Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Talking about politics

On the weekend there was a local election here. I didn't vote because I haven't been here long enough to re-enrol. But I talked to a few of my high school friends about who they voted for and why. I also asked a baby boomer about who they voted for, and they got upset.
I was brought up not to talk about politics or about who people vote for, but most of the people I'm around these days talk about all this openly, so I think it must be a generational difference.
So do you think it's okay to talk about politics, or to talk to someone about who they (or you) voted for?
I was also wondering if there are any laws about it.

'Prisoner of Narnia'

This article from The New Yorker, about C.S. Lewis and his Narnia books makes and interesting point:

The moral force of the Christian story is that the lions are all on the other side. If we had, say, a donkey, a seemingly uninspiring animal from an obscure corner of Narnia, raised as an uncouth and low-caste beast of burden, rallying the mice and rats and weasels and vultures and all the other unclean animals, and then being killed by the lions in as humiliating a manner as possible—a donkey who reemerges, to the shock even of his disciples and devotees, as the king of all creation—now, that would be a Christian allegory.
Props to Neil Gaiman.

Going Postal

Yesterday afternoon I was at the library reading Thud! and remembered that I never blogged about Going Postal, which I read a few months ago. Both books are from Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, which I suppose is satirical fantasy.
In Going Postal Moist von Lipwig, a conman, is convicted to death. However, Lord Vetinari, the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, gives him an opportunity to start a new life as the manager of the city's dormant and possibly redundant postal service. While trying to revive the postal service he realises how much his crimes affected other people. He also discovers how far the Grand Trunk clacks (semaphore) company will go to make sure the postal service doesn't make a come-back.

Friday, November 25, 2005


I've been reading the book of Job over the last couple of weeks. Finished it this morning.
The book of Job is a really long poem, with prose bits at the start and finish.
In the first prose bit, YHWH is talking to Satan about Job, and what a good person Job is. Satan says that Job is only a good person because he is filthy rich, rather healthy for his age and has a model family. So YHWH makes a bet with Satan, that if Satan takes away Job's wealth, health and children, Job will still be a good person.
The poem it basically Job asking why YHWH has let his children to be killed, and him to become poor and sick. His friends tell him that it must be because he's not really as good as everyone thought, or that perhaps YHWH doesn't even care what happens to insignificant human beings. One of Job's friends, Elihu, says,

Bear with me a little longer and I will show you
that there is more to be said in God's behalf.
I get my knowledge from afar;
I will ascribe justice to my Maker.
Be assured that my words are not false;
one perfect in knowledge is with you.
(Job 36:2-4)
Seems a lot like hubris. Elihu seems to reckon that he is absolutely right about everything, which (from my experience) is just asking for trouble.
Eventually YHWH himself actually turns up. He doesn't really answer Job's questions, but asks Job about where he was when the world was created, and other tricky questions about how the world works. This is one of my favorite bits:
The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully,
but they cannot compare with the pinions and feathers of the stork.
She lays her eggs on the ground
and lets them warm in the sand,
unmindful that a foot may crush them,
that some wild animal may trample them.
She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers;
she cares not that her labor was in vain,
for God did not endow her with wisdom
or give her a share of good sense.
Yet when she spreads her feathers to run,
she laughs at horse and rider.
(Job 39:13-18)
YHWH points out to Job and his friends the unlikeliness of an animal like the ostrich being sustainable. Perhaps YHWH is pointing out that he is involved with the world, refuting Job's friends' assertions that God is not interested in the problems of human beings?
In the end YHWH says that Job was right, and that he didn't deserve what he endured.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Star language

Monday night I watched Speaking in Tongues (John Safran and Father Bob's new current affairs/spiritual/talk show). Their first guest was Solreta Antaria, an Indigo Child. They believe that some people these days are psychically evolved, and can communicate with each other using 'star language'. So they got her to say some stuff in star language, and if anyone thought they understood it, they were supposed to email their translation in. It sounded a lot like how a lot of Pentecostals sound when they speak in tongues.

Nauru House

I have a job now! At Sean's party my friend Jess said that her dad is always looking for more cleaners. So on Monday I called him up. He got back to me Tuesday night and asked if I could come in to Nauru House and work yesterday.

