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O’ that we crossed that bridge of dreams

“Man is forbidden to concern himself with anything but the struggle for bread. If his capacity for dreaming, imagining, inventing and experimenting is killed in the process, man will become a well-fed robot and die of spiritual malnutrition. The dream has its function and man cannot live without it.” (The Diary of Anais Nin; Journals, Vol 3).

Once upon a time humanity in the West moved about from mountain forest to open plain, from village to city armed with a plethora of myths and superstitions that were the backbone of the individual cultures and even individual tribes within those cultures and even right down to local villages with their “haunted” locations or sacred places with local copse or deep pools of water. We carried our favoured talismans to ward off evil or to invite kind spirits whilst on our travels.

The world of the Pagan (Paganus; Latin: of the village/countryside) was a world of complex mix of spiritual beliefs and mythology … the heroes of such myths moving among the Gods as representatives of the human desires … and the blending of both God and humanity became a favourable norm’ of excuse for some difficult to explain situations. Many an Emperor of the west proclaimed his father was one of the greater Gods who blessed his mother with divine pregnancy and birth to explain away a more base truth that it was perhaps a wild night in the cot with a favourite slave that did the “hard, dirty work”.

The mythological worlds of those Pagans, from the Northern Lights to the Mediterranean Sea was “peopled” with all the colour and actions of a dreamtime equal to any ever described in the history of any tribal nation on the planet … Crazy heroes of both sexes, wild and strange animals, and beasts, wicked and malicious Gods, vengeful and jealous, that created stories and tales of wild abandon and filled the night air like the sparks rising from roaring camp-fire with any amount of delight and fear as story after story unfolded around rustic camp or ampitheatre stage … and the world as we know it was created and filled by the actions of those wonderous ephemeral beings.

And a “teller of tales” was a qualification as equal to if not surpassing the high priest of the temple. It was a time for dreaming … It was a time of wonder …

And then came the nightmare; Orthodox religion.

“By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:19).

The pragmatic brutality of the demands of adherence to the orthodox religious dogma of the three Abrahamic religions, set about with measured and structured determination to destroy the Pagan world of humanity and replace it with the more manageable rules of a singular God … a monotheist religiosity that fell in line, length and step to what was required by the nation state for unity under rule of law for all its citizens.

The Emperor Constantine designated that one God, one faith, one religion will only be tolerated under the Roman state. So that from that date forward, with the exceptions of a couple of apostate Emperors, that monotheism became the norm and mankind stopped the en-masse worshipping of their favourite Pagan deities and household Gods and fell in line to the golden doors of the church …

Humanity stopped dreaming.

“Things now became rather hectic for me. I forgot all about my Tales and became much more conscientious. How could I have let all those years slip by, instead of practicing my devotions and going on pilgrimages? I began to doubt whether any of my romantic fancies, even those that had seemed most plausible, had the slightest basis in fact. How could anyone as wonderful as Shining Genji or as beautiful as the girl whom Captain Kaoru kept hidden in Uji really exist in this world of ours? Oh, what a fool I had been to believe such nonsense!”

“The wistful tone is present from the beginning, but as the writer nears the end of her life, it becomes unmistakable. By the time we approach the final pages, there’s a palpable sense of ‘if only’ … ” (Sarashina Nikki; As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams).

With the ending of the mind’s dreaming of mythology and the age of heroes, became the beginning of the enslavement of the body to time and motion of the capital-based society. I lay at the feet of those orthodox religions the blame for so much of the brutal waste of humanity’s potential for cross-cultural respect. I lay at the feet of those “governors” of the West the reason for so much warfare and destruction as they utilised their creation of the “one faith … one God … one belief” to further enrich a so small minority of inner-circle acolytes and pseudo-devotees of their own false God.

Blasphemers of the true spirit of humanity.

Heretics of the desired destiny of humankind.

Sacrilegious destroyers of the dream-time of the human race. Indeed, if there is a place in the hell of our recorded histories, those “high priest” traitors will deserve to occupy the most disgusting and effluvious depths of that hell. What has been created to replace those eons of “slow-life” can be described as a rapine of the most wanton destruction upon both nature and humanity … a curse of the worse description more wicked and wasteful than the most cruel witch or warlock, the most vengeful God or Goddess and more lasting than ever the Fates would condemn.

“As I have said before, my mind was absorbed in romances, and I had no well-placed relatives from whom I could learn distinguished manners or court customs. Apart from the romances I could not know them. I had always been in the shadow of my antiquated parents, and had been accustomed not to go out except to see the moon and flowers. So when I left home I felt as if I were not I nor was it the real world to which I was going.I started in the early morning. I had often fancied in my countrified mind that I should hear more interesting things for my heart’s consolation than were to be found living fixed in my parents house” (Sarashina Nikki; As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams).

And in the end, all she “found” was routine and authoritarian expectation of loyalty.

I have a relative who is keenly looking forward this year to a hip replacement … he needs it because he has carried so much weight over so many years that his natural one has worn down with the effort … of course, he will say otherwise … but that is the awful truth .. and likewise are many of us “blessed” with such medical interventions that prolong an aged existence. We really have little choice … there is the suffering … here is the solution … what madness to refuse?

But I don’t think I need to extrapolate on the “long, winding road” that led us to this place. If we can’t identify it distinctly, we have good intuition of the what’s, why’s and wherefore’s that brought us here. The over indulgence of that relative of mine to the gluttony of a whole epoch of humanity has brought us here, where there is no longer a time for dreaming … of imagining … of procrastination while we relax on the laurels of our hard work. For it has already been costed and if there is not an algorithm already that calculates down to the last cent every individual citizen’s capacity of a lifetime’s contribution to the treasury coffers of the state and gives a rating on that citizen’s worth to the state … then there soon will be!

We have traded a dream-time that promised no more than a frugal if colourful existence for a civilisation that promises us no less than a frugal if “colourful” existence. In the horse-racing game of betting, that is nothing better than a low-priced “odds-on” to win … but it will take an expensive gamble to profit from those odds.

As a person who deplores medical intervention at the worst of times, I have to wonder what we have gained with all this “civilising” … certainly no improvement on those seven deadly sins … perhaps a bit on convenience and technology, but nothing on happiness levels and contentment … let alone on wealth and well-being … a longer life perhaps … if you can dodge the traffic as you cross the road to do that bit of shopping.

Can’t blame the Indigenous peoples of this or any nation for not really wanting a bar of it!

Merry Christmas from a devout Muslim

By Khaled Elomar 

As a devout Muslim, I keep hearing from others that wishing anyone a Merry Christmas is Blasphemous.

