tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:/posts MICHAEL MULLINS' TINY LETTER 2017-11-06T11:35:33Z tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1203601 2017-11-06T11:35:33Z 2017-11-06T11:35:33Z The value of intransigence in Paris fairyland

This morning a Facebook alert welcomed me to Paris, four weeks to the day since my arrival.

I've easily engaged with the fairyland version of Paris that the tourists come to see. I have come to see that as well.

Paris market venue Place of the Innocents

But on Saturday, I walked past the shopfront of the Parti Socialiste and was reminded that the main reality is something else. The rough sleepers and other disadvantaged people visible on the streets are part of a society increasingly divided into haves and have nots. Just like Australia.

I can't understand much about French politics when I watch the news on TV, as I imagine the French scratch their heads when they hear about the possible fall of Australia's government because some of its members are dual citizens of another country.

Sign in the window of Parti Socialiste Paris

But I did get a sense of it when my vendor put me in touch with a young Ukrainian-Russian immigrant who was passionate about politics. I enjoyed the conversations we had when we visited bars on two occasions before he returned to his family in a village near Lyon.

In our discussions, we discovered that we shared a lot of common ground. We bemoaned the fact that nations across Europe - and also Russia - were becoming increasingly divided because their governents were catering more for entrenched elites than the good of the whole.

From the Louvre - Louis Lopold Boilly 1761-1845 People Entering to See a Free Show at the Ambigu-Comique Theatre
But I didn't like what I heard when I asked him who he supported in this year's French election and he said Marine Le Pen.

When I spent my first weekend in Lille, I admired my Australian friend for choosing an immigrant neighbourhood to buy an apartment for his part-time residence in France, even though I did not feel safe walking the streets.

He could have opted for something smaller in a more salubrious part of Paris. Like me. But I assume he was following the principles of the Catholic workers movement that he has been involved in and is the subject of his academic study.

Wall in Rue Foyatier Monmartre

My contact with reality has more to do with getting connected to the utilities and services that will allow me to live here part-time. On Friday I walked 40 minutes to the nearest shop of the majority state owned electricity company EDF. But they were closed, having had Thursday and Friday added to Wednesday's All Saints Day public holiday to make a five day long weekend.

I was consoled when it reminded me of then US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld's 'old Europe' insult when France refused to sign up for the Coalition of the Willing to invade Iraq in 2003. It was a sign that America had not completely exported its 'can do' culture to France.

Be Loud Be Proud wall art Paris

I think that, despite the frustrations, there is something to like about intransigence that weakens productivity but upholds the rights and conditions of the ordinary people whose efforts achieve it.

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tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1201048 2017-10-26T08:01:23Z 2017-10-26T08:01:24Z Liberté, égalité, fraternité and inferior coffee

A friend referred to the image of Parisians 'smoking Gauloises and reading Le Monde with their coffee and croissant'. I've always been fascinated by the portrayals of Parisian cafe culture, especially in the French New Wave movies of the 1960s, which are more concerned with atmosphere than story.

But the reality is now different. In 2017 you don't see Gauloises packets because French cigarettes now come with olive green plain packaging like Australia's, and Parisians look at smartphones rather than newspapers just like people everywhere.

Night time crowd around Fountain of the Innocents

I'm reluctant to make too many observations, as they will be superficial and inconclusive because of the short time I've been here. I've also been consumed by mundane activities such as getting a bank account and an insurance policy. However it's arguable that consumer norms and practices tell you more about a country than just about anything else.

However I do notice signs that there are values worth noting and prizing. Among the magazine posters on the sides of the kiosks in public places, the more prominent are promoting specialist titles on subjects including philosophy, psychology and sophisticated political satire (Charlie Hebdo).

There is obviously a market for these things, or the posters wouldn't be there. They have equal billing with sport and gossip that are more dominant in other countries. It's probably true that Parisians sitting together in cafes are more likely to be discussing philosophy than Australians. But I'd suggest that most don't, and that it's effectively confined to a niche, albeit a much larger one than in Australia.

Square in front of Sorbonne University

One of my favourite places to loiter is the square in front of the Sorbonne University (pictured), with its philosophy bookshops and cafes. Twice when I've been there I've noticed film crews recording interviews with learned professor types probably discussing philosophy.

There are certain things we want to believe that are not entirely true. Philosophy is in fact discussed in cafes around universities in Australia, and the cafe culture in Sydney and Melbourne is also vibrant. It also has to be said that the coffee is far superior to that in Paris, which is notably underwhelming.

But I like it that learning and human rights and open discussion seem to be a valued, along with good food and dress.

Libert galit fraternit on public building

The words Liberté, égalité, fraternité adorn French public buildings in the way references to the monarchy are attached to public institutions in the UK and Australia (in Sydney I live near the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital).

When buying my property here, my vendor said to me a few times 'French people don't stand for this kind of thing. They are aware of their rights'. An awareness that could come from philosophy being more in public consciousness.

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tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1200478 2017-10-24T06:11:40Z 2017-10-25T16:40:25Z The good life in Paris might be sustainable

Yesterday was the two week anniversary of my new part-time life in Paris.

I've been absorbed with making my small five square metre room my own. For me that means throwing things out rather than acquiring them. It had most of what I needed but was full of excess bedding and crockery and other space fillers that didn't fit my minimalist aspirations.

Michael in his Paris room

I think the most important thing to do when you're in new surroundings for any length of time is to establish a routine to frame your life and give it some continuity and purpose. To this end, my early morning in-bed activity is to spend about half an hour doing French language exercises with the Duolingo app on my smartphone.

Unfortunately it has displaced writing this letter. But I hope that is temporary and the language work will find some other time slot in my day. The app's 'nag' feature to get users to do the daily exercises is too effective.

I am quite relaxed in my approach to learning the French language, which is really building on the grounding I got at school. Duolingo says I'm 59 per cent of the way there, but I don't think there is a point in which I will be able to say I have acquired French.

Looking from Chatelet towards Eiffel Tower

I get a small thrill when I say something in French and am understood. I like to watch TV with the French subtitles intended for the hearing impaired turned on. More and more I can understand what's going on. They are my 'trainer wheels' and eventually I hope to be able to turn them off.

The other thing that's important to me is the food and the culture.

The front door of my building is less than a minute's walk to the square around the Fountain of the Innocents. Currently it's the location of a two week exposition and market of food from various French regions. On Sunday evening I took the opportunity to sample a dozen snails, which is something I'd always wanted to do.

For me the intensity of the sensation was equal to that of good oysters. I especially like to wrestle with food to get the taste. They give you a small plastic fork for this purpose. One end has a single prong to extract the snail from the shell, while the other has three for eating.

Snails

Every day I go to a patisserie and ask for a 'demi-' (half) baguette. Before coming here, I'd not eaten bread regularly for more than a year. Being white bread, baguettes have almost no nutritional value and too many calories. But I can't resist them - and a cake - each day at the patisserie and boulangerie.

I like to think that this enjoyment of the good life is sustainable, which is why the other part of my routine consists of an ambitious goal of 20,000 steps each day and an hour at the gym in the late afternoon.

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tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1197573 2017-10-11T13:55:01Z 2017-10-24T06:12:44Z My tiny room in the centre of Paris

Years ago I remember a friend telling me that he'd just bought a house in a NSW country town for the price of a car. I've just done something similar with my purchase of a tiny room in the centre of Paris for less than the price of a car parking space in Sydney.

At the end of April, I spent three days staying in an airbnb maid's room near the Luxembourg Gardens. I'd just arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport and I was headed to England to spend a month with my sister.

I thought to myself that I would like to own a room like this. I mentioned that in conversation with a friend in Lille who once worked selling real estate in Sydney. He's bought and sold several apartments in France, and he told me that it was easier than I imagined.

So with his help, I found online a five square metre room on the sixth floor of a building without a lift, for sale for 65,000 euros. It's in Châtelet in the First Arrondissement, a few minutes walk from either the Louvre or the Pompidou Centre. One of Paris's priciest locations.

I had my offer accepted in late June and signed the final papers and received the key at the notaires' office in Paris on Monday.

The room has a single bed, a shower, a toilet, a kitchen sink, a fridge, a wardrobe, and not much else. Just about all I need.

Five square metres is about the size of the bathroom in most Australian houses. I've stayed in capsule hotels in Japan in the past, and the room I lived in when I spent five weeks in Tokyo around August measured exactly five square metres.

Most buyers would probably classify the property as a renovators' delight. I could spend tens of thousands of euros gutting the room and engaging professionals to transform it into a designer showpiece. But I like it the way it is, at least for now.

It's too small to rent legally, and the low purchase price means I don't have to earn an income from it. I will just spend a few months here each year getting to know Paris, and offer it to friends who don't mind simple accommodation for one person in a ramshackle building.

The notaire was intrigued and described the purchase as 'interesting', the same word an Australian lawyer friend used a couple of months ago. Before I signed, he also warned me of some of the things that could go wrong. For example the Marais - the Paris City Council - could decide that it is too small for human habitation and force me to rent it as a storage room.

