Monthly Archives: September 2014
Oh what a difference a weekend doesn’t make.
At one end of the empire the ardent flame of Scottish independence, as if inspired by Mel Gibson’s cheeky Braveheart, was snuffed out by a pre-referendum BBC fear campaign and the pleading of a candid Cameron, the populace realizing it was all only a movie and that the popcorn was bland as styrofoam . Or maybe there was some widespread ‘mischief’, as some observers have claimed. Doesn’t matter. As Russell Brand said before the vote, “I’m not going to turn up and put an X in a box, like an Xbox. It’s like an illusion, it’s a temporary reality. It’s meaningless, it’s pointless. It makes no difference. Give us something to vote for, and then we’ll vote for it.”
At the other end of the empire, in New Zealand, on Saturday the Kiwis resoundingly welcomed back Nationalist John Key, despite (some would argue because of) the ‘Moment of Truth’ revelation festivalorganized by the Greens, which saw oracle Glenn Greenwald flown in from Brazil to join forces with firebrand Kim Dotcom, as well as live video links to Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. Together, these foreigners (Dotcom’s a recent immigrant), lampooned and besieged and tore at Prime Minister Key’s credibility, clearly demonstrating that he flat out lied about the mass surveillance of his own citizens. It was the kind of smoking gun stuff that got Richard Nixon chased out of town 40 years ago. But Key was returned by a 24% margin over the runner-up party, Labour. The illicit wiretapping for Uncle Sam will continue. But some good news: The Kiwis will now push ahead with a referendum for a new flag, so that they may proudly wave their symbolic independence to the world.
However, it was here in Oz that the Big News splashed its breathless headlines across the local tabloid: Terror Powers: Federal Police use special orders for first time to detain suspects. And what followed was a non-attributed, unchallenged piece put together by three reporters that told readers police would now be implementing a draconian 9 year old law passed shortly after the London bombing of 2005 (although, curiously, Oz did not see fit to pass such a law after the Bali bombing of 2002 that killed some 88 revelling Australians). The reader is told that federal police would now be using Preventative Detention Orders “to detain suspects in custody without charge” and that such PDOs allow police to take off the street any “suspect” and hold him with no communication to lawyers or family—as long as the threat was perceived by the government as “imminent.” Strangely enough, “Police cannot question a suspect being held under a PDO,” which is inexplicable, given the ‘ticking bomb’ rationale employed for scooping suspects. Further, we’re told in a jump to page 7, Attorney General George Brandis will expect from parliament this week expanded police powers, which give them immunity for actions during raids, as well, as the proposal is currently written, to torture suspects.
The precipitating event? Some baddie blew up the Melbourne Cricket Ground or the Adelaide Oval, resulting in the cancellation of the Aussie Rules football season? A heartless terrorist poisoned the vats at Carlton Brewery? A radical Aussie imam pulled up his dishdash and dumped a giant turd in the handsome blonde sands of Bondi Beach? Well, no. Instead, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, the Butt of Jokistan, announced allegations of “imminent” “random” “beheadings” to be carried out by jihadists loyal to the Caliphate, or ISIL, or ISIS (guess it depends on what your definition of ISIS is, as Bill Clinton would say). No one was safe. Why, at the same time an infiltrator in Washington was scaling the fence of the White House with 800 rounds of ammo without being seen, jihadi plots were afoot to radically renovate Parliament House and to end Abbott’s triathlon career. And thus, last Thursday, the largest anti-terrorist raid in Australian history netted one arrest on terrorism-related charges. Allegations, mind you, that will effect the greatest loss of freedoms in modern Australian history.
Back in November 2005, federal agents conducted similar raids, also citing imminent threats, and arrested several men, amid an atmosphere of fear-mongering, but the subsequent prosecutions fell apart when no evidence was forthcoming. As Greg Barns, a lawyer for one of the 2005 defendants, put it yesterday in an op-ed that appeared in the Melbourne Age, “there is a history in this country in recent years of hyperbole, sensationalism, paranoia and misconstruing of conversations and activities when it comes to reporting on and about Australia’s anti-terror laws.” Indeed, one could argue that such excesses go beyond terror scares and include all manner of common perceptions of ‘outsider’ behaviour, this being the rather predictable outcome of a culture wherein even most left-wingers are nationalistic and where seemingly only three degrees of separation exist between citizens. In any case, as Barns rightly argues, the first casualty of such rush to judgements is the Aussie meme: Fair Go, meaning, in this case, the presumption of innocence. Barns concludes,
Terrorism is understandably an emotional subject and terrorist attacks, when they happen, are horrific for any community. But in Australia, the way in which police, politicians and media work hand in glove to whip up hysteria by making claims which often turn out to be untrue or grossly exaggerated, is dangerous for our democracy.
One could argue that such dangers are especially potent in a nation that has no formal constitutionally-mandated Bill of Rights to protect its citizens against various abuses. But then, we live in times where capitalism has shat the bed and Democracy is just another word for nothing left to lose.
In the same newspaper, we’re told that an Aboriginal Muslim-convertee from Perth is in trouble with police for his “radical rants,” such as suggesting that the US and its military allies are more terroristic than their targets, citing compelling examples for his rant. The expected new powers will fix this though, making it easier to prosecute people who say things like, “blowing up pregnant women and their children with drone-fired cluster bombs is every bit as evil as a beheading.” How outrageous –and un-Australian – to hold such a view!
Further still in the same fishwrap dispenser, the reader is informed that Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, is “deeply concerned” about the Afghan heroin suddenly flooding the streets of Oz, a “narco-terrorism” that the word-smith Bishop finds “terrifying.” Awhile back former Prime Minister Paul Keating described Abbott as an “intellectual nobody” who Aussies should be ‘terrified’ at the prospect of electing to lead the nation. One might equally grow alarmed by the ascension of the formerly irrelevant Julie Bishop, who seems part Dan Quayle, part Sarah Palin. And a quick aside, what is it with Bishop’s sudden taking to wearing black dresses adorned with weird broaches? Is this to show how grim the situation is, an omen of dark times ahead, like that ‘black cat crossing the path’ Kathryn Bigelow inserted into her ‘journalistic’ Zero Dark Thirty account of the Abbottabad raid on the bin Laden compound?
Along with the new opium war the horrible Afghans are inflicting on the Lucky Country, the “deeply concerned” Bishop has quietly renewed charges before the UN Security Council that the Russians were ultimately responsible for downing Flight MH17, which had 27 Aussies aboard. The preliminary Dutch Safety Board report, she says, is consistent with Australia’s previous reactionary findings. Except, of course, that the report, if anything, leans more toward the ‘shot down’ by the Western-backed Ukrainians than by pro-Russian rebels, a view supported by innumerable eyewitnesses on the ground, not to mention radar evidence, and probably most importantly the failure of the US to release satellite imagery in their possession (they were directly overhead that day) that would end the debate immediately. Not even the CIA appears willing to back Obama. But then, Bishop must push the ‘Russians did it’ meme, because otherwise she’d have to explain why Australian advisers were sent to Kiev after the shoot-down to help shore up and re-train Ukraine’s flunky military, while the Southern Cross was draped across the caskets of 27 mates back home. Even scarier, the black dress and tangled-snake broach Bishop wore before the UN made her look like the ISIS flag. Or maybe that was the opiates kicking in.
And in related news, there were renewed calls to ban burqua-wearing. In Melbourne a man was forcibly removed from a flight because his seat mate got all terrified by innocuous satirical doodlesthe guy was killing time with and reported him to the crew, and the man has been banned indefinitely by the airline for his “disruptive behavior.” (To be fair, he should have known better, as cartooning in Australia can get you in serious trouble—god help you if you should be caught lampooning Israeli citizens in party-mode as they look down on the recent Gaza bombings.) On local TV grim reporters got into spirit of things by mixing in a report of man “with a telephoto lens” in a white van near an elementary school (they even showed a picture of the distant vehicle). A random mother was interviewed, and she snarled, “I’d like to get a hold of him myself,” and yet, though someone apparently got close enough to the van to determine the occupant had a telephoto lens, no one bothered taking down the plate or pursuing said vehicle. Then back to the terror alerts. Just like that the hysteria horses were off and running out the gates, and mercy on you if you were a neigh-sayer to this national crisis.
Well, the truth is, you could see it all coming, if you just kept in mind that Syria, Iran, Russia and China are the last nation-states that stand in the way of total American imperial hegemony. These four are connected in a couple of important ways. First, they have all begun trading in currencies other than US dollars, helping to limit their vulnerability to US monetary manipulation and its consequent political fallout. Second, they are directly tied up in energy resources infrastructure that is in direct competition to western-controlled interests; as one report puts it,
“It was estimated in 2007 that approximately 96.3 percent of the amount of projected natural gas which would be “imported by continental Europe would be controlled by Russia, Iran, and Syria under such an arrangement”
Russia already supplies most of Europe’s natural gas, making significant Continental sanctions against them self-defeating. But Russian truculence is intolerable to US oligarchs,
A few months back, while Obama was supplying and arming various ‘rebel’ factions trying to overthrow the Assad regime, including al Qaeda operatives, the US president announced that the US would stay out of direct participation “for now”, but that the Syrian use of chemical weapons would be “a red line” that would bring in US force. Sure enough, just a few months later many civilians were murdered by a sarin gas attack. As with the recent MH17 shoot-down, Obama and his State department clown posse immediately blamed the Assad regime, without evidence, and made it clear that Assad had crossed the red line and now must pay. But then Russia intervened, US popular support was negligible, and Obama had to back off. As legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has since reported, the likely sarin gas murderers were US-Saudi-backed rebels trying to go false flag.
Given this temporary setback for the US-Saudi partnership, it seems inevitable that an ISIS would develop out of this Bay of Pigs in the desert. Are they as dangerous as they seem? Probably. (Reportedly, many of the escapees from the 2013 Abu Ghraib prison breakout joined ISIS, including hardcore leftovers from the American occupation. How’s that for blowback?) Are the beheadings extraordinarily cruel and horrifying? Yes, especially when the killer wears scary pajamas, but not much more cruel or horrifying than cluster bomb mayhem or watching a botched execution in the US that leaves a man’s last moments a carnival of sadism. (Incidently, a lot of space in the media has played up the forensic evidence of the beheader’s lefthandedness and vein match-ups, etc., and yet no mention of an analysis of the British voice is mentioned. There’s a good chance the swordsman’s already know to investigators.) But ISIS are also valuable to the US, as they provide cover for the very air attacks on the Assad regime that Obama wanted months ago. No doubt, as ISIS moves further into Syria, sudden new corridors to Damascus will open up, courtesy of US bombs and missiles.
And then the Australian Prime Minister’s polls plummeted, as he reversed the carbon tax , and then cut funding to the social safety net, and called for the deregulation of universities and a more American-style educational loan system. Despite this austerity movement, the government found plenty of cash to fund significant increases in military spending, in direct support of a future expanded American military presence on Aussie soil as the empire looks to subdue China. Of course, this will make Oz a direct military target, in the case of a Chinese attack, especially Western Australia, due to its military installations in Geraldton and Perth. But no public debate over such expenditures or such a role in empire building. If Australia wants to become the Northbridge or St. Kilda red light districts for the Yankee doodle dandies—well, it wouldn’t be the first time.
Thus, one has to chuckle when Abbott made a public of show of being tough on his climate change policy, vowing to align with other nations against US emissions policy and said climate change would be off the G20 agenda next month, only to cower before the towering ‘blackfella’ in the Oval office and announce ‘room for agreement’ on climate change and to acknowledge he couldn’t stop the subject from being included on the G20 agenda. And, of course, the inevitable announcement that the US and Australia would henceforth have even closer military ties. “I like Aussies in the trenches with me,” Obama said, briefly and disingenuously buffing to a shine the Anzac legend in its centenary ,” they know how to fight.” And Abbot was all-too-happy polish Darth Vader’s helmet in return.
But here’s the thing. In this latest and likely to be longest foray into the desert storm, Obama does not have Congressional approval(which is to say public approval) for the coming evisceration by air of Syria, with whom the US is not at war, which is why he’s hedging, as usual, on what he calls it, while also intimating that he “doesn’t need Congress’ approval.” But there is no question that he is about to order more war crimes with his indiscriminate strikes. And by going along with this military campaign against a nation that Australia is not at war with and which has not threatened Oz in any meaningful way, Oz will be liable for its participation, on the moral scale, if not the Nuremburg scale. By going along with the US open war that has no apparent endpoint, no clearly articulated objectives, and necessarily adopting America’s quasi-martial law status (technically, the US has been continuously in a state of emergency since 9/11, which means his commander-in-chief status outranks his public presidency status), Australia is clearly ceding a good deal of its sovereignty.
The government has assuaged some with its “guarantee” that the new powers will not include the right of federal police to torture suspects (just as with the US before 9/11, but then came reasons to take the gloves off and rendition to black spots became routine). But, perhaps the most odious aspect of this indefinite shifting of “the balance between freedom and security,” which will “require some inconveniences for quite some time,” as the Prime Minister puts it, is the implementation of sedition findings based on expressions uttered online or in public. Whistleblowers will not be tolerated. As the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance wrote in a letter to the Attorney general, “MEAA believes that these penalties could be used to intimidate, harass and silence the legitimate journalistic scrutiny and reporting on the activities of governments and their agencies.” And if the previously alluded to examples of “political rants” that diverge from orthodoxy, and a man being tossed off a plane for doodling, are any indication, a vicious Vichy mentality will prevail throughout Oz, with citizens and journalists too reluctant to express their true views for fear of retribution or being handed over to spooks. In a mere matter of days Oz has gone from just another country with fiscal worries and uncertainty to being a garrison of the new Romans in their days of bread and circuses. And just like that Oz has become a far flung penal colony again. It remains to be seen what, if any, pushback there’ll be.
‘You have to wonder what he’d think of the burgeoning surveillance state of the world, and its general growing creepiness’
What would K. say about all this, or the Good Soldier Švejk, for that matter? That’s what I want to know.
It’s true, Prague has always been a crazy quilt of icons clashing, blown up glass, and iconoclastic ideologies; a place of bracketed space and time, drawing the displaced, dispersed and just plain dissed; home to all the diasporas floating on the latest winds of change, the central melting pot of would-be bohemians and art school flunkies from the Upper West Side of the Big Rotten Apple.
But ever since the Russians left town with their tanks, and not long after Havel addressed Harvard and earnestly preached world peace to deaf ears, Prague has become a place of smoky sports bars, business wolves and a hub for all the latest techno gadget and surveillance state conventions. Every year brings a Kissinger or a Blair, and other assorted war criminals, to hawk the latest battlefield bling to an assortment of rogues wearing dishdashas, turbans, berets, and probably even togas, now that we’ve gone all retro with our empire thinking.
So, I pace, wandering from frame to frame, a little loose-knit Napoleon, looking into my loo water, maybe a bit too much to drink, and wonder: What would Citizen K. and Soldier Švejk think of all this?
I first learned of Kafka and Hašek from my only good high school teacher, Mr. White, a diminutive field of energy who looked like a goyem version of early Woody Allen. He would enter our Year 10 English lit classroom with his Nietzschean moustache, and always wearing his University of Michigan sweatshirt (O those SDS days!), and break into some song and dance about Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier, and the making of the English working class, which was fine in itself, except he was from a rich suburb of Boston and teaching poor kids from some vanilla ‘hood, and you’d go, ”Meh.”
But one day he talked Kafka and Hašek, and a history of the Czech political underground, and we’d go, “Meh,” and he’d suddenly leave the room like a flashy pianist grabbing his hat and hightailing it after splashing down a fiery head-turning cadenza.
And we’d look out the window and see him with his beauteous wife, Anne, her long legs two lines of poetry, their hands a conjoinéd couplet, and Mr. White about two feet shorter than his poet wife bouncing along beside her like one of the Mario brothers. We learned later she left him for a sonneteer and he moved to Prague to mope through a masters in linguistics at Charles University. And now he shills for Apple. Some rebound. Meh.
But back to K. You have to wonder what he’d think of the burgeoning surveillance state of the world, and its general growing creepiness. And what would he make of Prague’s leading role in rolling out these brazen new technologies? Just the other day I read in the Prague Post of a plan to install cameras with built-in software that will predict or anticipate certain criminal behaviors among the hoi polloi and automatically call the cops. What would K. say to this?