In my opinion, and that is purely my opinion, I don’t believe it is Sacrilegious if your intentions are correct and pure. You need not agree with me at all. I am not seeking to change your opposing point of view. The main objective of this post is to stop you from referring to me or anyone like me as a Mushrik (an associate with Allah) by alleging that I have agreed to the concept of Associating a Partner with Allah swt.

I do not intend to offend anyone with the below. If I do, I profusely and unconditionally extend my unlimited apology to those that feel offended by my unbiased and neutral perception of the topic.

There are several points to cover in order to convey my opinion and explanation. One needs to understand;

• Islamic Interactions with the People of The Book (Ahl Al Kitaab) – Christians and Jews. This part deals with the Understanding and Appreciating the principles and morals of the Quran and Prophecies (Ahadeeth) that permit/condone honest dialect and relationships with Ahl Al Kitaab.

1. Islamic Greeting and Reciprocation Majority of scholars reported that greeting Non-Muslims with “Peace Be Upon You” (Assalamu Alaykum) is not permitted. Imam Muslim reported that the Prophet pbuh said, “Don’t start with the (salam) Islamic greeting when encountering Jews or Christians.”

The Hanafies say that if a Christian or Jew, the people of the book, greet a Muslim person with Asslamu Alaykom, it is permitted to return salam and others say it’s obligatory.

Ibn Abbass said, “Whoever says Assalamu Alakum to you, you have to return his greeting even if he was a Majos (fire-worshipper). He was referring to a verse from the Quran (Chapter An-Nesa’ verse 86), which is translated to; … “When a courteous greeting is offered to you, meet it with a greeting still more courteous, or at least of equal courtesy.” … So when a Non-Muslim says to me Ramadan Kareem or Eid Mubarak in good gesture and not because he/she are about to convert/revert to Islam, it is obligatory for me to return the gesture and be courteous to wish them a Merry Christmas; and that does not mean that I am agreeing with the “reasons” of Christmas nor “associating” an entity with Allah swt.

2. Marrying into Ahl Al Kitaab – Christians or Jews.

It is permissible for a Muslim man to marry a non-Muslim woman if she is Christian or Jewish. The evidence for that is the Chapter Al-Maa’idah verse 4 in which Allah swt says: … “Made lawful to you this day are At Tayyibaat [all kinds of Halal (lawful) foods, which Allah has made lawful (meat of slaughtered eatable animals, milk products, fats, vegetables and fruits)]. The food (slaughtered cattle, eatable animals) of the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians) is lawful to you and yours is lawful to them. (Lawful to you in marriage) are chaste women from the believers and chaste women from those who were given the Scripture (Jews and Christians) before your time when you have given their dowry (Mahr) desiring chastity (i.e. taking them in legal wedlock) not committing illegal sexual intercourse, nor taking them as girlfriends” …

One of the obligations of marrying a Non-Muslim woman, who chooses to remain on her faith, is that you escort her, walk her, drive her etc to her place of worship. So is driving your Non-Muslim wife to a Church or Synagogue associating you with Non-Islamic practices? I doubt that very much …

3. Actions are Measured and Judged by Intent: On the authority of Omar bin Al-Khattab (ra), who said: I heard the messenger of Allah pbuh say: “Actions are but by intention and every man shall have but that which he intended” Me wishing people a Merry Christmas is not associating an entity with Allah. My intentions are simply implementing what I am ordained and obliged to do which is;

  • Make Dawah
  • Be courteous to people
  • Respect others
  • Reciprocate with the same or better means
  • Show Love and Tolerance to others and simply
  • Being a Human

By the will of Allah swt, my actions, understanding and implementation of Islam has reverted a few people to Islam (Alhamdulilah) … Contrary to what some people say that I am committing Kufr or Shirk … My intentions are clear and pure. Whatever I do, I will be judged for those actions as so will you. So, when you judge me and call me a Mushrik or Kaffir for saying Merry Christmas you will be judged for those false, unfounded and completely unacceptable judgements.

Allah will judge you and I. We are not here to judge one another.

So, in conclusion, to all my non-Muslim friends, on behalf of my family and I, I extend to you all a very Merry Christmas and a Wonderful New Year. Stay Human, stay Loving and remain Strong for Humanity.

Now there is only one more thing to say: I wish you all a very Merry Christmas.

Much Love and Respect,

Khaled

Christmas comes but a hundred times a year

For my school holidays in 1965 I was staying with my newly-wed brother and his wife’s family in country NSW. On Christmas Eve my brother drove me to the town’s telephone booth for the obligatory call home.

Wow, a telephone booth! As a kid growing up on Kangaroo Island a telephone booth was an invention ahead of its time. I’d never seen one, let alone ventured into one. Exciting steps indeed.

Back in those days the making of a long-distance telephone call wasn’t as ‘modern’ as the booth we were making it from. One was required to book a trunk call, and the waiting time – on this occasion – was two hours.

Two hours of picking up stones and throwing them at fence posts.

It was, you could say, a ‘remote Christmas.’

Fifteen years down the track every Christmas the parent’s house was packed to the rafters with family and friends. It was the only true annual get-together that we and others families would enjoy, and everybody made every effort to share it.

“Christmas comes but once a year,” so went the old saying. And it was that once in a year opportunity to see family from afar and actually speak to them face to face.

And that was the Christmas scene for the next few decades. Christmas 1965 seemed many lifetimes ago.

But is 1965 catching up to us?

Over the last few years I’ve heard more and more people announce with a sigh of relief that “our Christmas will be spent with just the two (or three or four) of us. Quiet and relaxed.”

With more than a touch of irony, one wonders if modern technology is the vehicle that has allowed 1965 to catch up.

Through modern technology we no longer have to wait for Christmas for the rare get-togethers. Phone calls are a breeze to make, we can Skype (or face-time) friends and family afar, we email each other what seems a hundred times a week, we can share family photos on Facebook or Instagram, and we can now fly interstate relatively cheaper than we once could. Friends and family are with us … always … and not just in our thoughts. Some would say they are in our faces!

After a year of constant communications and visitations … Christmas is the opportunity for some to take a break, wind down, and put the feet up.

And that’s what a lot of people from our generation propose when we ask; “Whachya doin’ for Chrissy?”

Maybe that will one day become the new tradition. After all, we can now have (a sort of) Christmas about 200 times a year.

History will, of course, prove me absolutely wrong, so in anticipation of my complete failure in predicting one of the greatest social upheavals of our lifetime all that is left for me to say is …

Merry Christmas, everybody, from Carol and I.

Kaye Lee once said that we at The AIMN are all a family, and it is a family that Carol and I are proud of, whose company we cherish 365 days a year. If you’re not doing anything on December 25, this is one family you are welcome to spend some time with.

