What was I up to in September 2006?

Selected posts from Floating Life 4/06 ~ 11/07. Internal links not guaranteed.

Tragic confidence

30 September 2006

In August last year I posted a poem by Yehuda Amichai.

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

This comes to mind as I read in today’s Sydney Morning Herald Film on Christian children’s camp has cross to bear:

…The president of the National Association of Evangelicals, the Reverend Ted Haggard, says the movie is skewed against Christianity. Mr Haggard, who appears in the movie when Levi and Rachel attend his mega-church in Colorado Springs, told the Denver Post the film was yellow journalism, with “a strong agenda, like any Michael Moore film with the cinematography of The Blair Witch Project“.

“It does represent a small portion of the charismatic movement,” he admits, “but I think it demonises it. Secularists are hoping that evangelical Christians and radicalised Muslims are essentially the same, which is why they will love this film.”

In fact, Fischer compares her evangelising of children with Muslims being brought up in the Middle East. “Our enemies,” she says, are filling up their children’s minds. The difference is that, “excuse me, we have the truth”.

Those last four words are the core of the tragedy, aren’t they?

Good news

30 September 2006

I don’t tell M stories here very often; he doesn’t like me to, but this is worth sharing. Recently M and I both got mobile phones under different Telstra plans, his a contract, mine a prepaid. We also had two landlines. M got rid of his landline first, and then when I decided wireless internet (you can’t really call it broadband) was at least viable, we got rid of the other landline. Now there was the rub: Telstra was not happy, so they restricted M’s calls to inward calls only! Bastards! So we fired off a complaint to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

On Tuesday I realised that Telstra had cut off access to outgoing calls on the above phone which is on a $20 per month contract without reason. It seems that they are annoyed because I had recently closed a landline at ****** which I no longer need. I have been paying my phone bills to Telstra since 1992 without fail. Now they are asking me to provide proof of residence at the above address and also at ********, where the landline had been, and they also want pay details and other personal information, which I gave to them anyway when I signed the contract. I have done nothing wrong and feel I am being treated very shabbily by Telstra. I would like an explanation.

He also went to the NSW Department of Fair Trade. Result? Very rapidly his service was restored, and just yesterday he was told Telstra were giving him $100 in free calls…

Mind you, I will be very surprised if many people go for the Telstra share float. Once bitten, and all that, and Sol Trujillo must be one of the most hated people in Australia now. (That smarmy PR woman from American Express, Luisa Megale, must be competition though. “Wouldn’t it be sad if we weren’t able to expand our operations here, and if Australia wasn’t an attractive place for international investment?” Not if you want to flout our labour laws, lady. We can quite easily cut up our Amex cards, and be none the worse for the experience.)

The other good news is that I had lunch at The Shakespeare with Lord Malcolm yesterday; of course he isn’t better, and still needs to go to the hospice for outpatient therapy, but he is in pretty good shape all things considered. We went through all the gear (cards, leaflets, magazines) which David Humphries had given me on Wednesday. Malcolm enjoyed that. We wondered if Artist Andy knows David; he would certainly know of him.

The public art of David Humphries

28 September 2006


Here is where I had dinner last night and a few red wines, meaning I do feel a touch seedy this morning… But what a great night it was, excellent conversation going back thirty years and more. I took the bus out to Rosebery and entered David’s studio, greeted by Jacko the red-tailed black cockatoo flying freely through as wonderful an interior garden as you could imagine. The pictures don’t do it justice.
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

David’s work is everywhere in Sydney, and beyond. Some of you will have seen Skygardens:

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The flower there is the waratah, an Australian protea, and the floral emblem of New South Wales.

David’s work goes well beyond Australia. For example, read Paved with passion in The San Diego Union-Tribune of May 14, 2006.

Known internationally for her fashion and textile designs, Zandra Rhodes also has designed tableware and linens, jewelry, etched-glass windows, opera sets and costumes – and now a beachfront terrazzo patio for her home in Del Mar…

Rhodes collaborated with Australian artist David Humphries, who is known for his terrazzo creations throughout Australia and at Rhodes’ Fashion & Textile Museum in London. After she created an abstract design on paper, Rhodes drew it on the concrete base with chalk and looked down on it from her upstairs balcony to get a perspective on how it worked.

Humphries worked out the final details on the computer, and they then cut the major shapes out of Styrofoam sheets to make a template to hold the terrazzo, a mix of stones or glass chips in portland cement.

Together they hand laid the terrazzo in a design that embodies the universe. In the pattern you can see the solar system, the Earth, rivers of water, and under the sea.

Or maybe it’s the four elements: air, water, earth, and fire (represented by spiky shapes that also represent the shadows of the New Zealand flax planted along the edges); or an echo of the rhythms of the sun, sand and sea.

On another level, it’s yin and yang, light and shadow…

Go to David Humphries’ site Public Art Squad for more.

