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Archive for June, 2016

“Tevita Latu was only one of hundreds of Tongans detained after the riot. In 2007 the lawyer and human rights activist Betty Blake published a report about the treatment of these detainees. Working with a ‘community para-legal taskforce’ that included some of Tonga’s top academics, Blake documented the misery of detainees forced into tiny and filthy cells, handcuffed for days on end, and beaten with fists and boots and sticks. Australian and New Zealand cops sent to help Tongan ‘restore security’ after the riot had stood by while their colleagues worked. A fifth of all the detainees had been children.

Blake’s report was studded with photographs of torture victims. With their eyes blacked out for security reasons, a series of young men showed off their stained T shirts, bloated eyes and lips, and pitted scalps. The report was soon uploaded to the internet, and Nuku’alofa’s police were enraged when they discovered Tevita Latu’s battered body amongst its illustrations.

Soon Ebonie Fifita-Maka had turned away from me, toward a couple of men wearing matching floral shirts and expensive shoes, and holding what looked like a sandwich board. The men in the floral shirts had been watching Ebonie’s chat to the police with bemused smiles, and now they had something to tell her. Ebonie leaned over the sandwich board to hug both men at once, then turned and stepped after them toward the outdoor deck of On the Spot’s gallery, where a microphone stand had appeared. Partygoers gathered around the improvised stage, a drum roll sounded, and Ebonie held the board above her head. It was a giant cheque from the Bank of the South Pacific, entitling On the Spot to fifteen thousand pa’anga (about ten thousand New Zealand dollars). As Ebonie explained, once the crowd had stopped cheering, Tonga’s leading bank had been impressed by On the Spot’s painters, dancers, musicians, and actors, and admired the group’s commitment to free expression.

As I stood listening to Ebonie’s speech I was joined by a grinning Maikolo Horowitz, an American sociologist and novelist who has taught and researched in Tonga for nearly two decades. “It’s bizarre, isn’t it?” Maikolo said. “One minute the cops want to shut them down, and the next minute bankers are giving them money. Tonga can’t decide what to do with its young artists.”

In the decade since Nuku’alofa burned and Tevita Latu was beaten Tonga has changed. A new constitution has restricted the powers of the monarchy and the nobility, and let commoners elect two-thirds of parliament. In the aftermath of the riot pro-democracy leader ‘Akilisi Pohiva was arrested and charged with sedition, but today he is Prime Minister. And yet Tongan democracy is fragile. In a recent article for Pohiva’s newspaper Ko e Kelea the young journalist ‘Ofa Vetikani complained that Tonga’s elite is still opposed to democracy. Recalcitrant nobles plot a return to power over cocktails, while biased journalists slander the Prime Minister on television and religious conservatives denounce democracy as ungodly.

Maikolo Horowitz had given Vetikani’s polemic to his students. “Every word of it is true,” he told me. “This is a Weimar kingdom. We have democracy, but shadows are forming. What you saw tonight from the police should not be surprising.”

I stepped into On the Spot’s gallery space, which occupies two rooms in the old cottage the group has restored and made its den. In between a set of new ngatu paintings by Tanya Edwards a series of photo collages documented On the Spot’s first ten years. There were shots of members dancing, singing, teaching, painting, performing plays, partying, and hanging out at the beach.

In a famous essay published in the early 1970s, Wystan Curnow argued that because New Zealand was a small society its intellectuals were forced to multitask rather than specialise.(1) Writers often reviewed and edited, and produced poetry as well as prose; painters often had to teach and curate. When Curnow was writing his essay New Zealand had a population of two and a half million; today the Kingdom of Tonga still has only a hundred thousand inhabitants. In such a tiny society intellectuals and artists become dizzyingly versatile. Tonga’s most revered intellectual, the late Futa Helu, was a philosopher, an expert on ancient Greece, a literary critic, an opera singer, an authority on Tongan dance, and a political commentator, amongst other things. Epeli Hau’ofa won an international audience for his short stories and novel, but he was also a poet, an important anthropologist, an expert on Fijian carving, and an academic administrator. On the Spot’s eclecticism is part of a tradition.

Half a dozen women were standing in the middle of a gallery room, with their backs to the ngatu and the photo collages. They were giggling and talking about trousers. I had my exercise book and my pen, because I’d intended making notes about Tanya Edwards’ new paintings; instead, I began to transcribe the conversation I was overhearing.

– I let my daughter wear trousers. I’m not worried.
– I said ‘tuku ‘ia!’ You’re not wearing those! Dr Palu will curse you!
– He is insane. But lots of people like to listen to him. In the diaspora, too…

One of the women turned to me, saw me scribbling, and asked, in what I hoped was a jocular tone, whether I was spying for Dr Ma’afu Palu, the theologian who has lately become Tonga’s most notorious DJ. Palu spends his days at the Free Wesleyan Church’s Siatoutai Theological College, in the countryside outside Nuku’alofa, and some of his evenings behind a microphone at a popular FM station, where he inveighs against secularism, feminism, Prime Minister Pohiva, women who wear trousers, and other threats to the Tongan nation.

When Pohiva announced last year that his government would join the rest of the world in ratifying the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Palu brought hundreds of people, including Catholic nuns and a former Prime Minister, onto the streets of Nuku’alofa. The crowd chanted slogans like ‘CEDAW 666’ and raised a banner with the legend: A House with Two Masters A House of Doom. In interviews with the media Palu claimed that if Tonga ratified CEDAW the country would return to its pagan past, and Christians would be persecuted. After some of his more cowardly MPs threatened to cross the floor of Tonga’s parliament, Pohiva decided not to sign the UN’s convention.

Palu ends his radio programmes by cursing the people he holds responsible for Tonga’s slide towards democracy and pluralism. ‘Ofa Guttenbeil-Likiliki is the director of Tonga’s Women’s and Children’s Crisis Centre, a supporter of CEDAW, and a regular target of Palu. “He curses me,” she explained, “and once he cursed my children, and said that he hoped I would live to see his curses fulfilled. We were laughing about his fascination with women’s trousers, but Ma’afu Palu is really no joke. He is guilty of hate speech.”

– Scott Hamilton, “Art In A Weimar Kingdom,Eye Contact.  June 4, 2016

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“Simcoe Jail Warden Outbluffs Prisoners Who Wielded Razor,” Toronto Star. June 23, 1936. Pages 1 & 3.

“George and Joseph Parks, Brothers, Also Had ‘Dummy’ Revolver.

ESCAPE FAILS.

Escape Plot of Two Windsor Prisoners, Awaiting Move to Kingston, Also Foiled.

Simcoe, June 23 – Trapped in the kitchen of the county jail here Saturday by George and Joseph Parks, brothers, awaiting appeal from a five-year penitentiary sentence, who were armed with a ‘dummy’ revolver and an open razor, Governor George Mercer, alone and unarmed, bluffed his way past the two men, held them in the kitchen, and made his way to the street, where he summoned the police. 

Answering the governor’s call for help, Chief of Police West and Nightman Doyle, of Simcoe, with Provincial Constables Cavalry and Taggert rushed to the jail.  Entering the building where eleven other prisoners were confined the governor and the police found the Park brothers back in their cells, feigning sleep.  The cell was searched but the ‘wooden gun’ was not found.  One of the brothers said he had hidden it in the fire box of the stove in the laundry while the open razor blade – the only one in the jail, used for shaving the inmates and left in Joseph Park’s cell – was found lying on the window sill.  The men there were placed in solitary confinement.  George is 38 years of age, Joseph 32.

“George and Joseph Parks held me up in the kitchen,” stated Governor Mercer. “When I entered, George, who has a sore eye, was having some medicine put in it by Joseph.  I said ‘Your eye much better to-day?’ Just as I said that, he swung around on me and pulled a revolver. ‘Stick ‘em up; this is a getaway,’ he said.

‘I looked at him in amazement.  He had a black gun in his hand.  First I thought it was a joke, but then he started to shout and I knew something was wrong.  Joseph was working his way behind me to get somewhere and then stood with his legs spread across the door of the kitchen leading out into the corridor.  He had an open razor in his hand.

Expected Razor Attack
‘I guess they thought they were going to stop me right there.  They came toward me.  I had the big cell keys in my hand.  They are about five inches long, solid steel.  I started waving my keys and yelled at them to get out of the way.  As I backed to the door, George yelled at his brother ‘Give it to him.’

‘I expected that any minute Joseph would let go with the razor, and I still kept working my way into the corridor.  For some reason they did not follow me.  I came out of the corridor leading from the kitchen into the main corridor and, knowing I was alone in the jail, rushed to the main door and got out into the street, where I called for help.  There are no doors on the corridor, and they could have rushed me.’

“The police came and we went back into the jail and found the brothers in their cells,’ the governor continued. ‘We got George up and searched the cell and he told us the gun was in the stove in the kitchen.  The police described it as ‘a good imitation.’  We also got the razor.  For some reason it was forgotten when Joe Parks was shaved, and it was left in his cell.’

‘Did the men give any reason for their attempt on you?’ asked The Star.  ‘None at all – they never spoke a word after we got them again.’

