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Saturday, 31 March 2007

'NYU students launch online magazine' states the headline in The Prague Post. Staff writer Julie O'Shea talks to the editors of a new Web site about Prague, the Golden City.

The online magazine Prague Wanderer was launched on 9 March this year. It contains articles, columns and a photo essay produced by New York University exchange students studying in Prague.

The photo essay page is particularly appealing. It shows examples of the city's graffiti.

April Antonellis, The Wanderer’s co-editor-in-chief, is majoring in journalism and art history. The publication’s other co-editor-in-chief, Megan Stride, is majoring in journalism and politics. Webmaster Simon Franzini is an econ–political science major.

NYU journalism coordinator Dinah Spritzer, who is named as the mag's Journalism Advisor, used to work as a news editor at The Prague Post. She "is hoping to get Czech university students involved with the online magazine in the future". She says the stories are "student work, but they are very good student work".

Students were pretty much permitted to write and post just about anything they wanted, so long as the contents of their observations and critiques were respectful to the Czech culture and people.

The article notes that "students should be getting ready to post a new issue soon", so it may be worthwhile checking back.
Dave Gilbert has worked on online news delivery for 13 years. Now, he's leaving the fold. In this BBC article, he reminisces on the way it all started, in 1994.

The first web page I ever saw was a site detailing the paintings in the Louvre. A friend thought I might be interested in seeing what she described as a "deluxe computer messaging system accessible via the telephone network".

He recalls colleagues thinking it was all a "cranky fad". "The shrewdest comments came from the newspaper advertising executives who wondered where the revenue would come from."

"It's a question some are still asking."

In the early days there were only four journalists managing the output, working graveyard shifts next to the obituaries department.

. . .

Today, Telegraph journalists consider the web as an integral part of their job and work in a modern news hub serving both platforms.

In the comments, Andrea from West Yorkshire recalls similar, small groups of journalists handling the Web site. "Unfortunately, the intense production methods led to severe RSI... and for me, that was that!"

Chris of Chester says "Technical experience is worth nothing in the web world, because the web of 1994 - or even 2000 - is of no greater relevence today than the manual typewriter."

"BBC News has consistently been at the front of the online news world, for quality, content and design. I honestly believe this is the best designed site on the Internet today," says Matt Dovey of Skegness.

Dominic Collard of London says "I think you'll find that the first, and still the best, UK newspaper website was from the Guardian."
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette books editor Bob Hoover comments on the challenges facing Borders and its ilk, following the decision of Los Angeles Times managers to merge the paper's Sunday books section with its opinion pages.

"The Internet ... is where book coverage and reviews should be headed," he says. He also says that the LA Times' move doesn't spell disaster for booklovers.

There's no reason to doubt that it will drop its focus because it's no longer a separate part of the paper. Plenty of U.S. newspapers continue to offer reviews and commentary on books in other sections, so we can assume the Times will do likewise.

"There's a void out there," he says. What about all the book blogs that are thriving in cyberspace? Like many in the industry, he just doesn't get it.

Publishers are starting to, though. Blogs Condalmo and Book Fox both scored review copies of Murakami's new novel, After Dark.
At the Byron Bay Writers Festival this year "Media ethics will be the focus of discussions by journalists", reports Susan Wyndham in the Undercover blog. The dates are 26 to 29 July.

But don't expect to find any details on the festival's Web site. There are none. Jeni Caffin, the festival's director, gets as close as the site comes to real information when she says that the planned program "digs below the surface of the contemporary issues that challenge us all". Blah blah blah.

Wyndham goes much further, listing some of the media luminaries who will speak. They include, notably, David Leser (a popular profilist), Antony Loewenstein (a well-known writer on Zionist-Palestinian affairs) and Chris Masters (who wrote a biography of radio shock jock Alan Jones). A few recognised and "a crowd of new writers" will also attend.
Macquarie University is reportedly "preparing the resources on values" to be published in a booklet on which questions in a citizenship test to be debated in federal parliament later this year, will be based.

The test was first mooted in the aftermath of the July 2005 London bombings. The event also caused the conservative Australian government to introduce tough new anti-terrorist laws.

Federal immigration minister Kevin Andrews says that the resources being prepared by Macquarie Uni will include material on "the rule of law, the fact that we live in what I'd call a secular legal regime, the place of courts and respect for courts (and that) man and women are equal".

The story 'Booklet delays citizenship test' by Cath Hart does not seem to have made it onto the Web site of The Australian, where it was published today.

Delay in the production of the booklet has caused debate in federal parliament on the enabling legislation to be postponed. Andrews insisted on both being introduced at the same time.

"My view was that it was best to have the material and the bill together because if we just put the bill in people would probably say: 'OK, we're going to have a test but what is it? What is this material that they're going to be tested on or expected to know?'"

The minister also says that he is "involved in compiling material about the history of Australia". Andrews studied history as part of his arts degree.

The test will include an oral component and a computer-based test of 30 questions drawn randomly from a pool of 200 questions.
  It will be based on the existing Australian Migrant English Program syllabus, which covers legal and political matters, landmarks and national symbols, reconciliation and the rights and responsibilities of being a citizen.
John Hinde, erstwhile film critic with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) who died last year, wrote a bequest into his will to fund a new literary award, it has been revealed. The value of the award has not yet been disclosed. Or even decided. The Australian Society of Authors' committee "is still to decide on its final value".

The Barbara Jefferis Award will be given annually from next year for "the best novel written by an Australian author that depicts women and girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society. The novel may be in any genre and it is not necessary for it to be set in Australia." Susan Wyndham covers the announcement in The Sydney Morning Herald.

Critic Kerryn Goldsworthy mentioned a rumour about a pending announcement on 12 March on her blog A Fugitive Phenomenon.

Barbara Jefferis was Hinde's wife. She died in 2004. She wrote nine novels and received an Order of Australia in 1986 "for services to literature".

"Hinde has also funded a new film script award for the Australian Writers' Guild," reports Wyndham.
PR operative Margot McKay has been sentenced to 15 months' periodic detention, reports Kate McClymont in The Sydney Morning Herald. The news actually broke yesterday but I missed it. I mentioned the case in a post yesterday.

Sentencing was originally slated for 16 March, as I noted in a comment to an earlier post.

On three occasions in 2004, Margot Olive McKay, 56, got family and friends to buy $150,000 worth of shares on the eve of media announcements that she had written.

The sentence is significantly different from that which Steve Vizard attracted for similar crimes. According to the Wikipedia, Vizard was "fined a total of $390,000 and disqualified from being a company director for 10 years". The Vizard case was extremely high-profile. He had been a successful comedian before becoming a director of Australia's largest telecommunications company, Telstra.

In sentencing [McKay], Justice Tony Whealy of the Supreme Court said the offences were deliberate and committed by a "true insider".

According to the Law Reform Commission:

In New South Wales, where an offender is sentenced to a term of imprisonment which exceeds three months but is less than three years, the sentencing court may order that sentence to be served by way of periodic detention, which generally requires the offender to remain in custody for two consecutive days of each week for the duration of the sentence.
Novelist Frank Moorhouse comes in for a serious spray from ex-wife Wendy James, who has written a very long letter to The Australian complaining about how the writer treated her in his 2005 memoir Martini.

I reviewed the book last October.

Jonathan Porter reports on the case. The broadsheet's Web site also has three HTML files posted containing the contents of the letter. None of the files, which contain a total of 3500 words, has her name on it. All are dated today. They are here, here and here.

No doubt Moorhouse will, at some point in the near future, respond to it in the press.

The book has been available for two years. It is not clear why James has waited until this year to respond to its contents. Alison Summers complained about Peter Carey's novel Theft: A Love Story as soon as it was published.

Friday, 30 March 2007

The Hay Festival website, which offers podcasts of some of its readings, has recorded only 2,056 downloads in the past ten months, reports David Robinson in The Scotsman.

Apparently Christopher Hitchens is more popular than other writers, including Anna Politkovskaya, Martin Amis and Margaret Atwood.

