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Monday, 30 April 2007

Jim Woodring, an American cartoonist (two of whose creations are shown here), will visit Sydney at the end of May. He is due to participate in a "collaborative show" at the Opera House Studio. A 30-minute reading by Woodring and "musical interpretations of his work" (?) promises something a little bit different.


What caught my eye, apart from the striking images, was that Woodring is actually a modern-day William Blake.

"From the age of five, Woodring's day-to-day activities have been punctuated by strange visions and hallucinations - experiences that have provided inspiration for his work," writes Paul Bibby in The Sydney Morning Herald.

Blake frequently saw visions, such as the creature that we know so well from his tempera painting The Ghost of a Flea (1819-20). Woodring is thus quite a unique individual. Although I've never heard of him, I may just try to work out how I can attend the performance on 25 and 26 May. That's a Friday and a Saturday, in case you're wondering.

It is difficult not to be a fan of Blake, whose talent for both poetry and visual art is fairly unique. Few people would be totally unaware of some parts of his poetry. His Jerusalem is well known nowadays. It was set to music in 1916 and is still sung as a hymn, notably in Anglican churches.


Blake's fate was for many years to work unacknowledged by the dominant practitioners of his time. At one stage he was working on etchings (his vocation since childhood) for catalogues marketing products manufactured by ceramics-maker Wedgewood. Only in the early nineteenth century, amid a resurgence of Christian evangelism in the British Isles, did Blake find kindred spirits among his countrymen. Or, rather, they found him.

He would go on to become one of the most influential artists of his era.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Mark Scott, the ABC's (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) managing director since May 2006, is interviewed in The Weekend Australian Magazine by senior journalist Caroline Overington. Scott is 43 and possesses a Masters of Public Administration from Harvard as well as a Bachelor of Arts, a Diploma of Education and a Master of Arts from Sydney Uni.

He's been in the broadsheets as well this weekend, and was photographed with the boys from The Chaser's War on Everything, who he's obviously trying to keep at the ABC. He's mindful, as everyone is, that Kath & Kim defected to Channel Seven recently.

Overington bangs on about Scott's father and grandfather, as all the journos do. His forebears, like Scott himself, were bureaucrats. Big deal. It doesn't mean anything beyond a desire shared by all journalists to provide the complete picture. If Scott was from Bankstown instead of the north shore, it would be just as bad that he wants to "make changes and make choices" at the ABC which is, rightly, one of the most respected and admired institutions in the country.

So far, the debate has hinged mainly on whether he will introduce advertising on ABC Web sites. He's already said that no advertising will be run on the TV or radio arms. But dyed-in-the-wool ABCites like Stateline host Quentin Dempster don't trust Scott.

Neither do I. Apart from anything else, he's a Christian who, apparently, is one of "God's secret agents trying to bring the life and light of Jesus into one of the most hostile parts of our society, the media." The quote is from God Under Howard, a book by Marion Maddox, and the words were spoken by a Baptist minister.

Scott spent time at Fairfax reporting for The Sydney Morning Herald before being booted upstairs into management roles. His rhetoric shows us why: "We are looking at ways of maximising revenue, and of course we are conscious of protecting our reputation." Possibly he was just a bad reporter.

Paddy McGuiness, reporter and editor of staunchly conservative monthly Quadrant, wrote last year that Scott would change nothing. "The feminists, the gay-rights advocates, the ecumenical searchers for the meaning of life, the anti-Catholics ... the America-haters can rest secure."

What McGuiness doesn't realise is that it is because of these people that we admire and wish to maintain the autonomy of, the ABC. Scott has apparently been doing his best to stay on-side with staff, reports Overington. She hammers away at the advertising issue like a good journo should.

Dempster is to have a face-to-face meeting with Scott in the near future, it seems. Oh, to be a fly on the wall!
I Go To Die For You, a film celebrating the kamikaze pilots who sank 34 ships in World War Two, and whose raid on Pearl Harbour brought the United States into the global conflict, will be released next month according to a Reuters story in The Scotsman. Al Jazeera ran a segment today on the film, which showed the director saying, provocatively: "Japan had no choice".

It is inevitable that the release will stir up negative feelings in China and Korea, as well as among veterans in other countries affected by Japan's egregious militarism in the first half of the twentieth century.


The Al Jazeera segment shows veterans, like this man, talking about the kamikaze phenomenon, a particularly Japanese method of fighting, and one that has contemporary echoes in the high suicide rate that still bedevils the north Asian nation.


The Reuters story tells us that Shintaro Ishihara, the controversial governor of Tokyo, who won a third term earlier this month, "waited years for financing to get his script produced". This pedigree assures a negative reception to the film, "made with the cooperation of the country's armed forces", in nations that were victims of the unspeakable atrocities carried out by Japanese troops.

How the Japanese people themselves react to the film would make a very interesting news feature.

Friday, 27 April 2007

Karen Middleton, chief political correspondent of the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), covered the Australian Labor Party's (ALP) National Conference tonight, ushering in a new phase of the prolonged federal election campaign. Labor has consistently led in the polls since Kevin Rudd assumed the leadership of the Labor Party last year.


Rudd, along with deputy Julia Gillard, who I wrote about earlier this month, is seen as a viable alternative to the incumbent conservative leader, whose government has been in power since 1996. One issue working against the Labor Party is the fact that all states and territories are governed by Labor premiers and chief ministers. A win for Labor in the federal elections, due in September or October (although it could be later), would result in total Labor domination in Australia.

John Howard, born in 1939, is labelled old-fashioned by Rudd. But the strong economy, fuelled by strong exports to Asian powerhouse China, remains a feather in the cap of the Liberal leader.

In an attempt to frighten the electorate, Howard's message is that the trade unions will prosper under a Labor government, taking the country back 30 years, resulting in higher unemployment, higher interest rates, and lower productivity. Unions have progressively lost members over the past 30 years, and are now feeling threatened, especially since the Howard government introduced new industrial relations laws that remove unions from the employer-employee relationship.

Rudd has used the media in recent weeks to distance himself from traditional Labor policies, and especially at the current conference has said:

  • He will allow new uranium mining
  • He will not allow the unions to dominate policy-making

Also working against Howard is the continuing instability in Iraq. Most Australians now believe that Howard lied to parliament in 2003, prior to committing troops to the 'Coalition of the Willing', an Anglo bloc led by the president of the United States.

Fortunately for Howard, only one member of the armed forces, private Jake Kovko, has been killed in the Iraq theatre. The Army says that his pistol discharged while he was "skylarking" in his Baghdad barracks, a pronouncement stridently rejected by Kovko's widow, Shelley.

The Co-op Bookshop has a sale on now!

Hie thee thenceward Australians! And benefit from low prices and quality stock. As it is affiliated with universities, titles available from the Co-op are pretty unique. You won't find this kind of material at any of the major chains, who of course have their own sales periodically throughout the year.

