Saturday, 17 February 2018

Hitting the Barre

Hi everyone,

If we're connected on Facebook you may remember that I recently spent a few days down on the Mornington Peninsula.  I'd picked up some work as a landscaper's labourer.  That's the area I grew up in so it felt good to make a visit.  While I was there I pulled the trigger on one of the components of my 2018 reboot: try a barre class.

Yes, I hear what some among you are saying.  Why would a guy take a barre class?  Have you cashed in your Y chromosome?  And are you a little confused about which bathroom to use?  I don't care.  One of the few perks about turning 40 the other day is that I genuinely don't give a damn what people think about me.  Barre is for women.  So what?  After the last few years' experiences I have no reason to doubt my masculinity.

Image from here

The class I went to was "Barre Attack", run by Diana of Allegro Barre & Mat Pilates.  Barre Attack is described by its founder as
... a low impact, high intensity workout combining the best of ... standing pilates work, short cardio intervals, to dance moves in a ballet class. The class is accessible for everybody and all levels of fitness.
This sums it up pretty soundly, save that I also noticed quite a few yoga-inspired moves in there as well.

The class started out with a significant spell of leg work, with a focus on squats and movement rather than holding fixed positions.  It was at this point that I heard the only actual ballet term of the evening: "a wide second", which I was intrigued to note was the same basic posture as the "horse stance" that I remembred from a long-ago interest in Zen Do Kai karate.  The other thing I found myself remembering was the special world of pain involved in wide-legged squats and the furious shaking that sets into your thigh muscles.

This was followed by work with the theraband, repeatedly pumping the arms against resistance.  The theraband, I noted, offers less to fight against than the resistance band I usually use.  I didn't mind this.  I noted afterwards that my shoulders felt remarkably free after a day on the tools.  The workout also took in work on the core including planking and the standing forward fold from yoga.

Final assessment? Highly recommended.  This particular style of workout is ideally suited for men who are focussed on running and cycling.  They'll benefit from the emphasis on stretched, fluid musculature.  If your focus is more on weights, you'll find this a valuable activity for less intense days.  Allegro in particular would be an excellent place to attend: Diana's training style is welcoming and the class runs smoothly and on track. 

Where: 3/2 Torca Terrace, Mornington 3931
What: Casual attendance at a class is a very reasonable $20.00.

Friday, 9 February 2018

The best shows you're not watching

An oddish link popped up in my Facebook feed today, advising that a television series caled House Husbands is to be discontinued.  Apparently this is a Very Bad Thing, because it will be the bellwether for Ausralian TV being submerged beneath a tide of reality TV and American programming.  Or something.

I don't really have an opinion on the premise, or indeed about the program (I've never seen more than five minutes at a stretch and don't think it'd really be my cup of tea).  But I ask myself whether setting that much store by what happens in Televisionland is a good thing. 

Television drama, it seems to me, has the job of creating on your behalf the pictures that ordinarily form in your brain while reading a novel.  Well and good: it follows that both are decent ways to engage in the storytelling that is a decent whack of human behaviour (it also lets me enjoy things like Family Guy guilt free).

Image shamelessly stolen from here
It strikes me, though, that  both are still ways of experiencing something vicariously, and that's still not the best way to live.  Yes, you don't have to dash off to war as a substitute for reading Homage to Catalonia.  But isn't it better to learn culture by going and talking to people?  Doing things?  Or at least build experience by feeling the sun on your back?

Knocked off from here
Nobody needs to go full-Sideshow Bob here.  But, I think that if we lose too much sleep over local content in books or television or anything else, we're worrying about the wrong thing.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Forty years and twenty-five minutes

Hi everyone,

The clock has just ticked over to 0025 on 8 February 2018.

You know what this means?

I got through my entire 40th birthday without a message, greeting or remark.  I have four words to say about that:

Best. Damn. Birthday. Ever!!!

