Monday, 31 December 2012

Staring at the Abyss

Will they or won’t they?

The Yanks, that is, go over the dreaded fiscal cliff.

On one level, I couldn’t give a rat’s, but on another, the one in which my wallet dwells, I’m more than a little bothered.

Like most self-funded retirees, most of my assets are in shares. If the stock market takes a dive (as we’re told by those who pretend to know that it will) if it happens, my wallet will be one casualty.

Generally, US politics represents the theatre of the absurd. It’s only slightly more entertaining than an undergrad’s production of “Waiting for Godot”. I never could hack Beckett, but was forced whilst at Uni to sit through such a show.

I didn’t enjoy it, but it seemed to make the difference between a credit and a distinction at the time.

There is no such incentive to observe US politics, except perhaps for some kind of morbid fascination. It is after all, a bit like watching endless reruns of Big Brother, but without any mystery about the outcome. US politics is entirely and dully predictable.

There are always goodies and baddies, compromise and collaboration are unknown, and the fundamentalists, of all brands, exert an influence out of kilter with their numbers. The goddamns have God on their side, after all, and that makes all the difference.

It’s worth considering how it got to be this way – their position on the edge of the cliff, that is.

I wonder did it have anything to do with the idea of cutting taxes during wartime. And we’re talking about two simultaneous wars. That was an absolutely suicidal policy. Could it be that the US is now reaping the whirlwind?

American corporations pay less tax than any other country in the G20 except Japan. They rank 19 out of 20. They will at some point have to face the absurdity of their being the exception to all the rules. Taxation is the price we pay for civilization.  

Meanwhile, they spend more than the rest of the world combined on war and the materials of war. They have hit the wall. Exceptionalism has gone to the edge, and is now peering into the abyss
(You never put a full stop after "abyss").

That’s OK, if it was a problem just for the Yanks.

It’s not.

There is a solution.

Given that only slightly more than half the population can be bothered to vote at Congressional and Presidential elections, why can’t self-funded retires in Australia (and other countries affected) be given a vote in the US elections?

Didn’t the Yanks fight a war about being given a say in matters affecting their hip pockets at some stage in their history?

Seems only fair.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Happy Christmas from Campbell

Toowoomba carer Patrick Boyce

I've blogged about this before, but have chosen to post it today to provide an example of the effects of the Newman government's policies on the community of people with disabilities.

The full story is in today's Toowoomba Chronicle.

Remember - this is simply one example.

It is being reproduced all over the state. Most carers are too tired and in too much despair to take the issue to the media so that a little sunshine can be shed.

Lifestyle programmes, which strongly enhance the quality of life for people with disabilities and their families, are not expensive, and allow community engagement. To withdraw this funding indicates an attitude towards this most vulnerable group that I haven't encountered in government since the seventies. 

Acknowledgements to the Toowoomba Chronicle for the Pic.

Thursday, 27 December 2012


Another graphic – this time it follows Campbell Newman’s performance as Queensland Premier.

I reckon there’s some evidence of a pattern emerging…..

Sunday, 23 December 2012

The Flight of Reason

Sometimes cartoons tell the truth in a way that text can't match.

Here is an example from a provincial newspaper, the Hartford Courant.

It's response to Wayne La Pierre (cheerleader for the NRA) blaming everything from the media to Hollywood for gun massacres in the USA..

Friday, 21 December 2012

“Sports” Cars - A Redefinition

From this

to this...

Sadly perhaps, I’m disposing of a vehicle known as a sports car.

That’s interesting, because the old understanding of the term makes most think of a two-seater, a convertible, something that is fast, handles well, and is fun to drive.

This understanding persists, despite the best efforts of those marketing faux four wheel drives (now called SUVs). I’m not sure where the “S” comes from.

Most of these things are not fast, don’t handle well, and are boring to drive. I know. I drive them all the time at work.

They are, however, easy to get in and out of.

I’d argue that my Commodore Ute could also be called a “sports car”.

Let’s compare it with the Mazda. Both have front engines, and rear wheel drive. Both have rack and pinion steering. Both are two seaters. Both have a flexible and removable cover.

In the case of the MX5 it’s a folding hood. In the case of the Ute, it’s a tonneau cover.

There is one significant difference. The Mazda has a sweet 6 speed manual gearbox. I could have bought a Ute with a six-speed manual, but I tried one, and the gear shift was clunky. I figured the automatic, whilst a little boring, was a better option. Besides unless you buy new, most manuals have been driven by gilded youths who flog the bejesus out of them.

