"Write again, Blue Eyes."

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By Dr Strobe DriverNormally I restrict my opinions to international relations issues…

Remembering the Peace Makers: What the Armistice Commemorations…

Those in the war industry and the business of commemorating the dead…

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Concepts of Nonsense: Australian Soft Power

Soft power was always a term best suited for eunuchs. It relies…

What does a minute's silence mean?

It means, "shut the f*ck up!"It means, make no noise!It means let…

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Category Archives: AIM Extra

“Write again, Blue Eyes.”

“Tickets please … Tickets please”…

The porter made his way from seat to seat checking and clicking the tickets of the passengers of the 12.30 pm train to the southern suburbs … it passed through the flats onto the hills stations to finish at Marino Rocks.

Annette clicked open her purse to extract the return ticket to Brighton from the side pocket there … upon extracting the pink slip of paper, she noticed a similar one still in the pocket. She took this one out as well, examined the date of 3 May, 1951 and satisfied herself that she handed the current dated one to the porter.

“The sea is nice there at Brighton this time of year,” he spoke as he clicked her ticket.

Annette said nothing in reply, but just nodded her head in agreement. The porter moved on down the aisle between the seats …

“Tickets please,“ he repeated.

Annette placed the current validated ticket back into the purse pocket, she gazed at the older ticket and noted the date as of one month previous to today’s date … she silently admonished herself for being so neglectful as to leave the ticket in her purse … She screwed the ticket up and dropped it to the floor of the carriage. Upon closing her purse, she caught a glimpse of the newspaper clipping she had cut from the day’s paper miscellaneous column … Annette knew the wording by heart, but she kept the cutting as a sense of reassurance of the appointment she had arranged.

Annette ran through the message again in her mind:

“Letter OK, sweet … meet at B … first date mentioned in letter. If anything happens ask for letter at B … Blue Eyes.”

She secured the catch on her purse and placed it in her lap and turning her face to the filmy window of the carriage, she saw the reflection of a young, but not so young now woman, with wavy brown hair above a pale, powered face with, she hoped, a not too dark a shade of lipstick on a pair of pert lips … There was a furrow of concern on the brow and the eyes looked wary.

She turned her head away quickly as if she had seen something she would rather not think about and proceeded to turn the plain, gold wedding ring on her finger.

“It’s not unusual,” Doctor Short had said. ”Young married couples do sometimes take a while to conceive … I’d give it some more time and just let nature take its course … perhaps a quiet evening or two at home with a favourite record on and a glass of sherry … or two,” and Dr. Short smiled his warming, ‘confidence giving’ smile. Annette just nodded in agreement and said that her husband preferred beer.

But it had now been three years and still no change.

The short, terse discussions Annette had with her husband on the possibility of one of them being infertile always ended in her being reassured that his side of the family never had any such problems and no, he did not want to go to the doctor and get “interfered with” when he was certain the problem did not rest with him. And that was the end to it.

The Italian lady next door, Elvira, laughed when told of Annette’s dilemma:

“Back home we had a saying that there were no infertile men in the village … and certo … if a woman could bear children, then there were children …because after a certain time passed, the parish priest was called in to “do his duty to God’s handmaidens,” and he would hang his walking cane over the entrance doorknob while he “administered the faith” to the lady of the house and if the husband came home and saw the cane there, he would keep walking up to the bar and play a hand or two of briscola, take a whisky or two, before making his way back home respectfully.”

Annette dismissed those notions as typical of peasant village women thinking … an outcome much too public and open to ridicule for a lady of Anglo descent. There were ways other than gross serviceability … discretion was the hallmark of civilised society … of a refined woman in today’s world.

Annette stepped onto the platform at Brighton and made her way to the exit ramp. She paused at the top of the ramp and gazed over the road in front to a little corner store-cum-post office there on the “Old Beach Road” that led to the seashore. As she gazed at the empty scene, a man of around thirty-five years stepped out of the corner store …  he stopped to take out and light up a cigarette with a personal lighter that he replaced to an inside pocket of his suit. Annette recognised him and gave a small noting wave which he cautiously returned … she crossed the street and without touching, they proceeded to walk to the beach.

At the beach, the man spread a checked wool blanket that he took from a parked sedan in the road above the sands. Annette removed her gloves and shoes and made herself discretely comfortable on the blanket.

“Nice to see you again,” the man spoke. “This being the third time in as many months, will this be a regular thing?” he teased and touched her forehead as he brushed away a tuft of fringe of her hair.

“I’m not sure …” Annette replied, ”circumstances may prevent us meeting again.”

“What do you mean?” The man sat back from his position close to her. He cocked one eyebrow questioningly.

“I may be pregnant,” Annette spoke plainly. The man raised his eyebrows and with wide-eyed anxiety asked:

“Heavens … what are we to do … I mean … I can’t …”

“No, it’s quite alright,’ Annette touched his arm reassuringly.” I wanted it to happen … I wanted the child.”

The man looked bewildered and a bit dazed …

“Well, that may be good for you … but I am already married with children. I thought this was a fling for both of us … I can’t manage another family.”

Again, Annette touched his arm reassuringly:

“No, I will not trouble you about the child. As you know I too am married … but we … my husband as it now turns out … couldn’t have children … couldn’t give me a child … so I took the opportunity of our relationship to have one with you.” Annette gently smiled, ”I needed another child.”

“Another child!?” the man stared and thought. “Then …t hen that time several years ago when we first met …?” He didn’t finish what he was thinking.

“Yes,” Annette smiled again … “He’s two now and beautiful … thank you.”

The man was thinking now …

“So that’s why you wanted a recent picture of me when we first wrote … so you could see if I was a close match to your husband?”

“Of course! It would not work otherwise … I mean how would it look if you were a flaming red-head, or a swarthy Mediterranean type? How stupid would that be?”

“And your husband doesn’t know?”

“Of course not. He thinks he’s shooting bullets not blanks … and I had to make a decision soon or it would start to come back on one or the other of us. After all, there are expectations in society … you know.”

“Yes … the stigma of a barren woman or a man who only fires blanks … terrible.”

The man leaned back against a rock of the breakwater and took out and lit another cigarette …

“It’s why I got back in touch with you in the paper,” Annette softly spoke.

“Yes … right … I was rather surprised. I presumed you’d forgot all about me … was delighted to read your request to meet again, though … but you would risk your marriage for the sake of having children?” He blew a stream of smoke into the soft air of the Autumn day.

“He broke the contract!” Annette blurted out … and then in a more condescending tone, “and he didn’t want to have tests done … he didn’t want to know if it was himself … no man does … so this way we both achieve our goals … even you,” and she smiled coquettishly.

The man drew on his cigarette and returned her smile.

“In that case …I suppose so,” and he drew on the cigarette again … “And so we continue to meet … Blue Eyes”

“Blue Eyes?” Annette queried.

“You remember when we first communicated through the paper and I asked what you looked like for when we first meet?”

“Oh yes.” Annette clasped her arms around her legs as she sat thinking of the time. “I didn’t know how to go about these things … it was only chance that I spotted that column … “Miscellaneous” … in the paper and I read several of those people … mostly men … lonely men looking for ‘lady companions’.” Annette giggled.

“Yes…” the man reflected, “it was a new thing for me too. I was lonely, coming down every month from the north on business … A man can end up a drunk – or worse – when he has too much time on his hands. A mate in the same game as me put me onto it … took some Dutch courage to kick it off though,” and he gave a laugh.

“You didn’t give much away … but you did say you have blue eyes … and wavy hair.” He touched her soft locks, “But you never did tell me your whole name.”

“And neither did you … and it best remain that way … for truly, if I am pregnant, and I do believe I am … we probably will not be meeting again … I don’t want any more children … two is enough.”

The man stubbed out his cigarette.

“Yes, well … that may be for the best all around. It could get sticky if it gets out … for both of us. I wouldn’t want my wife to know … and our four kids is plenty for me.”

“Oh,” Annette replied lazily, “she probably already does … or suspects at least.”

“Nah … she doesn’t have a clue … she’s miles away..up north,” and he stared out over the sea.

“Oh … she’d know.”

“How?” the man asked. “Would you tell her?”

“How could I? I don’t even know your real name. No, it’s you men … when you are satisfied in that way … you walk about like a prancing Tom-cat.” And she smiled.

“Are we that easy to pick?” he grinned.

“Of course … how would we women not know? After all, it was us who invented sex … do you think Adam would have eaten the apple without Eve?” Annette threw her head back and laughed. The man grinned and looked at her affectionately.

“I’m beginning to worry about you … you’re dangerous. But what of today? Here we are …” and he looked at Annette with a cheeky grin.

Annette lowered her eyes in a vampish manner and replied:

“I suppose it doesn’t hurt to make certain of a good job done,” and she touched the side of his face affectionately.

“Come,” he said, “I have a car waiting for my lady.” And they gathered themselves up and made for the parked sedan at the top of the stairs.

Annette paused at the foot of the steps and he offered his arm to steady her as she put on her shoes. She turned to the man and asked:

“Can you give me your name? Not your first, your second name … and when the child is born, I can let you know … in the Miscellaneous column.”

The man turned and smiled at Annette:

“Paul,” he said … and he held out his hand. They walked to the car … just like any young couple.

Ten months later a short sentence appeared in the Miscellaneous column of the daily newspaper:

“Package arrived safely … much joy … ‘Pauline’.”

The following week on the usual day they would communicate Annette read the confirming note in the miscellaneous column:

“Sweet … letter OK … if ever needed, write again, Blue Eyes.”

This story was first published on freefall852.wordpress.com.

Remembering the Peace Makers: What the Armistice Commemorations Forgot

Those in the war industry and the business of commemorating the dead have little time for peace, even as they supposedly celebrate it. For them, peace is the enemy as much as armed opposing combatants, if not more so. Dr Brendan Nelson of the Australian War Memorial is every bit the propagandist in this regard, encased in armour of permanent reminder: Do not forget the sacrifice; do not forget the slaughter. The issue is how war, not peace, is commemorated.

That theme was repeated, for the most part, in Paris on November 11. US President Donald Trump spoke of “our sacred obligation to memorialise our fallen heroes.” French President Emmanuel Macron marked the 100th anniversary of the Great War by having a dig at nationalism, calling it a “betrayal of patriotism” (is there a difference?). The nationalists, he warned, were getting busy, these “old demons coming back to wreak chaos and death”. The intellectuals (and here, he alluded to Julien Benda’s 1927 classic, La trahison des clercs) were at risk of capitulating.

But Macron, rather slyly, was hoping that the French obsession with universal values would somehow render his message less parochial: to be French was to be an internationalist, not a tunnel-visioned, rabid nationalist. The soldiers who perished in the Great War did so in the defence of France’s “universal values” in order to repudiate the “selfishness of nationals only looking after their own interests.” Much room for disagreement on that score, and Marine Le Pen would have been a suitable corrective.

