Monday, February 28, 2011

Copts under fire...again

So you thought everything was going to be hunky-dory in Egypt now? Not for the Christians, it isn't. In a somewhat lawless time, Copts are once again being attacked. As Terry Mattingly notes, the treatment of the Copts in Egypt is the equivalent of having canaries in a mine. If the Copts are being treated okay, things are going well; if they're not, Egypt remains a troubled nation.

Here's a section of a report from the Assyrian International News Agency, for example.

For the second time in as many days, Egyptian armed force stormed the 5th century old St. Bishoy monastery in Wadi el-Natroun, 110 kilometers from Cairo. Live ammunition was fired, wounding two monks and six Coptic monastery workers. Several sources confirmed the army’s use of RPG [rocket propelled grenades] ammunition. Four people have been arrested including three monks and a Coptic lawyer who was at the monastery investigating yesterday’s army attack.

As Mattingly notes, what's sad about this is that it's only a few weeks since Muslims and Copts stood together called for reform.


In the musical I've been writing with my collaborator the mother and father are going to a dress-up dinner at the beginning. However during the course of the story, the mother's dress gets torn. I was originally thinking that we'd need two identical formal dresses, one intact and the other needing repair, but my ever-creative collaborator said there's an easier way. Start off with the torn dress and have it invisibly 'mended' in some way at the beginning of the play.

I'm not sure why this is something I should be trying to due course the costume people will deal with it, but I think I like to at least know about how these things are going to work. My collaborator is the same: even though we've sorted the script out, she wants to go through it and work out when scenery can be set, when it can be dispensed with, when tabs (inner curtains) close, when they open...and much more. In fact, if it seems like I'm a micro-manager, you should meet her! :)

And we still have to figure out how to fly some characters off the stage in one of the later scenes. It's going to be interesting.

Confirming opinions/hobby horses

Some see Investigate as a controversy-making populist magazine that hypes up some facts and ignores others. However, I'm inclined to a more moderate view of the mag, which has more than once brought material to light that's been ignored or quashed in other media, isn't afraid to state its case (even if it occasionally winds up with egg on its face) and is also open about its editor's Christian beliefs.

The following paragraphs come from their latest email promo.

".....David Cameron’s controversial speech signalling the death knell of multicultural policies in the UK and Europe. Cameron says weak liberalism has left Westerners scared of defending core values for fear of offending someone.

“A passively tolerant society says to its citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone. It stands neutral between different values.”

Instead, argues Cameron, what is needed is a much more “muscular” defence of Western culture: “Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, democracy. The rule of law. Equal rights regardless of race, sex or sexuality...This is what defines us as a society. To belong here is to believe in these things. Each of us in our own countries must be unambiguous and hard-nosed about this defence of our liberty..making sure immigrants speak the language of their new home...ensuring that people are educated in elements of a common culture and curriculum.”

The UK, France and Germany are all now backpedalling from decades of politically correct policies..."

I've believed for some time that both the bi-cultural and multi-cultural models here in NZ haven't done the country good; nor have they achieved much abroad, it seems. It looks like others are finally getting to grips with the problem.

And something else I've said for a while is that perhaps all the weather problems we're having around the world are related to a shift in the earth's axis. Not being a scientist of any sort, this was a merely intuitive idea. Curious then, to find this also in the Investigate's promo:

"Did you know the magnetic pole has begun shifting at a startlingly accelerated pace?

“NASA has been warning about it...scientific papers have been written about it...geologists have seen its traces in rock strata and ice-core samples. Now ‘it’ is here: an unstoppable magnetic pole shift that has sped up and which may be causing life-threatening havoc with the world’s weather,” begins the report from Terrence Aym in HIS.

Two weeks ago, the US Geological Survey issued a new report warning that massive superstorms could be in the offing capable of causing US$300 to $400 billion worth of damage – far exceeding the US$12 billion tag for the Christchurch quake, by way of comparison."