Carmello comes home

The plight of the “escaping from warfare refugee” has figured large over the last few years with much sympathy, while the “economic refugee” has been somewhat scorned as an “opportunist” … I can assure many that it is far from true … the desperation and need can be felt equally by the “starving stayers” as by the fleeing desperates … and it didn’t always go that well with such “legitimate” immigrants.

This might ring a bell with some of our older citizens here … Do any of you Adelaidiens remember that strip of garden between Nth Terrace and the wall of the Governor’s residence? It ran from the Light Horse statue to the Arch of Remembrance, between the Governor’s residence and Nth Terrace … and it was a real garden, not like now where it is just a lawn. It was once full of exotic flowers and shrubs and they would give blazing colour to that walkway that used to carry so much foot-traffic from the railway station to the university or Rundle St (as it was then). I’m talking back in the 60s/70s. Well, the entire kit and caboodle was planted and maintained by this little Italian gardener … I remember seeing him there a couple of times, in those green bib-n-brace overalls. He used to work out of a corrugated-iron shed hidden snugly behind a hedge of some low shrub-like trees near the war memorial end … he could be seen there with his wheelbarrow and some tools in it … he would plant out and till-up where replacement was required or needed, according to the season.

He migrated to this country around 1960 and intended to settle here with his new family. This is a little piece of his story.

It went like this:

Carmello Comes Home

( I )

“All journeys start in hope,

So many end in despair.

The migrant sets his mind to the first,

Tho’ his heart overflow with fear.”

Carmello Notori stepped off the boat at Outer Harbour on a very hot February day. The year was 1960. The sharp sunlight cut daggers sparkling off every bright object into his eyes so that he squinted continually and some obscure god had scattered wanton stars onto the sea that glittered and danced.

“This is a pale country,” was Carmello’s first thought. “I hope it treats us well”. By “us” he was referring to himself and his wife and two year old child who were to join him later, about six months later, after he had got a job and set up a house for the family.

Carmello obtained employment with the city council and rented a small flat in a near suburb and wrote short informative letters to his wife back in the village in Italy about his progress in the new country. After six months, he wrote for her to come and join him, but she put it off as “the child was ill with influenza and she needed to rest him.”

Three months after that it was something else that would delay her. His letters became a little more terse and then cajoling in the hope of persuading her to come out, but she stay put in the village. After a season of excuses which Carmello “saw through”, she finally confessed she was too scared to go away from her family, her friends in the village. Where would she get help with the child? Who could she talk to in the lonely hours that plague the mothers at home. No, she was too scared to be alone in a strange house in a strange land. He clutched that letter in his hand and rested his cheek on his arm on the kitchen table. He could see her point in his heart and he did not try to argue her out of it, for he too had felt the loneliness of a faster lifestyle, a more grasping lifestyle that left little time for friends to gather impromptu to savour the joy of a sweet moment. He changed the tone of his letters gradually to one of fatalistic acceptance and sent money back home on a regular basis.

He would have liked to have gone back to his family but he remembered the acute poverty that drove him, and many others alike, away. He remembered too the bragging he had done in the local cafe of the good life he would have in the “new country”, so he stayed, though it was mostly the memory of the poverty that kept him at his work and he sent money back home to his family.

Carmello worked for the council looking after a long stretch of garden next to a busy city street. It was a narrow piece of land that ran from the main city intersection by the Parliament House, a half a kilometer to end at the War Memorial. He would till the soil and plant shrubs in the autumn. He would rake the speckled yellow and red leaves from the deciduous trees that lined the street and shed their foliage in the cool autumn days. In the winter he would sweep the path that ran through the garden or sit quietly in his hut amongst the creeper vines when it rained. After some years he was left to be his own boss so that his schedule was a very obliging one that saw him through the years. When the spring buds came out he weeded and tilled between the flowers as they grew. A small fire always burnt in one corner near his hut, where he would incinerate twigs and leaves and bits of scrap paper people discarded on their daily commute through his garden.

The softness of the small fire cheered him in some lonely times and sent a slim, scented plume of blue smoke twirling up, up over the trees into the city skyline. No-one noticed him so no-one bothered him. He was an anonymous immigrant in a big country, and so the years passed by and he sent money back home to his family.

One day a woman stopped and admired a flowering plant just near where he was standing.

“They’re nice aren’t they?” he spoke.

The woman gave a little start. She hadn’t noticed him standing there. She gazed at him and blinked. He blended in so well with the leafy backgound that he almost seemed a part of it. His brown cardigan hung loose on his short nobbly frame … a pair of bib and brace green overalls untidily covered his body, the knees of these overalls had been crudely patched as if he had done the job himself (which he had). His face was “chunky” with a big nose and his curly hair, though not dirty, was neglected so his general appearance looked as one who needn’t impress anyone.

“You have a garden?” he asked.

“Why, yes I do,” the woman answered cautiously.

“Here, I give you one of these,” he spoke softly, confidentially.

There was a small heap of cuttings of a green shrub with spiky blue flowers which he had been pruning. Kneeling down with a small trowel, he grubbed up a bulb of one of the plants, then rising and looking over his shoulder in a secretive way, put the bulb into a plastic bag supplied by the woman. They exchanged pleasantries about the flowers and gardens then bid each other cheerio. Once a month the woman would come down the path on her way to the library and they would chat and exchange details about their gardens and the weather and this and that …

“Fifteen years I have worked this garden now,” he told her one day. She seemed surprised she had never noticed him up to when they first met, such was his anonymity.

“Soon I have my long service,” he smiled.

One rainy winter’s day there was a ceremony going on at the War Memorial so that he wasn’t working just then. There were a lot of people standing around listening to the Governor giving a speech. The Governor and other dignitaries peeked out from under the broad black brims of umbrellas. Here and there you could see some old soldiers, medals and service ribbons on their coats and them just standing out in the pouring rain, the water streaming in little waterfalls over the brim of their hats and their gaunt faces streaked with the drenching rain so you’d think they were crying rivers of tears.

Carmello stood under the lee of his hut. The woman stopped next to the gardener.

“Oh hello, missu,” he greeted her quietly and they stood there listening to the address. After a little while Carmello leant over to the woman and softly whispered: “I’m going back to Italy soon.”

“For good?” the woman asked.

“No, no,” he shook his head emphatically, “only for a short while; a holiday … I have my long-service leave.” He smiled at the thought.

When he returned from his holiday he seemed unsettled, a bit more determined as though he were fighting an uneasy desire.

“If I could go tomorrow, missus …,” he would say, shaking his hand in a gesturing way and he’d sigh. “But I must save, missus, I must save now,” he turned as he spoke, the rake in his hand with the head resting on the ground. “I must save now,” he spoke earnestly.

