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(generated from captions) This Program is Captioned Live. # Theme music a special edition of Big Ideas Hi there and welcome to harbourside venue coming to you from the bustling Sydney Writers' Festival, for the 2011 I'm Waleed Aly. on what Pakistan knew Fatima Bhutto speaks out to kill Osama bin Laden. about the operation go head to head A.A. Gill and Anthony Bourdain in a restaurant lover's food fight. is not all it's cracked up to be. Plus a heretical panel on why reading by way almost of random example Let's take the following, from Charles Kingsley, nothing more wonderful than a book.' 'Except a living man, there is Gosh, you know, any living man? Any book? (Laughter) with extra pickles? pastrami sandwiches definition of a conservative? Rubbish! You remember Norman Mailer's who given a choice Conservative is a person, between saving a man and a tree, says, 'I don't know, at the tree.' and take me to have a look a little later. But first, James Gleick, the man who popularised on chaos theory. in his bestselling book Now he's written an audacious, of the digital age we live in. It's called The Information to Robyn Williams. and he downloads his ideas here

but contributing to the flood? What are we all doing now

You know, we're yakking away, How are we helping? Well, we're having a conversation. used to do before writing intruded. the sort of thing the Greeks One-on-one with a big audience. this is a very personal conversation, But it's true, alright, apart from... there's nothing electronic about it ABC Radio National, yes. ..being broadcast on that's just a gladis. But that's one-to-one, Alright, no, to be serious about it, it's the last word of my subtitle, the flood is the end of my book, for the book. and it's part of the motivation This is our modern predicament - and get facts Our ability to reach out is unprecedented in human history of person, which I am partly, and if you're a certain type or even powerful. it makes you feel exhilarated, And then, on the other hand there's too much, you very quickly might think to facts, and it's another thing and it's one thing to have access the knowledge you're looking for. to actually be able to find And somehow than our forefathers were. we're not any smarter Yes, exactly. and this is a nice quotation - To the beginning of the book - 'For this invention,' someone says of writing - about the horrible prospect writing, a new technology - will produce forgetfulness 'For this invention who learn to use it in the minds of those their memory. because they will not practice produced by external characters, Their trust in writing, which are no part of themselves, not of memory, but of reminding, You have invented an elixir of wisdom, not true wisdom.' and you offer pupils the appearance That was Plato... ..complaining (Audience chuckles) a mixed blessing, was going to be, at best, and was gonna dehumanise us, mental capacity of memory. it was gonna take away this important And he was right in a way. I mean, on the one hand it's funny, we wouldn't have ever heard of Plato because, of course, of writing. if it weren't for the invention came history and logic, With the invention of writing of our intellectual baggage. and all of the rest of the printing press people thought that the invention was going to weaken human memories be spread around in books, because everything could then and you wouldn't need a robust and they were right. think of all the - And people say the same thing now - now stored in the proverbial cloud, To some extent our memories are and we access them by way of Google. is we've redefined Part of what's happened these aspects of human intelligence. a very important part. Memory used to be because computers can do it. Now it's not such an important part, And so, what we treasure, I think, that computers can't do. are the things The more creative things. You can grasp these concepts, The Information, many of which in this book, unless they're explained are really hard to pin down which you do. with pellucid clarity, to put a foot wrong, And you don't seem which is something I rarely see. This is a book about information. abstract thing, Information is an entirely a historical progression of ideas, and I wanted to explore in the people, but I'm also interested 'cause we've talked about it, and you know, characters in the book, that there are a lot of interesting but whose stories I tell. the ideas don't exist in a vacuum, Because, after all, or discovered by people, they need to be invented by people and then they evolve. Sure. I wanted to talk to you that you left us with just before, about one of the ideas and that is the syllogisms construct these formal procedures and the way that you can actually because you've got language. because you've got words, actually, Radiolab it was called, I broadcast an American program, who did not have words in which they featured some people

