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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Joesph Heller- A History Talks Vol 1, Issue 11

Quotes from Joseph Heller (1923-1999) and his Classic Catch 22


Every writer I know has trouble writing.

He was a self-made man who owed his lack of success to nobody.

Destiny is a good thing to accept when it's going your way. When it isn't, don't call it destiny; call it injustice, treachery, or simple bad luck.

I think in every country that there is at least one executive who is scared of going crazy.

Lots of people who complained about us receiving the MBE received theirs for heroism in the war - for killing people. We received ours for entertaining other people. I'd say we deserve ours more.

Success and failure are both difficult to endure. Along with success come drugs, divorce, fornication, bullying, travel, meditation, medication, depression, neurosis and suicide. With failure comes failure.

The enemy is anybody who's going to get you killed, no matter which side he's on.

We do have a zeal for laughter in most situations, give or take a dentist.

When I grow up I want to be a little boy. When I read something saying I've not done anything as good as "Catch-22" I'm tempted to reply, "Who has?"

Catch 22 Quotes

Quote 1: "an unreasonable belief that everybody around him was crazy, a homicidal impulse to machine-gun strangers, retrospective falsification, an unfounded suspicion that people hated him and were conspiring to kill him." Chapter 2, pg. 29

Quote 2: "He had decided to live forever or die in the attempt, and his only mission each time he went up was to come down alive." Chapter 3, pg. 38

Quote 3: "You're inches away from death every time you go on a mission. How much older can you be at your age?" Chapter 4, pg. 48

Quote 4: "There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle." Chapter 5, pg. 55

Quote 5: "'Catch-22...says you've always got to do what your commanding officer tells you to.
"'But Twenty-seventh Air Force says I can go home with forty missions.'
"'But they don't say you have to go home. And regulations do say you have to obey every order. That's the catch. Even if the colonel were disobeying a Twenty-seventh Air Force order by making you fly more missions, you'd still have to fly them, or you'd be guilty of disobeying an order of his. And then the Twenty-seventh Air Force Headquarters would really jump on you.'" Chapter 6, pg. 68

Quote 6: "History did not demand Yossarian's premature demise, justice could be satisfied without it, progress did not hinge upon it, victory did not depend on it. That men would die was a matter of necessity; which men would die, though, was a matter of circumstance, and Yossarian was willing to be the victim of anything but circumstance. But that was war." Chapter 8, pg. 75

Quote 7: "The case against Clevinger was open and shut. The only thing missing was something to charge him with." Chapter 8, pg. 80

Quote 8: "With a little ingenuity and vision, he had made it all but impossible for anyone in the squadron to talk to him, which was just fine with everyone, he noticed, since no one wanted to talk to him anyway." Chapter 9, pg. 111

Quote 9: "Open your eyes, Clevinger. It doesn't make a damned bit of difference who wins the war to someone who's dead." Chapter 12, pg. 133-134

Quote 10: "You know, that might be the answer - to act boastfully about something we ought to be ashamed of. That's a trick that never seems to fail." Chapter 13, pg. 149

Quote 11:"Yossarian's heart sank. Something was terribly wrong if everything was all right and they had no excuse for turning back."
Chapter 14, pg. 150

Quote 12: Climb, you bastard! Climb, climb, climb, climb!" Chapter 15, pg. 157

Quote 13: "They couldn't dominate Death inside the hospital, but they certainly made her behave. They had taught her manners. They couldn't keep death out, but while she was in she had to act like a lady. People gave up the ghost with delicacy and taste inside the hospital. There was none of that crude, ugly ostentation about dying that was so common outside the hospital. They did not blow up in mid-air like Kraft or the dead man in Yossarian's tent, or freeze to death in the blazing summertime the way Snowden had frozen to death after spilling his secret to Yossarian in the back of the plane." Chapter 17, pg.176
Quote 14: The chaplain had "failed miserably, had choked up once again in the face of opposition from a stronger personality. It was a familiar, ignominious experience, and his opinion of himself was low." Chapter 20, pg. 208

Quote 15: "But I make a profit of three and a quarter cents an egg by selling them for four and a quarter cents an egg to the people in Malta I buy them from for seven cents an egg. Of course, I don't make the profit. The syndicate makes the profit. And everybody has a share." Chapter22, pg. 241

Quote 16: "'What is a country? A country is a piece of land surrounded on all sides by boundaries, usually unnatural. Englishmen are dying for England, Americans are dying for America, Germans are dying for Germany, Russians are dying for Russia. There are now fifty or sixty countries fighting in this war. Surely so many counties can't all be worth dying for.'" Chapter 23, pg. 257

Quote 17: "This time Milo had gone to far. Bombing his own men and planes was more than even the most phlegmatic observer could stomach, and it looked like the end for him...Milo was all washed up until he opened his books to the public and disclosed the tremendous profit he had made." Chapter 24, pg. 269

Quote 18: "You have no respect for excessive authority or obsolete traditions. You're dangerous and depraved, and you ought to be taken outside and shot!" Chapter 27, pg. 309

Quote 19: "that's the way things go when you elevate mediocre people to positions of authority." Chapter 29, pg. 335

Quote 20: "Dear Mrs., Mr., Miss, or Mr. And Mrs. Daneeka: Words cannot express the deep personal grief I experienced when your husband, son, father, or brother was killed, wounded, or reported missing in action." Chapter 31, pg. 355

Quote 21: "It doesn't make sense. It isn't even good grammar. What the hell does it mean to disappear somebody?" Chapter 34, pg. 378

Quote 22: "And looking very superior, he tossed down on the table a photostatic copy of a piece of V mail in which everything but the salutation "Dear Mary" had been blocked out and on which the censoring officer had written, 'I long for you tragically. A.T. Tappman, Chaplain, U.S. Army.'" Chapter 36, pg. 393

Quote 23: "Morale was deteriorating and it was all Yossarian's fault. The country was in peril; he was jeopardizing his traditional rights of freedom and independence by daring to exercise them." Chapter 39, pg. 415

Quote 24: "We've got your pal, buddy. We've got your pal." Chapter 41, pg. 446

Quote 25: "Run away to Sweden, Yossarian. And I'll stay here and persevere. Yes. I'll persevere. I'll nag and badger Colonel Cathcart and Colonel Korn every time I see them. I'm not afraid." Chapter 42, pg. 461

Friday, March 29, 2013

United States: Dying Iraq vet slams Bush, Cheney in letter

US NGO Just Foreign Policy estimates that more than 1,450,000 Iraqis have died since the US-led invasion 10 years ago. In the 2004 US offensive on Fallujah, a stronghold of anti-occupation resistance, the large majority of buildings were destroyed or damaged.

