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Category Archives: right wing politics

Brer Abbott and The Undead

What a good name for some Gothic band to take!

I refer of course to Tony Abbott’s ghost cabinet — a cabinet of Dr Caligari.

An Abbott, two Bishops and Nick the Impaler
A Cadaver, a Barney and Kevin the Tailor

That refers to the famous couplet on Richard III:

A Cat, a Rat, and Lovell the Dog
All ruled England under the Hog

Yes, we have an alternative at last: the pit or the pendulum, the devil or the deep blue sea, Scylla or Charybdis, Hitler or Stalin… Of course the latter is particularly unsavoury, is it not? Unfair on both counts — but don’t blame me: I’m not the one who compared Copenhagen to Munich while fully aware of the spurious nature of the analogy but nonetheless knowing it would push the right buttons in punter-land. That was Tony yesterday to Alan Jones. And interviewed on Lateline last night the neuro-linguistic triggering got a typically Abbott overkill: he even underlines the cue words by raising the stress above the rest of the utterance, a kind of phonological CAPITAL LETTERS TRICK.

Peter Hartcher noted inThe Sydney Morning Herald:

…He has rejected the counsel of the Liberal Party’s founder, Robert Menzies, that ”the duty of an opposition is to oppose selectively”…

Abbott will not engage on Rudd’s terms. He will not mount an intellectual case. He will not present detailed policy alternatives.

He will circle Rudd, throwing jabs from all directions, never presenting a stationary target. He proposes deregulating the job market, for instance, but refuses to be specific: ”I am asking questions here,” he told Sky News yesterday, ”not making policy.”

”I want to make a fight of things,” he said. ”I think I have got the frontbench to do that.”

With the climate sceptic Nick Minchin in resources, the hardliner Eric Abetz in industrial relations, Barnaby Joyce free-ranging and veteran warriors like Bronwyn Bishop and Kevin Andrews on the front line, nobody would disagree with him.

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Brer Abbott – The Ghost Who Walks?

phantom

Well, there is the matter of budgie smugglers in common, and the torso I suppose.

That Brer Abbott may indeed be The Ghost Who Walks was revealed today in The Australian. Speaking of Abbott’s book Battlelines, which may indeed sell more copies now, Stephen Matchett notes: “His main policy is to take us back to the 1950s, when everybody agreed with government spending money on welfare for the right sort of people: working couples with kids and their grandparents. But there is more ideology than opportunism in Battlelines, which sets out strategies Abbott learned in his spiritual home, the Democratic Labor Party…”

So it appears The Ghost Who Walks, rather than being Mister Walker, is in fact Bob Santamaria on steroids.

Or something like that.

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2009 in Australia, right wing politics, Tony Abbott

 

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".

 

Tags:

Everything old is new again

A couple of days ago Jim Belshaw noted:

… In choosing Mr Abbott, the Liberal Party has taken a step into the unknown. The Coalition now presents a clear alternative position to Labor. Mr Abbott is a very intelligent man, but he has also been a polarising figure with somewhat of a tendency to put his foot in his mouth, boot and all. Dull he is not.

The reactions to Mr Abbott among the party faithful on both sides can be largely predicted. What is less clear is just how he might appeal to the people in the middle.

From performance thus far I doubt very much that Tony Abbott will win over people in the middle. Rather what we are seeing is a rush towards what I  regard as the worst excesses of the post-Fraser Liberal Party. It certainly isn’t the Liberal Party I at one time long ago used to support.

Though they all do it, Tony Abbott has already displayed the mind-numbing NLP propaganda technique so loved by some politicians. He is good at it and, sadly, it can often work. Let this BNP person explain:

DEVELOPING RAPPORT: According to this theory of communication, even the most fundamental truth will have little effect unless it is presented in a manner which, by developing a substantial amount of natural rapport with the targeted audience, is capable of achieving effective persuasion. Such persuasion, moreover, is ultimately dependent upon the extent to which a sophisticated tactical flexibility is employed by the communicator to enable him to establish the necessary ‘agreement frame’ with the particular audience he wants to persuade.

How to produce this ‘agreement frame’ most effectively forms the underlying basis of the NLP philosophy. The proposed method has been aptly described by Anthony Robbins, author of Unlimited Power, as ‘Aikido politics’, whereby the communicator seeks to produce the least possible resistance in his targeted audience. The idea behind this theory is that, rather than pushing aggressively or trying to bludgeon an acceptance of an argument, a successful communication is best achieved through gently ‘aligning’ an opposing viewpoint with that of your own by finding points of agreement, and then gradually ‘leading’ the other viewpoint around to your position. By this method, it is argued, an ‘avenue of redirection’ can be created which can often adroitly sidestep any possible or expected hostile response.

By disingenuously linking the snarl-words “BIG NEW TAX ON EVERYTHING” to emissions trading and/or carbon taxes Abbott short-circuits our brains and achieves his ‘agreement frame’. He knows exactly what he is doing, even if he and most of his party actually agreed with emissions trading in some form or other just last week, and had done for several years.

