Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Book Notes: "The Qur'an: A Biography" by Bruce Lawrence

The Qur'an: A Biography (Books That Shook The World)The Qur'an: A Biography by Bruce B. Lawrence

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I remember reading about this book while in Amman, Jordan in 2006. Bruce Lawrence mentions that he was assisted by Dr Ibrahim Abu Nab of Amman in the beginnings of this book. I have had it on my "reading now" shelf for years, and despite being half-way though, I started from the beginning yesterday and finished it today. I think the problem with my earlier attempt at reading the work was my lack of historical, geopolitical, and theological knowledge at the time. So this reading I found rather gripping. The book is a chronological biography of the Qur'an, and is part of a series of "Books that Shook the World". If this book is the standard for the series, then I will invest in some of the other books. What I like about Lawrence's work is that it is scholarly, contemporary, and pragmatic all at once. The fifteen chapters each present a different story about the Qur'an, in chronological order, and from various cultures and geographical locations. It might have been useful to read this book before I read Pioneers of Islamic Scholarship by Adil Salahi, and I may now revisit this work to pick up on many of the names and chronologies that I struggled with on my first reading. I do not think this is a book for beginners, although it is easy enough to read, but much would be lost without a basic understanding or a willingness to undertake background study while reading the book. While it took me a long time to read, I am glad I had put it off for so long, otherwise I would have missed a good deal from my lack of background knowledge.

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Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Book Notes: "The Analects" by Confucius

The AnalectsThe Analects by Confucius

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was my first proper reading of Confucius. Again, the ancients set the tone for so many things that followed. Given that Confucius lived during the 6th century BCE, I am not surprised to read familiar words that have somehow crept into modern language but without sufficient acknowledgement of the original source. There are many surprising similarities with Stoicism, and, dare I say, Christianity. While reading the Stoics, I was conscious of the need to avoid the Occidentalist assumptions, hence my choice to read Confucius now. This work has encouraged me to read The Book of Odes, Shi-King to lift the veil of my ignorance in this important area - religion, spirituality, ethics, morals, philosophy, call it what you will. It is regrettable that I do not have enough life remaining to study all the things I wish to learn.

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Sunday, 15 January 2017

Book Notes: "Letters from a Stoic" by Seneca

Letters from a StoicLetters from a Stoic by Seneca

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Letters is regarded as one of the three key Stoic works, along with Marcus Aurelius' Meditations and Epictetus' Discourses. My initial thoughts were that Seneca's letters provided gems of genius amid banal everyday topics. Indeed, one critic compared Seneca's style with a boar taking a whiz (provided in the detailed notes to the letters). But the moments of genius continue to resonate as if Seneca showed me, empirically, a primal instinct. There is so much of the source of contemporary social norms in this work. I am often surprised how modern complaints were "old hat" even in the time of the classics. For example, Seneca despises those who follow the crowd and let the majority following determine right and wrong. Further, he complains about the modern conveniences and how people suffer from what we might today term "affluenza". Maybe this does not bode well for the present state of affairs. I have learnt a great deal from this book, as I did with Meditations, and I am eager to delve into Discourses.

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Friday, 13 January 2017

Book Notes: "History of the Peloponnesian War" by Thucydides

History of the Peloponnesian WarHistory of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This work is a proper classic, therefore it is difficult to "review" it. This is my first cover-to-cover reading and I must say that putting the "speeches of democracy" into context is helpful. I have read Pericles "Funeral Oration" so many times, but it takes on such an insignificant role in the long history of Thucydides' incomplete work. We are lucky to have such a document survive, yet I was surprised by the lack of studies in English of the text and its context. For such an important document, I assumed that the scholarly work would have been done to death. At times, the History reads like an adventure novel, and often I found myself turning pages eagerly to discover what happened next. Nowadays, I try to read classics cover-to-cover because I, like many, have never devoted proper time to do so, but the effort is most rewarding.

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Thursday, 12 January 2017

Book Notes: "The Warrior Ethos" by Steven Pressfield

The Warrior EthosThe Warrior Ethos by Steven Pressfield

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have a firm view that the only way to end war is for people to refuse to go war. It really is that simple. In the present, I often wonder whose nation is being secured through "national security". It tends to relate to a particular categorisation of humans that distinguishes one from the "other". I have firm views about global trade, institutional frameworks, and so on, that transcend the tribal. When reading this work, I could not help but think that the "ethos" discussed was Orientalist at its core. The sense of awe directed towards the Spartan way of life denies that the Spartans brought about their own demise, and indeed, ended the grandeur of Ancient Greece. The idea that dominant cultures are somehow "right" and everything and everyone else suffers while "to the victor go the spoils", denies Sun Tzu's realist understanding of conflict and its aftermath. The final section deals with inner wars, and I found this most useful. But I could not help but think that the ideas of courage put forth here are a significant portions of the Tsar's cake: "we rule you, we fool you, we shoot at you". That is not to say that a warrior ethos did not exist, but I think the simplicity of the warrior ethos today assumes a monocultural entity defending itself from an attacker. Such simple conceptions of morality are so far in the past that the notion of a warrior ethos, beyond the internal wars that individuals must fight each day, is, in effect, a shirking of one's responsibilities as a citizen of humanity. If this view is naive, then what is it to simply do one's duty unquestioningly? Hannah Arendt supplies many of the answers to such a question. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to be regarded as "courageous" for holding such individual principles. Until, of course, we are found wanting for not having stood up to tyranny. Pressfield mentions Jung's "collective consciousness" and other ideas that counter the romantic view of the warrior ethos, but I was disappointed that the connection between Ancient Greece and the present whitewashes a good deal of history. Pressfield mentions that such ideas are anachronistic, but this is mentioned in passing, and barely scratches the surface. Reading this has sparked more questions than answers and therein, I think, lies its value.

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Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Book Notes: "Turning Pro" by Steven Pressfield

Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life's WorkTurning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life's Work by Steven Pressfield

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the third in Pressfield's "success manual" genre I have read. As with The War of Art and Do the Work, I have gained much from reading this book, in particular, ideas around space, time, practice, and working for the sake of the work. Pressfield says that turning pro means that your life becomes much simpler. This makes a good deal of sense. But I wonder if somebody younger reading this could bring themselves to their senses? I don't think I could have understood if I were younger. Pressfield appears to have been in his thirties when it started coming together. But that is what I like about this series and Pressfield's work. His is about the work. He is not a silver-tail who had mum and dad to support his little sojourns of self-exploration to allow his inner gifts to burst upon the world. He had to do the work. But if he did it, that means we can do it too. I suppose this is what he meant by the conclusion. I found it rather abrupt, like he had lost his train of thought. But of course, I will reserve my opinion on this until I have finished The Warrior Ethos. As an aside, I have been getting some good work done since finishing Do the Work, and, along with The War of Art, this set of three books has provided the kick in the pants I needed.

