March 10, 2008
THE ARENA: Dec 05, AU Edition
Get ready for a long, hot summer…
Anyone who has ever taken a holiday in a beach community knows that such places can be fairly insular places. When so much time is spent looking out to sea, it’s sometimes hard to remember that there’s a whole land-based world behind you. And with a little bit of paradise on their doorstep, it’s no wonder that locals get possessive and resentful when outsiders roll in and start violating all the little informal and unwritten rules that make a place where everyone enjoys a common piece of property – the beach – function properly. Just ask fish-kisser Rex Hunt, who was accosted with his teenage son by a group of toughs in Byron Bay recently.
But the riots which swept over Sydney’s eastern beaches recently in the wake of the bashing of a lifeguard by young “men of Middle Eastern appearance” (as the popular press so gingerly puts it; it’s amazing that they don’t use the abbreviation MoMA to save column inches, though perhaps a certain museum in New York might not be so happy about it) were something else entirely.
It is no secret, to anyone who has cared to look for it, that there have long been simmering tensions between packs of youthful “MoMAs” and not just beachside locals but about anyone else who is unfortunate enough to cross their path. In places like Cronulla, the only Sydney beach with its own train stop, this simmer has been on the verge of boiling over for months if not years, as locals share stories of disrespect, abuse and attacks by young Lebanese males pouring in from the western suburbs and causing trouble and charging around the place with a disrespectful swagger.
(Apparently one of the favourite lines of these thugs, cited by the Daily Telegraph’s Anita Quigley, to women and girls who reject their advances is to turn to their mates and say, “She’s not worth doing 55 years for” – a reference to the sentence handed down to gang rapist Bilal Skaf. Combine this with the statements of a Pakistani recently convicted of rape to the effect of “my culture made me do it”, and it’s not hard to see why people get nervous).
But the sad thing about the recent riots is that in many ways they were completely preventable. Although the popular press has been quick to cry “racism” and cite the riots as another example of just what an uncouth bunch of bogans we are in Australia, race ultimately had precious little to do with it. (Just ask the infamous Bra Boys gang of Maroubra, which had a starring role in the riots and which over the years has become a fairly multicultural operation, united in defence of former NSW Premier Bob Carr’s postcode). Instead, John Howard had it right when he said that the “behaviour was completely unacceptable but I’m not going to put a general tag (of) racism on the Australian community … I think it’s a term that is flung around sometimes carelessly and I’m simply not going to do so.”
The problem could have been headed off at the pass years ago had police in NSW – ironically enough, largely under the leadership of Bob Carr – not been systematically stripped of their powers to deal with trouble before it gets out of hand. And while in a free society the presumption of innocence lies with the individual, there’s also a noble tradition of what might be called informal “hidden law”, which says that cops know when a group of kids are up to no good, and should have the power to move them on, arrest them, or break them up accordingly.
Instead, Cronulla residents tell hair-raising stories of offensive and threatening conduct by Lebanese youth, and being told by the police that they can only do something if matters get violent – by which point, of course, the damage is already done.
Nature and criminals abhor a vacuum, and if criminals see that police have, by their absence, created a space where bad behaviour is permissible, they will rush in to fill the gap. That’s been happening for years at Cronulla, and locals finally got sick of it – and of trusting the police to deal fairly with their complaints (hence the violence). But unlike Macquarie Fields, where cops hung back after the riot began at the behest of a politically-timid leadership that kept front-line officers from doing their job, in Cronulla and at other beaches, the failing has been going on for ages, leading many to believe that there is one law for the testosterone-charged MoMAs and one for everyone else.
NSW Police could learn a lot from the example of New York, where an aggressive police campaign against the sort of anti-social behaviour committed regularly not just by ethnic gangs but all sorts of people ended years of “long hot summers” of riots and slashed the crime rate to previously-unimaginable levels.
Or, closer to home, they could look at New Zealand, where a few years back Auckland cops employed a change in the unlawful assembly laws to tackle similar problems of race riots and thuggery.