US soldiers were also victims, used as cannon fodder by their rulers in an illegal war for corporate power. More than 4000 US soldiers were killed in Iraq, but even more have killed themselves after returning from the war zone. Thousands more have been wounded and/or suffer serious mental trauma.

Tomas Young is a US Iraq War veteran who is receiving hospice care in Kansas City, dying from the injuries he received in Iraq in 2004. He wrote an open letter to former US president George Bush and vice president Dick Cheney, who launched the Iraq war. It is reprinted from Dangerous Minds.
* * *
To: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney
From: Tomas Young

I write this letter on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War on behalf of my fellow Iraq War veterans. I write this letter on behalf of the 4,488 soldiers and Marines who died in Iraq. I write this letter on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of veterans who have been wounded and on behalf of those whose wounds, physical and psychological, have destroyed their lives. I am one of those gravely wounded. I was paralyzed in an insurgent ambush in 2004 in Sadr City. My life is coming to an end. I am living under hospice care.

I write this letter on behalf of husbands and wives who have lost spouses, on behalf of children who have lost a parent, on behalf of the fathers and mothers who have lost sons and daughters and on behalf of those who care for the many thousands of my fellow veterans who have brain injuries. I write this letter on behalf of those veterans whose trauma and self-revulsion for what they have witnessed, endured and done in Iraq have led to suicide and on behalf of the active-duty soldiers and Marines who commit, on average, a suicide a day. I write this letter on behalf of the some 1 million Iraqi dead and on behalf of the countless Iraqi wounded. I write this letter on behalf of us all—the human detritus your war has left behind, those who will spend their lives in unending pain and grief.
I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power.

I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done. You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.

Your positions of authority, your millions of dollars of personal wealth, your public relations consultants, your privilege and your power cannot mask the hollowness of your character. You sent us to fight and die in Iraq after you, Mr. Cheney, dodged the draft in Vietnam, and you, Mr. Bush, went AWOL from your National Guard unit. Your cowardice and selfishness were established decades ago. You were not willing to risk yourselves for our nation but you sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women to be sacrificed in a senseless war with no more thought than it takes to put out the garbage.

I joined the Army two days after the 9/11 attacks. I joined the Army because our country had been attacked. I wanted to strike back at those who had killed some 3,000 of my fellow citizens. I did not join the Army to go to Iraq, a country that had no part in the September 2001 attacks and did not pose a threat to its neighbors, much less to the United States. I did not join the Army to “liberate” Iraqis or to shut down mythical weapons-of-mass-destruction facilities or to implant what you cynically called “democracy” in Baghdad and the Middle East. I did not join the Army to rebuild Iraq, which at the time you told us could be paid for by Iraq’s oil revenues. Instead, this war has cost the United States over $3 trillion.

I especially did not join the Army to carry out pre-emptive war. Pre-emptive war is illegal under international law. And as a soldier in Iraq I was, I now know, abetting your idiocy and your crimes. The Iraq War is the largest strategic blunder in U.S. history. It obliterated the balance of power in the Middle East. It installed a corrupt and brutal pro-Iranian government in Baghdad, one cemented in power through the use of torture, death squads and terror. And it has left Iran as the dominant force in the region. On every level—moral, strategic, military and economic—Iraq was a failure. And it was you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, who started this war. It is you who should pay the consequences.

I would not be writing this letter if I had been wounded fighting in Afghanistan against those forces that carried out the attacks of 9/11. Had I been wounded there I would still be miserable because of my physical deterioration and imminent death, but I would at least have the comfort of knowing that my injuries were a consequence of my own decision to defend the country I love. I would not have to lie in my bed, my body filled with painkillers, my life ebbing away, and deal with the fact that hundreds of thousands of human beings, including children, including myself, were sacrificed by you for little more than the greed of oil companies, for your alliance with the oil sheiks in Saudi Arabia, and your insane visions of empire.

I have, like many other disabled veterans, suffered from the inadequate and often inept care provided by the Veterans Administration. I have, like many other disabled veterans, come to realize that our mental and physical wounds are of no interest to you, perhaps of no interest to any politician. We were used. We were betrayed. And we have been abandoned. You, Mr. Bush, make much pretense of being a Christian. But isn’t lying a sin? Isn’t murder a sin? Aren’t theft and selfish ambition sins? I am not a Christian. But I believe in the Christian ideal. I believe that what you do to the least of your brothers you finally do to yourself, to your own soul.

My day of reckoning is upon me. Yours will come. I hope you will be put on trial. But mostly I hope, for your sakes, that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live. I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.

from Green Left Weekly Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Allusions to the Sydney Bloods/Swans in Singing Johnny Cash in the Cardiac Ward by John Tognolini

The following quotes are from my new book Singing Johnny Cash in the Cardiac Ward
A personal story about heart disease and music.

