Chasing the Norm

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

Tag: Books

iPads and the changing nature of reading

Over at Margaret Simon’s excellent blog The Content Makers, she has an interesting post up about technology and the changing way we are reading:

I suspect that the e-readers will merely speed up existing trends, rather than changing rules of the game. And the existing trends? More niche media targetting smaller interest groups, and more interaction between content providers and audience members. All this implies a more intense connection between audiences and media outlets, which may mean a greater preparedness to pay for some kinds of content – if it is good enough, and if it can’t be easily obtained elsewhere.

But I very much doubt that large numbers of people will pay for newspapers on the iPad if all they offer is commodotised news that is also freely available elsewhere.I agree that this will be the year in which e-readers become mainstream, and soon much of our reading will be done on such devices. Books will become “special” objects, rather than utilitarian.

I think the biggest shift is likely to be what we consider the activity of ‘reading’ to be. Sure we all say we ‘read’ the ingredients on the back of a cereal box, but when we use the word most of us would still conjure up images of sitting, alone, on a couch or on your bed for a substantial period of time with a book in hand.

Yet, while I still love that idea, and try to do so when I have a book good enough to compel it, I no longer think of reading in such terms. Instead I’m finding that the distinction between mediums is breaking down. When reading online it makes no difference if was written as a newspaper article, magazine article, blog post or book extract as we formerly knew them. If I am consuming written media, I am reading, and I do so seamlessly moving between short, medium and long pieces as my attention fancies. An evening reading might involve 10+ short articles, one long piece of journalism and 200 pages of whatever half-read book I need to finish soon and have closest to hand. With paper mediums, that’s a difficult task to consume so much, with digital mediums, its very very easily (especially when I have twitter and rss feeds sending it straight to me). However even that last connection to moving your eyes over written words is evaporating too. I caught myself the other day saying to a friend that I had ‘just read’ Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘The Tipping Point’. Only I hadn’t. Gladwell had read it to me via an audio book as I walked to work. I know the same amount of info, I finished the book in the usual time, and I got a similar pleasure & distraction from the real world from it. I read it, I just didn’t read.

Reading to me is becoming more like breathing oxygen than sitting down for a meal. Rather than heavy doses when I have the time, I find myself simply reading whenever I am not being forced to do something else with my entire focus (talking to others or in the shower seem about it). Books may be seen as losing their special status in such a view, but most books (esp non-fiction) are far too long anyway, and no article can ever approach the understanding gained, emotional attachment or carefully crafted prose of a top quality book. Homo litterarius has arrived.

10 Books that influenced me most

Whenever I’m at someones house, I always like to sneak a peak at their book shelf. Which books take pride of place, which lost on a bottom shelf with a book mark 1/5th of the way in, and which do they seemed to have read again and again till the bindings have fallen away. So I’ve enjoyed the posts by Yglesias and Cowen on the 10 books that have influenced their thinking the most. Given that our politicians have started to reveal their reading lists, here are my 10, and hopefully other Australian bloggers will give this a whirl: (Update: Andrew Norton and Ben Jones have posted their lists. Let me know if you post yours/know of other Australian bloggers doing so.)

1. John Stuart Mill – On Liberty : The first time I read Mill’s harm principle, via a dog-eared 2nd hand copy on a bus home was a lightning strike moment. Where I had trended social-democrat, my thinking suddenly coalesced to liberalism. The clarity, the reasoning, the humanity, both in a call for freedom & the responsibility to use that were breathtaking. One of my most treasured possessions is a large, 8 volume collected works of Mill, and while his autobiography is a gem (esp on the development & change of ideas one *should* have over a lifetime) the 130 or so pages of On Liberty are unbeatable.

Read the full article »

What will the Abbott Opposition look like?

tony_abbott2 By 1 vote in the party room Tony Abbott has defeated Malcolm Turnbull to lead the Liberal Party. So what can we expect from his time as opposition leader?

Federalism: In his book Abbott makes a strong case that federalism is broken, that the conservative position ought to be to do something, and that the incompetence and irrelevance of the states leaves no choice but to place health and education (amongst others) under Commonwealth control. Whilst stepping back from his earlier call to get rid of the states, Abbott suggests that if a Government can pass a bill in both houses twice, separated by 6 months, then it should be able to override the states, in the way it can with the territories currently. This move would be tough to sell for a referendum, but if proposed Labor would be fools not to jump at the chance. Equally, an Abbott opposition offers by far the best chance for a Rudd/Gillard Government to really deliver an era of ‘New Federalism’. And by that I mean Centralisation.

Health: Abbott as the former health minister is deeply tied to the Howard governments approach. While his support for private schools may limit his support for centralisation in Education, under Howard Abbott regularly argued for a federal government take over of the system, and was the key proponent by the last-minute takeover of the Mercy Community hospital in Tasmania. Abbott also supports the idea of a paid maternity leave (though seems to prefer a Baby Bonus style one off handout). Roxon got the better of Abbott on health in 2007 so if her re-design of the system is strong, this should be a issue Labor would love to talk about, without it being a major vote changer.
Abbott may try to tie such discussions to the issue of Indigenous health & living standards in general, an issue he shows genuine concern for. His policy prescriptions are likely to be of the paternalistic variety (with a dash of Pearson entrepreneurialism thrown in), however it could demonstrate to voters a more emotive side to him than previously recognised. Not necessarily huge vote winner, but could soften up some voters to him.

Abortion: While Abbott has a rather extreme image to much of the public, he would be able to gain immediate credit and re-newed attention simply by making clear his actual views of abortion. While he disagree’s with the principle, he see’s draws a clear line between efforts to reduce australias 75’000+ abortions a year and efforts to re-criminalise it. Equally, he seems to recognize that his own past (a child out of wedlock, reputation as a ladies man), mean that he doesn’t have a good basis for being a moraliser. His views are most clearly set out in his 2004 speech “The Ethical Responsibilities of a Christian Politician”. This is still an issue that has great potential to get Abbott in trouble, but he isn’t the extremist he is often made out to be. He’s more like a Bill Clinton, who thinks abortion should be ‘Safe, Legal, and rare’. A pretty hard statement to disagree with. The rhetoric may frighten some on the left, but that over-reaction could if anything help Abbott with the mainstream.

