Archive for the ‘Popular Culture et al’ Category

Photo: Getty

Aussies – who suffer the highest rate of skin cancer in the world – are acutely aware of the need to guard against skin cancer. We lead the world in both prevention and cure.

Aussies all know the sun-safety adage slip, slop, slap, seek and slide - excellent advice, Dear Reader –  and now new Australian research has now found another surprising way to protect your body from skin cancer.

In a study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, researchers from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Queensland have found that over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen and aspirin can decrease your risk of developing squamous carcinoma – the most common for of skin cancer.

According to study authors, these particular drugs could work as preventative agents in high-risk people.

While studies have previously linked aspirin with a lower risk of colon cancer, this is the first time it has been connected to skin cancer prevention. After a meta-analysis of nine studies, researchers found that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) had an 18 per cent reduced risk. Non-aspirin NSAIDS had a 15 per cent reduced risk of squamous carcinoma.

We would like to think it may be another way to reduce your risk of developing these cancers,” study co-author Catherine Olsen said. “Of course, the best way is to reduce your sun exposure – that will always be the number one preventative action for skin cancers – but this might be a supplementary skin cancer control measure.”

Bad. Bad. Stupid. Dumb. Idiotic. (Only coz it's Christmas did we spare you pictures of people with half their nose removed.)

Bad. Bad. Stupid. Dumb. Idiotic. (Only coz it’s Christmas did we spare you pictures of people with half their nose removed.)

Skin cancer accounts for around 80 per cent of all newly diagnosed cancers in Australia, and the rate of incidence is higher than anywhere else in the world.

If you’re over 40, Cancer Council Australia recommends doing a full skin check every three months – more if you spend a lot of time outdoors. Look out for changes in shape, colour and size of any moles or sunspots and if you’re concerned about any changes – see your GP or dermatologist.

We suspect this is just the beginning of yet more reveals about the health-promoting properties of buffered aspirin in particular. We munch our little red pill daily. Needless to say, take your doctor’s advice.

As for the Wellthisiswhatithink household, we have had more than our fair share of cancer-y things removed from our collective skin. We have this to share.

“Shade. It’s a wonderful thing.”

The Warren Cup, from the British Museum. Roman man anally penetrating a youth, possibly a slave. Circa 1st century AD.

Many ordinary Christians are deeply conflicted by their desire to embrace homosexual brethren in the fellowship of the church, when some of their leaders are telling them that these people are sinners.

Numbers of people feel very discomfited by the current debate.

So what is the “Biblical” teaching on gays?

Opponents of homosexuality almost always treat scripture as being “literally true” in a historical sense. Certainly, that is the case currently.

It follows, therefore, that any rebuttal of their claims should also adhere to this assumption, if it is to convince them that they are wrong.

I personally believe the early stories in the Bible are no more “literally” true than ancient Norse myths. But I am prepared to put that aside for one moment, and consider this issue under the rules that the “literalists” would apply, because many argue that the oft-trotted-out “Biblical” case against homosexuality simply doesn’t appear to “stack up”.

Genesis 19: 1-28

The ancient story of Sodom and Gomorrah has been used throughout the centuries as a condemnation of homosexuality, to the point where anal sex is referred to as “Sodomy”.

And that’s the problem. It’s become a cliché. We assume it’s true, because it’s been around so long.

The verses in this story most commonly referred to as proof that the Sodomites were homosexual are verses 4 and 5: “Before they could lie down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house,from boy to old man, all the people in one mob. And they kept calling out to Lot and saying to him: ‘Where are the men who came in to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may have intercourse with them.”

Examining this scripture, the first thing we see is that all the people, in one mob, demanded that Lot bring out the visitors to them. If we are to believe that the account of Sodom & Gomorrah is a condemnation of homosexuality, then we must also accept the conclusion that the entire city consisted of homosexuals.

But if we look in the previous chapter, Genesis 18: 16-33, we see an account of Abraham negotiating with God to spare the people of Sodom, with the final outcome of God promising “I shall not bring it to ruin on account of the ten” (verse 33).

God promised Abraham that Sodom would not be destroyed if only ten “righteous men” could be found I the city.

If we are to accept the previous logic, this would mean that the “righteous men” referred to were, per se, heterosexuals.

Now it is a matter of Biblical “fact” that God (or rather, his angels) didn’t find anyone at all worth saving. But at this point, we then need to ask ourselves: what would be the odds of less than ten people in the entire region of Sodom & Gomorrah being heterosexual?

The obvious answer is “impossible”, of course.

If for no other reason than to ask, “where did all the population come from?” They were all gay immigrants, presumably, begat by parents left behind in other places that were heteroesexual? I think not.

So if homosexuality was not being referred to in this passage, then what was? Looking at the scriptures in Hebrew, we find an interesting usage of a couple of different words.

When the mob cries out “Where are the men who came in to you tonight?”, the Hebrew word that is customarily translated men is actually ‘enowsh which, literally translated, means “mortal” or “human”.

This indicates that the mob knew that Lot had visitors, but were unsure of what sex they were.

We can divine this because the Hebrew word for “man” (utilized in this same passage in Genesis 19:8) is entirely different. And one really has to ask: why would homosexuals want to have sex with two strangers if they were unsure of what sex they were?

The passage translated as “Bring them out so that we may have intercourse with them” needs further examination as well.

Other Bible translations read “so that we may know them”. The Hebrew word that is commonly translated as “have intercourse”, or “know” is yada.

But this word, yada, appears in the Hebrew Scriptures a total of 943 times. And in all but ten of these usages, the word is used in the context of getting acquainted with someone.

Had the writer intended for his reading audience to believe that the mob wanted to have sexual intercourse with the strangers, he could simply have used the Hebrew word shakab, which vividly denotes sexual activity.

Many people argue, therefore, that the correct translation should be rendered something to the effect of: “Where are the people who came in to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may get acquainted with them.”

So then, if the story of Sodom & Gomorrah was not a condemnation of homosexuality, what was it trying to convey?

Two verses in Exekiel sum up the story this way: “Look! This is what proved to be the error of Sodom your sister: Pride, sufficiency of bread and the carefreeness of keeping undisturbed were what happened to belong to her and her dependent towns, and the hand of the afflicted one and the poor one she did not strengthen. And they continued to be haughty and to carry on a detestable thing before me, and I finally removed them, just as I saw [fit]”. (Ezekiel 16: 49, 50.)

It is commonly assumed, because we’re referring to Sodom, that the “detestable thing” referred to in this passage is homosexuality.

But in fact, the Hebrew word utilized here is tow’ebah, which translated literally means “to commit idol worship”.

This can be seen in the original Genesis passage, chapter 19, verse 8: “Please, here I have two daughters who have never had intercourse with a man. Please let me bring them out to you. Then do to them as is good in your eyes.”

One has to ask: If Lot’s house was surrounded by homosexuals, which presumably he’d know as everyone in the entire region was gay apart from him and his family, why would he offer the mob women?

Note also that these women were virgins. And that the Sodomites were pagans.

Virgin sacrifices to idols were a common practice in this era. Therefore, it can easily be concluded that Lot was offering his daughters as a virgin sacrifice to appease the mob in an effort to protect the visitors.

In the Greek scriptures, the story of Sodom is summed up this way: “and by reducing the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them, setting a pattern for ungodly persons of things to come”.

This corroborates Ezekiel’s summation, once again showing that these were “ungodly persons”; in other words, idolaters, not worshippers of the true God.

