C'est nous qui brisons les barreaux des prisons, pour nos frères, La haine à nos trousses, et la faim qui nous pousse, la misère. Il y a des pays où les gens aux creux des lits font des rêves, Ici, nous, vois-tu, nous on marche et nous on tue nous on crève.

Monday, 30 April 2007

From Australia, with Love

I saw a fairly bizarre article in the English version of the infamous Russian tabloid, Pravda, the other day. The article, possibly subject to a dubious translation, was written as an anonymous opinion piece entitled 'Why we escaped from Australia'.

As the author explains:

We have escaped recently from Australia because of Secret Police harassment
that has been going on for many years. For people overseas that think that the
Western countries have freedom and democracy, I have bad news: it's only
propaganda and lies.

The author is a bit sketchy on the details of the said harassment, but asserts that his wife is related to a high-profile public figure in Australia, who is himself part of the 'Secret Service' and a government 'fixer'. The author suggests that this was the reason that he and his wife came to ASIO attention:

We were followed and people were clicking their phones in our faces. People
following us also use and have used psychological tactics and disguises both
here and overseas. By the type of PSY Operations used we realized that spooks
had personal information about my wife which could only have been gained by
spies or their agents working over a long period.

The author adds that he tried to seek help through the official media, but eventually gave up:

One of the reasons that pushed us to leave Australia is that despite the
facade of democracy and openness there was no body or Institution that was
interested in hearing our story or offering help. The print media and
broadcasters are simply not interested because 2 or 3 media barons control every
print media outlet and broadcaster and those people work hand in hand with the

The author is certainly correct as regards this latter statement, as this story does not appear to have entered Australia's mainstream media. On the other hand, an anonymous report making unsubstantiated allegations about ASIO is hardly likely to make it into the press.

So what can we make of this story? I will bypass the irony of the Russian media publishing a piece asserting that Australian authorities are controlling and undemocratic.

On the other hand, significant control has been ceded to 'Secret Service' people, with sedition laws and anti-terrorism legislation generally. Frankly, I am not sufficiently informed to be aware of what ASIO gets up to, and I have not heard any stories of them pursuing Russians for obscure familial connections. On the other hand, I have heard that some Chinese are definitely targeted, but not necessarily the 'average guy' in Box Hill or Cabramatta. Plenty of relatively innocuous Australians must also have been targeted at some point; I recall an article in the Weekend Australian a while ago in which Radio National broadcaster, Murdoch columnist and former communist Philip Adams claimed, with some evidence, that ASIO had a file on him for years.

Then again, the claims made by this Russian author are probably to vague to allow us to form a definitive opinion. Reading through Pravda, it seems that there is often an anti-Western subtext running throughout, with particular emphasis on anti-Bush sentiment, to a level that makes The Age, or even Le Monde, appear like an American-apologist propaganda organ.

Still, I wonder if anyone can shed any light on this. Are ASIO abusing their powers at the behest of the Government? We Australians certainly seem to know much less about the wheelings and dealings of our secret service than say, the Americans know about the CIA. Accountability and secrecy do not exactly go hand in hand.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

More Anti-Gallic Bile

Predictably, The Australian editorial today ran the line that France is a country badly in need of neo-liberal 'reform'. The recent vote saw a large turn-out of voters, without about 84% casting a ballot, far more than the numbers at any recent American election.

Nonetheless, French-style democracy does not appear to be to The Australian's liking, for, despite the huge turn-out of voters:

What France needs is not just for voters to turn out at the polls, but to
recognise that the country's low economic growth and high unemployment are the
result of the governments they have chosen.

Comprendez? Although voters don't want US-style 'free' trade, and working conditions slaughtered at the altar of 'economic growth', their elected leaders should have what The Australian calls 'the courage' to impose these 'reforms' anyway.

Of course, Anti-French sentiment became prominent in the Anglophone media around the same time that the French government declared its reservations about the Iraq war. Hardly a coincidence. The likes of right-wing piss stain Mark Steyn (I won't link to him) regularly and eagerly prophesy a French apocalypse at the hands of Islamic hordes.