He was sad at leaving his family back home, and to make matters worse, he had learnt that his wife was now expecting another child and he could not be there to assist as a husband ought.

Another wet day she came along the path and saw the gardener sitting huddled just inside the door of his hut with a little fire of sticks burning by the door. He looked miserable sitting there.

“Are you well?” she asked.

“Ah! No, missus, I have this cold … una raffreddore! I should be home … but what is the use of staying alone in an empty house?” He stared at the fire as he spoke, and it was around that time he decided he would have to go back home … the final decision was made as he read the latest letter from his wife in the village. She told of the everyday events of the season in the village … and he was not there …

“It was a good year for the grapes,” she wrote “ but the olives were not so good, with many rotting on the trees … Alfonso ( the grandfather) got a good deal from the miller for his wheat and we now have plenty of flour for the pasta this year … ” Carmello read on,  ” … the saint’s day parade went well as it was a lovely day with the sun shining bright and all the children dressed up and the flowers so pretty placed at the feet of San Giovanni … ” the memories flooded in … all this was happening as he had himself seen so many years ago … and he was not there.

Carmello looked up at that moment from his reading as he heard a strange noise across the road: There, dressed in their light, flowing bright orange robes, were a troupe of half a dozen Hari Krishna shaved-head devotees chanting and ringing their small cymbals and tambourines as they skipped and swirled down the footpath opposite in single file … It was the strange sight of this totally, to Carmello, alien image that steered his course of action, a craving for the familiarity of homeland swept over him so he almost swooned from a sense of isolation and loneliness … but he would stay and save and save … then after three more years, he calculated, he would return to his home.

The woman’s husband had a stroke at around that time, that knocked him flat and kept her home for several years so she never saw the gardener again. A long time after she was walking through Carmello’s stretch of garden and she noticed the gardener’s hut was being pulled down by some workmen.

A little way along the path another man was digging up the green shrubs with the spiky blue flowers. The woman stopped .

“Where’s the little Italian gardener?” She asked one of the workmen there.

“Oh him? He’s gone home, lady, back to Italy.”

“Oh?” she queried.

“Yep” the man continued. “Twenty years here was enough for him.” He laughed. The woman turned to go away, then stopped.

“Tell me; what was his name?” She asked for he had never told her.

“To tell you the truth madam,” the man scratched the back of his head “I wouldn’t know. We called him ‘Gino’ but we call all the eyeties ‘Gino’.” And he laughed again.

( II )

Pellegrino Rossi sat outside on the footpath under the blue and yellow lighted sign that said “Tony – BAR”. The word “Tony” was smaller than the word “BAR” and was in the top left hand corner. Pellegrino Rossi sat out in the morning sunshine at a small round table drinking a cup of espresso coffee and observing the movements of the people of the village. The daily bus from the big provincial city pulled up over the other side of the road with a squeal of brakes and a hiss of air. Pellegrino could not see who had alighted as the bus was between himself and the far footpath. But he knew someone had got off as the driver too had alighted and there was a clatter of baggage doors opening on the far side of the bus. After a short time and a degree of muffled conversation, the driver sprung back into his seat and with a hiss of shutting doors, the bus accelerated away in a cloud of fumes, smoke and dust.

A short nobbly man of about fifty remained on the far footpath where the bus had left him. He was escorted on both sides by two enormous tatty brown suitcases with large belts and buckles around their girth. His suit of clothes matched the colour of the cases. They were crushed and misshapen from being worn on a long journey. His belt, like the ones on the suitcases, was pulled tight around his girth so that his trousers were “lifted” high on his waist and left too much ankle showing down around his shoes. Pellegrino squinted at the man who remained standing there as though trying to comprehend his situation. A smile of recognition gradually crept over Pellegrino’s face. It had been a long, long time. He called out:

“Well, well now, “Panerello” (for that was Carmello’s nickname), we were wondering when you would come home.” His hand was shaking at the new arrival in that flat openhanded on edge way that Italians do. Carmello smiled and nodded as he recognised his old friend.

“Hey! “Dry as sticks”,” Pellegrino called into the doorway of the Bar. “Pour a glass-full of the fatted calf to welcome the prodigal home!” He laughed as he stood.

At the mention of “the prodigal”, Carmello’s hand went automatically to the inside pocket of his suit coat. There it felt a fatted packet. Fatted with banknotes of a foreign currency. Payment for all those years of tending the gardens. Payment for all those years of loneliness in a strange country. Payment for all those years of patience and endurance. He gave the packet a squeeze and it seemed a weight fell from his shoulders.

“Payment for the children,” he sighed.

Carmello smiled happily as he surveyed the scene, the Bar, his friend, the round tables on the footpath, the yellowing paint on the house walls, the orangey-pink of the old church in the square, the cobblestone road, the sound of his friends’ greeting, the feel of the mountain air on his cheeks.

“Carmello, Carmello!” a woman’s voice cried from down the narrow street, the sound rebounding off the walls of the canyon of houses. He recognised her sweetly … the photos … the memory of her longingly treasured in his heart … his wife called again in a gentle dropping inflection of voice.

“Carmello … Caro, Carmello” she came quickly down the street in little skips and runs as older woman do when they want to go fast on foot. He could see the tears in her eyes, a couple of people stopped and some popped their heads out of nearby houses. His friend, Pellegrino called again from across the road.

“Ah Panerello, Panerello, it’s been too long.” He was smiling as he came onto the street. Carmello looked to him, at his approaching wife, a tall young man at her side … his son … the young girl at her skirts … his daughter … had it been five years already? A sob of joy welled up inside him, he lifted his hands as though wishing to explain something with them but no words would come to his lips … his wife coming closer, his friend reaching out for his hands with both of his, his village shone bright in the morning sunlight, a shaft of sunshine snipped a star off the glass ashtray on one of the tables at the “Tony-BAR”. Carmello felt the tears run freely.  He was home … at last … he was home!

The Misuses of History: The Christmas 1914 Truce

All memorialised events, when passing into mythology, must be seen critically. In some cases, there should be more than a hint of suspicion. The Christmas Truce of 1914 remains one sentimentalised occasion, remembered less to scold the mad mechanised forces of death led by regressive castes than to reflect upon common humanity.

Common humanity, left to be butchered before the next grand stratagem, is the first casualty of the war room and, in many cases, parliaments. These are places where commemoration ceremonies are drafted and encouraged; they are also the places where the common soldier is left for ruin.

