Category

Education

How much progress has there been in Australia since 1950?

By | Books, Economy, Education, Health, History, Society | 37 Comments

I have been thinking about this topic for some time, and foreshadowed this essay last week. ‘Progress’ is one of those protean words, changing its meaning according to the needs of the user. It comes from the Latin, pro meaning forward, and grado meaning stepping, walking, going. So, there is thought to be progress when things go forward. My Shorter Oxford gives its sense for this essay as ‘continuous improvement’. And at once there is some reservation, for ‘improvement’ in a human life and in social life is rarely continuous. There are usually steps backward as well as forward. And…

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What does the future hold?

By | Books, Climate Change, Economy, Education, Environment, Food & Wine, Health, Politics, Society | 35 Comments

What sort of future we are likely to enjoy, or have to put up with, has been a regular subject on the Internet for some time now. Being unsure of how much future I personally have left, I’m not totally consumed by the subject. But I saw a comprehensive list the other, and I thought it was worth reflecting on. The list was the work of Shelly Palmer, who has written a couple of interesting pieces on innovation. I have numbered the sections below for ease of comment, and done some minor editing as well. One thing to note at…

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What should former PMs do?

By | Economy, Education, Environment, History, Media, Politics, Society | 44 Comments

At a recent lunch I got into a discussion about the current tensions within the Liberal Party, and more particularly the extent to which they were due to what a friend called the ’irresponsible’ behaviour of Mr Abbott. I had written about Mr Abbott’s situation before, and offered some of that comment at the lunch. My friend would have none of it. Mr Abbott should have left Parliament at the first opportunity, and if he stayed, should have maintained a dignified silence. My view, set out in the conclusion to the essay linked above, is that, ‘He ought to be allowed…

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

By | Books, Education, History, Language, Society | 26 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 | 75 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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