Such a shame, but not surprising, that the 9-12 Liberals who would have voted FOR the emissions trading scheme in the Senate reduced in the event to TWO brave principled souls.

troethcomposite

Sydney Morning Herald – linked to story

One of them had this to say on the 7.30 Report last night:

KERRY O’BRIEN: Now, initially there were up to 12 of you in the Senate who believed very strongly – in the way that you have – but only two of you in the end crossed the floor. Why do you think the others waivered?
JUDITH TROETH: Well, up til yesterday Kerry, this was of course, or the day that we changed the leader from Malcolm Turnbull to Tony Abbott, this was of course Coalition policy that we supported the Government’s legislation. And there were other senators in my party who didn’t agree with that, and so they would have been the ones crossing the floor, as I believe many intended to do. But having taken the decision to back the legislation, I saw no reason to change my mind. If it was good enough to do it one day, in my view it was good enough to do it the next day.
KERRY O’BRIEN: Now once upon a time, you were not a believer in climate change science. Why are you now so convinced about the climate change science?
JUDITH TROETH: I have read widely and I have made my own conclusions. I lived in the country for a long time, as you know, and saw many long droughts. And by, probably about two years ago, having observed what was a very long drought, and noticed other things happening and reading widely, I decided that climate change was happening and that we should factor it into any government action…

KERRY O’BRIEN: Do you think it is too simplistic to simply summarise the whole ETS package as nothing more than a great big tax?
JUDITH TROETH: That’s a very simplistic way of putting it and it is also obviously designed to scare people. And that’s largely what the anti -campaign has been, a scare campaign.
When you think of the business investment decisions that have to be made if this legislation goes through, when you think of the way in which people need to look at climate change, we’re all going to have to pay for climate change in some way or another and this will be a feature of the future world that we look at. So we had better get used to it…

Truth-tellers are rare in politics, even if there were unusual moments of candour in the last week. Now the Libs have a virtual unity – whether real or not time will tell.

Meantime we have the “new” – Kevin Andrews, Bronwyn Bishop…

Pardon me while I get up off the floor!

Tomorrow I will do a rundown, based on my recent reading, of the probable effectiveness of climate change mitigation strategies. The only thing I have in common with Mr A is that (unlike Labor at the moment or the Greens) I would factor in nuclear energy.

 

And the winner is… an ongoing post

abbott_hockey_turnbull

ABC pic. Who’s the mad looking guy on the left? Left…???

One of them is the next leader of the Liberal Party

8.45 am

We all wait. Amusing bits in the Sydney Morning Herald.

  • Gerard Henderson: “It is not clear why either Hockey or Turnbull or any other influential Liberals would seek advice on leadership issues from Howard. In fact, Howard is primarily responsible for the Liberal Party’s present leadership problems.”
  • Minchin pleads for “compassion”: “IN ONE of the more ironic moments in the Liberal leadership saga, Nick Minchin, kingmaker and attack dog of the party’s right wing, addressed Coalition senators yesterday morning.There Minchin, with blood on the walls after a week’s intense infighting, urged them to keep things civil and to treat each with ‘tolerance, kindness and compassion’.”

8.55 am

Turn on TV… Guess what? All our UHF channels are down!

9.14 am

Go to ABC Internet Radio. Gerard Henderson and Antony Green.

9.32 am

UHF back on. And off…

9.37 am

Back to Internet Radio. The party room meeting is still going on…

9.44 am

No tweets or sms messages emerging from the party room. Must have had their Blackberries confiscated… Radio “filling in” with news of K Rudd and B Obama on Afghanistan.

9.50 am

Shit! Hockey was eliminated. TONY ABBOTT won by ONE vote on second round, 42-41! First vote Turnbull 26, Abbott 35 and Hockey 23. To the Right, quick march! Gerard Henderson notes the two sets of figures don’t add up…

Will the Senate Libs hold? Who knows: remember last night?

KERRY O’BRIEN: So, tell me now, how many Liberal senators do you believe feel strongly enough about this bill to vote for it?
IAN MACFARLANE: Well certainly more than nine or 10. It’s in that vicinity. There are 12 that have indicated to Malcolm that they will vote for the bill when it comes to a vote. So, I guess as I say, Malcolm is saying to them, "Well, the Liberal Party does not have a future without a climate change policy and we need to get this off the table and get back to the economy and to border protection."

abbott

ABC pic. Now we know…

I suspect Joe Hockey may well feel very relieved, mind you…

Here’s how Tony did it, by appearing thus on national TV. 😉

212259-tony-abbott-091130

Update

Just watched the video here of Joe Hockey after the events. I am impressed.

 

Random but mostly political

1. A feast for pollie-watchers and pundits

Just look at The Australian today.

Libs facing election rout

David Uren THE Coalition faces an electoral wipeout at next year’s federal election if the rebels led by Tony Abbott and Nick Minchin succeed in blocking the government’s climate change legislation.

The lead story’s interesting, and so is Paul Kelly. I suspect Joe Hockey is privately fuming.

2. Borrowed from Jim Belshaw

Like Jim, I won’t comment!

I simply report this gem from the Australian Citizens Electoral Council without comment.

Isherwood: Who would have thought? British genocidalists are liars too

The British oligarchy’s depopulation charity, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), established in 1961 by Prince Philip and “former” Nazi Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands to realise their wet dream of reducing the world’s population to two billion or so people, is a key paymaster of the lying scientists at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU).

