Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Orson Welles

Identity Crisis Part Three

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Thursday October 13 2016 under the title Licence of Anonymity

Colman's Column3

My G-Mail accounts were hacked at the end of July. The hacker, pretending to be me, sent out messages to my contacts asking for money and prevented me accessing my own accounts. He did the same with my Facebook account.

 

Who?

 

One real-life friend decided to test the hacker out by introducing false information. PH (my Personal Hacker) responded to the testing by becoming petulant: “I am surprised with the way you have been making a joke of a very serious situation.” My friend knew that I would not write like this, especially if I were asking him for help. He speculated that PH was “not a native English speaker.” Another real-life friend came to the same conclusion after receiving a nasty message from the PH saying “mind your business”. “I reckon the person is someone who speaks English as a second language.”

 

I had wondered if PH was a Sri Lankan.  To one real-life friend he wrote: “I want to ask if you can len­d me a­bout €850 to make up the little mo­ney lef­t with me so that i will be able ­to sort out a­ few bills and make the nec­essary arrange­ments to return home. I wi­ll r­efund ­you­­ the money in full as­ s­oon as i get b­ack.”  He makes the point that it is difficult to transfer money abroad from Sri Lanka – which is true. My wife believes the English in some of his messages is too good for a Sri Lankan but in those he has been copying from my e-mails.

 

PH showed his character when he approached someone I have never met in real life but whom I have known online since 2008. She showed the goodness of her heart by immediately offering to help ‘me’. She thought he wanted 50 euro and asked how she could send it. He suggested MoneyGram but stressed it was 850 euro that he wanted. She said she was struggling on a severely limited income and it would cause her hardship even to send 50 but she would try. He said “can you send 400”? What kind of person is this?

 

The inimitable Donald Trump imagined a typical hacker as “someone sitting on their bed that weighs four hundred pounds.” A comment from a real-life friend about my PH was more succinct: “A vindictive little shit”.

 

Remote Control Valour

Way back in the last century, I studied Balzac’s Le Père Goriot for my French ‘O’ Level. A small passage from that has stuck in my mind ever since. Rastignac and Bianchon are discussing Rousseau, “Do you remember that he asks the reader somewhere what he would do if he could make a fortune by killing an old mandarin somewhere in China by mere force of wishing it, and without stirring from Paris? …  Pshaw! I am at my thirty-third mandarin”.

orson

In the 1949 film The Third Man, Orson Welles, as Harry Lime, is at the top of the Wiener Riesenrad Ferris wheel looking down: “Victims? Don’t be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man.” This displays Lime’s amorality, his lack of interest in the children who are victims of his diluted penicillin, brain-damaged as a result of meningitis.

I have always been uncomfortable about the way movies glamorise snipers and professional hit-men. Snipers certainly have to develop an impressive skill, as do hackers. Snipers are shooting at people a long distance away. The longest shot ever was over 2400 meters; snipers are shooting at people who are hit before the sound of the shot even reaches them. Navy Seal Sniper Chris Kyle had over 150 confirmed kills. He was himself killed on a firing range by a former Marine with PTSD. Is it moral or ethical to shoot somebody from over a mile away? Somebody who has no warning, can’t even see you or have any chance to shoot back?

kyle

 

Keyboard Warriors

Drones, killing machines that can be operated from thousands of miles away from a keyboard with no danger to the killer, have killed far more people under Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama than under GW Bush.

police-eagle-drone-hunting

The anonymity of the internet allows PH to bully with impunity total strangers who have never done him any harm, and are in no position to kick him in the nuts. Tough guy!  In Plato’s Republic, there is the tale of a shepherd named Gyges who finds a ring that makes him invisible. He has sex with a queen, kills her king, and takes his throne. The impunity of invisibility is corrupting. Physical invisibility only occurs in fiction but the internet has granted the license of anonymity and trolls and hackers operate under a cloak of invisibility to behave in a way they would not contemplate if they were visible in the real world. They are unaccountable.

Digital Savvy versus Wisdom

PH dropped all pretence of BEING ME when he wrote TO ME! Signing himself as “Fishbird” he wrote: “I am sorry for all the problems i have caused you this past few days. However, i want you to know the follwing (sic): I don’t know you nor have any particular personal motivation for taking over your mailbox other than looking for little money to survive on. I am willing to hand you all i have taken from you if you will help me with very little money to enable me settle my school bills. I know i have wronged you but please i need your help. I will let you know how to prevent future hacks as creating new emails is not the best line of action.”

If he is clever enough to cause so much disruption and unpleasantness, surely it would have been more intelligent to just send me an e-mail in the first place asking for my help. As he has been grubbing through my personal correspondence he will have gathered that I am an elderly person surviving on a modest pension. He will also have seen that am always giving money away, so I probably would have helped him. How often do these scams bring in any money?

Why?

Mat Honan is digital savvy enough to write regularly for Wired magazine. “In the space of one hour, my entire digital life was destroyed. First my Google account was taken over, then deleted. Next my Twitter account was compromised, and used as a platform to broadcast racist and homophobic messages. And worst of all, my Apple ID account was broken into, and my hackers used it to remotely erase all of the data on my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook.”

Matt Honan managed to establish some contact with his hacker and asked him why he did it: “His answer wasn’t satisfying. He says he likes to publicize security weaknesses, so companies will fix them.” Pull the other one!

 

I readily admit that PH is much cleverer than me when it comes to the intricacies of IT. He is sadly deficient when it comes to moral or ethical intelligence. Why is PH going to all this trouble? There is a strong sense of cognitive dissonance. He is lying to himself. He seems to be angry with me just because I am trying to get on with my life, in which I try to do good rather than harm. Somehow I seem to have failed him because he is being frustrated in his project of doing harm rather than good. How does he sleep at night?

 

 

Sri Lanka as One Nation

This article appeared in the June 2008 edition of LMD (Lanka Monthly Digest) under my real name of Michael O’Leary. The strapline was: “Will Sri Lanka be able to forget its past and fashion a new entity that subsumes history, culture and ethnicity? muses Michael O’Leary.”

 

In Ireland, nationalist rebels fought to unite the north-east with the rest of the island. In Sri Lanka, nationalist rebels fight to separate the north-east from the rest of the island. ‘Nationalism’ became a common concept in the mid-19th century. Today, most people live in multi-ethnic independent nation-states. Eric Hobsbawm defined a nation-state as “a territory, preferably coherent and demarcated by frontier lines from its neighbours, within which all citizens – without exception – come under the exclusive rule of the territorial government and the rules under which it operates”‘

 

Benedict Anderson wrote: “It is the magic of nationalism to turn chance into destiny'”. Nations “loom out of an immemorial past” and “glide into a limitless future”. Kemal Atatürk – founding a modem secular nation – co-opted the Hittites and Sumerians into the project. Ernest Gellner asserted: “Nationalism is not the awakening of nations to self-consciousness- it invents nations where they do not exist.”  Paul Ignotus wrote about Hungary: “A nation is born when a few people decide that it should be.” It has been said that the literary renaissance in Dublin, which helped to forge the Irish national consciousness, probably came about because five or six people happened to be neighbours and cordially hated one another.

 

Sri Lankan nationalists such as AE Goonesinha were stimulated by accounts of Parnell, Davitt and the Irish freedom movement, and closely followed Irish events in the late 19th and early 20th century. Ratmalana Sri Dharmarama Thero and Ananda Coomaraswamy wrote of an ancient, highly-developed Lankan civilisation. Modern-day Sri Lankans might echo Adamantios Koraes’s 1803 remarks about his contemporary Greeks’ relation to their classical ancestors. He said: “We must either try to become again worthy of this name, or we must not bear it'”. Anagarika Dharmapala wistfully dreamed of a dazzling past: “We must wake from our slumber … We were a great people'” Ponnambalam Arunachalam wrote in his diary: “Thought much of the unhappy conditions of our country and what a glorious thing it would be for Ceylon to emulate and excel her great past.”

 

Historical symbols are selectively reinterpreted to create a myth of historical continuity, including a community of common ancestry and destiny. Anderson uses the term ‘imagined communities’. He describes how Indonesia, a vast polyglot multi-ethnic accumulation of 3,000 islands under the colonial rule of the Dutch, imagined itself into a nation.

 

A very different nation is Switzerland, a country of three (or should that be four?) languages which was, until recently, poor and backward. The Swiss Confederation was supposed to have been founded 700 years ago. In fact, the Swiss nation only came about in 1891.

 

How did these very different agglomerations imagine themselves into nations?

EM Forster wrote: “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.”” Orson Welles had a similar attitude: “Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask: ‘What’s for lunch?”

 

A country is an aggregation of rocks, soil, plants, animals and humans existing under certain climatic conditions in a geographical location. Can the result of a succession of such accidents inspire love? Nations can inspire profoundly self-sacrificing love –Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.  Anderson said: “Dying for one’s country -which usually one does not choose – assumes a moral grandeur which dying for the Labour Party, the American Medical Association or, perhaps, even Amnesty International cannot rival … for these are all bodies one can join or leave at easy will.”

 

Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud exchanged letters on this topic. Freud believed that the human psyche is motivated on one side by erotic instincts that seek to “preserve and unite” and on the other by destructive instincts that seek to “kill and destroy”. Politics embodies an aspiration to promote identification and love, alongside permission to foster aggressiveness. It is unfortunate that love of country often has to entail hatred of something else.

 

Peace has descended on the north of Ireland and the south has been blessed with wealth. Those who sought peace have been marginalised and those who cynically destroyed power sharing and devolution now share power in a devolved statelet, advising other countries – like Sri Lanka – how to achieve peace. After some 30 years and 3 000 deaths, Paisley and McGuinness are now a double act as lovable as Laurel and Hardy. The IRA s bombs failed to achieve a united Ireland. It was the EU that brought peace, because republicans and loyalists could join together in cross-border pan-European institutions without ‘surrendering’ to the institutions of the old enemy’.

 

As the old imperial blocs disintegrated, regions and aspirant nations voluntarily subsumed themselves in other blocs. Could Sri Lanka strengthen its unitary sovereignty and economy by subsuming its disparate parts in a larger Asian association?

 

Ernest Renan wrote that nationhood requires forgetting many things. He cited the massacre of the Huguenots on St Bartholomew’s Day as a symbol of what France needed to forget in order to be a nation. Will Sri Lanka be able to forget and fashion an entity combining all cultural histories as successfully as its cricket team?

Democracy and Cuckoo Clocks

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday December 8 2012

 

“You know what the fellow said – in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? – The cuckoo clock!”

 

 

Orson Welles, as Harry Lime, portentously intoned those words, from the great height of the Wiener Riesenrad, a Ferris wheel in the Prater amusement park in Vienna, from which he looks down on the ant-like humans scurrying below. Lime, like many of today’s politicians, was able to cheerfully use his charisma to make money and disregard the human suffering he caused. Lime made his money selling contaminated medicines. on the black market  Welles himself added those words to Graham Greene’s screenplay for The Third Man. Welles is quoted as saying “When the picture came out, the Swiss very nicely pointed out to me that they’ve never made any cuckoo clocks, as they are in fact German, native to the Black forest”..

 

Confederation
Welles’s insertion was a travesty of the reality of Swiss history and echoes remarks made by the painter Whistler in a lecture published in 1888. The original Swiss were known as Helvetic Celts. They were subdued by the Romans and became free-born subjects of the Roman Empire. In the 13th century their independence was threatened by the Hapsburg Empire in nearby Austria. In 1291, the Forest Cantons formed an Everlasting League against the aggressor which developed into the Swiss Confederation. By the 16th century, the Confederation had 13 members and had developed a fearsome military force. Historian Douglas Miller has pointed out that during the period of time the Borgias flourished in Italy, the Swiss Confederation provided “the most powerful and feared military force in Europe”; this was not the peacefully neutral country it is today.

 

 

The Swiss nation as we know is very young. As the Website Direct Democracy Ireland commented: “Not five hundred years of democracy and peace, merely 162 years, in the epicentre of war-torn Europe, with enviable prosperity and direct democracy.”

 

 

Women’s suffrage

 

 

Switzerland is a country of four  languages which was, until recently, poor, backward and divided. It was established as a modern and devolved republic in 1848, the year of revolutions, and only became really established as a nation in 1891. It may not be generally realised that Switzerland, often thought of as an ancient democracy was the last Western republic to grant women’s suffrage. Women got the vote in Ceylon in 1931. The Swiss referendum on women’s suffrage was held on February 1, 1959. The majority of Switzerland’s men voted “no”, but in some cantons, women obtained the vote. The first Swiss woman to hold political office, Trudy Späth-Schweitzer, was elected to the municipal government of Riehen in1958. Swiss women did not gain the right to vote in federal elections until 1971. Appenzell Innerrhoden became the last Swiss canton, in 1991, to grant women the vote on local issues.

