Monthly Archives: October 2006

Anglican minister calls for an army of god to go to war against the Shaolin Monks

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October 29, 2006

The New South Wales planning minister, Frank Sartor, has given the go ahead for a proposal to build a Shaolin Temple complex on a former dairy farm near Nowra on the NSW South Coast.

Under the plan a 1,248 hectare property will be developed into a massive Shaolin complex containing three pagoda temples, places for 500 Kung Fu students, 1,500 seat indoor auditorium, 1,000 seat outdoor amphitheatre, 20 hectare herbal garden, acupuncture and herbal medicine centre, a 500 room four star hotel, 27 hole golf course and a village of up to 500 homes. It’s Kung Fu Disneyland, right here in New South Wales.

Shoalhaven Mayor Greg Watson said the development would create thousands of jobs and generate $171 million a year for the area. Mr Watson also said, after talking to the incumbent Abbot of Shaolin in China, Shi Yongxin, that the Abbot was keen to build here “because he liked the Mayor”. Big yourself up, Mr Watson.

shiyongxin Anglican minister calls for an army of god to go to war against the Shaolin Monks
Shaolin Abbot Shi Yongxin

Anyone that knows anything about Shaolin these days knows that the venerable and rich tradition of the ancient Buddhist system has become big business in China, sadly to the detriment of the essence of all the things that Shaolin should stand for. It’s really no wonder that the Shaolin Corporate Brand is doing all it can to spread.

In some ways it’s not entirely bad. As a Kung Fu instructor myself, I’m always pleased to see the development of any Kung Fu art through the world. But I can’t help being sceptical of the whole Nowra plan. A system like Shaolin that teaches Ch’an Buddhism and personal development through martial arts and Qi Gong being developed with a four star hotel and 27 hole golf course? Hardly the environment for aesthetes. You can’t help but marvel at the business acumen of monks that negotiated a deal to buy 1,248 hectares of some of the most beautiful land in Australia for $5 million.

But the best twist of all, and the source of my blatantly sensationalist headline, comes with the words of Anglican minister Trevor Aspin. The Sun Herald reports that Aspin claimed the Shaolin monks would “bring evil into the Shoalhaven”. He apparently sent a memo to local ministers saying that God had directed him to call the “Army of God and go to war” to stop the Shaolin Temple development. Them’s fightin’ words! His claim caused outrage and was not supported by other church leaders. They’re probably too scared to go to war against the world’s most famous fighting Monks. They would get their Anglican butts kicked, but wouldn’t that have been the ratings winner of the year if Shaolin Abbot Shi Yongxin had negotiated for the fight to be televised.

New pages on alanbaxter.info

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October 27, 2006

I’ve been upgrading the alanbaxter.info website recently. Obviously, the main page of the site is this blog, but I regularly and shamelessly promote my other writing endeavours here. If you look at the top of the page, under the banner, there are three image buttons. The first one will take you to the new look RealmShift page where you can learn all about the novel. The second button, Dark Shorts, will take you to a new page where I’ve posted a few of my short stories in pdf format. I plan to post more stories now and then, and I’ll be sure to let you know when I do. The third button leads to the website for my other passion.

Have a look and feel free to leave any feedback in the comments here or email me at the address you can find in the sidebar. I’m always keen to hear from readers.

Few words with a large impact

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October 27, 2006

The Pascall Prize for criticism was awarded this week to a man that has penned very few words until recently. Brisbane band the Go-Betweens was formed by Robert Forster many years ago and has since become recognised as one of Brisbane’s finest bands. Just last year Robert was approached by new magazine The Monthly to be their music critic. His writing credentials up until then had been one column on hair care that he wrote in the late 1980’s. Hardly the resume of a powerful force in critical writing.

forster Few words with a large impact
Robert Forster
(Picture from smh.com.au)

However, it turned out that Forster is a great critic and can turn a great phrase. He writes in pencil on unlined paper before committing the piece to his computer because “pencil doesn’t have permanence. When I write in ink it all looks a bit too important already.”

So take heart, any would-be writers out there. You can start from nowhere and achieve great things.

Forster had hardly written previously, but is now recognised as a leading writer. Someone who wrote very infrequently, yet had incredible impact was Henry VIII’s wife Catherine of Aragon. She wrote a three page letter in her own hand to her nephew Charles V. The letter can certainly be said to have had a part in changing English history. The letter was a plea to Charles for help in upholding her failing marriage to Henry. She wanted Charles to use his influence over the Pope to get some help and he did just that. Henry’s anger at this interference, his subsequent ignoring of the Pope’s edict and his marriage to Anne Boleyn led to the break with the Catholic Church. It’s a very important letter, moreso because it is written in Catherine’s own hand.

Why is it relevant now? The letter will appear at Sotheby’s in New York for auction and is expected to sell for between US$100,000 and US$150,000. Valuable words indeed.

