Saturday, September 14, 2019

A Dog's Eye: Once Upon a Time in Darwin

Image result for gilbert's dragon
It happened one morning as I was walking home along a damp footpath mostly covered by the unfortunate leaves and twigs which had been ripped from their arboreal homes by the power of regular monsoonal showers. It happened as I ignored the dogs in every front yard I passed, which ignored me until I passed then barked feverishly at my back. It happened as I watched in joyful fascination as juvenile Ta-Ta lizards tore back across the path to the safety of the garden. Stopping just before entering their refuge, briefly to wave their feet. Gilbert’s Dragons must be the cutest reptiles in the world with this endearing little habit of theirs, but thinking of them led me to thoughts of the cat which roams my backyard, hunting and killing my little reptilian friends.

I turn into my driveway between two rugged pillars of tropical palms, and more little dragons scurry away. I wonder, as I have on many other occasions whether they have less muscles than humans, and if that explains why their movements seem so jerky. I mean they fly when they run: like a blurry poem, but they stop so suddenly, and jerk their head around so robotically that I wonder why they lack the smoothness of a man. Perhaps it’s a perception thing. I make a mental note to Google it when I have time. I always have time for such trivialities. The problem is having the time and using the time are not the same thing.

Placing the key in the lock of the front door, I turn it and pull the handle, but nothing happens. The door is supposed to open. I pull again: harder, then tumble backwards as the handle divorces itself from the door most melodramatically.

At this moment, I utter a reserved expletive, before examining the door. Running my fingers around the edge, I find no impediment to its successful opening until I reach the bottom left hand corner. The useful gap which used to exist between the door and the jam has disappeared. With gentle persuasion quickly giving way to anger fueled brutality, I wrench the damn thing open by gripping an exposed corner of the door at the top. I swear some more.
My mind wanders back to the journey home from the gym. I almost always feels I’ve hit it hard, and that’s what I tell the few people who ask. I stay longer, do more repetitions and use heavier weights. I lift until my muscles scream, then rest and do it again. The pain focuses my thoughts to a pinpoint. There is me, and the music in my ears, and the agony of exertion.

It takes half an hour to walk to the gym, and I go four three afternoons a week and one morning, rain, hail or shine. My head covered my either a hat or an umbrella. I ditched the orange Cairns Taipans cap, partly because I gave up on the team after two matches of the new season, and partly because of concerns about exposure to the sun. It’s hot in the tropics, but even if it wasn’t, the sun delights in burning the pink flesh of foot travelers. My cranium may have been protected, but I knew my ears, and my cheeks and the back of my neck were receiving unsafe levels of exposure and I had seen too many parched and wrinkled heads, scarred by melanoma removal, to carry on taking the risk. Although I thought I had a big head – I finished third in a celebrated head measuring contest at a family gathering- the smallest sized hat with a brim swiveled alarmingly around my skull. However, as the look and the Billabong insignia were both very cool, I took a chance on the chin strap as the solution to excess movement. My hat is still on my head as I enter my flat, but it is the first item I remove. The second is my bag, then, once it has been drained of its contents, the third is my shoes and socks – an audible sigh from my feet fills the room-, and lastly my sweat soaked shirt comes off and I toss it on the floor of the bathroom. It lands exactly where the laundry basket would be if I had one. When I need to transport my dirty clothes to the laundry which is in an adjacent outhouse, I use Coles shopping bags. Courtesy of me frequently forgetting to take the old ones with me when I go shopping, I now have a large collection. Soon my cupboard will be full of them.

It’s very upsetting to have to walk so far to the laundry, and I often swear at the old Samsung washing machine as if it is to blame. I also want to kill the stupid thing when it presents my washed garments in a thick knot of cotton. It has no agitator. I’m told the agitator is crucial to the efficient washing of clothes, but this machine seems to do its job well nonetheless, apart from the knotting which does not occur in machines which contain agitators. This could be a source of irritation, but neither of the two alternatives – buy a new machine or hand wash my clothes- appeal so I will settle for frequent complaining. That’s what most people do anyway. Even problems which have obvious solutions, tend to be cherished above the potential tranquility of not having the problem.

I dump the knotted clump into a shopping bag, then march to the clothesline which is undercover. As I untie the knot, I pen my Facebook status update, because it is important for people to understand my suffering. I use Facebook a lot, and as is the case with many lonely people, I overshare matters of inordinate triviality. I’m older than Facebook. I was an adult before social media was even conceived, let alone prospered into the communication titan that it is today. I don’t recall what I did with all my thoughts, ideas and grumbles before Facebook gave me such a helpful platform of release, but I suppose I spat them into the wind. At its most grand, Facebook is the most populous community on earth, an indispensable mode of communication and connectedness. At its worst, it’s a waste of time and a pathetic substitute for authentic relationship.

I put on a clean single and switch on the kettle. The noise annoys me, but I have no choice, unless I want to boil water on the stove which I don’t have, or build a fire in the yard and boil a billy, because that is so practical. I have a choice. In fact, I have lots of choices, and that is perhaps one of the greatest problems of the twenty first century: too much choice. I recall my first visit to a supermarket in the United States when I wanted to buy some milk. There was a huge selection of bottles, all containing liquid which looked like milk, but nothing that was actually called ‘milk’. Just ‘milk’. I began reading the labels, desperately hoping to find something which told me I was buying what I wanted, but my heartrate was going through the roof by the time I hit the bottle which said it contained acidophilous. I didn’t even know what acidophilous was – still don’t, so why, I reasoned at the time, would I buy it. It was a twenty-four-hour supermarket, and I had no particular place to be, but I’m pretty sure that nobody of sound mind, enjoys hanging out in a supermarket. I know some people like to browse, and plan their menus according to whim, but most people, I venture to say, use guerilla warfare tactics like hit and run. I doubt anyone vocalizes this thought, but for sure and certain it is played out in the minds of all who enter supermarkets. Okay, men. Let’s get in. Get what we need and get out. Watch your back. Stick to the plan. You have your orders. Go!

The kettle roars to a climax, then switches off, and I begin the tea making ritual. The bag, the sugar, the milk. In that order. Washing machines, kettles, social media and twenty-four-hour gymnasiums. What a wonderful world. I can feel stiffness creeping into my joints as my tortured muscles begin to cool and relax into liberty. A fleeting panic is caused by a whisper of apprehension: what if I overdid it, and I can’t get out of bed tomorrow morning. Needless worry. Of all the things I do, in this I excel.

With my tea ready, and a handful of chocolate chip cookies loaded onto a plate, I leave the cavernous and clammy interior of my flat and settle on a moderately comfortable chair outside. I switch the laptop on, and it boots in seconds – as ASUS promised it would. I knew I could trust the Taiwanese. A little nation of rebels just like Australia. Same population in a country two hundred and fifteen times smaller. Taiwan is overpopulated and Australia is underpopulated. It’s a nice picture of the weird inequality which exists on planet earth. At least Australia doesn’t have such a major issue with its sovereignty.

The final part of my health and relaxation regime is tobacco.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Snake Oil: education solves all problems

I wonder if anyone believes that education solves all problems. Education solves problems, education provides opportunities, education is a worthy and useful pursuit, but it is not a panacea. C.S.Lewis said it best.

What values underpin the rationale behind and the aim of public service announcement ads? I suggest a shared community value of respecting other people's three Ps: person, property and peace. These types of ads are clearly designed to educate people, unlike most ads which are designed to persuade people to spend money on things. Advertising is all about influencing people. Public service ads attempt to change people's behaviour. The problem is that the people most likely to pay attention to these ads are those who agree with the message of the ad, and are already doing so.

The ad I'm particularly interested in at the moment is a message from Darwin City Council about responsible pet ownership. What are the chances that irresponsible pet owners are going to see this ad, repent and turn over a new leaf? For starters they probably can't even hear the ad because their dog is barking and they're vainly yelling at it to stop. When people buy pets, they generally know what they are in for: some degree of trouble. When they buy puppies, they've got a good idea of exactly what sort of trouble they're in for, and what they can do to prevent it.

Nuisance behaviour is preventable. That's the main message of the  ad. The slogan says "Good pets start with you." Does anybody not know that? Does anybody not know that if you don't train your pup, it will become a pain in the neck? If I owned a dog, I would at least attempt to train it. I don't want to deliberately make my life more difficult, but that's exactly what people do. With dogs, I'm sure people have the best of intentions, but life gets in the way. Or maybe it's sheer laziness. Perhaps it's delusion.

I have been a victim of nuisance behaviour by animals many times in my capacity as house sitter. I am the victim of nuisance behaviour right now by Whiny McBarkenstein. I'm helpless to change this behaviour. I can only deal with it as best I can. At most I spend three or four weeks in some one else's home looking after their pets. Often it's less than a week. Powerless I sit, watching these ads about dogs acting badly, and shaking my head.

The one shining light in all this-there are several actually; the truth is that getting into house sitting which I've been doing full time since April 2018, has saved my financial bacon. But the other thing house sitting has done is fire up my writing. This blog post is a brief sample of my WIP which is called I Used to be an Animal Lover. As my wife said when I was complaining about not being able to sleep because of the dogs and a rooster, at least I have a lot of ammunition for my book.

I've already completed 34,861 words of the first draft in just twenty days and I'm loving writing more than I have for quite a while. In the process,as is always the case, I'm learning lots of fascinating things related to animals, and as the book is part memoir, I'm also doing what all writers do; dealing with demons in my head.

Finally, back on the ads. I think they reinforce good behaviour in those who are already behaving properly, according to a shared community value. (respecting person, property and peace).The ads do not change the behaviour of people who don't. I'm not sure many people are even capable of acquiring new values.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

A Dog's Eye: what weird folks do

The license plate reads "liontmr". I quickly fill in the missing vowels, then begin to wonder. Those are two things I do compulsively; read and ponder. (I have considered, for example, why the rimes in wonder and ponder are identical on the page, but pronounced differently.)

