Saturday, December 31, 2016
Tuesday, December 06, 2016
Sunday, November 27, 2016
Thursday, November 24, 2016
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
This poem by C.J. Dennis (“Den”) was published in the Queensland weekly newspaper The Queenslander of 8 March 1938. China was in the news because of the brutal Japanese invasion hence the lines
Stormed by an Eastern upstart whose queer pride
Seeks to subdue and bend me to his will
The Dalfram Dispute
Australian workers were outraged by the Japanese invasion and the refusal of the right wing Federal Government to support China and instead pander to Japanese militarism.
Unions in Port Kembla organised to stop the export of pig iron to Japan, much to the ire of Attorney General Robert Menzies who wired the Waterside Workers’ Federation on 29 November 1938 advising the union to take notice that the Transport Workers’ Act would be applied to Port Kembla from 6 December if the pig-iron was not loaded.
The Federal Government accused the WWF of dictating foreign policy, arguing that, as the elected government, it had the sole right to decide what relationships were to be established with foreign powers.
Menzies made an attempt to settle the dispute by calling a meeting with the Combined Union Committee at Wollongong for 11 January, 1939. On his arrival to Wollongong, he was met by an angry demonstration of over 1000 people. He visited the Wollongong Hotel, where he was to have lunch with the Mayor and other local dignitaries.
Demonstrators held banners outside the hotel which read ‘No Pig-iron for Japan’ and ‘No Dog Collar’. It was here that Menzies acquired the name ‘Pig-Iron Bob’.
In 1964 the Melbourne songwriter Clem Parkinson wrote about the dispute
The Pig-Iron Song
A song by Clem Parkinson©1964 Clem Parkinson
Did you ever stop to wonder why the fellows on the job
Refer to Robert Menzies by the nickname Pig-Iron Bob?
It's a fascinating tale though it happened long ago
It's a part of our tradition every worker ought to know
We wouldn't load pig-iron for the fascists of Japan
Despite intimidation we refused to lift the ban
With democracy at stake the struggle must be won
We had to beat the menace of the fascist Rising Sun
It was 1937 and aggressive Japanese
Attacked the Chinese people tried to bring them to their knees
Poorly armed and ill equipped the peasants bravely fought
While Australian water siders rallied round to lend support
Attorney General Menzies said the ship would have to sail
"If the men refuse to load it we will throw them into jail"
But our unity was strong - we were solid to a man
And we wouldn't load pig-iron for the fascists of Japan
For the Judas politicians we would pay a heavy price
The jungles of New Guinea saw a costly sacrifice
There's a lesson to be learned that we've got to understand
Peace can only be secured when the people lend a hand
In December 2006 the Illawarra Branch of the Society for the Study of Labour History erected a Plaque to commemorate that dispute, located near the Number 4 Jetty at Port Kembla, where that historic action occurred. Her Excellency Madam Fu Yng, the Chinese Ambassador, came from Canberra to unveil the Plaque.
Sunday, November 20, 2016
|HV (Doc) Evatt, 1935 by Arnold Shore|
Saturday, November 19, 2016
Sunday, November 13, 2016
The first point is that it’s not a necessity that the key of social organization lies in private property and monstrous inequalities. It’s not a necessity. We must affirm that it’s not a necessity. And we can organize limited experiences which demonstrate that it’s not a necessity, that it’s not true that forever private property and monstrous inequalities must be the law of the becoming of humanity. It’s the first point.
The second point is that it’s not a necessity that workers will be separated between noble work, like intellectual creation, or direction, or government, and, on the other side, manual work and common material existence. So the specialization of the label is not an eternal law, and especially the opposition between intellectual work and manual work must be suppressed in the long term. It’s the second principle.
The third is that it’s not a necessity for human beings to be separated by national, racial, religious or sexual boundaries. The equality must exist across differences, and so difference is an obstacle to equality. Equality must be a dialectics of difference itself, and we must refuse that in the name of differences, equality is impossible. So boundaries, refusal of the Other, in any form, all that must disappear. It’s not a natural law.
And the last principle is that it’s not a necessity that there exists a state, in the form of a separated and armoured power.
So these four points can be resumed: collectivism against private property,, polymorphous worker against specialization, concrete universalism against closed identities, and free association against the state. It’s only a principle, it’s not a programme. But with this principle, we can judge all political programmes, decisions, parties, ideas, from the point of view of these four principles. Take a decision: is this decision in the direction of the four principles or not. The principles are the protocol of judgement concerning all decisions, ideas, propositions. If a decision, a proposition, is in the direction of the four principles, we can say it’s a good one, we can examine if it is possible and so on. If clearly it’s against the principles, it’s a bad decision, bad idea, bad programme. So we have a principle of judgement in the political field and in the construction of the new strategic project. That is in some sense the possibility to have a true vision of what is really in the new direction, the new strategic direction of humanity as such.
Bernie Sanders proposes to construct a new political group, under the title, ‘Our Revolution’. The success of Trump must open a new chance for that sort of idea. We can trust him for the moment, we can judge if it’s really a proposition which goes beyond the present world, we can judge if something is proposed which is in conformity with the four principles. We can do something. And we must do, because if we do nothing at all, we are only in the fascination, the stupidity of fascination, by the depressive success of Trump. Our revolution—why not—against their reaction, our revolution, it’s a good idea. In any case, I am on this side.
Saturday, November 12, 2016
Commercialism and Human Values When You Can't Stop for Lunch
Interview with Lotfi Zadeh, Creator of Fuzzy Logic - by Betty Blair
Commencement Address delivered to graduates at the University of California at Berkeley Computer Science Division (May 25, 1997). By Lotfi A. Zadeh
In 1965, Professor Zadeh, conceived of the idea that developed into what is now known as "Fuzzy Logic," a model for human reasoning in which everything - including truth - is a matter of degree. These principles have been incorporated into hundreds of computer technology applications which are particularly popular in Japan and which are gradually becoming more accepted in the Western world, especially Europe and the United States.
Born in 1921 in Baku, Zadeh's family moved to his father's native land, Iran, ten years later during Stalin's regime. During World War II, Zadeh left Tehran for the U.S. where he has lived ever since.
Professor Lotfi officially retired from the University of Berkeley in 1991 but still is a tireless contributor to the field that he created more than 30 years ago. See Interview with Lotfi Zadeh, (Creator of Fuzzy Logic) Winter 1994 by Betty Blair, AI 2.4, Autumn 1994 and See Lotfi Zadeh Awarded Prestigious Japanese Prize Winter 1996).
On commencement days such as this one, it's customary to avoid touching upon issues which are contentious or in dissonance with majority-held views. I will take the liberty of departing from this tradition because there are contentious issues that have to be addressed and serious structural problems in our society that your generation is likely to be called upon to solve.
To put my views in perspective, I should like to note the obvious - I am not a native - born American, as most of you are. But I consider it a privilege to be a citizen of this great country - a country of vast expanse, immense wealth, great diversity, unmatched power and a world leader in almost every realm of human activity.
But to me what matters most is that the United States is a country in which human rights are taken seriously, governance is ruled by law, and the characteristics of decency, generosity and fairness are national traits.
Serious Social Problems in U.S.
But this does not mean that all is well. Our society is faced with serious problems that are visible to everyone - drug addiction, crime, homelessness, extremes of wealth and poverty, alienation and ethnic conflicts. But there are other problems which - though less visible - are likely to cause serious damage to the fabric of our society in the long run. My brief remarks will be focused on two related problems which fall into this category.
Life in Silicon Valley
Many of you will be taking jobs in Silicon Valley, the heart of our computer industry - the industry that is the driving force behind the economic boom that we are basking in now.
When I ask our graduates who work there if they are happy in their jobs, they usually reply that the pay is good and the work, interesting. But I always sense that an important element is missing. It's the feeling of security, dignity and collegiality. In Silicon Valley and, more generally, in the computer industry as a whole, the working environment is the environment of cut-throat competition. As they say, "In Silicon Valley if you make the mistake of stopping for lunch, you will be lunch." You are hired today but may be laid off tomorrow, with no farewell parties and no regrets. The bottom line is the stock price and not human welfare.
