Sunday, April 30, 2006

a history of Wicca

Wicca is both an ancient feminine earthly religion and also a newly-minted 20th century faith. Wicca is a neo-pagan religion which was reconstructed from beliefs, deities, symbols, practices and other elements of an ancient religion. Unlike Christianity it is not based on the value of the human word, but on the impact of the elements.

This is demonstrated by the words of a native American Indian Wiccan: "If you take the Christian Bible and put it out in the wind and the rain, soon the paper on which the words are printed will disintegrate and the words will be gone. Our bible IS the wind and the rain."

Wiccans believe in a dual deity structure: a Goddess and a God. Furthermore, the Goddess has three aspects of different ages: the Maiden for sexuality, the Mother for fertility and the Crone for wisdom. The Wiccan golden rule is the Rede, which states “Harm None, do what thou wilt”.

There are many who dispute this type of worship is a religion. Many people are frightened by the idea of Wicca and its more pejorative incarnation “witchcraft.” They judge it on moral grounds as an evil force. Why would a religion that on face value that is so respectful of the world be the object of great fear and dislike? The answer goes back many centuries.

Britain had anti-witchcraft acts on its books dating back to 1401. The Church was suspicious of supernatural and magical events that it did not control. Henry VIII, as part of his appropriation of the powers of the English Catholic Church, instituted the death penalty for witchcraft. Elizabeth I took matters further making it an offence against common law not ecclesiastical law. This gave officials a financial incentive to prosecute them. Witches would forfeit their lands to the Crown if they were convicted. The end result was an open season for witchhunts. The pursuit of witchcraft was exported to America with the Mayfair. The Pilgrim Fathers were also keen to keep their communities free from those found guilty of “invoking or conjuring an evil spirit."

Back in England witchhunting became associated with the Puritans and they were out of favour after the restoration of the throne under Charles II in 1660. The Puritans were out of power, but their laws remained quietly on the books. Witchcraft was still an offence at the end of World War Two. In 1941, Scottish psychic Helen Duncan was arrested after she passed on classified defence knowledge in a séance. Duncan told her audience that the British ship HMS Barham had been sunk by the Germans. That was true but the British had concealed this fact at the time to hoodwink the Germans. The Germans eventually found out and the British announced the loss in 1942. Two years later, the paranoid planners of D-Day used the Witchcraft Act to arrest Duncan out of fear she might reveal the landing plans. She was found guilty and imprisoned for nine months. She was the last person to be tried and convicted under the law. The act was repealed in 1951.

An eccentric British civil servant named Gerald Gardner was the first person to take advantage of the relaxed law. Gardner was also an amateur anthropologist, author and a student of the occult. In 1954 he published a tract called ‘Witchcraft Today’ where he produced the definitive texts for those who practiced ‘Wica’ or ‘the Craft'. Gardner documented the religious aspects of what was to become known as Wicca.

This book was based on the writings of Aleister Crowley, Doreen Valiente and others. Crowley was infamous in his own lifetime despite a stellar Renaissance Man career. He was a author, occultist, mountaineer, chess master, painter and critic. Crowley fused his studies of mysticism and Eastern religion into a system he called "Thelema". Doreen Valiente was a self-proclaimed witch who provided the feminist influence on Gardner’s philosophy. These two influenced the Wiccan Rede in Gardner’s book which said “do no harm to others and do what thou wilt”. The Rede is now the prayer that sums up Wiccan ethics.

Gardner had two other key influences from history. The first was the American folklorist Charles Leland. Leland travelled vastly in Europe and made a detailed study on gypsy lifestyle. He wrote a book in 1899 called “Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches”. Its first five chapters were about a mythical document called the Vangelo (which may or may not been a figment of Leland’s fiction.) The Vangelo, the origins of which Leland never revealed, outlined the practices of witchcraft.

The second influence was the British anthropologist and Egyptologist Margaret Murray. She was a fervent women’s rights campaigner and a veteran of many archaeological expeditions to Egypt. She took a break from this work to write “Witch cult in Western Europe” in 1921. In this she exaggerated the scale of the underground pagan resistance to Christianity that existed across the centuries. But she did alert the world to its existence.

Gardner’s tract is credited with the re-introduction of the word Wicca into English. The word itself is a multi-purpose Old English word which could mean wizard, soothsayer, sorcerer or magician. This old meaning of the word has affected public acceptance and the word Wicca retains a strong pejorative meaning. The pentacle is still not recognised by the US Department of Veterans Affairs as a religious symbol in military cemeteries. However Wiccans won a major victory in Virginia in 1985 with the ruling that it is a legal recognised religion and therefore afforded all the benefits accorded to religion by law.

Conservative Christian groups in the US, led by politicians such as Jesse Helms and Bob Barr are fighting to overrule this decision and see Wicca as analogous to Satanism. Wiccans reject this comparison as they also reject allegations of black magic. To them, Wicca is the opposite of everything its opponents fear. They say that Wicca is a very peaceful, harmonious and balanced way of thinking and life which promotes oneness with the divine and all which exists.

It has interesting parallels and overlaps with the Green movement. “As ye harm none, do what you wilt” could be a credo of either movement. As could the Gaia hypothesis. But it is not all sweetness and light in the garden of Wicca. There are arguments as to whether ‘hereditary witches’ are better than ‘book witches’. The question is how will the political glare and the environmental overlaps mutate the public face of Wicca in the coming years?

Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Intelligent Design hoax

In the 19th century science was posing a huge threat to religion. Biblical authority and church teachings which had first taken a hammering with Galileo’s theories were now under siege. Geologists had shown that the Earth was very old indeed. Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859 was followed by the Descent of Man in 1871 and both books advanced a theory of evolution that was at serious odds with the established view of a Creationist world.

By the 1870s, nearly all biologists agreed that life had evolved, and by the time of the Second World War most agreed that natural selection was a key force driving this evolution.

The churches and the powers-that-were didn’t take this challenge lying down. There was always the view that Darwinism represents a thinly veiled attempt to foist a secular religion—godless materialism—on Western culture.

According to a 2001 Gallop poll 45% of Americans concurred with the statement that "God created man in his present form within the last 10,000 years”. But it is harder to sustain outright belief in Creationism in the face of increasing scrutiny of biblical evidence.

In recent years, the Creationists have taken a new tack and have come up with a more sophisticated, pseudo-scientific and beguilingly named product called Intelligent Design. Slickly marketed, it is now the front face of creationism. It has very powerful friends.

US President Bush supported teaching alternatives to evolution in public schools with remarks such as schoolchildren should be taught about intelligent design as well as evolution. He said in August 2005 "Both sides ought to be properly taught . . . so people can understand what the debate is about. Part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought. . . . You're asking me whether or not people ought to be exposed to different ideas, and the answer is yes.”

The theory of intelligent design holds that life and the universe are best explained by an intelligent cause rather than an undirected process such as natural selection. It deliberately does not try to identify or name the specific creation but many of its proponents state that the designer is the Christian god.

The idea is far older than Darwinian evolution. The first recorded arguments for a natural designer come from Greek philosophy. Heraclitus is associated with the philosophy of Logos which describes human knowledge and the inherent rationality of the universe. Plato spoke of a “demiurge”, a deity of supreme wisdom and intelligence who created of the cosmos. Aquinas posited the supernatural designer of the universe in the 13th century. In 1802, English theologian William Paley wrote “If we find a pocket watch in a field, we immediately infer that it was produced not by natural processes acting blindly but by a designing human intellect.” It arose again in the early 1980s with the publication of The Mystery of Life's Origin by creationist chemist Charles Thaxton.

The leading proponent of Intelligent Design today is American biochemist Michael Behe. He advocates the idea that life is too complex at the biochemical level to have evolved. The trigger for his involvement was the 1987 decision in the U.S. Supreme Court barring the teaching of Scientific Creationism from public schools. In his book “Darwin’s Black Box,” Behe maintained that irreducible complexity presents Darwinism with “unbridgeable chasms”.

The Christian think-tank The Discovery Institute was set up in 1990 and is a driving force behind Intelligent Design. Their mission statement is “to make a positive vision of the future practical”. Their agendas are to promote public awareness, lobby for teaching in high schools and instigating pro Design legal actions. They have powerful friends. The Gates foundation has pledged $10 million since 2000. Its major contributors are also the same major contributors to George W. Bush.

The idea is to present evolution as a ‘theory in crisis’ and to poke as many holes in it as possible. The mathematician William Demski, another proponent of ID, holds the concept of specified complexity. When something is both complex and specified, one can infer that it was produced by an intelligent cause. He provides the following example: "A single letter of the alphabet is specified without being complex. A long sentence of random letters is complex without being specified. A Shakespearean sonnet is both complex and specified”.

Despite the rhetoric, many critics say that intelligent design has not presented a credible scientific case. Instead it is seen as an attempt to teach religion in public schools and intelligent design has substituted public support for scientific research. The theory has little support in the scientific community. In October 2005 a coalition of 70,000 Australian scientists and teachers stated "intelligent design is not science" and called on "all schools not to teach Intelligent Design (ID) as science, because it fails to qualify on every count as a scientific theory”.

To date, the intelligent design movement has yet to have an article published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

In 2004, the school board of Dover, Pennsylvania, voted to require the teaching of intelligent design alongside evolution in science classrooms. On December 20, 2005, U.S. District Court Judge John Jones ruled that the school district cannot follow through with its plan because it would violate the Constitutional separation of church and state. In his opinion Judge Jones wrote, "We have concluded that it is not [science], and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents".

