Great Hall of the People, VII

Still on deadline so can’t post nearly as much as I’d like. The Tibet thread below is still kicking and seems to have generated some of the smartest comments we’ve seen here in a long time. And so far, the zero-tolerance program on asinine trolls (ZTPAT) seems to be working. When it comes to comments, quality is way more important than volume. So trolls, please keep out.

The Discussion: 34 Comments

I would like to make a comment here, relating to the misinformation that is being spread about Australia, as if it is a brutal xenophobic state, treating refugees like cr*p.

When a refugee is granted a protection visa, they are set up in accomodation, and all the basic facilities are purchased for them (furniture, fridge, oven, etc.). They are provided with more than 500 hours of free English lessons. They are provided with enough government support to live (though certainly not in luxury). There is an extensive network of government funded and voluntary organisations to assist them, from special health services, free telephone translation services, very heavily discounted public transport, the opportunity to get family members to join them, and a list of other social services longer than my arm. The Australian government regularly takes people from appalling conditions in refugee camps, in the last couple of years from Sudan and Liberia especially, and before that quite a big portion came from Afghanistan. There is no discrimination on the basis of race or religion in the selection of refugees.

Where Australia is very tough, is when asylum seekers arrive in Australia without having been processed through the UNHCR, and having come here under their own steam. If, for example, you arrive in Australia, destroy your passport in the airport toilet (as some people smugglers actually tell their ‘clients’ to do), you will be subject to mandatory detention. Well golly gosh. A person turns up in your country, with no identification, and says they are a refugee, and Australia should instantly grant them protection visas, and allow them to wander around in this country without supervision????? If there is anyone out there who thinks this is a good idea, please book into a session with your analyst immediately. Another situation where Australia is tough, is when a boat load of “refugees” arrives, illegally transported by snake-heads. Before going on, I would like to say that most of these vessels are in very dangerous conditions, and some have sunk with the loss of many lives. Australia’s internationally publicised tough stance on this issue has led to a dramatic decrease in these boat journeys, and has probably saved hundreds of lives. Now, going on … in order to be on one of these boats, the “refugee” has had to pay something in the order of US$10,000. They are usually very difficult to identify. Now … there are some who say that these people should also be immediately granted protection visas, and allowed to wander where they choose. Insanity.
The Australian government position (which I agree with) is that these people are queue jumpers, and have no right to be processed immediately as refugees, just because they had the money to pay criminals to smuggle them into Australia. There are hundreds of thousands of people without that kind of money rotting in appalling conditions in refugee camps around the world, desperately waiting for some country, any country, to process their applications and allow them in. Frankly, I have more sympathy for the people in those camps, who are in a much more brutal kind of “detention” than in the Australian detention facilities.

Yes, conditions are harsh for people in the Australian facilities. Australia does not want to encourage people to attempt to enter Australia like this. You must remember that there are no boat loads of refugees arriving from the actual conflict zones. Every one of those “boat people” is someone who has first travelled to a second country (usually Indonesia) where they have waited for a smuggler’s boat to then take them to Australia, for which they have paid a lot of money.

Simple choice: choose the person more deserving of being granted a refugee visa: someone who has been living in a camp in Nigeria for 5 years, where food and water is unreliable at best, where violence and rape are endemic, who has no resources of any kind, and who can do nothing except wait. OR … someone who has paid a small fortune to criminal organisations or entered Australia in some other way, through their own resources, and who quite possibly cannot be positively identified.

Just like any other country, Australia has a quota of how many refugees it will take every year … so, for every person that Australia takes from the latter category, another person in one of those camps is left to rot in hell.

There have been various attempts to link Australia’s treatment of Chen Yonglin with the detention policy, but as I said from the beginning, there was never a possibility that he would be detained. His identity was not in doubt, and he had already been in Australia for quite some time, and the law is clear: he would be granted a temporary visa to continue to live in the community until his application was processed, after which time, he was was indeed granted a permanent visa. What a nasty brutal fascist state Australia is. How could they treat him so badly?

August 10, 2005 @ 2:59 am | Comment

Sorry for the long rant above … it was just something I wanted to get off my chest.