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Sunday, 8 January 2017

Book Notes: "Reach for the Sky" by Paul Brickhill

Reach For The Sky: Story Of Douglas Bader, Dso, DfcReach For The Sky: Story Of Douglas Bader, Dso, Dfc by Paul Brickhill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Each time I read this book I am overwhelmed by the Boy's Own enthusiasm that pervaded my early youth. But this reading was different. I picked up on numerous philosophical perspectives resembling Stoicism, confirmed by the quote from Hamlet at the end of the work: "there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so". There is so much of the history of the Battle of Britain that I did not know at the time of my earlier readings. With a better understanding of Leigh-Mallory's "big wing" theory, and Bader's part in it, made very interesting reading. Not that all agree with either the success of the theory or indeed the truthfulness of its successes in practice (see Tom Neil's comments here. Regardless, Bader's story is written in captivating style by Brickhall and still manages to excite this poor, brain-washed Colonial time and again.

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Thursday, 5 January 2017

Book Notes: "General and Social Letter Writing" by Andrew George Elliot

General And Social Letter WritingGeneral And Social Letter Writing by Andrew George Elliot

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This work was a quaint historical oddity, dating to the early 1950s. I recall learning the fascinating rules and etiquette of letter writing in the 1970s and early 1980s, from the days of the address slanting from top left to bottom right, and new paragraphs indented under the first end point of the previous paragraph. Then came golf ball typewriters and later word processors, and the formatting was all left aligned for speed of communication. Letter writing is a lost art, and although there was little in this book I was not taught previously, it does remind me of a time when communicating in writing was an act of good grooming. It is regrettable that email and more recently social media-speak has deteriorated written communication to an ego-driven demonstration of bad manners and laziness. Reading Elliot's guide to the art of the simple, meditative function of letter writing was a peaceful activity. I am glad to have read it, and I immediately put it to good use by pursuing one of my favourite hobbies (letter writing) and wrote to my dear mother.

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Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Book Notes: "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative BattlesThe War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've had this book on the shelf for nearly three years but decided to read it after reading Do the Work. I have been procrastinating by reading about ways to stop procrastinating, but since starting this book, I am now 6,000 words down and off and running. TO keep the momentum going, I have Turning Pro on the way, too. Usually when I read modern self-help books, the authors are either overtly atheist or overtly Christian. Each to his own, and while it is always possible to absorb some insights or (at least be exposed to) wisdom from books, I find it difficult to identify with the author when their approaches differ markedly from mine. Not so with Pressfield. There was one part where I felt like I had bought the same book twice (many parts of Do the Work are more or less replicated here, but the overall experience was quite different. As a handy reference to flick to for inspiration when stuck, the Tom Peters-esque format suits this function well. It is interesting how, once you name something (Resistance), and label it as the enemy, one's subconscious takes over the battle. I find my subconscious rising up with words such as "That's Resistance, that's the enemy. Do the work!" And my obsessive compulsiveness is having a field day. Whenever I go to leave something (the washing up, putting something in the drier, changing the chook's water, you name it - oh, better change the chook's water straight after this), my subconscious says "Do it now!" Of course, when I wake tomorrow, I will have to go to war again, but Pressfield has made available to me Somerset Maugham's approach: "I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp". Better change the chook's water now.

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Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Book Notes: "The Art of Manliness - Manvotionals" by Brett McKay

The Art of Manliness – ManvotionalsThe Art of Manliness – Manvotionals by Brett McKay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This work is an anthology from the team at The Art of Manliness, with the content organised around seven 'manly' virtues. Manliness in this case is defined by its opposite - childishness - and I would be lying if I were to say I had not learnt a great deal through the Art of Manliness website. Many of the excerpts were familiar, while others were real gems unearthed from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At times, the identification of virtuousness with nationalism had me cringing and I could hear "We rule you, we fool you, we shoot at you" echoing in my subconscious. Then, without warning, Thoreau or Emerson would rescue me and I could take the best while leaving the rest of the conservative where it belongs. The book itself is well-presented in textured paper, with superb artwork and an interesting cover. The seven virtues work well as the organising principle of the book and many of the excerpts have given me glimpses of other works that I will read in full. This is an inspiring and entertaining read, and a good starting point for my reading journey for 2017.

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Friday, 30 December 2016

Book Notes: "Do the Work" by Steven Pressfield

Do the WorkDo the Work by Steven Pressfield

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a professional procrastinator, this short book will come in handy. It is a very quick read but it will be useful to give myself a kick-start every time I am stuck. There are a number of examples I recognise from my other reading (such as Stephen King and The New Yorker) and I squirmed as I read Pressfield's confessions of everything I feel but would die of shame if I spoke about. Pressfield's Gates of Fire is a good work so I trusted this book. I intend to read Turning Pro and The War of Art soon. I am experiencing a number of consistent themes, all relating to Stoicism, and Do the Work appears to apply some of these principles to the act of writing. Pressfield suggests that one should trust one's instinct, so after I finish my immersion in Stoicism, some critical reflection may be useful. I am worried about group think, but it is no excuse for not "doing the work".

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Sunday, 25 December 2016

Book Notes: "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu

The Art of WarThe Art of War by Sun Tzu

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have read this several times in a variety of translations. This version is formatted like a poem and is a quick read. Interesting that Sun Tzu echoes many of the issues raised by Thucydides. I remember an Instructor Gunnery during my Regimental Officers Basic Course, a captain from the United States artillery, beginning every lesson with: "Sun Tzu says...". And, "If a 155 round lands on a tank, the tank is toast". So much in such a short book and it was quite possibly written before Thucydides was born.

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Saturday, 24 December 2016

Book Notes: "Poetics" by Aristotle

PoeticsPoetics by Aristotle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Every piece has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Sounds so simple. We teach students that every essay has an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. But here it is being written for the first time. Art imitates life. Much of this work sounds cliched, but it is the original!

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Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Book Notes: "Enchiridion" by Epictetus

EnchiridionEnchiridion by Epictetus

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Enchiridion reads like the Proverbs and the Hadith. I am finding much in Stoicism that aligns with many of my own ideas. I am not sure whether this is from aspects of training and education that were implicitly Stoic or not. Indeed, I cannot recall any explicitly Stoic teachings in my formal education. Long's translations are interesting and draw upon previous translations. The notes are helpful, especially where all translators are unable to comprehend the precise meaning of certain of Epictetus's [reading Stephen King converted me to the s's rather than the s' plural] "fragments". This is a quick read, and worth further reflection.