Something is deeply wrong with our values when the elimination of thousands of jobs is greeted with applause by Wall Street, causing the price of stock to go up and, not coincidentally, increasing the value of stock options of company executives. In such a climate, executives are not expected to spend sleepless nights when down-sizing leads to massive layoffs. Indeed, any company that puts human welfare above profits and efficiency risks serious damage to its competitive position and, possibly, its demise.
Profits as the Driving Force
It is a sobering thought that profits have become the driving force which shapes the dynamics of our society and that money may have become the determinant value by which we live. Perhaps, we should pause and ask ourselves if we are doing the right thing when we exert pressure on other countries to follow our example and abandon their traditions of protecting social rights in their quest for efficiency and stronger competitive position in the global marketplace.
There is a linkage between this state of affairs and the growing intrusion of advertising and commercialism into all aspects of our lives. A disturbing prospect is that as we move further into the information age and the multimedia, the linkage will become stronger and less amenable to control.
To many, advertising is the pillar of free enterprise. Up to a point, advertising serves an essential purpose, but like any good thing that is overdone, unrestrained advertising, with its high content of half-truths and untruths, is becoming a force which is corroding our culture and distorting our goals.
The pervasive influence of advertisers on TV and radio programming substitutes the size of audience for genuine concern for quality of programs. Catering to the least common denominator leads to programming which focuses on violence, sex, sports, scandal and human interest stories. The amount of time devoted to serious news is declining and the media-driven by the quest for higher advertising revenue-is abdicating its responsibility to inform, educate and inspire.
In this climate of media manipulation and commercialism, it is not surprising that our young people have become cynical and materialistic. This calls into question our ability to serve as a positive role model for the youth in other countries and other societies. Indeed, it is alarming to observe the degree to which intrusive advertising and commercialism have led to a vulgarization of our culture and an abandonment of moral values that once led this country to greatness. The not-so-subtle control of our media by advertisers has led to the emergence of consumerism as the dominant influence shaping our culture, our values and our perceptions.
What is disconcerting to observe is that the pop culture programs which are mass produced by the TV, movie and music industries in the United States are displacing - in the marketplace of other countries - their own products. As in the United States, low-grade programs, intrusive advertising and rampant commercialism have become the norm in TV programming in Europe and other countries as well. It was a prominent TV personality who in addressing a European audience had this to say, "We have succeeded in ruining our culture in the United States, and now we are going to ruin your culture."
I am touching upon these issues because they have a definite impact on the outlook and aspirations of the youth in our society. A telling statistic is that despite the rising demand for computer science graduates, the number of undergraduate degrees in computer science has dropped 43% from 42,000 in 1986 to 24,000 in 1994. What this suggests is that a declining number of students are entering those fields in which hard work is required. A visible facet of this trend is that pursuit of knowledge for its own sake is increasingly replaced by a quest for education as a ticket to a better-paying job.
I have used harsh expressions to make my points. The picture I have painted is darker than it should be. I have done this with deliberation to underscore that it is our collective responsibility-and especially the responsibility of your generation-the generation that will shape our future, to do whatever can be done in our democratic society to prevent the corrosive forces of commercialism and consumerism from encroaching on our culture and becoming dominant influences in defining our values, our beliefs and our morals.
People have lost their sense of security, status and even identity. This result is the scream of an America desperate for radical change
They will blame James Comey and the FBI. They will blame voter suppression and racism. They will blame Bernie or bust and misogyny. They will blame third parties and independent candidates. They will blame the corporate media for giving him the platform, social media for being a bullhorn, and WikiLeaks for airing the laundry.
But this leaves out the force most responsible for creating the nightmare in which we now find ourselves wide awake: neoliberalism. That worldview – fully embodied by Hillary Clinton and her machine – is no match for Trump-style extremism. The decision to run one against the other is what sealed our fate. If we learn nothing else, can we please learn from that mistake?
