Substitute

9

All those photos of psychopathic morons proudly showing the bleeding bodies of lions, giraffes, bears, wolves, elephants they have blasted with high-powered penis substitutes? Guess they think we will be envious of their prowess.

Makes good people not envious but sick to their stomachs seeing these vicious fools posed with their killing machines with foot triumphantly on top of the body of their victims. Makes them determined perhaps to try to stop this evil.
…Read more

On the way to the Forum

1

The Romans knew that invading and conquering people was no good unless you could almost immediately get them to love you, at which point you had created a prison in which the inmates could be given the key, would keep themselves locked up with hardly any need for guards.

Basically they had discovered, 2000 years early, the proposition that no two countries with McDonalds (or in this case fish sauce) ever go to war with each other. That is, you bring Roman culture to the barbarians, and next thing they are too busy sitting in bath houses, and worshipping Roman gods, to go to war. And too interested in profits from trade with the motherland, and the status and luxuries that went with being more Roman than the Romans.
…Read more

Paladin

17

A bit of respite for you on this blog as the climate systems of the planet start to go haywire under the relentless warming.

I have, as I told you a little while ago, been watching DVDs of old movies and old and once-enjoyed tv series. Am finding it now impossible to watch news and current affairs on tv because of their relentless triviality alternated with the promotion of Rupert Murdoch’s grim vision for life, the universe, and everything. And where once were quality drama and comedy and documentary programs there is now a wasteland of “reality tv”(!) and poor quality, mostly American, cop shows and clones of “Two and a half men” (three halves, tops). [Yes, yes, I have auditioned for a part in Grumpy Old Men, but was turned down for being too grumpy].

Have discovered that there are now companies who have available, streamed or on DVD, thousands of old series, in demand by the Grumpy Baby Boomer set, that huge market. So, one can choose the targets of ones grumpiness, or enjoyment, in the comfort of the home.

Anyway, I have discovered, among box sets of “Two and a half men”, many gems. Including one I never thought I would see again “Have gun will travel”, I had previously listed this among my best tv of all time essay and the more recent update but noted that I hadn’t seen it in 50 years and wasn’t sure how it would stand up to a re-visit. Now I have, and it does.
…Read more

Bad Sports

8

The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton” (Duke of Wellington)

After the recent horror in Newtown, Connecticut, all the usual suspects started trotting out their usual gun apologia, in America and here.

Even the good guys though, really don’t get it. Michael Bloomberg, for example “Nobody questions the Second Amendment right to bear arms”. But why not Michael, why not? Everything else in American society can be questioned but not rampant gun ownership? And here, Joe Hockey, also meaning well said he “couldn’t see why any member of the public, apart from farmers and sporting shooters, needed guns”. Quite right, but why should there be “sporting shooters” Joe (farmers are a different question, but I think also shouldn’t be an exception)?

People, like other animals, have always played games. The simpler kinds of athletics like running and jumping, and games involving some kind of ball or similar object, have been played in all human societies. As have frivolous ones like kite-flying, or spinning tops.

But there are other, more complex games, that develop to reflect, and reinforce, particular cultural or social factors in societies, and these come and go throughout history.

Some, many, are used (like the play of lion cubs or foxes) to train the youth of the society in martial pursuits. In Ancient Greece games like Javelin and Discus throwing, and wrestling; in Rome chariot racing, and gladiatorial contests; in Mediaeval England it was jousting and archery (Henry Eighth making this explicit in his law that the young had to practice archery); later, in many societies, it was guns used for target practice, horses doing dressage. Other games relate to people turning their working day occupation into a game or sport – for example wood-chopping, sailing and rowing, hunting, horse riding, motor racing.

Over the last few thousand years societies have grown out of some sports, left others behind as archaic, no longer relevant to warfare, have changed their ethical and moral attitudes to brutality toward other human beings, towards animals.