It remains a dangerously powerful and popular bunkum. Intelligent Design is science’s equivalent of junk food. It is the newest evolution of Creationism and teaches us more about politics and religion than science.

It is no more scientific than those who write to the Kansas School board which was leaning towards Intelligent Design. The protesters state that they are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster and it too should be considered for the curriculum. It is as scientific and more amusing.


Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster
Discovery Institute
How Intelligent Design Works
Intelligent Design Network
National Centre for Science Education
Natural History Magazine
New Yorker magazine: devolution
Talk Design
Washington Post: Bush Remarks On 'Intelligent Design' Theory Fuel Debate

Friday, April 28, 2006

Depleted Uranium

Depleted Uranium is a radioactive and toxic killer. It is highly prized by the military and was used extensively in both Gulf Wars against Iraq. It is the ‘dirty bomb’ of choice for both the US and Britain. As a weapon, it is a relatively new choice so there is no international treaty in place to ban it.

Depleted Uranium (DU) is what is left over when most of the highly radioactive types (isotopes) of uranium are removed for use as nuclear weapons or fuel. Because of its high density, DU is used in armour-piercing munitions and armoured protection for tanks and is also used in to build stabilisers in airplanes and boats. Like uranium, lead and tungsten, DU has a chemical toxicity can cause health problems in high doses (though outside the body cannot cause harm.) There are two types of DU: clean and dirty. Clean DU is a by-product of Uranium-235 from the production of fuel or weapons. Dirty DU is the detritus of reprocessed reactor fuel. It is called dirty because it is likely to have been contaminated with plutonium.

Uranium was discovered in 1789 by Martin Klaproth, a German chemist, in the mineral called pitchblende. It was named after the planet Uranus, which had been discovered eight years earlier. Uranium was apparently formed in supernovae over 6 billion years ago (the Earth itself is a mere 4 billion years old). While it is not common in the solar system, its radioactive decay provides the main source of heat inside the earth. It is also known to be the cause of planetary wide phenomena such as convection and continental drift.

Australia is the leading producer of uranium with approximately 30 percent of the world’s resources. The other major exporting countries are Canada, Kazakhstan, South Africa, Namibia, Brazil and the USA. Uranium averages about 2.8 parts per million of the earth's crust. Traces of it occur almost everywhere. It is more abundant than gold, silver or mercury, about the same as tin and slightly less abundant than lead. It was first discovered in Australia in the 1890s but it was not until seventy years later that Australia began to emerge as a potential major source of uranium for the world's nuclear electricity production. Uranium is sold only to countries which are signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNPT) and so the main export markets are the US, the EU and Japan. John Howard's government is currently negotiating to sell uranium to India despite it not being a signatory to the NNPT.

Depleted uranium was first stored in stockpiles after the Second World War when the US and the USSR were getting serious about nuclear production. In the 1970s, the Russians had developed new armour plating for tanks which western weapons could not penetrate. The Americans decided DU would be just the solution to the problem. Not only was it effective, but thanks to the stockpile, it was cheap and readily available. Its first use in war was probably the 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict. It was used extensively in the 1991 Gulf War and it was at this time that the health consequences of DU were becoming apparent.

Inside the human body, it forms into soluble uranium salts. They are excreted in urine but some of it accumulates in the lungs, bones and tissues. It can cause kidney damage. Scientists believe it is a contributing factor in Gulf War Syndrome whose symptoms include immune order deficiencies, chronic fatigue and birth defects. The British medical journal, the Lancet, has reported an eightfold increase in the death rate of Iraqi children since 1993 (though mustard gas might also be a culprit). The UN Human Rights Commission passed motions in 1996 and 1997 to urge all countries to stop producing weapons of mass destruction. DU weaponry was on the list.

The US position is to continue to use DU where necessary. A factsheet from the US “Deployment Health Support Directorate” states that the health risks from DU are due to its properties as a heavy metal and not due to its ‘low’ radioactivity. Its official position is that "no human cancer of any type has ever been seen as a result of exposure to natural or depleted uranium".

Professor Doug Rokke disagrees. He is the ex-director of the Pentagon's depleted uranium project and he now calls for the banning of DU. He told the Guardian "a nation's military personnel cannot wilfully contaminate any other nation, cause harm to persons and the environment and then ignore the consequences of their actions". He called it a crime against humanity and said the US and the UK should recognise the immoral consequences of their actions and assume responsibility for medical care and thorough environmental remediation. "We can't just use munitions which leave a toxic wasteland behind them and kill indiscriminately," he said. “It is equivalent to a war crime.”

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Football and the Holy Roman Emperor

Arsenal are through to the Champions league final for the first time. But only because Juan Roman Riquelme missed a last minute penalty that would have taken Villarreal Club de Fútbol SAD (SAD indeed!) into extra time at least, with the momentum clearly in their favour.

The periscope's miss sent El Submarino Amarillo out of the competition they, representing a team from a city of 48,000 inhabitants, had apparently no right to get so far. The miss was made more poignant because Riquelme was clearly their best player. But he was so stunned by the miss that he completely failed to react to the rebound. The ball came back so close to him that it was entirely possible that like Xabi Alonso in the Champions league final of last season, he could redeem himself immediately. But no, Riquelme was a stunned mullet and instead we have a likely Arsa / Barca final (Barcelona defend a 1-0 lead over Milan at the Nou Camp in the early hours of the morning, Woolly Days time.)

The one good thing about that outcome is that Chelsea aren't there. And for the second year in a row that's Liverpool's fault. Last year, it was a direct result of Javier Sanz Luis Garcia's shot that may or may not have crossed the line. This year the two European 0-0 draws sent an underdone Chelsea in the direction of Ronaldinho and failure. Just for good measure Luis Garcia was there again to apply the finish to demolish Chelsea's double in the FA Cup semi final.

One wonders what Roman Abramovich makes of it all. Woolly Days would like to ask him but doesn't have the required contacts. It also wonders why those who do have the contacts don't talk to him. Why not? Don't tell me it's because he is not interesting.

How could anyone with the cyrillic name Рома́н Арка́дьевич Абрамо́вич not be interesting? Forbes magazine has him 25th richest person in the world. He was the saviour for Ken Bates who was floundering as the Chelsea chairman. When Abramovich took over, he wiped out Chelsea's debts and gave Bates £17 million to buy him out. He also promised a further £30million each on new players and training facilities.

Chelsea fans were wetting themselves. And sure enough, within two years he won the English premiership under the guidance of the impossibly conceited Jose Mourinho. Now in his third year of tenure a second title is almost assured.

So what is Abramovich's background? And why does he get away with nil media scrutiny? Can't be simply because the News of the World doesn't speak Russian? Niet? Spasibo.

Roman Abramovich is a Russian oil billionaire. He is worth at least $10 billion (some say $18 billion but lets not quibble over the odd eight billion dollars or so.) He'll be 40 years old on the 24th of October this year. He is Jewish and funds many Israeli enterprises. Despite his high profile around the world, Abramovich makes virtually no public statements about his activities.

Abramovich got his start in the Gorbachev era opening up a "co-operative" (late 80s Russian speak for a private enterprise). By 1995 Abramovich had founded five intermediary companies trading in oil products.

But even before then, he was in trouble. In July, 1992, the Moscow deputy prosecutor approved the questioning of Abramovich under article 90 of the Russian criminal code. He was accused of stealing diesel fuel worth 4 million rubles from an Ukhta (a city in north west Russia) enterprise. The investigation determined that this fuel was transported to Riga using forged documents but no-one could pin the blame on Abramovich.

Boris Yeltsin's privatised state companies in the mid-90's. With the help of his then-partner Boris Berezovsky, Abramovich became the majority shareholder in the oil company Sibneft and acquired various metals merging with Oleg Deripaska to form Russian Aluminium, the world's second-largest aluminium producer.

Abramovich and Berezovsky acquired half their shares in Sibneft through the "loans for shares" program, in which the state mortgaged and later sold shares in several major enterprises to obtain loans for the government. The other half of the company was privatized through a series of auctions in the mid-1990s.

In 1999 Abramovich, the youngest and the most secretive of Russia’s oligarch clan was elected to the Russian Duma for the impoverished Siberian region of Chukotka. His charity Pole of Hope enabled him to be elected governor of Chukotka in December 2000. Abramovich said that he would not run again in 2005, as it is "too expensive". Luckily for him, Putin changed the law to abolish elections for regional governors, and in October 2005 Abramovich was reappointed governor for another term despite rarely visiting the region.

In June 2003 he took over Chelsea. He has poured approximately half a billion dollars into the club since. His company Sibneft also took a controlling share in CSKA Moscow one year later. He is a family friend of the Yeltsins and Boris is alleged to have provided Abramovich with protection from any attempt of prosecution for criminal activities. In September 2005 he sold over 70% of Sibneft to the Russian government, thus keeping on the right side of Yeltsin's successor Putin so that he will never end up like his fellow oligarch Mikhail Khodorkhovsky who is languishing in a Russian prison. British citizenship might help here too.

In 2000, he gained a law degree from Moscow State Law Academy in less than a year. Abramovich is the protege of Boris Berezovsky, a maths professor turned car dealership tycoon, who helped him secure a hold over Sibneft in 1995. But then Putin turned the heat on Berezovsky and he fled to Britain in 2000.