If we have difficulty with the logic of 100% of any population being gay, can we rather believe in 100% of a population being adherents of a particular pagan cult? Yes, we certainly can. If for no other reason that there was no tolerance of those who didn’t share pagan beliefs in many early societies. Not to agree was to invite exclusion or execution. You were in, or you were out. The Jews themselves exercise this attitude continually throughout the Old Testament.

So the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, therefore, is almost certainly intended as a condemnation of idol worshippers, and of a greedy and inhospitable society that sought to treat visitors in a threatening manner – which was also a sin, to the early Jews, by the way.

Many people argue, therefore, that it is perfectly reasonable to propose that this key text on the judgement of this region had nothing, absolutely nothing to do with homosexuality!

Leviticus 18:22 & Leviticus 20:13

The message was clear to the ancient Israelites: semen was to be used for one purpose alone – procreation.

Spilled semen, whether by masturbation, anal penetration, or homosexuality, was not to be tolerated.

We have to place these edicts in some sort of historical context in order to understand them, if not to agree or disagree with them.

Life in those days was a “numbers game”. One of the Bible’s earliest edicts, a theme repeated through the Old Testament, was to “be fruitful and multiply”. If your tribe was numerically stronger than those around it, then good things would flow from that dominance.

(The same argument is currently used by the British National Party to argue for white Anglo-Saxon women having more children, but that’s another story.)

It’s an undeniable fact that many strict regulations were imposed on the ancient Israelites. The “chosen ones of God” understood each of these regulations to be equally important.

In the Greek scriptures, James points this fact out by stating: “For whoever observes all the law but makes a false step in one point, he has become an offender against them all.”

Fundamentalist Christians, however, selectively cite the two scriptures in Leviticus as a condemnation of homosexuality, overlooking James’ words which state, in essence, that if you’ve broken just one of the laws, you’ve broken them all.

So why do we focus so frequently on homosexuality?

Leviticus 19:27, for example, condemns haircuts and shaving. How many long-haired, bearded males attend your local Church? Or to put it another way, do we have agonised debates about Ministers who might have short hair?

Leviticus 19:19 also condemns wearing clothing made of more than one type of thread. Anybody reading this wear clothing made of 50% cotton and 50% polyester?

Taking the Bible literally, such individuals are equally guilty as homosexuals.

This leaves aside, of course, any concerns about whether or not it is still OK for us to grab our neighbours and use them as slaves, or to go around killing anyone who works on the Sabbath.

When questioned by the Pharisees regarding these ancient laws, Jesus’ reply was “I came, not to destroy, but to fulfill”. In other words, Christianity and love of God and fellow man was a replacement for the strict ancient codes, many of which were no longer practical or relevant.

But let us forget, for a moment, putting things in an historical context, or the fundamentalists will simply argue that we’re “messing with the truth”.

Let us look at the arguments of those who believe these two passages don’t really condemn homosexuality at all.

Looking at the scriptures in Hebrew, one sees a different condemnation. Leviticus 20:13 states, in part, “When a man lies down with a male the same as one lies down with a woman”.

Had the writer intended to convey homosexuality being condemned here, he would have probably used the Hebrew word ‘iysh, which means “man”, or “male person”.

Instead, the author utilizes a much more complicated Hebrew word, zakar, which literally translated means “a person worthy of recognition”.

Zakar was used to refer to high priests of the surrounding idolatrous religions.

In ancient societies, surrounding the early Jews, it was believed that by granting sexual favours to the high priest (a fertility rite), one would be guaranteed an abundance of children and crops.

Taking Leviticus 18: 22 into proper context, then, one should also look at the preceding verse 21: “And you must not allow the devoting of any of your offspring to Molech”.

So what we almost certainly see here are warnings to the Israelites not to engage in the fertility rituals of the worshippers of Molech, which often required the granting of sexual favours to the priest.

Many believe that if this been a mere condemnation of homosexuals, the writer would undoubtedly have used clearer language.

Romans 1: 26-27, 1 Cor. 6: 9-11, 1 Tim. 1: 9-11

Greek, like Hebrew, is a much more descriptive language than English. As an example, while we have the word “love”, Greek has agape, storge, philia, and eros – each describing a different form of love.

Further, just as with English, the meanings of words can change over generations.

Ironically, “gay” is a classic example.

Some say that it is easy to understand why words in ancient Greek could be misinterpreted, as are the terms “men who lie with men”, “abusers of mankind”, “homosexual”, and “pervert” in the above referenced scriptures.

The two words in Greek used in the above scriptures that are commonly mistranslated as such are arsenokoites and malakoi.

Bible scholars now believe arsenokoites to mean “male temple prostitute”, as mentioned in the Hebrew scriptures at Deut. 23: 17-18.

The actual meaning of this word, however, has been lost in history, as it was a slang term which, literally translated, means “lift bed”.

The Greek malakoi, literally translated, means “spineless” (some linguistics scholars translate it as “limp”, or “coward”).

What is important to note here is that both of these words are nouns. In ancient Greek, there is no known noun to define homosexuality. It was always expressed as a verb.

So just as in the Hebrew scriptures examined earlier, it appears that the Greek scriptures actually make reference to those who engaged in idolatrous practices, much of which, as we know, centred around sex in return for favours.

Neither the homosexual nor the direct idea of homosexuality appears anywhere in these passages. Had the writer intended to make a clear point about condemnation of gays, surely the Greek verb for homosexual behaviour would have been utilised rather than these nouns which are directly related to cowardice and idolatry?

But last – and by no means least – what of Paul’s apparently incontrovertible statement at Romans 1 where “females changed the natural use of themselves into one contrary to nature and likewise even the males left the natural use of the female and became violently inflamed in their lust towards one another”?

This would appear to be a simple, trenchant condemnation of homosexuality.

But perhaps, yet again. the truth is more subtle than that.

A clue lies in Paul’s words in the earlier verses 22 & 23: “Although asserting they were wise, they became foolish and turned the glory of the incorruptible God into something like the image of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed creatures and creeping things.”

So obviously, again, Paul’s reference here is to worshippers drawn into the ever-present danger of idolatry, one danger of which is unbridled sexual licentiousness of the kind that a conservative Jew like Paul would have found abhorrent. Especially when seen against his mission to the Roman Empire, with its endless parade of cults and religions, and very lax sexual behaviour generally.

As mentioned above in examining the Hebrew scriptures, many pagan idol-worshipping religions of Paul’s day also taught that by granting sexual favours to priests, the one giving the favour would be rewarded with fertility of crops and offspring.

Many such cults were, in reality, little more than brothels with quasi-religious overtones.

Unfortunately, of course, we have to read Paul’s words without the benefit of knowing all the background to his letters, but it certainly seems reasonable to suppose that his attack here is on a complex set of behaviours to do with people who reject the message of Christianity and continue to adhere to older religions. It seems clear that Paul’s reference was not a dedicated attack on loving same-sex relationships, but his condemnation focused on people who were normally heterosexuals who had been prevailed upon to rebel against their own sexual nature, in the granting of sexual favours to the leaders of pagan religions, in expectation of reward by the pagan gods.

So whilst his apparent rejection of homosexual behaviour seems unambiguous, the context of the comments is much more complex.

In conclusion, nowhere in the Bible, according to many Biblical scholars, is any unambiguously negative reference made to stable, loving same-sex relationships. And after all, it is now widely agreed that anything up to 5-10% of the population identify themselves as predominantly “gay” as regards their sexual preferences. Are 5-10% of those sections of the Bible discussing relationships dedicated to condemning their choice? Undoubtedly not.

