Poem of the day: W H Auden

Now what makes me think again of this poem, which has haunted me ever since I first read it at Sydney University when I was 16?

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SEPTEMBER 1, 1939

by W.H. Auden

 

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
‘I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,’
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the dead,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Junior HP had an outing yesterday

Junior HP likes the Illawarra Leagues Club.

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You see, the wi-fi internet there goes with NBN speed and they allow viewing of YouTube. So after lunch (silverside, yum!) at Diggers, just up the road, I called on the retired wharfie who now spends his time mostly at Leagues. I had introduced the wharfie to Junior HP last week, when we pursued quite a few old songs. This time though I brought headphones, as Junior HP’s own speakers are what you might term minimal.

The wharfie, among other things, had been a swimmer of note in his day. So on YouTube we followed that track through several Olympic Games starting of course with Beverley Whitfield.

Then music. As am I, the wharfie was particularly moved by the Hayley Westenra, Vera Lynn, Fron Choir version of “We’ll Meet Again” from the Royal Albert Hall, sung before The Queen, and Dame Vera herself, at The Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance 2009.

I can get teary listening to that. The wharfie and I are both “war babies”.  My father came home from Papua, his did not.

Death of a hero: Liu Xiaobo 1955-2017

Guaranteed to get this post/blog banned in China, alas, when in fact the Chinese should have been proud of this son, and certainly should have listened to him.

Interesting to see that SBS News devoted twelve minutes to the story. It was the lead item last night, unlike on ABC.

Liu Xiaobo was born into one of China’s first generations to be raised after the country’s Cultural Revolution. Receiving a PhD in literature, he was branded a ‘black horse’ early in his academic career.

“He was notorious for tipping sacred cows,” friend Australia author Linda Jaivin told SBS World News. Ms Jaivin lived in Beijing in the 1980s and moved in the same literary circles as Mr Liu. “He was very intellectual, very confident. He would attack people that everybody thought were the greatest writers and the greatest poets. He was quite controversial in his opinions and very good fun also,” Ms Jaivin said.

Mr Liu’s provocative writing would soon turn to impassioned protest.

Protesting at Tiananmen Square

When the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests broke out Liu was a visiting scholar at America’s Colombia University.

He rushed home to support the students, becoming a key protest figure. He gave rousing speeches, and famously joined a hunger strike.

Most significantly he is credited with saving many lives by helping to negotiate peaceful retreat for students out of the square….

During the days following the massacre Mr Liu, along with other activist friends, took refuge in Australian diplomat Nicholas Jose’s Beijing apartment.

When the area was evacuated Mr Jose offered Mr Liu refuge at the Australian embassy. “He could have come inside the gates to safety, he would have been in the jurisdiction of the Australian embassy if he did that. But he decided no, he wanted to meet his friends and take his chance,” he told SBS World News.

Now a writer and professor at Adelaide University, Mr Jose says that moment is the most precious memory of his friend.

“I will always remember that handshake outside the embassy that night. He borrowed my clothes. He was wearing my jeans and my jacket, and off he went.”

Mr Jose and Ms Jaivin were horrified to learn Mr Liu was apprehended in the street by an unmarked van just hours later.

He spent 18 months in jail, the first of many stints in detention. But despite heavy surveillance and censorship Liu Xiaobo continued to publish abroad, unwavering in his condemnation of China’s lack of freedom..

While free he often travelled, lecturing in Australia in 1993. But Mr Liu never sought asylum from China.

“He was passionate about China and its future. I think he knew that’s where his destiny was,” Mr Jose said.

Through Nicholas Jose I met Liu Xiaobo in 1993 in Sydney. See also Nicholas Jose – Fiction and Non-fiction (2005) and Linda Jaivin on Hou Dejian (2016) which includes links to several other past posts of mine. See also Linda Jaivan A Nobel Affair.

One post is worth reposting as it summarises the ideas that got Liu Xiaobo into trouble, but which China really needs to hear:

Dr. LIU Xiaobo is a renowned Chinese literary critic, dissident writer and human rights activist based in Beijing, as well as the Honorary President of the ICPC (Independent Chinese PEN Centre). On 8 December 2008, Dr. Liu was taken into the Police custody and now serves a sentence of 11 years for what he wrote…

What did he write?

Many things, but his participation in the Charter of Human Rights in China (Charter 08) has been the cause both of his Nobel Prize and his imprisonment.

