Something from 2009: one could despair!

Apropos of something a friend posted on Facebook, rehashing theological positions I once possibly espoused myself, I found myself trawling through some old posts. So I repost two:

Joshua to Gaza 2009

It is somewhat ironic that my private Bible reading scheme, which often follows the US Episcopalian lectionary, brought me today to the Book of Joshua.

1 Now after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD it came to pass, that the LORD spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ minister, saying,

2 Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel.

3 Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses.

4 From the wilderness and this Lebanon even unto the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the great sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your coast.

5 There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.

6 Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.

7 Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper withersoever thou goest.

8 This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

9 Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.

The first thing that must be said is that we are reading saga and legend here, not history. One may as well take Beowulf literally, though of course Beowulf is very informative about the life and times of its culture and milieu and reflects history, which is also true of Joshua. It is pretty much certain that what really happened was nothing like what we read in this book. I don’t find that a problem, personally. One can be inspired by the words of the last verse there without believing that verses 3 and 4 represent some real kind of divine decree still relevant in 2009. Sadly, not everyone agrees.

Israel and Palestine: A Brief History – Part I on the Middle East Web captures this quite well.

The archeological record indicates that the Jewish people evolved out of native Cana’anite peoples and invading tribes. Some time between about 1800 and 1500 B.C., it is thought that a Semitic people called Hebrews (hapiru) left Mesopotamia and settled in Canaan. Canaan was settled by different tribes including Semitic peoples, Hittites, and later Philistines, peoples of the sea who are thought to have arrived from Mycenae, or to be part of the ancient Greek peoples that also settled Mycenae.

According to the Bible, Moses led the Israelites, or a portion of them, out of Egypt. Under Joshua, they conquered the tribes and city states of Canaan…

Paragraph one indicates what really may have happened; the next paragraph recounts the hallowed legend.

Leaping forward around 4,000 years we find ourselves where we are. You can trace that in varying degrees of depth on that Middle East Web, which I referred you to in my update yesterday on A whiff of sanity.

Long term the approach I commend there will be what must happen, but in the world as it is it will be a long time before such an approach is taken seriously by those in power. The point is, however, that we have been told. What looks like good strategy in current Washington and Tel Aviv or Jerusalem – which really should be an international city as the United Nations long ago proposed – or among irredentists in the Muslim world is actually short-sighted policy. Given that Israel may attain its objectives – more about that in a moment – the true cost is incalculable. In brief it involves fuelling further the problem. It inflames further the grievances that have made too many turn to terror as an appropriate response.  The present cost in human lives and suffering is only too manifest.

In today’s Sydney Morning Herald Paul McGeogh offers an interpretive report that rings true.

THE revelation of the daring objective at the heart of Operation Cast Lead calls for Israel’s air-and-ground assault on Gaza to be given a new name. As the rhetorical layers are peeled back, what we are hearing makes Mission Impossible a more worthy contender.

Tel Aviv’s early insistence that this massive military exercise was about putting a halt to Palestinian rockets being fired into or near communities in the south of Israel never rang true.

Measure it by the number of rockets – 8000-plus over eight years – and indeed it sounds like a genuine existential threat. Consider the toll – 20 Israeli deaths spread over eight years, which is about half the number of deaths in just a month of Israeli traffic accidents – and it all loses its oomph as a casus belli.

Israel does not want to deal with Hamas – it wants to annihilate the Islamist movement.

The Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, said as much when she dashed to Paris last week to head off a French push for a 48-hour ceasefire. “There is no doubt that as long as Hamas controls Gaza, it is a problem for Israel, a problem for the Palestinians and a problem for the entire region,” she said.

If there was any doubt after Livni spoke, it evaporated on Friday when the Deputy Prime Minister, Haim Ramon, told Israeli TV: “What I think we need to do is to reach a situation in which we do not allow Hamas to govern. That’s the most important thing.”

And at the United Nations in New York, the Israeli ambassador, Gabriella Shalev, also seemed to depart the approved script. “[It will continue for] as long as it takes to dismantle Hamas completely,” she said.

