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Bits and Pieces: The Ghosts of Bushfires Past and Future.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 09/07/2020 - 8:43pm in

Hopefully, the next and upcoming fire season in Australia will not be as devastating as the last one: there isn’t much left to burn.

That will not last, however.

In fact, those fires are still affecting many.

Meet the Firefighters Left Homeless After Battling Last Season’s Bushfires
By Vanessa Milton, Rosie King and Kerrin Thomas (ABC), June 4.

Burnt Out
By Stephanie March and Sashka Koloff with photography by Harriet Tatham (ABC). July 7.

Satellite imagery is a useful tool to assess the magnitude of bushfires; a range of authoritative sources offer such images for free. But its assessment requires some care.

I don’t mean to sound pessimistic, but I am afraid in the near future we’ll have ample opportunity to use them. Some useful guidelines to use those images may prove handy:

6 Things to Ask Yourself Before you Share a Bushfire Map on Social Media
By Juan Pablo Guerschman (Senior Research Scientist, CSIRO). January 10.

Satellite Imagery is Revolutionizing the World. But Should we Always Trust What we See?
Melinda Laituri (Professor of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, Colorado State University). June 4, 2019.

Although the liberal/leftish anti-racist intellectuals know we workers are a subhuman breed of racist brutes – particularly if we fancy ourselves socialists – scientists can still use the help of citizen scientists. And the good thing is that they won’t ask what on earth you do for a living.

You can do this to help scientists:

Birdwatching Increased Tenfold Last Lockdown. Don’t Stop, It’s a Huge Help for Bushfire Recovery.
By Ayesha Tulloch, April Reside, Georgia Garrard, Michelle Ward and Monica Awasthy. July 9.

In the process, and against all expectations given our limitations, we may even learn something.

Melbourne To Widen Laneways To Make Them Covid Safe

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 08/07/2020 - 7:38am in


News, Australia

Melbourne Laneway

Melbourne’s iconic laneways will be widened to a minimum width of 50 metres in an effort to make them covid-19 friendly spaces.

“In time people will come to know Melbourne as a city of broad boulevards full of totally not hidden away bars and coffee shops,” said Premier Daniel Andrews as he announced the new restrictions. “We are grateful for the assistance of the defence force who will be deployed in the CBD to push the buildings apart. Some collateral scrunching up of Myers flagship Bourke Street Mall store will be an unfortunate side effect.”

In other precautions Victorians have been banned from using the words “grouse” and “potato cakes” due to the risk of transmitting the virus in aerosols whilst pronouncing hard vowel sounds.

Officials from the AFL have welcomed rule changes to allow the continuation of the 2020 season.

“Games will now be six a side and played from one end of the Nullarbor Plain to the other,” said Collingwood chair Eddie Maguire. “Sure scores will be a bit lower but it will definitely lead to less players running the length of the field to join in a melee.”

Peter Green

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Constructing Melbourne’s COVID Pariahs

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/07/2020 - 3:00am in



The mid-twentieth-century US sociologist C. Wright Mills wrote a fundamental sociological text called The Sociological Imagination. In it he writes that to understand the relationship between the individual and the social world we need to understand the intersection between the personal and the public—the way that our individual biography emerges out of the historical, economic, cultural and social world. I have been contemplating all this while thinking about how to understand the latest lockdown of whole suburbs in northern and western Melbourne because of COVID-19. It feels as though the only way to understand it is to think about it as a film shot, starting from the micro level of the individual in lockdown and proceeding through widening shots of the community in which they live, the political decisions that are being made about public health policies and finally the reality of infectious disease in a globalised world. I feel a sociology lecture coming over me—stop me; I can’t help myself.

