What was I up to in November 2006?

Posts from my Monthly Archives: November 2006.

Very revealing view on Islam and homosexuality

01 NOV 2006

Via Daniel’s blog comes iMuslim, discussion of current affairs from the perspective of a young Muslim woman. She strikes me as being a very intelligent, quite delightful person, and I would have thought (despite Daniel’s initial doubts) quite obviously genuine. Yet she encapsulates the dilemma of all those, Muslim, Christian, or Jewish, who take a high view of scriptural inspiration. I am not mocking or belittling her, by the way, because the conclusions she comes to are framed generously and in a spirit of sharing rather than evangelising. But as soon as we find ourselves believing that God has written (or dictated) texts which have eternal validity we find ourselves trapped in a situation which I frankly believe blocks what God may be telling this generation — even allowing for the many levels of exegesis according to the variety of traditions out there, which range from the just plain dumb to the very articulate and intelligent. Our passion for certainty drives us into the comforting bosom of fundamentalism of one kind or another. The trouble is once we are safe in that bosom the eyes take on a beatific gaze and fresh thought tends to be filtered out. (Atheists, paradoxically, are not immune from their own variety of fundamentalism.)

That is such a big and to some outrageous statement that all I can do is commend a careful reading of the sites on the right under “faith and philosophy”. No, I am not a Quaker or a Buddhist, but believe they are on the right track in many respects. All our knowledge is relative, provisional and conditional, and all generalisations beginning with “all” are very suspect.

Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. All systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth.

Do not think that the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. Learn and practice non-attachment from views in order to be open to receive others’ viewpoints. Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge. Be ready to learn throughout our entire life and to observe reality in yourself and in the world at all times.

— Thich Nhat Hanh

See also

  • Gay Muslims (Wikipedia).
  • Eye on Gay Muslims.

    We all need to be just a bit pomo, because that really is the way the world is.


    See Compass on ABC tonight: Gay Muslims (26 November 2006).

    Lunch at Lord Malcolm’s

    05 NOV

    Lord Malcolm is cooking us lunch today in his Surry Hills manor. Part of this will involve helping him to move a few things as he has been doing a cleanup. And yes, he does expect he may have to return to the hospice for a time in the not too distant future.

    Yesterday I knocked back dinner with Marcel Proust — the one who contributes comments here from time to time, not the less well-known dead French writer. I was simply too tired, because on Thursday M had come around and spent four hours shampooing the carpet here. (If Mister Rabbit happens to read this, and he does occasionally, he will recall that the carpet needed shampooing when he last saw it, and it hadn’t got better since.) The point is though that M lives in an alternative universe, by which I mean he works when the rest of us are asleep. He shampooed the carpet on his way to work. So it was well after midnight by the time I got to bed, following which I worked at the Mine the next day, then sat up far too late on Friday night. By the time I had finished coaching on Saturday all this, and old age, caught up with me.

    But the carpet looks good.

    The Poet grandsires a Bostonian!

    I have a backlog of reference The Poet has sent me, but lately I have been putting Iraq and the US elections on the backburner here, and that is what most of them refer to. This morning, however, The Poet has sent me news (and a link) that I must pass on.

    Oh, became a grandfather for the 4th time at 0200 oz time Sunday with the advent of a baby girl Bostonian. Heading over there in a month.

    The Poet lives in Victoria Australia; his son, as you may gather, lives in Boston…

    Conversation with Kevin

    09 NOV

    Kevin and I are the most unlikely pair of conversationalists. He came my way via Tim Blair’s blog, but unlike most stayed. We have very different views on very many things, but a shared liking of toast. Except that his state was not up for elections this year (I think that’s right), I am sure he would have voted Republican. We have resolved not to call each other nasty names, and have so far kept our bargain. See how the conversation is going here. My contribution today is more a post in its own right than a comment.

    The comment thread there is a must!

    Umberto Eco, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana

    09 NOV


    Is this the ultimate pomo novel? I have just started it, and have to say it is a very handsome volume indeed. And even Sydney Anglicans are reading it!

