Monday 13 July 2015

Monty Hall at War

I am unsatisfied by my previous understanding of the Monty Hall dilemma. I can understand why the solution I put forth (not my own, but someone else's) is correct, but I don't clearly understand why common intuition is so wrong on this point. My concern is, if faced with a similar dilemma, I would not be able to convince myself or anyone else that common sense was, in this case, wrong.

So I'm going to re-work the problem using a slightly different metaphor.

During the American-Vietnam war, there was a village in South Vietnam called Lưu Nó. They receive a message saying the B52s are on their way and that they have to evacuate. There are three paths out to other villages: A, B and C. They know that two of the paths out of town are heavily mined, and one is free of mines. They don't know which one is free of mines. They hastily call a village meeting to decide which path to take. Given their lack of knowledge, the choice is for all intensive purposes is random - let's say A.

Given what they know, they have a one in three chance of getting out alive (staying in the village gives zero chance of living). Suddenly one villager remembers they have a radio with which to call central command. Perhaps they have more information about where the mines are?

Option 1: They radio central command, and a nice, but not well informed minion informs them that he knows path A is mined. He has no information about the other two paths. The villagers have gone from certain death, to a 50/50 chance of death. (They know either B or C is mined, but not which one.) If this minion had informed them that either B or C were mined (but had no further information) they would have gone from having a 1 in 3 chance of survival to a 1 in 2 chance.

Option 2: They radio central command, and a completely informed minion answers, but he is a dickhead. He knows exactly which roads are mined, but doesn't want to tell them. But like most dickheads, he is also a smart arse. He knows they have chosen path A, and let's them know that he won't provide any information about that path. However, he does say, "I can tell you that path B is mined." The villagers know two two things: i) path B is bad, and ii) the minion is a dickhead and knows the situation about path A, but is not going to tell them.

They call another meeting. Someone stands up and says, well, we know B is bad, and that leaves A or C. It's a 50/50 choice, so let's go with what we decided upon. But then the local school teacher stands up and says, hold on! Before we had three choices, one path, A, B, or C was safe - each equally likely. That dickhead knows which is safe, but isn't going to tell us about the state of path A. That gives us some leverage.

If A is safe (1 in 3 chance before we called the dickhead), he would have told us either B or C was dangerous (though both would be dangerous)
If A is not safe (2 in 3 chance before we called the dickhead), he would have to tell us that B was not safe either, and by default, that C IS safe.

Given the above, C is dangerous 1 in 3 three times, and safe 2 in 3 times!

The school teacher, though not quite sure of her logic, walked along path C with her students, and by chance had it, survived. The rest of the villagers being stubborn, walked along path A and were never heard of again.

The moral of the story is, always listen to dickheads. They give stuff away by being smart arses.

Why history matters (part 2)

As is my wont, I drank a bottle of wine and went to bed. And yet, I could not sleep. And it was because of something I read called the Monty Hall dilemma. Here is the summary:

You have three doors to choose from. One to freedom, two to certain death. You must choose. However, after you have chosen, your tormentor opens one of the remaining doors unto certain death and asks, 'Do you want to keep your initial choice or change?' You now have two choices left, the one you picked, or the other door.

Common intuition says that originally you had a one in three chance of choosing the right door. Then, after the tormentor's intercession, you have a one in two chance - the door you picked, or the other door. In other words, 50/50.

It turns out that this is not the case. You are much better off switching your choice to the other door. That has kept me awake tonight. What is going on?

The first assumption is correct. You have a one in three chance of choosing the correct door when the 'game' begins. However, by making your choice, you force your tormentor into a tricky position.

There is a 1/3 chance that you chose the right door to start with. If that is the case, your tormentor can open either of the other doors and if you choose to switch, to your death you go. That is, there is a 1 in 3 chance that you chose correctly, and changing your choice will send you to the pits of hell.

However, there is a 2/3 chance that you chose the wrong door to start with. If that is the case, your tormentor has given you the path out by eliminating the only remaining path to death. That is, if you switch, the only choice is life.

Therefore, given the choice, you should change doors. You have a 2/3 versus 1/3 chance of survival by doing so.

History is important. The rules of the game are important. By only looking at the choices in front of you now, you can be gamed. By looking at how you got here, you can make a wise choice. (Somewhere in the back of my mind, this seems to relate to Greece at the moment.) Perhaps I can sleep now?

I'm sure when I awake in the morning this will confuse me again. But now, I'm high on Limoncello and it all makes sense. Except the bit as to why it doesn't make sense without thinking and drinking about it to excess.

Such is life. Good night. And Greece - tell em' to fuck off. They are bad playmates. You'll get over it before they do.

Thursday 2 July 2015

Transcript of interview between Noam Chomsky and Andrew Marr (Feb. 14, 1996)

Recently I had reason to watch a 1996 interview of Noam Chomsky by Scottish reporter Andrew Marr. I started making notes on the interview, which expanded into extended quotes, and ended up becoming a full transcript. I thought I would post it here for somewhere to post it, and on the chance that it may be of some use to someone else who prefers to read rather than listen. I found it quite amusing... (Chomsky to Marr: "I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying.")

While I try to be pedantic, all mistakes in the text below are mine.

Title: Noam Chomsky on Propaganda - The Big Idea - Interview with Andrew Marr
Date: Feb. 14, 1996
Length: 30:17


Introduction by Andrew Marr [Begins: 00:27]

“Do you believe what you read in the media? I’m not talking about Di and Fergie, but about the important stuff, politics and economics. Has it ever occurred to you that it could be a system of propaganda designed to limit how you imagine the world? Well, that’s the view of Noam Chomsky, whose been teaching here in Boston for the last 30 years. Described as American’s leading dissident, he’s based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where although it’s very cold, it isn’t exactly the Gulag Archipelago. As a working journalist myself, I’ve come to talk to Professor Chomsky about bias in the media.”

“Orwell’s nightmare. A place where propaganda rules. Where thought is controlled. [Except from the film 19841: “Comrades attention! Here is a special bulletin from the Ministry of Peace”] It’s now a familiar, if chilling, Cold War fable. Most of us would say it’s old hat. But is it?” [Except from the film 1984: “The Thought Police are joining you”]

[Excerpt from a B/W film reel on Fleet Street: “The chief job of a newspaper is to inform. To tell people…] For decades freedoms of thought and expression have been central to western democracy. The media sees itself as free, fearless, stroppy, and for many in power the press are too strong. So the idea that Orwell’s warning is still relevant may seem bizarre. But not to Noam Chomsky, who thinks the image of a true seeking media is a sham. Chomsky’s devoted his life to questioning western state power.”

“Having virtually invented modern linguistics by the age of 30, Chomsky joined the gathering swirl of protests in the 60s. [Early recording of Noam Chomsky: “I’m Noam Chomsky and I’m on the Faculty of MIT, and I’ve been getting more and more heavily involved in anti-war activities for the last few years.”]

“Since then, Chomsky has championed a brand of anarchism, becoming deeply hostile to established power and privilege. And in recent years he’s refined, what he calls, the propaganda model of the media. He claims that the mass media brainwash under freedom. Not only do the media systematically suppress and distort, when they do present facts, the context obscures their real meaning.”

