Taking A Break

I’ll be away for two weeks so this blog will be neglected for a while. Any comments made during that time will have to wait until I return to be passed through moderation.

It will be the longest break that I’ve had from work for 4 ½ years and I want to keep away from computers and anything that would remind me of my job.

Gloria and I will be spending some of the holiday in an 1850s granite cottage in northern Victoria. We are taking Gloria’s mum, hoping to spoil her after she went through some difficult times at the beginning of the year.

I’ll be back around the 5th November.

Derren Brown Investigates: or does he?

 I saw an episode of Derren Brown Investigates on TV the other night, related to the “ghosthunter” Lou Gentile and his investigations into ghostly phenomena. Brown presented evidence for the reality of ghosts and demons as given to him by Gentile; and then he gave his own views of that evidence.

One specific aspect of his program that I found interesting was Brown’s reaction to video of a man undergoing “exorcism”. The man’s body was thrown into violent contortions until he was almost “levitating” above the bed (or couch) on which he was lying. Brown apparently found this disturbing at the time but his mind was eased when he found a scientist who could give a “medical” explanation.

He was shown a similar film of a woman demonstrating the same behaviour and the expert described it as a “pseudo seizure” or “psychogenic non-epileptic seizure”. These are “seizures” that are allegedly psychological in origin – in other words it seems like there is no physical/chemical evidence for the cause of the seizures, so they are attributed to being caused by aberrations in the mental state.

Sorry – but to me this merely seems like a preferred alternative diagnosis acceptable to those who disbelieve the existence of a spirit world. There is effectively little difference to the two diagnoses – apart from the belief system of the ones making the diagnosis. One sees demons – the other sees psychological disorder. The “truth” is in the mind of the beholder.

This assumption laden approach is little different to the attitude displayed by the “ghosthunter” when he presented his evidence for the existence of ghosts. Both project their prefered worldview onto what they experience to give conclusions they feel comfortable accepting.

Gentile’s evidence (both audio and photographic) seemed entirely subjective – spoken words were “heard” within the static and noise recorded on a voice activated recorder, but to me, even with a lot of imagination the claimed messages were very unlikely The same with the photos showing mists – almost anything could be projected into a photo. The “best” evidence was a photo in which (when pointed out) a very clear face could be seen in the mist. That was interesting but definitely not the conclusive evidence it was claimed to be by Lou Gentile.

The BEST conclusion that could genuinely be drawn from this show is that people will believe what they choose to believe. They will be convinced by the flimsiest of evidence when it supports what they want to see, and they will not be swayed by strong evidence when they don’t want to believe.

Rather than being a genuine investigation into the reality or otherwise of ghosts – the programme was a revelation of the power of a person’s desire to believe (or not). In this case it was Brown’s show so his conclusions were presented as being the most reasonable. But were they?

Or was the foundation of those conclusions no less shaky than the foundation of the ghosthunter’s conclusions? It depends upon who or what you want to believe most.


Possession or pseudo seizure? The video.

Move forward to around around the 5 minute mark.


Invasion of the Onion weed

A few days ago I found an onion weed plant in our garden. It’s the first we’ve had and hopefully (although not likely) it will be the last.

Onion weed is apparently a very invasive plant that is hard to get rid of once it’s established. Each plant produces hundreds of little bulblets that can be left behind in the soil if the plant is uprooted. It also spreads very easily from seed. If a plant is found it needs to have any flowers removed before they can produce seed.

Other suggestions I’ve seen for dealing with onion weed include continual cutting a plant to the ground which will eventually “tire” the plant out reducing the viability of the roots and bulbs. This is easier if the plant is growing in a lawn where a mower can be regularly run over it. A more brutal approach is to treat it with neat glyphosate, but many people are reluctant to use harsh chemicals of any kind in the garden. I’m guessing that the best thing is to find plants and deal with them as early as possible before they can become too established.

One possible source of our onion weed invasion was discovered last night. A while ago we bought some potted nerines from a nearby market. We found a second onion weed plant growing in one of the pots. This could have been the result of seed transferred from elsewhere after we bought the nerines or it may have been there in the pot all along. It has made us more wary of where we buy plants in the future.


[There are several plants that go by the name “onion weed”.  The one I’m referring to seems to be Allium Triquetrum.

Self Portrait in Blue

This painting started with ultramarine blue heavily diluted with a satin varnish. I smeared the paint around the canvas with a small piece of board instead of a brush. The marks left by the board gave a few hints of a face. Two small patches had been left almost clear of paint – they were in just the right place for eyes.

With a few adjustments, the addition of some scratched lines and some more painting, I had the following image.


note: this is not the blue painting I referred to in the earlier post “Blue is the Colour”.

Holy Laughter and the Toronto Legacy: a few thoughts

I can’t really comment on what happened at the beginning of the Toronto thing. I was distanced from it by almost a decade. I’ve only seen the fruit that came out of it many years later.

What could have started with a genuine experience of God moved on to something that clearly wasn’t of God. Man has a tendency to take things into his own hands and try to control them; to make them work at will, turning relationship into procedure, hoping to bring about an expected outcome on demand.

Laughter in a church context was around long before Toronto (there are several historical examples). It also happened in a church that I used to attend. I was there from the late 70s and most of the 80s. The laughing happened before I had joined them and it wasn’t widespread. It affected a small number of people and it was seen as a spontaneous outpouring of joy from young, new believers. No one tried to make it into something that ought to be experienced by all.

