Trenchant Lemmings
"Arrive in a clown car, bursting with anger."
Robert Weaver
Sydney, Australia
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The weblog description is a misquotation from Steve Aylett's Indicted to a Party: What to Do, Who to Blame.
The weblog title links to the "No Country Redirect" version, for whatever that might be worth.
March 29, 2011
Mobile Vulgus

...a display of chocolate bunnies was knocked over and had to be put painstakingly back together.


Browsing over at Antony Green's blog, after checking to see what the likelihood of Pauline Hanson getting an 8 year sinecure in the NSW Legislative Council was, I ran across this news, which I failed to notice at the time:

26 eminent British historians have fulminated against Britain adopting the Alternative Vote, the preferential voting system that we have happily used in Australia for more than eight decades.

In an open letter to the Times of London, the historians have railed against the terrible injustice of the Alternative Vote.

The historians are Professor David Abulafia, Dr John Adamson, Professor Antony Beevor, Professor Jeremy Black, Professor Michael Burleigh, Professor John Charmley, Professor Jonathan Clark, Dr Robert Crowcroft, Professor Richard J. Evans, David Faber, David Starkey, Professor Niall Ferguson, Dr Amanda Foreman, Dr John Guy, Robert Lacey, Dr Sheila Lawlor, Lord Lexden, Simon Sebag Montefiore, Dr Richard Rex, Dr Andrew Roberts, Professor Richard Shannon, Chris Skidmore, MP, D. R. Thorpe, Alison Weir, Philip Ziegler, Professor Lord Norton.
It's an interesting list, although I am unfamiliar with most of the names on it. Beevor and Black are historians of warfare, and Starkey and Weir seem to concentrate on monarchy, which may explain their confusion on matters electoral; possibly the same is true of historian of the Third Reich, Richard Evans. Unsurprising in the extreme is the presence of the Burleigh-Ferguson-Roberts circle-jerk of rightist empire-lovers. I wonder what the problem with the rest of them is.

Also unsurprising: these signatories aren't arguing that a more democratic system than "AV", like proportional representation, would be better.

March 28, 2011
Don't Like Tory-Lite? Try Tory!

Watching (disaffected) Labor supporters vote is like watching a particularly stupid blowfly repeatedly banging its head against a closed window.

March 14, 2011
Let's Get Together and Have Fun

Piers Kelly at Crikey's language blog looks in more detail at the question of what Moomba really means. Apparently the old "up your bum" story might be an urban myth, as these translation stories often are.

March 08, 2011

Guy Rundle in Crikey! on the incarceration of Bradley Manning:

Such forms of confinement are unquestionably torture, but they are torture of a very specific kind  —  a sort of paradoxical torture. If the aim of torture per se is to make the prisoner’s body rebel against their soul  —  have animal pain and terror fill the consciousness until any principle, belief, or commitment is undermined  —  then the “supermax” regime is the opposite  —  it dissolves subjectivity by removing all that is most basically human, from diversion to human connection.

This is the point made most famously by Foucault: that the notion that neat antiseptic prison regimes are more humane than physical punishment is the founding conceit of modernity. In many ways they can be worse. Solitary confinement and the microcontrol of a prisoner’s behaviour are designed as a form of total annihilation, because they exert enormous energies in ensuring that the prisoner goes on existing, while depriving him of anything resembling life. That division of existence from purposeful life is effectively a standardised and routinised way of producing despair.

Not surprisingly, it is a particularly American form of human annihilation. The “supermax” prisons, and such total regimes, are the descendants of the first modern prison schemes, the penitentiaries established by the Quakers in Pennsylvania in the 1830s. Where other prisons housed prisoners collectively in squalor as part of their punishment, the Quakers believed that this merely bred criminality. The object was to make a prisoner repent (as the name suggests) by developing a relationship with God — and the only way to do that was to deprive a prisoner of a relationship with anyone else.

Thus, prisoners in the penitentiary were ideally utterly isolated from anyone else  —  they even had separate corridors so they couldn’t see each other. Eventually through their screaming isolation they would seek and find God. The gentle and peaceful Quakers thought that this invention was a force for good; many of those who observed it, such as Charles Dickens, thought it was a horrifying nightmare. But someone who never saw a problem with it was Alexis de Tocqueville, whose Democracy in America was based on the trip he took to the US to report on this marvellous new prison system, for the French government.

Much of Democracy in America was devoted to trying work out what the problems of the new American society might be. He never realised that the answer was the very thing he was sent to study  —  the penitentiary was the other side of American depthlessness, an indifference to the full humanity of others hidden from oneself by following correct procedure and affirming goodness of heart.

The penitentiary is bad enough when it’s part of a God-centred culture; when part of one  —  even the US  —  where God is a shaky notion, then it’s a literal Hell. Its deeply anti-human nature does achieve what the Quakers sought, since many prisoners become believers out of the sheer need for someone to talk to, but it’s a counterfeit conversion, won through psychological warfare.

With 2 million Americans in prison, many of them in semi-penitentiary style incarceration, the prison system mirrors key aspects of American life  —  in particular the substantial atomisation and isolation of everyday life.

March 01, 2011

In other news, fish still don't live in trees:

Note that Goldsmith isn't merely pointing out that American journalists are "patriotic" or "jingoistic" as individuals. He's saying that these allegiances shape their editorial judgments. And "patriotism" to Goldsmith doesn't merely mean some vague type of "love of country," but much more: this "sense of attachment" creates a desire to advance "U.S. national security interests," however the reporter perceives of those.

Leave aside just for the moment the question of whether it's good or bad for American journalists to allow such nationalistic allegiances to mold their journalism. One key point is that allowing such loyalties to determine what one reports or conceals is a very clear case of bias and subjectivity: exactly what most reporters vehemently deny they possess. Many establishment journalists love to tout their own objectivity -- insisting that what distinguishes them from bloggers, opinionists and others is that they simply report the facts, free of any biases or policy preferences. But if Goldsmith is right -- and does anyone doubt that he is? -- then it means that "the American press" generally and "senior American national security journalists" in particular operate with a glaring, overwhelming bias that determines what they do and do not report: namely, the desire to advance U.S. interests.

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