Watching the television last night, I started considering the example of a woman who was crying because her world was becoming stunted again just as it had seemed to be enlarging. ‘We’re being punished, but we haven’t done anything.’ It was interesting that she was saying this as she sat around a table with three other women in a cafe, the four of them clearly much closer together than the 4-square-metre rule we are supposed to still adhere to—but that is by the by. I certainly feel the same way that she did when I hear a state premier telling the media that they don’t want Victorians to cross into their state—one really did say, ‘We don’t want those people here’ to a camera. It resembles the classic stigmatisation of a whole category of people and the production of a new stigmatised identity: the COVID super-spreader. But regardless of that, the epidemiologists have pinpointed the ‘hotspots’ and the ‘clusters’ as correlating to these suburbs. The media has attached itself to the ‘cultural’ angle: the accusation is that families of non-Australian origin gather in large groups and pass the virus to each other, willy-nilly, with no consideration for the rest of us.

When we look at the postcodes that have been locked down, we see some of the poorest and most disadvantaged parts of Melbourne. The locking in of more than 3000 residents of high-rise public-housing towers only confirms this: they really are the poorest and most disadvantaged people, paying for belonging to a stigmatised group. As far as I remember, there was never any suggestion that the wealthy postcodes of the inner east and the Mornington peninsula would be locked down when they were the epicentre of Melbourne’s outbreak. The public health authorities might argue that they would do that now, with all the new information that they are privy to. But this is just speculation. What is not speculation is that the Victorian government has decided to carry on business as usual in a neoliberal environment, and instead of paying police and other state authorities to guard returning travellers in hotel quarantine, it outsourced this job to private companies. These private companies are in the business of paying their employees as little as possible (or legally possible), certainly much less than police officers or prison guards would be paid. The people these private companies employ come from the most disadvantaged parts of Melbourne, and are likely to be from non-English-speaking backgrounds.

In our film shot, we might begin with the individual biography of a man who works as a security guard in a quarantine hotel. He has been given five minutes of training in proper hygiene, with not enough PPE to properly guard against infection; he has been told by his supervisor that if he complains he won’t get another shift (being casual, he relies on as many shifts as possible); he can’t take a sick day to get tested or stay home if he is unwell since he doesn’t have paid sick leave; he might get a ride with others to and from work; and he might live in a multigenerational family in the western suburbs of Melbourne. The wider camera shot must start to take in the state government and the decisions it makes to sidestep its responsibilities to employ people on full-time, permanent contracts by giving the work to private concerns that don’t.

The biographies of the denizens of Melbourne’s western suburbs become part of the structural constraints imposed by neoliberal government policies. This has always been the case, but it is thrown into sharp relief when the whole of Melbourne is affected by a pandemic. The individual is part of the community, which is part of the state, which is part of the nation. But, like climate change, pandemics are global by nature and they only become pandemics because of humans’ ability to move around the world. The little cafe in the west of Melbourne with the crying woman cannot escape a pandemic; her life is structured by the ability of the wealthy to fly around the world for business and pleasure and carry the virus with them.

In his pre-COVID work Pandemics and History, Sheldon Watts outlines how all plagues and pandemics were part of human movement around the globe. If it had not been for the devastation that smallpox wreaked on the ‘new world’ by the invaders from Europe, the Aztecs could have beaten back Cortés. Smallpox so devastated the indigenous population of Meso- and South America that the only answer for the invaders who wanted to exploit the gold and silver of the new land was to bring in African slaves by the millions. Industrial development in Europe brought cholera epidemics that the wealthy could avoid by leaving the cities. Syphilis was carried by armies, navies and wealthy men on business. Just like COVID-19, all previous pandemics substantially changed the individual biographies of the people they affected, not just physiologically but politically and socially. The camera pans out from the crying woman to encompass the world.

Watts lays out how the European response to the bubonic plague was ‘the ideology of order’: essentially the enforced quarantine, isolation and stigmatisation of those with the disease. It all sounds very similar to the daily media routine of our political and epidemiological masters. He also writes:

Though epidemiological contexts differed, very often the elite would claim that the disease targeted one particular set of people while leaving others alone. Arrived at through a complex of cultural filters, this perception was part of what I term the disease Construct… In establishing official responses, this Construct determined what—if anything—should be done in an attempt to limit disease transmission.

