Clive James RIP

Clive James (1939-2019) has just died. He was a poet, novelist, writer, TV critic and TV showman famous as a wit and a humorist, although I never found him to be very funny. Strangely, not actually being funny is apparently not a barrier to acquiring a reputation as a comic writer, as the careers of Howard Jacobson and Saul Bellow demonstrate. Jacobson, an Honorary Life Member of the UK branch of the Expatriate Australian Mutual Admiration Society, praises his fellow Society member in today’s Grauniad.

Rather than being funny, I always found James’ writing and spoken words insufferably smug and condescending. His TV specials and celebrity interview shows were invariably based on ridiculing people from different cultures or with beliefs he considered inferior to his own, such as Japanese consumers or American religious believers. Even his writerly ratting on his friends included ridicule, as in his account of his friendship with Princess Diana, published after her death. I wonder if he realized that this traitorous account marked him out as someone whom it would be unwise to trust with friendship.

True, James was well-read, but not nearly as well-read as he thought he was. His book of short intellectual profiles, Cultural Amnesia, contained 126 brief and erudite snapshots of influential thinkers, of whom 124 were writers, 1 was a musician and 1 a film-maker. Not a scientist, a mathematician, an engineer, or a visual artist (apart from that film-maker) anywhere to be seen. Evidently, he could only think in words and not by any other means, something which is rather odd for a person whose fame was made with TV. The cognitive provincialism of this book echoes the cultural provincialism of his compilations of Japanese advertisements. Indeed, James’ most famous poem, “Japanese Maple”, talks about the visual beauty of the tree with barely any description of it; only the future colour of the tree is anticipated, with the one word “flame”. This is not a poetry strong in images.

James could string two words together, but numbers were something else. His last act was to become, like many people of his age-group have done, a strident climate-change denier. There is an Australian slang expression that catches his smugness and selfishness well: “I’m alright, Jack.” This smug child of the Sydney Push, when push came to shove, showed he was willing to shove all of us younger than himself into the bush fires of global warming.

Recent Reading 15

The latest in a sequence of lists of recently-read books, listed in reverse chronological order.

