Catechism

Monday, January 31, 2005

Gunn and Gone

I attended the packed-out supreme court investigation of MUSUi (in liquidation) today, as John Gunn, former CEO of MUSU, took the stand.

It was a hard hitting, rivetting and thoroughly edge-of-the-seat expose into the financial dodgy-dealings of Ray, Crawford and Cass in 2002-3, with an entire forest worth of evidence in literally hundreds of binders and folders of papers, emails, minutes and records.

...

Okay. It was pretty boring, and little of the information that came to light was a surprise, since we already knew most of it.

Brent, formerly of MUSU, was there and may have an update regarding it, putting the connections between Gunn and Sherriff, Cass and Ray, and the infamous Ubar deal in the spotlight.

The downside of my high-falutin jet-setting courtside dilettantism is that when I got home, my palmpilot went and had a brain-paroxysm, necessitating a hard-reset. Thankfully, I was able to restore all the backed-up info on my laptop. However, a recent recording I made, some 50 minutes worth, was lost, since I hadn't backed it up yet. Damnit!

UPDATE:

Brent's entry on the court hearing (now yesterday) reminded me of an interesting tidbit to do with John Gunn's contract, drawn up, presumably, by Darren Ray and Peter Marchenko (although anyone feel free to correct me), which included a clause granting Gunn a fully maintained car that would revert to Gunn in the event of him leaving the job for any reason. He ended up with a $36,000 car. When he left, with his large payout, he kept the car.

Isn't it nice of Darren and Scott to spend our money so freely on their political chums?

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Rightism

As much as I detest the term, I must applaud this blog I just stumbled across, Dissecting Rightism, a response to the fraudulent Dissecting Leftism.

Noel Chrotsky's look at the art of political bullshit, on the 21st anniversary of George Orwell's death, is particuarly interesting.

The Phyrric Victory

Microsoft is planning on requiring legal and legitimate owners of their software to "prove" that their copies of the software are "genuine".

I recently bought a new laptop, which came with a real copy of Windows. When I installed it, I had to type in (twice) a 25 digit legitimising code, to prove that the copy I had wasn't pirated. This was tiresome and inconvenient, since really, the issue isn't with me, but between Microsoft and the company I bought the copy of Windows from.

The icing on the cake this time is that Microsoft will require the verifying code before you can download security patches. Pirated versions of Windows will not be allowed to download security patches.

In my view, this will have several effects.

Firstly, it means that in a few years, once Microsoft has started their plan, the many many computers with pirated versions of Windows will be left unprotected against the hoard of mal-ware, spy-ware and virus writers on the net. Left unprotected, they will become like wandering plague rats, spreading their viruses, their spy-ware, their spam-bots and so on everywhere they go. This is bad for most users, since it means that inboxes will continue to be flooded with spam, and unprotected computers (for whatever reason) will be put at increased risk.

Secondly, it means that people who don't want to jump through yet another hoop, or who resent having to prove that they legitimately purchased software, or are lazy, may finally be given the impetus to change operating systems. Even though I have legally purchased my copy of Windows, by the middle of the year, when Microsoft requires that I yet again prove my copy is legitimate, I may decide that it isn't worth the trouble, and just change OS, to Linux or some other Open Source system. I've been meaning to have changed for some time, and this may be the final shove that makes me abandon Microsuck for good.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Of Comics and Beazers

While the clock counts down to the Wednesday deadline, I decided to whip this up, after a discussion at the Young Labor Left function at Trades Hall last night. Jenny Macklin and Brain Daley (Vic ALP President and Secretary of the Vic LHMU) gave brief talks to a crowd of about seventy or so people, then took questions.

After having a few words with Jenny about the re-ascent of Big Kim, I then debated with a friend Howard's likely agenda.


(I should thank the Governor General, for putting me on to Photobucket. Cheers Sedgwick! Comics and other illustrations will continue as normal.)

Anyway, Jenny was predictably close-mouthed about Beazers; her most insightful comment is one that gives me considerable concern. The ALP leadership ballot effectively took place over the course of a few weeks, rather than five minutes in the Canberra caucus room. Jenny questioned the need to stand or contest a ballot when the outcome was already known.

Another friend of mine at the YLL function later retorted "democracy is divisive". I have to agree with the irony. It indicates something is wrong in the state of the FPLP if anything but an uncontested ballot indicates treachery, disunity or dissent. It was clear prior to the uncontested ballot on Friday that there were at least three "camps". A ballot tends to release tension, give "mandates" and share power between factions (in the case of multi-member ballots). Since there was no ballot, no tension in the FPLP has been released, and is just as potentially divisive as under the post-election loss Latham. (This is not to say that ballots always resolve things-- it was famously not the case under Simon Crean.)

Jenny seemed upbeat about the future. I have to say that Beazers may be the person to "unify" the party, but since he and his party backers surround themselves with poll-driven advisors, as soon as there is a slip in popularity, it could be all over.

The ALP has three years in opposition with a government that controls both Houses. This is a three year opportunity to be the opposition we are always supposed to be.

(With thanks to Comrade Hogan.)

UPDATE:

Which reminds me. Anyone that wants to either post/copy any of my comics for their own blog, or for any purpose at all, feel free, so long as you leave my little "aw 2005" on the image.

Problems

I am having problems with hello at the moment, and so cannot upload any of my most recent comics.

If you know of any alternate image hosting, please email me.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

A regular Super-Starr

Ringo Starr has teamed up with Stan Lee, creator of Spider Man and X-Men, to voice a super-hero based on himself.

