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Cutting the nose from our national face

A version of the following article first appeared in ‘Online Opinion’ in 2014 under the title ‘Obliterating the past obliterates its lessons’. As an entertainer who once performed on the same bill as Rolf Harris, I was moved to write this after he had his Aria Award revoked and his songs removed from playlists Australia wide. Harris was found guilty and he deserves his punishment. However, he also needs to be remembered for his positive contribution to Australian music.

Here’s a crass riddle for you. What has ancient Egyptian pharaoh Queen Hatshepsut and Rolf Harris got in common? Mmmm? The answer could lie in the fact that while living more than 3,500 years apart, they were both celebrities.Rolf-Harris

Yet that’s not it. The answer is that both of these individuals are victims of ‘Damnatio Memoriae’ – the practice of chiseling, painting over or otherwise removing a person’s image or legacy from public view so to be purged from the national psyche. Sometimes it’s done by ordinary people as a sort of communal catharsis. Sometimes it’s ordered by a new regime or powerful elite as a prescribed amnesia. They did it to Saddam Hussein and they did it to ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. They wanted to do it to Bill Clinton. They’ve done it to Robert E Lee. Watch out Ned Kelly.

Most of the time, it doesn’t matter if the individual had performed hundreds of good deeds in the past or even managed, as in the case of Hatshepsut, to build a flourishing nation. The new dynasty of Pharaohs scraped her face off buildings anyway. Those who render ‘Damnatio Memoriae’ (let’s call it DM from now on), look only to the ‘perceived’ dark side of a person’s character and condemn them on that.

I say ‘perceived’ dark side as it’s often the political thinking of the day that decides what is dark and what is not. It can also be decided by money, ideology and gender. These days it can also be decided by who has a Smartphone in the vicinity.

While some DM may be deserved, University of North Carolina Lecturer Sarah Bond recently wrote that the practice does more to cement the individual in the national mind than remove it. The image may not stay in the public eye, but it stays in the mind and in legend where it can be distorted – sometimes positively.

It’s also true that without the image or legacy of a disgraced individual to reflect on, we can’t possibly learn the lessons their downfall could teach us. A faultless history makes for a system of theoretical learning with no grounding in reality. We learn far more from the mistakes and horrors of history than its wonders. A sanitised national fairy tale is a useless teacher.

Yet why do some disgraced celebrities get DM’d while lots of other bad as hell celebrity types have their crimes forgotten and the ‘bright’ side of their character lauded? Why is one guilty celebrity damned while another praised?

Nigel Milsom, one of Australia’s most successful artists, was recently awarded the Nation’s richest art gong – the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize while in prison for armed robbery. Brandishing a tomahawk, Milsom most certainly inflicted psychological damage on some poor worker while trying to rob a shop under the influence of crystal meth. While out of character and influenced by depression,  it was in anyone’s language, a crime. His Portrait Prize remains however and so it should.

Radio personality Alan Jones has been found guilty of defamation, racial vilification or contempt of court on no less than 12 occasions. He has hurt millions through racially motivated comment. His blathering about Julia Gillard’s father “dying of shame” has been condemned from both sides of politics. He received an Order of Australia in 2004 for his charity work. He still has it.roman-polanski

Much closer to Rolf Harris is Roman Polanski. While not a home grown celebrity, his contribution to international cinema is unquestioned. He received many awards years after being found guilty of the rape of a 13 year old girl and has many more awards pending. He’ll probably get them. So he should.

Now I was no great fan of Rolf (notice past tense – I’ve subconsciously DM’d him), yet I did on one occasion perform on the same bill. He got far more applause than me and deservedly so. He was good; very good. As an entertainer he made the lives of millions brighter. He changed the direction of Australian music and gave national identity linked with humour a place on 20th century radio playlists around the country and around the world.