a particularly brilliant person, until they were educated by a young woman, who could find a way without language, to approach these people after a few years and she then asked them what it was like not having words, took so much longer. and it turned out that everything I have just uttered, To get the sentence would take an hour. through by performing things is done in, what, 20 seconds. Whereas what we can do now the way people are together, In other words, you transform in a completely different way and you can get information through and these symbols. because you've got words in which human beings, then, this possession of information, were transformed through civilised through this process. how we became, if you like, One thing I do spend what was to me a surprising amount to written culture was the transition from aural culture and how the invention of - well, first of all, because we're so sophisticated about information these days it's possible for us to see that writing, itself, was a technology of information. Well, the words existed - there was oral language - and then people came up with ways of encoding them for the purpose of preserving them and passing them on from one place to another, and from one time to another. And then the problem becomes trying to figure out, trying to put ourselves of people making that transition. Because it really goes back to where you started with - Plato, about how it could be harmful to people to have this technology of writing because then they would get lazy and rely on it. But other things that weren't so obvious are that there was really not much of a sense of history before there was such a thing as writing. Of course, there was story telling, there was Homer, but there was no chronology, humanity had no ability to preserve dates what came next, how many years or generations passed And then also, as you're suggesting, logic itself depended on writing. You can't really have an ability to do logic until you can take the words and ideas and write them down and stare at them and talk about them as a separate, abstract thing. It's like a crossing of levels - you're using words without being aware of them as words until you write them down, and then you can see that they are words. And you can talk about what a word is. And then you have Aristotle doing the most basic things, you know, creating classifications of ideas and saying that, um, a story has a beginning, a middle and an end. You know, we all know that Aristotle said these things. But why? It's partly because he's defining the basic concepts of beginning, middle and end, not just that he's explaining how to write a play. And then, of course, you get numbers. And here you've got something which features really large in your book, and that is the number seems in some ways to represent a content-free piece of information. You know, what is one? One plum, one Gleick, one microphone, but it's still just one. And sometimes it can be nought. And you are manipulating something which is even beyonds the words - the words are symbols for something definite, but the numbers, the maths, the code. Talk to us about content-free information, and how those codes can then take over. The idea of encoding runs through my whole book, and, of course, writing itself is a form of encoding. So, there's a beginning. Then part of my book takes place during the telegraph era, where on the one hand, you have a technology - suddenly by means of electricity, you can send messages over long distance, but on the other hand the real problem that had to be solved It's not a coincidence that Morse's name isn't attached to the device, it's attached to the code. This was his real genius - a lot of people invented the telegraph, not just Samuel Morse. We Americans like to think it's Samuel Morse - and he did - but it wasn't, a lot of people What Morse genuinely invented was a technique for translating the letters of the alphabet into electrical pulses. With the advantage of hindsight it might seem obvious. I mean, we know about dots and dashes, but until dots and dashes were invented, nobody knew how to do that. People had ideas, for example, of using clock faces, needles, and magnets, so you could - the sender would turn a dial and then the magnet controlled by electricity a mile away That was the technology that was actually in use in England. But Morse had the idea that you would just do this completely basic, idiotically simple thing of opening and closing the circuit with a key, the telegraph key, and click, click, click - and just the length of opening and closing the circuit would be enough to encode all of the letters. a very powerful abstraction to an even cruder set, simpler, smaller set of symbols. And this lays the foundation for the world we live in, by means of a complicated route that went through the invention of mechanical calculating machines and then the development of the telephone networks in our era and then finally the computer as we know it. programmers today are called coders. James Gleick, sharing some bits and bites about his book, with Robyn Williams from ABC Science. ?And you can head to out website, to see that even in full. Next up, Pakistan is a country plagued by natural disasters, endemic political corruption and religious fundamentalism. To top it all, it's a nuclear power. Fatima Bhutto is a child of a Pakistani political dynasty,

who has lost four close relatives to political violence. In her opening night keynote to the Sydney Writers Festival, she unpicks the current state of her country with a Serbic wit, and some razor-sharp insights into what she calls