Abramovich has earned the title "Stealth Oligarch". His state of Chutotka remains off limits to visitors unless in possession of a permit from the governor. Abramovich's assets are managed offshore through his investment fund Millhouse Capital, located in Britain, which Abramovich seems to be calling home.

He remains an enigmatic figure. According to Jonathan Clare, deputy chairman of Citigate Dewe Rogerson, public relations advisers for Mr Abramovich,"Roman gives few interviews, he is a quiet, self-deprecating man but he loves the game."

"He watches games and watches Chelsea as well as watching football all over the world."

Fair enough, maybe. But who is watching Roman Abramovich?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Noosa North Shore and Dohles Rocks

Memories of midwinter solstice on the beach at Noosa North Shore, camping in Cooloola shire.

A day of magical choices. What to do, swim or sink, clamber up the dunes, read a book, apprendez le francais, sit and chat or stare at the ocean and watch the parade of whales, dolphins and cargo ships. All accompanied by an icecold beer. Well fed and happy. Like milch cows. Ranger Bob has just been through and he has charged us $4 each a night for the camping privilege. I don’t know if his name is really Bob but if it isn't, it should be.

Camp discussion centres around the brown scum at the top of the big seawaves and whether or not it might be whale poo. Another swig of Victorian bitter. The sun shines brightly today after yesterday’s showers. My small bubble tent has just about kept the rain out of my sleep.

I’ve moved from the campsite onto the beach itself to hear better the clatter of the surf and spy upon a frollocking pod of dolphins, cruising in the waters beyond. The beach disappears behind seaspray for miles in either direction. The cliffs of Cooloola national park buttress us from behind. The hills of Noosa gleam at us from the south. Out there straight ahead is the limitless blue of the Pacific. A 4 wheel drive breaks the spell by rumbling down the beach southwards towards the Noosa river ferry, fishing rods dangling precariously from the front. A blue helicopter rudely clatters its way north above the waterline. I stare at sandstained hands.

Time shudders. Another wave of life had brushed past my shoulder. We’re back at Dolly’s. The rocks that matter. Dohles Rocks, peacefully peering out at the Redcliffe bridge near the mouth of the Pine River. Near me are twin reading girls. Backs getting sore. Ice cream on their minds. Because I’m like a magpie of print, seeking from whatever source is handy. A long session in the Kin Kin pub, a lime green stubbie holder.

Daddy, a big smile tells me its time to give the girls a swing push. A four a.m. drive. A week of work. Chaos and men without pasts. Thorn birds, tabernacle choirs and bears, boats and tractors. Legs raised in the air, on parle francais, land cruisers and pellies (the conquerors). There's Bear behind banana trackers and axle grinders, low tide after four, top canoes buckle my shoes. Sound recordings available for use, helmets flash by, arguments about the best way to attract dogs (high-pitched, crinkle palmed, tsk tsk). There. Boy.

Nice cream next. Barking triangles, suttee swingers on the mayor’s walk. Best chips in town. Johnny Walker’s jumbo portions collapse and hit death. The heat borers in the wet, no refunds collidible rights and singdong struggles for supremacy, phone numbers pinkos holding hands soft lights flooding out of t-bone hearts. Demeter twist the black feathered mudgoats. Futu Terita. Paragulls hibba serenely subhuman sounds. Nebos and Gloriouses skin the west. Awake in glockenspiel bastards. Triumph of dogtired wormbaiters originally donated by J & N Dohle.

He-di-hi Kathy 1. Ech. We’ve got the same nombres, hombres. The guillotine of love in the shoreline with yellow petals and beetle combies. Going down to the minuet of muck. Starving glands, nervous herds. Sunday stalls.

Time to take the girls home.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Anzac Day 2006

Today is the 91th anniversary of the Allied landings at Gallipoli, the failed attempt to take Turkey out of the First World War. The Gallipoli peninsula is a place where legend has always been more important than truth since Homer's Iliad tore apart nearby Troy.

During the 1983 America’s Cup, the Australian syndicate was 3-1 down in the race series, when Alan Bond invoked Gallipoli's modern mythology. “We had our backs to the wall there (Gallipoli), and we won that one," Bond said. The interviewer took pains to point out to him that “we” didn’t win that one though Bond's team did come back to win.

Bond is not alone in adapting the myth to his purposes. The Turks themselves also twist it to their purpose. Islamist scholars who lead tours to Gallipoli minimise the role played by the secular military leader Mustapha Kemal, the future Ataturk ("Father of the Turks"). Instead the tell their audiences the campaign was won by Allah and his Turkish martyrs.

The peninsula itself is on the European side of the Dardenelles, the Gibraltar of the eastern Mediterranean. Here the Aegean meets the Sea of Marmara. Further upstream, the Marmara meets the Black Sea at the Bosphorus. A victory at Gallipoli would not only cripple Constantinople but would bring the Russian Black Sea fleet into the war.

In 1915 Constantinople (later Istanbul) was the capital of the 600 year old Ottoman Empire which was on its last legs. At the peak of its power in 1683, the Ottomans and their feared infantry units, the Janissaries, controlled the entire North African coast, all of Europe east of the Danube, the Crimea and much of the Middle East. The next two centuries saw a long slow and painful decline as nationalism rose in the Balkan peninsula and new nations were created. The other great European empires slowly bit away at the rest of its possessions. The Ottoman treasury went bankrupt in 1875 and Tsar Nicholas I called Turkey the Sick Man of Europe.

Internal strife was also tearing the empire apart from the inside. The Young Turks emerged from the Committee of Union and Progress and succeeded in overthrowing the Sultan. Before the First World War, a triumvirate called the Three Pashas were in power. Enver, Djemal and Talat would all meet violent ends in exile after the war, two of them at the hands of assassins in revenge for the Armenian genocide that occurred during the war. Back in 1914, they were courted by both sides and allied with Germany.

The Germans dealt Russia a colossal defeat at Tannenberg early in the war. Russia was threatened by a Turkish advance through the Caucasus and gaining control of the Dardanelles would re-establish western communications with Russia via the Black Sea.

After early salvos from the British Navy, the Turks mined the straits . In March 1915, under the direction of the First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, the British and French sent a fleet of 18 ships to force open the strait. Six ships were either sunk or badly damaged by mines in this failed naval attack.

The Army was then sent in to occupy the Gallipoli peninsula to nullify the Turkish guns defending the strait. It was to be a combined French and British operation. The whole of the British empire contributed forces: English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, Canadian, Newfoundlanders, Indians, Australians and New Zealanders. The latter two were joined together in the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps which was shortened to Anzacs. The cross-eyed War Minister Kitchener appointed his Sudan campaign protégé Sir Ian Hamilton commander of the operation. Hamilton would face formidable opposition in German general Otto Liman Von Sanders and local hero Mustafa Kemal.

The invasion was planned for April 24 but bad weather delayed the landing by 24 hours. The landing spot was on the Aegean side of the peninsula. But the boats dropped the forces at the wrong beach and instead of the wide open beach they were supposed to be at, the invaders ended up in an unnamed cove. They were confronted by a tangle of ravines and spurs and sheer cliff faces that descended from the Sarı Bayır range to the sea. The landing spot finally got a name: Anzac Cove.

The area was lightly defended but combination of the tough terrain and poor communication of orders meant that the British lost the race to the high Quickly roused, Kemal got there first. Positions on the key hill Baby 700 (so named because it was slightly smaller than another 700 feet hill in the area) changed hands several times in the first few days before the Turks secured it for good. The campaign then transformed into the stalemate of trench warfare. The Turks did not have the navy nor the calibre of equipment but the higher ground proved decisive throughout the campaign.

On the southern tip of the peninsula was Cape Helles. This was the site of the second landing of mostly British, Irish and French troops. They suffered massive casualties from machine guns at Seddulbahir fort. Only 11 out of 1,012 Royal Dublin Fusiliers survived the campaign. The few that made it ashore were besieged three days after the landing.

Both sides launched suicidal offensives throughout May but very little ground changed hands. The British brass would not divert heavy artillery from the Western Front that might have wrested the initiative. And so the Dardanelles gridlock resembled the bloody fields of Flanders.

In August, Hamilton launched a second offensive 8km north of Anzac Cove. The leader of this landing at Suvla Bay, Sir Frederick Stopford, was ineffective and botched the landing despite encountering little Turkish resistance. Instead of storming up the mountain, Stopford slept for the night without issuing any orders. Again the Turks won the race for the high ground and Suvla turned into a second defensive stalemate.

Up to now, Hamilton’s sanguine dispatches back to Kitchener concealed the true state of affairs. But the truth was seeping through and the work of journalists Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett and Keith Murdoch turned the tide in Whitehall.

Kitchener sacked Hamilton in October and appointed Sir Charles Munro to look at whether they should evacuate. Munro's mind was made up when Bulgaria came into the war on the side of the Central Powers and opened up a new front near Salonika in Greece. This also meant Germany had a land route to supply Turkey with heavy artillery. The writing was on the wall for Gallipoli. Munro recommended evacuation.

Heavy casualties were expected in the evacuation but it was the only truly successful part of the campaign. The army stealthily reduced ranks through December so the Turks wouldn't notice and evacuated the last batch from Anzac Cove during the early hours of December 20, 1915. The last soldiers left Helles in early January. There were no casualties in either evacuation.

