Lyndon Hood - jetsetter, Lower Hutt

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Australia I: A Singer of the Bush

So I saw this book at the airport.

Actually, the first book I saw was the Bumper Book of Countries, or whatever it’s called. It’s got a glossy two-page spread for every nation of the world, with a big photo and information about what the place is like and how it get properly in touch with its spirit. Some understanding of New Zealand, for example, can be reached by eating whitebait fritters while reading Whale Rider.

For Nigeria, people were encouraged to read the plays of Wole Soyinka. This may be as close as a relentlessly positive book can get to a warning. I’ve been listening to Soyinka on the radio giving lectures with the topic "Climate of Fear" - on the effects terrorism and dictatorship have on the people. He regularly draws examples from his homeland. The deeper understanding of Nigeria that Soyinka's reader would get presumably includes it not being a good place to go to.

Speaking of travel advisories: at Melbourne Airport, on the way home, there was a computer with the Australian travel guidance website open. Iraq (don't stay unless you have to, get good security) sounds less dangerous to Australians than the Gaza Strip (leave if it is safe to do so). Visitors to New Zealand, on the other hand, should try to avoid earthquakes.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. Book.

It was by the controversial ethicist Peter Singer. I recognised his name from my Applied Ethics paper, which left me with a vague impression that he had written the book on the subject. Turns out, he's written another one. It's about President Bush. I had plenty of time before my connection to Tasmania, so I had a look (wouldn't it be nice if more Amazon review posters actually read the books?).

And before you go looking for my other head (or deciding that I actually am Matt Nippert), I want to say we were going there to visit my wife's parents. And they haven't been in Tasmania long, so she hasn't got two heads either. Okay? Besides, I saw nobody with any kind of congenital deformity the whole time I was there.

The basic idea is, since George W Bush habitually appeals to ideas of right and wrong, to analyse his ethics he has professed as a Governor and a President. Skipping to the end, I discovered Ole Dubya didn't fare so well. If sincere, his morality of a few simple rules is not really adequate to the task of running a country.

I didn't buy it.

I did get some duty free on the way back though. I don't know if you've ever tried Laphroaig whisky, but you would probably remember if you had. It felt like the middle of my tounge was trying to shrivel up and it was pretty clear why the people at the shop had listed "seaweed" among the flavours. Not that the taste is the same, but I'm reminded of the one time I tried Kava. I couldn't help think part of it's stimulating effect was your body reacting to having drunk something so foul.

I had tried Laphraoig before and I got it because I like it. Call me a short-black-drinking-stilton-eater if you like. I won't mind.

I didn't buy the book, partly because I don't need "Babykiller" Singer to tell me that George W is misguided at best. Outrage fatigue? Possibly. Also because I was keeping my baggage weight low. It is beautifully produced, though. Maybe I'm just bad at buying books. I saw Art Spiegelman's In the Shadow of No Towers in Tasmania going so cheap it must have been a mistake, and I didn't buy that either.

The book may be a useful introduction for disillusioned liberals to the world of Applied Ethics. Much like the Get Your War On man writing on the theory of meaning. I've often wondered if the general teaching of some kind of philosophy, or at least of logic, would improve the quality of the general discourse. I suspect the bulk of people would remain fools no matter what.

On the way out of the bookshop I saw the latest follow-up to Latin for All Occasions, which had intructions on how to say a wide variety of amusing things in latin. The sequel is called X-treme Latin (possibly to avoid confusion with the correctly-spelt church mission to Brazil or any amount of porn). It includes a section on "Homeland Security", which translates phrases such as, "If I can't get a good table in a popular restaurant on short notice, then the terrorists have won". It's good to see someone treating these matters with the proper gravitas.

Re-entering New Zealand at Wellington I had to pass under a pair of those bloody white feather flags. I almost went back to Australia.