The Christmas Truce of the First World War arose out of a blood-bathed irony: the troops from both sides, Allies and German, were not meant to be slaughtering each other at that point. They should have been home to celebrate their respective victories or lick respective wounds. The diplomats and politicians could then celebrate what was meant to be a puerile skirmish waged in conditions more reminiscent of an old cavalry charge than mud-soaked death.

Pope Benedict XV, after his election on September 3, 1914, kept busy attempting to halt a war he deemed “the suicide of civilized Europe.” In December, he attempted, in vain, to persuade the belligerents to halt the murderous party, asking “that the guns may fall silent at least upon the night the angels sang.” This would be a prelude to discussions towards an honourable peace.

The sequence written about and recalled every year with the monotonous reflection of a prayer goes something like this: Stille nacht, heilige nacht comes from the German side of the trenches at the Ypres Salient. (The Hun proved troublingly festive and did not seem up for the killing.) The British, initially wary, show interest.  Shots are not fired.  The First Noel comes in reply. “Then,” remembered a British soldier, “we started up O Come All Ye Faithful and the Germans immediately joined in singing the same thing to the Latin words of Adeste Fideles.”

The gestures were repeated along the Western Front in pockets of small “truces”. British, German and French soldiers, in open defiance of orders, went to No Man’s Land in a spiritual reclamation of sorts under the pretext of burying the dead. An economy of gifting came to the fore: tobacco and chocolate; beer and pudding; sausage and Christmas trees; badges and buttons. The Allies were astonished by the goods they could receive in the exchange: the German armies were, at that point, better supplied.

Then came the football matches, though the legend here is inflated. Socks wrapping a tin of bully beef, for instance, were substitutes for soccer balls. The scores at these matches remain a subject of conjecture, as do the matches themselves.

Peter Stanley of the University of New South Wales, when asked about the record in 2014, suggested that such matches would have taken place behind the respective lines of the soldiers, if, in fact, they took place at all. The papers of the day ran “pictures of the truces, with lots of photos of men smoking but no photos of soccer matches. So what does that tell you?”

But Stanley’s insistence does not withstand the accounts of some subalterns, who describe scenes, not of 10-a-side but “a question of 70 Germans against 50 Englishmen” involving a ball with an adventurous fate. In January 1, 1915, The Times received a letter from an anonymous major that an English regiment “had a football match with the Saxons, who beat them 3-2.” (At least, mused historian Gerard DeGroot, “it did not end in penalties.”)

The legacy of the truce is somewhat estranged. While it might well have been the last gasp of civility in modern warfare – if you fall for that notion that civility was ever a part of the killing business – the truce has become a matter of commercialisation and celluloid. There are films such as the 2005 French film Joyeux Noel. Then come the commodities.

Supermarket chains such as Sainsbury’s have found the prospect of making money out of the memory irresistible. A 2014 ad, specifically, was reviled and yet admired by The Guardian for its “startling array of emotional depth within a few short minutes” marked by “breathtaking” cinematography. Slaughter might be futile, fought in the name of obscene abstractions, but making money is as clear enough a mission as any.

The truce compelled Arthur Conan Doyle to deem it “one human episode amid all the atrocities which have stained the memory of the war.” But it remains an episode celebrated with lessons to be ignored. The classroom of history troubles the demagogues and political practitioners, as it did those war planners in 1914 alarmed by the loss of faith in killing shown by the truce makers. Political figures and generals could not; soldiers could.

In many instances, the participating units in question were relieved by fresh men untainted by the temptation of mutual respect. As the war wore on in all its barbarity, such truces became infrequent. The enemy had to be hated. Common humanity, so goes that most salient lesson of all, remains a common mineral to be exploited and manipulated rather than revered.

The Kiss

In the vast and wonderfully rich vaults of the ABC’s archives there would be, I’m quite certain, a little news item shown on the telly just a few years back. It’s gorgeously thought provoking and it’s about a kiss.

The camera is in the classroom of a High School, going from student to student as they are anxiously peering into the glowing screens of their computers. Their teacher is there also, and she is just as excited as they are. All are waiting for their VCE results. Excitement all around. Bubbles and squeaks are heard and we, on our sofas at home empathise fully and feel bubbly and squeaky along with them. I, a retired teacher (is there such a thing?) also feel that bubble and squeak and know what it’s all about. I recognise the atmosphere of that classroom well. It is exhilarating and bursting with anticipation an atmosphere I’ve felt many, many times.

Suddenly, a young boy sees his results on the screen and screams with unfettered joy. Behind him stands his teacher. Quite spontaneously, she turns to him and gives him a kiss on the cheek, commonly referred to as a “peck.” She pecked no other cheek in that classroom, at least not while the cameras were rolling. It was absolutely nothing more than a motherly, a friendly, a very natural reaction from a proud teacher to her student, for whom she would have given her best that year to make sure he had reached his best potential in the subject she taught and he did, paying her back for her efforts. I know exactly how she must have felt when she saw the boy’s results. I would have felt exactly the same way. The young man received the kiss – yes, the peck – as if it was indeed, his own mum or his best friend who had delivered it on his cheek.

Not a single murmur or post in the social media was made about it being an inappropriate act, or an immoral one or one that was shamefully unprofessional or anything of this nature. The public, quite rightly recognised the deed for what it was and accepted it. No public outrage the likes of which we have been seeing the last few months. No observations about “power differential” or “workplace ethics,” or anything of the sort.

It was a kiss of excitement, an excitement that was well earned after a year’s hard work. A very much, valid excitement. I saw nothing, absolutely nothing untoward about that kiss.

I am a father as well as a teacher and know what it is to raise children, to love them to death and to be with them when they succeed in whatever it is they want to succeed and with them when they struggle with loss. The emotion is very near uncontrollably heart bursting, and nor should it be anything else. Win or lose, it is a team effort, and it is as intense as that during a footy game when the players rush to hug each other whenever one of them scores a goal or deprives the opponent of kicking one.

A teacher is not too unlike a parent when it comes to the love and the care involved. Not too unlike at all.

Nothing unnatural. Nothing to make one jab the air with a condemnatory finger. Nothing to scorn. Nothing to get angry about.

But had that teacher been me, a man, who had felt those very same feelings with his students -the joyful excitement when they won, the sad and sympathetic heart when they had to struggle against harsh realities – had that teacher been me, kissing that boy or – Zeus fore-fend, a girl ! – the story, I dare suggest with quite some certainly, would have had a different ending.

But why?

The federal Court judge, Justice Michael Wigney gives us a strong clue:

“I wouldn’t say ‘yummy’ or ‘scrumptious’ to anybody in my workplace but I’m a boring lawyer, and Mr Rush is an actor in a theatrical workplace where people use florid language,” he said and continued with “Obviously some people see tremendous significance but I have to say depending on the context I am grappling with it.”