The Nauruan government build Nauru House as an investment when they realised that their superphosphate was going to run out.
The whole island of Nauru is made of superphosphate, which is baiscally fossilised bird crap, and is very good for making fertiliser. So for ages Nauru sold it's superphosphate to Australia, and was a really really rich country.
When the superphosphat started to run out they made heaps of investments in important cities, like Batmania. When Nauru House was built in the '70s it was Batmania's tallest building. And they bought 80 Collins Street and knocked it down, so they could say that Nauru House was at 80 Collins Street. It was octagonal, and there was a great big pillar of superphosphate out the front.
Nauru's economy got stuffed up in the '90s, and in recent years they're been asking Australia for a homeland, because their's will be underwater before long, due to global warming.

Anyway, yesterday I was at 80 Collins Street cleaning up one of the floors where all the interior walls had beed demolished. There's no work today, but there probably will be tomorrow. Once I start at Urban Seed I'll just be cleaning an office block in Syndal, on weekends.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Getting to Sean's 21st

Sean’s 21st was Saturday night. But I lost my invitation. I remembered that it was going to be somewhere in Sydenham (on the western edge of Batmania), at his parents’ house. So I got the phone book and found all the entries for Sean’s last name that where in Sydenham. There were only three, so I called them all up. The first two said I had the wrong number, and the third didn’t answer. So I decided to catch the train to Sydenham and hope there was someone else on the train that was going to the party.
So I caught the train into the city, and then got on the Sydenham train. At Footscray this group of about ten teenage guys and girls were getting off. Another group of three guys were getting on and they got into a fight, which lasted until the doors of the train started closing, at which point one of the guys who’d gotten on the train yelled out, ‘Come down ta Sunshine an’ try that!’ Apparently one of the guys in the other group had attacked him, to get him back for hitting him over the head with a steel bar and cracking his head open.
Luckily for me, Ryan also got onto the train at that station, and he knew where the party was.

Jesus: son of God or just wise?

Smurf Jesus, originally uploaded by blese.
There's been an interesting conversation going on over at Waving or Drowning?
C.S. Lewis says something in Mere Christianity about Jesus being either the son of God, a lunatic or a demon, and there being no room for one to consider his as simply a wise teacher. Robert disagrees. He doesn't believe Jesus was the son of God, but still thinks a lot of Jesus teachings are good.
Read here.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Earlier this week I read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (the most recent one). I'd been putting it off, because I'd been very disappointed with Order of the Phoenix (not much seemed to happen until the last couple of chapters), and had been told Half-Blood Prince was more of the same. But I quite liked this one.

There's an article here at Yahoo! News about the people who reckon Harry Potter encourages children to get involved in occult and pagan stuff.
And there's a pretty brief article here at Relevant, about Christian stuff in Harry Potter.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Waking Life: André Bazin and pantheism

There's this bit in Waking Life where the protagonist is in a cinema, watching two men, who seem to be in a cafe, talking about film. One of them says,

Cinema in its essence is about an introduction to reality. It's just that reality is actually reproduced. For Bazin, its not like a story telling medium, really. He feels like literature is better for telling a story than film. You know, if you tell a story, like a joke, like this guy walks into a bar, he sees a dwarf, that works really well because you're imagining this guy and this dwarf in the bar and there's this kind of imaginative aspect to it. But in film, you don't have that because you actually are filming a specific guy, in a specific bar, with a specific dwarf, of a specific height, who looks a certain way, right? So for Bazin, what the ontology of film has to do with is also what photography has to do with, except it has this dimension of time to it, and this greater realism to it. So it's about that guy, at that moment, in that space. And you know, Bazin is a Christian, so he believes that God obviously ended up being everything, and for him reality and God are the same. So what film is actually capturing is like God incarnate, creating. And this very moment, God is manifesting as this. And what the film would capture if it was filming us right now would be like God as this table, and God as you, and God as me, and God looking the way we look right now, and saying and thinking what we're thinking right now, because we are all God manifest in that sense. So film is actually like a record of God, or the face of God, or the ever changing face of God.
André Bazin was a French film critic who believed that film should (and could) show objective reality.
I'm not sure how accurate this guy's conclusion that 'Bazin is a Christian, so he believes that God obviously ended up being everything' is, but I think this guy is touching on some interesting stuff, like the idea that everything in the world says something about God. More like panentheism than pantheism.

Waking Life index

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Creating Colour from Darkness

Spent most of yesterday at Urban Seed, framing the pictures for this ^ exhibition, and I'm helping set up today.
Pain in the Arts is Urban Seed's art group, that meets in Credo after lunch on Wednesdays, and at the end of each year they have an exhibition. Apparently DeeDee's dad's opening it this year.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Mr T gives up his chains

Mr T is going to do a reality show called I Pity The Fool where he helps people deal with fools. He says he'll more likely be wearing a suit and bow-tie than his gold chains.