Women are meat weapons used by Satan

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October 27, 2006

People often accuse me of victimising the church and picking on religion. As I’ve said before, it’s really not my fault. Generally speaking, religions make themselves a target for those of us fighting against the improper use of language. Politicians do it as an artform, marketers do it to separate a fool from his dollar, but sometimes it’s the religions of the world that really make an impact with their words.

And it’s not just the Catholic church or Christians in general that I single out. Generally speaking, pretty much any organised religion is as bad as the next. This week’s Moron Of The Moment is Australia’s leading Muslim mufti, Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali.

hilali Women are meat weapons used by Satan
Moron

Sheik Hilali gave a speech during Ramadan in which he said, “If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it … whose fault is it, the cats or the uncovered meat?

“The uncovered meat is the problem.”

Was he talking about the problem of feral cats among Sydney’s Muslim community? No. He was referring to women that are scantily clad and not wearing a hajib, the traditional Muslim headscarf, and the men that can not help themselves from raping those women.

He also suggested that, “If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred.”

Of course, if some scumbag rapist had the ability to control sexual urges that were as primal as a starving animal’s need to eat, then the room, the house and the hijab would all be unnecessary. But al-Hilali seems to think that the onus is on women as men have no ability to control themselves. And this is supposedly Australia’s leading Muslim cleric talking.

al-Hilali also said that women were “weapons” used by “Satan” to control men.

“It is said in the state of zina (adultery), the responsibility falls 90 per cent of the time on the woman. Why? Because she possesses the weapon of enticement (igraa).”

Of course, I’m sure that the very large majority of Muslims are as appalled as everyone else by his comments. The trouble is, when someone is considered to be the spokesman for any group, be it a president talking about his country, a cleric talking for his religion or an individual talking on behalf of his friends, those words are considered the view of the group as a whole. Words are very powerful things.

The most amusing part of the whole thing is the Sheik’s attempt at an apology following the widespread outrage at his comments. He said, “I unreservedly apologise to any woman who is offended by my comments. I had only intended to protect women’s honour.”

Pretty strange way of going about it.

More church words and other strange signage

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October 23, 2006

You’ll all know by now how entertained I am by the signs that churches put up to attract new members or to try to spread their chosen message. A reader of The Word, Andrew Clark, has sent in a good one from St Michael’s Anglican Church in Surry Hills, a local suburb of Sydney City. This sign wins this week’s prize for greatly advancing the scope of asinine rhetoric:

footprint More church words and other strange signage

The sign reads:

What could our environmental foot-print look like if we lived like Jesus?

Well, firstly, there would be no use of petrochemicals to make plastics that could subsequently be used to make dumb signs. Perhaps if members of the church really did live like Jesus allegedly lived there would have been a lot less death and bloodshed in their name over the centuries.

This sign prompted me to check out the Central Baptist Church in the city of Sydney again, which has provided some corkers in the past. And yes, they’ve done it again. This time they’ve even encroached on copyright.

telstrachrist More church words and other strange signage

24hr wireless connection
Christ

For those readers that are not from ‘round these parts, the ‘T’ in Christ is a rip-off of the logo for Telstra, the main telecommunications company here in Australia.

telstra logo glow More church words and other strange signage
The Telstra logo (copyright Telstra!)

This particular sign is entertaining on many levels. Firstly, the church comparing itself to Telstra is like a nanny using Hermann Goebels as a referee in a job interview. I don’t think there’s a single member of the public living in this country that doesn’t have some gripe or another with the company. Secondly, they’re suggesting that there’s some kind of connection available twenty four hours a day. Surely there should be some kind of response if that’s the case? After all, if I had a wireless connection set up I’d expect to receive emails or gain direct and clear answers to my enquiries. Oh, wait a minute; I think we’ve stumbled on the reason for the comparison to Telstra. All promises with nothing delivered.

Now before I get a bunch of zealots emailing and leaving comments about how I’m going to hell because I keep bagging out religion, let me offer some other examples of word abuse in signage. Honestly, I don’t deliberately pick on religion, but it’s just so easy.

Here’s something else. A gourmet burger joint in Bondi Junction has a menu listing all the variations they have to offer and it all seems quite reasonable at first glance. However, I spotted a line at the bottom of the menu, on the back page, that had me laughing out loud.

burgermenu More church words and other strange signage

That last line at the bottom in curly red font reads:

“Please do not throw me I’ll feed good food”

It would appear that Burgerlicious can’t afford copy editors. Or perhaps they meant it to read that way?

And finally, a sign in an Irish pub in the city had me chuckling. This poster appeared at one end of the bar:

bulmers More church words and other strange signage

“Beer of the month: Bulmers Cider”

Fantastic. Apparently no beer available at this pub is good enough to make beer of the month, so a cider gets the honour. This had me wondering – is this a promotion for cider or an insult to beer?