It is too early to understand the nature of Construct COVID-19, but there are some indications of what it might be. From the early days of the pandemic, the over-representation of older people among the dead allowed many younger people to dismiss its impact. It is now clear that many younger people are susceptible to severe complications, such as strokes or long-term respiratory problems. This has not stopped Sweden, for example, from fashioning its response by (unsuccessfully) quarantining its aged population while allowing the rest of the community to ignore the implications of the disease. The latest spike of cases in the west and north of Melbourne allows the rest of Melbourne to construct COVID as a disease of migrants and the irresponsible casual workforce, regardless of the pleas of the state government to the whole population that we must all take care and avoid stigmatising those groups…who are in this position because of the policies of the very same government. Meanwhile, the premiers of other states throw imprecations at people from Melbourne and warn them to stay out of their unsullied, pristine regions.

Returning to C. Wright Mills and The Sociological Imagination, it is clear that  understanding the intersections between the story of the crying woman and the implications of Construct COVID will be an evolving enterprise.

World’s Introverts Declare Melbourne The World’s Most Live Able City

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/07/2020 - 8:55am in


The World Association of Introverts (WAOI) have declared today via press release that they consider the Australian city of Melbourne as the World’s most live able city, following news that parts of the city has been put in to lock down.

“Melbourne has always been a much admired city for introverts,” said WAOI President Ian Shutin via text. “And when the Government announced that they would be locking down suburbs, well that just made the city the bees knees for us.”

“All we need now is for them to lock down the whole city and it would be our utopia.”

Premier Dan Andrews could not be reached for comment however Sam Newman the State’s self-professed Premier was available for comment however The (un)Australian chose to ignore him.

Mark Williamson


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What’s in a Name?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 28/06/2020 - 7:06am in

Dedicated to Tahlea Aualiitia.

I seldom write about myself. I suppose you can say I’m a fairly private person (either that, or I’m a boring old bloke; take your pick).

Let me give you an idea what I mean. Blogger tells me that, since my first post (November 11, 2009), I have published 908 posts in this blog, over a variety of topics. Out of that number, only 11 contain personal references (this is the eleventh).

So, here goes. I am among the 49% of all Australians who, according to the 2016 Census, are either born overseas or have at least one parent born there. Coming from continental Europe, my surname, as you might suspect, is not common in Australia. Suffice it to say it is one of those family names full of unusual combinations of consonants, oddly arranged :-)

More to the point: being an uncommon name, Australians of all origins have a tendency to misspell and mispronounce it in random ways. Like the ABC’s Tahlea Aualiitia, I find that can be annoying.

Let me give you a well-known example (by Australians, at any rate): surnames of Armenian origin, like Berejiklian. The emphasis should be placed in the last syllable. Something like Berejikli-Anne.

Another example coming from a popular former SBS anchor-woman: Tegucigalpa (the capital of Honduras). In spite of her interest in fashion, that town has nothing to do with Gucci. It isn’t The-goo-tchi-galpa, it’s The-goo-c-galpa.

A last, more personal, example. For years a friend called me by a name that wasn’t mine. He must have thought it was common for people of my background. He wasn’t alone at that.

He only learned my name after introducing me to another person. I extended my hand to shake that person’s hand and told her my name.

“But I have been calling you such and such for years”, surprised, my friend said. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

I guess I never did because to teach people my name can be a bit of a bother, not worth the effort. Pace P.T. Barnum, I don’t find names that important anyway. In fact, in my friend’s case, the whole thing was rather amusing.

He, by the way, was born in Syria.

You know how I definitely learned to overlook that kind of thing? Annastacia Palaszczuk taught me. If it weren’t for the Google autocompletion feature (see what I mean by unusual consonant combinations, yes?) I could not spell either name (I doubt Pala-che, the common pronunciation, is accurate).

