceremonial hat tilting, saw Bush as “part of a new generation of Republicans” and was “often referred to as the most successful one-term president”. The recipe for this success, according to such commentary, seems to have been written in foreign rather than domestic fields. He is seen as a masterful juggler, “handling” the collapse of the Soviet Union and ensuring “the liberation of Eastern Europe”. As the Cold War curtain was drawn, Bush, reprising his role as a Second World War naval aviator, remained calm.

Bush’s passing is a reminder about a particular moment of history. The Soviet Union packed up in disarray, its own imperium unfolding as based closed and forces left. This left the way, dangerously, for an uncontained hegemon. The United States became Prometheus unbound, even if its power was initially advertised under the broader umbrella of a “New World Order”.

Bush gave an inkling of what this order would look like in his address to a joint session of Congress on September 11, 1990. “The crisis in the Persian Gulf, as grave as it is, also offers a rare opportunity to move toward an historic period of cooperation.”

Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, having invaded Kuwait in August 1990 after reading mixed signals from Washington, had presented an alibi and pretext for principled aggression, done so, artificially, under the blanket of international norms. Bush made the spurious claim that the Iraqi invasion had been prompted “without provocation or warning,” ignoring the July assurance given to Saddam by US ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, that Washington had “no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.” He saw, in Baghdad’s efforts, a stretched historical analogy. “As was the case in the 1930’s, we see in Saddam Hussein an aggressive dictator threatening his neighbours.”

Crucial to this was a condescending hand to the Soviet Union: that it be welcomed “back into the world order”. (Had it been absent for the duration?) Such language was couched in the confidence of an imperial leadership convinced that the barbarians had been subjugated and would, if not exactly lend their support, avoid any effort to sabotage Project USA.

These shaky norms were defended by a coalition, assembled in January 1991, disproportionate in its scope involving two dozen countries, but it lent itself to the dangerous illusion that the US should, and could, become a post-Cold War policeman equipped with discriminatory wisdom and fine acumen. New World Orders, when invoked, tend to be preludes to further conflict. President Woodrow Wilson, vainly obsessed with the League of Nations, did much to aspire to a moral structure that had, within its own foundation, ruination and despoliation. As Europe recoiled in 1919 from self-inflicted slaughter, a second world war was in gestation.

In that very suggestion that a country might be central to remaking a global system came the defective nature of US foreign policy and its messianic, delivering strain: an empire seen in the context of duty and shouldering a heavy burden to make a world safe for something or rather. (Democracy less than money and hustling.) Expelling Saddam from Kuwait was a false advertisement for future collective security, a concept that had been doomed in the aftermath of the First World War.

The 1991 mission also came with an unhealthy sense that the Vietnam syndrome had been purged, rendering US military interventions somehow free of original sin. Morally inspired giants could intervene in foreign conflicts at will without lasting and dangerous consequence. Father Bush thereby begot the failings of Bush Junior in a Middle East repeat in 2003 that continues to shake the region in paroxysms of sectarian rage.

No figure can be considered in splendid isolation. Bush was Ronald Reagan’s vice-president for eight years, much of it featuring a president prone to astrological advice (quite literally) and amnesiac episodes. He also took a leaf out of the latter’s book of deception over the arms-for-hostages deal, professing ignorance about it in 1987. It is one of the few points that his biographer, Jon Meacham, finds fault with him over. Then came the supply side economics that remains a perennial disease of US economics: you coddle and favour the wealthy through sugary tax cuts, increase public debt and slash public funding.

If the beasts of relativity were to be consulted, Bush Sr could be seen as better in value than certain US presidents, but only marginally. He, after all, presided over the motor of hubris that did lead the US into a lengthy sunset even as it hectored the rest of the world. In evaluating his own son’s exploits, he was guarded and concerned about the turn of power after September 11, 2001. He was particularly concerned of the neoconservative hardliners. “I don’t like what he did,” reflected Bush on former Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, “and think it hurt the president, having his iron-ass view of everything”. In the annals of empire, the two Bushes, separated by a Clinton, remain more consistent than the hair splitters would wish.

