Friday, May 22, 2009

urbanity

Warning: This post may be less witty than the title might lead you to expect.

I have lived in a city for most of my life and I love it. My particular city is Sydney, although I lived for a (very) short time in London and would love to visit New York. Sydney is the city that I know best. Cities have been around for thousands and thousands of years, but I think the concept of what is 'urban' has changed somewhat. Or maybe it would be better to put it this way: cities have changed with developments in technology, the industrial revolution, class changes and so on. The way people relate to cities has also changed.

Graffiti may have been around for thousands of years, but I think maybe there is a shift since the 20th century in how people relate to the cities they live in. Or maybe not. Mainly I wanted to share some cool city related things.

Psychogeography

According to Guy Ernest Debord, apparently the originator of this concept, phsychogeography goes something like this: "the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals." He further goes on to talk about "the evident division of a city into zones of distinct psychic atmospheres." Voila pyschogeography. It gave rise to the situationists and derive (I'm still not sure how to do accents in this blog) who, as I understand it, put the ideas of physcogeography into practise in finding new ways of exploring the city.

I love this idea, this interest in exploring the urban spaces, the implications that the city is different to everyone, that everyone is living in a different city. There's an implicit ownership- that this is my city, that there are things which make it mine. This leads on to...

Urban exploration

Taking this concept of having your own city, of getting to know the city, and applying it to little-known and off-limits areas. Such as stormwater drains and abandoned buildings. This got bad press when a couple of people drowned in a stormwater drain in Sydney after heavy rain, but most urban explorers seemed to think those people didn't know what they were doing. There's a group in Sydney called the 'cave clan' that are involved in this.

I love this idea as well, the idea of discovering unknown parts of the city. Did you know that there is a disused train station under Sydney? Apparently there are organised and legal tours you can take that show you that. Abandoned buildings, especially industrial ones, have an aesthetic appeal for me. I love the idea of exploring these areas. A lot of these explorers take photos. The SMH put up a link to a website for urban explorers in the aftermath of the flash floods, which was fascinating, but now I don't know how to refind it.

Parkour

This take the idea of urban exploration, but applies it more to rooftops than tunnels. Ok, it's not really an exclusively urban pursuit, wikipedia tells me it was invented as a type of martial arts in the early 20th century. As I understand it, it's a way of getting from one place to another as fast as possible, unaided. It using a lot of gymnastic type skill. Some of the things they do are pretty amazing, type 'parkour' into Youtube sometime.

Lately Parkour has come to prominence after featuring in James Bond movie, as well as some other movies and video games. Andrew recently bought one of them, called 'Mirrors Edge', in which you run around rooftops and buildings using athletic skills to deliver packages, evade police and solve crimes. Pretty cool. Even if it's not exclusively urban, I love the way it fits so seamlessly into the urban environment and provides a new way of exploring it.

...

Some of my Sydney is here, also recent discoveries include the David Jones food court and Carriageworks theatre- an amazing place made of an old railway related building.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

fundamentalism and historical fiction

In the media and in public opinion there seems to be a perception that currently we are undergoing a rise of fundamental religion, with particular emphasis on the role of religion in politics and so on. In Christian circles, you will more likely hear that we are going through a rise in secularism (?) and militant atheism. For instance, see Richard Dawkins, and I guess the media portrayal of 'fundamentalists'. In a way I think maybe these could be flip-sides of the same coin, if you see atheists as also leaning towards fundamentalism maybe it all makes sense. Maybe one side is right and the other is wrong. Maybe it is the age old lament, 'society's not what it used to be'.

Whichever, I am coming from the Christian perspective and constantly provoked by media discussion of religion and its ills, particularly when I feel it is defending Reason in an irrational manner. But that is really for another day. Today I am mostly wanting to talk about an article in the Herald about an upcoming film, Agora. It's based on the story of Hypatia, a female philosopher and mathematician in Alexandria in the 4th century (or so) AD.