No longer do we see, nor expect to see, people leaping over bulls, chariot racing, gladiatorial mortal combat, jousting or bear-baiting. Then there are games that do continue, often underground, but that should have (for obvious reasons) gone totally by now – cock fighting, dog fighting, bullfights, hunting (all kinds), fishing and horse racing.

And then there are some new “sports” that should never have started but, having done so, should be stopped – wood chopping, motor racing, boxing, cage fighting, rodeos, and shooting.

Why? Well because sports don’t merely reflect the values and ethics of their time and place, they help to define them, reinforce them. In the Colosseum, watching thousands of rare animals slaughtered, or deciding on the life or death of a defeated gladiator by the whim of the crowd, were not merely reflections of a brutal attitude to life in Rome, but helped to maintain that attitude. No longer seeing defenceless bears torn to death by dogs on the streets of Elizabethan London must have helped to begin the movement towards a gentler society.

And so it is with our modern bad sports. One or two of them certainly seemed like a good idea at the time – other times, other mores – but that time is no longer with us. Take wood-chopping for example. Began as a way for the 7 foot tall, well-muscled, bronzed axemen of the bush, to see who was the fastest at chopping down 500 year-old-trees. Crowds cheered at agricultural shows, as these representatives of all that was magnificent about the Australia of the past chopped away to see who could cut through their log the fastest. Heroes, home-grown heroes. But these heroes had helped to destroy forests all over Australia, had removed magnificent old growth trees, had driven once abundant species like red cedar effectively to near extinction. In 2013, with forests everywhere lost or degraded, and with climate change coming at us like a timber lorry on a narrow road, the time for seeing wood chopping as a celebration of Australia should be long behind us.

Same with motor racing. One hundred years ago, there was a brave new world of fast cars, and brave drivers pushing boundaries, advancing technology. Hurtling around the track without a care in the world except the next chequered flag. The fastest drivers of our youth (such as Juan Fangio and Stirling Moss in my case) heroes in the sense that top footballers and cricketers and tennis players (ah, those were the days) were. But now? Kidding, right? How many cars in the world, a billion? Two billion? All burning petrol, spewing out CO2. We could do without high performance cars driving mindlessly round and round race tracks symbolically and actually wasting fuel for no good reason.

Similarly, with seven billion people on the planet, with wars and rumours of wars, terrorism, ethnic hatreds, violence on the streets of big cities, do we really want to keep glorifying the idea that two men (and even women these days) brutally bashing each other to the cheers and jeers of a crowd until one is so badly injured (even dead sometimes) they cannot go on, is a sport and an entertainment? And, on a planet where species are going extinct at a faster and faster rate, and where climate change and habitat loss are rapidly worsening, why the hell are we hunting and fishing the species that are left? And why are we still encouraging an ethos that animals are there for the mere purpose of entertainment, to be tortured and killed on a whim, in sports such as horse racing, rodeos, and bull fighting? It certainly reduces the level of empathy for the natural world so necessary to get us through the rest of this dangerous century, but, considering only self human interest, leads to less empathy for other humans.

Which brings me to shooting. Put all of the above together and tell me that in the world of 2013 we should be treating and glamourising guns as sporting equipment and not deadly weapons whose use should be reduced to a minimum. There is nothing sporting about shooting. We shouldn’t be treating as normal the idea of possessing and using guns which kill tens of thousands of people every year and millions of animals.

So we need some new games? How about some based on firefighting, tree planting, rescuing sea turtles and seabirds, collecting litter, replanting sand dunes, conservation farming, solar-powered vehicles, public health activities?

Good sports, eh?

Gunna go now

7

An update. After two cycles of this new round of chemotherapy I have lost all my hair (which didn’t happen last year) and am getting nasty side effects on bone and muscle. I feel like my status has subtly changed, from being an ordinary person who just happened to be having cancer treatment, to being a fully unfledged cancer patient. Apparently though I still “look well” so that’s ok then.