2012 Grand Final
“They say being a Sydney Swans/Bloods supporter is bad for one’s heart, because of the thrilling type of football the lads play. I watched them throughout the season, the finals and play in 2012 AFL Grand Final against Hawthorn in singer-songwriter Tex Perkin’s Post Office Hotel in Cobourg, in my hometown of Melbourne.  I believe I’m somewhat qualified to speak about them in regard to the health of the heart, particularly after watching them, with their gutsy, never-give-in style of football, win the Premiership Cup.

You see, I shouldn’t have been watching that game with my daughter Rachael, or her boyfriend Steve, or my partner Trish, or my good mate Johnny Clearly. Nor should I be writing this. I should be brown bread. Translating that good Cockney rhyming slang, which has become part of the Australian vernacular, I should be dead. I say this because of my jam tart, my heart. Thanks to modern medical science I’m still here, and it’s been proved beyond all reasonable doubt that I have one, a heart that is. To use the football term, I’m in extra time. But instead of a few minutes, I’m talking about maybe three decades. I’m 54 years old.

On October 28, 2011, I had a six-and-a-half hour heart operation. It was actually two operations, one to replace my aortic valve with a mechanical valve and one to graph my aortic artery (the main trunk from the heart that connects all the arteries). If I did not have these jobs done I would have been a dead man walking, the victim of a coronary aneurysm and certain heart failure ten months later.

That grand final was a heart thumping event for me and the millions of other people who watched it…….”

  Clementine, Lolita-Luella & Jarrad McVeigh – 2012 AFL Grand Final

Jarred McVeigh and his wife tragic loss
“In 2011, supporters of the Sydney Swans/Bloods, members of the AFL community, and people across New South Wales were sadden by the death due to heart disease of the baby daughter of Sydney co-captain Jarred McVeigh and his wife. In McVeigh’s absence, his team mates responded by defeating the Geelong Cats at their home ground, Kardina Park, also known as the House of Pain. It was Sydney’s first win against the Cats there in twelve years and, like everyone else who follows Sydney, I was gob-smacked. This was the first time any team had beaten Geelong on their home turf in four years. The death of the McVeigh’s daughter made me feel humble about my own heart problem and it showed the need for further research into early infant and child heart disease…..”

On alcohol
“I made the choice to give up alcohol as of June 15, 2012. I did this for a number of reasons, but the main one was that I want to be totally aware and alert about using the four medications that are part of my daily life now
There have been three occasions on which I must admit I’ve weakened. The first was in the Post Hotel, where I had one glass of champagne when Sydney won the grand final. I had been there since before noon with our little tribe of Sydney Swans/Bloods supporters. The second glass of champagne was the next day in Melbourne’s Altona, to celebrate my friends Natalie and Stuart getting the keys to their new home. We ate a take away feast of fine Sudanese food from Footscray’s African Town Cafe Bar & Restaurant. The third glass of champagne was at Sydney University, when my daughter Rachael graduated with her Bachelor’s Degree in Health Science. Apart from these three indiscretions I have not had a drop. Seriously, if you can name the three places in more than six months where you had a drink, you’ve given up the grog…”
On smoking
“Education campaigns against smoking need to be expanded. They actually work. The Sunday after the 2012 AFL Grand Final, I was at the old South Melbourne Albert Park Oval, the spiritual and ancestral home of the Sydney Swans, with my daughter Rachael and her boyfriend, Steve. We and about six thousand others were there to see the team with the AFL Premiership Cup before they flew back to Sydney. One of my fellow Bloods supporters made the comment, “You know what? I haven’t seen anyone smoke a cigarette. The Swans anti-smoking campaign is working.” Rachael, Steve and I had been there since 7.30am and as we left at 10.30am I realized that in all that time we had not seen one person in that red and white army light up.”
On the Irishman Champion Tadhg Kennelly
“This tiredness was starting to hit me physically. At home I couldn’t walk the 500 meters to the shops without catching a taxi back. I was hit by it when I went to the last Sydney Bloods/Swans game for the 2011 season, against the Brisbane Lions at the Sydney Cricket Ground, with Rachael and Steve. It was the last game played there by the great Irishman from Kerry, Tadhg Kennelly, the only holder of both an AFL Premiership medallion (2005) and a Senior All-Ireland Championship medal (2009).  That’s the Holy Grail for any player in both football codes and competitions. Trish and I had seen both of them at Canberra’s National Museum during its More Than Just Ned Exhibition about the Irish in Australia. Kennelly’s last game for Sydney was in the Semi-Final defeat to Hawthorn at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, which ended Sydney’s 2011 Finals Campaign.
As we were walking away from the SCG along Cleverland Street to find a pub in Surry hills for dinner, the exhaustion and tiredness started. I was trying to keep this symptom of my heart disease hidden from Rachael, a sort of stupid machismo on my part, yet here I was keeping pace with two twenty one year olds. Rachael had never seen me in a frail state and I wasn’t going to start then. It was a foolish thing to do on my part, but fortunately we soon found a good pub to have a feed in, the Dome Bar in Crown Street.”
2005 Grand Final 
“The recovery time in Randwick was good. In the mornings I went to get coffees from Coluzzi’s Café in High Street. I met Luigi Coluzzi, the champion Italian boxer who brought real espresso coffee to Sydney at his first café in William Street, Kings Cross, in the 1950s. Luigi had a Sydney Swans 2005 premiership win poster up on the wall….”
Don Scott,with the two other Hawthorn champions  Lance Franklin and  Dermott Brereton, he's shared the Hawthorn jumper twenty three with. Don Scott is one reason why I wrote this book.
”In writing this account I want to encourage people, especially men, to get their hearts checked out. There are many men who are not aware that they have a heart condition, let alone one that can kill them. There is a general reluctance among men to take our health issues seriously, not only in relation to the heart, but also other health issues that have a high fatality count, such as prostate cancer. As prostate cancer survivor and Hawthorn football legend Don Scott pointed out, men don’t take the same serious attitude to our health problems that women generally do.
The scariest moment for me before my operation was waiting for my daughter Rachael’s examination results to come back from my cardiologist. She was clear, reflecting the fact that heredity heart disease is largely passed on through males, father to son, not father to daughter. In saying that, if she has a son it could be passed on to him through her….”

