The Null Device


I just watched the first part of Crazy Rulers Of The World, a documentary series by Jon Ronson (author of THEM, an exposé of conspiracy theorists, political extremists and other fellow travellers). It was very interesting; the programme was about the US military's paranormal research programmes, hatched in the heady collision of the post-Vietnam doldrums and the rise of Californian New Age spirituality. We met Lt. Col. Jim Channon, a wild-haired, wide-eyed hippy shaman-type who wrote the fantastically new-agey (not to mention lavishly illustrated) "First Earth Battalion" report, which envisioned a new US Army trained to sense plant auras and be at one with the universe; into confrontation, they would carry baby lambs, and wear loudspeakers from which emanated indigenous music and words of peace; if things got really heavy, this would change to discordant acid rock. Anyway, Channon's ideas inspired a lot of others to begin various less peaceful project, including the Fort Bragg "Goat Lab", where Special Forces would practice staring at goats and killing them with their psychic energy. One of the practitioners of this (now running a dance studio in the Midwest) claimed to have recently killed a hamster with psychic energy. Apparently he is being brought out of retirement to assist in using psychic energy to interrogate Iraqi insurgents, hopefully preventing another Abu Ghraib incident, or so he claims.

The convincingness of this programme was varied; parts of it, like the chakra-point weapon adapted from Channon's teachings and apparently being used to bloodlessly defeat Iraqi insurgents in hand-to-hand combat, looked like it could work, perhaps along similar principles to acupuncture or pressure-point tactics. The goat-staring and hamster-staring videos, however, seemed rather ambiguous; in both cases, nothing seemed to happen on the screen, though excuses were given (the goat experiment was only aiming for a "level 1" effect of lowering its heart rate, and the hamster could have been interpreted as collapsing and then trying to flee its cage; the experimenter didn't show the video of it dying, in case the Guardian columnist Ronson was a "bleeding-heart liberal").

Anyway, there are two more parts in this programme, not to mention a book titled The Men Who Stare At Goats, which should be interesting.

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Dispatches from the Culture War: Intoxicated with their triumph, the Tories are blaming the legacy of the "permissive 1960s" for Australia's social ills, and implying that, had this decade of godless liberalism never happened, Australia would be a much better place. But what would Deputy PM John Anderson's ideal Australia look like?

We may have been serene but we were not widely read - more than 1000 books had been placed on the banned list. In the Western world, only Ireland, still straining under the power of the Catholic clergy, could boast a more rigorous record of prohibition.
The great American satirist Tom Lehrer also felt the lash of our moral arbiters. A ditty that exhorted a Boy Scout to "be prepared" upon meeting a Girl Guide was deemed too risque for our sensitive ears and thus found itself on the taboo list.

Well, the Howard government has already moved in that direction, with tightening of film censorship. Notwithstanding high-profile cases like Baise-Moi, many films shown in Australia are a few minutes shorter than their overseas releases because of cuts made by the OFLC. And book censorship is still around; the 18th-century bawdy novel Fanny Hill is among the books still banned in Australia.

That year the White Australia Policy was still the go, though the ALP federal conference insisted that in no way did it "represent racial prejudice". A further example of our enlightenment on such matters came from South Africa's Prime Minister Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid, who claimed that Australia was "the best friend South Africa had". And this not a year after the Sharpeville massacre.
And we were four years away from the death of a young Lutheran, Errol Noack, who lost a bizarre lottery and became the first National Serviceman to die in Vietnam. He didn't want to go but he perceived a duty. He died months before we were to go "all the way with LBJ".

Again, we could very well see the return of national service before the next election. If the US brings in conscription (not unlikely, especially if the alternative is surrendering Iraq to become al-Zarqawi's personal jihad-state; after all, unmanned drones, satellite intelligence and high-tech communications can only make up so much for lack of troops on the ground) and requests more troops from Australia, it is inconceivable that the Howard administration would knock them back. And they'd have an argument for it, even if it does hinge on the circularity of Howard having made this "our fight" in the first place.

Fortunately a considerable part of the '60s generation understood that traditional values were worthless without coherence and that authority needed a core of integrity. The racism, censorship and aggression of the '60s was rightfully challenged and, to a considerable degree, overcome.
The brave took bus rides to the outback and organised lonely vigils on street corners, paving the way to mass protest.
Perhaps that's the real concern of social conservatives like John Anderson. It's not so much the sex, drugs and Pink Floyd that they fear, though these types certainly aren't much into fun. It's the challenge to orthodoxy and conformity. They are frightened of an outbreak of contrary thought, of debate beyond the set margins. Be they within government or without, they wish to determine what we think, say, write and do.

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Today's featured article on Wikipedia is "exploding whale". Now that's something you probably wouldn't find in the Britannica.

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