"Because of the situation we're in now (after Katrina), I told myself, 'No, T, you can never wear your gold again. ' It's an insult to God."
props to Kyle

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Esther: genocide

This is a picture of the last four Tasmanian Aborigines, including Truganini.

I read some more of the book of Esther on the bus to Batmania this morning.
In Chapter 2, the King starts to miss his wife (who he may or may not have had killed). So there's a beauty contest to try and find a new Queen. Esther 'wins', (Susan posted a little while ago on just how 'lucky' Esther probably was) but nobody knows that she's a Jewish exile, because Esther is a Babylonian name. (Her Jewish name was Hadassah.)

Grant Wildman from Tabor in Adelaide reckoned this was kind of like if during the war against the Aborigines someone who was part Aboriginal managed to gain a lot of influence in white society, due to the fact that they just seemed Caucasian.
(One of my friends wanted to do a theatre production based on Esther's story, and asked Grant for any ideas.)

In Chapter 3, Mordecai finds out that Haman, the King's favorite nobleman, wants to kill all the Jewish people, because Mordecai refused to bow to him. He asks the King if he can, and the King says he can.

I found it interesting what Haman said to the King to convince him:

There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom whose customs are different from those of all other people and who do not obey the king's laws; it is not in the king's best interest to tolerate them.
(Esther 3:8)
Just reminded me heaps of the paranoia toward Muslims and Arabs in Western countries since the War of Terror began.


Started reading the book of Esther the other day, including the deuterocanonical bits. (I'll post on why I've been reading the deuterocanonical books later.)
Anyway, some people reckon it shouldn't be included in the scriptures at all, some because it doesn't directly mention YHWH, and others because it's debated whether it is a historical book or a Jewish remix of a story from the Babylonian mythology. And other people don't like it because the Greek version has bits that the Hebrew version doesn't. Either way, I don't doubt that it's useful.
There's a great big elephant of an argument going on about the book of Esther it here at Wikipedia.

Anyway, so far I've read the first Septuagint bits, where Esther's relative Mordecai saves the King of Babylon from a conspiracy.
And I've read the first chapter from the Tanakh version, where the Queen doesn't do what the King says. Men all over the country start to worry that they won't be able to tell their wives what to do anymore either, so the King has the Queen executed.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Frontlines of urban education

Street Smarts is the blog of an art teacher at an inner-city public school in Celveland:

The Cleveland Municipal School District is a system fraught with the challenges inherent to a large district and an impoverished city. I am publishing this journal in response to those who are quick to criticize "those lazy, greedy, teachers". I offer you a glimpse into my world. I have always been a student of behavior. As a child, I would tame wild creatures and befriend strays. When I grew up, my natural empathy helped me become adept at observing, understanding and predicting human behavior, as well as discovering and studying what inspires and motivates people. Especially fascinating, are relationships; who we choose to associate with, and why; how we interact with one another, and how we affect each others lives.
Also, for some reason I got hits from two closely linked Cleveland blogs (Cleveland Humour and Surfing Lake Erie) yesterday, and can't work out why.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Waking Life

I think I'm going to do a few posts about Waking Life, so this will be an index post.

free will (and intro)
André Bazin and panentheism
, , ,

Waking Life: existentialism

Here is another monologue from Waking Life, which I think balances out the monologue from the free will post:

The reason why I refuse to take existentialism as just another French fashion or historical curiosity is that I think it has something very important to offer us for the new century. I'm afraid we're losing the real virtues of living life passionately, in the sense of taking responsibility for who you are, and the ability to make something of yourself. And feeling good about life. Existentialism is often discussed as if it's a philosophy of despair, but I think the truth is just the opposite. Sartre, once interviewed, said he never really felt a day of despair in his life. But one thing that comes out from reading these guys is not a sense of anguish about life so much as a real kind of exuberance, a feeling on top of it. It's like your life is yours to create. I've read the postmodernists with some interest, even admiration, but when I read them I always have this awful nagging feeling that something absolutely essential is getting left out. The more that you talk about a person as a social construction, or as a confluence of forces, or as fragmented or marginalized, what you do is you open up a whole new world of excuses. And when Sartre talks about responsibility, he's not talking about something abstract. He's not talking about the kind of self or soul that theologians would argue about. It's something very concrete, like you and me talking, making decisions, doing things and taking the consequences. It might be true that there are six billion people in the world and counting; nevertheless, what you do makes a difference. It makes a difference first of all in material terms, it makes a difference to other people, and it sets an example. In short, I think the message here is that we should never simply write ourselves off and see ourselves as the victim of various forces. It's always our decision who we are.
What I think is helpful here is that it isn't doubted that a person is a product of their experiences, but still points out that everybody still needs to be responsible for themselves. Sure, we don't get any choice about how we were brought up, but blaming our problems on our parents or the government isn't going to solve any of our problems.

Waking Life index

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Waking Life: free will

This afternoon I watched Richard Linklater (Slacker, Dazed and Confused, School of Rock)'s film Waking Life. It's about this guy who appears to be dreaming (the film's pretty surreal), and has philosphical discussions with various people.
The film is actually made up of animations, based on footage shot on digital camera. (The technique's called rotoscoping.)
One philosphical idea that is brought up is the idea of free will. This monologue sums up a lot of stuff I think needs to be considered when thinking about free will:

In a way, in our contemporary world view, it's easy to think that science has come to take the place of God. But some philosophical problems remain as troubling as ever. Take the problem of free will. This problem has been around for a long time, since before Aristotle in 350 B.C., St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, these guys all worried about how we can be free if God already knows in advance everything we're going to do. Nowadays, we know that the world operates according to some fundamental physical laws, and these laws govern the behavior of every object in the world. These laws, because they are so trustworthy, they enable incredible technological achievements. But look at yourself. We're just physical systems too, right? We're just complex arrangements of carbon molecules. We're mostly water. And our behavior isn't going to be an exception to these basic physical laws. So it starts to look like whether its God setting things up in advance, and knowing everything you're going to do, or whether it's these basic physical laws governing everything, there's not a lot of room left for freedom.

So you might try to just ignore the question, ignore the mystery of free will, and say, oh well, it's just an historical anecdote, it's sophomoric, it's a question with no answer, just forget about it. But the question keeps staring you in the face. Think about individuality for example. Who you are is mostly a matter of the free choices that you make. Or take responsibility. You can only be held responsible, you can only be found guilty, or you can only be admired and respected for things you did of your own free will. So the question keeps coming back. And we don't really have a solution to it. It starts to look like all our decisions are really just a charade.

Think about how it happens. There's some electrical activity in your brain, your neurons fire, they send a signal down into your nervous system, it passes along down into your muscle fibers, they twitch, you might reach out your arm. It looks like it's a free action on your part, but every part of that process is actually governed by physical laws, chemical laws, electrical laws, and so on.

So now it starts to look like the big bang set up the initial conditions, and the whole rest of human history, and even before, is really just the playing out of subatomic particles according to these basic fundamental physical laws. We think we're special. We think we have some kind of special dignity, but that now comes under threat. That's really challenged by this picture.

So you might be saying, well, wait a minute. What about quantum mechanics? I know enough contemporary physical theory to know it's not really like that. It's really a probabilistic theory. There's room. It's loose. It's not deterministic. And that's going to enable us to understand free will. But if you look at the detail, it's not really going to help because what happens is you have some very small quantum particles, and their behavior is apparently a bit random, they sort of swerve, their behavior is absurd in the sense that its unpredictable, and we can't understand it based on anything that came before. It just does something out of the blue according to a probabilistic framework. But is that going to help with freedom? I mean, should our freedom be just a matter of probabilities, just some random swerving in a chaotic system? That starts to seem like it's worse. I'd rather be a gear in a big deterministic physical machine than just some random swerving.

So we can't just ignore the problem. We have to find room in our contemporary world view for persons with all that that entails. Not just bodies, but persons. That means trying to solve the problem of freedom, finding room for choice and responsibility, and trying to understand individuality.
Any thoughts in response?

Waking Life index

Going away far far away

Well, I'm only moving about two hours away, to Batmania, but John wrote on the invitations to our party that we're both moving 'away far far away'.
Spent the morning yesterday and today cleaning and packing. Moving out on Thursday.
Last night we had the party, at John's, which featured a discussion about how people would evolve a brain that they only use 10% of. I think Hendo suggested that it might have been so they'd look less stupid. (My answer is that I don't really care.)
Also, Bonnie and Ash walked to John's place from town (and got lost a couple of times) because they'd never been to Wendouree before and didn't know how far it was.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Before the Eviction

'Adam Bored'
Been looking at a series of SHAG (Josh Agle) pictures that tell the story of Adam and Eve. It's called Before the Eviction.

Printing Wikipedia

Entries from Wikipedia are going to be available in print from soon, particularly so that people in developing countries can benefit from them. Article at Yahoo! News. (Guess who owns Wikipedia?)