The Co-op's sale is on for a while yet, so there's plenty of time. In New South Wales they have outlets at the University of Sydney and the University of Technology, Sydney.

My purchases today (for around $125) are:

Notebooks: 1970 - 2003, Murray Bail (2005)
The Ideas Market: An alternative take on Australia's intellectual life, David Carter ed. (2004)
Where the Jackals Howl and other stories, Amos Oz (1980)
Unto Death, Amos Oz (1971)
The Tent, Margaret Atwood (2006)
Stanley and the Women, Kinglsey Amis (1984)
Key Concepts in Journalism Studies, Bob Franklin, Martin Hamer, Mark Hanna, Marie Kinsey and John E. Richardson (2005)
Journey to the End of the Night, Louis-Ferdinand Celine (1934, trans. Ralph Manheim 1983)
The Vintage Mencken, gathered by Alistair Cooke (1990)
Arthur & George, Julian Barnes (2005)
The Cave, Jose Saramago (2002)
Out of the Silence: A Story of Love, Betrayal, Politics and Murder, Wendy James (2005)
On Literature, Umberto Eco (2005)
Violence and the Media: A Reference Handbook, Nancy Signorelli (2005)
The Modern Murasaki: Writing by Women of Meiji Japan, Rebecca L. Copeland and Melek Ortabasi eds. (2006)
The Reader, Bernhard Schlink (1997)
The Zigzag Way, Anita Desai (2004)
The Key, Junichiro Tanizaki (1961)
Visiting Mrs Nabokov, And Other Excursions, Martin Amis (1993)

As you can see, many of these titles are of quite recent origin. Differentiating itself from other chains, the Co-op offers some pretty interesting stuff that can be read either as part of a course of study or simply for pleasure.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

The ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corp) spirit, captured here in a photo of an old man in a car, part of the morning parade I presume, grasping a 'stubby' of VB (the brand of beer is a national icon) and the Australian flag, demonstrates the depths to which ideas of nationhood have descended, in recent years, in this country.


Al Jazeera covered the memorial marches, but with a difference. Their reporter was in Redfern, an inner-city slum the indigenous population considers a cornerstone of their efforts to gain some sort of sovereignty over themselves, with the black 'diggers' (what soldiers are commonly called here) who served in the various wars that have come to be such an important part of nationhood.

Today, The Sydney Morning Herald notes, as did Al Jazeera, that while their service on the front lines of war was valued, once they returned home they became second-class citizens again. Aborigines were declared full citizens only in 1967.

Meanwhile, in Bathurst, a group of five teenage girls painted the words "Anzacs are murderers" on the cenotaph in the NSW town. The president of the NSW RSL (Returned Services League), Don Rowe, labelled the act "absolutely bloody terrible". The premier, Morris Iemma, said the girls should be "kicked up the backside".

But was it so bad? I mean, after all, most Australian have no conception of the reasons for the First World War. That's just for a start. But to see and hear young Australian girls, camped on the foreshore of Gallipoli for the annual orgy of self-satisfaction that is the ANZAC service, is to imagine that we empathise with the young men, some only 16 years old, who volunteered to be blown to bits.

In the service of Britain, not of Australia. The First World War was fought in France and Belgium, mainly. The Gallipoli adventure was a complete failure and a miscalculation by ignorant British generals. At no time was Australian sovereignty threatened. It was a war fought for all the wrong reasons: patriotism, pride, and an emotional attachment to the Mother country that we are well rid of.

Blindly glorifying militarism, especially when you have no clue as to the reasons behind the war, is a pitiful spectacle to watch. But the media venally panders to the public's insatiable appetite for self-congratulation (we won!) and covered the events with splendid fulsomeness.
Fairfax Media CEO David Kirk today announced that in the first half of 2008 The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age — the two premier metropolitan broadsheets in Australia — will be reduced in size "so that [readers] can spend more time with our newspapers".

I'm not sure I understand what he means. For commuters, certainly, a narrower format may be welcome. Personally, I do not see the benefit. Presumably, Fairfax editors will include additional pages to contain the stories displaced by the reduction.

The Australian broke the story this morning and the SMH followed soon after.

The change in format will be accompanied by "integration of production staff ... at both mastheads". "[B]ut not reporters or photographers."

At One Darling Island, online and print editors will be working on newsdesks across from each other. There will be a massive multimedia wall that will bring the world to our newsroom and connect us with the world. Editorial decisions will be made with print, internet and mobile options available. Video will be a bigger part of what we offer online.

"[W]e will undertake a voluntary redundancy program for Herald Publications production staff, in the range of 30-35 FTEs." That means around 30 people will be retrenched. But not reporters. This is to flag Fairfax' commitment to producing quality content.

"[Kirk] said the company had not finalised what the new size would be although The New York Times was cited as an example of the type of narrower broadsheet that Fairfax is paying "particular attention" to."

The news follows a fall in earnings at Fairfax, which reported a 2.7 per cent drop in net profit to $121 million for the half year ending December 31 last year.

I have been watching the treatment books pages have received of late in U.S. newspapers. The litbloggers are posting on this topic almost daily. It will be interesting to see if the SMH attacks its culture pages, in the weekend Spectrum supplement.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

The Insight program of last week has been waiting for me to get around to watching it, which I did today. It’s on their website to view as a podcast. I wrote about the debate last year.

Young Tamara Wood, in the Insight audience, sometimes uses Barbies as the mothers of the Bratz.

Maria Roberto, a psychologist, thinks there’s a problem with body image, something some of the mothers in the studio also flagged as a problem, especially in the early teens. One mother thought that the material consumed in the tweens would influence attitudes held in the teens. “They’re engaging in adult conversations and they’re using concepts that they are really not very familiar with,” says Roberto.

But Duncan Fine, co-author with Catharine Lumby of Why TV is Good for Kids, thinks there’s “a lot of paranoia coming from parents.”

“When an eight-year-old wants to be Paris Hilton or wants to dance around like Kylie Minogue, what they’re really saying is … it’s like my big sister. I just want to be like my big sister. I want to be a bit more grown-up.” He thinks the material consumed by tweens is harmless. He thinks children know what marketing is. “They’re very savvy.”

He thinks parents should tell their children about marketing.

The producers found a ten-year-old boy in Melbourne who was found having sex with his six-year-old sister. He made sure his mother and father were occupied elsewhere before engaging in the act. He told his sister it was a secret, and that she mustn’t tell anyone.

His father thinks he may have picked up the clues to this behaviour from magazines and TV, especially the music clips. “It might have been anything.” They don’t know the reason for the behaviour.

The video shows Dr Joe Tucci, chief executive officer of the Australian Childhood Foundation, saying that we’re turning kids into consumers that have an interest in sexual material. But is there any hard evidence?

According to Tucci, one of the factors in the cases of children who engage in inappropriate sexual activity “has to be this ever-increasing sexual imagery that’s out there. It just confuses children.”