I just noticed a comment directed my way by an ill-informed person in a previous open thread, and would just like to respond to it now, since that thread has closed. That person wrote:

“Well, if you have any ability to read ancient Chinese text, then you will realize DaoDeJing is nothing obscure. People like Filthy labels Tao De Ching worthless without any attempt to understand it โ€“ a typical Christian behavior.” and called him/herself “social stress”.

Just a few points to Mr/Ms Stress.
A) I can read classical Chinese, and some of my translations of certain classical Chinese texts are the only ones available in English. Your presumption that I could not merely makes you look like an ass.
B) I am an atheist, and consider the Christian bible to be another good example of an ideal religious text that can you can twist to mean pretty much anything you want. Your presumption that my comments have anything to do with that religion also makes you look like an ass.
C) You’re an ass.

August 10, 2005 @ 3:08 am | Comment

It’s interesting to see how some commenters here recently accused Westerners randomly of having prejudices based on their christian believe. Associating every Westerner with Christianity only shows their own prejudices and how limmited their understanding of the modern western societies is.

August 10, 2005 @ 4:55 am | Comment


Congrats on an excellent piece on the refugee policy. The easiest way to explain it is these people are queue jumpers, looking to take the place of other refugees who are coming through legitimate channels. People ignore that aspect. The worst is when these queue jumpers manipulate their kids in an attempt to fast track the process.

At the same time, however, the Oz Government also needs to take responsibility for the long time it takes to process these refugees. Once they’ve arrived and are in mandatory detention, there should be a time limit to force Immigration to review the case and make a determination. I’ve seen such a case in action, and it can be a complicated and messy affair, especially as by nature most applicants have little documentation or proof. The recent changes to the policy are mostly sensible in finding a compromise between compassion and being firm in dealing with these people.

August 10, 2005 @ 4:55 am | Comment

And what concernes the Daodejing, I also think it is a very vague piece of text giving a lot of room for interpretation.
To understand that you don’t need christian prejudices but only need to read the chinese commenteries which differ a lot in their interpretation depending on what was on their agenda.

August 10, 2005 @ 5:02 am | Comment

Also, most mainstream Christian churches (such as the Catholic Church) are neutral about the Tao Te Ching, and about other such kind of abstract metaphysics. Christianity is neither for nor against the Tao Te Ching, and there is no inconsistency between the Tao and the Bible (except some fundamentalists might disagree.)
Actually a lot of the Tao Te Ching AGREES in principle with much of what Jesus taught, like how the last will come first, how there can be strength in apparent “weakness” etc
Oh and by the way I went to a Catholic university, and the Tao Te Ching was part of our curriculum…

August 10, 2005 @ 5:05 am | Comment

Simon … I agree. I’ve made plenty of comments on this blog about the incompetence of DIMIA (Australian immigration dept.), and it’s an area that badly needs to be addressed. The hardest situation arises when a person in detention has been refused entry, but also cannot be returned to their country of origin, because that country won’t take them, or can’t be positively identified. I also don’t see any reason why the camps have to be quite so bleak as they are … they don’t need to be 5 Star Hotels, but I think they’re really below minimum standard currently.

August 10, 2005 @ 5:10 am | Comment

DIMIA is run by Amanda Vanstone. Let’s be blunt – if she wasn’t a woman she wouldn’t be in the job, or in cabinet.

August 10, 2005 @ 5:29 am | Comment

Let’s face it, Australia’s immigration record is hardly one to inspire confidence, either – memories of ‘White Australia’ (Whites not including Jews) are still out there. There’s also numerous stories of abuse and humiliation of refugees from the current detention camps, and several suicides in the last couple of years. Other countries seem to be able to handle high levels of immigration without resorting to techniques like this; the British system, while certainly not perfect, doesn’t seem to produce abuse on the same level.

On the other hand, I always get deeply annoyed by criticisms of refugee policy by people from countries that DON’T TAKE ANY FUCKING REFUGEES THEMSELVES. I used to hear this in Korea a lot – at a time when there was exactly *one* non-North Korean refugee in SK.


August 10, 2005 @ 6:31 am | Comment

The TTC’s an interesting book; I tend to read it as political commentary and advice as well as metaphysics – there’s certainly hints of Machiavelli in there!

