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September 24, 2007

Thailand: Standing in neither camp: the coup a year on

Standing in neither camp
Michael Connors


A year after the September 2006 coup d’etat debate still rages on whether the anti-Thaksin movement is in part responsible for inviting the military to stage a coup. A quite legitimate but difficult question is being asked of those who opposed Thaksin for his undemocratic, or at least illiberal politics, and for his abuse of power: why not level your charges elsewhere (?), meaning most obviously the palace and those surrounding it. This is a bold challenge.

For several years there has been a steady advance in critical writings on the palace, both in English and in Thai. The Thai material is especially brave, for it courts royal-nationalist hysteria and legal sanction. It doesn’t matter that in December 2005 the king said he can do wrong and that he welcomes criticism (interesting to see how that defence would work out in a court of law), lèse majesté law remains on the books. Moreover, the yellow-shirt mentality is merely a surface expression of something deeply rooted. This might partly explain the muted response to the challenge.

There may of course be other reasons, including a genuine belief that for all its faults the monarchical institution has indeed played the safety valve role attributed to it, being the ‘Supreme Ombudsman” as various people have described the monarchy. Some in Thailand are seeking, mistakenly in my opinion, to embed liberal forms of rule by deploying the monarchy in a manner that reads it as the original liberal institution. I have taken up this issue elsewhere, arguing that this represents an elite liberal reading of the monarchy and involves substantial mythicising.

The monarchy in Thailand is a constitutional monarchy with special powers; anyone who imagines that Walter Bagehot has said all there is to say about its functioning ("the right to be consulted, the right to advise, and the right to warn”) is missing the extraordinary conventional powers that have accrued to the institution, a product of both design and historical evolution. Neither the design nor the evolution would have occurred without a particular constellation of forces, including the demobilisation of radical forces in the 1970s, in which the monarchy played a key role, and the continuing elevation of the institution into the metaphoric soul of the nation.

To recognise and analyse the role of the monarchy in Thai politics is not to endorse that role. It is, however, to appreciate how the balance of forces in Thailand are constituted beyond normative appeals to ‘democracy.’ The monarchy and the military are enduring historical institutions in Thailand. Deeply rooted in various networks, ideologically and culturally embedded, and organizationally present. These are powerful institutions, as former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra learned. While some are now trying to script Thaksin as a bourgeois revolutionary he was always too poorly equipped and lacking in vision to play that role. Thaksin played an insider’s game and lost. Many supporters want to paint him as a democratic martyr; his actions suggest a terrible authoritarian in the making. Any legitimacy he may have had as a consequence of being selected prime minister by elected representatives was negated by his actions in that position.

Does Thaksin’s authoritarianism justify a more insidious authoritarianism in the form of the military coup? No. Other channels were available to restrain or fell Thaksin: further popular protest, the weakening of his parliamentary dominance, the use of legal measures. The military intervened, pre-empting these possibilities, to remind all that behind the flow of contested politics a ‘state of exception’ always lurks. The instrument of that state of exception, the military, bluntly and arrogantly inserted its own solution, showing up the fiction that lies behind people-sovereignty.

Somsak Jeamteerasakul has noted that some who would normally be identified as progressive activists or democrats feel indifferent to Thaksin’s fall and feel no outrage at the military’s actions. I was against the coup, but I can not claim to have felt especially angry. At that time my opinion was that Thaksin was worse than the military – a coup d’etat, the construction of national security complexes and human rights abuses are to be expected from a military steeped in the kind of history the Thai military has. The military was living its soul. And of course it continues to do so , pressing for national security laws and the continued imposition of martial law, thereby illustrating that some of its claimed reasons for the coup to have been excuses or self-delusional. Certainly, the military, at least sections of it, as the instrument of force for national unity was concerned about disunity and apparent slights on the monarchy; but its stated concerns for the health of Thailand’s democracy and the level of corruption have purchase only if we suspend good judgement. The military did in 2006, and does now, what the military can be expected to do.

Thaksin was worse because one might have expected better from the first prime minister elected under the reform constitution. As an elected politician Thaksin de-instutionalised the political system (protected by his hegemonically constructed majoritarianism), aggrandised wealth and power, engaged in intimidation of those against him, and recklessly and with fatal consequences abandoned the rule of law in the war on drugs, thus negating the social compromise effected in the 1997 constitution – however flawed that constitution was. To those who scoff the rule of law as a bourgeois abstraction, consider it from the perspective of those who never had a chance to plead “not guilty” during the wave of extra judicial killings in 2003.

What is implied, but never stated, by those who see a direct line of causality between the anti-Thaksin camp and the coup is that progressive forces should have endured the Thaksin era because it was a popularly elected regime. This is a retrospective argument, made in the light of the coup. So too is the argument that organizing opposition against Thaksin laid the basis for a conservative military backlash. This is a retro-subjectivist view of history, putting hindsight at the steering wheel. It is to say that history is made by will, intent and prudent choices. In part maybe, but not wholly.

The anti-Thaksin movement was a legitimate movement, and like all movements it attracted attention from forces with other agendas and interests who sought to manipulate it for other purposes. By the time that movement was demobilised as a consequence of its misconceived and politically opportunist dependence on Article 7 in April 2006, the game moved to the elite sphere. Social forces on the ground were not sufficiently organized to determine the political outcome. In that context the “no to the two camps” (สองไม่เอา) position makes sense. It opposes the coup and forces arrayed behind it and it equally opposes the deepening authoritarianism represented by Thaksin.

I happen to believe that wellbeing and social justice, democratic socialism, are secured by deepening both the democratic and liberal gains of historical struggle – something neither Thaksin, the monarchy nor the military have intended to do.

September 18, 2007

Thailand and the United States

Thailand and the United States of America: Beyond Hegemony?
Draft of article that appears in Bush and Asia, edited by Mark Beeson, Routledge, London 2006
Michael K. Connors

Introduction
This paper explores US-Thai relations in the context of a rapidly shifting global and regional landscape since the end of the Cold War. The days when US Cold War objectives twinned with a militarised Thai state are well over. Bereft of this unifying theme, any analysis of the Thai–US relationship immediately confronts a range of seemingly contradictory phenomena. In the last several years, for example, Thailand has been declared a major non-NATO ally at the very time that it has been coy about support for US strategy in the Middle East. The Thai government initially opposed the war in Iraq, but Thailand was the first Asian nation to send troops to Iraq as part of a ‘post conflict’ humanitarian mission. Having earlier announced that US forces would not use Thai airbases for transit to Iraq, the government cited treaty obligations to explain subsequent US access. Confronted with these inconsistencies, it is easy to see the attraction of the popular metaphoric phrase ‘bending with the wind’, which originated in the 19th Century to describe Siam’s adaptation to evolving structures of imperial power. In the current period, a more appropriate phrase might be ‘bending US hegemony’, suggesting that Thailand has not simply glided hither and thither according to prevailing winds. Rather, it has closely associated itself with the US, while obviously seeking to pursue its own elite defined ‘national’ interests.

If we understand hegemony in the manner proposed by Antonio Gramsci (1972), we are interested in the problematic of how a ruling strata is able to integrate subordinate elements into a hierarchical order on a seemingly consensual basis. Robert Cox (1987, 7) extends this problematic to the international level arguing that “the dominant state creates an order based ideologically on a broad measure of consent, functioning according to general principles that in fact ensure the continuing supremacy of the leading state or states and leading social classes but at the same time offer some measure or prospect of satisfaction to the less powerful.” Neo-Gramscian perspectives move beyond the territorial state as the articulator of hegemony, developing analyses of the role of transnational capitalist classes, and their impact on the nature of trading and investment regimes, and on the functioning of international financial institutions. For his part, Cox (1997, 60) has recognised the growing power of what he terms the ‘nebuleuse’: “a loose elite network of influentials and agencies, sharing a common set of ideas that collectively perform the [international] governance function.” These include the World Bank, the IMF, the WEF, the OECD, the ADB and so on. By virtue of the structure of the global economy and US dominance, and the presence of the world’s major TNCs there, sections of the US state are powerful within these agencies. These considerations are relevant to the status of inter-elite Thai-US relations.

In the Gramscian perspective hegemony, does not principally entail direct forms of domination under duress, nor does it indicate identical interests. The constitution of hegemony requires that over a range of crucial areas of interstate and international life (security, trade, sometimes regime form), metropolitan and peripheral elites share broad understanding of economic and security matters, and move towards similar objectives. Such understandings are mediated by the prevailing structures of economy and security, projects for change, patterns of socialization, and by the constitution of forces within territorial states and in transnational spheres. For the most part, Thai peripheral elites have contended and cooperated in an international order structured by US hegemony. While accepting US leadership over the last half century, there have been disagreements and significant divergences in particular arenas. Divergence does not necessarily entail the end of hegemony, a threshold needs to be reached where matters of substantive difference over crucial arenas outweigh matters of agreement and compliance. The Thai state has rarely strayed from a broad subaltern position vis-à-vis the US and the nebuleuse: this is despite countervailing pressures emanating from its regional environment, and apparent Thai doubts over the 2002 US National Security Strategy. The hegemonic relationship is also sustained by the partly deterritorialised nature of the nebuleuse, which allows some elements of the internationalised Thai elite to benefit by entering its ranks and assuming a hegemonic role (a Thai national and former Finance Minister currently heads the WTO). While many economic sectors remain nationally based, the rise of international and transnational elite spheres blurs the line between metropole and periphery.

The Thai relationship to US hegemony is historically fluid, with material, security and political elements of the relationship differing over time. This paper explores some of the characteristics of this fluidity. From the 1950s to the early 1970s, US-Thai state elites shared strong affinities across all three elements. Between the late 1970s and 1980s these affinities weakened, although they were sufficiently robust to survive Thailand’s drift into regionalism. In the 1990s the Thai state underwent a significant process of economic and political liberalization. This reflected the emerge of new domestic forces, and an increasingly transnational Thai-based nebuleuse. In tune with the US concerns to press for democratic enlargement in the post cold war era, the two states moved closer together. In the current period, commencing in 2001 with the arrival of the Bush and Thaksin administrations, the hegemonic relationship has taken on a new form, with security and resource imperatives compelling the US to extend its relationship with a Thai state that remains uneasy about US global strategy. Furthermore, the democratic convergence of the 1990s has receded, with Thailand moving towards authoritarian forms of rule. The hegemonic relationship has become strained. The rest of this chapter explores these different periods, with the spotlight on more recent times.

Read the full draft here http://www.latrobe.edu.au/socsci/staff/connors/connors-Thai-US.doc

September 15, 2007

Juvenelia: Australia and the United States

The Imperative Grammar: Australia and the United States
Michael Connors



During the Sydney APEC Summit in early September the Howard administration and Bush administrations inked the Defence Trade Cooperation Treaty, deepening Australia’s access to US military technology and contractual rights. The agreement underscores the intensifying nature of the US-Australia alliance. For some Australian nationalists the agreement is further evidence of Australia’s lapdog approach to foreign policy; a sign of dependence and its prolonged adolescence on the world stage.

Don Watson’s 2001 Quarterly Essay Rabbit Syndrome: Australia and America captures this mood in its suggestion that Australia should petition the United States to become the 51st state of the Union; “The United States will get a state instead of a colony and Australians wouldn’t have to go on pretending our souls are our own.” Watson falls into the camp that laments, for having laid to rest the pursuit of Australia’s own ends, Australia’s endless quest for great and powerful friends.

The key instrument in Australia’s permanent infantilisation is held to be the 1951 ANZUS treaty. As New Zealand’s role in ANZUS treaty is currently redundant, the treaty effectively defines the terms of the US-Australia bilateral alliance. Until its invocation after the World Trade Centre attacks in 2001, the treaty was an umbrella under which hundreds of more concrete agreements worked, including intelligence sharing and the terms of military exercises.

Approaching the question from a different angle, assuming that Australian foreign policy elites are ruthlessly pragmatic and far-thinking, is it not possible to think of the alliance as indeed serving particular state-defined national interests? Furthermore, is it not possible to reverse the typical image of dependency and move to an image of the tail wagging the dog – at least on occasion: sometimes Australia’s aspired benefit comes at a cost to the United States.

Ambrose Bierce in his 19th century Devil’s Dictionary defined an alliance as: “In international politics, the union of two thieves who have their hands so deeply inserted in each other’s pocket that they cannot separately plunder a third.”


Bierce’s wit is a suggestive starting point to undo the dependency thesis and begin to unravel what interests are served through the alliance. What does Australia get from the alliance?

In its important foreign policy statement Advancing the National Interest (2003) the Howard government states:

The depth of security, economic and political ties that we have with the United States makes this a vital relationship. No other country can match the United States' global reach in international affairs…Further strengthening Australia's ability to influence and work with the United States is essential for advancing our national interests.
(Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade 2003)


And speaking in 2001 Howard claims that

The ANZUS pact between Australia and the United States has done more to deliver the security of the Australian nation in the years that have gone by since World War II than any other international arrangement.

The first quotation is unremarkable: Australia’s government seeks to align itself with the hegemonic superpower. Access to that power, by support of that power, is seen as advancing the wellbeing of Australian security. The second quotation is remarkable, indicating that the government’s skepticism of the collective security arrangements and an emerging international order based on the efforts of the United Nations goes so far as to discount anything but the US as the key to global order.

Despite the brief dalliance of the Labor years (1983-1996) with middle-power diplomacy – the idea that middle powers require the comforting structure of international rules and regulations as a safeguard against the capricious nature of an international system dominated by great powers – Australian governments have largely responded to security questions using the grammar of the US alliance, often intuitively.

Policy and intellectual communities surrounding the government are keyed into the grammar. In a 2003 Melbourne Asia Policy Paper Paul Dibbs, one time architect of Australia’s security policy, declares that any dispassionate analysis would confirm the indispensability of the alliance, which he holds to be self evident. In 2004 ANU Professor Hugh White, agonizing over the Iraq war, and thinking with the grammar of the alliance, ludicrously confirmed the unprincipled nature of alliance logic when he admitted the possibility that sometimes going to war for the sake of maintaining an alliance can be a wise decision:

…And what of the first policy judgment: that we needed to support the invasion to protect our alliance with the US? This is a respectable argument. It sometimes makes sense to go to war to support an ally if you expect them to support you when your turn comes. It would have been unwise to say no to Washington about Iraq. But we did not need to rush to say yes either.


For some leading academics of international relations, Mr Howard is a "prescient political seer, (in) position to extract substantial and enduring benefits from the ANZUS affiliation including the culmination of a wide-ranging bilateral Australia US free trade agreement."

None of these views, including those of the government, indicate servile and wretched lapdoggery in the face of a great and powerful friend. All of them indicate a rather calculated approach to the alliance, even going so far as to speak of extracting benefits that might well be seen as costly to the superior partner in the alliance.

The Australian state and its ruling elites are not victims of dependency, but beneficiaries of an alliance system that secures a global hierarchy of states and economies in which Australia sits comfortably. Australia is a partner in what has been described as a system of global apartheid, where access to the goods that deliver wellbeing are skewed heavily in favour of advanced capitalist economies.


The alliance does not tie Australia into slavish dependence: in fact Australia has significant strategic independence. That the Australian government may appear to lack this simply reflects a convergence of interest. It is arguable that the Howard Government’s 1997 foreign policy paper, In the National Interest actually anticipates the hard-nosed disavowal of the United Nations by the Bush administration.

Rather than following the US into Iraq, the Howard government saw such action as the consummation of its own security outlook, or more specifically as a means to advance that outlook. This is to suggest that the alliance is not just about poor choices or misguided policy; there are structural features of Australia’s place in the world that compel it to bandwagon with the US, and sometimes to be a step ahead.

If there is to be substantive and enduring change in foreign policy, there needs to be a fundamental and substantive change in the grammar of Australian society, economics and politics. Without such changes Australia’s alliance relationship with the United States will always be an active/reactive one within a space that takes as given the global hierarchy and Australia’s rightful place in it.

Slightly different version of the piece appears on New Matilda. (newmatilda.com) 14th
November, 2007.

September 14, 2007

How Terrorism Experts Get it Wrong

Excerpted from “War on Error and the Southern Fire: How Terrorism Experts Get it Wrong” in Critical Asian Studies, 2006
Michael Connors

Citations in the original.

…Terrorism studies has its origins in studies of violence in the Middle East and in
Western Europe. In decline during the 1990s, the sub-discipline found new impetus
after the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States. What does terrorism
studies offer? Over a decade ago, Mike Smith noted that twenty years of
terrorism studies had failed to generate much genuine insight into the dynamics
of local conflicts. The literature tended toward high-level generalizations
around tactical modality and causality that emerged from superficial comparative
analysis of incommensurable conflicts (for example, the IRA and the Red
Army Faction in West Germany).10 Smith asked: “So who are the experts on terrorism?
Answer, there are no experts, just people who know a little about a lot of
small conflicts.”11 This insight is significant, for it implies that so-called experts
on terrorism have little to offer relative to conflicts they are unfamiliar with.12 As
will be shown, [Rohan Gunaratna’s] Conflict and Terrorism is a good example of Smith’s thesis: forall its pretense about being an up-to-date manual on the violence in South Thailand, the book was produced by authors who seemingly know little about Thailand,
but who are equipped with the language of terrorism studies.

Burnett and Whyte, in their more recent review of terrorism studies, or
“terrorology,” note that during the 1990s a complex interaction of government-
sponsored research programs, think tanks, and academics produced a
discourse on “new terrorism” that informs post-9/11 commentary. The “new
terrorism” (hereafter without quotation marks) thesis claimed to be about a terrorism
that dispensed with traditional structures of hierarchy and command,
that was prone to use weapons of mass destruction, that was indiscriminate in
its targets, and that was pathological and beyond rational engagement.13 Such
ideas have informed much of the contemporary writing on terrorism, leading to
a politicized academic literature siding with the U.S.-driven “war on terror”
(hereafter without quotation marks). Conflict and Terrorism shares some of
these traits, although its conclusion that Thailand remains as yet a localized
struggle allows it to escape from an overzealous application of the new terrorism
thesis. Nevertheless, it is the shadow of the threat of new terrorism that
lurks behind the book’s examination of international linkages, and explains
why the book will interest terrorism analysts (59–68).14

Something also needs to be said about the current context in which writings
on terrorism are produced. This is a period in which terrorism analysts operate
in a tense civilizational, geopolitical, and ideological context that inevitably colors
their output. Even if Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis is
pure ideological and ethnocentric fury, it has captured the disposition of some
terrorism analysts who can but view Islam with suspicion; this is so for the authors
of Conflict and Terrorism (104). It is also noteworthy that the securitization
of U.S. foreign policy, whereby economic liberalization policies have been
trumped by pressure to conform to U.S. security policies, has led to greater
claims on U.S. allies in the so-called war on terror, leading to a global retreat
from human rights and democracy.15 In the West this has meant highly politicized
news reporting, often quoting academics sympathetic to the war on terror.

These reports typically conflate local conflicts with “terrorism” and downplay
human rights abuses. Conflict and Terrorism does raise some concerns
about excessive use of force in Thailand, but it tends to see the state as being
forced into repressive measures as a result of terrorist strategy (see discussion
below on Tak Bai). Furthermore, the intensification of relations between intelligence
agencies and universities provides an opportunity for some analysts to
conform to state policies and agendas and to downplay issues of “state terror.”16
It is true that many terrorism analysts are legitimately concerned with the root
local causes and trigger factors for acts of terrorism, and attempt broad-based
analyses that run counter to state interests. Such work shows up the shallow nature
of some media and academic commentary.17 But the pressure to follow
state interests and the rewards this subservience brings have increased in the
post-9/11 environment, increasing the number of opportunists in the field.18
This politicized environment has lowered the bar on the standards of analysis
and research for some terrorism analysts.

