We remember the rise and fall

•March 15, 2017 • Leave a Comment

[Sonnet about rhythm, the beat of history-from-below and of poetry, different and linked, evolution, hope and fear… Drawing of dancing peasants in 1514 by Albrecht Duerer, eleven years before the outbreak of the great German Peasant Rebellion, brutally crushed by the nobles to the loud cheers of Martin Luther, who the peasants had thought was on their side…]

We remember the rise & fall

of the metric foot arising from the rise & fall of feet
stomping earth in celebration of fertility, war

one step forward, two steps back, choric dance spiral
plods out evolution, calamitous ascent of the race, ah

Homer’s warrior drone, Chaucer’s chop & change, Shakespeare’s rich
drive rolls through Milton, Whitman, Rilke, Neruda, as down-

stairs the roll & ruckus of class struggle, work holler, spiritual,
blues & jazz straighten spine, uplift hungry hip & heart

in sit-ins, boycotts, heads bared to fire-hose & hound,
yes, no ‘68 without chanson & rock-and-roll

no rise & fall of hope & fear in feet that move
us through history’s daily unknown drift

like leaves autumnal in the fraying wind
like Eden’s promise we cannot rescind

The Kiss

•March 7, 2017 • Leave a Comment

[Poem I wrote 2012. George Street is Sydney CBD’s main street. The painting The Kiss is by Magritte, 1928. My surreal and imaginary kiss happens to be between two men.]

The Kiss

A thin man stumbling
out of a pub door falling
onto a homeless man

behind his cardboard story
reaching for a pigeon
grey as George Street

it’s popped from like a
thought or puddle.
They lie a moment,

entwined like destinies,
superimposed pancakes,
then kiss like Judas,

a mother her child
the first day at kindy,
lovers weary of love.

For three seconds
the sun breaks through
the invisible net of flight

paths & five phones send
the scene to all the world’s
far-flung yurts & Vaticans.

Will some director
now shout Cut? Will
greasepaint be removed?

Have we been witness
to a revelation revealing
nothing but itself

a dream reborn
from our forgetting
opening on another life?

Scene Change

•March 1, 2017 • Leave a Comment


[First official day of autumn/fall here, so here’s an autumn sonnet, plus the foggy photo I took a bit like an impressionist autumn painting…]

Scene Change

Calendar says late summer,
air the first day of autumn

this soft exhilaration
as the air shifts to silence,

cool soughing in tree tops.
Somehow the ocean’s now

present in more ways
than one. Somehow

the gentle breeze finds skin
like a seaside mother gives

her breast, lying together
under the tent of a towel

as wave womb sounds
prove some god exists.

And suffers and pains

•February 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment


[The information for this poem comes from a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald: Michael Gordon, ‘On Manus, a small fish flounders’, 18-19/2/2017, p. 21. The image is of a tragic mask outside the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm. Refugees or asylum seekers attempting to come to Australia by boat are kept in camps on the foreign islands of Nauru and Manus Island (PNG) where they live in abysmal conditions without any hope of EVER being allowed to settle in Australia, even if they have been recognised as refugees or asylum seekers. This policy has majority popular support.]

And Suffers and Pains

When plucked from the sea
on the way to Australia,
he says his name is Ali
but he calls himself Eaten
Fish when he draws cartoons,
like his friend back in Iran,
the one they’d taken away.

At the Manus Island camp
Ali confides something bad
had happened when twelve.

Before that he was good,
and then he became bad.

Under frequent showers
he scrubs and scrubs
until he bleeds, but
cannot remove the stain.

He wears plastic gloves
to keep him from the dirty world,
avoids touching people
and doors lest he be entered
and leave himself again.

Eaten Fish draws cartoons
of ‘How people die
in Offshore processing centre’
or ‘Happy Bloody Christmas’
when Faysal dies after falling
in the isolation centre and Ali
could feel the pain he had inside
but could not do anything
to help him.
Eaten Fish wins
an international cartoonists’
award for courage
in editorial cartooning.