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Saturday, 17 December 2016

Book Notes: "The Right of Revolution" by Truman Nelson

The Right of RevolutionThe Right of Revolution by Thomas Truman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Truman Nelson's work is relatively obscure today, but his belief in the right of revolution burns in the pages of this book. Written following the Newark riots, Nelson challenges the status quo by drawing on the Constitution's 'Right of Revolution' and the Fourteenth Amendment to justify armed action in response to inequality based on race. Reading this was timely, as I will soon read John Locke's Second Treatise on Government which was drawn upon in the framing of the Constitution. Nelson refers back to the American Revolution and the Civil War, arguing that civil rights for African Americans were paid little more than lip-service. The glacial pace of actualised civil rights meant that revolution was the only way to make these rights real. What is interesting is the historical 'process' of civil rights, with one step forward, two steps backward appearing again and again throughout history. When applied to the problems of today, it is clear that we are currently in the 'two steps backwards' phase. Nelson makes the story of republican liberal democracy come to life, and challenges the conservative republicanism that is all-pervasive in present times. That Nelson considered revolution to be the stuff of republican liberal democracy is obvious, but it is now a myth of antiquity, long lost in the fifty-odd years since his writing. This work makes me think that we are entering the final phase of the end of empire.

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Friday, 16 December 2016

Book Notes: "The Book of Hadith" translated by Charles Le Gai Eaton

The Book of Hadith: Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad from the Mishkat Al MasabihThe Book of Hadith: Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad from the Mishkat Al Masabih by Charles Le Gai Eaton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Like all religious works, there is much debate over what should and should not be in the text. This work includes translations and the original Arabic text, and is well-regarded. I took copious notes from the Book of Hadith, but these resonate most:
- "If anyone travels a path in search of knowledge, God will conduct him through one of the paths of Paradise" (p. 11).
- "Be in the world as though you were a stranger or a passing traveler" (p. 41).
- "Do not curse time, for God is time!" (p. 100).
- "Beware of envy! Envy devours good deeds just as fire devours firewood" (p. 112).
- "A person keeps saying 'Mine, mine!' But what is theirs but three things? What he's eaten and consumed, what he's worn and worn out, what he's given and that is what endures. Everything else is fleeting and must be given up eventually to others" (p. 117).
A real eye-opener. As the sheikh in Amman said to me "You must read widely, and read for yourself. Do not believe what others tell you, listen only to God".

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Book Notes: "The Power of Positive Thinking" by Norman Vincent Peale

The Power Of Positive ThinkingThe Power Of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is essentially a work for Christians. But here is what I gleaned from it:
- "Prayerise, picturise, actualise" (pp. 63-5).
- "Do you ever 'fume' or 'fret'?" (p. 96).
                              - "Self-knowledge is the beginning of self-correction" (p. 241).
                              - "easy power" and "correlated power" (p. 243).

Peale mentions dozens of famous people, including Marcus Aurelius and Edison, and endless examples of faith and positive thinking based on his own experience. His argument is that faith is scientific, and will be proven so. The work reflects many of the conversations I have had with Christian psychologists. It is difficult to be pessimistic when surrounded by such optimism. In the words of my late great-grandmother, "Think positive. Always think positive".

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Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Book Notes: "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft" by Stephen King

On Writing: A Memoir of the CraftOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On Writing is a page-turner. Once I was in to it, I couldn't put it down. I recall a few Stephen King stories, but I have only ever seen the movie versions. Many of these I have not liked, especially the B-grade versions. Yet most of his stories are familiar, and many of the movies I have enjoyed were Stephen King stories - but I didn't know. The book ends quite abruptly, but King's personal story hasn't ended so why should his book? King shares some of his writing and his edits. This is something readers are rarely privy to, unless it is by accident. Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon was my first glimpse into the mind of a genius. King is less the myth and more the real thing. Writing is a job, writing is hard work, writing is a story unto itself. The process is vivid: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft - 10%; kill your adverbs verily. Booze and drugs are bullshit. These were the key lessons for me. The first two I learnt from Hemingway; the third exposes Hemingway's ability to portray the false and make it believable. Here, King delivers Fitzgerald's On Booze, and Hemingway would not be impressed. Yet it is the lived experience and King's work deserves the jacket-spiel "a one-of-a-kind classic".

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Monday, 12 December 2016

Book Notes: "Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life" by Henry Cloud and John Townsend

Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, to Take Control of Your LifeBoundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I first read this book in the 1990s, at about the same time I read The Joshua Factor. Cloud and Townsend integrate their psychological and theological understandings in a refreshing manner. It is unashamedly Christian in focus, but that need not deter the non-Christian from taking note of the lessons, and adapting the spiritual aspects to their own faith or spirituality. What I like about the book is the applicability of boundary lessons, especially to areas of one's life that are deeply familial and personal. This is the book's strength, and when combined with the psychological foundations and research, the messages are powerful. I am pleased to have re-read this book, and the timing was perfect. The quote I wrote down over and over again while reading this was "Own the problem" (p. 207). And Proverbs 19:3 kept coming back to me: "The foolishness of man twists his way, and his heart frets against the Lord" (NKJV). If the non-Christian reader can identify with the philosophical and spiritual bases drawn upon in the book, there is much wisdom to be gained. A work well worth reading as part of one's end-of-year reflection.

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Wednesday, 7 December 2016

My comments on outdated USO

Book Notes: "Man's Search for Ultimate Meaning" by Viktor Frankl

Man's Search for Ultimate MeaningMan's Search for Ultimate Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have only ever skirted around the fringes of psychology with Lewin, Maslow, Kotter et al., so reading Frankl required some frequent mini-research projects to catch up. Much food for thought, but I thought I was reading Man's Search for Meaning, but this is an updated work that combines a few of his other works. The concept of "existential vacuum" resonates, especially in the context of modern times. If humans are no longer driven by instincts or traditions, we no longer know what we must do or should do. This means humans do not even know what they wish to do. In concluding, Frankl offers his definition of religion, "paralleling" Einstein's and Wittgenstein's. This was very useful, but I find myself in Wittgenstein's camp, and so down the well I go.

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Monday, 5 December 2016

Book Notes: "The Joshua Factor" by Donald Clayton

Joshua FactorJoshua Factor by Donald D. Clayton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a very clever book. I first read this in the 1990s, at about the same time I read Boundaries, which I am re-reading again now. The rich blend of geopolitical, scientific, religious, historical, and philosophical concepts is superb. Well worth a second read but I must admit that when I first read this, I really had little idea about much of its content. If ever I enjoyed a science fiction book, this is my favourite.