It seems it's not wired to make it easy to connect to fast internet. So until I find a better solution than my current 3G mobile phone data plan, my online life will be in the slow lane. Which doesn't have to be a bad thing.

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tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1196728 2017-10-08T05:53:03Z 2017-10-08T05:53:03Z Visiting a Flemish region that speaks French

On Friday I found myself arriving at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport after a flight from Sydney, for the second time in six months. I have a commitment in Paris on Monday and decided to spend the weekend visiting an Australian friend who lives in Lille, an easy 55 minute journey north from the airport on the TGV fast train.

GranPlus main square Lille

I'd had the impression of Lille as an uninteresting industrial hub. But a few months ago a friend surprised and intrigued me by describing it as a 'handsome' city. He was right.

The most interesting fact I learned about Lille is that it was once part of Belgium. Flanders to be precise. Long before Belgium was created. It was annexed by Louis XIV of France in 1668, a year after the Siege of Lille by his army.

As a result, aspects of Flemish culture remain. Most visible to me is the Flemish (or Dutch) gable at the top of the facade of many of the older buildings.

IMG_20171007_103019

Because Lille is only 16 kilometres from the Belgian border, I was interested in crossing that border and exploring a Belgian city. We decided to take the half hour regional train journey to Tournai, one of the oldest and most culturally significant cities in the country.

Language and ethnic identity are very complex in the artificial and much unloved administrative construction that is Belgium. I marvelled at the contradictory reality that Tournai is a French-speaking Flemish city. It is located just within Wallonia, the southern half of Belgium that is aligned to French culture.

There was a lot to do there. It is a beautiful city that could be made even more beautiful and spoiled at the same time if they decided to put it on the tourist map like Bruges.

IMG_20171007_103131

On our walk from the station, we came across a busy Saturday morning farmers' market, where my eyes first gravitated towards the strings of hanging garlic, some of which was smoked.

On the walk through town, I was struck by the number of patisseries. It was like towns in Australia and elsewhere that had a pub on just about every corner. There were also charcuteries, selling prepared meat and other products. Vol-au-vents, which appeared to be a local specialty were plentiful in both the patisseries and charcuteries.

Vol-au-vents in Tournai

I read afterwards that in France, vol-au-vents are served as an appetiser, whereas they're larger and a common main dish in Belgium. I saw both in Tournai. I wanted to buy one for lunch but the woman in the charcuterie insisted that it had to be eaten after heating in the oven at home, and it was not an option for me to buy and eat on the run.

But the main highlight of Tournai was the huge Cathedral, which we were able to enter even though it was under serious large-scale renovation. It is still a place of worship, and indeed adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was taking place in a side chapel while we were there.

Le Cabinet du Docteur Caligari Cathedral projection

But like the rest of Europe, its congregation is obviously ageing and much diminished. It is good that large renovation and maintenance of cathedrals are being funded by bodies such as the European Union.

Increasingly in these post-Christian times, they are also being used for other cultural activities. I noted that the main coming event is not religious, but a projection of the 1920 German silent a horror film Le Cabinet du Docteur Caligari with accompaniment from the cathedral organ.

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tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1192163 2017-09-19T02:19:31Z 2017-09-19T02:19:31Z The pros and cons of screens in bed

It occurs to me that I don't really organise my day. Instead one or two particular circumstances give it a shape, and that may or may not help me to achieve goals for a given 24 hour period.

During my recent five week stay in Tokyo, my bed was a thin foam mattress on the floor. It was comfortable for sleep, but not to sit up and look at the screens of my tablet and phone.

So when I climbed into bed, I fell asleep almost immediately. When I woke up, I got up and went for a healthy eight kilometre power walk around the lake. I avoided the discomfort of being before a screen and so did not read and write in bed.

That was good, especially if there's truth in what they say about looking at screens in bed being detrimental to our general health and wellbeing.

sleep weekly overview pre-Tokyo

The sleep data in my Fitbit app showed that I was getting up to an hour's more sleep than when I'd been in my screen friendly bed at home. Comparing the 'before' and 'after' graphs (above and below) shows that staying away from screens in bed puts me on the cusp of being in the blue 'recommended' zone for my age group.

But it was not entirely good. What I'd done previously when I woke up was to research and write my blog. Doing the blog was no longer a natural wake up activity and instead became something of a chore. I'd have to choose to write later in the day and it would compete with other enjoyable activities such as sightseeing.

sleep weekly overview post-Tokyo

Nevertheless when I returned home to Sydney, I made a new rule for myself. No screens in bed. As a result, I've maintained my improved sleep patterns. Instead of walking around the lake in the morning, I've been exercising at the gym, something that had fallen away in the winter months before I went to Tokyo.

The blog writing is having to compete with other activities during the day proper. But I take the view that it is something I need to nurture like a plant that has been moved from one part of the garden to another.

But whatever happens, it will then be shaken up once more, when I transplant my life to another city for two months from early October.

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tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1191081 2017-09-14T01:52:39Z 2017-09-14T01:52:39Z Aung San Suu Kyi commodification hides nasty reality

In the news today is the decision of Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi to cancel her scheduled trip to the United Nations General Assembly.

The explanation is that she's having to deal with the crisis that has forced about 400,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh. Obviously she also wants to avoid being called to account for her failure to protect the Rohingya from what the UN's top human rights official Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein has described as 'a textbook example of ethnic cleansing'.

Aung San Suu Kyi

For some time she has faced criticism for her silence on the increasingly violent oppression of the Rohingya. As friends of mine became impatient with her during the course of the past year, my instinct was not to judge.

I told myself that she's a politician not a saint, and her continued leadership of the country depends upon her willingness to act according to the wishes and prejudices of the country's Buddhist majority, however odious they may seem to us. Her masters are the people of Myanmar - who democratically elected her - not the former colonial powers who gave moral support to her elevation to the leadership.

Yesterday my view was well articulated by commentators Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens on their ABC radio podcast The Minefield. Aly said:

'The Aung San Suu Kyi who was sold to the world, the crusader for human rights... was a creation of western human rights subcultures, of the culture of celebrity that surrounds a political prisoner.'

But in the end their guest - the Australian Catholic University's 'bitterly bitterly disappointed' Catherine Renshaw - was more convincing in maintaining that a rhetorical gesture from Suu Kyi in support of the Rohingya would 'have incredible power'.

Instead, Renshaw said, Suu Kyi's rhetoric is working in service of the ethnic cleansing. The 'disinformation' put out by her Department of Information about the Rohingya burning their own villages is 'so reminiscent of the oppression and the state apparatus of fear and silencing that characterised SLORC, the regime that kept her under house arrest for 18 years'.

The time is coming for international powers to act to avoid a proper genocide as happened in Rwanda two decades ago. Back then they dithered until it was too late. This time it's likely there will also be procrastination. But worse. Back in the 90s there was a consensus of moral leadership among western powers. But now that nationalism has taken root in so many countries, there's little support for action from powers beyond Germany and a handful of other European countries.


Link: podcast]]>
tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1190590 2017-09-12T06:08:33Z 2017-09-15T15:34:15Z Civil and religious marriage are best kept separate

While I was living in Europe a few decades ago, I remember a Belgian friend going home to get married. I recall being very surprised when I learned that he would have two weddings.

One was according to the laws of the state and the other followed the ritual of the Church. The two marriages were separated by several weeks. They were conducted by different celebrants, at separate venues. Each had its own guest list and reception afterwards.

After a while I realised that it was normal to have two weddings in such European countries. And it made sense. One was to satisfy the law of the land and the other was a sacrament of the Church. Two distinct means to achieve separate purposes.

In Australia, we don't properly appreciate this distinction. As a result, we tend to conflate the two. That is despite the fact that the way we conduct marriage is actually not that much different to the Europeans.

What happens for Australian couples opting for a church wedding is that the priest or minister facilitates both the legal and sacramental marriages. He or she is separately licensed by the state and the Church, and the tasks performed for each of these bodies are almost mutually exclusive.

But by conflating the civil law with religious ritual, we create confusion that makes it easy for the Church to claim authority that rightfully belongs to the state. In other words, the Church makes demands regarding sacramental marriage, which of course is OK. But it often weighs in on civil marriage as well, which is different.

Therefore I think it is problematic for religious leaders to be urging a no vote in the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey. The Survey has nothing to do with their domain of sacramental marriage, and they are being disingenuous if they act as if it does.

If the state weighed in on sacramental marriage and required church celebrants to marry same sex couples, the Church would cry foul. In any event, this would not happen because the Church is protected by existing religious freedom legislation that allows it to discriminate against same sex couples.

If, on the other hand, the Church believes that it can insist on its definition of civil marriage because it has a stake in the 'moral order' of society, the Survey will provide an interesting test for the moral authority it retains in the wake of its conduct regarding the sexual abuse of children it was responsible for.

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tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1188655 2017-09-04T04:14:07Z 2017-09-16T04:16:49Z Japanese creativity and isolation

In Tokyo, Summer is over and there's already a slight chill in the air. It got as low as 16 degrees the other morning as I got up for my walk around the lake in nearby Inokashira Park.

Morning tai chi in Tokyos Inkoshira Park

I've been starting my day there, along with the large groups of people practising tai chi and others making a visit to the temple dedicated to the Japanese Buddhist goddess Benzaiten.

