Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Reason, War and Refugees

A recent article on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's, (ABC's) website by Kellie Tranter raises some interesting questions on the whole debate concerning the arrival of refugees to Australian shores. Ms Tranter's article points to some fairly basic facts underlying the recent increase in arrivals by boat, facts that go to a causal connection between hostilities in Afghanistan and Iraq and the dangerous passage of those seeking asylum across vast distances in barely seaworthy vessels.

The logic is quite simple. Australian soldiers are currently deployed in both Iraq and Afghanistan undertaking duties associated with campaign objectives that are articulated by the Australian Government on regular occasions. Our Prime Minister has, in the past, been quick to alert the public to the ever present danger being faced by our soldiers as a result of activities in both those countries. He has also drawn a link between the need to persist with efforts in Afghanistan and the potential for domestic terrorist activity in Australia if the campaign to eliminate Taliban activity is in Afghanistan fails to conclude successfully. Clearly he believes that a democratised Afghanistan is preferable to one dominated by a theocratic autocracy in Kabul. A shame then that our actions seem to be supporting the ambitions of the incumbent Prime Minister, Hamid Karzai, who has most recently been accused of mental instability and drug addiction. It would be wrong to conclude that these assertions are accurate, given the obvious lack of evidence and the source of the accusations, but it is clear that Karzai has been behaving erratically for some time. Setting this aside, it is interesting that the Australian public are being told that conditions in Afghanistan, and Iraq, are dangerous and unstable.

What makes this an interesting observation? Well, in the face of this we have Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, he of the 'heinously red budge smugglers', asserting that the increase in arrivals by boat is essentially a question of weakened border protection policies introduced by the Rudd Labor Government. Constant criticism has been levied at adjustments, largely minor in constuction, to statutory instruments that govern immigration policy in Australia. One of the most regrettable features of the Rudd Government's legislative reform programme has been its apparent inability to seriously and demonstrably alter the former immigration regime established by the Howard Government, despite early indications that serious reform was planned. The Leader of the Opposition is adamant that any increase in asylum seeking arrivals should be attributed to current Government policy without exception.

So, where does this leave the Opposition. Well, clearly, and logically, the corollary of this argument is that Afghanistan and Iraq are essentially peaceful and that asylum seekers are merely taking advantage of loosened regulation and border protection to seek a new life for themselves. One would think that this would, logically, result in calls for the withdrawal of Australian forces from both theatres; but this does not appear to be the intention, or indeed the conclusion being drawn by the Opposition Leader. In fact, on 9 December 2009, Abbott suggested that Australia should not rule out sending more troops to Afghanistan. Surely if there is no imperative for Afghan asylum seekers to leave Afghanistan in search of a safe harbour there is, consequently, no reason for any elevation of Australian military engagement there? Or am I missing something?

For Abbott and his colleagues to claim that Afghan, and indeed Iraqi, asylum seekers are essentially opportunitists seeking to exploit less overtly oppressive border control statutory measures is utterly disingenuous. For Abbott the insistence that this is the case is sounding thin, a mere dog whistle that will, eventually, lead to the conclusion that his assessment of both military commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq and his professed position on asylum seekers from both countries is inconsistent and, indeed, contradictory. If Abbott wishes to be seen as right about asylum seekers, he cannot logically call for a continuation of military intervention in either Afghanistan or Iraq. Conversely, if he calls for increases in the Australian commitment to either theatre he needs to resile from his current position on asylum seekers and admit that his assertions regarding increasing arrivals and Government policy are totally incorrect.

What's more, if he fails to admit his conceit he should be roundly condemned. An apology to those seeking asylum is in order Mr Abbott; I wonder if you can find it in your heart to issue such an apology?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Satan's Henchmen

Life inevitably provides us with examples of injustice, and they appear to be almost universal in their breadth, confined to no particular sovereign state, time or place. One of the more startling, but almost universally ignored, is the case of former intelligence operatives of Stalinist Russia. Perhaps it's wrong to claim that the atrocities and human rights violations of this era are 'universally ignored', but they are certainly not discussed with the same vehemence as those of the Nazis or the Japanese, even though the perpetration of inhuman barbarity by these people ranks among the worst in human history. Let me give two examples that go to explaining my point.