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Sunday, 4 December 2016

Book Notes: "The Strenuous Life: Essays and Addresses" by Theodore Roosevelt

The Strenuous Life: Essays and AddressesThe Strenuous Life: Essays and Addresses by Theodore Roosevelt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Roosevelt's speeches read like a great apologia for the Protestant work ethic. I could not help but think that we have failed to capitalise on his progressive zeal. At times, I found Roosevelt's words to be rousing, at others, antiquated in their institutionalised view of women and "others", yet inclusive and accepting of diversity. Nationalism underpins much of Roosevelt's rhetoric, not empty, but nevertheless of his time. There is much wisdom in his ideal of the strenuous life, and much warning of the over-strenuous. I am cautious about the applicability of his lessons to present times, not so much because of his words but because of the way history has played out in spite of them. The ideas of manliness resonate from time to time, but I could not help but feel a distinct "foreignness" in the underpinning idealism. Although Roosevelt has been built into an icon, his words convey a measured tenacity and ability to rise to the occasion in the face of adversity. Herein, for me at least, lies the greatest lesson. If we strip away the legend, and look to the man (as Roosevelt may well have agreed), we can see an ordinary human being who became extraordinary through great effort and an ability to be great despite living with many of the ailments suffered by fellow mortals. If I were to sum up the man? No-nonsense, progressive pragmatism. I suppose what perplexes me is the historical baggage. Much like reading and admiring Hemingway's work, one must constantly forgive the context. Upon finishing the works, the "Whose motorcycle is this?" scene from Pulp Fiction comes to mind.

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Friday, 2 December 2016

Book Notes: "The Light and Fast Organisation: A New Way of Dealing with Uncertainty" by Patrick Hollingworth

The Light and Fast Organisation: A New Way of Dealing with UncertaintyThe Light and Fast Organisation: A New Way of Dealing with Uncertainty by Patrick Hollingworth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Patrick Hollingworth signed my copy of this book after his presentation at the NSW Taxi Council Annual Conference. In his presentation, he mentioned the old-style website where the developers controlled everything, changes took months, and results were professional but poorly-timed and laborious. This resonated with me so I decided to give the book a go. While reading it, I was disappointed by the journalistic-style short paragraphs, use of contractions, rather shallow references to other work I was mostly familiar with, and I had to become comfortable with the TED-style approach (I am not a fan of TED talks). But his approach to understanding the contemporary world fits with how I try to think and act, and it was only as I entered the second half of the book that I began reflecting and learning, taking notes, ordering other books, and began to see how my other reading fits in with Hollingworth's theme. In particular, the concept of antifragility, gleaned from my regular reading of The Art of Manliness, struck a chord. One area that I am grappling with is the concept of the anti-alpha. I have been alpha for so long it is second nature, but my MBTI scales have slowly centred from extreme ENTJ to now flicking between INTJ and ENTJ depending on my mood. I once scored ISTJ when I was particularly tired. So maybe there is hope for me yet. This book has set me off on further reading, but it parallels many of the concepts i have been teaching in my undergraduate leadership course, which I have changed significantly based on Clawson's ideas about Level Three Leadership. I read this while conducting my annual reflection on the year past, and it was quite timely. Truth be told, I focused on this as a quick way to reduce the number of books that I have half-finished so that I can clear the decks for a more focused reading schedule in the new year. Nevertheless, I gained much from Hollingworth's approach, and having heard him speak, and observed the audience's reaction to his approach, to borrow from Ryan Holiday, only my ego can get in the way of what I can get out of this work. A very timely read, and while my own ideas about good work cloud so much of what I read, it is clear that Hollingworth does his fair share of reading, and I daresay the influence of his wife (who was completing a PhD while the book was begin written) kept the work honest, and therefore a worthwhile addition to the literature on leadership and change in uncertain times.

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Speech at the Breadalbane History Meeting

Some of the Participants at the Inaugural Meeting of the Breadalbane History Group

About twenty people from the Breadalbane community met at the Breadalbane Hall on Sunday 27th November to share photographs and stories of the history of the region. I was invited to give a talk on the importance of local history. My talk was rather personal, but I thought this was important because the group hope to interview some of the residents of the area, and, having an interest in local and family history, I thought it important to outline some of the issues that one usually encounters when delving into the past. I have added the transcript from my talk here. It is rather personal at times, but so be it!

The Importance of Local History in Australia

Dr Michael de Percy

Good afternoon. I am pleased to have this opportunity to address you here today and I thank you for the invitation. I would like to acknowledge that, according to the traditional owner’s map from the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, this meeting is being held on the traditional lands of the Gundungurra people, which intersects with the traditional lands of the Ngunnawal and Wiradjuri peoples, and I would like to pay my respect to elders both past and present. I will explain a little later why doing so is important to me, and I will do my best to put this in the context of this meeting here today. But let me start with my interest in history.
Paul Ings and Terry Hannan with their old photographs

In my political science research, I am particularly interested in how decisions made in the past help or hinder the choices we can make in the present. This is obvious in networked infrastructure such as roads. Le Corbusier, writing about architecture in the 1920s, made a point about how the roads in Paris were based on tracks carved by beasts of burden over many centuries.  While there have been changes over time, a good deal of the road network still traverses those same tracks and may continue to do so for some time. The past, once traditions, habits, and patterns become entrenched, can be difficult to change.

In Australia, we have a similar situation with internet access, although it is often difficult to convince others how decisions made at the time of the telegraph continue to impact upon broadband access today. Many technologists will tell you that the telegraph has nothing to do with broadband, but the interpretation of the wording of section 51(v) of the Australian Constitution, which gives the Commonwealth powers for “telegraphic, telephonic and other like services”, and the way these powers are put into practice, explains why your local councillor cannot help you with your internet connection or speed up the delivery of the NBN. In countries such as Canada, different approaches to deploying the telegraph have resulted in a much stronger role for municipal governments in enabling broadband. 

This is all history, and while it may not mean much today in the context of the NBN, pretending that the decisions made in the past have not influenced the way we do business in the present is little more than denying the impact of history. And so it is with local history, and I would like to talk to you today about how local history can play an important role in not only understanding where we came from, but where we could go in the future if only today’s choices were better informed. Drawing on Karl Marx, Bogdanov suggested that “the dead lay hold of the living”, and in many ways, our present is lived in the very future established by generations past. Understanding history, then, is to me something quite necessary. And in Australia, where the history of European settlement has been rather short, we still have a lot of work to do.