  • Michael Ovitz [2018]: Who is Michael Ovitz? A Memoir. USA: WH Allen.  This is a fascinating and well-written autiobiography by the co-founder and driving force behind Creative Artists Agency. CAA grew from nothing to dominate the agency business in movies and TV, and then entered M&A consultancy and advertising.  I always admired the chutzpah of this strategy and marveled at its success.  The book explains how CAA’s creative bundling of the products of its writers, actors, musicians, directors and producers enabled it to grow as an agency, and also enabled the diversification:  the expertise gained in strategizing and financially evaluating creative bundles was used to value Hollywood studios (with their back catalogues) as potential acquisition targets. Likewise, the creativity in bundling and the access to diverse talent was used to design successful advertisements.  What surprised me reading this book was that the diversification ended after just two acquisition assignments and one advertising project (Coca Cola’s polar bears).  The key reason for this seems to have been the opposition of Mr Ovitz’s partners and colleagues at CAA, despite the handsome and arguably unearnt rewards his efforts brought many of them.  No good deed ever goes unpunished, it seems.  // The book also presents his experiences as President at Disney.  Although of course we only hear his side of that story, he does seem to have been undermined from before he even began work there. // Overall, the writing is articulate and reflective, and he seems to have grown personally through his career and his apparent failures.  I greatly admire his continued desire and willingness to learn new things – new skills, new businesses, new industries, new cultures, new hobbies.  Doing this requires rare, personal courage.  Few people in American business were as willing as he was to immerse themselves in Japanese culture when doing business in Japan, for instance.  One characteristic Mr Ovitz does not ever display is smugness, and this absence is admirable.
  • Mark Urban [2018]: The Skripal Files: The Life and Near Death of a Russian Spy. UK: Macmillan. A very good account of the back story of Sergei Skripal, mostly based on interviews Urban conducted with him and others before the events which led to Skripal’s name becoming well-known.  Skripal is a former GRU officer who had spied for Britain, was arrested and imprisoned by Russia, and then traded in a spy swap in 2010.  He was living quietly in Salisbury, England until he and his daughter were poisoned with Novichok in 2018. Salisbury, of course, is famous for its Cathedral with its 123-metre-high spire. Roger Hollis, one-time Director-General of MI5 whom some people believe was a GRU agent, was a great-great-nephew of George Moberly, Bishop of Salisbury from 1869 to 1885.  The good Bishop’s daughter, Annie Moberly, published a memoir of the family in 1911, Dulce Domum, which for some reason does not mention the spire. In these strange times one has to wonder if her omission was deliberate.
  • Howard Blum [2018]: In the Enemy’s House: The Greatest Secret of the Cold War. USA: Amberley. A fascinating account of the partnership between FBI agent Robert Lamphere and polyglot Meredith Gardner in decrypting the Venona transcripts of Soviet cable traffic and identifying the Soviet spies mentioned therein.
  • Adam Hall (aka Elleston Trevor) [1985]: Quiller. Again, superb writing and story-telling, with cliff-hangers all the way through, and close attention required to keep up.  Some superb psychological insight and moving descriptions.  My only scepticism was over the ease with which foreign intelligence services seemed to move undetected within the USSR.
  • Adam Hall (aka Elleston Trevor) [1989]: Quiller KGB. USA: Spectrum.  I was alerted to this book and an author new to me by allegations that Shore’s supposedly-true book (below) had the same plot as this earlier novel by Hall.  Shore apparently denied having even heard of the earlier book. In truth, the only element which the two plots have in common is that both involve a planned assassination of the then General Secretary of the CPSU, Mikhail Gorbachev, while on a visit to the DDR.  The accusation of plot plagiarism made against Shore is thus without any foundation.  Within a few pages of starting Hall’s book, I realized this was writing of altogether better quality than Shore’s, and also of most other writers of espionage fiction.  Hall often jump cuts from one scene to another, as Sartre did in Nausea, which means the reader has to pay attention. Much is implied rather than expressed, so that attention needs to be close. This is writing of great skill and care, which is no doubt why Hall’s books seem to have been forgotten.
