Monday, April 18, 2016

The travel-bug – Part One

Just the other day I thought of an item for my bucket-list. Two years ago I wrote a piece for this blog called “No bucket-list”, in which I reported that I didn’t have a bucket-list. Which was true; I hadn’t seen every inspiring sight in the world, but I’d seen enough to satisfy me. My travel-bug had long ago splattered against the windshield of domestic life.

But I had forgotten Geiranger Fjord, until a photo of it appeared in some Norwegian site I had Googled. So. There’s my first bucket-list item. I wonder if there’ll be more. I can recall many beautiful places from the seventy countries I’ve passed through in my time, and no doubt there are thousands that I ought to see. So who knows?

In The Summer of ’63 (June 2013) I reported hitching-hiking (a lot more hiking than I had expected, in those days before Norway’s oil discoveries made everybody rich enough to own cars) from Bergen to the Russian border and back to England via Helsinki and Oslo. 

A man on a motor-bike rode us down the slow and dangerous switchback road to Geiranger Fjord. From the top, it looked as though we could have jumped out and down to where two tiny cruise-ships were anchored next to the little vik (village; wick in England, vik in Norwegian, as in Vik-ing).

My Dad believed his house in Toowoomba had the grandest panorama-view in all of Queensland – looking east from the top of the Great Dividing Range. He had a huge picture-window put in, to enjoy it the more. Ross’s “ranch” in southern Norway has a similar view. He’s never seen the one in Toowoomba, so there may be something in his DNA that attracted him to his little paradise. (Norwegian Wood, July 2015)

My Scandinavian adventure was supposed to be followed by a year’s auditing in London, but halfway through that Mum needed me back in Brisbane where Dad was dying. Afterwards, it didn’t seem worth the effort to resume the job in London, so I went off travelling a bit earlier than the schedule called for.

David-from-the-ship-over and I drifted around England with a bunch of skydivers for a few weeks, then I nipped off to buy a car in Hamburg with the help of a friend of a friend. David joined me in Berlin for the drive back. He reminded me earlier this week of my then-obsession for driving around churches; we did that with every church we came to along the way. Not around the whole churchyards, just the actual church buildings, which was much trickier.

Oktoberfest in Munich, then Greece and the eight months with Linda through the Middle East and Eastern Europe, which I’ve covered in other posts. At the end of that adventure, my Mum met us in London – her first trip overseas. I showed her the best parts of Britain, and she went home vowing to see the whole place one day.

Toronto was chosen as the place to replenish the bank account before going back to Toowoomba and settling down. When Linda gave up on me and flew home to mother, I took a few weeks’ vacation in the Caribbean, just to keep my hand in. (Eight o’clock White Man’s Time, July 2013) 

But once she and I sorted out our differences enough, we married and drove down to jobs in the Bahamas, where the travel-bug came out of its 18-month hibernation. There – overpaid and underworked – we spent our spare cash on cheap weekends in the Out-Islands, successive Easters in Jamaica and Puerto Rico, one vacation in Central America and one in Paris and Spain.

Flush with money – nearly $50,000! – we retired in 1970 and prepared ourselves for the caves of Crete and a life with the hippies there. Linda took a primary-teachers course in Perth (Australia) so she could teach English to the natives, and we signed on for a dusty two-week convoy through the Outback to the Kimberleys and back down the coast road. That was just to keep the parasite-bug in good shape.

We never did make the caves of Crete (A young man’s car, September 2013). The closest we ever got to Crete was the whitewashed houses of Mykonos, back in our Big Adventure. Everyone says Mykonos is the pick of the smaller Greek islands, so maybe it should go onto my new bucket-list too. 

With just Geiranger for company, that doesn't make much of a bucket-list, does it? Hmmm. More thought is needed. I'll have to get back to you on this.


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A matter of timing…

Histories have never taken account of the cruelty of victorious armies, and readers of histories are (by default) persuaded to ignore them. Local atrocities in mopping-up operations must not distract from the main picture.

(Not so much these days as in earlier times, though. Today there are many commentators on the Web who hold their audiences to higher standards than the standards of traditional journalists in the mainstream media.)

Histories are jam-packed with events that parallel those of today. Modern empires act much the same as empires have always acted. Not much has changed. The “folk wanderings” of the Celts and Saxons, Mongols and Huns – all of them were similar to the current “migrant invasions” of Arabs and Africans. Even the impetus is the same – warfare in the homelands, and expulsion by other invaders.

Right from their beginning in the 7th Century, Moslem empires’ treatment of their conquered peoples was similar to the Romans’ treatment of theirs Centuries before and to NATO’s treatment of its victims Centuries after. The European commercial empires (French, British, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch) were greater in scope than those of ancient Egypt, China, India and the American Aztecs and Incas, but the same principles applied. It’s not so much that the later ones were copy-cats: rather, that all commercial expansions are similar in nature.

Halliburton and Blackwater didn’t model themselves on any of the European East India Companies; but the same commercial arrogance drove them. We of today despise the managers and operatives of the two murderous US companies, while the distance of centuries give their predecessors the gloss of romance. Robert Clive in India and Cecil Rhodes in Africa are historical heroes; Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are perceived as monsters. At least, they are now; they will become heroes when enough time has passed.

