17 October 2009

So Sorry

Reading Martin Krygier's Civil Passions: Selected Writings (Melbourne: Black 2005), in particular the chapters on 'Australian Identities' such as the elegant critique of Keith Windschuttle in 'Subjects, Objects and the Colonian Rule of Law' at 56-113 and 'Neighbours: Poles, Jews and the Aboriginal Question' at 114-129 on responses to Jedwabne and HREOC's 1997 Bringing Them Home report.

Krygier strikes me as more persuasive than Melissa Nobles' The Politics of Official Apologies (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 2008) which I reread last when I should - mea culpa - have been marking undergrad essays on terra nullius and human rights charters. He offers a perspective on questions raised in an article by Arne Ruth on 'Myths of neutrality: Ignoring the Holocaust in Sweden and Switzerland', which ends with a comment by Adolf Muschg regarding Swiss laundering of Nazi gold
It was long ago: now we are paying for the sleepless nights that we didn't have because of Auschwitz; now we are overtaken by all the concerns which never affected us in relation to the building of Europe, drowsing in the sleep of the self-righteous, a state of mind where tears turned dry.

Jack Balkin has meanwhile assessed the claim (perhaps someone was asleep in Constitutional Law 101) that it was unconstitutional of US President Obama to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. I remain of the belief that the Prize went to the wrong person - as with announcements that Gitmo would disappear and DADT would be revoked, Obama hasn't actually done enough to deserve the glittering bauble - but then the Peace Prize as such has been tarnished through past distribution to sundry nasties. It's a bit like someone giving you a supposedly chilled shrinkwrap package of raw chicken from the supermarket. Uh-oh, it's well past the use-by date and it's warm. Some presents are best left to others.

14 October 2009

Bloodthirsty Cannibal

A Moscow court has - perhaps surprisingly - found against Stalin's grandson, Yevgeny Dzhugashvili, who had sought US$340,000 in damages from Novaya Gazeta for the dictator a "bloodthirsty cannibal". The same might be said of Lenin, but alas no-one seems to be denouncing that mass murderer.

Novaya Gazeta had dissed Stalin in an article about archival material demonstrating the dictator's involvement in the slaughter of large number of Soviet citizens. That involvement is an established, well-documented fact, reflected in scholarly literature in the East and West over several decades regarding execution and death by imprisonment or relocation of communist party rivals, clergy, intellectuals, aristocrats, engineers, Russian peasants, overseas true believers and ethnic minorities ... in all, millions of people who were unfortunate enough to inhabit (or be conquered by) the soviet carceral state. Catherine Merridale's Night of Stone: Death and Memory in Twentieth-Century Russia (New York: Viking 2001), Adam Hochschild's The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin (New York: Viking 1994) and Orlando Figes' The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia (New York: Metropolitan 2007) note that the soviet past continues to haunt - and poison - the 'new' Russia. The destruction of civil society under Lenin and Stalin is arguably their most lasting legacy, one that will take generations to fade.

As one might expect from enthusiasts for the rehabilitation of the dictator's memory - and for a 'rectification' of the history in works such as Nadezhda Mandelstam's Hope Against Hope (London: Collins 1970), Robert Conquest's The great terror: Stalin's purge of the thirties (London: Macmillan 1968) and Kolyma: the Arctic death camps (London: Macmillan 1978) or Anne Applebaum's Gulag (London: Penguin 2003) - his great-grandson Jacob Dzhugashvili reportedly informed journalists that Stalin was "greatly misunderstood" and "never broke any Soviet law". Critics are people who are "working against Russia to make it weaker".

Representatives of the Dzhugashvili family disclaimed Stalin's responsibility for the Katyn Massacre ("a document incriminating the Soviet Union and Stalin himself for the 1940 massacre of some 22,000 Polish officers, intellectuals and priests at the Katyn forest in western Russia was a fake"). We'll just have to erase our memories of the Soviet Union's acknowledgement that Stalin's agents carried out that murder or the pre-Putin publication of archival material about the nature of the GULAG.