They reckon they’re sports cars also.

Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Significantly, you can’t help your kids shift house in a roadster.

Well, you can, but it’s a bit like digging a trench with a teaspoon..

Thursday, 20 December 2012


I share his exasperation. Talk about the bleeding obvious. Although in this context, the pun is probably offensive....

Update - This very sane piece in the Washington Post puts access to firarms in perspective. This critical factor is what makes the US different from comparative societies. 

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Chickens Coming Home

It took a while in coming, but the Parrot's chickens have finally come home to roost.

It's not been a good year for the feathered squawker....

Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Road to Hell

This is what a school should look like - a place of life and learning - not guns and death.

I've been resisting posting about Sandy Hook.

It's so sad, so predictable, and so American. Violence is as American as apple pie.

But a comment on a blog has forced me into it. Someone is seriously and earnestly advocating arming teachers as a solution to the problem of school massacres.

Admittedly, this suggestion was made by someone living across the Pacific. I'd hope no Australian would have such a tenuous grip on reality to promote it.

Can you imagine it? A school full of armed teachers? Armed with what? Glocks, perhaps, or Brownings?

I can see it now. Range practice after school - annual skill and safety checks - the establishment of secure school armouries. The janitor groundsman could double as the school armourer. There'd be an issue of ammo every morning on parade. All weapons would have to be cleared and handed in at day's end.

The arms industry would make (excuse the pun) a killing. The contracts would be lucrative and attractive.

Murphy's Law would hold, of course. Imagine what could go wrong. Teacher carelessly mislays his/her weapon - it gets picked up by one of the school's more crazy students. Don't laugh - there's a constant percentage of psychopaths in every school. You'd only need one.

Or perhaps there's a break-in at the armoury. Twenty or so Brownings (or Glocks) are let loose in the criminal community.

Or perhaps a teacher finally succumbs to the many pressures of the job and barricades himself/herself in a classroom holding twenty-five kids hostage.

If it can happen, it will happen.

The fact that this lunacy could even be considered is a pretty clear indication of the problem stateside. Gun violence is so embedded in their culture that it's seen as a solution rather than a problem.

It takes a particular kind of delusional view of the world to come up with this train of thought.

 What's next?

I give it a week or two until they come up with a new solution.

I can hear it now. Lower the age of conceal carry to five.

That way the grade oners can look after themselves.

Bizarre? Don't bet on it.

We are talking about the NRA, after all.

And the tragedy itself?

I find it profoundly unsettling to think about what the children and staff at that school have been through. It has triggered memories I’d rather forget. On three occasions in my over 40 years in schools, firearms as a threat were in the picture.

Twice the threats were verbal, but on one occasion there was a real physical threat. A father came to the school with a rifle in his car. I managed it by sitting down when the perpetrator came into my office. It seemed a better idea than standing up. I was unable to get him to take a seat, but eventually he ran out of grief and left.

I say “ran out of grief”, because it was grief that was driving his rage.

He came back next day and apologised. I didn’t contact the police. Perhaps I should have. The weapon was legal.

It did give me an insight into the feeling of sheer helplessness you experience when you’re placed in the position of being responsible for the safety of a group of children, but lack any means to do anything about it.

But arming teachers is not the solution. It would be a short cut to hell.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Scamming the Scammers

Cobbled up licence
I had a recent encounter with a scammer, so am passing on my experience to you, dear reader.

It may be instructive.

There was never any risk that I’d part with any of my hard-earned, but he/she/it stuffed me around a little.

It was a fairly basic scam, and one that’s been around for a while, but it must work occasionally.

I advertised a car for sale. One of the responses to my ad was via a text message which asked me for my email address. I sent it, and received a series of emails from a “Toby Johnson”.

This “Toby Johnson” asked some reasonable questions about the vehicle, which I answered, apparently to his satisfaction, as he offered to buy it.

There was just one small problem. Poor “Toby” was out of mobile range (funny that, since he’d initially texted me) on a boat offshore from Darwin. On account of which the only way he could contact me was via email. Being stuck away from civilisation was preventing him from accessing a transit depot or any other conventional means of collecting the vehicle.

I was apparently supposed to be sympathetic. Poor “Toby” had a tough gig.

But “Toby” was resourceful.

He found a “courier” whom for a fee (a neat $2850) would do all the hard stuff.

