05 — Old Blog Entries: 99-04

These entries have been pasted from Angelfire. There may be some oddities in presentation here.

I first got a real (borrowed) computer in late 1999 and didn’t go on the Internet until a few months later. My first site on Talk City came about in around April 2000, and the first internet diary entries soon after. The earliest entries here were written in a Brother PowerNote (memory 32k!) which I still have and sometimes use.

Go to Found — a whole stack of my old entries! [January 14 2008] for an index to what is available still on the Wayback Machine.

GUIDE TO SOME OF WHAT’S ON THE PAGE:

From November 1999 to May 2000;
Retreat from the Global: 11 March 2004: “Ali” of The Mine and the Tablighi Jamaat;
Best of Diary-X: 19-20 January 2004: Howard, “values”, and education;
Tuesday, 27 December 2005″ Post-colonial musings on Robinson Crusoe;
The Poisonwood Bible;
Betty Blockbuster and Billy Joel;
Sunday: Special for American Readers on Cricket;
Lord of the Rings;
Professor Norman Davies (The Isles: A History, London, Papermac, new edition 2000.)

November-December 1999

22 November 1999

Went to city today for first time since the agoraphobia started. Unfortunately also smoked. Object of exercise Year 11/12 Study Day at Sydney Hilton– Robert Gray, et al. Two light beers at Flinders with Colin on way home. Survived the ordeal of city, but walking, not bus or train. Next challenge Erskineville next week. Noticed on Saturday Chinatown now pretty much OK. Reflect on fact M now been away six months. Nothing heard since letter to A dated one month ago from Kathmandu.

24 November 1999

Day off today. No mail. Breakfasted at Cossies in Crown St, read paper and Bulletin which has revelations about East Timor militia and our government’s knowledge of this earlier than we thought at the time. Stopped smoking; some withdrawal but not too bad.

No mail.

For $4 got 4 books from Vinnies: Tales of the South China Seas, a 1920s book on Browning, a wonderful Oxford Dryden (1925) and a copy of Isabel Allende’s Paula, an extract from which I have just read in a library book. Reading Ruri Pilgrim, Fish of the Seto Inland Sea (1999), by a Japanese married to an Englishman. Three generations of a Japanese family from early this century through WW2. Beautiful.

Thinking of M. I went to the Library and borrowed Window onto Annapurna by Joy Stephens (about Nepal), also Jack Maggs by Peter Carey (1997) and Anita Desai, Fasting, Feasting (1999), and a book on Windows 98. One of the better outcomes of my illness has been joining the Library–so many good books. Also, reflect on how much easier going there is than even one month ago.

26 November 1999

Last night I had a migraine/partial blindness attack at 7.30. Took some medicine for it and then listened to a relaxation tape; better, but unable to read or watch tv I listened to the radio and stayed on the lounge dozing until 2 am. Stayed at home today and went to doctor. Episode passing; possible food poisoning (frozen turkey dinner?). Weight down to 61.5 k; that’s 8.5 k down
since July. Told doctor; he is not concerned. No mail today.

28 November 1999

Still not brilliant yesterday, so did not go to Chinatown. However, staying home was worthwhile as I had a phone call from G. He had a message from M who is back in Kathmandu on xxx phone number. I rang him at 10.00 our time (4.45 pm there). He is resting after a 22 day trek to Mount Everest and soon goes to Annapurna.

After that he will go to Thailand. {He didn’t!) Said he cannot be in Shanghai for Chinese New Year but did not say why. Probably will stay o.s. until end of his ticket (May 2000) but not sure. Is well except for cough caused by high altitude

20 December, 1999

What a nine days it has been! TOO HOT TO PUBLISH! [A reference to the suicide of a staff member allegedly guilty of paedophilia.] My health has been generally OK, but I noticed today that I still didn’t want to travel. I did go the Flinders Saturday and had a chat with Ian Smith. Yesterday the weather wasn’t good, so I bummed around at homeand also had a monumental wank!

The burglar alarm at N’s place went off at 7.00 am Saturday, no problem. N rang last night: he has sent an email to M. and got a reply. As of this week he should be in India. I have thought about getting a modem but I think I’ll wait until after Jan 1 2000, partly to see what Y2K does to the computer, and partly for post-Christmas specials.

Today N came around with a Christmas present: J M Coetzee’s Disgrace which N commends. A also phoned today, and was hoping to get the part for the washing machine. G rang on Saturday to say he had been all round Australia on business, and that he was going to Port this week.

I very much enjoyed Jack Maggs. Since then I have borrowed more from Surry Hills Library. A particularly clever comedy thriller, Michael Dibdin
Cosi Fan Tutti (1996): detective Aurelio Zen, great evocation of the smells and chaos of Naples. Great irony. I am now reading Gavin Young, In Search of Conrad (1991) which is a delight; that has encouraged me to reread Lord Jim.

22 December, 1999

Yesterday a wonderful photo arrived from M, of Mount Everest: Andrew also received one. I went out about 5.30 and had a few drinks at the Flinders: Colin, Bob, Ian and eventually PK. Had dinner (Shanghai noodles) at the Emperor’s Garden– very fresh and lots of greens. Went to the Bookshop and Ariel but bought nothing. Woke up feeling good this morning; after coffee at the Coffee Roaster I went to Surry Hills Centre and shopped for meat and veges; began to feel the effects I suspect of the one or two beers too many! Fragile. OK after some tea and toast at home, so went to Library.

28 December, 1999

Christmas was very quiet: in fact I spent Christmas Day at home alone, but it was not unpleasant. My brother rang on Boxing Day. S rang also. He had a photo from M. He is arranging another Tumnak Thai night for Mardi Gras. [The Tumnak Thai is a restaurant overlooking Oxford Street, and it’s been a tradition for us to watch the Parade from there.] The Reverend Canon called in yesterday; we had some wine and a good chat.

31 December, 1999

Computer did something new on startup this morning. I suspect the automatic starting of the PIM throws a strain on it, as startup problems do seem a little more frequent since it was installed. However, this morning after an apparently normal start the blue screen of death came up saying a fatal error had occurred and advising CONTROL-ALT-DELETE, which I did and the problem went away. Meanwhile the Brother (my old laptop word processor, a faithful if primitive beast that I still love!) has the “w” problem; the “w” key has for some time been unreliable, leading to such errors as “ant” for “want”, particularly annoying as the spell check does not pick them up.

Card came on Wednesday from Ross L who is now in charge of the ELICOS x University Sydney Campus at y; this could prove useful for future employment? Provided my health holds up.

Read from the Library Valley of the Shadows, a gay novel by Christopher Davis (Stonewall 1988), moving in parts, over- sentimental in others, and uncomfortably special pleading in my view. On AIDS. A much better read was Michael Dibdin, Zen Omnibus (Faber 1998), with three novels featuring Aurelio Zen– wickedly ironic and well plotted: Ratking(1988), Vendetta (1990) and Cabal (1992).

January 2000

1 January, 2000

Well, that date at last. The computer rolled over OK bar one or two things: 1) that PIM generated weird messages, so I deleted it, installing a new address book in Microsoft Access instead; 2) on rebooting this morning I discovered the computer thought it was 2094! I rang G later today and he talked me through changing the date deep in the computer’s BIOS, but the change did not hold so now each time I boot I have to manually change the date back to 2000. G says the only fix would be a new motherboard, but when one takes into account the need for larger memory, graphic capability, modem, sound, it is now (he agrees) more viable to consider a new unit. The price ought not to be too bad given there is no need yet for a new monitor, keyboard, mouse or printer.