The New York Times, in reporting a speedbump in revival of the Stalin cult, quotes Arseny Roginsky of public memory and justice group Memorial as saying
People in power must bear some responsibility. They want to create a heroic image of Russia steeped in glorious victories, while forgetting the painful or shameful episodes. And archivists, historians, begin to reflect that trend. This national-patriotic formation of an idea of Russia as a 'Great Power' is a great hindrance to our work with history, at all levels. It's a trend that began before Putin, but under him it became incomparably stronger. And the rehabilitation of Stalin as a strong and pragmatic leader is part of it. ...

There is a certain type of person now – what used to be called a member of the intelligentsia – who is disaffected with party politics, who sees little use in running to protest meetings but who sees Stalin popping up all over the place and finds it annoying. This sort of person wants to make some positive contribution to society, so supports us. That's how Memorial became a symbolic point of consolidation for these new intellectuals. And that's what the Kremlin doesn't like. That we human rights campaigners climbed out of our little cage and starting making a noise.

13 October 2009

Profiling and identity as an erotic embodiment

Sharif Mowlabocus' 'Gay Men and the Pornification of Everyday Life', a chapter of Pornification: Sex and Sexuality in Media Culture (Oxford: Berg 2007) edited by Susanna Paasonen, Kaarina Nikunen & Laura Saarenmaa, comments that
The creation of digital representations of the self are perhaps most profoundly felt, and most politically useful to a minority group who continue to remain invisible until they choose to risk violence, humiliation and rejection by identifying themselves as sexually dissident. However such identifications are heavily influenced by pornography and the problematic politics inherent in such discourse. If the representation of homosexuality has made 'life bearable for countless millions of gay men' ... it is playing an increasingly central role in defining - and policing - understandings of what it means to be a gay man in Britain today.
In referring to 'cybercarnality' as "a means of recognising the specific forms of knowledge within the formation of gay subjectivity online", Mowlabocus considers the profiling inherent in social network services such as Gaydar.

The chapter argues that
Gaydar allows men to represent themselves via the medium of the profile [twinks, otters, chubs, desperate & dateless semioticians etc] but this method of representation simultaneously serves as a technique of surveillance. In authoring a profile, which then becomes his online persona, the gay man subjects himself to a discursive machinery that fragments, analyses, codifies and evaluates him. This surveillance apparatus is a knowledge machine and its aim is to identify the gay male subject through a specifically erotic knowledge established within the arena of commercial gay pornography. The 'newbie' may not necessarily conform to the categories of Sex Factor but if he is to 'fit in' - that is, if he is to function, be understood and be found within search engines - and perhaps most importantly, if he is to attract attention from other users, then he must submit to the conventions of this cybercarnality.
After that it's back to rereading Stanley Cohen's Visions of Social Control: Crime, Punishment & Classification (Oxford: Blackwell 1985) and Penal Populism, Sentencing Councils and Sentencing Policy (Leichhardt: Hawkins Press 2008) edited by Arie Freiberg & Karen Gelb.

Fraud, Fraud, Glorious Fraud

The Australian Institute of Criminology has released a Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice paper on 'Consumer fraud in Australia: costs, rates and awareness of the risks in 2008', nicely timed for the great identity crime conference in - where else - the Gold Coast - this month.

The paper by Russell Smith and Carolyn Budd examines current evidence of
the cost, extent of and awareness of consumer fraud in Australia. In 2008, the ABS found that approximately five percent of the Australian population reported being victimised by consumer scams, with personal losses reaching almost $1b. This paper compares the findings of the ABS survey with those gathered by the AIC during the annual fraud awareness-raising activities conducted by the Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce. In 2008, a self-selected sample of 919 respondents to the AIC's online survey reported being victimised by a wide variety of scams, including those relating to fictitious lotteries, phishing scams, financial advice and other attempts to elicit personal information from respondents. Individuals from all age groups were targeted in these scams, with older Australians being victimised to a similar extent to those in their middle years. Armed with an understanding of the nature and scope of the risks, consumer protection and other regulatory agencies can tailor their fraud prevention activities to maximise their impact—therefore reducing the extent to which consumers take up offers which are too good to be true.
The AIC reports that the survey contained questions about
four specific types of scam invitations: lottery, money transfer (advance fee fraud), personal information (phishing) and offers of financial advice as well as an 'other' category.