This courier person would arrange for the vehicle to be shipped to Darwin, cleaned and detailed, and made available to old mate when he was finally free to escape his enforced maritime isolation, whereupon he would drive his newly acquired vehicle back to Victoria. (Williamstown to be precise).

“Toby” sent me a picture of his driver’s licence to establish his bona fides. If I hadn’t been suspicious before, one look at this “driver’s licence” confirmed my belief that this was a scammer.

The person depicted looked more than a little dodgy, and had aged remarkably well for his 47 years as indicated on the licence.

Anyhow, I started to prevaricate, offering to drive the car to Darwin, provided he sent me some dosh for fuel, accommodation, and a return air fare, although by this time, I was almost sure that all was not as it seemed.

I even made a counter proposal – trucking the car north for about half of what this “courier” was charging.

“Toby” was having none of it – accusing me at one point of “stuffing” him around. I resisted the temptation to point out that after two years in the army, I’d been stuffed around by experts, and based on this experience I knew my efforts weren’t in that league.

I sent him some fictitious bank details, so he could lodge the payment for the car in my “bank account”.

Next thing, an authentic looking email arrived from purporting to be from PayPal indicating that the funds for the car had been transferred into my “bank account”.  It had the PayPal logo and mimicked the PayPal format.

Then came the kicker. The funds couldn’t be released until I lodged $2850 with an address in the UK via Western Union.

As “Toby” very kindly pointed out, any Australian Post Office will do the transaction. He even offered to add an additional $100 to speed the business on. All I had to do was send the $2850 to the UK address, and all would be well.

The funds would be “released” into my bank account, the “courier” would magically appear, and the car would be whisked north.

By this time, I was beginning to enjoy the little game, so I sent him an email telling him that I’d be very happy to comply once the funds appeared in my “bank account”.

This was unlikely, given that it was fictitious, but hey, two could play at this game.

Toby’s grasp of the English language was, to say the least, a little eccentric. Some examples –

I want to know your reason for selling the Vehicle and also let me know if there's any finance plan on it, I'm willing to pay $14,800 and i will be glad if you sell it to me. I will be delighted if you remove the AD online and consider me as your favourite buyer by ignoring all other offers.
I promise to take care of the Vehicle even more than you have done in the past, let me know if my offer is good enough to be the next owner.


I won't be able to come over with cash or mail a cheque because presently, i'm working away in Darwin on a research project but i have equally arranged the courier agent that will come for the pick up, transfer of ownership but this will be after i have made payment to you.
Kindly send me your bank details as i'm ready to transfer the money into your bank account.
Kind Regards,


I will appreciate if you understand my situation here as i'm away out of town and that i'm serious in buying this car. I have attached a copy of my licence for you to see how serious i'm on this, please send me your details as i'm ready to buy off the vehicle from you.
Kind Regards,

And when he was stroppy –

I'm here on my boat and i need the car to be on ground once i'm back to town as i will be needing it to move around and transport myself back to Victoria. If you cannot self to me this way then good luck as i hate to be stuffed around and it's pretty looking like such.

He obviously was asleep in school when the lesson about the upper case personal pronoun was taught.

Anyhow, I kept stalling and offering excuses, all the time building a file of material which has been handed to the local plod. They seemed quite interested, although I was told that there are literally hundreds of these scams, and tracing them is difficult.

Why me?

Probably because in the ad I used a sales pitch that I was too old to get in and out of the vehicle. This is complete bunkum, but it may have created the impression of an easily scammed old dodderer.

The bottom line is – never part with any of your hard-earned on the strength of any email, no matter how authentic it looks.

This character’s effort was amateurish, but it must work occasionally, or it wouldn’t be worth his time.

By the way, if you want to have fun with a scammer, this site is helpful.

Update - They're still at it.

Since this was posted, I've received the following texts -
From - - Hello seller Do you still have the listed AD(car) on for sale? get back to me.
From - - Hello ,is your car advert still available for sale and what your firm selling price ? contact me
From - - I will like to know if your car is still available and to know the firm price, please get back to me
I replied to each saying I would only negotiate personally or by direct phone contact. There was no response of course.
Each of these is obviously a scam. Why would you text a seller when you have his phone number and could call? In addition, their use of English is clunky and characteristic of someone who is not fluent, meaning they're probably offshore.
I don't know who is thicker - these spivs who are dumb enough to think someone would actually fall for this, and those who actually do.
The sad story is, some must be taken in, otherwise the scammers wouldn't continue to try their ripoffs.


