Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Marie Bashir

I don't know who Marie Bashir is. Her name sounds Middle Eastern or Indian to me...not that I'm an expert on such things.

I shall go to talk to Lord Wiki and find out who she is.

Bashir is the current governor of New South Wales. I'm confused about that. So, there's a Premier AND a governor? I didn't know that. Is that true for all the states?

Oh! Okay. Lord Wiki says the Governor is kind of like the state-version of the Governor-General. He says the Governor usually works under the advice of the Premier. So the Premier is the boss. HOWEVER, the governor has that connection to the Queen, and he/she does have that power to dismiss the Premier.

I hope Australia becomes a Republic one day. I think I've pretty much given up my dream of becoming Australian. Now my new dream is to live to see the day that Australia becomes a Republic. I'll be so happy and excited.

I was right about the Middle Eastern thing. Bashir's parents were Lebanese born.

Baby Marie was born sometime in 1930. Lord Wiki doesn't want to tell me the date or month. I think he's scared I'm going to try and send Bashir a birthday card. I won't. I promise. I'm horrible at snail mail.

Marie was born in Narrandera, New South Wales. Narrandera is about seven hours south-west of Sydney...more west than south. It's close to Wagga Wagga, about an hour away.

Bashir attended Narrandera Public school. Then later she went to Sydney Girls High School. I don't think the school has a boarding program, so I'm guessing the whole Bashir family had moved to Sydney.

Bashir earned a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery at the University of Sydney.  She was in the medical field at first. I wonder how and why she got into government.

Before she got into government, she did many other things.

She taught at the University of Sydney.

She taught at the University of New South Wales.

She mentored post-graduate medical students from Thailand and Vietnam.

From 1972 until 1987 she was the foundation director for child adolescent family service at Rivendell Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.

From 1987 to 1993, she was the area director for the Central Sydney Area Health Service.

From 1993 to 2000, Bashir was the consulting psychiatrist for the New South Wales Juvenile Justice Facilities. She was also senior consultant to the Aboriginal Medical Service.

The woman kept busy. Well, she had a lot of important job titles.

In 2001, the Premier of New South Wales, Bob Carr, recommended to Queen Elizabeth II that Bashir become governor.

Bashir is the first female governor of New South Wales. She's also the first Lebanese governor of any state in Australia.

Oh. I almost missed this. She's also the Chancellor of The University of Sydney. This woman has an impressive resume.

Bashir is married to the former Lord Mayor of Sydney....Nicholas Shehadie. He's Lebanese too. He was Lord Mayor back in the 1970's. Shehadie and Bashir have three children and six grandchildren.

In 1971, Bashir was honored as Australian Mother of the Year. Did she win that because of her prominence in society, and her husband's career, or was she really good at mothering? I'm a bit skeptical of these awards sometimes. Lord Wiki says the mothers are nominated by their children. That's good. In Lord Wiki's list of the winners, most of the names don't have links to their own entries which means the mothers are NOT all celebrities.

The Father of the Year award is different. It seems like the winner is usually some kind of celebrity. It also seems like whoever passes out these awards leans to the right. I see many Liberal Prime Ministers on the winner's list....Robert Menzies, William McMahon, Malcolm Fraser, and John Howard. I don't see any Labor guys. Were these guys really great fathers, or were they just well-known enough to bring attention to themselves?

I think I am done with Lord Wiki. I shall seek information elsewhere now.

Here's her page at the University of Sydney. She's been the Chancellor since 2007, so she hasn't been in the job that long. How long are people usually chancellors? Well, it says on the website that the term for office is four years. But is there a term limit?

They have some of her speeches. Maybe I'll read one...or two.

There's a speech from September 20--just a few days ago. It's a PDF file, so I can't link to it. But it's not to hard to find if you follow the link to her University of Sydney page.

Bashir is speaking at the birthday for the Fisher Library. I'd love to live in that library for a month or so.

