Don’t mourn, despotise!

"Brother, can I hit you up for that 40 mil? 16 storey bronze Hun Sen statues don't come cheap you know." The Cambodian PM holds court at the Autocrat's Picnic on Sunday.

“Hey brah, can I hit you up for that 40 mil yet?” —Hun Sen holds court at the Strongmen’s Picnic on Sunday.

Strongman funeral roll-call time!

  • Hun Sen, Cambodia — The Cambodian judiciary last year released the two men accused of gunning down trade union leader Chea Vichea in broad daylight back in 2004. Despite numerous witnesses placing them hundreds of kilometres away, and the first trial judge (later sacked by the government) throwing out the case, the pair spent years in prison. Back in 2013, the government agreed to partially fund and erect a two-metre tall statue of Chea, on the condition that garment unions put a halt to an annual anniversary march to the site of his assassination in Wat Lanka. Hun Sen recently announced a plan to build a 16-storey tall statue of himself across the river from downtown Phnom Penh.
  • Thongsing Thammavong, Laos — Last year criminalised online criticism of his government and made internet service providers liable for the online conduct of their subscribers.
  • Park Geun-hye, South Korea — Remains the subject of an ongoing investigation as to whether the National Intelligence Service was conscripted to promote her presidential campaign, a flagrant breach of the country’s 1988 constitution.
  • Nguyen Tan Dung, Vietnam — Didn’t let missing out on the General-Secretary post dampen his enthusiasm for locking up pro-reform bloggers.
  • Vladimir Putin, Russia (absent with apologies) —”In post-Soviet Russia, steel beams melts YOU!
  • Xi Jinping, China — Last year 79-year-old Hong Kong editor Yiu Mantin was apprehended and brought up on smuggling charges during a visit to mainland China, after his publishing company announced plans to release a critical biography of Xi. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, or a shade under 18 months for each of the seven cans of paint he was accused of illegally importing.
  • Prayuth Chan-ocha, Thailand — “‘We’ll probably just execute them,’ said Mr Prayuth, without a trace of a smile, when asked by reporters how the government would deal with those who did not adhere to the official line.”
  • Thein Sein, Burma — Three men sentenced to 2.5 years with hard labour in March for “religious offence” after releasing a promotional nightclub flyer featuring a picture of the Buddha wearing headphones. Former opposition member and prominent columnist Htin Lin Oo facing at least two years in prison for having the audacity to claim that Buddhism strictly forbade violence against other religions. Despite his promise to grant amnesty to all political prisoners at the end of 2013, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners reports 170 political prisoners remain behind bars, with another 238 activists awaiting trial, mostly on “unlawful assembly” charges. Some are under the age of 18.
  • Shinzo Abe, Japan — Along with 13 of the 20 members of his cabinet, and 289 of the 480 members of parliament, Abe is a member of Nippon Kaigi, an organisation which argues, inter alia, that “the 1946-1948 Tokyo War Crimes tribunals were illegitimate, and that the killings by Imperial Japanese troops during the 1937 ‘Nanjing massacre’¹ were exaggerated or fabricated.” OK, LOL. In government, has sought constitutional workarounds to remilitarise the country.
  • Najib Razak, Malaysia — Denied the interference of Barisan Nasional, which has ruled continuously since 1957, in opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s prosecution and return to the clink.
  • Tony Abbott, Australia — Fuckwit.
  • Voldemort, United States — The only man with more Cambodian blood on his hands than Pol Pot and Co. Somewhere in a parallel dimension better than this one, France and the States swapped him for Polanski and they both went to rot in a dungeon somewhere (preferably before the latter released Carnage).

You can kill the man, but you can’t kill the weltanschauung. At least these guys made the trains run on time, am I right?

"Mein Führer, I can walk!" Oh fuck off, if Kubrick can then I can.

“Mein Führer, I can walk!” (Alternate caption: “ROSEBUD!”)

This Salon article misses the mark, so let’s start tearing down this fire hazard-sized straw man before Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicks over a lantern and the whole fucking place goes up.