The CRU basically cooked up the whole global warming fraud: in another time, before hackers exposed their true nature last week, Britain’s former chief scientific adviser Sir David King happily gushed that the CRU “set the agenda for the major research effort” in climate change; its “scientists” are the leading authors of the IPCC reports cited as the bible on global warming.

Well, well.

3. Why Steve Fielding is a much nicer person than Nick Minchin

Senator Fielding (Family First) has copped much flack for his denial of anthropogenic climate change, but at least he is up front about it, even trotting out his charts to try to convince the green demonstrators outside Parliament the other day. Of course, as we all know, Fielding isn’t really a politician. Minchin is.

So now Minchin is a double denialist because 1) he denies that what he is doing goes way beyond the issue of the ETS and 2) he attempts to deny he is a denialist. On both counts he is being economical with the truth. On point 2 he has been on record for years and one wonders why – well, not really – he is figleafing himself today. Of Minchin climate scientist Graeme Pearman famously said in March 2007: "I am worried that a federal minister would believe this crap."

4. And Malcolm Turnbull is much nicer than Nick Minchin…

While not totally frank Malcolm Turnbull was considerably more accurate than Senator Minchin in his half of the back-to-back interviews on the 7.30 Report last night. On just one obvious point, as Paul Kelly says: “The conservative rebellion this week has been a stunning, ruthless and self-righteous exercise. It was about converting a minority into a majority position by sabotage. Don’t fall for the idea that Turnbull didn’t have majority support.”

5. Science marches on whatever the pollies do or say

For example:

The first-ever Australian benchmark of climate change impacts on marine ecosystems and options for adaptation is being released in Brisbane today.

27 November 2009

The Marine Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation Report Card for Australia, and an accompanying website, will provide a biennial guide for scientists, government and the community on observed and projected impacts of climate change on marine ecosystems.

"The objective of compiling this information is to consider options available to environmental and resource managers in their response to changes in ecosystem balance," says project leader, CSIRO Climate Adaptation Flagship scientist Dr Elvira Poloczanska.

"On both sides of the continent there is clear evidence of ocean warming and this is already bringing sub-tropical species south into temperate waters, and in the case of the giant kelp forests in Tasmania, appears to be having a severe impact in just a few years.

"This research is relevant for anyone with a recreational interest or financial investment in our coasts and oceans," Dr Poloczanska says.

climate big 6. If you want to read a book

Try Robert Henson, The Rough Guide to Climate Change 2 ed.

I like it because I can understand it, but also because it is less polemical than many in the field. He admits problems and complexities.

 

That US health care debate

I have been watching the to-ing and fro-ing and the mindless tossing out of epithets like “socialist”. I wish Obama luck, but he wouldn’t be the first to fall down in attempting genuine reform in US health care. One of greatest fears here in Oz during the Howard years was that we would end up lumbered with a US-style health care regime. Thank God it didn’t quite come to that. (Lately I have had to see both Dr C for my regular appointment and the Redfern doc for a yearly blood test. The current cold and a slight other complication may send me to the Redfern doc again in a day or two. Cost to me for physicians in the past few weeks: $00.00. Cost of medication: $7.50.

Noted today this Canadian Christian blogger: The Truth About Canadian Health Care.

Americans constantly ask me if the Canadian Health Care system is really that bad.

I chuckle.

Not only were our two children born here, we’ve also walked through the process of dying here (My first funeral in French was Martine’s uncle).

Each time we set up a same-day appointment with our family doctor, (with no out-of-pocket expense), we thank God that we live in a country with one of the best health care systems in the world…

US Conservatives: get over it!

 
9 Comments

Posted by on September 22, 2009 in America, right wing politics, USA

 

Why the religious Right can be dangerous, but…

… how their influence is both exaggerated by and strengthened by the media.

As we know, the media thrive on conflict and dichotomy. We have a good example today in the Sydney Morning Herald where the activities of a minority group in Australian Christianity are puffed because of the potential for sensationalism: Christian leaders plan anti-Islam conference. Now how anyone can take seriously something that is the brainchild of someone who “was widely criticised for issuing a press release in the week after the Victorian disaster claiming the fires which claimed 173 lives were punishment for the relaxation of Victoria’s abortion laws” escapes me, but it does make good copy. A much more mainstream approach to the issue of Islam may be seen here.

The great irony of simplistic and confrontational approaches to Islam is that they mirror and give credence to the views of the violent extremists who are the cause for concern in the first place. Forget for the moment reflex cries of “racism” and “Islamophobia”. The truth is that such “good souls” as those concerned Christians are feeding the “enemy” whose recruitment drive among the young, idealistic or alienated* totally depends on believing that Islam is under attack. I am sure they thank Allah daily for the work of Pastor Nalliah, Fred Nile and David Clarke for making that belief even more acceptable. So without meaning to, some of the greatest friends of violent jihadist extremism in this country are Pastor Nalliah, Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

evangelicalnation That the influence of the Religious Right in the USA is something of an illusion for which the US Right and liberals have both fallen is the thesis of an excellent book by Christine Wicker: The Fall of the Evangelical Nation (HarperOne 2008). By carefully examining the available statistics and how they are created Wicker proves, to my satisfaction, that the voice of the Religious Right has been magnified way beyond its actual potential strength. Rather than the commonly quoted “fact” that 25% of US citizens are “fundamentalists” the true figure is between 5% and 7%. That seems incredible until you see Wicker’s very readable analysis. According to Wicker, the fastest growing “religious” movement in the USA is “nonbelievers” – even if there is still a reluctance for various cultural reasons for Americans to identify on a census form as “atheist”. Then too there is a very active Religious Left, of which we normally hear little. Evidence of that may be seen every day on this blog: check “God’s Politics” in the side-bar.