While that's not exactly a shift in the earth's axis, it's similar. Curious, and scary.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Some Presbyterian views on the Christchurch earthquake

There have been some messages sent through to a group I'm on (and they've gone to other groups too, I understand) from two or three Presbyterian ministers in relation to the earthquake yesterday. There particularly interesting because they're from eyewitnesses. Here's part of one from Geoff King, whose church (Knox) was already damaged in the first earthquake in September:

Thank you for the messages and prayers of support that greeted me as I switched on the computer this morning - power was restored to our place around 9.30 last night but I was still dealing with texts and trying to find somewhere for the family to sleep in the mess of our manse. At midnight I accepted a friend's offer to take [my wife] and our two boys north to catch the ferry to the North Island, so it's just our dog and I getting ready for another day.

I walked home from what remained of Knox yesterday afternoon surrounded by scenes of devastation far worse than on 4 September. Whilst visiting a parishioner I spoke with one of his neighbours, whose husband was at that time unaccounted for in the Pyne Gould Guinness building in town. I walked for a while with a barefoot young woman whose workplace in the city had collapsed, and who told me of seeing a woman giving birth on the footpath. Later I passed others heading on foot with blankets and little else for Hagley Park, and wondered how they fared when the rain began to fall a couple of hours after that. Dinner was sausages cooked on the outdoor barbeque; I've drained the leaking hot water cylinder upstairs into several large water containers so can probably manage with that, whatever food there is in the fridge and a bucket toilet for several days.

Got around some of our older parishioners yesterday afternoon but by no means all of them - back on the bike after I've had breakfast today. It's hard to describe the destruction in the central city - modern buildings have collapsed crumbled this time, and there is now no need for the reconstruction meeting that was planned for Knox tomorrow, as only the wooden pillars and roof are still standing - I am profoundly relieved that no one was injured when the wall on Bealey Ave collapsed towards traffic. I've heard that at least one bus in the central city was not so fortunate, and all of us are anxiously awaiting the release of the names of those who've died. I've closed the Knox Centre as a precaution - whilst the newer building is still standing the rear wall of the church collapsed through the gallery and hall/centre stairwell, so may have damaged the centre's outer wall.

And a shorter one from another minister:

Trinity Pacific is in a really bad way including fire. As is Knox. Centre of town looks like a bomb site. I was next to Durham street Methodist as it collapsed in a pile of stones . Thank you for your prayers.

The Pacific church she's referring to had already had a fire before the September earthquake.

And finally, from Martin Stewart:

Thanks to you all for your messages of prayer and thoughts - so far from what I have been able to find out we have four churches in considerable strife (all were damaged in September) - fortunately the workers on the St Paul's trinity Pacific restoration were on lunch break and all got out.
This church is diagonally opposite the devastated CTV building.
Our Methodist friends have had more damage and there are reports of three people still missing on the Durham St Methodist Church which was ironically being made safe. The Methodist Connexional Offices are closed with some damage to that building.
The pic [photo - above right] is of Oxford Terrace Baptist Church which totally collapsed. Knox Church is also one of the significantly damaged Pressie buildings.
Time will tell as to whether the ones lost are known in our church families, but we all feel emotionally drained in a way different from September because of the loss of many lives.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Danny MacAskill

There's a reasonably long video showing cyclist Danny MacAskill's acrobatic skills as he zips up and over and under and across and through various obstacles with an extraordinary ease - and after years of practice.

The video is called Way Back Home and takes MacAskill back to Skye, where he does his stunts on the beach and around the castle and rocks and so on. Amazing man. And the video isn't filmed in lots of short cuts so that you don't really see what's happening; instead it allows you to see the full extent of MacAskill's skills interspersed with some fabulous scenery.

All you young blokes who think you're pretty cool on your what MacAskill can do...


If one reads enough books one has a fighting chance. Or better, one's chances of survival increase with each book one reads.

Sherman Alexie
National Book Foundation Interview

Monday, February 21, 2011


"When did we become so enamoured of unpleasantness? More importantly, when did we start automatically accepting it as truth, particularly in literature? The world is, of course, often quite unpleasant, and any brainlessly pain-free book purporting to show truth can and should be dismissed as unrealistic contrivance. But while contrived cruelty may seem more artful than contrived sentiment, it’s still contrivance."

Patrick Ness in The Guardian, writing a review of the book, More Than it Hurts You, by Darin Strauss.

I'm just about finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a book I've been keen to read since a friend let me skim through the first few pages while I was waiting to accompany him in a singing competition two or three years ago. The book is overlong - Stieg Larsson never spares on detail, even when it contributes nothing to the story in hand - but that's survivable.

What I've struggled with is the emphasis on sadistic sexual violence. I think if it wasn't for the fact that the story itself is intriguing, I'd have put it away early in the piece. Larsson is making a point, I guess, and puts statistical quotes at the beginnings of chapters about how many women are abused sexually each year - and in terms of the way women are abused throughout the world, it does no harm to remind us of how awful some women's lives are.

Nevertheless, there's a sense of enjoyment in the way the book writes about these episodes, and most of these episodes are written in such a way that they draw the reader in. This is particularly evident when one of the main characters takes revenge on a man who's abused her. However, I found myself skimming pages when Larsson continued to add more and more sickening detail to later parts of the book. I didn't feel it was necessary to have all this hammered home.

We've got the other two titles on Kindle, but if they're similar to the first, I think I won't be reading them.

Short Aussie films

Movie Extra Tropfest 2011, the Australian short film festival, was held on Feb 20 this year at the Domain, Sydney, as well as at live sites around Australia including Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane, Hobart, Adelaide, Surfers Paradise and Perth.

Sixteen short films were up for the honour of winning the prize, each complying with the four conditions of the contest. The film had to be made specifically for Movie Extra Tropfest 2011, have their irst public screening at Movie Extra TropFest 2011, be no longer than seven minutes (including title and end credits), and contain the Tropfest Signature Item (TSI) – which is ‘KEY’ for 2011. The trailer for this year’s festival was directed by Steve Baker, winner of TropFest in 2007 with An Imaginary Friend.

The video below is the advertising trailer for 2010. It was directed by Steve Baker, and narrated by Anthony LaPaglia.

The winner for 2011 was Damon Gameau. The Australian film and television performer, who has appeared in Nine Network's Underbelly series and the 2009 movie Balibo, was widely praised for his film Animal Beatbox.

The movie is an animation described as having a catchy lyrical and poetic narrative. It was shot in Gameau's mother's spare room and cost just $85 to make.

Friday, February 18, 2011

art, theology, marxism, atheism, the mix!

I've published this post elsewhere, in relation to the theology aspect. Here it appears more in relation to the cinematic/art aspects...!

One of the blogs I read regularly is entitled 'Never mind the bricolage' and is written by someone who calls himself 'Superflat'. There was a point when I had an actual name, but I can't just track it down on the blog at present. He works with students doing courses in which he discusses art and theology, (at least these topics come up regularly in his blog), and in his latest post, Criticism of Heaven he begins by writing the following...

In the Art, Cinema and Theology class we have been exploring the role of women in the arts and particularly women painters and their general absence from Western Art History. We found our way to a discussion about Frida Kahlo, inspired by the movie about her starring Selma Hayek and directed by Julie Taymor.

I think that there are rich conversations to be had around her life and work, but a question came up during class about how to 'do theology with someone who is a communist and an atheist'--points that I actually think are favourable for a conversation, but somehow seemed to be a stumbling block to at least one person. I guess it all depends on how one understands what theological discourse might be--for me it encompasses at least some aspect of bringing things (anything) into dialogue and conversation. While I part company with the conclusions of the Radical Orthodoxy mob, I do like Graham Ward's idea that doing theology somehow means 'reclaiming the world'--bringing all the things once ceded to the wider culture back into contact and conversation with sacred communities and with theology. So for me Frida Kahlo offers up some major theological potentials: sexuality and gender; socialism/Marxism, theism/a-theism, pain and brokenness just to name a few.

