Dead Right by Richard Denniss

Dead Right

How Neoliberalism Ate Itself and What Comes Next.

Richard Denniss should be read by everyone who wants a straight forward understanding of “the economy” and the politics that determine economic direction. I read his earlier book Econobabble two years ago, and when writing about it on this blog I started my post with: “I wish everyone could and would read this book. It cuts right through the economic spin at the heart of all of the political dogma we’re subjected to every day.”

I make the same recommendation for Dead Right.

This book (actually a long essay) takes a common sense look at the way “neoliberalism” in its opposition to government and taxation “is in reality a war on democracy”.

He writes ” You can’t have democracy without politicians. You can’t do the things the public wants without a government bureaucracy. And you can’t fund those policies without tax revenue.”

Since the 1980s neoliberalism has become the dominant ideology directing western politics. Introduced during the hyper-conservative Reagan and Thatcher years, it even affected (infected?) the policies of the nominally left-wing Australian Labor government of the time.

Governments cut tax rates and divested themselves of public services and assets, claiming that the private sector could run services more efficiently and cost effectively. It’s a practice that has returned to bite the Australian public on multiple occasions, including the exponential rise of power prices, as profit rather than service was always the inevitable outcome of privatising essential services. But blame for the cause of the rise of prices is redirected:

…while the outsize profits are of no concern to neoliberals, the smallest hint of wage growth leads to demands that wages be kept low lest they drive prices up, unemployment down and render us “uncompetitive.” Apparently when worker’s incomes rise, it comes at the expense of consumers, but when the owner’s income rises, it comes from…thin air

A question we need to consider is what the aim of our political process should be and what benefit do we desire from our political processes.

Do we want what is best for the whole of society or just for one part of society?

Does “society” even exist?
Or not, as according to Margaret Thatcher.

If not, what would that suggest about any responsibility we may have towards those around us. Would politics therefore become an arena for the survival of the “fittest”, where profit or perish becomes the driving ideology, and “victimhood” is the product of the “victims” own behaviour?

…its genius is to convince us… If we want to end unemployment, we must punish the unemployed for their sloth. If we want to protect what we have, we must first puinish refugees for their greed.

Growth is a beautiful word, but neoliberalism has defined it in the ugliest of ways. Of course we want our children, our gardens and our country to grow and be strong, but we are told that to make our economy grow we must be ever-vigilante against those in need. Yet after thirty years of blaming the unemployed for their unemployment, and single mothers for their absent partners, the prosperity we were promised has yet to arrive for large sections of the population. indeed, many of the communities and regions that were asked to make the biggest sacrifices in the name of National Competition Policy have seen the smallest gains. While the national income has risen steadily for twenty seven years, the incomes of many in our nation have not…

One could be forgiven for thinking that those speaking the language of neoliberalism were never trying to enlarge our society – they were trying to control it.

If I Die in a Combat Zone by Tim O’Brien

I read the previous book (Confessions of a Serial Alibi) within two days. This one, although quite a lot shorter, hasn’t been as easy to get through. There’s a lot to absorb and consider. It’s not the kind of book that can be rushed. Parts of it need to be savoured – enjoying the language and way it enhances descriptions of O’Brien’s experiences – while other parts require reflection, to think about the consequences of what has just been read.

Written from the author’s experience, it is an account of the absurdity and incongruities of an unjust war in Vietnam. A war motivated by ideology and political ambition.

O’Brien writes about the moral struggle when faced with the prospect of being drafted, and how escape to Canada would bring shame on his family and community.

He also considers the ramifications of desertion after the chance for dodging the draft has been missed.

And then there’s the basic training intended to prepare new recruits for what will be faced when they are deployed to Vietnam.

The obsession with (cadence call) singing while marching during training was surely intended to inoculate them to the absurdities ahead, and seems to be a unique, comic feature of American military life made familiar around the world  through many army-based films and TV series.
The examples of this in O’Brien’s book would be laughable if not for the crude misogyny and racism, reflecting the boy’s own patriotic machismo being instilled into young recruits, desensitising their consciences in preparation for the brutalities and atrocities ahead.

