Julian, Neil and me

April 13, 2019

It’s fair to say I’m basking in some reflected glory this morning. The author and great mind, Neil Gaiman, has engaged me in a lengthy Twitter conversation on the vexing subject of Julian Assange.

It started with this exchange between Gaiman and an author who’s science fiction I love, Charlie Stross.

D386OtyUIAEnAjO.jpg large

I sent a rather snarky response, but to his credit, Neil Gaiman engaged and then we had a respectful dialogue about the Assange case.

Our basic disagreement is that Neil seemed exclusively focused on the outstanding rape and sexual assault allegations against Assange, while I was trying to point out that the plan to extradite him to the US was the bigger picture issue today.


“Socialism or Barbarism”? What the Communist Manifesto says about climate change

April 8, 2019

Regular readers will know that my columns sometimes take a philosophical turn. I do this because, as any writer must, I am constantly reading to supplement and refine my knowledge of the world and of ideas.

Today I want to return to one of my favourite short books that will be familiar to some of you and perhaps horrifying to others. I am, of course, as the title of this piece suggests, referring to The Communist Manifesto, authored by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels and first published in 1848.

manifesto cover

My interest in delving back into this text flies in realising the value and importance of a particular passage that is often overlooked. Perhaps this particular paragraph is not considered important because it occurs very early, before the main arguments are fleshed out, but it is a reminder that there is nothing inevitable or pre-determined about revolutionary struggle.

[In] a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.

It is the final stanza here that has caught my attention: “the common ruin of the contending classes”. What Marx and Engels want us to know at this point is that while the class struggle is inevitable, there is no certainty as to the outcome.

Engels returned to this point in his 1878 work critiquing the ideas of the German social democrat Eugen Dühring, funnily enough in a pamphlet published as Anti-Dühring, in which he argued that the bourgeoisie could no longer determine the exact course of history, as it had done during its own revolutionary period:

its own productive forces have grown beyond its control, and, as if necessitated by a law of nature, are driving the whole of bourgeois society towards ruin, or revolution.

Other Marxists have since taken up this point, Rosa Luxemburg famously coined the aphorism ‘socialism or barbarism” to describe the stark choice facing the European working classes during the First World War. According to reliable sources, Luxemburg was paraphrasing another German revolutionary, Karl Kautsky who wrote in 1892, who wrote:

“As things stand today capitalist civilization cannot continue; we must either move forward into socialism or fall back into barbarism.”

Read the rest of this entry »


#artschool: documenting art practice

April 7, 2019

We are now seven weeks into Term 1 at art school and I thought it might be fun to document some of my work.

I have been studying drawing and painting along with a bit of digital photography and in this post I have catalogued my drawings and paintings to date.

The key thing is to notice that I’m actually getting better and I think this shows most clearly in my life drawing exercises.

Well, at least I hope you can see some improvement. The other drawing subject is mostly about still life in the studio.

And then there’s my painting class where the focus is also on still life maquettes painted “a la prima” which means all in one go. Usually these are done in about 90 minutes. This is a study in the use of complementary colours.

I’m also doing a few bits and pieces at home. I’ll have more to say about this series of abstracts as I develop my ideas. The theme is “Precision and Decay”.


I don’t want governments or corporations curating my news feed. Here’s why.

April 3, 2019

This week, Facebook and the government of Singapore announced new plans to combat the spread of fake news and disinformation. However, why would we give up our freedom to allow corporations or governments to control the news media.

Are we in the middle of a fake news pandemic? The issue has certainly got the attention of people who care about, or who claim to care about, such issues.

The President of the United States certainly thinks fake news is a huge problem. He tweets about it constantly and has even called the American news media the “real enemy of the people”.

For Americans who believe passionately in the First Amendment, this is horrifying and scary rhetoric; particularly when it butts up so closely the Second Amendment. (That’s the one about carrying a locked and loaded machine gun slung casually over one camo-covered shoulder while strolling around the shopping mall on the lookout for a bad guy with a gun.)

Journalism and media academics are also taking the fake news threat seriously judging by my recent trawl through the journal articles on the subject. According to the EBSCO Complete database, of 268 academic pieces written on fake news since 2002, 210 were written in the two-and-a-half years.

I am left wondering though if the news-consuming public is really all that concerned about fake news and sorting out news-truth from news-fiction. We are consuming mountains of fake news on a daily basis. Perhaps overall we are intellectually poorer as a result, but it is actually hard to tell. Maybe, our BS filters are now highly attuned to fakery and we weed it out without thinking. Or, in a darker vein, have we just given up even trying?

It would be a shame if we just cynically give up on truth and lean into fake news with a defeated shrug of the shoulders. Sometimes this must seem like a tempting option to some people. How can we stem the tidal flow of junk and fake news? How can we prevent ourselves from being overwhelmed? Read the rest of this entry »


Photography Assignment – Portraits of my cat

April 1, 2019

A collection of cat photos taken with my DSLR in manual mode and lightly edited in Lightroom.
The cat’s name is “Callie”, which is short for “Calliope Cutlass, the pirate cat”.


