Wednesday, June 28, 2006

National Day of Action

Today I participated in the National Day of Action, to protest the draconian new Work Laws recently brought in by the Howard Government. The laws are truly appalling, stripping workers of many of their entitlements, hard won through union action in the past. The rally was a big one, several thousands of people took over the main thoroughfares of the city.

It was a mass of brilliant colours and I regretted not bringing my camera. Each union group was colour coded, purple, crimson, blue etc. Giant beach balls were bounced through the crowd and loud speakers on the street shouted revolutionary exhortations against the Government.

Prominent union leaders and politicians gave speeches. Steve Bracks, the Victorian Premier, swore to protect Victorian workers from the new laws, and Kim Beasley, leader of the Federal Opposition vowed to ditch the laws on gaining Government. Workers who had been sacked or disadvantaged by the new laws also spoke to the crowd. It was all very enervating and made me nostalgic for the days of my youth when we always seemed to be marching our little feet off in protest against the war in Vietnam. That’s 40 years ago!

Forty years ago I was a student at Melbourne University. It was the fabulous sixties and a good time to be young, unless you were a young man. In those days there was a requirement for all young men of 20 years of age to register for National Service. They were selected through a ballot system and the unlucky ones were forced to do 3 years National Service in the army. My brothers were both called up and did the time. Others refused to obey the draft and spent time in jail or on the run. Or they fronted court to protest on the grounds of conscientious objection. A great many of the young men called up at that time went to Vietnam as part of the Australian army and when they returned they were vilified by the Nation, the war having become extremely unpopular by the mid 1970’s.

Anyway, through those years or at least during the late 60s I was a member of the Melbourne Anarchists. I joined the Anarchists I think because they sounded more fun than the other political groups on offer at that time - the Maoists, for instance. And we did have fun, snubbing our noses at ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation) agents and defying the police at demonstrations. I bet there is an ASIO file with my name on it, though I am not all that interested in finding out. Those days instilled a leftist political leaning in me, which I will never betray. Also those days spent protesting Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War gave me a belief in people power. When
Gough Whitlam came into power in 1972, he ended conscription and moved the Australian troops out of Vietnam.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Antennas

Well it was quite a night at the Antenna Awards – politicians, break-dancers, glitzy presenters, dwarfs in wheelchairs, dragon dancers, you name it.

As I don’t drive a car, I travelled to the city by train. The station and train at that time of night was hoonish – young louts with their girlfriends. I saw a couple of young hoons on the train harassing a guy with security guard written on his chest. He kept his cool and refused to be incited by the stupid approaches of the louts. Good for him. I kept my head down pretending to be engrossed by my book. I survived the trip.

The antennas were held at The Edge, a venue located in Federation Square, a newly developed architectural marvel close to the Yarra River. I’d never set foot in the place before, only seeing it from afar and trying to decide whether the architectural design was to my taste. It’s a strange structure of crazily paved glass, stone and steel. I must admit it looks far more impressive inside than out, and the closer to it you are the better it looks. In fact I decided that it is quite spectacular and unusual and that I like it. Walking into the place felt like virtually inhabiting a computer game environment. The site previously housed the hideous towers of the Gas & Fuel Corporation, an extremely dreary, ugly building so Fed Square is a definite improvement.

On to the show…

Nu Country didn’t win an award – better luck next time.

C31 programming is diverse to say the least. There are music, gardening, comedy, sports, multicultural, current affairs, self-help & children’s programs to name a few.

There was a jolly warming up by some exuberant woman, giving away ancient LPs and freddo frogs to unwitting victims who attracted her attention. Then the show began and the numerous awards were announced over the next two hours, interspersed with speeches by politicians and various forms of performance entertainment. By the end, we were hanging out for the drinks and canap├ęs.

I thought the evening quite bizarre, the oddness being enhanced by the architecture of the venue. Unfortunately I was too far away from the stage to get any good photos of the acts, so you’ll have to make do with a photo of the venue from elsewhere on the net.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Celebrity Event – Sort Of

Tonight I’m off to The Antenna awards.

The Antennas are the equivalent of the Logies for the community television network C31.

