Inspiration comes from many areas of life. No man is an island; no great thinker or leader was influenced by just one small part of life; after all, why is visual art such an enduring feature within our culture? Or indeed, art in general; music, literature, paintings, theatre, and I would argue comedy is also another aspect, at least in the modern world. I think the man who exemplifies such tendencies is Keynes: a man of significant intellect and kindness who keenly supported the arts, and well understood the treasures of art and reading, and even simply being surrounded by books.
Which, in a long-winded manner, brings me to Pink Floyd’s (at this stage, really just Roger Waters’) Not Now John, which to me is one of the more insightful songs put to record, and acts as a highly emotive repudiation of much of the modern world, just as it was coming to be reshaped, in the early 1980s.
Fuck all that we’ve got to get on with these
Gotta compete with the wily Japanese.
There’s too many home fires burning
And not enough trees.
So fuck all that
We’ve go to get on with these.
Make ’em laugh.
Make ’em cry.
Make ’em dance in the aisles.
Make ’em pay.
Make ’em stay.
Make ’em feel ok.
Not now John
We’ve got to get on with the film show.
Hollywood waits at the end of the rainbow.
Who cares what it’s about
As long as the kids go?
Not now John
Got to get on with the show.
Hang on John we’ve got to get on with this.
I don’t know what it is
But it fits on here like this
Come at the end of the shift
We’ll go and get pissed.
But now now John
I’ve got to get on with this.
Hold on John
I think there’s something good on.
I used to read books but
It could be the news
Or some other abuse
Or it could be reusable shows.
Fuck all that we’ve got to get on with these
Got to compete with the wily Japanese.
No need to worry about the Vietnamese.
Got to bring the Russian Bear to his knees.
Well, maybe not the Russian Bear
Maybe the Swedes.
We showed Argentina
Now let’s go and show these.
Make us feel tough
And wouldn’t Maggie be pleased?
Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah!
“S’cusi dove il bar
Se para collo pou eine toe bar
s’il vous plait ou est le bar
(Say it in English!)
Oi, where’s the fucking bar John?
(Oh, now you’re talking!)”
Oh! Rule Britannia! Britannia rules the day
Hammer, Hammer, Hammer, Hammer, now!
To give some context, this is the second-last song on The Final Cut, and the only real upbeat song on the album, and what a contrast it provides. Waters throughout the whole album laments at the destruction of what he calls ‘the post-war dream’; this idea that the sacrifices of World War II actually meant something, that after the horrors mankind had seen in the twentieth century, that we would progress beyond them; a hope that Waters saw completely dashed by Margaret Thatcher, who he calls out by name several times on this album. Not Now John represents the increasingly ignorant tendencies of mankind and our devolution into a reactionary, unthinking, unquestioning society, overwhelmed by our consumerist, nationalist concerns, rather than actually questioning the broader social picture – Waters particularly was concerned with nuclear war and ecological damage.
The reason why this song is so resonant, at least to me, is because it so effectively captures the mindset of the modern world. Our world is more and more about trying to be competitive with other nations, for no real purpose except the theoretical void which is economic growth. Too often we never really question the nature of our world; it is just assumed that it’s how things are – essentially, ‘fuck all that’. Our governments create false conflicts with other nations, to satisfy a jingoistic nerve which they gleefully play upon, whether it be against the Soviet Union, the Vietnamese, or as Waters jokes, the Swedes. The ‘maybe not the Russian bear’ line is demonstrative of Waters’ complete cynicism of the notion of national enemies/rivals. Such lines of thought are easy to draw back to Orwell – we’ve always been at war with Eastasia. These sentiments are particularly sharp on the back of the Falklands war, with Waters ridiculing the idea of national toughness and the horror of war as a vehicle of national unity, for him no doubt far too reminiscent of World War II.
Of course there remains Waters’ idiosyncratic humour and style within the lyrics, which explains much of the last verse. Ultimately, the piece remains as a channel for Waters’ utter despair at what he is seeing unfold in the world; everything he had once loved going to hell in a hand-basket, with his fellow Britons cheering it on. For a man whose life has been so irrevocably defined by his father’s sacrifice in war, Waters realises that indeed, it had all been for nothing.
So we have just had the US Presidential election. As I and most people on the left (both the real left and the US ‘liberal’ left) were predicting, President Obama won handily, and any glance at Nate Silver’s polling at all would have easily told you that. I mention this simply because we have just found out that Romney’s campaign team were so confident of winning that they actually did not write a concession speech. Such profound arrogance is hard to contemplate, particularly when even under favourable polling Romney had many less paths to the presidency than Obama had – having to win both Ohio and Florida, alongside Virginia, North Carolina and a state like Colorado or Wisconsin. Ultimately the joke is on Romney: he only won one of those states, North Carolina, and his much-delayed concession speech simply was a result of him not having one written. I have a degree of sympathy for the defeated man, as it must be crippling to one’s ego, but how is anybody so irresponsible? A fitting end to what has been an utterly terrible campaign by the Romney team.