Updates

See my 217 posts tagged “Christianity” and 151 tagged “Islam”. Go to Imran Ahmad for a fresh and good-humoured Muslim view and check Phillip Adams interviewing him. See also: “Jessica Stern is an expert on terrorism. She teaches it as a subject at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, and was recently the Superterrorism Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. In this conversation, first broadcast in 2003/4, Jessica talks about her book which is the result of 4 years research, interviewing a range of Jewish, Christian and Muslim terrorists.”

* 11 August the young, idealistic or alienated: See the sad tale of 18-year-old Jakarta bomber Dani Dwi Permana.

…Friends, neighbours and worshippers at his mosque yesterday said Dani – almost universally described as ”very nice” – was the unlikeliest of mass murderers, albeit someone who was easily persuaded…

His mother lived in Kalimantan after a messy divorce. Things got worse when his father was imprisoned about a year ago for robbery. It was then that Dani seems to have fallen under the spell of Saifuddin. ”Ustad Saifuddin usually spent time with the caretakers [young devotees] at the mosque. Usually they would gather here after evening prayer,” said Harno. ”Sometimes he would go out with them camping. But that didn’t seem to be suspicious because that is what an ustad should do.”

Even so, Dani had clearly become radicalised. According to a school friend, he talked openly of waging jihad, the Islamic notion of struggle that is typically a peaceful pursuit by the devout but is twisted by terrorist groups to justify mass murder…

”We now know that [Saifuddin] was trying to brainwash many young people here. He told these youngsters that American was bad.”

Saifuddin is believed to have groomed up to 10 men from the area. According to Indonesian counter-terrorism sources, Saifuddin is suspected to be one of Noordin Mohammed Top’s most trusted talent spotters. Noordin is thought to have organised the Jakarta bombings on July 17. On the weekend Indonesian police believed they had killed him in a siege but were mistaken.

That last, unfortunately, simply adds to Top’s legend.

 

Miscellaneous notes

It was a toss-up whether to note these here or on Twitter. Not that any of them are trivial, but you can’t do a major post on everything, can you?

1. from The Jakarta Post

Leaders of various religious groups as well as anti-violence activists held two separate mass prayers on Monday at the site of the Jakarta hotel bombings, which killed nine people and injured more than 50 on Friday.

Members of the Indonesian Anti-Violence Community, including lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis, Yenni Wahid, Wimar Witoelar and Ayu Utami, came to the site of the bombings to pray for the victims.

Soon after, religious leaders led another mass prayer at the site.

They included Hasyim Muzadi, chairman of the Nahdlatul Ulama Islamic council, Rev. Petrus from the Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI), representative of the Hindu community Anak Agung Ngurah Ugrasena and Maha Biksu Dutavira, who came to represent Buddhist.

"Although the situation is overwhelming, people must remain alert but not panic," Rev. Petrus said, as quoted by state news agency Antara.

Suicide bombers attacked the JW Marriot and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Mega Kuningan, South Jakarta, on Friday.

2. from The Sydney Morning Herald: The usual terrorism suspects moved from JI to the Noordin network.

In the aftermath of last Friday’s terrorist bombings in Jakarta, numerous commentators have identified Jemaah Islamiah as the organisation most likely to have committed the attacks. One senior security analyst, for example, told ABC radio that the attacks showed that "JI was back in business".

Other terrorism researchers such as Sidney Jones have argued that the jihadist group led by Noordin Mohammed Top should head the list of suspects.

Of course, there is much that is unclear about the details of the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotel bombings, and firmer analysis needs to await further information about the identity of those involved and the methods used. But I would like to set out reasons why we should differentiate between JI and the Noordin group, and why it is more plausible to regard Noordin’s group as the prime suspect rather than JI.

JI is not a monolithic organisation. Since the late 1990s it has experienced divisions over how it should conduct jihad. For militants within JI, such as Noordin, Hambali and Mukhlas, the fatwas of Osama bin Laden in the late 1990s declaring it an obligation for Muslims to attack the US and its allies resounded like a clarion call. They were impatient for South-East Asian Muslims to strike a blow against what they saw as Islam’s greatest foes. For more moderate elements of JI, bin Laden’s appeals and the subsequent activities of al-Qaeda were either of little relevance for Indonesia or ran contrary to established Islamic law on jihad…

Such specific details are clearly important to any informed response to events such as these. They tend to get lost when we make blanket generalisations about “Muslims”.

3. SMH again: Karl Konrad – Say hello to our new economic slaves: foreign students.

Karl Konrad “is a migration agent. He was formerly a police officer and whistleblower.”