I would like to start by talking about family history, and then move to the importance of local history, particularly in this region. Why family history? Well, to me, local and family history are often linked. I am sure for any of you who have already delved into the history of this region, you will be familiar with the names of the families that bring that local history to life. Indeed, I suspect that many of you here today will be members of those same families. But like all families, there are many myths that become legend that eventually become accepted family facts. It is not unusual for people to use these accepted facts as key pillars of their identity. In my own family history research, I remember the first fact was that my paternal great-grandfather had been a member of the light horse, had served at Gallipoli, and had won some sort of medal for bravery during the Great War. The truth was that he joined the 33rd Infantry Battalion and went to France in 1916, and was subsequently gassed twice. He was charged with being absent without leave a few times, but he never did receive a bravery medal. But the truth didn’t mean he wasn’t a hero. He volunteered again in the Second World War – I believe he lied about his age. His second time in the infantry didn’t last long – he appears to have become a sapper and worked building roads. Very different from the family legend, to be sure, but fascinating nonetheless. There are many more family legends that I have “myth-busted”, and I will share one more of these with you.

I was fortunate enough to have met each of my great-grandmothers. My maternal great-grandmother told us how she was Cherokee Indian. The family believed this for more than two decades. We were also told that there were no convicts in our family – none at all. But just recently I discovered that my great grandmother was born on Walhallow Mission. Not only was her great grandmother an Aboriginal woman, but her great grandfather was a convict. Her own father appears to have been an Aboriginal man, too. If I were to believe the historical trail she left behind in her marriage certificates and her own mother’s death certificate, she had two different European fathers. There was also a view that my maternal grandmother’s family were Irish ne’er do wells, but I have been able to trace her father’s family back to the 1500s in Kent, England. So I have busted many myths, but the truth has always been more fascinating than the family legends. But I do not recommend this approach if you have created your own identity based on family legends! But the truth is there are many stories like these waiting to be discovered.

Now to local history. But allow me to digress. It wasn’t until 2006 that I first travelled overseas. Since that time, I have visited the old Quebec City and the Maritimes in Canada, the ancient ruins at Palmyra, Syria (well before the current war), the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the site of the Great Library of Alexandria, the fascinating ancient city of Petra carved out of the mountains in the deserts of Jordan, made famous by the scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the Baptism Site on the Jordan River, the great old city of Jerusalem, the ancient burial crypts of Bahrain, the Buddhists monuments in Thailand, ancient pagodas in China, the ruins of St Pauls in Macau, the tenements of Glasgow, and many of  the famous historical sites of London and Paris. And then recently, I moved to Gunning, NSW, population 500.

I first visited Gunning last year. I had seen the signs, but had never driven beyond Gundaroo. While conducting research for a radio show I presented on the words of Henry Lawson set to music, I stumbled upon Max Cullen’s autobiography. At the end of the book, Max states proudly that he lives in the old Coronation Theatre in Gunning. I asked my wife if we had ever been to Gunning – we hadn’t – and that afternoon I made an offer on the house we now live in. It is a federation house built by the Caldwell brothers for Samuel Bush in 1926. My great-grandmother owned a federation house in Haberfield, and I have always wanted to live in one and now I do.

Between the time of the offer until the settlement date 3 months later, I discovered that the original owner of the block of land was a journalist who bought it in the first town lot release in 1875. By the 1890s, he was bankrupt and the land changed hands several times until purchased by the Bushes. In 1949, Samuel Bush gave the house to his son as a wedding present. I believe they lived in that house until the 1990s, and I am pleased to say that after numerous transactions, it is now in good hands. But I couldn’t stop there. I have been fascinated with the village of Gunning. Every building has its own story to tell. My favourite piece is a story by a journalist written in 1878. He walked from Meadow Creek up to the Public School on Yass Street, crossed the road and walked back down the other side, describing every building along the way. Many of those same buildings are still there now. It is not unusual to become addicted to such a quest for historical knowledge, and it is one of the few healthy addictions!

In June this year, I ran two workshops on using Trove, the National Archives, and the Australian War Memorial records for family and local history research. Both workshops were fully booked out and the team at Trove and ABC 666 in Canberra were interested in what we were doing at a local level. Participants were encouraged to bring along their own research projects, and after a brief introductory session on the database, I shared some of my tips and tricks.

Each participant found something interesting and relevant to their research projects. One was able to confirm a family legend about a relative who had performed at the Sydney Opera House, others were able to learn about the history of their house or about family members who had served in the military.

Some of the tips and tricks I shared included to notice the typing conventions of particular periods and to recognise repeated patterns in the transcription errors. For example, when looking for street names, it was once common for newspapers to hyphenate the street name. Yass Street then becomes Yass-street. If you use quotations marks and search for "Yass-street", then it excludes the many articles that relate to Yass the town, rather than Gunning’s main street. Even simple tips like using a minus sign to exclude certain words can improve the search results. More tips can be found in Trove's Help system.

After a while, I was able to recognise standard errors in the transcription. For example, Saxby-street often appeared as Samby-street. By searching for the error, I found most of the missing links in my project. And each time I found an error, I corrected the text so that future researchers will have an easier time searching.

One of Trove’s important functions is the ability to fix transcription errors. If there is a particular topic or region of interest, a committed group of researchers can improve access to the historical records by enabling better search results. It can also be useful to have shared lists on particular topics. 

As a result of the workshop, local history research has improved as the accuracy of the transcriptions of local articles has increased and searching Trove has become much easier.

The most recent workshop held at Gunning Library focused on Australian military service records using Trove in conjunction with the online collections from the National Archives of Australia and the Australian War Memorial. We are hoping to make further exciting discoveries about the town that will eventually feed in to planned walking tours of the village.

Trove provides rural and regional communities with access to all sorts of digitised information held in collecting institutions around the country, including maps, photographs and music. Trove’s advantage is that it provides information that you would otherwise have to travel to to find. Indeed, Trove overcomes the barriers of distance and many local libraries provide internet access so you can search Trove and its many treasures. But as I said - be careful – it can be highly addictive!

And what I have realised is that while we do not have the Great Pyramids, or ancient Greek and Roman ruins, in this fair land we have everyday stories that together form a rich tapestry of a nation forged out of the antipodes, and many of those stories are just waiting to be told. I recently read Robert Macklin’s book about Hamilton Hume, and, while somewhat starry-eyed in its patriotism, I couldn’t help but feel that Hume’s story is part of my own. Hume was a native born “currency lad” while his historical companion, William Hovell (as we were taught at school - but I am reliably informed that the name should be pronounced “Hove-ell”) – was a “sterling” or English-born. Hove-ell attempted to claim most of the glory for Hume’s bushmanship and navigation skills but was later found out. Charles Sturt, although another “sterling”, had a good deal of respect for Hume’s abilities and did all he could to ensure that Hume received the recognition he deserved. Nevertheless, the “Hume River” is now known as the “Murray River” because Sturt, fascinated by the prospect of finding an inland sea, thought he had discovered another river. Macklin suggests that Sturt may well have regretted this transgression. 