There’s an old cliché in politics that goes something along the lines of, “the first person to call their opponent ‘Hitler’ loses”. There’s something similar when gangs go at each other: the first group to pelt an ambulance with bottles loses, at least in the eyes of the media. And certainly the thugs of Cronulla who went on a rampage against anyone with too dark a tan are no better than the thugs of Bankstown or Lakemba who, fighting massive internal cultural conflicts, treat beachgoing women as objects of both desire and scorn. But it’s amazing to think how much of this could have been prevented if the provocation – community concern at the thuggery on the part of visiting gangs – was dealt with by the cops at a much earlier stage. It’s time to empower cops to crack down on yobbos and crims – no matter what their ethnicity.
THE ARENA: July 05, AU Edition
Sixty million Frenchmen – and even several Age readers – can’t be wrong
A good friend of mine recently acquired an antique Atomic brand coffee maker. You know the ones I’m talking about: they’re curvy, stylish and Italian, and have more class in their steam control nozzle than any modern $1,999 job that grinds the beans automatically and can be picked up at any big homewares store has in its entire plastic housing. He was telling me about the great history of the things (during World War II, for example, workers at the Atomic factory in Italy stamped the filter’s drip-holes in a Star of David pattern, in quiet protest against the Nazis), and we mused on how amazing it was that, back when the machine was invented, the word ‘atomic’ was the advertising copywriter’s ace in the hole. The boundless promise of the future, the power of science to solve problems, the latest and greatest in technology and design – all were summed up by that one word: ‘atomic’.
Indeed, we were all supposed to be commuting back and forth to the moon in our atomic flying space-cars by now.
But in 2005, Holden’s not making any nuclear-powered Commodores, car makers still tout road-holding – rather than gravity-defying – ability as a selling point, and the word ‘atomic’ has long-since been hijacked to represent everything bad that the men (and they’re always men) in the white lab coats can come up with.
It is time for this to end. Australia, and the world, are on the brink of serious energy shortfalls, yet one of the safest, cleanest, and even greenest electricity supplies in the country is still only being talked about by most politicians in sideways whispers. Fortunately, since I broached this topic in this column two months ago, things have started to change. The Chicken Little propaganda that has, with the help of compliant journalists, teachers unions, and politicians, scared normally-unflappable Australians into thinking that nuclear power will see mushroom clouds rising over Sydney Harbour, is beginning to come undone.
Without mixing fairy tale metaphors too much, it is becoming ever more clear that the anti-nuclear emperor has no clothes.
It all started when NSW Premier Bob Carr released a trial balloon suggesting that, just maybe, it was time to build a nuclear power plant to help meet the electricity needs of Australia’s most populous state. Of course, the move was exactly the sort of cynical ploy that has made Bob the Builder the longest-serving premier in New South Wales history: what he really wanted, of course, was more coal-burning power plants, and the nuclear option, he figured, would scare voters into sticking with the lung-blackening devil they know.
And just in case people missed the nudge-nudge, wink-wink, say-no-more nature of Carr’s nuclear option, he underlined it by pointing out that while a swell idea in theory, state law forbade the opening of any nuclear waste dumps in NSW (while at the same time conveniently ignoring his legislative power to change such a rule).
Yet a funny thing happened on the way to the furphy: an awful lot of Australians took a look at the idea and said, hey, maybe nuclear power isn’t such a bad idea after all.
The first sign that opinion had changed came from the letters pages of Melbourne’s Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, both left-wing echo chambers where correspondents routinely compete to out-radical each other, and conservative voices are so rare that they deserve endangered species protection. (By way of illustration, the day after Peter Costello delivered his widely-praised budget speech earlier this year, the Herald was unable to find one single correspondent who thought that it was a good idea).
Yet on 15 June, for example, the Herald’s lead letter came from one Richard Paulin of North Ryde, who wrote, ‘Some questions for Professor Stuart White, resident anti-nuclear advocate. If nuclear power is so inefficient, why does France, which is 80 per cent nuclear, export $5 billion of electricity annually? If nuclear power waste is an insurmountable problem, why is that country not a nuclear wasteland? If nuclear power is so expensive, why does [sic] France’s steel manufacturers use electric arc furnaces, powered by electricity, rather than Australia’s coke-fired blast furnaces?
‘We need to be far more energy efficient’, Paulin continued. ‘But [Professor White] has done nothing to disprove the fact that nuclear power remains the single most efficient and sustainable energy source for the future.’
