Swimming against the tide – a supportive voice for Palestine in a settler-colonial society

We do not live in an ideal world, where everyone is treated equally regardless of race, ethnicity, skin colour, gender and religious differences. However, issues of race and racism matter in the real world.

Australia and Israel are two white sisters, in many ways. Both are settler-colonial societies, birthed by the British imperial project, and sustained by obeisance to the American empire. Both have adopted racist policies towards the indigenous nations, and that racism is reflected in their corresponding domestic structures.

Australia is generally a pro-Israeli society and polity. Of course there are exceptions, but most Anglo Australian society is either pro-Zionist, or indifferent to the issue of Palestine. The indifferent people basically accept the overwhelming pro-Israel narrative which emanates from the corporate controlled media.

Antony Loewenstein, Australian journalist of Jewish background, wrote of the fanatical loyalty with which Canberra regards the Israeli state:

It’s painful to witness Australia’s visceral hatred of Palestinian human rights, as someone who was born here, but the evidence is overwhelming. Most Australians are unaware of how diplomatically isolated their country has become. Australia is almost unique globally in its consistent support for Israel in diplomatic forums like the United Nations.

There are many pro-Palestine advocacy groups, socialist activists and trade unionists who bravely speak up for Palestine. Most of the major media organisations in Australia face bullying and pressure from pro-Zionist groups, and while occasionally presenting a pro-Palestine perspective, generally reflect the priorities of the pro-Zionist Anglo-American cultural imperialism.

Nobody is under any obligation to listen to me. No, I am not angling for pity or emotional sympathy. No, I am not suggesting that I have undergone enormous tribulations or ordeals. I can only relate the obstacles and difficulties faced by pro-Palestine voices in Australia.

This month marks 75 years since the United Nations resolution partitioning Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state. Supposedly motivated by humanitarian considerations, the British authorities entrenched a system of ethnic division that has remained in place for decades. This history remains largely unknown amongst the majority Anglo Australian population.

In fact, the word Palestine is usually associated with the words ‘terrorism’ and ‘antisemitism.’ The entry point for any discussion about the colonisation of Palestine is normally – at least in the mainstream corporatised Australian media – is the condemnation of alleged Palestinian terrorism.

The relentless, stubborn questioning – why don’t you condemn suicide bombing, Hamas, airplane hijackings – places the supporter of Palestinian rights on the backfoot. The moral equation is already tipped in favour of the Zionist state. In Australia, along with other settler-colonial nations, we have witnessed the incessant campaign by the Zionist organisations and their supporters to demonise any criticism of Israel as antisemitic.

The Palestinians have had to shoulder a propaganda burden – while fighting the systematic dispossession of their homeland, carefully calibrating their criticisms of Zionism so as to avoid any charge of malicious antisemitism. The victim of colonial violence is compelled to conform to a stereotype of a ‘perfect victim’ before they are deemed worthy of support.

The main charge against any supporter of the Palestine cause is that of antisemitism. When raising your voice to defend the Palestinians, you need to be prepared to confront this accusation. There is no question that antisemitism is a form of racism. That particular virus was invented, not in the Arab or Islamic world, but as a project of Christian Europe. Opposition to the policies of the Israeli government and its foundational ideology, Zionism, has nothing to do with antisemitism.

The weaponisation of antisemitism – the charge that Palestine solidarity is motivated by a racial hatred of the Jewish people – is not a new tactic, but has become increasingly deployed in Europe and America. In the UK, the electoral campaign of former British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, was attacked and undermined, even by righting elements in his own party, by charging antisemitism. Criminalising any activity of solidarity with the Palestinians is intended to intimidate any supportive voices for Palestine into silence.

None of this is to suggest that the current Palestine solidarity groups are futile or wasting their time. It is necessary to educate ourselves to ensure that pro-Palestine voices are arguing from a position of informed advocacy. Earlier this month, Israel has another general election – the fifth in four years – which saw the return of former Israeli prime minister and wily political operator Benjamin Netanyahu.

The shape of any incoming government will be influenced by the political allies upon which Netanyahu’s Likud bloc depends. He has counted on the support of ultrarightist and fanatical racist parties and politicians to secure a majority position. Such politicians, such as ultranationalist Itamar Ben-Gvir, make no secret of their determination to suppress the Palestinians from the occupied West Bank. Gvir is an ideological disciple of the late Meir Kahane, whose followers can be accurately described as the Jewish version of the KKK.

In the coming months and years, the Palestinians will need ever more support from non-Palestinians, including here in Australia. Now is time to be resolute, and face the obstacles and challenges of being a pro-Palestine voice in a settler-colonial society.

Racial passing, ethnic identity and DNA as all-embracing metaphor

Is the result of a DNA swab, revealing a person’s genetic heritage, more important to individual identity than a person’s lived experiences and cultural upbringing? Does a genomic test override a person’s cultural and linguistic milieu? Do genes have any determinative role in influencing a person’s non-physical traits, such as ethnicity or intelligence?

Surely a person’s racial identity, embodied in their unique DNA, is unmistakable. After all, African Americans cannot be confused with white Anglo people? Are not racially stratified societies, such as the United States, Brazil, and other settler-colonial structures, following the inevitable dictates of a person’s DNA?

Alexander Pushkin – Russian and African

Alexander Pushkin, the preeminent Russian playwright and author, the equivalent of Shakespeare in the Russian language, had an African maternal great-grandfather. That places him within the ‘coloured’ family according to the racial strictures subsequently adopted by America and similar settler-colonial societies. Does this mean that Pushkin’s literary output belongs within the canon of black literature?

