Thursday, 31 May 2007

William T Vollmann's Rising Up and Rising Down, seven volumes, arrived at my workplace today. I mentioned the purchase on 22 May. The sellers, James & Mary Laurie of Minneapolis, took care to pack the set well. Inside the outer box, nested in newspaper, a smaller box sat. Inside it, again with plenty of newspaper to buffer against knocks, was the maroon case containing the lovely books themselves.

McSweeney's Books had them printed in China. It is now out of print, although a one-volume digest has also been published. Freight was US$80. The purchase price was US$750, taking the total to just over US$800, with the seller absorbing part of the freight cost.

On LibraryThing, there are 29 copies of the seven-volume set listed. The first volume contains a complete table of contents for the whole set. This is a photo of part of the table.

Part One, 'Categories and Justifications', has such divisions as 'On the Aesthetics of Weapons', 'Where do My Rights End?', 'Defense of Honor'. Part one takes up volumes one, two, three and four.

Volumes five through seven contain Part Two, 'Studies in Consequences (1991-2003)'. It looks as though these are based on personal observation. It seems as though Vollmann, who also writes journalism (though he is best known for his novels), has travelled around different parts of the world, taking notes. The books are illustrated with black-and-white photographs.

In addition, there is volume MC, which has, starting on page 33, 'The Moral Calculus'. There is an annotated contents table beginning on page 15 and continuing to page 23.

The whole package is intriguing. I feel, on this cursory inspection, that it is some sort of popular history of violence. In typical Vollmann style, the text is thoroughly end-noted. The illustrations are also typical.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Antony Beevor and Bei Dao all used the Australian media today and yesterday. This priceless dividend stems from the cultural investment Sydney has made, in the form of the Sydney Writers' Festival.

Beevor was heard during drive time on ABC 702 Sydney this afternoon. The interview mainly paid attention to his recent history of the Spanish Civil War. Later, on ABC's 7.30 Report, Beevor was brought around to more topical issues by host Kerry O'Brien resplendent, as is his wont, in open-necked shirt and blazer. It is fitting that historians should be listened to when they discuss such events as the Iraq War, as Beevor did tonight.

The program's Web site has reserved a space for the transcript, but we'll need to wait until they get around to finishing it. Check back later. O'Brien pointedly mentioned the Web site in his closing remarks, so it assuredly won't be long.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali featured on a less high-brow program, Channel Seven's Today Tonight, a favourite target for the boys of The Chaser's War on Everything, which screens Wednesday and again on Friday night late. Host Anna Corin's segues get their attention for the complexity she uses to bridge the gap between unrelated stories.

Tonight's clip will certainly not be the butt of any jokes, I'm certain. Corin's guest is too serious a person and is surely more like them than Corin herself. But without the Islamophobic slant, it's doubtful whether Ali would get exposure in this forum. "A woman who can never go home," was Corin's lead.

After the kicker, Ali talked of the "gross injustice" of Islam, as evidenced furthermore by Angela Bennie's piece in today's The Sydney Morning Herald.

On TV she said she doesn't know how many death threats she gets. Part of the security regime regulating her life is that her mail is opened for her. She was introduced as a woman who "looks like a fashion model" and I think she is very attractive.

Also on the show was Mustapha Kara-Ali, described elsewhere as "an agent for change". But here he seemed to resent Ali's appeal and success in commanding attention.

According to Corin, "Her courage to question will be her greatest legacy".

To finish up, we get a story on Chinese poet Bei Dao. This is a non-de-plume for a writer not favoured by the Communist regime. Having taught in the U.S., he is to move to Hong Kong to take up a post at a university there.

Bei seems confused by modern China, which he left decades ago, when "allowed back only in short visits over 2001-2003":

It was a changed Beijing. "Of course the physical changes were very obvious. But changes in the mentality … people used to be very relaxed, very honest, very direct, straightforward. Now the pace is getting faster and faster, people are so busy, it's getting hard to meet, to find time for classmates to get together.

"The topics are quite different from the 1980s: we used to talk about culture, literature, arts. Now most people talk about money, sports, like anywhere in the Western world."

The journalist, Hamish McDonald, muses on a recent death. He'd interviewed Anna Politkovskaya for last year's festival. I bought her Putin's Russia recently.
Peter Carey mentioned a new book set in coastal Queensland. He has (just finished?) been working on it and the location is an area he knows well, he said.

This exciting news aired on ABC 702 Sydney this morning during an interview with Adam Spencer. He also answered a couple of curly ones about his wife. The interview was in response to the announcement that Carey's most recent novel, Theft: A Love Story, secured the coveted Christina Stead Prize for fiction.

Stead spent many years in the U.S. and elsewhere. The Columbia Encyclopedia gives more info than other sites. "She worked in the United States in the 1940s, emigrated to England in 1953, then returned to Australia in 1974," it says.

Also announced today was the award of the Douglas Stewart Prize for non-fiction to Robert Hughes for Things I Didn't Know. Like Carey, Hughes lives in New York.

Carey told Spencer that the winning novel was in no way autobiographical. Last year accusations by his ex-wife caused a stir. He has consistently denied any suggestion that he targeted Summers in the book.

His protagonist, 'Butcher' Bones, he said, grew up in a family that retailed meat while he was educated at Geelong Grammar, a prestigious private institution near Melbourne. He gave Bones the same birth date as himself, he said, because it was convenient to do so, from his perspective as a writer. With this aide-memoire, he said, he could imagine what Bones and members of his family were doing in any particular year.

He praised Hughes, and said he met him about once a year. He said Hughes was a great writer.