The library is named after a guy named Thomas Fisher. Bashir says he was generous. I'm guessing this means he donated a lot of money to the library. She says he had very little formal education, yet he recognised the importance of learning and libraries. I love hearing stuff like that. I know people who've had the full sixteen years of formal education. They rarely enter a library or open a book.

Bashir says that when Fisher died and the money was left to the library, there was a debate. Some people wanted to use the money for the building. Other people wanted to buy more books. Eventually, a compromise was made. Two/thirds of the money went towards the money. The other third went towards buying books and paying the library staff.

A part of me wishes that they put more money towards the books. But I guess you need a building to house the books. And it's nice if a library is comfortable for people to sit in, relax, read, and learn. I wonder if there already was a building though. Was there no building, and Mrs. Fisher gave them what they needed to build one. Or did they have a library building, and Mr. Fisher gave them the money to make a fancier one?

Bashir says, I feel somewhat awkward in telling you that an entire cedar forest in Queensland was logged to provide the timber. Yeah, I don't think people cared as much about ecology as they did today. And there are people today who STILL don't care.

From the way she describes the library, it seems people cared more about having an impressive beautiful building than they did about the intellectual world of books.

It seems eventually a new library was built. So here they build a fancy library, and later it's not good enough for them. Lord Wiki says the old building became MacLaurin Hall. The new building was completed in 1962. Before Fisher came along and left the University all that money, the library was housed in the University's main building. This page of the University website has photographs of that version of the library. This Sydney architecture website has photos of the original Fisher Library...now MacLaurin Hall). It's BEAUTIFUL. I really like it.

It seems now this hall is just used for venues...weddings and corporate dinners. I think that's sad. I wish it was still the library. The current library looks so blah in comparison.

Bashir was in the news recently saying that children are more important than water. I don't know. I'd say both those things were pretty damn important. I mean I love Jack much more than I love water. He's sweeter. He's cuter. He's more precious. He's more interesting....But let's face it. We NEED water to survive. We might not want to live in a world without children, but we CAN'T live in a world without water. Of course, if we had no children....we'd eventually all die out.

What Bashir is trying to do with her bold statement is promote her new initiative. She's helped develop a program to teach children how to keep themselves safe. I think that's wonderful, and MUCH needed. I just don't see why she has to diss water. Can't we help our water AND our children? Why do we have to promote one cause by downplaying another cause?


Amy Michelle said...

Why would you want Australia to be a republic? Because rejecting the Brits did such a great thing for America?

Martin said...

I can tell you from experience that Maclaurin Hall is still used for exams, too, and occasional lectures. The new building was really necessary to house all the items that a modern university library needs (at least before everything we need to read goes online). As it is there are about another 10 specialised libraries on the main campus alone.

As a student of Arabic, I looked up Bashir and it seems from the name that the family may have had some kind of herald in its distant past either as a job or perhaps as an honorary religion-related title.

In Australia, the Chancellor's position tends to be virtually completely ceremonial with no major power attached (a bit like the job of Governor of a state, actually). That's why those jobs both tend to go to honoured Australians who can made good speeches and know a lot about good Australian etiquette rather than politicians (at least in the case of Governor, s/he doesn't have to go through any formal election or approval process once the Premier chooses her/him - I don't think even the Queen has to actually approve even though the Governor would be her representative - she formally automatically approves).

Interestingly, the Queen (via the Governors and Governor-General) has more power in Australia than she does in England because if a government can't govern because of a powerful opposition able to block the supply of money to it (as I know happened for a long time with Clinton, coincidentally while he was 'seeing' Ms Lewinsky).

You would know the GG dismissed Gough Whitlam as Gough couldn't guarantee supply in 1975, I'm guessing, but governors have also dismissed Premiers in the past for similar reasons as you may also know. The great Jack Lang, a NSW 'great depression'-time Premier, was dismissed for slightly different reasons.

