Saturday, 13 September 2014

Celebrating Peace

Mary Robinson

With so much attention being given to conflict as I write this, let's take a moment, dear reader, to remember the end of a conflict.

I'm talking about the end of hostilities in Northern Ireland, formalized by the Good Friday agreement (Comhaontú Bhéal Feirste) on 10 April 1998.

With the death, announced today, of Ian Paisley, his journey and contribution should be remembered.

I say "journey" because Paisley fundamentally altered his position as time went on.

Tony Blair and Bill Clinton also played their part as did Queen Elizabeth. Her visit to the Irish Republic in 2011 was a major contribution to the healing process, although controversial at the time.

Mary Robinson then President of the Republic of Ireland, began the first official state visit to Britain by an Irish head of state in June 1996. This was also of enormous significance, coming as it did two years before the Good Friday settlement.

In fact, Robinson's contribution, quiet, courageous and mostly behind the scenes, was critical.

It's great shame that there are not more leaders with her commitment to peace in western democracies.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Why I Don't Carry a Handgun

There are a plethora of blogs set up by gun lovers in the USA.

Some of the writers take themselves very very seriously.

They don't take kindly to ridicule. It is great fun, however.
There was a post the other day entitled This is Why I Carry a Handgun.
I thought I'd have a bit of fun with it.
This is the result.

The original post is in italics, my response in plain text. It does go on a bit -

·        * I can’t foretell the future. I carry not for the things I can anticipate, but for the things I can’t.
In that case you should also carry a shovel. You never know when you might encounter bullshit.
* Evil exists and may confront anyone at any time and any place.
Yep – he usually has a tail and horns. But then, he’s a supernatural being and a gun would be useless.
* Self-defence is a God-given, natural, unalienable right.
That’s funny – my God talks about “turning the other cheek”. Your God must be a different one.
* There is no gift so precious as God’s gift of life.
Absolutely. That’s why shooting someone to death is an affront to that gift.
* To fail to protect the greatest gift devalues all life.
See above – unless you believe that your life is more worthy than everyone else’s.
* My life is worth far more to me, those that love me, and to a just society than the lives of vicious brutes that would take it.
These same “vicious brutes” are also loved. Many of them would claim that you are “vicious”. What gives you the right to judge?
* The lives of the innocent—friend or stranger—are worth far more to me and to a just society than the lives of vicious brutes that would take them.
Yes – I wonder how the families of the innocents killed by firearms (e.g. the children killed at Sandy Hook) feel about this.
* Three times in my life I have raised my right hand and sworn a solemn oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. I have never betrayed those oaths and never will.
I don’t need to swear an oath to defend my values. I live them.
* The Constitution is only paper, a statement of principles and intentions. When the will wavers and when some wish to change, ignore or destroy those principles and intentions for light and transient reasons, only the threat and force of arms will suffice to preserve liberty.
I think Adolf Hitler, Mao Tse Tung and Josef Stalin had much the same idea.
* From time to time, politicians forget their place. The carrying and use of arms by law abiding citizens helps them, gently, to remember.
Tell me when armed insurrection has been successful in your country this (or last) century. The world has changed a bit since the days of your founding fathers.
* A handgun is the most convenient, usual and effective means of self-defence.
And it is also easily concealed and carried by criminals.
* By carrying my handgun, I honour the foresight and wisdom of the Founders in writing the Second Amendment.