The Turks celebrated a great victory. Mustapha Kemal’s star was on the rise and he went on to transform the country into a modern European state in the 1920s. But the Ottoman empire itself was destroyed by Allenby’s armies advancing from Arabia.

In Turkey the Gallipoli campaign, is known as Çanakkale Savaşları. Canakkale (named for the main town on the Asian side of the peninsula) is still feted as a great victory.

But it was also making a huge impact on the other side of the world. Within a few weeks of campaign starting, Ashmead-Bartlett’s vivid and heroic account of the Anzac landing was printed in Australian newspapers. What captured the imagination of the public was the fact the article was particularly favourable to the “thrilling deeds of heroism” of Australian and New Zealand troops. As an immediate result both countries had little trouble finding new volunteers. Both countries sustained enormous casualties which neither had previously experienced in this war or any other. 500 Australians died on the first day. 9,000 died overall. This trauma added to the mystique of the campaign. It was a nationally defining event for country that had existed as a Federation for just 14 years and was still grappling with its dual British and Australian identity. Before Anzac, Australian history was a dull matter “of commerce and cricket, of wool and wickets.” Now, they could say “we know what nations know”. On the first anniversary in 1916 there were already commemoration ceremonies in some parts of Australia despite the ignoble retreat in December. This began the institutionalisation of Anzac Day.

Groups were set up all over Australia and New Zealand which lobbied for the day to be given a ‘sacred’ meaning. The churches and military co-presided at the ceremonies that sprang up to celebrate the day. Legislation set aside the day for solemn remembrance and Anzac Day became a public holiday. But it took on the look of Good Friday “holiday” - which it often followed swiftly in the calendar. Pubs, sporting venues and shops would be closed on the day. April 25 would become the nation’s day of remembrance for all wars and the itinerary of rituals was established. The day is now an uneasy mix of military and religious tradition, both sacred and profane.

Other sources:

Sydney Morning Herald, 25 April 2006 "Gallipoli: A Contested Ground Still"

"The Anzac landing"

Moses, John A 2002, The Struggle for Anzac Day 1916-1930 Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society v88 no 1

Carlyon, Les 2001, Gallipoli, Pan Macmillan, Sydney

The Michelangelus

'Portrait of Michelangelo',
Marcello Venusti, 1535.
Casa Buonarroti, Florence.

Michelangelo Buonarroti is unique. He is in a category of one to have achieved immortality in all three visual arts fields: painting, sculpture and architecture. His name is synonymous with “masterpiece”.

Michelangelo was born of minor nobility. His father was the podesta (chief magistrate) in Caprese, Tuscany. The second of five brothers, he was born 6 March 1475. His father noted in what could have been his blog "Today, a child of the male sex has been born to me and I have named him Michelangelo. He was born on Monday between 4 and 5 in the morning”. Despite his birthplace, Michelangelo always considered himself a "son and citizen of Florence.” Florence was where Michelangelo grew up.

His mother was too sick to nurse him so he was placed with a wet nurse in a family of stone cutters. In his own words he “sucked in the craft of hammer and chisel with my foster mother's milk”. His real mother died when he was six years old.

At age 13, he was apprenticed to Florentine painter Domenico Ghirlandaio who was renowned for his chiaroscuro and perspective techniques. Michelangelo also learnt to sculpt and his early talent got him an invite into the school of design (and eventually the household) of Lorenzo de Medici, the ruler of Florence. Lorenzo was known as Il Magnifico and a great patron of the arts as well as an astute politician. His support for Ghirlandaio, Leonardo, Botticelli, del Verocchio as well as Michelangelo made Florence the centre of the Italian Renaissance in the 15th century. Michelangelo lived and dined with the Medici family. Here he created his earliest known reliefs, the Madonna of the Steps and Battle of the Centaurs.

Lorenzo died in 1492 when Michelangelo was 17 years old. With his death, the centre of the Renaissance switched to Rome and the ambitions of the popes. The Medici family were expelled from Florence in 1494 by the Dominican priest Savonarola who turned the city into a theocracy. His followers carried out the Bonfire of the Vanities in 1497, burning artwork, cosmetics, mirrors and books. He went too far and was hanged and burned that same year after an excommunication order from the pope.

Florence under Savonarola was no safe place for a radical artist. Michelangelo fled to Venice and then to Bologna before landing in Rome in 1497. There he made his marble sculpture the Pietà which now adorns its own chapel in St Peter’s Basilica. The Pietà is a masterpiece of classical harmony, beauty and restraint. It is the only work with his signature. Enraged that someone thought it a fake, he carved MICHAELA[N]GELUS BONAROTUS FLORENTIN[US] FACIEBAT (Michelangelo Buonarroti, Florentine, made this) on the sash running across Mary's breast. It was the only work he ever signed. He later regretted his petulance and swore never to sign another.

Michelangelo returned to Florence after the fall of Savonarola and was commissioned by the Wool Guild to do a colossal statue of David as a symbol of Florentine freedom, to be placed in the Piazza della Signoria. Arguably his greatest sculpture, David took three years to complete, and was finished in 1504. It was unique among representations of the biblical David in that it shows him tensed and ready for combat rather than victorious and standing over Goliath as in most other depictions. The sculpture was moved indoors in 1873 to preserve it from the weather and a replica now stands in the Piazza.

On completion, Michelangelo was summoned back to Rome by the new pope Julius II. Known as “the Warrior Pope”, Julius took the papacy out of the shackles of the Borgias and had great plans to rebuild the Vatican. He laid the foundation stone of the new St Peter's in 1506. Michelangelo was commissioned to design the Pope’s tomb. Due to constant interruptions, this took the next 40 years and was never finished.

One such interruption was the request to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. This was a great fresco work which took four years. Fresco means fresh in Italian and artists race against time to paint before it dries on freshly laid plaster. Michelangelo worked with the greatest fresco artists of the day to complete the painting. The detail on the ceiling is astonishing. There are nine scenes from the book of Genesis. These are surrounded by a vast cast of prophets, sibyls and the ancestors of Christ. Immediately celebrated, the Sistine Chapel ceiling, with its innumerable figures in complex, twisting poses and its exuberant use of colour, became the chief source of inspiration for the style that became known as Mannerism. In this period, he also found time to sculpt his magnificently muscular Moses which was meant for the Vatican but is now the pride and joy of the otherwise modest church of San Pietro in Vincoli (St Peter in Chains).

Michelangelo returned to Florence in the 1520s where he received his first great commission as an architect for the facade of the Church of San Lorenzo. But his life was about to be complicated by European politics. In 1527 Rome was sacked in the War of the League of Cognac by the Spanish emperor Charles V. Charles formed an unholy alliance between Spain and the Holy Roman Empire (which confusingly was nowhere near Rome) to defeat France and the Italian city states including those of Pope Clement VII.

In response to these turbulent times, the republic of Florence was created. The city was besieged by the Medici (now working for Charles V) for two years. Michelangelo was a passionate supporter of the republic and helped to build the city fortifications. They held out for two years. When the Medici reign was restored in 1530, Michelangelo left the city, disillusioned by the great family that succoured his youth but was now just another repressive regime. He went back to Rome to work on the fresco of the Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel before designing the dome for the new St Peter’s basilica.

The Last Judgement was condemned for its nudity and Michelangelo was called the "inventor delle porcherie" (the inventor of porky things, the twee local word for obscenities.) But it is a truly remarkable work well beyond the euphemisms of scandalised friars. It depicts an awesome event. We are taken to the end of the world, and Christ the God stands in the centre dispensing his favours. With an out-raised arm, he directs the traffic. Those on the left are condemned downwards to the Hells of Charon and Minos while he subtly blesses the chosen ones on the right with his lower arm. For this work Michelangelo did not choose one set point from which it should be viewed and it has a multitude of foregrounds and backgrounds. He got his revenge on the purveyors of porcherie by portraying the Pope's Master of Ceremonies, Biagio da Cesena (who was the chief complainant of blasphemy), as Minos. Minos was the judge who, according to Dante’s Inferno, guarded the entrance to the second circle of Hell.

When Michelangelo was appointed chief architect for St Peter’s, he was into his seventies but showed no let-up in his workload. He sacked the fraudulent suppliers and contractors fiddling the Vatican's books. He changed the previous design of the extravagantly titled Antonio da Sangallo The Younger. He was responsible for the altar end of the building on the exterior and also for the final form of its dome, the single-most dominant feature of Rome's remarkable landscape.

Michelangelo Buonarroti died on February 18th, 1564, just shy of his 89th year, after what his doctors called a "slow fever." In his will, he left "his soul to God, his body to the earth, and his material possessions to his nearest relations." He was buried in Rome but his nephew Lionardo Buonarotti stole the corpse (concealed in a bale of hay) and took it back to Florence for re-interral. The Florentines came out in great numbers to venerate their illustrious fellow citizen, the "father and master of all the arts".

A genius of the highest order, he left an astonishing body of artistic work the like of which is incomparable before or since.

"Last judgement"
"Biography of Michelangelo"
and many,many pages in Wikipedia.

