Quadrant has just completed it's first 50 years of existence and this issue (November 2006) contains some things that mark that milestone. There is, first off, a three-page 'Tribute' to the magazine by the prime minister, John Howard. Considering Quadrant's circulation is only 1000 copies, this is exceptional. The tribute was delivered by the PM at the magazine's golden jubilee in Sydney on 3 October. He starts with two jokes:
I'm finally succumbing to Peter Garrett's advice, and it's great to embrace an evening of culture and poetry and all of that, after overdosing on my philistine sporting pursuits over the weekend from one side of the country to the other.
Peter Garrett, of course, is the recently-conscripted Labor member (the PM, of course, is Liberal (conservative)) for the Sydney seat of Kingsford-Smith and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Reconciliation and the Arts. Formerly, he was the lead singer in the mega-famous rock group Midnight Oil. The other joke is that the PM loves cricket, is a cricket-tragic in fact, and that he reads Quadrant at all is indicative of his seriousness as a person.
Michael O'Connor has written a piece that starts on page 8, 'Australia and the Arc of Instability', about the failed and teetering Pacific Island states on our doorstep, and Australia's manifest obligation to support them. This is topical. Papua New Guinea has just stood down three senior public servants over the events that upset Australian law-makers and bureaucrats: the escape of Julian Moti (the recently-appointed attourney-general of Solomon Islands) from PNG to Solomon Islands aboard a PNG military plane. Moti is wanted by Australian police over child-sex allegations dating from ten years ago. Australia initially suspended diplomatic and ministerial exchanges with PNG following the flight, and Sir Michael Somare, the PNG PM, lashed out at the "arrogance" implied in this action. Now, the new PNG foreign minister has said that they will do everything possible to find out how it happened. The $300 million in aid we send to PNG annually speaks louder than politicians' unregenerate pronouncements.
The reality is that these former colonies are actually or close to becoming failed states. Yet each was left with a viable system of government and enough resources that, properly managed, would provide the basis for steady if unspectacular development. This is what nationalism was supposed to be about and, generally speaking, the metropolitan powers delivered what was needed, often with rare generosity. The failures or impending failures of these former colonies have been all their own work, and after three decades of independence, playing the blame game carries little conviction.
This article is followed by another on the same topic: 'Mendicancy or Membership? The South Pacific and the World Community' by Wolfgang Kasper:
Samoa and Tonga have managed about 2.3 per cent per annum growth in per capita incomes over the past thirty years, when East Asians (excluding Japan) averaged about 4.3 per cent. Others have performed woefully and are becoming ungovernable basket cases. In Papua New Guinea, average incomes have more than halved (-2.8 per cent per annum). In the Solomon Islands, they have dropped by more than a quarter over the same period (-1.1 per cent per annum). Fiji has only managed puny economic growth (0.4 per cent per annum).
It's a sad tale of neglect and maladministration. Now, Australia has soldiers and police in East Timor and Solomon Islands. And a group of Navy ships that was headed toward Fiji following the emergence of fears of a military coup two weeks ago, have turned south toward Tonga, where, following the death of the old king, drunken rioters have torched a number of buildings and the country is in turmoil.
Iaian Bamforth has written a piece about Don Quixote, 'A Lance for Hire: 400 Years of Don Quixote'. This is a very well-written and -resourced piece that ranges widely, looking at Cervantes' book from many angles now, 400 years after it was first published.
Personally, I still admit to a sneaking admiration for the figure of Don Quixote, and not just for lessons in the art of jousting. Who else would dare to play St George to a world so firmly in the grip of systems, not least the overarching system made in the image of the supreme idol of capital, money, which mimics Christianity's redemptive structure, except in reverse? Every system, as Kierkegaard wrote, is plebian. Only literature remembers what it means to be an aristocrat: it calls him the outcast.
The Good Weekend has been rebadged and redesigned with, groan sigh, more lifestyle features. It also has a new moniker: GW.
There's a very excellent feature in this issue (18 November) by Greg Bearup. Entitled 'Nine Feet Under', the piece has the writer going to Rookwood Cemetary, "the largest cemetary in the southern hemisphere", to look at what happens to people who cannot pay for their own funerals. On the day he arrives, there are three. What he does then, amazingly, is to talk to the people who knew these men ("'They are nearly all men,' says Lyle Pepper of the paupers he's buried over the years. 'Very few women. Even if they are down-and-out family they will want to give their mother a decent burial.'") and write profiles within the main feature, about them.
The transition is sudden and thrilling. As the minister recites the name of the first dead man, Bearup inserts a heading with his name, and the profile follows.
John van Tiggelen writes about an independent politician in Victoria. And there's also an interview with Martin Amis, written by Ginny Dougary. Is he worried that he's never won the Man Booker Prize?
"No. I'm completely reconciled to the fact that my books do not unite people, and they blatantly don't unite committees. If they did, I would be a different writer. Obviously, winning the Booker simplifies things. But what's most important is feeling you have a core of readers. And that's more important than the money, too, as long as you're not starving."
There's also a feature by Mark Dapin, 'To Baldly Go', about a group of bald men who have set up The League of Bald Men. These guys are in the habit of getting into fistfights with the owners of hair-regrowth clinics. It's a good read.
The New Yorker is always good value. And this week (6 November) is no different. Robert Gottlieb writes about 'A Lost Child: the strange case of Minour Drouet', an eight-year-old poet who was feted by French society in the 1950s and now lives as plain old Mme. Le Canu in a small village.
'Noah's mark: Webster and the original dictionary wars' by Jill Lepore traces the development of the Webster dictionary in the United States. It goes some way toward outlining the difference between Republicans (progressive) and Federalists (conservative; Webster was one of these) in the early days of the republic.
Then there's a terrific piece by Elizabeth Kolbert about Turkey's inability to face its past crimes head-on: 'Dead Reckoning: the Armenian genocide and the politics of silence'. No doubt European legislators will read this and wonder when, if ever, Turkey can be admitted into the Union. Not soon, it seems. I hope not, anyway.
There's also a long profile of Will Wright, a video game pioneer: 'Game Master'. And John Updike returns to an American legend in 'Down the River: The annotated Uncle Tom's Cabin'.