The stench of ordained despair
fills the huts, turns rescued
fish into sexual sharks always
taking bites out of Eaten Fish
the diminutive young man
with long hair, soft skin,
all that reminds them
of what they now crave and miss
in themselves inside this
hot and fetid belly of the whale
built of fear and collusion
with all that is small in ourselves.

Ali is isolated from the sharks,
then returned when his
allegations are not believed.

Each time he is expected
to speak of what happened
in Iran to the good child
he’d once been, Ali collapses
in terror, and so, to coolly add
another layer of abuse,
is stamped ‘bad’,
non-refugee: deport.

Now he is on hunger strike.
He says he has no energy left
to tell us his stories, says
I think you should give me
the right to die and stop this
torture, and suffers and pains.

Towards Police State Australia

•February 20, 2017 • Leave a Comment


[The post-liberal and right-wing shift in most western countries should concern all of us who care about freedom, civil liberties and human rights. This has been gathering pace since at least 9/11 and has now reached a new and dangerous level with the Trump presidency. This essay notes some Australian developments. Time to resist.]

Towards Police State Australia in the Post-Liberal Era

At least since 9/11 almost all western countries have been involved in a gradual slide to post-liberal, more authoritarian states. Some are gradually becoming outright police states. Australia is no exception, and is in fact in the vanguard of these developments in many respects.

Australia is the only democracy without a national Bill of Rights. This is also because there is almost no grassroots revolutionary tradition of autonomy in Australia at all. As a settler nation in which the government was responsible for much development, Australians in general are historically used to everything coming from above, from the government. Now this government executive is also becoming ever more authoritarian and powerful vis-à-vis the judiciary, and is actively eroding civil liberties, the moral cornerstone of liberal democracies. We are rapidly moving into a post-liberal and authoritarian police state.

Basic liberal civil liberties and human rights are increasingly under threat: the universal rule of law, the presumption of innocence, habeas corpus, freedom of movement, freedom of speech, the right to privacy, the right to apply for asylum from persecution. As there is almost no resistance to such authoritarian developments, one may conclude that most Australians are either willingly ignorant of such developments, could not care less or else, like most Germans in 1933, are quite willing to trade in freedoms for the state promise of order and security.

Consider some of the details. In Australia Federal ministers are given extraordinary powers in areas such as immigration and national security. Without a Bill of Rights, the Australian system depends on these same ministers exercising self-restraint in the use of these extraordinary powers and on the quality of the people in the security agencies.

The following classic features of a police state are now in operation in Australia. The Federal Attorney-General can permit ASIO (Australian secret police) to ‘legally’ operate outside the law by conducting so-called ‘special intelligence operations’. Any journalist disclosing wrongdoing or that power has been used illegitimately in such ASIO operations may be jailed for up to 10 years. ASIO has the power to detain and question innocent people for up to a week. People can be jailed for up to 10 years for entering any area declared by the government to be a no-go zone. The government collects data on the location and activities of every Australian resident.

Since 9/11 the Australian government has enacted 66 anti-terrorism laws, a figure unrivalled by any comparable nation. These laws have transferred enormous power to the executive arm of government. Many of these measures cannot be found in the US because they would be struck down under the Bill of Rights.

According to the government’s own national security monitor, Roger Gyles, these laws are “the sorts of powers one would expect to find in a police state in which people can be detained without trail and journalists jailed for reporting on government activity. […] Australia has laws that contain ‘the potential for oppression’”.

As there is no Bill of Rights as in the US, an authoritarian Australian Trump and Bannon could rapidly change things, using these autocratic powers for their own oppressive purposes.

As Chief Justice Sir Owen Dixon said: “History, and not only ancient history, shows that in countries where democratic institutions have been unconstitutionally superseded, it has been done not seldom by those holding the executive power.

A proposal by the Attorney-General in 2010 for Australia to adopt a national bill of rights which would still have given the final say to politicians was vehemently rejected by both the government and the opposition because it had the potential to shift some power from the executive to the judiciary. The proposal had been formulated after public hearings across the country and 35,014 written submissions (27,888 for a bill of rights, 4203 against).

