June 2006 really surprises me — 3

Believe it or not I do not spend all my days combing my archives, but with the new month I first checked that I did have a June 2006 archive and then, having found it, surprised myself! So this is the third of 3 reposts! I may add in some pics…

John Baker’s questions

If you are at all interested in writing, and enjoy good writing from a real writer, visit John Baker.

You may recall he asked five questions:

1. Why do you blog?

Because it is better than muttering to myself in the bathroom. Because I am addicted to teaching. Because I need to rant in Howard’s Australia. Because I have far too much time on my hands. Because writing is the best kind of thinking. Because “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” (That was E M Forster, I think.) Because “I blog, therefore I am.” See also Reasons to journal.

2. Which author and/or book has most influenced you?

See My canon. And it really probably is the Bible and Shakespeare. Sad, isn’t it?

3. Which three blogs do you most visit?


1. Thin Potations. It’s a habit, really. He’s been a bit slack lately though. [Since gone private.]
2. Ahmad Shuja: MyScribbles: Write-ups of an Afghan because he is refreshingly honest, amazing for a person of his age, and an Afghan, and can tell me about the Afghan cricket team.
3. Aluminium because she is an English teacher and used to be a Diary-X friend, oh for ages now it seems. (And she reads me too.)

Actually I visit all those blogs on my blogroll. Often. Including John Baker’s, obviously.

4. Why do you read fiction?

Some just for delight in plot, character and language. Some because they are more true than non-fiction. Some because they can take me into world-views and milieus I could never otherwise experience.

5. What makes you laugh?

Fawlty Towers, no matter how often I see it. The items in my Diversions links to the right. The fact that the majority of Australians still think John Howard is a really really good Prime Minister…

No, that last one makes me want to cry.

And speaking of history…

I approached this week’s Bulletin with due cynicism when I saw it featured The 100 most influential Australians. Oh yes, I thought, wank-time! But I was wrong. Panellists Julie McCrossin, Phillip Knightley and Michael Cathcart have done such a good job I have listed this among my Best Reads of 2006, as you can see. Of course we could all suggest others, and maybe want to scrap some, but what a good introduction it is to our shared past and present, and a great tool for teachers, I would have thought. I’ll certainly be alerting my coachees to it.

Yes, John Howard is of course there, but I loved the positioning that happens on his page: you’ll have to buy the magazine to see what I mean. He is kind of, well, “buried”. This is the content on JH:

John Howard, the most relentless politician in Australian public life, has transformed the way Australians view themselves and the way the international community views Australia in the first decade of the 21st century. A lifelong conservative, he began his prime ministership (now second only to that of Robert Menzies in duration) with a pledge to confront “political correctness”. The result has been the “history wars” that replaced Paul Keating’s big pictures on reconciliation, a republic and Asian engagement with a nationalist agenda. Many young Australians in particular have responded by draping themselves in the flag — complete with Union Jack in the corner — as they tramp the world. Howard redefined Liberalism with his 2001 vow that “we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come” underlining a willingness to confront a world awash with asylum-seekers in his quest for domestic votes, particularly those that were traditionally held by Labor. Howard’s defence and foreign policies have relied heavily on cementing the alliance with the United States. He has taken Australian troops to war in Iraq and Afghanistan in coalition with the US while also committing the military to neighbourhood trouble-spots, notably East Timor and the Solomon Islands. Howard has capitalised on a long period of economic prosperity by pursuing tough free-market reforms, introducing a GST, pursuing widespread privatisation of public assets, notably Telstra, and — having won power in both houses of parliament for the first time since the 1970s — moving the industrial relations balance from unions to business.

Very fair, I would have thought.

As you know, where JH sees “political correctness” I see “simple decency”, so naturally we differ. I am happy to see one of the most popular posts here in recent weeks has been PC but with a sense of humour. Go there to see where I stand: I think I am quite moderate, actually, and it is the current zeitgeist which is extreme, thanks to the Pauline Howard factor.

In the same issue, see also, speaking of zeitgeistGay but not happy, John.

Of course on the back page we have Tim B being the clown he usually is over those awfully funny “global warming” chappies and gals — funny to him, that is, but not to most reputable scientists, or even to most moderately well-informed general readers; but Tim can’t help himself, can he? It’s his party trick to be like this, after all. The mining and industrial sectors and their political puppets will as ever be well pleased with him, and his fans will wet themselves yet again. (*Stifles a yawn.*)

Excellent issue, nonetheless. But sadly irrecoverable in 2021!