There is no doubt that France is a country with its share of problems. Still, compared to that bastion of democracy just north of Mexico, it does seem to have a few advantages, like quality of life, fairer distribution of resources, and better healthcare. Oh, and fewer shootings.

Saturday, 21 April 2007

Surf's Up

Irrespective of which party wins the Federal election this year, Australians will continue to see a close US-Australian alliance.

In this light, we might wish to consider the sage foreign policy advice of a possible next president, John McCain. McCain was responding to an interviewer's questions about Iran, a pertinent topic, given that US warships are currently massing in the Perisan Gulf:

His questioner had struck an anti-Iran tone, asking him when the United
States was going to "send an air mail message to Tehran," drawing cheers from
the crowd.
Senator McCain then briefly sang "Bomb, bomb, bomb" - an adapted
snippet of the rock 'n' roll band's refrain "Ba-ba-ba, Ba-Barbara Ann" - winning
laughter from the audience.

It's good to see the world's future is in such safe hands. Can't wait to see tunes by Herman's Hermits adapted so that they refer to the US supporting tyranny in Uzbekhistan. Maybe The Beatles' song 'Yesterday' could be changed to 'Pinochet'. Or we could hear a McCain rendition of a Sinatra classic - 'I did it My Lai'.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Barbarism begins at home

Not so long ago, I went and saw Guillermo del Toro's latest movie, Pan's Labyrinth:

Told largely from the perspective of an 11-year old girl, it depicts the family life (and fantasy world) of a child (Ofelia) caught in the crossfire of the Spanish Civil War. Ofelia lives with her pregnant mother, and the villain of the film, fascist officer Captain Vidal, who is Ofelia's stepfather.

Throughout the film, we see Vidal torturing and butchering his way through the Spanish countryside, as we might expect from a fascist captain. What is interesting, however, is that del Toro goes to great lengths to parallel the violence of the Civil War with the authoritarian oppression that Ofelia (and her mother) experience at home. Vidal is depicted repeatedly ordering Ofelia and her mother about, and using intimidatory tactics to exercise his will. For Vidal, Ofelia's mother is simply a means to an end, the end being that son that Vidal wants as an heir.

Obviously, the movie is a little cartoonish in its depictions of good an evil, as we might expect from a director whose previous work includes Hellboy. Nonetheless, the film depicts brutal authoritarianism both in 'public life' and at home. (Milan Kundera's Czech novels are perhaps an attenuated version of this phenomenon, showing us a stifling public world that is ironised by the complexities of a usually messed-up private life).

In an interview, del Toro makes clear that the 'fascism' on display in Pan's Labyrinth not only relates to a specific regime of the early 20th Century, but stands for authoritarianism generally:

[T]he fascists stand for anything that has an intolerance to opposition and
imagination. I really think they represent the official line of thinking. You
either think this way, or you become an enemy. [Apply that to] corporate greed,
to government, to organized religion, whatever you want. And imagination is the
ultimate playground of freedom. Imagination should always be free and
irresponsible, in that sense; but disobedience, on the other hand, should be
done very responsibly.

Picasso said much the same thing about the bull in his Guernica mural.

Of course, 21st Century Australia is far removed from the horrors of the previous century's totalitarian regimes. Nonetheless, it is self-evident that the political pendulum has swung significantly towards authoritarianism, dressed up as so-called 'conservatism'.

The authoritarian gestures of the present regime are well-known: the introduction of sedition laws, the virtual abandonment of a particular Guantanamo detainee, the exhortation to produce children 'for the country', the attempts to destroy the union movement, and so forth. Naturally, these restrictions on freedom find their apologists in the Murdoch media, as exemplified by the likes of Janet Albrechtson, who, like some caricature of post-modernism, tells us that 'freedom is not absolute', and that 'liberalism will kill us'. We have seen so many articles extolling the virtues of the above measures, (as well as Australian and US military adventures - a kind of authoritariansim practised in other lands) that it is not even worth cataloguing them.

