Monday, May 29, 2017

Monday Forum - end of progress?

Sometimes I think that I have become an old curmudgeon. No, the image is not me, just how I sometimes feel!

Its partly that so many institutions or ideas have been discredited or at least tarnished, partly because I find myself tired of arguing. The concept of progress is a case in point.

I grew up in a world where the possibility of progress was central to thinking, Yes, it was a world that had experienced two world wars, a great depression and then the risk of nuclear Armageddon. Yet progress, or at least the idea of progress, seemed so real.

As someone interested in history, I knew institutions and indeed civilisations  rose and fell, that the apparent stability that held sometimes for extended periods was in fact ephemeral. I also knew that bad things happened, that barbarism, war, cruelty and prejudice were an integral part of the human condition. I wasn't especially censorious or judgmental about the past, it just was. Of course I had my biases, including some I was not aware of. I certainly had my favourites, but broadly the question of right or wrong passed me by.

In looking at the sweep of history it seemed to me that each conflict, each civilisation to use that word in its broadest sense, left a legacy that continued into later times. Greece and then Rome fell, but their ideas and contributions continued. The Dark Ages as we then called the following period helped lay the basis for the Renaissance which in turn provided a base for subsequent cultural and economic advance including the industrial and agrarian revolutions. The turmoil, constant invasions and wars that marked the history of the British Isles would ultimately result in the emergence of Parliamentary Democracy.

I accept that thsi analysis is fairly superficial and indeed there are issue here that I want to come back to at a later point. For the present, though, I want to pose a simple question: is the concept of progress still relevant? I am still an optimist and would argue that it is, but the case is arguable now in a way that would have seemed inconceivable a few decades ago.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Death of Roger Moore, Saint and Secret Agent

I became quite addicted to the Saint books while at school. Written by Leslie Charteris, the books featured Simon Templar as a swashbuckling Robin Hood style figure.

I was not the only one. Brother David found himself in a minor degree of trouble when he and friend Simon tried to open bank accounts at the local branch of the Bank of NSW in the name of Simon Templar and Sebastian Toombs respectively. The manager recognised the boys and immediately rang our father. Spoilsport!

Much later when we moved back to Armidale just before eldest's birth, some of David's more adventurous kit was still there, including the rope ladder he constructed to be able to be able to escape from the upstairs attic window, avoiding the narrow, creaky stairs down.  The girls were much attracted to this!

I was reminded of all this because of the death of Roger Moore who played The Saint in the TV series before going on to play James Bond.

Roger Moore was the epitome of suave and debonair.He was also quite a funny man who did not take himself too seriously. This BBC quote piece captures some of that. On Bond, for example:
The Bond situations to me are so ridiculous, so outrageous. I mean, this man is supposed to be a spy and yet everybody knows he's a spy. Every bartender in the world offers him martinis which are shaken and not stirred. What kind of serious spy is recognized everywhere he goes? It's outrageous
Quite, and that's why the series has survived so well, I think. At a time when there is so much apparent seriousness in the world (news of Roger Moore's death coincided with news of the Manchester bombing), its nice to have a degree of the outrageous.    

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Breaking Bad swallows Anne

I belong to an online discussion group focused on the work of a particular British writer. Membership is almost entirely female.

It's generally a friendly chatty group. Suddenly, outrage burst forth in a stream of strongly expressed emails. I had no idea what was going on. Finally, I worked out that the ire was directed at a new Netflix version of Anne of Green Gables, Anne with an E.

For those who don't know the book, Anne of Green Gables was written by the Canadian author L M (Lucy Maud) Montgomery. It tells the story of  Anne Shirley, an 11-year-old orphan girl, who is mistakenly sent to Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, a middle-aged brother and sister who had intended to adopt a boy to help them on their farm in the fictional town of Avonlea on Prince Edward Island. The novel recounts how Anne makes her way with the Cuthberts, in school, and within the town.

First published in 1908, the book has been translated into twenty languages, sold more than 50 million copies.and has never been out of print.It has been translated into multiple films, TV series and stage shows.

As a very young child, I watched a re-release of the !934 black and white film at the local cinema. I remember being quite frightened at the early part.

I read the book much later, decided I really liked it and then read the whole Anne series. I also watched two of the later TV series and liked them too.