Is the owner of the car declaring their occupation? Making an aspirational statement about their future vocation? Or letting people know about their attitude to life? Perhaps they simply like lion tamers, although the "attitude to life" explanation is far more romantic and indeed powerful.

She's driving ten kilometres an hour under the speed limit, in the extreme left of the lane; so far left in fact, her tyres are in the breakdown lane. It's a three kilometre stretch of road. At roughly the half way point, she accelerates to ten kilometres above the speed limit,, and moves back to the centre of the lane.

Is she a terrible driver? So fearful of a head collision she drives in the breakdown lane? Or was she simply distracted for the first section of that journey? I noted her visor was down in front of her eyes, and wondered why it was there when the sun was beating down on us from the left- which is where I had my visor positioned.

Instructed to form four separate lines, most of us do so reluctantly. Questions about which queue will move more quickly come into play. People like me, who always pick the slow lane, hesitate. Eventually sorted into four divided lines we begin our march to the cable car which will take us up to Sunworld in Ba Na Hills, Danang in Vietnam. After a fifty metre shuffle we reach the first corner only to discover that there are now only two lines. It could be four or three, or even five, but it's hard to tell. It takes a good twenty minutes, maybe half an hour before we arrive at the end of the queue, sweating from the heat. The end turns out to be only the beginning of another erratic and ultimately vain attempt to redistribute us cattle into new lanes.

Finally, we seemed to be inching forward again in three or four different lines which I'm certain was only supposed to be two. It's a people jam par excellence. I think I know how to function in a queue, but I realize I could have it all wrong when every step forward I take results in the person behind me banging into me. It happens three or four times, and although I might be mistaken, I have a feeling it's just plain rudeness on his part. So I turn around and tell him to stop it. I make a gesture with my palms, suggesting he keep his distance. He smiles, nods his head and we move on.

I like to think there's a reason for everything people do, even if I can't see it. However, I have a feeling that people are often unaware of their behaviour, and furthermore, that their behaviour may not even be the result of conscious decision making; it may simply be reactionary. That is, a programmed response to a particular set of circumstances. If thought is given to action including personalized license plates, then what kind of logic underpins it?

People are very odd. I'm a person. Therefore, I am very odd. (see what I did there?) I'm also still, despite my age, quite self conscious, which I think makes me a very considerate person in public places. Self control, self awareness and sensitivity to context and setting are important I think. Then again maybe I think too much.

Friday, May 24, 2019

A Dog's Eye: devolution

At different times in most people's lives there are periods of necessary financial constraint. Sometimes it's a choice in order to save for a big want, like a house for example. Other times it's a situation of lacking money. You can't spend what you don't have, right?* A common expression, often heard during these times is "things are a bit tight now." 

People faced with the need for belt tightening look at ways of saving money. Money smart folks do it regardless of their circumstances. In fiscal feast or famine, they still try to spend carefully. Money, and in particular our various attitudes to it, is a huge topic about which libraries of books have been written. It is not my intention here to add to that volume.

Image result for garage saleHowever, I was recently reflecting on second hand goods. I'm a member of a buy, swap and sell page, and although I am not in the market for anything at the moment, the notifications pop up in my feed. Speaking of food: my current living circumstances have also contributed to these musings. I'm a house sitter, and this won't surprise you, but some people have an awful lot of stuff. Some of it is probably saleable, but I suspect most of it is junk. In either case, I wonder why people hang on to so many useless possessions? I suspect it's either laziness or possessiveness.

I digress. My main subject is the buying and selling of used items and the impact this has on the economy. Early in my first marriage, we had very little money so we accepted a lot of gifts and bought a lot of cheap second hand items. Later, (many years later) ,when we felt more comfortable, we began to purchase new items, albeit often by using credit. At one point I remember deciding that I did not want to buy anything second hand anymore. It became a status thing, for me to go to a shop and buy something new. After years of using old second hand lawn mowers, it was a thrill to go to Bunnings and buy a brand spanking new one in a box.

Image result for new lawn mower
I have almost no desire to buy stuff these days, and of course that's partly due to the fact that I don't have a home, so I have no need for things. There's also the practicalities of needing a place to store stuff.

My life will change when my wife and children join me in Australia. I don't know when that will be (hopefully soon), but I do know it will be a dramatic change. Thankfully, my wife is not very acquisitive or materialistic either so that will make things a little easier. Stuff will be required though, and we will need to discuss how much we can spend, how much we want to spend and whether we should buy new or secondhand.

The outworking of all these musings is excitement, but I did have a thought about economics as well. What would happen if everyone stopped buying second hand goods? If, when we no longer needed something, we simply threw it away? What would be the impact on the general economy if everyone only purchased new products? Alternatively, what would happen if everyone stopped buying new? Interesting thoughts I reckon, and worth some discussion. 

