All posts by Binoy Kampmark

Incinerating Logic: Bush Fires and Climate Change

Despite the Internet, connectivity, and linking technologies, distance has not shrunk the Australian sense of self, an often provincial appraisal of the world seen in slow motion and stills.  Whether it’s the “flower revolution” or Michel Foucault, trends and ideas are often delayed, and seem almost cutely anachronistic by the time they make landfall down under.  Wedded to the insatiable urge to reap, rent and remove from the earth, and you have the ultimate myopic: Australia, the exceptional country, outside the stream of history and, dare it be said, the inconveniences of science.

With some 11,000 scientists warning that planet Earth “clearly and unequivocally faces a climate emergency”, some sense of it was registered on the Australian political scene, if only barely.  The “World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency” published in BioScience does not shy away from the language of catastrophe and emergency.  “Despite 40 years of global climate negotiations… we have generally conducted business as usual and have largely failed to address this predicament.”  Climate change had not merely arrived but bulldozed itself into recognition, “accelerating faster than many scientists expected.”

The authors and signatories suggest that, “An immense increase of scale in endeavours to conserve our biosphere is needed to avoid untold suffering due to the climate crisis.”  Public debates on the subject of climate change had mostly focused on global surface temperature, a clearly inadequate approach that avoids “the breath of human activities and the real dangers stemming from a warming planet.”

Areas of urgent redress were also suggested.  Energy efficiency and a reduction in the use of fossil fuels are high on the list.  “We need a carbon-free economy that explicitly addresses human dependence on the biosphere and policies that guide economic decisions accordingly.”  The call for a change of language is encouraged: rhetoric of GDP growth and affluence needs to be replaced by sustainability “and improving human well-being by prioritizing basic needs and reducing inequality.”  Not exactly music for the muscular fossil fuel lobby.

Another song sheet that would not have impressed the fossil fuel industries was an event that barely disturbed the press releases.  This month, the National Electricity Market in Australia received a contribution from wind, solar and hydro energy amounting to half of the total energy production.  Rooftop solar contributions came in at 23.7 percent, with wind (15.7 percent), large-scale solar (8.8 percent) and hydro (1.9 percent) bringing up the rear.

With the release of the report, Australia braced itself for the incinerating fury of bush fires that have arrived earlier this season.  The state of New South Wales is anticipating what the Rural Fire Services Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons describes as “the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen”.

The warnings were already pressing through the policy pipeline in the last decade.  The National Inquiry on Bushfire Mitigation and Management’s 2004 report to the Council of Australian Government warned that, “Fires’ frequency, intensity and size are expected to increase under climate change as temperatures rise, rainfall variability increases, droughts become more severe and ecosystem dynamics alter, resulting in changed biomass fuel loads and types.”

The authors of the report go on to suggest that “projected hotter, drier and windier conditions associated with climate change caused by greenhouse warming would extend the period of fuel drying and increase rates of fire spread.”

Earlier this year, former NSW Fires Chief Greg Mullins and 22 other emergency honchos warned Prime Minister Morrison of the dangers that would face Australia this summer, suggesting that the government meet to discuss some form of action against risks of conflagration.  The meeting has yet to take place, leaving such politicians as Adam Bandt, the Greens MP for Melbourne, certain that Morrison “bears some responsibility and must apologise to the communities impacted”.

Various Australian politicians, as then, were having none of it.  Charged with the task of keeping a plunderer’s lifestyle in perpetuity, the well-fed pigs in clover, the following words of the BioScience report sit uncomfortably with members of the Morrison government.  “The climate crisis is closely linked to excessive consumption of the wealthy lifestyle.  The most affluent countries are mainly responsible for the historical GHG emissions and generally have the greatest per capita emissions.”

The Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack preferred some tea and sympathy in responding to the victims of the fires, not policy and prognosis.  “They don’t need the ravings of some pure enlightened and woke capital city greenies at this time when they are trying to save their homes.”

McCormack’s primary target was the Green party itself, which he accused of fiddling politically while Australia burned.  “That’s what Adam Bandt, and the Greens, and Richard Di Natale, and all those other inner-city raving lunatics – and quite frankly, that’s how he was carrying on yesterday – that’s what they want, we’re not going to go down that path.”

Other politicians have adopted a similar approach: the now is what matters, and never mind previous failings and future disasters.  NSW Premier Gladys Berejikilian provided the stellar example.  “For any of us on the ground, speaking to people traumatised, speaking to people fighting fires for weeks… know exactly what the priorities should be, and that is saving life and property”.  Climate change, in other words, was something for another day, another slot in the packed meeting schedule.

Morrison reiterated the position.  He was “focused on the needs of the people”.  He spoke of having “firefighters out there saving someone else’s house while their own house is burning down, and when we are in that sort of situation, that is where attention must be.”

Mayors from the areas most affected by the recent conflagration have been crankily unimpressed by the platitudes.  Climate change literature, they surmise, is being assiduously avoided by the government.  The unfortunately named Carol Sparks, Mayor of Glen Innes, site of two deaths over the weekend, suggested that McCormack needed “to read the science, and that is what I am going by, is the science.” Forget, suggested the mayor, the politics here.  Science had imposed its cold, objective hand on the matter.  Mid Coast Mayor Claire Pontin was similarly riled, notably by suggestions that fires were the staple of Australian life and landscape.  “We’ve not had situations like that. Fifty years ago, this would never happen.”

There are few incentives for humanity to adapt than through the infliction of catastrophic conditions.  Pandemics, world wars and existential risk have done their bit in propelling change.  But luxury produces complacency; well fed bellies induce sloth.  Come the writing of humanity’s extensive biography of preying on the planet, Australia and its political classes will have much to answer for.

Corporate Mammon: Amazon and the Seattle Council Elections

An enduring US political tradition was in evidence in Seattle recently.  Amazon had decided that the city council elections would be too important to leave alone.  Seattle was their city after all.  The aim of the company was much in keeping with the manor lord who prosecutes keen poachers: fund pro-business candidates sympathetic to its cause and defeat such Amazon critics as Kshama Sawant in their home town.

Council member Sawant has become something of a minor celebrity and hate figure in Seattle political circles, having battled for a $15 minimum wage in 2014, and promoted the merits of an employee head tax in 2018.  That tax policy, entailing a levy of $275 per employee on Seattle businesses making more than $20 million a year, was duly repealed in the face of heartily aggressive business opposition.  Amazon preferred the blackmailing solution, floating the suggestion that it might leave Seattle, and halting construction projects.  The seeds of fear were sown.