Moreover I have exactly the same hard time with the names Bassingthwaighte (an Aussie celeb’s surname) and Schwarzenegger as I have with Soutphommasane (a local scholar). I may be a slow learner, but I apply equal opportunity.

If I tried hard I could learn, I suppose. After all, I can spell Ludwig van Beethoven. Why the difference? I am not sure. Perhaps because Beethoven’s fame has endured through the centuries, while the others’, with all due respect and for all their personal virtues, which I’m sure they have, may not.

Tahlea Aualiitia feels much more strongly than I about that.

Not being a person of colour myself (and not being either young nor woman), I won’t presume to understand her. She may have her reasons. Her experiences may differ from mine.

What I can say is that I can’t cast the first stone on those who can’t spell my name.

And I can promise I’ll do my best to learn hers. I can’t promise I’ll succeed, however. If I fail, please think of that as a peculiarity of a silly old man, not as something deeper.

Incidentally, the facts that (1) half of Australians were either born overseas or have at least one parent born overseas, and (2) more than a third of Australian media articles reflect negative views of minority communities, which Aualiitia highlights, raise some questions.

Is it possible that some of those media articles could have been written by persons with an overseas background? Could some of their authors even be persons of colour or members of minority communities?

Book on Slavery Around the World Up To the Present

Jeremy Black, Slavery: A New Global History (London: Constable & Robinson 2011).

One of the aspects of the contemporary debate over slavery is that, with some exceptions, it is very largely centred on western, transatlantic slavery. This is largely because the issue of slavery has been a part of the controversy over the status of Blacks in western society and the campaigns for improving their conditions and combating anti-Black racism since the abolitionist movement arose in the 18th and 19th centuries. But it ignores the crucial fact that slavery is a global phenomenon which was certainly not confined to the transatlantic slavery of the European empires. One of the arguments marshaled by the slaveowners was that slavery had existed since antiquity. Both the Romans and the ancient Greeks had possessed slaves, as had ancient Egypt. It still existed in Black Africa, the Turkish empire, the Arab states and India. Hence slavery, the slaveowners argued, was a necessary part of human civilisation, and was impossible to abolish. It was ‘philanthropic’ and ‘visionary’ to demand it.

This was partly the reason why, after the British had abolished slavery in their own empire, they moved to attack it around the world. This meant not only freeing the slaves in the West Indies and their South American colonies, but also at Cape Colony in South Africa, Sri Lanka, India, Hong Kong and further east in the new territories of Malaya, Fiji and the Pacific Islands, and Australia.  Most histories of slavery focus on transatlantic slavery. However, Jeremy Black’s book discusses it as existed around the world.

The book’s blurb concentrates on European slavery in the Americas. It runs

The story of slavery – from the ancient world to the present day

In this panoramic history, leading historian Jeremy Black explores slavery from its origins – the uprising of Spartacus and the founding of the plantations in the Indies – to its contemporary manifestations as human trafficking and bonded labour.

Black reveals how slavery served to consolidate empires and shape New World societies such as America and Brazil, and the way in which slave trading across the Atlantic changed the Western world. He assesses the controversial truth behind the complicity of Africans within the trade, which continued until the long, hard fight for abolition in the nineteenth century. Black gives voice to both the campaigners who fought for an end to slavery, and the slaves who spoke of their misery.

In this comprehensive and thoughtful account of the history of slavery, the role of slavery in the modern world is examined and Black shows that it is still widespread today in many countries.

But Black begins his introduction with the case of Hadijatou Mani, a Niger woman, who was sold into slavery at the age of 12 and subsequently beaten, raped and prosecuted for bigamy because she dared to marry a man other than her master. She successfully brought her case before the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States, which ruled in her favour and fined her country. She stated that she had brought the case in order to protect her children. Slavery is officially outlawed in Niger, but the local customary courts support the custom by which the children of slaves become the property of their masters.