Although Ringo has been portrayed as a cartoon character before in The Beatles cartoon and the Yellow Submarine movie, the only other time he has played himself in a cartoon was he guest starred in The Simpsons.

"This is going to be one of the most exciting adventures I've had all day" said Ringo in a statement. "What a terrific opportunity to meet and work with the great Stan Lee. I'm so excited to become a 'reluctant superhero'".


You can just tell Starr is champing at the bit. "This is going to be one of the most exciting adventures I've had all day"!


Poor Aunty

I happened to tune into Our Aunty's 7PM News tonight. I had heard that they were retiring the 20 year old intro music, and replacing it with a "jazzed up" version. I didn't realise just how absolutely craptacularly fucking shitastic the new intro is.

It is really awful.

Unfortunately, even if I wrote to Our Aunty, it wouldn't do anything. They have already said they are preparing special shredders to dispose of all the hate-mail.

Asbestos Kills. James Hardie Knew

James Hardie, that generous and caring company responsible for the deaths and illness of thousands of Australian workers, is now under fire in Asia and the Pacific. Aparently they lied and made their workers sick not just in Australia, but also in New Zealand, and Indonesia.
The Netherlands-based firm is under pressure to extend the deal, initially worth 1.5 billion Australian dollars (1.15 billion US), to thousands of victims in Asia and the Pacific, The Australian newspaper said.

Union leaders and politicians have called on the company to pay compensation in countries where it manufactured or sold asbestos products on the same terms as the Australian deal, it said.

Specifically cited were New Zealand, where James Hardie made asbestos products for 45 years, and Indonesia, where a company that acquired its factory in 1985 was still producing asbestos goods, the newspaper said.

"These are people who have suffered because of James Hardie's products and their lives have been cut short or debilitated," Andrew Little, national secretary of the New Zealand Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union told the newspaper.

I have no doubt that James Hardie will continue to weasel its way out of any liability. In countries like Indonesia and other Asia-Pacific nations, there are few protections for workers, and I expect that it is the same in New Zealand, where industrial laws protecting workers were all but abolished by successive Tory governments.

There needs to be comprehensive international laws (such as industrial manslaughter laws) which make individuals in companies responsible for the injuries committed by the company with their knowledge, consent or authority.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Comicblogging

As I mentioned below, I'm putting together the NYLL Journal at the moment. There was some white-space, so I decided to quickly knock up a comic to fill it.

There is something cathartic about drawing comics. As a friend of mine commented, "Why are you using your powers for evil?" Comics aren't art, and the only real skill involved is commentary (this can be quite the skill though).

About a year ago, I used to draw a lot. I have sketchbooks filled with illustrations, doodles, landscapes, scenes, and much much more. 2004 was the great drought; the only illustrations I did were for Hermes Portal, or comics for newsletters, magazines or journals.

Maybe in 2005, it will be different. But in the meantime...

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Shittest Thing Ever

"If you make your way to North Melbourne Station, I'll pick you up."

"North Melbourne? Isn't Footscray closer?"

"North Melbourne is fine, not Footscray."

"Okay, I'll sms you when I get to North Melbourne."

"See you then."

...

Immediately after I send an sms saying "I'm at North Melbourne now", my phone's battery stops working. "That's okay," I think, "he know's I'm at North Melbourne."

...

An hour and a half later, I'm back at home, listening to four voice mail messages.

"I got your sms, so I'll see you at Footscray in five minutes."

"I'm waiting at Footscray. Where are you?"

"Call me. I'm under the footbridge."

"Obviously our plans went awry. Call me on #."

...

Shittest Thing Ever.

Busy

I have been quite busy over the past few days.

A group of friends came over from Adelaide, and we all attended a gaming convention, Arcanacon, for which my friends and I were running a game. Late nights and early mornings.

This was compounded by me needing to get my draft third chapter to my supervisor, which I managed to do. I'm writing this entry before heading into uni to see him about it.

Anyway, I am also currently putting together the National Young Labor Left Journal, designing its look, cover, etc. After putting in all the articles, noting in some cases the spaces at the end of articles, I decided to do some comics for some of the articles.

Enjoy.







Saturday, January 22, 2005

10x10

The Waya pointed me towards a really odd, but visually interesting news source.
10x10 reads RSS feeds from news sites around the web, finds correlating pictures, and ranks the top 100 mentions. From this it formulates the 10x10 square of the top 100 pictures in the news. Interesting approach to news collation.
Neat.

Friday, January 21, 2005

I Endorse Tillops for Labor Leader

It is a time for unity and solidarity. The only person who can bring this to the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party is strong-man Tillops.
But let me just say this, people often complain that Labor is drifting too far to the right of the political spectrum. To that I say, if you want to see a strong left-wing ALP that's not afraid to engage in class warfare, support the disadvantaged, tax the rich, brutalise multinationals and stick it to the arselickers at each and every Question Time, then you too share the dream of a Tillops Labor government.
I entirely endorse Tillops for position of Leader of the Federal Australian Labor Party.

He is the right person for the job and will be a uniter, not a divider.

Like many others in the FPLP, I am working as hard as I can do ensure that come ballot day, he has the numbers.



UPDATE:

Numbers For Tillops:

ms fits

The Sherrif

Red Rob

Agent FareEvader

Brent

Alex White

Buck Fudd

GuruAnn

Desci

Numbers Against Tillops:

Liam "Rooster Ramjet" Hogan

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Vandals

(Via whatROOLYhappened.)

A new barbarian wave is washing across the world, erradicating all traces of any pre-existant society or culture, destroying a people's national heritage and annihilating four thousand years of history.

