Saturday, December 30, 2006


I begin writing this post at 12:30 Australian East Coast time, one and a half hours before Saddam Hussein is due to hang. The news is contradictory on the topic. Some sites say he might be hanged at 2pm my time (dawn in Iraq); some say it’s definite, some say no way. Anyway by the time I’ve posted, we’ll all know.

Is it right?

For those of us that agree with the death penalty it’s a no-brainer; the guy’s a savage killer – good riddance. In the United States (one of the world’s top executioner states) it’s relatively easy for politicians, especially conservatives, to welcome the verdict and it’s application. In Australia where the death penalty is almost universally regarded as barbaric it’s more of a problem.

I’ve shifted through dozens of web sites all elucidating the ethics of death. There’s the site of David Berkowitz better known as the Son of Sam who blames Satan for his spree of 1977 killings in NYC; there’s the pro death penalty site which goes into graphic detail about the
crimes for which some people have been condemned in the US. Various other sites brought me graphic images of death by bulletwound in China, hanging in Iran, botched electrocution and the multiple hanging of Abraham Lincoln’s killer and associates.

What conclusions did I derive?

None. I don’t believe in the death penalty: there are two main reasons. First it is more enlightened, more humane not to execute, regardless of the nastiness perpetrated. Whilst I do agree that in the intuitive sense of the word justice is served by terminating the life of persons who do horrible things I believe it is the mark of an enlightened society not to take life. Secondly there is much to learn from killers, rapists and sociopaths. If we understand how they tick, what caused them to be what they were, or, in the absence of causal factors how we recognize them, we may be able to save lives.

In the case of heads of murderous states however the question is more complicated. Pinochet was let off precisely because he was a head of state. Milosevic dragged an international court through years of procedural labyrinth before finally dying of natural courses without conviction. Heads of state who use the apparatus of the country to perpetrate horrendous murders, rapes, tortures and deprivations of liberty are able to carry out much broader ranges of crimes on a larger scale than any single mass murderer/serial killer no matter how clever and bloodthirsty. And the way things stand it is relatively easy for them to escape justice.

The burden of proof that requires the prosecution to demonstrate guilt beyond reasonable doubt is a factor. In a future world where murderous heads of state are routinely brought to justice the onus on the prosecution to demonstrate guilt might provide a loophole that allows these people to get off. I would suggest that in the case of a head of state tried for crimes against humanity committed by the state that that individual should have to demonstrate that they were unaware and unwitting. In other words the burden of proof should be reversed.

As for the death penalty? Hussein himself is said to have preferred this to a life languished in prison; a martyr’s death he deemed it. Maybe a lifetime in confinement, powerless, living at the behest of guards is exactly what these people deserve. And perhaps we can learn from tyrants the way we learn from psychopaths.

In Hussein’s case we’ll never know. The headlines are out: the man is dead. I don’t believe in the death penalty but I can’t say I’m sorry.

Thursday, December 21, 2006


This week the world in the form of the United Nations has been striving to restrain the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear activity. On the farnarkling involved more below, but this geopolitical drama has highlighted one of the crucial issues facing the global culture in the twenty-first century.

Who has the right to have nuclear weapons? Or to put it technically by what legitimate process are states entitled to possess nuclear weapons.

Rights are bestowed by states which uphold and institutionalise them. Schappelle Corby, by example, was convicted of drug trafficking a crime in which the standard burden of proof is reversed. Contrary to conventional opinion the Indonesian justice system normally places the burden of proof on the state except in the event of drug trafficking in which the accused has to show on the balance of evidence that they hadn’t anything to do with the drugs placed about their person. This same reversal of proof with respect to drug trafficking exists in Australia. Rights are not immutable they are proscribed by statute and can vary. Corby’s rights if she’d been accused of murder would’ve been different.

The right to nukes is a pickle. Nukes are kept by states not within states (fingers crossed). Who or what bestows upon states the right to bear a nuclear arsenal? The strict answer is no-one and nothing. The United Nations is not a government in that sense although it bears many marks of one: it has a large bureaucracy for example, But it's fundamental role is that of a voluntary association of nations formed at least partially because of the invention of atomic weaponry.

Ergo it can't grant or withhold 'rights' to bear arms. That's a matter that states decide for themselves. Hence, moral objections aside, every state has the ‘right’ to bear a nuclear arsenal no matter how irresponsible.

Of course there is international law and the United Nations does make noise about the issue. However due both to the Byzantine nature of the U.N.’s political farnarckling and the unwillingness of nations to surrender sovereignty there is no force that can compel a cease and desist with anything like a national justice system’s effectiveness.

The closest things the world has to an enforcement of limits to nuclear weaponry are the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty (NNPT) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The agency, set up in 1957, exists to promote the peaceful use of nuclear technology; the treaty signed in 1968 furthers this aim by limiting the possession of nuclear weaponry to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC), the only states that had the bomb in ‘68. Since this time the number of nations thought to possess the bomb has grown to nine. India and Pakistan (who never signed) have both tested nuclear weapons. Israel (also a non-signer) is thought to have the bomb although this remains unconfirmed and earlier this year North Korea (who signed, then withdrew) tested a small nuclear device.

Thus despite international efforts to limit the spread of atomic weapons, they have spread. This is pretty much because there is nothing that compels nations to comply with international pressure. The use of sanctions notwithstanding one cannot lock a whole country up in prison. Therefore nuclear weapons can be developed if a nation has the resources and will to do so.

Currently the international community is attempting to head of what is perceived to be an attempt by the Islamic Republic of Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The UNSC has, after extended negotiations in which the United States/Britain faced off against Russia/China, authorised sanctions to bring Iran to heel. Russia is in the nuke energy business with Iran and don’t want the possibility that its client is making the bomb to spoil the party. Thus Russia amended the resolution to spare Iran’s legal nuclear activity: that is the Russian financed heavy water plant at Busher. Dealmaking like this is the UNSC’s par.

Iran responded . It’s UN ambassador Javad Zarif declared, “A nation is being punished for exercising its inalienable rights.”. The republic’s foreign ministry “considers the new UN Security Council resolution ... an extralegal act outside the frame of its responsibilities and against the UN Charter,". Iran not only maintains that it’s rights to nuclear technology are inalienable but that the UN is exceeding its authority.

Iran therefore says effectively – the United Nations has no business telling us what to do: similar to North Korea who’ve likewise ignored international pressure to halt their bomb program. As much as we’d prefer it otherwise, this challenge to international authority in addition to the other states that have developed nuclear weaponry despite international criticism effectively demonstrates that the UNSC has no authority. Obedience to its dictates is voluntary.

That Iranians ignore it is understandable. If I was the enemy of the United States and they’d invaded my neighbour I’d want the bomb too. However, criticisms of the United States standing, do we really want a world in which dictatorships can obtain and use nuclear weapons?

If you answer no, sorry. We already have one.

The Soviet Union was of course a dictatorship. The transition to democracy still has a long way to travel for former Soviet States including and especially Russia. China’s still a one-party state. Pakistan’s stable only in the event of military dictatorship. India’s a democracy but with a history of assassinations and civil strife. Israel is a democracy with quite a political kaleidoscope, many changes of government all coalitions of various kinds and a hostile neighbourhood. The United States, France and Britain are the cradles of modern democracy but also with histories of civil strife and assassination.

And of course there’s North Korea. The nuclear family is not a happy one.

By what right have these nations developed nuclear weapons? By none bestowed in a legal sense. Ancient convention stipulates that nations have a right to defend themselves. Historically they haven’t an inalienable right to sovereignty. If a stronger power conquered you that was life.

Nuclear weapons in many ways guarantee sovereignty to the nation that possesses them. If Australia has a nuke we wouldn’t need America, militarily. No matter the war fever amongst generals in Indonesia, Malaysia or elsewhere in the neighbourhood, nukes are the great leveller. This is the reason India and Pakistan have acquired them. It is the reason Iran seeks to.

The United Nations was set up to put a halt to the nation poaching which characterises much of history. After Nazi Germany, Japan and Italy made efforts to grab themselves a slice of the imperial pie the world seemed to reach a consensus and the moral tide went against empire building. Gradually the old European empires either self-dismantled (ie Britain) or were forced to do so by local independence movements (France) or both. The UN was also set up to civilize world relations in the face of the massive destructive power suggested by atomic weaponry.

The only trouble is it doesn’t work. Unlike the relationships between states and individuals a supra state body cannot impose loss of liberty or life as punishment for law breaking. International conventions therefore have exactly the force of verbal contracts made in a stateless territory. They have substance if the parties involved decide to honour them. If they don’t too bad.

That the UN is too mired in bureaucracy and special interest to adequately police the world is apparent. Partially the problem is the existence of 5 permanent members of the UNSC. As indicated above in its efforts to deal with Iran concessions had to be made to Russia who wish to guarantee their interests in the region. It doesn’t matter if the watering down of sanctions might provide a loophole through which Iran can continue to develop atomic weaponry. The UNSC is stuck. Each permanent UNSC member can veto whatever resolution is proposed and will do so if it runs contrary to its interests. This is certainly anti-democratic. It is also a fatal encumbrance on an institution which is the closest thing the world has to a global lawmaker.

Under George the 2nd's precidency the neo-conservative agenda has been given a good try. This agenda states that the previous conservative practise of tolerating right-wing dictatorships (he's a bastard but he's our bastard) is null and void. Accordingly the United States as leader of the free world has the reposnisbility to liberate the oppressed peoples of the world bringing democracy to everyone, hence the Iraq war. Naturally Iraq's large reserves of oil don't hurt.