Stayed home for New Year, after having a beer too many at the Flinders yesterday afternoon. Spoke to Ian at the Flinders, who had sent an email to M. Heard that “Dark Cloud” had a fire the day before, and got more details when I rang PK today. Apparently a lantern exploded setting off the sprinkler system in his building. He was subsequently attacked by a psychotic young Greek from upstairs and Dark Cloud’s landlord (Greek himself) said that the basher was threatening to kill Dark Cloud for some weird millennial reason. It is not the first time the crazy had threatened Dark Cloud but the first time in front of witnesses and a translator. The police are now involved, and Dark Cloud is unable to live at home at the moment. His considerable collection of gear (he is a shopaholic) is damp and will go to storage. Meantime Louis and the people at the Flinders are helping out. Which is a nice bit of gay community at work; but what a New Year’s Eve for Dark Cloud.

Tomorrow is Yum Cha. I rang A to remind him at about 3.00 pm, but he was still asleep; the poor bugger hadn’t got home from televising the festivities until 10 am. C is spending New Year in Royal North Shore Hospital, however; he had urgent work on his leg circulation being just short of gangrene.

The New Year was pretty amazing on the world stage. Boris Yeltsin resigning (not too soon), the Indian hostages in Kandahar being freed, the Yugoslav Care Australia worker being set free at last. There was much spectacle on TV for the big Y2K; Sydney was truly spectacular, and so was Paris. Beautiful moments included beautiful Maori men (especially the ones dancing in the pouring rain in Auckland), the Gisborne dawn with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, the Sydney dawn, the Uluru Mimi Dancers…Less beautiful was Barry Manilow horribly out of synch in Connecticut. The Great Wall of China was made spectacular by Nature and hordes
of colourful musicians and dancers. Guess it was a night to remember.

And no Armageddon or computer meltdown.

2 January, 2000

Reading the magnificent and impassioned middle section of Isabel Allende’s Of Love and Shadows (1987), while earlier in the day I had happened upon some typical gobbets of F R Leavis in Justin Wintle’s Dictionary of Biographical Quotations: disbelief that anyone ever took Leavis seriously– what a dickhead the man was: arrogant, and hopelessly parochial. Smarmy on the subject of Keats, idiotic about D H Lawrence, but not so bad I suppose on Donne and co. Then what of that other idiocy of the later 20th century, the “death of the novel”? Not much evidence for that looking back now from the year 2000! We have in fact been living through a great age of the novel!

The other thing I’ve been reflecting on while reading this novel (Of Love and Shadows) and thinking too of the most moving item in the great Year 2000 international telecast (Nelson Mandela lighting a candle in Robben Island Prison) is that one of the greatest things the 20th century has bequeathed is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and one hopes that all will see it as transcending cultures, as fewer things are more pernicious than those who for political self-interest or religious reasons reject it as “inappropriate”.

Yum Cha was a success this morning. A. turned up and was fascinated by the Y2K problem in the computer BIOS. Ian came up with the theory that it may have defaulted to the chip’s year of manufacture, and indeed when I rang G later today he agreed it was possible, as the chip was manufactured in 1994. So the BIOS was ready to change 1999 to 20 something, but became confused; it kept the 20, but defaulted to 94. A. rang later and came back over about 5.30. He had been online at work to the company (Phoenix Technology) who now have the rights to Award Software, the manufacturers of the BIOS. He downloaded a patch onto a floppy disk, brought it over, and we installed it. While the BIOS still thinks it is 2094, the patch enables it to boot the computer to 2000, obviating the need to buy a new motherboard or a new computer just yet. Next step is the modem and signing up to an ISP.

11 January, 2000

Since last entry I have joined Telstra Bigpond and have been using up my 100 free hours, since they expire on February 4. Wow! I have made two cyberfriends, one a Thai girl who wants to study in Australia (got me through Dave’s ESL Cafe). The other, Johnny Wu (Wushuboy) is a 32-years-old Wushu master in Cleveland Ohio. He is a fascinating study in multiculturalism ( a word I recently contributed to the Cambridge English Dictionary Online!). He is a fount of family tradition, balancing that against being gay and thereby (in his eyes) terminating 3000 years of Wu family history–and he knows the whole 3000 years! He responded to my email thanking him for his website, and we’ve been “nattering on the Net” as Dale Spender says ever since.

Also, an email from M: he’s been attending classes with the Dalai Lama! Today he goes to Calcutta, then to Rajastan.

My nephew visited on Saturday. He had very impressive documentation to back up his story about being the “last of the Guringai” and it turns out his mother was a lineal descendant of Bungaree who sailed with Flinders in 1803!

On the Web I have found many things, ranging from erotica (not kinky or commercial) to the Vatican. Three standouts: the biography of a gay man now in America but from Mainland China; the website Yawning Bread which files serious social and cultural essays by a gay Singaporean; the Tapir website that supports people with anxiety and agoraphobia. And a fourth: the San Francisco Blade and the things it leads to!

Reading has taken a back seat, but I have been enjoying the urbane Andrew Riemer’s Between the Fish and the Mudcake (1999), one of my Library borrowings.

April 2000

29 April, 2000

I’ve just finished Hell Week (as the Quitnetters call it), having made a determination that this cigarette quit will hold. I did run from July 1998 to just on New Year 1999 almost ciggieless, and for a couple of extended periods in 1999 and 2000. I suppose I have in total smoked over the last year half of what I would have. However, I now know I cannot be a moderate smoker, so it has to stop. My advice to anyone out there: if you don’t, don’t start! It’s an evil drug really. I, poor fool, started in my 30s, as an alternative, I think, to strangling children: teachers may know what I mean.

So yes, I am thinking of M. Right now he would be thinking of whether the Karakoram Highway will open when it should in two days time so he can proceed back to Shanghai via Xinjiang.

A word about our relationship, because quite frankly it will be interesting (to say the least) when he comes back after 12 months travel. Don’t get the impression he is my exclusive “property”: he isn’t, nor should he be. After all, he didn’t leave Mainland China for some other form of servitude! It did take me a while to get my head around this.

In the first year (1990-1991) we were pretty passionate (well, for me anyway!). Meantime the odd person thought (or on some occasions said) I was being used. “He’s just after your money” was not right, as I didn’t have any. Indeed on one embarrassing occasion in 1990 I had to borrow from him to help pay for a meal we had–as he never ceases to remember, casting it back up at me among other of my faults when the occasion arises. “He’ll get his permanent residence and you’ll never see him again” said a woman who had actually lived in China and seemed to have learned only to dislike the Chinese. Well, that didn’t turn out to be true. He got his permanent residence in 1995; he paid for my postgrad course in 1998.

The rules we are conditioned to (which are essentially heterosexual) don’t entirely apply to gay relationships. This can be liberating, but can also lead to deep existential anxieties. “If it feels good, do it” is on the other hand far too shallow. Too many gay men (especially young ones?) fall victim to mindless hedonism, and it can be (not always, though) dehumanising. As I write this I am painfully aware of how hard it is to generalise, and how presumptuous it is even to try! Yet I hate predatory relationships with a passion. Life is too short, and other lives are too precious, for that. I hasten to add that there are plenty of heterosexual predatory relationships, many of them called “marriages”.

I’m thinking on these lines too because I recently had occasion to have a heart-to-heart with someone just setting out.

We all have to learn for ourselves, of course, and we all make mistakes and have painful experiences. In some ways I don’t envy the young. But on the other hand there is just as much chance that experience will prove joyous and fulfilling, and the young by definition have a longer time-span to look forward to. (DO stay safe! Too many young have died young. Don’t believe that crap about living hard, dying young, and leaving a beautiful corpse. ‘The grave’s a fine and private place/ But none I think do there embrace.’ A somewhat ironic allusion to Marvell, really!)

How to avoid a predator? Never do anything you’re not comfortable with. Don’t be afraid to be assertive about what you are comfortable with. If the other person does not respond sympathetically they’re probably not worth knowing (even if they are rich!). Walk away. No-one should force you or cajole you to do anything. A good relationship, friendship, or whatever, is not conditional.

On the other hand, one of the joys I have found since coming out is being able to relate across ages and cultures much more freely than would otherwise have been the case. I have learned so much from people from all sorts of backgrounds, and I hope have sometimes given something in return. And, not to appear too solemn, had some good times!

