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Issue #1448      24 March 2010

Culture & Life

Of statues and lawyers

Like many of you, I suspect, I watched Channel Nine’s woeful coverage of the Winter Olympics with growing dismay: where was any sign or recognition of the “Olympic spirit”, any that the athletes were there for the glory of sport, not for gold medals (no other colour would do for anchorman Eddie McGuire and his crew).

McGuire and co seemed to think the lucrative endorsements that would accompany a gold medal were all important. This attitude reflected the rampant commercialisation of sport which McGuire, as the owner of Collingwood Football Club, surely has no problem with.

Nor, it seems, does the International Olympic Committee, whose response to lower ratings than desired for the coverage of recent Olympics, was to deliberately introduce a range of more dangerous events to attract viewers with no knowledge of classic winter sports but who could be dragged in by the prospect of “thrills and spills”.

It’s called pandering to the lowest common denominator, and McGuire’s outfit obliged with a montage of the latest crashes as the opening for each telecast. Of course, it’s what commercial television does all the time so Nine’s Olympic coverage team were obviously all in favour of it.

I found the closing ceremony very interesting. The Canadians turned on a pop-concert aimed squarely at the “youth market”, in marked contrast to the contribution from Russia as the next host nation (in Sochi in four years’ time).

The short Russian contribution included artists from leading ballet and opera companies, the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and the Russian State Academic Choir, all accompanied by a stunning son et lumiere show giving glimpses of Russian landmarks and sights.

Noticeable among these were numerous Soviet emblems, most especially the massive sculpture by Mukhina entitled Worker and Collective Farm Woman, which stood for years at the entrance to the Exhibition of Economic Achievement in Moscow.

Worker and Collective Farm Woman – sculpture by Mukhina.

The two male and female figures are holding aloft a hammer (in the worker’s hand) and a sickle (in the farmer’s hand), the two implements overlapping in profile to make the Soviet emblem of the hammer and sickle.

This sculpture was removed a couple of years ago from its place outside the Exhibition , and Muskovites were concerned that destruction rather than the professed restoration might have been intended. However, perhaps because of the expressions of concern, the statue has now been fully cleaned and restored, and even presented to the world in the Olympic finale as an emblem of Russia.

Which, of course, it is, like the Revolution itself. It is also a reminder that the glorious revolution of 1917 is a fact of history, however much the falsifiers of history wish it were not.

Changing the subject completely, my wife and I have a friend who lives in a large NSW country town. Over a decade ago, her father died and left some property to her and her two siblings.

Our friend, with the agreement of her brother and sister, took out a mortgage on the property and bought out the other two. The mortgage was payable in ten years, but she had income from another source and so was able to pay it off (with some effort) in two years.

At various times she politely asked the mortgagee to forward the deeds for the property, since the mortgage had been discharged, but they never came. At the end of the ten years, however, the mortgagee sent her a letter offering to return the deeds for what was after all her property – but only after she paid a fee for the privilege.

When she protested at this ploy for wringing a bit more money from the transaction, the mortgagee referred her to the fine print of her mortgage agreement, where she found that although the deeds had originally been delivered into the possession of the mortgagee at the latter’s insistence, supposedly to protect his “investment” (the mortgage loan), he had thoughtfully provided a clause allowing him to make some extra money from the simple act of returning the lady’s deeds.

It’s how capitalism works, and in the eyes of capitalists and those who would like to join their ranks, it’s how the world works. This kind of behaviour is deemed “clever” rather than the more deserved (and more pejorative) “sharp”, the kind of behaviour that helps those in business to “get on” – usually by trampling on those less ruthless than themselves.

We once had a discussion with a delegation from one of the smaller Pacific countries. They had seen a copy of the Legal Code of the GDR, and they were curious as to why it was such a slim volume, while their own laws took up innumerable volumes.

So we discussed the fact that under capitalism, the Law primarily protects business and property, as well as business and property transactions and the privileges of property and business owners. But it purports to be concerned with the rights of people (both individually and collectively), despite the fact that their rights are constantly compromised and interfered with by the routine activities of business and the propertied sector of bourgeois society.

This contradiction is what keeps the legal profession under capitalism so busy and so lucrative. Laws that are solely concerned with the rights of the people are much easier to codify and to express.

Legal loopholes are the mainstay of both government and business under capitalism. It’s no doubt one of the reasons so many lawyers take up the equally lucrative profession of politician. See, capitalism does provide jobs!

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