The great-grandfather, Abram Petrovich Gannibal, was from Cameroon, and was apparently bought as a slave. Arriving in Tsarist Russia, he worked his way up the ladder in the land of feudal lords; the entrenched Russian nobility were the boyars. Gannibal, employed at the court of Peter the Great, eventually became a general and military engineer.

Pushkin was particularly proud of his African heritage – this from a snobby man, who as one of the landed nobility looked down upon the nouveau riche pushing their way into the imperial court. Pushkin could trace his ancestry all the way back to the twelfth century boyars of Russia. He wrote an unfinished historical novel, The Moor of Peter the Great, published posthumously in 1837. Sadly, Pushkin died that year – killed in a duel.

Pushkin transcended his racial heritage because, it could be argued, Imperial Russia did not have a racialised concept of human hierarchy. This is not to suggest that Tsarist Russia welcomed non-Russian nationalities; Lenin famously called imperial Russia a prison house of nations. The point here is that a person’s cultural experiences are decisive in the construction of an ethnic identity, rather than DNA.

Racial passing and DNA

Bliss Broyard, author and speaker, discovered a long-held family secret in 1990, as her father Anatole was dying. Broyard was told that she was biracial – her father was actually part Creole. Anatole, born in Louisiana in 1920, had been a white-presenting person. Keeping his coloured heritage a secret, he passed as white, and provided a comfortable, privileged upbringing for his children. Bliss had been raised as white, and never thought much about race or DNA.

Anatole Broyard, who was an editor for the NY Times, engaged in the pragmatic deception known as racial passing. Lighter-skinned or white presenting African Americans often passed themselves off as white to access the social and economic opportunities denied to black and nonwhite Americans. This practice was widespread, and though it has declined in recent years, is still a device used today.

The history of racial passing has lessons for us in our current genomic age. Rigidly defined racial categories can be flouted, and secretly mocked, for centuries. Even if we use the less politicised term of ethnicity, rather than race, genomics does not provide the ultimate arbiter of who were are. DNA is not the sum total of a person’s destiny or identity. Ethnic identity cannot be constructed exclusively on an edifice of biological building blocks.

Dr Caitlin Curtis, research fellow at the University of Queensland, makes the crucial but often overlooked point that DNA does not define a person’s cultural upbringing. She rightly ridicules the proposal from One Nation politicians, to implement a DNA test to determine a person’s Indigenous heritage before being allowed to access welfare payments. Not only would such an idea not work, it is based on simplistic and incorrect ideas about a supposed linear causative connection between an individual’s DNA and their cultural identity.

There is no straightforward progression from a single gene to a human behavioural trait. We have gone overboard, using DNA as a metaphor in tracing all sorts of behaviours to genes. It’s all in the DNA has become a lazy, shorthand explanation for all kinds of human cultural practices and traits – from warfare, to greed, to the national character of ethnic groups.

We will have more to say about the overextended myth of the selfish gene in future articles. However, let’s conclude with a few necessary observations here. It is appealing for ethnic minorities, especially those that have experienced persecution and displacement, to advocate ferociously for the survival of their unique gene pool.

The Armenians in the diaspora have a long-standing cultural preoccupation with defining and defending our supposedly pure multi-century genetic legacy. A sense of collective identity and pride is derived from proclaiming the survival of ‘our DNA’ against all odds, overcoming centuries of persecution, foreign occupation and displacement. In fact, the Armenians have been the victims of racialist-DNA thinking, in the form of Pan-Turkism; a Turkic version of Zionism.

Racialist ideologies have a certain appeal, but are ultimately counterproductive. Why? Ethnic purity is not the basis for human survival, but multiethnic cooperation and solidarity. It is only by overcoming a gene-centric view that we can surmount any obstacles, and ensure human longevity.

Moon landing conspiracy theories get a revival in our social media age

Since the 1969 Moon landing, conspiracy theorists of various stripes have alleged that this achievement was an elaborate hoax, the product of a NASA driven project in fakery. There are a number of reasons for the resilient nature of this particular conspiracy theory. People on both sides of the political spectrum – left and right – have recycled this trope, demonstrating its appeal over the years.

There have been numerous takedowns of the main claims of the Moon truthers, or Moon landing hoaxers. While we will address some of the more egregious claims in this article, a full accounting of Moon truther points would make this blog excessively long. However, we can establish enough of a foundation to refute the Moon hoaxer conspiracy theory.

The Apollo space programme began in 1961, and was boosted by then President Kennedy’s pledge of landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Consisting of 11 space flights, there were multiple objectives with each mission. However, landing a man on the moon was the most publicised goal, and captured the public imagination. In 1969, the NASA space programme was successful. So why are there so many people who think it was all a fake, staged in a movie studio?

Moon truthers are very adept at exploiting mistrust of government. Since the 1970s, we have witnessed multiple and interweaving lies spouted by US government circles. The deceptions involved in rationalising the war on Vietnam, the Watergate break-ins, the Iran-Contra scandal, the criminal and clandestine activities of the CIA – public exposure and knowledge of these deceptions has cultivated an active distrust of government pronouncements.

Peter Knight, professor at Manchester University, has written how people are ready and willing to disbelieve anything emanating from sources in Washington. The Moon truthers have constructed an elaborate edifice of epic proportions based on this skepticism. In 1976, Bill Kaysing, a former US Navy officer, published a book called We Never Went to the Moon: America’s Thirty Billion Dollar Swindle. He elaborated what became the main tenets of the Moon hoaxer belief system.

In 1969, the USSR had achieved numerous firsts in planetary sciences – the first successful launch of an artificial satellite, the first non-human animal in space, the first man in space. In the early 1970s, the Soviet Venera programme recorded another first – a robotic probe successfully landing on the planet Venus, coping with its crushingly dense atmosphere and sending back data. So the 1969 American landing on the Moon seems a little odd; isn’t it too convenient that the US deployed a man on the Moon while the Soviet space programme was impressively successful?

There is always an underlying motivation of geopolitical competition in space exploration. The US Moon landings were a way of projecting American power, and giving the middle finger to those Russian Commies. The Apollo 11 mission, the one that deployed astronauts to the Moon, was not technologically advanced over the previous Apollo missions. The existing technology was available to land astronauts, even prior to Apollo 11.

During the Apollo 11 mission, the Soviets were listening in. The former Soviet Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov stated that he and his colleagues were watching and listening to the Apollo landings with keen interest. If the Soviet government wanted to, they could easily have exposed any alleged NASA fakery. Not only were the Soviets watching the spacecraft every step of the way, they – along with the subsequent Chinese and Indian space programmes – independently confirmed the corroborative evidence of the Apollo 11 mission.

Moon hoaxers have pointed to the absence of stars in the photographs taken by the American astronauts. Would not stars display in genuine photos from the Moon? No – because the astronauts were using photographic settings for bright sunlight. The Moon has a negligible atmosphere, so it is being hit by direct sunlight. Faint objects do not show up if your aperture and camera settings are set for bright daylight. Use those same settings to take pictures at night here on Earth, and you will not see any stars.

If the Moon has no atmosphere, how is the American flag flapping in the breeze? It isn’t. The astronauts fitted the long-crumpled flag with a lengthy metal rod to give the appearance of flapping in the wind. What about the Moon rocks? These rocks contain cosmogenic nuclides. These are isotopes which are bombarded by extremely high-energy cosmic rays. The Earth’s atmosphere blocks out such high energy rays, so cosmogenic nuclides cannot be faked in a laboratory or particle accelerator.

With the growth of social media, and the resurgence of anti-vaxxer denialism in the immediate aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, Moon truthers have ridden on the coattails of such misinformed refusal. There are many reasons to question the deceptions, duplicity and hypocrisies of the US military-financial complex. We should be skeptical of government statements; we should apply equal skepticism to conspiracy theories.

Move over Mars, Jupiter, Saturn – Uranus is the most intriguing planet

Every decade, NASA releases a wish list of objectives it would like to see accomplished in planetary sciences over the subsequent ten years. It compiles a report after extensive consultations with, and submissions from, a wide array of major scientific institutions. One of the objectives listed by NASA is an intended exploration of another planet. Not Mars, not Jupiter or Saturn, which seem to receive inordinate amounts of attention. The planet in mind is the oddball of our Solar system; Uranus.

Firstly, if you want to make all the usual, adolescent jokes about that name, get it over with now. Yes, we all know the infantile quips about ‘your anus’ and gas. Ok, after the juvenile japes are out of your system, let’s get busy with the important issues. Secondly, the planet’s name – correctly pronounced ‘YOOR-uh-nus’ – is an homage to the Ancient Roman god Caelus, Father Sky. Named for the equivalent Ancient Greek god Ouranos, today we have the father sky of the monotheistic religions. The other planets were named after Roman gods.

Discovered by German-born astronomer William Herschel in 1781, Uranus is classified as a gas giant, along with Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune. In fact, Uranus and Neptune form their own sub-category of ice giants. Gas giants, unlike the terrestrial Earth, do not have a rocky crust, but a gaseous exterior. While Uranus has a rocky core, it is an ice giant because its internal structure is made up of ice water, methane and ammonia. The gaseous atmosphere is incredibly dense and would likely crush any spacecraft attempting to get through to any potentially solid surface.

Axial tilt

There are many reasons why Uranus is the eccentric planet, and its unusual axial tilt is one of them. As we all know, the Earth rotates on a 23.5 degree axis. It’s what gives our planet the seasons. Uranus rotates on an axis of 98 degrees – almost rolling on its side. One pole of Uranus faces the sun, resulting in decades-long summers (such as it is), and the other hemisphere has an equally long freezing winter.

How did Uranus end up with such a pronounced axial tilt? One explanation is that a large proto-planet slammed into Uranus, knocking it on its side. And let’s bear in mind that Uranus has a radius of 25 362 kilometres. In comparison, the Earth’s radius is 6731 kilometres. Uranus has an average distance of 2.88 billion kilometres from the sun, and one Uranian year is equal to 84 Earth years.

Uranus has a remarkably cold exterior atmosphere. Its average atmospheric temperature is -195 degrees Celsius. It has the coldest temperature recorded anywhere in the Solar system; -224 degrees Celsius. Inhospitable to life, the Uranian atmosphere is mostly composed of methane, ammonia, hydrogen sulphide and water. Uranus has a bluish-green tinge, because methane absorbs light at the red end of the spectrum.

Unanswered questions and why bother?

There are numerous unanswered questions regarding Uranus. Why is its magnetic field so eccentric, tilted at 60 degrees from its rotational axis? The technical hurdles in getting a spacecraft through the dense Uranian atmosphere are enormous. Why does Uranus fail to generate internal heat, a possible reason why temperatures are so cold? And what of the moons orbiting Uranus? There are 27 of them, all travelling with the planet.

