Friday, November 27, 2020

A Dog's Eye: Taught by the court

I've appeared in courts of law four times in my far. Each time I was in a different role, and at a different stage of my life. Only my most recent experience was without considerable anxiety. Many people I know have never been to court and in the normal course of events, most are unlikely to. It is not an experience to which anyone of sound mind aspires, nor is it normally considered positive.

In 1983 I was fifteen years old when I found myself in the Sutherland magistrates court charged with several offences relating to the theft of a motor vehicle. The vehicle in question was the same one in which the police found us pretending to sleep one night. I pleaded guilty to the charges, knowing I was guilty of numerous others for which I had not been called to account. Most seriously, I was guilty of breaking the trust of my parents. Having been sentenced to a two year good behaviour bond and fined, I accepted my punishment and determined to end my criminal endeavours.

In the late 1990s, I was at university. I returned to my car after a lecture to move it because I had been parked in a two hour parking zone. I did this not only because I did not want to be fined but also because I had been cured of 'criminal' behaviour. Unfortunately my effort to do the right thing resulted in a parking fine which I decided, as was my right, to contest in a court of law. At this appearance in the Redfern magistrates court, I was anxious despite believing myself to be in the right. Memories of my previous appearance many years earlier and the not often publicly declared warning about 'little guys' taking on the system in courts of law, played on my mind. The result on this occasion, following the ranger who issued the parking infringement denying that my car was in a different place when he booked me, was a reprimand from the magistrate. His Worship said that although I was not guilty of breaking the letter of the law, I was guilty of breaking the spirit of the law. I was ordered to pay the original fine plus court costs. I have never repeated the action which led to my second court appearance.

In my third court appearance, (2015) I was representing my fiance at the time in a custody case against her ex partner. I became something of a lay expert on family law, spending hours poring over evidence and legislation to put together a case which resulted in what I thought was a satisfactory outcome: a win. I regret doing that. Although my intentions were good, getting involved to that extent was another sign of the dysfunction of that relationship. The series of mediations, the long trail of emails, and the hearings themselves at the Family Court were intense, emotionally draining and resulted in me sometimes losing the better parts of myself inside the worst parts of myself. The battle to maintain my integrity was constant. That description fits my relationship with that person as well. God forbid, I should ever find myself again in such a situation. 

I've just returned from Brisbane where I travelled to appear in a trial at the District court as a character witness for the defendant; a friend and former colleague of mine. I agreed to help my friend without hesitation, and so it was with confidence that I presented my statement to a jury in the presence of a judge. The case lasted four days. My part lasted somewhere between five and ten minutes. I was one of four character witnesses, but equally important to what I said in court was my presence. My friend had this very heavy dark cloud hanging over his head for well over a year, having been charged with a crime he did not commit. I'm sure the fact we were physically present with him, helped not only his case, but also him personally. I had to return to work so I was not in court to hear the verdict, but our prayers were answered. My friend called me to tell me the outcome. He was so excited and relieved, I thought he might somehow jump through the phone. His main job now will be to forgive his accuser and move forward with his life. This will be very difficult. Very difficult.

In all of these cases, I have no problem with the decision of the courts. There was justice for all, and there were also lessons to be learned. This is not always the case. For me, I am thankful that my appearances in court have helped shape me for the better, and in the most recent case, helped a friend avoid the more serious and permanent consequences of injustice.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

The Mirror: Peace in the midst of angry birds

 I'm almost always behind the times with respect to fashion. Whether it be clothing, technology, music or whatever, I'm not an early adopter. I've even been known to deliberately avoid really popular bands or TV shows. Coldplay and Game of Thrones would be notable examples. I don't like the former and I've never watched the latter. All that is by way of introduction to this post, the title of which obviously refers to the video game, Angry Birds. Released in 2009, it quickly became a sensation. I recall playing it a few times and being angered by it rather than entertained.