Business figures justified their opposition on the grounds that taxes are not solutions.  Homelessness, for one, did not abate.  When invited to participate in a task force seeking to explore possible “progressive sources of revenue” in 2017, local businesses turned up their noses at the chance.  According to Heather Redman of the venture capital firm Flying Fish Partners, this was so because “it was showing up to something where you are going to be yelled at, and you will not be listened to.”

In the scheme of things, Amazon was throwing a modest sum in this campaign: $1.45 million to the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), a political action committee proudly supported by Seattle’s chamber of commerce.  CASE, in turn, was backing candidates in seven seats of the nine member city council, hiring canvassers for door knocking efforts and purchasing advertisements.  Whatever crumbs Amazon offered the Super PAC in question dwarfed its donation from four years ago, an alms-for-the-poor $25,000.

The funding spike by Amazon did not go unnoticed in the federal scene.  This was Corporate Mammon having a splash, and presidential aspirants Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were concerned.  Last month, Sanders noted that, “In a city struggling with homelessness, Amazon is dropping an outrageous amount of money to defeat progressive candidates fighting for working people.”  Amazon’s conduct was “a perfect example of the out-of-control corporate greed we are going to end.”

Senator Warren openly expressed her support “with the Seattle council members and activists who continue standing up to Amazon”.  This also gave her a chance to reiterate her point that, “Corporations aren’t people, and I have a plan to get big money out of politics.”  US Rep. Pramila Jayapal was similarly troubled, claiming that Amazon had placed, “Not just a thumb, but a fistful of cash, on the scales of democracy”.

Amazon spokesman Aaron Toso responded the way of all companies who wish to diddle democracy: cite efficiency, smooth running operations and the merits of business acumen.  “We are engaging in this election because we want Seattle to have a city government that works. Seattle deserves a council that delivers results for all of its residents on issues that matter, like homelessness, transportation, climate change and public safety.”

This rather cheeky take is elementary enough: Amazon will get candidates across the line who will be more active supposedly tackling problems that Amazon helped if not create then certainly feed.  Progressive candidates and incumbents can be accordingly blamed for not addressing homelessness and having a fetish for regulations and the deity of red tape.  But the reason behind the company’s response lies in the ills of taxation: why tax these great American patriots who do so much for the reputation of Seattle?

Amazon is certainly correct in pointing out that opposing candidates have also received their donations.  Being the United States, land of speaking money and action committees, funding has also been forthcoming from venture capitalist Nick Hausner, service workers unions, and hotel worker union Unite Here.

Nothing, however, can quite compare to the scale of Amazon’s influence, which amounts to an uncivil religion of sorts.  Akin to a monstrous church organisation, it can afford to sin and forgive sinning. It offers dispensations and punishments. It can also absolve itself.  One such gesture came in the form of building a homeless shelter crudely described as “state-of-the-art” (because you know they are worth it).  Its singular feature?  Being located in an Amazon corporate building.  A charming move for a company famously resistant to paying its share of tax.

The council race has not quite gone the way of Amazon.  On Tuesday, the CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, Marilyn Strickland, proved hesitant in making any pronouncements. “Tonight’s initial returns are not definitive enough to call these close races.”

Seattle City councilmember Lorena Gonzalez was more forward in an interview with KIRO Radio.  “This is not a city council that the Chamber and Amazon wanted or expected to see after (their) investment.”  The corporate dollar had not stretched with conviction.

Sawant has made a good fist of things despite initially trailing in District 3 by more than 8 points.  “We faced an onslaught of corporate cash,” she explained to supporters at an election night party.  “If anything we underestimated the brazenness of (Amazon CEO Jeff) Bezos, corporate real estate, and big business.”  After Thursday’s ballot drop, she was within 2.5 points of challenger Egan Orion.  But irrespective of what happens in District 3, the role of Amazon in this electoral contest is symptomatic of a broader, and biting issue of US politics.  Companies have no need to run for office to change policies inimical to their revenue; they just have to buy the relevant elected chamber.  That said, voters of the more progressive persuasion can at least take heart that such efforts of purchase do not always succeed.

Scott Morrison’s Authoritarian Streak: Crushing Anti-Mining Protest in Australia

The Prime Minister of Australia is fuming.  Having made his mark on Australian politics by being the mining sector’s most avid defender, Scott Morrison was disturbed by the week’s events in Melbourne that saw clashes between police and protesters outside the sixth annual international mining and resources conference.

It made sense for the protesters to kick up a fuss at the big ticket event.  IMARC, as the site states, “is where the global mining leaders connect with technology, finance and the future.  It is Australia’s largest mining event bringing together over 7,000 decision makers, mining leaders, policy makers, investors, commodity buyers, technical experts, innovators and educators from over 100 countries to Melbourne for four days of learning, deal-making and unparalleled networking.”

The welcoming note from Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews was enthusiastic and distinctly not green in colouring.  This was a chance to celebrate what Australians do best; no, not sustainable energy, nor technologies of ecological soundness, but boast “world class talent in the resources field”, “a sector that continues to grow and provide jobs for many Victorians, especially in country areas.” The Australian economy was inseparable from the resources sector, “creating jobs and driving investment”.

An ideal opportunity had presented itself for climate change protesters who converged on the Melbourne Convention Centre.  By the third day, the patience of the cordoning police had worn thin.  The blood was rushing, the red haze had descended.  Batons and capsicum spray were deployed.  Over sixty protesters were arrested.  “I haven’t seen this kind of aggression before,” observed Emma Black, a self-proclaimed seasoned veteran of the protest scene.  Channel 7 journalist Paul Dowsley was more than bemused by being jostled by officers.  “Incredible. I was obeying their direction to move to another area.  I’m stunned.”

The response from Victoria Police was dismissive: “In this case, the reporter involved did not follow police instructions to move away from the area.  This was a safety issue and Victoria Police believes an appropriate amount of force was used to move the reporter from the area.”

On Thursday, the anti-mining protesters turned their attention to the PwC’s Southbank offices.  The conduct on the part of officers preventing disruptions to arriving delegates had been zealous enough to pique the interest of the Professional Standards Committee.  In the words of a police spokesman, “Protesters have raised several concerns in relation to the police response during the protest.  These concerns have been noted and are being assessed by our Professional Standards Committee.”

A sense about where that investigation will go can be gathered by the next remark.  “A number of groups have engaged in more deliberate tactics including blocking disabled access… and ignored police directions.  These protesters have been dealt with swiftly and effectively by the police.”

Another police statement addressing the second day of the blockade stressed that, “Whilst we respect the rights of people to peacefully protest, the unlawful action taken today is a drain on police resources from across the greater Melbourne.

