Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Sunday, 18 March 2018


I have always loved this song.
It's presented here by a variety of Cuban musicians, all of them great.

iPad Blogging

Random weird pic.

It is possible, gentle reader, to blog from my iPad, once I have worked how to get photos I have taken on the infernal device to my Google images album.

Wish me luck.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Trump and Seeming

If I insisted, gentle reader, that there is a striking similarity between the current US administration and the government of Vietnam you would probably conclude that I had been smoking some illegal and dangerous substance.

But hear me out…..

A few years ago, I was visiting Vietnam, and spent a couple of days aboard a junk exploring the world heritage listed Ha Long Bay.

It is indeed a beautiful area, with spectacular formations of ancient volcanic origin, and pristine waters.

The area is being loved to death, and there are so many tourist junks daily visiting that careless disposal of rubbish has become an issue which is troubling the authorities.

There was an account of how they were dealing with the pollution in an English language newspaper I found on the boat. They had commissioned a couple of patrol boats who would look for junk skippers tossing rubbish over the side in the World Heritage area. 

Anyone sprung would be hauled up before the province authorities. The penalty would be not a fine, not imprisonment, not a loss of licence. None of that.

The penalty would involve the offender writing an essay about the evils of environmental pollution and reading it to an audience of the local party committee. There wasn't a great deal of detail provided as to what would follow from this public act of atonement, but it's assumed from the newspaper report that this would put an end to the matter, and the skipper would be allowed to resume business after this was done.

In other words, there was no punishment as such, and what mattered was how it looked - or seemed.

I remember thinking that this a uniquely Vietnamese way of doing things, but then began to think about the Trump administration and its activity so far.

Amongst other things, Trump promised he'd act on the Paris Accord, the immigration issue, and the Affordable Care Act.

He has taken photo ops posing with various odds and sods signing executive orders. These photos are spread all over the media reinforcing to his base that he's actually "doing something". 

In reality, very little has changed.

The withdrawal from the Paris Accord has had virtually no effect, as US emissions have actually fallen slightly since he took this action, as most climate mitigation action in the US was already in place and is taken by State and Local authorities.

The senate has stymied much of his action on immigration, and Obamacare remains in place.

So little has changed, but Trump is acting as though it has. He has "seeming" down to a fine art, and could probably show the Vietnamese a thing or two.

As pointed out at the outset, the similarity is stark.

It's a funny old world......

Friday, 2 March 2018

When the News is Not the News

I’ve recently subscribed to an on-line news service.

It pushes news items into my email, generally at regular intervals, and if something newsworthy happens it reports that as “breaking news”.

It ‘s a useful service, but one aspect of it bothers me. There is a facility for the reader to indicate a preference, which extends to completely eliminating specific topics.

That’s OK, I hear you say. Why should I have to hear about boring stuff, about which I have no concern.

It’s OK if news is seen as a product. It isn’t. News is information.

Corporate media sees news as content which they can sell to consumers.

Most of the dysfunction that has visited the mainstream media recently has grown out of this packaging.

Marketism destroys everything it touches.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Some Reflections on Youth

Retirement, gentle reader, is sometimes a pain in the proverbial.

It’s liberating to have free time, and not to have any consequential responsibilities, but I continue to miss the routine of having a task or series of tasks with results and deadlines.

I guess the best part of fifty years of routines and responsibilities is habit-forming.

As a consequence, I’ve embarked on a series of projects, probably more than I realistically have time for. The theory is that I’ll filter out the less productive and enjoyable of these, concentrate on the ones I’m enjoying, and arrive at a reasonable balance.

One of these projects involves being available to a large boys’ school as a mentor for senior students.
It involves working with small groups of these 16/17 year-olds and answering a series of questions they have scripted.

The tone and content of the questions reveals a great deal about how these young men see the challenges presented to them in the twenty-first century.

Unfortunately, they tend to have a fairly bleak view of it all.

One of the issues they face, is the multiplicity of choices available to them, choices not only of vocation, but of identity.

Back when I was their age (and remember, we’re talking early sixties), my choices were limited. In terms of occupation, I was getting good marks at what was called an “academic” secondary school programme, so I was destined for teaching, clerical work in a bank or somesuch, or journalism. Back then, there were actually jobs to be had in journalism.

As a young male at that time, there were no issues of gender identity. Homosexuality was either ignored or ridiculed, so if you were unlucky enough to be gay (a term unknown back then), you hid the fact.

Women knew their place, and weren’t, as I recall, at all vocal about their stereotyped role and lack of power.

I drifted into teaching, but don’t recall ever seriously considering anything else.

National Service came along as a wild card, but that’s another story.

Listening to these boys the other day, it became clear to me how much more difficult it is for them to carve out a role which provides what used be called “self-actualisation”.

Then there’s a whole bunch of other more prosaic, but important issues, such as the casualisation of employment, the cost of housing, and the lack of meaningful jobs. There are jobs out there, but the dearth of clerical positions, accessible trades (wrapped up in the flensing of the TAFE sector), and the cost of tertiary study combine to set up barriers that weren’t there fifty years ago.

I was able to study at no personal cost (except my bonding to Education Queensland) and was in-service trained at a post graduate level by my employer on two separate occasions.

For young men these days, that is the stuff of fantasy.