In fact, many gays argue that two positive references appear in the Hebrew scriptures of love between two people of the same sex:

2 Samuel 1:26 states: “I am distressed over you, my brother Jonathan, very pleasant you were to me. More wonderful was your love to me than the love from women.”

Ruth 1: 16, 17 states: “And Ruth proceeded to say: ‘Do not plead with me to abandon you, to turn back from accompanying you; for where you go I shall go, and where you spend the night I shall spend the night. Your people will be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I shall die, and there is where I shall be buried. May Jehovah do so to me and add to it if anything but death should make a separation between me and you’.”

And while it must immediately be conceded that no mention is made of actual sexual activity between these people, it must also be pointed out that these couples had therefore made covenants with each other. And to the ancient Israelites, a covenant was viewed as a holy bond; a powerful uniting of two people.

We all have to wrestle with the truth of this matter in our hearts. Personally, I find it much more helpful to see what the Bible is arguing for, rather than what it is arguing against. Those who are currently affected by some Christians’ negative stance towards gays and lesbians should perhaps also seek comfort in the much greater preponderance in the Bible of messages of inclusion, acceptance, tolerance and understanding.

And the injunction, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

Post Scriptum

A correspondent kindly reminded me of this hilarious spearing of the literal truth of the Old Testament, from 2002. The introductory quotation is from that era:

The power of logic and quiet humour – “Dr Laura’s” anti-gay viewpoints – for which she later apologised – sparked a worldwide internet phenomenon which did more to mock anti-gay beliefs based on the OT than anyone could have imagined.

Dr. Laura Schlessinger is a radio personality who dispenses advice to people who call in to her radio show.

Recently, she said that, as an observant Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22 and cannot be condoned under any circumstance.

The following is an open letter to Dr. Laura penned by a east coast resident, which was posted on the Internet. It’s funny, as well as informative:

Dear Dr. Laura

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can.

When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the other specific laws and how to follow them:

When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness – Lev.15:19- 24. The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination – Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this?

Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? – Lev.24:10-16. Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

Your devoted fan,
Jim

And not just because I was the Editor on the book. ;-)

soozeyHaving worked on it for a year, “I am the problem” by Soozey Johnstone is the simplest, most insightful and easiest-to-implement book on dysfunctional executive teams – how to make success happen more often and more easily, and rediscovering your organisational “mojo” – that I have ever had the pleasure to read.

One influential CEO called it “the best Australian book on business I ever read”. I am hopeful it will go on to be a worldwide best-seller.

As the blurb reads:

Is this you? Buy the book!

Is this you? Buy the book!

 

The book is designed to be a very practical “hands on” primer for anyone facing apparently intractable organisational obstacles, whether or not the organisation is recognising or facing up to those obstacles – yet.

As a Director or Manager, you can choose to act on any of the 9 obstacles: just one, or a few, or all of them. Acting on all of them would be a genuinely transformative move.

Or buy the book. Really.

Or buy the book. Really.

From personal experience I am can confirm that acting on any of the excellent advice in the book will make you happier, and your organisation much more functional and successful. Each chapter includes at the end a simple to follow “To Do” list to make implementing positive change easy and painless and there’s a wide “additional reading” section too.

Frankly, I think it will help people navigate everyday life better too, including with family and friends.

And at thirty bucks Australian, trust me, it’s an absolute steal. Incredible value.

So don’t procrastinate: buy it. Buy it for yourself, or buy it for the stressed executive in your life.

You can thank me later, and let us take this chance to wish you a Very Merry Christmas and a stress-less 2015.

#stooshpr #iamtheproblem #merrychristmas

jesus-wept

One of the more difficult things for anyone with a brain to work out is “Why?”

Why do the most terrible things happen?

Why do a bunch of suicidal terrorists slaughter dozens of wonderful, bright, inquisitive, compassionate children and their teachers in pursuit of their goals, for example?

Why does a crazed gunman shoot people in a Sydney cafe?

Why do suicidal fanatics and car bombs regular reap their bloody toll of death in countries the world over, and in the Middle East especially?

Why does a father kill his two tiny daughters to “punish” his ex wife?

Why? Why? Why? What possible purpose do all these events hold?

Is it all part of some cosmic plan? Or is it an entirely random, meaningless moment in time? Disgusting in its mundanity.

Does it represent some titanic battle between supernatural forces of good and evil? Or is it merely a dull and deadening further example of the oft-demonstrated human capacity to divorce ourselves from the consequences of our actions?

Or does all this have no inherent meaning at all? Is life merely a lonely and ultimately meaningless road, ending inevitably in death, in which the only passingly relevant question is “How did you do?” “Were you lucky?” “Were you noble?” “Were you unlucky?” “Were you base?”

Or perhaps, as some have argued, “Did you have fun?”

What do you tell the parents of a child recently dead from cancer? The wife whose husband and father of her children is killed in a work accident? The three children of the woman killed in the Sydney siege, all under ten? What do we tell them?

We are confused. We do not know if the earth is spinning off its spiritual axis, or whether there even is any axis at all.

We are torn between the siren calls of both God and Man – we can simultaneously believe the immediate and compelling emotional evidence of the supernatural in our lives – especially by contemplating coincidences so unlikely as to be highly unlikely to be random – at the same time as we recognise the rationality of the agnostic or the atheist. On balance, we believe in God, but the balance is fragile and tilts both ways. Doubt is our constant companion.

suffering

If there is a God, how could he allow us to make such a total, violently messed up miasma of a world?

How could he allow us to run riot, seemingly incapable of managing our existence, seemingly unable to place compassion for our fellow beings – and the planet as a whole – at the head of our “To Do” list?

Why did he curse us with so-called free will – if free will is merely an excuse for wanton brutality and ineffectual governance of our planet? Yes, freedom to pollute with run off from our factories is balanced by the freedom to clean up our waterways, but why give us the choice? Did we ever ask for such a terrible series of choices, that we seem so incapable of handling?

Where is God, whatever we call him, while IS behead 22 Syrian soldiers on video – video taken over some hours, from multiple camera angles? Or when they slaughter thousands of civilians and shovel them into pits? Where is God when a US drone blasts into sanguinary non-existence an innocent Afghan wedding?

Where is God when a random act of weather or an accident on a road destroys people notable for their innocence and good naturedness?

In short, where is God – where is meaning – when the innocently good die young?

No, we do not pretend to know. There is no perfectly satisfying answer to this question which has occupied – bedevilled – humankind since we learned to think.

We are drawn, though, to one piece of irrefutable logic, from psychiatrist Viktor Frankel, who so movingly, intensely and validly sought meaning in his experience of the death camps of the Nazis.

Frankel – a man who could so easily have despaired – summed up the wisdom of thousands of years of sages in all cultures when he said:

“If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering.”

 

Suffering is the one constant in life. We all have experiences that threaten to crush us – our dreams get shattered, our bodies fail us, we are submerged in our own incapacities and weaknesses – and most terribly, we all lose people we love to illness, accident, to seemingly blind fate.

And most terrifying of all, death is our constant companion. As we wake up every morning we never know if we will see another.

So what really matters, it seems to us, whether one has a comprehensively worked out religious perspective or none, is how we deal with suffering.

Do we allow it to destroy us, or do we resolutely continue to strive to live lives that answer our personal and communal driving moral imperatives, whether we source those imperatives from a religious book or from within our own rational view of how the world should be constructed?