Summers also promised a book, back in November, but we've heard no news of a release. So far.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) retails recordings of its interviews, but they cost $44 each. If you're interested in this one, it aired at about 7.45am today.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Bruno Schultz Verlag (the Bruno Schultz Publishing House) according to the Rare Erotica blog, was responsible for numerous "gorgeous copper prints" that now sell for below US$100 each. Mounted on board with a delicate tissue flap, they are identical to nine prints I inherited from my great uncle Elmer.

My cousin Doug gave them to me with other objects Elmer and his wife Madge collected over the years. A ferry captain plying the strait between the two islands of the New Zealand archipelago, Elmer, a Dane, became an alcoholic after Madge's death. I remember a brief period when he occupied my brother's vacant bedroom during my final years at high school. He would go down the bayside parade to the Watson's Bay pub every afternoon. On his return, more often than not, he would weep alone in his borrowed room, until he fell asleep.

The photographs evidence an extreme purity of conception that I associated with the work of Max Dupain, an Australian photographer active in the same years these were taken, the 1930s. Dupain, I remembered, had been associated with the popular pseudo-science of eugenics, a few years ago.

I contacted an academic, who initially brushed me off. I already knew as much about the photos as she told me in her email. When pressed, she directed me to Isobel Crombie, a curator at the National Gallery of Victoria, who published a catalogue, Body Culture: Max Dupain, Photography and Australian Culture 1919-1930, in 2004.

Anne Maxwell also alerted me to a thesis, also by Crombie, which I found on the University of Melbourne's Web site. "As far as I know this work spends a lot of time discussing Du Pain's photographs in terms of his ideas about vitalism -- a particular branch of eugenics to do with the body beautiful and health," says Maxwell. Crombie starts off, as is usual, with acknowledgements:

The idea for this thesis first began around 1984 when I was working as a Curatorial Assistant of Photography at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. At that time, my colleague, Martyn Jolly, proposed an idea for an exhibition exploring vitalism in Australian photography of the 1930s. Although the exhibition did not progress beyond the theoretical, I found the linkage of vitalism and photography intriguing and I started to read in the area. Other projects intervened but, in 1992, my interests were revived when Max Dupain died and previously unpublished photographs from his archive began to appear on the art market. Among these works was a group of photographs from the 1930s that featured naked white Australians posing in sand dunes. These images were so unlike anything produced in this country that I knew they warranted further research.

Hence her thesis, which is dated June 1999. The abstract is on the Melbourne Uni Web site linked above.

Madge was born in 1910 and died in 1970. Her elder brother (not my grandfather) was a judge of the Victorian Supreme Court and chancellor of the University of Melbourne from 1954 to 1966, and was knighted in 1960. I don't have the dates of Elmer's birth and death, but Max Dupain lived from 1911 to 1992. They were his exact contemporaries.

These photographs apparently came in a set of 24, but I've only got the nine. Some are more 'modernist', in that they possess abstract qualities that are self-consciously artistic. Others are more like what Crombie saw in those early Dupains: just "naked white [women] posing in sand dunes". Dupain was the apprentice of Cecil Bostock from 1930-33. But a Bostock nude is quite different in type from these.

They have 'Das Deutsche Aktwerk' (German act-work) on the back and 'tafel' (board) with a number. Mine are 5, 9, 12, 14, 15, 18, 21, 22, and 24. To frame them all, even with a plain frame, will probably cost me something in the order of $600.

Another item of Elmer's is an old-fashioned photo album with dozens of snaps taken in a European country where there are mountains. It could, of course, be New Zealand.

Monday, 28 May 2007

Lloyd Jones wins the Commonwealth Writer's Prize Overall Best Book Award 2007, reports The Sydney Morning Herald. The book is Mister Pip, which I've not yet read. The story was posted at 3.12pm today and is by-lined 'Agencies'.

The New Zealand Herald which, my erstwhile colleague assured me, is that nation's premier newspaper, has no news. (It does have several stories about a writer's festival currently on in Auckland.)

Nor does The Guardian mention Jones' win, it, too, caught up in a writer's festival (at Hay in Wales). Nor The Times. Nor The Australian.

Which goes to prove that the SMH is a world-class broadsheet.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Litfest blogging has arrived, I learn during my daily visit to kimbofo's Reading Matters blog. Along with two other British litbloggers, kimbofo was invited to the annual Hay Festival (Hay-on-Wye, Wales) with the lure of "travel and accommodation expenses covered and all tickets booked ... in advance". Other commitments sadly forced her to decline.

But John Baker accepted and is now blogging from the vale of Wye. One other book blogger accepted, but her blog is one I do not frequent.
William Dalrymple is interviewed by Christopher Kremmer in yesterday's The Sydney Morning Herald. According to Kremmer:

The 1857 uprising against the increasing economic and military power of the British East India Company saw Indians rally to the crumbling Mughal Empire...

This is quite misleading. I mean, even a quick look at Wikipedia provides a more accurate account of the causes of the disturbance: "It was ... believed that the British had issued new gunpowder cartridges that had cow and pig fat on them, which insulted both Hindus and Muslims."

Which was my impression of the case, having read quite extensively about the East India Company a few years ago. In fact, among the best accounts of the Company and its activities in India (which, of course, was not so-called at the time), I found in a book by Niranjan Dhar:

The British administration in India was not ... built in a day. It did not consist in the continual growth of national institutions. Nor did it develop in pursuance of a premeditated plan. The story of this administration is the story of a series of experiments made by foreign rulers in a foreign land.

The Administrative System of the East India Company in Bengal 1714 - 1786, Vol. 1: Political.

And M. Ruthnaswamy, in his Some Influences That Made the British Administration in India, talks of Sheridan's "literary castigation" and Burke's "high strung descriptions". Both politicians were vocal during the impeachment of Warren Hastings starting in 1787.