He thinks parents should talk about sex with their children in a “positive way rather than a destructive way”. According to Duncan Fine, there is no evidence that it is the images from popular culture that cause the inappropriate behaviour.

Clive Hamilton of the Australia Institute thinks there is a case to be made for “corporate paedophilia”. He says that girls are aspiring to a “slutty celebrity image”. He says “we as a society have an obligation to protect children from this barrage of sexualising material”.

Duncan Fine thinks that using the term “paedophilia” is “pretty disgraceful”.

Joe Tucci wants advertisers to produce a ‘child impact study’ for every campaign.

Hamilton wants a ban on advertising to children under twelve. Fine says that this puts us on the road to becoming like the Taliban.

Lesley Brydon of the Advertising Federation of Australia says that the Advertising Standards Board listens to complaints.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Gill Hicks' One Unknown, which recounts her experience of being blown up in the July 2005 London bombings, and her recent recovery process, will be launched in Australia, her native country, on Tuesday.

The book's title comes from her identification immediately following the explosions as 'One unknown, estimated female 1960'.

"How insulting is that?" Hicks comments now. Now that she's got her life back, minus the legs that were so badly damaged they had to be amputated. "It's great to be alive!" she says.

Hicks, 39, still works in London as head of curation at Britain's Design Council. Her husband, Joe Kerr, 48, who she married after recovering from the event, is head of critical and historical studies at London's Royal College of Art.

Most striking about Hicks' book, it would seem (having not read it), is her attitude toward the young Muslim men who detonated the explosive devices on 7 July 2005.

"I cannot hate the person who's done this to me; the cycle must end with me."

"I'm compelled to understand — to offer an open heart, to try to hear and ask, 'Why?'"

Which is truly remarkable.

When you compare Hicks' attitude with the outrage aimed at Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, you have to admire her. Fifty-two people died in the London attacks. In Virginia, 32 people died.

Hicks is featured in the Sunday magazine, which is a supplement with The Sunday Telegraph, News Corp's weekend tabloid.

Saturday, 21 April 2007

Nicole Kidman will play Mrs Coulter in Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass. The books in the trilogy of which it forms a part have sold 14 million copies in 40 countries, reports Valerie Lawson in The Sydney Morning Herald.

British playwright Tom Stoppard was involved in scripting but was dropped from the project after a new director, Chris Weitz, was brought on board. Deborah Forte, a producer, said that "When you're producing a film, you know you can't hold the audience for too long. It's all about making condensed choices." As for Pullman:

"I liked what Tom Stoppard wrote very much but I could see the studio's point of view." Reading between the lines, it seems that Stoppard took the story into more complicated realms than New Line thought wise for a teenage audience.

At one point Weitz resigned from the project "citing technical challenges". But apparently the resignation "followed an article in The Times that claimed the religious elements of Pullman's work would be toned down, as New Line wanted to ensure the film did not have problems at the American box office."

Pullman was greatly impressed by the work of John Milton while studying at Oxford.

"I learned a great deal from Mr Milton." Paradise Lost was "the greatest narrative poem in English" and the basis for Dark Materials' "landscapes of hell, fire, darkness and wild places."

According to Lawson, Pullman objects to religious power only "when it becomes political, achieves political authority — that's when it becomes dangerous. It's not [about] your private religious feelings about God ... I am not anti-religion."

But Melanie McDonaugh, a critic with The Evening Standard, says that the trilogy "is actually a rather blatant and exceptionally offensive anti-Christian polemic."

She also says that "readers should be alerted to [this aspect of the work] because it is a proselytising agenda".

Forte says the book is "a story about love, courage, responsibility, and honour".

As Lawson's kicker says: "Christian-bashing or coming-of-age story? Why Philip Pullman is under fire."

Pullman is 60 years old and "spent his early childhood with his mother and stepfather in Australia". He enjoyed Norman Lindsay's The Magic Pudding as a child.
Ryszard Kapuscinski, who died in January, is to attend the PEN World Voices Festival in New York this month, according to Susan Wyndham.

In fact, Kapuscinski will be the topic of discussion at 2pm on 29 April at the New York Public Library. The session is titled 'A Tribute to Ryszard Kapuscinski'.

Wyndham's piece focuses on Caro Llewellyn, previously the director of the Sydney Writers' Festival, who "hit the ground running" in New York six months ago.
Chloe Hooper will receive $300,000 for "a two-book deal: a novel, and a non-fiction account of the recent troubles on Palm Island" from Penguin Australia, reports Steve Meacham in The Sydney Morning Herald.

The story is about Penguin Australia's publisher of adult books, Ben Ball, and his recent munificence.

Palm Island is very much Hooper's "territory". I covered the Walkley Award she won for her magazine articles on the troubled aboriginal community, back in November. I also noted an article on the same topic she published in Melbourne-based magazine The Monthly.
Zhiqing Zhong, a "a literary editor and translator of Hebrew literature", is interviewed in Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz by Shiri Lev-Ari. She compares the experiences of the Chinese and the Jews in the wake of twentieth-century atrocities.

"In the 1950s, the Germans began to recognize the injustice they perpetrated against the Jewish people," Zhiqing says. "But the Japanese still do not accept responsibility for their actions, not even the massacre and rape of Nanking. That's what really hurts."

Zhong has "translated 60 Israeli novels to date".

"'My Michael' and 'To Know a Woman' [by Amos Oz] each sold 10,000 copies. They were mainly read by literary figures and students. There are two university institutes here that teach the Hebrew language, but there are no Hebrew literature courses yet. Interest in European and American literature is only beginning now. This may be followed by an interest in Jewish and Israeli literature."
A full two days after the story broke, The New York Times, reputedly one of the world's leading broadsheets, has covered the killing of Nagasaki mayor Itcho Ito.

Nevertheless, they have unearthed Hirozumi Chiyoda, a spokesman for the Nagasaki prefecture police. No other journalist so far has been able to locate such an individual.

Chiyoda "would not comment on a possible motive", writes Martin Fackler. Fackler also writes that "local news media reports have quoted unnamed police officials as saying Mr. Shiroo had confessed to the shooting".

Jesus! The man was tackled to the ground with a loaded gun in his hand immediately after the shooting. This is how Japan operates? All these "unnamed officials" covering their asses while their spokesman refuses to comment on a motive...

"Hirotami Yamada, secretary general of the Nagasaki Council of A-bomb Sufferers, which opposes nuclear weapons" said “My honest belief is that crime happened because Mayor Ito probably went too far in his peace activism.”

“Why would someone who is near 60 do something like this because of a mere 100,000 yen?”

Then the clincher:

Some in Japan fear that political violence, aimed at silencing opponents of the right, may be increasing here.

Friday, 20 April 2007

Steven Gan, Malaysiakini co-founder, says that ex-prime minister Mahathir Mohamad is a hypocrite.

Mahathir expressed his support for bloggers, who have been attacked by ministers of the Malaysian government. The Sydney Morning Herald reported recently that "Deputy energy, water and communications minister Shaziman Abu Mansor said his department was considering an option to make surfers identify themselves so that the government can track their activities."