"At the moment, Hay's English archive only has 59 of the 1,000-plus recorded talks available for download at £1 a time."

"The smaller (and free, but not downloadable) archive at Edinburgh International Festival's website (www.edbookfest.co.uk) which also features the last three writers, has comparable numbers of users."

25,000 people downloaded a series of podcasts of Alexander McCall Smith reading that were posted on scotsman.com, the newspaper's Web site.
The Borders sell-off gets coverage by Helen Twose in The New Zealand Herald.

Borders Asia Pacific managing director John Campradt said: "We are already getting some interesting phone calls from various private equity groups and other retailers in the marketplace."

Borders Group chief executive George Jones said: "Our company's performance has fallen short in an industry that is increasingly competitive, technology driven and price sensitive." He means in the U.S. The performance of the Australasian business has been good.

By "technology driven" he means Amazon, AbeBooks and their ilk, who are able to sell at lower cost due to lower overheads.
Federal Liberal politicians, take note: the Noosa Book Lovers blog knows what to recommend when it comes to promoting Aussie values.

"The site is the creation of Carolyn Ride who discovered that her weekly book reviews on ABC Coast FM were generating an enthusiastic response from booklovers up and down the coast," says the blog's 'About' page.

Noosa Council characterises the locale as "one of the last bastions of natural beauty". It is located just north of where my parents live. Regular readers may recall my posts made while visiting the parental unit in January.

Residents of the Sunshine Coast, home to defunct media icon and wilderness crusader Steve Irwin, may wish to claim special status when it comes to promoting "Australian values" after reading this post. "I don’t think any of these authors could have written what they did in any other country," the writer asserts. The authors being spruiked (27 January) are Robert G. Barrett, Chris Nyst, and Leigh Redhead.

Just don't go looking for reviews of their books in the decadent urban broadsheets.

There's something about Queensland. They have no urban broadsheet, for a start. It's also the place that gave us Pauline Hanson. For those of you who haven't a clue who she is, there's help available.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez has appeared in public to receive a "special tribute" at the International Congress of Spanish Language, reports Frank Bajak in The Guardian.

The crowd gave him a standing ovation. Marquez "clasped his hands above his head like a prizefighter as he entered the auditorium" before recounting the days of poverty that preceded the publication of the formidable One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Fifty million people have now read the book, which took 18 months to write.

Bill Clinton said that Marquez is "the most important writer of fiction in any language since William Faulkner died".

Strange that The Literary Saloon failed to cover the story.

In other Marquez news, The New York Times publishes a photo of the writer with a black eye given to him by Mario Vargas Llosa. I mentioned the story earlier this month.

A Mexican newspaper, La Jornada, used the photo on the cover of its 6 March issue. Photographer Rodrigo Moya said that "his friend Mr. García Márquez had asked him to take his portrait with a black eye". Pablo Espinosa, the newspaper's cutural editor, said that Moya was asked to write an essay to accompany the photo because "not everybody knew the particulars" of the famous story.

Vargas Llosa hit Marquez at a cinema in Mexico City in 1976.

On Marquez' reason for having the photo taken, Moya said: "He is very meticulous and likes to document his life in different moments. He just had the idea that he wanted to have a picture with a black eye."
Ex-Federal Court judge Marcus Einfeld, reports Kate McClymont in The Sydney Morning Herald, faces the possibility of jail. He will attend Downing Centre Local Court on 19 April. Readers outside Sydney will give not a toss, but for those of us here, this has been a long-running tale.

The story demonstrates the power of subeditors with access to Google.

Einfeld told a court that a U.S.-based professor was driving his Lexus when it was caught on a speed camera on 8 January last year. The sub discovered that the professor had died three years earlier. This story vindicates the methods of the tabloids. The sub worked for The Daily Telegraph.

Police pursued the ex-judge and yesterday he was found guilty. "The former judge was charged with six counts of perverting the course of justice, three of perjury, and four relating to false statutory declarations," reports McClymont.

McClymont is obviously the Herald's court reporter. We have already covered her story about PR operative Margot McKay, who was found guilty in November of gaining financial advantage by using sensitive knowledge to buy shares in the company she worked for, gaming machine manufacturer Aristocrat. McKay was due to be sentenced on 16 March but the paper has failed to report the outcome. Possibly the hearing has been delayed.

There's no way they'll miss Einfeld's sentencing.

Thursday, 29 March 2007

A book by Dina Zaman, a middle-class Malaysian, entitled I Am Muslim, is spruiked on the always-enlightening Bibliobibuli blog, run by Sharon Bakar.

Bakar is deeply involved in the literary scene in Malaysia and often attends readings by local writers. In Zaman's case, she also provided editing services.

I Am Muslim is also an intriguing exposé of the urban middle-class Malay in Kuala Lumpur: Dina is a lady with her ear firmly to the ground. I didn't know about the expense of keeping up with appearances with designer telekungs (prayer shrouds), costly religious classes and "jet-set umrahs" and am now much enlightened. And there is an eye-popping account of the sexual prefences of boarding school educated Malay men which is going to be very hotly denied, I think. (But Dina has her informants ...).

The book can be purchased online from Silverfish.

Bakar hopes that the book will be read by people living outside Malaysia because "so much of the world equates Islam with terrorism and extremism and the oppression of women and this book presents a refreshing counterbalance to the stereotypical images".
Cormac McCarthy, "a highly respected author" (according to the AbeBooks email news flash) and "notoriously interview-shy" according to Edmund Champion, has agreed to be interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. Matthew reports that it will be his "first television interview ever" (the words are Winfrey's).

Winfrey's book club guarantees increased sales for its subjects due to the "powerful media spotlight" (AbeBooks again) it affords. Unlike books reviewed on this blog.

An amusing video can be viewed on YouTube that chronicles the efforts of a pack of dedicated afficionados who go in search of McCarthy equipped with a video camera.


It was posted in September last year. Several more episodes in the series are posted on the site.

AbeBooks provides several BookHints for The Road. I described BookHints earlier this month. AbeBooks has 102 copies of the book listed. They are priced from $8.88. Postage is of course extra.

The review of The Road by Mark Mordue that I read last year is no longer available on the Web site of The Sydney Morning Herald.

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

The Undercover blog on the Web site of The Sydney Morning Herald has scored a winner. On 19 March blog editor Susan Wyndham reported the story in The Times about the books people couldn't finish. Most of my readers probably have already seen and digested it.

Wyndham opened up the thread to see if Australians agreed with the British experience: that Vernon God Little "tops the top ten list of unfinishable novels". So far it has attracted 170 comments.

Jizz said that he/she "thoroughly enjoyed Vernon God Little and so was quite excited to read his next book, Ludmila's Broken English. I struggled through to page 75 before abandoning it."

Brock said he "really liked Vernon God Little".

choo choo said he/she "was given vernon god little while spending a month in hospital last year, and never got around to reading it. the thing is, this coming weekend was gonna be when i did, but now you lot have put me off."

Tom said "Vernon God Little just doesn't seem to have a gripping theme, I find it very hard to read, the words are difficult and DBC Pierre seems to have a very different approach in life to mine."

Dana said "I am now quite distressed about this report on Vernon God Little, as I was hoping to make some sweet moolah on Ebay, having had my copy signed by the author when he was here for Sydney Writers Festival... Damn! =)"

Lily said "Vernon God Little however was a great read, I really enjoyed it. It took a little while to get off the ground, but once it started moving the pace was unrelenting, and the journey was extraordinary."

Wanda said "I really enjoyed both DBC Pierre's - laughed out loud."

Rusty said "I loved Vernon God Little - thought it was hilarious. But DBC Pierre's follow-up was atrocious (and I even read it all the way til the end). I can understand why some people hated little Vern - maybe it's an age thing."

Shane said "I thought Vernon God Little was a good book and am surprised to find it is the most unfinished book in the country."

blue angel said "DBC Pierre sits untouched in my bookcase".

evan said "Vernon God Little appalled me when a description was given of that space between the underpants and the arsehole. I put it down after that."

