To Sydney on Sunday–8 car trains, M, Jim Belshaw

A regular complaint from travellers between Wollongong and Sydney is that out trains come in four car sets, which can lead to some uncomfortable overcrowded journeys. But they have been listening, it appears.

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Joining two sets to make 8 cars to Sydney on Sunday morning. The 5.30 pm express back was 8 cars as well.

For some shots of the journey up see To Sydney as the wet approaches–pinhole shots. Yes is was moderately wet pretty much all day.

After visiting M in East Redfern, I bussed to Kingsford then walked to Daceyville. The Daceyville photos will be on the photo blog tomorrow. Thus to Jim Belshaw’s.

Yesterday Neil Whitfield and Winton Bates came to lunch, the first time Winton and I had met for a long time. Winton on the left, Neil right. This was the first time that Winton and Neil had met.

As I can and when I can, I am slowly bringing together the people in our little blogging village. Winton and I were co-editors of Neucleus, The University of New England student newspaper. Neil and I met as bloggers via the death of Australian playwright Alex Buzo. 

As you might expect,  it was a wide ranging conversation that gave us all great pleasure.

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Very pleasant day, despite the weather – but even that was better than the 46C we had recently!

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Wollongong Station

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Some say we have just three weeks left…

… so make sure your next few weeks of blog entries are really good! I refer of course to the Mayan Calendar.  (But see also ANALYSIS: Mayan Ruins Describe Dates Beyond 2012 ‘Doomsday’.) On a shorter time frame the weather people have been warning us to keep out of the sun today, which so far is not too difficult.

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Can’t complain about the sight that greeted me from my window around 6am though.

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By the time I got downstairs it had almost disappeared. Bloody rainbows! Can’t rely on them…

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Do visit the photo blog for the December City Daily Photo theme entry, and go to DECEMBER – ‘My Street’ to see other CDP bloggers.

There are things that matter and things I really don’t care two hoots about…

For example:

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Click that for the latest report from NOAA.

Read in today’s Sydney Morning Herald Where even the earth is melting.

THE world is on the cusp of a "tipping point" into dangerous climate change, according to new data gathered by scientists measuring methane leaking from the Arctic permafrost and a report presented to the United Nations on Tuesday.

"The permafrost carbon feedback is irreversible on human time scales," says the report, Policy Implications of Warming Permafrost. "Overall, these observations indicate that large-scale thawing of permafrost may already have started."

While countries the size of Australia tally up their greenhouse emissions in hundreds of millions of tonnes, the Arctic’s stores are measured in tens of billions…

Geologist Dr Iain Stewart in Earth: The Power of the Planet (2007– )

And so many other things today, reaching a grand climax in THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD!!!! Yes, it’s JULIA, THE VAMPIRE FROM SLATER AND GORDON! JULIA THE GETAWAY CAR DRIVER! JULIA OF BONNIE AND CLYDE FAME!  Or as I said, risking being labelled sexist perhaps, on Facebook last night and yesterday afternoon, especially having watched Julia Bishop’s confected outrage during her press conference:

This "Get Julia" session of Parliament is perhaps the lowest point Australian politics has reached in my lifetime — even counting the Dismissal, which at least was about very serious matters. Right now I couldn’t care less if Julia turns out to have been a vampire 20 years ago. I just want to see her government governing, albeit in many areas not very well — refugee policy for one– and the Opposition looking like a credible alternative and not a pack of slavering bitches — no gender implied…

Congrats Julie Bishop on yr press conference. Succeeded in firming up a vote for Labor with me. Well done! What a heap of ordure this now is…

Julie Bishop: why should I care? I really don’t any more. Try policy debate instead of this crap and let the government govern. I really do not care what Julia may or may not have done 20 years ago according to the gossip and hearsay you are retailing no matter that it’s in a stat dec, which you know as well as I proves nothing except that the declarer asserts he/she thinks whatever it is is true — maybe…

Pissed off because the overblown rhetoric pre carbon tax is now proven piffle? Is that it?

If you can be bothered, here is the latest little gem:

BRUCE Wilson, Julia Gillard’s former boyfriend, said he ”perhaps” asked an AWU employee to deposit $5000 in her bank account, but could not recall it. The PM said she could not remember receiving such a sum.