Protected: The Stanistreet family portrait

March 30, 2019

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Art School: Landscape assignment

March 30, 2019

This week I’ve been preparing to submit an assignment in my photography unit.

Part one of the submission is six landscape photos. I’m having a hard time choosing my top six from this selection.


Art School 2019 – an occasional series

March 29, 2019

I’m at art school this year, studying a Diploma of Visual Arts at RMIT here in Melbourne.

I am uploading images from work I’ve done during the year in an occasional series of posts like this.

This is the first post and covers work I’ve done until the end of March 2019, so about eight weeks worth of work.

Life Drawing

I’ve been doing life drawing for just over one year and I still find it terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. You can see how uneven my technique still is. Now and again I get it almost right. Sometimes I make beautiful women look like Neanderthals.

A few paintings

These are studies, far from finished, but colourful.

 


Morrison will deal with One Nation on preferences because he has no choice

March 28, 2019

In the wake of the Christchurch massacre, Scott Morrison has called for an end to “toxic tribalism”, but this doesn’t mean he won’t exploit it in the federal election.

Morrison sets 'tribalism' agendaTwo things are fairly certain in the wake of the Christchurch massacre and the NSW state election: Scott Morrison will not let go of his commitment to toxic white nationalism and the Coalition will preference One Nation and other racist factions above Labor and the Greens in the federal election.
The third predictable leg of this tripod of tribalism is that most of the news media and commentariat will go along with Morrison’s decisions and ideology because they treat politics as a game of appearances rather than a matter of real consequences for real people.
Perhaps we all thought that the shock of a self-confessed “eco-fascist” who was groomed into murderous violence by his connections to Australia’s home-grown white supremacists would shift the political debate decisively.

It hasn’t. Maybe it did for a few too short days and hours, but by the end of last week it was back to the same old same old, just as I predicted in IA on Thursday last week.
Just six days after Christchurch I wrote that “normal transmissions” would be resumed quickly and that Morrison would lead the way by:

…returning to the rhetoric of border security and community safety as quickly as possible and spinning the Christchurch attacks into the Government’s re-election strategy. The media plays along with this because that is the game they know well and are most comfortable with. But there’s also another reason that the news media plays along — journalists share the broad world view of the Government.

Unfortunately, that is precisely what has happened.

It has taken less than two-weeks after the worst terrorist attack in our region since 88 Australians died in the Bali bombings of October 2002, for the COALition to work out how to adjust its rhetoric and get its re-election strategy back on track. The key shift has only been in the messaging, not in the policy direction and not in Morrison’s intent.

For all his bluster in the interview with Waleed Aly, in which he sought to re-frame the now infamous 2010 cabinet discussion, Morrison is a leopard who cannot and will not change his spots.
The Prime Minister stands accused of seeking to inflame divisions by using Australia’s Muslim community as a political punching bag in order to connect to voters still stuck in the racist dialectic of Australia being a white, European country.
In the interview he attempted to deflect criticism by claiming that he had merely been “addressing” the issue. This mealy-mouthed response dodged the central question about whether Morrison was seeking to inflame the issue or calm it down and it was delivered with all the shouty arrogance that we’ve come to expect from this hollow tin barrel of a man.
That Morrison is his own aggressive and endless echo chamber on legs is not the issue. As Katherine Murphy wrote in The Guardian over the weekend, we already know this about the Prime Minister; he will be judged on his record, not on some cardboard cut-out reinvention of a person with empathy.
Like most things with Morrison his empathy is as fake as his glad-handing and his smiling jocular public persona. He is indeed a shallow pond, full of scum and toxic algea blooms.
In this vein we can confidently say that Morrison’s new-found concerns with “tribalism” is just as fake and transactional. He is not interested in healing wounds in our national psyche, he is still intent on stoking division for political gain. Invoking “tribalism” is just a slight modification of his earlier very explicit anti-Muslim dog-whistling. That is why I am so disappointed that the commentariat Press Gallery opinion writers have fallen for it.

Let’s return for a moment to Katherine Murphy’s Saturday column. Most of it was pretty good. She rightly saw through Morrison’s attempt to bluster and bully Waleed Aly and his pathetic plea to be given a second chance. “Don’t pre-judge me,” he pleaded, and Murphy skewered him with precision:

You cannot outrun your record as a public figure, because you are still that public figure, and your identity is the sum of your record.

But there is also a problem in Murphy’s analysis. When Morrison talks about trying to end “tribalism” as he did early last week, Murphy agrees with him.