So if you are young, be open, learn what you can, but don’t allow yourself to lose yourself–if you know what I mean.

WOW: What a lucubration– and now the sun is well up and it’s time to put on my new patch.

May 2000

4 May, 2000

It is interesting the subtle change that occurs when a journal goes online, that is supposes a reader other than oneself.

Yesterday I was trying to articulate to a friend some of the texture of coming out, and then much longer term, of virtually having to invent oneself as the PARTICULAR gay man one really wants to be–beyond the cliche and the
stereotype. It’s a never-ending process, thank God one might say, as process means one is still alive!

The question came up: is there a gay community in any real sense? I’m not going to try that as a one-liner: but I do know there are gay men who have supported me and whom I have maybe in turn supported. What can we call that? Fellowship? Family? Whatever–it happens, and as the book of Ecclesiastes puts it “Two are better than one; because they have a good reason for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow.” (Eccl. 4: 9-10) Or more poignantly, get out a good poetry anthology and read one of the greatest gay (human?) poems of the 20th century, W H Auden’s “Lay your sleeping head, my love,/ Human on my faithless arm…”

Later yesterday I got out some of my own poems, becoming convinced again that I am not a poet! However, one of my eccentricities back in 1983 when I was coming out was to celebrate/explore that in Shakespearian sonnet form, and one that almost passes muster follows:

SEPTEMBER SONNET

Recall, my friend, September afternoon:
Over this city a storm of fire and ice.
Exhausted, then, you came to me in hope,
Reached out for me–but caught as in a vice,
Eyes full of pain, uncertain how to cope,
You drew back, weeping, naked in grief. But soon
Ended that long black night. With the new day
We met again. You sat down by my side
Encircling me with love, your living hands
Delicate on mine. Now deep within I sighed,
Loving your touch that melted all the bands
Of time and guilt and fear. In such a way
Vanished all my shame. Now we face our tasks
Enjoying our new warmth, destroying our old masks.

13 May, 2000

Checked the email on arriving home. No message yet from Shanghai, but a beautiful quote. Here it is:

“Ninglun,

“Found this yesterday, and quite liked it:

” ‘Vain is the word of the philosopher which does not heal any suffering of man. For just as there is no profit in medicine if it does not expel the diseases of the body, there is no profit in philosophy either, if it does not expel the suffering of the mind.’ -Epicurus.”

It’s an excellent quote in itself, but the joy of it was that it showed appreciation for something I’d done–even though I already knew the appreciation existed. (That’s all folks: this is a PUBLIC “secret journal” after all!) Made my day, it did. 🙂

14 May, 2000

I am not conventionally religious, and it is unfortunate the Church has often been a sad environment for gay people. (Not only the Church to judge from the letters at Queer Masjid, an Islamic gay site, a link to which is on my Links Page.)

However, given that beautiful quote yesterday I called to mind this and thought I’d post it today. If gay people (indeed ALL people) could work within such a spirit the world would be a much better place. I do believe in wisdom, but claim little for myself. However there is wisdom in this beautiful prayer, far beyond the letter of it or its historical circumstances.

If you don’t know it already, read and savour it. If you do know it, remind yourself. PK: this is partly for you:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt,faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive—
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

— St. Francis of Assisi

20 May, 2000

Well, he’s back: M the traveller, that is. Arrived from Shanghai via Narita this morning, home by 9 am. He has a moustache, is a little greyer around the temples, and has the most amazing collections of photos that should grace some website in the future. He also has a very ornate dagger (a slight worry) and incredible Ali Baba shoes from Pakistan. And some very interesting CDs. Aside from a bit of continuing Delhi Belly he is OK.

Having lived simply this past year he is appalled at our accumulated rubbish and has been spending the afternoon going through cupboards and throwing stuff out. Long overdue, I suspect: any of my friends who have been here will know what I mean.

It’s been a pretty amazing day.

24 May, 2000

Well, he is back as you’ve seen, and his experience over 364 days has obviously changed him. I should add that M is a person who needs his freedom: “Never try to control me” is his motto. If we really care about others and learn to love ourselves we can’t go far wrong.

26 May, 2000

A delightful thing happened today. A Chinese background student I have been helping, “Master Fu”, offered me shyly a thankyou gift: two coins, one of “Wu Zhu” of the Western Han Dynasty (118 BC) and the other of “Kai Yuan Tang Bao” of the Tang Dynasty (821 AD), all in a little presentation box. And I received a few nice comments from parents at School Debating Night tonight–actually they were highly complimentary comments. Didn’t hurt, right now. Best was the smile I got yesterday. (That was a bit enigmatic of me.) And my non-smoking (now Day 34) hasn’t cracked 😉

27 May, 2000

It is fair to say that peace has returned to the Ninglun household. Coincidentally I have been reading A S Byatt’s 1990 Booker Prize Winner, Possession.

And then there is another book I have regularly dipped into over the past five years, one of those daily meditation books that can be twee and crass, but this one has its special moments. The entry to be read on May 21-22 says:


Passion is a prelude to
Years of gradual unfolding.

Some people mate for life. Perhaps their love affair starts with infatuation, passion, and eroticism. Eventually it gives way to a more stable companionship. Not all couples pass this transition period intact, but those who do find a new mode of relating to each other…

Mature love is patient, selfless, generous, and kind…

Many sages speak out against romantic love. Can it be that they have never felt it or that they have been bitterly disappointed themselves. Individuals should know themselves well. If they are meant for love, they will know…

–365 Tao, Deng Ming-Dao, Harper San Francisco, 1992.

31 May, 2000

So May draws to a close, and what a time of transition it has proven to be. Good news is that I am still not smoking–40 days now: quite Biblical!

I also hope I have done a little to help at least one person feel perhaps more optimistic, perhaps deep-down a bit better about himself. If that is so, I am glad: the person involved has been something of a comfort to me too.

But I’m not arrogant enough to claim too much. People really when it comes down to it have to work out their own stuff. Others can support, or make one feel less alone, or encourage–but that’s it really. We are all left ultimately with our own resources.

Meantime this computer (lent to M and me by G: thanks!) shows definite signs of dying and something will soon have to be done. And my reading goes on. I suspect June may be somewhat less inward-looking in these pages than May. It has been therapy for me, and my justification for putting all this stuff here is that others can benefit from such glimpses into the human condition, because I assume I’m not special. I know reading others’ pages has broadened my thinking.

Saved from Diary-X 2004

Retreat from the Global: 11 March 2004

Second last period today at the Salt Mine proved to be an enlightening, even humbling, experience. I spent it with a Year Twelve student, whom I shall call “Ali”, who was referred to me by his English teacher because there may have been a problem with what he was proposing to do as an assessment task next week. He is doing Extension 1 (“3-Unit”) in the topic Retreat from the Global.

What he proposed doing (in a three minute talk!) was something very Islamic. Ali was born in Pakistan — in fact he told me in Year Seven that he still spoke and read Urdu (and one or two other languages) and could still recall a three storey red house he lived in in Islamabad as a small child. Now he is seventeen or so, and suitably bearded. Security would probably take an interest in him if he stepped on a plane…

Naturally, the topic of the values and attitudes implicit in globalisation is of great interest to him.

He wanted to introduce his fellow students to the idea that in this world there are those who turn away from globalisation for positive reasons, because they feel there are values under threat which are worth preserving, and he wanted to do this in terms of the particular religious movement he himself belongs to. His English teacher had no idea what movement he was talking about, and, I have to confess, for all my interest in and reading about Islam and Islamists, neither did I.

Have you heard of Tablighi Jamaat?

No?

Well, I can’t blame you, even if they are one of the largest “Islamic fundamentalist” movements in the world, and much bigger than Al Qaeda.