As far as I know, in 1791, effective rapid-fire handguns weren’t invented yet. The most advanced weapon at that time would probably have been either the Kentucky long rifle, capable of firing two or three .60 balls per minute out to an accurate range of 300 yards. The Founders had no idea about modern weaponry.
* Going armed reinforces and upholds the Social Contract.
Going armed offends the Social Contract. Trust is an important component of that contract. Fear is not.
* I know that Thomas Jefferson was right:
Jefferson was a great man, but he was not gifted with prophecy. He would be turning in his grave at the state of your country now.
“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
That may have been acceptable in his time. We have progressed since then. I doubt that anyone wants to go back to the savagery that existed then – except perhaps ISIL – that’s how they operate.
* That’s why we have a Second Amendment, not for hunting, not for self-defence, but to allow the common man–if necessary–to resist a tyrannical government and always to deter tyranny.
Most civilised western democracies don’t need a second amendment, and looking at the gun homicide statistics, they are safer places to live than the USA.
* It demonstrates—day after day—that I am the master of my government, not its slave; that elected officials work for me.
We have been able to do that in this country (Australia) without bloodshed for over 200 years. What is wrong with you lot?
* I am a free man and no evidence of that fact is more meaningful and convincing than that I own and carry the firearms I prefer.
No – you are a fearing man – not a free man – if you have to carry a firearm. You are a slave to fear.
* It sorely vexes those who would enslave me—all of us—through tyranny, soft or hard.
Not really. I couldn’t give a colonial. The only thing that vexes me is Americans telling me what to believe in my own country.
* It reminds them that in America, there are lines no rational, honest politician dare cross.
Really? Your history doesn’t demonstrate that. Where will I start? Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, George Wallace, Jesse Jackson, Bob Ney, Larry Craig etc – the list goes on.
On the other hand, many great men have been slaughtered or wounded by firearms in your country, including Jack Kennedy, Bob Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Ronald Reagan.
* It reminds them that in America, there are lines no irrational, dishonest politician dare cross.
See above.
* It reminds them that every iota of power they possess is on temporary loan from me and every other American.
See above.
* It reminds us all that the whims of the highest politician may not prevail over the Bill of Rights because our will has not flagged and will not flag.
See above.
* It is the very means by which an oppressed citizenry may force despots to respect the Bill of Rights.
That may have been true in 1791. It is not the case in 2014.
* Because politicians harbouring tyrannical intentions fear armed citizens like a vampire fears a crucifix, it serves to positively identify those that hide behind spin, teleprompters and clever lies.
That is ideological nonsense. Explain how carrying a firearm “identifies” anyone or anything.
* Most politicians care about the welfare and continuing existence of individual citizens only in the abstract. Even honourable politicians can do little more than those who only pretend to care.
You must have crap politicians in your country.
* Even in our democracy, tyrants are always present and always waiting their chance.
Yep – we get them here too. They get voted out.
* With this in mind, Hubert Humphrey, one of the most famous and orthodox Democrats of the last century was right–and refreshingly honest and non-partisan–when he said:
“Certainly one of the chief guarantees of freedom under any government, no matter how popular and respected, is the right of the citizens to keep and bear arms. This is not to say that firearms should not be carefully used and that definite safety rules of precaution should not be taught and enforced. But the right of the citizens to bear arms is just one guarantee against arbitrary government and one more safeguard against a tyranny which now appears remote in America, but which historically has proved to be always possible.”