On arrival in Vietnam the drafted recruits are welcomed with warnings they are prone to be killed or maimed.

After being given that spiel they are offered a potential life and limb saving option: to “re-up” – basically to sign up to extend their military service to three years, on the “promise” of being given a:

“nice, safe, rear job. You get some on the job training, the works. You get a skill. You sleep in a bed… So. You lose a little time to Uncle Sam. Big deal. You save your ass…

And there’s the experience of endless jungle patrols, raids on often deserted villages; monotonous and pointless manoeuvres in a foreign country for reasons unknown, and probably reasons better NOT known.

…no one in Alpha Company knows or cares about the cause purpose of their war; it is about “dinks and slopes”, and the idea is simply to kill them or avoid them. Except that in Alpha you don’t kill a man, you “waste” him.

Finally there’s the conscience-numbing, empathy-eroding effect of combat, with friends being killed and excessive retaliation resulting in villages being napalmed, and innocent villagers, including children and babies being “wasted”.

And feeling no pity afterwards.

O’Brien’s book has the authenticity of being written by someone with personal experience, and experience is what he conveys: the feelings, the emotions (or lack of) the wrestling with conscience (or lack of) – how war affects and changes a man according to that experience and according to the situation in which he finds himself.

Humanity can easily be suppressed, and yet equally that humanity can resurface in quieter times, when there’s opportunity for reflection on what has been done.

She had been shot once. The bullet tore through her green uniform and into her buttock and went out through her groin. She lay on her side, sprawled against a paddy dike. She never opened her eyes…

…”I wish I could help her.” The man who shot her knelt down…

… The man who shot her peered into her face. He asked if she could be given some shade…

…The man who shot her stroked her hair. Two other soldiers and a medic stood beside her, fanning her and waving at the flies…

…The man who shot her held his canteen to her lips and she drank some Kool-Aid.

Then she twisted her head from side to side. She pulled her legs up to her chest and rocked, her whole body swaying. The man who shot her poured a trickle of water onto her forehead.

Soon she stopped swaying.






Boom Oo Yata-Ta-Ta

Song 20 of my personal “31 Songs”.

Not primarily a “song”, more of a performance from one of the best British comedy acts ever.

I grew up with Morecambe and Wise. I think this particular performance comes from around 1962, so my memory of the song would be of later performances. I remember having an LP that included a recording of the “song”.

Since coming across this video I’ve watched a few more M & W appearances on YouTube. They were highly respected in the show business world and some of the top stars of the day appeared on their TV show.

Over five years ago I wrote a few blog posts with the title “Stories What I wrote”* – the title was a rip-off of Morecambe and Wise, where Ernie Wise would regularly mention the plays “what I wrote”.


Confessions of a Serial Alibi by Asia McClain Chapman

serialI really wish that I could write something that would do justice to this book and encourage others to read it. Preferably they would read it after familiarising themselves with the background of the case in which Asia McClain (now Chapman) features as an alibi witness.

I came to his book after listening to the Serial and Undisclosed podcasts, and after reading Adnan’s Story by Rabia Chaudry.

Clearly most people wouldn’t want to go to such preparatory lengths before reading a 240 page book, so here is the basic background.

On January 13 1999 Hae Min Lee, a student of Woodlawn High School in Maryland was reported as missing. On February 9th her partially buried body was discovered.

Her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed was charged with her murder and convicted on the evidence of a witness who claimed he’d helped Syed dispose of the body, backed by cell-phone records that placed him at the burial site a few hours after Hae’s disappearance.

But all was not as it seemed.

The witness’s story changed significantly every time he told it. His most recent version now claims the burial took place several hours after the phone records allegedly placed them at the burial site.
Additionally, the phone data placing Syed’s phone at the site at the previously claimed time of the burial relates to an incoming call, and the phone company’s cover sheet clearly stated that incoming calls could not be used to identify a phone’s location. By some “quirk of fate” the prosecuting attorneys failed to include the cover sheet when providing the defence attorney with the phone records, leaving them in the dark about that disqualifying statement.