It's only slightly undemocratic as somebody has to call elections immediately and, in the meantime, the 'caretaker' government (who may have been the opposition as was the case in 1975) isn't allowed to change any policies. If Gough had been willing to ask the GG for a full 'double-dissolution' election (he wanted a half-senate one only) there would have been no grounds for his dismissal. My last comments would be quite controversial among fans of Gough especially but Jack Lang was also a popular Labor/labour figure who I think possibly shouldn't have been dismissed so I hope the Left will forgive me. Both men subsequently lost the elections they then faced, though, so the people spoke.

Dina said...

Amy Michelle,

I really doubt America's problems come from rejecting Britain over two-hundred years ago. I did read that cute forward about the UK taking back America during the Bush years. It was hilarious, but I don't think we could be truly saved by the British.

So, do you not want Australia to be a republic? Why not?

To me, it's not really about freedom. I think Australia is pretty much just as free as America...well, minus the Dismissal.

To me, it's more of a step in the process of reconciliation... It's hard for me to explain. Maybe it's a way for Australians of today to separate themselves from the atrocities of the past.

I think of it symbolically too. Let's say the UK is mom and dad. Australia and America are two of their children. America gets fed up and runs away. Then they tell Mom and Dad to get lost. They fight, but later build a respectful/friendly distant relationship.

Australia is the child who doesn't run away. She's mistreated and rejected...sent thousands of miles away. Yet she still loves mom and dad...clings to mom and dad. I just feel she should say "Hey look you screwed us over. You sent us away. And you treated the Indigenous people like crap. We want to cut the formal ties."

So yeah. I think Australia should get a divorce from the UK. It doesn't mean they can't be friends.

But that's just my opinion. All in all, it's just a symbolic gesture. Well, for the most part. I guess in the end it doesn't matter.

Being a Republic probably won't make Australia a better or worse country, just like being a Commonwealth probably wouldn't make America a better country.

Dina said...


More space needed for a library....I SUPPOSE that's a good excuse for building a new library. No, I'm joking. That makes sense. I haven't been to a university library in so long. I miss it. Although I don't miss being a student!

You study Arabic? Wow, do you speak it fluently? How did you become interested in that? Are you Middle Eastern yourself...Or I guess other countries speak Arabic. Right? Aren't there countries in Africa? Or was it something you were just curious about?

That's fascinating that the queen has more power in Australia.

Has The Queen ever disapproved of the Premier's choice? Does she even put any thought into it...or is it more like "Whatever you say!"

I've heard about Jack Lange, but don't know much about him...he was part of some fiasco involving the Harbor Bridge opening. Right? That's about all I know. I might have known more before, but then forgot it. So, why was he dismissed?

Is there worry that a dismissal will happen again? Do you think it's possible?

Amy Michelle said...

Well that's a very good answer that I didn't expect. Thank you.

My husband (he's American) and I argue about our two nations a lot. He hates politics so they are never very good arguments because I win and I often talk from a very limited amount of knowledge on the matter.

I don't want Australia to be a republic because I think it's outdated. Change happens in generations, and if we have generations that wake up and can connect with any part of the world through a screen and keyboard, they won't see the borders we see. They won't look at Africa and think 'oh that's Africa's problem'. They won't see world environmental damage as 'lucky that's not us'. They'll feel it belongs to them. Technology is helping us understand and grow together globally, so I think us being independent nation in a global world is a little redundent, a step back.

As for reconcilliation, I do not believe a new identity would help. The issues we have with our Aboriginal and Indigenous peoples are varried and difficult. It needs more funding and media attention. Funding. And more funding. And more people that care. And funding for those people.

Martin said...

Jack Lang was, in US terms, a 'new deal' Democrat (who served two terms as premier, both before the new deal happened in the US, though) who wanted us to spend our way out of the depression when the conventional 'wisdom' was to do the opposite. Where he got into trouble with the establishment, which was then very much in the pocket of the British (now it's the Americans), is (among other things) he chose to temporarily not repay the interest on some loans from some UK investors (as we were in a great depression). As the federal government stepped in to repay NSW state loan interest and demanded restitution from the NSW government (in Lang's view illegally) Lang then sought to sequester the NSW government's cash to prevent this (in the governor's view illegally - hence the dismissal in 1932).