Anthia said "in my opinion, Vernon God Little is a fantastic book, and the people who have such short attention spans as to not be able to finish it obviously wouldn't be able to comprehend any of the messages in it anyway."

Ariel said "I agree that DBC appeals more to young guys than anyone, though I was intrigued and entertained by Vernon God Little - I thought it was an excellent and timely satire on the contemporary American society that spawned high school massacres as a phenomenon. His second book didn't interest me at all - definitely a 'for young men' kind of exercise, with the requisite crude humour and bawdy premise, but without much to coherently say ... at least, that was my shallow opinion based on reviews and a skim read."

Marie said "I'm so pleased to hear that I'm not the only who had trouble reading God of Small Things & Vernon God Little. Made an utmost effort to read both these books but to no avail."

PaulH said "I loved Vernon God Little."

Vik said "LOVED Vernon God (steering clear of the 2nd from the advice provided here)"

tqd said "I loved Vernon God Little".

eva said "I also remember enjoying Vernon God Little".

Ellie said "I liked Vernon God Little a lot".

That makes 13 people for the book and 4 against, with two comments that made no judgement. And the thread is worth skimming but you'll probably baulk at reading through the whole thing.
Robert Dixon, the incoming chair of Australian literature at Sydney Uni, has weighed into the ongoing brouhaha about Australian literature studies. His piece is published, it is important to remark, in The Australian. The newspaper has been in the vanguard of criticism, publishing pieces by Rosemary Neill that cater to the baser instinct of nationalism, rather than reflecting the real situation in academe. I noted a recent story by Neill and added snippets from an interview with Dixon that was published recently in the alumni magazine that is put out by Sydney Uni.

Edmund Champion brought today's contribution to the debate, to my attention. He had included it in one of his regular 'roundups'.

The article is worth reading carefully.

Dixon refuses to participate in the unedifying spectacle that Neill has promulgated in the pages, and on the Web site, of the right-leaning broadsheet. The discourse she participates in resembles that which our conservative prime minister uses when dealing with the liberal elites.

"What we are well placed to do now is explore and elaborate the many ways in which the national literature has always been connected to the world," he writes. (The entire piece, of which this article is an extract, is to be published in Southerly, one of the oldest cultural periodicals this country produces.)

"The question is how to transcend the boundaries of the nation so that Australian issues, texts and personnel can be embedded in international research agendas and networks that have as much to offer us as we have to offer them."

I have picked these two quotes out of the whole to illustrate my own feelings. One of the projects he posits as desirable is "From Australian literature to literature in Australia: A transnational approach would involve shifting from the study of Australian literature, narrowly conceived, to something like literature in Australia, especially the history of the book and reading formations."

This seems a lot more useful and reflective of the reality in the country at present, than imposing artificial boundaries that are evidence only of a parochial attutide toward literature and culture in general. Australians are very outward-looking, especially those living in the big cities on the coast.
The New York Times is increasing its online presence, according to a syndicated story in BrisbaneTimes.com.au.

Agence France Presse reports that the broadsheet has launched "five new online projects within a week". An interview with Vivian Schiller, senior vice president and general manager of NYTimes.com, follows.

What those new projects are, is not explained. After visiting their Web site, I cannot claim to see what changes have been made. If new sites were established, I'm no wiser.

Schiller does inform us, however, that the paper has decided to integrate its newsrooms. This will mean that their "integrated newsroom is now 1,250 people-strong" since the 1,200 newspaper journalists were joined by the 50 or so "producers and journalists" looking after their Web site.

The NYT now has 35 blogs, and Schiller says that "a lot of our reporters have really enjoyed blogging as a complement to filing stories".

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

The great Borders sell-off is mentioned by Perry at the blog Matilda. I mentioned it a few days ago. A couple of weeks ago I also mentioned that British book chain Waterstone's would shut up to 30 stores.

Now, the blog of Nicholas Clee on The Guardian's Web site is commenting on the shift in purchasing habits away from the big chains and toward the huge discount retailers and Amazon. Clee didn't mention AbeBooks, but he should have.

There is also regular notice of closures among independent bookstores, especially in the U.S.

Books are extremely easy to sell online because of the power of an author's name. Say 'Ian Mcewan' or 'Salman Rushdie' and an afficionado knows immediately if the new release is suitable for them. Our tastes are, to a certain extent, circumscribed by this type of branding.

Then there's the literary prize, which can catapault a new author into the ranks of the 'most-recognised'.

Blogs also play a role in brand management. A recommendation by a trusted blogging source can guarantee dozens, if not hundreds, of sales. Publishers are starting to understand the value of blogs as marketing vehicles.

Online booksellers also have strong brands and may offer sophisticated tools that can recommend new titles or authors to regular customers. These tools will become more and more sophisticated as time goes on and as online retailers put more money into maximising sales.

The closure of the Waterstone's stores and the sell-off of Borders' U.K. and Australasian outlets seems to be part of the process of realignment that all industries will eventually face. Books were one of the first commodities to be sold profitably online. They are now the first to undergo a major shift in distribution methods.
Murakami's new novel After Dark will be available in Australia on 1 June, according to Gleebooks.

Monday, 26 March 2007

University of Technology, Sydney, students are given space on the Web site of The Sydney Morning Herald. UTS, formed at the beginning of 1988 from the former NSW Institute of Technology, has a long history of training journalists.

The SMH's 'Grassroots' section is visible if you visit the NSW Election page of the Web site and scroll down a bit. It's on the right-hand side of the page.

This appears to be unprecedented. And welcome. Many trainee journalists have excellent writing skills. But they also can bring a different perspective to their reporting, before they have been 'retrained' in the newspaper's editorial rooms.

The story 'Concern over new police powers' by Kit Yap and Thao Tran, for example, focuses on an issue that might get a run in the monthly magazine The Big Issue (which is distributed solely through a network of unemployed people) but would be a marginal call for a major urban broadsheet like the SMH.

It has local resonance as well as displaying the kind of activism that students are well known for.
Read an excerpt from Murakami's new novel After Dark (due out in the U.S. on 8 May) over at the blog Condalmo.

I've no idea how Matthew scored an advance copy, but someone obviously wants advance publicity. Sheesh.

The piece he has posted is really too short to make any decisions about. I would love to know the plot outline. I can only hope he reads here, and posts one.

He's also posted the book's elegant cover.

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Becoming Jane will open this week at both the Dendy and Palace cinemas in Sydney. I mentioned the production back in December. The post contains some details about the real story behind the movie, which is probably going to be guilty of "sexing up" the story of Jane Austen's romance with Tom Lefroy.

As we can see just by looking at the publicity material supplied by Blueprint Pictures. Anne Hathaway is far too gorgeous, dreamy and altogether perfect. She doesn't fit my image of what Jane Austen really looked like.

Geraldine Brooks' Nine Parts of Desire, which I reviewed here in December, is included by Eliza Compton in a list of "Five fascinating books that take you to the Middle East". The list appears in the magazine supplement Sunday Life, which comes with the Fairfax paper The Sun-Herald.

It is the only book listed not published this century. This is a testament to the quality of Brooks' work.

Being a Sunday paper, The Sun-Herald is more tabloid than its week-day stablemate The Sydney Morning Herald. And the Sunday Life supplement is generally heavy on lifestyle features.

The appearance here of the list, which also includes The Carpet Wars by Christopher Kremmer, Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi, Night Draws Near by Anthony Shadid, and Iran Awakening: From Prison to Peace Prize by Shirin Ebadi, demonstrates a shift in mainstream opinion.

That's what I think anyway. I was surprised to find this list, complete with thumbnail pictures of the books' covers, in such a location.

Saturday, 24 March 2007

Morris Iemma and Labor have been returned with a slightly reduced majority. The swing against the Labor Party was around 3 per cent. They lost two seats. The Liberals gained two. The Greens won no seats in the Legislative Assembly despite predictions of strong showings in two inner-west seats. The following screen shot shows the result in Marrickville, where they almost pulled it off.


In the Legislative Council the Greens have increased their representation to four seats. The Greens have accused the Liberal Party, their natural foes, of dirty play. But the results are encouraging.

[Greens senator] Ms Rhiannon said the Greens had ... polled well in inner-Sydney lower house electorates of Balmain and Marrickville as well as Opposition Leader Peter Debnam's safe Liberal seat of Vaucluse.

This election is Iemma's first win as leader. It is also Peter Debnam's first loss as leader of the Liberals. Most probably Debnam will survive the loss. Iemma will probably make a few changes to his front bench in the coming week.

A handful of seats are still too close to call but the Labor Party will retain a workable majority in the Legislative Assembly.
A story from Etgar Keret's short story collection The Nimrod Flip-Out will be made into a stop-motion animated movie, according to Sandy George, film writer for The Australian.

The Israeli author gave a script called $9.99 to Australian producer Emile Sherman after the two met for coffee in Israel.

Sherman sought out Keret after some of his friends raved about Keret's short stories.

Sherman has produced some excellent films in the past, including Oyster Farmer.

The title of the story in the collection is For Only $9.99 (Inc. Tax and Postage). It is 10 pages long.
Borders Group Inc. intends to sell its Australasian outlets, reports Danny John in The Sydney Morning Herald.

Seems as though lower returns in the U.S. has caused the profitable Australian and New Zealand operations to stagnate. Australian operations reported 25 per cent growth last year. There are 24 outlets in Australia with four new outlets set to open this year in Australia. There are four outlets in New Zealand.

Apparently "intense competition" in the U.S. "has severely curtailed group profits".
The New South Wales state election is on today. My electorate, Lakemba, has 19 polling stations. I voted this morning at the outpatients room inside Canterbury Hospital, which also serves as a polling station for the neighbouring electorate of Canterbury.

Lakemba is represented in the Legislative Assembly (lower house) by the premier, Morris Iemma. This is Iemma's first election. He came to his position after the previous premier resigned. Opinion polls show Labor (Iemma's party) in the lead. The opposition Liberal Party (actually it's a misnomer because they are conservatives) has been out of power for 12 years but despite that the polls show them trailing the Labor Party.

At the polling station (see picture) several party representatives are visible handing out how-to-vote cards. No Greens representative, unfortunately.


The polling slip for the Legislative Assembly is a slim piece of yellow paper that you could fold once and put in your pocket. For the Legislative Council (upper house), however, the polling slip is a huge sheet of white paper. There are two ways to select members of the Legislative Council. You can either place a number in the box 'above the line' (to select a political party) or you can choose instead to vote for individual candidates by putting numbers in the great number of boxes located 'below the line'.

I chose to select a political party by putting numbers in the boxes 'above the line'.

Polling stations opened at 8am and will close at 6pm. Tonight there will be election coverage on TV. I will be able to view it on my new, wide-screen digital LCD unit because today there's a team of technicians installing a digital aerial on our apartment block.

Watching election results come in from the hundreds of polling stations around the state is fascinating.

New South Wales is one of the oldest democratic entities in the world, with a Legislative Council, having been established in 1825, opened partially to elected representation in 1842.

Friday, 23 March 2007

Toyota has unveiled a new concept car in the U.S. that combines a hybrid engine with sports-car performance. The FT-HS is "a mid-priced sports car that integrates ecology and emotion". It would be interesting to know what the company means by "mid-priced". Something in the range of $50,000, perhaps? At that price, it will be out of the range of most buyers. But Toyota marketers label the FT-HS an "attainable exotic".


I spoke with a colleague about this today. He said there was dissatisfaction among drivers with the power of the original Toyota hybrid, the Prius, which sells for about $35,000. The FT-HS is obviously aimed at quelling those opinions.

The FT-HS has a 3.5-liter V6 engine and "zero-to-60 acceleration in the four-second range". You can see more.

Toyota also offers a hybrid Lexus.
Japan-China relations are thawing, according to The Australian. China correspondent Rowan Callick reports that a leadership meeting will take place.

But all is not rosy. Differences of opinion on historical events suggested a project "aimed at producing a joint history of the countries' relations". Those differences, and the short time-frame (June 2008), have quashed the project.

Instead, the Chinese and Japanese teams, 10 on each side, will write separately their own take on the history between the countries, both ancient and modern, and will exchange any controversial points on which they disagree, in the hope of diminishing them.

While the Japanese refuse to admit the reality of war-time "comfort women" (the euphemism is Japanese), China holds tight to its adulation of Chairman Mao.

You can just imagine the gormless exchanges between historians on both sides as they edge, in miniscule steps, toward agreement on critical issues. The final products will be worth looking at, however. I look forward to the time when they are completed.
Louis Nowra says that "an idle man is a dangerous man" in his excellent piece about dysfunctional aboriginal communities, published in this month's Australian Literary Review.

Last December, I mentioned a striking story by UTS academic Wendy Bacon published in The Sydney Morning Herald.

Nowra supports the efforts by newspapers to increase the access journalists are allowed to aboriginal communities. Without the ventilating influence of the press, these communities will remain under the public radar and nothing will get done to protect thousands of women and children who are sexually assaulted and bashed every year.

The Australian reported yesterday that the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, the peak union for journalists, has "argued against lifting the permit system that controls access to Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory". This means that the ability of dysfunctional aboriginal communities to avoid scrutiny lies uncontested by the union.

Naturally, many journalists will be unhappy with this decision.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

"Debate on Aussie literature a horror story for our greats" crows the headline in today's The Australian. Journalist Rosemary Neill is at it again. And this time she's got one of the big guns on her side: Elizabeth Webby, the outgoing chair of Australian literature at Sydney Uni.

Webby blames the decline in interest in Australian literature studies on the government, postmodernism and the Internet.

But the newly appointed chair of Australian literature at Sydney Uni says that it's not as bad as it seems. Interviewed by Geordie Williamson for Sydney Alumni Magazine (Autumn 2007), Robert Dixon says that "Australian studies ... must remain open to the most invigorating aspects of those critical impulses — theory, feminist studies, the whole panoply of post-colonial investigation — which have both challenged the subject's raison d'etre and offered new tools with which to approach it".

The old model of literary isolationism, for instance — of ring-fencing Australian writing so as to preserve it from foreign taint — has always seemed narrow to him; often playing, at its extremes, into the hands of an uncritical cultural nationalism.

He also says that "'literature' itself is not a discrete category". He recently finished a book about Australian photographer Frank Hurley. But he also says "to be good at interdisciplinary research you must first be an expert in a discipline".

Williamson writes:

Dixon believes that the canon of Australian literature has not been destroyed by the new currents, but, rather, ventilated. Yet he does feel that efforts to redress the balance must be made if the field is to thrive.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

The new Fairfax business site, BusinessDay.com.au has been launched. To promote the Web site, editors have changed the title of the business section in the printed version of The Sydney Morning Herald to BusinessDay.com.au.

It is a fairly flat site. The tabs along the top of the 'page' lead to other Fairfax sites.

News is updated at least hourly, as indicated by the format of the 'Latest News' column, which has subheadings in the form of "01 hour ago", "02 hours ago" and so on. The emphasis is clearly on the freshness of the news they provide.

On the left-hand side of the page is a column that holds the major stories of the day. Under each section, which is only marked by a headline that is also a link, are link-headlines leading to related stories picked from the Fairfax group's major vehicles, including the SMH and The Age.

The title field of the html page has the following text: "15 minute updates on latest Business and Finance news". As I said, freshness is key.

Fairfax evidently wants surfers to visit frequently throughout the day and to make this their major source of business news. As if that needed to be iterated.
Basement Books has increased the amount of information it delivers via e-mail. I don't remember when I subscribed to their service, but it must have been some time late last year. The e-mails are text-only using Courier font. Very basic when you compare them to the e-mails produced by British book chain Waterstone's.

Two e-mails arrived today. One covers 81 novels new in stock, including Mark Haddon's new release A Spot of Bother for $7.95. If you want one of the 10 copies they have, you'd better hurry. They also have three copies of Howard Jacobson's Kalooki Nights. They cost $14.95 each.

According to the e-mail, books "will be sold on a first come first served basis and can not be held".

The other e-mail covers a small selection of business and academic titles. I saw one title that looks academic. The rest seem to be popular non-ficton titles. The Web site claims that there are "2 - 4,000 different titles each month".

Basement Books is handy for rail travellers, and is located in the Broadway underpass leading to Central Station.
Adelaide-based writer J. M. Coetzee, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003, has been labelled a "celebrity curmudgeon" by Sian Powell, the journalist in charge of the 'Strewth!' column of The Australian newspaper.

The story documents Coetzee's participation in a protest against the building of a permanent grandstand in one of the city's parks.

It's a convenient hook. I'm also not sure why Powell has placed the words "eminent persons" in quotes. Presumably to mock the people, who no doubt include among their number some of those despised elitists who poke their noses in where they're not wanted, working against the construction. A past exponent of the type was Patrick White, who continues to be suspect for sections of the nation's media.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

"Howard Arkley is the foremost painter of Australian suburbia, known for his iconic pop images of fibro and brick veneer houses and vibrantly coloured domestic interiors," says the promotional e-mail I received today from the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

"Throughout a three decade career he was also preoccupied with abstraction, patterning and decoration. This exhibition surveys both strands of his practice, bringing together paintings of the great Aussie dream home and his hallucinatory abstractions."

The Arkley exhibition runs from 10 March to 6 May.

I'm always troubled by the word 'iconic'. In this blurb it seems to mean that Arkley, who died in 1999 tragically young, has left a rich legacy. By 'rich' I mean fiscally. His paintings are not cheap.

The Wikipedia is less flamboyant. "Arkley was a major presence in the Australian art world and his exhibitions were significant events."

I think that the overused word 'iconic' deserves a rest. It has a popularist spin that enables the object so designated to escape the tag of high culture yet retain exclusiveness by way of wealth. It means that everyone can like whatever is being so described and, in the art milieu, suggests collectibility.

Regardless of the spin the gallery's PR staff have put on Arkley's work, I will certainly be attending this exhibition. They won't put me off. Arkley is terrific.
So I'm a liar.

Today I telephoned the ABC's Innovation team at corporate headquarters in Ultimo seeking information about their Second Life exploits. The woman I spoke with said they were aware that ABC Island was not displaying in the search results within SL.

The simulcast did, however, take place. The island was full, furthermore. Apparently only 40 or 50 avatars can inhabit an island in SL at any one time. This meant that the ABC's property experienced performance problems when they had 55 people there at once.

I guess that those who came too late were simply unable to gain access to ABC Island.

She also said that the Four Corners show will continue to screen in SL.

Monday, 19 March 2007

The ABC simulcast I mentioned a few days ago didn't happen. In fact, despite what was again reported, this time in The Australian, the ABC Island doesn't even exist.

I entered Second Life three times this evening and did not find ABC Island listed using the search function.

So much for Aunty.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Jimmy Carter's new book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid is reviewed by controversial author Antony Loewenstein in The Sun-Herald. An earlier review of the same book, again by Loewenstein, appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald on 6 March.

Loewenstein is getting plenty of room in the mainstream press. "Peace will never be achieved, [Carter] argues, until the occupation mind-set is buried forever."

Although Carter is correct in condemning Palestinian suicide bombing, he acknowledges that extremists on both sides will only be marginalised when honest negotiations take place.

There is a growing awareness of the undesirability of Israeli policies vis a vis the occupied territories, especially the West Bank. Loewenstein's own book, My Israel Question was launched here recently.

And then there's Independent Australian Jewish Voices, which has been garnering plenty of coverage in the mainstream press, including a story written by Loewenstein (who helped establish the group) and published in The Sydney Morning Herald which, like The Sun-Herald, is owned by Fairfax.

I reviewed journalist Peter Manning's book Us and Them yesterday. It deals with the same issues.

Saturday, 17 March 2007

Review: Us and Them: A Journalist's Investigation of Media, Muslims and the Middle East, Peter Manning (2006)

Dewey Decimal Number: 305.8927094

I've got plenty of course-related reading to do, but I had requested this book from Fisher Library on the recommendation of a colleague, and was only able to keep it for a week. So I read it straight through. This attempt by a very experienced journalist and media teacher to redress a percieved imbalance in the Australian media's coverage of Islamic people, is very readable. But it is less and more than its title proposes. This is something Manning is conscious of, as he says in the acknowledgements:

This is a book of love and passion. It is not the book that Random House initially asked me to write, which was more along the lines of memoirs or a life in journalism.

Moreover, it is more than just a treatise on Australian journalism and Islam. After covering his change in attitude toward Muslims, provoked by biased reporting in the Australian media, Manning begins to look at the people who are being clumped together and, he thinks, demonised.

This quest takes him to the Middle East. The bulk of the book revolves around his discoveries while travelling there with his partner, Carole Lawson.

He is scathing on Israel's de facto system of apartheid. He reiterates again and again that Palestine was densely populated at the time of the initial Jewish migration. These are basic facts, and are ones that cause Jewish stalwarts throughout the global diaspora much concern. The Palestinian birth rate is much greater than the Jewish. In a generation or so there would be more Palestinians than Jews. This is what the Israeli government fears.

In addition to teaching journalism at the University of Technology, Sydney, Manning undertook Islamic studies at Sydney University. He is well-read. But the reality of life on the ground, especially in the West Bank, shocked him.

He is also well-connected. He had interviewed Mordechai Vanunu at the time of his first visit to Australia. He meets him again, twenty years later, in Jerusalem. Vanunu now, like many Israelis, is ferociously anti-settlement. Manning shows how those who take such a position in Israel are marked as traitors, threatened with loss of livelihood, and punished in verious ways.

If Israelis are treated like this, you can imagine how the Palestinians are treated by the military. No wonder Muslims hate the West, he says at one point.

In the 'Further Reading' section toward the back, just before the nine-page bibliography, Manning includes the titles of several good books that his readers may find interesting. What I found interesting is that he included Randa Abdel-Fattah's Does My Head Look Big in This?. I have a copy that I picked up on sale recently. Abdel-Fattah is interesting, articulate, and engaging. In September last year she was interviewed for The Weekend Australian by Rosemary Neill.

When asked why she thought her book had received such positive reviews, and had sold so well, Abdel-Fattah knew immediately what to say. She attributes the book's appeal "to an overwhelming thirst for alternative narratives".

"I think most intelligent people can see past the demonic and one-dimensional images of Muslims and are thirsting for an insight into the Muslim community."

Manning's book, which had been borrowed from Fisher Library when I looked it up and is again on request by another potential reader, fills a similar gap. Recommended.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez' feud with Mario Vargas Llosa is somewhat illuminated by a photographer who took a photo of the Colombian writer a few days after Vargas Llosa gave him a black eye at a film premiere. It is published in The Times.

The broadsheet's Web site has recently had a makeover, and now sports a fetching green as a signature colour. The books page has been redesigned. I think it is better than it was before.
The winner of the Kiriyama Prize, which "is awarded annually in recognition of outstanding books that promote greater understanding of and among the nations of the Pacific Rim and of South Asia", will be announced at the end of this month. In today's 'Undercover' column, The Sydney Morning Herald books editor Susan Wyndham notes that Keiran Desai's Booker Prize-winning novel The Inheritance of Loss is a finalist.

Another finalist is Haruki Murakami's short story collection Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, I was informed by Kiriyama prize manager Jeannine Stronach by e-mail at the end of last month. The prize was initiated in 1996 with a bequest from the Agon Shu Buddhist association's leader Reverend Seiyu Kiriyama. Prize administrator Peter Coughlan says that "The Reverend Kiriyama did us the great service of making us grants at the outset of our efforts, and although there is no further funding from him we will always be grateful to him for his kindness".

A Japan specialist at the University of Sydney says "I have heard of Agon Shu but do not have detailed information".

Agon Shu's Web site says that "members of Agon Shu work sincerely to achieve peace and understanding in the world among all nations and religions, thereby reducing conflicts and helping mankind to find better solutions to every type of crisis".