Major-General Vasili Mikhailovich Blokhin, (1895 - 1955), served as the Chief Executioner of the NKVD (The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs), having been personally selected for the position by Josef Stalin in 1926. He led a team of executioners responsible for a large proportion of the Stalinist purges, particularly executions performed during 1937 - 1938, the period known as the Great Purge. Over a period of 28 days, consecutively, in April 1940, Blokhin was personally responsible for the execution of some 7,000 Polish Army Officers detained at the Ostashkov Prisoner of War Camp. Those prisoners were transferred to the basement of the NKVD Headquarters in Kalinin (now Tver), where, following basic identification in an ante-room, known colloquially as the Leninist Room, they were led into the execution room to be shot, personally, by Blokhin, with a single bullet to the base of the skull. It is estimated that Blokhin worked for 10 hours overnight, without a break, taking approximately 3 minutes per execution to eventually kill all 7,000. His is perhaps the most numerous organized execution of individuals in human history.

For his efforts, in this and other officially sanctioned actions, he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner by Stalin and received a modest increase in his wage, perhaps what could be called a performance bonus.

Blokhin died, officially as a result of suicide, in February 1955, having been stripped of his rank as a result of Khrushchev's efforts at de-Stalinisation. He had reputedly descended into insanity, aided, no doubt, by a tendency towards alcoholism.

A second example of intelligence apparatchiks of this period can be found in Colonel General Viktor Semyonovich Abakumov, (1894 - 1954), the former Head of the GUKR (Chief Counterintelligence Directorate), perhaps better known to people in the West as SMERSH. Abakumov was a sadistic creature who took pleasure in personally torturing prisoners remanded to his custody. I shan't detail the list of Abakumov's crimes, suffice it to say that a cursory read of Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn's, The Gulag Archepaligo, provides an horrific picture of the GULAG system and Abakumov's role in it.

Abakumov orchestrated the Leningrad Affair and the Doctors Plot, two well known purges of 1949 and 1953 respectively. Following Stalin's death on 5 March 1953, and as a result of his involvement in the Leningrad Affair, Abakumov was executed on 18 December 1954.

While these two men highlight the atrocities of the Stalinist era, and both are now dead, the fact is that former employees of institutions such as the NKVD, who continued to work after Stalin's death in roles that included the violation of human rights, continue to enjoy generous pensions and entitlements under the current Russian regime. They have not, and will not, face prosecution, despite the evidence against them. It is, perhaps, possible to argue that the excesses of the Stalinist era were curbed following his death, but the evidence suggests that the Soviet intelligence apparatus continued perhaps more modest violations of human rights until the collapse of the Soviet Union itself.

It is worth examining three documents of the Stalinist era to give some perspective to the material I've presented here in, admittedly, potted form. (I'm quite aware of the shortcomings in depth, but this is an introductory effort that will, hopefully, one day, result in a more substantial investigation of the history of the material presented here.) There are three NKVD orders that deserve perusal. NKVD Order No. 00447 (The Order concerning the Repression of Kulaks, Criminals and Other Anti-Soviet Elements), NKVD Order No. 00485 (The Order concerning the Liquidation of Polish Sabotage and Espionage Groups), and NKVD Order No. 00486 (The Order concerning Family Members of Traitors of the Motherland). These illustrate how pervasive and repugnant Soviet rule had become and provide some context for the behaviour of men like Blokhin and Abakumov. These remember, were legal documents, instructions that had the authority of the State. How perverse!

Remember too that these are merely examples, and that vigilance, a solid, defensible and entrenched statutory regime of protection of human rights is our only protection against the excesses of power where legality itself has been perverted.

This period of history and its players needs to be better explored. The glare of Nazism, quite rightly positioned as evil and atrocious in every respect, needs to be sufficiently moderated to allow for exposure of equally abhorrent examples of human rights perversion by the Soviet system and other regimes that have, and continue to operate.

I'll write more on this later. I figure this will be an ongoing theme, a project for the future. It's been consuming considerable periods of time for some years now, periodically of course, but I figure it's worth pursuing as an example of what can and does happen. It's a template for what future law needs to contemplate in protecting us from the extreme and the perverse. More will follow...

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Yesterday I hired a DVD with the intriguing title, LOOK. I'd read the blurb on the cover and the premise appealed to me. Released in December 2007, LOOK claims to be the first full-length feature film recorded entirely on CCTV. Directed, and written, by Adam Rifkin, it examines the possibilities of compiling a perception of life, its participants and events, purely from collections of CCTV footage. The film is one of a number of 'convergence' genre films that work on the principle that lives can intersect in unusual ways. Fortunately this film doesn't try and converge individual subplots in a completely artificial denouement!

One of the subplots concerns the misdirected affections of a teenage high school student and the object of her obsession, her English teacher. The CCTV footage reveals an intensely directed plan, if inept in its execution, and a teacher taking evasive action to avoid what is becoming an inevitability. It is worth noting that our teacher is married to a heavily pregnant woman and appears to be conventionally happy in almost every respect. Moreover, he is clearly aware of his professional obligations and gives no indication of being attracted to our barely pubescent vamp in any way whatsoever. Eventually, however, the approaches of our femme fatale result in a lapse of moral and legal obligation, and our English teacher indulges in an unsatisfactory liaison with the obsessive lolita pursuing him. Things do not go well, and, in response to rumours circulated by the coquettish juvenile, our English teacher berates her, resulting in her suggesting that she may take vengeance, although not in so many words. Sure enough, we next see her giving a statement to the Los Angeles Police Department, accusing our errant English teacher of rape and sexual assault.

The plot then appears to take a fortuitous twist for our naively ingenuous teacher. I say "appears", because it is evident from the facts that the accused is not to successfully avoid the consequences of his actions. The CCTV footage of the incident proves that the informant, our juvenile temptress, is, in fact, misreporting the facts. There is ample visual evidence of her seduction, and the entire event is clearly 'consensual'. The problem here, of course, is that it cannot be consensual, because our lolita is a minor, and the law makes it clear that it is impossible for minor to consent to sexual relations. Under Californian law, the jurisdiction in which the offense occurs, it is unlawful for an adult over 21 years of age to engage in intimate relations with a child of 16 years of age. In this case, the teacher, in a revelatory scene involving his attorney, becomes aware of the fatal nature of his momentary weakness.

Our teacher's attorney informs him that he must plead 'no contest' to the charges, given the weight of evidence against him, and that the minimum compulsory tariff for commission of such an offense is 10 years in gaol. In addition, the hapless teacher, will have his details entered onto the Sexual Offenders Register and will be unlikely to ever enjoy anything more than supervised visitation rights when his child is born to his now estranged wife. Naturally, as a sex offender, he will not be able to resume a career in teaching, a pursuit he clearly had a passion for. In other words, life as he knows it has ended in almost every respect.

So, we end up with a plot that provides for an ambivalent internal discourse. Where do our sympathies lie? Are we to feel sorrow for the extent of the loss suffered by our teacher, a loss suffered as a result of a momentary lapse of judgement? Does the promiscuous behaviour of our temptress in any way mitigate against this loss of judgement? Should it? Or do we apply the law in precisely the manner prescribed; the offense is, after all, a statutory offense? It's a conundrum that faces courts in numerous instances.

Rifkin's film manages to convey this issue with a clarity that provides a stark reminder that behavioural indiscretion can have severe consequences, regardless of what we may view as grounds for mitigation. I suspect this is achieved by the fact that the images purport to be realistic facsimiles of what is captured on camera in normal circumstances. We are even privy to an assault by father on daughter when it becomes evident that the basis of her accusation is, in fact, a lie.

Anyone seeking insight into the difficulties of moral and literal application of the law would do well to hire and view this film. It's by no means perfect, but it does provide a perspective that is worth contemplation. The remaining scenarios explored in the film are entertaining and confronting too, so it will be an entertaining diversion...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Nostalgic Meanderings...