In 2016, long after the game had dropped off the radar, Sony pictures produced a film based on the game. Due to its success, they made a sequel in 2019. Which brings us to family movie night last night. My daughter chose Angry Birds 2. When I told her I had not seen Angry Birds, she said she hadn't either, so eventually I was able to explain to her the logic of watching the original movie before the sequel.

The main character in Angry Birds is Red, who has a problem with his temper which sees him sentenced by the judge to anger management classes which is the  most severe punishment available. I'll now point out the obvious irony in case you missed it. Red is an Angry Bird who lives on Angry Bird island, but gets into trouble with the law for his anger fueled actions.

Interestingly, I thought Red's main problem was his negative attitude. He was a sarcastic whinger who ended up living outside of town, on his own, because nobody liked him. Later in the film, the audience is invited to feel sorry for Red because he was orphaned at an early age and was bullied at school. However, and this brings me to my main point, Red had a choice about the kind of bird he became. He could blame circumstances and blame others, but ultimately he was free to choose how he responded and reacted to to the happenings and birds in his life.

It may seem like a long bow to draw; perhaps even an insensitive one, to now talk about Viktor Frankl's powerful and best selling book, Man's Search for Meaning, but it's relevant. There is a connection. Of all the truly profound things, holocaust survivor Frankl says, the one that really struck me was where he talked about the final and ultimate freedom that all men have irrespective of the horrific situations they may find themselves in. The freedom to choose how to react.

"Everything can be taken away from a man, but one thing, the last of the human freedoms-to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

Another book I am reading at the moment is called Finding the Peace God Promises. In it, author Ann Spangler suggests that much of what we get angry about isn't worth the energy we expend, nor the time we waste. We rob ourselves of peace by fighting wars that are either unwinnable or unnecessary. In a world where most people are struggling for control, our attitude is one area which causes conflict but one which we can control simply by making good choices.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Snake Oil: Democratic Trump

Based on outgoing US President Donald Trump's strong anti China stance, my wife was hoping he would win another term in the White House. She's from Vietnam, whose government is essentially a Chinese puppet regime. She's one of the proud Vietnamese citizens who resent Chinese interference and control. It was either on my first or second trip to Vietnam that I found myself in an anti China protest march on the streets of Ho Chi Minh's city District One. I remember well the depth of feeling in that crowd.

My wife is so anti Chinese that we are not allowed to purchase products made in China unless there is no other option, and even then, sometimes not. She loves politics and is very up to date with the news, although I would question the objectivity of what she reads. She suspects the Chinese people she meets in her new home, Australia, of being spies and has a general dislike for China's citizens and Australian Chinese immigrants.

She's open minded enough and intelligent enough to be learning from her personal experiences that painting everyone with the same brush is not only only wrong, but quite racist. On the question of the value of Trump there was no point arguing against it. "Make America great again", she would quote at me.

Anyway, steering around the topic of the 2020 US presidential election, was relatively easy. I find politics fascinating but am more interested in my homeland, Australia, than America. I was quite ambivalent about Donald Trump from the beginning and remain so today. In some ways, I admire him, in others I find it had to respect him or take seriously what he says. It's not my intention to discuss US politics in general or to specifically comment on the one term presidency of businessman Donald Trump. I know enough to know that I shouldn't be writing extensively on topics about which I have limited knowledge. I'm also wise enough to realize that some arguments are not worth having.

The Aussie and US political systems are quite different beasts, despite a number of similarities. Perhaps the most significant difference is that, unlike Americans, Australian's do not vote directly for the leader of their government. Here are some other notable differences:

  • The US President is both head of state and head of the government. The Australian Prime Minister is only head of the government.
  • The executive arm of the government in America is appointed by the President from people outside the congress (ie.,parliament in the Westminster system). The executive arm of the Australian government are elected members of parliament.
  • US Presidents serve fixed four year terms, Australian Prime Ministers serve for around three years and can call early or late elections as they see fit. Unlimited terms for Prime Ministers, maximum two terms for Presidents.
  • Australians must vote in elections. Americans can take it or leave it...and the majority do exactly that.