For the well-connected terrorism analyst, research extends to connections
with intelligence agencies and access to secret documents—selectively offered,
of course. Often welcomed into the corridors of power, s/he is the civilian face
of networks of intelligence that have their own agendas to advance. The politically
significant function of such opportunists, who identify or work closely
with governments, is to take the conclusions of intelligence agencies into the
public sphere in modified form, and lend such conclusions legitimacy by virtue
of being an apparently independent mouthpiece.19 Backed with megabucks for
research, sought out by police commissioners and security ministers, and
courted by media, such analysts feel free to comment on any act of terror anywhere,
anytime. This commentary-promiscuity is why they so often get it wrong.

September 13, 2007

Howard, a retiring man

Howard, a retiring man; Rudd, the class A jerk

Having done his utmost best, with his party’s backing, to turn the electoral cycle of Australian politics into a presidential-style circus of idiocy focused on the populist imagery of ‘everyman’ (for it remains everyman), John Howard’s latest spin (12th September on the 7.30 Report) that leadership is a team thing and ‘that’s a good thing’ marks the end of the politician as we know him.

It appears Howard has been trumped by all-style no-substance Ruddy-good two shoes. Rudd has mastered the presidential game with fervour. Even Rudd’s naughty escapades at a US strip club played in his favour; recasting him as the favoured son of the church to be redeemed. Cast a vote so he can still go to heaven.

Rudd, the man who believes he can smile with his faith, played class jerk at APEC and won them over with his impressive Mandarin. There is much to be said about this; for Rudd stands at the historical conjunction of Australia’s two-timing poise between the US and its client, the Japanese state, and the mightily rising Chinese behemoth.

When Rudd visited La Trobe University in 2005, as then shadow spokesperson on foreign affairs, I asked him at a public lecture what his stance would be regarding Chinese human rights if Labor won office. His response surprised me; he was upset by my criticism that Labor has always been willing to put national interest well above human rights considerations. His response reflected the luxury of the opposition benches, and also the presence of a dim part of the brain that represses memory of East Timor.

Yet, it’s hard to see how a Labor government under Rudd will deviate from the Howard government’s closed door private dialogues on human rights with China.

When the feudalistic and beatific Dalai Lama visited Australia in June, Rudd showed great sensitivity only agreeing to meet with the eminent Presence of the Buddha in Compassion, after Howard intimated he might do so. Presidentialism is also followerism.

Howard’s presidentialism stumped the Labor Party’s committee people: they could not contemplate as leader the articulate Julia Gillard, so they went through a range of potentials such as Crean-Latham-Beazley, succeeding only in proving the law of diminishing returns. Rudd rode to the leadership on a wave of desperation. He is desperation’s destiny.

Howard’s recent declaration of playing with the team holds promise for a more substantive politics, one focused on big questions as opposed to hair-style and grandfatherly comforting and giving succour to religious congregations. At last, I have found something on which I can agree with Howard. Yeah, sure.

September 9, 2007

A Plagiarist’s Manifesto


Plagiarists of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your alleged originality (and your degree).


Since Socrates, in a Hemlock sip, accepted his punishment for leading astray the frail youth of his times, all that needs to be said has been said. Between truths and untruths there is a gallery of historical figures who have in their way refashioned familiar stories as original. Take any of the great religious figures: the plump laughing Buddha rising to nirvana on account of his balloon belly and the obviously bloated point of the pointlessness of it all ; the Christ of a virgin mother never even having the opportunity to go through the civilising Oedipus complex, the great Prophet of Medina who saw in revamped scripture, old and new, a worthy story for his people; the gods who defy categorisation and who mock the paragraphic order of the west, so truly original that there are multitudinous spirit cults found anywhere in the world where fire, water, earth and air inspire awe and fawning.

Thinking of all of these religious attempts to make sense of our absurd condition we can note that each religion makes of the mystery of life its own puzzle, but few are original in the answers proffered. Religion is plagiarised salvation.

So plagiarists of the world, you have before you a veritable pantheon of would be gods and prophets who have taken from the common stock of knowledge ideas as their own without a quotation mark, let alone a footnote. If gods and prophets plagiarise, why not ordinary mortals? You stand in proud company.

Why then are you marked down and despised? Why are you summoned before austere academic committees that demand explanation of your stolen words?
It is not that you have committed any cardinal sin inherent in the act of plagiarism; it is that you have been discovered. There lies your error, for refashioned thought must always catwalk as this year’s original talk. If summoned, seek forgiveness, look remorseful. And never be caught again. Like a celebrity DJ who makes the original their own you need to jive so that you spin the original as your own.

Student plagiarism, if correctly done, is politely ignored. If they can’t Google the quoted phrase, they won’t find it. There are basically three ways of winning the plagiarism game, each corresponding to a level of aspired level academic achievement. The brilliant plagiarist aspires to a first class mark, the mediocre plagiarist aspires to a second class but can accept lower, the idiotic plagiarist merely aspires to pass, but rarely does.

1. Brilliant Plagiarism

This is the gravest sin, for you have set yourself above your teachers. The brilliant plagiarist is discovered as a consequence of not having convinced the tutor of their right to play at a high intellectual level. When a student writes brilliantly the tutor becomes suspicious. The following question occurs to him or her: Could I, a PhD, have written such a piece as an 18-22 year old?

To avoid being charged with plagiarism because of brilliance (and the resulting envy of the tutor), it is necessary to prepare the tutor to think you are capable of such brilliance. So, how to do this? The answer is to attend a few tutorials, and no more, and look bored, brilliantly bored. Snort with exasperation as other students say the most obvious of things. Purse your lips at the politeness of the tutor who praises as ‘interesting’ the tedious comments of ill-informed students. Make the tutor feel inferior with impossible questions of an epistemological nature. Intimidate. If you succeed in creating an atmosphere of psychological-superiority-complex, when your essay is marked by the said wretched tutor, he or she will masochistically realise that your snorts in class were a consequence of your transcendental wisdom being exposed to the banality of other people’s low intelligence.

Mediocre Plagiarism.

This is the most commonly successful form of plagiarism. You write, or transcribe, an essay of such overwhelming obviousness no one could fault you for absorbing the Zeitgeist of the age. If you are so obvious as to be stating the obvious, then no one will suspect you of plagiarism, just mediocrity. You can succeed in this form of plagiarism by appearing either dull or busy. For good workpersonship, expect a second class mark at least; but if you screw up the mark can be lesser still. The key to mediocre plagiarism lies in appearing overly busy with all sorts of extra-curricula activities that have distracted you from your studies. The tutor will sympathise with your busy work load and mark you up, even if some of the words seem disturbingly familiar and the overall effort is just passable. It is also possible to get a good mark even if you appear incapable of original thought. Be the kind of student who echoes eloquently that which surrounds them. Be the diligent voice of the age. Better still, to avoid any suspicion, find a tutor who believes in the “death of the author”, if they have any self-respect they are not going to charge you with plagiarism, even if various passages sound familiar.

Idiotic Plagiarism
I am afraid that for this kind of plagiarist there is not much hope. They set Shakespeare or Bertrand Russell against their own prose in the same essay. They have no idea of equivalence. The tutor, having been moved by the plagiarised paragraphs then comes across passages of such a faecal quality that plagiarism is suspected. So what to do for the no-hoper who wishes to pass a degree with no effort? The answer lies not in juxtaposition of brilliance and banality, of delicate prose next to egregious waffle. It lies in the earnest production of consistent banality. In other words, dumb down. Turn Yeats into your own prose. Make T. S Eliot sound like the Spice Girls. By dumbing down your stolen phrases you give reason for the marker to admire your ideas, while lamenting your prose as a product of some trauma.

Thailand: When the Dogs Howl

Dictatorship threatens to bury Thai democracy
Michael Connors
Canberra Times
May 4, 2007


IT'S NOT the kind of Thailand you will see in travel brochures advertising "Amazing Thailand", but even casual observers can sense the nation is on the edge of a political meltdown.
Last year, the world's longest serving monarch, 79-year-old King Bhumipol Adulyadej called it "the worst crisis in the world", referring to the political crisis that wracked Thailand. The then prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, was fighting for his political survival amid mass demonstrations, military machinations, charges of lese majeste, corruption, and abuses of human rights.

He lost.

In September Thaksin was overthrown in a coup and by year's end a military appointed government was in place.

A Constitutional Drafting Assembly was formed to draft Thailand's 18th constitution since 1932.

No one has great hopes the new constitution currently being drafted under the shadow of the military will solve the country's woes.

The fragility of constitutional rule in Thailand has as much to do with vested and conflicting interests between old and new wealth as it does with flawed constitutional design.

And this is why it is possible to speak of meltdown.

During Thaksin's five years in office the government was charged with policy corruption that benefited his private business interests at the expense of rivals. While prime minister, his family firm invested heavily in AirAsia to compete against the national carrier, Thai Airways. He won tax concessions on his media activities, and the Export-Import Bank of Thailand provided soft loans to the Burmese regime to contract Thaksin's satellite and telecommunications firms.

As Thaksin's cronyism intensified, different groupings of business interests began to mobilise against him. They rallied under the convenient, though not completely inaccurate, cry that Thaksin was challenging the power of the king.

The current military-backed Government is now moving against Thaksin's wealth, and thus his political power. Last week, Thaksin's children were ordered to return half a billion dollars to the tax office. As more cases of corruption come before the courts, pro-Thaksin forces in Thailand are mobilising protests against the Government while Thaksin, in exile, claims disinterest in politics.

Whether the crisis will end in compromise, or will be fought to the end, is unclear.

So what of the prospects of democracy in Thailand? The Government promises an election will be held at year's end under the newly-drafted constitution. But pro-democratic and some pro-Thaksin forces are calling for the constitution to be rejected.

A rejection could be interpreted as condemnation of the coup and support for Thaksin paving the way for his political comeback in some form. Others fear that should an election be held pro-Thaksin forces will win anyway.

That's why some people have given up on democracy all together, saying the rural masses in Thailand are not ready for it. Instead a mixed system that incorporates the people, the aristocracy, and the king should be devised until the masses are ready to act like democratic citizens.

Such criticism of the electoral process betrays aristocratic disdain for the masses; and it might suggest that one of South-East Asia's most liberal of democracies (from the 1980s-1990s) might be headed down the road of Singaporean guided-democracy.

The principal charge against the masses is that they sell their votes to opportunist and corrupt politicians for less than 1000 baht ($A40) and have no regard for public interest. They elect corrupt governments that plunder the public purse, so what's the point of democracy?

Thais have dubbed pre-election nights "the night the dogs howl" because vote-canvassers make late-night visits to those they have paid to ensure they vote appropriately. Their nocturnal meanderings stir sleeping dogs and whole villages wake up to the howling: an apt sound for an aching democracy.

The question of succession is another potential site of meltdown. There is no doubt that without the presence of the current king, who has immense moral power in Thailand, political order in the interests of the old elite will be hard to guarantee. And this is where the political divide on regime form among the Thai elites opens up as they decide on a form of right wing electoral populism as exercised by Thaksin or someone like him, or a guided-democracy under the tutelage of the old establishment. Between both, the promise of Thai liberalism appears to be diminished.

The third significant site of meltdown centres on the continuing insurgency in the Muslim-majority provinces in the south of Thailand. Thaksin's demise was supposed to bring an end to the daily killings by insurgents and para-military state apparatuses. It was believed his insensitive incompetence had fuelled the insurgency. Instead, the killings have intensified, and taken on a more sectarian nature between Buddhist and Muslim.

The current Government appears no more competent than Thaksin's in dealing with the crisis. The three thousand lives lost in the last three years of the insurgency may be small compared with what may soon come.

Looking at the bleak prospect of Thai politics in the coming year it is hard not to conclude that it is more than just the dogs who will be howling.

Thailand: The Fall of Thaksin

Thailand’s Future
Michael Connors
Canberra Times
September, 2006

Deposed Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra said earlier this year that when the King whispered he would leave office. The king whispered several times, but Thaksin kept coming back like the proverbial ghost that haunts Thai villages.

Thaksin has thick skin. He was nonplussed when King Bhumiphol lectured him about the need to accept criticism. In 2003, after the UN condemned his human rights record he said ‘the UN is not my father.’ Thaksin now says he might head a government in exile – from London - and he’s called for elections supervised by the UN. He must have a good sense of humour, too.

Like some cheap cinematic ghost thriller that many Thais love, this is a man addicted to serial re-appearance. With his wealth – trebled since his time in office – he may well head an exile government from London simply to keep himself in the limelight and to counter expected exposes of corruption during his term in office.

As foreign observers, including the Australian government, condemn the coup – which is easy enough to do, one wonders why the Howard government was not critical of Thaksin’s assault on democracy and human life while he was in office. Basically, democracy and human rights were put in customs quarantine while our government negotiated and then implemented a Free Trade Agreement with Thailand. Alexander Downer’s condemnation of the coup is mere diplomatic ritual, steeped in hypocrisy.

Thaksin’s human rights abuses included the normalization of extra-judicial murder during the war on drugs, with over 2000 people killed and horrendous abuses in the South of Thailand where a separatist insurgency is taking place. When over a 1000 protesters were arrested and placed in military trucks in October 2004, 78 died en-route to a military camp. Thaksin basically said the deaths were an honest mistake, the same excuse he used when he was exposed for illegally concealing millions of dollars worth of shares in the bank accounts of his domestic servants.

When human rights activists exposed the existence of mass graves in the South of Thailand in November last year, his government ignored calls to launch an inquiry. Provincial officials say the mass graves of over 200 people are most likely Cambodian immigrants who like to ‘fight when they get drunk’. Others wonder if they are related to extra-judicial killings. Islamic Councils in the South have indicated that exhumation for the purposes of autopsy would be acceptable, but Thai forensic scientists efforts to undertake an investigation has been frustrated by bureaucratic stone-walling over budget allocation and jurisdiction.

Those who bemoan the loss of Thaksin because he was poor-friendly should note that according to the United Nations World Development Report, Thailand’s Human Development Index world ranking dropped from 66 in 2002 to 73 in 2005. What is more, income disparities between rich and poor have remained largely the same under Thaksin. His pro-poor policies were selectively targeted, smartly packaged and poorly funded. Budgetary allocations to education declined under Thaksin. Health spending as a proportion of budget allocation in 2005, was at 1999 levels. Thaksin’s inventiveness was to paint the public budget as his personal benevolent purse.

Those who think Thaksin had a democratic mandate should keep in mind that his minders manipulated the Electoral Commission of Thailand to his advantage. His government also played games with the National Counter Corruption Commission – keeping it dysfunctional so that thousands of corruption cases were put on hold. State lottery funds were allegedly plundered to fund party activities. The coup was not against a democratic government as such. Thaksin’s hold on to power was about ensuring his own survival – knowing full well how vulnerable he would be to prosecution without political power.


Thaksin’s record does not excuse the military coup. They have not moved against Thaksin because of corruption and human rights abuses, but because it was clear that Thaksin was basically challenging the power of the palace and stacking almost all institutions with his own supporters. When the military says they launched the coup for the sake of democracy, they mean constitutional monarchy. Democracy can mean very different things.

The military looks like it will, in cooperation with other establishment forces, move Thailand towards a more conservative law and order democracy. Their reported approach to former Senate President Meechai Ruchaphan to head a Constitution Drafting Committee is a sign of the future. Meechai opposed a number of the progressive clauses in the now annulled 1997 Constitution.

The future of Thailand is now unclear. Some of those who fought for
Thaksin's removal in order to restore democracy are now turning towards fighting the military and its appointees.

On Friday they defied martial law and organized a protest against the coup.
Despite the ban on poltiical gatherings of more than five people, no one was arrested.

Now student groups are calling for a people's assembly. Some may have guiltily enjoyed last Wednesday's coup holiday, but as the struggle against the military unfolds the hangover may last a long time.

The Queen, please don't come back

Don’t Come Back, Queen

Written on the occassion of Her Majesty's visit during the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.
March, 2006.



One of the most unfortunate side effects of the Commonwealth Games, when royal personage was in town, was having to watch TV footage of an ageing and strangely hatted woman wander through small crowds with what appears to be a semi-detached wrist. This woman, who should have been given the axe several years back, was here to appear before her subjects who, it seems, can’t have a good time without a right royal needle up the posterior.

On opening night of the Games or sometime after, I hoped that a collective two-finger salute would greet her majestic big hoax. Instead down to earth Australian commoners paid due respect. She spoke of the commonwealth, I thought of a plundering empire that left a mess in its wake.

Why do we bow before the blue bloods? After all, would they even give you a lift on a hot day? Sometime in 1983, I was hitchhiking from Hobart to Launceston. As I wandered into one small town, there was the bustle and fuss that is normally associated with school sports day.

Kids were lining the streets and ribbons separated them from the road. It soon became clear to me that royalty was on the road, and that I’d have a chance to stick my thumb up at it. I passed the gathering, struggling with the weight of tent, kerosene stove and the dirty laundry of several weeks wear. The police allowed me to continue hitching and as I reached the outskirts of the town the royal convoy passed. I managed that hopeful side-glance of the hitchhiker and caught a glimpse of Charles and Di. They didn’t stop, though there was plenty of space. “Wankers”, I thought to myself. And that is exactly what the contemporary monarchy is.

I will not bore you with republican tales of growing up listening to the Dubliners. You can now experience that at an Irish themed franchise pub. My original antipathy had nothing to do with politics at that time, but simple decency. Monarchy is a euphemism for plunder and pillage, for indecent power and eloquent disguise.

All monarchies have at their origins in venal and power motives that get recast as salvation of nation, empire or race. I was young when I believed that, and I still do. There can be no democracy that has at its heart a belief in birth privilege.

The language, pomposity and stuffed-turkey nose-in-the air disposition of monarchy are supposed to be markers of born virtue. I doubt that there can be a shred of virtue among people who believe themselves superior to others. To be born to title is no-one’s fault, but to hold to that title, to walk red carpet and to speak of ‘subjects’ is blatant blasphemy to any humane creed.

Can I even be bothered rehearsing my political objections? Not really, go back to the pamphleteers of several hundred years ago. They said it all. To update it a little, here is my two fingers worth.

Consider the grand tax heist that only ended last decade. Consider the silliness of bowing to someone who views you as a lowly subject. Consider even more forebodingly the death of the incumbent and the arrival to the throne of a sermonising Charles holding weekly broadcasts on nose fungus and the banality of contemporary life.

Consider the Coronation. Consider an over excited octogenarian Prime Minister John Howard in attendance finally stuffing it in Canterbury as he stumbles and falls while taking a bow. Consider the news broadcasts that follow his cadaver’s return to our fair shores. Consider the fate of poor Australian expatriates in London putting up with Johnny come lately jokes.

Royals and aristocrats do not expect much from commoners, only that we follow their wise advice. They do, however expect vulgarity. So here goes. In private moments the queen passes wind. That momentary pause of waving hand is most likely one such moment. That beneficent gesture of bending to take flowers from a school girl’s hands, another.

The queen goes to the toilet. How she does, and under what conditions, is a state secret more securely kept than any other. Hopefully some rogue republican can reveal the excesses to which the government went to make sure that on the tour the royal toilet was used only by her, and once only.

Headlines I would have liked to have seen during the Royal tour include:

HOWARD PATS QUEEN ON THE BUM
QUEEN PATS HOWARD ON THE BUM
QUEEN GETS DIRTY (PICTURE OF QUEEN PLANTING A SEEDLING)
QUEENS AGAINST MONARCHY CONFRONT QUEEN
NATION GIVES TWO-FINGER SALUTE

And now my own personal message to the Queen: Your voice is snobbery vocalised, your tedious care for the world is tea’n’scone philanthropy mobilised. A wretchedly obsequious milieu will ‘maam’ you, while erstwhile republicans will bow to you. As for me, all I can say Maam, is that you’re one big Haam. Please, please, don’t come back.

September 8, 2007

Democracy From Below: Nidhi


Democracy From Below: Nidhi Eoseewong, Thailand
Michael K. Connors

(To appear in modified form with full citations in
Vin D'Cruz (ed.) Contemporary Actors and Ideas in Asia, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2007.)

It is 2006 and Bangkok born Thai-Chinese scholar Nidhi Eoseewong (1940 -), based in the northern city of Chiang Mai, is visiting the majority-Muslim province of Pattani to deliver a lecture on the region’s ancient history. Pattani is one of three southern provinces that since 2004 has been subject to militant violence and brutal state repression, leading to several thousand deaths.
Addressing an audience of ethnic-Malay Muslims, Nidhi brings out the common nature of shared periphery:

"I am a Bangkok native who now lives in Chiangmai. Natives of Chiangmai put a lot of importance on the name Sirimankhalaacaan, a monk whose accomplishment was the writing of text that allowed for the teaching of the Pali language. This is a point of pride for people of Chiangmai... it means nothing to Bangkok people. It is just like Pattani having meaning for people here [referring to Pattani as a centre of Islamic scholarship] that other Thai people are not aware of...This phenomenon of regional pride … should be something that all Thai people can accept and understand."

Even though they share a history of incorporation into the modern nation state of Thailand, Chiang Mai and Pattani are worlds apart.

Chiang Mai’s population is predominantly Buddhist and Thai speaking; the history of its royal courts has been incorporated into a popularised version of Lanna culture which provides the basis for the proud identity of its more civic-minded folkloric residents. Moderate climate and folkloric richness has made of Chiang Mai a tourist destination of choice; its people are admired for their light skin and gentle manner. There is no provincial shame attached to Chiang Mai; the residues of its historical distinctness have found expression in the modern meaning of Thainess.
It is from this place and its eponymous university that Nidhi writes to undo the silence and violence of state nationalist politics. In doing so, he has become Thailand’s foremost public intellectual, ceaselessly writing and educating for a politics beyond nationalist assumptions.

Chris Baker, a leading historian on Thailand, notes that one of Nidhi’s early writings, a 1964 short story on the horror of war, ends with a thank you note to ‘love, friendship, understanding, empathy, mutuality, and peace – everything which inspires confidence, hope, love and warmth in humanity… everyone who reads this story with the feeling of being beyond the assumptions in the word “nation”’. It is as if Nidhi’s intellectual life has been dedicated to those he thanks, and his political struggle – through his writing and commitment to education and campaigns – is dedicated to the eradication of their antonyms.

And it is in the Muslim South of Thailand that the antonyms have most stirred. It is the violence of nationalist assumptions that means many Bangkok Thais think of the deep South as disorderly, dangerous and home to unpatriotic dark-skinned Muslims. Language and education policies to assimilate this population of Malays into Thai identity have failed, despite the effort of accommodating Muslim elites. Experience of cultural oppression, brutal repression and the petty arrogance of a conquering state, have led significant numbers of people in the Muslim South to consider themselves more strongly Malay than ever before. It has led some of them to horrific violence in the name of their desired nationhood, Pattani.

The separate stories of Pattani and Chiang Mai reflect the diverse regions and peoples of modern Thailand. They are truly separate ‘nations’ in terms of language and culture. Only state nationalism, seeking to nationalise people by language policies and centralized curriculum, can ignore this fact. And it is this state project that Nidhi attacks. His writings expose the vanities of state nationalism and invokes the potential of common people to do good.

Nidhi in context
The role of the public intellectual - as trusted and probing interrogator of the every-day, of poking fun at national vanities while giving voice to higher aspirations, of making sense of capitalist development from the perspective of those made subject to it - is one that Nidhi clearly cherishes. What makes public intellectuals unique is the manner of their engagement with the very society that they are seeking simultaneously to evoke and transform, and how this engagement shapes their work.

Nidhi’s prolific writing is motivated by a politics of pluralistic national identity and renegade rejection of the state and power. He opposes Thai bureaucratic ideology that views history as the succession of kings and that promotes a rarefied Thai culture. He pokes fun at official versions of Thainess. Let me take just one example, an article on Krengjai. Roughly translated krengjai means ‘considerate deference’; it is used to explain how Thai social interaction is smoothened by mutual respect and consideration. It is seen as being a paramount Thai characteristic. Why, if this is so, asks Nidhi, do people drive madly on the roads endangering others? He bemoans that Thailand is not a krengjai society, that there is not deep respect for individuals. Why? His answer is that krengjai is actually part of a patronage system, that Thai manners reflect hierarchies, that people are krengjai only to their superiors. Secondly, as a legacy of history, the public sphere is seen as part of the state or crown, and citizens thus have a poorly developed sense of regard for it, no krengjai. People will only have this regard when they are part of the system, and this means more democracy. Note how deftly Nidhi shifts the meaning of krengjai, from its hierarchical past to assume in the present the meaning of an ethos of consideration for society. Moves such as this, taking hold of the arsenal of Thai identity and subjecting it to friendly fire, characterises much of his writing.

While Thai politics oscillates between military dictatorship and flawed and corrupt parliamentary democracy (Thailand has had 18 constitutions and nearly as many successful or attempted coups d’etat), Nidhi writes of the common people as the articulators of a common-sense democratic mentality. This is uncommon. Ever since Thailand abolished the absolute monarchy in 1932 and embraced quasi-constitutional rule, Thai citizens have been subjected to mass education campaigns on the virtues of democracy. When democratic space opens up and the military retreats this invocation to act as proper democratic citizens reaches a crescendo: Don’t sell your vote to corrupt politicians! But the nature of Thai parliamentary democracy, with non-ideological parties forming networks of corruption, has alienated most people. So, elections can be cynical affairs. Thais have dubbed pre-election nights ‘the night the dogs howl’: vote-canvassers make late-night visits to bought voters to ensure compliance. Their nocturnal meanderings stir sleeping dogs and villagers wake up to the howling: an apt sound for an aching democracy.

The idea that most Thais are ignorant and unprepared for democracy is remarkably persistent. In September 2006 the government of Thaksin Shinawatra was overthrown in a coup d’etat. Thaksin, a right wing populist, had won massive support because of a range of concrete policies perceived as helping ordinary people. Whatever the causes of the coup, liberal intellectuals and the military pronounced that Thaksin’s electoral mandate was illegitimate because it was either bought or based on ignorance. Several days after the coup Nidhi published ‘Untitled Article’ and called for restoration of the abolished 1997 constitution (suggesting, mockingly, that the military simply amend only those parts of the constitution on change of government). He challenged the military on the question of sovereignty:

"This article is written in some confusion by someone who has not studied law; when a constitution is abolished, does sovereignty return to the people, or otherwise to the king (this is a controversial point among law academics)? Most certainly it is not returned to the coup group. If sovereignty is returned to the people, then freedoms and liberties are boundless, because they have returned to a state of nature, and therefore the publishing of this article can not be illegal. If sovereignty is returned to the king, then the limiting of rights or freedoms has to be by royal command, and if other laws still stand, which were established by royal command, then it may be held that political expression in the public sphere is not wrong."


In late September 2006 Nidhi appeared on television and tore up the military’s dictatorial interim constitution. This was at a time when many of Bangkok’s intellectual class and most certainly many of its middle classes supported the coup, feeling that the Thaksin regime was deeply corrupt, brutal and self-aggrandizing.

The Public Writer
Nidhi’s public life as a writer began in the mid-1960s. A military dictatorship, ruling in the name of Thai-style democracy, was in place. Liberal elements were stirring, and the Communist Party of Thailand was also emerging as an insurgent force. Nidhi was clearly of a liberal colour, contributing to the Social Science Review, a magazine that published critical commentary; it was funded in the name of the US’s freedom diplomacy. In 1966 Nidhi wrote on the role of public intellectuals stating that they,

"should be leading thinkers in society that is, if there is any problem be it economic, cultural, political … they should offer solutions…An intellectual is not someone who simply has knowledge for themselves without looking at the problems in society or humanity. "

Famous Thai writer and editor Sujit Wongthep, remembers being a student in the mid 1960s who was comfortable with failure. He came across the high achieving Nidhi at a meeting of the literati speaking on intellectuals, and found him disagreeable. He spoke in a fancy manner, wore whites and had the airs and graces of a student from the prestigious Chulalongkorn University. Sujit recounts hating Nidhi even more when several of his works appeared in print. Sujit later learned that Nidhi had gone to the US (1971-1975) to pursue a PhD and had then returned to teach in Chiang Mai. He expected that would be the end of Nidhi, and that Chiang Mai would have to bear the weight of his airs and the added arrogance of an overseas’ PhD. What Sujit didn’t know is that having arrived in the US, Nidhi wondered what was the point of doing a PhD on Thailand with a westerner and set about learning Indonesian. He completed his PhD on Indonesian elites, literature and class – a theme he would return to in his own historical work on Thailand.

When Sujit established the revisionist and popular history magazine Silapawatthanatham (Art and Culture) in 1979 as an outlet for radical thinking, he discovered that Nidhi had become famous among historians for his revisionism. From the late 1970s until the mid 1980s Nidhi produced Thailand’s most innovative historical works that, among other things, challenged the national school of history centred on the anachronistic conflation of monarchy and nation. Given Nidhi’s reputation, Sujit invited him to contribute to Silapawatthanatham. The present purposes for which Nidhi wrote history also attracted Sujit. Writing in 1980 Nidhi comments,

At a time when the state in all its forms tries to control information, the heart of the history discipline, namely its attention to critical evaluation of facts, is even more necessary… History should teach people how to cope which the information which they receive from various sources in a well-rounded and creative way, in the hope that they will be able to deal intelligently with hearsay; and that there will never again be a time when a small group of people will be able to fool the majority and create political chaos through radio.

After his work appeared in Silapawatthanatham Nidhi was amazed at the public response that popular writing could provoke. A public intellectual was born. Nidhi went on to work with Sujit and other publishers to produce some of Thailand’s finest popular cultural history and analysis. In 2001 Nidhi was awarded the prestigious Sripurapha award for this contribution. The citation reads:

The importance of Nidhi Eoseewong is the use of his pen and his status as a writer and academic to point to the importance of ordinary people by noting again and again that ordinary people are the creators of history…and with this belief he established, with the faculty from Chiang Mai University, the Forum of Academics for Poor People and Midnight University…in order to strengthen and advocate for ordinary people across the country.

