Sunday, March 28, 2010

~ dominion

After many failed attempts, Robert has at last identified and plugged the hole through which our possums were gaining ingress to the roof. Around dawn, the noises of frustration began and continued for hours. Perhaps the creatures have at last accepted that the well-appointed possum-box - carpentered for them lovingly by Robert - is a more sensible choice of lair. Perhaps not. Yet for a while at least, there will be no scratching and squalling in the walls around sunset, and Polly - whom the noises freak out - will sleep easier.

I can remember the things that used to terrify me at night. I remember tensing for the touch of the skeleton approaching me in the dark. Or the vampire. The nagging fear that something deadly, perhaps a tiger, was lurking beneath the bed. The indistinct forms of dinosaurs in the foliage outside the window ... I guess that’s what Polly’s going through at the moment, but the intensity of her fears is beginning to worry me. The sight of a spider on the couch is enough to elicit screams of primal terror. Thunder and lightning drive her into wild panic ... if she picks up a storm warning on a television forecast, she will be nervous and wary throughout the following day.


Sometimes I find myself ignoring the dreadful things that are happening to our world. Sometimes I need to take a break from the unremitting gloom. Likely it’s a self-defensive action, as to focus without pause on such things is a recipe for depression.

But lately, wherever I look I’ve been faced with outrageous scenarios in which humans are carelessly and criminally exploiting the Earth and its less fortunate inhabitants. After reading into Coke-a-Cola’s behaviour in Plachimada, India, I have - in an admittedly futile gesture - eschewed my morning Diet Coke for Pepsi. The actions of Coke, who set up a plant in an impoverished region of India and proceeded to suck free water out of the ground until the locals’ wells went dry, is not only inexcusable but depressingly predictable. Thank goodness the victims seem to have achieved some success on the legal front.

Then there is the noxious, criminally evil notion of Human Achievement Hour. I was scarcely able to believe my eyes when reading about this alternative to Earth Hour in The Age during the week. Inspired by climate-change denying Australian senator Cory Bernardi and championed by extreme right wing think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute, this wildly irresponsible concept formed icicles in my heart. There are people who truly believe that climate change is a left wing conspiracy. There are people who pay venal scientists to uncover hiccups in the data and inflame them into ClimateGates. There are people who believe it is a political issue not a scientific one. There are people who truly do not care about future generations. There are people who truly believe that man sits above nature and that he has, by right, Dominion over the earth.

Then I watched Mike Moore’s Capitalism - A Love Story and, although all his characteristic biases were in evidence, if even half of what he presented was accurate then we live in a miserable world indeed. The leaked Citibank plutonomy documents were near beyond belief. There is a 1% elite, at least in the US, who, in controlling 95% of the wealth, believe Dominion is theirs and bemoan their command of only 1% of the vote. Not a word about climate change. Collapsing fisheries. Animal extinctions.

God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth".

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

~ intense psychological presences

The Huntingdale Wetlands, a small regenerated wetlands site which I pass on my near-daily walks, was host to a white-faced heron today. Last week there was a pelican and a pair of masked lapwings. There’s an old pied cormorant that perches on a dead branch extruding from the not too healthy water. There’s a family of superb fairy wrens near the dank tunnel beneath the freeway and a group of raucous yellow tailed cockatoos on the other side.

Apparently, the yellow flashes on the cheeks and tails of these cockatoos are explained by their having travelled, like Icarus, very close to the sun. I learnt this from the book of poetry I’ve been narrating of late, which happens to include an unusual amount of bird poems. Birds are the perfect subject for poems. Robert Adamson, the editor of this poetry book, The Best Australian Poems 2009, explains it in this way:

“I have a theory: we miss having poets among us who can imagine that a soul can ‘clap its hands and sing, and louder sing’, that we need to acknowledge visitations by intense psychological presences, and that birds are the closest things we have, more or less, to angels.”

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Monday, March 15, 2010

~ priest of reason

I left this weekend’s Atheist convention, like many others I imagine, with a feeling that we might well be on the cusp of change. Only time will tell, however, whether the great communal spirit generated over the three days will translate into any sort of social action.

I made many many notes and I’ll probably be talking about this experience for weeks to come, but for now, I just want to cry out about how wonderful it was.

I went by myself and, in a Melbourne crowd of thousands, I encountered only two friends, yet I felt far from isolated. It was a strange and wonderful feeling finding oneself in a such huge mass of like-minded, like-spirited people. There was a palpable energy in the air. An electrically vibrating morphogenetic field [if you like] binding us all together. A little like a religious gathering, I suspect. Just the kind of social construct that the churches are experienced at providing - and of which the non-believers need more.

