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REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY ? August 30, 2005

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Democracy goes under many different names, and has never been unproblematic.

The names given, sometimes suggest different processes and structures. These names include: representative democracy, direct democracy and liberal democracy. Problems remind us that social arrangements are usually imperfect, and from the critics point of view, more imperfect than what they should be.

The problems of democracy have been around for some time, at least since they started teaching rhetoric in Ancient Greece. In my opinion, not informed to this point by contrary or contradictory views, is that representative democracy would be improved if parliaments, in particular in our case, the House of Representatives were more deliberative, that is, not subject to party discipline on every question, for example the decision of war and peace, that the committee process was more respected, and multiple committees would report back to the plenary session of parliament, and that the size of electorates requires multiple representation and proportional representative electoral system. Furthermore, I recognize that media management and the creation of public opinion by targeting specific demographic/psychographic constituencies is inimical to the spirit of the democratic project. Then on the micro-level there is an importance of democratic citizenship which emphasizes the importance of participation in self reflective dialogue, as distinct from discussion or debate, combined with regard and respect for, and accountability to, your neighbour. I do not pretend this model is complete, or that covers all the issues.

One of the big problems we might mostly ignore is not new, but the current situation in the US may give pause. Influence is not government it is true, but access by the influential exceeds that accorded to most groups of citizens. Interest groups, including large business are obvious candidates. Kendall Clark, at the times of the Bush-Gore debates in October, 2000 expressed an jaundiced view of public access to the decision-making process of modern representative government:

The radically asymmetrical access to political representation afforded corporate persons and ordinary human persons is the single most harmful trend in American politics today. It daily erodes whatever lingering measure of authenticity may have remained in the decaying corpse of American representative democracy as few as 30 years ago.

Is Kendall Clark correct about the significance of this development, which is not new?

What is new in the US is the power of the religious right, the so-called Christian Coalition. I am not sure whether they qualify as Christian, although they use the Bible as their touchstone of truth. Eric Margolis, writing in the Toronto Sun regarding Pat “Robinson’s Fatwa” observed:

Robinson’s supporters are the single largest block of pro-Bush supporters and a core constituency for the war in Iraq. Nine our of 10 evangelicals voted for Bush. . .These “Christian Zionists,” who are allies of the Israel’s hardline settler movement, also urge expansion of Israel and in gathering all Jews to the Holy Land. When this happens, they believe, the “end of days” will occur and the Earth will be destroyed (along with Jews and other non-Christians). For these cheery folk, there’s no reason to worry about growing deficit, environmental destruction or resource depletion. Who cares? The world will soon end with a big bang.

Some allege the fundamentalists wish to turn America into a theocracy. So it is somewhat paradoxical, or ironic, that the Bush Administration, the beneficiary of the Christian fundamentalist vote wishes to promote democracy in Iraq. Since the other rationales for the invasion – weapons of mass destruction, the link between Saddam and the terrorists – have been stripped away, the Bush Administration is left with democratization.

As James Nye points out, this could be an example, if successful – and that is a big if – of soft power, but (liberal) democracy is more than just elections:

It also requires tolerance of minorities and respect for individual rights, as well as the development of effective institutions for resolving political conflicts in divided societies. . . it cannot be easily imposed by force.

Aside from the fact, that in George Monbiot’s view, writing in The Guardian, the constitutional drafting process in Iraq is subject to an American timetable,and at critical times direction, nothing can be achieved until the American and British troops leave, they should start again from a different “democratic design”. The Iraqis are facing the same problem as we do in our elections. They like us are being expected to say Yes or No platforms and proposals that we might agree and disagree in part. Representative government and constitutional arrangements demand an overall mandate, that does not permit participation.

According to Monbiot, the Iraqis should follow the lead set by South Africa and Nicaragua, in which the public was involved through public submissions and town hall meetings. This meant, he proposes, that the public was given ownership of the final outcome, and it provided a practical experience from hearing from other groups the need for compromise, while fostering reconciliation.

He concludes:

Deliberative democracy is not a panacea. You can have fake participatory processes just as you can have fake representative ones. But it is hard to see why representation cannot be tempered by participation. Why should we be forbidden to choose policies, rather than just parties or entire texts? Can we not be trusted? If not, then what is the point of elections? The age of purely representative democracy is surely over. It is time the people had their say.

While acknowledging what is said, in particular the application to Iraq, it is hard to see that this problem is a new one. Governments claim mandates for Industrial Relations policies that were hardly ever mentioned in the electoral campaign. Experiments in citizen participation have been trialed at local government level, but then have lapsed. The participants were probably, in somebody’s opinion, not representative enough of the population as a whole.