a nation on the verge war on terror, war of terror, war on drugs. That, new wars come tailor made, with ready made outrage. But the insidious expansion of old wars doesn't seem to. So before Barack Obama begins a drone-war against Pakistan, he doesn't need to go to congress and he doesn't need to meet the press. He simply just does it. And for our part we've lost the codes to properly articulate our outrage. A 2010 United Nations report on targeted killings found that America was the most prolific user of targeted killings das a weapon of war. And frighteningly found, that in the eight years of the Bush White House, largely it must be said against Pakistan, In the first year of President Obama's White House, alone, in 2009, drones were used 53 times. to drone Pakistan, 72 hours after entering the White House. which was charmingly titled Do Targeted Killings Work? In which they found that for every purported militant killed by a drone strike, ten or so civilians also died. 'Ten or so', this is the algebra of surgical wars and targeted killings. 'Or so.' Last year there were 118 drone strikes against Pakistan, and if everyone - If everyone was so clever, and everyone knew Osama bin Laden's not so secret location, nine months ago, since about August, how does it explain the ferocious campaign that took place last year? After Pakistan has suffered it's most devastating natural disaster ever. in 102 days, America launched 52 drone strokes against Pakistan. And it should be also said, that none of those drone strikes targetted Abbottabad, or any of it's environs. or any of his dastardly lieutenants, like Mullah Umar, or Ayman al-Zawarhiri. But yet the defence budget, has asked for a 75 percent increase in funds, to further enhance drone operations, against Pakistan. that in the sleepy garrison town of Abbottabad Osama bin Laden was killed with two bullets an outfit that is described lovingly as sort of being like Murder Incorporated. A choice that was made, we're told, in opposition to drone strikes. President Obama vetoed drone strikes or a bombing raid to kill Osama because he worried about the risk that innocents might die. Which is a bit rich considering that we know, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, that the United States military does not in fact track civilian deaths by drone strike. American helicopters travelled to Abbottabad, 30 kilometres or so - 30 miles, sorry, from the capital, and within 40 minutes of landing but had killed or captured another 22 or so people. Much has been made of the fact that eight days before this operation the chief of the Pakistani Army, General Kayani, inauspiciously told a bunch of cadets in exactly the same town of all the internal and external But that's the army. Now we're almost three weeks away from the killing and no-one has yet heard a peep from Pakistan's president. President Zardari meet the news that the world's most wanted man was killed two hours away from his capital with an almost catatonic silence. or some sort of press release to the nation, he did what all hapless leaders do when in trouble - he wrote an Op Ed for the Washington Post. (Laughter) And in this Op Ed, in the 500 words of his Op Ed, he claimed, very feverishly, that his government had no idea about the operation and he waxed lyrical about

his personal travails, applauded Secretary of State Clinton, an old personal friend of his, and seconded President Obama's morally ambiguous speech. All the while resurrecting nothing short of a stump speech of his own we are very democratic indeed.' Even though he himself was never elected to office. Leon Panetta, the head of the CIA, has said that the Pakistani government was either knowledgeable or incompetent in regards to Osama bin Laden living in their country without realising that there is a way for them to be both. It takes a certain aplomb to insist that you didn't know Public Enemy No.1 was living in your country and in a leafy suburb of your country, not in a South Waziristani cave. It takes more aplomb to insist that you didn't realise that American helicopters had entered your airspace, that you didn't realise that they may have actually left and that your closest international allies had been planning to take out said Public Enemy No.1 But the Pakistani government's modus operandi of recent years has been to to look the other way while keeping their purses open. when asked on local television, the former president, dictator, General Pervez Musharraf said that when he was president and he was asked whether Osama might or might not be living in his country, This has become something of a national refrain, 'I don't know, but please may we have some more?' And it's this sort of clarity and cooperation, that has earned Pakistan something like $1 billion in military aid a year, since 2001. But it's not just Pakistan, it's with the same charmless shrugs of shoulders that we are told - that we were told that it was just 90 days after 9/11, the attacks that made him famous that Osama bin Laden escaped American surveillance and disappeared from the Tora Bora Mountains into thin Pakistani air. Seven years later, in 2008, 100 American troops were sent to Abbottabad in deadly Osama hunting techniques - exercises they carried out probably footsteps within their feverishly imagined target, but nothing. Later on that year, in 2008, according to Wikileaks who will, no doubt tell us what really happened in a couple of months. again to train the Pakistani military in Al-Qaeda killing techniques - another collaborative visit that nobody told us Pakistanis about - and happened to miss Osama once more. Who's fault was that? The 2008 New York Times reporting on that failure is more forgiving than of late. 'It simply didn't take,' that's what they said. When American troops make intelligence failures but when Pakistanis do it, well. Now, what did Pakistan know? You'll be pleased to know that every airport I've been to has asked me this question, and I think there are serious questions here. We know for a fact that whenever neighbourhood children lost cricket balls over the Bin Laden compound, they would never get them back. (Laughter) 'When we played cricket in the field near the house, the guards would be angry' said Tariq Khan, 14-years-old. The suspiciously informed schoolboy continued, 'They would give us up to 100 rupees to buy a new one but that's a large sum, as cricket balls only cost 20 or 30 rupees.' We know that Osama spent his days - when he wasn't watching TV - scribbling feverishly into a notebook and coming up with all kinds of monstrous plans - destroy Zionist entity, end American imperialism, but not Joe Biden, it turns out, because he's not worth the trouble. And since the news broke we have more evidence, we have more intelligence that has been very carefully gathered. We know, thanks to Qaisar, the very polite grocer, that Bin Laden's handlers bought only bulk food orders, always major brands - Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Nestle milk, and that they only bought the good quality soaps and shampoos I'm quoting from CNN and the Wall Street Journal, '"they always paid cash, never asked for credit," Qaisar concluded breathlessly.' Newspapers screamed blue murder. Apparently census takers had avoided the Bin Laden compound. Clearly the Pakistani Population Census Organization was in on harbouring the man or - or the 2011 census had only just started three weeks before. While Pakistan is at present pleading ignorance, though the military has acknowledged in a statement that they put out it was the military's unparalleled cooperation that has resulted in more Al-Qaeda captures in Pakistan than in any other country. The President has spoken of nothing and the Prime Minister took two weeks to come back from an international tour of France before which he told us that the failure wasn't only ours but the entire world's. So, while all these factors are at play we can know, there are certain things that we can be sure of. a deal signed between General Musharraf and General Stanley McChrystal which says that America has the right to enter Pakistan at will,