A few days earlier in the Age, columnist Terry Lane wrote that ‘Chernobyl frightens us away from nuclear power, but the Canadian province of Ontario, not unlike the state of Victoria, gets 40 per cent of its power from nuclear plants and, as far as I know, has not had a single nuclear accident…
If the likes of the letters editors at the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald are any guide, there is a real shift in sentiment in the community, towards a position that accepts that electricity is needed to run our modern, technological society and that there are trade-offs with any form of electricity generation. Australians recognize that green holy grails of endlessly-renewable power simply don’t exist, that wind farms are ugly and shred kookaburras, solar is impractical, and coal and oil are both dirty and ever-dwindling resources. Under this line of thinking, people recognize that nuclear power might not be perfect either, but that it is well worth discussing.
Indeed, the question of renewability and dependency is one which reverberates through this entire debate. While Australia’s coal resources are abundant, it is hardly a great way to generate power: even clean coal is still pretty dirty, and for all the talk about the potential danger of nuclear power, precious little is said about all those lives lost or shortened due to cancer, in mining accidents, and otherwise as a result of this form of power generation.
Petroleum, meanwhile, is a more complicated question, but there is a growing concern (see Clare Swinney’s feature story, ‘The Good Oil’, on p. 52 of this issue) that mankind may be a few decades away from having seriously depleted the planet’s easily-accessible crude supplies. And while that may seem like a long way away, building infrastructure to cope with a changing energy use profile takes.
THE ARENA: June 05, AU Edition
Forget Supernanny. What Australia needs is Superteacher
If there is one show that is appointment viewing in our house – OK, besides Desperate Housewives – it is Supernanny. While most ‘reality TV’ is pure schlock of the worst kind and about as divorced from most peoples’ lives as Kim Beazley’s pledge to block tax cuts, Jo Frost’s Supernanny speaks to the inner what’s-the-matter-with-kids-these-days crank in all of us, parents or not.
Of course, child psychologists and other self-appointed experts, who have spent decades turning families into dictatorships where the kids are in charge, hate the idea of an uncredentialed glorified babysitter like Frost telling parents to take control again. Sydney University academic Stephen Juan, for one, criticised her as a ‘devil version of Mary Poppins’, adding that the show’s approach represents ‘the outmoded view of the controlling parent … it seems to be so anti-children. It puts the needs of the parent first.’
No matter that in every episode, none of the needs of the parents, whether for sleep or rest or intimacy were being met; according to Juan, to borrow the phrasing (and pronunciation) of Frost, discipline is ‘not esseptible’.
But while parents of pre-schoolers have been singing the praises of Supernanny to the point where adults now regularly joke about sending each other to the ‘naughty corner’, once the kids hit school, there’s no buxom British nanny around to keep order. This isn’t the fault of the kids; rather, it’s the fault of educators.
I’ve been reading the recently-released collection, Education and the Ideal: Leading Educators Explore Contemporary Issues in Australian Schooling (New Frontier Publishing, 2004), over the past few evenings, and one thing has become clear: the people responsible for educating Australia’s children need to be sent to the naughty room to have a good long think about what they’re doing to the country. As the various contributors to the book reveal, the past four decades have seen every half-baked left-wing fad and cause turned into a trendy ‘study’ of some sort or other (i.e., ‘peace studies’ during the Cold War, ‘environmental studies’ today, et cetera).
The book paints a disturbing picture of schools where children are taught a watered-down version of history that extends earlier than the 20th century for no other reason than to teach that Captain Cook’s landing represented an ‘invasion’. Where literature students are taught that an episode of Neighbours is just as valid a ‘text’ as a Shakespeare sonnet. And where Marxist thinking, dead everywhere in the world except academia, informs everything.
As a result, the book notes, students are going on to university and entering the workforce with no comprehension of how to string together a proper English sentence – much less diagram one. Barry Spurr, a senior lecturer in English at the University of Sydney notes that his institution has been forced to initiate a ‘first-year unit of study, “University English”, to attempt to deal with students’ grammatical incompetence. The imposing title is followed by a less-exalted course description where it is indicated that there will be provided “practical writing tasks and work designed to strengthen the students’ knowledge of the basic English grammar” … that the schools are failing to achieve this competence, even amongst their brightest matriculating students, after twelve years at school, remains a national scandal.’