I have, just recently, found myself beset by nostalgic reminiscence and, having overcome an initial reluctance to use the internet for such purposes, found myself contacting old friends, largely though social networking sites. It strikes me that my hesitation was founded on the idea that using the internet for such a purpose is uncomfortably akin to lurking, or, even worse, cyber-stalking. Naturally, this is predicated on the idea that the recipients of my initial contact have been totally unaware of my presence during the period prior to that initial contact. What it also demonstrates is, that there is a vast quantity of information on all of us in the virtual world, information that we are often completely ignorant about. I suspect most of it is accumulated for entirely reasonable and innocent reasons, but it is possible to learn an amazing amount about people simply by compiling a few basic details about them. It makes me wonder how much information there is circulating about me. Fortunately a 'vanity search' is not in me, so I've refrained from checking. Worse than discovering that there is a considerable volume of information on me, would be the revelation that there is none! I may well be entirely invisible, a consequence of my insignificance in a vast cosmos of virtual real estate.

It's been nice catching up with old friends and re-acquainting myself with memories and recollections, some of them retreived by virtue of their reminiscences, not mine. It's amazing what people retain and what is discarded. We all have memories that consist of unconscious determinations about the relative importance of one event as opposed to another. Interesting subconscious decisions are taken in maximizing our mental capacity for immediate, or reasonably accessible, recollection. Short-term, medium-term and long-term memory, all are catalogued and placed for comparative ease of retrieval depending on relative importance. Some of my friends have mentioned incidents I'd totally failed to recall. Others have expressed surprise at what I have recalled. A mix of all our memories has assisted in reconstructing a relatively complete recollection of the times we shared. It's been an interesting experience, and, thankfully, it is continuing.

Occasionally a wound from times past is re-openned. Subliminally, there has been an incident that has concerned and depressed me for many years. A friend, a true and honest friend, spurned our friendship on grounds I have been unable to discover. I am genuinely unable to construct any understanding of what caused this absolute and final disconnection, and she is unwilling to enlighten me. I wrote to her in late 2007 and her profile suddenly disappeared from the social networking site I'd located her on. A month later it reappeared, but she didn't ever respond to my email. I suppose I thought she may have mellowed and that whatever had caused her behaviour had subsided, but I suppose some offences are of greater import than others. I really cannot discern what I did to cause the termination of what had been a remarkable and very intensly personal friendship. We shared such intimate details of our lives that I find it difficult to believe that she could simply declare it redundant and walk out of my life. She did that, and more; she left the country, literally two weeks later! Strange how some events cause pain so many years later... it must have been seminal.

So, I fully intend to continue tracing old friends in the hope that I can share mutual reminiscences and re-live some of the joy and freedom of youth. I'm sure it's a pursuit that should be compulsory for everyone. In the modern world it's so easy to disconnect from people we once valued and treasured. Life propels us forward and simple tasks that sustain friendships are set aside in favour of more immediate obligations. Sometimes we have an opportunity to re-acquaint ourselves with those we've lost touch with, and the internet provides the perfect vehicle for doing so. That's not to say that it's possible to use it successfully in every instance, but it's certainly significantly easier for an untrained seeker to locate people than any comparable system prior to its creation. I do recall trying to trace an acquaintance using sundry published information and the task was effectively impossible. Today, I'd be far more likely to succeed. Unfortunately, the person I had been seeking is no longer alive, so any effort now would be futile.

While there are obviously capacities for abuse attendant, the capacity to trace friends and acquaintences is really a very valuable and worthy use for cyberspace; one I'd highly recommend.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Postulation on the Breadth of Legal Application

Recently I've been discussing a range of idiosyncratic situations with a friend, instances where the jurisprudential foundations of law seem strangely absent. The irony of this exploration has been that, on the one hand the persons responsible for a range of determinations espouse the fundamental precepts of legal equality, but on the other, behave as if it only applies to black letter application in law itself.