The NRA got to him.
* Those who willingly and meekly surrender to criminals surrender more than valuables; they surrender their dignity and honour; they surrender civilization itself.
We don’t “willingly and meekly surrender to criminals” in this country and we don’t carry guns. It’s unnecessary.
* I am old-fashioned enough to think it my duty to protect those who have less ability than mine to protect themselves.
Me too – but I’ve never needed a gun to do that.
* I could not live with myself for failing to protect a woman in danger. Call it sexist if you must, but if you’re unarmed and under attack, would you really want to call an unarmed, untrained statist? Would Pajama Boy save you?
Carrying a gun doesn’t make you a man – it actually brands you as a coward.
* I know human nature. Like the Shadow, I know what evil lurks in the hearts of men.
Really – what is that supposed to mean. Maybe evil is male?
* I know that many criminals experience pangs of conscience. I also know that it does not prevent them from being predators, only that it occasionally causes them to feel badly, for a few fleeting seconds, thereafter.
You seem to divide the world into criminals and others. What a simple view of the world you harbour – goodies and baddies. Most grow out of that by the end of grade school.
* I know that sociopaths exist, in greater numbers than most imagine, and that they have no conscience.
Yep – and quite a few of them have slaughtered hundreds over the years in your country. A sociopath with a gun is dangerous – without a gun – not so much.
* I know that some people really like hurting others. Rarely does one need to engage in psychological navel gazing to understand the actions of predators. They do it because they want to do it, because they like to do it, and some, because it is an intense sexual thrill.
I wonder what this has to do with concealed carry?
* I know that such people are everywhere, and are for most, impossible to pick out from the mass of humankind.
Like Chickenman, they’re everywhere, and you want them to be able to carry concealed firearms?
* I know that such people can be stopped only by the presence of overwhelming and imminent force: the gun.
Not necessarily. If they’re carrying all bets are off.
* I know that living a virtuous life is no defence against such people.
Wow – what a revelation.
* I know that having a Progressive political and social philosophy not only is no defence against such people, it encourages, helps, even creates them.
And allowing everyone to carry concealed firearms isn’t “progressive?”
* I know that only bullets will stop some predators. Using reason or empathy on such “people” is like the cries of a wounded bird to a carnivore.
You’re full of hyperbole.
* Politicians sometimes speak of a “war on crime.” They have no idea. The streets are the battlefield and whether we like it or not, we are all the combatants.
Not in this country. But then we have a fraction of the available firearms that you do.
* The predators that would carry that battlefield into our homes are usually the most dangerous of all.
More hyperbole.
* The police have no legal obligation to protect me—or anyone.
You have a very strange police force.
* The police simply can’t protect anyone; there are far too few of them and far too many of us.
We don’t need protection when every crim isn’t carrying.
* When seconds count, the police are always minutes (or in Detroit and many, many other places, an hour) away.
I lived in outback Queensland for many years. Nearest police officer was hours away. Not a problem.
* I accept personal responsibility and live accordingly.
·         Me too.
* As an adult, I am solely responsible for my continuing existence.
Me too. That’s why I gave up smoking years ago.
* As an adult, I am also responsible for the continuing existence of children.
As a teacher, I’ve been caring for children for over 40 years.
* Accepting personal responsibility encourages me to be continually aware of my surroundings, to be tactically, situationally aware.
Yeah – learnt that whilst serving in Vietnam. It’s called hyper vigilance. If you’re always as aware as that, you’d probably better see a counselor.
* Having situational awareness makes it more likely I won’t ever need to use my handgun.
See above.
* My training and experience give me confidence that if I do need it, I will use it effectively and properly, though I will always pray to be fast and accurate.
The last thing I would ever want to do is carry a gun again. Doing so for months in Vietnam was enough for me.
* It gives me the ability to deter those younger, stronger or more numerous than myself.
I haven’t found it necessary.
* It gives me the ability to defeat those younger, stronger or more numerous than myself if they are too stupid, too drugged, or too predatory to be deterred.
I don’t “defeat” them, I avoid them. Works for me.
* I know that criminals fear the guns of armed citizens far more than the guns of the police. They should.
I haven had this conversation with a criminal lately.
* Domestic terrorists and murderers have always been with us. The victims and survivors of Columbine High School (1999), Virginia Tech (2007), Sandy Hook Elementary School (2012), and the Boston Marathon attack (2013)—and I–have no doubt of this.
Yep – but they find it much easier to get their hands on deadly weapons in your country than mine.
* In virtually every school shooting in recent American history, the police played virtually no role in stopping the killers. Armed citizens did.
Yep – worked out well, didn’t it?
* We are at war with uniquely deranged, blood-thirsty terrorists determined to slaughter Americans on American soil.
Yep. Problem is in your country they’re armed.
* I have no doubt that Islamist terrorists are waiting for their chance, and on American soil. I have no doubt others will soon walk over our open borders.
Watch out for the Presbyterians.
* I frequent the places (schools, theatres, shopping malls, grocery stores and other soft targets) terrorists long to attack.
If I was as paranoid as that, I’d avoid these places.
* I can imagine few feelings worse than being unarmed when and where a terrorist attack takes place.
No problem if they’re not armed.
* Even unarmed, I would have no option but to attack armed terrorists shooting innocents.
Good luck with that.
* Armed, I would be able to save at least some lives and stop at least some killers.
You’d more likely shoot yourself or some innocent bystander.
* I could not bear the thought that I was less prepared than the Boy Scouts—in any situation.
Just say the promise – you’ll be OK.
* It is important to me to know that I can make a real difference when it most matters.
Me too – but I don’t need a gun to do that.
* I appreciate well-designed and made devices.
Me too. I love sports cars. Guns – not so much.
* Firearms are like fire extinguishers. When one is needed, it’s needed right now, badly, and nothing else will do.
I’ve extinguished fires successfully with a wet sugar bag.
* The discipline of the gun helps to make me a better, more aware and more effective person.
If you need a gun to be “disciplined” you have a problem.
* Thomas Jefferson was also right when, in 1785, he advised his 15 year old nephew and ward:
“A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives a moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind.”