Sunday, 9 December 2012

Those Mad Russkies

Regulations about low flying appear to be fairly lax in the Russian Federation.

Hard to tell, but it looks like an SU 24.

I reckon you would have been able to smell the avtur.

He was certainly Russian somewhere.......

Thanks Brendan.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

The American Right & Disability

Nothing reveals so clearly the moral bankruptcy of the American Right as the Republican Party’s stance on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

In this single action, paranoia trumps compassion, common sense yields to cynicism, and hope gives way to fear.

To quote from the report - Supporters (of the legislation) dismissed those fears as paranoid, noting that the treaty would change nothing in U.S. law without further approval from Congress.

It has nothing to do with reality – it’s all about seeming and posturing.

When seeming and posturing is more important than the rights of the most vulnerable in the community, you know you have a problem.

Looking at the map, it puts the Yanks in interesting company.

With this decision, their colour is now red (not signed).

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Rate of Groth

The Australian has coined a new term to describe stuff happening in the economy.

Well, that's consistent.

It's about as creative as most of what else appears in Murdoch's Pravda.

Update - 
They've fixed it. Spoilsports.


Soon it will be Christmas.

That's not why I posted this.

Ii's my favourite Carol. Hat tip to my music teacher sister who remimded me about it.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

An Embarrassment of Itches

Perhaps I’ve been lucky, but I haven’t had much to do with the medical profession.

I’ve only been hospitalised once (to have my tonsils and adenoids removed when I was five) so my encounters with members of the profession have usually been related to issues with other family members.

I also have a brother who is a GP and a niece who works as a paediatric registrar, so there is a different sort of family connection.

Today, however, I had to see a dermatologist as my GP had referred me because of a mysterious rash and a couple of lesions on my back he wasn’t happy about.

Apparently the specialisation of dermatology is prized amongst medicos. When I asked my brother about this he said simply – “Nobody calls you at 2am because they’re worried about bad skin. Fair enough….

Turns out the lesions were quite benign (frozen off with some sore of weird hand-held contraption), but I’ve been inflicted with something called Grover’s Disease in the form of a rash on my back and trunk that itches something fierce.

Getting this diagnosed was a fascinating experience. I was ushered into a treatment room which contained only one item of furniture (besides the doctor’s desk and chair) – a height adjustable plinth. I became intimately familiar with this item of equipment because I was left unaccompanied for about 15 minutes waiting the arrival of the Dermatologist.

I was at the point of rolling the doctor’s chair out from behind the desk to sit in it because the plinth was not exactly comfortable – there was no other chair in the room – when a nurse type person wafted in and asked me all manner of questions.

That was the first wave.

Next came two people, both female, and wearing the same uniform as the first one.

They were the second wave.

One I think was an intern, and she asked me to remove my shirt and lie face down on the plinth. 

For reasons unknown, another slightly shorter wait transpired before the actual Dermatologist arrived. Perhaps I was being vetted to make absolutely sure that I was actually worthy of the attention of this rare and esteemed person – an actual real live specialist.

He breezed, rather than wafted in, although he was also wearing the corporate garb also. Then followed a series of events straight out of the Doctor movies.

He proceeded to give a tentative verbal diagnosis complete with history, pathology and prognosis. It was thorough, but it was directed at the intern, not at me. It sounded like a tutorial, and also like I was simply an interesting exhibit, not a living breathing patient. Being discussed in the third person in your own presence is a weird experience.

This was given in a completely hands-off fashion. He didn’t actually touch any part of my anatomy during the examination. Perhaps he’s had bad experiences with contagion.

He explained that Grover’s disease was not named after the Sesame St character that lived in the rubbish bin, but was indeed called after the doctor who discovered and described it. Given that this Dr Grover never did work out caused it, or what the cure is, I wonder why he was considered worthy of naming rights.

I was told is it benign and self limiting. I think this means it won’t kill you, and eventually clears up all by itself. This is comforting, but less comforting was the information that it can hang around for 12 months or more.

12 months of excruciating itch – not fun.

Anyway, the specialist breezed out again after prescribing two different topical (no – nothing to do with news – not that sort of “topical”) products, and I thought we were done.

Not so.

The intern announced that she was going to remove 4mm of skin from my back for a biopsy. Obviously, the specialist wasn’t totally confident with his diagnosis. This procedure took a little bit of time, as a local anaesthetic was necessary, and also cost $86.20.

I know that because it was on the invoice.

So I ended up with my wallet lighter by a total of $300, a hole in my back, and some not-so-good news.

The sight of the specialist’s Bentley Continental Coupe in the doctor’s car park did nothing to lighten my mood. Reflecting that f I had just contributed half the cost of a new tyre to his favourite set of wheels didn't help..

I wonder if you need a thick skin to become a Dermatologist?

Update - 

Received the results of the biopsy. It's not Grover's disease, but a rash called pityriasis rosea. I doagnosed this myself and told my GP. He didn't believe me and sent me off to the specialist. I reckon I should get my money back.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

DON'T stop the boats. Stop the hypocrisy.

Photo courtesy Herald Sun

The asylum seeker debate continues. It has gone, since the days of the Tampa, from election eve opportunism through cynical political manipulation to outright national tragedy. 

Perhaps it’s time to revisit the issue.

I'll quote from Paul Syvret's excellent piece - 

 It is not the trickle of barely seaworthy fishing vessels and their desperate human cargo that poses a threat to Australia. It is the rank dissembling, crocodile tears and dog whistle bigotry that presents far more danger to our social fabric.

Remember how getting tough was going to solve the problem?

Now that the differences between Labor and Coalition policy are almost indistinguishable, it’s clear that getting tough has made no difference at all.

Two facts are indisputable. The first is that no amount of “getting tough” is going to “stop the boats”. The second is that the costs (both human and financial) are not worth the benefit.

Banging these people up on Nauru and Manus has made no difference. The cost of running these gulags is astronomical.

As Burnside points out, the projected costs of Nauru and Manus ($15 billion) would cancel all HECS debt.

How do you feel about that, uni students and recent graduates?

Staying with the costs of it all, keeping refugees onshore costs between $150000 and $350000 per year per refugee. Releasing them into the community, even if they went on the dole, would cost between $10 and $20 thousand per year.

Are you happy about your tax dollar being used to slowly send people insane whilst it’s costing you so much?

Then there’s the issue of how our political leaders use the issue to garner support. It’s a simple three step process.

First, you demonise them. This is achieved by the use of language. Calling them “illegals” is one strategy, followed most recently by Tony Abbott.

Sorry about the shouting, but sometimes I despair that this simple fact will, by some, never be acknowledged.

Then you construct a narrative. The one most favoured by the Coalition is the macho “we decide” story popularised by John Howard.

Labor use that one, but also demonise the people smugglers. They also use the compassionate “we will stop the drownings” meme. The logical weirdness of this one is clear. Protecting people from a danger already past is bizarre. By definition, they’re not in danger until they get on the boats. They’re still getting on the boats. No matter how tough you get, they will continue to get on the boats.

After all, if you’re a Hazara, and certain death in Afghanistan is weighed up against a risky boat journey with detention at the end is the choice, you’ll opt for the boat every time.

The last dodgy narrative is about queues. Excuse me whilst I shout –


As Burnside eloquently points out, if you were a Hazara in Kabul trying to find this fabled “queue”, you’d have a few problems.

The first one is that the location of the Australian embassy in Kabul is a secret for security reasons. Check the DFAT website…

Actually, I was wrong with my three steps narrative. There’s a fourth – “they’re not genuine refugees”.

A fact or two tends to mess with this story.  During the last twelve months, 90% of those arriving by boat were found to be genuine. Those arriving by plane and overstaying were found to be 20% genuine.
Funny that…

Paul Syvret sums it up pretty well. It has nothing to do with compassion, border security or “no advantage”.

It’s all about the lowest and grubbiest form of politics. It makes me ashamed to call myself Australian.

Okay, now that I’ve got that off my chest – what’s the solution?

Before you have a solution, you need a problem. I don’t believe we have one. Compared to many other countries the flow of refugees to our shores is infinitesimal.

As Burnside points out, all the arrivals so far this year would equal two weeks worth of our national population increase due to the birth rate.

If however, you believe this trickle of “boat people” is a problem, how about considering a real solution to this non-problem?

Short-term, detain them for only as long as basic security and health checks are done. I reckon this would be a month or two. If there aren’t enough resources to do this in a timely fashion, spend some of the billions saved by closing offshore processing centres on exactly this process.

Release these people into rural and regional communities with the proviso that they must carry a specific and unique form of ID - unique to asylum seekers, that is. Allow them to work, and send their kids to school. Specify that they must reside in designated asylum zones. This is where the ID comes in.