Suppose no one bought new furniture from Jape Furnishings. They would go out of business. Imagine if no one in Darwin bought new furniture. All the new furniture stores in Darwin would close. or perhaps they'd become second hand stores instead. Hopefully, the latter would happen otherwise all the employees of those stores would lose their jobs and then have to tighten their belts and only buy secondhand furniture which would be the only option. If there was only second hand furniture on the market, would prices go up and become prohibitive to those on low incomes, or no incomes like the people who used to work in the new furniture stores.

Image result for economicsEconomics is fascinating. The interconnectedness of the various factors which impact upon economic activity invites endless speculation along the above-mentioned lines. I have a very simple view; perhaps unrealistically simple. You increase economic activity by spending, and you generate spending by creating demand, and one of the ways you create demand is by increasing the population because people need things. If there were no second hand products to meet these needs, then production would have to be increased and that might mean more jobs, and more people with jobs will spend more money.

What do you think would be the impact of the removal of second hand products from the market?

*this is actually not very true anymore. The ease of obtaining credit has made patient saving redundant. Australia now has one of the highest levels of personal debt in the world.

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Mirror: Three Hours

Time travel stories, with narratives driven by the need to explore "what if?" scenarios are fascinating. Typically, some error in the past has caused a problem in the future, so with the possibility of time travel existing, someone simply needs to go back in time and fix the problem. Everyone is as familiar with the concept of "sliding doors" as they are with the regrets, often accompanied by shame and disappointment, over poor historical choices. That isn't science fiction; it is reality.

Image result for travellers tv showSearching for something to watch once I had binged on three seasons of Stranger Things, I discovered a show called Travelers. Sadly, it too only lasted three seasons but what a choice show. Briefly, in Travelers, people are sent back to the 21st century to inhabit the bodies and minds of "hosts" via a process called "consciousness transfer". An artificial intelligence being called The Director does the sending and gives these teams of travelers missions to change the future for the better. Of course, it is much more complex than that, as are the relationships the hosts have, and the moral dilemmas they face. Travelers is very thought provoking, cleverly written, suspenseful and genuinely funny at times.

Image result for travellers season 3 episode 3In episode 3 of season 3, the leader of the team upon which the series is largely focused - FBI Agent Grant McClaren - has his memory wiped so as to not suffer the anguish of remembering having to kill a boy who will turn out to be a monster of a man. However, McClaren can't handle the memory holes, so retraces his steps and learns that he spent three hours with this boy, and did not end up killing him. Why? The three hours were of such transformative value to the boy that his future changed, and the Director then spared his life. Regardless of the obvious impossibility of the premise, a remarkable thing happens here, and it is a truth we should grab and hold on to.

This boy had nothing but abuse in his childhood, he was abducted, mistreated, rescued then abandoned to the foster care system in which he suffered further abuse and increasing social isolation. There had been no positive influences in his life. No one stood up for him, protected him, loved him. He behaved badly which caused everyone to shun and revile him as a bad boy: a menace, worse, a dangerous anti social psychopath. He made others feel threatened because he did not feel safe.

Until McClaren spent just three hours with him, talking to him, listening to him, even eating rabbit (the travelers are all vegetarians) which had been trapped and killed by the boy, then cooked on an open fire. This relatively small period of time had a profoundly positive impact on the boy.

We may not be able to travel back in time to correct our mistakes, or the mistakes of others, but we can certainly have a very powerful influence on the future. Investing in relationships now will result in tremendous generational benefits. The impact of our words and actions on other people is often underestimated. We would do well to build people up. to encourage and to inspire them. Emotionally healthy people have healthy relationships, and despite what we are often told, healthy relationships are the heart, soul and spine of society.

Friday, May 3, 2019

The Mirror: Choking on Gnats

Is James Faulkner gay or not? Apparently this is a major issue. His social media post saying he was out with his mum and boyfriend, and his subsequent backflip to clarify the other man was his best mate, has caused a media storm. I'm not sure why I am writing about this, but Israel Folau is facing the music today over his "homophobic" comments on social media, and a lot of people are frothing at the mouth. Both Folau and Faulkner seem to be a cynosure for outrage on the touchy subject of inclusion.

Apparently there are no "out of the closet" homosexual men in either cricket or rugby union, or indeed any of our major, high profile sports. Evidently this is a problem. There are no "out of the closet" homosexual men in my workplace either...should I find one (either by outing them or hiring them) so that my employer can't be accused of homophobia? Every television show now has a homosexual couple de rigeur, so I can recognize the need to have more homosexuals.

I am strongly opposed to discrimination on the basis of sexuality, gender, race or age. The fact there are still people in our country, and you probably know some of them, who still view people who are different from themselves, as inferior is a shameful indictment of humanity.

However, this obsession about people's sexual preferences is surely
a distraction from the main game, and the hysteria surrounding Folau and Faulkner and everyone else who puts their head above water and into the sights of "news" creators* is really annoying. In the information age people's opinions on social media generate more news stories than actual news. I don't even know what "news" is anymore.

Warnings are ringing out now, as if they haven't been ever since the advent of social media, about the need for circumspection with regard to what one posts online. A relatively recent and delightful cliche: "the internet has a long memory" states the proof of your bigotry, your indiscretions, your crimes is available forever - well, not exactly forever. You could lose your job or not be able to get one because of something you once said. You may have changed; not just your mind about a particular issue, but your whole outlook on life might have changed. Nevertheless, apparently you can still suffer the consequences. And there is no statute of limitations.

In two weeks Australia will hold a federal election. What dominated the campaign this week? You guessed it: social media posts. Liberal candidate for Lyon, Jessica Whelan's resignation is the latest example of controversy brought about by inappropriate social media comments, in Whelan's case; anti Muslim statements. Labour Candidate, for Melbourne, Luke Creasey, is under pressure due to his activity on Facebook which included such delightful things as sharing rape jokes and pornography, and distasteful comments about 2012. He might no longer do that, or think that is acceptable behaviour - in fact he said so when he apologized - but too bad. He said it and it can't be unsaid. It's too late. You can't grow up, change your view or adjust your attitude.

Can we talk about the issues now? I mean the issues that really matter. Education. Health. The environment. The economy. Can we have some serious discussion about what really matters? Can we stop focusing so heavily on individual indiscretions and examine the causes of our problems? Can we even agree on what those problems are? Can we stop using band-aids to treat cancers in society? Or are we going to continue to choke on gnats while swallowing camels?

In Matthew 23:24, we read about Jesus identifying this problem. He was speaking to the religious leaders of his time, but of course he was referring to people generally. He was not only saying that our priorities are wrong, but worse, we deliberately foster hypocrisy by participating in "stone throwing" exercises. I don't understand why so many people think Jesus and his teachings are irrelevant and unimportant, but James Faulkner's sexuality is. We would rather discuss Luke Creasey's comment about lesbians and their vaginas than Jesus' teachings about justice and mercy.

Anyway, as we say in Australia: she'll be right mate.

* there is a big difference between reporting on news and creating it. The latter is becomingly increasingly common, and especially evident in sports journalism.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

A Dog's Eye: The greatest sporting comeback ever

I develop an itch and a wild tic when the frequently abused adverb "ever" is tacked on to any statement (or question for that matter). I have a condition called HSD (Hyperbole Sensitivity Disorder). It is a companion affliction to HDS - be careful not to confuse them- which is Hug Deprivation Syndrome. The latter is treated easily with extravagant, prolonged and regular embraces. The former is not so easily dealt with. The best solution I have found is complaining. the other option is ignoring, but this is much less satisfying in my opinion.

Naturally, my hyperbole meter went berserk this week when I heard Tiger Woods' victory at the 2019 Masters described as the greatest sporting comeback ever. It was later referred to as "arguably the greatest ever" which was more palatable, but in either case it got me thinking. Was this a statement of fact, or yet another example of the gross exaggerations typical of sports journalists?

Woods came back from a double stress fracture of the tibia, numerous back injuries and surgeries, as well as the personal fall from grace which resulted from his public confession of infidelity. Until this year's Masters he had not won a major for five years. Countless athletes have come back from serious injuries - both life threatening and career threatening. Peyton Manning missed the entire 2011 NFL season due to multiple neck surgeries, then changed clubs and continued his record breaking career for another three years. Niki Lauda was back behind the wheel of his Ferrari F1 six weeks after an horrific race accident left him comatose with severe burns to his head and damage to his lungs from inhaling toxic gases when he was trapped in the wreckage. Surfer Bethany Hamilton lost her arm in a shark attack, but jumped back on the board and kept surfing.

You want more? No problem. Monica Seles quit tennis for two years after being stabbed in the back on the court, by a deranged fan. Andre Agassi went right off the rails in 1996 as his marriage fell apart, and a drug habit blossomed as he struggled with a chronic wrist injury. Two years later aged 31, he burst back into the top 3. Aged 45, George Foreman came out of a ten year retirement to win the world heavyweight boxing championship by knocking out a man 18 years his junior. And one more from the only one of all those sports which holds absolutely no interest at all for me personally: golf. 

Ben Hogan was told he might never walk again, let alone play golf following a motor vehicle accident which left him with a double fracture of the pelvis, fractures to the collar bone and left ankle, and during his three month stay in hospital, a series of life threatening blood clots. The following year he began playing professional golf once more, and three years after his accident he won the Triple Crown.

Depending on which criteria you use (severity of injuries, length of time out of the game, degree of psychological stress) any one of the aforementioned champions, and numerous others could be awarded the title of greatest sporting comeback ever. Woods get the nod because he is the most recent, but his is definitely not the greatest comeback. Nor are any of the other amazing resurrections I've mentioned.

Here is, in my opinion, the greatest sporting comeback of all time. At the age of 46, an Australian man* from Dapto, ended a 30 year retirement from soccer by signing up to play for Dapto Anglican Church in the Illawarra church league. The first, and subsequent training sessions nearly killed him, and on game day he was competing mostly against men half his age. During the season he suffered a grade four hip flexor tear, and a broken rib. These injuries cost him 6 weeks on the sideline, but he pushed through the pain of rehab, and returned to play a minor role in his team's premiership victory.

Now that's a comeback!