The peace activities of the Great War, asphyxiated, smothered and derided in texts and official narratives, are rarely discussed in the mass marketed solemnity of commemorations. The writings of those prophets who warned that any adventurism such as what transpired in 1914 would be met with immeasurable suffering are also conspicuously absent. Jean de Bloc, whose magisterial multi-volume The Future of War appeared in 1898 in Russian, found it “impossible” that Europe’s leaders would embark on a conflict against each other; to do so would “cause humanity a great moral evil… civil order will be threatened by new theories of social revolution”. The end would be catastrophic. “How many flourishing countries will be turned into wilderness and rich cities into ruins! How many tears will be shed, how many will be left in beggary!”

These sceptics were the enlightened ones, scorned for not having the sense of fun that comes with joining battle and being butchered in the name of some vague patriotic sentiment. If human beings are animals at play, then play to the death, if need be – the rational ones were sidelined, persecuted and hounded. They are the party poopers.

Prior to the first shots of the guns of August in 1914, Europe had witnessed a slew of meetings and activities associated with the theme of peace. From 1889, pacifists were busy with Universal Peace Congresses, while the Inter-parliamentary Union made a stab at efforts and ideas to reduce national tensions. The Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907, with one scheduled to take place in 1915, suggested a certain sensibility, even as the military machinery of Europe was getting ominously more lethal. At the very least, the political classes were playing at peace.

The 1,200 women who gathered at The Hague in 1915 as part of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom feature as sane if forgotten voices before the murderous machine truly got going. Their work involved attendees from 12 countries and the passing of 20 resolutions on war. They worked to convince those engaged in the murderous machine about the folly and were dismissed accordingly as cranks and nuisances.

The peace movement was sundered by the patriotic diseases that engulfed the continent, and such organisations as the International Peace Bureau failed to reach a consensus on how best to quell warring aggressions. In January 1915, its Berne meeting was characterised by division, best exemplified by a resolution denouncing Germany and Australia for egregious breaches of international law.  The vote was divided evenly, and unity was destroyed.

While monuments to the war makers and fallen soldiers dot the town squares of the combatant nations, lingering like morbid call cards for failed militarism, there are virtually none in the service of peace. The tenaciously wise and farsighted Austrian noblewoman Bertha von Suttner, the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905 and suspect the motives of governments behind the Hague Peace conferences, hardly figures in commemorative statuary. Nor does Rosa Luxemburg, who began a twelve-month sentence in Berlin’s Barnimstrasse Womens’ Prison on February 18, 1915 for “inciting public disobedience”.

Her crime, committed during the words of her famous Fechenheim address, was to call upon German workers to refuse shooting their French counterparts should war break out. “Victory or defeat?” she would sadly reflect in her anti-war tract, The Junius Pamphlet (1915) written whilst in confinement. “Thus sounds the slogan of the ruling militarism in all the warring countries, and, like an echo, the Social Democratic leaders have taken it up.”

As Adam Hochschild sourly noted in 2014, those who refuse to fight or barrack for war are ignored by the commemorative classes. “America’s politicians still praise Iraq War veterans to the skies, but what senator has a kind word to say about the hundreds of thousands who marched and demonstrated before the invasion was even launched to try to stop our soldiers from risking their lives in the first place?”

Events conspicuously against the spirit of killing and maiming opponents, such as that which took place during the short-lived Christmas Truce of 1914, have only been remembered – and tolerated – because of their public relations quality. These events sell chocolates and cakes; they draw people to sites and commodities. The truce signalled no revolution; it did not challenge the war planners. “It’s safe to celebrate,” commented Hochschild, “because it threatened nothing.” The sovereignty of war, the institution of state-sanctioned killing, remained, as it still does, though selling peace can be lucrative when the shells have stopped falling.

The obscenity here is that conflict, most notably that of the First World War, was meant to be cathartic, a brief bit of masculine cleansing that would end by the arbitrarily designated time of Christmas. It was advertised as a picnic, a brief testosterone outing which would see men return intact. Foolishly, such figures as HG Wells saw it as “the war to end war”, so get it over and done with, minimal fuss and all. (To be fair to Wells, he found disgust and despair subsequently, reflecting upon this in The Bulpington of Blup in 1932.)

This was, truly, as the title of Margaret MacMillan’s work goes, the war that ended peace, and we should not forget the political and military classes, instrumental in dashing off soldiers to their death, who engineered it with coldness and ignorance. Foolishness and demagoguery tend to hold hands all too often, distant from that most moving sentiment expressed by the jailed US socialist activist and presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs. “I have no country to fight for; my country is the earth; and I am a citizen of the world.”

Concepts of Nonsense: Australian Soft Power

Soft power was always a term best suited for eunuchs. It relies on persuasion, counsel and an air of seduction. It does not imply actual force as such (often, that side of the bargain is hidden). At its core are the presumed virtues of the product being sold, the society being advertised to others who are supposedly in the business of being convinced. Joseph Nye came up with it in the groves of academe as the Cold War was coming to an end, and every policy maker supposedly worth his or her brief insists upon it. (Since 1990, Nye has done another shuffle, attempting to market another variant of power: from soft, power has become erroneously sentient – or “smart”.)

Nye himself already leaves room for the critics to point out how the concept is, essentially, part of an advertising executive’s armoury, the sort an Edward Bernays of foreign affairs might embrace. It co-opts; it suggests indirectness; it is “getting others to want what you want” by shaping “the preferences of others”; it employs popular culture and concepts of political stability. In a vulgar sense, it inspires envy and the need to emulate, stressing desire over substance.

The Australian Department of Trade and Foreign Affairs is currently chewing over soft power, having been tasked with reviewing it by Julie Bishop when she was foreign minister. Australian think tanks have been all praise for its mystical properties. All rely on fictional measurements and surveys such as The Soft Power 30 index, which sounds awfully like a heavily carbonated soft drink.

The Australian Foreign Policy White Paper from 2017 also does its bit: it reads like a designer product flogged to the appropriate customers. “Australia’s ability to persuade and influence others is underpinned by some enduring strengths. Among these are our democracy, multicultural society, strong economy, attractive lifestyle and world-class institutions.”

This less than modest appraisal should immediately trigger the little grey cells of any sceptic. Australia remains plagued by a policy towards refugees that would rank highly with most despotic states; it maintains, relative to other states, a low GDP-aid percentage and remains almost dangerously cosy to Washington. Then there is that issue of seasonal bloodletting of leaders that led the BBC to call the country the “coup capital of the democratic world.”

In truth, such concepts are frustratingly inchoate, the sort of piffle best kept in obscure management manuals and textbooks chocked with political sloganeering. “Isn’t soft power like Fight Club?” came a seemingly puzzled foreign policy official to Caitlin Byrne, writing for The Strategist of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. “And the first rule of Fight Club is that you don’t talk about Fight Club.”

Even Byrne concedes that soft power, in terms of language, is slippery and problematic. “Many equate ‘soft’ with ‘weak’ and ‘superficial’ or, worse still, ‘subversive’. These terms rarely sit easily with those in the business of advancing national interests.” Recipients of such power can also be resentful, co-opted by the venture. (No one genuinely wants to be considered a case for charity.)

But such commentary is convinced there is a story to tell and, in the case of Canberra’s apparatchiks, Australia affords them ample opportunities. “[T]he aim of soft power – to help shape an environment that is positively disposed to Australian foreign policy interests and values over the long term – is not to be dismissed if Australia is to navigate its way in a more contested region.”

Most recently, Australia’s tetchy Prime Minister Scott Morrison (daggy cap and all), has been busy pushing Australian credentials in the immediate region, throwing $2 billion at a new Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific. Another billion is also sought for Australia’s export financing agency.

What is striking in this endeavour is the language of ownership, part proprietary and part imperial. “This is our patch,” Morrison explained to those at Lavarack Barracks in Townsville on Thursday. “This is where we have special responsibilities. We always have, we always will.  We have their back, and they have ours.” These are the vagaries of power. “Australia has an abiding interest in a Southwest Pacific that is secure strategically, stable economically and sovereign politically.” Diplomatic posts will be established in Palau, the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia, Niue and the Cook Islands, all newly modelled sets of eyes.

In other instances, however, Australian policy makers want to do things on the cheap, showing a characteristic stinginess that praises Australian power and its institutional heft while trimming back services that might supply a “softer” edge. Australia’s broadcasting capacity, notably in the short-wave sense, has diminished. Soft-power, note the propagandists, has been muted.

In January 31, 2017, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation ended shortwave broadcasts to the South Pacific, concluding a tradition that had lasted eight decades. “The choice is dumb,” suggested Graeme Dobbell, “because it misunderstands the central role radio still plays in the South Pacific.” This has left the problematic question open as to what other Australian suppliers – of the commercial variety – will do to replace the content of the national broadcaster.

Most of all, and most critically, proponents of soft power in Australia fear a crowding, and crowding out threat: that of China, which operates as the putative cuckoo keen on pushing out the chicks of others. This, aligned to the issue of creating more debt for the region, suggests potential exhaustion in the region.

Australia, ever sluggish and drugged by presumptions of allegiance from its Pacific neighbours (our backyard!), has previously ignored the increasingly important role Beijing is playing with the island states. A growing, even paranoid interest is now being shown towards the presence of Chinese aid and funded projects in the region. There are also measures, tied to US strategic interests, of frustrating the efforts of such Chinese giants as Huawei, from achieving a greater measure of influence.

Morrison’s cavalier volunteering of taxpayer funded projects to lure Pacific neighbours away from Beijing’s “few-strings attached” load and aid program is something that will be looked at with enthusiasm if for no other reason that double dipping will be on offer. From Papua New Guinea to Fiji, the options to milk the greed of powers have never been better, whatever nonsense soft power might entail. The problem of debt, however, will remain the lingering nuisance at the feast.

Lest We Think

By Barddylbach

If you think you know the history,
can distinguish fact from legend and myth,
if the Great War could ever be won at Gallipoli
by Arcadian heroes fighting in the trenches
and absent British generals;

If you think you know the truth,
can turn a deaf ear to national pride and memory,
if the peace was ever preserved by battle and blood
on the western front and beaches,
by monument and shrine;

If you think you know their story,
can cast an even eye to those around you still,
forever haunted by machine gun, mine, death and mud,
wounded by the crowd, by those who sent you
dead or alive, blood and gutless remain;

If you think you know your country,
can speak for the vanquished voices of our past,
man and woman, black or white without prejudice or resentment,
if this could ever better our world, all just all settled
lessons learnt; then think it through again.

This poem was originally published on All Poetry.

Lest we forget to remember

By Henry Johnston

The request seemed simple enough on first reading. The text from a niece said her son, my great nephew, is having an assembly on Remembrance Day, and do we have anyone in the family who fought in World War 1, and if so do we have any photos or memorabilia?

My equivocal response ended with the explanation that my great nephew might find it difficult to describe the story of our family’s involvement with the Great War.

Sure enough my niece did not respond, but when I tried to put her request out of my mind, I could not erase the image of the tale told me by my long dead mother.

It is not a myth of derring-do, or patriotism, or a tear jerker in the mould of Saving Private Ryan. It is a casual observation about two men who returned to Ireland after the 1914-18 war. I think they were brothers; certainly my mother’s uncles. When she first told me the yarn, I imagined them wizened aged men, whereas in truth they were probably a mere decade or so, older than my great nephew.

