Take a ride


Thinking more about religion, I’ve always been quite mistrustful of the Catholic church while having a sneaky admiration for the ritual and ceremony with which they did things. Church should be a place of spiritual mystery, somewhere believers could go and be immersed in the lore of the religion. In this place, they give themselves over to a higher being.

Confession is part of that, I think. Enter with us, give yourself over, and open up for a chance of absolution…

I don’t know when it happened, but the Roman Catholic church cottoned onto the principle many centuries ago while the Protestant church quite deliberately set itself apart. Minus the frills and the mumbo jumbo of Latin liturgies, austerity was a more direct route to God, or so it went.

It was a reaction to the greed and intolerance of the Catholic church that had Luther nail his theses to a church door all those centuries ago. The church theocracy was out of touch with the devotion of the common man, caught up in its persecutions and building an empire of God within Europe and beyond. It had moved beyond the simple teachings of Jesus and become a thing unto itself, powerful and wealthy and corrupting its nature to sell indulgences to those who could afford it.

It’s no wonder that Protestantism caught on among the poor and powerless, the devout who were denied a simple passage to heaven because they couldn’t afford to pay for it. It led to bloody war back then and division since.

I am no theologian, though I find theology interesting. I’m not even a believer. I have a simpler view of devotion because I’ve slipped the ties of religion.

I have a visceral – even sensual – reaction to the trappings of the Catholic church, but not for a minute do I believe it truly reflects the life of Christ. Can you imagine if Jesus was among us today that he’d wear the robes of a priest?

The Jesus we know from the bible was humble and generous. He shunned wealth and lived simply. He was kind, gentle and self-sacrificing. He didn’t go about in finery. He didn’t seek power, though he might have had it. Instead, he preached tolerance and peace. He embraced the poor and the powerless. He healed the sick. He accepted one and all.

What is the true message of Jesus Christ? From my outsider’s perspective, it appears that the church is all about faith and devotion, but the message and meaning of Jesus are lost along the way. Go to church on Sunday, sing your hallelujah, and come out feeling good about yourself.

In a just world, what need is there for a fine church around you to show your devotion and belief? Belief should be something private, held close in your heart and sincerely felt – and I say that as a non-believer.

I think that misses the point of religion as it’s used today. It’s on bumper stickers and t-shirts, and God has his own 1-800 number. There’s nothing shy or personal about it. That’s a cynical view, but then I don’t know how many good churchgoers and Christians I’ve come across who are nasty pricks of the worst type. They say that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel – well, I think it applies equally to the self-proclaimed religious, though often it’s the first stop.

Back when I looked at it, I was drawn to the Franciscans because they seemed nearer to God. Unlike other orders, it seemed they preached and lived by principles closer to the teachings of God. They took a vow of poverty and sought to do good for others.

Still, it’s a tad histrionic to a plain man like me. You don’t need to be a signed-up Christian to do good things, and much of the Catholic church seems outlandish. I think it’s perverse, if not destructive, that priests take a vow of chastity (and the cost of that is clear). I can think of nothing worthy of sacrificing your God-given individuality, though I suppose that’s the point – the same way that nuns become brides of Christ, servants of church and God. I pity the sacrifice.

Like so much, it’s marketing, particularly the Catholic church. Tradition, ritual, mystery and lore – it’s a rich mix that should signify something of meaning. Yet, Jesus was not one for these accoutrements. His message was simple and intimate. The church has added layers to that until true meaning is lost in the ceremony. It’s a theme park – you pay your money, you take your ride, and at the end of it, you’re blessed by God.

I wonder what he thinks of it.

Why belief?


A couple of months ago I read The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco and really enjoyed. I’d bought the book and tried to read it about 30 years ago but then set it aside, deterred by the dense prose and the many digressions. I had no problem with that this time, and found many of the digressions exploring religious sects and controversies of the time utterly fascinating. It led me to believe that these are things I should know more of – like so many things I should know more of.

By chance, it appears that much of my recent reading has a religious aspect. I made mention a few weeks back of a novel I was reading of 1950’s Ireland that touched upon the religious divide. I’m reading a book now that is similar, set in Ireland during the troubles post WW1. (And another set during the English reformation).

This is fascinating to me from many angles.

To start with, to read of these things from within an Australian society that is modern and secular to the point of being irreligious, is a foreign experience. Religion has played no part in my life. I’ve never been to a church service that wasn’t a funeral, a wedding or a christening. I have an intellectual and historical interest in it, but feel nothing holy.