Making a new version of (or based around) a classic  is always difficult because you are dealing with an audience that has its own already formed views. Anne of Green Gables: A New Beginning, the fourth and final film in Sullivan Entertainment's Anne of Green Gables series, was a completely new story. Anne, now a middle aged woman who has lost Gilbert during the Second World War (something not in the books), begins a search into her past life before she came to Green Gables.This has far reaching effects on her own life.

The film effectively bombed, in part because it was just too far outside audience expectations to gain acceptance. Reactions within the discussion group to the new Anne (CBC) or Anne with an E (Netflix) series were much the same. Those who had seen the first episodes said they would not watch anymore. Those who had not but had been planning too decided not to watch.

The new series  was adapted by Emmy-winning showrunner, director, and writer, Moira Walley-Beckett of “Breaking Bad” fame.

According to the New Yorker,  she told the CBC that she wanted it to “look like a Jane Campion film, and it does.” But she wanted more:
 “I wanted to ground it in the foundation of some of the story and some of the plot that’s already there but not fully explored,” she said. “So it’s like I sort of open up the spine of the book, reach in between the lines of the pages, and chart some new territory.”  
While Anne of Green Gables is now classified as children's book, Montgomery thought of it as a book for all ages. There are dark even melodramatic elements in the book, it could easily be done as a Victorian melodrama, but these are submerged in the text by Anne's character. To open up the spine of the book and (I think) to meet perceived modern sensibilities, new material has been added and the weighting changed.

Critical reaction has been mixed but generally negative. The New York Time's Neil Genzlinger (Review: ‘Anne With an E’ Is a Rewarding Return to Green Gables") liked it: :"You say darker, I say richer", he wrote, although adding "Watch this series with young children and you’d best be prepared to annotate it on the fly. But do feel free to watch it with young children." .

Willa Paskin in The Melbourne Age (Anne of Green Gables gets the Breaking Bad Treatment) has a long interview with Moira Walley-Beckett in which she explains her motivation for the approach she has taken, the re-weighting she has made. Slate's  Marissa Martinelli summarised her reaction this way: "Netflix’s dark, gritty reboot of Anne of Green Gables has all the subtlety of a chalkboard smashed over your head." .
To Sarah Larson in the New Yorker, this is a case of 'how not to adapt "Green Gables"'. To TV Guide's Kat Rosenfield "Anne of Green Gables Fans Are Totally Traumatized By Netflix's Adaptation" In the Jesuit review America, Haley Stewart reports '“Anne of Green Gables” becomes a gothic nightmare in Netflix's “Anne With an E”" And so the reviews go on, many with very funny lines to make their point.

There was universal praise for the production values, while episode one also attracted praise, but then the criticism mounted. Twitter reaction was deeply divided, with some support. But overall, it would appear that the reaction of my on-line discussion group was not far out, that the changes had gone just too far outside acceptable bounds for those to whom Anne was a much loved character.  

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Congratulations to marcellous on surviving ten years of blogging

It is ten years since marcellous started blogging, an anniversary celebrated in Ten years. The post begins:
It is ten years since the first post on this blog. Some kind of retrospective seems called for. 
I had lurked on others’ blogs for years.  I probably caught the blogging wave just as it was about to recede.  As early as September that year I wondered if that was so as I saw blogs falling by the wayside.  That may have been more churn than decline, but by 2012 or 2013 other social media were clearly leaving blogs behind.  Now it is mostly the older and more fixed in their ways who persist. (My bolding.).
Mmmm. I agree re the impact of other forms of social media. I agree that blogging has greatly changed and should now be perhaps be classified as an aging form. However, when I look the really big changes in blogging the position is a little more complex than that.

The original diary blog has certainly declined , while there has been loss at the younger end of the age spectrum. The days when I used Google blog search to track evolving events are long gone, replaced by twitter and the adoption of live blogging approaches by the main stream media. And yet? Is it just the case that we have settled into our own niches? After all, new blogs are still emerging, although they are now probably far more special purpose.

Looking at my own platforms (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, column) based on what data I have plus my own impressions, there are interesting differences across platforms.Some of the data is a little uncomfortable. For example, on Twitter 63% of my followers are male, only 37% female; 84% of my followers come from Australia, 64% from NSW. That's a bit unbalanced.

On my public Facebook page by contrast, males drop to to 56%. Facebook also provides age data where there is a distinct younger skew. By contrast, on this blog I think my readership and certainly my commenters are older. This is the case for my newspaper column as well. Those interested in history in general including local history do tend to be older.