If the United States want to go gallivanting about like Jimmy Stewart in The Man Who Shot Libert Valance all well and good. Trouble is they don’t have the resources to topple every nasty regime in the world and building nice new democracies out of smoking rubble is still beyond their skill-set range. More to the point if they only go to war for democracy in places with suspiciously large quantities of resources vital to the US economy they will lose credibility more than somewhat.

The fact of the matter is that the US does not have the resources or will to go around imposing democracy on other places. Even in the event they were able to do so to conquer a place and force a new system of government on people there is impractical and fundamentally anti-democratic. One cannot talk about rights if one isn’t willing to honour those rights oneself. And by what right does America impose order on the world?

This is not to demonise America. Oil aside the desire to spread democracy globally is not without merit. One should respect the intention if deploring the tactics. The world would undoubtedly be better if governments were universally answerable to their people. But whether one can accomplish this by bulldozing regimes and imposing copycat constitutions irrespective of local culture, history and circumstance is questionable.

What the world needs now is some way of imposing order on the various nations that make up its membership. This will require a universal agreement on basic values. How this can be done is a good question because currently unanswerable. When?

Quite a while I'd say.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Today the government announced it's values and English language tests for Australia citizenship continuing its policies of restricting immigration and citizenship. This he insisted was not the re-introduction of racially discriminatory immigration policies but the re-alignment of emphasis on those things that unite us over the things that divide us.

Although Howard's policy does in some ways smack of White Australia days and almost certainly attempts to dredge up support re. simmering ethnic tensions that came to his aid during the Tampa 'crisis' there is an issue underlying all this that needs addressing. And it's supporters of multiculturalism that should be stepping up to bat.

Whatever Utopian feelings supporters of multiculturalism (and I'm most definitely one) there are limitations. Before you explode let me explain that these limitations are quite broad. There's an old saying: the law must make a decision. This is true, one has rights or one doesn't.

Consider, for example, a case where in one's country of origin it's normal to compel girls to marry according to the father's wishes. This is problematic because an Australian citizen has a right to self-determination and this means that everyone is free to marry (or not) on the basis of personal choice. That doesn't preclude arranged marriages as such but, in the context of democracy, they can only take place freely chosen by a consenting adult. Ergo a tradition in which a fourteen year-old is required to marry at her father's behest is inconsistent with her rights as a citizen and in contravention of the legal age of consent.

A tricky issue sure, especially considering that some indigenous communities practice coercive arranged marriage. Still one has certain democratic rights or one does not. To suspend rights on the basis of cultural relativism is ethnically discriminatory. That is, saying you have to do what your traditions dictate even though it conflicts with your rights as a citizen effectively says you have no rights on the basis of your ethnicity. This is racist.

My arguments are not against multiculturalism which I regard as a fact of Australian life but rather to preserve multiculturalism. After all a Muslim Imam is just as capable of being a bigot as an Anglo-Saxon political wannabe. And labeling all non-Muslim Australian girls as meat for rapists is as divisive and unacceptable as saying all Africans have AIDS.

Ethnic tension does exist and those who voice concerns about it should not be automatically branded rednecks. The tolerance of others regardless of ethnicity, sex, sexuality etc. is a general requirement. It applies to everyone no matter who they are. Supporters of multiculturalism must assert themselves on this agenda so that it is not the sole province of people like Pauline Hanson.

Although I believe this problem is not as serious as it's made out to be I do not believe it doesn't exist. A collection of mutually hostile ethnicities is not multiculturalism it is potentially explosive.

Whether or no an English test or more importantly a multiple choice questionaire re. Oz values is the way to go is another matter. The cultural values test appears to me to more of an examination of one's capacity to rote learn rather than one's actual feelings about the country. I could sit down and write an essay stating why I think fascism is the best possible political system, that certainly doesn't mean I actually believe that. I reckon maybe the way to disseminate true democratic feelings is through the education system but this is slow-working and unlikely to create much self-serving argument re. the question of 'ethnics' before next year's election. Still maybe I should shut-up and try and think of better solutions.

So long as the Left persists in refusing to see existing problems it will be the Right who deal with those problems to our exclusion. To brand them racists, deservedly or otherwise is not good enough. We need to look at the problems where they exist, be mindful that racism is not an exclusively Anglo-Celtic phenomenon and fight it by contributing our own perspectives and solutions.

Friday, December 01, 2006


George Orwell's book 1984 alerted me to my vocation. That's not to say Orwell is my favourite writer. So far as it goes I don't have a favourite writer, painter, musician, composer, colour or choice of ice cream. I can never pick one to the exclusion of others. Asked my favourite film and I'd be able to provide a list of ten. But that list would change tomorrow.

Orwell has frequently been relegated to the second tier of major 20th century writers. His prose style, fluent and clear, has nothing on the innovations of Joyce or the radical departures of Beckett or Burroughs. The poetry of DeLillo completely escapes him. Orwell was a lousy poet. As a writer he made virtually no contribution to the main thrust of 20th century culture which was to attack and break all the rules one by one. Aesthetically he was a conservative. And if he hadn't written his last two books doubtless he'd relegated to the dusty corridors of an obscure thesis.

But those two books: Animal Farm and 1984 cast in stone Orwell's position as a 20th century writer of major importance. Of all the writing extant regarding the Russian revolution and other revolutions besides, Animal Farm is a short, neat and totally accurate explication of the core, baneful truth about revolutions and their betrayers. It says exactly what needs to be said, nothing less and not a word over. There are other animal metaphors for the establishment of the totalitarian nightmare (Ionesco's Rhinoceros, but Animal Farm explains more than the psychology, it explains the process.

1984 is the manual for totalitarianism. Totalitarianism, I say, can be found even in the most libertine democracy. Indeed Western culture has recently found it in the most unlikely of places: the Humanities academy, the avant-garde arts and the political left. Various forms of activism and discourse sparking in the 1960s have manifested as somewhat totalitarian mini-realms. Places normally associated with the most radical vicissitudes of liberty are now locked down, unknowing, by its processes.

The most recent anecdote that comes to mind was when I was, playfully, called a fascist by suggesting that contemporary art had the air of the Emperor's New Clothes about it. That is although much of the 'art' on display was a bunch of not much work, with little imagination it was accompanied by a mountain of jargon that further baffled the already baffled punter and made them feel idiotic. The reaction to this of course is simply to nod one's head. Yes I see the Emperor's suit isn't it beautiful.

In the ensuing argument I was labeled a conservative and reminded that on first viewing Picasso wouldn't have looked much to most. I was given only two choices: one - support contemporary art uncritically, two - become a revisionist backslider. Either for or against. Either/or.

Now I don't suppose that my companions could have known that I've dipped into various aspects of the art scene now for quite a while. That I've participated in all sorts of post-fluxus fancy: matrix poetry, video art, situationism etc. I don't suppose they've quite ascertained my enthusiasm for unprovoked shit-stirring either. I can appreciate Dumchamp's witty toilet bowl, I think Piero Manzoni's canning his own shit and valuing it according to the price of gold is a good joke.

But how long does this sort of thing last and remain culturally valid? Alain Robbe-Grillet's La Jalousie might be a really fascinating experiment but to paraphrase Andy Warhol it's better talked about than read. I'd bet green money right now that if every novel read like Topology of a Phantom City the market for fiction would completely collapse.

Does this make me a reactionary?

I don't think so. I'm a realist and endeavour to be honest with myself. The choice between La Jalousie and The Big Sleep both as a pleasant way to pass a rainy aftenoon and as a meaningful document of life in the twentieth century is not a real choice. Chandler will be read long after Robbe-Grillet has been forgotten. This is not finally about the victory of the 'right' over the 'left' so much as the simple fact that one book is still meaningful despite the fading of it's immediate artistic context, the other is not.

Of course it does not follow that the 'straight story' has the final word. Ullysses will continue to be read and the myriad of nineteenth century style romances, adventures, mysteries and 'serious' works published contemporary to it are forgotten. As much as Tom Wolfe likes to think that nineteenth century poetics (like nineteenth century economics) have finally triumphed I think he will be proven mistaken in the long run. As impressive as Bonfire of the Vanities is, at least for it's sheer Dickensian detail, it's nothing next to Underworld.

So how does this tangent-laden rant come back to Orwell? What I think after all these years I've gotten from Orwell before every other writer; what I believe writers have a duty to uphold is the willful pursuit of Nietzsche's bad conscience. The determined, bullheaded stand against a crowded room stuffed with upheld fists. No matter what you think of the reason that crowd has.

At a time when the Left supported Stalin (the Right too) Orwell called him as he saw him: a power-famished arsehole killing everyone in his way. Orwell's contribution to the culture, particularly the culture of writers is to uphold the noble virtue of clear and critical thinking, to resist above all the urge to descend into groupthink. I suppose Orwell's influence on me is not so much my aesthetic sensibilities but ultimately on my behavior as a citizen. Nowadays the Right are in ascendance. For a while now the Left have floundered on the lonely high ground of self-appointed moral superiority whilst effective policy has come from the Right.

It is time for this to end. The old cultures of sloganeering chants, declarations of principles sans practical application and most especially reverse bigotry are over. The Left must take stock of all its own bullshit and put it away some where under the 'our mistakes' folder. We must transcend our commitments to doctrinarian approaches to problems and learn once more how to speak and think plainly. And we must listen. Above all we must turn our gaze back to general reality and confront honestly what we see there.

Monday, October 23, 2006


"I don't mean to sound bitter, cold, or cruel, but I am, so that's how it comes out."

Bill Hicks 1961-1994

I don't have any heroes; pretty short on role models too. This is the curse/blessing that comes of belonging to the blank generation. Cynicism is so hard-wired it's impossible to revere a fellow Earth bound organism and only just possible to believe in God or extraterrestrial benevolence if you submit to voluntary lobotomy.