Alright, I don't know much about this character, so as contrast for the claims made in the review I'm going to use Wikipedia. Anyone who is more knowledgeable, feel free to comment, maybe I will check more later, the Wikipedia article does seem well referenced though. Anyway, let's contrast quotes from this article with some wikipedia:

- On her life

SMH: "Rachel Weisz and director Alejandro Amenabar travelled back to ancient times to tell a modern story about a progressive woman standing against religious dogma and persecution."

Wiki: "According to the Byzantine "Suda", she worked as teacher of philosophy, teaching the works of Plato and Aristotle.[14] It is believed that there were both Christians[15] and foreigners[10] among her students. Although Hypatia was herself a pagan, she was respected by a number of Christians, and later held up by Christian authors as a symbol of virtue."

-On her death

SMH: Forced to flee the city's library, a storehouse of ancient knowledge and manuscripts, Hypatia rescues a handful of irreplaceable texts from a Christian ransacking and continues her theorising on the nature of the universe. Christian leaders eventually label her a witch and make her a martyr to scientific reason.

Wiki: Believed to have been the reason for the strained relationship between the Imperial Prefect Orestes and the Bishop Cyril, Hypatia attracted the ire of a Christian population eager to see the two reconciled. Despite her actual background, authors Soldan and Heppe wrote a text in 1990 arguing that Hypatia may have been the first famous "witch" punished under Christian authority.

And we'll give the director the last word:
"We all can tell that we are going to somewhere else. We don't know exactly what. And since I am an optimist by nature, I don't think we'll go back to something like the Middle Ages, but we can feel that something is not quite fitting right now."

Typical, diss the Middle Ages. There's more on both sides of this debate, so read both articles, they are interesting. Maybe the most annoying thing for me is that when I read that article I feel they're going to do that most irritating of historical fiction things and make a historical situation and character utterly anachronistic in order to moralize at their audience. To be fair I haven't seen this movie yet. Maybe I am just biased, possibly my religious tendencies are handicapping my ability to reason.


...


You know, I would really like to write a light-hearted and whimsical post, but reading the newspaper everyday it's so easy to find things to rant about... Alright, ranting is kind of fun. But maybe this behaviour is bad for my health.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

the budget

I wanted to write a blog post today, and I wanted to not write about the budget, but as I was reading a few articles in the SMH this morning I found it impossible to resist. But I don't want to talk about the budget, really I don't. Think of this more as a blog about journalism. Or subjectivity. Or similar.

The first thing I went to this morning was an article by Ross Gittins, hoping for a good budget summary that would mean I didn't have to wade through too many specifics. Here is an extract:

"Swan is worried about the size of the budget deficit and how long it will take to get the budget back under control.

Hence his plans to cut back middle-class welfare by reducing superannuation perks, means testing the private health insurance rebate, and cracking down on abuse of the Medicare safety net. Not to mention hikes in the Medicare levy surcharge.

The trouble with this is it's all a bit previous, as the Poms say. The recession has hardly got started, we have only the faintest idea of how long and bad it will be, but already we're worrying about what we'll do when it's over.

It's as though we're planning the clean-up after the cyclone, even before the cyclone's hit. Surely battening down the hatches would be a smarter idea at this point."

So the general idea is that the Government is trying to cut back on spending too early and still needs to deal with the recession.

Compare and contrast:

"Make no mistake. It is good policy to increase spending in a recession. A deficit is a good thing in bad times. It softens the blow, providing a countervailing force against the downturn.

But it's only good policy if you cut spending accordingly once a recovery is under way.

The Rudd Government has been commendably bold in boosting spending in the downturn.

But it is now exposed to be woefully timid in its plans for cutting spending in an upswing."

So you're saying that the problem with the budget is that the Government is spending too much, because we are in an economic upswing and we should be cutting back?

I particularly like the way the Government doesn't win either way. On the positive side, both these articles were in the same paper- the SMH- which does make me feel better about its objectivity as a whole, and its ability to present different viewpoints. At any rate, I'm a bit confused now, so I leave you to make your own judgements about this budget.