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

All Greek to me

6

Hardly a week, hardly a day goes by without examples of police brutality being reported somewhere in the world. Mounted police charging into peaceful demonstrators, suspects tasered to death, handcuffed prisoners shot dead, people in custody beaten up in watch houses, arrested and restrained people sprayed in face with capsicum spray, people dragged behind police cars, people in police trucks left to die from the heat on hot days, you name it, it’s happened somewhere yesterday, happening today, will happen tomorrow.

All par for the course when armed, uniformed men, with absolute authority, are given power over the powerless. Much the same happens in prisons. Or in wartime. But I didn’t want to talk about the actual brutality so much, as about what follows.

Generally nothing.

As soon as an accusation is made, or CCTV or mobile phone footage comes to light, the police force swings into action. Counter accusations will be made against brutalised victims, calls for consideration of “context” of the event, demands that it be recognised what a difficult job police have. Leading politicians, high-ranking police chiefs by their side, will, grim-faced, support their thin blue line. Internal enquiries will be promised. Things will be got to the bottom of.

Police union heavies will hold press conferences, appear on shock jock radio, calling for sympathy and understanding for the traumatised policemen involved, demand that no action be taken, criticise even the suggestion of a totally secret internal investigation.

What there will not be, from any policeman or policewoman, is any hint of sympathy for the victims of the police action, or any hint of criticism of the police concerned. Call that solidarity, this is solidarity. The thin blue line is suddenly very thick indeed, guarding the bridge against the barbarians. The barbarians being the 99.9% of the population who are not members of the police force.

The other occupation, apart from police, derived from the Greek word “polis” meaning both city-state and body of citizens (who created and governed the city-state) is politician. Hardly a week, hardly a day goes by without examples of politicians making sexist and racist remarks, using refugees as political footballs, talking garbage about climate change, favouring the very rich while pretending at principled action, and so on. You think of a piece of wrong-headed, stupid, nasty and vicious comment that could be made, and it was yesterday, is being made today, will be made tomorrow.

Bad enough that we have people in politics with minds like gutters, sewers even, but it gets worse. No sooner is the comment made than leaders of the political party concerned, fellow members, will be blitzing tv, radio, newspapers, to defend the obnoxious remarks, spin them, soften them. Shock jocks will join in to make it seem that this new level of gutter politics is perfectly reasonable, honest, accurate, is now, in fact, the new norm.

What there will not be is any hint that the politician was wrong in what they said about refugees, Aborigines, climate change, single parents, lesbians and gays, environmentalists, the poor. The thin blue line of conservative politicians will be there to hold the line against the outraged politically correct 90% of the public who do not share those views.

Look I get it, really I do. Football players will rally around someone who has stamped on an opponent’s head, soldiers around those who have shot civilians, doctors around those who have damaged patients, lawyers around those who fail clients in court. Defend your fellow workers when they are in trouble and they will defend you when you are. But even without that reciprocity element, the compulsion to look after your own is very strong, perhaps hard-wired back to when the first band of early humans dashed across the savannah pursued by lions. Even on a much larger scale, the concept of “my country right or wrong” “love it or leave it” seems to be a common feature of countries which differ in everything else.

Poor young Bradley Manning has recently completed 1000 days of solitary confinement in very nasty conditions, not even actually charged, let alone convicted. He was a whistleblower, but those responsible for the nastiness he helped expose (for example the helicopter crew massacring Iraqi civilians in Baghdad), remain unpunished, uncriticised even, while he has been subject to the acrimony of a whole nation.

The American government seems determined to ensure that Manning’s treatment will be a warning to others, that no one will ever again break ranks and reveal wrong doing. That the interests of the state and those of its citizens are no longer inextricably linked as the Greeks had envisaged.

Police and politicians seem to have never believed they were. I don’t get it.

It’s all Greek to me.

The currency of democracy

16

The thing capitalists hate most of all is competition. The aim of good business practice is to destroy or absorb competitors.

Where competition does survive it is not based on giving better and more efficient service to customers. Instead it is based on increasing profits.