Image from here

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

[Book Review] Jon Krakauer, Under the Banner of Heaven (MacMillan: London 2003)

Jon Krakauer, Under the Banner of Heaven (MacMillan: London 2003)

I get a little nervous when I read a genuinely skillful writer covering the big issues of life.  A talented writer can make almost anything readable, but it takes a lot of mental integrity to make a subject interesting and not use the same talents to put forward an impressively persuasive reflection of one's biases.  George Orwell managed it, and so did Anthony DanielsAndrew Roberts probably missed the mark, and Arthur Bryant didn't even try.  This doubt is what made me read this book with a large pinch of salt.

Image from Amazon
 Krakauer is a formidably readable writer.  Under the Banner of Heaven covers three concurrent themes.  Its first theme is the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints from the childhood of Joseph Smith to the late presidency of Brigham Young.  Its second theme is the experience and modern fortunes of the various polygamist Mormon splinter groups, particularly the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints.  Its third (and most lurid) theme is the murder of Brenda and Erica Lafferty by their brothers-in-law/uncles Ron and Dan Lafferty.  The thesis is broadly this: the mainstream LDS Church's acceptance of the idea of ongoing Divine revelation is a fatal flaw.  It makes it possible for a church member claiming to have received a revelation to gather a following.  This has lead to the formation of splinter groups which are polygamous and sometimes wildly incesuous (occasionally paedophilic).  At the very far end, it enabled Ron Lafferty to claim that a revelation directed him and his brother to murder two people and plan the deaths of two others.

Ron and Dan Lafferty (Image from here)
The argument is plausible enough, as far as it goes, and Krakauer handles the intersecting narratives persuasively.  The problem is that the book comes to sound like an indictment of a significant whack of Christendom.  I'm reasonably sympathetic to any person who hears their church described in this way, after hearing the reactions of a good number of people to the Catholic Church after the Child Abuse Royal Commission.  One can imagine a Mormon seeing someone reading this book and wanting to tell them "no, no: please, you're getting the wrong picture of us". 


This book, then, is a problem.  The Lafferty murders are indisputably interesting to write about.  They also can't really be understood apart from their religious context.  But as readable as it is, one is left with the strong feeling that a great many good people are being done a disservice.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Giving things up

Hi everyone,

I'll start this post now (about 1415hrs) and cue it to go up later tonight.

I'm not sure where to start.  Well, first things first: I think I said the other day that I'd been let go from Goulburn Valley Signmakers, to my genuine relief if we're being honest.  How genuine was that relief?  I went to the blood bank the next day.  I discovered my heart rate had dropped from the 60ish beats per minute it's been at for months to a more acceptable 45bpm.  Clearly, that work was not for me on health grounds alone.

Regardless, a man must eat.  I sent off a few job applications but was bracing for an extended spell out of work broken only by the hope for a job at the cannery.  I went back to firing off job applications at random without much optimism.  And then last Wednesday I was rung at about 2000hrs and asked to come to an interview with a law firm in Melbourne on Friday last.  I dutifully booked a ticket on the train from Violet Town and headed off.

Violet Town Railway Station
(c) Stephen Tuck

I had a distinct feling that it was a waste of time and so I approached the interview with a distinct "who gives?" feeling.  It must have worked, because a few hours later I was rung and offered the job, at precisely the salary I'd suggested (which was, frankly, rather more than I think I'm actually worth).  I thanked him, asked if I could have the weekend to think it over, and agreed to call him today (Monday).

I spent most of Saturday weighing it up.  I'm sure you can guess what the factors were.  It boiled down simply to (a) not wanting to leave my parents without an extra set of hands versus (b) desperately wanting to be able to support my daughters properly and not limp week to week on on short term jobs and rag-ends of work.  Other details - not much wanting to move back to the city, not wanting to leave my SES and Red Cross units, missing the friends I've made up here - were the price of living.

In the end I decided that the situation with Mum and Dad was manageable enough and the benefits for Grace and Rachel strong enough (being able to pay their school fees, for one) to take the job.  I rang this morning and confirmed acceptance with no enthusiasm at all.  Since then I've arranged accomodation (premises in Brunswick) and looked up the SES Unit nearest to there.  And then I started looking at the fitness options that have appeared there while I've been way, and I'm finding that for the first time I almost feel excited by what lies ahead.  Well, maybe not quite excited.  I feel lonely AF right now.

I don't know if this is going to work out.  I have failed at so much in my life.  I have failed again and again and again and again.  Maybe, just this once, I won't fail.