What will Clio do?

Clio and her eight sisters are heading for your grave. They are the nine muses and they are your very last visitors.  All of them, daughters of Zeus and Memory.

Clio is the muse of History. Clio remembers all and she tells all. Nothing escapes Clio and Clio hides nothing. Clio does not tell lies and nor does she blemish or sugar-coat anything. Clio’s truth is inscrutable because Clio is inscrutable. She cannot be bought and she cannot be lobbied. Her truth is in the heart of the sun. All lies are burned off and all truth shines in all its grandeur. Hers is the honest truth.

Presidents die. So too, children. Babies die. Sons and daughters. Mums and dads die, lovers die. Soldiers die. Heroes die on the battlefield or in a bush fire and cowards who spend their days in glittering, palatial oval offices die.

Charos awaits us all.

Ask yourself now, what would you rather have these sisters do at your grave, piddle upon its dusty mount or crack a bottle of nectar, just delivered to them by the gentle doves of Mt Olympus and pour it over the daisies you’re pushing up?

And what sort of music would you have Clio pluck upon her lyre and what words would you have Euterpe sing for you? What sort of dance should Terpsichore dance for you around your tombstone?

Music, words and dance that will make the daisies spring up in a joyous and proud bloom or such that it will make them bend and blush with shame?

You will be dead, you say and behind the unassailable, unbreachable walls of Oblivion. What Clio or anyone else does on or around my grave will not touch me. I will be dead and protected from feelings, physical and mental. “Dead means peace,” you insist.

You will indeed be dead and buried then, or cremated or even eaten by the carrion birds and animals, as were the countless Danaans before the topless towers of Ilium at the beginning of the Iliad, yes, but I’m asking you now, now that you are alive and fully sentient, physically and mentally and you are sitting at your lawyer’s office, dictating your last will and testament and you are totally free to record it for all eternity.

Now, dictate to your lawyer your codicil regarding the nine muses, beginning with the words, “as for my grave I would like Clio and her sisters to…”

To do what?

This is the moment that two aphorisms appear before you. One is a sentence inscribed at the forecourt of the temple of Apollo at Delphi which says, “know thyself,” (said to be uttered by Socrates) and the other is an observation also made by the same philosopher, “an unexamined life is not worth living.”

This is the moment to check inside the drawers and filing cabinets of your life, to learn about yourself, your past, your present and your eternal future.  This is the time when Clio is hovering just above your head, as did Mercutio’s “galant spirit,” just before his body became worms’ meat.

Clio pours praises upon the graves of people who have lived well, who have lived by the rules of Justice and Virtue and she piddles upon the graves of those who have lived lives of injustice and evil.

Graves are anything but silent. They are ear-smashingly sonorous and they are garrulous. They tell stories, our stories and this is the only time when the stories -your story amongst them- are true because they are told by Clio.

And our stories are the stories of our times and our cities.

But what is Justice and what is Virtue?

In his book, “The Republic,” Plato has his teacher, Socrates embark upon a trip around Athens in the hope of finding the answers to these questions. What is Justice and, more importantly, is the just man a happier man than the unjust one?

Socrates had walked through the streets of his beloved Athens, the Athens that throbbed with theatre and art and philosophy and architecture and Democracy, the Athens that was at the time the hub of cogitation and invention, the Athens that was given the name “the cradle of civilization,” and he asked anyone and everyone just those very questions about Justice and Virtue and he discussed with them their responses, in his usual dialectic manner, a manner that became known as “Socratic irony.”

One such citizen, Cephalus, suggested that Justice is seen in the act of giving people what is owed to them. Simply, pay all your debts before you die!”

Another, sitting at the same table, a certain Polemarchus, suggested that Justice is seen in the act of giving good to your friends and evil to your enemies.

