The Null Device

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Spain uses force to suppress outbreaks of illegal voting, as Catalonia's secessionist government defies a ban on an independence referendum. Having failed to seize all ballot papers in the days running up to the election, Spain has ordered riot police to fire with rubber bullets on those defying the ban; currently, 460 people are said to have been injured. The optics, as they say in this age, are not good; meanwhile, somewhere in the circle of Hell reserved for tyrants, Generalissimo Franco is rubbing his hands with glee, knowing that his life's work has, in some way, endured.

The optimistic liberal commentariat on Twitter, of course, is adamant that this is the day that Spain's right-of-centre anti-separatist government has lost all democratic legitimacy, and will suffer a crushing judgment from History and or Public Opinion; the corollary being that, however questionable Catalan independence may have been until now, it is as inevitable as, say, the Irish Free State became after the Easter Rising. Though that conclusion neglects a few things: firstly, can a government that uses force against its population automatically be said to have lost in the court of public opinion, in an age when the public looks to Dubai as a model of aspirational glamour and gets its news from the Daily Mail, FOXNews and the like? These days, the idea of “human rights” has fallen from favour somewhat, and is regarded with suspicion, if not outright contempt, by a large proportion of the public, whose rights are assumed to be assured by the natural order of things. (After all, if decent folks' rights are in no danger, the reasoning follows, then “human rights” can only be a scam to take from us and give to those people. If you hear some nice well-meaning liberal talking about “human rights”, check your wallet.) Would your typical person, who's relaxed and comfortable with wearing clothes made by slave labour and holidaying in locations where uppity minorities are kept in their place by the threat of deadly force, judge Mariano Rajoy's Spain to have overstepped the mark? As long as any future settlement ensures that Spain remains a sunny holiday and/or retirement destination, this is fine.

Secondly, Turkey has set a precedent for how a member in good standing of the club of free democracies (which Turkey remains, and will remain as long as it keeps the threatened tidal wave of Islamic refugees from entering Europe) may deal with internal dissent. Turkey, as you will recall, was faced with its own ethnic/linguistic minority—the Kurds, who had been left without a homeland by the Sykes-Picot treaty—who had their own party (the HDP), held mayorships in Kurdish-majority towns, and at the last election, won a large number of seats in the parliament, becoming a de facto liberal opposition to Erdoǧan's authoritarian rule. Erdoǧan responded by escalating tensions, jailing most HDP politicians, dissolving Kurdish-run regional governments and replacing them with non-Kurdish administrators, and, in places, using military force against resistant populations. This, too, was judged to be fine, and in no way inconsistent with Turkey's good standing in the democratic world. And in doing so, it set the baseline for what any other free democracy faced with secessionist dissent may freely do.

There seems to be no way back; the Catalans will not surrender unconditionally and forever rule out independence, as would be the minimum required. Therefore, the only option Madrid has is to decisively crush the secessionist movement and salt the ground to ensure it does not return. In the short term, Madrid will probably impose martial law, possibly backed with a shoot-to-kill curfew, which will be in force until immediate tension dissipates. Voting materials will be seized and destroyed, and any ringleaders still at large and within Spain arrested. (Whether neighbours will honour extradition requests for Catalan nationalist activists remains to be seen; Germany, for one, has been refusing to hand over Turkish dissidents.) In the longer term, there are likely to be sweeping Turkish-style purges of the public service, media and universities, with anyone who liked any Catalan independence materials on Twitter/Facebook likely to face dismissal.

Which leaves the longer term, and the whole question of “Catalonia” in the first place. Does (or should) it exist in any way that, say, “Kurdistan“ or “Palestine” officially don't? Does allowing a regional government to exist, to maintain its own laws and mandate that signage must be in Catalan, undermine national cohesion and sovereignty? A Spanish government seeking to eliminate the possibility of future secession might take a number of courses of action, from demoting Catalan from a first-class language to a vulgar dialect, removing it from place names and official materials and school curricula, up to eliminating the region of Catalonia altogether, subsuming its component parts into neighbouring regions for administrative purposes. (This would also serve as a warning to the Basques not to get any ideas; you have a lot of privileges, it would say; this is what happens to those who abuse them.)