  • Tom Shore [2018]: Pilgrim Spy: My secret war against Putin, the KGB and the Stasi. UK: Coronet.  This is well-written and fast-paced, and was exciting to read.  It purports to be a factual memoir by a British special forces agent in the DDR in the late Summer and Autumn of 1989, who allegedly foiled a dastardly plan by revanchist Russians in league with the Red Army Faction to assassinate Mikhail Gorbachev in Berlin on 7 October 1989. The plot hinges on the resolution of several subtle, nested epistemic modal questions – eg, What did A know about B’s knowledge of C’s affiliation?   If the story is to be believed, this undercover agent was also – himself, personally – responsible for the success of the Monday evening Lutheran Church gatherings in Leipzig that helped to defeat the SED Government of the DDR, because he was able to ask a western radio network to advertize the event.  Whether true or false, this account is immensely condescending.  There are several reasons why I find the story most unlikely to be true. First, surely the book would need official security service clearance for publication. It does not appear to have been submitted for approval.  If it had been, would we not now be hearing about an official investigation of rogue or treacherous SIS officers?  Secondly, there is almost no deep description of the Monday evening gatherings. These were momentous events, both in terms of the fall of communism in the DDR and in terms of peaceful regime change anywhere at any time.  How many people attended each week? What was said or sung at these events? What was the mood like? How did the mood change from week to week? Did people know each other?  Were there obvious informers or Stasi agents present?  Did participants leave together and straight away? Someone who was present at these events, as the author claims he was, would surely have more to say on them. The lack of such deep, textured description, like a non-barking dog, is a strong indication that this book is a work of fiction.  Finally, the author says almost nothing about what he did, and how he ate and lived, between these weekly meetings.  A small point that arose because I was reading the book on 5 October 2018:  5 October 1989 was a Thursday, not a Friday.
  • Ben Macintyre [2018]: The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War. UK: Viking.  A great account, well-written as this writer’s books always are, of the case of KGB Colonel Oleg Gordievsky, who spied for Britain and then defected. One disappointment:  Macintyre asserts without sufficient consideration that Roger Hollis was not a Soviet agent, which is the line taken by the authorized MI5 historian, Christopher Andrew.   Firstly, Macintyre quotes Gordievsky quoting a senior KGB official as having dismissed the claim that Hollis was an agent of the KGB (p. 138 of Kindle edition).  Interesting but irrelevant if Hollis had worked for the GRU.  Also, we would expect names of high-level foreign agents to be tightly held, so one senior person not knowing if Hollis was an agent means nothing.  Moreover, the two agencies were rivals and were explicitly prohibited by Stalin from collaborating. Secondly, Macintyre says that the Soviet spy code-named Elli was identified as Leo Long.  As Long did not work for MI5 and Elli did, Long could not have been Elli.  Because not all documents have been released, we still don’t know the full story about Hollis nor, if he was not a Soviet agent, then who was the GRU’s senior spy in Britain at the time.  Given this ignorance, it is disappointing that a writer of Macintyre’s calibre should just accept the incomplete and much contested authorized line. For a critique of Andrew, see Paul Monk’s article in Quadrant (April 2010). For more on Hollis, see here.
  • Robert Hutton [2018]: Agent Jack: The True Story of MI5’s Secret Nazi Hunter. UK: W&N.  The true story behind Anthony Quinn’s fictional account, cited below.  Well-written, well-paced and extremely interesting.  In order to determine if the Nazis had created a secret network of 5th columnists in wartime Britain, MI5 created one, led by an inspired agent, Eric Roberts.  It just goes to show that if you want to get the credit for fixing something, you may first have to break it yourself.  Who knew Britain had harboured so many would-be Gauleiter, including most energetically, Marita Perigoe, the daughter of the popular antipodean composer, May Brahe.  It is interesting that Roger Hollis opposed this activity and managed to prevent a similar false network to attract left-wing sumpathizers being created in Britain after WW II.
  • Simon Mawer [2018]: Prague Spring. UK: Little, Brown. A thriller centred on Prague in a few days in August 1968 (so not spring at all), before and during the Warsaw Pact invasion.  It was nice to see a mention of the brave Milada Horáková.  I liked the story about the characters initially in Prague rather more than the escapades of the two hitchhiking students.  With the latter story, it felt that the author was really writing about his younger, more naive self, and, truthfully, that self did not interest me. But then, I have never found Bildungsromane much worth reading.  One factual error:  The Czech character Lenka Konečková, daughter of a fictional character, Lukáš Vadinsky, tried and executed with Rudolf Slánsky, writes an article for a student newspaper in which she names some of those executed (Chapter 33). The names listed include London, the former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. But Artur London was not executed. It is not clear if this is an error by the author or by the character (ie, the author knows the truth about London, but the character does not).  Although it may have been the case that people in Czechoslovakia did not initially know the fate of the accused in the Slánsky trials, this would surely have been known to a politically-active family member such as Ms Konečková by this time in 1968.
  • Henry Porter [2018]: Firefly. UK:  Quercus. A gripping and empathetic thriller set on the Syrian refugee trail to Europe that runs via Greece and the Balkans.  The book is also a superb ethnography of life as a contemporary refugee and life as an anti-terrorist agent among refugees. The way we live now, it seems.
  • Charles Cumming [2018]: The Man Between. UK: HarperCollins. Another pacy spy thriller from Cumming.  The writing is good, although filmic, but not as gripping as Scott’s.  One has to wonder if stories are hard to come by when the main character, Kit Carradine, is a successful writer of spy fiction with almost identical initials to the author’s, who gets caught up in an actual spy mission.  Fomo, pomo or projection?  A quibble:  Would a security agency debrief a much-sought and well-known informant in an apartment in central London where she could be seen from the street?  One stylistic bug which a good editor should fix are long, discursive sentences with repeated changes of focus which frequent the book.  Do books still have editors, I wonder?
  • Manda Scott [2018]: A Treachery of Spies. UK: Bantam. A modern-day French murder mystery that reaches back to treachery and double-crossing in the French resistance and the SOE in WWII.  Riveting, although occasionally implausible: How convenient that the central resistance action was captured on cinefilm?
  • S C Brown [2017]: Initiation: A Spy Story. A well-written thriller set mostly in wartime France, playing on what we know about the sympathies of the leadership of the Abwehr, German military intelligence, and drawing on the moral dilemmas faced by ordinary French citizens. Includes that long-standing problem of espionage: how to transmit a true message to your enemy, and have them believe it?
  • Anthony Quinn [2018]: Our Friends in Berlin. UK: Jonathan Cape.  An easy, well-written thriller set in wartime Britain amongst a circle of would-be German agents.  Lots of single, double and triple bluffing. I liked the subtle allusion to J. Alfred Prufrock and the hook for a sequel involving an upper-class English Soviet spy.
  • Jeremy Duns [2018]:  Agent of Influence: Antony Terry and the Shaping of Cold War Fact and Fiction.  Skerry Publishing.  A brief account of the life and times of an influential British journalist who may have also been employed by MI6, as part of a concerted effort to place foreign intelligence staff into foreign correspondent positions with British newspapers.
  • Claire Harman [2001]: Fanny Burney: A Biography. USA: Alfred A. Knopf. A fine biography of the writer, aka Madame d’Arblay.  The last part of the book, after Madame d’Arblay’s return to Britain from her entrapment for a decade in France, felt rushed, as if the author was keen to finish.  One quibble: Harman repeats the claim that Mrs Clara Bolton was Benjamin Disraeli’s mistress.  As far as I can tell, the only evidence for this claim is a statement made by Disraeli’s lawyer, Philip Rose, after Disraeli’s death five decades after the alleged affair (and four decades after Mrs Bolton’s own death).  The letters between Mrs Bolton and Mr Disraeli don’t seem to support this claim.  Imagined affairs appear to have been a common trope in biographers’ lives of prominent Georgians and Victorians.
  • Craig Brown [2017]: Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret.  UK: Fourth Estate.   What a sad life she had.  Was it Clive James who said that celebrity is a mask that gradually eats away the face of the person wearing it?
  • John Menadue [1999]: Things You Learn Along the Way. Australia: David Lovell Publishing. An insightful account of a life, by someone who worked at the pinnacle of political, media and government power – with Gough Whitlam, Rupert Murdoch and Malcolm Fraser. As Australian ambassador to Japan (1977-1980), Menadue got to know the brothers Tony Glynn (1926-1994) and Paul Glynn (1928- ), long-serving Australian Catholic Marist priests working in Japan.  Some personal interest, as they are cousins of cousins-in-law of mine.