It’s never really played a part in our public life, either. There have been powerful religious voices, and our most recent PM tried to bring Christianity into the conversation, but it’s never taken here as it has in other place’s. I think that comes down to the nature of Australians – we don’t like to be lorded over or told what to do. And, somehow, we lack that holy need – the thing that draws man to god. We’re practical and independent and believe in the things we can do. It’s both a positive and a limitation.

Whether it’s by nature or nurture, I take a cynical view of the religious infrastructure and am wary of its power. Throughout history there’s been a long tradition of corruption in the church. Popes have feathered their own nest and sponsored violence, while cardinals and the like have acquired wealth and influence in the service of their own ambition. Then there’s the terrible and cynical abuse that priests have perpetrated upon their vulnerable brethren.

It’s a broad brush, I know, and there have been many devout and sincere holy men doing their best to uphold the true meaning of their belief. Often times, through history, they’re the ones who have been persecuted by the church. I’ve spoken to church leaders and found their faith endearing, even if I couldn’t share it.

I’ve wondered if that made me cynical, or if it came down to individual belief. I’m a democrat to my core, and by that I believe in equality and frown upon privilege. We each are deserving of an equal chance, but I believe in individual responsibility. I don’t need or want anyone telling me how to conduct myself, and I won’t believe in something I can’t.

My view is that you don’t have to be a churchman to be a decent human being, and wearing a cassock or a collar to do right by your fellow man. You don’t need a book or teachings or belief in a higher being to be a good man, it should be innate. By my observation, some churchgoers are the least charitable.

Ultimately, I just can’t believe it. I don’t doubt the historical basis for any religion, just the meaning given to it. We crave a higher meaning to give purpose and shape to our lives, and so we invent – or conflate – something we can humble ourselves before.

I’ve never felt any such need. I would be pleasantly surprised to find there is a God – I’m not against the idea. Given what I’ve gone through lately, I’d vote for a heaven also. I don’t judge anyone for their belief, though I do their actions. What you choose to believe in is your business.

But now I’ve digressed. If it wasn’t already clear, I’m an atheist who’d happily be an agnostic. I don’t believe in the church and am sceptical of organised religion generally. I was christened a Protestant, though by blood on my father’s side, I’m Catholic – Irish Catholic.

This I find interesting reading some of these books. If my family had never left Ireland all those generations ago I’d have been a Catholic and doubtless drawn into the troubles. Though I care less about the religious divide, as a democrat I feel sure I’d have become involved on the republican side. I don’t care where it is, I’m almost always going to take the side of the oppressed – and fighting for home rule seems the most worthy of causes.

It’s a curious thought, and an easy view to take sitting comfortably in secular, sophisticated Melbourne when nothing is on the line. I accept that. It’s easy to rage. To do is a different thing, and nothing more than a hypothetical in this environment.

If it counts for anything, we debated Australia becoming a republic at the dinner party last week. The boys were for it, the girls ambivalent or against it. I was predictably fierce. It will come.

It’s time


Today is Election Day in Australia. A lot of us have been waiting for this day for a long time – three years to be precise, after the great disappointment of last time. I feel sure the result will be different this time, and finally, we’ll be rid of the worst, most corrupt government in our history. It’s a moment to savour – though I shouldn’t get ahead of the result.

With the Election Day finally, there’s no more campaigning, no more political advertising, rabid journalism, no more sham, pretence and dishonesty. Not for a little while, anyway. Truly, election campaigns are a thing from hell, dispiriting and overwhelming. I’m a political animal, but I switch channels when a political ad shows on TV or political news comes on. I can’t stomach the inanity and shallow, often biased commentary. Now we’re free of it.

Much in that nature, Scott Morrison was heard to say early in the campaign that Australia was the greatest country in the world. Lest he is exposed as a turncoat in tabloid headlines across the nation, the opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, was heard to pronounce the same soon after.

These are motherhood statements. By ritual, I reckon most leaders and would-be leaders say much the same thing in countless countries across the world. It’s meaningless drivel, of course, but I guess it’s intended to confirm their bona fides as a leader and affirm their commitment.

Not every country can be the greatest. I don’t even know what the criteria for the ‘greatest’ is. It’s an empty sentiment made up of bluster and insincerity. I don’t even know if it matters much, but, in any case, surely what defines the best and greatest is a matter of subjectivity?

