2011 retrospective–2—February

I ended February in the cardiac ward at Wollongong Hospital. A neighbour of mine who was helpful at that time was Paul the Poet, himself no stranger to the hospital as he was on renal dialysis there three times a week. Paul passed away on Saturday night. Rest in Peace.


“This guy Paul used to sit outside the 7eleven store on King Street in Newtown and for a very small consideration he would recite a little poem…. I just thought he was wonderful…. he was quite ill at the time and on some kind of benefit which really wasn’t enought to live on so when he felt up to it he would get out on the street and earn a few more dollars…. so much better than begging although it was still kind of heartbreaking that he had to do it… and yet his poems where really fabulous and it always brightened up my day to see him about….” – Juilee Pryor

So he ended his days living here at The Bates Motel.

I began February with How to pick a climate site that’s not worth reading, the Queensland floods causing quite a bit of talk about climate and weather. Down here at The Bates Motel it was very hot.

On 4 February I had One of THOSE conversations. Worth a look. (Happy Christmas to Kevin, my old mate from Louisiana!) We’d cooled down here by 7 February and I managed to combine spelling and climate science in Whether the weather would affect the wether….

Change of topic in Inclusive multiculturalism Aussie style revisited on 8 February and the next day I reported on Waleed Aly’s great new talk show: Talk show without ego.

Since Waleed is a Muslim I hope he appreciates a comparison with Rumi, because watching the show made me think of this:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.

mevlana jelaluddin rumi – 13th century

Then a change of pace: Canberra 1954 and This is The Gong on 11 February, continuing the next day.

I also posted with some interesting video of my own time at SBHS Why armchair pontificating about Islam annoys me.

The Canberra theme continued for several days. Then Immigration took off as a topic leading me to post, among other things, Ozzi Multi: dynamism, vitality, colour!

Then came 22 February: Tears, fears and prayers for Christchurch. Also I posted that day Where are the loons of yesteryear? Tracked down at least one, chatting to Lord Monckton:

24 February saw Spot on, Maralyn Parker! on education, something I haven’t blogged about as much as I used to.

On 27 February my ACER Laptop showed signs of death, and then the next day I did much the same… Winking smile But not before posting Feb 2011 good for this blog in the morning. By the afternoon I was here:

Better than a thousand pundits and all their learned articles

That is my feeling about Khaled Hosseini’s second novel A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007). smiley-happy005smiley-happy005[3]smiley-happy005[5]smiley-happy005[7]smiley-happy005[9]

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a breathtaking story set against the volatile events of Afghanistan’s last thirty years—from the Soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban to the post-Taliban rebuilding—that puts the violence, fear, hope, and faith of this country in intimate, human terms. It is a tale of two generations of characters brought jarringly together by the tragic sweep of war, where personal lives—the struggle to survive, raise a family, find happiness—are inextricable from the history playing out around them.

I was irritated by this New York Times review.

In the end it is these glimpses of daily life in Afghanistan — a country known to most Americans only through news accounts of war and terrorism — that make this novel, like “The Kite Runner,” so stirring, and that distract attention from its myriad flaws.

My attention was so distracted that I am convinced the “myriad flaws” exist more in the reviewer’s mind than in Hosseini’s novel, which is not to say the book is perfect but it is pretty bloody good. If it had been published in Australia it would probably be up for the Miles Franklin or something. I think it has suffered from being the SECOND novel after the phenomenon that was, deservedly, The Kite Runner.

t’s the whistling," Laila said to Tariq, "the damn whistling, I hate more than anything."

Tariq nodded knowingly.

It wasn’t so much the whistling itself, Laila thought later, but the seconds between the start of it and impact. The brief and interminable time of feeling suspended. The not knowing. The waiting. Like a defendant about to hear the verdict.

Often it happened at dinner, when she and Babi were at the table. When it started, their heads snapped up. They listened to the whistling, forks in midair, unchewed food in their mouths. Laila saw the reflection of their half-lit faces in the pitch-black window, their shadows unmoving on the wall. The whistling. Then the blast, blissfully elsewhere, followed by an expulsion of breath and the knowledge that they had been spared for now while somewhere else, amid cries and choking clouds of smoke, there was a scrambling, a barehanded frenzy of digging, of pulling from the debris, what remained of a sister, a brother, a grandchild.

But the flip side of being spared was the agony of wondering who hadn’t. After every rocket blast, Laila raced to the street, stammering a prayer, certain that, this time, surely this time, it was Tariq they would find buried beneath the rubble and smoke.