"We might follow some other countries who register bloggers as well," he told AFP. "That's what Singapore is doing as well."

The Star columnist Joceline Tan reported that Shaziman made similar remarks in parliament. Singapore, however, does not register bloggers.

Gan implied that Mahathir's "realisation of the value of alternative news sources" contrasted radically with his attitude toward the press when he was prime minister.

Malaysiakini was banned from government press functions and had its offices raided during Mahathir's administration.

"I just wished that he would have said the same thing when he was prime minister," Gan said.

There are some videos on Malaysiakini's Web site that are of interest.
Alexis Wright's Carpentaria is one of four novels shortlisted for the 2007 Miles Franklin Award, Australia's premier literature prize. Kerryn Goldsworthy predicted its inclusion (and missed out on the quinella by one). Over on Matilda, Perry notes that one person who commented on an earlier post predicted the list accurately.

So we come to coverage in the press. My prize for best reporting goes to Susan Wyndham of The Sydney Morning Herald. Her headline, 'Westerners have the write stuff', highlights the fact that two of the shortlisted authors hail from Western Australia.

Why does the west - home to Tim Winton, the late Elizabeth Jolley and many others - inspire so much good writing?

"Because there's nothing else to do," Robertson half-joked. "There is something about the emptiness I respond to. There is not as much cultural noise and I can hear my own voice more clearly. I live in Fremantle, which is just a little port, and there is a place for an interior life."

Wyndham calls Wright's entry "a big, satirical novel that looks at the effects of mining on the Gulf country and its communities".

She wanted to tell her story in a way "that might encourage Aboriginal people to read and understand the possibilities of literature to explain who we are" - as endless academic texts and journalism fail to do.

Which, to me, is not quite fair. There has been some excellent reporting on indigenous issues in recent times, not least an article by Wendy Bacon, who is both a journalist AND an academic. My suggestion to Wyndham: there's no need to denigrate one party in order to raise up another.

Tracy Ong in The Australian reports:

Miles Franklin judge Morag Fraser said the panel was unanimous in deciding which four books out of 55 entries would make this year's short list.

"It's a very strong short list," she said.

"This year it was an enormously varied short list. Because Australia is so cosmopolitan, it's difficult to point to either imagery or predominant themes."

And:

Wright is nominated for her second novel, Carpentaria, described by Fraser as an "extraordinary Aboriginal baroque".

Inspired by her involvement in the Waanyi people's battle against the Century Mine in the Gulf of Carpentaria in the 1990s, Wright imagined characters so vivid they would not be out of place in an opera set in far north Queensland.

"It took a long time to figure out how to write it," Wright said. "What I tried to do in Carpentaria was look at how the old stories are told."

In The Age, Jason Steger focuses on Carey.

The West Australian, you would think, would make an effort in consideration of the two native lasses represented so visibly. But in the absence of a literary editor, it contented itself with running a syndicated piece from AAP.

But at least it trumps The Advertiser, Adelaide's daily sheet, which carried nothing.

In Brisbane's The Courier-Mail, Dianne Dempsey's review of Carpentaria is included on one page along with ones for Carey's Theft: A Love Story, and Deborah Robertson's Careless.

There's no coverage in Hobart's Mercury.

The winner will be announced on 21 June.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

ANZ Bank chief executive John Macfarlane says that it was everybody's "responsibility to pursue reconciliation".

"ABORIGINAL disadvantage [is] no one's fault in particular," he said. "And the setting of targets for reconciliation [is] the only way to achieve results."

Mr Macfarlane explained his target-based approach at the launch of the ANZ's reconciliation action plan to provide mainstream jobs for indigenous people and financial education for their communities.

Aboriginal reconciliation is a vexed question in Australia as entrenched disadvantage had spilled over into the media in the form of reports of violence, early mortality, child abuse, alcohol abuse, and high crime rates.

MacFarlane's words were produced at a luncheon at the ANZ's Melbourne headquarters.

Another ANZ executive to speak out in a more liberal vein than might normally be anticipated is the bank's chief economist Saul Eslake, who said that "business should start directing its generosity to the arts instead of sport".

Mr Eslake said that in 2000-01, the latest year for which figures are available, Australian business gave $628 million to sport. In contrast, the arts and culture only received $70 million, and community service and welfare $339 million. Worse still, business leaders urged their managers to learn from their sporting heroes.

"The strong bias towards sport on the part of business people extends beyond where they spend shareholders' funds," Mr Eslake said.

The speech was given to the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce and the Australian Business Arts Foundation.

Australia only valued its sporting men and women, he opined. He compared this mindset with the emphasis given to sport in the former East Germany.
Lit bloggers with new bookcases are trying to cope with the cascade of new titles that pours from the presses. And we're only talking about books written in the English language.

Over at The Penguin Blog, Sam the Junior Copywriter says that he faces "a constant battle ... against the rising tide of books". In response, he's just built his third set of shelves in as many months. Whew!

"I suspect I will soon be in the situation of fashioning tables, sofas and shoddily-balanced bedsteads from the paperbacks, in an attempt to not have them burnt on a pyre by my space-loving better half."

Ikea was his supplier of choice.

Ron at BiblioBillaBong relates that "The final four bookcases were delivered last Friday and I’ve spent Easter weekend filling them although I’m not finished yet."

"I am still not going to be able to fit all our books on the new shelving (just over fifty metres and still not enough) and decided to bite the bullet and do a cull."

Ron's supplier of choice was a local cabinetmaker. His six new units are made of "oiled Kauri pine".

And Bud of Chekhov's Mistress tells of his "8 shelves, including the top of the case, 3 feet wide", promising himself that any books that didn't fit would be "expelled".

"We’re ignoring for a moment the boxes of books in the basement and those stacked in various other places around the house, including three other bookcases."

Having completed the new arrangement, he discovered that he suddenly had "an entire bookcase of poetry, which surprised me because I hate most of the stuff (all of them actually, except for the ones that I absolutely love)."
Razia Iqbal has Adam Tolkien on air at the BBC. According to the broadcaster, Tolkien's grandson Adam worked "as assistant editor on the book". But first some shots of the great man, taken five years before his death.


Adam said that the text of the new book, The Children of Hurin, was "worked together". It is "a more serious tale".


These shots were taken during the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's (ABC) The 7.30 report.

Was Itcho Ito's killing a mob hit?

As mourners carry his coffin to its final place of rest, the Japanese press struggles to come up with convincing reasons for Tetsuya Shiroo's crime. Justin Norrie in Japan for The Sydney Morning Herald, reports:

Although yakuza groups have long-standing links to far-right nationalist groups, there is nothing to suggest the attack was politically motivated.

And:

There also were media reports that Shiroo had recently sent a letter to the broadcaster TV Asahi expressing outrage over money scandals linked to Mr Ito that involved hidden accounts and public works contracts.

Meanwhile, The Japan Times reports:

Former police officers in Osaka and Kobe, home to Yamaguchi-gumi, and reporters who cover the yakuza said they doubted Ito's murder had been sanctioned by the mob's top bosses.

Authorizing a hit on such a high-profile figure would invite a yakuza crackdown and would cause a groundswell of public support for tougher antigang laws, said one former Osaka police officer who asked not to be identified.
'Reading in Iraq', a publication of U.S. online book retailer AbeBooks, is an interesting idea. With interviews with returned soldiers, it provides an idea of the leisure activities of troops on the ground in the troubled nation.

David Abrams, a Master Sergeant in public affairs with the 3rd Infantry Division, found reading time hard to isolate, saying he would be "lucky if I only worked a 13-hour day, seven days a week".

"After talking about his deployment on literary websites, Readerville and Emerging Writers Network, he was flooded with boxes of books sent by booklovers in the US. Books also came via the Any Soldier website (which sends care packages to soldiers)."

Ultimately, he was only able to read about 14 books. He was posted to Iraq in 2005.

Brian McNerney, a Lieutenant Colonel and public affairs officer in the US army, created a library during his tour in 2005 and 2006, with books donated by World War II veterans from the 65th Infantry Division. He has since left the military.

"These veterans mailed me approximately 15,000 books, which made up the library in Balad as well as provided a donation basis for me to use in taking books to Iraqis. My original intent was to serve Iraqi communities in and around the base at Balad, as much as to provide a source of reading material to the American soldiers and civilians serving on the base."

Nathaniel Fick, a former captain in the US Marines, wrote One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer after leaving the army.

AbeBooks also provides a set of lists of books purchased by customers "including US soldiers but also UK military personnel and Western civilian contractors - living on military bases and secure civilian installations around Iraq".

Kudos to AbeBooks for giving its customers a chance to get a glimpse of what life is like for soldiers in Iraq.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Reg Mombassa's stamps should be a big hit. To be released on 5 June, they depict Big Things found around Australia. 'Iconic' or 'kitsch'?

Iconic has a positive spin on it while kitsch just means outdated and uncool. Or does it?

The Sydney Morning Herald's 'Stay in touch' page features the new stamps. Australia Post calls them a celebration of "giant kitsch replicas" and "iconic Australiana".

Asked by the editors to name preferred Big Things, commenter KD called for "The big p***k in Canberra". Nasty.
Antony Loewenstein, invited by Shmuel Rosner, Chief U.S. Correspondent of Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, to be a guest columnist, has answered his critics in typically liberal style.

Pilloried by his fellow Jews, Loewenstein simply makes sense. He tries to bring Israel into the twenty-first century by patiently explaining to his readers that they have more to gain through reconciliation than by perpetuating the inhumane 'apartheid' policies of the past 40 years.

In his intro, Rosner refers (once again) to "the centuries of virulent European antisemitism from which [Zionism] grew", thus ensuring the sympathy of his primary readers. Those who are not Jewish, especially those who possibly consider Israel to be in breach of its moral obligations toward the Palestinians, will find this knee-jerk, default catch-phrase a sign that there is still a long way to go.

If Israel cannot reconcile itself with Europe, it has little chance of coming to terms with the new world order, where dependance on the eternal mother, the U.S., may soon turn into a liability.

For one respondent, Loewenstein has this advice:

You seem to be saying that being truly "Jewish" would automatically dictate an unquestioning love for Israel. Uncritical Zionists have pursued this path for decades, and contributed to Israel's current status as an international pariah . True friends of Israel, whether Zionist or anti-Zionist, want Israel to stop making excuses for not making peace. End the occupation once and for all, and become a truly modern nation. In its current form, it is rooted in a bygone era.
Christopher Tolkein's The Children of Hurin, "restored" from "manuscripts" of his father, the legendary academic and children's book author, will be translated "initially" into 8 languages. Total sales of Tolkein books to date are estimated at either 150 million (The Scotsman) or 200 million (Reuters).

"In this book I have endeavoured to construct, after long study of the manuscripts, a coherent narrative without any editorial invention," said Christopher, 82.

It is "barely readable", according to critic Tom Deveson. Murrough O'Brien said "I hope that its universality and power will grant it a place in English mythology." Yeesh.

Meanwhile, Tolkien fans leapt to the late author's defence, claiming that "elite" critics have always dismissed him.

Which fans, I wonder? Do they insist on anonymity due to fears of retribution?

Australia's environment minister, Malcolm Turnbull, will possibly be one of the die-hard fans queueing to lay their sweaty hands on a copy of this treasure. With only 500,000 copies available in the initial print run, he'd better get a wriggle-on!
Fretilin's Francisco "Lu-Olo" Guterres has topped the polls in East Timor's first presidential election since independence in 1999. He attracted 27.89 per cent or 112,666 votes.

His blog says that he "Will be president of all and by all". The photos at the top of the page attest to his role in the resistance movement, when East Timor was a colony of Indonesia.

The election was held on 9 April.

Early announcements in the Australian press predicted a win by high-profile independent Jose Ramos-Horta, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996. He attracted 21.81 per cent or 88,102 votes. This reporting reflects Ramos-Horta's recognition factor in Australia. He speaks fluent English and has been visible in his role of prime minister in the past. Most here would consider him a "good guy".

Because of the voting system used in East Timor, which requires the winner to get 51 per cent of the votes, the two men will face off in another poll on 8 May.
Hanif Kureishi's Weddings and Beheadings, a short story that was due to be read on Radio 4, has been dropped. It was "one of five nominations for the National Short Story prize due to be broadcast this week", reports The Guardian.

The BBC felt the timing "would not be right" due to the unconfirmed killing of British journalist Alan Johnston.

"An important criterion when deciding whether to transmit a particular story on a difficult subject is the timing of the transmission. We do not now feel that it would be right to broadcast at the moment. We will review this on a regular basis."

The redundant clause makes you suspicious, however. Kureishi said:

"There are journalists and newspapers in peril all the time around the world. We support them by supporting freedom of speech rather than by censoring ourselves."

The story describes "the work of a cameraman who films the executions of western captives in Iraq".

Thanks to 3 Quarks Daily for the heads-up.
Tetsuya Shiroo, the "gangster" responsible for shooting Nagasaki mayor Itcho Ito, is "an acting leader of the Suishin-kai gang group affiliated with Japan's biggest organized crime syndicate, the Yamaguchi-gumi", according to Kyodo News.

He "has told police that he was irritated by trouble with the city office and was prepared to kill the mayor at any cost, even his own life". A disgruntled ratepayer was responsible for the killing, it seems.

He had visited the city office more than 30 times in protest after the office tried to arbitrate in a dispute in which Shiroo was demanding compensation from a road construction company over damage to his car allegedly from a cave-in at a construction site on the city road in 2003, city officials said.

Although the only damage the vehicle sustained was to its fender, Shiroo initially demanded 600,000 yen and ended up claiming more than 2 million yen, at which point the city broke off negotiations with him in January 2005 after consulting with police, they said.

Shiroo continued to pester city officials, filing a criminal complaint against the mayor and an official in charge and posting his arguments on his website, but they had not reported his behavior to the mayor as they regarded it as a minor problem, they said.


I managed to get this snap of footage shown on the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), the only Australian station that deemed the story important enough to cover. I was surfing at the time the segment began, but I managed to squeeze off one frame.

The New York Times demonstrates its entrenched insularity, once again, by running no information about this important murder. Al Jazeera correspondent David Hawkins, on the ground in Japan, says "the killing is looking more and more like a political mob hit."

"He says police are trying to confirm reports that the mayor was involved in a dispute with the Yakuza over city construction contracts."

Now, this sounds more like it. It's curious, don't you think, that a foreign correspondent can get better information than the native media? Says a lot about journalism in Japan, I think.

I covered the story yesterday, and lamented the incredible paucity of detail issuing from the Japanese press.

Today, Japan Today has seen fit to run myriad and uninspiring denunciations of the crime by Japanese politicians keen to gain screen time by showing their 'concern' over the event. Kyodo News provides a lot more information but, compared with coverage coming out of Virginia in the wake of the shootings by Cho Seung-Hui (who grew up in the town and was not an international student, as I first believed), it is pretty poor.

Politicians are not big news in Japan, it seems.

Family isn't that important, either, it could be said, except insofar as it can further your career. In a novel twist, Japan Today reveals that Ito's son-in-law will run for mayor. Ito died earlier this morning from loss of blood and already his daughter's husband, Makoto Yokoo (40), is stepping into his shoes.

Ito must have been a popular mayor. The election will take place on Sunday.

Both Sydney broadsheets ran stories. The one in The Sydney Morning Herald is from Reuters. The one in The Australian is from Agence France Presse, and it is the best for coverage.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Richard Flanagan tells 'Why I wrote The Unknown Terrorist'. Having published an article "suggesting there was a curiously close relationship between the Tasmanian government and some large corporations, in particular, with one large company, Gunns", he was pilloried in the press, by the government, and:

It was the way the media seemed more than happy to run with the government spin with almost no questioning of it, and the way most people believed most of what they were hearing and reading. People, I realised, thought I was who they were being told I was. For many, the lies of others were to become their truth about me.

He then ties this in with the way the Australian government treated the American administration. I think his own debacle traumatised him, sensitising him to the media in general. Personally, the leap he now makes seems forced.

"I don’t like Australia much anymore," he says. "I am exhausted by having to listen to shock jocks and read opinion columnists."

Nobody's forcing him. I never read opinion columns, and I never listen to the radio, except for the classical music station 2MBS FM.

Thanks to Currajah for the heads-up.
Itcho Ito, Mayor of Nagasaki, has been either wounded or killed during a shooting around 8pm tonight. MSN-Mainichi reports that police arrested the shooter at the scene and that Ito underwent treatment by ambulance personnel. "He was reportedly critically injured and remains unconscious after the attack." The news service provides approximately 100 words and the photograph above.

Kyodo News reports authorities saying that Ito "is in a serious condition with his heart not moving". They also supply the name of the assailant: Tetsuya Shiroo, 59.

He was arrested on the scene "on suspicion of attempted murder". On suspicion?

"Ito was shot near his campaign office and fell on his stomach." Nice bit of colour, there.

Kyodo also adds some relevant background: "In January 1990 in the city, former Mayor Hitoshi Motoshima was shot and seriously injured by a right-wing extremist after he refused to retract controversial remarks that the late Emperor Hirohito was partially responsible for the war."

So today's event is also an attempt by the far-right to influence mainstream politics? We're not told.

Kyodo's story is 125 words long. A similar Kyodo feed on the Web site of Japan Today is 180 words long. But it adds an interesting detail: "[The shooter] is believed to be a member of a gang affiliated with Japan's largest organized crime syndicate, the Yamaguchi-gumi".

"The motive is unknown."

Another story is provided by a foreign service, AP/AF. (I'm guessing that the second part of this cryptic tag means Agence France (Presse).) It is carried on the Web site of The Sydney Morning Herald. It contains 150 words.

The story is based on a broadcast from public station NHK.

"[Ito] did not appear to respond to efforts by office staff to resuscitate him before he was rushed to hospital."

Add MSN-Mainichi's "remains unconscious" with Kyodo's "his heart not moving" and the SMH's "did not appear to respond" and we can be pretty sure that the politician, who was seeking his fourth term in office, is dead.

Boo to the Japanese press for not providing more comprehensive details. And hiss to the authorities for gagging the press.
Cynthia Ozick's Din in the Head, published last year, seems to imply that the novel is an endangered mode of communication. In his review for The New York Times, Walter Kirn percieves faults in tone, such as when he says that "Ozick sounds the latest of a million warnings about the oft postponed catastrophe that only novelists still fear".

From where I type, the novel is still healthy. I see no sign of its demise. In fact, the sheer volume of new publications comprehensively swamps even the most devoted reader. How many can you read in a year? 80? 100? Even so, you'll miss most of them, especially if you search beyond your native shores, as many do.

Ozick's frustration spills over into condemnation, as Steve King (of Today in Literature) tells me. She takes a swipe at the modes of communication that are available online. "The title essay scoffs at the universe of communications technology," Steve relates. And then the quote:

Life—the inner life—is not the production of story lines alone, or movies would suffice. The micro-universe of the modem? Never mind. The secret voices in the marrow elude these multiplying high-tech implements that facilitate the spread of information. (High tech! Facilitate the spread of information! The jargon of the wooden leg, the wooden tongue.) The din in our heads, that relentless inward hum of fragility and hope and transcendence and dread—where, in an age of machines addressing crowds, and crowds mad for machines, can it be found? In the art of the novel; in the novel’s infinity of plasticity and elasticity…. And nowhere else.

I fail to see how online communications threaten the novel. The small but devoted clique of lit bloggers should serve to dismiss her fears. The online marketplace for ideas is, for me, quite compelling although quite different in nature from reading novels.

Why must I choose one or the other?

Monday, 16 April 2007

Glyn Davis, vice-chancellor of prestigious Melbourne University, "has denied a radical plan to model itself on American institutions has been forced by a lack of commonwealth funding", reports The Sydney Morning Herald, in breaking news. The story is originally from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's (ABC) 7.30 Report program, which I watched with interest tonight, via Australian Associated Press (AAP). The Age also covered the story.

Davis is a very cool operator and handles the media with great aplomb.

Despite the above denial, however, he made it very clear that the government does not provide enough funding.

Asked if the future for Australian universities featured elite institutions and impoverished universities with little middle ground, Prof Davis replied: "As opposed to the current situation where impoverished is the starting point for us all".