First clue: “Clinton & Kissinger should be ashamed,” reads the teaser—as if the man who executed a death row convict so mentally stunted he saved the pecan pie dessert from his last meal “for later”, or the man who turned Chile into the world’s first neo-liberal petri dish, had the capacity for shame.

Clue Part Deux: “While Singapore’s material progress is beyond question, the argument that democracy and economic advances are mutually exclusive rests on paper-thin logic of the kind Lee did all he could to promote.” Speaking of paper-thin logic, haven’t heard many vocal proponents of the idea that economic advances necessitate democratic governance lately. China’s economy just overtook America’s: where you at, Fukuyama? Anyone whose Nostradamus act relies on Hegel will always get smacked in the face when the pendulum comes swinging back, so off with you to the chateau in Salò to eat your words.

Clue the Third: the author rests his case by quoting Amos Yee, the 16-year-old kid now facing a spell in old chokey for having the audacity—the sheer nerve of it all—to claim that money + prosperity ≠ happiness: “Lee was a dictator but managed to fool most of the world into thinking he was democratic…” WRONGALONGADINGDONG. Sorry kid, I’d say your age is a mitigating factor but your government certainly doesn’t agree.

Lee didn’t pull the veil over anyone’s eyes. For the West, so long as you’re not drinking from goblets fashioned out of the skulls of your enemies, commerce > human rights.² The less objectionable members of his Eastern fanclub (China between Deng and Xi, Mahathir) admired him for his economic success, which in their eyes was inextricably linked to his autocratic leadership. The worse ones (Suharto, post-’97 Hun Sen, about half of the Burmese junta c. 1988-2010) admired him because he was an autocrat, jettisoning all that superfluous nation-building malarkey and raiding the treasury to bankroll their families and crony networks.

They say if you wander the subterranean halls of the RAND Corporation at midnight, you can still hear the ghostly voice of Francis Fukuyama, faintly calling: "One out of three ain't bad! One out of three ain't bad!"

They say if you wander the subterranean halls of the RAND Corporation at midnight, you can still hear the ghostly voice of Francis Fukuyama, faintly calling: “One out of three ain’t baaaaaad”

There is precisely one timeless law of political science to emerge from the 20th century. Take it away Robert Michels, court philosopher to Il Duce: “after amount of time, any organization or polity, no matter how democratically structured, will inevitably become oligarchic.” There is a reason that Asia looked to Singapore as the Paris of 1789 looked to America, and you and I both will spend the rest of our lives in the shadow of Marina Bay Sands, learning just what it means.

Lee is dead. The Age of Lee is just beginning.


1. Also known as the Rape of Nanking, a title earlier in vogue within WWII historiography. Why was it called the Rape of Nanking, you ask? [SPOILER ALERT] There was a lot of rape.
2. For the years 1945-89, substitute for Cold War scuttlebutt > human rights.


Don’t cry for me Australia

During 2013's Singapore National Day, LKY unveils a novel form of corporal punishment for People's Action Party critics that can't afford to pay defamation settlements

At the 2013 Singapore National Day parade, Lee Kuan Yew unveils a new form of corporal punishment for journalists who can’t afford to pay their defamation settlements

Lee Kuan Yew is about to cark it, if he hasn’t already, after his condition at Singapore General Hospital went from ‘critical’ to ‘something worse than critical but we haven’t finished setting up the memorial stage yet’. I thought for a moment they were holding him in situ, waiting to announce his death to coincide with a day of national significance—wouldn’t be the first time—until I remembered that their government is as allergic to paid public holidays as Australians at Kuta are to t-shirts and indoor voices.

That’s not to speak ill of the man himself: whatever your thoughts about de facto dynastic one-party rule, litigating critics into bankruptcy or the impossibility of procuring a pint within 10kms of Marina Bay without taking out a second mortgage, the man turned a swamp into a mega-city with the world’s third-highest per capita GDP. It takes a messianic figure to invert gospel truths, in this case by literally building his house on sand. Personally, I’m not enamoured with the sort of place fondly regarded by the likes of Dave Mustaine and considered by William Gibson to be the closest existing likeness of one of his own dystopian hellscapes, but the man’s calibre and intellect are beyond dispute—especially when considered against the standards set by our own ruling class.

