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Victor’s justice

Katherine Gallagher seems optimistic a proposed International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan might indict offenders regardless of nationality or alliance. She hopes to see members of “the Taliban and affiliated armed groups, Afghan authorities, and members of the US military forces and the CIA” who have committed atrocities in the conflict put in the dock. Hey, what about us! Don’t Australian war criminals rate on the international stage? She’d also like to see torture black sites in eastern Europe used in the CIA’s ‘extraordinary rendition’ program included in the probe.

I admire Ms Gallagher’s intent. It’s nice to imagine those licenced by our leaders to use deadly force could face consequences for stepping outside well defined guidelines on how to oppress and kill people. Even nicer to fantasise about prosecuting those who ordered them to. But I hope her confidence is feigned. I’ve met my share of people who believed courts would deliver justice for victims of security forces. It doesn’t end well for them. Sometimes I’ve even seen what I thought were reasons for guarded optimism. Hope rising triumphant. Only to be crucified again. And again. Mercifully, there are no grounds for hope here. Some sense? Some humanity? Some justice? Not a chance.

One obstacle Katherine overlooks is that the United States isn’t among the 120 or so countries to sign the Rome Charter. Rejection of the jurisdiction of the ICC has been asserted repeatedly by US leaders and made explicit by legislation compelling the President to use “all means necessary and appropriate to bring about the release of any U.S. or allied personnel being detained or imprisoned by, on behalf of, or at the request of the International Criminal Court.” That’s legalese for “If they get too uppity, drone ’em.” Seems sensible. Trying to prosecute all the war crimes committed by America and its allies would send the ICC bankrupt. Law isn’t cheap in the lands of the free.

But let’s imagine US authorities took the unprecedented step of subjecting themselves to international law. Not just signing treaties and ignoring them; as per longstanding tradition for negotiating with America’s First Nations; or as Australia does with agreements granting human rights to prisoners, children, Aborigines or refugees; but actually putting offending officials and enforcers through the ritualised sham that passes for investigation and prosecution by a court of law.

I’m not sure which of its member nations the ICC would turn to for experience in prosecuting security forces or their leaders for illegal killings. Let he who has convicted a cop cast the first subpoena. Does its international nature make the ICC less susceptible to the corruption and manipulation that undermine the legal systems of its constituents?

I live in a country that’s never convicted a police or prison officer for torturing or killing while on duty. Not once. We draw our legal traditions from Britain, which also has a spotless record of not prosecuting official homicide. Our judicial procedures don’t condemn crimes committed by authorities in their 230 year war against Australia’s original inhabitants. They legalise and normalise them. I’m confident the ICC will look to us and similar paragons of Rule of Law™ for precedents to guide its proceedings.

Justice from the ICC? Maybe if you lose a war or run a cut price killing field in a developing country. You have to invest millions in slaughter if you want to say who’s guilty and who’s not. We wealthy, educated, victorious countries have trained judges and lawyers to explain why our crimes aren’t criminal. And the best media money can buy. They don’t come cheap but they’re worth it. For some.



Kali - The Creator, The Destroyer, The Dancer

I thought I knew something. I thought I’d done something. I thought I was something. But …

If you’ve got it …

What is psychosis anyway?

What mix of extreme mood, altered perception, hallucinations and delusional thinking do you need to cook a full blown psychotic episode? Does it count if it doesn’t upset other people? What if it doesn’t upset you? What if you want it?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not selling mental illness. It’s nasty. There’s plenty of scars on my body and mind to remind me of that. I’m only writing this because I’m lousy at killing myself. It’s the secret of my survival.

Fuck it! I’m here for the ride. I am the ride. Being crazy makes it interesting. Except the bits where you stare at a wall and don’t think anything for ages. Isn’t wanting to die part of life? Elation. Misery. Terror. Ecstasy. Why not check out all the attractions?

Maybe I’ve learned from being nuts. About me. About my world. About reality. Or maybe I’m deluded again. Grandiose to boot. It’s sort of a mystery and sort of a tragedy and sort of a comedy but they call it a pathology. Worth the price of entrance? Or exit? Fucked if I know. It’s all I know.

I like horror movies. I guess I’m a happy customer. Can’t imagine being happier. They say that’s a symptom.

Can you consent to rape?

I’m reposting this old one because I think the unfortunately hashtagged #MeToo movement has given it new currency.

I should probably point out that this post was largely prompted by the traumatising reassessment of my own sexual history that came in the wake of my work developing non-judicial community-based responses to sexual assault, some involving colleagues within the Sydney progressive/revolutionary activist community.

Years earlier I had painfully come to realise I was a victim of sexual coercion and assault, albeit relatively minor. I was now forced to come to terms with the fact I may also be a perpetrator of such actions and that I may never understand the impact that had on my sexual partners who may have been less than completely willing.

This post was also an attempt to accept responsibility for both employing and succumbing to sexual coercion, though I’m fully aware some will choose to interpret it as victim blaming.


Paul Barclay promoted the ‘Sex, Sport and Power‘ episode of Big Ideas with the question “Is there a grey area between consent and rape?”.