At night, Laila lay in bed and watched the sudden white flashes reflected in her window. She listened to the rattling of automatic gunfire and counted the rockets whining overhead as the house shook and flakes of plaster rained down on her from the ceiling. Some nights, when the light of rocket fire was so bright a person could read a book by it, sleep never came. And, if it did, Laila’s dreams were suffused with fire and detached limbs and the moaning of the wounded.

Morning brought no relief. The muezzin’s call for namaz rang out, and the Mujahideen set down their guns, faced west, and prayed. Then the rugs were folded, the guns loaded, and the mountains fired on Kabul, and Kabul fired back at the mountains, as Laila and the rest of the city watched as helpless as old Santiago watching the sharks take bites out of his prize fish.

Excerpted from A Thousand Splendid Suns copyright 2007 by Khaled Hosseini. Published by Riverhead Books.

People in Immigration should make this mandatory reading for all staff dealing with Afghans. Anyone thinking or writing about Afghanistan or asylum seekers should read this book.  You will understand the place more deeply than if you waded through a thousand pundits and their one-dimensional analyses and learned histories.

In a similar way The Promise, the Channel Four miniseries currently running on Sunday nights on SBS, takes you into the tragedy that is Israel/Palestine and especially the too little known events between World War 2 and 1950 that gave birth to the State of Israel. Based on all my reading in the past and on my experiences at school with the sons of the Holocaust generation and  later at Masada College with a cross-section of Israelis and Jews, I find the program deadly accurate and impartial in the very best sense. It is quite admirable, which is why partisans on all sides hate it.

Last night’s episode didn’t disappoint. Definitely one of the best things on TV in what has been in many ways a very good year. smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[14]smiley-happy005[16]smiley-happy005[18]smiley-happy005[20]

Also on SBS last night was a rather fascinating episode of The Bible: A History. Now this series has in some respects disappointed me, because it isn’t what it says it is. Rather, it is a series of reflections, more or less worth listening to, by a number of people on aspects of the Bible. A systematic history it is not. However, getting Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams to reflect on Jesus was actually quite inspired, if confronting.

As a supporter of the people of Palestine, I believe the security of the people of Israel is tied inextricably with the Israeli government’s need to acknowledge and uphold the rights and security of the people of Palestine. When I have visited the Palestinian territories before, I have been saddened by the awful, visible evidence of occupation and injustice, particularly the failure of the international community to encourage a peace settlement.

This time my visit was non political but the tragic irony was sharpened by my new and growing knowledge of the ancient history of the place. What would Jesus, the Palestinian do?

I came away from this programme more aware of the relevance of Jesus’ message in these modern times. Not just in terms of forgiveness or peace making but also in social and economic issues. Jesus is about equality, the poor and the disadvantaged.

One thing is for certain. The core message of Jesus is relevant in today’s world. It retains the ability to motivate countless billions of people two thousand years after his execution.

If adhered to there would be no conflict, no hunger and no poverty in the world today. No wonder they crucified him.

While I don’t doubt Adams’s sincerity and acknowledge much that is good in him, especially in what he has done in recent years, I don’t entirely buy his justification for what happened in earlier days.

See this review.

There are obvious responses to such a programme. The first is to throw your hands up in horror, to curse and fulminate at what might be seen as the arrogance, hypocrisy or self-delusion of a man who, as a former spokesman-in-chief for IRA terrorism, can here, when asked if he has blood on his hands, blithely reply: “No, I don’t.”

Another, more simple, response is to switch off the television.

Then again, there is what could, in the phrase of that other great peacemaker of our time, Tony Blair, be called the third way. To sit down, watch, and see if one can actually glean something meaningful from it, however offensive it may be.

To choose this option was to be genuinely baffled at how Adams can see anything in the Christian message that corresponds with his own actions. Despite being a regular Mass-goer he always rejected the Catholic church’s condemnation of IRA violence, and refused to see the Troubles as a religious, rather than purely political, conflict.

Here, his trek through Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the West Bank, was less a spiritual journey than a history lesson on the Roman occupation of Judea. He seemed to regard his conversations with historians and theologians as opportunities for self-justification and political point-scoring (when Barabbas was described as a terrorist, he interjected “or freedom fighter”) as much as for understanding.

More than anything, his insistence that he could accept or reject whichever elements of Christian belief he likes, and still be a Christian – because “we all do it” – was revealing of a mindset that, fundamentally, sees only what it chooses to see.

Perhaps most revealing was Adams’s constant return to the only Christian themes he seemed to have any genuine interest in: forgiveness and redemption…

Well worth a look for its own sake and for what it says about this series is Mark Goodacre’s New Testament blog. “This is Mark Goodacre’s academic blog. It focuses on issues of interest on the New Testament and Christian Origins. I am Associate Professor of New Testament in the Religion Department at Duke University.”