These specified zones would be situations in rural and regional Australia, where the courage, resilience and enterprise exhibited by refugees down through our history are valued. There would be no problems created by creaking urban infrastructure. The income earned by these people would stimulate regional economies and maybe help to arrest the decline of some bush communities.

I've seen first hand what the injection of the work ethic and enthusiasm exhibited by Vietnamese kids has done to schools in Charleville. Afghan kids would be no different.

Don’t tell me this designation of zones and carrying ID is an infringement of human rights, and locking them up in offshore gulags isn’t.

Afghans in particular make great rural workers. It’s been done, and it works. It works with Vietnamese also, as my own observed experience in Charleville has shown. There's talk about establishing an abattoir in the north to help solve real problems in the live meat export trade. One solution to two problems, perhaps?

Long-term, make collaboration with Indonesia and Malaysia an urgent priority. Move heaven and earth to come up with a cooperative agreement that makes their approach and our approach indistinguishable. The successful model provided by the Vietnamese boat people is worth looking at.

This may involve anointing a high profile ex-politician to do some shuttling between Oz and our Northern neighbours for a year or two. Maybe Phillip Ruddock would be the man? Or perhaps Alexander Downer?

It’s pretty simple stuff.

The novelty would be our national leaders putting humanity before politics.

Will we ever see it?

I can hope…..

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Three Ring Circus

The Courier sums it up

The old enmities are emerging.

Newman is having trouble paying off all the favours he owes.

When you consider that the LNP is a bit like the Monkees in that it was a product of a marketing strategy rather than political conviction, none of this is surprising.

Queensland has always been good value when it comes to political spectacle.

You ain't seen nothin' yet......

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Authentic Aboriginals

First Dog has a particularly pithy view of authenticity when it comes to aboriginality.

Very droll - and very clever...

Friday, 23 November 2012

Farewell Aunty Jack

Television has been around for 50 years in this country.

The Aunty Jack Show was probably the most memorable and original television seen during this time.

It was at the same time brilliant and bizarre. I watch very little TV, but will happily watch reruns of Aunty Jack till the cows come home.

Grahame Bond was brilliant, although perhaps a flawed genius.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

The Church Bleeds

Leader front page. No mention or pic of George Pell

There was applause after the sermon at our local mass today.

That's pretty unusual.

It came after the priest quoted Plato in reference to the recently announced Royal Commission to investigate child abuse in churches and other institutions.

The quote -

"We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light."

The heartfelt applause I saw and heard this morning after this sermon is symptomatic of the deep distress that this issue has caused to Catholics all over the country. Sermons are not usually applauded.

The distress this abuse has visited on the victims and their families is of another dimension entirely. I should know.

What is not understood is that the trauma of such an event doesn't disappear with the passage of time. It is accommodated, but it never goes away, and in many cases changes the victim forever.

So perhaps, to use another quote (Luke 23:24) -

"Father forgive them, for they know not what they do".

Forgiveness is going to be very difficult for victims and their families, but perhaps the Royal Commission will shed light on why this has happened to so many defenceless kids.

As a practicing Catholic, for whom the church has been a steadying anchor for all of my life, I am bewildered by the contrast between the values I have seen put in practice by the church throughout my life, and the behaviour of a small minority of the clergy.

I attended a Catholic boarding school, and my children all attended Catholic schools. Because we moved around a bit, they also spent large chunks of their schooling in state schools, as I did. I am unaware of any abuse through this time in either system.

Perhaps because we attended parish schools, many with lay teachers, abuse was less likely. It does seem to have been a problem in institutions where members of the clergy (priests or brothers) were in positions of power and trust.

I'm sure there is a link between institutional culture and abuse. As a school principal I always worked hard to try to ensure that power cliques were no part of school culture. On one occasion, I was appointed to a school where such a clique was embedded in the culture. It took three years of hard graft to get rid of it.

Sexual abuse is about power - not sex. The best way to avoid it happening in an institution is to develop a culture where power hierarchies can't grow and thrive.

So what does this mean for the church?

It probably means the abolition of hierarchies.  It probably means opening the church up to married clergy and the ordination of women. It probably means a return to Catholic social justice values that were such a feature of Vatican II.

Given the current leadership (Pell locally and Benedict in the Vatican) I don't hold out much hope of reform. Vatican II back in the mid sixties set the course of the church in the direction of inclusion, liberation and encouraged dialogue and flexibility. Many liberation movements saw their origins in Vatican II. Notable amongst these was the rise of Solidarity in Poland, and many Social Justice movements in South America.