It’s my subjective analysis that Australia is not the greatest country in the world. It pains my partisan heart to admit that, though it’s pretty clear that any claims to such a position have gone downhill in the last 10 years.

There was a time when I might have proudly believed there was no better place on earth than the lucky country. Even now, with the benefit of hindsight, it seems fair to claim that Australia of the late eighties and early nineties was not only a great place to be but a genuinely decent, egalitarian, progressive nation on top of it.

All that changed when Howard came into power in 1996. He was a small man in mind and body who seemed to resent the years his ambition had been thwarted. I don’t doubt that he was always innately conservative, but the years watching shinier, more articulate candidates get ahead of him had formed a view of the world that was crimped and narrow, and brewed a suspicion of anything original or daring or interesting. He set us back decades by discouraging progressive opinion and encouraging a bigoted, paternalistic perspective. He started the rot that has led us to the obnoxious, corrupt politics of the current government. It’s no wonder I hate John Howard, though I despise Morrison also and think him clearly the worst prime minister we’ve ever had.

Now that we’re on the cusp of electing a new government, there’s hope that everything will be different. Indeed, in key aspects, there’s strong evidence that long-overdue action will be taken concerning climate change, integrity, aged care, and so on. We await with bated breath.

I want to return to the concept of the ‘greatest’ nation for a moment. I know it’s a bit silly and spurious, but I also believe that, as a nation, as well as individuals, we should always strive to be better. A little ambition is no bad thing, and it’s been too long since we had some authentic national aspirations. The thing is, it doesn’t happen by accident. High minded speeches won’t do it. It takes action. And it takes belief – the belief that we can all share in and shoulder our portion of the quest.

That’s the challenge now. I hope we have that ambition as a government. We know what not to do – anything the government of the last ten years has done, which has made us petty and small-minded and reduced the stature of our nation in the global community. So, that’s the easy part, and there are obvious pathways towards becoming a healthier nation.

Despite all the positive policies and progressive initiatives, it seems to me we can never be anything like great until we mend our society. There are too many rifts and divisions, many of them actively fostered by a government that has favoured political advantage over the greater good.

We treat our poor, disadvantaged and elderly with disrespect and disgrace. Add to that the treatment of refugees and our first nations people. In many instances, they have been used as political pawns. I’m sad to say, it’s an attitude that has permeated sections of society.

We’re to blame for that. It takes authentic leadership to light the flame and show the true way forward. We haven’t had that for many years. It’s true in much of the world. The disenfranchised have been neglected and left to brood and rebel, exiled from the benefits of society.

It explains Trump, the rise of the extreme right and white supremacy, and it explains the anti-vaxxers.

In Victoria, in the last couple of years, we saw the value of a community that pulled together in service of the common good. We made hard sacrifices knowing what we did was for something bigger than our individual selves. In many ways, it was inspiring.

That’s what we can be. What it takes is a narrative we can all believe in and share, knowing that we are part of it. There are many policy levers that must be pulled if Albanese becomes PM later tonight, but over and around, that is healing the wounds of our community, tending to our national weal.

It’s a tall order, but I think it’s mighty helpful that we appear on the verge of electing a genuinely decent human being to the top job to replace a man who is nothing more than a contemptible turd. Example counts for much. Time will tell. It’s time.

The peril of mass man


I was reading some Jung over the weekend, specifically The Undiscovered Self, when I came across a passage that resonated strongly with me. It put me in mind of the anti-vaxxers out there who continue to protest, ever more pathetically, and threatening more violent action to get their message across. But then, I think it also applies to the tribes on social media, so adamant about their views and closed off to any variation to it.