I like that idea of 'reclaiming the world' in relation to art/theology -it resonates with a number of different writers on art and theology I've read.

Superflat has a little more to

[Bricolage is a term used in several disciplines, among them the visual arts, to refer to the construction or creation of a work from a diverse range of things that happen to be available, or a work created by such a process. The term is borrowed from the French word bricolage, from the verb bricoler, the core meaning in French being, "fiddle, tinker" and, by extension, "to make creative and resourceful use of whatever materials are at hand (regardless of their original purpose)". In contemporary French the word is the equivalent of the English do it yourself, and is seen on large shed retail outlets throughout France. A person who engages in bricolage is a bricoleur. Thanks, Wikipedia!]

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I'm famous cos God loves me

Before they were famous, many of the biggest pop stars in the world believed that God wanted them to be famous, that this was his plan for them, just as it was his plan for the rest of us not to be famous. Conversely, many equally talented but slightly less famous musicians I’ve interviewed felt their success was accidental or undeserved—and soon after fell out of the limelight.

As I compiled and analyzed these interviews for my new book, I reached a surprising conclusion: Believing that God wants you to be famous actually improves your chances of being famous. Of course, from the standpoint of traditional theology, even in the Calvinistic world of predestination, God is much more concerned with the fate of an individual’s soul than his or her secular success, and one’s destiny is unknowable. So what’s helping these stars is not so much religion as belief - specifically, the belief that God favors their own personal, temporal success over that of almost everyone else.

From God at the Grammys: The Chosen Ones” by Neil Strauss.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Commonplace post

One of the fun things about Google desktop, and also about Evernote, the programme that allows you to store virtually everything you like via Cloud, is that if you put a particular word in you can come up with all sorts of things: things you've forgotten, or things you didn't know you had.

For instance in relation to the word, 'insurance' which I checked out because I wanted to put in a link for
rv insurance quotes, I came across three items, all unrelated, and all of interest. Firstly there was this footnote to one of Jason Goroncy's recent blog posts - in this case on the subject of holiness. The original quote comes from William Stringfellow.

‘Can a Homosexual be a Christian. One might as well ask, can an insurance man be a Christian? Can a lawyer be a Christian? Can an ecclesiastical bureaucrat be a Christian? Can a rich man be a Christian? Can an infant be a Christian? Or one who is sick, or insane, or indolent or one possessed of power or status or respectability? Can anybody be a Christian? Can a human being be a Christian? All such questions are theologically absurd. To be a Christian does not have anything essentially to do with conduct or station or repute. To be a Christian does not have anything to do with the common pietisms of ritual, dogma or morals in and of themselves. To be a Christian has, rather, to do with that peculiar state of being bestowed upon men by God … Can a homosexual be a Christian? Yes: if his sexuality is not an idol’.

And with that succinct piece of theology we move to quote number two, this time from Seth Godin. It comes from a post he wrote in Feb 2010 called Phoning it in and he began with some concern about a minister of religion who told him that some days she just works...

I know doctors, lawyers, waiters and insurance brokers who are honestly and truly passionate about what they do. They view it as an art form, a calling, and an important (no, an essential) thing worth doing.
In fact, I don't think there's a relationship between what you do and how important you think the work is. I think there's a relationship between who you are and how important you think the work is.

The third reference to 'insurance' (I'm sure there are plenty more, as Google desktop came up with several pages worth) comes from a draft of a blog post I'd written which doesn't appear to have been published....

I stood outside my house with two of my neighbours the other day discussing the tragedy of teens committing suicide. Apparently there was an Internet ‘pact’ made by about twenty local teenagers to commit suicide on Christmas Day. Horrific. Thank God it didn’t go ahead, for whatever reason, but one of my neighbours was going to a tangi for one teenager who did commit suicide at Christmas. And talked about another who’d killed herself because of text message bullying. The girl who’d done the most bullying had turned up at the tangi for that girl, which my neighbour thought was actually brave…but then had killed herself a few days later.

