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catallaxy in technical exile

Archive for September 2004

Puncturing the myth of Che Guevara

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Do all those t-shirt wearers really know what they’re identifying themselves with? From a no less credible left of centre, generally left-liberal anti-Bush source than Slate:

The cult of Ernesto Che Guevara is an episode in the moral callousness of our time. Che was a totalitarian. He achieved nothing but disaster. Many of the early leaders of the Cuban Revolution favored a democratic or democratic-socialist direction for the new Cuba. But Che was a mainstay of the hardline pro-Soviet faction, and his faction won. Che presided over the Cuban Revolution’s first firing squads. He founded Cuba’s “labor camp” system—the system that was eventually employed to incarcerate gays, dissidents, and AIDS victims. To get himself killed, and to get a lot of other people killed, was central to Che’s imagination. In the famous essay in which he issued his ringing call for “two, three, many Vietnams,” he also spoke about martyrdom and managed to compose a number of chilling phrases: “Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine. This is what our soldiers must become …”— and so on

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September 30, 2004 at 5:35 pm

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Put a sock in it

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More on The Sydney Morning Herald‘s odd news priorities, at least in their on-line version. This morning under a section called ‘news specials’ is a story about a man caught stealing socks from a clothes line. While no doubt the owners of a ‘harbourside home’ are glad that the boys in blue saved their socks, I’m not sure that a broadsheet newspaper need worry about stories like this one.

Friday update: The SMH is still interested in the sock theft story. Admittedly it is getting a little more interesting – your average petty theft charge is not against someone from Double Bay or enrolled in a LLM, and epsecially not someone from Double Bay and enrolled in a LLM and already out on bail on break and enter charges. But the news priorities still strike me as odd.

Perhaps The Age will report another foiled crime which I witnessed the aftermath of in the Bourke Street Mall yesterday. There was a bit of a commotion around a clown on stilts who was entertaining the kiddies, in the hope that the mums would put a few coins in his upturned hat. As I got closer, a young cop was informing the audience that he had arrested the woman standing handcuffed next to him for ‘trying to steal the clown’s money so she could buy heroin’. A bit of instant shaming to go along with whatever charges she would score back at the station.

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September 30, 2004 at 8:39 am

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Priests and politics

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Need Mark Latham worry about being attacked by Archbishops?

In Australia’s secular culture meddling clerics are unlikely to have much influence. In the 1999-2000 Australian component of the International Social Science Survey, published in a recent book from Federation Press, 75% of respondents agreed with the proposition that ‘religious leaders should not try to influence how people vote in elections’. 62% thought that religious leaders should not try to influence government decisions. So there is hardly a mass constituency waiting for guidance from Archbishops.

Arguably the clergy has limited influence even on their own congregations. Uniting Church clergy appear to be very left-wing, but according to 2001 Australian Election Survey 62% of their congregation voted for right-wing parties. The Catholic hierarchy is generally quite conservative, but 51% of people identifying as Catholics voted for left-wing parties (if we classify the ALP as left).

Like most people, religious leaders are better off sticking to their core business, trying to save souls rather than sway votes.

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September 29, 2004 at 11:19 pm

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Special pleaders?

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Another day, another worthies letter. This time it is from 17 scientists, including such big medical research names as Peter Doherty, Gus Nossal and Graeme Clark, and is an open letter to John Howard and Mark Latham calling for … more medical research funding.

I don’t think this letter raises any of ethical issues surrounding the use of academic titles debated on Catallaxy over the last few days. The three named scientists all know a lot about medical research.

But it does again raise issues of news priorities. Medical reseachers wanting more money for medical research hardly counts as news; I would think it is a given. With academic researchers no matter how much you give them it is never enough. Yet the Sydney Morning Herald put this story on page one this morning. Are they so overcome by Doherty’s Nobel Prize, Nossal’s knighthood, and Clark’s bionic ear work (or is it his Father of the Year award?) that they failed to see this for what it is – conventional interest group special pleading?