Hard to predict. We do know Kafka was a tetchy fellow though. Recall that in her obituary for Kafka, Milena Jesenská, Franz’s lover, said of him:
“He was a hermit, a man of insight who was frightened by life. . . .He saw the world as being full of invisible demons which assail and destroy defenseless man. . . . All his works describe the terror of mysterious misconceptions and guiltless guilt in human beings.”
Wouldn’t it be a hoot to see the look on K’s face, upon first reading Edward Snowden’s revelations in the Post about the NSA’s XKeyscore and its hyper-intrusivity? You can bet your sweet bippy he’d not be crawling out of bed that day.
I remember Mr. White teaching us about Kafka’s portrait of the individual up against all the cosmic emptiness; in fact, I picture K. on the Charles Bridge, exclaiming, ”WTF,” every time I see a version of Munch’s Scream, which is all too often, since someone has thought to mass produce it as blow-up dolls, giving some the wrong idea, I’m sure, and not really being a ‘version’ at all. And Mr. White would draw out the opening lines of The Trial, “Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K., he knew he had done nothing wrong but, one morning, he was arrested.”
And then Mrs. Grubach, just disappearing like that, right? You say, ‘due process’, and someone pulls out a spearmint leaf and points at the sun (as if everyone understood Buddhist geekspeak and the questions of being were rhetorical).
No, I don’t know what K. would do. But I can imagine him sitting down at ‘a clean, well-lighted place’ to write Anne Frank a postcard, “All nada, nada, nada,” he’d scratch, shaking his head, and Anne would never read it, being too busy online ordering a thermal image-hiding ‘anti-drone hoodie’ at PrivacyGiftShop.com.
And Švejk with his comic emptiness, in a world that just wants to tickle him to death. What would the Good Soldier say to all this? Švejk, the bumbleclot, clopping south through Wenceslas Square toward the mounted Saint. Švejk stooping, picking out of the gutter discarded bubblegum blobs and remolding them, as he trods, into saleable figurine likenesses of the Castle’s giants.
Perhaps badgering a passerby with, “Buy a bubblegum giant for the missus?” and getting back from some local scalawag, “How would you like to be Jacques Cousteau at the bottom of the Vlatava, heh?” And Švejk bumbles on, passing assorted jugglers, sordid buskers, prozzies thick as mozzies, onward, unperturbedly disturbed.
And all the summer ex-pats, in all the midnight sports bars, simultaneously typing away at keyboards, clickety-clacking exactly the same message but with different rhythms, creating a kind of finger fugue, authoring emails all about their adventures in old Praha, complaining though about ‘all the tourists’ teeming this way and that, and how they managed to bump into 15 friends and/or acquaintances, and staying at a hostile hostel way out in the outer circles, outer circles so far out on the train that they are the inner circles of Dante’s Inferno, and the hostel proprietress with baggy underwear (you can see some drying on the line) looking up and down, and saying, “Oish, loot katju, yoy moik me miss the Sobiets,” and then adding over her shoulder, “An in de myorneeng, doan forgeh de goat to milyk iv you vant sum krem lin in yaw gruel. Vulva Rebablution, myuh ahss,” and then all the ex-pats rushing outside simultaneously and upchucking their Urquell Pilsners all over the mounted Saint, and then going back for refills.
And then Švejk makes it to the park, and he’s looking up at a curious warning sign, when sirens go off and a security services spotlight beams down on him leaning against the base of the Saint, and he’s being busted on suspicion of public defecation, and although he never did, he fits the profile in the disposition matrix, and they drag him away, to the Castle, where he goes before the magistrate, who is K. or, at least, a 3D-printout simulacrum, who pronounces him innocent and sentences him to debt. At which hearing Švejk throws up on the bench, and K. says, “I know what you mean.”
Ah, yes, Praha. The mind wanders back to the years before all the surveillance, when people just ratted each other out for revenge, or an extra loaf of bread, or for the sheer thrill of seeing Soviet soldiers drag your friend, Veronika, away to the gulag (her dopplered voice holloring,”You’ll get yours, Tomáš”). Tanks for the memories, dear city. Unbearable lightness of being? Not so much anymore. More like the unbearable speed-of-lightness of being constantly watched and judged, all the guiltless guilt, in the city Kafka called home, and we now call the new world penal colony.
When Google’s Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen got together with Julian Assange on June 23, 2011, Assange was staying with a WikiLeaks sponsor in rural England and had just completed his sixth month under house arrest as he fought extradition to Sweden for questioning regarding sexual assault charges. He was also dealing with the aftermath of the funding freeze on WikiLeaks, arranged by the US State Department, in retaliation for his publication of embassy cables and war-related secrets leaked to him by Chelsea Manning, including the now-infamous Collateral Murder video. Though he was the recent recipient of prestigious journalism awards, including the Martha Gellhorn prize and Australia’s premiere journalism award, the Walkley Award, the re-established sexual assault charges (Swedish authorities had dropped them and allowed him to leave the country) cut deeply into his popular appeal and began the intense counter-assault on WikiLeaks and on Assange’s character that continues to this day.
Nevertheless, the meeting was ostensibly a dialogical summit of switched-on minds that would unravel many of the complexities of the new, rapidly unfolding digital age, discussing the impact of this new paradigm on the core values of democracy in a ‘globalized’ world. Assange was led to believe that Schmidt was especially keen to pick the famous hacktivist’s brain on the role of dissidents and the communication tools they would employ to expose acts of governmental tyranny and corruption in this new era. He was led to believe that the un-molested conversational highlights of this meeting would find their way into the book Schmidt and Jared Cohen were working on –The New Digital Age – which they expected to publish about a year later. Just to be sure, Assange posted to the WikiLeaks site the transcript of this secret meeting, and made the audio available as well, so that his words and integrity could not later be twisted a game of They Said / He Said. Joining Schmidt and Jared Cohen at the meeting were Lisa Shields and Scott Malcomson, who Assange later discovered were not merely Schmidt’s buddies but members of the Council on Foreign Relations, with ties to the very State Department that had him under siege.
It turns out, the “productively paranoid” Assange (to cite Joseph Flatley’s wonderful categorization in his review of Schmidt and Cohen’s book) was smart to publish the transcript, because his fears were well-founded – the meeting was, for all intents and purposes, scripted theatre (call it Google Play), and could have been the work of Harold Pinter, for all its subtle signs and hidden agendas. As Assange remarks in the introduction to his new book, When Google Met WikiLeaks, “the delegation was one part Google, three parts US foreign-policy establishment, but I was still none the wiser.” In all likelihood, Schmidt and Cohen already knew what they were going to write about Assange before they met. But the book is not only the transcript of their encounter, it also includes the aforementioned introduction, which acts as an primer on the Schmidt-Cohen political agenda, as well as a reprint of Assange’s New York Times book review of the The New Digital Age, when it finally appeared in early 2013, and, finally, a postscript that details how Assange’s views at the meeting were distorted in the Schmidt-Cohen manifesto and his character further abused. Assange had a right to be livid and he manages to push back with his book.
Perhaps as an indication of his bruised ego, Assange opens his exposition by employing language that is seemingly intended to inflate his value, repeatedly referring to the meeting’s secrecy, as if the meeting were a negotiation between equals; and by nose-tweaking word choices that suggest a Ninja-like revolutionary at war with dark, machine-like authorities. This creates some readerly hurdles and unnecessary obfuscations. “I was intrigued that the mountain would come to Mohammed,” begins Assange, likening the meeting to a profound experience of enlightenment, which it was not. But what does that expression even mean? The best my DuckDuckGo results could do was to inform me that it isn’t derived from the Koran and is not an Islamic saying, and, indeed, that it almost certainly is derived from a distortion of a very similar reference in Francis Bacon’s way-back-in-the-day essay “Of Boldness,” wherein the user of that expression is lampooned as a charlatan. One could certainly see how Bacon could be making fun of the kind of boldness expressed in The New Digital Age, but it isn’t an intuitive connection.
Similarly, Assange writes about evading censorship by “moving across borders like ghosts,” and then employs a series of martial terms: “at Ellingham I became an immovable asset under siege. We could no longer choose our battles. Fronts opened up on all sides. I had to learn to think like a general. We were at war.” While this is somewhat amusing, one wonders what benefits accrue for Assange, and other activists he symbolically represents, by playing into (and consequently affirming) the ‘Internet is a battlefield’ meme, which tends to act as a convenient justification for government crackdowns. Here, even to this sympathetic reader, Assange seems to be hurt and lashing out, and comes across like John Connor, the boy-hero from Terminator, who represents the future of humanity and must stay alive at any cost. Again, while Assange’s position has enormous personal resonance for me, its tetchiness risks giving the bastards what they want. Even the gentle, congenial Yogi Bear, if ‘taken’ and tethered to a chain at a picnic site in Jellystone Park, where adults abuse and threaten him and children are encouraged to pretend to be afraid to provide a pretext for further abuse, even Yogi Bear would eventually turn grizzly, at which time his persecutors would sneer, “See, told you he had poor character.” But Assange must eschew the justifiable impulse to draw blood if he wants to keep tuned-in listeners on message. If you’re going to preach real freedom, expect to be really, really crucified.
Having said that though, one has a sense of proxy rage when, after hearing Jared Cohen stoke Assange’s vanity at the meeting by playing up, despite Assange’s protestations, the role WikiLeaks played in the Tunisian revolution and in the larger Arab Spring (Cohen all but throwing up a high-five), The New Digital Age gives no mention to Assange’s role as the provider of key information that may have tipped the balance. And then early in TNDA, in their chapter on The Future of Identity, Citizenship and Reporting, after many pages devoted to how destructive to reputations online published material can be—to the point that it lead to “virtual honor killing” and can result in a targeted person’s actual murder—they segue to a section on what they refer to as Assange’s “free data movement”, where they wantonly (and arrogantly, given that the meeting was recorded) mischaracterize his position on leaking, on what gets leaked and why, almost likening WikiLeaks to revenge porn videos.
Despite some of the known negative consequences of this movement (threats to individual security, ruined reputations and diplomatic chaos), some free-information activists believe the absence of a delete button ultimately strengthens humanity’s progress toward greater equality, productivity and self-determination. We believe, however, that this is a dangerous model, especially given that there is always going to be someone with bad judgement who releases information that will get people killed. [emphasis added]
Later, in their chapter on the Future of Terrorism, they will directly assert that this is what Julian Assange did with his ‘might-as-well-be-terrorism’ leaks. They never challenged Assange this way to his face, and they ignored all evidence contrary to this assertion. But most importantly, they imply that Assange and any other free-information activists are worthy of being droned. In this way, the seemingly endless, sovereignty-scoffing US military forays that result in literally untold war crimes, including torture, murder, and the catastrophic displacement of huge swathes of various populations, become so normalized that the average citizen regards leaks that reveal this behaviour as the real treason.
They wrongly refer to the false assertion that he is wanted by Swedish police for questioning as “his indictment of sexual assault charges,” another agenda item never brought up to his face. Another slur that does little more than libel Assange by calling into question ‘his real motivations’ is the Schmidt-Cohen assertion that found its way in a Foreign Affairs magazine, the State department’s rah-rah forum, exclaiming that what few redactions Assange did make to documents prior to release were motivated by “money” considerations. He said no such thing, as the transcript plainly shows, and in fact he painstakingly explained to them that his action was a ‘harm minimization / impact maximization’ tactic designed to ward off political “opportunists” looking to make the conversation about the treasonous harm of the publishing rather than the treasonous harm of the content’s revelations about administrative criminality. Schmidt-Cohen have no problems with undermining Assange’s reputation, despite saying to his face that they “sympathized” with his views.
As Assange points out, “it was not until well after Schmidt and his companions had been gone that I came to understand who had really visited me.” He means, of course, that he had essentially received a proxy visit from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. This might seem a wild and egotistical claim, until you realize that Schmidt has a close relationship with Obama, having been on a short list of candidates to head the Commerce Department, while Jared Cohen was regarded as a can-do wunderkind by the State Department, first under Condoleeza Rice and then under Hillary Clinton, before going to Google in 2010. As Assange would come to learn from the subsequent publishing of The New Digital Age, a key concern for Schmidt-Cohen was learning how Assange did what he did and how they could harness that know-how to corral younger generation activists into doing their bidding.
Ironically, the aspect of their meeting where they might truly have had meaningful dialectical exchanges during their meeting was around the subject of information systems management. Assange acknowledges their mutual passion for systems architecture and management, and how it relates to their politics, when he writes,
His questions often skipped to the heart of the matter, betraying a powerful nonverbal structural intelligence… This was a person who understood how to build and maintain systems: systems of information and systems of people. My world was new to him, but it was also a world of unfolding human processes, scale, and information flows.
The problem, of course, is that their politics have entirely different vectors. While Schmidt is correct to refer to assert that Assange is a kind of ‘free information activist,’ at least when it comes to government transparency and shedding a light on executive office criminality, Assange is also spot-on when he says of Schmidt: “[he] fits exactly where he is: the point where the centrist, liberal, and imperialist tendencies meet in American political life.” Given Google’s long-standing cooperation with the Defense Department (indeed the ex-head of their R&D arm, DARPA, recently jumped to an executive position with Google) and the NSA (Google played a key a role in the NSA’s highly-invasive and illegal PRISM program), one could posit that Schmidt-Cohen represent the vanguard of neoliberal policies, enforced by neoconservative martial might. The very governmental constraints and intrusiveness that they seek to end in the “repressive” regimes they cite is equally if not substantially more true of the US surveillance state.
(It is a largely undiscussed fact that well before 9/11 Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney created and implemented a secret Continuation of Government (COG) plan in the event of catastrophic terrorist attack, spectacular natural disaster, or major popular insurrection for any number of reasons, including major opposition to foreign policy actions (see a summary of some details here). This COG operates as emergency principles and supersedes the usual Constitutional chain of command. This COG emergency protocol went into effect on 9/11. Almost no one in Congress was aware that this shadow government existed, let alone that Cheney had triggered the procedure. Many citizens would be amazed to learn that Obama actually inherited this secretive state of emergency. Indeed, the state of emergency rules are still in place, and, technically, the Executive office claims the power to act as if the US were in a state of martial law. Because, according to these protocols, it is. When you apply this knowledge to American military actions in foreign lands, from Europe and the Middle East to Asia, you’re looking at the empire-building conceits that were gifted to the neoconservatives by way of 9/11.)
But back to systems of information and their utilities. Assange and Schmidt-Cohen share a passion for activating the masses to generate momentum and change the status quo. For Assange, the desire is to create a reliable means to affect changes that result in what he calls “just acts.” Using a Fourth Estate model, Assange locates the “bottleneck” to just and progressive change in how information is distributed and presented to the populace. At the meeting, Assange tells Schmidt and his cohorts:
In a Fourth Estate context, the people who acquire information are sources; the people who work on information and distribute it are journalists and publishers; and the people who may act on it includes everyone. That’s a high-level construct, but it then comes down to how you practically engineer a system that solves that problem, and not just a technical system but a total system. WikiLeaks was, and is, an attempt—although still very young—at a total system.
Another way of regarding it is a state of radical transparency for government, which could lead to strict levels of privacy for citizens and considerably more say in democratic governing processes.
This is in contradistinction to the kind of system that Schmidt-Cohen have in mind. The usual astonishing hypocrisy aside, perhaps the most important accomplishment of When Google Met WikiLeaks is the connection Assange establishes between the Google Politic and the ambitions set loose in The New Digital Age. The Schmidt-Cohen tome was originally titled The Empire of the Mind, which is in much closer alignment to their politics than the wonky-sounding New Digital Age, because at work in their book is an idealized vision of the world after neo-con American Exceptionalism has forcibly broken through every global barrier and established its neo-liberal dominion over all people and resources of the earth, with future presidents being the new emperors at the end of history, as Francis Fukuyama has so stupidly and wrongly ordained.
In his introduction to WGMW, Assange cites a 2010 Foreign Affairs piece that Schmidt-Cohen wrote, “The Digital Disruption: Connectivity and the Diffusion of Power,” in which the dynamic duo discuss in detail future “coalitions of the connected” made possible with technologies “overwhelmingly provided by the private sector.” Assange pulls up this telling quote:
Democratic states that have built coalitions of their militaries have the capacity to do the same with their connection technologies…. They offer a new way to exercise the duty to protect citizens around the world who are abused by their governments or barred from voicing their opinions. [Assange’s emphasis in italics; mine in bold.]