This leads to an anticipatory question – aren’t there enough serious problems on Earth, so why should we waste millions of dollars exploring other planets? This kind of question, attacking the underlying reasons for planetary science, arise whenever large space projects are proposed. Surely we should be directing our resources towards solving all of our problems here on Earth. There is no shortage of issues to solve – economic inequalities, global warming, increasingly severe weather events, wars and famines – why waste money on going into space?

This question originates from reasonable sentiments – concern for life on Earth – but is misguided. Branches of science, including planetary exploration, are not engaged in a zero sum game. We have to make decisions about funding priorities of course. The billionaires, such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, want to monopolise space exploration through exerting private control. We must not allow the billionaire class to define the motivations and parameters of planetary science.

Outer space is not a playground for the rich and famous. Planetary sciences answer the deep cosmological questions about the solar system and our origins. When Sherlock Holmes contemptuously dismissed knowledge of basic science, he was not only betraying a profound ignorance of the way the natural world works. He was expressing a hostile attitude to scientific knowledge, an attitude which has contributed to our current perilous state of affairs.

Explorations of other planets are inspirational, motivating the next generation of students to get excited about solving the deep scientific questions of our age. There are not only technological benefits from space research which flow on to the general public – GPS tracking as one example. Tackling the age-old scientific problems requires a detailed understanding of the cosmos and our place in it.

Ye (Kanye West), antisemitic conspiracy theories, far right grifters and social media

I do not care much about so-called ‘celebrities’; their views and personal lives receive amplified and unnecessarily lengthy attention on social and corporate-controlled media. Every excruciating detail of their lives is offered as ‘news’ to be consumed in our celebrity-obsessed culture.

However, when a celebrity, such as Ye (Kanye West) recycles misinformed and harmful views – which reach millions of people – it is time to provide a rebuttal. It is perfectly reasonable to respect the work of an musician – and Ye is a talented hip hop artist and lyrical poet – but also to heavily criticise the views expounded, especially if those viewpoints are toxic nonsense. Ye’s drift into the cesspit of ultrarightist and antisemitic tropes has been a long time in the making. His descent is being aided and abetted by far right scoundrels.

Ye’s antisemitic comments are easily accessible through social media. He recycled various tired old cliches – Jews ‘control’ Hollywood and the music industry, Jews are conniving to accumulate more finance and power; boring and age-old tropes that are new only to the uninformed. I will not link directly to Ye’s comments – you can find them for yourself. What I will observe here is that Ye’s comments have found him new friends – neo-Nazis and white supremacists are loudly praising Ye’s antisemitic conspiratorial worldview.

Ye has millions of followers on social media, even though Twitter and other platforms have locked his accounts (for the time being) in response to his antisemitic posts. Millions can read his opinions, and take them seriously. Ye is a talented lyrical poet, applying his creative energies to producing music. Being remarkably talented is no insulation from being completely off-grid in other fields of endeavour. Elvis Presley was an incredible singer and musician – but a hopeless actor.

This is not the first time that Ye, alongside ultrarightist opportunist Candace Owens, has espoused views adjacent to white nationalism. Ye and Owens, during a public function, wore t-shirts bearing the slogan ‘White lives matter’. Seemingly innocuous perhaps, but then consider the origins of that statement – white supremacist groups, attempting to deflect attention from the resurgent Black Lives Matter and anti racist protests. Cynically posing as ‘civil rights defenders’, neo-Nazis and white nationalist organisations have cunningly countered accusations of racism. What better ally of white nationalist sentiment than an African American boosting the white supremacist cause?

Ezra Pound (1885 – 1972) was a versatile and internationally famous American poet. A pioneer of Imagism in poetry, his works are still studied in English literature courses around the world today. It is also true that he was an inveterate antisemite and fascist sympathiser in his politics. Confined to a mental asylum after the end of World War 2, he was released in 1958. He will forever be associated with regurgitating antisemitic viewpoints, and orienting politically to the European fascist powers. The American ultranationalist Right continues to provide support for European white supremacists until today.

Charles Lindbergh

Ye is not the only celebrity to advocate antisemitic and ultrarightist views. In his time, Charles Lindbergh (1902 – 1974), internationally renowned aviator, was a remarkably talented pilot. He proved his courage and resilience by achieving an historic first – the 1927 solo transatlantic flight. That flight earned him international fame and widespread respect. The book by Dan Hampton, The Flight, explains in elaborate detail the meticulous preparation, the skilled engineering and incredible technical skills that went into making that accomplishment possible.

His fame and celebrity status – in the days before the internet – seemed assured. However, he displayed to the public another side – purveyor of bigotry, Nazi sympathies and recycler of antisemitic conspiracy thinking. Travelling to Nazi Germany in the 1930s, Lindbergh praised the Nazi party’s efforts to ‘protect’ the white race. Inspecting Germany’s military aviation, he admired the vitality of the Germans, especially in promoting technologies in the service of the superior race.

Making radio broadcasts from Europe, Lindbergh’s views were heard by millions of Americans at the time. A strident eugenics advocate, he couched his bigotry in terms of ‘concern’ for the preservation of the white race – a community-minded bigot. After the defeat of European fascism, he tactically retreated from openly praising fascism, but clung to his racist beliefs.

To be fair, Lindbergh was not the only high-profile American to share antisemitic views. Henry Ford, the founder of the famous automotive company, did his utmost to promote antisemitic sentiment through funding publications and media. Nevertheless, Lindbergh went out of his way to propound antisemitic conspiracy theories, and worked with the isolationist America First committee to prevent (ultimately unsuccessfully) the participation of the United States in the war against Nazi Germany. The America First policy finds its modern expression in the politics of Donald Trump.

There is no doubt that Ye has made an incredible impact on modern music. I hope he receives the counselling he needs for his mental health issues. All of this does not absolve him of responsibility for his reprehensible views.

Workplace meetings are dreadful when unnecessary, but they can be made effective

Every business organisation requires workplace meetings. The most effective meetings are brief (around 30 minutes), everyone contributes, decisions are made and each participant leaves with specific action points. In reality, 99 percent of workplace meetings – in my own experience – were long-winded, totally unnecessary, and most participants do their level best not to fall asleep.

Should workplace meetings be replaced by emailing? The short answer is – it depends on why you think a meeting is needed. For a few quick questions, certainly an email will be enough. Setting out the goals of a new project, reporting on progress and status updates, a workplace meeting is required. Face-to-face communication is always preferable, even in this day and age of online meetings.

The best advice is – set out clear goals for a workplace meeting, and do not overuse them. Repeated and unnecessary meetings waste time and money, and distract participants from their urgent priorities. Similarly for emails, establish clear reasons for emailing. Limit CCing everyone so the email becomes one long document of similar length to a nineteenth century novel. Important information gets lost in an over lengthy email.

Indeed, with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, online meetings such as through Zoom have become overused – overcompensating for the reduction in onsite work and face-to-face communication. Zoom fatigue – the overuse of online team meetings – has become a serious topic of conversation. Sitting in your home environment to have an online meeting, but what happens when the kids, or the cat, run in and interrupt?

We have all read the stories of people, while in a Zoom meeting, having their partner walk in naked. Or the similarly prurient story of a man – shall we say, pleasuring himself – while participating in a livestream meeting. While we laugh at these examples of private habits becoming public, there is a serious consideration here – the encroachment of workplace life into our private spaces. The work-home life balance is being lost as we become more available through digital communication.

As we work longer and longer hours, our personal life space suffers. Being reachable by online communication apps helps to increase our workload availability, which includes workplace meetings.

In the days of on-site work, a Kanban board was very effective in setting out the deliverables and status updates of every element of an IT project. Every morning, we attended a daily scrum meeting, and this was great, because we all had a focus – the Kanban workflow. In brief, Kanban is a workflow management technique, defining each step of the production process, to deliver real-time outcomes in a project. It was first developed by an industrial engineer at Toyota corporation to improve workplace efficiency.

When calling a meeting, whether face-to-face or online, always bear in mind if this meeting will boost productivity, and maintain accountability for all the participants. Years ago, when I was an eager university student, we used an old but effective comedy-documentary film series called Meetings, Bloody Meetings, featuring English comedian John Cleese. In the days before office computerisation and the internet, workplace meetings were already the bane of existence for managers and workers.

Written by Cleese and Antony Jay in 1976, that kind of documentary needs to be updated. Its basic points are still valid; plan, prepare, inform participants, keep the meeting structured and controlled. However, times have certainly changed since then. While this article is not the place to extensively examine the impact of social media, it is necessary to make some relevant observations.

We all live in an immersive world of digital media, where we share our opinions, preferences, beliefs, photos, images – and we increasingly ask search algorithm to make decisions for us. Medical questions, concerns about romance, love, shopping, prices – all our questions and searches are increasingly interconnected. I do not care about celebrities and trivial gossip, however, consider the following.

When Kanye West, now known as Ye, shares antisemitic conspiracy theories and advocates a worldview based on that prejudice, millions of his followers read his opinions and take them in. All of us now have access to the opinions and decisions of others. His followers constitute an instant online ‘meeting’, where people can exchange their ideas and make decisions based on those considerations.

No, I am not suggesting that every workplace meeting can reach millions of people. We need to aware that social media has a huge outreach, and we should understand ways to use that reach wisely, including having workplace meetings that are effective. Do what is right for your organisation – workplace meetings can be efficient; an email can be equally effective if a meeting can be replaced. Don’t overuse one kind of communication over another.

The Holocaust, and the doctrines of those who murdered Jews, cast a long shadow

The Holocaust, and the perpetrators of that hideous crime, may seem like a purely academic subject. However, its lessons, the racism underlying that systematic industrialised murder, and the tribulations of the victims, have contemporary relevance. First, let’s look at a human interest story, and then elaborate on how the memory of the Holocaust (and World War 2 more generally) impacts political developments today.

Zoe Zolbrod, writing in Salon magazine, explains her emotional and heart-rending struggle with the realisation – when she was an adult – that her great-grandparents perished in a concentration camp. This information was kept from her throughout her childhood. This revelation – that her great-grandparents were among the millions exterminated – was profoundly shocking to her.

As an adolescent, she wondered about what would have happened to her if she had lived through the Nazi German experience. She explained how she wrestled with her concept of Jewishness – was it cultural, passed down through the genes, or a combination of both? She grappled with wider questions, even though her experience of Judaic identity was largely confined to religious-cultural celebrations of Jewish holidays with extended family.

By the by, the late geneticist and professor Richard Lewontin, wrote in a lengthy article for the New York Review of Books that despite the best efforts of DNA experts, there is no such thing as a ‘Jewish gene.’

