Category Archives: Reviews

Whale Oil

Review: Margie Thompson (2019) Whale Oil Nelson: Potton and Burton ($39.99)

The line ‘Whale Oil Beef Hooked’ brought a snigger among sixteen-year-old schoolboys when I was one, and perhaps it still raises a laugh among a certain diminishing demographic where Irish jokes seem clever. Certainly Cameron Slater, whose once highly subscribed right-wing blog is thus named, has been known to deal in racism and would cast himself as a fearless opponent of political correctness. Self-promotion and marketing are part of the product that he purveyed. The rest is lies, quarter-truths, voyeurism, scandal, scuttlebutt, and subcontracted political spin, as this book amply shows, though Slater has few customers for that any more.

Margie Thompson’s book, Whale Oil, a surprisingly riveting read, assiduously researched, is only partly about Slater (those interested in the ‘principles’, ways and means of this character should read Nicky Hager’s (2014) Dirty Politics, also published by Potton and Burton, a work that inspired Thompson in her remarkable endeavour). The cover of Thompson’s book, by Darryl Sean Parsons, has a marvellous caricature, showing not a whale, but another sea creature, a many-tentacled bottom-dweller that squirts ink, an ugly octopus-like monster of uncanny resemblance (‘Here be monsters’ warns Thompson on p.119). Whale Oil, however, is more about the long-term determination and courageous standing up to this bully and his paymasters, at enormous personal cost, of the book’s main protagonist, businessman Matt Blomfield.

Once an investor in, and driving business-plan force behind, the then highly successful Hell Pizza chain, Blomfield fell out with his former business associates when he would no longer do dirty work for them. Someone then set out concertedly to destroy his personal and professional reputation, and ruin his life as well as his business, feeding Whale Oil the hacked and stolen means, and motivation. Slater’s hireling defamation blog lied that Blomfield was a paedophile, pornographer, thief from a charity organisation, fraudster, illegal drug-user and more. That this was lies in its entirety was eventually, insistently and painstakingly, proven in courts by Blomfield, as Thompson’s book sets out in gripping narrative. Yet ink, like mud, sticks. The book is a tale of redemption, but Blomfield’s painful (and expensive!) recuperation of his honour is a work in progress. Continue reading Whale Oil

Manus Prison and the Kyriarchal System

Behrouz Boochani, appearing at the ANZ Criminology Conference, 6 December 2018

The journalist and poet, Behrouz Boochani, fled Iran after the storming of his magazine’s offices by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Accused of promoting Kurdish culture and language, his colleagues were arrested.

Boochani made two attempts for political asylum in Australia, nearly drowning on the way. On the second try, the fully-laden boat was rescued by a British tanker. All those onboard were taken to Christmas Island and, from there, authorities transferred him to Manus Island.

Manus Island, in Papua New Guinea (PNG), looms large in writings on asylum. The neutrally-titled ‘Regional Processing Centre’ (or what Boochani calls ‘Manus Prison’) was part of the Australian government’s ‘Pacific Solution’. It represented a control fix for the Australian government who had been struggling with ever-growing resistance and solidarity with those held in ‘onshore’ centres, like Woomera. Any plight was to be out of sight, out of mind. Besides, politicians might record that no-one had arrived onto Australian soil, so they bore no legal obligations to provide internationally-established protections.

Over the years, thousands have been incarcerated on Manus (in 2014, over 1,300 were held). It formed a node in the bigger carceral archipelago for those who had the temerity to flee terror and seek refuge. Most travelled from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Myanmar… places that have often been made unstable and dangerous from Western interventions.

Manus (like all Australian immigration sites, including Christmas Island, Nauru, Villawood in Sydney, Yonga Hill near Perth) faced heavy criticism from detainees, human rights organisations, doctors, lawyers, academics, advocates, and others. Sexual violence, physical assaults and threats dominated. Two workers were sentenced for the murder of a young Iranian asylum seeker during a detainee protest.

Ramping up the controls, here and elsewhere, the Australian government established the 2015 Border Force Act that now enables the two-year imprisonment of ‘entrusted persons’ who speak out about gross human rights violations in immigration detention centres.

In 2016, following a PNG Supreme Court decision that the ‘Centre’ was illegal for its breaches of constitutional rights to personal liberty, local politicians retracted their support for the prison. It closed in late 2017. Three new ‘transit centres’ have established to hold the men.

Boochani remains on the island. He has spent over five years there. Continue reading Manus Prison and the Kyriarchal System

Ontopower

A Review of Brian Massumi’s Ontopower: War, Powers and the State of Perception (Duke University Press, 2015). 306pp. Paperback $24.95.

The preface to Massumi’s book invites the reader to consider starting at the end. It is a fitting exhortation in a book that examines a temporal twist coined ‘ontopower’. Temporal tautologies are used as headings throughout the book including ‘futures past’ (190), ‘fast forward on rewind’ (197) and, my favourite, ‘smoke of future fires’ (202). I am particularly partial to the latter because it points to Massumi’s ‘unabashedly metaphysical’ approach (205). Massumi situates ontopower “in a field of action with other regimes of power”, arguing that “it is necessary to adopt an ecological approach to threat’s environmental power” (200).

The newly consolidated mode of power that is ontopower pivots on the ‘singular time signature’ (200) of preemption, which “denotes acting on the time before: before it has emerged as a clear and present danger” (vii). The first chapter begins with former US President George W. Bush’s oft quoted rationale for the invasion of Iraq: “[i]f we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge” (3). Massumi maintains, however, that “although the exemplary events through which this operative logic [of preemption] is evaluated in the book are, for the most part, historically moored in the Bush administration, the power curve they express exceeds it” (221). He argues that preemption “is an operative logic of power defining a political epoch in as infinitely space-filling and insidiously infiltrating way as the logic of the ‘deterrence’ defined as the Cold War era” (5).

From the outset the vast scope and challenge of Massumi’s project are clear. The first hint at how we might understand the operative logic of this new entrant into the ecology of powers is the word ‘ontopower’ itself. ‘Onto’ means being. Preemption is productive. It brings the future into being as it “trace[s] itself out as a self-propelling tendency” (5). Continue reading Ontopower