Leave the light on

Australia is currently mourning the loss of a young sportsman, felled by a cricket ball to the temple while he was playing state cricket. 25 years old and in the prime of his life and career. It’s a tragedy. I feel for his family and friends. I also feel terribly sad for the poor young man who bowled that ball. I should think he’s going to need therapy for quite some time.  Yes, a nation’s grief has been poured out across the media, almost to the point of overkill, and I understand. It’s shocking to think that a fit young man could lose his life while playing sport. However, my fellow Australians don’t seem to be as affected by the news that some of the Sri Lankan refugees that we sent back, have been arrested in Sri Lanka. It doesn’t bother us that children in detention aren’t allowed to play and are treated worse than the criminals in our jails. Only a few voices are being raised against this current government’s intention to ignore the UN Refugee Convention of which we are signatories. Perhaps, if we could prove that these refugees are all brilliant sports-people, we might see the empathy levels rise. On the one hand I see the world going to heck in a hand-basket and then, on the other hand, I hear of acts of such generosity and courage that I’m still hopeful. Today I saw a video clip of a man in India – from a Brahmin family – ignoring the teachings of his class, and going out into the streets every day to feed the homeless. He doesn’t just hand them food. He puts his arm around them. He gives them water to wash with and cuts their hair. He says the food is for physical nutrition and the love is for mental nutrition. As a Brahmin, he’s not supposed to go near, let alone touch, the “untouchables”. Although it has caused him some trouble with his family he says real joy is gained when we begin giving. Thank you, sir, for shining the light in a dark place. Thank you to the men who defy their culture/religion/peer group and educate their daughters and refuse to treat women with disdain or violence. Thank you to the women who are beginning to march together and demand better treatment. Thank you to the doctors without borders who go to the most dark and violent places to give free medical treatment to whoever needs it. Thank you, especially, for being the first responders to the Ebola crisis and for risking your own lives to bring help to the most vulnerable people in the world. The only way to defeat the darkness is to flood it with light....

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The G20

Well, the G20 is up and running in sunny Queensland. Today, in Brisbane, it’s around 37C (98.6F) and, being Queensland, it’s most likely humid too. The delegates probably won’t notice, coming from their air-conditioned hotels, in their air-conditioned limousines, to an air-conditioned venue. Even so, I wonder how many of their journalistic countrymen will mention the tough climatic conditions. Oh wait…I forgot, Mr Abbott doesn’t want the climate to appear on the agenda. They’ll probably just mutter under their breath about it while lining up for their free drinks, or waiting for an elevator that’s secure, private and air-conditioned. What is the G20? As far as I can gather it’s the 20 countries in the world with the top 20 economies, plus a few guests. They gather to talk about financial issues. I’ve heard that the big issue this year is: how to grow the economies of the top 20 countries. I’m surprised by this. I would have thought, being the top 20 economies in the world, they would have already figured this out. I wonder how much thought is given to all the not-in-the-top-20 countries. Is there any discussion on how to improve the poorer nations’ economies so that they can join the club? Wouldn’t it be brilliant if the G20 could grow into the G100? Or, cynic that I am, could it be the discussion is all about the G20 staying rich and getting richer, often by exploiting those who aren’t in the club? I hope I’m wrong. Our government must be feeling the pressure. Even tho’ we’re in the club, we’re certainly not in the inner circle. When our bloke goes to G20 meetings in other countries, I bet he doesn’t bring his own limousine in the back of his plane, like the Russians and the Americans. Nor does he get to land his plane somewhere separate from the regular airfield, so that he can then make an entrance in a helicopter. Poor Mr Abbott must be feeling a few little pangs of jealousy. I hope Mr Abbott and Mr Putin can settle their differences. Their little game of one-up-man-ship is, let’s face it, a little juvenile, a little demeaning and just a tad scary. These school yard scraps can so easily escalate and, before you know it, someone will be crying. And, with all the other blokes keen on tackling climate change (the Americans and the Chinese can afford to look smug), our PM’s troglodytish stand on science and the government’s current inhumane treatment of refugees (the Italians and the Germans make us look like concentration camp operators), Mr A must be feeling a little bit left out. I wonder if anyone sits with him in the canteen at lunch time. I hope Australia leaves the delegates with some happy memories. I hope their conflab actually produces something worthwhile for the world. I hope they all get to cuddle a...

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The Christmas pageant.