Agon Shu has sponsored many events in the West, and the Kiriyama Prize seems to be run independently of the church. I was interested to see that Wyndham mentioned the prize without any qualifications or caveats. I, myself, was suspicious when I received the e-mail announcing the finalists. My Sydney Uni correspondent agreed that I was correct to be suspicious. "You are right to be cautious because many of those small religious sects make newspapers' headlines for unsavoury practices."

Kiriyama also established the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Institute in 1993. "This Institute sponsors a number of initiatives, including the Kiriyama Prize, under the name 'Pacific Rim Voices'", according to the Kiriyama Prize Web site. "The Kiriyama Prize, like the KPRI itself, has no specific political or religious agenda."

This last sentence seems to be new. I don't recall seeing it when I visited the site earlier this month. The PRV Web site contains the same disclaimer. It also has a link back to the the prize Web site, where the judges are profiled. The fiction judging panel comprises Alden Mudge (chair), Alan Cheuse, Pam Chun, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, and Abby Pollak. They all seem to be writers.

Friday, 16 March 2007

Kate Legge's novel The Unexpected Elements of Love, which I reviewed last September, has been shortlisted for the prestigious Miles Franklin award, reports Jason Steger, the literary editor of The Age.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) will launch a Second Life property (ABC Island) next Monday. Its Four Corners program ("Investigative TV journalism at its best") that evening will include a piece on SL. And at 9.30pm journalist Ticky Fullerton "will be answering questions from a small audience inside Second Life".

The program will also be simulcast inside SL. This is good news for me. I've just purchased a wide-screen digital TV but my apartment block has no digital aerial. It won't be installed until the 24th (election day), so no signal for me until then.

The Sydney Morning Herald has run a story on the ABC's SL encounter. It notes that ABC managing director Mark Scott has an avatar "but no, he's not going to reveal his name".

The author of the piece, Stephen Hutcheon, has one too and it's called Esteban Xiao.

I really think the ABC should publish Ticky Fullerton's avatar name.

For the benefit of visitors outside Australia, the ABC is different from other TV stations because it's funded 100 per cent by the federal government. It also is notable for having a more liberal cast than other broadcasters. This is not to say that the ABC is biased. Nevertheless, it tends to lean toward the left when covering most stories.

It's interesting that The Australian newspaper, which tends to be more conservative than The Herald, did not run a story on the ABC's venture.

Yesterday, I logged into SL and visited The Pond, which is an island that has been established by Telstra, Australia's largest telecommunications company. There were a few people there, but I saw no special events in train. I left after about five minutes, having spoken to noone.

Thursday, 15 March 2007

Waterstone's, a British bookshop chain, is set to lose "up to 30" shops, according to The Guardian. And its remaining outlets would move to reduce the number of high-end titles offered:

The head of Waterstone's, Gerry Johnson, said there would be more emphasis on novels, cookery and children's books and less on "academic and humanities" areas, which he said could still be bought online.

Management denies that the new format represents a "dumbing down":

Mr Johnson denied that the chain was being dumbed down, pointing to the current promotion of the relaunched range of Penguin classics.

As if Penguin Classics was high-end! Penguin Classics is a middle-brow selection of no-brainer titles that appeals to readers who don't have the deep interest required to really investigate global offerings, and to find good books on their own. Buying a Penguin Classic is an admission that you have relinquished choice to the editors of the publishing house.

The story goes on to talk about Waterstone's online presence. Here, there are some interesting items. With only 2 per cent of the online market, Waterstones was clearly failing to make an impression. But it "is planning a social networking site". That should be interesting.

I subscribe to Waterstone's e-mail feed. It is relentlessly Anglo-centric. It mentions authors and media personalities who do not resonate at all with a global audience. This is a clear failing. Another failing is that all prices are quoted in pounds sterling, which makes little sense to those living outside the U.K.

In all, I think that Waterstone's needs to improve. Nevertheless, compared to Australian chains such as Angus & Robertson, they're doing a lot. A&R has utterly ignored the Internet as a marketing vehicle.

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Fairfax Media announced today that it "will extend its conversion from a newspaper publisher to a multi-media company by launching specialist business and sporting websites next week, businessday.com.au and leaguehq.com.au."

This is an interesting development, following the company's decision to launch a Brisbane-centric Web site, which employs 14 journalists. If they keep this up, who knows what they might do?

Imagine: a dedicated arts Web site with a team of arts reporters and critics. Which would mean more book news and reviews. The Sydney Morning Herald, Fairfax' Sydney broadsheet, already contains a books page. But it's not updated every day. The only other Australian books pages that compete belong to The Age (Fairfax' Melbourne broadsheet) and The Australian, News Corp's flagship.

Mike van Niekerk, the online editor-in-chief of Fairfax Digital, said that the new websites represented additional points of entry for people to Fairfax Media.

Let's hope Mike sees the light.
No chance to post for two days. Unusual for me, I know. But business has kept me away from the keyboard. Classes on Monday and Tuesday nights followed by the ritual reading of the broadsheets have ensured I had no time to compose anything here.

Yesterday I got a call from an old friend who has made a visit to Australia and today we spent a couple of hours talking in the cafeteria of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Over a beer, we caught up. We then raced through the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman as I needed to get back to my car before the meter expired.

Her Web site contains many interesting photographs, if you feel like visiting. She still teaches, makes her own work and also undertakes commissions for magazines and corporations.

Sunday, 11 March 2007

Richard Stanton, who wrote this text book, is my tutor. Classes have started, so it's likely that my reviewing of fiction and other leisure-time tomes will cease for a while. A few months maybe. I don't feel qualified to review this book.

I will say, however, that it was an entertaining read. I think that's important. Another text book that I'm currently reading for another class (linguistics) is a deadly bore. It was published, furthermore, in 1991, a long time before the Internet revolution. Many statements appear old-fashioned as a result.

Stanton's book, on the other hand, was published this year and covers much recent history. But it isn't just that. It's fun to read, too. The style is engaging and the narrative is brisk. Half theory and half practical material, it covers what a media officer will be expected to do. As the industry continues to professionalise, with recent graduates of tertiary institutions gaining entry to media companies and the public relations offices of private firms, theory will become more important. Customers will expect a level of professionalism that may have been absent ten or twenty years ago.

Stanton comes to teaching from the industry. This, too, will be more common. In fact, all my teachers so far (bar the linguistics professor who lectures us on Tuesday nights) have had industry experience. So there's a lot of cross-pollination going on. And I think that's a good thing.

Saturday, 10 March 2007

Clare Allan spent 15 months in a mental hospital and nine years recovering from the trauma of psychosis. Now she has published a book, Poppy Shakespeare. There's a short piece in the latest issue of marie claire that she wrote, chronicling briefly her experiences.

They sound horrible.

The world had closed its doors and I was locked outside. It wasn't that I couldn't imagine growing old and having a baby — I couldn't imagine the next five seconds, let alone five minutes.

Which sounds like depression.

Friends called; I left the answerphone on. I felt threatened by their concern. I wouldn't use the phone anyway, fearing it was bugged, my paranoia was all-consuming. Outside I constantly checked over my shoulder and even resorted to hiding in doorways to shake off the phantoms that followed me everywhere.

Which sounds like schizophrenia. With paranoid delusions.

In this state she lived for seven or eight months before being hospitalised, after people began to notice she was harming herself. But hospital wasn't doing her any good so, somehow, this Australian woman who had gone to London to find herself, checked out and began the long road to recovery. A social worker helped her to stabilise.

We wish her well.

Friday, 9 March 2007

Jeri Johnson, an Oxford University academic, gave a talk this afternoon in the Wooley Building at Sydney Uni, 'In Conversation: Editing Joyce, Woolf, Freud'. It is part of a series of free seminars held by the Department of English in semester one.

As the editor of the Oxford World's Classics edition of Ulysses (which has sold over a million copies), she talked about various aspects of the editing process. She admitted to being a 'Joycean'.

The decision as to which version of the novel to use for the text was a fraught one, as Joyce apparently revised the text at every opportunity, as when he received a set of page proofs to check. These interlineations could add up to 30 per cent to the volume.