The erosion of basic civil rights and the increased power of the executive also pertain at a state level. Last year the Chief Justice of the state of New South Wales himself stated that there were now at least 397 legislative encroachments on three basic common law rights, including the presumption of innocence and the privilege against self-incrimination. 52 of these specifically encroached on the presumption of innocence ranging from reversing or altering the onus of proof [on the prosecution] for an element of an offence to removing the presumption of innocence for an entire offence altogether. Section 685 of the Local Government Act even renders someone guilty of a criminal offence by virtue of mere accusation by a local council.

George Williams, the dean of law at the University of NSW, also concludes:

“It has simply become common to treat a person as being guilty unless they can show otherwise. The consequences are enormous. It means that people can be imprisoned where once they would have been set free. Bail laws have been tightened, and prisons filled to overcrowding, on the basis that accusations should more readily allow a person to be detained before trial. […] we are losing something fundamental and important from our system of justice. A long-standing principle protective of individuals and the truth is giving way to a regime based increasingly upon assumptions and premature judgement.”

The increased authoritarian powers of the national and state executives are also expressed in the increase in police powers and decrease in judicial powers on a state level. In 2015 legislation in the Northern Territory gave police the powers to arrest people for minor offences (such as ‘failing to keep a front yard clean’ or ‘playing a musical instrument as to annoy’) without a warrant. The law even allows the police to arrest someone if they believe that person is ABOUT to commit the offence, i.e. essentially punish people on the mere suspicion of committing an offence. The arrested person may not even have the right to apply for bail or contact a lawyer. Of the 731 arrests made under the law in first three months of 2015, 525 were of indigenous people.

In NSW the liberal-conservative government in 2014 even simply axed the state law officer’s, i.e. the Attorney-General’s, Department and brought it under the control of the police minister, thus essentially making the police responsible for the formulation of criminal law policy rather than its mere enforcers.

The police minister then introduced a new bill for so-called ‘serious crime prevention orders’ which further eroded the judicial powers of the criminal justice system (trial by jury) and extended and cemented police powers by allowing the Police Commissioner or the Director of Public Prosecutions to apply to a court for new orders restricting the movements or freedom of association even of people not convicted of, or even charged with, a serious crime for up to five years.

A second bill introduced by the same NSW police minister would allow a senior police officer, rather than a court, to make a so-called ‘public safety order’ banning a person he/she deemed a serious risk from a public place or event for 72 hours.

This authoritarian shift in power to the executive is also advanced by stimulating fear and paranoia in the general population under the guise of Orwellian counter-terrorism policies. For example, in 2016 the Federal ‘Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Counter-Terrorism’ (sic) released counter-terrorism guidelines for businesses and staff operating in what they call PMGs (‘places of mass gathering’).

Recommending staff training in spotting potential terrorists, the guidelines point to suspicious behaviours to look out for. If you have ever engaged in any of the following in a ‘PMG’, you might have to really watch your step next time:

‘continuous scanning of an area, unusual perspiration, heavy breathing, fidgeting, rubbing hands, pacing, clock watching, exaggerated yawning, avoiding security/uniformed officers […] unusual video recording or photography, working in groups, taking notes/drawing diagrams, taking measurements (pacing steps out), avoiding eye contact, […] revisiting the same location, observing but not using a public transport system.’

That such paranoia and social trust destruction from above is having an effect on the general population can also be gauged by the increase in Australia in popular self-surveillance by the people themselves, a notorious characteristic of Communist police states everywhere . The number of calls to the so-called National Security Hotline doubled from 9,274 in 2013 to 19,192 in 2014, while referrals to counter-terrorism police from the National Security Hotline grew by 548 percent between 2014 and 2015, one year after the government raised the terrorism alert level to ‘high’ and more than 800 NSW police officers carried out sweeping pre-dawn raids on 27 homes in Sydney and charged one person with plotting a beheading.