Can you guess what we need?

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October 16, 2006

A large recruitment agency in the UK, Robert Walters, has taken self-censorship to new heights with a list of words that it has banned from its job advertisements. In a knee-jerk reaction to Employment Equality (Age) Regulations which came into effect on October 1, the company has issued a list of seventeen banned words. The banned words should “under no circumstances appear in any Robert Walters advertising from this point forward” in a move that the company’s marketing director, Steve Edwards, called “being cautious” and having “defined guidelines on what you can or cannot say”.

The concept may seem fairly reasonable at first glance and ageism in the workplace is a problem, but the company has gone rather too far. It’s not just about saying something like “young person required”. Some of the words on the banned list are vibrant, dynamic, ambitious and hungry. I fail to see how an older person can’t have these traits. Dynamism and ambition are hardly the exclusive domain of the young; if anything, apathy can often be more accurately applied.

Perhaps one of the most absurd directives is that ads for gym staff and personal trainers can no longer openly solicit applications from fit or energetic people. Why not? It’s a requirement of the job. You can be 25 or 55 and still be fit and energetic. If the ads said, “No fat bastards” then that would certainly be offensive. Even if they openly said, “Over 50? You’re too old for us!” then that would be blatantly ageist and would certainly contravene the new laws. But asking fitness professionals to be fit and energetic is a given, surely? Would they advertise an accountancy position without requesting good numeracy skills to avoid being seen as numerist? Absurd.

The company has also requested that references to modern qualifications such as media studies or information technology be avoided in advertising. Imagine all the applicants for an IT job when they see an ad that doesn’t require IT qualifications. On arrival for the interview they would be informed, “Ah, yes, actually you do need a degree in Information Technology. But we didn’t put it in the ad because we didn’t want to be ageist.”

The list of banned words also includes youthful, quick-learner, self-starter, high-flyer, gravitas, newly qualified, soon-to-be-qualified, recent graduate and experienced. It would seem that Robert Walters recruitment considers older people to be slow learning, low flying and incapable of continuing education.

My generosity is boundless

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October 16, 2006

Just another quick piece of shameless self-promotion. For those people that were unsatisfied with a single chapter of RealmShift for preview, the first three chapters are now available. Click here to find the RealmShift page and click on the relevant link for a pdf file of the first three chapters in full. You can use a Right Click and Save As if you want to download the file to keep. And who could blame you?

Save me from the avenging angels

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October 13, 2006

Any readers that are Christian might want to stop reading now and delete all their favourite blogs from their bookmarks. And if you are Christian and keep your own blog, watch out. It’s not that I have any problem with the combination of Christians and blogs personally, but some people do.

The Evangelical Restored Church of God has deemed blogging to be un-Christian. The monthly publication of this church, Ambassador Youth, has pointed out that blogging has become a socially accepted practice, just like “dating seriously too young, underage drinking and general misbehaving”. What about teenage pregnancy? What about drug abuse? Paedophilia? They missed a few opportunities there.

Kevin D Denee, writing in Ambassador Youth, notes, apparently without a trace of a comedy routine, that blogging “often makes the blogger feel good or makes him feel as if his opinion counts”. How dare those godless bloggers do anything to feel good or even consider, for a fraction of a second, that their opinion counts. They should have long since learned that the only opinion that counts is that of god, delivered, naturally, by the very human leader of their church and coloured heavily with that leader’s own agenda. Expressing their own opinion indeed. These people should be burned at the stake.

Denee also noted that, “Much of this is simply blathering on blogs – mindless words and idle communication. Blogs can be summed up as people talking about almost anything, but really nothing. There is no purpose to much of the contents – no direction.”

So what? Ninety per cent of regular conversations fall into this category anyway and, to be honest, it’s also a fair description of a large number of church sermons I’ve been unfortunate enough to endure. From any faith, not just Christian ones.

Funnily enough, the church recognises that there are “some professionals and specialists who use blogs to serve a proper purpose”. I wonder if that includes me? Their last piece of advice is to maintain friends the “old-fashioned way” through “actual personal contact, as well as letter writing, emailing or instant messaging”. Now they’re just trying to be cool by suggesting that email and IM are old-fashioned.

I’ll leave it for you to decide what’s un-Christian. If you want to read all of Denee’s alarmist and sensationalist article about the evils of blogging, you can find it here. But I warn you, “much of this is simply blathering”.