You can order a copy of Singing Johnny Cash in The Cardiac Ward from WritersandEBooks AUD$4.99 & Paperback: AUD$9.95 plus delivery
  e-Book: AUD$4.99 & Paperback: AUD$9.95 plus delivery.

About the photo on the front cover

Russell Crowe, Amanda Dole and myself outside Radio Redfern on May Day 1989. Russell had just performed a few songs on my show, Radio Solidarity. In 1988, Radio Skid Row was evicted from our studios in the basement floor of Sydney University’s Wenthworth Building. We were taken in for eighteen months by the Aborigines/Kooris at Radio Redfern, who now broadcast across Sydney through Koori Radio, until we built and opened the Radio Skid Row studios in Marrickville in 1990. Photo by Frances Kelly.






Sunday, March 24, 2013

John "Cummo" Cummins & Neville "Killer" Kane/A History Talks Vol 1 issue 10

This is from my book Singing Johnny Cash In The Cardiac Ward A personal story of heart disease and music.

"It was the week before the 2011 AFL Grand Final between Geelong and Collingwood. It was the first time I’d been in Melbourne at grannie time since 1980 and it hit me that grand final was the week leading up to, as well as the big game on Saturday. As I watched the game in Cobourg’s Post Office Hotel, which was packed to the rafters with Collingwood and Geelong supporters, I realised the sprit of contest wasn’t just confined to the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

The Tuesday after I caught up with my good friend Neville “Killer” Kane and his wife Margaret at their home in Longwarry in Mid Gippsland. Killer had been fighting leukaemia for a while. He lost that battle in March 2012.  I played my guitar to them and sang some Johnny Cash songs plus my version of Roaring Jack’s Lads of the BLF, which was also played at Killer’s funeral.  Alistair Hulett, who wrote Lads of the BLF, died from liver cancer in late January 2010 in his native Glasgow. He was 58. We used to share a house in the Sydney suburb of Glebe when Roaring Jack, the fantastic folk/punk band he was part of, were the resident performers at Newtown’s Sandringham Hotel.

I also played them Back Home in Derry. That song is based on the poem The Voyage by Irish hunger striker Bobby Sands and was made famous as a song by the great Irish singer Christy Moore. My dad Vic’s maternal grandparents were of the Stain. His grandfather, William Phillips, was an English convict and his grandmother, Catherine Batt, was an Irish convict, and both were sent to Van Diemen's Land, the original name for Tasmania. When I learnt that, the song had a new meaning for me, and it should for anyone with ancestors who came to Australia in chains as boat people on convict ships.

It was around that time, while I was waiting for the operation, that I became more reflective about friends who had passed away over the years. While I was at Killer and Margret’s home, they showed me the BLF flag, a Eureka Flag from one of the crane occupations of 1986. It had the names of some very close friends on it: Yuri Lasic, John Loh, Kyran Nicholls, Tony Maseria and Johnny “Rotten” Arnett. All up, there’s thirty four names on that flag. The only woman listed on it is Gaylene Smeaton.

I remembered the first time I met Killer. It was in late April 1986, about 7.30am on a cold Melbourne morning. A group of a dozen builders labourers were picketing a building site where they’d been sacked for refusing to resign from their union, the Builders Labourers Federation. The BLF had recently been “deregistered”, a nice term for outlawed, under Bob Hawke’s Australian Labor Party (ALP) federal government.

The ALP premiers of New South Wales and Victoria, Neville Wran and John Cain, joined Hawke’s drive to outlaw the BLF. An army of police was deployed to building sites in Melbourne, Geelong, Canberra, Sydney, Wollongong, Central Coast and Newcastle to attack the right of workers to be in the union of their choice, not that chosen by the bosses or the state.

BLF organiser John “Cummo” Cummins drove to the picket. I noticed as he opened the boot of his car that he had a large steel chain. He showed it to Neville “Killer” Kane, Jimmy “The Black Rat” Wilson and a third builders labourer. Within ten minutes, the three sacked BLF men had occupied a crane on a nearby building site. They used the chain to lock the trap door of the crane to prevent police from removing them. They had no food or water and occupied the crane for more than 72 hours. They left on their own terms after making a defiant protest and shutting the site down. They also endured three bitterly cold nights.

Killer later said about the protest: “It happened really fast. I was on the Market Street site and they [the cops] came down on the job… I was sacked because I refused to join the BWIU [Building Workers Industrial Union, now the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU)]. I could have been the shop steward on site for the BWIU, all I had to do was change over.

“But I decided to stick with the BLs. Other workers were locked on the jobs, surrounded by rows and rows of police and threatened with the sack, threatened that they couldn’t leave the site till they’d signed over to another building union.”

So it’s not surprising that a few days after Killer lost his fight with leukaemia, 175 construction workers on a Melbourne CBD building site gave him a minute’s silence. Nor is it surprising that the red flag flying over Melbourne Trades Hall was at half-mast for him. The flag was later given to Margaret. More than 400 people attended Killer’s funeral on April 2. The Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams sent a message to the funeral.

In many ways, Killer embodied the staunch, militant working-class traditions of the BLF. The union was a rank-and-file, membership-controlled organisation. It’s no wonder that Hawke and the ALP outlawed the BLF.

Hawke did his best to criminalise militant unionism. His policies in office led to one of the greatest redistributions of wealth in Australian history, which helped create today’s huge gap between the billionaires and the working poor.

Killer, and other men and women like him, opposed that in the 1980s. As a member of the BLF, he and another 500 of us suffered for our militant dissent by being blacklisted and starved out of work.