Continue reading ‘Recent Reading 15’

Bristol life

Bristol 28 vs. Worcester Warriors 20, Ashton Gate Stadium Bristol, Boxing Day 2016. Gate of 16K.

Photo credit: SGGH at English Wikipedia.

Ngunawal in the Australian Parliament

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

The idea was simple enough. Executing it proved the hard part, involving subterfuge, lateral thinking and a collaboration that just might shape how Malcolm Turnbull confronts the twin tasks of tackling disadvantage and advancing the cause of reconciliation.
It was Alan Tudge, the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister, who suggested Turnbull, in his first major speech on Indigenous affairs since toppling Tony Abbott, should begin in the language of the Ngunawal, the people on whose land Parliament House is built.
Turnbull liked the idea, so a staff member contacted the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies which, in turn, referred the request to the institute’s senior linguist, Doug Marmion, for advice on how to do it.
It wasn’t as simple as forwarding a set of words and arranging for some coaching on how to deliver them. The language of the Ngunawal people was almost non-existent just two years ago, having not been widely spoken for more than a century because of the impact of dispossession.
Dr Marmion discussed one form of words with Turnbull via Skype, but the Prime Minister was very particular, wanting to “acknowledge” and “pay respects” to the elders. So the linguist sought the help of Tyronne Bell and Glen Freeman, two members of the Ngaiyuriidja Ngunawal Language Group.
Problem was, he couldn’t tell them he was ringing on Turnbull’s behalf, just in case something went wrong and Turnbull took the safe option of giving the acknowledgment in English.
Soon enough, though, they were in Turnbull’s office coaching the most powerful man in the land on how to honour their people. Freeman recalls almost having to pinch himself.
“How amazing is our country that ordinary people such as us get to meet the leader in his personal space and for him to embrace what we put to him!” he says. “He picked it up so fast it surprised me. It was lovely.”
For Turnbull, the experience changed his motivation for opening his speech in Aboriginal language. “As we looked into it, we realised this whole issue of language, and language preservation and culture was so important it could be more than a mark of respect – more a statement about the importance of language and the continuity of language,” the Prime Minister told me.
Turnbull also recast the body of the speech, highlighting a commitment to spend an extra $20 million over two years on the collection of “critical cultural knowledge” and the promotion of Indigenous cultures and traditions.
That is good news for Bell, the “knowledge-holder of the Ngunawal”, and Freeman, who for the past two years, without financial assistance, have been collecting material that will bring their language back to life.
When they began, they had around 30 words. Now they have more 300 and are confident there will soon be a strong enough understanding of the language for it to be taught in Canberra schools and to adults and widely used.
Their mission, they say, is to rediscover their collective soul and reason for being. “Language is the pathway to all things involving culture and the link to our ancestors,” says Freeman. “It’s the seed to sustenance for those who follow.”
If many non-Indigenous Australians struggle to appreciate this, Dr Marmion says it is because they have a “monolingual mindset” that makes it hard for them to appreciate the value of other languages, and particularly the value of heritage languages.
“Imagine the sense of loss if you were never able to read a letter written by your grandfather, or understand a recording of your grandmother singing,” he explains.
This is why, in January 2012, the expert panel appointed by Julia Gillard recommended that any constitutional change include recognising that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages were this country’s first tongues.
Since then, the recognition debate has struggled to achieve a consensus on what form recognition should take and when the question should be put. Part of the reason for this is that Indigenous leaders believe their voices were not being heard or respected.
Turnbull’s speech was crafted to change this perception. It included a promise to be guided by the “great wisdom” of Indigenous educator Chris Sarra, who advised the new Prime Minister to “do things with us, not to us”.
To this end, Turnbull has responded to the blueprint to empower communities produced by Cape York leader Noel Pearson and several others including Sean Gordon, who represents Indigenous communities on the Central Coast of New South Wales.
The PM has embraced the idea of partnership and agreed to fund the empowerment model in eight sites and potentially others, but held back on embracing the institutional reforms proposed in the blueprint until progress is assessed in three years. This has disappointed Pearson and Gordon, but it is a start.
Moreover, Turnbull told me recognition is “achievable” next year, and has vowed to work closely with the referendum council that will report in June on how Indigenous conventions should be structured to refine the question. “The first thing is that we’ve got to come up with some words, an amendment that is meaningful for Aboriginal people and Torres Strait islanders. It’s got to speak to, it’s got to sing to them, otherwise they’ll wash their hands of it,” he said. “

 
UPDATE (2016-09-03):  And here, delivered on 31 August 2016, is the maiden speech of MHR, Ms Linda Burney, member for Barton, the first woman of Aboriginal descent to be a member of Federal Parliament.   Ms Burney speaks in part in Wiradjuri language, and the speech includes a traditional singing invocation from three be-cloaked Wiradjuri women in the public gallery.    Ms Burney is a former NSW Minister and member of the NSW Legislative Assembly, aka the “Bear Pit”, Australia’s roughest parliament.
And, now Senator Patrick Dodson, in his maiden speech, delivered on 1 September 2016, has addressed the Senate in his native Yawuru, and obtained the agreement of the President of the Senate, Senator Stephen Parry, to respond to him in Yawuru. How heart-warming it is that the President of the Senate did this. Some background here.