This is the passage…

All mass movements, as one might expect, slip with the greatest ease down an inclined plane represented by large numbers. Where the many are, there is security; what the many believe must of course be true; what the many want must be worth striving for, and necessary, and therefore good. In the clamor of the many there lies the power to snatch wish- fulfillments by force; sweetest of all, however, is that gentle and painless slipping back into the kingdom of childhood, into the paradise of parental care, into happy-go-luckiness and irresponsibility. All the thinking and looking after are done from the top; to all questions there is an answer; and for all needs the necessary provision is made. The infantile dream state of the mass man is so unrealistic that he never thinks to ask who is paying for this paradise. The balancing of accounts is left to a higher political or social authority, which welcomes the task, for its power is thereby increased; and the more power it has, the weaker and more helpless the individual becomes.
Wherever social conditions of this type develop on a large scale the road to tyranny lies open and the freedom of the individual turns into spiritual and physical slavery. Since every tyranny is ipso facto immoral and ruthless, it has much more freedom in the choice of its methods than an institution which still takes account of the individual. Should such an institution come into conflict with the organized State, it is soon made aware of the very real disadvantage of its morality and therefore feels compelled to avail itself of the same methods as its opponent. In this way the evil spreads almost of necessity, even when direct infection might be avoided. The danger of infection is greater where decisive importance is attached to large numbers and statistical values, as is every- where the case in our Western world. The suffocating power of the masses is paraded before our eyes in one form or another every day in the newspapers, and the insignificance of the individual is rubbed into him so thoroughly that he loses all hope of making himself heard. The outworn ideals of liberté, égalité, fraternité help him not at all, as he can direct this appeal only to his executioners, the spokesmen of the masses.

But then, rereading it, I’m sure that many anti-vaxxers would claim it’s just this that they’re protesting against in their misguided way. I think Jung captures very well why people flock to such beliefs in the first paragraph. But it’s true in general of human nature, I think.

It’s understandable, and if we’re aware of it, then the danger of it, the ‘evil’ as Jung calls it, is somewhat mitigated. We rarely have such awareness, however. It’s a condition of this delusion that we become blind to all else.

Jung goes on:

Resistance to the organized mass can be effected only by the man who is as well organized in his individuality as the mass itself.

He goes on to say how unlikely and difficult that is, and gives some convincing reasons why. I accept that man is an imperfect being. We’re torn in different directions and have forces, both internal and external, constantly at play upon us. The fact that we need the comfort of the mass is one explanation of that.

In my view, we need only ask questions and maintain an open mind. Easy peasy! What is an open mind? Who’s to judge an independent faculty? Even critical though – much out of fashion these days – is subject to hidden bias, I would think.

As said, we’re imperfect. We have flaws. All I can suggest is that we attempt to rise above mass thought and reaction. And maybe read the book. Knowledge is a good thing, and the more we understand ourselves the healthier our society will be.

Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid – The Atlantic


It’s not just a phase.
— Read on www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2022/05/social-media-democracy-trust-babel/629369/

Fascinating article, but sure to be controversial. Ironically perhaps, it, and the author, are now likely to be subject to the sort of rabid censure he describes. I find little in this to disagree with.

I had an old friend visit yesterday from interstate. We spent about three hours discussing politics and ethical dilemmas and the state of society. This has been typical of our discourse always, and it was nice to sit with someone I could have these discussions with.

A lot of what we spoke about alluded to behaviours and modes of thought that are discussed in this article, sometimes explicitly. He has a brother – a pleasant, intelligent man in my experience – who has become a fanatical anti-vaxxer who spouts ludicrous conspiracy theories and appears to have gone down too many rabbit holes. How did this happen?

Whatever the reason for it, he’s drunk the cool-aid propounded by that fringe group of ratbags. Even the most preposterous can seem reasonable when you believe enough. The thing is, as I told my mate, the cool-aid comes in different flavours.

It’s easy to mock and dismiss the absurd, but not all of it plays as extreme. And, as I reminded him, sometimes we can be prey to it ourselves.

It’s why you hear me repeat the notion: be yourself. As this article outlines, much of society and discourse has been utterly warped by the power and misuse of social media. My conjecture is that social media has taken people away from their true selves in the search for approval, the fear of rejection and, often-times, the desire to belong.

I’m careful that I’m not easily labelled. I’m not much concerned with what people think of me, approval, rejection or belonging. I’m always urging that every issue should be considered on its individual merits, and not checked against the prevailing orthodoxy. What do you think? Forget about the mob.

That’s rare these days. Social media is blamed here, with good reason, but I think our education system has contributed to this, as has much of our media, which is neither as independent as it once proudly proclaimed, nor nearly as capable and critical, as it should be.

We’re left with the individual. To rise above this and think independently requires an open mind and a critical faculty. Question, examine, compare.

Celebrity slapping celebrity


A couple of hours ago Will Smith walked up on stage at the Oscars and slapped the host, Chris Rock, because of jokes Rock had made about Will Smith’s wife, Jada. In the scheme of things, not a momentous event, but as you can imagine, it’s set off a sea of commentary and bad takes. Very 2022.