Anyway, while the sainthood (aka oncology doctors and nurses) were working away, saving lives, making people more comfortable, CARING (in both senses); elsewhere in the world, arseholes with guns were slaughtering health workers in Pakistan and schoolchildren in America. And uber-arsehole, Wayne LaPierre, president of the National Rifle Arseholes, was proposing ever more guns to stop the gun carnage. Tell you what Wayne, there are no guns in oncology wards.

As always the rest of the world watches the behaviour of the American and Pakistan branches of the Taliban in stunned incomprehension. I am currently, briefly, reading the latest Janet Evanovich [look, I know, I know right. It's the literary equivalent of fairy floss- sugary, sickly and all the same. I can't imagine anyone, anywhere, having a complete set of Evanovich. But, in my defence, it is something my brain can currently cope with, and, more importantly, it was only $3 in a book remainder shop]. Something that struck me once more, especially in the week of Newtown, is that in this fairy floss book of “fun”, guns are on almost every page. Lovingly described, carried as if it was most natural thing in world, a part of every household, every outfit. Nowhere else in the world could such a treatment of guns in such a context be written. And nowhere else except in Pakistan could people not only slaughter women health workers, working hard to inject children to save them from the scourge of Polio, but proudly boast about having done so.

Anyway. Those are my thoughts on a Saturday morning. Since it is Saturnalia time, my next post may be seasons greetings, or I may finish my substantive post on guns first. Who can foretell the future (as the Mayans might say)? Gunna go now. See you later.

Political Gene-ius

3

I often think it’s comical
How Nature always does contrive 
That every boy and every gal,
That’s born into the world alive,
Is either a little Liberal,
Or else a little Conservative!
(WS Gilbert “Iolanthe”)

When I, aged 30, first met my Father we didn’t discuss cricket, and I have no idea whether he was a fan or not. But then I had no idea he was a Shakespeare fan until I learned he had somehow carried a volume of the Collected Works in his army kitbag all through the Middle East and New Guinea in World War 2, so perhaps he did love cricket.

My grandfather (yes, the one in the photo top right) certainly did play, and love, cricket, and was, apparently, a very handy fast bowler, even up to being in his Forties. I once proudly owned, and wore, his cricket cap from when he played in the County Durham competition, 100 years ago, but lost it in circumstances which remain painful.

He died not long after I turned seven. Before I was old enough to seriously appreciate cricket, and long before television, let alone direct tv broadcasts of Test Matches, came to Perth. Cricket could be followed, from England, on the radio in the early 1950s, and that was that. One of my many regrets about his early death was never being able to watch cricket with him. Both of us would have relished the experience.

But with no direct transmission from either father or grandfather, how did I get my love of cricket?

What used to be called the “lower vertebrates”, fish, amphibians, reptiles, generally speaking, fertilise eggs, lay them somewhere appropriate, and then piss off. Consequently the young, when born, are equipped to completely fend for themselves. All of their behaviour patterns are encoded in their DNA, and on hatching they simply seek shelter, food, and eventually mates in ways that were innate, not learned. [It's worth noting though that some species in all these groups have separately evolved live births, and others, after laying eggs, guard them until hatching, and then guard the young for a while. In such species it is possible the young do learn some behaviour associated with, say, feeding, from the male or female parent].

The “higher vertebrates”, birds and mammals, show considerable variation. All the birds (and three of the mammals) lay eggs of course. But there are some, the cuckoo species, that dump their eggs into the nests of other species to raise. There are some, all ground living types (emus, chickens, ducks etc), who have “precocial” young, with down cover, born ready to move off with their mother. Most others have young born naked and totally helpless, needing total care in nest from parents until their feathers develop and they can fly (and even then care continues). They therefore have a mixture of innate behaviours and learned (or at least modified) behaviours

Mammals also vary. Some, notably the herd/flock species, are up and moving within a few hours of birth and following the mother in the rest of the mob. Others are born completely helpless, and remain so for long periods, weeks, months, even years. The ones who develop quickly have less chance (and need) to learn from parents (though they will learn a great deal), those (notably the apes, including us, learn a great deal from the parents and have fewer purely innate components (though far more than we realise).