In other disciplines, the problems are the same: while there are plenty of competent and dedicated teachers out there, their ranks have been infested by leftist hacks and has-beens who, unable to otherwise succeed in a competitive market economy, seek to bring it down from the inside. As much as possible, this means cutting students off from the vast traditions they inherit in a Western Anglosphere country such as Australia. Much easier to rubbish the achievements of an explorer like Cook and the people who built modern Australia out of virtually nothing than to teach the great dramatic sweep of civilization that makes us what we are today.
Even science hasn’t been spared: in the 1960s rush to dethrone any expert at all, the teachers unions banded together to get ‘science back from the scientists’.
Not surprisingly, the chickens are starting to come home to roost. According to a study recently released by the Australian Council of Educational Research, Australian kids were less literate and numerate – that is, competent with words and numbers – at the end of the 1990s than there were at the end of the 1970s. This despite a doubling in the amount of school funding per pupil in the same period of time. So what’s going on?
Experts point to a number of factors, from low teacher salaries to a lack of competition in the public school arena. But surely the revolution in the Australian curriculum over the past thirty years must take most of the blame: rather than made to learn facts, students are now taught to adopt attitudes (recycling good, corporations bad, the world will end tomorrow, and America is the great Satan). Combine that with a vast number of extras loaded into students’ days, and it’s no wonder that their critical thinking skills, and their ability to read and write and add and subtract is faltering.
As Naomi Smith writes in the introduction to Education and the Ideal, ‘Educationists who have broken radically from tradition … have presumably done so because they think this will result in a better result for society and the individual, one closer to the conception of the ideal. But there is a real danger in all of this that much that was good about our education system – the product, after all, of an inheritance that dates back 2,500 years to ancient Greece, and which was further enriched by the Judeo-Christian tradition – will be lost.’
And that’s something no amount of time in the naughty corner can get back.
THE ARENA: Nov 05, AU Edition
Iraqis have a sturdy constitution
If it bleeds, it leads’ is the old cliché about how journalists, editors, and producers decide what leads the evening news and makes the front page of the morning paper. After all (to borrow another aphorism), it’s not news when an airplane lands safely; it is news when one misses the runway and scatters steel and bodies across an airfield. But what if things were the other way around, and plane crashes were an every-day occurrence? Wouldn’t it be news if the rate of disasters dropped, and things started getting better in the aviation industry, and getting on a plane stopped being a life-or-death matter? That would certainly be worthy of a story.
That’s the situation we are faced with when it comes to the news media and Iraq. On the one hand, yes, parts of Iraq are deadly dangerous, as the regular litany of death tolls from suicide bombers and ‘improvised explosive devices’ makes clear. British journalist Robert Fisk recently said that Iraq ‘is now hell – a disaster. You cannot imagine how bad it is.’ Now Fisk may be a notorious leftist and anti-Bush radical (he was the man who once, after being accosted by toughs in Afghanistan, wrote that he felt that he deserved to be beaten up for being a white European), but his sentiments are a common one in the press. And as a result, the vast majority of reporting we see in Australia (and in other countries’ news outlets) is bad news.
Yet there is another side of the story that is not being covered with anywhere near as much enthusiasm: the growth of a democratic Iraqi civil society, and the increasing failure of the notoriously-misnamed ‘insurgents’ to achieve their tactical or political goals. Did you know that Iraqis recently went to the polls and approved a new constitution? No? You could be forgiven, considering the precious few column-inches in Australian papers that were devoted to this historic event.
Even if you did hear the news, it is likely that it was tempered with well-spun numbers designed to suggest that the balloting was a bloody failure. As a combined AP/Agence France Press dispatch that ran in the Sydney Morning Herald put it at the time of the voting, ‘Nearly 450 people were killed in the 19 days before the referendum, often by insurgents using suicide car bombs, roadside bombs and drive-by shootings.’
Well, yes, fair enough – though these numbers don’t tell us anything about the 19 days previous to that. (Similarly, reporters trumpet the rising death toll of American troops, without contextualizing it by pointing out that casualties have been decreasing month-on-month). What the Herald’s dispatch, and those in most other major news outlets, ignored is that the voting was a tremendous disaster for the terrorists who doing their best to turn Iraq into a swamp of civil war and sharia law.