It has always amused me to observe that Universities, as the purported home of rational radicalism, are wedded to bureaucratic absolutism. How is it possible for a lecturer to be espousing radical reform to bureaucracy, only to find that they themselves are unable to offer flexibility in any sense where student attendance, submission requirements and the like are concerned? The defence is usually something along the lines of an exposition of the evils of the system and the inability of the said lecturer to mount any challenge to it! Odd really, when precisely the same conditions confront the average revolutionary in mainstream society. Such hypocrisy is usually overlooked and he oracular nature of the lecturer's statements continues to attract plaudits!

Similarly University administrations are tied to often ludicrously out-dated and outmoded administrative systems that are continually prone to error and anachronistic procedure. These same Universities will decry the bureaucracy in which they are in turn required to operate. Strangely, many of these governmental structures operate far more efficiently. In turn, Universities will suggest that there administrative systems would be substantially better, if only they had the requisite funding. Further investigation usually, at least in the Australian context, that there is ample latitude for flexibility, but that it is not utilised by the Universities themselves. They are fundamentally conservative institutions, even those most recently bestowed with the title and function of 'University'.

The peculiarity of this is not confined to universities as monolithic organisations; the very same deviations from fairness and equitable dealing can be seen in their approach to all manner of issues at a faculty and school level. Internal faculty procedures are deliberately difficult and burdensome, and often applied in accord with illogical and patently authoritarian presumptions. I work in a major government bureaucracy, and can report that we would certainl be unable to implement some of the organisational stipulations authorised inside universities and, particularly, inside their subordinate units. 'That's OK," say the Academics, "you're working for a government agency with far reaching implications as a source of your very existence and are required to operate within the law." So, where's the distinction? I'd suggest that there isn't one. Universities like to proclaim themselves to be experimental innovators, and sometimes this is true. Regrettably, this is not the case when it comes to bureaucratic flexibility and compassion for the case of the 'exception'.

Ironically, I've had cause to witness this failure inside a Law Faculty. The rule of law is taught as sacrosanct, but the internal machinations of the faculty make their own rendering of equity and fairness positively comedic. All manner of assumptions are brought to bear. Take a recent example where an academic actually suggested that students are all, fundamentally, liars! This was not merely a verbal assertion, but one written in an internal communication. Would this be acceptable anywhere else? I doubt it. The arcane mythology surrounding academic pursuit makes such anachronisms possible. The requirements on students to prove that they are truthful and not mendaciously self-serving mendicants is positively discriminatory and at odds with the very principles that form the foundations of law itself. Evidentiary weighting is not even contemplated, but it is presumed that students lack the moral or ethical fibre to be anything other than mendacious opportunists. Undoubtedly some do lack basic ethical and moral comprehension, failing to exhibit the required behaviours when it's necessary to do so, but they are no better, or worse, than any other group within the community. Why is it that legal academics cannot see the inconsistency in this situation? Is it that they retain the conservative traditions of academic institutional learning? Do they assume that the 'teacher' is superior and that, necessarily, it follows that students are of lesser standing, particularly where moral and ethical behaviour is concerned? Perhaps.

Being a mature student, I find it difficult to comprehend, and comply with, the submissive role that is, apparently, to be bestowed upon me. I am expected to simply accept decrees from my betters unquestioningly. I am expected to comply with whatever stipulation appends to an activity required of me. I am not expected to question or challenge the manner in which the 'system' works! How odd...

I fail to see how a truly honourable institution, in the 21st century, can hope to be relevant with such draconian and anachronistic values and expressions at its core. The 'University' has begun to exhibit signs of decay and irrelevance, at precisely the time when it should be seeking to adopt new and innovative programs and institutional behaviours. Some elements within the university structure are clearly striving to adopt new models of operation; sometimes in a rather spurious and less than agreeable fashion: take, for instance, centres that now rely on commercial transactions and extramural funding. Such units have an awful tendency to completely abandon the virtues of academic scholarship in an effort to be innovative and exploratory. Some will, undoubtedly succeed in better defining and applying this new construction in a perfectly acceptable manner, but others run the risk of becoming little more than machines for whatever fashionable pursuit requires the veneer of academia. In doing so, some will become little more than sources of affirmation for political agendas that require a semblance of external objectivity. Others may be tapping into sources of income that have little if any impact on their individuality, or their independence. It will be interesting to witness how they modify themselves to cope with the ingrained conservatism of the broader institution within which they operate. I am not entirely pessimistic; I wholeheartedly believe that even a failed experiment is all the better for having been conceived and run. My wish is that some other institutional entities should be, at the very least, investigating what other operational options exist in realising a better eductional experience for those who attend them.

