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Miranda and Piers in duet after “Quadrant” dinner…

So it would appear from Questions a-plenty on global warming by Piers and Beware the church of climate alarm by Miranda, both on the same day but in different newspapers. I will let Miranda explain the Quadrant connection, which Piers does not mention.

One of Australia’s leading enviro-sceptics, the geologist and University of Adelaide professor Ian Plimer, 62, says he has noticed audiences becoming more receptive to his message that climate change has always occurred and there is nothing we can do to stop it.

In a speech at the American Club in Sydney on Monday night for Quadrant magazine, titled Human-Induced Climate Change – A Lot Of Hot Air, Plimer debunked climate-change myths.

"Climates always change," he said. Our climate has changed in cycles over millions of years, as the orbit of the planet wobbles and our distance from the sun changes, for instance, or as the sun itself produces variable amounts of radiation. "All of this affects climate. It is impossible to stop climate change. Climates have always changed and they always will."

His two-hour presentation included more than 50 charts and graphs, as well as almost 40 pages of references. It is the basis of his new book, Heaven And Earth: The Missing Science Of Global Warming, to be published early next year.

Piers and Miranda are both mightily impressed. Since my qualifications in the area are no better (or worse) than Piers or Miranda, neither of them famous for climatology, I will refer you to a couple of other people, while suggesting too that Plimer, a geologist, may also be worth a closer look. (I am not so sure that Miranda would have really liked Ian Plimer in his Telling Lies for God days, but that is another matter…)

Happy reading. Go to the appropriate box in the side bar here for more.

BTW, I couldn’t resist. Piers is the butchest writer on the planet, being 94% male according to the Gender Analyzer, while Miranda is 72% male… Go figure.

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Posted by on November 27, 2008 in Australia, Australia and Australian, climate change, culture wars, environment, right wing politics

 

Quadrant Magazine: D.L. Lewis :: The Da Vinci Code

I cited this review in my own Da Vinci hogwash page last year. Imagine my surprise, then, on checking my emails a few days ago to find a letter from David Lewis: Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2005 in Australia and Australian, book reviews, Christianity, education, Fiction, magazines, site news, writers

 

"The Disputed Curriculum" :: Alan Barcan :: Quadrant Magazine June 2005

This conservative review of Why Our Schools Are Failing: What Parents Need to Know about Australian Education by Kevin (I am Nelson’s Brain) Donnelly is actually quite respectable and even well-informed, which is not to say I agree entirely, but at least I am reading an honest commentator here. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2005 in Australia and Australian, book reviews, Brendan Nelson, culture wars, education, magazines, right wing politics

 

Hang on a minute: what tax?

We all know Brer Abbott and The Undead are standing up for us against the dreaded

GREAT BIG TAX ON EVERYTHING!!!!

My problem is that I naively thought you could have a carbon tax, which the government has opted against, or an Emissions Trading Scheme (Cap and Trade), which the government has opted for.

Does it not follow then that while one is a tax the other is not? Sure, it may well be a cost, but a tax?

Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Not quite the promised climate change post

I need to pause before I attempt the summation I promised yesterday, so below I will list some additional resources.

But first some preliminary observations.

1. While “MAGIC PUDDING POLITICS” (Rudd on Brer Abbott) is not nearly as effective a mantra as “GREAT BIG TAX ON NEARLY EVERYTHING” (Brer Abbott on Rudd) the greater truth is in the Rudd mantra. The idea of a costless response to climate change is a sick joke. I do in fact believe that nuclear power should be in the mix, siding to that extent with Brer Abbott (and James Lovelock), but that has to be seen in a context too.

THE Opposition’s desire to embrace nuclear power in the absence of an emissions trading scheme or carbon tax would result in electricity price rises of between 10 per cent and 33 per cent, according to estimates by the Howard government’s nuclear energy expert, Ziggy Switkowski.

In a report for John Howard in 2006, Dr Switkowski found nuclear power would never be commercially viable unless fossil fuel-generated electricity was made more expensive using an ETS or carbon tax.

This resulted in Mr Howard embracing an emissions trading scheme as a way to reduce greenhouse gases while keeping open the nuclear option for the future.

In a dramatic departure from policy, the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, has abandoned support for any market-based mechanism, such as an ETS or a carbon tax, as part of the Coalition’s greenhouse strategy…

2. It is such a shame the whole issue has become politicised, but I suppose that is inevitable in a democracy. Fact is, however, that there are limits to what “debate” can actually achieve in the face of phenomena that really do not depend, in the long run, on our ideological positions or the wheelbarrows we choose to push.  Dithering is one of the less savoury outcomes of a democratic process, not that I prefer the alternative really – but a country like China is actually better placed to act decisively, for good or ill. Such a shame we are mere humans and not gods, isn’t it?

3. Given the abysmal level of much of our dithering both here and overseas, and given the importance of the issue, nothing is to be gained by censorship of the kind that apparently has happened at the CSIRO or by fudging data, as apparently happened at the East Anglia CRU. While we would all do well to forget unlikely scenarios like the movie The Day After Tomorrow and must all concede that Al Gore oversimplified in An Inconvenient Truth, we should also realise that what happened at the CSIRO or East Anglia does not invalidate the overall truth of the IPCC reports. The IPCC does not engage in research; all it does is weigh the research and gather together the implications of that research for our consideration. There was much more input to its reports than East Anglia.