Ah, the context!

This article, let me say with the greatest haste I can muster, is not about Mr Rush and what he is facing at the moment. It is not about his alleged actions and nor do I have the slightest wish to enter into any courtroom currently in process. This article is about something else. It’s about examining deeds, not people.

Examining people needs a very careful, a very thorough look at them, a look not unlike one presenting itself to a surgeon before an operation, nor unlike one presenting itself to a judge in a court of justice; and I’m neither a surgeon in surgery nor a judge in a court of justice.

But I am a retired teacher (is there such a thing?) and I have learnt of the crucial need to be thorough and of the need to judge the deed and not the person.

The judgement of people requires entering into hearts and brains and these are the best fortressed organs in our bodies. Fortressed better than the “topless towers of Ilium,” that protected Troy, walls that took ten years for the Greeks to bring down (as Christopher Marlowe put it).

And so, I agree with the judge: The context of the deed is highly, if not vitally important; the whodoneit is not.

When Euripides was writing his Medea in 431 BC, he was not describing the mind of a murderer, he was sending a message to the politicians of the day, politicians, like the great demagogue Pericles who had not long before implemented a law that said that only the children whose parents are both Athenian may be considered to be full Athenian citizens.

All other children are “barbarians” (effectively foreigners) even if they were born in Athens. Medea was born in the distant land of Colchis and was therefore a barbarian even though she was married to Jason, a local. (The play is set in Corinth).

The ancient Greek stage (5th c.BC) was a classroom, or even a pulpit. More of a pulpit for Aeschylus and Sophocles but more of a classroom for Euripides and Euripides was using the myth of Medea, merely as a platform to teach about the consequences of Pericles’ law. Mothers would be expelled and in doing so they’d kill their children to save them from the horrors of living in a land of xenophobes.

Euripides was talking about the importance of the context of a deed. Its birth, its reason, its cause. This is probably one of the reasons why the play came last in that year’s competitions.

The context is just as connected and as important to the deed as are the heart and the mind to a living body. To examine it, to judge it, to understand it one needs to look at its context, at its heart. This is not to say that the context will automatically excuse the deed but it is important for us to include it so as to have a full understanding of that deed. Understanding the deed is understanding the human and, as humans, that is our primary assignment, an assignment that written at the forecourt of the temple of Apollo at Delphi over two-and-a-half millennia ago and turned into a common aphorism by a whole lot of philosophers, including Plato and Socrates.

There is no deed that is naked of context. Not an excuse but a context.

Whether one says ‘yummy’ or ‘scrumptious’ or gives a peck on someone’s cheek depends on the context.

And I come to wonder what would happen in the smoggy atmosphere of the “social media” if the ABC showed that item again – just to agitate our morals up a bit, see what comes to the surface.

Is a kiss just a kiss, a sigh just a sigh, a peck just a peck?

My Grandchildren!

I wish you all the merriest of Xmases, the happiest of 2019 (Good Loooord, is that the time?) and the jolliest of them all for the many years that shall follow.

It’s never been so hard to do something so easy

Well that was embarrassing.

Egg on face. Eating humble pie. Feeling two feet tall. Call it what you will … we’re going through it.

With the best of intentions, as announced a few days ago in Having a say has never been easier we introduced what we hoped would be an easier system for commenting on AIMN articles.

But things went wrong from the moment it was installed. Despite all the testing, it’s a different scenario once it goes live. So it is now dead.

Worse than the embarrassment we feel over its failure to deliver, is the angst it caused to the dozens of our commenters who subscribed to it.

Most of those commenters quickly found themselves locked out from commenting on The AIMN, and those who weren’t, saw their comments go straight into moderation.

We can assure those those commenters who were locked out that they are now ‘unlocked’. And we can assure those whose comments have been held for moderation that this will no longer be the case.

We can confidently declare that the equilibrium of the universe has been restored. We do so with our heartfelt apology to those who experienced difficulty throughout this sad episode.

Now, where’s that egg slice?

Orbán’s Latest Dance

Viktor Orbán of Hungary is not to be hectored to. Arching with fury at the EU’s September motion to sanction Hungary for bad behaviour under the Article 7 process, he was resolved to ratchet things up. The motion, while getting 448 votes concerned about judicial independence, corruption, freedom of expression, academic freedom, the rights and migrants, amongst others did have 197 opponents. (48 abstained.) Spot, as it were, the east-west European divide.

There was a time when Hungary was known as the “merriest barracks in the socialist camp” dominated by more tempered form of “goulash communism”. The merriment, not to mention any gastronomic softness, has long soured, substituted by a more patriotic, state-centred sludge. Protesters are now being given the treatment that would not have been unseemly in the times of the Cold War.

A week-and-a-half of protests against the overtime law passed by the Fidesz majority yielded the police forces fifty arrests. Orbán’s ruling party could not see what the fuss was all about. The law in question increases the number of overtime hours employees can be made to work from 250 to 400, a calculation to be made after three years. Pity for those workers, given the exodus of Hungarian employees to western Europe.

Opposition members of Parliament keen to get more coverage from the state media on the protests have also been frogmarched out of the broadcaster’s headquarters. In future, they can expect even less in the way of discussion, given the decree of December 5 exempting the Central European Press and Media Foundation from regulatory oversight. That particular conglomerate is the result of a merger of some 480 pro-government media outlets.

All strong men need hearty, well-rounded enemies, and the Viktator’s latest efforts also feature a final decision on the subject of the Central European University. The university’s presence in Budapest offers Orbán a target of lightning rod value, given its link to the wily financier George Soros and US-accredited courses run at the university that has his backing.

In April 2017, a bill was passed imposing a requirement on foreign-funded universities to have a home country campus, and in the capital. But negotiations between the CEU and the government stuttered and stalled, prompting a move to Vienna effective from September 2019. “CEU has been forced out,” lamented the university’s president and rector Michael Ignatieff. “This is unprecedented. A US institution has been driven out of a country that is a NATO ally. A European institution has been ousted from a member state of the EU.”

The CEU-Orbán tussle illustrates the convoluted nature of central European politics and its association with US and European political forces. Fine for Ignatieff to complain about NATO and EU ties being ignored, but the Hungarian leader is a creature of confusing plumage happy to make the necessary, if costly sacrifices.

The confusion was given added succour with the remark made by Hungarian State Secretary Zoltán Kovács that, “The Soros university is leaving but staying. It’s common knowledge that a significant number of its courses will still be held in Budapest.” The CEU’s warnings were “nothing more than a Soros-style political bluff, which does not merit the attention of the government.”