In the Gettysburg Address, democracy was described as government of the people, by the people, for the people. Churchill famously said that democracy was the worst form of government except for all the others. Roosevelt and Gandhi felt that democracy would fail without education. Bertrand Russell though that democracy simply gave fools the right to vote which he contrasted with dictatorships which gave fools the right to rule. Many famous people have made fascinating and insightful comments about democracy since its birth in ancient Greece up until the modern era in which democracy is a popularity contest and its actors men who are regularly lampooned and criticized no matter they do or don't do.

On balance, I'm pleased Donald Trump was defeated by Joe Biden, but America is not a country I hold in especially high regard, and its doubtful that the change of president will result in anything but a return to normal (pre Trump) transmission which if nothing else will be far less controversial, polarizing and antagonistic. What will it mean for me personally? Not much.

Having avoided upsetting my wife by not arguing against Trump and his often embarrassing behaviour, nor being unsympathetic to her views and the background underpinning them, I will continue to enjoy a peaceful relationship with her. I will also continue to be choosy about what I accept as truth, knowing full well that snake oil and politics go hand in hand.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

A Dog's Eye: Publicity at Pee Wee's

"As Mark settled himself at a table inside Peewee’s at the Point, he gazed out through the window across Fannie Bay to Darwin city. He sighed with contentment as he soaked up the exclusive ambience of one of Australia’s top restaurants. His contentment was devoured by the anxiety he felt about the salience of the occasion, and his bewilderment. What was he doing here? Less than a week ago, he had been dining with Lisa at The Jade Palace. This was a significant leap up the social ladder, and the company, although not as attractive as Lisa was bound to be intoxicating. He ordered a James Squire Sundown Lager, and a Puglises sourdough with wattleseed butter and bush tomato relish for an appetizer."

These words were penned some time in 2012 and later published in chapter 22 of my third novel, Ashmore Grief. The year of publication was 2013. I had never been to Darwin, nor did I imagine for a second that I ever would. Mostly set in Darwin, the novel was researched on the world wide web. The restaurant featured above, Pee Wee's at the Point, is one of Australia's top restaurants. I chose it as the setting for the important meeting in the narrative because of its prestige. I sent a copy of Ashmore Grief to the restaurant manager, as well as to television and radio personalities who I reasoned might be interested in this topical novel, and perhaps give it some much needed publicity. Despite the issue of asylum seekers entering Australia being a hot topic in 2013, and some favourable press, Ashmore Grief seemed destined for obscurity. 

In 2016, I moved to Darwin to take up a new job and a commence a new chapter of my life. I never made it to Pee Wee's though, because it never seemed like the right time, and I didn't have the budget for it. (It actually isn't as expensive as imagined). It remained a dream of mine for many years: something I would do when the time was right and I had the right people with whom to celebrate.

Last Thursday night, I finally dined at Pee Wee's at the Point, with my wife, two younger children and my mum who paid for the meal. Mum is her on her fourth visit to Darwin, and said on this occasion that she would like to take us out for a special dinner. I suggested Pee Wee's and the rest is now history.

The restaurant's service was exceptional and the food outstanding. I felt extremely relaxed and happy; it was quite dreamlike. 

My plan was to take a copy of the book to the restaurant and take a few photos. Mum suggested I ask to see the manager, to tell them about my visit and the connection between Ashmore Grief and Pee Wee's at the Point. I went one further by reading the excerpt above to the manager who was quite happy with that. She requested a signed copy which I dropped off to her a couple of days later. At that time she requested a photo with me and the book.

The total experience was mystical and wonderful, and whether it leads to anything or not, I will always treasure it. The new dream about me and Pee Wee's involves an elaborate launch of my 8th novel, Satan's Choppers (set again in the Top End.). I haven't even started writing the first draft yet, so that one is a way off. However, my first Pee Wee's dream took 7 years, and I'm a patient man, so stay tuned.