*Following the glorious victory I retired and have been boasting of my achievement ever since.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Mirror: Folau Folly

Israel Folau has been sacked because he is anti gay...not because he is anti adultery (adultery is okay, right?), nor anti liars (because lying is acceptable as well) or because he is anti drunkenness (never mind the stats on alcohol related violence because abusing alcohol is also sweet). I can't hear anyone complaining about him condemning liars to Hell, or fornicators. The headlines don't say Israel Folau's career is in tatters after he posted anti thief comments. There is no mention in the stories, or any of the soundbites of concerned and outraged people, about Folau damning adulterers. Where's the outcry from those who are having sex with other people's husbands and wives?

Most people, even those who practice these things, accept that they are at wrong. The Bible does say that those who have sex outside of marriage ie fornicate, together with those who lie and steal will not inherit the Kingdom of God. When Folau says that his words are from the Bible, he's telling the truth. 

There is a list which includes generally agreed upon bad behaviours and homosexual practice is one of them. Call it what you want: homophobic opinion, puritanism, fundamentalism, or just call it offensive BS. The fact is Folau is simply stating what he believes to be true. The focus is on homosexuality/homophobia because he is likening homosexuality to all those other things* which are more or less acceptable depending on whatever you believe, or whatever suits your circumstances. He's saying that there is something wrong with homosexuality. That's what's wrong. I see. That must be the reason he's been sacked.

Not exactly. Regular people can have divergent, even offensive opinions. Having such opinions and voicing them indiscriminately either results in calcification of prejudice among the bigot's peers, or their ostracization by people who are intolerant towards intolerance. On the other hand, people in positions of influence, people with a public profile like sport stars, can have divergent, even offensive opinions but they had better keep them to themselves or else they will be publicly criticized and perhaps lose their jobs. They can't state their opinion about anything unless it falls in line with what opinion those who pay them expect to them to have.This is essentially why Folau's outspokenness has landed him in hot water.

The sad truth is we facing some pretty serious threats against freedom of speech, religion and association. The hysteria about Israel Folau's tweet demonstrates the distinction between public speech and private sentiment is becoming a chasm of hypocrisy and melodrama.

I'm personally pretty disappointed that no one has stepped up to defend those who worship idols, idolaters in other words, from Israel Folau's cruel judgements. What? Nobody worships idols anymore? Really? That's a relief.

*I wanted to use the word "sin" but I didn't because that word offends some people.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

A Dog's Eye: No worries mate

Everyone strikes some sort of trouble at one time or another in their life. Even those who don't court disaster, sometimes find themselves buffeted and shaken by misfortune. Those who do like to flirt with problems tend to form solid relationships with them. They usually receive more than they bargained for and wind up blaming everyone else for what they brought on themselves.

There's a classic little saying employed by wiser heads when tragedies of varying degrees strike. "There's always someone worse off." It's a way of keeping things in perspective which enables someone who is suffering to endure with good grace. It is also used by less sagacious well wishers who, despite their insensitivity are typically well-intentioned. However, suffering is a really personal thing.

I've had my share of misfortune and disappointment, and I would classify my divorce as a tragedy; likewise the death of my father aged just 74, but now I find myself in such happy circumstances that all I can do is give thanks to God. I joke now when asked how I am. My problems are so trivial that I'm occasionally reticent to voice them.The person asking me may well be in the midst of a hammering from cruel and indifferent happenstance. Should I keep silent?

Is it okay if I, in the process of explaining how blessed I feel, share my troubles in heavy tones of irony? My deodorant doesn't last all day. I'm using a different brand, and by the end of the day, sometimes not even that late, I begin to offend myself. My regular brand -Rexona original roll on- works until the very end. Even after an hour in the gym, I can still smell Rexona, albeit mixed with a little whiff of me.

Long silver hairs sprout from my nostrils overnight while I sleep, and my personal trimmer is less effective than a pair of tweezers, or scissors. A crop of similar follicular offspring has sprouted on my chest. More and more hair grows on my body, but I still can't grow a beard.

Three nights' accommodation recently cost me a bottle of Vodka, and I'm going to have to buy petrol this week. I loved not having to spend that $50 last week. And work? Oh, don't get me started. I had to work fifteen minutes unpaid overtime last week. I'm nearing my wit's end with this stampede of woe.

I hope this makes you happy. I hope you will at least smile, even if your world is falling apart. I've been at the bottom. I've cried my self to sleep at night. I've felt pain in my body and my heart, but I am in a season of blessing, and I am soaking it up. Being a worry wort, means I have an ongoing wrestling match in my mind, but I keep on speaking God's truth out loud. Sometimes I have to ignore what I see and what I feel, and trust God: my strength and my song. My anchor. My prayer is that the hope with which God fills my spirit, overflows to encourage others.

