This image was taken on September 15, 2012, in Lisbon, Portugal. What is happening? It is obviously some kind of demonstration, part of a large public gathering. A placard, presumably bearing a political slogan, is being held up at the top of the image. And in the forefront, a young woman seems to be cursing a heavily armoured member of a riot squad, or maybe it’s an elite special force, a force trained to squash insurrection at its very core.

This image has been published in newspapers around the world for what it conveys about these two people. The picture is easy to decode in this sense: a vulnerable young woman will ultimately vanquish the much larger and invincible riot squad member – shielded by €35,000 worth of protective gear and holding a heavy, deadly truncheon valued at €2,500 that we cannot see – through sheer spirit. Via this image, we actually feel the fire in her eyes, and though we cannot see the eyes of the riot squad member, we know that he is cowering, that he fears this angry yet innocuous protester with died red hair – representative of the blaze in her belly, her politics, her social milieu. She has nothing but her beliefs; but she is a Goddess next this faceless porn, this callow, masked, heavily fortified riot policeman who is Greed’s last line of defence, who will ultimately fall to a pure and noble force that has come as if from nowhere.

But the politics that brought these people together – we may as well admit now that the picture depicts a scene from a protest against the harsh austerity measures demanded by banks in return for loans that will keep financially ruined Portugal liquid – are less interesting than the very complex relationships between the people in the image, relationships that could, it might be argued, add important flesh to the tired tale of a European debt crisis in which the troika, the evil triumvirate of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, subjugate weak, vulnerable innocents in countries like Portugal for the sake of power and profits.

Of course, everything that follows is hearsay. But let’s pretend for a moment. Let’s look at the man to the immediate right of the young femme fatale, for instance, a bespectacled man aged over 50, say 25 years her senior, who is wearing a t-shirt that is worn by other people in the image, maybe protest organisers. The t-shirt has the word “Troika” written in gold, along with some other words which in Portuguese most likely read something like “Fuck the Troika”, which is how this and similar protests were billed at the time.

Let’s look again at this man and the way he is looking at the woman. The aggressive flexing of her rosebud lips, the absolute righteousness of her words transfixes him. She strikes him, not only as saint-like, but as the apotheosis of the real woman he has been searching for his entire life, the woman whose raging, subterranean sexuality redefines the very word.

The look on the man’s face is one of post-epiphany bewilderment, of someone who has made a very sudden realization; that there are very good people still in this world, angels somehow watching over us.

In fact, the man knows this woman, had met her at campaign meetings to organise the “Fuck the Troika” protest. She was from anther socialist group, the members of which were mostly very young, and he was struck by her passion, her visceral anger that made he and his more established Communist cohorts seem a little tame. But he had not, at this point, been dumbstruck by her. She was ultimately another young high-minded radical who would at some point see some reality.

They even talked intimately once in the bar where the comrades would go to relax after meetings, and he treated her in an almost fatherly way, a way that she believed was a little patronising, she having respect for this man who she knew had fought the fascists in the 70s.

To the right of this man a younger man, say about 30, is taking a photo of the woman as she seems to accuse the riot policeman of something, maybe of striking out against the protesters for no reason, or for just being there, for representing everything that she despises.

The younger man is using an analogue camera, a little incongruous in the digital age. His right eye is therefore close up to the camera as he takes the inverse of the shot that we can see. But the man does not take the image. As he focuses, he too is transfixed.

The young man comes across as a protester-cum-camera enthusiast who is straining to capture an important moment in the drama of this seminal day, a day in which the Portuguese people will finally say ‘enough’, will finally end the subjugation propping up the cartel of financial institutions, EU governments and rich Portuguese who continue to grow their money in Swiss banks.

Earlier that day, for instance, the young man taking the photo thought often that Deutsche Bank again made a ridiculous profit last year of 5.2 billion euro – in the so-called midst of the crisis. But this thought is erased as he sets his focus on the finger the woman is pointing at the riot policeman, a finger that is a bone. All the cameraman feels now is uncertainty, as if this woman’s fearlessness has turned his world over and over and henceforth his world may never again find its balance. She has changed the rules of the game and I have been naive he thinks to himself. In a sense he cannot believe what he is seeing, and as much as he strains to capture the scene, he now believes that no image will ever do it justice.