Ruthnaswamy says "The record of the East India Company is one of which none of its historians need be ashamed." "Some of these papers tremble with sensibility to the needs of the poor ryots, to the wrongs of women, and the future of backward peoples."

But according to Kremmer, Gyan Prakash, a professor of history at Princeton University, says that Dalrymple's account is 'revisionist'. I wonder how objective Prakesh (whose quid pro quos cannot be questioned, it seems) is really being.

In my mind, the history of the East India Company, about which Ruthnaswamy says "one step in expansion led to another", is a story of implementing gradually more typically English institutions on a complete mess, as needs arose.

The occupation of India was, in any case, inevitable, given the geopolitics of the time. If it hadn't been the English, it would have been the French. Just like Australia.

And I believe we, in Australia, and the Indians, are better off because it was the English. Their institutions were and are manifestly superior to anything the French were capable of.
Meredith Curnow, the publisher of the Vintage and Knopf imprints of Random House, says that they will not reissue Frank Moorhouse's The Illegal Relatives.

Knopf claimed in a post on The Sydney Morning Herald's Undercover blog of 4 April that his "complete backlist" would be reissued. A few weeks later I emailed Knopf to find out if Moorhouse's early gambol in the fields of censorship would be published. No, she replied, adding that she was not sure who had the rights to it.

When pressed, she said she would raise it with Frank when next she saw him. Yesterday's SMH shows that Susan Wyndham has been in touch with Curnow. Now, however, it's not Moorhouse's "complete backlist", but rather "a reissue of Frank Moorhouse's 11 backlist titles" that Wyndham writes about.

The qualification is interesting as it indicates that Wyndham has spoken with Curnow about the book. Curnow's list, that she sent to me, has 12 books.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Kaihana Hussain's committal hearing on the Gold Coast in Queensland today saw her father Muhammad relate that she said "die both of you now" after stabbing her mother Shaheda and father.

"Mr Hussain said the attack happened just two days after his wife and daughter had returned to the Gold Coast from a trip to their native Bangladesh and during the Islamic religious observance of Ramadan," according to a story from AAP run by both The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian.

I reported the story back in November. Late last month, I telephoned The Australian to discover when they would be covering the story again. They told me this month. Now it's here.

"'What mistake we have done for us to die'?" her father apparently asked her, as he bled, "struggling in the process with his daughter as he went to open the front door".

Two days ago The Courier Mail, Murdoch's Brisbane tabloid, ran a story. It tells of a witness, Tony Laws, who "heard two loud groans followed by a scream in a nearby unit".

Luckily, the dispute he had had with his daughter came to light under cross-examination.

"Under cross-examination by defence lawyer Dennis Lynch, Mr Hussain said he was "very angry" his daughter planned to convert from Islam to Christianity and disapproved of her relationship with university student Benjamin Miles Thomas Brady," reports AAP.

Immediately following the stabbings, Kaihana apparently told Christine Donnelly, a neighbour, her father "was trying to kill her because she had switched from the Muslim faith to Christianity", according to The Gold Coast Bulletin.

"She was not crying, she was not sobbing, she was just hysterically demanding that I must believe her." The local paper's coverage is decidedly the best.

"Police allege Ms Hussain stabbed her parents because they did not approve of her older boyfriend with whom she had become involved in a two-year internet relationship."

Kaihana apparently "showed no emotion" during proceedings on Tuesday. For the rest, we must now wait till the hearing reconvenes in October.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

I've just made two significant book purchases, after receiving a windfall that I quickly used to pay down my credit card debt.

Rising Up and Rising Down is a seven-volume "treatise on violence", according to Scott McLemee for The New York Times. "Vollmann's sources range from the earliest period of human civilization," he writes.

William T. Vollmann spent "nearly 20 years" writing the work.

Also added to the credit card, and also purchased through AbeBooks, is a less easily recognised work by an obscure English drudge (in the Johnsonian sense of the word) named William West. His The History, Topography & Directory of Warwickshire will enable me to study the places where one thread of my genealogical web originates. In a town (now a ward of Birmingham) called Edgbaston.

My LibraryThing profile contains a whole lot of stuff related to the web, if you're interested. West's 1830 book contains stuff like this:

Book Description: with its Modern Divisions, and their Population and Valuation; A Directory of Every Town and Considerable Village in the County; A Gazetteer of All the Towns, Villages, Parishes and Hamlets, with their Distances from the Principal Market or Post Towns, and from London; and an Itinerary of the Direct and Cross Roads, with a List of the Noblemen and Gentlemen's Seats, Illustrated with Characteristic Etchings and a Map of the County. 800 pages plus many engraved advertisments, 6 engravings and a coloured folded map. The binding looks contemporary, and is a little rubbed and soiled. The spine and the label are rubbed but quite legible. The back hinge has been neatly repaired. There is spotting of the larger very pale variety on a number of pages, but that apart, the contents are in very good order indeed. The greater part of the book concerns Birmingham, and the list of manufacturers illustrates that this really was the city of a thousand trades.

Other forbears originated in the Isle of Man and Macclesfield, Cheshire. Several of them emigrated, either to the colony of Victoria or that of South Australia, around 1852. My father spent years assembling genealogical data, which he entered into a number of Excel spreadsheets. I have these on a CD.

A member of my mother's father's family, who lives in Perth, sent me a study she has prepared on their side of things. It arrived today.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Reading's for girls, Kate Atkinson tells us in a photo-rich two-page spread in the Autumn-Winter issue of Men's Style magazine. Labelled 'The Lair', the piece itemises things women look for when entering a man's home when "it's just you, him and a bottle of pinot noir".