US and Coalition troops are defacing Babylonian monuments and disrupting archaeological sites, a Guardian Unlimited special report tells.

As a historian, I am deeply dismayed at this cultural vandalism. Bush is the new Attila, riding across the nations of the world and despoiling every human achievement and desolating our history.

The level of damage is inconceivable.

History tells us that savage destruction of monuments, often during war is most often perpetrated by uncivilised hoards, or by states with little extant cultural history of their own.

History also further tells us that one of the worst crimes judged by later ages is the defacing or destruction of historical monuments: the Acropolis, the monasteries at Ravenna and Avignon, the Pyramids and Sphinx, Indigenous archaeological sites, etc.

"They created a desolation, and called it peace."

Writer's Block

I am suffering from writer's block at the moment. A severe case. I have to hand in a draft chapter of my thesis on Friday, some 3000 words. I'm about 2,700 words in, so it's not there is no chronic seriousness, but there are some considerable holes in my evidence at the moment.

In any case, here is the "introduction" of chapter three. At this stage it still needs to be revised once I've got the entire chapter. I will probably move things about, paragraph order, or tighten things up.

Someone recently suggested that putting samples of my drafts on this blog was not a good idea-- that I should only put up the "polished" finish. This blog was partly created for me to consider my thesis, and I found my ponderings earlier to be useful, in particular the draft plan. Because this is just a blog, I don't feel a need to put up polished versions. You can all wait for the final thing. However, some friends have noted that the most interesting entries on this blog are the ones regarding my thesis.

For those of you who are interested in re-familiarising yourself with my earlier chapter, check here, or you could read my thesis plan.

Anyway, here is the intro:

+++

‘Give me the earth purified of heretics, your majesty’ implored Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, ‘and I will give you heaven in return.’[1] Thus, the end of religious toleration in the Empire was proclaimed,[2] and was followed in 391CE by imperial laws proscribing pagan worship. Discord and chaos was one great fear of the Christian (and pagan) Emperors, and discord in faith was one cause for the summa divinitas to be ‘moved to wrath’. The Christian Emperors therefore we‘Give me the earth purified of heretics, your majesty’ implored Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, ‘and I will give you heaven in return.’ Thus, the end of religious toleration in the Empire was proclaimed, and was followed in 391CE by imperial laws proscribing pagan worship. Discord and chaos was one great fear of the Christian (and pagan) Emperors, and discord in faith was one cause for the summa divinitas to be ‘moved to wrath’. The Christian Emperors therefore were eager to ensure unity and stamp out discord in practice and also in the altern intellectuals.[3] Christian elites were becoming increasingly influential but pagan philosophy and religion still held the weight of a thousand years of tradition and cultural inertia, an inertia that even influenced church leaders.[4]

The institutional structures of the Christian Church were unlike any equivalent pagan religious leader,[5] and within this unprecedented form of uni-polar authority in dominance, it was no longer acceptable to see as legitimate certain other faiths. With a limit to the amount of negotiation Christian leaders were willing to undertake, any pagan activity or thought beyond that limit had to be de-legitimised, or risk undermining the new Christian era’s authority. The form of this delegitimisation was directed primarily at the elites within pagan circles, aimed to re-imagine the history of the Roman state and had little to do with popular (mass) pagan practices, which was characterised in the fourth century as ‘If not dying’ then ‘fading’.[6]

Augustinian Christianity linked aggressive conversion of non-Christians to the spiritual well-being of the faithful: ‘It follows, therefore, that he [the faithful Christian] will be concerned also that his neighbour should love god, since he is told to love his neighbour as himself’.[7] Such concern for the ‘well-being’ of one’s ungodly neighbours, scripturally sanctioned in 1 Timothy 5:8, granted the faithful Augustinian heavily direction to extend Christ’s dominion ‘from a dutiful concern for the interests of others’.[8] With Christians now in senior imperial positions, including Emperor, Augustine believed that imperial power could be used as a vehicle of Providence, but whose entire good fortune rested upon God’s will.[9] The Africa in which Augustine lived and preached was one filled with violence: imperial-sanctioned violence against pagans and inter-Christian schismatic violence.[10] The very basis of Augustinian Christianity’s supernatural authority was undermined by the schismatics and pagans alike, leading the Bishop of Hippo to declare ‘There is no salvation outside the Church!’[11]

Footnotes
1. Citation from A. H. M. Jones, The Later Roman Empire 284-602: A Social, Economic, and Administrative Survey, Volume II, p.935
2. Peter Brown, Authority and the Sacred, p.31
3. A. H. M. Jones, p.934; also Frend, ‘XIII: Augustine’s reactions to the barbarian invasions of the West, 407-417: Some comparisons with his western contemporaries’, in Orthodoxy, Paganism and Dissent in the Early Christian Centuries, p.254
4. Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians, p.494
5. RLF, Pagans and Christians, p.495, 545
6. RLF, Pagans and Christians, p.574
7. DCD, XIX, 14, p.873
8. DCD, XIX, 14, p.874
9. Frend, ‘XIII: Augustine’s reactions to the barbarian invasions of the West, 407-417: Some comparisons with his western contemporaries’, p.249
10. H. Daniel-Rops, The Church in the Dark Ages, Audrey Butler (trans), p.23
11. H. Daniel-Rops, p.26, citing Augustine

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Snap

Latho resigned, not only as Leader of the Labor Party, but also as member for Werriwa.

While his leadership resignation is unsurprising, his leaving politics altogether impresses upon me the seriousness of his illness.