The deal with the bridge is that Lang chose to formally open it as premier rather than allow the governor-general to do it and a right wing nut, Francis de Groot, rode up on a horse and dramatically cut the ribbon with his ceremonial sword in protest (before being arrested and before the ribbon was put back together so Lang could cut it with his ceremonial scissors).

I am far from fluent in Arabic, unfortunately, though I passed three years of it at uni. I have no Arab descent and have never actually been to the Middle East or Africa but find the Arab world, Islam and the Middle East endlessly fascinating having majored in it a few years ago in my BA. The language is most often the official language in the Middle East if you include North Africa, but Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti and the Comoros Islands (all West African states) are also member states of the Arab League (Brazil, Eritrea (West African), Venezuela and India are observer states according to Wikipedia).

I would add on the name Bashir that it is generally associated with good tidings and is also one of the possible Arabic Christian words for evangelist (so they would prably call John the Evangelist Jun al-Bashir). As it has a positive connotation Bashir also makes a good general Christian or given name in Arabic.

As for whether the Queen seriously looks into who represents her, probably yes and I'm sure there could be some back and forth discussion if a candidate appeared to the queen to be of 'doubtful character' but I believe the final decision would still rest with the Australian political head of government. If anybody wants to correct me, please do so.

There may be some fear of another dismissal and it is certainly still possible but I feel it's actually a less disruptive process than the US impeachment procedure and ultimately ends up in a popular decision so where's its harm. The other positive thing (which I picked up on Wikipedia) is that it has only happened twice (at least since Australia has existed) - to Lang and to Gough - so this vice-regal so-called "reserve power" has been used fairly sparingly. This suggests to me that it is unlikely to be excessively over used in future.

Dina said...

Amy Michelle,

Thank YOU. I think it's great that you say my answer is a good one, but yet you still disagree. I think many people only appreciate answers that AGREE with them. You're quite refreshing.

I think you're probably right about reconciliation. It's complicated, and not something that can be easily solved. Yeah, and it's not like independent America has a great relationship with their Indigenous people.

I love the whole idea of a global nation. I think the Internet has really connected us all. I mean 10+ years ago, you and I could never easily even have had this conversation.

I don't really feel that the UK having commonwealth countries makes us all more global. Is it a partnership? To me, it doesn't feel like it. It feels more parent-child. Maybe I see the UK as a mother-in-law. She USUALLY stays out of your business, but sometimes she sticks her nose in where it doesn't belong.

As for America and our part in the global village. Some of my fellow countrymen see us as the king of the playground. They're horrified that we're losing power and money. They seem to think the whole world will collapse if we're not revered by the rest of the world.

SOME Americans can be very ethnocentric. Is your husband that way? Moving to Australia might have given him some sort of excess patriotism.

Anyway, you've given me a lot to think about.

I don't think I want Australia to become a Republic so it will follow in America's "awesome" footsteps.

But maybe I do want it for other unrealistic reasons. Maybe I shouldn't put too much interest/hope in something that really is symbolic, and won't make a huge difference in the scheme of things.

Dina said...


You and Amy Michelle are really getting me to think about stuff.

I do find myself horrified at the idea that the Queen can come along and dismiss the government that has been voted in by the people.

But you're right. It has only happened twice.

I do think Australian government is slightly more effective than the American one.

I feel it's so hard for any American leader to get something done. There's too much fighting. So much energy goes into trying to discredit the other side. Although I do see that with Australian politics as well.

So did Francis de Groot protest because he preferred the Governor-General to open the bridge? I need to learn more about all that.

It seems common to spend many years learning a language, and still not be fluent in it. Maybe it's the way it's taught in school.

I had a friend in college who was very interested/attracted to the middle east. It was kind of like how I'm so in love with Australia.

Martin said...

Wikipedia says (under his entry) that he said that's why he did it and (maybe under the Jack Lang entry) that a lot of conservative people also felt the GG or governor should have opened it. We still have (slight) controversies over who should open and close things like Commonwealth and Olympic Games when they happen here. De Groot eventually got off with a fine that he then wasn't made to pay and eventually retired back home in the UK.