I fear I have sidetracked a little, although I blame marcellous for that! However, my purpose here was actually to congratulate him on surviving ten years of blogging. marcellous's post provides an overview of some of his posts including his neglected favourite Drug dealing in the Eastern Suburbs – a true story.  


Saturday, May 13, 2017

Saturday Morning Musings - remembering Mark Colvin, the future of the Australian media

ABC's Mark Colvin's death has affected many people including me. His voice, his intelligence, have been part of my life for many years. You will find some details on his life here and here. . He was one of those people who gave the ABC its  credibility.

During the week I was approached by the Melbourne Press Club. They wanted a photo of someone for their Australian Media Hall of Fame and the best photo they could find was one from me.

I couldn't help them. While I could give provenance, the photo simply wasn't of the resolution required. The best I could do was to provide them with some leads on possible sources that might have photos. Finding specific photos on the internet has become a huge problem. Its partly the sheer increase in volume, but its also due to loss of sites over time, to changes in search algorithms, to changing treatment of photos.

Its very frustrating when you have seen a photo before but can no longer find it no matter how hard you search. I'ts also frustrating, especially for someone interested in Australian history, when entire series vanish. Bottom line. If you see a photo that is important, save it with details. You may never see it again.

Meantime, media change continued. In April came the latest round of the never-ending Fairfax restructuring followed by the opportunistic TPG proposal. Then came the opening of the New York Time's Australian front, adding to the proliferation of centre, left of centre online mastheads.  

Roy Morgan released the results of the print readership for major newspapers in the twelve months to end March 2017 showing further declines in readership of the main Fairfax newspapers except for the Financial Review.The Australian also recorded an increase in its readership during the week, with a decline at the weekend.

From time to time I have complained about what I see as weaknesses in Fairfax's strategic directions. Like many, I am worried about the decline in journalism, in the scope for in-depth coverage, in basic reporting.

Mark Colvin was a reporter, now an under-valued breed. I wonder whether the future development of the Australian Media Hall of Fame will simply document the end of reporting? I don't think that it need be this way, although I struggle to articulate a proper alternative. I just think that Fairfax is perhaps a case study in what not to do!   

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Remembering the Oceanic Cafe

When I first started working at Parramatta, I walked past this old cafe. It was a strange place, totally old fashioned, very cheap plan menu with few customers other than old guys sitting there quietly eating their lambs fry and bacon.

Then I noticed that it was not open sometimes. Suddenly, I knew. When I was coming to Sydney in my last years at school or early university I had eaten there. It wasn't posh then, but it was very cheap with large servings. Now, all those years later, it was still there and unchanged.

Looking down at the old lady who always sat in the back, I said to myself that you should go. The food is remarkable value, and you still like the things that they serve.

Finally, the place was shut. I had not been there. I kept reminding myself that there must be a story, it had to be a Sydney icon of some type, but I hadn't looked until for detail until they started altering the building and the last signs of the cafe started to vanish.

The story I found was very interesting but only partial. I quote from Not quite Nigella.
Run by a Mother and Daughter team as a community service for those in need, the interior of the cafe is a sight to behold. 
Unchanged from the original 1920's interior, there are booth style seats, roughly drawn menus that you know haven't changed in decades and specials of the day at the princely sum of $5 (the most expensive item being $9).As we walk in, they peer out from the little window to see who the interlopers are. We order at the table with the daughter, a smiling, slightly nervous woman who is a little hard of hearing but nevertheless unassuming and well meaning. 
Looking around the Oceanic Cafe as we are leaving, I wanted to know more about the Mother and Daughter duo and the history behind it and Queen Viv suggests that I contact Jay Katz of Radio FBI 94.5, a community Radio station, a man who has had a long association and friendship with them through his work driving Missionbeat vans. He's friendly and happy to chat about them, eager for the rest of Sydney to know and pay respect to their efforts. The publicity shy Mum and the daughter (Christina) are of Greek descent with the mum working at the Oceanic since the 1930's. Jay says, "There were so many down and out guys and ladies for decades who had close relationships with Christina and mum. They had a wall in the kitchen full of postcards and those postcards were things from inside Long Bay (Prison) from people who would've taken stretches there. They knew just about every character and some of them they even knew them from children and their criminal history and in that sense it's so community based."
During the time they've been open, and it's a good 70 plus years, they've seen a lot of people. "They'd have chronic alcoholics there that were quite violent. Going back to the late 70s there was a character in Sydney called The Skull who was head of the National Front (neo Nazi organisation). Mike Walsh used to put him on television but I can remember sitting across from him having lunch once and he just started to get really aggressive and scream abuse at everyone and mum came out of the kitchen and grabbed him by the back of the ear and threw him out. She was probably the only person in the country that would do that" he chuckles. 
 As I understand it from the sources, the cafe kept open because mum wanted to maintain it. When she died, that was no longer possible.I imagine there were also potential problems with the owners. That small block is overdue for gentrification, and the cafe can't have made enough money to meet full commercial rents.

