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Monthly Archives: May 2009

South Sydney: Pentecost 2009

We had the Tongans in today. The singing was wonderful.

It was a special day, though I missed the afternoon’s activities as I had Sunday Lunch at the Shakespeare with Sirdan and B2. That too was good.

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2009 in Christianity, personal, religion, Sirdan, South Sydney Uniting Church

 

Notelets for end of May

Personal

  1. By sheer chance my current batch of my little pills is lactose-free! I get the generics, and thus far have never had the same brand twice. All so far have lactose as a filler, except this lot. This is a shame, as I (like many others) am lactose intolerant, and the lactase tablet antidote only works so far. I’ll try to make sure future batches are the lactose-free ones.
  2. Another grand-nephew has become a friend on Facebook. 🙂
  3. My story will be in the June South Sydney Herald and I have a feature coming up in July.
  4. No stats today as the end is nigh – of the month, that is.

Spotted on Arts & Letters Daily.

Very interesting review article: Free market faith by Caspar Melville on New Humanist.

Another day, another denunciation of Dawkins and Hitchens and their fellow New Atheists. No sooner have we absorbed Chris Hedges’ I Don’t Believe in Atheists (2008), Tina Beattie’s The New Atheists: The Twilight of Reason and the War on Religion (2008) or David Bentley Hart’s Atheist Delusions (2009) when along comes God is Back: How the Revival of Religion is Changing the World, by Economist journalists John Micklethwait (pictured right) and Adrian Wooldridge.

But this "God book" is of a rather different order. Unlike its rivals it contains a wealth of fact and subtle argument, empirical evidence and expert witness. As we might expect from The Economist its perspective is global – it sweeps comfortably from the corridors of the Pentagon to a front room church in Shanghai, and speaks authoritatively about events in Nigeria, Pakistan and Egypt. Altogether it lays down a very serious challenge to any of us who had waved God a not-so-fond farewell…

Secularists might find some of the arguments in this book hard to swallow, though they should welcome the opportunity to sharpen their own against them, but as a clear and convincing case for the separation of religion and politics, it counts as a considerable, and unapologetically secular, achievement.

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2009 in health, intellectual spot, personal, religion

 

Friday poem # 12 – Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes

Some treasures!

A bit different today! The videos I found for a coachee studying Ted Hughes, Birthday Letters. Inevitably this involves a study of Sylvia Plath.

I read "Daddy" aloud to him, mentioning that years ago I had heard a recording of Sylvia Plath reading "Daddy". I said I would try to capture what I remembered of the way she had read it. He moved from incomprehension to "Wow!", but the wow factor is much greater in her reading, the first video above.

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2009 in America, British, poets and poetry

 

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Jim Belshaw’s new project

I was fascinated by Jim’s post today.

Yesterday morning I finished my target 300 words on the current book. This was written between the time I left the house and my arrival at Parramatta.

I was trying to think through the the impact of the arrival of Europeans on Aboriginal thought. To start getting my mind around this, I took the device of a young man of the Daingatti Aboriginal language group. This group occupied the Macleay Valley.

Sounds like a worthwhile exercise to me. I’d buy one…

The exercise in empathy is also producing a rethink. I can recall wandering around the city trying to visualise what it must have been like for my convict ancestor Jacob in 1821 to around 1840, as follower’s of Ninglun’s Specials may recall. It’s good to do. Except I wasn’t writing a book.

 

New Surry Hills Library: excellent

Apparently the new Community Centre and Library opened yesterday.

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Finding the door was a bit of a challenge at first, but what a building! See also Surry Hills: new community centre and library nearing completion. It isn’t just a pretty face either.

Project Details at a Glance

  • The new library will span two levels – the ground floor and the lower ground floor, and will be linked by a glazed atrium filled with plants. It will feature an expanded collection, dedicated children’s area and local studies area, more computers, a large magazine and periodicals area.
  • The neighbourhood centre will be located on the first floor and will provide flexible meeting rooms as well as a large public meeting room for up to 125 people. The community centre will also feature dedicated facilities for cooking classes and computer training.
  • A new child care facility will occupy the entire top floor, providing children with a large, safe, shaded play space open to the sky. There will be places for 26 children and the facility will be fully compliant with all current child care regulations.
  • The new centre sets a benchmark in environmentally sustainable design. To reduce reliance on air-conditioning an open-air atrium and rooftop plants will naturally filter the air, solar cells will provide power and tanks will collect rain water.

Sydney City Council.

In the time it took me to take out my new books and DVDs around seven people joined the Library. Apparently there is a rush of new members.