I now fully expect Beazers, aka Big Kim, to return to the leadership position; I also expect, as a result, a large number of people deciding not to renew their memberships this year.

UPDATE:

Listening to the live media conferences of Bomber and Rudder. Looks like its Beazers.

UPDATE II:

Some interesting commentary over at Kick & Scream. Not sure whether Rob supports Beazers or not. I certainly don't, but am unsure who would be better...

UPDATE III:

You can see the footage of Latho's resignation here. As Blair S. Fairman points out, he does not look well.

Monday, January 17, 2005

This cannot go uncommented on

About to leave to attend a working group, I decided to check this blog's stats.

What should come up but the search term: "lleyton hewett shirt less pic".

"Woah!" I thought, "how on earth did that search term end up pointing at my blog?"

And then I thought "who on earth would search for shirtless lleyton hewitt pics and mispell his name?"

UPDATE:

Two other odd search terms. You can always tell a quality blog by the tenor of the search terms that find them.
UPDATE II:

Huh?

Sunday, January 16, 2005

The challenges facing the student movement (conclusions)

Conclusion
The student movement (and the left in general) needs a serious and comprehensive strategy to guide its activities in the short, mid and long term. Too much of our activity is merely reactionism to conservative attacks, opportunism, or fruitless and goaless "campaigning". In short, we need a vision.

The language we use to express our ideas needs to be re-imagined so as to engage with a new and changed audience: a public that has accepted the nihilistic views of neo-conservatism.

We need to reconnect the disparate communities and groups that have been successfully divided and disenfranchised by the neo-conservatives. Student activists must engage in the debate, and attempt to change its terms.

Finally, we must provide a well-considered, solid and positive progressive/left alternative to neo-conservatism.

Organising & Strategising
We must identify our long term and short term goals, the strengths and weaknesses of ourselves and our opponents, and the resources that we (and they) can rely on. In order to work towards success, concrete goals, benchmarks and achievements must be worked out.

Without this, the student movement will float along in a vacuum with no comprehension of its failings or successes. Such a guide would allow for a more coherent approach in resisting the assaults by the right, and in organising a progressive social change on campus and in the community.

Community Building
The student movement also needs to engage more closely with the community and with other groups as well as international activists. We often expect unions and other-issue activists to support and aid our activities without responding in kind. Unionism and community groups are underthreat around Australia. A coherent and coordinated approach to resisting this would not only cohere the left, but also go some way to the development of a counter-hegemony.

Engaging in the national debate
The debate in Australia around higher education is one that has been successfully dominated by right wing reactionary forces. In the face of this, the student movement has resorted to empty rhetoric and platitudes, without convincingly addressing or opposing the views of neo-conservative attacks.

For example, faced with the Nelson Reforms to higher education, the student movement resorted to fear-mongering and attacks against Brendan Nelson. In particular, the student movement was unnecessarily obsessed with the proposed 25% HECS fee increase. This is a perfect instance of the Liberals creating a windmill that we quixotically jousted against. There is almost no evidence in the many studies that have been conducted that high HECS fees (or HECS fees at all) concern the majority of students. People with detailed knowledge of economics, personal debt, foresight, etc. are more than aware that HECS debt is a massive burden later in life. However, the HECS debate was lost when it was introduced.

We must move beyond dead debates and recognise that HECS is very popular with the average student, and is a concept that is difficult to attack: the idea of having wealthy lawyers pay for their fees is attractive, and HECS has a repayment threshold, so most people think they will only pay it back when they are in a position to afford it. We can make the argument that higher (/any) education is primarily a public benefit, and we must take this beyond university course fees.

Of far more worry is access equity, such as up-front, start-up or living costs: union fees, course readers and books, and rent, food and amenities. These things are a proven, demonstrable and empirical deterrent to people accessing higher education, and there is a lot of quantitative evidence to this effect. TAFE is an instance of a system that is predominantly used by people from low socio-economic backgrounds who are required to pay up-front fees, sometimes in the $1000s. Contrast this to university education where most students are from middle or upper-class backgrounds and receive considerable government subsidy (something akin to $1 in every $3 or $4) and it is easy to see why HECS is difficult to criticise.

Voluntary student unionism is another issue, more current than Nelson's attacks. VSU is a benign sounding and there has been little coherent or reasoned defence of student unionism in its current form. (Edit: some of my thoughts can be found here and here.) There have been a number of responses from the student movement, but at the moment they appear to be coalescing into two camps: the "campaign" camp and the "lobby" camp. Unfortunately the anti-VSU movement is already fragmenting, and so has provided no serious counter-argument to that put forth by Nelson.

Providing Constructive Alternatives
The student movement and the left come under constant assaults aimed at undermining its financial and governing credibility. We then fall into the trap of being confined in or obsessed with that. The Victorian State Labor government for example is still suffering from the criticisms directed at it from the Liberals from fallout over the Cain/Kerner Labor Government. In response, Labor has decided that it will maintain a considerable (and ridiculous) operating surplus, at the expense of its progressive social agenda. Likewise, Labor is seen as high taxing, high spending when in Federal government, a charge that is demonstrably and definitely false.

A similar tactic is used in student politics, with charges leveled that left-wing unions foster violence, waste money on junkets to Woomera or on posters, leaflets and other non-service activism.

However, due to the nature of the public debate, we cannot merely ignore or disregard these attacks. Clearly there is an expectation now in the minds of the general public (student or otherwise) that governments or student unions be responsible and solvent. Rather than explain that governments can operate at a debt (and that a national debt can be healthy or productive) or student unions are primarily representative and activist bodies, we need to clearly demonstrate that the left is responsible on all levels.

Having established this objectively (i.e. through financial statements, etc), we can then move on to explaining what we believe are important issues: we answer within the context of the debate and then move forwards to attempt to set out our own terms. This cannot be done however without first addressing criticisms against us.

Strategy Example
Goals
Long term: the socialist objective, progressive socialism, true democracy, material/social equality, etc.
Mid term: free, universal, high quality education, vibrant student culture and broad-based activism, progressive Labor governments and strong, representative unionism, dissolution of right-wing legitimacy.
Short term: addressing student apathy, broader student activism and relevancy of student unionism, restoring student activist’s reputation, illustration of the right’s dishonesty and failings.

Strengths
Student activists: commitment and passion, integrity, wide-ranging support amongst left-wing students.
Neo-conservatives: a sense of legitimacy, organisation and material/monetary/institutional support, no/weak/undeveloped morality.

Weaknesses
Student activists: disorganised, marginalised from wider student body, little material/institutional support.
Neo-conservatives: undermined by contradictory rhetoric/policy, deformed notions of ethics and decency.

Hegemony and class

"Conspicuous indignation" that empathising tool used by conservatives to gain the support of the extreme religious-right and to attempt to hijack society's shared mores, is not a method used exclusively by the "right".

This debate is being had over at Troppo Armadillo, with Mark Bahnisch arguing that
A large part of the difficulty is that the discourse of the populist Right is also often characterised by irrationalism and hyperbolic abuse.
Quite a while ago, in fact, during the Thatcher-Regan era, there developed the authoritarian populism that is now the dominant ideology of neo-conservatism, a potent combination of:
anti-bureaucratic, individualistic sentiment with nationalism and social conservatism; a politics which appeals to everything in common popular sentiment which resonates with an authoritarian political agenda.
(Stuart Hall, Bob Jessop, Kevin Bonnet, Simon Bromley and Tom Ling are best sources for the hegemony of AP. New Labour in Britain has not significantly reversed the authoritarian populism trend in my view.)

The argument that the left has controlled the debate in public-political discourse is a ridiculous furphey. Mass media and the journalists and intellectuals which are employed and published subconsciously (or consciously) censor themselves (if they hold liberal, left-views), or are active proponents of a right-wing world view. Charges of "armies of political correctness, liberal media and feminazis" venture into the realm of fantasy-- the same realms which hold onto notions of Jewish conspiracies, Freemasonic New World Orders and Soviet-era tectonic plate-technology-- in short, incredible, untrue and bigotted.

We can see that public discourse and "common-sense" is currently held (although contested) by conservatism simply by asking to what "extent that it offers an integrated system of values and beliefs that is supportive of the established social order and which project a particular set of class interests as the general interest." Clearly, I think, the answer is that conservative (that is, ruling-class) forces have set their own interests as "general interests" above those of subordinate classes.

As Mark (and Tim Dunlop) points out, the left has thus far failed to "control" the debate due to:
the incoherence of many on the Left's beliefs about the world and politics, and the inability of postmodern Left thought to generate truth claims and a universalism to counter the hegemonic discourse of "there is no alternative", as Maggie Thatcher famously put it.
Consensus and the "common-sense" world view is always contested however. Pressure by moral forces and the success of notions of human rights meant that after the failure of Bush's likkudist ideology to gain global (or even national) support, he was forced to fall back to pleas of avenging Saddam's human right's abuses and restoring (/imposing) democracy when justifyin the Iraq War.

As Chris Shiel has pointed out, it is a war of position, and that war occurs within the left as well.

I mentioned above that "conspicuous indignation" was not used exclusively by the right. In my view, "conspicuous indignation" is a method by which moral forces attempt to dominate a particular field. In fact, "conspicuous indignation" is essentially moralistic and furthermore, a political tactic of the altern classes. Crises and splits occur within as well as between classes. The early (pre-Marx) socialists were largely from wealthy backgrounds; their form of socialism was moralistic, that is, utopian, judging, reforming and based upon historically obsolete superstructure. Thus, the left today is filled with moralising forces, making use of the same "conspicuous indignation" employed by conservative forces (they are, afterall, drawn from the same social class).

So, what does this mean?

Basically, that we are witnessing a period of re-adjustment in social forces. Subordinate political forces are being subjected to a negotiated process of accomodation in order to secure the altern-group's rule. Symbols, rhetoric and tactics are appropriated through the accomodation in a manner intended to not seriously upset the social order. That there is still conflict and tension within the particular social class indicates the fact that any re-adjustment or shift of the "historical bloc" can never be absolute or complete, nor will it resolve the crisis.

Remember, class matters kids.

"lead to direct foreign intervention"

In response to Comrade Hogan's fantasy A-Team, a friend of mine emailed me his thoughts on an all-star ALP Front Bench.

The email is as follows:
Hi Alex,

This is a thoroughly disturbing cabinet....

Now for the real super cabinet [Note election of such cabinet WILL lead to direct foreign intervention by multinational interests and intelligence services]

Leader: I think that the leader could only be John Curtin. Susan Ryan, whilst coming from a principled position as Education Minister (1983-87) is not what I'd want as a leader. Curtin led Australia through WW2 and set the stage for successful reconstruction in the post-war years. Furthermore, his ability to speak to people, transcend the factional morass and lead a united
caucus has not been equaled in ALP history.

Treasurer: Ben Chifley. A remarkable person, self taught economist and policy maker. Teamed with a capable Secretary of Treasurery like "Nugget" H.C. Coombs, such a team would be able impliment a thorough going economic policy for the future. Watch out private banking!!

Enviroment: Moss Cass (Whitlam's Enviro Minister). Victorian SL with a really big beard, a person who did not come from the green movement, but gave the Ministry an intensely radical character. Better than Garrett in this regard, as he can not be regarded as a sell out or political
opportunist.

Immigration/Multicultural Affairs: Al Grassby

Foreign Affairs: H.V. Evatt. Evatt, whilst being a brilliant lawyer, his role in establishing the UN and conducting the Foreign Office during WW2 in a particularily independant manner seals his position as Foreign Minister

Trade Minister: E. G. Whitlam. This is great...with Evatt as foreign minister, Whitlam would have to answer to him...one diety bowing to another! Whitlam loved trips OS, so this would suit him fine.

Defence: Joan Kirner - she would act as a positive influence in breaking down stereotypes around military policy and have a humanitarian approach in utilizing the armed services for socially beneficial ends.

Urban and Regional Development: Tom Uren. NSW Left. Uren's record in this ministry speaks for itself.

Industrial Relations: Clyde Cameron. A shearer by trade and factional warlord by nature, he was the IR minister under Whitlam. Able to transcend the union-party divide and reach concensus in a genuine manner.

Education: George Georges. Qld Left Senator. A top unionist, eventually forced to resign because he wouldn't tow the line over Hawke's far right policies, he would make a great Education minister to put through expansive public education programs.

Health: Maurice Blackburn or Frank Anstey two old lefties who knew the social cost of the Depression and would work from that mindset as effective Health ministers. Or if we want to get adventurist, we can get the senior party negotiators to go to the CPA and arrange for Dr Gerald O'Day to resign and stand as an ALP candidate in the election, sort of like a "unity ticket". He was a great champion of the people, his medical background and belief in socialized medical care would be an asset to the party.

Minnerals and Energy: R.F.X. Connor. Now this is a bloke with vision!!! "The Strangler" would, under such a goverment, be able to implement the greatest threat to capitalism Australia has ever seen - the PMA in its full form. Through this we could "buy back the farm"-all those mineral resources sold at a pitance during the 1960s. Coal, oil, gas, uranium, bauxite, petro-chemicals, iron, copper, nickel- they were all on his hit list.

Justice: This is a hard one...anyone from this short list: Ted Laurie QC, Rob Stary, Hugh Gordon, Bill Slater, Clyde Holding, Gareth Evans, Clive Evatt etc.

Attorney-General/Leader in Senate: Lionel Murphy. Brilliant QC and later a High Court judge, he was a sophisticated yet down to earth AG under Whitlam. Family Court, French Nuclear Testing Case, Legal Aid and creative advice on Government power (Loan structures for the Fed Govt, s 96 grant power etc) are testament to this.

Veterans Affairs: Arthur Geitzelt. NSW Left.

Women's: Joan Coxsedge. Vic SL, an outspoken socialist, and a great champion of women's rights.

Deputy Leader, Senate: Doris Blackburn

Finance Minister/Deputy Leader Lower House: Dr Jim Cairns. Cairns understood the power of finance and felt the brunt of a hostile civil service. The finance ministry could be developed as a counter balance to the inherently conservative Treasury, and stacked full of ALP appointees.

Fed Sec ALP: Bill Hartley. Vic Sec (1963-70), SL hardliner, expelled from ALP 1986 for supporting Idi Amin, claiming ALP Exec was "controlled by foreign powers", using Vic ALP radio to attack Bob Hawke. Okay, so he's pretty hardcore but if we ever need $500,0000 from undisclosed (read Iraqi Ba'ath Party) sources, he'll be the guy to talk to.

Fed Pres ALP: Ray Geitzelt, NSW Steering Committee and MWU power broker.

So that's my cabinet. Unrealistic? Yes. Unstoppable? For sure.
Solid gold.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

So... yeah

I woke up this morning minus most of my internal organs, thanks to the grogblogging thang last night.

It seems the most Melbourne grogbloggers are still sleeping off the effects of the rather extravagent evening, so this may be the first after-grogblog blog.

There isn't much to say. It was better than Sydney (aka Stinktown) could ever hope to achieve. Most everyone was pleasant. Only two right-wingers made an appearance (Marcel White avoided being glassed in the face by several friends of mine waiting around the corner by not attending, despite promising to). Several of my suspicions were confirmed. I finally met Joseph of Make-Believe fame (edit: name corrected). I also met Clem, ms fits, Agent FareEvader (who admitted to recruiting Ruth to SA) and the esteemed Brent (aka Melbourne Scribe, who confessed that he printed out my earlier entry to read on the train). There were only three Pandagate t-shirts present, one of them mine.

I may update this entry with some photos from my extraordinarily bad camera-phone.

Friday, January 14, 2005

The challenges facing the student movement (part one)

Note: This is a discussion document originally written during the 2004 mid-year Education Conference in Sydney. Its aim was to promote discussion within ALS. I have now decided to post it here. The second part, "Conclusion" will be posted sometime over the weekend. I think a lot of what I say here is applicable to general activism/ists and the left in Australia. I have made minor revisions and updates.

Preamble
The student movement is suffering from an inability to adapt to the dominance of the neo-conservative forces in Australia. What does this mean? Student activists are in danger of being entirely left behind in the national education debate.

We need to recognise that Australia is substantially different now and many of the old arguments, which previously had credence and legitimacy have now fallen on the wayside after a decade of assault from neo-conservatism.

Recognising a changed debate
The student movement must realise that the terms of debate that define student activism have changed dramatically since the eighties and early nineties. Since then, there has been a dramatic and systematic de-legitimisation of activist and socialist principles. Reactionary conservative and neo-Liberal forces have successfully challenged leftist assumptions and values. This is something that has happened since the eighties and nineties, as a reaction to the militancy of the seventies, of a broad and organised student movement. Unfortunately, I argue that the student movement has not responded to this changed circumstance.

There are several features of neo-conservatism “authoritarian populism” which characterise the Howard Government and conservatism around the world.

1. reactionism couched in liberalism/moralism
2. extreme individualism
3. decline of moderate forces
4. rigid and effective organisation
5. persistent assaults on socialist/left values and groups

1. Reactionism and Liberalism/moralism
This trait of neo-conservatism means that it characterises itself and its policies in friendly, pro-humanist and moralist terms, while dismantling pro-community institutions and values. We can see this in the rhetoric of the Howard Government, with its “Backing Australia’s Future”, “Medicare-Plus”, and “Australia Says Yes to Refugees”, and Bush’s “No Child Left Behind”. Neo-conservatives use “soft” language to justify its policies. Underneath this veneer of liberalism are dangerous, reactionary policies which are intended to undermine social cohesion and dismantle any progressive institutions that remain, such as Medicare and open higher education.

Student activists need to realise that the neo-conservatives have managed to make their views “normative”, which has partly been aided by successful left lobbying on ethical and social issues. The Howard Government uses liberal-sound rhetoric and appeals to so-called “community values” and moralism to justify its actions.

In this context, we must recognise that we can no longer credibly label neo-conservative forces as such within the wider community. Terms such as “fascist” and similar appellations no longer resonate in the minds of students or the general community. Likewise, charges of conservatism and the like, as pejoratives, are no longer effective.

Our language and articulation needs to change to this circumstance. At the moment we are alienating ourselves from the student body by refusing to engage with the terms of debate. Our language is archaic and largely seen as relics of the true liberalism and progressive movements of the seventies. Furthermore, marxist/socialist language no longer strikes a chord. This doesn’t invalidate marxist or socialist theories or ideas, but they are no longer useful in communication with the general public, or in coherently explaining our positions.

1. Reactionary dismantling of progressive institutions and values (e.g. Medicare, abolition of ATSIC, tiered structure of education).
2. Using liberal, progressive language to justify reactionary policies.
3. Failure of traditional left-criticism and language to explain this new circumstance.

2. Extreme individualism
In today’s society, the normative notion of the sovereignty of the individual has replaced community or society values. Television and mass-media creates the cult of the individual, with the old game-shows of the eighties and nineties (family or team games) being replaced by shows where only individuals can win. This movement is strongest in the USA, and is only just emerging in Europe; in Asia and elsewhere, it is not present to any credible extent. Australia is rapidly embracing the idea of extreme individualism.

We should recognise of course that individualism is a result of corporatism and capitalism, and that it is a result of so-called “Free Market” values. In particular, it is a characteristic of the “divide and conquer” tactics used by big business to maintain its hegemony. By emphasising the individual, neo-conservatism alienates people from those with whom they have most in common: other students, workers, etc.

This alienation is both a product and a cause of rampant consumerism, and also on-campus apathy (one of the primary crises facing student activism). However, the dominance of neo-conservative rhetoric means that we cannot explain individualism in the above terms.

Extreme individualism has replaced the sense of community and common culture which is required for a vibrant student campus culture and for community activism. Extreme individualism, as the norm, attacks any sense of solidarity by its nature. It creates paranoia towards groups, and fear of losing “identity”, with the way of expression being consumption.

The left needs to find a way to explain the problems of this extreme individualism and develop ways to combat it, without resorting to staid, antique leftist language. We also need to find a way to re-legitimise community values without directly attacking this extreme individualism. The cult of the individual has gained supremacy. As above, we need to recognise a changed debate; attacking this individualism would be seen as an attack of individuals. If community/social values return, then it will necessarily allow for the replacement of individualism.

It is important that I state that individualism is not, in itself, dangerous or reactionary, but rather, the extreme form propagated by big business is, indeed, very destructive. People are social creatures and to live wholly, we must exist, live and belong within a community which values us as both unique persons, and also as valued members of the community. Within communities and groups, individuals are granted their true expression.

1. Individualism is created by emphasising the self in opposition and distinction too other individuals rather than identifying with other individuals.
2. The cult of the individual is a result of neo-conservative tactics to ensure that societies lose cohesion. This is aimed at creating a consumer culture and ensuring continued hegemony (divide and conquer).
3. The left needs to restore legitimacy to the group without attacking the idea of individualism (which is an exercise in futility); this could be done by emphasising common causes and interests.

3. Decline of moderate forces
This refers specifically to the decline of “small l” liberals as an effective counterweight to the “dries” within the Howard Government (and elsewhere). The result of this is that the Liberal Party has unrestrained extreme neo-conservatism, epitomised by the Howard front-bench. In the past, extreme neo-conservatives were held partly in check in Australia by “wets”, who recognised the validity of community, of social values. Menzies and Fraser were both forces of this moderate right wing (despite how much they were hated by the left in their day). These moderate forces have largely been purged in the Liberal Party, and while there are still “wets” on the front bench, it is abundantly clear that in all their actions, they are entirely “dry”.

This situation is one that we need to try to exploit, as it is one of the few areas that we can drive a wedge into the Liberals. As I will discuss below, the right-wing forces are well-organised, while the left is largely disorganised and fragmented.