“The invasion of East Timor by the Indonesian army caused indescribable slaughter. Hundred’s of thousands died. But it was more or less ignored by the main stream western media because, Chomsky argues, we were selling arms to the aggressors. But wars where the west’s interests are directly involved get a different treatment. For Chomsky, coverage of the Gulf War was servile, trivial criticisms were aired, fundamental ones were ignored.”

“Naturally Chomsky has numerous critics. Is the media so influential? Have dissident views really been excluded in an age of relative media diversity? In the age of the Internet? What about Chomsky’s own access? What about this very program?”

Interview [Begins 04:23]

Marr: “Professor Chomsky, can we start by listening to you explain what the propaganda model, as you call it, is? For many people the idea that propaganda is used by democratic rather that merely authoritarian governments will be a strange one.”

Chomsky: “Well, the term propaganda fell into disfavour around the Second World War, but in the 1920s and 1930s it was commonly used. And in fact advocated, by leading intellectuals, by the founders of modern political science, by Wilsonian progressives, and of course by the public relations industry as a necessary technique to overcome the danger of democracy. The institutional structure of the media is quite straight forward, we’re talking about the United States, but it’s not very different elsewhere. The major - there are sectors - but the agenda setting media, the one’s that sort of set the framework for everyone else, like The New York Times and The Washington Post and so on, these are major corporations, parts of even bigger conglomerates. Like other corporate institutions they have a product and a market. Their market is advertisers, that is other businesses, their product is privileged, relatively privileged audiences. More or less…”

Marr: “Their selling audiences to corporations.”

Chomsky: “Their selling privileged audiences. These are big business, big corporations selling privileged audiences to other corporations. Now the question is, what picture of the world would a rational person expect to come out of this structure? Then we draw some conclusions about what you would expect, and then we check, and yes, that’s the picture of the world that comes out.”

Marr: “And is this anything more than the idea that basically the press is relatively right wing with some exceptions because it’s owned by big business? Which is a truism, is well know.”

Chomsky: “Well I would call the press relatively liberal. Here I agree with the right wing critics. So especially The New York Times and The Washington Post, which are called, without a trace of irony, The New York Times is called the ‘establishment left,’ in say, major foreign policy journals. And that’s correct, but what’s not recognised is that the role of the liberal intellectual establishment is to set very sharp bounds on how far you can go. This far, and no further.”

Marr: “Give me some examples of that.”

Chomsky: “Well, let’s take say the Vietnam War. Probably the leading critic, and in fact one of the leading dissident intellectuals in the main stream is Anthony Lewis of The New York Times. Who did finally come around to opposing the Vietnam War about 1969. About a year and a half after corporate America had more or less ordered Washington to call it off. And his picture from then on is that the war as he put it began with blundering efforts to do good, but it ended up by 1969 being a disaster and costing us too much. That’s the criticism.”

Marr: “So what would the non-propaganda model have told Americans about the Vietnam War at the same time?”

Chomsky: “Same thing that the main stream press was telling them about Afghanistan. The United States invaded South… had first of all in the 1950s had set up a standard Latin American-style terror state which had massacred 10,000s of people, but was unable to control local, a local uprising and everyone knows, at least every specialist knows that what is was. And when Kennedy came in 1961 he had to make a decision because the government was collapsing under local attack so the US just invaded the country. In 1961 the US air force started bombing South Vietnamese civilians, authorised napalm, crop destruction. Then in 1965, January-February 1965, the next major escalation took place against South Vietnam. Not against North Vietnam, that was a side-show. That’s what an honest press would be saying, but you can’t find a trace of it.”

Marr: “If the press is a censoring organisation, tell me how that works. Is it… You're not suggesting that proprietors phone one another up [Chomsky: No] Or that many journalists get their copies spiked as we say?”

Chomsky: “It’s a, well actually, Orwell you may recall has an essay called ‘Literary censorship in England’, which was supposed to be the introduction to Animal Farm except that it never appeared. And which he points out, look, I’m writing about a totalitarian society but in free democratic England it’s not all that different. And then he says, unpopular ideas can be silenced without any force. [Marr: How? {inaudible}] He gives a two sentence response, which is not very profound, but captures it2. He says two reasons, first the press is owned by wealthy men who have every interest in not having certain things appear, but second the whole educational system from the beginning on through just gets you to understand that there are certain things you just don’t say. Well, spelling these things out, that’s perfectly correct. I mean, the first sentence is what we expanded on…”

Marr: “This is what I don’t get, because it suggests that - I mean I’m a journalist - people like me are self-censoring.”

Chomsky: “No, not self-censoring. You’re, there’s a filtering system, that starts in kindergarten, and goes all the way through, and it’s not going to work 100% but it’s pretty effective. It selects for obedience, and subordination, and especially I think… [Marr: So stroppy people won’t make it to positions of influence] There’ll be behavioural problems. If you read applications to a graduate school you’ll see that people will tell you, he’s not, he doesn’t get along too well with his colleagues, you know how to interpret those things.”

Marr: “I’m just interested in this because I was brought up like a lot of people, probably post-Watergate film and so on to believe that journalism was a crusading craft and there were a lot of disputatious, stroppy, difficult people in journalism, and I have to say, I think I know some of them.”

Chomsky: “Well, I know some of the best, and best known investigative reporters in the United States, I won’t mention names, {inaudible}, whose attitude towards the media is much more cynical than mine. In fact, they regard the media as a sham. And they know, and they consciously talk about how they try to play it like a violin. If they see a little opening, they’ll try to squeeze something in that ordinarily wouldn’t make it through. And it’s perfectly true that the majority - I’m sure you’re speaking for the majority of journalists who are trained, have it driven into their heads, that this is a crusading profession, adversarial, we stand up against power. A very self-serving view. On the other hand, in my opinion, I hate to make a value judgement but, the better journalists and in fact the ones who are often regarded as the best journalists have quite a different picture. And I think a very realistic one.”

Marr: “How can you know that I’m self-censoring? How can you know that journalists are..”

Chomsky: “I’m not saying your self censoring. I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying. But what I’m saying is that if you believe something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.”

Marr: “We have a press, which has, seems to me, has a relatively wide range of views… There is a pretty small ‘c’ conservative majority, but there are left wing papers, there are liberal papers and there is a pretty large offering of views running from the far right to the far left for those who want them. I don’t see how a propaganda model can…”

Chomsky: “That’s not quite true. I mean there have been good studies of the British press and you can look at them, by James Curran3 is the major one, which points out that up until the 1960s there was indeed a kind of a social democratic press which sort of represented much of the interests of working people and ordinary people and so on, and it was very successful. I mean in the Daily Herald, for example, had not only more… it had far higher circulation than other newspapers, but also a dedicated circulation, furthermore the tabloids at that time, The Mirror and The Sun, were kind of labor based. That, by the 60s, that was all gone. And it disappeared under the pressure of capital resources. What was left was overwhelmingly the sort of center-to-right press, with some dissidents, it’s true.”

Mann: “I mean, we’ve got, I’d say a couple of large circulation newspapers which are left-of-center. Which are, which are, you know putting in neo-Keynesian views which the, you call the elites, are strongly hostile to.”