Lately his most pressing current project in what is still a very busy life has been advocacy for the rights of the mentally ill and developmentally challenged, as his own sister has been in danger of falling through the many cracks in a system under which appropriate care has become increasingly hard to find. I may perhaps be saying more on this, as I have asked David to send me some details. This is one of the things we talked about last night.

The joy of Gnomespeak

27 September 2006

“Gnomespeak” is the characteristic style and thought-patterns of the Great Grey Garden Gnome of Kirribilli House, aka “The Prime Minister”. It is remarkable how thoroughly this has permeated our culture in recent years. Like “Newspeak”, its purpose is to render dissent unutterable. We were told, and by “we” I mean ESL teachers at a meeting I attended around 1998, that the words “multiculturalism”, “equity”, and “disadvantaged” were from now on to be avoided. In their place we were to speak of “integration”, “cohesion”, “harmony”, “incentives” and “Australian values”.

The process goes on.

The Gnome is “on message” in his Canberra speech reported in Shared values beat terrorism: Howard this morning. Apparently the values of the Exclusive Brethren are OK though, and aside from the Four Corners episode I mentioned on Monday, see When I hear the word “culture” I reach for my kool-aid by Arthur Vandelay (not a religious person) and brethren in Jan’s Shalom blog (a religious person). In passing, I really did blush when I read Ahmad Shuja’s riposte to my (borrowed) one-liner on the Brethren making the Taliban look liberal: “Wow! What a perfect example of relativity. Reminds me of what my teacher once told us: Nothing is absolute; everything is relative!” Young Ahmad, of course, knows the Taliban up close and personal.

So what did the Gnome say about our shining representatives of core Aussie values, the Brethren?

…yesterday Mr Howard admitted for the first time that he had met members of the fundamentalist Christian sect the Exclusive Brethren, AAP reports.

The secretive group, which boasts 40,000 members worldwide – many in New Zealand and Australia – has been accused of underhanded campaigning against the Greens at the 2004 federal election and in state polls.

“They are not breaking the law [and], like any other group, they are entitled to put their views to the Government,” he said.

How magnanimous! Of course they can put their point of view to the Government, as can the Spartacists, the representatives of Hezbollah, naturists, vegetarians, and anyone else, so long as those viewpoints don’t also get you charged with sedition. But guess whose views are more likely to be listened to?

In the speech The Gnome had said:

SOCIAL cohesion would be Australia’s biggest challenge, the Prime Minister, John Howard, warned yesterday, citing a controversial writer who questions the future willingness of developed countries to accept new arrivals.

In a speech in Canberra to a security conference, Mr Howard left the audience in no doubt that he was linking concerns about a lack of shared values in a more diverse community to fears of so-called “home grown” Islamic terrorism in Australia.

David Goodhart, the editor of Britain’s Prospect magazine, has stated: “To put it bluntly – most of us prefer our own kind.”

Goodhart has pointed to immigration and refugee flows eroding “collective norms and identities” and producing conflicts of values.

In a speech to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Global Forces 2006 conference, Mr Howard preceded a reference to Goodhart’s views with one to Muslim militancy.

“The battle against Islamic extremism in Australia will only be won with a strong combination of accurate intelligence, effective law enforcement and, crucially, a commitment to certain shared values across the whole of our society,” he said.

“Liberal democracies around the world are having to face challenges at the point where questions of citizenship, immigration, culture and national security intersect – what the British writer David Goodhart has labelled ‘security and identity issues’.

“The maintenance of social cohesion in Australia is both our greatest national achievement and our greatest national challenge for the future.”

Yesterday Mr Howard heralded a “more assertive strategic posture” in place of “benign abstinence” by successive Australian governments. And he referred to a “framework of international norms” conducive to individual freedom, economic development and liberal democracy.

Which one in that final trinity is the real story? You work it out…

I have in fact read Goodhart’s articles: see [no longer online]:

…The second article was “Fear and Loathing on the Left” by Prospect editor David Goodhart, whose exploration of the limits of cultural diversity, first published in Prospect, led to much controversy. “Discomfort of strangers” by Goodhart in The Guardian (Tuesday February 24, 2004) says pretty much the same, so go there. He is also worth taking seriously, and I did so myself when I read the original Prospect articles. My view is that cultural diversity is simply a fact, like the earth not being flat; the question is how to enable a functioning, harmonious society which also gives due justice to the subcultures that compose it. That’s where we get problems on all sides. Yes, integration is necessary and achievable; no, monoculturalism is not desirable, and assimilation is not usually just or practicable either.

I take Goodhart seriously, but in Gnomespeak his articles are appropriated to fit the Gnome worldview. As is just about everything else that goes through the Gnome’s filtration device. You could argue that is how we ended up following George Bush up the Euphrates.

