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After Mao Zedong led the communist revolution in China, his portrait was placed over the entrance to the Imperial Palace in the middle of Beijing.
The characters on either side of the portrait translate as: "Long live the Peoples Republic of China". "Long live the unity of the peoples of the world".
It's a powerful statement made by a victorious popular uprising that still resonates as a source of pride for the Chinese people today. But a lot has changed in China since 1949. What was an undeveloped, basically peasant society has emerged as a modern, sophisticated nation on the global stage. Yet, unlike the US and other Western nations, this transformation has not come about through foreign military intervention or colonial conquest.
When was the last time the PRC waged war on foreign soil? Never, that's when. The PLA is a formidable outfit. But it is strictly for national defence only. In 1992, when the West was proclaiming Cold War victory for capitalism, Deng Xiaoping toured southern China giving speeches. In one he said: "I am convinced that more and more people will come to believe in Marxism, because it is a science. Using historical materialism, it has uncovered the laws governing the development of human society. So don't panic, don't think that Marxism has disappeared, that it's not useful anymore and that it has been defeated. Nothing of the sort!"
A visit to China in 2019 will show that Deng was proven correct, in no uncertain terms. The West still debates whether China has usurped the US as global superpower, by means of such financial measures as are applicable to a capitalist state. These economic trivialities cannot begin to explain the power of the PRC. China has a level of social cohesion that is unmatched anywhere in the world. The CPC makes decisions in the best interests of the people, they do not answer to corporations, just ask Google or Facebook. In fact the CPC has no issue in shutting down entire industries that are seen to negatively impact the citizens of China. This gives the people great faith in their government. The same government that reduced the poverty rate from 88% to 6%, the same government that provided public infrastructure that Western nations can only dream about, the same government that is actively working towards targets for social programs and nation building with outcomes to be measured in 2021 and 2049.
The Chinese people are all on the same page. The country is heading in the right direction and the people are fully aware of this. Forget the economics, socially they are an unstoppable force.
Of course, this cannot be attributed wholly to socialism. China has 5000 years of unbroken culture. In recent times they have withstood brutal and humiliating attacks on their sovereignty by imperialist powers. And they do not forget easily. The will to succeed may have its roots in the past, but the execution of this will is the solemn and unwavering responsibility of the CPC.
When one travels from a supposed modern capitalist country to visit China in 2019, the first impression will be that China has not just surpassed the US and other modern Western democracies, they are in fact decades more advanced. The Chinese high-speed rail network (comprising 30,000 km) is a perfect example of this. Australia still struggles with the concept of a high-speed rail link just between Melbourne and Sydney. Subway systems in major cities in China make those in Australia look primitive by comparison. In the Beijing Subway trains run every minute during peak times. The quality of food and fresh produce is better than Australia. Food is plentiful and cheap. Chinese technology companies are global leaders and their domestic market consists of a billion knowledgeable users receptive to new technology. Mobile payments are ubiquitous throughout China. These are all tangible symbols of a modern, progressive society. But that's only part of it.
When one spends more time in China a few things will become disarmingly apparent. China is a very safe place. There is very little crime. Personal conflicts are resolved easily without escalation. Ego is put aside for collectivism. Children are doted on by their parents. Public schools are very well maintained. Elderly people are strangely active, physically and mentally - and they are happy. After observing the day to day lives, social interactions and standard of living of the Chinese people, another more poignant and powerful impression will emerge: "This is how we should all be living".
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Latest Polyester Update
Yes the Polyester store at 330 Brunswick St has closed. When asked by customers for an explanation during those sombre last weeks, I found it difficult to coherently verbalise the reasoning behind the shop's demise, finding it easier to spout the same sentences, phrases, grunts and sighs that had become somewhat of a script, delivered with an air of resignation and melancholy.
So forget the script. Here's what happened. I realise no-one will read this, I am documenting it for my own benefit.
2015 was not kind to Polyester. I myself have certainly had better years as well. As 2016 dawned, the writing was on the wall for our beloved little shop at 330 Brunswick Street. Despite the best efforts of Jo, Jules and myself we were staring down the barrel of extinction. After spending 2015 desperately keeping the business afloat with whatever funds I could scrape together from my 'regular' job, when 2016 began and the May lease expiry date loomed large on the horizon, the outcome we had previously refused to abide had become stark, brutal reality. To sign another 4 year lease would have been an act akin to suicide.
In late January Jo's father, who lives in Sydney, was diagnosed with Lymphoma. As far as cancers go, you can do a lot worse than Lymphoma. But at the age of 84 and with a brutal 3-month course of chemotherapy ahead of him, Jo did what all good daughters do and she went to be by his side through the ordeal.
So with Jo gone for a minimum of 3 months this virtually assured that the heart and soul of Polyester would take no further hands-on part in its day to day running. We had 3 more rental payments to make and no-one to operate the business. The only card left in our hand to play was the 6 weeks in annual leave I had built up from my full-time job. The objective for those 6 weeks was simple yet daunting at the same time: Sell off everything in the shop, make enough cash to pay out the remaining 3 months rent, then close the doors and run down the clock till May.