As Kurt Vonnegut wrote in Cat’s Cradle:

 “In the beginning, God created the earth, and he looked upon it in his cosmic loneliness.

And God said, “Let Us make living creatures out of mud, so the mud can see what We have done.”

And God created every living creature that now moveth, and one was man.

Mud as man alone could speak. God leaned close to mud as man sat, looked around, and spoke.

“What is the purpose of all this?” he asked politely.

“Everything must have a purpose?” asked God.

“Certainly,” said man.

“Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this,” said God.

And He went away.”

God or no God, it is up to us to work out the purpose. And how to survive it.

compassion

The world can sometimes seem overwhelmingly awful and dark. So this Christmas – this Hanukkah – this Milad un nabi … this … December? January? … the one thing of which we are convinced is that we should all spend some time reconnecting with those we love, taking joy in little things, making those course corrections that we need in our lives, and above all showing compassion for those touched by suffering.

Because this we do know. As we are all bound by it, so we all can learn to endure it, endure it even when it tears like a maddened beast at the very vitals inside each and every one of us, and we can endure it together, yoked together by the burdens of our common suffering.

alone

Suffering is the one thing none of us escape. That is the one lesson of history that is observable, undeniable, and in its own way, comforting. The lesson – the example – of our shared humanity, and our frailty.

The realisation that we all suffer. And – whether through the grace of God or the courage of the human mind operating alone – the almost simultaneously certain realisation that we can, and do, survive.

Indeed, that surviving itself is the meaning we all search for. Until, one by one, we lay down the imperishable, insistent, ever-present burden of thought, and go to sleep ourselves.

As surely the whole world knows, yesterday and overnight a mentally-disturbed man with a long legal history bailed up 17 or so people in the Lindt cafe in Sydney, demanding to speak to Australia’s Prime Minister, and seeking wide publicity for his points of view.

We do not wish to talk about him.

We do wish to note the outpouring of grief and support from the Australian people for the families of those killed, and the victims themselves, for those terrified and injured, and for ourselves – for the whole nation – which has been deeply shocked by the scenes of the last 24 hours.

The flowers are gathering at the site of the seige. All day, Aussies have quietly turned up, written in books of remembrance, laid down flowers, and stood in silence. Many in tears, all in shock.

They have been joined by politicians and notables, police officers and emergency workers, but mainly it has been the ordinary Australians who have trekked to Martin Place to be part of the mourning.

And uniquely, and so typically Australian, a single woman’s gesture – “I’ll ride with you”- spoken quietly to a Muslim woman who was removing her hijab for fear of being abused, spat on or assaulted – all things that have happened recently – has “gone viral” and been repeated by millions of people worldwide, who wish the wider Muslim community to know that they are not blamed for the actions of lunatics or fanatics.

Muslims arriving to place flowers at the site have been especially welcomed with quiet smiles, a touch of approval on a shoulder, a gentle look.

Today is a very sad day to be an Australian. It is also a great day to be an Australian. As so often in this remarkable nation, it is the ordinary people who show the true mettle of the country, who reveal in the simplest of human ways the unique communal nature of this wide brown land.

muslim flowers

flowersflowers2

There will be other horrors. There will also, sadly, be some extremist idiots who inevitably break the seal of national tolerance.

But the true Australian spirit – the spirit of its people, not its luminaries – stood up and was counted today, under the most painful of circumstaces. I am so proud of my fellow citizens, and have never regretted for an instant asking to belong to this tolerant, good natured, welcoming and egalitarian nation, the very essence of which is “everybody comes from somewhere else.”

Our deepest sympathies go out to all caught up in this madness.

#illridewithyou, Australia.

 

bloodymachete2

 

In another appalling crime which will shock the world, Pakistani police Wednesday were looking for four men believed to have killed a couple and four of their children as retribution for a perceived “honour crime.”

Police officer Mohammed Aslam said the killings happened Tuesday in the town of Athara Hazari in central Pakistan.

Aslam said the men are believed to have hacked the family to death with axes and knives. One daughter, identified by police as Aisha, survived and relayed what happened to authorities. She and the other bodies were found after a man delivering milk to the house noticed that no one was coming to the door, Aslam said.

Astonishingly, and completely inexplicably to Western eyes, Aisha told authorities the killings stemmed from her mother’s first marriage nearly 30 years ago to another man, Aslam said. How can such hatred last for so long? Apparently it is a common cultural feature of life in some societies.

Another police officer, Mian Mohammad, said Ghulam Fatima’s son from her first marriage visited the family a few days ago. He was joined on Tuesday by three more men, who the police say helped him with the crime.

The surviving daughter told authorities that the son said he was taking revenge on her for leaving her first husband.

“It is an incident of honour killing,” said Mohammad.

In Pakistan, leaving one’s husband or marrying against a family’s wishes is extremely rare. Such actions are often perceived as crimes against the family’s honor and the woman can be killed in order to restore the family’s reputation.

Such retribution can be carried out years, even decades later. The killings are rarely prosecuted.

Action to outlaw such murders have frequently failed in the Pakistani parliament. The incidence of honour killings is very difficult to determine and estimates vary widely. In most countries data on honour killings is not collected systematically, and many of these killings are reported by the families as suicides or accidents and registered as such.

Although honour killings are often associated with the Asian continent, especially the Middle East and South Asia, they occur all over the world.

Although men are sometimes victims, the murdered are far more like to be women. In 2000, the United Nations estimated that 5,000 women were victims of honour killings each year. According to BBC, “Women’s advocacy groups, however, suspect that more than 20,000 women are killed worldwide each year.” Murder is not the only form of honour crime, other crimes such as acid attacks, (as we have previously reported), abduction, mutilations, beatings occur; in 2010 the UK police recorded at least 2,823 such crimes.

I can’t be wittering on about politics and social matters constantly. Hard as it may be to believe, Dear Reader, even I like just celebrating the simple wonders of the world around us, sometimes. So when I came across this collection of photos of sea slugs – thanks Yahoo – I wanted to share them. As you may recall, Dear Reader, sea slugs interest me. What can I tell you? Everyone’s gotta have a hobby …

Unfortunately the slugs in my garden do not look anything like the slugs that inhabit our coastal waters. And they love baby lettuces. Anyone got a better trap for slugs than a Vegemite lid filled with beer, please share.

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potterIn a move that will delight her legions of readers young and old, not to mention overload the servers on her website in all probability, British author JK Rowling will be releasing 12 new Harry Potter-based stories in the run-up to Christmas.

The official website Pottermore.com said that every day starting on Friday, until Christmas Eve she will be publishing new short stories based on fictional characters from the wildly popular franchise.

New information about Harry Potter’s arch enemy Draco Malfoy (boo! hiss!) will be revealed in one of the festive stories, as well as potion recipes and the chance to win prizes by solving “rhyming riddles”.

A statement on the website reads, “With wonderful writing by JK Rowling in Moments from Half-Blood Prince, shiny gold Galleons and even a new potion or two, make sure you don’t miss out – just visit pottermore.com and answer our rhyming riddles to unwrap a #PottermoreChristmas surprise every day”.

We can’t wait.

scarlett

That sound you hear is the cracking and shattering into a million un-mendable pieces of millions of male hearts.

You think women worldwide came over all wistful or full-blown tragic when George Clooney went off the market?

That is nothing – nothing we tells ya – to the pain being felt at the news that Scarlett Johansson has got married again in secret.

Yes, sources have revealed that new mum Scarlett Johansson has secretly wed her fiancé Romain Dauriac. He is known from his role as an editor in the Clark, a French urban art magazine and recently his management role in a creative agency.