The other issue for universities to address is the new dynamic that exists between students and faculty. Thanks to the introduction of fees, students are now 'consumers', or 'customers'. This confers certain rights upon them, and it is high time that universities recognised the newly formed relationship that exists, distasteful as that may be. I'm not in favour of fee paying tertiary education. I think the freedom and liberty afforded students in a non fee paying environment is far preferable, but the economics of modern education, when linked with fear of communal cost in the absence of individual return, makes such systems inevitable. Australians hate to think that they pay taxation for the benefit of others: we are not great communalists. In fact, we are now faced with situations where political opponents of public expenditure cry foul when there is not a case supported by cost-benefit analysis. When did provision of public services ever become a question of cost-benefit analysis? Why must there be a monetary benefit in public expenditure? In short, the people calling for such an analysis fail to comprehend that the benefit is frequently less obvious than an immediate "return on investment": another favoured mantra for the merchant bankers that inhabit our parliament. There is a "return" and we all benefit from it. A well educated populace will always result in a better "return" for all! The consumer based model inherent in the current system is at odds with the conservative traditionalism of academia, and, simultaneously, fails to deliver in the same way as other business models in the private sector. It's about time this was realised. And, it's about time universities relinquished their hold on time honoured dichotomies in their management of students and realised that there is value in adopting a new model.

All in all, Australian universities are managing to compete in a global marketplace with almost uniform success. Quality is, however, variable. This is not simply a variation in academic quality, but a distinct difference in the quality of administration and student - institutional relations. Some perform very well, others are exhibiting 19th century attitudes in a stifling, even dysfunctional environment that makes receipt of student payment sheer theft!

It's time not just to contemplate alteration to funding models, but reform of the manner in which universities conduct themselves as institutions. Too little will see them lose their client base, students! The status quo will merely demonstrate that the foundations of equity, justice and fairness do not penetrate the impermeable walls of institutional conservatism!

Friday, September 11, 2009

An Unrequited Need...

Well... I know this was to be a postmodern experiment in blogging in silence to the grossly populated virtual world, and the inherent irony such an action contains, but I have been tempted to end the experiment, because I have an unrequited need to be read! Sad, isn't it! I may have to establish another blog, to continue the experiment, thereby retaining my revolutionary integrity! Come to think of it... maybe that's fruitless. Perhaps I should merely write here and accept that art for art's sake, is something that should be confined to those who know what they are doing.. I am a mere pawn in the philosophic and spiritual world of postmodern deconstructionist speculation!


I must depart before the entanglement of my own thoughts, my stream of consciousness and all manner of private thought, strangles me!

Sunday, July 12, 2009


See... it is possible to write and to do so in a complete vacuum. No-one, to the best of my knowledge has read either of the two posts I've lodged here. Isn't that wonderful! I can write whatever I wish, knowing that it will be, in effect, published, but will not be read. What an intriguing inner dialogue. A self-reflective discourse that is potentially public by not. I suspect that there are thousands of blogs out there that aren't read, ever. Is it possible that somebody has written something utterly explosive and that it will forever remain unread in cyberspace? Absolutely! Am I claiming to have written this revelatory piece? Absolutely not!

I don't suppose there's much of a difference between self-publishing on the web and publishing in any other respect. There are thousands of books published that are never read, or have a readership in single digits. Information can be cast out into the big wide world and will simply vanish... what an intriguing thought.

Hmmm... Time to contemplate the vagaries of communication...