She outlined the history of the publication of Ulysses. She also discussed the problems associated with Joyce's grandson, Steven. He causes Joyce scholars endless problems, it seems. He resents any examination of his grandfather's life and voices his dislike in no uncertain terms.

With wine included in the program, it was an enjoyable two hours.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

BrisbaneTimes, a new news Web site, has been launched by Fairfax Media. It is the company's first online news site that does not have a print newspaper analogue.

A quick look at the Books page (in the Entertainment section) reveals that all the stories have already been published in The Sydney Morning Herald or The Age, Fairfax's flagship newspapers in Sydney and Melbourne, respectively.

The site's front page differs in architecture from those of the two southern sites. It's simpler, and feels slightly undercooked. It is less dense and has a provisional feel. No doubt the company will continue to develop the front page as the reporting resources of the venture mature.
Elizabeth Jolley's obituary appears in The Guardian. This is the only coverage by a foreign journal so far. The author of the piece is a Guardian reporter.

In contrast, Jean Baudrillard's death is covered by The Australian, although it's a syndicated story.

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Reg Mombassa's exhibition of new work at the Watters Gallery in East Sydney drew a copious crowd. Because I bought some of his works, I was invited to the event. And because it's East Sydney, I decided to catch the train. It's impossible to park your car during the week.

I spent the evening drinking white wine out of small plastic cups and wandering around, looking at the pictures. Every now and then I'd bump into Lyn, a middle-aged woman with lots of stories to tell. We chatted about the pictures and her son, who had purchased an earlier work for $8000. She was quite excited by this, envisioning its appreciation over time. I think she envied me my own purchases.

Almost all the works were sold by the time people started to arrive. Very few had no little red sticker affixed near the frame. A sell-out. Good business. In the photo Mombassa (alias of Chris O'Doherty) is the guy with the long hair toward the left of frame. He used to play in a rock band, and it shows!


Lyn encouraged me to look at the paintings of John Vander. So when I got home, I did. Not exactly my type of art.

I talked with another middle-aged woman on the train going home. She was interested in my glasses. Said I looked like an architect. Hmm. These specs were purchased almost ten years ago for $40. Not exactly A-list.

I told her I was in the market for a new couch and she informed me of a furniture store near where I work, on Parramatta Road. I'll try to drive past there later in the week.

All up I had a very chatty evening.
The Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney has a new director, journalist Jake Lynch. "Stuart Rees who recently retired from the position" says that it's a great and imaginative decision.

Lynch, 41, has been an investigative journalist for many years, most recently in the southern Philippines.

I recently became a member of CPACS. It's quite inexpensive, and assures me timely information about upcoming events. The last of their events I attended was when Zaki Chehab, an Arab journalist, visited Sydney and gave a talk in February 2006.

Lynch is dedicated to the cause of peace and, through his metier, has furthered the cause.

"I noticed that, because of the way media companies run, the most interesting stories never make it to air," he says. He knew he would need to work hard "to ventilate the important issues".

Together with [his wife Annabel] McGoldrick, also working at CPACS, Lynch has spent the past decade developing and campaigning for Peace Journalism.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

LibraryThing was featured in The New York Times two days ago. The article includes words from a LTer, Kathryn Havemann of Dayton, Ohio.

The article reveals that AbeBooks is a part-owner of LT. It happened that today I also received an e-mail from AbeBooks announcing a new feature on their Web site. BookHints uses data stored in LT to provide AbeBooks visitors with suggested reading prompts. From the e-mail:

We've got a new feature! It's like shopping for books with a personal literary advisor! Now when you search for a book, AbeBooks with the help of LibraryThing, will also drop you a hint - a BookHint that is!

BookHints are recommendations for similar and related books based on what you're looking for. By clicking on a book title from the Search Results page, you're taken to the Book Details screen where you'll see the BookHints icon letting you know that there are recommended titles. One click on a BookHints title and you're automatically taken to the search results for that book!

Currently, not all AbeBooks listings offer BookHints recommendations but you'll see more and more recommendations appearing throughout 2007!

Who are these "Book Lovers" recommending books? They're real people who love reading and who catalog and share their personal libraries on LibraryThing (www.librarything.com) and BookHints are taken from these personal libraries! BookHints generates recommendations based upon titles found on the bookshelves of like-minded readers who also own the book originally sought. This means that all BookHints are based on what others have read and are collecting, not simply on what you've bought or looked at. You may never need to ask for a book recommendation again - searching for books on AbeBooks can do it for you!

Monday, 5 March 2007

Manning Clark, author of a magisterial six-volume history of Australia, takes a caning from David Marr in The Sydney Morning Herald. Biographer Mark McKenna, "a fellow in history at Sydney University", reports that Clark was not present on the day of Kristallnacht, as he had asserted frequently. In fact "It was Dymphna Lodewyckx, not Manning Clark, who witnessed the immediate aftermath of Kristallnacht," says McKenna.

Marr dedicates three pages to this exclusive. Just imagine what the reaction would have been if The Australian, which is far more right-wing than The Herald, had broken the story. Clark was a committed socialist.

Sunday, 4 March 2007

Review: The Perfect Storm, Sebastian Junger (1997)

Junger says that before he started writing this book, in October 1991 he went outside with his girlfriend to watch the storm that he would later describe as a journalist. "I was dawdling as a writer," he says,

spending most of my time working for tree companies. I don't see it as a moment of truth, though. The moment came a few months later when I hit my leg with a chainsaw and was injured quite badly. It forced me to take stock of myself. It jolted me. I realised my life wasn't going as planned. I kept thinking: 'You're about to turn 30, what are you doing? Where are you going?'

Because he was working in Gloucester, Massachusetts, he learned that a boat had disappeared in the storm. He took four years to write the book.

It is an entertaining read and well worth the time invested. While some of the description of the weather itself, without any people involved to create suspense, is a bit slow-going, in general I would recommend this book.

The Hollywood film, which was released in 2000, and which I watched when I was living in Japan, differs in many respects from the book. This is, however, to be expected. The film omits the many other rescue efforts that were launched over the days the storm was raging. It concentrates on the swordfish boat that sparked the story for Junger, the Andrea Gail. In fact the film goes where Junger fears to tread in the book. As a journlist, he is keen to eliminate any embroidery that would distort the truth. The filmmakers had no such compunctions. As a result, the film shows scenes that are not in the book.

Saturday, 3 March 2007

Review: All Souls Day, Cees Nooteboom (2001)

Amid the clang and whisper of the present, between the words of people we meet every day or every week, there rushes like a phantom the echo of the past. And that echo is answered by the actions of living people, who commit acts of violence every bit as deadly and destructive as a war between rival kingdoms of a bygone age.

Berlin is no longer divided, politically at least. The signs of the decades-long schism are everywhere felt and, now, the euphoria of its ending has dissipated itself in a million tiny moments. A foreigner with a camera, a Dutchman, walks the winter streets intent on a private project.

Arthur's wife and son died in a plane crash ten years earlier and, now, the one who is left behind makes his home in a city that has a clouded past. To sustain himself, he visits his friends, artists and writers and academics, people like himself who can enjoy the pleasures of the table but who aspire to higher truths. They seem to thrive in Berlin. Perhaps he cannot find such congenial company in Holland. Perhaps he feels that he has no real home anymore.

His private project, beyond the contract work he performs for pecunariy gain, is of long standing. He is in the habit of taking his movie camera with him wherever he goes. You never know when you will see something that can be added to the files.

Into his world arrives a woman, also a stranger, also Dutch (although he doesn't know that at first). He also doesn't know that, like him, she has a violent past. They are flung together and make love, wordlessly, in his flat or hers. Arthur seems changed, to his friends. She has changed him and they are worried about him.

They continue making meaning out of the chaos of life while he plunges into an affair the meaning of which he cannot fathom.

Between chapters we are addressed by unnamed beings who seem to be outside of history. They are beyond mere physical violence and political struggle. They comment on Arthur's life and the lives of his friends, but they never reach into them. Cold and distant, they trace delicate patterns on the surface of the narrative. While they seem to understand more than we ever could, they cannot fathom the pathos and passion of human existence.