A third, Thrasymachus proclaimed with a full throated assertiveness that “justice is nothing more than the interest of the stronger.” Might is right, in other words. Not quite a definition of Justice and rather more like a cynical denial that Justice is of any value at all, we might suggest. In fact, being just is more trouble than good, Thrasymachus insisted because, Justice stops us from behaving according to our very natural inclinations, inclinations such as, to desire to get more than the other guy, to steal the other guy’s land, to completely destroy the other guy’s life, to send the other guy into exile, to make him a refugee, looking for a safe place to live. These are all natural inclinations for humans and so, Justice stops us from being fully natural.

Justice is no good at all, according to Thrasymachus and thus, Justice being the very kernel of morality, Thrasymachus tells us that morality itself is a pain in the proverbial, and a hindrance to us trying to be our true selves.

And Plato wrote down all their answers and the discussions that went with them in a book he called the “Republic” and he called it that because a city, a polis, or a “City-State” (to all intends and purposes another word for “one’s country”) is like a man, a human. The constituent parts of a man’s character are the same as those of a good city. A good country is like a good man and it is good because it is made up of good men.

So, what Clio, the muse of History, will do upon our grave is a strong indication of what she will do upon the grave of our country.

What would we have her do then, piddle upon it or praise it?

Graves are the great and indisputable levelers:Tomb or multi-storied mausoleum, or a grassy knoll; a tombstone of solid marble or of mud brick; an urn made of solid gold with the rarest of gems or of tin for your ashes; a grave alone in the desert or one amidst a million other graves.

Or a mountain of blood and gore and rubble; a tempest of tears, a firmament of groans and; it’s all the same to Clio and her sisters.

In this era of bunker politics, of impenetrable wall politics, of Parliaments and Congresses,  used as cowards’ castles, of Parliaments bereft of the demos but thronged by noisy money men and military men and god’s men and oil men and media moguls; of Parliaments where we see the bloody festival of Idus Martiae taking place almost on a daily basis; in this era of such Parliaments, it is hard to remain sanguine and with your  equanimity intact.

It is hard not to get angry.

Another President has just died.

What will Clio do?


Got talking to Pete last Friday down the local … the subject got onto the passing of one’s parents … I s’pose because we are both old now ourselves and it comes as no longer an immediate sorrow, but rather one lived through so many years ago … And we got onto the reactions one experiences at the funeral, what with all the rellies gathered there and the friends and some strangers one doesn’t know but is informed in hushed whispers or so later on. There is that bottled-up grief, that reserve in the English tradition, especially amongst the men to not be seen to blubber or weep uncontrollably at such sad gatherings … and the language used is interesting in its sparsity of emotion …

Then Pete took a sup on his beer, reflected a tad, wiped the beads of condensation from one streak on the glass, looked into the distance and made a motion with his pointed finger …

“But I do remember one chap I worked for, a builder in the financing / speculative line … stiff-upperlip sort of bloke … John M’ … old Adelaide family, that sort of thing. You couldn’t get an emotive comment from him if’n you smacked his thumb with a hammer … which I did once – accidently – as he was holding a length of bracing for me … hopeless at physical work … all thumbs … an’ I hit his thumb and you know what he said? Where you or I would’ve swore blue murder, he just spun away (dropped the prop!), cried; “bother!” … and stuck the thumb in his mouth for a second to comfort the pain … that’s the sort of chap he was … ”old school Oxford” …

The job was winding down, the contract reaching near completion so there were only a couple of trades finishing some final touches to the ground-works and I was there as supervisor of the job from go to whoa. That was when John turned up. He was walking the site by himself, looking like he was inspecting the finished job … not his usual occupation … he usually waited for the handing-over ceremony for that sort of thing … but there he was. Now .. I knew he had been to his Mother’s funeral the day before, and I put his meandering down to a listlessness that one gets when first “orphaned” … that ”you’re on your own now” feeling … so to say. But I was surprised when he pulled up a drum to sit on and joined me and Keith the plumber for smoko …

John was the project builder … a developer rather than an actual builder … not your sort of tradie-evolved into builder, but a bloke from an old family with old money involved in multi-faceted projects, of which building was but one. I was his go-to man for building … I was the “knowledge-base” for that side of his investments. He would leave on-site management to me … and that included timetables, subbie hire and materials delivery scheduling. We had worked together for years, but not in a close familiar way … I was still just the “hired help” … just a business sort of thing … so it was quite surprising when he opened the conversation with the announcement that he had just buried his mother. Of course Keith (another long-server) and I both knew this, but we gave our condolences kindly and fairly … we had no gripe with the man or his family. He thanked us and then after the usual quiet on these occasions, he cleared his throat and spoke in a confiding manner … to neither of us in particular, but rather while looking at the ground somewhere between us.

“You know, it’s a funny thing, language … the expression of certain words. I have been to the best schools and university where language is treated as a sacred thing … the pronunciation, the grammar, even the timing of delivery of thought or repost … how to speak and speech, you could say … ”

John went quiet while he reached to pick up a twig which he used to scribble on the ground by his feet ..

“I gave the eulogy at my mother’s funeral yesterday.” He continued, ”All the usual blather and history … all about the family, her work in the district and committees she was on and such like … all written there on my notes, some highlighted in yellow marker … it went over well … as I was trained to do … a solemn finish before we all made our way to the cemetery for the placing of the casket.”

John drew some hieroglyphics in the dust as he thought it out a bit. I could see all this idle chatter was taking its toll on the man … but he was on a mission to explain something to himself, I felt. We remained silent … to give him space.

He continued with a sudden exclamation …

”Dammit!  You have to hold yourself together at these … these events. It doesn’t do to make a fool of oneself weeping and carrying on … one must maintain structure … dignity. After all, it wasn’t as if my mother’s passing was a sudden tragedy … it was a long tiring business for all the family … a kindly relief for all when she passed away, to be candidly honest … for her most particularly, I’d say … so it was .. should have been a solemn, dignified affair … the placing of the casket in the grave. Except for Loretta.” John stabbed the stick into the earth .

“Loretta?” Keith encouraged …

” Loretta,” John breathed. “Yes, Loretta … an Italian woman, the wife of one of the nephews … lovely woman, in the Italian dark-lady of the sonnets mould … if you know what I mean. It was quite a surprise for the family when the nephew returns from a working stint on the continent with an Italian wife … shocked! … you could say … a real eyebrow raiser, the whole affair. But they settled down and had a couple of kiddies and got on with the married life routine … but dammit … she’s got that dago emotion thing in spades … weeping all over the place, at weddings and Christenings and such like … so she had to almost be dragged from the grave before she threw herself in it on top of the coffin … damn display to say the least!”

And here was the long silence .. .here was the nub of the new “congenial John” .. here he became uncomfortable …

”You know, one has to hold oneself together as an example for the younger ones … it doesn’t do to put on too much display … and … and I was there beside Father O’Loughlin as he read the rites and the coffin was lowered down. Certainly, I had some tears to shed, but held in check for the dignity of the moment … but I could hear Loretta wailing somewhere behind me … and I thought I would give her husband a bit of a talking to after the funeral … at the wake. But as we stepped back from the grave to let the mourners file past to throw the bit of dirt onto the laid coffin, that damn Italian woman suddenly called out a word in perfect imitation of our mother’s voice … here was this woman … who could only speak a kind of garbled mish-mash of Italo-English saying in perfect enunciation that one word so familiar to all of mother’s children and grandchildren … and by time-lapsed, especially to me.”