The left has an advantage as it is still (correctly) seen as moral and progressive. We need to use this high ground to directly confront the concrete instances of immoral/amoral actions of the right (as opposed to a general critique). We must point out instances of specific lies or betrayals of the right in order to put pressure on “wet” right wing forces to cease their tacit support of the neo-conservatives.

Furthermore, we should encourage moderate forces to confront extremist right wingers within their own groupings, as well as try to make the hypocrisy of the right as public as possible (c.f. the Democrats “Keep the Bastards Honest” motto).

1. Howard has successfully purged the Liberals of “small l” liberals, leaving only neo-conservatives or “dries”.
2. We can use the reliance of the Liberals/neo-conservatives on moralistic/ethical justifications to “name and shame” moderate groups within the Liberals and right wing organisations.
3. The lies, betrayals and deceptions of the Liberal Party and neo-conservatives must be communicated to the wider community in an impartial, objective manner, emphasising their immorality.

4. Rigid and effective organisation
In the past, the left could rely on a disunified or fractured right wing, in particular a balance of power between “wets” and “dries”. Furthermore, in the past, the left was coherent, organised and disciplined (or at least moreso than now). The right has more than recovered its regimented and organised character. Even in the eighties, there were competing, inter-class conflicts within the ruling conservatives that allowed left groups and student activists to effectively campaign.

Today there is tremendous coordination between wider, national neo-conservative groups and local administrators; the Liberal Party communicates with peak corporate associations who synchronise the activities of their members. The recent emergence of Family First is also an example of cohering right-wing elements.

This is most pertinent to students with the links between the Howard Government and the governing bodies of Australia’s universities, the Vice Chancellors. The manner in which Australia’s Vice Chancellors have been complicit with the Howard Government’s policies demonstrates the frightening level of coordination between neo-conservatives in our education system, which goes beyond mere coinciding class interests. There is a deliberate program of coordination at every governmental level between right wing forces to perpetuate their hegemony.

This cohesion is the most difficult aspect of neo-conservatism to oppose or neutralise. Student activists are disempowered and disorganised and face one of the most steadfast, vicious and coordinated attacks in a generation. Our only option is to re-empower ourselves through organisation.

1. The right has organised itself across governing and structural bodies and has effective lines of communication between many sympathetic neo-conservative bodies.
2. This is demonstrated by the coordinated assault on student activism and equitable education in Australia by the Howard Government and the Vice Chancellors.
3. Since we cannot dismantle their organisation, we must counter it by effectively organising ourselves. Specifically, this deals with building relationships and networks with other left activist groups and community groups, such as environmentalists, anti-war groups, animal rights, human rights, and even middle class parent lobby groups. Movements are built through alliances of many disparate groups who come together with a common goal.

5. Persistent assaults on socialist/left values and groups
By this stage, it should be obvious that one of the chief accomplishments of neo-conservatives forces has been their successful de-legitimisation of left and progressive ideas. They have done this by appropriating the language of the left and using it to obfuscate their own reactionary agenda.

Demonisation of and unrestrained ideological assaults against opponents is a defining characteristic of “authoritarian populism”. It is important to understand because it has been so successful in undermining left and progressive groups.

In particular, the left has been characterised as irresponsible, extremist, radical, idealistic, utopian, etc. The reality is, of course, the reverse.

Left groups and student activists must counter this again by presenting well considered, objective accounts of its own successes and of course (as above) the failure of neo-conservative governments and groups.

The sacred cows of the labour movement and the Labor Party, such as the socialist objective, Keynesian economics, common weal over private profit, public ownership of institutions and amenities, amongst other things, have been almost completely discredited. Profit-motive is replacing notions of sharing, community, and humanity.

We must not take for granted a common acceptance in the community or amongst students that these things will be seen as good, achievable or desirable. This does not mean we should cease to work towards them, but rather that we must work to restore them to the public consciousness while altering our language to fit the new circumstances of neo-conservative ideological dominance.

We should also recognise the acquiessence of Howard in the recent Federal Election to the demand for social services and welfare. Howard was required to pledge millions to progammes that in the past would have been labelled as hopelessly “big government”. Of course, he succeded in his bait-n-switch tactics, since the progammes will never be implements in a way that will provide real benefit to those that need it. This necessity by Howard indicates that there is still an undercurrent in Australian's “common-sense” which demands community-based government.

Moralist objections against attacking the right are fruitless and self-destructive. We need to ruthlessly point out the failings and dishonesty of neo-conservatism and do our utmost to behave in an honest, ethical and transparent manner.

In the past a failure by the left to systematically attack neo-conservatism (particularly on campus), in the interest of “not being as bad as them” or holding onto a false sense of “moral cleanliness”, has resulted in nothing more than a deterioration of the left’s credibility in the face of an utterly amoral assault by the right.

1. Demonisation of rival groups is a key characteristic of neo-conservative tactics (e.g. attacks by Howard against gays, Aborigines, refugees, Muslims, people on welfare, etc.).
2. Neo-conservatism chief success has been the de-legitimising of the left.
3. They have painted the left as radical, financially irresponsible, infantile, utopian, etc.
4. We need to discard fabricated and conservative notions of morality which prevents us from “returning fire” (e.g. Michael Moore’s media-legal contingency in the wake of Fahrenheit 911 and being “armed with the truth”).

Reviews

A few days ago, I wrote a review of Ars Magica Fifth Edition. I'm very pleased that in only two or so days, it has been read by over 2,500 people.

It took me ages to get this book, despite it being on my X-Mas Wishlist.

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, feel free to scroll down past Snake Gandhi to the political stuff.