But as we know, Hume’s name has been recognised in the name of the highway nearby that traverses much of the original track established by the famous explorer. And while I have no wish to put down Hove-ell, Hume’s importance to this region and the legends of his abilities to negotiate with and befriend the Indigenous peoples, his expert bushcraft, navigation skills and so on, all contributed to the folklore of the Australian bushman, a theme later captured by the official historian of the Great War and founder of the Australian War Memorial, Charles Bean, in developing the now celebrated legend of ANZAC. 

So legends, myths, myth-busting, stories of the past and their influence on the present – all of these things are part of our local history, often intersecting with the history of our own families and, en masse, forming the rich tapestry of our national culture and identity. Which brings me to the purpose of this meeting today.

Often, when I discuss local and family history stories with older members of the family and community, it is apparent that much of the knowledge of the 19th and early 20th centuries, if not already lost, is no longer part of our living memories. You may never know if you are of Aboriginal heritage if, like me, your ancestors had no birth certificate and stories were devised to hide that fact. Legends may also hide your convict heritage or, indeed, your ancestors may never have been at Gallipoli. Such things are part of living. But what of our local communities? Is Breadalbane and the pioneers who forged a community here, the coach services, the railway station, the Aboriginal peoples who once walked this land, Thomas Byrnes who may or may not have been a bushranger, the battle between troopers and Ben Hall’s gang nearby, all to be relegated to the dustbin of history because we did nothing about it?

Paul Kelly once wrote that Australia suffers a “settlement” mentality where we rely on the government to provide our every need, and it is unfortunate that the funding of our national cultural institutions is steadily being eroded. But our local communities are now more important than ever, particularly in the regions. And in re-building, re-creating, or re-imagining these communities, whether socially, economically, or spiritually, I believe it is important to begin at the beginning. To begin with history. 

But that history begins with you. On the website “Aussie Towns”, under the heading “Useful websites about Breadalbane”, it reads: “There are no websites with information about Breadalbane”. Yet the National Library’s Trove database provides information about a number of interesting things about the region, including:
  • Iron, gold, and copper mines were worked nearby;
  • There were numerous engagements between troopers and the bushrangers Gilbert, Hall, and Dunn here
  • This land is known traditionally as “Mutmutbilly”
  • The centenary holidays in 1888 were “very quiet” here
  • A photograph of the honour roll from the Second World War
  • A photograph of the highway in 1938
  • A photograph of the centenary plaque at the school from 1968

I am certain there are many more stories hidden in Trove, but even more so in your personal collections. And photographs from the past are rare, especially those that are digitised and freely available to others.

There are of course some issues with family history. One of my great-grandmothers refused to tell us who her father was. One of our well-regarded ancestors was a Salvation Army officer who mysteriously “disappeared” after the Great War. His medical record reveals that he spent a very long time recovering from a particular disease in Paris, and then married a nurse in England and moved to Canada, never to return to his native land. There are appropriate reasons that historical records are not often available to the public until well after our ancestors are but distant memories. But this does not help us to understand where we came from, how our values, assumptions, beliefs and expectations were forged by generational experience, or what our ancestors looked like.

Fortunately, technology is providing us with greater access to our knowledge of the past than ever before. But it is a truism that technology can only produce what we put in to it – the basics still apply. Therefore, I encourage you to support this local initiative to capture the history of this village. There are many benefits to doing so, be they social, economic, or spiritual.

But more than that, while the cultural cringe that has plagued Australia since European settlement is far from dead, there is a rich history in this region just waiting to be discovered. And although I have been fortunate enough to see the Great Pyramid, the last surviving Ancient Wonder of the World, to see a version of the Temple of Artemis at Jerash in Jordan, to walk on the Mount of Olives, to touch the walls of the old fort at Quebec and to stand on the walls of Saladin’s Qalat Ajloun (or Ajloun Castle), to enter centuries-old Chinese pagodas and to see some of the ancient wonders at Palmyra in Syria that are now no doubt lost to us forever, there is a rich history right here in our own back yard waiting to be discovered. From the history of the Indigenous peoples dating back some 800 centuries before “ancient” times to the end of the railway station here in 1974, there is much to record, and much to be lost if we do not act soon.

I wish you well in establishing this group, in recording your individual and collective histories, and I commend to you the Gunning and District Historical Society as a vehicle to help you on this journey. Thank you and good luck.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Book Notes: "Come in Spinner" by Dymphna Cusack

Come in SpinnerCome in Spinner by Dymphna Cusack

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a wonderful piece of Australian literature. It captures the lived experience of Sydney and the "American Occupation" during the Second World War, bringing to life the social history I studied in one of Joan Beaumont's classes at Deakin University. I am rediscovering Australian literature that for some reason is hidden behind the cultural cringe. This 1953 version of the work is apparently heavily abridged, and a later version edited from the original manuscript includes the parts about rape, prostitution, and abortion that were not allowed to be published when first released in 1951. I enjoy discovering great literature at bric-a-brac stores, but it really makes we wonder how such gems escape the Australian education system. The tales of tragedy, glamour, despair, and comeuppance, following the lives of a handful of young women in 1940s Sydney, expose a reality that was well-hidden by my great-grandparents and their facade of morality. Maybe this is why the work has not had its proper place in Australian literature, despite a television series based on the book that seems to have also disappeared into history.

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Friday, 25 November 2016

Book Notes: "A Pocket Philosophical Dictionary" by Voltaire

A Pocket Philosophical DictionaryA Pocket Philosophical Dictionary by Voltaire

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reading Voltaire's "combative" rise against religion, dogma and superstition is unusual in that, at times, it is hard to tell whether he is being satirical or serious. That he was an historian is obvious. That he was well-travelled even more so. What strikes me is his knowledge of the world, put to good use in Candide, and taken to another level in the Dictionary. The notes and appendix are helpful to place Voltaire in historical context. An interesting quote from the article "Toleration" resonates today: "if there are two religions in your country they will be at each other's throats; if you have thirty they will live in peace". This comes from his work Letters Concerning the English Nation and is a precursor to recent ideas about free trade "where commerce levels the differences between cultures and so brings men (sic) together". At least the was the theory before the "post-truth" world.