“You see,” John continued in a kind of self-reflection tone, ”Mum was a country girl and she had an infuriating habit of “cutesying” words by adding an “ee” sounding to the end … like “bunnee” instead of rabbit. She’d say; “Oh we’re having a couple of bunnys for dinner … ” and one really infuriating one she’d say when I was a young tear-away, home from the college with a friend or two and we’d been ripping it up a tad at a local dance and in the morning she’d wake us with a much too cheerful; “Come on, boys up we get … I’ll make you some bacon and eggys for breaky.” It used to so infuriate me … and here we were at the final lap so to speak of the funeral, and I had held myself together so well and then that weeping Italian woman has to drop that bombshell that took me by complete surprise and … and … well … ” John threw the twig over his shoulder … “I lost it … I just lost it. Loretta just halted right next to me, looked directly at me in a flood of tears, then to the coffin in the grave and wept out a string of damn indecipherable dago words to finish with that one perfectly enunciated damn softly spoken parting word Mother always called to us as we left her home; ”Cheeriozy!” That one silly, muck-up of a perfectly good, common English word …

“Cheeriozy! … cheeriozy! … ”

Loretta called out and I just lost it and I wept and wept … and I still can’t get over it … And I don’t know why!”

Then John abruptly stood up, turned around and left … without a word, but we could see the tears …

Of course, neither Keith nor I ever mentioned it again.

Mutual Decline: The Failings of Student Evaluations

That time of the year. Student evaluations are being gathered by the data crunchers. Participation rates are being noted. Attitudes and responses are mapped. The vulnerable, insecure instructor, fearing an execution squad via email, looks apprehensively at comments in the attached folder that will, in all likelihood, devastate rather than reward. “Too much teaching matter”; “Too heavy in content”; “Too many books.” Then come the other comments from those who seem challenged rather than worn down; excited rather than dulled. These are few and far between: the modern student is estranged from instructor and teaching. Not a brave new world, this, but an ignorant, cowardly one.

The student evaluation, ostensibly designed to gather opinions of students about a taught course, is a surprisingly old device. Some specialists in the field of education, rather bravely, identify instances of this in Antioch during the time of Socrates and instances during the medieval period. But it took modern mass education to transform the exercise into a feast of administrative joy.

As Beatrice Tucker explains in Higher Education (Sep, 2014), “the establishment of external quality assurance bodies (particularly in the UK and in Australia), and the ever-increasing requirement for quality assurance and public accountability, has seen a shift in the use of evaluation systems including their use for performance funding, evidencing promotions and teaching awards.”

Student evaluations, the non-teaching bureaucrat’s response to teaching and learning, create a mutually complicit distortion. A false economy of expectations is generated even as they degrade the institution of learning, which should not be confused with the learning institution. (Institutions actually have no interest, as such, in teaching, merely happy customers.) It turns the student into commodity and paying consumer, units of measurement rather than sentient beings interested in learning. The instructor is also given the impression that these matter, adjusting method, approach and content. Decline is assured.

Both instructor and pupil are left with an impression by the vast, bloated bureaucracies of universities that such evaluation forms are indispensable to tailor appropriate courses for student needs. But universities remain backward in this regard, having limited tools in educational analytics and text mining. Student comments, in other words, are hard to synthesise in a meaningful way.

This leads to something of a paradox. In this illusory world, corruption proves inevitable. Impressions are everything, and in the evaluation process, the instructor and student have an uncomfortable face off. The student must be satisfied that the product delivered is up to snuff. The instructor, desperate to stay in the good books of brute management and brown nose the appropriate promotion committees, puts on a good show of pampering and coddling. Appropriate behaviour, not talent, is the order of the day.

The most pernicious element of this outcome is, by far, grade inflation. “Students,” asserts Nancy Bunge in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “give better evaluations to people who grade them more generously.” Absurd spectacles are thereby generated, including twin tower sets of academic performances that eschew anything to do with failure (students as consumers cannot fail, as such); everybody finds themselves in the distinction or high distinction band, a statistical improbability. Be wary, go the ingratiating types at course evaluation committees, of “bell curves” – they apparently do not exist as an accurate reflection of a student’s skill set.

The result is a mutually enforcing process of mediocrity and decline. The instructor tries to please, and in so doing, insists that the student does less. Students feel more estranged and engage less. Participation rates fall.