Hence comments like this on the latest offering (for climate change action I hasten to add) of Sojourners, a “left evangelical” site, really are tragic.

I think it is useing a lie to push their ideas. there is no man made global warming. yes take care of the environment, being a christian this should be second nature, shouldnt need to push for eco-prophets. nature changes all the time. thats life. honesty is important and there isnt much of that in this environment "emergency" that is being pushed. The other point is that the UN has no concern for the poor. they people they have chosen to make us believe in global warming are liars. and the proposals they want to accomplish will Not help the poor but make it harder for them. If you cant see that then you have blinders on.

There are so many prejudices running through that comment one hardly knows where to start.

4. Check some recent stories in the Sydney Morning Herald.

5. Realise that there are left as well as right-wing critiques of “market strategies” like cap and trade or carbon tax.

The Same Boat

Imagine 10 rabbits lost at sea, in a boat carved out of a giant carrot.

The carrot is their only source of food, so they all keep nibbling at it. The boat is shrinking rapidly – but none of them wants to be the first to stop, because then they’ll be the first to starve. There’s no point in any of them stopping unless everyone stops – if even one rabbit carries on eating, the boat will sink.

This is the international climate crisis in a (Beatrix Potter-flavoured) nutshell: action by individual nations achieves little unless we all act together. Of course, reality is a little more complex. While it’s easy to imagine the rabbits reaching a simple agreement where they all learn to dredge for seaweed instead, our situation involves massive global inequalities, differing levels of responsibility, and a history of exploitation and broken international promises.

Perhaps, then, we shouldn’t be too surprised that the international climate negotiations – which began in earnest in 1990 with the talks that created the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – have not yet got us a workable global solution. The best we’ve managed so far has been the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, under which industrialized nations (known as ‘Annex 1’ countries) pledged to cut their CO emissions by a completely inadequate 5.2 per cent by 2012. The US famously pulled out of the deal, and most of those who remained in are unlikely to achieve even these small cuts…

Down with Kyoto

We shouldn’t get too hung up on Copenhagen – we’re far more likely to create lasting change by building powerful national and international movements than by pouring all our energy into specific summit meetings. But it’s hard to deny that we need some sort of international framework for tackling this global issue. Despite its flaws, the UNFCCC is the only one we’ve got, and the urgency of the climate issue requires us to work with it.

However, the Kyoto Protocol has been a dismal failure. Should we demand that governments scrap it completely and start again from scratch? It’s tempting, but would be unlikely to gain the crucial support of Southern negotiators, who fear that a brand new deal would see them lose their hard-won ‘differentiated responsibility’.

A better approach might be to create space within the existing talks for alternative, fairer systems and ideas – such as GDRs, Kyoto2, community-led solutions, indigenous rights, strings-free clean development assistance, patent-free technology transfer – to get a hearing. Currently emissions trading, private financing and market-based mechanisms are seen as the only route to greenhouse gas reductions, and are crowding everything else out of the debate.

This suggests a simple, effective starting point for developing a successful – and just – global agreement: we need to get rid of carbon trading…

Confused yet? One tip though: if anyone has all their ideas on the subject from Quadrant or Ms Devine or Mr Bolt they aren’t worth taking too seriously. The entries immediately above, on the other hand, are predicated on an anti “free market” perspective. They are putting their faith in sustainables as the answer. I don’t really see either as being much practical help, though more is to be said for the New Internationalist stance than Quadrant’s.

OK, I’ll try again later on…

See also: entries here tagged “environment".

 

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Some non-fiction read recently: 2a

See also Some non-fiction read recently: 1.

The first two books have led to much thinking – to that degree they are both good books. The thinking is so profound – in the sense that I am exploring again some important territory, not in the sense that I can offer great depth – that it will lead to post 2b in the near future. I will attempt there to draw out some ideas and will relate them to some things I have said before. I have also downloaded a video I found while looking for something else; it turns out to be a document, in a way, from my own recent past – or at least I know and have spent much time with some who feature in it. It is a video that will knock the socks off some readers. It is related to the issues in the following two books.

star30 star30star30star30star30 Madeleine Albright, The Mighty & the Almighty: Reflections on Power, God, and World Affairs, Macmillan 2006.

Yes, that Madeleine Albright. The thesis is that while there is a place for the military in the struggles that engage us, the more important struggle is in the world of ideas, and that must include a recognition of the significance of religion to the majority of the people in the world. I find this a very wise and persuasive book. Some of the policy moves the Obama administration has made in recent times are less surprising in the light of this book.

Albright was involved too with the Changing Course – A New Direction for U.S. Relations with the Muslim WorldReport of the Leadership Group on U.S.-Muslim Engagement September 2008 (SECOND PRINTING, WITH A NEW PREFACE AND ENDORSEMENTS February 2009). You can download a PDF copy here; I strongly urge you to do so.

