tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:/posts MICHAEL MULLINS' TINY LETTER 2018-02-18T22:25:07Z tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1249670 2018-02-18T22:25:07Z 2018-02-18T22:25:07Z The real scandal is Joyce's schooling

One of the friends I caught up with at the weekend is a therapist who has just published a book titled Kind Man, Strong Man. 

I bought it for my Kindle and read much of it last night. It is about violence in men towards their intimate female partners. The author – Eric Hudson – worked for five years providing emotional support at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

From my reading, his book is about attitudes and values that contribute to a society in which women are not respected or treated as equals. The question of physical violence is often irrelevant.

Hudson says: ‘I remember so clearly the moment when a woman said to me, “You know, he has never hit me, never laid a hand on me, but there are some times when I wish he would hit me! Because then I would have the bruises on the outside where they can be seen, not on the inside where no-one can see them.”’

The recent commentary about Barnaby Joyce that has resonated most with me has centred around the words ‘power imbalance’. It suggests – rightly or wrongly – that we are dealing with male abuse. In other words, the circumstances in a man’s life where all the women are not respected or treated as equals to men.

I don’t think it is helpful to judge Barnaby, especially in the way the prime minister Malcolm Turnbull did on Thursday. It’s better to focus on a critique of the culture. 

We can hope that Barnaby and other influential men will see the reality of how they treat women and act for change. There’s no point in provoking them to try to defend the indefensible.

It is true that Barnaby’s personal choices appear to have caused immense suffering in the lives of the women in his life. But because he is the product of a culture that has little respect for women, the odds are that his actions will reflect that. 

I would say that it’s not an exaggeration to suggest that he was schooled to treat women as second class citizens. 

It was the same for me. He was a country kid in an all male Jesuit boarding school, St Ignatius College Riverview in Sydney. Just a few years earlier, I was a country kid in another all male Jesuit boarding school, Xavier in Melbourne. For months at a time, we did not have girls around us to relate to as fellow human beings and equals. 

Girls were always on our minds, as sex objects. It is not surprising that boys from similar schools graduate to institutions like the infamous St John’s College at the University of Sydney, where the ritual humiliation and abuse of women and less macho men was not questioned until recently. That is the real scandal.

Joyce’s leadership of the Nationals may be no longer tenable, and the Nationals are having to deal with that. But the best thing our political class can do for the long term is to make laws that foster respect for women.


LINK: Kind Man, Strong Man

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tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1241175 2018-02-01T03:48:46Z 2018-02-01T08:50:18Z The mission of a bank nerd

I think I'm what you would call a bank nerd. I count the number of accounts I have rather than the amount of money they contain. There's no doubt that the accounts count produces a more remarkable figure.

I have accounts with twelve banks in Australia and one in France. I am proud of the fact that I avoid fees in all but my French account and that I have the best ongoing savings interest rates on the market.

It's something I learned from my father. I remember he shopped around for the best deals and switched his business from the Bank of NSW (now Westpac) to CBC (NAB) at a time when most families were loyal to the one bank for generations.

He encouraged us to save our pocket money and to invest in a quasi-bank that was known as a Permanent Building Society, which offered seven per cent interest. Then he got us to switch to another that offered nine.

I'm thinking about this because yesterday one of my banks - ING - informed its customers that we would need to make at least five transactions per month on our debit cards in order to keep our currently high 2.79 per cent interest rate.

I exercised my mind and found a solution to that one. But I'm still coming to terms with the ethics and practical challenges posed by Citibank's changes to its credit card rewards program.

Citi's rewards now direct its clients towards its 'partner' merchants. Before the changes, certain cards earned one point for every dollar spent anywhere. Now there's one point if they shop at Coles or Woolworths and zero points if they shop at IGA.

I sometimes wonder whether such nerd - or maven - behaviour enhances the personal wellbeing of the nerd, or of society in general.

I think it does. Because some of us are more demanding of businesses, they are kept on their toes and are less likely to exploit the non-nerds. If everybody was a bank nerd, the banking royal commission would not be necessary.

I have been trying to convince a friend to stop paying ANZ the $5 a month fee for a basic account and switch to an account elsewhere that offers interest and no fee. But he just laughs and tells me to get a life.