Welfare: In welfare, the difference between Abbott’s conservative and liberal instincts is clearly apparent. As a Conservative, Abbott recognises the cost of raising families and the benefit of stable incomes, proposing to add significant extra levels of support (such as a guaranteed minimum income) and removal of almost all means tests due to the hideous marginal tax rates that apply as incomes rise and welfare is taken away. Yet as a Liberal Abbott also worries that welfare distorts peoples principles, and for the poor drives them towards poor moral choices such as a life of ease on unemployment benefits. As such he seemingly endorses universal welfare for all but the poor, with untold and uncalculated costs accumulated to the federal government to provide for all this. If Rudd went hard on cutting middle class welfare he could trip up the contradiction between Abbott’s complaints about debt and his desire for expanded welfare. Likely instead he would race him to offer even bigger handouts.

Foreign Policy: The great unknown. Abbott touches on the issue very briefly in his book, but it’s the usual boilerplate stuff of supporting the US, taking the fight to the terrorists, and supporting the Howard Government’s great leap into East Timor. He’ll probably go along with the foreign policy direction of the Govt, take a few opportunistic pot-shots where possible, but otherwise leave it to his foreign minister. If he starts getting hit on the issue by the commentariat, expect him to retreat to nationalism and supporting increased defence funding to prove his strength in the area. If Abbott started getting closer in the polls to Rudd, expect a strong retaliation on the issue of who is better at handling international issues (and going with the consensus on climate change is relevant here). Abbott will have to hit the books to be taken seriously, and needs to hire a good foreign policy advisor as one of his first acts.

Climate Change: The only reason we are discussing the rise of an Abbott leadership is because he is the most recognisable face of the anti-CPRS movement inside the Liberals. Obviously his position is dependent on those outright deniers such as Minchin (Abbott seems to have taken just about every position on this issue), so he will seek a lengthy delay and more generous handouts for the CPRS. More important will be his ability to control the pro-ets senators such as Troeth, Humphries, Trood etc. Despite winning due to support from climate deniers, Abbott surely knows the electoral risk of the CPRS, so he may propose some alternate form (A carbon tax could be appealing) to placate the supporters and appear to be serious about the issue for the public. But have no doubt, he is willing to fight, and hard against Rudd’s CPRS. He already road tested a number of lines against it, so expect to hear the words “giant new tax on everything” consistently for the next 9 months.

Rhetoric and Strategy: While Abbott came to the leadership because of his opposition to the CPRS, he has a moderate view of the role of oppositions, writing in his book: “An oppositions job is to clarify its own thinking rather than actually to govern the country… What is the point of opposing legislation when it is likely to pass anyway….There’s much to be said for adopting the view that the government is generally entitled to get its legislation through, because thats what the people voted for” (Battlelines 2009 p53). Recognising the harm Beazley’s constant oppositionism did to him, and the harm Workchoices did to the Howard Government, i’d expect a Abbott opposition to voice constant complain, whilst generally stuttering that they will give the government the noose to hang itself.

Abbott’s not a bad speaker, he doesn’t mince words and uses plain language. It could appeal strongly compared to Rudd’s detailed linguistic specificity. He does have a slight stutter as he thinks about what to say, and I’ve yet to hear him give a really impressive or inspiring speech. He is best at press conferences, which is handy as that is where most of our political discussion comes from. He will make the occasional inarticulate gaffe, and say a lot of things that will drive segments of the left crazy, but his policies are likely to be pretty conventional. It’s not a bad act, similar to what Howard pulled. (Interesting the left rarely seems to do this, showing the rights rhetorical domination in recent decades). On that issue, as his first press conference as leader showed, a great rhetorical challenge for Abbott will be to claim the credit for what the Howard government did well, without being too tied to it, or looking like he is just advocating its return, as Labor will charge (it already is with its first -online- add “Dont Go Back”)

It will be easy to over-estimate the radicalness of Abbott as leader, but he will end up earning brownie points from the public for being more moderate than they were lead to believe. I doubt he can win, but he will be a tough leader to beat. Despite his years in the ministry, I have a feeling Australia doesn’t really know Abbott, or will at least give him a honest second look. So expect some volatility and change compared to this weeks polls. (When done here, you should follow that link to check Possum’s excellent breakdown of the post-split polls)

Abbott is a very committed, hard working and decent bloke. He spends a lot of his time helping charity/volunteer groups, he keeps himself fit and healthy, and he is passionate about public life and improving the country. Rudd in comparison could come off badly as a nerdy spin machine. That shouldn’t happen given the governments domination, but if Abbott can survive to face a second election he will be a real threat. I’m certainly look forward to this election. For all my political disagreements with Abbott, I rather like the guy. He’ll infuriate, he’ll make the Liberal Party a much more conservative beast, but he will be offering a clear and strongly believed alternative.

Book Review: The March of Patriots by Paul Kelly

The March of Patriots: The Struggle for Modern Australia by Paul Kelly Melbourne:Melbourne University Press $69.95 rrp
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I had the good fortune of attending a lecture by Paul Kelly tonight on his book and Australian politics, so I figured this was a good incentive to polish off my review of his book which I promised over a month ago. His speech was largely a re-emphasis of the books main argument, or defence of some of its views, but where relevant I’ll add in his updated thoughts, indicated with a *.

One of the hardest tasks for writers of politics is to see how close you can get to normal events, whilst producing something substantial. Journalists are used to having most of their work quickly forgotten and in that temporariness, can find a freedom to formulate and re-formulate how they see the world. But for those producing something longer, a book, a thesis, there is an expectation that you can both obtain enough distance to properly observe an event and its characters, and still getting it out before the public demand for insight fades. In his earlier book ‘The End of Certainty’ Kelly charted the economic reforms of the Hawke/Keating Government, and yet his best formulation was not what they did, but defining what they removed via the concept of an ‘Australian Settlement’. Kelly’s latest idea is that Keating and Howard are best seen as Australian patriots, whose similarities are greater than their differences. Unfortunately its not quite so catchy, and his colleague George Megalogenis got there first with ‘The Longest Decade’ (and arguably proved the similarity thesis better).

Given Kelly’s conservatism, it is remarkable that this is actually his first book on the conservative side of politics. Despite the joint images on the title, Kelly devotes around 1/3 or 225 pages to Keating’s 5 years, and 2/3’s or 400 pages to Howard’s first 5 years, promising a second volume to come covering 2001-2007. The numbers give a fair ratio of his biases. Where Howard and Keating overlap on economics he is broadly supportive, even downright impressed by Keating’s bravery and genius, likewise on Asian Engagement as a Foreign Policy objective. Where they differ, on nationalism, culture, war, Kelly comes down firmly on Howard’s side. While there are already a number of books on Howard, the March of Patriots is going to become a cornerstone for interpreting the administration.