Like the justification George W. Bush used to ignore sovereignty and make war in countries “too weak or unable to fight terrorism,” the ‘duty to protect’ principle is a militaristic co-optation and corruption of humanitarian intervention theory, as well as the clearest indication yet that the Internet has already become militarized and that we are now in the normalization phase. As a literal battlefield it is to be controlled by the strongest military, making Obama, as Commander-in-Chief the principle ‘decider’ for future Internet policies. Schmidt-Cohen are the Good Cop face to a long-extant US foreign policy succinctly summed up, unapologetically, by Bad Cops like former Latin American CIA chief Duane Clarridge, who helped arrange for the overthrow of Chile’s Salvador Allende (or “What’s-his-name,” as Clarridge refers to him). Says Clarridge, “We’ll intervene whenever we feel it’s in our interest to so, and if you don’t like it, lump it. Get used to it, world. We’re not going to put up with any nonsense.” There is no functional difference between the political principles espoused by Schmidt-Cohen and that of Clarridge. None.
But if you alloy this political mandate with the technological vision that Schmidt-Cohen reveal in The Empire of the Mind, then you have a profoundly disturbing nightmare scenario. As Assange points out, there is in the Schmidt-Cohen manifestoes a banality that seeks to assuage and seduce, like a 1950s TV ad high on Twilight Zone smack. Schmidt-Cohen tell us how our good buddy Amazon can help solve so many problems with its ever-so-clever algorithms, but they don’t tell us how the two buddies collaborate with intelligence agencies. “For example,” they write, “Amazon is able to take its data on merchants and, using algorithms, develop customized bank loans to offer them—in some cases when traditional banks have completely shut their doors.” Oh, so, kinda like that cool subprime loan thing, right? And, getting stranger than strange:
As for life’s small daily tasks, [Amazon’s] information systems will streamline many of them for people living in those countries, such as integrated clothing machines (washing, drying, folding, pressing and sorting) that keep an inventory of clean clothes and algorithmically suggest outfits based on the user’s daily schedule. [emphasis added]
If it stopped there, that would be sufficient to give pause to a sane person. But the two plow on. Matter-of-factly and without any horror at the implications, Schmidt-Cohen describe a future where identity merchants make a handsome profit in the brave new economy. With a straight face, they offer up this scenario:
Virtual kidnappings, on the other hand—stealing the online identities of wealthy people, anything from their bank details to public social-network profiles, and ransoming the information for real money—will be common. Rather than keep and maintain captives in the jungle, guerrillas in the FARC or similar groups will prefer the reduced risk and responsibility of virtual hostages.
But that’s not the proverbial kicker. We mustn’t underestimate the value of future holograph boxes, they tell us, in which you can find entertainment by immersing yourself in various virtual excursions: “Worried your kids are becoming spoiled? Have them spend some time wandering around the Dharavi slum in Mumbai.” Don’t worry about changing it any, right? (Schmidt brought his teen-aged daughter with him when he visited North Korea, so that she could ‘experience’ a totalitarian state first-hand and blog about it.) This is “transformative”? Visionary? Sane?
But back to leaks and who decides how and when they are published, there is another important difference in how the two systems operate. After setting Assange up as a might-as-well-be terrorist, Schmidt-Cohen toss out a disingenuous question:
Why is it Julian Assange, specifically, who gets to decide what information is relevant to the public interest? [And] what happens if the person who makes such decisions is willing to accept indisputable harm to innocents as a consequence of his disclosures?
As Assange points out, this is both a dishonest and rhetorical question, because soon they answer by saying that all leaks should go to “a central body facilitating the release of information” and that whistleblower publishers need “supervision.”
This gets at the heart of the matter: dissidents need to be accounted for, contained as a subset, and controlled. After all, most of them are just kids (more than half the world’s population is under 30, and growing) and Schmidt-Cohen, along with the State Department, are worried sick about what these youngsters might get up to. As Schmidt-Cohen observe, “the mix of activism and arrogance in young people is universal.” This isn’t the first time they have raised this sentiment. Early on, during the secret meeting with Assange, Scott Malcomson, one of the CFR tools who accompanied Schmidt observed, apropos of Dostoyevsky’s wet snow, “Young people aren’t inherently good. And I say that as a father and with regret.” (Nor are old people and fathers, and I say that in all sincerity.)
The self-described “old people” who met with Assange seem to have had a notion already in motion as to how they would shepherd and influence young people, but they are still looking for shaping mechanisms—triggers they can pull. That was the value of the recent secret Facebook-DoD experiment: to manipulate community emotions toward action, the way it was done in the Joseph Kony saga, where children were rounded up by a Christian evangelical ‘activist’ overnight on Facebook and put to the task of proxy vigiliantism. (Kony is still free today, although the actions of all those manipulated kids did lead to Congress authorizing a military presence in the Central African Republic, where they don’t seem to be looking for Kony much, “but 40 advisers will remain”).
Schmidt-Cohen’s answer, as with leaks, is to shepherd youngsters into central crowdsource pens where they can vent their disaffection and participate in ‘constructive’ dissident campaigns. Their preferred choice, of course, is The Alliance of Youth Movements, or other NGOs (Schmidt loves NGOs the way the Department of Defense loves its sub-contractors) affiliated with the ‘centrist’ doctrines of the day, and their main goal is to knock down “dictators” everywhere, even if freely elected. It’s the American Way. As Hillary Clinton told a gathering of the Alliance by video link not long ago, “You are the vanguard of a rising generation of citizen activists…. And that makes you the kind of leaders we need.” The Alliance and Movements.org are just two more branches of co-optation and control, an exercise in grooming future “responsible” controllers.
Meanwhile, ‘activist’ billionaire philanthropists like Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen and Jeff Bezos and Pierre Omidyar are free to do the adult freedom-fightin’; working with the NSA to drill down to unruly dissidents; creating algorithms that the CIA can use to track anyone; pouring money into coups in places resistant to neo-liberalization; even meeting up with rebels to organize resistance, as Cohen says he’s done with Iranian dissdents. This has not been met with as much approval among the national security types as you might imagine. In a WikiLeaks email leaked from the private security firm Stratfor, the director complained to a colleague:
Google is getting WH [White House] and State Dept support and air cover. In reality they are doing things the CIA cannot do… [Cohen] is going to get himself kidnapped or killed. Might be the best thing to happen to expose Google’s covert role in foaming up-risings, to be blunt. The US Gov’t can then disavow knowledge and Google is left holding the shit-bag.
This is the real face of the “Don’t be evil” meme.
A few weeks ago I re-watched The Illustrated Man, a film based on Ray Bradbury’s short story collection by the same name. Reading The New Digital Age had me seeing those dystopic tattoos again—not on the body of a knowing victim like Steiger, but in the daft Satyricon that is the Schmidt-Cohen premise. In The Illustrated Man, there’s one vignette in which two teens are allowed to play in their favourite holographic room. They conjure up wild lions to play with, and the parents think all is bliss, until bits and pieces of their stuff goes missing, only to be discovered in the holographic room being sniffed over by the lions. Alarmed, the parents call in a shrink, who comes almost immediately, but not before the kids get the lions to maul and eat their parents. In the holography that still lights up my mind, that is how I want to respond to Google’s Dead Souls future – with Schmidt and Cohen (and Bezos and Omidyar and others) taken by the Empire’s lions and devoured by their own megalomaniac fantasies.
Book Review: Amnesia by Peter Carey
Available from Penguin, et al.
Perusing the Post’s headlines the other day, I was darkly amused by the Czech Republic’s growing pariah status vis-à-vis the United States. In the “Bloom Wears Off Czech-US Relations” piece, there was expressed by US officials deep imperial disappointment at the Republic’s refusal to accept a nuclear weapon battery just outside Prague, with the requisite stationing of US occupying forces to safeguard it, of course. How could any nation refuse to garrison an exceptional and indispensable soldier from Freedonia? Think of it.
Anyway, the reason for my amusement was because, at the time, I was reading Peter Carey’s new novel, Amnesia, and key to the story is what happens when a client nation state falls out of favor with Uncle Sam: change comes suddenly and shockingly. As Duane Clarridge, the CIA meat cleaver who helped oversee the Allende ouster in Chile 1973, would say, “We’re not going to put up with any nonsense.” The amnesia
referred to in Carey’s title is the long forgotten removal of the Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam on November 11, 1975 by the British governor-general to Australia, after a parliamentary crisis had seemingly reached an insurmountable moment similar to what the US was facing with Fiscal Cliff fiasco of 2013.
In this context, it seems clear that Zeman has failed to understand his ‘obligation’ to provide logistical support, a la Havel, as the US completes its humanitarian conquest of the globe theatre. With just Syria, Iran, China and Russia standing in the way of star spangled hegemony, now is not the time for backsliding or insolence from client states. As Kissinger would say, one sees no reason why Washington should tolerate such ‘irresponsible’ behavior, just because it’s a democracy. If Zeman does not already have his bags packed, then he’s drinking too much Svejk juice. (But he’ll be sober soon. Shhh.)
Amnesia is an attempt to wrestle, first, with American imperialism and how makes a mockery of sovereignty, and, second, the available avenues of response in dealing with the globalization of surveillance seemingly designed to provide a Stasi-like omniscience mechanism to make people fear resistance to the system; they are opaque and unaccountable, and we are utterly ‘exposed’ and full of the original sin of private thoughts and free expression.
Carey accomplishes this difficult task by focusing, developing and blowing up two events of Australian history, now long
forgotten (and so, largely devoid of active controversy) – the aforementioned Coup, and, long before that, the so-called World War II era ‘Battle of Brisbane,’ which saw Australian soldiers battling ‘Yanks’ in the streets of Brissy. As one character reports, “It was about sex,” Celine answered. “The stupid Australians were jealous of the Yanks. The only people in the world who want to help us, and so they shoot them because they like Australian girls.” This is an ironic statement, given the source.
The events are separated by decades, but one thing has led to another, and Carey merges them in a marvelous (and funny) caricature of historical causality and the all-too-familiar blowback of events gone wrong. While the novel has the usual assortment of zany Carey creatures, weird in a uniquely Aussie manner, the two main characters are Gabrielle Baillieux and Felix Moore. Gaby is the star, a young Julian Assange-like hactivist who has got herself into trouble with the US for releasing the Angel virus, which has the hilarious virtue of releasing prisoners from their computer-secured, American-owned facilities in Australia – and anywhere else that America has private contractors running prisons, which turns out to be around the world, including, of course, the Land of the Free itself.
This act gets her into immediate raving trouble from right-wing TV news spinners and a call by one senator for Gaby to be droned to death, all this reminiscent of the response to Assange and, later, Edward Snowden, for their work in releasing
evidence of the dark deeds of the US government at work. But, more importantly, Gaby was born on the day that Gough Whitlam was tossed out of office ‘by the Yanks’. And if the birthday Coup weren’t reason enough for her to always remember, Gaby is also burdened with the knowledge that she is the product of a rape by an American soldier during one of those Brissy battles. You could even say she’s the product of two rapes – her mother’s and the rape-by-coup of her country’s sovereignty. She was seems born for blowback.
Like Assange, Gaby has an interesting family past, and a passion for the shadowy world of hacking, which Gaby describes thusly: “In the ‘twisty little passages’ of the computer underground…there was a species dedicated to the collection of discarded information, furtive scholars, jesters, fools, hackers, phreakers, practitioners of the black art of recycling who picked the locks of Telecom exchanges and, like dung beetles busy with their ancient occupation, rolled their holy shit into the night.”
Carey employs Felix Moore to tell Gaby’s story, and in a deft touch Carey has Felix an involuntary narrator, having been kidnapped by an underworld figure and told to tell Gaby’s story in an offer he cannot refuse. Felix is an aging, falling investigative journalist, who has just been successfully sued for slander and is in the process of becoming the kind of news he once broke (“Look this way, Feels,” paparazzi call to him). As the bitter author of lefty ‘The Lo-Tech Blog,’ Felix has revealed Australian government’s lies in the 2001 Children Overboard scandal, during which conservative PM John Howard claimed
boat people coming to Australia were intentionally throwing their children overboard to protest being rejected for entry into the country; a lie which, once spread by an uncritical national media, resulted in hysteria. Said Felix,
“Once again, like 1975, here was a lie of Goebbelesque immensity. The fourth estate made a whole country believe the refugees were animals and swine. Many think so still… Yet the refugees belonged here. They would have been at home with the best of us. We have a history of courage and endurance, of inventiveness in the face of isolation and mortal threat. At the same time, alas, we have displayed this awful level of cowardice, brown-nosing, criminality, mediocrity and nest-feathering.”
This secondary event in the novel actually serves to accentuate the amnesia not only of the Gough Whitlam coup, but amnesia as a cultural malady (certainly not restricted to Australians) that leads us to quickly forget over and over these catastrophic events that should outrage a truly democratic citizenry and stir the masses into action. But a nation mired in mediocrity as a positive trait, where lopping tall poppies is a national pastime, strikes one as developmentally disabled. Even the milieu Carey sets his characters in feels parochial and politically disinterested. No Aussies really seem to care about Gaby and the motivation for her deeds, and this echoes the inexplicable general indifference (and maybe even hostility) to Assange and his work that exists in Oz (I don’t recall even one national publication reviewing his recent When Google Met Wikileaks).
In Felix and Gaby, I felt like I was revisiting previous Carey creations, Harry Joy and Honey Barbara from his fantastic novel Bliss, which, if I recall, was the last time Carey laid out what could loosely be described as a contemporary realist tale. While Amnesia is no tour de force, or even as groundbreaking as some of his other more recent works, it is still a first rate novel. It contains many of Carey’s now familiar traits, including quirky characters and gorgeous linguistic flourishes, such as this description of Woody, the underworld figure, menacing over Felix, “The Great Wodonga was settles at my desk, fleshy enough for Lucian Freud, his huge thighs pressing against the limits of his tailor, hunched over the laptop which had been obviously removed from my embrace like a teddy bear from a sleeping child.” Nice touch.
In a strange coincidence that one imagines could only have helped Carey’s sales for Amnesia, Gough Whitlam died this past October at the age of 90, a death which briefly brought back to life some of the controversy surrounding the 1975 coup, but few care, once more, although I doubt that that reality would have greatly impacted on Carey’s fiction sales. People are always ready for fresh fictions.
Ordinarily, the Amazon-Hachette battle over revenue streams is not something I would take much interest in, because no matter how the fight is framed by the mainstream media the fact remains the bottom line is all that counts for these corporate entities. But I have been drawn into the fray by happenstance, having recently received from my younger brother his memoirs of his glorious bank-robbing years, along with a request for me to edit the manuscript and see to its publication. As my brother is not a well-known figure, except in his own outlaw circles, it was clear that self-publishing was the most viable avenue to travel, and that, as far as I then knew, Amazon was the best option for uploading and marketing his book.
I was willing to employ Amazon’s services for my brother’s sake (he’s somewhat apolitical), but I didn’t like knowing I had so little choice. Just a couple of months ago I had cancelled my Amazon account – a feat which took me almost a week to complete, as the cancel function is nearly impossible to locate at the Amazon site and one is required to submit time-consuming requests, and hit special buttons, etc – because I was fed up with the Amazon attitude. I mean, there is abundant reason to shy away from the book-selling collossus, starting with the horror stories surrounding their workplace practices; their nose-tweaking insolence and just plain silliness regarding the use of drones to deliver books; their collaboration with the CIA in building a database – after the Snowden revelations; the creepy privacy intrusions of their algorithms; the nuissance DRM locks they place on e-books to prevent copying and conversion to other reading formats; the shock revelation that you are, in essence, not purchasing, but renting, a book from Amazon, which you may discover the hard way after you cancel your account. And I personally know an on-line entrepreneur from Perth who has spent upwards of $250,000 to defend against Amazon’s hostile attempted hijacking of her domain name.
So if corporations are now people, Amazon can seem to be what you might call a thug.
But the question remains, in this battle with the major publisher, Hachette, what is the battle about, and are their any victors other than the bottom-liners? Do readers benefit? Will writers be better off when all is said and said and said?
On the surface the issue seems fairly clear-cut. Hachette, like all the other hard copy publishers, wants to sell their e-books at a substantially higher rate — $14 –$ 20 a pop – than Amazon’s set policy price of $10. Hachette justifies its higher rates by pointing to its substantial overhead and to costs associated with discovering and promoting new writers. The extra revenue is, all in all, in support of the publishing industry’s so-called ‘ecosystem’ of manufacturing and distribution. Hachette does not deny that e-books themselves have relatively very little production costs compared to hard copy books, they just see the extra funds generated by inflated pricing as a form of subsidization of the corporate entity.