Out of it grew Liberation theology. This is an essentially Catholic political movement which interprets Christian beliefs in political terms, and seeks to put these values into action.  The political values are about liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions. It has been described by proponents as “an interpretation of Christian faith through the poor’s suffering, their struggle and hope, and a critique of society and the Catholic faith and Christianity through the eyes of the poor”.

Those critical of Liberation theology see it as Marxism dressed up as Christianity.

Like many other Catholics of my generation, I was brought up in this tradition. Much of my political viewpoint is based on Liberation theology because it matches neatly with my belief and value system. I work in my local parish in the social justice group. We work with migrants and refugees.

Pope Benedict (Joseph Ratzinger) a man of the Right, also known as the Vatican’s Rottweiler when he was a Cardinal is seeking to reverse many of the trends set during Vatican II. Recent evidence of this was the sacking of our local Bishop (Bill Morris).

It’s no coincidence that Toowoomba diocese has more social justice infrastructure than any other Australian diocese. Bill Morris also handled child abuse in St Saviour’s school in Toowoomba in an honest and open manner by making an immediate and very public apology and ensuring that there was no contest by the Diocese to any of the claims. In doing this, he ignored George Pell.

All of this is relevant in terms of the Royal Commission. Institutional abuse needs a culture (a medium for growth) in which to thrive. Any institution characterised by hierarchical power structures, rigidity and a mono gender makeup is at risk. Moves to open the church up to married clergy and women in the priesthood have been stoutly resisted by Ratzinger. This was one of the issues that got Morris booted, and all he did was write a letter about it to his diocesan laity.

Like many other practising Catholics, I see a connection between the power structures grimly held on to by the old guard in the church and child abuse. I welcome the enquiry, and would like to see some recommendations at the end of it that look at institutional structure. My church needs to be liberated from its medieval roots, and move back to the political centre-left where it fits best.

Perhaps the strong progressive values espoused by orders such as the Josephites will provide a template.

I hope so. My church is bleeding.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Tough Times

This is not my daughter - I would never post her picture - but this is how she looks right now

I usually confine my posts to a fairly narrow range of topics.

This blog is essentially a pastime, a way of engaging the world of ideas, and an indulgence in one of my favourite activities - writing. It doesn't encroach on what is closest to my heart - my family.

I trust regular and new readers will forgive me then, if I break the rules depart from my usual discourse and blog about my family, and the very tough stuff we're going through at the moment.

Long time readers will remember this post about my youngest daughter back in 2010.

Unfortunately the resilience she showed back then hasn't endured. She's always been a strong independent kid. She's pretty, was dux of her school, and is a talented musician. She is studying Psychology at U of Q and dreams of being a Counsellor or a Music Therapist.

She is also on a Long Tan scholarship.

My beautiful daughter has succumbed to the trauma of that event back in 2010, and is now in a Psychiatric ward. About a month ago when she realised she was showing depressive symptoms, she got herself referred to a Psych.

The diagnosis is PTSD.

Her studies, her relationships, her life, are on hold.

There's something ironic in the fact that a disorder common amongst Vietnam Veterans has claimed the daughter of a veteran.

The guy who attacked her was convicted and got two years. He's out now (parole) - back on the street. He was 29 at the time of the offence, and strongly built. She was 18 when it happened. Back then she weighed 50 kg. She's lost weight since as a consequence of her illness.

After reading the court transcript I became aware of how terrifying her ordeal must have been - as much as anything else because she was isolated from help and under his power for five long minutes. Yet she chose not to receive counselling after the event. She seemed to be angry, rather than frightened.

When determining how much nagging I should do to talk her into counselling, I thought back to my days in Vietnam and remembered that anger was often my strongest reaction to a situation when I knew someone was trying to kill me, and rationalised that she was probably reacting the same way.

So I didn't nag her.

Obviously I was wrong.

The medicos are still trying to establish the root of the problem, but to me it's pretty clear. This incident destroyed her sunny and innocent view of the world, and the deep and abiding fear that it generated has taken over.

All my wife and I can do know is wait. We can see her for a short time daily, but she can't have her phone, her books, and can't talk to her friends. She finds this last bit really tough, as she has always been a very socially connected kid.

I'm finding it pretty tough also. Posts may be sparse for a while.

But then, perhaps not. Blogging can be good therapy.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

LNP Imploding

The birth of a monster

Well, it didn't take long.