In Howard, Kelly sees four key impulses at work (1) Economic Liberalism, (2) Social Conservatism (3) Cultural Traditionalism (4) National Security vigilance. The first two are common wisdom, and the latter easily discernible though usefully brought together here. I’m less convinced by his claim that Howard isn’t a neo-liberal. There is of course a difference between rhetoric and policy, but given that Kelly awards the term of Cultural traditionalist to Howard whilst admitting his policy achievements in this area are ‘threadbare’*, it seems odd that he ignores so much of the rhetorical trend towards free-marketeerism under Howard. Indeed Kelly has said he deliberately ignored a lot of the politics so as to focus on the policy/governance issues, but both are significant to understand a governments thoughts. The Howard government relentlessly sold the idea that the unhindered market was the best way to run economic policy, and its occasional reticence (such as with banking or communications regulation) or their popularism (middle class welfare) doesn’t necessarily prove otherwise. In private Kelly argues Howard and Costello rejected the self-correcting market theory, which is largely true of the legislation that passed (via an a largely hostile senate) but had Howard enjoyed Senate control at the beginning of his government, not its tired final term, history’s judgement may have been very different.

In terms of foreign policy, Kelly makes a far bolder claim in both book and person that Howard “pioneered the idea of Australia as a regional leader”*. This is an interesting claim, in that Australians have always been reticent about claiming that Australia could lead this region. We have a profoundly different culture, history, background and way of life. Kelly points to the case of E.Timor as the first time Australia took the lead in a military role. However this downplays Australia’s role in creating APEC, encouraging the Cambodian peacekeeping, and advocacy on preventing WMD non-proliferation in the region. The Australian Government may have titled the policy as ‘Engagement’ but to my mind, it was an unabashed effort at positioning for and achieving regional leadership, under a much more PR friendly label. To grant Howard the credit seems to miss the critical set-up work that he inherited (though Kelly quotes Downer and others stressing the critical importance of Hawke/Keating’s creation of APEC to achieving success in E.Timor) The Foreign policy story is also incomplete, with the book ending at the unfortunate pivot point of 2001, which marks the end of the major economic policies, but fits half way between the big changes in Foreign Policy. For that I guess we will just have to wait…

Kelly’s book is in some ways hard to criticize. He lives up to his pledge* to focus on policy issues over the politics. His central thesis that Keating and Howard were both focused on restoring Australian patriotism, and had more in common than divided them/suited their parties to acknowledge is eminently defendable. But this insiders tale, with immaculate access to the powerful, also feels somewhat hollow. Kelly doesn’t manage to capture or even attempt to define the anger or resentment many in the public felt towards Howard. But you can’t understand Howard and Keating’s story without understanding the often ambivalent, sometimes hostile public reaction to them. Both men were loved within their tribes, hated by the other, and often polarised most of the public at various times of their leadership. Kelly perhaps rightly knows his argument that what unites them is more important is controversial, however it is notable how little popular sentiment seems to be considered, and his almost outright dismissal for their being any legitimate base of anger at Howard from the left. This is a sin by omission rather than fault, and one not unique to his book, but I think significant to understand the environment Keating and Howard were operating in. In fact even if limited to Howard, this would have been a big improvement (and given Kelly’s previous work on Keating and the proliferation of books on his government, this may have been better served as a book solely on Howard over his entire administration.)

Kelly is for better or worse Australia’s Bob Woodward (who traded in his watergate credentials for a white house all-access-pass). This insider status grants amazing access to the powerful, with often revealing interviews. These interviews let the major players speak for themselves, sometimes even hang themselves with their own claims, but it’s traded for a very conventional level of analysis. Indeed Kelly’s book screams conventional in its analysis, a thought only tempered by the knowledge that it was probably Kelly who set the common wisdom which everyone else has come to endorse. Where he speaks or acts, the press typically follows. For political junkies and close followers, Kelly’s book is a must read. There is not much that is brand new, but the book is very well researched, organised and its focus on policy over politics a welcome change, whilst in an very readable format.

Not Evil, Just Human…

In an amazing find, a video has popped up on Youtube offering a fleeting image of Anne Frank (posted by the official museum, so its verified).

Last year I did the Australian thing backpacking around Europe, and in our travels visited Amsterdam and the Anne Frank House. I hadn’t read the book, but having been quickly devoured a copy just in time for our second WW2 related tour, of the concentration camp Dachau, near Munich in Germany. Visiting the camp brought into focus something I had only begun to glimpse at via Frank’s diary: That the people had to have known what was going on. Germany has made very admirable efforts to account for its past, but the people in the towns and villages around the camps, or in the big cities with soldiers marching by had to have known what was going on. Where they didn’t know, it was because it was easier not to know, it was safer not to know. But it was known. It was, in Rumsfeld’s great phrase a unknown known. Hitler ran a violent, disciplined and utterly totalitarian regime. But his power was still utterly dependent on the will of the people. The people granted him the legitimacy that the legal documents claimed. They accepted the rules and order via their compliance. They were responsible. Anne Frank and her family died after a neighbour turned them in. History (thankfully) has lost the record of who it was. It does however record the names of those who sheltered and protected them, but they were the rare and brave exceptions, in what was seen at the time as one of the most modern countries on earth.

If the concept of natural evil makes effectively zero sense as an explanation for deadly landslides, earthquakes and tsunami’s, the idea of human evil seems to me to make almost no more. The Nazi’s were not the most repressive or violent aka “evil” people that ever lived. They simply brought organised, industrialization, and discipline to the task of genocide. Where human error normally weakens plans both good or bad, the Nazi’s built in redundancies. Redundancies so that the great ovens never had to stop burning, that work didn’t go missing, that camps didn’t run empty. They were expressing views of discrimination and purity that are as old as the human species, and common to the animal kingdom. To call this ‘evil’ is to claim some unwordly or non-human influence. As if it seeped into their blood and minds and thereby excuses them of their acts. The evil man is hardly a man. This may be soothing, but it is only by an act of hiding. Most of the worlds faithful would dismiss as child like the idea of spirits or deamons taking over the body of a person and causing them to act strangely, but calling someone or some group evil is no different.