But this seems to be a real sticking point for Amazon. Aside from the fact that they don’t really give a shit about the woes of an anachronistic publishing industry who they see as competitors anyway, Amazon points to stats that seem to support their argument that lower prices are better and that higher pricing is actually counter-productive. For instance, Amazon told the bookseller.com, an industry newsletter,
We’ve quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated
measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book
would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99.
So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a
particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000
copies of that same e-book at $9.99.
Thus, according to this measurement, everyone wins, because more volume means more revenue generated for Amazon, the publishers and their authors. And it is easy to see how more fluidity among e-book sales would create a ripple-on effect in the sale of hard copy as well, since there would be more familiarity with the works out there. Hachette, or any other publisher, really cannot argue this point.
But here’s the thing. The book publishing industry has always been different than other corporate enterprises, in that there has never been an expectation of high profit yields, and many would argue that industry is still largely devoted to the continued dissemination of culture and that it implicitly pushes the meme: Books are important. It is this cultural aspect, the protective layer for art and culture, even amidst business principles, that Hachette uses to bolster its claim to keeping its eco-system intact in order to continue delivering that Greater Good.
However, people like bestselling author Richard Russo, who also heads the Author’s Guild, whose job it is to protect the interests of writers, worries that Amazon, though seeming to offer good deals to readers and writers alike, has no interest in supporting the culture that is the backbone of the publishing industry. Says Russo,
We want Jeff Bezos to say, “We share your beliefs, we’re all
in this together.” Yet even that simple statement—which
would mean so much—hasn’t come. We’ve heard nothing.
But the shocking fact is, Amazon doesn’t necessarily care any more about the books it sells than any of its other purchaseable commodities. Why would it, asks Jason Diamond of Flavorwire, “when you consider that books don’t even make up ten percent of Amazon’s $75 billion in total yearly revenue.” The reality is that Amazon is more closely related to what eBay does than what book publishers do.
In the end, it is the projection of attitude that most offends. When Amazon released an app that allowed consumers to go into a local bookseller’s shop and read the barcode
off shelved books and compare to Amazon prices, many were deeply offended by the underlying message of this tactic. As the New York Times weighed in, the battle with Hachette has led Amazon to engage in behavior that engages it critics’ worst suspicions:
Now Amazon is raising prices, removing ordering buttons,
lengthening shipping times and monkeying with
recommendation algorithms. Do these sound like the moves
of a man who cares about customers above all else?
No, it sure doesn’t. And since those delays and tactics slow sales and turn off readers, they hurt writers as well. Even my brother is offended by these predations and wants to take his memoirs elsewhere. Luckily, there are alternatives, like draft2digital and ganxy, where he can flout his comparably honorable days of fleecing the banks.
Blue undulating ocean at dawn length of stage. It is
the channel between Cottesloe Beach and Rottnest
Island. Stage left a jut from Cottesloe. Stage
Right a jut from Rottnest.
From Rottnest jut we can make out the figure in
shadow staring out at the channel.
From Cottesloe jut two middle aged women, FRAN and
MAY stand at a coin-operated viewer looking out
The faint sound of a didgeridoo can be heard.
Overhead drones are flying in the distance,
occasionally explosions can be vaguely heard.
Oh Fran, I’m so excited. I’ve wanted to do this swim for
Looks through the viewfinder.
Look at all those people out there already, all those
boats. There must be a thousand people on that beach over
there. Christ, it’s like an invasion. Have a look,Fran.
FRAN, somewhat less excited,looks through the
What can you see?
Heaps of people alright. It’s a bigger island than I
What else can you see, Fran? Can you see any quokkas?
FRAN looks up, rather alarmed.
Quokkas? No, I can’t see any quokkas. And we didn’t some
all the way from Sydney to see a bunch of, well, rats —
— quokkas —
— quokkas, rats, whatever. My point is we’ve come to see
the Genet. It’s such a splendid idea to stage his work in
that locale; it’ll be so different.
Oh I know. I only wish Cate could be there for
(exaggerated accent) Les Paravents. She was so marvelous
in The Maids.
Indeed she was. And Isabelle was so lovely as well.
Australia puts out such wonderful actors.
Oh yes, we really are the Lucky Country in that respect.
(suddenly pensive) Although it’s a shame what happened to
Heath. Bloody New York.
Now, May we mustn’t lay the blame on New York. Some of
these actors, you know, well, they have secret sides to
them; they can be self-indulgent.
Oh but I don’t Cate is like that, surely.
By the way, did you say Les Paravents? I read somewhere
that it was to be Les Nègres.
Les Nègres? Hm. I don’t know that one.
It’s the one with the clowns.
Oh yes, that one. (petulant) Well,I do hope it’s Les
Paravents. I’m in no mood for clowns, Fran. And I do so
love the idea of staging a play in a graveyard.It’s such
Yes, that should be interesting.
Do you think the Aborigines will mind? I mean they say so
much awful stuff has happened out there. But it’s so
clever,isn’t it, to make swimming out there part of the
admission ticket to the play. Can you imagine, Fran, if
we had to swim to the opera house?
A gun sounds.
Oh quick, May, come; that’s the starting pistol. We
I do hope we make it alright. I haven’t had a good swim
in years, Fran.
Eyes on the prize, May. Come, come.
The didgeridoo continues to play, but now it is
overlaid with the sound of laughter, splashing,
bullhorns, mateship in play. The light on the
Cottelsloe jut dims and one lights up the figure
standing at the Rotto jut. It is an ELDER from the
Here they come. You could start with the naming. Some
European calling our quokkas rats and then saying of
this place: it’s paradise. And calling it Rat’s Nest
island. What kind of paradise is mad with dog-sized rats?
Here they come. What kind of people would take a paradise
and turn it into a hell hole of depravity and suffering
meted out on black human flesh? Here they come. You could
start with the naming. This black. This white. We did
not know what black was until the European showed up with
his white and black measurements of power. To look down
at my skin and see not a frame and boundary, the vessel
of my being, but shit and carcass and hell. Here they
come. You could start with the naming. Replacing our
world with maps and deeds and ink on paper, parceling us
out an offcut, southwest of the aptly-named Circumcision
line, our world the discarded foreskin of the bloodengorged European cock. Here they come. You could start
with the naming. The Quad and the Rottnest Lodge and
luxury rooms that pillow muffle the ancient screams and
rattled chains of blacks who did not know they were black
until they knew the white. Here they come. You could
start with the naming. The Rottnest Swim that began as
white man’s proof that abs could escape from this hellish
paradise by swimming the channel. Here they come. You can
hear them all the way from Freo, 20 kilometers away, with
their horns and laughter and indifferent joy, breaking
the waves, with that freestyle crawl they pinched from a
black man. Here they come. Each visit a new invasion, a
new intervention, white on black, old wounds new. Here
they come to Wajemup. If you want to start with the
The light over the ELDER dims. The channel seems
effervescent. One sees images of many swimmers
plying against waves that seem alive and swirl with
cells seen under a microscope combined with
Aboriginal dot painting. Pop music grows louder as
sailing vessels enter stage left. One hears
Australian Crawl’s “Oh no, not you again” very loud
as a ferry moves quickly across the stage. The ferry
is shaped liked the Titanic. Just as the ferry is
about to exit stage right, the music fades some, and
a sailboat enters from stage left. It is a replica
or sorts of Hieronymus Bosch’s painting “Ship of
Fools.” Three Aussie blokes (JOHNNO, NIGEL, and
DOMINIC) and two sheilas (SONYA and BELINDA) play
around raucously as the boat makes its way slowly
across the stage. Then FRAN and MAY enter stage
left swimming slowly but steadily. They see the
God, I hope they aren’t going to see the Genet.
Don’t worry, May, they aren’t swimming. They won’t be
allowed. No one’s ever crashed a Genet play.
Oh but, Fran, didn’t they almost close down Les
Paravents, because of the Arab scenes?
That was different, May. Besides, look at them. Why would
those blokes want to see the Genet?
The sailboat, with the yobbos singing the chorus
from “Oh no, not you again,” exits stage right.
I guess you’re right. I don’t think we’ll be seeing that
lot at the Genet.
When the women are nearly across “the channel,” MAY
looks back and sees, entering stage left, a bathtub
moving steadily across. There is a man, PHILLIPPE,
laying in the tub motionless.
Eek, what’s that!
FRAN looks back, studying for a moment.
What in God’s name?
What is it, Fran?
Why that man is dressed like Antonin Artaud as Marat,
murdered in his bath tub.
Oh dear, that can’t be a good omen. Surely, he can’t be
going to see the Genet?
PHILIPPE stirs in his tub.
Oh, he’s moving.
Good English, but accented.
Bonjour, good ladies. (to FRAN) You are very astute. How
could you tell so rea-dily that I was playing Artaud
playing Marat? Are you a critic? Perhaps you have a
Well, yes, I am quite a fan of the old silents, but more
a fan of Artaud.
You are? I don’t think I ever knew that about you. Why,
Fran? It seems so arbitrary.
Indeed. (to MAY) And what is your name?
May I call you May?
Mais oui. And what’s your name?
I am Phillippe.
Hold on here before I barf. This is not going according
to Hoyle. Why are you flirting with this man? You’ve only
just met him.
MAY looks at PHILLIPPE then returns to her swimming.
Are you two ladies on vacation?
(calling back over her shoulder to
We’re going to see the Genet!
I see. Me too.
But you’re in a tub. You’re breaking the rules. They
won’t let you in.
Well, I guess we’ll see about that.
How do you move that thing?
I have a small motor attached.
By the way, do you know which Genet they’re staging? I
was under the impression it was Les Paravents, but May
seems to think it will be Les Nègres?
It is a bit of a mystery. They want to keep us guessing
Why are you going about in a tub? It seems odd, even
under the circumstances.
It’s just something I do. I once sailed from Dunkirk to
Dover on a boat made of wax paper, even the sails. My
wife–at the time–took the Chunnel, which is,of course,
The women exit stage right swimming. MAY calls back.
Au revoir! See you at the Genet!
PHILLIPPE returns to his Artaud posture.
Qui suis-je ?
D’où je viens ?
Je suis Antonin Artaud
et que je le dise
comme je sais le dire
vous verrez mon corps actuel
voler en éclats
et se ramasser
sous dix mille aspects
un corps neuf
où vous …
He is startled.
The tub is about half way across the channel. Ahead
PHILLIPPE sees a woman and a young boy rising out of
the water and approaching the Rotto shore. They
don’t appear to be swimming but gliding along.
C’est quoi ce bordel?!!
On the shore of Rotto. A welcome arch for swimmers.
A local Aboriginal brother and sister, late 20s,
COBAR and BURILDA stand near the arch registering
arrivals. The Elder stands motionless, looking out
This way guys. Through the arch. Please make sure I tick
off your number.
Enter the blokes and sheilas.
Come on, girl. Give them the rego papers. Where you
hiding them? (pulls at her bikini)
Hoy! Bugger off. I’m not a Red Rooster drive-through,
Yeah, but Dom’s a drive-through cock. (The yobbos laugh.)
Whaddaya reckon, Johnno?
I reckon that’s a cock that crows more than three times
in the morning.
They laugh again.
At least I got one. You’re all soft serve, I reckon.
DOMINIC and SONYA make licking gestures.
Okay, guys, I’ve got your numbers. You can go through.
I got your number, Dom.
For fuck’s sake, stop stuffing around and let’s get to
the lodge. I need a drink, mate.
Which way to the Quad, mate?
Just that way, follow the signs.
Hey, mate, did a tall red-headed guy come through here
Daryl was on the ferry, mate.
Everyone from the ferry has already gone through.
Come on, mate. I’m fuckin parched.
They exit. Enter FRAN and MAY.
Well, they were a rather raucous lot.
Trailer trash, most likely. I’m told Perth is full of the
Luckily they won’t be at the Genet.
Will you please stop saying that? We didn’t just come to
see the Genet, May. There’s heaps to do here apparently.
Yes, I hear they have a Dome. Let’s go there and sort it
Which way is the Dome?
The path to the left. Look, I don’t see any numbers. Did
you just swim over for the fun?
Ha! Not likely. We’ve come to see the Genet.
Right. Can I have a look at your Genet rego papers?
Your papers. Can you prove you have a right to attend
that event. It’s important that you have document that
proves it. You don’t expect us to take your word for it,
See here —
(BURILDA giggles. Enter PHILLIPPE
dragging his tub.)
Are you having a go?
Madame, don’t worry, he is joking. Can’t you tell?
He’s joking? He;s joking about what? I don’t understand.
Terra nullius, madame. Terra nullius.
Terra nullius? What the fack does the Genet have to do
with terra nullius? You could tell that’s hat he meant
from there? And you’re French. What wold you know about
terra nullius? And what’s so fackin funny about terran
Don’t be upset, please. Yes, I am French, and of that
type that delights in the whims of irony; a connoisseur.
As for terra nullius, well naturally, I visit a place
like this Rotto I want to know some history, or at least
enough so that I can investigate further and interrogate
the given. I —
Ooh, are you a detective?
No, madame, not a detective. I am an intellectual and,
if I may say so, a poet. (MAY swoons. FRAN looks around
You were having a go? That has to be the most obnoxious
Oh, Fran, come on, it doesn’t matter. Let’s head off to
Dome. (to PHILLIPPE) Would you like to come?
Never mind that. May, you go on ahead.
You stay away from her, Monsieur Smart Arse. She’s mine.
Very clever, but rather cruel. They are harmless
There are no harmless bourgeoise. They make all the shit
normal. You must know that, being French, and of that
Ouch,what a bite. And so articulate.
You mean for a negress?
I mean no such thing. You are so sensitive. I like that.
But I see that it has made you so angry. What a shame.
That’s what I mean: You jump. You are so reactionary. No,
I mean it is a shame because that couple, that couple you
and your — (waits for BURILDA to offer up COBAR’s
relation to her, and when she doesn’t he continues) —
well, they may be — no, no, they are bourgeoise, as you
say, but not worth trifling with. I think you need to
pick your battles, as they say, because it’s an endless
war. (pauses) And if I may say so, you are quite
beautiful, and your fury strangles the otherwise placid
lifelines of your face. We French —
She attacks him and before long puts flat on his
back and sits on his chest.
He makes no effort to get up.
And you? (looks at COBAR)
You Nyungar are so headstrong. How did you ever manage to
lose your land to the British? They can be so slow and
It was genocide —
By halitosis. Three months of eating fish and gruel.
Even the local bacteria vacated the premises.
MOTHER and CHILD enter slowly.
Who are they? They are not wearing swim wear but they are
soaking wet, so they must have come out of the water.
COBAR and BURILDA look at each other. The Elder
turns to PHILLIPPE.
You can see them?
Well, but of course. They are standing right there.
(to the MOTHER)
Where are you from?
I’m from America. Boston.
Why have you come here, spirit?
We’ve come to see the famous quokkas.
To replay what happened until I understand.
Ah, yes, Nietzsche called that resentiment — the
feelings that won’t let go, that cling and strangle.
BURILDA releases PHILLIPPE and climbs off him. The
CHILD runs off, the MOTHER following laboriously
So you heard her, too?
C’mon, of course. Are you making fun of me, too. Like
with the ladies? Is that your hobby?
It’s just that she’s not alive, not real; she’s a spirit.
And very few people can see her and even fewer hear her.
PHILLIPPE registers perplexity and scepticism.
We must talk. You could be a European I can trust.
The MOTHER calling her CHILD can be heard off in the
distance, growing more frantic.
Somewhere in the middle of the island. Trees, dense
underbrush. A clearing with a yarran tree in the
middle. It is the same “Ship of Fools” tree from the
channel crossing. The buzz of bees coming from the
tree. In the background, behind the trees, a series
of screens is set up and we see the silhouettes of
what appear to be five 6-foot rats shadow dancing
rhythmically, meaningfully. Enter the CHILD, who
sits and watches. We hear the MOTHER calling for
him. Then she enters and quietly sits next to him,
and they watch the pantomine play for a minute or
so. We see there is another giant rat behind the
screens as well, but bounding high, not seemingly a
member of the pack, judging from his movements. Then
the creatures come out from behind the screens and
begin dancing in a ritual around the yarran tree.
Although, the bounding creature remains behind the
We hear a soundtrack reminiscent of Stravinsky’s
Rite of Spring.
Mother, look: giant quokkas!
Not quite. Or, rather, yes. But they are in disguise.
See, they are wearing masks.
Yes,I see, but what kind of mask, mother, and why?
They quokkas dresses as genets.
You mean the quokka is pretending to be a genet?
