Friday, October 9, 2009

Geoffrey Blainey

This post will have to start out like most of my posts.

I have no idea who Geoffrey Blainey is.

Maybe I'll guess....

That might be a fun game.

How about....

I'm going to say he's a lawyer turned politician.

Let's see if I'm right or wrong.

I'm wrong....sort of. He is involved with politics, but maybe not as a politician. He's a political commenter. He's on the right. I guess he'll balance out Philip Adams from yesterday.

I look forward to writing about this. I have to admit. Right-wing people completely bewilder me. I just can't find a lot of tolerance for their viewpoint. Maybe this post will help me understand their side better.

He's also a historian. When I see right-wing historians, in terms of Australia, I automatically assume they're going to downplay the atrocities done to the Indigenous Australians. Am I wrongfully stereotyping in this case, or will Blainey fit my expectations?

Baby Geoffrey was born 11 March 1930 in Melbourne. Lord Wiki says he lived in various country towns. Not much is said about his childhood. Lord Wiki skips ahead to his high school days. He went to Wesley College. This is the same school that Menzies and Holt went to. They were Liberal Prime Ministers....Liberal is right-wing/conservative. The school didn't just have conservative students though. Gough Whitlam's daddy went there. That guy was pretty much on the left, if I'm remembering right.

After Wesley, Blainey went to the University of Melbourne. There he was the editor of the student union newspaper.

I'm not sure what he studied in school. Lord Wiki says he ended up becoming a professor of economics. That might provide us with a clue. No wait. He was a professor of Economic History. So maybe he studied economics and history?

A little later, Blainey became a professor of history. Then in 1982 he became the Dean of Melbourne's Faculty of the Arts.

From 1994 until 1998, Blainey was the foundation Chancellor for the University of Ballarat. I'm not sure what a foundation Chancellor is actually. Foundation usually refers to the beginning of something. Was he the first Chancellor of the University of Ballarat? Is it a new school?

Well, Lord Wiki says it DID start in 1994. I'm not used of young schools like that. It seems most schools are so old.

Now Lord Wiki goes backwards a bit. We stop in 1950. Blainey researched and wrote something about the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company in Tasmania. I wonder if this was written for school...maybe his thesis? Or did Blainey just do this for fun?

Well, for school or otherwise, he turned is project into a book. Lord Wiki says it was fairly successful.

Blainey has written and published many books. Lord Wiki has a list of them. His most recent came out in 2008. It's called Sea of Dangers: Captain Cook and His Rivals.
He wrote a book called A Short History of the World. That sounds fairly familar to me .
Well, it turns out H.G Wells wrote a book with that same title. Maybe I'm thinking about that. Or I might be thinking about Bill Bryson's A Short History of Everything. Yeah. I was probably thinking of the Bryson book.

In Blainey's A Short History of the World, he shares his theory that the most significant thing in human history is the rising of the sea levels after the ice-age. Interesting. I wonder if I'd like his book. One of the reviewers compares it to Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel. I liked that book....a little. I got bored with it after awhile.

In 1975, Blainey published Triumph of the Nomads: a History of Ancient Australia. That's a pretty positive title....not really offensive. I mean it's not like he called it something like Those Early Savages in Australia and how the White People Brought Civilization to a Backwards Culture.
A guy named Stephen Barton uses the book to defend Blainey against accusations of right-wing radicalism. He says the book is a powerful piece of history, meticulously researched, sympathetic yet objective. I would probably have to read the book myself to know if I agree with Barton's review or not.

Blainey has had some controversy in his life. In the 1980's he made comments about Asian immigration. He also dissed multiculturalism. He wrote a book regarding all this stuff called All For Australia.

Lord Wiki talks about the book a bit, and what Blainey argues. One argument is that most countries practice discrimination based on race when it comes to immigration. Australia is afraid to offend Asian countries, yet these Asian countries keep themselves very homogeneous.

I think he has a good point. Asian countries do seem to be a bit homogeneous. However, my argument in return would be that Asian immigrants to Australia are LEAVING these Asian countries. Some of them want out for a reason. I'm betting some people aren't happy in Asia. I'm doubting that this is often a protest against the homogeneous make-up of Asian countries. There's probably other reasons for it. But it does show that the immigrants are willing to live in a country that is not made up of an Asian majority.

Also, as my sister would say. Two wrongs don't make a right. If some countries want to remain homogeneous, does that mean our countries need to do the same?

Blainey argues that too many foreign people at once can erode the feeling of national community. I definitely think it can cause conflict. It's not easy to invite a whole bunch of new people into a country. There's going to be some major hiccups and adjustments. But I don't think newcomers have to cause permanent erosion. Also, I think much of the conflict comes from the the long-time residents. They're often racist and unwelcoming. It's a tough situation.

Lord Wiki says Blainey argues that multiculturalism emphasizes the rights of minorities at the expense of the Australian majority. Well, I think that's bullshit. But it's hard to be convinced with a few sentences from Lord Wiki. Maybe if I read Blainey's own words in his book, I'd be able to sympathize with his viewpoint. On the surface, it just seems ridiculous to me.

