If the Answer isn’t Violence, Neither is Your Silence

Panic
David Marr
Politics and journalism
Black Inc
2011

panicDavid Marr was, for a little while there, what I wanted to be when I grew up.  We’re talking high school here, which I started in 2001, deep in the Howard era and quite shortly before the terror panic gripped much of the “western” world.  For extra context, the first political protest I ever remember going to was one against the incarceration of refugees in the Woomera Detention Centre in 1999.  David Marr was one of an assortment of public figures who espoused opinions aligned with my own, one who was just as angry as I was about everything Wrong with Australia.

This book is a collection of edited pieces by Marr in his capacity as a journalist, tracking the bloom and boom of several panics that have gripped the Australian public, focusing especially on the time since 1997.  Even more especially, it focuses on the extremely vexed question of race as it pertains to immigration, in the wake of backlash against the revocation of the White Australia Policy, and to Australia opening its doors (kinda) to (hold onto your hats) refugees who are not white.  But there are other scandals thrown into the mix too; Jim Henson’s naked children, drugs, hommus-ectuality and that kind of thing.  The point Marr wants to make is that as a people Australians are pretty partial to getting in a flap about things.  Unfortunately, we see as a consequence such draconian and often poorly drafted laws as 2006’s anti terror legislation, or anti bikie laws introduced in various states in the last few years*. Continue reading

Deceived, Distressed by the Truth They’ve Been Withholding

Nothing to Envy Book Cover Nothing to Envy
Barbara Demick
Non-fiction
Fourth Estate
2010

nothing_to_envyNothing to Envy is Barbara Demick’s rightly praised history of North Korea in the early to late 1990s, as experienced by North Koreans.  Demick spent years interviewing North Korean defectors living in China and South Korea to compile the book.  Through their stories, Demick follows the crises in the isolated state that started developing with the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Many political commentators assumed this would lead to the collapse of North Korea as well.  As of time of writing, this has clearly not yet happened.

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They Smoke Cigarettes and Play with Bombs

THE TRAGEDY OF FIDEL CASTRO
João Cerqueira, trans. Karen Bennett and Chris Mingay
River Grove Books
2015

the-tragedy-of-fidel-castro_joc3a3o-cerqueira1The Tragedy of Fidel Castro is an entertaining jaunt into political and religious irreverence.  Communism, capitalism and Catholicism all get a heart lashing as God intervenes, at the beck of Fàtima, in a war between Fidel Castro and JFK.  In the meanwhile, the nature of politics, humanity and religion are also given for the reader to consider.

I’m sad to confess that I did not really get a lot of the humour in the book.  I’m not sure if this is because the nature of humour I enjoy is just different to that present in this book; whether it’s a difference in Portuguese and Spanish humour as compared to humour in the Anglosphere.  Or perhaps it’s just a few of the references I miss, with my relative ignorance of matters concerning post-Bay of Bigs relations between Cuba and the United States.

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You Won’t Have to Follow Me

The Origins of Political Order
Francis Fukuyama
Politics
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
2011

the_origins_of_political_orderWhen contemplating books on politics to read which I knew I would disagree with, international studies heavyweight Francis Fukuyama was someone I considered but briefly.  Somewhere along the way I’d received the impression that Fukuyama had softened in his views and become somewhat more leftist later in life.  Having read the first of this recently completed mammoth duology, I’m left wondering if perhaps the centre has just gravitated right and left him behind.

The Origins of Political Order is an ambitious attempt at understanding how and why human societies have developed such diverse political structures.  The question Fukuyama seeks to answer over all is, why do some societies form state-bound structures, particularly democratic ones, and why do others remain tribal?  It’s a question that many historians, philosophers and various other theorists have attempted to tackle in the past and there is a proliferation of theory on the matter; Fukuyama’s take combines a number of those approaches with his own views.

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The Beatings will Continue Until Morale Improves

DEAR LEADER
Jang Jin-Sung (trans. Shirley Lee; Rider, 2014) ISBN: 9781846044212 Dear Leader

Jang Jin-Sung’s* memoir of his time in and flight from North Korea is a valuable and urgent glimpse into the secret state around the turn of the millenium.  It shines a light on the plight of North Koreans within North Korea, and as refugees living under the threat of forced repatriation in China.  Most interestingly, in my opinion, it provides a glimpse into the daily lives of North Koreans through the eyes of a man who was a true loyalist to the Supreme Leader or “General”, Kim Jong-il.

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