All Souls Day

Today's All Souls Day, so I've read up on it a bit. Apparently today some people pray for people that have died, to try and make sure they get into Heaven. According to some people this is heretical, and that it has pagan origins. I'm not sure it's heretical (I could be wrong), although I do think the Catholic doctorine relating to Purgatory is reasonably dodgey.
Anyway, one of the reasons I'm not sure that it's heresy is that the scriptures say Jesus 'went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.' (2 Peter 3:19-20) So perhaps prayers for the dead would influence how they respond to Jesus preaching? Anyway, I don't think it's definitely heretical. I also don't know particularly much about it.
As for the pagan origins, I think that perhaps we should better acknowledge that Christianity has had a lot of pagan influences as well as Jewish. Same sort of thing as I was talking about yesterday, about being familiar with our spiritual ancestory.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Teresa of Avila

'Saint Teresa'
by François Gérard

Been reading a bit about Teresa of Avila, because it's All Saints Day.
Teresa of Avila was a Spanish mystic. When she was a kid she wanted to run away from home so she could get martyred:

I used to discuss with my brother ways and means of becoming martyrs, and we agreed to go together to the land of the Moors, begging our way for the love of God, so that we might be beheaded there.
In 1534 she did run away from home and became a nun. She was often sick. While she was sick she would experience periods of spiritual ecstacy. Around 1556, her friends came to believe that she was possessed by demons. They managed to convince Teresa, and for a long time she tortured herself because of this.
Begining in 1559, she experienced vision of Jesus that lasted two years. Another of her visions involved an angel repeatedly stabbing her in the heart with a burning spear.
Teresa of Avila, along with Juan de la Cruz played an important role in the reformation of the Carmelite monastic order. She founded many convents and monastaries which aimed to restore the original monastic ideals of poverty. The Spanish Inquisition didn't like this very much, and eventually forced her to 'retire' to one of her convents.
During the final years of her life she gained favor with Pope Gregory XIII. She managed to open another four convents in the last three years of her life. She died in 1582.

All Saints

Originally uploaded by shadowplay.

Today a lot of Western Christians observe All Saints (the Eastern Orthodox had it earlier in the year), when they remember the Christians who were around before them, particularly marytrs.
For me this is a reminder that in most Evangelical churches we don't seem to have much connection to our spiritual ancestors, and I think that's a pity. So I'd like to encourage people to find out a bit more about their spiritual ancestors, whoever they happen to be. If you do, please blog about what you find, so I can link to it.

Tomorrow's All Souls Day, so I'll probably post some thoughts about that as well.

'Saving Elmo'

'Saving Elmo'
is a series of photos of an old Elmo toy that estherase found in the street, and fixed up.

Advice from 'Peter'

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
(1 Peter 2:12)
Read this the week before last, but didn't blog about it, because it was part of a listening-to-God thing I was doing with the people from Retro and Baptist church in Pleasant Street, because they're starting to consider new directions. We weren't supposed to talk about what God might have been showing us during the two weeks of listening, so we wouldn't influence each other. Patrick asked me to take part in it because I was involved with Retro a bit, earlier in the year.

Anyway, I found this advice from 'Peter' (it's not likely that the Apostle Peter actually wrote 1 Peter, because it quotes the Septuagint rather than the Tanakh) helpful in dealing with Centrelink and the uni stuffing me around with admin stuff, and them saying that all the problems I was having with them were my fault (some of them most likley are). The most important thing wasn't actually getting them to admit they'd made mistakes. It was more important for me to be patient and treat them with respect.

Puritans: old, new and reluctant

Tab's posted some stuff she's been learning about the Puritans:

The Puritans are commonly seen as bigoted fundamentals and extremists, which many were, but they begin simply as devoted and radical believers who wanted to see a return to biblical traditions in the church.
Kevan linked this Observer article about the New Puritans:
A generation of young, educated and opinionated people determined to sidestep the consumerist perils of modern life. So if you own a 4x4, spend all your time shopping, or are simply overweight - watch your back. Lucy Siegle meets the moral minority aiming to mend our ways...
And Ditch Monkey (apparently he lives in a ditch) seems to be saying he actually isn't a New Puritan:
Over the past few days I have been accused of being a ‘New Puritan’...
On Thursday afternoon next week I am going to go to the airport (hopefully the right one this time), from there I am going to fly to Barbados, once there I am going to go surfing, get drunk, chase girls, dance like an idiot, eat too much, hire a motorbike...