Rise to Save Our Coast

Rise for Climate Newcastle Panorama

Rise for Climate Newcastle Panorama

The Rise for Climate event was on this Saturday, September 8. You may have seen some of the news reports about it over the weekend but if you didn’t, Rise for Climate saw hundreds of cities and towns around the world join together to hold peaceful protests and rallies calling on the world’s leaders to take action on climate change.

It drew some huge crowds around the world, particularly in the US and San Francisco where thousands marched ahead of the Global Climate Action Summit to be held in San Francisco next week.

Here in Newcastle, the RISE to Save Our Coast rally at Newcastle’s beautiful Bar Beach was organised by Stop Seismic Testing Newcastle and was attended by hundreds of people from all across Newcastle and the Hunter. It was a great event and the energy was fantastic despite it being a very cold and windy day.

Originally I didn’t think I was going to be able to go to the event as I had plans in Sydney for the weekend. But I ended up having to raincheck and in the end it worked out well as I was able to attend after all.

I shot the rally with a couple of other members of the photo group I’m part of and it was a busy hour of shooting but a lot of fun. It was very overcast and damp which was challenging at times but the atmosphere was amazing regardless and the clouds actually gave a nice soft, moody light that really suited the feel of the event.

Afterwards I went to a McDonald’s nearby and frantically edited some of the photos on my laptop to upload as soon as I could. We wanted to get them up within an hour if possible so the rest of the world could wake up to the event – it was tight but we just managed it. I don’t think I’ve ever edited so fast in my life.

I’m pretty happy with how the photos came out. I’d never shot an event like this before and I think most came out well and I definitely learnt a lot. On top of that this was only the second time I’d used my new camera so in the midst of running around like a demented chicken, I was still trying to work out how everything on the camera worked. Note to self: maybe don’t switch camera systems right before an event next time, CJ.

More importantly, though, it was great to be a small part of a cause I really believe in. I’m a pragmatist so I don’t expect the world to change overnight but unless we as citizens speak up and call for change, there is no incentive for our leaders and politicians to ever act decisively on climate change (or any issue). I see events like this as a vital part of that.

And, hopefully, part of leaving the world a better place for our children and grandchildren to live in.

I hope you enjoy the photos.

Photos © CJ Levinson 2018

Q&A #2 – Writing, Zombies, Creationism and Batman

I had planned an interesting post for today but it’s been stinking hot in Newcastle – it passed 39’C where I am – and my brain has kind of shut down. I tried waking it up but it just went “nope stupid human, not gonna happen, come back tomorrow” and went back to being lazy. So I don’t think that post is going to get written today.

Instead I thought I’d do another Q&A as I enjoyed doing the last one and I had a few questions left over. I hope you enjoy them and if you want to suggest any for the future, feel free to in the comments.

  • What advice would you give to someone who is just starting to write?

I think the best advice I ever received is to never stop enjoying writing and that’s the main thing I’d pass on. There will be days where everything flows and writing feels amazing and there will be days where nothing works and you want to smash your keyboard or throw your pen at the wall. And sometimes there’ll be days where it all just feels kind of, well, meh. The best thing you can do is to try to always enjoy writing no matter what because as soon as it starts to feel like a chore, or you feel like you’re writing just because you have to fulfil some deadline, then it becomes much harder and you’re less likely to finish it or to produce something of quality. If you write because you love to write then it doesn’t matter if no one reads it, or if everyone you know hates it, or if it’s never published; as long as you’ve enjoyed writing it, that’s what matters. And to me that’s what being a writer is all about.

The other thing I’d say is that if you want to write, you have to read. A lot of people seem to think that the two are separate but I’ve never believed that. Reading, and reading regularly, keeps your mind sharp but more importantly it teaches you the tools of the trade. Reading improves your vocabulary, expands your knowledge, and teaches you different styles and approaches to writing that you might not otherwise be aware of. And most importantly, reading reminds us of why we wanted to write in the first place, to tell our own stories that will hopefully touch people in the same way. In my opinion the best thing a writer can do is read. And read a lot.

I’d also suggest that it’s a good idea to keep your expectations in check. Anyone can be a writer; all you need is a pen and paper. Being a published author is different and there are a lot of factors which go into it that you cannot control – you may be an excellent writer but never be published and that’s just the way it is. Having unrealistic expectations will not help you and may actually stop you from listening to people and taking advice. Don’t misunderstand me: by expectations I don’t mean desire. There is nothing at all wrong with wanting to be published and wanting to be successful, and aiming and working towards that goal. Just don’t expect it to come to you on a silver platter because you think your novel is the Greatest Thing Ever I guess is what I mean. Like anything it takes hard work and I’m still trying to get there myself after 15 years and a number of small publications. But again, I write because I love it, and to me that’s the most important thing.

