Webdiary - Independent, Ethical, Accountable and Transparent
header_02 home about login header_06
sidebar-top content-top

The Daily Briefing 15/11/05

TUESDAY 15TH NOVEMBER 2005          

Your round-up from today's newspapers plus the best writing, analysis, critical thinking and humour from around the world.

In today's email:
1    Gregg Bloche &  Jonathan Marks on the US and torture/NYTimes (6 links below)
2    David Corn on Ahmad Chalabi and Christopher Hitchens (link below)
3    Jonah Goldberg on the French riots/NRO (5 links below)
4    Margaret Drabble on Guantanamo Bay and tourism/Times
5    Andrew Sorkin on the (possible) end of the buy-out bubble/NYTimes
6    Joseph Nocera on the impact of TimesSelect/IHT (6 links below)
7    MUSIC: William Dalrymple goes to Fes for music and Sufism/Guardian (3 links below)
8    AC Grayling on libertines and the Earl of Rochester/Independent
9    Profile of Roger McGeough, a truly useless poet/Guardian
10    BOOKS: John Banville's Booker-winning 'The Sea' (plus 15 more links below)
11    IN THE PAPERS: National, Opinion, Business round-up

1 Teaching the US to torture
George Bush must wish he could be US President, but do it in Australia. Here he is all but untouched by Iraq's many debacles (no WMDs, no Saddam-Osama connection, abuse, torture, quagmire, lack of planning, occupation on the cheap), as is his Coalition partner John Howard. Our newspapers (well, The Australian) even try to tell readers from time to time what a wonderful leader he really is. Not so back home - a country still trying to get its head around the fact that the "home of the free" has been torturing prisoners to death that is now trying to adjust to the fact that the White House wants the power to keep doing it.

And for a case study in how hard media management can be when you are trying to say "we do not torture", while having the legal option to torture, have a read of this exchange between White House flak Scott McClellan and the press corps, from Editor&Publisher.

In the column linked to below, Gregg Bloche and Jonathan Marks give their account of where the US learned its torture techniques. "A full account of how our leaders reacted to terrorism by re-engineering Red Army methods must await an independent inquiry. But the SERE model's embrace by the Pentagon's civilian leaders is further evidence that abuse tantamount to torture was national policy, not merely the product of rogue freelancers. After the shock of 9/11 - when Americans desperately wanted mastery over a world that suddenly seemed terrifying - this policy had visceral appeal. But it's the task of command authority to connect means and ends rationally. The Bush administration has too frequently failed to do this."

Bush faces two major problems in trying to turn his political fortunes around. The first is that Hurricane Katrina combined with Iraq convinced a lot of people that he is incompetent. The second is that fewer people all the time believe him anymore. Liberal NYTimes columnist Frank Rich has never taken much notice of Bush, but nonetheless, this column sums up what a lot of people on both sides of the partisan divide are now saying. "The facts the American people are listening to at this point come not from an administration that they no longer find credible, but from the far more reality-based theater of war. The Qaeda suicide bombings of three hotels in Amman on 11/9, like the terrorist attacks in Madrid and London before them, speak louder than anything else of the price we are paying for the lies that diverted us from the war against the suicide bombers of 9/11 to the war in Iraq."

The LATimes reports that Bush is getting a lot of advice from Republicans about how to turn his fortunes around, the only problem being that a lot of it is conflicting advice.

Slate is now running a series, Bush abandonment watch, tracking the instances of when those who were, or might have been considered supporters, thought better of it.

And Mother Jones has published Bush's Wall of Shame, "honoring those who have blundered, lied, manipulated, and broken the law" on the road to Iraq.


2 Corn, Chalabi and Hitchens
At most every turn in the Iraq invasion drama, Ahmad Chalabi has played a lead role. Exile from Saddam Hussein, supplier of information about those non-existent WMDs to neo-conservative backers of the war (and Judith Miller at the NYTimes), post-invasion hero who ended up on the outer, accused of supplying intelligence to Iran, the subject of a raid by Coalition forces, and now back as the country's deputy Prime Minister. Chalabi was recently in the US, where he was feted by the Bush administration (to the surprise of many, and the horror of critics) and spoke to his old cronies at the American Enterprise Institute, which has published a transcript of his speech.

Liberal journalist (though not noticeably one to let that get in the way of telling an accurate story) and author ("The Lies of George Bush") David Corn attended the AEI speech and gives this account of it, and a subsequent encounter with Christopher Hitchens, a long-time Chalabi supporter (in fact, even when others had abandoned him). "Outside the AEI building, as a few people gathered to watch our exchange, he maintained that Bush et. al. had prudently based their decision to go to war on worst-case assumptions. But, I countered, that is not what Bush had told the public he was doing; Bush had claimed that the intelligence indicated there was "no doubt" that Iraq possessed WMDs. There was much doubt, I noted, and provided several examples. Oh, Hitchens replied, I was being too literal and had missed the nuances of Bush's position. My retort: Bush being nuanced? Christopher, you would not trust Bush to review a single death penalty application, yet you were happy to hand him the keys to this invasion and now you make excuses for how he misrepresented the intelligence he did not even bother to read. Our sidewalk debate fizzled out; Hitchens drifted off to chat with well-wishers."


3 Debating the French riots
The column linked to below by Jonah Goldberg for the conservative National Review Online is highlighted as an antidote to coverage of the Paris riots in The Week-end Australian, which, for reasons best known to itself, ran two articles, both in a similar vein, both from the conservative Spectator. Ron Liddle and Mark Steyn are worthy of consideration for sure, but they are in fact in the minority in blaming the riots on Muslims and the rise of "Eurabia".

