I don’t know that I believe in the existence of God in the Catholic sense. But my favorite book is the Divine Comedy. And at the end of the Divine Comedy, Dante pierces the skin of the universe and comes face-to-face with the love that moves the sun and the other stars.
I believe that there is a love that moves the sun and the other stars. I believe in Dante’s vision.
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Joby Warrick reveals in Black Flags: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of The Islamic State how the stain of militant Islam now raising its banner across Iraq and Syria spread from a remote Jordanian prison with the unwitting aid of American military intervention. When he succeeded his father in 1999, King Abdullah of Jordan released a batch of political prisoners in the hopes of smoothing his transition to power. Little did he know that among those released was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a man who would go on to become a terrorist mastermind too dangerous even for al-Qaeda and give rise to an Islamist movement bent on dominating the Middle East. Zarqawi began by directing hotel bombings and assassinations in Jordan from a base in northern Iraq, but it was the American invasion of that country in 2003 that catapulted him to the head of a vast insurgency.
Alastair Bothwick Nicholson, Chief Justice of the Family Court Australia from 1988 until 2004, is the dominant figure in the history of family law in Australia.
While the Family Court is deliberately kept out of the arena of contemporary public debate, it was not always so.
The Final Days of Alastair Nicholson: Chief Justice Family Court of Australia covers a period of intense media coverage and fervent hope that the troubled jurisdiction would be reformed.
Those dreams were dashed, with the then Prime Minister John Howard ignoring public support for shared parenting and a shift away from the traditional sole custody model.
The marginalisation and demonisation of fathers stood oddly with the country’s egalitarian traditions.
If you think you’re under surveillance, you more than likely are. Australia has a long history of surveying its own citizens, well beyond that of comparable Western countries. Described by its critics as a secret parallel police force which has done enormous harm to Australian democracy, The Australian Security Intelligence Service is forever a source of fearful fascination for Australians.
Its new offices in Canberra are almost as imposing as Parliament House itself.
Since 9/11 the agency has been gifted billions of dollars. Yet its operations completely lack transparency.
In the last budget the Turnbull/Abbott government gifted them yet more hundreds of millions of dollars, yet it is a secret as to exactly how much!!
Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy, by Francis Fukuyama, is the story of how state, law and democracy developed after these cataclysmic events, how the modern landscape – with its uneasy tension between dictatorships and liberal democracies – evolved and how in the United States and in other developed democracies, unmistakable signs of decay have emerged. Best known for his book The End of History and the Last Man, Fukuyama argues that if we want to understand the political systems that dominate and order our lives, we must first address their origins – in our own recent past as well as in the earliest systems of human government. He believes the key to successful government can be reduced to three key elements: a strong state, the rule of law, and institutions of democratic accountability. Essential reading for anyone wishing to understand why Western democracies are so vulnerable to the Sharia.
Travel the world with Eric Weiner, the New York Times bestselling author of The Geography of Bliss, as he journeys from Athens to Silicon Valley—and throughout history, too—to show how creative genius flourishes in specific places at specific times. In The Geography of Genius, the acclaimed writer sets out to examine the connection between our surroundings and our most innovative ideas. He explores the history of places, like Vienna of 1900, Renaissance Florence, ancient Athens, Song Dynasty Hangzhou, and Silicon Valley, to show how certain urban settings are conducive to ingenuity. And, with his trademark insightful humor, he walks the same paths as the geniuses who flourished in these settings to see if the spirit of what inspired figures like Socrates, Michelangelo, and Leonardo remains.
Thailand ‘one of the most dangerous tourist destinations on Earth’: Expat investigation lifts lid on dark side of the Land of Smiles
Thailand: Deadly Destination penned by Australian author John Stapleton
Writer says tourism boom has created hatred and contempt for foreigners
Death rate of tourists is ‘worst scandal in the annals of modern tourism’
Murder of British backpackers followed military coup in May this year
Ministry of Tourism forecast 25m visitors in 2015, down from 30m last year
By SIMON CABLE FOR MAILONLINE
PUBLISHED: 20:18 AEST, 15 November 2014 | UPDATED: 01:08 AEST, 17 November 2014
A new book has branded Thailand one of the world’s most dangerous tourist destinations.
Australian author John Stapleton suggests that widespread police corruption, violence and crime are all blighting a country once commonly referred to as the ‘Land of Smiles’.
In his book Thailand: Deadly Destination, Mr Stapleton attempts to expose the reputation of Thailand as a welcoming country, claiming a boom in tourism since the 1960s has created a hatred of foreigners and a ‘murderous indifference’ to the millions of tourists who flock to the country’s white-sand beaches, picturesque countryside and thriving nightlife each year.
The country’s much-prized tourist industry, which accounts for 10 percent of the GDP, is in decay following more than 12 months of political unrest
The best book ever written on jihad in Australia, by the supremely gifted journalist Martin Chulov, remains an under-reviewed and under-appreciated work.
As Chulov writes, Australia has been far more central to the international jihad movement than previously realised; and this book is a significant player in bringing that to light.
With legal suppression orders following Operation Pendennis and the 2005 planned attacks on the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Australian Jihad: The battle against terrorism from within and without, was withdrawn. For many years copies were almost impossible to find. A book which, far from being suppressed, should have been taught in the schools and universities and been mandatory reading for every politician thrumming the drumbeat of terror.
A barrister claimed the book could prejudice the trial of his client, although the basis for the book was previously published news stories from the national newspaper The Australian, where Martin Chulov then worked.
There is nothing in the colliding worlds of science, literature and art better than Maria Popova’s magnificent Brain Pickings. Here she is meditating on her beloved Janna Levin and the book A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines: If it is true — and true it is — that creativity blooms when seemingly unrelated ideas are cross-pollinated into something novel, then its most fecund ground is an environment where minds of comparable caliber but divergent obsession come together and swirl their ideas into a common wellspring of genius. There is hardly more concrete a testament to this principle than the Vienna Circle — the collective of scientists, philosophers, and novelists, who met in Europe in the first decades of the twentieth century and shaped modern culture by bringing art and science into intimate, fertile contact. But in the 1930s, as they demolished the boundaries between these disciplines, the Vienna Circle also exposed the limits of logic as a sensemaking mechanism for the nature of reality, limitation being perhaps as necessary to creativity as freedom of thought.
Facts of the world are sealed in minds. People wear a facade. All of reality goes on behind their eyes, and there lie secret plans and hidden agendas. A tar of false motives and intentions. Truth mauled. Because the past does not exist except as a threadbare fragment in the weaker minds of the many.
The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination, by one of the modern era’s most significant and most beautiful of all writers, Ursula K. Le Guin, displays her at her very best; and to seek the “best” in an altogether spectacular body of work seems almost antithetical — she blends anthropology, social psychology, and sheer literary artistry to explore complex, often difficult subjects with remarkable grace.
The first decade of the 21st century was a testing time for public debate. On the issues of Aboriginal Reconciliation, asylum seeker policy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and, later, climate change, it was impossible to sit on the fence. Australia was still one tribe there were two distinct clans rallying around different totems: the Insiders and the outsiders. There had always been divisions in Australian society: convicts and soldiers; Catholic and Protestant; city and country; rich and poor; left and right. This however was of a different order.
For the first time there were people who did not simply feel better off but better than their fellow Australians. They were cosmopolitan and sophisticated, well read (or so they would have us believe) and politically aware. Their presumption of virtue set them apart from the common herd. They were not a racist or sexist, claimed to be indifferent to material wealth, ate healthfully, drank in moderation, and, if they were not gay themselves, made a show solidarity with a lot of friends who were. Their compassion knew no bounds: the vulnerable of the world could rely on their support, in principle at least. They were plastic bag refusenicks and tickers of carbon box offset boxes, for they knew what the science was saying, and it could not be denied. People like them should be running the country, they thought, or more accurately ruling it…
Here is an extract from La Rose, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction and hailed as a literary masterwork. Author Louise Erdrich is the bestselling author of the National Book Award-winning The Round House and the Pulitzer Prize nominee The Plague of Doves.
North Dakota, late summer, 1999:
Landreaux had kept track of the buck all summer, waiting to take it, fat, until just after the corn was harvested. As always, he’d give a portion to Ravich. The buck had regular habits and had grown comfortable on its path. It would wait and watch through midafternoon. Then would venture out before dusk, crossing the reservation line to browse the margins of Ravich’s fields. Now it came, stepping down the path, pausing to take scent. Landreaux was downwind. The buck turned to peer out at Ravich’s cornfield, giving Landreaux a perfect shot. He was extremely adept, had started hunting small game with his grandfather at the age of seven. Landreaux took the shot with fluid confidence. When the buck popped away he realized he’d hit something else—there had been a blur the moment he squeezed the trigger. Only when he walked forward to investigate and looked down did he understand that he had killed his neighbor’s son.
A history of the CIA is a history of one debacle after another. The organisation murdered, manipulated and mismanaged its way across the globe for decades, and a reading of this utterly fascinating book goes considerably to understanding why America’s international standing is so poor. The senior management of the CIA lied to presidents, lied to the public, and lied to their own personnel. Australia’s intelligence services have long been closely associated with their American counterparts.
Extracts from Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, by Pulitzer Prize winning author Tim Weiner:
Get rid of the clown’s, the president kept commanding. What use are they? They’ve got 40,000 people over there reading newspapers.
The US is spending $6 billion dollars per year on intelligence and deserve to get a lot more than it is getting.
Since Nixon’s days, the budget has ballooned. Now spy agencies, including the CIA and the NSA, are getting more than $52 billion and military intelligence another $23 billion, according to published estimates. Some sources of income are believed to be concealed.
The second world — the world of literature — offered me, besides the pleasures of form, the sustentation of empathy (the first step of what Keats called negative capability) and I ran for it. I relaxed in it. I stood willingly and gladly in the characters of everything — other people, trees, clouds. And this is what I learned: that the world’s otherness is antidote to confusion, that standing within this otherness — the beauty and the mystery of the world, out in the fields or deep inside books — can re-dignify the worst-stung heart.
