Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

Month: December, 2016

The Black War

The Black War: Fear, Sex and Resistance in Tasmania by Nicholas Clementsclements-the-black-war

The Black War is the name given to the conflict between the indigenous population of Tasmania and their conflict with the European settlers. It ran from around 1824 to 1831 and represents both the largest military operation on Australian soil and a brutal guerrilla conflict. It also featured fear, lust, paranoia and despair on both sides.

The most striking feature of this book is that every chapter is equally divided between telling the story of Whites and Blacks. This clever device allows Clements’ to explore, explain and ultimately sympathise with both sides.

Lest anyone be confused, or willing to believe indulgent lies, the moral scales are heavily weighted in one direction. The Tasmanian aborigines lived for 33’000 years on this remote island, yet survived barely 30 more after white colonialists arrived. They faced not only the destruction of their lives, but also their cultures, their way of life. The final years must have been as miserable as any people have lived, in the face of a relentless and ever strengthening opponent.

Read the full article »

Deep Work

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World  by Cal Newport newport-deep-work

A common refrain from high achieving new parents is that having kids has made them more productive at work. With less hours in the day to control, their time in the office is used more effectively. But as I’ve found over the last year of fatherhood, that doesn’t happen automatically.

‘Deep’ work, that is focused concentrated work at the upper edges of your cognitive performance is hard. And if you’re tired or distracted by family, office mundanity or the internet it’s very easy to spend long times not doing deep work.

You can even be productive and fool yourself into believing you’ve hit that zone. For calendar year 2016 I’ve published five academic papers, but in truth there’s issues with at least 3 of them and I’m only really proud of one of them. All the while sending countless emails, supervising students, administering a Masters program, teaching two courses, writing blogs and op-eds, co-editing a policy paper series and an academic journal and writing several (unsuccessful) grant applications.

This is work, and lots of it, but it’s not the life of the mind I’d envisaged academia to be. Much of it is ‘shallow’ in the sense of helping sustain my job rather than advancing it. Nor is it entirely satisfying. Cal Newport, another young father and academic (computer science at Georgetown University, Washington DC), however has an answer: Deep Work.
Read the full article »

A Savage War

williamson_savage_warA Savage War: A Military History of the Civil War by Williamson Murray, Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh

In summer 2012 I took a horse and buggy ride through Lexington, Virginia. As we moved around the town, the lady leading the tour pointed to the houses and buildings which Union soldiers had burned in 1864. And she was still pissed about it.

I’ve never quite understood her attitude, but now at least thanks to Murray and Hsieh I know why the damage occurred. It was a distraction operation under General David Hunter, to draw Confederate eyes away from Grant’s main thrust, while also helping to bring the war to the people of the rebellion.

While I’ve read several accounts of Lincoln and the war, my military knowledge of it is admittedly weak. Despite my profession, I tend not to read military history. Too often I find the genre focused on the actions of incredible, but insignificant individual soldiers. Which is fun in the same way an action movie is, but the real meat for me has always been the politics of conflict. Namely the interplay of strategy, leadership and logistics upon which wars —not just battles— are won or lost.
Read the full article »