So, in the name of presenting a diversity of views (and illustrating that anyone hoping to be well-informed is mad to buy just one newspaper, especially one owned by Rupert Murdoch), here are some alternative thoughts on the matter. Goldberg doesn't dispute the Muslim connection, but thinks it has more to do with integration and acceptance. "Their being Muslim surely contributes to these kids' invisibility, but French racism and snobbery is more sweeping. Unlike in America, where snobbery, racism and anti-Muslim bigotry can all operate independently of each other, in France they're always linked in a menage a trios. If a resume arrives at the patisserie with the name Hamid on it, it gets trashed without the recipient wondering whether he was unfair to a Muslim, a black, an immigrant or even a French citizen."

Gary Younge in The Guardian thinks the rioters have made French authorities sit up and take notice in a way that few other avenues of protest would have. "Those who wondered what French youth had to gain by taking to the streets should ask what they had to lose. Unemployed, socially excluded, harassed by the police and condemned to poor housing, they live on estates that are essentially open prisons. Statistically invisible (it is against the law and republican principle to collect data based on race or ethnicity) and politically unrepresented (mainland France does not have a single non-white MP), their aim has been simply to get their plight acknowledged. And they succeeded."

Craig Smith in the NYTimes makes a similar point to the one made by Gerard Henderson (is he trying to make TDB eat its "he dumbs down national debate" words?) - France is not multicultural, it refuses to officially recognise cultural difference. What happens unofficially is, human nature being what it is, an entirely different matter. "Though many countries aspire to ensure equality among their citizens and fall short, the case is complicated in France by a secular ideal that refuses to recognize ethnic and religious differences in the public domain. All citizens are French, end of story, the government insists, a lofty position that, nonetheless, has allowed discrimination to thrive."

And The Economist also dismisses the jihad angle that conservatives seem desperate to push. "The role of Islam in the rioting is more complicated. Some commentators see signs of a jihad on the streets of Paris. Ivan Rioufol, a columnist for Le Figaro, called it "the beginnings of an intifada". Yet intelligence sources suggest that this is not organised violence but anarchic rioting, helped by internet and mobile-phone contact. Roughly half of those arrested have been teenagers, most of them in their own suburbs, since they lack the transport to go anywhere else. Even in Evry, where the petrol-bomb store was uncovered, officials say that the teenagers involved were petty criminals, not radicalised fanatics. This was the angry rebellion of a beardless, Nike-wearing teenage underclass."


4 Gitmo and tourism
On the related subject of Guantanamo Bay, author Margaret Drabble views it first as a potentially idyllic tourist destination - "The beach is beautiful and its shores are lined with seagrape and mahogany, cactus and mango, lime and palm" - before turning to the more serious subject of the prison camp there. "Meanwhile, most of those prisoners are still exactly where they were. No wonder they try to draw attention to themselves. They are the abandoned people. It is hard for lawyers and journalists to highlight their predicament. There are no pegs on which to hang a story, apart from the hunger strike, of which we have no pictures and little documentation. I wonder if the detainees can hear the cries of the mocking bird and the mourning dove. I wonder if I'll still be alive when the package tours start."

5 The great global buy-out bubble
TDB has become especially fond of economic speculation stories like this one in the past 12 months. "We'll all be rooned if the sky falls in ... but then again, some say that it won't." Andrew Sorkin reports that the buy-out industry is now awash with money, a sign some say (but then again, others do not) that the industry's bubble may be about to burst - a bit like when the shoe-shine man is telling you which shares to buy. And one of these days, one of these economic bubbles the pundits like to worry about really will burst. But then again, maybe they won't. "The trillion-dollar question is whether these shopaholics are setting themselves up for a giant fall. If the market begins to show even the faintest signs of strain, this bubble may pop, say many financial analysts as well as private equity players themselves. If that happens, the leveraged-buyout boom and bust that Michael Milken led in the 1980's could end up looking like a dress rehearsal for the mess to come."

6 TimesSelect, the Beeb and journalism
It's a fair bet that much of the newspaper industry is watching and waiting to see how the NYTimes fares with TimesSelect, its pay-to-view subscription policy, primarily for its columnists. Joseph Norcera from the paper gives what is presumably an upbeat assessment of it, reporting that "since it began in mid-September, TimesSelect had generated 270,000 subscribers, half of whom already subscribed to the newspaper (and hence get the new service free), and half of whom were plunking down cold, hard cash." Given that the Times has circulation of a million plus, that doesn't seem like many, even though the paper says it is at the upper limits of its predictions. (And here is an odd thing - the original version of this article is pay-to-view at the Times, but freely available at the International Herald Tribune, which may just be a glitch in the system.) "From the start, TimesSelect has generated strong opinions, both inside and outside the Times Building. Part of the opposition comes from that segment of the digerati who tend to believe that information on the Internet should be free as a matter of principle. Others simply don't want to pay for something they're used to getting for free. Twice in the last month or so, for instance, I've had the odd experience of having hedge fund guys I've interviewed - people with seven-figure incomes - ask me to e-mail my column to them because they refuse to subscribe to TimesSelect."

The Times's move comes in response to the fall in dead-tree sales as internet hits rise, and the pressure that creates to turn a buck. And, in response to the mushrooming of online outlets competing for cyber-readers. One of the first of those was Salon, which is currently celebrating 10 years of publication. It has been through the mill, and the dot.com boom-bust in that time. "Salon has surfed -- and sometimes gotten wiped out by -- some pretty big waves in those 10 years. We have gone from a staff of eight to a staff of 148, and back to somewhere in between. We have been showered in massive tulipmania loot, seen our stock go from $15.13 to one cent, and cheated the Grim Reaper who comes to whack failing little rags so many times he finally picked up his scythe in disgust and went home. We have gone from being a little literary-leaning magazine staffed mostly by critics to a robust news organization with a team of full-time reporters."