Of course, this is assuming that Spain does prevail. A strategy of raising tensions could escalate into an actual civil war, or if not, then into a guerilla conflict like the Basque one, which could fester on for decades, and interact unpredictably with events abroad (if, say, France goes fascist after the next election, or Russia decides that a frozen conflict in western Europe serves its geopolitical ambitions, or post-Brexit Britain turns it into some kind of jingoistic proxy war over Gibraltar or something, anything could happen).

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Bizarre crime of the day: someone in Turkey kept nine young women captive in a house for around two months after convincing them that they were on a reality TV show. While there was no TV show, lascivious images of the women were sold on the internet:

They were made to sign a contract that stipulated that they could have no contact with their families or the outside world and would have to pay a 50,000 Turkish Lira fine ($A38,243) if they left the show before two months, the agency reported.
"We were not after the money but we thought our daughter could have the chance of becoming famous if she took part in the contest," the newspaper quoted one of the women's mother as saying. The paper identified her only by her first name, Remziye. "But they have duped us all."

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So that was Eurovision 2007. A bit of a surprise; the Serbian entry which won it seemed rather lacklustre compared to some of the others, but romped home in the voting, presumably due to Serbia being located in a geographical/demographical sweet spot. Interestingly enough, Eastern Europe dominated the voting, with the highest-scoring western-European nation being well in the bottom half of the rankings.

There were a few highlights: Georgia's entry started off as a traditional torch song by a woman in a red dress, but then morphed into eurodance, and then the dancers whipped out swords and started dancing about, Cossack-fashion, with a wild glint in their eyes. France eschewed the usual white-gowned piano balladeer in favour of a troupe of Dadaist mimes in Jean-Paul Gaultier costumes, highlighting the ridiculous side of Gallic culture. (Fat lot of good it did them, they ended up something like third-last. I guess it's back to the chanteuse and pianist next year.) Romania's entry was a bit like France's on a budget; five blokes dressed like the habitués of a slightly unsavoury tavern, singing "I love you" in every language on earth. The music was vaguely gypsyish, and sped up dramatically towards the end. Neighbouring Bulgaria's started off like Dead Can Dance with extra percussion, and then went electro. And, of course, there was Ukraine's entry, with its sequined, uniformed drag queen, looking like Elton John crossed with Austin Powers. It had camp and kitsch in spades, and raised a few questions. What, for example, was the significance of them counting in German, and did they really sing "I want to see Russia goodbye", and if so, how did that make it past the vetting process?

The lowlight was probably Ireland's entry, which was pure, unadulterated Celtic kitsch of the most obvious variety, and quite deserving of its final position at the bottom of the board. This year, though, nobody got a nul points, and they limped home with 3 points or somesuch. Britain did a bit better, largely thanks to Malta giving them 12, though their song was stuck firmly in the mid-1990s. And the teeth on that stewardess were frightening; granted, Scooch, as uninspired as they may be, were a lot less cringeworthy than last year's entrant (a middle-aged bloke pretending to be a teenage hip-hop street thug, surrounded by dancing "schoolgirls" who, apparently, were borrowed by Turkey this year). And I'd have to give a dishonourable mention to Russia, whose entry was a piece of soullessly machine-extruded commercial pop, trading on sex appeal (sample lyric from the three immaculately coifed girls doing the singing: "put a cherry on my cake and taste my cherry pie"; ooh-err!) lacking any of the madness or wrongness that makes for an interesting Eurovision entry.

The other competitors: Belarus (incidentally, the last remaining state with a KGB) had black-clad female dancers scaling walls like assassins and John Barry-esque strings over its power ballad. The full might of the Swedish culture industry was unleashed in the form of 1970s glam rock attired in monochromatic retro cool. Latvia's entry was in Italian, and like a low-rent version of The Divs. Germany had a bloke named Roger Cicero (son of Herr und Frau Cicero, I presume) doing a Sinatra-lite swing number, in German. Armenia's entrant seemed to follow, stylistically, in the footsteps of that other great Armenian singer, Charles Aznavour, only with an overwroughtly woeful and somewhat strained ballad. And Turkey's entrant was a short, hirsute man wearing a red jacket and a broad grin, surrounded by belly dancers Terry Wogan persisted in pointing out were British. Presumably giving the United Kingdom something to be proud of even should they have ended up with nul points.