But they also are part of Nooteboom's grand plan. This is a meditative work. Complex and far-reaching, it tosses complicated concepts about history and politics into the air and predicts where they will fall. Clearly some kind of masterpiece, All Souls Day eschews the simple formulas of romance and comedy while it coopts well-used tropes into its fantastic fabric.

The clues that Elik Oranje places before Arthur's nose are as mysterious as the finality of his trajectory as he drives through Spain in his Volvo Amazon, turning west, then north. With a shiver, we realise that the mystery is part of Nooteboom's plan for this novel. Inscrutable as the beings who pepper the narrative with their whistful pronouncements, the author has the last laugh. Leaves us yearning.

And perhaps that's the point. As the earth spins and man brings pain on his fellow mortals, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. But there is an end to this book. Once you've seen it, you'll probably always go looking for it in other books too.

Highly recommended.

Friday, 2 March 2007

The Archibald winner has been announced. It's John Beard's portrait of fellow artist Janet Laurence.


As usual, the subject of the painting was interviewed by the various news media. It's such a circus.


Sebastian Smee, The Australian's art critic, is not amused. For his own preferences.


Other prizes that are announced at the same time are the Wynne and the Sulman.

Winner of the Sulman Prize is David Disher for Axis of Elvis. "The Sir John Sulman Prize is awarded for the best subject painting or genre painting or mural project by an Australian artist."

The Wynne Prize has been won by Philip Wolfhagen for Winter Nocturne IV. "The Wynne Prize is awarded to the best landscape painting of Australian scenery in oils or watercolours or for the best example of figure sculpture, by an Australian artist."

Thursday, 1 March 2007

Amos Oz has a long piece about Jews and the culture of the people of Israel on the Web site of Italian journal La Stampa. I've endeavoured to translate it, as follows. Anything that fails to make sense is probably the result of my poor understanding of the language of origin.

We Jews wandering without a pope

Frank reflexion on the people of Israel who, from the time of Moses, have hated to obey, debating everything with God

Democracy and tolerance imply humanism, humanism implies pluralism — in other words the recognition of the common right of all men to be different from each other. Diversity between men is not a transitory evil, rather a source of benediction: we are different from one another not because some among us are unable to see the light, but rather because there are many different kinds of light in the world; many faiths and opinions and not just one faith and one opinion.

The Jews have no pope. If a Jewish pope were ever to appear, every coreligionist would go and give him a good slap on the back, saying: listen, you don’t know me nor do I know you, but your grandfather and my uncle used to do business together, in Zithomir, or in Marrakesh… So give me two minutes so I can explain once and for all what exactly God wants from us. Sure, we saw all kinds of assholes and there were those who followed them with their eyes shut. But throughout their history, the people of Israel hate to obey. Ask Moses, ask the prophets. Even God complains non-stop that the people of Israel don’t obey and instead discuss everything; the people discuss with Moses. Moses discusses with God, hands over his resignation and in the end takes it back — but only after negotiations and only after God submits to receive the substance of his demands (Exodus 32, 33). Abraham negotiates with Him about Sodom like a used-car salesman: fifty of the just, forty, thirty… And he dares throw in God’s teeth a fairly hefty sin, “The judge of all the world doesn’t judge according to law” (Genesis 18, 25-32); furthermore we don’t see fire descending from heaven to consume our patriarch, for these heretical words of his. The people quarrel with the prophets, the prophets quarrel with God, the kings quarrel with the people and with the prophets, Job protests while turned to the sky. Who, for his part, refuses to confess to having done wrong by Job and yet lavishes compensation on him personally. Even in recent generations there have been many pious men who have brought God before the law of the Torah.

Israel’s culture has an anarchic nucleus: we don’t want discipline. We don’t obey so much: we demand justice. A donkey driver or some shepherd in whom resides the holy spirit has the right to rule over the people of Israel or to compose psalms. A picker of sycamores one morning wakes up and begins to prophesy. Some shepherd originally from Calba Shavua, a shoemaker, a smith, any one of them could have signed the Torah and expounded it and with that leave an indelible impression on the everyday life of all the people of Israel. Nevertheless — the question hovers always, or almost always: what are you doing here? How do we know that you are actually this? You are really strong on the Torah, but who’s to tell us that in the road behind us there doesn’t live another who can knock you off your perch and arrive at the opposite conclusion? Quite often, in fact, “as much as these so much those others are words of the living God”.

Almost always the word of authority is constrained to affirm itself by virtue of a partial consensus, not unanimous. The cultural history of Israel in recent millennia is a chain of bitter divisions, some vile and turbulent, others fertile. In general there was never any compelling mechanism of official authority; at most Tom was the most illustrious of his company because he was thought to be, enough said. Jewish culture at its best has always been a culture of mediation, of negotiation, of waiting for one sentence and for another, of harsh powers of persuasion, of objections “in the name of heaven”, of arguments for “growing and honouring the Torah”, and even less of potent impulsiveness disguised by learned diatribes. This spiritual base is easily grafted onto the idea of democracy as polyphony — a choir of diverse voices permitted by a system of rule that must be respected. So many lights, not just one. So many faiths and so many opinions, not one alone.

In effect, there were and there are in the culture of Israel “enclaves” of blind obedience. Which are, in my opinion, a form of deviance from tradition, even when they pretend to hold a mortgage on tradition. Blind obedience cannot be traditional. “We will do and we will listen" (Exodus 24, 7) means: we will do as long as we can listen.

For thousands of years there has been nothing that all Jews as one man were in agreement on believing a miracle, a prodigy. Without fail there are sceptics and doubters and deniers. Before almost every authority another appears that is opposed. There are very few who contemporaries and those who came after have considered authoritative without appeal. At the very end, “the source of authority” in Israeli culture is the willingness of the people — or of some of them — to accept this master, this jurist, this saintly man who gave proof of miracles, or this spiritual guide, as authoritative. The hierarchy is voluntary. In this sense, Jewish culture has a profoundly and unequivocally democratic character.

I will use the definition that I learned from my daughter Fania, professor Fania Oz-Salzberger of the University of Haifa: “Liberal democracy is the organisation of a society or a state, whose declared scope is to establish a logical order between the desires belonging to the individual, preserving his freedom. The system mediates thus between the individual desires through the direction and the decision of the majority.”

I should add: and the preservation of the rights of the minority with a system of compromises. Doctor Fania Oz-Salzberger writes also that the second request in the discussion among democrats is: “Political freedom is substantially negative — live and let live — or positive: live in the right way in order to be truly free?” I’ve also learned from my daughter that the declared democrats of the beginning of the modern era were precisely religious zealots, the Huguenots in France and the Levellers in Great Britain, who fought against the attempts of the government to constrain them to accept the religion of the majority.
Kevin Mcgue reviews Ben Hills' book Princess Masako: Prisoner of the Chrysanthemum Throne
in Metropolis. It's not surprising, but gratifying nevertheless that Mcgue has chosen this book (or the journal's editors handed it to him) to review. It's perfect material for an intelligent Westerner with an interest in Japan.

Mcgue labels Hills "an Australian investigative reporter with considerable experience in Japan" and notes that "Hills allows himself liberties that would be unimaginable for the Japanese press". Which is why this book is so valuable. It injects a fresh perspective into the eager but misguided debate revolving around the throne in this most secretive of countries. The Japanese tabloid press, misled by the people Hills calls the Men in Black (the Kunaicho or Imperial Household Agency), is no doubt institutionally incapable of reaching meaningful conclusions.

"Researching this book ... was undoubtedly difficult for Hills" notes Mcgue. It's an understatement. Getting access to the royals, who many Japanese still perceive as akin to deities, is a fraught business. Hills no doubt does his best, but from reading this review it appears he has possibly overstretched the potential of the few details he's had to work with, and produced words more full of speculation than fact. Until I read the book, I'll have to reserve judgement.

Thanks to Mcgue and Metropolis for covering this book.