‘As I went down the main corridor, George said ‘It’s all off,’ the governor related.  ‘I could have got help from other prisoners, I believe, if necessary.’

The dummy weapon was carved from wood and painted black.  The brothers took the paint from some which had been used for painting the jail boiler.  Police and jail officials believe the men appealed their conviction because it would give them at least 30 days more in the Simcoe jail and possibly a better chance to escape.”

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“Aladdin is so very refreshing because this piece has the audacity of the child, of the genius, in the wildest wishes. Indeed, how many are there in our day who truly dare to wish, dare to desire, dare to address nature neither with a polite child’s bitte, bitte [please, please] nor with the raging frenzy of one damned? How many are there who-inspired by what is talked about so much in our age, that man is created in God’s image-have the authentic voice of command? Or do we not all stand like Noureddin, bowing and scraping, worrying about asking too much or too little? Or is not every magnificent demanding eventually diminished to morbid reflecting over the I, from insisting to informing, which we are indeed brought up and trained to do.”

– Soren Kierkegaard, Either / Or, Part 1. Translated by: Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Princeton University Press, 1987. Original: 1843.

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“Capitalism’s history might be tracked in a genealogy of the corporate apology. That of Baum’s eponymous head was typical of this sub-epoch of viciousness, mawkishness and entitlement. An initial denial of anything untoward; a rapid U-turn and apology for ‘inappropriate’ behaviour, ostentatiously meeting a homelessness activist; ultimately, parading in the mourning clothes of victimhood. Three weeks after the exposé – of a firm already under investigation – the company closed. ‘There is blood on your hands’, Baum wrote to Joe Nocera, in whose New York Times column the scandal broke. ‘I will never, ever forgive you’.

Baum’s quivering lip should provoke only piss and vinegar. It’s true, too, that the ritual slaying of a designated scapegoat, however just, can serve as exoneration by and for the system that threw up, nurtured, rewarded their behaviour. Our rulers and their media clercs are shocked, shocked by such Baum moments, these cruelties-too-far. As if there hasn’t always been, in capitalism’s marrow, a drive not only to repression but to cruelty, to down- punching sadism. They denounce it, partake of it, propagate it.

Consensual peccadilloes are not at issue here: this is about social sadism – deliberate, invested, public or at least semi-public cruelty. The potentiality for sadism is one of countless capacities emergent from our reflexive, symbolising selves. Trying to derive any social phenomenon from any supposed ‘fact’ of ‘human nature’ is useless, except to diagnose the politics of the deriver. Of course it’s vulgar Hobbesianism, the supposed ineluctability of human cruelty, that cuts with the grain of ruling ideology. The right often, if incoherently, acts as if this (untrue) truth-claim of our fundamental nastiness justifies an ethics of power. The position that Might Makes Right is elided from an Is, which it isn’t, to an Ought, which it oughtn’t be, even were the Is an is. If strength and ‘success’ are coterminous with good, what can their lack be but bad – deserving of punishment?

Meanwhile, liberal culture wrings its hands over the thinness of the veneer over our savagery, from the nasty visionary artistry of Lord of the Flies, to lachrymose middlebrow tragedy-porn, emoting and decontextualising wars. These jeremiads beg for a strong hand, for authority, to save us from ourselves. A state, laws. As if those don’t – and increasingly – target the poor.

Class rule necessitates violence and its contested, overlapping, jostling ideologies. It justifies, or more, Orgreave in 1984, the armed wing of the state laying down manners on insurgent workers. It insists that waterboarding is not torture and anyway it defends our freedoms. It explains the necessity of the spikes carefully fitted at the bases of new buildings to ensure the homeless can’t sleep there. Rising unevenly from a fundamental necessity to capital – oppression – are brutalities necessary to sustain class rule at home; to sustain imperialism abroad; everyday sadisms so metabolised their cruelties often hide in plain sight.

The drives to such phenomena are hazy-edged, non-identical but inextricable, imbricated, mutually constituting. They’re constant but not static. The parameters and place of violence, repression and sadism change with history. And with them, from the rush of jouissance they tap, inevitably flows their excess – a scandalous, invested sadism, enjoying its own cruelty. A surplus sadism. Baum’s Halloween party.”

– China Miéville, “On Social Sadism,Salvage. December 2015.

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“Charles T. Schenck is remembered today less for what he did than for the image he helped inspire:  that of a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.  That image was first offered by Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes as an illustration of what Schenck did during the First World War, and it has since become a fixture of our discussions about the delicate balance between freedom and security, liberty and order, particularly though not exclusively in times of war.