Counting numbers at election time is critical to delivering government and power, because it means in turn that the numbers can be enforced in the legislature, but then representative democracy is reduced to a dubious arithmetic of spurious approval.

UPDATE: 01/09/2005

At least two current posting that are related to these matters.

Cameron Riley at South Sea Republic makes the point about the general level of education and the possibilities of the new technology. The existing mode of representative government he says was introduced when general levels of education were lower, although I would suggest that democracy requires widespread literacy.

Tim Dunlop, on The Road to Surfdom, makes the point that democratization is merely the PR exercise, and the long predicted disintegration of Iraq is likely.

CAMP CASEY August 29, 2005

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George W Bush has made the biggest mistake of his political life by assuming that he would be safer from real questions on holiday at his Texas base, Crawford, than in Washington D.C.

Has Camp Casey has exoceted Bush? Still Mrs Sheehan has a good question: Why did my son have to die? Her son was her body armour that deflected the slime machine.

And there was no chance that the President once he had holed himself up in Crawford that he had the political savvy to go one on one with Mrs Sheehan. Somebody has drawn the curtain.

Where all this left the craven Democrats politicians who fulsomely, or in retrospect, foolishly, supported Bush’s murderous escapade in Iraq. Kevin Drum suggests an answer.

There is more from Frank Rich in The New York Times, and Leonard Pitts in the Seattle Times.

What I think is interesting about this development, should as I suspect it will turn out to be a small but significant event, is what it means for the processes of liberal democracy.

HOME CARE August 28, 2005

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Sometimes the personal is political, we find ourselves dependent on public policy, and my experience may be of small interest to those directly concerned with health and hospital services.

We are all dependent on the health and hospital system. My patient experienced a severe fall with multiple fractures and deep bruising. She was taken to the hospital on Friday night, was operated on Wednesday, and was able to go home, subject to my care on Thursday. I have never undertaken this role, at least with a patient with such injuries in my life.

Two things helped me. I had been to hospital myself, had an operation to remove my spleen, and knew that the transition from hospital to home is difficult. Still that experience did not equip me to deal with a person experiencing great pain and still in shock from the experience. While it was only a short home visit, the advice I received from the Community Health Centre nurses because it provided advice about how to organize the bed, the bath, and pain management. This practical advice is important to have.

Hospitals release patients. They obviously cannot look after themselves, and it has to assumed that early release is based on research, not simply an economic expedient. It is true that the community nurses came the next day, but to me the system is deficient if the carer is not taken into the loop at an earlier stage. I do not know exactly what procedures the hospital follows.

There have been moments when we have thought that we could not cope, and perhaps it would have been better to stay longer in hospital. Given multiple fractures, a broken collar bone and broken elbow, with deep tissue bruising, one of our biggest problems is to get the patient in bed. Another problem is that we have no way of communicating from one end of the house to other.

I have found the carer’s role quite demanding in the circumstances. We have managed to muddle through to something like coherent routines. Luckily the usual division of labor around here is beginning to re-establish as the patient steadily recovers more capabilities – it still has a long way to go.

UPDATE – 30/08/2005

The community health nurses were in again today. They changed the bandaging and advised that the sling had to be kept on to enable the bones to knit properly and provide the support for the broken collar bone.

Physiotherapists, by contrast, we are advised do not do home visits, as was true of the doctor on the pretext it was a workers compensation case. The problem here is that every journey by car means that there is bumping and jostling, which is not good for broken bones.

Otherwise, despite the pressures, and so of them are on me, we are coping, and with fingers crossed, will continue to cope.

ADVANCING ISLAM August 27, 2005

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The politics of Aussie Mozziedom, as much as the religious theology of Islam, are unfamiliar territory for which I have no compass.

The lucky thirteen who met with the Prime Minister, was not the intended number. It seems, according to ABC Online News:

Sydney-based mufti Sheikh Taj el-Din Al Hilaly was one of 14 invited leaders but he returned from a trip to Egypt a day after the meeting. An associate of the cleric, Keysar Trad, says he told him not to return early because it appeared that the summit would marginalise Muslim communities.

This response could be many things, including perceptiveness, or then again it could be the product of the trip the Sheik took to Baghdad to arrange the release of hostage Donald Woods.

And according to another ABC report more Australians are converting to Islam. A Queensland imam is suggesting that this rise in conversions is a post- September 11 effect, and at the same time he is concerned with eradicating any extremist cells, while saying that the terrorist attacks (in London and elsewhere, I suppose) have tended to marginalize and stimatize Muslims in Australia.

I suppose national leadership is only above politics for most national leaders when the short term political benefits in performing in that role are consistent with the national interest, which I take to be the uniting all in a common national purpose, and not stimatizing people so that they might be marginalized on that pretext. The problem, as I see it, is that John Howard and the Liberal Party, have built electoral success, in part, on the divisions of wedge politics.