Margaret, his lifelong wife and partner, was actively involved in organising the partners and wives of BLF members during the outlawing of the union. She once appeared on Ray Martin’s Midday Show. Martin basically surrendered his show to her elegant defence of the BLF. The interview appears in my film, The Deregistration of the Builders Labourers Federation − The Victorian Story 1986-1992.

Amongst the names on that Eureka Flag is John “Cummo” Cummins. He died of a brain tumour in 2006, when he was only 58 years old. He had more than 3000 people at his funeral in Melbourne, the same day that the “Crocodile Man”, Steve Irwin, was killed by a sting ray.

The Victorian CFMEU’s website says this about Cummo:

“John Cummins was an inspirational leader who touched thousands of people in the construction industry and beyond.

• 1979-1994 Builders Labourers Federation Official
• 1994-1996 CFMEU Official
• 1996-2006 President, Victorian Branch CFMEU

“John dedicated his life to working people, in particular to construction workers for the improvement of their health and wellbeing and to advance their status. He played a leading role in the former Builders Labourers Federation and was pivotal to the amalgamation with the CFMEU. John was the President of the Victorian Branch of the CFMEU from 1996.

“A social and political activist, John participated in and led many struggles, ranging from student campaigns to trade union struggles, the independence of East Timor and many community causes. He demonstrated an unswerving commitment to the right to organise. John was devoted to supporting local young people; he was the president of North Heidelberg Junior Football Club for a number of years.”

The John Cummins Memorial Fund was established with the Melbourne Community Foundation to honour his memory and legacy. The fund is the initiative of his family, friends, colleagues and comrades. Its purpose is to honour and continue in some small way his work. It raises funds for two purposes:

1) Since the fund’s inception it has donated generously to Austin Health (Melbourne’s Austin Hospital). In August 2009, Austin Health matched the funds donated by the Memorial Fund, ensuring the ongoing employment of a Brain Tumour Support Officer. This position provides support for patients diagnosed with a brain tumour, as well as their families and carers.

2) A scholarship fund to support young students or trade union members from disadvantaged backgrounds to complete their tertiary education or access higher education. The role of the scholarship is to support young people when they need it. Up to $1000 is awarded to students who display determination, commitment and passion. In 2010, scholarships were provided to fifteen students. The funds are used for maths tutoring, musical instruments, fees for specialist programs in performing arts, uniforms for hospitality courses, tools for VET courses and more.

The John Cummins Annual Dinner is held on the last Friday in August each year in the Moonee Valley Racecourse's Celebrity Room, with a usual attendance of more than 850 people. A guest speaker is invited to address the theme of “Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win”. Two of the past speakers have been Gabi Hollows, Founding Director of the Fred Hollows Foundation, and Kevin Sheedy, head coach of Greater Western Sydney and four time premiership winning coach for his former club Essendon who he served for twenty seven years. Some of Australia’s best musicians have played on the night, including Chris Wilson, Mark Seymour and James Reyne.

In early 2007, Tim Gooden, the secretary of the Geelong Trades Hall, gave me a John Cummins T-shirt. I was wearing it in Katoomba one day when this woman came up to me who thought it was a picture of Johnny Cash. I cracked up laughing. The image on the T-shirt is from a stencil of Cummo when he first went to jail over the issue of union organisers having the right of entry to the workplace, when the BLF was deregistered in 1986. The image is of John Cummins with the Eureka flag behind him, Dare to Struggle Dare to Win. I said to the woman, “I’m sorry, it isn’t Johnny Cash”. I was still laughing and thinking that Johnny Cash and Cummo would’ve been laughing their heads off too."

These quotes from John "Cummo" Cummins are from The John Cummins Foundation

On religion:

The wailing wall is in Jerusalem.


You’re preaching to the converted.

On maternal affection:

Heads only mothers would love.

On dialectical materialism:

Let’s deal with facts and not with fiction.

On searching for enlightenment:

When you find an easy way, don’t keep it a secret.


The further you go, the less you know.

On holiday advice:

He thinks he’s in Disneyland.

On medical conditions:

You can’t be half pregnant.


You have your good days and you have bad.

On hygiene:

Don’t treat him like a dirty arse.

On the future:

It will either be fixed or fucked by the end of the week.


Not gonna die wondering.

On diplomacy:

Fuck off, idiot.

On legal challenges:

Just straight bat it.

On mathematics:

Six of one and half a dozen of the other.

On WorkCover advice for employers:

You fucked him, you fix him.

On sports:

As unbiased as a Collingwood cheer squad.

On fauna:

Bright eyed and bushy tailed.


Tail wagging the dog.


This little black duck.

On advice for young officials:

Stop sooking.


This job is 90 per cent bluff and 10 per cent bullshit.


You can’t organise from outside the gate.


You’re only as good as your last blue.


You’re big enough and ugly enough to work it out for yourself.

On persistence:

The squeaky wheel gets the oil.

On employment advice to the members:

If you don’t work for c----s, you don’t work.

On philanthropy:

Hit your kick.

Cummo on agreeing with Cummo:

That’s right, that’s right.


Nod your head until your bum is on the seat.

Cummo on not agreeing withCummo:
Is that right ?

On matters of strategy:

As effective as throwing snows balls at Ayers Rock.

On how the world is treating him:


On unlawful industrial action:

You’re going to have a better day than I am.

On supporting East Timorese independence:

Fuck this, we’ll go and stand in front of the plane.

On relationships:

Don’t get all sensitive on me now.


Don’t be shy.


Put your arm around him.

On democracy:

We’ve had enough from you, you’re a serial questioner.

On unions:

Once an ironworker, always an ironworker.

On initiative:

Who gives a fuck, go fix it.

On revisionism:

Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.

On outmoded thinking:

That went out with button-up boots.

On intellectualism:

Put the thinking cap on.

Miscellaneous thoughts:


You’ve done yourselves a treat.

Listen listen.

