Friday, November 30, 2007

An environmentally responsible Christmas?

What a waste spending all that money on Christmas trees which can only be used once a year, and for a single purpose. Here's a very creative way of using common materials for Christmas and keeping in the spirit of the season.
Typically Australian creativity!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Philip Adams on the Election outcome

Adams goes a long way to explaining the sense of relief which accompanied the election outcome for me in this blog post from The Australian.

SPARE me the sentimental tosh about John Howard. Here’s why his departure is a joyous occasion.

The scene: The Great Hall at the University of Sydney. The grand opening of a conference for the Centre for the Mind. Crowds have gathered to see Nelson Mandela cut the ribbon. As chairman of the advisory board it is my duty to welcome our patron, the Prime Minister. That long-time opponent of sanctions against apartheid South Africa will then welcome Mandela. When I complain bitterly about my chore, the vice-chancellor murmurs, “Protocol.”

A last-minute phone call from a protocol officer in the PM’s department.

“Do you really want to introduce the PM?” he asks.

“Of course I bloody well don’t!”

“Yes, it would be a bit hypocritical.”

“Not as hypocritical as the PM introducing Mandela.”

The resolution? The VC will introduce Howard. I’ll move the vote of thanks. When I explain the change, Mandela isn’t fussed but asks me: “How’s Paul Keating getting on?”

This backstage kerfuffle is nothing to Malcolm Fraser’s loud performance in front of the gathering dignitaries, including the PM. He tells of a crisis early in his prime ministership involving Vietnamese close to the Australian embassy. They are understandably desperate to be allowed into this country. Fraser phones Gough Whitlam, who agrees they should be welcomed. “So did my entire cabinet, except for one person. Guess who!” And he points the finger at Howard.

The scene: John Laws’s 2UE studio in 1988. Anticipating One Nation by many years, Howard warns the nation of the dangers of Asian immigration. So outraged is the response to his statement that Howard loses his job as Opposition leader a year later.

The scene: A new prime minister manipulates Hansonism in the mid to late 1990s. Forget dog-whistle politics. In a campaign as deafening as any air raid siren, Howard declares war on multiculturalism and political correctness. White Australia rises from its grave. Bigotry is unleashed via an epidemic of racist graffiti, schoolyard attacks and shock-jock broadcasting. Thanks to the main parties’ accommodation of One Nation, Australian racism is world news.

The scene: A few thousand refugees flee the Taliban and Saddam Hussein in 2001. Howard brands them queue jumpers, illegals and has cohorts hint that they’re terrorists. The Tampa sails into view and our detention of decent people in concentration camps becomes an international disgrace. Kim Beazley rolls over. The ALP is complicit in this political pornography, this immense stunt. Kids overboard. The Australian Navy is appalled by what it’s ordered to do. More than 350 die on the SievX. All this wins Howard another term.

The scene: 9/11. Howard jumps the queue to sign up for the misconceived war on terror and the horror story of the Iraq invasion. Immense numbers of Iraqis are killed. We are complicit in hundreds of thousands of deaths, in Abu Ghraib, in torture, in rendition. It isn’t democracy that blossoms in the Middle East. It’s terrorism. To this day Howard insists that the fiasco of Iraq is a success.

The scene: Guantanamo Bay. Howard permits the monstrous treatment of David Hicks.

The scene: The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission prepares Bringing Them Home, the tragic account of the stolen generations. Before publication date in 1997, Howard’s bovver boys not only deride the document but slander Ronald Wilson. Historical revisionism kicks in. Reconciliation is rejected. The black-white divide deepens. Quadrant crows. Pauline Hanson is pleased.

The scene: The Kelly gang - the husbands of retiring member Jackie Kelly and her would-be replacement - are caught distributing a piece of crap designed to press the hot buttons on anti-Muslim bigotry. We’re told this attempt to throw fuel on the world’s most inflammatory issue is a prank. The PM promptly denies any knowledge of this dirtiest of dirty tricks, yet it sits within the culture of bigotry he has encouraged over many years.

The scene: As the election gains pace, Howard’s immigration minister Kevin Andrews targets the alleged criminality of Sudanese refugees and immigrants. Deja vu all over again.

The scene: A few days before the election, Howard is asked to list his proudest achievements. Right up front he says the destruction of - yes - political correctness.

Is Howard a bigot? His support of apartheid South Africa, his long-term indifference to the issues of Aboriginal Australia, his exploitation of the refugee issue and his on-the-record hostility to Asian immigration would suggest so. Or is he a main-chancer, a cunning manipulator of other people’s fears and racism? If the latter, isn’t that morally worse? That’s why I’m not shedding tears at Howard’s departure. Because his fondness for the Menzies era involved the revival of too many aspects of White Australia. No other modern PM on either side of politics would have touched it with a barge pole.

Away with the manger

From The Age

Taking the pressure to be popular off the Christmas story offers a chance for a whole new meaning.