In another sign of the pressure on newspapers, Knight Ridder is considering selling its papers, according to the NYTimes.

As the avid reader knows too well, TDB loves to bang on about the pathetic standards of Australian journalism (and that's on a good day) and has adopted as a cause the need for media ombudsmen, sometimes referred to as the readers editor or the public editor. Ian Mayes holds that position for The Guardian and is president of the Organisation of News Ombudsmen. In this article he reports on the organisation's most recent meeting. " Spain now not only has an ethical code. It has news ombudsmen on three leading newspapers, El País, La Vanguardia and La Voz de Galicia - something of a challenge to Britain, where the ombudsman is a peculiarity. An ombudsman works independently within news organisations at the interface between readers, listeners and viewers on one side, and journalists and editors on the other. It is the only kind of self-regulation that can have the effect of building trust between a specific news organisation and its readership or audience."

Two vastly different takes on the state of BBC journalism, post-Hutton inquiry (into that "sexed-up" dossier and David Kelly's death). Andrew Gilligan, the journalist at the centre of that furore (who let himself and a good story down with some sloppiness, but nothing more) may not be the most impartial observer of his former employer (he was sacked post-inquiry), but then again, he should bring some insider insights to the case. Gilligan sat down to watch the BBC for 24 hours and got up depressed. "None of these examples shows, as is so often claimed, that the BBC is 'biased' towards New Labour; the problem is wider than that. What they do show is how often the Corporation's journalism is prepared to take authority at its word, without checking."

Tim Luckhurst at The Independent sees no such malaise, reporting that "BBC journalists are standing tall again" under the new head of television news, Peter Horrocks. "He has never ventured outside and colleagues say he is so attuned to corporate orthodoxy that his opinions reflect the BBC's collective mood. If so, the corporation is enjoying a spectacular upturn in confidence that may banish memories of Lord Hutton as well as launching a new era of investigative journalism."

In case any of this makes the young and impressionable consider a career in journalism, a word from one of the real hardmen of the business, the BBC's Jeremy Paxman. (For those who've not seem him in action, he makes Kerry O'Brien look like a sooky, nancy-boy.) And Paxman's adivice? Forget about it.


7 Fes, sufism, Madonna and The Edge
Make time if you can in a busy day to let William Dalrymple take you by the hand and lead you through the narrow streets of the ancient city of Fes, "one of the most perfectly preserved medieval cities in the world". (If you've been there, the memories will flood back, if not, you will feel like you have been.) Dalrymple was there for the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music, which this year featured Ravi and Anushka Shankar, and last year, "Youssou N'Dour and his Sufi-inspired album, Egypt". But, he says, the real delights of the festival were the impromptu Sufi concerts in the back streets. "But it is not here so much as in the backstreets that some of the most exciting music is on offer, and it comes from the different Sufi groups which form the real heartbeat of Morocco. In particular, around midnight in the old garden of Tazi Pasha, the local Sufi brotherhoods play to a mixed crowd of street urchins, writers, artists and fellow musicians, all sprawled over cushions beside an old fountain."

To music more profane. Jon Pareles from the NYTimes profiles Shakira, whose music might seduce the world. "Psychoanalysis, biblical revisionism, Renaissance paintings. Not to mention DNA-level multiculturalism, torrid dance moves and an ear for rhythms and hooks from all over. Fulfilling the basic needs of current pop - a catchy song, a pretty face - doesn't begin to match Shakira's gleeful ambitions. She is pop's 21st-century Latina bombshell, a sweetly upbeat face of globalization, and then some."

In The Independent, Mark Ellen interviews and profiles The Edge, the musical genius from U2. "He was born in Essex to Welsh parents, moved to north Dublin at the age of one - "massive identity crisis!" - and is now 44 with three daughters by his childhood sweetheart, and another daughter and a son by his second wife, the band's former choreographer. He's helped sustain a formula that sells both records and tickets in every last reach of the world market. He's the unsung hero who orchestrates the sound of the greatest rock 'n' roll success story of our time, a band for which his old schoolfriend is largely the public face."

And In Time magazine, Josh Tyrangiel reviews Madonna's "Confessions on a Dance Floor". " ... before you press on with the album, you will need to ask yourself, Am I a serious person who listens to music for intellectual enlightenment and makes it a point of pride not to dance under any circumstances? Or am I merely a semi-serious person who makes it a point not to be seen dancing under any circumstances? If you're the former, Confessions on a Dance Floor is not for you. If you're the latter, close the blinds. Because the words get goofier, and the song gets faster, and pretty soon all you hear are echoes of Madonna's voice behind a glossy thump and a grinding guitar hook."


8 Putting meaning into 'libertine'
"It is quite something to live in an age of riotous immorality, and yet to be accounted the most dissolute individual of the time. That is the achievement of the notorious John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester, who lived very fast and died very young in the reign of Charles II." And that is the achievement that Johnny Depp is attempting to bring to the big screen, an endeavour philosophy professor AC Grayling feels is bound to fall short because we live in more prudish times. "Rochester was a poet of great talent, a brave naval officer, a rampantly intemperate bisexual, a harvester of maidenheads, a pimp and bawd for his King, a Hooray Henry repeatedly involved in duels and brawls (at least one of which resulted in the murder of a citizen of London) - and he died a victim in 1680, aged just 33, of accumulated doses of both gonorrhoea and syphilis."