The protesters proved sufficiently disruptive for Prime Minister Morrison to suggest a dark force at work: the “Quiet Australian”, that fictional confection he never tires of, is under siege.  But what from?

In a speech to the Queensland Resources Council on Friday, Morrison suggested that a “new breed of radical activism” was harrying those in mining and businesses associated with it. “I am very concerned about this new form of progressivism… intended to get in under the radar but [which] at its heart would deny the liberties of Australians.”  This breed of activism was “apocalyptic in tone, brooks no compromise, all or nothing, alternative views not permitted – a dogma that pits cities against regional Australia, one that cannot resist sneering at wealth creating and job creating industries, and the livelihoods particularly of regional Australians including here in Queensland.”  The wedge politician par excellence.

Morrison was a touch too keen to inflate the level of threat posed by such groups, who are “targeting businesses of all sizes, including small businesses, like contracting businesses in regional Queensland.”  This was far more serious than a “street protest”.  (The distinction in Australian law and policy is rarely made, in any case.)

His suggestion was as simple as it was authoritarian: protesters seeking to disrupt the chain of supply should be punished as saboteurs.  They, he stressed, were the undemocratic ones, the silencers.  His government, he explained on Melbourne radio 3AW, had “already taken action against their cousins who want to invade farms and we put legislation through to protect our farmers from that type of economic vandalism.”  Instead of taking credit for having sparked interest in such protests, indifferent as he is to those obscene and rarely said words “climate change”, he was going to take credit for crushing the dissent, putting the outrage to bed.

It was enough to disturb Katharine Murphy of The Guardian. “As he rails against activism, Scott Morrison is turning a bit sinister, a bit threatening.” The prime minister had treated Australians to a spectacle of complaint “against intolerance while in the same breath foreshadowing his own bout of government sanctioned intolerance – the type where police might be involved, and people might be bundled away in vans.”

As in other countries where fossil fuels and natural resources reign, Australia is hamstrung, an aspiring banana republic in the deceptive guise of a first world country.  Environmental pressure to alter their influence is not just seen as a matter of dissent but a threat.  To go green is to turn gangrenous.  To worry about environmental ruin and human causes is to be, in Morrison’s view, “indulgent and selfish” rather than responsible and cognisant.  A true upending of logic, and a potentially imperilling one.  Rather than confronting it, Morrison’s solution is drawn from the tradition and precedent of history: to protect resource industries, call in the police.

A Touch of Plagiarism: The Nazari Precedent

The academy is filled with wonder.  There are professors who cannot teach.  There are associate professors who cannot write.  There are tenured academics who have been promoted on the basis of being able to be the fourth author on all their papers, able to put and patch together an abstract and jot down a signature.  And there are those tagging types, the sort that come to the intellectual show once it has been played, attaching their names to a monograph they have never written.  All make sure about one thing: to spell their name correctly and hail the merits of the work.

Amidst this jumble of derivative junk are those who take things just that bit far. They lift papers wholesale.  They market data and results with astonishing confidence.  They also run the same paper, if only slightly adjusted, in multiple fora.  This is confidence tricksterism at its highest, a defiant scoff at convention.  But in some ways, it is also a celebration of it, a push-the-envelope mentality that is invariably given that sense of complicity.  These are offences that take place in plain sight and are questioned even less for that fact.  (The academic mind resists the obvious, preferring the vague to that of the profound.)

Such was the case with an academic at Melbourne’s Swinburne University.  Dr. Ali Nazari of the university’s School of Engineering faced a true flood of retractions by scientific journals during the course of the year.  In 2017, Nazari was feted by Swinburne University Vice-Chancellor Linda Kristjanson.  He had been a golden boy, commended for research excellence and heaving under the weight of a million dollars in research funding from the Australian Research Council.  Both the Vice-Chancellor, and the ARC, have played their not-so-small parts in this tawdry episode.

But most damnably of all are the journals themselves, whose editors were evidently asleep at the wheel when it came to the peer review process.  The academic journal publisher SAGE took the somewhat dramatic step of issuing a retraction notice for 22 articles published in the International Journal of Damage Mechanics and Journal of Composite Materials.  It was found that certain articles contained “significant overlap with previously published articles by at least one of the authors listed”.  Another retraction notice claimed that Nazari had duplicated his work as many as 70 times.  The number of papers caught up in this may number 188.

As always, an accepted hypocrisy in such cases is perpetrated.  Students are not permitted to get away with it.  Each semester or term is filled with the curt warning, the formal placing in week one in course guides, that plagiarism is the big misdemeanour.  They are not permitted to recycle and run their same papers in other subjects.  (Some, of course, do, and some even get away with it.)  Universities prefer to apply a different a set of big boy and girl standards to those who are rather cavalier with the material (or, as is tediously called in some circles, the data).

Plagiarism is the postmodernist’s celebrated child. It involves doing away with author and ownership, killing both.  Jacques Derrida himself toyed with it (well, wrestled with it), suggesting that a work is never really yours – at least exclusively.  Your corpus is a compound of what has come before, not merely building on shoulders but merging with them.  Jean-François Lyotard dreamt of “a book with no title or authorship”, though admitting to its naïve sense.

Their legacy persists with stubbornness.  “No concept is truly unique,” claim Mike Reddy and Victoria Jones tritely, “and all ideas are created in the context of the society and culture in which they are engendered.  Therefore, there cannot be any true ownership, or indeed theft, of these artefacts as they are an integral part of the environment that learning is taking place within.”  This rather lazy reasoning ignores the point that plagiarism is very much a matter of power, and its misuse.  Far from acknowledging the commonness of ideas that is part of a corpus or a body of knowledge, it suggests a special entitlement to it.  The plagiarist is a poacher, and conceals that fact.

And it happens to the best, the worst, and the most mediocre.  Slavoj Žižek, for an essay in Critical Inquiry, lifted “an extended passage” from a review by Stanley Hornbeck in American Renaissance of Kevin MacDonald’s The Culture of Critique.  That passage, it so happened, had originally found a home in a white supremacist magazine.  The editors were apologetic.  Žižek recalled the ease with which texts can be easily replicated without seeming attribution.  He had been writing the text on Derrida, containing “the problematic passages” when he received word from a friend about Kevin Macdonald’s theories. A brief resume was requested.  “The friend sent it to me, assuring me that I can use it freely since it merely resumes another’s line of thought.”  Blame the friend: sloppiness came on that side of it, and Žižek, rather than apologising for himself, was doing so for the one who put him in the fix.  Perhaps the Slovenian thinker should have stuck to plagiarising himself.

