Gehenna, Upon Which Our Children Are Given Unto Mammon

Anzac Day came and went some time ago, and yet my brain does not cease to turn.

Late article, I know. The furore has passed.

For those among my imaginary readership who did not grow up in Australia, Anzac Day sort of sits as a second Remembrance Day marking the catastrophic failure that was the Gallipoli campaign in the First World War, the first large scale engagement of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), and despite attempts at appropriation by nationalist elements is usually a reflection on the futility of war and the suffering it causes.

And suffering is the right word. Lacking a glorious, mythic history to look back on, Australia’s military campaigns have in general been brutal, unforgiving attrition, all the more thankless for, with the exception of the jungle war in Papua against the Japanese in WW2, being unwanted deployments in the face of a local population that did not want them.

The film Gallipoli, starring a very young Mel Gibson, really jabs that home, and is a decent primer for those unfamiliar with this little bit of history.

So I begin to ponder the why of it. In the case of the Australian military the objective for the most part is appeasement; an ironic idea for those who remember the demagoguery of the Cold War. Once again excepting the Papua deployment, which is arguably symptomatic of the greater system, all of Australia’s military actions have ultimately been blood sacrifice in an attempt to secure the protection of the most powerful empire of the time; first Britain then, after the fall of Singapore, the United States. In a strategic sense, the far off battlefields of Europe, North Africa, Korea and Vietnam mean very little to Australia, and few of them at any point have been capable of generating any real threat with reach enough to reach the South Pacific. But the Empire of the day deemed them worth dying for, and so the Australian government jumped at the chance to feed its paltry forces into the meat grinder, despite the abandonment by one empire and statements from the latter suggesting that they would do the same if it was in their interests.

This train of thought followed to another. The idea of sacrifice is often brought up at national memorial days, but I don’t think that it is fully understood, especially within this particular context. The Anzacs sure as hell didn’t die for our freedom or prosperity; powerful though the Ottoman Empire may have once been they were never going to invade Australia, and had plenty on their plates to deal with at that point already. Instead, it was blood spilled to placate another dying empire, Australia’s erstwhile guardian. It was an offering of human lives, like the Aztecs used to give to the sun, hoping that it would ensure the British Empire’s protection.

That it did not only makes it all the more tragic.

Upon further consideration, I realised that this idea can be applied to warfare more generally, especially within the context of the Western Hemisphere. Feeding the earth blood to ensure future fortune is no new idea, and has an added layer of economic rationale; the idea of waging war over resources is familiar and common practice for everyone between the Vikings and the US Army and many more besides, but the newly controlled resources are not the only gain for those controlling the war. The ensuing bloodbath means there are fewer left to share those resources.

It took me a little while to get over just how messed up that was.

But on a purely rational level – the kind commonly deployed by psychopaths, for instance – it makes sense. Those who arrange for wars to occur, and usually benefit most from their occurrence, certainly aren’t those on the front line, and thus are probably going to make it to the end of the conflict to enjoy the spoils. They will face less local competition for those resources, allowing them to capitalise even more aggressively. This is a pattern very much in line with Western European conflict throughout history; seize lands to increase agricultural capacity, and there will be more resources available to those that survive. This can be contrasted with the South Asian Mandala system, which had comparatively rich resources with fewer people to work them, whose wars tended to focus on slaving to better extract those resources, and though I won’t go into too much detail I felt it bore inclusion. This is a psychology that appears to have persisted into modern warfare; a means for power groups to raid for resources while shedding surplus bodies.

It might appear that this does not hold for the example of Australia; after all, the country was crippled by the two World Wars, with the workforce significantly drained. I would argue that those undertaking the sacrifice do not always have any benefit from doing so, just like the Aztecs of old. The Australian sacrifice contributed to a reshaping of world politics, that led to their allies becoming the only viable imperial forces in the world. By assisting the United States, both militarily and perhaps more importantly on a political level, the mountain of Australian corpses has assisted the USA in maintaining its current primacy. The sacrifice has aided the country’s guardian, certainly.

And so we come back to Anzac Day, and can ask again what the men and women of the Australian Defence Forces throughout history really died for. What the sacrifice they made, that is extolled each year, really gained. What we have today is a world of American primacy, bull headed patriarchy and free-wheeling capitalism, in which the wealthy can control lobby groups that arrange for governments to send their young citizens to die for resources valuable to unregulated heavy industry, who in turn lobby for more. It leaves rich, old, white men, the traditional brokers of capital in our society, with an even greater stranglehold of its resources.

