Monday, November 28, 2005

Humpty Dumpty

Yesterday I went to Stroud for my beautiful niece's 2nd birthday. My sister had got out mum's old Women's Weekly Birthday Cake cook book to create a cake for her daughter, who had picked out Humpty Dumpty. So the three of us sisters all pitched in to help decorate the cake according to the picture:

We spent ages leafing through the book and remembering all the birthday cakes and who had had which over the years. There was the piano cake (with white chocolate and licorice keys) that I had one year, and the ghost that Alli had with eggshells for eyes, the swimming pool (with jelly water) that Cali had for her pool party.
Audrey loved Humpty Dumpty, but when we recited the rhyme she cried when we got to the line "Humpty Dumpty had a great fall". So this Humpty was carefully placed on a high shelf where he would not meet any irreparable end!
And here is the birthday girl, trying on Uncle Pear's hat and still with a little tear in her eye after the nursery rhyme incident:

Moon rock 4

Embroidery update. I got quite a lot of stitching done in the car on the way to Stroud (two and a half hours' drive) and back again yesterday.
Today's featured crater is Korolev, the small yellow one near the centre. Sergei Korolev designed the rocket that launched Sputnik I.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Moon rock 3

Day Three.
How fast I am scooting through this embroidery! The problem is, the Voice of Reason returned from his four-day business trip to Adelaide today, so I won't have as much time to sit up 'til very late watching my choice of videos while I stitch.
Today's featured crater is the Hertzsprung crater, the nice big yellow one just leaving the main sequence at upper right. The three smaller craters above it are called something like Katich, Ponting and Terry Alderman (or I might need glasses). I don't think they would actually name craters after Australian cricketers. Hmmmmm. Kevin wants to give the moon a name: how about Richie Benaud?

Hey, I think I know that guy...

Firefighters posing in their underwear... who'd have thought it?

This kind of thing was a daily occurence at No 27 Station. Just ask the VoR.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Moon rock 2

Here's the progress on my moon embroidery. I've just about finished the purple area, although I might scatter a few more purple knots around the edges. I've only got one two-strand length of variegated purple thread left for a bit of extra shading, so that was good planning (or luck)!
Topographically, I think this purple patch must be the remnant of a fairly large crater (I read it as lower than the surrounding areas) with lots of smaller, more recent craters scattered over it. The large purple crater at the top right of this area is the Apollo crater, commemorating the historic missions to the moon. The purple oval at the lower left is called Schrodinger -- I don't know where his cat is and whether it is alive or dead -- and the pale blue oval just above it is the Planck crater, which is, however, not 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000016 metres long.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Moon rock 1

Last night I made a start on the project I first blogged about ages ago. The project was inspired by the embroidered pebble paperweights on the UK embroidery guild website and by a colour-coded topographical map of the far side of the moon from a document released by JPL (NASA). See my earlier entry for links if you're interested.

The photograph shows the page of my visual journal with a printout of the topographic map and the beginnings of the embroidery. I decided to stitch in some of the major craters in padded satin stitch before beginning the French knots. I used three strands of embroidery cotton for the satin stitch and some of the knots. Other knots are worked in two strands. Mostly I am doing three wraps, but occasionally four or five to vary the sizes of the knots. Oh, and the fabric I'm using is salvaged from the Voice of Reason's almost-new shirt: he left an uncapped pen in the pocket, with dreadful results, but the cotton fabric was too good to consign to the rag bag. (Cherie and Peggy, I told you I'd make good use of it.)
The moon map doesn't look like much yet but I have high hopes for it. It's a little big to be a paperweight (I traced it directly from the map -- it's about 15 cm diameter) but I think it might make a nice padded lid for one of those round trinket boxes. If I really like it when it's finished, I might even frame it!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

I don't like dogs.

I don't even like puppies, no matter how cuuuuute you think they look with their big eyes and oversized paws and their stupid little hats (or toys, or whatever).