The Tablighi Jamaat is a quietist, apolitical movement of spiritual guidance and renewal that originated in the Indian subcontinent, whose networks now reach around the world. Today Tablighi Jama’at’s annual meetings in Pakistan and Bangladesh are attended by over a million people, and, even though meetings in India are smaller, participants may well be as many. Tabligh networks extend throughout the world, not only to places of Indo-Muslim settlement like North America and Britain, but to continental Europe, Africa, Malaysia, and elsewhere…

…a range of practices fosters a leveling of socio-economic status among the participants, a leveling modified in principle only by degrees of fidelity and faith. In a society where dress is a clear marker of status and particularistic identities, for instance, all Tablighis alike dress in simple garments. In a society where
any speech act may betray hierarchic gaps of economic and educational status (above all, that of English and vernaculars, and among the vernaculars, between elegant Urdu and simple language), all Tablighi Jamaat members cultivate simple language…

The Tablighi, like the followers of the larger Deobandi reformist movement from which they derive, espouse an ideal of human behavior they understand to be exemplified by the Prophet. This ideal, in fact, resonates with qualities typically associated with femininity: everyone, male or female, is expected to be gentle, self-effacing, and dedicated to service to others. Men engaged in Tabligh activity, rich and poor alike, are meant to learn new ways of relating to other people and standards of humility by learning to cook, wash their own clothes, and look after each other. In this sense, Tabligh encourages, particularly in the experience of the tour, a certain reconfiguring of gender roles. The gentleness, self-abnegation, and modesty of the Tablighi men, coupled with their performance of tasks associated with women, marks them as inculcating values that are culturally considered quintessentially feminine, but which are also religious in this case…

They sound rather like Quakers, really. And as Ali said, the whole point is not to quarrel with anyone. They certainly have no ambition to blow anyone or anything up, and, it would have to be noted, they are far less bellicose than George W Bush.

We know so little, don’t we?

Image hosting by Photobucket

A group of Tablighis “on tour” 

You don’t often read about these people or see them on the media, after all. I mean, they really aren’t bad, so they really aren’t news.

I’m glad I have met one.

And Barbara Metcalf’s account of them (see link) has become a text around which Ali can build his speech. That is now a substitute link, the original article having disappeared.

Later note

For a very different view, but from an Indian source (not always objective after all) see DAGESTAN: FOCUS ON PAKISTAN’S TABLIGHI JAMAAT which claims “the Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) … is the mother of all the Pakistan-based jehadi organisations active not only in the CARs, Chechnya and Dagestan, but also in other parts of the world.” But then this there is the mother of all conspiracy theories from an Islamist site.

The movement of Tableeghi Jamaat is being utilised by the enemies of Islam as an effective instrument in their struggle to prevent the emergence of a true Islamic movement in Europe and elsewhere in the world. Therefore, it is incumbent on all Muslims to disown it and discourage its activity in every way. The British were continually looking for ways of infiltrating and subverting Islam. They kept, through their comprehensive spy network, a very careful eye, on any new Muslim group and movement. The Tableeghi Jamaat was set up under the British Rule in India. After closely watching the Jamaat for some time, the British realised that here was exactly what they were looking for, a movement that totally absorbed the energy of its members and yet did not threaten British domination in any way as the doctrine of Jihad was totally absent in this movement.

So are both of those written by totally mad but opposed buggers? Make up your own mind, if you can.

Best of Diary-X: 19-20 January 2004

Dear me, I was annoyed yesterday!

And rightly so, even if perhaps instead of notorious hypocrite I could just have said canny politician, and for being disrespectful I might have written totally despising. As Labor frontbencher Julia Gillard quite properly said last year, the evil of the Howard regime has been the imposition of a bleak political correctness of the most ruthless kind upon what once was a country showing signs of developing values and attitudes more in tune with the age in which we currently live.

It’s time for those who oppose Howard’s agenda to admit that he and his helpers have succeeded spectacularly.

The nation is in the grip of a neo-conservative political correctness that is out of touch with the values of the majority of the Australian people. It’s a political correctness that has elevated values that most Australians don’t share: individual selfishness and a strange envy of the less fortunate because they are receiving Government assistance.

It’s a political correctness that has produced greater divisions in our society between the haves and the have-nots, indigenous and non-indigenous, new migrants and old. And it is a political correctness that puts winning before all else, where ethics, integrity and values like equality and looking after others less fortunate don’t rate.

John Howard has won his culture war, for now.

My argument is that it’s time for Australians of all political persuasions who don’t like this new political correctness – from Green on the left, to small-l liberal on the right – to wake up to the fact that they have lost the culture war.

Australia has been changed for the worse by John Howard. We can make it better again.

Howard is guilty of squandering important spiritual advances made over the decades since the 1960s and 1970s. He has done this with deliberation, partly out of his own small-minded convictions, but even more so out of “wedge politics”, knowing that the paranoia unleashed some years back by the Hanson phenomenon could be harnessed as a key to power.

So I am glad I sounded off yesterday, and particularly glad that I transcribed the NSW Department of Education’s statement about values. That is a fine document, distilling much thinking — indeed much of the spiritual advance Howard is so antithetical to. True, it is a statement of principles: but isn’t it nice to have principles? Also, from my experience, state schools do try, often in very difficult circumstances to put these principles into practice.

STATE SCHOOLS IN NSW ARE NOT VALUE-FREE ZONES.

A proud tradition of public schooling — under threat!

One article on the subject in this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald says:

As for allegations of political correctness, [a school Principal] said: “No parent has expressed concerns about political correctness to me in my 30 years of teaching . . . the Prime Minister’s own conservative world view doesn’t reflect the world I’ve known as a principal. It’s very strange.”

Mr Bonnor recalls his school days, when so-called old-fashioned values were enforced: hymns were de rigueur at formal occasions but when the local pastor made his weekly visit for scripture the students ran riot. In class, children learnt about the White Australia policy and in the playground Aboriginal students were mercilessly teased or simply marginalised.

“And playground fights? If they were on the same scale today it would be considered a major crisis.”

Bullying was also institutionalised, an evil perhaps more readily associated these days with some of the state’s most elite private schools, Mr Bonnor said.

Professor Tony Vinson said Mr Howard’s remarks were at odds with his own observations at the more than 130 public schools he visited as part of his independent inquiry into public education.

“His comments are misplaced – I imagine he is referring to values which he personally prizes, but what they are, I’m guessing, like anyone else.”

Mr Howard declined to expand on the values he most prized and felt lacking in state schools. Some educators hazarded a guess he meant beliefs informed by religion and enforced through strict discipline.

A Sydney mother of two, Sarah Alexiou, also disagreed with Mr Howard. “The values I want taught are to accept everybody, be kind to everybody, get along in a group, be happy, feel safe and secure and hopefully learn something along the way. This is all provided at a public school.”

Mister Bonnor must have been at school when I was, because I recognise absolutely the truth of what he says. John Howard went to school — in a state school — at the same time. The trouble is, he hasn’t grown up since in quite significant respects.

Some clues about Howard’s agenda in all this emerge in another Herald article today:

The Prime Minister, John Howard, set off the heated debate, saying parents were removing their children from public schools because they were “too politically correct and too values-neutral”.

Mr Howard and Mr McGauran blamed the teachers’ unions, saying they wielded too much power and restricted the ability of principals to run their schools.

However, neither would define the values they believed were being ignored.

A spokesman for Mr Howard said the Prime Minister had referred specifically to the case of one school (SIC!) that had refused to have a nativity scene at Christmas because it could have offended some students.

He said Mr Howard, who went to a public school, “strongly supported” state school systems and did not want to see enrolments decline. However, his criticisms reflected the concerns of parents who “for a combination of reasons” were choosing to move their children to private schools.

The Government attack sparked a flurry of angry responses. Not even the principals of leading independent schools were prepared to back Mr Howard’s claim of a flawed public school approach to values.

“I am just reflecting what parents say” is a typical Howard ploy to distance himself from his own agenda, to shift responsibility from himself, and to arrogate the “voice of the people” to himself when in fact he is the ventriloquist and the people are the dummies.