He couldn't be more clear. The meaning is quite obvious to anyone who has followed trends in the tertiary education sector in Australia in recent years.

He also referred to "the Australian electorate" which had "repeatedly shown that it didn't value the university system enough to push for it to be better funded", thus distributing the blame widely.

Nevertheless, he was able to include several nods to the federal government. His praise for the HECS scheme, for a start, stood out, although AAP did not quote him in it. He also spoke of engendering "diversity" in tertiary education in Australia through the new education plan. "Diversity" is a particular favourite of the current education minister, Julie Bishop.

He had good words for students, also, when he spoke of the millions of dollars earmarked for over 8,000 scholarships. This is called "equity" in the jargon of the sector.

All round, he managed to sell the package well, being inclusive on several fronts at once. A sterling effort.
London's Orion Books is to publish 'lite' versions of some old favourites, reports The Australian (although it's syndicated from The Times, a stablemate of the Oz broadsheet).

I mentioned in February that HarperCollins was doing something similar with Anna Karenina. But the new initiative seems worse, as there's no scholarly merit in their excisions.

The new offerings are labelled 'Compact Editions', and have been "whittled down to about 400 pages by cutting 30 to 40 per cent of the text".

Matthew Crockatt, a London bookseller, hates the idea.

On its blog, History Network News writes:

In the 1940s and 1950s Gilberton sold more than 200 million Classics Illustrated, comic-book versions of works including Ivanhoe, Moby Dick and Don Quixote. From the 1950s, Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, now called Select Editions, have combined several edited novels in one volume.

Recently, Donald Richie, the famous Japan expert, reviewed a manga version of a very old Japanese classic, The Kojiki. His conclusion?

In addition to the "Kojiki" the publisher has now issued a manga version of most of the classics: The "Genji" and "Heike" stories, even "The Pillow Book." And now I hear a voice from the back of the hall: "But surely it is better to have schoolchildren aware of even a mangafied classic than not aware of any classics at all." No, I am not sure of that.
Climate sceptics: you are not alone. The video below is easily located on YouTube using the search term "global warming swindle", as in The Great Global Warming Swindle.


You see, I agree with them.

It's very incorrect, politically, to say such a thing nowadays. In Australia, since about the fourth quarter of 2006, the notion of global warming has become the new orthodoxy. In the video, they talk about a new "political ideology" and climate change scientists having "a vested interest" in it because panic on the weather front attracts funding. Green is the new black.

Unfortunately, the only political group pursuing an anti-climate change agenda is a rather strange one. I happened to pass a group of young people standing on the corner of City Road, on my way to a lecture, when I saw the headline 'Global Warming is a Fraud!' and felt an immediate pull on my affections.

Further research, however, reveals a rather unusual bunch of people. The Citizens Electoral Council of Australia's anti-climate change Web page displays a distictly odd set of notions, such as that climate change fear is "a hoax being stoked up by British interests paying Al Gore".

But they don't stop there. There's more (and it's even odder). Such as:

In the name of saving the planet, an international fascist movement has been created with the intention of reducing the world's population on a scale greater than even Hitler dared dream.

Wow.

I never realised! I must be extremely dim not to have seen this coming. The group's affiliations also deserve scrutiny, if only to learn more about the correctness of their single mainstream policy. There's plenty in the Wikipedia for those interested in educating themselves, if not about the dastardly global conspiracy to impoverish the West, then in the charmingly left-of-field nature of this curious collection of fellow travellers.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Scarlett Johansson in Men's Style Australia's Autumn issue is very much the sex goddess. Set in a contemporary frame of reference, this means she looks like she's about to have her photo taken for an online porn site.

The magazine could be accused of hypocrisy. The Summer issue of Men's Style featured a very long and very shrill denunciation of cyber porn by Antonella Gambotto-Burke, in which she seems to say that the very foundations of our culture are being eroded by images of naked women in demeaning poses, that are available at the click of a mouse to anyone with a Web connection.


Elizabeth Best of Burleigh Heads, Queensland, writes a letter published in the current issue that poo-poohs AGB's assertions. She "seems terribly misinformed about internet pornography, wanting to attribute it to (sic) everything from rape to paedophilia."

Near the end of her piece, AGB quotes "Thomas", a reformed porn addict, who says: "Marry the infinite porn resources of the net to the endlessness of male sexual desire and men can end up practically frigging themselves to death."

Charming.

Johansson, who is also shown in her feature shaving her legs on a kitchen bench, says "I'm not opposed to doing nudity; it would just have to be the right project. You always imagine people buying your film on DVD and freeze-framing and going back and forth, watching your boobs over and over again."

Which is what men do.

The cover of the Autumn issue shows, you guessed it, Johansson. In a very provocative pose. It's a far cry from the amusing and sophisticated image we remember her developing in the excellent 2003 movie Lost in Translation. Opposite Bill Murray, who is very funny, she was delightful, intelligent, and sexy also.

It is possible to be all three at the same time. But the Men's Style images demonstrate that she is willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. She is 22 years old and has already completed 26 films. Prolific is not an adequate description of this output. What's in store in future?

"I'm proud of my breasts. I call them my girls. They're my charms, my feminine wiles." Expect the unexpected.
CSI: Miami is shit. The production values are extraordinary, however. I mean, just LOOK at the COLOURS they use to create a compelling atmosphere within which to roll out the wooden dialog and clunky plot.

Channel Nine buys this crap from the Great Satan because it's cheaper than producing indigenous programming. They charge advertisers thousands for 30-second spots, and the great unwashed actually gobbles up this drivel hungrily. It's amazing.

In general, I watch the news, on several channels, and then read a book. But tonight I decided to see what the other half does. And I'm absolutely appalled. It's a scandal that this type of pretentious, unamusing, tendentious fluff is so popular. We have a lot to answer for.











China is to deploy cop avatars on some Web sites, reports The China Post, an English-language Taiwanese newspaper.

They are "animated police figures", like "the uniformed Jingjing and Chacha, two smiling male and female cartoon figures who float astride surfboard-like keyboards" who were used to patrol Shenzhen Web sites. They will target "harmful material and information" and "illicit activities".

"The existence of these problems has affected the healthy development of the Internet, brought harm to the youths' minds, contaminated the social ethos and disrupted the social order," [Xinhua news agency] quoted vice-minister of public security Zhang Xinfeng as saying.

Porn and fraud are the stated targets, but we all know that they will also target anything to do with democratisation. The Times reports that Zhang also said that “content that spreads rumours and is of a slanderous nature” would be blocked.
Joceline Tan, a columnist with The Star, a Malaysian newspaper, has written a great piece about the kerfuffle over registering bloggers in the developing nation.

To write her story, she spoke with several people whose opinions are meant to be taken seriously. They are:

Information Minister Datuk Zainuddin Maidin.

Deputy Energy, Water and Communications Minister Datuk Shaziman Abu Mansor.

A "well-connected media advisor".

Umno Youth deputy chief Khairy Jamaluddin.