But if I had heroes Bill Hicks would be one of them. Hicks was the most sacriligeous preacher, the most irresponsible social commentator, the noblest man to drag the human race's nose in its own turds. Smell this you little shit. Whack and don't do it again. There should be more like him, but sadly that's extremely unlikely. How many people in the world could get up on a stage and demonstrate George Bush giving Satan head. How many would think of it? Bill Hicks the best kind of American. The avatar of the democratic chaotic genius of that country. Fuck my bullshit let's hear the gospel of American defence policy according to St. Bill:

"We're like Jack Palance in the movie Shane, throwing the pistol at the sheep herder's feet:
'Pick it up.'
'I don't wanna pick it up mister, you'll shoot me.'
'Pick up the gun.'
'Mister, I don't want no trouble, huh. I just came down town here to get some hard rock candy for my kids, some gingham for my wife. I don't even know what gingham is, but she goes through about 10 rolls a week of that stuff. I ain't looking for no trouble, mister.'
'Pick up the gun."
[Boom, boom!!]
'You all saw him. He had a gun.'"

There's a lot of comics out there riling likewise (eg Jon Stewart). A lot of 'em do a good job. Sadly Hicks died before George the second came to power. Sad for us not for him, he was pissed off enough at the first Gulf War. That at least had some kind of justification. Iraq made the first move but this...

I wonder what he'd say. What would his take on September 11, the War on (of) Terror be? Would he riff on conspiracy? I couldn't say. His mind was his own. He had a knack of raving on like a soapbox jockey and pulling back with the most irreverent and disrectful quip. Take his barbs at the 'pro-life' movement:

"If you're so pro-life and you're so pro-child, then adopt one that's already here, that's very unwanted and very alone and needs someone to take care of it to get it out of a horrible situation. Okay? People say, 'Why don't you do that?' And I say, 'Because I hate fucking kids and couldn't care less.'"

When he finally quit smoking this is the guy that said every cigarette looked "like it was made by God, rolled by Jesus and moistened shut with Claudia Schiffer's pussy." He was an old-fashioned antiestablishment libertarian. Libertarian these days, especially in the States tends to bring to mind some Republican suburbanite who supports your right to sniff cocaine and keep Mexican slave labour. Sure P.J. O'Rourke's a funny guy but it just ain't the same. And the left mostly just aren't funny. They're good at making George W. the dumb arsehole jokes but none of them would bring up Claudia Schiffer's pussy.

He was one of the last people to speak unafraid of the consequences, the ratings, the opinion polls. Fuck all that. Bill didn't just tell political jokes or make fun of religious dickheads. He was a philosopher; a psychadelic preacher. He had a vision that the human race could be more than just a skanky bunch of fat-arsed monkeys hell-bent on blowing each other to meat scraps.

"All our beliefs are being challenged now, and rightfully so – they're stupid."

No qualifications, none of the limitations that come with writing a 'serious' book about the geo-political situation or the distribution of wealth. Not the half-arsed, completely mislead bigotry that spews out of talk back radio or the 'readers' comment section of a right-wing blog. That shit ain't worth two cents, this was priceless.

The beauty of stand-up is it's litmus test is to make people laugh. People laugh it works. Say anything you want. Of course to make people really laugh you've got to really piss a lot of people off. Bill was good at that. Born again types (showing how much they learned from Jesus) beat him up and broke his ribs, networks banned him, there's even a rumour that Bush had something to do with his death. Who knows. Whatever, he's badly missed. If you've never had the pleasure check out Sane Man or Rant in E-Minor and get the real religion.

And finally a reading from the gospel accordingly:

"By the way, if anyone here is in advertising or marketing, kill yourself. Just a little thought. I'm just trying to plant seeds. Maybe one day, they'll take root. I don't know. You try. You do what you can. Kill yourself.

"Seriously, though. If you are, do. No, really. There's no rationalisation for what you do, and you are Satan's little helpers, okay? Kill yourself. Seriously. You are the ruiner of all things good, seriously. No, this is not a joke, if you're going: "There's going to be a joke coming." There's no fucking joke coming. You are Satan's spawn, filling the world with bile and garbage. You are fucked, and you are fucking us. Kill yourself, it's the only way to save your fucking soul. Kill yourself. Planting seeds.

"I know all the marketing people are going: 'He's doing a joke.' There's no joke here whatsoever. Suck a tail-pipe, fucking hang yourself, borrow a gun from a Yank friend – I don't care how you do it. Rid the world of your evil fucking machinations.

I know what all the marketing people are thinking right now too. 'Oh, you know what Bill's doing? He's going for that anti-marketing dollar. That's a good market, he's very smart.' Oh man. I am not doing that, you fucking evil scumbags! 'Oh, you know what Bill's doing now? He's going for the righteous indignation dollar. That's a big dollar. Lot of people are feeling that indignation, we've done research. Huge market. He's doing a good thing.'

God damn it, I'm not doing that, you scumbags. Quit putting a goddamn dollar sign on every fucking thing on this planet! "


Friday, October 13, 2006


Today a conservative coloumnist, who shall go unnamed, made some bogus, simple-minded connection between Kim Jong-Il's regime and some hypothetical student stereotypes he addressed as 'you, yes you in the Che Guevara t-shirt' .

Now Ernesto Guevara was probably not a saint. Cuba is a one party state and one party states - wherever they position themselves, whatever they say - tend to abuse the rights of their own people, indulge the ruling elites in disproportional luxury and swim in corruption. A one party system is like having a job you can never be fired from. No incentive exists to actively hold on to the position. It's yours and taken for granted. But the wearing of Che t-shirts is most often not a display of support for Guevara, Cuba, Castro's government or anything like it. I think it's completely otherwise.

The 'Che' t-shirt phenomena is a simulacrum. It's not 'Che' so much as this one specific image of him taken by Alberto Korda at a funeral. You don't see people sporting other images of Che. No Che smoking cigar photos; no Che on the slab. Just this one cropped Korda photo endlessly replicated as a basic, bold-coloured print.

It fits that the poster style was early rendered on the image by Andy Warhol, the artist who best represent the spirit of consumer culture. It's the icon of romantic individualism, the personal ethos of the consumer culture. In this culture everyone desires to be an individual, to be special and unique. Ironically everyone attempts this by purchasing the same items thought generally to connote this quality. If you want to be a good looking rebel, a glamorous law unto oneself don't actually be one. You'll get arrested. Buy a Che t-shirt. It's what you feel inside.

The original photograph is intense and stark. It brings to mind 1960s European art-house flicks full of existensial angst and rage. But this is rarely seen. The gaudy-coloured copy everyone's familiar wth comes straight from 1960s ads for Coke. The only commentary the image makes about 'socialism' is that it made money for everyone but the guy who took it. It's only a political image in the sense that the Rolling Stones were a political band. Of course inside Cuba the photograph is something different a propoaganda symbol of the regime. Outside even amongst 'revolutionary socialists' it's what Warhol made it.

And this goes double for the G20 protestors.

Anti-globalisation protesting is an oxymoron. The movement so-named is a phenomenon of the very processes it supposedly opposes. At it's heart the movement is an amalgamation of various groups who for different reasons want to disrupt the corporate-governmental elites who 'plan' globalisation. It's kind of a grass roots counter-call to the suits. I doubt if a significant percentage of anti-globalisation protestors know exactly what the agenda of G20 participants actually is. For the summiteers many, notably Tony Blair, respond in disbelief that they are doing exactly what the protestors demand should be done: ie ending poverty.

This is met all round with understandable skepticism. Corporations whose products are made in factory sweatshops staffed by persons who receive a fraction of the very low local cost of living don't exactly seem likely to voluntarily improve the disgraceful conditions they've helped create. Developing nations like China who's economic edge is exactly the capacity to keep labourers in such low-paid circumstances without pesky trade union activism are unlikely to rock the boat. 'Developed' countries like Australia who's edge is their lucky lolly shop of natural resources added to the cultural capital of Anglo-Saxon nations won't want to disrupt their populations' artifically high standards of living. Ditto Indonesia and Canada respectively. The G20 is certainly more representative of the world, thus more inclusive, but it's not like the poorer countries are getting a look-see. Apart from South-Africa there are no nations from that continent. Also no Peru, no Vietnam, no Fiji: no intention of letting the poor folks of the world in on the action.

The G20 is a club for G7 wannabees organizing better the getting rich process. Well what's wrong with that? Nothing provided it's open to the world in general and doesn't result in the planet becoming a wasteland trash pile in record time. And this is what the G20 protestors have in common, not an objection to 'globalisation' per se rather an objection to riches at the expense of entrenched poverty, prosperity at the expense of future generations and free markets at the expense of free people.

G20 members are all defined as market economies regardless of their political systems which seem irrellevant. China and Saudi Arabia are definitely not democracies. Indonesia, Turkey and Russia all have dodgy human rights records. The rest of us would score pretty badly if you added economic elements to human rights: the Unted States' large impoverished population, the indigenous people in Australia, the mass slums in Brazil.

Still in my opinion the stiching up of a global economic nexus will probably, long term, aid the process by which the entire human race can escape the shackles of short-brutish, disease ridden lives. The moral disposition of persons participating in this process is not as relevant as the placard wavers think. But the placard wavers are not as irrellevant as the suits think either.

The economy is not the entire story in the success of an civilization. Economic 'prosperity' if restricted to an elite few is not progress. The short, brutish life continues for most whilst the few enjoy comfort, good nutrition and the benefits of medical science. It's a continuation of medieval society with airplanes and TV. And the placard wavers serve to deliver a message to the number-crunching lords; and to the rest of the world.