The Memorial at Dachau

The Memorial at Dachau

We give such acts a name like evil because we don’t want to believe they could be possibly carried out by a human. But this just weakens our ability to understand, and to prevent occurring again. Words like evil are soothing, because they let us name, they let us categorise, they let us define it as something ‘other’ or ‘non-human’. What the Nazi’s did will remain a stain on the human consciousness long after the last co-operator or agent of the regime has died (likely in the next decade). But it was carried out by ordinary men and women, as human as you or I. They lived in houses like ours, had partners like ours, ate the same food and drank the same drinks as we do. They were human, not us, but not something foreign either. Only when we realise this, can we get a proper grasp on the enormity of the Holocaust, of the rise of fascism and totalitarian societies such as in the USSR, Mao’s China or under the Khumer Rouge of Cambodia. Only then can we realise the importance of each of us regularlly committing to try and rid any similar such elements from our own societies, and those around us. To not simply accept and go along with the flow. Each and every one of us believes that if we saw evil emerging we would recognise it and denounce it. But when the United States started torturing suspects after 9/11, how many stepped up to condemn it? How many still excuse it for reasons of circumstance, or refer back to the essential goodness of the Americans, and the horrific intentions and designs of those who seek to attack them in the name of Islam. By making ‘Evil’ a sensible part of your world view, you lose almost all ability to make rational decisions about your own sides actions, about the complexity and shades of grey that this world forces on us, each and every day. The word and idea of evil obscures thought, obscures morality, and gives false comfort when none should be offered. The concept of evil is one of the most morally destructive ideas in human history and ought to be done away with as rapidly as possible.

If you haven’t yet, go read Anne Frank’s Diaries. They’re about the best common sense view of the war possible. Maybe with this amazing footage now up on Youtube a new generation will be inspired to go read her story.

Photo used under a creative commons licence by user edwin.11

The Fight for Gillard

Perusing the newsagents this afternoon I noticed the October edition of The Monthly has a column reviewing Jacqueline Kent’s new biography of Julia Gillard (which I review here). The review says pretty much the same things I do, but what is noteworthy is that under the very weak defence of “biography wars”, the review was written by Chris Wallace the author of a soon to be released unauthorised biography on Gillard. Crikey has picked up the story, quoting Penguin’s editor Ben Ball who describes it as a “complete disgrace…shocking. ….This is the most sinister hook The Monthly have ever used to lure its readers”.

Crikey also note that on Wallace’s own site (an excellent collection of links to the days big stories) Breakfast Politics, the top story is her own review, something I had missed in my mid morning pre-coffee stupor. While there is a clear conflict of interest at work here, I think Penguin’s anger is more concocted than anything else. Book reviews should be done by other knowledgeable authors, so Wallace could offer something fresh as a reviewer. Kent’s book is solid but ultimately unsatisfying for a political audience (which The Monthly serves), so similar criticisms were likely to appear anyway. Their real fear is the loss of sales from that fact being known. Making a book review the cover story speaks more of the current interest in Gillard and paucity of material in this months edition of The Monthly, than evidence of a sinister desire to fool readers (Indeed Wallace notes it in the beginning of her review).

Rather, the real fault of Wallace’s is that having claimed the virtue of independence that outsider status grants (Kent got 3 interviews with the big G, Wallace none), she fails to deliver any worthy new tibits or hard hitting pieces of analysis. Surely these are being saved up for the book, but given that Gillard is such a careful and frankly bland character, it rather suggests she doesn’t have anything bold and new. If you want to be anti-establishment you have to show some teeth. Otherwise why bother. I doubt that this minor minor controversy will get The Monthly higher sales (I ended up dropping it back into the newsagent stands), but the new editor Ben Naparstek is showing he is willing to play for ratings. Given the great challenge of maintaining a political/literary magazine in Australia when literally thousands are giving their opinion and comment away for free (like me – but I’m willing to sell out!), it certainly can’t hurt and probably recommends the choice of one so young and inexperienced to run the magazine.

Either way, for an ethically fair review of the new biography of Kent simply click this link. Given the attention (and that my gillard review has been one of the most viewed posts here recently) I’ll be sure to purchase and review Wallace’s book when it comes out. Maybe then I’ll get a bit of a hold on our next PM, something Kent stumbles before the alter of admiration in doing.

The Making of Julia Gillard Book Review

The Making of Julia Gillard by Jacqueline Kent Melbourne: Penguin Group $36.99 rrp

Near the end of the book, the author Jacqueline Kent notes that amongst Canberra’s press gallery, there’s the view that the ALP currently offers a ‘boringly united front’ (she’s nice enough to pretend only one Journo holds it). Despite the promise of nearly 300 pages of analysis and insight into the country’s Deputy Prime Minister, Gillard remains the same sharp, cker but reserved figure she appears on the news.
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The most interesting part of the book -by far- is the detail of Gillard’s early student activism, though the authors unfailing support lets her get away with glib answers about it, such as her time in the Socialist Forum. Seemingly just a quasi-think tank that Gillard used as a useful network whilst fighting in amongst the Victorian ALP left wings, it is about as close to a juicy story as the book offers up (real live commies!). Other potential juicy stories such as her 2002 relationship with Small Business Minister Craig Emerson (who was married with kids when it began) are dealt with in just over a page, likewise for the pre-leaked story about Lindsay Tanner trying to block Gillard’s rise. (He saw her as a rival, anything further is never really discussed, and no one speaks out against each other).

When I first saw the cover of the book(up on the right), I hated it. I even had to hide the book in my bag before going to lunch with a few of my mates. It is the Vogue magazine, Vaseline blurred photo cover that adorns chick lit and screams ‘I’m only skin deep’. The choice may have been by some unconnected editor, but it fits. This is in many ways not Jacqueline Kent’s fault. She writes very well, includes enough detail for the interested reader to understand the context without getting bogged down, but she has precious little to work with. Kent not only doesn’t manage to get into Gillard’s dirty linen, she doesn’t even seem to want to. Either way, Gillard hides herself well, and clearly no one wanted to go on (or off) the record to trash the most powerful woman in the country and likely next Prime Minister.

Kent’s book is well placed to meet the fascination slowly bubbling up within the political class and the wider public about Gillard, however readers are likely to come away disappointed as there seems to be very little more to Julia than what impressions you may have already formed. Her work is clearly her life, she is a stubborn fighter for the issues she believes in (Education, Immigration, and recently “productivity”) and she has made a successful fusion of being a laid back aussie with razor sharp nerdish smarts, an act her boss constantly manages to fumble (Only giving you a fair shake of the sauce bottle there kev!). But though the highest ranked member of the Left in over 20 years, she comes across as quite conservative and perhaps too pragmatic. After 300 pages I still have no idea how a Gillard Administration would differ from Rudd’s.