The annual Christmas pageant (for my American friends think: Macey’s parade without the giant balloons) is over for another year. The bands have hung up their tubas and bagpipes, the clowns are probably still wiping off the make-up, the fairies have gone to twinkle elsewhere, the weird giant toys are back in the warehouse and Father Christmas is safely ensconced in the Magic Cave. There will be reminders in the city streets for a few days yet. For example, all the lovely chalk drawings on the roads, made by children who arrived at their vantage point about three hours before the parade started and had ‘nothing to doooooo’. And, the magic blue line that no one ever goes over while the parade is on, and which doesn’t need any policing: people just know what to do. I’ve only ever attended a couple of pageants, as my family was the stay-home-and-watch-it-on-television kind. I assume my father’s thinking was: I’ve gone to the expense of having one of these newfangled television sets in my home so, by jingo, we’re not going to waste it by ignoring the telecast it has so cleverly provided, just to attend the real thing. I clearly remember the first time I saw it. The day before the pageant I was playing with one of the girls from church. She said her family were going in and the girls were going to ride in the back of a ute (USA=pick-up truck). That was back in the day when we didn’t protect our kids with seat belts. I said I’d never been and, before I knew it, she’d talked her mum into letting me come along. I went home in a daze, still not sure how that had all happened. We had a great time. There were three things that deeply impressed me. 1)Nipper and Nimble, the two giant rocking horses (oh how I longed to ride the white one!). 2)The Scotty bands. Bagpipes on mass, up close, were the most spine-tingling, electrifying things I’d ever heard in my life. They impressed me far more than Father Christmas, who looked rather red-faced (it was a hot day) and his hair didn’t look normal. 3)Riding in the back of the ute, the wind whipping through my hair, while I clung to the side terrified I’d fall out. It was brilliant. Then instead of taking me home, the family went up into the hills to visit with another family. I think they might have been relatives. I had a great time with my friend, looking for fairies in the bottom of the garden, while the parents had a cup of tea inside. Then, I went into the house to find a toilet and I overheard the grown-ups talking. The lady of the hills house asked my friends’ mum what I was doing with them. Mrs C said, “She wheedled her way into getting an invitation, now we’re stuck with her until this afternoon. I’m sorry.” The light and shiny joy was sucked out of my day. I couldn’t eat any of the lunch. I felt that I didn’t deserve to have any, seeing as I wasn’t supposed to be there. I wasn’t comfortable playing at my friend’s house any more and the friendship waned. The following year, when I was invited by someone else to go to the pageant, I said, “No thanks. I’d rather watch it on TV.” My father positively beamed. It wasn’t until many years later that I finally went to another one and kicked myself for missing out on all the fun. For those who took their children, or grandchildren, this year, I hope you had a brilliantly happy, magical day. Don’t let anyone steal the light and shiny joy out of your...

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Careful what you think…

I’ve just heard that Nabul Rajab, a human rights defender, is going on trial tomorrow for “publicly insulting official institutions”, with a possibility of three years in jail. I won’t say which country, in case someone is already collecting meta data here in Oz. I also saw, a couple of days ago, a news report on IS (IS, IL, State…add your own ending) beheading people (including Muslims) who don’t agree with their methodology. Big surprise there. Who’d have thought they’d go to such extremes? A young mother in Pakistan is currently waiting for her execution because she was accused of blasphemy. It seems when two Muslim women wouldn’t let her have a drink of their water because she’s “unclean” (she’s a Christian) there was a bit of an argument. Now she’s going to die. Remember when the author, Salmon Rushdie, had to go into hiding for years (he may even still be in mufti) because of the Fatwah placed on him for insulting Mohammed? (A Fatwah is a “kill the man and get out of jail free” card.) I had hoped those days were past but I’m too naive. Then I think of the many times I’ve heard “Jesus Christ” used as a swear word (no one ever says, “Oh Buddha!”); the many times people have said on FB, television, radio and in print that Jesus and God are simply fairy tales or superstition and that people are unintelligent troglodytes for believing in them; that God (who doesn’t exist) is a monster for killing his son (who doesn’t exist and who didn’t die anyway and if he did, he stayed dead) and so on and so on and it’s got me wondering. I think that all the great civilisations encouraged enquiring minds, research, investigation and, most of all, questions. Admittedly, it sometimes took a few generations (or centuries) and a few were martyred along the way, but even so… A sound, sensible civilisation makes room for critiques, reviews and intellectual and philosophical challenges. Without allowing intellectual critiquing of the status quo, there would never have been any advance in medicine, exploration, astronomy, engineering and, most importantly, human rights. Without the people who publicly questioned – and yes, insulted – public institutions, slavery would still be acceptable in Western society; women’s and children’s rights would be non-existent; education would still be just for the rich elite. I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone would want to give up the right to question the powers that be or to disagree with popular thinking. That is a freedom I cherish, as should anyone who lives in a civilized society. I might disagree with everything you believe in but I will fight to the death to protect your right to do so. I’m just thankful I live here because, otherwise, I could well be in the next cell to Mr Rajab, or...

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