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Saturday, 5 November 2016

Book Notes: "Hamilton Hume: Our Greatest Explorer" by Robert Macklin

Hamilton Hume: Our Greatest ExplorerHamilton Hume: Our Greatest Explorer by Robert Macklin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an engaging, patriotic read. Macklin's style is scholarly yet populist, and draws on an earlier, unpublished work by his father-in-law, Robert Webster. The work includes photographs from the Cooma Cottage at Yass. Hume's story is interwoven with the history of colonial Australia and stories of the British "sterling" class who are now more familiar as place names. I enjoyed the style and I must say I was gripped by the story. I am undecided whether the poetic embellishments reduce the scholarly usefulness of the work, but the story certainly rouses a native-born Australian's regard for Hume the man, and his ultimate victory over the vainglorious Hovell and his claims over Hume's achievements. The backstory of Hume's friend, the famous explorer Charles Sturt, not to mention many of the famous early explorers, are revived in this work and go a long way to filling in the gaps provided by a nationalistic 1970s primary school education that appears now to be passé. My thoughts keep going back to Macklin's writing style, and that his father-in-law's work could not find a commercial publisher. As a reader, I appreciate Macklin's style, but it makes we wonder how much scholarly compromise is made when adapting such work for a popular audience. This is not a criticism of Macklin's style, but rather a recurring reflection for my own practice. While I am interested in Australian history and can enjoy reading scholarly historical accounts, I cannot help but wonder what has been lost in a retelling that results in a gripping yarn about an important but otherwise under-appreciated Australian explorer and bushman. At the same time, I wonder whether the story would have resurfaced had it not been written in such a style. I daresay one must simply choose and suffer the judgements of one's audience accordingly.

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Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Gold Coast City Council's decision to invest $3.6m in fibre network makes sense...


Spokespeople from GOLDOC, the Games organising committee, and NBN have "golf clapped" the decision but NBN Co could not commit to delivering its fibre in time for the Games.

I spoke with ABC Radio Gold Coast's "Drive" presenter Matt Webber this afternoon about the Council's decision.

The budget for the Commonwealth Games tops $2bn, with the Queensland Government paying the lion's share at $1.5bn. The Gold Coast City Council is contributing $155m, with the Commonwealth funding the rest.

The Gold Coast Bulletin claims that:
ratepayers will fork out almost $4 million to bring high-speed internet to a section of the city – a job the National Broadband Network should have done – but most will not benefit from it.
While the investment will be funded by ratepayers, and it seems absurd that NBN Co was not in on the deal to ensure the economic benefits of the Games could be adequately captured, the Council's move is not out of step with other countries. 

For example, it is quite common for municipal governments in Canada to come to the party when the benefits of high-speed internet are obvious. But Australia's constitution hampers the ability of local councils to get involved in telecommunications infrastructure.

I have long argued that the NBN model was destined to become a political football, and central control would lead to sporadic failure of the approach. The inability of NBN to support the Commonwealth Games provides yet more evidence of the problem with central control.

Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate is to be applauded for his political courage. The risk that internet services will embarrass the City during the Games should be worth the relatively small investment. 

But local council broadband plans do not generally go well for councils, as indicated by the Macquarie-Hastings Council's attempt to deploy its own network back in 2006. 

But ratepayer's may not be happy, even though the potential economic benefits flowing from services such as free WiFi along the light rail route should be obvious, especially in one of our major tourist destinations.

When I think back to Brisbane's transport infrastructure pre- and post-Expo '88, the city transformed itself and the updated infrastructure provided a much-needed injection into the economic life of the Brisbane that continued for years after Expo was but a memory.

The potential benefits from the Commonwealth Games should do the same for the Gold Coast.

Given NBN's poor record at delivering high-speed broadband, I hope that the Gold Coast's approach is successful and might be taken up by other local councils to shake up Australia's approach to telecommunications infrastructure. At least at the local level, the politics of infrastructure is dealt with within the geographical area where it is needed.

NBN Co is rightly tight-lipped in responding to criticism. It has a job to do, set by the federal government, and that doesn't include deploying the network to service the Gold Coast or the Commonwealth Games.

What the situation does indicate is the failings of the overall National Broadband Network approach. The model is cumbersome, slow, bureaucratic, and fraught with politics.

I daresay that after the fact, $3.6m would be a paltry sum to recover the Gold Coast's reputation if nothing had been done. Whether the Gold Coast Council can bear the impact from ratepayers used to the Commonwealth paying for telecommunications infrastructure might just be a bridge too far. But I hope not.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Book Notes: "Surrealism" edited by Patrick Waldberg

SurrealismSurrealism by Patrick Waldberg

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

At first I thought this book was an old high school art text. But after a while, it was obvious that the book is a collection of original works by Ernst, Dali, and in particular, Andre Breton, written for a number of surrealist magazines over several decades. The references to Rimbaud made me think of Bob Dylan, and the fascination with Freud, Hegel, Feuerbach, Marx and Engels, and many other great thinkers threw me. The development of surrealism from the early 1920s well into the 1960s was also a surprising discovery. The fascination with automatic writing makes me wonder to what extent Jack Kerouac was influenced by surrealism. There are many colour and black and white photos of the artists and their work, and the notes and biographical details are helpfully comprehensive. I must admit that I knew little of surrealism beyond Dali, and it is interesting for a movement that, to some extent, was a revolution against academe, was so very much academic despite its reputation.

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Saturday, 22 October 2016

Book Notes: "The Subjection of Women" by John Stuart Mill

The Subjection of WomenThe Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If it were not for archaic words such as "burthen" (burden) and "rainment (clothing)"; the necessity to counteract arguments from phrenology; and the use of the figurative "Mrs Grundy" (an archaic Mrs Bucket); one might be reading a contemporary argument for diversity and greater opportunities for women. Mill exerts his authority by challenging then-dominant ideas (such as phrenology and assumptions about biology then-untested) and then reconciles this absurdity for the modern reader by suggesting that while such things are unknown, and he has little time for these, he can still argue away their objections to his central thesis. Mill was far ahead of his time and his arguments took some time to materialise in universal suffrage and equality of opportunity for women, but the central message, then radical, is now part of political discourse. I intend to focus on James Fitzjames Stephen now to see how Stephen deals with Mill's authoritative works on liberty.

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Friday, 14 October 2016

The Week in Politics with Michelle Grattan

Michelle Grattan on Malcolm Turnbull's trouble with marriage equality

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra and Michael de Percy, University of Canberra

Now that Labor has shot down the government’s proposed plebiscite on same-sex marriage, the issue of marriage equality threatens to haunt Malcolm Turnbull’s prime ministership.