Monday, April 24, 2006


Woolly Days took away the local Airlie newspaper "The Proserpine Guardian" (no relation to its illustrious Manchester namesake, one presumes) for later reading. The page one headline tells of a plane that had to land on the beach. The pilot escaped uninjured but his lady passenger suffered minor bruises. She is quoted by the paper that her particular beach landing does not cause her undue distress. When the pilot informed her that they had to make an emergency landing, she replied “I’m a Nicherin Daishona buddhist and I have every confidence in you”. Must have been some kind of astral plane she was on....

Nicherin was a 13th century Japanese priest whose philosophy centered around the final teaching of Siddartha Gautama, the Buddha. This teaching, called the Lotus Sutra, declares that all living beings have the potential to attain enlightenment or Buddhahood.

Buddha, can you spare me a paradigm? Car hangovers are the worst to bear. The sun and my head are stretched. Glowering hard against each other. From some primitive recess I engage in the motors of birdsqueaks, glass and kendall green.

Avast, the uncertain outdoors. A jerrybuilt future made from hottentottering materials. It may land hard here soon. Seeping cracks gasping for faraway rain with torn hats bearing witness to the possibilities of meddlesome times.

I thought too blandly of what each generation owes each other. The right to respectfully observed survival. Selfhelp and the turgid guts of the dietwise slimbering through paths of pilgrimage and pious fast. Until, like Dante, they dance in Infernos when they find out they are just on another limb of the circle. Blind to the slowturning, they arrive back at themselves warped by the coming beauty of time.

Indigent. Indignant. The mellow fury of the despised and the dispossessed. Creepers learning of ways to modify the world in their favour. Force of imagination and personality. Credo of wealth creation and libido dispensation. Large gaps to fill when they die, those tigerish soulsharpening cribkillers when bolted and alive. The reason I am so spuffed is the comic charm and lava energy that flurries forth bowed and unbending from the quill. Why and what it says is for the curse of the dice gods throwing sickness and feigning the will of God. Insh'Allah. I’d lief as much learn as die.

Woolly Days stops the car and stares at a copy of Peter Pinney “Signaller Johnstons Secret War” on the passenger seat. How bad are my problems compared to his? Johnston was plunged into the middle of a ringworm and leech infested guerilla campaign in the New Guinea highlands in 1943.

It's laced with traditional Digger self-sufficiency, full of distrust of authority and battling against "boongs, murries, and burries." Pinney captures the tedium of waiting in base camps and punctuates it with chaotic action in steaming jungles. Fear, fatigue and boredom are his three constant friends.

I can only conjure up a mild ennui envy in retaliation.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Lev Nussimbaum: One Odd Orientalist

Kurban Said was a bestselling author in Nazi Germany. He also wrote successfully under the name of Essad Bey. He married an heiress who was convinced he was an exotic Eastern potentate. But Kurban was not who he Said. His real name was Lev Nussimbaim and he was a Jew from Baku, the son of German governess and a Jewish oilman.

Tom Reiss wrote a book about him called The Orientalist. The word 'bizarre' does not begin to do justice to Nussimbaim’s life. He was perhaps inspired by Walter Rathenau a German Jewish industrialist and foreign minister in the new Weimar republic who was assassinated in 1922 by two right-wing officers who protested his signed of the 1922 Treaty of Rapallo (the earlier 1920 Treaty of Rapallo authorised the independence of the state of Fiume, now Rijeka, Croatia) with the Soviet Union. He (Rathenau) was also said to be the inspiration for Arnheim in Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities.

Kurban Said's great work was the interreligious love story "Ali and Nino". Set in the First World War and the Russian Revolution, it is a story about an Azerbaijani Muslim boy falling in love with a Georgian Christian girl. The novel was first published in 1937 and was set in the oil city of Baku. Baku is now the capital of Azerbaijan. It was a multi-ethnic city of Muslims, Turkics, Armenians fleeing from Turkish genocide, Poles and Russians. In the book it also had something rather vaguely called “Sectarians.” The plot is a tearjerker. The hero, narrator Ali Khan Shirvanshir, a Tartar and Shi'ite Muslim, flouts social convention by marrying his childhood friend, Nino Kipiani, a fair-skinned Georgian Christian. Ali rebels against his traditional society. His father's pre-wedding advice is sound, if alarmingly open to interpretation: "Do not beat her when she is pregnant." When war erupts, Nino is sequestered in a villa in Tehran where she keeps her pregnancy secret. She flees Persia to Paris with her baby daughter. Ali is reluctant to accompany her and instead marches off to defend the short-lived Azerbaijani republic against the invading Soviets.

It is easy to see why such a plot would be popular in pre Second World War Germany, both with men and women. The supposed author Kurban Said was feted as a great student of Muslim culture and indeed the book with packed with cultural references to Islam and its legacy. The Nazi Propaganda ministry became his unofficial sales arm by including his works on their list of "excellent books for German minds".

But while the Nazis were feting this Aryan hero, the real Said was all this time a Jew in Germany. When he was eventually found out and exposed as Lev Nussimbaum, as was surely inevitable, he fled across to then neutral Italy in 1938 where he died in poverty. It must have been a huge embarrassment for Nazi Germany to have this deception uncovered. So how come this massive transformation, this gigantic and bizarre fraud from which the author seeming had so much to lose? Surely it wasn’t just to make Germany look stupid?

Lev was born in 1905 at Baku to a family of industrialists who had recently become rich due to oil. Baku is on the Caspian Sea and oil had always bubbled to the surface on the foreshore. The oil business is not new. The Chinese had drilled oil since the 4th century and by the ninth century locals were drilling oil holes in Baku for the production of naphtha which may have been used as weapons or a writing tool.

By the fifteenth century it was being harvested for oillamps. Baku was half Asian, half European and wholly precious. The Persians originally called it Bad Kube (“the city of winds”). The Persians were in hock by 1813 and ceded Baku to the Russians, lock, stock and barrels, in the Treaty of Gulistan. The first commercial drilling occurred in the 1870s and by the turn of the century the Baku fields were the largest oilfields in the world. In short, Baku was a very important place in fin-de-siecle Western civilisation. The tsars and the communists knew its worth. Sergey Kirov made Baku oil safe for the Soviets as the secretary for the Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan (aided by his wife who led a feminist charge “Down with the Chador”.) Its importance was amplified in the Second World War and Hitler and Stalin fought monumental battles in the Caucasus and at Stalingrad to secure the oil supply. Stalin had got his start in Baku. In 1905 he was the editor of the underground Bolshevik newspaper here called the Baku Proletarian where he agitated for the rights of the oil workers. He eventually had Kirov assassinated in 1934 to curb his growing power. At Stalingrad, it wasn’t nostalgia at stake but the fuel to supply tanks and armament factories. Baku is still an important place today. Although most of Baku’s onshore oil has been exhausted, there is now extensive drilling off shore.

Back in 1918, the First World War had ended, but the Reds were starting to win the Russian Revolution. Baku was no place for an oil industrialist under the Communists. Lev and his father fled Baku. Lev was 13 years old. Their trek took them through Turkestan, Persia and the Caucasus. The White Army briefly held Baku and the Nussimbaums returned. But the Reds took it back and Lev and his family fled again, this time to Constantinople. Here also was chaos as the Ottoman Empire was falling apart and Ataturk was making his play for power. They moved to Paris before settling in Weimar Germany. There was significant anti-Semitism (Hitler didn’t invent it but merely used it for his purposes)in 1920s Germany and hyperinflation increased the bad feeling that ‘Jewish industrialists’ were responsible for losing the war. Thus Lev was enrolled at Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität under the name of “Essad Bey Nousimbaoum”.

Thanks to Lev’s travels as a refugee, he became an expert in Eastern religions. He converted to Islam in 1922. He invented a mysterious past for himself and said he was related to the Emir of Bukhara. He would also have been aware that Bukhara (in modern Uzbekistan) had a large Jewish minority and the term ‘Bukharan Jew’ was used to signify any Jew from Central Asia. In 1926 the Arabic “Nousimbaoum” was employed by the journal Die Literarische Welt. The journal formed a rallying point for the most significant authors of the time - Franz Blei, Robert Musil, Alfred Doeblin and Walter Benjamin. Lev cemented his reputation in this journal as an authority on Eastern matters. By the early 30s, he was a successful writer, his “Blood and Oil in the Orient” was a potboiler written under the name of Essad Bey and outlined his dramatic escape from Baku (but left out the fact he was Jewish). He was also an extreme right winger. He joined the League Against Bolshevism which was a breeding ground for Nazis though Lev himself preferred a return to the Hohenzollern monarchy that ruled Germany until 1918. He feted an Austrian baroness and married the daughter of an industrialist but neither of the women knew his true identity. When Hitler rose to power in 1933, it frightened the ex-Jew enough to move to New York.

The spell of Germany proved too strong and he returned two years later despite being well aware of the anti-Jewish laws that were springing up. It is in this stage that writer Tom Reiss in his engrossing portrait of Nussimbaum, claims he invented a second penname Kurban Said to write Nino and Ali. This fact not yet generally accepted in Azerbaijan where it is their national novel. They still attribute it to Azeri author and poet Yusif Vezirov Chemenzeminli who died in a concentration camp in 1940.

Nussimbaum outlived Chemenzeminli by two years. In 1938 he was eventually unmasked as a Jew. He escaped across the border to Italy. Lev was invited to be Mussolini’s official biographer–until the Fascists too discovered his true origins. Under house arrest in the Amalfi cliff town of Positano, Lev wrote his last book. He contracted Reynard’s disease, a condition that affects blood flow to extremities such as fingers and toes. He died at the age of 36 due to complications with gangrene.