… Nearly 15 years ago, as a young police constable, I wrote a long report on police corruption to the Victorian ombudsman, Barry Perry. That report sparked one of the biggest investigations into police corruption ever seen in this country. I went to the ombudsman because I couldn’t trust the police or the government of the day. They both had something to lose if the truth came out. Never underestimate the power of a good ombudsman.

Students also need an ombudsman independent of state and federal governments. Proper investigations can get to the bottom of mistreatment or, at worst, outright corruption. Students must be assured the Immigration Department will take no action to deport them. Instead, if necessary, they should be placed out of harm’s way into an alternative reputable education provider at no cost to themselves where they can continue pursuing their dreams.

No one is saying all foreign students have negative experiences here. But now the cat is out let’s keep it out and shake this system free of corruption.

4. SMH: Gerard Henderson smells left-wing bias.

He has the nose for it. 😉

If you want to work out who won what was billed as "the culture wars" during the time of the Howard government, tune into SBS One at 8.30 pm tonight. This is the first episode of the three-part series titled Liberal Rule: The Politics that Changed Australia, which is produced by Nick Torrens Film Productions and written by Nick Torrens and Garry Sturgess.

Liberal Rule is a shocker and a disgrace. Torrens obtained interviews with key figures in the former government – including John Howard, Peter Costello, Alexander Downer and Peter Reith along with some former Liberal Party staffers. They were all identified according to their relationship to Howard or the government he led.

Sturgess had been the senior researcher on the successful ABC TV documentary Labor in Power series, which aired in 1993. It is likely that those supportive of the Howard government who were interviewed for Liberal Rule anticipated a similar style of documentary. In Labor in Power, the key figures in the governments led by Bob Hawke and Paul Keating were allowed to state their case and viewers were allowed to draw their own conclusions.

Not so in Liberal Rule. Torrens put it in a directors’ statement which accompanies the SBS publicity: "Being aware that interviews with our `cast’ of John Howard and his senior cabinet figures would elicit recollections with an eye to history’s favourable view, the crucial decision was how to present a balanced picture . . . Garry and I sought an atmosphere of co-operative engagement. To this we would add the necessary layers of subtext."

You can say that again…

I think SBS viewers are probably bright enough to distinguish fact from opinion. Anyway, do we really want hagiography?

5. Cricket

Did something happen? 😉

 

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.

 
Comments Off on Some non-fiction read recently: 2a

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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On the juvenile rhetoric of the American Right our Right is right…

Gerard Henderson is an Australian conservative commentator with whom I at times agree. While he may be many things, insane is not one of them. Today he exposes the overblown rhetoric of the US Right while not himself being a total Obama groupie: All the way with Obama’s world.

…Obama is not the left-wing socialist that some of his right-wing critics in the US maintain. On Fox News, Glenn Beck runs the line that Obama is some kind of leftist fascist intent on destroying individual liberties. This view has been challenged by, among others, Fox News presenter Bill O’Reilly. But, due to Beck’s polemical force, it is likely that his opinion will have some impact on the American electorate.

The evidence suggests that, on foreign policy and the economy, Obama is acting a bit like a liberal politician in the JFK mould. Obama once advocated the withdrawal of all US forces from Iraq by mid 2008 – he now wants the US troops to pull out when the elected Iraqi Government, under the leadership of Nouri al-Maliki, is regarded as capable of surviving. Also, Obama has committed additional forces to Afghanistan and the US remains active in hunting down Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border.

On the economy the Obama Administration is in the tradition of Democrat predecessor Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. This approach may, or may not, be the most appropriate response to the global financial crisis. However, it is not redolent of socialism, still less fascism…

While surfing through the now excellent again BlogExplosion I have encountered some mindblowingly awful “conservative” US blogs – rank and unbelievably bad some of them. Honestly, I wonder where their brains are! They certainly don’t make good advertising for their own country – but then of course there are many other US political and current affairs blogs that are first rate. But there is something about US conservatism that is totally sui generis, and quite terrifying to an outsider like me. Our local wingnuts look good in comparison, and Henderson – not really a wingnut – even better.

Meanwhile the Earl of East Sydney is in all sorts of bother.

KEVIN Rudd’s mid-air outburst at a female RAAF cabin attendant has done nothing to dent the Prime Minister’s popularity, which has soared to near-record levels as Malcolm Turnbull’s rating has hit a new low.

The Opposition Leader’s rating as preferred prime minister has fallen to 18 per cent, putting Mr Turnbull on practically the same rating six months into the job as his predecessor, Brendan Nelson, had after the same period.

Mr Rudd’s satisfaction rating jumped by five percentage points in the latest Newspoll, which was conducted exclusively for The Australian from Friday night to Sunday afternoon – a period during which Mr Rudd’s apology for his angry outburst, the outcome of the Group of 20 leaders’ meeting and the imminent arrival of the Government’s $900 stimulus cheques were all headline news. Labor maintained its strong and steady primary vote lead: 47per cent compared with the Coalition’s 36 per cent.

The two-party-preferred result, based on preference flows at the last election, puts Labor’s lead over the Coalition at 16 percentage points, close to its post-2007 election record high, as voters choose to stick with Labor to manage the economy through the global crisis and rising domestic unemployment.