Bush violins

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

That music! – accordians and concertinas [page break]- low brow, but who is so high brow or blasé that he doesn’t secretly enjoy such music?  But best were the violins and they were played by men to whom violin playing had come as legacies from father to son and on to grandson. Their music was a thing apart, it had the quality of antiquity which is only possible where father had taught son and no outside influence or technique had been allowed to creep in.  Thinking back now it is impossible for me to say whether or not they played well from a technical point of view – you wouldn’t even think of that whilst you listened.  The violin became a live thing in their hands; it didn’t merely express their moods and feelings, but it commanded and all who listened followed as they would the Piper of Hamelin through moods of tenderness, through sorrow and through wild joy.
Are they all gone, these men? No, there is one left. Our old neighbour, Pat Cullen, of Long Swamp, has lived beyond his four score years, but in his hands, that old brown violin can still make you dance or laugh or cry.” (pages 37-38)

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

The need for enchantment

Long-The-Spirt-of-the-Plains-1897
I just described our contemporary western culture as pseudo-rationalist materialism arising from a Protestant disdain for the supernatural, pagan aspects of Catholicism.   I recalled a 2015 column by New York Times op-editor David Brooks on the need for enchantment in our lives.  A willingness to accept enchantment is indeed a counter-cultural act.

The dating sites have taken the information available online and tried to use it to match up specific individuals. They’ve failed. An exhaustive review of the literature by Eli J. Finkel of Northwestern and others concluded, “No compelling evidence supports matching sites’ claims that mathematical algorithms work.” That’s because what creates a relationship can’t be expressed in data or photographs. Being in love can’t be done by a person in a self-oriented mind-set, asking: Does this choice serve me? Online dating is fascinating because it is more or less the opposite of its object: love.
When online daters actually meet, an entirely different mind-set has to kick in. If they’re going to be open to a real relationship, they have to stop asking where this person rates in comparison to others and start asking, can we lower the boundaries between self and self. They have to stop thinking in individual terms and start feeling in rapport terms.
Basically, they have to take the enchantment leap. This is when something dry and utilitarian erupts into something passionate, inescapable and devotional. Sometimes a student becomes enraptured by the beauty of math, and becomes a mathematician. Soldiers doing the drudgery of boot camp are gradually bonded into a passionate unit, for which they will risk their lives. Anybody who has started a mere job and found in it a vocation has taken the enchantment leap.
In love, of course, the shift starts with vulnerability, not calculation. The people involved move from selfishness to service, from prudent thinking to poetic thinking, from a state of selection to a state of need, from relying on conscious thinking to relying on their own brilliant emotions.
When you look at all the people looking for love and vocation today, you realize we live in a culture and an online world that encourages a very different mind-set; in a technical culture in which humanism, religion and the humanities, which are the great instructors of enchantment, are not automatically central to life.
I have to guess some cultures are more fertile for enchantment — that some activities, like novel-reading or music-making, cultivate a skill for it, and that building a capacity for enchantment is, these days, a countercultural act and a practical and fervent need.”

 
Reference:
David Brooks [2015]:  The devotion leap.  New York Times International Edition, 24-25 January 2015, page 9.
The  image is “The Spirit of the Plains” (1897) by Sydney Long (1871-1955), now in the Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane.

Of things unseen

I have remarked before that anyone who has spent any extended period living in Africa or Asia will have encountered people with strong beliefs, beliefs based on their own direct, personal experiences, in the existence of a non-material realm.   In many places, the overwhelming majority of people have such beliefs.  It may be that the majority of westerners, too, have had such experiences but our contemporary culture (pseudo-rationalist materialism arising from a Protestant disdain for the supernatural and pagan aspects of Catholicism) inhibits their public expression, or even, sometimes, their private recognition.