Analysis and commentary through the first eight days of this conflict have been about Israel’s goal of stopping the rockets. But if the objective is obliterating Hamas, it does indeed seem an impossible task….

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Yesterday in Sydney

Good luck to Obama. Let’s hope for some shift in US policy, which is critical; I am not totally despairing on that front, nor am I totally hopeful.

Update

See Jim Belshaw’s post this morning: Gaza, democracy and the question of world government. Very thoughtful. I think Jim and I share both a certain tentativeness on the issue – which I am sure is a clear sign of intelligence!—and a desire to get beyond the reflex responses we’ve been seeing. That Jim has used one of my photos is of course a bonus.

And:

Bad Archaeology

14 MAR 2009

And is there a lot of it around! Bad Archaeology explains itself thus:

We are a couple of real archaeologists fed up with the distorted view of the past that passes for knowledge in popular culture. We are unhappy that journalists with no knowledge of the methods, aims, techniques and theories of real archaeology can sell hundreds of times more books than real archaeologists. We do not appreciate news programmes that talk about ley lines as if they are real. In short, we are Angry Archaeologists.

One of us is Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, who began work on a version of this site as part of his personal home pages as long ago as 1999. Keith is a local authority archaeologist in North Hertfordshire with a long-standing interest in Bad Archaeology and who has grown increasingly concerned at the profession’s evident unwillingness to deal with it. He is also worried at the growth of anti-Enlightenment attitudes during his lifetime, which he worries may return us to a Dark Age of superstition-based belief.

The other of us is James Doeser, who is currently trying to finish his PhD in government and archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London. James is interested in the way efforts to increase public understanding of archaeology (museums, media, tourism etc.) collide with a the belief that everybody has a right to understand the past in whichever way they want. We can’t all be right, can we?

Highly commended. Just to name one field, there is unfortunately a great deal of nonsense out there in the realm of Biblical archaeology. In that area you may also look at another good site, The Bible and Interpretation.

There are many other sections in Bad Archaeology. I will certainly be spending time on it.

Bad Archaeology is all around us: many of its ideas are pervasive in popular culture; its publications sell more than Good Archaeology publications; its web presence is much stronger than that of Good Archaeology. What we are trying to do with this site is to show the utter vacuity of most Bad Archaeology and provide a reference point for Good (or at least, Better) Archaeology.

At the same time, we hope that this site will be a useful resource to people puzzled by various claims about the past, about apparently anomalous artefacts, about religious claims to knowledge that are in conflict with those of science and about assertions that just seem a bit dubious.

Above all, we hope that this site will entertain and amuse you!

And from December 2008. Do visit the whole post:

From left field, off the wall, and similar Christmas musings 1

Let me remind you of my Christmas poem selection #4 from last year.

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.

 Yehuda Amichai

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Not forgetting China 30 years on

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Yesterday SBS Viceland showed the excellent PBS documentary Tiananmen: The People Vs. The Party. I found it thorough and utterly consistent with what I had been told or had read — much of both by people who had been there. But of course the expected is happening today:

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Chinese authorities were bullshitting at the time, and they are bullshitting now.  And I might add that a fair part of my cynicism about some on the hard Left dates back to a time in 1990 when a couple I knew who had visited the Square around a year after the event assured me that “nothing happened there” — rather hard to accept when at the time I was interacting daily with Chinese students some of whom really were there at the time, some of whom exhibited post-traumatic stress one way or another. See some of my earlier posts:

Posted on June 12, 2015

Twenty-five years is a very long time, though as many septuagenarians would understand, quarter-centuries aren’t as long as they used to be. 1965- 1990 took, well, 25 years, but 1990-2015 has gone by in a matter of minutes! 😉

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That was taken in winter 1990 on an excursion to Wollongong with my class of overseas adult students. The couple on the right are from Korea, as I think is the woman with the red bag – or is she Chinese? Blue umbrella is Zhang Rui from Tianjin in China (a scientist) and next to him another Chinese, Ding. The taller slightly older man is Bill Zhang from Guangzhou. Lovely man.