Interestingly, as Palestinian American academic Joseph Massad points out, the insistence on a gene-bloodline definition of Jewishness is shared by the Zionist and the antisemite. The characterisation of Jews as a racially distinct people forms the ideological basis not only of Zionist groups, but also of antisemitic ones too.

Antisemitism is the crucial underpinning of Nazism, and also of the ethnonationalist Eastern European organisations that collaborated in the mass killings of European Jews in WW2. The Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and its associated military formation, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), participated in the ethnic cleansing of Jews in lands that the Nazi forces occupied in Eastern Europe.

With that in mind, let’s consider another human interest story, but this one has more direct political implications. The Canadian Dimension magazine published a report highlighting the presence of a rather curious statue in Oakville, Toronto; a commemorative monument to the Ukrainian 14th Grenadier Waffen SS division. A unit made up mostly of ultranationalist and racist Ukrainians, this division fought in the service of Nazi Germany, and participated in the mass killings of Jews, Poles, Russians and non-Ukrainian ethnic minorities.

Deriving its ideology from the OUN, this outfit made no secret of whom it considered the main enemy – the Jewish people. The OUN leadership, under its cult-like leader Stepan Bandera, singled out the Jews as the original enemy to be annihilated. Blaming ‘Muscovy Communism’ – shorthand for Marxism – on the Jews, the ultranationalist outlook of the OUN found common cause with other Germans and Eastern European formations with a similar racist ideology.

It is no secret that the malicious trope of ‘Judeo-Bolshevism’ has experienced a resurgence in Eastern European nations where the far right is politically active. Why are Ukrainian communities in Canada actively rehabilitating the reputation of those ultranationalist groups which cooperated in the Holocaust?

That is a question only the Canadian Ukrainian community can answer. What we can observe here is that it is an appalling rebuff to the memory of the Holocaust’s victims to rehabilitate the doctrines and practices of their murderers.

Before any simpletons accuse me of recycling Red Communist propaganda from Kremlin, consider the following. The Polish government, which is a strong ally of the Kyiv regime, nevertheless maintains a principled position regarding the Volhynia massacres. The latter involved the widespread killings of Polish people, in the Nazi-occupied Volhynia region, by the Ukrainian Nazi collaborator group, the OUN and its military wing. These massacres of Poles, in the northwest region of today’s Ukraine, were carried out in pursuit of the stated Ukrainian nationalist goal of an ethnically ‘pure’ nation.

While the Polish government has stood by its Ukrainian ally, it has also insisted on commemorating the Polish victims of homicidal Ukrainian ultrarightist nationalism. Bilateral relations between the two nations are ongoing, but the lack of acknowledgement by Kyiv of the OUN’s atrocities committed against Polish people during WW2 has left a sour note between the two neighbours. The Volhynia massacres remain an emotional touchstone for Polish recollections of the war.

Let’s make one last observation about the importance of remembering the Holocaust and understanding who helped in the commission of that crime. Please do not think it is intentional to ‘pick on’ Ukraine; earlier this year, the graves of 700 Yugoslav partisans, interred at a necropolis in Mostar, Bosnia, were systematically vandalised. These graves, of those who fought for a multiethnic Yugoslavia, were attacked by Croat ultrarightists, the ideological heirs of the genocidal and Nazi-collaborating Ustashe.

The Ustashe, whose adherents were provided sanctuary after WW2 by the United States and Australia, advocate a view of history untainted by their active participation in the mass murder of Jews and ethnic minorities. What is the purpose of vandalising the graves of anti fascist fighters, if not to repudiate the multiethnic vision of a united Yugoslavia? It is high time to respect the victims of the Holocaust by repudiating the ideology of those who participated in it, and whose ideological heirs today wish for its repetition.

Harriet Tubman, the CIA and diversity in the workforce

Earlier in September this year, current CIA director William Burns cut the ribbon for an official ceremony outside CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia. The occasion? The unveiling of a statue to anti slavery activist and African American abolitionist Harriet Tubman. The latter, best known for assisting fugitive slaves escape their condition by operating an Underground Railroad, worked as a military spy for Union forces during the American Civil War.

Why is the CIA promoting, or at least attempting to co-opt, Harriet Tubman to its cause? If you listen to the CIA director and his associates, it is all about cultural diversity in the workplace. The CIA’s upper echelons are almost exclusively white males. Burns, and the director of the CIA museum Robert Beyer, bolstering a diverse workforce is of paramount importance.

The conservative Right responded with predictable contempt – former CIA director Mike Pompeo dismissed the statue, stating that a woke military is a weakened military. This way of thinking is in line with the hard Right’s hostility to any measures promoting cultural and ethnic diversity in the workplace. However, there is another aspect of this statue unveiling that is important to note here. The cooptation of Tubman’s cause by the CIA is a perverse and cynical exercise to whitewash the many crimes of the CIA as an organisation.

Tubman, an anti slavery proponent, helped slaves in a practical way. Her efforts place her in the tradition of those fighting to expand the democratic rights and freedoms of those who are economically and racially oppressed. She did indeed help the Union cause during the Civil War, spying on Confederate shipping in South Carolina in 1863. The information she secretly relayed to the Union side helped the US navy avoid many casualties, and attack Confederate positions on the Combahee river. She led troops into battle against Confederate troops.

The CIA, by contrast, has done all it can in its power to undermine and overthrow democratically elected governments the world over, cultivated secret criminal insurgencies for such purposes, and overseen a network of torture chambers and secret rendition sites located in American-allied nations.