See also Madeleine Albright’s Take on Religion and Politics by Jim Zogby on Muslim Media Network.

star30star30star30 Michael Burleigh, Blood & Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism, Harper 2008

This isn’t really a cultural history of its subject, but rather a series of narratives of selected terrorist movements from 19th century Fenians through Russian Nihilists to of course the current phenomenon of terrorists who claim to be advancing the cause of Islam – a long-winded expression I have devised as more satisfactory than alternatives such as Islamists, Jihadists, or Islamofascists. The last one Burleigh also rejects, and he makes fairly careful use of the first two. He prefers another term that is unlikely to catch on: jihadi-salafist. On p.353 he compares the world of Islam to a series of concentric circles. The largest, outer circle “includes the world’s one and a half billion Muslims, divided into Sunni, Shia, and hundreds of other sects…” He doesn’t have a problem with most in that circle. The next circle inside the larger one includes “Islamists” – people who want Muslim states to introduce or maintain Islamic law. These too are in the main not terrorists. The next and smaller circle are the Salafi, but even there while “most [violent] jihadists are salafists, not all salafists are jihadists.” The final smallest circle Burleigh seems to forget about, but clearly it is those who actually embrace terror.

Now that isn’t too bad, really, as a kind of model. I had approached the book with dread, since he does at one point tell us that John Howard was the world’s most successful conservative leader. He is, on the other hand, not very fond of Rumsfeld and Cheney, it would appear, but does speak fairly kindly of George Bush. The book was after all written in the rarefied atmosphere of the Hoover Institution.

One of the book’s most annoying features is the author’s habit of parading his Aunt Sallys, his King Charles’ Heads, his hobbyhorses, rather too often and sometimes too smugly. You can almost guess what they might be. But the book is not quite as bad as some left reviewers have made out, nor nearly as good as Quadrant thought. Its great strength is that he tells his stories very well, when he’s not doing the right-wing whinging bits, and those stories are fascinating and disturbing enough, and I believe, going on the ones I already knew about, the telling is accurate enough. So the book really is informative. To his credit, too, Burleigh is firmly opposed to torture, and cognisant of right-wing terrorism.

See also a Google search. Especially look at Those who live by the bomb (Jason Burke) and Shadows of the gunmen (Giles Foden). Historian Fred Halliday is particularly pissed off in Blood and Rage, By Michael Burleigh.

Blood and Rage proclaims itself to be a "cultural history of terrorism". In eight far-ranging and fluently written chapters, it covers the Fenians in 19th-century Ireland, Russian nihilists, American anarchists, ETA, the Baader-Meinhof group in Germany and Red Brigades in Italy, as well as the ANC, Black September and – in a long concluding chapter – more recent Islamist groups. All are, for Burleigh, examples of one phenomonon, a cult of death and destruction that has little anchorage in politics and is more the product of "a pre-existing chemical mix" that is set to explode.

The first thing that strikes the reader of this book is its mediocrity. All is based on secondary material, and the main stories, events and characters are well known. Despite the fact that most episodes involve people who are still alive, or who lived through them, Burleigh never sees fit to interview anyone. The overall analytic framework is weak, and unoriginal. We never learn what a "cultural history" means, as if there could be such a thing. Compared to some major works on terrorism, by authors such as Walter Laqueur, Conor Gearty or Gerard Chaliand – who, without any shred of indulgence, do seek political causes, and recognise political context – Burleigh’s account is lacking. Equally, in his discussion of Islamist guerrilla groups, he has nothing to add to the works of such writers as Jason Burke, Fawaz Gerges, Olivier Roy, Malise Ruthven or Steven Simon….

Rushed opinion is buttressed by arrogance, not least towards former colleagues and institutions in which the author worked. A reference to the students of his former institution, the LSE, whom I have had the pleasure of teaching these past 25 years, has them described as "Eurotrash and Americans doing ‘Let’s See Europe’". At one point he sneers at fellow-participants at a conference in Madrid in 2005 on the dialogue of civilisations, "the usual obsfuscatory cloud of ecumenical goodwill". He fails to note that some of those who participated, such as the Egyptian Nasser Abu Zaid, had suffered at first hand from Islamist violence and knew far more than he about the matter.

In predictable vein, the final sections launch a general offensive against academics who write on terrorism for failing to engage with the reality of suffering involved. A survey of books shows, Burleigh tells us, "how unserious academics have become as a group". This would be as much a surprise to the Laqueurs and Geartys of this world as it is to those of us who have worked, over decades, on the Middle East. Bashing academics, the stock-in-trade of the sometimes virulently anti-intellectual Robert Fisk, is best left to others….

And there’s more. I agree about Jason Burke and Malise Ruthven, as I have read them. On the other hand, I did learn quite a bit from Blood & Rage.

star30star30star30star30 James  M McPherson (ed), The American Presidents, DK Publishing 2004 (revised).

This is a set of essays on all the US Presidents up to George W, each essay more or less of equal length and each by a different historian. Considering I knew so little about some of them I found the book worth reading. Some of the essays are brilliant. In the back you’ll find all the Inaugural Speeches. It is lavishly illustrated.

Now I am not promising Part B for tomorrow. I have a lot of thinking to do. But you may in the meantime be interested in this rather Marxist essay: Terry Eagleton, Culture & Barbarism: Metaphysics in a Time of Terrorism.

Why are the most unlikely people, including myself, suddenly talking about God? Who would have expected theology to rear its head once more in the technocratic twenty-first century, almost as surprisingly as some mass revival of Zoroastrianism? Why is it that my local bookshop has suddenly sprouted a section labeled “Atheism,” hosting anti-God manifestos by Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and others, and might even now be contemplating another marked “Congenital Skeptic with Mild Baptist Leanings”? Why, just as we were confidently moving into a posttheological, postmetaphysical, even posthistorical era, has the God question broken out anew?