My last piece of advice: be careful with adverbs. I hate them and think they are a sign of lazy writing. If you ever find yourself writing “he said angrily”, stop and think if there’s a way you can show us that anger instead. Trust me, your writing will be much stronger for it.

  • Do you think Tony Abbott will ever be Prime Minister again?

Short answer: No.

Longer answer: I know some of Abbott’s supporters are convinced he’ll have a chance to be Prime Minister again at some stage but I can’t see it. I think a lot of this comes from the idea that Turnbull is some kind of bandaid fix for the problems that afflicted the Coalition under Abbott’s time as PM; that Turnbull’s popularity will get them through the next election but eventually dissipate and then Abbott could regain the Prime Ministership. I’m sure that Kevin Rudd’s return probably gave them heart too.

The problem is that Tony Abbott is not Kevin Rudd and thinking that Turnbull is a temporary necessity also ignores the problems with Abbott’s leadership. Kevin Rudd still had public sympathy on his side from being dumped as PM in such a harsh way and it made a return to the top feasible; Abbott though was consistently polling disastrously and while there is some public sympathy for him, most people don’t want him back and would not be happy if the Coalition positioned him as a potential leader again.

The main problem with Tony Abbott is that he (and by extension his government) was perceived as out of touch with mainstream Australia and not listening to what people wanted; like his strong opposition to gay marriage, the knights and dames situation, climate change, his way of often politicising issues and giving them a religious context (again like gay marriage but also things like the state of science in schools and how that plays in to creationism and intelligent design), etc. He lost trust and popularity and so when Turnbull prevailed, the reaction was more relief from people than anger or surprise. And so I just can’t imagine the Coalition being able to justify returning him to power.

I can see Turnbull losing popularity at some stage, particularly if people become frustrated with him not being able to deliver the changes they assumed they’d get under a Turnbull leadership, but if Turnbull was to make a substantial misstep I imagine Scott Morrison is the one who’d be positioned to take over. And even then Julie Bishop would be a formidable contender too. I very much doubt it’s likely to happen any time soon though, if at all.

The best thing for people to do is to accept the truth: Abbott’s leadership is over and he won’t be returning. After the election, perhaps he could return to the cabinet as his experience would be useful, but that’s a long way off yet. Really people should just move on and let normal politics resume.

  • Speaking of that – do you think creationism should be taught in schools?

I think there is a place for talking about creationism in schools but no, I don’t think creationism and other ideas should be taught and particularly not alongside evolution in a science class.

Evolution is a theory, yes, but a theory in scientific terms isn’t the same as a theory generally: we might think of a theory as like an educated guess but in science a theory is an actual explanation or statement for why something exists that has been repeatedly tested and confirmed through observation and experimentation. For instance, if I looked and said “ my hand has five fingers”, I am making a statement based on what I can observe and verify.

The same is true for the theory of evolution; it has been tested and reconfirmed many times and is the best explanation we have for how human beings came to be, based on our current understanding. It has stood up to scrutiny for a very long time but that does not mean it cannot be proven wrong, or refined, just that it is what is scientifically verifiable and correct right now. Something like creationism however is not and has in fact been disproven by scientific methods, like radiometric dating showing the age of the earth.

I understand creationism is important to people but I don’t believe that belief is reason to teach something in science classes that is thoroughly unscientific. If we did then it would be potentially misleading and confusing to students as presenting creationism alongside evolution would seem to give the idea a scientific weight it does not have.

This does not mean that creationism should not be in schools at all. Personally I believe it should be mentioned in detail as part of a theology course. But science classes are for science and creationism is not science.

  • How long do you think you’d survive in the zombie apocalypse?

I’d like to say quite a while but honestly I doubt I’d make it more than a few days, if that. I’m not the fastest runner and I think my fitness would hold me back. So yeah, zombies would be feasting on my yummy brains in no time.

My best bet would be to join a group and try to contribute through information and knowledge rather than strength. With a good group maybe I’d last a little while, who knows? Hopefully I’ll never have to find out!

  • Who would win in a fight, Batman or Superman?

So with Batman v Superman coming out soon I’ve discussed this with a couple of friends recently, who all thought Batman. I just don’t get that. Superman is basically a God amongst humans; he has super strength, speed, can fly, is practically invulnerable, has heat vision, etc. I just don’t get how Batman is supposed to go up against Superman and win.

If Batman had time to prepare for a fight, sure, he could get a special kryptonite suit or something to even the odds, but even then all Superman has to do is fly away and use his heat vision. The only way I can see Batman winning is if Superman is completely unprepared and taken by surprise. Which isn’t really a fight then, is it?

So for me it’s Superman. I’ll be interested to see how they do it in the movie. Hopefully it makes sense.

  • What’s your favourite album?