As to that “one school” — well that may have been silly. I know that in our own school we have no problem still singing Christmas carols at the appropriate time, having traditional national celebrations like Anzac Day, AND having an Islamic Students Society, a Jewish Students Society, a Christian Fellowship, and Buddhist meditation. All within the context of the shared values outlined by the Department of Education.

I also know that a host of reasons motivate parents to opt for private schools. Propaganda like Howard’s, for all his mealy-mouthed “support” for public education, is one of the main ones. Snobbery is often another. So, sad to say, is xenophobia: oh, I wouldn’t like my son to go to a school with so many Asians! Believe it: I know it is true. Others, for good or ill, inhabit religious worlds that are deeply suspicious of the rest of us, and want their children sheltered from the World, the Flesh, the Devil, and in some cases, Evolution and Harry Potter.

Howard’s agenda:

1) To spend as little as possible on public education, skewing what funding there is towards the private sector, so that privatising education will seem both desirable and necessary some time in the future, and ideologically in keeping with everything else this government stands for. One therefore undermines public education at every turn, without seeming to do so, as Australians are in fact rather fond of their century and more of public (free, compulsory and secular) education: it has been a core Australian value.

2) The teachers have a powerful trade union. The government is intent on destroying the union movement, or having a totally compliant one. It is now the turn of teachers, wharfies and other undesirables having been dealt with some time ago.

If there are flawed values at work in all this, just look to The Lodge (or Kirribilli House) to see where they are coming from.

Afterthoughts

  • Typos again! Particularly galling in an entry on education where I am writing as an English teacher who knows very well the difference between there and their (not to mention they’re) is today’s typo, not seen by me until two hours after the entry went up! Grrr!!!

    * * *

    Monday, January 19, 2004

    State of the world

    I was going to make this one a blog-free zone, until I looked in the December 2003 Atlantic Monthly which has just arrived at select Sydney newsagents. There are two articles worth your looking at. The first is George Soros, famous anti-Bush financier, on “The Bubble of American Supremacy”:

    The Bush doctrine, first enunciated in a presidential speech at West Point in June of 2002, and incorporated into the National Security Strategy three months later, is built on two pillars: the United States will do everything in its power to maintain its unquestioned military supremacy; and the United States arrogates the right to pre-emptive action. In effect, the doctrine establishes two classes of sovereignty: the sovereignty of the United States, which takes precedence over international treaties and obligations; and the sovereignty of all other states, which is subject to the will of the United States. This is reminiscent of George Orwell’s Animal Farm: all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others…

    It is ironic that the government of the most successful open society in the world should have fallen into the hands of people who ignore the first principles of open society. At home Attorney General John Ashcroft has used the war on terrorism to curtail civil liberties. Abroad the United States is trying to impose its views and interests through the use of military force. The invasion of Iraq was the first practical application of the Bush doctrine, and it has turned out to be counterproductive. A chasm has opened between America and the rest of the world…

    There is an excellent follow-up in the January Atlantic: “Spies, Lies, and Weapons: What Went Wrong” by Kenneth Pollack.

    The second article in the December issue to attract my notice is “How To Kill A Country” by Samantha Power: Turning a breadbasket into a basket case in ten easy steps–the Robert Mugabe way.

    Cricket

    What a great game it was between India and Australia in Brisbane yesterday, evenly balanced right up to the last couple of overs. India won.

    Mind you, I didn’t see all that much of the game, for reasons that will become apparent. Also, I did turn off to see the final episode of Robinson Crusoe on SBS — and Friday was particularly fetching last night, if not enough to prevent me from going to sleep. When I woke, Friday and his thong (and very nice buns) had disappeared, and I was just in time for the last thirty minutes or so of the Cricket.

    By the way, for those who like such things, I have found a whole site (not pornographic) devoted to men in loincloths, not that I can understand the raison d’etre for such a site — can you?

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    Not Friday — or Cricket– but do you know who it is? You’ll have to search…

    Somewhat pissy afternoon

    Sirdan and I had a very good roast lunch at the Courthouse Hotel, where an old friend (back to 1988-9) Francesco is now the chef. We went on to the Midnight Shift where I proposed to have one beer, but I have to confess we arrived there at 2pm, just as it opened, and stayed until about 6.30pm. So there was more than one beer, albeit “light” for me. There was also much good conversation. I was particularly pleased to catch up with PK, whom I had not seen for a very long time, at least not to have a good talk to.

    Nice afternoon, but now you know why I missed so much of the Cricket, and went to sleep even when presented with Friday and his very brief loincloth. 😉

    Tuesday, January 20, 2004

    Notorious hypocrite Howard rants about ‘values’.

    I am so bloody angry that I have put this entry to record how personally insulted I feel, and disgusted on behalf of all my colleagues, by John Howard’s recent gratuitous attack on state schools in Australia. As far as NSW state schools are concerned, what the PM has said simply reveals that he has not done his homework:

    NSW public schools teach essential values for life to children and young people.

    Love of learning

    NSW public schools aim to create young Australians who value learning and knowledge and who relish the effort and possess the confidence needed to resolve problems, or to master a skill, topic or subject; who can compose clear and precise prose and construct well-founded arguments; who have mastered the art of talking with others as a route to better understanding; who are deeply interested in finding common ground with other people, other ways of life and ways of thinking and believing; and who are interested in imaginative and new ideas, and in seeking out truth.

    NSW public schools teach the value of:

    • scholarship, accurate and extensive knowledge, wide reading and understanding of traditional and new fields of study, including information technology
    • rational inquiry and logical, well-founded argument
    • clarity, confidence and coherence in thinking, writing and speaking
    • curiosity and imagination as the basis for pleasure in learning
    • communicating with others as a way of establishing agreement and arriving at truth.

    Aiming for high standards

    NSW public school students are encouraged to achieve their personal best and to aim for excellence in everything they do.

    They are encouraged to participate in sport and creative performances and to learn ways of winning and losing graciously.

    NSW public schools teach the value of:

    • aiming for the best in academic, creative and sporting achievement and in all public performances.

    Care and respect for ourselves and others

    In partnership with parents and carers, NSW public school students are taught how to respect and care for themselves and others, in order to achieve self-discipline and physical and mental well being. They learn respect and care for others through the codes and practice of good manners, the give and take of friendship, the routines of companionship and the management of friendly rivalry. They learn respect for expertise, legitimate authorities, and leadership through acceptance of responsibility. They are taught ways of recognising right from wrong.

    NSW public schools teach the value of:

    • recognising right over wrong
    • honesty and courtesy
    • health, fitness and well being
    • discipline, punctuality, reliability
    • experience, expertise and authority
    • friendship, companionship and friendly rivalry
    • self-discipline, independence and responsibility

    Care and respect for families and communities

    NSW public school students are encouraged to feel and demonstrate empathy and respect for those who are vulnerable and dependent. They learn to demonstrate the values of generosity and compassion and the principles of fairness. In turn they earn the right to expect to be treated by others with respect and fairness. As members of families and communities they learn how to treat others with consideration.

    NSW public schools teach the value of:

    • kindness and helpfulness towards those who are vulnerable, or who are less able than others
    • the rights of individuals and groups to a fair go
    • sharing and equity as principles of personal and social relationships
    • different histories, customs, cultures and outlooks within home and school communities and in the Australian community

    Respect for work

    NSW public school students learn the need to grasp opportunities, the rewards of effort, and the value of work. They learn to see how work is changing and how new forms of work encourage experiment and resilience. They learn with new and evolving technologies and are taught to welcome innovation. Public school students learn to work well together with different kinds of people.

    NSW public schools teach the value of:

    • paid, unpaid and voluntary work
    • opportunity, aspiration and enterprise
    • creativity, experiment and resilience
    • working together and in competition
    • skilled workmanship
    • productive habits and methods.

    Proud Australians and citizens of the world

    As young Australians, NSW public school students learn to understand and appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of their land.

    They learn about Australia’s creative arts, literature, and history, and the insights to be gained for the future good of Australia. They learn to appreciate the significance of Australia’s Indigenous people and of immigration to Australian identity.

    NSW public school students are taught to respect the rule of law and Australia’s democratic institutions and procedures. They are taught their own rights and responsibilities, and those of groups and governments under the code of law and systems of justice.

    NSW public schools teach the value of:

    • Australia’s democratic institutions and procedures
    • the rights and obligations of governments, individuals and groups under the rule of law
    • the contributions of Indigenous people to Australia, and their history and struggles as our country’s first custodians
    • the beauty and uniqueness of Australia’s landscapes and environments
    • the histories and cultures of all Australians
    • the role of migration in building Australia’s place in the world
    • the interdependence of human beings with each other and with the natural world

    Values for Australia’s future

    These values help each NSW public school student to take full advantage of new ideas and knowledge which characterise the social and economic environment emerging in Australia, and in the world community.

    In conjunction with an excellent general and vocational education, this code of values enables young Australians educated in NSW public schools to freely choose and enjoy their paths through adult life, to master the complexity and variety of the contemporary world, and to contribute as citizens to making Australia a better, more prosperous and happier place.

    Perhaps the PM regards some of these as “excessive political correctness”? There are probably some values there the PM would have a problem with — but that is his problem, and ours in having a neanderthal for a Prime Minister. I can understand someone who hasn’t had an original or really broad-minded thought in the past forty years thinking that way, just as I can find it quite remarkable that a man whose prime value is how to hang onto power, stifle debate, and lie to the Australian people whenever it seems necessary to achieve his goals is suddenly the mouthpiece for “Australian values.”

    Am I being disrespectful?

    Bloody oath I am.

    I have no respect for John Winston Howard, none at all.

    Meanwhile any bigots or loonies who wants to gather half-a-dozen kids together to start a “school” advocating, say, “flat-earthism” as a parental value, are sure to get their hands on government cash these days.

    Roll on the election!

    Tuesday, 27 December 2005

    Marooned in Surry Hills — postcolonial musings

    Compared to this time last year, that is. The hot humid weather drags on [as indeed it does now in 2005], and the Salt Mine looms in a couple of weeks [but not in 2006!] — which could be a relief really. Zimbabwe was done over in yesterday’s one day Cricket, which is hardly surprising. Zimbabwe did bowl rather well though. I think Streak is such a good name for a cricketer. Exciting things lined up today include doing the laundry…

    Mind you, reading is good at the moment. And last night I saw part three of the French Robinson Crusoe on SBS — very well done, and I like Friday’s (or rather Vendredi’s) clothing, or lack thereof.

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    “Is that a telescope, or are you just pleased to see me?”

    A 1960s Franco-British TV Crusoe which I can barely remember…

    Here are some other stage, screen and art representations to consider. Quite a study in postcolonialism, and homoerotica?

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    That last one is indeed Australian, from a Macquarie University production in 2002.

    Reading

    The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (London, Faber & Faber 1999) is the fiction I am reading at the moment. I am not far into it yet: it has taken me a while to get used to its narrative method, but it does touch a few bases already as 1) a critique of American attitudes and religion and 2) a postcolonial exploration — not unrelated to 1). It also seems to me to throw the whole idea of “sacred texts” into question, which is a very good thing to do these days when so much of the world’s madness arises from an inability to cast off enslavement to paper gods, which inevitably fail. Here is another reader’s opinion. I’ll get back to you later on this one.

    A bit of diversion…

    Two loads of laundry later, and a lot more of The Poisonwood Bible — liking it more and more — and I have something to report. An encounter, of a kind. I was crossing Elizabeth Street about lunch time when I noticed a good-looking young man waving to me from the window of The Coffee Roaster. I did not recognise him, but one does not ignore such things. Turned out to be an ex-student (1997) who is now an actor. Interesting conversation. I had no idea about his acting, and it apparently took him by surprise too, as he set out to study Science but changed direction somewhat.

    And something I forgot to mention, speaking of ex-students. One of Mr R’s contemporaries (not one he liked much, I suspect) was on the SBS show Front Up, shown last Saturday but filmed at the Randwick Races on the October long weekend last year apparently. I actually knew his family a bit through Debating, but learned a thing or two from Front Up that I hadn’t known before. Front Up is almost Reality TV, but somewhat more humane: Andrew Urban walks up to people in the street and gets them talking about all sorts of intimate things. He has a real talent for drawing people out. This was one of M’s favourite shows.

    Thursday, January 08, 2004

    Not that I saw it personally back in 1975 at the Bijou Theatre in Balmain — I was safely in Wollongong — but I soon saw and heard the album. It was all a touch risque then, and I had certainly never seen a drag show, but the lyrics got to you. I am talking of Reg Livermore and the legendary Betty Blokk Buster’s Follies. It was very much part of the naughty 70s, that show, and in its way part of the process by which I began to come to terms (um, some ten years later!) with being a gay man. One song, “Captain Jack”, was our introduction to Billy Joel.

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    Reg Livermore as Betty Blokk Buster — 1975.

    Some time around 1975 or 1976 I heard the man himself — Billy Joel, that is — at (if I recall correctly) Simon H’s place in Fairy Meadow. I was hooked, and subsequently bought Piano Man and eventually several other albums.

    When I was living in Glebe in 1978 I shared for a while with a Dip Ed student who had a girlfriend from New York (and one from France, which led to all sorts of complications.) The New Yorker came and stayed for a while. She was lovely. The strange thing is she was introduced to Billy Joel’s quintessentially New York music by me there in Glebe. I suspect, thanks to Reg Livermore, Billy Joel was better known here than in his home city at that time.

    Well, last night I gave the Cricket (not a very important game) a miss and watched Billy Joel In His Own Words on ABC TV.

    In a completely unscripted and unrehearsed format, Billy Joel takes questions from a college audience at the University of Pennsylvania.

    Billy plays some of his best known songs – from Only the Good Die Young to Piano Man – as well as the music that influenced him and he tells stories that will keep the viewer glued to their seat.

    Uncensored, fascinating, funny and sometimes moving, this adventure through Billy Joel’s musical life is one of the most revealing programs produced about a superstar.

    It was pure magic, even if well practised if “unscripted and unrehearsed”. He has done a few of these Master Classes. You can get a slight taste by reading this. I wonder if Simon H watched it too? I hope so.

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    It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday

    The regular crowd shuffles in

    There’s an old man sitting next to me

    Making love to his tonic and gin.

    He says, “Son can you play me a memory?

    I’m not really sure how it goes

    But it’s sad and it’s sweet

    And I knew it complete

    When I wore a younger man’s clothes.”

    Sing us a song you’re the piano man

    Sing us a song tonight

    Well we’re all in the mood for a melody

    And you’ve got us feeling alright.

    Now John at the bar is a friend of mine

    He gets me my drinks for free

    And he’s quick with a joke or to light up your smoke

    But there’s someplace that he’d rather be.

    He says, “Bill, I believe this is killing me”

    As a smile ran away from his face

    “Well, I’m sure that I could be a movie star

    If I could get out of this place.”

    Now Paul is a real estate novelist

    Who never had time for a wife

    And he’s talking with Davy, who’s still in the Navy

    And probably will be for life.

    And the waitress is practicing politics

    As the businessmen slowly get stoned

    Yes they’re sharing a drink they call loneliness

    But it’s better than drinking alone.

    Sing us a song you’re the piano man

    Sing us a song tonight

    Well we’re all in the mood for a melody

    And you’ve got us feeling alright.

    It’s a pretty good crowd for a Saturday

    And the manager gives me a smile

    ‘Cause he knows that it’s me they’ve been coming to see

    To forget about life for a while.

    And the piano sounds like a carnival

    And the microphone smells like a beer

    And they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar

    And say “Man what are you doing here?”

    Sing us a song you’re the piano man

    Sing us a song tonight

    Well we’re all in the mood for a melody

    And you’ve got us feeling alright.