Black then describes how slavery was truly a global phenomenon, and the treatment of slaves at Cape Coast in Ghana resembles the treatment of Christian slaves taken by the Barbary pirates. And its history extends from the ancient world to the Nazi genocide of the Jews. He writes

The mournful, underground dungeons at Cape Coast Castle and other bases on the low, watery coastline of West Africa where African slaves were held from the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries prior to shipment to the New World are potent memory of the vile cruelty of slavery, and notably of the approximately 12.5 million Africans forced into this trade and transported on about 35,000 transatlantic voyages, yet these dungeons are not alone and should not crowd out other landscapes where slavery was carried on and the slave trade conducted. Nicholas de Nicolay’s mid-sixteenth-century account of slave dealers parading their captives naked to show that they had no physical defects, and so that they could be examined as if they were horses, with particular reference to their teeth and feet, could have referred to the world of Atlantic slavery, but actually was written about Tripoli in modern Libya, where large numbers of Christians captured from Malta and Sicily by the Barbary pirates of North Africa were sold.

Indeed, the landscapes of slavery span the world, and range from the Central Asian city of Khiva, where the bustle of the slave market can still be visualized in the narrow streets, to Venice, a major entrepot for the slave trade of medieval Europe albeit not one noted by modern tourists. The range is also from Malacca in modern Malaysia, an important centre for the slave trade around the Indian Ocean, especially under the Muslim sultans but also, from 1511, under, first their Portuguese and, then, their Dutch successors, to the few remains of the murderous system of labout that was part of the Nazis’ genocidal treatment of the Jews. The variety of slavery in the past and across history stretched from the galleys of imperial Rome to slave craftsmen in Central Asian cities, such as Bukhara, and from the mines of the New World to those working in spice plantations in east Africa. Public and private, governmental and free enterprise, slavery was a means of labour and form of control. (p.2).

The book has the following chapters

  1. Pre-1500
  2. The Age of Conquest, 1500-1600
  3. The Spread of Capitalist Slavery, 1600-1700
  4. Slavery before Abolitionism, 1700-1780
  5. Revolution, Abolitionism and the Contrasting Fortunes of the Slave Trade and Slavery, 1780-1850
  6. The End of Slavery, 1830-1930?
  7. A Troubled Present, 1930-2011
  8. Legacies and Conclusions.

I feel very strongly that the global dimension of slavery and the slave trade needs to be taught, and people should be aware that it isn’t simply something that White Europeans forced on to Black Africans and other indigenous peoples. British imperialism was wrong, but the British did act to end slavery, at least officially, both within our empire and across the world. And odiously slavery is returning. After Blair’s, Sarkozy’s and Obama’s bombing of Libya, the Islamist regime in part of the country has allowed slave markets selling Black Africans to be reopened. Sargon of Gasbag, the man who broke UKIP, posted a video on YouTube discussing the appearance of yet more slave markets in Uganda. He pointedly asked why none of the ‘SJWs’ protesting against the racism and the historical injustice of slavery weren’t protesting about that. Benjamin is a member of the extreme right, though I would not like to accuse him personally of racism and the question is a good one. As far as I know, there are no marches of anti-racist activists loudly demanding an end to racism in countries like Uganda, Niger, Libya and elsewhere. Back in the ’90s the persistence and growth of slavery was a real, pressing issue and described in books like Disposable People. But that was over twenty years ago and times have moved on.

But without an awareness of global history of slavery and existence today, there is a danger that the current preoccupation with western transatlantic slavery will just create a simplistic ‘White man bad’ view. That White Europeans are uniquely evil, while other cultures are somehow more virtuous and noble in another version of the myth of the ‘noble savage’.

And it may make genuine anti-racists blind to its existence today, an existence strengthened and no doubt increasing through neoliberalism and the miseries inflicted by globalisation.

















































The IPA and Per Capita: Two Peas in a Pod.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 23/06/2020 - 8:44pm in

Yesterday Alan Kohler published a piece calling to end the debt and deficit fallacy. He is -- as I am -- worried about all the talk of paying the debt. Not just that, in that column he makes a positive reference to MMT and to Stephanie Kelton’s new book “The Deficit Myth”. And, get this, that appeared in the pages of The Australian, flagship of the Murdoch presstitute.