What is interesting, however, is the way that the lurch towards 'conservatism' in the public arena has closely corresponded to authoritarian conservatism in the private sphere. The Hun appears to have given the likes of Bettina Arndt carte blanche to peddle her diatribes against women and the Family Law Court in the name of 'besieged males'. Miranda Devine in the SMH has shamelessly attributed to 'female equality' the excesses of Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears. Whilst it may be ironic, it is perhaps unsurprising that it is precisely women who push (or who are used to push) this agenda. And whilst it does not receive enough media attention, we know that the likes of Howard and Abbot are linked to ultra-conservative, highly authoritarian religious groups. There is a real risk that the big government control and regulation that exists on the 'outside' will increasingly seep into individuals' private lives. Already we see this in Federal politicians' statements about education, for instance, where it is supposedly necessary that teaching mimics or incorporates the consumer capitalist structures that exist elsewhere.

As ever, The Smiths got it right when Morrissey sang:

Unruly boys

Who will not grow up

Must be taken in hand

Unruly girls

Who will not settle down

They must be taken in hand.

When theme parks go literary...

According to the SMH (and Reuters), somebody in the south of England is planning to open up a theme park based on the works of Charles Dickens:

"We are not Disneyfying Dickens," insists manager Ross Hutchins as he dons hard
hat and fluorescent jacket to tour the site, a hive of activity as the Fagin's
den playground and Newgate Prison's grimy walls are given their finishing

In addition to offering boat rides through a 'dank and dirty London', the theme park may also have characters like the Artful Dodger and Uriah Heep wandering around, perhaps directing visitors to 'Ye Olde Curiosity Gift Shop'.

Whilst the New York Times and some other newspapers were dismissive of the idea, it got me thinking about the myriad of possibilities for other literary theme parks.

What about Dostoevsky World, where tourists get to re-enact murders, and hang out with Russian prostitutes on a makeshift Nevsky Pier?

Or Freud World, where tourists wander through exhibits depicting Oedipus, Hamlet, et cetera, whilst bearded Austrians waving cigars pop up and offer provocative interpretations?

Maybe William Burroughs World, where the kiosks offer heroin in addition to food, and every day at 1pm sharp, the Naked Lunch amphitheatre is the stage for a drug-fuelled sex pantomime?

Or perhaps Kafka World, where all of the rollercoasters stop halfway into the ride. When visitors attempt to get a pass out, they are continually told that they are at the wrong information booth, and that they need to try the help desk on the pther side of the theme park, until they collapse in exhaustion.

Actually, I think I've been to Kafka World. They call it the Office of Births, Deaths and Marriages in Melbourne.

Friday, 13 April 2007

Freedom of (hate) speech

Margaret Simons in Crikey wrote an article the other day criticising the soft approach of the ACMA's findings against Alan Jones, on the topic of his incitements to violence that preceded the Cronulla riots:

Read the report, and it is clear that the biggest surprise in this case is not
that findings were made against Jones but that ACMA found that the majority of
his broadcasts on the Cronulla matter were not racial vilification or incitement
to violence. The broadcasts ACMA thought were acceptable included references to
"Middle Eastern grubs" and other choice remarks.
Read the report for ACMA’s reasoning, amidst a forest of legalistic and dictionary definitions on what amounts to vilification and what constitutes an "ethnic group". It’s hardly high level moral reasoning, and it certainly isn’t tough.

Some more examples of Jones' 'colourful' commentary can be found here and here. Unsurprisingly, for every article condemning Jones in cyberspace, one can find articles of unbridled support for Jones in the mainstream media.

We have David Flint, for example, dismissing the ACMA's decision on the basis that it damages freedom of speech. The AMCA finding is derided as 'inquisitorial', and Jones' accusers are 'faceless'. It is a shame that some of these keyboard warriors so intent on defending freedom of speech did not create a louder outcry when the Howard government passed sedition laws. Still, at least Flint had the chutzpah to condemn the attempts to curtail freedom of expression when the case did not relate to right-wing culture warriors.