And I will make it my aim to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)

Friday, March 22, 2019

Snake Oil: Maltesers best weekend

Image result for maltesersI was beginning to think I had this all wrong until I Googled the ad I'm going to talk about, and discovered it was the subject of an official complaint to the Advertising Standards Bureau. In short there were a couple of interpretations of this ad which deemed it inappropriate. Then there was Mars Confectionary's official response. I suggest you read it, both for a laugh, and for an absolutely perfect example of snake oil.*

Some people, including myself, read a sexual inference in the Maltesers television ad. Naturally that says something about me, but I own that. Other people saw an obvious reference to drugs, as in pill popping. The company says it is simply about women sharing stories of fun weekends while enjoying chocolate during an office break. They're just bonding.

Everyone knows advertisers push the envelope. Many over the years have used blatantly inappropriate ads; unconcerned about being fined and having the ad pulled, because the short term impact from running a controversial ad is often worth it. Controversy equals publicity which usually works in the company's favour. Usually.

I've seen ads which I have been offended by, and as a result made a decision to not purchase that product. Although I like them, I don't buy Maltesers often. Now I don't want to buy them. Whether it's my fault for immediately connecting multiple Maltesers with multiple sex partners is a little beside the point. Accusations will follow, but, as Sam Smith sang so well, albeit in a different context, "I know I'm not the only one." Speaking of "not being the only one", Maltesers have produced a number of ads with even more obvious sexual references, so they have a track record here.

I watch ads with a critical eye. I sift them through my world view. I'm interested in what they say about people, in what emotions they appeal to, and what needs they are trying to meet.That's how I roll. Here's the ad if you haven't seen it. What do you think?

Bonus material: One young man's amusing commentary on some Maltesers ads. Language and sexual references warning, but pretty much on the money. 

*The term "snake oil" is being used slightly out of context here. I'm stretching the definition to cover all deceptive and/or offensive advertising.(according to me.)

Friday, March 15, 2019

relationDips: rules of engagement (culinary)

Anarchists feel that rules are like prison bars, so do rebellious teenagers. There is something of the rebel in all of us: it's human nature. However, most of us learn to accept rules and acknowledge that, paradoxically, although they do impose restrictions, they also provide freedom.

For example, I feel safe and free when I drive because of the road rules, and my faith that the majority of my fellow motorists know the rules and obey them. We all bend these rules to some extent, but generally we acquiesce to the order they impose.

Relationships require rules. They may seldom be called rules, and are often spoken negotiated agreements rather than codified laws, but they are invariably established within all relationships. Sometimes, they just happen as in one person's reaction to the other's breach of an unspoken rule which results in an apology and a promise to "never do that again". At other times, they are more purposefully constructed. A person entering a second marriage will want to discuss the issues which contributed to the demise of their first marriage in an effort to make sure the mistakes of the past are not repeated.

Image result for money, sex and parentingMy wife and I discussed big issues like money, sex and parenting before we married. It was the second time around for both of us and we each wanted to ensure that we understood the other's expectations. An early obstacle for us was religion. I'm a protestant Christian and she is a Roman Catholic Christian. Despite our mutual faith in Christ, we had to deal with the matter of church rules versus the teaching of the Bible. We agreed to be tolerant, and not to force each other. We agreed to disagree about somethings. For example, the Catholic rule which prevents my devoted wife from ever taking communion because she is a divorcee. I strongly disagree with this church rule, but I respect my wife's right to accept it. This has become a "rule" in our relationship which we both understand and adhere to, and within which we are free and feel safe. She knows I will not go on about it, nor criticize her or force her to do something about it.

Image result for abstaining from meat on FridayAnother catholic church rule which is not Biblical is abstaining from meat on Fridays. I understand this is a mark of respect for Christ who was crucified on a Friday. However, my understanding of the Bible is that we are free to eat whatever we want to, whenever we want to. Peter's vision is instructive, but Paul adds some words about food in relation to respecting other people which also need to be taken into consideration.

In the continued search for more common ground, I decided to not eat meat on Fridays. It makes very little difference to me. Even though I eat meat almost everyday, I considered it an inconsequential sacrifice. My wife was overjoyed at this simple gesture. It is now something we do together to demonstrate our mutual faith in Christ, and to show respect to our Saviour and to each other. By doing this, I am being respectful rather than just talking about being respectful.

I eat well and regularly. My example has influenced her to not skip meals. I used to eat sandwiches and drink Coke everyday. Under her gentle influence, I have reduced my Coke consumption by half and dropped one of my lunch time sandwiches for a hot meal. Some of these changes were negotiated and others have just happened as result of the time we have spent together, positively impacting on each other's lives.

My wife once told me that she didn't like rules. At the time, I challenged her about this, but have since accepted it is not true, not as a blanket statement anyway. I don't go on about it. This is another example of one of our rules, but we don't need to be explicit about its existence. A good set of rules should just operate in the background, underpinning the relationship.

To finish I return to Paul's words:

Romans 14:3 "The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not everything must not judge the one who does, for God accepts both."

I  think this is an excellent culinary rule for healthy relationships, and by extension an admirable goal for relationships in general. What say you?

Friday, March 8, 2019

A Dog's Eye: Quiet please!

