Highly local

The Blue Mile: “Let’s go on a journey investigating the history of the Blue Mile area! The Blue Mile is located along the shore line in Wollongong from Flagstaff Hill to North Beach.”

Local but international

Nick Southall, based in Wollongong, is a thoughtful Marxist. I am an agnostic on this as on many matters. I do commend Global Revolt and the Struggle for Democracy, however.

…the struggles for democracy will be very long. In fact they will take the rest of our days. For, if we want rich and rewarding lives, authentic and loving relationships, decent work and living conditions, sustainable development and environmental protection, these are things we need to create and recreate every day. It is when we stop looking to those who hold power over us for solutions, and start to create those solutions ourselves, that democracy is understood not just as a goal to be struggled for, but as the immanent ability of people to self-organise and govern themselves. However, it remains unclear if recent collaborative struggles can maintain their multiplicity of organisational forms and extend participatory democracy. Questions now facing those in revolt are; can the spaces, times and experimental practices of real democracy be widened and extended? Are new subjectivities, capable of genuine democratic relations, creating the practices, processes, infrastructures or institutions that can sustain and expand a long-term global revolution?

A Muslim on the seal of the confession

Waleed Aly in today’s Herald.

Suppose a paedophile’s desire for forgiveness and absolution is so strong that they are prepared to take the risk and confess anyway. Then what? Canon law prohibits a priest from revealing a confession even under the threat of his own death. Should we expect him to buckle under the threat of a prison sentence? Here it’s essential to understand that any priest who violates the confessional seal faces excommunication.

That might mean nothing to you. You might even see this as the threat that underpins a dangerous fairytale. But you are not the one hearing the confession. What matters is what this means to priests and, in Catholic terms, excommunication is as serious as it gets – far more serious than any prison sentence. This leaves us searching for a very strange creature indeed: someone devoted enough to enter the priesthood, but not devoted enough to care about eternal damnation. And we need lots of them. We’re betting on a team of rogue priests. That doesn’t sound like a plan to me.

You can’t legislate away people’s religious convictions, however much you might want to. And you can’t ignore them simply because you hold them in contempt. What matters here is the stuff outside the confessional box: the lame responses to abuse that seem calculated to protect paedophile priests rather than their victims; the legal manoeuvring to avoid paying compensation; the failure of police to follow through on investigations. These are the things we should be pursuing relentlessly. This should be the focus of our desire for justice. Let’s not dilute that by getting lost on some doctrinal excursion it’s clear we don’t understand.

He should be a Cardinal! Better than the one that is there now in Sydney anyway. I saw the whole Pell press conference on ABC News 24 and was mightily unimpressed.

Richard Ackland on Hardie’s, hypocrisy and Bernie Banton

See Morality question as dust will never settle.

It seemed like exquisite insensitivity for the NSW Court of Appeal to reduce the penalties originally imposed on directors of James Hardie Industries on the day the second episode of Devil’s Dust went to air on ABC TV.

This was a major and engrossing piece of documentary drama, based on the book by ABC journalist Matt Peacock with the delicate title, Killer Company.

We saw the story about how, at first, James Hardie attempted to hide the dangers posed by the mining and manufacture of asbestos then, when its liabilities were dramatically mounting, to spin-off its asbestos subsidiaries into the Medical Research and Compensation Foundation, taking the remainder of the company offshore.

The story was told through the eyes of former Hardie employee Bernie Banton, his wife Karen, the dogged Peacock and Hardie’s PR man.

In the TV drama, the spin doctor is called Adam Bourke, although in real life we know it was Greg Baxter, who later went to work as the corporate affairs person for Rupert Murdoch’s Australian operations.

The identity and character were changed in order to import a dramatic device of having Bourke’s wife struck down with mesothelioma – the result of home improvements in the early days of their marriage.

The idea was to create a sort of tacit, last-minute bonding between the protagonists – although there was drama enough without this flourish.

At the core of the TV and real-life dramas was Hardie’s attempt, in effect, to thwart claimants receiving a fair level of compensation for their asbestos-related diseases…

See my previous post.