I was also in the park on Saturday afternoon to see the Ghibli Museum, the popular tourist attraction that showcases the work of one of Japan's most famous animation studios. It's mostly booked out months in advance but I was lucky to secure one of the handful of tickets that they release online on the 10th day of the preceding month.

Ghibli Museum rooftop exhibit

The museum is a tribute to the creative process. It goes from how the animation makers are inspired, to the screening in its cinema of a 16 minute sample of their finished work. On the lower level there was a large room of mechanical gadgets that reminded me of the steampunk museum I visited in Oamaru (NZ) in January, and also some of the exhibits at MONA in Hobart.

I went to museums most days last week. On Friday it was MOMAT - the National Museum of Modern Art - to see the exhibition The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945. I was pleased to find there an explanation for why most Japanese houses in the city appear as uninspiring concrete boxes.

Kazunari Sakamoto Machiya in Minase 1970 at The Japanese House Architecture and Life after 1945 at National Museum of Modern Art

According to the principle spelled out in the notes to one exhibit, houses are intended to harmonise with their surrounds. If that is urban, they are concrete ('Tough conditions make for a tough appearance'). But houses built for families of wealth and nobility are surrounded by parks and gardens and therefore more beautiful.

On Thursday I went to the extensive NHK Museum of Broadcasting (NHK is the equivalent of Australia's ABC). It included technology dating from the beginning of radio in the 1920s, and also personalities and programs familiar to Japanese audiences over the decades. Aside from my particular interest in the technology, I was fascinated by the intersection of war and broadcasting.

NHK Museum of Broadcasting

It presented another dimension of the story I'd gleaned from my visit to the Yasukuni War Museum a week or so earlier. I was interested in that because the Yasukuni museum led me to form an almost sympathetic understanding of the rationale for Japan's entry into World War II (it was to redress Western colonial exploitation in East Asia).

My impression was qualified a few days later when I read a blog just posted by John Menadue, who was Australia's Ambassador to Japan from 1977 to 1981. I worked with him a few hours a week for several years until a few months ago.

NHK Museum of Broadcasting

John wrote that 'the 200 years of Japan's isolation pre-Meiji (1868-1912) also meant that ultra-nationalism had become deeply entrenched in Japan with fear of foreigners and isolationist policies'. His point was that - in contrast to Germany - the US post-war occupation of Japan was superficial and did little to change Japan's pre-war isolationist mindset.

That explains why Japan is the most 'foreign' country I've travelled to. It doesn't 'get' globalisation. Arguably this makes it a poor global citizen, even though the isolation enables its culture to remain distinctive, ensuring that it is an interesting country for people like me to travel to.


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tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1186970 2017-08-28T02:45:16Z 2017-08-28T02:45:16Z The final stretch of my stay in Tokyo

I'm beginning my last full week in Tokyo, but far from ready to pack my bags for my departure for Sydney via Guangzhou on Thursday next week. I'm starting to fantasise about coming back here again next year.

I've become very familiar with the neighbourhood here in Kichijoji and a string of other neighbourhoods on what's known as the Chuo line that heads west from the world's busiest railway station Shinjuku.

Looking into an anime cafe in Asagaya Anime Street underneath Chuo railway tracks

Shinjuku also has the world's largest concentration of gay bars. I wandered around there yesterday afternoon, though I think all of them were closed. There were not even many people on the street.

I'd just spent a few hours at the nearby Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden which, judging from the crowds, was more the place to be early on a sunny Sunday afternoon. There is a very large greenhouse with a walking path through it. There are also paths through the gardens leading to attractions such as the traditional Japanese garden and the traditional Japanese tea house.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

Anything in the category 'traditional Japanese' seems to be contained within a larger structure such as a garden or a museum, such as the Shitamachi Museum, which I visited on Satuday. Even that was very small, not extending beyond two modest sized floors. It is surprising that what I believe is the main folk museum in the world's largest city is dwarfed by others in much smaller cities, such as the Otago Settlers Museum, which I visited in Dunedin, New Zealand, in January.

Shitamachi Museum Ueno

Old buildings are demolished, often to conform to fire regulations. But I think it is more to do with the different non-material way in which Japanese prefer to preserve their culture.

I spent yesterday morning with a Japanese Jesuit whom I'd met in Sydney last month. He showed me around the magnificent campus of the Jesuits' Sophia University and St Ignatius Church. The church complex includes everything that you'd imagine a church would need, including a giant crypt underneath where the parishioners are buried.

St Ignatius Church Yotsuya

It was built quite recently, in 1999. The historic church that it replaced was demolished. A few weeks ago I was disturbed to hear of the impending demolition of Harajuku Railway Station, which has a distinctive clock tower that dates from 1906 and survived World War II. It was one of the few railway stations I've been to that is not modern. But it seems that pragmatism is going to win the day.

Airbnb room Kichijoji

I was expecting that my airbnb room (above) would be in an uninspiring concrete block. But actually it's in a beautiful simple wooden building similar to the ones that are reconstructed inside the Shitamachi Museum. It doesn't have any architectural merit but it evokes a different era, even though it is probably only 50 years old. When I think about coming back here again, I wonder whether it won't have been demolished to make way for concrete.

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tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1185575 2017-08-22T03:44:04Z 2017-08-22T03:44:04Z Understanding Japanese aggression in World War II

Tokyo enjoyed cooler temperatures but continuous rain for a couple of days last week. However that only made the Meiji Shrine - one of the city's most popular tourist attractions - greener and more lush.

Meiji Jingu reservation

Meiji Jingu, as it's known, is a 70 hectare evergreen forest in the centre of the city. It was established to honour the Meiji emperor who oversaw what was known as the Meiji Restoration. That was Japan's 19th century transition from an isolationist feudal state to a capitalist and imperial world power that had its own industrial revolution.

It was a natural progression for me to go from visiting the Meiji Shrine on Wednesday to the Yasukuni Shrine and War Museum on Sunday. The Shrine (below) has been controversial in recent years as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has visited there to honour Japan's war dead including war criminals, much to the displeasure of western nations and Japanese sympathetic to the anti-war movement.

Yasukuni Shrine

The museum demonstrates the humiliating cost of Japan's imperial aspirations in a chronological account of the nation's exploits in war over more than a thousand years, ending in its defeat in World War II.

It makes a very different statement to the aspirations for peace that are the focus of the museums in Hiroshima and Nagasaki that I visited in 2012. It is effectively an apologia for Japan's imperial and military adventurism during the 20th century. Pointedly the English explanations were very well done, obviously to ensure that foreign visitors get the message.

Western Powers Encroach Upon Asia explanation at Yushukan War Museum Tokyo

For centuries Japan had witnessed Western imperial powers brutally colonising and plundering Asian nations in order to fuel their own industry and modernisation. It had an acute need for raw materials to support its own industrial expansion and simply wanted a piece of the action. In the years leading up to Pearl Harbour, it felt it had been treated in a cavalier manner when it did seek legitimate co-operation with the US and other western nations.

Self-interest aside, Japan used pan-Asian ideals of freedom and independence from Western colonial oppression to justify its use of force in establishing a self-sufficient bloc of Asian nations that it would lead. Its military targets were the various western colonies throughout East Asia.

Model 97 1937 Medium Tank Yusukuni War Museum

Obviously the facts were selected to suit the Yusukuni Museum's narrative. But when I next visit the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, I will be aware that its narrative is a pro-colonial one, which edits out the Frontier Wars between British colonists and indigenous Australians, and also the understandable grievance Japan had against the western colonial powers.

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tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1184602 2017-08-18T04:26:37Z 2017-08-18T04:26:37Z The maid cafés of Akihabara

On Sunday I went to Ueno Park, a sprawling green area that is home to major cultural institutions and a recreational ground that attracts many Tokyo locals and tourists. It's Japan's most popular city park.

I could go back there again and again. In fact I was there during my very brief visit to Tokyo last October, and unintentionally I happened to walk through again on Monday. There's a zoo, performance artists, outdoor sculptures, cherry blossoms if you're there in April, as well as art galleries and museums.

Performance artists Ueno Park Tokyo

I was in the mood for walking around the park, which is why I did not join queues to get into any of the museums. The one I would have most liked to visit was the National Museum of Western Art because of its listing as a UN World Heritage Site in recognition of its architect Le Corbusier's contribution to the modernist movement.

National Museum of Western Art Tokyo

The cultural institution I did enter was the International Library of Children's Literature, where I particularly enjoyed browsing through children's story books from around the world.

International Library of Childrens Literature Uueno Park Tokyo

On Monday it was Akihabara, which Lonely Planet describes as 'the belly of the pop culture beast' and the centre of Tokyo's otaku (geek) culture. I was looking for something more uplifting than the usual retail madness but that was not really what I found.

One of Akihabara's attractions is the maid cafés, an aspect of pop culture I'd never heard of and was not particularly attracted to. Waitresses dressed in maid costumes act as servants, and treat customers as if they were masters (and mistresses) in a private home, rather than as café patrons.

Maid cafe hoarding Akihabara

I walked in, sat down, looked at the menu and interacted with two maids before deciding it wasn't for me and leaving. With western eyes, we might wonder about the gender stereotypes - or perhaps even BDSM subculture - at play, but that somehow didn't seem relevant here.

I think it was just another aspect of the foreignness of the Japanese way that we find difficult to penetrate. Perhaps it's just their equivalent of theatrical or burlesque playfulness in the to and fro between performance artists and patrons. In fact I did have my own interaction with a maid soliciting patrons outside a cafe. When I attempted to take a photo of her, she ran away to hide in a corner and motioned as if I'd made her cry.

The rain intensified on Tuesday, so I was looking for an undercover activity. I visited a state of the art onsen - Utsukushi no Yu - which is located at Taikado, a couple of suburbs away from my room.

Please enjoy Japanese public bath

Because I am living in simple older-style Japanese accommodation, there is no bathroom. It is assumed that I will go to the public bath - or sento - which I have been doing. A sento is a simple neighbourhood facility that uses ordinary hot water, while an onsen has hot water from thermal springs and is usually much more luxurious.

The local sentos can be disappointing as many of them are rundown and purely functional. The emphasis is on washing rather than replenishing the body. It's different at the onsen, which I found much more relaxing, even though it was the late afternoon peak. There were young fathers nurturing their toddler sons in the ritual, which I'd thought had been lost on the younger generation in the age of home bathrooms.

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tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1183135 2017-08-13T02:50:18Z 2017-08-13T02:50:18Z The first of my five weeks in Tokyo

I've completed the first of my five weeks in Tokyo and established a pattern for my days.

I wake up, have breakfast and then research the part of Tokyo that I will go to for the larger part of the day.

My room is at the top of the stairs

I usually decide this at random. A friend sent me a link to an article in the Qantas Travel Insider magazine that mentioned the names of a few destinations within Tokyo. I wouldn't normally rely on an airline magazine, and I didn't exactly pour over the article. But it put the place names into my head.

I properly settled into my room in Kichijoji on Tuesday. That was after spending Sunday and Monday in the home of a friend in a residential area in the outer suburbs.

Kichijoji is conveniently located about half an hour by train west from Tokyo Station. But I did not venture beyond the immediate neighbourhood on Tuesday and Wednesday. There was plenty to do here.

Inokashira Park

On Tuesday I wandered around the shops and walked in one direction. Unusually for me, I liked the shops and found the walk a bit boring. The buildings were all concrete blocks. Something you get a lot of in Japan. It made me feel very satisfied that my room is in a more traditional style wooden building of the type Australians would call a bungalow (my room is at the top of the stairs in the photo above).

The shop that most captivated me was Mont Bell, which is Japan's largest chain of stores selling outdoor clothing and equipment. A bit like Ray's Outdoors in Australia, with more style and lower prices. They now have one store in the Sydney CBD but with a limited range and higher prices.

Selfie-takers in Harajuki

On Wednesday I walked a different direction, into the vast Inokashira Park, about three minutes from south side of the train station. It's a bit like Sydney's Centennial Park, a green oasis in the middle of the city. I think I spent about three hours there.

On Thursday I went to Harajuki, which is known internationally as a centre of Japanese youth culture and fashion. I was interested to pick up on the kawaii 'cuteness' culture that I'd sampled on Tuesday evening at the restaurant in my building.

Harajuku fast food shop

Harajuki is actually divided in its appeal - to that teenage demographic and also an older young adult international fashion conscious crowd. I'd had enough kawaii before I arrived but I did like the fashion show a few streets away where most people walking the street were dressed in eye-catching attire that seemed more expressive of their personality rather than that of the mob (with the kawaii, it was the opposite).

On Friday it was a trip to 'old Tokyo' in the form of the pedestrian shopping street in the quiet Yanaka neighbourhood. An article in the Japan Times says that 'in Yanaka, you have the history, the tradition, the temples... without any of the self-consciousness you have in Kyoto... a city known for cultural preservation'.

Yanaka pedestrian shopping street

And finally, on Saturday I went to Rappongi, which, according to Travel Insider, had 'bars, clubs and other nightspots mak[ing] it a lively address when the sun goes down [although] many of its charms are – mercifully – of the quieter variety'.

I chose to go there during the daytime, and its charms were the large green open spaces and the sense that Tokyo is really a city of contrasts.

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tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1181966 2017-08-09T02:30:53Z 2017-08-09T03:59:44Z Kichijoji's late afternoon rainbow

After a cool start to my five weeks days in Tokyo, today's temperature is predicted to reach 39 degrees. That is closer to what I was expecting than the low 30s we've had in my first three days.

We have Typhoon Noru to thank for the largely pleasant cool breezes. It caused some destruction in other parts of the country but mostly missed Tokyo.

Kichojoji rainbow

I stayed with a friend in an outer suburban residential area for two nights. It's not true to say there was no damage, as he had his standing umbrella whisked from his balcony by the strong winds.

Yesterday he was preparing to suspend the operations of his business if the typhoon made it to Tokyo. But the weakening typhoon did not even produce much rain, let alone the promised deluge.

Back in my inner west base of Kichijoji, the big event was the appearance of a rainbow after a weak shower in the late afternoon. It managed to stop people in their tracks as they smiled and pointed and took photos with their smartphones.

Palazzo amusement centre Kichijoji

The magic and mystery of the rainbow is right at home in Kichijoji, which Wikipedia describes as 'youthful, artistic and slightly countercultural'. Kichijoji is a place where the imagination seems to dominate. It has topped the poll asking Japanese people where they would most like to live, every year since it began in 2004.

It is the home of the Ghibli Museum that showcases the work of one of the world's most famous animation studios. The museum is one of Japan's most popular tourist attractions, and the advice is to buy your tickets in your home country before you arrive. I tried that but missed out as it is fully booked until November.

Hattifnatt Restaurant

There's a reason that the animations capture the imagination of so many young people and adults in Japan and elsewhere. This week the ABC radio film program The Final Cut discussed it ahead of a set of Ghibli screenings later this month at the Australian Centre of the Moving Image in Melbourne (ACMI).

The ACMI curator Kirsty Matheson referred to the moments of sadness in the fantasy that make both young people and adults reflect on their own lives. 'Many of these films are tinged with these environments that are full of magic, gods and spirits, hidden places.'

Hattifnatt Restaurant interior

That helps me understand the kawaii cafe Hattifnatt that is located on the street level of the small wooden building that houses my airbnb room (green building above). Kawaii refers to the quality of cuteness in Japanese culture.

The architecture, decor and the food all draw from childhood storybooks. The front door is only 1.3 metres tall, so most adults need to stoop to gain entry. I dined there last night and enjoyed the experience, though the very sweet octopus dish that was dominated by ketchup and mayonnaise was not to my taste.


Links: ABC Hattifnatt]]>
tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1179885 2017-08-03T00:47:33Z 2017-08-06T00:27:56Z Did priests really support schoolboy lovers Tim and John?

I rewatched part of Remembering the Man on iview yesterday after it was screened on ABC2 on the weekend.

It is the 2015 documentary interpretation of the tragic love story of the Melbourne Catholic schoolboys Tim Conigrave and John Caleo. They fell in love at Xavier College in the 1970s and continued their same sex relationship for most of the time until they both died of AIDS in the early 1990s.

Remembering The Man poster

The documentary followed Tim Conigrave's highly successful memoir Holding the Man that was posthumously published in 1995. It was later dramatised on stage (2006 and subsequent productions) and in a feature film (2015). The novel developed a legendary status as one of the '100 Favourite Australian Books' of all time. It is also regarded as essential reading for young males exploring their sexuality.

It's of particular interest to me because Tim and John were in my class at school and all of the archival footage in the first part of the film brings back memories of my own school days.

I'm currently assessing my school days, in the lead up to the 40th anniversary dinner on 1 September. Because I have mixed feelings about my school days, I wasn't sure whether I wanted to be there. I'm relieved that the decision not to attend has been made for me by the date's clash with my forthcoming sojourn in Tokyo.

Xavier Public Schools athletics team c 1976

I was in their class, but I was not part of Tim and John's immediate circle of friends. I was privy to few of the details of what was going on. But I knew the context very well and understand what others with preconceived notions of Catholic education at the time find hard to believe.

That is how a same sex relationship could be implicitly supported by some of the religious teachers at the school and by an ostensibly homophobic sport focused peer group. One theory is that it was because the 'renaissance man' ethos of Jesuit education prevailed at this school. This was in practice, not just in theory, and among staff and students alike.

Of course that argument is contentious and simplistic. The open minded attitude of the Jesuits at the school has as much to do with post Vatican II liberalism and confusion, and the winds of change that challenged social norms in the years that followed the election of Gough Whitlam in 1972. There's also the unexplored question of whether the attitudes of the two Jesuits as depicted in the story represented what their Jesuit colleagues were thinking at the time. Probably not.

Remembering the Man reenactment - Priest discovers boy lovers in bed Oh morning boys

In my early days as editor of the Jesuit publication Eureka Street in 2006, I reviewed the first stage production of Holding the Man. I wrote in celebratory terms about what I saw as the school's implicit affirmation of the school boys' same sex relationship.