It's just from what I can see, in Australia AND America, it's the white people who are living a healthier, safer, and more comfortable life.

In the 1990's, Blainey coined a term called black armband view of history. This refers to history that paints a negative view of Australia. It emphasizes stuff like cultural genocide and exploitation. In response, some of his opponents came up with the term white blindfold view of history.

Jack and I recently watched a Brainpop video about Christopher Columbus. The viewpoint of the film definitely leaned towards a black armband view. I told Tim about it, and he was very pleasantly surprised. It's a nice antidote to the white blindfold view that was pushed on us when we were in school.

Is there a middle ground? I think so. I believe both America and Australia have horrific skeletons in their closet. But I also think there are aspects of our stories that are very inspiring.

I am sickened by what happened to the Indigenous Australians. I do tend to see the Invasion Day aspect of Australia Day.

But then I also think there's incredible amounts of beauty and inspiration in Australia's story. It's amazing that the country was started as a penal colony. Look where it is now.

In 1984, left-wing students picketed Blainey at the University of Melbourne. There were also threats of violence against him. Blainey canceled the rest of his scheduled lectures because of this. I think it's unfortunate and shameful that people would do this. Why can't we manage to strongly disagree with someone without getting nasty and violent?

In 1988, he quit the University of Melbourne all together because of hostility from his colleagues.

There's a part of me that's doubtful. I'm wondering if the threats were truly dangerous, and if the hostility was actually that severe. Or was this a way to play the tortured martyr? Didn't Pauline Hanson do something like that? I think she did. I'll go check in a second. But I think she made some video talking about her life being in danger. Yeah, Lord Wiki says it's true. In 1997, she made a video alluding to the fact that she might be assassinated.

I have my suspicions. But it could come from my own prejudices. What if it were reversed. If a left-wing person talked about being ostracized and threatened, would I doubt him as much? Or would I more likely give him the benefit of the doubt?

Lord Wiki says today the University of Melbourne is more conservative, and in 2005, the university named something in his honor.

The University's site says they gave Blainey a honorary degree in 2007. They say, In conferring the honorary degree on Professor Blainey, the University is acknowledging his great contribution to telling the story of Australia, and to generating public debate on issues in Australian society.

There's nothing here said about his turbulent past with the university. Was Lord Wiki making that up, or is the university sliding stuff under the rug?

Although Blainey's book about Aboriginal Australia had a pleasant title, Lord Wiki seems to have some doubts about whether Blainey is truly supportive of the Aboriginal cause. He was against land rights. That kind of says something right there.

All right. I'm done with Lord Wiki. Where shall I go next?

I couldn't find much exciting stuff on regular Google, so I'm now looking at Google News.

There's a recent article in The Australian regarding Blainey and education. He's against the current phrase that's being revolution. Blainey feels it's unrealistic. He thinks it's better to call it education progress.

Blainey says that today most of the educational control is out of the hands of the educators. Kids are learning from TV and the Internet. I guess we're supposed to see that as an awful thing. I don't.

Why does our society see teachers as so pure and godlike? They're seen as underpaid super heroes or something. Heaven forbid a child learn something from an episode of Arthur or Electric Company....or even a game on Facebook. Pity the child who is homeschooled....brainwashed by the narrow-minded and ignorant views of his parent.

There's this idea that teachers will provide the unbiased necessary truth...something that we can't expect from television, the Internet, and parents. I think that's correct. We cannot and should not expect bias-free education from these sources. But nor can we get it from teachers.

I had high school biology teacher who used bones in the classroom to push her viewpoint of creationism. I had a psychology teacher who often pushed his Christian viewpoints. He used his teaching post to proselytize. And yes. These were both at public schools.

I think the gist of the article is that Blainey questions Rudd's plans of spending more money on education. I might be getting it wrong though.

Here's an editorial from The Australian which talks more about this whole issue. It starts by saying, education is about the teachers, the curriculum and a society's shared expectations about what schools should deliver. It is not about the buildings and it is not about equipment - although good infrastructure ought to be a given.

I can agree with that. If I did have to send Jack to school, I would care more about the teachers and curriculum then I would about the buildings. Although I wouldn't want him in a school that's disgusting, had very outdated textbooks, and no computers.

The editorial says that Julia Gillard is pushing for more testing, standards, and national curriculum. Yeah, because that has worked so well for America.

The person who wrote the editorial pushes for the same thing. It's all about testing kids and rewarding the teachers whose classrooms do well. To me, that's just dangerous. I think you create a monster--teachers who care more about raising test scores than they do about learning.

I do think testing can be a powerful assessment tool. I think it can give us ideas on how the children in a school are doing. But I don't think it should be the one and only factor that determines if a teacher is doing well or not. I mean what if a teacher has bad luck one year and ends up with students that are all a bit slow? It could happen. Or what if a teacher ends up with kids who are clever, but awful at test-taking?