Now, Morrison, prime minister of Australia, believes there is too much tribalism, and the current excess of tribalism is corrosive to social cohesion…
He’s absolutely correct; I applaud this sentiment.

This is disturbing, but not surprising. By conceding this point to Morrison, Katherine Murphy reveals, again, that there is far too much ideological agreement between supposedly independent journalists and government figures. Instead of critical distance and critique the political agenda of the government is endorsed.
Importantly, it also allows Morrison to continue setting the agenda. Funnily enough – though it’s not at all funny – this is precisely what happened.

“Tribalism” is junk science

The idea that Australia is riven by tribal division has now become the media narrative, even though in terms of sociology and political science it is, at best, a nebulous concept that displaces other important categories of analysis, such as class, economic division, ethnicity and gender.
“Tribalism” is an appealing trope of pop psychology and by invoking it Morrison is only after one result – to signal to One Nation voters and supporters of the conservative fringe that he is still on their side.
This is what he is reported to have said in a speech to the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce, just days after Christchurch:

“I see every Australian as an individual, not part of some tribal group to be traded off against another.”

While denouncing racism and “tribalism”, Morrison also said the community needed to be free to hold “legitimate policy debates” on issues such as migrant intake and border security without the conversations being “hijacked” by accusations of intolerance or racial hatred. This betrays Morrison’s true intentions. He is signalling to the hardcore racist rump that they are free to continue their slander of Muslims because both “tribes” are as bad as each other. And, it was confirmed by further remarks in the same speech reported in the Nine newspapers:

“This is true of the left and the right, and even more so from those shouting from the fringes to a mainstream of quiet Australians that just want to get on with their lives.”

This is the same “both sides” language that Donald Trump deployed after white supremacists marched through Charlottesville and Heather Heyer was murdered by a maniac Nazi in August 2017. Even conservative US commentator Christopher Chantrill correctly describes nationalism of figures like Trump and Morrison as “fake tribalism”.

Patriotism is when the ruling class keeps tribal feeling in reserve, to crank it up only when it is necessary to send a generation of young men onto the killing fields against an enemy. Nationalism is when the ruling class loses control of the narrative to some yahoo like Trump.

Morrison is using “tribalism” to the same effect. The use of both-sides are bad rhetoric is an attempt by the PM to place himself in the middle ground and the mainstream media amplify it because they are in synch with the ideology behind it.

After Gladys: To boldly go where racists have gone before

The re-election of the Berejiklian government in NSW on 23 March will only embolden Morrison to continue down this path.
In the Waleed Aly interview he refused to commit to putting the racist fringe elements last on the Liberals’ preference allocation. This was a “wait and see” decision and, now that it’s clear that One Nation has a sizeable base in NSW, the wait is over.
Liberal Party strategists know that the coalition needs to harvest the seven to 10 per cent of voters who are willing to cast a ballot for out-and-out racism if it is to have any chance at all of winning the federal election in May.
When asked about preference deals with One Nation on Sunday’s Insiders, Liberal senator Arthur Sinodonis also refused to commit to putting them last. He managed to get around the question by saying that he personally would “repudiate” the racists but didn’t go so far as saying he wouldn’t accept their preferences.
Morrison knows his only option is to continue to play the race card, he is carefully recrafting the message post-Christchurch, but the message has not changed.

I have no doubt that the COALition will do preference deals with One Nation, Morrison cannot even come close to winning the election without them.


How to sell a television documentary: Al Jazeera, One Nation and media ethics

March 27, 2019

Like many people I was fascinated by Al Jazeera’s investigation, “How to sell a massacre“, into the relationship between Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and the American gun lobby group, the National Rifle Association.

Screen Shot 2019-03-27 at 12.06.17 pm

The story broke in Australia with several teasers from the Al Jazeera program, which is screening in two parts. As I am writing this on Wednesday 27 March 2019, the second installment is not available in Australia via the Al Jazeera website, so my comments are qualified by the disclosure that I’ve only seen part 1.

Never-the-less, as one of the unwitting ‘stars’ of the documentary.PHON fixer James Ashby claimed, a shit storm would erupted if news of his visit to Washington DC ever became public.

Indeed it has. PHON chief strategist and Hanson’s latest Svengali (or perhaps Rasputin), James Ashby, has been anxiously trying to play down the significance of the revelations in the Al Jazeera film.

It is important to nail down exactly what these revelations are, or could be, because the investigation has also raised a number of important questions and issues about journalism ethics.

Does “How to sell a massacre” pass the public interest test?

Public interest here is the key. We’re not just talking about the voyeur’s delight we might feel in watching two PHON honchos make total fuckwits of themselves. Sure, there is pleasure in that, but it is not a strong enough justification for the deception that was perpetrated in the name of pubic interest and disclosure.

In particular, when is an undercover sting operation, like the one at the centre of this story, justified by the public interest in getting “facts” out into the public domain. Read the rest of this entry »