Until the publication of The Orientalist, his story has been shrouded in mystery. It is about time Lev reclaimed his old heritage to go with the new one he created for himself.

"Kirov in Baku

Fueling the War Effort

"¿ Quien fue Kurban Said?"

"The Orientalist (book info)"

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The battle of Tannum Sands bottle shop

Passed by Goodnight Scrub near Gin Gin heading south to Hervey Bay. The largest natural hoop pine forest in Australia. The scrub is so dense it is impenetrable in places. Hence its name given by local cattlemen who wished many a stray beast goodnight when it crashed into the tangled undergrowth. Stayed my own goodnight last night at Tannum Sands. Tannum is situated just south of Gladstone on the River Boyne, no famous battles at this version of the Boyne. King Billy never made it so far south. Tannum Sands is a beach suburb of Gladstone, deadly quiet, with a pub, a pretty beach and not much else.

I knew little or nothing about this place so logged onto the Internet to do some research. In passing, I discover that a certain Mr D.B. Walker (no relation to me or Johnny Walker) appealed on 13 June 1994 against the Tannum Sands pub’s right to have a detached bottleshop (neither Johnny Walker nor I would have appealed against THAT). With time on my hands, I idly download the tribunal's ruling.

It starts with high minded waffle. “The function of the tribunal is an administrative one. It is to review the administrative decision that is under attack before it”. It tediously describes its terms of reference some more before describing the pros and cons of the case.

The appellant took a big spray approach. He claimed that the quaint seaside town had suffered vandalism related to liquor consumption. There was beer bottle debris which were a possible danger to toddlers (alcoholic toddlers?). There were home robberies possibly due to drunkenness. There was even a $2,000 reward from the Mayor, though it is not entirely clear what it was for, either to catch a crim or just to shut the appelant up. The appelant droaned on with his putative public house of horrors: There was a risk of being mugged at the bottle shop after dark. There was the threat to the sanctity of Sundays. Only the newsagent opens on a Sunday and even he only from 9 to 11am. He believes the even local heathen Chinee and restaurant shuts at 7pm on the Christian Sabbath. He believes the operation simply won't be viable. In short, all sort of biblical catastrophes will be visited on Tannum if this bottle shop gets the go-ahead.

Finally the defendent responds to the charges. Firstly, he said, if it is not economically viable, then that is only a matter for the licensee to consider – in other words its profitability was not relevant to the decision. He then waded in with community benefit. Women and senior citizens would have safety and security puchasing their tipples in a shopping centre - not in the intimidating atmosphere of a young male dominated pub, no doubt. It is separate from other businesses. No nasty contamination from a bottle shop. He dealt with the vandalism issue. He mentioned that there were 200 detached bottle shops (presumably in Qld) and there has not been one single complaint in respect to a disturbance to an amenity following commencement of trading. There is no evidence of increased vandalism. Pub staff are not aware of incidents of beerbottles left on the beach after so called “drunken weekend night parties”.

The tribunal ordered that the appeal (though not frivolous or vexatious) had little evidence to support his submissions and was therefore dismissed. The respondent applicants application for costs to be paid by the appellant was refused. The trading hours are 8:30am to midnight, Monday to Sunday. Hooray! Tannum Sands is saved from the wowsers. Thanks to A. Lidon (deputy chairperson).

Friday, April 21, 2006

Rabbiting on about Hervey

Hervey Bay was part of Captain Cook's naming frenzy during his 1770 navigation of the East Coast of Queensland. Hervey is pronounced Harvey and is an amalgam of small seaside villages. Cook named the bay for the 'English Casanova', Augustus John Hervey, the 3rd Earl of Bristol and a sailor of some note who acquired a formidable reputation as a womaniser (his successes included the deflowering of no less than a dozen Portuguese nuns.)

Cook thought Fraser Island was joined to the mainland just as he thought the same of Bribie Island when he named the Pumicestone “River” (now the Pumicestone Passage.) The 122km long Fraser Island was named for the shipwreck victim Elisa Fraser. Elisa was an English migrant who survived a lot more besides shipwreck
before she got to the Australia she was expecting. Including a time spent as a ‘houseguest’ of a local aboriginal tribe.

Nowhere nearby is the Iguacu Falls. They are on a picture on a wall in a Hervey Bay travel agent. They lie on the border between Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina on the Iguacu River before it joins up with the Parana. The falls are taller than Niagara though they have seasonal variation. The name Iguacu comes from the Guarani (a local Indian language) words for water (y) and big (guasu.) Maybe some day.

Woolly Days passes by a tennis court and ponders on the scoring system. Clockface: 15, 30, 45, 60. A nice round number to the denizens of the middle ages. 45 is elided to 40 over time to save breath. And love is precisely that, those who have no points play for the love of the game. It was originally called ‘jeu de paume’ (palm game). The server would shout out ‘tenez’ before serving. As for deuce, its from Middle French deus, accusative masculine of duo, two. What the deuce is he up to now? It doesn’t explain why there is a ‘w’ in two.

Walked onwards and passed by the dentist Dr Spike and came here to the Chinese restaurant with a buffet advertising
“All You Can Eat Children under 12 Take Away”.

I wasn’t sure if I could eat twelve children at a setting anyway. Depending on age and weight one child might be sufficient with maybe one more for take away. But hunger overcomes fear of cannibalism and I walk inside. The food is no false argument despite the kidding sentiment. I’m doing the $12.35 banquet proud….as are lots of under twelve are, The chicken and sweet corn soup, I’m sure even dental doc Spike would approve of. You see I haven’t been eating well these last few days.

You understand the world in a certain way so be that way. I am in Hervey Bay to fulfil a six year dream to visit Fraser Island (gathering dust on my doorstop for so long) wondering if I’ll be disappointed. Of course I’ll be with an attitude like that. I will have to feel its wonder take it and crown my tomatos in rows of thorns. Rouse me from my subtle slumbers. Its not for long now that I’m here so reiki kitty turkey beach!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Japan and Korea with rocks in their heads

Today, South Korea set up an 18-ship naval blockade around a disputed group of islands, warning of a "physical clash" as two Japanese coastguard ships steam towards them.

The islands are to be found in the middle of the Sea of Japan roughly half way between the two countries. The Koreas know the islands as Dokdo and the Japanese call them Takeshima. Woolly Days’ atlas has a third name for them: Liancourt Rocks. The islands got this name from a French whaler "Le Liancourt" which visited them in 1849. The Russians named them Manalai and Olivutsa Rocks in 1854 and a year later the English got in on the act calling them the Hornet Rocks.

So why all this fuss over these multi-named but tiny islands one hundred and fifty years later? To quote a serial philanderer, it’s the economy, stupid. But that is only partially correct. The Koreans and the Japanese have a long history of political and military disputes and Dokdo/Takeshima (/Liancourt/Manalai/Hornet etc.) is, along with the recompense of the so-called ‘comfort women’, one of the most important unresolved squabbles from the Second World War.

I said the islands are roughly half way between the two countries but Korea is slightly closer being 217km away compared to the 250km distance to Japan. And though there is no fresh water on the islands, there are approximately 50 Koreans living there working as police, government officials, lighthouse keepers and one unattached couple who live off the fishing.

And it is the fact that they are rich fishing grounds that makes the islands economically important. There is also possible reserves of natural gas though none has yet been found. The Koreans have placed an Exclusive Economic Zone around the island and the Japanese are not happy.

The rocks are also important for military strategic reasons. They served many times as a military base, most notably in the Russo-Japanese War. The Japanese claimed the islands in that year of 1905 using the doctrine ‘terra nullius’ (familiar to Australians as the point of law that led to the native title legislation.) They remained a Japanese possession until the end of the Second World War. The Americans excluded the rocks from Japanese administrative authority in 1946. However the exclusion order did not clearly state who should take over the rule of the rocks. Indeed, the US maintains a policy of non-recognition for claims by either side to this day. The South Koreans claimed it in 1952 towards the end of the Korean War but the Japanese fought skirmishes in a vain effort to re-establish control in 1953. The incident ended with the sinking of a Japanese ship. In 1954, the Korean government rejected a Japanese offer to seek arbitration at the International Court of Justice. Instead the Koreans built a lighthouse and helicopter pad. Subsequently they built a radar station enabling them to track the naval forces of Russia, Japan, and North Korea winding their various ways through the Sea of Japan. The status of the island was omitted from the 1965 “Basic Relations Treaty” which normalised the relationship between the two countries.

Today, despite the fact that they are major trading partners, both sides still vigorously claim the islands. This month, the Japanese dispatched two ships to conduct a maritime survey near the islands without first formally notifying the Korean government. In response, the Koreans dispatched eighteen patrol ships and warned Japan not to go through with its plans.

Last heard (April 19, 2006), the Japanese convoy were still on course, ignoring Seoul’s calls to turn back. Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Shinzo Abe, claimed that there was "no problem" whereas South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said "We don't want the situation to worsen, but we will take all steps to protect the sovereignty over Dokdo.”

Another Korean spokesman warned ominously "in case of any physical clash, Japan should assume full responsibility."

The Missing Blanket

“Look out for the man’s bag, it contains all horrors” was the unknown cry from the TV. And indeed it proved an ominous warning, for as well containing all horrors, its contents might possibly also include one stolen blanket.