Well, in brief, we are into the nitty gritty of the “nature-nurture” debate – what part of a species, say Homo sapiens sapiens, behaviours are genetic, inherited, what part are learnt? Not simple, as the evolutionary history above shows. Certainly there are fundamental things – eating, drinking, danger, comfort, athleticism – that are strongly genetically based. Then there are superficial things – religion, taste in music and art, social unit structures, political beliefs, and, yes, sport preferences – that are strongly based on the context in which you are raised.

But, on the one hand the genetic ones are modified by upbringing (eg particular food preferences, response to dangers, how fit you are), and on the other, even some of the superficial socio-culturally-based ones have some genetic basis it has been found. Studies of twins raised separately for example show some tendency for them to be similar in their strength of religious belief (though the form strictly related to household raised in). Musical abilities are well-known to often “run in families”. And more recently (for example) studies show tendency towards respectively right and left-wing political beliefs have some genetic component (though again, the particular form this might take being related to up-bringing). Wonder if the otherwise inexplicable gun love in the US is part of this inheritance?

Interestingly, though not surprisingly perhaps, both the religious and political tendencies are related to serotonin production and the brain’s response, and since music also causes serotonin reactions, it may well be that is also related to the abilities of, say, the sons of JS Bach.

Anyway, all of that may help to explain (though of course there would be many other factors), why a religious believer might suddenly appear from an atheist household, or a fervent Young Republican from a Democratic one, or a genius musician from a non-musical family. May also explain why musical ability is rare, why the irrational belief in religion persists to damage societies, and why roughly half of the voters in most countries keep voting for conservative parties that will damage their interests.

Oh, and it might just explain why I am watching a cricket match on tv while I write this! There being more things in heaven an earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy, or made a fault in our stars.

Planet Dystopia

8

Everywhere giant corporations are engaged in an accelerating destruction of the Planet. It is total war, no part of the planet is off-limits. The methods of production involve total destruction, waste is left behind. The corporations totally exterminate environmental opposition, community action groups, often these days with deadly force.

The small group of military industrial complexes formerly called countries are also conducting total war. This is no coincidence. They crush any opposition from any country with resources – they will  invade, bomb, assassinate, infiltrate, install governments – whatever it takes to subdue the country. There will be no respect, compassion.

In western countries The Right Wing political parties are engaged in total political war to gain power. This is also no coincidence. They lie, establish fake community groups whipped up into outrage by propaganda, have fellow travellers like Breivik who kill opponents, church groups screaming of gay marriage. they make parliamentary institutions non-functional, they resist every single positive policy, they lie and lie, ignoring any correction and lying again. They discredit unions and community groups. The are supported by think tanks and media.Their interest is solely in power.

Not sure what the end game looks like on this Planet Dystopia (formerly known as Earth). But with Enron moving in to drill the shrinking Arctic, we know it has begun.

Note – written from my hospital bed where I am very ill with pneumonia. This is the first evening I have felt able to string either thought or sentence together. Hope to be home for continued treatment in couple of days.

Wearing uniform, wrapped in flag

1

The recent move of Julian Assange to the Ecuadorian Embassy to try to avoid extradition to Sweden and then hypothetically to the US, has been treated by the world’s media like a diplomatic episode of Big Brother. With the announcement that Ecuador may have granted him diplomatic immunity the attention shifted to how he could be got to the airport, and the media drooled as they contemplated OJ Simpson-style car chases for evening news bulletins, or SAS raids on the Embassy. All in all, the attention paid to Julian Assange since his arrest in Britain nearly 2 years ago, and in particular these last few weeks, has vastly exceeded the interest by the media in the original extraordinary effort by Wikileaks in releasing information on the gross wrong-doing of governments around the world.

Why is it so?

Remember the Iraq War, where the Americans discovered you could avoid all of that Vietnam War media unpleasantness by “embedding” journalists with military units? The journalist saw what he/she was allowed to see, reported what the unit concerned allowed to be reported, and in general identified as closely with their unit as if they had been enlisted military personnel themselves bound in loyalty to their group. Journalists got terrific human interest warm and fuzzy entertaining stories about “our troops”, the military got to totally control the message and avoid bad stuff getting out. Win-Win, at least for the winners.

From that point on journalists have become more generally “embedded” in the government/corporate/military world everywhere. Same logic on both sides. Journalists get easy “press release” stories to meet voracious demands of their bosses, the military industrial complex, and government, gets to control what the public is allowed to know and see. Win-Win, except for the public.

With Wikileaks Julian Assange tried to smash that cosy model. “Here is what is really going on behind the curtain” he was saying. This is the stuff the media isn’t reporting, and the government doesn’t want you to know. Here it is, masses of it.

Did journalists welcome this astonishing achievement with open arms? Not on your Bernstein. They shuffled their feet in an embarrassed sort of way for a while and then pretended nothing had happened. It was, after all, as if it had been suggested they give away operational plans for their military unit, had betrayed their boys. That “their boys” in this case were people they should have been speaking truth to power to was completely forgotten, by these journalists embedded with their rulers.

I didn’t predict this reaction. I’m sure Julian Assange didn’t. I’m equally sure no one again will try to go against the embedded media culture.

Back to sex scandals Mr Bean car chases. Woo Hoo.

Making your brown eyes blue

8

When my mother, aged 85, had a fall and was taken to hospital, it quickly became clear that she would not be able, any longer, to manage living by herself, but would need to go into a nursing home and receive, for quite some time, if not indefinitely, extensive nursing care. So I had to try to arrange that, and it meant finding a Home with a room available, and one in which she could receive nursing care. Not easy, but I eventually found one with a vacant appropriate room in the total care area. The next step was to quickly (before the room was taken by someone else) get approval from the government Department of Aged Care, or Health, or Community Services or something, I forget. That is I had to fill in a form setting out her medical condition and so on to request that she get a total care package, and this had to be witnessed. Witnessed, easy. Her regular doctor (visiting her regularly in hospital as her GP) was required as one signatory, and there had to be a second witness of my signature. Second one? Well, let’s make sure there will be no question, get the Senior Nurse Manager, responsible for her care in the ward she was in to add her signature. Had to wait to catch both of them while visiting/on duty, but eventually, done and dusted. Off I set in my car for the some 2 hour drive to the head office of the Department concerned with nursing homes. Found it, walked confidently up to counter, stood in queue, anxious to get back before end of business hours in order to register at the Nursing Home. And reached the counter to find … well, let’s call him Mr B. B for …. let’s say Bureaucrat.

There were several reasons why Mr B was the boss of me now. First he was behind the counter in his familiar space with his gang, and I was outside. Rather like storming a castle really. Second, I had already had a couple of weeks of desperately trying to sort out my mother’s affairs, while staying on the other side of the continent from my own family. I was tired, anxious, and had driven two hours to get to these battlements, sorry, counter, desperate to get the nursing home arranged. He was warm, rested, well fed, at home, and had absolutely no emotional capital invested in my form or mother at all. And, finally, and most importantly, he had absolute power over me. I had to get his approval in order to move my mother into the nursing home. There was no other pathway, no other bridge over the ravine, and he was guarding the bridge. The power balance was really unbalance – he was all-powerful, I was vulnerable and totally dependent on him.