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Bill and I in Hyde Park 1990. He had been photographing the grass so his wife in China could see this wonder: apparently at that time great dollops of lawn were in his eyes quite an exotic spectacle.

Why these students? As I noted in another post where there is indeed another story too:…

Here’s a related memory:

I am glad I visited the garden, as I called in on Sam, who has the “dress up as a Chinese princess” concession in the garden, something he has been doing for fifteen years now. I first met Sam, who was once in the Beijing Opera, in 1990. I remember it well. I was in a coffee shop and Sam was serving. I was reading an illustrated book about the Tiananmen incidents of 1989. “I can tell you all about that,” said Sam. “I was there.” And indeed he was. It turns out Sam is giving up the “dress as a princess” business in April, and going into something new. He’s over fifty years old now too. How time flies!

Some time in 1990 or 1991 I took Sam (and M and a guy from Tianjin, a scientist, called Rui) to SBHS to talk in a history class that was studying China. Sam rather stole the show when he told the students how his father, also in the Beijing Opera, had been beaten to death by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. Kind of brought Chinese History to life, that did.

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With my class at Wessex, probably late in 1990. Japanese, Korean, Indonesian, Chinese.

And:

….

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That publicity shot for last night’s Foreign Correspondent shows people associated with the Australian Embassy in Beijing in 1989. The gist of what we saw is in this story: Tiananmen Square crisis station: the Australian embassy in 1989.

Jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiabo was offered asylum from Australia in 1989 but turned it down and went on to become China’s most famous dissident.

Following his role in supporting student protesters in the run-up to the brutal crackdown that year, the literary critic turned philosopher and agitator would be imprisoned and tortured.

After the Olympics he was picked up again and this time given an 11-year sentence for “inciting subversion of state power”. He won the peace prize from behind bars and it was awarded symbolically to an empty chair.

The Australian embassy in Beijing’s cultural counsellor at the time, Nick Jose, had become a good friend of Liu Xiaobo in the run-up to the crackdown on June 3-4 when the People’s Liberation Army opened fire on protestors to reclaim Tiananmen Square.

“I took him in my car from my flat to the embassy gates and I said ‘Well this is it, we can drive in, the gates will open and the gates will close and you will have effectively sought asylum from Australia or you can go and find friends who live nearby’, friends I also knew,” Mr Jose said.

“He thought about it, he looked at me and said ‘Thank you, but no’, he would stay in China, he was Chinese, China was his country, China was his fate…

Nicholas Jose, Claire Roberts and M at M’s Chinese New Year Party, Redfern, 2009

Tonight’s Four Corners is a must see: Tremble and ObeyAnd here is a very relevant ABC story: Tiananmen Square massacre still remembered by Chinese soldier and witnesses 30 years on.  Another perspective is John Simpson, The night the lights went out: what really happened in Tiananmen Square. “Thirty years on, the events that took place in Beijing remain misunderstood – and the Chinese government wants to keep it that way. ” However, I do think Simpson is just a bit too clever in his article, and underestimates the significance of what so many of the students actually thought and did.

In depth and with an intimate knowledge shown of Chinese history and culture, see Tiananmen 1989 — Three Decades Behind China’s Gate of Darkness — June Fourth, 1989-2019. One item there I read at the time I was preparing my own From Yellow Earth to Eucalypt: trans. Pang Bingjun 龐秉鈞, with John Minford, in Geremie Barmé and Linda Jaivin, eds, New Ghosts, Old Dreams: Chinese Rebel Voices,  1992, pp.106-107.

In the First Light of Dawn

Xi Xi

In the first grey light of dawn,
We curl into the air,
Trailing from the ground
Up into the open sky above the square.
Limp, leaden, dumdum-pocked
The corpses lie
Mashed into the concrete.
Suddenly weightless
We drift
Like balloons.

We hear the sound
Of your weeping.

Mother, I beg you
Not to look for us again in the square,
The wasteland, where
Crushed tents, banners, command posts,
Public address stations
Strew the ground.
Teachers, students, friends
Are all gone.
The acrid smoke of gunfire
Fades as
Thousands of lives
Turn to ash.