 

 

Constitutional theorist Albert Venn Dicey was an implacable enemy of Irish Home Rule and had railed against it in books, pamphlets, letters to and series in The Times.

 

 

In 1914 Dicey wrote about Switzerland:

 

“Never was there a country in which it seemed more difficult to produce national unity. The Swiss cantons are divided by difference of race, by difference of language, by difference of religion.” Dicey continued: “These distinctions till nearly the middle of the nineteenth century produced a kind of disunion among the Swiss people which in 1914 seems almost incredible. They forbade the existence of a common coinage; they allowed any one canton to protect the financial interest of its citizens against competition by the inhabitants of every other canton.”

 

 

A Swiss historian, William Martin, argued that his nation’s success was mainly because of its answering the needs of the time and addressing the needs of the future by the insertion of revision clauses in the federal and in all cantonal constitutions. The constitution of the Irish Free State in 1922 promised similar referendum choices but this was reneged on through successive amendments.

 

 

Positive examples

 

 

Contemporary Switzerland offers some positive examples of democracy to the rest of the world. In today’s Switzerland, a republic of seven million people, citizens’ law-making is exercised on all political levels – including almost 3,000 autonomous municipalities, 26 sovereign states and on the common, federal level.

 

 

Switzerland is still a representative democracy in that most laws are made by parliament. The important difference, however, between the Swiss system and the “indirect” democracy of Britain is that citizens are entitled to put almost every law decided by their representatives to a general vote.

 
If 50,000 signatures can be gathered within 100 days of the publication of a new law, a referendum is needed. In 96 out of 100 cases, no such referendum is triggered, because the parliamentary process enjoys a very high level of legitimacy. In 1993, the Swiss military chief of staff, as a citizen, collected the necessary signatures for a referendum to have a moratorium on military spending. Elsewhere this would constitute insubordination, or possibly mutiny.

 

 

According to Bruno Kaufman, president of IRI (Initiative and Referendum Institute Europe, a transnational think-tank dedicated to research and education on the procedures and practices of modern direct democracy): “That is because the elected lawmakers know that their work will be seriously checked by the public, so they do a very good job indeed.”

 

 

Kaufman says: “Interestingly, the strong elements of direct democracy in Swiss politics have not weakened representative democracy or parliament. … It took many years, and many democratic movements, to get a more fine-tuned division of power, which now offers all forces and groups in the country a fair opportunity to take an active part in setting the political agenda, and in determining the final decision. And this is not simply oppositional: while most popular initiatives proposed by minority groups fail at the ballot box, most governmental proposals get support. Government in Switzerland is not delivering for people, but with them…Startlingly, those parts of the country where the people are most involved in politics also have better public services and stronger economies.”

 

According to Direct Democracy Ireland:
“The ultimate Swiss genius was the transformation of the country’s greatest liabilities, its political geography and related religious, cultural schisms and economic disparities into one of its greatest assets. By retaining the cantons’ independence and counteracting the huge disparities in populations [largest 1,242,000: smallest 15,000] through the Council of States and in referenda, they converted what might have been the “tyranny of the majority into transparent justice….The Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation is unlikely to be accepted as an ideal model; ruling élites [e.g. the Irish political parties] much prefer constitutions, where the people cannot interfere without the élite’s sanction”.

 

 

That could be said of other nations than Ireland.

HoaxEye

A fake image is worth zero words

Poet's Corner

Poems, poets, poetry, writing, poetry challenges

Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Casual, But Smart

Pop Culture From An Old Soul

PN Review Blog

‘The most engaged, challenging and serious-minded of all the UK’s poetry magazines’ - Simon Armitage

The Manchester Review

The Manchester Review

Slugger O'Toole

Conversation, politics and stray insights

Stephen Jones: a blog

Daoism—lives—language—performance. And jokes

Minal Dalal

Spreading resources for potential living.