So he took my pitiful little form almost as if he was handling it with tongs and cast a gloomy eye over it. Page 1 ok, it seemed, his face gloomier, page 2 yeees, probably, page 3 and we were on the home straight, nothing could go wrong now, only page 4 with our signatures to go. And that was where he got me. ‘Ah, doctor, yes, but who is this other one?” Then he picked up his guide book, found the page, and began going through the list. All sorts of people were on there, all kinds of occupations, and if I had found, for example, a real estate agent who didn’t know my mother or anything about her but did have a pen I would have been home free. “No, he said, no ‘Senior Nurse Manager’”. “You are kidding” I said, “what do you mean?” “That isn’t one of the approved occupations for signing this form to witness your signature and your mother’s condition”. I went into the routine, told him the situation, begged him to reconsider. Big mistake, I was even more vulnerable now, and showing it. He went through his list again, his finger pausing at each one, saying the title, like a person who is not able to read very well. “No, ‘Senior Nurse Manager’ not there, can’t accept this form”, he said triumphantly, handing it back to me, “Next”.

And that was that. I drove back the two hours arriving too late to do anything else. Next morning got another copy of form, filled it in again, got the doctor to sign it again, and managed to find someone else on the approved list (a Pharmacist, if I remember correctly, who had no idea who any of us were). Headed back on the two hour drive, stood in queue, reached the counter, handed form to the same fellow, now triumphant and showing it. Thought of saying something but could see no point, and feared that he might find another t uncrossed, an i undotted. Back in car, his signature on the approval form, back two hours to the nursing home that had the vacancy the previous day. Rushed through door, waving form to the chap in charge. “Oh”, he said, “sorry, that vacancy has been filled, what a pity you didn’t come in yesterday.”

A couple of days later there was an unexpected vacancy at another, much less appealing home, and I got her in. She was very unhappy to be in this less attractive place with a not very good room, but I was helpless. It was what it was, we were where we were. Six months later she had died, suddenly, of pneumonia. Cause and effect? Who knows.

I tell this story at some length because it seems to me, in a microcosm, symptomatic of a much larger problem. Everywhere we look around the world, and throughout recorded history, we have tens of thousands of events which seem, at first sight, unconnected. Trials proceed in the Hague of people responsible for cruel massacres in Bosnia and Ruanda; in Australia the child victims, stolen from their parents, of terrible treatment in children’s homes (both government and religious based) demand and get apologies from governments and church groups; Abu Ghraib prison, a place once used for torture by Saddam Hussein, is used for torture by Americans; in South America, military coups see men and boys shot, or flung alive from helicopters into the ocean, babies stolen from women; in Africa hands and arms are chopped off innocent civilians of the wrong tribal group; the Gestapo torture and kill Resistance prisoners; the Catholic church (and some other churches) try to cover up pedophile priests who have been raping altar boys for decades; private security firms guarding asylum seekers in mandatory detention in Australia inflict all sorts of major and minor cruelties; in various countries police are captured on CCTV tasering or pepper-spraying restrained prisoners over and over, or beating them to death in prison cells; and so it goes – the Stasi, the Khmer Rouge, the Romans, the British (in India, Northern Ireland, Kenya etc), Aztecs, Indonesians, South Africans, Soviet Union, America (native Americans, Vietnamese, Filipinos and so on), China (harvesting organs from executed prisoners, Tiananmen Square), Japanese, Spanish Inquisition, Israel (Palestinians), Burmese, they, and many others, have been at it in various ways for thousands of years. In Africa, South America, Asia, the Middle East, supposedly civilised European countries like France, Spain, Portugal, Britain, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Italy, have all treated native populations with unspeakable cruelty in hearts of darkness.

Usually each incident is treated as quite separate, explained by particular circumstances, or particular national characteristics, or explained by some particularly vicious leader. But whether they are the small scale cruel treatment of girls in a children’s home, or large scale atrocities of thousands of men working the Burmese railway, or shot in Bosnian fields, or sent off to die in Gulag Archipelagos, the cause it seems to me is the same, and all comes back to my Mr B. For some reason, buried evolutionarily deep, I suspect, within our psyche (if the behaviour of say rams towards a wounded ram, or birds towards a sickly member of a flock are an indication that its origins lie well back in evolutionary time), is a psychological switch that turns on when another human being is within our power to some degree.