Just to clarify, although it is formally the queen dismissing both Gough and Jack, it was actually the decision of the governor or the GG (in Gough's case an Australian and ironically appointed by Gough himself). Philip Game, who dismissed Lang, was a Brit (according to Wikipedia)
and was appointed by Lang's conservative predecessor in between Lang's two terms (I think, going by when he was appointed, as long as premiers appointed governors back then).

The way I understand university language teaching generally students are taught to research in the language and that mainly involves reading (and perhaps writing goes along with that) more than conversing and listening. Natural language learners would pick the latter up too and its naturally also part of being a good researcher at the highest level but the focus is definitely more on the written language. I studied various European languages many years ago and it was a lot easier (I was also a lot younger and I think that may make a significant difference). For the first year and a half of studying Arabic I also inflicted Mandarin on myself (and for one semester Classical Chinese as well) so I think I also handicapped myself a bit there. Still I found it all interesting. You really need to make more opportunities to speak the language you're learning than I did to begin to be fluent, too, I think.

I'm very impressed by your Australian reading list and hope to match it with my Arab, Islam and Middle East reading but that will take a while. My level of interest may be similar, though. Meanwhile I think I only matched twice with you (with "Great Gatsby" and "Lord of the Flies", I think it was). I wondered whether you considered reading Tyranny of Distance by Geoffrey Blainey, a well known conservative historian. Apparently it's an interesting partly economic history and is good despite Blainey's later reputation (for inspiring the likes of Pauline Hanson) which may or may not be deserved. Both Hitler and Napoleon had sisters called Pauline (I think). I wonder if there's a curse on that name somewhere.

Dina said...


Funny you should mention Blainey. I wrote about him a few days ago. I'll be posting that on Friday (well, Friday in America). I guess it will still be Friday for you guys. It will be late Friday night.

I wouldn't mind reading something by Blainey. From what I read about him, I don't think we'd agree on much. But I do want to learn more about those types of opinions. And who knows...we might end up agreeing on SOMETHING.

Did you look at my books on Shelfari? Are you on there too? If so, can you add me as a friend so I can see your books. Or give me a link?

It's hard to believe we've read only two of the same books. Or are you talking about ratings?

I think you're right about language. I never did any in college, but I did do Spanish in high school. I can read a little...and I remember various words and phrases. But I can't speak it, or understand it when spoken.

Are you interested in going to the Middle East? Well, I'm guessing that you are. Do you have a country that you'd most like to go to?

Have you ever heard of "Does My Head Look Big in This?" It's a young adult book written by a Palestinian-Australian. It's one of my favorite Australian books.

Interesting theory about Pauline. I shall beware anyone who has a sister with that name ; )

Oh! And good point about it being the Governor-General (or Governor) who does the Dismissal rather than the Queen. So I should probably stop blaming the British.

Martin said...

I'm aware I'm way o/t for Marie Bashir now so I'll (try to) be brief. I've only recently caught the reading for pleasure bug so yes they were the only two books I've read (both for school). I caught your list from your side bar but I don't have a Shelfari list. There would be a lot of English translations of works in German related to WWII and works related to my current interests in my list. I focus on non-fiction because there is so much of it to read and my view is that it's at least as creative as fiction.

I don't know where I'd feel safe in the Arab or Muslim world at the moment but I'd like to go somewhere relatively safe there for the experiences to be had, the interesting people to meet and to broaden my understanding. Since I enjoy great architecture I could try Istanbul (or even Isfahan one day). In the Arab world, I think Cairo, Damascus and Beirut would be great cities to visit and Petra in Jordan is on the list.