While some speculated that Lordi's astounding triumph last year (reprised in the Lord-of-the-Rings-esque opening video) would have opened the door for a flood of hard-rock/heavy-metal bands, this did not entirely come to pass. Finland followed up their win with a new genre, which could be dubbed, Tolkienesquely, MOR-Goth, consisting of torch songs with emo-esque lyrics and plenty of black clothing and gothic makeup. The other main Lordi-influenced act was Moldova, whose song sounded like the sort of alternative-rock song that ended up on Hollywood action-film soundtracks in the late 1990s; all minor-key strings, crunchy metal power chords and drum loops.

The promotional videos played before the musical numbers were done quite well, executed as whimsical stories featuring elements of Finnish culture. Some of the odder ones featured a goth riding a rollercoaster, hackers coding computer demos at the Assembly festival, a heavy-metal festival full of corpsepainted teenagers, a troupe of clowns giving an athlete an instant makeover so he could enter a restaurant, a twattish-looking bloke in DJ headphones playing the pipes at the Sibelius monument, and Santa Claus playing chess with one of the Moomins. Oh, and lots of mobile phones (Nokia, of course); the Finns, it seems, use them at the dinner table, and even propose marriage with the help of their cameraphones. Other than mobile phones, heavy metal appears to be a big part of the Finnish national identity; other than the promos, there was the entertainment during the vote-counting break, which featured the heavy-metal string quartet Apocalyptica, as well as acrobats.

Last but not least, one has to mention the astonishing phenomenon that is Krisse, the somewhat frightening-looking young woman with the pink puffer jacket and big ponytails plucked from the audience to interview competitors, stumbling through questions and going on about herself (sample question: "on a scale of 9 to 10, how beautiful am I?"). For some reason, she reminded me of Leoncie.

apocalyptica armenia assembly belarus bulgaria charles aznavour cossacks eurodance eurovision finland france georgia germany goth heavy metal ireland kitsch leoncie moldova nokia romania russia serbia sweden tatu turkey uk ukraine 0


The Turkish entry involved a woman with extremely bleached hair, singing from deep in her throat over a funky-disco backing track.

And Armenia has a chap in a sequined hoody surrounded by girls with long ponytails like the anti-Daz Sampson. Apparently he's singing in English, though you can't really tell. And now they're doing a bondage routine with black tape.

The Greek woman hosting the show sounds extremely American, both in her accent and the exuberantly bubbly way in which she says that everything is "amazing". If you had a shot every time she said the word "amazing", you'd be catatonic by the end of the night.

And here comes Nana Mouskouri in a flowing white robe and her trademark geek-chic glasses.

I don't know about you, but Lordi get my vote; the Latvians would have been my second preference.

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In the vein of Little Ayse and the Magic Dwarves, another inexplicably bizarre Turkish remake of a well-known film; in this case, Turkish Star Trek, or Turist Ömer Uzay Yolunda as they say in Istanbul.

The teleportation effects are, like all Turkish special effects, a strange combination of retarded and rad. The four men stand as still as possible while the camera goes out of focus. Ten seconds later, the film gets scratched in their general area and they run out of frame while the guy holding the camera hits pause and unpause. This gives more of the impression that something's wrong with your VCR than of people being transported through space. Miniskirt technology is a much higher priority among their people than visual effects.
Spak finally comes to his senses after the evil licking shapechanger leaves, and Kirk is strangely uninterested in why he just tried to kill him. They avoid discussing it as they walk to the next wasteland where they get attacked by 20 Tarzan karate bots. That's what I said. This sets off a chain reaction of stupidity with naked robots kicking and punching in random directions and Omer almost pulling a face muscle with his mugging. Professor Krater built these robots for love, not karate, so the fight mostly consists of them rushing Kirk and Spak then stopping just short of them to scream "YAAAHHH!" and dance.

(via bOING bOING)

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