Reader’s Digest Condensed Haiku

From the letters column of The Grauniad of 12 April 2008:

“Like many people nowadays, I rarely have time to sit down and read a whole haiku (Letters, March 22; Letters, March 29). This prompted my “Short Poem About Brevity” –

Haiku, why ramble so?”

 

 

Steven Handsaker

Barnstaple, Devon




Reg Gilbert RIP

Reg J Gilbert was an Australian statistician who spent much of his career working in developing countries and for international organizations.  His career began in the Australian Bureau of Statistics after which he worked in Papua New Guinea and later in Botswana. In PNG he was Director of Statistics and led the first national population census following Independence in 1975. He died between 2001 and 2004. Although we never met, I keep meeting people in the oddest places who knew him, so I feel like my life has shadowed his. Florence Skelly is another person I never met whose circle of influences I keep encountering.

Bibliography:

Reg J Gilbert [1986]:  The first complete enumeration of Papua New Guinea – The 1980 Population Census. Journal of Official Statistics, 2(4): 501–514.

 




The Italians

A book review by Gian-Carlo Rota [1991], Editor of Advances in Mathematics (volume 88, issue 2, page 301):

Review of:  S. S. ABHYANKAR:  Algebraic Geometry for Scientists and Engineers. American Mathematics Society, 1990, 295 pp.

Every field has its taboos. In algebraic geometry, the taboos are (a) giving an exposition that can be followed by anyone but one’s two or three closest friends, (b) claiming that a result has any applications whatsoever, (c) mentioning the word “combinatorial,” (d) claiming that any mathematics existed before Grothendieck (only some vague handwaving references to “the Italians” are occasionally allowed, provided they are not supported by bibliographical data). Abhyankar has violated all these taboos. He’d better get himself some bodyguards.”




Caning John Pilger

Wilfred Burchett (1911-1983) was a brave and intrepid Australian journalist who mainly reported from the other side in the Cold War. He was the first western reporter to visit Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped on the city, something he did without permission from the US Occupation authorities, and was thus able to counter attempted US military lies and disinformation about what we now know was radiation poisoning; he did this most dramatically at a US military press conference in Japan immediately after his visit to the city.  For many years in the 1950s and 1960s, conservative Australian Governments refused to renew Burchett’s Australian passport, something only remedied by the incoming Labor administration of Gough Whitlam on 6 December 1972, four days after Labor’s election win.

Another Australian journo, John Pilger, wrote a preface to a collection on articles about Burchett, edited by Ben Kiernen in 1986. On the second page of his preface, Pilger quotes from Burchett’s autiobiography, and then commits a schoolboy howler. “Soon afterwards [Pilger writes, page x], Wilfred went ‘on the road with a swag’ and in Queensland was adopted by a group of cane-cutters . . . ”

No, Mr Pilger, no! Although Burchett is careful not to name the location of the sugarcane farm he worked on, he says (page 62) it is on an arm of the Clarence River, upstream from a sugar-mill whose chimney effusions he could smell and possibly also see, on a large island bisected by a canal with horse-drawn barges transporting bundles of cut cane. The mill would be the one at Harwood (still in operation today, thanks to former state MP, Don Day), and the island most likely Palmers Island. Other large islands upstream of the Harwood Mill would be Harwood Island itself or Chatsworth Island, but these are not bisected by canals.  But all of these, including the entire mouth of the Clarence River are in New South Wales, Mr Pilger, not Queensland.

Burchett is briefly mentioned as a social acquaintance of Guy Burgess in Moscow in the 1950s in the recent biography of Burgess by Andrew Lownie, reviewed here.

 

References:

Wilfred Burchett [1969]: Passport: An Autobiography. Melbourne, Australia: Nelson.

Ben Kiernan (Editor) [1986]: Burchett Reporting the Other Side of the World 1939-1983. London, UK: Quartet.




Our life is but lent

“Our life is but lent; a good whereof to make, during the loan, our best commodity.  It is a debt due to a more certain owner than ourselves, and therefore so long as we have it, we receive a benefit; when we are deprived of it, we suffer no wrong. We are tenants at will of this clayey farm, not for any term of years; when we are warned out, we must be ready to remove, having no other title but the owner’s pleasure.  It is but an inn, not a home; we came but to bait, not to dwell; and the condition of our entrance was finally to depart. If this departure be grievous, it is also common; this today to me, tomorrow to thee; and the case equally affecting all, leaves none any cause to complain of injurious usage.”

Robert Southwell SJ: The Triumphs over Death.