"Entering his fine abode ... you let your eyes wander to the living room ... to the bookshelf" where, she suggests, you might have some serious literature on display. Or on the coffee table there might be a copy of Tim Winton's Dirt Music.

"Nothing gets a girl's blood racing more then (sic) a man who looks like Johnny Depp and can also read." The answer? "Invest in some good biographies, fiction and coffee table books."

Back in January I mentioned an episode of the BBC comedy My Family during which a bloke uses a work of literary fiction to lure the wife into his lair.

He ends up reading some trash like Dick Francis. Readers of Men's Style won't make that mistake. Not.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Lionel Shriver is coy about revealing the identity of "the non-fiction writer she had lived with for almost a decade". Later in the same article, in the 12-13 May issue of The Weekend Australian Magazine, Lynn Barber writes again of "the non-fiction writer with whom she lived for 10 years". Shriver is now living with her husband, Jeff Williams, a jazz drummer.

Barber notes that a copy of Shriver's first novel, The Female of the Species costs US$200 on AbeBooks. Shriver will speak at the Sydney Writers Festival, coming early next month. And "we still know surprisingly little about her life", admits Barber. Most of what Barber then provides is already available on Wikipedia. But there are a few new details.

She was born on May 18, 1957, in North Carolina, the middle child of three with brothers on either side. Her father was a Presbyterian minister and later president of the Union Theological Seminary in New York, and she idolised him. Her mother was a homemaker until Lionel was 15 when she started working for the National Council on Churches. They were a deeply religious fmaily — there were family prayers and Bible readings over dinner. She said in the past: "There is a very thin line in my family between God and my father." When she was 12 she announced that she wasn't going to church, and "my father literally dragged me into the car by my hair. And that carried on for a while and then finally, when I was 16, he couldn't do it any more."

Shriver admits this upbringing affected her. "I'm not satisfied by liberal platitudes. I like the hard case." She has also been very interested in demographics "since she was 15". She worries about shrinking populations in the first world.

She spent her 20s doing a degree in Russian and English at Columbia University, and then running a catering company in New York while also teaching freshmen's courses and remedial English in the south Bronx. She lived in Belfast, Israel, Nairobi and Thailand before settling in London 20 years ago.

I wonder when we're going to get more information on what she was doing flitting around the globe? What sort of things did she do out there? And how have those experiences influenced her ideas on demography?

Saturday, 19 May 2007

The wild West is with us still, according to a story the national broadsheet, The Australian, has been running this week. TV broadcasters have not felt it required coverage. Which is a pity, because it is a rollocking yarn any novelist would be pleased to claim as a fictional invention.

The attorney-general (the sheriff) in WA has decided he dislikes Paul Armstrong, the editor of The West Australian (the renegade), which is one of the few metropolitan papers owned neither by Rupert Murdoch or Fairfax Media, the two giants of the Australian print media.

Due to this enmity, Jim McGinty refuses to enact legislation that would protect journalists' sources against prosecution, and protect journalists from prosecution for refusing to reveal their sources. Such laws have been in place in New South Wales for a decade, and other states are following suit.

The federal attorney-general, Philip Ruddock, "has promised" to introduce them in federal parliament. "However, these [federal] laws will mean little if each of the states does not enact similar legislation," according to Elizabeth Gosch, also for The Australian.

There is no way in the world such a situation as we are seeing in the west, could happen in either New South Wales or Victoria. I could see it happening in Queensland, though. What this shows is that the West has yet to catch up with the south-east in terms of propriety and accountability. It has yet to "grow up".

For a legal officer of the crown to behave in this way is preposterous, and should not happen in a democracy.

Friday, 18 May 2007

As Bush and Blair pour streams of sweet words over the assembled media pack, marking the outgoing prime minister's final farewell to Washington, the skies opened Down Under, dumping up to 70 millimetres in some areas. It won't break the drought, farmers say, and "much more" rain is needed. But there were quite a few smiles in the bush today.

Perhaps the deluge will quell the storm of panic that's been building since the last quarter of 2006, over carbon emissions and "climate change". Yesterday in New York we saw Clover Moore, Sydney's mayor, rubbing shoulders with colleagues from around the world, and spouting the "correct" line. She wants other cities to have an Earth Hour, the initiative of The Sydney Morning Herald and the World Wildlife Fund I posted about at the beginning of April.

And this week we also got Rupert Murdoch's new mission statement vis a vis climate change. Apparently, newly converted, he's keen to spread the dogma via his vast network of newspapers and TV stations. Evangelising the huddled masses.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Sydney book lovers should note three sales of 2MBS FM taking place over the next two months.

On 19 May (this weekend) there's a very small sale ("12 trestle tables of books direct from our warehouse") in Gosford. Such an offer is meagre inducement, from my point of view, to travel so far out of the city. 8am – 1pm at 2/13 Dell Rd, West Gosford.

On 16 and 17 June they've got a "Big range of fiction" at a sale, also in Gosford. "Manns St or Dane Drive. Right next door to the Bluetongue Stadium."

Then from Saturday 30 June to Tuesday 10 July there's a sale at the Willoughby Civic Centre, in Chatswood. This is a regular venue for 2MBS, but this will be the last for a while as the centre will shut "before renovations are done & the centre will be closed for more than 2 years". 10am to 6pm daily.
Kenzaburo Oe's award, presumably named the 'Oe Award' (but we won't know just by reading the published news on it) was given to short story writer Yu Nagashima reports The Japan Times. The article is a miserly 100 words long, supplied by Kyodo News, a wire service.