If you don’t dream you don’t live.

I don’t want to be Dorothy Dix.

Methinks you’re all getting treated better than Melbourne Cup favourites.

Me fix.


Resident nark.


Builders’ Labourers’ Song, Theme song for the Concrete Gang on 3CR

We’re putting up new buildings,

we’re knocking down the old,

We’re working in the summer heat

and in the winter cold,

And the labour-power we sell, me

boys, for a hard-earned weekly pay,

Produces mighty profits for the

greedy M.B.A.


So keep your powder dry and hold

your head up high,

It’s class to class and face to face;

our limit is the sky,

We’ve got a fighting history and we

never will be cowed,

A builders’ labourer is a name to

make a man feel proud.

And whether we were born here

or born in Italy,

In Greece or Spain or Ireland, in

England or Fiji,

We all of us are workers and united

we must stand,

Until the wealthy bludgers have

been driven from our land.


We faced deregistration and it

backfired in their face,

We’re not fooled by arbitration and

we won’t stay ‘in our place’,

We hit the bosses hard and fast to

win and keep our gains,

And break a couple of concrete

pours to back our log of claims.


You can order a copy of Singing Johnny Cash in The Cardiac Ward from WritersandEBooks AUD$4.99 & Paperback: AUD$9.95 plus delivery
e-Book: AUD$4.99 & Paperback: AUD$9.95 plus delivery.

About the photo on the front cover

Russell Crowe, Amanda Dole and myself outside Radio Redfern on May Day 1989. Russell had just performed a few songs on my show, Radio Solidarity. In 1988, Radio Skid Row was evicted from our studios in the basement floor of Sydney University’s Wenthworth Building. We were taken in for eighteen months by the Aborigines/Kooris at Radio Redfern, who now broadcast across Sydney through Koori Radio, until we built and opened the Radio Skid Row studios in Marrickville in 1990. Photo by Frances Kelly.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