In the sciences, the issue might be considered less problematic. The field is populated by thieves, made all the more easier by multi-authorship, laboratories and the problems of the big professorial bully.  This also encourages mass production, and imitation.  Researchers desperate to make a way in their fields also find their name vanquished to lower tiers as they bask in the exaggerated glory of the God Academic. All hail the maximiser of the minimal.

But this is slightly different to the individual who happily duplicates and replicates material that has been done before and runs it persistently even as the cash flows in. They remain the mass production people, those who have discovered that the academy can, at points, be open to the same piece, or the same set of items, reproduced ad infinitum.  This is an ugly form of plagiarism, and Nazari might count himself unlucky that he was found out.

No university has been spared the instances of another Nazari moment, but many refuse to act on this.  It took an academic publisher, the faces of its employees and journal editors egged, to make a move that may have some repercussions.  Knowing the away the academy works, these are bound to few and slow.

So, suggestions to future academic plagiarists seeking to avoid being Nazarified: It is not just slicing the salami that counts, but how you do so.  Be derivative, be banal and unvaried. Dress your work up as the new.  If you stick to those rules, you will be playing an acceptable game.  A brazen replication of material you have done before is permissible but must be undertaken with caution.  At the very least, change the title of your paper.

Brand Trudeau Wins a Second Term

Brand Trudeau is: Welcome to the new politics, just like the old politics.

— Shachi Kurl, Angus Reid Institute, The Guardian, August 22, 2019

Few politicians come across more as products of hashtag committee management than Justin Trudeau.  His image has been doctored, massaged and spruced, and even then, the Instagram-Twitter committee did not quite see those corrupt influences that are bound to tarnish someone who believes in endless, indestructible parliamentary majorities.  The image can do much, but not that much.

After being elected in October, 2015, Trudeaumania became something of a syndrome, helped along by a persistent dedication to being in the permanent social media cycle.  The photo-op became staple, as is a certain shallowness that lends itself to it.  In picking Canada’s first gender-balanced federal cabinet, he was mindful of the optical moment.  Change was coming, and his revolution would be tweeted.

In a fast spinning, whirling age of disseminated images, lacking substance helps and acts as a powerful propulsion.  The Internet, observed Eric Andrew-Gee in 2016, “has given still photos a pride of place in our media culture that they haven’t enjoyed since the rise of television.  Mr Trudeau has used that power, and that technology, to the hilt.  He is the first prime minister of the Instagram age.”

In July 2016, it was noted that Trudeau “has had about one official photo-op for every weekday he has been in the business of governing.”  Marie-Danielle Smith of the National Post considered him “the most visible Canadian leader since his father, Pierre” having “participated in at least 168 public events since swearing in his cabinet last November.”

Trudeau the Brand has been in business for some time.  It came to the fore in the now famed charity boxing match in March 2012 against Patrick “Brass Knuckles” Brazeau, second-degree black belt in karate and former navy reservist.  The Liberal MP for Papineau seemingly did not stand a chance.  Nor did the Liberal Party, having been wiped by the Conservatives.  Trudeau, after absorbing the initial barrage of punches, won.

In a film on the encounter by Eric Ruel and Guylaine Maroist, Trudeau suggested that “the power of symbols in today’s world” should never been underestimated.  The Liberals were weak in parliament.  “We’ve never had so few MPs.  The Conservatives have all the money and the support.  So… wouldn’t it be fun to see Justin Trudeau win?  A triumph over the all-powerful Conservatives?”

In 2017, Trudeau would tell Rolling Stone that the choice of opponent in the boxing bout was entirely conscious, giving the impression that the whole affair, from start to finish, had been an exercise of eager manipulation.  “I wanted someone who would be a good foil, and we stumbled across the scrappy, tough-guy senator from an Indigenous community… I saw it as the right kind of narrative, the right story to tell.” Very British New Labour; very Old Third Way.

The Canadian elections have returned Trudeau to Ottawa, but with a reduced vote.  The sheen has come off, and the coat seems somewhat tattered.  Trudeau was found by Canada’s ethics watchdog to have violated conflict of interest laws in pressuring his attorney general to avoid a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin for bribes made to Libyan officials between 2001 and 2011.  As the ethics commissioner, Mario Dion found Trudeau “contravened section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act”, being the only public official “able to exert influence over the attorney-general in her decision whether to intervene in a matter relating to a criminal prosecution”.

Then came the other side of branding and e-marketing political candidates.  What goes around in image terms will come around.  If you pontificate about the evils of toxic masculinity, be wary of what skeletal remains the historical cupboard is stocked with.  And so it transpired that a younger Trudeau was prone to don “blackface” and “brownface” pose, less in terms of toxicity than being intoxicated by moment and situation.  (Those few mishaps included singing Harry Belafonte’s Day-O at a high school revue, and sporting an Afro wig, black face and body paint in the company of fellow white water rafters.)  A public apology followed: “It was something that I didn’t think was racist at the time, but now I recognise it was something racist to do, and I am deeply sorry.”

As it wore on, the nodding suggestion of Trudeau’s time in office was a return to what had been dubbed in Canadian political circles the Laurentian Consensus, the elite self-absorbed view of those in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and cities along the St. Lawrence River.  As John Ibbitson of The Globe and Mail described it in 2011, “On all the great issues of the day, this Laurentian elite debated among themselves, reached a consensus and implemented that consensus.  In short, they governed the country.”

Nor could Trudeau claim to be vastly different from his 2015 conservative opponent, Stephen Harper, certainly on the subjects of Canada-US ties, free trade and the Keystone XL pipeline.  Trudeau might have excited millennials on the subject of legalising cannabis, or opening doors to Syrian refugees, but he caused suitable irritation, even fury, over breaking a campaign promise to end “first-past-the-post” federal voting.  The Afghan Canadian Liberal MP, Maryam Monsef, was saddled with the task of gradually strangling electoral reform in the crib.

Trudeau also revealed, in his government’s purchase of the Trans Mountain Pipeline for some $3.4 billion from Kinder Morgan, that he was more than willing to back fossil-fuel infrastructure while proclaiming green credentials.  As Martin Lukacs noted with devastating precision, despite Trudeau signing the Paris Climate Accords in 2016, “the gap between Canada’s official carbon reduction targets and its spiralling emissions has grown wider.”

The record, then, is not only patchy, but abysmal for this particular cardboard progressive.  Oil companies have been guaranteed continuing subsidies, organised labour has been confronted with attempts to outlaw strike action, notably in the postal sector, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been assured arms sales even as Trudeau celebrates Womankind.