When Hitler took over power in 1933 he also retained most of the existing laws and judicial system. All Australia would need is a right-wing Trump, Bannon, Duterte or Marine le Pen figure to do the same in order for Australia to move from a post-liberal police state with some important remaining safeguards and freedoms to some post-modern form of outright fascism. Any remaining dissidents could then perhaps be shipped to the hell-hole gulags on Nauru or Manus where asylum seekers are, with majority popular support, currently deprived of their human rights and severely abused.

[All information taken from the following articles in the liberal newspaper the Sydney Morning Herald: George Williams, ‘With no bill of rights, Australia is ill-prepared for a Down Under version of Trump’, SMH 13/2/2017, p. 16; G. Williams, ‘Australia’s problem with innocent until proven guilty’, SMH 16/3/2016, p. 19; P. Coorey, ‘Bill of rights looks dead in the water,’ SMH 17/2/2010; M. Whitbourn, ‘Basic legal rights are at risk: chief justice’, SMH 5/2/2016, p. 19; ‘Paperless arrests ‘unprecedented’’, SMH 13/7/2015, p. 10; M. Whitbourn, ‘Lawyers sound alarm over ‘erosion of powers’’, SMH 15/4/2016, p. 3; H. Aston, ‘ Security advice plants ideas to limit damage’, SMH 14/4/2016, p. 5; R. Olding, ‘Massive increase in calls to national terror hotline’, SMH 20/9/2015, p. 2]

Once upon a Timeless

•February 8, 2017 • 3 Comments


[Another poetic shot at Big History, the story of the universe, from a a spiritual perspective that owes a lot to Alan Watts’ reading of Vedanta, especially in his The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. Tat tvam asi: Thou art that/IT. Took the shot on the south coast north of Bawley Point.]

Once upon a Timeless
– i.m. Alan Watts (1915-73)

Let me tell you a story. Once upon a timeless
there was no-thing that was every-thing
& nothing & that was silence meditating.
It’s what silence does. Let’s call it IT.

IT, just for the hell of it, decided to play
hide-and-seek with Itself. So IT took a deep breath,
contracted its immeasurable immensity
into a pinpoint & big-banged itself
into a great big fire, pure energy
that was hot enough to singe God’s eyebrows
(more about God later).

This energy was so hot there was no
firm anything, no matter or space, no outlines
of anything at all, just a big boiling hot soup
of potential, a hellish cauldron of possibilities
(spoiler: such as you and I and Joe Bloggs).

Gradually (for Time had suddenly come into
the game too), this cauldron started cooling.
As it did so the first differences, the first bubbly
sort of things appeared, tiny swirls of something
playing hide-and-seek, flitting in & out
of being & not-being, wave & particle
in whispy clouds of pure potential.

With further cooling these clouds condensed
into the first things we call atoms, itsy bitsy
somethings consisting mainly of nothing or space,
& thus did IT split itself into a relationship
of creative tension between two differences,
a positive & negative, a cloud of No dancing
around a kernel of Yes.

This was tension that henceforth kept the whole
game of hide-and-seek going, the rest fine & filigree
variations on this basic dual theme: yes-no,
light-dark, heaven-hell, god-devil, good-bad,
joy-sorrow, before-after, either-or & both-and.

Soonish, & at ever faster pace, IT all condensed
more & more & more into the great infinite panoply
of the Ten Thousand Things: into stars & galaxies
& planets, into cells & slime moulds & sharks & trees
& birds & biospheres, into you & me & Joe Bloggs,
ape-man & post-moderns scratching screens.

Thus did IT dually dance itself into the big three
waltzing waves (1-2-3, 1-2-3) of matter, life & mind.

At which point IT looked back at itself. However,
as long as IT looked with its clever eyes & mind,
IT saw only an infinite regression of fairground mirrors
of cause-and-effect-and-cause, mirror-within-mirror
for ever, for the seeking fed the hiding which increased
the seeking in an eternal vicious circle of desperation.