I have heard of "Does my Head Look Big in This" and heard the author in various fora but haven't read it yet. I've read a number of works written by women about living as a woman within Islam and in Islamic countries and veiling but none about Australia and usually from the perspective of Muslim or ex-Muslim women who tend not to be in favour of the veiling trend or even believe veiling is Islamic. I tend to think the reasons for the wearing of the veil today are often more Islamist than Islamic and therefore I don't feel entirely comfortable with it despite my studies - because of associations I make with violent Islam for want of a better way to express it. Randa Abdel-Fattah seems to me to come from the veiling is good/anything else is un-Islamic and therefore bad viewpoint. I'm aware that it's more my issue than hers but that assessment I have made and the fact that it's fiction (as I wrote above I prefer to read non-fiction) are probably the reasons I haven't read it to date. I expect Randa is a fine person and her books are great contributions to the issues she visits but they haven't yet attracted my interest based on what I've heard and seen of the author and her works for the reasons I've fairly unarticulately given above.

I couldn't help myself with the comment length. I feel I need to stress that I'm not anti-veil or anti-Islamic no matter how the above comments may come across (although I am a Dawkinsian and Hitchensian atheist). I would recommend "Infidel - My Life" by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and "The Veil and the Male Elite - a Feminist Interpretation of Women's Rights in Islam" by Fatima Mernissi. The first is a brilliant memoir by a Somalian woman who is now an American, I think, and probably an ex-Muslim atheist. The second is an analysis of the veiling tradition by a female Moroccan academic within the Islamic tradition. I also enjoyed reading Barack Obama's first memoir.

Dina said...


Hey no need to apologize for going off topic, or having long comments. I would have no right to complain ; )

I always write posts that are too long, and I often go off topic.

I read more fiction than nonfiction these days. I spend so much time reading nonfiction on the Internet for this blog. By the time I'm done, I don't want to be reading more nonfiction via books.

I haven't read much about the veiling stuff...just that one book. So I haven't really gotten any alternate opinions.

I'm personally not a big fan of those three connecting religions...Judaism, Christianity, & Islam. I think they've caused more harm than good. BUT I'm not anti-religion as a whole. I think religion inspires SOME people to do good things. And I think it also provides morals for SOME people who would likely not have them otherwise.

Sadly, religion inspires other people to hate and kill. But without religion, I feel these people would find another excuse for their hatred and violence.

So although I'm not a fan of those three religions. I do think there are good people within the religions, and that the religion itself helped to inspire their good deeds.

I'm also not a big fan of Dawkins. Sorry. But I have to admit, I haven't read his book. I've just heard snippets, and I've had unpleasant encounters with some people who follow his...what would you call it? Viewpoint? Philosophy?

I just feel that some of them are as fanatics as Christians. There's that same sense of you-must-believe-what-I-believe or...In one it's "You'll go to hell" and in the other it's "You're ignorant and delusional"

I do also know some very lovely Atheists, and they somewhat counteract the blah ones I've met. And you seem very decent, so....

I've never heard of Hitchensian. Who is that?

Martin said...

Christopher Hitchens wrote one book called "God is Not Great" that I've enjoyed. He also edited a collection of writings from the last couple of millennia called "the Atheist's Handbook" (I think) which I haven't read. He comes across personally as a bit more arrogant than Dawkins and has had well-reported issues with alcohol (which people have unfairly used against him, IMO). He's a bit like Dawkins, though, in that he tends to be characterised by others who've never read what he's written (and some who have) as stridently atheist (or something to that effect).

I would recommend "the God Delusion" to anyone or any Hitchens work because they are likely to be thoughtfully, entertainingly and well-written. I gave my copy to a born-again Christian friend five years ago now and he still hasn't read it. I think he thinks there are much better things for him to do than read that but I think he could be surprised by it and enjoy its challenge to him (he's a very bright lad).

I hope I'm not strident and I don't think Hitchy and the Dawkmeister are actually that bad unless it is strident to give your opinion that God doesn't exist (which you seem to do as well, Dina). The use of the word delusion offends many but I think it just follows that, if something doesn't exist and billions of people think it does, mass-delusion is a fair description of what is occurring however offended people are if Dawkins uses it. I think he used it to make people think, though, rather than just to offend and he may have even thought that a measured amount of offence would sell more copies and that that would be socially useful (and not just to his own bank balance).