II. Our Fundamental Concepts 
At this historical juncture of the future destiny of China, it is necessary to rethink the last 100 years of modernization and reaffirm the following concepts:
Freedom: Freedom is at the core of universal values. The rights of speech, publication, belief, assembly, association, movement, and to demonstrate are all the concrete realizations of freedom. If freedom is not flourishing, then there is no modern civilization of which to speak.
Human Rights: Human rights are not bestowed by the state, but are rights that each person is born with and enjoys. To ensure/guarantee human rights must be the foundation of the first objective of government and lawful public authority, and is also the inherent demand of “putting people first.” The past political calamities of China are all closely related to the disregard of human rights by the ruling authorities.
Equality: Each individual, regardless of social status, occupation, gender, economic situation, ethnic group, skin color, religion, or political belief, is equal in human dignity and freedom. The principle of equality before the law and a citizen’s society must be implemented; the principle of equality of economic, cultural, and political rights must be implemented.
Republicanism: Republicanism is “governing together; living peacefully together,” □ that is, the decentralization of power and balancing of interests, that is comprised of diverse interests, different social groups, pluralistic culture and groups seeking religious belief, on the foundation of equal participation, peaceful competition, public discussion, and peaceful handling of public affairs.
Democracy: The most basic meaning is that sovereignty resides in the people and the people elect government. Democracy has the following basic characteristics: (1) the legitimacy of government comes from the people, the source of government power is the people; (2) government must be chosen by the people; (3) citizens enjoy the right to vote, important civil servants and officials of all levels should be produced through elections at fixed times; (4) the decisions of the majority must be respected while protecting the basic rights of the minority. In a word, democracy will become the modern tool for making government one “from the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Constitutionalism: Constitutionalism is the principle of protecting basic constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms and rights of citizens through law and a rule of law, delimiting the boundaries of government power and actions, and providing corresponding systemic capacity.
In China, the era of imperial power has long passed and will not return; in the world, authoritarian systems are approaching the dusk of their endings. The only fundamental way out for China: citizens should become the true masters of the nation, throw off the consciousness of reliance on a wise ruler or honest and upright official, make widely public civic consciousness of the centrality of rights and the responsibility of participation, and practice freedom, democracy, and respect for law.
III. Our basic standpoint 
In line with a responsible and constructive citizens’ spirit towards the country’s political system, civil rights and various aspects of social development, we put forward the following specific standpoints:

  1. Amend the Constitution: Based on the aforementioned values and concepts, amend the Constitution, abolishing the provisions in the current Constitution that are not in conformity with the principle that sovereignty resides in the people so that the Constitution can truly become a document for guaranteeing human rights and [appropriate use of] public power. The Constitution should be the implementable supreme law that any individual, group or party shall not violate, and lay the legal foundation for the democratization of China.
  2. Separation and balance of power: A modern government that separates, checks and keeps balance among powers guarantees the separation of legislative, judicial, and administrative power. The principle of governing by laws and being a responsible Government shall be established. Over-expansion of executive power shall be prevented; the Government shall be responsible to the taxpayers; the separation, checking and keeping balance of powers between the central and local governments shall be set up; the central power authority shall be clearly defined and mandated by the Constitution, and the local governments shall be fully autonomous.
  3. Democratize the lawmaking process: All levels of the legislative bodies shall be directly elected. Maintain the principles of fairness and justice in making law, and democratize the lawmaking process.
  4. Independence of the judiciary: The judiciary shall be nonpartisan, free from any interference. Ensure judicial independence, and guarantee judicial fairness. Establish a Constitutional Court and a system of judicial review; maintain the authority of the Constitution. Abolish as soon as possible the Party’s Committees of Political and Legislative affairs at all levels that seriously endanger the country’s rule of law. Avoid using public tools for private objectives.
  5. Public institutions should be used for the public: Realize the nationalization of the armed forces. The military shall be loyal to the Constitution and to the country. The political party organizations in the armed forces should be withdrawn. The level of military professionalism should be raised. All civil servants including the police shall remain politically neutral. Discrimination in employment of civil servants based on party preference should be eliminated and equal employment without any party preference should be adopted.
  6. Protect human rights: Protection of human rights should be effectively implemented and human dignity should be safeguarded. A Commission on Human Rights shall be established that is responsible to the highest level of authority representing public opinion. [This Commission] will prevent government abuse of public power and violation of human rights, and especially protect the personal freedom of citizens. All persons should be be free from unlawful arrest, detention, summons, interrogation, and punishment. The system of Reeducation-Through-Labor should be abolished.
  7. Election of public officials: The democratic electoral system should be fully implemented, with the realization of the equal voting right of one person one vote. Direct election of all levels of administrative heads should be institutionalized step by step. Free competition in the elections on a regular basis and citizen participation in the election of public officials are inalienable basic human rights.
  8. Urban and rural equality: The current urban-rural household registration system should be repealed. The equal rights for all citizens guaranteed by the Constitution should be implemented. The freedom of movement for citizens should be protected.
  9. Freedom of association: Citizens’ right to freedom of association shall be safeguarded. The current system for registration and examination before approval for civil society organizations should be changed to a registration and recording system. The ban on freely organizing political parties should be lifted. All activities of parties should be regulated by the Constitution and law. One-party monopolization of ruling privileges should be abolished. The principle of freedom of activities of political parties and fair competition should be established. The normalization of party politics and a rule by law should be realized.
  10. Freedom of assembly: Peaceful assembly, protest, demonstration and freedom of expression are fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. They should not be subject to unlawful interference and unconstitutional restrictions by the ruling party and the government.
  11. Freedom of expression: The freedom of speech, freedom of the press and academic freedom should be implemented. Citizens’ right to know and to monitor supervise should be protected. A press and publication law should be promulgated. The ban on freely publishing newspapers should be lifted. The current provision of “inciting subversion of state power” in the Criminal Law should be repealed and criminal punishment for speech should be eliminated.
  12. Freedom of religion: Freedom of religion and freedom of belief should be protected. Religion and politics should be separated. Religious activities should be free from government interference. All administrative regulations, administrative rules and local regulations and rules that restrict or deprive citizens’ freedom of religion should be reviewed and repealed. Management of religious activities by administrative legislature should be prohibited. The current prior approval system in which religious groups (including places of worship) must be registered before obtaining legal status should be abolished, and instead, a new record-keeping system for religious groups and their worship places should replace the current one.
  13. Citizen Education: Abolish political education and examinations that are deeply ideological and serve one-party rule. Promote citizen education that encompasses universal values and civil rights, establishes civil consciousness, and promotes the civil virtue of serving society.
  14. Property Protection: Establish and protect private property rights, implement a free and open market economy, protect the freedom of entrepreneurship, and eliminate administrative monopoly; set up a state-owned property management committee that is responsible to the highest legislative agency, initiate property rights reforms legally and orderly, make clear the property rights of owners and obligors, initiate a new land movement, advance land privatization, and strictly protect citizens’, in particular, farmers’, land rights.
  15. Fiscal Reforms: Firmly establish democracy in finance and protect taxpayers’ rights. Build a public finance system and operational mechanisms in which powers and obligations are clear, and create a reasonable and effective division of power in finance among all levels of government; implement major reforms in the tax system to reduce the tax rate, simplify the tax system, and achieve tax equity. The administrative departments should not be allowed to increase tax or create new tax arbitrarily without a social public choice and resolutions of the legislative agencies. Pass reforms on property rights, introduce diverse market subjects and competition mechanisms, lower the market-entry threshold in banking, and create conditions for the development of privately-owned banking to energize the financial system.
  16. Social Security: Build a social security system that covers all of the citizens, and provide them with fundamental protections for education, medical care, elderly care and employment.
  17. Environmental Protection: Protect the ecological environment, promote sustainable development, and take up responsibility to future generations and humanity; enforce the respective responsibilities of the state and government officials of all levels; perform the function of participation and supervision by civil organizations on environmental protection.
  18. Federal Republic: Participate in and maintain regional peace and development with an equal and fair attitude, and create an image of a responsible great country. Protect the free systems of Hong Kong and Macao. Under the precondition of freedom and democracy, seek a settlement resolution on cross-strait relations by way of equal negotiation and cooperative interaction. Explore possible ways and an institutional design to promote the mutual prospects of all ethnicities with great wisdom, and to establish China’s federal republic under the structure of democracy and constitutionalism.
  19. Transitional Justice: Rehabilitate the reputation of and give state compensation to the victims who suffered political persecution during past political movements as well as their families; release all political prisoners, prisoners of conscience, and people who are convicted because of their beliefs; establish a truth commission to restore historical truth, to pursue accountability and to fulfill justice; seek a settlement of the society on this foundation.

Aspergers, English-speaking and Senator Revenant

To supplement my post Testing for English competence? read Annabel Crabb in today’s Sun-Herald.

The policy – proposed by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton with all the mellifluity of a man who has spent nine years in the Queensland Police – is currently under consideration by the parliament…

It’s drawn immediate support from Pauline Hanson.

Asked by Channel Seven what she thought of the proposed test and its associated Australian residency requirement extension from one to four years, the Senator declared: “It’s a start in the right direction.”…

The last minor mangle is a small sample of Senator Revenant’s somewhat loose connection to the English language. What price her IELTS score, I wonder?

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Interesting: If you can’t speak English, you don’t deserve to call yourself a Senator, Pauline Hanson.

SHE wears her love of Australia like a badge of honour, but a leading speech expert says Senator Pauline Hanson should consider learning how to speak our language if she wants to inspire the nation.

Michael Kelly, a body language and speech expert gave Ms Hanson’s maiden speech in the Senate barely a pass mark of 5.5 out of 10, blaming her poor pronunciation and “clunky” delivery for creating an “amateurish” first impression.

Putting aside her controversial politics, the 30-minute oration was “not up to the standards Australians should expect of an inspiring member of the Senate,” Mr Kelly said.

Stumbling over basic words like “custody” and “integral,” Ms Hanson gave the impression she had not rehearsed the much-anticipated speech, which “lacked impact,” was “monotone” and at times was “twee” and “juvenile,” Mr Kelly claimed.

“It was like she was completely unprepared. She hadn’t worked out her phrasing, it was monotone and she struggled to read parts of it out,” he said.

“She was mispronouncing words like “custody” which she delivered as “cus-dy” and that just leaves an unprofessional impression,” he said…

The lowest point were her remarks offering to drive migrants to the airport herself, Mr Kelly said, immature and unbecoming of a senior parliamentarian….

To be uncharacteristically fair to the Revenant of Oz. I suspect that much of the trouble she has brought on her own head over the education of children with disabilities, particularly those on the autism spectrum, stems from her own intellectual and linguistic incapacity.  Rather than being taken out of context, her remarks had been typically garbled and ill-considered, but she does have a point. There should be better training and resourcing for the education of children with disabilities in the mainstream. I have a little experience here as in my last three years of teaching one of my duties was to support one-on-one some students with Aspergers. I had a couple of successes and one not so successful. At the time (2003-2005) this was all rather new to us. Glad to say one of the students concerned is now a friend on Facebook.

Many years ago — 1970 in fact — I taught at Dapto High School, south of Wollongong. In those days we had no idea at all — I do not exaggerate — when confronted, if we were, with students with such things as Aspergers/autism. Today is so different, as this excellent page from Dapto High attests. Do visit it if you want authoritative information on the subject.

I looked that up because of an item in today’s Sun-Herald by Peter FitzSimons — someone whose writing at times annoys me. But not today…

Even for Pauline Hanson, her attack this week on kids with autism – maintaining they had no place in “our” class-rooms – took the breath away. As ever, her polarising politics is divisive, driven by a mean-spiritedness that has set post-war records in Australian politics, and entirely ill-informed. In fact, the inclusion of students on the autism spectrum and wider Special Needs students has been successful across our brown and pleasant land, and some of it I have seen up close.

TFF’s brother, Andrew, is Principal at Dapto High School, where they have run a stunningly successful integration program for students on the autism spectrum for the last nine years, and they now have no fewer than 28 of them.

“These students enrich our school and this community every day,” he told me on Friday. “Students are encouraged to participate in the full range of activities: sporting, cultural, academic etc. Participation in mainstream classes is accommodated when ever possible; often playing to particular strengths; Art , Music, Engineering etc. It works. Never had a single complaint. It is inspirational and heart-warming on so many levels for so many of our Dapto students . . . and wonderful for those on the spectrum, and their families, too.”

Great to hear!

Otto Warmbier’s death underlines plight of thousands of North Koreans

That is a must-read opinion piece by former justice of the High Court of Australia, Michael Kirby.

Otto’s individual story is so sad indeed, but as Michael Kirby writes:

A seemingly minor player on the geographical chess board, North Korea has suddenly aspired to be a king. A tiny pawn, like Otto Warmbier, can quite easily be removed from the game, and even from life. When and how the young Otto’s brain damage first occurred may never be known. Like much else about North Korea, it is shrouded in obsessive secrecy and mystery.

How should we remember Otto Warmbier from Ohio? His plight should draw our attention to the sufferings of an entire people subjected in North Korea to daily acts of fearsome disproportion and violence. Accidently perhaps, Otto’s incarceration, coma, removal and death, once again, call to notice the sufferings of the other prisoners, languishing in the jails of North Korea. A young American’s fate becomes a metaphor, a kind of symbol, of a big story about thousands of nameless statistics locked up and oppressed in North Korea. They are voiceless. But Otto Warmbier speaks of their suffering from his grave.

One of the silliest-looking world leaders (though there has been competition for that lately from another self-clapper) and surely one of the most rotten in every sense.

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Go to the United Nation’s Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which was chaired by Justice Kirby. Read it and weep.

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