When I presented the article for approval, I was requested to make changes. This was because of continuing raw emotions on the part of John's family and the fact that my interpretation of the events - and that of the play - was regarded as contentious and possibly damaging to the reputations of individuals who were still around.

I would be interested to know how such an interpretation of events would be treated by the censor eleven years down the track. There's no doubt it will be talked about at the dinner on 1 September.


Links: iview trailer website Eureka]]>
tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1179160 2017-08-01T01:27:59Z 2017-08-01T01:27:59Z The 7150 nuns who declared Trumpcare a moral outrage

Yesterday a friend sent me a Washington Post opinion piece about 7150 'socially minded nuns' declaring Trumpcare a moral outrage.

The article was written by E.J. Dionne, who's well known to Australians because he's often interviewed on the ABC's Radio National.

The 7150 nuns who fought against Trumpcare - from the Washington Post

He praised the three Republican senators who thwarted Trump's plan to deprive millions of Americans of health coverage. But also mentioned the nuns' much less publicised intervention, which labelled the Senate GOP's core proposal 'the most harmful legislation for American families in our lifetimes'.

The nuns cited Pope Francis' insistence that 'health is not a consumer good, but a universal right, so access to health services cannot be a privilege'.

Dionne's point was not to argue that the nuns influenced the outcome, but that most people are not aware of how wrong religious stereotypes can be.

'This is important because religion and the political standing of believers are badly harmed by the reality that so many Americans associate faith exclusively with the conservative movement. Large numbers of young people are abandoning organised religion (and particularly Christianity) altogether. A key reason: They see it as deeply hostile to causes they embrace, notably the rights of gays and lesbians.'

It's not widely realised that some of the strongest arguments for marriage equality can be found in religious teaching about social justice. As Dionne points out, Pope Francis is insistent that the Church be associated with justice and mercy rather than cultural warfare.

I think that it can be argued that the Australian Catholic hierarchy's opposition to marriage equality is a hangover from the cultural warfare of the previous popes and that the position of the bishops is essentially out of step with the present pope.

Calls to rein in ABC and SBS - from The Australian

I believe that this and many other debates are wrongly characterised as being between secular and religious interests. Rather it's entrenched interests (such as big business) against ordinary people who rely on human rights promotion for their basic survival.

That's why the Murdoch press waged a successful campaign to discredit and remove the head of the Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs. Yesterday the issue they chose to give voice to was the call from commercial media chiefs to reign in the public service broadcasters ABC and SBS, which take human rights reporting seriously.

It's regrettable that a surprising number of people continue to believe that religious interests line up behind the conservative establishment against the so-called socialists of the left, who are thought to be godless.

The Catholic Bishops feed that perception when they demonise the Greens, usually for opposing their own institutional interests such as Catholic education. Even taking into account the Greens' positions on issues such as voluntary euthanasia, I would suggest that the Greens are far more in line with the teaching of Pope Francis and the Catholic Church than the conservative parties that most people instinctively link to religious positions.


Links: Dionne ABC/SBS]]>
tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1178757 2017-07-31T00:28:22Z 2017-07-31T12:47:16Z Pastor to Catholics disconnected from the Church

Today's Eureka Street article is about Catholics who take their faith seriously but don't go to church.

It mentions Pope Francis' non-judgmental distinction between those who 'take part in community worship and gather on the Lord's Day' and those 'who preserve a deep and sincere faith, expressing it in different ways, but seldom taking part in worship'.

The article's writer Kevin Liston identifies himself as part of the latter group and so do I.

Anna Kuceras Sydney Morning Herald photo of Father Peter Maher at St Josephs Newtown

During the 24 years I've lived in my inner Sydney street, I've maintained a sporadic but enduring connection with the local parish church, St Joseph's Newtown. Because I rarely attend mass, I occasionally check out what's going on by going to their 'Faithworks' blog. I did that this morning and made an unnerving discovery.

For a while I'd been preparing myself for the shock of the retirement Father Peter Maher, the parish priest for nearly all of my time living here. He told me last year that he'd found retirement accommodation in the suburb where he grew up. He's not old for a retired priest, but he's very measured in his approach to his commitments, and it was clear to me that he was about to make a sensible choice to retire.

I was nevertheless shocked to read in the blog the text of the homily at Peter's 'Thanksgiving Mass on Retirement' last Friday. I don't know why I was shocked. I think I was less shocked when the previous parish priest ended his tenure after he disappeared when the plane he was piloting went down over Bass Strait in 1995.

Even though I only saw him a couple of times a year, Peter was my ideal parish priest. Earlier this month, his comments in a Sydney Morning Herald article on Sydney's most godless suburbs confirmed my appreciation of his approach to the decline of religious practice in Australia. Non-judgmental and inclusive.

Losing Our Religion graphic from Sydney Morning Herald 2 July 2017

At St Joseph's Newtown, I felt as welcome as a non-regular as I would have if I was a weekly mass goer.

I remember deciding that Sunday Mass was not for me back in 1991 when the priest's homily at a church elsewhere in Sydney took a very judgmental attitude to women who chose to have an abortion.

I was keenly aware that Peter took exactly the opposite stance in his work as Chair of the Rachel's Vineyard post abortion ministry. This was just one of the 'programs promoting acceptance and diversity' for which his service was recognised with an OAM in the 2014 Australia Day honours. Another was the Friday evening mass he celebrated for the LGBTIQ group Acceptance.

As editor of Eureka Street, I would collaborate with him in his work as co-editor of the National Council of Priests quarterly magazine The Swag. But my favourite initiative of his was the InterPlay sessions he would conduct in the church on Saturday afternoons several times a year.

Father Peter Maher at Burkett Foundation Dinner 5 November 2017

InterPlay is a personal development movement, about movement of the body and its relationship with the mind. It has nothing to do with the Catholic Church or religion, and Peter's adversaries in the Church probably criticised him for conducting the sessions on church property and for being on the Board of its Sydney organisation. If you wanted to, you could describe it as godless.

Yet more than many other activities, I think it holds the key to the rebuilding of the Catholic Church after the sexual abuse crisis, in its promotion of a right relationship with the body. Its stated goal is to 'unlock the wisdom of the body... [to] enable you to find your creative power, collaborate with others, expand your personal awareness and discover your full potential'.


Links: Liston Faithworks Herald InterPlay

 

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tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1177908 2017-07-28T00:55:32Z 2017-07-28T00:55:32Z Digital disruption fails to diminish Camino pilgrimage

This morning I read two articles. One was about the prospect that software and artificial intelligence will disrupt most traditional industries and professions within the next few years. The other was about the eighty fold increase over the past three decades in the number of pilgrims travelling the various routes of the Camino to the city of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

Camino article from La Croix

The first is one of those presentations on disruption that itself sets out to disrupt the way people feel, think and act, and relate to each other. It has a deliberately scary title: 'Must read article on how our lives will change dramatically in 20 years'. It suggests that some people will have their way of life destroyed while others will benefit from access to new opportunities to improve their lives, especially in health and education.

What uber and airbnb have done to the taxi and hotel industries is just the beginning. Many lawyers and health professionals will lose their jobs as tools such as the IBM Watson natural language question answering computer system take told.

Must Read article on digital disruption

We'll have legal advice 'within seconds, with 90% accuracy compared with 70% accuracy when done by humans'. Meanwhile solar power will give us cheap electricity, and that will give us abundant water with desalination. Everybody on the planet will eventually have as much clean water as they want for nearly no cost.

The shift to reliance on software and artificial intelligence is largely a transition from the analogue to the digital world, probably the most dramatic change in the history of human civilisation.

But we're faced with a condundrum. Our problems are solved in a flash but our lives have become less satisfying because we are less tactile and grounded in the way we live.

Perhaps this has something to do with the statistic about the eighty fold increase in the number of Camino pilgrims. that I read in the article in La Croix International. In the digital age, spiritual quest and our continuing need to put 'boots on the ground' are still important for most people.

Camino pilgrims graph

What is most interesting to me is that only a third of the Camino pilgrims are doing it 'strictly for religious reasons'. That refers to observance of the Catholic rituals associated with the Way of St James that dates back to the Middle Ages.

I infer from this statistic that the two thirds majority have either a non-sectarian spiritual purpose, or they're using it as a digital detox, literally putting their boots on the ground.

This month the French and Spanish bishops issued a pastoral letter that expressed both their alarm at the Camino statistics' evidence pointing to dechristianisation, and excitement at the opportunity this represents to evangelise the non-believing pilgrims.

They want to 're-spiritualise' the journey by promoting a 'Christian' hospitality that is distinct from ordinary non-sectarian hospitality. I hope it leads to much conversation between believers and non-believers. Also market research on the part of the bishops, as they seek to find out why the Camino is relevant to the majority of the pilgrims but the Church is not.


Links: Camino disruption Wikipedia]]>
tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1177462 2017-07-27T00:28:16Z 2017-07-27T00:28:16Z Morbid fascination for the recently deceased

Yesterday I enjoyed Eureka Street's article about a writer exercising his 'morbid fascination for the recently deceased' by reading the death notices in the newspaper.