Whimsy words and music

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October 11, 2006

I’ve recently discovered a truly bizarre collaboration that actually works really well. Melbournian whimsy wordsmith Michael Leunig has long been a favourite of mine due to his ability to stamp his unique mark on anything from the truly surreal to the politically volatile. He often ends up coming across as suicidally depressed about the state of the world in his poems and cartoons, yet he always seems to find hope somewhere. And he has achieved that cult status attained by so few – to be known by only one name.

leunig Whimsy words and music
Leunig

Leunig is a name now synonymous with wavy line-drawing cartoons, a love of all things curly and occasionally despairing rants against the follies of modern man. He’s as much a philosopher as a commentator. I think I’ll always have most respect for his “Festival Of Alans” cartoon, which included a panel showing Alans joining hands to circle the city and create the famous “Alan Energy Aura”. There’s something I could certainly get behind.

Leunig drawing Whimsy words and music
An example of Leunig’s cartooning

Leunig was declared an Australian Living Treasure by the National Trust of Australia in 1999. Some examples of his work are in order, I suppose. Firstly, an example of the the despairing Leunig:

Home/Appalled

They took him on a stretcher to the Home for the Appalled
where he lay down in a corner and he bawled and bawled and bawled.

‘There’s nothing wrong with me,’ he wailed, when asked about his bawling,
‘It’s the world that need attention; It’s so utterly appalling.’

‘It’s so utterly appalling,’ he sobbed and cried and bawled,
and the chorus rose to join him at the Home for the Appalled.

And then there’s the pure whimsy:

The Summer Palace

Make a little garden in your pocket.
Plant your cuff with radishes and rocket.
Let a passion fruit crawl up your thigh.
Grow some oregano in your fly.

Make a steamy compost of your fears.
Trickle irrigate your life with tears.
Let your troubled mind become a trellis.
Turn your heart into a summer palace.

Recently Leunig’s work has received an unusual partner in the form of Australian musician Gyan.

gyan1 Whimsy words and music
Gyan

Gyan said that she had started putting some of Leunig’s poetry to music with no real agenda other than for the joy of doing it. When a mutual friend passed on a copy of the recordings to Leunig he fell in love with it and thoroughly endorsed the project. They’ve since performed together, Gyan singing while Leunig accompanies her and draws, at places such as the Melbourne and Byron Bay Writers’ Festivals.

There’s now a released CD, called Billy The Rabbit, featuring Gyan’s haunting and beautiful music with Leunigs words and pictures in an accompanying book. A rarely brilliant combination of those two most powerfully emotive things – expertly handled words and music.

It was a dark and stormy night

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October 9, 2006

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents–except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

–Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)

Did you know that the oft-repeated phrase, “It was a dark and stormy night” actually originated in 1830? Not only that, it and its author have caused the birth of a modern writing phenomenon that is as entertaining as it is intriguing.

In much the same way that Amanda McKittrick Ros has birthed a series of competitions based on her truly awful writing, Edward George Bulwer-Lytton has made people realise that the opening line of a novel can encapsulate the true horror of the novel that follows, if it’s written badly enough. The infamous opening line above should make that abundantly clear.

Edward bulwer lytton It was a dark and stormy night
Edward George Bulwer-Lytton

Therefore, ever since 1982, “the English Department at San Jose State University has sponsored the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.” Their website can be found here.

Some of the original best entries were published in a collection available from Penguin Books called “It Was A Dark And Stormy Night.” There have since been five such collections, but all are now out of print. Which seems only natural. Interestingly, the first time the contest ran it attracted three entires from the university campus. Going public the following year, over 10,000 entries were received. And this was before the internet made kooky ideas flood the planet in seconds.

The rules to enter the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest are, to quote the website, “childishly simple”:

Each entry must consist of a single sentence but you may submit as many entries as you wish. Sentences may be of any length (though you go beyond 50 or 60 words at your peril), and entries must be “original” (as it were) and previously unpublished.

Easy. Now I know that you’re all most interested to read some of the winning entries.

Here’s the winner from 2001:

A small assortment of astonishingly loud brass instruments raced each other lustily to the respective ends of their distinct musical choices as the gates flew open to release a torrent of tawny fur comprised of angry yapping bullets that nipped at Desdemona’s ankles, causing her to reflect once again (as blood filled her sneakers and she fought her way through the panicking crowd) that the annual Running of the Pomeranians in Liechtenstein was a stupid idea.
Sera Kirk, Vancouver, BC

But rather than me picking favourites, have a look here where you’ll find all the winning entries since 1983. It’s worth a read, as there are some absolute blinders there.

And for those that would prefer a new angle on an old-ish contest, I’m way ahead of you. The Sydney Morning Herald is running it’s own Rip Off the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. Check it out here.

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The website of author Alan Baxter

Alan Baxter, Author

Author of horror, dark fantasy & sci-fi. Kung Fu instructor. Personal Trainer. Motorcyclist. Dog lover. Gamer. Heavy metal fan. Britstralian. Misanthrope. Learn more about me and my work by clicking About Alan just below the header.

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