Banks, petrol companies, supermarkets, all make sure they are doing same things, charging same prices, cutting same costs, in order to ensure they have the same profit results. Whatever one does the others will follow in case that one somehow gets a break. That is they would rather do something they don’t really agree with than run the risk that being different might be the wrong choice. All a bit like a bunch of runners in a marathon, all watching each other, scared to drop back or make a break.

One garage drops petrol price, all others do in case they lose custom. One raises price all others do in case they lose profits. A bank lowers interest rates, all others do in case they lose custom, one raises, others do in case they lose profits. Same with supermarket prices, cars, restaurants, you name it. In a capitalist society competition between companies reduces the variety.

“Now journalism”, I can hear you say, “journalism is different, represents in pure form the capitalist ideal of nature red in tooth and claw producing excellence and variety”. Journalists all out there trying to get the best story. Well, um no.

These days journalists behave like banks. All move together. You don’t get 100 stories, you get one story 100 times. When one journalist breaks a “story”, no matter how puerile, the rest hurry to reproduce the story identically so that none may gain an advantage. Investigating a different side to the story, or, heaven forfend, finding a different story, is far too risky if the rest of the journalist mob doesn’t follow you. There you would be, all exposed, not doing the consensus thing.

Furthermore, where once journalists would check, analyse, investigate the sources of another journalist’s story, in the process producing a different story, now they will not. There is a one for all and all for one mentality, in which you don’t challenge the work of another journalist because they might challenge your’s.

The result is a media which just runs with a single, unverified, story each day. Every story, no matter how poorly founded, becomes “reality” because every media outlet is carrying the same story. Reality quivers, shakes, finally shatters, as the parallel universe of the media constantly runs stories that have at best a tenuous link with the real universe.

And Thomas Jefferson, quivering, shaking, and finally rolling in his grave keeps muttering “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people… They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty” alternating with “information is the currency of democracy”.

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.

The sphere of private life

40

When theocracy comes back to western civilisation it might begin with three young women protesting in a church and being jailed for two years. Or it will ride in on a wagon outlawing same-sex marriage. Perhaps it will come from small fundamentalist religious schools keeping their students isolated from any other thoughts, including Darwin’s dangerous idea. Or maybe it will come from leaders who pray to an imaginary being for guidance before making decisions on war.

Maybe “witches” being burnt will provide a spark. Or the loud voices demanding that women cover up their bodies, and art work be destroyed which depicts nakedness. Could it be hiding under the cloak of those who called a young Olympic runner a “prostitute”? Or of those who are certain that women must never be allowed to preach to men?

Perhaps it’s coming in that mob of wild-eyed young men brandishing AK 47s in the air and screaming “god is great” in triumph at having slaughtered other young men. Or in the ones screaming abuse about homosexuality at people attending soldier’s funerals. Or in the hands of the ones screaming at young women attending family planning clinics, or blowing them up or shooting “abortion doctors”. Or maybe it’ll be riding in a plane being flown into a tall building, or a truckload of explosives smashing into a girl’s school.

Maybe theocracy will begin on old battlefield sites being labelled as “sacred ground”. Or on pieces of burnt toast with an imaginary face. Or in a row of fence posts imagined as a woman’s figure. Or in the ancient monuments blown up as impure. Or perhaps in those places where gullible sick people are prayed upon and preyed upon by those promising miracle cures in return for a little money.

Its arrival will be speeded up by those determined to smash science. By those who preach the dominion of man over nature. By the tax exemptions for religious institutions. By the prayers at the start of parliamentary sessions. By the growing role of religious cadres in schools, in hospitals, in military memorial ceremonies, in political lobby groups. By the politicians flaunting their religious beliefs as an incentive to vote for them. By the preachers blaming a drought or a tornado on people behaving “sinfully”.

It will come from the children indoctrinated, and sometimes mutilated, at ages far too young to give consent. It will come from cults shielded from scrutiny by threats of legal action, shielded from criticism by laws limiting free speech. Will come from the poor devils refusing medical treatment in favour of prayer. Will come from big businesses with religious fundamentalist owners using their power. Will come from fearful people, made afraid by shock jocks serving political masters. Will come from the deliberate conflating of religion and race by unscrupulous leaders. Will come from words written by deluded people hundreds, thousands of years ago, believed by deluded people now to have come from one imaginary being or another.

