Revisionist history

The Australian Department of Defence has been accused of ignoring the religious beliefs of Australian soldiers killed in World War I currently being re-buried, by assuming they were all Christians.   This assumption is a very odd one for the DoD to make, given that the first Australian-born commander of Australian troops, General Sir John Monash, in command of all Australian forces by the end of that war, promoted to General in the field, and knighted on the battlefield (the first such elevation by a British monarch in 200 years), was Jewish.  I think the DoD needs to make a change in its burial policy and officially apologize to the affected families.

Memories of underdevelopment

Here is  news from The Times about Robert Mugabe’s physiology.  Apparently, he nods off to sleep every few minutes, even when meeting foreign visitors.  (HT:  Normblog)
The Times article mentions the two main contenders for the leadership of ZANU (PF) following Bob’s always-imminently-predicted-but-never-quite-arriving retirement:  Emmerson Mnangagwa and Solomon Mujuru.  One would think that the Zimbabwean Vice-President, Joice Mujuru, who is likewise a ZANU (PF) nomenklatura, would perhaps also be a contender, but she is married to Solomon, so he takes precedence.   She is more famous in Zimbabwe under her chimurenga name, Teurai Ropa (or Spill-Blood) Nhongo, and for leading a team of guerrilla fighters into battle while pregnant.   Because she joined the struggle (for Independence) in her teens, she did not finish high-school; to her great personal credit, she completed her O-levels after Independence and while a Cabinet Minister.   In the year she did O-level English, a novel by George Orwell was on the syllabus, leading to her infamous stage whisper at the official opening by then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe of the Zimbabwe Institute for Development Studies;  when the VIPs were led to a different (and much better) buffet than that provided for the other people present, she was heard by all to exclaim,  “But this is just like Animal Farm!”
Her husband also had a loud voice.  When I first met him, he was calling himself Rex Nhongo, and I did not then know what he looked like.  A mutual friend introduced us using only first names as we happened upon each other buying groceries one evening after work in Twelve Gods, a foodstore and delicatessen in the low-density (ie, formerly whites-only) suburbs of Salisbury (as it then was).  Making conversation while we stood in the queue, I asked,  “And what do you do for a living, Rex?” In a booming voice which scared the living daylights out of the white customers in the shop, he replied, “Oh, I’m Commander-in-Chief of the Army, son!” Whether intended or not, this statement got the three of us to the front of the queue immediately.  The mutual friend who introduced us is now himself a Cabinet Minister, one of the MDC contingent in Zimbabwe’s Cohabitation Government.
UPDATE [2011-09-12]:  In August 2011, Rex Nhongo’s body was found after a fire destroyed his farmhouse.   He was 62, and may have been killed or prevented from moving prior to the fire.   The Guardian obituary is here.
Note that in maShona custom, a person may be given or may adopt different names over their life, and may prefer different names at different times or for different purposes.  In addition, for reasons of security during the liberation struggle many people adopted noms de guerre, so-called chimurenga names.

Doing a PhD

These are some notes on deciding to do a PhD, notes I wrote some years ago after completing my own PhD.
Choosing a PhD program is one of the hardest decisions we can make. For a start, most of us only make this decision once in our lives, and so we have no prior personal experience to go on.
Second, the success or otherwise of a PhD depends a great deal on factors about which we have little advanced knowledge or control, including, for example:
Continue reading ‘Doing a PhD’

Brautigan on writing

I am a great fan of the writing of Richard Brautigan, so I was delighted once to encounter a short reminiscence of Brautigan by that Zelig of the Beats, Pierre Delattre, in his fascinating memoir, Episodes (page 54):

The last time I saw him [RB], we were walking past the middle room of his house. There was a table in there with a typewriter on it.   “Quiet,” he whispered, pushing me ahead of him into the kitchen. “My new novel’s in there. I kind of stroll in occasionally, write a quick few paragraphs, and get out before the novel knows what I’m doing.  If novels ever find out you’re writing them, you’re done for.”

Pierre Delattre[1993]:  Episodes. St. Paul, MN, USA:  Graywolf Press.

Vale: George Leonard

Belatedly, I have just learnt of the death last month of George Leonard (1923-2010), writer, journalist, and aikidoka.  He took up aikido in middle age, a journey he wrote about movingly (see reference below), and ended up co-founding Aikido of Tamalpais.  His writings on life, the universe and everything have been very influential in my thinking about life, as I acknowledge here.
The New York Times has an obit here, Quantum Tantra a tribute here, and Paul Rest here.
George Leonard [1985]: On getting a black belt at age fifty-two. pp. 78-98 in:  Richard Strozzi Heckler (Editor) [1985]: Aikido and the New Warriors.  Berkeley, CA, USA:  North Atlantic Books.   This volume also contains a reprint of Leonard’s fine and inspiring account of Heckler’s aikido black belt examination, “This isn’t Richard” (pp. 198-205).