I learned to build bookshelves and brought books to my room, gathering them around me thickly. I read by day and into the night. I thought about perfectibility, and deism, and adjectives, and clouds, and the foxes. I locked my door, from the inside, and leaped from the roof and went to the woods, by day or darkness.
I read my books with diligence, and mounting skill, and gathering certainty. I read the way a person might swim, to save his or her life. I wrote that way too.
One of the reasons why the Islamisization of the West has taken such rapid hold has been mistaken social policies of the past, creating a fractured, uninclusive and uncaring culture, the so-called Age of Loneliness. The War on Drugs has been exactly one of those policies, demonizing and marginalizing entire segments of society while leaving the streets desolate and unsafe. As Chasing The Scream so amply demonstrates, the citizens of happy, industrious, socially inclusive cultures do not take drugs; at least not in ways which cause major problems to the individual or to the community. It is only in the fractured and disengaged cultures so characteristic of the West that the ice epidemic, for example, has been able to take such a terrible toll; on individuals and on the society as a whole, destroying the lives of individuals and and turning entire neighborhoods into war zones. January 2015 marked 100 years since drugs were first banned in the United States. In Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, highly accomplished journalist Johann Hari finds out why they were criminalized, how this is causing a disaster today and what happens when you choose a radically different path. His discoveries are told entirely through the startling and moving stories of real people – from a transsexual crack dealer in Brooklyn, to a Hungarian Holocaust survivor and scientist who discovered the real causes of addiction; that it lies in the sickness of the society, not in moral failings of the individual.
Douglas Murray in his own words: I was already writing about the migration issues occasionally. During the height of the migration crisis in 2015 I was reporting on bits of it and I got frustrated about not being able to explain the whole story because the facts and the emotions they provoke are fantastically complex. None of it is simple or easy. And I suppose like a lot of us who write, you get frustrated trying to do it in one or two thousand words in an article.
I was a long way from home in the Far East. And I had this realisation I had to write a book about the whole thing as I saw it. I find it the most fascinating subject of our time as well as the most troubling. And also being an inveterate walker into places where more sensible people fear to tread, all the difficult bits seemed to me to be the things that need to be thought about and written about and discussed. And I wanted to be able to do that at length.
At last, the author of that masterful short novel The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy, has written a new book, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.
Here is an extract:
Where do old birds go to die?
She lived in the graveyard like a tree. At dawn she saw the crows off and welcomed the bats home. At dusk she did the opposite. Between shifts she conferred with the ghosts of vultures that loomed in her high branches. She felt the gentle grip of their talons like an ache in an amputated limb. She gathered they weren’t altogether unhappy at having excused themselves and exited from the story.
When she first moved in, she endured months of casual cruelty like a tree would – without flinching. She didn’t turn to see which small boy had thrown a stone at her, didn’t crane her neck to read the insults scratched into her bark. When people called her names – clown without a circus, queen without a palace – she let the hurt blow through her branches like a breeze and used the music of her rustling leaves as balm to ease the pain.
Timothy Mo, who as the son of wealthy Hong Kong Chinese attended Oxford, is a superbly gifted writer but a difficult man who has long fought with his publishers. Once a favourite of the English literary set, he fell out of favour. In later life he has produced a masterwork, Pure. Mo had always wondered why a dynamic art form such as fiction had failed to confront the single most pressing issue of the age, the minds and motivations of Muslim fundamentalists. With a tide of jihad sweeping the world, the question became ever more pressing. In Pure Timothy Mo uses the device of character. He pits an ice addicted yaba addled Bangkok lady boy, a freelance entertainment journalist called Snooky, “Snooky was lonely because she was smart”, into the world of mujaheddin training camps in southern Thailand. Co-opted as a spy, there she grows a beard, participates in forays into the world of jihad in Indonesia, and reports to her minder, caught between the hidden, complex worlds of intelligence operatives and Muslim jihadists. Thanks to fights with his publishers, this book has never received the attention it deserves. Simply put: Pure is a must read, a neglected masterpiece.
Jason Burke, The Guardian writes: In the days following the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, there was a surge of interest in the family of the al-Qaida founder and leader. One son had been shot dead during the raid on the high-walled house in the northern garrison town of Abbottabad, while confused reports described at least a dozen children or grandchildren, and between two and four wives, left stunned and bloodied by the US special forces when they left.
But the story moved on. Three years later, al-Qaida was pushed into the shadows by a breakaway faction, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis). The centre of gravity of Islamic militancy seemed to have shifted decisively to the Levant. The family of bin Laden were forgotten.
Not, however, by Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy, two veteran journalists who have published a series of rigorous and readable investigative books focused on south Asia and Islamist militancy. Their latest, The Exile: The Flight of Osama bin Laden, is perhaps their best yet.
The narrative reaches from Pakistan to Mauritania, where a key informant of the authors now lives, and starts days before the 11 September attacks on the east coast of the US in 2001. It ends last year.
The book fills in many important gaps in our knowledge of al-Qaida.