Gillard’s rise into parliament and then to deputy, is one more of doggardness than calculated Machiavellianism. She seems to have served her time, shown such intellect, capability and enough few core principles, that it seems almost inevitable that she would move ahead. Right now the argument seems the same for her sliding into the PM’s seat. Though you get a feeling that for all her dedication, if it never happened Gillard would have “had a glass of red wine, a cry and moved on”, which seems her answer to just about all life’s setbacks. A great attitude, but one that doesn’t lend itself to the subject of good biographies. With such source material Kent never really had a chance, but unfortunately also doesn’t seem to have had the willingness to open any wounds to try and find out. The photo cover well represents the word picture inside. Almost all biographers need to prove their loyalty in order to get access and support, but they also need enough gossip and insider stories in order to give their readers something more than they can get in the daily news. Kent has clearly gone the Bob Woodward route of trading less opinion for more access, but she doesn’t get far enough inside to justify the bargain.

If you follow politics closely, it probably wouldn’t hurt to add this book to your library, but it’s probably a better choice as a Christmas gift to a bright young niece or cousin who you’d like to encourage. Gillard’s story is a very Australian, and inspiring one. She clearly works twice as hard as anyone around her, she’s sharp, pragmatic and takes a stoic view of life, assuming Labor doesn’t monumentally f**k thing’s up, she will be our first female Prime Minister. She has already made history, already gone so far, but in life and literature, her story is yet to be fully written.

Market State ? How about My State?

Over at The Interpreter Sam Roggeveen and Hugh White have been discussing their views on the work of Phillip Bobbitt, author of ‘The Shield of Achilles‘ (on the 1914-1990 war between Parliamentary Democracy and Fascism/Communism) and ‘Terror and Consent‘ (on fighting in an era of globalised Terrorism).
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Both are important books, and worth reading, though as Sam notes difficult to finish without perseverance. There are moments of brilliance in each. Bobbitt is very good at noting the importance of structure to the actions of agents, both of the state (from city states to Market states) and its challenges (from pirates to terrorists). But as Hugh White notes, it’s sometimes too easy to grant a predictability to established structures. Yet if anything I don’t think that White goes far enough, in that he still talks of states reacting to circumstances, rather than the other challenge that Bobbitt’s Market State idea seems to introduce (though he leaves it aside), that states functions may be outsourced to economic institutions and so reduced from geographic structures to metaphysical identities. If we are entering a period where the states role is less protection, but more about providing opportunities, then why should the place I seek identity from and within, be the same place that gives me economic opportunities?

With economics destined to be handled at the continental (witness the EU/NAFTA) or perhaps even global level, individuals are freed to move, shape and argue for much clearer and more delineated cultural, ethnic and social re-organisation. Rather than the era of enlightened cosmopolitanism capitalists hope for, but rather one where as economic trans-national groupings grow in size and compete, with citizens seeking to join those with the best opportunities, the identity groups we attach ourselves can safely shrink without sacrificing wealth.

Until now, the greatest peril any group seeking homogeneity faced was how to provide for itself. Most groups have dealt with this via the practice of slavery, explicitly in Ancient Athens, implicitly under the Third Reich. But with this outsourced (and assuming hostility between identities remains low) groups can successfully exclude and restrict as pleases them.Why stay in a conservative area when the same jobs are on offer in a liberal one? Why stay in a area where you are a minority than in an area where you are part of the group. Indeed why even share a group with anyone at all unlike you. We will increasingly see people say they are economically citizens of the EU, but identity wise from a very very specific location, or ethnic basis, or even political background, that admits no diversity within.

One interesting term that has been thrown around in International Relations theory papers is that of Neo-Medievalism. Popularised by the great Australian academic Hedley Bull, the changing nature of states suggests a revival of competing lines of authority compared to the clear supreme state sovereignty we have been used to since the mid 17th century. In the Medieval period before this time, the states (as they existed) were content to regularly invade each other on questions of identity (either to convert, or to reclaim isolated fellow believers), and there were multiple sources of authority claiming ownership of the peasants, with Fiefdoms, Monarchies, Churches and Tribal/Ethnic leaders all demanding allegiance. This began to be reduced to just one overarching source with the rise of the modern nation state, which reached its logical conclusion in Fascism with the state being responsible for every single element of social organisation in peoples lives, and even the choice of which of those they would join or be excluded from. Modern democracies par the state back somewhat, but with the rise of international organisations and economic regional groupings, there is a re-emerging overlapping of authority facing individuals. And with that comes reduced group loyalty, or multiple group loyalty. Except where early history relied only on humans natural inclination to differentiate ourselves into groups, the rise of democracy and the idea of self-determination has transformed that desire into a god given right.

The idea of self-determination was by far the most powerful idea of the 20th century. It is one of humanity’s greatest, and also one of our most dangerous. It was necessary to help throw off the colonizers, and integral to the spread of democracy, but it also gives every identifiable group in the world a moral check to be cashed in whenever they want. We are now up to 192 nations and growing. But these are somewhat limited as each of these new states needs economic stability or control of important resources in order to be viable. But as the economic blocks to which we belong grow, there emerges the possibility that identity groups can and will shrink. They will be able to exclude because far less mutual dependence is needed. And so if anything whilst we are breaking down the restrictive walls of the geographic state we are likely to become far more closely tied to the metaphysical binds of identity (however constructed, based on physical or mental differences).

Bobbitt doesn’t walk down this path, in ‘Terror and Consent’ his focus is on the more immediate concern to help preserve states during this transition period from the inevitable backlash each era produces. But if the Market State is the future, or at least we will come to see state membership as akin to a commercial deal, then the pressures to make identity groups much more exclusive will similarly grow. The implications and risk of this are vast and confronting, but we must face them head on. It is pretty hard to argue against the idea that the Kurds or Uighur don’t deserve an independent say over their own affairs, but what about when it is a group of evangelicals, or homosexuals, or conservatives who then want their own area, whilst still remaining fully participating members of the greater regional economic groupings.

