Franz Kafka’s In The Penal Colony, Manus Island, and Australia’s second wave of racism and xenophobia

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“The matter stands like this. Here in the penal colony I have been appointed judge. In spite of my youth. For I stood at the side of our Old Commandant in all matters of punishment, and I also know the most about the apparatus. The basic principle I use for my decisions is this: Guilt is always beyond a doubt. Other courts could not follow this principle, for they are made up of many heads and, in addition, have even higher courts above them. But that is not the case here, or at least it was not that way with the previous Commandant. It’s true the New Commandant has already shown a desire to get mixed up in my court, but I’ve succeeded so far in fending him off. And I’ll continue to be successful.”
The Officer, in Franz Kafka’s, In The Penal Colony

The Officer in Kafka’s In The Penal Colony is a man nostalgic for an era where justice was literally written on the body in a 12 hour torture session where the accused is strapped into an ingenious apparatus which dispenses justice in an elegant, efficient, and ultimately barbaric process. In Kafka’s brilliant novel, written on the cusp of the First World War, the Officer finds himself alone in his commitment to a former Commandant and faced with having to question ‘justice’ subjects himself to the apparatus only to have it break apart and stab in a “murder, pure and simple” rather than inscribe “be just” in a beautiful script on his body.

I was reminded of In The Penal Colony when I heard about the violence and attacks at the Manus Island Detention Centre in PNG, particularly when I read the transcripts of messages left by asylum seekers on the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre phone.

“We are not here by our choice. Australia government put us here by force and today this is happening. Who is responsible for our lives? We are dying here, maybe if we stay like this we are not even fighting them. We are just running away and trying to hide ourselves in the room. But they are following us every place and beating us, anyone they hate.”

The incidents left one Iranian man dead, scores of people with head injuries, and traumatised asylum seekers who spent at least one evening hiding from what appears to be machete wielding vigilantes. The protests originally began after the asylum seekers were told they would never be settled in Australia or PNG if they were not found to be refugees. There are over 1,300 asylum seekers waiting to have their status assessed by Australian officials, in what is essentially a penal colony. I can’t help thinking that just as Kafka’s apparatus takes a very long and painful 12 hours to dispense justice, the time delay for refugee assessment is part of the punishment apparatus for seeking asylum in Australia.

The Minister of Immigration, Scott Morrison, is continuing a long line of oppression and domination of the have-nots-who-look-kinda-different by the haves-who-are-kinda-white. After all, racism is engrained in our consciousness and proudly inherited from the British. If traditional media is anything to go by, the prevailing view in the suburbs seems to be that of racist radio commentator Alan Jones, who before the Cronulla riots asked, “What did we do as a nation to have this vermin infest our shores?”

The crowning glory of Australian xenophobia until now has been the White Australia Policy, or as it’s officially known The Immigration Restriction Act of 1901. This act, enshrined in law the restriction of migration to those who would preserve the British character of Australia. In fact this policy was one of the key reasons for the 6 colonies agreeing to become a nation. That and rail. Inspiring stuff.

It wasn’t just the fear that anyone different would corrupt our youth, rate our women, smoke opium, or worship funny god(s) that made the non-British a threat, it was the suspicion that they could take our jobs. The jobs for Australians has always been at the heart of Australian xenophobia; Prime Minister Alfred Deakin put it well:

“It is not the bad qualities, but the good qualities of these alien races that make them so dangerous to us. It is their inexhaustible energy, their power of applying themselves to new tasks, their endurance and low standard of living that make them such competitors.”

The White Australia policy would not be fully dismantled until the late 1970′s when provisions to restrict migration on the basis of country of origin were finally removed by the Fraser Government. It’s ironic that Fraser’s treasurer, John Winston Howard, is the man who as Prime Minister was responsible for the second wave of enshrining racism and xenophobia in law. In case you’ve forgotten, Howard’s views on immigration are best captured in his often quoted election winning line, “we will decide who comes to this country, and the circumstances in which they come”.

After uttering that inspiring quote Howard won the 2001 election in a landslide.