'[They] offer up the real inhabitants of our world - our neighbours and bosses, our friends and partners, our mothers, our fathers, our grandparents... These people are not the airbrushed celebrities, political blowhards or violent predators that often adorn the front pages.'

Sydney Morning Herald Death Notices

I have a similar morbid fascination. In today's Sydney Morning Herald death notices, I read about Barry. He was 'a unique man who faced life with positivity, determination and a smile that could light up a room'.

He will be 'greatly missed', but the notice promises that his family and friends will 'remember his wacky jokes, shaggy dog stories and universal theories'.

I wish that I too could enjoy some of Barry's jokes, stories and theories. But death notices don't go beyond the bare bones of the person's life. This kind of detail is shared only if the person is famous, and it's in the obituaries rather than the death notices.

SMH front page

Unusually today's obituary is on the front page because of its particular poignance. Its subject is not an airbrushed celebrity but the much loved blind Aboriginal singer Dr G Yunupingu, who died this week at the age of 46.

The obituary quotes a music critic's estimation that Yunupingu possessed 'the greatest voice this continent has ever recorded', one 'so beautiful and so emotion-laden that it invest[ed] every song with a passion and pathos which [were] quite overwhelming'.

In a way the complementarity of having both the paid death notices and the featured obituaries works well. Unfortunately, in terms of accessibility it does not fare well in the transition from its more intuitive presentation in print to obscurity in the now more significant online versions of the newspapers.

Sydney Morning Herald Obituaries

The death notices are very difficult to find, at least in the Sydney Morning Herald. You need to scroll to the bottom of the home page and click on 'Tributes' under 'Classifieds'. Sadly the message of this is that the deaths of ordinary people don't matter.

But the same can also be said for the lives of the famous that are written up in the obituaries. Curiously you need to click through to the 'Comment' section and go through to the second tier of the submenu there to find the 'Obituaries' link.

Worse than that, the obituaries page - headed 'Timelines' - no longer appears in the print edition every day. But only when there is space to fill. The Herald admitted as much to me when I called them a year or two ago to ask why they were not appearing every day as they had in the past. I was told they were not a priority: 'We don't always have space for the obituaries'.


Links: morbid notices obituaries]]>
tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1177102 2017-07-26T00:29:27Z 2017-07-26T00:29:27Z Escape from the time famine of modern life

This morning I was interested to read an article in The New Daily about time poverty. The headline was 'Money really can buy happiness, if spent on the right thing - time'.

It's based on a global study that found working adults reported greater happiness after spending money on time-saving rather than material purchases. It said this helped them escape the 'time famine of modern life'.

hourglass

I don't particularly like the idea that busy rich people can buy their way out of time poverty by employing servants. But it is good to hear it said that those who are chronically unemployed have the upper hand in time wealth, and that time wealth is a more likely path to happiness and well-being than material wealth.

The article quoted local experts, including Dr Melissa Weinberg of the Australian Centre on Quality of Life at Deakin University, who said the study is not about saving time, but the freedom to choose how we use our time.

'Time is a precious resource and the busier we are, the more valuable our time becomes, so it's important we feel that we are in control of how we spend the time we have.'

The implication is that those who are materially poor but time rich could develop a greater sense of self worth and empowerment, and make good use of the freedom they have to choose.

IMG_20170719_054540

They might say that they can't do anything without money, and that is true in relative terms. I would not like to see these ideas about time poverty used to excuse government policies that are increasing material inequality.

But there are many life-affirming activities that do not require us to be cashed up. Such as spending time with family and friends, reading books from the local library, and bushwalking. Even study. Most people with primary degrees are not aware that Australian universities don't charge fees for post-graduate research degrees.

People who are time poor simply don't have time to read and study, and there is a huge opportunity cost in that in terms of their total well being.

Kichijoji airbnb in Tokyo

Two years ago I retired at the age of 55 because I valued my time more than the wage and diminishing satisfaction that I was getting out of remaining in a job I'd been in for ten years.

I've chosen to use the time to get fit and to travel. I've found simple ways to do these things, so that I enjoy doing them for longer periods of time at less cost. That's why I'm leaving next week to spend five weeks living in Tokyo renting very basic airbnb accommodation that most people would look down on (pictured).

The material values of our society have conditioned us to think that we can't do anything without money, but the truth is that we can't do anything without time.


Links: New Daily study]]>
tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1176741 2017-07-25T00:37:44Z 2017-07-25T02:38:01Z My new best friend

For years I've had patchy wifi internet coverage in my long narrow inner city terrace house.

The connection with the Optus cable is at the front. It is very fast, usually between 60 and 100 mbps. That's faster than I'll get when the NBN arrives. I consider myself very lucky.

However by the time the wifi signal gets to my living room at the back, my connection has been very weak, often as low as 2 mbps and therefore practically unusable. I've tried various gadgets to try to strengthen the signal but none of them has worked. Until now.

Google Wifi

Last week I read about Google Wifi, a small round white box which was being released in Australia on Thursday. At first I was skeptical and did not pay much attention. But I was passing by Officeworks and thought that I would take it home to see if it worked.

It turned out that it was as easy to set up as they said in the advertising and it worked spectacularly. I now have between 60 and 100 mbps in every part of my house. I was so impressed that I went out and bought the other Google product that was released on Thursday, the Google Home speaker.

That is Google's equivalent to Apple's Siri personal assistant, in the form of a neat cylindrical box. She doesn't have a name but I suspect she's even better at her job. She has an Australian accent and can readily understand mine.

She's there on the shelf beside my bed, to answer questions and to play music and other content from the radio and from streaming services such as Spotify. If I ask her, she'll even turn on my wifi enabled Philips Hue lights.

Google Home

Hey Google! What's the average temperature in Tokyo in August? Do I need a visa to enter Japan? How do I get from Narita airport to the city? What's the population of Tokyo? How bad is Tokyo's air pollution?

Just as Google's wifi signal makes it into every crevice of my oddly proportioned house, it seems its helpful assistant gets into every corner of my life. She's there, paying attention to my every sound and utterance, in order to help me live my life.

But I'm not the only one she's helping. If I open the Google Home app on my phone, I can see a transcript of everything I've said to her. That's a reminder of what she knows about me. Moreover what she knows, so do her real human colleagues at Google and whoever they choose to pass my details on to.

So Google heaven is not necessarily the heaven where I'd like to be. My privacy is up for grabs, and so is my independence and natural human resourcefulness.

But Google's goodies are part of the convenience of modern life. Few people will say no to things that appear to make their life easier. Including me.

I won't be breaking up with the Google assistant anytime soon. But I have discovered a command that can deliver a surprisingly pleasing result: 'Hey Google! Can you give me silence'.

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tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1176403 2017-07-24T00:38:56Z 2017-07-24T07:32:35Z Feeling comfortable in the clothes I wear

I'm always fascinated by comparisons between Sydney and Melbourne. On the weekend I came across an observation about men's street fashion, from blogger Giuseppe Santamaria.

'Melbourne is a lot more experimental, more artsy - its arts culture is reflected in the people who live there, and how they express themselves. They take more risks. Whereas in Sydney, you see more of the trends.'

Giuseppe Santamaria photo from Men in this Town blog

Wherever we live, the clothes we choose to wear are a form of self expression. They say a lot about our values and who we are.

I don't wear suits. I bought an Aldi suit about ten years ago for a particular occasion. I wore it just once or twice before discarding it when I was culling my wardrobe. My previous suit had been bought for me by my mother in the 1980s. I discarded it only a couple of years ago, and surprisingly it still fitted me.

Nor do I wear ties. I bought one from an op shop for an event in 2012, and I have only one or two others in my wardrobe that date from the 1980s.

Occasionally I receive invitations to functions that my old school holds in Sydney. I always rule out attending because it is compulsory to wear a lounge suit.

Giuseppe Santamaria photo from Men in this Town blog

I don't own a lounge suit and feel strongly that I would not want to buy one for a function like this. Moreover I think the particular dress requirement is a sign that I don't belong there.

That is something I used to resent. But now I think it's just a sign of who I am, or who I have become. I have moved on from the cultural norms of my old school, even though I respect those who still feel at home with them.

Dress is perhaps our clearest and most socially apt form of self-expression. If I wear clothes that I feel I do not feel comfortable in, it is self-censorship rather than self-expression.

In the past I've paid little attention to what I've worn. Fundamentally I've been risk averse and timid (that in itself has made a powerful if unintentional statement). But as I've moved towards a greater degree of self-possession, I've begun to make more deliberate and striking choices. I'm less reliant on comments and advice from friends.

My choices are in the interest of uninhibited personal definition more than style or fashion. I'm proud of having lost weight, so I tend to wear skimpy clothes to show that off. I also wear Icebreaker merino clothes that rarely need washing, for environmental reasons and also practicality when I travel.

Giuseppe Santamaria photo from Men in this Town blog

I like bright colours, but I'm only beginning to pay attention to aesthetic and ornament in the way that I dress. I've never ever worn jewellery, and haven't even considered how such details as belt buckles and the style of my watch can influence how I feel about myself.