28 May: See also New Surry Hills Community Centre and Library on Blogspot.

 
 

Sol Trujillo as victim of malicious Rudd racist “adios”…

… only if the unexpressed “arrogant turd” is racial vilification. We colonials take rather unkindly to being labelled “backward”, and I am sure the Singaporeans were not impressed by Trujillo’s stewardship either:

SOL TRUJILLO’S claims on the BBC that Australia is a racist country sit oddly with the dog-whistle politics which Telstra played so hard and so often under his three-year stewardship.

"We are an Australian company, majority owned by Australians. We are not from Singapore or anywhere else," Mr Trujillo’s chairman, Donald McGauchie, told shareholders at the company’s AGM a year ago.

The Singapore reference was a shot at Telstra’s main competitor, Optus, which is owned by Singapore Telecommunications…

So writes Michael West in today’s Sydney Morning Herald. I even find myself in broad agreement with Peter Costello, former Howard treasurer:

There are plenty of reasons to be critical of Sol Trujillo’s performance as chief executive of Telstra. Race is not one of them.

Kevin Rudd was foolish to take a cheap shot – saying "adios" – when Trujillo left. And Trujillo is milking it as evidence that Australia is racist.

But come on, Sol. You came to Australia and took up the prize job in Australia’s telecommunications industry. After four years you are leaving with $30 million of cash and bonuses. And you want us to believe you are a victim of racism?…

Trujillo says he changed Australia. Not in the way he thinks. One change is that corporate boards are going to be more wary of overseas appointments in future. Australian executives are as good as any in the world. A chief executive who understands the country and has a long-term interest in its future is a valuable asset for a company in a sensitive sector.

The Telstra directors could not have been surprised things ended the way they did under Trujillo. His previous track record was there for all to see. In my view, the board has a lot of explaining to do. It’s about judgment and performance. It is not about race.

The “Ugly American” rides again…

Yesterday I remarked on Twitter: “What a twerp!” Indeed.

 

A Partisan’s Daughter

star30 star30star30star30star30  Louis de Bernières, A Partisan’s Daughter, Harvill Secker 2008

9781846551413 I thought this was just brilliant. I am quite amazed that some critics saw it as rather lightweight; I found it just right, and very insightful on human fallibilities and the nature of relationships. I see one complaining the Serbian history is tiring; I found it fascinating. The narrative voices are beautifully realised, the construction superb. What’s to complain about?

In The Guardian Joanna Briscoe writes:

Because Chris is narrating retrospectively, with the viewpoint shifting fairly seamlessly between him and Roza, an awareness of later events in Yugoslavia is enhanced by Roza’s descriptions of different factions and nationalities as she grows up. The Russians, she claims, "say we’re all just bandits and we’ve only got loyalty to our relatives, and we make pacts with our enemies just to take advantage of our neighbours". As a writer, de Bernières is truly international in his scope, inhabiting one country after another with convincing detail and authority.

The novel’s charm works by stealth. It reads like a memoir; it offers subtle comment on the art of storytelling; it rarely strikes a false note, and it contains lessons about love and regret and seizing the moment. Like Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, A Partisan’s Daughter is a novel about missed opportunities and wrong paths taken, tracing the way in which one false move can alter the history of a life. "I have never lost the pain in the chest and the ache in my throat that Roza left behind," says Chris.

This is a work whose soul is too quiet to make a big impact, but whose artistic integrity should be applauded. It’s a wise and moving novel, perfectly accomplished. It shows that no life is ordinary. It shines fresh light on the nature of love.

Well, it made an impact on me; all to the good that it isn’t a blockbuster.

See also Sarah Vine in The Times.

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2009 in Best read of 2009, book reviews, Fiction, reading, writers

 

Perception versus fact on crime in Australia

crime There is a brief report in today’s Sydney Morning Herald that caught my eye while I had my morning coffee at Juice & Java.

A DAILY media focus on crime is largely to blame for more than a third of people wrongly believing a terrorist attack is imminent on Australian soil and that the crime rate is rising, experts say.

Three-quarters of Australians believed a terrorist attack would happen in South-East Asia last year while more than a third thought it would happen at home, a survey by the Australian Institute of Criminology has found.

Despite a decrease in the crime rate, 65 per cent of people surveyed for the 2007 report said they believed it had risen, with about half saying it had increased substantially.

Researchers Lynne Roberts and David Indermaur said Australians remained sceptical or ambivalent about the performance of the criminal justice system, wrongly believed courts were too soft on criminals and mistakenly thought they were at much greater risk of becoming a crime victim than was actually the case.