John Pilger Interviewed by Michael Albert-The View From The Ground

Michael Albert: 1. As a person very well known for both video work and writing work - I wonder if you could tell us how you got started in each, so people know a bit more about your history.
John Pilger: My journalism began in Australia when I started a newspaper at Sydney High School. It was called 'The Messenger' and I was 12 years old. Or perhaps it began a year or two earlier when I would get up before sunrise to deliver newspapers, only to be chastised by my employer for wasting his time reading them. Journalism certainly helped bring the world to me as I grew up; the antipodes is ruled by a tyranny of distance; I tried to imagine the rest of humanity so far away.
I grew up in Sydney, in what was then quite a poor industrial city, in a family that was considered "political": that is, we were "on the side of the underdog", as my mother would say. Australia was a society divided deeply by class, religion and silence, as Mark Twain recognised on one his visits. He described our colonial history as "like the most beautiful of lies". The indigenous people, the oldest continuous culture on earth, about whom almost no one spoke, did not exist; the likeness with South Africa was too disturbing.
My parents had grown up in the coalmining towns of the Hunter Valley in New South Wales. My father left school at 14 and worked in the mines. My mother was the only one of nine children to complete school; at 19 she became Australia's youngest graduate: a distinction she held for many years. They met at the Mechanics Institute in Sydney (similar to the WEA); my mother would smuggle her young man into the newly-built university library, where they would read by candlelight. In his early twenties, my father was one of the founders of the IWW (the Wobblies) in Australia, though neither of my parents was doctrinaire; both became lifetime supporters of the Australian Labor Party, then a reformist social democratic party based on the trade unions. My father felt strongly about American cold war influence on our lives. He would emerge from watching a movie at the local picture house saying, 'Why do we get only American propaganda?' It was a good question. Kids of my age were on a drip feed of John Wayne and the cold war. My parents' influence on me was a counter to this; I was proud of our often unspoken ethos and I was sad when they drifted acrimoniously apart.
I would escape to the Pacific ocean, down the hill, where I was taught to swim by one of Australia's greatest swimming coaches, Sep Prosser, an exotic character who would dive with his girlfriend from precarious rockfaces into the boiling surf of Bondi Beach; I think my father paid for my lessons as Sep's bookie. Swimming has since been a staple of my life; I think and write as a I swim.
I joined the cadet journalism training scheme of the Sydney Daily Telegraph. I realised later it was like walking on to the set of Lewis Milestone's version of The Front Page. People did shout, 'hold the front page', and wear loud ties and tilt back their felt hats in the newsroom; and you could feel the presses rumbling beneath you. It was very romantic, but with serious purpose. The Telegraph was owned by Frank Packer, a former boxer and thuggish political kingmaker who conducted unrelenting vendettas against almost anyone to the left of Pontius Pilate. (All so-called mainstream newspapers in Australia were, and still are right-wing; there is no choice). Still, the training was superb; a style developed by a highly literate former editor, Brian Penton, who had published poetry, forced you to consider the value of almost every word. Paragraphs could be no longer than sixteen words, and only the active voice was allowed. All adjectives and most cliches were banned (except, of course, those in the splenetic editorials). I learned to write fluent English then and many of the old grammatical strictures have stayed with me, for which I am grateful.
I was 22 when I boarded a rust-streaked Greek ship and sailed for Genova in Italy and eventually London, and Fleet Street, then the Mecca of newspapers. I worked in London for Reuters, then joined the Daily Mirror, at that time an extraordinary left-wing tabloid that had stood up to Churchill during the Second World War and played a critical role into bringing to power the Attlee Labour government to power in 1945, the most radically reforming British government in the modern era. The Mirror also opposed the 1956 Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt, which marked the coup de grace of the British Empire.
During the 1960s, the Mirror laid out a political map of the world for its millions of readers: then a quarter of the British population. Only the Peking Daily had more readers. (When much later I met Chou en-Lai in Peking, I mentioned this to him, to which he replied, "Ah, but we have a captive audience.")
I became chief foreign correspondent and had found my journalistic home. In 1967, across the front page, the Mirror carried the headline, "How can Britain support a war like this?" Beneath was my first dispatch from Vietnam. During the years of the civil rights movement and the anti Vietnam war movement, I was based in the US, often flying to and from Indochina. On one flight I read Noam Chomsky for the first time; I still recall the impact of his clear-sightedness and insight and mastery of contemporary history. I was fortunate to 'enter' American society through the eyes of those like Noam -- although we didn't meet until much later -- and the photographer Matt Herron and Jeannine Herron, freedom riders in the Deep South, with whom I worked. Martha Gellhorn once described people like them as "that life-saving minority of Americans who judge their government in moral terms. They are the people with a wakeful conscience, the best of America's citiizens ..."
This was a disturbing, yet thrilling time. As Noam pointed out, the margins of America expanded enough to threaten the rapacious ruling power.
I reported the Poor People's March to Washington, and the campaign of Eugene McCarthy and his 'children's crusade'. I was standing behind Robert Kennedy at the door of the kitchen of the Amabassador Hotel in Los Angeles when he was assassinated, having interviewed him two days earlier. I still recall the surreal shock and the sound of the shots. I thought Kennedy was a carpetbagger: a prototype for Barack Obama.
I have much to thank the US for my political education. I was watching some archive footage recently and caught sight of myself standing next to Vietnam veterans in Washington as they hurled their medals at the Capitol. It was 1970 or 1971. Many - like Bob Muller - became my friends; and it seemed appropriate that my first documentary film was "The Quiet Mutiny".
Filmed on firebases in Vietnam, it revealed a widespread insurrection among drafted troops, including the killing of unpopular officers. When it was broadcast in the UK, the US ambassador, Walter Annenberg, a friend of President Nixon, complained to the Independent Television Authority, the regulatory body, not that my facts were wrong but that I was clearly a communist. I have since made some 58 documentary films, including quite a few in Vietnam and Cambodia. The majority have been shown around the world, but not in the US; I am always bemused by the notion that speech is freest in the US. In 1980, PBS were on the verge of showing my first Cambodia film but decided they couldn't take the risk at the start of the Reagan presidency. The film described how the US bombing had served as a catalyst for the rise of the Khmer Rouge and suggested that the horror Nixon and Kissinger had begun was exploited by Pol Pot. The US didn't leave Cambodia alone even when the Vietnamese drove the Khmer Rouge to the Thai border in 1979. Reagan imposed one of America's sieges -- known as "sanctions" - on Cambodia, preventing any substantial rehabilitation reaching a stricken population. At the same time, British special forces - sent by Thatcher as part of a deal with Reagan – began secretly training the Khmer Rouge and its allies. Cambodia’s liberators, the Vietnamese, had come from the wrong side of the cold war and were never forgiven for driving the US out of their country. The exclusion of this work from the US is an interesting history of censorship.
2. How do you think of the two types of focus and their relations? Is it just a different delivery system - but otherwise one endeavor, or are the differences greater than that? What is good journalism, in your view - what is it you are trying to do?
Good journalism is good journalism regardless of the form. Television is more immediate than print, and the web offers another kind of audience. Documentaries are journalistic essays which at their best unite words and pictures – as, say, Life Magazine, at its best, united reportage and still photographs. In all these forms the aim should be to find out as many facts and as much of the truth as possible. There’s no mystery. Yes, we all bring a personal perspective to work; that’s our human right. Mine is to be skeptical of those who seek to control us, indeed of all authority that isn’t accountable, and not to accept “official truths”, which are often lies. Journalism is or ought to be the agent of people, not power: the view from the ground.
3. Have you felt, over the years, that your efforts have had the effects you sought, and those hoped for? If not, why do you think that is - and what might occur to increase the effects?
