On not posing as a polymath

03 Jul

Funny thing, this blogging. Dear Kevin in Colorado Springs got pissed off with me last week.

Ninglun, whatever your beliefs, DO NOT TURN OFF COMMENTS when they get hard to handle. There is little doubt that we agree on almost nothing, but if you keep turning off comments, we never will learn to agree. A better question would be, do you WANT to come to a consensus? Or would you rather just state your view unchallenged?

I understand that you view me as some evil corporate supporting conservative from America (I am all of these things), and to be fair, I view you as an older (since I’ve seen your pic, but BARELY older) misguided hippie, sure that the enemy is the corporations themselves.

We’re no doubt incapable of solving the hippie vs. normal person debate, but I bet we could come to an understanding. If you didn’t turn off comments..

Hey, did you notice how I contrasted hippie vs. normal? Pretty evil, huh? 🙂 I’m like that. Ah, who am I kidding. Come over to the dark side, Ninglun! 72 Virgins? What hogwash. We’ll give you 73!

To which I replied:

Kevin, I turned the comments off there because I had already said I would, if you look: I’ll leave it open a bit longer just in case someone gets back to the original point. Since no-one actually did get back to talking about Salman Rushdie’s knighthood, I turned it off.

There’s a guest book too which is always open.

Never was a hippie. Sorry. Did have an Indian shirt once though.

As for my attitude to corporations, I confess to no love for them, as my links page alone would show, but share that with almost everyone I know, even those who work for them. I think deep down most Australians — well maybe not Rupert Murdoch, but then he’s no longer an Australian — have a similar attitude. I have been a trade unionist for forty years as well, and remain one.

I despair that you and I will ever come to a consensus on this and many other matters, but that doesn’t stop me rather liking you.

Aftercomers: would you please comment on the post while this comment thread remains open, not on these two comments? Thanks.

I am a bit of a relevance Nazi, I have to admit. And as for my political position which seems Left to Kevin, it can really be summed up best in the subtitle to Jim Wallis’s God’s Politics, a book that continues to inspire me, though I don’t treat it as holy writ: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It. In fact, rather than argue with Kevin I should have told him to go off and read Wallis, or perhaps even better, in this case, Anatol Lieven, America Right or Wrong, a really fine analysis which demonstrates a point too: how can the blog equivalent of a sound-bite in a post or comment thread possibly do much to advance either quality of discourse or understanding? Don’t you ever despair of that? As for Kevin, when he announced with some tongue in cheek, I have to add, that he was saying goodbye now, I suggested he go out and buy Nation and Harper’s, “fine US magazines both.”

I wonder if he did…

I do get tired, though, of repeating myself. I mean, it should be clear enough what I think about issues like terrorism, Islam, the Iraq War, and so on, and I even have a page of preset searches so that any visitor can come in and see what I say, then take or leave it. Will mouthing off over the latest outrage, one way or another, make a blind bit of difference? Why should I go on regurgitating via the comments threads? That, aside from making life a touch harder for spammers, is why I tend to close comments. I just can’t be bothered, usually, following dead or dying arguments for page after bloody page… Comment euthanasia, if you like.

Some of this comes to me after reading Intellectual kleptomania in New Statesman, a review of some book about the dire amateurishness of blogging and the cultural consequences flowing therefrom. The article is actually rather upbeat on the subject, and so am I usually. Don’t think I won’t ever rant again…

And I do learn from blogs. Take just recently: Indigo Jo on “Blaming British Muslims for the recent bomb attempts”, and Irfan Yusuf on Representing & Embarrassing Australia in Malaysia, which contextualises recent claims about the “prevalence of radicalism among Muslim youth” in Australia. I could rant, but why should I? Go and read for yourselves…

However, who could have failed to have been impressed by two programs on ABC last night? Some might get quite baleful about the first as somehow showing Chris Masters as a sell-out propagandising for the Aussie military in Afghanistan. That I think would be to let ideology blind you to what is actually happening. I think it is a great shame we didn’t focus on doing Afghanistan properly instead of following Bush and Blair into ill-conceived Iraq invasion, though even there one can only hope for some kind of tolerable outcome, given the invasion cannot be undone, no more than the existence of the State of Israel can be undone.