My maternal grandmother hosted a Hooley in their honour, complete with fiddler, tin whistle player, a lilter, a large jug of poitin, plenty of spuds and a side of pork. Before proceeding, here is a brief explanation for the uninitiated: A Hooley is an Irish party. A lilter is a person who enunciates a form of traditional singing. (If you are curious look up Séamus Fay from Cavan). Poitin is made from cereals, grain, whey, sugar beet, molasses and potatoes.

This Hooley was probably unleashed onto an unsuspecting Irish community, in about 1920. My mother was born in 1918, and was told the anecdote by an elder sibling.

Any gathering of young, strong men in rural Ireland in the 1920s would likely attract the attention of the Dúchrónaigh. You probably know of them by the colour of their uniform; black and tan.

The Tans were ex-British Army counter-insurgents, deployed across the island to fight the Irish Republican Army.

World War 1 had changed the world order, and like Humpty Dumpty, ‘all the King’s horses, and all the King’s men, couldn’t put Humpty together again’.

For the Black and Tans service in Ireland meant a suit of clothes, a few bob and a Webley revolver to shoot up the Paddy’s.

It seems the Carrigallen poitin set cheeks ablaze, as the fiddle player urged the young men and women to dance the night away. As my mother recounted it, both men refused to enter the cottage, preferring instead the stand beneath the stout lintel beam of the front door. And here they remained for the rest of the night, politely refusing all urgings to come inside and enjoy the craic.

Years later I asked my mother why the brothers refused to enter. She clicked her tongue and dismissed them as poor, befuddled, amadán’s (pronounced oma-thons) who could not look after themselves. Both relied on the kindness of local women to feed them and do their washing. The Hooley was my grandmother’s way of attempting to reintegrate them into society. Her kindness failed. The brothers had learnt in the battles of Flanders, or the Somme, or Ypres or Villers-Bretonneux, or wherever it was they endured war, the lintel beam of a door was the safest place to wait out a bombardment.

These men, and millions like them, suffered with post-traumatic stress disorder, or shell shock, or in rural nations like Ireland, and across Europe, they were simply known as ‘eejits,’ idiots.

How do you tell a six year old child that your only extant, family connection with World War 1 can be traced back, like a spidery filament, to two young blue eyed men, driven insane by the sights and sounds of the War to End All Wars? It is not the sort of parable one would expect anyone to recount on Remembrance Day 2018, but it is the only link I have with that century old calamity. And when the clock chimes the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 2018, I will recall the sad fable of my great uncles, lest I forget to remember them.

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.

Politicised Victimhood: Ukraine’s Holodomor, Genocide and Intent

The impression hits you immediately. An opening of an exhibition held to commemorate survivors and families of one of the darker atrocities of human experiments; and it features ample food and wine. The commemorative occasion, however, was in stark contrast to the mass starvation that led to the deaths of millions in the Soviet Union’s drive to collectivise farming in 1932.

Those survivors of Ukraine’s Holodomor, their photos featuring at the SpACE@Collins in Melbourne’s Collins Street, gaze at the audience with varying degrees of feeling, their craggy faces traced and filled by the wearing of age. These are the chronicles of tired flesh told.

The occasion, however, cannot be left to poignancy that is brought from sheer suffering and the cruelty of state policies. That would merely be a concession that the road to utopia on earth is strewn with corpses. This was a chance to be wearily political, and the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations has been busy doing just that. Dr. Ulana Suprun, Ukraine’s acting minister for health, was on hand to open the photographic collection. Victorian state politician and President of the Legislative Council Bruce Atkinson was also present to lend a helping hand of agreement.

Both took little time to bring the cruel privations and deeds of the past into present focus: the culprit, the instigator, is Russia, pure and simple. (Here, a convenient continuum of brutality is insisted upon.) Suprun was keen to remind her audience that the Russians were not only behind the downing of Malaysian passenger flight MH17, but more than suggested they had intended it so. The predecessors of the Putin regime had merely employed other more dramatic methods of terror – that of famine – to make their case. Atkinson was similarly keen to keep matters simple and direct against a specific form of “terrorism”. At no point did either reflect on the dogma of Bolshevik collectivisation that gripped all practitioners of the brutal policy at the time. This is a time of nationalist response and revision.

Intent, as this occasion shows, is always imputed. It supplies certitude, and gets over any impediments. For decades, a campaign has wound its way through various corridors of activism and power: that of declaring the Holodomor an act of state sponsored genocide. To an extent, this is understandable, given the veiling of the disaster in various press outlets at the time, and the demonization of various scribes of verity such as Gareth Jones.

Historians have given the catastrophe much attention, and the field teems with interpretations on intention, knowledge or reckless indifference on the part of Joseph Stalin and his coterie. Robert Conquest holds one side of the argument: that “the famine of 1933 was deliberately carried out by terror”, a point demonstrated “by the figures on the millions of tons of available grain reserves”.

Michael Ellman combs through Stalin’s statements, detecting in the expression “a knock-out blow” as probative of intention to murder. Hiroaki Kuromiya in Europe-Asia Studies offers a different view that provides scant comfort to survivors. “Although Stalin intentionally let starving people die, it is unlikely that he intentionally caused the famine to kill millions of people.” Nothing quite gets close to sheer callousness.

Ukraine itself gave the starvation event its much anticipated genocidal recognition in law N 376-V on November 28, 2006. That same year, US President George W. Bush signed into law Public Law 109-340, authorising the Ukrainian government “to establish a memorial on Federal land in the District of Columbia to honour the victim of the Ukrainian famine-genocide of 1932-1933.”

In October this year, the United States Congress passed a bipartisan resolution solemnly remembering “the 85th anniversary of the Holodomor of 1932-1933” and recognising “the findings of the Commission of the Ukraine Famine as submitted to Congress on April 22, 1988, including that ‘Joseph Stalin and those around him committed genocide against the Ukrainians in 1932-1933’.”

These measures do raise a question: whether the term genocide has been all too readily pressed into usage, when intent to do so must be the only reasonable inference on the evidence. (This salient point was reiterated in the Radislav Krstić case of the International Tribunal of the Former Yugoslavia.) Legal concepts can be such finicky things.

The murderous actions of the commissars and the agricultural appropriations in Ukraine that led to mass starvation were ideological and political moves, and deemed as such. Behind famines, argues Amartya Sen, lies the unscrupulous politician.  But even Raphael Lemkin, originator of the term genocide, would have to concede that the UN Genocide Convention was narrower than his own envisaging, despite pressing for the Ukrainian calamity to be so designated as a genocidal one. The acts of destruction, he had claimed more broadly in the American Journal of International Law, “are directed against groups, as such, and individuals are selected for destruction only because they belong to these groups.”

One of the hurdles built into the final, accepted draft of the UNGC was its marked avoidance of the killing of groups based on political and cultural reasons. Unsurprisingly, both the Soviet Union and the United States were particularly influential in making proof of genocide a rather tall order. Exterminating people for political or cultural reasons would have to fall into other categories of atrocity, and by then the very idea that “genocide” might be identified as state policy was cooled before the icy confrontations of the Cold War. The post-Cold War gave the word a renewed and bloody urgency.

Unfortunately, politics is an untidy business marked by vast grey spots of compromise, betrayal and collaboration. Peering into the Russian-Ukrainian past is an exercise doomed to find more similarities than differences, made subsequently absurd by such pointless exercises as identifying what Gogol’s true identity was. Poisonous parochialism has a tendency to afflict all sides, shredding common threads and creating false islands of difference.

Ukraine’s current political orientation has made good use of the Russian bugbear and its rapacity, an effort to isolate and distance a larger neighbour, but history is a cruel teacher. In the choking haze of victimhood, focus vanishes before a forced clarity, and here, a state politician in Australia, and a Ukrainian official, could both come to a happy understanding: that modern Russia was merely an extension of the Soviet Union, a state sponsor of terrorism, unjustifiably interested in the territory of its neighbours and an aggressor keen to relive history.

Shark Attack: Fearing Monsters in the Whitsundays

It begins with a gruesome account: a tourist, paddle-boarding and swimming in an idyllic setting baked by sun – in this case, Cid Harbour in the Whitsundays, Queensland – attacked by a shark. He suffers a massive loss of blood; he goes into cardiac arrest. The accounts that follow are just as predictable as the consequences of the shark’s work: a hunt for the animal, a debate about how best to curb future attacks, and an attempt to minimise adverse publicity for the tourist industry.

The death of medical researcher Daniel Christidis sent jitters through dive boat operators in the region. Local dive boat operator Tony Fontes remained philosophical. “People are willing to take the risk of swimming in waters that are potential risk of a jellyfish, using precautions like stinger suits, and I’m sure that tourists will do the same with sharks.”

Marine biologists such as Blake Chapman have also made it into the news with cautionary notes, but there is a feeling that calm heads are about to be lost. “We really need to be smarter than what we have been and actually learn from these things as opposed to just going out and killing animals.” The increased number of attacks could, surmised Chapman, be the result of a range of factors: the movement of shark food sources in the area, increased rainfall or changes in water temperature. According to Inspector Steve O’Connell, the Whitsunday area was not famed for its vicious shark attacks, featuring the odd “minor” nip and bite without more.

So far, Queensland Tourism Minister Kate Jones has resisted caving into demands that permanent drum lines be placed at Cid Harbour, while Fisheries Minister Mark Furner issued an unequivocal warning: “We can’t be clearer – don’t swim in Cid Harbour.”

The shark mauling was Cid Harbour’s third in the last few months (Two took place in September, one on a 12-year-old, Hannah Papps, whose leg required amputation; another, Tasmanian tourist Justine Barwick, who has returned to her home state to convalesce.)

With each attack, calls for further action in what resembles a guerrilla campaign are made. The human tribe, going on ritualistic rampage, demands retribution. The September attacks precipitated an all too familiar reaction: a needless, bloody cull that did little to either address the issue of swimmer safety nor the behaviour of the animals in question.

In 2014, when surfer Sean Pollard lost an arm and his other hand near Esperance, the West Australian Barnett government took little time to implement what it termed an “imminent threat” policy. A shark spotted near a popular beach was essentially fair game, to be preemptively slaughtered irrespective of how many people might be swimming or present in the area at the time. To make matters that much murkier, Pollard himself expressed doubt as to which animal was necessarily responsible for his injuries. Two bronze whalers came to mind.

Such policies, as Christopher Pepin-Neff observes in The Conversation, are based on the slippery foundations of myth: “individual large sharks pose a threat because they are territorial. A shark that bites someone is likely to do it again, and even if there is not an incident now, it is better to kill the shark because it may return.” These are the fictional “rogue” sharks, “problem” animals which supply the stuff of fantasy for confused policy makers more disposed to vengeance than accommodation.

Not being of the cuddly sort, sharks lie in the disturbed archive of the human unconscious, a monster that all too readily becomes a target and focus when an attack is reported. “Myths and monsters,” Marina Warner reminds us, “have been interpliced since the earliest extant poetry from Sumer: the one often features the other.” We are not only fearful, but wish to be entertained by fear. When the more innovative instincts of the human species kicks in, the monster can serve various useful purposes, be it as weaponry or medicine with fictive, healing properties.