There is far more to this story than can be told in detail in a few paragraphs in a blog post, a few more of the issues are mentioned on my other blog here

Asia McClain Chapman’s book looks at another significant problem with the case against Syed. He actually had an alibi for the time the prosecutors claimed he was killing Hae.
Asia McClain was that alibi witness. She saw him in the public library and spoke to him for about 20 minutes at the same time the prosecution claim he was committing the crime. However, for reasons unknown, her offer of that alibi was ignored by Syed’s defence team and she was never called upon to give her evidence at the trial.

McClain had no particular allegiance to Syed. Both he and Hae Min Lee were classmates she didn’t know well, at best they were friends of friends. Her interest was in allowing the truth to be found, and in telling what she knew to help that process. She didn’t get that opportunity at the original trial.  When Adnan was found guilty, she assumed justice had been done and put the situation behind her.

Or so she thought…

Years later she was approached to give evidence at an appeal hearing. Due to concerns about the issue being raised again, and a suspicion that Syed’s defence team could exploit her to free a guilty man, she sought legal advice. Unfortunately she spoke to Kevin Urick, the prosecutor at the original trial and his advice led her to reject the defence team’s requests.

Because of Kevin Urick I saw Adnan as being 100 percent guilty and deserving of a lengthy prison stay I didn’t want to contribute to some sleazy underhanded attempt to get a convicted murderer out of prison.

Unfortunately for Urick, through the Serial podcast, McClain became aware that at the appeal hearing, he misrepresented her and their conversation, giving false information about her original offer to be an alibi witness and why she had declined to give that evidence at the appeal.

It’s a funny thing to find out through the grapevine that another person has misspoken about your words and intentions. It’s another thing to find out through a podcast simultaneously with millions of other people. From the moment I heard Urick’s post conviction testimony I felt I had been taken advantage of. In my entire life I can’t recall ever feeling so duped and foolish.


I know that when Kevin Urick gave that testimony he had no idea that it would be featured in an internationally-known podcast. However, in life such as in court, that’s like saying that a dirt bag who rapes a woman at a public concert has no idea that other people are videotaping it. That my friends is the power of God. Proverbs 12:19 says, “Truthful lips endue forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.”

When I think about Urick I feel so violated and shameful in the sense that my only faults were being naïve and trusting him.


It made me sick to my stomach to know a conversation with me had been discussed without my knowledge or consent, that a falsehood had been seen as fact. Not to mention the idea of that falsehood being used as the basis for denying Adnan’s appeal. Hell, anyone’s appeal. We [Asia and her husband] agreed that we needed to make ourselves available to do whatever was needed to set the wrong right.

Above I’ve probably featured too many quotes from the book, but I think those quotes demonstrate a significant aspect of this case – the prosecution’s tactic of falsifying and misrepresenting  evidence to obtain a desired result. Their desire to win at all costs – even the cost of the truth and justice. Getting A result (the only result they’d counted on) was more important to them than getting the RIGHT result.

The above experience with Urick wasn’t the last experience of this type for the author. When she eventually had her day in court to present her testimony to another appeal,  she was again subjected to a similar disregard for the truth by the prosecutor at that court, Thiru Vignarajah (then Deputy Attorney General of Maryland); having her good character attacked and suffering all kinds of accusations about her motives for providing an alibi for Syed.

It might be said in the prosecutor’s defence that it was his job to challenge her and her testimony in court, however, according to McClain Chapman, his personal attacks continued in the media long after his job in court had been done.

…he continues to slander my character and lie about my motivations both in court and via any press conference awarded to him.

Up to the time of publishing the book, Asia McClain Chapman has maintained an uncertainty about the guilt or innocence of Adnan Syed. All along she claims her only desire is to tell the truth and to allow the legal process to make that determination according to the evidence.