More minimalist art at Temple Station

Following the previous exhibition, described here, more optic minimalism at Temple Underground Station:

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Central London churches

A list of some central London churches and their denominations:

  • All Saints Cathedral, Camden / Greek Orthodox, originally Anglican
  • Chapel of King’s College London / Anglican
  • Chapel of Hospital of St John and St. Elizabeth, St John’s Wood / Roman Catholic
  • Christ Church, Spitalfields / Anglican
  • Christ-the-King, Gordon Square / Catholic Apostolic
  • Corpus Christ, Maiden Lane / Roman Catholic
  • Emmanuel Temple, Westminster / Evangelical Christian
  • Finchley Quaker Meeting House / Society of Friends
  • Friends House, Euston / Society of Friends
  • Holy Trinity, Marylebone / Anglican
  • Holy Trinity, Sloane Square / Anglican
  • St Anselm and St Cecilia, Holborn / Roman Catholic
  • St Bride’s, Fleet Street / Anglican
  • St Clement Danes /Anglican (the home church of the RAF)
  • St Dunstan-in-the-West, Fleet Street / Anglican and Romanian Orthodox
  • St Giles-in-the-Fields / Anglican
  • St James, Piccadilly / Anglican
  • St John’s, Waterloo /Anglican
  • St Luke’s, Old Street / formerly Anglican
  • St Martin, Ludgate / Anglican
  • St Mary-le-Bow / Anglican
  • St Mary-le-Strand / Anglican
  • St Pancras New Church, Euston / Anglican
  • St Paul’s, Hammersmith / Anglican
  • St Paul’s Cathedral / Anglican
  • St Peter’s Italian Church, Holborn / Roman Catholic
  • St Sepulchre-without-Newgate / Anglican
  • Temple Church / Anglican
  • Wesley’s Chapel, Finsbury / Methodist
  • Westminster Cathedral / Roman Catholic
  • Westminster Quaker Meeting House / Society of Friends



Ngunawal in the Australian Parliament

The Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull gave a speech in the House of Representatives in February 2016 in which he  began with some words in the language formerly used in the Canberra region, Ngunawal.  It was apparently the first time an Australian Prime Minister had spoken in an Aboriginal language (at least in Parliament), and probably the first time that Ngunawal had been spoken in any Parliament.  The language has been almost extinct for some time. The speech is here.

The SMH carried a nice article by Michael Gordon on the preparation for this speech, of which the following is an excerpt:

The idea was simple enough. Executing it proved the hard part, involving subterfuge, lateral thinking and a collaboration that just might shape how Malcolm Turnbull confronts the twin tasks of tackling disadvantage and advancing the cause of reconciliation.

It was Alan Tudge, the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister, who suggested Turnbull, in his first major speech on Indigenous affairs since toppling Tony Abbott, should begin in the language of the Ngunawal, the people on whose land Parliament House is built.

Turnbull liked the idea, so a staff member contacted the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies which, in turn, referred the request to the institute’s senior linguist, Doug Marmion, for advice on how to do it.

It wasn’t as simple as forwarding a set of words and arranging for some coaching on how to deliver them. The language of the Ngunawal people was almost non-existent just two years ago, having not been widely spoken for more than a century because of the impact of dispossession.

Dr Marmion discussed one form of words with Turnbull via Skype, but the Prime Minister was very particular, wanting to “acknowledge” and “pay respects” to the elders. So the linguist sought the help of Tyronne Bell and Glen Freeman, two members of the Ngaiyuriidja Ngunawal Language Group.

Problem was, he couldn’t tell them he was ringing on Turnbull’s behalf, just in case something went wrong and Turnbull took the safe option of giving the acknowledgment in English.

Soon enough, though, they were in Turnbull’s office coaching the most powerful man in the land on how to honour their people. Freeman recalls almost having to pinch himself.

“How amazing is our country that ordinary people such as us get to meet the leader in his personal space and for him to embrace what we put to him!” he says. “He picked it up so fast it surprised me. It was lovely.”

For Turnbull, the experience changed his motivation for opening his speech in Aboriginal language. “As we looked into it, we realised this whole issue of language, and language preservation and culture was so important it could be more than a mark of respect – more a statement about the importance of language and the continuity of language,” the Prime Minister told me.

Turnbull also recast the body of the speech, highlighting a commitment to spend an extra $20 million over two years on the collection of “critical cultural knowledge” and the promotion of Indigenous cultures and traditions.

That is good news for Bell, the “knowledge-holder of the Ngunawal”, and Freeman, who for the past two years, without financial assistance, have been collecting material that will bring their language back to life.

When they began, they had around 30 words. Now they have more 300 and are confident there will soon be a strong enough understanding of the language for it to be taught in Canberra schools and to adults and widely used.

Their mission, they say, is to rediscover their collective soul and reason for being. “Language is the pathway to all things involving culture and the link to our ancestors,” says Freeman. “It’s the seed to sustenance for those who follow.”

If many non-Indigenous Australians struggle to appreciate this, Dr Marmion says it is because they have a “monolingual mindset” that makes it hard for them to appreciate the value of other languages, and particularly the value of heritage languages.

“Imagine the sense of loss if you were never able to read a letter written by your grandfather, or understand a recording of your grandmother singing,” he explains.

This is why, in January 2012, the expert panel appointed by Julia Gillard recommended that any constitutional change include recognising that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages were this country’s first tongues.

Since then, the recognition debate has struggled to achieve a consensus on what form recognition should take and when the question should be put. Part of the reason for this is that Indigenous leaders believe their voices were not being heard or respected.

Turnbull’s speech was crafted to change this perception. It included a promise to be guided by the “great wisdom” of Indigenous educator Chris Sarra, who advised the new Prime Minister to “do things with us, not to us”.