9 The truly useless poet
"Lily the Pink" of course gets a mention, as does "Let Me Die a Young Man's Death" ("not a clean and in between the sheets death ... " he says, quoting from memory), but this profile of Merseyside poet Roger McGeough fails to mention his classic ode to young, lusty and besotted lovers "Summer with Monica" ("and she spent summer with me ... "). Well, at least it seemed like a classic back then. "McGough's poetic style is often described as whimsical, its seriousness undermined by the sort of punchlines that, in bad stand-up, are usually accompanied by a crash on the cymbal: wa-wah. Some of his poems are slighter than limericks. "Things are so bad / I am reduced to scraping / The outside of the barrell," he writes in The Bright Side. His Poem for National LSD Week is a one-line, punctuation gag: "Mind, how you go!" And there are others about mad aunts and rabbits trapped in concrete and Wolverhampton and vegetarians. But McGough's it's-a-funny-old-world schtick is saved from tweeness by a depressive edge and an iron control. His poem on 9/11, Flight Plan, is measured and unhistrionic."

10 Rice turns to God, ethics go to the dogs, Superman returns to his roots, and Banville leaves some readers all at sea.
TUESDAY BOOKS: a selection by donn wood

Earthly Powers: religion and politics in Europe from the French revolution to the Great War by Michael Burleigh.
" 'Earthly Powers' is a superb book. Its conception is profound, its execution brilliant. Burleigh is not only formidably learned, he has the true historian's ability to marshal his knowledge to maximum effect. One has the impression of a mind entirely at home in the past 200 years of European history, moving from fact to fact in free, reflective play."
Edward Skidelsky in The New Statesman.

Autobiography of My Dead Brother by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Christopher Myers
" I've always been impressed by Walter Dean Myers's ability to tell honest and gritty stories about the difficulties faced by young men, often African American, who grow up surrounded by violence. He never makes his characters cliches and is a master at showing how much everyone has in common with everyone else, and how easily the lines between good and bad choices can be crossed. With his latest book 'Autobiography of My Dead Brother' he seems to have reached a new plateau. This book is impressive on many levels, not the least of which is the accompanying art by Christopher Myers. The Myers have made me understand what it means to be a teenager, to be a parent even, with this book and I'm grateful to him for writing it. Now I just want everybody to read it, and maybe take a big leap in understanding just what is going on in our world today."  Writing in Bookslut, Colleen Mondor is mightily taken with this illustrated novel. "On every level, 'Autobiography of My Dead Brother' is a stirring and amazing novel. It is written for a young adult audience, or at least that is who it is marketed to, but adult readers will be missing out if they let this one slide by. If you have ever wondered how violence happens, or who the young people are who become involved in it, this is the book to give you all the answers. It is, in fact, the best book about friendship and loyalty and growing up that I have read in a long long time. Both Walter Dean Myers and his son Christopher have crafted something magnificent here, something infinitely precious. Don't let it slip past you, and certainly don't let it slip past your children."

Jane Fonda's War: A Political Biography of an Anti-war Icon by Mary Hershberger "You don't know America if you don't know the Jane Fonda cult. Or rather, the anti-Fonda cult. At places where soldiers or former soldiers congregate, there'll be stickers of her likeness on the urinals; one is an invitation to symbolic rape: Fonda in her 1980s 'work-out' costume, her legs splayed, pudenda at the bulls-eye. Every night at lights-out midshipmen at the US Naval Academy cry out "Goodnight, bitch!" in her honour." This is the start of Rick Perlstein's review in LRB, which, I might add, rather shocked me. After all this time? And I thought I held a good grudge. Perlstein calls this book a "... careful, straightforward account", although not without its flaws. "The problem with 'Jane Fonda's War' is that in place of the hegemonic legend of Jane Fonda as the mother of all sins, Hershberger represents her as St Joan, the perfect martyr: the American addiction to narratives of innocence infects those who would deconstruct them as well." A fascinating peek into the dirty laundry of American self-loathing and Vietnam-induced insecurity.

In the Company of the Cheerful Author: An Interview with Alexander McCall Smith
This interview, by Clayton Moore in Bookslut, is from the last crowded month, and I figured I'd better put it in before it got lost. McCall Smith is the author of 4 series of books, including The Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency, which is now into its best-selling 7th volume. (Although my favourites are the von Igelfeld series, with titles such as 'The 2½ Pillars of Wisdom', and 'At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances'.) If you haven't had the pleasure of reading his books, try this good-natured chat to whet your appetite.

The Curious History of Nutrition by Walter Gratzer
"Gratzer, an emeritus professor at Kings College, London, loves human folly. His other books, 'The Undergrowth of Science: Delusion, Self-Deception, and Human Frailty' (2000) and 'The Oxford Book of Scientific Anecdotes' (2002) lead naturally to this volume, which follows the trail of mostly wrong ideas from the 18th century to the present ..." writes A. J. Loftin in The Wilson Quarterly. "Warning: This entertainingly scary book, especially the chapters on additives then and now, should make us all afraid.."

Out of Egypt by Anne Rice
Guess who's got religion? Her Highness of Haemoglobin, the Queen of the Carotid. Anne Rice, the author of the mega-bestselling 'Interview With The Vampire', and 25 other books, (perhaps best described as bodice-rippers with gore and magic) has turned to "the greatest story ever told" for her latest novel. Will Mel Gibson turn to Satan in protest? Anyway, here are two different reviews of her tale of the seven-year-old Jesus (oh yes, folks, there's more to come) one (link above) from Tony Buchsbaum in January Magazine, and the second from Melvin Jules Bukiet in The Washington Post. Buchsbaum's review (which also includes an interview with Rice) is fairly positive, but Melvin pretty much thinks it sucks.

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, translated by Anne Born
Norwegian author Petterson has had two previous novels, 'To Siberia' and 'In the Wake' published to acclaim in English. "Unawareness and awareness, ignorance and knowledge, innocence and experience chase each other throughout this intricately worked novel" ... and this story of the consequences of war and occupation is another exploration of the paradoxes of life and living. "Anne Born's sensitive translation does justice to an impressive novel of rare and exemplary moral courage, and commendably makes convincing the confrontations of different individuals, different milieux."

One Nation Under God by James Moore Jr.
Prayer: A History by Philip and Carol Zaleski
Adam Kirsch begins his New York Sun review with this paragraph, ... "The badness of these two books about prayer is more than coincidental: It suggests that prayer, on its own, is not a viable subject for study. After all, it belongs to the definition of prayer that it is not an autonomous activity, not simply something human beings do, like eating and sleeping. The significant thing about prayer is not that we pray, but who we pray to, what we pray for, and why we think our prayers have a chance of being heard and granted. In other words, prayer can only be understood as a part of religion. To treat it anthropologically, as if it were merely an instinctive behavior, and to bestow on it the vague approval with which our age greets all nonthreatening manifestations of "spirituality," is to violate its essence and reduce it to triviality." According to Kirsch, this is exactly what both books do. "Mr. Moore, an earnest amateur in the study of history and religion (he is a business school professor by trade), approaches the subject of prayer in American history in an extremely literal-minded fashion. ... he tells us that Cotton Mather prayed, and John Quincy Adams prayed, and Aimee Semple Macpherson prayed. Sometimes he quotes an unusually quirky practice or memorable text - Mather, for instance, came up with appropriate prayers to say over each type of person he passed in the street ..."  The Zaleskis, on the other hand ... "have unwittingly provided the most devastating possible indictment of the religious mind. In ordinary life, if we encountered a man who repeats the same phrase 100,000 times a day, or a man who regularly falls into catatonic insensibility, or a teenage girl whose sexual desires fuel sickly fantasies of martyrdom, we would have no qualms about pronouncing them mentally ill and in need of treatment. But if the obsessive-compulsive is reciting the Jesus Prayer, and the catatonic is a swami, and the girl is a nun, then the Zaleskis expect us to admire and revere them. And like Mr. Moore, they want us to throw out the precarious secularism the West earned after centuries of religious war so that everyone can pray their fill ..."
Yeah, that's always worked so well. Just ask the Cathars and Huguenots in France, Catholics in England and Ireland, and Jews nearly everywhere. Ask the Muslims just down the street, and all the victims of religious terrorism. Being besieged by Crusaders who prayed didn't save the people of Constantinople in 1204, even though Constantinople was a Christian city. And I'm sure that the guys and gals who bomb abortion clinics in the US are pretty fervent in their prayers, too. (I think I might be showing my prejudices here.)

It's Not All About YOU, Calma! by Barry Jonsberg
Sue Bursztynski reviews the latest book to from the author of 'The Whole Business With Kiffo and the Pitbull' in January magazine. "Again the story is very funny, until it suddenly becomes serious. I'm wondering if this is going to be Barry Jonsberg's regular style. Perhaps it's an improvement on the usual tiresomely grim, angst-filled style of teen fiction we see so often nowadays. He is able to capture the feel of teen woes and still see the funny side. In other words, he's able to make the same point as the most angst-filled novel, but with less angst."

'Hunters, Herders, And Hamburgers' by Richard W. Bulliet
'In Defense Of Animals :The Second Wave'; Edited By Peter Singer
'Animal Ethics' by Robert Garner
In the TLS, Juliet Clutton-Brock reviews these three books, each arguing for a change in animal welfare. Bulliet's book concentrates on the attitude of humans to animals; Singer's focuses on animal liberation and the fate of animals in scientific and medical research; while Garner's gives ... "a clearly written and eminently readable account of present thinking on the moral status of animals... " Required vegetarian reading.

Albert Einstein: an essay and poem by Bill Holm
I could have linked you to any number of sites and articles written in honour of the 100th anniversary of Einstein's 'wonder' year of 1905, but this is a purely literary one from poet Bill Holm, in Speakeasy Magazine.

Truth and Consequences by Alison Lurie
"... Lurie is the reigning queen of a certain kind of academic comedy. Though sly and sometimes very funny when it comes to marital discord, she draws back from bed-hopping farce by ensuring that her characters always embark on some kind of journey. Belated self-knowledge is her speciality." The new novel by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author is reviewed by Rachel Cooke in The Guardian. "In America, Truth and Consequences has been criticised for its lack of a fleshed-out cast list. In this Corinth, they have complained, only two real couples seem to exist, while just about everyone else - from Jane's dopey blonde assistant to the lesbian academic who develops a crush on Delia - is a cartoon. I think this is unfair. Lurie has crafted a parable here; it requires a narrow focus. But in any case, the simple truth is that being inside the heads of Alan and Jane is so enjoyable and intriguing that you don't much want anyone else to intrude anyway."

The Conjuror's Bird by Martin Davies
This historical novel is based on the disappearance in the late 1770's of a stuffed bird from the collection of Sir Joseph Banks, which was significant because no other specimen of the bird has ever been found. "In this novel, Davies has created two gripping, intercut narratives. The story of Fitz, a modern biologist turned taxidermist sleuthing on the trail of the bird, is entwined with that of Banks's love affair, and how the specimen came to leave his collection. The prose of the 18th-century narrative is unstodgily rendered, and Davies writes with a lyricism that captures the joy of the natural world." Jane Jakeman reviews 'The Conjuror's Bird' in The Independent. "Davies's first novel is a highly successful and informative entertainment. Fitz is an attractive creation: an intellectual Philip Marlow, disillusioned, shabby, but clinging to a few shreds of principle. This is fiction, yet underlines the extent of the damage humanity has inflicted on the world - and the treasures we have lost since Banks first gazed upon the wonders of the South Seas."