It’s a pity that we remember the metaphor rather than the man, however, for the gap between what Schenck did and what Holmes said he did is considerable—and instructive.

Schenck was the general secretary of the Socialist Party in Philadelphia during the First World War.  Unlike their sister parties in Western Europe, America’s Socialists firmly opposed the war, even after the United States entered it in April 1917.  That summer, Schenck and his Philadelphia comrades launched a campaign against the draft.  They composed a two-sided leaflet that attacked the draft as unconstitutional and called for people to join the Socialist Party and persuade their representatives in Congress to repeal it.  If the leaflet’s language was strong—“a conscript is little better than a convict…deprived of his liberty and of his right to think and act as a free man”—it was also conventional, couched in a vernacular many would have found familiar.  One side proclaimed “Long Live the Constitution of the United States.” The other urged people to “Assert Your Rights!”

Schenck and his comrades made 15,000 leaflets and mailed most of them to men in Philadelphia who had passed their draft board physicals.  It’s unclear how many actually received the leaflet—hundreds were intercepted by the government—and no one produced evidence of anyone falling under its influence.  Even so, Schenck and four others were arrested and charged with “causing and attempting to cause insubordination…in the military and naval forces of the United States, and to obstruct the recruiting and enlistment services of the United States.”  Two of the defendants—Schenck and another party leader—were found guilty.  Schenck’s case was argued before the Supreme Court in January 1919, and the Court’s unanimous decision to uphold the conviction, written by Holmes, was delivered in March.

Holmes’s opinion was a mere six paragraphs.  But in one sentence he managed to formulate a test for freedom of speech that would endure on the Court in some form until 1968—“[The] question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent”—and in another to draw an illustration of the test that remains burned in the public consciousness to this day: “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.”

With his disdain for socialists and rabble-rousers, Holmes would not have been pleased to see his name posthumously linked to Schenck’s.  But with his equally powerful sense of realism, he undoubtedly would have conceded the truth of Harry Kalven’s observation, in 1988, that “Schenck—and perhaps even Holmes himself—are best remembered for the example of the man ‘falsely shouting fire’ in a crowded theater.”  It was that kind of metaphor: vivid, pungent, and profoundly misleading.

Drawing on nearly forty years of his own scholarship and jurisprudence, Holmes viewed Schenck’s leaflet not as an instance of political speech but as a criminal attempt to inflict harm. In the same way that a person’s shout of fire in a theater would cause a stampede and threaten the audience with death so would Schenck’s leaflet cause insubordination in the military, hamper the war effort, and threaten the United States and its people with destruction.

Holmes knew that words were not always words:  sometimes they ignited fires—and not just the metaphorical kind.  In 1901, as chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, Holmes had upheld the conviction of a man who tried to persuade his servant to set fire to his own home in order to collect on the insurance. Just as that man’s words threatened the safety and well being of his neighbors so did Schenck’s threaten the safety and well being of his, or so Holmes believed.

Whenever the government suppresses opinions or beliefs like Schenck’s, it claims to be acting on behalf of values—national security, law and order, public safety—that are neutral and universal:  neutral because they don’t favor one person or group over another, universal because they are shared by everyone and defined by everyone in the same way.  Whatever a person may believe, whatever her party or profession, race or religion, may be, she will need to be safe and secure in order to live the life she wishes to live.  If she is to be safe and secure, society must be safe and secure:  free of crime and violent threats at home or abroad.  The government must be safe and secure as well, if for no other reason than to provide her and society with the safety and security they need. She and society are like that audience in Holmes’s theater:  whether some are black and others white, some rich and others poor, everyone needs to be and to feel safe and secure in order to enjoy the show.  And anyone who jeopardizes that security, or the ability of the government to provide it, is like the man who falsely shouts fire in the theater. He is a criminal, the enemy of everyone.  Not because he has a controversial view or takes unorthodox actions, but because he makes society—and each person’s pursuits in society—impossible.

But Americans always have been divided—and always have argued—about war and peace, what is or is not in the national interest.  What is security, people have asked?  How do we provide it?  Pay for it?  Who gets how much of it?  The personal differences that are irrelevant in Holmes’s theater—race, class, gender, ethnicity, residence, and so on—have had a great influence in the theater of war and peace. During the First World War, Wall Street thought security lay with supporting the British, German-Americans with supporting the Kaiser, Socialists with supporting the international working class.  And while the presence or absence of fire in Holmes’s theater is a question of objective and settled fact, in politics it is a question of judgment and interpretation.  During the war, Americans could never decide whether or not there was a fire, and if there was, where it was—on the Somme, the Atlantic, in the factories, the family, the draft—and who had set it:  the Kaiser, Wilson, J.P. Morgan, Teddy Roosevelt, the Socialists, the unions, the anarchists.  Without agreement on these questions, it wasn’t clear if Schenck was the shouter, the fire, or the fireman.”