Nu Country whose website I maintain, has been nominated for an award. As I have never been to an event of this sort before, I leapt at the chance to go. It should be quite entertaining, and if Nu Country wins an award it will be an added bonus.

Nu Country has a television show on C31. It’s a half hour of country music, a mix of filmed local and international live acts, interviews and country music videos. Celebrity guests take turns at presenting the show, and it even has a hilarious cooking segment.

The bulk of Nu Country viewers are into Nashville type country. Myself, I favour the alt country side of the spectrum.

I’ve been involved with Nu Country for about 10 years. When they were aspiring to be a radio station I joined up as a volunteer and used to man the phones and mind the office on Saturdays. That was good fun, I must admit and I made some good friends too. Nu Country was unsuccessful in the bid for a radio licence, so they canvassed other avenues to keep the association alive. That’s when they joined C31 with the idea of producing a television show. Three years down the track, they’re still going and the show is being screened on Adelaide and New Zealand community television stations as well.

It seems one cannot escape from a volunteer position. Nu Country approached me in 2003 to re-design their website. At first I was a bit reluctant, but after creating a design that was not too hick for me, ditching the ghastly dingo motif they formerly used, I took over the function of Webmaster.

The website is very successful and attracts visitors from all over the world. David Dawson who is a freelance journalist and a very prolific writer provides most of the content. He is a virtual encyclopaedia on country music, and people all over the world email him with questions on obscure country artists or queries on song titles.

Anyway, that’s why I’m going to the Antenna Awards tonight. I’ll report later on whether it met with or exceeded expectations.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Edward Whittemore – An Introduction

As I run the tribute site Jerusalem Dreaming - an appreciation of the writings of Edward Whittemore, I should blog about the man and his books.

If you have not read Whittemore, you are missing out on one of the best writers of the 20th Century. His books are great lost classics. They are the sort of books you discover in dreams and wake wondering if they exist anywhere in the world. His published works only number five books, but what books they are! The Jerusalem Quartet, which comprises
Sinai Tapestry, Jerusalem Poker, Nile Shadows and Jericho Mosaic is nothing less than a secret history of the world, and moreover, explains better than any other works, why the Middle East has been, and still is, such a hotspot in world affairs.

Born in America, Edward Whittemore spent most of his life abroad, living in Japan, England, Italy, Crete and Jerusalem. He was a CIA agent for nine years, from 1958 to 1967. He died penniless in 1995 at the age of 62.

For those who have not read the books the following may not make all that much sense, but it will at least give you some idea of the complexity of the novels. Do not be put off by this as the books themselves are a delight to read, and are highly entertaining.

Historical Sources

There is currently a discussion on the
Jerusalem Dreaming Message Board regarding the historical sources for Whittemore’s novels.

Jean-Daniel Breque who is the translator for the French editions of the novels, tackles his translations in a thoroughly professional way, looking up any stray reference within the text for hidden meanings found therein. He writes a column at the Dan Simmons website as he is also the French translator for Simmons and enlightens Simmons’ readers in a similar fashion.

Jean-Daniel is currently translating Nile Shadows and has uncovered some interesting historical connections between Whittemore’s characters and real-life figures.

The three wise men who visit Joe in his kivi and recruit him to investigate Stern, are none other than William Donovan (Big Bill),
William Stephenson (Little Bill) and Stewart Menzies (Ming).

Cross referencing these three in Wikipedia one finds that they all were associated during World War II in Intelligence circles.

Joe, in the novel, is assigned the undercover persona of G O Gulbenkian, an itinerant dealer in Coptic artefacts. The real Gulbenkian,
Calouste Gulbenkian , was an Armenian art collector and oil millionaire, known in his time as “Mr Five Per Cent”. Sophia's story is obviously drawn from this source as well, though in her case Whittemore has playfully changed the sex.

It is possible that in writing the Jerusalem Quartet Whittemore was planting clues to a deeper mystery within the novels. The Quartet is truly a secret history of the world and it is only by delving deeper into the structuring of characters within the historical settings in the novels, that new truths are revealed. Or conversely, Whittemore is kidding us all with his play on history as he writes of Nubar Wallenstein terming a report from his spy network “a meaningless fantasy, a web of buffoonish tales having nothing to do with reality”

On the other hand he is meticulous in describing obscure historical events with absolute accuracy.