Back in the late 1970s, during a long and unforgiving spell of high unemployment, stagnation and industrial unrest, Lee warned that our nation risked becoming the “poor white trash of Asia”, and even after recanting in 2007, our leaders have never failed to remind him of it. Consider this bemused editorial from the Straits Times reporting Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s 2012 visit to Canberra (’30 years later, Australian leaders still remember that “white trash” comment’). Then-PM Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott were both on-hand to host the Singaporean leader—Lee’s eldest son—at an official luncheon; Gillard was still a teenager when Dr. Lee gave his prognosis, Abbott was still punching holes in student union office walls and doing culture-war scuttlebutt for Santamaria at Sydney Uni.


“Over the decades, we came rather to look forward to Lee’s regular visits, and we’ll always welcome him again. For us, they have resembled the arrival of a respected if rather forbidding uncle, come to awaken us from our indolence and insist that we be our best selves.”


“…Your father once made a rather astringent remark about Australia. This put me into a terrible state of division and uncertainty. Because at about the same time as your father had made that remark, another one of my political heroes Margaret Thatcher said of Harry Lee, that he was, quote, ‘never wrong’. I am pleased to observe that your father has since recanted on his adverse judgement of Australia, and so both Lee Kuan Yew and Margaret Thatcher can both once more take their place in my personal political pantheon.”¹

I’ve listened to drunk relatives at the Christmas table with more grace than these two, but then when you draft former student unionists into the premier league, you inevitably get politicians who never resist the urge to dress up pass-agg petulance with the trappings of magnanimity. Our leaders still resent Lee, decades after the fact, despite the only politician still in parliament from the era looking like a gargoyle on death’s doorstep for the last 10 years himself.

Sydney Morning Herald, July 1979

Do you reckon the guy who did this cartoon was the same one from the Life. Be in it campaign? If so, LOL. Also, fun fact, that was bankrolled by James Hardie. Corporate social responsibility is truly a crock of shit.

And yet strangely, for a quote so totemic in the narrative of Australia’s victim complex, no-one can even pinpoint their exact provenance. Bob Hawke—the man who benefited the most from the late-70s recession and whose government’s reform program helped spawn an entire caste of nouveau riche spivs²—said it dated from 1980, a full year after the above advertisement. The phrase only really became a staple of reportage in 1982, after it was employed by Roderick Carnegie, then the chairman of what is now Rio Tinto, without attribution.³ When it came from a mining magnate, it was a clarion call; when it was a foreign leader, it was a beam in his own eye.

Australia doesn’t ever seem to cope well with wounded pride. Certainly every time I read one of my own countrymen referring to Lee’s words, it’s to serve them back to him on a dinner plate with the casually assured manner of the very drunk and very dumb guy holding court on a barstool. (“Yes we’re all very rich and important now…60 percent gross national debt and sub-Saharan Aboriginal life expectancies—who, me? No, not me, taxi!”) I’m already clenching my cheeks harder than Michael P. Fay in anticipation of the shitty obituaries (oshituaries?) and thinkpieces being drafted at Fairfax HQ right now,4 a couple of cursory paragraphs cribbed from Wikipedia on his domestic achievements and another occasion to celebrate just how fantastic we are these days.


1. Say Lee really is one of Abbott’s political idols, and he wasn’t just running off at the mouth here. It’s curious to wonder whether Abbott had Singapore in mind when he told Nauruan president Marcus Stephen that he sometimes thought Australia needed a “guided democracy”. Look at me, I sound like a talkback radio caller.
2. Who all, needless to say, wound up in Majorca or the clink by the time Hawke was booted out.
3. Carnegie was, inter alia, arguing for industrial relations reform to drive down the cost of labour for his mining enterprise whoaaa is anyone else getting major déjà vu right now?
4. Although, to be fair, it’ll be a nice change to read something about Asia in the SMH that’s not a conniption over Chinese nationals buying houses in suburban Sydney.