Mum's funeral service was at St Spryidon's just down the road. I missed not just a chance for a last meal, but also a chance to pay my respects.


Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Am I really Bingo Little?!

I have always liked the writing of P G Wodehouse, so when an opportunity came up to do one of those on-line tests to determine which Wodehouse character I was I could not resist.  But did I have to be Bingo Little?

I quote:
"You're a lovesick loon, always having your head turned by the latest pretty young thing. Some might think you flighty, but you're just a hopeless romantic, alas! What ho, Bingo, what ho!"

Now our blogging friend Ramana did much better, scoring Jeeves. Again I quote:
You are the quintessential gentleman’s personal gentleman — always shimmering into a room with the solution to a tough nut. You are well read, well bred and look good in a uniform. What ho, Jeeves, what ho!”
Now in Ramana's case, I can see a fit, as least so far as the problem solving characteristics are concerned. But why oh why couldn't I have been Psmith? That's Smith with a P.

I first came across Psmith while in London on a trip when I found a complete set of the Psmith books. I was immediately attracted to him by his attitude and ability to get out of scrapes.

Now in reality, I am not quite a Psmith type beyond an unfortunate tendency to smoke, the sometimes adoption of flowery language, a liking for the better things of life and even the very occasional adoption of dandyism. I wish those who know me would stop laughing at the last! It does happen, sometimes!

But I do admire his style. I would much prefer to be Psmith than a lovesick loon or hopeless romantic. And "what ho?" Mind you, on the last, one of my early nick names at secondary school was "Tally ho the foxes". But that's another story.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Drinking with Frederick IX

I wandered out to buy a few things yesterday. I'm writing full time at the moment which means that I go stir-crazy quite frequently.

A neighbour was sitting on his front porch. I think that he is about my age. He is a full time carer who looks after a severely disabled girl forced to spend her time in a wheel chair.

"I'm Danish", he said. I was curious, so wandered closer, leaning against the fence. "Really? My eldest daughter is living in Copenhagen".

We chatted about Denmark in general and Copenhagen in particular. I told him the story about Mary on a run with security guard behind. One of H's Australian friends was visiting and also out getting some exercise. Danes are exercise freaks and it seems to infect visitors, me included. Seeing Mary quite made the friend's day.

"My father used to drink with Frederick nine", he said. "Really?"  I said from my perch on the fence. "Yes, he was covered with tattoos".

Fascinated, I said "Didn't he used to ride through the streets of Denmark during the German occupation to raise morale?" Now here I was actually getting confused with Frederick's father, Christian X. Perhaps my neighbour was too.

"Yes" he said. "He used to say at the end of drinks, my horse knows the way home!"

I have no idea of the literal truth of all this, although on investigation it does appear that Frederick had tattoos. But I ended thinking that it was all very Danish!

Monday, May 01, 2017

Monday Forum - whatever!

This Monday Forum is another where you will.

The last two posts on my history blog (Human occupation of North America pushed back over 100,000 yearsExtracting ancient DNA from sediments - and the rise of multidisciplinary history) both deal with the application of science to the study of human history. I wonder whether we are looking at the emergence of what I think of as a new history.

The BBC has briefly put on line its now famous 1953 interview with Evelyn Waugh. Waugh strikes me as a difficult man, but there is no doubt of his natural command of the English language. Which writers do you love for their general command of  English or indeed their capacity for single phrases?

Finally, have I reached a natural end point for these Monday Forums? They have sometimes generated interesting discussion and been very useful from my viewpoint.

I generally try to write something to stimulate discussion. Am I better off dropping them all together? Or just leaving them as a placeholder for you to drop things as you see fit?