Mr Wilson, appearing on the ABC, was emphatic that no money from the union slush fund set up by him and fellow official Ralph Blewitt was spent on Ms Gillard’s house. He said that after there were technical problems getting the fund registered, he had asked Ms Gillard to help. ”It was a simple matter that needed to be done, she did it, end of story.”

Mr Wilson said he had not benefited financially from the fund but said Mr Blewitt had taken money out. He had been ”packaging it up and burying it in his backyard” – and some of it rotted away. Mr Wilson felt sorry that Ms Gillard ”has to go through all this because it’s just not warranted”.

MICHELLE GRATTAN

See also Lenore Taylor’s Bishop bluster loses wind in an obvious absence of evidence.

However, some real light on this and related matters does come from these three posts and their comment threads. The three bloggers together represent years of experience in the law, business, and the Australian Public Service and are all far more qualified than I am.

Finally, not a story of cosmic significance perhaps but a nice local one nonetheless — about Yours and Owls and my ex-student Stewart Holt (not “Stuart”) — Illawarra Mercury today.

Charges against the owners of Wollongong cafe-bar Yours and Owls have been dismissed following a graffiti incident at the venue earlier this year.

Two of the venue’s three owners – Balunn Jones and Ben Tillman – stood accused of malicious damage after a graffiti message appeared on the business’s Kembla Street facade in March.

Last month the charges were withdrawn and dismissed.

Mr Jones credited solicitor Stuart Holt – a regular customer who offered his services pro bono – with seeing through the case.

The venue is now hosting a new street art project on its inside walls, but Mr Jones said the trio planned to soon sell the business.

"Hopefully it goes to someone who’s got a similar point of view to us and it doesn’t just fade away. It would be nice if it happened."

Mr Jones said the trio was selling "for a variety of reasons", but did not elaborate.

The men – friends from the Illawarra’s northern suburbs – opened Yours and Owls in 2010.

Searchings — 1

There really have been so many things I have seen or read in the past few days that deserve to be shared, that have provoked more reflection than I can possibly capture in one blog post or even two. But to begin.

God’s Politics asked Is God a Cosmic Jerk?

That’s how I ask the question, but professional theologians use the term theodicy. It comes from two Greek words: theo, which means “God,” and dike, which means “justice.” Theodicy asks, “If God is good and just, then why is there so much evil in the world?” There are many answers to this question. Some claim that God causes evil. In which case, my question becomes relevant – Is God a Cosmic Jerk?

Let’s first examine the word “evil.” Theologian Joe Jones succinctly defines evil in his book A Grammar of Christian Faith “as the harm to some creature’s good” (280). Jones distinguishes between two categories of evil that harms a creatures good. First, there is moral evil – the harm humans inflict upon one another through violence, injustice, and oppression. The second category is natural evil – the harm caused by cancer, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural events…

The older I get the more unsatisfactory the theologians seem to me, and the more “fundamentalist” they are then even less satisfactory are they likely to be – unless you are better at believing a thousand impossible things before breakfast, to paraphrase Lewis Carroll, than I am these days.

"Alice laughed: "There’s no use trying," she said; "one can’t believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven’t had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

Unfortunately the impression one is left with after much fundamentalist apologetics/theology is that God indeed could very well be a Cosmic Jerk!

This especially plagues the bibliolatrists who constitute the more conservative wings of Judaism and Christianity and, alas, far too much of Islam. The unfortunate tradition of Divine Mouthpieces and Pens is as much a curse as a blessing, indeed I suspect more a curse than a blessing. Infallibility and certainty are among the most dangerous and foolish human constructs.

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Take Monday’s poem from Three Quarks Daily.

For insulting the Quran, "’Thousands of people
dragged a Pakistani man … from a police station …
(and)
beat him to death,’ police said Wednesday."

Insulting Books

Is it even possible
to insult a book?

Has it a soul within its leaves
a heart that beats
an eye that winks
a cord running through its spine
descending from a thing that thinks?

Is a book of inky lines
(of characters not themselves sublime)
capable of being hurt or ridiculed
or cheapened by critiques
either of the wise, or fools?

Has it veins between its covers
salty with the blood of lovers?

Is there something in its pages
(even if put there by sages)
that warrants death to critics?

Is it a thing so lame that priestly brothers
(arrogant, imperious, parasitic)
who worship sheaves of ink on paper
must, for its sake, snuff the holy breath
of others?

by Jim Culleny

11/6/12

Go and read the comments that follow it. An excellent series, those daily poems from Three Quarks Daily. Jim is the editor of this feature and most wide-ranging in his selection and very knowledgeable. Even Aussie poets score there at times.