I was staying two nights in the backpackers at Airlie Beach in North Queensland. It was a dormitory style room with six beds. Mostly full of young Europeans. I brought a blanket with me and left it on the bed on the first morning as a symbol that this bed was claimed. I went out for the day on a boat to discover Whitsunday Island and enjoyed the beautiful white sands of Whitehaven beach until it became akin to a Normandy landing and was besieged by a flotilla of tourist boats. Sigh.

I came back to Airlie tired and slightly sunburnt. Time for a quick nap before the evening. There were two people in the room. One of them was on my bed. My blanket was gone.

Bummer, I liked that blanket and its jaunty yellow and brown sungod patterns. More to the point I paid $60 for it. The English backpacker now occupying the bed was lazily watching TV. I'm sure he would have felt uneasy by the darting startled looks I gave him when I saw him in what I had assumed to be my bed. Or by my furtive looks around the room. It did not help the situation that I never bothered explaining the nature of my search to him or his mate in the other bed.

So who stole it? I had to rule myself out as a suspect first. Maybe I only imagined I left it on the bed. I did a quick check of the likely places. Under the bed, under the table, under the pillow (a bit desperate to think that a blanket would fit under a pillow) then looked in the car and the boot without success. In the boot, my heart briefly rose when I saw a snatch of the right colours crumpled in the back of the boot. But it was only the matching pillowcase, not the blanket. I went back to the room and checked the nooks and crannies once more. No, I had to admit the sheet was gone, and the bed made vacant by that lack of propriety I had investing in it by virtue of leaving my favourite sheet on the bed.

Who, then, was responsible? Not these boys surely, they would hardly have taken a sheet and then slept on the bed they stole it from? Unless, they didn’t think they were nicking something perhaps in their minds the last tenant had left it there. There were actual two signs of my ex-ownership missing – the sheet and a half full bottle of water which was also half empty. Both were gone.

No, I don’t believe it was these guys and I didn’t want to bother them with my problem “Hey was there a blanket on this bed?” not being one of the great opening liners to begin any discussion. So, that left either the people who were here last night or the cleaners. I could easily follow up the latter and trust in the possible good motives of the former (“Hey, someone may have left this behind, could you look after it for him – Sure, just leave it at the front desk”).

And so the front desk is where I go straight away. Excuse me, I said politely, Did anyone leave a blanket for Room 18? And no, no-one did. Front desk did, however, suggest that I contact Housekeeping and take up the matter with them, a very different branch of the organisation.

Housekeeping were part of the daytime Petty France (degonfler) and by God they were gone from the premises and weren’t expected back until 7am tomorrow morning. The matter was adjourned until then. In the meantime I had plenty of space in which to draw unsuitable conclusions. Let’s take the four other houseguests from last night.

Two girls, two boys. The girls, one of which named Bethan was having a birthday today were with one of the boys. I could not tell which was Bethan, they both seemed the birthday type. The other boy was travelling solo and said nothing during the previous evenings phase.

The four went out till late. The solo boy returned first followed by the other boy followed by the two girls around 4am. There was no morning phase. I simply upped and walked away after a toilet and shower. The others were all asleep when I left. I left my blanket there to mark my territory of the bed I planned to return to in the evening and also because it was too damn convenient to leave it there rather than return it to the car.

That action initially cursed by sloth was now deified for its apparent insurance caveat. Yet it now appeared too trusting. But I cannot indefinitely pin the blame on myself. Some other culprit exists because as sure as hell I know my lack of conscience doesn’t have the sheet. The H Blanket, where are you?

I prepare myself for my 7am assault on the Housekeepers, whoever they may be, and sleep on my reserve bed with my reserve sheet, a bright yellow creation of the hostel’s creation. This is a cheap vanilla sop, a sympathy gesture from the Front Desk in lieu of something more personal and expensive.

Off to sleep I go and dream of blanket-thieves. The morning arises and with some time to spare before seven, I resume my quest at the Front Desk where I hope optimistically that a change of personnel might bring a different answer.

It doesn’t, perhaps I should try Housekeeping, they confirm. They did mention one crucial new bit of information, Housekeeping have already arrived and could be found ‘in their cage’. A fellow worker takes issue with Mr Front Desks use of the word cage to describe Housekeeping House. “Are they caged up?” she asks. “Of course” he replies.

I waste no further time on the dungeon status of Housekeepers and seek them and their cage aux folles. I find the cage ajar but the Housekeeper has not escaped. She is still inside folding towels. I say hello and discuss my dilemma. I come armed with the matching pillow case from the boot in an effort to jog her memory and make it easier for me to describe the blanket.

The colours and pattern look like this, I tell her as I point to the pillow case. The slight desperation of the appeal must have shone through as although she quickly informed that they had not seen the fabled sheet, she promised to seek out yesterday’s housekeeper of Room 18 to see if she had seen the sheet.

She told me to come back in a few minutes after which she would have the answer. I walked down the street and broke ten minutes on the back of a newspaper. When I returned I found the cage distressingly empty. Warning, warning, wild housekeepers on the loose! They will eat the contents of your bed as soon as your back is turned! Here, little housekeeper, won’t you come back to your cage?

I do a couple of fruitless loops of the compound before I spot her darting behind the swimming pool. I catch up with her and ask the question. The news is glum. No, yesterday’s housekeeper hasn’t seen it either. Bugger, must have been the boy on his own or one of the birthday cohorts or their male escort. Or someone else entirely.

I’ll never know which man's bag now has my Manchester. I kept the hotel's daggy yellow sheet as scrawny compensation and drove south, vaguely dissatisfied.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Fraser Island ferry musings

Urangan boat harbour. Fraser escape. To every last hole in the looniverse. You and I versus he. The last molecule squeezed out of you for dripping. From the charm of the little two is the monster where no-one rhymes. Kidneys let loose in chromium difficult to see where it leads at all. Let us follow and strutter anyway until the blargue is degonfled the hemingway.

I harbour loss inside a pan-american shriver post-panamaximexicana pepsicana pocapotecl pocket of petals and a man from Dad’s team got sent off. I should organise it next year. Deep pockets for the team. Raffle. Shake and hummingbird, mocking each other gently.

Forget Democrat v GOP, when a casual Californian voter (as opposed to the most casual informal no-vote-at-allers) sees a ballot paper that reads Schwarzenegger v Gray Davis, then the dweeb is in for it. Oh hurray for the Osterreich! Edeladvice to young and old. Ask Eliza Fraser. But I don’t know what shipwreck she was from in my halfhour of Googling today. Must ask tomorrow. Should be great. Ah, twas the Stirling Castle in 1836 that ran aground and left lovely Liza to the tender mercies of the local heathens!

Six years of dreaming. Must do something. Sometime. The present to you is the presence. The carol is sung as three. You are already past your future and merlin coming out the other side parallax half-arsed backwards in a chemical way. The font of botany is fulcrum sideways from my mirror. Snoopy makes me happy but only in a slight way. I must combust justly or for other reasons that my heart enjoins. You, as it were. Ergo, ego dripping from the wall. Slow sleek seek.

There are two schools (what, just two? Isn’t there a Jewish one around here?), one of which says “Do it, then do it right” and the other which says “Do it once and do it right”. And isn’t this what you wanted to revitalise anyway? Perfume, manure, manufactured essence. Distilled fermented gravy and gravular. Before weeding out the intellectuals.

Swimming backwards to the island on the Fraser Dawn (not Albion's Castle Stirling.) A badly rusted but wittily named barge cuts a swathe between the punning paths of dugongs, dolphins and detritus.

Shark bait, swamp wallabies, echidnas, termites and dingos. Please Mungo Park, Never no Niger no more. From Hervey Bay's giant rabbit to Moon Point in one hour flat. The Beagle has landed. Giant leap for mangroves. Cookie was 'ere. 1770 and all that.

Siamese Twins from the transit of Venus,
around town you might have seen us.
anatomically correct,
in every respect
except the inconvenience of only one penis

Ba-boom crash!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

bikeride to Redcliffe

On a sunny Easter Monday afternoon, Woolly Days energetically decided it would cycle out to the Redcliffe peninsula some 30kms away to the north of Brisbane.

Going there via the bikepaths is a safer and more enjoyable option than the roads but it meant the journey was a lot further than the 30km way Joe Crow might take to get there. After cycling through the back streets of Wooloowin, I picked up the Kedron Brook bikepath among the sports fields at Shaw road.

Rugby was holding forth on one side of the road while hockey held the ascendency on the right bank. I turned right, shooted past the Toombul shopping centre and the motorcycle lessons in the back carpark. I was headed for the wide open wetlands besides the Schulz canal.

This waterway gets steadily larger as it picks up creeks along the way and becomes a surprisingly large and commanding presence as it prepares to empty into the bay just beyond the end of the bike path.

After holding my nose when passing the municipal dump on Nudgee Road, I avoided the temptations of Nudgee Beach (which should be called Nudgee Mangrove Swamp) and pick up another track through the Boondall wetlands which according to the sign was ‘saved by the ratepayers’. I admired the ratepayer-saving view beyond the creeks and the airport out to Moreton Bay from a lookout and came out the other end at the Boondall entertainment centre.