But I was interested to browse through the photos of Giuseppe Santamaria in his blog Men In This Town, which I've copied here. Inspired by the New York Times' unassuming longtime street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham, who died last year, he is a street photographer who steals photos of male passers by whose dress attracts his attention.


Links: comparison blog Cunningham]]>
tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1175640 2017-07-20T23:20:10Z 2017-07-20T23:20:10Z Aboriginal strange creatures in museum's photo studio exhibit

On Tuesday I had a few hours to fill around the South Bank cultural precinct in Brisbane.

A few days earlier I had walked past the Queensland Museum. I was not interested in the current exhibition Gladiators: Heroes of the Colosseum, which I assumed was there to attract the attention of school children, particularly boys.

I had just decided against paying to see Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe comic superheroes exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), which was seemingly presented to lure fans of popular culture.

Dina with Nina and Bert Cameron Moray Downs

On Tuesday I walked inside the Museum, hoping that I would find something else that would appeal to my particular interests. But no, it was mostly ancient and natural history.

There was the Lost Creatures exhibition. 'Meet strange creatures, including our very own dinosaurs, giant marine reptiles and megafauna, and marvel at the diversity and immense size of creatures from our prehistoric past.'

I challenged myself to specify exactly what it was that I wanted to see. What came to mind was social history. So I sought out the attendant, asking her if there was any social history in the museum.

She could understand exactly what I was asking and I had the sense that her taste corresponded much more with mine than that of the school age majority clientele. She said that regrettably there was almost no social history at the museum, except a few 'leftovers' from past exhibitions.

Man and woman with dead kangaroo inside a photo studio Grafton c1873

This was what I was looking for, particularly the fragments from the well received 1991 show Portraits of our Elders. It was a collection of photographic studio portraits of Aboriginal people from the late 19th and early 20th century. It was intended to demonstrate the shift from awkward and patronising depictions of 'exotic' or 'noble savage' types - a variation on the strange creatures in the natural history exhibits - to confident poses of indigenous people more in command of the situation.

There is one photo in the original collection of an Aboriginal man and woman with a dead kangaroo that was taken inside a studio in Grafton around 1873.

The most memorable print in the selection I saw was the portrait of Katie, Lilly and Clara Williams, the three aunties of curator Michael Aird's grandfather. They inspired him to create the exhibition: 'I was struck by the photograph; the beauty of my grandfather's aunties, and the confidence they demonstrated'.

Katie Lilly and Clara Williams

The well-dressed, confident Aboriginal men and women walking into studios as paying customers was set in contrast to the bare-breasted Rosie Campbell of Stradbroke Island. Aird wrote in the exhibition's book of the more dignified covered version of Rosie in photos he saw when he visited the homes of her grandchildren on Stradbroke Island.

'Not only is she fully clothed in the photographs held by her relatives, but the families have much information and many personal memories of Rosie as a person. Among the numerous photographs the family has of Rosie from the same era in which she posed bare-breasted is one of her fully clothed in the same studio setting.'

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tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1174228 2017-07-17T02:10:01Z 2017-07-17T02:10:01Z A mid-winter visit to Brisbane

I'm most of the way through my week's stay in Brisbane. My purpose is to catch up with friends and cousins, to enjoy the 24 and 25 degree mid-winter temperatures and to become more familiar with a part of Australia that is thriving culturally and economically.

Mt Coot-tha Forest

I've slowed down much more than I normally do when I travel. In this respect, last Wednesday's relaxing 16 hour train journey from Sydney set the tone. Then there's the digital detox effect of staying in a house with no internet access.

I've been able to go online only briefly by using mobile phone data, which is not a bad thing. I've walked in the nearby bushland at Mt Coot-tha, listened to the radio and read books. Most of all, I've appreciated the cluster of cultural institutions at South Bank and the nearby inner city ambience at West End, which is Brisbane's answer to my own home ground of Newtown in Sydney.

Queenslander homes

Being a frequent traveller, I naturally gravitated towards the Travellers temporary exhibition at the Queensland Art Gallery. The words at the entrance described well the experience and purpose of travel as I see it:

'Travel can capture the imagination, liberating us from the confines of the familiar... By exploring and learning more of others, near and far, a traveller might come to know themselves better'.

A theme of my travel at present is varying the speed. In other circumstances I might 'do' Brisbane in two or three days. This time I'm spending a full week here. In my two previous visits to Tokyo, I've given it just a few days. Next month I'm going there for five weeks, choosing to stay in the one location.

Jeffrey Smart The Reservoir Centennial Park 1988

At the entrance to the Travellers exhibition there's a Jeffrey Smart painting that contrasts the swift strides of two runners with the laboured steps of a woman carrying a bag. It's presented as a reflection 'on the different speeds at which we navigate modern life'.

The others whose lives I've learned more of during this trip to Brisbane include my cousins and their children, and my host. He's a friend whom I hadn't seen since I we lived in the same house 30 years ago. We've both faced various challenges and grown older and wiser and more seasoned professionally.

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tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1172307 2017-07-11T00:31:09Z 2017-07-11T00:31:09Z What we don't want to know about the Frontier Wars

When I was studying Australian history at Melbourne University in the 1980s, the now legendary Professor Henry Reynolds had just published his landmark book on the Frontier Wars.

The book was titled The Other Side of the Frontier: Aboriginal Resistance to the European invasion of Australia. It was the most thorough attempt by a professional historian to document and interpret the massacres that led to the deaths of many tens of thousands of indigenous Australians at the hands of British colonists in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Cover of Henry Reynolds The Other Side of the Frontier

It precipitated the politicisation of history in what became known as the 'history wars' of the 2000s.

On the other side of the argument was Professor Keith Windschuttle, whose book The Fabrication of Aboriginal History was discredited by a significant number of other scholars. This did not prevent his lionisation by conservative politicians during the Howard era, who subsequently gave him cultural approbation by appointing him to the ABC Board.

What was effectively an officially sanctioned minimisation of the Frontier Wars coincided with their non-recognition by the Australian War Memorial. Correspondingly the fading Anzac legend was rejuvenated and promoted by conservative politicians beginning in the the Howard era and lasting to the present day.

Scholars including those represented in the Honest History coalition have continued to call attention to this misrepresentation of history. Earlier this month, media attention was given to work on the mapping of massacres of Aboriginal Australians by Professor Lyndall Ryan of the University of Newcastle.

Frontier Massacres Map

In view of the Australian War Memorial's continuing non-recognition of the Frontier Wars, I have speculated on whether it is valid to make comparsions between our refusal to talk about the Frontier Wars and the Turkish Government's denial of the Armenian Genocide.

As I travel around the countryside, I often wonder about the indigenous people's dispossession of their lands and the fact that the while locals don't seem to know anything about it. Many towns have museums where you will see agricultural implements from the 19th century but no evidence of indigenous occupation and dispossession, violent or otherwise.

When I was growing up, I would reflect on what our farm in north-eastern Victoria would have been like before the white settlers came to clear the land and 'open it up' for productive farming. We were never told anything about Aboriginal dispossession or massacres.

I notice a yellow dot on Lyndall Ryan's map representing a massacre at Thologolong, which is about 70 kilometres by road from our farm.

DJ Duggan Illuminated Manuscript 1894

There is no yellow dot on the map at Bandiana, the location of our farm. But I would like to know what kind of hostility there was towards Aboriginies that would have driven them away from the land which became our family's farm between 1935 and 1975.

On a wall in my house in Sydney, I have an illuminated address given to my great grandfather D.J. Duggan when he was leaving the north central Victorian town of Tarnagulla in 1894 to relocate to Melbourne. He would subsequently become a politician and hold the office of Minister for Lands in the Victorian colonial government at the time of Federation.

My mother would tell me that he held that position, but I never understood what it involved. I imagine the duties would have included upholding an official policy that would have not have supported Aboriginies remaining on their lands.


Links: Reynolds mapping Honest History]]>
tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1172077 2017-07-10T05:42:55Z 2017-07-10T05:42:55Z Exhibition combines the erotic with the spinsterly

Last week I passed a very satisfying hour and a half viewing the O'Keeffe, Preston, Cossington Smith: Making Modernism exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW.

Margaret Preston Self Portrait 1930

In going, I was a bit half hearted, as I thought I'd seen enough of Margaret Preston and Grace Cossington Smith in the past. They're both well known women artists from the first half of the 20th Century who spent most of their time on Sydney's North Shore.

As for their US contemporary Georgia O'Keefe, I'd never heard of her. Such is my ignorance. The Sydney Morning Herald art critic John McDonald says she's one of the most famous female artists of all time, with an auction record of $US44.4 million for a flower painting.

Not that he thinks much of her. He finds her 'mechanical and deliberate' touch 'unexciting', with there being 'something so drab' about exhibition itself.

Georgia OKeeffe Blue Line 1919

A few other grumpy critics are unimpressed with the show. The Australian's Christopher Allen dismisses Preston and Cossington Smith as 'minor' and O'Keeffe as 'niche'.

But he struck a chord with me when he praised O'Keefe's 'erotic vitality' in contrast to 'the rather spinsterly sensibility of the two Australians'.

