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Education

Books that have been important to me #5 The California detective: Hammett, Chandler, Macdonald

By | Books, Education, History, Language, Society | 2 Comments

There is a time, when you are young and a reader, where you range widely, dipping into a genre here and another there. Long long ago I dipped into Agatha Christie, then saw The Mousetrap in London, and ranged over the English detective literature. I didn’t go back, really, but did so recently for one Agatha Christie, which I read in an hour or so and thought quite thin. C. P. Snow, about whose novels I wrote some time ago, did quite a good one, A Coat of Varnish (1978), where both the protagonist and the detective at the end know who…

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Social Justice

By | Education, History, Politics, Society | 74 Comments

‘Social justice’ is a term that trips easily from the mouths of politicians and of others on what would be seen as the Left in our society. It is one of those things, like motherhood, that you can’t be opposed to. More widely, it is a favourite term of those in the United Nations who see the disparities in wealth and development across the world as inherently unjust. It is generally agreed to be a term coined by a Catholic philosopher in the 1840s, and owed its growing popularity to the conditions for people in the expanding towns and cities…

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The March for Science

By | ABC, Climate Change, Education, History, Media, Politics, Religion, Research | 119 Comments

I am writing this essay on the day of the March, which will happen in Washington DC and apparently 500 other cities, including several in Australia, where the March is happening as I write. What is it about? There is apparently a ‘war on science’, though who is conducting it is not clear. From its US website you can get this mission statement. The March for Science champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders…

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Gary Banks nails it

By | Climate Change, Economy, Education, Environment, Media, Politics, Society | 59 Comments

For years now I have puzzled at the whole mess of our energy policy. People keep telling us that soon (or now) solar-panelled electricity, or wind, or something, will be cheaper than coal, so we should be transferring, at once. Such oracles never tell us about the hidden subsidies that would make this really true, if it were apparently true. I’ve given up responding. It is plain to me that wind and solar cannot power an electricity grid without abundant base-level fossil-fuel energy. Well, along comes Gary Banks to tell it as it is. For those who don’t know of…

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Mathematics, my father and me

By | ABC, Books, Education, History, Politics, Society | 47 Comments

(Robyn Williams, of the ABC’s Science program, read my piece in Quadrant about how my own world-view came to be formed, and asked could I do an Ockham’s razor broadcast about my father, mathematics and me. This is the outcome. It was broadcast on Sunday March 12th and interested readers can download the audio  here.)   If you grew up in New South Wales in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, there’s a good chance that you studied maths with the help of the textbooks written by two high school teachers, A. G. Aitkin and B. N. Farlow. I knew the…

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Books that have been important to me #4 Barbara and Allan Pease: Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps

By | ABC, Books, Education, Health, History, Humour, Media, Society | 160 Comments

In 1998, my wife and I were driving through northern New South Wales, and had the radio on. Margaret Throsby introduced her guest, Allan Pease, told us the name of his new book, and said something like, ‘Now I want to take issue with you at once about the title. I can read a map as well as any man!’ ‘How do you do it?’ he asked. ‘Well, I point it in the direction we are travelling and it’s straightforward.’ ‘That’s exactly the point of the title,’ he responded. ‘Most men can read a map however it is pointed, but most…

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Standing up against Nannies

By | Education, Humour, Media, Politics, Society | 113 Comments

I’ve written a few times (here, for example) about ‘the nanny State’, and the way in which well-meaning people want to protect ourselves from ourselves by making illegal things that we like to do. Of course, virtually all domestic law is about protecting us from us, but every now and then I want to cry ‘Enough!’ And I do so in this essay, which is about the efforts of a Green MLA in Canberra to protect us, or more specifically, her grand-daughter, from the wicked writing on Wicked camper vans. If you haven’t come across a Wicked camper van, then here…

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Mr Abbott as class bad boy

By | Climate Change, Economy, Education, Environment, Health, History, Language, Media, Politics, Society | 154 Comments

Mr Abbott launched a book the other day, and the speech, which you can read here, instantly led to what I now think has been a media beat-up. His short address has become a further indication, for some in the media, and of course for the Labor Party, of the growing destabilising of the Government and the fragility of the Prime Minister. In fact, I think that Mr Abbott’s speech and its content deserve much closer reading. I should probably qualify what follows by saying that I do not agree with some of what Mr Abbott says, but he is absolutely right in reminding…

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Where is the money to come from?

By | Books, Education, Health, History, Politics, Society | 88 Comments

Last week I went to Parliament for the launch of a major study called the Economic Cost of Dementia in Australia. It was commissioned by Alzheimer’s Australia, and carried out by NATSEM, the social and economic modelling group at the University of Canberra. Their work is always accurate and thoughtful, and the presentation was excellent. Since I have a couple of roles with Alzheimer’s, and am also a carer, I had an immediate interest in what was being put forward to us. I’ve read the report and have no major criticisms. I am always a bit suspicious of talk about ‘economic costs’, for example…

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What is it all for?

By | ABC, Books, Education, History, Media, Politics, Society | 220 Comments

This essay is a companion piece, or a sequel, to my second one this year, on ‘mating’, which I see as the basic dynamo of human societies — not so much the meeting and mating of boy and girl, but the collective consequences of those matings, the growth and shape of human populations over time. This essay takes the argument a little further. My work on political attitudes and behaviour suggested that most young people acquire a more or less tepid version of their parents’ political attitudes while they are at home. Things change when they go out into the wider…

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