I don’t know dear. It seems to have something to do with
that tree they’re going around.
It’s a special tree, then?
Yes. Look at all the bees swarming around like crazy.
And look, mother,you can see a river of red honey flowing
down from the top of the tree. Oh dear!
What is it?
Near the top, mother, is that a skull hidden in the
I don’t think so, love. It looks like a beehive to me.
I’m gonna go look.
The CHILD runs toward the tree.
No! Come back.
The CHILD runs through a gap in the dancing and
climbs the tree heading for the hive. The beebuss
briefly grows louder, then fades away altogether.
(grabbing at honey, licking his fingers)
Oh mother this is so yum.
The MOTHER runs forward to retrieve him. But the
quokka/genets knock her down.
(sees her on the ground)
The creatures creep closer to the tree. The
terrified CHILD climbs higher. The creatures shake
The bounding quokka/genet comes bouncing out on a
pogo stick, trying to make distracting sounds.
One creature’s eyes light up red and he makes a
gesture that knocks the bounder off his pogo stick.
He crawls over to comfort the near-hysterical
The creatures continue shaking the tree, until
finally the boys slips down and they grab him. They
solemnly carry him away, behind the screens, and
The bounder’s mask is partially pulled away,
revealing a human in costume.
Who and what are you?
I am Genetta Genetta.
The MOTHER faints in the bounder’s arms. We hear a
snatch of David Bowie’s “Jean Jeannie”. Then…
All is silent except for a growing buzz as the bees
return and the distinctive sound of a percussive
The Quad in darkness. We hear the sounds of galahs
and kookaburras, but also drones heading toward
China, and the occasional distant explosion.
Light comes up. We see guest room doors all around
the Quad. Two maids, with cleaning wagon, are in
front of one door gossiping.
In the back we see five tall screens set up and
behind them the silhouettes of five trees with
bodies hanging from them. Vaguely we can hear Billy
Holiday singing “Strange Fruit.”
In the middle of the Quad, a circular pit with steel
bars through which giant animal arms flail to get
out. A paper flame (streamers) of red and yellow
streams upward from the pit like a lit fire.
Occasionally, we hear moans from the pit and screams
from the rooms, but the maids and local musician pay
no attention. This effect continues throughout the
We see two men sitting at picnic table being served
beer by a waitress and quietly having their orders
Closer to front stage is a tall red-headed man,
DARYL,a friend to the yobbos. He is reading a book,
Anzac Memories, and nursing a beer.
Overhead is a screen that will project images at the
We hear the boisterous approach of the swimmers.
Enter JOHNNO, NIGEL, DOM, SONYA, BELINDA, as a
group, followed by the Sydneysiders, FRAN and MAY,
and then BURILDA and COBAR.
COBAR walks to a busker spot in a corner and idles
with a guitar.
This is more like it. Let’s grab a seat and relax.
They sit at a table.
I’m getting a beer.
Oh sit down, Belinda, and relax. A waiter will be along.
Fack that. I can’t wait.
She receives several orders for beer.
Wood’m oy yoor woytruss now?
They all laugh. Look around.
Well, this looks okay.
Haven’t you been here before, mate?
Oh, yeah, but it was awhile ago and we stayed at the
Oh this is better here, mate. The feckin barracks is a
dive compared to this.
I heard these rooms are haunted and shit from the
colonial days or some shit.
Oh yeah. They hung some abos here, and allkinds of other
shit, but that’s ancient history. Don’t give it another
thought. We came here to holiday, mate, not moan over
some ancient feckin atrocity. If even it even feckin
That’s what i was thinking, too. I mean, who knows? Just
who the feck knows?
Belinda reurns with the beers. They all take long
I told the barkeep to send out some pitchers, so drink
up, more’s on the way, mates.
She sees DARYL.
Hey, Daryl, the party’s over here. Get over here and join
He gets up with a greet ing and goes over to join
What the feck are reading? I never took you for the
literry type, mate.
(Holds up the book.)
Oh that’s alright, mate. Can’t forget our diggers.
Look you lot what I brought with me. (he retrieves a
duffel bag.) You’re going to like this.
DARYL proceeds to pull from the duffle bag the
carcass of a small, skinned lamb.
Jayzuz, mate. You brought that over on the ferry with
you? I’m surprised you didn’t cop it.
From a copper.
They all laugh.
Yeah and I see that they’ve got a nice fire going over
there, so I’m gonna go put her on the spit and get her
going, what’s say?
Good on ya, mate. I’m feckin famished.
DARYL carries the carcass over to the pit and places
the lamb on the spit. He summons a waiter and
quietly directs him to keep it rotating.
Daryl is such a card. Who the feck brings a lamb on a
boat ride to Rotto?
Light dims on the yobbos and lights up
the maids in animated conversation.
I came that fuckin close to telling Missy what she could
do with her job. She’s always like, “I’m sick and tired
of hearing complainst about your shoddy housecleaning
skills. You should see the suggestion box.” And I’m
thinking like, Missy you know what you can do with your
suggestion box. Stick it up your box. That’s my
The second maid titters.
I mean, come on. And then she says, “If you want to live
like a pig at home that’s your business, but these poiple
have paid good money to stay here and they deserve a
little cleanliness. If you can’t pick up your game,
you’re gonna have to find another job.”
Oy know, Missy’s such a bitch. Oy could kill her
soomtoims. “Do this. Hurry up. What have you got a
hernia? You move like an old loidy.”
As the lights dim on them, we hear the yobbos
singing a rousing stanza from “Waltzing Matilda.”
The light comes up on them.
Let’s get this guy with the guitar to sing a few songs.
(Nods at the Aboriginal busker)
(to the busker)
Hoy, mate,how about playing some tunes. You’re not busy,
right. Your just sitting there.
(Gets up and puts a fiver in the buskers
Here you go, mate. That should get you started. Know any
No, I’m afraid not. I can play some Crowded House.
There’s a general groan at the table.
We don’t want to hear from those poofters, mate. Play
Okay, I know a song I think you will like.
He kicks a button with his foot and begins to faux
strum to piped in “Bound for Botany Bay.” They don’t
notice that he is obviously lip-syncing.
As he finishes they clap and whistle.
Well done, mate. Very professional sound. Have you
thought of recording.
Oh you should definitely put a record out or a CD or
whatever. That was great, mate. You’re a real credit to
Hear. Hear.It takes a special talent to play that song
right. That’s an important tune in our history, mate.
That talks about the convicts going from being shipmates
In the belly of the beast, mind you —
— shipmates to mateship —
That’s it,Johnno, well said: shipmates to mateship. We’re
still on that voyage together. Once mates, always mates.
Don’t fuck with the Oz.
You know,we’re not all white devils, mate. I mean in
those eearly days some evil shit went down and I feel bad
about that, but,you know you have to get over it.
You have to.
For your sanity.
Nah, no point in dwelling on it. Besides, since
Mabo,let’s face it, mate, you people have had it pretty
easy peasy. I mean,it took awhile, but you finally became
a landlord and started collecting rent.
What’s you name?
That’s a gorgeous name. Well, anyway, Cobar, how do you
like being a landlord now?Do you like that?
(with a growly voice)
Not going to evict us now, are you, mate?
They all laugh.
I don’t know. They probably still wouldn’t take you back,
They all laugh.
Have a beer with us, mate.
Yeah anyone can play Botany like that.
Enter PHILLIPPE. He’s carrying the MOTHER. He places
her in a chair. She begins to rouse.
Can I have everyone’s attention, please. Please. This
woman’s son has gone missing.
They all look around for the MOTHER, but can’t see
Who are you talking about, mate? We don’t see anyone. You
Yeah, have a beer, mate. You must be having delusions.
No,isten, can’t you hear her crying out?
MOTHER wails profusely, loudly. Slowly, some kind of
awareness of her presence develops.
I don’t hear anyone. Is this a game?
No, shh. There’s something. Listen.
They all strain to hear. MOTHER wails hysterically.
You still can’t see her? She is sitting right here.
They all look to where he’s pointing and slowly as
they stare she appears to them and there is a
commotion. MOTHER continues to wail about her loss.
She can be heard by the audience but not by the
characters (except PHILLIPPE and the aboriginal cast
Tha’s feckin creepy.
Okay, what did you say your name was?
DYou were saying about an abduction of a child?
Yes. This woman before you has had her child abducted.
Just a few minutes ago, actually.
The yobbos rise up.
Where? Who did it? What did they look like?
Apparently, they were, uh, black fellows of some sort. I
didn’t really understand that part myself.
A nigger took her child? (growing visibly angry)
I don’t know really. She just said some dark figures.
Some niggers took this poor woman’s child.
There is an escalation of emotions.
Oh they’re a violent lot.
They’re rapists and pedos.
Out sniffing petrol half the day.
Don’t ever bathe.
Weird ass gods.
Lighting grows dimmer, red, occasional strobing like
a loose wire. The yobbos repeat what they’ve said,
growing louder and faster, like auctioneers. Until
their different voices, different registers become a
fugue of sounds instead of utterances. The overhead
sceen is playing the kangaroo cull scene from the
movie Wait in Fright. One by one they yell out:
Kill the poofters!
Kill the fatal feminists!
Kill the poly wogs!
Kill the swampy Asians!
Kill the Mabo Abo!
Kill Kill the other Other!
They all form a swarm, including waitress, barkeep
and maids, and move around the Quad like bees.
Furies. Now chanting, in military cadence,
(all together) Waltzing, waltzing, waltzing
(Dom, on a beat) Ma-till-da!
They exit, amidst the general alarm, in a kind of
MOTHER gets up and walks over the pit. The moans the
silhouettes of five treesgrow louder and more
During following monologue MOTHER’s accent changes
from American to British as she describes each
You murdered my boy in Boston, put an arrow through his
head, in a turf war over drugs. You murdered my boy again
in Manchester, a casualty of fiery riots and looting.
Dark, savage energies, un-tameable. The feral velocity of
predation. The psychopathic objectifying. You can see it
in the eyes: Your’re mine, you’re mine!
Screen shows close-ups of the eyes of the cullers
from previous Wake in Fright clip; a
But what’s worse than this grief is the loss of
compassion, the coonective tissue of pity that
understands in one glance how difficult it is to be.
Terror begets terror, an endless war of attrition, eye
for an eye for an eye.
The moans grow louder, the flailing more insistent.
She leans on despair against the spit for a moment,
then bends down and unlocks the cage.
Giant quokkas climb out. MOTHER falls back, in
despair, into PHILLIPPE’s embrace. The quokkas
proceed to the screens, go behind them, and take
down the bodies, and disappear, leaving behind 5 Y
The lights dim.
The Quad, later that day. PHILLIPPE sits with MOTHER
at a table in silence. The lamb on the spit is
charcoal and smoky and fills the air with the smell
of burnt flesh. A commotion is heard. The vigilantes
have returned. They are dragging behind them in a
net the bounder Genetta Genetta.
Belinda, go and get us some beers. We know how to deal
with this prick.
They take the net off and lay the bounder across a
picnic table for interrogation. His arms and legs
Make a mess.
You dare put your hands on a child. Well, you’re gonna
tell us what you did with him.
And what you did to him.
Make a mess.
You’re gonna tell us everything and more.
But not right away, slowly. Take your toym, mate. The
BELINDA and a waitress return with several beers and
JOHNNO who has been observing, with growing silent
rage, begins to take something out of his knapsack.
It is a massive chalice and a folded up circle of
Who wants to go first?
Let me have first go, Dom. I know how to deal with these
Make a mess.
(to the bounder)
Do you know what they used to call me back in the Viet
How’s he supposed to know that,love?
Honey,it’s a figure of speech.
They used to call me Johnny Jungle Fuck.
The others laugh.
Well are you going to stand their beating your chest,
Johnny Jungle Fuck, or are you going to deliver us from
You know, the CIA waterboarded Abu Zubaydah 83 times and
that tough guy ended up writing poetry to his
Sounds kind of kinky.
Wish someone would write moy a poem.
Oh this guy’s gonna write the fuckin Odyssey. (to
waitress) Take this and put some water in it, will you,
love? (Hands her the chalice.)
Maybe we should let the police handle this.
The yobbos laugh.
(to the policeman seated a few tables
away, reading a newspaper)
Whaddaya reckon, Danny? Do we take this black bastard to
trial? (more laughter.)
Don’t distract me, mate, I’m busy looking the other way.
The waitress goes off with the chalice.
Come on, Johnno, make a mess.
Yeah, come on. He’s got to pay for what he did.
Just look at the black bastard. Just look at him. He
looks like a giant rat.
The WAITRESS returns with the chalice, water
sloshing over the sides. JOHNNY takes it from her.
Okay,hold him tight now. I’ve got to just lay this
eucharest over his face and the festivities begin.
Eucharist? What the fuck is going on?
Oh yeah, mate. Back in the ‘Ghan we’d go on a night ride
— I think I did moybe 20 per tour and I did seven tiurs,
so you do the math — and we’d breach some towelhead’s
little shithole of a house in the middle of the night
–usually around 3, that’s the reco — and, maaaaate,
they’d be all squirrely with fear, the little fat wife
and runty little kids, but then we’d lay out Islam’s
clown and bring out the eucharist and chalice, and they
got the idea right away, they’d see the conversion kit,
and you could see it in their eyes, the desperation, and
I’d lay the eucharist over his face and then pour the
water wine over his face, and —
That sounds pretty fucked up, actually.
Well, did it work?
Did it work? What do you think? Follow Jew boy Jesus? Ha!
Within five minutes he’d tell you about every goat he
ever lusted after. Watch this.
He pours water from the chalice over the face of the
bounder, who had been semi-conscious.
See, what did I tell you? Like a charm. (to BOUNDER)
Roight. Now you’re gonna start by telling us who the fuck
you are and then we’ll go on from there.
I’m John Pilger. I’m John Pilger. Now let me up.
There is a general gasp.
The BOUNDER begins to peel away his quokka costume.
The others begin ripping away at it.A few moments
later, a tall man in a white suit emerges from the
quokka debris. It is John Pilger. He stands up.
Like I said, I’m John Pilger.
An applause track is heard, such as when a celebrity
cameos a sit-com.
(unimpressed, grabbing at the BOUNDER)
Oy. I’m gonna do you twoice,you un-Austrayan troubleshit.
(standing up, coming over)
Now, Johnno, let him go, mate. It wouldn’t boy very
democratic to kill off the left in one fell swoop.
Besides, nobody cares. He lives in England now.
He can swim back there, if you ask moy. Put his lot in
with the bloody pommies.
Now, Belinda, we still do have a governor general. We
haven’t exactly cut the cord yet.
Governor general. Puh. Useless title. Empty.
You reckon? Better tell that to poor ol’Gough.
Oh yeah, well, that poofter had it coming, didn’t he.
(lets PILGER go)
Well, would someone tell me what the feck is goin on
What’s going here is you jumped me for no good reason.
Aw mate, you fit the description: black.
But I’m not black, am I. In any case, what right have you
to jump me, without cause, and drag me away, and commence
to torture me without so much as an accusation and chance
Well, that’s just too bad. Something very serious has
happened here — a child has disappeared — and we
couldn’t just sit here hoping it all ended well. There
was no time for due process, if that’s what you’re
getting at, we had to act, alife was at stake.
Oh fuck it,I’m with Johnno.I say do him anyway. Feckin
So you think you have the god-given right to intervene
wherever you please and just paly God with other people’s
A life was at risk.
Was? Is the person you were looking for dead?
We don’t really know. We never found him. We’re just
going by what that lady over there told us. Came in here
screaming her kid had been nicked by a blackie,and then
we saw you, and here we are.
PILGER looks around toward where JOHNNO was
pointing. The others are unsettled.
I mean, that’s where you come in. You fit the
description. How were we to know it was a skin. And, by
the way,why are you dressed as a fuckin quokka?
Sometimes it’s useful to stand in another man’s skin to
I thought that was a mocassin.
Anyway, I reckon we’d a had the information out of you
So you don’t even know if the child is alive or dead? You
don’t even know for sure that there is a child?
That lady Yank over there —
— British —
The whole group is now looking in the direction of
PHILLIPPE, where they expected to find the MOTHER
seated too, but although still seated next to
PHILLIPPE they can no longer see her.
Loik I said, will someone ploise tell me wot the feck is
The lady vanished.
Wodda yule moyn she’s deesapeared, moyt? You better
start making sense.
You could be in trouble here if you don’t start
explaining. Wild goose chasesmay be cheeky fun back in
Paris but they’re against the law here, mate.