I especially don't like dogs whose owners think that their dog has a right to walk up to me in a public place and start sniffing at any part of my anatomy. I don't like dogs whose owners think it is okay for me to have to cross to the other side of the footpath (or street), just so they don't have to give their dog's lead a little tug to get it out of my path. I don't like dogs whose owners say, "It's okay, he won't hurt you" as I back away from their slobbery mouths and gross tongues. Not to mention the dogs' mouths and tongues. I don't like dogs that suddenly start barking madly at me from behind a fence, when I am just minding my own business, walking down the footpath, not thinking that my ears are about to be assaulted by inarticulate, eardrum-bursting animal noises -- until I jump three feet in the air in surprise.

Have I mentioned that I don't like dog owners, either? I mean, it's hardly fair to put all the blame on the stupid animals.

And dogs are animals, not children: but even if you think they are like children, I wouldn't let my child run up to a stranger in a public place and start slobbering all over her and sniffing her in inappropriate places. Or start yelling at a passer-by over the yard fence. And then say, "it's okay, he won't hurt you".

The Voice of Reason says, "a dog is just one meal away from being a wild animal". Or, in my opinion, less than that.

I may have found a soul mate in Hemlock. See the diary entry for April 12th. Via Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry.

With apologies to Sam, Nelson Mandela, Sprocket and other dogs of my acquaintance whose owners I can also tolerate.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Sculpture by the Sea

At first I thought the creature above was a beche-la-mer but the catalogue claims that it's a diatom. Hmmm.
We braved an overcast sky and the worst Bondi traffic jam since the City to Surf to take a walk along the cliff tops and enjoy the annual Sculpture by the Sea show. As well as enjoying the art, we also enjoyed the company of our newly arrived visitors from the USA, my sister and her husband, who can be seen catching a wave on the Tamarama clifftop below. (They don't look too jet-lagged!)

Below is a photo of one of my favourite artworks. (The photo is upside down, so that the lettering is right-side up. That's why it looks a bit weird.) What I especially liked about it was the elderly woman in a pink bikini, who swam her lesiurely laps of the pool (paddling along on her back, without getting her perfectly coiffed hair wet at any time) oblivious to the hundreds and possibly thousands of art-loving onlookers staring down at her as they passed.

Or perhaps not oblivious? Whatever, I hope I'm like her when I get to that time of my life! (I doubt I'll look that good in a bikini though.)

Click on the flickr button in the sidebar to see some more photos of the artworks.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A theological argument against ID

The Sydney Morning Herald is running a series of feature articles this week reporting on the growing controversy about teaching ID in NSW schools. You can follow it on the SMH website if you don't read that newspaper. The articles so far seem to me to be presenting "both sides" of the argument in a rational manner: the claims of ID supporters are routinely answered and refuted by scientists in succeeding paragraphs, not left to stand unchallenged.

The best analysis I read this morning, however, was an opinion piece by a professor of theology at the Australian Catholic University. Arguing from theological principles, he disclaims the validity of ID:

Much depends on what its proponents mean by the term "intelligent design". If they mean that the universe as a whole displays a profound intelligibility through which one might argue philosophically that the existence of God is manifest, their position is very traditional.

However, if by intelligent design they mean that God is an explanation for the normal course of events which would otherwise lack scientific explanation, then this is opposed to a traditional Christian understanding of divine transcendence. In seeking to save a place for God within the creation process, the promoters of intelligent design reduce God to the level of what the early theologian Thomas Aquinas would call a "secondary cause".

This is just a more sophisticated version of so-called "creation science", which is poor theology and poor science.

There are some assumptions in the full article that I would take issue with, but it is worth reading. It supports the assumption that looking for a "God of the Gaps" to fill holes in human knowledge is self-defeating: using faith to excuse and explain ignorance is forming a creator in your own image, for selfish purposes. If Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, metaphysicians, astrologers or those of any other mystical persuasion want a prop for their faith, they are not ultimately going to find it within the limitations of intelligent design. (Not that I have met with or heard of anyone but Christians -- and followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster -- attempting to promote ID, which puts the lie to some of the claims of impartiality and universal relevance of the "designer".)