Simon Schama on history

Thanks to the Arts & Letters Daily, I just read “The History Channeler” (sic) in the Washington Post.

In a 1991 New York Times piece headlined “Clio Has a Problem,” he savaged academic practices as stultifying, overspecialized and hopelessly biased against “dramatic immediacy.” And he satirized conventional historical argument in a passage that began:

“In 1968, Wendy F. Muggins published her seminal article on manorial social structure in 17th-century Fredonia. A decade later, this orthodoxy was substantially corrected by Cuthbert C. Buggins, based on a reading of Fredonian tax records. Unaccountably, neither Muggins nor Buggins consulted local manorial records . . .”

“Storytellers,” the storyteller lamented, had become “aggressively despised.”

History teaching that works, at school level anyway, is 90% story-telling at first, with a gradual increase in the critical and methodological emphasis — or should be. Once the story-telling element goes, so do most of the punters.

But “Empire of Good Intentions” is argument as well as story. It asks the question, Schama says, “about whether or not peoples other than yourself are better served by being run by you.” For the heartlessness of the ruling British, in the face of the potato famine, came in part from the imperial obsession with free trade.

“There was just one iron law: Let the market do its job,” the television Schama says. If the cost was a million dead, so be it.

It’s hard not to see lessons for the 21st century here, but the historian isn’t sanguine about them being heard. “In the halls of the energetic policymaker,” he says, history is viewed as “emasculating.” Thinking about the past, with all its unanticipated outcomes, is “such a bringer-down-to-earth exercise.” Abstract political theory is more attractive, because it frees you to act with optimism, to create “facts on the ground.”

But for Simon Schama, in the end, the lessons of history are not the point. The point is the continuous, interconnected drama of human lives.

The study of history is “a resistance against oblivion, against loss,” he says. “It tells you about what it was like to be a human being.”

Oh yes!

Music and memory

M left his collection of cassette tapes here, taking only his CDs. Today and tonight I have been playing some of them, and some of my own: there are quite a few!

Guess listening to the erhu on a winter night has brought this on. Naturally The “Butterfly Lovers” Violin Concerto is among the ones I have played; I love it. There are “oddities” too, like Beethoven’s Ninth performed by the Shanghai Symphony in Mandarin.

And I have been reading the most wonderful book. But I will tell you about that later.

Lord Malcolm has been in hospital again, but is out now. And I caught up with PK today, whose yachting adventures have been interesting to say the least. Without knowing the connection to M, he ended up spending a considerable period in Laurieton, where M is right now. We took a walk over to M’s Sydney address and watered the plants, a duty of mine while M is away.

And one more

From 14 June 2006

Listening to the erhu on a winter night

A warming vegetable and barley broth for dinner — lamb shanks at the Mountbatten Hotel after coaching last night — and a hot bath, then to the computer. On Classic FM they just played a Chinese piece, “Reflection of the Moon on Er Lake”. I have heard it many times before; anyone who has ever listened to Chinese music — and you really should — knows this sublime, haunting melody. It is also translated as “Moon Reflected on the Erquan Fountain”, as it is called in this program note.

The place is famous for the beautiful Fountain, and Hua Yanjun, an old, poor but talented folk musician, regularly played there. The listener was deeply moved by one of his sorrowful, beautiful melodies that depicts the scenery and the feeling it evokes. It also expresses a sense of beauty, peace and tranquility. The music is at times as quiet as still water in a lake and at other times as exciting as a gushing Fountain. It is as reflective as it is evocative and exhilarating. The listener is free to arrive at his [own] interpretation.

And the erhu is such a beautiful instrument. It goes back to the Tang Dynasty, a thousand years.

And speaking of Chinese, it is now fourteen years since M[ichael Xu] and I moved here to Surry Hills, sixteen since I met him soon. He is no longer here, of course, though well and truly around. I really owe him everything, you know. When I wrote the final version of that fiction story on the page tabbed at the head of this blog I was not yet fifty, and believed I would not live past fifty for very long. Perhaps I didn’t intend to. But here I still am, and my fiftieth birthday here in Surry Hills is a very happy memory.

Winter night thoughts.