anytime it pleases, While Pakistan reserves the right to deny that they had any knowledge of either of those things. And this is something we should probably be remembering as the days go by. If a nervous breakdown is a mental shutdown that stops its sufferers from coping with reality in any coherent way then Pakistan and America are your poster children. But we handle our breakdowns in different ways - us Pakistanis by our romantic attachment to conspiracy theories moral ambiguity. If President Obama's nine minute celebratory speech announcing Bin Laden's death reminded you of George W Bush, but with better diction, you are not alone.

With no apparent sense of irony, and those children who's parents' seats sat empty at the dinner table. But he said nothing of those orphaned children whose injustice was done to them by the man at the podium and by those who stood before him. Since Barack Obama took office, some 2,000 Pakistanis have been killed in drone strikes and those are largely civilians, they are nameless, faceless Pakistanis. And no word was said about those loses or those children. But said nothing of the hundreds and thousands of Muslims that have been killed since the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Neither was there any acknowledgement that Iraq was a country that had nothing to do with Al Quaeda or Osama bin Laden. But has only become fertile breeding ground for both parasites since American, British, French - and we should say, Australian as well - troops put their boots on its soil. The death squad that killed bin Laden, we were told, exemplified courage and determination. So much so, they are now in hiding and their families fear for their lives. was a testament to the greatness of America and to the determination of the American people, who we were told, in the manner of a pep talk given to slightly obtuse children, can accomplish anything they set their minds to. But he didn't mention the failures of this can do country. The renditions, the disappearances of suspects who are not even told what it was they were suspected of. The torture, the waterboarding, the schools and wedding parties and predator drones. And in perhaps the grossest pronouncement of triumphalism, we were told that we were either with President Obama in celebratory euphoria, or not. peace and human dignity Unfortunately this moral turpitude was not unique to America's President, and if one needed coaching you had plenty of options to choose from. Muslim groups across America and the world, lined up to rejoice and separate themselves from Osama bin Laden. Eli Vizel called it a death deserved, and defended the cheering hordes of people, whose delight was somehow more excusable in the same breath in which he told us he was so compassionate he avoided swatting mosquitoes when possible, opined in his maroon Buddhist robes, that when it was necessary to take counter-measures, then one ought to take counter-measures. This ethical degradation is not American, but it's to do with power. And specifically a power on the decline. Even it's shadows. Fatima Bhutto with the opening night address Next in our best from the fest - the food fighters. One is the restaurant critic for the Sunday Times in the UK and Australian Gourmet Traveller Magazine - the other is a tough-talking TV chef who runs a chain of French-style brasseries. One is very English, the other, very American. A.A. Gill and Anthony Bourdain both love words almost as much as they love food and neither hesitates to use them as weapons I think - I like alcohol with my food.