The panic scorn from COALition bigwigs was as predictable as it was quick to come. First in order of seniority in the federal Government was Mathias Cormann (the Arnie Schwarzenegger soundalike, who is -- or might have been -- a lawyer in his native Belgium):

Second in order of seniority, but first in chronological order, was Tim Wilson (who has a Masters of Diplomacy and Trade and a Graduate Certificate in Energy and Carbon Management):

Lastly, was James Paterson (who has no post graduate education, but who, like Wilson, is an alumnus of the Institute of Public Affairs: that, I suppose, more than makes up for Paterson’s lack of credentials):

(Jimbo -- like Timbo -- evidently knows better than to bite the hand that feeds him: he does not chastise The Australian for “advocating wacky economic theories that have been proven to fail”).

To their credit, the heads of the COALition freak show, Scotty from Marketing and Josh Frydenberg, chose to keep a safe distance, as did Labor pollies: it’s always sensible to stay away from fights one is unprepared for.

Alas, it seems, nobody gave Stephen Koukoulas that advice. So, yesterday he was writing:

The Kouk (as he is popularly known), like Paterson, has no post graduate education, and like Wilson and Paterson has a history of being a think tanker (but not from the currently far right -- once upon a time Keynesian -- IPA, aka COALition, but from centre-Left, aka Labor, Per Capita), which evidently entitles him to feel contempt for what he does not understand.

But a few hours later, rather surprisingly, this is what he was saying:

The real Kook please step forward.

Right and centre-Left: same shit from different piles two peas in a pod.

David Hulchanski class discussion

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 22/06/2020 - 7:45am in

I recently participated in a panel discussion in David Hulchanski’s graduate-level social housing and homelessness course at the University of Toronto.

Points raised in the blog post include the fact that all English-speaking countries of the OECD have relatively low levels of public social spending, relatively low levels of taxation, and serious affordable housing challenges.

The link to the full blog post is here.

David Hulchanski class discussion

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 22/06/2020 - 7:45am in

I recently participated in a panel discussion in David Hulchanski’s graduate-level social housing and homelessness course at the University of Toronto.

Points raised in the blog post include the fact that all English-speaking countries of the OECD have relatively low levels of public social spending, relatively low levels of taxation, and serious affordable housing challenges.

The link to the full blog post is here.

Birth of the Frankfurt School.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 21/06/2020 - 9:54am in

April 1964: Horkheimer (front left), Adorno (front right),
Habermas (background, right), Landshut (background left). [A]
In the last few years -- much to my surprise -- the Frankfurt School has become a hot topic of discussion.

Those discussions, however, often lack in understanding of the subject being discussed. I find the extended excerpt the Internet Marxists Archive offers of Prof. Martin Jay’s 1973 book “The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, 1923-1950” invaluable to fill that void.

Jay knows what he is talking about. He has shown a lifelong interest in social and critical theories and cultural criticism, dating apparently from the time when, as a young man, he published on the history of the Frankfurt School.

There is much to recommend that excerpt. It covers the period between the Institut’s foundation in Frankfurt in 1923 to its exile in Geneva, after the Nazis came to power in 1933. Jay writes about the backgrounds and possible motivations of the members of the School (their sociology, one could say), the relationship they saw between their theoretical work and political praxis, their attitude towards orthodox Marxism and reformism. His research undoubtedly must have benefited enormously from his acquaintance with some of the protagonists of his story.

Unfortunately, there is something important, in my opinion, left out in that text, as presented by MIA. Although Jay does mention the post-Geneva period and specifically the Institut’s American residence, little beyond the reference itself is added.

That leaves a lot out of the picture, for, in the case of many “Frankfurters”, their American stay extended well beyond 1950.

In particular, one needs to look elsewhere for the praiseworthy if unorthodox contributions they made to the American war effort against the Nazis, during World War II or, more controversially, after the war ended.