The Sea by John Banville
This novel, in case you've been under a non-literary rock for the last few months, is the winner of this year's Booker prize. Here are two near-diametrically opposed reviews, the first by John Crowley (link above) in The Washington Post, and the second by David Thomson in The New York Observer. (link below)

It's Superman! by Tom De Haven
No, it's not a graphic novel, but "...Tom De Haven's giddy joyride of a novel, 'It's Superman!', returns the tale to its roots in 1930s America, with Clark Kent as an awkward high school kid in rural Kansas." In The Boston Globe, Renae Graham reviews the newest outing for the Man of Steel. "De Haven lets it all unfold with melodramatic relish, reviving the pulp noir of vintage comic books and Saturday morning serials. There's a lot going on here -- murderous thugs, corrupt politicians, evil robots, plots for world domination -- as well as the quirky origins of such familiar items as Superman's red-and-blue costume."  No Pulitzer prize here, but it sounds like a lot of fun. "With cheeky aplomb, luscious period details, and a generous affection for his characters, De Haven accomplishes his own kind of superhuman feat -- he leaps above cliches in a single bound and fashions a stylish, rollicking good yarn from the legend of the Man of Steel."


11 IN THE PAPERS: National, Opinion, Business round-up

The threat of terrorism leads all the papers as they report on the police case as presented in court yesterday. The Herald's lead reports that "the alleged plot to launch a terrorist strike on Sydney has been revealed - it involved young men who wanted to die for jihad; outback training camps; a huge stockpile of ammunition, guns, chemicals and detonators; and only one named possible target - the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor." The possible threat to Australia's only nuclear facility gets huge prominence (see the tabloids below), but both The SMH here and The Australian here run stories saying an attack would be difficult and unlikely to cause much real danger. The Australian reports that Mum's permission was needed for jihad. But it is left to the Herald to report that a terrorism hotline caller with vital information had his details passed on to The Australian which threatened to publish them if he did not co-operate on a story (would that be the "unglamorous legwork" the paper was telling us about in its prickly editorial the other day?). In the midst of its terrorism coverage, The Age pauses to tell readers that the new terror legislation is so appalling the Government should abandon it, the Law Council of Australia says - and do see Bruce Wolpe's column on the same subject below.

All of the papers seem to expect a big turn-out for rallies against the proposed industrial relations laws, even though the Herald reports that the Federal Government has warned its workforce of 120,000 not to attend today's mass rallies against its tough industrial relations legislation, circulating memos that public servants will be breaking the law even if they take a day of annual leave to protest. The SMH also reports that Australian children enjoy less freedom to roam independently than children in German, English and New Zealand cities, research has found; that teenage boys who struggle in the classroom perform no better academically under male teachers than female teachers, says a study that allays some concerns about the low number of men in schools; and that police remain baffled by the disappearance of 19-month-old Rahma el-Dennaoui, and have not ruled out any of the possible explanations as to why she vanished last week. The paper also runs a feature on the inroads intelligent design is making into schools, and there is an opinion piece on the subject below.

The Australian is still on the case of the AWB food-for-oil scandal, reporting that the US Government has punished the former Australian Wheat Board for its role in funnelling $290 million in kickbacks to Saddam Hussein by banning it from using US credit programs. It also reports that a league table showing which state offers offers the best deal for business has won the backing of Peter Costello; and that taxpayers have funded a sharp increase in the number of top federal bureaucrats, who have also received substantial pay rises.

The Age follows up last night's 7.30 Report story, reporting that Australia's ambassador to Japan has been implicated in the mishandling of an Australian-Chinese man used as an informal spy for Australia more than 25 years ago. It also reports that climate change was a significant long-term crisis requiring lifestyle changes, Governor-General Michael Jeffery warned yesterday; that the Victorian Government has spent more than $50,000 in legal fees over four years to fight Opposition freedom of information requests seeking details on major projects and advertising contracts; that the lawyer who acts for Carl Williams and some of Victoria's most prominent underworld figures faces jail after being found guilty of contempt of court; and that almost 15,000 people have registered their support of a national "do not contact" register in the past fortnight.

The Age also runs a long feature on the threat rising sea levels pose for Kakadu - "For a half-century, salt water has been creeping into Kakadu's world-renowned freshwater wetlands. On the East Alligator River alone, tidal creeks have edged inland four kilometres. By 2000, bare and saline mud flats had grown ninefold and two-thirds of the melaleuca forest had been killed by salt."


The Age: Robert Manne discusses Labor's perceived organisational problems, which he dismisses a being a barrier to electoral victory, before arguing that the industrial relations change present a real opportunity for Kim Beazley if he runs a serious, long-term campaign against them; Tim Colebatch thinks the IR changes will be introduced, but that there is much that Barnaby Joyce can do as a "one man house of review" to make them simpler and fairer; Bruce Wolpe (Fairfax spinner) says the anti-terrorism laws are a threat to journalism and freedom of speech, a position shared by other media publishers, and that without some inbuilt protections, should be defeated; and Tony Parkinson remembers the 30th anniversary, not of the Dismissal, but of Gough Whitlam's subsequent involvement in a "shameful" attempt to get money from Saddam Hussein to run Labor's 1975 election campaign.

The Australian: Steve Lewis reckons John Howard should declare his political intentions, says he believes Howard wants to stay on, and that there are real questions about Peter Costello's ability to make the transition to PM; James McConville, who says he is a leftie, makes the left-wing case against all workplace laws, which he says should be abolished, leaving the whole issue to the market, backed up by welfare; Phillip Adams thinks the media frenzy following the counter-terrorism raids was inevitable, but takes aim at the behaviour of police media units for providing Leni Riefenstahl-style footage to news outlets, and of politicians for standing beside police at press conferences; and Allan Gyngell and Malcolm Cook (Lowy Institute) argue that Australia has most to lose if APEC atrophies or disintegrates, and should work to revive it.