It is enabled every time the media calls it a “miracle” when someone is saved by the full application of five centuries of western science and medicine. Every time tv channels run “serious” programs about “psychics” or “near death experiences” or “ghosts”. Every time someone is said to have “passed” instead of died. Every time someone says they will “pray for you to get better” and you don’t say “how about donating to medical research instead?” Every time someone wears a “power band” or a “healing crystal”, or recommends homeopathy.

Brought nearer every time someone says “Oh, those New Atheists, so aggressive and rude, they really should respect the beliefs of religious people”.

The bible will arrive, everywhere, wrapped in the flag and carrying a gun. Theocracy is coming to a country near you, soon, and it will take you back to the Dark Ages. The only thing needed for religion to triumph is for good people to do nothing.

“Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade the sphere of private life” (William Lamb, on hearing an evangelical sermon)

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.

Living on a thin line

11

All of the “debate” about asylum seekers seeking Australia takes part in an historic, geographic, social vacuum. It is as if, until they appear on a leaky boat near Christmas Island, these people don’t exist, and, having appeared, that they exist only to help Tony Abbott become Prime Minister.

Did you see recently a beautiful animated map online showing changes in Europe 1000AD to present. A shifting kaleidoscope of colours ebbed and flowed before your eyes as countries emerged or failed, conquered or were conquered, combined or split. Nothing was firm, all was fluid, a mockery, if you thought about it, of all the nationalism associated with being born in a “country”. But these shifting political boundaries hid a more important shift. As boundaries moved so did people, displaced in their thousands, tens of thousands, millions, as ethnic and religious and nationalistic and economic based conflicts took place.

There isn’t a part of the world where the same kind of map couldn’t be drawn. That’s the salutary lesson. We look around now and see what appear to be fixed and stable countries, but some arose very recently, and few country boundaries are older than one hundred years. Since history began there have been records of people moving, escaping, fleeing, first this way, then that. And they are still moving, either on land in Africa, Europe, Asia, Central America, or on sea (Mediterranean, Caribbean, the sea between Indonesia and Australia), in huge numbers at times, depending on which places have hot wars, or civil wars, or religious conflicts, and which ones temporarily don’t. Most of the conflicts have little directly to do with Australia, but we did help the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, both now sources of asylum seekers heading in all directions out of the hell holes the wars created.

And we are already starting to see a whole new ball game – climate change. Not just rising seas, but loss of drinking water sources, and lack of rain for crops and animals, and the failure of marine resources. People are starting to move for these reasons, and we are going to see a gathering flood of such refugees. In addition the battle for shrinking resources will itself cause more warfare. At the same time Europe, America and Australia are going to have their own problems with climate change reducing their own ability to feed people.

Clearly we need to find a process that doesn’t involve people risking their lives on leaky boats. In the absence of refugee processing centres in the main places people are fleeing, there needs to be something in Malaysia or Indonesia that would allow processing there.

And stop pretending growing refugee numbers is the Australian government’s fault.

Reality doesn’t bite

4

Has only just occurred to me that Karl Rove’s:

“The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

which I guess he applied in GW Bush’s time to the war, and economics, and law, and politics, and social matters, also applies to climate change denial.

The Heartland group and their Australian equivalents could say exactly what Rove said. They have absolutely no interest in the data on climate change. They simply ignore it or invent their own. Instead they create “new realities” through such activities as stealing and lying about emails, inventing fake petitions, or comparing climate scientists to mass murderers.

On the other hand, excellent sites like Skeptical Science and Real Climate scrupulously stay away from “politics”, deleting comments or parts of comments that make remarks about the politics or ideology of denialists. Or make rude remarks. They believe that they should stick purely to the science and nothing but the science, and the other side can do what they like, scientists will neither get down in the gutter nor fight politically. Eventually, they believe, reality will prevail. In the meantime the deniers are winning the battle by inventing their own reality and pursuing it relentlessly. Rather like “weapons of mass destruction” and the invasion of Iraq.

All of us will be left, in the ruins of a planet, to study what they have done.

Note – in case you couldn’t read it the lower line in the graphic is “A peer reviewed study by Swift (1729) found that only Irish climate scientists might have eaten babies and then only in times of famine or other incidents of a similar nature. Possibly (Climate scientist 2012)”