total depravity

Two friends from Kiev have sent me some of the latest, expressing the feelings of those who are horrified by what is happening.

One hints that the far right senses a chance for a coup. On Saturday, the leaders of the rioters – known as the ‘three little pigs’ (Klitschko, Tyahnybok and Yatsenyuk) - rejected offers from the President, with two of them to be given the positions of Prime Minister of Ukraine and Deputy Prime Minister of Humanitarian Affairs. Instead, the hit squads of the rioters stormed government buildings in Ternopil, Chernivtsi, Ivano-Frankivsk, Zhitomir, Khmelnitsky, Lviv, Lutsk, and Rivne, demanding the local governors resign. They have also established ‘people’s commandants’. Knowing that they simply don’t have the numbers to win government, the only way is to work for a coup. Hence the constantly changing demands – reject Russia and turn to the EU, resignation of the president, and end to corruption, and so on. None of these are primary, for only the seizure of power counts.

The rioters may be claiming to represent the majority, even calling for a general strike. But they don’t, points out this comrade, and their calls are ignored The majority of people in Kiev, and especially the populations of Crimea and the eastern regions, do not support the rioters. These people are calling for an end to atrocities, an end to funding areas from the which the rioters come, and the imposition of martial law.

So why oppose the rioters and appear to support a government that is pretty corrupt (but then, so are nearly all governments)? The ragtag movement that the rioters represent is clearly feared to be far worse. Another comrade expresses what are probably the widespread opinions of most of those watching events unfold in discomfort and apprehension. Neither the government nor the rioters can be trusted. While the government is corrupt and uses underhand methods, the rioters are worse, for they are led by the ultra-right and entice many people into aimless violence against the riot police. If the economy was bad even before the crisis, now it’s even worse. Better to stay with the devil you know, I guess.

The big question is why the government hasn’t simply called in the army and crushed the riots. Stun grenades, tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets really don’t work in this situation. My suspicion is that it would lead to the breakup of Ukraine, but perhaps that’s already happening: a small western rump of mostly ethnic Ukrainians may become a new pseudo-state (actually like most of those tiny countries in Europe that really shouldn’t be states) and a larger eastern Ukraine that is much close to Russia.

(ht ll and ys).

Has the French President, François Hollande, recalled a trace of socialism? The new super-tax on those earning over 1 million euro is set to go ahead. In a nice twist, it will be companies and employers who pay the 75% tax if they pay an employee over the ceiling. Of course, it is a weak measure and should really kick in no higher than 100,000 euro per annum.

Contrast the latest proposal by those ‘mean little people‘ in power in Australia, with the clueless Tony Abbott in charge. In order to save some pennies penalise low-income earners, they have proposed a $6 fee for those who visit doctors who charge only the medicare rate (and thereby charge nothing to the patient). Obviously, this targets the poor. Such vision!

You have to admire the sheer idealism of early socialist policies, such as the policy on drunkenness by the Georgian branch of the party in 1909. Stalin writes: ‘drunkenness is regarded as an inevitable evil under capitalism, which can be abolished only with the fall of capitalism and the triumph of socialism.’ This might initially elicit a smile and a shaking of the head. If only it were so easy. But then he goes on to make some valid points:

By reducing the workers and peasants to the condition of rightless slaves and robbing them of the opportunity to satisfy their cultural requirements, the existing autocratic-feudal regime helps to spread drunkenness among the toiling population to the utmost degree. This is apart from the fact that representatives of the ‘authorities’ deliberately encourage drunkenness as a source of revenue for the Treasury.

In Australia, as in many countries, alcohol fueled violence and binge drinking (especially among young teenagers, with long-term damage as a result) has reached problematic levels. Why? The powerful alcohol lobby has any government at its mercy due to political ‘donations,’ and the tax revenue is something governments are reluctant to lose. So alcohol is cheap, ubiquitous and easy to get. What is the standard response by these clowns?

Neither the sermons preached by the ‘liberals,’ who convene congresses to combat drunkenness and organise ‘temperance societies,’ nor the exhortations of priests can diminish, let alone abolish, drunkenness, which is engendered by the inequalities in society, and intensified by the autocratic regime.

So you find weak-kneed invocations to show personal responsibility. The problem is not the widespread availability of alcohol and inducements to drink, but willpower and responsible drinking. The problem is not the alcohol itself but the person who drinks it. Strange how the same is not said of smoking or hard drugs or guns (except in the USA, where 30,000 homicides a year are due to guns). Stalin’s solution is perhaps a little too simplistic:

But for such a struggle to be successful it is first of all necessary to overthrow the tsarist regime and to win a democratic republic, which will create the possibility for the free development of the class struggle and for the organisation of the proletariat in town and country, for raising its cultural level and for widely training its forces for the great struggle for socialism. The Baku Committee regards the forthcoming congress to combat drunkenness as a means of agitating for the democratic and socialist demands of the Russian proletariat, and instructs our delegate to combat the opportunist delegates at the congress who obscure the class tasks of the proletariat.

But the underlying point is what may be called the ‘education of desire.’ A good dose of authoritarian control and strict regulation is the way to go. Make it expensive, ban advertising, restrict the amount and types available. Sure, people will drink, but make it really tough to do so. As an example, here we have the so-called ‘Newcastle solution’, which is relatively mild form of regulation. Clubs and pubs have a 1.00 am lockout (if you are inside, you can stay for a bit, but you can’t get in), shots are banned after 10.00 pm, as also unmixed or strong drinks. The result has been a 30% reduction in alcohol fueled violence. As as stronger example, strict regulation works a wonder with guns.