    Imagine you have amnesia and can’t remember who you are or anything you did, but you can remember everything you have ever read. That’s the conceit at the heart of this (impossibly?) allusive book, which is I can at least say so far great fun to browse.

    There is even a Wiki to chart the allusions, an education in itself.


    13 NOV

    Last August I noted the passing of playwright Alex Buzo, also, incidentally, the occasion of Jim Belshaw first coming to this blog. Jim knew far more about Alex Buzo than I did, as you will see here.

    Tomorrow night ABC-TV has Remembering Alex Buzo:

    In a special tribute hosted by Virginia Trioli, ABC TV will remember the life and work of one of Australia’s greatest playwrights, Alex Buzo.

    The Sydney-based playwright and author died in August 2006 after a long fight with cancer…

    Interviewees include: The late Alex Buzo; Actor and director Graeme Blundell; Actor and friend Sandy Gore; Author and friend Bob Ellis; Theatre director Wayne Harrison.

    I was saddened to hear by email from my former Sydney Uni colleague Ken Watson that Allen Whitehurst, Head of English at SBHS when I first taught English there from 1985-1987, recently died. I had not seen him for some considerable time. He was a good man. I mentioned him in this post just a month ago. There’s an odd connection between these two items too, as the preview of the Alex Buzo program in today’s Sydney Morning Herald is by Sacha Molitorisz (that’s his blog), a member of the Year 11 English class I taught in the latter part of 1985.

    Aussie values?

    14 NOV

    There is a good post on Deus Lo Vult today — well, yesterday.

    You know what I’m sick of? Hearing about ‘Australian’ values. Point blank: they don’t exist. How can there ever be an ‘Australian’ value? It implies that we have values that simply do not exist in the rest of the world, which in itself is an insult to, yes, the rest of the world. And what gets me even more pissed off is how ‘Australian’ values are used by every which politician in every which scenario…

    I’m sick of hearing the term used by pollies of all stripes to justify this or that too, but on the other hand there I was just recently talking about “a particularly Australian decency”. That came about because I found myself in the midst of what turned out to be a cross-cultural conversation, as well as a cross-political one, and I have commented several times along the lines that Australians are not Americans, which is not to assert that one is right or one is wrong necessarily, but it just seems inescapable there are attitudes I have which are quite distinct from my American friend’s which are, well, Australian.

    Of course at a certain level of generalisation it becomes absurd, but I can’t help feeling the conversation with Kevin showed up more than personal differences. There would also be “values” that Kevin and I have in common. Having had a long relationship with a person from Mainland China has been relevant to my thinking on this as well. His values have changed in an Australian context but there is a deep core of Chinese values down there too, deeper even than the official ones promoted by the Chinese government.

    It is all very difficult, as obviously we would like there to be universal values, and perhaps there are, but at the same time cultural relativism can’t be denied, with all that implies. It is a very serious dilemma, not only personally, because ideas like “human rights” are rooted in assumptions about values. It seems too that NSW Labor HQ could do with a seminar or two on the subject, or on ethics at least.

    So I am not knocking Deus Lo Vult, as he is thinking seriously about all this.

    Valuing Values is worth a look, on the New Zealand site Flat Rock.

    I also found a marvellous quote in Christian Century, the famously unfundamentalist US magazine, in a review ofJesus Camp by John Petrakis.

    The French writer André Gide once said that we should “believe those who are seeking the truth, but doubt those who find it.” That doubt grows rapidly when the “truth” involves a roomful of crying, screaming children stricken with fear and guilt.

    I’ll drink to that.


    Visit Encounter on ABC Radio National: Values in Schools: A Way of Being.

    Scary elitist academics and English teachers cause sky to fall in…

    16 NOV

    Nice to see another member of the SBHS Class of 1986 having his say on The 7.30 Report last night: Greenpeace energy campaigner Ben Pearson. Back then there were plenty of people wringing their hands and gnashing their teeth about the alarming decline in literacy standards, as there were in 1976 and 1966 (see my What is Literacy?) and in 1786 or 1686 it appears, to judge from Chapter 15 of David Crystal’s Stories of English (Penguin edition 2005), a book I recommend to anyone wanting really to be informed on the subject. (Do note my carefully unsplit infinitive there.)