Can one simply put it down to falling towers and fanatical Islamists? I don’t really think we can. Certainly the New Atheists’ disdain for religion did not sprout from the ruins of the World Trade Center. While some of the debate took its cue from there, 9/11 was not really about religion, any more than the thirty-year-long conflict in Northern Ireland was over papal infallibility. In fact, radical Islam generally understands exceedingly little about its own religious faith, and there is good evidence to suggest that its actions are, for the most part, politically driven.

That does not mean these actions have no religious impact or significance. Islamic fundamentalism confronts Western civilization with the contradiction between the West’s own need to believe and its chronic incapacity to do so. The West now stands eyeball-to-eyeball with a full-blooded “metaphysical” foe for whom absolute truths and foundations pose no problem at all-and this at just the point when a Western civilization in the throes of late modernity, or postmodernity if you prefer, has to skate by on believing as little as it decently can…

Eagleton always writes well.

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2009 in America, Best read of 2009, book reviews, fundamentalism and extremism, generational change, History, Islam, Middle East, politics, right wing politics, terrorism, USA

 

Two thought-provoking articles from the SMH

1. On Pakistan

Paul McGeough: Warning that Pakistan is in danger of collapse within months.

PAKISTAN could collapse within months, one of the more influential counter-insurgency voices in Washington says.

The warning comes as the US scrambles to redeploy its military forces and diplomats in an attempt to stem rising violence and anarchy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“We have to face the fact that if Pakistan collapses it will dwarf anything we have seen so far in whatever we’re calling the war on terror now,” said David Kilcullen, a former Australian Army officer who was a specialist adviser for the Bush administration and is now a consultant to the Obama White House.

“You just can’t say that you’re not going to worry about al-Qaeda taking control of Pakistan and its nukes,” he said…

At least that, depressing as it is, will be demonstrated one way or another in a very short time.

Browse through Foreign Affairs: for example Obama’s War — Redefining Victory in Afghanistan and Pakistan or What’s the Problem with Pakistan?

A couple of varied related articles: Musharraf’s Support Shrinks, Even As More Pakistanis Reject Terrorism… and the U.S. (PEW 2007); ‘Pakistan has lost war against terrorism’: Imran Khan (April 2009); Poverty in Pakistan, Terrorism, and the IMF; China, Pakistan, and Terrorism — from Foreign Policy in Focus November 2008.

2. Paul Sheehan on Climate Change

Paul Sheehan has been converted to the sceptic side by his reading of Ian Plimer’s Heaven and Earth.

What I am about to write questions much of what I have written in this space, in numerous columns, over the past five years. Perhaps what I have written can withstand this questioning. Perhaps not. The greater question is, am I – and you – capable of questioning our own orthodoxies and intellectual habits? Let’s see.

The subject of this column is not small. It is a book entitled Heaven And Earth, which will be published tomorrow. It has been written by one of Australia’s foremost Earth scientists, Professor Ian Plimer. He is a confronting sort of individual, polite but gruff, courteous but combative. He can write extremely well, and Heaven And Earth is a brilliantly argued book by someone not intimidated by hostile majorities or intellectual fashions.

The book’s 500 pages and 230,000 words and 2311 footnotes are the product of 40 years’ research and a depth and breadth of scholarship. As Plimer writes: “An understanding of climate requires an amalgamation of astronomy, solar physics, geology, geochronology, geochemistry, sedimentology, tectonics, palaeontology, palaeoecology, glaciology, climatology, meteorology, oceanography, ecology, archaeology and history.”…

Plimer does not dispute the dramatic flux of climate change – and this column is not about Australia’s water debate – but he fundamentally disputes most of the assumptions and projections being made about the current causes, mostly led by atmospheric scientists, who have a different perspective on time. “It is little wonder that catastrophist views of the future of the planet fall on fertile pastures. The history of time shows us that depopulation, social disruption, extinctions, disease and catastrophic droughts take place in cold times … and life blossoms and economies boom in warm times. Planet Earth is dynamic. It always changes and evolves. It is currently in an ice age.”…

The setting up by the UN of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1988 gave an opportunity to make global warming the main theme of environmental groups. “The IPCC process is related to environmental activism, politics and opportunism. It is unrelated to science. Current zeal around human-induced climate change is comparable to the certainty professed by Creationists or religious fundamentalists.”

Ian Plimer is not some isolated gadfly. He is a prize-winning scientist and professor. The back cover of Heaven And Earth carries a glowing endorsement from the President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus, who now holds the rotating presidency of the European Union. Numerous rigorous scientists have joined Plimer in dissenting from the prevailing orthodoxy.

Heaven and Earth is an evidence-based attack on conformity and orthodoxy, including my own, and a reminder to respect informed dissent and beware of ideology subverting evidence.

Indeed there is such a thing as ideology subverting evidence; the Lysenko affair is the archetypal case.

…Lysenko rose to dominance at a 1948 conference in Russia where he delivered a passionate address denouncing Mendelian thought as “reactionary and decadent” and declared such thinkers to be “enemies of the Soviet people” (Gardner 1957). He also announced that his speech had been approved by the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Scientists either groveled, writing public letters confessing the errors of their way and the righteousness of the wisdom of the Party, or they were dismissed. Some were sent to labor camps. Some were never heard from again.

