In May of 2015 one of the most admired journalists of all time, “scoop artist” Seymour Hersch, revealed that much of what the Obama White House told the world about their killing of Osama bin laden in a Pakistani compound was simply a lie. In a not unusual display of arrogance from the Obama administration, the claims were dismissed out of hand. Instead Obama and his henchmen, in a classic case of disinformation, attempted to malign the name of one of the best connected, most thorough and most intellectually gifted reporters of the modern era. They claimed Seymour Hersch, whose books include Chain of Command and The Price of Power, had got it wrong. Unfortunately for the future of a decaying democracy, Seymour Hersch was a far more credible source of information than the Obama White House would ever be. In a transparent attempt to bury the Hersch story and manipulate public opinion, in the wake of Hersch’s revelations the White House released a flood of documentation of material found in bin Laden’s compound, including a list of his favourite reading material, including the book Obama’s Wars: The Inside Story by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Bob Woodward. There is no such thing as coincidence.
From one of the world’s most admired war correspondents, Christina Lamb, comes a searing indictment of the West’s involvement in wars against fundamentalist Islam, Farewell Kabul: From Afghanistan to a More Dangerous World. The pointless loss of American, British and Australian lives, has achieved nothing; despite the efforts to eliminate the Taliban from the country, their presence has continued to grow. Insurgent attacks have also increased, and the region still struggles against poverty, an unstable infrastructure and a huge number of land mines. Initially billed as the West’s success story by both Bush and Blair, Afghanistan remains a lawless, violent land. The promises made to its people in 2001 have not been fulfilled. Foreign correspondent for one of the world’s leading newspapers, The Sunday Times, educated at Oxford, a Fellow at Harvard University, a member of the National Geographic Society, former British Foreign Correspondent of the year and a multi award winner, Lamb has been reporting on the region of “pomegranates and war” since the age of 21, when she crossed the Hindu Kush into Afghanistan with mujaheddin fighting the Russians and fell unequivocally in love with this fierce country, a relationship which has dominated her adult life. Lamb has fought with the mujahadeen dressed as an Afghan boy, experienced a near-fatal ambush and head-on encounter with Taliban forces and successfully established links with American, British, Afghan government, Taliban and tribal fighters. Her unparalleled access to troops and civilians on the ground, as well as to top military officials has ensured that Farewell Kabul is the definitive book on the region, exposing the realities of Afghanistan unlike anyone before, compelling, moving and impossible to put down.
Despite the billions of dollars funnelled to them, and their thousands of personnel, Australians know almost nothing about the well-resourced, ultra-secretive intelligence agencies their dollars support. This is against a backdrop where the government has greatly expanded the powers of the agencies, but the citizens themselves have few legal rights when it comes to those who spy so avidly upon them.
There is no legal right to privacy or freedom of expression written into the Australian constitution, and the government has a reputation for spying on its own citizens to a far greater degree than any other Western democracy.
With the multiple incompetencies of Australian governance now a byword across the nation, transparency at zero and oversight chaotic at best, Australians can only take the word of their politicians on the value of these agencies, routinely described by the Prime Minister of the day as “the best in the world”.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull flew in the face of opposition from the agencies themselves and many of his most senior ministers, when he announced the formation of a new Homeland Security style mega-agency.
Reviews of the nation’s security agencies are extremely rare. While a determinedly “inside the beltway” view, with almost no public input, the new Independent Intelligence Review, when read with a certain between-the-lines scepticism, is a valuable insight at a time when the entire future of intelligence in Australia is in play.