Fighting an Instagram prime minister might have required some marrow, but the Conservatives’ Andrew Scheer was not going to provide it.  He did win more votes than the Liberals and dominated in Alberta and Saskatchewan, but this merely served to eliminate Trudeau’s majority and highlight a chronic sense of Western alienation.  Nor did Jagmeet Singh’s NDP, whose caucus was reduced by half, roar with any success. The Bloc Québécois buzzed, the Greens were a preserving stutter and the People’s Party barely registered.

Scheer decided to play the card of ordinariness, and stayed, for the most part, ordinary.  When supporters chanted the old Donald Trump expression of locking up the opponent – in this case, Trudeau – he doused the flames, favouring the chant of “Vote him out.”  A judicial inquiry would be preferable.  The politics of blandness.

Canadian political strategists were even noting a certain similarity between Scheer’s views and those of the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, whose tactics he is said to have embraced.  But Canadians were left with the spectre of considerable vacuity.  As Jonathan Kay argued this month in Foreign Policy, the big issues had been settled if not avoided altogether, leaving the ground on hashtag wars to be fought with mind numbing emptiness.

Celebrity Protesters and Extinction Rebellion

Benedict Cumberbatch.  Olivia Colman.  Fine actors.  They believe in Extinction Rebellion, or perhaps, rebelling against the prospect of extinction.  The environment thing, humanity as a damnably scandalous, ecologically damaging species. But they also believe in taking sponsorship from the very same entities who are doing their best (or worst) to engage in matters of existential oblivion.  So the circle of contradiction, even hypocrisy, is complete.

The matter has come to the fore over overt expressions of support for XR’s two-week effort of disruption in London by the entertainment set.  Severable notable sites have received the attention of the climate change protest group.  The Treasury building has been sprayed with fake blood.  The London Underground train system has been disrupted.  Protestors have glued themselves to trains, to floors and even mounted trains.  Roads to Westminster were blocked, sit-ins staged at City Airport.  Over a 1,700 arrests have been made.

Phil Kingston was one such figure, not exactly a rabble rouser or hardened rioter.  The 83-year-old glued his hand to the side of a carriage at Shadwell and was concerned for his grandchildren.  “I’m also very concerned about what’s happening in the poorer parts of the world who are being hit hardest by climate breakdown.”  Being Christian, he expressed concern about “God’s creation being wrecked across the world.”  Kingston was also jointed by a rather eclectic sampling: a vicar, an ex-Buddhist instructor, and a former GP.

The incident, which involved aggressive scuffling between commuters and the protesters, was acknowledged in a statement from the movement as something divisive.  “In light of today’s events, Extinction Rebellion will be looking at ways to bring people together rather than create an unnecessary division.”  Others were keen to pick holes in the rationale of the protest: Why, for instance, get at an electric train?  Within XR, things are far from uniform.

Such protestors were a rather humble lot, but it did not take long for the bigger fish to join the shoal. Cumberbatch added his voice of support, his grin flashing as it was snapped by cameras in front of the Extinction Rebellion hearse blocking traffic to Trafalgar Square.  Behind him were the conspicuous words hovering with spectral, foreboding promise: “Our future.”

The criticism of this was not far behind.  Cumberbatch is the very conspicuous “brand ambassador” for MG in India.  (Previously, Jaguar counted him among their celebrity proponents.)  The MG GS sports a particularly thirsty engine, and the actor is featured in an advertisement doing rounds in one on, of all places, Trafalgar Square.  MG India’s Hector SUV has also boasted Cumberbatch’s smooth persona.

Academy award winner Colman has also found herself at odd between protest and brand. Having openly expressed her support for the movement, questions were asked by some of the more barbed wings of the British press whether there might be a clash between being on a British Airways inflight video, and disrupting flights.

Over the summer, Oscar winning actress Dame Emma Thompson was also ribbed for flying from Los Angeles to London to participate in an Extinction Rebellion protest.  Her explanation to BBC Radio 4 was that the objects of her job, and being a protester, might not always converge.  “It’s very difficult to do my job without occasionally flying, although I do fly a lot less than I did.”

Those bastions of supposed establishment wisdom, such as The Spectator, were chortling and derisive.  Toby Young was keen to highlight how purchasing vegan baguettes at Pret a Manger was inconsistent with anti-capitalist protest.  He also expressed, at least initially, concern at how law enforcement authorities had, generally speaking, been models of restraint before XR enthusiasts. Had there been “a group of Catholic nuns protesting about changes to the Gender Recognition Act, the riot squad would have been straight with the tear gas.”  For Young, it was good to laugh at these modern millenarians infused with the spirit of apocalyptic terror.

The issue of celebrity encrustation, however, was bound to come by and find voice.  And the engine room of entertainment turns the moral message, however hypocritical, into entertainment.  Bite the hand that feeds you and call it a show.  Having anticipated the rage, the celebrity big wigs have turned vice into a virtue.  An open letter with a hundred names or so, from Sir Bob Geldof to Sienna Miller, took to the barricades and distribution channels with an open letter of affected contrition.  “Dear journalists who have called us hypocrites.  You’re right.  We live high carbon lives and the industries that we are part of have huge carbon footprints.”

What matters is the broad church of hypocrisy.  “Like you – and everyone else – we are stuck in this fossil-fuel economy and without systemic change, our lifestyles will keep on causing climate and ecological harm.”

Those behind the letter stressed the speed of change as their concern. “Climate change is happening faster and more furiously than was predicted.  Millions of people are suffering, leaving their homes and arriving on our border as refugees.”  Children, through the voice of Greta Thunberg, had also called upon “the people with power and influence, to stand up and fight for their already devasted future.”  (Rather cocksure are these celebrities, they, who wield such, as yet unmeasured influence.)

Unlike those critical journalists, the signatories cannot help but be just a touch smug.  There was “a more urgent story that our profiles and platforms can draw attention to.  Life on earth is dying.  We are living in the midst of the 6th mass extinction.”

Much, and in some cases too much, can be made about the celebrity activist who undercuts the argument.  “None of us,” explained Sarah Lunnon of Extinction Rebellion, “is perfect.”  The argument is still worth making, and publicity still worth having.  Unfortunately for the likes of Cumberbatch, the gravity of such messages can be obscured by the person as label.  In revolution, becoming a label is not only counterproductive but deadly.  Protestors like Kingston can just hold their head that much higher.

The Decent Protester: A Down Under Creation

The Decent Protester, appropriately capitalised and revered, is, from the outset, one who does not protest. It is an important point: to protest in the visage of such a person is an urge best left to inner fantasy and feeling. You come late to the scene: the best work and revolt has been done; the people who made the change are either dead, in prison, or ostracised.  Modest changes might be made to the legal system, if at all.