Chomsky: “It’s interesting that you call neo-Keynesian left-of-center, I would just call it straight and center. The… I mean left-of-center is a value term. [Marr: sure] But there’s, there’s… there are extremely good journalists in England. A number of them write very honestly, and very good material, a lot of what they write couldn’t appear here. On the other hand, if you look at the question overall I don’t think you are going to find a big difference. And the few, there aren’t many studies of the British press, but the few that there are have found pretty much the same results and I think the better journalists will tell you that. In fact, we, what you have to do is check it out in cases. Let’s take what I just mentioned, the Vietnam War. The British press did not have the kind of stake in the Vietnam War that the American press did, because they weren’t fighting, but just check sometime and find how many times you can find the American war in Vietnam described as a US attack against South Vietnam, beginning clearly with outright aggression in 1961 and escalating to massive aggression in 65. If you can find .001% of the coverage saying that you’ll surprise me. And in a free press a 100% of it would have being saying that. Now that is just a matter of fact, it has nothing to do with left and right.”

Marr: “Let me come up to a more modern war, which was the Gulf War. Which again, you know, looking at the press in Britain and watching television, including some American television. I was very very well aware of the anti-Gulf War dissidents. [Chomsky: ‘Were you?’] The ‘No Blood for Oil’ campaigns. [Chomsky: ‘That’s not the {inaudible}. That’s not the dissidents.’] ‘No Blood for Oil’ isn’t the dissidents?’

Chomsky: “Saddam Hussein’s attack on Kuwait took place on Aug. 2nd. From August, within a few days the great fear in Washington was that Saddam Hussein was going to withdraw and leave a puppet government, which would be pretty much what the US had just done in Panama. The US and Britain therefore moved very quickly to try to undercut the danger of withdrawal. By late August, negotiation offers were coming from Iraq calling for a negotiated Iraqi withdrawal. The press wouldn’t publish them here, they never published them in England. It did leak, however… [Marr: There was a great debate about whether there should have been a negotiated settlement.] Sorry, no, there was not a debate. There was a debate about whether you should continue with sanctions, which is a different question. Cause the fact of the matter is we have good evidence that by late, by mid-or-late August that sanctions had already worked. Because these stories were coming from high American officials in the State Department, former American officials like Richard Helm. They couldn’t get the main stream press to cover them, but they did manage to get one journal to cover it – Newsday – that’s a suburban journal in Long Island, the purpose obviously being to smoke out The New York Times, as that’s the only thing that matters. It came out in Newsday, and this continued, I won’t go through the details, but this continued until January 2nd. At that time, the offers that were coming were apparently so meaningful that the State Department, that State Department officials were saying that, look this is negotiable, meaningful, maybe we won’t accept everything but its certainly a basis for a negotiated withdrawal. The press would not cover it. Newsday did, a few other people did, I have a couple of Op-Eds on it, and to my knowledge, you can check this, the first reference to any of this in England is actually in an article I wrote in the Guardian which was in early January. You can check and see if there is an earlier reference.

Marr: “OK, let’s look a one of the other key examples which you’ve looked at too which would appear to go against your idea which is the Watergate affair.

Chomsky: “Watergate is a perfect example, we’ve discussed it at length in our book in fact and elsewhere. It’s a perfect example of the way the press was subordinated to power.”

Marr: “But this brought down a president!”

Chomsky: “Let me give you a… Just a minute, let’s take a look. What happened there… Here it’s kind of interesting, because you can’t do experiments in history, but here history was kind enough to set one up for us. The Watergate exposures happened to take place at exactly the same time as another set of exposures, namely the exposures of COINTELPRO.”

Marr: “Sorry, you’ll have to explain that.”

Chomsky: “It’s interesting that I have to explain it because it’s vastly more significant than Watergate. That already makes my point. COINTELPRO was a program of subversion, carried out, not by a couple of petty crooks, but by the national political police, the FBI, under four administrations. It began in the late Eisenhower administration, ran up till…”

Marr: “This is aimed at the Socialist Workers Party…”

Chomsky: “The Socialist Workers Party was one tiny fragment of it. It began… By the time it got through, I won’t run through the whole story, it was aimed at the entire New Left, at the women’s movement, at the whole black movement. It was extremely broad. It’s actions went as far as political assassination. Now what’s the difference between the two? Very clear. In Watergate, Richard Nixon went after half of US private power, namely the Democratic Party. And power can defend itself. So therefore that’s a scandal. He didn’t do anything, nothing happened. I was on Nixon’s enemies list. I didn’t even know, nothing ever happened.

Marr: “Nonetheless, you wouldn’t say it was an insignificant event?”

Chomsky: “It was a case where half of US power defended itself against a person who had obviously stepped out of line. That’s… So, and the fact that the press thought that was important shows that they think powerful people ought to be able to defend themselves. Now whether there was a question of principal was involved happens to be easily checked in this case. One tiny part of the COINTELPRO program was itself far more significant in terms of principal that all of Watergate. And if you look at the whole program, I mean it’s not even a discussion. But you had to ask me what COINTELPRO is, you know what Watergate is. There couldn’t be a more dramatic example of the subordination of the educated opinion to power here in England as well as in the United States.

Marr: “I know you’ve concentrated on foreign affairs and some of these key areas. [Chomsky: I’ve written a lot about domestic politics.] But, well I’ll later come onto that. But it still seems to me that on a range of pretty important issues for the establishment there is serious dissent. [Chomsky: That’s right] Gingrich and his neoconservative agenda in America has been pretty savagely lampooned. The apparently fixed succession for the Republican candidacy at the presidential election has come apart. Clinton, who is a powerful figure, is having great difficulty with Whitewater. Everywhere one looks, one sees disjunctures, openings…”

Chomsky: “Within a spectrum so narrow that you really have to look hard to find…

Marr: “Let me, can I just stop you there, because you say the spectrum is narrow, but on the one hand… [Chomsky: Can I illustrate? May I illustrate?] you have flat-tax Republicans right the way through to relatively big state Democrats.

Chomsky: Find one, find a big state Democrat. The position now is exactly what Clinton said. The era of big government is over, big government has failed, the war on poverty has failed, we have to get rid of this entitlement business. That was Clinton’s campaign message in 1992. That’s the Democrats. The difference… What you have now is a difference between sort of moderate Republicans and extreme Republicans. Actually it’s well known that there has been a long standing sort of split in the American business community, it’s not precise but it’s sort of general, between high-tech, capital intensive, internationally orientated business which tends to be what’s called liberal, and lower-tech, more nationally orientated, more labor-intensive industry which is what’s called conservative. Now between those sectors there have been differences and in fact if you take a look at American politics it oscillates pretty much between those limits. There’s good work on this incidentally, the person whose done the most extensive work is Thomas Ferguson4 whose a political scientist here.”

Marr: “One more example which will have some resonance in Britain and Europe is the great argument over the North American Free Trade Association, the NAFTA argument [Chomsky: Interesting] If there is something that one could describe as a global opposition movement, that is, trade union, environmental, community-based then it was certainly present in the anti-NAFTA. [Chomsky: Shall I tell you what happened? Shall I tell you what happened?] All I was going to say is that those arguments were well, we were well aware of those arguments.”