What message?

I met a girl on a train years in November of the year 2000. At the time September the 11th brought to mind the furious anti-globalisation protests that'd occured a few months earlier in Melbourne. There was a lot of bullshit, unecessary violence on both sides of the picket line. But this young woman hadn't gone there to scream at Bill Gates or punch a cop. I asked her why she went. "To change those people's reality", she said. I think that's the message. The world is not a conference room in a luxury hotel. It's not filled with ample arses in tailor made suits. The world is out here.

And what you people in there do affects us out here, remember that.

The protestors are partbof the chaos inherent in the system. Che t-shirts here do not signify North Korea or Cuba or any other dictatorship because what they do signify is not allowed in such places. The Che t-shirts signify something beyond words although words like dissent, colour, chaos, freedom, kick, poetry and madness might be compatible. The irony of the simulacram is that it brings to heart so many things that Guevara was not himself and would never approve of. The Che icon is a symbol of capitalism and against it, one and the same time. It's the emblem of a precious lack of order at the genius core of modern civilization

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity,
and I'm not sure about the former."
-Albert Einstein

"My fellow Americans, I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever.
We will begin bombing in five minutes."
-Ronald Reagen

The 80s are back!! The pastle jock/goth dichotomy is the dominant high school fashion code, mindless consumerism is the 'rational' compulsory lifestyle 'choice' and the world is about to blow itself up. Again.

I remember the 80s, I was in school. Mostly people ignored the ‘issues’. They drank West Coast Cooler, watched Hey Hey It’s Saturday Night and went to Westfield Shoppingtown Thursday nights to hang ‘round McDonalds.

Beneath our ultra-conformist, two-dimensional exteriors lay a deep distrust of all authority figures: parents, teachers, police, government, the United States etc. The whole 60s thing had discredited activism. Politics was a nerdy game losers played. Cool people didn’t read anything more sophisticated than a style mag’s table of contents; didn’t talk about anything deeper than a 12 inch single.

Like the generation following the Russian Decemberists: we didn’t like the system, but we didn’t think it we could beat it either. There wasn’t any point doing anything, so we didn’t. We preferred to think of the 60s as just a game show or a fashion riff to be played when the mall got boring. The 60s was just history’s biggest party. The 80s weren’t; that’s why we remember the 80s.

The world was close to nuclear war, the American president cracked jokes about it. But it was beyond our control so why bother. All the shots were called by old men. They’d had their jollies and looked forward to loss of bowel control. Us kids, green-haired and glue sniffing, needed WW3. A character building exercise I suppose. We’d thank them for it later.

That was the 80s, and the 80s are back with slight amendments.

Russia’s ‘democratic’ now. Not that things like freedom of speech have improved much, but Russian kids can hang at McDonalds too. Sure the U.S.A. and Russia still have tons of bombs, still strapped to missiles, still aimed at each other. But they aren’t really thinking of firing them.

So thank the lord there’s a new bogeyman: Islamic fundamentalism. Nothing like a mutual enemy to turn the nagging questions off. Yesterday North Korea, not Muslim but in business with same, exploded its first bomb. The world went ballistic. Blogs crammed full of charming little comments like “blow ‘em back to the stone age”.

The commentary whilst slamming NK for being a Stalinist oppressive state want everyone in the ‘free’ world to act like they live in a Stalinist oppressive state: no questions, no argument, no criticism. Just blind adherence to the U.S. regardless of its blunders, its abuses and its hypocrisy. Sure I’d rather live in a modern liberal democracy than in a starving military dictatorship run by a God-king in a bad pants suit. But sue me if I don’t actually want to live in a democracy and not a fascist sham pretending to be one.

North Korea has a bomb but as Mercutio said: ‘tis enough, ‘twill serve. Even small nukes kill big. Not to be outdone the U.S. is spending big on a new program of nukes: 6.5 billion in 2004 by itself. Seasonally adjusted of course Bush’s spending more money than the whole cold war. Smart nukes, nukes that drill holes in the ground first. Presumably the neutron bomb’s back on the drawing board. Wouldn’t want to destroy private property unnecessarily would we.

This is part of the Project For A New American Century, the neo-conservative think tank with its foreign policy hooks in the White House. The basic idea is that the yanks should stop being Mr Nice Guy (mission accomplished) and simply beat up everybody who challenges their authority. An empire by any other name would break your legs just as bad. When so many American voters are also adherents of the rapture its easy to push this insanity through the decrepit corpse of the American state.

Today for the first time in twenty years I had a look at the Bulletin for Atomic Scientistsdoomsday clock. Not quite as close as it was then but closer than it has been in a while. And the North Korea bomb hasn’t registered so next month it might be closer still. Things are different: I downloaded the clock from the net, didn’t have to go to the library. Also I found another version of the doomsday clock: the fundamentalist version.

The Armageddon clock features a longer range countdown with more factors featured: the establishment of Israel, the formation of the E.U., the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and cyclone activity increases. The Atomic scientists’ clock moves closer to and farther away from nuclear conflict depending on the geo-political situation. The Armageddon clock goes one way straight to the big ka-Boom.

They don’t mind though, looking forward to it actually. Going up in the Rapture they are.

This isn’t to say all American Christians are nuts. They aren’t. Hopefully it’s this type of Christianity, the type that y’know actually takes what Christ said into account that are predominant. Still considering the anti-democratic tactics of the conservatives, their cohorts in the Supreme Court and the surprisingly little fuss the whole thing’s caused; the so-called will of the people is probably irrelevant.

If this sounds a little childish, it is. The 80s are back. If everyone else’s going back I might as well. What use is being an adult anyway? I can’t exercise anything remotely like ‘citizenship’. It’s an irrelevant concept. Hanging on to it’s like dreaming about the middle ages on a nineteenth century steamship: a romantic reaction to modern inevitability.

I’ll just kick back in my wayfarers, crank the equalizer up, dance to some old time rock n’ roll: The Smiths and New Order and...


I’m an intellectual! Sort of. I should be standing up, being counted, making sure the relevant agencies file my name, track my reading habits and Google searches. That’ll show ‘em. I’ll write an essay about how we’re all a princess, a brain, a freak, a jock and a criminal.


Go hang down the Mall, get drunk on West Coast Cooler. Who cares if the North Koreans are Stalinist? They could be fascist-anarchists for all I care. It still wouldn’t change the fact: I don’t have a car!

Monday, October 02, 2006


Last month I discussed the 'movement' seeking to demonstrate that the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon were possibly not what the official story says they were.

I did not then and do not now advocate any conspiracy theory.

I merely drew attention to an article by the physicist Steven Jones that posits thirteen reasons to be skeptical about the official report re. the collapse of the World Trade Centre towers and the adjacent WTC7 building. I said at the time that I had yet to read any considered response to all thirteen points although I did cite an article on eSkeptic by Alex Mole that, while making some good criticism of Jones's hypothesis, did not address all of his points.

A somewhat better job has been done by yet another academic publication - The Journal of Debunking 9/11 Conspiracy Theories. This includes exhaustive scientific evidence contradicting the 'conspiracy theorists' contradiction of the official theory which is itself a conspiracy theory. One of the papers, Mike King's Good Science and 9/11 Demolition Theories does cover most of Jones's ground. And it's here where getting at the 'truth' gets very tricky.

One basis for Jones's hypothesis is the yellow-red colour of molten metal at the base of the three WTC buildings. The National Institute of Science and Technology report states that this metal was aluminium. Reason being that the temperatures required to melt steel were not created by the jet collisions with the twin towers. Those required to melt aluminium were. However as Jones states aluminium does not glow yellow in daylight as the molten metal at ground zero clearly did. It glows a greyish silver. The observed liquid metal he believes is steel. And since the jet collisions did not produce the temperatures required to melt steel something else must have. His conclusion: demolition explosives.

King's attempt to debunk this doesn't entirely do away with Jones's doubts. His argument rests mainly on ruling out thermite (Jones's hypothetical explosive). The molten metal does not support the thermite theory "because thermite in its conventional form is useless in demolition: it is slow-burning, with unpredictable time to melt, and can only be used in direct contact with horizontal unclad steel beams/components." King counters Jones's ruling out aluminium as the molten metal calling it: "poor science, because we don’t know what the temperatures were in the impact zone, while we do know that many metric tonnes of aluminium constituting the plane were in the area just above the outflow of molten metal."

His arguments against thermite may or may not be sound. I'm not a chemist. The difficulty of ascertaining the veracity of 9/11 claims and counter-claims is that you need to be a scientific specialist to understand the debate. But King fails to explain, in contradiction both of Jones and of the NIST report, why estimates of the temperatures inside the WTC cannot be confirmed. Further he says that because we don't know what the temperatures were in the impact zone ruling out aluminium is bad science !!!

No-one has suggested that the temperatures were not hot enough to melt aluminium (they were). Jones's argument is that they were not hot enough to melt steel and that melted steel is suggested by the colour of the liquid metal at ground zero. King does not address this. And whilst he implies that the molten metal is aluminium from the planes he doesn't explain the quantity of the metal nor how the presence of molten metal at the base of the WTC7 building which was not hit by a jet.

Jones also objects to NIST's tweaking of computer models until the desired results (ie the buildings' collapse) were acheieved. King maintains that that although NIST tweaked the models the perimeters were consistent with physical reality. Jones's report suggest that model was tweaked to make the World Trade Centre heavier and less stable than it actually was. The question here of course is: was the 'physical reality' in the models the same as the physical reality on September 11th.