Under Lysenko’s guidance, science was guided not by the most likely theories, backed by appropriately controlled experiments, but by the desired ideology. Science was practiced in the service of the State, or more precisely, in the service of ideology. The results were predictable: the steady deterioration of Soviet biology. Lysenko’s methods were not condemned by the Soviet scientific community until 1965, more than a decade after Stalin’s death…

But I bristle at the implication that this phenomenon is only a left phenomenon, bizarre as the Lysenko affair undoubtedly was. Some of my current reading, as you will see later this week, illustrates a similar tendency from the Right. That the Right is “objective” and “realistic” is as much a delusion as that Marxism is “scientific”.

As for the Plimer argument, see my earlier post Miranda and Piers in duet after “Quadrant” dinner…. Further, see this post and the long comment thread: Are geologists different?

Of course against Sheehan’s rather naive page and footnote count and the even more naive “He is a prize-winning scientist and professor” I offer an even more impressive scientist — Lord May of Oxford, also a professor and indeed former President of the Royal Society.

But of course this is no more an argument in itself than Sheehan’s statement of the same kind was.

See my sidebar note on this topic for further reading.

 

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Uncomfortable but possibly correct thoughts on Afghanistan

It isn’t very often that I recommend something in Quadrant, but I do recommend Justin Kelly’s How to Win in Afghanistan – even if the title is perhaps rather ambitious. What he says is certainly worth placing beside whatever other sources you may be following. “Kelly is a recently retired Australian army officer. He commanded the Peace Monitoring Group on Bougainville, was deputy commander of the peace keeping force in East Timor and was director of strategic operations in the US headquarters in Iraq from November 2006 until September 2007.” So it is frankly written from a military perspective, but he does get at least some vital facts correct.

Originally law belonged to a people. It was a common possession which defined the group to which individuals “belonged” and which was marked by their subscription to the weight of custom, ritual and obligation entailed. In return, membership of the group regulated the interactions between individuals and families within the group and offered advantages in dealings with other groups…

From this germ evolved the idea of the modern state as a geographically bounded area within which “a law” prevailed…

These two conceptions of law—as belonging either to a people or to a state—are irreconcilable and the conflict between them is being played out in domestic and international politics across the world. Insurgency and counter-insurgency is a competition to establish whose law will prevail in an area. The counter-insurgent force is attempting to establish its coercive authority in areas in which that authority is contested by insurgents. In Afghanistan, NATO forces are acting as proxies for the government of Afghanistan in the extension of its authority. The Taliban is resisting that attempt while also endeavouring to extend its authority over the remainder of the country.

Modern-day Afghanistan is largely a figment of the Western imagination. Its present boundaries emerged only during the nineteenth century as a result of imperial competition between Persia, Russia and Britain. It is the rump of a larger Pashtun empire (the term Afghan having its roots in the Persian for Pashtun) that had previously extended well into modern-day Pakistan and Iran. The northern boundary, only stabilised in the 1870s, was originally a zone through which Pashtun influence was in balance with that of the steppe-dwelling Uzbek, Tajiks and Turkmen, who remain ethnic minorities in northern Afghanistan today. Peshawar, in Pakistan, was until the early nineteenth century the winter capital and “pearl of the [Pashtun] Durani Empire”…

I still think a good case can be made that the whole Iraq thing – whatever you now think of it – was a terrible distraction from attending properly to the place where Al Qaeda really was, under the friendly shelter of the Taliban.

 
 

2009 book notes: 1

jan06 The current Surry Hills Library crop has thrown up two excellent novels (Best Reads of 2009), one just short of that but still very good, and one ordinary novel with a good plot line.

Cormac Millar, The Grounds (Penguin 2006/7) – crime fiction ***** Best Read of 2009

This is just delightful in every way: witty, stylish, intelligent, and a good story as well. It’s up there with the best in crime fiction, social satire, and sheer enjoyment. The author is clearly conservative, but then this has never been unusual in satire. Among the targets are the sacred cows of university “reform” and international eduspeak and corporate jargon.

‘…My new system is going to let the academics do their work, and give us all something to celebrate going forward.’

The contagious phrase ‘going forward’, used at the end of a sentence, denoted a positive mental attitude and was obligatory in all statements and interviews given by managerially minded persons.

See: Cormac Millar’s Home Page and Book Review: The Grounds by Cormac Millar. That reviewer wouldn’t know good writing if it bit her on the bum; what she deplores I revelled in!

Jose Luis de Juan, This Breathing World (Arcadia 2007; first published in Spanish in 1999) – crime fiction, pomo to the hilt **** Best Read of 2009

Imagine a scribe/amanuensis in post-Augustan Rome channelling Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. You can’t? You will if you read this. Yes, it’s all a bit Borges, but it is very cleverly done and there’s much lovely writing. The other setting is Harvard University in the 1960s where crimes committed in Ancient Rome seem to be resurfacing. Plays with your head, it does. Intertextuality on steroids. It is also very gay and quite amoral. So be warned. Personally I loved it, and learned along the way a lot about how authorship and writing were seen in Rome.

See: This Breathing World, where The Guardian reviewer likes it rather less than I did.

Magdalen Nabb, Vita Nuova (Soho 2008) – crime fiction **** Best Read of 2009

Synopsis (from the publisher): Daniela is a quiet single mother studying for a doctorate in chemistry. She rarely goes out, so her murder in her bedroom at the family’s new villa seems inexplicable. It is true that her mother, who appears to be an alcoholic; her younger sister, who has had mental problems; and her father, who has made his money running nightclubs and is probably involved in the international sex trade, are not your average home-loving Italian nuclear family, but what can she have done to be singled out for slaughter? And why has the prosecutor asked specifically for Marshal Guarnaccia to head the investigation?

I took that from Vita Nuova by Magdalen Nabb (Mystery Book Review). Very strong on characterisation and spirit of place, yet I was a little disappointed. That’s not to say it does not merit the “best read” tag.

Published posthumously. English-born Nabb died in Florence in 2007 aged 60.

See: International Noir Fiction: The last Magdalen Nabb.

Aline Templeton, Lying Dead (Hodder 2008/hb 2007) – crime fiction ***

OK, the writing is very ordinary, even at times pedestrian. The plot takes ages to take off, but once it does it is really very well executed.

See: Interview with Aline Templeton.

Quadrant: a footnote

While I have not always slammed everything that appears in John Howard’s favourite mag Quadrant, as searches here and here will show, I am underwhelmed by it in its various post-Robert Manne manifestations. Even so, there are good articles there from time to time, and some good stuff in the literary area. But I have spat at the mag more often than not in recent years: for example — How Martin Krygier ambushed the Quadranters…; Three magazines and an amazing AIDS story… (“You will all be overjoyed to discover that HIV does not cause AIDS. Lord Malcolm will be especially pleased, I should think, as this means he isn’t really sick at all and must have been in hospital all those times for work experience, or a vacation, and all that pain he suffers must just be imaginitis… I look forward to ‘Why the Earth is Flat’ in some future Quadrant; I think we have already had articles on why climate change is a left-wing fantasy…); Vilifying Australia – The perverse ideology of our adversary culture :: Keith Windschuttle (“Windschuttle is to the study or History what the Visigoths were to Ancient Rome. He is the hired assassin of the Culture Wars.”) A bit strong that last one, perhaps, but it rolls off the tongue well.

Now we have a story I first saw on Arthur’s blog: Keith Windschuttle has Sokal on his face. The second link takes you to the original Crikey post:

Margaret Simons writes:

Keith Windschuttle, the editor of the conservative magazine Quadrant, has been taken in by a hoax intended to show that he will print outrageous propositions.

This month’s edition of Quadrant contains a hoax article purporting to be by “Sharon Gould”, a Brisbane based New York biotechnologist.

But in the tradition of Ern Malley – the famous literary hoax perpetrated by Quadrant’s first editor, James McAuley – the Sharon Gould persona is entirely fictitious and the article is studded with false science, logical leaps, outrageous claims and a mixture of genuine and bogus footnotes.

(Bloody ads on Crikey!)

The Sydney Morning Herald has David Marr on the matter:

The hoax was beautifully done. Provoked by Quadrant’s embrace of global warming sceptics, the unidentified hoaxer concocted the article early last year and sent it to Windschuttle. The aim was to "employ some of Quadrant’s sleight-of-hand reasoning devices to argue something ludicrous", the hoaxer later wrote. "Something like the importance of putting human genes into food crops to save civilisation from its own ills, and how this sort of science shouldn’t be scrutinised by the media because, you know, it’s empirical."

Skeptic Lawyer comes in on the defence team with Quadrant Demidenkoed. That is all. I think she misses the point and I commented rather tartly on my Google Reader: “Given the crap Quadrant has published on things like HIV in the recent past, it deserved all it got. The magazine has been unmasked as ‘new political correctness’ rather than serious intellectual enquiry.”  This note expands on that.

I was a Quadrant subscriber in the late 1960s.

Update

On Quadrant see Club Troppo: Who is Sharon Gould?

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2009 in Best read of 2009, book reviews, Crime and/or crime fiction, Fiction, magazines, reading, weirdness

 

Random

Just so you know what time of year this is, here is a pic I took a few minutes ago. People in the Northern Hemisphere, eat your hearts out!

dec18 003

And speaking of weather, or rather, climate, Miranda has been regurgitating again** with her accustomed objectivity and deep scientific training: “The tantrums from Australia’s screeching environmental banshees have barely abated since the Government revealed its plan to cut Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions from between 5 and 15 per cent by 2020, an amount deemed too small by green groups.” Or: “The fact is temperatures have not risen in a decade, and have actually been falling in recent years, despite increasing carbon emissions. The tide has turned for the fundamentalist zealots of the climate change movement as more scientists declare their doubts that the science on climate change is ‘settled’, and opinion polls show the public growing ever more reluctant to make personal sacrifices to reduce carbon emissions…”

Shame about the other climate story in the same newspaper: Weather watch: a record year of extreme events.

AUSTRALIAN temperatures remained hotter than average this year, the World Meteorological Organisation reports, summing up the year as one marked by extreme weather events.

They included floods, severe and persistent droughts, snowstorms, heatwaves, cold waves and the shrinking of the Arctic sea ice to its second-lowest level on record.