Back in 2008 I read Rich Merritt’s Code of Conduct and discovered his rather occasional blog But Seriously…

I am reading Rich’s Code of Conduct at the moment.

In Code of Conduct, former U.S. Marine Rich Merritt, explores the secret double lives of Don, Eddie, Karl and Patrick, all currently serving as closeted military men. Agent Jay of the Naval Investigative Service struggles with his past as he follows his own personal vendetta against homosexuality. As hope of President Bill Clinton’s promise to relieve the ban on gays in the military flourishes, Jay attempts to ruin the careers of our heroes. Action-packed, this novel kept me on the edge of my seat, while at the same time beautifully illustrating the passion and love that gay servicemen and women can have for each other.

A fast read, Merritt’s novel explores a fascinating section of the LGBTI community through his and others’ experiences in the military. Although the dialogue reads rather unrealistically, the novel was thoroughly enjoyable…

That last criticism is true at times; it is not the world’s greatest novel. Also, I would that it began differently, without quite so much military-speak and boys’ own adventure stuff so early. That aside, this is a passionate novel on several levels. It could have been even better if it had been written for outsiders rather more than it is. It would, I think, make an excellent movie though, so long as it was a movie-maker with the right political as well as artistic nous.

Rich Merritt was unfortunate enough to go to Bob Jones University from which he was expelled. His latest blog post is about his new novel Spiritual Probation.

What is it about?

Nate O’Connor wants to do right. His senior year of college, though, gets off to a rocky start. He’s a student at Bob Johnson University, the flagship institution of higher learning in American fundamentalism, where he and his best friend are placed on spiritual probation after being accused of disloyalty to the school. Their attempt to repair their reputation backfires and when Nate meets two women–one beautiful and smart, the other wise and charming–his entire belief system is uprooted. Nate’s world is further rocked by tragedy and his life will never be the same.

What are people saying about it?

“Setting his tale inside the closed society of a fundamentalist university, Rich Merritt tells a fascinating story that is alternately disturbing and inspiring. Spiritual Probation opened my eyes and touched my heart.
Joe DiPietro, Tony-Award winning playwright of Memphis

“In every decade, a true classic emerges, which demonstrates the strength of the human will to conquer and survive the ills of its society. Merritt has written such a work in this coming-of-age story of courage and conviction in a world that is perceptively lacking in empathy and compassion for the individual spirit and soul. A poignant ‘must read’ for such present times, which is so heavily burdened with the painful effects of emotional bullying and spiritual abuse, so currently at the forefront of daily life.”
Lynda Mandell, M.D., Ph.D., Board Certified Psychiatrist

Over on Goodreads another Bob Jones survivor says:

As an apologetic alumna of Bob Jones University, I truly enjoyed this book. I sympathized with the protagonist and his exit from fundamentalism as he realized how nonsensical most of it was. I cried with Danny’s family as they dealt with his tragedy. I was frustrated, but not surprised, by the reactions of the university. Even though the events of this book occurred before my time at BJ and some of the rules had changed by the time I arrived, much of the culture of the university has stayed the same, and the reactions to those who are outside the university or who disagree with the university are exactly the same. I would recommend this book to anyone who’s dealt with the IFB and wants to dwell in the big questions rather than accepting all words spoken from a pulpit as truth.

See also Dr Camille Lewis.

Nambawan Pikinini bilong Misis Kwin na Namba Two Misis Bilong Charles

…and other matters.

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Yes, we now have The Prince of Wales plus Duchess of Cornwall in the house… Believe they go to a horse race today.

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The first picture comes from and is linked to The Sydney Morning Herald, the second I ripped off the Prince’s own site. Hope I don’t get sent to the Tower of London for that. He is here as part of a Diamond Jubilee Commonwealth tour – his Mum having been more than a touch venturesome herself this year but deputing her Nambawan Pikinini to come to this part of the world on her behalf. A shame as I was rather looking forward to her arrival:

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Before arriving here the Royals were in Papua New Guinea – hence the Tok Pisin heading today. (The Duke of Edinburgh is apparently oldfella Pili-Pili him bilong Misis Kwin.” Love it!)

You may read a first-hand account from PNG: Having Dinner with Nambawan Pikinini bilong Misis Kwin na Namba Two Misis Bilong Charles. That blog leads to others from PNG – itself well worth the visit.