That’s often impossible to measure and, anyway, the aim of good journalism is or ought to be to give people the power of information – without which they cannot claim certain freedoms. It’s as straightforward as that. Now and then you do see the effects of a particular documentary or series of reports. In Cambodia, more than $50 million were given by the public, entirely unsolicited, following my first film; and my colleagues and I were able to use this to buy medical supplies, food and clothing. Several governments changed their policies as a result. Something similar happened following the showing of my documentary on East Timor – filmed, most of it, in secret. Following its broadcast in the UK, some 25,000 people called the ITV every minute, wanting to help and to know more. That was heartening, to say the least. Did it effect the situation in East Timor? No, but it did contribute to the long years of tireless work by people all over the world.
4. How has your media work been changed, or otherwise affected over the years, if at all, by the emergence of internet activity and, most recently, Google, Facebook, and Twitter? Do you see significant changes that affect the basic aims or methods of your own work - or that affect its effectivity? How do you assess the emergence of "social networking" and its impact on journalism and information flow?
I used to pick up a selection of newspapers every morning. Now I log on to the web. That’s the change. Google is remarkable, of course, but it’s not the same as the kind of research that will always require time and patience, and tenacious work. Twitter and Facebook are essentially about the “self”; they allow people to talk to themselves -- and often to make fools of themselves. Ironically, they can separate us even further from each other: enclose us in a bubble-world of smart phones, and fragmented information, and magpie commentary. Thinking is more fun, I think
5. As someone who has had considerable visibility in, but also steadfastly critiqued mainstream media for, I guess, decades, and has also been a very strong supporter and advocate for alternative media - what do you think we in alternative media have done wrong? Why haven't we built larger audiences and larger means of communications and outreach? Are there problems with our structures, policies, our content that might be corrected to yield better results?
I don’t agree with your premise. “Alternative” media has built audiences and reached out, and achieved extraordinary results. In Latin America, community radio has become a voice of people in the barrios. The propaganda that accused Hugo Chavez of attacking the “free” media in Venezuela (i.e. monopolies) ignored the fact that community radio had expanded as never before. There’s a similar situation in Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina. In the US, Pacifica Radio at its best is an inspiration. Take Dennis Bernstein’s programmes. On the web, your own ZNet reaches out, as does Tom Feeley’s Information Clearing House, and Truthout, and, and many more.
6. As you look forward, what do you think are the prospects for a more serious flow of critical, visionary, content to wide audiences? What steps do you think might permit and generate that either by an improved alternative media - or by a mainstream media forced to do better, even against its own purposes and logic?
The so-called mainstream media will never contradict its own logic. It is an extension of established authority; it is not, as Edmund Burke wanted us to believe: a “fourth estate”. But it’s not monolithic. I have worked all my career in the mainstream. I’ve done this by expending a huge amount of energy in maintaining my place, and fighting my corner. It has been often and literally a struggle, but in time I learned to navigate through and sometimes around institutions. Learning to navigate is critical for young, principled journalists.
What we need urgently is a “fifth estate” that challenges the autocracy of the corporate media, that includes and gives voice to the public, that mounts an invasion of institutions -- TV, newspapers, media colleges -- calling on journalists and their teachers to drop their defensiveness and promoting another way of seeing and working. In practical terms, we should be working to create publicly funded organisations that provide seed money to new, independent journalistic ventures. This has enjoyed success in Scandinavia.
7. As fast as everything changes, at one level, at another deeper level, yesterday seems to keep coming around. How would you describe the logic and scope of American Foreign policy - and also international relations more broadly - say, forty years ago, and now? Are there substantial differences?
I seldom use the almost respectable term, US foreign policy; US designs for the world is the correct term, surely. These designs have been running along a straight line since 1944 when the Bretton Woods conference ordained the US as the number one imperial power. The line has known occasional interruptions such as the retreat from Saigon and the triumph of the Sandinistas, but the designs have never changed. They are to dominate humanity. What has changed is that they are often disguised by the modern power of public relations, a term Edward Bernays invented during the first world war because “the Germans have given propaganda a bad name”.
With every administration, it seems, the aims are “spun” further into the realm of fantasy while becoming more and more extreme. Bill Clinton, still known by the terminally naive as a “progressive”, actually upped the ante on the Reagan administration, with the iniquities of NAFTA and assorted killing around the world. What is especially dangerous today is that the US’s wilfully and criminally collapsed economy (collapsed for ordinary people) and the unchallenged pre-eminence of the parasitical “defence” industries have followed a familiar logic that leads to greater militarism, bloodshed and economic hardship.
The current spoiling for a fight with China is a symptom of this, as is the invasion of Africa. That said, look back on the Eisenhower/Dulles years and the US elite was in a not dissimilar mood; only the presence of the Soviets held them back. I find it remarkable that I have lived my life without having been blown to bits in a nuclear holocaust ignited by Washington. What this tells me is that popular resistance across the rest of the world is potent and much feared by the bully – look at the hysterical pursuit of WikiLeaks. Or if not feared, it’s disorientating for the master. That’s why those of us who regard peace as a normal state of human affairs are in for a long haul, and faltering along the way is not an option, really.
8. As with trying to create an alternative to mainstream media, we have of course also sought to deter and finally replace the sources of war and inequality by aiding and participating in movements to that end. Here too, being objective about it, it seems we have less to show for four decades of effort than we expected and hoped for all along, certainly, and arguably than we might have achieved had we done better. If you agree, what do you think the anti war and anti imperialist movements you saw and aided over these years have been good at, and what do you think they have fallen short at, or even been quite poor at?
As mentioned, my political education was honed among the US anti-war people of the 1960s and 70s. I admired their imagination, resourcefulness and courage. Then the movement wilted, understandably. For at its heart had been the anti-draft movement: an essentially middle-class resistance to sending the “boys” to a war they and eventually their families didn’t like. When the war was over, the camaraderie of the anti-war veterans and others remained, but public support dissipated. This suggested that a political driver was missing -- unsurprisingly.
The difficulty in the US is that the principal political force is Americanism, an ideology that rarely speaks its intentions. It’s an exceptionalism, a mysticism, a hocus pocus of so-called patriotism designed to trump any rationale debate about class and peace. I find that even enlightened people I know fall victim to the nonsense that the US invented democracy and is God’s Chosen One. The Native Americans got the same spiel before they were slaughtered. So did the Filipinos. And so on.
US anti-war movements are seldom internationalist. The US has never had a Labour Party, so anti-war people cling to the Democratic Party which, apart from its populist phase, was always militarist. The coup de grace to the peace mass movement in the US was delivered when Barack Obama was elected. The fawning over the first African-American president was a pretty disgusting spectacle when you look at his record, particularly towards people of colour all over the world. So many forgot that George W Bush could boast the most multi-racial cabinet in US history; his secretary of state, his national security adviser, his attorney general were Americans of colour, and vicious reactionaries. Who dared stand up and say that, once subverted by power, it’s not your race or your gender or your sexual preference or your class that matters, it’s the class and power you serve. Obama is the Great Servitor, and his most enduring achievement is all but silencing the contemporary anti-war movement. 
9. Again, looking forward, how do you think we might do better, in the period ahead?
If by “we” you mean ordinary people, we have no choice but to keep standing up, to keep informing others and organising, and not to allow a mutated “popular culture” or hi-jacked issues of “identity” and “self” deflect us into believe that consumerist lifestyle is real change.
10. What would international relations be like, say fifty years in the future - not country by country but in terms of general relationships - if it was as it ought to be?
Mike, I’m not and have never been a futurist. I predict badly; however, I’m confident that if we remain silent while the US war state, now rampant, continues on its bloody path, we bequeath to our children and grandchildren a world with an apocalyptic climate, broken dreams of a better life for all and, as the unlamented General Petraeus put it, a state of “perpetual war”. Do we accept that or do we fight back?