I must confess, my first reaction on seeing it was respect for Will Smith for putting himself out there for his wife. It was not so much the action, which was crazy and impulsive, but the unashamed, unfiltered reaction of a man clearly deeply hurt and much in love. It was in no way measured, and it certainly paid no heed to public opinion. It was raw and natural.

I wouldn’t have done it. I might have thought about waiting until the afterparty, but the more sensible part of myself would expect that by then I’d have calmed down and taken a more reasonable approach – basically, collaring Chris Rock and telling him it’s not on.

Most of the reaction has been negative towards Smith, and I understand that. It’s not a good look slapping someone on live TV and certainly isn’t to be encouraged – though it’s very entertaining.

It seems to me though that much of the commentary is seen through a lens. As a civilised society, we filter out perspective through a common understanding, but what is lost in that is nuance and the raw visceral sense. I don’t condone Smith for what he did, but I understand it. It was primitive but, for me, in a world where everything is processed, emotion included, it was refreshing.

I’ll probably cop shit for this, but that’s okay. I don’t need you to agree with me.

Everyone has a take these days, and everyone shares it thanks to the ubiquity of social media – look, I’m doing it too! They’re packaged reactions, with outrage being a fave. It’s the nature of this discourse that it gravitate’s to the extremes. I hope I’m more reasoned.

I read one person state that they’d never felt entitled to strike another person, despite the many times it might have been justified. I found the term ‘entitled’ interesting. What does it mean? Entitled in what sense? As a responsible citizen, or as an individual? As a cypher, or a person? At what point would they feel entitled? Never?

I disagree. Ultimately, we should aspire to be ourselves truly, without the cultural jargon or baggage. There’s an individual in each of us. If we feel it honestly, and without bias, then we’re entitled.

I think there are occasions when a smack on the nose is probably quite a reasonable response. I like to think I’m cultured and civilised, but I’m no pacifist. Sometimes it’s necessary. What Will Smith did was way over the top and doesn’t meet the criteria of being reasonable. But then, it’s not my place to judge what he should feel in that moment. I can regret his action, but I won’t condemn the man. Nor will I join the pile-on.

I suspect Chris Rock takes a similar view.

2022 AFL season preview


The men’s AFL footy season starts tomorrow night, and I’ve been looking forward to it. So are others, and I’ve been reminded I’ve yet to post my annual pre-season preview. So, here goes.

Firstly, here’s my predicted ladder as at the end of the home and away season:

Melbourne
Brisbane Lions
Port Adelaide
Richmond
Western Bulldogs
Geelong
Essendon
Carlton

Swans
GWS
Fremantle
St Kilda
Collingwood
GCS
WCE
Adelaide
North Melbourne
Hawthorn

It can change an awful lot as the finals start and teams hit form and injuries cut. I will say that the Demons remain my favourite to go back-to-back premiership winners, as they must be.

I’m not going to say much about Melbourne otherwise. They hit a rich vein of form last year and I think the victory will galvanise them to a more consistent performance. They have a good list and confidence counts for a lot.

I have Brisbane coming second because I think they were stiff last year and they have a decent home ground advantage.

Port Adelaide are flat-track bullies. Unless they can overcome their yips, this is as good as it gets. Another strong home advantage and clean, front running form should see them high on the ladder. But I think they need another decent tall forward and to overcome their baggage if they want to go further.

It’s with some trepidation have Richmond coming fourth. They missed out altogether last year, but won the three premierships before that. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them miss again but, though theyreaging, they still have the cattle.

I’ve got last year’s runners-up coming next. Despite finishing second, I never really rated Footscray that highly. They got on a streak in the finals, aided by a bit of luck, but had been a good ordinary side to that point. Great midfield, but too weak at either end otherwise I think.

Geelong. Another team I could see falling out of the eight. Very professional, but very old, too. Nup.

I’ve got my team next. They surprised last year and have some great young talent and a deep midfield. They could miss the eight also, but I also think they’re capable of topping the ladder. They’re an exciting, mercurial team on the cusp. Hard to eat come 2024.

Carlton. What can I say, except I despise them? Okay, other than that, they’ve got the talent, but they’ve underperformed for years. It gets in your DNA. I’ve got them in the right, but if they fail again no-one will be surprised.