    The latest scary English teachers story started in New Zealand, and like most stories of the kind is conspicuous for its contempt for context even while actually revealing that context: Txt speak approved for exams.

    Secondary school students will be able to use text speak in written examinations this year, legitimising a language loved by teenagers.

    The move has divided students and educators amid concerns the move could damage the English language.

    The second language of thousands of teenagers, text language usually incorporates abbreviated words and phrases such as txt for “text”, lol for “laugh out loud” or “lots of love” and CU for “see you”.

    The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) is still strongly discouraging students from using anything other than full English, but says credit will be given if the answer “clearly shows the required understanding”, even if it contains text speak.

    The authority’s deputy chief executive, qualifications, Bali Haque, said students should aim to make their answers as clear as possible.

    “Markers involved in assessing NCEA (National Certificate of Educational Achievement) exams are trained professionals, experienced in interpreting the variety of writing styles and language uses encountered during the marking process,” he said. Haque said he was confident markers would understand answers written in text speak. He stressed that in some exams, including English, where the marking schedule specifically required candidates to demonstrate good language use, text abbreviations would be penalised

    Even with that caveat, the responses were predictable: “This disgusts me. Are we encouraging our young people to be stupid and lazy? I cannot fathom how anybody could have come up with this decision in the first place, let alone actually have support for it.” And so on.

    Already here in NSW it is OK in the hothouse environment of a 40 minute first (and only) draft HSC response for students to abbreviate a little: for example, in writing about the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead it is acceptable to write “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (R & G) takes the story of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and…”, thereafter saving time by using the short form of that rather long play title, which must be written in full at first mention, however. I would regard the study of text/SMS language to be a valid study in the context of exploring register and dialect variation, as part of a wider course on English language in use. The question of what variety of English is appropriate to specific situations and purposes would be (and is) central to such study. Recent grammars of English, a really good example being the Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English by Douglas Biber, Susan Conrad and Geoffrey Leech (2002), take note of such varieties of English and explain them. See also Online English Grammar.

    It is time I revised my page Can you recommend a good online site on English Usage? [Since done, and moved to WordPress; the link takes you to that version.] My new “standard” is the wonderful Cambridge Guide to English Usage by Macquarie University’s Pam Peters. I still recommend the latest “Fowler”, and the most scholarly of all is the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage. You will find some good online pundits on that page of mine.

    Yes, I might be a “scary English teacher”, but I still care about accuracy and appropriateness in English language use, and I always have. On the other hand, I despair at the ignorance that so often surrounds such discussion in the public arena. Still, I suppose my mission in life has been to dispel such ignorance; what an elitist bastard I really am, eh!

    Was that appropriate language, do you think? LOL

    Speak English, mate! What are ya, a Muslim or something?

    18 NOV

    I had a few entries on this in September 2006, starting here. In the past, because it was my business as an ESL teacher to do so, I had spent many an hour going through census figures suburb by suburb seeing just how many people in Sydney spoke English and what their backgrounds were. I did this partly to explain to my colleagues, some of whom had been rather amazed by the phenomenon, how Sydney High went from around 50% language background other than English in the mid 1990s to over 80% today, especially given that after boundaries were done away with the school drew most of its population from the west rather than the east of the city.

    I hadn’t really linked English use with religious affiliation, however, and it does seem, given much that has been said over the past few years, that many associate inability or unwillingness to speak English with Islam.

    It turns out to be an urban myth.

    See English take-up speaks volumes for Muslims: “Catholics are the religious group identified on census forms as having the highest total number of non-English speakers, while Buddhists have the highest proportion of poor or non-speakers, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics surveys for 1996 and 2001. The number of people without English skills in ethnic and religious communities is low and has been falling for a decade. Muslim people reflect the average.”