The SMH: Gerard Henderson says the riots in France are not caused by multiculturalism because the French do not believe in it, and that the policy has worked well in Australia; Louise Dodson takes on board a Lowy Institute paper on APEC and thinks it high time forum was updated; Neil Ormerod (theology professor) argues that intelligent design is an insult to God's intelligence (what about the rest of us?) and that it should be consigned to the dustbin of scientific and theological history; and Robert Manne, see Age above.


The Herald's lead reports that a Supreme Court jury was directed by Justice Roderick Howie yesterday to acquit three former senior FAI Insurance executives on charges of acting dishonestly as company officers in relation to a reinsurance arrangement in 1998. It also reports that billionaire businessman Graeme Hart could have a big job mopping up all of Carter Holt Harvey's minor shareholders; and that a bullish outlook for the $10 billion Australian advertising market was delivered yesterday, despite a continued slowdown in retail spending and possible cuts in ad budgets, due to the booming internet advertising market.

The Age reports that Virgin Blue is poised to launch an attack on Qantas today by revealing a joint frequent flyer scheme with Emirates and an associated credit card; and it runs a major feature on Qantas to mark its 85th birthday. The paper also reports that Kerry Stokes has made it abundantly clear how desperate he is to win back the footy rights, with his Seven Network taking steps to remove the AFL from the class action being played out in the Federal Court; and that profits have peaked for the insurance industry and the only way to go is down, a report says.

Stephen Bartholomeusz says Graeme Hart is facing a classic dilemma that will provide insight into his real thoughts about the prospects for Goodman Fielder and, perhaps, his larger corporate ambitions; and Bryan Frith finds it difficult to believe the rumours of a joint Macquarie Bank-Linfox rival bid for Chris Corrigan's Patrick Corp.


The Daily Telegraph: The Lucas Heights nuclear reactor has emerged as a potential target of Sydney's alleged terror cell, a police dossier reveals; A State MP who went on a taxpayer-funded study tour to Ireland and the US yesterday questioned the value of a Labor MP's visit to Malta.

The Herald-Sun: Australia's only nuclear reactor has emerged as a potential target of suspected terrorists allegedly urged by their Melbourne leader to inflict "maximum damage"; Workers will flood the city today to protest against new work laws despite moves by many employers to head off strike action.

The Courier-Mail: An unprecedented shutdown of southeast Queensland's public transport network was yesterday sparked by threats that a small package would explode on a bus or train; The Lucas Heights nuclear reactor in Sydney may have been a target of suspected terrorists allegedly urged by their leader to inflict "maximum damage" for the sake of jihad, it emerged yesterday.

The Advertiser: Frustrated Police Commissioner Mal Hyde wants new laws with harsh penalties - including mandatory prison sentences for repeat offenders - to combat drivers who deliberately engage patrols in high-speed road chases; Lleyton Hewitt and Andrew McLeod settled their court battle yesterday but their friendship still appears in tatters. The former best mates didn't acknowledge each other in Melbourne's Federal Court.

The West Australian: Some of WA's biggest builders have succumbed to fears of union reprisals by allowing workers to take part in today's protest rally over the Howard Government's industrial relations changes, declining the chance to sue them for striking illegally; Agriculture Minister Kim Chance and the Federal Opposition have called for an inquiry into Australia's quarantine watchdogs, alleging they are more worried about protecting trade than guarding the health of Australians.

The Mercury: A bomb scare at Parliament House in Hobart yesterday has sparked concerns about security measures for some of the state's most at-risk addresses; Tasmania's police commissioner, Richard McCreadie, is still considering whether to investigate the alleged Betfair bribery scandal involving Racing Minister Jim Cox and the Tasmanian Jockeys Association.


Australia has managed just one goal in 270 minutes of football against Uruguay, but inspirational Socceroos captain Mark Viduka says his side has the attacking power to get them to the World Cup finals for the first time since 1974; Swimming through the pain barrier is what dual Olympic 1500m freestyle champion Grant Hackett has done for almost a decade - but yesterday the 25-year-old announced a nagging shoulder injury which flared in July during the world championships would force him out of the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in March; Waratahs coach Ewen McKenzie believes his Test props, Al Baxter and Matt Dunning, have been unfairly singled out after the Wallabies' embarrassing scrummaging display against England and has rallied to defend the standard of Super 14 forwards.

[ category: ]

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

re: The Daily Briefing 15/11/05

Oscar Werring: "...the teensy font in the "round-up" is a strain."

... I'll second that!

ed Hamish: noted guys, and thanks for the feedback. I'll put it to those who can do.

re: The Daily Briefing 15/11/05

I'm rapt with your news wrap, Wayne, but the teensy font in the "round-up" is a strain.

re: The Daily Briefing 15/11/05

Thanks Trevor, that's a good resource.

I have had a play with today's (Fri 18/11/2005) Daily Briefing early edition. Check it out and let me know if it is any better.

re: The Daily Briefing 15/11/05

Kerri, I found good tips at Dive Into Accessibility.

As for Mr Woodforde, I sympathise. How much have I spent on various combinations of expensive ocular correctives? No more! Try the $2 shops. At $3.50 to $5 for readers in different strengths, you can have a pair beside the bed, at the desk, in the car, etc. I can't see what's wrong with them, providing the eyeballs aren't dissimilar.

re: The Daily Briefing 15/11/05

'Pologies about the font size Oscar, Simon and other squinters (like me). This particular edition was glitch ridden. Monsieur Woodforde has just written personally expressing optical dissatisfaction with the typeface and colour also. Et tu?

All requests for alterations gladly received. Immediate delivery, however, is not guaranteed as a substantial proportion of The Daily Briefing is produced off-site.

Immediate options include: No colour or an alternate colour behind the "In the Papers" section, and/or a sans-serif font for either just that section or the entire entry (as per the rest of Webdiary).

