WERE THERE RUSSIAN MOLES IN ASIO? WELL YES, PRIME MINISTER.

By | AusPolitics, Critical Essays, Geopolitics, Intelligence | No Comments

  The final volume of the official history of ASIO admits, in muted tones, that there were multiple Soviet moles in the organization during the Cold War. Not one or a possible one, as so often rumoured in the past; but a number of them. The language is vague and elliptical, but the statement is there and it is buttressed by the rhetorical question with which the authors finish the whole work: ‘how extensive was the betrayal and how extensive was the damage?’ The official history was the best possible place to answer this question, but its authors were forbidden…

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THOMAS PIKETTY’S ERRORS REGARDING INEQUALITY BADLY NEED CORRECTION IN THE ERA OF TRUMP

By | Critical Essays, Islam, Middle East | No Comments

  The Trump victory in the United States was a reaction, at root, to the real and perceived costs of globalization: inequality and immigration flows. Now that he is in office, there are serious possibilities of disruptive changes to the global trading system, as we saw with his instant dismissal of the Trans Pacific Partnership. For Xi Jinping, head of state of the world’s most mercantilist country, to stand up at Davos and extol free trade, while Donald Trump, head of the supposedly most ideologically free trade state on the planet vowing to set up tariff barriers has been a…

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POPPER AND THE PELVIS: AN ESSAY ON CONJECTURES AND REFUTATIONS

By | Critical Essays, History, Philosophy, Science | No Comments

  In the last issue of this magazine, it was pointed out by Todd Kliendienst (Organiser of the Karl Popper Philosophy Meetup Group, Brisbane), in a letter to the editor; that, while he enjoyed what I had written about Karl Popper, he felt obliged to point out that I was in error on a point of detail. I wrote, towards the end of the essay on Popper: Popper did not venture into the arena of biology, but a similar story holds in that regard, of course. The bold conjecture by Charles Darwin that natural selection had driven a process of…

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TURKEY’S PURGES: REICHSTAG FIRE PRETEXT OR DEFENCE OF DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS?

By | Critical Essays, Geopolitics, Islam | No Comments

  On the night of 15-16 July, there was what appeared to be an unexpected and badly bungled attempted coup d’état in Turkey. Over 200 people lost their lives in the violence. The Erdogan government swiftly exerted complete control and began arresting or standing down an astounding number of military officers, policemen, judges, civil servants and, most mysteriously of all, school teachers and academics. Some 2,000 of those arrested were accused only of having ‘insulted’ Erdogan. Almost none of this makes sense. There was no build-up of tensions suggesting a possible coup. Allegations by the Erdogan government that it had…

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KARL POPPER AND THE PRE-SOCRATICS

By | Critical Essays, History, Philosophy, Religion | No Comments

  If I was asked to teach an undergraduate course on Rationality 101, I would begin by introducing the students to the work of Karl Popper; especially Conjectures and Refutations, Objective Knowledge and The Open Society and Its Enemies. Indeed, a good case could be made for having such a course consist entirely of acquainting undergraduates with the arguments in these three books and inducing them to think hard about them. Between them they cover principles vital to both natural and social science. When I took first year philosophy, almost forty years ago, no such course was on offer. I…

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REASON IN WESTERN CIVILIZATION

By | Cognitive Science, Critical Essays, Psychology, Western Civilisation | No Comments

Or what it means to be a rationalist in our time For years now, I have heard people speak sceptically, even dismissively, about ‘Western logic’ or ‘Cartesian rationalism’, as if the ills of the modern world are largely to be blamed on an excess of reason in Western civilization. I feel pretty much at home in the Rationalist Society because I believe such notions are fundamentally erroneous. In writing this for readers of The Australian Rationalist, I am, in all probability, preaching to the converted, but even among members of the Rationalist Society of Australia there is, I suspect, quite…

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CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION

By | Biography, China, Critical Essays, Geopolitics, History, Taiwan | No Comments

On the death of Zhao Ziyang and the future of China  “We Chinese people have an old weakness: we cling to some things so hard that we can’t let go…This weakness has blocked up people’s thinking, has stifled democracy and science, has aided ignorance and backwardness, and is a major obstacle to the advance of Chinese society.” Li Ruihuan (1992)[i] “Rapid economic growth is a stressful process…it churns and reorders economic and political elites. It can destabilize the political order that is responsible for the policies that sustain it, unless the political order itself evolves with the economic structure.” Ross…

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QUEMOY: AT THE FRONTIER OF THE POSSIBLE

By | China, Critical Essays, Geopolitics, Taiwan | No Comments

  Visiting the island of Quemoy, or Kinmen, as it is now commonly called, is like visiting Check Point Charlie before the Berlin Wall came down, or Panmunjom up on the militarised border between North and South Korea. It is a tiny island, 150 square km in size, set right inside a major inlet in the Chinese coast, just two kilometres from the old port city of Amoy, now the thriving special economic zone of Xiamen. Through the powerful binoculars at the Mashan Hill Broadcasting and Observation Station, on the northernmost tip of the island, you can clearly see the…

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GREEN ISLAND ELEGY: HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE CHINESE WORLD

By | China, Critical Essays, Geopolitics, History | No Comments

Green Island lies just off the south east coast of Taiwan. For decades it was Taiwan’s most notorious place of incarceration for political prisoners. Built during the so-called White Terror of the early 1950s, it held thousands of political prisoners at one time. There were 14,000 there in the mid-1950s, according to official figures.[i] Thereafter, numbers declined, but the prison was not closed until after the end of martial law, in 1987. During that era, officially, 29, 407 people were imprisoned for political reasons. Unofficially, Guomindang figures have put the total at up to 70,000. According to none other than…

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EFRAIM’S KARSH’S TOUR DE FORCE ON EL-NAKBA

By | Critical Essays, Geopolitics, Islam, Middle East | No Comments

In four decades of reading about international affairs and Middle Eastern geopolitics, I do not think I have come across a work of history that more fully illuminated the true sources of Palestinian terrorism and irresolvable conflict with the realities of Israel than does Efraim Karsh’s Palestine Betrayed. If ever a book merited the description tour de force, this is it. The pity of it is that only those who are already favourably disposed to the state of Israel are likely to so much as read it – and most of those will probably skim it, not really absorbing the…

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