Like most world events, what is more revealing is not the event itself but the commentary afterwards. Many pundits have come out and claimed that Obama really has no mandate, after all he only won 332 electoral votes and the popular vote (a margin of victory alien to Bush), and that if anything this was a rebuke of Obama. How anybody concludes that I am unsure. Elsewhere, on the left, there is vain hope that this actually a ringing endorsement of Obama, and that he now has the real mandate to implement his progressive agenda. Why a president wouldn’t implement as much as he can as soon as could I am unsure, but evidently Obama has his reasons (here’s one: he’s just not really a progressive).
What the 2012 election has been has been a ringing endorsement of progressives. Elizabeth Warren’s election alone is hugely important: she has been a strong advocate of the middle class family, and has written greatly about the squeezing of wealth out of American citizens, mainly by higher indirect and regressive taxes, higher property prices and lower wages. Her election is not only symbolic but demonstrative: Massachusetts elected a senator likely more progressive than Russ Feingold or perhaps even socialist Bernie Sanders (yes, the US actually has a senator who identifies as a socialist). Colorado and Washington legalised marijuana for god’s sake. People who insist America is a conservative country really do not understand how America works.
Because once one understands how America actually works, the whole system makes a lot more sense. America may be perhaps more individualistic than Western Europe, but its population by and large strongly support its many successful public programs: medicaire, medicaid, social security, planned parenthood, NPR and for a long time, before they were deliberately defunded; their universities – California in particular was once a shining beacon of university education in America; now unfortunately the system is virtually privatised. What has happened in America is that its ruling class has been particularly effective at institutionalising certain key principles friendly to business, effectively taking them off the table for political discussion. This can be perhaps attributed to the fact that, despite its widespread labour support and genuine victories for the working class, the New Deal was largely a corporate-based policy agenda, directed at resuscitating American financial power, and redirecting it into more stable and domestically productive forms.
Regardless, it was not unusual in the 1950s to regard both American parties as two factions of the “business party”, as Noam Chomsky does now. Yes, there has been genuine competition between Republicans and Democrats, but there has always been direct competition between elites; see Yeltsin vs Zyuganov. In fact, just see Russia. One lesson I make sure to repeat to myself daily is that how we judge Russia says a lot about how we should judge ourselves. Carrying on, American political parties have never particularly been about ideology in the first place. The Democratic party certainly has taken certain trends here and there, and particularly it became the party of social liberalism since the 1960s, but its particular commitment to championing the poor has been variable, to say the least. Undoubtedly, LBJ’s “Great Society” programs helped many Americans out of poverty, particularly in the South, but this didn’t exactly reflect a challenge to the business establishment; at least nowhere near the extent that popular culture, the hippie movement and developments within Europe, and particularly France did. Helping the poor isn’t exactly incongruous with championing corporate power: remember that corporations for a good 40-50 years agreed to paying factory workers’ healthcare and pensions because it was a profitable long-term mode of accumulation for them. The shift of the Democratic and particularly Republican party to the right in the late 1970s represented a new evolution in current trends, rather than a new trend in and of itself; the state once again was facilitating capitalist accumulation (read: economic growth), just in a different way, what we now regard as ‘neoliberalism’.
Simply, parties have never particularly been a vehicle of ideology. Politicians are not mere appendages of business: they have their own will and act accordingly, but within these political confines of the American system, whether by choice, natural agreement or accommodation, being part of one of the two major parties in America means defending the status quo. What precious ‘ideology’ is rare. What pundits on cable television make the mistake of is equating irrational outbursts of supposed passion with a well-developed ideology. This is evident in the media’s treatment of Paul Ryan as a right-wing ideologue (albeit ‘ideologue’ being a pejorative in the US discourse, they often describe him as the ‘brains’ or ‘soul’ of the Republican party), as if he is an economist concerned about the deficit and promoting some anachronistic ‘historical levels of government spending’ (as if the 1800s were good years for America), rather than simply a corporate hack who wishes to cut corporate and higher-income taxes and to close loopholes benefit the poor. How nobody brings up the fact that Ryan’s budget explodes the deficit, I will never completely understand.
Of course, it is not just the right who gets the ideologue treatment – when Obama isn’t busy being dubbed a Marxist, him and the Democrats are regarded as ‘far-left’ or ‘liberals’ who must compromise with Republicans, because of course the answer lies in the middle. It being so ingrained within the US political mindset, it does bear mentioning to ask Americans “what if neither the Republicans or Democrats have an answer?” The delicious irony is that one does not go far to hear complaints about Congress or Washington D. C., but it is never considered if the two parties are wrong or at least not in keeping with the American public on a great majority of the issues. Regardless, if a party, candidate, or pundit is not in keeping with the American establishment, then they are deemed an ‘ideologue’, and therefore not in keeping with the supposed ‘centre’ of the country. Unlike of course, the establishment, who are non-ideological, and therefore one must conclude, do not actually think.