If you do believe in a designer, creator, god, or transcendent supernatural being/force of any description, Intelligent Design is not the way to prove its existence. Choosing faith in a God of the Gaps will only lead to your god and your faith diminishing as your understanding of science and nature increases. Of course, if you are happy to let your brain stagnate at its current level of scientific knowledge, your god will at least always be what you understand at this moment. But if your understanding of your god is to remain unchanged, you might as well just slit your wrists now. If you were designed and put on this planet for the sole purpose of knowing the designer better, and you're not going to advance your knowledge at all from this point, then the purpose of your existence is at an end.
As is the purpose of the existence of ID. At a dead end.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Be a man

This community service announcement is brought to you by the Southern Cross Crazies Nowra retreat. If you are a real man, get a prostate cancer checkup. Thank you.

And now for today's blog entry. After the National Retreat in CanBra last year, where we were challenged to create embellished bras to raise money for breast cancer research, this year's focus for the fundraiser challenge was on raising money for prostate cancer research and public education. Although there are currently no male members of the Southern Cross Crazies (Hi, Tom!), many of us have friends and family who are men, so we still care about them.
Instead of bras, the instructions were to make and/or embellish a pair of men's underpants. Once again, the imagination and stitching skill of the participants were unbelieveable and we had a hilarious time as the underwear was paraded around the room. The fundraising part consisted of voting for one's favourite pair of underpants by coin donation. The underpants that raised the most money were declared the winners.
Today I have images of the first, second and third place winners. The entire parade can be seen on flickr (click on the flickr button in the sidebar to check them all out and go to the Nowra set of images). We are looking into posting hi-res images on a website soon, if you want to see the embroidery close up, so stay tuned for the details.
And now... drum roll, please... the winners are:

Third Place: Maureen III's Cod Piece

Maureen's wicked sense of humour once again came to the fore this year with a three-dimensional interpretation of a traditional male undergarment. She had a lot to live up to after her Maurdonna bra construction, but she never disappoints her fans!

Second Place: Maureen IV's Crown Jewels

The front of this pair of cotton jocks is encrusted with jewels and treasures and surmounted by an applique crown and an ermine shawl -- very regal. Maureen wanted to highlight the need for men to take care of their crowning glory. She also said that she would have added more of the handmade beer-bottle-cap buttons (contributed by her husband) but she didn't have time to drink any more.

First Place: Florence's Crazy Pants

Florence's bra was much admired last year and now hangs in her local hospital's oncology ward. She plans to donate the matching pair of undies to the same institution. Lavishly embroidered and decorated with jewels and feathers, it's no wonder this pair received the most votes.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Bond, Chesty Bond

Hugh Jackman reportedly turned down the role of James Bond in the upcoming movie, much as he turned down the opportunity to be the in-house underpants model for the Southern Cross Crazies' Prostate Cancer fundraiser. In Mr Jackman's absence, we turned to another Mr Bond as his replacement: Chesty himself, to be precise.* Delivering their near relation to the green glades of the Shoalhaven were those gorgeous Bond girls, Maureen and Catherine, who unearthed this Aussie original in an op shop.
Mr Bond was the ideal model, tractable and complacent through approximately 20 changes of underwear. I am not sure how well Mr Jackman is endowed, but ol' Chesty didn't even bat an eyelid when assistance in that department was required (in the form of pieces of fruit) to help him fill some of the larger pairs of jocks.
More photographs of the weekend are available on my flickr account, where I will soon be adding the long-awaited underpants photographs. Stay tuned for further developments.

