Thursday, February 26, 2009

Thematic Photographic: Winter

When Carmi posted his new theme for Thematic Photographic - winter - I knew I would have to dig into my archive of photos, since winter is quite a way off downunder. My first thought was to choose among my snowy photographs, but to be honest, it doesn't snow very often here. Of course when it does, I rush for the camera, but I've posted the best of those before.

Instead, I thought I'd select some photos from a winter holiday we took a few years back. Most of them don't look in the least wintry, since first we headed to Queensland in Australia with temperatures warm enough for swimming. When we got back it was snowing (but as I said, I'll skip the snow photos). I spent a couple of days catching up on work, laundry etc and then we headed north for the second half of our holiday. The snow had stopped, but it was cold and windy. And halfway through the drive up the east coast of the South Island, P received a text message on his phone to say that our ferry sailing had been cancelled, and we were rescheduled some six hours later.

Since we now had plenty of time, we stopped for some exercise on a deserted beach nowhere in particular (and yes, you can see snow on the mountains in the background).

After reaching the North Island, and another day's drive, we had a week's holiday in which all my photos seem to have beautiful bright blue skies. And then we headed back, driving through snow again on the high semi-alpine plateau in the middle of the island, and photographing icicles beside the road. We reached Wellington, only to find that our ferry sailing back had also been delayed due to rough seas, and had a two or three hour wait in our car on the wharf.

The rather aptly-named "Pacific Wind" viewed through the windscreen of the car, with little sparkly bits due to the rain on the windscreen.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Mystery Object

For Carmi's Thematic Photographic - Busted - which may give you a clue

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Atheists Way

I've been a fan of Eric Maisel for quite a few years now. I have a number of his books on creativity, which I think are excellent (and which would serve me far better, no doubt, if I made the effort to put more of his ideas into practice).

I was interested in reading his new book "The Atheists Way" because his publicity material stated that it dealt with the necessity of making personal meaning. The subtitle of the book is "Living Well Without Gods". I found a good deal to think about in this book, which makes it difficult for me to review it adequately - however, I signed up to do so today, so I will do the best I can and perhaps I will have more to say in the future when I have had time to consider his themes more fully.

He certainly covers very well, the struggles that the creative person must go through, to make meaning in their life and to maintain motivation for whatever avenue their creativity might take.

I'm not so sure about some of his other statements. Maisel is, of course, an atheist, otherwise he wouldn't be writing this book. His publicity material says "unlike recent books on atheism, this one doesn't rail against religion..." Perhaps not. It does, however, make it quite clear that he thinks belief in anything supernatural, whether gods, "spirituality", or whatever you may call it, is deluded. His examples of making meaning suggest that he believes that religion leads to selfishness and to anti-humanism - for instance, believers may beat their children to teach them the "right" way to behave, or persecute homosexuals, or amass wealth and anticipate rewards in heaven. Atheists on the other hand,he seems to say, think carefully about ethical dilemmas and make reasoned decisions based on morals and values. He makes statements such as this:

"The simple proof that they (believers) get more depressed than atheists is that beievers comprise the vast majority of Americans; and antidepressants are the most prescribed drugs in America. Who but believers are taking all of those antidepressants?"

Well, I trained as a scientist, and I can't take an argument like that as "proof" at all. Perhaps many of those who claim to be believers really aren't. Perhaps believers and nonbelievers alike get depressed. Perhaps 90% of Americans are believers and are taking 85% of the antidepressants (which would still make the nonbelievers more depressed, even though the believers were taking most of the antidepressants). Without a proper scientific study, we just can't tell.

Personally, I know depressed believers, and I know depressed nonbelievers. Probably I know more depressed nonbelivers than depressed believers, but I don't know enough of either to make sweeping generalisations.

I do attend church, but whether I still believe in God I'm not sure. I know that science can't prove the existence of God, but neither can it disprove it. Just as an ant can't understand the complexity of a human being, there must be things in the universe that are too complex for us ever to understand. I certainly don't believe in the sort of God that Eric Maisel doesn't believe in. If I still believe in God, it is the God who asks his followers to love him "with all your mind" (and heart and soul and strength) which means that blind faith is not an option, and making one's own meaning is demanded of the believer as much as of the atheist, which makes this a valuable book.

Overall I think it is an exhilarating book, and that it is best to set aside the question of whether God exists or not, and set about making meaning in one's life in the way that Maisel discusses, and let belief, or lack of belief, take care of itself.

Eric is a great publicist of his work, and has adopted with enthusiasm the idea of the virtual book tour (One of the wonderful benefits of a virtual book tour is that it doesn't harm the environment).

If you are interested in learning more, there is a calendar at his website with links to other bloggers who are also reviewing the book. Visit the virtual book tour calendar here

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Lantern Festival

For the last few years the local Chinese community have been putting on a lantern festival for a weekend near the end of Chinese New Year celebrations. I thought it would be a great opportunity to try out the Gorillapod I got for Christmas.

Here are just a few of the photos I took.

This one is my favourite:

It's the year of the ox:

The Gorillapod holds the camera still but not the people! This one is less blurry than most I took at the food stalls. (Later I took some deliberately blurry photos just for fun)

These two were taken early on when it was still fairly light:

No lantern festival would be complete without a dragon or two:

Friday, February 13, 2009

Thematic Photographic: Up

Usually when I go walking on the hills, I look down. The hills behind the city were once bush-covered, but human settlement ended that. Most of the bush was cleared for farming. Now, apart from a few pockets of remaining bush (forest in New Zealand English), or places where there are regeneration projects, grass and sheep is what you will see. (Along with joggers, mountain bikers, various small birds of the finch variety, magpies, and the occasional hawk).

As I said, I look down. There are spectacular views of the city on one side of the hill, and the harbour and islands on the other side. When I'm not looking down at either of these, I'm looking for photo-worthy flowers in the grass, or magpies on the fence posts, or even a rusty old car by the side of the track - anything that might make an interesting photo.

What I ignore is the pylons bearing electricity wires on their march across the hillside. That is, I try to, usually. Haven't I come up here to leave the city behind? Walking directly underneath though, I hear the wires hum like cicadas. They are a powerful presence. One day I looked up, considered the angles of the pylons and the wires, and tried to compose an interesting photo. Whether I succeeded or not, you will have to judge.

For more "up" photos, visit Carmi's Thematic Photographic here

Friday, February 06, 2009


When I saw Carmi's Thematic Photographic topic for the week, "down", I thought of these two photos.

I've lived nearly half my life in Christchurch now, but I grew up in Wellington. The two cities are topographically very different. Scenes like this are one of the things I miss about Wellington - heading down some narrow path between houses, entering a dark shady tunnel, and then suddenly emerging to wonderful views of the city and harbour. (I miss walking up these paths a lot less than I miss walking down them).

The photos in their turn reminded me of a poem. This is the first stanza of Bernadette Hall's poem, Wai-Te-Ata. I haven't asked her, but I believe the title comes from Wai-Te-Ata Road, which isn't too far from where I took the photos.

Who is lighter than a woman walking
down into a gully, her head level
with the pohutukawa trees,
slipping into the smokey foliage
as if into a dress in a beautiful window?

You will find the whole poem in her book The Ponies.

And here is the pohutukawa (another thing I miss about Wellington, they are less common this far south).