They do have a view that offends many that I think I agree with: that the world would probably be ultimately better off without religion. I think they also concede that religion is part of humanity's evolution but not that it deserves any special kind of respect for this. They are for science which I think is a fairly good thing to be but, contrary to a popular view, I don't think they reject people for believing whatever they choose to believe because they realise that even scientists aren't all scientific in every part of their lives (that would make them robots, I think they would think). I'm getting a little rambly so let's just say I think they're both reasonably fair-minded people who've unfairly been given a bad rap.

Dina said...


I think you're the first person I've met that is as wordy as I am!

Dawkins may not be as annoying as I imagine. I MIGHT read the book someday. I can't deny that I'm curious.

I did read a news thing about him that bothered me. He talked about how he thinks Harry Potter MIGHT be damaging, and he's going to write a book exploring that.

This type of Atheism reminds me too much of extremist Christianity. You know how there's people who won't read anything outside the Bible. Well, it seems there might be people who don't want to read about anything that hasn't been proven by science.

I think I've read something of Dawkins (or a follower) that talked about how there's enough fantastic stuff in the REAL world. We don't need fantasy. I do agree that we too often ignore the magical world of nature. My son and I spent several weeks learning about science together. I LOVED it. There's so much beauty in the physical "real" world. But I also love fantasy. I love imagination. I'm very spiritual...although I don't believe in a god or gods.

The other thing that has bothered me about some Dawkin followers is they're sometimes evangelical. I was bothered by a kid who repeatedly came to my blog. He wanted me to prove that there was scientific facts behind my spiritual beliefs.

I can't prove anything. I believe them because I have faith. My feeling is as long as I don't bother people with my beliefs, I don't need to explain them, prove them, or defend them.

I think it's fine to believe that other people's beliefs are delusions. But I don't think it's okay to try to convince the "delusional" people that they are wrong.

I am totally okay though with Atheist propaganda....t-shirts, bus signs, etc. I think it can be fun and thought-provoking without being confrontational.

Martin said...

I think we basically agree. I'm just going to briefly add a couple of things about Richard that I discovered.

Firstly, he seems fairly unique in being a well known academic who not only has a website but frequently makes public comments on a message board set up on it. I found his site thanks to you so thanks for that.

Secondly and finally (I promise) I decided to look up what he said about Harry Potter there and he claims he was answering a question (and not starting a "crusade" (my ironic inverted commas) as we might have imagined given the media reports). He was asked about "magic spell stories" and not about Harry Potter in particular and he explains the circumstances as follows:

"The day after my valedictory Simonyi Lecture, I gave an interview to Channel Four news [the UK broadcaster, I assume]. The interviewer asked me my view on whether fairy tales might have a pernicious effect on the educational development of children (I can’t remember his exact words, but that was the gist). My answer – that I didn’t know, and it would be interesting to do research on the question – was picked up by the Daily Telegraph"

That's basically all he said, he seems to be claiming, and he also said in the comments:

"such magic spell stories might be a valuable, even essential, part of a child's imaginative development"

He also professes in various comments to suspect the opposite but to be "genuinely agnostic" on the subject in the absence of more research. So I think what you (and I) heard via the media was basically a typically factually inaccurate beat-up (though I concede he courts controversy by not being absolutely certain that everything is good for one). Reading all the comments I could find there, he seems to be denying any plans to write any books about any kinds of fairy or magic story and claims never to have mentioned or been asked about Harry Potter specifically. He also admits to never having read any Harry Potter.

I noticed that you seemed to be saying his views on Harry Potter might be extreme whereas I think his saying something MIGHT be damaging when asked (or your implying that his views MIGHT be extreme, for that matter) is actually quite *unextreme* in this sense: MIGHT always comes with MIGHT NOT (it's actually the opposite of fundamentalist certainty). It's actually a bit wishy washy in one way but it's also the concept at the heart of science, which says "let's test" and has actually been quite powerful (we can see how it's managed to both warm the planet and let us know about it so it's good and bad). I guess his point is that his position is how we best come to understand our world. He would also say that science values imagination in how it decides on the questions we ask (and the answers we derive, too). The extreme would be to say it is or isn't damaging without any scientific evidence. Both positions are equally unhelpful to our understanding. That said, I also believe that what I may call subjective experience of spirituality is in some sense an objective reality that is no less real for not yet being able to be fully scientifically tested.