Where a side of horse meat may make the difference between a poor man and a rich one.

Remember your Trumbo children; you have no duty to die for the rich man. It is your duty to live; for yourself, for your family, and for the fact that you are a thinking, talking human being and for that reason alone your life has importance.

Don’t let the rich man make a sacrifice of you.

6248476086_4c6cc5a066_oPhoto “Occupy D.C.” courtesy of Devin Smith, aka Devinish on Flickr. Hope my ramblings didn’t hurt your ears, dear imaginary readers, but this little economist does get very excited on finding new supply and demand forces.

Everybody keep safe, and have a great weekend.

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The Weight of Misquotation

I know.

It doesn’t pay to be naive, and I’d be a lot better off if I didn’t let this kind of thing get under my skin.

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Picture courtesy of diylol.com.

But it really does shit me when people misquote things.

Religious demagogues are frequent employers for these particular shades of bullshit. In fact, it was some recently re-televised comments by the Right Honorable Fascist Fred Nile that spurred this rant, particularly in regard to his stance on homosexuality. Now, when religious types cry foul on the LGBT community they typically cite the Bible as their evidence, despite their quotations being blatantly mistranslated and homosexual relationships having the support of the big guy JC himself. Don’t believe me? Here’s a nice little translation for you. Yay languages!

But… to be honest the fundies can rot in their own sick, terrified little holes all they like. They never say anything particularly interesting or creative, and Nile’s one of a dying breed, they don’t need my help to push them over the edge. Politicians, however, are alarming in their tenacity. And boy do they manage this misquotation malarky with a gusto that makes my eyes bleed.

I’m thinking about two names in particular. Not the quoters, in this case, but the quotees. John Maynard Keynes. Thomas Malthus.

I can smell hackles rising already. Imaginary hackles. Because all my readers are imaginary. Thanks for sticking around guys.

I have heard Malthus misquoted to an alarming extent, and I found the responsible artifacts to be, if a little conservative, largely inoffensive. The circling resurgence of the meme that has grown from Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population is staggering; the very idea that Malthus said “We’ll have all the babies and eat ourselves to death” appears to have been addition after the fact. The idea of the Malthusian trap, at best guess a derivation of Ricardo’s dreaded Steady State Trap, is something wholly constructed and reeks of extrapolation.

Ok. Context. The C word is still so very powerful.

Malthus wrote the essay in response to a letter from William Godwin, and the latter thinker presented a picture of an anarcho-socialist utopia. Godwin’s thought was an almost Marxist one; that the very institutions that define our society are the source of its ills. Marriage, property (and the gentry who possessed it) and religion were all damaging leeches, and if we could do away with these things then resources would be so plentiful that every man, woman and child would have plenty to meet their needs and wants. You produce enough, and everyone will be happy.

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If only… Photo “Malthus” by Deposto on Flickr.

Malthus, pipping cyberpunk to the post by about two hundred and fifty years, cried foul on that. He started by agreeing that the institutions of the time were in fact not universal goods; he makes particular note of the pariah status of unwed mothers. But he also says these institutions evolved for a reason, based on a scarcity of resources that led to people not wishing to support children who weren’t their own. Taking the logic to Godwin’s argument, he posited that once resources were guaranteed by society for each child people would have as many children as they liked, artfully pussyfooting around the reason for that being that people in general like having sex. With the deterrent removed, population swells, and we begin to outstrip our resources.

What happens then? Well, cannibalism, road warriors, the end of civilization… are more or less exactly what Malthus didn’t predict. What he believed would happen is more or less a return to what we had before; marriages to enforce responsibility for children, landowners commanding serfs, all as a method of controlling consumption of resources. Doesn’t show a lot of creativity on Old Tommy’s part, and a blatant disregard for the idea of contraception, but he was working with what came to hand.

So the belief that population is limited by resource availability, as I heard surface at least once during the 2007 Australian election (props to anyone who can find that clip, think it was on Q&A, but not having any luck), is decidedly non-Malthusian. Its limited by institutions in the face of scarcity, so the idea of it being inevitable ranges from vaguely misinformed to downright irresponsible when its rattled off by potential Members of Parliament.

So, lesson the first: Read Malthus before you quote Malthus. Its English, so don’t worry, you won’t run into the same problems we encountered up page with our Bible studies.

Now, dear Keynes, poor Keynes, brilliant, arrogant Keynes. Our pal John Maynard has copped a lot of flack in recent years, his name is used by economic conservatives in the manner that the Devil’s name is used by religious ones. Every so often you hear a pundit decrying some big spike in government spending as Keynesian, hell, Wayne Swann was openly in bed with the General Theory when he decided to, er… “stimulate” the Australian economy. We run into another problem of misquotation again.

Keynes did, in fact, support small government with minimal interference in markets. This man had actually come out and said that he intended to save capitalism from the dual threats of Communism and Fascism, and in the 1930’s that was looking like a losing proposition. But Keynes had faith that the capitalist market could do great things, outstripping centrally planned economies through sheer weight of productivity. And the government should let it do so.

Until, of course, the market fucks up. And it will. Did in 1929, did in 2008. So when those big businesses come crying to the government that they browbeat into deregulating them, howling “please, save us, we’re too big to fail!”, should we bail them out? What would Keynes say?

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Photo “RELAX (blue sky, mountain, Tasmania)” by Mez (sketchesbymez) on Flickr

Though I imagine he’d use better chosen words, I suspect the message would be “Let ’em rot. Can’t have our lives ruled by Moral Hazard fattened imbeciles.”

See, Keynes didn’t say the government should prop up a failing market. He said it was there to protect people when it hurt them. When a demand slump kills off businesses and raises unemployment, the government should employ those people for public works, giving them funds with which to get demand – always, always demand – rolling again.

Admittedly, Keynes also said a lot of things that don’t make a great deal of sense. I can only assume that he wrote a great deal of his works drunk, a sentiment with which I can identify pretty easily.

So, in this context (ooh! Dirty C word again!) Jon Stewart’s suggestion on the Daily Show that Barack Obama could pay the money he intended to spend bailing out the banks to the people in debt to them actually makes some sense in a Keynesian model.

So for the conservative types who seem to associate Keynesian thought with the damn dirty government giving their hard earned tax dollars to crack babies, dope heads and programs to take away their private stash of anti-tank weaponry, that’s not really what it means. In fact, a lot of recent stimulus has seemed pretty out of joint with Keynes’ proposals, but then like we saw earlier, Jesus was totally cool with gay sex. So yeah.

And if I do ever get to debate Fred Nile, I suspect my argument will more or less follow these lines. Not that I think he’d listen.

Alright, that’s that giant poisonous monster off my chest… glad that’s sorted. Anyway, this article is once again Creative Commons meat for the market, and I am not making any money out of it. Feel free to rip it to pieces and rebuild it as whatever macabre offense against nature you can imagine. Do Frankenstein proud. Have a metal week, imaginary folks.

Pumpkins, Pagans and Penises in your Faith

I’ve been watching the seasons.

It’s been a bit weird, coming back to inverted seasons, but the Australian Autumn has proven rather warmer and sunnier than even the Scottish Summer. Even then, it’s nearly Samhain, and that means…

Pumpkins!

It feels like it’s been a while since I’ve given y’all, my dear imaginary readers, one of my recipes/snuff pieces, so here’s one that’s kind of about a pumpkin pasta dish, a little bit about religion, with a dash of Renaissance art thrown in for good measure.

Anyway.

Seeds.wpid-20150120_160026.jpg

I know that we’re at the opposite end of the agricultural cycle to be really thinking about planting, but seeds are handy in vegetarian-land because we all need iron and chewing rusty nails gets some funny looks. But once again, Samhain approacheth, and hollowing out pumpkins sort of sits well with that, so we’ve got these little fellas out of that process.

I’m using a Butternut for this. I think the British call them Squash, but they’ve always been pumpkins to me.

I’ve got some mixed seeds too, Just for variety.wpid-20150120_160127.jpg

For my northern hemisphere imaginary readers, it may be weird that I’m talking about Samhain in March, and indeed the calendars do read Easter. Hell, for you guys Halloween isn’t til October. Just gotta remember I’m on the topsy turvy arse end of the globe now, out by the “here be dragons” label. And this is part of the problem I have with gods with dicks.

So you fry the seeds first. Otherwise they’ll be chewy.wpid-20150120_160220.jpg

You see I’ve had two Autumns this year. Two dying seasons, two harvest times. Last Autumn I was lucky enough to see Titian’s Diana and Actaeon series in the Scottish National Gallery, who had secured their loan for a few months. Beautiful pictures, but it kind of shocked me that he’d painted her as blonde. To my mind Diana was pale and raven haired, in line with the moon in the night sky.