The couple – who welcomed their first daughter together, Rose, in September – set tongues wagging after they were both spotted with rings on their wedding fingers.

OK, we get it. Froggie accent, intellectual, stunningly good looking, doesn't matter if he's got any money coz you've got plenty ... pffft. Big deal. Can he name the result in every Southampton FC game since 1979? No, we didn't think so. Big deal.

OK, we get it. Froggie accent, intellectually impressive, stunningly good looking, doesn’t matter if he’s got any money coz you’ve got plenty … pffft. Big deal. Can he name the result in every Southampton FC game since 1979? No, we didn’t think so. Big bloody deal.

“Scarlett and Romain were married in a very intimate ceremony after the birth of their daughter. They kept the wedding a big secret because they both wanted privacy,” a source confirmed to the New York Post.

Although they were expected to wed in Roman’s home city, Paris, the source says they actually married in Scarlett’s native country, the United States. The star and her journalist beau first started dating in 2012 and became engaged in August 2013.

At the time, 30-year-old Scarlett said she wasn’t going to rush into marriage as she wanted to “enjoy and really savour” being engaged. That little window of hope has been keeping men going the world over. If only they could manage to accidentally-on-purpose be having a beer in the same bar as ScarJo one night, and manage to engage her in effortlessly witty banter while sucking their stomachs in, hey – well, anything could happen, right? Just don’t actually DO it, babe, till we’ve had a chance to talk, k?

She did it. It’s over.

The marriage is a first for Romain (also now known internationally as “You lucky, lucky bastard”) and a second for Scarlett who was previously wed to Ryan Reynolds from 2008 to 2011. ScarJo has admitted to being jealous and slightly insecure about Romain. Probably because he’s, you know … French.

We wish them luck. We just know they can’t understand us, seein’ as how we’re saying it through gritted teeth, an’ all.

If it won’t play for you, click on the little YouTube sign on the bottom left on the screen.

Further comment superfluous. Enjoy and smile.

We all

I cannot strongly enough recommend that you watch this two and a half minute video. If you do nothing else this year to improve yourself as a person, do this. You will change your life, and make a hugely positive to the lives of those around you. Personally, we are going to watch it again and again.

In this beautifully animated RSA Short, Dr Brené Brown reminds us that we can only create a genuine empathic connection if we are brave enough to really get in touch with our own fragilities. It has reached nearly three million views on YouTube. I frankly wish it could be seen by everyone on the planet. What a change it would make in our societies. Perhaps you could share this blogpost, on your Facebook page, your own blog, or wherever, and help that happen?

Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame.

Her 2010 TEDx Houston talk on the power of vulnerability is one of the most watched talks on TED.com, with over 15 million views. She gave the closing talk, Listening to Shame,  at the 2012 TED Conference in Long Beach.

Brené is the 2012 author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. She is also the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Gifts of Imperfection (2010), and I Thought It Was Just Me (2007).

Brené is also the founder and CEO of The Daring Way – a teaching and certification program for helping professionals who want to facilitate her work on vulnerability, courage, shame, and worthiness.

Brené lives in Houston, Texas with her husband, Steve, and their two children. You can find out more about her at http://brenebrown.com/

Anzac dead in captured Turkish trenches in Gallipoli

I wrote this poem remembering attending so many Remembrance Day services with my mother, whose husband, the father who I never knew, died at 46, a cheerful but essentially broken man, after six years of service in the Royal Navy..

I am very proud of this poem, both as a poem, in and of itself, and as an authentic expression of my feelings and some things I consider important.

I am largely a pacifist in my outlook, but I have great respect for those who put their lives on the line defending values I hold dear, and opposing tyranny.

It references not only those solemn services attended at memorials with my mother, but the many times since I have seen elderly people stand and pay their respects to the dead of both World Wars, and other wars.

Anzac DayThere is a wave of emotion sweeping Australia at the moment when Anzac day rolls around, with record numbers of people attending Dawn Services both around the country and in places overseas such as Papua New Guinea and Galipolli.

Increasingly, those people have young faces. The great grandchildren, grandchildren and children of those who were wounded, broken, and died. Why the sudden upsurge of interest? Perhaps younger people today look back to a past when the issues were simpler and convictions stronger.

I am also sure that the 39 Australian service people killed in Afghanistan since hostilities broke out there have something to do with it. The Americans and others have lost more people, of course, but those 39 lives are a grievous loss to a country with a population as small as Australia’s, just as the disproportionate sacrifice of the World War I diggers left a scar across the country that took generations to heal: the faces and stories of those brave young people killed in Afghanistan in recent years sure focuses the mind.

I am also reminded, on this solemn day, of the most important thing ever said about conflict, which is, of course:

“War will continue until men refuse to fight.”

If you are interested to purchase my collection of poems called Read Me – 71 Poems and 1 Story - just head here.

(Article re-published for Anzac Day 2013 and Remembrance Day 2014.)

Look at her. Bright, beautiful, intelligent, her whole life ahead of her. And dead.

Georgina Bartter, 19, was found unconscious and convulsing at the Harbourlife festival at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair this Saturday.

Friends reported the teenager, one of 5200 people at the festival, took one and a half pills, before she died of organ failure.A “beautiful, outgoing girl”, Georgina would not have taken drugs knowingly, her family told 7News.

Superintendent Mark Walton says a report is being prepared for the coroner. “(A post-mortem) is a matter for the coroner and the family and that will be determined next week,” he said.

An autopsy would find what was in the pill that contributed to her death.

The teen from Longueville on Sydney’s north shore was taken to St Vincent’s Hospital just before 5pm, but suffered multiple organ failure and died.

Police arrested 78 people at the waterfront dance party for drug offences.

Superintendent Mark Walton said he’s concerned large electronic dance parties are closely associated with illicit psychoactive drugs. “It does not matter what location they are held in, there is no doubt the nature of the entertainment is intrinsically linked to that drug use.

“She fell to the ground more or less and then people started waving down the security and paramedics,” witness Andrew Demetriou told 7News. “Quite simply, you do not know what you’re taking.”

In a statement, Harbourlife organisers said their thoughts were with the teenager’s family.

“We can hardly imagine the pain and heartbreak they must be feeling and they have our deepest sympathy,” a statement on Facebook said.

Organisers said a paramedic was with the girl just one minute after she collapsed. A first-aid tent at the festival included paramedics and an emergency doctor.

Police are asking anyone with knowledge about synthetic substance sellers to come forward.

The Bartter family has told 7News Georgina would never have taken the drugs knowingly althugh they later apparently said it was “very out of character”. But whether or not she did, she certainly didn’t expect to die.

Ms Bartter was the eldest of three children and graduated from Wenona private school last year, where she was a top student.

Simon Bartter with his daughter Georgina at her 18th birthday / Picture: Instagram

Simon Bartter with his daughter Georgina at her 18th birthday / Picture: Instagram

Schoolgirl Anna Wood died after taking ecstasy in 1995

She had only just returned from a dream holiday to Europe during a study break from university.

Her close friends said they were “completely shocked” by Ms Bartter’s death and were receiving counselling last night.

“She was really lovely to everyone at school. She was the life of the party,” one friend said.

“Everyone’s in shock. She had so much potential and it was way too early.”

Schoolgirl Anna Wood died after taking ecstasy in 1995

Schoolgirl Anna Wood died after taking ecstasy in 1995

Ironically and sadly, Ms Bartter was born in 1995, the same year Anna Wood, 15, who became the face of the anti-drug war after she died from popping an ecstasy tablet at a rave party.