Tomorrow will be Environment Day —
A Sanitation Show is planned,
The square will be scrubbed
Nice and clean,
As if nothing ever happened.

We hear the sound
Of your weeping.

We fell together,
Together we rise,
Joining once more our parted hands,
Holding our torches even higher.
A wound gapes
On one man’s chest;
A tank tread
Furrows one man’s brow.
But these wounds lie
On the body’s husk;
We are beautiful beyond compare.
Nothing can hurt us now.
We will share
The city’s splendour
With the stone beasts —
They, on their columns,
We, on the People’s Monument —
Calling
Across the square.

11 June 1989

Update 5 June:

ABC was excellent yesterday, specifically The Drum.  Later that night ABC News carried an interview with Nicholas Jose. (You sound older, Nick!) (But don’t we all!) See also Nicholas Jose, Tiananmen remains unfinished business for China, and for Australia.

When I published an account of my interaction with Liu Xiaobo in Chinese whispers in 1995, I felt I should not identify him by his full name. As one of the thinkers who best articulated the alternative China that many people envisaged in the late 1980s, Liu had played an important, courageous role in the events of 3–4 June 1989. I was with him when he made the fateful decision not to take refuge in the Australian embassy. That same night he was picked up while riding his bike along a nearby street and taken away. When he was released from detention 18 months later, he went on with his reasoned critique of the Chinese system, eventually authoring Charter 08, a call for reform, for which he was arrested again and heavily sentenced in 2009.

He was in prison when he was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, which he dedicated to ‘the Tiananmen martyrs’, and in prison at the time of his cruel, state-sanctioned death in 2017, aged 61. His ashes were scattered at sea, preventing the site of his remains from becoming a shrine. It is hard to believe that one individual could so enrage the powerful Chinese Communist Party. It is hard to understand why China would destroy one of its best and brightest for advocating non-violent reform in legal and constitutional ways.

Dead Central — and my convict ancestor

The State Library of NSW has an interesting exhibition now: “Dead Central, a new exhibition that opens on Saturday, pays tribute to the lives of those buried at the cemetery between its opening in 1820 and closure in 1867.” See also the exhibition site.

A vast cemetery once sprawled across the land bound by Sydney’s Elizabeth, Pitt and Devonshire streets — where Central Station now stands. The Devonshire Street cemetery opened in 1820, but the city’s major burial ground filled up quickly in the decades following, only to become overgrown and abandoned. In January 1901, when the state government announced its intention to clear the cemetery, well over 30,000 bodies were buried there.

It is most likely that Jacob Whitfield, my convict ancestor who arrived in Sydney in 1822, was buried there, though there is no record of this. Many of the records are lost.

Here is an image from the exhibition site:

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Last November I posted Hey you! That might be my great X3 grandfather!

Bizarre story from the Sydney Light Rail project a few days ago….

My great-great-great grandfather Jacob Whitfield was buried there. Or so we believe. See my series of family history posts, particularly on Jacob.

There is a Wiki Tree page on Jacob too. I first accessed it last Friday. An extract:

Death date and place unknown – Jacob is found still living in 1851 according to a news article. This would make him 92 years old !

Death and Burials : Friends Burial Ground – Old Devonshire Street Sandhills Cemetery, reference : “Burial Notes missing : Jacob Whitfield” no indication of his date of death or burial….

Friends Burial Ground – Old Devonshire Street Sandhills Cemetery, reference : “Burial Notes missing : Jacob Whitfield” no indication of his date of death or burial. Burials took place in the Friends Burial Ground from after 1851 ..

The Devonshire Street Cemetery (also known incorrectly as the Brickfield Cemetery or Sandhills Cemetery) was located between Eddy Avenue and Elizabeth Street, and between Chalmers and Devonshire Streets, at Brickfield Hill, in Sydney, Australia. It was consecrated in 1820.[1] The Jewish section was used from 1832.[2] By 1860, the cemetery was full, and it was closed in 1867….

