Andrew James Whalan

Poet Blogger Writer

Category: Opinions-Editorial (page 1 of 11)

Freedom of Speech Doesn’t Exist

Freedom of speech belongs to the loud and aggressive.

Freedom of speech is their cacophony of voices shouting all at once.

Freedom of speech is their smothering words that silences all  other.

Freedom of speech is the preserve of  the crowd that excludes all but them.

Freedom of speech is not our freedom extended to the foreign other.

Freedom of speech is not  our freedom to accommodate a new point of view.

Freedom of speech belongs to  the true listening of the quiet and thoughtful, the ones crushed underfoot.

All The Religion I’ll Ever Need

I’m wasting yet another Monday night Instead of doing the housework or nursing the baby, I’m in a baptism class. If I had my choice, I would be in neither place. I’m not that welcome at home.  I already know what’s being taught here.

I’m the Catholic in the family, I received the religious education.  First at infants, primary then high school. Every Sunday I listened to the sermons. I even read the relevant texts.

And it’s not me being baptised.  It’s his Lordship, my first son.  And attending class is necessary for both parents to understand the ceremony.

Now I’m currently sitting in a primary school classroom. On a plastic chair behind a flat desk. And our teacher is a nun.
I’m now back in school being taught what I have already learnt in advance. Again I’m half-slumped in a semi-listening stupor.

Until I’m woken by the teacher’s voice.

Someone has asked a question. The one never asked in baptism class.

“What happens if the baby dies beforehand?”

“A loving God wouldn’t let that happen,” she replies.

That was when I found all the religion I’ll ever need.

Just Grandma and Me: A Reminiscence

Perhaps I should have bought the game and computer too!

It began with Nicole Matejic. She was reminiscing about her old Apple personal computer experiences. In passing she mentioned the children’s game Just Grandma and Me (based on a popular children’s book).

 

Just Grandma and Me

Just Grandma and Me

And the next thing I remember is my daughter perched on a stool playing that game forever…

I was working in Canberra. At that time, I wanted to buy a PC or perhaps an Apple Mac? Part of my role was supporting PCs, yes 286s, XTs and ATsIBM PC XT

Our company owned one Apple, a soothing relief to support as it ran Adobe Pagemaker, a desktop publisher (DTP), one of the few pieces of software that made me look good. So began my fascination with DTP but that is many blogs away! My workmate too was an Apple evangelist.  Which left me wavering. Macintosh_Color_Classic

To resolve my dilemma, I decided to check the PCs and Apples out. That particular Saturday afternoon, my wife and new son needed sleep. So I took my opportunity. I thought I could take my three year old daughter, do my research, and bore her with tech stuff till she falls asleep on the drive home. That was the well thought out, well executed plan.

The last shop was an Apple shopfront near Woden in Canberra. I park the car, open the back door and unstrap my daughter. It’s late Saturday afternoon and she should be showing the first signs of fatigue. Not now, not ever as it turned out. We sidle into the shop hand-in-hand and I ask the tech guy  about the merits of the Apple! Of course he told me in detail. But I say, there aren’t enough Mac applications versus PC.

He can’t counter my point. We both look down and see that her ladyship isn’t too interested in these finer technical details. He says how’s about trying out a few children’s games. Sounds fine and fair enough to me.

I sit her on a stool while the tech guy runs up Just Grandma and Me. This shouldn’t take too long, I think. But in the moment, I was worried.

Not at how precarious her perch was. She wasn’t moving so it didn’t matter. No that dreadful moment when  two eyes turn towards me and ask, “Daddy how do you work this?” That moment would have to wait until she was running Windows Millennium on her laptop!

But that didn’t happen at all. For now the mouse was gliding over the game scenes like thread through silk. Each  click on each character brought joyous laughter at each unique antic. And then she would click through to the next part of an interesting and engaging story.

Wait a minute! I have to back up and take stock now. For I’m not watching this from afar anymore. I had been taken in too. Yes there was the easy technology. But the story within the game had fascinated me (as good stories still do…)

But her ladyship didn’t care for such thoughts of philosophical grandeur. She was signed up for life. As I was just about to find out.

For it was now closing time. And time to go home. No. No. No. Yes (me). All right I’m lodging an official protest. And an official request. For the game and a Mac.

I relented.

I bought a PC. Windows 3.1 and Dos 3.22 powered by a 386  hamster wheel topped by 2 mega dabs of Ram.I used it to play Tetris and log in to work via terminal emulator and attached modem. ZZzz….

I relented again. I  bought the PC version of Just Grandma and Me. It was probably more to assuage my guilt as the original protest had been withdrawn or forgotten. But somehow it didn’t have that beyond cardboard cutout charm of the original…check out the interactive YouTube version!

 

Movie Review : Love and Friendship

Midway through watching this movie, I came to two realisations (and then some more). The first was had the purists been present they would have glared me down to stop me from laughing. For Jane Austen isn’t universally acknowledged as the provider of a wholesome laugh. While I do acknowledge there are many sophisticated, clever and witty conversations in her other books, she unleashes her inner cynic in “Love and Friendship“, based on her  early novella Lady Susan.

The second was the familiarity of the main character, Lady Susan Vernon. Played with the right blend of known selfishness and feigned selflessness by Kate Beckinsale, she is a brilliant case of rampant narcissism. Even a small sampling of her words (of which there are many) and actions (disguised and self-justified) would have psychologists running for their notebooks and chairs. Widowed too early and with a daughter, as she constantly reminds us, she lives intermittently with her nearest relatives until she quickly dilutes their welcome. And then moves onto the next, with as little notice as possible to evade her increasing followers, debtors and lovers alike.

She is a grifter (probably not a word associated with Jane Austen), seducing and manipulating men and women respectively, with the aim of gaining a husband for herself and one for her daughter. She despises true love, as according to her, the only part of a man that makes a husband is his income, although even those words are not reflected by her actions at the conclusion of the movie!

Her plans are encouraged and abetted, by her best friend, Mrs Johnson played by Chloe Sevigny, one of the few characters in this  movie that is developed to any depth, though similar in nature to Lady Susan. Which brings me to my third realisation…

That Love and Friendship is filmed in vignettes. And each set of characters was introduced beforehand. Even so, in truth, I wished I had a libretto or the novel itself so I could keep track. Consequently, I realised that midway through the movie, perhaps with less characters, those remaining could be more deeply drawn rather than being a sequence of walk on extra special guest star roles!

As for the plot, it demands to be followed carefully! For as Lady Susan is the driver of the story, one quickly learns that her versions of events aren’t always strictly true.  Even when cornered and caught in untruth, Lady Susan dissembles brilliantly, that is, until people and events are further examined and the lie is exposed. Then suddenly, she moves elsewhere to avoid the consequences and responsibility of her actions. Much like the classic narcissist!

Beautifully filmed, but not in the overly worshipful way that plagues other Jane Austen films, Love and Friendship does through its scenery, of course, provide an ongoing insight into the successful upkeep of Great Britain’s stately homes.

But what most appealed to me was the wit of the script. It was replete with lines so wicked and cynical that the small crowd (from different walks of life by the way), all laughed uproariously!

Finally, while this film may be set in nineteenth century England, Love and Friendship could easily be transplanted into modern times. A self indulgent heroine greedily grabbing and grasping at every opportunity to make money and further her cause? Never, say the purists! All she would need is her own reality TV show!

Hunt for The Wilder People : Movie Review

It’s 6 o’clock Saturday 11th June 2016. I’ve exited the Event Cinemas in George Street Sydney. I’m sitting on a step scribbling furiously as people pass me by, lights and shadows draping me briefly.  I’m too immersed in what I’m doing to notice much else.

I’ve just seen Hunt For The Wilder People, the New Zealand smash-hit, apparently seen by one-in-nine Kiwis, though not yet as many people living on the West Island (Australia, in case you’re wondering).

It’s the story of an incorrigible orphaned boy Ricky (played by Julian Dennison). As a last resort, he is sent to the final foster parents in the middle of nowhere by Child Services. Totally unimpressed, Ricky tries to return to Child Services but once settled at home promptly runs away. After being found again (and again),  he  slowly acclimatises to his new environment, and starts to bond with his foster mother Bella (played by Rima Te Wiata). However, he develops a tenuous and stand-offish relationship with her cantankerous partner Hec (Sam Neill) who really would rather be left alone.

Sadly, tragically, Bella collapses and dies. With only Hec left, Child Services informs them that they will now take Ricky back. That’s enough for Ricky to go bush for good. Once Hec realises the situation, he searches for and finds Ricky but is injured in the pursuit.

Unfortunately, Paula from Child Services (No Child Left Behind, No Child Left Behind is her mantra), arrives on the now deserted farm. With no Ricky or Hec, she calls in the real police and starts a manhunt.

Directed by Taika Watiti, (director of Boy) who has an amusing and disturbing cameo as a pastor, this film showcases the scenery of New Zealand (the opening is like a travelogue) but lets the story unfold itself at its own pace. Through crisis, contemplation and humour,  we see the relationship between Ricky and Hec develop even if they are complete opposites. In their continuing adventures, Ricky learns bushcraft, bravery and brashly defies Paula from Child Services when she nearly catches him again. As the manhunt becomes national news, they’re left to the encroaching winter, the not-so-stealthy efforts of the pursuing Special Forces and the police. Although I did experience deja vu having watched Sam Neill in much the same situation in Sleeping Dogs!

Luckily, the Hunt for the Wilder People has a more humourous and happy outcome even if Ricky and Hec do end up confronting the New Zealand Army on its home turf.  And Julian Dennison steals the film.

This is a wonderfully told story, with many laughs and some sadness too. And a cast whose enjoyment in making this movie shines through! Go see it and enjoy.

More Than A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald

As a recent and still temporary resident of Sydney, I wanted to meet other writers. And of course to pick up some writing tips from a real-life author. Naturally, the best place and time to do both is a book launch.

So there am I, on a pre-east coast low cold and rainy Wednesday (31st May 2016) at the launch of a Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald, by Natasha Lester at the Australian Writers Centre in North Sydney. I introduce myself to a few writers, have a drink and find a seat to listen to Natasha Lester be interviewed by Valerie Khoo.

And it was a fascinating interview : how she writes, the path to publishing this novel, the inspiration for the book and how she researched.

And it gave me comfort,  inspiration and encouragement. Firstly, that I should let the story tell itself, for being a writer is an imperfect listener. Secondly, that with patience and persistence, all things are possible, that I could write more than a series of interlinked short stories. Thirdly, that even a geek like me can master Scrivener, a complex but powerful piece of software.

But I was in for a surprise.  The lady on my left was an integral part of Natasha Lester’s story, Rebecca Saunders, her publisher from Hachette. And once introduced to me, suggested with no prompting whatsoever, that I should enter writing competitions. “But I haven’t even told you that I write or what I write,” was my reply.  Maybe publishers have a level of intuition that I don’t yet know about.  It is true that I had entered the Big Issue competition last year with hopes until I saw who had been published. I felt like plankton in a vast ocean. Still often the most unexpected advice is the best to take.  Funnily enough I received the same advice later that night but I did mention I wrote.

And so as one does, on impulse, I bought the book and had it autographed by the author.  And during my conversation with her, I entered the confessional (much as many audience members do when a speaker reveals themselves) and mentioned my plan to expand these short stories (which has already started to happen). I was again gratified and encouraged by the response. Here is someone who wants everyone to write that can!

But the biggest surprise awaited until the weekend. I read the entire A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald in a day. This is a delightful book, both a historical novel and a story oriented towards women yet one that is accessible to male readers too! This well-written and well-thought out story takes the reader back to New York in the 1920s with beautifully described scenes, especially the clothes of the day and carefully drawn characters including the nuances of speech and slang.

It is the story of a woman who has an ambition to be an obstetrician which was then a completely male-dominated profession. It touched me as I have an ex-partner and also a sister who is a nurse and a sister-in-law who was a nurses’ aide. Through them I do know that as of now the medical environment has some way to go to fully accept women. But I was shocked at the latent hostility and deliberate ignorance towards women whether they were patients or medical colleagues. And this is where Natasha Lester delves into the dark places where men are knowingly cruel to women.  But that is not where the story stays…

A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald, is the story of a woman’s struggle to find true love and fulfillment against the odds. And that is  why we write.

 

 

 

Three Steps Too Many

Everything seemed perfect. Nothing had changed in years. So much so I forgot where I’d put my wallet and keys.
But only momentarily. Everything was as it was.

The carpet, that dull dirt brown, with sickly flecks of grey. Brighter than I remembered. No fading, no wear, no patches yet needing repair. The walls too, that soft creamy white, which was yet to fade fatally.

Yes it’s close to perfect. They had done well.

The curtains too, drawn against the sliding glass aluminium windows. The sunlight was completely blocked not strained as I later remembered. I flicked them open, and peered down. Four floors to the street.
I overlapped the curtains and shut the world out.
Just a desk, an old school desk with the hinged top. And then the bed. Both pristine as if just delivered. I stopped myself from looking for the packing.

Clean crisp sheets lay under that green and black patterned bedspread. That lost joy of sleeping in a new bed. I pulled the covers all the way back. I slipped in and slept.

Set your doubts aside, I told myself, as I woke. I had slept through. I swung my legs out and planted them firmly on the floor for certainty’s sake. Back on that carpet. Push off the covers and start a new day.
New clothes awaited me. Shiny shoes too. I showered, shampooed and shaved in expectant pleasure. Next a singlet, clean and fresh. White shirt next. Though pre-pressed I could still feel the new creases. Cuff links magnetically almost magically attached themselves. My trousers fitted perfectly as if they had melded themselves to my form. These easy features were great I thought and noted it for later.

Socks and then the shoes. I tied up the laces as I hated self-tying shoes. As I stood up, the shoes felt loose again. I looked down and they were untied. Sit down, tie them, stand up and untied again. I took them off and put on a pair of slip-ons.

My wallet and keys were where I’d left them. I pocketed my wallet which snugly fitted. The keys. They were there on the bedside table only a minute ago. They were gone. I checked my pockets, my suit jacket, the pillows, the blankets. Nothing. I checked my pockets, my suit jacket, the pillows, the blankets. I looked up and the gleam of the jets caught my eye. They were on the bedside table after all. Okay. Noted.

Breakfast next. I was running early so I had nothing to worry about. As I made the coffee, I left the teaspoon in the cup. As I poured the water in, it flowed up the bowl of the spoon and over the handle. Quickly I jump back. And quickly I mop up the mess. The water doesn’t seem so hot now. I should think nothing of it, I say to myself. I pick up the knife to butter the toast. The blade brushes the handle of my cereal spoon and sends it spinning. Luckily I’m quick again and save it from meeting the floor.
I’ll see this through I say. But my teeth are starting to grind.

The last task before work. The teeth clean. But first as advised, I floss. I check the indicator and there’s about 50 metres left. I tug at the strand and pull out two fingernails of dental floss. I look again. None left. Thus warned, I duck under the basin and draw out an extra roll. When I look up again, there’s 10cm of floss waiting for me. Okay it’s not what I expected but I’ll take it.
Four flights downstairs, two at a time. It’s like walking on air. I check my watch. Come to think of it, when did I put it on? Five minutes to the bus, it blinks at me.

I step out onto the street. Instantly my hand goes up to my left cheek to deflect a waft of breeze. A little cool in the morning is a joy. Suddenly I crouch & duck my head as a slurry of leaves and twigs suddenly appear. Then as quickly as it appears, it’s gone. I get to my feet and realise I had fended off the assault with my right arm. The winds are fluky today but not as I remember.

The bus arrives on time but not my time. I don’t argue with reality. I take it anyway. I touch on as usual. I shove the card back in my wallet and it promptly pops out. I’m quick but it takes two grabs to catch it. It seemed to start, float in the air momentarily and then stop. But why the hell didn’t it pop out before? I gave it enough chances!

Then I look at my fellow passengers. They’re strangers who are familiar yet remain a mystery despite sitting in the same seats and talking about the same banalities that I can still remember. Conversations about matching lists of possessions, defiant children and recalcitrant spouses, all suffixed by furtive glances at their smart watches. It’s strangely stilted somehow but I just can’t work it out. I’m not dropping out now. Not this time.

Finally the bus makes it to the freeway. And I’m dazzled. I slam my eyes shut. After a few seconds I reluctantly half open my right eye. The sun was still glaring at me. But I remember this trek far too well. Even in my half sight I can see the landmarks I know and mentally tick them off. But the sun. It’s still there. It’s in a different place today. I mentally play back the trips I remember and this doesn’t match. Perhaps the freeway has been re-routed, or I’m in a different seat today. But none of those match either.

But it’s too late to think of that. The bus has left the freeway and is being piped along a dark tunnel. And my stop is next. And it does appear. I leave, wend my way through the crowds and climb the stairs, two at a time, to the street.

And it’s raining. How did the weather change so quickly? I look up at the rain trails in the sky which stop before they hit the ground. I rack my brain for the term: Virga. I scan the sky for the source : cumulonimbus clouds and there aren’t any. Perhaps the wind blew them away?

My place of work looms up before me as I walk. A few steps, take the lift, see what joys and pressures await me today.

I take the steps three at a time…

I wake up from a leaden sleep. I feel as if I’ve been drawn up from the depths. Dimly I realise that two men are wrestling my helmet off me. With that familiar mixture of deftness and roughness they unstrap me and unbuckle my suit.
“Where am I?” I ask.
“You shouldn’t have taken that third step”, one of the attendants said.
“It forked the stair routine and deleted the building instance. They’re rebuilding the model now.”
“I don’t want to be an alpha tester anymore,” I say.
The other dev just glares at me.
“It was the final beta test.”
I shrug, find my misplaced wallet and keys, and leave. I approach the exit stairs.

I take the steps three at a time…

Black Hole Blues (and other songs from outer space)

With a title like that, I thought I was attending a musical event right in the middle of the Sydney Writer’s Festival.

Black Hole Blues is music, but not as we know it Jim.

I arrived and there was Adam Spencer, interviewing a woman I’d never seen before with an inter galactic background.

Janna Levin, the interviewee, is an astrophysicist; a theorist who had authored several scientific books. And she was talking about gravitational waves. Which chimed a small bell in the back of my head. I had heard of gravitational waves : theoretical, thought of as undiscoverable and then a few years ago they had been found.

Her book was about the improbable theory and discovery of gravitational waves. To add a soundtrack, she played the sounds of black holes colliding and the waves themselves. I thought she had smuggled in a Moog synthesiser. But no, these were the sounds themselves. Apparently they are available as ringtones!

But Janna Levin was telling the story : a story over 50 years old and involves three men : Rai Weiss, Kip Thorne (better known as the scientific advisor to Interstellar) and Ron Drever. These crazy guys thought that Einstein’s theory predicting gravitational waves was correct and that they could detect them.

But to do so required an extremely sensitive interferometer , the LIGO : which is a laser beam suspended in a vacuum.Janna Levin mentioned that the LIGO was so sensitive that it detected normal natural phenomena easily, and then gravitational waves.  It was no easy feat to fund the detector,  build it,  test it and then wait for an event (another 50 years perhaps).

But detect gravitational waves, they did. The LIGO detected a wave released by the collision of two black holes. It was the second largest release of energy in the universe after the Big Bang. And Janna Levin, played its soundtrack : an electronic wave that doesn’t break.

 

This story was absolutely fascinating as I knew small details of the story but not the incredible luck they encountered when they detected that wave.

Science has its stories too.

The Man Who Knew Infinity

I should have known about Srinivasa_Ramanujan, the subject of the Man Who Knew Infinity. It is the story of an unknown genius who turned mathematics inside out. But even my mere degree (a statistics major) is not required to appreciate this film.

It is Ramanujan’s story that is utterly compelling. An unlearned man, he teaches himself mathematics and then exceeds his peers. For him, mathematics is an elegance, something which I encountered but once. It was when my secondary school teacher described step-by-step how integration and derivation worked. And at that time I realised that I was not witnessing science but something more than that.

And this is the conflict of the film : art versus science. Ramanujan is an artist, a pure creative and his brilliance takes him to an alien environment, the closeted world of academia. For his peers encourage him to write to Cambridge, and after considering him to be a possible hoax, the mathematician G.H. Hardy invites him to stay and study.

Ramanjuan leaves wife and family and journeys to England to continue his dream.  And there begins a fractious relationship between a man who demands all theories be proven (Hardy) and another who has theories bequeathed to him (Ramanujan). Played against the backdrop of the events that led to World War 1 and the war, itself, their collaboration seems unnecessary and irrelevant. Yet despite their conflicts, they do end up working together and actually unearth theories which are only now being fully applied.

Jeremy Irons as Hardy plays the true rationalist who is totally confronted by Ramanujan’s talent. For Hardy, this relationship changed his life and perspective and challenged his rational and atheistic beliefs. Dev Patel, plays a very shy, introspective, spiritual man that truly believes that knowledge is revealed to those who open themselves to it.

For me, that was what I took from this film: artists (even mathematicians) are a conduit to creativity.

This Teleconference Has Been Postponed…

At last! Another opportunity to catch up on the backlog of outstanding work.

A teleconConference Call Phoneference! I dialed in, entered the meeting identification, my pin and spoke my name.

Then I placed my phone in hands-off mode and muted myself.

I knew I was safe because:

  1. I wouldn’t be asked to contribute
  2. I had very little to contribute
  3. I didn’t want to contribute
  4. I had a document to compose.

As people signed into the teleconference, I started to listen absently. As it continued, my attention wandered even more. Meanwhile people were dropping in and out. This meeting I thought was starting to resemble Tripp & Tyler’s  A Conference Call In Real Life.

But once the momentum resumed, I every so often stopped what I was doing and jot down a few notes. I thought to myself this was a very unfocused conversation indeed. Perhaps a facilitator or mediator might help. Besides nearly everyone else was on a higher level than me. And as I discounted that idea chaos struck.

My phone began to blare hold music. I looked carefully at the console. No. None of the lights were flashing. I still was on mute and still connected to the conference.

As the participants realised what had happened, a dull and boring meeting had become a hunt for a culprit. Much like school roll call, one by one we re announced ourselves over the continuing hold music. I took two attempts as I had unmuted and then muted myself.

One person failed to respond. He had received another phone call mid conference. And in answering that call  had placed the current call (us) on hold. He had to be contacted as soon as possible to continue the conference and save our sanity.

One of the participants suggested calling him. Which sounded contradictory until he added the words “on his mobile.” The meeting collectively held its breath (as best you can over Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries) and waited for the call to put through. No. He wasn’t answering his mobile either.

Which meant a physical intervention was required. Somebody must find this person and physically remove him from his phone. We waited a few minutes until this was organised.

“Are you near his desk? “Can you see him?” “Can you catch his attention?”

No to all questions.

“Can you go to his office and speak with him?”
“I’ll see what I can do.”

Once more we collectively held our breath (Ride of the Valkyries is a long piece of music) and waited.  Upon his return the hold music still continued. The culprit was in his office on the phone and couldn’t be disturbed (in another teleconference).

This teleconference will be postponed until a later date and time…

 

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