What is the record of the major religions in dealing with extremists? Amir Butler, in relation to Islam, observes:

. . . there are two fronts in the war against terrorism: addressing the often-genuine political and social problems that terrorism seeks to solve, and addressing the ideological foundation by which such terrorism is justified. While the former is largely the responsibility of governments, the struggle against the ideology of terrorism can be fought only by Muslim scholars speaking the one language that extremists universally respect: the language of theology.

Those mostly young people who adopt extremist ideas cannot be bribed back to moderation by the pleadings of those whom they neither respect nor believe. They will only accept arguments founded in Islamic law and delivered by those with real spiritual authority.

Who has real spiritual authority in Australian Islam, or for that matter Global Islam? According to Amir Butler it is particular fundamentalist scholars. Further, he notes in pursuit of moderation, no fundamentalist scholars were present at the Prime Minister’s summit.

Could it be possible that suicide bombers, for instance, are not religious extremists? And the characterization of extremist suits those politicians, in particular Blair and Howard, who followed the march of folly of the Iraq invasion and occupation?

UPDATE: 30/08/2005

LP hosts an interesting “discussion” on Islam in a secular society. Apparently, French secularism is different than the Anglo-Saxon model. Ideally, one looks forward to when Aussie Mozzies, including those who see the hajib as a fashion statement, participate in these threads.

FRIDAY NIGHT DOG BLOG – SOLITARY JOURNEYS August 26, 2005

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Taffy this week is back from the vet hospital. Sasha discovers a new territory, and reacquaints with the horse with no name.


Taffy back home again Posted by Picasa
Taffy was not the only one in hospital this week with multiple fractures.

Home from the Hospital (the flowers were for the other patient). Posted by Picasa


Sasha out on her own. Posted by Picasa


Sasha looks on. Posted by Picasa


The horse looks down. Posted by Picasa


Both looking together. Posted by Picasa


Visiting the office. Posted by Picasa


Time out Sasha. Posted by Picasa


Abandonded brick factory as background. Posted by Picasa


Taking in the overview. Posted by Picasa


Comfortable and relaxed. Posted by Picasa

HEADING SOUTH-WEST August 26, 2005

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I have just taken the Political Compass.

There I am apparently, down in the bottom left quadrant. Almost dead centre. My economic, left/right score is -4.88 and social libertarian/authoritarian score is -5.85. Hmm. I would never have thought that from reading this blog.

Check out your score, as I did, via Whom Gods Destroy.

EARTHIAN VALUES August 25, 2005

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“Australian values” are all the go, for some reason at the moment. I did not know what they were, but I did not want to admit my ignorance.

I do not even know whether my Australian grandparents were Australian-born, or if they were Australian-born whether they saw themselves as Australian. I know my grandfather and his brother Roy survived the first world war, and their brothers were killed. And I do not know how many brothers they had. I never met my grandfather, and met his brother once in the midst of a multitudinous family at Christmas. They did not know me, and I never got to know them. I am pretty sure my grandmother was English. My mother was Australian, and from her I heard about Simpson and the donkey, but I did not realize that this was a story about Australian values, since Simpson was English, and his donkey may have been Egyptian or Turkish.

Some of us have longer antecedents on this ancient continent than others. And those with the longest lineages, going back at least 40,000 years, were cleared from the land, perhaps not completely, but sufficient that their stories are silent, and their memories of their ancestors are not even ghosts across large swathes of their landscape.

What I do know is that I am Earthian, all my ancestors were Earthian too, and we Earthians do not have common values to preserve our selves and our planet, it is time we did. Our values would not exclude any other Earthians, nor would we seek to deport them to the Moon or Mars. Earthian values might include all the precious resources of the planet, including air and water, all the best that Homo Sapiens have been able to think and do, and as an Earthian I am proud and enchanted by all the physical beauty of my planet.

ANGLICAN INITIATIVE August 25, 2005

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There is, it seems to me, a lot of sense in the proposal of the Anglican Primate seeking dialogue with Muslims.

The report is from the ABC. While we may be a secular democracy, at the same time the society has been most strongly influenced by Christianity, and to use myself as an example, we may not be as acquainted with Muslim theology.

The Anglicans have proposed an Interfaith Dialogue. Even as an atheist, I see this as a positive move.

“Dialogue” is the word of the moment. The “extremists” might be the most important people to talk with. Without them this round of meetings would not have been set in train.

“TERROR SUMMIT” August 23, 2005

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According to the ABC report the summit between the Prime Minister and members from the Muslim communities went well.