Photo used under a Creative Commons licence by user j / f / photos

Distractions of the eyes

Watching:
John Adams – HBO series, still as yet unreleased in Australia. Keeping a reasonably consistent link to history, this powerful costume drama is not only great TV but provides a history that would do wonders if well known both around the world, and particularly in Australia. Worldwide such a history lesson may help temper anti-american prejudices, recognising the utopian ideals which have guided the american spirit ever since. Here in Australia, a country I love more and more for its sense and pragmatism towards common welfare and wealth, the story of America’s birth is still inspiring for its radicalism, idealism and principled stand. Characters such as John Adam’s were undoubtedly flawed, and just 125 years later, Australia’s great statesmen would achieve similar independence without bloodshed or civil strife. And yet I can’t help but be moved by the sheer bravado and principle of the American struggle for liberty. It may be headstrong and foolish, but it’s authentic idealism can not be questioned, then or now

Reading:
The Hawke Memoirs – Part of my quest to read biographies of every Prime Minister (by my count 11 of 26) this is a surprisingly readable account of the rise to power and Prime Ministership of Robert Lee James Hawke. Though only 20 years past, it represents a starkly different world, and yet it still contains most of the seeds and debates that shape the modern Australian political landscape. Hakwe isn’t reticent about crediting himself with the changes and progress of the era, and yet their is an undeniable charm and larikanism that flows through his writing. I had picked up the book having just finished Abbott’s book, and looking for another well written insiders account of local politics. And whilst Abbott seems the closest to Hawke in representing an authentic Australian character, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Turnbull. But for political timing and personality differences Hawke and Turnbull seem similar men, vaulting through Australian society, bounding towards Parliament, and yet for these slight differences history is likely to regard the one as one of our greatest prime ministers, and the other as a never was, or what could have been. Aside the self-agrandisement and snide attacks on Keating (it was written only 3 years after he lost power to the man), it is still a very enjoyable account.

Kangaroo: D.H Lawrence

Written in 1923 by an Englishman, it is still regarded as one of the best engravings of the Australian character and identity. I’m still yet to pass judgement on that line, but it’s a good read, well written though slightly slow, and interesting for its picture of early post federation Australian society.

Seven Ancient Wonders: Matthew Reilly
I have read most of Reilly’s work before, and returned to this one to fill a gap in my reading, but it reminds me of the pure joy of this local australian authors work. A master in recognizing the content and style demanded by his audience, Reilly has made a name and living writing the type of fiction which people want to read, rather than that as favoured by far too many intellectuals the type they would like to have others read. A good bloke from my own limited interactions with him (at a book signing many years back) he is as worthy an australian voice as the Winton’s and Carey’s. Of course history will never regard him in such terms, but that’s its flaw, not his.

The virtue of forgetting history

This morning brings with it news that Israel’s Government is invoking Hitler in its cause to build in East Jerusalem

Israeli officials said on Wednesday Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israeli ambassadors to circulate the 1941 shot in Berlin of the Nazi leader seated next to Haj Amin al-Husseini, the late mufti or top Muslim religious leader in Jerusalem.
One official said Lieberman, an ultranationalist, hoped the photo would “embarrass” Western countries into ceasing to demand that Israel halt the project on land owned by the mufti’s family in a predominantly Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem.
Some diplomats opposed Lieberman’s move, arguing it could earn Israel stiffer world criticism for seeming to sidestep the wider conflict it faces with the Palestinians who want East Jerusalem as capital of a future state, another official said.
Asked why Lieberman issued the order, a spokesman said: “because it’s important for the world to know the facts” and would not elaborate.

Winston Churchill, (a historian of great merit in his own right), once commented that the peoples of the Balkans ‘produce more history than they can consume’. The same so easily applies to the Israel/Palestine conflict. To most people it would seem that putting up such a photo is a meaningless distraction, but to Israeli’s, especially those aged 50 or so, born to parents who survived/witnessed the Holocaust then the history and historical importance of such a photo must resonate strongly. History we are often told by learned men must be learnt so as to prevent us repeating the mistakes of the past.

What they don’t mention is that reading it often incites people to try and emulate the successes too, only in very different circumstances and with very different outcomes. No better example of this can be found than the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Led by a generation of men who also had parents in WW2 (only their memories are of great victory and liberation instead of brutal slaughter), George W Bush, a man with a bust of Winston Churchill on his desk, Tony Blair, living in Churchill’s house and 500m from his war time bunker & memorial, and John Winston Howard set their countries in motion to liberate Iraq from Tyranny. Whilst Iraq had made zero antagonistic moves against the west in recent years (and even half-truthfully accepted UN weapons inspectors), those who disagreed with the war were instantly labeled appeasers, ala Chamberlain’s 1938 blunder, with Saddam Hussein helpfully playing along in the role of mustachioed dictator. Here was the chance for these three to emulate their hero’s and live up to the merits of the ‘greatest generation’ who had defeated the Nazi’s and made great inroads against Communism. The weight of this history must have been heavy on these men from their positions of power to help the Iraqi people from what was one of the most brutal regimes in the 20th century.

Iraq of course had very little actual military might and was thoroughly defeated in less than a month. And far from the ease and praise of post-war Europe and Japan, Iraqi’s quickly soured on the invasion and began to attack their supposed liberators. That the analogy of 1939 had failed in every single way possible in helping understand the circumstances western governments found themselves in at the start of 2003, has not stopped similar conservative forces today declaring that Iran is the new Nazi Germany and cannot be appeased. As Fareed Zakaria points out, (again bringing pesky current facts into the debate), far from being Germany 1939, Iran who has 1/68th of the US military, is more like Romania. Indeed some US Senators have even taken to calling their own country “about where Germany was before World War II”. So long as the Baby Boomer Generation, born to fathers of the Second World War -with all its myriad and contradictory lessons- have power, analogies from that distant moment will continue to have an impact on our current political discussions. As Andrew Sullivan wisely noted in his 2007 essay for the Atlantic Magazine ‘Goodbye to all that’ the true radicalness of Obama for the USA is not in his policy (he is largely a cautious moderate) but rather that he is beyond the debates of the baby-boomers that have ripped America in-twain over the last 40 years. On race, gender, abortion and war Obama offered the US a chance to let go of its history and begin to build something new.

History it seems far from granting us wisdom seems time and again to be preventing us from seeing the world as it actually is, rather than in patterns of the past. One cause of this perhaps may be the staggering rise in popular histories amongst the reading public. Recently released, though yet to appear here in Australia, is Margaret MacMillan’s Dangerous Games:
The Uses and Abuses of History
which charts the many ways in which history is mishandled, distorted, politicized and mis-used by historians. After this great catalog of sins, the author, (a professional historian herself) poses this question:

MacMillan ends by asking whether we would be worse off not knowing any history at all…. “I think the answer would probably be yes,” she writes, a sentence that is unlikely to serve as the historians’ manifesto.