In the town where I grew up, the Christmas pageant was the highlight of the year. We'd arrive early and thrust our way past the adults to sit at the blue line. We'd watch, enthralled, as marching bands, exotic floats, dancing ballerinas and clowns went past. We especially loved it when it came time for the nativity scene. The baby was cute but, more to the point, it meant that the very next float was Santa's. And while he would go on to set up shop in Myer, the nativity would be carefully wrapped up and put into the storage shed.

Ownership rights for Christmas have long been a tricky subject. We've become used to the tug-of-war between what we've designated as the sacred and the secular at Christmas, but over the past couple of years the ground has shifted even more. Christianity is no longer fighting for its share of centre stage - it's discovering that it can no longer assume that it has a place on the stage at all.

You can predict the letters that will fill our papers this Christmas as easily as I can. "We need to get back to the real meaning of Christmas," they'll proclaim, as though there can only be one, and as though Christianity holds its copyright.

For hundreds of years, Christianity has assumed a privileged position as the meaning-maker within Western society. But in the last few generations, Christianity has become like the favourite great aunt who sits in the corner of the room at Christmas - we play along with her for the day, listen nostalgically to her old stories, and with bemusement to her folk wisdom. "We must try to see more of her during the year," we say as we leave, knowing we won't.

At the risk of overworking the analogy, for many people, their great aunt has long died and been buried. Many people in our community whose heritage was Christian have decided firmly against it.

To say that Christianity is under threat, however, is more than a little melodramatic. Christianity has a resilience and tenacity that's enabled it to survive horrific persecution and oppression, from its earliest days in the Roman Empire, until now in communist China. The decision by a local council in Melbourne to not have a nativity float in a Christmas pageant won't kill off Christianity. Thinking that having a nativity float is a sign of a Christian society is a far greater threat.

It's ironic that Christmas has become the season over which this battle for making meaning is fought. The origin of the festival left the way open for the argument to continue forever. It wasn't until about 400 years after the birth of Jesus that anyone felt it necessary to mark the day.

Historians largely agree that the celebration of Christmas came about just after Constantine had made Christianity a recognised and privileged religion within the Roman Empire. Religious leaders were looking for a way to make Christianity more widely accepted among the populace, so they adopted an existing mid-winter festival and layered it with Christian meanings.

Many of our Christmas traditions came from the pre-existing festival: preparing great feasts of meat and ale to use up all the stores before they went off. While people would celebrate surviving the darkest time of year and the promise of light to come by dancing and singing naked in the streets, we've translated that tradition into a much more tasteful version, with the fully clothed Salvos singing Christmas carols from the back of a truck.

So much for those of us who thought that Jesus was actually born on December 25, and that we were joining in some world-wide birthday party that's been thrown ever since in his honour.

The relationship between what's been defined as sacred and secular has always been murky. Our tendency has been to define some traditions and behaviours as sacred, without recognising that they are - at best - just carriers of something sacred.

Perhaps the great mistake of the Christian church since the festival of Christmas began is that it has compromised itself so deeply in order to be palatable to everyone. It doesn't recognise that it has lost hold of much that is sacred. Which means we no longer recognise the irony of playing Christmas carols in a shopping centre.

Taking nativity floats out of the Christmas pageant and not insisting that Silent Night gets sung next to Jingle Bells may give Christianity the best chance it has had in years to offer something deeply sacred to the world. It gives back the freedom to not be attractive, to not have to be enticing. It lets Christianity stand on its own. It gives us the chance to distinguish between the truly sacred and the purely religious or nostalgic. Please, God, it gives us the chance to never hear Away in a Manger again.

Best of all, if the Christian Christmas story is released from the pressure to be popular it means we can take the nativity from its place in the corner of the sparkly shopping centre, where the star at its top gets lost among the glitter and glitz of the decorations.

We can put it unashamedly next to the dumpster out the back, where there are no other stars to light the dark.
Cheryl Lawrie
November 25, 2007
Cheryl Lawrie is a Melbourne writer.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

It's Election Day in Australia

Democracy is a form of government that substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.- George Bernard Shaw -

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Going out with style

Ever wanted to make a colourful exit from the world? It doesn't have to be done any more in the manner of death, but in the colour of your casket. The group is called Life Art, and describes their coffins as environmentally friendly (they are made of cardboard), which presumably means the paint is non-toxic... but can it guarantee the contents to be similarly so? Is there anything in this world we can't make a dollar from?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Movie Physics

Ever thought about the natural consequences of holding a gun that fires off thousands of rounds in a short space of time as you've watch Terminator, or some such other cinema 'classic'? What about the flash when the bullet is fired? Or perhaps the soft "phut" when a silencer is applied? Maybe your interest isn't so much to do with guns... how about that long, red laser beam? Or perhaps jumping through a plate glass window without sustaining even a little scratch?
Or, perhaps you might have worried about your car bursting into flames in an accident (preferably off a cliff, exploding at the moment of impact)?

If we learned our physics from movies, we'd be very confused people. Here to set the record straight, and to learn some basic physics, is Intuitor. Be warned, what makes good physics doesn't necessarily stand in the way of good entertainment (and vice versa). If you like The Matrix, or A.I., and use it as the foundation of a scientific education then don't worry too much about your career in science.

It makes an interesting read... and I learned something to!