Visitors to Thailand are not warned by travel agents, airlines or their own governments that their passports are highly prized in Thailand, and stand a very good chance of being stolen. Depending on the nationality, a passport can fetch thousands of dollars on the black market, several months pay for many Thais. There are gangs stealing passports to order. European, American, Australian and Canadian passports are particularly prized. Foreign embassies, fearful the documents are ending up in the hands of Islamist militants and international criminal networks, have made repeated representations to the Thai government without affect. INTERPOL Chief, Secretary General Ronald Noble describes passport fraud as the “biggest threat facing the world”. But for decades the Thai authorities have done little to stop their country’s blatant trade in stolen, doctored and forged documents. By inaction and complicity, Thailand has become an epicentre for the trade, a key link in international terrorist networks and a danger to the travelling public worldwide. Forged passports from Thailand are regarded as the highest quality of any in the world. Clients from the Middle East are one of the major buyers of fake passports in Thailand. In The Age of Terror, the failure of the Thai authorities to abolish the trade has set alarm bells ringing around the world. Here in its entirety is Chapter Two, called Passports, from the recent book Thailand: Deadly Destination.
Writing in The Conversation, commentator Jen Webb records her reaction to the first major biography of Australian journalist and author Helen Garner: How remarkable that, after some 40 years of books and essays, stories, articles and movies, there have been so few major publications on the life and works of Helen Garner. The National Library of Australia catalogue lists discussion notes; a study (in Mandarin) by Zhu Xiaoying; and Kerryn Goldsworthy’s excellent 1996 monograph. Bernadette Brennan’s A Writing Life goes a considerable way to filling out this slender collection.
Brennan offers a detailed account of Garner’s writing life, tracing the influences and obstacles; psychological and emotional affordances and constraints; her research and craft; and the critical and popular reception of her books. This is a valuable contribution about a major contemporary Australian writer who has delighted, infuriated, confused, charmed and frustrated readers, and whose experimental practice has galvanised ways of writing and thinking about writing.
On her literary blog Brain Pickings the incomparable Maria Popova writes: 1915 paper on general relativity, Albert Einstein envisioned gravitational waves — ripples in the fabric of space-time caused by astronomic events of astronomical energy. Although fundamental to our understanding of the universe, gravitational waves were a purely theoretical construct for him. He lived in an era when any human-made tool for detecting something this faraway was simply unimaginable, even by the greatest living genius, and many of the cosmic objects capable of producing such tremendous tumult — black holes, for instance — were yet to be discovered.
One September morning in 2015, almost exactly a century after Einstein published his famous paper, scientists turned his mathematical dream into a tangible reality — or, rather, an audible one. In Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space — one of the finest and most beautifully written books I’ve ever read — astrophysicist and novelist Janna Levin tells the story of LIGO and its larger significance as a feat of science and the human spirit. Levin, a writer who bends language with effortless might and uses it not only as an instrument of thought but also as a Petri dish for emotional nuance, probes deep into the messy human psychology that animated these brilliant and flawed scientists as they persevered in this ambitious quest against enormous personal, political, and practical odds.
At once highly intelligent, with a clear eye for commonality and nuance and life as it is lived, set in broader rivers, with an eagle’s eye for beauty and a highly accomplished prose style, Australia’s preeminent observer of indigenous Australia Nicolas Rothwell has a new book out, Quicksilver.
Here is an extract:
Leo Frobenius, the great impressario of German imperial ethnography, conceived the idea that the Kimberly region of North-West Australia could serve as a window onto the fast-vanishing primeval past of man.
An expedition by the Frobenius Institute arrived in Broome in 1938, under the leadership of a young specialist in Aboriginal and Oceanic societies named Helmut Petri. The team then traveled from Walcott Inlet deep inland through the territories of the Worora and the Ngarinyin. Their discoveries were spectacular; their timing was poor.
It was only nine years after the end of World War II that Helmut Petri was able at last to publish an abbreviated account of his findings.
“Sterbende Welt in Nordwest Australien”, The Dying World in North-West Australia, is a production of great beauty, shot through with overtones of mourning and grief. Petri regarded it as no more than a damaged torso, a fragment of the book he planned to write – but that fragmentary quality gives the work much of its force. Although it is ostensibly concerned purely with ethnographic description of remote tribes and their social adaptations, it is in fact a study of a culture under stress and in collapse, and when I first came across it and made my way through its pages I at once felt it held the key to any truthful understanding of north Australia’s first civilizations and their fate.
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.