Lastly - the eye-witness statement from William Rodriguez who worked at the WTC and gave the following testimony:

“My basis was, like I told the Commission, there was an explosion that came from under our feet, we were pushed upwards lightly by the effect, I was on basement level 1 and it sounded that it came from B2 and B3 level. Rapidly after that we heard the impact far away at the top.”

King astutely observes that if there was a basement demolition explosion the building would've collapsed from the bottom instead of from the point of impact. Alright but what about the basement explosion? King cites the NIST explantion: the basement explosions were caused by the "fuel-air mix [that] was propelled down the shafts in the core of the building." Neither he nor NIST seem to want to explain how Rodriguez heard the jet hitting the building afterward.

I can't judge the truth of any of this I haven't the expertese or the evidence. In fact no-one has the evidence anymore. The steel from the WTC cannot be checked for traces of explosive because it's been sold for scrap. All we have are competing viewpoints some scientifically based, most not.

Google "9/11 Comspiracy" and you will get 1 310 000 hits. Some, like Jones, have enough credibility to deserve an answer. Less credible are the ex-MI5 spies who believe the jets observed colliding with the twin towers were missiles disguised by hologram! This seems like an attempt to discredit the 9/11 conspiracy movement from within. Surely anyone intelligent enough to be employed by MI5 would know how preposterous such an idea sounds. And surely they would at least bite their tongues until they had something like evidence.

Who knows? Still there's enough talk to fuel doubt for a long time to come. Consider Morgan Reynolds: emeritus professor at A&M University and by the sounds of it a pretty right-wing sort of fellow. He catalogues a whole list of conspiracy friendly circumstances: the fact that Stratesec the security company contracted to guard the twin towers and Dulles airport was directed by President Bush's brother and cousin; the gag order on all NYC firefighters preventing them mentioning the explosions they heard on Sep. 11; the fact that FEMA (run by one of Bush's friends) was already strongly present in NYC for an exercise the previous day; the swiftness with which NYC authorities carted the rubble (evidence) away from the scene etc etc etc. But Reynolds is also one of the chief advocates of the hologram theory.

Tired yet?

No-one has the time or energy to wade through literally millions of pages of evidence, opinion, theory and criticism that surround this issue. Very few people not employed in the higher echelons of special military or espionage services could begin to satisfactorally explain how such a conspiracy could be carried out. No-one outside the hypothetical conspirators themselves could put together any kind of case that would find its way into a court. In short the truth, supposing the conspiracy theorists are fundamentally correct, is lost.

But the truth has already been lost because so few believe in its relevance. Newspapers, television, magazines and radio are crammed with viewpoint/opinion orientated content with little or no critical reflection. This is not just a problem for the right either. Michael Moore is hardly a conservative but he is very much a partisan populist. Fight fire with fire perhaps. It's most amusing to read Murdoch media columnists like Andrew Bolt wax hostile at Moore for skewing the truth. But when you step back and look at the large picture it's fucking scary!!!

The sheer volume of facts as portrayed in the media seems to shrink like words in the Newspeak dictionary. All that's left is rhetoric based on what people choose to believe. You don't like Bush and think the government is screwing you: 9/11 is a conspiracy. You like him and think that people who criticize the war on terror border on treason: the conspiracy theorists are a bunch of crazies. Even people who believe in 'reason' fall into this trap bending over backwards to prove there's no conspiracy because such things are associated with unreasonable crackpots. In each case people decide on the basis of their feelings and beliefs, then look at the evidence.

In a scenario like this the truth can be right in front of you but you won't recognize it. It's like being surrounded by a thousand women dressed as Carmelite nuns when only one really is. Which one is it? How can you tell?

That's how to obscure truth in a democracy. Allow everyone to speak their mind without equipping them with the ability to think. Whatever truth there might be is swamped in a river of bullshit. In theory every political system works. The problems are caused by those aspects which are unrealistic in the face of human nature. In liberal democracy's case it's the principle of enlightened self-interest. We have plenty of self-interest, not much enlightenment.

WE LOVE VIOLENCE: A Clockwork Orange

Over years I used to see A Clockwork Orange at arthouse cinemas. It was a midnight favourite. I saw it every time it was screened and everytime came away with the same revulsion. I hated it. And when it was rescreened I'd go see it again. Like a junkie not strong enough to shake the addiction. A fascination shot through with guilt.

I'd read the book of course. The intellectual distance between reader and text doesn't exist in film. Cinema surrounds you. It's galactic imagery and soundtrack flood the senses. A film enters your psyche at a sub-mental level like a dream. You can only think critically about it after the emotional effects have waned. So watching Alex inflict damage assaults you in a way that reading about it does not.

There are many much more violent pictures. The late 60s and early 70s period (to which A Clockwork Orange belongs featured a series of films which intentionally did away with the Hayes code era of prohibition on violence. How violent a picture is, is subjective. How to measure it? By the number of violent scenes? By the quantity of blood? By this criteria A Clockwork Orange would rank behind many a b-grade horror.

What sets it apart?

Most violent films have the good guy, the bad guy. The good guy deals out punishment, the bad guy starts it. That's how it goes. The violence is morally authorized. You are allowed to enjoy watching Bruce Willis throw Alan Rickman off a tall building at the end of Die Hard because Rickman is a bad guy; a terrorist. He hijacked a Christmas party, threatened Bruce's wife, he has it coming.

In an interview with Bernard Weinraub for the New York Times Kubrick said: “Alex is a character who by every logical and rational consideration should be completely unsympathetic, and possibly even abhorrent to the audience... yet in the same way that Richard III gradually undermines your disapproval of his evil ways, Alex does the same thing and draws the audience into his own vision of life. This is the phenomenon of the story that produced the most enjoyable and surprising artistic illumination in the minds of an audience."

Before he's caught by the cops Alex perpetrates four separate violent acts. Only one of which is 'morally justified'. This is the second episode where Alex and his droogs confront another juvenile gang getting ready to gang rape a girl. Rescue has nothing to do with it. He fights because he wants to. Within minutes he's getting set to rape someone else, famously 'singing in the rain'.

It's fun.

The reason for the fascination and the revulsion: Alex likes violence. So do we. That's it. But whatever social controls are instilled in most of us are absent in Alex. He enjoys violence; sexual and otherwise. There's a complete absence of empathy. We usually watch violent movies without any moral uneasiness precisely because the story sets up a situation in which the hero is compelled to act violently for the greater good. This excuses us the bad feeling in enjoying bloodshed. A Clockwork Orange does not give us this out. Our hero's all charm but no virtue. He's cool, but he's no good guy. He goes around will he nil he inflicting damage and we enjoy watching it. At the same time, aware that everything that's happening is bad, we feel profoundly guilty. The paradox of A Clockwork Orange in respect to the standard violent movie is that it does not let our bloodlust off the hook. We can't pretend it's anything else.

First Alex perpetuates his crimes, then he's caught and becomes the chaplain's protégé. Then he submits to the Ludovico Treatment which renders him 'good by being paradoxically compelled toward evil'. Every time he wants to hit someone he gets sick. And he's released where, confronted by his former victims he is beaten and almost killed.

Humans are violent. The Darwinian point of view is prevalent here. Young primates are known across species to attack older males in packs; witness the beating of the drunk and the writer. This behaviour is sexually motivated; witness the corresponding rapes. Then there is the religious thing: free choice between heaven and hell. But religion itself is awash with violence, Alex reading the Bible is not inspired toward heaven. He's ‘kept going’ by the gratuitous violence particularly of the Old Testament.

Think of the ‘dancing Jesuses’ sequence in Alex’s bedroom early in the film. A chorus line of post-crucifixion Christs dance to the second movement of Beethoven’s ninth inspiring Alex with ‘lovely pictures’ of death, disaster and mayhem. Many dislike this sequence: not it’s violence but its black humour and blasphemy. It’s simply a matter of attitude. Devout Catholics everywhere hang realistic statues of the crucifixion in their bedrooms, living rooms; in the rooms of their children. An horrific way to die on display. No-one objects as they might object to a similarly positioned depiction of death by electrocution or guillotine.

When Alex chooses to submit to the Ludovico Treatment he's instilled with an aversion to anti-social behaviour by programmed association between witnessed violence and drug-induced illness. This, as the government minister responsible says, works. The chaplain objects that the 'boy has no real choice' and indeed he doesn't. But I wonder if the religious spectrum of heavenly rewards for the virtuous and hellish punishment for the wicked is real moral choice. Is a life lived according to scriptural prescription truly good? Or is it just a long range form of self-interest; like a rich man who gives generously to charity and advertises the fact?

As Nietzsche and others have stated justice is an elaboration on vengeance. That recent innovation of human systems of punishment and crime control - rehabilitation - is perfectly realised in the Ludovico Treatment. Take violent offenders, condition them, they cease to be violent. But the punishment element is erased. Alex is released cured but not forgiven. He must face his victims: the drunk, his droogs, the writer who's wife he raped. None of them hesitate to inflict violence on Alex and he is unable to defend himself. The treatment, supposedly advanced, brings us back to square one. Instead of an impersonal governmental apparatus designed to rationally determine guilt and distribute punishment, we simply set up a perpetrator to be the ideal target for revenge.

There is punishment in A Clockwork Orange. Alex's one saving grace is his taste in music, particularly Beethoven. This is partially spoiled for him because one of the films he has to watch undergoing treatment is soundtracked by the ninth symphony's fourth movement: The Ode to Joy. Delicious irony. Alex piteously and strenuously objects and the treatment's supervisor Dr. Brodsky mutters "here's the punishment element perhaps".

This I think is the film’s larger message. Beethoven’s music is wild. He was the Rolling Stones of his day and his music is massively Dionysian. Many hate Wendy Carlos’s moog synthesizer recital of the work for the same reasons that people hate contemporary-set Shakespeare. I loved it. For the sci-fi scenery it was perfect. And, as the anti-modern Shakespeare purist dolts keep failing to realise, it makes the classics new to younger generations, perpetuating them.