Taking Australia’s Temperature

This was a quirky, good-humoured  attempt to reduce the shrillness of the alleged “debate” on global warming by throwing up actual facts about what has really, really happened objectively considered in Australia over the past century. Only an ass could deny what we we were shown, surely. Sadly, rusted on Moncktonites won’t have been watching, or if they did watch are no doubt torturously finding “evidence” to neutralise what we clearly saw.

Dr Karl Braganza
Temperatures around Australia have risen by about a degree. Um, less chills, more fevers. And some regional variation in that as well. So some regions are heating up more than others.
Essentially, what the records show is that global warming isn’t something that’s coming – it’s here in our backyards already. It’s pointless now to ask, ‘Is this climate change or natural variability?’ What we see is one acting on top of the other.
Dr Karl Braganza
So, every parcel of air, every ocean current, every weather system is now about a degree warmer. And when you go through and do the physics, that’s actually a hell of a lot of energy added to the climate system in general.
Dr Jonica Newby
You know, of all the things I learned on this investigation, it was that comment from Karl that really struck me. It was like, ‘Aha! I finally get it.’ There’s one degree of extra heat across the whole planet. That’s just a lot of new energy in our weather system. What happens when you add another degree? And another?
So what WILL happen in the future? Well, I’m obviously going to have to spend some money on a retaining wall. And, like the rest of us, I’ll try to do my bit. But I’ll continue to toast my sunset, pray to my snow gods and get as much joy as I always have out of the parts of Australia I love. I do think I should do so with eyes wide open, though, and not pretend there’s no change to see.

Well, let’s hope so.


In a similar vein from The Netherlands see Climate Dialogue: Exploring different views on climate change.

This video really ought to be deeply offensive

… to just about every believer in The Bible, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, or any other alleged holy book. But no-one ever notices. Perhaps it’s the tune.

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

Last I heard God was not offended. In fact I believe He is a fan.


…Over the course of human history blasphemy has been understood to be unacceptable in most human societies, and often entails extreme sanction. The American, and to a lesser extent Western, elevation of liberty of speech over the sacred values of the community is a peculiar counter-cultural trend which has become normative. But that doesn’t mean that it’s normal or natural. I stipulate here the term “sacred values of the community,” because though blasphemy connotes violations of religious norms, obviously outrage can be triggered by violations of sacred communal norms more generally. Imagine, for example, if someone violated Lenin’s Tomb during the 1950s in the Soviet Union. Jonathan Haidt has alluded to this issue. Someone who reacts calmly to “Piss Christ” might not react so calmly to “Piss Martin Luther King.”

This points to the second issue. Not only is there is a human universal of offense at violation of sacred norms, but those sacred norms vary from culture to culture. So, for example, I have pointed out to followers of the Abrahamic religions that the core documents of their own faiths and the dominant interpretations are often gravely offensive and hostile toward those of other religious traditions. There is a certain incommensurability of offense across cultures. What may be sacred to one culture may be offensive and blasphemous to another. To give an example, the institutions of sacred prostitution has cropped up repeatedly over human history. Many religious people would consider prostitution in the service of gods or God blasphemous, whereas others might consider it an exalted act. Similarly, blood sacrifice, whether of humans or animals, has been central to many religions, and taboo and blasphemy in the context of others. In contrast to this there are acts and violations which seem relatively universal in interpretation. This is clear when offended people make analogies to insulting one’s mother; this is generally communicable across societies, because emotional family ties are fundamental. And the collective paroxysms of rage, anger, and violence, due to violations of communal honor probably draw from the same cognitive reflexes as those which are triggered by violations of family honor….

For those who’ve come across the seas

We don’t often sing the second stanza of the Australian national anthem:

Beneath our radiant Southern Cross
We’ll toil with hearts and hands;
To make this Commonwealth of ours
Renowned of all the lands;
For those who’ve come across the seas
We’ve boundless plains to share;
With courage let us all combine
To Advance Australia Fair.

Seemingly contradicting that are various expressions such as that of Pauline Hanson in her famous 1996 maiden speech.