    I might add I live in one of Sydney’s “Little Lebanons”. My observations of the coffee shop downstairs show that the people from Abdul’s and their friends read The Daily Telegraph (I wonder how they cope with Piers Akerman?) and the Arabic newspapers. I never converse with these neighbours in Arabic, for rather obvious reasons. If they are religious, they may well converse with God in Arabic, as Catholics used to in Latin. Fortunately there is nothing wrong with their English, even if some of their wives wear scarves around their heads. And, I might add, often seem to “wear the pants”…


    This relates more to the comments than the post, but is so good I want you to know about it: A Liberal’s [US usage] Pledge to Disheartened Conservatives. Great! For example, “We will respect your religious beliefs, even when you don’t put those beliefs into practice. In fact, we will actively seek to promote your most radical religious beliefs (‘Blessed are the poor,’ ‘Blessed are the peacemakers,’ ‘Love your enemies,’ ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,’ and ‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’). We will let people in other countries know that God doesn’t just bless America, he blesses everyone. We will discourage religious intolerance and fanaticism — starting with the fanaticism here at home, thus setting a good example for the rest of the world.”

    Cultural diversity? You’re standing in it!

    24 NOV

    At 30 June 2004, 23.6 per cent of the estimated resident population of Australia were born overseas. Of those born Since 1945, more around 6.5 million people have come to Australia as new settlers. They have had a marked influence on all aspects of our society. In the 51 years of planned post-war migration, Australia has seen:

    • around 6.5 million migrants arrive comprising about 3.35 million males and 3.15 million females
    • more than 660 000 people arrive under humanitarian programmes, initially as displaced persons and more recently as refugees, and
    • a population rise from about 7 million to over 20 million.

    The trigger for a large-scale migration programme was the end of World War II. Agreements were reached with Britain, some European countries and with the International Refugee Organisation to encourage migration, including displaced people from war-torn Europe .

    About one million migrants arrived in each of the five decades following 1950:

    • 1.6 million between October 1945 and 30 June 1960
    • about 1.3 million in the 1960s
    • about 960 000 in the 1970s
    • about 1.1 million in the 1980s, and
    • over 900 000 in the 1990s.

    The highest number of settlers to arrive in any one year since World War II was 185 099 in 1969-70. The lowest number in any one year was 52 752 in 1975-76…

    Today, nearly one in four of Australia ‘s 20 million people was born overseas. 31.3 per cent were born in North-West Europe, 17.7 per cent in Southern and Eastern Europe and 12.6 per cent in South-East Asia. The top five countries of birth made up 45.5 per cent of the overseas-born population.

    Screenshot - 17_11_2016 , 8_36_55 AM
    The information above comes from the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs.

    Now read GDP – Australia in its Region by Jim Belshaw, a cool analysis of some economic and demographic factors we all need to attend to.

    Unlike most other parts of the world, Australia has no choice but to… accommodate those of the Muslim faith for both economic and political reasons. Forget immediate issues in the Middle East or the War on Terror, the immediate Australian world includes the majority of the world’s Muslim population. It also includes the majority of Hindus, of Buddhists, of several other faiths. We have to find a way of melding these different faiths (and people) together in a community if we are to survive, let alone achieve our potential…

    Australia is already one of the world’s most diverse countries in ethnic and cultural terms. This is where Mr Akya is, to use an Australian phrase, talking through his hat. We have already accommodated some of the most dramatic ethnic and changes experienced by any country in the last 100 years. We have done so because, and this is part of the Australian way, we are prepared to accept others as people first.

    Just as we have done in the past, so will we continue to do so in the future as we move into the new world facing this country.

    I made a small correction in one sentence there, Jim; a typo, I think.

    All this is to underscore a point I (and Colin Rubinstein) made yesterday: Simply walking out my front door here in Surry Hills, or teaching at The Mine, makes crystal clear that multiculturalism is a fact of Australian life, and fatuous it is to deny it or to avoid the word, as Howard has tended to do for a decade or more. The issue is not the existence of our multicultural society, but its management for the good of all, in the interests of another unfashionable idea — equity. To which I ought also to add “and harmony”.

    So I really welcome positive steps (and we can only take one step at a time) like Coaxing Muslims to beach a shore success. Way to go! Much better than all the angst and hate on all sides that surrounded the word “Cronulla” (my old stomping ground) not so long ago.

    Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

    See more on my Links to Multicultural Resources — on WordPress now (December 2006 update.)

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