Predictably the online commenters were apoplectic over Barclay’s incendiary promo and completely missed what his guest, writer Anna Krien, actually had to say. Which is a shame, as Ms Krien’s thoughts on sexual assault are a bit more nuanced and developed than his scandal mongering introduction would suggest.

Yes, she did touch on the question of what happens when a young woman seeking sexual adventure finds herself in a situation that is slipping out of her control. Trying to balance the possible consequences of calling a halt with the risk of allowing the situation to develop without protest. Questioning whether it was possible for listeners to understand that someone might comply with something they had not consented to even if not actually threatened.


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The first casualty (#2)

“You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.” – Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst to an underling on the eve of the Spanish-American War.

The Syrian Civil War is both a tragedy and a chaotic catastrophe; for Syrians on all sides of the conflict and for the world at large. Perhaps it will someday inspire satirical accounts in the tradition of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, but for now the ongoing suffering of many thousands of combatants and non-combatants alike can only induce horror and despair.

If therapeutic satires are eventually written one of the prime sources of irony will be the coverage of the conflict by the mainstream media. By then the media itself will have ‘forgotten’ its propaganda role in perpetuating the disaster – in much the same way its disinformation about the Iraq and Libyan wars has already disappeared down the memory hole – and it will be up to authors – primarily of fiction – to remind us of its reprehensible reporting.

I’ve already commented on some of the most egregious misreporting of the conflict, though documenting all the lies would provide full time work for dozens of critics. But developments this week mark a dangerous escalation that history may yet (fail to) record as the deadliest turning point in the conflagration thus far. A flare-up that ‘liberal progressive’ outlets such as the Guardian seem determined to fan.

According to both US and Syrian government sources a large number of Syrian Arab Army fighters were killed by US air and artillery strikes in Deir Ezzor province on February 7th. Damascus talks of dozens dead while Washington claims over 100 kills. Syria says the strikes were unprovoked but the US Central Command (CENTCOM) say they were responding to an attack against a headquarters unit of their Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) allies which was ‘co-located’ with Coalition service members. Both sides insist they were in the area in pursuit of ISIS/Daesh remnants. The assault force included Apache attack helicopters, AC-130 gunships, F-22 and F-15 warplanes and USMC artillery batteries.

I have no opinion as to who initiated the fighting. Even in conflicts with fixed alliances and well defined front lines accidental attacks against misidentified targets are commonplace. But the outcome seems clear. Syrian forces suffered a large number of dead and wounded while the Coalition reported no US casualties and just one SDF fighter injured. If the alleged Syrian attack had been anywhere near Coalition positions we could have expected more US and allied casualties from friendly fire alone. Neither side suggests the US tried to warn off Syrian forces before launching its deadly assault, though the Pentagon claims to have given Russia prior notice of the strikes.

It’s hard to believe the Syrian Army would have deliberately attacked US occupied SDF positions in the face of certain devastating reprisals. In fact it’s hard to say why they would attack the SDF at all, given the long-standing detente between them that enables both to concentrate on common enemies such as ISIS, Al Nusra and the US trained and supplied Free Syrian Army (FSA). The FSA – having previously fought alongside ISIS against the SDF – is currently supporting Turkish forces in their attacks on SDF positions around Afrin and Bulbul, though the US shows no inclination to respond to the attacks by its allies against its allies. In fact CENTCOM provoked them with its ill-advised announcement of a 30,000 strong US-backed SDF force along the Turkish border. On the other hand, the Syrian armed forces allow the US-aligned SDF to use government held territory to reinforce and resupply its besieged fighters in Afrin. As I said, the conflict is utterly chaotic.

It’s to be expected the American military would release an unbalanced and self-serving report of the ‘battle’. That’s SOP. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that the Guardian would go even further in misreporting the massacre. But I was. According to them the Americans were responding to an unprovoked attack on a ‘US-controlled base’. No mention it was actually an SDF position. No suggestion it could have been an accident, or that it may not have even happened. No questioning of whether the US response was proportionate or justified despite the large number of Syrian casualties. No theories as to why Syrian commanders would order such a self-defeating provocation. Aren’t they just Hollywood-style baddies who carry out suicidal attacks for the pure evil of them? Instead the Guardian used the opportunity to repeat – for at least the fourth time in two days – allegations of Syrian atrocities against the few remaining rebel strongholds. Allegations sourced exclusively from Western-funded, pro-rebel outfits such as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the White Helmets.

Completely missing from the Guardian’s coverage is the growing danger of military conflict between America and Russia in the face of escalating US belligerence in Syria and increasing proximity between their respective armed forces. Nor will you find mention of the fact that US intervention in the war is illegal under international law, unlike the government-authorised presence of Russian forces on Syrian sovereign territory.

It’s not as if Syria is the only flashpoint between the US and Russia either. Eastern Europe has become steadily more tense as NATO pushes ever closer to Moscow and – as the BBC puts it – the Russian military has become “increasingly aggressive” by conducting “manoeuvres on Europe’s doorstep, with large-scale exercises near Nato’s borders”. Presumably the Beeb assumes its viewers don’t know that much of Russia is in Europe and that ‘NATO’s borders‘ are now also Russia’s borders.

