29 June 2014

China dominates Chinese Australia media

John Fitzgerald from ASAN, Swinburne University, has written a piece on why values matter in Australia's relationship with China entitled, oddly enough, precisely that.

You need to pay attention because:
New Zealand Overseas Chinese specialist James To observes that Beijing has gained overwhelming dominance of Chinese language media in Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands following a concerted effort at content placement and media industry networking by China’s embassies and consulates in the region. This effort is part of a larger proactive strategy of “group management, extra-territorial influence, counter-infiltration, and counter subversion” targeting Overseas Chinese communities generally—particularly Chinese students abroad—to ensure their loyalty to Beijing wherever they happen to be domiciled.
Fitzgerald's conclusion:
It was all very well to respect the value differences that separate Australia from China while each country went about its business. This may have been the case in Prime Minister Howard’s day, but it is certainly not the case today. China is determined to change the status quo in the region, to project its values through public diplomacy, and increasingly to link trade and investment with political trade-offs. In Australia, the CCP is mobilizing and policing its diaspora to flaunt its distaste for liberal-democratic values. Howard used to say that Australia faces a phony choice between its economic interests and its basic values in balancing relations with China and the United States. The problem for Prime Minister Abbott is that it may no longer be Australia’s choice whether or not to exercise even a phony choice. In arriving at this point, Australians have handicapped themselves by ceding too much to China on national values and reflecting too lightly on the universal character of their own.

26 June 2014

Religion, oil, and politics

One of the most amazing things about the Middle East is that the oil is all located under Shia areas - especially where Shi'ite majorities live under a Sunni regime.

One exception - that used to fit the rule - is Iraq.

Have a look at this map:

The oil even in Saudi Arabia is all located in the Shiite area. It must be pointed out for the uninitiated that Saudi Arabia is not a country. The Sa'ud family is from Riyadh in the Nejd (basically the purple - Wahhabi - area). 

King 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Sa'ud, the re-founder of the Sa'ud dynasty, conquered what is now Saudi Arabia in the first quarter of the twentieth century. (Yes, you read that right.) This includes both the 'holy land' - the Hejaz - which is Sunni, and the oil-bearing Shi'ite lands - al Hasa.

The al Sa'ud family belong to and are patrons of the fundamentalist Wahhabi sect and the Shiites of al Hasa are oppressed by them to this day. There were riots a few months ago but you didn't hear about it. In short, the legitimacy of the rule of the al Sa'ud over their own oil lands is marginal at best. I'd expect the local people would look to Iran or Iraq for protection.

Furthermore, the al Sa'ud family when they conquered the Hejaz drove out the Sharif of Mecca - the traditional Guardian of the Two Holy Cities and a descendant of Mohammed. Thus their claim to be the legitimate Guardian is also tenuous at best. The best claimant that I know of is the current King of Jordan. His ancestor, the first King of Jordan, was son of the Sharif and a companion of Lawrence of Arabia and he was placed on throne of the newly created Jordan by the British after WWI. Incidentally, today Jordan is a de facto protectorate of Israel.

Also incidentally, the grievance of al Qa'eda that American troops were based in the Holy Land is laughable at best - a glance at the map will tell you that American troops were guarding the oilfields, not Mecca.

Worse, Wahhabism is an al-Qa'eda-like fundamentalist sect and much of the funding for al-Qa'eda came privately from rogue princes of the Royal Family and other wealthy, well-connected individuals in Saudi Arabia. Worse still, I believe ISIS is funded - or used to be funded - by Saudi Arabia to fight the Syrian regime.

Add into the mix that electric cars have reached the point where they are economically and technically viable.

That aside, one must be cautious, but it seems that comparatively moderate Shiite Iran - comparative that is to ISIS, the Taliban, or even Saudi Arabia - whether they know it or not, may have commenced a process rapprochement with America. They may even cooperate together on ISIS in what will de facto be a confidence-building measure. If they do it may well be a tipping point - when suddenly the balance of interest changes and we see the Shi'a, including not only Iraq but perhaps Iran, the Asad regime and even the (comparatively moderate) Hezbollah, lining up with the USA against Saudi Arabia.

This means all sorts of things. It means the USA can support the overthrow of Sunni Gulf emirates (Bahrain being the standout) by Shiite populations.

What will Saudi Arabia look like if that happens? Before the discovery of oil in al Hasa, Riyadh was a dirty, dusty, public toilet. Ashes to ashes...

Where are all the 'good' Muslims?

This says it well, and what she leaves unsaid says it all.

Keep my eyes on the road, my hands upon the whee-eel...

Now this is creative.

24 June 2014

Dude, where's my country?

This photo was taken in the Westfield shopping mall in Parramatta yesterday.

10 June 2014

The Liberal Party today

The problem with the Liberal Party today is that they've forgotten the 'forgotten people'.

09 June 2014

The welfare state

Since the state must necessarily provide subsistence for the criminal poor while undergoing punishment, not to do the same for the poor who have not offended is to give a premium on crime.
- John Stuart Mill

War and the individual

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth a war, is much worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice; a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice, — is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other.
- John Stuart Mill

04 June 2014

The ruling classes will eat itself

Education consultant Dean Ashenden has perfectly articulated an idea I have been trying to articulate for a while:
...members of privileged groups often use privilege to pursue immediate individual interests at the expense of the long-term stability of the social order on which their privilege depends.
Source: Insidestory, Mr Gonski and the social contract

For me the classic example is how the Roman republic ultimately collapsed because the senatorial class - in spite of the efforts of a far-sighted faction most famously represented by the brothers Gracchi - was unable to bring itself to throw a bone to the peasant farmers, provincials, and urban poor who did the actual heavy lifting.

So a conservative such as myself, if he wishes to perpetuate the rule of the ruling class, which I do, must, counter-intuitively, embrace his pink side and seek to empower the masses. This has been crudely expressed before as 'bread and circuses', but what polling shows the plebs overwhelmingly want (once freedom from violence and theft is a given) is health and education: which is (a) commendably sensible and (b) actually ought to suit the ruling class perfectly since these don't cost as much as bread and circuses and furthermore feed straight back into their own well-being and prosperity.

Update: It has come to my attention that this idea was long ago expressed by Marx.

War builds civilisations

Computer modelling suggests that competition between societies, in the form of warfare, drives the evolution of complex societies 
What the researchers did was to map Europe, Asia and north Africa into 100km squares, each of which had scores for military technology – in the first instance horses but later stirrups, bows and arrows, and so forth – agriculture and ultrasocial traits. Every turn of the simulation represented 100 years, and in each turn there was a chance that agricultural areas would unite and an ultrasocial trait would spread. Military technology also diffused from the nomads, so that an agricultural region was vulnerable not just to the pastoralists of the steppe but to neighbouring cultures that had learned to combine the use of horses or weapons with agriculture. 
When this simulation was run over 7,000 years, the results were eerily close to what actually happened. "Ultrasocial" societies – civilisations – emerged and spread in the same places and at about the same times as happened in real history. The determining factor was the spread of military technology, and the demands that resisting it and wielding it placed on social organisation.
Source: The Guardian
And to think everyone told me those computer strategy games were a waste of time...

03 June 2014

Why China won't cut it

Richard Armitage once  told me that China will never be great until it stands for something more than itself. America has always stood for something more than itself. Roosevelt and Acheson crafted a synergy of American and global interests that produced the liberal world order we inhabit today – a world of widespread freedom, unprecedented global prosperity, and an absence of great-power conflict.  
- Jerry Nockles, Allure of Normalcy: America's First-Order Foreign Policy Issues in the Lowy Interpreter

Precisely. Which is why China will never be great. Such great-mindedness is found in millions of Chinese, but not in millions more, and not in China collectively. And I doubt it ever will be, unless perhaps there is a universal, profound, and prolonged ideological shift - the utter triumph of Falun Gong, for example.