April 12th 2008

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Red Star over Canberra

EDITORIAL: Behind the bid for UN Security Council seat

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Kevin Rudd's ideas summit looms

BIOFUELS: Ethanol doesn't have to compete with food

QUARANTINE: AQIS blamed for equine influenza outbreak

FINANCE: Right and wrong way to tackle financial crisis

STRAWS IN THE WIND: The American elections / Rudd's honesty / Conservative blues / NATO's fastidious peace-keeping

TAIWAN: KMT victory paves way for improved China ties

EUROPE: The Dutch disease - how low can you go?

BIOETHICS: Man - a vanishing species?

OPINION: Twilight of the British Raj

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Beijing's one-child policy a demographic powder-keg / A nation of dunces? / Fragility of the affluent society

High cost of foregoing trade deal (letter)

Finlandisation? (letter)

News Weekly's stand on global-warming (letter)

Earth Hour a silly idea (letter)

BOOKS: THE LITERACY WARS: teaching children to read and write in Australia by Ilana Snyder

BOOKS: ORIGINS: An Atlas of Human Migration edited by Russell King

Books promotion page

Beijing's one-child policy a demographic powder-keg / A nation of dunces? / Fragility of the affluent society

News Weekly, April 12, 2008
Beijing's one-child policy a demographic powder-keg

China's gender imbalance, the result of the one-child policy implemented in 1979, is creating a social time bomb that may threaten the already feeble status of women, who are already losing ground....

By the year 2020, there will be 30 million more men than women, according to a report by the State Population and Family Planning Commission....

If those figures hold true in China, visitors in 2020 may find a generation warped by a huge gender imbalance, raising questions about what one does with a society where one man in five cannot find a wife....

A 2006 study conducted by Therese Hesketh of the Institute of Child Health at University College London and Zhu Wei Xing of China's Zhejiang Normal University for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that 94 per cent of all unmarried people in China aged between 28 and 49 are males, and that 97 per cent of them have not completed high school.

Some critics have predicted that the phenomenon of a growing number of young men in lower echelons of society who are marginalised and who have little outlet for sexual energy will lead to higher levels of anti-social behaviour and violence....

But what has caused this gender imbalance in the first place? The proximate cause, of course, is China's one-child policy, which has been in effect since 1979 and which was meant to alleviate overpopulation but which had the unfortunate side effect of skewing the sex ratio by inducing illegal sex-selective abortions....

The ultimate cause is the traditional cultural preference of sons over daughters. Sons are considered more valuable for their higher wage-earning capacity, especially in agrarian societies, and they can continue the family line, while daughters are looked upon as economic burdens.

This archaic son-preference mentality is the reason for sex-selective abortions, female infanticide and abandoned girls across China....

- from Alice Poon, "China's generation without women", Asia Sentinel (Hong Kong), March 25, 2008.
URL: www.asiasentinel.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1114&Itemid=34

A nation of dunces?

Americans are in serious intellectual trouble - in danger of losing our hard-won cultural capital to a virulent mixture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism and low expectations....

Dumbness, to paraphrase the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, has been steadily defined downward for several decades, by a combination of heretofore irresistible forces. These include the triumph of video culture over print culture (and by video, I mean every form of digital media, as well as older electronic ones); a disjunction between Americans' rising level of formal education and their shaky grasp of basic geography, science and history; and the fusion of anti-rationalism with anti-intellectualism.

First and foremost among the vectors of the new anti-intellectualism is video. The decline of book, newspaper and magazine reading is by now an old story. The drop-off is most pronounced among the young, but it continues to accelerate and afflict Americans of all ages and education levels....

I cannot prove that reading for hours in a treehouse (which is what I was doing when I was 13) creates more informed citizens than hammering away at a Microsoft Xbox or obsessing about Facebook profiles. But the inability to concentrate for long periods of time - as distinct from brief reading hits for information on the Web - seems to me intimately related to the inability of the public to remember even recent news events.

It is not surprising, for example, that less has been heard from the presidential candidates about the Iraq war in the later stages of the primary campaign than in the earlier ones, simply because there have been fewer video reports of violence in Iraq. Candidates, like voters, emphasise the latest news, not necessarily the most important news.

- from Susan Jacoby, "The dumbing of America", Washington Post, February 17, 2008.
URL: www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/15/AR2008021502901.html
Susan Jacoby's latest book is The Age of American Unreason (Pantheon, 2008).


Fragility of the affluent society

Urban life - and in the modern world, most life is urban - has an unpleasant edge in Britain, even in the midst of plenty. You hardly dare look a stranger in the eye, lest he take violent offence; the young, poor and prosperous alike, have imposed a curfew on the old after dark, and on everyone on Friday and Saturday nights; the age at which fellow citizens provoke fear declines constantly, so that one avoids even aggregations of eight-year-olds, as though they were piranhas in a jungle river.

The British state, for its part, is able to bully and regulate at will, thanks to technology - yet it seems to carry out these actions for their own sake, not for any higher purpose. The privatisation of morality is so complete that no code of conduct is generally accepted, save that you should do what you can get away with; sufficient unto the day is the pleasure thereof.

Nowhere in the developed world has civilisation gone so fast and so far into reverse as here, at least to the extent to which civilisation is made up of the small change and amenities of life....

Not only in England (though especially here) but also throughout parts of Western society... we have become bored with what we have inherited, to which, for lack of talent, we have contributed so humiliatingly little.

- from Theodore Dalrymple, "The marriage of reason and nightmare", City Journal (New York), Vol.18, No.1, Winter 2008.
URL: www.city-journal.org/2008/18_1_otbie-ballard.html

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