To actually protest, by which is meant screaming, hollering, and disrupting, with the occasional sign of public indignation, is something of a betrayal.  A betrayal to your comfortable station; a betrayal to your happy state of affairs.  Show disgust, but keep it regular, modest and contained.  Add a dash of bitters that amount to hypocrisy.

This regularity is something that ensures the continuation of police states, apartheid regimes, and vicious rulers.  It also perpetuates the status quo in liberal democracies.  The cleverness of this is the idea of permissible revolt: As long as you operate within the acceptable boundaries of protest, your conscience is given its balm, and the regime can continue to hum to the tune of the tolerable.  It is a principle that states of all political hues adopt, though the degree of that adoption is sometimes moderated by bills of rights and the like.

When Henry D. Thoreau was arrested and found himself spending a night in a Concord prison in 1846 for refusing to pay his poll tax, he was making a broader statement about breaking rules, albeit from a selfish perspective.  His objects of disaffection were slavery and the Mexican War.  To the individual exists a conscience that should not bow to majoritarian wishes.  If there is a law “of such a nature that it requires you to be an agent of injustice to another,” he writes in Civil Disobedience, “then, I say, break the law.”  In Walden (1854), he elaborated on the point, claiming that no citizen “for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislation.”

This view has hardly gone unchallenged, suggesting that civil disobedience can be a slippery matter.  Hannah Arendt cast more than a heavy stone at Thoreau in her own essay on the subject in The New Yorker in September 1970.  Her proposal, instead, was the necessary need to institutionalise civil disobedience and render it a matter of recognised action, rather than individual abstention.  Thoreau had, after all, suggested distance and the will of the individual, that it was “not a man’s duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself to the eradication of any, even to the most enormous wrong; he may still properly have other concerns to engage him; but it is his duty, at least, to wash his hands of it…”

To that end, Arendt felt that “it would be an event of great significance to find a constitutional niche for civil disobedience – of no less significance, perhaps, than the event of the founding of the constitutio liberatis, nearly two hundred years ago.”  But she resists, curiously enough, the idea of legalising it, favouring a political approach akin to treating the protester as a registered lobbyist or special interest group.  “These minorities of opinion would thus be able to establish themselves as a power that is not only ‘seen from afar’ during demonstrations and other dramatizations of their viewpoint, but is always present and to be reckoned with in the daily business of government.”

Few countries better exemplify this dilemma than Australia, a country that has no formal constitutional protection of the right to protest yet insists on a collaborative model between protestor and state (protest permits, for instance, take precedence over any organic right; cooperating with police is encouraged, as laws are to be abided by).  In some ways, an argument might well be made that civil disobedience, in anaemic form, has been institutionalised down under.

The result brought forth in this coagulation is simple if compromising: the Decent Protester.  Such a person is one very much at odds with the barebones definition of civil disobedience advanced by Robin Celikates, who describes it as “intentionally unlawful protest action, which is based on principles and aims at changing (as in preventing or enforcing) certain laws or political steps.”  In other words, there can be no Australian Rosa Parks.

Each state has its own guidelines for the decent protester, offering a helpful hand for those braving a march or organising a gathering.  An information booklet covering the right to protest in the Australian Capital Territory has a range of “guidelines”.  It speaks of “many public places” in Canberra, the national capital, “where people can exercise their right to communicate their opinions and ideas through peaceful protests and demonstrations.”  The authors of the booklet make the claim that Australian “democracy recognises this right which is subject to the general law and must be balanced against the rights and interests of others and of the community as a whole.”

The Commonwealth Attorney-General’s office gives the false impression that Australia has a clear right to peaceful assembly for people to meet and “engage in peaceful protest.”  A list of international human rights treaties are suggested as relevant, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (articles 21 and 22) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (article 8(1)(a)).  But being a party to a convention is not the same as incorporating it.  Legislation needs to be passed and, for that reason, remains mediated through the organs of the state.  The Fair Work Act 2009, for instance, protects freedom of association in the workplace but only in the context of being, or not being, members of industrial associations.  Not exactly much to go on.

Other publications venture a much older right to protest, one that came to the Great Southern Land, paradoxically enough, with convict ships and manacles. “The origins of the common law right to assembly,” argues a briefing paper by Tom Gotsis for the NSW Parliamentary Research Service, “have been traced back 800 years to the signing of the Magna Carta.”  This, in turn, finds modest recognition in state courts and the High Court of Australia, not least through the limited implied right of political communication.  Ever eccentric in its conservatism, that right is not a private one to be exercised against the state, merely a control of hubristic parliaments who venture laws disproportionate to it.  Not exactly a glorious, fit thing, is that implied right.

Such protest, measured, managed and tranquilised, makes the fundamental point that those who control the indignation control the argument.  Much time has been spent in Australia embedding police within the protest structure, ensuring that order is maintained.  Trains, buses and cars must still run on time.  People need to get to work.  Children need to be in school.  The message is thereby defanged in the name of decency.  It also means that genuine lawbreaking aimed at altering any policies will be frowned upon as indecent.  Good Australians would never do that.

A Coalition of Support: Parliamentarians for Julian Assange

Australian politicians, and the consular staff of the country, are rarely that engaged on the subject of protecting their citizens.  In a couple of notorious cases, Australian authorities demonstrated not only an indifference, but a consciously venal approach to its citizens in overseas theatres.

Mamdouh Ahmed Habib, a dual Australian-Egyptian national, was detained in Pakistan in October 2001 and subsequently sent to Guantánamo Bay via Bagram in Afghanistan and Egypt.  His subsequent detention till 2005 in a chapter of that sinisterly framed Global War on Terror was without charge and heavy with speculation.  In April 2002, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation formed the view that Habib had not been involved in the planning of future terrorist attacks, a point deemed insufficient in securing his early release.  On his release, he initiated federal court proceedings against the Australian government over their complicity in the matter.  The case was settled in 2010.

The squalid affair is worth nothing for the essential connivance of Australian officials in the ongoing detention of Habib.  Even intelligence assessments within the intelligence fraternity pointing to his innocence were dismissed.  In a joint media statement from the Attorney-General and the Minister for Foreign Affairs on January 11, 2005, the standard line was reiterated: “it remained the strong view of the United States that, based on information available to it, Mr Habib had prior knowledge of the terrorist attacks on or before 11 September 2001.”  What the US suspected, went.