However, I’m not so sure that her experience has given her any confidence that the legal process is capable of doing that with justice, and that is perhaps the most important thing about this book. It’s not just about the story of Asia McClain and her part in the story of one particular criminal case, it’s an expose of serious problems in the US justice system.

In our country there is supposed to be equal justice for all under the Constitution. Unfortunately, the system is so broken that many prosecutors only care about winning and not whether a defendant is truly guilty or innocent.

The court case at which Asian McClain Chapman was finally able to present her testimony led to the overturning of the conviction against Adnan Syed and the granting of a retrial. However, until that takes place he remains incarcerated in the same way a suspect denied bail would remain behind bars.

Not unexpectedly there has been appeal against that decision, so the legal processes grind on as slowly as ever.

It’s been two years since Serial subject Adnan Syed was granted a new trial, but his case will remain in limbo – and he’ll remain in prison – for another year.

This week, Maryland’s highest court agreed to hear the State’s appeal, which seeks to reinstate Syed’s conviction in 2000 for the murder of his high school girlfriend, Hae Min Lee.

Full story here:

Adnan’s Story: addendum

This is a short interview with Rabia Chaudry about the continuing case of Adnan Syed, the subject of her book Adnan’s Story.

I’ve used the category “true crime” to describe the content of this post, however I believe the crime element relates to the way Syed was convicted of murder. I don’t see any truth in the claim that Syed was guilty of the crime for which he’s been imprisoned for almost 20 years.

The story of Syed’s conviction is told in great detail in the Serial and Undisclosed podcasts. Details of those podcasts can be found here:

Also see:

The Griffith Wars by Tom Gilling and Terry Jones

I don’t think anyone who was around in 1970’s Australia would be unaware of the  things covered by this book. Based on the diaries of Terry Jones, a newspaper editor in Griffith NSW who personally knew all of the major players, The Griffith Wars joins a lot of the half-remembered dots lingering in 40 year old memories.

Small business owner and aspiring politician, Donald Mackay disappeared from Griffith, a small inland city almost half way between Sydney and Adelaide. His furniture shop van was found in a pub car park alongside a pool of blood and spent firearm cartridges. His body has never been found.

Leading up to his murder he had been campaigning aggressively against a profitable drug trade centred in Griffith, where families of close-knit Calabrian farmers had been acquiring income far greater than would be expected from the growing of fruit and vegetables. Raids on a number of properties linked to those families had found large acreages of marijuana.

Prior to reports of Mackay’s disappearance, my  first wareness of Griffith related to two school friends were eventually found there after they’d gone missing from home. They’d been trying their hand at fruit picking using false names.

A few years later I met a friend’s sister, a nurse at Griffith base hospital, visiting her family who had recently moved to my home city on the coast. That was two or three years before Mackay’s murder, but those friends made it clear that Griffith’s reputation regarding the drug trade was already well known among locals there.

A closer personal connection to this story came when I met Gloria. She came from a small country town that relied on services available from Griffith. Her family had been customers of Donald Mackay’s furniture shop, and they had links with several places that arise in the account told in The Griffith Wars.  There was no secret about the identity of the people behind the illegalities within Griffith.

The names of those families and their activities have been well-known for decades. Many them passed through the legal system on numerous occasions but with little effect, often receiving minimal sentences (if any) receiving far lighter punishments for growing and distributing marijuana than those caught using it. Some even became recipients of local and national honours, such as “Citizen of the Year” and the “Order of Australia”.

The Griffith Wars is a very readable account of drugs, insurance fraud, murder, corrupt police and dodgy politicians. By one of those interesting coincidences, I finished reading this book one day after the 41st anniversary of Donald Mackay’s murder.


Also see:







A High Mortality of Doves, by Kate Ellis


With its Derbyshire setting, within a period immediately after the First World War, this book fulfils both the geographical and historical criteria that attracted me to a particular type of crime fiction.

In Wenfield, Derbyshire, the villagers are well aware of the cost of the recent war. Many of its men didn’t return, others returned home damaged in body or mind.

No less damaged are those who were left behind. Family members who turn to mediums for comfort. And family members who, by clinging to vain hope, make themselves vulnerable to a more deadly threat.