I then stealthily trundled alongside the railway path over Cabbage Tree Creek before charting a course around the edge of Bramble Bay through Shorncliffe and its Royal Queensland Cruising Yacht Club ‘home of the Brisbane to Gladstone race’. It would have been packed here a few days ago on Good Friday for the start of the race. Baxter's Jetty is home to the occasional fisherman and inquisitive pelican while a steady stream of small boats heads in and out of the bay. A couple walked their large dogs down the mudflats back towards Nudgee (Mangrove Swamp.)

The genteelness continued in Sandgate (with its gracious kilometre long pier and tempting Full Moon bayside pub) but was roughened up a portion by Brighton. Brighton does hold the key to the peninsula. Side by side with the threelane (one and half each way) highway to Clontarf (remember Good Friday 1014 and Brian Boru!) is the more elderly one lane Hornibrook highway which is exclusively for acoustic traffic: pedestrians, joggers, cyclists and rollerbladers.

Though the Hornibrook is undoubtably the safer option for cyclists, it can be dangerous especially if you get entangled with a backswinging rod from the odd over-zealous fisherman. I flew along unharmed at 30kph, wheels swishing.

Woolly Days continued unscathed to hug the pretty coast and its gleaming views to Moreton Island and the less gleaming though no less fascinating view to the Port of Brisbane at Fishermans Island. Onwards past Woody Point, Margate, Sutton's Beach and the gawdy Redcliffe foreshore. I made it to the end of the line at Scarborough and stopped at Bird O' Passage parade for a well earned coffee at Morgan's fish and chip shop.

After a short break, it was a reluctant effort to get back on the bike. It was to get worse, on my enjoyable way out I had failed to realise I had a significant tail wind and my speed dropped as I headed back the quickest way I could find away from the coast.

I had an early dodgy moment which requires radical surgery in the form of a stop for a curry pie and a limegreen sports drink. They do the trick and Woolly Days was back on the road with no time for bikepaths.

Back across the open Hornibrook I’m slowed right down to 16kph and am fighting hard against the stiffening breeze. I took the path down the sinister-named Deagon Deviation and hugged the side of the freeway until I find a trio of long straight roads to take me home.

Muller, Newman and Pfingst are the names of the roads and sound like a firm of Teutonic solicitors. I finally picked up the familiar thread of the Kedron bike path and wend the last few kilometres to the comforting bosom of home. Time for a well-earned flop on the couch.

Monday, April 17, 2006

on drugs and the Olympics

As they are so grandiose entitled, the Games of the XXIX (its gotta be Roman to count) Olympiad occur in Beijing in 2008. An obscene mix of money, communism and circuses with the whole world watching.

Two weeks of voyeurism so acceptable that it is legitimate for a politician to declare the calling of an election during the Olympics as unsporting. Too bloody difficult to concentrate on the issues of two events at the one time, eh? Nobody argues, least of a pusillanimous, poll-driven afternoon of a populist like John Winston Howard.

Who cares about the treatment of illegal immigrants and the international standing of low stocks, as long as we are in the top five in the medal count. Perhaps the standing should be higher as Australia had the third highest number of athletes in Athens behind Greece and USA.

Meanwhile the object of all this fawning attention is an occasionally intoxicating mix of brio and EPO, but mostly a tepid series of dull events in disciplines dimly understood and rarely on view. These are events transformed by the winning status of the competitor.

But lets look at the drugs.. Experts argue over whether throwing athletes out of Games shows that sport is healthy because our system works at catching cheats or that sport is unhealthy because so many are getting caught. But the real question is whether a) drugs work and b) so what if they do. Of course that’s two questions but using a) and b) gives them a certain singularity.

Woolly Days is not totally convinced that drugs work because lets face it, the majority of events have been won by non-cheats, n’est ce pas? And therefore you’d argue that drug cheats haven’t done all that well and therefore what is the point of banning them.

Or, you’d say that, in that case there have been a lot more winners in recent times who were drug users of some kind and did not get caught. In which case, it is obviously widespread and accepted so again, why ban it?

It seems only logical to conduct double-blind tests on both the efficacy of the drugs and a study of their long-term consequences. But the latter cannot rule the former as people will simply become impatient and take it if they see obvious and quick material benefit. That way, those who make that choice have only themselves to blame.

In any event, it is best to let the people decide. The brush has already tarnished the product. Just as the move away from amateurism was frought with difficulty but ultimately successful, the move to an open drug policy will be equally accepted. We chose whatever chemicals we want to give us a competitive advantage but we freely accept the end consequences of our actions.

Such a method would eventually sponsor a health related focus on drugs, their purity and their problems.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

worthless words

Messing about with thesaurus and dictionary.

Lets start with some definitions.
Herpetology – thought this was just snakes but it is the study of reptiles and amphibians
Ophiology – this one is purely about snakes from the Greek “ophis” serpent.
Conchology – Not the study of shells as the name might suggest but instead gives us the lure of molluscs.
Malacology – Just like conchology, this is the study of molluscs. Not sure if there is a boundary between the conchologists and the malacologists.
Mycology – is this the study of me, the fungi? Everything you wanted to know about mushrooms. From Greek ‘myc’ fungus.
Gallinaceous – related to the study of domestic fowl.
Ophidian – the snaky one, ask the ophiologist.
Salientine – of frogs and toads, batrachian, anuran, aquiline, passerine
Vermicular – wormy, like vermicelli – the little worm.
Cervine is dearly deer-like.
Gallimawfry – a hodge-podge or a US hash dish made from leftovers.
Galligaskies – are 16th century hose or breeches (a metathetic variation on gregesque from Italian ‘all greghesa’ in the Greek manner.
Unlike the Irish Gallowglass (‘gall’ foreigner and ‘oglach’ volunteer).
Metathesis, by the way is a transposition of letters, syllables and sounds in a word. Cupid Stunts.
Polo is a Balti (Kashmiri) word. From the fierce Pathans (patented obviously, are there any other kind of Pathans?). A pollywog is a tadpole. A poltroon is a coward from the Italian ‘poltro’ lazy. Craven A. Panda is Nepalese but Pandanus is Malay. Pandemonium is Milton’s capital of Hell. Pon Demon Lum. Zeus gave Pandora a box containing all humanity’s ills.

Partridge (pardix Gr.) is a gallinaceous gamebird. Parturient is in labour, passerine is an order of perching birds. More than half of all birds are in this category (qv Pale Fire). Latin ‘passerinus’ of a sparrow. Sparrowgrass is colloquial asparagus. The sparrow itself is pugnacious, a weaverbird, a finch, a pest. An Icelandic “sporr”.

A spat is a quarrel is an old spit is a gaiter is an oyster-spawn. A gaiter is a covering for ankle and instep worn over the shoe. Good-King-Henry is an erect perennial herb. A veronica is the “face of Christ” or a speedwell (sundarium) or a matador’s pass swinging the cape in front of the bull while immobile.

Sodarium is a handkerchief unlike a sudatorium which is a hot-air bath of inducing sweating. Turdine pertains to thrushes not shit though a ‘turd strangler’ is a plumber. A psalterium is the omasum or manyplies (because the folds of the omasum are likened to the leaves of a book). The omasum is the third stomach of a ruminant hidden between the reticulum and the abomasum (the fourth or true stomach).

The psalter is a book containing psalms for liturgical or devotional use. Maraschino is a cherry liqueur with almond flavour from 'marasca' an Italian word for the European cherry tree. Sodom was an ancient Dead Sea city destroyed by fire from heaven because of its inhabitants’ wickedness.

Ganymede is a Jovian moon (the largest moon in the solar system), and is also a young waiter or a young male homosexual – a catamite. Ganymede himself was a Trojan youth carried off by Zeus to be his lover and ‘cupbearer’. Crossruff is a bridge play in which each hand of the partnership trumps a different suit.

A cumshaw is a tip in Chinese ports. Cupboard love is inspired by considerations of material gain. The curate’s egg is good in parts. Erysipelas is an infectious disease of the mucous membranes. Erubescent is blushing. Ohmigod. Yahweh, Elohim, Tetragrammaton. Krishna. Deva. Bel Marduk. Red Tezcatlipoca. Quetzalcoatl. Huitzilopochtli.

Theriomorphic means having the form of beasts. Gentlemen can be Hidalgos (low) and Caballeros (high). Callithempians have vague religious belief. Boyars are Prussian gentry and Junkers are Russian aristocracy. Gossypol is a pigment of cottonseed oil and an experiment in male contraception.

Walpurgisnacht (Mayday eve night of German witches and the feastday of St Walpurga) is missing between walnut (foreign nut) and walrus (the horse whale). Buffleheads are ducks, duxes are leaders. Keel is a fatal disease of domestic ducks as well as a quantity of coal or a ship’s supporting beam or a ship itself or a ridge or a red ochre used to mark sheep.

Jays, joints, currawongs and cuckoo-shrikes, white-winged cloughs, corvine (crow-like) cinnabar (mercuric sulphide). Dingo ate my Babylon. The cordon bleu is a sky blue ribbon worn as a badge by the highest order French Bourbon knights, somehow transferred to cookery. Dubbo is stupid, just ask Patrick White in ‘Riders in the Chariot’. Splice the mainbrace means to issue a tot of rum to a ships crew or to invite an assembly to have a drink of quodlibet (‘what pleases’).

What pleases for a complex problem which arises in the study of philosophy or theology, or that of harridans, hags and harpies?