FS9, what did you translate? My dad did recent translations of the Dao De Jing, Zhuang Zi, and the Yi Jing; he’s doing Lie Zi at the moment.

August 10, 2005 @ 6:41 am | Comment

I’m trying very hard, to refrain from becoming sarcastic and unintentionally offending any Australians here.
But I just keep thinking, how paradoxical it is for Australia to have any immigration standards at all, considering Australia’s origins as a dumping ground for criminals and other dispossessed people. Kind of like America cubed exponentially, “give me your tired, your poor, your hungry” – but with an even deeper stain of having been settled almost entirely by the rejected and the dispossessed.
Very few of Australia’s White settlers went there unless they were forced out of their native countries, one way or another. Who would WANT to go to Australia unless he HAD to?
As an American, yes I know I can be accused a bit of being a pot calling the kettle black here. But only to a small extent. Many of America’s first settlers (and later immigrants) were running away from something – but they also had good reason to be attracted to America.
And that includes culturally as well as materially – America’s East Coast cities were all founded by highly educated, cosmopolitan Europeans, and New York and Boston are twice as old as any Australian cities are. As part of the Western Metropole, America is well seasoned, and has become PART OF the center of Western Civilization.
(I said PART OF, I didn’t say America was THE center. But New York is a major cultural capital, while no Australian cities are. And never have been.)
And most of America’s first (White) settlers went there voluntariily. And for good reason – because America was not a desert with a marginal jungle like Australia is. I’m just saying, the obvious truth, that the essence of Australia’s history is that it has always been a dumping ground and a haven of last resort.
I’m not saying Australia is still a half-civilized outback on the edge of civilization, mostly consisting of deserts and jungles. I’m just saying, that it’s paradoxical for Australia to be so picky about what kind of immigrants they admit, considering that Australia’s role – ever since the English started settling it some years after the American Revolution – has always been to be a marginal part of the West, and a refuge of last resort for anyone who wants to flee to a new country which belongs to the club of Western Democracies.
I’m not saying Australia is still a dumping ground for prisoners and other undesirables (well, maybe I’m ALMOST saying that!) – I’m just saying, when and how did Australia become a country of The Privileged, who have any reason to pick and choose between desirables and undesirables?
There’s plenty of room in Australia (mostly desert), so why don’t they just remain true to their origins and just let EVERYONE in? Isn’t that what Australia exists for? Isn’t it supposed to be a refuge of last resort for people whom no other country wants? And if not, then tell me, when and how did that change?
Did it change only when the White Criminals and their descendants became established in Australia?
(Stirring the pot here, yes, but I’m mostly serious about the questions I raise here.)

August 10, 2005 @ 7:07 am | Comment

Vis a vis my last comment, a disclaimer: I lived near Earl’s Court in London for a while, surrounded by lots of Australians.
The English often get on my nerves (and vice versa :-), but I don’t mind being around them for long stretches.
(And vice versa.) But the noise and all the screeching voices of Australians near Earl’s Court, drove me mad and I fled to Surrey after a few weeks.
All I am saying, is that I understand why my English friends consider the Australians to be “undesirables” – and if any Aussies here think that the English are even more annoyed by Americans, think again. The “Ugly Americans” are excoriated by the English – for good reason – but one thing the English tend to agree on with me, is that we love Australians and we ask God to bless and keep the Australians….far away from us.
So, just a disclaimer to admit my bias. Generally Australians get on my nerves – far more than the English do – and so, I want to take them to task for being so discriminating in their immigration policies.
In my experience, many Brits are SUPERFICIALLY (but not viscerally) racists and chauvinists and bigots – about equal to Americans in that way – but generally I have found the Australians to be FAR more bigoted and racist than most of the English – and yet, generally more vulgar than most of the English are – and the Australians come from a heritage of being excoriated by all other countries – and so, it seems weird to me, for the Australians to be even more particular in their immigration policies than the Brits are……….

August 10, 2005 @ 7:23 am | Comment

Thanks for the write-up on Australia’s immigration programme FS9. It always seems to me that a country like Australia will get slammed when no other country offers such refuge; how many refugees do Japan or the oil-rich Middle East regimes take in? In fact, now Canada’s ‘lax approach’ to immigrants according to its neighbour in the south is responsible for the need to impose tougher border controls and passport requirements.