Yes, Coalition troops did their level-best to secure the country for the voting, including banning on the day to prevent car bombs, but consider this: There were 347 terrorist attacks on polling places in January when Iraqis went to the polls for the first time since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
Ten months later, when Iraqis once again took to the streets in droves to cast their ballots and get their fingers stained purple, terrorists were only able to pull of a grand total of 13 attacks.
Pretty pathetic on the terrorists’ part, really.
Of course, the institutional bias of most news organisations means that this sort of information is rarely presented. Indeed, ABC’s Media Watch went to great pains recently to take a swipe at a regular feature in the Wall Street Journal – an American newspaper – written by an Australian. It’s title? ‘Good News From Iraq’.
The amazing thing is that this bias, which can broadly be called left-wing, winds up doing such a disservice to the cause of bringing freedom, democracy, and self-determination to a country that had spent the past several decades being crushed under the heel of a brutal tyrant. Loathing of George W. Bush specifically, and broader post-modern skepticism about anything American in general, has placed the left in a very uncomfortable position philosophically when it comes to the liberation of Iraq and the broader Global War on Terrorism.
This was brought home to me a few weeks ago when I sat on a panel discussing everyone’s favourite cocktail party subject, ‘why hate America?’. The war was pretty high on my opponent’s writ of indictment, and of course all the usual canards were trotted out: George Bush and Dick Cheney orchestrated the whole thing so that their greedy environment-despoiling pals at Halliburton could take control of Iraq’s oil while at the same time making sure plenty of poor, black soldiers get sent to their deaths and are kept overseas where they were unable to help the Kerry-voting residents of New Orleans…and so on.
And of course, they charged the US with fighting a ‘war on Islam’.
While a simplistic misrepresentation, there is something to that last charge; the war is not a war on a religion, but a particularly political manifestation of it that is generally termed ‘Islamo-fascism’. Where Islamo-fascism flourishes, the very freedoms we all cherish, and which the left has an honourable history of fighting for, die. And thus left-wing opponents of the war – who always go to great pains to say, ‘Of course I didn’t support Saddam Hussein’, before adding the critical, ‘but…’ – effectively align themselves with regimes whose leaders ban representational art, music and dancing, think ‘equal pay’ means that a man has to give the same shopping allowance to all his wives, and stay up all night debating whether stoning or hanging is the proper application of gay rights.
Yes, Iraq still has a long way to go before adventure tourists head there by the planeload to see the ruins of Ninevah. And yes, as the saying goes, war is hell. But as Iraq’s constitutional referendum showed, that country is heading in the right direction.
Too bad that those who should be most supportive of the project can’t see it.
THE ARENA: Apr 05, AU Edition
New York used to be a hell of a town. Is Sydney becoming one?
On a hot summer night almost fifteen years ago, a car in a Hasidic Jewish funeral procession veered out of control on a street in the Brooklyn suburb of Crown Heights, killing a black child, Gavin Cato, and severely injuring his cousin. What followed were several days of riots during which the police held back and let the criminals vent their anger by destroying property and attacking Jews, including Yankel Rosenbaum, a visiting scholar from Melbourne who was stabbed to death.
Fast forward to just a few weeks ago: again, a fatal suburban car crash sparks several days of rioting, and again, the cops hang back and let the bad guys do their thing – after all, their commanders wouldn’t want them to do anything that would “make the situation worse”, i.e. arrest people.
Of course, there are crucial differences in these two scenarios: the first took place in New York; the second in outer Sydney. In the first case, a truly innocent life was snatched (not that that is an excuse for rioting by any means). In the second, the dead were a pair of budding career criminals who were hooning around in a car they knew was stolen and crashed after being chased by police. And unlike today’s Sydney, the New York of the early-1990s in the bad old days before Rudy Giuliani was in fact a pretty lawless place where the cops were ineffectual at best and politicians could only promise to slow the slide into anarchy. This is the environment Tom Wolfe so brilliantly captured in his classic, The Bonfire of the Vanities.
But just because New York’s bad old days seem so far removed does not mean there are not serious lessons that Sydney’s leaders need to learn – not the least of which is that if a place is perceived as being lawless, then it will quickly become so. The Macquarie Fields riots came just a few months after riots in the inner-city suburb of Redfern, where the death of an aboriginal teen – supposedly after a police pursuit – led to several nights of violence that, again, police were reluctant to clamp down upon.