OK? I think, it is an essential part of the dining experience. I think a pleasant derangement of the senses makes for better... (Laughter) ..dining experience. You're beginning to sound like Tony Soprano, now. Right. But I think that nothing is more torturous to jaded diners, such as ourselves - when you've had a lot of good food in your life at four hours of full-sized dishes, you know, matched with wine by the end of the meal at the French Lottery you've had the equivalent of three bottles of wine yourself. Yeah, yeah. You've had between 12 and 20 courses of food... From the sex point of view it works for the girl but not the boy... You're not (Beep) anybody after that meal! (Audience laughter) That's my point. You're laying in bed groaning and farting and...(Audience laughter) And, I think, so to the extent that fine dining is over or the direction is away from that - I think is very much a reaction

People are willing to pay for the ingredients... Yeah, but there is a panic in the middle of what they call degustation menus - there is a panic in the middle where you've got to know how far you've come and when are you going to get to the end. (Audience laughs) I mean you really, you, you start crying... Yep. ..I mean, I have! And they go, (French accent) 'No, The chef, he can not stop now!'

He is going, he is on a roll!' If you can feel unintimidated by degustation and you can shout at the waiter there, when you are at a Japanese restaurant having kaiseki which is almost a semi religious experience relating back to Zen and a very strong sort of social experience do you get intimidated by that and shut up? or will you tell the waiter, in that sense, to rack off?

Well, you've had kaiseki meals. (Softly) What's a kaiseki meal? It's sort of the haute cuisine of Japan, as eaten in Ryokan. Might've had it, don't know, there was lots of people, changing of shoes, sitting on the floor, lots of bowing, scraping, lots of little bits of stuff - was that it? That was it. (Laughter) Put it this way - I was a chef, I know these guys,

and I'm gonna guess that you wouldn't do it either. If you suddenly hit the wall in the middle of your 14-course meal at a great chef's, you're very aware of the fact that they are trying to please, maybe they're trying too hard to please. There is - and I like to think of myself as a good guest - I will try to soldier through.

You can think of yourself whatever you like, but you're not. I will eat it, I will soldier, I will at least take a bite of the dessert, I will try to do right by the kitchen - they worked hard to do the right thing, they're trying to impress. You know, I feel an obligation to do my best, and receive hospitality, generosity, with good grace. The way Thomas Keller solves this problem

is he has a system - you know, the chefs don't want to eat like this. Keller's assistant calls - if he's going out for dinner, his assistant calls ahead, and says, 'OK, chef Keller's coming. I want you to understand he does not want any extra courses. He's coming in for a hamburger. That's all he's getting, is a hamburger! I don't want the amuse-bouche, I don't want - 'The chef's sent this out for you.'

This is just a tiny thimble full of some old shit in a glass - I don't want that. Yeah, but there is a difference between, if I might say so, and a customer who's not used to having that experience. The fact is, we're spoilt. If we go out to eat, we know what we want to eat and we don't want somebody saying - No, see I don't think I'm spoilt, I think I'm abused. It's A.A. Gill, I'm going to give him an extra six courses.

They do, they send out relentless - 'And would you like another 15 chocolates?' Just give me the bill and let me please go. 'There is no bill, Mr Gill.' Because it's you, it's chefs, it's what you do, You don't cook for us. I look at this stuff like, and I go, 'No chef has eaten this.' Nobody has ever sat down and said, 'That makes a nice meal.'

and smears and stuff, and the waiter putting a little bit of that on there - this isn't dinner! You do this because it makes you feel, I don't know, potent, human. (Audience laughter) 'Look what I can do.' Yeah, look what - I mean, the kitchen and you know the chef's never sat at a table and ordered it themselves

and sat with their wives and their moth- obviously they don't have wives - with their mothers - This is entirely about the aggrandisement of the kitchen. Well, when do you think that started to happen? Do you think that happened with nouvelle cuisine? Who was the first offender? Who do we blame?

If you look at Escoffier's menus, I mean, you have 16-course menus there, for Christ's sake. Not normally, they're incredibly simple. What Escoffier was famous for was simplifying food. Well, I can visualise his menus in front of me now - they don't seem very simple to me. I mean, admittedly a lot of the things were served on - For the time, it was some light stuff. Obviously, I mean, for an Australian, they're complicated,

but, you know, for the rest of the world, they were really simple. Well, the thing, of course, I guess that in England was that it... Pandering to the home team won't get you anywhere, my friend. was all very class-orientated in England, wasn't it? I mean, that's the truth of the matter. That, in fact, the rich ate well and the poor ate very badly. Mmm... I don't know. I never knew any poor people. What are the most delicious French dishes?