In a wordy and not particularly illuminating report on the case by the Australian Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, it was “found that communication to the Habib family in respect of Mr Habib’s welfare was not adequate and recommends that an apology be made.”  Stress was made that Australian intelligence officials were not directly involved in his rendering to Guantánamo Bay, though it was noted that “ASIO should have made active enquiries about how Mr Habib would be treated in Egypt before providing information which may have been used in his questioning in Egypt.”

An even more notable case of crude, dismissive abandonment can be found in the plight of David Hicks, another Australian who found himself facing an array of charges brought forth by the “war” on terror.  His role in US legal history in fighting that dubious category of “unlawful combatant” and military commissions is assured, but what stood out in the case was an abject refusal on the part of Prime Minister John Howard and his foreign minister Alexander Downer to engage in anything resembling assistance.

In May 2003, with rumours thick that some detainees from Guantánamo Bay were being released, Downer was quick to scratch Hicks from the list.  “After all, remember David Hicks was somebody who was allegedly involved with both al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the Taliban being the political articulation of the view of al-Qaeda.”

When pressed by ABC Radio on Australian contributory negligence, Downer merely swatted the allegation, insisting on cryptic and inchoate legal categories.  “He’s being held though, let me just make this clear, he’s being held as an unlawful combatant, as somebody who was detained initially by the Northern Alliance and subsequently by the United States”.

Amnesty secretary general Irene Khan, in an open letter to Australian prime minister John Howard, made the case that Hicks had been abandoned.  Even after the finding by the US Supreme Court that specifically established military commissions were unconstitutional, the Australian government remained approving of that most curious of aberrations.  “They have not taken any effort to ensure that he gets a fair trial.”

In every sense, the Australian response to Julian Assange’s detention, both during his time in the Ecuadorean embassy and in Belmarsh, betrays an unhealthy tendency to regard the controversial citizen as a menace best distanced.  Let another country deal with him, and if that country be the United States, all the better.

In recent days, a sense of momentum is gathering suggesting that Australia’s political classes might be tiring of this view.  Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce has been shooting off his mouth for reasons more constructive than usual.  “Whether you like a person or not, they should be afforded the proper rights and protections and the process of justice, as determined by an Australian parliament, not another nation’s parliament.”

Grounds for extradition to the United States from the UK, argued Joyce, had not been made out. “If a person is residing in Australia and commits a crime in another country, I don’t believe that is a position for extradition.”

Independent Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie is also mucking in, hoping to cobble together a coalition of supporters in the Australian parliament to support Assange’s return to Australia.  “The only party I’m having to work extra hard on getting members of the group is Labor.”

The more traditional front, however, is being maintained by the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg. “He [Assange] ultimately will face the justice for what he’s been alleged to have done, but that is a legal process that will run its course.”  Rather weakly, Frydenberg made a lukewarm concession: that “we will continue, as a government, to provide him with the appropriate consular services.”

If there was a time to fight legal eccentricity and viciousness, it is now.  Just as Hicks and Habib faced complicity and a range of stretched and flexible legal categories, Assange faces that most elastic of instruments designed to stifle publishing and whistleblowing: the US Espionage Act of 1917.  Should he be extradited from the United Kingdom and face the imperial goon squad in Washington, we will be spectators to that most depraved of state acts: the criminalisation of publishing.  Australia’s parliamentarians, never the sharpest tools in the political box, are starting to stir with that realisation.

Internal Dissolution: Brexit and the Disunited Kingdom

While the European family seems to be having its internal spats – populist sparks within threatening to light the powder keg – the marshals and deputies, for the most part, are attempting to contain the British contagion.  Britain is still scheduled to leave on October 31 without a deal with the European Union.  The divorce papers remain unimplemented, and the lawyers and mediators are chafing.  Governments across the European Union are planning for the hardest of hard departures, and Yellowhammer, the emergency government document contemplating the worst – queues, depleted supplies of necessaries, possible riots, transport shortages – has become, in a short time, part of the canon of apocalypse.

As that date looms, the internal prospects for British dissolution cannot be discounted.  What the Brexit to-and-fro has shown since 2016 is a certain version of boisterous and blind Englishness, rather than composed Britishness,  per se.  In announcing a Brexit war cabinet, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was really declaring war on Britain, with the EU enemy more spectral than ever.

The Britannic entity remains a political compact; England is a nation, albeit the dominant member.  Scotland and Wales are also nations, but have been somewhat eclipsed by what Neal Ascherson describes as “the nation which still thinks it’s more than just a nation, which has been paranoid about ‘foreigners telling us what to do’ since Henry VIII told the pope where he could stick it.”

It was that Englishness, more than any coherent concept of Britishness, that Johnson has pursued, both as Brexit campaigner and scribe, penning pieces as Brussels correspondent for the Daily Telegraph from 1989 to 1994 that have now come to be described as true right-wing satire.  Those observations about Brussels-styled lunacy in regulation, much of it painfully emptied of fact, furnished the stirrings of English revolt.

The UK compact is under siege from several angles.  The prime minister’s attempt to prorogue parliament went to the highest courts in both Scotland and England, and perished in what can only be described as a cool, legal death.  The suspension of parliament had been obtained for improper purposes, a measure designed to prevent Parliament from exercising its scrutinising, and accountability functions.  The response from the Brexit platoons was one of horror and outrage: the people’s wishes had been repudiated by unelected judges.  Those wishing for Britain to remain, and those wishing for a clear Brexit deal, cheered the judges as discharging a relevant democratic function.  Parliament, in turn, has returned to type: a state of doomed paralysis seemingly awaiting some external catalyst.

The nations within the union are also unsettled.  Scotland is perhaps the most likely candidate to exit the Britannic family first.  While 51.9 percent of Britons voted to leave, 62 percent of Scots voted to remain.  Its attempts at independence have thus far failed, but the last three years have seen more kindling for the effort.  This has also been assisted by the refusal on the part of the UK government to offer Scotland a specially tailored variant of Brexit, a sort of Greenland-Denmark model.  This has been a feature marked by Westminster’s blanket exclusion of devolved governments in any part of the negotiations.

As law academic Sionaidh Douglas-Scott pointedly reminds us, the UK EU Withdrawal Act 2018 covering post-Brexit domestic law was enacted without Scottish consent, a clear “breach of the Sewel Convention.”  While Sewel is not a legally enforceable understanding, this very fact suggested the breach of mutual trust, an institutional sneer.  Westminster, in short, had shown its true colours.