And while the sort of kids who fling petrol bombs at cop cars and laugh when policewomen are knocked over are certainly not the sharpest knives in the drawer, even they are quick enough to pick up the lesson that when confronted with a mob, overwhelmed cops are powerless and under orders to withdraw and negotiate. Which is why just a few nights after the Macquarie Fields riots which took so long to quell, 150 youths started flinging bottles and abuse at cops in Darling Harbour. And, thanks to the principle of “safety in numbers”, only a handful of miscreants were arrested.
By worrying too much about appearances and not enough about law and order, NSW’s leaders are sending a powerful message that will only come back and bite them and the voters who keep electing them. And Premier Bob Carr’s increasingly politically-correct stance on the riots is not helping. (He started out sensibly in the immediate aftermath of the riots by blaming the criminals involved, only to backpeddle and cast responsibility first on poor social factors, then on bad parenting – things which feature in the lives of plenty of people who still manage not to go ape and destroy their street every time they think the authorities have done wrong by the friendly neighbourhood car thief).
What it comes down to is the complicated set of phenomena that happens when, collectively, a society changes because its perceptions of itself change. In New York, for example, the fact that most people believed the streets and subways were unsafe and ungovernable meant people stayed off of them as much as possible – leaving a vacuum for criminals to fill and solidify the impression.
Similarly, in Sydney, happily-underemployed and undereducated youth are getting the message that their lawlessness will be tolerated and sympathetic newspaper articles will be written about them, so long as they make sure to bring plenty of mates and come from a suitably unfashionable suburb.
To counter this, Bob Carr should tell NSW Police that the next time violence of the sort that flared up in early March happens again, they are to do whatever it takes to restore order and make arrests, as quickly as possible.
Not only that, he should indicate that he will back them not just during the inevitable media firestorm, but also through the legal battles that will surely come from community activists and lawyers who think that there’s no reason that friends can’t come together occasionally over a few Molotov cocktails, and who think nothing of tying up a working-class cop’s career for years in the name of “social justice”.
Finally, he should press prosecutors to hold rioters accountable to the full extent of the law, and urge magistrates to set high bails and sentences for those arrested and found guilty. Even if it doesn’t deter other no-hopers, at least it detains those who are arrested on one night long enough that they can’t go out and start another round of mayhem the next.
The lessons of New York’s bad old days are not complicated: give cops the tools and backing they need to do their jobs. Prosecute minor infractions before they become major ones. And make honest people feel that it is they, and not the criminals, who have control over the streets. Unfortunately, these are lessons that cities like London – where burglars operate with such impunity that they actually prefer to target their victims when they are at home – have ignored in recent years. The growing number of riots throughout Sydney’s suburbs suggests that her leaders are going to have to learn these lessons themselves, the hard way.
THE ARENA: May 05, AU Edition
Save the Earth. Go nuclear
Afew Saturdays ago I met one of my neighbours for the first time. He’s the father of one of my son’s playmates – we all live around the same little inner-city playground – and though I’d met his wife and child a million times, the two of us had never crossed paths. We stood around making small talk while the kids ambled around the swings, and the conversation turned to commuting and cars. My neighbour mentioned that he had a 90-minute drive to and from work.
When I asked him where he worked that required such a long drive, I caught a brief anxious flicker in his eyes as he answered my question: ‘Lucas Heights’, he said.
For those not familiar with it, Lucas Heights is the outer-Sydney suburb that is also home to Australia’s one and only nuclear reactor. We don’t get any power from it – it’s pretty much used solely for medical research – but it is a huge source of controversy. Thanks to a combination of junk science, environmental journalism that consists largely of checking the fax machine for the latest Greenpeace press release, and naked political opportunism, in many peoples’ minds, Lucas Heights is simply a Chernobyl waiting to happen.
No wonder my neighbour was nervous about telling a stranger where he worked.
This anti-nuclear attitude is bad for Australia on several levels. For one thing, the same environmentalists and commentators who scream bloody murder over John Howard’s refusal to sign the Kyoto treaty are the same people who want to deny Australia a source of power that produces virtually nothing in the form of so-called greenhouse gasses.
For another, Australia has the planet’s greatest wealth of uranium, and is just about to become the world’s biggest exporter of the stuff. This may be great for our balance of trade, but it is also an indicator of how we are being left behind in the race to develop safe nuclear energy. Today 17 per cent of the world’s electricity comes from nuclear power that flows from 435 reactors in 33 countries – and a further 42 reactors are under construction or on order.