Strangely, my thoughts on this subject I find mirrored uncannily by Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), writing 120 years ago.  Here is Hearn, writing about Shintô temples in Japan and his reactions to the associated beliefs:

Why certain architectural forms produce in the beholder a feeling of weirdness is a question about which I should like to theorize some day; at present I shall venture  only to say that Shintô shrines evoke such a feeling.  It grows with familiarity instead of weakening; and a knowledge of popular beliefs is apt to intensify it.   We have no English words by which these queer shapes can be sufficiently described, – much less any language able to communicate the peculiar impression which they make.  Those Shintô terms which we loosely render by the words “temple” and “shrine” are really [page-break] untranslatable; — I mean that the Japanese ideas attaching to them cannot be conveyed by translation.  The so-called “august house” of the Kami is not so much a temple, in the classic meaning of the term, as it is a haunted room, a spirit-chamber, a ghost-house; many of the lesser divinities being veritably ghosts, — ghosts of great warriors and heroes and rulers and teachers, who lived and loved and died hundreds or thousands of years ago.  I fancy that to the Western mind the word “ghost-house” will convey, better than such terms as “shrine” and “temple,” some vague notion of the strange character of the Shintô miya or yashiro, — containing in its  perpetual dusk nothing more substantial than symbols or tokens, the latter probably of paper.   Now the emptiness behind the visored front is more suggestive than anything  material could possibly be; and when you remember that millions of people during thousands of years have worshiped their great dead before such yashiro, — that a whole race still believes those buildings tenanted by viewless conscious personalities, — you are apt also to reflect how difficult it would be to prove the [page-break] faith absurd.  Nay!  In spite of Occidental reluctances, — in spite of whatever you may think it expedient to say or not to say at a later time about the experience, — you may very likely find yourself for a moment forced into the attitude of respect towards possibilities.   Mere cold reasoning will not help you far in the opposite direction.  The evidence of the senses counts for little:  you know there are ever so many realities which can neither be seen nor heard nor felt, but which exist as forces, — tremendous forces.  Then again you cannot mock the conviction of forty millions of people while that conviction thrills all about you like air, — while conscious that it is pressing upon your psychical being just as the atmosphere presses upon your physical being.  As for myself, whenever I am alone in the presence  of a Shintô shrine, I have the sensation of being haunted; and I cannot help thinking about the possible apperceptions of the haunter.  And this tempts me to fancy how I should feel if I myself were a god, — dwelling in some old Izumo shrine on the summit of a hill, guarded by stone lions and shadowed by a holy grove. (Hearn 1897, pages 2-4)”

Reference:
Lafcadio Hearn [1897]: Gleanings in Buddha-Fields: Studies of Hand and Soul in the Far East. London, UK:   Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Company Limited.

London life

Two buskers practicing, Tavistock Street, Covent Garden, London, this morning. They each had three skittles, and threw one up with their right hand at the first and second beat of three beats, while throwing a skittle to the other juggler on the third beat. The other juggler caught the thrown skittle with his left hand. They stopped practicing as soon as they saw me take this photo.
jugglers

Courage, honour, valour

For as long as I can remember, I have had to endure lectures from men in uniforms – policemen, soldiers, teachers, clerics – about courage and honour.  I recall a particular egregious lecture from a cleric on the cowardice of men who had long hair. (For next millennium readers, this was part of a larger argument accusing anyone not supporting US and Australian involvement in the second Indo-Chinese war of cowardice.  Of course, it required great courage for a 17-year-old conscript to openly confront such logically specious, and morally tendentious, nonsense.)   The forces of conservatism always accuse those who confront them of cowardice, it seems.
The Hillsborough coronial verdict shows just what true courage and valour and honour are:  It is fighting for justice against all odds, against the overwhelming sentiment of those in authority and of society in general, against friend and peer, as well as journalist and foe, against recalcitrant judges and lying policemen.  But courage is also admitting when one has made a poor decision, and bravely facing the consequences of that decision.  It is not too late for these men in uniform to finally reveal some courage and accept the consequences of their negligence, their lack of preparation, and their poor judgment.