My favourite album is probably also the first album I ever bought. Tina Arena’s Don’t Ask.

There are other albums I love too but listening to it always gives me the feeling of coming home. And there are some great songs on there, like Chains, Heaven Help My HeartSorrento Moon and Wasn’t It Good?.

If there was one album I’d want with me on a desert island and would never get sick of, it’s this one. Don’t think you can really ask for more than that.

Q&A #1 – Trump, Atheism, Love and Guns

So this is the first in a new series of posts I thought I’d start. I’ve always liked the idea of having a random q&a section on the blog; I thought it’d be a fun way to talk about some extra topics and help people to get to know me a little better. So that’s what this is.

The questions below are fairly random and are a mix of questions I’m often asked either online or in real life and others I’ve created to cover a few topics I’ve been wanting to write about. Like most bloggers I have a lot of ideas for posts that I end up not writing about for one reason or another and I thought this would be a good way to cover some of those topics too.

I’m looking to do this semi-regularly and I’d love it if, as I do more of these posts, people started to suggest questions and topics as well. So if you’ve got anything you’d like to ask, feel free to leave it in a comment or use my contact page.

I’m game for most questions, so go wild. 🙂

  • Do you believe in true love?

Yes and no. Do I believe there is just one person out there in the whole world we are destined to be with? No. I find that idea rather insipid to be honest and I dislike the idea of “The One’.

Actually I hate the idea of ’The One’. I think it’s unhealthy and spreads an unrealistic expectation of what we should be looking for in relationships. Basically it gives us permission to be extremely picky over partners and to turn down people who we could potentially be happy with simply because they don’t seem ‘perfect’. And then we wonder why we are alone.

So I don’t think there is any such thing as ‘The One’. I do however believe in love and think there are many people we can be compatible with throughout the course of our lives. We just have to be in the right place and frame of mind to be able to recognise them, and that usually means being willing to compromise and to recognise when our standards are unrealistic.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that we are destined to meet them though. They may live in another country or we may simply not be in the space to recognise them, etc. Whatever the reason sometimes people never meet and that’s sad but it’s okay. It’s life.

Personally I think the best thing is to try to be happy with your own company. If you’re happy with yourself then finding love and companionship is a bonus. And love often comes along when you’re not expecting it too.

  • Can an atheist be a moral person?

This is something that often comes up when people first realise I’m an atheist. Which surprised and insulted me at first but I think it’s because a lot of people relate morality to religious teachings and are curious what keeps someone’s moral compass in check if they don’t believe in God.

The truth is that morality isn’t about religion and I consider myself a very moral person despite no longer being of faith. Morality is something that is perceived to be closely tied to religion because that’s the way for thousands of years people were taught about good and evil, right and wrong, but when you actually think about it morality itself is a concept, a framework for how we should live our lives, that comes from being part of an evolved society.

I believe basic ideas of right and wrong are intrinsic to modern civilisation and are taught in many ways; through religion, yes, but also through school, books, movies, the media, our parents, elders, etc, and our modern world and laws are based on the same ideas. In other words I believe morality is a universal constant and just removing somebody from the religious world doesn’t suddenly make them more likely to commit a terrible act.

For instance, you could say that a devout religious person who is a convicted murderer would actually be a far less moral person than a peaceful atheist. Whether someone is a ‘good’ person or not has more to do with their upbringing and things like potential mental illness than whether they believe in God or not in my opinion.

  • What do you think will happen to Donald Trump? Could he really be President?

At this stage you’d have to say that yes, it’s a real possibility Trump could become President. My gut feeling however is that Trump won’t be President. I also don’t think he will win the Republican nomination either, although I am less sure about that as he has already lasted longer than I thought he would and his momentum seems to be growing.

The main reason I think he won’t get the nomination is that as the race goes on and more candidates drop out, eventually an anti-Trump challenger is going to galvanise support behind them. While Trump is definitely popular, he has relied a lot on his anti-immigration, anti-establishment demographic and you’d think as the process moves into other less conservative states that votes will start to solidify behind Trump’s main challenger. And eventually I think that will be too much for him.

Who that challenger will end up being though is another matter. Rubio seems to have shot himself in the foot recently with his debate performances and Cruz doesn’t seem well liked enough to rally enough people behind him. And Carson has never really recovered from some of his foreign policy comments earlier in the campaign. My guess is that Rubio will finally emerge but there is a real possibility that Trump could ride the wave right to the nomination.

Which, if that ends up happening, would have seemed inconceivable a year ago. But the thing is that Trump is not simply the anti-establishment fluke people have been taking him for. What Trump actually is is a very shrewd political opportunist; the Republican Party has largely been about obstruction for the last ten years and add to that many conservative radio and tv hosts popularising immigration and minorities and all Trump has done is taken the opportunity to personify that. You can’t blame Trump for playing to a demographic that has largely been created for him.