We actually have psychological experiments on this human flaw. The two famous (and so devastating in their effects that they were and are still controversial) experiments were the Brown eyes/Blue eyes in the classroom one, and the press button to inflict pain one. Jane Elliott was the teacher who, to give children some idea of what racism was about, following the Martin Luther King assassination, divided her class into blue eyed and brown eyed groups and gave the latter absolute power over the former, then later reversed the power status of the two groups. The effects on the subordinate group were devastating, as was the astonishing willingness of the group arbitrarily given superior status to treat their classmates very badly. The related Milgram experiment, conducted by Stanley Milgram, had students giving what they thought were greater and greater electric shocks, to the sound of screams, to another person who they were told had to be punished in order to learn some words. When told to go ahead by the instructor, students were willing generally to inflict more and more “pain” on the other person. You can read the details of both experiments on Wikipedia, but essentially both demonstrate that people are willing to treat people in their power with great cruelty, and are willing to be more and more cruel if told to be so by someone in authority over them.

It is not really, as Elliott and Milgram have shown us, really very far from my nasty little Mr B, to the bully in the school playground, to the Matron in the girl’s “reform school”, to the policeman with the taser, to the fellow who opens fire with an automatic rifle on a crowded cinema, to the Serbian general, to the commandant of Belsen. That is not to say we should just shrug our shoulders and say “human nature eh, what can you do?” It is to say that in establishing procedures, structures, hierarchies of power, we must do so with as many checks and balances as we can find, and then a few more (perhaps you lot could suggest some). No one should have absolute power, for it does indeed corrupt absolutely.

Himself is his own dungeon

6

Much discussion, both at his trial and in the wider world, about whether Breivik is “mad or sane”. I am guessing that at least part of it is a technical issue related to his sentencing. Seems incomprehensible to me, but if I understood correctly the maximum Norwegian sentence for “murder while sane” is 20 years. And it seems not to matter whether you killed one person or 77 people, you don’t even get a couple of sentences one after the other, 20 years is your lot. Now if I am right then all you can say is the law in Norway is a ass. On the other hand I assume that if found to be insane then Breivik gets locked up for rest of life or at least until he is found to be sane again. This is all baffling. No of course I don’t agree with death penalty, it has no part in civilised countries, but a justice system that doesn’t see Breivik in jail for life (like the comparable Martin Bryant in Australia) is a busted system. Perhaps they thought such an event could never happen in Norway, but they must have had serial killers occasionally?

But let’s leave that aside. I’m guessing that a twenty year sentence for Breivik will see Norwegians marching in the streets, but that is their business. Instead I wanted to consider the broader question of sane/insane irrespective of the law. At one level the question itself is insane. Here is a creature who blows up innocent passers-by on a city street; then goes to island and shoots dead dozens of innocent young people one after the other, hunting them down without mercy, in a scene too horrible to think about for long; then pleads “self-defence” in court! Stark raving mad, just on the evidence of those three broad facts.

But that doesn’t take us very far, really. Think about it. There are plenty of insane people who commit murder, no question. All kinds of childhood circumstances, sexual aberration, brain malfunction or injury, bullying or other personal negative interaction, can lead to single or serial or mass murders. No problem recognising, say, the Moors murders, or the House of Horrors, or Jeffrey Dahmer, or indeed the man who suddenly kills his aged parents, or his children, as being the results of all kinds of mental problems. But that’s not what we have here, nothing like it, so do we need some other concept of “insane”?