Probably true in 1785. In 2014 not so much.
* Shooting and being a part of the “gun culture” is uplifting and simply fun.
I’ve never found the need. Surfing is healthier, safer and cheaper.
* I recognize that I am the weapon; the handgun is simply a tool.
Actually, the reverse is more likely.
* Everyone that carries a handgun, without incident, every day, makes a stronger legal and political case for fully honouring the intent of the Founders and expanding Second American freedoms.
Everyone that carries a handgun exhibits paranoia and cowardice.
* The mark of civilization is not what a man or a people are willing to say about it, but what they are willing and able to do to defend it.
The mark of civilization is the freedom to move about freely daily without fear. Shame you don’t have it in your country.
* The battle for liberty never ends. I’ll do my part, symbolically, and if necessary, in fact.
Me too – but I don’t need a gun for that.
* Foremost, I am an American; I am a free man; it is my tradition and heritage.
If you are an American with your anachronistic gun laws you are a slave to fear.
*As an American, I do it for no reason other than I want to.
That’s the kind of statement I’ve heard from your typical five year old. Most grow out of it. What other people want is important unless you’re a hermit.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Catholics in Vietnam

Catholic Church - Hoi An

The following article appeared in last Sunday's Catholic Leader.

I'm posting it here because it resonates with my experience when I visited a Catholic Church in Vung Tau in 2006.

If you had told me during my tour of duty in SVN in 1970 that people would be free to worship at Catholic churches in 2006 in Vietnam under a Communist government, I would not have believed you.

Perhaps reconciliation has finally been achieved - by peace - not war.

 The beautiful statue of a youthful Mary stands in a realistic grotto with a sea of living blooms - chrysanthemums, marigolds and other colorful flowers - at her feet, with the Christ Child in her arms. But what enchanted me was the sand-filled stone tray below her, filled not with votive candles, but with aromatic joss sticks. 

We were in Vietnam, at the magnificent Catholic church in the ancient seaport town of Hoi An, about midway up the coast of this intriguing country, which is gaining increasing attention among Australians as a tourist destination. Like many Eastern lands, Vietnam is a Buddhist country, but with a tolerant Communist background. It is still recovering from the aftermath of the struggle 50 years ago to throw off the century-old yoke of French colonization, followed by the tragic and bloody Vietnam War, in which Australia and the United States were involved. 

Though relations with France were only restored towards the end of last century, much of French tradition and names remain- even the capital, renamed Ho Chi Min City in celebration of the leader of the fight for freedom, still bears many traces of its original name of Saigon in company and product names, and it is quaint to find some businesses retaining their original French names and logos. But in the 21st century, the violent memories of warfare have faded, and the friendly Vietnamese welcome visitors as their faltering economy make a slow recovery. 

There is a vibrant Catholic minority in Vietnam, and centuries of missionary presence has left a tradition of devotion. Even during the week, the fragrant joss sticks (usually associated with Buddhism) were smoldering at Our Lady’s feet every day. The church itself would have been built by the French during their occupation, probably replacing an earlier chapel - a small grave­ yard alongside featured the tombs of five priests, dating back to the mid-16th Century, when Portuguese missionaries led by the revered St Francis Xavier spread the Christian faith to Far Eastern countries. 

On the Sunday - after a three-dollar taxi ride from our hotel - we were privileged to join the Catholics of Hoi An in a memorable holy Mass. Not for the first time, I missed the universality of Latin: the young priest conducted the service in the local vernacular, but we were able to follow the familiar pattern of the Mass by observing his “body language” and gestures, and to make the responses in our own tongue. An interesting feature was that the seating in the Church was segregated - women and young children on the left, and men on the right. 

My wife and I broke this local tradition by sitting together (on the female side) without Blessed Virgin: The grotto Shrine of Our Lady. It was the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, and the Gospel reading (in Vietnamese) was from Matthew 11:25 – “Jesus exclaimed: Ï bless you, Father, Lord of Heaven, and of Earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever, and revealing them to mere children…………” 

This appeared to be the theme of the Mass, with 100 uniformed children aged roughly from eight to 15, occupying the six or seven front rows of the church- girls on the left, boys on the right. The uniforms were strange to me, but it was their Mass, and for his sermon, the priest walked up and down the isle between them with a portable microphone, asking questions from time to time, and broadcasting their answers as hands were raised. 

It was beautiful, and afterwards we joined the locals to receive the Body of Christ, make our private prayers, and receive the final blessing. The pattern was very much what we have been accustomed to in our own church in Beenleigh. A cherished memory will always be the joy of attending holy Mass in devout and exotic surroundings - and lighting joss sticks at the Shrine of Our Lady.

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...