The year is expected to rank as the 10th-warmest on record for the planet. Temperatures were about one-third of a degree above average despite the normally cooling impact of a La Nina event. Australia’s temperatures were 0.37 degrees above average, making this year the 15th-warmest on record for the nation since 1910, even with a strong La Nina bringing flooding rains to Queensland and NSW.

"Its warmer than most previous La Nina years," said Dr Andrew Watkins, a senior climatologist with Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology. "Generally with La Nina events we get cooler than normal temperatures over Australia."…

I don’t consider myself a “banshee” or a “fundamentalist zealot of the climate change movement”  — as I probably demonstrated in  Very quick assertions, not arguments, about the Rudd government’s climate package, but Miranda is just such an idiot on this topic, and persistent too. Yes, what we do in fact makes only a small difference, but to still believe there isn’t a problem is to be in a very select group, most of whom Miranda quotes – again. Visit the side bar and look for Climate sceptics… There you will find plenty of reasons for taking Miranda less than seriously.

Meantime, the HSC is out, and The Mine has done not too badly. 60 Band 6 in English is not bad at all, given The Mine’s clientele.

hsc10

The graphic links to the Herald story from which it is taken. Doesn’t one of those arrows point the wrong way??

I was also happy to see a coachee from a little while ago made it into the top 1% in ESL English.

Update

** On 22 December fellow right-wing columnist Paul Sheehan responded: Politics trumps policy on polluters.

Miranda Devine and her husband are coming over for Christmas drinks tonight. She’s good company, even if we do fundamentally disagree on the most important issue facing the country.

Last week she ripped into Kevin Rudd’s policy response to global warming, the Government’s multibillion-dollar plan to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. She quoted Professor Bob Carter describing the plan as "a non-solution to a non-problem". She weighed into the "screeching environmental banshees" who say the policy is not enough. She raised the grim fact that while Australia contributes 1.5 per cent of global greenhouse emissions, "China will almost double its emissions by 2030, from 18.3 per cent in 2005 to 33 per cent in 2030, [so] even if we reduced our emissions by 100 per cent, as the crazies want us to, our sacrifice would be meaningless".

Good point. Rudd’s grand plan is a grand illusion. It is so badly designed it would have been better if the Government had done nothing and let the US president-elect, Barack Obama, provide the leadership next year.

At this point, Devine and I diverge. Because I believe this policy is a non-solution to a big problem. Rudd’s strategy has been praised as political shrewdness, but it is political capitulation….

See also my post on 27 November: Miranda and Piers in duet after “Quadrant” dinner….

 

2008 in review 10: what did I post about in November 2008?

As I noted here, I am now going in reverse order, finishing in April 2008, and adding December in the new year. That way the months are published in a more logical order. Shame about January-March, but not a tragedy… Of course I now have three blogs to epitomise.

Floating Life

Saturday 1 November brings you The Howard Years on ABC; on 2 November Sirdan and his mum at Chinese Whisper includes one of my best photos, and in the afternoon I wrote Place and voice spot on: Peter Corris, “The Big Score” (2007).

Last episode of SBS’s “First Australians” and a must see anthology on 3 November reminds me what a good year this was for documentaries on TV; The Chemist’s Tale is a story from Redfern. New to read – local and national on 4 November is about the South Sydney Herald; The real education revolution… is among my better posts; Promoting Ninglun’s Specials… explains itself. 5 November was a memorable day: I believe something is happening right now in the USA…; Tribute; Meanwhile in Indonesia…. Next day began with A reminder we could all do with and then US election via George Negus, and the language of religion; the day after I posted On assignment! about a photo job I was given, and Trounced by Thomas! That brings us to the weekend. On Saturday I wrote The good oil on Barak Obama; Sunday was And that’s another thing that really gets on my goat… followed by With Sirdan and his mum at the Chinese Whisper again…

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2008 in 2008 in review, blogging

 

Catching up on the October "Monthly" and a couple of other items

Marcellous has already referred to one of the items in the October Monthly, the thinking person’s Quadrant. 😉 It is a good issue, and you can read it all online for $40 a year, or buy it from the newsagent here in Australia.

October2008

Click for details.

Meanwhile at no cost to us the Arts & Letters Daily — despite a tendency to over-represent right-wing or neocon views? — has offered some excellent things as usual over the past week. For example:

  1. Stephen Hawking, The final frontier.
  2. Christopher Shea, Against Intuition though I distrust excesses of empiricism myself, on the grounds that much that really is relevant is often ruled out. Call that literary training, perhaps. Neatness is not all…
  3. The American Future: A History by Simon Schama – The Sunday Times review. A book I would like to read!
  4. Graphs on the death of Marxism, postmodernism, and other stupid academic fads by “Agnostic” on Gene Expression. While reactionaries would be drawn to this, the article is not as reactionary as it sounds. It is a neat bit of textual statistics, demonstrating a decline over recent years of some of the more turgid “theoretical” writing — or at least of certain buzz words — by statistically analysing the frequencies of certain expressions in a corpus of academic writing over a ten year period. For example, the occurrence of “social construction” looks like this:

     socialcon
  5. Ha Jin, The Censor in the Mirror. Interesting to me as M’s older sister, a journalist and literary critic/editor in Shanghai, once fell foul of the conditions Ha Jin describes.