The problem is that dismissing the need to be more engaged in our consumer behaviour plays into the hands of greedy businesses, especially those that are prepared to behave unscrupulously.

Many banking customers get a much worse deal than my friend when the self-interest of their trusted financial advisors causes them to accept bad advice that is destined to cause them financial pain down the track and diminish their personal wellbeing.

I know what it's like to be overwhelmed by all the choices we have as consumers. I have no interest in studying the detail of either home and contents or health insurance products. As a result, I pay a lot of money for insurance that undoubtedly serves the needs of the companies much better than it does mine.

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tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1238055 2018-01-26T01:51:13Z 2018-01-26T01:51:13Z What happened to my Australian accent

I spent the summer of 1983-84 in the Philippines. During this time I fell in love with the Philippines and its people and felt ashamed to be Australian.

I can't remember exactly why I was ashamed, but I think it had something to do with Australia's misplaced sense of superiority in South East Asia. It was the era in which Singapore's prime minister Lee Kuan Yew felt he had to warn Australians that we were in danger of becoming the 'white trash' of Asia.

I decided that I did not like the Australian accent because it reflected this ugliness, which we ourselves did not seem to be aware of.

Not entirely tongue in cheek, I worked to modify my spoken English. I wanted a neutral accent that would ensure I was not immediately recognisable as Australian. When overseas these days, I still get told that I don't sound Australian.

After three and a half decades, my shame is not what it was. But I am keenly aware that every week there are new reasons for me to feel even more ashamed. A few days ago it was news of the planned overhaul of Australia's national security laws that could lead to journalists being jailed for doing their jobs.

Indeed if there is such a thing as an international shame index, Australia would have to be much more prominent today than it was in the 1980s. We are punching below our weight in so many areas. Examples include the promotion of human rights and acting to mitigate the effects of climate change.

I tell myself that Australia is a work in progress and that for every step backwards there is arguably a step forward.

We had Paul Keating's 1994 Redfern speech on the treatment of Indigenous Australians, which was broadly accepted by the general population. It gave us a lasting sense of national contrition that led to the 2008 Apology.

Now we have genuine and widespread criticism of the Australia Day celebration as inappropriate because it represents invasion and the beginning of annihilation for the first Australians. The celebration is on the nose to the extent that the online advertising and marketing website Mumbrella is warning brands that they should not risk damage by endorsing Australia Day.

I'm not against Australia Day, as long as it evolves to include an element of contrition alongside the self-congratulation. Shame is not a bad thing, to the extent that it acts as a reality check. And it could even bring the nation together.

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tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1233466 2018-01-17T19:58:45Z 2018-01-17T19:58:46Z Actual slow travel is better than watching a long train journey on TV

In recent weeks we've seen the surprising success of SBS TV's experimentation with the Slow TV genre. They've screened three and 17 hour versions of their documentary on The Ghan rail journey from Adelaide to Darwin.

The three hour 'director's cut'  was the station's highest rating program for the past year. The popularity of the three hours was such that they broadcast the 17 hour version the following weekend. Perhaps they will even try for 54 hours, which is the actual length of the journey.

But it's one thing to watch a long slow train journey on TV, and another to actually do it.

About this time last year, I was at Strathfield station in Sydney and saw an ad for NSW Trains Discovery Pass. I bought one the next day.

For $550 first class and $420 economy, the ticket allows six months travel on NSW country trains and buses that travel north to Brisbane, west to Broken Hill and south as far as Melbourne. I did one trip from Sydney to Brisbane, one from Sydney to the Gold Coast hinterland, one to Albury, and about four day trips to Canberra.

Friends thought I was a bit odd. Most people write off long distance rail travel in Australia because it's 'too slow'. But for me, slow is the best way to go if I can make the time to do it.

I think most people can if they really want to and make it a priority. Those who say they don't have the time to do such things probably pack too much into their busy lives and can't see the wood for the trees. They're the people who don't have the time to read novels.

Those who only have time for travel by air, or fast trains overseas, will never get to take in the meditative experience of the gradual change of landscape and vegetation over many hours and days. For me it is the equivalent of a religious retreat, and Australia's lack of enterprise in not building fast trains can be construed as a virtue.

Slow travel can also take the form of a long drive.

I discovered that it awakened something deep inside of me in 2003 when I drove from the east to the west coast of Australia. I had always wanted to do it because it's a thing many Australians 'must' do once in their life, just as Muslims go to Mecca.

The drive across Australia was such a peak experience for me that six months later I was off on a driving holiday through the wide open spaces of the USA.

I flew into San Jose and drove through the California Desert and along the old Route 66 to the Texas pan handle. I then went north towards Wyoming and Montana before returning to San Jose from Washington state close to the west coast. Around 9000 kilometres.

I also enjoy very long distance slow bus trips. In 2015, I took a bus for 25 hours through the windswept terrain in southern Peru between Lima and the Chilean border town of Arica. Then a day or so later I travelled in another bus for around 32 hours, through the Atacama desert - the world's driest - to the city of Valparaiso, not far from the capital Santiago.

Of course I do 'drop in' travel as well. But there's nothing like taking lots of time to reach a destination. Or not having a destination at all, which was actually the case when I set out from Albury for my 2003 road trip that ended up taking me as far as Meekatharra in Western Australia.

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tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1218590 2017-12-18T20:43:29Z 2017-12-18T20:43:30Z Who really killed confession?

Amidst the negative publicity the Sacrament of Confession received after last Friday's release of the Child Abuse Royal Commission final report, one positive moment stood out for me.

It was the religious broadcaster Noel Debien making a personal allusion on Friday evening on ABCTV's The Drum discussion panel. He 'outed' himself as a practising Catholic who goes to Confession.

He was suggesting that his practice of the faith, including Confession, was a means of enrichment in his life. That struck a chord with me and I felt that I too would like to go to Confession when the opportunity presents itself. But on my own terms.

I think that most Catholics have stayed away from Confession for decades because the thought of it has made them feel small and unworthy. Good on them.

It's not dissimilar to the dynamic of sexual abuse, which made its victims feel small. It is part of what critics of the Church see as a power play that is designed to tighten the screws of the institution's psychological grip on its faithful.

But it needn't be the Church at its worst. Confession can offer a pathway to wholeness and growth. 'I can and want to be a better person.' Who does not have that aspiration in their life?

The good news is that ethical and moral virtue is within our grasp.

I felt this yesterday during a phone call with a friend who is a spiritual mentor in another context of my life. We were discussing the Royal Commission report and Confession and my sense of how cathartic it can be when done right.

As if to demonstrate my point, I mentioned some of my actions from last week that I wasn't particularly proud of. I manifest them to him and owned them. Then, right on cue, I felt I'd taken a step up the ladder towards virtue nirvana. I'd become more whole as a person.

I questioned why the Church cannot seem to give us that experience.

After Vatican II, it was on the right track when it renamed Confession the 'Sacrament of Reconciliation'. It was as if it was offering us our own personal truth and reconciliation commission. The kind of thing they have when they want to right wrongs and make a fresh start in countries where there have been human rights abuses.

Then came the pullback of the John Paul II and Benedict XVI papacies. It reverted to Confession and the rhetoric once again implied the play in which the Church and its officials make us feel small and that this is somehow for our own good. They killed it.

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tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1217272 2017-12-15T20:33:42Z 2017-12-16T06:47:02Z When church teaching says Confession should be killed off

As a junior bishop during the Church's World Youth Day in 2008, the now Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher angered many when he suggested that raising historic cases of child sexual abuse amounted to 'dwelling crankily ... on old wounds'.

Nine and a half years later, he's made another statement that is memorable for the wrong reasons. At his media conference following yesterday's release of the report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, he said that 'killing off confession is not going to help anybody'.

He was responding to the Commission's recommendation that a new law be passed to require priests to report cases of child sexual abuse that they learn about while administering the sacrament of confession. Such a law would conflict with the 'seal of confession' of the Church's own canon law.

Archbishop Fisher fears it would 'kill' confession. But Melbourne canon lawyer Ian Waters suggested last night to viewers of ABCTV's The Drum that priests hearing confession have infinite room to move pastorally and that there are means of ensuring abuse is reported to police without necessarily breaking the seal. Where there's a will there's a way was his message.