That there is a detention centre being run in our name where desperate people are hiding in rooms from police with guns and vigilantes with machetes shames us all. This is happening on our watch. Ultimately we are responsible for electing governments from both sides of politics who have ramped up the racism and xenophobia and cruelty while being cheered on by fucktard talk show hosts and dickhead journalists.

In Kafka’s tale, we discover that the Commandant responsible for the cruel apparatus was buried in the corner of an old tea house having been denied a place in the graveyard. His grave is marked only by a stone beneath a table where “poor, oppressed” men drink. The Commandment and his practices are now viewed with shame and derision.

We can only hope that the second wave of Australian racism and xenophobia, of detention centres, of riots, and of children locked behind bars meets the same ridiculous end. It will take all our efforts.

Reflections on getting old, addiction, and the martyrdom of Phillip Seymour Hoffman

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For my first twenty eight years I celebrated my birthday, today in fact, with my sister. The sharing of a birthday makes it less a narcissistic celebration of self and more a celebration of self hood, the acknowledgment of a shared primordial experience of birth, blood, tears, and laughter. 

Sadly, my sister died of a drug overdose when she was twenty eight, just a little over a month after our birthday. Most birthdays I make sure I raise a glass to her and reflect on what she, her friends, family, and I have missed due to her early departure. It isn’t morose or depressing, more a thanks for having known her and an acknowledgment of how she is missed. 

With the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman earlier this week there has been a lot of chatter about the pain of addiction and the nobility of recovery. He tried but failed, the press about his death is an tragedy to other struggling addicts, the press about his death is an inspiration to other struggling addicts, or perhaps he was doomed anyway, the victim of being a sensitive man in an insensitive brutish society. The discourse of addiction is one of regret, failure and transcendence and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, being a great actor but a flawed human, fits very nicely into the ideal of a martyr, killed by the pain of being alive in a post-capitalist world defined by success, failure, and nice things. 

Hoffman’s death serves as a reminder for us sensitive souls that life can be hard and we need to take care of ourselves and the ones that we love. And also as a tragic spectacle, a car crash of human proportions.

When a public figure dies early of a drug problem, sexual neurosis, or by their own hand, we’re allowed to reflect and seek comfort that even they, the greats, feel the pain that sometimes bites us as we wake in the morning or shut our eyes to go to sleep. It justifies any addiction to alcohol, chocolate, mastubation, shopping, twitter, Facebook, nipple tweaking, reading, writing, prescription drugs, work, spreadsheets, or cycling. It says, life is painful, look at them, you’re ok, you’re lucky.

And that is the overwhelming feeling I have each birthday now. I’m grateful that unlike my sister, I get to celebrate my birthday every year, and in doing so remember her, her life, and the missed birthdays.

Love all those around you, and live every moment.

Tony Abbott and Vladimir Putin share the same authoritarian views on media freedom and we need to be very scared

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According to Russian president Vladimir Putin, all state run media should be run by patriots. No real surprise here, because Putin is widely known as an authoritarian leader intolerant of dissent (and homosexuals).

Unfortunately things are no different in Australia. Like the Putin administration, the Abbott government is firmly behind the idea of spreading propaganda in the most efficient way possible, and that is of course through our very own state owned media, the ABC.

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SuperTooth buddy Review

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Buying a hands free Bluetooth car speakerphone like the SuperTooth buddy is making a big statement that you can’t afford a fancy new car that comes with hands-free, voice activation, and a heads-up display, but despite this, are firmly committed to not having an accident while discussing the weather or whispering sweet nothings to your lover while hurtling down the highway at 100 km per hour.

As a hands-free speakerphone the SuperTooth buddy is a ripper.

Installation is easy, it comes with a micro USB cable, a DC car charger, and a neat magnetised clip that makes attaching to your windscreen visor easy. The small magnet is surprisingly strong and makes attaching and detaching the SuperTooth buddy from the clip very easy.

Charging the battery to full charge takes three hours, but once charged it has a standby of 1,000 hours and talk time of 20 hours. I highly recommend charging from your computer every week or so depending on how much you talk on the phone and how long you drive. Running out of juice halfway through a conversation is annoying and dangerous.