So while we will continue to hear warnings about Obama’s evil liberal agenda, we will soon see the President ‘compromise’ with Republicans, by delivering them most of what they and lots of what the rich wanted; corporate tax cuts, cuts to medicare/medicaid, and a few genuine increases in taxes in higher tax brackets, but which will ultimately leave the poor much worse off and the rich better off. The American people in Colorado and Washington voted to legalise marijuana, and their governors are at least in principle defending their decision even though they disagree, but we will soon see the federal government involved to override their democratic decision. Anybody who stands up in opposition will be regarded as a loony ideologue, who is so ‘blinded by ideology’ as to not be a serious person. I must say, I’d rather be blinded by the light than shut my eyes to the problems of this world.
So I was inspired by this guy, and decided that perhaps I should follow suit, and contribute something of my own to the public sphere – trying to overcome fear of putting one’s self out there I guess. I wrote this, god, over a year ago, maybe two. I was obsessed with Bob Dylan, and I just loved his take-down of the press and other people he despised in “Ballad of a Thin Man”. I was so particularly incensed after Tony Abbott lost the election in 2010, at how brazen and childish his demands were, so I wondered if it were possible to co-opt the lyrics and format Bob Dylan laid down. I didn’t manage to finish the last two verses, but this is what I ended up with. And note: if you haven’t heard the song, these words aren’t going to make much sense.
You walk into a room and
With no thought in yo head
You see someone red haired and you say
Where’s her cred
You try so hard
But you don’t understand
Just what you say to the voters
Because somethings happening here and you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mr Tones
You raise up your head
And you can’t say what I am
And somebody points to me and says
it’s a sham
And you say what’s mine
And somebody says, well what is
And you say oh my god am I here all alone
Because something is happening here and nobody knows what it is
Do they, Mr Tones
You go to a rally and
You talk to the crowd
Their shrieking oh it
Gets quite loud
Then you say how does it feel
To be run by Mr Brown
And you say impossible
Let the ballots be redrawn
And something is happening here and I know just what it is,
Don’t you, Mr Tones
You have many contacts
Among the plutocrats
To get you facts when someone attacks
But nobody has any respect
Anyway they already expect you
To all give a cheque to tax deductible
You been with the professors and,
They don’t like your looks
With great confidence they discuss your
Foolish public crooks
You been through all of those
John Howard’s books
You’re high in the polls it’s well known
But something will happen here and you won’t know when it is,
Will you, Mr Tones
Well the emissions guzzlers
They come up to you and then they kneel
They advertise their
Self interested spiel
And without further notice
He’ll say to you, I think it’s real
But I’ve got a good policy,
It’s not well known
And you know something is happening but you can’t admit to what it is
Can you Mr Tones
Maybe one day I might finish those last two verses.
Julian Assange spoke publicly for the first time in two months from the Ecuadorian embassy in London. You can read about what he said elsewhere – typically naff and self-righteous as Assange tends to be, but nonetheless not diminishing his points; which included calling Barack Obama to call off his war on whistleblowers, a reference to Pussy Riot, and commending the solidarity of Latin American nations, each coming with a cheer after their names, although one must question why Mexico was mentioned, after almost always being governed by right-wing autocrats, to whom they have now returned. Regardless.
I would reference Guy Rundle’s piece in Crikey.com today, but unfortunately Crikey is largely a member-based news outlet. Regardless, I shall quote the more interesting part, about how Assange is being perceived in the media, particularly amongst the so-called left:
Assange’s getting of asylum has coincided with a further backlash against Assange — one curiously, which did not emerge when he spent two years fighting extradition through the courts. Centre-left figures have always lined themselves up against Assange and the WikiLeaks project, which they find to be a disruption to business as usual. But now there are those from the further left, who believe that Assange should simply go to Sweden and face the accusations.
One of the most prominent is Owen Jones, the young, rising author of Chavs, a vigorous denunciation of the culture-hate directed towards the white working class, who wrote an article in The Independentcalling on Assange to renounce asylum and face the accusations. The article was full on inaccuracies — Jones had Assange accused of two r-pes, not one, mangled a quote from one of his accusers, is ignorant of Sweden’s peculiar extradition laws, and makes no mention of the clear and visible threats of further extradition to the US.
The piece has become a rallying point of sorts, for those who are willing to question state power — Jones says, for example, that “democracy in the UK has been corrupted and destroyed” for a generation, by the hacking scandal — but are curiously unwilling to apply that scepticism here. Why? The answer is obvious. The mere cry of r-pe is sufficient for people to withhold their critical faculties.