Chomsky: “No. That is flatly false. They were not permitted into the press and I’ve documented this. I’ll give you references if you like. [Marr: We read all about it in Britain is all I would say] No you did not. [Marr: Sorry, yes we did, yes we did!] Well I’ll ask you, did you read the report of the Office of Technology Association of Congress? Sorry. Did you read the report of the Labor Advisory Committee? [Marr: Well, I don’t get these reports.] Sorry.  [Marr: I read many articles about the anti-NAFTA argument] I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you. [It’s very interesting stuff?] I’m sorry. If you are interested in the facts, I’ll tell you what they are and I’ll even give you sources. The NAFTA agreement was signed, more or less in secret, by the three Presidents in mid-August, at the time of the, right in the middle of the presidential campaign - in mid-August. Now there’s a law in the United States, 1974 Trade Act, which requires that any trade related issue be submitted to the Labor Advisory Committee, which is union based, for assessment and analysis. It was never submitted to them. A day before they were supposed to give their final report in mid-September it was finally submitted to them. They were infuriated, the unions are very, are pretty right-wing, but they were infuriated. They had never been shown this. They had strong… Even at the time they had to write the… They had 24 hours to write the report. They hadn’t even looked at the text. Nevertheless they wrote a very vigorous analysis of it with alternatives presented saying, look we’re not against NAFTA, we’re against this version of it. They gave a good analysis, happened to be very similar to one that had been given by the Congressional Research Service, the Office of Technology Assessment. None of this ever entered the press. The only thing that entered the press was the kind of critique that they were willing to deal with. Mexico bashing, right ring nationalism and so on, that entered the press, but not the critical analysis of the labor movement.

Marr: “Well somehow by some process of osmosis or something I picked up quite a lot of [Chomsky: No you didn’t] anti-NAFTA arguments, on the basis of worker protection, environmental degradation…”

Chomsky: “May I continue? This goes on in the press right until the end… By the end… There were big popular movements opposing it, it was extremely hard to suppress all of this. To suppress everything coming out of the labor movement, out of the popular movements and so on, but they did. At the very end it had reached such a point that there was concern that they might not be able to ram this through. Now take a look at The New York Times and The Washington Post, say the liberal media and the national ones in the last couple of weeks. And I’ll tell you about it, I’ve written about it and I’ll tell you what you find. What you find is 100% support for NAFTA, refusal to allow any of the popular arguments out, tremendous labor bashing…”

Marr: “Can I come back to make sure that I understand the point about the liberal press as against the conservative press, because in Britain over the last two years, politicians I come across are deeply irritated ranging on furious about attacks on them in the press, day after day, on issues which have come to be known as ‘sleaze’. [Chomsky: “That’s right”] They feel that they are harassed, they are misunderstood and that the press has got above itself, is uppity and is destructive. That’s the message that they are giving to us. Now are you saying that that whole process [Chomsky: That’s true] doesn’t matter? As it were because it’s all part of the same…”

Chomsky: “I mean when the press - the same thing is true here - when the press focuses on the sex lives of politicians reach for your pocket and see whose pulling out your wallet. I mean, because those are not the issues that matter to people. I mean they are of very marginal interest. The issues that matter to people are somewhere else. So as soon as you hear the press and presidential candidates and so on talking about values, as I say, put your hand on your wallet. You know that something else is happening.”

Marr: “But it’s been much more than, certainly with us, its been much more than bed hopping. It’s also been about taking money from [Chomsky: corruption] corporations, paying for political parties [Chomsky: corruption, corrupt judges, fine topic] corrupt politicians… [Chomsky: corrupt party…]

Chomsky: “Big business is not in favour of corruption, you know. And if the press focuses on corruption, Fortune Magazine will be quite happy. They don’t care about that. The don’t want the society to be corrupt, they want it to be run in their interest. That’s a different thing. Corruption interferes with that. So for example, when I was, I just happened to come back from India, the Bank of India released an estimate, economists there tell me its low, that a third of the economy is black, meaning mostly rich business men not paying their taxes. Well that makes the press, because in fact certainly transnationals don’t like it. They want the system to be run without corruption, robbery, bribes, and so on, just pouring money into their pockets. So yes, that’s a fine topic for the press. On the other hand the topics I’ve talked about are not fine topics because they’re much too significant.

Marr: “What would a press be like do you think without the propaganda model. What would we be reading in the papers that we don’t read about now?”

Chomsky: “I’ve just given a dozen examples. On every example that incidentally you’ve picked, I haven’t picked, I mean I could pick my own, I’m happy to let you pick them. On every one of those examples I think you can demonstrate there has been a severe distortion of what the facts of the matter are. This has nothing to do with left and right as I’ve been stressing, and it has left the population pretty confused and marginalised. A free press would just tell you the truth. This has nothing to do with left and right.”

Marr: “And given the power of big business, the power of the press, what can people do about this?”

Chomsky: “They can do exactly what people do in the Haitian slums and hills - organise. In Haiti, which is most, pick that, which is the most poorest country in the hemisphere they created a very vibrant, lively civil society. In the slums, in the hills, in conditions that most of us can’t even imagine. We can do the same much more easily.”

Marr: “You’ve got community activists in American [Chomsky: Yes, we do] You’ve got… I’m not talking about the so called Communitarian movement, but I’m talking about the local community activist writers all over the place…”

Chomsky: “All over the place. Take a city like Boston. All sorts of people, they don’t even know of each other’s existence. It’s… There’s a very large number of them. One of the things I do constantly is run around the country giving talks. One of my main purposes, and the purpose of the people who invite me, is to bring the people together, people in that area, who are working on the same things and don’t know of each other’s existence. Because the resources are so scattered, and the means of communication are so marginal, there isn’t just much they can do about it. Now there are things, plenty of things that are happening. So take say community based radio, which is sort of outside this {inaudible}

Marr: “I was going to ask you about that and the Internet which has certainly got pretty open access at the moment.”

Chomsky: “Well the Internet is, like most technologies, is a very double-edged sword. It has like any technology, including printing, it has a liberatory potential, but also has a repressive potential, and there’s a battle going on about which way it’s going to go as there was for radio and television and so on…

Marr: “About ownership and advertising…”

Chomsky: “Right, and about just what’s going to be in it, and whose going to have access to it. Remember incidentally that the Internet is an elite operation. Most of the population in the world haven’t even made a phone call, so they’re certainly not on the Internet. But nethertheless, it does have a democratising potential, and there’s a struggle going on right now as to whether that’s going to be realised or whether it will turn into something like a home marketing service, and a way of marginalising people even further. That discussion went on in the 1920s over radio and it’s interesting how it turned out. It went on over television, it’s not going on over the Internet. And that’s a matter of popular struggle. Look, we don’t live the way we did 200 years ago, or even 30 years ago. There’s been a lot of progress. It hasn’t been gifts from above. It’s been the result of people getting together and refusing to accept the dictates of authoritarian institutions. And there’s no reason to think that that’s over.”