What is behind this refusal to develop nuclear energy, which even Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore has famously described as ‘clean’? Part of the problem is that along with uranium, we are also blessed with enormous coal reserves – another great Australian export – which means that there isn’t much imperative to develop some other way to light our houses.
But more than that is the sustained campaign by environmentalists to wreck the future of the nuclear industry here, even as nations like France and Canada stake their future on atomic energy. As Brian Martin, a radical-left professor at the University of Woollongong put it in a paper entitled, ‘Education and the Environmental Movement’, ‘Several factors made nuclear power a prime target for opposition. The rise of the environmental movement meant that the existence of any environmental impacts of a technology made it vulnerable to attack.
Nuclear power was particularly vulnerable because it was not yet entrenched, as was, for example, the automobile. Therefore nuclear power could be opposed outright, as well as regulated to make it safer.’
Meanwhile in the schools, Martin writes that, ‘the anti-nuclear power movement has put some effort into institutions for formal education, by talking to school classes, putting on occasional adult education courses and encouraging academics to study and research the issues.’ While Prof. Martin was writing in support of the campaign against nuclear energy, he also quietly gave the game away: at its core, the environmental movement is about opposing new technologies, no matter what they are, or how much they could improve the lot of humanity. It’s an anti-progress agenda that American television journalist John Stossel, himself a famous campaigner against junk science, calls the BANANA syndrome: ‘Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone’.
And it doesn’t matter if they have to stoop to a little brainwashing to do it. Martin and others are explicit about the need to get to kids early on in life to make sure they are indoctrinated with the anti-nuclear message (if you can’t win a debate with grownups, after all, why not try with children?) One teachers’ guide distributed in South Australia encourages English assignments such as, ‘Students imagine they are living near Chernobyl at the time of the nuclear disaster. They write a diary covering the week before and the week after the disaster’, and, ‘Students write a story describing a typical day in their life – without sunlight’.
Not a word about Chernobyl’s cardboard-and-duct-tape containment systems, just nuclear nightmares. It’s a 21st Century version of how Cold War geopolitics were taught in the 1980s: just scare the pants off the kiddies with a bunch of apocalyptic nuclear war flicks like The Day After and hope enough of them go home and pester mum and dad to vote left.
Of course, not all environmentalists are opposed to nuclear power, though failing to hew to the anti-atomic precepts of the green church is a pretty fast route to excommunication. The aforementioned Patrick Moore, who says that on the nuclear question, ‘activists have abandoned science in favour of sensationalism’, has started his
own group, Greenspirit, which bridges the gap between environmentalism and technology. On his website (www.greenspirit.com), Moore – who has been branded an ‘eco-traitor’ for his efforts – proclaims that responsible forestry is the way to save trees, and that genetic engineering can help poor farmers.
But while Moore may not see a conflict between human progress, saving the planet, and making a buck all at the same time, the environmental movement in Australia is mired in a decades-old fantasy world where giant wind farms or solar arrays will save the day.
In the meantime, with oil prices spiking and much of the rest of the world cleaning up their own backyards by using our uranium, isn’t it about time we re-opened the nuclear discussion – minus
THE ARENA: Sep 05, AU Edition
Iraq: For some on the left, it’s the defeat America has to have
Years ago, back when Bill Clinton held the lease to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, I had one of the least exciting, yet seemingly most glamorous, jobs in Washington journalism: I was a rotating member of the corps of White House journalists who followed the president whenever he left town.
Once the fun of flying on the president’s jet wore off – the press is sequestered in a small cabin in the rear of the plane equipped with old-school first class airline seats (no sleeper suites here) and a couple of TVs for dialing up movies from a central service somewhere in the bowels of the aircraft – the tedium of the gig set in. A three-day, eight-city fundraising jaunt, listening to the same speech over and over and over again, followed by interminable schedule-destroying waits as the then-president shook every hand in the hall would leave us all exhausted. One of my favourite memories of this chapter of my career was the day the irascible television news presenter Sam Donaldson tagged along and bellowed at each meet-and-greet from our holding pen, ‘Oh, would you just finish up already, so we can GO HOME!’