If a priest did find himself breaking the seal, he would easily find reassurance from Pope Francis himself. Francis has become well known for his insistence that the imposition of church law and doctrine must be qualified by a demonstration of love and mercy towards those who are most vulnerable.

Ten years before Francis became Pope in 2013, the leader of the Australian Jesuits Father Mark Raper made clear to viewers of the ABC's 7.30 Report his view that the Church as an institution is less important than the people it cares for.

Responding to the suggestion that rejecting legal advice by apologising to a child sex abuse victim would be costly to the Church in terms of financial compensation, he said: 'Well, the assets are not as important as the people that we seek to serve. What is the point of doing what we're doing if that's not the case?'

Yesterday my thoughts turned to the principle of 'subsidiarity', which is the bottom line of Catholic social teaching. Subsidiarity, which is most commonly applied to workers' rights, insists that any regulation of economic and social affairs must give priority to the dignity and rights of individual persons.

The principle of subsidiarity is not usually mentioned in the context of sacramental theology. But for me, it's enough to give confidence that 'killing off confession' is justified if the dignity and rights of sex abuse victims are at stake.


Links: Waters | Raper | Subsidiarity

 

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tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1216862 2017-12-14T20:33:49Z 2017-12-14T20:33:49Z Mothballing the clerical collar will help prevent clergy sexual abuse

About 15 years ago, I was editing the Catholic Church's online news service CathNews when stories about clerical sexual abuse were beginning to appear in significant numbers.

It was usually difficult to find a photograph or other visual image to illustrate the abuse stories. But eventually I settled on one generic image that I felt would suit all of them. It was a plain and simple graphic depicting a priest's clerical collar.

I recall that we stopped using it following representations from more than one bishop.

The first was a gentle plea. We were tarnishing the good name of the clergy and damaging the reputation of the Church. Then came the more heavy handed 'cease and desist' order that gave us no choice.

There had been no protracted deliberation involved in my choice of the image. Like a lot of decisions editors made on the run, it was intuitive. But in hindsight - as the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse wraps up - it seems prescient.

I say this after seeing this week's issue of the email newsletter from Francis Sullivan of the Church's Truth Justice and Healing Council. One of its headlines was extracted from a story published in the National Catholic Reporter in the US: 'Australian bishop urges end to clericalism'.

The article features the views of Bishop Vincent Long of Parramatta based on a talk he gave in August that was published in the December issue of the National Council of Priests newsletter The Swag. It points to the culture of clericalism as a major cause of sexual abuse.

'In my testimony at the Royal Commission I maintained that we need to dismantle the pyramid model...which promotes the superiority of the ordained. ... Abuse in the area of sex is a form of abuse of power. I believe that we cannot address the issue of clerical sexual abuse without examining the clerical culture in which unhealthy attitudes and behaviours are fostered.'

It is often possible to know a priest's views about power and privilege in the Church simply by looking to see if he is wearing a clerical collar. In many circumstances, priests will make a deliberate choice whether or not to wear the collar, knowing its symbolic power.

I remember being a Jesuit novice in the late 1970s and the intense speculation about which of us would choose to wear a clerical collar rather than a suit, when we took our first vows at the end of the two year noviceship.

In retrospect, I think it was the most powerful statement we could make concerning whether we believed we were entering a life of power and privilege or one of service.

Indeed I can now suggest with confidence that an attitude of superiority on the part of a priest or other religious functionary carries with it the distinct possibility that they will abuse their position by taking sexual advantage of someone less powerful. On the other hand, if they genuinely think of themselves as servants, sexual abuse is most unlikely.

I think it's now time for the Church to consider mothballing the clerical collar. This would be a fitting follow up to Bishop Vincent Long's suggestion that 'we cannot address the issue of clerical sexual abuse without examining the clerical culture ... of power and control that has been our cultural captivity'.


Link: newsletter]]>
tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1215362 2017-12-12T05:09:01Z 2017-12-12T05:09:01Z Tribalism and Australian marriage equality

This morning I was listening to a podcast from US National Public Radio on the topic 'word of the year'. The commentator Geoff Nunberg chose 'tribalism' as his word of the year and focused his explanation on the politics of identity.

I've been thinking a lot about tribalism this year, trying to decide whether it's a good or bad thing. Nunberg says people often 'use "tribal" to obliterate the differences between solidarity and blind group loyalty' and that this can lead society to become 'fragmented into factions that deny one another's legitimacy'.

At various moments of the debate on same sex marriage in Australia, I could see this kind of 'we are right you are wrong' attitude on both sides. So I was heartened that the 'yes' case supporters in the public gallery of Parliament House chose 'I am Australian' when they broke into song after the vote was passed last Thursday.

The song's refrain - 'we are one, but we are many' - specifically recognises the legitimacy of tribes beyond our own. It implicitly affirms identities that are centred around many commonalities including gender and sexual preference. Thursday's cause for celebration was the successful passage of the bill that meant our nation's marriage law would now include identities it had previously excluded.

In the lead up to the postal survey, I found it interesting to read an article in The Conversation identifying tribes within the GLBTI community that were notably unenthusiastic about voting 'yes'.

These groups were composed of predominantly older GLBTI people who were proudly countercultural. They feared that marriage 'would become the gold standard for same-sex relationships and other relationship styles would be regarded as less worthy'.

As I understood it, these groups were not denying the legitimacy of GLBTI people wanting to get married. They just hoped that equal marriage supporters would return the favour and recognise the legitimacy of their rejection of marriage as a lifestyle choice. I believe that they got their wish, at least to the extent that they did not suffer criticism from the 'yes' supporters.

With regard to the Catholic Church, it has to be argued that the majority of bishops supported a position that exemplifies the negative characterisation I quoted above. That is a non-recognition of the distinction between solidarity and blind loyalty that leads to a denial of the legitimacy of those with opposing views.

It was therefore gratifying that so many Catholics followed the lead of the few bishops who advocated a vote according to conscience on what they insisted was in any case a secular matter. This turned out to be a demonstration of the good that can exist in tribalism - solidarity and qualified loyalty.


Links: Nunberg | The Conversation]]>
tag:michaelmullins.org,2013:Post/1208359 2017-11-26T18:56:22Z 2017-11-26T18:56:22Z Parisian attitude that is nurturing

It's time to return to Sydney after being in Paris for most of October and November. Somebody asked me if I felt I could stay longer or if it was time to move on.

I said that I was looking forward to being back in Australia but pleased that I am coming back here in three or four months time. I went on to explain that life for me is not complete in Sydney and neither is it complete here in Paris. But between the two cities it is.

Tuilleries

I'm very aware of how fortunate I am to be able to establish myself in two cities. I believe it's important that we all use our imagination and resources to seize the opportunities and challenges that our circumstances offer.

I think it's about finding an equilibrium in my state of being, which is something we all need. The term sure-footed comes to mind. I feel that I am excessively sure-footed in Sydney and not at all sure-footed in Paris.

Lego ptisserie at Les Halles

People face this kind of challenge in various ways. Some establish themselves in their professions and social circles, and then they welcome children into their lives even though they know it will upturn their established order. Others don't have children and look to extend themselves in different ways.

I find it easiest to write these letters when I feel there is order in my life. That is why they've been few and far between during these two months.

Here my energies are focused on tasks such as getting the right pieces of paper that will allow me to establish accounts with the electricity utility and the bank. My bank account works but I still have to jump through one more hoop before the debit card they sent me will work in ATMs and supermarkets.

Performance art exhibition at Richelieu Library

Years ago I used to hear it said that the French are rude and unhelpful. My experience has been the opposite. I have found them nurturing.

I remember telling a shop assistant that I did not need a bag. I said 'pas sac', and he corrected me by indicating that 'pas de sac' is how it's said. His tone was nurturing, not a put down. That experience was repeated multiple times, most recently when the woman at the Bastille Market told me I wanted 'une carotte', not 'un carotte', which is how I'd put my request.

I feel affirmed by these exchanges, and each is a small step towards becoming more sure-footed in my new surrounds.

Jewelled slippers

Years ago I remember feeling small after an offhand remark from a guide at the United Nations building in New York City.

'Is this where you get to see how the UN works?', I asked, stating the obvious because that's what came into my head. 'That's the general idea' was his put down response, which reflected the kind of attitude that I'd grown up expecting to get from the French.

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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.


Link: Menadue]]>
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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