What are the French dishes that you would want in your last few weeks on Earth? All poor people food - beef bourguignon, coq au vin, riette, escargot... I think we all agree that duck is the main thing on the menu. Aren't we all Gascon lovers? I...I like duck. I eat duck. I like duck, yeah. I mean a Gascon lover isn't how I put it -

In your piece on Gascony, I mean, you did say that if you weren't born a Scotsman, that you'd prefer to be Gascon than anything else. Yeah. That's good. And I think I'd have to agree with you on that. But we know within Anglo cultures we have this huge fight about the production of foie gras and that it's somehow evil and cruel to animals. How do you feel about the sort of arguments that go on there?

I think it's a bullshit issue. You know, first of all, I don't - surely somewhere in Romania there is indeed a factory who are nailed to boards, and pumping food into them - that produces something called 'bad foie gras', you know, you mistreat an animal, an animal that is stressed, in fear, it tends to be a bad-tasting animal.

On these grounds alone, pretty happy, stress-free lives. They proveably taste less delicious if they're mistreated. Every single chicken ever served by Kentucky Fried Chicken I mean, they're quite prepared to torture chickens, and stop ducks from being well-fed.

I'm just saying animal activists have picked on this issue that most people haven't had, there are French involved, so it's an easy - (Laughter) It's an easy win. If you've actually been to see how foie gras is prepared, you study the physiognomy of the animal - And you see them lining up to be fed.

that any self-respecting adult film star can't do. (All laugh) But I think the point is about foie gras are treated far worse than any of the geese that make foie gras. We're not suggesting that - Wait, before you start worrying about what the duck had for tea...

We're not suggesting you eat Ghanaian dishwashers. No, but I think you should be more concerned about the welfare of people who work in kitchens. Well, I think you're most likely right. Although, you know - (Mumbling) This is - I think it's very tough in England and in the States. for people whose real agenda is that we don't hurt or kill any animals.

At the end of the road, they want to give chickens the vote. (Laughter) This is the point, I guess, asking you about hunting. At what stage of food production do we actually say this has gone too far? Well, I was a vegetarian for nine years the only one in England, they found for me -

(Laughter) And when I left - got thrown out - they, um - I decided I was going to eat meat again, but that if I was going to eat meat, I had to be prepared to do the whole process. I don't think you can - for me, I couldn't jump into being a carnivore You know, if someone else took the head and the feet off it,

that was fine for me, I had to be prepared to do all of it, So, I mean, with somebody like Peter Singer, for me the only answer to Peter Singer is - Who's Peter Singer? Peter Singer is a moralist who's written about these matters. And for me the answer to somebody like Singer is, well, actually I am prepared, in the event of an emergency, to eat human flesh. Um, that in fact - How did we get to that? (Laughter) How did we get from froie gras to you chewing on little boys? (Uproarious laughter) I'm not English. I think - it would be useful, I think, everyone who - I mean, let's face it, you are killing an animal. Meat comes from a dead animal, so, I think it is useful and correct that we know where our food comes from. that anyone who - in a perfect world, I think any chef who serves meat, probably a good idea to get up close to your victim once, I mean, you should know - you know, we all love pork. You know, stabbing a pig in the heart makes you less inclined to waste your pork after you've done it. You know, it's funny you bring up the human flesh issue, though,

because this is the last argument, the last whale from the, you know, vegan, PETA-type activist, they say, well, you eat pig, but would you eat human flesh? Hey, you know, two weeks sat on a lifeboat? Hell, yeah. If you're not doing your share of the rowing, jumbo, you're - (Laughter) That's precisely my point. No, but I think there is another question about eating people. What is it about the food on your plate We are all of us eating other people's habitats, we're eating their lives, we're eating their labour, we're eating their children, we're eating their water, their fresh air - all of those things. You don't just have to cut a bit off someone. So, what we're saying - which, I think we agree - is that in fact the morality that is being publicised along these lines is in fact a false morality because it's not actually taking into consideration Well, I don't know if it's a false morality, I just don't agree with it. I also don't really care if animals suffer. If I'm perfectly honest - I don't give a shit. I'd rather not see it. You know, once you've heard one pig scream, the second one's easier. You know, and he's right. What's that scene in Pulp Fiction, not Pulp Fiction, True Romance. He says 'You know, the first one's pretty easy, the second one's the bitch of the bunch.' You know, he's talking about killing people. You learn something about yourself when you kill a pig, you know? A.A. Gill and Anthony Bourdain from the 2011 Sydney Writers Festival. in the entire festival - is reading all its cracked up to be? Panellists include a critic, a publisher and one of the worlds savviest book dealers Rick Gekoski. He's been quoted as saying that reading at its best, is the best thing one does. Mann Booker Prize judge, really believe that books are overrated? 'reading is overrated' because I write a blog in the Guardian in London. And every week, or every two weeks whatever it is, I send in my blog, and then they give it to some sub-editor, and he puts a title on it. So, I sent in a blog which seemed to me - I'll read it in a second, tolerably amusing and considered and with some skepticism about the business of fetishising how good reading is for you. and then I thought oh don't be so pompous - put on the headline 'Reading is Overrated.'