The untaxed mind is a dangerous thing, and students, unaware of this process, insist on possessing a level of prowess and learning that is the equal of the instructor. This is not discouraged by the administrative apparatchiks of various committees who make it their business to soil decent syllabi with dumbed down efforts such as “workshops” and “group work”. (The modern student supposedly has a limited, social media concentration span.) To them, the individual thinker – student or instructor – is a sworn enemy and must be stomped into an oblivion of faecal drudgery.

There is ample evidence, diligently ignored by university management, suggesting how the introduction of such surveys has been, not merely corrupting but disastrous for the groves of academe. Take, for instance, gender bias, which has a marked way of intruding into the exercise. Clayton N. Tatro found in a 1995 analysis of 537 male and female student questionnaires that both the gender of the instructor and the relevant grade “were significant predictors of evaluations.” Broadly speaking, the female students gave higher rating evaluations that their male counterparts. Female instructors did better in the evaluation scores than their male peers. Female instructors also did better in their scores with female respondents.

Learning is a process of perennial discomfort, not constant reassurance. The pinprick of awareness is far better than the smothering pillow. Genuine learning is meant to shatter models and presumptions, propelling the mind into enlightened, new domains. The student evaluation form is the enemy of the process, a stifling effect that disempowers all even as it claims to enhance quality.

Where to, then, with evaluating teaching? There is something to be said about the element of risk: there will always be good and bad teachers, and that very experience of being taught by individuals as varying as the pedestrian reader of lecture notes or the charming raconteur of learned anecdotes should be part of the pedagogical quest. From such variety grows resilience, something that customer satisfaction cannot tolerate.

Education specialists, administrators and those who staff that fairly meaningless body known as Learning and Teaching, cannot leave the instructing process alone. For them, some form of evaluation exercise must exist to placate the gods of funding and quality assurance pen pushers.

What then, to be done? Geoff Schneider, in a study considering the links between student evaluations, grade inflation and teaching, puts it this way, though he does so with a kind of blinkered optimism. “In order to improve the quality of teaching, it is important for universities to develop a system for evaluating teaching that emphasises (and rewards) the degree of challenge and learning that occurs in courses.” Snow balls suffering an unenviable fate in hell comes to mind.


Not long before my mother passed away, she was given a smartphone by her children so as to be ready reachable and in case of emergency …we paid the connection fees etc … all she had to do was sign on.

Of course, signing on to such services has a security obligation and so one is called upon to use identity clues for a secure connection … clues that no other person will know. But being older, she knew from experience that she had best write those clues down just in case she would be called upon to repeat them verbatim at some future time.

So there, under the lid of the box the smartphone came in was a slip of paper with three items that were the answers to three obvious requests from the service provider:

My first pet: ‘Taby’.”

“I was called: ‘ Peggy’ when young.”

”My parents met in the city of: Sydney.”

These three little insights into a past life give clue to the gentle humanity of us all … little “songs” shall we say, of those moments that are held softly and secretly within our hearts, like a faded flower holding a special memory, pressed between the pages of an old novel. Strange then, that we will share them with an anonymous machine without compunction, yet not be inclined to freely reveal such to other people. Perhaps it is that machine-like anonymity that reassures us … some people seem to have that same encouraging “feel” whereupon you can unload worries or confidences into a sensitive ear.

This, to my way of thinking is a failing of history … of our local history, where incidents and events are recorded minutely in committee records and local government archives etc … but where are the personal names? Where are the identities that these events centred around? Who were these people who marched down the street of the town on such and such celebration day? What was the fate of the person whose car or buggy or person was crashed and injured in industrial accident or fall? Who were all these people who marched through time with neither personality or history? Are we all to be slaves to opaque anonymity? Where is the colour in the canvas .. the eyes that are the mirrors to so many souls?