Just as his popularity increased despite the August 2007 revelation he had been drunk in New York strip club Scores, Mr Rudd is preferred as prime minister by 67per cent of voters, while Mr Turnbull recorded his lowest preferred prime minister rating of 18per cent, down two points on the previous poll…

 

A rather odd argument?

I remember without much pleasure the Paul Sheehan of a decade or so ago when I thought of him as “the thinking person’s Pauline Hanson”. What he had to say then about people like M was distinctly warped and unhelpful. In recent times he has addressed himself rather often to the topic of Muslims. You may go back two years to see what I had to say about him then: Paul Sheehan again. (There’s a bit of a connection also – tangentially – to Jim Belshaw’s recent post Saturday Morning Musings – Muslim prayer rooms and the importance of checking one’s facts.)

Today Sheehan argues that Islamophobia is a fabrication.

I’ve been considering a request from a post-graduate student who wants to do a thesis on Islamophobia in Australia. She writes: "I am researching the topic Islamophobia, and I am trying to prove whether Islamophobia is based on religion fear or cultural fear of Islam."

What about proving that Islamophobia exists at all? That would be the logical, ethical and scholarly starting point. But it appears the outcome has already been decided. This would fit the prevailing orthodoxy in academia that the default position for Muslims in Australia is victim. The jargon, "Islamophobia" is part of this ideological construct. Literally, it means fear of Muslims.

I reflected on all this while on holiday in Malaysia and the Maldives last week. This was my twelfth visit to Muslim societies because I do not "fear" Muslims and do not "fear" Islam. Yes, there is ample evidence that Australians have become uneasy about Muslims in general and hostile in specific cases, but this is about cause and effect…

This is suspiciously like “some of my best friends are Jewish” particularly when it is followed by a litany of bad news stories about Aussie thugs and crims of a generally Middle Eastern or Muslim background, the cumulative effect of which must be distrust of such groups as a whole, despite his opening disclaimer.

I would agree that terms like “Islamophobe” and “racist” are sometimes tossed around thoughtlessly, but that does not prove in any way that there isn’t a strong irrational or visceral component in the reactions of some people which can fairly be termed a phobia. Nor, when you think about it, does Sheehan pursue cause and effect very far. Cause seems to end on the Islamic or Middle Eastern side of the equation every time. Strange, that.

I am of course not denying there is a problem; neither, I would suggest, do thoughtful Muslim Australians.

Update 31 March

Irfan Yusuf has a piece in today’s Sydney Morning Herald: Australian Muslims not a monolith. It appears it is coincidental, as he addresses Rev Fred Nile’s and Andrew Bolt’s unhelpful interventions rather than Paul Sheehan’s, but the cap fits.

…On the ABC’s Q&A program on Thursday, columnist Andrew Bolt spoke of "a rejectionist strand" that made Muslim immigration experience different to the experiences of Greek and Italian migrants. Again, the underlying assumptions are based on ignorance. To speak of a recent singular wave of Muslim migration is to engage in historical revisionism. Virtually all waves of migration incorporated an element of Muslims, including Europeans from Albania and the former Yugoslavia .

Some Muslims came as refugees, others as skilled or business migrants. Some have hardly been out of an immigration detention centre for a few years. Others are descended from Afghan cameleers who married indigenous women in the 19th century.

Yet, for some reason, Australian Muslims are treated as some kind of monolith. We hear pundits and self-serving religious leaders speak of a mythical entity called the "Muslim community". The idea that Muslims define themselves primarily by their religion sounds ridiculous when one considers that membership of the Lebanese Moslems Association is limited to adult males eligible for Lebanese citizenship. Yet what happens at this Lakemba mosque is somehow a reflection of 300,000-odd Australians who feel inclined to tick the "Muslim" box on their census forms.

Are such prejudices widespread? Could they lead to violence? It’s hard to say, though some comments published on popular blogs are not promising. Bolt’s blog carries comments calling for a "Carthaginian solution" to be adopted against Muslim countries. One comment this month ended with: "Drop the bomb, kill them all." Another spoke of "a number or an above average percentage in the Lebanese/Arab/Muslim of south-west Sydney who are short-tempered, relatively thick, criminal, and fundamentally violent".

And it took a complaint from an executive member of a Muslim religious body before this remark was removed: "Bombing them, back to the stone age where their politico-religious philosophy belongs, would indeed be the only thing they understand … Islam has no such thing as a peace treaty … You don’t negotiate with that, you shoot it."…

 

Who are you calling an ideologue?

I get very cranky about the way something as important as the teaching of reading is framed by some in the media and out there (consequently?) by the public. It really ought not to be framed as a white hats versus black hats conflict. Anyone who sees everything in terms of left-wing conspiracy and thus sees literacy teachers as mindless idiots pushed around by “ideologues” really doesn’t deserve any respect at all. Certainly such right-wing ideologues don’t deserve to be listened to, but unfortunately they too often are. They cash in on our tendency to think someone has been conning us.

I have argued this case again and again for several decades, let alone on this blog, and am rather tired of it all. However, I enter the fray again prompted by this letter in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

As one who taught many a struggling child to read, I bridle at Miranda Devine’s denigratory labelling of Brian Cambourne as the "godfather" of whole language learning ("The crazy politics of learning to read", March 21-22).