Harris is being treated like Saddam Hussein. His image is being removed from murals across the country. His Aria Wall of Fame award has been revoked and his portrait removed from the National Portrait Gallery. Radio won’t play has stuff and I’m waiting for the ABC songbooks to be re-written. The Pharaohs of Egypt would be proud.

Just as Jones, Milsom and Polanski remain recognized as influential contributors in their field, so should Harris. His bright side – that of an outstanding entertainer must remain in our national psyche.

Harris was stupid. His dark side was judged and he will pay for his crimes – probably in far more ways than we’ll ever know. Yet our inability to see that all of us are capable of doing both good and bad things is even more stupid. When we fail to recognise this in the celebrities and sports stars we condemn, we fail to recognise it in ourselves and a white picket fence perspective of national identity becomes a deceitful norm.

Unlike an amoeba, we are multi-dimensional beings, and not all of those dimensions are socially or legally acceptable. Cutting off the nose of a nation in order to rewrite history may have been done in ancient Egypt, yet in 21st century Australia, we should hope that our local pharaohs have a more rational view of history and humanity.

 

Lawyers, Guns and Cory Bernardi

Cory Bernardi is a funny guy. A very funny guy. He’s likeable in a down-homey kinda way that reminds you of country town museums or Chiko rolls – both things that reflect the Australia that used to be, not the Australia we know today.

While we know what the news tells us about young Cory, he tends to have a few skeletons in the closet he’d rather us not know about. I guess it’s like the nasty secrets in a country town museum or even worse, the secrets inside a Chiko Roll.

Since at least 2012, Bernardi has been the Australian representative to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is funded by big business (corporate members) and consists of politicians (nearly all Republican), business representatives and ‘Task Force’ members who work on special projects. Young Corey is one of these.

The membership, activities and communications of ALEC are secret and closely guarded, yet a couple of US journos have managed to infiltrate the membership base – no doubt to Bernardi’s horror. The public interest group ‘Common Cause’ has also won legal battles to reveal members, yet the activities and plans of ALEC are strictly confidential. Hard to know, easy to guess.

At ALEC we see big business working alongside politicians to help draft laws that will benefit them. The ultra-conservative ‘Lawyers for Civil Justice’ are members and a terrific help here. Corporate members include tobacco, oil and pharmaceutical companies. It also includes the National Rifle Association (NRA).

The NRA uses ALEC to get laws passed that benefit weapon manufacturers and the NRA agenda. Reducing the restrictions on gun ownership and fostering the ability to bear weapons in ‘open carry’ is typical NRA conversation. If the NRA had their way, every high school student would carry a gun. So would every teacher.

This isn’t covert stuff, but widely known in American political circles. Businesses like Glaxo Smith Kline, Exxon Mobil and News Corp all belong to and use ALEC to the max to foster their business aims. Don’t believe me? The full list of all members can be found HERE.

Interestingly, big companies like Amazon, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Google and McDonald’s and are all ex members who were either barred due to their beliefs or voluntarily withdrew their membership and support. Some ex members like the grain exporting giant Cargill deny ever having been a member. Evidently it’s just bad PR.

Yet young Cory jets off every year to strut his stuff on the ALEC stage, support the NRA killing machine and bring back wonderful ideas on how Australia can be more like America. He’ll jet off in July to the next ALEC AGM and come back with lots of good stuff there’s no doubt. Gun ownership will be high on his list as will conservative civil law reform. It will be the lawyers, guns and Cory Bernardi show! As Warren Zevon said in his 1978 hit ‘Bring lawyers, guns and money’, … “Get me outa here!”

Why both sides of politics has let this human firecracker even get on a plane let alone represent Australia at one of the biggest conservative talk fests in the world is the question we should be asking. What’s worse is that we the taxpayer pay for this jaunt.

So Cory, one of your skeletons is out of the closet and I guess there’s more to come. After the Sandy Hook school massacre in 2012 I tried to get some Aussie journos interested in your little hobby and a couple were. I think a few more will be now.