The LNP government is Queensland seems to be acting a bit like a pressure cooker with a faulty valve. They've been in power for about seven months.

Shoving a bunch of metro whiteshoes, white collar spivs, dodgy developers and salt of the earth agrarian socialists into a hold-all with a cute new logo, and calling it a political party was always going to be problematic.

After the standing aside of Michael Caltabiano, the (sort-off) related inquiry into nepotism in his department, and Clive Palmer's very public tantys, you can only stand back (advisedly behind something solid and protective) to wait for the next explosion.

We may see it today.

Bruce Flegg has sacked two of his staff, and they're out for blood.

One of them, Graeme Hallett, is giving a press conference today - should be interesting.

Some are saying Flegg is being set up by his own party colleagues so Newman can take over his safe seat. The fact Napoleon has been very low on the radar for weeks now can only mean internal party polling shows what everyone else already knows. He is deeply unpopular, does not resonate with voters and has a snow flakes chance in hell of holding Ashgrove come the next election. There are a lot of public servants in Ashgrove who wouldn't vote for Newman even if you threatened them with a painful death.

Getting rid of Bruce Flegg and shifting Newman to his seat (Moggill) might ensure Newman gets back next time. There aren't too many public servants in Moggill.

If this is indeed the strategy, watching Newman when he tries to explain how he is now committed to the people of Moggill after telling everyone in Ashgrove how many ties he has to the area and how he cares about it so much, will be riveting.

Meanwhile, public servants continue to be sacked, our unemployment rate is steadily rising, seniors are being kicked out of nursing homes, and people with disabilities are seeing services they've enjoyed for over thirty years being withdrawn.

 Queensland - beautiful one day - well and truly stuffed the next.

Update -

Flegg is toughing it out.

Update 2 -

He's gone.....

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Thoughts on Recent Events Stateside

I’m glad the Presidential Poll in the USA is over at last.

Most of our media (print and electronic) has been full of it for weeks. I doubt the reverse applies when it comes to American interest in our politics.

I wonder how many Yanks would know the name (let alone the gender) of our national leader.

The result did not surprise, although any reading of the Right wing blogosphere would have convinced the easily led that a Republican victory was in the bag.

It’s bit early to gauge the reaction, but already the usual suspects have hit the Twitter sphere with what can only be described as lunacy.

One of the aspects of the process that I found bizarre was the actual electoral system used across the Pacific. Contrasting the American way with what happens here is illuminating.

I was brought up with a familiarity with the process in this country.

My dad, as a bush school principal for much of his career before he became senior enough to run larger schools in bigger centres, was always in charge of polling booths in his schools. In the bush, local schools are almost always polling centres.

As a kid, I took an interest in the process, and understood how it operated.

Later, as a young teacher, I worked from time to time as a polling clerk. On one notable occasion I worked at the then Greenslopes Military Hospital with a mobile bedside ballot box.

That was interesting, to say the least. One of these days I’ll blog about it.

Behind the process in this country is an electoral commission, which, in my experience, runs a very efficient and professionally managed poll. Scrutineers from the major parties are involved, and the setup is transparent and generally tamper proof.

Contrast that with the situation stateside, where each state runs its own polls, and where no two seem to do it in the same way. In addition, whatever administration is in power at the time runs the show, so the risk of partisanship is real and present.

This hit the fan in 2000. No such situation could eventuate here.

In contrast to our system, in the US elections are chaotic, poorly organised, and generally messy.

But the greatest contrast of all relates to participation. Compulsory voting in this country ensures maximum participation.

On the other side of the Pacific, turnout in Presidential Polls has recently averaged around 60%. 

Think about that. It means 40% of Americans have no say in their government. To me, that isn’t true democracy.

I don’t accept the Libertarian proposition that compulsory voting restricts freedom.

We are a social species. Participation in organising our society is both a privilege and a responsibility.

To deny that is to deny that most basic form of patriotism – i.e. the responsibility of participation.

Yanks I have met over the years (in Vietnam and since when travelling) are universally patriotic and proud of their country. To me, there is a particular form of irony in the fact that these patriots are happy that many of their countrymen and women (40% or so) think so little of their country that they don’t participate in its democratic process.

Strange indeed.

Update -

This report from AFP hints at what I was saying partisanship above. Read the last third of the artcle.

Hugh White - Without America

Hugh White is always provocative, and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to criticising current defence policy. In 1995, he was appo...