To everybody’s surprise all participants committed to combating terrorism. John Howard suggested that any threat of terrorism was confined to small group, who on that basis might have been usefully represented at the summit.

The report contains two items I had not expected, but was pleased to see. Given my earlier comments relating to values and meetings of this nature, I am pleased to record report that:

Mr Howard says today’s meeting is just the start of ongoing dialogue and contact with the Islamic community.

Dr Ahmeer Ali, the president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils thought the summit was very constructive according to the report and that:

“There’s no place for hatred, there’s no place for terrorism, there’s no place for violence in this country,” Dr Ali said. He says Australia’s role in the conflict in Iraq was also debated.

The details of the debate on Iraq are of great interest, but do not expect to hear more.

A LIFE CHANGING EVENT August 21, 2005

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I am pretty confident that what happened on Friday night at the railway station may well be a life changing event, even though I was at the time about three or so kilometers away.

Falling down a flight of concrete steps, is an event likely be traumatic and damaging for anybody. The telephone call from the station staff advised me: “Your wife has fallen over, and we have called an ambulance. She wants to see you.”

Now we are in the hands of the surgeons. Potentially, I suppose, more serious injuries than a broken right elbow and a head gash could have been caused.

The focus changes as we more away from the drama of the event, the emotionality generated, and the need, from my point of view to deal with the immediate practical problems, now our thinking turns to the long term, even as the short term has not yet run its course.

ESPOUSING VALUES August 20, 2005

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“Values”, by one description,” are deeply held views of what we find worthwhile”.

Now this definition is circular, but it links values and behavior. But we might ask do we know what our values are, and if we do and do not practice them are we hypocrites? Perhaps not. Who among us appreciates our own personalities, those distinctive patterns and habits of behavior we exhibit, the values they imply, and then is able to appreciate that others have different personalities, signifying deeply held differently conceived and differently contrived values. Our own individual personalities, I am told may be seen as gifts, as patterns of inherent value. As often, if my experience is to be a guide, reading a personality profile is as shaking hands with a stranger.

Such reflection may make us at least sceptical of the belief that values are held at a particular time across the range of individual differences that compose the populations of nations. Yet this conception is invoked, and not questioned, for example by the insistence that specifics be given both of the values and their order of importance. For we may share values, but place different significance to them, and perhaps include a variety of other values, which we hold of greater importance.

President Dwight D. Einsenhower, in his final “military-industrial complex speech”, sidestepped this difficulty here by talking of goals:

Throughout America’s adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among people and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. Any failure traceable to arrogance, or our lack of comprehension or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us grievous hurt both at home and abroad.

By espousing these values, he is linking the national values to religious values, and implicitly Christian values, and possibly even Protestant values. Some would suggest that America never practiced such values or purposes then, or now, or before then. So therefore, values should be shown to be more true than not, what significance can be placed on national values, other than a form of national purpose or conformity, and implicitly a means of exclusion for those holding other beliefs.

To your complete surprise, these preliminary thoughts, brings me to the assertions of John Howard. To be fair, I am biased and prejudiced in relation to our prime minister, to a degree which makes me an extremist. I neither believe what he says, or trust what he does.The Sydney Morning Herald article published on 19 August 2005 explained the reason for, what is now known in The Australian at least as, the terrorism summit:

Islamic leaders from across Australia will meet Mr Howard in Canberra on Tuesday to discuss how to stop religious leaders from inciting violence and terrorism. Mr Howard called the meeting with 14 Islamic leaders in the wake of the London bombings, following inflammatory comments by some local Muslims justifying the terrorist attacks.

In this matter, Howard is following the example of Blair, the Labor Prime Minister of the United Kingdom more than Hawke, the former Labor Prime Minister of Australia. My perception is that it is to be a stage managed presentation to serve the political purposes of the Prime Minister. The same criticism recurs in the Australian case, as in the British, that many of the participants are unknown to the Muslim communities for who they are to speak.

The ground that has to be given, is not necessarily confirming the contentions of those we label extremists, but in the understanding that own narratives formed by our backgrounds, experiences, attitudes and perceptions are deficient, in that others, often those more affected by our actions, have understood a deeper meaning. So, I suppose, confronting the tough questions is not going to happen, which would make the summit a valuable, honest and insightful exercise for all involved. And perhaps too, we might concede if the participants, on both sides, promote understanding and uncover problems these meetings do not have to be representative. At the same time, I would like to have seen more members of parliament, at both Federal and State levels involved.