Another version, published on the Calibre Web site, includes an additional 20 words informing us that:

Oe and Nagashima are scheduled to appear in a talk show at Kodansha's headquarters building in Tokyo's Bunkyo Ward on May 18.

That's two days from now. You will not find further details about this literary award on the 'Net. I guarantee no news will appear in the wake of the event.

"The work was handpicked by Oe from literary works published in Japanese in 2006," Kyodo informs us. But what will happen once Oe is deceased, is nowhere stated. The gigantic publishing house Kodansha "created the award in 2005 to promote Japanese fiction overseas".

Thanks to The Literary Saloon for the heads-up.

Kodansha is the biggest publisher in Japan with, the Wikipedia tells us, 167 billion yen (A$1.67 billion) in revenues for 2003. (By comparison, New York-based Random House had revenues in 2005 of A$2.605 billion.) Presumably Kodansha International, founded in 1963, will do the publishing. The company has a capitalisation of 50 million yen. Typically, their Web site contains minimal information.

Lack of information about Japan and events that take place there is problematic. It's not just English-speakers that are kept in the dark. For the Japanese, access to adequate volumes of quality information of all types is a fraught endeavour.

This is probably one factor contributing toward the repeated success of the Liberal Democratic Party in national elections. It certainly causes frustration among foreign observers, like myself, who wish to be informed about events in the archipelago.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

For Call Girls: Private Sex Workers in Australia is a book by Roberta Perkins and Frances Lovejoy that includes some material that might shock some people. The Australian picked up on a particular aspect of the study, for which the authors interviewed "about 200" prostitutes.

Half of them had had sex before the age of 16 and "15-16 per cent of the prostitutes they surveyed had had penetrative sex before the age of 12, but that only a few described this as rape".

They also report that 14 per cent of prostitutes had their first penetrative sex with a relative or family friend, but did not regard this as "necessarily a negative experience".

The authors received "almost $80,000" from the National Health and Medical Research Council to prepare their study.

In Japan, it's the girls who are taking matters into their own hands, reports Jun Hongo for The Japan Times.

When Asuka Izumi was 12 and doing a photo shoot "the director asked her to put on a string bikini".

"It wasn't a big deal. The director asked me to do it, and I did it because I wanted to," says Izumi, now 14. Her Web site shows what she's willing to expose for her career. Kotomi, her mother, "said she once found her daughter's work displayed in a hardcore porn shop in Tokyo's Kabukicho district, but it didn't bother her".

"I feel that anyone who buys Asuka's work has the right to do whatever they want to do with it."

Saturday, 12 May 2007

Taku Shinjo's new kamikaze film has had a name change. Now called For Those We Love, it was previously titled I Go To Die For You, as I mentioned last month. The ABC covered the story last July and The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan has written about it just recently.

The Japanese title is Ore wa, Kimino Tamenikoso Shinini Iku, which translates exactly as "I go to die for your sake".

Shinjo, quoted in my last post saying that Japan "had no choice" but to use kamikaze tactics, today is shown feeling "angry" at the officers who sent the young pilots to their death. Along with the title change, this vacuous pabulum is an insult to contemporaries in countries that suffered when control centred in Tokyo in the first half of the twentieth century.

The story has a sentimental angle that is sure to appeal to the Japanese. It focuses on a typical 'mama-san', in this case a historical person named Tome Torihama, "a woman who ran a restaurant near the base and became a mother figure to many of the trainee kamikaze." It is disgusting to use such a respected figure, that still today offers comfort to stressed businessmen in thousands of small drinking places all over the country, in the service of what is clearly blatant propaganda in support of an ultra-nationalist policy.

Ishihara, whose nationalist tendencies are well-documented, is not alone in wishing to revitalise Japan's past, especially the period between the defeat of Russia in 1905 and defeat at the hands of the United States and its allies in 1945. In that period, imperial forces supervised from Tokyo occupied Korea, China, Taiwan, The Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore.

Their treatment of local populations can only be described as barbaric.

For those who want to read what Japanese think of the movie, there are many comments on the Japan Today Web site that treat a quote by Tokyo City governor Shintaro Ishihara placed on the site.

Friday, 11 May 2007

Canberra's Sheik Swaiti scandal grew legs today as it was announced the the sheik had been sacked. The Special Broadcasting Corporation's (SBS) Kathy Novak visited the Abu Bakr Mosque in the Australian capital and spoke with some of this little drama's actors, who of course include Kurt Kennedy.

Kennedy was the man assaulted earlier this week by a group of young men, one of whom was the son of the mosque's imam. As he did last time the ruckus hit the news, Swaiti declined to appear for the media. But Novak didn't retire empty-handed.

Mohammed Berjaoui, a vice president of the Islamic Society of ACT, did talk. He has been accused by Swaiti's supporters of being connected with Saddam Hussein, and they've got a photo to prove it. "This person is a Saddam henchman," says one man. Berjaoui admits that he was at a meeting that included Hussein — in his role of interpreter.

Novak also spoke with Swaiti supporters, who said they had confidence in their spiritual leader. They didn't think he had said anything wrong. "I've been coming here every Friday for five years," says this man. "I've never heard him give a sermon inciting violence."

They said emphatically that he was a good man. "He's doing his job, and he will be doing his job forever."

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Australia's Right to Know is "a coalition aimed at persuading governments and the courts to end the erosion of free speech". To launch the venture, senior managers from several Australian media companies held a press conference in Sydney.

There was News Ltd chairman and chief executive John Hartigan, and Fairfax Media boss David Kirk.

Mark Scott, managing director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

Julie Flynn from Free TV Australia, which is "an industry body which represents all of Australia's commercial free-to-air television licencees".

The ABC also interviewed the enemy: Phillip Ruddock, the federal attorney-general.