You know, it’s true, It’s weird, but true. I could have
sworn I saw her here when we first got back, but the she
suddenly wasn’t there.
Mm, it’s like the way she arrived. Kind of suddenly.
Out of thin air.
You wanted to see her before, because she was in pain.
So says you. Tell us this, poncey Paris, do you see her
They all look at him anticipating an answer.
I’m not sure what I see or don’t see any more.
O joyzuz, look at the lamb.
It’s lump of black charcoal.
And what a smell.
Oh fuck it. Time for a beer.
Time to turn in, if you ask me.
They all go in separate directions, exiting into
rooms, out of the Quad, etc. Except for PHILLIPPE
and MOTHER who continue to sit at the table.
Why? Why did they kill my baby?
O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark…
The lights go down.
A room in the Quad. On the bench a kettle on low
heat whistles softly, but shrilly. FRAN and MAY are
getting ready for bed.
What a confusing day.
How do you mean?
What I mean is, we started out all excited in the morning
to see the Genet the next day and have a swim to Rotto,
like everyone else, and next thing you know we’re in the
middle of a Hercules Poiret affair. Very weird, really.
It was rather exciting, wasn’t it?
And to jump and accost that poor man. What was his name
Yes. Well, wearing a quokka suit was weird, I must
admit. I don’t know what that was all about. But why
torture him? That Johnno was just a dreadful beast.
Well people do get caught up. I mean, even you and I were
fired up when they swarmed together to hunt down that
Who didn’t exist.
Who didn’t exist this time. That’s true.
Oh but the torture, Fran.
Fran begins fiddling with some material in an open
suitcase. She pulls out what appears to be a
uniform and a leash.
Oh come on now. I saw your face. (seductively) The lady
did make love to it. When he screamed your eyes lit up
like hardened diamonds in a spotlight. It was quite a
turn-on to see you like that.
FRAN begins to put on the jailer’s uniform
Fran, not now, not tonight. I feel so confused.
You didn’t seem too confused when the Frenchman bounced
his beachball eyes at you.
Come on, love. Get on the gear.
MAY begins stripping down, then pulls out a costume
from her own suitcase. It is a bright orange smock
with lots of velcro seams. She puts it on.
Ooh, I think I’ve put on some weight, Fran.
Nonsense, you look lovely. Botticelli.
Botticelli? In a velcro suit?
If he were alive today.
FRAN grabs the desk chair and places it in the
middle of the room. She climbs upon it and attaches
the end of a leash to the light fixture. Meanwhile,
MAY puts on a dog collar. She holds a hood in her
Okay, love, up you go.
MAY climbs upon the chair. FRAN attaches the leash
to the collar and adjusts it.
Go on. Put it on.
MAY puts on the hood. The chair wobbles slightly and
Oh that’s lovely.
FRAN turns off the other lights, so that only the
light above MAY is lit.
Are you ready?
She goes to the light switch and dims the light low.
The houselights slowly grow dark. We hear the sound
of velcro ripping and a happy sound.
How do you feel now?
I feel Genet. I feel Genet.
Inside the rather rustic interior of the Quad pub.
It has an Old West eel to it. At the back there are
swinging doors. MOBY, a lone Nyoongar man, sits at
the bar, a paper bag in front of him. The BARKEEP is
dressed as a clown and leaned over the bar, bored. A
TV reports the winner of the Rotto channel swim with
lots of hyped up excitement. In the back, NIGEL and
DARYL play ‘ping pong’, but they each have paddles
with a ball strung to it, and though they move in
anticipation of each others shots, they are actually
playing with themselves. We can hear drones overhead
and occasional explosions. At a table front and
center a group of men — BLAINEY, MANNE, HUGHES and
BOLT — are busy drinking and hashing out The
History Wars, but we can’t hear what they are saying
yet; likewise, we can the clickety-click of the
paddles, but not the ensuing conversation between
the players. That changes as a spotlight emphasizes
the action of each section, one at a time. Overhead
is a projection screen.
Mate,let me have another one. (he pushes the bag toward
Moby, your missus almost cut off my balls last time you
came in here and binged.
Don’t be a poof, mate. Get me another bag.
The BARKEEP reluctantly fetches a spray bottle
filled with petrol and prays a measured amount into
the paper bag. Takes a note from MOBY’s stash at the
I don’t like this, Moby. Your missus will have me strung
(waving him quiet))
She’s not even home. Gone to see the rellies. No worries.
(pauses) Can you turn that box of galahs off? I’m getting
a headache, mate.
BARKEEP picks up the remote and turns off the TV.
Well, what are your plans this weekend? Do you have
anyone to keep you on the straight and narrow? What are
you gonna get up to?
The straight and narrow.(smiles) What am I gonna get up
to? (takes a heavy inhale of the paper bag.)
A clip from the movie The Lost Weekend appears. It
is the barroom scene where the Ray Milland drunkard
is about to tell the barkeep his story. MOBY and
Milland speak the following word at the same time,
MOBY even imitating Milland’s finger summons
gesture. Then, after “C’mere” is uttered, the
screens shows a phantasmagorical set of images that
is like the space gate in 2001: A Space Odyssey but
with Aboriginalpatterns and designs.
The spotlight drops from bar area and now pingpong
table is lit up and we can hear the banter.
Listen to them.
Wot that poncey lot over there carrying on about Abo this
and Abo that and the tyranny of distance?
No, no, not that.(he laughs at the notion) No, the drones
overhead. A couple of years ago people barely knew what a
drone was, fewer fuckin cared, but listen to them, there
must be hundreds. There like fuckin locusts, mate.
Gonna get us all fuckin killed. Those fuckin Chinks are
just up the road, mate. Obama’s all happy horsey in his
White House, directing the drones with a joystick from
there, ten thousand fuckin miles away, mate.
Well this is just an exercise. Nothing to get worked up
about. It’ll blow over. The Yanks are just rattling their
Rattling their swords with the Chinese? That’s heaps
smart. Maybe they oughta go check out that Tarrantino
— Kill Bill?
Kill Bill. Too right. Fuckin flippin in the air upside
down and shit. HWAH!
DARYL makes a sudden dart as if playing a
particularly tough shot from NIGEL.
Nice one, mate. (pause) Anyway, it’s almost over, the
exercise, the Yanks will be packing it in in another day.
It’s gonna get worse, mate, and Perth is a fair dinkum
target — well, Freo, thanks to the collosal stupidity of
hosting the US Navy fleet. You mark my words, this won’t
end until either the Great Wall is all rubble being sold
as keychains —
— well, the Yanks do like to make a buck —
— or the whole of Perth looks like the fuckin Wave Rock.
The spotlight leaves them and comes round to the
table of master debaters.
Well, I’m not saying there were no abuses. It started
with the injustice of casting away so many souls
thousands of nautical miles away from their homeland and
families and culture, for what would be regarded as mere
I mean, can you imagine if we started putting people back
into debtor’s prisons today?
Oh, come on Hughesy, that’s a rather gross
simplification, don’t you think? It’sknown and
established that a considerable number of their lot were
real riffraff. Some of them were what we’d call
psychopaths today. Who could blame England for wanting to
get rid of them?
No, I know all that; there’s no disputing that. But what
I’m saying, Boltsy, is that a certain climate was
attached to the whole affair. Transportation divided men
between prisoners and guards, and that’s proven to have
treacherous consequences —
Oh,I don’t know. It’s given us mateship, which helped
those poor buggers survive not only the miserable long
journey — I can only imagine what thoughts they had —
but also adjusting to this desolate place full of bizarre
and frightful creatures. I mean, can you imagine thelook
on some bloke’s face the first time he saw a kangaroo
bounding or had an emu coming at him?
They laugh. We see in the background MOBY order
Struth. But what we’re neglecting —
— Sorry, Bobby, let me just finish my point. So, I’m
saying the prison-guard mentality had consequences. Yes,
it may have given us so-called mateship, but that may not
be such a blessing after all. Not if you think of it as
inmate argot and self-rule, which trumps the greater
O shut the fuck up, Hughes, you fuckin plagiarist. Who
the feck would want to be your mate anyway?
My point to the rescue.
I hear what you’re saying, Hughesy, that prisoner
mentality, especially after such a traumatizing
experience, would no doubt have had social consequences,
but I think we’re looking at the wrong data set here.
We’re getting away from the fact that from the beginning
the whole intention of transportation was exploitation.
Colonial exploitation. And as far as England were
concerned, the most expedient and cost-effective means to
laying hands on the resources was not negotiation — see,
that’s where the tyranny of distance comes in — but by
just grabbing it away and worrying about the
consequences, if any, later.
Yes, of course, and it was a policy that led directly to
genocide and the policies of the Stolen Generations.
MOBY wants another round.
Now, come on, Bobby, you Jews have that genocide theme
suffused throughout your thinking. Shit happened, sure,
but shit happens.
Sing it, Bolty.
But you’re not saying the Holocaust never happened,
Come on, Bobby. Now you’re trying to frame an
anti-semitic angle. I’m just saying —
There is a loud crashing sound as the doors swing
open in the back and the spotlight sees a man
dressed in a black Western outfit strutting in,
spurs clanging. We hear the theme from the Good, the
Bad and the Ugly. All eyes on him.
Well fuck me sideways in a submarine. It’s Keith
Oh fuck me.
There is a massive applause, a popular celebrity has
made a cameo appearance.
He jingles forward, lean and mean, toward the
debaters. Stops several feet away, about halfway
between their table and where MOBY is seated.
Vinegar and piss?
Takes another step closer and eyes the quarry.
Gentlemen. See you’re consuming more of your precious
time talking the usual shit about genocide and stolen
BLAINEY gets up, ready to strike. MANNE restrains
Once again, let me reiterate: There was no genocide.
Now both BLAINEY and MANNE make as if to lunge at
WINDSCHUTTLE but get restrained by HUGHES,the three
tumble to the floor as a result. WINDSCHUTTLE lets
out a roaring laugh. MOBY sneaks up behind
WINDSCHUTTLE with a chair.
And there was no Stolen Generation!
Look out, Windy!
MOBY smashes a chair over WINDSCHUTTLE’S head.
Oh maaaaate, you are going to pay for that.
They approach the debaters. The BARKEEP throws up
his hands, turns on the TV, watches the cricket
As the lights dim, we hear the sounds of smashing
furniture, assorted grunts and groans, cowboys and
indians at war, the sound of drones.
COBAR’S room. He stands before a mirror naked in
semi-darkness. He holds a book and reads from it. A
soundtrack plays Miles Davis’ A Tribute to Jack
Johnson. On an overhead screen we see the twerking
behind of Miley Cyrus on a loop, which changes
toward the end of the reading to the wrinkles of a
black arsehole, which seems to pulsate, and then it,
too, changes into an animation of a black hole
sucking in everything.
My ‘enwhitenment’ begins. (pauses)
“I had studied the mirror, familiarised myself with the
selves revealed there, and seen myself teasingly revealed
as I descended, feet first. I have seen my feet as
prehensile. I have seen a foot nuzzling its partner’s
ankle, and my body weight balanced on a single stem like
some wading bird frozen with concentration. I saw how I
shimmered, just like the aliens do on the television, and
although a variety of images were shown, they were all of
a kind. I turned away, turned away from the mirror. I
turned my back, showed my black hole, that last aureole
of my colour, my black insides. To think this lured
grandfather! I had repeatedly taken him inside me, in
different ways, and it was always easy, like a joke, but
it terrified him now because he understood what it meant
that he shrivelled while he remained there.”
Kim Scott, Benang. Kim Scott, my favorite arsehole.
We hear a voice from the Miles Davis track,
“I’m Jack Johnson — heavyweight champion of the world!
I’m black! They never let me forget it. I’m black all
right; I’ll never let them forget it.”
Fade to black.
An unmarked graveyard on Rotto at dawn. A sign
reads: PITCH YOUR TENT HERE. Behind screens in the
back silhouettes of the same dancing quokka/genets
as earlier, performing a ritual dance but not the
same as before. They stop and pick up a four-foot
object. They come out from behind the screens
holding aloft the body of the CHILD wrapped in a
cocoon-like sheath. They proceed to carefully lower
the body into a hole in the center. They stand
looking down at the grave in silence. Then an earthshaking sound is heard, like the footsteps of
dinosaurs. Enter three stilt people. One wears part
business suit, part dress, and has two faces: half
Tony Abbott, half Pauline Hanson. The second stilt
person wears a miner’s outfit, with cave lamp hat,
and bearing a very large badge that reads: GO GO YOU
DIGGERS GO! The third stilt person is a stout
generic pommie wearing a union jack stovepipe hat.
Overhead we hear the drones buzzing. The
quokka/genets hear the stilt people coming. A brief
slapstick chase ensues, with quokkas running this
way and that and the stilt people trying to bonk
them over the heads with mallets. The chase moves
Enter FRAN and MAY.
Are you sure this is the place? It doesn’t look like a
graveyard. I don’t see any markers.
Well, that’s what the maid said: just look for the signs
saying TENTS HERE.
I don’t see any tents either.
Probably not the season. Or maybe it’s not popular
because of all the quokkas running around. Who knows?
But this looks like the place alright.
Others enter, the ELDER, with CORAB and BURILDA, the
yobbos, the BARKEEP, WINDSCHUTTLE and the debaters,
MONSIGNOR SEAN O’SHEA, and the MOTHER, although she
cannot be seen right away by anyone except the
ELDER, who watches her move to the grave site and
stand. Other extras also enter.
(observing the entry of the yobbos)
What are they doing here? Surely they didn’t come to
Rottnest to see the Genet.
Dunno, dear. All I know is that Aboriginal bloke we saw
at the arch when we arrived just invited everyone to come
to the graveyard for a ceremony.
But what about the Genet?
Before FRAN can answer, COBAR draws everyone’s
attention with a megaphone.
Thank you everyone for coming. We’re glad you could make
it for this ceremony. We won’t keep you long. I promise.
There is a general buzz of confused anticipation.
But what about the Genet? We came to see the Genet.
Right. Well, see, the thng is, I don’t know where you got
the idea Rotto had genets. I don’t think they are even
found in these parts.
Oh god, no. They’re African. The only way they’d get here
is if they were disguised as kangaroos. Which is not
going to happen, is it? Not with the way they just go out
at night and just slaugher the poor creatures by the
Oh, do shut up, Geoffrey.
But that’s absurd. We have tickets.
I think maybe some trickster’s had a go at you. Really,
there are no genets here; just quokkas. Lots and lots of
Aren’t you going to say something?
The tickets you purchased to the Genet — may I see them?
Sure, look. (pulls out a piece of paper from her purse.)
Of course, it’s digital, you know. A bar code. They said
just have it scanned when I got here.
The man I spoke with on the telephone. Who called me on
my mobile — I don’t know how he got my number — after
we had seen The Maids — wasn’t Cate just marvelous —
and who said it was an exclusive treat for Genet lovers
only, to come to Rotto and see the Genet, like it’s never
been produced before. And of course I jumped. And here we
Yes. here we are.
There is a buzz of mockery.
Well maybe,if it all works out, the ceremony will make up
Oh, I doubt that. What could make up for a lost Genet?
Uncle, do you want to begin?
Thank you, Cobar. And thank you all for coming here this
morning, I know you are anxious to explore the island
and get stuck into your holidays, so I won’t take too
much of your time. (pause) We are standing in a place
that is sacred to the Nyoongar people. It is a burial
spot of some ancestors who died here on this island under
horrible conditions, back in a time when our Europeans
guests were less, um, enlightened —
— but more en-whitened —
Cobar, knock it off. (pause) A time of brutality and
long distance voyages and the chaos of new freedoms
merged with the opportunity for gross exploitation.Be all
that as it may, I did not invite you here today to
browbeat you or try to make yoy feel guilty. How could
you be guilty of the atrocities of the past? Of the
arrogance and indifference to suffering, the poverty of
understanding? You are a newer generation, and there is
hope, now that distances and the exploitation of yourown
ancestors are no longer relevant issues, hope that the
spirit of reconciliation that we hear so much about can
find its way to fruition on a tree of our new common
language,inspired by our common experiences of the
landscapes and unique character of this place we call
Australia. (pause) Yesterday, you were briefly startled
and engorged when a woman came to you and she told you —
through the European who could see and hear her — very
unusual, believe me– that she was in horrid grief
because her child had been taken from her. Until you
could feel her grief, you could not see her, and even
then, you could not hear her, because you are attuned to
the visceral and have little patience for the heart of
the matter, as it were, for the music of the woman’s soul
crying out from the wilderness of darkness where she was
frantically in search of her lost child. The woman is
white and her child is white and the loss came at the
hands of black evil forces. That is true. She lost a
being she loved at the hands of creatures unable to love,
unable to believe, unable to move forward into
— or enwhitenment —
— because they, too, see all around them the same lack
of love, lack of belief, lack of soul, floating aimlessly
in world without music, without stories. Shit happens,
you people say, and, it’s true: shit happens. But today I
want to go just a little bit further than yesterday. I
want to see if you can hear the woman’s grief music, as
we stand here in this place of so much buried sorrow.
