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posted by [personal profile] claudine at 08:47am on 27/05/2005
Via [ profile] tcpip

1. Total number of books owned: When I was about seven, I was featured in a newspaper because I had a hundred books and my mother was proudly bewailing the fact that I'd forget to eat because I was so busy reading. I lost count of how many books I own long ago. Is about a thousand close enough? The majority of books I read are not owned, but borrowed from libraries or friends or shared through Bookcrossing.

2. Last book bought: The last book I bought was the Dictionary of epidemiology, fourth edition, edited by John Last and others. The last book that I bought and read from cover to cover would be Jon Krakauer's Into the wild.

3. Last book read: I just finished Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Purple hibiscus and have just started Randy Shilts's And the band played on.

4. Five books that mean a lot to me: This changes every few months. Currently:

  • Paul Farmer, Infections and inequalities, a collection of essays on how closely poverty is associated with preventable infectious diseases in the majority world. Farmer is an anthropologist and physician working in Haiti. I'll never be like him, but when I'm getting bogged down in the minutiae of study, it's people like Farmer who remind me that I started this public health course because I see it as a tool for justice.
  • Tracy Kidder, Mountains beyond mountains. Journalist follows Farmer around in Haiti, Cuba and Boston. You can tell from Farmer's writings that he's a Harvard brainiac. Kidder's biography shows some of the personality and colour to Farmer's life and tries to show how he became the man he is.
  • Henry Handel Richardson, The getting of wisdom. I wasn't an orphan from country Victoria sent to boarding school, but there were many other aspects of young Laura's story that resonated with me. Laura is a bright child who doesn't fit in at her posh school, but by the end of her time there she begins to see a wider and more hopeful world outside. I think I read somewhere that Richardson either attended or based the book on the school that I was sent to eighty years later, which is a bit creepy.
  • George Orwell, Collected Essays. Why this, and not one of the novels? Sometimes, when life seems so busy that I feel I can't commit to a book-length narrative, I like to dip into collections or anthologies. This collection is a condensation of Orwell's four-volume collected essays, journalism and letters. It contains such classics as "Why I write" and "Politics and the English language", to which I keep returning, as well as a variety of essays and reviews on diverse topics.
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The cost of discipleship. This book dissects the Gospel of Matthew, particularly the Sermon on the Mount, and tries to show what it might mean to live the kind of life that Jesus describes in these sayings. I've often felt that Matthew's is the most demanding of the Gospels, and the one that offers the greatest inspiration for a life that is good and just. I bought this book in the early days of the War on Terror, and Bonhoeffer's words along with the example of his own life helped stop me from completely giving up all hope for humanity.

5. Tag 5 more LJ'ers to fill this out in their journals:
[ profile] agonis, [ profile] cafemusique, [ profile] mmcirvin, [ profile] nilasae, [ profile] timchuma.
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posted by [personal profile] claudine at 06:39am on 26/05/2005
I first heard about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's novel Purple Hibiscus when it was shortlisted for last year's Booker Prize. It's the story of a fifteen-year-old girl's discovery outside her sheltered and oppressive family home, which I found as "unputdownable" as any thriller. The story centres around young Kambili's fear of her oppressive father and the contrast between her life and those of her cousins and schoolmates.

The outrageous punishments that Kambili and her brother Jaja suffer for the most minor transgressions might seem completely impossible for any parent to contemplate. I don't personally know anyone who lived through similar experiences, but Papa's insistence on perfection and maintaining nearly unachievable standards are familiar to me. I suppose that obsessiveness combined with a belief that "what does not kill you makes you stronger" might conceivable lead a parent to do these horrible things while believing that they were really in the child's best interests.

The novel is about more than Papa's behaviour; it also describes the contradictions of colonial life and the unstable political atmosphere of modern Nigeria. But it was the story of Kambili's learning to sing and (even!) laugh that really touched me.

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posted by [personal profile] claudine at 06:13am on 26/05/2005
Yesterday I saw the Bell Shakespeare Company's double bill of Henry VI and Edward IV. These two plays, which I haven't seen or read before, fill the gaps between Henry V and Richard III and tell how a feud between Richard Plantegenet and the Duke of Somerset descended into a full-scale civil war.

I arrived a few minutes late (silly trams), was ushered into the back of the theatre and the first thing I saw was Big Hair. One of the things that really irritates me about modern theatre and opera productions in Australia is that, when presenting older or historical works, there is this fashion for weirdly anachronistic set and costume designs. I can understand using an authentic or period setting, though that's not usually necessary. I can understand using contemporary design, as (to me) it is the text and story that really matter. I can even understand, on some occasions, using settings from a different historical period when it helps to illustrate the story. I thought the film of Richard III, set in the 1930s, was a good example of this. What I cannot understand is why the English and French nobility were given 1980s Big Hair and dressed up in tracksuits, sneakers and Transformer-style robotic battle armour. At least the older actors were allowed to keep what was left of their hair in a more dignified style.

Phew, now I've got that off my chest.

I saw quite a few BSC productions in the late 1990s. I thought, then, that the professionalism of the company was rather mixed. It seemed that John Bell and his wife Anna Volska appeared in every play, which was fine, but a little repetitive. The company was made up of a few good actors and quite a few recent drama school graduates or soapie stars who seemed to be filling time before their real big break. One of the more excruciating moments I recall was Tara Morice as Juliet standing on the balcony with a look that said "Duh, I don't remember what comes next."