The fuss is all about our rankings in “Two international studies [that] ranked Australia 35th and 39th on a world press freedom index,” according to Hartigan. The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (the journalists' union) says that "restrictions had become so severe that the public was being denied crucial information", which is ironic in the light of the MEAA's recent ruling on how reporters can cover stories in remote aboriginal settlements. In these areas, it seems the peak industry body is on the side of those who would deny the public access to important coverage that will inform the way it votes, for example.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

My purchases from the Co-op Bookshop's biannual sale now number 52. It started in April, and the trouble is — what makes me go back every few days — they keep adding new titles to fill spaces when books are sold. It's an addiction, I swear.

One of the beaut titles I picked up is the collected letters of Mary Wollstonecraft ($20!).

Fiction by Amos Oz, Naguib Mahfouz, Shirley Hazzard, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Jose Saramago, Ismail Kadare, Anita Desai, Margaret Atwood, Mary McCarthy, Julian Barnes, Nick Hornby and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Non-fiction predominates. There are some great titles, including a Michael McGirr travel memoir on the Hume Highway (the road connecting Sydney and Melbourne), The Koran, a collection of journalism by Mark Bowden (of Blackhawk Down fame), a biography of pioneering journalist Martha Gellhorn, a study of a nineteenth-century Sinologist, a collection of pieces by famous journalist H. L. Mencken, a history of World War One that focuses on the imperialist aspects of the conflict, a biography of Virginia Woolf, and a history of New Zealand.

But there's more. I recently received four mooched books including Barcelona by Robert Hughes, a Dubravka Ugresic and a Mikhail Bulgakov. The image at top is from a postcard that Susha included under the cover of one book with "Happy reading" on the back. I used to put cards inside books I sent, but as the number increased, I stopped. But I think it's a nice, friendly token between fellow moochers.

I've also been busy sending books that were mooched and, since I'm not mooching at the usual rate, my points have accumulated so that I can comfortably add more titles to my wishlist, sure that I can mooch them when they turn up.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Atul Gawande's eight-page feature in the 30 April issue of The New Yorker, on the subject of ageing, covers many issues that Australia shares in common with the United States.

The piece begins with an overview of what ageing means for the average human body. It's not pretty, but Gawande is clinical (as you'd expect from a doctor) and objective. "The process is gradual and unrelenting", but "people naturally prefer to avoid the subject of their decrepitude". In more ways than one, it seems. "Americans haven't come to grips with the new demography," he writes.

"People are putting aside less in savings for old age now than they have in any decade since the Great Depression." And practitioners are not keeping up, in absolute numbers: "the number of certified geriatricians fell by a third between 1998 and 2004".

To illustrate what a geriatrician does that a regular GP does not do, Gawande steps into the consulting room with Jean Gavrilles, 89. As well as examining Gavrilles, Juergen Bludau, the geriatrician, "asked her to tell him about her life". Getting information in this way, it seems, is essential to prevent accidents, especially falling, which is a scourge for the elderly.

He also takes a lot of time to examine her feet. "The job of any doctor, Bludau later told me, is to support quality of life, by which he meant two things: as much freedom from the ravages of disease as possible, and the retention of enough function for active engagement in the world."

Gawande then gets in touch with Felix Silverstone, a retired medical practitioner, who now looks after his blind wife in a "retirement community" near Boston. It is "not the average retirement community", Gawande notes. Annual rent is US$32,000. Most retirees would not be able to afford such a place, as "the median income of people eighty and older is only about fifteen thousand dollars".

It is a brilliant article, as usual for this talented physician-cum-author.

Monday, 7 May 2007

Kurt Kennedy, a Muslim convert seen here with a bandage over his left eye, was bashed by a group of "nine men aged in their 20s" outside the Abu Bakr Mosque in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).

One of the men involved in the attack was the son of the imam of the mosque, Sheik Mohammed Swaiti, who had been threatened with banishment from the mosque by the Islamic Society of ACT, of which Kennedy is the secretary. "I am the imam of the mosque, I will be here until the day I die," Swaiti is reported to have screamed at his gathered flock.

Naturally, Swaiti was unavailable for comment when The Australian tried to contact him.

A representiative of the Islamic Society of ACT, Mohammed Berjaoui, said that Swaiti was "inciting violence" and voicing "anti-Western" sentiment. The newspaper apparently reported last month that Swaiti had "praised mujahadeen" in a sermon.

"Mr Berjaoui accused Sheik Swaiti of preventing Canberra's Muslim community from integrating into the mainstream."

Getting rid of dysfunctional imams seems to be a recurring nightmare for devout Muslim Australians. Sheik Taj el-Din al-Hilaly, the resident goon, and serial idiot at Lakemba Mosque, is turning out to be welded onto the institution. The Lebanese Muslim Association, which gives Hilaly his commission (is that the correct word?), has been unable to prise him loose from the mosque despite persistent dissatisfaction with his outrageous pronouncements.

He blames the media. Those who are curious can google him. There's plenty to read.

In Canberra, the Pakistani Embassy apparently has been working to keep Swaiti. A member of the local Islamic council has written to the federal foreign minister urging him to intercede to prevent such interference.

The Saudi government has funded Swaiti to the tune of $36,000 per annum.

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Portrait of Bohemian martyr Jan HusIrfan Yusuf, a Sydney lawyer and writer at the seemingly-defunct blog The Aussie Mossie (which hasn't been updated since September, alas), has reviewed a new book by Natalie Zemon Davis, who Wikipedia dubs "an American feminist and historian of early modern France".