Hi everyone,

I've decided to add my blog to Bloglovin in the hope of sharing with a broader audience, so if you're able to click the link and Follow my blog with Bloglovin, that'd be really nice of you!

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

[Book Review] Ian Jones, Joshua, The Man They Called Jesus (1999).

Review: Ian Jones, Joshua, The Man They Called Jesus (Lothian Books: Melbourne, 1999).

Well played, Vinnies.  Well played.  I went to your op shop in Shepparton in November last year.  You charged me $3.00 for this book.  You got the best of the deal.

Joshua, The Man They Called Jesus is an attempt to write a secular biography of Jesus of Nazareth.  This is an interesting notion, but it requires an adept and perceptive historian.  Jones is neither.  He is an amateur historian whose 'expertise' was developed in writing about the Australian Light Horse of the Great War and about nineteenth-century criminal Ned Kelly.  These are undemanding topics beloved of Australia's amateur historians: the historical record is fairly limited, almost entirely in English, and the audience easily satisfied.  Unfortunately, this means that he is utterly out of his depth in writing about biblical history and theology.

The book starts from the assumption that the life of one "Joshua" has been distorted by 'the church' to make him the Jesus revered by Christians as the literal Son of God.  Making this his starting assumption seems to have resulted in him not consulting any theological works.  Unsurprisingly, he then can't make a lot of sense of much of the Gospels (or much of the rest of the New Testament).  He attempts to cut through the resulting intellectual maze by taking a crude "true or false" approach to the Gospels in which only one description of events can be correct (e.g. p.266).  This is of course an absurd approach which no competent historian would take to any historical event (for example, would anyone writing about Australia's Federation debates insist that Edmund Barton's recollections must be disregarded entirely if they differ from that of Alfred Deakin?).  The other technique for shoe-horning the evidence into his predetermined pattern is by building assumption on assumption.  For instance, he makes no attempt to engage with the vexed question of whether Jesus of Nazareth had brothers.  He simply assumes that they were, and then builds a chain of further assumptions that they were also His disciples (p.48).  Any problems this approach creates are explained away with the speculation that the Gospels have been mistranslated or doctored.

This unconvincing body of argument isn't helped by being clad in simple errors.  A hypothesised 'pre-Gospel' text is said to be "codenamed Q" (p.2).  Naturally, this isn't a codename, but a scholarly shorthand for the German Quelle (source).  Other errors are simply bizarre: for example, Jones' belief that astrology - foretelling the future from the stars - is a scholarly discipline and a serious support for his arguments (p.12), or the claim that Gospellers Mark and Luke were Gentiles (p.259).  Even an undergraduate would know better than to claim his argument is supported by "respected scholars" without identifying them.

It will come as no surprise that Jones has a "profound disrespect for the forces that have distorted" the life of Jesus (on the dustjacket notes).  He seems to identify these forces as "the Church" without once identifying what he means.  Which church?  Catholic?  Orthodox?  Mormon?  Probably the Catholic Church, given that he accepts the crude equation of the Virgin Mary with a type of goddess, an argument memorably made by infamous anti-Catholic bigot Alexander Hislop.  In any case, it is clear he has avoided learning anything that the churches could have explained to him.  For instance, he claims that "Christians protest that their Jesus is speaking symbolically" with regard to eating His flesh and drinking His blood (pp.159-160).  This would no doubt come as a surprise to Catholics and Lutherans and other denominations which accept the Real Presence.  He also has trouble making sense of the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, apparently believing that the 'Jesus of faith' should have been happy to go to his death (pp.218-9), suggesting he doesn't understand the full humanity of Christ (a basic grounding in theology would have been invaluable).

The most grievous theological balls-up comes when he describes as "appalling" the idea that Jesus/Joshua "should serve as a human sacrifice to atone for the sins of mankind", stating that "no Christian with any love and respect for God ... could imagine such a thing" (p.194). This failure to understand the most fundamental point of Christianity is inexcusable, and should have served as grounds for the publisher to reject the manuscript. When you're shown even less understanding of your subject matter than a Jack Chick cartoon, you've blown all of your credibility.