But enough, Beethoven’s music is wild, dangerous. As is Alex. There is a link between the demonic impulses that lead Alex to destructive behaviour and those that create music like lovely, lovely Ludwig van’s. Is it possible to have one without the other? Imagine all great works of art and take the sex, violence, darkness out of them. Try to re-imagine them. What’s left? Disneyland?

The last chapter of Burgess’s book has Alex slowing down. He switches from Beethoven to easy listening, too tired to go out for the old ultra-violence. This chapter has been omitted in many editions of the book. Kubrick himself thought the author obliged to insert it by the publishers. However the last scene of A Clockwork Orange does in some ways go the same way.

Alex, appeased by the government with a good job (interesting comment on political ‘morality’ that) is presented with massive speakers blaring the ninth’s final bars. Alex imagines what many critics have mistakenly called a rape scene. The scene is not rape or even violent. It depicts Alex having sex with a girl (on top0. She’s definitely in control. A social circle resembling a wedding party look on and applaud. This scene seems to signify that Alex has been civilized after all. His sexual instincts are re-instated but they are socially adjusted. Perhaps Kubrick’s suggesting that old chestnut – marriage: the solution to male aggression.

A Clockwork Orange has been vilified, banned, condemned on artistic grounds and yet it survives. Easily one of Kubrick’s most popular pictures. Why? Scan the blogs and you’ll find it among many a favourite film listing, boys, girls both. Why? It’s well liked is why. We like it, we love it. It’s in our fibre, it’s part of who we are. That’s what it says: we love violence, by itself, for its own sake. Deal with it.

Saturday, September 23, 2006


Yesterday the left indulged one of it's most cherished and useless rituals: the rally and march. The subject is the war on terror, war in Iraq, anti-terrorism legislation and the plight of "Jihad Jack" Thomas the Australian muslim who was prosecuted under said legislation and locked up for a good long while. According to Jack and his advocates it was a wrong place, wrong time scenario. He was in Afghanistan on September 11, 2001. I don't know what Jack Thomas is into. He might be the nicest guy in the world, hell bent on blowing up the building I'm writing in or both! For all I know in these bullshit for news days he doesn't exist. But that's another story. What's really up my nose this afternoon is how the left insists on outmoded and predictable tactics to "take a stand" accomplishing absolutely nothing.

It was a small crowd with enourmous flags. Amplified catalogues of injustice echoed off disinterested buildings; the left are addicted to loudspeakers. Within seconds the area was covered in Socialist Alliance posters - what would they do without photcopiers? . For such an innocuous event the police presence was substantial: six mounted cops, two paddy wagons and a bicycle squad. They almost outnumbered the crowd. Still I never saw a truncheon or a gun so it's still democracy. I wondered if the cops came in with gas and truncheons swinging; how many of these people would've turned up?

Then the inevitable march to somewhere. The megaphone'd ringleader geared up the crowd with the usual cliches: the people united we'll never be defeated; and that old classic: one two three four we don't want no [insert appropriate adjective here] war. An hour or two of speeches and slogans outside some hapless building then to the pub to do the People's Front of Judea routine.

Surely there's something better.

At university I was involved in the 'campaign' against the reintroduction of tertiary fees. A meeting planning the usual protest-rally-march scenario with the usual list of factional egos giving the usual boring speeches. A few of us suggested that something else might be more effective. Most students had conflicting schedules and little time. A paltry rally would make the government's case for them. And listening to speeches and shouting slogans is not most people's idea of fun.

The point was to get on TV; create a media event. We suggested traffic disrupting street theatre to make a deft humourous point re. fees. Instead of the stereotypical screaming horde, there'd be a succinct, well-crafted statement put across as a joke. A joke makes a political point more effectively than a slogan. The viewers would be more likely to understand our case and more receptive to it. Traffic would be disrupted intentionally, yes. To get on the tube you need drama. But it would be less disrupting than a march. And there would be fewer arrests. It was blown down without consideration. Many of the organisers were the aforementioned factional egos and loathe to miss out on their pathetic fifteen minutes of 'fame'. And the suggestion required lateral thinking to understand and boldness to attempt. There was very little of either in the room.

The whole student 'movement' re. opposition to the reintroduction of fees was a farce. Many of the 'movement's' leaders were in the ALP and didn't want to rock their future careers by sabotaging government policy. They in fact supported the policy but refused to say so openly. Other parts of the leadership (myself included) were more interested in romantic leftist posturing than in dull political nitty-gritty. But it was the complete absence of any will to win that really made it a non-starter. The ingrained, unspoken conviction that we would not and could not prevail.

Of course others thought that we would win simply by simply turning up and starting a riot. We just needed, citing Hunter S. Thompson, more of the speed that fuelled the sixties. Relying on some organic mass-movement pulsation to effect meaningful change is like relying on the Sunday horoscope to plot a course to Mars. It's sloppy, wishful thinking and it won't work.

Sloppy thinking is also one of the left's cherished rituals. Consider the phrase: anti-globalisation movement. This commonly refers to a disparate set of groups and individuals who organise protests outside various economic/trade conferences. They think that globalisation and multi-national corporations are a modern evil and they fly all over the world and use the internet to say so.


Granted the portrayal of the anti-globalistaion movement's activities is a mainstream media caricature but I've yet to see a more sophisticated self-portrayal by the 'movement'. They can't even create a more accurate collective noun for themselves. Even its more articulate advocates like Naomi Klein fail to provide constructive alternatives. No Logo is a well written, relevant description of global capitalism. Linking the logotypes of contemporary textiles back through the corporate matrix to virtually enslaved factory workers is a good start; demonstrating things are fucked up. But so what? The feel-good ideas of Ms. Klein and the rest of the left re. the way the world should work are great as long as they don't have to be tested in the real world. Progressive writers are abundant. What's really needed are progressive industrialists.

The Brazilian firm SEMCO: is a functioning industrial democracy. The normal management heirarchy has been replaced by a decentralised structure underwritten by profit-sharing, universal accountability and open finances. No matter what job you have at SEMCO you're entitled to know the finances of the company and trained to understand them if you can't. The process is open and free. Marks of privilege and status are banned. No plush chairs or big offices. The CEO does his own photocopying. The result is a firm that has persisted and grown through highly volatile times with little bloodshed. It works because it's better. And it's not just easier on the factory floor but on executives as well.

The life of modern corporate executives although rich in privilege, status and power is stressful and tends to exclude other aspects of life. Much of the energy expended by those at the 'top' goes toward keeping their subordinates in line. Monitoring their work, auditing their time, kicking their butts etc. If you remove status privileges and link the prosperity of the company directly to the prosperity of every employee you remove the labour-management conflict saving a massive amount of energy. Energy that can be spent making the enterprise more competitive.

Semlar didn't intend to make SEMCO a democracy when he inherited the business. He simply wanted to modernise it. The resulting stress made him think he had cancer. He began to delegate the burden and ended up creating a democratic company. By the time he finished he was able to take two months off each year.

But Semlar is not fashionable among the activist set. At a party I got into a pointless argument with a member of one of the fringe left groups. I forget which. It had to do with 'revolution'. The dolt naturally thought 'revolution' was the next step up from the rally-protest-riot. So many people get on to the streets that parliament, the army, the banks and the cops crumble to dust and divine light breaks through the clouds announcing the dawn of Utopia.

I tried to explain to him that this is not what Marx meant by revolution. Strangely the fellow, a self-proclaimed marxist, hadn't read a word. Don't blame him it's dull. But Marx meant a shift from one economic model to another i.e. from a feudal-agricultural economy to a capitalist-industrial one. Each shift is an improvement. And in fact according to the mature Marx, this kind of shift is the only one that matters. Political activity is sort of a skin on the top of the economic soup. Marches, rallies and riots are part of the system not a force for changing it.

I tried to explain SEMCO as a functional form of 'socialism': economic democracy. He wasn't interested. No reason. He simply refused to believe that a private enterprise could be a catylyst for social progress. Like Ned Flander's TV set; most of his channels were blocked. At the end he just looked at me (with pity!) and said: all you've got are ideas, I've got an ideology.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


A guy who's far too well-dressed to work in information technology but nevertheless does, told me blogging was like filling a cup full of urine. Easy to do, hard to get anyone interested. He's also too witty to work in IT. And he's right I've been doing this over a week now and I'm not rich and famous yet. So what's the point?

Well set aside twentieth century notions about status, wealth etc. Because the twenty-first century will be a different place. I'm not saying there won't be any rich people or any famous people. There will. That won't stop. But fame and wealth are not intrinsically connected to cultural activity. It's a feature of contemporary customs which may become a thing of the past.

Shakespeare was never famous the way Dan Brown or Stephen King are today. Fame as we know it didn't exist then. And the closest thing to it was reserved for political, military and religous figures. Elizabeth Tudor, Charles de Lorraine or Clement VIII may have been "famous" but Shakespeare?

Charlie Chaplin's tramp, probably the first global human icon was a product of a complex intersection of stuff. Chaplin's impoverished upbringing imparting a certain social perspective and sense of humour. Years in tough English music halls leading to "overnight success" as one of Mack Sennett's players. The rushed grabbing of a few wardrobe items that became the Tramp look. And there was the early twentieth century with it's economic upheavals, it's terrible wars and nightmarish political landscape. It's difficult for us to imagine how bad things looked to people who made their way through the world between 1914 and 1950. But they were universally attracted to Chaplin's Tramp who was a new thing. A movie icon. The key to understanding the power of icons like the tramp is to understand how unprecedented they were.