The book is about a Muslim of the 16th century who converted to Catholicism and became useful to the elite of Rome before the sack of that city by soldiers of Charles V, "and [the] virtual imprisonment of Pope Clement VII in 1527 [which] prevented him from annulling the marriage of Henry VIII of England and Charles's aunt Catherine of Aragon, with important consequences".

Notably, the establishment of the Anglican Communion.

Yusuf at one point refers to "a rebellious German monk named Martin Luther" who "was poised to lead a theological revolt that would usher in the reformation and centuries of sectarian bloodshed".

The phrase "was poised to lead" is more apt than otherwise. The fact is, however, that schism within the church had been brewing for centuries. We are fortunate to have Wikipedia for, although it tends to provide only the slimmest of resources, it at least allows us to see the outlines of developments within the European church that are frequently ignored nowadays.

We can track sectarianism in Christendom back, century after century, until we arrive at the earliest days of the Christian religion.

The bloodshed had been going on for centuries before Luther, and we diminish the importance of this struggle for a unified, popular voice, if we ignore these obscure roots. I also think it is not quite fair of Yusuf to end his summation of the Protestant Reformation with the words "centuries of sectarian bloodshed". Yet, on the other hand, it is revealing that he does so.

Yesterday on Al Jazeera, I watched one-time-president Iyad Allawi call for "reconciliation" in Iraq as a necessary condition for peace. In the context of the truly remarkable revolution that occurred in Europe in the middle of the Renaissance, it appears likely that fighting between the sects of Islam in Iraq, and the continued alienation of Baathists and members of the military before the arrival of coalition forces, will continue until all parties are thoroughly sick of the carnage.

Which doesn't seem to be imminent, based on current casualty levels in Iraq.
When is journalism 'good' as opposed to 'bad'? Is 'bad' journalism what happens when the journo just recycles a press release delivered to promote a 'big' event, one that involves either money or celebrity? And so 'good' journalism, by this yardstick, would be where a journalist pursues a less-well-trod path to deliver a story, or a single fact, that otherwise would have gone untold?

Two stories currently in the press illustrate my opinion of 'good' versus 'bad' reporting in the field of the arts. The arts are, unfortunately, one of the less-well-represented fields of endeavour, in the Australian press. Compared to the amount of coverage that sport gets, the arts are definitely a poor cousin.

The first story, by Corrie Perkin, is a headline piece in The Australian about the first Southeby's sale of 2007, due to be held tomorrow in the Paddington Town Hall. Big profits are expected. In fact, visual art generally gets better coverage in Australia than other arts precisely because of this aspect of it: there is money to be made. The final message in this story: "Australian art has been undervalued." This is designed to attract punters to Paddington tomorrow, to bid: "Sotheby's catalogue is truly a wonderful catalogue and is beautifully poised in the marketplace because of the current conditions."

You couldn't buy such good PR.

On the opposite side of the fiscal divide is theatre, covered in a story by Kelsey Munro in The Sydney Morning Herald. Tommy Murphy has "the best ear for dialog since David Williamson", according to Munro.

But what is striking about this story is a little-known and obscure fact: Murphy's new play (which closes today at the Parade Playhouse theatre at NIDA) was "commissioned by Cranbrook School's head of drama, Robert Wickham, after his students studied Strangers in Between".

Now this is interesting! Cranbrook School is one of the most prestigious private schools in the country, and is situated smack in the middle of Sydney's conservative heartland. Murphy, the playwright, is gay, but that fact does not seem to have bothered Wickham. What this story tells us is that there is a lot of cultural activity being carried on outside the spotlight that money always brings to bear, and that stereotypical roles are sometimes reversed in the most charming manner.

Well done, Cranbrook. For my money, this story is of far greater interest and relevance than the one about Southeby's gargantuan auction. The SMH reporter has given us a delightful glimpse into a little-known element of what private schools (cashed-up and independent-minded) can do that no other institution in the country does.

Saturday, 5 May 2007

Marilyn French, author of the seminal The Women's Room, says that Australia is the only culture she's seen that's actually improved over time. The remark testifies to her reactions at two different epochs: in the 1970s when she was out here to promote her book, and in 1994, when she attended the Adelaide Festival. What prompted the change of heart? The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, which is, now, a keystone event for homosexuals around the world.

French is interviewed for the Good Weekend magazine supplement that comes with The Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday. Sharon Verghis visited Manhattan to conduct the interview in French's apartment.

But French has another antipodean outlet this week, with the publication, in the Australian Literary Review, of a piece that presents a message that is far removed from the anodyne modalities of Verghis' feature, where French is ensconced, in a million-dollar apartment, above the Hudson River. Successful and recently recovered from cancer, French is too famous, too other-worldly for Verghis to ask any difficult questions.

In the ALR, French shows that even if she is a nice old lady when polite interviewers come a'calling, she can be very direct when given an outlet for her own words. For example, she says that "women's situation has worsened" in developing countries, in recent years. Since the 1970s? She doesn't specify.

She also asserts that men aim to be seen as gods, even in the developed world. She looks at how women are depicted in popular culture. She also says that "Religious bodies have had the most antagonistic reaction to women's empowerment."

I enjoyed reading this piece very much. I suspect that my enjoyment derives more than anything from its polemical cast. And French is incisive without seeming bitter.

Thursday, 3 May 2007

The death of Nagasaki mayor Itcho Ito is moving closer to resolution, it would appear. Two Japanese English-language Web sites have published stories about the murder, implicating two other men apart from the shooter, Tetsuya Shiroo.

Japan Today has run a story that implicates a 60-year-old construction company president, Hiromi Ogawa. He drove the car to the scene of the assassination, but denies he knew Shiroo would kill Ito.