it's 'Reading is Overrated, Rick Gekoski, person'. And I was unhappy about that for a little while. Let me give you the account of what I wrote in that blog because it generates some of the issues. So, each of us will start with say five minutes

and the ensuing kerfuffle about it, passionately talking about how much reading matters. Now here I am saying reading is overrated, and it feels mildly schizoid. But let me give you the sense of things that led me to this. The blog reads like this - I've been thinking about reading, and as one does, I got my Google finger out

and I've been going through quotations about reading. You know how you can Google reading quotations. And that is what has been memorably claimed about reading and by whom, and it's an interesting and surprisingly an infuriating process. Take this for example: Maxim Gorky, once claimed that 'everything which is good in me should be credited to books.' You find this quoted a lot as if it carried some generalisable weight,

yet I don't believe it can be true for a second, not even of Maxim Gorky who led an intermittently miserable life. It's a blind and a callous thing to say. What about the influences of his family, Nothing good whatsoever emanated from them? If I was his father I would give him such a slap,

But of course one recognises this kind of overstatement, you have to feel really passionately about a subject to talk this foolishly about it. An astonishing amount of lovers of books and of reading say similarly questionable things, at least if you quote them out of context,

which is what people tend to do, and I'm going to do it too. Let's take the following by way of almost random example, from Charles Kingsley. nothing more wonderful than a book'. Gosh, you know, any living man. Any book? Nothing else can compete? Flowers, sunsets, palladium villas, pastrami sandwiches with extra pickles? Rubbish, you'll remember Norman Mailer's definition of a conservative? 'A conservative is a person who given a choice and take me to have a look at the tree.' You have to look, after all, what's in front of your nose. Now we have this from Somerset Maugham, 'To acquire the habit of reading, is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all of the miseries of life.' Sounds terrific, doesn't it? Almost all? I wonder which miseries reading is a refuge from and which not? And if it is such an escape, aren't we likely to doubt that what we were protected from 'pain so acute that even reading won't help you with it.' or the pains of colic or childbirth. Or the death of a loved one, or the decline into dementia, the experience of war or famine or grinding poverty The difference between pain and pleasure, But no amount of white truffles, operatic arias or great sex will drive away the agony of a toothache, much less the pain of a loved one. And a good book won't even get close. Why claim that it might? Or can, it seems to me to signal the same sort of doubt that underlies the most fervent of religious doctrines or indulge me for a second, let me do more. What do you make of this? 'He who destroys a good book, destroys reason itself.' John Milton, this is John Milton at his most stupidest. Destroy a good book and you destroy an instance of good reason, but presume there are other copies of the book around to reassert it. Or maybe he means the only known copy of a good book, but that's silly.

And the reason was then in the 17th century a more dangerous form of discourse even than it is now, there's no reason to go all hysterical about the destruction of the book, no matter how good. In fact, I'm rather in favour of the destruction of books, there are too many of them about. 120,000 a year published in England. The destruction of one book presages the destruction of all? Rubbish, I don't believe it, it seems to be a wrong thing to say.

Let's move on. Francis Bacon, 'Reading maketh a full man'. Well, I guess you sort of, don't you. I can see sympathy spreading through the audience. But honestly, it's total cod. It's the kind of thing that headmasters say

at the dreariest type of parents' evenings, when they're encouraging the children to read. for the unlettered. However kindly of disposition, whatever their achievements in the humble reaches of the heart - you can't read? Well then it seems an implication of C.S. Lewis that you presumably believe we're alone. Poor old illiterates, stripped into trice

of the affection of friends and family, and sundered from a god who one does not have to believe in by reading about. I think I know what this is all full of. You feel this coming, don't you? 'The smell of bum.' Here's a nice little exercise.