We have a message for the young of our country and all countries.

When you take illicitly supplied drugs you have no idea what is in them. The people who create these drugs and profit from them have no quality control, and no care for what damage they may or may not do. They simply want your money. Cocaine, for example, is regularly cut with poisons and other drugs (such as veterinary) that are not intended for human consumption. Psycho-active drugs can be a cocktail of whatever the drug maker has at hand.

You have no idea how your body will react to any illegal drug you ingest. Worse: just because you had no bad reaction last time does not mean the same will be true next time, because different drug batches contain different substances and mixtures.

We are not wowsers, by any means. We’re not talking here about the occasional puff on a joint. We are talking about the vast range of party drugs that have swept the world in recent years. You simply can’t know what’s inside what you are taking. And they can kill. Anyone. Suddenly, and without warning.

You pick which one will kill you. We can't.

You pick which one will kill you. We can’t.

We have long argued that proper quality control is the strongest reason why illicit drugs should be legalised and regulated.

The other advantages of this approach would be a generalised harm minimisation regime, fewer casualties, more immediate access to advice for drug users, better and more freely available drug information, an inflow of tax dollars to fund better prevention and care provisions, and above all draining the criminal underworld of their vast financial wealth generated from illegal sales.

Prohibition has failed, and has little or no effect on the quantity of drugs illegally entering our society. Whole countries, like Mexico, are now in thrall to the trade, with over 100,000 deaths in that country directly attributable to it in recent years.

Many leading police officers and politicians around the world agree with us that a new way must be found, and fast.

Alex Wodak is a physician and the director of the Alcohol and Drug Service, at St Vincent's Hospital, in Sydney, Australia. Wodak is a notable advocate of drug reform laws.

Alex Wodak is a physician and the director of the Alcohol and Drug Service, at St Vincent’s Hospital, in Sydney, Australia. Wodak is a notable advocate of drug reform laws.

Meanwhile the president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, Alex Wodak, said the tragedy highlighted the need for a shift away from a “criminal- ­justice ­approach” to illicit drug use.

“Instead of relying heavily on law-enforcement measures like ­sniffer dogs we should be doing what they are in Europe and be providing pill testing,” Mr Wodak told The Australian.

“You can get the pills tested at these sorts of events and they will tell you what is in them – it turns it into a less dangerous practice.”

The widespread use of sniffer dogs could be counterproductive and encourage risk-taking behaviour, Mr Wodak said. “People who are carrying substances they have bought off the streets illegally might swallow ­excessive quantities in order to get rid of the evidence quickly and sometimes this has led to death.”

We say: Until drugs are legal and quality-controlled, or until someone can tell you everything that is in a pill and you can make an informed decision about what you are putting in your body, avoid them. Unless you think seeking a good time buzz is worth risking dying for.

Rest in peace, Georgina. Our deepest sympathies to you and all who knew you.

oopsWe feel rather guilty posting these, because to be frank we couldn’t translate a single word of Engrish into any of the various versions of Chinese, and certainly not in writing.

And the fact that hundreds of millions of Asians, Europeans, South Americans, Russians and Lord knows who else speak very passable English as well as their own mother tongue while your average English plod struggles to remember a smattering of their schooldays French is a shame to us all in the Anglophone world.

Nevertheless, they’re bloody funny, so cultural imperialism be damned, here they are.

funny-chinese-sign-translation-fails-1

The interesting thing about this supermarket sign is that it actually makes sense. Fuck is the English-sounding equivalent of a Chinese character that means “Dried”.

Although personally, we think it’s a crie de cœur from children the world over.

(See our strategic use of French there? Impressive, huh?)

funny-chinese-sign-translation-fails-15

Yes, well, we’ve all eaten a bit of that in the Chinese hole-in-the-wall eatery we stumble across after a night on the lager. Moving on …

funny-chinese-sign-translation-fails-6

We love it. We’ll have a plateful of Whatever, thank you, and hold the custard. What we really love is that after toasting everyone in rice spirit for a couple of hours this is exactly what all guai lo actually say after a nineteen course banquet when asked what they’d like for dessert. The idea of actually putting it on the menu for people to point to wearily is rather apt and charming.

toilet

Last but not least, make sure you use the right toilet in the store. This one is reserved for the smallest of minorities, but that’s OK. Disabled elderly pregnant children have rights like the rest of us.

For more F*** Ups just put F*** Up in the little search box top left of this page. Have fun!

Diab

 

You can see, in this beautiful, soft face, the gentle soul of a professional who dedicated her life to helping others. A soul with hopes, fears, dreams, just like the rest of us. And now she is dead. For being a dentist.

We are posting this photograph in memory of Dr. Rou’aa Diab, a female dentist, who was arrested by the Islamic State on August 22, 2014.

She was arrested with four others in Al-Mayadeen, a city on the border of Iraq.

Without a trial, Diab was charged with the crime of “treating male patients”, and was executed by decapitation.

Dr. Diab was was beheaded for the crime of helping prevent and treat dental disease. She should be recognised by the dental community, and the world community, for her innocence, and her bravery and dedication.

And her name should never be forgotten.

May you rest in peace Dr. Rou’aa Diab.

IS are rabid animals who have slaughtered thousands upon thousands of completely innocent people. They must be put down.

So facepalm worthy, they made a statue for it.

So facepalm worthy, they made a statue for it.

OK, forget Cock Flavour Soup. I mean that was good, but we’ve gone one better.

Thanks to our eagle-eyed correspondent, we have now have what must be the all-time unfortunate packaging f*** up – yes, two in just a week!

OK, it’s from Iceland. Or at least, it’s from the frozen foods retailer called Iceland. But they speak English in both places, right?

This apparently got through the client, the marketing department, the quality control dept in the agency … no one in the retailer said anything …

Honestly. I mean, really?

And you thought the horse-meat pies was big news.

 

minge

 

Rumours of single men heading to Iceland for Christmas are greatly exaggerated. And if you don’t get the joke, which we’re sure you do, just click here. If you absolutely feel you need to. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=minge

As always, for a full list of F*** Ups we have brought to the world for group derision, just pop F*** Up in the search box top left of this page and hit Enter.

Go on, you know you want to.

This has to be the best ever. Unless, Dear Reader, you know better? And yes, we’re not idiots, we know it could be a photoshop internet meme joke thing, but at this point, sans evidence from Snopes.com, we’re treating it as a real F*** Up, especially as we have seen other equally unlikely ones that we know to be true.

Some fancy dusting, right there ...

Some fancy dusting, right there …

Meanwhile, just coz we’re nice, here’s the best mice pie recipe ever. After all, Christmas isn’t far away now, right? And Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without mince pies. This easy recipe for the rich, sticky, sweet fruits wrapped in pastry reveals why they are so more-ishly delicious.

Mince pies have been eaten as part of a traditional British Christmas since as long ago as the 16th century. Back then they were made with meat (hence the name) but now they are made with sweet mincemeat; a mixture of dried fruits, sugar, spices and brandy.

Cute new design that has become popular recently.

Cute new design that has become popular recently.

Home made “mincemeat” is quick and easy to make and there are also many great commercial brands out there to use instead. The advantage of making your own is that you can, ahem, sample it as you go. Fun for all the family. And your tummy. And the kitchen smells simply awesome.

Suet is an important part of the mincemeat and is an animal fat, so if you don’t eat meat, look out for vegetarian version or make mincemeat using an alternative fat.