While he speaks of a common heritage to be defended against the door banging barbarians from the east, Orbán is also very much the self-proclaimed leader of its protection, something that gives him bullyboy status in such matters as immigration.

Eyeing the Trump administration across the pond on how it would respond to the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, the Hungarian government followed suit and demonstrated cold indifference when the final draft was approved by all UN member states in July 2018. (In so doing, it also kept company with Israel, Austria, Poland, and Australia, all similarly reluctant to subscribe to its spirit.)

It says much that the GCM could cause such agitation, notwithstanding its non-binding nature. Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó went so far as to insist that, in exiting the adoption process related to the GCM, “the Global Compact is not binding with relation to Hungary.” Migration, he suggested, should not be organised but stopped. “Assistance must be taken to where the trouble is, and people in need must be given support to enable them to remain as close as possible to their homes, and return home at the earliest opportunity.”

It is convenient, more than anything, to assume that the Hungary that emerged from the Cold War thaw was somehow more liberal, hopeful for a caring state of mind open to consultation and deliberation. Authoritarianism was in retreat; the democrats could finally come out. More on all fours with reality, it always retained an authoritarian default position, one that makes an Orbán figure less incongruous than imagined.

The first post-communist government was more than accommodating to communists; subsequent political arrangements fed a more nationalist orientation. Orbán sold himself as the appropriate central force to deal with the lingering ailments of socialism while also curing the problems arising from the post-1989 transition. Now, he is proving what a certain type of European can do to that oft-misguided notion of “shared values”. Shared, yes, but by whom?

Slow cooking in a “Black Kitchen”

You got to get up … pri-tty erley in da mornin’ … to stoke up the German vault oven in the old “black kitchen” if you want to get a good day’s preparation and cooking in before the roast lamb (w/rosemary) is just at an itch and a scratch to be taken out from the back of the oven and generously sliced and served with the pratties and peas for dinner …

This old settler’s cottage we bought from a German Aunty (through marriage) out here in the Mallee, was a fine example of the “settler’s layout” for farmhouse and black kitchen …

“A distinguishing feature of the German house is its high roof, below which the ‘protective’ attic was often used as a sleeping, working and storage place. Cultural ties associated with the roof were still evident in these early Australian German communities. Thus it was considered a bad omen for women in the later stages of their pregnancies to leave the protection of their roofs (once someone was unter Daeh und Faeh, that is sheltered by a roof, he or she could not be harmed by demons!). One of the ancient roof ceremonies, the Rieht/est, or the topping of the building with the roof, is still celebrated in South Australia (usually by fixing a small pine tree to the ridge).”

Although our house did not have a sleeping attic, all the other necessities were still extant … even if in a state of long disuse and in need of a amount of repair. For instance, when I went to restore the vault oven, I opened a makeshift flat of thin iron door to find several bricks had fallen from the roof and among the ashes left was a copy of “TV Week” announcing Johnny Farnham and Alison Durbin as King and Queen of pop for the year of 1971. So the oven had not been used since … and I suspect long before … that date … and I see Bob and Dolly Dyer also won a Logie for that year … they were still alive then … amazing!

Now these vault ovens are bloody great for doing a big cook-up in … of course, as stated, you got to get an early start to get the oven up to temperature. The first item that goes in the oven when it is raging hot is the capsicums and eggplants or any veggies that need to be grilled so the skin can be removed when thoroughly cooked … this is done by placing the hot, seared capsicums in a plastic bag straight from the oven … it is then sealed and left to cool before attending … then, when the oven is at a holding temperature of around 200 deg c’, in go the assorted breads and pizza bases and buns and such things …

“Closed-passage plans or black kitchens (Schwarze-Kiiche) are more generally found in the Barossa Valley, for example the Keil house at Bethany, and the Schmidt house at Lights Pass.” (Gordon Young; Early German Settlements in South Australia).

The design of this type of cooking hall stems from the late Middle Ages, when regulations began to be introduced in Germany to control the incidence of conflagrations caused by the use of open-hearth fires. Thatched timber canopies pargetted with clay were built over the hearths to conduct smoke and sparks away into similarly constructed chimneys.

Of course, my wife, Irene, is the brains behind the preparation and cooking … I am the muscle and the swisher around of the long-handled pizza shovel … and a dexterous user of such a device – if I say so myself – and it was not my fault that I came close to taking out one of Irene’s eyes as I pulled the naan bread flans out of the heat … I claim rights of “tradesman’s territory” of 180 deg’s from the front of the oven to safely wield that weapon!

Around lunchtime, in goes the pizza topped with all those delicious mouth-watering ingredients that can be loaded onto a base just big enough to fit through the oven door. This is a most delicate time, as the smells of those toppings cooking and sizzling can make a sane man desire strange things … food, indeed is the way to a man’s heart … and when served to him with the alluring smile and generous eyes of a loving woman, there is no mountain too high, no land to far or too difficult to conquer … and no love too deep to extend for the honour of giving. Good food is a wealth of knowledge combined with an artist’s hand. There cannot be a greater pleasure than the eating of such .. blessed be the house that enjoys that pleasure.

“During the first decades of settlement the German settlers clung to their mixed farming techniques and continued to supply Adelaide with fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy and pork products. Thus on the night before market day it was a common sight to see the German women from Hahndorf and Lobethal wending their way through the Adelaide Hills, carrying wicker baskets filled with farm products to catch the early market.” (Gordon Young; Early German Settlements in South Australia).

And I’ll tell you one thing I found in my study of that period of South Australian history … regardless of some Anglo “born to rule” citizen’s claims of being “nation builders”, if it wasn’t for those early German settlers, with their dogged persistence and solid-down-to-earth ethics and hard work, the state would have folded and collapsed in around 1842, when the English speculators and con men sent the settlement into receivership … It was those hardy German farmers kept the state alive!

It is getting close to Christmas, and this year we are having my (adult) children up for dinner, along with a grandchild. Now, Irene has to shine with the home-cooked meal in that the son was head chef of an award winning bistro kitchen and so he knows the meaning of good food and good preparation … and he will always assert; “Home cooking is a world away from commercial kitchen prepared food” … and one has to discern and respect the difference. But in the end, good food is universal.

So this year, we have stoked up the vault oven and prepared in advance some of those delightful dishes … and as ‘official taster’, I have already sampled the crème brûlée , and made myself a glutton with the frittata and the custards etc … and that is the joy of slow cooking in a black kitchen … one is asked to sample for quality the delicacy as it is cooled and of course, a degree of doubt creeps into the equation and … “Perhaps another taste would give chance for a more accurate critique .. if you don’t mind.” Now there is nothing left except to cool the prosecco, prompt t.he stomach and welcome the guests.