“Cultural diversity” is like gravel in the Gnome filter, I’m afraid. It gets through if it is sufficiently pulverised; otherwise, it just gets spat out.

The Great Grey Garden Gnome of course is John Howard.

Random notes

23 September 2006

My colleague of thirty-four year ago, David Humphries, and I have made contact. I am having dinner with him soon. He tells me the internet is renewing all sorts of contacts. I mentioned my own a few years ago with Jay Caselberg (James A. Hartley), a novelist now living in Germany it seems. Unfortunately a “senior moment” blocked the name as I was talking to David, but (obviously) I recall it now. Then more recently there had been Scott Poynting and a class-mate of his, Ralph T, whose brother Ian T was a classmate of Simon H, who I have maintained contact with all these years. Wednesday night could prove interesting.

Lord Malcolm is still in the hospice, but the Swans winning through to the Grand Final has obviously brought him back to life. He tells me he comes home on Monday.

I’m true blue, mate, but are you?

20 September 2006

On Australia Talks Back tonight you can hear (or will soon when the podcast appears) a whole lot of to-ing and fro-ing about citizenship and Oz Values, a theme the Howard government has been banging on about for years now. “The government is keen for more public discussion on who is accepted into the country, and what we expect from them. Is this an ideal opportunity to really reflect upon who we are and what we want for the future of the country? Or an exercise in xenophobia?”
Remember when state schools were traduced as “values-free zones”? The crux of that, of course, was not that state schools lacked values or didn’t teach them; rather, the values were not quite what the Howard world-view had in mind. I ranted about that in 2004: see here. I had another go in January this year. I still stand by those entries. See also my somewhat ironic look at Oz values 50s-style in A la recherche du Sydney perdu.

Meanwhile, Jim Belshaw has been running a very well-considered series on his more personal blog — as distinct from his New England Australia, where the latest entry has a nice tribute to this blog. (Thanks, Jim.) In his latest reflection on immigration, Jim writes:

At this point, I will simply pose two questions:

1. Why is it that immigration has become such an issue at a time when its importance relative to the size of the population is actually quite low, far lower than in the fifties and sixties?
2. Why has no one, at least no one on the official side that I have seen, linked the debate to Australia’s future needs?

Relative Importance

As I understand it, and I stand to be corrected, we presently take three groups of migrants ranked by size:

1. Family reunions, the family of previous migrants who have become citizens.
2. Skilled and business migration, those people we want because they have skills or money.
3. Last, and a long way behind, refugees.

I am hard pressed to see what how these three classes link to our current obsession with values and citizenship.

One can only speculate, then, on what it really has to do with, but I suggest one can see a pattern (which I call a “culture war”) of which this is another episode. We are being Quadranted — again.

Australia Talks Back has just finished, and you can now listen to it online. Andrew Robb has the opening go. I’m afraid I don’t find him the brightest person I have ever heard…

Remembering 9/11 five years on

11 September 2006

So much is being said about this I have little to add. Instead, I refer you to some of what I said last year when I dedicated “this insignificant site to oppose all who hate, whether Christian, Muslim, Jew, agnostic, atheist, left, right, whatever, regardless of race, culture, background, or excuse for hate. I dedicate this site not to the abolition of fun, cheekiness, irreverence, or freedom of thought and expression, but I do dedicate it to opposing sloppy thinking, propaganda, cynicism, and all that dehumanises ourselves and others.” I haven’t always succeeded.

I also commend a New Yorker to you. Go to THE 9-11 ANNIVERSARY EXTRAVAGANZAS (if Blogspot lets you, that is.)

September 11th on every year for the rest of my life is a day of mourning. I don’t think about my politics on this day so stop trying to sell me something.
Monday the 11th will be much like other days for me except that I will have that talk with my grown daughter again about how we spent that day sitting on my bed crying, uninformed, unaware, frightened, calling my sister who lives in Manhattan and getting nothing but a dead line, watching the news and wondering if this is it. Watching people throw themselves from a tower because of utter hopelessness. Listening as “they” declared our metropolis a possible target at any moment. Not moving from that bed while we declared how much we loved each other. It could have been the end, we were ready for that. There is no moment that compares to that kind of awakening. We didn’t know what being afraid was until that day. We didn’t comprehend sadness until that day.

This weekend my 11 year old nephew will ask me again – as he does every year – why people blew up the buildings in New York. And I will try again to explain to him the world reality that he is inheriting.

I will remember again how fortunate I was to hear my sister’s voice, to know she was not there or near enough that I lost her. But I, along with all of us lost 3,000 family members. To grieve for an eternity would not be long enough.

I will remember again that even greatness can fall victim to its vulnerabilities.

I am grieving on this day. Leave me alone. Sell your wares somewhere else, I am not buying or tuning in.

I find this “wholly personal statement” very moving.