Shortcrust pastry is my preferred mince pie case, some like puff pastry, you choose.

INGREDIENTS
  • 350g / 12oz plain / all purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 225g butter / 8 oz cubed or an equal mix of butter and lard
  • 1 beaten egg + 1 cold water as needed
  • 1 jar of mincemeat, shop bought or home made (see below)
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar
  • Prep Time: 25 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: Depends on size of tin used.
PREPARATION

Heat the oven to 205°C/400°F/Gas 6

Make the Pastry

  • Place the flour, butter and salt into a large clean bowl.
  • Rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, working as quickly as possible to prevent the dough becoming warm.
  • Add the egg to the mixture and using a cold knife stir, add cold water a teaspoon at a time until the mixture binds but don’t make it too wet that it is sticky.
  • Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for a minimum of 15 minutes, up to 30 minutes

Assemble the Pies

  • Choose a muffin or bun tin for the size of the pie you want. Choose from a standard 12-cup muffin tin down to small canapé size. The number of pies will depend on the size of cup you choose.
  • Dust a work surface lightly with a little flour and roll out two-thirds of the pastry to 1/8″/3mm thick. Cut circles to line the cups of your tin, don’t worry if the pastry doesn’t come to the top.
  • Fill the pastry lined tins 2/3 full with mincemeat.
  • Roll out the remaining pastry to the same thickness and cut smaller circles to fit as lids on the tarts or to be decorative, cut stars or other fancy shapes.
  • Dampen the edges of the tart bases with a little cold water and press the lids on. Make a small hole in the surface of each pie with a small sharp knife to allow the steam to escape (you can omit this if using star-shaped lids).
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 20 mins (15 mins if making canape size) or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the icing sugar.Mince pies are delicious served hot or cold on their own or with Brandy Butter.They will keep well if placed in an airtight tin – up to seven days. Depending on your personal preference, they benefit from a gentle warming in the oven before serving. As an alternative, eat them with any creamy cheese like Brie or Camembert – unexpectedly perfect combination!

Mincemeat recipe

INGREDIENTS
  • 6oz/175g raisins
  • 4 oz/ 110g sultanas
  • 10 oz/ 275g currants
  • 4 oz/110g candied, mixed peel, finely chopped
  • 6 oz/175g shredded suet (beef or vegetarian)
  • 1/2 lb/ 250g soft, dark brown sugar
  • ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 1 Bramley or cooking apple, cored and finely chopped, no need to peel
  • 4 tbsp brandy
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 150 minutes
  • Total Time: 170 minutes
  • Yield: 3 X 1 lb Jars
The other good thing about Christmas catering!

The other good thing about Christmas catering!

If you prefer, add whiskey instead of brandy.

If you prefer, have a glass or two yourself while cooking.

It’s Christmas. You’re allowed.

Nom nom nom.

 

 

clown

 

There is a curious and well-known phobia where otherwise sane, rational people are scared of clowns.

The phenomenon is relatively recent, as the white-faced red-nosed version of clowns that some people find so alarming is a construction of the 20th century. Before that people with anxiety found something else to fixate on.

Now it seems there’s good reason to be worried. At least in Europe and the USA.

Clowns attack passers by

Freakish aggressive clowns, some allegedly armed with knives, pistols, and bats are driving French towns crazy, chasing down and attacking people.

In the southern port town of Agde, about 15 ‘clowns’ were arrested in a high school car park for ‘laughing manically’ while chasing people. In nearby Marseillan, a clown was detained for damaging a car.

In Montpellier: a ‘clown’ beat a man 30 times with an iron bar and then stole his wallet. Three motorists in the area also complained of “scary clowns.”

The French freak-clown wave began in the north a couple of weeks ago, in suburban Douai. In Bethune, a fake clown got a six-month suspended jail term for threatening passers-by.

A French police statement blames the web. “Since mid-October, a rumor inspired by videos published on the Internet has created the presence of threatening and aggressive clowns in France. Symptomatic of the impact of the Internet, this phenomenon can lead to damaging individual acts and disturbances to public order”.

The ‘clown craze’ is thought to have been triggered by a viral YouTube video and a recent episode of American Horror Story featuring a killer named Twisty.

Clown attack cases didn’t begin in France though: London’s Metropolitan Police dealt with 117 clown-related incidents in 2013.

In Portsmouth, UK, a masked figure began stroking passers-by in the city streets with a single red-gloved finger. As we come from Southampton, we’d believe anything of people in that particular locale.

US police have also made dozens of clown-related arrests, most prevalent in California.

Fear of clowns? It’s understandable.

But why be scared of the very look of a clown?

Coulrophobia – fear of clowns – is difficult to understand. They straddle a cultural nexus between fear and entertainment, but are generally intended to be affectionate, especially towards children.

The phobia may grow from the fascinating concept of “the uncanny valley”. The uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of human aesthetics which holds that when human features look and move almost, but not exactly, like natural human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among some human observers.

The “valley” refers to the dip in a graph of the comfort level of humans as something moves toward a healthy, natural human likeness but does not become entirely indistinguishable from a human. Examples of the effect can be found in the fields of robotics and 3D computer animation, among others. Unless the simalcrum is perfect, some people find it disturbing – and some find it so in the extreme.

The term was coined by the robotics professor Masahiro Mori as Bukimi no Tani Genshō (不気味の谷現象) in 1970. The hypothesis has been linked to Ernst Jentsch’s concept of the “uncanny” identified in a 1906 essay “On the Psychology of the Uncanny”. Jentsch’s conception was then elaborated by Sigmund Freud in a 1919 essay entitled “The Uncanny” (“Das Unheimliche”).

Mori’s original hypothesis states that as the appearance of a robot is made more human, some human observers’ emotional response to the robot will become increasingly positive and empathic, until a point is reached beyond which the response quickly becomes that of strong revulsion. However, as the robot’s appearance continues to become less distinguishable from that of a human being, the emotional response becomes positive once again and approaches human-to-human empathy levels.

This area of repulsive response aroused by a robot with appearance and motion between a “barely human” and “fully human” entity is called the uncanny valley. The name captures the idea that an almost human-looking robot will seem overly “strange” to some human beings, will produce a feeling of uncanniness, and will thus fail to evoke the empathic response required for productive human-robot interaction.

For robot, read clown. But why would humans react this way to something which is “almost” human, but slightly different, like a clown? The science is fascinating.

 

"What do you mean you don't want to have sex with me my pretty?"

“What do you mean you don’t want to have sex with me my pretty?”

 

A number of theories have been proposed to explain the cognitive mechanism underlying the uncanny valley phenomenon:

  • Mate selection. Automatic, stimulus-driven appraisals of uncanny stimuli elicit aversion by activating an evolved cognitive mechanism for the avoidance of selecting mates with low fertility, poor hormonal health, or ineffective immune systems based on visible features of the face and body that are predictive of those traits. Put simply, we avoid mating with weird looking people.
  • Mortality salience. Viewing an “uncanny” person elicits an innate fear of death and culturally-supported defences for coping with death’s inevitability.
  • We don’t want to get sick. Uncanny stimuli may activate a cognitive mechanism that originally evolved to motivate the avoidance of potential sources of pathogens by eliciting a disgust response. The more human someone looks, the stronger the aversion to its obvious defects, because (1) defects indicate disease, (2) more human-looking organisms are more closely related to human beings genetically, and (3) the probability of contracting disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and other parasites increases with genetic similarity. To some people, clowns look sick. We don’t want to catch whatever they’ve got.
  • They mess with our brains. Thanks to a concept called “Sorites paradoxes”, when we see a character with both human and nonhuman traits it undermines our sense of human identity by linking qualitatively different categories. That’s why quasi-human monsters like vampires are simultaneously attractive and scary. And why some Halloween costumes scare the bejeesus out of some people.
  • They just don’t measure up to our expectations. There is a concept of “violation of human norms” which says that if someone looks “almost” human, they elicit our model of a another human being and we have detailed normative expectations of how they will behave. Their non-human characteristics will be more noticeable than if they were trying to be something totally non-human, giving the human viewer a sense of strangeness. In other words, a clown stuck inside the uncanny valley is no longer being judged by the standards of a clown doing a passable job at pretending to be human, but is instead being judged by the standards of a human doing a terrible job at acting like a normal person.