“The Keil home with its central, brick-vaulted black kitchen is a classic example of this type of house. Its gable end faces onto the main street of the village (Bethany Road, Barossa Valley) and access to the house is roughly centred on the longer elevation which lies parallel to the Hule. This arrangement allowed for easier access to a small farmyard (Haj) at the back of the house, which was surrounded by slab barns, pig-sties, a slaughterhouse, and a smokehouse.” (Gordon Young; Early German Settlements in South Australia).

By Gott im Himmel! … Those old Krauts knew a thing or two about cooking with fire.

Tumblr and the Cult of the Safe

Be aware of the titty. Or pudenda. Or anything else suggesting a copulative angle familiar to most adults with a decent constituency of desire. The world of Tumblr, home of the expressive identity and sexual subculture, has shrunk before the pressings of those averse to the flesh, and much more besides.  The theocrats around the world will be proud; puritans will be celebrating with book-burning (app ridding?) excitement. The cult of the safe will have asserted itself with ghastly certainty under the usual pretext of protecting people from the serpent’s apple. In ignorant boredom, you are safe.

Two weeks ago, the sharing and microblogging site announced that it would be imposing a new set of guidelines.  Not that this would have surprised anyone plugged into the modern zeitgeist of virtual censorship. The platform has, at points, engaged in such grand acts of condescension as reverting to “Safe Mode” and removing any reference to explicit content. “If the service is still working for you but the Safe Mode is turned on,” wrote Vikas Shukla for Value Walk in November, “you can manually turn it off to enter the forbidden land.”

That, it transpired, was linked to claims last month that child pornography had waded and made its murky way through the site’s filters, leading to Apple banning it from its iOS App Store.  The blow was so apparent as to make Motherboard remark that, “With its massive distribution and strict rules, Apple’s App Store has had a broad homogenizing and sanitizing effect on the internet.”

Mandatory in any such announcements is the preliminary salute to openness, a sure sign that it is about to be modified, if not done away with altogether.  “Since its founding in 2007,” comes the explanation from CEO Jeff D’Onofrio, “Tumblr has always been a place for wide open, creative self-expression at the heart of the community and culture.” The pensiveness follows. “Over the past several months, and inspired by our storied past, we’ve given serious thought to who we want to be to our community moving forward and have been hard at work laying the foundation for a better Tumblr.” (The censors have been agitating.)

In true organisation agitprop, Tumblr claimed it had to change.  Community members were supposedly consulted, but evidently only certain ones.  “Today, we’re taking another step by no longer allowing adult content, including explicit sexual content and nudity (with some exceptions).”

This is telling: Tumblr has retreated into a world without adults, and embraced a childish, sex-free, or at the very least unsexualised space of engagement.  But it is far more than that: the platform will be a “safe place for creative expression, self-discovery, and a deep sense of community.” The discomforting will be eschewed like the plague; the propagandists of safety will be heralded.

The company seeks to assure users that this new policy “should not be confused” with standard protocols on child protection, “including child pornography” which “has no place in our community.”  While all “bad actors” can never be prevented from using the Tumblr platform, “we make it our highest priority to keep the community as safe as possible.”

The company admits, like all good censors both actual and prospective, that the task of “filtering this type of content” comes with its problems.  “Automated tools” are being used to “identity adult content and humans to help train and keep our systems in check.”

A parental note of apology prevails: we are aware you will be unhappy being restrained from seeing or doing certain things, and mistakes will be made.  When these happen, it “sucks”. Daddy D’Onofrio is clear on this: if you wish to see subject matter featuring adult content, take your viewing, and loading habits, elsewhere.  We are playing happy families here in “creating the most welcoming environment possible for our community.”

Many users reacted with the understandable rage of people forcibly infantilised, while also noting that other content – for instance, stomach-churning subject matter from the alt-right – remained permissible.  (Mammary glands insufferable; Hitler, not exactly fun but tolerable.)  Otherwise innocent posts were also netted, the result, according to the BBC, of “poorly performing algorithms”.

The company in its December 17 post, issued clarifications and adjustments.   Posts containing GIFs, videos, and photos in violation of the platform’s policy would not be confined to oblivion but hidden.  Such content would be flagged, in which case an appeal might be made.  To puzzled identitarians, Tumblr “will always be a place to explore your identity”, a home for the “marginalised”.

This has been something of a snag for the content filterers given the frequent excursions of troublesome sexual fancy, or matters of the body, that finds its way onto the site.  “LGBTQ+ conversations, exploration of sexuality and gender, efforts to document the lives and challenges of those in the sex worker industry, and posts with pictures, videos, and GIFs of gender-confirmation surgery are all examples of content that is not only permitted on Tumblr but actively encouraged.”  Where the policy fits with dull heterosexual matters is less clear.

The December 17 post also seeks to clarify, if somewhat clumsily, that “erotica, nudity related to political or newsworthy speech, and nudity found in art, specifically sculptures and illustrations, is also stuff that can be freely posted on Tumblr.” And if you want further details, breastfeeding shots displaying the nipple suckled will be fine, including “birth or after-birth moments, and health-related situations, such as post-mastectomy or gender confirmation surgery.”  (Such sanitised delights!)

The protests have been thickening the social media sphere, but these are about as confronting as damp lettuce in search of a colander.  There will be no street protests, and it is unlikely that a massive exodus from the site will be precipitated. A Log Off Protest is being staged by groups wishing to avoid Tumblr for the first day of the ban, though it is unlikely to invoke the changes demanded.  Central to the digital sharing age is not enthusiastic diversity but inadvertent submission; the tech controllers intent on predicting and ultimately influencing human behaviour have become a modern priestly caste. 

A sense of the amateurish revolt against these minders, revealing a child-still-in-swaddling-clothes mentality, can be found in a post insisting that the log off be for at least two days, if not seven. Don’t delete the app.  “Make noise elsewhere.” Even think of using other platforms, but importantly “do not give up.”  Months might pass, maybe years “to make them realize that the adult band [sic] is bad. That Nazis and bots will exist after this.”

The rage of social media is, for all that, quick fire and amnesiac.  The greater lesson in Tumblr’s approach is the realisation that the Internet and the world of apps, sharing and expression did not usher in an endless frontier of expression and engagement, but one as policed as any other.  Market your service as if to children, and be spared the trouble

The Kosovo Blunder: Moves Towards a Standing Army

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tim Anderson

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

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

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

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

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

From Oedipus to Morrison

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

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

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

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

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

And who are our enemies?

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

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

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

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

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

But back to King Oedipus of Thebes.

“Oedipus Rex” watercolour by Pamela Stadus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exhuming Franco: Spain’s Immemorial Divisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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