You know the ones. They lie at the foot of the toilet, are somewhat soft and plush, and massage your feet when you have a piss:

toilet mat 01


The problem is that they are always stained, since the prime purpose of such mats is to catch stray drops of piss. They should be called piss-catchers:

toilet mat 02

At this time of year, more people than usual tend to stay the night for whatever reason. The polite thing to do as a host is provide clean sheets, clean towels, and a clean bathroom (at least). But then you have to wash the whole damn lot after they leave. So may I suggest a more practical approach: save the washing until after they have left. Who will notice that the sheets have been slept in already, that the towels are a bit on the nose, or that the bathroom has scum and streaks all over it? Alternatively, it may be more practical to keep some linen for guests – just wash it after, say, a dozen guests have used it.

I continue to be simultaneously amused and befuddled by European tribalism – that strange notion, asserted in both extreme and subtle fashions, that each of the little countries in that part of the world is quintessentially different the other (yes, Germany is a little country too). People of the same ethnic group living in largely the same landscape are prepared to assert vigorously that they are fundamentally different from neighbours, of the same group and in the same landscape, who live a bicycle ride away.

Recently I was reminded of one of the clearest manifestations of that tribalism: the idea that those islands off the western peninsula of the Eurasian landmass are fundamentally different from the rest of Europe. This would have to be the oddest thing I have ever heard. No, let’s be polite about this: it’s complete crap.

After recently witnessing yet again the devastation caused by neo-classical economic ideologues in the USA and by the European Union, I can’t help wondering:

Why would anyone think that the economic model touted so vigorously by ideologues in the USA and elsewhere is beneficial?

Why would anyone even consider joining the EU? Ukraine is a case in point here, with second class affiliate membership dangled out, alongside the usual threats and vague promises. Already the vicious economic measures the EU’s grey managers like to use are in evidence, but the government is standing firm in its refusal. That makes Ukraine join Belarus in aligning itself with Russia. Anyone who imagines the EU is a good deal is deluded.

The USA feels more and more like travelling to Mars or some other alien planet. We arrived to find a frenzy of memorials to JFK (John F. Kennedy, for dolts like me who don’t realise what the shorthand means), who was assassinated 50 years ago. Yet beneath all the froth, a more sinister reality lurks. As ‘Being a Socialist’ puts it:

I won’t be mourning for some lost mythical liberal Camelot. JFK was not a great guy. JFK was an imperialist mass murderer in case you have forgotten. Here are some of his accomplishments:

*He openly engaged in terrorism, subversion and sabotage against the Cuban Revolution. He launched the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961 to overthrow a socialist government and return a bunch of pro-US capitalist gangsters to power.

*Operation Mongoose was a JFK-launched program aimed at overthrowing the Cuban revolution, leading to the installation of missiles by the Cuban government as an act of self-defense (hence prompting the Turkish [Cuban] Missile Crisis).

*JFK supported international efforts to bolster the reactionary ruling classes and militaries of Latin America engaged in counter-insurgency and suppressing popular reforms (known as the Alliance for Progress).

*JFK supported a military build-up of US soldiers in Vietnam to prop up various puppet regimes against the forces of a popular revolution. The US supported the use of torture, concentration camps, and political repression to maintain the puppet state known as the Republic of Vietnam.

*JFK backed a coup against the Iraqi leader Qasim (and the popular Communist Party), leading to the installation of the Baath Party.

*Put in place CIA operations that would lead to bloody coups in Indonesia and Brazil.

*Supported the the 1959 Landrum-Griffin (anti-labor) Act, and the covert war against the U.S. civil rights movement.

(ht cp)

I rarely agree with his politics, but Paul Keating (former Australian PM) is one I curiously can’t help admiring. He still has a way of cutting through and saying things in a way that make you stop and say, ‘shit yeah’. Today, in his speech for Remembrance Day for the end of the First World War, he said:

The First World War was a war devoid of any virtue. It arose from the quagmire of European tribalism, a complex interplay of nation-state destinies, overlaid by notions of cultural superiority peppered with racism … The virulent European disease of cultural nationalism and ethnic atavism not only destroyed Europe; it destroyed the equilibrium of the world … One thing is certain: young Australians, like young Europeans … can no longer be dragooned en masse in the military enterprises of the former imperial variety on the whim of so-called statesmen.

Following Mao’s example in identifying three problems and then addressing each in turn, I have been pondering three traps of the intellectual life.

1. Institutional thinking. The institution – university, school, or whatever – becomes the all-encompassing horizon. Rules are studied assiduously, new directions pursued. The institution gives one meaning in life, so much so that every little, inconsequential happening looms large. They say this also happens in prisons.

2. Linear thinking. There is only one way to do things, the way mandated by the institution and most others. Busting to get some writing done? Then do it when everything else is finished. Ask for a grant, get time off, write. Need to go to a conference? Then apply for a travel grant. Want a promotion? Then tick all the boxes and put in the paperwork. Forget lateral thinking, since otherwise all sorts of opportunities might arise. Such as: use sick leave, do the things you don’t like badly, skip everything you can, use your ‘own’ money … there’s plenty of ways to do what you really want to do.

3.  I deserve it. A pay rise, a promotion, responsibility, recognition, a tiny bit of fame, your name up in lights … it’s well overdue, since you deserve it. After all, hard work should be recognised and duly rewarded. Intellectuals seem particularly prone to this vice, spending their lives believing that they have been hard done by. It seems to escape them that no-one deserves anything. In fact, the vast majority have far more than they ‘deserve’.

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