There is no doubt that Whittemore appropriated history for his own ends. Mind blowing to contemplate is the depth and breadth of his knowledge of history and literature. One would have to be as well read as Whittemore himself to discover all the allusions to history and literature contained in the novels. But it is fun seeking out his sources and illuminating when one discovers a hitherto unknown historical fact or literary reference.

A few interesting historical sources thus far discovered:

1. Johann Luigi Szondi described in Jerusalem Poker as a "highly gifted linguist with a passion for details," is based on
Johann Ludwig Burckhardt an explorer, orientalist and traveller extraordinaire.

2. Father Yakouba the white monk of Timbuktu – is based on Auguste Dupuis (1865–1945) who co founded the first Christian mission in Timbuktu in 1895 where he quickly fell in love with the polyglot Muslim town and was accepted by its inhabitants, who named him "Yakouba”.

3. The real Sinai Bible, like the Bible in Sinai Tapestry, was discovered at St Catherine’s Monastery in 1844 by German scholar Constantine Tischendorf

Check out the Jerusalem Dreaming Message Board thread
“The Roots” for more revelations.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Computer Games

With nothing much else to report I thought I would fill you in on ways I find to amuse myself, such as playing computer games, for one and of course reading and listening to music.

I recently started playing a new computer game. Before I could play it however, I needed to purchase a new graphics card for my computer, as the old graphics card couldn’t handle the sophisticated graphics of the game. It worked out well in the end as my next-door neighbour was buying a new computer. His new computer was a basic machine, with an integrated graphics card. I gave him my old graphics card (still a good and powerful card) and bought a new one for my computer. The computer shop was very obliging in swapping/installing the cards. Fortunately the new card worked on the game.

What is the game? It’s called “Dreamfall – The Longest Journey 2”, an adventure game set in the far future. I played the original “Longest Journey” some years ago and thought it was a great game with a complex plot, engaging game play and an interesting story. That’s what I like about adventure games, the story. I am very particular about the games I play and only buy the best of the best and only in the adventure genre. I don’t like shoot-em-ups – too stressful – but enjoy the puzzles and interactions in adventure games. Along with very beautiful graphics, Dreamfall has a wonderful 3D ambience, as well as being instantly engaging to play. My only complaint is that the PC controls are difficult to manipulate. The character one is playing staggers all over the place, crashes into walls and never walks straight. Perhaps I need to reduce mouse sensitivity, but I need the sensitivity for the fight sequences. Alas, yes, this game requires a bit of fisticuffs. So far it has been pretty easy, but it is unusual for an adventure game to involve violent contact. The designers are obviously aiming to capture some of the action adventure/RPG market.

My all time favourite computer games are the Tex Murphy series. They originated over 17 years ago but are still very playable if one has a suitably aged computer and operating system. They were made in FMV (Full Motion Video) format and combined hard-boiled detective fiction with science fiction. The scripts were marvellously witty and the puzzles were ingenious and amusing. The games were very well thought out with the comfort of the game player in mind. For instance, you didn’t have to make your character (Tex Murphy) tramp backwards and forwards all the time, but could go directly to locations already explored. There was much to explore in the game environments and one built up an enormous inventory of odd items, intriguing in the implications of how they would be used later in the game. These days, adventure games don’t seem to explore the environment with as much detail as in the past. They seem to concentrate more on the look of the graphics – rippling water, clouds and insects etc – resulting in a situation where one can look, but not touch.

The last Tex Murphy game was released in 1998. I’ve practically given up hope of ever seeing a new Tex Murphy game, though the original creators of the game (formerly Access Software) do occasionally express interest in developing a new game. It was Microsoft who killed Tex Murphy when they bought out Access for rights to their Links golf game. Tex fell by the wayside and has never been resuscitated.

Oh well, I’ll just have to be satisfied with games like "Dreamfall " – pretty good, but not a patch on the Tex Murphy series.