Consider the Rolling Stones who emerged after the second world war. There was no such thing as a rock star before the Beatles and the Stones came along. Even previously massively successful recording stars like Crosby and Sinatra didn't have the god-like aura of these English guys who just wanted to play American music. I'm certain if you could go back in time and tell a fifteen year old Keith Richards that he'd become rich beyond imagining for playing this back door music he'd think you were crackers.

But again there's time and place. Sure Richards plays wicked guitar and the Stones are one of the best bands in the world. They click and it's a pleasure to hear them play even when they're awful. But time and place. The world had gone through decades of deprivation and grey-faced discipline, bad food, shabby clothes and marching up and down the square. This was a new generation and it wanted to shake it's arse. Such Dionysian gaisers after decades of repression make big waves in the cultural waterways. A whole pantheon of legendary figures appeared between 1950 and 1975. Often not doing all that much. James Dean's immortallity rests on three pictures, a catalogue of foxy photos and one spectacular death.

Now we've had sixty years of people wanting to be guitar gods and screen idols. And for exactly the same reason they used to work for Wall Street. Money and power. People are crawling over each other to be famous. And less and less do they have to do anything worthwhile to get there. A pimple treatment infomerical featuring a swag of the famously mediocre wearing extremely serious expressions as they discuss blemishes as if they were the Third World Debt. My favourite is Jessica Simpson the icon for what one can achieve if you swap dignity for fame. With that zap-eyed look of the media crazy she announces that she has cameras on her face twenty-four hours a day as if it's a massive accomplishment.

And it is! She has been working at it her whole life. Her schtick is to do whatever various armies of publicists, journalists, choreographers, directors, photographers, producers, executives and stylists want her to. It is hard work I'm not being sarcastic. But there is absolutely nothing memorable about anything she does. It's all fast food wrapping to be dispensed with likewise. The originality of Chaplin and Richards are gone. People are following a template that is less exciting then the career path of a chartered accountant.

Which brings me back to blogging and other related internet activity. Blogging is underground. People have to seek you out. There's no money in it; no recognition much. People do it for a variety of reasons. But they don't do it for the same reasons that people go to Wall Street. Is it a waste of time? Depends on your terms, but the phenomena at least is interesting. Even if the results are frequently not.

Monday, September 18, 2006


The world is not your oyster, it's not your breadbasket, it's not at your feet. The world is a living, breathing entity complete unto itself. It doesn't need you. You need it.

There's a fierce debate in the media, in political salons, on the street. In a general way this debate is about something called 'the environment'. No matter the side of the debate people refer to 'the environment' as a thing apart. The argument is about human activity and it's relation to the environment as if they were somehow seperable.

It's easy to think you can seperate these things. Go out bush that's the environment - trees, grass, insects, creeks, wild animals. No protection from heat, cold, bites and scratches. In cities, human activity: cafes, offices, museums, galleries, cinemas, theatres, busking, resteraunts etc. This is an artificial zone born of human imagination and designed for human comfort. We never give a thought to the source of those things bought with that ultimate product of human ingenuity: money.

What do we do in the city? Drink latte? Latte consists of coffee, water, milk and sugar. Where does the coffee come from? Coffee beans. Where does the milk come from? Cows. Sugar from sugar cane, paper-wrapped. And lots and lots of water.

A kilo of coffee requires a thousand litres of water. This does not include the steam forced through espresso machines, or the water used to clean the glasses. To grow a litre of coffee costs a thousand litres of water. This means if you like your coffee and buy a weekly half kilo of your favourite Columbian gold you're using twenty-four thousand litres of water a year. Just for coffee.

We live in a age of abundance. Clever monkeys we are. After millenia of struggle we've carved out this grand comfort zone for ourselves. We emerge from the womb and can persist to oblivion never once considering the material costs of the things we eat, drink, watch and play with. What materials, for instance, are required to produce a half hour of television? I don't know. Certainly someone, somewhere is capable of calculating the costs, ecologically. But well over 99% of us never even stop to consider it.

How many litres of water does it take to make an episode of Neighbours?

A human being can live without food for several weeks. Each one of us can go the rest of our lives without another movie, another pair of Levis or another Kylie Minogue cd. But water? Different story. A few days without water and you drop dead. You, me, everyone. With water the environment ceases to be out there and becomes integral to your very being. You are alive and you need water or you kick.

The ecological argument right this minute centres on Global Warming. That the earth is heating up is not in question. The question is why? The obvious correlation between the emergence of the industrial system in the nineteenth century and the corresponding heating of the world is treated with skepticism by many who frequently use their voices to champion our current economic model and all those who sail in it. They call themselves 'skeptics'. The Australian a few weeks back characterised the debate as that between skeptics and alarmists. Given the choice which one sounds rational?

The 'alarmists' are those who say that human activity causes global warming. Skeptics often characterise these people as loony, trendy, even evil. A particular target are the Greens. Surely our current economic system, based on the free use of resources in the pursuit of riches couldn't be a factor. The skeptics are not being skeptical simply because they don't want to held irresponsible for persisting with their air conditioners and four wheels drives. I'm sure also that the Murdoch press is being totally objective. That the Greens refuse to get into bed doesn't factor at all.

No! The skeptics are rational. They are fully informed. They've taken the time and the trouble to learn the basic science, to understand the limits of our knowledge re. non-linear systems like weather. They've researched the scientific discourse thouroughly and taken the trouble to filter out those skeptical scientists pouring cold water on the 'alarmists' for scientific reasons like keeping their job. They've come to their own conclusions. The effects of halting economic expansion for ecologically prudent reasons hence diminishing stock market dividends and losing real estate development opportunities never once crossed their minds.

And let's just say that's true. Does it matter?

Whatever the impact of human activity on the ecology, the ecology's impact on human activity is certain. Just ask someone who owned a hotel that got wiped out by the tsunami. President George II has declared that the American lifestyle is not negotiable. Well Mr. President, Nature doesn't negotiate. It doesn't care. To Nature, you and me are no different to the trees. It does as it will according to it's own logic and our stock market portfolio isn't relevant.

Humanity can now look back with unprecedented clarity on its history, its origins and development patterns. We can understand the link between some mutating wheat and the birth of civilization. It wasn't just hard work and bright ideas Mr. President it was luck. We were lucky. And luck always runs out.

It's time to advance little monkeys. It's time to look hard at the facts of existence and take our carved little niche in the cosmos a few steps forward. Whatever the facts re. global warming we must be aware of the relationship between ourselves and the planet. We need it and living according to an entirely human code of ever advancing riches and 'progress' won't kill the planet. But it just might kill us.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


I'm not much of a conspiracy theorist. I don't believe aliens built the pyramids either. But Andrew Bolt's tirade against "insane" academics who believe the United States government responsible for September 11 made me curious. For the uninitiated, Bolt is Melbourne's resident right-wing mouthpiece. Andrew provided a link on his blog to a Brit newspaper's URL and their piece on the subject. They shared Andrew's point-of-view re. the immorality of even considering such a thing.

God bless the Internet brothers and sisters. Unsatisfied, I found these people for myself: Scholars for 9/11 Truth sounds like Lisa Simpson's nerdy superfriends. To date I've only read one piece on the site: Steven Jones's "Why Indeed Did the World Trade Centre Collapse".

Interesting. Dr. Jones DOES NOT advocate any conspiracy. He simply posits 13 reasons why he thinks the official report - largely compiled by the National Institute of Science and Technology - is bogus. The 13 points are all based on evidence. I wouldn't call it conclusive but I've still to read anything that brings it down.

A good try, published in eSKEPTIC on Sep 11's 5th anniversaryis Phil Mole's 9/11 Conspiracy Theories: the 9/11 truth Movement in Perspective, . Mole's article is not specifically aimed at Jones but at the 9/11 Truth Movement in general. The 'movement' is a convenient collective noun for a range of persons from those with unanswered questions like 9/11 relatives or Dr. Jones to (I suppose) utter nutbags. I can't really say, I haven't read them all. The 9/11 truth 'movement' will get you a million plus hits on Google. And I'm not much for conspiracy theories.

Mr. Mole's article deals both with the Pentagon and WTC alternate theories. I'm only going to deal (briefly) with his attempts to debunk Dr. Jones' hypothesis re the WTC collapse.

Mole states that the twin towers do not collapse straight down one floor on top of another but that the halves of the buildings above the impact points weaken and buckle first. That's true. Jones doesn't say otherwise. Mole acknowledges that the temperatures inside the towers on impact would not have exceeded 1000 degrees farenheit (when will Americans convert to metric, Bloody hell!) far short of the temparature required to melt steel. However it is hot enough to weaken steel by half. The structure then buckles and down it all comes. He goes on to say (like the NIST report) that the molten metal was probably aluminium.

He does not mention that there was molten metal at the base of all three doomed WTC buildings for weeks. Dr. Jones does. He also counters the aluminium theory.

During and after the collapse a red to yellow hot liquid metal was observed. Indeed weeks after the event molten metal still glowed red-yellow beneath the rubble. Trouble is Aluminium does not glow red-yellow in daylight. It only glows a bit and looks silvery grey. Mole either ignores Jones on this point or didn't read the article. Moreover Mole fails to address Jones's other objections including NIST's tweaking of computer models to make their hypothesis work, the fact that before Sep. 11 no skyscraper ever collapsed because of fire and the eyewitness accounts of several explosions in the buildings on that day.

I'm still not advocating any conspiracy theory. But a very good case has been made questioning the official story with no sufficient answers. Dr. Jones's article by itself doesn't prove US government calluding. It simply throws the standing story into disrepute and calls for further investigation. Of course it implies a collosal cover-up.