The objective of such criminal activities by the CIA is to reverse any progressive economic and social gains made by the targeted government, and install pro-US proxies. The latter then set about dismantling all the redistributive measures of the overthrown regime, and implemented pro-business policies friendly and amenable to US corporate interests. The policies pursued by the US-backed military dictatorship of General Pinochet in Chile are a classic example of this reversion to neoliberal capitalism.

In the 1970s and 80s, when the CIA supported the politically ultrarightist Afghan mujahideen insurgents against the then socialist government of Afghanistan, the associate allies of this American/British project were Saudi Arabia and Pakistan – two US allies which can best be described as petro-dictatorships. While religion was certainly a factor in the hostility of the Afghan mujahideen towards the socialist government, the British and American governments knew that the mujahideen were also feudal warlords, opposed to the far-reaching agrarian and social reforms of the Afghan regime.

The CIA actively supported an insurgency – one with an Islamist flavouring – which rolled back the gains of women’s rights, land reform for the peasantry, education for girls, and all the social reforms implemented by the socialist government in Kabul. Women in Afghanistan were returned to patriarchal subjection.

In fact, if the CIA was truly serious about promoting diversity in the workplace, they could highlight the long-standing and deep links that the organisation has with the Ukrainian diasporan far right communities. There is a durable relationship between the ultranationalist Ukrainian diaspora, and its role as footsoldiers for CIA initiatives in Ukraine. There is no need to be shy – let’s examine the multicultural footsoldiers for US empire deliberately cultivated by the CIA.

Cultural and ethnic diversity in the workplace is indeed a laudable goal – the political and economic institutions of a society should reflect the composition of the people which make up that society. However, being woke is not just a cosmetic exercise in window-dressing; reducing diversity to a catchy slogan is a worthless exercise. Actually, there is a point to that exercise; providing cover for the criminal policies of US imperial over-reach. As I have written previously, praising the ‘humans of the CIA’ is a slick public relations exercise.

Promoting women and ethnic minorities is very commendable. However, if they continue to provide rationalisations for the same predatory and criminal practices, then they are nothing more than mascots for US empire. Gina Haspel, the first female director of the CIA, certainly faced misogyny in the workplace. Her record as CIA chief confirms that she oversaw the same policies of torture and rendition as her predecessors. That is the exact opposite of the kind of change for which Harriet Tubman stood.

The exaggerated Mozart-Salieri feud, and the colour line in classical music

The great anti racist scholar and activist, the African American W E. B Du Bois, greatly admired the music of antisemite and pan-German racist, Richard Wagner. This may seem like an incongruous picture – Du Bois, noted for his anti racism work, respected the music of a white nationalist.

We will return to the issue of the colour line in classical music later. The Radetzky march, Johann Strauss from the Austro-Hungarian empire. Mention of the Austria-Hungary empire makes us consider one of the most famous (infamous) musicians from that confederation – Antonio Salieri. Born in Italy, Salieri rose through the ranks to become Kapellmeister – the top musician in the land – at the court of Emperor Franz Joseph in Vienna.

Let’s address an ongoing urban legend – did Salieri, driven by jealousy and professional resentment, poison Mozart? No. This legend was given an enormous boost by the 1984 film Amadeus, based on the 1979 play of the same name. Were Mozart and Salieri rivals? Yes. But Salieri did not murder Mozart by way of poisoning or overwork.

If Salieri, as the most powerful musician in the Hapsburg court, wanted to get rid of Mozart, he could very easily have had Mozart fired. This would have abruptly ended Mozart’s musical career. Salieri was director of Italian opera, court composer and conductor. While Salieri and Mozart were rivals, they also cooperated on numerous projects. So they were ‘frenemies’, to use a modern colloquialism.

Vienna, the seat of the Hapsburg court, was a place of self-interested factions, rivalries and seething intrigues. Various groupings competed for jobs and the attention of the royal court. The Italians, such as Salieri, were targets of whispering campaigns by the loyal Austrian-Germans, whose musical traditions were being challenged by an emerging Italian nation.

Mozart himself, in numerous private letters to his father, bitterly complained that the Italians at court were sabotaging his career and undermining his chances of promotion. No doubt Mozart was seeking a scapegoat to blame for his career setbacks. Nevertheless, in this atmosphere of petty jealousies and professional rivalries, gossip was bound to circulate – an early example of swirling misinformation.

In 1830, five years after Salieri’s death, Alexander Puskhkin wrote a play, turned into an opera by Rimsky-Korsakov decades later, presented a jealous Salieri resentful of the success of the upstart Mozart. From there, the story took hold and became an urban legend. In fact, when Mozart passed away in 1791, a small group of mourners gathered to say their final goodbyes. One of those mourners was Antonio Salieri.

While it is important to restore Salieri’s reputation, and remove the portrayal of him as a resentful loser, there is a more important issue to address – the unalloyed whiteness of what is considered classical music. It is perfectly okay to enjoy the work of Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Wagner and Johan Strauss. As we noted above, the antiracist activist W E B Du Bois enjoyed classical music.

As the European nations set out on colonising other nations, they brought with them their musical canon – a series of sacralised musical bodies of work elevated into a gold standard. However, they did not acknowledge, whether intentionally or not, another important fact; the Africans brought to the new world through the transatlantic slave trade also brought with them their own musicality, separate and distinct from white European standards.