I recall perusing through some archived photographs of a local town’s German school from the 1930’s. There were the usual gathering of kids ranging from around fourteen/fifteen down to seven or eight years, their beaming faces giving lie to their shoe-less poverty … but then I noticed in the second row, in the shadow of one of the many Sagenschnitter brood, a dark-skinned boy of around (at a guess) ten years. I enlarged the photo on my computer and sure enough, there he was … an Indigenous child amongst the twenty or so German kids. What was he doing there? After all, in those times many of those children only knew English as a second language.

Fortunately his name was recorded along with all the others in handwritten script under the photo and with a degree of complicated research, I eventually found the solution to the conundrum. He was one of the Stolen Generation … placed in care as a ward of the State in 1921 from the tender age of two years for being “illegitimate” … and I learned from local sources that some Indigenous children were placed in these country centres far away from their original place of birth as a “subsidy placement” (whatever that means) with suitable families. But whatever the suitability of the family who took this boy in, it was recorded that he escaped their care and eventually made his way under several different names to Mildura where he died suddenly in 1936 – aged 15 – under suspicious circumstances from Strychnine poison. The history of this lad’s fore-shortened stay on this earth would have gone un-collated save through police and one paragraph newspaper notification and indeed, because the death was in another state from the one he was registered in, no enquiry was conducted and he would have been totally forgotten … but for this accidental notice of a different ethnicity amongst all those Germanic children. And what also of his mother and relatives in this entire sorry affair? That is the chance of history.

And what chance for many others, identities forgotten in the steamrolling onslaught of capitalist production, so many heaped together in congested tenements and desperate lodgings so that even in old age we become just another commodity of “cost per unit” in an aged “care” investment property portfolio … as has been recently aired on the ABC with the closure of the Gatwick Hotel and the subsequent disasters for some of the tenants who resided there?

Here is the link to a short story about this very subject by Lajos Zilahy; But for this.

Is this the universal fate for those without funds or favour in the wider community? Lost in the sands of time … to have any memory of their personal idiosyncratic character die along with the last one who has a direct knowledge of them at all … with perhaps nothing left on record save those “personal security identities” clinically saved on some sort of android device … a history condensed to three passwords … three little moments of one’s personal identity … a soul incomplete.

We are all humans in a humanist society … and we should not think nor treat others as a capitalist commodity.

Eyes Without The Prize: Stripping Aung San Suu Kyi’s Awards

It is impossible to see peace prize or freedom awards as anything other than fragments of an industry. In time, ideals become marketable and matters of commodity. Those who go against this market rationale face the fires of moral outrage. The business of promoting peace in the wrapping of human rights protections is its own market, with false advertising. It is merely, in many instances, the flipside of conflict.

A point often forgotten in this indulgence is that most recipients tend to be not merely the advocates of peace but previous advocates of conflict. Bloodied swords preceded ploughshares; the terrorist became, in time, a peace maker. Realising this tense, and central reality, should put any committee responsible for peace prizes or humanitarian awards out of business.

The speed at which a previously celebrated Aung San Suu Kyi has been stripped of such awards shows the frustration and rage of peace bureaucrats and the cocktail set who suddenly deigned their choice a counterfeit. Like an original hanging in a gallery, the award had to be removed, its bestowing reconsidered.

So many removals and revocations have taken place that Suu Kyi’s record now reads like a veritable Who’s Who of award deprivation. Each has been accompanied with necessary doses of hurt and cant in the face of a sanctified figure who has rusted. Stripping Suu Kyi of the Freedom of City awards figures prominently in these grand moral gestures: Edinburgh, Oxford, Glasgow and Newcastle, to name but a few examples. A good deal of this suggests an inflated brand gone wrong: the saint sinned in taking the steroids of pragmatism, and to that end, city councillors are left in search of other appropriate products and recipients.

When she was in fashion, Suu Kyi could rely on such remarks as those of the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, who described her in 2005 as “a symbol of peaceful resistance in the face of oppression.” Comparisons were made to another figure rendered pure by a lengthy prison stint: Nelson Mandela. Last November, the Lord Provost started getting nervous. Use your “immeasurable courage and influence,” urged Frank Ross, to ensure the safe return of the Rohingya Muslims to Rakhine.