This post could have been a Snake Oil post, but it didn't quite fit. Having not written a Snake Oil post for some time, I wanted to, but if it doesn't fit, it doesn't fit. You can't put a square peg into a round hole...apparently.

Have you ever noticed sound discrepancies? You listen to a radio program and the announcer's voice comes through your speakers loud and clear. On the other hand, guests on the program or callers to the program, are soft and occasionally indecipherable. The ads which interrupt the shows you watch on television (and pay for them, btw) are much louder than the show. The action scenes in a movie deafen you, but the soft conversation scenes sound like mumbled babbling. Sometimes what you want to be loud is soft, and vice verca. 

Image result for heavy metal singer
Heavy metal music is better loud. Elevator music is better soft. Opera is better not heard at all. Cheering for your football team should be loud. Conversation is better soft. Verbal abuse better not heard at all. Singing praise and worship in God's house; loud. Comforting a heartbroken friend; soft. Inspiring words; loud. Romantic words: soft. Hateful words; better not spoken. 

Image result for romantic whispers
Whether loud or soft there are many things I enjoy listening to, like a good sermon for example, and many things I do not, like barking dogs and motorcycles. Soft rain is nice. Heavy rain is annoying. Laughter is usually a pleasing sound except when it boils over into obnoxious or is an expression of ridicule.

Are you listening? There is a voice which has been speaking loudly and softly since the beginning of time. There are voices in your head which mirror this: a voice of truth and another voice. Turn the latter voice right down low. Switch it off if you can. Turn off all the the noise which distracts you, medicates you, even confuses you. Life can be a noisy beast. Find the quiet. Enjoy the soft silence. Listen to the the voice of truth, speaking in a whisper.

                                     Image result for noise

Friday, March 1, 2019

A Dog's Eye: Pell Fell

Image result for George PellAustralia's highest ranking Roman Catholic, Cardinal George Pell has been convicted of historical sex crimes against children and is now in prison. Pell is appealing the verdict and maintaining his innocence which is making many people angry. I've heard Christians say that he should rot in hell. I've heard other Christians say that he has disqualified himself from Heaven. Some suggest that a person who commits such heinous crimes can not, in fact, be a Christian.

I'm reminded of Jesus' handling of the woman caught in adultery when he addressed the crowd who wanted to stone the woman for her sin. "Let the person among you who is without sin throw the first stone," said Jesus. (John 8:7) The crowd dispersed. Angry mobs don't always respond with such humility. It's easier to focus on another person's sins than our own. It's easy to justify, excuse, and categorize sin. In complete contrast to most human reactions to sin, Jesus showed mercy to the woman. James says this, in his epistle: "For judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment."(James 2:13)

The Royal Commission into institutionalized responses to child sex abuse heard thousands of submissions from victims which resulted in 2575 referrals to authorities, including but not limited to police. The Royal Commission final report said this: "The perpetrators of child sexual abuse in religious institutions were in many cases people that children most trusted and least suspected." The findings of the Commission are particularly damning for the Roman Catholic Church. Priests and teachers in Roman Catholic schools make up the highest number, by far, of child sexual abuse offenders.

Most people are outraged, shocked, saddened even sickened by the very thought of sexually abusing children, even though more children are abused in other ways than sexually. According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies  sexual abuse ranks only fourth in substantiated reports of harm to children. I'm not an expert, nor am I a victim, but I would suggest it's a mistake to consider any form of child abuse as worse than another. Australia wide substantiated reports of emotional abuse of  children in 2015/16 were three and half times higher than reports of sexual abuse.

Sex crimes get more attention, and if you took a poll, you would likely find that the sexual abuse of children is considered the worst of all crimes.

George Pell's case is incredible for many reasons. It literally defies belief that someone in his position, with his high profile and his power would do what he did. Why? Forgetting the fact that a particularly action is wrong, both morally and legally, why would such a person with so much to lose, risk everything?

Why do people abuse children? Why do people abuse other people, period? Why do people abuse substances? Why do  people do things they know are wrong? Why can't people understand there are fundamental flaws in human nature?

Returning to the issue of Roman Catholic Priests sexually abusing children: there is no way this is anything less than a disgusting and reprehensible abuse of power by deluded hypocrites. Enforced celibacy for priests is a likely part of the problem, but the church is saying it will continue to mandate celibacy. Celibacy is a gift according to the Bible. Celibacy is a choice for some people. Celibacy is certainly not something to be imposed. It is a denial of a major component of a person's humanity. It is a denial of reality. A delusion which has seen many men inside the church, not only the Roman Catholic Church, fall into sexual sin.

As for Cardinal Pell, I doubt he will burn or rot in hell, but I am not his judge. I am not qualified. I think his punishment has already been great: his opprobrium, his humiliation, his imprisonment. Pain for himself and his friends and family. Pain for the church. Pain for the community and pain for the victims of abuse who often become abuses of others, as well as drug and alcohol abusers. Some victims find these coping mechanisms ineffective, and simply chose to kill themselves rather than continue to deal with the pain.

Let's be honest, self aware and compassionate. Mercy triumphs over judgement.