Again and again, speakers noted that this was the largest gathering of Atheists they had ever seen or heard of in the world. And the last of these speakers, Richard Dawkins, was predictably brilliant. Beyond his actual words, I was astonished by the air of thoughtfulness, wisdom, humility and kindness he generated. Perhaps it was partly the great respect in which he was held by the audience, but he simply shone with charisma - like a true priest of reason.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

~ a sad affair

Monday night’s Qanda on the ABC was a saddening affair. Richard Dawkins - in the country for the Atheist Convention beginning tomorrow in Melbourne - was empaneled with, among others, Steve Fielding, Julie Bishop and Tony Burke [ALP]. It could have been interesting; Dawkins seemed keen to get Fielding to state his views for the record, but the atavistic fool played the evasive politician and very clumsily to boot.

Nevertheless, I was left with the distinct impression he was a young Earth creationist, which is no surprise; but the fact that he wouldn’t admit it is appalling, given that this and other extreme Christian viewpoints lie behind his political decisions - which, regrettably, affect all Australians. His statement that religion and science should be kept separate in schools was very difficult to believe, so grudgingly was it given.

Fielding is a climate-change denier; a man who cannot untangle the real world from the mumbo jumbo of the Bible, but who has just enough political nous to know that to declare his real views would be to paint himself as a lunatic to much of the electorate. I suspect Tony Abbott is in a comparable situation.

Not one of the politicians was prepared to honestly engage with the thorny religious issues Dawkins raised. His stance was compared to a cruel attempt to strip children of their belief in Santa Claus - to which he responded by noting that children usually grow out of that belief. Tony Burke - when attempting to counter Dawkins’ mention of the myriad religious wars fought down the centuries - revealed the weakness of his critical thinking by citing the crimes of Hitler and Stalin - who merely happened to be Atheists - as examples of atrocities committed in the name of Atheism.

Both Burke and Bishop criticised Dawkins for showing insufficient respect for people’s beliefs. Well, his outspokenness used to grate on me a little too - but after reading The God Delusion I’ve come to accept his attitude. If, as Christopher Hitchens says ‘religion ruins everything’ then why should it be granted the automatic respect of civilised people. This is what is so unfortunate about the recent activity of the U.N. Human Rights Council, which, under pressure from Islamists and with the approval of Barack Obama, has passed a resolution protecting religions from criticism or blasphemy.

Possibly, the saddest point of the show - and I mean this in the sense of pathetic - was the fact that all six of the panelists (save Dawkins) attested to a belief in the afterlife.

I myself mull over the idea from time to time. I suppose it’s not inconceivable that far in the future our descendants, having evolved into a cosmic intelligence, might reach back through time, record our mind patterns at the moment of death and then run simulations in a virtual eternity ... if that is not indeed what’s happening now ... But, as Dawkins said, and as I’ve thought many times also, ‘imagine how boring it would be after the first thousand years’.

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Sunday, March 7, 2010

~ crystallised magpie

I ought not leave gloomy posts to sitting on my front page for long periods; I’ve had concerned friends ringing to find out if everything’s alright - which it is, now, by the way. Relatively speaking. And it’s heartening to be reminded how caring people can be. Thank you.

I’m buried deep in the meat of Ambergris, working each day, religiously, with the intention of completing this draft by the end of the month, if not by my birthday on April 2. I’ve reached that place where the world of the play - and it’s a complex one - is hovering always in my thoughts, like a shadow of the real world. That’s the main reason you haven’t heard from me: I’m living on a devastated island off the Queenland coast with a community of strange fictional characters. It’s only in this state that I can hold the whole play in my mind - and, in this state, I find that new ideas flow from the real world ... from the personal habits of friends, from weather events, from the contents of rubbish bins, from the attitude of cats ...

Yesterday I borrowed the idea of a crystallised magpie from a poem I was reading for an audiobook. For a couple of days each week, I’m working at Vision Australia, reciting the contents of The Best Australian Poems 2009 [edited by Robert Adamson]. It’s a really agreeable pastime. Though narrating Peter Temple’s crime novel was enjoyable and instructive, there’s something about reading poems I really like. The intrinsic theatre, perhaps. The density. And, of course, the focus on words.

Life at home is comfortable at present, and tranquil, but I’m holding my breath. I find it difficult to believe. Could all the troubles of years past have been solved? I’d be a fool to lower my defences on the basis of a week or so of domestic harmony - but I can always hope.

On the legal front, things trundle on. My matter has been elevated to the county court and will be heard on 24 Jan 2011. Problem is, the judge has asked that my financing be in place by August, so - even though the length, and therefore the cost, of the trial has been reduced (from five days to four) - I’m still under extreme financial pressure. On March 23 it will be a year since the police discovered the plants in my back yard - and what a year it’s been ...

Next weekend: the Global Atheist Convention. It’s been a while since I’ve looked forward to something so much. Richard Dawkins in the flesh ...

Also, it looks like we’re getting the Ears back in gear for a gig in April, I believe - more information forthcoming.

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