Click to read the transcript. One small sample:

…CHRIS MASTERS: Another project undertaken by the Australians is a school in one of the outlying villages. As the schools are built, particularly those for girls, they are frequently attacked and razed.

DR NOURIA SALEHI, AFGHAN AUSTRALIAN DEVELOPMENT ORGANISATION: They want to go to school, but today it’s not possible. So it is difficult to find a job for unskilled people. Today the Irani or Pakistani people, they are coming to Afghanistan and they work because they have a skill. But the Afghans, youth especially, they haven’t got any skill. They cannot read and write.

CHRIS MASTERS: This school is for boys. A first priority has been the construction of a high wall to provide protection.

ABDUL MAJID, TEACHER (TRANSLATED): We had been promised three times before with the coalition forces, American, the Canadians, they promised but they didn’t build our school. The Australians are the only ones that build the school – see the building? We are very happy with the Australians.

WARRANT OFFICER BRENDAN JOHNSON: We see the work that’s being done and the progression being done. I think if we weren’t here the progression of construction would be extremely slow. They would still carry on with their lives but we’re giving them a step up, I believe…

CHRIS MASTERS (to Corporal Ric Saxby): And can I ask a question of Dahwood?

(to Dahwood Shah, student): What do you hope to be able to do with the skills that you learn here?

DAHWOOD SHAH (TRANSLATED): It’s good that I came to learn the carpentry. I just want to start a shop in the bazaar to work for my family and support my country.

CHRIS MASTERS: At the end of the four weeks’ course students who graduate are given a bag of tools. Soldiers notice some of the tools on sale in the markets soon after, but others hang on to the bag and the opportunity.

Every success is like a stitch in the fabric of a new society…

The other program is one I really would commend to Kevin, and many others: Enough Rope. Last night’s episode is now up, and I suggest you read/see it for yourselves and here. There were two interviews: Australian Gill Hicks lost both of her legs in the London terrorist bombings of 2005. She is now using her experience to promote peace, and Ishmael Beah is a former Sierra Leonean child soldier whose memoir details the almost unimaginable savagery of a childhood in a war zone. Both were humane, mature, wonderful, and both in common were full of the wisdom of forgiveness in the most appaling circumstances. That way hope lies…

From Interview 1. ANDREW DENTON: Many people Gill, would have and doubtless did go into a dark place after what happened to you. You had your legs taken away. You were nearly killed. Your life’s completely turned on its head. Are you surprised you don’t feel anger?

GILL HICKS: I feel how lucky I am that I don’t because I immediately I didn’t even have to go on some long journey to say “How do I feel?” It was immediate, you know. It was Joe that actually told me it was a bomb and that it was a suicide bomber and it was in a terrorist attack to which I think I remember feeling absolute shock at that, because once again, it’s never going to be you. Why would I have been in a terrorist attack? I thought it was a train crash you know. And I remember thinking the only thing I’ve come close to feeling anger or hatred is thinking “I’ve got to see the person who’s done this. I’ve got to see his face”. Thinking that it would be a monster, thinking I’d see this monster staring back at me and when I saw a newspaper clippings there was this 19 year old kid.

ANDREW DENTON: And as you looked at Germane Lindsay’s face what did you think?

GILL HICKS: I felt absolute pity. I really did. I felt pity, sorrow, despair…anything. But I didn’t feel hatred and I didn’t feel angry. And I feel fortunate that I don’t feel that because I think they’re destructive emotions for me.

From Interview 2. ANDREW DENTON: You work now for Human Rights Watch, affiliated with the UN. Practically, what can be done about the fact that children are still being used for war?

ISHMAEL BEAH: Well, the there are so many things. One of the things that really needs to be done is to prevent these wars from happening because that’s really how to. Because once wars start in these places, children will be recruited eventually. But the thing that we all can do and I think people are doing that needs to be strengthened is first of all to strengthen international legal standards, to create a precedent by prosecuting people who use children in war, you know, in either the international level or if they travel abroad to other countries by arresting them and putting them in jail. I think this might deter certain people from doing that. But you know there’s also a lot of organisations set up rehabilitation centres and try to remove the children and heal them and take care of them and that is also something that people are doing now that helps a lot of people.