Cambourne has produced a wealth of impressive evidence to substantiate his advocacy of holistic approaches to literacy. He is one of many dedicated literacy leaders who rightly emphasise the centrality of meaning in learning to read and that excessive emphasis on fragmented decoding achieves only limited results. Such reductionism can produce "readers" who are able to decode print, but who seldom go near a book.

Whole language advocates are not averse to teaching phonics; they teach embedded phonics as one strategy among many necessary to help children with reading problems. How many times must it be said that almost all schools teach phonics thoroughly?

MULTILIT, or Making Up Lost Time In Literacy, is a program aimed primarily at low progress readers. It is demanding in terms of time and resources and there are question marks about the persistence of some reading gains made. Like more holistic approaches, it also recognises the importance of reading interesting material to and with children, building up sight word competence, linking spelling and writing with the reading program and so on.

To characterise whole language advocates as those who think "children learn to read naturally just by being exposed to books" is insulting. It fails to recognise the wide acceptance of whole language emphases on skills being taught in context, literacy across the curriculum and quality literature at all levels of the reading experience.

Well-implemented whole language approaches, far from being discredited, are preferable to those that treat reading in isolation and splinter the complex process of becoming literate.

Ron Sinclair Bathurst

How about we look at what Brian Cambourne has actually said? Then we might consider what reading teachers actually do, which has been well characterised in that letter.

One articulate exponent of whole language has been Brian Cambourne who emphasises the crucial role in literacy development of what he called conditions of learning (Cambourne 1988) which may be summarised as follows:

Learners need:

a) immersion in appropriate texts.

b) appropriate demonstrations.

c) responsibility for making some decisions about when, how and what they read and write.

d) high expectations about themselves as potential readers and writers.

e) high expectations about their abilities to complete the reading and writing tasks they attempt.

f) freedom to approximate mature and/or ‘ideal’ forms of reading and writing.

g) time to engage in the acts of reading and writing.

h) opportunities to employ developing reading and writing skills and knowledge in meaningful and purposeful contexts.

i) responses and feedback from knowledgeable others which both support and inform their attempts at constructing meaning using written language.

j) plenty of opportunities, with respect to the written form of language, to reflect upon and make explicit what they are learning.

When Whitfield examined the practices of reading teachers K-12 in the Botany region of Sydney in 1993 he found this to be the dominant approach, aside from a minority who favoured such skills-centred, bottom-up approaches as the Macquarie Probes, for example. However, many teachers were taking up the genre pedagogy advocated by the various Metropolitan East Disadvantaged Schools projects on literacy and the then developing English K-6 syllabus document, the final version of which has recently been published. In very many cases the genre pedagogy was deployed in a whole language framework. Typical of this blend of approaches is this STLD (support teacher learning difficulties) teacher in an Infants School:

We work within a framework of a Whole Language Classroom, which reflects also a Naturalistic Approach, and by Naturalistic Approach we mean that the conditions which are operating when a child learns to talk can also be applied to the classroom. Within that Whole Language framework we also do the Genre Writing Approach based on Halliday’s Systemic Functional Model of language and learning. What we are actually talking about is that children have a purpose or a social goal and an audience in mind. So we work with all these frameworks, so I guess we’re a bit eclectic in the approaches and methodologies that we actually use. (Whitfield 1993:4.)

Yes, I am Whitfield (1993) and those with access to university libraries or the State Library of NSW may find that old work of mine: Whitfield, N. J. (1993), Best Practice in the Teaching of Reading, 1993 DSP Action Research Project, Metropolitan East Region, Botany Cluster, Erskineville, Disadvantaged Schools Program. You see, the nonsense was being promulgated way back then and it is just as silly and harmful now as it was then. The extract above comes from 03 — an essay from 1998: Literacy on Ninglun’s Specials. While that essay is aging it is still relevant and is supplemented by links to the latest resources in the area.

In that 1993 project I had access to Infants, Primary and Secondary reading classes in about a dozen schools from La Perouse to Mascot, from Maroubra to Eastlakes. Some of those schools were challenging places to work. I ended up admiring the dedication and intelligence of the teachers involved, and certainly found very little evidence of dumbos swept every which way by airhead lefties. Further, in the course of that project I did extensive reading on the subject going back to the 1890s, and also had the benefit of conversation in the past with my grandfather, a reading teacher from 1906 through the 1940s, and my aunt who had taken up the role in the 1940s through to the 1970s.

Perhaps you can see why I get cranky.

Further thoughts

Jim Belshaw addressed some issues suggested by this post in his Problems with words and measurements.

…Here I want to use an example from Neil. Not, I hasten to add, to attack Neil, but because he has actually brought out an example of what I see as sloppy thinking.

I suggest that you read first Who are you calling an ideologue?. This post deals with a debate in Australia about the teaching of English. Without going into the details, this debate links to Australia’s own unique culture wars, a clash of ideas enveloped in political venom on both sides.

If you look at Miranda Devine’s article, and assuming her reporting is in any way correct, then Brian Cambourne is engaged in an intellectual war. Miranda Devine’s response falls to the same class.

Neil, an experienced English teacher, is sympathetic to Brian Cambourne’s position, but also believes the whole debate misses the point – there is no single solution. Neil is right. I think that I can show quite simply and clearly that the debate is misdirected….