Marr: “You been portrayed, and some would say occasionally portrayed yourself as a lonely dissident voice. You clearly don’t feel lonely at all.”

Chomsky: “I say nothing like that. I certainly do not portray myself that way. I can’t begin to accept a fraction of the invitations from around the country. I’m scheduled two years in advance. And of that I’m only selecting a fraction of [Marr: And you’re speaking to huge audiences] huge overflow, huge audiences. And these are not elite intellectuals either, these are mostly popular audiences. I probably spend 20 or 30 hours a week just answering letters from people all over the country and the world. I wish I felt a little more lonely. I don’t. Of course I’m not on NPR, I wouldn’t be in the main stream media, but I wouldn’t expect that. Why should they offer space to somebody whose trying to undermine their power, and to expose what they do? But that’s not lonely.

Marr: “Professor Chomsky, thank you very much.”

1 I think the film snippets come from the 1956 version of “1984”. Full movie available here:]

2 The full text of Orwell’s preface (actually called 'The Freedom of the Press') can be found here:
The paragraph that contains the sentiments Chomsky is referring to is:
“Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban. Anyone who has lived long in a foreign country will know of instances of sensational items of news — things which on their own merits would get the big headlines-being kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to mention that particular fact. So far as the daily newspapers go, this is easy to understand. The British press is extremely centralised, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics. But the same kind of veiled censorship also operates in books and periodicals, as well as in plays, films and radio. At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was ‘not done’ to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.”

3 A partial bibliography of Curran’s post-2002 work can be found here:]

4 A very limited selection of Ferguson's works are referenced on his Wikipedia page, and also a note attributed to Noam Chomsky of Ferguson being threatened at MIT for his political theories. Link:]

Monday 19 August 2013

Why I am awake when I shouldn't be (or why coups should be called coups, and killing is wrong whatever way you spin it)

[When I started this blog, the byline was 'to create the habit of writing, regardless of quality'. What a bunch of shit. I was too precious. That was why the blog ran dry. Let's start again. Here is some ranting, without precious editing, before sobering up. Let's start pissing on trees for real this time.]

I am angry. Mad as a cut snake, they used to say.

I have an important meeting tomorrow morning, it is now 2am, and I cannot sleep. Because I'm furious. Mad at a bunch of dumb monkeys (that is, humanity), at the mass media (with a few notable exceptions), and at the blood lust that money carries with it.

I've been reading the coverage of the massacres in Egypt. This is a difficult one for me to talk about. Why? Well, I've never been to Egypt - and it is hard to talk meaningfully about a place you've never been, whose language you don't speak, whose history you have a marginal knowledge of. Many would say that disqualifies me from meaningful comment, but they are wrong. Let me try to explain why...

I have a simple morality. I am against killing and injury and suffering. I don't really care your politics, religion, sex or creed - if you kill, injure or cause suffering you are pretty much in the wrong. I understand the anger that brings about these events - I am experiencing it right now - but stop it. Just fucking get a grip and stop.

Above I react out of emotion, out of empathy, but let us just talk rationally for a second. There are us, individuals, and there is the state, the nation state (I will not here get into corporatism). And let me tell you, in this day and age, they are just gagging for those who oppose them to use violence. Because the state are the ones with the police, army, the guns (and bullets) and tanks and all the 'crowd dispersal' techniques that are labelled as non-lethal, but somehow seem to kill. And they are just waiting for the excuse of violent opposition to use them.

We have banners, linked arms, feeble news networks, words (and justice - if not the law) on our side. The first rock thrown gives them the excuse (law and order) to crush us with their armaments. If we are strong, and maintain peaceful passive resistance, they have the agent provocateurs, the surveillance state, the pliant mass media to use against us. If all else fails, they simply attack and blame 'terrorists' and blatantly lie. It is hard to expose the lie from a hospital bed, let alone the grave.

I have watched the blood baths in Egypt in the media - like I did over two years ago. Like I did in Yemen (except I was in Yemen then, so actually know of what I talk of).

Here are a few general notes I would like to make.

When Saudi Arabia come out in support of the Egyptian military, you know something is wrong. When you watch the US wringing their hands, slightly, mildly, you know there is something wrong. When the EU wring their hands slightly more, but do nothing, you know something is wrong. When the US can't utter the word 'coup' when the military overthrows a popularly elected government, you know something it wrong. When the popular opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood resign their positions from government, and are then never heard about again in the international media, you know something is wrong.

The answers, my friends, enemies, and those who haven't read this far is simple. Money. Or if you like, power. But the two in these times are almost synonymous.

The US cannot call it a coup, because they have 1.2 billion dollars in 'aid' to the Egyptian military. Money that by their own laws cannot be given, if they say the word 'coup'. That is (for the mathematically challenged) 1000 times 1.2 million dollars. You and I are unlikely to earn a million dollars in our life. Your life earnings, times by a thousand, every year, to the military to buy weapons of death, which are now being used against the civilians in that country. The military that is supposed to protect all the citizens of that country, but have conveniently labeled a subsection of that citizenship 'terrorists' who can be killed. 1,000 killed, more? Let's put that in perspective. I am a reasonably sociable person. That is more than the entire number of people who I have met and remembered in my entire life so far (I am 41). Killed in a few days.

Here is another inconvenient fact. That 1.2 billion dollars is given to the Egyptian military. They then give it back to the US to purchase weapons. So the money comes from the US government (that is, tax payers), to Egypt, back to US arms manufacturers, to supply weapons of death. It is a simple, clean transfer of money from US taxpayers, to the US arms industry. Money that could have been used for education, health, infrastructure - hell - all kinds of things. However, it is passed overseas, and through a few thousands deaths, funneled back to people who make a profit out of making killing machines. Yeah - sure - they employ US citizens. Perhaps that same money could be used to employ US citizens without being funneled through death, injury and enrichment of the already bloated rich? But it isn't. At least some of that money makes it back through the US congress to fund the political campaigns of those who vote for this kind of international military bribery. Be proud America. You murdering bastards.

Sorry - that was a little convoluted. US gives money to foreign military, the military gives it back to US companies who make killing machines, those companies give some pittance to politicians in the US government, those politicians make sure the aid continues. Is that circle simple enough? Or do you want me to paint a cluster-fuck picture with you and Bushes/Obama in the middle with their dicks up your arse? I have many impoverished artist friends who would be happy to draw you a picture if you send in your photo.

And what bugs me most - what drives me mad - is that we seem to still live in a world where we think one side is right, the other wrong. You think I actually give a shit about the Muslim Brotherhood? Hell know! Let's lay it down on the line. You believe in God(s) - that is your problem. Even on my heaviest drug/alcohol binges I never thought there was an imaginary being controlling the world and myself. The only thing worse to me that worshiping a god, is worshiping money. Both are insane, but the latter can get you a lot further. And thus is more evil. I think the Muslim Brotherhood fucked themselves up badly - by being exclusive. That does not justify a coup. That does not justify the killings. They were elected - remember - democracy? The 'liberals' who opposed Morsi were sucked into a simple dumb arsed plot to put the ruling elite back into power. You dumb fucks. And you will pay for that mistake. (I won't make you pay of course, I have no power, you just get another Mubarak. Well done boys and girls).

Take a little look at who controls 10-30% of the economy in Egypt. Would that be, oh, the military? And without fail, ever, in the history of mankind, when you threaten to take money away from the powerful, what do they do? They use that money to undermine you, control you, kill you. They are even smart enough to let their hired thugs (neither police or the army) do most of the violence. When not the thugs, the police (who nobody respects anyway), whilst the 'pure' army sit on the sidelines until absolutely necessary.

But I already read the spin the press. The mainstream US press are as compliant as the Egyptian mainstream press. The Australian press are not far behind. Remember - I don't care for the Muslim Brotherhood at all - but I have some fondness for fair elections and elected governments. Like when Hamas was elected in an election seen as fair - but then rejected by the US (and of course Israel) because they were not the 'right' winners. Hell - I don't like Hamas anymore than I like anal examinations - but they won. If they are that fucked, let them get voted out next time. But that isn't good enough for our imperial overlords.

Enough! The whiskey is running dry, it is now 3am, and that meeting still looms tomorrow morning. I guess some of the anger has been blown on typing exhaustion. Whatever. Please have a lovely day, enjoy yourself, don't hurt anyone. No, really, don't hurt anyone. Is that so hard?

Monday 26 July 2010

Dark Brown Thoughts

Gordon Brown has just given his first major speech since loosing the UK elections. He was speaking in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, and was pumping up the future of Africa. In an attempt at self-depreciating humor he said he "spent some time as a politician before becoming a community organizer." This sent a little shiver down my spine - a community organizer? He goes on to say that he wishes to see the creation of an "African century".

"Future growth in the world economy, and future jobs in the developing world, will depend on harnessing both the productive potential and the pent-up consumer demand of this continent."

"There is an alternative to a decade of low global growth which would fail to meet both the development needs of Africa and the growth needs of Europe and America."

There is an underlying assumption here - an assumption that lies at the very heart of capitalism. Continual economic growth. In this case 'world' economic growth and the 'growth needs of Europe and America." These are linked to the "development needs in Africa." To the naive cynic this might imply that if Africa's development needs are to be addressed, we better make sure that the economies in Europe and America continue to grow. Otherwise the aid tap may be turned off and Africa can go fend for itself.

Perhaps I am being too cynical, for Mr Brown also addresses development in his speech. I shall quote verbatim from the BBC (link provided at the bottom):

Turning his attention to the developmental aid given to Africa, he said this needed to increasingly focus on private sector wealth creation, and not just providing services for the poor.

"The job of aid is to kick-start business-led growth and not to replace it," he said.

"And so I believe we need to focus not just on poverty, but on wealth."

Not just providing services for the poor, hey? Is that because we have dealt with that problem already? And the job of aid is to kick-start business-led growth? Is that where I should presume my donations are going? I'm not against business per se, but there is business and there is business. Are we talking about business that is started at the grass roots level? One that employs local people at decent wages and provides benefits and profits that feed back into local communities? Or are we talking big business? American and European business that can fly in, charge a lot of money, hire 'expertise' from overseas, and send the profits back outside of Africa? They may, almost as a side-effect, leaving something useful behind. They may, or they may not. What they leave behind is not the main point of the exercise. The extraction of profit is.

One of the suggestions Mr Brown had was "the rapid expansion of internet access in Africa". I presume that would have to be provided by European and American companies, as only they have the expertise and size to enable such a grand plan. I guess that internet surfing would distract people from the lack of infrastructure, health, education, electricity and water that so many suffer in Africa. It could distract them if they could find somewhere to plug their non-existent computers in. I love the Internet. It teaches me countless things, and wastes countless of my hours. I do prefer, however, safe drinking water, access to food, access to health services, and a whole raft of other things I have come to take for granted. Once those have been provided across the African continent, I'll be the first to say "Let them surf!"

The corner-stone of modern capitalism is perpetual growth. Perpetual growth allows for profit, that can be reinvested to maintain growth. Some of the profit, of course, also goes into private hands to maintain lavish lifestyles. A little bit of it even goes into paying the workers who underpin the whole structure, so they can maintain their basic lifestyles - if they are lucky. The central contradiction in modern capitalism is that it is occurring within a strictly finite system. Finite resources. At some point perpetual growth bangs up against finite resources. You can delay the moment - and we do - with technological innovation. Yet that is a delaying tactic, not one that solves the underlying contradiction. And that contradiction is already becoming very obvious in the effects of climate change and resource conflicts.

The problem is not that there is not enough money in the world. It isn't that there is not enough food, or water, or land in the world. The problem is in the distribution of those resources. The current world economic system is primarily designed to funnel money from the masses to the minority elites. From public funds to private funds. Those in the elite will always be able to buy access to dwindling resources, whilst the rest can fend for themselves (or more often than not, fail to fend for themselves and suffer the consequences). I have heard the catch-phrase 'sustainable growth' and it is a good idea. If it was taken seriously. A better phrase would be 'sustainable practices'. I have a feeling that the 'growth' in 'sustainable growth' is only there to make it palatable to modern capitalism - for its underlying assumption is growth - and any cost.

Let's slip in to la-la-fantasy land for a while. Let's say an evil terrorist virus infected the whole world. It made world leaders throw up their hands and say: 'Terrorism has won. We give up. We are going to stop all funding of anti-terrorist activities and put that money into something useless, like meaningful development aid'. That money is more than enough (if wisely spent) to meaningfully tackle the most common killers in the world. Provision of clean water for all. Provision of adequate food for all. The eventual eradication of water borne diseases, malaria, HIV, tuberculosis to name but a few. The provision of basic health care and education for all. All those silly little things referred to in the UN Declaration on Human Rights.

Of course the terrorists would take their cue and started killing indiscriminately across the globe. Because that's what terrorists do, right? Thousands, tens of thousands would be slaughtered now our security services were not looking after us. It would almost be enough to distract us from the millions and tens of millions that were being saved by our silly little development projects. Some brave journalist might even say the obvious. "Look, its nice that all those people are being saved from ignoble deaths, but they are the wrong people. Look at all all those people dying from terrorism in the West!'

Let's go further into la-la-land. If there was a meaningful redistribution of wealth and resources, such that everybody had access to the basic needs of life and liberty, would there still be such an motivation for terrorists. If everyone had the access to those things required for a life with dignity, including the freedom to practice their own religion, would there be as much support for terrorist activities? For terrorism, like all highly organized groups, requires the support of people. And if the support is not there - they have a hard time getting anything done.

OK - time to wake up. The fight against terrorism is not going away - it is far too profitable (for some). It also directs money away from development aid - which is not as profitable. Politicians and the Business behind them are going to continue supporting the main tenant/contradiction of perpetual growth until something snaps. And then those with the money and power will look after their own interests - and the fluffy talk of democracy and human rights will fade into the background as 'tough decisions' are made.

Why did I wake up with such dark brown thoughts today?