So there you have it. If you’re frightened of clowns, you may have deep biological reasons to be so. Although frankly, we think having your new iPhone nicked by a hoodlum is the best reason to view with alarm someone approaching you in the street looking like a refugee from Billy Smart’s circus.

Thanks to Mix FM for gathering together people’s photos of the monstrous electrical storm that hit Melbourne in the wee small hours of Monday morning and to Colin for alerting us to them.

It was a real doozey, and the traffic and train chaos from power outages and flooding the next morning was astonishing. It is only a matter of time, of course, before some religious nut blames it all on God being angry over homosexuality, abortion, or the Australian cricket team. Actually, looking at the result against Pakistan, I think the cricket team were to blame.

The Wellthisiswhatithink household was certainly bleerily woken up, with candles lit in advance of the expected blackout which for some reason didn’t occur, unplugging computers from the wall etc. We’re only sorry we couldn’t take our own photos, but the new camera hasn’t arrived yet … of that, more soon!

 

lightning melb 1

 

lightning melb 2

 

lightning melb 9

lightning melb 8

lightning melb 7

lightning melb 6

lightning melb 5

lightning melb 4

lightning melb 3

 

 

tuni-MMAP-mdThe so-called “Arab Spring” was hailed at the time in the West as the beginning of a creeping democratisation of the Middle East, belatedly joining most of the rest of the world on the faltering path to democracy, separation of powers, and so on.

What is clear is those expectations were vastly overblown.

What happened in Egypt was one nasty dictatorship was replaced by an even nastier one when “democracy” elected a Government unacceptable to the military, to the capitalists, and to the West. In Libya the West got rid of Gadaffi but a lack of central leadership meant we replaced him with a series of vicious tribal warlords controlling their own little chunk of the country. We fomented an uprising against Assad in Syria and ended up with a brutal civil war and IS. In the deeply conservative Gulf States any change has been entirely negligible. If nothing else, the West has learned that involvement in the Middle East is always a matter of herding cats.

But there is one shining example of success. In the cradle of the revolutions that swept the Arabic-speaking world, the secular party Nidaa Tounes has now won the largest number of seats in Tunisia’s parliamentary election, defeating its main rival, the Islamist party Ennahda, according to two analyses of results across the country. The Islamist party has apparently accepted the result with good grace. “We have accepted this result and congratulate the winner,” Lotfi Zitoun, an Ennahda party official, told Reuters. Zitoun said the party reiterated its call for a unity government, including Ennahda, in the interest of the country.

North Africa expert Michael Willis, a fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford University, said the decline in Ennahda’s electoral popularity reflected public discontent with their handling of the economy. “On the doorsteps, the economy was the main issue. Nidaa Tounes is seen as having the expertise to get the economy back on track.” Nidaa Tounes is 10 percentage points ahead of Ennahda. It has won 83 seats, with roughly 38 percent of the popular vote, to Ennahda’s 68 seats, representing about 31 percent of the vote, the Turkish news agency Anadolu reported after tabulating its own count of 214 of the 217 parliamentary seats.

A parallel tabulation conducted by a Tunisian election observer organization, Mourakiboun, placed Nidaa Tounes at 37 percent and Ennahda at 28 percent. Those figures were based on a random sample of 1,001 polling centers across the country, with a margin of error of 2 percent and 1 percent on the respective totals.

Young Tunisians, in particular, engaged enthusiastically with the new political process.

Young Tunisians, in particular, engaged enthusiastically with the new democratic political process.

Officials from both parties said that although premature, the counts matched their information.

Official results have not yet been released, and parties are restrained by law from announcing their own count before the election commission does. Provisional results are expected on Monday, but final results will take at least 48 hours.

Early results also showed a surprise gain for the party of the Tunisian tycoon Slim Riahi, who ran a flashy campaign that included handouts and pop concerts. Some of the smaller political parties fared badly under a new voting system, in particular Ettakatol, a coalition partner in the former government.

Nidaa Tounes, led by former Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi, 87, is an alliance of former government officials, liberals and secularists that was formed in 2012, largely in reaction to the post-revolutionary chaos under the Ennadha-led government. It was sharply critical of the Islamists’ performance and ran a campaign for a modern, secular society.

The results, if confirmed, would be a blow for Ennahda, which won a large popular vote and 89 seats in 2011 but struggled to manage rising insecurity and a sliding economy.

Tunisians filled polling stations on Sunday to elect a new Parliament, expressing a strong desire and some trepidation that, after months of political turmoil, the country would turn a corner nearly four years after a revolution.

Officials said the provisional turnout was nearly 62 percent, which election observers said demonstrated Tunisians’ support for democracy.

24The elections are the second in Tunisia since the popular uprising that overthrew President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 and set off a wave of change that was later dubbed the Arab Spring. They will bring in a new Parliament and government for a five-year term. Presidential elections are scheduled for next month.

The immediate return for Tunisians in maintaining a lid on tension and achieving a peaceful transition will be, of course, yet more tourism dollars flooding into the country. The country has also maintained close relations with Europe, and with France and Italy in particular, with growing mutual trade.

colloseumAn island of sanity in troubled north Africa, it is also an exceptionally interesting and beautiful country, with a fascinating history of civilisation going back thousands of years, notably being the home of the Carthaginian Empire which was so dominant in the Mediterranean area in centuries before Christ, and it was later occupied by Rome which made good use of its vast fertile soils to produce huge amounts of cereals, plus olive oil, figs, and more. Various waves of conquerors including Ottoman, Arab and French have created a multi-layered and outward-facing culture.

The country lies within a couple of hours flight from the major population centres of Europe. No-one could begrudge them this “peace dividend” and let us hope they continue to provide a beacon for sanity for the whole Arab-speaking world. Indeed, the rest of the region can learn much from Tunisia beyond its peaceful transition of power – it also has a large number of women MPs, a highly progressive code of individual freedom for women, Islamic extremism is rare (although not non-existent), the country enjoys a relatively open low-tariff economy, and it is accepting of Christian and most significantly Jewish minorities.

Today, we salute the Tunisian people for their fortitude and commonsense. When we rail and wail at the inability of much of the region to behave intelligently, let us look to the example of Tunisia, and hope.

Doppler Effect

Posted: October 19, 2014 in Popular Culture et al
Tags: , , , ,

ambulance night

 

The sound of an ambulance

very late in the fetid night

closes, then closer, louder,

howling, cutting machete-like

through the traffic for the ER,

then leaving us, passing

away now, quieter,

and quieter. Just how you

entered my life, in a hurry,

and left it as suddenly.

 

All there is now to tell the tale?

A wreck, and a fading echo.