* Those of you who don't know Chesty Bond should go here. On the Bonds website, Chesty seems to have been made redundant by Pat Rafter.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

News from Nowra

Oh, whiter than the surf was she
That breaks those coasts along;
And redder than the coral tree
That grows by Gerringong;
And graceful as the springing palm
On Illawarra hills;
And sweeter than the meadow balm
By cool Shoalhaven rills.

E.J. Brady, "Keira"

On Friday afternoon I drove my car down the hill from Nowra and rounded the bend that brought me out of the tall trees on the ridge and into view of the lush Waterslea paddocks on the banks of the Shoalhaven river. What a breathtaking sight, and a great precursor to a fantastic weekend!
It was the annual retreat of the Southern Cross Crazies. Those of you with whom I was lucky enough to share the past four days will be impatient to see more pictures, especially of underpants, and I promise I will get them up as soon as I can -- look out for further instalments over the next few days. Meantime, I have a lot of catching up on work to do today, so just enjoy these pictures.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


I'm listening to Great Big Sea's hymn to summer:

Everything's gonna be all right when summer comes
The darkest stars will burn so bright when summer comes
We will open up our bodies to the warming of the sun
When summer comes

The words are not so very poetic on their own, but combined with the lyrical, folky melody and the gentle, raw voice of the singer, it makes me feel quite alive. The sun is shining through the window as I type this and I'm waiting for a subtle sea breeze to stir the leaves of the peppermint gum outside and answer the starlings that are twittering away in its branches. The native irises around the base of the tree have exploded with white flowers that come in waves every few days. Summer is already here, although the calendar doesn't recognise it yet.

The poignancy of Great Big Sea's song makes me realise how the coming of summer must seem even more miraculous to someone who lives in Newfoundland than it does to an antipodean. The frosts of winter, with plants and animals hibernating and dormant under a thick blanket of snow, must be a stark reminder of death every year, while the revitalising spring thaw must seem like an annual miracle. No wonder so many ancient civilisations worshipped the sun!

In the Australian climate, especially in Sydney, the contrast between winter and summer is not so stark. There are flowers and animals all year round, of some sort or another, and it never gets so cold and dark that the world seems frozen and dead. In Australia we always live among "the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky" (those are e. e. cummings words, but they fit) so summer seems less miraculous to us. Perhaps that's why Aussies are so typically carefree: we don't have that annual reminder of death to tell us that "She'll be right, mate" is not the answer to everything.

Those who live in the tropics must truly think themselves indestructible! No wonder they are so notoriously relaxed about time. I think that's why I love visiting Vanuatu so much: it makes me feel immortal. I can spend hours on end every day swimming around the reef and watching the denizens of that underwater civilisation going about their business: an eternity passes in every moment.

An aside: I wonder if Bruce is still running the restaurant on Hideaway Island, and if his daughter Alison is still bewitching the guests to worship her. She was five and Wonder Boy was eight last time we went: she was such a tiny thing but she would call him into her presence like a monarch when he came down the steps to the beach: "Come," she would command, with her impish smile, leading him away for some game of collecting broken coral, or chasing hermit crabs, or splashing in the shallows and examining giant blue starfish that looked like velvet but felt surprisingly hard and brittle. He looked so big and pale and grown up next to the dark, quick, lithe child, but he would follow her around like a faithful puppy. (End of aside.)

Another thing I love about Vanuatu is the genuine reverence for nature. Last time we were on Hideaway Island, a baby coconut palm just 20cm high had sprung up a couple of metres from its parent, right in the middle of the path between the steps and the jetty. Instead of digging it out or snapping it off, the island's inhabitants simply stepped off the path to skirt around it, and built a little coral wall to protect it from being accidentally damaged by passing traffic. There was no sense of being inconvenienced or outraged by the chance intrusion of nature: no need to bend nature to human will. Just acceptance.