It’s a matter of timing. One of my ancestors (born George Gawler in 1764) trafficked illegal drugs from India to China, and retired an honoured man. His modern equivalents – minor traffickers in Central America and South-East Asia – are international pariahs. (The British Army and its government agents aided and abetted the export of opium from their territories in India, and the US Army and its agents supervise shipments of the same drug from the poppy-fields of Afghanistan to the streets of Chicago. Some things don’t change…)

 I have written [Uncle Charles and the Boko Haram, October 2014] about Charles Barlow, who slaughtered his nation’s tribal enemies in 1903 with the same ruthlessness as ISIS officers apply to their enemies today. Charles was honoured with medals from the British Government; his ISIS counterpart is damned to eternal hellfire – at least, in the West. The British Army won in Nigeria: ISIS will lose in Syria. It is the winners who write the histories.

The Roman Empire eventually collapsed in a welter of currency depreciation, military entanglements in the outlying provinces, and corruption in the ruling caste. Despite those handicaps, Rome’s momentum staved off the collapse for ten or twelve generations. Things happen faster these days, but the general pattern is the same.

The current US Empire has been declining for maybe two generations from its peak, under the exact same pressures. It too is being betrayed by its ruling caste. Rome’s Imperial butchers were neither more nor less repulsive than the monsters in present-day Washington and Tel Aviv.

In olden days, imperial rulers had monuments erected in their names, and cities re-named for them – even, calendar months, occasionally. In modern times, the best they can hope for is the occasional warship or a bridge over a hometown river. Today, we live in democracies, so the names engraved on stone war-memorials are those of urban peasants rather than of their social superiors who ordered their deaths.

I wonder how long this new custom will last. Only time will tell.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

NATO overplays its hand

You’d think the rulers of the Western World – the greatest Empire the world has ever seen – would be smart enough to realise when they’ve gone too far. Don’t they watch the World Series of Poker on the Fox channels? Professional card-players know that they must maintain a reputation for honesty and caution, before they can expect to get away with bluffs and other bullshit. Nobody wants to get called on a busted flush.

It’s card-games like bridge and whist that have given us the expression “overplaying one’s hand” to describe the situation where somebody pushes harder than he should prudently do.

The little boy who cried “Wolf!” is a classic example from children’s literature; Butch Cassidy and Sundance in Bolivia, from the movies; the German Army’s invasion of Russia in the winter of ’42, from real life. The rulers of the USA in the years following JFK’s assassination… Hmm. Up till then, we outsiders bought into the bullshit; afterwards, not so much. Today, too many of us are skeptical of the official versions of everything.

Gone are the days when we could be jeered into silence and acquiescence by being labelled “conspiracy theorists”. That just doesn’t work any more. Some of us can still be fooled by fake conspiracies invented by government agencies, but even those are failing these days.

Individual journalists can be suborned by bribes or threats, as can entire TV, radio and newspaper networks. The BBC and PBS, The Economist and the New York Times, Associated Press and Bloomberg – all are suspect. Independent researchers can be – and sometimes are – slandered as traitors (Snowden, Manning, Assange), and sometimes suicided. Their fates merely endorse their credibility, and destroy their accusers’.

The mainstream media organs (“MSM”) have lost their credibility. I can’t think of a single exception, off-hand. Either they don’t know that or (more likely) they don’t know how to change their reporting methods. They follow the Wikipedia model of simply not recognizing the new reality. The alternative media and the independent bloggers are dismissed as not substantial enough to deserve respect. As a result, Wikipedia today has minimal credibility on all matters political; it too has been suborned by government agencies.

There is a new word in the dictionaries: hasbara. It’s a Hebrew word that connotes what in essence is a fifth-column of individual propagandists engaged in rubbishing all opinions and arguments that oppose the official versions of events and situations. Originally the fifth-column was invented by the Israeli government to defend its anti-Palestinian activities; but its scope now extends to all doubt and criticism of official Western propaganda.

Its weapons range from blatant lies and childish personal insults to repeated obscenities that are so offensive as to make it unlikely that the piece under attack will be forwarded to others. It works well enough. I have seen several instances of excessively rough language used as an excuse to close down online discussions that threatened some official version of events.

Credibility is a tender flower. We tell our children: if you tell lies, people won’t know when you’re telling the truth and when not. Little kids understand the logic of that. Yet our rulers either don’t understand or don’t care that there are posses of vigilantes out there who will call them out on lies and unfair innuendoes.

Most of us remember the lies that began the savage war against the Arabs of the Middle East. The NATO nations had actual indisputable proof that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons already aimed at European cities and ready to fire on 45 minutes’ notice. “You want a smoking gun?” The US Secretary of State sneered. “Unless we invade immediately, the smoking gun will appear in the shape of a mushroom cloud!”

Yes, well… Today, we know it was a lie, and that the invasion had been planned for years. The doubters and vigilantes uncovered the lies; the liars kept their heads down and planned more lies.

Encouraged by their success in exposing that particular lie, the doubters and vigilantes started poking around to see what other lies our rulers might have gotten away with. The Kennedy assassination, of course, Pearl Harbor, the Lusitania… Afghanistan’s opium fields, Israel’s nuclear arsenal, NATO’s military alliance with ISIS… Even the Nazi Holocaust is suspect, at least in some of the specific numbers and other details claimed by authorities now known to be liars.

How do we decide who to believe, any more? As George Bush famously said, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice – er, um, oh shit, I forget how that’s supposed to end. Help me out, here, Dick.”