The sessions with the boys are enjoyable – they’re bright and much more articulate and assertive than I was at that age. Their (female) teacher is present, but she doesn't get involved in the to and fro of the discussion. These exchanges generate a frewheeling momentum of their own, and she really isn't needed.

On reflection, it would be great to be seventeen again, but I wouldn’t change places with them. 

At least they aren’t under threat of conscription. I doubt we’ll see that aberration again.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Shrdlu - the Printer's Devil

“Barnaby Joyce argues Australia has enough corruption wathdogs”

I kid you not, gentle reader – the above was a headline from The Oz (also known as the Australian – the fart of the nation).

As I write this, it’s been up there on their webpage for at least three hours.

Don’t these “journalists” employ editors?

And if this is a “quality newspaper”, I can’t imagine what a run of the mill tabloid looks like these days.

On second thoughts I could.

There’s the Daily Telegraph…..

Update -
They're getting worse.
"Nunes" is now "Dunes" - Look at your keyboard - not a typo.


Monday, 22 January 2018

Not a Review of "The Post"

Pic courtesy variety.com
The following is not, gentle reader, a review of the movie, but of the history. As Mark Twain is alleged to have said - “History doesn't repeat itself but it often rhymes”.

The history we’re living now, with a vulgarian in the White House, has a discordant metre, but it does rhyme. It rhymes with the period 1914 – 1950.

Unfortunately, what we’re seeing in 2018 resonates strongly with the experience of that chunk of the last century.  

The twentieth century saw, sequentially; industrial scale militarism, a global recession, fascism feeding the rise of nationalism (or more correctly, nativism), and two major conflicts which pretty much destroyed Europe and by the end of it, much of Asia.

It saw genocide, mass destruction, the demise of ancient power blocs, and the birth of new ones. I refer (inter alia) to the fall of the Third Reich, the Ottoman and British Empires, the birth of the UN, and the establishment of the state of Israel.

Each of these episodes fed inexorably into the next. A kind of desperate momentum took over, which began with the assassination of the Archduke in Sarajevo, and finished with the Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

That’s a bit black – I hear you say. But observe the rise of nationalism in Europe and the USA, the re-emergence of racist ideology pretty much everywhere. Add a recent experience of market failure (the GFC) to the mix, and the pattern is clear. The appearance of Berlusconi, Farage, Trump and Wilders, could be seen as reincarnations of Mussolini, Mosley, William Dudley Pelley and Mussert. There's a symmetry.

My parents lived the first few stanzas of the poem, and I have lived the last.

I write in retrospective anger, gentle reader.

What infuriates me is the fact that the movie describes a situation in which a democratically elected government hid the truth from its people, inflicting enormous suffering on its own country, and on a country in a different continent, whilst at the same time being completely aware that the whole enterprise was doomed to failure.

And that the reason for this was substantially to uphold the reputation of the USA.
From the Pentagon Papers (rationalising the continuation of the US involvement) –
"70% – To avoid a humiliating U.S. defeat; 20% – To keep [South Vietnam] (and the adjacent) territory from Chinese hands; 10% – To permit the people [of South Vietnam] to enjoy a better, freer way of life1.

The movie opens with scenes of an ambush during the height of the war in Vietnam. As a cinematic technique, I assume it was used to focus the attention of the audience on the human cost of the conflict.

I’m not sure it was entirely successful with all of the audience, but it worked for me.

It reminded me of what I had seen and experienced in 1970.

It reminded me of Graham Kavanagh, aged 22, who died of heat exhaustion on 21st April, 1970, after we walked 15 clics down a rocky creek bed overnight in stifling heat carrying 40kgs of kit. Insertion into an AO by this method was unheard of, but it worked, because we struck an occupied bunker system on the next day. Unfortunately this secure insertion killed Kavanagh, a Nasho – a Cabinetmaker from Edwardstown. He died just before the medevac chopper arrived.

It reminded me of Bobby Hughes, aged 19 from Goulburn, who was killed by RPG fire when 4 platoon tried unsuccessfully to assault this same bunker system on 22nd April.

It reminded me of the 60,000 Australians—ground troops, air-force and naval personnel—who served in Vietnam between 1962 and 1972. Of these, 521 died as a result of the war and over 3,000 were wounded.

It reminded me of Paul Ham’s account in Vietnam, the Australian War

The personal cost of the war, in terms of personal grief and moral degradation, is immeasurable. In our helplessness, we surrender to statistics. 520 Australian soldiers dead and 3000 wounded. 58193 Americans dead and about 300000 wounded. 220356 South Vietnamese troops dead or missing in action, and 1.17 million wounded. 660000 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops dead, with the possibility that a third were civilians mistaken for enemy troops or deemed legitimate targets2.”

So, on that level, for this cinema patron, the Vietnam sequence did the trick.

Forgetting the history, the rest of the movie worked for me. The performances were complete, the cinematography slick, and the narrative pace, especially towards the end, compelling. Perhaps it was a little slow in gathering momentum.

I carry with me the memory of many good men, who were used so shamefully by the government of the day to help the USA bolster its reputation. 

I also carry the apprehension that the stanza of history I’d just seen represented on the screen has every opportunity of rhyming with something tragically current.
I hope I’m wrong…..

  1. A memo from the Defense Department under the Johnson Administration listing the reasons for American persistence, even though both the administration and the military knew that the war was unwinnable.
  2. Paul Ham, Vietnam, the Australian War, Harper Collins, 2007, p 663

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