Here is what we need to understand: a hell of a lot of people are in pain. Under neoliberal policies of deregulation, privatisation, austerity and corporate trade, their living standards have declined precipitously. They have lost jobs. They have lost pensions. They have lost much of the safety net that used to make these losses less frightening. They see a future for their kids even worse than their precarious present.
At the same time, they have witnessed the rise of the Davos class, a hyper-connected network of banking and tech billionaires, elected leaders who are awfully cosy with those interests, and Hollywood celebrities who make the whole thing seem unbearably glamorous. Success is a party to which they were not invited, and they know in their hearts that this rising wealth and power is somehow directly connected to their growing debts and powerlessness.
For the people who saw security and status as their birthright – and that means white men most of all – these losses are unbearable.
Donald Trump speaks directly to that pain. The Brexit campaign spoke to that pain. So do all of the rising far-right parties in Europe. They answer it with nostalgic nationalism and anger at remote economic bureaucracies – whether Washington, the North American free trade agreement the World Trade Organisation or the EU. And of course, they answer it by bashing immigrants and people of colour, vilifying Muslims, and degrading women. Elite neoliberalism has nothing to offer that pain, because neoliberalism unleashed the Davos class. People such as Hillary and Bill Clinton are the toast of the Davos party. In truth, they threw the party.
Trump’s message was: “All is hell.” Clinton answered: “All is well.” But it’s not well – far from it.
Neo-fascist responses to rampant insecurity and inequality are not going to go away. But what we know from the 1930s is that what it takes to do battle with fascism is a real left. A good chunk of Trump’s support could be peeled away if there were a genuine redistributive agenda on the table.
An agenda to take on the billionaire class with more than rhetoric, and use the money for a green new deal. Such a plan could create a tidal wave of well-paying unionised jobs, bring badly needed resources and opportunities to communities of colour, and insist that polluters should pay for workers to be retrained and fully included in this future.
It could fashion policies that fight institutionalised racism, economic inequality and climate change at the same time. It could take on bad trade deals and police violence, and honour indigenous people as the original protectors of the land, water and air.
People have a right to be angry, and a powerful, intersectional left agenda can direct that anger where it belongs, while fighting for holistic solutions that will bring a frayed society together.
Such a coalition is possible. In Canada, we have begun to cobble it together under the banner of a people’s agenda called The Leap Manifesto, endorsed by more than 220 organisations from Greenpeace Canada to Black Lives Matter Toronto, and some of our largest trade unions.
Bernie Sanders’ amazing campaign went a long way towards building this sort of coalition, and demonstrated that the appetite for democratic socialism is out there. But early on, there was a failure in the campaign to connect with older black and Latino voters who are the demographic most abused by our current economic model. That failure prevented the campaign from reaching its full potential. Those mistakes can be corrected and a bold, transformative coalition is there to be built on.
That is the task ahead. The Democratic party needs to be either decisively wrested from pro-corporate neoliberals, or it needs to be abandoned. From Elizabeth Warren to Nina Turner, to the Occupy alumni who took the Bernie campaign supernova, there is a stronger field of coalition-inspiring progressive leaders out there than at any point in my lifetime. We are “leaderful”, as many in the Movement for Black Lives say.
So let’s get out of shock as fast as we can and build the kind of radical movement that has a genuine answer to the hate and fear represented by the Trumps of this world. Let’s set aside whatever is keeping us apart and start right now.
Friday, November 11, 2016
Von Petzinger, a palaeoanthropologist from the University of Victoria in Canada, is spearheading an unusual study of cave art. Her interest lies not in the breathtaking paintings of bulls, horses and bison that usually spring to mind, but in the smaller, geometric symbols frequently found alongside them. Her work has convinced her that far from being random doodles, the simple shapes represent a fundamental shift in our ancestors’ mental skills.
The first formal writing system that we know of is the 5000-year-old cuneiform script of the ancient city of Uruk in what is now Iraq. But it and other systems like it – such as Egyptian hieroglyphs – are complex and didn’t emerge from a vacuum. There must have been an earlier time when people first started playing with simple abstract signs. For years, von Petzinger has wondered if the circles, triangles and squiggles that humans began leaving on cave walls 40,000 years ago represent that special time in our history – the creation of the first human code.