At least since around 1900, when the very nasty Anarchists were in full flight, there have been small groups of people all over the world, fanatical light gleaming in eyes, so utterly convinced of the rightness of ideology or religion that they were happy, more than happy, to kill any who disagreed with them, or who merely didn’t recognise their Truth. Worse, their hatreds were so strong as to include those of a different ethnic group (to their own tightly defined one), a different skin colour, different language, different political sympathy. All helps to fuel the urge to kill these people who are different, who are, must be, less than you, less, indeed, than human. So shoot them, blow them up with bombs, crash planes full of them, fly planes indeed into tall buildings full of them. Kill them, men, women, children, kill them all. It is an ethnic cleansing in reverse, where a small group of believers would happily, if they could, cleanse the rest of the world of those different to themselves.

These groups arise like poisonous mushrooms on a dung heap. They may spend some years whipping up each other’s hatreds, they may launch straight into bomb making. Some, like the Anarchists, eventually, fade away, but there will always be another take their place. You know them. Oh they may wear different badges, espouse different causes, claim different outrageous provocations, but they are all one, brothers in arms. They are the IRA (and still, heaven help us, the “Real IRA”) and the UDA, ETA, Bader-Meinhof, Al-Quaeda, American Militias, the MNLF, the LeT, Taliban, Ustashi, elements of the Tea Party, Shining Path, the Neo-Nazis in so many countries, Nepalese Maoists, anti-abortionists, the KKK, and so on. And beyond them are the apparently non-ideological killing-spree people. I used to think people like Martin Bryant and the Columbine killers were different to the terrorists. Descriptions of the killers at the Bombay train station, smiling as they hunted down and killed innocent people sound no different to the murderers roaming the school halls at Columbine (and many others) or picking off tourists at Port Arthur. The common thread is the love of killing, and a fake sense of grievance (“bullying” in school, or being sacked from a workplace, or receiving “poor” service, are no different to excuses related to religion, or migrants “stealing jobs”, or some distant historical claim to land).

Once, and still in most cases, formal terrorist groups were close knit cells or network of cells in one part of a country, and shared a common specific aim of gaining some territory, say. These days with internet communications, individuals who share an ideology of hatred and a love of killing, can get in contact with like minded individuals and groups all over the world. The hatred can ferment in the suburban bedroom to the glow of the computer screen, and ideas can be gained about killing methods and tactics.

Which brings us back to Breivik. He fits comfortably into this framework, does he not? Is he insane? Of course he is, but then the members of all these groups are insane. I guess the only question would be whether he was more insane than the people blowing up a nightclub in Bali, or an office building in Oklahoma, or a shop in Belfast, or a school in Afghanistan. No, still not seeing it.

An uncomfortable fact to ponder. All of those groups and individuals (with the possible exception of the school shooters) have been, are, supported by some, often many other people (even, astonishingly, Martin Bryant, defended as a victim by the gun lobby, pretending he was set up in order to bring in more gun control). However bad the massacres, however many innocent people die horribly, supporters will argue the cause is just, the “war” must be fought.

Which brings us back to Breivik again. Desperately arguing he is not insane, that he was at war with these children, that he was at war with “multiculturalism”, that he acted in self-defence and so on. That is, pretending that he was some kind of “soldier” in a legitimate cause, although, when he stopped hunting down screaming, crying, terrified, unarmed children and shooting them dead, he quickly demanded to surrender to the armed policemen who were finally arriving. No gunfight with armed men for Mr Breivik.

He needs to be declared for what he is, insane, and locked up, incommunicado, to rot in prison until he dies a forgotten old man. So do they all. There needs to be a clear statement from the civilised people of the world that these murderous thugs are all psychopaths, sociopaths, whatever, but mad. No glorious causes, no pretend flags and uniforms, no war language, just insane. And each one in turn, locked up like Breivik for ever. No noble speeches, no martyrdom, no communication with deluded followers and supporters. Just a declaration of insanity. A clear message to supporters – you are following madmen.

Might help, a bit.

Milton “Comus”

he that hides a dark soul, and foul thoughts benighted, walks under the midday sun; Himself in his own dungeon