Brown says global economy reliant upon growth in Africa

Friday 26 March 2010

Reading habits, writing non-habit

For a while I have been suffering from literary constipation - nothing coming out. I am thinking of changing my blog's subtitle 'To create the habit of writing, irregardless of quality' to something that more clearly reflects the realities of my writing habits. It seems I am stuck between two bad ways of thinking. One has been previously described by Henry Miller - the desire to write literature. That is, to write something of the quality of the writing of authors I admire. The second is to write accurately - to write non-fiction that has been researched to the level of good journalism. Both reflect a failure to write because I don't think I am good enough (in terms of either quality or accuracy). In short - I lack faith, I am fearful of criticism, I lack motivation. Objectively I recognize both these bad habits, and that they should not stop me from posting blog entries. Just reading other blogs is enough to see that there are many who disregard such concerns with abandon. Unfortunately, I am not currently among them.

Constipation can occur because nothing for a long time is going in, or despite something going in, nothing is coming out. My affliction is definitely the latter. So much goes in. I am given a mild boost in the knowledge that my head churns, gurgles, even seethes with sentences, metaphors, starting paragraphs etc… Now and then are short explosions where a few paragraphs are expelled - written down and saved but never published. Literary flatulence.

Just over a year ago (12 March 2009) I posted a list of books I had read whilst in Vietnam. For the sake of my own memory, I thought I should update the list to include those I have read since then. I have missed many out - having been returned to their rightful owners or just forgotten for the moment. I also also spent a lot more time this year reading online news, blogs and marginalia of the web - which has cut into my 'real' reading time more than I would have wanted. Still, I feel blessed to have had the time to read so many good (and a few awful) books. These are listed in no particular order:

The Pornographer's Poem - Michael Turner
Hospital - Toby Litt
In Defence of Food - Michael Pollan
Good Germs, Bad Germs - Jessica Snyder Sachs
The Botany of Desire - Michael Pollan
Omnivore's Dilemma - Michael Pollan
Tropic of Cancer (reread) - Henry Miller
A Pale View of Hills - Kazuo Ishiguro
A Personal Matter - Kenaburo Oe
The Silent Cry - Kenazburo Oe
First Abolish the Customer - Bob Ellis
Common Wealth - Economics for a Crowded Planet - Jeffrey D. Sachs
The End of Poverty - Jeffrey D. Sachs
Economics Explained - Robert Heilbroner & Lester Thurow
Naked Lunch (reread) - William S Burroughs
Footsteps - Pramoedya Anata Toer
House of Glass - Pramoedya Anata Toer
The Great War for Civilisation - Robert Fisk
Middle East Illusions - Noam Chomsky
Rogue State - William Blum
Perfect Spy - Pham Xuan An
Bias - Bernard Goldberg
The Political Mind - George Lakoff
Lipstick Jihad - Azadeh Moaveni
Requiem for the Sudan - J. Millard Burr and Robert O. Collins
What is the What - Dave Eggers
America Town - Mark L. Gillen
Ghost Wars - Steve Coll
The Road of Lost Innocence - Somaly Mam
The Fugitive - Pramoedya Anata Toer
All That is Gone - Pramoedya Anata Toer
The Wisdom of Whores - Elizabeth Pisani
The Great White Shark Hunt (reread) - Hunter S. Thompson
Pathologies of Power - Paul Farmer
Where the Ashes Are - Nguyen Qui Duc
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Jonathan Safran Foer

Currently Reading:
The Hidden Connections - Fritjof Capra
The Giants - J.M.G Le Cleszio
The Slap - Chirstos Tsiolkas
Philosophical Investigations (rereading) - Ludwig Wittgenstein

Thursday 22 October 2009

cassowary and suicide on holiday

contemplating suicide
Originally uploaded by Scratchin Dog.
"Perhaps he found what he came here for, but the odds are huge that he didn't. He was an old, sick and very troubled man, and the illusion of peace and contentment was not enough for him... So finally, and for what he must have thought the best of reasons, he ended it with a shotgun."
'What Lured Hemingway to Ketchum?', pg. 395 in "The Great Shark Hunt" by Hunter S Thompson

So Hunter finished his piece about Ernest Hemingway's final days in Ketchum, Idaho. He could well have been writing about himself. On February 20th 2005 Hunter shot himself in the head at his home 'Owl Farm' in Woody Creek, Colorado. I have just finished rereading the long and rabid collection of his early work "The Great Shark Hunt" and it has sent me back to that hot summer holiday in Australia when I first heard the news of his death.

We flew into Cairns in mid-Feb 2005. A smart beautiful English mathematician I used to live with was visiting Australia and we took this opportunity to stay in a friend's holiday house on Etty Bay. From the airport we picked up a small red rental car and headed south through the flat stretches of sugar cane country. The heat of Tropical North Queensland shimmered over the roads creating mirage pools of water ahead that you never arrived at. Along the dust at the side of the roads were numerous stalls offering every kind of tropical fruit imaginable. Just past Innisfall we took a left and headed for the ocean and soon wound our way down to an arc of sand surrounded on all sides by dense tropical vegetation. There was not much there - a small shop and a surf club. At the shop we picked up the keys from a one armed man with leathery skin and perpetual squint. He pointed us towards a gap in the trees and up a short steep dirt road we found our holiday house - a squat concrete building with cyclone shutters pulled down over two sides. It hunkered down amongst a fecund, almost threatening abundance of plant life.

Inside was a basic beach house with a main room that could be opened to the elements by rolling up the shutters, a couple of bedrooms and a bathroom. The floor was tiled and designed to be hosed out when too much sand had been walked inside. Across the ceiling were lines of meandering dots where vines had grown in and attached their roots before being pulled away. The air was full of insects and the noises of insects and other creatures unseen. We dumped our gear into the house and changed for the beach. It was off season, so the beach was practically deserted of people. Warning signs, however, were plentiful. There was a large rectangular swimming zone surrounded by nets that were meant to keep stingers at bay. A variety of poisonous jellyfish are populous in these waters - the stings ranging from irritating, through painful to deadly. A plastic bottle of vinegar is permanently placed below the life saving ring at the top of the beach as a first treatment for stings. The nets also help keep out sharks, and caution was to be taken at the creeks at each end of the beach where crocodiles were not unknown. Poisonous spiders and snakes were also common, though those at least, I was used to.

What I was not used to was the cassowary - a couple of which we immediately met in the car park on the way to the beach. These are a huge kind of flightless bird - the third largest, and second heaviest in the world. The kind of bird you only usually experience in nightmares or whilst caught on acid in a turkey pen. They can stand up to 2m tall and weight 70kg. Their long necks are a violent blue and they sport a thick bony horn like protrusion on their head above their thuggish red eyes. Their feet are composed of three large claws - the middle one particularly savage - which they can use to disembowel whatever they find threatening and in their way. And the problem is whilst they are physically huge, their brains are very small, mean and vicious. Very much like that of inbred conservative politicians in remote country areas where unwary travelers can disappear without a trace. It is the same kind of glazed dumb eyes that assess the world in terms of food, fuck, fight or flight - and when I gazed into those eyes I backed away and didn't even try to get the camera out. They unnerved me - monster mutant chickens with a chip on their shoulder about every mcnugget that has ever been eaten.

