Archive for October, 2008

One journey ends, another begins

October 28th, 2008 2 comments

On Sunday, I submitted the last assessment for my College of Law course work. This brings to an end 15 weeks of stress, learning, and – sometimes – fun. I’m glad to say that my thousands of dollars in accrued debt has not gone to waste. I made some great friends, learned a great deal, and now have the slightly dubious boast that my best subject at College was trust accounting.

In two weeks’ time I will face a much more momentous ending. It will be my last exam, and the end of six years of university. What lies ahead? Life, career, mortgages, “real life” as I like to call it, away from the comfortable cocoon of school. It’s been a great journey, with twists and turns; moments of intense emotion as well as pure carefree joy; times when I wished the world would just disappear, and moments that I wished would last forever. To those who have been most important for me – and you know who you are, hopefully – thank you, and I am thinking of you right now.

The present blends quickly into the future. Next Monday, I begin my final seven weeks of work experience towards qualification as a lawyer – even before I do my final exam. This leads, in the blink of an eye, to full time work in February (and hopefully, an admission ceremony in the same month). My life is rolling ahead, and I’d better start jogging to keep up.

Political dynasties and family dictatorships

October 19th, 2008 No comments

Unfortunately, I am at my most prolific when I should be studying for exams. All four of them in the next four days, to be precise.

I happened upon the Wikipedia article on family dictatorships – and the related articles on dynasties and political families – and found it in a most unsatisfactory state. I’ve edited it, but it’s got me thinking. When does a political dynasty turn into a family dictatorship, and when is a family dictatorship a monarchy?

The first difference seems to usually involve a value judgment as to the quality of the political system. If the country is democratic, as in the US, then the passage of a position from father to son creates a “political dynasty”, while if the country is judged to be a dictatorship, then this is a family dictatorship. I say “value judgment”, because clearly this is not a question of law. Many “dictatorships” have very nicely whitewashed constitutions and hold regular elections. Often, the boundary can be hard to define. Is Singapore a political dictatorship or merely a political family?

The latter difference also is not one strictly of laws and institutions. In a monarchy, the crown passes within the family by force of law. However, some family dictatorships also enshrine their succession by laws designating the dictator’s heir.

It seems to me that the conditions for consituting a string of leaders from the same family as a family dictatorship are something like this:

  1. No general law of hereditary succession. If a regime adheres to a general law of hereditary succession, then regardless of how the leadership is named, it is a hereditary monarchy and not merely a dictatorship. This is a maximum threshold. Anything falling short of this can be a family dictatorship. This covers a broad spectrum of institutional positions. A state may enact an ad hoc law designating the leader’s proginy as the legal successor; or it may hold elections (as to which, see below); or it may simply in practice treat the successor as the new leader. An example of the last is Kim Jong-il, whose position, the chair of the National Defence Commission, was simply declared to be the highest office of the land by government propaganda after the death of his father as the President. Since the younger Kim is not the President, he needed not be elected and is under no constitutional obligation to present himself to the electorate either.
  2. Use of political, not “soft” power. A family dictatorship is first and foremost a dictatorship. This means that the regime enacts its policies, including succession policy, by the use of politcal powers as represented by instruments of state. This is a minimum threshold. Thus, a regime that holds free and fair elections, but in which one family, because of the informal power and influence accrued to it, continues to hold political office, is not a family dictatorship. Thus, no matter how many Bushes are elected to the Presidency, the US is not a family dictatorship. The Bushes would achieve disproportionate success because of their economic power and informal influence, rather than control over state apparatus. By contrast, Singapore is arguably a family dictatorship. The (indirect) hereditary succession was instituted through the regime’s control over the country’s political process, which itself is maintained by relaxed separation of powers, the enactment of laws that hamper dissent, and using the law to force dissidents into bankruptcy, jail, or exile.

Family dictatorships share attributes with other forms of government. One is the non-transparent selection of a successor. The selection and cultivation of a successor usually involves the interplay of forces within the regime, and can often be highly personal. It is often highly uncertain, with successors falling in and out of favour over a long period of time. To a greater or lesser extent, the same process is found in all but the most transparent of systems. The second is the “grooming” of a successor. In order to attain either authority within the regime, or a veil of legitimacy in the eyes of the public, the successor is carefully planted in various positions to attain experience, often with a cult of personality built up around that experience. Such a process is also found across authoritarian regimes and in hereditary monarchies. One scene which I found curiously apt during the Olympics was that Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping was chosen to meet with all the visiting Crown Princes – as heir apparents, the selection ensured reciprocity. (A vice presidency does not equal heirdom apparent in China. Since each president now serves for two terms, the first term vice president is a holdover minder from the previous administration, and the second term vice president is the designated successor.)

Since I can’t think of any particularly nice pictures to put in here, enjoy these two Youtube videos:

A day in the life of the Prince of Wales: Part 1 


Dear Leader Kim Jung-il is the People’s Inspiration

Food review: Sushi Tei

October 16th, 2008 No comments

Sushi Tei LogoName: Sushi Tei
Address: 1 Chifley Square, Cnr Elizabeth St and Hunter St, Sydney 2000
Phone: +61 2 92327288
Type: Sushi restuarant/sushi train
Cuisine: Japanese/other Asian
Opening hours: 11:30am-3pm, 5pm-10pm

Sushi Tei (“Sushi pavilion”) is a chain of Japanese restaurants concentrated in South-East Asia (and even has a branch in Shanghai). Its Sydney branch is conveniently (for me) located at Chifley Square.

Seafood paper hotpot
Seafood paper hotpot

Sushi Tei specialises in lightly flavoured dishes that play on the natural flavours of commonplace, perhaps even mundane, ingredients. Its specialties include sushis, grilled rice dishes, and soups. On my most recent visit, the two of us shared a seafood paper hot pot, a salmon steak, a crispy sushi roll, and a soft shell crab sushi roll. The food was not ground-shattering, but I found no major fault with it. The paper hot pot looked elegant, and was delicious, with salmon, scallops, enokitake mushrooms, tofu and some kind of noodly thing on the bottom. I also recommend the sushi selection. Apart from the two mentioned above, the crispy salmon skin makizushi excellently combines the flavour of salmon with a crunchy texture. Highly enjoyable.

My only grumble coming out of this visit, though, is that serving sizes seem to have continued to diminish. I am fairly certain that the last time we ordered the soft shell crab roll, the crab legs protruding from the ends of the roll were not so juvenile looking. Considering the price, though, the meal was still fairly good value. Plus, the speed of service makes the restaurant a good choice for a quick, working dinner.

The best thing about the restaurant is the ambience, which is relaxing even at the busiest of times – with light wooden lattice dividers separating the tables, but not detracting from the light and airy atmosphere lent by floor to ceiling windows. The kitchen is open plan. If you want a better view of the sushi chef in action – at the expense of sitting on stools instead of 60-minute chairs – there is a sushi train counter.

Conclusion: Good value, good ambience, and ideal for a quick, quality meal.

Food: 7/10
Service: 6/10
Ambience: 7/10
Value for money: 7/10
Overall: 7/10

Categories: Reviews, The Sydney Grind Tags:

New camera!

October 2nd, 2008 No comments

Nikon D80I bought a Nikon D80 camera on Monday, and am now spending a good part of my afternoons walking around the city like a lost tourist – lost, because I’m constantly digging out the manual to work out how to work one setting or another. I look so much like a tourist that a kindly Melbournian tried to help the confused Asian tourist that I appeared to be.

Read more…

Categories: Events, Random facts, The Sydney Grind Tags: