The 7150 nuns who declared Trumpcare a moral outrage

Yesterday a friend sent me a Washington Post opinion piece about 7150 'socially minded nuns' declaring Trumpcare a moral outrage.

The article was written by E.J. Dionne, who's well known to Australians because he's often interviewed on the ABC's Radio National.

The 7150 nuns who fought against Trumpcare - from the Washington Post

He praised the three Republican senators who thwarted Trump's plan to deprive millions of Americans of health coverage. But also mentioned the nuns' much less publicised intervention, which labelled the Senate GOP's core proposal 'the most harmful legislation for American families in our lifetimes'.

The nuns cited Pope Francis' insistence that 'health is not a consumer good, but a universal right, so access to health services cannot be a privilege'.

Dionne's point was not to argue that the nuns influenced the outcome, but that most people are not aware of how wrong religious stereotypes can be.

'This is important because religion and the political standing of believers are badly harmed by the reality that so many Americans associate faith exclusively with the conservative movement. Large numbers of young people are abandoning organised religion (and particularly Christianity) altogether. A key reason: They see it as deeply hostile to causes they embrace, notably the rights of gays and lesbians.'

It's not widely realised that some of the strongest arguments for marriage equality can be found in religious teaching about social justice. As Dionne points out, Pope Francis is insistent that the Church be associated with justice and mercy rather than cultural warfare.

I think that it can be argued that the Australian Catholic hierarchy's opposition to marriage equality is a hangover from the cultural warfare of the previous popes and that the position of the bishops is essentially out of step with the present pope.

Calls to rein in ABC and SBS - from The Australian

I believe that this and many other debates are wrongly characterised as being between secular and religious interests. Rather it's entrenched interests (such as big business) against ordinary people who rely on human rights promotion for their basic survival.

That's why the Murdoch press waged a successful campaign to discredit and remove the head of the Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs. Yesterday the issue they chose to give voice to was the call from commercial media chiefs to reign in the public service broadcasters ABC and SBS, which take human rights reporting seriously.

It's regrettable that a surprising number of people continue to believe that religious interests line up behind the conservative establishment against the so-called socialists of the left, who are thought to be godless.

The Catholic Bishops feed that perception when they demonise the Greens, usually for opposing their own institutional interests such as Catholic education. Even taking into account the Greens' positions on issues such as voluntary euthanasia, I would suggest that the Greens are far more in line with the teaching of Pope Francis and the Catholic Church than the conservative parties that most people instinctively link to religious positions.


Links: Dionne ABC/SBS

Pastor to Catholics disconnected from the Church

Today's Eureka Street article is about Catholics who take their faith seriously but don't go to church.

It mentions Pope Francis' non-judgmental distinction between those who 'take part in community worship and gather on the Lord's Day' and those 'who preserve a deep and sincere faith, expressing it in different ways, but seldom taking part in worship'.

The article's writer Kevin Liston identifies himself as part of the latter group and so do I.

Anna Kuceras Sydney Morning Herald photo of Father Peter Maher at St Josephs Newtown

During the 24 years I've lived in my inner Sydney street, I've maintained a sporadic but enduring connection with the local parish church, St Joseph's Newtown. Because I rarely attend mass, I occasionally check out what's going on by going to their 'Faithworks' blog. I did that this morning and made an unnerving discovery.

For a while I'd been preparing myself for the shock of the retirement Father Peter Maher, the parish priest for nearly all of my time living here. He told me last year that he'd found retirement accommodation in the suburb where he grew up. He's not old for a retired priest, but he's very measured in his approach to his commitments, and it was clear to me that he was about to make a sensible choice to retire.

I was nevertheless shocked to read in the blog the text of the homily at Peter's 'Thanksgiving Mass on Retirement' last Friday. I don't know why I was shocked. I think I was less shocked when the previous parish priest ended his tenure after he disappeared when the plane he was piloting went down over Bass Strait in 1995.

Even though I only saw him a couple of times a year, Peter was my ideal parish priest. Earlier this month, his comments in a Sydney Morning Herald article on Sydney's most godless suburbs confirmed my appreciation of his approach to the decline of religious practice in Australia. Non-judgmental and inclusive.

Losing Our Religion graphic from Sydney Morning Herald 2 July 2017

At St Joseph's Newtown, I felt as welcome as a non-regular as I would have if I was a weekly mass goer.

I remember deciding that Sunday Mass was not for me back in 1991 when the priest's homily at a church elsewhere in Sydney took a very judgmental attitude to women who chose to have an abortion.

I was keenly aware that Peter took exactly the opposite stance in his work as Chair of the Rachel's Vineyard post abortion ministry. This was just one of the 'programs promoting acceptance and diversity' for which his service was recognised with an OAM in the 2014 Australia Day honours. Another was the Friday evening mass he celebrated for the LGBTIQ group Acceptance.

As editor of Eureka Street, I would collaborate with him in his work as co-editor of the National Council of Priests quarterly magazine The Swag. But my favourite initiative of his was the InterPlay sessions he would conduct in the church on Saturday afternoons several times a year.

Father Peter Maher at Burkett Foundation Dinner 5 November 2017

InterPlay is a personal development movement, about movement of the body and its relationship with the mind. It has nothing to do with the Catholic Church or religion, and Peter's adversaries in the Church probably criticised him for conducting the sessions on church property and for being on the Board of its Sydney organisation. If you wanted to, you could describe it as godless.

Yet more than many other activities, I think it holds the key to the rebuilding of the Catholic Church after the sexual abuse crisis, in its promotion of a right relationship with the body. Its stated goal is to 'unlock the wisdom of the body... [to] enable you to find your creative power, collaborate with others, expand your personal awareness and discover your full potential'.


Links: Liston Faithworks Herald InterPlay

 

Digital disruption fails to diminish Camino pilgrimage

This morning I read two articles. One was about the prospect that software and artificial intelligence will disrupt most traditional industries and professions within the next few years. The other was about the eighty fold increase over the past three decades in the number of pilgrims travelling the various routes of the Camino to the city of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

Camino article from La Croix

The first is one of those presentations on disruption that itself sets out to disrupt the way people feel, think and act, and relate to each other. It has a deliberately scary title: 'Must read article on how our lives will change dramatically in 20 years'. It suggests that some people will have their way of life destroyed while others will benefit from access to new opportunities to improve their lives, especially in health and education.

What uber and airbnb have done to the taxi and hotel industries is just the beginning. Many lawyers and health professionals will lose their jobs as tools such as the IBM Watson natural language question answering computer system take told.

Must Read article on digital disruption

We'll have legal advice 'within seconds, with 90% accuracy compared with 70% accuracy when done by humans'. Meanwhile solar power will give us cheap electricity, and that will give us abundant water with desalination. Everybody on the planet will eventually have as much clean water as they want for nearly no cost.

The shift to reliance on software and artificial intelligence is largely a transition from the analogue to the digital world, probably the most dramatic change in the history of human civilisation.

But we're faced with a condundrum. Our problems are solved in a flash but our lives have become less satisfying because we are less tactile and grounded in the way we live.

Perhaps this has something to do with the statistic about the eighty fold increase in the number of Camino pilgrims. that I read in the article in La Croix International. In the digital age, spiritual quest and our continuing need to put 'boots on the ground' are still important for most people.

Camino pilgrims graph

What is most interesting to me is that only a third of the Camino pilgrims are doing it 'strictly for religious reasons'. That refers to observance of the Catholic rituals associated with the Way of St James that dates back to the Middle Ages.

I infer from this statistic that the two thirds majority have either a non-sectarian spiritual purpose, or they're using it as a digital detox, literally putting their boots on the ground.

This month the French and Spanish bishops issued a pastoral letter that expressed both their alarm at the Camino statistics' evidence pointing to dechristianisation, and excitement at the opportunity this represents to evangelise the non-believing pilgrims.

They want to 're-spiritualise' the journey by promoting a 'Christian' hospitality that is distinct from ordinary non-sectarian hospitality. I hope it leads to much conversation between believers and non-believers. Also market research on the part of the bishops, as they seek to find out why the Camino is relevant to the majority of the pilgrims but the Church is not.


Links: Camino disruption Wikipedia

Morbid fascination for the recently deceased

Yesterday I enjoyed Eureka Street's article about a writer exercising his 'morbid fascination for the recently deceased' by reading the death notices in the newspaper.

'[They] offer up the real inhabitants of our world - our neighbours and bosses, our friends and partners, our mothers, our fathers, our grandparents... These people are not the airbrushed celebrities, political blowhards or violent predators that often adorn the front pages.'

Sydney Morning Herald Death Notices

I have a similar morbid fascination. In today's Sydney Morning Herald death notices, I read about Barry. He was 'a unique man who faced life with positivity, determination and a smile that could light up a room'.

He will be 'greatly missed', but the notice promises that his family and friends will 'remember his wacky jokes, shaggy dog stories and universal theories'.

I wish that I too could enjoy some of Barry's jokes, stories and theories. But death notices don't go beyond the bare bones of the person's life. This kind of detail is shared only if the person is famous, and it's in the obituaries rather than the death notices.

SMH front page

Unusually today's obituary is on the front page because of its particular poignance. Its subject is not an airbrushed celebrity but the much loved blind Aboriginal singer Dr G Yunupingu, who died this week at the age of 46.

The obituary quotes a music critic's estimation that Yunupingu possessed 'the greatest voice this continent has ever recorded', one 'so beautiful and so emotion-laden that it invest[ed] every song with a passion and pathos which [were] quite overwhelming'.

In a way the complementarity of having both the paid death notices and the featured obituaries works well. Unfortunately, in terms of accessibility it does not fare well in the transition from its more intuitive presentation in print to obscurity in the now more significant online versions of the newspapers.

Sydney Morning Herald Obituaries

The death notices are very difficult to find, at least in the Sydney Morning Herald. You need to scroll to the bottom of the home page and click on 'Tributes' under 'Classifieds'. Sadly the message of this is that the deaths of ordinary people don't matter.

But the same can also be said for the lives of the famous that are written up in the obituaries. Curiously you need to click through to the 'Comment' section and go through to the second tier of the submenu there to find the 'Obituaries' link.

Worse than that, the obituaries page - headed 'Timelines' - no longer appears in the print edition every day. But only when there is space to fill. The Herald admitted as much to me when I called them a year or two ago to ask why they were not appearing every day as they had in the past. I was told they were not a priority: 'We don't always have space for the obituaries'.


Links: morbid notices obituaries

Escape from the time famine of modern life

This morning I was interested to read an article in The New Daily about time poverty. The headline was 'Money really can buy happiness, if spent on the right thing - time'.

It's based on a global study that found working adults reported greater happiness after spending money on time-saving rather than material purchases. It said this helped them escape the 'time famine of modern life'.

hourglass

I don't particularly like the idea that busy rich people can buy their way out of time poverty by employing servants. But it is good to hear it said that those who are chronically unemployed have the upper hand in time wealth, and that time wealth is a more likely path to happiness and well-being than material wealth.

The article quoted local experts, including Dr Melissa Weinberg of the Australian Centre on Quality of Life at Deakin University, who said the study is not about saving time, but the freedom to choose how we use our time.

'Time is a precious resource and the busier we are, the more valuable our time becomes, so it's important we feel that we are in control of how we spend the time we have.'

The implication is that those who are materially poor but time rich could develop a greater sense of self worth and empowerment, and make good use of the freedom they have to choose.

IMG_20170719_054540

They might say that they can't do anything without money, and that is true in relative terms. I would not like to see these ideas about time poverty used to excuse government policies that are increasing material inequality.

But there are many life-affirming activities that do not require us to be cashed up. Such as spending time with family and friends, reading books from the local library, and bushwalking. Even study. Most people with primary degrees are not aware that Australian universities don't charge fees for post-graduate research degrees.

People who are time poor simply don't have time to read and study, and there is a huge opportunity cost in that in terms of their total well being.

Kichijoji airbnb in Tokyo

Two years ago I retired at the age of 55 because I valued my time more than the wage and diminishing satisfaction that I was getting out of remaining in a job I'd been in for ten years.

I've chosen to use the time to get fit and to travel. I've found simple ways to do these things, so that I enjoy doing them for longer periods of time at less cost. That's why I'm leaving next week to spend five weeks living in Tokyo renting very basic airbnb accommodation that most people would look down on (pictured).

The material values of our society have conditioned us to think that we can't do anything without money, but the truth is that we can't do anything without time.


Links: New Daily study

My new best friend

For years I've had patchy wifi internet coverage in my long narrow inner city terrace house.

The connection with the Optus cable is at the front. It is very fast, usually between 60 and 100 mbps. That's faster than I'll get when the NBN arrives. I consider myself very lucky.

However by the time the wifi signal gets to my living room at the back, my connection has been very weak, often as low as 2 mbps and therefore practically unusable. I've tried various gadgets to try to strengthen the signal but none of them has worked. Until now.

Google Wifi

Last week I read about Google Wifi, a small round white box which was being released in Australia on Thursday. At first I was skeptical and did not pay much attention. But I was passing by Officeworks and thought that I would take it home to see if it worked.

It turned out that it was as easy to set up as they said in the advertising and it worked spectacularly. I now have between 60 and 100 mbps in every part of my house. I was so impressed that I went out and bought the other Google product that was released on Thursday, the Google Home speaker.

That is Google's equivalent to Apple's Siri personal assistant, in the form of a neat cylindrical box. She doesn't have a name but I suspect she's even better at her job. She has an Australian accent and can readily understand mine.

She's there on the shelf beside my bed, to answer questions and to play music and other content from the radio and from streaming services such as Spotify. If I ask her, she'll even turn on my wifi enabled Philips Hue lights.

Google Home

Hey Google! What's the average temperature in Tokyo in August? Do I need a visa to enter Japan? How do I get from Narita airport to the city? What's the population of Tokyo? How bad is Tokyo's air pollution?

Just as Google's wifi signal makes it into every crevice of my oddly proportioned house, it seems its helpful assistant gets into every corner of my life. She's there, paying attention to my every sound and utterance, in order to help me live my life.

But I'm not the only one she's helping. If I open the Google Home app on my phone, I can see a transcript of everything I've said to her. That's a reminder of what she knows about me. Moreover what she knows, so do her real human colleagues at Google and whoever they choose to pass my details on to.

So Google heaven is not necessarily the heaven where I'd like to be. My privacy is up for grabs, and so is my independence and natural human resourcefulness.

But Google's goodies are part of the convenience of modern life. Few people will say no to things that appear to make their life easier. Including me.

I won't be breaking up with the Google assistant anytime soon. But I have discovered a command that can deliver a surprisingly pleasing result: 'Hey Google! Can you give me silence'.

Feeling comfortable in the clothes I wear

I'm always fascinated by comparisons between Sydney and Melbourne. On the weekend I came across an observation about men's street fashion, from blogger Giuseppe Santamaria.

'Melbourne is a lot more experimental, more artsy - its arts culture is reflected in the people who live there, and how they express themselves. They take more risks. Whereas in Sydney, you see more of the trends.'

Giuseppe Santamaria photo from Men in this Town blog

Wherever we live, the clothes we choose to wear are a form of self expression. They say a lot about our values and who we are.

I don't wear suits. I bought an Aldi suit about ten years ago for a particular occasion. I wore it just once or twice before discarding it when I was culling my wardrobe. My previous suit had been bought for me by my mother in the 1980s. I discarded it only a couple of years ago, and surprisingly it still fitted me.

Nor do I wear ties. I bought one from an op shop for an event in 2012, and I have only one or two others in my wardrobe that date from the 1980s.

Occasionally I receive invitations to functions that my old school holds in Sydney. I always rule out attending because it is compulsory to wear a lounge suit.

Giuseppe Santamaria photo from Men in this Town blog

I don't own a lounge suit and feel strongly that I would not want to buy one for a function like this. Moreover I think the particular dress requirement is a sign that I don't belong there.

That is something I used to resent. But now I think it's just a sign of who I am, or who I have become. I have moved on from the cultural norms of my old school, even though I respect those who still feel at home with them.

Dress is perhaps our clearest and most socially apt form of self-expression. If I wear clothes that I feel I do not feel comfortable in, it is self-censorship rather than self-expression.

In the past I've paid little attention to what I've worn. Fundamentally I've been risk averse and timid (that in itself has made a powerful if unintentional statement). But as I've moved towards a greater degree of self-possession, I've begun to make more deliberate and striking choices. I'm less reliant on comments and advice from friends.

My choices are in the interest of uninhibited personal definition more than style or fashion. I'm proud of having lost weight, so I tend to wear skimpy clothes to show that off. I also wear Icebreaker merino clothes that rarely need washing, for environmental reasons and also practicality when I travel.

Giuseppe Santamaria photo from Men in this Town blog

I like bright colours, but I'm only beginning to pay attention to aesthetic and ornament in the way that I dress. I've never ever worn jewellery, and haven't even considered how such details as belt buckles and the style of my watch can influence how I feel about myself.

But I was interested to browse through the photos of Giuseppe Santamaria in his blog Men In This Town, which I've copied here. Inspired by the New York Times' unassuming longtime street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham, who died last year, he is a street photographer who steals photos of male passers by whose dress attracts his attention.


Links: comparison blog Cunningham

Aboriginal strange creatures in museum's photo studio exhibit

On Tuesday I had a few hours to fill around the South Bank cultural precinct in Brisbane.

A few days earlier I had walked past the Queensland Museum. I was not interested in the current exhibition Gladiators: Heroes of the Colosseum, which I assumed was there to attract the attention of school children, particularly boys.

I had just decided against paying to see Marvel: Creating the Cinematic Universe comic superheroes exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), which was seemingly presented to lure fans of popular culture.

Dina with Nina and Bert Cameron Moray Downs

On Tuesday I walked inside the Museum, hoping that I would find something else that would appeal to my particular interests. But no, it was mostly ancient and natural history.

There was the Lost Creatures exhibition. 'Meet strange creatures, including our very own dinosaurs, giant marine reptiles and megafauna, and marvel at the diversity and immense size of creatures from our prehistoric past.'

I challenged myself to specify exactly what it was that I wanted to see. What came to mind was social history. So I sought out the attendant, asking her if there was any social history in the museum.

She could understand exactly what I was asking and I had the sense that her taste corresponded much more with mine than that of the school age majority clientele. She said that regrettably there was almost no social history at the museum, except a few 'leftovers' from past exhibitions.

Man and woman with dead kangaroo inside a photo studio Grafton c1873

This was what I was looking for, particularly the fragments from the well received 1991 show Portraits of our Elders. It was a collection of photographic studio portraits of Aboriginal people from the late 19th and early 20th century. It was intended to demonstrate the shift from awkward and patronising depictions of 'exotic' or 'noble savage' types - a variation on the strange creatures in the natural history exhibits - to confident poses of indigenous people more in command of the situation.

There is one photo in the original collection of an Aboriginal man and woman with a dead kangaroo that was taken inside a studio in Grafton around 1873.

The most memorable print in the selection I saw was the portrait of Katie, Lilly and Clara Williams, the three aunties of curator Michael Aird's grandfather. They inspired him to create the exhibition: 'I was struck by the photograph; the beauty of my grandfather's aunties, and the confidence they demonstrated'.

Katie Lilly and Clara Williams

The well-dressed, confident Aboriginal men and women walking into studios as paying customers was set in contrast to the bare-breasted Rosie Campbell of Stradbroke Island. Aird wrote in the exhibition's book of the more dignified covered version of Rosie in photos he saw when he visited the homes of her grandchildren on Stradbroke Island.

'Not only is she fully clothed in the photographs held by her relatives, but the families have much information and many personal memories of Rosie as a person. Among the numerous photographs the family has of Rosie from the same era in which she posed bare-breasted is one of her fully clothed in the same studio setting.'

A mid-winter visit to Brisbane

I'm most of the way through my week's stay in Brisbane. My purpose is to catch up with friends and cousins, to enjoy the 24 and 25 degree mid-winter temperatures and to become more familiar with a part of Australia that is thriving culturally and economically.

Mt Coot-tha Forest

I've slowed down much more than I normally do when I travel. In this respect, last Wednesday's relaxing 16 hour train journey from Sydney set the tone. Then there's the digital detox effect of staying in a house with no internet access.

I've been able to go online only briefly by using mobile phone data, which is not a bad thing. I've walked in the nearby bushland at Mt Coot-tha, listened to the radio and read books. Most of all, I've appreciated the cluster of cultural institutions at South Bank and the nearby inner city ambience at West End, which is Brisbane's answer to my own home ground of Newtown in Sydney.

Queenslander homes

Being a frequent traveller, I naturally gravitated towards the Travellers temporary exhibition at the Queensland Art Gallery. The words at the entrance described well the experience and purpose of travel as I see it:

'Travel can capture the imagination, liberating us from the confines of the familiar... By exploring and learning more of others, near and far, a traveller might come to know themselves better'.

A theme of my travel at present is varying the speed. In other circumstances I might 'do' Brisbane in two or three days. This time I'm spending a full week here. In my two previous visits to Tokyo, I've given it just a few days. Next month I'm going there for five weeks, choosing to stay in the one location.

Jeffrey Smart The Reservoir Centennial Park 1988

At the entrance to the Travellers exhibition there's a Jeffrey Smart painting that contrasts the swift strides of two runners with the laboured steps of a woman carrying a bag. It's presented as a reflection 'on the different speeds at which we navigate modern life'.

The others whose lives I've learned more of during this trip to Brisbane include my cousins and their children, and my host. He's a friend whom I hadn't seen since I we lived in the same house 30 years ago. We've both faced various challenges and grown older and wiser and more seasoned professionally.

What we don't want to know about the Frontier Wars

When I was studying Australian history at Melbourne University in the 1980s, the now legendary Professor Henry Reynolds had just published his landmark book on the Frontier Wars.

The book was titled The Other Side of the Frontier: Aboriginal Resistance to the European invasion of Australia. It was the most thorough attempt by a professional historian to document and interpret the massacres that led to the deaths of many tens of thousands of indigenous Australians at the hands of British colonists in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Cover of Henry Reynolds The Other Side of the Frontier

It precipitated the politicisation of history in what became known as the 'history wars' of the 2000s.

On the other side of the argument was Professor Keith Windschuttle, whose book The Fabrication of Aboriginal History was discredited by a significant number of other scholars. This did not prevent his lionisation by conservative politicians during the Howard era, who subsequently gave him cultural approbation by appointing him to the ABC Board.

What was effectively an officially sanctioned minimisation of the Frontier Wars coincided with their non-recognition by the Australian War Memorial. Correspondingly the fading Anzac legend was rejuvenated and promoted by conservative politicians beginning in the the Howard era and lasting to the present day.

Scholars including those represented in the Honest History coalition have continued to call attention to this misrepresentation of history. Earlier this month, media attention was given to work on the mapping of massacres of Aboriginal Australians by Professor Lyndall Ryan of the University of Newcastle.

Frontier Massacres Map

In view of the Australian War Memorial's continuing non-recognition of the Frontier Wars, I have speculated on whether it is valid to make comparsions between our refusal to talk about the Frontier Wars and the Turkish Government's denial of the Armenian Genocide.

As I travel around the countryside, I often wonder about the indigenous people's dispossession of their lands and the fact that the while locals don't seem to know anything about it. Many towns have museums where you will see agricultural implements from the 19th century but no evidence of indigenous occupation and dispossession, violent or otherwise.

When I was growing up, I would reflect on what our farm in north-eastern Victoria would have been like before the white settlers came to clear the land and 'open it up' for productive farming. We were never told anything about Aboriginal dispossession or massacres.

I notice a yellow dot on Lyndall Ryan's map representing a massacre at Thologolong, which is about 70 kilometres by road from our farm.

DJ Duggan Illuminated Manuscript 1894

There is no yellow dot on the map at Bandiana, the location of our farm. But I would like to know what kind of hostility there was towards Aboriginies that would have driven them away from the land which became our family's farm between 1935 and 1975.

On a wall in my house in Sydney, I have an illuminated address given to my great grandfather D.J. Duggan when he was leaving the north central Victorian town of Tarnagulla in 1894 to relocate to Melbourne. He would subsequently become a politician and hold the office of Minister for Lands in the Victorian colonial government at the time of Federation.

My mother would tell me that he held that position, but I never understood what it involved. I imagine the duties would have included upholding an official policy that would have not have supported Aboriginies remaining on their lands.


Links: Reynolds mapping Honest History