We aim to please. Suggestion box now open.

re: The Daily Briefing 15/11/05

Trevor Kerr, thanks for the Mozilla tip! ... Works a treat!

re: The Daily Briefing 15/11/05

Chalabi, was it not he who has demanded our AWB to pay "back" the 230 million paid to the Jordanian shipping company and funnelled apparently to Saddam? Chalabi, known for feeding Judith Miller such interesting WMD gush, and caught by the US in a relationship with Iran that was not appreciated, seems to have nine lives and forever a player despite being such a known dirty dealer and convicted con-artist . Here is some more, from another 'Wayne':

"Ahmad Chalabi, the world's most prolific liar and thief, attended homecoming yesterday at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a neo-con citadel where the likes of Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen, and Lynne Cheney hang their hats.

Chalabi, who makes Joe Isuzu look like Honest Abe Lincoln, said he never fed the US false intelligence to coax it into a war in Iraq. He also denied he passed classified US cryptographic intelligence to the Iranians. Using standard neo-con language, Chalabi dismissed these charges as an "urban myth."

Chalabi met with his good friends Condoleezza Rice, Treasury Secretary John Snow (couldn't be about the counterfeit currency Chalabi was caught with), and Stephen Hadley (who's still reportedly a target in Patrick Fitzgerald's probe of the White House). Chalabi also has a meeting scheduled with Vice President Dick Cheney. Now what would the Iraqi Minister and the former (and still paid) CEO of Halliburton be discussing?"

Now that the US have reinstated the AWB's US branch, one has to ask whether the AWB are paying the demanded amount into Mr Chalabi's coffers. And where it goes from there.

re: The Daily Briefing 15/11/05

Mozilla users aren't troubled by small (or large) fonts. Ctrl (+) or (-) does the job with one Trujillo-like click. Telstra will regret backing away from open-source.

Wasn't Bill Leak's 'The sedition edition' a beauty? Walkley class.

You've put together something for everybody, today, Wayne. I wonder, though, if the art & lit reviews could be kept separate from the ephemeral headline stuff?

re: The Daily Briefing 15/11/05


Alexander Downer, Once more with feeling.... LATELINE 18/07/2003 “Downer confident of Iraq weapons' intelligence
One of the key players in the coalition of the willing remains confident that the intelligence was sound and that the actual weapons of mass destruction will be found in occupied Iraq.”

Ahem. Once more, with feeling. Tony Jones’ List also makes fascinating reading.

Downer, for all his posturing with the clever boys’n’ girls of DFUNCT, is one of nature’s f**kwits.

Finding WMD’s apparently, will be no more difficicult than finding all the napalm charred corpses of Arab babies (“insurgents”) roasted alive, and lying neatly in their cots.

Could we find those too, please Alexander?

Maybe we could eventually add this to the Ma Jones' list, as soon as we’re over fumbling through one of the 21st Century’s least necessary battlegrounds.

Our noxious little twerp was running the US chickenhawks’ line months before the invasion.

Just back from Washington with his poisonous brief, Downer could not be shut up, so excited was he. These English Public School fags are always so eager.

Maybe with his distinguished neoCon co-worker in warmongering and profiteering, Achmad Chalabi, Downer may well be forever tacked onto the Mother Jones “Bush's Wall of Shame, ‘honoring those who have blundered, lied, manipulated, and broken the law’ on the road to Iraq.” (Cited by GREGG BLOCHE & JONATHAN MARKS/NYTIMES)

Sure, Saddam is going, going, gone (but not the paperwork) and only about 100,000 are dead – a mere bagatelle.

And meanwhile, Downer is puffing and farting his way around Pusan, safe as houses, darlings. Like a pet gerbil stuck up Donald Rumsfeld’s arse, nibbling its way towards the tiny morsel of brain.

But the dead hand of Howardism-Hansonism is rotting away in this pot of Australian political stew – race hate, bigotry, greed, woeful, blighted ignorance, wonky appreciation of almost every tenet of government intelligence relationships and ultra wobbly economics.

But at least we might all say we “felt liberated” when we “saw the bombs falling” and make a nice little quid on the side, if we knew the Right people.

Why merely be a “Howard-hater” when you may cordially despise his entire party political structure, right down to the shite it grows in?

One must loathe these people, as one loathes reptile poison, or that stupid nonce Tomb Belair or a faeces smear on some Chamber of Commerce ogre’s creamy $400 shirt cuff.

It isn’t some kind of negative state of mind – it’s merely a defence mechanism. An extra layer of moral armour, if you like, or added weaponry.

[sedition comin’ up] It don’ take from yez, it gives yez sustenance and a steady, deadly accurate trigger finger.

Whereof yez sends slashing fusillades of hot lead (or depleted uranium) into the bloated belly of the beast. [sedition ends]

Peter Kropotkin Woodforde

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
© 2005-2011, Webdiary Pty Ltd
Disclaimer: This site is home to many debates, and the views expressed on this site are not necessarily those of the site editors.
Contributors submit comments on their own responsibility: if you believe that a comment is incorrect or offensive in any way,
please submit a comment to that effect and we will make corrections or deletions as necessary.
Margo Kingston Photo © Elaine Campaner

Recent Comments

David Roffey: {whimper} in Not with a bang ... 12 weeks 6 days ago
Jenny Hume: So long mate in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 9 hours ago
Fiona Reynolds: Reds (under beds?) in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 2 days ago
Justin Obodie: Why not, with a bang? in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 2 days ago
Fiona Reynolds: Dear Albatross in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 2 days ago
Michael Talbot-Wilson: Good luck in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 2 days ago
Fiona Reynolds: Goodnight and good luck in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 3 days ago
Margo Kingston: bye, babe in Not with a bang ... 14 weeks 10 hours ago