August 10, 2005 @ 9:11 am | Comment

the point of your long comments, Ivan, is clearly just to be rude to australians. I guess you need someone to wind up, your usual suspects not having posted yet on this thread.

while it’s not so surprising that someone as brittle as yourself found the relative robustness of australians hard to deal with, you’re wrong to assume that english people share your feelings. in fact, you have clearly misread our opinion of those whingeing cons.

we get at them, they get at us. I don’t know if they look down on us, but we certainly don’t look down on them.
you’ve misread banter for dislike.

why’ve you done this? I guess it illustrates that the english mindset is much closer to the aussie mindset than it is to the american mindset. and that you have a hard time understanding either aussies or brits.
americans are far more a foreign people to us than australians are.

(in favour of the US, though, at least you guys have a decent cricket team.)

August 10, 2005 @ 11:45 am | Comment

FSN9, hope you don’t mind if I take you up (seriously) on the mandatory detention issue.

I appreciate that the mandatory detention only applies to asylum-seekers who enter the country illegally. But there’s a reason why the 1951 Refugee Convention bans discriminating between asylum-seekers on the basis of the manner of their entry into a country – many (most) of these people will live in countries where it’s dangerous to apply for a passport, never mind apply for a visa to get out of the country or to the UNHCR for a protection visa. Inevitably, people fleeing persecution may well be using false passports to evade their own country’s authorities – is that so very surprising or inexcusable?

The UN Human Rights Committee, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Special Envoy Justice Bhagwati and the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission have all made it clear that Australia’s policy is incompatible with its international obligations, as it violates the basic principle that people have a right to claim asylum. As I understand it, there is no legal recourse either or contesting the legality of detention before a tribunal, so any number of due process obligations are also left by the wayside.

The idea of a quota of refugees is equally illegal under international law, and is in my view inherently wrong. By definition, when you impose a quota on refugees, you are saying that you’re prepared to send people back even if they’re genuinely fleeing persecution if they happen to be over the quota – that you’d rather send someone to their death rather than offer them sanctuary. The very idea of deterring asylum-seekers surely has the same connotation – isn’t that basically trying to make sure people, including those who really are fleeing persecution, get the message that ‘you’re not welcome here’?

The conditions in the centres themselves are of equal concern – reports of hunger strikes, riots, protests and attempts at suicide (one case which Amnesty International has on record, of a person who after four years of detention was found to be a genuine refugee, involved four such attempts) abound. Most worrying is the government’s restrictive approach to media access to detention centres – in 2004 this was responsible for Reporters Without Borders to downgrade Australia’s press freedom from 12th to 50th in the world tables (

Incidentally, I promise I spend half my life bitterly criticising my own government’s attitude towards asylum seekers – the UK is very, very far from blameless on this front.

August 10, 2005 @ 6:32 pm | Comment

But incidentally, I don’t know of any country in Europe which imposes a quota on refugees, and I don’t believe the US or Canada do either – apart from anything else the European Court of Human Rights would strike it down for any member of the Council of Europe.

August 10, 2005 @ 6:34 pm | Comment

Ivan, I’ll bite. You perpetuate a meaningless myth – that Australia is a country of ex-convicts. In fact the vast majority of Aussies are or are descended from recent, voluntary immigrants. It’s rare to meet someone descended from a convict, and many ex-cons returned to mother England at the end of their sentence.

When talking about immigration, it is a golden rule that the word racist will be bandied about within a few minutes of anyone seeking a rational discussion. Australians re-elected John Howard’s Government last year with a clear mandate and in full knowledge of these policies. It is the will of the Australian people, those already in the country, that this is how we deal with queue jumpers and those seeking illegal entry. But why should Australia have a completely open door? The country accepts the amongst the highest number of immigrants in proportion to population (and the number has increased during Howard’s rule).

Douglas makes a good point, but I’m not well versed in international refugee treaties. But while in theory having no quota on refugees makes sense, in reality that’s impossible. A fundamental right of each country is to control who can enter that country.

