This was the second Quarterly Essay, published in 2001. I think I've read most of the Quarterly Essays. Some are okay, but most I find pretty tepid. It's more a left / small 'l' liberal thing than anything else. A lot of the writing can be precious and too careful. Plus I think there's a lot of padding, or overwriting.
Robert Manne's essay I found too bitchy. Guy Rundle's on John Howard just so-so, nothing earth shattering. Amanda Lohrey's on the Green's too airy-fairy, with little real substance. Don Watson on our relationship with the USA was his usual effete self. Novelist David Malouf's essay was just plain boring. Germaine Greer's was okay, but she lets her loopiness get in the way of some interesting ideas. Who else can I remember? Political journalist Mango McCallum - about the Tampa 'crisis'. That was a pretty good essay. Tim Flannery's on the environment was very good, nicely written. Plus Gideon Haigh's essay on CEO's - I probably enjoyed that one the best. He's funny and clever, without seeming forced. Labor man John Button's essay wasn't bad, but nothing earth shattering. Paul McGeough (from the Sydney Morning Herald) is next, about the war in Iraq. That should be interesting, seeing he's been reporting from there since the war began.
I didn't realise until I read the introduction that this John Birmingham was the same one who wrote He Died with a Falafel in his hand. Much has been written on East Timor, by people far more engaged in the subject that J. Birmingham. You can have your criticisms of John Pilger, but at least he writes with real anger and urgency on the subject.
Mr Birmingham's essay was okay. I found it a bit too carefully written - a bit too self concious. He uses expressions like 'dysfunctional paradigm' etc. etc. As I said, much has already been written on the subject, and I don't think the author added anything really new.
I found the part on the Indonesian military interesting. He said their military is no match for ours, that's it's only good for terrorising Timorese peasants. I remember reading Kenneth Davidson in the Age writing the same thing.
Pretty much a forgettable essay. Read John Pilger or Noam Chomsky instead.