Reading roundup

12 Sep


Fast Thinking, the magazine (no online content, ironically) of the InnovationXchange Network Australia is not the kind of thing I normally read, though I suspect Jim Belshaw would know it. I picked up the current issue last week and was pleasantly surprised. In that issue Geoffrey Maslen has written one of the best articles on schooling and education that I have seen for a long time.

Asked about his own schooling, Albert Einstein recalled, “One had to cram all this stuff into one’s mind, whether one liked it or not. This coercion had such a deterring effect that after I had passed the final examinations, I found the consideration of any scientific problems distasteful for an entire year. It is nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry.”

Einstein’s “modern methods of instruction”, of course, were those of a century ago. But they are mostly the same ones whose virtues are regularly celebrated by conservative critics of today’s schools.

Pure gold.

The September Monthly is out and keeps up its standard as a sane alternative to Quadrant, and God knows we need one!

In the Monthly Comment, David Corlett looks at the Howard government’s attitude towards those asylum seekers returned to countries where they face grave danger. When the Edmund Rice Centre reported the deaths in Afghanistan of returned asylum seekers, Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone brushed it off, telling the Senate that returnees from many countries have probably died.

The moral world from which her statement emanates ought to be deeply troubling. We, as a nation, have no control over the fate of the millions of people in post-Taliban Afghanistan. What we did have was an opportunity to rescue a few people who came to Australia and sought our protection. Instead, we brutalised them in our detention centres and then turned them away to insecurity and death.

There’s also a great article on the ABC by Gideon Haigh, and an account of a weekend P&O cruise by Malcolm Knox, and much more besides.

The Economist, intelligently conservative, is always worth looking into. The September 2nd to 8th print edition had some very good 9/11 articles. Online you can find a really sane and reasoned summary of climate change by Emma Duncan.

The debate involves scientists, economists, politicians and anybody interested in the future of the planet. It is charged by the belief on one side that life as we know it is under threat, and by the conviction on the other that scientists and socialists are conspiring to spend taxpayers’ money on a bogey. It is sharpened by a moral angle–the sense, deep at the heart of the environmental movement, that the consequence of individual selfishness will be collective doom: the invisible hand is a fist, and original sin an SUV.

The argument is peopled by big characters: James Lovelock, a British scientist who believes that mankind has fatefully unbalanced the delicate mechanisms of a world he calls Gaia; Bjorn Lomborg, a hyperactive Danish statistician who believes that scientists are twisting figures to scare people; Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, whose mission is to terminate climate change; and James Inhofe, chairman of the environment and public works committee in America’s Senate, who says it is all nonsense.


Sane and dispassionate discussion of climate change is the last thing you will find in Michael R. LeGault, Think (NY, Threshold, 2006), a sloppy journalistic parade of the author’s right-wing Aunt Sallies that purports to advocate and exemplify rational discourse. Some of his rants I even agree with, such as the overuse of medication for conditions like ADHD, but not the path of reasoning (it’s a PC feminist plot!) that gets him there. This book is an exemplar of the kind of American thnking that gives me a total headache because it is so unreflective it makes me want to throw up in the end. I don’t think I have ever read a more inept discussion of stress and stress-related conditions. This guy reminds me of Willy Loman. Our own Babbitts will love it. (Surry Hills Library borrowing.)

On the opposite side of the wonderful cacophony that is America (and I mean that sincerely as a compliment) is the curious Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins (that’s the author’s website).

In this shocking memoir, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, John Perkins tells of his own inner journey from willing servant of empire to impassioned advocate for the rights of oppressed people. Covertly recruited by the United States National Security Agency and on the payroll of an international consulting firm, he traveled the world–to Indonesia, Panama, Ecuador, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and other strategically important countries. His job was to implement policies that promoted the interests of the U.S. corporatocracy (a coalition of government, banks, and corporations) while professing to alleviate poverty–policies that alienated many nations and ultimately led to September 11 and growing anti-Americanism.

Frankly I don’t trust him, but then I trust the US State Dept’s rebuttal even less. Read it and make up your own mind; it is a pretty savage indictment of US policy, with enough truth to be disturbing. See also Democracy Now and the links on Wikipedia. You may find it, as I did, in a remainder bin!

Definitely fiction is Gerald Seymour, The Untouchable (2001). This is a rather good thriller, with quite a good “moral” to it on compassion fatigue, media inattention (who cares about Bosnia now?) and devastating in its critique of the use of land mines. Worth reading.

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Posted by on September 12, 2006 in Aussie interest, climate change, Cultural and other, Current affairs, immigration, Jim Belshaw, Reading, Surry Hills



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