Because if you can hear again this white woman’s sorrow,
there’s a chance you will be able to understand the
unresolved grief we bear for our lost ancestors, and then
we may be able to share true reconciliation. But this is
all voluntary. And if you feel that you don’t have the
heart for this, then you needn’t stay. Feel free to leave
at any time. You came for a holiday, to get away from
stress,I know. But maybe these brief moments will help
Yeah, I’m outta here. This is all bullshit.No one owes
you anything, mate. It’s like you just said: shit
happens. Just move on, mate.
I’m outta here, too.
They look around for others to follow, but no one
The woman is here with us again today. Standing here
right now amongst us. Is there anyone who can see her?
I see her. She’s standing over that open hole there.
The others look around, still unseeing.
I can almost see her.
Now listen closely, as she tells her story, and see if
you can go beyond seeing to hearing her today. Because it
is in the human voice that we are most connected. Give it
a go. What have you got to lose but the nothingness?
They look in the direction of the woman and
gradually, as she speaks, they see her and hear her.
Overhead a looped image of the mother who has lost
her child from the film, Battleship Potemkin.
It was stupid. You had people vastly different from one
another by virtue of culture, religion, language,
economic levels and race, yet the whole world expected us
all to live harmoniously in happy Christian brotherhood
overnight. Whites lost heavily. Dispossessed, really.
We feared we’d be necklaced and ran for our lives. But
they took Tracey, my precious 9 year old daughter, took
her from the car when I ran into the house to get the
last suitcase. Pulled her out of the car by her golden
hair, screaming to be free. And I tried to grab her back.
And Andrew took out his rifle, but they shot him first.
He lived, but then after what they did, he died, we died.
They took my Tracey and put an old treadless tire around
her neck and arms, a tiny little tire that looked as
harmless as a chocolate donut, and they started pouring
the petrol over her, laughing — and I’ll never forget
this — not so much out of evil, but without a sense of
the real, as though in the chaos of their own nightmare
worlds they did not really exist themselves. I don’t
know. It’s hard to explain. They lit the match. They ran
away. We watched as if the very fabric of existence was
being shredded, dessicated. I tried to put it out, to put
it out, to put it out…
There is a long moment when no one moves.
I know you can see and hear her now. I look at you and
see it. (pause) And now there is one last thing I would
ask you to do. Buried in tha hole in the ground, along
with my ancestors’ spirits, are the ghosts planted into
this hollow ground as your people slept in their tents
here. See, they are coming out now, freed by your new
vision, symbols that hold you back, that confuse. As they
leave this ground, please leave with them, guide them off
this island, bring them to the all-forgiving,
all-forgetting sea. Let them swim back to Freo and to the
One by one, several spirits climb from the grave.
Is that Jimmy Hoffa?
Holy shit. Harold Holt.
BELINDA, SONYA, NIGEL
They all exit except for the MOTHER, MONSIGNOR
O’SHEA, COBAR, BURILDA and PHILLIPPE. One last
spirit emerges — MERSAULT, from Camus’ novel The
Stranger. He is carrying a guitar buried with him
after his execution. MERSAULT plods along until he
sees the priest. He comes up behind the MONSIGNOR
and smashes him over the head with his guitar.
Is there no exit from this hell?
PHILLIPPE follows MERSAULT off, the MONSIGNOR climbs
into the grave and returns with the cocooned body of
the CHILD. He hands the body to the MOTHER and she
walks off in the direction of the sea, the priest
COBAR, BURILDA and the ELDER wait a few moments,
then follow the others offstage.
The arch on the beach where all the tourists
arrived. It is the same set as at the beginning.
COBAR, BURILDA and the ELDER arrive just as the
MOTHER is entering the sea with her child; she
continues walking until she disappears beneath the
waves. The priest exits. The three Nyoongar hosts
watch as the Titanic sails back toward Freo, the
Ship of Fools is at half-mast and the passengers
sober and still, and in his motorized bathtub
PHILLIPPE now lounges like the dead Jim Morrison.
Overhead we hear the hum of drones, the occasional
After awhile, after he has landed, PHILLIPPE appears
at the jut of the mainland looking out toward Rotto.
He is spotlighted, Rotto is dimmed.
Thank you, Burilda, for this.
The Coming of Spring
The wild, shrieking winds
From which even galahs take shelter
Gales of boomerang force and cold
That drive the insects helter skelter
In this desolation where animals huddle
And lose all memory in the now,
And one man waits in his shell of leaves
With ice for water and a smelly cow
The one day winter breaks
Cracked open by a peak of thunder
And Mayra brings her rain
And sun and splits the seeds asunder
And golden Mayra radiates
The wattle trees to flower
The clouds combust and burn away
A man lauds her gentle power
Birds fill the air and sing
And every thing and living creature
Unfurls, outstretches, embraces
Their green primordial teachert
And joy races through the heart
And passion feeds the vital spirit
And vanquishes the world’s despair
Until the world can hardly bear it
If only it could last forever
One man simmers and sighs
And yet that would prove tiresome, too
And we’d miss the blue surprise
And then Mayra moves on
As the heat begins to press
Already gone before she’s here
Already more because she’s less
There is a pause. PHILLIPPE’S light dims, Rotto
lights up. We see COBAR, BURILDA and the ELDER
standing on the Rotto jut.
Thank you for the Mallarme, Phillippe.
The Clown Chastised
Eyes, lakes of my simple passion to be reborn
Other than as the actor who gestures with his hand
As with a pen, and evokes the foul soot of the lamps,
Here’s a window in the walls of cloth I’ve torn.
With legs and arms a limpid treacherous swimmer
With endless leaps, disowning the sickness
Hamlet! It’s as if I began to build in the ocean depths
A thousand tombs: to vanish still virgin there.
Mirthful gold of a cymbal beaten with fists,
The sun all at once strikes the pure nakedness
That breathed itself out of my coolness of nacre,
Rancid night of the skin, when you swept over me,
Not knowing, ungrateful one, that it was, this make-up,
My whole anointing, drowned in ice-water perfidy.
There is a pause. We hear the softer thrum of
drones. The lights begin to dim. The lighthouse
We all go into the dark.
Fade to darkness. Curtain.
Assange: There’s Something About Schmidt (and Google)
Julian Assange’s new book, When Google Met Wikileaks is not really a new book at all; it is a minimally edited transcription of a secret meeting he had with Google’s Erich Schmidt back on June 23, 2011. It took place in rural England, while Assange was under house arrest and dealing with the aftermath of the funding-freeze on Wikileaks, arranged by the US State Department, in retaliation for his publication of war-related secrets leaked to him by Chelsea Manning, including the now-infamous Collateral Murder video. In agreeing to the meeting with Schmidt, Assange had been told that the Google head was writing a book and wanted his input regarding contemporary dissidents and the communication technologies they use. Joining Schmidt were Jared Cohen, Lisa Shields and Scott Malcomson, whom Assange later discovered were not merely Schmidt’s buddies but members of the Council on Foreign Relations, with ties to the State Department.
In any case, on April 19, 2013 Assange posted to the Wikileaks site the transcript of this secret meeting, and made the audio available as well, so that his words and integrity could not later be twisted in the triangulating tactic of They Said/ He Said, the numbers game that collaborating character assassins like to play. The book also includes his New York Times review of the subsequent Schmidt-Cohen book, The New Digital Age, which is also readily accessible online. So why buy the book?
There are a few good reasons. First, the book includes excellent links and notes which, in e-book form, can be clicked, instantly bringing the reader a wealth of background and further information that serve to deepen and more fully contextualize the themes of the secret discussion. Second, the book contains an important introduction (the wryly titled, “Beyond Good and “Don’t Be Evil”), which delves into the Google political philosophy, with disturbing examples of it in action. Third, WGMW is an extension to the scathing review he gave TNDA, which is a critical event worth celebrating in itself, and it more closely unpacks the clearly premeditated trashing of Assange that took place in their book. And lastly, of course, he needs the money.
WGMW is not the relentlessly sobering narrative Assange’s Cypherpunks was, which suggested a future where you’re either a data-encrypting activist, by default, or just another passive-ist consumer being pasture-ized and homogenized. It has a dialogical energy that lifts it beyond the diatribalism of rogue philosophizing that often sings the hacktivists’ body electric, and, again, the supplementary links make the experience of reading the transcript rather interactive, which seems all too appropriate. But most importantly, the WGMW’s subject matter and the themes that emerge from it, when weighed up against Schmidt-Cohen’s pseudo-Nietzschean TNDA huff-and-puffery, reveal what seem like irreconcilable world views destined for interminable future clashes, two systems of thought seemingly in collision – anarcho-libertarianism vs. totalitarian-utopianism, or, to channel Julia Kristeva, the semiotic vs. the symbolic.
The most important accomplishment of the book is the connection Assange establishes between the Google Politic and the ambitions set loose in The New Digital Age. The Schmidt-Cohen tome was originally titled The Empire of the Mind, which is in much closer alignment to their politics than the wonky-sounding TNDA, because at work in their book is an idealized vision of the world after neo-con American Exceptionalism has forcibly broken through every global barrier and established its neo-liberal dominion over all people and resources of the earth, with future presidents being the new emperors at the end of history, as Francis Fukuyama hath ordained.
In his introduction to WGMW, Assange cites a 2010 Foreign Affairs piece Schmidt-Cohen wrote, “The Digital Disruption: Connectivity and the Diffusion of Power,” in which the dynamic duo discuss in detail future “coalitions of the connected” made possible with technologies “overwhelmingly provided by the private sector.” Assange pulls up this telling quote:
Democratic states that have built coalitions of their militaries have the capacity to do the same with their connection technologies. . . . They offer a new way to exercise the duty to protect citizens around the world [Assange’s emphasis added].
Like the justification George W. Bush used to ignore sovereignty and make war in countries “too weak or unable to fight terrorism,” the ‘duty to protect’ principle, is a militaristic co-optation and corruption of humanitarian intervention theory, as well as the clearest indication yet that the Internet has already been militarized and that we are now in the normalization phase. As a literal battlefield it is to be controlled by the strongest military, making Obama, as Commander-in-Chief the principle ‘decider’ for future Internet policies. Schmidt-Cohen are the Good Cop face to a long-time extant US foreign policy succinctly summed up, absolutely unapologetically, by Bad Cops, like former Latin American CIA chief Duane Clarridge, who helped arrange for the overthrow of Chile’s Salvador Allende. Says Bad Cop Clarridge, “We’ll intervene whenever we feel it’s in our interest to so, and if you don’t like it, lump it. Get used to it world. We’re not going to put up with any nonsense.” There is no functional difference between the political principles espoused by Schmidt-Cohen and that of Clarridge. None.
But, Assange makes clear, alloy this political mandate with the technological vision Schmidt-Cohen reveal in The Empire of the Mind and you have a profoundly disturbing nightmare scenario that clearly threatens the sanity of our species if not its very existence. As Assange points out, there is in the Schmidt-Cohen manifestive a banality that seeks to assuage and seduce, like a 1950s TV ad high on Twilight Zone smack, which serves to distract from consequences and implications. So, for instance, Schmidt-Cohen tells us how good buddy Amazon can help solve so many problems with their ever-so-clever algorithms (but doesn’t tell you how the two buddies collaborate with intelligence agencies). “For example,” the two tell us, “Amazon is able to take its data on merchants and, using algorithms, develop customized bank loans to offer them—in some cases when traditional banks have completely shut their doors.” Oh, so, kinda like that cool subprime loan thing-a-ma-jiggy, right? But, getting stranger than strange,
As for life’s small daily tasks, [Amazon’s] information systems will streamline many of them for people living in those countries, such as integrated clothing machines (washing, drying, folding, pressing and sorting) that keep an inventory of clean clothes and algorithmically suggest outfits based on the user’s daily schedule. [emphasis added]
And, if it stopped there, that would be sufficient to give pause to a sane person. But the two plough on with what may be the proverbial kicker. We mustn’t underestimate the value of future holograph boxes, they tell us, in which you can find entertainment by immersing yourself in various virtual excursions: “Worried your kids are becoming spoiled? Have them spend some time wandering around the Dharavi slum in Mumbai.” (What about a lesson in social justice; maybe send the kids to Ferguson with sniper guns? Maybe have the kids holographically visit Yemen to see what a cluster bomb does to an suspecting wedding party?) This is “transformative”? Visionary?
But daft is one thing, libellous and malicious is something else altogether. And Assange is rightly outraged by the way he is mauled by Schmidt-Cohen in their book. Polite to his face (and even telling him at one point they were “sympathetic” to his cause), it seems they couldn’t get away from him fast enough after the secret meeting, so that they could string together fibs and confabulations that were surely pre-mixed. In a lengthy chapter on the future of terrorism, where Assange, as the world’s leading hacktivist, has a starring role, they falsely claim Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid extradition back to Sweden to face “an indictment for sexual assault;” they repeat the long-dropped lie that his published leaks “put lives at risk”; and though he very carefully explained his document redactions as a necessary “harm minimization / impact maximization” tactic to ward off “opportunists” looking to make the conversation about the treasonous harm of the publishing rather than the treasonous harm of the content, Schmidt-Cohen told Foreign Affairs that Assange’s real motivation was “money”; and these accumulated false concerns led to the question:
“Why is it Julian Assange, specifically, who gets to decide what information is relevant to the public interest?” [and] “what happens if the person who makes such decisions is willing to accept indisputable harm to innocents as a consequence of his disclosures?
As Assange points out, this is rhetorical, because soon they answer by saying all leaks should go to “a central body facilitating the release of information” and that whistleblower publishers need “supervision.”
And this begins to get at the heart of the matter: dissidents need to be accounted for, contained as a subset, and controlled. After all, most of them are just kids (more than half the world’s population is under 30, and growing) and Schmidt-Cohen, and the State Department, are worried sick about what these youngsters might get up to. As Schmidt-Cohen observe, “the mix of activism and arrogance in young people is universal.” This isn’t the first time they raised this sentiment either. Early on, during the secret meeting with Assange, Scott Malcomson, one of the CFR tools who accompanied Schmidt observed, “young people aren’t inherently good. And I say that as a father and with regret.” Nor are old people and fathers, and I say that in all sincerity.
And the self-described “old people” who met with Assange seem to have had a notion already in motion as to how they would shepherd and influence young people, but they are still looking for shaping mechanisms, triggers they can apply. That was the value of the recent secret Facebook-DoD experiment: to manipulate community emotions toward action, the way it was done in the Joseph Kony saga, where children were rounded up by a Christian evangelical ‘activist’ overnight on Facebook and put to the task of proxy vigiliantism. (Kony is still free today, although the actions of all those manipulated kids did lead to Congress authorizing a military presence in the Central African Republic, albeit they don’t seem to be looking for Kony much: “but 40 advisers will remain.”).
The answer, as with leaks, is to shepherd youngsters into a central crowdsource pens for them to vent their disaffection and participate in ‘constructive’ dissident campaigns. The preferred choice, of course, is movements.org, affiliated with the ‘centrist’ doctrines of the day, and neo-liberal causes, and their main goal is to knock down “dictators” everywhere, even if freely elected; it’s the American Way. Movements.org is just one more arm of co-optation and control, and an exercise in grooming future “responsible” controllers.
Meanwhile, Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen and Jeff Bezos and Pierre Omidyar, and all the other ‘activist’ billionaire philanthropists are free to do the adult freedom-fightin’; working with the NSA to drill down to unruly dissidents; or creating algorithms that the CIA can use to track, well, anybody; or pouring money into coups in places resistant to neo-liberalization,or even meeting up with rebels to organize resistance as Cohen says he’s done.
In WGMW, Assange once again raises constructive ways around the growing totalitarian state, including the use of mobile peer-to-peer communications by cellphone that don’t require going through a telco (properly adjusted, cells phones could communicate with unmediated radio frequencies, says Assange); comprehensive encryption (files and communication); and the use of non-persistent operating systems on a USB stick or DVD, such as TAILs. This is the new face of freedom in the future: Running and hiding and subverting goofy billionaire philanthropists who only want what’s best for you, who only want to help you make the right choices, all watched over, as Adam Curtis would have it, by machines of loving grace. And if you won’t be watched over, you will be targeted, put on the president’s future Tuesday morning hit list. You will never see it coming.