Why would the United states Government cover up the truth? And how could such a gigantic conspiracy be organised and kept secret? Good questions and very difficult to answer. But Dr. Jones's article does present solid scientific doubts about the standing story and like him I think they deserve addressing. So far the only response has been hysterical cries of "nutcase".

More on this later.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


George Orwell, Eric Blair to his friends, inspired me to my vocation. Until I was twelve I was headed to the sciences. I wanted to be a physicist: astrophysics or atomic. I couldn't decide. I'd read quite a bit of quality literature by that time. The short stories of Oscar Wilde and Edgar Allen Poe which I still love. Mainly I liked science fiction. Stories that were drawn from real possibilities opened up by the discoveries of the twentieth century: space travel, time travel. It was to satisfy this taste that I picked up a copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four whilst a very unhappy boarding school student.

It was the first time I learnt a book can change your life. Nineteen Eighty-Four is a complex book. It isn't merely a criticism of totalitarianism. It's a satire deriding the self-image both of the new order visions of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia but also of the Western democracies of it's time. For Orwell there was very little separating them. The blind obedience to authority, the conveniently flexible memory, the demonising of enemies for doing exactly the same things one's own army was doing.

Orwell started me on the path to becoming a writer.

After school I drifted into Campus politics and, for a while, I succumbed to ideology. I became a tape recording. It was not a natural disposition and it didn't last long. I had a deep interest in social progress; in improving civilization to the extent that human lives would become more than just an exercise on the money machine. Naturall the 'radical' ideologies challenging the status quo interested me. Various political and artistic 'isms' that might carve a path to a better place to be.

This was the beginning of nineties and members of the 60s generation were everywhere ascending to authority. Change marked the culture. It was no longer just about football and beer. There were urbane people making sophisticated noises. Homosexuality became visible. Different points of view, different cultures were celebrated not concealed.

The downside came in the moral paranoia and secular puritanism collectively know as political correctness. Often this was just pure hatred expressed by the idiotic ranting of gramaphone minds. Common sense, good humour and courtesy were almost totally absent. Taste was not a matter of personal choice but an emblem of political and moral 'soundness'. Free thought was purged. I found myself unable to say what I wanted among many of my peers.

The mindset had little to do with anything relevant or meaningful. It sabotaged the possibility of change rather than promoting it. What profit in declaring the law an unsuitable career for a woman on feminist grounds! The 'reason' - the field's pervasive stench of masculinity. Better to go and weave baskets instead. Don't laugh this was actually promoted at a conference I attended.

More the use of a pseudo-technical, virtually unreadable jargon became compulsory. I remember doing my post-graduate thesis using a thesaurus. I'd constantly be on the look out for a more complicated and less clear way of saying simple things. This language disease is an epidemic in my generation. I don't point the finger I succumbed myself. It's use of scientific symbols and words to make itself sound important, radical or deep created plain ugliness passed on to subsequent generations. English classes now teach the construction of narratives and discourses as opposed to simply writing stories and essays.

French theorists are worshipped and taken literally when often they are using wild hyperbole. Roland Barthes, in response to the New Criticism, declares the death of the author. He means to direct literary criticism away from biography to more textual questions. But that doesn't sound quite dramatic enough so: the author is dead!

And we've taken him literally to the extent that a colleague of mine commenced her PhD thesis by declaring her thesis was going to argue such and such. Theses don't argue. The thesis is the argument. The argument is made by a human. This is common sense but common sense is banned in the contemporary humanities.

I did it too, I confess: thesaurus abuse. the police should interfere. I had abandoned Orwell. Never use a long word when a short one suffices. Is it possible to cut a word, do it. Simple rules for the creation of clear a beautiful prose. I had forgotten.

Nineteen Eighty-Four reveals the nature of freedom of thought. Oceanic society is oppressive because reality is controlled by the collective human will to simply ignore what is inconveniently 'out there'. People disappear for political reasons, the correct response is simply to forget they ever existed. Winston Smith writes correctly that 'freedom is the freedom to say that 2+2=4. If that is granted all else follows." It is on this point that he suffers most greatly at the electric rack. O'Brian must make him see five where there are four.

Freedom in other words comes from believing what own senses regardless of what others think: ergo the empirical method. But the Left has taken cultural relativism way past the point of useful application Truth is held to be a completely human construct. Even scientific knowledge is a human construct. The implication is that chemical, biological, physical facts are actually culturally dependant. They are customary. There is no world outside the human mind.

Of course this is complete horseshit.

What Orwell understood so well is that the problem with the Left is that it does not have enough regard for certain 'bourgeois' traits. For example: freedom of speech, multi-party democracy, freedom of association, the right to privacy, the seperation of the judiciary, legislature, executive and law enforcement aspects of government.

These attributes of capitalist society represent real and important advances in human society. Why? Because they limit the power of the authorities over the individual. Indeed they ensure that authority itself must succumb to higher authority. It is a structure that allows people to think and speak freely and the benefits are enormous.

The Left often neither respects nor understands these things. I remember recently seeing a tiresome 'speaker's forum'. The ringleader was a woman railing at the government. She spoke of free speech and democracy as precious things threatened. Afterwards a man started to give a badly thought out case for Intelligent Design. He couldn't be heard above the shrill, screaming of the former speaker effectively drowning him out. Funny, she'd just cited Voltaire: I don't agree with what you say but I'll fight for your right to say it. Fight? She could even shut up and listen like a civilized person.

The Right is in ascendency all over these days. Social welfare and public services rolled back for laissez-faire capitalism. Newspapers and media are stuffed with pompous Tory populism disguising itself as the thought of the common people. The Left is discredited and marginallised.

Sure there are fine Left-wing writers but they continue to plug into a select section of the Intelligensia without being heard by a wider public. Time was the Left knew how to talk to Joe Sixpack. Those times they changed. Meantime we have media polls asking ordinary people if they think torture might be okay in certian circumstances. How long will it be before we go back to the world that preceeded the Enlightenment?

Our world resembles Oceania more than we think it does. Institutions like the US National Security Agency monitor billions of daily communication, the internet provides the individual with a cheap method of global self-expression, but it also provides various institutions with a lot of information on the individual. The endless War on Terror bears a certain resemblance to Oceania's constant war? True, we haven't Newspeak or thoughtcrime. But obfuscation is the politician's standard tactic. And so many opinions and very few facts make it quite difficult to find the truth out about anything. How does one examine the veracity of a standard edition of the morning paper?

I don't know. What I do know is that democratic institutions must be defended and strengthened and that the left must do this. To do this the hysterical, fist waving march and rally addict must recede and give way to a more conscientous, civilized and intelligent figure. A figure like the tall, thin man in corduroy who once declared: the enemy is the gramaphone mind.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


First thing in the morning five years, one day ago; I remember. My flatmate was giggling nervously against the usual background of morning TV bullshit. The bullshit was normal but the giggling wasn't. My eyes focused halfway thru my first caffeine fix on the smouldering twin towers. The coffee ran cold. The normal TV bullshit wasn't the normal TV bullshit, not today.

Like a chain smoker expects lung cancer to show up; I knew it was coming. But I wasn't expecting it that morning. Not then. That's the first thing I thought NOT NOW!! There's a cowboy in the White House and a toady in the Lodge. But who better to pick a fight with than people who'll start one without thinking twice or even once.

The next thing I thought (callously) was at least they didn't get any of the really important buildings. They didn't get the Chrysler building, they didn't get the Empire State. That was cold, but I have to admit it. The effects of TV brothers and sisters, you see death and disaster every day and the experience makes it somehow unreal. I was thinking of the architecture.

Then I began to think about the real people getting killed. And all the real people who were about to get killed. And most of them just doing whatever it was they do. In New York, in Afghanistan, in Iraq still. Ordinary people who have no control over events losing limbs, and loved ones, their lives because of decisions taken by shady persons unknown.

I worked with three Muslim women at the time. No-one said anything disparaging that day. Not to them, they were well-liked. But the next day two of them were late because of abuse suffered at the tram stop. The third, Turkish, didn't wear a headscarf 'til then. She favoured the modern style. But after that she wore one every day. Solidarity, if muslims were to be abused she'd take it on the chin like the rest of them. Something still not understood these days.

Now the country's awash with anti-muslim this and that. All maintained under a facade of "Australian values". But what we really mean is choose: "us or them". It's almost as if the failure of muslims to overtly support everything America's done in the middle-east is an active declaration of support for terrorism. The middle ground has fallen away like an earthquake chasm. People have to cling to one side or the other, flinging stones across.

And what's the result? An invasion of Afghanistan resulting in that country reverting (again) to medieval fragments. An endless, increasingly complicated insurgency war in Iraq for some reason. Sure Hussein's a bastard but he wasn't involved in 9/11. And we were doing business with him til recently. If we want to spread democracy why don't we start with Burma? They have an elected leader who's now in her second decade under house arrest. They want democracy. Or why don't we improve our own democracies, lead by example?

Sadly not. Instead our democratic rights have been rolled back in the name of preserving our democratic rights. And the hypocrisy which so infuriates the rests of the world has been amplified. We simply refuse to admit any culbability in this our new world scenario. This is the test brothers and sisters. Democracy - use it or we lose it.

I remember many hushed and extremely diplomatic private conversations that day. People dancing around their own opinions. Trying to say the right thing. Walking to the pub a friend and I heard someone say: "yeah. I'm glad America got it!" on the phone. We laughed. Cold again but we couldn't help it. No-one had said it but everyone was thinking it.

Now all I can do is light a candle. A useless tribute to the hundred thousands plus who've perished. And all those still to come. AMEN.