Why do I bring all this up? Because the patience with which I endured Clinton’s routines was eventually rewarded by my employers, who let me go on holiday with the president. Not holiday in the sense of ‘Clinton and Morrow go cruising on Daytona Beach’, but rather, in that I got to join the rest of the motley crew known as the White House Press Corps in a luxury resort in Florida while Clinton hung out with some friends who had a spread down the road for a couple of weeks. It was one of the great boond- oggles of all time; everyone brought their partners and sat by the pool swilling daiquiris, and the only pretense of work one had to do was occasionally check in with the media centre to see that the announcement ‘Full Lid’ – White House-speak for, ‘ain’t nothing going on here, go play some golf or lie by the pool and have some nice tuna steaks for dinner’ – still applied.
But that was presidential vacation, Clinton-style, and may be one small reason why he got such a free pass from the media for so long. These days, ‘presidential vacation’ duty is a lot less fun, and those ‘lucky’ enough to accompany George W. Bush on holiday get to do so camped out in a tiny town in the middle of Texas in the middle of August with precious few of the creature comforts inside-the-Beltway journos take for granted.
All of this is a very round-about way of getting to the sad story of Cindy Sheehan, which played itself out over the past few weeks on a dirt road outside the Bush ranch. Sheehan, for those not familiar with the story, is the mother of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq; some time ago, she had a ten-minute-long meeting with Bush, after which she said, ‘I now know he’s sincere about wanting freedom for the Iraqis. I know he’s sorry and feels some pain for our loss. And I know he’s a man of faith.’ Lately, she has taken to demanding another one, simply so that she can berate the commander-in-chief.
Speaking of the way her first meeting with Bush brought her family closure, Sheehan added, ‘That was the gift the president gave us, the gift of happiness, the gift of being together’.
Somewhere along the line, though, Sheehan decided to change her tune – from grieving mother respectful of her son’s sacrifice to full-bore, hard-left radical opponent not just of the Iraq War, but, seemingly, everything America stands for. And the place she decided to do this? Camped out in a ditch outside the presidential ranch, where she demanded another meeting (until she upped stumps for a family emergency), surrounded by reporters with nothing better to do than sympathetically cover her ravings. Which, combined with the generally anti-Bush and anti-war tenor of the mainstream media, may explain why Sheehan got such a good run of her fifteen minutes of fame.
But in the midst of Sheehan’s elevation to anti-war movement poster-mum and world-wide front-page story, a few facts have been ignored. Like that before her Texas sojourn, Sheehan spoke at a conference with radical lawyer Lynne Stewart (who defended the Islamists who tried to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993) and announced, ‘America has been killing people on this continent since it was started. This country is not worth dying for…the biggest terrorist is George W. Bush’.
And that she’s been heard to comment that Bush should ‘send his two little party-animal girls to war’. Never mind that with an all- volunteer armed services, Bush doesn’t have the power to send any civilian to war.
And that some of her newfound mates have, shall we say, ‘issues’ when Israel comes up, and that se has allied herself with outfits like United for Peace and Justice and the Crawford Peace House, which mark the entire State of Israel as ‘Palestine’ on their websites and who believe that the romantically-named Iraqi ‘insurgency’ (the same one that killed Sheehan’s son) is only engaged in ‘legitimate’ resistance.
Sheehan herself has said her son ‘was killed for lies and for a PNAC neo-con agenda to benefit Israel. My son joined the Army to protect America, not Israel.’
Not that either, in Sheehan’s book, are worth defending at all.
Not surprisingly, all of this has stood Sheehan in good stead with the anti-war left. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd announced that because she lost a son – one who, incidentally, volunteered to go to Iraq, and whose memory is now being used for political purposes he might very well disagree with – Sheehan has absolute moral authority, and that there is to be no arguing with her.
Alas, there has to be. For not only does she not speak for all families who have lost relatives to the Iraq War, but she also seeks to dishonour those who are there by trashing the country, the mission, and the president they signed up to serve. More to the point, she also raises points that need to be argued, and forcefully: anti-war types like Dowd cannot throw the Sheehan card down on the table like an ace-high straight and expect to walk away with the pot – namely, a wounded America that hobbles back home to lick its humbling wounds while leaving another country in chaos and to the depredation of psychopaths and tyrants.
Sorry, but the Baby Boomers aren’t going to get to relive their Vietnam fantasies that easily.