    Well, “I wore a younger man’s clothes” back then, that’s for sure. It’s hard to believe it is over twenty-five years since I first heard that. Long before there were rabbits in the world, whose turn it is now to “wear a younger man’s clothes” in their own right and in their own way. Can’t help thinking of some nights at the Albury Piano Bar as I read/hear that song.

    Here are the lyrics of that and many more. Like:

    Angry Young Man

    There’s a place in the world for the angry young man

    With his working class ties and his radical plans

    He refuses to bend he refuses to crawl

    And he’s always at home with his back to the wall

    And he’s proud of his scars and the battles he’s lost

    And struggles and bleeds as he hangs on his cross

    And likes to be known as the angry young man

    Give a moment or two to the angry young man

    With his foot in his mouth and his heart in his hand

    He’s been stabbed in the back he’s been misunderstood

    It’s a comfort to know his intentions are good

    And he sits in his room with a lock on the door

    With his maps and his medals laid out on the floor

    And he likes to be known as the angry young man

    I believe I’ve passed the age of consciousness and righteous rage

    I found that just surviving was a noble fight

    I once believed in causes too

    I had my pointless point of view

    And life went on no matter who was wrong or right

    And there’s always a place for the angry young man

    With his fist in the air and his head in the sand

    And he’s never been able to learn from mistakes

    So he can’t understand why his heart always breaks

    And his honor is pure and his courage is well

    And he’s fair and he’s true and he’s boring as hell

    And he’ll go to the grave as an angry old man

    Yes there’s always a place for the angry young man

    With his working class ties and his radical plans

    He refuses to bend he refuses to crawl

    And he’s always at home with his back to the wall

    And he’s proud of his scars and the battles he’s lost

    And struggles and bleeds as he hangs on his cross

    And likes to be known as the angry young man

    As song lyrics go that, like Piano Man, is pretty good — like many of Joel’s songs, a soundtrack for its time. One song, James, used often to haunt me in my lower moments, because it seemed to talk about me really, if you know what I mean:

    James

    You’ve been well behaved, you’ve been working hard

    But will you always stay

    Someone else’s dream of who you are?

    Do what’s good for you

    Or you’re not good for anybody

    James

    I went on the road

    You pursued an education

    James

    How you gonna know for sure

    Ev’rything was so well organized

    Hey,

    Oh, now ev’rything is so secure

    And ev’rybody else is satisfied

    James

    Do you like your life

    Can you find release

    And will you ever change

    When will you write your masterpiece?

    Do what’s good for you

    Or you’re not good for anybody

    James

    Hmmm. James is my middle name, by the way.

    As a student of English I can read those lyrics without embarrassment, remembering their genre of course. As a musician, Joel is pretty damned good. He said in that program that the music always preceded the lyrics for him, and in recent years he has branched out into pure music, in fact classical pieces so intricate that he has to have Korean pianist Richard Joo play them. Richard Joo was much admired by Yehudi Menuhin, no less.

    Some of the classical music was played at that University of Pennsylvania Master Class. I rather liked it, though critics have said it is “derivative.” But not all critics. “Billy Joel earns recognition as a serious classical composer in this excellent debut CD of solo piano music played by pianist Richard Joo. His short compositions aren’t derivative, even if they are quite evocative of great Romantic piano scores composed by Chopin, Schumann and Brahms. The technical difficulty of several works is also quite akin to Rachmaninov’s scores. Joo is a fine young pianist who plays Joel’s music with much reverence, warmth and technical precision.”

    As to that commonplace “contest” between Billy Joel and Elton John — well. After last night’s program I think there is no comparison. Elton has done some very memorable things — from “Candle in the Wind” to The Lion King — but there is, for me, more reality in Joel.

    Briefly

    Want some sheer fun? Try Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) born Scots writer Alexander McCall Smith. I have just finished (it doesn’t take long) The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs (2003): the scene where Professor Dr Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld, author of Portuguese Irregular Verbs, tells the Pope to shut up in the Vatican Library is just one of many delicious bits of nonsense in this book.

    Sunday, January 04 to Tuesday, January 06, 2004

    Sunday: Special for American Readers

    Since about 30-40% of my readers are in America, I thought you’d better have some explanation of this strange game I have been talking about lately. It does, I’m afraid, require a longer attention span than baseball 😉 — as you may see:

    Each side has two innings (plural same as singular), and when each side has completed its two innings, the side with the most runs wins. This is not as simple as it sounds, because cricket matches almost always have a previously agreed time limit, generally in days, with the hours of play for each day specified in advance. If both sides do not complete their innings within the time specified, the match is a draw, regardless of the score. (In cricket, a draw and a tie are not the same thing. A draw is a match that is not completed; a tie is a match that is completed with the scores even.) Therefore to lose a cricket match you have to have your two complete innings and still not get as many runs as your opponents. If the number of runs needed for a side to win is too many for them to make, they can still play to achieve a draw and deprive their opponents of the win by avoiding being “all out” before “stumps” (the end of the match, when the umpires pull the stumps from the ground).

    Match lengths are generally agreed upon in advance as a certain number of days, with the hours of play on each day specified, as well as the breaks to be taken for lunch and tea. The most important international matches (“tests”) between sides supposedly representing the best their countries have to offer are generally scheduled for five days.

    That is from Cricket Explained (for novices), an American site. You may also consult Nicholas Alphonso — “…a student doing my Fourth Year Electronics Engineering from Bombay University. I am 20 years old and I created this site to promote the sport of cricket.”

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    Cutcombe Cricket Team, UK, 1900

    The current Australia-India Test commences its third day today, with India in a commanding position at 7 for 650. Probably India will declare this morning, that is say they have finished their innings, and send Australia in to chase that total. After that it gets a little complex, but the reason I worried last night that it might rain was that if a game is washed out it is a draw. Today is fine and hot, as it happens.

    Lunch update

    To my surprise India opted to keep batting this morning, eventually reaching 705.

    I, in the meantime, went to Yum Cha at the Marigold with the Empress, Sirdan, Malcolm, James, a new person named Andy (not the sailor) and eventually Antony. Excellent duck. (The picture on my profile was taken at that Yum Cha by Antony.)

    The crowd around Central on their way to the Cricket reminded me of the 2000 Olympics. Now I’m off to keep an eye on the game by TV and radio. (I prefer to listen to the ABC radio commentary with the TV on Channel 9 at least some of the time.)

    Monday

    Today has dawned cloudy, with possible storms later after a very hot and humid night. I was eaten by mosquitoes. But it is of course Day 4 of the Australia-India Final Test at the SCG. As the Sydney Morning Herald front page has it: “India declared for 7-705, with a resurgent Sachin Tendulkar nine runs shy of his 250. But the star Indian’s innings was his highest in his Test career. India’s 705 was also the highest score by a touring side to Australia… Meanwhile, as the Australian cricket captain slipped from view, like the late afternoon sun over the Members’ Stand, the federal Opposition Leader made his Test debut. Mark Latham, who has just embarked on his own leadership role, appeared as a guest commentator on ABC radio’s cricket broadcast.” I heard Latham’s effort and immediately began praying to the radio…

    The great moment yesterday which everyone was anticipating was Steve Waugh’s (the Australian Captain) probable last innings: he scored 40. (He may get one more go in the next two days.)

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    Steve Waugh

    Australia were 6-342 at stumps. Today could be lively as they will possibly be forced to “follow on” — that is to bat again straight after their first innings, leaving India to catch up with whatever Australia might make in that second innings. (I hope that’s right!) It would seem the likely outcome is a draw, even more so if it rains — and it could.

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    India’s hero, Sachin Tendulkar

    This image is from an Indian fan site from which we learn the Sydney Cricket Ground is his favourite venue, even more so now I am sure. We also learn: “Tendulkar is a God fearing person, a staunch devotee of Sai Baba, Ganpathi and frequently visits temples during night when it’s calm and quiet. He visualizes God in his parents. Religion to him is what his parents have inculcated in him, his upbringing and his way of life. Sachin strongly believes in the concept of re-birth, existence of Hell and Heaven. He loves celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi at home with his family and believes that it firms his ties with his loved ones.”