MacMillan argues that history’s greatest tool is to provide us with humility. To learn how often wrong and misguided past generations were in their efforts, and perhaps how we can use it to begin to doubt the basis of our own certainty. But in a hyper-connected and digitalized world, if anything history will be more and more with us. Where pub disputes about a past war or politician were forgotten with the purchasing of the next round, now someone invariably whips out a internet connected phone and checks that holy source Wikipedia for an answer. As more and more key moments are captured on film (witness the outpouring at the 40 year anniversary of the Moon Landing), the more history will be brought into current media streams to supplement and fill in time. Former Prime Minister John Howard may for this reason soon get his wish that young students are better exposed to history, but whether this is equal to an education in history is a completely different matter. Whilst memories imparted from books and film are never quite as strong as those gathered whilst sitting at the knee of a parent, this upcoming generation will likely not be able to escape the onslaught of history in their everyday life. As an avid reader of history I know no better source of personal development than reading history books, and yet every generation also deserves the chance to forget what has come before so it may remake and explore new potentials. If history’s lessons were never breakable we would never had had the rise of the church, nor that of the nation-state, nor international organisations. Each of these changes occurred through the acts of a generation that was willing to deliberately ignore the lessons of the past and push for a new future. Looking these days to places such as Israel/Palestine you can’t help but feel the people there also desperately need an act of wide scale amnesia, if they are ever to find peace.

The Free Trade Left

I’ve already raised the issue of ending the ban on parallel imports of books. The Productivity Commission has now released it’s final report and its findings are clear:

the Commission has
• concluded that the PIRs place upward pressure on book prices and that, at times,
the price effect is likely to be substantial. The magnitude of the effect will vary over
time and across book genres.
• Most of the benefits of PIR protection accrue to publishers and authors, with demand
for local printing also increased.
• Most of the costs are met by consumers, who fund these benefits in a nontransparent
manner through higher book prices.
• PIRs are a poor means of promoting culturally significant Australian works.
– They do not differentiate between books of high and low cultural value.
– The bulk of the assistance leaks offshore, and some flows to the printing industry.

Alan Fells, former head of ACCC and now at the Australian New Zealand School of Government has suggested that means a cost of up to $200m for consumers.

But what is most interesting (though if you know your history not surprising) is that most of the push for this end to protectionism has come from the left. It was Chris Bowen, in the Rudd government who initiated the Productivity Commission’s survey. It has been most publicly championed by Bob Carr, former ALP premier of NSW. And has received support from a variety of quite left wing types such as the ACT’s own rising star Andrew Barr (as I noticed this morning via his facebook – who says blogs don’t break news:P). Whilst the libertarians at Catallaxy have of course been forthright in wanting a change, I could only find this lukewarm press release from the Liberals Competition policy shadow minister Luke Hartsuyker, with not a single mention by Malcolm Turnbull.

This may seem counter-intuitive if you think the right is pro-free trade and the left against it. Yet whilst the two party structure of Labor and anti-labor sometimes creates that mould, the history is quite different. The single largest reduction in tariff’s in this country occurred in 1973 under the Whitlam Government. After some drift under the conservative Fraser, Hawke and Keating picked up the mantle and effectively ended the way Australians had run their economy by reducing almost all tariff’s. This was encouraged by Howard (having supped from the classical liberal economics of Reagan and Thatcher), but his own government whilst rhetorically adamant, ended up doing very little on the free trade front. It liberalised small areas such as CD’s (in the way now proposed for books) and seeing the flaws of multilateral deals pushed into bilateral deals with mild success. The two big areas still under the umbrella in agriculture and cars remained protected, or got effective protection through constant handouts. In fact if you examine Australian political history, it has been the moderates and liberals within both the ALP and Liberal Party who have lead the move towards free trade in this country (Howard being the obvious exception). The more conservative forces, much like the union-left have largely been against such moves. Take for instance this piece by Tony Abbott writing in 1995:

‘His [Keating’s] Asian crusade is simply the second phase of a long battle – hitherto fought around Australia’s economic structures – to extripate the legacy of Menzies. The first phase meant changing Australia’s economic structures and breaking down the old business establishment. The second centres on smashing the Crown which he thinks is the ultimate icon of conservative Australia. Asia played little part in his drive to ‘reform’ economic institutions – after all, most Asian governments pursue pragmatic interventionist economic policies similar to those of pre-Keating Australia’ (p220)
Abbott, Tony in Sheridan, Greg (1995) Living with Dragons: Australia confronts its Asian destiny Sydney: Allen & Unwin

Abbott went along with, even championed Howard’s economic ideals, but never was at the forefront of the debate, and with his mentor out of the game, it will be interesting to see which way he turns in his forthcoming book. Whilst the forces of free trade have largely won out (both due to argument and circumstance), don’t be surprised if there is a slight shifting back amongst the right should the conservative forces lead by Abbott take charge. As i’ve predicted many times before, I see the two party system shifting to a more liberals vs conservative basis instead of the weird cross-overs we saw under the Reagan/Howard coalitions, but either party could take either role, depending on their internal struggles. Long story short the “common sense” idea in the media and the general public that the right is pro-free trade and the left against it is not sustainable in current policy nor historically accurate. As the new left begins to develop it’s form, I have little doubt that a strong stand for free trade will be at the heart and soul of its economic system. Only such a system can encourage universal rather than national sentiments, international organisation, healthy free competition and the free flow of ideas and people.

Free the books!

I missed it initially, but over at Catallaxy, Sinclair Davidson has put up a well researched post on the move to allow parallel imports:

From The Australian: When the Howard government removed import restrictions on compact discs in 1998, it was accused of gutting the music industry and jeopardising the income of musicians. But industry data shows royalties increased from $81.8million in 2003 to $108m in 2007, and the number of performers receiving royalties also increased. Meanwhile, the average price of a CD album has fallen by 32per cent.

The Australian voices telling Australian stories argument is simply rent-seeking and doesn’t stand up to empirical analysis. We’ve heard these arguments before

As a keen book buyer (I sometimes fear I like buying books more than I do reading them), seeing an end to the ban on parallel imports would be a great step forward for this country. There is no reason why I need to wait longer and pay more for an Australian version of the book I desire. When your stock reading is the latest non-fiction quasi-journalism, the delay on new books as they wait to see if an Australian publisher will pick it are infuriating and tend to actually reduce my willingness to buy these books. Those who suffer from it most are poor students (especially post-grad!), forced to pay heavily to import foreign books, or simply denied access to the tools of their trade. In education, and encouraging a reading public, the book ban has been an ongoing disaster. And as we enter the era of digital books, a direct link can be drawn between our book ban and the lack of digital readers emerging in Australia. If the ban on parallel imports was removed, Amazon.com could add a .au and begin selling Kindles at a viable cost. In fact as we begin to see the outlines of a digital era in books both distribution and display, the idea of country based barriers becomes simply laughable.