A few weeks ago I re-watched The Illustrated Man, a film based on Ray Bradbury’s short story collection by the same name. Reading The New Digital Age had me seeing those dystopic tattoos again, but not on the body of a knowing victim like Steiger, but in the daft Satyricon that is the Schmidt-Cohen premise. In The Illustrated Man, there’s one vignette in which two teens are allowed to play in their favourite holographic room and conjure up wild lions to play with and the parents think all is bliss until bits and pieces of their stuff goes missing, only to be discovered in the holographic room being sniffed over by the lions. Alarmed, the parents call in a shrink, who comes almost immediately, but not before the kids get the lions to maul and eat their parents. And, in the holography that still lights up my mind that’s how I want to respond to Google’s Dead Soul future — with Schmidt and Cohen (and Bezos and Omidyar, and all the other elites) taken by the Empire’s lions and devoured by their own megalomaniac fantasies.
Watching Rob Wood and Sam Felton from the Wyss Institute at Harvard explain the power and the glory of origami robots brings on some serious chord changes in one’s lyrical thinking.
On the surface of things, where most of us live, one wants to rejoice at the exquisite beauty of origami robots assembling themselves, white angular sheets rising, like the Sydney opera house now but then transforming into a weird albino stick insect, twerking their little battery packs and walking away, as if nothing just happened.
It was like when I first read about 3D printers, parsing all the gushing wows, here we go high in the saddle cowboy smiles, giddyupping down the light fundongo, gleefully fleeing the Big Bad Bang and horsing along to the mother-of-all-things Singularity. All was blissful thinking.
I’d like to live in a world where I could give a gift to Maybelline, who I so love, a gammy ‘gami bot that folds in and struts up, over and out, and becomes a little whirling dervish of dazzling delight that lights up my lover’s eyes, like a ditzy Dumbledoris with an electric, buzzing wand she knows just what to do with.
I’d like to think that such origami lovelinesses would have an affect akin to the Gay Bomb which, when sprayed over the battlefield turned men from black-and-white thinking warriors, all grim and grimy, to pink sunlit soldiers of love. (Happy kenning fjorder, ja?) Going to war would have a whole new moaning.
Also, I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony…
But the problem is, when these blokes begin discussing potential applications for the little origami robots that could, I got a feeling of déjà vu. To a new agey soundtrack we are treated with images of cute paper origami figures, then insects, then proteins chains, then a flower unfolding, all inspirations for the
robot design, the blokes say, and then Rob goes and spoils it all by saying something stupid like, “We thinks these structures will be deployable in harsh environments, like space and the battlefield,” and suddenly the air goes out of my condom and I’m feeling like I’m a philosophy student back at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on the day the Challenger shuttle exploded, all the engineering shop talk centred on “O” rings, no one talking the lost shuttle crew, although CNN kept flashing a still photo of Christine McAuliffe, the first teacher in space (in staff rooms across America, you could hear colleagues going, “Well, that fackin’ figures. Get a teacher in space and, wouldn’t you know it, her chalk ride snaps against the blackboard firmament.”). Suddenly, I could envision self-assembling colonists on distant planets getting all bolshy with the green gawky inhabos (‘Yo,’ they’d be saying, with digital voices, ‘extra-terra nullius, slimefucker, now cough it up and move along.’) and ironclad dickheads duking it out on endless plastic battlefields like the Rockem Sockem robots of yore.
Worse, because I do too much reading, I could recall that these origami robots actually originated with DARPA, the research and development strong-arm of the US Department of Defence. Of course, DARPA being DARPA, they’ve gone down the road to excess once more (without finding the palace of wisdom – yet again) and created not just origami-flavoured self-assembling bots powered by puffs of air, but what’s more – squishable shape-shifting robots and all manner of morphers.
Well, of course, it’s all part of that new Grand Narrative that says technology will be our Saviour, that climate change, melting ice caps, over-population, dwindling resources, endless war, arseholes in charge, the 1% certifiably insane – all need not be worried over, because DARPA’s on its way. We will all live longer lives, we’ll end poverty as we know it everywhere, world peace is just around the corner, yada-yada-yada. I don’t mean to be the dark side of the moon to this stunning neo-Enlightenment, after all, I’ve been a techie (albeit, not a very competent one) and I have a certain degree of Buddhist geekery in me — I’m not, in principle, even athwart the Singularity and the merging of the digital and the human to some degree. But what reason does the common person have to believe that the coming transformative technologies will make us any better humans than the introduction of the toaster did? (Sheet, the white bread is still in control, y’all.) Why wouldn’t the fat cats of the 1% merely horde and use these technologies they bankroll and control for their own nefarious purposes? Inbreed like Rubik’s cubes of
Oedipussy. Create gene-specific plagues for fun. And shit.
Recently, I read (and reviewed) Technocreep, a book by technologist Thomas Keenan. He paints a pretty grim picture of the future, with all the assorted techno innovations pervading and saturating our culture and humanity quickly, quietly and with potentially catastrophic ramifications. He traces effects of the subtle revolution in about a dozen separate areas of human activity, including one he calls Robot Creep. And again, DARPA plays a key role in how future robots will be used. They have already experimented with weaponized insects, writes Keenan, and in keeping with what Wood and Felton said earlier, Keenan describes how the military sees the use of autonomous robots:
We might even get to the stage anticipated by science fiction
writers where countries in conflict simply duke it out in cyberspace
to see who would win, based on mathematical models, and then the
proper number of citizens on each side are executed in the settling
up. It would be an efficient if chilling way to handle disputes with our
Again, it should be worrisome that the first thought out of the box is how these things can be used to kill more efficiently. It’s hard not to wonder: WTF is wrong with these people?
However, it doesn’t end there. Keenan goes on to describe future bordellos filled with picture-perfect robo-prozzies with the clear advantage of being indefatigable (and so, more cost effective nymphos, as WD-40 stretches farther than Vaseline) and having lovely disposable orifices (imagine ordering a mouth with a Hitler moustache for some kinky sado fun!). Keenan doesn’t mention what the deal might be with male prostitutes. Perhaps they just recycle, like responsible Buddhist geeks.
In a chilling empowerment of kids with magnifying glasses out looking for creatures to fry, Keenan describes new kits that have come to market that allow kids to hack the nervous system of insects with their smartphones. Maybe it won’t seem so unnatural to them when the technique eventually transfers over to hacking ‘terrorists,’ the definition a moveable feast of lingo. (I vote: people who insincerely employ the word ‘empathy’ too much. They must learn to suffer with quiet desperation like the rest of us.).
Most people probably know by now that the planet’s honeybee colonies are collapsing, an event with profound consequences not only for humans but other life forms on the planet as well, and although no one has been able to
absolutely pin the blame on GMO giant Monsanto, they are certainly implicated. But never fear, say techno-cats, no problem, because robo-bees are on the way and they will take over for their live falling comrades. For a price, of course. And lots of contractors want mileage included, so we may need to hire some lay-about bees to keep the costs down.
Origami robots should be viewed as part of the larger frame of referenced things to come, or rather of the coming Internet of Things, where all is sensed and recorded, where privacy is like an endangered species enjoyed only by a small percentage of the Watchers and their cronies, and we become calculable data points stored in a disposition matric in the Cloud, watched over by loving algorithms and controlled by angels of our worser natures. You better not pout, you better not cry. No, really, mofo, you’d better not, if you know what’s good for you.
Yes, one would like to think it could all end with the drop of a Gay Bomb. A magic mooshroom cloud, pink mad terrorists of terrible delight. (Though rosy lips and cheeks within his bending sickle’s compass come, right?)
I’d like to see this end with a 3D printer belonging to General Mayhem, one of the many Masters of War, where I could send to his printer a self-assembling 3D fist, with pronounced knucklature, that would rise up from his desk, like a little five-fingered revolution, and punch the smug self-appointed demi-god right in his double-chinned chops. Or better yet, maybe send him a self-assembling self-replicant, all smeared with pink pheromones, and then General Mayhem could commence to go fuck himself.
We could make a porno.
Ever since it was announced that old Praha would be allowing, would be installing, would be promong poetry machines throughout the city, dark elements of the Republic, controllers and others all souped up on Prosaic (sic, real sic), have been fomenting to take back the narrative line from the mad semiocs of lyricists and closet bards out pimpin’ the night with scheming rhymes, pent-up meters, and broken lines. O with their broken lines.
“It’s one more indictment of the hard drinkin’ Zeman,” some cizens say. “She walks in beauty like the night, but not on my watch, not in my firmament. Sto ho stay away.”
Me, I’m excited; upbeat, you might say. Reminds me of the good ol’ busker days in Boston; the Harvard Square mimes with their memes; that spooky dark clad femme fatale playing The Doors’ “20th Century Fox” on her portable whorlitzer, reverb echoing off the rounded walls of the State Street Underground train staon, maybe thirty feet beneath the spot where Crispus Aucks looked down, like an early Eddie Murphy, at the fresh musketball hole in his chest and muered, all raw with rage, “What the %$&@!” – the vicm of the Red Coat hunt for asymmetrical colonial terrorists, who would not keep to alloed lines but emjambed and broke rhyme, like motley jungle guerillas. Of love.
Joining the ranks of the one-armed poets (spin a triplet, win a prize), the pianists on wheels, and graffi sages poinng to the Milky Way, and saying, “Look up there what I did. See?” And the electric violinist from Desolaon Row all high strung like Scarle on Dylan’s Desire. And collagists colliding, wailing encrypted paens to Julian Assange you need a damn Red Skelton key to open up. Drive-by poets are racing through Wencelas Square, with the windows rolled down on their lile imported Skodas, answering each other’s one-liners, like Crips and Bloods in a circle twerk.
“The center cannot hold. The falcon cannot hear the falconer, y’all” cries the Crip.
“Ramp up the amp, then muerbuerer,” returns the Blood.
“Two roads converged, and I, I took the one less travelled by,” asserts another hoodster.
“Not that that’ll make one bit of diff-France,” the other dopplers back.
In a new local poetry bar called The Pit Stop, a brief debate tled “Do I Dare To Eat A Peach?” spontaneously combusted between a snoopy Johnny Anapesto and a narcissisc I. M. Iambolini, who would not stop shoung, falseo, “I am, I am, I am, I am, I am” stamping his feet, of course, all sham and glam. And it all streamed live on a YouTube channel, inspiring a sub-culture to wear in-your-face T-shirts emblazoned with Do I Dare? Eyeballs averng everywhere.
Old Vaclav Klaus has called for Zeman’s resignaon. There’s talk Prague’s new defecaon cameras will be re-programmed to include sudden public explosions of free verse and dire crical remarks. “Bohemia,” a passerby said, shaking his wig, but not elaborang. As if.
Out back of the statue (you know the one) a Fight Club has developed. Verlaine and Rimbaud in a stand-off, eying each other off with baudy leers. T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound fighng the captain’s tower Dylan locked them in just to call up wagers among the calypso-singing fishermen shaking dead mal de fleur. Jan and Pablo Neruda beat the living snot out of each other, in languages other than English, while the crowd cried for Thomas More. And in the background all Praha’s highrises went a-tumblin, a-tumblin, a-tumblin down, and that was deeply meaningful, like the black cat crossing in Zero Dark Thirty.
President Obama has vowed to stay away unl the terror rima wave stops, but things will likely go from bah-ah-ah to verse, sheepish grins for wolfish smiles. You won’t see it coming.
And passing each other on the Je Suis Charles Bridge, two damsels of the
stress/un-stress exchange last words. “Does the road wind up hill all the way?” quoth the Roma lass. “Well,” returneth the Plzen queen, “does the Pope sleep like a grizzly bear all through the endless night?” And two Castle crows cackle; they know the score. Winter always springs a rhyme, but some are too smart to fall for it.
Poetry is the answer to the ubiquitous surveillance queson posed by Edward Snowden. Poetry and puns and gibberish and random philosophical feints. Privacy as an encrypted state not even the selfie can fully fathom. Sighng them up at the business end of a blast of rap, riffing against the algorithms, as they pick off ‘all of those who are le’; the American Sniper fied with a brand new-world-order Kissinger scope. Ring them bells.
Because at heart of the War on Terror is a war on language, and when the poetry at the heart of being stops, and all that’s le in a smoky world is vigilantes and voyeurs facing off, turning on themselves, speechless, hollow men, and meaningless, then in that last syllable of recorded me will sing the angels of our collecve might-have-been. And the ghosts of old Praha will rejoice, and everywhere the sound of broken fragile glass as consciousness collapses in on itself, all colorful and prey, like a Christmas tree.
In my end is my beginning. Clangs the bell.
Coma by the Sea
He wakes to a voice in his head that says, “Don’t be nasty, Bea.” His eyes shift up: a nurse’s smile is lit up like a harvest moon. She speaks, her words near and far, like a conch shell ocean, a white-noised nothingness. They roll him onto a gurney, then left through whispering wards, left down echoing corridors, pass, left again, under the hum of fluorescent lights that pulse like slow-motion strobes, his ears filled with the lagan and derelict of hospital chatter, elevator dings, rustling smocks, shoe squeaks and the sexy end bits of doctors being paged overhead. He smells the rose lavender body spray of the nurse pushing from behind, notes her asymmetrical nostrils seen between her shifting breasts, a haywire of auburn hair, and he drifts into a Dali-esque vision of her bush and labial line swaying, as she walks, like a flowering jacaranda, all lavender, rose, and seeks harbour in her humid fragrance. Then brief blue sky, a blatant sun. They slide him into the ambulance, like a stuffed bird into his mother’s oven. Two cops, sunglasses, laugh like cricket mates, their twangs—one, a taut nasal tenor, the other, a beefed-up bass—coming at him like the colloquial chamber music of the mad. Slammed doors, a siren shrike, a short gauzy ride through honking morning traffic to the state facility. Doors swing open, two paramedics smile down like stoned cathedral creatures, and slide him out of the oven, alcohol, perspiration and urine pulling away from him, like olfactory ghosts. Left, down a dark corridor, left, into a dim room, more Doppler laughter from the dayroom, an old familiar nurse peers down and sneers, “You.had. your.chance,” then more darkness, and no lavender, the steep descent into a Trazodone sleep.
Out of the dark energies of his night came all the rhythms and possibilities of his day. But on this day there came no whirling dervishes of thought, no Lohengrin grails of desire. In his tiny windowless office, he had opened up space with Rodin plasters, fresh hyacinth in a Greek vase, Pollock prints, and an assortment of bric-a-bracs that conversed with each other in the symbols and tongues of Babel ephemera. Very softly, in the background, as a soothing white noise, his stereo played Justorum Animae on a loop. He sat at his desk, case files piled high like a jungle of housing projects, high-risen compartments of despair, slowly slashing, with his golden pen, prognosis after prognosis, page upon page, slowly, like a graffiti rebel caught red-handed merely going through the motions.
“Doctor,” some familiar voice rose up, the doctor gazed down, as if from the belfry of a mile high cathedral, and hears the quiet, plain j’accuse: “You had your chance.”
“Don’t be nasty, Bea,” he pleads. And then down went the handfuls of Clozapine, the promised peace, falling, and in clanked the gurney, the slide, the slam, the disintegration of laughter into tiny bells, past fugal mateship concertos, past gleaming children building towering cathedrals of sand in the sun,—one of whom was he, Dr. Dante—left, down new corridors of slow strobing light, left, through darkening wards, left, into an operating theatre, where old nurses chant, like gorgons, “You had your chance,” and, as he starts to turn to quiet stone, another voice, the Sartrian violin virtuoso of his social circles, cries out, like Luther, “If you want to think new thoughts, you must break the bones in your head,” and with that crumbles the cathedral—down come the arches, buttresses, painted ceiling, creatures, stained glass, pews, altars, statues, Madonna frescoes, bells, crosses, priests and organ pipes, until there’s nothing left but a skeletal, charnel pile of ancient doubts. And then the endless labyrinth of nothingness breaks open like the branches of a flowering jacaranda tree. And sleep is a sea shell. A conch roaring, bringing the ocean of infinite desire. And, he, at last, he will become that conch, he will become that sea. Yes, but for the burgeoning fragrance, the coming-into-consciousness, like some inertial diffusion of lavender and rose, where he must become yet again, and be.