Wednesday, August 20, 2014


The Guardian has compiled a list of the 10 most beautiful libraries in Australia. Of those on this list, I've visited the State Libraries of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, and Victoria. Alas, the National Library of Australia has been omitted. What libraries would you add to this list?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Not anymore

Leonard Maltin
Generations of film buffs have loyally read film critic Leonard Maltin's annual Movie Guide. Yesterday America's answer to Bill Collins announced that due to dwindling readership and declining sales, the 2015 edition of this essential reference work will be the last.

Maltin is known to Australian audiences from his appearances on Entertainment Tonight, and also from his three part interview with George Lucas on the 1995 VHS release of the Star Wars trilogy.

Mr Maltin didn't review every movie in the guide himself, but oversaw a team editors and contributors. Part of the fun of reading this guide was the four point rating system, and at times irreverent writing style, which gave films scores from BOMB to four stars. 

The poorly reviewed If Lucy Fell (1996) was slammed as a vanity project for its director, writer, and star Eric Schaeffer, but the guide marked it up because Schaeffer wrote himself a scene in which he got to kiss his co-star, Elle Macpherson. 

While I'm no Luddite, it increasingly seems that the market for printed reference works aimed at a popular readership is disappearing. The print media is going through a transition phase, and this is another casualty. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A hellish nightmare of death and destruction

The Enola Gay in 1945

Theodore Van Kirk, the last surviving crew member of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima towards the end of the Second World War, has died aged 93. In an interview, Van Kirk defended the use of the bomb against Japan.

Whether or not using the bomb was necessary has long been debated by historians. Some argue that by July 1945, Japan's navy and air force had been nobbled, and it had little chance of victory. It was probably ready to surrender anyway. For this reason, using the atomic bomb was unnecessary. Having defeated Germany, the Soviet Union was planning to invade Japan, and started an offensive in August. It was overwhelmed. Fanaticism was keeping Japan at war, as was the hope that it could negotiate favourable surrender terms with Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. This was a false hope.

Even so, this is the argument that I favour. Japan was still holding out, and the Allies were preparing to invade the Japanese mainland. Such an operation would have resulted in massive military and civilian casualties. Japan surrendered soon after the atomic bombs were dropped, firstly on Hiroshima and then Nagasaki.

As bad as the death toll and destruction from the bombings was, the alternative would have been much worse. This would probably have meant many more months of bloody combat. This course of action saved more lives than it cost. It also arguably curtailed the prospect of greater Soviet influence in Japan and Asia.

Yes, there have been some close shaves, such as the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, but it's a miracle that nuclear weapons haven't been used in war since 1945, and I pray that day never comes.,5

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The first lady's man strikes again

Bill Clinton
There's no doubt that sex sells in marketing. Former US President Bill Clinton, whose private life has always been somewhat colourful, with more twists and turns than the roads through the Scottish highlands, is believed to have a secret mistress. That's one of the allegations in Ronald Kessler's forthcoming book, The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Live of Presidents. 

Before a new biography or autobiography is published, its marketers often release salacious tidbits to the media to create pre-release buzz around it. Clearly that's what is happening here, and the public is probably thinking, "So, Bill's up to his old tricks, is he?"

The reader of this blog will never see it turned into a trashy supermarket tabloid or gossip column. I abhor gossip and rumours. The only reason I'm writing about it is because I wonder what impact this story will have on Hillary Clinton's ambitions to make a second run for the Presidency in 2016. Could an allegation like this stall her campaign at the traffic lights? Should she be a candidate, once again she'll have to deal with rumours and innuendo about her marriage, much like her husband did during his 1992 candidacy and entire tenure of office as President.

Bill Clinton's infidelities and his character issues were arguably one of the reasons why Vice President Al Gore lost the 2000 election to George W. Bush. Perhaps he's now dashed his wife's Presidential ambitions as well. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Why not?