Meanwhile, as much as current authors may fear losing even their meager returns from the status quo, those with talent have nothing to fear from the contest. Their fear of losing local voices telling local stories seems based on the absurd assumption that book buyers who pick up Australian content, do so only because there is nothing else on offer. That their allegiance is so weak that when stories of life on the Mississippi or Thames flood in, everyone will abandon the Peter Carey’s, Bryce Courntey’s and Matthew Reilly. If this is not the case, and book buyers are choosing based on an actual interest in the material, then they have nothing to fear from the competition and perhaps a chance for wider exposure, distribution and breaking away from the horribly monopolistic and talent squandering process that is the publishing industry.

The sooner the Rudd government moves on this the better.

Arounds the Traps

Sometimes there just isn’t time for 1000 words on a subject, and Thursday afternoon drinks are soon upon us. So some quick links & thoughts

fitzgibbon
Expected….Joel Fitzgibbon has resigned as Defence Minister. No word yet on a replacement (which is slightly odd considering this was either expected or going to occur whenever Rudd next shuffles the bench). Greg Sheridan’s usual talent at being spectacularly wrong in his predictions once again strikes. Fitzgibbon may have gone for ethical reasons, yet he clearly didn’t have control of the department. Defence needs a heavyweight who isn’t looking to fastrack their career (defence is usually where careers go to die). I’d suggest Bod Debus. He’s already the Home Affairs minister, and has been a minister at state level for over 20 years. Luckily whoever takes over will have the capable Mike Kelly and Warren Snowden supporting them. UpdateIt’s Faulkner. Great Choice, though he will be missed as Special Minister of State.

Developing…. Details are yet to emerge, but why did Rudd accept a Car as a gift? If this was whilst PM it’s a serious lapse of judgment. The PM has to be above reproach on these issues. It’s one thing Howard did rightly, and saved himself a lot of grief. Unlike many many of his ministers over the years.
Update - It was 13 years ago, and even Turnbull is saying the gift isn’t itself important. This will go no where

Cheap… For News Ltd’s new effort ‘Punch’ it seems words not actions matter and so manage to somehow blame Bob Hawke for China’s human rights violations over the past 30 years. All because he wouldn’t give them an interview.

Fools….The right wing still hasn’t worked out Obama’s talent with narrative. Far from having a fit, they should be welcoming this as one of the smartest moves in the political fight against radical jihadists in a decade.

Reading…Finally, as linked to the other day David Kilcullen’s new book ‘Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting small wars in the midst of a big one’ is a ripper of a read. I’ll have much more to say in the future on it. However having also heard him speak in person recently, what is most notable for this quasi-father of the Iraq Surge and 20 years infantry man is how little military actions play in his arguments for how to deal with terrorism. Drones, Battalions and even special forces are rarely mentioned or endorsed. They are important, but only in the way a chisel helps the sculptor achieve his desired shape. Despite having been a senior advisor to Condolezza Rice he is “broadly supportive” of the way Obama is going about the job. Efforts such as those linked immediately above are key reasons why. Whilst Fitzgibbon’s trouble with managing defence and Conservatives dominance in national security debates may lead some to think that the Left and the military don’t agree/work well, people such as Kilcullen* demonstrate there is a lot of common ground if smartly approached. There is no natural or ideological block to a left wing government having strong relations with the military and using it’s insights and strenghts, just as much as right wing hawks love to use the military’s cruise missiles. In fact I think many on the left would be surprised by just how receptive many in the military are to their ideas about how to fight this war on terrorism, and where our foreign policy priorities should be. But much more on that in a later post.

(* I have no idea of how he votes, nor would I like to speculate. And damn, even my link posts run to 600 words. You’d think given these tendencies a PhD of 100’000 would be easy…)

Of text old and new

Largely ignored by the press, the technological story of 2008 seems to me to be the rise of the E-Book. Amazon’s Kindle seems to have become the new ipod as e-books have exploded in popularity amongst our north american bretheren. Version 2.0 is out in a fortnight and sure to be even harder to find, and still denied to this down under technologically barren continent. But whilst having all my books electronically is sure to lighten my bag, clean up my desk and finally restore me some floor space (dont even think about the back breaking effort of moving a house full of books one day), is there a risk we lose something in the change to an electronic medium.

Nick Carr (who I usually try not to link to out of a misguided desire to be the only Carr publishing online) raises a fascinating possibility:

One of the things that happens when books and other writings start to be distributed digitally through web-connected devices like the Kindle is that their text becomes provisional…The unanticipated side effects of new technologies often turn out to be their most important effects. Printed words are permanent. Electronic words are provisional. The difference is vast and the implications worth pondering.

It was once said to me that books are never finished, only abandoned, and I think all authors can appreciate why. Even short blog posts like this could have just one more link, just one more glib line, a change in title and …. See? The temptation and possibilities for authors will be immense, fiction and non-fiction alike. It could mean great things for political texts in particular allowing easy changes in tables as the new data becomes available, or allowing new chapters to be uploaded for a few dollars post-election, instead of requiring a whole new edition to be printed, the old one pulped and sold through to the community.

But whilst the temptation is there, books, like everything in life are necessarily imperfect, and I quite like it that way. I enjoy reading a book by some long dead genius and finding a spelling error on the 300th page. It’s probably been something that sat there since the first printed version, perhaps even from the authors own hand, and yet despite their prodigious effort and talent, current is spelled with one r and two t’s. Or the fact that were it not for poor spelling, Google would be called googol, the number 1 and one hundred zero’s.

I tend to come down on the side of the author’s, in letting them make easy changes to their text, giving the public a much greater value for money. And for the reading public (a dwindling community to be sure!) it is sure to become a fantastic resource. I have gained innumerably through the shift to audio books and audio lectures being put up online. I’ve learnt everything from ancient egyptian mummification techniques to the intellectual history of the 17th century and postmodernism, whilst being entertained on copies of moby dick and harry potter being more evocatively read than I could ever muster. It has been a god send to have access to so much learning and knowledge, so easily and simply. E-Book’s promise the same potential, but also the possibilities of un-noticed censorship, and the loss of the idea of a first version, first draft, first wayward shot by a young author still finding their way in the world, only to be polished and fixed by the sucessfull (or forgotten) elder as their career dwindles.

Now if only I could just buy a damn one. Rudd wants me to use my stimulus funds on overseas made and sold technology right ?