With total radio silence following, Ross tabled a council motion calling for her freedom of city to be stripped. Suu Kyi found herself in curious company: the last, and previously only time Edinburgh had revoked a freedom of city award was in 1890, when the giddily nationalistic Charles Parnell was accused of conducting an adulterous affair with Katharine O’Shea. Then, as now, the moralists were in charge of both tradition and award.

Much is also being made about her silence on matters that are, less the bread and butter of human rights than its publicity. To air them is to incite a miracle. The atrocities against the Rohingya by the Burmese military is marked out as a significant inkblot on previously unblemished paper. In October, Canadian lawmakers, in an unprecedented move revoking Suu Kyi’s honorary Canadian citizenship granted in 2007, cited her inaction on calling out “genocide” against the Rohingyas as a determining factor. Senator Ratna Omidvar was almost aggrieved at a symbol fallen from imposed grace. “The world pinned its hope on her as the shining light and hope for a democratic and peaceful Myanmar.”  uu Kyi’s ambitions were evidently more modest and less global.

Amnesty International followed in November. “Our expectation,” came an enraged letter from its Secretary General Kumi Naidoo this month, “was that you would continue to use your moral authority to speak out against injustice whenever you saw it, not least within Myanmar itself.” The organisation thereby announced it revocation of the Ambassador of Conscience award.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has also been pressed to reconsider their award. Olav Njølstad, secretary of the committee, tiptoed around the matter with a ballerina’s ease, finding relief in the certainty that the prize was not a presently relevant issue. “It’s important to remember that a Nobel Prize, whether in physics, literature or peace, is awarded for some prize-worthy effort or achievement in the past.” Using the past as apologia, escape and salvation for his organisation’s decision, Njølstad could argue that Suu Kyi’s award was based on “her fight for democracy and freedom up until 1991, the year she was awarded the prize.”

Committees often exhibit such pedantic, book-keeping tendencies. Berit Reiss-Andersen, head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, eschewed any prospective policing role by her organisation’s members in 2017. “It’s not our task to oversee or censor what a laureate does after the prize has been won.” Once awarded, never to be revoked.

For Myanmar gazers, peace is a complex commodity, bought through complicity, acquiescence and the dictates of stability. The National Coalition of Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), a composite of exiled pro-democracy figures elected to the national parliament in 1990, left a specific tripartite rationale in place: unchallenged, near-divine respect for Suu Kyi; a reluctance to directly criticise the military (notable here is Suu Kyi’s own bloodline, tied to a father considered one of the founders of the Tatmadaw, or Myanmar military); and a chronic inability to confront ethnic problems within the country.

In the words of J.J. Rose, “The military controls all significant political action in Myanmar, despite its political wing winning less than 7 percent of the popular vote in the country’s major parliamentary house in 2015.”

Under conditions of house arrest, the activist becomes a symbol externally venerated rather than a practitioner able to exert meaningful action. In time, Suu Kyi became a cipher for democratic impulses and sentiments, but hardly a genuine, substantive figure of effective leadership.

The sentiments of veneration and subsequent despair seem cute to bricks and mortar pragmatists who see the obsession with her refusal to use microphone and rostrum as complicit in culpability. Abhijit Dutta, writing in the Hindustan Times, gives the leader far more time and consideration. “Today, she has a job to do: remake a country that has systematically hollowed out its institutions over the past 50 years and ensure that it stays the course on its democratic transition.”

The vocal stance, or in this case its absence, has been elevated to the level of mystical influence. To not speak is tantamount to the gravest of sins in the epoch of emoting, where the decibel range of outrage is taken as a measure of an activist’s worth. Even a concession by a UN independent international fact-finding mission that “the constitutional powers of the civilian authorities afford little scope for controlling the actions of the Tatmadaw” does not sway proponents of necessary, and public condemnation. The present condemns the past.

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