August 10, 2005 @ 7:18 pm | Comment

Don’t have time to answer all comments / questions directed my way just now. I’ll get back to them later I hope.

Just a brief comment for Ivan, and everyone else who likes to criticise Australia’s immigration policies. There are more Australians who were born OUTSIDE Australia than there are Australians born here. So, even if every Australian born person was descended from a convict or undesirable, then a majority of Australians would still not fall into that category.

Australia is a land that takes the people of the world who want to seek a better life. Now … is there anyone here from a country inhabited by a MAJORITY of first generation immigrants? Then maybe I’ll listen to criticism from you about Australia’s immigration policies.

August 10, 2005 @ 8:11 pm | Comment

When I was working in New York I used to do a fair amount of pro bono work for asylum seekers and I can say from first hand experience that, while there are some heartbreaking cases out there, the overwhelming majority of asylum applicants who enter the host country under the circumstances discussed in this thread are not political refugees at all, but economic migrants seeking to game the system.

That some legitimate refugees are subjected to detention and delay is primarily the fault of the huge number of bogus “refugees” who abuse the system, creating backlog and reasonable suspicion.

August 10, 2005 @ 9:30 pm | Comment

Sorry to change the subject for a moment, but for those who see Michelle Malkin as a serious thinker and pundit, I urge you to read this, and then come back and justify it. It’s her words, pure and simple, no editing or opining. And she is allowed free reign on Faux News, and has a syndicated column, this intellectual mushroom.

August 10, 2005 @ 9:39 pm | Comment

Wow, you guy had a go at Australia’s immigration policy while I’m away. I fully support Simon and FSN’s view about gueue jumping. In fact you’ll find that this policy of preventing gueue jumping is supported by the majority of Australians (including those who didn’t vote for the Howard Government). However, I’m 100% behind my previous comments about the bureaucratic management style and incompetence of DIMIA. I’m in a very good position to make this comment because I and some of my staff members have to deal with this department on a regular basis with regard to student matters. The way they bully the public and the lack of transparency in their operations make you want to puke. A reform of this department is the most important step in effectively enforcing Australia’s immigration policy.

August 10, 2005 @ 9:50 pm | Comment


Side topic, but don’t pay too much attention to that troll on another thread, the one who accuses everyone of being a “white Christian hater”. It’s probably the same sad sack from State U. New York who haunts 5 or 6 expat blogs with the same line of dimwit nationalism. Eventually, I’m going to find out exactly who it is, and we can have more fun with him than you-know-who.

August 10, 2005 @ 10:15 pm | Comment

Richard, I’m struggling with your reference to MM. The interview transcript seems pretty clear. She is stating that there are a couple of vets who allege, in a book, that Kerry self-inflicted those wounds. Despite the interviewer’s consistent interuptions and pestering to force MM into a corner, she only ever states that is an allegation from the book.

What, exactly, is wrong with restating what’s written in a book?

On the immigration issue, my cousin in San Fran worked in a refugee aid agency for many years and she often repeated what Conrad said.

August 10, 2005 @ 10:35 pm | Comment

About the Daode Jing (or Tao Te Ching), my understanding is that there are different versions of it. The most commonly used version today had been significantly edited during the Wei Jin Period (around 220 โ€“ 420) under the auspices of the neo-Daoist movement. The oldest version available now was uncovered from an archaeological excavation in 1989. It is know as the Guodian version. Both the Guodian version and another two versions excavated from a Han dynasty tomb at Mawangdui are quite different from the Daode Jing that we know today. For a start, the arrangement of chapters is different. The โ€œDaoโ€ part of the book is in the second half rather than the first half of the book. So instead of calling the book Daode Jing, we should in fact call it Dedao Jing. In other words, the attaining of the Way is not a condition to the attaining of Power. Instead, according to the compiler of the Guodian Laozi, the attaining of Power is the prerequisite for the attaining of the Way. On this note, I tend to agree with James that the Daode Jing was meant to be read as political advices rather than religious scripture.

August 10, 2005 @ 11:45 pm | Comment

Well, what concernes this MM case, I don’t know much about this discussion but if she realy wanted to know she should do a research on it herself or ask Kerry herself, I mean she is a journalist that is her job. The question should be are these allegations believable is there further evidence? Only repeating accusations from a book and saying, I don’t know there are these allegations, is not enough in a case as serious as that. It gives me the impression that her pupose is not to reveal the truth but only to discredit Kerry.