Yet this was all part of the whole great game too,
part of the great pretending, the divine comedy
of peekaboo IT was playing with itself: how long
could IT pretend to seek outside itself & not know
who IT really was

how long could it keep up the dramatic suspense,
the delicious whodunnit thrill of losing itself
in its myriad forms & masks, of undertaking
so many arduous quests for redemption,
enlightenment, for reconciliation with itself

how long could it play out the wandering maze
of human history as a never-ending series of substitutes
for realization like power & monuments & status
& material possessions & perfect bodies & orgasms
& fame & followers & space travel & artificial
unintelligence & works of art & God

& questions like this?

The Anthropocene Choice

•February 5, 2017 • 2 Comments


[Some Big Pic stuff. Maybe time to all get our heads around the notion of the Anthropocene. Widen consciousness, get a bigger perspective than that provided by almost all the media, educational institutions, political movements. Things are hotting up and it might be helpful to know where we are collectively within planetary evolution and what our collective choices might be, especially if we fail to become more conscious of our situation as a species and collectively act on that knowledge…Took the photo of the graffito in a Melbourne laneway…]

Ten Propositions on the Anthropocene Choice for Humanity

1.We are now in the ANTHROPOCENE: a new evolutionary phase of the planet since about 1950 defined primarily by one species, Homo sapiens, largely determining planetary evolution

2.Like all previous evolution, the Anthropocene is proceeding blindly, UNCONSCIOUSLY, mainly via market mechanisms and the self-serving, narrow-focus decisions of technocratic and power elites

3.The Unconscious Anthropocene, if not made conscious and transformed, will most likely mean the emergence of the POST-HUMAN as the increasing ABOLITION of what it has meant to be a primate and human since the birth of homo sapiens and of humanism: i.e. the diminution, or even abolition, of the evolved body and somatic senses, of uncreated nature, of the close-knit family of biological kin, of the face-to-face community, of work, and of individualism understood as individual meaning-making in the interplay of interiority-solitude and public dialogue

4.The Unconscious Anthropocene means the abolition of the human in a MERGER OF MAN AND MACHINE, a merger of the living with the non-living, of the evolved organic-biological with artificial cyber-mechanistic systems into completely new, post-human forms of evolution

5. This merger is enabled by a dominant and repressive cognitive strategy, the latest form of scientistic REDUCTIONISM and spiritual ‘flatland’: namely by reducing biological-human organisms and their internal meaning-making systems (feelings, interiority, intelligence, imagination, inter-subjectivity) to things seen only as quantifiable external surfaces, i.e. to purely physical information systems or networks and biochemical computer algorithms;

6. Having accomplished that cyber-mechanistic and mathematical reduction, electronic algorithms are then expected to eventually fully decipher and outperform, i.e. SUPERCEDE human biochemical algorithms

7.The outward TECHNOLOGICAL FORMS of this man-machine merger have been gradually emerging and various as they become more dominant post-modern industries of advanced capitalism: artificial intelligence that can adapt and learn from experience, biotechnology and bionics, robotics and bio-robotics, cyborgs and augmented intelligence, injected and new materials nanotechnology and atomic-level machines, self-trafficking and the objectified self movement, the Internet of Things, total private and public surveillance systems etc.

8.The (utopian) alternative would be the political choice of a CONSCIOUS, PARTICIPATORY ANTHROPOCENE in which global citizens democratically debate and decide on the direction of conscious evolution, i.e. make the key decisions on economic, technological and social directions themselves

9. The cultural, political, social and economic forms or institutions of this conscious participatory Anthropocene are, as yet unclearly and unconsciously, emerging in the diverse global movements of resistance to ecocide and capitalism and of cooperative prefiguration and in their communications within the evolving global brain that is the internet

10.The Conscious Anthropocene would neither romantically regress to earlier stages of human evolution (like primitivism, religious fundamentalism or regressive nationalism would seek to do) , nor would it abolish or REPRESS these earlier stages but both consciously INCORPORATE AND TRANSCEND them at a higher level (i.e. the body and senses, ancient/premodern mind-and-feeling, needs for kin, small group and face-to-face community, individual interiority and conscience, need for nature etc.)