Last year the Swans played finals, to the surprise of most. They’re a good young team with a stellar coach. They’ll go close again this year, but reckon they just miss out. This will be a consolidation year for them. They’ll be up next year (not dissimilar toEssendon).

I’ve got GWS missing out because they have the cutting-edge, though they did well last year. Freo are developing, have recruited well, and have a fine coach, but are not there yet.

St Kilda are one of those frustrating teams who show a bit, then fall in a hole. Haven’t the depth or class. Speaking of holes, Collingwood fell into a deep one last year and lost their long-term coach in the process. I think they’ll have their moments this year, but will be inconsistent. They’ve lost good players in trading fiasco, but have picked upon of the best recruits in the draft last year.

The Gold Coast Suns have the talent, it’s the belief they’ve lacked. I think they’ll have some exciting wins, but still some way off it. The Eagles are almost the opposite of the GCS in mentality, being regular finalists. Not this year. They’ve had a miserable off-season and are crippled by injury, and are getting old. They might get a few wins at home, but that’ll be it.

I like Adelaide. They’ve got good young players and play a good style. And I think Nicks is a good coach for them. Too young still though, too inconsistent, but can see them riding up the ladder next year perhaps.

Second last I have North Melbourne, last year’s wooden spooners. I think they’re promising but undeveloped yet. They’ve recruited we’ll, including potentially the best player in last year’s draft, and are coached we’ll in all the important fundamentals. Might cause a few upsets.

Then there’s Hawthorn, who I’ve marked down to win this year’s wooden spoon. One may accuse me of bias as I dislike Hawthorn also, and this is a big comedown for the team that dominated through the middle of the last decade.

The big story for them is that they won’t be coached by the man rated as the best coach of the modern era: Alastair Clarkson. They lose about 3-4 goals a game just with him departing. Even in their decline they regularly over-performed because of Clarkson. Not this time.

In his place the Hawthorn have appointed club champion Sam Mitchell. He’s touted as having one of the best footy rains going around, but he’s also an out and out cunt. I don’t care how smart he is, the modern football player doesn’t respond to cold, sociopathic personalities like him. I think he’ll be a dud.

The turmoil at the end of last year won’t have helped either, and an aging list.

That’s my say. Let’s see how much I get right.

Battles then and now


I don’t know what’s going to happen in Ukraine. Like most people, I’ve been immensely inspired by their spirit and resistance to the Russian invaders. I think it’s pretty clear it’s not gone as Putin expected. Coupled with the scale of sanctions arraigned against Russia, Putin finds himself in a big hole.

It’s hard to predict the actions of an autocrat like Putin. This whole venture has a whiff of irrationality about it, but perhaps it just seems that way because Ukraine has been a lot harder to conquer than expected. A quick victory and he would have been making demands of the world. Instead, he’s mired in a war going nowhere while his reputation and the Russian economy tanks.

Given the desperate situation he finds himself in, how will he respond – and where will this end? He’s already mentioned nuclear weapons. He’s now bombing maternity hospitals. Are biological weapons a possibility? No matter how inspiring the Ukrainian resistance has been, it’s very likely to get a whole lot uglier.

I would like to see peace talks brokered by the UN, just to prove they’re good for something. A man like Putin has to be given a way out of the mess he’s in. Men like him rely on their reputation; ‘face’ is important to them, both personally and politically. I would like to see him destroyed, but more realistically, a way out needs to be negotiated in which some pride is retained.

Longer-term, I suspect Putin will become more vulnerable domestically, particularly as the sanctions bite the people, and the oligarchs. He’s been shown as fallible.

I’ve been watching it unfold very keenly. As a student of WW2, I’ve found it fascinating as the conflict ranges across great battlefields of the last world war. Kharkov, as it was called in the history books I read (as opposed to the Ukrainian Kharkiv), was the site of huge encounters between German and Russian troops – as the Germans advanced (and won big), and as they retreated (fighting a handy rearguard action).

Just over the Russian border is Belgorod. Nearby is Kursk. Together they were the site of the greatest tank battle in history.

What may be significant is that once the Germans occupied Ukraine an effective resistance went underground, tying up German forces and inflicting damage. The partisans were fierce and brave back then – I would expect nothing different now if it comes to that.