    Yesterday the Empress asked if we had seen Landover Baptist Church’s review of The Return of the King. I just have:

    … Without vegetables to hurl at the screen, church members instinctively reached for their guns, firing volley after volley until the screen was in shreds. Then two elder deacons, whose rifles were equipped with modern flamethrowers, torched the wall separating the theater from the lobby, instantly igniting a forty-gallon drum of tropical oil next to the popcorn machine, creating a fireball that enveloped the concession area. Fortunately, all members of the audience were safely evacuated, with only minor injuries reported, before the complex was razed, and fatalities were limited to 24 blue-collar theater employees.

    You’ll have to go there to get the full effect: it is blistering s*t*r* 😉

    I may be seeing the movie for myself very soon.

    Meanwhile (it’s now 2.30 pm) my grandfather’s favourite saying, “the glorious uncertainty of cricket”, is once again being borne out. What a classic this game has been! I’ll let you know the outcome tomorrow. Australia, however, is just all out and India have chosen to bat.

    Tuesday

    I went with Sirdan to The Return of the King at Fox Studio (next door to the Sydney Cricket Ground) at 9.30 am. The movie proper started at 10, and finished about 1 pm: a short three hours. You do need to have seen the previous movies, or have a good knowledge of The Lord of the Rings though. David Stratton of the SBS Movie Show now claims the whole set is the greatest epic ever made. He could be right; it certainly is brilliant film-making.

    Taking the three films as a whole, there’s no question that Jackson’s achievement is extraordinary. He has made the best epic film in the history of cinema, a work of art and at the same time a great entertainment that far surpasses such touted epics of the past as Gone with the Wind, and which makes its more recent rivals — the Matrix trilogy, the Star Wars cycle, especially the more recent entries in that series — look puny by comparison. I can only think of one film that comes close to Jackson’s achievement and that’s Masaki Kobayashi’s The Human Condition. Like Lord of the Rings, it was released in three parts over three years (1959-61), each part running roughly three hours. It also combines a moving story of courage and endurance (the experiences of a Japanese conscientious objector during World War II) with spectacular scenes of battle.


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    A late fish and chip lunch at the Shakespeare Hotel, the first time Sirdan has been there, rounded things off nicely.

    Speaking of epics…

    India declared slightly early last night after one of their number got a ball in the ear. Ganguly need not have declared; I think he was just giving Australia a sporting chance. And now at 2.53 pm Steve Waugh (the Australian Captain) has just come out to bat — his last innings. So far Australia has been scoring too slowly. What will happen next? Well, I am off to listen. Waugh survived his first ball and Australia are 171 for 3 at this stage, chasing in 46 overs remaining 272 to win… The weather is much more ominous than yesterday too.

    Professor Norman Davies (The Isles: A History, London, Papermac, new edition 2000.)

    I am thoroughly enjoying having my knowledge of British History (a segment of which I once studied at the university in the company of the rather hideous Philip Ruddock) turned inside out by Professor Norman Davies.

    The British historian Norman Davies has spent most of his career fighting the distortions of nationalistic views of history. ‘The multi-national character of European history is obvious,” he asserts. However, until recently this aspect was sidelined in favour of (often-conflicting) national histories. “Obviously nations, national communities, do have their histories,” says Davies. “The trouble is that for quite a long period, I would think from the middle of the 19th to the middle of the 20th century, national histories almost had a monopoly. Everybody was writing through a national prism. I think Europeans in particular, looking back at the catastrophe of the 20th century, in part regretted the way that their history had been written.”

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    Alfred the Great: but what was he actually King of?

    Not everyone is as enthusiastic. In the Green Man Review, Maria Nutick, after noting that she is not herself a professional historian, writes:

    I found Professor Davies’ work to be overwhelmingly biased. In his introduction, he plainly admits that The Isles “necessarily presents a very personal view of history.”…Professor Davies clearly states his Celtic ancestry, and goes on to lament that most previous history books about the Isles have been skewed to the Anglo-centric point of view and ignored the Celtic contributions. He positively gloats over the achievements of the Welsh in maintaining their separatist culture and language … and of course “Davies” is a Welsh surname.

    …Davies devotes less than one full page to the causes of the American Revolution and no space whatsoever to the effects of the loss of “the colonies” on the English economy, politics, or morale. His analysis of the Revolutionary War is limited to the statement that “From start to finish, the birth of the USA was the product of incompetence and culpable stupidity. It need never have happened.” Apparently the loss of the colonies was far less important than the development of sports, because Davies examines football, rugby, tennis, and golf in minute detail. Indeed, he unnecessarily devotes more than four dull pages exclusively to cricket!… criticisms aside, I did enjoy reading The Isles.

    The Old Left hate him. On the World Socialist Web Site Ann Talbot writes:

    Historian Norman Davies’s latest book claims to offer an approach to the history of the British Isles that challenges traditional nationalist readings of British history by “integrating” the British Isles into Europe. What the reader actually gets is a deconstruction, not just of British history, but also of the discipline of history itself, as Davies dispenses with all of the concepts that have been developed by historians in the last two centuries.

    Since its inception, modern history has been concerned with the nation-state — its origins, external relations and internal workings, the social classes that comprise it and the way in which their differing interests impacted on events. Davies supposedly deals with this tradition by simply drawing a line through the words British and Britain…

    For all his pretensions to write a history that gives due weight to all the nations and cultures that inhabit the British Isles, Davies has written an entirely Anglo-centric book in which the Welsh, Scots and Irish get walk on parts. He pays merely a ritual deference to the most socially traumatic events?the Highland clearances and the Irish famine in the 19th century-but he does not explain why these things happened. His account of them remains superficial. He never considers what the historical significance of depopulating vast tracts of the British Isles was, what its causes were, whose interests it served, and what its social, political and economic consequences were.

    The Irish famine (in which two million people died and another two million emigrated) and the Highland clearances (in which the landlords replaced their tenants with sheep) are dealt with in little more than a page, compared with the four pages Davies devotes to cricket. “Cricket,” we are informed, “was always an archetypal English game.” Davies traces the English passion for it back to the Hundred Years War during the 14th century. This ignores obvious anomalies. Jane Austen, a quintessentially English writer if ever there was one, played baseball. But there is neither nuance, subtlety nor depth to Davies’s portrait of the English. His view of them is no less stereotyped and hackneyed than his view of the Celts. Even his account of cricket is superficial. Not once does he find it necessary to mention one of the best writers on cricket in the 20th century – C.L.R. James.

    No doubt James’s brief association with Trotskyism was enough to exclude him from consideration. Marxism, revolution and social class have no place in Davies’s Britain…

    In New Labour terms, Davies’s book is clearly already out-of-date. The one benefit of the book is that it reveals how far the intellectual level has sunk among those like Davies, who claim to be leading international academics. Essentially Davies’s book is a form of the same attack on history, science and knowledge that has been launched by the French Postmodernists Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard and Baudrillard but expressed with the crude anti-intellectualism prevalent inside the British ruling class. Davies gives us deconstructionism shorn of all its intellectual pretensions and revealed for what it is — a wholesale rejection of reason and human progress.

    I am afraid I think that last paragraph really is nonsense; in fact I would rather say The Isles is a wholesale rejection of centuries of propaganda, national myth-making and invented tradition. It is also a rejection of the particular dogmas of old-fashioned Marxists. On the other hand there is little in the book to cheer those of a Tory or Howardite mindset. It is refreshing, challenging, entertaining and thoroughly appropriate for a 21st century reader. I am amazed that someone can take such a well-worked topic as British History and make it sing again, even if in many new voices.

    Read it if you can. In the meantime, get a taste by visiting “Britain and Australia: holding together or falling apart,” a transcript of a lecture Davies gave at The City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney on 21 August 2001 12.30pm. (That’s where the Mufti and I went for the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra recital back on Halloween 2003.)

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