To this end, Turnbull has responded to the blueprint to empower communities produced by Cape York leader Noel Pearson and several others including Sean Gordon, who represents Indigenous communities on the Central Coast of New South Wales.

The PM has embraced the idea of partnership and agreed to fund the empowerment model in eight sites and potentially others, but held back on embracing the institutional reforms proposed in the blueprint until progress is assessed in three years. This has disappointed Pearson and Gordon, but it is a start.

Moreover, Turnbull told me recognition is “achievable” next year, and has vowed to work closely with the referendum council that will report in June on how Indigenous conventions should be structured to refine the question. “The first thing is that we’ve got to come up with some words, an amendment that is meaningful for Aboriginal people and Torres Strait islanders. It’s got to speak to, it’s got to sing to them, otherwise they’ll wash their hands of it,” he said. “

 

UPDATE (2016-09-03):  And here, delivered on 31 August 2016, is the maiden speech of MHR, Ms Linda Burney, member for Barton, the first woman of Aboriginal descent to be a member of Federal Parliament.   Ms Burney speaks in part in Wiradjuri language, and the speech includes a traditional singing invocation from three be-cloaked Wiradjuri women in the public gallery.    Ms Burney is a former NSW Minister and member of the NSW Legislative Assembly, aka the “Bear Pit”, Australia’s roughest parliament.

And, now Senator Patrick Dodson, in his maiden speech, delivered on 1 September 2016, has addressed the Senate in his native Yawuru, and obtained the agreement of the President of the Senate, Senator Stephen Parry, to respond to him in Yawuru. Some background here.




Bush violins

Bernard O’Reilly (1903-1975), of Green Mountains fame, writing about his bush childhood in the Kanimbla Valley, NSW:

That music! – accordians and concertinas [page break]- low brow, but who is so high brow or blasé that he doesn’t secretly enjoy such music?  But best were the violins and they were played by men to whom violin playing had come as legacies from father to son and on to grandson. Their music was a thing apart, it had the quality of antiquity which is only possible where father had taught son and no outside influence or technique had been allowed to creep in.  Thinking back now it is impossible for me to say whether or not they played well from a technical point of view – you wouldn’t even think of that whilst you listened.  The violin became a live thing in their hands; it didn’t merely express their moods and feelings, but it commanded and all who listened followed as they would the Piper of Hamelin through moods of tenderness, through sorrow and through wild joy.

Are they all gone, these men? No, there is one left. Our old neighbour, Pat Cullen, of Long Swamp, has lived beyond his four score years, but in his hands, that old brown violin can still make you dance or laugh or cry.” (pages 37-38)

 

Reference:

Bernard O’Reilly [1944]: Cullenbenbong. Brisbane: WR Smith and Paterson Pty Ltd.  My copy was purchased in 1945 by Burl Ives.




The need for enchantment

Long-The-Spirt-of-the-Plains-1897

I just described our contemporary western culture as pseudo-rationalist materialism arising from a Protestant disdain for the supernatural, pagan aspects of Catholicism.   I recalled a 2015 column by New York Times op-editor David Brooks on the need for enchantment in our lives.  A willingness to accept enchantment is indeed a counter-cultural act.

The dating sites have taken the information available online and tried to use it to match up specific individuals. They’ve failed. An exhaustive review of the literature by Eli J. Finkel of Northwestern and others concluded, “No compelling evidence supports matching sites’ claims that mathematical algorithms work.” That’s because what creates a relationship can’t be expressed in data or photographs. Being in love can’t be done by a person in a self-oriented mind-set, asking: Does this choice serve me? Online dating is fascinating because it is more or less the opposite of its object: love.

When online daters actually meet, an entirely different mind-set has to kick in. If they’re going to be open to a real relationship, they have to stop asking where this person rates in comparison to others and start asking, can we lower the boundaries between self and self. They have to stop thinking in individual terms and start feeling in rapport terms.

Basically, they have to take the enchantment leap. This is when something dry and utilitarian erupts into something passionate, inescapable and devotional. Sometimes a student becomes enraptured by the beauty of math, and becomes a mathematician. Soldiers doing the drudgery of boot camp are gradually bonded into a passionate unit, for which they will risk their lives. Anybody who has started a mere job and found in it a vocation has taken the enchantment leap.

In love, of course, the shift starts with vulnerability, not calculation. The people involved move from selfishness to service, from prudent thinking to poetic thinking, from a state of selection to a state of need, from relying on conscious thinking to relying on their own brilliant emotions.

When you look at all the people looking for love and vocation today, you realize we live in a culture and an online world that encourages a very different mind-set; in a technical culture in which humanism, religion and the humanities, which are the great instructors of enchantment, are not automatically central to life.

I have to guess some cultures are more fertile for enchantment — that some activities, like novel-reading or music-making, cultivate a skill for it, and that building a capacity for enchantment is, these days, a countercultural act and a practical and fervent need.”

 

Reference:

David Brooks [2015]:  The devotion leap.  New York Times International Edition, 24-25 January 2015, page 9.

The  image is “The Spirit of the Plains” (1897) by Sydney Long (1871-1955), now in the Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane.