Category Archives: Reblogs

Adelaide Writers Week: Twilight of Democracy, with Anne Applebaum and Sally Warhaft

ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

The Twilight of Democracy is a rather depressing title for a festival session, but I’ll take any opportunity to listen to Sally Warhaft, especially when she’s in conversation with a Pulitzer Prize winner!

This is the session blurb:

Pulitzer prize-winning author and historian Anne Applebaum deconstructs the psychology and motivations of today’s crazed conspiracy theorists and populists in Twilight of Democracy, an incisive examination of the longstanding struggle between democracy and dictatorship. Drawing on experience and high-level relationships forged across Europe and America, and an exemplary understanding of contemporary and historical politics, Twilight of Democracy is a confronting and illuminating analysis of a polarised world.

Warhaft began by asking about Applebaum’s departure in style from her previous books.  She’s an historian, she said, but she could not write this book as a history because it’s not possible to be entirely objective when you’re living through the moment and you’re part…

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Mandating masks rapidly and dramatically increases mask use: before law 7%, after 97%

Simon Chapman AO

Following the development of a cluster of COVID-19 cases in late December 2020 in Sydney’s northern beaches region, the NSW government introduced a requirement for mandatory mask use on all public transport, retail shops, cinemas and theatres from midnight on January 2, 2012. Fines ranged from $200 for individuals, $1000 for small businesses and $5000 for corporations.

With the ebbing of cases, this requirement was narrowed a few weeks later, with masks remaining mandatory on public transport and in close-contact occupational settings like hair salons, barbers, massage parlours and nail bars.

Throughout 2020, the government had resisted extensive and often impassioned calls from many public health experts, the state political opposition and many members of the public for masks use to be mandatory in public indoor settings and public transport.

Well before masks were mandated, on July 28, 2020 I spent 90 minutes on the platform of my local railway…

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Pseudo-profundity vs. philosophy

J'ai une plume

The work of philosophers is often misperceived by people of other professions thanks in part to the existence of a great many other things which call themselves philosophy. The sort of ‘wise’ aphorisms which can be read in magazines, heard at lifestyle conferences and spouted by one’s elders at the dinner table rarely stand up to any form of analysis, but nevertheless are seen by a great many people as the currency in which philosophy deals.

“Love is only a word” is an example of this pseudo-profundity which Daniel Dennett calls a ‘deepity’. A deepity is a phrase which sounds like it contains a great depth of wisdom by virtue of being perfectly ambiguous. On one level it is clearly false that love is only a word. ‘Love’ is a word, but love itself is not (inverted commas are important). The fact that ‘love’ is a word is also trivially…

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Soviet Jokes About Living Under Oppression

Science Matters

The Soviet people lived under a regime where private life, ideas and opinions were banished from public expression by state media.  Now the USA has state media rivaling the USSR, only difference is ambiguity whether the media runs the state or vice-versa as in Soviet days.  In any case, Russians and others under that regime voiced their resistance by sharing jokes at the expense of the autocrats.  Wikipedia provides some instructive examples for Americans in the days ahead.

A judge walks out of his chambers laughing his head off. A colleague approaches him and asks why he is laughing. “I just heard the funniest joke in the world!”
“Well, go ahead, tell me!” says the other judge.
“I can’t – I just gave someone ten years for it!”

Q: “Who built the White Sea Canal?”
A: “The left bank was built by those who told the jokes, and the right…

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Love in a Cold Climate, by Nancy Mitford

ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

This was an enjoyable romp with which to end my reading year.  1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die compares Nancy Mitford to Jane Austen.

Well, I don’t know about that.  I’m not sure that the novel would bear re-reading as Austen’s novels do, but FWIW this is what 1001 Books has to say:

Mitford’s novels, like those of Jane Austen, focus on the small social manoeuvrings of an exclusive family and their “set”; like Austen, she uses fond but mocking satire to gently send up the family, even while encouraging the reader to care about its fortunes. (1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, ABC Books 2006, p.450)

The blurb encapsulates the slight plot:

Love in a Cold Climate is a wickedly funny satire, brilliantly lampooning upper-class society. When Polly, a beautiful aristocrat, declares her love for her married, lecherous uncle – who also happens to…

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Readers’ wildlife photos

Why Evolution Is True

Send in your photos, but make sure they’re good ones. Thanks!

Today was have some lovely landscapes from reader Bill Zorn. His captions are indented.

Sand Dunes, Colorado:

The Narrows, Utah:

Altamaha River, Georgia:

Monument Valley, Utah:

Jekyll Island, Georgia:

Jekyll Island, Georgia:

Linville Gorge, North Carolina:

Irwin Creek, Colorado:

Reeds, Georgia:

North Fork of the Virgin River, Utah:

These images were made using a Linhof Master Technika 2000 camera, Fuji Velvia film. I sent the film to a lab, and printed these on Ilfochrome. These are scans from the transparencies.

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Nobel Prize in Physics goes to three for showing that formation of black holes is predicted by relativity theory

Why Evolution Is True

This morning the Karolinska Institute awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics to two men and a woman—Roger Penrose, Reinhard Genzel, and Andrea Ghez—for work on black holes.  As the press release notes:

Three Laureates share this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics for their discoveries about one of the most exotic phenomena in the universe, the black hole. Roger Penrose showed that the general theory of relativity leads to the formation of black holes. Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez discovered that an invisible and extremely heavy object governs the orbits of stars at the centre of our galaxy. A supermassive black hole is the only currently known explanation.

Penrose got half the prize, with Genzel and Ghez sharing the other 50%.

My Nobel Prize Contest (see here and here) is already a big flop this year, with nobody guessing even one person from each of…

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The Alchemist by Ben Jonson (1610)

Books & Boots

The Alchemist is a plague play. Not only was it written in 1610, when the London theatres were closed (yet again) for (yet another) outbreak of plague, but the plot itself derives from that fact. The master of the house, Lovewit, has (like everyone else who can afford it) fled London and is waiting at his country seat for the plague to abate (his retreat appears to be in Kent; he is said to be waiting in his ‘hop-yards’). In the meantime his housekeeper, Face, has invited a conman, Subtle, and a prostitute, Doll Common, to come and stay in the house in a kind of joint criminal enterprise, persuading a series of gullible victims that Subtle is a renowned alchemist who will supply each of them the Philosopher’s Stone and make their dreams come true… for a price.

The cast

The three crooks

SUBTLE, the alchemist
FACE, the Housekeeper

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Lowitja, the authorised biography of Lowitja O’Donoghue, by Stuart Rintoul

ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

It was Bismarck who said that ‘politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best’.  Well, the two women I most admire in Australian politics are exponents of that art: Penny Wong, who, as I read in Margaret Simons’ recent biography Penny Wong, Passion and Principlesays that you can’t achieve change unless you’re ‘in the room’, even if that means that sometimes you have to settle for less;  and Lowitja O’Donoghue, whose steely determination to represent Indigenous people changed Australia for the better, even though there is still much more to be done.

Stuart Rintoul’s biography traces the story of this remarkable woman’s life, tracked alongside significant events in Australia’s Black History, rendering the biography also a refresher course for those who lived through these events and an education for younger readers who did not.  The book begins in 1979 with…

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A Monarchy Transformed: Britain 1603-1714 by Mark Kishlansky (1996) 7 – the reign of James II

Books & Boots

Because King Charles II died in February 1685 without a son and heir – without, in fact, any legitimate children from his marriage to Catherine of Braganza – the throne passed automatically to his brother, James Duke of York, who ascended the throne as King James II.

James was a professed Roman Catholic and a zealous reformer. He wished to lift the multiple legal restrictions which had been placed on his fellow Catholics and, as a balancing gesture, to lift legal constraints on the Puritans and non-conforming Protestant sects. However, within three short years he managed to alienate almost every party and profession in the country, and especially the powerful Whig politicians.

The crisis came to a head over two big issues. First James made the error of trying seven Anglican bishops for seditious libel. To be precise, in April 1688, encouraged by the Quaker leader William Penn with whom…

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