Nidhi has over 2000 published articles, many of them witty takes on politics, culture and Thai society. As the citation notes, Nidhi has also been involved in grassroots education initiatives and in supporting solidarity networks with villagers in their varied struggles over community rights against the market and the state. Emblematic of Midnight University, an informal after-hours university, is the way it works with local villagers and leaders in recognition of their wisdom and knowledge. Farmers and villagers with no formal education beyond primary school or lower high school have been appointed as faculty and have received honorary degrees.

Nidhi and the Cultural Constitution – Explaining Thai Democracy
If Nidhi’s contribution as an historian is indisputable, it is only in the last decade that he has begun to be recognised not simply as a chronicler of the times, but a profound thinker about liberal democracy from below.
People familiar with Thai history associate the phrase ‘Thai-style democracy’ (TSD) with the height of military dictatorship from the late 1950s to the early 1970s when the military held that the will of the people was manifest in the institutions of the state, and that elections were superfluous. Nidhi has taken the term up for his own purposes.

In the late mid-to-late 1980s the military was struggling against an emergent bourgeoisie over the desirable form of democracy. Writing at that time Nidhi notes that TSD was primarily about attacking Western institutions as inappropriate to Thailand, while it ignored the values that make democracy. Military radio attacked parliamentary democracy as corrupt but Nidhi defended it for at least allowing bad people to be voted out of office. Furthermore, TSD rejected pluralism because of its acceptance of competing interests, but Nidhi notes that political systems are about the distribution of interest. The central issue was not whether there should be division, but whether that struggle was open or secretive. In a society defined by a monolithic Thai unity, this was an argument against the ability of any institution to monopolise representation.

Working through Nidhi’s argument is an implicit economic and political pluralism which allows him to suggest that the universal values of democracy - freedom, liberty, equality, and fraternity (which he sees as originating in capitalist struggles against the absolute monarchy in the West) - should be part of Thai democracy: ‘Thinking about Thai-style democracy is thinking about how to allow those possibly universal ideals of democracy to exist in Thai society’. This requires that the bargaining power of the people be increased, by tapping into local wisdom and village life, and by building independent organizations. Furthermore, TSD, in its radical manifestation, should be about linking interests with political parties that are capable of formulating policy. Moreover, freedom of the press and information will be the prime condition for realizing democracy.
But how to understand people’s relationship to the then existing flawed parliamentary regime? While written constitutions come and go, Nidhi argues that there are norms and values that emerge in the life practices of Thai people which make up what he calls the ‘cultural constitution’. The idea of a cultural constitution is powerful, in its wake the image of an ignorant electorate evaporates and ordinary people’s behaviour can be seen as simply trying to make good with the resources they have at hand in a system that is against them. On this, Nidhi describes how ordinary people ingeniously navigate their way through the formal power of the state and the influence of local rich notables in a manner that plays one against the other, to the people’s own advantage. The ingenuity displayed in these strategic manoeuvres is part of the cultural constitution. However, as Pasuk notes, with the increasing integration of the state and local politicians through various networks (for example as businessmen and local officials conspire to build dams which displace whole communities), the space for this manoeuvre is diminishing. Given this, Nidhi suggests the necessity of controlling power and influence by embedding the rule of law. The implication is that liberalism arises not in the struggles of the bourgeoisie against the state, but in popular struggles to survive the play of power and influence by Thai elites.

He notes, also, that part of the cultural constitution is the popular utilization of symbols when people are struggling against power, including the monarchy. The monarchy is an indivisible part of Thailand’s cultural constitution since time immemorial; it is perceived as having sacred powers to rule over people and care for their wellbeing. While Thais have seen constitutions come and go, if the cultural constitution is threatened they rise up. In his discussion of royal succession Nidhi makes his most dramatic point. By differentiating between the institution of the monarchy and the present and future incumbent, Nidhi sees the cultural constitution as endowing the people with the right to a monarchy worthy of the position (that is, the relationship is based on a form of social contract), thus implicitly sanctioning some kind of elective principle, by whatever means, of the future Thai monarch.
Nidhi reads into the Thai ‘cultural constitution’ some of the universal values of democracy, but grounds them in existing institutions and changing levels of consciousness, thus making the cultural constitution a dynamic and changing entity. ‘Thai-style Democracy’ and ‘The Cultural Constitution’ were published in the late 1980s and early 1990s respectively. They are prescient. The cultural constitution that Nidhi so brilliantly outlined continued to influence the shape of popular politics and helped shape Thai liberalism in the 1990s.

Transgressing Boundaries: the Public Intellectual
If this is a profile in courage it is of a man who sought to give authentic voice to the culture and people around him. He appears untouched by the lure of power, and while others clamour for committee appointment, Nidhi stands at a distance. Nidhi’s courage is not greatly different than that of the thousands of people in Thailand who seek truth and justice in the matters that affect them. Nidhi shares with these people an ability to withstand the powerful taboo against transgressing official notions of Thainess. Kasian Tejapira notes that since the1980s academics have not been subject to physical intimidation. Instead the state sought to go soft on them, to bring them back into the national body. In this context, instead of violence, fear prevails in the service of self censorship. That fear is based, Kasian says, on a well inculcated sense of the boundaries across which one may not pass: the nation and the monarch, or Thainess. In being conscious of these boundaries, academics have cultivated a disposition that, when confronted with injustice, they are afraid to act in ways that would upset social order. They are afraid that, ‘their superiors in their academic circles will not dote on them or give them patronage’; that they will be denied access to position, status and privilege. This is the “voice in the head” that makes them servants of the state and capital. It’s a process well and alive the world over, including Australia. While Nidhi has been greatly transgressive of boundaries, he demonstrates cognisance of limits when it comes to commentary on the contemporary monarchy, an institution protected as much by harsh laws against lese majeste than by the cultural constitution. All involved in the study of Thailand police themselves on this question.

One major flaw in Nidhi’s work is that in his progression from accomplished historian to the public intellectual, he is not above playing the “Us and Them” card in the service of defining his pluralistic notion of national identity: Westerners (farang) rarely appear in his popular writings as individuals or people with different and competing ideals, rather they stand as a monolithic entity that acts as a foil for the things in folk culture that Nidhi reveres.
In closing, let’s return to history. In his preface to the English translation of Pens and Sails Nidhi writes, ‘I’m…not certain whether the English version of this book will be of much use to students of Thai history, because these people should be able to read Thai already’. This seemingly Thai-centric view of the world hides something much more nuanced. For Nidhi, history is active engagement in one’s own society: we can read him here to be saying that history is only worth it if there is critical agency behind it: it is the present interrogating the present through the past.

As a historian and commentator, Nidhi appears content in his conviction that his old friends (empathy, love, understanding) have been worth serving. The dedication has paid off: his evocations of the popular mood, his sociological and ethnographic insights are rich and alive because he brings to his craft as public intellectual an ability to arouse surprise, anger, laughter and empathy. Reading Nidhi’s work makes me want to engage more with my own society, to be part of the hustle and bustle of ideas and struggles that shape it, to understand the people that great ideologies claim to speak for. That is what I understand Nidhi to mean when he says that people should learn to read Thai.

_________________________________________________
Some of the history in this this piece derives from Chris Baker's concluding chapter in a translation of Nidhi's Pen And Sail: Literature And History in Early Bangkok including The History of Bangkok in the Chronicles of Ayutthaya Available via amazon.com

A New Demanding Mark-it: Higher Education

Read about the difficult life of the middle-aged academic:

New Demanding Mark-it
By DR ERUDITIO SEDIF


"So you are unhappy with your mark?
Sit down; you’ve caught me at an odd
moment. Yes, I understand you are working
full time and that you are a HECS paying
customer. I understand that a good mark is
desired, but we don’t off er warranties I am afraid.
You shouldn’t push the HECS thing too much, you
are after all an Arts student — the cheapest there is,
fi nancially speaking. After calculating face-to-face
teaching and expected reading over the semester,
this course costs less per hour than your new ring
tone. By the way, it sounds totally ‘book’. Don’t look
too surprised, I am up on the latest trends. Spell ‘cool’
on your mobile and the predictive speller will give
you ‘book’. See, I am not all nose-hair."

Read More at www.utimes.com.au/issues/u001/16.pdf


Plagiarism Day

"Today is dreaded plagiarism
committee day. The chair is cultural
studies Professor Gerhard, now
gesticulating at the front of the
room, proudly recounting his mastery
of cyber-tools. He’s an eager mid-30s
fox always ready to spruik-up technotherapies
for the digital age of education.
“What use is old technology, I mean like
actually meeting physically, in a square
room? So 20th Century!” the recently
elevated Professor opines, “Students have
taken the lead, and we have to catch
up. Let’s hold our seminars online.”
Sitting to the left is the philosopher Dr
Frostbite who can hardly defrost enough
breath to bother uttering a response.
“Bullshit,” she fi nally says. Then, more loudly,
“No, actually it’s fucking bullshit.” Her
Mancunian accent turns fuck into “fook”,
somehow giving the profanity a poetic lilt."

Read More at
www.utimes.com.au/issues/u002/14.pdf

Hegemony is not the Name of a Band

International Relations: Hegemony Is Not The Name of A Band
By: Michael Connors
Wednesday 11 July 2007
New Matilda


What to make of Australia’s forays into international politics? Of its double-timing of the US and China? Does it really matter what an apparently bit-like player such as Australia does, even if it does occasionally punch above Alexander’s waistline? On that point, how should we interpret Australia being ranked 12th in the world for military expenditure, while ranking 54th in population terms?

In the next few months I’d like to offer some of my own musings on these matters. This week I’ll begin with the idea of hegemony, since it is the pursuit of this, or resistance to it, which defines the play of world politics.

Here in Australia, both Labor and the Coalition have made fundamental commitments to anchoring Australia’s future to the US Alliance. Even as they exchange tit-for-tat recriminations on the management of the Alliance relationship, neither Party’s leadership could imagine a foreign policy bereft of it.