Michelle Grattan tells University of Canberra senior lecturer in political science Michael de Percy that Turnbull is under pressure from Labor and same-sex marriage advocates to allow a free parliamentary vote.

“But the Liberal conservatives are making this really a bottom line issue. They will not tolerate a free vote letting the change to the law go through parliament and it would really blow the party up if Malcolm Turnbull did move to that position,” Grattan says.

“At the moment, the issue just simmers away there and maybe nothing will happen until the next election. Then of course the parties will have to put forward election policies and it’s really pretty untenable for the Liberal Party to go again to a poll with a plebiscite, which has become, although initially popular with the community, more unpopular as time has passed.

"So it’s just one of those real burrs under the saddle for Malcolm Turnbull.”

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra and Michael de Percy, Senior Lecturer in Political Science, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Book Notes: "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie

How to Win Friends and Influence PeopleHow to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It is hard not to like this book. I have read this a few times before and re-read it as I thought I should revisit some of the classics in leadership. I was surprised to find, with the benefit of education, that Carnegie touches upon many of the known leadership theories without ever explicitly stating so- which of course was his aim in making practical skills available to the lay person more or less immediately. I was a little disappointed that this was not the original edition, even though that is what I thought I was purchasing. Some of the examples have been updated and include what appear to be 1950s events and technologies. Not that this takes away from the central purpose of the book, but I do enjoy re-discovering events of the past through such reading. Alas, I will have to search for the first edition some more. But it does prove my point: a good deal of contemporary knowledge is simply re-packaged in more academic language and using more up-to-date examples. Yet the style stems from what Hilkey (1997) refers to as the "Gilded Age", beginning in the 1870s in the United States and developing elsewhere through Arnold Bennett (1911) and then, in my view at least, into the Carnegie format that is still adopted by authors such as Ryan Holiday today. While Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography might qualify, I tend to agree with Hilkey's thesis about the cultural elements of the success manual genre and have found interesting parallels with the philosophical works of J.S. Mill and James Fitzjames Stephen with the rise of the market economy. Still worth a read, still one of the best, but my personal experiences suggest that the leadership theories that have been developed since Carnegie, particular Fiedler's contingency theory and the work of Hersey and Blanchard, bring in the environmental factors that Carnegie's work, like many other works of the time, tend to ignore.

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Friday, 30 September 2016

Researching Australian Military Service Records at the Gunning Library

Participants at the Gunning Library Workshop, Friday 30 September 2016. Photo courtesy of Maree Roche
The Gunning and District Historical Society, in conjunction with the Gunning Library, held its second community workshop on Friday 30 September 2016. The topic was "Researching Australian Military Service Records" facilitated by Gunning resident Dr Michael de Percy from the University of Canberra.

Information and paraphernalia provided by the National Library of Australia's Trove team and also the Research Centre at the Australian War Memorial were welcomed by the participants, many traveling from as far as Ulladulla, Canberra, Mt Pleasant and Breadalbane to visit the village.

Two sessions were held from 10:30am to 12:30pm and from 1:30pm to 3:30pm. Participants enjoyed morning and afternoon tea during the sessions, allowing time for new connections to be made and to share stories and ideas about researching family histories.

The workshop covered the basics of researching the information available from the Australian War Memorial, Trove, the National Archives of Australia, and (which can be accessed for free from the Gunning Library), with some venturing into the births, deaths and marriages websites for NSW and Victoria.

Some of the participants were able to discover digitised war records of various family members. This is much easier for those who served in the Australian Imperial Force in the First World War and the 2nd Australian Imperial Force in the Second World War. But it can be particularly challenging to find information on those who served in the Citizen Military Forces (CMF) or in the Royal Australian Navy.

The Australian Army website provides more information about searching records from various conflicts, and online access to the records from the Royal Australian Navy are still somewhat limited but improving over time.

Some of the participants discovered various records of family members who were Prisoners of War or Indigenous servicemen. Others worked patiently and were rewarded by discovering their family members under slightly different names (for example, one "James" was officially "Jim" in the records), while others were able to find new information such as newspaper articles on Trove about the exploits of their relatives some time after the war.

Some of the more difficult to find records appear on the Australian Government's World War Two Roll website, which is currently being updated to a new website managed by the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

One participant was able to complete an assignment for school based on the service records and was very helpful in assisting other members of the group to grapple with some of the more technical issues that inevitably arise when using technology!

Others will have to request a copy of their relative's records, but were able to register to request this information either for purchase or physical viewing from the National Archives in Canberra.

Overall, participants reported that the event was a success, with many wishing that the sessions were longer. Ideas for future sessions included a session on researching family history and creating a blog for use by individuals and community groups.

The Gunning and District Historical Society plans to run one of these free community sessions each quarter. Details of the next workshop will be advertised in the Lions Club of Gunning Noticeboard, on the Gunning Community Announcements and Events Facebook page, and on this blog.

If you have any other ideas for community workshops using the computers at the Gunning Library, please contact Dr Michael de Percy at:

Book Notes: "Phantom of the Opera" by Gaston Leroux

The Phantom of the OperaThe Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A timeless classic in the Gothic horror genre, rightly compared with Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre-Dame. The afterword mentions an American reviewer's distaste for the opera ghost being merely human, but after seeing many horror movies in recent times where the face of the supernatural being is revealed, I am inclined to prefer the man masquerading as a ghost any time. Apparently Leroux wrote detective novels before this work and the influence is noticeable. The nature of the building and the brilliant descriptions (or more accurately, allusions) to the opera itself recall many a nightmare where one is trapped underground. Leroux had access to the Palais Garnier to research his work and it is obvious in the story. This was an easy and enjoyable read and one I should have completed many years earlier. While I do not usually have a preference for the Gothic genre, this 1910 classic presents a complex mood that, for me, was belied by the images of the phantom singing with Marina Prior that haunted Australian televisions screens throughout the 1990s.

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Friday, 23 September 2016

The Week in Politics with Michelle Grattan

VIDEO: Michelle Grattan on the government's approach to welfare

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra and Michael de Percy, University of Canberra

University of Canberra professorial fellow Michelle Grattan and senior lecturer in political science Michael de Percy discuss the week in politics, including Nationals MP George Christensen going solo, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s announcement of a rise in Australia’s humanitarian refugee intake, Education Minister Simon Birmingham foreshadowing changes to the Gonski schools funding model, and how the government is approaching welfare spending.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra and Michael de Percy, Senior Lecturer in Political Science, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Creative Commons License Except where indicated otherwise, Connecting the Nation by Michael de Percy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Australia License. Based on a work at Background image © @redshinestudio