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2016: Sex crimes & Castration

This is an updated version of the piece that first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald in August 2005. In 2016, nothing has changed and sex-crime perpetrators continue to re-offend.

In 2000, Bilal and Mohammed Skaf were sentenced to a total of 79 years jail for their part in a horrifying series of gang rapes in Sydney’s western suburbs. Even with their collective 79 years imprisonment, the youngest of the Skaf brothers was nearly released in 2013. Thankfully rational law won out. The victims, who undoubtedly knew their rapists’ possible release dates all too well, would have been horrified.

In our search for a just and appropriate punishment for crimes such as domestic sexual assault, rape or child sexual abuse , we’ve opted to take the easy option. Our penal system is a system where ‘rehabilitation’ revolves around psychological counseling and where repeat offense is not unusual, but horribly common. The touchy-feely approach isn’t working.

Its time therefore to look at a different punishment and rehabilitation formula; one that will create a sense of security for the victims and a sense of security for a community obviously alert to the horror of sex crimes. We also need a formula that aims for a more tolerable after-prison experience for the perpetrators – not one dominated by public hate and lifelong humiliation.

Castration is currently the sex-crime punishment in several US states and is used as a treatment for repeat sex offenders in many European countries. The actual form of castration varies from chemical castration, where the perpetrator needs monthly injections, to surgical castration which involves removal of the testicles. In women, removal of the ovaries, uterus and possibly clitoris may be necessary.

Whatever the form, castration is a proven method of reducing not only the offender’s sexual urges, but the hormone influenced aggressive traits that produce the violent sex crimes we’ve increasingly seen in Australia. It’s clear from the statistics that violent sexual abuse is more likely committed by men.

A German study compared 100 surgically castrated sex offenders and 35 non-castrated sex offenders ten years after their release back into the community. The repeat sex-crime rate of castrated offenders was 3%, while the repeat crime rate for non-castrated offenders was an astonishing 46%. Other studies from Denmark and the Czech Republic  reveal similar results. The Danish study revealed that the few repeat sex-crimes by castrated offenders were all non-aggressive and non-violent.

In 2016 Alabama, legislation is currently being debated where perpetrators of sex crimes that target children are surgically castrated.  This would apply to both men and women. According to The Huffington Post, “The punishment would apply to both male and female offenders who at the age of 21 or older sexually victimized children age 12 or younger.” While the actual legislation is likely to be tempered, Alabama won’t stand alone in introducing surgical castration for both men and women who commit crimes against children.

There will no doubt be a cry from civil libertarians that castration in any form is barbaric and not a punishment suited to a civilized and democratic society like Australia. I would urge these individuals to also consider if giving the perpetrators a post-prison life of public hate, humiliation and harrasment is civilised. In the USA, it isn’t uncommon for sex offenders to undergo voluntary castration, knowing that they are often the mercy of urges that are virtually impossible to control. They also realise a life out of prison is far preferable to a life inside. Child-Sexual-Abuse-Lawyer-Attorney

A true civilized society sees the sociopathic behaviour of the rapist or child sexual abuser as a condition that must be dealt with on both psychological and physiological levels. Our current fixation with prison-based, touchy-feely psychological rehabilitation programs is not only costly, but clearly not providing either the victims, or the community with any sense of continued security.

A sense of security for the victims above all else is what we should be aiming for. Knowing that the perpetrator is unlikely to commit the same sort of crime on release, and be largely incapable of doing so, would give some degree of security to those who have surely suffered enough.

In 2016 we continue to hear of child sexual abuse  cases occurring over years in church operated schools and institutions. We hear of dance studios, scouting groups and even defense organisations tolerating sexual abuse. As the number of repeat offenders grows, it’s time to look at a punishment that fits the crime. While it may be inhumane to some, castration will act as a deterrent and a punishment; a punishment that will create community security and give some sense of relief to the perpetrators of these crimes.