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September 29, 2004 at 5:22 pm

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Bob Dylan and the white picket fence

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So word is out that Bob Dylan didn’t really like his hippy fans

US folk legend Bob Dylan reveals in his long-awaited memoir that contrary to his renowned image as an icon of 1960’s counterculture, he was in fact an unwilling rebel who dreamt of a simple nine-to-five existence.

While a generation of hippies and counterculture rebels gyrated to Dylan’s voice and music, the man behind the lyrics reveals he felt a prisoner in his own home where he packed a Colt pistol and Winchester rifle in fear of “rogue radicals”, according to excerpts from Dylan’s memoir …

“The world was absurd … I had very little in common with and knew even less about a generation that I was supposed to be the voice of,” Dylan says.

“I was fantasising about a nine-to-five existence, a house on a tree-lined block with a white picket fence, pink roses in the backyard.

Shock! Horror! Actually anyone who has ever followed Dylan’s work would have long ago realised that he’s never been a conventional leftist minstrel – otherwise he would be a tiresome propagandist rather than the great artist that he is capable of subtle insights into the human condition and great turns of lyricism, as well as the unpredictability and endless capacity to recreate himself. Also, it really isn’t all that surprising that great poets and artists turn out conservative or even reactionary though seemingly left-wing and revolutionary in their youth – the examples of William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Richard Wagner come to mind.
Read the rest of this entry »

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September 28, 2004 at 12:58 am

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Free books for bloggers

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Today I received unsolicited two review copies of books from Allen & Unwin to review. One was Imagining Australia by Duncan, Leigh et al and the other was State Building by Francis Fukuyama. The review copies were sent to my North Sydney work address. In the absence of further information, I can only presume that publishers have begun treating some blogs as part of the mainstream media, and someone from Allen & Unwin came across Catalaxy, Googled me and got my work address to send me these books. Personally it means free books for me so I’m all for it. If the ‘price’ is to write a review on my blog, I’m more than happy to pay.

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September 27, 2004 at 4:52 pm

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Marxist democrat against Beijing

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It’s strange times when a prominent Hong Kong human rights activist is a self-declared Marxist who wears a Che Guevara t-shirt:

Hong Kong’s most colourful politician has served notice to Beijing that he will take the swearing-in oath as a newly elected legislator in the territory but add changes to fit with his prolonged battle for full democracy …

Leung Kwok-hung said on Friday he would add a sentence to say he would declare allegiance to the people of China and Hong Kong despite this possibly resulting in his disqualification.

Hong Kong legislators must choose one of three standard oaths. The 60 returned in elections on September 12 will be sworn into the Legislative Council next month …

“I will add that I will bear allegiance to the people of China and residents of Hong Kong, and fight for democracy, justice, and defend human rights and freedoms,” said Mr Leung, 48, a Marxist activist and protester, clad in his trademark Che Guevara T-shirt.

Or is it that surprising? I think there will come a time when people will rue the day China abandoned ideological Marxism. Because of its free market reforms China is obviously on its way to becoming a world power but it will be a world power with the capacity to rapaciously promote its values and social system if it so chooses. But let’s have no illusions about the vulgar babitts and spivs who comprise a substantial part of Hong Kong’s business community. I am a believer in liberal capitalism as the best means of organising an economy but this doesn’t oblige me to have much faith in (or indeed liking for) capitalists. As the example of Tung Chee Hwa demonstrates (or to take a more extreme case, the big businesses who supported Hitler), these people would have no hestitation about selling out on ‘trivial things’ like basic civil liberties as long as they are assured a stable place for cultivating Mammon. China will probably evolve towards the direction of highly repressed, ‘Brave New World’ type technocratic-fascist dictatorships with a ‘pro-business’ facade such as Singapore. Add to that a streak of nasty ultra-nationalism and Confucian chauvinism that is bursting to come out after decades of being bottled in by a superficial Marxist-internationalist facade and you have a nasty mix. So, no I am no Sinophile and I think Australia has both a strategic as well as principled interest in taking Taiwan’s side (at least verbally) in any future disputes. Ironically I think there is more hope of truly robust liberal democracies evolving in Muslim or Muslim-majority societies like Malaysia and Indonesia.

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September 27, 2004 at 3:09 pm

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