I still think that in the end there are far more people in the Republican Party who disagree with Trump and that eventually they will rally around someone like Rubio. The problem for the Republicans though is that most of the candidates seem fairly bland and taking someone bland into the main election cycle against Hillary Clinton, or even Bernie Sanders, could be a huge problem. But that’s the reality they are left with.

My guess is that in the end it will be Rubio vs. Clinton and Clinton will win but of course Clinton comes with her own baggage which will pull her back. She would then face a real challenge in 2020 from a much stronger Republican candidate. As for Trump I don’t think he’d run as an independent – it would mean spending more money and I think he’s already got enough exposure out of this. But who knows? He is very hard to predict.

Of course this is all just guesswork from an outsider with an interest in US politics, so please take it all with a grain of salt. I’ll be curious to see exactly what happens and if I’m way off too.

  • Do you think countries would be safer if everyone owned a gun?

This is something that has come up a few times recently with the terrible shootings in the US and the way Australia’s gun laws are sometimes mentioned in the debate making people re-question them. Which is understandable I guess seeing as there is a lot of misinformation going on about our gun laws, most of which is not true.

Personally, and I’ll take this from the point of view of if Australia’s gun laws were potentially being loosened, I am not in any way in favour of more people potentially owning firearms, let alone everyone having access to one. I think the laws have made a big difference here and we have not had another Port Arthur style shooting since which is not a coincidence. More importantly they also do not stop people from being able to own a firearm, just that certain weapons are prohibited and overall it’s not been a big loss.

I think our gun laws are sensible and if the US was to try to do something about gun violence, ours wouldn’t be a bad model to look at. But obviously it is a very different country, with a very different gun culture, and I’m not sure it would work the same way there even if there was the appetite to try.

I’m not unsympathetic towards people who do think more guns are the answer though and I know some people still believe that here in Australia. I think it’s understandable that when people see violence they would want to look at ways of protecting and defending themselves.

I just think though that if you stop and actually consider gun violence as a whole, particularly in the West, you realise how while mass shootings are awful, they’re actually just a small part of a much larger problem. The number of accidental shootings in the West is actually far, far higher than the number of assaults and murders committed with firearms and so if you were to multiply that by adding a vast number of new guns into a country, well that is potentially a recipe for disaster. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people, and the more guns that are available, the more opportunities there are for people to be hurt and killed either accidentally or maliciously.

If everyone had access to a gun it might result in fewer mass shootings, yes, but if it also resulted in a much higher number of accidental shootings and deaths, in the end is that really a trade worth making? Not for me.

I think our gun laws were the best thing John Howard did while he was Prime Minister… I was often on the other side of politics from him but this was one of the good things he did for all Australians and I’ll always be thankful for that. However the US tackles the problem I hope that it is successful and that something happens sooner than later.

  • I’m looking to get my first SLR. Which camera and lens should I buy?

I’m asked this quite a lot and my first piece of advice is, before you buy an SLR, stop and think about if you really need one. Any camera can take good photos. The most important thing is learning about photography; owning a better camera won’t make you take better photos but learning about photographic technique will.

SLRs are great cameras and I highly recommend them but only if you have started to reach the limitations of the camera you are currently using. SLRs will help you to take better photos at night, for instance, and can give you more control over your exposure, but they will not help you to take better photos, just ones with more detail. This is a mistake a lot of people make and they often end up regretting their purchase.

Saying you are one of those people who does need an SLR I would recommend buying an entry level model and seeing how you go with it. A lot of people spend thousands of dollars on getting the best camera, like a Canon 5DS, but they don’t need it and never get the best out of it. Starting with an entry level camera allows you to work out exactly what you need and then if you need to you can upgrade once you find you are reaching its limitations.

For recommendations the Canon 760D is a very good camera, and with a twin lens kit (normal lens and telephoto) that’s pretty much all most people would ever need. I personally prefer Canon over Nikon but a camera like the Nikon D3300 is very good too and would suit the same purpose. I really like Olympus gear too and being mirrorless cameras, they’re much smaller and lighter which is a bonus. Something like the E-PL7 is a great little camera.

I also recommend getting something like Photoshop Elements or Lightroom, no matter what kind of camera you own. You can spend thousands of dollars on gear but a good editor will help you get more out of your photos than any camera or lens. I think Lightroom is the best photographic purchase I have ever made and it doesn’t take long to learn either.

  • Pepsi or Coke?

Can I say neither? I guess I’ve never been particularly into cola, the taste just doesn’t do much for me for some reason. If I had to choose I don’t mind Coke Zero every now and then so I would probably say Coke. I’d rather have a lemonade or lemon, lime and bitters any day though.