It is clear, I believe, from the rhetoric surrounding this meeting that there is not such intention of confronting the issues that a genuine exchange of ideas, perceptions, and experience might expose. Howard is quoted as saying:

The best way of defeating extremism is to point out to those people who might be influenced by it, that they are in fact, leading them up the wrong path.
And the purpose of this gathering is to identify ways to further enforce and entrench the moderate mainstream view. Mr Howard said it was important to promote the values shared by all Australians.”We want to promote the ideal of moderation and identification with the values that all Australians share,he said. To invite people who represent an extreme point of view is to give them disproportionate and unmeritorious recognition, which would anger people who are trying to do the right thing

Rather, you see, the meeting is to confirm the pre-existing attitudes, reinforced by the soundboard of major players in the mainstream media, which in effect is to say that terrorism is wholly a Muslim issue, and has nothing to do with the Australian Governments misguided intervention into the context, and subtest, of Middle Eastern history. The suspicion might be that the Muslim participants have been selected to confirm the conceived majority view by avowing what they reject, rather than espousing what they believe.

And let us suppose that Muslims are also capable of self criticism, as the example of Salman Rushie suggests. With the British situation in mind, Rushie argues in relation to social alienation, and in the extreme suicide bombing that:

The deeper alienations that lead to terrorism may have their roots in these young men’s objections to events in Iraq or elsewhere, but the closed communities of some traditional Western Muslims are places in which young men’s alienations can easily deepen. What is needed is a move beyond tradition – nothing less than a reform movement to bring the core concepts of Islam into the modern age, a Muslim Reformation to combat not only the jihadist ideologues but also the dusty, stifling seminaries of the traditionalists, throwing open the windows to let in much-needed fresh air.

In making such a criticism of Islam, Salman Rushdie is revealing his values. But others, modernizers and fundamentalists, will have different values.

Here I think is John Howard’s point that we need superordinate values. Fair enough. Two questions: How do we come to an understanding of difference, and how do we understand what these greater values through which we understand our common ground, our common natures, and our common experience.

One way, and the history of religion has multiple examples, is to impose the ideas of the powerful on those of the conquered. Religious expansion by this light either is a permanent military expedition, or a permanent marketing and propaganda exercise. History indicates success in both action and reaction.

Another, and perhaps the alternative, was indicated by Jonathan Glover in his Guardian article,“Dialogue is the only way to end this cycle of violence”. Dialogue is as much experiential, as it is tranformative, by this definition. Dialogue, rather than debate, or for that matter discussion, is the foundation upon which democratic representative and decision processes are to be built. This development, without for example, the qualifications that Eisenhower kept in mind, and despite his good intentions, has tendency to disengage from, and over time seek to recast and reform its foundations, by power, by indifference that disengagement breeds, by assumed superiority, and by overt management and covert propaganda.

Nevertheless it might be interesting to suppose what our national values might be. Here is one set of suggested inclusions:

* The innate dignity of human life
* Respect and consideration for the “other”
* The interconnection between humankind and the environment and thus the need to care for and preserve the earth
* The importance of integrity and service
* An attitude of non-violence
* The individual and collective quest for peace and happiness

John Howard may have another set of national values, he believes are typical of the mainstream. But the mainstream, as the periphery, may believe many things, and act in another way, as indeed might any politician. We need is some way to reconcile our purpose with our commitment. And some suggest that can be down by an inclusive, self reflective discourse, which perhaps is often not perfect, decidedly demanding, often difficult in ways we do not expect, yet in its means and ends quintessentially democratic.

Postscript:
I am not clear if what is written makes a lot of sense. Although I am clearer it could be more concise. I have just inadvertently posted it on John Quiggin’s Weekend Reflections. Here, and I make them habitually, I can get away with gross mistakes. I can only hope, as usual, my post will be ignored.

Afterthought: Tuesday 23/08/2005
Then again there is nothing stopping me rewriting this post, which would conform with the worksheet/workshop idea I have for this blog. Rewriting means rethinking. Why should I assume with my poor abilities that I can get things right first time, or more importantly have anything worthwhile to say at the first attempt, and without further and fuller consideration. Since this 3 o’ clock in the morning, I will immediately go out and look at the stars (etymological joke).

UPDATE: Thursday 25/08/2005

Gary identifies an attack on liberal pluralism, a major development if it means we change our sense of ourselves and of others. He ascribes the national values as rising from the fact we are a liberal democracy, surely and hopefully not a unique distinction:

Australia is a secular liberal society and its core values are democracy, the rule of law, an independent judiciary, and personal liberty. But a core value of liberal pluralism is the tolerance of citizen’s towards different religions in a liberal polity.

Cameron comments and links to an author,Greg Egan, who I do not know.

I would like to think that the best, among whom we are likely to choose our leaders, might have a greater respect for history, and for the possibilites of the more global future, which we might contribute as a society that has understood the wonderful possibities of our cultural diversity.

FRIDAY NIGHT DOG BLOG – STOLEN MOMENTS August 19, 2005

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Taffy remains in hospital while his broken leg mends. The reports we get are positive. Sasha is adjusting as best she can – more treats. Justin, the llama, makes time for Lindy, as the horse makes time for Sasha.


Taffy: you are not forgotten. Posted by Picasa


“Let me have a word in your ear, Lindy”. Posted by Picasa


No houses in view. Posted by Picasa


Emerging from a rest in the shade. Posted by Picasa


“Follow me”. Posted by Picasa


Meeting is a serious business. Posted by Picasa


“Let’s dance”. Posted by Picasa


“Hey! this is fun” Posted by Picasa


“I want a good look at you”. Posted by Picasa

THE TIBER RUNNING RED August 18, 2005

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I thought it might be interesting to read over Enoch Powell’s 1968 Rivers of Blood” speech, to see whether he was prophetic.

Powell is clearly racist and alarmist as shown by the key quote:

For these dangerous and divisive elements the legislation proposed in the Race Relations Bill is the very pabulum they need to flourish. Here is the means of showing that the immigrant communities can organise to consolidate their members, to agitate and campaign against their fellow citizens, and to overawe and dominate the rest with the legal weapons which the ignorant and the ill-informed have provided. As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood”.

That tragic and intractable phenomenon which we watch with horror on the other side of the Atlantic but which there is interwoven with the history and existence of the States itself, is coming upon us here by our own volition and our own neglect. Indeed, it has all but come. In numerical terms, it will be of American proportions long before the end of the century.

I tend to recommend the words of the Prophet Muhammad, who in his final speech, echoing an earlier prophet, said “all men are brothers”, which we might imply to mean all men and women are brothers and sisters. In my view multiculturalism represents a national and global reality. The most important question is how to make it work.

Ralf Dahrendorf, former European Commissioner and now member of the House of Lords, writing in The Daily Star, Beirut says:

The veneer of multiculturalism is thin. It does not take much to turn one group against those of others with whom they have apparently lived in peace.

In this regard, his example is the Balkans. I am not sure of what happened there, of how and why those societies unravelled and descended into bloodshed. Multiculturalism has a thin veneer because people live a public multicultural life and a separate cultural life. Because the spheres are separate what is happening in the private sphere is not necessarily reflected in the public sphere. This might appear to be true of the London Bombers, both groups.

Many of us, I suspect wish to maintain the important distinction between our public and private lives. Yet, it is both the participation of different cultural groups in the public sphere, and the recognition of those groups by public policy makers other than in times of emergencies, that makes for coherent and integrative social and political policies.

The problem we have in Australia is that the decision to go to war in the Middle East was made behind closed doors, and those who had objections were ignored. It would have been so much better had the House of Representatives acted as a deliberative body. There was time for it to do so.

Liberal democracy requires participation to work. Of course, that means real opportunities for real participation must be given. And the participation should be as wide and deep as it needs to be. Self reflection suggests, at least to me, that the way that democratic decision processes work is as much a problem as any failure in multiculturalism. The failure in democratic practice and process might be seen as the proximate cause.

Our purpose should be not to impose democracy on others, but to impose it on ourselves.

Naomi Klein is prepared to far more self critical, suggesting that western societies using the veneer of multiculturalism as their espoused value while they practice Enoch Powell’s test of integration. She concludes:

The real problem is not too much multiculturalism but too little. If the diversity now ghettoized on the margins of Western societies – geographically and psychologically – were truly allowed to migrate to the centers, it might infuse public life in the West with a powerful new humanism. If we had deeply multi-ethnic societies, rather than shallow multicultural ones, it would be much more difficult for politicians to sign deportation orders sending Algerian asylum-seekers to torture, or to wage wars in which only the invaders’ dead are counted. A society that truly lived its values of equality and human rights, at home and abroad, would have another benefit too. It would rob terrorists of what has always been their greatest recruitment tool: our racism.

She may very well be right. Her conclusion bears thinking about.

MURDER ON THE TUBE? August 17, 2005

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Or, at least, that is the conclusion that recent reports in The Guardian noted by David Tiley and Kevin Drum are tending. The most recent Guardian article is here.

The story of these events has been characterised by misinformation from the beginning. Perhaps, in the first instance, this might have been understandable because there was an existing police operation watching potential suspects.

These recent reports, should they be confirmed, suggest that the official line was intended to create misinformation, or that they chose not to correct it.

Considering these reports, the conclusion is that Mr de Menezes death was not misadventure, but murder.

Jean Charles was mistaken for a Muslim person, perhaps of South Asian decent, reinforcing the view among some in the British community, and eslewhere, that such lives are not valued.