A letter draws Myrtle Bligh to an isolated place to meet Stanley, the man she’d loved prior to reports of his death in battle. In the hope that he’d survived, she follows the letter’s instructions, but it isn’t Stanley who meets her.

She becomes the first victim of a killer preying on Wenfield’s women.

The story alternates between the viewpoints of Flora Winsmore, the local doctor’s daughter and Albert Lincoln, a Scotland Yard detective brought in from London when local police recognise they are out of their depth.

Flora’s local knowledge is valuable to Albert the outsider and they develop an increasingly close relationship as they try to find the perpetrator before anyone else is murdered.

The lingering effects of war upon a community, are at the heart of the crimes within this story, where casualties of war are not always victims of the battlefield and those responsible for the damage may not be considered as enemy combatants.

Thanks to Sarah Ward for making me aware of this book through her blog entry here:

Dangerous Love by Ray Norman

Ray Norman was national director for World Vision in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania where he worked with his wife Helene.

His book Dangerous Love looks at the challenges and cost of mission work, where Christian witness requires the casting aside of a lot of “western” preconceptions.

As well-educated and comparatively wealthy foreigners, we easily succumb to the notion that we are somehow higher in the pecking order, that our important objectives and busy schedules should take precedence because “we know best”. And too often our image among the poor is tainted, and our actions reflect a sense of entitlement and thinly veiled arrogance (in spite of our good intentions…

… In much of the world outside of Europe and north America, people are less achievement-oriented and place significantly higher value on relationships. On days after an unexpectedly long exchange with farmers, I might glance at my watch and mumble something to the effect that there was still much I had not accomplished that day. I would often hear words such as, ‘Yes, but those things can always get done tomorrow. At least today we have done the important thing and gotten to know each other better.’

During his tenure in Mauritania, an act of extreme violence against Norman and his daughter Hannah challenged the family’s resolve to continue the work they felt called to do. They were also made aware of inadequacies in the way fellow believers reacted to them in the aftermath of that violent incident.

It seemed that even our own pastor in France, a man who, along with his spouse, had been a source of support and encouragement to us over the years, seemed to strufggle with how to respond to us. He had been informed of what had happened, and once we arrived in Calais we expected to hear from him or his wife but never did. I eventually called him on our third or fourth day there. He told me that he’d heard our news, and he listened quietly as I chatted. But it seemed our situation was beyond him…

Eventually, the healing process began when the family chose to return to their work in Mauritania, and the greatest help came from those intended to be the recipients of the Norman’s ministry work. A clear example of this came from the women of Arafat, a nearby poverty stricken township, who invited Helene Norman to their community.

We understand because we too are women. And we want you to know that we are here to walk with you, to support and encourage you in this experience in which you have suffered deeply. So please know, Madame Norman, that we have brought you here among us to let you know you are not alone on this journey. We are here with you.

Ray Norman reflects on this as his wife tells him the full story:

I stood there in stunned silence , and between her sobs, she began to explain in halting words how the women of Arafat had provided for her, in her deepest time of need, what no friend or gathering among her many Christian acquaintances across three continents (Africa, Europe, or America) had been able, or had the insight to provide. How in the most unlikely of places, she had found common ground with those who suffer, and how God had touched her heart and demonstrated his promise of faithfulness in a remote land through ‘the least of these’ (Matt. 25:40)

I haven’t found this book to be an easy read, although there are many interesting parts within it. At times I considered putting it aside and returning to it later after reading something different for a while. However, perseverance paid off.

It starts off “well”, taking the reader up to the life-changing act of violence that frames the subsequent events in the Normans’ lives; and then I felt things got bogged down in uncertainty for a time while the family came to terms with the after effects of their experience and how it could impact the viability of their ministry.
The “payoff” comes in the last few chapters when they decide (Ray reluctantly) to contact the perpetrator of the violence against Ray and their daughter, and in doing so set in motion life changing consequences that only God-inspired compassion and forgiveness can bring about.