However, a long comment on the story by T_bagger, goes further than any news outlet has yet gone (at least in English: I've got no idea what the Japanese-language papers are printing). He says:

Ogawa-san ran a construction company which was basically a front for the mob boss Shiroo's Suishin Kai. They actually were a construction company but did money laundering and also were in debt to Suishin Kai. Shiroo had manipulated Ogawa-sans company so he was perpetually in debt to Suishin Kai.

Suishin Kai was getting squeezed by rival gangs and their payments to their overlords (Yamaguchi Gumi) were scraping bottom.

Nagasaki City has a loan program for small and medium size companies which was introduced after the bubble to help recovery. Ogawa-san was instructed to apply for loans by Shiroo-san which would have ended up in Suishin Kai accounts.

Nagasaki City denied the loans a few times for the reason that Ogawa was a criminal front. The matter finally made its way up to mayor Ito after threats fron Suishin Kai.

Yamaguchi-Gumi was putting heavy pressure on Suishin Kai and Shiroo-san was frustrated after ordering his underlings to kill mayor Ito. He finally took matters in his own hands. Ogawa-san was comliant but probaby under duress from Shiroo-san.

Long post, but basically this kind of dealing goes on unnoticed. Murders are rare because the threats usually are effective. After the Nagasaki case the abused will act without reprehension [blame] when these kind of threats arise.

I'm not sure what the last sentence means: whether the criminal gangs will act 'without blame' or the people they 'abuse' will. If he means the latter, then I'm not so sure I agree. It seems to me that the police and politicians are powerless to do anything to curb gangs in Japan. Part of the problem, from my point of view, is that the press is not allowed to operate effectively, and to investigate fully cooperation between public officials and gangs.

(I've tidied T_bagger's text up a bit to make it more comprehensible.)

The Japan Times has run a story that implicates another man, Masaki Yamashita, aged "in his 20s". Yamashita, also, is accused of driving the car (they both can't be the driver).

"Yamashita is suspected of monitoring Ito's movements at places other than his election campaign office."

"Police said Yamashita told them he was a lookout but did not think Shiroo would kill Ito."

"Police believe both Yamashita and Ogawa knew Shiroo was planning to murder the mayor and said they will question the two suspects about the shooting."

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Reg Mombassa (aka Chris O'Doherty), ex-Mental As Anything guitarist, poet and painter, was featured in a documentary, Golden Sandals: The Art of Reg Mombassa (Special Broadcasting Service) tonight.

And I missed it. Bugger.

Following the show, SBS opened up a chat room with Reg as special guest. Some of his words from that forum:

"My next exhibition is a group show in Hobart in August." He's also just had an exhibition on the Mornington Peninsula. There will also be a show in Adelaide at SoMA Gallery in October. He's also got a MySpace site for the band Dog Trumpet (caution: audio).

"The Mambo exposure has been helpful for my other art."

"I especially love your work at the Wayside Chapel. Was this a paid commission by the chapel or the Sydney City / local Council? Art in the community like that is great," said Mini Graff. To which Reg replied: "I gave that to the Wayside Chapel because they do such a great job."

Miss wrote: "What was the most inspirational thing you did / learnt at school?" And reg: "Art and then english were my favourite subjects."

Treasure Trove wrote: "Where can we buy your paintings and what price range are we looking at?" Reg gave them the link to the Watters Gallery.

Bobies: "Did you develop your in schools and university?" Reg: "I drew from the age of 2 or 3."

Norman: "What is your favourite art media?" Reg: "For the last couple of years it has been drawing with charcoal."

Stevewana: "I was disappointed that there was no comment about one of Reg's less known forays into the culinary artistic world via the subtle form of 'jug cookery'. I wonder Reg, do you have any new recipes for us?" Reg: "yes i have just learnt how to cook water."

Marija Djordjevic: "I have a black and white robo-fly drawing of yours purchased in the early 90's. Would you consider colouring it in for me?" Reg: "I would prefer that one to stay black and white because flies are black, they have no colour."

Hedgehog: "I used to live in Glebe for years and it was there , where I actually met Australian Jesus in the flesh. He used to take peoples dogs out for a walk. He used to tell everyone: "Jesus loves you" on Glebe Point Road." Reg: "I know exactly who you mean and yes he might be an Australian Jesus."

Mirko: "Reg has Kurt Vonnegut had any influence on you or your work?" Reg: "Not that i am aware of but i did enjoy slaughter house 5."

Mark Hops: "Do you still do those matchbox size ones?" Reg: "my eyesight is not what it used to be so i don't do tiny pictures much any more."

martin: "there is a God and His name is Jesus and I love the print of Jesus feeding the mass at the football. How can I get a print." Reg: "try contacting Mambo."

Jess D; "in the last issue of Monster Children there was a piece where they gave 10 artists a sharpie pen and asked for a ZPicture. You did Patterns Of Restraint(smoking Monkey). was there a big idea behind that series, and was it a new form of media for you?" Reg: "yes there are lots of ideas behind the smoking monkey and it was done with a texta which i don't normally use."

Adz: "Hey Reg, quick question. how do you stop your charcoal from smudging?" Reg: "spray it fixative."

crushton: "Hey Reg! I used to live just around the corner from you! Wasn't Kirks Bush a creepy place? We used to live in the old Kirk house on Beach Rd! Just love your early work. Don Binnyish! only better." Reg: "yes my cousins told me it was full of timberwolves, so i was very frightened of Kirk's bush."

Addo: "Hey mate. what do u use to get the colour in your works?" Reg: "coloured pencils and paint."

Martin Schmidt: "Can I buy you lunch at Tabou, Surry Hills over the next few weeks? Name the date. I promish not to be a boooooor." Reg: "yes thanks as long as you know how to cook water."