Without a doubt it is one of the most horrible books ever written. It is the rantings of a deranged maniac. I feel repulsed even looking at it. Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf has been banned from publication in Germany since 1945. In 2015 its copyright and ban will expire. German politicians are debating whether or not its publication should be permitted from 2016.

Munich's Centre for Contemporary History plans to publish an annotated critical edition of the book. While this is understandably a very sensitive issue for victims of the Nazi regime, their descendants, and the German people in general, a critical edition seems to me to be a great idea.

Mein Kampf is a historical document that should inform part of the collective memory of Germany's past, and needs to be studied, engaged with, and shown for the work of evil that it is.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Fair dinkum

The Dalai Lama
I spent a portion of the weekend clearing my backlog of sermon podcasts to listen to. Among others, I often listen to Phil Fernandes, who once served in the United States Marine Corps, and is the long serving pastor of Trinity Bible Fellowship in Seattle in the United States.

He often speaks on the classical Christian doctrine of the Messiahship of Jesus Christ. My takeaway from these sermons is that the fact of Jesus being the Messiah is so well attested by scripture that it should be beyond dispute. Anyone who studies these passages should be left with little doubt that these verses describe Jesus and not somebody else. 

To know the real, you have to know the counterfeit. Just as bank tellers are trained to detect counterfeit currency, Christians need to train themselves to detect spiritual counterfeits. The early Christians had to take close heed to Christ's warning about "false Christs" (Matthew 24:24, Mark 13:22).  These warnings were echoed by the apostles in their writings (1 John 2:18, 22, 4:3, 2 John 1:7). The early Christians were not immune to spiritual deception. 

Neither are we, their contemporaries. These days Christians need to be more discerning than ever. Who are some modern false Christs? Fernandes mentioned cult leaders Sai Baba (1926-2011), Bhagwan Shreee Rajneesh (1931-1990), David Koresh (1959-1993) and Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama is addressed as "Your Holiness." It is offensive for any mere human being to carry such a title. Holiness connotes the idea of being pious, pure, and saintly. Jesus is the only sinless man who ever lived (2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 4:15, 1 Peter 2:22, 1 John 3:25). Because of this, only through believing and trusting in Jesus can any sinful, fallen human being have reconciliation with God.

As for the Dalai Lama, his teachings lead people astray and away from Jesus. He denies that Jesus is God in human form, instead asserting that Jesus had lived previous lives, and that his purpose was to preach a message of tolerance and compassion, and to help people become better human beings. Since he offers a distorted version of what Jesus taught and who he was, he meets the biblical definition of an anti-Christ.

Years ago some friends of mine went to hear the Dalai Lama speak at one of his public meetings in Melbourne. They reported that most of what he said consisted of feel good generalities. There was no notion of human sin, the need for repentance, and accountability to God. He might tickle your ear with inspiring sounding words, but I definitely would not entrust him with my eternal destiny. He might be charismatic, charming and affable, and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, but he is still an ordinary man in need of salvation.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Let me politely decline

After a massive public outcry last week, Islamic activist Uthman Badar had his invitation to speak on the topic of "honour killings are morally justified" at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney in August cancelled.  In media interviews Badar later claimed that his views were misrepresented. Even if Badar is telling the truth, the real issue is why this man was even being given a mainstream platform for his views.

Badar is the Australian spokesperson for Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamic political movement whose goal it is to establish a worldwide caliphate, in other words, to bring the world under the rule of a global Muslim theocracy, ruled by shariah law, including Australia. Were the festival organizers aware of this when they invited him, or that this movement is banned in some countries?

I pray that Islamists, or indeed theocrats of any persuasion never achieve their aims. Any theocracy is neither desirable nor feasible. The Islamic caliphate is definitely a dangerous idea. If there is one positive thing to come out of this controversy, it is that more people will become aware of it and other Islamist movements, and make an effort to be properly informed about them. Be alert but not alarmed.