Jim then goes on to say some very sensible things about the standard complaints about literacy emanating from some academic and business circles – complaints I recall hearing for the past forty years and more. (I take that up in my 1998 essay.)

I have had another look at Miranda Devine’s article after reading Jim’s post. I am sure much she says is correct, but it is also very selective. (By the way, the Redfern Multilit program is run by Ashfield Uniting Church’s Exodus Centre in premises owned by South Sydney Uniting Church of which I am a member. I am sure it is doing a lot of good, but then most intensive programs with small groups tend to.) “Brian Cambourne is engaged in an intellectual war. Miranda Devine’s response falls to the same class.”  True enough, but I think 1) Cambourne has been a bit silly in his emails and 2) reporting has distorted his purpose. What Cambourne is talking about in statements like "When you rely on evidence, it’s twisted … We rely on the cognitive science framing theory, to frame things the way you want the reader to understand them to be true." – which out of context does sound bizarre – is Sociology 101 rather than “a postmodern justification for obfuscation.”

For example, see Framing explained from Values Based Management, hardly a site of rampant pomo.

Framing (F) is focusing the attention of people within a field of meaning. Tversky and Kahneman should be seen as the founders of framing theory, although Fairhurst and Sarr actually coined the term.

Contrary to the central concept of of rational choice theory (people always strive to make the most rational choices possible), Framing theory suggests that how something is presented (the “frame”) influences the choices people make.

Frames are abstract notions that serve to organize or structure social meanings. Frames influence the perception of the news of the audience, this form of agenda-setting not only tells what to think about an issue (agenda-setting theory), but also how to think about that issue.

F is a quality of communication that leads others to accept one meaning over another. It is  the process by which a communication source defines and constructs a political issue or public controversy.

F is an important topic since it can have a big influence on what people think! Try the first example on the right to test if you can withstand framing…

Framing is not per se a bad thing and in fact is an unavoidable part of human communication. We find it in the media as events are presented within a field of meaning.  We find it in politics as politicians attempt to characterize events as one thing or another; we find it in religion, and we find it in negotiating when one side tries to move another towards a desired outcome. Finally it can also be used by leaders of organizations with profound effects on how organizational members understand and respond to the world in which they live. It is a skill that most successful leaders possess, yet one that is not often taught.

According to Fairhurst & Sarr (1996) F consists of three elements:

1. Language,

2. Thought, and

3. Forethought.

Language helps us to remember information and acts to transform the way in which we view situations. To use language, people must have thought and reflected on their own interpretive frameworks and those of others. Leaders can and should learn framing spontaneously in certain circumstances. Being able to do so has to do with having the forethought to predict framing opportunities. In other words, leaders must plan in order to be spontaneous.

Fairhurst and Sarr (1996) described the following Framing Techniques:

a) Metaphor: To give an idea or program a new meaning by comparing it to something else.

b) Stories (myths and legends): To frame a subject by anecdote in a vivid and memorable way.

c) Traditions (rites, rituals and ceremonies): To pattern and define an organization at regular time increments to confirm and reproduce organizational values.

d) Slogans, jargon and catchphrases: To frame a subject in a memorable and familiar fashion.

e) Artifacts: To illuminate corporate values through physical vestiges (sometimes in a way language cannot).

f) Contrast: To describe a subject in terms of what it is not.

g) Spin: to talk about a concept so as to give it a positive or negative connotation.

Miranda’s columns are usually classic examples of framing or filtering an issue through an ideology – hence the title of this entry.

The theory is known and used by many linguists worldwide, including this Indonesian blogger. In the world of linguistics the theory is often associated with George Lakoff.

Lakoff acknowledges that both academic and political cultures are slow to change. But he is optimistic, pointing to the way in which the growth of cognitive psychology has undermined the rational-actor model that long dominated economics. In his own field, Lakoff predicts that "brain-based linguistics" will soon become the new standard — indeed, eclipsing Chomsky.

And despite his setbacks, Lakoff is not giving up on politics. He is still confident that his ideas can make a difference to Democrats. When he wrote Thinking Points, his handbook for progressive activism, he sent the first copy to Barack Obama. "I don’t know if he read it," Lakoff says, as a wide grin flashes across his face, "but a number of people have observed that if you look through Thinking Points, it is the Obama campaign.

Since, unfortunately, the gurus at Macquarie University (or their enthusiastic supporters) seem to frame promotion of their product at $349.00 a kit as a negation of Cambourne’s reputation and life work he was drawing on framing theory to determine a counter-strike. Whoever persuades the people with the purse strings is likely to prosper of course, though Cambourne isn’t actually selling anything – except perhaps his reputation, that of his department, and the potential for research grants. Further, the conditions of learning – the concept he is most famous for – outlined above really apply whatever one may think of phonics, a point made in the letter with which I began.

And you will note, won’t you, how I have been deliberately framing that paragraph. It does work. Ask Barack Obama.

Miranda ends on a grand irrelevance, except it is part of her framing of the issue: “This has been as futile and damaging as the notion that we cannot prevent catastrophic bushfires unless we stop climate change. It is using the tragedy of illiterate children as the means to achieve an ideological end.”