It’s unbelievable. The other neighbour and I felt it was that these kids don’t have a sense of the reality of death, that once you’re gone, you’re gone. I remember years ago a boy hanged himself because he’d had an argument with his father. Hanged himself! Why would you go and do that to spite someone? There’s some strange evil process at work in all this. I feel that it’s more than just kids deciding this is the thing to do. Behind it, I sense, there’s a supernatural factor that’s inciting this kind of unreasonable behaviour.

And then there are kids who kill themselves on the road. You can kind of understand this better: kids have far less judgement in cars than more experienced drivers. They have a sense of being bullet-proof, and time and again they’ve proved their not. I noted that there was a site in the States where they have a number of tips for teenage drivers. Getting the teenagers to pay attention is, of course, the issue. The site was brought to my attention by a car insurance company who offer a cheap car insurance quote.

To go back to the original phrase that inspired this digging around in my computer: rv {recreational vehicles} insurance quotes. You hear a lot about rvs on the Internet, but they're not something that New Zealanders tend to have much to do with [though the photo on the right was taken in Rotorua, NZ]: we lean towards converting old buses into the equivalent of an rv, sometimes in a superb way.

Most of my experience with rvs comes from the mo
vies - Sandra Bullock, desperate to go to the loo, boarding an rv owned by total strangers; or Jack Nicholson watching the stars while sitting on the roof of an enormous rv he and his wife had bought just before she unexpectedly dropped dead doing what she was passionate about: cleaning...and many more. The way rvs get treated in the movies, they'd need massive insurance, I'd think!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

White Blackberry

I think one of the first zip drives (pen drives) I had could only hold 128 megabytes of data on it. And no doubt it cost a heap. My daughter has just been telling me that a few years back she bought a 1 gb drive for a friend which cost $NZ80 at the time. Now they're selling 4gb drives for two for $20. All the kids are getting them for school - and no doubt losing them as fast as they acquire them.

I've just been looking at a site that sells Blackberry bolds for $US99.99, which at today's exchange rate is a ridiculous $NZ129.75. Buying a Blackberry for $130 is crazy; only a short while ago they in the region of $700-800.

These kind of prices rather reduce the exclusiveness of Blackberries - it doesn't seem long ago that characters in movies would nonchalantly mention their 'Blackberry' and another character would gasp and say....You have a Blackberry? Now they'd say....So what?

And talking of Blackberries, if you haven't seen the skit set in a fruit shop with Ronnie Corbett (the One Ronnie) catch up with it now.....

Note the white blackberry. Isn't that an oxymoron?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Books vs e-books

Interesting set of tweets as recorded by a site called 40Key, about which I don't know a lot. They say on the site: 40k means ebooks. Here you can find:
* Thinking. Culture is going digital. Our essays will tell you stories about this shift. and
* Fiction. A sophisticated selection of stories and a lot of award-winning authors.

Plainly their focus is literature in many forms.

The post's subject is If Book Then: a Recap, which I'm sure makes sense, but don't quite ask me how.

The topic in discussion (I think*) is the advance of e-books and the retreat of real books and bookstores. Some of the comments are just a little scary, especially from someone who goes by the Twitter name of mikeshatzkin.

Mike Shatzkin says on Twitter that he's interested in publishing and digital change.

Make sure you read the Tweet list from the bottom up, otherwise it doesn't make a lot of sense...!

* My lack of understanding here is because Tweets on their own, or even in a bunch like this lot, often don't make enough sense - they lack a bit of context, one might say.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The King's Speech

We've just been to see The King's Speech, a good old-fashioned movie with a literate script, good parts for the actors to play, and a situation that's emotionally involving for the audience.