I believe we are in danger of being swamped by Asians. Between 1984 and 1995 40% of all migrants coming into this country were of asian origin.They have their own culture and religion, form ghettos and do not assimilate. Of course I will be called racist but if I can invite who I want into my home, then I should have the right to have a say in who comes into my country. A truly multicultural country can never be strong or united.

John Howard could be thought of as Mr Sir Echo in 2001:

SARAH CLARKE: It was a familiar message spelt out by the PM throughout the campaign.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.

SARAH CLARKE: A message repeated.

JOHN HOWARD (OCTOBER 29): What I am asserting is the right of this country to decide who comes here.

SARAH CLARKE: And if you missed that, there was a television advertisement.

JOHN HOWARD (ADVERTISMENT): We will decide who comes to this country.

SARAH CLARKE: But today, in an election post-mortem, Liberal Party mastermind Lynton Crosby, insisted the issue of border protection was not exploited as a campaign tool and was not responsible for securing the Government a third term.

Pull the other one, Lynton!

The 2010 Australian of the Year features in that video.

Funny thing though, now I come to think about it, is how empty, if powerful, all this rhetoric really is. Of course we have moved on from our national beginnings when Britain decided who came here. Now we have national sovereignty — though what this actually means especially in a globalised world is very much up for discussion.

So while we can never really say who has a go at coming here — how can we? — we certainly decide who stays here. That’s so obvious it is a truism and should excite no-one, except maybe
someone who simply doesn’t believe in national sovereignty.

What is variable is the degree to which our policies are ethical or admirable. We have had a problem with this from the dodgy days of the infamous “dictation test” to the present. Dickensian legalism has been the choice time and again:

As for our one nation, there’s no way an ultra-nationalist definition of “nation” suits what this country actually is: the people who in fact have citizenship and live within our borders. From 1788 we have never been a place where “the geographic boundaries of an ethnic population and a political state largely coincide.”

Interpost notes for Saturday

1. Kevin Rudd The Australian’s Australian of the year

See Leadership forged in the financial fire and be amazed.

WITH the exception of wartime prime minister John Curtin, few Australian leaders have faced a more daunting crisis in their first term of office than that which confronted Kevin Rudd.

Mr Rudd was barely a year into his job as prime minister when a collapse of confidence in US financial markets spread like a contagion across the globe in late 2008, plunging much of the world into recession. What happened next proved to be a defining moment, both for Australia and for its new leader, who had never before held an economic portfolio.

Rather than risk waiting for a clearer picture to emerge, Mr Rudd and his team saw the need for urgent and radical action to protect the economy, approving a series of unprecedented financial stimulus packages to taxpayers and giving sweeping guarantees to the nation’s banks.

It was, at its heart, an epic gamble. Failure would mean recession and job losses on a grand scale, causing untold suffering to ordinary Australians and tarnishing forever the reputation of the new government and its Prime Minister. Less than 18 months on, it is beyond dispute that Rudd’s historic wager has paid off. Australia stands as the only major Western nation to avoid a recession and emerge relatively unscathed from the largest global downturn since the Great Depression…

2. Smile Or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America And The World, by Barbara Ehrenreich (2009)

Reviewed in today’s Australian by Miriam Cosic, this sounds quite fascinating. Miriam Cosic’s review in not online, but see Smile! You’ve got cancer and Lucy Ellmann stoutly supports a passionate refutation of the power of positive thinking.

… Americans seem proud of being able to clap themselves into a frenzy of certainty for certainty’s sake. "They had distributed motivational books and . . . they came to believe it themselves," writes Ehrenreich of the macho world of finance; "$3trn-worth of pension funds, retirement accounts, and life savings evaporated into the same ether that had absorbed all our positive thoughts." Optimism convinces you that cancer results from a deficient immune system and can be healed through meditation, or that Lehman Brothers would survive because Richard Fuld wanted it to survive. According to motivator Zig Ziglar, who helps companies such as AT&T bounce all the blame back on to the worker, if something goes wrong, it’s because you didn’t work hard enough or pray effectively. Boo! Boo!