I like having C and C here. The older I get the fonder I am of the rather dotty monarchy we in Australia inhabit and the less likely to vote for a republic any time soon; I did vote for one at the turn of the century. It will seem very rude of me but I really do like NOT being American and our head of state NOT being a politician. I also don’t mind the best of the tradition and the world links history has given us. Keep it that way as long as possible, though it is hard to see the system lasting all the way to 2112…. Apparently the young and cool rather agree. No, you won’t find me joining Professor Flint’s mob though – not that desperate.

And as for Charles: he’s not as dim or useless as many think.

And while I am on eccentrics and conservatism – not that Charles is a textbook conservative – I did rather enjoy the (rerun) of Kitchen Cabinet with Barnaby Joyce last night. In fact Kitchen Cabinet is proving quite a treasure.

Last night too QandA went to Perth. An excellent episode, and a reminder that we really are locked too much into the Sydney-Melbourne-Canberra axis.

Sunday lunch in Daceyville

It has been a while since I ventured back up to Sydney for a Sunday lunch. That I did so yesterday is down to Jim Belshaw who now lives in Daceyville, a most interesting suburb not far from the University of NSW.

Today, Daceyville is a tiny, often overlooked suburb located six kilometres south of Sydney central business district. In 1912, however, it was a hive of activity as its construction brought about Australia’s first public housing scheme. Built by the state’s first Labor government, and using the skills of well-known Sydneysiders like architect John Sulman, it is one of Sydney’s unique suburbs.

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1913

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In Jim’s street yesterday.

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Jim, followed by (L-R) Noric Dilanchian, Clare Belshaw, Neil Whitfield and Dennis Sligar.

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In the train on the way home.

Dennis turns out to have been just one year ahead of me as a student at Sydney Boys High in the 1950s and we reminisced ourselves silly. Smile  He was also a Public Servant of note and gets mentioned in Kim Beazley’s autobiography. Noric is of Armenian background and among topics raised by him was the matter of history and perspective. Jim’s daughter Clare is also quite passionate about history, particularly about the Julio-Claudians it appears and has a perhaps not unrelated interest in zombies. I also learned for the first time – though I am sure most of you already knew – about Kickstarter,  a funding platform for creative projects. What a great thing it appears to be!

All that and roast lamb too.

Thanks, Jim.

Thinking of Dorothy — and other miscellaneous things…

I have been having fun with the eBooks, as you’ll have noted. In among the 1,600 so far are many works that enable me to review my path from teenage Calvinist and absurdly young Elder in the early to mid 60s through the years to my current status as a member in good standing – though less often there – of South Sydney Uniting Church, albeit really a lapsed Presbyterian Buddhist Agnostic – as I told Dorothy McRae-McMahon some five or six years back.

Not an atheist, you will note. I haven’t enough faith for that.

I won’t bore you yet with details about how my reading/time travel is going, but I have found an oldish – 1919 – book that I respect a lot, and it originates in the US Deep South.

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As far back as I can remember, I understood the Bible to be the word of God, every word of it, from the first word in Genesis to the last "Amen" of Revelation; that it was all divinely inspired, verbatim et literatim, just as it appeared in the old King James version; that it was God’s revelation to mankind, beside and outside of which there never was, and never would be any other; that every word of it was literally, and infallibly true, just as it read. Such a thing as figurative, or allegorical interpretations I never heard of until I was a grown man, as we shall see later.

This, of course, meant a literal six-day Creation, an anthropomorphic God, a literal physical heaven, and likewise a literal, physical hell, a personal devil, the absolute, literal, truth of the story of Eden, the original perfection and fall of man, total depravity of the race, vicarious atonement and the eternal damnation of all mankind, individually and collectively, who did not accept the prescribed creed of the church of my parents, as the only means of escape.

My first conception of God was that of a great big good man sitting high up in heaven on a great white throne, whence He would judge the world; that heaven was a great city somewhere up in the skies, with streets of gold and walls of jasper; that hell was a literal burning lake of fire and brimstone somewhere down under the world, and that it was presided over by the devil and was made to burn people in who were not good, or who had not believed in Christ as a personal Savior. As a little child I was taught that if I was not a good boy, when I died, the devil, usually spoken of as "the bad man," would get me and burn me in this hell forever and ever; and that I never could burn up or die, and if I called for water he would pour melted lead down my throat. Many a time I would think over this horrible torture that I might inadvertently fall into by doing some bad thing when at heart I really meant to be good, and sincerely wish I had never been born.

In my night visions I could see the devil with his tea-kettle of melted lead, pouring it down the throats of the helpless little ones, writhing in the tortures of the never ending fire!…

Having thus changed my church relations, and feeling that I had a greater field of usefulness open to me, my zeal for efficiency and success increased. I had a sincere and consuming desire to "save men’s souls." And believing my creed to be as infallible as the Bible upon which it was based, I studied to make myself efficient and able in its defense. By following the ordinary methods of interpretation, I soon found no trouble in doing this. Does the reader inquire here what are the "ordinary methods of interpretation"? Taking a chapter, or verse, or paragraph of the Bible here and there, thru the whole book, from Genesis to Revelation, and weaving them together as a connected whole, regardless of whether there is any natural connection between them or not; then disposing of all contradictory passages as either "figurative,"—with unlimited latitude on the interpretation of the "figures,"—or as pertaining to those "great and mysterious, unknowable things of God’s divine revelation,"—mysteries too great for man to know! This method of interpretation is the common practice, to a greater or less extent, of every church in Christendom that accepts the doctrine of the infallibility of the Bible, and looks to it as its sole and final source of authority in religion. There is not a creed in Christendom today, and never has been, that cannot be supported and proved to be conclusively correct from the Bible by this method of interpretation. By the same method the Bible can be made the defense—and it often has been—of war, murder, slavery, polygamy, adultery, and the foulest crimes known to humanity, and these all made the divine institutions of God. And these are exactly the leading methods of interpretation of the Bible that are being followed today, and have been since Christianity first began to divide into sects and parties…

As I have said quite often in the past ten years one thing I am sure of is that there are NO infallible “authorities” on God, and God has never written a book… Or dictated one…

Someone else labouring under a tradition of God the Writer is Irfan Yusuf. But it is his own writing he addresses after a long hiatus on his blog.

It feels like ages since I last visited this blog. I haven’t had anything published since late 2011 when I ventured into the contentious issue of gay marriage. After that, a heap of family, work, personal and health issues took over.

This blog represents a difficult time of recovery. There is stuff here I’m somewhat embarrassed to read. There is also stuff that was noticed by editors and producers and lots of readers, stuff which I am proud of.

If it wasn’t for this blog, I’d never have ventured into my humble attempts at opinion journalism. I’d never have had sufficient writing practice to write an 85,000 word manuscript.

But believe it or not, writing is tiresome. Write now, I’m trying to gather energy to write some more. But I’m finding it hard. Writers’ block isn’t the problem. It’s more like writer’s fatigue.

So what should I do? Someone suggested I should return to blogging. So I’ll give it a go and see what happens…

Plus many editors couldn’t understand why I was so offended when they would publish anything I wrote about Islam and/or Pakistan and/or the Middle East but nothing I wrote about subjects that really interested me e.g. Australian politics, the law or workplace relations. They must have thought my allegedly unpronounceable name made me an expert on all things exotic but a novice on anything more familiar…

I mentioned Dorothy McRae-McMahon above. That’s her on the right. See also Instead of the Friday poem: Dorothy McRae-McMahon, "A Life of Unlearning – a journey to find the truth", Christianity’s coats of many colours, So this Sunday…, Floating Life’s Books and Ideas: Still reading Dorothy’s autobiography.

I am sad to read this on the South Sydney Uniting Church site.

South Sydney Uniting Church mourns the passing of Alison (Ali) Blogg, partner to Dorothy and friend to us all. A funeral service for Ali will be held Tuesday April 17 in the Camellia Chapel at Macquarie Park Cemetery (Delhi Road, Macquarie Park), commencing 11.30am. Refreshments will be served from 12.45pm.

Ali had been ill for some years now with cancer.

My thoughts are with Dorothy and everyone up there in South Sydney.

Ali was the main photographer on the South Sydney Herald.  Here she is in August 2010.

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BLOGG, Alison Elizabeth
Ali.
Late of Lilyfield.
Passed away peacefully on April 5, 2012. Beloved partner of Dorothy McRae-McMahon. Loved sister of Kevin, Val, Terry and Catherine. Ali will be sadly missed by all her family and many friends.
Aged 65 years
She lived life to the full with authenticity and courage, giving so much to so many people. No matter what the future brings, we will always hold her near to us and our love will have no end.