Georgia OKeeffe Pink and Green 1960

I went into the exhibition before reading this but instantly recognised and appreciated the magnetic eroticism in the shapes in her paintings.

I also found pleasing familiarity with the arid rocky New Mexico landscapes, which I'd fallen in love with when I did a road trip through that rocky and arid part of the US in 2003.

I think Allen means 'spinsterly sensibility' as a put down. But that's what I liked about Preston and Cossington Smith.

Grace Cossington Smith The Curve of the Bridge 1928-29

Their works were at the same time ordinary and elevated. Still paintings that had a certain 'otherness' about them that evoked the old Australian monoculturalism of Mosman and Turramurra and other parts of the North Shore.

I was keenly aware that they were painting there during the 1930-35 period during which my father's family sold their farm in north-eastern Victoria and relocated to Mosman, witnessing events such as the completion of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.


Links: AGNSW McDonald Allen]]>
tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1171184 2017-07-07T00:17:13Z 2017-07-07T07:50:33Z Taking control of life through bodybuilding

Last night I watched Destination Arnold, a documentary about indigenous woman bodybuilders Tash and Kylene. It was on ABC iview after having been screened earlier in the week on ABC2 and before that at several film festivals.

Still from Destination Arnold

It's a warm, entertaining and completely unpretentious film about setting goals, personal empowerment and overcoming trauma.

Kylene is a mother of three who is picking up the pieces of her life after having lived with a violent partner who once broke her jaw.

'They make you feel like you need them, and in all honesty, you don't. You just need yourself to pick yourself up.'

The two women are working to make it to the Arnolds, an invitation-only bodybuilding competition being held in Australia for the first time. It was a far cry from excess eating as a child.

With Arnold

'Here I was, a fat kid. I thought I could never do that. Now I am doing that.'

In many ways it parallels my own experience of overturning poor body image. In recent years I have discovered the relationship between a healthy body and a healthy mind as the secret of good self esteem and quality of life.

I was a fat child. Then as a younger adult, I was quite doctrinaire and counter-cultural in my outlook, as I associated attention to body image with the excesses of the consumer society. Lack of attention to the shape of my body and the clothes I wore represented the particular virtuous statement I wanted to make to the world.

Still from Destination Arnold

Now I lift (lesser) weights at the gym most days, but the particular goal that I've proudly managed to achieve and maintain for nearly two years is normal weight and double the recommended number of steps. I have no ambition to make it to the Arnolds.

Mostly what I would like to take from these two inspiring women is their cheerful and honest spontaneity in the way they frequently stumble but always manage to pick themselves up. They don't think too much about what they want to say and do. They just act.

There's also the self-knowledge and the ability to challenge each other. When Tash gets close to dropping out, Kylene tells her exactly what she thinks. Tash knows her weakness for Nutella ('Nutella I love you') and struggles to keep it under control. But in the end she does.


Links: iview Destination Arnold]]>
tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1170834 2017-07-06T00:23:33Z 2017-07-06T00:23:33Z The rudeness contagion

In a few weeks I will celebrate my fifth anniversary of not owning a car. One thing I don't miss is rude drivers.

Sometimes I'd be driving on a narrow country road at what I considered a safe speed. Impatient drivers would come up behind me and flash their lights aggressively.

I had two reactions. I might meet rudeness with rudeness and slow down to annoy the other driver. Or I would just pull over when I could and let them pass.

Cover of I Cant Believe You Just Said That The truth about why people are SO rude by Danny Wallace

Rudeness is a contagion. You need to go out of your way to short circuit it or it will eventually destroy your relationships and spoil your quality of life.

If you've experienced or witnessed rudeness, you're more likely to be rude yourself. According to British author and comedian Danny Glover, 'rudeness gets into your brain, it makes you less creative, less able to cope with situations'.

Last week I listened to Glover on a podcast speaking about his new book on what he calls the 'new rudeness' - I Can't Believe You Just Said That: The truth about why people are SO rude.

Are you rude

It is a serious issue at the moment because the most powerful man in the world has successfully made a virtue out of rudeness. He's setting a tone that other leaders including our own are following. It's not just everywhere in the Murdoch press, it's right through the policies of our Federal Government.

Glover says: 'Stupid people think yes I can be rude. Because that guy's being refreshing. He's being politically incorrect. He's saying whatever he wants. If he can do it, I can.'

He addresses the trend to put down political correctness.

'It's not something to be frowned upon. It's a system developed to protect people. People in a vulnerable situation, minorities, from not having people in positions of power run their mouth off and do them down and make them victims.'

Comedian Danny Wallace

He says it goes hand with people who disparage so-called do gooders.

He describes the positive community spirit that caused Britons to rally around victims of recent acts of terror in the UK.

'What would you rather have? Do nothings? Do badders?'


Links: podcast book]]>
tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1170444 2017-07-04T23:20:07Z 2017-07-04T23:20:07Z ABC set to remove punch from religious programs

The Australian newspaper is always looking for an excuse to attack the ABC. But it is on more solid ground than usual this week, with articles yesterday and today criticising moves by management to replace the specialist editor for religion and ethics Jane Jeffes with a non-specialist.

Specialisation is what gives public service broadcasters their punch. It distinguishes their output from the infotainment programming of their rivals, at least by degree.

ABC Religion cuts from The Australian

Specialists are equipped to go beneath the surface and give the public an understanding of issues they would not otherwise get. For instance how to distinguish Muslim fundamentalists from those who are simply trying to live their faith in the Australian community and maintain their heritage.

ABC management has been trying to kill its religion specialisation for at least three decades. I remember battles from my own time there, when I worked in ABC religious radio for four years from 1988. There was a familiar pattern in which religious programs were threatened, church and other religious leaders would vent their outrage, and there was subsequently a reduction in the scale of planned cuts.

Can that happen again this time? Probably not.

With the sexual abuse scandals and the recent Census statistics charting a significant rise in the number of non-religious Australians, church and other religious leaders don't have the authority they once had.

However ABC management would be doing Australians a disservice if it exploited this as an opportunity to kill specialist religious programs. For the religious unit services non-religious 'searching' Australians as much as it does those who are formally religious.

It is been doing this for years. In 1987, the visionary head of the religion Dr David Millikan commissioned Caroline Jones to present the radio program The Search for Meaning.

It was a departure from traditional religious programming that had a wider impact. After it ended in 1994, Caroline was invited back to ABC TV to help foster a reflective, values-based approach to news and current affairs programming in the long-running Australian Story.

This more inclusive style was also evident some time ago in the coupling of religion and ethics in the brief, and formal designation, of the 'religious' programming genre.

While the article in The Australian seems to suggest that this represents a weakening of the religious programming strand, I believe the opposite is true. Indeed the study of philosophy and ethics was an integral part of my Jesuit religious training, as it is in other Catholic and some Anglican traditions.

The idea is that it helps to remove religion from the religious ghetto. The participation and leadership of specialists ensures that there is an informed conversation between religious and non-religious Australians. That is why the ABC needs a specialist to oversee its programs in this area.


Link: yesterday today]]>
tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1169807 2017-07-03T00:02:44Z 2017-07-03T11:07:08Z Subverting celebrity worship

One of my family's treasures that has been passed through the generations is a set of two watercolour miniatures of my progenitors. They were painted by an itinerant artist on the Victorian goldfields soon after their arrival in Australia from Ireland in the 1850s.

I was reminded of these miniatures on Saturday when I visited the Dempsey's People exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra.

Little John the Colchester lunatic c 1823

The mostly watercolour images of British street people were painted by itinerant artist John Dempsey during the first half of the 19th century. It was the era before photography put itinerant artists out of business.

As the exhibition notes put it, they were 'the real-life models of the proletarian grotesques in Charles Dickens' novels... the kind of people who came to Australia as convicts and as free settlers during the early colonial period'.

The Ayrshire hermit

It is rare and refreshing to see portraits of people from the 18th and 19th centuries who were not the wealthy and influential celebrities of their day. It seems that it was almost an act of subversion to paint street people in a style that made them look as dignified as the nobles and rich merchants that dominate the National Portrait Gallery in London.

In particular I appreciated the paintings of the Ayrshire hermit, the Durham beggar, 'Little John' the Colchester lunatic, the maniac, and the old soldier from Salisbury. Each of them was painted in a way that made them stand tall, not reflecting the crushed demeanour and self-image that you would expect from their lowly circumstance and class. The stigma of the descriptors, lacking modern day political correctness, was turned on its head.

The old soldier from Salisbury

I was interested to read about 'old soldiers' in the notes about the exhibition. After the final defeat of Napoleon, the troops flooded home to an undeservedly less than rapturous welcome. The Duke of Wellington described them as the 'scum of the earth'. There was little work and few prospects for them in the towns and villages, where the derelict Old Soldier become a familiar figure.

This came home to me yesterday when I was talking to an incapacitated former Australian soldier who had been wounded in Afghanistan. It seems that the scant regard for 'old soldiers' is still a reality in our time. I think this applies generally to the way marginalised and dispossessed people in our community are stigmatised and represented adversely in the portraits painted by our celebrity dominated media, and - consequently - in our own attitudes.


Link: Dempsey's People]]>