Yet the sand was white and clean, the water near body temperature which is the only way I like it. I floated, and swam to the nets and back, and floated more and let the summer Queensland sun lick my arc-light-white body into redness. On the walk back to the house was a stretch of road where the trees on each side made a canopy overhead and a stagnant creek ran along the side. We soon discovered that it was a mosquito infested tunnel of hell where walking would guarantee you at least a dozen bites. There was no option but to wrap a towel around as much exposed flesh as possible and run like buggery to get back into the light where you could slap yourself all over in some fiendish high-speed mockery of an Austrian dance. I soon found it also helped to keep your blood alcohol level as high as possible to potentially stun the evil fuckers once they took their first sip of blood. Once back at the house, however, with the mosquito repellant on, mosquito coils burning, and thick clouds of intoxicating smoke spiraling around your head, it was possible to relax reading books until the tiredness came upon you and you slept the sweat drenched tropical sleep of the Heart of Darkness.

Each night it was important to take the rubbish of the day down to the sealed bin in the car park. If you didn't, the whole thing would be ripped apart in the night by possums, rats, bush turkeys and a dozen other denizens of the night that you could hear, but not see until you came face-to-face with them on the kitchen counter. And whilst possums look cute in daylight, something about stumbling out bleary eyed to face off with a arrogant marsupial making devil noises through its yellow teeth at 2am isn't worth encouraging. So on the third night I dosed myself with repellant, finished my joint and picked up the rubbish to make the dash through the mosquito corridor. The corridor was only about 40m long and straight - but very dark and totally infested. I picked my way over the rocks and around the curve to the beginning of the straight, then broke into a fast run. About two thirds the way along I collided heavily with something solid, soft and covered in course feathers. For the next long 5 seconds the world was nothing but my screaming mixed with a high pitched banshee squawking and a rain of garbage coming down as both me and the cassowary ran randomly around in the dark finding anyway away from each other. I heard it crashing into the foliage of the creek as I rounded the bend back to the house. That garbage had made it far enough that night and it took much scotch and sedative smoking before I regained any semblance of control which was mostly hysterical hyper-ventilating laughter.

We had brought no laptops or music systems and had to make to with the local radio station which played the usual round of cheap music and adverts for agricultural suppliers. The band Green Day had just released their latest hit 'Boulevard of Broken Dreams' and it was being played on high repeat - it seemed once for every four other songs. Despite not even liking the song, it became the defacto anthem of the trip through repetition. We would start singing along with it without even thinking... "I walk a lonely road, the only one that I have ever known. Don't know where it goes, but it's home to me and I walk alone." And I think it was after one such playing that the news came on and delivered the news of Hunter's suicide. The pithy words of the song for a moment seemed to hold some meaning, though of course they didn't, and I was thrown into contemplation of the death of a literary hero of mine. I cannot remember exactly what I was thinking back then, but having just finished 'The Great Shark Hunt' again, I have been drawn back into contemplation of what I think of him, his mythical persona and his writings.

And a week later, with copious notes and hours spent mulling what I think I am no closer to finishing this damn blog entry. One thread follows the style of writing where the journalist is a character in his own work. The role is made explicit - and with Hunter - even mythical. The style is in opposition with 'objective' reporting that still makes up the mainstream of contemporary journalism - a style dedicated to 'telling it how it is' or 'just the facts'. The years I have spent contemplating the more corrosive side of philosophy (corrosive to the concept of attaining simple value-free 'facts') have made me wary of this style of journalism. 'Objectivity' too easily is a cover for unstated bias and subjectivity. The value of injecting the journalist into the story explicitly is that usually you can tell from what perspective the story is being written from. Did anyone ever wonder what Hunter really thought of Richard Milhouse Nixon? Philosophically speaking - I see no problem with subjectivity - especially when it is explicit. Partly related is Hunter's use of his contacts. He knew many people, from all walks of politics, and was not afraid of quoting them verbatim (nearly always taping his interviews) and naming his sources. Every second opinion or 'quote' in today's papers are from unnamed or anonymous sources - with all the abuse to truth and accountability that comes with that. However, I have not been able to expand upon this thread coherently.

Another thread concerned a corollary of injecting yourself into a story - that you end up writing about yourself. I think most people would concede that writing objectively about yourself is nearly a contradiction in terms. Our everyday lives involves projecting a persona into the world, and writing about yourself is projecting yet another persona. In this sense Hunter reminds me of another two authors I respect, Henry Miller and Charles Bukowski. In each of their works - the author is loosely represented through a persona that is a hyper-real fictionalization of themselves. Miller hams up the sex in his works, Bukowski the alcoholism, Hunter the drugs and violence. Each is deeply concerned to project the individualist freedom of their self-characters. And in each case they were criticized for 'making stuff up' about themselves. And in each case, they experienced problems when people expected them as people to confirm more to their fictional characterizations of themselves. I remember the photos run by Playboy of an elderly Miller playing ping pong with a naked buxom young woman. Photos of a over-weght Bukowski climbing into a box car to represent his homeless drifting (though he never rode in a boxcar) and his famous acting the belligerent buffoon at university readings. In a 1978 interview with the BBC Hunter said: "I'm never sure which one people expect me to be. Very often, they conflict - most often, as a matter of fact. ...I'm leading a normal life and right along side me there is this myth, and it is growing and mushrooming and getting more and more warped. When I get invited to, say, speak at universities, I'm not sure if they are inviting Duke or Thompson. I'm not sure who to be."

And yet - when they were not writing about themselves - there seems to be a honesty of purpose or truthfulness running through-out their work. Each in their own way writes in a humanitarian way that seems counter the male-centric bravado of their personas. And perhaps the key to this seeming conflict of perspectives is the fierce anti-authoritarian that each author espoused. In siding against authority, they tended to side with those who are the natural enemy of authority. Those without power or position, the poor, the oppressed, those that want to be left alone to drink or take drugs without harassment. I wouldn't want to draw too many parallels between these authors on this thin thread. Many would contest my opinion of Miller or Bukowski as humanitarian writers - there are plenty who would write both off as misogynists and leave the argument there. Being labeled a misogynist is like being labeled a racist, or anti-semite - in some circles it is case closed - there can be nothing good about the writer. And I'm too tired to try and fight those battles, too tired to even have a firm opinion on them. I will stand with the anti-authoritarian nature of their writing and leave it there for others to draw conclusions from that. All authors have plenty in their writing to offend you if you are looking to be offended. All I would say is that there is also plenty in their writing to be uplifted by, if you are looking to be uplifted.

In contrast to being uplifted, I was also thinking about three books that produced strongly negative reactions in me. I remember reading 'Disgrace' by J. M. Coetzee that put me in a depressive angry funk for a week. The mathematician I went on holiday with highly recommended reading 'Broom of the System' by David Foster Wallace, one of the few books I have hurled across the room after finishing. And finally one of the books I read whilst on that holiday in Queensland, 'Something Happened' by Joseph Heller. Nearly 600 pages of waiting for Something to Happen which it only does in the last 10 pages and leaves a bitter resentful taste in the mouth. Each of these books are rightfully acclaimed as fine pieces of literature - but I hated them at the time and have no desire to return there. Strange how it works... Like how my memory of that holiday long ago as been pinned into my personal chronology with a unusual degree of clarity by the death of Hunter S Thompson.