"These misperceptions are generally attributable to the main source of information respondents rely on for their picture of crime and criminal justice – the popular media," the researchers said…

That figures! But there is a lot more in the Australian Institute of Criminology Report than that. I urge you to go there and download a copy. There is much else of interest on the site too.

 

Just site news

So you see I have been decorating again! 😉 The photoblog looks like this in the latest Firefox:

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When I checked in IE8 earlier today I noticed the masthead was just NEIL’S MODEST PHOTO with BLOG dropping under. However, opening IE8 again I found good rendering:

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On Firefox the re-opened Blogspot site looks like this:

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That’s OK, I think. Do you agree? I changed, by the way, because Journalspace worries me. It disappears from time to time with no warning or explanation, and quite a few users have gone elsewhere, so I thought it wise to bail out. For the time being Ninglun on Journalspace remains online but will shrink to a mere redirect when I have taken what I want from it to Blogspot.

I am in green mode…

English/ESL stays as it was.

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2009 in blogging, site news

 

Book reviews as promised…

Fiction

Certainly Siddon Rock has many fine moments and does evoke a rural setting and its period (the 1940s) very well, even if Persia is referred to as Iran and Pakistan, then non-existent, mentioned. Perhaps too I am tiring of magic realism, or, in our Australian context, the Wintonesque; when people wander around with blue spots floating above their heads I tend to turn off. Nonetheless, the novel is well worth reading.

Cut Her Dead is an effective crime fiction, but the best of this lot is the witty T is for Trespass.

Non-fiction

In a field where pseudohistory is rampant – think Da Vinci Code – this intelligent, well-written introduction is a must read. It is so refreshingly no-nonsense.

Excerpt:

Introduction: Recouping Our Losses

It may be difficult to imagine a religious phenomenon more diverse than modern-day Christianity. There are Catholic missionaries in developing countries who devote themselves to voluntary poverty for the sake of others, and evangelical televangelists who run twelve-step programs to ensure financial success. There are New England Presbyterians and Appalachian snake handlers. There are Greek Orthodox priests committed to the liturgical service of God, replete with set prayers, incantations, and incense, and fundamentalist preachers who view high-church liturgy as a demonic invention. There are liberal Methodist political activists intent on transforming society, and Pentecostals who think that society will soon come to a crashing halt with the return of Jesus. And there are the followers of David Koresh — still today — who think the world has already started to end, beginning with the events at Waco, a fulfillment of prophecies from Revelation. Many of these Christian groups, of course, refuse to consider other such groups Christian.

All this diversity of belief and practice, and the intolerance that occasionally results, makes it difficult to know whether we should think of Christianity as one thing or lots of things, whether we should speak of Christianity or Christianities.

What could be more diverse than this variegated phenomenon, Christianity in the modern world? In fact, there may be an answer: Christianity in the ancient world. As historians have come to realize, during the first three Christian centuries, the practices and beliefs found among people who called themselves Christian were so varied that the differences between Roman Catholics, Primitive Baptists, and Seventh-Day Adventists pale by comparison.

Most of these ancient forms of Christianity are unknown to people in the world today, since they eventually came to be reformed or stamped out. As a result, the sacred texts that some ancient Christians used to support their religious perspectives came to be proscribed, destroyed, or forgotten — in one way or another lost. Many of these texts claimed to be written by Jesus’ closest followers. Opponents of these texts claimed they had been forged.

This book is about these texts and the lost forms of Christianity they tried to authorize…

It is worth the price of admission for Chapter 4 alone, on Morton Smith and the “Secret Gospel of Mark”. Is it a forgery, and if so, whodunnit? Fascinating, whatever your own religious views. Ehrman delivers an open verdict.

See also Gospel Secrets: The Biblical Controversies of Morton Smith by Anthony Grafton in The Nation January 7, 2009. “The sexual undertones of the document have led some to suggest, explicitly or by innuendo, that Smith, a gay man, forged the text for personal reasons…”. From Grafton’s article:

In 1973, Morton Smith, professor of ancient history at Columbia University, shook the world–or at least the world of scholars who work on early Christianity. Fifteen years before, Smith had found an unknown document in the Mar Saba Greek Orthodox monastery, fifteen kilometers southeast of Jerusalem–an ancient Christian text that no one before him had ever mentioned. A letter in Greek, originally composed in the second century by a church father, Clement of Alexandria, and addressed to one Theodore, it was handwritten in ink, in an eighteenth-century hand, on the blank end pages of a seventeenth-century printed book. Less than a thousand words long but rich in detail, the text attacked one of the wonderfully named sects that made the early centuries of Christianity so complex–the followers of Carpocrates, or Carpocratians. These heretics, as Clement and Theodore saw them, claimed that they possessed a secret version of the Gospel of Mark. Jesus, they believed, had taught his followers that they were freed from the law and could do whatever they wanted without sinning. According to one of their Christian critics, Irenaeus, they actually thought they earned salvation by "doing all those things which we dare not either speak or hear of, nay, which we must not even conceive in our thoughts."