Added to that was a further twist – the contribution of immigrants to the musical tradition in the United States. As the US constructed its own racial pyramid, the contributions of black and indigenous musicians was studiously excluded. When Antonin Dvorak (1841 – 1904), noted Czech composer, traveled to the US, he famously remarked that the future of music lay with African American composers and performers. He was both right and wrong.

His prophecy came to pass, in that black Americans contributed to jazz, hip hop, soul as well as classical music; but he wrongly underestimated the depth of racial hostility to the nonwhite population, even among the classical music world. American classical music orchestras and performers were nearly exclusively white. German immigrants, leftists and liberals fleeing Germany after the suppression of the 1848 revolutions, were a foundational element for the Boston and New York Philharmonic orchestras. Black musicians were present in American life, but excluded from the classical music canon.

Am I suggesting that everyone who listens to Beethoven or Brahms is a vicious racist? No, of course not. Should the entirety of the German-European canon of classical music be thrown out? No, of course not. The curriculum of classical music should be diversified and widened to include the hitherto ignored black and nonwhite composers. Let’s take advice from George E Lewis in the New York Times – lift the cone of silence surrounding black composers and give them their due.

If positive thinking works for you, that is great – do not turn it into a money making cult

We are all familiar with uplifting aphorisms – accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative. When life hands you lemons, make lemonade – sound advice. There is a basic validity to all of this; it is important for our mental health to maintain an upbeat, optimistic attitude, even in the face of life’s difficulties and obstacles. Nobody wants to be around a person who has a misery-guts temperament.

However, the positive thinking-self help mantra has become a huge multibillion dollar industry. There is a plethora of self-help books, podcasts, webinars and publications all exhorting us to adopt a positive, upbeat attitude in the face of setbacks and obstacles. As Newsweek magazine explained, this corporate philosophy has seeped into the school room, the military, and workplaces.

The late Barbara Ehrenreich (1941 – 2022), who sadly passed away only recently, exposed the dark side of relentless positivity in her work. While known as a writer documenting the growing inequality of capitalist society, it is her work elaborating the positive thinking as a scam that is relevant here. Sonali Kolhatkar wrote about this topic in her recent article.

Being bright sided

In 2009, Ehrenreich published her book Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. In it, she elaborates that while being upbeat in difficult times is all well and good, positive thinking has turned into an American mass delusion. Focusing relentlessly on the individual mindset, we have ignored the many structural inequalities and problems that produce individual down time in the first place.

From the 1990s onwards, as the corporate world experienced mass redundancies, and overwork for the remaining staff, positive thinking became a tool to offset outrage at industrial closures by misdirecting attention to purely individual mindsets. Positive thinking became a measure by which economic inequalities – and the downsizing decisions corporations make which exacerbate those inequities – can be obscured.

In this way, the negative impacts of layoffs and business closures can be reduced to a failing of individual mindsets – the unemployed person is exhorted to simply change to positive thinking (being laid off is an ‘opportunity’) and all will be well. Poverty, rather than being the product of neoliberal economic policies, is presented as an individual failing that can be overcome by specific individual choices.

The phrase ‘everything happens for a reason’ contains an element of truth – but in this age of unbridled positive thinking, it has replaced the age-old religious exhortation ‘it’s God’s will’ as a defensively pessimistic aphorism. Speaking of religion, the rise of the ostentatious mega churches is also associated with the cult of positive thinking. The fraudulent prosperity gospel – God wants me to be wealthy – has acquired millions of adherents, particularly in the United States and Latin America.

Jimmy Swaggart, a motivational speaker, performer and ideological charlatan masquerades as a Christian preacher. He promotes his own theologically influenced variety of the positive thinking mantra. Joel Osteen, Jesse Duplantis, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar – these are just some of the ultrawealthy pastors whose riches are allegedly bestowed upon them by an ever-loving God. The prosperity theology downplays collective solidarity and action, and promotes a purely individual approach geared towards embracing consumerism.

Let’s balance out the equation here; it is not only the megachurch religious institutions which promote a variety of positive thinking. Oprah Winfrey, billionaire entrepreneur, media mogul and motivational speaker, has provided a platform for all kinds of pseudoscientific hokum, including positive thinking. Recycling the basic philosophy contained in the books by Norman Vincent Peale and Napoleon Hill, Winfrey did her utmost to promote The Secret, a purported ‘law’ of attraction.

Think positive thoughts and goals, and you will attract only positive things into your life. Sounds like an eminently sensible idea, only that Winfrey turned this book into an overwhelming ‘philosophy’ of life. There is a resemblance here to the idea of the Protestant work ethic – that capitalism was built through the individual hard work of each person, implementing a Protestant work ethic.

Attributing the success of the capitalist project to individual self-reliance and motivation is a convenient myth we tell ourselves, ignoring the collective efforts of working class people. Max Weber elaborated this spirit of capitalism idea in his famous book. The notion of individual success dovetails nicely with modernised claims of positive thinking.

While a detailed critique of this alleged work ethic is out of place here, it is necessary to make a relevant observation; the late Rev Dr Martin Luther King stated that capitalism was not built on the Protestant work ethic of self-sacrifice, but upon the enslavement and exploitation of African labour power. The vaunted can-do attitude of American capitalism, where success is simply up to each individual, is based upon the collective labour of millions of people.

In this age of social media, where anyone with a Facebook account can market themselves as a guru in whatever subject they enjoy, we are surrounded by ‘influencers’ and self-proclaimed experts on positive thinking. Let’s put aside the influencers, and start thinking of ourselves as comrades, working together to implement collective solutions to our common problems.