Johor Baru MP Datuk Shahrir Samad.

Basically, her story shows that authorities are pissed off because they are used to controlling the way information flows in the quasi-democratic country.

“If you guys (mainstream media) could publish just 50% rather than the 10% of what you actually know, imagine the difference," said the anonymous media advisor.

Notes Tan ruefully: "Shaziman was one of the new faces brought into the government to reach out to young voters but he really has to try harder." She points out that Shaziman (the deputy energy, water and communications minister) even lied in parliament when he said that Singapore had introduced registration of bloggers, and Malaysia should do the same. "[T]here is no such registration of bloggers in Singapore," she writes.

“The elite perception that the authorities can still control the media and news has to change," said the media advisor.

Frustration within the administration is apparent: "Zainuddin (the information minister) feels the anonymity in the Internet makes people go beyond the limit," Tan writes.

I love the way the media advisor keeps a low profile. He's probably worried that if he is seen to oppose the authorities, he'll be denied access to information or some such thing, as happens in Japan.
Western Negri Sembilan state's museum has held a ghost and genie exhibition since 10 March. Agence France Presse reported on 20 March that there had been calls by the authorities, notably Malaysia's Culture and Arts Minister, Rais Yatim, to shut it down.

Now, reports Al Jazeera, it has been shut down "after Islamic religious authorities issued a fatwa, or decree, against it".

Al Jazeera quotes "state media", but does not specify the name of the organisation.

Back in March, a museum curator explained why they didn't want to lose the show:

But museum curator Shamsuddin Ahmad said closing the exhibit would defeat its purpose.

"When we planned this exhibition, one of the main objectives was to educate the public, which is why, besides exhibiting the artifacts, we also plan a series of dialogues and talks about the supernatural," Shamsuddin was quoted as saying.

"If we stop now, we will not fulfil the objective of the exhibition," he said.

Now, the imams have butted in and it's been shut down:

Abdul Shukor Husin, the [National Fatwa Council]'s chair, was quoted as saying that "supernatural beings are beyond the comprehension of the human mind."

"We don't want to expose Muslims to supernatural and superstitious beliefs," the Berita Harian newspaper quoted him as saying.

The exhibition was due to run until 31 May.

Sawf News, a Web site with "offices in Austin, TX, USA and New Delhi, India", also ran the AFP story, as did the Edmonton Journal.

There is no coverage of the stoppage in The Star, which regardless bills itself as "Malaysia's most widely-read English-language daily".
The Arab Book Fair is being held again this year. It "has taken place every year since 1956" in what The Daily Star, a Beirut newspaper, calls "A true feat of continuity". "[D]ue to Lebanon's relative openness and tolerance, the Arab Book Fair in Beirut is able to air publications that have been banned elsewhere in the Arab world."

"All you have to do is get the books signed by Internal Security," said a representative who asked to remain anonymous.

Anonymous? For a book fair? Crikey.

"Most are allowed," he said. "A book you find banned in Cairo, you'll find on our shelves here."

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora delivered an opening address. There are 133 publishing houses with booths at the fair. "The participating countries include Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and, of course, Lebanon."

One of the features of the Saudi stand is a translation of the Koran into 42 languages.

How exciting!

Thanks to The Literary Salon for the heads-up.
Targeting of the tween market by consumer goods companies is being examined in the press again. I published a rundown of the debate on 16 December. It started with Caroline Overington's story of 11 October in The Australian. Then, in the 4 December issue of The New Yorker, a story about Bratz dolls appeared.

A week or so ago, another story about the Bratz vs. Barbie competition appeared in one of the weekend supplement magazines.

Other stories in the Australian press appeared in the Herald Sun on 10 October, in The Age on 12 December, in the Courier-Mail on 21 March, and in The Age again on 1 April.

There's also a story from U.S.-based Free Republic dating from 4 December 2005.


Now, the Insight program of the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), will put to air 'Bratz, Bralettes and Tweens'. With host Jenny Brockie, the program will examine the elements of the phenomenon, which I described as "overt displays of selfhood ... being channelled by capital into a kind of proletarian pornography".

I'll be in class when the program airs, but as they post podcasts of Insight, I'll view it when I get home.
Bill Bryson will be interviewed this Tuesday night at 10pm. Jennifer Byrne, she of The First Tuesday Book Club, will be in the driver's seat.
George Gittoes is interviewed for a feature in Sunday Life (a supplement in The Sun-Herald) by Angus Fontaine: 'What makes men happy?'

For Gittoes, it's simple: "My wife and kids ... know if I wasn't doing what makes me happy ... I'd be a monster to live with." Seen here in the same shirt he wore for the opening of his No Exit show (which I attended back in February), Gittoes says "... what I am is a believer that if there must be war, there must also be evidence that someone felt something. That is what I do — create some evidence that we cared."

The happiest moments I've known are when I've conquered fear. Courage is an art, like dance or music, a gift people are born with. As a war artist and filmmaker, the decision to put myself in harm's way is mine alone, not an order from an officer as it is with soldiers. Risking death goes against human nature but once achieved and conquered, there's nothing more exhilarating — something inside seems to expand. Courage is one of the fastest ways to attain self-knowledge I know.

Gittoes, 57, has not only made films, he's also a talented artist.

There's nothing more satisfying, no matter what horrors I've seen, than to fly home knowing the film and art in my luggage have made a difference. Creating in the face of destruction — that's my greatest happiness.
King Street, Newtown, is a counter-culture hub of busy Sydney. Located just beyond the leafy campus of Sydney University, it has changed over the past ten years or so, succumbing to the irrepressible surge of Australia's recent yuppification. But the anti-establishment edge it has always held up to the world has merely mellowed, and has not dissolved entirely under the influence of filthy lucre.

Single-lane on weekends, King Street demands attention from drivers, who must take care to avoid pedestrians who saunter across where there are no traffic lights.

Largely constructed in the late nineteenth century, the shopping strip, which is about half a kilometre long, now houses myriad eateries and trendy garment outlets.


A few minutes further west: this is what I came out today to capture. Parramatta Road is a teeming ribbon of constant traffic that leads from the city to the M4 at Strathfield. It is also one of the oldest thoroughfares in the country. The settlement at Parramatta was the breadbasket of the early colony with its rich soil, broad acres, and substantial river.


Nowadays the road thunders with the sound of a thousand automobiles. But turn off left or right and you find yourself on a leafy, quiet street flanked by free-standing or terrace houses.


Every available space can be used by those wanting to bring attention to themselves, either to sell something or to campaign for political office.


The built environment teems with signs and images.


Posters adhering to telegraph poles constitute a significant source of meaning in the city. You could do a study on them alone.


Quiet streets such as this flank Parramatta Road for the whole of its length.


In earlier days these inner-western suburbs had many factories and warehouses in them. With gentrification and infrastructure investment most have relocated further west where land is cheaper. Old structures near the city such as this are often converted into apartment blocks.