So that was pretty much what we did - thanks to a minor social media storm, a major old media storm, the hard work of our employee/talisman Jules and my heroic step-daughter Jamie who stepped into the breach, the magnificent response of our customers, old and new, and of course the many and varied research chemicals I consumed over the 6-week period.
By my estimates, the Closing Down Sale managed to offload about 95% of our stock of books and magazines. We sold off posters that had graced the walls for over a decade, shop fittings and fixtures, Jo's beloved stepladder/chair (sorry Jo!) and the jewel in the crown - the 1.5m tall Bob Dobbs neon sign that had so benevolently stood watch over the comings and goings at Polyester for over 20 years.
We donated to the State Library of Victoria the collection of artwork that was submitted as part of a design competition to protest the infamous raid on Polyester by the Office of Film and Literature Classification in 1999. I'm extremely grateful to the State Library for accepting these pieces so willingly, and thus ensuring that this slice of Polyester's history will now be preserved among the important historical artefacts of this city.
The flurry of activity that characterised those last 6 weeks was punctuated by so many moments of personal reflection I shared with customers. I soon realised that Polyester Books was indeed much more than a mere small business enterprise. It was a touchstone for anyone who dared to look for something else in life, who sought their own independent worldview. Stigmatised by those whose beliefs and ideology they renounced, at Polyester they found the information to help them continue on their own path, and were welcomed and accepted for doing so.
But the story didn't quite end the way we had envisaged. During those final 6 weeks the ghost of Polyester Past returned - with a deal I just couldn't refuse. Polyester's founder, Paul Elliott offered to sub-let the now vacant shop so he could sell off his vast treasure trove of books and records that he had amassed over a couple of decades running Dizzy Spinners record store and then Polyester Books. And so for the last 2 months on the lease, the shop seemed to have been transported back in time, before gentrification, before million-dollar house prices, the internet, smartphones, globalization and the surveillance state, a time when art, music and culture were valued, when kids rode bikes without helmets and heroin junkies roamed the streets.
It was a fitting end, really.
So on May 18, 2016 after another final flurry of activity to clear out the shop and clean in places that hadn't been cleaned in 30 years, I handed a fistful of keys to the landlord's son, walked to my car and drove away. I didn't look back.
Jo's father completed his course of chemotherapy last week and according to his doctors he is now holding the disease at bay. Jo has now decided to remain with her father in his Bondi apartment indefinitely.
I just want to express my sincere and heartfelt thanks to all those who made Polyester what it was - the hardcore, true believers who embraced the shop and everything it stood for. I love you crazy fucks!
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As a teenager I was quite a fan of Dostoyevsky. I discovered a copy of Crime and Punishment in my parents' bookshelf, but decided against it initially and went out and bought a second-hand copy of The Idiot instead as my first foray into the mind of this genius. I think I just liked the title better. In any case, I found his writing fascinating and embarked on a quest to read as much of his writings as I could get my hands on. Whilst Crime and Punishment is a deserved classic, my favourite was The Brothers Karamazov. A very masculine-oriented novel in no uncertain terms, an epic murder mystery that engulfs the lives of the three sons of a tyrannical father. But this, to me, was no ordinary novel. Dostoyevsky had a knack for reaching deep inside the human psyche, to reveal our most basic vulnerabilities. But this susceptibility is not portrayed as weakness. Instead it is almost celebrated, as a defining characteristic that makes us human. When the poverty-stricken Captain Snegiryov loses his composure in the presence of Alyosha over his desperately ill son - we are not just witnessing the emotional turmoil of a broken man, this is a brutal, yet stark reminder of what it means to be alive, a reminder of the position we all find ourselves in. That realisation that we are all in this together.
Dostoyevsky's unflinching portrayal of the human condition was something I'd never seen before in a novel. For an unsure teenager it was a revelation. But there was one thing about Dostoyevsky's writing that I could never get my head around - the settings. As much as I could relate to the characters, 19th century Russia was just way too fucking weird for me. I couldn't rationalise the social heirarchy, the aimless civil society, the gritty, sombre mood of the place. It was a culture and a time so unrelatable, yet the characters were as real and vital as any I'd ever read.
And yet here we are. 2017. A world so utterly dystopian, hideously complex yet full of rampant, almost sadistic stupidity. The world today makes 19th century Russia look perfectly conventional by comparison. Yet unlike a Dostoyevsky novel, humanity is not celebrated. Humanity is unwelcome here. This is the age of the machine.
While negotiating my life journey from teenager to bitter old man, I quite fortuitously spent a few years earning a university degree. My chosen discipline was so unpopular at the time that the faculty was considering shutting the course down. No need to see anyone's ENTER score - if you applied, you'd be accepted. They were desperate. The course? Mathematics.
So whatever skills I acquired during these few years proceeded to become highly sought-after not long after I graduated. The machines are just lumps of metal and plastic. They need instructions to execute the function for which they have been designed. And the machines only understand one language - mathematics.
So I have spent the past 15-odd years putting my "skills" to "good use". Of course, it's all bullshit. My "skills" are something any bum off the street could pick up in a few hours, and "good use" is anything that makes some rich guy more money, preferably at the expense of someone much worse-off than him to begin with. Let me tell you something you already know, something everyone knows: The machines are not here to help you. They are here to destroy you. They are here to squeeze the last drop of humanity from everyone they are unleashed upon. I know this because I have instructed them to do just that.
The IT industry is an empty vessel. A place where no life can be sustained, where words mean nothing and only money talks. "Big Data", "Agile", "Disruption", "AI", "Natural Language Processing", "UX" - you won't know what any of these terms mean. Nobody does. They exist only for salesmen to insert into their already meaningless sentences. They are manufactured words designed to impress those who are far too easily impressed. If you think you know what they mean, you have already fallen victim.
Humanity cannot survive the advance of the machine. The shills will paint a rosy future of humans living harmoniously among these benevolent servants. This illusion is shattered by all available evidence - while the machines have not yet killed us, we can lay no claim of sovereignty over them. The sword of technology lies firmly in the hands of the warlords. And we are powerless.
I'm done writing for now. But remember, what is mathematics? It is an approximation of our perception of the universe. A simplified view so we can overanalyse what we already know.
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I found a note today I had written to myself about a year ago. It said, simply: "$10 loans". I knew immediately what it meant. Let me explain.
I was walking down Puckle Street in Moonee Ponds. Yes, that same suburb so patronisingly lampooned by Barry Humphries (a rich twat from Camberwell). Well fuck Barry Humphries, I LOVE Moonee Ponds and especially Puckle Street: it's beating heart. A true melting pot of cultures, a place where nobody is judged, where everyone looks out for one another and where those shunned by brutal government policies and vicious capitalist dogma can visit Cafe 2000 just around the corner with a few measly coins and be treated with the warmth, dignity and respect they would never find elsewhere.
Unfortunately not all business operators are as kind-hearted as Matt and Sal from Cafe 2000. About half-way up Puckle Street as you head towards Moonee Ponds Station, on the left-hand side, just before the Commonwealth Bank stands one of the most disgusting emanations of consumer lending - Cash Converters. On the front window of this den of stolen goods and usury was a large sticker, placed in such a way as to avoid attention but obviously forced upon them by some sort of regulation. The sticker detailed the interest rates charged for their sub-sub-sub-prime short-term loans. I honestly can't recall the interest rates themselves, but as you can imagine they are not exactly "competitive". In any case it wasn't the outrageous APR's that compelled me to write a note to myself. Cash Converters will lend poor sods as little as $10. This distressed me greatly. The fact that a company can make money offering such a "service" is a terrible indictment on a society that appears hopelessly adrift, fractured and divided to such an extent that there are people who cannot find a fellow human being to loan them a lousy fucking 10 bucks!
As a younger man, I spent many hours in inner-suburban pubs. Yeah they had their downsides - dens of masculinity, chauvinism and all that, brutal beatings, scammers and charlatans etc etc etc....but they were also places where people (OK let's just say "men") could go to forget the shitty back-breaking labour they had to endure to survive, the societal pressures and stark economic realities. They were places where men could find someone to talk to, about anything that was on their mind. This was not Twitter or Fascebook, where your identity must be defined in such simplistic terms to suit the machine. Here a man could be complex, emotional, unique - and nobody gave a fuck. I remember fondly the pub I frequented most in Moonee Ponds' northern neighbour Essendon. Any Friday night would see the place packed with local odd-bods - social status, colour, creed, political persuasions were all well-represented. And everyone got along fine. Discussions were lively, opinions expressed without fear - you didn't necessarily agree with everything you heard, but even the biggest dickheads were afforded the chance to speak and no-one was written off as a human being, no-one was "blocked" or "unfriended" on the basis of their words. Actions on the other hand......
Anyway my point is that if I ever needed a loan to get me through till payday, there were never any issues. No interest was charged, but credit would be cut off as a result of non-payment (which is only fair). And if I had dough, I'd be only too happy to help out a fellow patron. This was the non-profit, human version of the Cash Converters "pay-day" loan.
One hazy night at the Railway Hotel in North Melbourne I loaned a bloke I played darts with $50. He never paid me back. That was about 15 years ago. I saw him the other day, in, of all places, Puckle Street Moonee Ponds. The years had been awfully hard on him. I noticed the look of recognition in his eyes, which were quickly averted. I called out to him: "Ray, how are ya mate? I haven't seen ya for years!" He smiled a toothless grin. "I think I might owe you 50 bucks" he said. "Forget it mate" I laughed. "What's 50 bucks anyway? You wanna go for a beer?"
Had Ray borrowed $50 from Cash Converters he would have owed $2.7 TRILLION. I KID YOU NOT.
(Yeah I know I said I couldn't recall the APR's - I just looked them up to do that calculation - 420% pa)