Now that is a true recognition of immortality. To acknowledge that a palm has as much right as you have to be in that place, and may be there when you are gone: not to claim any privelege on the earth because of the species to which you belong. To know that everything is part of a continuum of existence, and to live fully in the moment. To quote cummings again:

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

Terror Australis

Last night the news reports said that the Federal government claimed to have discovered a new and credible threat to Australian security, giving this as a further reason for rushing their appalling anti-terror legislation through parliament. Apparently (I have been told by a reliable informant) this threat is neither new nor imminent: in fact, NSW Police have been working on the case for some time, and officers at high levels are dismayed at the way the government is seeking to use their ongoing investigation as a political football. That's all I'll say, because if the legislation does go through I won't be able to protect the identity of the source of my information or myself.

At the same time, I finally received an answer to my email (it was a copy of what I wrote here) from my local Federal representative, Tanya Plibersek.

Thank you for contacting me about the proposed anti-terrorism laws. It is important to note the legislation has not yet been presented to the Parliament by the Howard Government, so I have still not seen a finaldraft. It is disgraceful that the government plans to introduce laws which it expects Members of Parliament to vote on immediately, without even having time to read the legislation. It is undemocratic and it undermines my ability to do my job on behalf of my constituents. Like all members of the ALP, I have grave concerns about the legislation and I am determined to see a number of changes in the Bill from the time it was posted on the internet by ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope.

Federal Labor has been calling for strong safeguards on any new anti-terrorism laws since before the meeting between the Prime Minister and the Premiers on 27 September.

Kim Beazley has called for safeguards such as:

* A sunset clause for the entire legislation to ensure these new powers will not be permanent and will need to be revisited by Parliament for them to continue (and that susnset clause to be shorter than the ten year one proposed by the Prime Minister for just one section of the legislation);
* Meaningful judicial review of the substance of claims, not just on points of law, and an independent oversight and appeal process for control orders and preventative detention;
* parliamentary oversight to ensure the use of the powers is accountable to Parliament,
* expanded resources for watchdogs like the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security to investigate any abuses of the powers,
* new watchdogs like a national Public Interest Monitor, and
* an independent statutory body to oversight the Australian Federal Police.

Federal Labor and the Premiers have successfully forced some of those changes in the draft legislation and we are hopeful we can force more. We are determined to keep up the pressure by exposing the flaws in these laws.

Kim Beazley has also called for a proper parliamentary process so this legislation can be debated in the community and we have said we will look to move sensible amendments to reflect commonly held concerns about issues like the sedition provisions.

Kim has also made very clear when a final binding agreement between the Premiers, the Chief Ministers and the Prime Minister is reached, the Federal Labor Caucus will examine the Bill and make a final decision. Kim, like many members of the community, genuinely believes (based on intelligence briefings) that Australia is at more risk today from terrorist threats than we have been at any time in the past.

That is at least in part due to this Government's negligent foreign affairs policy, including our wrong-headed, foolish decision to follow America into the debacle of the Iraq war. Kim has written to the Prime Minister restating Labor's concerns about
the Bill and calling on the Prime Minister to put politics aside and work in the national interest, so that strong safeguards can be attached to extra powers to protect Australia from terrorist incidents. I have attached a copy of the letter for your information.

We are asking the Prime Minister to make the required changes to the Bill, allow proper time for debate, and then turn his mind to the practical measures highlighted by Labor, which will make a real difference to prepare Australia for the threat of terrorist attack: measures like increased intelligence resources, better security at
airports etc.

For your information, I have attached a number of recent media statements from Federal Labor addressing these points, as well as a copy of Kim Beazley's letter to the Prime Minister.

Thank you for taking the time to write to me. I agree this is very important legislation and that our future as a decent democratic society depends on not giving away the rights and freedoms we hold dear.