The size of the Supertooth buddy is impressive, it’s only a little bigger than an iPhone, and it looks kind of cool with curved edges and nice fat buttons which are widely spaced to prevent hanging up when you want to answer a call. Buttons include redial and voice-dialing as well as standard volume buttons. Strangely, there are no buttons to manage calls or switch between phones which would be a useful addition.

The SuperTooth buddy supports USB2.1 and can pair with up to 8 devices and support 2 devices simultaneously. It also remembers the last 8 pairs and will automatically connect when within the 10 metre range. To pair you press the on/off button until the LED light flashes and then pair with your phone. It’s pretty fool-proof.

The most impressive feature of the SuperTooth buddy is the sound quality. It has a great microphone and full duplex audio with echo cancelling and DSP which will filter out road noise from other cars and cope pretty well with the noise from an open window.

If you’re looking for a nifty little hands free speakerphone to help you be safe on the road while nattering to your partner, boss, or best mate, the SuperTooth buddy is great value. Click here for more information about how to buy it and in the meantime stay safe on the road!

Specs

  • Bluetooth hands-free kit version 2.1
  • Quick fixation on sun visor via metal clip
  • Headset and hands-free profiles
  • Multipoint : 2 phones can be paired simultaneously
  • Full Duplex
  • DSP
  • Operating range : 10 meters
  • Frequency : 2.4 GHz
  • Rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery
  • Voice recognition dialling (if phone supports)
  • Last call redial
  • Reject incoming call

What Germaine Greer thinks about corporate culture

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I have always respected the intellectual force of Germaine Greer. She may tout controversy and seem to be peddling the same old curmudgeon shtick, but she can always be trusted to inspire anger, provoke thought, or inspire action. That is the job of an intellectual, and she is one of Australia’s most eminent (even if she has called the UK home for thirty or so years).

This is from an interview with her on the ABC, on a show called One plus One Her comments about capitalism remind me of some of the recent writing about how capitalism and corporations can be different.

The corporate structure is cruel. The corporate structure is a pinnacle surrounded by the shattered bodies of people who’ve been used and discarded, leading to the CEO at the top with his big empty desk. Why is it empty? Because he doesn’t do anything. Why doesn’t he do anything? Because it’s all delegated to other people. When they screw up they are sacrificed. 

She then goes on to comment that Australia formerly had a very good labour movement.

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Real Aussie Men Like Tony Abbott are Never Wrong

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Tony Abbott is an old fashioned Aussie bloke doesn’t say sorry and is never wrong. Saying sorry is an admission of weakness and Tony Abbott isn’t weak.

This Monday he dug his heels in after Indonesia recalled their Ambassador to Australia because of spying allegations that we’re being reported in the media. In a statement to Parliament he said.

“Australia should not be expected to apologise for the steps we take to protect our country now or in the past, any more than other governments should be expected to apologise for the similar steps that they have taken.”

Aussie men should not be expected to say sorry, in any circumstances. 

Predictably Indonesia reacted with outrage and said they would no longer be cooperating in military exercises or assisting with Asylum Seeker operations. For the President, Dr Yudhoyono it was about trust. He said.,

“How can we do all this if we are not sure that there is no tapping of our military, which is working for the interests of the two countries?”

Suddenly Tony Abbott’s toys we’re being taken from him. In a stunning reversal Abbott, having connected the trust and cooperation dots, came out and said:

”I want to express here in this chamber my deep and sincere regret about the embarrassment to the President and to Indonesia that’s been caused by recent media reporting.”

What’s important to note here is that  Abbott expressed regret for embarrassment not regret for the actions of Australian officials spying on the President and his wife.

Real Aussie men don’t apologise, they hedge their bets and do their best not to look wrong, because real Aussie men are never wrong. 

This is leadership of the worst kind and I suspect that in the light of LNP Pollster Mark Textor’s racist tweets that at the core of this issue is a neo-colonial view that the dark people to the North should feel privileged to be helping Australia prevent more darker skinned people illegally come to our borders, because, well, bombs and other stuff. Consider how different the outcome would be if the UK or a European country had complained.

Australia deserves better leadership than this.

Not inspiring people? Try shutting the fsck up

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I love being around passionate people. They get things done, they dream big and take action, they freely debate ideas, they stay committed to a cause, and can move mountains with their belief. Passion changes the world. Passion also never shuts up. When the ideas spark and the passion is in flow, other, sometime equally passionate people struggle to get a word in. Quickly it stops being a free exchange of ideas and a speech about how clever your ideas idea, and they are AMAZZZING. Others are left disengaged and uninspired. Someone talking at you isn’t inspiring. I’ve often been guilty of letting passion get in the way of listening, of forgetting that it’s as important to inspire and move others to be passionate. Stop confusing talking at people with being passionate. It’s just rude. Spend today listening and inspiring people to be passionate. Put the iPad/Samsung phablet/laptop/smartphone down and look at the person talking to you. Find out what interests them and make a genuine effort to connect.

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The cloud needs to get personal

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Beyond status updates and pictures of food, digital technologies have yet to have a massive impact on how people collaborate out of the office. Facebook, text and instant messaging, and email provide a toolset which allows families and friends to communicate and plan activities in a fairly clumsy way. The process is crude and prone to failure resulting in missed commitments, clashing dates, and difficult conversations which start with, “But I told you I was going to be out on Friday” or “I have Pilates, whose gonna look after the kids?”.  Continue reading

A nation of horses arses

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I don’t know why I do it, but occasionally I read news.com.au. Perhaps it’s a perverse desire to be outraged and offended by Rupe Murdoch’s linkbait or more likely the early signs of dementia.

So this Melbourne Cup morning I read that:

“Melbourne Cup day is one of those excellent days of the year, like Christmas and New Year’s and Anzac Day, when it’s socially acceptable, if not compulsory, to drink just a bit too much. Because we’re Australian, and that’s how we express ourselves.”

The article itself postulated that Melbourne Cup was Australia’s real national day because we like to binge drink, have gambling problems, like abusing horses, and have a low commitment to working. I’m surprised it forgot to mention that it was also an opportunity to express our admirable ability to be overtly racist by bemoaning the lack of Australian (or New Zealand) winners in the last decade.

With fine publications like News Ltd to shine a light on our national identity and help us understand ourselves as a nation it is no surprise that we have a reputation for being racist, sexist boors. What’s disturbing is that the media celebrates an Australian identity subsumed in a inebriated, flag-draped, greedy blur rather than starting a debate about identity and the inherent flaws of nationalism.

The Age is no better, spouting trivialities on the Melbourne Cup live-blog.

“‘Madam, put your shoes on,’ the gate keeper said. Pleading, she got through holding her heels in her hands. Now they are supping coffee in the Members Lawn at one of the best spots for a sunny day.”

Perhaps it’s naivety but I want more from the country I am currently living and raising my children in. I want a country which is pluralist, intellectual, diverse, modest, contradictory, hardworking, and fun. Events like the Melbourne Cup, Australia Day, and ANZAC Day are an opportunity to interrogate our place in the world as individuals and as part of a global community, and more importantly to question the status quo of greed, excess, faux-pride, and frivolity where a man wearing a shiny polyester suit with vomit on his shoes and a perky Panama hat is celebrated rather than ridiculed.
Maybe I’m a spoilsport, but that that is my feelpinion on this sunny Melbourne morning.

Trust and transparency in the social age

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One of my first jobs was working for a Dutchman who refused to put prices on any of his products. He would work out the price when someone entered the warehouse or sent him a fax. His principle was that people should pay according to their need – the greater the need, the greater the price. One of his senior managers called it the “rip off factor”. Unfortunately, customers did not warm to a business built on subterfuge and Michel had to learn to adjust his ways.

In the social media era, trust and transparency are becoming more and more important for businesses to perform better inside and outside the office. A bad tweet or Facebook post can kill sales faster than a clever way of extracting more cash out of the poor customer (except possibly in the Australian banking or supermarket sector). Continue reading