Over the past year our media outlets have unleashed a deluge of anti-Russian fake news unprecedented since the height of the Cold War. The Guardian has even claimed Moscow is trying to hack the Oscars.

According to some analysts (e.g. Alfred McCoy) the US empire is on its last legs. Its diplomatic and economic hegemony have entered their final decade with military dominance soon to follow. Living standards and perceptions of security are set for precipitous decline and though we might reasonably expect a short-term backlash against the excesses of the current White House incumbent the long term trend of an increasingly desperate and misinformed US electorate would seem to be towards simplistic solutions from unhinged populists who promise to ‘make America great again’. Populists who, if elected, will have their finger on the nuclear button. And while some would argue the macho posturing of Vladimir Putin doesn’t extend to Russian military policy it would be dangerously complacent to assume his successors will exercise similar restraint in the face of US aggression. It’s little wonder the atomic scientists who set the Doomsday Clock have recently moved its hands to two-minutes to midnight – the equal closest it has come to Armageddon since its inception in 1947.

I don’t know how extreme media propaganda will become as the risk of nuclear conflict escalates, but I doubt their final, strident attempts at warmongering will face criticism. There will be no-one reading them and no-one trying to counter them. The only spin remaining will be that of wind through the ashes.


Postscript: (14 February 2018): Recent media reports suggest that up to 200 Russian military contractors may have been killed in the US strikes in Deir Ezzor, however it should be noted that Southfront Crisis News dismissed these claims several days ago when news of the strikes first emerged.

According to Southfront, Syrian rebel sources with no involvement in the incident released reports of large numbers of Russian and Iranian casualties to selected news outlets as part of their propaganda campaign. There has been no confirmation of non-Syrian casualties from US, Syrian, Russian or Iranian officials and recent accounts appear to be reliant on unsourced second-hand reports on social media.

Metal health

“When I was a kid growing up, music was the escape. That’s the only thing that had no judgments. You know, you put on a record, and it’s not going to yell at you for dressing the way you do. It’s going to make you feel better about it.” – Marilyn Manson

Researchers have finally discovered what us headbangers have always known. Heavy metal is good for you.

Paula Rowe and Bernard Guerin of the University of South Australia sampled 28 dedicated metalheads aged 18-24 – 5 women and 23 men – conducting a series of interviews over four years, documenting their transition through school, tertiary education and into the workforce as well as the formation of their ‘metal identities’. They discovered that all participants felt marginalised at school (doesn’t everyone?) but found empowerment in the music, acceptance in their heavy metal (and sub-genre) communities and a sense of protection in their identities as headbangers. Many felt heavy metal had carried them through bullying, grief, trauma, oppression and social injustice, protecting their self-esteem and recontextualising their social rejection as creative non-conformism.

If I actually met any of my favorite bands, I’d just thank them cuz I had depression for a while [after mum died] and it was music that kept me going. – Luke

They considered metal a vital part of dealing with stress and resisting untoward social pressures as well as a means of compensating for social ineptitude and rejection. It even helped with their homework.

Yeah, it definitely found its way into my school work. For a poetry assignment, I compared poets like Frost with Symphony X lyrics, and in Year 12, I did my major religion assignment about the links between Satanism and metal. I even got to interview Nunslaughter by email–it was so cool. The Brothers [Catholic school] were a bit freaked out–good!  – Serge

Rowe and Guerin concluded that the music, culture and community of heavy metal provided participants with protective and functional behaviors to cope with stresses and life events which might otherwise have led to mental health problems, noting that nearly all of them had suffered bullying and ostracism at school with about half also enduring disruptive home lives. Yet their mental health remained sound. Their devotion to heavy metal was helping them survive the stress of challenging environments and build strong and sustained identities and communities in much the same way faith groups may have done for earlier, less secular generations.

So stop ruining your mind with social media. Put on some headphones, crank up the volume and take your medicine.



“Do you think it was the drugs?”, she asks.

Do I think it was the drugs? Of course it was the drugs. And the abuse. And the neglect. And the genes and the diet. It was the stories and the songs. The friends, the enemies and the strangers. It was the ocean and the mountains and the silver streets at midnight. It was long nights with lost lovers and longer ones alone. It was the passion and the apathy. The wailing and the waiting. The wanting. It was all of that. It was everything.

Why does she ask? Does she think delineating a cause will isolate the effect? That a single event can be stripped of a lifetime and reduced to a mere mouthful? Something to chew. To swallow. To digest. Does she think the good and the bad can be winnowed into separate piles? That happiness can be admitted and misery turned away? If the right words can be found? The wrong actions avoided?

Is she fashioning a talisman? A rationalisation to protect her from the dread of a similar fate? Or is it part of a wall? The point of departure that saves her from being swept away in a flood of sympathy and compassion? Turn it into blame and put it over there. Just keep it away from here.

The drugs? Vonnegut would have called it a series of accidents. All of it. All of us.

“Maybe,” I reply. “Who knows?”

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