His website is: richarddawkins.net and the main specific comment I have quoted is at: http://richarddawkins.net/articleComments,3277,Children-need-to-be-sprinkled-with-fairy-dust,Libby-Purves-Times-Online,page1#272075

I am enjoying your posts and I have one other question: What did you make of the Australian "black face" controversy over there?

Dina said...


I think this is where I differ from you and Dawkins...this idea that everything can or should be answered with scientific tests.

There's that quote from Einstein. "Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts."

Why do we need a scientific study to see if Harry Potter is harmful or not? What's wrong with just reading the books and seeing if we enjoy it or not? Why can't we look around us and see how the books have influenced others?

I think for the most part (for MOST people) the books have brought us a lot of joy. Could there be a scientific study that proves me wrong?

And what if the study shows something like kids who read Harry Potter are more likely to have failed marriages....or kids who read Harry Potter are more likely to fail high school science classes? Correlation doesn't necessarily equal causation.

From what you've said, it seems Dawkins was completely misquoted. That's disturbing, but not surprising.

As for the Michael Jackson thing. I can see why people might find it offensive. I think it's been blown out of proportion though. I don't think it's the most offensive thing that's been on TV...American or Australian.

Martin said...

Actually I don't think everything should be scientifically tested (although I do think one day that might be possible and it might be a good thing).

I don't even know that Dawkins thinks that. He was asked directly whether something was damaging and, as a scientist which I'm not, answered "I don't know. We would have to test that".

At bottom, though, I think he thinks stories of magic may prime young minds for religious (and therefore in his view anti-scientific) thinking. That's why he wants to test even though he's not actually on a crusade to do that. I don't think he would advocate banning Harry Potter so wouldn't it be OK if we knew more about it (maybe so parents could make more informed decision)? As for causation v mere correlation, that may be able to be addressed by the design of the experiment which would have to be quite careful.

That was quite a short one for me so I'll leave it at that and say I'm happy (not overjoyed though) if you disgree and won't ask you to prove anything.

Dina said...


That is short ; )

No, I don't think Dawkins would ever go as far to ban Harry Potter. I think the most he might do is convince Atheist parents to avoid exposing their kids to fantasy stuff...well, depending on what his studies show.

I'll be very interested to see what he concludes. Is there going to be a future book about all this, or was that just a rumor? If it is a book, I'd be very interested in reading it. I'd probably prefer to read that over the God Delusion.

Martin said...

That was a quick reply too. I'm beginning to think Marie Bashir comments will never end.

I just dropped you a fairly irrelevant line on Geoffrey Blainey, too. He was actually a National Party Senator for Queensland for a few years, I think, so he's certainly conservative but that also means that the famous Australian "party discipline" (meaning parliamentary parties vote as a bloc 99% of the time here following 'caucus' votes) may mean some of his recent public comments are coloured by that and don't reflect his actual opinion.

I don't know whether he actually plans research on that (the Richard Dawkins Foundation may do it). His actual academic role today is being a pre-eminent public intellectual atheist and scientist. I think he is retired from formal teaching unless being a fellow at New College, Oxford (founded in 1379 apparently) requires teaching.

His book plans seem to focused on mythical explanations for things and comparing them with scientific ones rather than being anything to do with fairy stories and Harry Potter. He includes in mythical explanations what he calls the "Judeo-Christian" one apparently.

Martin said...

Just a quick correction: I was so sure he was a National Senator but it appears he wasn't. He was apparently being considered by them for a Senate seat in Victoria but my recollection is apparently faulty, he was never an Australian Senator (according to the Senate website). I'm still not completely willing to give up my belief but I suppose I will eventually have to face facts.