Things may have worked out differently if the church leadership had turned their focus onto the laughter and had encouraged everyone else to join in. Maybe the “Toronto blessing” would have come two decades earlier (in the 70s) and be known as the “Wollongong Blessing”.

But I think there were some big changes over the next two decades that made the Pentecostal/charismatic church more open to exaggerating those experiences beyond any initial Divine involvement. It probably couldn’t have gone to the same extremes (and so widespread) in the 1970s or before.

These days NOTHING done by “Christians” and claimed as the work of the Holy Spirit would surprise me. While Toronto itself may no longer have the same prominent profile, it spawned several influential descendants who continue to spread a  gospel different to the one preached by Jesus and the apostles. Those churches accept and promote all manner of new and not so wonderful things, attributing them to the Holy Spirit even when those thing are at odds with His character – note: there’s a clue to His character in His name.

Columbine. (More than a Book Review): recommended article

The article at the link below is headed “Book Review of Columbine by Dave Cullen”, but it is far more than a book review.  I believe it gives some serious challenges to Christians that we need to hear.


Some of the information given here would fit in with my previous articles “Christians Don’t Lie” about the way Christians can stretch the truth, resort to exaggeration, or merely not check the facts before they pass on a report or testimony that seems to glorify God.


Blue is the Colour

Blue is the colour.

I’m resisting the reds, yellows, greens and everything else that isn’t blue. The only slight compromise is a tiny step towards mauve – but a very bluish mauve.

I noticed that most of my paintings so far have been dominated by warmer colours with only a hint of blues and greens. I like the effects I’ve been able to create with those colours and have found them to be much more user friendly.

My use of larger areas of blue paint has always seemed flat and lifeless. I like to blend different shades of similar colours together. In my opinion this gives them more vitality. However, blue shades don’t seem to like that approach. I don’t get the same satisfying result.

A little over a week ago I wrote about the start of this “blue period” (see Painting Blues) and I’ve been struggling with the same painting since then. A few times I seemed to get the breakthrough I’ve been hoping for. Several times I could almost see what I wanted emerging from the canvas – but each time, while a small area showed promise, I couldn’t find a way to bring everything together.

I’ve painted over the whole thing three or four times now, and then last night I seemed to find what I wanted. This time the hint of promise isn’t restricted to a small portion of the canvas – I’m happy with the overall effect. I feel I now have the foundation established and I’m (half) confident that the rest will fall into place.

Ironically, I now seem to be achieving by accident what I’ve tried to do several times before. Every time I’ve tried to take inspiration from Marc Chagall I’ve failed. I feel this painting could become the most Chagallesque thing I’ve painted, something that was completely unintended.
Depending on how I go over the next few days I hope to have a suitable photo to share early next week.

Images of Modern Evil

On the weekend we had our third viewing of the Abstract Expressionism exhibition at the National Gallery in Canberra. Gloria wasn’t impressed with anything the first time she saw it and her view hasn’t changed through repeat viewing. I have to confess that I haven’t enjoyed it either after that initial visit and the excitement of seeing some things for the first time (i.e. works of de Kooning and Frankenthaler).

I noticed that several paintings in the exhibition had been donated to the gallery by artists’ families and I’ve developed a theory that reflects upon the standard of a lot of work held by galleries such as the NGA in Canberra. I suspect that after the death of a well-known artist, their families sort through the paintings now in their possession. They keep the ones they like and sell those with clear merit that will realise big money at auction. The rest, the un-liked and those with less commercial appeal, are donated to public galleries that can’t afford to refuse the offer of free paintings by significant artists, no matter how poorly they represent an artist’s catalogue of work.

But maybe that’s my over cynical side coming through.

On this visit I had the unexpected opportunity to see an exhibition of work by Albert Tucker. I’m part way through reading a biography of Tucker written by Janine Burke, so it was interesting to see so many of his paintings in the one place. They were part of his Images of Modern Evil series, a very disturbing collection that he painted during the Second World War.

The thing that I found most interesting about these paintings was the way an apparent simplicity of technique created the impression of something much more complex. How a few simple brush strokes gave an illusion of detail and how so much was expressed through so little. That ability seems to be the signifying feature of a “real” artist. Is that skill learned technique or is it something more instinctive?

The paintings are very dark (literally as well as figuratively) works with symbolic, sordid and unpleasant portrayals of humanity as perceived through Tucker’s experience of wartime Melbourne. I read the following explanation of what was behind this series:

“He was disgusted, but inspired by scenes of Melbourne’s nightlife, of a city he felt demonstrated a collapse of simple morality. He was shocked and outraged by images of schoolgirls trotting home to reappear wearing skimpy miniskirts made from Union Jacks and American flags, ready for a wild night in St. Kilda with the drunken American and Australian soldiers.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Tucker_(artist)#Influences).

In many of these paintings Tucker portrays people (mainly women) with a tooth filled, smiling crescent of vivid lipstick-red, topped with a triangular pig-like snout and long-lashed eyes or sometimes a single eyeball. A few of the paintings were grotesquely explicit in their depiction of the “female” body. They are definitely not paintings that anyone could “like” or find aesthetically appealing – but they effectively live up to the title of the series, being images of the some of the worst aspects of human nature and activity. While those aspects are often recognised and (as with Tucker’s example) vividly depicted in art, rarely is the cause of the darkerside of humanity explored. And even more rarely are possible solutions addressed.