This time round, the ensemble was more professional and polished. Darren Gilshenan was a particularly slimy Richard III. (First Hitler, then Richard III, why am I being followed by horrible tyrants? Wait till you see my next book review.) I'm not sure about the actor who played Henry VI; he came across as an ineffectual dork, but I supposed that is how Shakespeare was portraying him. Blazey Best (if that is her real name) as Queen Margaret was a bit over-the-top and takes the prize for Most Exaggerated Mock-French Accent. If the two plays were not presented in full, it sure felt like it: four hours with one interval. The performance was physically demanding, too, with a lot of fight scenes; I wonder whether they could have been cut back a little bit.

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posted by [personal profile] claudine at 10:16pm on 23/05/2005
In January I'll be going to the Comprehensive Rural Health Programme at Jamkhed, India for a short course in primary health care. Through Bookcrossing I was able read the book Jamkhed which tells the story of this groundbreaking primary health programme.

The health centre at Jamkhed, in Maharashthra state, was established in 1970 by the Aroles, two young doctors who resisted the lure of academic careers in the USA and chose to work with some of the poorest and most neglected communities in their native country. They actively involved the local communities in achieving health and development goals that have inspired public health workers around the world.

This book gives some insight into the Aroles' motivations and recounts some of the major challenges and milestones in the programme's history. Many local health workers and villagers are allowed to tell their own stories in this book. Jamkhed is an exciting and successful ongoing experiment in positive community development. I am really looking forward to going there to learn about the programme through direct experience.

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posted by [personal profile] claudine at 04:08am on 20/05/2005
Yesterday Timchuma and I saw Der Untergang (Downfall), which depicts the last days of the Third Reich and is set mostly inside Hitler's bunker. Bruno Ganz plays Hitler as a human, not a caricature, but a pretty unpleasant human nonetheless. I think showing him as a man with an affectionate side, not just as "pure evil", is in a way more terrifying because one realises that love and brutality can coexist in the one person.

I haven't seen Ganz in many films; possibly only in an Aussie film, The last days of Chez Nous. That reminds me that Wings of Desire has been on my must-see list for a very long time. The same humanising applies to the other cabinet members in this film. Even Goebbels, while looking and sounding super-creepy, seems to be made of flesh and blood. The fate of the Goebbels family (especially of the children, but also of the fanatical Frau Goebbels) is perhaps even more tragic than that of Hitler's. Some of the other characters, especially Fegelein and Speer, were almost likeable. Browsing photos of some of the generals and ministers on Wikipedia, it seems to me that the film-makers did try to make the actors appear historically accurate. Himmler in particular looked quite Himmler-like.

Most of my interest in the second world war has been in the Pacific region, and in the Shoah/Holocaust. I think I first came across the biographer Joachim Fest's name in a Holocaust history subject. The Pacific war was understandably not at the top of Hitler's mind in April 1945, but I was a bit surprised to see the Final Solution reduced to a throwaway line. Admittedly, by this stage (according to the film) Hitler had given up on the German people as well.

Oh, here's Tim's review.

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posted by [personal profile] claudine at 08:57am on 19/05/2005
I have written a guide to setting up a s9y weblog for users of nipl/alice/beatrice/free community. Some of this information is specific to the nipl setup, but some of it could also be useful for new users of s9y in general.

Hey, I'm a new user of s9y myself, who am I kidding?

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posted by [personal profile] claudine at 05:00am on 13/05/2005
I have Wanderlust set up for multiple IMAP accounts! Hooray! But why can't I just stop playing with my system and settle down?

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posted by [personal profile] claudine at 04:30am on 12/05/2005
I had been looking forward to attending Victoria University's conference on Cooperating with East Timor in June. I'm involved with the Friends of Same/Manufahi and hoped to learn about what Australian-based community groups can do to help local development in Timor. Now I've learned that on the same weekend, Latrobe University is holding a conference on researching refugee health, which is something I spend a lot of time doing at work and university. Good thing I hadn't registered for the Timor conference yet! Ideally I would try to be in both places at once, but as that isn't physically possible I'm going to have to (gulp!) decide between the two. I have to think about where I see my vocation taking me in the near future. Where could I be most useful -- in a developing country situation such as Timor, or working with marginalised people in my own country? Maybe the two don't necessarily exclude each other, but I should try to find a focus for the short term.

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posted by [personal profile] claudine at 01:59am on 11/05/2005
As part of my neverending quest for the perfect productivity/time-management system, I have been trying out the recently launched Backpack from 37signals. I'd been using the same company's Tadalists, which provides a simple web interface to todo-lists. 37signals also operate Basecamp, a web-based collaborative project management system. Backpack seems to fill a niche between the two: it provides a space for notes/journal entries, to-do lists and (for paying users) file and image attachments, and it is possible to share project pages with other approved users. What I like about the system is its email integration. I can send notes and list items to a specific address and they will appear on the appropriate Backpack page. This allows me to write notes to myself when I'm offline or away from my computer (I can send email from my phone) and the information will be available on my Backpack site next time I'm online. I can also mail Backpack pages to myself.

Backpack has just launched a mobile version for phones and PDAs. It works on my Sony Ericsson T630. Now I have both read and write access to Backpack wherever I have mobile phone coverage.

In September I'll be travelling to Singapore, where most friends and relatives will have modern computers and fast net access, but I'll need my todo lists and project notes easily accessible from the net, as I don't have a laptop. Backpack solves that problem. In January, if all goes well, I'll be travelling to a remote area of India where net access will be sporadic and expensive and I won't have mobile phone access. I may have to return to pen and paper then.

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posted by [personal profile] claudine at 04:36am on 10/05/2005
Sam Watkins has established a free community server at He's (or rather we're) offering a range of services including email, weblogs and jabber. Personal weblogs are offered using Serendipity, which is new to me but looks like a powerful weblog engine. I'm writing this to see whether I've managed to get the plugin to post s9y entries to Livejournal to work.

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