Wednesday, November 09, 2016
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath —
America will be!”
— Langston Hughes, “Let America Be America Again”
What old men know is that everything can change. Langston Hughes wrote these lines when I was 8 years old, in the very different America of 1935.
It was an America where the life of a black person didn’t count for much. Where women were still second-class citizens, where Jews and other ethnic whites were looked on with suspicion, and immigrants were kept out almost completely unless they came from certain approved countries in Northern Europe. Where gay people dared not speak the name of their love, and where “passing” — as white, as a WASP, as heterosexual, as something, anything else that fit in with what America was supposed to be — was a commonplace, with all of the self-abasement and the shame that entailed.
It was an America still ruled, at its base, by violence. Where lynchings, and especially the threat of lynchings, were used to keep minorities away from the ballot box and in their place. Where companies amassed arsenals of weapons for goons to use against their own employees and recruited the police and National Guardsmen to help them if these private corporate armies proved insufficient. Where destitute veterans of World War I were driven from the streets of Washington with tear gas and bayonets, after they went to our nation’s capital to ask for the money they were owed.
Much of that was how America had always been. We changed it, many of us, through some of the proudest struggles of our history. It wasn’t easy, and sometimes it wasn’t pretty, but we did it, together. We won voting rights for all. We ended Jim Crow, and we pushed open the Golden Door again to welcome immigrants. We achieved full rights for women, and fought to let people of all genders and sexual orientations stand in the light. And if we have not yet created the America that Langston Hughes swore will be — “The land that never has been yet” — if there is still much to be done, at least we have advanced our standards of humanity, hope and decency to places where many people never thought we could reach.
What old men know, too, is that all that is gained can be lost. Lost just as the liberation that the Civil War and Emancipation brought was squandered after Reconstruction, by a white America grown morally weary, or bent on revenge. Lost as the gains of our labor unions have been for decades now, pushed back until so many of us stand alone in the workplace, before unfettered corporate power. Lost as the vote is being lost by legislative chicanery. Lost as so many powerful interests would have us lose the benefits of the social welfare state, privatize Social Security, and annihilate Obamacare altogether.
If he wins this Tuesday, Donald J. Trump would be, at 70, the oldest president ever elected. But there is much about Mr. Trump that is always young, and not in a good way. There is something permanently feckless and immature in the man. It can be seen in how he mangles virtually the same words that Langston Hughes used.
When Hughes writes, in the first two lines of his poem, “Let America be America again/ Let it be the dream it used to be,” he acknowledges that America is primarily a dream, a hope, an aspiration, that may never be fully attainable, but that spurs us to be better, to be larger. He follows this with the repeated counterpoint, “America never was America to me,” and through the rest of this remarkable poem he alternates between the oppressed and the wronged of America, and the great dreams that they have for their country, that can never be extinguished.
Mr. Trump, who is not a poet, either in his late-night tweets or on the speaker’s stump, sees American greatness as some heavy, dead thing that we must reacquire. Like a bar of gold, perhaps, or a bank vault, or one of the lifeless, anonymous buildings he loves to put up. It is a simplistic notion, reducing all the complexity of the American experience to a vague greatness, and his prescription for the future is just as undefined, a promise that we will return to “winning” without ever spelling out what we will win — save for the exclusion of “others,” the reduction of women to sexual tally points, the re-closeting of so many of us.
With his simple, mean, boy’s heart, Mr. Trump wants us to follow him blind into a restoration that is not possible and could not be endured if it were. Many of his followers acknowledge that (“He may get us all killed”) but want to have someone in the White House who will really “blow things up.”
What old men know is that things blown up — customs, folkways, social compacts, human bodies — cannot so easily be put right. What Langston Hughes so yearned for when he asked that America be America again was the realization of an age-old people’s struggle, not the vaporous fantasies of a petty tyrant. Mr. Trump asks us what we have to lose, and we must answer, only the dream, only everything.
Harry Belafonte is an artist and activist.