The basis of the Alliance is simple: mutual interest. Australia and the US share not only similar security and trade interests, but also an interest in jointly pursuing a particular world order. John Howard joined the war in Iraq not just to earn brownie points within the narrow Alliance relationship, but because he believes that Australia’s future is best secured in a US-structured world. Such a world is safe for market capitalism, a system in which Australia does well.

It is my guess that what is written in the above paragraph would not be controversial inside the PM’s Office. It is a statement of the obvious.

One of the strangest paradoxes of international politics is that hardened Rightwing realists and critical theorists often agree with each other. That’s Kissinger and Marx in bed together. Or of a lesser stature, imagine Howard and Chavez knocking the bedposts against the wall at Kirribilli.

In between the Left and the Right, with a head ache, are soggy-lettuce liberals who are maligned by realists as tree huggers, and by the Left as, well, tree huggers.

Against the gumph that is ‘liberalism’ (that we can build a peaceful world order of market capitalism mediated by national cultures), critical theorists and Realists agree that the international system is driven by competing States, power, empire and exploitation — and within these different arenas is the pursuit of hegemony or counter-hegemony. The difference lies in whose side you are on. Do you finish all the huffing and puffing by getting out of the Right or the Left side of bed?

One of the most noxious views of realism comes from that latter day Rudyard Kipling, Niall Ferguson, who fears a world without a superpower, in much the same manner I imagine John Howard does. You will recall that in his book Empire, Ferguson calls upon America’s distracted youth to serve the new empire for the global good. Writing in 2004 in Foreign Policy, Ferguson argued that without a global superpower, a new Dark Age will descend upon us:

Religious revivals. Incipient anarchy. A coming retreat into fortified cities. These are the Dark Age experiences that a world without a hyperpower might quickly find itself reliving. The trouble is, of course, that this Dark Age would be an altogether more dangerous one than the Dark Age of the ninth century…Technology has upgraded destruction, too, so it is now possible not just to sack a city but to obliterate it.

Fundamental to realism in international politics is the belief that States — other than your own, of course — are up to no good. Some call this the ‘security dilemma.’

Basically put, because another State can never be trusted, and because the international system lacks any regulatory body that can universally enforce rules, it’s best to stock up on weapons, alliances and the like. That’s why Australia has recently added steroids to its Defence budget. Given what happened to Saddam’s Iraq, the message is clear: no insurance policy (WMDS), no security. Now to reduce a piddling or moderately-sized State’s security dilemma, big States can offer alliances and prophetic visions of global order. So the world is full of complex alliances and international bodies.

For realists, it is only by journeying on the rollercoaster of security dilemmas that the balance of power in world politics is forged. There is no doubt that there is thrill in the ride. Every other ride is for five-year-olds, including the UN and human rights regimes.

John Howard should not be judged too harshly for the debacle in Iraq. He sees the world from the heights of his own realist rollercoaster, and the supersonic vibrations of that ride no doubt affected his balance.

Realists are good at imagining they can plan world order by the use of power and diplomacy. Henry Kissinger, the consummate realist, may have been joking when he said, ‘Next week there can't be any crisis. My schedule is already full,’ but he also revealed the fundamental pretensions of those in power — that the world revolves around them. It’s an understandable pretension to fall into. After all, as one wit put it, when you are the equivalent of an 800kg gorilla (as the US is) in the zoo of world politics, the rest of the world’s eyes are on you; but your eyes are on the bananas. Yum!

Eight hundred kilogram gorilla-States in international politics are called hegemons, from the Greek ‘to lead.’ That is, they have the power and the means — by virtue of superior military capacity — to shape the direction of international politics and to enforce their will. Consider the fact that the US’s military expenditure is greater than the combined expenditure of China, Russia, United Kingdom, Japan, France, Germany, India, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Italy, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Turkey, Israel and the Netherlands. That’s why the US could go to war in Iraq in defiance of the United Nations. It had nothing to do with the superiority of argument.

Even so, there are limits to hegemony — as the US is now realising. Just as it messes up in the Middle East, to its South a wave of Left populism is shaping a new soul order based on rolling back neo-liberalism and US meddling.

In Asia, the rise of China is of such consequence that US foreign policy has been preoccupied by it since the end of the Cold War. Under the convenient excuse of the ‘war on terror,’ the US has expanded its military bases through mineral rich Central Asian States as a means of ensuring its continued but troubled hegemony.

How Australia relates to this hegemony, its role in its enforcement, and the forces gathering against that hegemony will be my concern in future articles.

The Death Sentence of Saddam Hussein

Iraq: The Death Sentence of Saddam Hussein
By: Michael Connors
Wednesday 8 November 2006
New Matilda


Imagine the words being delivered: ‘Death by hanging.’

On hearing these words your body speaks for itself, unmediated by language — its life force races around, dizzying and nauseous. Even if language has evolved through the millennia, its basic messages have remained the same: love, lust, guilt, fear, joy and death. And the most physical emotions are still borne by blood through our veins.



No one whose sense of justice remains could be unmoved by the now weak man hiding behind defiance, who makes his fear and trembling a rallying call for Iraqis to unite against the infidel occupier. Saddam Hussein is a man who may inspire ridicule and revenge, and surely is worthy of both. But these are not the motives of the Law.

What does a man who occupied palaces, who took the life of others as casually as a butcher dresses carcasses, and who looked upon his own people with the contempt of an unbeliever — what does such a man think upon hearing his death pronounced? How does a man who acted as god, deal with the higher god of Law? Does he remember for a moment the fear of those who died at his command? Does he imbibe his own sense of heroism and entertain the conceit of rescue by an outraged insurgency? Does he realise that just as he lived by the banality of evil, so he shall die?

Does Saddam visit the metaphorical grave of those he buried — the husbands, the wives, the gay lovers, the children of others? All of them — decomposed, silent and unknown — have been resurrected in court testimony, their names uttered in public. Those whom he disposed of have returned to pronounce his own death sentence. That such rotten flesh should bring me down!

As he tosses and turns in his hygienic cell, do the germs of the past taunt him? Or does he, a murderer, take what he has done and give it another meaning, placing it in national narratives of salvation? I did it for the greater good. And how different, then, is he from others, who have killed for the sake of a nation?



Like people the world over who were murdered for ‘reasons of State,’ those who Saddam killed have unmarked graves. The exact moment of their death is recorded in the executioner’s mind alone. At the moment of knowing what was coming, what did they think? Why were some calm to the end? Why, knowing that this walk to the open grave was their last, did they not run or walk further? What secret does this reveal — knowing, a gun to our head, that we resign ourselves. Did they ever imagine death like this? A bullet in the head, sand in the mouth, gas in the lungs. And did they forget their rage at the murdering machine before them, and move their final thoughts to kinder things — of love and family, of the good things they had done?

To murder a person is, in part, to take memory out of its rightful place, and slice it up. It is to give everyone who remains an ending that colours their beginning. It is to announce that life may be taken unnaturally, and so to say that tragedy is both random and natural.

He — and I will not use his name further for he is many people — may have taken many lives. And now others, in an ancient ritual of justice, have been called on to take his life in kind, as if justice could be weighed. As if the man, who was but a boy, who was but a man, who sucked the life force from others, could ever account for his deeds by forfeiting that which is common to all living beings. His death, as insignificant as any other death, will have meaning because of the seal of justice pronounced in death.

For all that he has done, he does not deserve to die by hanging or by any other State-orchestrated means. For, in taking his life, we are saying that for ‘reasons of State’ lives may be taken — which is exactly how he saw the issue.

Imagine a better justice, where a man who took the beautiful lives of others is spared his own life as a testament to a better morality.

KEVIN RUDD: SMILE TO WIN THE ELECTION


Cartoon by sharyn ragget at http://www.brilliantthings.com.au/sharyn/

The Next Big Idea
By: Michael Connors
Wednesday 17 January 2007
New Matilda


Labor is in need of something special to overcome John Howard’s habit of always having the Next Big Idea: foreigners, immigrants, aliens, them, Muslims, terrorists…

There is a danger that with Kevin Rudd as its principled new leader, Labor is above stooping so low as to reach up for an abstraction that moves the electorate. But it must do so if it is to win office. Labor needs its own Next Big Idea (NBI).



The idea must be robust, outwit a sound byte, and find its way into everyday practise: otherwise it’ll come across as the hybridised random aggregate of a latte-fuelled focus group, high on new-new-Labor optimism. Best to go for something ordinary, folksy. Something that is not even a word perhaps, but a gesture. The next big idea may not even be an idea, but the conveyor of an idea.

It is true that NBIs tend to be dumb — but only in retrospect. The End of History, Clash of Civilizations, Bankruptcy For Winners, War on Terror, The Third Way… You have to admire how easily the phrase-crazemongers dominate public and academic discourse, despite their banality. Those writing NBIs are writing for an audience whose entire adulthood reading experience is based on reading executive summaries. To work on the NBI is to accept a withering of the mind for the ease of manufactured public deliberation. If it can’t be summarised, don’t write it.

The life-cycle of the common NBI is shorter than that of a Labor opposition leader, and it is just as hollow. Only exceptional NBIs — meaningful ones — last beyond a few years. Ordinary NBIs serve limited purposes. In this case, it’s about winning an election.

What matters is that people put the NBI into the shopping trolley, that presidents and husbands talk about it, and that Tony Blair carries it — for instance Wise Ways Wanting: How to be the Medium of Other People’s Desires — next to the Koran, with a look of such ridiculous sincerity that his deserting ministers read it. The NBI is a club, and the author offers readers the key to its entry by mastery of jargon. If they succeed, they will have ‘squared the circle’ by ‘thinking outside’ the ‘reengineered box’.

For the management guru working up the next NBI the rewards and the markets are endless. There can never be enough NBIs waiting in the wings. The business shelves of bookshops are so full of wisdom one can randomly pull out any book and be struck by its insight. Of course one must be prepared to ditch one’s prejudice that a book must be a logical and systematic exposition of its chosen theme.