In August, the opening of The Meg, an adaption of the first of Steve Alten’s six-book horror sci-fi series, again featured that old monster versus man motif, with the naval captain, Jonas Taylor doing battle with this intimidating resident of the sea, the megalodon. (To give the trope added ballast, Taylor is played by veteran action hero, Jason Statham, “the most fearsome type of human being to have ever lived” muse Luke Holland and Stuart Heritage in The Guardian.) Reduced to celluloid and animation, a remarkable animal becomes the marine nightmare dangerous and nigh impossible to tame, terrifying humans young and old. The obvious point – that humans don’t tend to feature high on a shark’s menu list – is assiduously avoided.

As Vivienne Westbrook of the Oceans Institute based at the University of Western Australia cautions, “fictionalised versions, with their threatening fins, chomping jaws and general grudge against humanity, have tended to blind us to what is truly amazing about sharks in our oceans.” But being blind is actually what the human species is rather good at, relapsing into fits of retribution that serve no purpose other than to satisfy a brief communal lust for revenge. The monster, even one whose predecessors have been on this planet for 450 million years, will be hunted and killed – by the tens of millions, if need be.

Extreme distraction (part 2)

By Tony Andrews

… Continued from Part 1

The world is rigged, and it has been for a very long time.

Society has a bad habit of labelling everyone into being something that can fit into an easily defined mould. Capitalist, Socialist, Christian, Muslim, right wing, left wing, progressive, conservative, conspiracy theorist, whatever term or ‘ism/ist’ that can be used to remove the impression of autonomous, free thinking individuals.

Labelling or pigeon holing is, after all, the basis of most of our western names. Our first names and our surnames are both derived from the need to identify and pigeon hole the owner, John Smith, ‘that man’s a christian and he’s a tradesman’, is one obvious example.

I’m no different to anyone else and am guilty of pigeon holing and labelling people and stuff as well, so feel free to label me as you wish, but at least I acknowledge that it’s a bad habit that allows us all to judge other people based on almost nothing… who knows, maybe it’s genetic.

The modern reality show, as well as being entertaining, is also exposing the flaws in our economic system. The popularity of shows that give an insight into how the other half lives, gives a newfound and constant form of proof to the world that the rich and privileged in our society are no smarter than average people. In fact, often they actually appear less intelligent, more self-absorbed and seem to lack self-awareness more than most of the world’s population.

While we laugh at the selfish and demanding personalities, edited to capture their individual extremes, the more outrageous the better, in order to capture the tv audience from other network’s similar, reality-based shows, overall, the essence of who these Uber members of society really are shines through. And we are all slowly realising that these are the people and children of the people, that control our very existence.

That they didn’t get where they are today by working harder or being smarter than the average wage earner. They did it by being either, manufactured by industry as marketing tools, a personality that the target market for the corporate product can identify with, or inherited wealth and the networks and connections that offers, has provided them with a life that their brains and ability could never have provided.

To quote Jack London, “they walk on dead man’s legs.”

The same flaws are being exposed in our political system. The constant need for program content on news and current affairs shows and its ‘news all day, everyday’ mantra, means that our elected representatives in government are revealed as the people they really are, warts and all.

The talking heads that interview our members of parliament and the senate, as well as our economic and intellectual leaders, are trained to attack weakness and to follow their employer’s editorial direction.

They need to look ‘hard hitting’ in order to maintain their own profile and career, in other words, to continue to service their mortgage and investments… to earn their daily bread, so to speak, because let’s face it, one thing we all have in common is a need to provide for ourselves and those we love.

The interviewers also have to appear knowledgeable about whatever subject is being discussed whilst maintaining their image as ‘ordinary’ members of society.

It’s a balancing act that has cut many careers short, as we don’t like ‘tall poppies’ or ‘know it alls.’

The work of selectively diligent researchers and discreet earpieces that can direct the interview from behind the scenes, mean these talking heads often appear more knowledgeable on a subject to the viewing public, than the person being interviewed, regardless of their training or expertise in the field being discussed… and we wonder why people have lost faith in ‘experts’… although, to be fair, strict ideological doctrines, like those that are universally trained in neo-liberal economic theory, for example, hasn’t helped ‘experts’ credibility much either.

Interrogated would be a more appropriate description of the modern interview technique. Especially when it is a politician whose views differ from those promoted by the shareholder appointed controllers of the media and whose ideas may upset the status quo… after all, the senior management of the media corporations want to keep their jobs as well and provide for themselves and those they love.

The accepted reality of today is that we need to be ‘competitive in the global economy,’ but the fact is that it’s just another slogan to promote the corporate’s profit serving agenda. Like the politically powerful ‘stop the boats’ or ‘jobs and growth’, used by the business arm of politics to persuade the general public that they are serving the needs of the people, when the reality is that they are only serving themselves and our corporate masters. We are a means to an end.

The corporations need us, the same way that a pig farmer needs to feed and fatten his produce in order to profit from their sale at market.

We, the consumers, are powerless and in today’s world, taxpayer funded government spending has added to the burden on citizens by directly subsidising these corporations in order to attract their investment. Allowing them to take full advantage of profit shifting to their parent companies via tax havens overseas and increasing the financial strain on the individual tax paying members of a country.

What is the point of a high GDP if the living standards of a country’s citizens don’t rise proportionately with it?

What has the ideology of the free market delivered for ordinary Australians?

For an economy to benefit everyone it needs to have a balance between regulation and the free market. No single solution ideology fits our modern societies, if they ever even did.

It’s about balance but, instead of looking for balance, we’ve allowed ourselves to get distracted, again, with seemingly urgent issues and philosophical debates that allow the corporate machine to continue on its path to worldwide economic and social collapse.

More and more of us know this now, we can see that we’re all being used, but we still fall for the old ‘divide and conquer’ rubbish. It’s not all our fault though, we’ve been trained by history to accept our reality and not rock the boat too much.

We know that millions upon millions of ordinary people have died in the pursuit of ‘freedom’. We know that fighting for a fairer share of the pie often leaves those that can least afford it destitute and hungry. Of course, we, the ordinary members of western culture and society, are scared to risk everything for a chance to help everyone and ourselves. History has shown us that we’ve risked it all before, only to replace one set of masters with another or have our burden increased by victorious incumbents we swore to serve. However, there is no free ride.

To really change things in favour of the majority of humanity, we need to resist the distractions of blame, hatred, and revenge. We need to resist those that insist change can only come with ‘class struggle’ and great personal loss because that brings with it the same problems… blame, hatred and revenge.

I’m not saying that there will be no cost, that it’s as easy to fix as snapping our fingers, but the revolution of the last thirty years, that’s what the economic reforms have been, a revolution, have occurred almost unseen. Capital has taken complete control over almost all the world economies. Social protections and our communal well-being have been removed almost completely from consideration.

In our country, Australia, de-regulation and the sale of publicly owned assets, as well as the offshoring of manufacturing have resulted in unparalleled levels of economic growth (on paper anyway). The social costs of these reforms need to be assessed accurately, calculated and given a value. This value then has to be returned to us. Not necessarily in monetary form, but in increased social protections and the ability to reform ourselves for future economic development, to regain the shared ability for individual economic prosperity.

We need to take some form of control back from the domination of the stock market’s rise and fall.

It’s not impossible, it just needs accurate data and the will to pursue a counter revolution. ‘Changing the rules’, a slogan and campaign produced by the Australian trade union movement is an example of this counter revolution. It’s already begun, the people are getting behind it. No guns. No violence. No ‘seizing the means of production’ or overthrowing capitalism. Just solid data and the will to initiate change to benefit people, not just bank balances. To quote a couple of influential Australians; “from little things, big things grow.”

The trade union movement and by extension, all workers, have suffered much during the current revolution.

The offshoring of manufacturing and the ‘modernising’ of industrial relations in all other forms of employment, has damaged our societies much more than the politically uninterested could believe possible.

Until rapid deregulation allowed the ‘housing boom’ to create another lucrative revenue stream for the multinationals, new suburbs around Australia were mostly built with public funds to provide housing for the workers that were needed in our industries. Not just large locally or internationally owned factories, but our mining and power generation as well.

Local workers earned enough to eventually build their own homes in the same areas. Creating ‘local’ economies, providing employment and opportunity for small businesses to service the local community. Creating, at the same time, the ‘fair go’, that’s become a cliché of Australian values.

Now, our communities are fractured. We no longer know our neighbours well or work together. Our high-priced homes in new estates, planned and built around the potential for profit generated by their development, rather than servicing the needs of local employers, has divided us more than skin colour or religious belief ever could.

Historically, communities formed the backbone of trade unionism in Australia and around the world. If workers in one industry were locked out or on strike, their friends, other members of the local community, did their best to ensure that the striking worker’s families still got fed and provided moral, as well as financial, support.

This concept of community must be recognised, also given a value, and internationalised. If the global economy is ever going to work for all of us, we need to re-adopt the same approach or similar, that allowed individual prosperity and the means for anyone to progress above the superficial barriers of ‘class’.

The idea needs to be continually reinforced in the public minds that modern unions are not just self-interested groups looking to improve the fortunes of some workers, while ignoring others that are not under their influence.

If we allow the current crop of revolutionary leaders and their propaganda arm, the media corporations, to continue with the ‘us vs. them’ style doctrines, directing the dialogue and condensing the public debate around globalisation into division between the haves and have nots, the future of the union movement and its regained public allegiance by the political parties that originated from their support, will wane.

Ignoring the current age of corporatism is not an option. Any political party that promises to wind back the clock and take capital head on, will very quickly find themselves unelectable.

Collective unity must include everyone.

The idea that for those with less to gain more, those with much must lose everything, has been an unshakeable barrier to change and is a huge factor in why we are where we are today.

The idea that there must always be winners and losers in any negotiation, means the threat of the guillotine still remains. For this reason, ‘changing the rules’ may bring about unintended consequences because capital will not capitulate.

It will go down fighting.

It will change the rules as well and, as history has shown us, it plays dirty.

The next card up the corporate sleeve if the status quo is too threatened, will be putting down social revolt in order to maintain the free market revolution. Not right now of course, so don’t go building a bunker in the bush just yet, they’ll need a reasonable excuse first.

Again, they’ll go back to basics.

The ever-widening gap between the rich and poor will be exploited even further because hate makes us blind. When we ‘see red’ we forget consequences. We forget to think rationally. Hate is a powerful weapon because it’s the one thing that can turn the masses into a mob.

Midway through the First World War, German leaders knew exactly what they were doing when they released Lenin from prison and shipped him off to Russia in a boxcar. The war was going badly, and they were desperate to ease the pressure on their borders. A Russia thrown into political turmoil seemed like a great idea at the time… it didn’t help them of course, they still lost the war, but the consequences of their actions still echo through time. The concept of the ‘class struggle’ has never gone away and it will only take massaging and coercion to steer the people’s desire for a fairer deal into something far bigger.

Just as the rise of salesman Trump has challenged the current political structure, it won’t be long before his polar opposite appears.

Not Sanders in the US, not Corbyn in the UK, these men desire stability and a fair go for all. That is not enough to create the kind of conflict that can stop change in its tracks.

The media, intentionally or not, will help create a new Lenin.