Censorship in China is a powerful field of force; it affects anyone who gets close to it. Four years ago, I signed five book contracts with a Shanghai publisher who planned to bring out four volumes of my fiction and a collection of my poems. The editor in charge of the project told me that he couldn’t possibly consider publishing two of my novels, The Crazed and War Trash, owing to the sensitive subject matter. The former touches on the Tiananmen tragedy, and the latter deals with the Korean War. I was supposed to select the poems and translate them into Chinese for the volume of poetry. As I began thinking about what poems to include, I couldn’t help but censor myself, knowing intuitively which ones might not get through the censorship. It was disheartening to realize I would have to exclude the stronger poems if the volume could ever see print in China.

As a result, I couldn’t embark on the translation wholeheartedly. To date, I haven’t translated a single poem, though the deadline was May 2005. The publisher publicly announced time and again that these five books would come out soon, sometime in late 2005, according to the contracts. But that spring, the first in the series, my collection of short stories, Under the Red Flag, was sent to the Shanghai censorship office—the Bureau of Press and Publications—and the book was shot down. So the whole project was stonewalled. A year later, I heard that the publisher had decided to abandon the project. In the meantime, numerous official newspapers spread the word that my books had no market value in China.

The office that Chinese writers, artists, and journalists dread and hate most is the Chinese Communist Party’s Propaganda Department. In addition to its propaganda work within the party, this department, through its numerous bureaus, also supervises the country’s newspapers, publishing houses, radio and TV stations, movie industry, and the Internet. Except for the Military Commission, no department in the Party Central Committee wields more power than this office, which forms the core of the party’s leadership. Its absolute authority had gone unchallenged in the past, though even the Communists themselves understand the sinister role it has played. Luo Ruiqing, who was the first to head the Propaganda Department after the Communists came to power, once admitted: “To let the media serve politics means to tell lies, to deceive the above and delude the below, to defile public opinions, and to create nonsensical news.”…

Just a sample of quite a few good articles.

 

Strange things in the boot of Malcolm Turnbull’s limo…

Consider Eric Abetz. Now here is a man who knows left-wing bias when he sees it: any lack of resemblance to Quadrant or deviation from the Australian Christian Lobby is clearly a Communist Plot. Now he wants Q&A “regulated” — not just the show, but the audience — despite the good showing his new leader made there last week, and despite the fact that, much as I hate to admit it, Q&A actually made me warm a little towards Julie Bishop!

SENIOR Liberal Eric Abetz believes the ABC TV political talk show Q&A has failed in its attempt to provide a representative cross-section of the community because the audience was overwhelmingly made up of Labor and Greens voters.

The figures, provided to a Senate committee, show that for seven episodes there were on average double the number of Labor and Greens supporters in the audience as Coalition supporters.

In some episodes, Coalition supporters made up as little as 10 per cent of the audience, with an average of 20 per cent. Labor and the Greens accounted for as much as 54 per cent of the audience, which participates, with an average of 50 per cent.

Senator Abetz said: “The ABC has to immediately rectify these figures for the remaining episodes of Q&A this season.”…

Just when some were thinking, or Malcolm Turnbull was having us believe, that this creepy Howardism was dying Eric lands feet first with his hobnailed boots firmly on our faces. Thanks for reminding us why we wanted the Howard government to go, Eric! Well done. We will be very careful to scrutinise the blandishments of Malcolm Turnbull from this moment on…

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2008 in Australia, Australia and Australian, Malcolm Turnbull, right wing politics, TV

 

Recidivist bore now writing for the Sydney Morning Herald

I refer of course to Miranda Devine, who cites in support of her diatribe about English teachers, and the NSW English Teachers Association in particular, just two people: Sophie Masson, one of Quadrant’s better writers whose son seems, from what I can tell, to have had a bad HSC English experience, and, of course, Kevin Donnelly who gets all sentimental about the admittedly superior Western Shane — the book not the movie. From this, with a catch-all almost cliched allusion to Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language” and a few very selective and occasionally distorted quotes* from two submissions the NSW ETA made to the Board of Studies warning against narrowing the range of English Studies and assessment, Miranda asserts English teachers have lost the plot. I can’t be bothered rebutting her or even quoting her further. She’s been here before. See for example The HSC English moanings of Miranda… — a post from January 2007.

I am prepared to quote the Bible though: As a dog that returneth to his vomit, so is the fool that repeateth his folly. That’s Proverbs 26, and I thought the 16th century Catholic translation most apt for Miranda’s case.

Go to Posts Tagged ‘Miranda Devine’ in Floating Life 4/06 ~ 11/07, and also for a wider view of English Studies go to the Archive for the ‘English studies’ Category here on Floating Life.

Treat Miranda’s ranting with great caution. It is a tissue of prejudice and opinion from end to end with hardly a fact to fly from. It is journalistic laziness of a rather obvious kind, concocted over a cup of coffee after a chat to a couple of mates.

Instead, read the ETA’s submissions for yourself. I thought them worth uploading. They are far superior to Miranda. At least they seem to know what they are talking about. So it seems to me anyway, but what would I know? I only taught English for around forty years…

  1. The NSW ETA response to proposals on Australian content
  2. ETA on HSC exam and assessment proposals

* For example, Miranda mocks the ETA for only having 43 submissions to back their proposal, neglecting to mention that some, perhaps many, of those submissions were from English Departments, not individuals.

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2008 in awful warnings, culture wars, education, English studies, literacy, literary theory/criticism, right wing politics