There are two other men in this scene who have a more integral role in the drama. Both are wearing sunglasses, one standing to the left and behind the woman, his face partly obscured by her red hair – not for the first time – and wearing the same “Fuck the Troika” t-shirt as the older man; and the man at the rear of the image, seemingly tall, whose shaved head fronts the bottom right of the placard.

Both these young men wearing sunglasses are not looking at the woman as she abuses the riot policeman. In this moment, they are more concerned about each other.

The man to the left of the woman whose face is obscured by her hair for not the first time is part of the group of young socialists mentioned above. Like she, he is also a charismatic leader of the group, a bright and committed man with a strong ego, strong enough to suggest to the woman that they get together, even if she always insisted that she had a boyfriend who she loved, to which he would reply that their lovemaking was for the revolution, was destiny and so on.

It is obvious by now that the man wearing sunglasses at the rear of the photo is the woman’s said boyfriend, and that he can only look at the other man in this epochal moment. The boyfriend desperately wants to see how the other man views the woman at this time, to see once-and-for-all if he really loves her. But the man to the left of the woman, the third wheel so to speak, knows that these eyes are on him. And so he looks the other way.

But this is also a ruse. The charismatic male leader of the socialist group that helped organise the protest with other sometimes more experienced leftist groups, feels a little threatened by this woman’s sudden, monumental show of bravery. He is not transfixed like the older man, or the young camera man, because all he can think in this moment is that he should be facing off with the riot policeman. But he turns away knowing that he never could.

We can gather from this image that the boyfriend is the nice and decent guy, but that the egotistical and cowardly guy will ultimately lead the revolution, like the guy who now is leading Portugal. And what will become of the woman? There are so many possibilities. For now, she has stood up, she has told the truth, which is what she did with her boyfriend following her past transgression. She has swallowed her pride, her self-doubt, giving herself absolutely to this moment, making one true articulation for her people; but as we can see in the image, the men, all dumb in their way, still have the numbers.

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Time or money

Time is not money. In my business it’s the golden rule. I might put two three years into a project and come out with nothing. No it’s likely I’ll come out with nothing. Yet all that time has value, is priceless, the journey through the crazy, futile, obsessive project bringing an inestimable return, a kind of satisfaction that can’t be sold. So another way of looking at it is: if it brings in money, it’s often a waste of time. The moneyplace likes to tinker too much, for the sake of the so-called audience, the consumer, this mythical market driver who is us, uncertain, confused, but who has certain wants and preferences say the brand consultants, needs that must be met and so the product must be ‘right’. When it’s not right it’s wrong; and so we are sorry, we cannot sell this, we do not understand it, have no way to market it, to present it logically to the target that desires in particular ways we have decided for it is proven, look at the sales there, it was because it satisfied essential wants etc … The time you would have to give for this market is in its way of no value, so you keep the time and it will not be money but will pay in other ways.

For Stephen Spender: “What I care for most in writing has nothing to do now with being published. It is for a friend, not all that racket.”

Excerpt from a time not money: “Maybe we all have to starve. By whatever means, through conscious renunciation, or random moments of destitution, the having nothing that turns physical, the first starved pangs shot through in self-defence, to rouse you to action before it’s too late, is the necessary by-way to salvation. And that salve, when it comes, is a great boon, an energy and clarity that let’s you remember, what is possible, what is often lost in the drudgery of similitude.”

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I try, to communicate, to be community-minded, a communitarian, a follower, a sharer of copious thoughts and information … and why, then, do I feel sick, having logged on, it’s called twitter, and why, what horrible superfluity, the recycling, the commenting, ad nauseam, yes, I am nauseous, emerging from this medium, this maelstrom of meaninglessness. … Read one thing, that came to you, unexpectedly… read it, weep, hold onto it, and their might be a time, appropriate, to share it…

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Lingua Franca

I don’t want to talk to him. I want to, but I can’t; I really should be speaking his language. It’s embarrassing. He will stick with me, politely, for a few sentences as I stumble, trying for moments of fluency; and then, politely, he will start speaking my language. I’m such an idiot. So I have to hide, avoid contact, make it as brief as possible if we do cross paths. And there he is. He knows I’ve seen him. I’ll have to do it, to try and speak his way. But he’ll only switch after my two pathetic phrases. What’s the point? I just went to Italy and no one spoke my language; it was comforting, we knew where we stood. But with this guy, I’m caught in a linguistic limbo. Language really is power. That’s why he does it. It’s because of the war I sometimes think. With just a few words, a nice turn of phrase, he can make me feel inferior, ignorant, idiotic. We English; we took over the world but never learnt another’s tongue. We are the most provincial people on earth. And this guy, this German, is making sure I remember it. When we took over the world, we took everything away, including language. Speak English we told the Africans, the Australians. Interestingly, the Dutch, the Germans, they left the Javanese, the New Guineans, to speak as they always did. These colonisers were equally covetous; but at least they weren’t so arrogant to believe that everyone should speak like them. No, it wasn’t arrogance; it was English laziness, stupidity, insularity and indifference. And now look at me. I want to say hello. Shit, I can’t. I don’t have a choice. “Guten tag!”

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The re-fashioned babel on the site of the former World Trade Centre has the potential to reassert New York as the New Jerusalem, the City on the Hill. But the developers can only project the dream of a hipster media fun park, with Conde Nast taking up the best seats in a fast rising monolith where young, sharp creatives with short memories will make Manhattan great again while looking endlessly across a fabled panorama.

The property developers handling the monumental glass tower known as 1 World Trade Centre are calling it the “most important building in the western hemisphere – it’s going to be the coolest, hippest place to work and live.”

But others had even loftier ambitions. “It saddens me that we didn’t take this opportunity to reassert American leadership,” said an eminent architect in his critique of One WTC. But while the critic bemoaned that “America is where the skyscraper began”, this yearning for grand gestures, for the Temple on the Mount that America has yet to build, will never be realised. The skyscraper, along with the ideal that underpinned it, was manifestly destined to go down …

This decline is not “deserving”, or “made historically more explicable by the many crimes of past American foreign policy”, as Christopher Hitchens decried of the “big lie”, but is merely law, the state, of nature ..

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Going Down

Playing dead has long been a tactic; in war, and in the bedroom.

But today our best and bravest are taking dives more than ever before – they’re going down en masse … they’ve lost the fight. When the arms go up in the air, a style known as the ‘archer’s bow’, it can be presumed that the diver wants it to be over as quick as possible. Like in the tired conjugal bed, when peaks and troughs are manufactured to bring finality, today’s warriors feign injury from attack because it’s preferable to playing a game they no longer have heart for. As the stakes have got higher, the fellas have gone soft, as if the love has run out, the passion, the belief, that once kept the world of men on its feet.

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Camp Sovereignty

“Heal the world, heal the people”, cried the group in unison as we placed eucalyptus leaves on a fire and took in the pungent smoke, skyscrapers glowering beyond us in the night. This ‘sacred fire’, built, we were told, on a sacred Aboriginal burial and corroboree site, had burned continually for two months in Melbourne’s Kings Domain. Tonight it would be extinguished. The man leading the ceremony pointed to the buildings on the skyline, to the neon corporate logos, and pronounced that the city was sick. He called this ceremony a healing. Meanwhile, the men and woman outside the circle were talking about a treaty, about a way forward for indigenous and non-indigenous Australians alike.

The ceremony continued. We held hands. We sang. We learned of the harmony of fire, earth, wind and water. We talked about our origins. One man, Mick, was from Lake Mungo, in the Mallee country, and he knew how to divine water. Another, from Gippsland, said, “the people from the top end call us yellow fellas. But we still have our spirit, we can see the beautiful southern sky!” Later, the same man spoke from the edge of the carefully swept fire circle, saying that the ground was a church, that a ceremony was taking place. This was not a protest he said.

Camp Sovereignty, established, somewhat opportunistically, during the 2006 Commonwealth Games to raise awareness about indigenous issues, had been branded a stunt by media, politicians and pundits – including the Prime Minister – an excuse for career-protesters, no-hopers and troublemakers to sit around and make a mess in a public park. I almost believed them. I’d watched with interest, from afar. I’d embraced Mabo, Wik, believed in the concept of Aboriginal land. But I was weary. I, like many people, had relied on the media. Continue reading

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The Devils of Tehran

 It’s been a while since alleged sorcerers and witches were publicly pilloried for their associations with the dark side. A medieval scene portrayed so lucidly by Aldous Huxley in The Devils of Loudun (later adapted into a film by Ken Russell, The Devils), we now have a contemporary take on the phenomenon in Iran. Though lawmakers there have not yet called for the dreaded colonic lavage, an irrigation device designed to literally suck the devil from within, a purge is under way, as reported in The Guardian:

Several people said to be close to the president and his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, have been arrested in recent days and charged with being “magicians” and invoking djinns (spirits).

Ayandeh, an Iranian news website, described one of the arrested men, Abbas Ghaffari, as “a man with special skills in metaphysics and connections with the unknown worlds”.

Of course, such purges have always had political ends. Americans in particular loved to burn witches in an effort to maintain patriarchal authority in their newfound land. And although in this current case it would be easy to call the Iranians mad, fantastical fundamentalists, the recent cold-blooded murder of one Osama Bin Laden was similarly justified due to the latter’s affiliation with darkness.

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collateral damage

… Allied bombers killed 800,000 German civilians during WW11 bombing raids on Teuton cities. As usual, most victims were innocents, the elderly, women and children who had little choice but to live in Hitler’s realm. When the most devastating bombings happened in the dying days of the war, especially on Dresden, where tens of thousands were killed in hours, many of these innocents hated their so-called leader. And yet they were crushed and burned by distant incendiary bombers in a brutal form of execution.

The Allies, well aware of Nazi extermination camps, refused to bomb and disable the transport links and supply chains leading to these camps, since, it was argued, such efforts would be better focused on massacring innocent Germans. But the latter policy had no strategic military value other than to soften German morale. Like after the WW1 armistice, when the Allies starved one million Germans to death, the point being to cripple a people so savagely that they will lose their resolve for all time. Of course, the opposite happened.

In both cases the strategy was simple. Kill. It was well known that Hitler would never soften. He had killed his own people with impunity. Wiping German cities and towns off the map would not dent the resolution of a man who had stated a willingness to sacrifice every last citizen in fulfillment of his rabid dream. But he and the Allies shared the same dream, the same time-honoured strategy. Kill.

And so we come to the golden rule of engagement in war. Simple. Kill. Generals and politicians love to kill innocents because they are easy targets. Kill them. Kill. Like Gadaffi, now shelling the city of Misrata with cluster bombs, for no good reason other than to kill. Let the Jews die said the Allies, we would have killed them anyway. Kill or be killed. Just kill. Kill.

Given the chance, the Allies were quick to massacre one half million Japanese civilians, the latter target practice for a new bomb. Japan’s military has killed similar numbers from the air in China, with the help of the Germans. And then Stalin killed 20 million, Mao untold numbers more, followed by Pol Pot, the Taliban, and across Africa the same little big men who slobber at the thought of an easy kill. Kill. The only rule is to kill, to kill them all; our suicide bombers will kill women buying food for their children, and you will kill our families with missiles, kill for kill, lets just kill. Kill. It has long been the strategy of men who live to kill, men that must be stopped but can’t be killed …

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Monumental …

The view from the Berlin city library where I decamp daily is a bird’s eye over post-Enlightenment Europe: Germany’s grand temple of modern art, the new national gallery on my left; to my fore, presiding over the Tiergarten, the golden, glistening Victory Column or Sieguessäule, symbol of 19th century Prussian sovereignty over Europe (and after 1918 and 1945 ironic symbol of ignominious defeat) ; to my right, the Philharmonie, that preeminent concert hall importantly designed by a Jewish man, with perfect sound, a monument celebrating the glory of Teutonic high culture; and further still to my right the Potsdamer Platz, nexus of commerce, government and society, a prime metropolitan node flattened by war but finally rebult to reflect the new virility of the reunified Bundesrepublik. From this vantage, one starts to consider the Masonic nature of grand civil monuments, the exploiting of power through forms in ways that none of us dreamed. And so the status quo has returned to Germany.

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