Find a book, find an article, find a website that has quotes about books or reading or literature. Look through the examples and ask yourself how many of these citable sentences make sense. Because the ones I've picked are almost random. And they're full of self congratulation, false generalisation, self deception, inanity. I hate that stuff, to see intelligent people expressing themselves,

or politics, about which people speak equally stupidly. To be this stupid, you have to care a lot. And I know of course that such condensed statements are tropes and rallying cries. We oversimplify in the hope of convincing ourselves and others. I suppose you might argue that literacy is a good thing,

But it's clear to me that reading of literature is not necessarily What we read can affect us vitally and penetrate and stimulate us, but not always in the right way or at the right times. I wish I hadn't read, because they were bad for me. And I'd be amazed if you can't think of the same things. I read Catcher in the Rye when I was 14-years-old and I was insufferable until I was 23. 'Cause I thought I was Holden Caulfield, right? And everybody was a phony. Now, I'd rather my father had given me the collected works If you think that reading the right things in the right way is morally bracing and improves your discriminations this is basically the F.R. Leavis line, isn't it? And all you have to do is look at the behaviour of F.R. Leavis to begin to doubt the thesis. Indeed, if it was true that wide and deep reading renowns then the members of English departments would be the best people.

(Audience laughs) I'll throw this over to Don in a minute, it wasn't my experience. that there's no problem so intractable that a slogan won't solve it.

Say No To Drugs, in the most hyper-medically... in the world.

Or it's good to read, as if reading were a tonic or a form of exercise or a vegetable. But the notion of what is good for you as if it's drawn from the vocabulary of an evangelical huckster, or a personal trainer or a nutritionist. Reading is more important than that. Sometimes we're enhanced by it, at others diminished and we need to be able to think carefully about it and to talk more accurately. Or as Philip Larkin put it, I would never call myself a book lover, any more than I would call myself a people lover, it all depends on what's inside them. Rick Gekoski and panellists argue the toss about the importance of reading, which is a good place to wrap up this edition of Big Ideas Short Cuts, dockside from the Sydney Writers Festival. Remember you can find all the talks you've seen on the show today and more besides at the Big Ideas website. And look out for our lunchtime weekend shows on News 24, Saturday and Sunday at 1pm. I'm Waleed Aly, I'll see you then. (Closed Captions by CSI)

THEME MUSIC Our wonder is on the outskirts of the largest city in Africa. With a growing population of over 10 million people,

Cairo is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Nearby at Giza stand pure mathematical elemental forms, as if exploding from the desert. The power comes from the combination of the huge scale and the perfect geometry of these massive structures. The pyramids remain an enigma. We still don't know for sure when they were built or who built them or indeed how they were built at all. The Great Pyramid is the largest of the three. It's believed to have been made over 4,500 years ago by Pharaoh Cheops, to house his tomb. It's made out of 2.5 million blocks of stone rising to 481 feet. But the reason for choosing the Great Pyramid as our wonder

lies inside it. The entrance route was quarried into the pyramid in the ninth century by the caliph who ruled Cairo. He couldn't find the secret hidden entrance, so he cut a passageway. This passage, going up, leads to the chamber in which the pharaoh Cheops is said to have been buried. The granite room is known as the King's Chamber

because it is thought in here the pharaoh Cheops was entombed in the great sarcophagus. The sarcophagus must have been built into this room. There's no other way this could have got in here, apart from being lowered from above. The room is connected to the outside world by two air shafts not for the living,

but to allow the pharaoh's soul to ascend to the stars.

It is an astonishing achievement and it defies understanding. Even today with all our modern technology it is unlikely we could equal the scale and perfection of the Great Pyramid, the only one remaining of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Closed Captions by CSI

This Program Is Captioned


The Australian Defence Force

had a very bad day in Afghanistan yesterday. Two

Australian soldiers killed, one

at the hands of an Afghan

soldier trained by the

diggers. The Afghan national

army soldier who fired his

weapon fled the scene of the


Under attack for her solar

stand, Cate Blanchett find as supporting actor I don't

supporting actor I don't see

anyone criticising sportsmen

for supporting some issue crippled children because

they're extremely wealthy

footballers. Crisis, what

crisis? Soccer's kingpin tries to keep to keep bribery allegations in

house. We are not in a crisis.

We are only in some