It’s encouraging to see other people note how the rape charge is an effective smear – as Cenk Uygur says, it’s always sex charges that the establishment throws at people they dislike. Despite the preposterous nature of these allegations, many people seem to actually accept the idea that they are coincidence, when Assange has not even been charged with any form of sexual assault, when the Swedish government has rejected his compromises to face the authorities’ questions, when the US clearly is on an anti-whistle-blower tirade and when the other individual in this saga, Bradley Manning, has faced, as Assange has said, over two years in detention without trial. It’s beyond disgusting how cynically these governments have manipulated these people and their well-intentioned defence of women and the fight against rape for their own political purposes. It’s unfortunate that some people suspend their critical faculties based on emotional responses.
You’ll likely read an article this week, whether it be in SMH, NYT, the Guardian or even Honi Soit, and it will go something like “Assange needs to face the music, he needs to shut up and quit whining”. And it’ll be written by somebody who is either too stupid as to see the bigger picture, or simply doesn’t care. Because that’s contemporary journalism for you.
I have twenty five minutes to drink a beer and write a scathing op-ed piece. Let’s see how this goes.
Julian Assange is not only a journalist, not only unlawfully persecuted by several governments, but in my eyes an Australian and international hero. While the New York Times is busy running articles about how he once acted badly towards some person’s cat, or how he does not always flush toilets, Assange can safely rest on his laurels by actually holding governments accountable – which, if you’re unaware, is and always will be the central element of journalism. Yet apparently we are to be told to never mind that the cables bravely released by Bradley Manning (allegedly) inspired revolutions in the Middle East, never mind that these cables revealed compromising facts about many heads of state, with special regard to their desire to conceal information from the public, no no no, one must understand that journalists today are to instead act as stenographers. It does not matter what the facts are, it simply matters what politicians and officials have said. After all, politicians always work in the interest of the public, no?
Putting aside Watergate, the ‘children overboard’ affair, the entire Iraq war, the current posturing towards Iran, the tacit support of the Saudi regime by all Western governments, financial deregulation that has crippled the world economy about ten times since 1980, the false although sadly lawful detention of Dr Haneef, and that whole killing most of the indigenous populations in every country ever thing that happened, the contrived nature of Assange’s extradition is painfully obvious. These two women, the names of whom we still have no idea thanks to bizarre Swedish sexual assault laws, had their cases thrown out by several prosecutors, until finally they were accepted. While this isn’t the most significant point, it does represent the fact that their claims are perhaps not the most viable, and shame on any self-described feminist who claims that Assange is an alleged rapist, and that this is just men getting away with rape. This has nothing to do with rape. Regardless; the Swedish government eventually calls for Assange’s extradition. The next day, they drop it, only to be rekindled several weeks later. Is it so completely unimaginable that perhaps they were under the pressure from foreign governments, particularly the most powerful state in existence, of which several representatives have called for Assange to be executed, and almost all others claim that he has committed crimes against them. Is this so completely unimaginable? Particularly as after the release of the Iraq war cables (which have cost us how many lives precisely? Whose lives were endangered?) the Swedish government issues an international arrest warrant, a step above their previous demands.
But yet, there remains this idea that no, this is just simply the natural process of government; Assange isn’t under any kind of international manhunt at all, what an egotist! Call me paranoid, but when a foreign government launches missiles at other nations without even knowing who they’re striking at (apparently if you’re male, Arab and of military age then you count as a legitimate target; they’re titled ‘Signature Strikes’), and then this policy is defended by the Attorney-General based on a reading of the Constitution that claims “due process is not judicial process” – after all, if the Founding Fathers were about anything, they were about despotic power concentrated in the hands of a few, unaccountable to any kind of electorate, legislative or judicial body – then I think it’s time to be scared. Particularly when this is all done by an administration that has prosecuted more whistle-blowers than every other administration combined in the history of the United States itself; not an exaggeration, simply fact. Of course though, Assange did once do a dookie and not flush, so perhaps he deserves it.
Oh and let’s not mention the fact that Bradley Manning was held under torturous conditions – that’s not my assessment, that’s just some crazy left-wing organisation called the UN – for almost two years without a trial. Well actually, let me correct myself: the trial has gone ahead, but he’s still imprisoned for what Julia Gillard herself described as an illegal act. And then we find out today that Australian diplomats are well aware that Assange might be extradited to the US, especially given how they have a bilateral extradition treaty with Sweden. But governments, corrupt? Not working in the interest of their own citizens? Taking political prisoners? Never! It’s all just a conspiracy.
People ask why patriotism doesn’t exist anymore. Perhaps because we keep on locking them all up. This man is an Australian hero, and a patriot. Patriotism means supporting your country and its people always, and your government when it deserves it. The Gillard government and Obama Administration do not deserve your support.