Clement assured Theodore that he had been right to silence these "unspeakable teachings." But he also admitted that there was a secret version of Mark’s Gospel–a version that the Church of Alexandria made available only to initiates. In a passage that Clement quoted, Jesus raised a rich young man from the dead in Bethany. "And after six days Jesus told him what to do and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan"–a passage that suggests a libertine interpretation of its own, at least to the twenty-first-century reader. At the same time, Clement denied that an inflammatory phrase, "naked man with naked man," which the Carpocratians had cited, came from the true secret Gospel. The evil Carpocrates had obtained a copy of the text and "polluted" it with lies.

It was an astonishing discovery…

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2009 in Best read of 2009, book reviews, Christianity, Crime and/or crime fiction, Fiction, History, OzLit, reading

 

Sunday Floating Life photo 19: lunch at The Clarendon

Sirdan, B2 and I lunched at The Clarendon in Devonshire Street Surry Hills.

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We had the $10 roast.

Food: star30 star30

Service: star30star30star30star30star30

Ambience: star30star30star30star30

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2009 in personal, photography, Sirdan, Sunday lunch, Sunday photo, Surry Hills

 

Sunday is music day 18

Australian Welsh Choir: “I Still Call Australia Home”.

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2009 in music, Sunday music

 

China looks back

History Today has a retrospective on the official history of China: China’s Interesting Times.

…the series of anniversaries rolling out this year in China are a good example of how history is not merely a matter of the past. Some will not be recalled, at least officially, among them the Great Famine in which officials showed the hollowness of the concern for the people proclaimed by the regime. The Cultural Revolution is admitted to have been a mistake but Mao is still judged to have been 70 per cent good, 30 per cent bad. June 4th, 1989, is remembered in coded messages using the date or, officially, as a moment when the People’s Liberation Army saved China from the subversion of ‘black hand’ agents working for foreign interests. Tibet will remain sensitive for so long as its clergy and much of the native population refuse to accept Chinese rule. Taiwan will remain autonomous. The legacy of May 4th will remain with intellectuals and dissidents who dream of a democratic China in which the rule of law pertains and the Communist party no longer claims a monopoly of the Mandate of Heaven. On both sides of the debates about where China is heading, and where it should be heading, history has its part to play and anniversaries are part and parcel of that.

Last week The Sydney Morning Herald had a fascinating story about China and Tibet: Exposed: Beijing’s failure in Tibet.

A SCATHING new report, perhaps the first of its kind from inside China since Tibet was brutally locked down in March last year, describes how Beijing’s efforts to pour rivers of money into Tibet since 1989 to ensure "stability" have been spectacularly counter-productive.

The report, which is controversial for having been written by a group of Beijing scholars, says private-sector jobs went to ethnic Han Chinese from other provinces, and public money flowed into the pockets of a new elite which systematically portrayed community discontent as "separatism".

"They use every opportunity to play the separatism card," says Phun Tshogs Dbang Rjyal, a founder of the Communist Party in Tibet, who is quoted in the report.

"And they will try hard to apportion responsibility on ‘overseas hostile forces’ because this is the way to consolidate their interests and status and eventually bring them more power and resources."

The fieldwork was conducted by four Peking University journalism students who travelled to Lhasa and a Tibetan region of Gansu province in July.

It was written and recently published on the internet by the Open Constitution Initiative, a non-government organisation run by lawyers and intellectuals in Beijing….

Xu Zhiyong, a human rights lawyer who helped prepare the report, said he hoped it would be picked up by Chinese media, but he held little hope that it would influence government officials.

But ethnic Tibetans are nevertheless heartened that a balanced account of the causes of last year’s uprising can now exist in China.

"As a Tibetan I feel this report is very important," said Tsering Woeser, a Tibetan poet in Beijing. "This is a rare and treasured report under the current circumstances of one-sided official propaganda."…

Some rethinking in Beijing would certainly be good.

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2009 in Chinese and China, current affairs, History

 

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What are they up to?

It wasn’t raining in Belmore Park at this point this afternoon…

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What could they be doing?

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2009 in diversions, local