– Ellen Schrecker & Corey Robin, “Falsely Shouting Fire in a Theater: How a Forgotten Labor Struggle Became a National Obsession and Emblem of Our Constitutional Faith,Corey Robin blog. February 16, 2013.

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https://bandcamp.com/stream_redirect?enc=mp3-128&track_id=1624045493&ts=1544986111&t=ffab278129d82980dc6309e8b6f58331079b8bb6?plead=please-dont-download-this-or-our-lawyers-wont-let-us-host-audio

June 18, 2016: a new episode of The Anatomy Lesson at 11pm EST on CFRC 101.9 FM (cfrcradio). Always there, always watching. We open with Jenny Hval. New songs by Vatican Shadow, abovetopsecretmusic (ft. Lido Pimienta), dälek, Odonis Odonis, EXE, Lace & Collar; a collaboration between Così e Così and ylangylanginnergaze; and older music by Ramleh, Maria Zerfall, No Comment, Warning and Sucking Chest Wound. Tune in at 101.9 FM, stream at http://audio.cfrc.ca:8000/listen.pls or download the finished show at cfrc.ca.

Jenny Hval – “That Battle Is Over” Apocalypse, Girl (2015)
Lace & Collar – “Pursuit 1” Pursuit
YlangYlang & Cosi e Cosi – “Hypothesis” The Science of Separation
No Comment – “Turmoil 1.1” Genetics 1 (1990)
Dälek – “Control” Asphalt For Eden
Above Top Secret – “Bang (ft. Lido Pimienta)” Above Top Secret

Warning – “They Are On Their Way Again” Electric Eyes (1983)
EXE – “Digital Diamond Shred” Deaddrop
Vatican Shadow – “More of the Same” Media In the Service of Terror
Sucking Chest Wound – “A State of Terror” The War on Drugs (1994)
Odonis Odonis – “Needs” Post Plague
Ramleh – “Purge” We Created It, Let’s Destroy It, Vol. 2 (1995)
Maria Zerfall – “Abgrund” Kopfkrieg, 1985-1995 (2000)

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“A minor footnote to the controversy over Niall Ferguson’s homophobic remarks about John Maynard Keynes. Ferguson claimed that the key to Keynes’s economic philosophy is a selfishness and short-termism rooted in the fact that Keynes was gay and had no children. No kids=no future=big deficits.

What is supposed to have prompted Ferguson to these meditations was a question comparing Keynes to Edmund Burke. According to the main report, “Ferguson responded to a question about Keynes’ famous philosophy of self-interest versus the economic philosophy of Edmund Burke, who believed there was a social contract among the living, as well as the dead.” As Ferguson explained in the apology he subsequently issued, “The point I had made in my presentation was that in the long run our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are alive, and will have to deal with the consequences of our economic actions.”

You’d think, for Ferguson’s claim to work, Edmund Burke would have sired a boatload of kids, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. In actual fact, he had one child, which, if my math is right, is only one more than Keynes had.  Not exactly the stuff of which allegedly grand differences of economic philosophy (self-interest versus the social good) are made. And that one child—Edmund’s son Richard—never married and died in 1794, three years before Burke died. In other words, Burke left no one behind.

Maybe that’s why Burke’s economic philosophy put such stress on the vile self-interested short-termism Ferguson is supposed to have detected in the childless gay Keynes. As he wrote after his son died:

There must be some impulse besides public spirit, to put private interest into motion along with it. Monied men ought to be allowed to set a value on their money; if they did not, there would be no monied men. This desire of accumulation is a principle without which the means of their service to the State could not exist. The love of lucre, though sometimes carried to a ridiculous, sometimes to a vicious excess, is the grand cause of prosperity to all States. In this natural, this reasonable, this powerful, this prolific principle, it is for the satirist to expose the ridiculous; it is for the moralist to censure the vicious; it is for the sympathetick heart to reprobate the hard and cruel; it is for the Judge to animadvert on the fraud, the extortion, and the oppression: but it is for the Statesman to employ it as he finds it; with all it’s concomitant excellencies, with all it’s imperfections on it’s head. It is his part, in this case, as it is in all other cases, where he is to make use of the general energies of nature, to take them as he finds them.

– Corey Robin, “Edmund Burke to Niall Ferguson: You know nothing of my work. You mean my whole theory is wrong. How you ever got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing.” Crooked Timber, May 4, 2013.

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