I post it here without comment, because I promised to do so, and I haven't had a chance to digest it and decide on my response to it yet. On first read, she seems to be saying, "don't trust the Liberal Party, trust the Labor Party" but I am inclined to do neither in the current political climate.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

I intend to be myself

Reading DH Lawrence after Jane Austen is something of a leap, leaving the refined drawing rooms of one -- where passion is always expressed in proper sentences, no matter how deep it runs -- to enjoy the untamed physicality of the world with men and women who barely restrain animal sensation behind fin de siecle propriety. Yet there are not so many differences between the two, because the characters in both are well-realised portraits of human beings with feelings and thoughts that must be subdued to social expectations. But that's an essay for another day.
I hadn't read The Rainbow since I fell in love with Ursula Brangwen while I was studying the book at university. Or rather, since I recognised echoes of myself in Ursula Brangwen while I lived through her university studies in the book. (That is the test of a good book: if you can recognise yourself in the protagonist. And I believe DH Lawrence is one of the few male novelists who can do a really good female protagonist.)
Having been recently involved (see this blog entry) in a discussion of whether there is a separate "spiritual" existence above and beyond humanness, or whether the feelings of "goodness" and "transcendence" are explainable by purely physical phenomena, I read this section in the penultimate chapter of The Rainbow with some delight:

...she was fretting over a conversation she had had a few days ago with Dr. Frankstone, who was a woman doctor of physics in the college.

“No, really,” Dr. Frankstone had said, “I don’t see why we should attribute some special mystery to life—do you? We don’t understand it as we understand electricity, even, but that doesn’t warrant our saying it is something special, something different in kind and distinct from everything else in the universe—do you think it does? May it not be that life consists in a complexity of physical and chemical activities, of the same order as the activities we already know in science? I don’t see, really, why we should imagine there is a special order of life, and life alone——”

The conversation had ended on a note of uncertainty, indefinite, wistful. But the purpose, what was the purpose? Electricity had no soul, light and heat had no soul. Was she herself an impersonal force, or conjunction of forces, like one of these? She looked still at the unicellular shadow that lay within the field of light, under her microscope. It was alive. She saw it move—she saw the bright mist of its ciliary activity, she saw the gleam of its nucleus, as it slid across the plane of light. What then was its will? If it was a conjunction of forces, physical and chemical, what held these forces unified, and for what purpose were they unified?

For what purpose were the incalculable physical and chemical activities nodalised in this shadowy, moving speck under her microscope? What was the will which nodalised them and created the one thing she saw? What was its intention? To be itself? Was its purpose just mechanical and limited to itself?

It intended to be itself. But what self? Suddenly in her mind the world gleamed strangely, with an intense light, like the nucleus of the creature under the microscope. Suddenly she had passed away into an intensely-gleaming light of knowledge. She could not understand what it all was. She only knew that it was not limited mechanical energy, nor mere purpose of self-preservation and self-assertion. It was a consummation, a being infinite. Self was a oneness with the infinite. To be oneself was a supreme, gleaming triumph of infinity.

Here Lawrence has captured the transcendental experience of human thought and feelings, without turning it into an external deity. For the algae on the microscope slide, existence is a Platonic "thing-in-itself" and Ursula finds in that a consummation between the physical world and the infinite.
I have never felt consummated by an algae (although I remember being mesmerised by the light from my little microscope shining through the rainbow colours of skin cells on a slide I had made when I was 10 years old), but that is the kind of transcendent human experience I feel when I listen to music, or read poetry. It's the kind of experience that turns people to seek God as an explanation for their thoughts and feelings and, according to Lawrence, it doesn't really matter whether or not they find a religion that satisfies them, or some more pure unification with the gleaming triumph of infinity.
As someone said during last week's discussion (in an email), "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts". The meaning of this quotation, however, depends on the definition of greater: the whole of human consciousness may be "greater" -- beautiful, transcendent, infinite -- but yet not "more than" -- that is, it may still ultimately be explained by a combination of finite chemical reactions without needing recourse to a deity to fill in the gaps of understanding.

To be myself is a supreme, gleaming triumph of infinity. Thrilling!