The two main parts are played by Colin Firth, as the soon-to-be king, George VI, and Geoffrey Rush as the Australian speech therapist who manages to get the King past his terrible public stutter and into a place where he can actually speak clearly and (mostly) safely in his public persona.

It's often very funny, with both Firth and Rush getting a share of the good retorts to the other's statements, and for once Rush doesn't have to play the part to the extreme in order to present an interesting performance. Firth's stutter seems as natural as is possible for any actor to present, and he brings the audience alongside him bit by bit, turning from a man who's always expected to say and do the right thing into someone whose humanity is gradually allowed to shine through.

Helena Bonham Carter plays the woman who would eventually be known as 'the Queen Mum'; at this point she's a woman of strength and character, and considerable support for her struggling husband. There are a bunch of other great British actors, including Derek Jacobi, Michael Gambon, Claire Bloom, but few of them have any great length of screen time.

It occurred to me during the film that George VI must have died relatively young; his daughter Elizabeth succeeded him in the early fifties, and he only came to the throne a few years before the war, when his somewhat harum-scarum brother (as he's portrayed in the movie) abdicated. Of course, I only need to check out Wikipedia to get at the facts: George (or Albert as he was actually called until he ascended the throne) was born in 1895 and became king in 1936, when he was 41. He died in 1952, when he was only 57, after only 16 years as king. His brother, known as Edward VIII, was on the throne barely a year - 325 days in fact, and was never officially crowned. Edward wasn't just harum-scarum; he was a considerable womaniser. As his former private secretary, Alan Lascelles, wrote (not very privately) "for some hereditary or physiological reason [Edward's] normal mental development stopped dead when he reached adolescence."

Quirky water

I guess this happens in many cities, particularly those built on hills, but one of the things I find quirky about Dunedin are the number of little streams that run down through people's properties, under roads, out the other side and then go....who knows where? (Well, someone does, no doubt, just not me.)

At the back of my son's property is a stream that trickles down behind all the properties in that area. I have no idea where it eventually comes out, as it doesn't seem to be visible around the corner of the block further down the hill.

When I walk to work down Neidpath Rd, there's a stream that runs between two properties on one side of the road, can be heard running under the road, and then appears not opposite where it's first seen, but two or three houses further along. There it has its own little space in someone's garden, and then it goes...who knows where?

I noticed this morning that after the heavy rain there was a good deal of water coming down the side of the hill further along Neidpath. This fall of water isn't usually very obvious and heads into a culvert that doesn't seem to have any outlet on the other side of the road.

At the bottom of the Glen is a large outlet for water that comes, presumably, off the hill. But I don't know that there's any sign of it further up.

And I only just learnt, after a number of years of being puzzled, that the water that comes out of a pipe in Broadway (a short street which, in my childhood, used to be a pedestrian mall with a pile of tiny shops - the only one I can remember sold nothing but umbrellas), and runs - often at quite a pace - down the gutter, around the corner into Rattray St, isn't a broken pipe but the outlet for an underground spring. It must come out at quite a high point, because there's a bank down below the place it appears leading onto the back of the Southern Cross Hotel.

Apparently the Dunedin City Council get calls almost every day from someone asking why water is being 'wasted'. (As I did.) It does seem odd that the water is being allowed just to drain away. If it's spring water, it's possibly on a par with the spring water that comes out of a tap on the Speight's Building. So why let if just disappear again? I have no idea.

25.4.15 Update. It seems as though the water in Broadway may be part of the Toitu stream which runs across Maori Rd at one point (or rather, under the road), down through the bush and under Canongate, and then under more of the streets. Of course it has a much longer trip than this, but that's part of it.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Leaning towards Orthodoxy

Having been brought up as a Catholic the liturgy, the statues, the incense and all the other stuff that goes with it have never particularly bothered me, even though I have 'moved' from the Catholic Church into something different: Christianity rather than a particular denomination. We go to a Baptist Church, and are members there, but I don't consider myself a 'Baptist'. A Christian, definitely, but I don't define it beyond that.

I've been following a blog written by Joseph Black. He's an American lecturer at a Christian College in Nairobi, Kenya. In the last few years he's leaned closer and closer to the Orthodox Church (not a 'denomination' as such, but a major stream of the Christian church, as Catholicism is), and in recent months was baptised into the Orthodox Church. He's been writing about his journey on his blog, and though personally I couldn't see myself going 'backwards' as it were, into something like Catholicism or Orthodoxy, I understand his reasons.

In his latest post he talks about taking several of his students to an Orthodox service - it's part of their course to attend different churches. For anyone who wants some answers as to why the Orthodox church does some of the things it does, particularly in relation to icons, read Black's post. It's very helpful.

By the way, Orthodoxy as a word gets used in different ways within Christianity: G K Chesterton wrote a book on Christianity and called it 'Orthodoxy' - but it has nothing to do with the Greek or Russian Orthodox streams. Rather it relates to the basics of Christianity as a whole, though in typical Chesterton style, it isn't in any sense a formal introduction to Christianity, nor a manual that tells you specifics about the faith.

As Chesterton writes in the introduction: "When the word "orthodoxy" is used here it means the Apostles' Creed, as understood by everybody calling himself Christian until a very short time ago and the general historic conduct of those who held such a creed. I have been forced by mere space to confine myself to what I have got from this creed; I do not touch the matter much disputed among modern Christians, of where we ourselves got it. This is not an ecclesiastical treatise but a sort of slovenly autobiography. But if any one wants my opinions about the actual nature of the authority, Mr. G.S.Street has only to throw me another challenge, and I will write him another book." [G S Street being one of his regular opponents.]

Friday, February 04, 2011

Getting the truth ain't easy

As the Egyptian crisis increases, more and more confusion reigns as to who is what, who isn't, and whether anybody really knows what's going on.

The Atlantic Monthly blog reported: A number of White House officials were given an Encyclopedia Britannica-like briefing about the basics: how many U.S. citizens were inside the country and contingency plans to get them out; reminders that Egypt wasn’t a Muslim country; Hosni Mubarak was a Coptic Christian of a certain sect; the Muslim Brotherhood was at once an opposition political party and a co-opted part of the social system...

Who knows who gave the briefing, but there are two specific errors in this paragraph alone (one of them has since been corrected on the blog): Egypt isn't an Islamic state, but it's certainly very Muslim; Mubarak is in no way a Christian of the Copts, or any other 'sect' (the Copts not being a sect in the first place) - he's a Muslim. (The fact that his full name is Muhammad Hosni Sayyid Mubarak might give a clue.)

And talking about the Coptic Christians in Egypt, a people who are between 8 and 12% of the population, the fact that they are regularly persecuted doesn't rise to the surface very often. It was the same in Iraq, where the Christian percentage of the population has almost entirely gone underground or left the country - the war only intensified hatred of the Christian section of the community.

The situation in Egypt is similar: Christians are persecuted regularly. The bombing of the Coptic church around Christmas time made world headlines, but the recent massacre of two Christian families by Muslims in Northern Egypt - because the police were otherwise engaged in the riots - went almost unacknowledged.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Google Art Project and grudges

No doubt I'm way down on the list of hearing about the Google Art Project, but at least I'm not like one commenter on the videos relating to the Project who said that now Google was taking over the art galleries!

As another wisely pointed out, many people don't have access to these galleries; they're on the other side of the world, and even if you wanted to visit the Uffizi, for instance, you have to wait in a queue for hours. By which time you're exhausted and don't have the energy to spend time with the art. (We waited in the queue for around a half an hour and then decided there were better ways to spend our limited time, went down the road, and found a superb gallery with hardly anyone in it!)