Now to something lighter. Yesterday saw the movie “American Splendor”. Great. Anybody else who saw it?

August 11, 2005 @ 1:58 am | Comment


the cover story of the latest der spiegel is about the sino-american relationship, just wonder if there is an english version of that article

August 11, 2005 @ 2:48 am | Comment

Maybe there will be. Check out their site in the next days. The translated articles usually appear some days after the German article. But it’s very long so I don’t know if they will translate it.

August 11, 2005 @ 3:52 am | Comment

Well, they allready have the interview with Lee Kuan Yew ( in English which came with the article, so perhaps they don’t plan to translate the whole article.

August 11, 2005 @ 3:58 am | Comment

thanks shulan

August 11, 2005 @ 5:39 am | Comment

FSN9, over half born outside Australia? I’ve had a quick look to see if I can find stats on that, but I could only find a quarter: – d’you happen to have a link?

Briefly, though, my argument isn’t over economic migration. Countries are entitled to make their own decisions about whether they want a restrictive or liberal policy in terms of the number of people coming for economic reasons (though I happen to think a liberal approach is best), and I don’t think any sensible person would deny that Australia is a relatively open country in terms of economic migration. The issue is specifically to do with people who claim asylum and claim to be fleeing persecution.

Simon, you say that every country has the right to control its own borders, but Australia, along with the rest of the civilised world, has signed up to the 1951 Convention in regard of refugees – no one put a gun to Canberra’s head, though withdrawing would certainly incur an awful lot of international criticism. To say it’s impractical not to have a quota doesn’t wash – with the possible exception of New Zealand, I don’t know of any other developed country with a quota policy for refugees (as opposed to economic migrants). Countries like Britain and France, (sadly) hardly liberal in their attitude towards refugees, don’t say they’ll remove genuine refugees if they’re over a quota.

That’s my fundamental objection – if you’re going to defend a quota on the number of refugees a country accepts, you have to defend the idea that someone who’s fleeing persecution in (say) Iran, who is judged to be a deserving applicant, could be sent back to Iran on the basis that he’s one over the quota.

August 11, 2005 @ 7:53 am | Comment

Simon, you (anyone) can justify anything. But are you only fooling yourself? You wrote:

She is stating that there are a couple of vets who allege, in a book, that Kerry self-inflicted those wounds. Despite the interviewer’s consistent interuptions and pestering to force MM into a corner, she only ever states that is an allegation from the book.

What, exactly, is wrong with restating what’s written in a book?

So, it’s okay cuz she’s just citing what someone write in a book. Except the quote is an uytter falsehood, a piece of total shit. A book came out last month about Hillary CLinton being a lesbian and committing just about every crime short of being one of the 911 suicide hijackers. Is it okay to go on national TV and read from this book, to get those depraved charges out there, and then coyly say, “Well, I was just restating what somebody else said.” Can I go on TV and read from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and preface it with, “It might not be true, but the authors do make the point that the Jews…” Would you find that acceptable?

Come on. That is pure horseshit, as Conrad would say.

August 11, 2005 @ 8:08 am | Comment

Actually Richard I don’t have a problem with that. The ridiculousness of the charges demeans the person who repeats them. In the MM case, if the host let her lay out the charges most right thinking people (pun intended) would still considered it ridiculous, and given your pointing about in the post above various other MM qualities, people can make their own judgements about her and how important things she says are.

August 11, 2005 @ 6:29 pm | Comment

Well, we’ll have to agree to disagree. Sure, she should be permitted to say it, to read form the book and imply whatever she wants. But then she has to be ready to take the consequences, which in this case included being savaged by conservative host Chris Matthews and then being ridiculed by pundits everywhere, even to this day.

In other words, she has the right to say it, but everyone with an ounce of gray matter knows she shouldn’t say it.

August 11, 2005 @ 6:37 pm | Comment

This thread is now too far down the page. Keep addressing topics that are discussed here, but move the conversation up to the new thread. Thanks.

August 11, 2005 @ 6:38 pm | Comment

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