The All Under One Banner (AUBO) procession on Saturday in Edinburgh attracted thousands, though it was unclear whether the hundred thousand number sought by the organisation was reached.  Irrespective of that point, background work is being done to stage the next independence referendum.  Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has re-busied herself with the project, hoping to re-run another vote in 2020.  This would require dispensation from the UK government. Her advertising plea?  We are doing more for infrastructure and the environment (better busses, a decarbonised Scottish rail network by 2035, a new green deal) and combating health inequality that Westminster has evidently loss interest in. “We will seek agreement to the transfer of power that will put the referendum beyond legal challenge.  We have a clear democratic mandate to offer the choice of independence within this term of parliament and we intend to do so.”

Ironically, Wales, having propped the leave vote in 2016, is now muttering about a possible exit from the UK while flirting with the idea of European re-engagement.  In July this year the BBC wondered whether it was becoming “indy-curious”. The network’s Welsh affairs editor Vaughan Roderick had this assessment: “there is not much evidence of growing support for independence itself, but there is evidence that it’s being talked about a lot more.”  Welsh Labour, for instance, suggests more than a smattering of interest for the idea.

This month, Plaid Cymru’s leader Adam Price told BBC Radio Wales’ Breakfast program that a referendum on the subject would take place by 2030.  He suggested the probable dissolution of the UK.  “The UK as we know it could cease to exist in a few short years.”  The message of the EU being the big bad wolf against British sovereignty does not feature in Price’s vision.  As an independent state – independent, that is, from the UK, yet a member of the EU – Wales would be able to obtain up to £2bn in extra funds.

To the Plaid Cymru party conference, Price reiterated the vision of “independence” as an “imperative”.  It was because of his party that “the argument for independence has moved from the periphery to the centre”. He also issued a stern warning to the governing English centre in Westminster: £20bn was needed, not as charity “but reparation for a century of neglect that has left a country, rich in its resources, a bitter legacy of poverty, sickness, blighted lives and broken dreams.”

Like a misguided effort at summoning demons, Brexit conjured up creatures that are proving impossible to contain.  The forces of history are finding their unruly way; the disaffected are starting to tear and itch.  The EU bogeyman is becoming less real than the kingdom’s internal conflict.  Hail, the Disunited Kingdom!

Dangerous Detentions: Julian Assange and Remaining in Belmarsh

Much ink has been spilled in textbooks describing situations where autocratic states can behave badly. They abuse rights; they ignore international law and they ride roughshod over conventions. Liberal democracies may boast that they follow matters to the letter of the law, and make sure that citizens are given their fair and just cause in putting forth their cases. The practice suggests all too glaringly that the opposite is true.

The English legal tradition, with its historically brutal punishments, adoration of the fetish known as the rule of law, and a particular tendency towards a miscarriage of justice, has found a rich target in Julian Assange. Behind the stiffness of procedure and the propriety of convention, cruelties are being justified with grinding regularity.

On September 22, Assange would have been released from HMP Belmarsh, a maximum security centre whose reputation betrays much in the way the authorities wish to handle the publisher. The 50-week jail term imposed for skipping bail was a mild matter relative to others serving life sentences in the prison, but a statement had to be made both to those wishing to emulate Assange and Britain’s cousins across the Atlantic. But that term of imprisonment was never meant to be genuinely observed in the scheme of things; its termination merely being a point in a broader scheme of ongoing detention. It was a mere hiccup in a conversation which involves US power. The Washington security establishment is salivating for its quarry, and Britain is playing minder.

This means keeping him in indefinite detention, or at least till US authorities make their case, however unconvincing. At the Westminster Magistrates court hearing on September 13, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser was short and sharp. “You have been produced today because your sentence of imprisonment is about to come to an end. When that happens your remand status changes from serving prisoner to a person facing extradition.”

The District Judge explained how she had given Assange’s lawyer “an opportunity to make an application for bail on your behalf and she has declined to do so, perhaps not surprising in light of your history of absconding in these proceedings.” In that explanation, a cosmos of meaning can be discerned. Any application for bail would have been futile in any case, given that the judge had made up her mind. “In my view I have substantial ground for believing if I release you, you will abscond again.”

The judge was also being more than a touch disingenuous. The hearing could not, in any genuine way, be described as a bail hearing, despite being represented as such. It was, in fact, a technical hearing, meaning that the magistrate had effectively refused bail even before a formal request by the defence. Such tendencies towards premature adjudication do not do the legal profession proud.

The curious reference to “these proceedings” suggested a continuum of prosecution against Assange conflating both Swedish and US attempts to extradite him. His punishment for skipping bail was not connected to the current US case, at least directly, but avoiding the extradition to Sweden in an attempt to question him over allegations of sexual assault.

To the judicial officer, it was all the same picture of reason, the same cheek shown in avoiding the inevitable. Never mind that Assange exercised his rights to asylum, that the reason he fled to the Ecuadorean embassy in 2012 was based on a genuine, and now proven fear, that he could be extradited to the United States to face charges with a cumulative prison time of 175 years. Best bang him up in the cells as a warmer for the US effort, which is set to gather steam for a February extradition hearing.

While Britain continues its immolating ritual in how it leaves the European Union, there are murmurings of protest keeping the matter of Assange’s fate alive. On Saturday, a modest protest took place outside Belmarsh, sporting the staple banners: “Don’t shoot the messenger”; “Free, free Julian Assange”; “Hands off Assange”.

Labour MP Chris Williamson was on hand to address those gathered. “Here we have a situation where someone who we should be celebrating is facing solitary confinement, which is tantamount to torture taking place on British soil. This cannot be allowed to stand.”

Williamson’s rationale is based on a traditional suspicion of the overreach of US power, and not a view shared by the mainstream plodders in British politics. “We have a moral duty to fight for Julian Assange, whose only crime is to expose war crimes by the US and the abuse of state powers.”

Williamson has also made the observation that his country has become rather slapdash with its application of legal principle, despite taking some historical pride in defending human rights. “Britain is increasingly behaving like a tin-pot dictatorship in its dealing with him.” While Assange suffers, British politicians, notably those in Camp Brexit, see only one dictatorship: the EU. Their idea of the Sceptred Isle remains pure.

There are accounts about Assange’s failing health that jab and trigger the occasional splash of publicity. Assange’s father, John Shipton, has described how, during a visit in August, his son looked “a bit shaky, and is suffering from anxiety. He has lost a lot of weight. It is very distressing, and the intensity of his treatment has increased over the past year.”

The UN Special Rapporteur, Nils Melzer, has also issued stirring assessments of Assange’s detention, with its compounding cruelties. “In 20 years of work with victims of war, violence and political prosecution, I have never seen a group of democratic states gang up to deliberately isolate, demonise and abuse a single individual for such a long time and with so little regard for human dignity and the rule of law. The collective punishment of Julian Assange must end here and now.” Sadly, and depressingly for publishers, the process continues, wearingly and destructively.