It's never going to be the same experience as standing in front of the original - no more than the Google street photographs are the same as the reality of standing outside a real house - but there are advantages. Access is great, for starters; you can go in really close on the paintings and see the detail not in a fuzzy way, but as clearly as you can see the whole thing. This is something I'm really appreciating. When you look at an art work in a book, for instance, you can't get any closer than the page and your eye's focus will allow. Consequently, details are out of your range.

The colours are superb as well, and the range of galleries is beyond belief. What is there not to appreciate about the Art Project. Good old Google, I say.

Check out the videos on the site, too, particularly the behind the scenes one which shows the photographers capturing the works digitally, cycling, in some cases, around the laminate floors in order to give you a sense of actually walking through these museums.

As I said above, there are always the grumblers. Here's one commenting on this particular video: Google lack any ingenuity or creativity of their own and either buy or steal intellectual property to compensate for their lack of creative vision. This project is a strong example of them stealing from me after presenting the idea to Google Ventures. It's not just myself who have an aversion to Google. Groupon told them to shoveit after being offered $6 billion and Path denied them after googled offered $100 million. There are stealth groups in SV who want to see google fall..

Hmm. Groupon and Path turned down $160 million between them. Some people must have grudges.

Newman the literary workaholic

Many years ago, I was given a biography of Cardinal John Henry Newman to read by the priest who ran a Catholic library in London, after I'd asked (in some frustration) for a book on someone who was a 'modern' saint. Newman, by that time, had been a long time dead, so I'm not sure that he could be classified as 'modern'. by which I'd meant 'contemporary.' However, the biography, which ran to two volumes, was very interesting. Here's a quote from a recent review on a biography of Newman that focuses on his literary achievements.

It was also at Oxford that Newman was to develop his prodigious talents and astounding work ethic. (He recorded having once written for 22 hours straight while working on his Apologia.) Cornwell dubs Newman a "superabundant literary workaholic." While preparing to take his honors examination, he sometimes read fourteen hours a day.

From Newman's Unquiet Grave, a review of John Cornwell's book of the same name, by David J Michael.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011


My brother-in-law and his wife are just off on another cruise - to Hawaii. Apparently they've just been on a cruise - to Hawaii - but due to storms couldn't stop off at most of the ports. So they're going again. It was cheaper than flying there!

Seems that if you book a cruise while you're still on a cruise, you get a discount cruise. In fact, that's what they did a few years ago while they were on the cruise that brought them to Dunedin, where we live. (That was the first time I'd met either of them, and the first time my wife had seen her brother in some forty years.)

They came for a day. Such is the nature of cruises. And then went onto Auckland for Christmas Day, and found everything closed...

Friends of ours recently went on a cruise around some of the Pacific Islands. One of the various cyclones that's been floating around recently decided that it would blow, and so they missed visiting several ports as well. However, they haven't least as far as I know. Considering the number of photos on Facebook, (some 400), they had a pretty good time - without visiting ports.

Cruises obviously appeal to a great number of people - we're having half a dozen cruise ships visiting our city this week alone. I'm not sure that I'm one of the people cruises appeal to, though I haven't been given the chance to find out, as yet.

Maybe in my retirement - if I manage to actually have one - and if someone passes on a good deal of spare cash - I'll get the chance, and see what they're really like.

Time will tell.

The photo was taken by a friend of mine, Stephen Murphy, and shows a cruise ship at Port Chalmers, our local port.

Scary stats

With all the hubbub going on in Egypt, and across that part of the world, and the vying for leadership amongst different groups, it was rather scary to read this particular stat from the Pew Research Centre.

When asked about the death penalty for those who leave the Muslim religion, at least three-quarters of Muslims in Jordan (86%), Egypt (84%) and Pakistan (76%) say they would favor making it the law...

Note that Egypt is in the middle of these three. (Pakistan has even higher percentages on other punishments such as stoning for adultery and cutting off limbs for theft.) The article on the Pew Research site is full of detail about the attitudes of people in areas where there are high concentrations of Muslims.

For more about the possibilities of Muslim rule in Egypt, check out this overview from