But take this piece of 'writing' by Paul Kent, for instance, in Sydney's very own Pravda. Kent seems to think that the Cronulla riots were actually the fault of Muslim leaders, who 'let racial tensions fester, and cried racism when it spun out of control'. Perhaps I've got this terribly wrong, but I thought that when a rabble of drunken yobbos from Cronulla start belting people on the grounds of their perceived ethnicity, then this actually is racism. Irrespective of the purported precursors to the riots, or the alleged sins of the ethnic group in question.

Not to Kent, however. For Kent, it is the Muslims who are 'bullies', who receive sympathy only as a result of 'political posturing' by the ACMA. It would be interesting to see if Kent would remain consistent to his hardline stance if the recipients of the Cronulla beatings had been Jews, Sikhs, albino dwarf midgets, or anybody but Lebanese Muslims.

Nonetheless, poor Alan Jones 'got it right', for having the courage to stand up to 'bullies' from the vantage point of his broadcaster's chair. And so Kent remarks:

Bullies don’t deserve sympathy or false outrage to hide behind. They should get
what they deserve.

These precise lines are perfectly suited to Jones himself, the more so given that he did not hesitate to fan the flames of hatred amongst his brain-dead audience. But I could be very wrong - after all, Howard indicated that he believed Jones to be an 'outstanding broadcaster'.

But perhaps I am too harsh on Sydney's Pravda. After all, today's edition includes a groundbreaking piece on the latest all-important conflict to besiege the harbour city.

UPDATE: Another salvo has been fired at Jones, this time in relation to his treatment, and that of a certain loud-mouthed mufti. And Michelle Grattan presents a typically balanced and sober view of this matter, continuing the motif of Jones as bullyboy.

Logic and consistency

Just when we thought that the asshattery might have run dry, along comes Michael Costello in a piece in today's Australian suggesting that, given the apparent similarities between Afghanistan and Iraq, the 'most basic logic and consistency demands' that we 'stay the course' in both the latter, in addition to the former.

Of course, it would be an equally apposite display of 'logic and consistency' to suggest that bombing Afghanistan back to the stone age is about as useful to Australia's 'security' as triggering bloody and ongoing civil strife in Iraq. For some undisclosed reason, Costello does not appear to consider this possibility. In that light, it is fitting to quoting from his closing word in the article - 'Pity'.

Turning a blind eye

More nonsense in today's Australian, where political editor Dennis Shanahan has written an article lambasting Kevin Rudd for his perceived 'closeness' to China. Shanahan begins by praising Rudd for his ability to speak Mandarin, and for his foreign policy credentials. He waxes lyrical about Rudd's forthcoming visit to China having a 'Whitlamesque frisson' to it. Then the article takes a bizarre turn:

Yet for all of these positives there is a real policy and political problem for Rudd in being able to order duck pancakes and fried flounder at Portia's Chinese restaurant in Canberra, where he indulges in his linguistic and culinary pastimes.

Simply put, Rudd is seen as being too close to China for Australia's comfort.

By whom is Rudd seen as being 'too close' to China? And for what? Is it because at Chinese eateries, he 'indulges in his linguistic and culinary pastimes', as Shanahan puts it, with the sneering anti-intellectualism that one exepcts from The Australian? Is it because, as Shanahan (rather ludicrously) supposes, that 'Rudd may have batted from the "Long live Leninism, Stalinism and Mao Zedong" end of the Beijing cricket ground against the Poms'?

So why should we be concerned if Rudd is 'too close' to China? Is Shanahan trying to remind readers that, irrespective of China's economic growth, and development into a world 'superpower', the world still has not forgotten the events of the not-so-distant past? Is it to remind us that China's economic strength is, at least in part, predicated upon significant levels of exploitation, or that Australia is in an awkward position in relation to asylum seekers, whom the regime allegedly persecutes?