Like with the modern version of fascism, rising under Trump and others, ideology will be a secondary consideration. Old style communism will not work. Trotsky, for example, didn’t decide to take to the countryside and preach to the farm labourers, the rural peasantry, his version of a worker’s paradise for no reason. The more educated workers in the cities and larger towns were not so easy to convince and allow themselves to willingly be used as a weapon of their own personal destruction.

A new angle will need to be found and it’s quite possible that the trade union movement, somewhere in the world, will inadvertently provide it. Covertly encouraged by the masters of our present economic system.

Passion is infectious and easily exploited by those that have none. Given enough rope, a ‘true person of the people’, indulged by those in the media in search of high ratings and the illusion of job security that ratings provide, will help create an ‘anti-Trump’. Someone that can polarise the people by offering another means for us all to acquire that new can opener or toaster. The rope will tighten and there will be war.

The real winners though, will not be people. It will be the corporate machine and it will continue to roll over the top of us long after the war it creates between the historic monsters of ‘fascism’ and ‘communism’ has come and gone.

Any changes to the rules that will benefit us all and direct a fair distribution of profit back to those that provide the labour and consume the products created will be stalled indefinitely.

It will also provide another ‘ism’ for future corporate revolutionaries to scare us, the workers/consumers, into submission with for as long as they can… the threat of ‘unionism.’

Because almost all humans have at least one thing in common. We may wait years to buy a new can opener or toaster, deciding which brand suits us best, but when we make up our minds to get one, we buy it, and nothing will change our mind once it’s been made up. The same applies for which footy team we support or political party we vote for.

So the revolution will continue in the background and it will be our own fault, because instead of balance, we’ll allow extremes to control the agenda and humanity’s direction. Then, when the burden seems like too much to bear and we start to demand, again, a ‘fair go’, we’ll again search for someone to blame, rekindle our hatred, then seek revenge…

With the corporation’s covert approval.

Risorgimento!

The Culture is dead, long live the Culture!”…

When I was quite young, and I heard for the first time the cry of “The King is dead, long live the King!”… I was confused … how can the king live long if he is already dead?…But of course, well … you know the logic of that old saying with out me saying it.

And just as the new King replaced that deceased King, so too must we replace the old dead Australian culture with a new one … just as a language will absorb sounds and words from another tongue and “convert” them into common words of the dominant language, so too must we allow our culture to do the same..to innovate..to change.

It is why the English language has become so flexible and widely spoken … this absorption and adoption cannot and should not be stopped..just as the death and birth of cultures ought not be stalled … to do so can see a language die … as Ancient Greek has died and so to has Latin as a spoken language. In truth, those ancient languages never were the true language of the people..most speaking a mixture of Mediterranean/Middle-Eastern/Asiatic dialects … the pure, grammatical Greek and Latin was restricted to the elite ruling classes and academics.

Nevertheless the Greek nation with all that it had possessed – with its nationality, its language, its art–belonged to the past.It was only in a comparatively narrow circle not of men of culture–for such, strictly speaking, no longer existed – but of men of erudition that the Greek literature was still cherished even when dead; that the rich inheritance which it had left was inventoried with melancholy pleasure or arid refinement of research; and that, possibly, the living sense of sympathy or the dead erudition was elevated into a semblance of productiveness. (Mommsen; The History of Rome).

The tragedy of any society is for it to lock itself into a stagnant situation of cultural growth. This happens with the creation of an “industry” around a favoured era of the nation’s history … a false reality, a twisted jingoism is created with a romantic view of what existed and of what happened in that epoch. We saw this with the Menzies era after the second world war, when conservative governments went all out promoting the “Anzac Spirit”, with special day celebrations and marches … Returned service people leagues and institutions holding a falsely elevated and powerful social position in the community and even their heads of office like Bruce Ruxton drawing up political policy for the government … When all the time the last of the old culture of the “Bronzed Anzac” had died on the brutal battlefields or prisoner of war camps in Burma, Thailand or Singapore. There is no illusion any more of the stolid, manly returned soldier … All were wounded, all were hurt … just that everything was done to hide away from the public eyes those whose wounds were so obvious or whose pain was most visible.

The notion of an Empire “on which the sun will never set” has created a romantic illusion of the Victorian era of English monarchy: A time in reality of brutal management of earlier colonisation. This illusion was formulated and maintained in Australia up to the second world war … by then, following on from the great depression, any illusion of a Greater British Empire could only be maintained with blind faith and a fiercely selective reporting of worshipping propaganda … the beast was already dead, but because of the political need for conservative dominance, a kind of bizarre “dance” was performed around regular appearances of the Royal Family in the colonies and by all those status class-leeches that depended on them … a weird dance of necromancing the ancient rites of aristocracy and class privilege. And along with this black magic of public adoration and worship, there was the Menzies era of metaphorical necrophilia with a lost cultural soul.

The literary tendency of this age was varied and could not be otherwise, for the age itself was divided between the old and the new modes. The same tendencies which came into conflict on the field of politics, the national-Italian tendency of the conservatives, the Helleno-Italian or, if the term be preferred, cosmopolitan tendency of the new monarchy, fought their battles also on the field of literature. The former attached itself to the older Latin literature, which in the theatre, in the school, and in erudite research assumed more and more the character of classical …

… the poets of the sixth century were never more vividly felt than in this epoch of thoroughly developed epigonism (an artistic or literary imitation of an artist by a later generation), which in literature as decidedly as in politics looked up to the century of the Hannibalic warriors as to the golden age that had now unhappily passed away beyond recall. No doubt there was in this admiration of the old classics no small portion of the same hollowness and hypocrisy which are characteristic of the conservatism of this age in general … (Mommsen; The History of Rome)

This obsession we had with a dead culture, the culture of “ockerism”, of a romantic construct of the “Bronzed Aussie”, with an imperial monarchy giving “cultural cred” to a coterie of anachronistic worshippers of all things regal and militaristic. But in effect, this masculine bravado, this Anzac legend had died with the dying days of the second world war … instead, where brave reality was needed to reconstruct the hurt of a generation, a phoney pastiche of “masculinity” was erected as a stop-gap until it was hoped a new wave of younger patriotic citizens could be persuaded to keep carrying the flag … but then along came the Vietnam War … and that put the kybosh on that little plan.

The world of literature of that age giving a certain credence to the myth can perhaps be best represented with the film of the Neville Shute story; “A Town like Alice” … taking us from the heroic to the horrors of war to the sentimental romanticism of a town in the centre of Australia … overlooking with suitable musical accompaniment the real-life horrors of what happened to those returned soldiers, traumatised by the brutalities they had seen. Such horrors were not allowed to be presented to the general public…instead, this cultural myth of male camaraderie and stoic, silent endurance was manufactured and maintained.

In contrast, we have the Richard Flannigan novel of “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” … A story close to his own knowledge of his father’s experiences on the Thai-Burma railway. He in effect buries the myth of cultural heroism:

Though there is much horror in the book, The Narrow Road to the Deep North is ultimately redemptive. By shining a light on a particularly low moment in history and coupling that with the everyday details of life, of enduring love, of the impact of time and memory on our own history and the broader history of the world, Flanagan creates a book that is at once familiar and foreign, and ultimately deeply satisfying. As Issy put it:

This world of dew
is only a world of dew —
and yet. (Magdalene Ball; A review of The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan).

There has been an attempt at resurrecting this myth of “heroic masculinity”, this white supremacy, Western Cultural supremacy over all others … It is false … it is a failure, like the proud, ancient Romans gathered in their exclusive Senate house or their expensive villas in old Pompeii and waxing lyrical in those grammatically pure languages of a culture, long dead in the streets outside.

John Howard sidled up with what was left of the monarchists in his time as Prime Minister, and they worked in-step with the Murdoch media to concoct a “new vision” of an old story of the “Anzacs of Gallipoli”, turning the faces of the youth of the nation toward their own private sunset and delivered a gross stage-set of the “heroics of war” with a emulation cringe-worthy of a modern “Biggles” or something like the wide-eyed “Brylcreme philosophy” of a Boy’s own Annual. And in gingering up an old stew, he has created, in his tin-pot middle-class manner, a farcical effigy of “Golden Aussie Youth” with his “battlers” and personal wish for such to “feel relaxed and comfortable in their own skin” … a “skin” now clothed in the Nazi uniform of our once Fascist enemy and with a face over-rouged and whored-up for Hayek’s Capitalism!

No … Just as Ancient Rome had to fall so Modern Europe could arise, so must we let our archaic Anglo-European culture die so a new Australian culture can be born into the environment it exists … into the Pacific/Indian oceans … into the region of Asia …

Into our multi-cultural, honest and honourable image.

RISORGIMENTO NOW!

This article was originally published on my own blog, freefall852.wordpress.com.

Masquerading Reforms: The Tricks of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

The surgical dismembering of Jamal Khashoggi has sent the military establishments of several countries into a tizz. Arms manufacturers are wondering whether this is an inconvenient blip, a ruffling moral reminder about what they are dealing with. Autocratic regimes indifferent to the lives of journalists are wondering whether the fuss taken about all this is merely the fuss endured, till the next bloody suppression. But importantly, those states notionally constituting the West may have to reconsider the duping strategy that the House of Saud has executed with the deft efficiency of the dedicated axeman.

The ranks are closing in around the Saudi royals, notably the purportedly suspicious son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose status has been given an undue measure of inflation from various powers happy to see reform in the air. The measures taken by MBS have been modest and hardly worth a sigh: the cutting of subsidies, permitting women to drive, and restructuring the economy. But like a fake article of purchase at an inordinately expensive auction, the prince’s counterfeit credentials are starting to peer through the canvas.

The Crown Prince has been happy to provide a train of examples to suggest to his Western audience that the roots of a liberal Saudi Arabian past are very much in evidence. To Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, the beguiling royal explained that, “Before 1979 there were societal guardianship customs, but no guardianship laws in Saudi Arabia.”

The tactic is clear: speak of a yesteryear that was jolly and a touch tender, and promise that a current era seemingly harder can emulate it. Goldberg was good enough to make the observation that the Crown Prince had gotten one thing right from the perspective of his sponsors in Europe, the Middle East and the United States: “He has made all the right enemies.”

In the aftermath of Khashoggi’s disappearance, Mohammed was keen to get a word in to the Trump administration before any firm conclusions could be drawn. His first port of call was President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and national security adviser John Bolton. According to The Washington Post, the call featured one theme of justification: Khashoggi was a dangerous, destabilising Islamist, and any tears shed would be premature.

Publicly, the Crown Prince played along with the conceit that the death of Khashoggi had been “very painful for all Saudis”, being unjustifiable. Khalid bin Salman, Riyadh’s ambassador in Washington, insisted that the slain journalist had been a friend of the Kingdom, “dedicating a great portion of his life to serve his country.”

The powers, regional and beyond, have taken to douching the image of the Crown Prince, hoping to minimise prospects for any rash action. Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu might well concede that was happened in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month “was horrendous and should be duly dealt with”, but the broader strategic interests topped anything connected with a mere journalist’s life. When a figure corrupted by power reasons with violently inflicted death, he is bound to embrace that word that forgives and justifies all: stability. “At the same time, it is very important for the stability of the world, for the region and for the world, that Saudi Arabia remain stable.”