Positive types aren’t just misled, they’re mean. "Negative people suck!" claims one American motivational coach, an exemplar of the "empathy deficit" in positive thinking. The pitiless message to the powerless from all these motivational speakers, megachurch preachers, self-help gurus and other assorted selfishness-sellers is that sad sacks get what they deserve.

Promoting the idea that happiness is within your grasp is in the interests of corporations trying to bamboozle an overworked and underpaid workforce. It’s also favoured by churches trying to get rich quick off the American dream. Ehrenreich traces the fad from Calvinist self-control through Christian Science to blatant assumptions of the holiness of cash. Informing the uneducated and unmedicated that their plight is all their own fault is followed up by instructions for making anything you desire – from a new TV screen to a trip to Mexico – "materialise" through mind control. The censorship of negative opinion combines perfectly with the American policy of each man for himself in the best of all possible worlds.

This is the philosophy that gave us the smart bomb, the space programme, sub-prime mortgages, plenty of psychopaths and Sarah Palin…

3. The Foreign Policy Top 100 Global Thinkers 2009

See the list.

Especially read a wonderful essay by historian Niall Ferguson.

There is nothing like a really big economic crisis to separate the Cassandras from the Panglosses, the horsemen of the apocalypse from the Kool-Aid-swigging optimists. No, the last year has shown that all is not for the best in the best of all possible worlds. On the contrary, we might be doomed.

At such times, we do well to remember that most of today’s public intellectuals are mere dwarves, standing on the shoulders of giants. So, if they had e-mail in the hereafter, which of the great thinkers of the past would be entitled to send us a message with the subject line: "I told you so"? And which would prefer to remain offline?

It has, for example, been a bad year for Adam Smith (1723-1790) and his "invisible hand," which was supposed to steer the global economy onward and upward to new heights of opulence through the action of individual choice in unfettered markets. By contrast, it has been a good year for Karl Marx (1818-1883), who always maintained that the internal contradictions of capitalism, and particularly its tendency to increase the inequality of the distribution of wealth, would lead to crisis and finally collapse. A special mention is also due to early 20th-century Marxist theorist Rudolf Hilferding (1877-1941), whose Das Finanzkapital foresaw the rise of giant "too big to fail" financial institutions.

Joining Smith in embarrassed silence, you might think, is Friedrich von Hayek (1899-1992), who warned back in 1944 that the welfare state would lead the West down the "road to serfdom." With a government-mandated expansion of health insurance likely to be enacted in the United States, Hayek’s libertarian fears appear to have receded, at least in the Democratic Party. It has been a bumper year, on the other hand, for Hayek’s old enemy, John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), whose 1936 work The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money has become the new bible for finance ministers seeking to reduce unemployment by means of fiscal stimuli. His biographer, Robert Skidelsky, has hailed the "return of the master." Keynes’s self-appointed representative on Earth, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, insists that the application of Keynesian theory, in the form of giant government deficits, has saved the world from a second Great Depression…

Prince William to have coffee at the Juice & Java…

william300 … and other dreams.

I did however mention to Kiet at the Juice & Java this morning that the Prince (left – SMH pic) was passing through, and there is a chance he’ll go to Redfern via Elizabeth Street after all. Surely he will have heard even in London how the Juice & Java is a must for coffee…

They are a bit vague about exactly when all this might happen, but he is definitely coming to Redfern this afternoon. While I do have a South Sydney Herald assignment I must complete this week, it isn’t this story.

I suppose the vagueness is security related. It was very different back in 1954, when the papers told us in detail where the Queen would be moment by moment, excluding toilet stops.

Orde_van_het_Britse_Rijk Last night’s dreams were delightfully bizarre. One involved me being awarded an OBE (right), highly unlikely on several grounds. The other was a very realistic dream about being burgled and having my laptop stolen – an event that combined two actual burglaries I think, one in 1999-2000 when M was overseas for a year, the other about six years ago when an earlier laptop was stolen. Oddly (in the dream) when I called Surry Hills police they advised me to ring 999 instead. Yes, I know it is 000 here in Oz, but I had been reading English crime fiction just before going to sleep.

Well, now to keep an eye out for the Prince.