ANDREW DENTON: Even though you were only 13 and the situation you described you had little or no choice, do you carry with you any guilt for the actions you were forced into?

ISHMAEL BEAH: Yes, I do feel guilty. I do feel sad about the fact that you know I was you know victimised to carry out certain things and I do.

ANDREW DENTON: And is forgiveness possible for you?

ISHMAEL BEAH: Yes, definitely. I think for me, you know, the way I look at forgiveness is it’s a way of helping yourself as well. The person who is forgiving you, if I forgive somebody, I feel at peace myself. Because if you don’t forgive somebody, you never be in a position to really understand why is it your neighbour who once fed you and cared for you became your enemy, you cannot be in a position to understand that, to have that conversation. And one thing that I learned through the war was that without forgiveness there comes a bitterness that only wants sort of revenge and that exacerbate more violence and more suffering, and nothing more. And having lived through such a thing I don’t want to have anything to do with any form of violence again, so I choose forgiveness and I choose to because it brings me peace.

Some letters/comments are truly encouraging too. John Baker in the UK — he also mentioned King Lear recently — has asked me to participate in a project for his blog. Seeing John, who really is a writer, addressed me as a fellow writer, I feel both flattered and constrained to do what he asks. The topic is “What phases are involved in the creation of a text? The implication of the question is, of course, that writing does in fact go through phases.” So I will think about that.

Oscarandre just left a nice comment on the About page, referring to the story tabbed “Fiction” at the top of the page here. Led me to reread it: still makes me emotional, that does, and only under great pressure can I come up with things like that…

Great to see The Rabbit commenting here again, commencing yesterday. 🙂

Back to my title: my rants may become more modest… Why don’t you all go away and read something really sensible instead?

Meanwhile I am overdue for an OzPolitics rant on Journalspace. Must think about it…

[Note to self/John Baker: this post took 90 minutes to write… It was composed live and online. This may sometimes be disconcerting for early readers as the post goes through revisions before their very eyes, sometimes. I also come back when I see the inevitable typo or three, and now and again do a deletion or rewrite for stylistic reasons. I just have! 😉 Do you compose online or offline? I may make that a poll…]

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5 responses to “On not posing as a polymath

  1. AV

    July 3, 2007 at 12:06 pm

    I am a bit of a relevance Nazi, I have to admit.

    Well then, you won’t like what I’m about to say:

    You’ve been tagged.

  2. ninglun

    July 3, 2007 at 12:10 pm

    Hey Arthur, guess what? My eight random things — and look who I tagged! 😉

  3. Daniel

    July 3, 2007 at 2:58 pm

    No professional writer would ever write drafts that the public would see, Neil!

    As you would know from your background in teaching English, successful writing for even the best writers typically involves many drafts, rewrites and polishing before public exposure.


  4. ninglun

    July 3, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    Very true, Daniel, and one of my more galling experiences some years ago was having a second-last draft published once in The Teaching of English when I over-ran a deadline and the editor could not wait. Mind you, it wasn’t so bad… But I still say the final draft was better.

    But did you go through the drafting and revision process with your comment, Daniel? I suspect not, and I suspect the same is true of many blog entries, including my own. By the way, I can see that you do draft and polish before publishing your entries; it does show.

    The ninety minutes I spend included a fair proportion of time between starting and publishing, even if I was doing it online. I do often find errors or things I wish to change after hitting “publish” though. Sometimes I really don’t see the problem, whatever it may have been, until a little later on.

    I always feel sorry for examination students who are being judged on first drafts by definition, and even worse by first drafts created against the clock. Nothing could be better calculated to produce bad writing, or to reward the facile, it might be argued, and this must be even worse when what is being examined is “creative writing”. Given that, I never cease to be amazed at how good the very best answers in the HSC, for example, actually are. I have often thought when awarding a top grade in HSC marking that I could not possibly have done what that student did in forty minutes. Further down the line, of course, the sheer ordinariness of the essays must derive in part from the absurdity of examinations.

  5. Daniel

    July 3, 2007 at 4:08 pm

    Neil, I agree with your comments about written exams entirely! Of course with comments, you can’t really draft and revise especially if you contribute to many blogs – there’s not time.

    Of course, as you would know, you can over-polish any written work and kill it entirely!


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