Minor appendages of US power such as Australia also find themselves in a tangle about how best to approach the revelations and claimed royal involvement. Shrouded in history, the officials of distant Canberra also remain gulled, confused, and happy to be led. The Australian defence sector has been placed in the dim light of deals with the Kingdom. As legal advocate Kellie Tanter notes, documents obtained via Freedom of Information laws confirm that, between January 1 2016 to December 31, 2017, sixteen military licenses were procured for export of military equipment from Australia to Saudi Arabia. As is traditional with such freedom of information laws, permit holders, permit numbers and approved goods, consignees, end-users and approved destinations were redacted.

Under questioning from Labor Senator Alex Gallacher last month in a Senate estimates hearing, the Australian Department of Defence was not forthcoming about the nature of the exports to Riyadh. Official Tom Hamilton refused to disclose their value, citing weak “commercial-in-confidence” reasons.

The pickle Australian policy makers find themselves in lies in the obligations of the Arms Trade Treaty, which insists on a ban on exports of weapons to countries where evidence can be shown of use against civilians. The Saudi-led campaign in Yemen against the Houthis, featuring a true orgy of civilian-targeted destruction, qualifies. But Yemen hardly qualifies as a humanitarian disaster in Australian political discourse (distant places have a certain ethical irrelevance to the plodders in Canberra). To make sure her bases are covered, Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne, in reference not to the war in Yemen but the killing of Khashoggi, suggested that, “All options are on the table”. It is already clear what option Canberra prefers: ignore the complicity of the House of Saud, and keep the procession of defence contracts going.

Khashoggi himself was clear enough about the nature of the Crown Prince: the royal was entirely self-centred, and any reform would take place in a contrived way. Concepts of reform within the Saudi royal court can, at best, only be a limited affair, and have nothing to do with deeper social considerations. Saudi intellectuals, activists and journalists languished in prison even as MBS was being praised for his openness; such projects as the futuristic city of Neom were doomed examples of extravagance rather than forward thinking.

“He has no interest in political reform,” comes Khashoggi, a voice from the grave. “He thinks he can do it alone, and he doesn’t want really any counter opinion or anyone to share those changes in Saudi Arabia with him.” Hardly revelatory, and something bound to do little to turn the ladies and men of the security establishments of the West.

Extreme distraction

By Tony Andrews

A revolution has occurred while we’ve been watching the telly, dreaming of a new car, dishwasher or holiday, and trying our best not to offend anyone.

No tanks have rolled through suburban Australia, no massed forces have seized the factories and farms, instead they’ve been relocated overseas or sold off, radically and completely changing the game.

Actually, ‘game’ is not the right word: our lives, our rights, our ability to work hard and be paid accordingly, our chance to get above debt and enjoy a comfortable life that allows more than just the illusion of freedom and independence. That is what’s been taken. It is no game.

This should be a reasonable and achievable goal for everyone, and from the 1950s up until the mid 1990s, it was. However, it isn’t anymore and never will be again for the majority of us, without a counter revolution.

We’ve been fooled into believing in nonsense concepts, like karma and good things come to those who wait. Work hard and be rewarded, good triumphs over evil… that the extra money generated by tax cuts for business will trickle down to the rest of us. But it’s all rubbish.

The reality created by this revolution doesn’t allow us all to become rich, doesn’t allow us all to have that one good idea that can put an entrepreneur into the world of the super wealthy.

That’s just how it is.

Almost all of us are destined to see out our days worrying about our rent or mortgage and paying just for the privilege of our existence.

Paying all we earn for our need for comfort and security. For our necessities and our most modest dreams.

Paying all we earn for our electricity, our phone, our car, our big screen televisions with Foxtel and internet, ensuring we can feed and clothe our children, send them to school, and dreaming that, hopefully, they can have a better life than us.

But they almost certainly won’t.

Life for all of us is full of good days and bad, regardless of our level of wealth. The difference between the haves and have nots though, is what they can do to ease the bad days and extend the good.

Most of us can only imagine never needing to worry about providing the basic needs of existence for ourselves and those we love.

Never worrying about where the money will come from to pay for the car registration or the utility bills. It’s a luxury not afforded to many Australians or indeed, most of the world’s people.

Worrying about unexpected illness or injury and the affects that it can have on our quality of life and finances has been eased a little for Australians without accumulated wealth, but the attacks on Medicare since its inception, and escalating rapidly, has given us long-term causes for concern. But, like everything that is taken away from us, it’s downplayed or dismissed as scaremongering from the radically conservative members of society… our revolutionary masters.

How to stay employed and have enough money to retire comfortably after our working days are over.

These worries take up a lot of the average person’s thoughts, just like finding enough work to feed themselves and their families possessed the thoughts of our great grandparents during the Depression.

Today, the radically conservative influenced governments and the media make sure that the rest of our thinking time is filled with distraction, not just entertaining programming, sports and reality shows but also news that’s tailor made to suit their needs. Preying on our fears and manipulating our emotions with one sided statistics and an agenda focused coverage of local and world events.

Advertising that forces us all to be avid, materialistic, consumers, spending more than we can afford.

This distraction allows them to further stretch the gap between those who have and those who have not, often without really meaning to. They are mostly just reasonably normal people. People that have been trained to see the world one way and have been given free reign by our apathy and life’s distractions to build the world to reflect their beliefs, often with unintended and unseen consequences. ‘It’s not personal, it’s just business’, is a phrase we’ve all heard way too often.

It’s not their fault really. How many people actually read a book that they aren’t required to?

How many people continue to educate themselves informally after their schooling is complete? Not many, and who can blame them?

It’s much easier and less stressful to drift with the tide.

Most people see glimpses of the truth at times, but the saying, “ignorance is bliss” is truly based in fact, so that when we see a politician or political commentator discussing the merits of this policy or that, the effects on our daily lives purposely obscured by lengthy, convoluted dialogue, we switch off, find another distraction and leave it up to those that we assume, know best.

One of the main focuses of distraction by boredom is the economy.

When you listen to our elected representatives in government and their spin doctors, the lobbyists, and our corporate masters, you get the idea that the economy is a fragile thing, that any negative affect to shareholder value and trade will cause untold damage to our way of life. And it’s mostly true. They have structured it that way.

They will wring every cent out of us that they can because the corporations no longer have any choice. Their programming has been designed to deliver certain results, not to think about social consequences.

They must expand and maximise profit, devouring smaller enterprises because if they don’t, they too will be taken over by other corporations.

Surplus profit has to be put to work to create more profit or else the whole concept of corporate capitalism will fail, but it’s very nature will also be our undoing.

Hardly anybody is prepared to make decisions anymore because it may affect their own position in the corporate world or jeopardise their climb up the ladder.

The ones that do decide on the future direction of the corporation that employs them are rarely given all the facts related to the decisions they are required to make. Only the information that is beneficial to the stock price appears to be calculated and taken into account, for reasons of ‘plausible deniability’ those in charge often don’t want to know all the facts.

Those below them in the corporate structure, will also quite willingly throw someone else under a bus to maintain their own progression and livelihood. Decisions which involve personal financial risk are avoided because the modern business has purposely removed the protections once afforded to its employees.

No one wants to be the negative voice that stands in the way of profit. Altruism and a social conscience have no place in the boardrooms of the corporate world. They have a multitude of think tanks and spin doctors compiling oaths, company creeds and internal policies that would have the outside world believe otherwise, but unless there’s a financial benefit to behaving ethically or for the good of humanity and the planet, it just doesn’t happen… well, sometimes it does actually, but it’s more of a by-product of progress rather than purposeful humanitarianism.

The world is changing though, like ‘terminators’ that have become self-aware, massed humanity is awakening slowly to reality. The only way the machine can continue to generate profit for profits sake, well into the future, is by distracting the masses with the same old tricks. By giving the monsters from the past enough air to distract us all from creating real change that may negatively affect the corporate bottom line.

Today, that distraction is ‘privilege’, ‘equality’ and ‘over-population’. Tomorrow, unless we’re very careful, the only solutions offered to us will be ‘fascism’ or ‘communism’.

Extremes never fail to keep us occupied.

White privilege is a fact, but it’s also a fairly broad term that misses the point. It seems to encompass all white people, and, to a certain extent, it does. Except that, for the majority of white people, it doesn’t mean very much.

Sure, we don’t generally have police checking our identification before we are allowed to buy alcohol, as is a frequent occurrence for Australian First Nations people, or are not baselessly accused of being ‘terrorists’ because of our olive skin, beards and belief in a certain religion, but overall, the majority of white people are not exactly given the red carpet treatment by society either.

Once upon a time it was definitely ‘trueish.’

White people did control commerce and write the versions of history that our western societies still mostly assume to be true. This is changing of course, but the belief of ‘white superiority’ will linger in the minds and ambitions of some for a long time to come. As will the concept of ‘racial superiority’ in the minds of people with a different melatonal composition, but if the ordinary Irish, Scot, English, or Frenchmen, from centuries past, could still speak, I doubt they would ever have considered themselves privileged above others.

It’s just another slogan that separates us all into factions and divides humanity, allowing the revolution to continue in the background.

An emotive branding that simplifies a complex issue, providing a focal point for the historically oppressed that covers a section of our global community with a blanket that would seem to define colonialism and atrocity purely on skin colour.

Or, if you’re white skinned, a rallying cry to draw those with an obvious genetic legacy into allegiance with those that wish to use our massed alliance to pursue their own agenda. It ignores the real truth, that individuals within the collective global society, with skins of many hues and varying degrees of size and strength, have no real power. We have no voice that isn’t just an extension of someone else’s philosophical or political belief. Our emotions are easy prey for our present and potential future, revolutionary leaders. Men and women that are trained to capitalise on our frustrations and voicelessness.

After watching a ten-minute adformercial about the latest and greatest can opener or toaster, who doesn’t want to own one themselves? If every couple of days we’re told we’re being discriminated against because we’re white, black, too short, too tall, disabled, unskilled, too skilled, male or female, genderless even, it’s hard to resist the impulse to agree, especially when we are barely treading water. Even the most successful humans (in monetary terms) of our societies are prone to the suggestion of discrimination against themselves. ‘Class warfare’ is their rallying cry, isolated by their wealth and despised by those that are not so well off. The unfortunate victims of ‘the politics of envy’.

We are all malleable to suggestion.

We are unconsciously drawn to anything that appears to improve our present circumstances. We buy lotto tickets hoping for a better life, knowing that we don’t have a hope in hell of winning. We grasp at any straw that’s offered to us because we know that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

Am I saying that discrimination based on human traits doesn’t occur or the lingering effects of historical oppression are blown out of proportion… no, I’m not.

An interesting fact is that men between 6’ and 6’ 3” are the most highly paid and are disproportionately represented in the higher levels of the corporate and political world. Is this their fault?

Are they smarter than those of less impressive stature?

No more or less than any other group within society, it’s just that height commands a kind of instant respect and is considered a ‘leadership quality’… unless they are too tall of course, over 6’ 5” and we consider them to be freaks.

Is this bias towards a certain male height an example of what they call ‘reverse discrimination,’ because I’m not sure what that term means exactly, but it’s obvious that we are not only malleable to suggestion, we are all guilty of stereotyping as well. Which goes a long way towards creating the world’s winners and losers.

Even the terms we use most to describe admiration and respect reflect this bias. We “look up” to someone and “look down” on those that we don’t respect. We ‘size people up’ to appraise their worth.

Men of less impressive stature that question this ‘natural’ order, apparently have a well known syndrome…

Humanity it seems, deserves the future that has been written for us.

We all need community, people that we feel akin to, that we consider are the same as ourselves. It’s natural and human. It’s just that it’s no longer sustainable for these feelings of tribal connectivity to be localised or based on common features, cultures or easily definable traits. If we want human life to continue to exist, we have to evolve, not regress. Race. Religion. Nationality. All redundant. All just a form of special effects used to distract us from the present revolt.

Blaming individuals or groups within society for our disconnect from modern life and the lack of individual advancement, regardless of effort, is pointless and self-defeating. Collectively, we are achieving nothing except another drift into catastrophic global conflict, but there is hope.

Slowly and, in most cases, without actually meaning to, individuals on our planet are educating themselves, all of them.

We have access to the accumulated knowledge of the entire world. Our children can access historical information that their grandparents, unless specifically trained, would’ve refused to believe could be true.

They were not stupid, not at all, unfortunately, ignorance is now commonly regarded as meaning the same thing, but ignorant just means unaware.

Our grandparents were generally ‘unaware’ of what was happening outside their own borders or interests. Which is why they were susceptible to ‘the call to arms.’ Why the people of the past appeared so willing to allow themselves to be treated like cattle and herded in whichever direction their political leaders required. Now, we want more than a strong hand to guide us or a romanticised ideal. We know there’s no Utopian paradise awaiting us after the war, any war is won… the truths of history are now in the public domain and easy to find if you look or accidentally stumble upon when ‘net surfing. However, before enough of us wake up a ‘strong hand to guide us’ is a distinct possibility for our future.

The drift away from our major political party’s is a reflection of the dissatisfaction and doubt in the ability of our leadership to improve our individual lives. Which is why voters are choosing to elect people that they believe share their outlook or are prepared to ‘shake things up’. Trump, a billionaire salesman. Clive Palmer, a billionaire mining magnate. Pauline Hanson, a fish n chip shop owner.

‘Class’ is not the issue for most voters, they don’t care about your background anymore, they just want things to be different.

Trump is a good example of this indifference to class war by the general public. He is a salesman, pure and simple. Trained from birth to ‘make the deal’, he is not affected by attacks on his intelligence or diplomatic skills by political pundits or his rivals, it runs like water off a duck’s back because he knows who his target market is. He knows who’s buying what he’s selling. It isn’t the intelligentsia or political elite, it’s the average, disillusioned punter.

These voters are not confined to any particular class, they are from all levels of society. That’s what makes him scary to the existing political establishment and exemplifies how easy it is to drift toward fascism. Not ideological based fascism as we know it, but a different kind. The people know he’s bullshitting to them, but it’s ‘honest’, car salesman style bullshit. He’s promising them a better can opener, a better toaster, and just like insomniacs tele-surfing at midnight, the voters have got their credit cards ready.

Those that wish to continue the present revolution are getting desperate to maintain the illusion of division rooted in different skin colours and cultural backgrounds. Between left and right, god and the devil, between anything that they can think of really, to keep us from collectively changing the world to one that benefits all of mankind, instead of just those that have inherited the earth and its riches as we know it. The modern beneficiary however, is not a person or small group of powerful individuals, they’ve now been incorporated. The multinational is now in control of our destiny, and it’s a runaway train. A Titanic in search of an iceberg.

The individuals at the helm however, are still under the delusion that they are in control and will fight to the death (your death and your children’s, not theirs of course) to maintain the status quo. Seemingly oblivious to the fact that their fortunes are tied so closely to the stock price and not their brains. The influential proponents of the ‘free market’ and its revolutionary leaders are not immune to the negative effects of its progression, unfortunately though, their cognitive dissonance and fear of a future created by the disgruntled masses continue to perpetuate the current revolution…

They feel they have no choice.

War and economic collapse are almost inevitable because the real division in society is dawning in the minds of ordinary, working people. Those that are in power, as well as those that seek control, are starting to strategise. Some have even re-emerged from history’s closet, to claim what they believe is rightfully theirs… before it’s too late.

Before enough of us understand that philosophical ideals and adherence to strict ideological doctrines are the reason we are where we are today, and that almost all of them are a con.

The world seems unable to stop the rapid rise of inequality. The yawning chasm between the haves and the have nots is ever widening, yet the ‘solution spinners’, the political and intellectual elite of our world (both from the left, the right, and all spaces in between) apparently have no ideas or set directions to follow that aren’t based on ideological and/or philosophical notions from the last and previous centuries. Notions that widen the chasm even further by encouraging hatred and revenge. That promise to satisfy their followers, yet only offer further division of our already fragmented humanity.

The agenda driven, manufactured versions of division, the ones based on religious beliefs or melatonal composition are designed to distract us, but the ones underlying those, the ones that until now, have been easy to defeat for those with the money, are not so easily hidden.

When the obvious disparity between the wealthy and the wage earner is more and more pronounced every day and the access to factual information regarding wealth inequality is within the reach of almost anyone with access to the internet and an inquiring mind, those that hold all the cards need to reshuffle the deck.

Until recently, the aces hiding up their sleeve haven’t been needed, but the age of distraction, the game of smoke and mirrors is almost over. It’s time for the manipulators to bring out their big guns, and this is why…

All the distractions of the modern world are failing to numb the minds of wage earners and their children. Normal, everyday people, that are developing, through education and intimate knowledge, an awareness of the real causes of the stress created by providing a living for themselves and those that depend on them.

The ability and means to understand that something is wrong with the way the world is run and that no matter how hard they work, they only ever seem to barely, and not always, stay ahead of their financial commitments. Seeing a future where retirement is not going to provide security or comfort. Where their children are at the mercy of an untouchable system that still doesn’t care if they survive or not.

That doesn’t care about addressing past wrongs or future internationally significant issues. Paying lip service to change, instead of actually changing to advance the interests of all mankind…

OK, I meant man and womankind… umm, maybe I mean all genderkind. Forgive me, it’s difficult to keep up with the divisive distractions that seem so vital to address and cause us all to walk on eggshells every time we open our mouths or write down our thoughts, but actually create more division that hides the real barriers to collective unity.

Concluded tomorrow with Part 2

“This country belongs to whoever shows up”

Imagine what sort of government we would get if only older people voted.

Well that’s practically what happened in the USA, where only 46.1 per cent of people 18-29 years old voted in the 2016 Presidential election, and 58.7 per cent of people aged 18-29 voted. That’s not a good return, is it?

The older cohorts, however, stampeded to the polling booths. Of the 45-64 age group 66.6 per cent voted, while 70.9 per cent of those aged 65 and older ticked the box.

Remember, of course, that voting is not compulsory in the United States.

Donald Trump can thank those older people who turned up to the booths, and can thank those younger people who didn’t.

Of the 65 and older voters, 52 per cent voted for Trump, while Clinton received 45 per cent. The figures weren’t much different among the 45-64 cohort.

Voting habits haven’t changed a lot since 1980, and with Americans voting in the mid-terms on November 6, one can safely assume that the trend will continue.

Why am I mentioning all this, you might ask.

A satirical election ad (created by NAIL Communications) is going viral in America begging the young to again stay away from the booths in the mid-terms. It is titled “This country belongs to whoever shows up, and do you know who shows up for every election? Old people.”

If only the older people turnout, then it’s an endorsement for Trump, and the Democrats lose all hope of controlling the House of Representatives, let alone the Senate. That’s the way older voters – who are happy with Trump – want it. If the young discard their apathy, then the much anticipated Blue Wave is real.

The short ad is too good not to share with you. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you pass it on to a young Australian who – you guessed it – doesn’t bother to vote.

If any ad is going to get them to a polling booth … this one will.

Closing Loopholes: Taxing the Digital Giants

The treasurers of various countries seem to be stumbling over each other in the effort, but taxing the digital behemoths has become something of an obsession, the gold standard for those wishing to add revenue to state coffers. Back in May, when Australia’s then treasurer Scott Morrison oversaw the purse strings of the country, it was declared that, “The new economy shouldn’t be some sort of tax-free environment.” (Low tax environment was not be confused with a no-tax one.) He had his eye on the $7 billion in annual Australian sales recorded by Google, eBay, Uber, Linked-In, and Twitter.

As always, such statements must be seen for all their populist worth. A treasurer keen to secure more revenue but happy to compress the company tax base must be regarded with generous suspicion. Trickle-down economics, with its fanciful notions of job creative punch, still does the rounds in certain government circles, and Morrison, both as treasurer and now as Australian prime minister, is obsessed with the idea of reducing, let alone imposing company tax. But the Australian Tax Office has not been left entirely out of pocket: the Multinational Anti-Avoidance Law (MAAL) and Diverted Profits Tax have both done something to draw in some revenue from the likes of Facebook and Google.

What is lacking in approaches to the digital company environment is consensus. At the specialist level, there has been no end of chatter about how to rein in cash from the earnings of the digital world. But action has been tardy, inconsistent and contradictory. The OECD-G20 Base Erosion and Profit Shifting Plan (2015), the product of 12,000 pages of comments, 1400 contributions from interested parties, 23 drafts and working documents and two years of deliberation, is one such imperfect effort.

According to the OECD, “Under the inclusive effort framework, over 100 countries and jurisdictions are collaborating to implement the BEPS measures and tackle BEPS.” Their enemy is a phenomenon described as “tax avoidance strategies that exploit gaps and mismatches in the tax rules to artificially shift profits to low or no-tax situations.”

The tech giants, however, remain examples of singular slipperiness. The idea of a digital tax, undertaken in the absence of international understanding will, it has been said, be not merely problematic but dangerous. The European Commission, for one, has also considered the prospect of a 3 percent tax on the turnover off digital revenue, estimated to yield some 5 billion euros.

In making the March announcement, the Commission conceded that the growth of social media companies, digital businesses and “collaborative platforms and online content providers, has made a great contribution to economic growth in the EU.” The tax regime, however, was obsolete, creakingly incapable of covering “those companies that are global, virtual or have little or no physical presence.” Profits derived from the sale of user-generated data and content fell outside current tax regulations.

A two-pronged approach was suggested: the first, aiming to “reform corporate tax rules so that profits are registered and taxed where businesses have significant interaction with users through digital channels”; the second, a response “to calls from several Member States for an interim tax which covers the main digital activities that currently escape tax altogether in the EU.”

When the plan surfaced, opponents closed ranks. Ministers from Luxembourg and Malta expressed their displeasure at a meeting of EU ministers in Sofia in April.  German finance minister, Olaf Scholz, was obviously cognisant of the disagreements and confined his remarks to claiming that digital companies had to pay more tax as part of a “moral question”. His proposed answer, however, remained vague. The pro-taxing grouping was hedging.

Two prongs essentially became one: the interim measure might be implemented in the absence of a global strategy, one featuring a temporary levy on corporate turnover. Companies would merely be charged on their profits but no tax in their absence. (This remains the great loophole of company tax: where there are losses, there can be no tax revenue.) “The idea,” claimed economy minister Ramon Escolano, “is to introduce it as soon as possible and for it to take effect from 2019 onwards.”

Unilateral tax approaches have been considered the enemy in this debate. Not aligning the system with those of other states might, for instance, stir US anxiety and trigger a trade war.  But we live in an age of vibrant, aggressive unilateralism, exemplified by that man of bullied deals, US President Donald J. Trump.

The British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, is one who has gotten impatient with the foot-dragging over an international agreement on how best to cope with tax avoidance on the part of the digital giants. A “narrowly targeted tax”, coming into force in April 2020, is intended to raise more than £400 million a year for the public purse. The Office for Budget Responsibility is less optimistic even on that projection, suggesting, in all likelihood, that the figure is more likely to be a mere £30 million. This will provide little cheer to the campaign and research group Tax Watch, which has argued that the digital giants deprive the exchequer of some £1 billion annually.

All taxes are pot-holed matters, fabulously effective on initial inspection, but worn on a closer inspection. Hammond’s digital services tax is aimed at online advertising revenue generated from Twitter, Google and Facebook. Direct sales (the likes of Amazon, in this regard) are not the subject of the measure. As Martin Vander Weyer of the conservative Spectator noted, “I doubt it will make a jot of difference to the ragtag rearguard of bricks-and-mortar shopkeepers.”

Nor do the digital tax giants, given the versatile tax avoidance strategies they have proven more than adept at deploying. Tax avoidance remains the forgiven misdemeanour, the dirty dispensation. As if to prove this finest of points, Facebook has appointed a previous Liberal Democrat leader, former deputy-prime minister and pro-tax figure, the now knighted Nick Clegg, chief of its global policy and communications. Brazenly cunning, but expected.

Losing Users: Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook Problems

His detractors and enemies have been waiting some time for this, but it must have given them moments of mild cheer. Facebook, the all-gazing, accumulating system of personal profiles and information, poster child, in fact, of surveillance capitalism, is losing users. At the very least, it is falling to that mild phenomenon in business speak called “flat-lining”, a deceptively benign term suggesting that the fizz is going out of the product.

This week, Mark Zuckerberg has been more humble than usual. The latest figures show that 1.49 billion users hop on the platform daily; monthly active users come in at 2.27 billion. While both figures are increases from previous metrics, these fall shy of those bubbly estimates Facebook loves forecasting: 1.51 billion in the former; 2.29 billion in the latter. “We’re well behind YouTube”, he observed; in “developed countries”, Zuckerberg conceded that his company was probably reaching saturation. While security features of Facebook had improved, there was at least another twelve months before the standard was, in his view, up to scratch.

The user market in North America is flat, while in Europe, FB has experienced a loss of 3 million daily active users. The process was already underway after 2015. The moment your grandparents start using a communications product with teenage enthusiasm, it’s time for a swift, contrarian change. But social media, as with other forms of communication, is a matter of demographics and class.

YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat have been beating down doors and making off with users. A May study from the Pew Research Centre found that half of US teens between the ages of 13 and 17 claim to use Facebook. But YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat are bullishly ahead with usage figures of 85, 72 and 69 per cent respectively. To locus of this move is as much in the type of technology being used as behavioural change, with 95 per cent of teens claiming to have access to a smartphone. A mind slushing statistic stands out: of those, 45 percent are online constantly in numb inducing ecstasy.

The company, in an effort to plug various deficiencies in the operating systems, has been busy hiring content moderators, a point that has not gone unnoticed by users. This, in of itself, is a flawed exercise, and one imposed upon the company in an effort of moralised policing. Various legislatures and parliaments have gotten itchy in passing legislation obligating Facebook and similar content sharers to remove hate speech, extremist subject matter and state-sponsored propaganda. (Where, pray, is that line ever drawn?)

This raises a jurisdictional tangle suggesting that local parliaments and courts are getting ahead of themselves in gnawing away at the extra-territorial nature of tech giants. This year, a German law was passed requiring social media companies to remove illegal, racist or slanderous content within 24 hours after being flagged by users or face fines to the tune of $57 million. Such legislation, while localised in terms of jurisdiction, has international consequences. Content otherwise permitted by the US First Amendment will have to be removed for offending regulations in another country.

This is a far from academic speculation. Canada’s Supreme Court in June last year ruled that Google had to remove search results pertaining to certain pirated products. The natural consequence of this was a universal one. “The internet has no borders – its natural habitat is global,” claimed the trite observation from the majority. “The only way to ensure that the interlocutory injunction attained its objective was to have it apply where Google operates – globally.”

This precipitated a legal spat that proceeded to involve a Californian decision handed down by Judge Edward J. Davila, who turned his nose up at the Canadian judiciary’s grant of the interlocutory injunction. To expect companies such as Google to remove links to third-party material menaced “free speech on the global internet.” The emergence of a “splinternet” – one where online content is permissible in one country and not another – has been given a dramatic shove. Police, in other words, or be damned.

By the end of September, an army of some 33,000 labouring souls were retained by Facebook for the onerous task of sifting, assessing and removing errant content. But this whole task has come with its own pitfalls, a preoccupation of danger and emotional disturbance. Those recruited have become content warriors with a need for a strong constitution, a point that has presented Zuckerberg with yet another problem.

Former moderator Selena Scola, who worked at Facebook from June 2017 till March this year, has gone so far as to sue the company for post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing content depicting graphic violence “from her cubicle in Facebook’s Silicon Valley offices”. Scola, through her legal counsel, claims that the company did not create a safe environment, instead working upon the practice of having a “revolving door of contractors”. Moderators, according to the legal suit, are “bombarded” with “thousands of videos, images and livestreamed broadcasts of child sexual abuse, rape, torture, bestiality, beheadings, suicide and murder.”

Facebook ushered in a remarkable form of dysfunction between users, and the actual platform of communication. This is very much in the spirit of a concept that lends itself to a hollowed variant of friendship, one based on appropriation, marketing and a somewhat voyeuristic format. If you can’t make friends in the flesh, as Zuckerberg struggled to do, create facsimiles of friendship, their ersatz equivalents. And most of all, place the incentive of generating revenue and profiles upon them. Facebook is not merely there for those who use it but for those who feel free to be used. This point is all too readily missed by the political classes.

Facebook makes everyone a practitioner, and creator, of surveillance, and anybody with a rudimentary understanding of totalitarian societies would know what that does to trust. Split personalities and hived forms of conduct manifest themselves. Unhealthily, then, the number of users globally is still increasing, even if it is dropping in specific parts of the world. Much like the Catholic Church, reliance is placed upon the developing world to supply new pools of converts.

Zuckerberg’s company faces investigations from the European Union, the FBI, the FTC, the SEC and the US Department of Justice. Such moves are not necessarily initiated out of altruism; there is the prevailing fear that such a platform is all too readily susceptible to manipulation (the horror, it seems, of misinformation, as if this was ever a new issue). Fake ads can still be readily purchased; campaigns economic with the facts can still be run and organised on its pages. But to attribute blame to Facebook for a tendency as ancient as politics is another distortion. Not even Zuckerberg can be blamed for that.

War, religion, and a half billion dollars

By Henry Johnston

When you do the maths, you realise almost a half billion of your dollars has been set aside by the Morrison Government to redevelop the Australian War Memorial. Add to this $100 million spent on the Monash Centre in Villers-Bretonneux. Now add almost $13 million to document the official histories of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and East Timor. Then add the $40 million dollars lavished on the refurbishment of Sydney’s ANZAC Memorial in Hyde Park.

So far I’ve tallied almost $653,000,000. I am innumerate, so this figure might be off the mark, but you get my drift. I do not know how much money has been set aside on war memorials or their equivalents in other states of the Commonwealth, but the tally might approach three quarters of a trillion dollars.

So, what is going on? The 100th anniversary of the Armistice of World War 1 comes and goes on November 11 2018, but the question is, does this sad anniversary justify this massive expenditure?

Social media is taking the pulse of Scott Morrison’s largesse, and the indirect beneficiary of this near half billion dollar grant, the Australian War Memorial’s Director and failed Liberal leader, Dr Brendan Nelson. All I detect is a general consensus suggesting the dough be spent on the health and well-being of men and women injured in Australia’s most recent conflicts.

As a writer I’ve woven the effects of war into my novels and short stories. I am of a generation directly affected by World War 2. My father worked in war industry and before him long-dead nameless great uncles survived the horrors of World War 1.

My first reaction is ANZAC Day and war memorials large and small in Australian towns, villages and cities, serve as a substitute for a national religion. The Dawn Service held at Gallipoli, Turkey on April 25th each year, is a rite of passage for thousands of young Australians. These rituals are not uncommon. Young European men and women tread the path of Camino de Santiago in Spain, or complete the five routes to achieve Ireland’s Pilgrim’s Passport.

Religion and war freely borrow one another’s iconography to snare this youthful optimism and I reckon the half billion dollars earmarked for the decade-long redevelopment of the national war memorial, continues this tradition.

I doubt the Labor Opposition will criticise the expenditure because there is no political mileage in so doing. Indeed, former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd appointed Dr Brendan Nelson Director of the Australian War Memorial, and the good doctor will now be comfortably remunerated until he retires.

So on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Armistice of World War 1, it is worth considering two examples of religious iconography deployed by propagandists, during that awful period of our history.

The first is the Angels of Mons. The second the Miracle of the Sun, known among pious Christians as the Miracle of Fatima, a village in Portugal. Both occurrences are inextricably linked with the actual apocalypse.

The Angels of Mons occurred shortly after Great Britain declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914. A mere 19 days later on August 23rd, the British Expeditionary Force clashed with the German Army. After the shock and awe of battle, the BEF somehow managed an orderly retreat, and staved off a major defeat.

An account of events in Mons, written by journalist Arthur Machen, described heavenly bowmen from the Battle of Agincourt shielding the retreating British forces. Machen’s item became a cause celebre among home front spiritualists. His story eventually morphed into the myth of the Angels of Mons, and was deployed to boost morale. The Angels of Mons fantasy is documented by the Australian War Memorial, but not so the Miracle of the Sun, or Fatima. The latter is probably ignored because Portugal’s involvement in World War 1 focused principally on its imperial possessions in Africa. However, the date of the Miracle of Fatima 13 October 1917, is significant. The Russian Czar is in custody. The Bolsheviks in power, and with Russia out of the war, the redeployment of German divisions to the Western Front means defeat. Three of Fatima’s children describe visions of the Virgin Mary. The sun dances in the sky as an accompaniment to the miracle, which remained a powerful example of Marian piety until the reign of Pope John Paul the Second. In reality the Miracle of Fatima was used by the Vatican in its campaign against Communism.

And so to our own great myth; the debacle of the landing at the Dardanelles where 8,709 Australians died. By the end of the obscenity of World War 1, 61,522 Australians perished.

I do not belittle those who take spiritual nourishment from the story of Gallipoli or the Angels of Mons, or the Miracle of Fatima, but I hope a tiny portion of the half billion dollars will be set aside by the Australian Government to valorise the memory of young Aboriginal men and women, killed in battle to defend their Australian home lands. I doubt this will happen because as of now those frontier wars do not fit our view of who we are, and how we became Australians.

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.

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