That Wiki Tree page has lots of information congruent with the researches of Bob Starling and other family historians, and some that isn’t. Interesting. See also my Family stories 3 — About the Whitfields: from convict days which features quite a few contributions by those family historians…

60 years ago in Shellharbour

Back when I was 15/16 I attended the centenary of Shellharbour Public School. I was in the company of my parents, Jeff and Jean Whitfield, my grandfather Roy Christison and various Whitfield relatives in Shellharbour, such as Una Gerke. My grandfather was there as the oldest living headmaster of the school. Here are some images I posted last year:

post on Facebook’s Shellharbour History and Pictures has generated this wonderful war-time picture of my uncle Roy Christison Junior, my grandmother Ada Christison, and my grandfather Roy Christison Senior in Sydney. (Note the tram!)  Posted by my cousin Linda Christison.

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In that same Facebook thread someone asked if anyone had seen a photo of Ada and Roy taken in the 1930s when Roy was headmaster of Shellharbour Public School. Well, I have: it is in my collection. That is the headmaster’s residence in Shellharbour.

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So I looked over Trove and found three items. The last one should say Caringbah, not Callimbar! The middle one refers to my aunt Beth, Beth Heard in later life.

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Interesting story — but don’t get carried away!

Just some reflections on last night’s Who Do You Think You Are? on SBS. It was an interesting episode, concerning television journalist Jennifer Byrne.

The TV show’s film crew follow her as she visits England to discover a series of royal connections – before ultimately finding out that her 12 times great-grandfather was Sir Edward Neville, a courtier in King Henry VIII’s court.

She then follows her mother’s bloodline back even further and incredibly discovers that her 15 times great-grandmother was the granddaughter of King Edward III – officially making her a royal.

Well, don’t get too carried away!  They went down quite a few female lines to reach Edward III — and, after all, “Mathematical models imply that virtually every English person is a descendant of the Norman and Plantagenêt kings, including those who ruled 500 years after Alfred the Great.”  So Edward was back before the 15th great-grandparents of Jennifer Byrne. So one out of… a sizeable village or town!

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I mean no disrespect here. And it was worth seeing the Nevilles’ modest castle, not to mention learning about the intriguing Katherine Swynford.

The program turned to the Chinese background of Jennifer Byrne’s father, whose father was interned by the Japanese in Shanghai’s Lunghua Camp, made famous in J G Ballard’s novel and the movie Empire of the Sun, one of my favourites. Ballard was interned there as a child. Here is Christian Bale as Jim in the movie:

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I was surprised that the program did not mention that connection; it even appears that it didn’t occur to Jennifer Byrne, which surprises me rather. Sadly, Byrne’s paternal grandfather died soon after being interned.

From the South China Morning Post — ‘Empire of the Sun’ internment camp forgotten in Shanghai.

Former internee Betty Barr entered the Lunghwa camp in 1943 at the age of 10 with her Scottish missionary father, American mother and older brother.

Her most vivid memories are blistering summers, freezing winters, and an obsession with food.

“I was old enough to know what was happening. I didn’t think it was a picnic,” said Barr, 80, during a return visit.

She still guiltily recalls taking a sip of milk produced by the camp’s only cow from a mug she was taking to her brother in the hospital.

“My father rose to be the manager of the kitchen, though he could not boil an egg, because he could be trusted not to steal vegetables,” she said.

Betty Barr appeared in last night’s episode.

Concerning Jennifer Byrne’s paternal grandfather the program makers produced an embarrassing historical clanger. The old man was rewarded for his sterling efforts during the Revolution of 1911. Here is Shanghai during that revolution:

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The Chinese historians interviewed in the program didn’t make the clanger, nor did Jennifer Byrne — though I was again surprised by her apparent lack of knowledge about this key event in 20th century Chinese history. No, it was whoever produced what we saw because they seemed to confuse the 1911 revolution, which saw the end of the Manchu Qing Dynasty, with the 1949 beginning of the People’s Republic of China! Still, what’s 38 years!

Happens I have had a longtime interest in the subject: My Asian Century. But even if all you had to go on was the movie The Last Emperor — which I think Jennifer Byrne probably saw — you’d have some idea of the significance of 1911-1912 in China! Who Do You Think You Are should be more careful about its history!

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