Papa the paradox


It’s a pretty dull life I have at the moment. The only time I’ve ventured out the front door since leaving the hospital is to return to it. I don’t have the energy to do anything more than the basics, so what I’m left with is a routine of reading and watching TV, listening to music or audiobooks, browsing the net, or writing here. There’s sleep, of course, and I look forward to the odd soak in a hot bath to bring solace to an aching body (I’d love a massage).

I’m very careful to manage my day, not doing too much of any one of those activities, lest I spoil it. I retain the ethic drummed into me when I was a kid by my parents about watching TV during the day – don’t, otherwise you’re a slob – but needs must in the circumstances.

When I returned home from the hospital, one of the things I did was to sit myself on the couch and watch a documentary series on Hemingway I’d recorded while I was gone.

I’m one of many millions who was inspired and influenced by Hemingway since I first picked up one of his books as a teenager. I was transfixed by the sharp, direct prose, which yet felt poetic. The stories – which I was drawn to first – also spoke to me in a way I understood inside, within my self, in a way I couldn’t explain to anyone else. They felt true.

I read his novels, more than once mainly, and some biographies of him, and he’s remained a strong influencer, though it’s a long time since I decided that I didn’t like the man.

After watching the documentary on him, it’s hard to reconcile the paradox of the man. By many accounts, he was a boorish, bullying, blowhard capable of cruelty and indifference. Yet, he could be great company also and, when engaged, a man capable of generosity and kindness.

If I had a time machine, I’d love to go back and meet him, but I don’t think I’d want to spend much time in his company. He’s just the sort of man I like least.

But then there’s his writing. Everything missing in his human persona is there in his writing. You wonder how a man so caught up in his own myth could then write so truly and with such insight about the human condition? In his writing, there is so often the wisdom that comes from a deep knowledge of how people act and react, their flaws and strengths, their fears and desires. There’s a stark simplicity in his writing that yet reveals so much. Particularly early, there’s a great sensitivity.

That’s the Hemingway I’d love to know.

So, how do you reconcile this? Was it that he was only capable of this sensitivity when he wrote – that it was somehow an unconscious talent the act of writing revealed? Or was it that he only showed himself in his writing?

Hemingway was clearly a very complex individual, and there seems little doubt that he was beset by mental health issues from a relatively early age. They worsened over time, were indulged and pampered, and exaggerated further by his heavy drinking. In the end, he was almost a caricature.

He was haunted by his father’s death and came to hate his mother. I feel sure that he was terrified of following in his father’s footsteps with deteriorating mental health and suicide. I suspect he tried to overcome those fears with the boasting and tall stories he told of himself in later years as if to distance himself from any of that. I’m certain it also fuelled his creative self and his writing.

I’m no psychologist, but it appears that Hemingway was deeply insecure at heart and reacted to (rejected) that with his overtly masculine behaviour. Whether he ever admitted it to himself, the truth was different, and I suspect he sensed it. That’s where his writing came in. His writing was a way to tap into that sensitive inside and express it. It was something he needed to do.

Because he himself felt so much, he understood much. Most of this was rejected in his public life, though he was said to be a good father. But it was fertile ground for his story-telling. This is where his insight came from – a keen observation of the world and people around him, filtered through this deep and painful knowledge.

When his writing failed him, he killed himself. I understand the impulse, though it was ugly how he left his wife to find him (he was far from thinking clearly). He was a gruff, oversized presence, and he could sustain that for as long as he could write. It was the one true thing for him. When that left him, there was nothing left for him. His meaning collapsed.

I’m no psychologist, and I’m probably way off, but that’s how I see it, from my observation of life and myself. It seems such a great pity that he could never integrate the writer in him with the man the world knew – though I’m sure, from the love he enjoyed, there were great periods when it shone through privately.

Bring them home


I’ve sat here for the last minutes wondering how to start this post. The dilemma, I felt, is that I didn’t want to bang the same drum as in numerous other posts in the past. Nor did I want to sound too harsh or critical. Believe it or not, I don’t enjoy writing negative posts. The problem is, there’s a lot of negative stuff to write about – but it’s dispiriting to grizzle.

So what to do? I can only say it as it is – or how it seems to me, anyway. So let’s get the ranting part out of the way early. I’m about to criticise the government again. I can hardly describe how much I deplore them. So many of them terrible people, and I wonder why so many to the right of politics are so ugly – ugly, mean-spirited, narrow-minded and spiteful souls. Add to that racist, which isn’t news to anyone who pays any attention (the sad minority), but this time they’ve made it law.