Shanahan never bothers to give the reader a clear answer, preferring instead, in his waffling sort of way, to suggest that Japan might (and this 'might' is important) be critical or Rudd for 'obscurely supporting Beijing in academic speeches'.

That's it folks - it's a bad idea for an Australian politician to learn Chinese, visit China, or been seen as 'too close' to the dictatorial regime, not because of its clear record of (recent) human rights abuses, but because it might offend the Japanese.

Again, it goes without saying that, whilst both the Coalition and ALP leaders are uncritically pro-American, this position is beyond scrutiny. Even if human rights in the US are looking increasingly shonky, (even to the Chinese, ironically), Shanahan's boss thinks it essential that an American-Australian alliance continues without question. The opinions of Australia's neighbours, or even Australians themselves, apparently do not matter. When it comes to criticism, the US is off-limits; not so China. Of course, Shanahan's selective silence on these matters says far more than his vacuous criticisms of Rudd.

Incidentally, on the topic of our neighbours' perceptions of Australia, the support shown to embattled and allegedly racist fuckwit Alan Jones by our leaders will do nothing to enhance Australia's image, especially when some neighbours already associate Australia with 'white supremacy'.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007


Intellect is often at issue when discussing the exploits of this guy:

Particularly in relation to the vexed question of Iraq:

This shouldn't be surprising, when we remember that this guy has given us such gems of oratory as:

'I'm the commander — see, I don't need to explain — I do not need to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being president'.


'I'm also not very analytical. You know I don't spend a lot of time thinking about myself, about why I do things'.

Among others.

Clearly, the guy isn't 'very analytical'. Beyond the apparent imbecility, it is often further presumed, both popularly, and among the more 'critical' sections of the media, that this guy is actually at the mercy of these guys:

The problem is, however, that this is precisely the message from the media that allows voters to identify with this guy - after all, most of us are a little incompetent at times, most of us are at times the victims of malevolent (and in Bush's case, moustachioed) forces. Being able to identify with a candidate is important when your elections are as much about 'personality' as they are about policy. And, as any psychoanalyst will tell you, identification can be a very powerful thing, irrespective of whether you are an average family person:

Or a core part of the right-wing constituency:

When we, who presume ourselves to be among the non-stoopids, characterise the likes of Bush as imbecilic, we tend to forget that, if we live in Australia or the US, we are part of an aggressively anti-intellectual, consumerist culture:

In short, we forget that stupidity, marketed well, can win votes. Bush has gone out of his way to promote himself as a 'down home', bumbling kinda guy. The non-stupids have, unwittingly and indirectly, made (the stupid) Bush more palatable, by facilitating identification with him.

The tragedy of this is two-fold; firstly, it means that scheming money-grubbers continually win elections (in the US and Australia).

Secondly, it means that discussion about things like the war in Iraq, far from being construed as ethical, is simply reduced to a debate over tactics (the latter being the practical manifestation of 'intellect'). Tactical 'debate' has been characteristic of popular discourse on Iraq for the past few years, whilst the media conveniently forgets that disarmament was the purported goal of the war. A debate that should have occurred on whether it is permissible to 'pre-emptively strike' (i.e. kill) was relegated to the sidelines, in favour of a debate on how the striking might cimply be made more efficient. When almost all of the disastrous consequences of the invasion were entirely predictable, it is only the most disingenuous of observers who can blithely attribute Iraq's 'problems' to 'resourcing' issues, or tactical blunders.

It goes without saying that, when protesters march in their thousands against Bush, from Beirut to Buenos Aires, it is not precisely in opposition to foolish tactics. Bush's stupidity has been one of his greatest strengths, and it has been one of the Western media's greatest achievements to (almost) completely transform Iraq's catastrophes into mere errors of judgement on the part of the West. This should (but inevitably won't) give food for thought to those lining up warships in the Persian Gulf, about whether the Western world wants to open another door it has no ability (or intention?) to shut.