I did such an experiment and pulled out a random book. I was motivated by the need to get Kevin Rudd to dumb down a bit, to work at not being so smart. He needs to wipe from his face that barely visible sneer of knowing-it-all that attends his public speaking. Cameras can do close-ups, Mr Rudd. Your sneer, Mr Rudd, may prove to be not so much your Achilles heel, as your Latham’s handshake. Faced with this problem, I think I have found the next NBI. While not its author, I would like to claim some credit in locating an answer to Labor’s woes.

Party faithful, go to any bookshop and you will find a priceless store of conceptual mud awaiting Rudd in JH Carver’s book, Smile with your faith: the beginning is not the end (Cockeyed Press, Ohio, 2001).

Carver’s strength is not precision — he tends to offer ponderous qualifications. However, he does develop a memorable, for five-year-olds, three-fold conceptual schema of such profound dimness that all those who want to make good from bad beginnings will see it as bright lights.

Carver’s NBI is to ‘SMILE WITH YOUR FAITH, NOT YOUR FACE’. (The shrieking font is as per the original.) His book seeks to provide leaders whom take part in prayer circles with the means to move on from the troublesome beginnings that accompany any rise in politics. His triangular route through the guilt of bad beginnings is as follows:

Smile with your faith, not your face. Because you believe in something bigger than the man you see in the mirror every morning. When you smile, imagine God smiling.
Guilt is for losers. No one else is feeling guilty, just pissed off that you won.
The past is not the present. So you were a two-faced liar, but what would Jesus do now?

Readers’ testimonies include those from governors of various American states. One reads:

The rosy optimism that comes from following the three step formula of Smile with your faith will spread good will among those around you. And a smile that is bigger than you is a vote winner. Offer the people something, but first read Carver.

Party faithful, put away your elitist obsession with big thinkers, and purchase Carver with pragmatic pride; consider too, the practical wisdom of smiling with your faith. Kevin Rudd is an intelligent man. He can do nothing other than smile.

A Post-Moral Prime Minister: the blank armband of amnesia

Federal Politics: A Post-Moral PM
By: Michael Connors
Wednesday 11 October 2006
New Matilda


In a recent address to celebrate conservative Quadrant Magazine’s 50 years in vituperative print, Prime Minister John Howard said, ‘Of the causes that Quadrant has taken up that are close to my heart, none is more important than the role it has played as counterforce to the black armband view of Australian history.’

Let Quadrant’s motto, following Howard, now shamelessly read, ‘Hail the blank armband of amnesia.’



In the same speech, the Prime Minister purported to have heroes. It will be a relief to some that the most unheroic of political figures has inspirational sustenance. Howard praised the ‘moral clarity’ of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II.

Now, rather than express outrage at Thatcher’s support for apartheid, Reagan’s dance with Latin American death squads and the good father’s sneer at liberation theology and contraception, I will pause a moment and not take the bait.

I don’t believe these are John Howard’s heroes. I think he was pandering to his audience. There are no greater heroes than these three for the Quadrant lot.

In fact, I don’t think John Howard believes anything at all. If not quite our first post-modern prime minister, he is at least our first post-moral prime minister. In the words of philosopher Slavoj Zizek, our times are marked by an ability to keep on doing that which we know to be wrong: ‘They know what they are doing, but still they do it.’

John Howard lives by this post-modern cynicism, even as he critiques it. He can’t fail to notice how the press gallery recasts his mendacity as political sagacity, and he revels in this good fortune.

Those who write history seek meaning, so they invest Howard with intention, purpose and vision, all of which he lacks. The result is that recent Australian political history may well be written as nothing more than a scoresheet of interest rates, export earnings and ad hoc payoffs to the electorate. This does not befit the story of the fall of the social-democratic Australian settlement experienced by many Australians.

John Howard’s own story is a simple one. He saw which way the wind was blowing and set his sails accordingly. He is the clown who saw Australian politics for the circus it was and played to the crowd. There is no grand tale to tell. John Howard sees no nuances. He sees balance sheets and numbers. Those are his ‘values’. He plays the political game on the ‘Right’ simply because that’s where it’s best to be.


Howard’s foreign policy reveals all. He plays Dixie capitalism with the United States and digs our mines for the Chinese Communist Party. He diverts human rights dialogue into secret encounters with the Chinese, and to advance the War on Terror he suspends Western judicial tradition for the US.


He says publicly that he believes there is no inevitable calamity between the US and China, knowing that US foreign policy is predicated on that very thing.

Howard is no Machiavellian statesman. Rather, like any milk-and-bread corner-shop owner, he knows there are rival gangs on the street. Open gang-warfare is bad for business. So he fawns, and placates both sides, wishing for an empire of perpetual peace in which the cash register rings eternal. He knows one day this will not be so — and hopes that money can be banked in any case. Amnesia serves him not only in domestic politics.

The Americans made a president out of a B-grade actor. His wooden words — ‘the evil empire’ — were those of a puppet on a string. Those words became meaningless and irrelevant as the internal contradictions of the Soviet Union brought about its own demise. Like Forest Gump, Reagan will forever be fortuitously associated with historic events not of his making.

The British took an elocution-conscious petit bourgeois as prime minister and reinvented French bread riots. ‘Let them eat the poll tax,’ she said.

We made a prime minister out of a nondescript man who leaves not a single phrase worthy of memory. Instead, Howard will be remembered for what he could not say: sorry.

What Howard lacks above all is sincerity. This is the man of over-board hyperbole; the man who will not sack a single minister involved in the AWB scandal.

I am not shocked by his apparent choice of heroes. Instead I will praise the political genius of John Howard’s amoral clarity: he looked into the dirty little soul of Australian insecurity and has made of it his own political credo.

History Wars: late 21st Century

History Wars: Onward and Forward
By: Michael Connors
Wednesday 30 August 2006
new Matilda


Education in New Australia is just getting back on its feet. Although there are few resources, no texts, and teachers rely on the memory of demented old Australians, the teaching profession is increasingly confident that New History can be written.

Serving a population of 20,000 children on this small island is a cohort of young post-mutant teachers. They are proving able to instil in the minds of our young a regard for narrative and facts. Still there are many gaps in our knowledge, signified by the question marks that appear throughout the following report.



After the Global Flood (which the Turnbull Government claimed was going to be like a swim in a toddler’s pool) and the Great Nuclear War (which the same Government claimed was the final strike against the Islamo-fashionist terror of Europe), much of the social, political and economic infrastructure of Old Australia was devastated.

The new digital city of Onward (?) — named in honour of the longest sitting Prime Minister in Old Australia’s history — was wiped out. It is said that when the first missile hit, John Onward, retired and approaching his 100th birthday, was re-learning how to count with his favourite Minister, Abbott Costello. Both were beneficiaries of the new stool-stem research of the time.

Grand Court Gerontocrat Kevin Rudd, appointed Governor of Australia by the Chinese Rehabilitation Forces (may we be thankful for their presence), has now forgotten how to speak English and through translation from the Mandarin we understand that he merely repeats, ‘No John, that is not a shooting star; that is not a shooting star.’ This will be the title of our Year Zero history book: Not a Shooting Star.

As for the cause of Old Australia’s destruction, no one is sure if New American Empire missiles mistakenly turned on Australia or if the crackpots in Europe decided that if they were going down, then so were we. The Chinese Rehabilitation Forces (may we be thankful for their presence) have instructed us to ignore Old Australia and to begin our history from Year Zero and then move quickly to the era of the Chinese Rehabilitation Forces (may we be thankful for their presence).

There are those of us who seek at least to remember some moments of Old Australia, as it existed to our North. Unfortunately, there was not a single library or digital database left standing after the Great Flood and War. Any carbon-based text found after the War was used to warm scarred bodies in winter. It is surprising, too, that not a single copy of the mass-produced compulsory high school text Advance Australia survives. Written by G Makawish (?), many of our demented elderly remember it fondly.



We understand that sometime early in the century, the Onward Government, on the advice of learned academics, required schools to teach a linear narrative — and the narrative was ‘onward and forward’ — a happy coincidence of name and policy. Makawish’s history served that purpose. Oral historians have made great efforts to commit to memory key aspects of the book by speaking to the less demented elderly among us.

Some of the fragments that we have established include:

How Australian Aborigines welcomed White Australians and then got drunk and needed a long period of guardianship. An eminent Australian historian by the name of John Hurt (?) reputedly sought a return to 19th century local governors to ensure the wellbeing of the Indigenous peoples. We are not sure of the veracity of this history, but we do know that Indigenous peoples are now key to the survival of de-electrified, non coal-fired New Australia. So we now have John Hurt Day to commemorate the Onward Government’s visionary thinking in maintaining Aboriginal heritage and local knowledge. The Chinese, for reasons we cannot ascertain, chuckle about this.

Old Australians fought in 15 wars against Islamo-fashion terrorists. The first, in the late 19th century led to the liberation of White people from Black Muslims who sought to enslave White pioneers. More recently, the Muslim fashion empire in Europe under Hirohito and Stalhit (?) was defeated by a grand coalition of freedom-loving Old Australians and Americans. It seems a donkey was central to the victory. Despite this, the Islamic worm turned and renewed its hold over Europe, despite calls by respectable Rotary-going members that Christians should breed, and a lot.

In the first decade of the new millennium, Australia petitioned for statehood with the New American Empire. President Clinton (?) — no one remembers if this was a man or a woman — accepted the petition and stationed strategic weapon systems here to defeat Islamo-fashionism in Europe and Iceland.

The Introductory Chapter to Advance Australia is said to have decried the standards of teaching in Old Australia, and called for abidance with the following principles:

Patriotism — love of place and nation
Datism — expression of that love by knowing when the good things happened
Matism — the good times
Onwardism — always thinking of the future, not backwards

We can report that the recent Onward History Summit made progress with rediscovering the pre-History of New Australia and we now feel confident that in so doing we will be in a better position to write our own future.

While the Chinese Rehabilitation Forces (may we be thankful for their presence) are firm that we should not return to Old Australian history — it is only on that basis that we can go ‘onward and forward.’