I also think there needs to be alternative modes of assessment. We can look at test scores, but I also think there should be classroom visits, videos made of classroom activities, portfolios of student's work, etc.

Ah! The San Francisco Chronicle has an editorial about all of this. It seems I'm not alone in my viewpoint. Walt Gardner (a teacher himself) says:

More than 30 years ago, Donald Campbell, an eminent social scientist, warned about the danger of measuring effectiveness by a single influential metric. The more any quantitative indicator is used for decision-making, he said, the more subject it will be to corruption and the more it will corrupt the very process it is intended to monitor.
The article itself is about cheating on standardized tests. It's not about individual kids cheating. It's about the schools cheating. The article (published in 2007) says that since 2004, 123 schools in California have been accused of cheating on the standardized tests. Around two-thirds of those schools have admitted their guilt. There are various ways for schools to cheat. One way was featured on an episode of The Simpsons. The schools try to prevent low-performing students from taking the test. On The Simpsons, this was achieved by promising a field trip to certain students. These students were given a practice test earlier, and then told that their scores were very superb. Because of that, they didn't need to take the real test.

Gardner ends with a quote from Einstein. Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.

I love that.

Anyway, there's probably more exciting stuff to discuss. But I'm tired, and ready to quit.


  1. Thanks for leaving the link. I enjoyed your comments and style of writing this. I look at some of the other things listed.

  2. Jim,

    Thank you so much!! I'm very grateful to you.

  3. In the 1950s, we had a federal Labor Opposition Leader (Arthur Calwell) who said "two Wongs don't make a Wright" without apparent irony in a parliamentary debate about post-war immigration so prejudice was happening on the left as well as recently as that.

    Calwell may be our most senior politician to have have had an assassination attempt against him (unsuccessful - by a young man with mental health issues). So we may be prejudiced but we tend to relatively non-violent about it. He also wrote a very self-justifying but also enjoyable autobiography called "Be Just and Fear Not".

    We have only had one or two MPs killed (one probably for an anti-drugs campaign in Griffith - he has never been found - and one allegedly by a political rival (now in gaol) in Sydney.

    That's a short one for me, Dina, so I'll just add that I agree completely with what you wrote earlier about the "black face" incident. I must be very politically unaware because I saw it live and it made no impact upon me until Harry gave it a zero. Then the whole issue just confused me especially because it was then further 'gone into' at the end of the programme and then went viral in the UK and on "the View" in the US because I can understand opposing positions about it equally well.

    I felt the same about the 'sick children' skit that "the Chaser" team did earlier in the year. In the skit one child actor (playing a terminally ill child I assume) was told by the "Make a Realistic Wish Foundation" that they couldn't go to Disneyland and offered a stick (I think). Bad taste seems to have little impact on me until the public tells me what bad taste I must have. I didn't enjoy either skit, they just didn't offend me (I'm Anglo-teutonic and am not the parent of a sick child). Am I unwell? Bad taste seems to be a form of comedy that I seek out.

  4. Martin,

    I have a post on Calwell. And I think I mentioned the assassination thing. Was he the one who was so forgiving about it? Or was that another almost-assassinated person?

    I was initially surprised to learn he was Labor. I'm used or racism coming more from the right side. Learning that about Calwell helped to open my mind a bit.

    I've heard about the MP killed by his rival. I added him to my list and will research him someday.

    I thought aspects of The Chaser skit was actually funny. And I've worked with terminally ill children. There were parts that went way too far, and I did some major cringing. But that's humor. Sometimes people push too far, and it makes some of us uncomfortable.

    That being said....I do find Kyle Sandilands intolerable. But other people might find him to be okay.

    For the recent skit...I think it was more pathetic/stupid than offensive. But that's just my personal opinion.

  5. As a Catholic, he had to be forgiving, I guess, even though he was still allowed to be a little bigoted. He did visit the guy who shot him and had a reconciliation (or something like that, I think).

    I've been wondering whether you will research the Australian woman who just won the nobel prize with two of her students (one was from the UK but they all now work in the US) (it was a scientific one and the first one announced). I found it interesting that the Newshour with Jim Lehrer (which I enjoy watching) called them all American scientists while here in Australia the media calls her Australian. I looked her up on Wikipedia when I could remember her name and it called her Australian-American I think so that sounds best as she was educated to PhD level in Australia and the UK then probably moved to the US for her research work (like Rupert Murdoch presumably became American mainly for the sake of his business interests). I probably have a typical Australian inferiority complex feeling the need to claim her but there you have me.

  6. That was a bit lazy of me. It was Elizabeth H. Blackburn for medicine.

  7. Martin,

    Yes, I did add Blackburn to my list. However, the list is VERY long, and it will probably take 3-4 months for me to get to her. So it won't be a timely post.

    I didn't realize America was claiming her. But I rarely pay much attention to American news.

    Anyway, I would definitely see her as Australian. Although she could be a mixture...I suppose.