Covid has been a controversial time, and that’s not really surprising. With so much happening so quickly and so much at stake, it’s terribly difficult and hard to act without making a mistake here or there and with any consensus. If you’re sensible, you accept that. The negativity pisses you off, but you roll with it; the stupid noise made by anti-vaxxers and anti-lockdown protestors you rationalise as a lunatic fringe; even the bungling of the vaccine roll-out is met more with a sigh than with anger.

What can’t be supported are the wilful decisions made for an obscure political cause and the decisions not made for the same reason.

Though the vaccine roll-out is a disaster here, we’re in a pretty healthy state in Australia relatively. We need to pick up our game or else get left behind, but our citizens – those resident at least – have good reason to feel pretty safe.

That’s not the case in many parts of the world, and in some parts, it has become catastrophic – Brazil being one, and India another.

The news services have been full of reports from India where hundreds of thousands are newly infected every day, where the sick spill onto the streets, where there’s a shortage of vaccines and oxygen, and, most horribly, the dead are burnt on makeshift biers in suburban streets. Someone I work with has come down with it, as has his whole family. These are terrible times.

In response, the Australian government announced a travel ban. No one can enter the country from India, not even our own citizens seeking to get home. They then doubled down by announcing that anyone caught flaunting the ban would be subject to huge fines and potential jail time. In effect, they’ve made it illegal for Australian citizens to return to their home country from India. So much for the rights of citizenship.

For me, the single greatest failure over the last year is the inability, and seeming unwillingness, of the Australian government to repatriate citizens to our home in a time of dire crisis.

I think, for the government, it’s another political hot potato that’s easier to deal with by doing nothing. Expat Australians are out of sight and out of mind, they figure, and their votes don’t amount to much anyway. Why exert yourself on their behalf when there’s the risk of Covid?

To be fair, it’s been a long time since an Australian government took responsibility for our citizens abroad. I always had the idealistic notion that as an Australian citizen, if ever I got in trouble overseas, the government would help. How wrong I was! Regardless of stripe, successive Australian governments have failed in this regard. Some of it is political – Julian Assange being an example of an individual whose rights as a citizen have been found wanting when weighed against political alliance (i.e. diplomatic toadyism). The rest is apathy.

I know there are Australians right now who agree with the government, certainly regarding the travel ban from India. They argue the risk of bringing in people from such a dangerous environment risks infecting the broader community at large. That’s a fair argument, but it highlights the abject failure of the government to act before now.

To start with, Australians wishing to come home should have been able to get in long before now. There shouldn’t be a queue, but the stories are rife of ex-pats unable to get flights back, lose bookings because of scarce seats, or be charged a fortune to get back. Remember, the government promised that the backlog would be cleared by last Christmas. Not even close.

Even so, and if we accept that virus of some type will remain in the community for years to come, then we should have made a start on the infrastructure to support that reality. Had we acted last year, we should have been in a position now to bring our people home.

The government did nothing and shows no sign of doing anything. Once more, it’s the state governments who take the lead. Both Queensland and Victoria have proposed purpose-built quarantine facilities in the country. There’s another facility in the NT standing empty. There’s even Christmas Island.

It can hardly be disputed that we need these facilities. They have to be built. As we’ve learned to our cost, Hotels are not made to house sick and contagious people.

We should have these facilities now and, failing that, should be building them now. And a truly inclusive government would be seeking to bring its citizens home by any means – charter flights and the RAAF seem obvious options. No sign of that happening in the foreseeable future, when this is something that should have happened last year.

Now we have made it a crime to come home. Make no mistake, this is a racist act. Most of those affected by this ban are Indian-Australian – people with different skin colour to the Australian prime minister. Can you imagine the same ban being imposed on people from a western country? No. It’s a decision consistent with much in this government. We’ve had hundreds of thousands from western societies overstay tourist visas, while people who come in desperate straits on leaking boats are exiled for years on end to places like Manus Island. The difference? None of them is white.

The government doesn’t care. It’s political for them. It’s a sad thing to admit, but it’s a decision that plays well to their constituency – the casually racist, indifferent, uneducated rump who respond best to slogans and mindless claims of patriotism, which the government specialises in.

It’s shocking, but none of it surprises me anymore. It just makes me sad.