* Lottery scams involve the offer of a prize, usually from an overseas lottery, that a person has not entered.
* Money transfer scams or ACFT involve a request to transfer money into a person's bank account. This involves a story, which can vary significantly, but the common theme is the need for an upfront payment in exchange for the promise of a significantly larger repayment in the future.
* Phishing scams involve a fraudulent request for details. Perpetrators will usually impersonate a reputable business such as a bank and request confirmation of personal details such as bank account numbers or passwords.
* Financial advice scams involve payment for 'get rich quick' schemes that offer ways to make money or claim to include investment secrets.

The 'other' category included any scam that did not fit the exact definitions of the types above ... [including] 'work from home' scams which involve fake job offers and 'inheritance scams,' which involve an offer to claim an inheritance from a deceased estate, as well as 'dating and romance scams' involving fake profiles on matchmaking websites.
Unsurprisingly, given the prevalence of spam, 90% of respondents had "received an invitation to a scam" in the preceding 12 months, 80% of respondents getting an email offer from the supposed heirs of an African kleptocrat, a kindly auditor or bank managers and so forth. 18% had responded positively to an unsolicited invitation in that 12 month period, with 'responding positively' being defined as corresponding in some way with the person/s to further communication (anything from a reply email requesting further information to sending money to the person/s).

The AIC found the 25–34, 35–44 and 55–64 age cohorts held the largest percentage of fraud victims (23.2%, 21.4% and 22% respectively). Just over 36% of the total sample reported at least one unsolicited scam invitation in some manner. Of those who had responded positively to a scam, just over 66% reported their experience in some way. They were most likely to report to a consumer affairs agency (18%) or the business involved (16%), with the rate for reporting to the police at around 7%. Approximately one third of victims did not report in any way.

A Newspoll survey commissioned by the Australian Communications & Media Authority, the national telecommunications regulator, has meanwhile resulted in claims that 39% of Australians with mobile phones or an email account are unaware of who to contact to complain about spam email and SMS, with almost half the population (47%) being unsure about where to direct complaints regarding unwanted telemarketing calls. So much for general consciousness of the Do Not Call (DNC) register.

11 October 2009

Just around the corner

US President Barack Obama, in a speech to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), dubbed as the largest US gay rights advocacy group, has yet again promised to end the Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) regime in the US armed forces - ie the ban on gay people serving openly in the military.

It is fine to serve and die for your country, as long as you are not seen to be gay, with being 'seen' on occasion involving surveillance of email, blogs and Facebook or other social media profiles. Gay people have indeed died in service - as highlighted in works such as Randy Shilts' Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the US Military (New York: St Martins Press 1993) and Allan Berube's Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two (New York: Free Press 1990) - and on occasion because they are gay, ie have been the victims of violence inflicted by fellow servicepeople.

Like St Augustine, Obama made all the right noises - give me chastity (or an 'out' and gay-friendly service) but not quite yet.

The President said "Do not doubt the direction we are heading and the destination we will reach" and reiterated that the US could not afford to lose people who had much-needed skills for fighting but were - inconveniently - gay.
We should not be punishing patriotic Americans who have stepped forward to serve the country. We should be celebrating their willingness to step forward and show such courage.
The celebrations may be delayed, despite Obama's comment that the US had made progress on gay rights and would make more, because the President has failed to indicate a timetable for when the change will be implemented.
I appreciate that many of you don't believe progress has come fast enough. Do not doubt the direction we are heading and the destination we will reach.
He had earlier said that
For nearly 30 years, you've [ie the HRC] advocated on behalf of those without a voice. That's not easy. For despite the real gains that we've made, there's still laws to change and there's still hearts to open. There are still fellow citizens, perhaps neighbors, even loved ones - good and decent people - who hold fast to outworn arguments and old attitudes; who fail to see your families like their families; who would deny you the rights most Americans take for granted. And that's painful and it's heartbreaking. And yet you continue, leading by the force of the arguments you make, and by the power of the example that you set in your own lives - as parents and friends, as PTA members and church members, as advocates and leaders in your communities. And you're making a difference.

That's the story of the movement for fairness and equality, and not just for those who are gay, but for all those in our history who've been denied the rights and responsibilities of citizenship - (for all who've been told that the full blessings and opportunities of this country were closed to them. It's the story of progress sought by those with little influence or power; by men and women who brought about change through quiet, personal acts of compassion - and defiance - wherever and whenever they could.
Fine words, finely crafted, but surely the President isn't one of those people "with little power or influence". Sceptics won't be reassured by Obama's call for Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (which limits recognition of gay partnerships) and his call for a federal statute law that would extend benefits to domestic partners. His delay in implementing his recurrent commitment to expunge DADT will presumably be read by many audiences, including Congress, as an indication that he is not truly committed to those changes.

Obama might look back to Lyndon Johnson, a President who demonstrated both a personal commitment to human rights and the ability to persuade Congress to adopt his policies. Would we be comfortable observing a head of state who promised to remove racial discrimination within government ... but not quite yet, and indeed at an unspecified time that seems to drift into the future with every request to 'trust me'. Leadership, irrespective of whether it's decorated with a Nobel Prize or gold braid and a screaming eagle, involves boldness and action when responding to systemic disadvantage. It requires more than an acknowledgement that
the struggle waged by the Human Rights Campaign is about more than any policy we can enshrine into law. It's about our capacity to love and commit to one another. It's about whether or not we value as a society that love and commitment. It's about our common humanity and our willingness to walk in someone else's shoes: to imagine losing a job not because of your performance at work but because of your relationship at home; to imagine worrying about a spouse in the hospital, with the added fear that you'll have to produce a legal document just to comfort the person you love - to imagine the pain of losing a partner of decades and then discovering that the law treats you like a stranger.
No candles for Bo

The major excitement on the official White House blog, meanwhile, is an entry celebrating the birthday of First Dog Bo. His 'official portrait' is here.

The US armed forces presumably have other things on their mind than candles for Bo. US Air Force officer Lt Colonel Edith Disler (with 25 years of service) last week revealed that she was disciplined and barred from teaching at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs after she invited three gay academy graduates to speak to her class about the DADT policy in 2008. Such an invitation seems reasonable, given respect for human rights, recognition that DADT is an issue facing officers (who presumably have some capacity for independent thought) and disagreement within the Pentagon evident in last month's 'The Efficacy of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'' [PDF] by Colonel Om Prakash in Joint Forces Quarterly (a journal published for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff). Prakash comments that "there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that unit cohesion will be negatively affected if homosexuals serve openly" and concludes that the Obama administration should "examine how to implement the repeal of the ban" rather than "reexamine the issue".

Disler reportedly learned after the talk that she was under investigation, was not allowed to return to her classroom and could not discuss the matter with students. A formal letter of counseling indicated that the talk "had the potential to generate the perception that the USAF Academy has taken a position on gays in the military that is contrary to current Air Force and Department of Defense policy on this matter" and reproved her for failing to recognise "that negative publicity ... had the potential to create the perception that the USAF Academy does not support current Air Force and Department of Defense policy on a this sensitive manner."

Perhaps misunderstanding that it's unwise to talk or ask about DADT Disler commented that "It's amazing to say that Air Force Academy combat veterans are not welcome on campus just because they're gay". The Academy's reportedly explained that she should have sought and gained clearance.