Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

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

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Muck-raking with Mick

That which cannot be seen - click to enlarge.

Retirement, gentle reader, has its traps. After finally pulling the pin at age 70 in July last, I'm discovering some of them.

One is boredom (ennui - to those seeking a more precise definition).

Boredom and ennui are (to me at least) two vastly different experiences. You can avoid boredom by activity, but if that activity has an outcome that doesn't create change, or the potential for change, in others, it becomes ennui.

We are, after all, social beings.

With that in mind, along with vehicle restoration, book marketing, travel planning, home renovation, volunteering at the soup kitchen, my fitness program, first aiding at Men for All Seasons, and my PhD proposal, I've added blog trolling.

This last activity has the advantage of providing immediate (or almost immediate) feedback.

It also provides an insight into the presence of complete nutters inhabiting the blogosphere. These Harpics* seem almost exclusively, to sit on the far Right of the political spectrum, and specialise in abuse, ad hom attacks, and a propensity for the full range of conspiracy theories. I've recently discovered a site that attracts more than its fair share of these - but I'll get to that in a moment.

Over the years, I've had fun at Catallaxy until I challenged some regular posters on the issue of subsidies for the fossil fuel and mining industry and I was banned by the moderator. This is the same moderator who writes for the Minerals Council of Australia. Coincidence maybe?

I've also commented on Andrew Bolt's blog (although his stuff has become so boringly predictable that it's a waste of time). Bolt posts comments when I use my real name, but censors anything with my 1735099 tag attached. 

Then there's a very a weird mob called XYZ who carked it for a while for reasons unknown. The nutters who hang out at XYZ are on the dangerous end of the psychopathic continuum, so it's entirely possible that they were locked away for a time but have since been let back on the streets.

There's also a Yank gun nut who blogs on a site called Stately McDaniel Manor, who gets quite upset if you point out that our Australian  gun laws work a whole lot better than those in the USA, and that the solution to 30000 plus gun deaths annually is probably not buying more (and more powerful) guns. I must wander back there again soon. Many Yanks take themselves very seriously.

Most recently I've been having a great deal of fun on a site that goes under the title of Michael Smith News.

Smith is an ex-copper who was apparently a Reg in the ADF for a while until he saw the light and became a civilian. He has also cultivated a profile as a muck-raker, after being given the boot from his radio job for threatening to libel Julia Gillard quite a few years ago.

This episode seems to have created in Smith some kind of vengeful lower brain response dressed up as "investigative journalism". This style of blogging is nothing new, of course. It probably exists because there is a fraction of the listening/viewing/reading population who have an appetite for it. The market rules, after all.

It's a kind of 21st Century resurrection of the tabloid magazine genre that was around in the fifties and sixties, and requires the reading age of a typical nine year old to be understood. You may recall Australasian Post magazine - or am I showing my age?

This audience constitutes about 10% of the lower end of the Gaussian curve of normal distribution, and as such, provides a small but steady market for assorted shock jocks. The strategy is to identify a successful personality with a profile, dig up some dirt, and turn the exercise into a kind of serialised account of the forensic chase, always promising a denouement just around the corner.

If the target is female, that always seems to add a bit of spice - misogyny is alive and well, and coming to a blog near you.....

The process never actually goes anywhere, of course, but that's not the point. It's the journey that matters, rather than the destination, and if the punters are prepared to pay the fare (in clicks, donations, and subscriptions) then it can provide a meal ticket.

Smith has been stalking Gillard since 2011, and still his acolytes gather like hyenas waiting for charges. It reminds me a little bit of the Evangelicals waiting for the Second Coming. There's a pathology common to this behaviour.

Maybe Skinner was right. Operant conditioning works with my Blue Heeler. Once she's got the drift that there may possibly be a reward for obedience, she'll obey a command every time, whether she get a treat or not. It's the anticipation that does the trick.

But I digress.

You can generally get some idea of where the vulnerabilities lie in whatever case the blogger is laying out, and the first sign is that some of your comments are censored. This was certainly the case with Catallaxy, and to some extent with Bolt.

I reckon I've twigged to Smith's vulnerability, and it relates to his appeal for donations.

He has been railing non-stop about taxpayers' money being directed by DFAT into the Clinton Foundation, claiming a lack of transparency, and digging up a whole tranche of obscure documents proving nothing in particular, but looking mildly impressive. (Reminds me a bit of the bloke walking around the workshop carrying clue board with a biro behind his left ear - doing nothing much but looking important).

When I had the temerity to politely request an annual end-of-year financial accounting for the funds donated to his blog, I was promptly censored - check the screenshot above.

This reaction is totally predictable and revelatory, and throws a bit of sunlight on the shock jock phenomenon.

There is a neat biological metaphor for this activity. If you look at the relationship between a parasite and host, you can see the system at work.

It's a simple process - identify a host (usually a celebrity of some kind who has been successful) - dig up some dirt or create a smear, and survive on the outrage generated.

It never fails, gentle reader, whilst that 10% is out there....and they always are. They provide endless entertainment.

*Clean round the bend.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Fire and Fury

Pic courtesy Toofab

I've just finished this book, gentle reader.

You're not allowed to ask me how I got my hands on a copy.

Suffice to say, I have generous friends across the Pacific.

I will, however buy the thing when it hits the bookstores here - it's a riveting piece of work, and in many ways, horrifying. It is a must have in any library.

Even if it's only 10% accurate, what is described as Trump's conduct and the machinations of members of Trump's inner circle is at the same time bizarre, delusional and frightening.

Trump comes across as semi-literate, completely self absorbed, and with the attention span of a five year-old. In fact, much of his behaviour is toddler-like. It's all there - tantrums, a need for instant gratification, and more id than ego.

His family are milking his position for all that it is worth, and following disparate (mostly selfish) agendae of their own. The inner circle leaks like a sieve, because nobody trusts anybody - family included.

Mind you, when you look at his turnover of staffers and his incapacity to honour his election promises, the book sits very well with the facts of the history of his "accomplishments" so far.

He's managed to get one conservative judge appointed, but there is no Mexican wall, the Affordable Care Act has not been repealed, and the bulk of the rest of his promises, have stalled. He has granted his billionaire mates extensive tax cuts, but when you read the fine print, despite all the hype, they won't benefit middle class Yanks in any major fashion.

There have been a few grand gestures (Jerusalem), but even that has had largely negative consequences.

But for me, the issue is how somebody so demonstrably unfit for office can wield so much power.

Like a few of my generation, I felt the backhand of US policy in SE Asia, when our weak kneed government followed it back in the sixties and seventies. God help Australia, if a Trump tantrum involves us in something similar.

We can only hope that he is managed.

Incidentally, much of the energy consumed in the White house at the moment seems to be directed towards that - managing a loose cannon who responds mostly to self-absorbed whimsy, and takes everything personally.

He chews up staffers at an amazing rate.

Let's continue to hope that there are some strong and dedicated people able to keep him in check. the consequence of his escaping the long leash, are terrifying.

In the meantime, read the book. Make sure you have a strong drink handy......

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