The facts have not been established yet, although impressions can be damming, and it will be interesting to hear the police story.

It would be hard to believe that experience police would make mistakes of this order, suggesting that the terrorism danger and the application of the “shoot to kill” policy threw them off balance.

In that case, in my view, some responsibility must lie with the political decision process.

UPDATE: Thursday 25/08/2005

This case does not get better. John Quiggin and commentors have more to say.

TRIAL BY NEWSPAPER COLUMN August 16, 2005

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To suggest that by referring to Gerald Henderson’s column on David Hicks I am giving equal time, or providing balance, would be spurious.

Henderson does not address the critical issue of the necessity for a fair and open trial, on an equal basis with other soldiers of fortune, or other independent contractors operating in war zones. Where, for example, is the evidence that Hicks has engaged in terrorism? It is more likely, I suggest that he was a combatant. Where is the evidence that he has fought against the US, rather than its proxy, The Northern Alliance?

On a blog it is easier to refer to references. Here is my most recent post, in which a certain David Flint may appear to contradict himself. He says that David Hicks is an unlawful combatant, and therefore not covered by the Geneva Conventions. Why is Hicks so classified, because it appears that the US President has declared he is not a lawful combatant. Another matter which Gerald Henderson does not recognize or consider.

What is wrong with a fair trial and proper process, including a authentic appeal process? Otherwise, as we witness, there is a descent into guilt by association, tendentious reasoning, and a fear than an impartial and independent court may not produce the cooked result, with the implication that political leaders might be held accountable for their actions. The more serious the allegations, the more weight should be placed on the trial process.

Sometimes the simple conclusion is suggested that people such as Mr Henderson, and Ms Quigley are too biased, at least on some subjects, to enlighten. The failure arises, I suggest, not so much from the lack of research, but rather to consider an alternative narrative.

CROSS OF IRON August 15, 2005

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Perhaps only a former five-star General could talk about the “Chance for Peace” in 1953.

Given the opportunity costs of the investment in the defence industry, to quote William Jennings Byrant, ” humanity is hanging on a cross of iron”.

The reference to this early Ike speech comes from Ralph Nader’s letter to Cindy Sheehan, via al Jazeera.

Listening to Ike, I have to say he is not an inspiring orator. With him content was everything or nothing.

UNDERSTANING PERMANENT WAR August 14, 2005

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The apparent craziest of the American right knows no bounds in defence of the brave little invasion and occupation in Iraq. There is method in their madness, via Barista.

Now may be a good time to step back and take a historical perspective. When General Dwight D. Eisenhower stepped up to the podium to become president he was continuing the service to his country that had begun with his entry into the Army. He was part of a generation that had experienced economic depression and war. His administration could be faulted for failures in foreign and domestic policy. During his watch the CIA began using covert action to remove uncooperative foreign leaders, such as the prime minister of Iran. He was less than overtly proactive on the issue of civil rights, and let the McCarthy Committee run its course.

He is now especially remembered for his final speech in 1961 in which he described the Military-Industrial Complex. Some say that Ike was, at least in part, responsible for its creation. He said because of American involvement in world they had built up a military establishment and arms industry of “vast proportions” with an influence, “felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government.” He warned:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

He next observes there has been a technological, revolution in which research has become large scale, and that “the domination of the nation’s scholars” is “gravely to be regarded”.

There will be crises in the future, but we must stand for our noble values – peace, human betterment, liberty, dignity and integrity. Ike says he prays for peace. He foresees the environmental crisis. Disarmament he says is a “continuing imperative.” But disarmament requires the World to live as a confederation with mutual trust and respect, not fear and hate.

Some Americans may be saddened that their leaders can no longer talk in this manner and be credible. The vision today is dark, as it is consumed by lies, and dishonor. Ike, I think, remained a soldier with a vision, and sense of duty. He was not the political operator, or worse still the front man, who through lack of perspicuity and perspicacity failed to transform himself into a statesman.

TERRORISTS UNDER THE BED August 13, 2005

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We are repeatedly hearing and seeing the word “terrorist”.

All the disreputable sources, including the Government and the Opposition, are heavily into this labeling, which pre-empts discourse and reflection. It is not exaggeration to suggest that an Orwellian linguistic nightmare in closing in on us. Could we expect any better from our elected politicians, no doubt taking their clue from the polls and the lowest common denominator?

Some commentators are in the same frame, ignoring the historical narrative expressed and elements of a more inclusive truth that others might have, and in denial of the need for self reflection.

Take two examples from The Sydney Morning Herald.

Shock, horror, an Aussie Anglo is supposed to have uttered the following:

The honourable sons of Islam will not just let you kill our families in Palestine, Afghanistan, Kashmir and the Balkans, Indonesia, the Caucasus and elsewhere. It is time for us to be equals. As you kill us, you’ll be killed. As you bomb us, you will be bombed.

Julia Baird comments:

The rhetoric of terror, hate and aggression is utterly at odds with the way we think about Australia. Especially Islamic fundamentalist hate. It’s certainly not what we expect from a Sunshine Coast surfer, even one who was traumatised by serving in the army in East Timor and discharged for psychological reasons.

Another way to see the same evidence is to understand “the sons of Islam” as Islamic patriots. Why is so impossible to stop those actions causing the resentment, or understand the inherently reasonableness of the response, which historically dates for the success of the American-supported fighters in Afghanistan defeating the Russians.

Naomi Klien has more on an alternative view.

Let us all get on the terror bandwagon. Mike Carlton gets into act. He says:

We should not let these demented little fascists disturb us, nor change our way of life. Scorn is the best weapon.

This another variation on the response so popular elsewhere according to Tariq Ali.

Al Qaeda it seems has a long term, phased, plan to establish the Caliphate, and we are supposedly now in phase two. On this reading the attacks in the West are secondary. Western democracies are showing signs that their political leaders are falling apart, tearing their social fabrics from a lack of willing to engage in open, self-reflecting discourse, or dialogue.

Dialogue is a million miles from scorn. Democracy’s strongest and most effective weapon remains unemployed. Far better, so the judgement of wise appears to be, to enter into the hell of the national security state and ruinous military spending to the end of permanent warfare and the Orwellian state.

FRIDAY NIGHT DOG BLOG – A DAY AT THE OVAL August 12, 2005

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On Tuesday morning Taffy experienced a seizure, and sometime later he had another, fell off the bed and broke his right rear leg. He is now in plaster for eight weeks. But before this event he was out and about with Sasha.


Sasha and Taffy together. Posted by Picasa


Sasha on her own. Posted by Picasa
Before going in, univited, we ought to check out the flora.


Sasha smelling the flowers. Posted by Picasa


Track side position for Sasha Posted by Picasa


Checking out the scenery. Posted by Picasa


Something afoot?. Posted by Picasa
Then there is Lindy and the llamas and alpacas up on the Southern Highlands:


Lindy sitting with Justin Posted by Picasa


Justin, the llama, interested in Lindy. Posted by Picasa

HELP – “IT CAN’T JUST BE ANYBODY” August 12, 2005

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Anita Quigley, a writer for the Sydney newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, delivers her definite, partial judgement on blogs, which she presumes are, and intended to be, diaries. She writes:

DIARIES should only be kept by world leaders of note, Nobel Peace Prize winners, rock stars with wicked tour tales to tell or 13-year-old girls coming to terms with being a teenager.

Rarely should anyone else keep one – let alone an internet diary in the form of a blog.For the most part they are the height of egotism, nearly always banal and often a psychological cry for help. Why some pimply-faced geek, sicko or average Joe Blow thinks someone else wants to read every random thought that crosses their mind is beyond me.

Alongside the belief that we all have a novel in us – we haven’t – blogging is the ultimate form of narcissism. So I was horrified to read last week that a new blog is born every second.

Judgements such as these are always categorical. Those who cannot write novels, perhaps could spend time profitably reading literature. Egotism and incompetence, even in one’s self, might anyway be amusing. The time to be expressionlessness and quite for we homo sapiens is when we lie in our silent graves and under our unknown memorials. While we live let us have fun and explore our lives, and the times and challenges in which we face, including those aspects for which we are responsible, and those matters, however small, to which we may positively contribute.

I do not regard this blog as a diary, although I chuck in a few personal things, but rather as a worksheet using the new technology, using links, using digital photography, and anything else that comes along, to develop my thinking and understanding, to engage issues that I judge to be significant, to explore the possibilities inherent in this new technology as a platform in which I as a democratic citizen may be held accountable to my neighbours, who may be national or global. Anybody and nobody may read it, and somebody might comment.

At least Anita is not anxious that bloggers are journalists, or that journals are forms of diaries, and journalists varieties of diarists. Perhaps Anita has a sorrow for her own profession. Such a topic, we all might engage with empathy.

The link to the Daily Telegraph is via Senator Andrew Barlett.

UPDATE: 13 August 2005.

Mark at Larvatus Prodeo ( I forget what this means, but it was not, as I recall, conceived in Rene Descartes’ oven), draws attention to two writers in the Ozsphere: Tim Dunlop and Christopher Sheil. Tim returns from Washington D.C. and Chris is exponent of a particular style of political writing.

I am sticking to my worksheet concept, perhaps with more worksheeting, and leave gonzo journalism to those more capable. However, more doing that espousing, is required here.

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