Once you’ve chopped the pumpkin, put it in the pan with the seed mix. wpid-20150120_160430.jpgFry it up a bit, gives it more flavour. You can add some chopped onion at this point if you want, I do sometimes. It adds more bulk than taste, so it’s handy if you’re short on pumpkin.

Which we shouldn’t be at this time of year, despite the crazy Catholic Calendar telling us its the Festival of Eoster, telling us its spring time. Not sure whose bright idea that was, but its a damn fine way to foster ill considered farming practices.

Not that it matters so much in a modern context but seriously. Gods and their penises.

So I usually add a bit of water at this point, otherwise you’ll burn the mix.Throw in a touch of nutmeg, cinnamon and cumin at this point, though you probably don’t want more than half a teaspoon of each. Dash of salt and pepper.

A young cousin of my partner, while we were all temple hopping in Paestum, asked if I had a favourite Greek god, his being Ares, and I answered Artemis (Diana to the Romans and for that reason Titian) because she was crazy. She’s a brilliant character because she has absolutely no space in her heart for mercy or compromise. I suppose if I were to pick an actual role model from the Greek pantheon I’d probably be more inclined towards Athena, and even she did some pretty dark stuff (Gorgons, for example) but what I always liked about the Greek gods was I don’t think they ever felt the need to be role models. I tend to think that they were more like fables, stories about the kind of stuff that people get up to when they have too much power. The kind of gods that lead people’s most common prayer to be “oh great and glorious god, please find it into your benevolence to not kill us today.”

Give the sauce a fistful of spinach. A generous fistful. Remember that spinach is wpid-20150120_162009.jpgalways going to cook right down, add a little more water if you need to cover the leaves, but that will mean it will take longer to simmer. I’ll leave it to your discretion.

An I suppose we come to the crux of my problem with wanger deities. In the upper floor of the Scottish National Gallery, right above the frame of Diana arranging for Actaeon’s hounds to eat him after she had the temerity to show up without knocking, there’s the Medieval section. You run into a lot of pictures of Jaysus in the Medieval section, as well as a number of Madonna and child pictures that show a blatant disregard for how breasts work. I’ve got nothing against Jesus specifically. I mean, I’ve tended to view him and his Ma as fairly piss poor imitations of Attis and Cybele, and it amuses me greatly to think of the Madonna chowing down on a Christ sandwich come Winter. That was all intentional in the attempt to convert pagans, so… well, the ones that cheesed me off were the images of Jesus crowning his mother, as if he could somehow bestow divinity on Mary.

Here’s a fun fact Abrahamic fundy types. God didn’t give you life. Your mother did.

Put the pasta on to boil. You’ll want a little salt in the water.

I’ve been thinking about Cybele, the Mesopotamian fertility goddess who the Greeks called the Magna Mater, lately. Like Eoster, she’s had a rough time with the Christians trying to erase her. I think I like her because she’s understands that there are seasons for all things. She is the birth, life and death of her children, consuming them like the earth so that life can continue. Your dick gods tend to favour a top down, absolutist control structure that leads to things like absurd, impractical calendars, non-existent months named after dead crazy people, and violent fundamentalists murdering those weaker than them in attempt to block out the pathetic futility of their own existence in the face of the infinite.wpid-20150120_162255.jpg

Grate up some cheese, because cheese is great. Strain off the pasta, and your ready to dish up!

I suppose the real problem I have with gods that have penises is that they always seem to assume that they have to be alone. The only one. Maybe they looked down past their gut one day and counted. But having that as a core conceit means there’s not any room for change, for evolution or for variety. All it has is control, and the myriad abuses of that.

So I like the Magna Mater. I admit in my mind she’s a vicious, snapping thing, tough as Diana and twice as crazy, a goddess who doesn’t speak in words because she’s older than language and has never seen a need for them. But she recognizes that things change. That anything can die, because change is a necessity in the face of a changing world, to the seasons or the bigger changes we’re facing today. Because trying to massage your sad little ego in the face of a hostile universe doesn’t fix your problems. The universe is hostile either way.

I like to think she’s still waiting. Watching Jehovah. Watching the state of Abrahamic stagnation, waiting to begin the cycle again. She’ll still be there. Still hungry.

Sure is lucky that we made this delicious pumpkin pasta then isn’t it? Happy early Samhain everybody!

wpid-20150120_164637.jpgAstute readers may have realized that this recipe, or indeed this entire article, is not very Cyberpunk at all. Fr those of you worried by this, fear not! I have something lined up for you that I think you’ll appreciate… and photos supplied by me dangit, so this article’s mine! You can’t have it!