Archive for the ‘Popular Culture et al’ Category

I am indebted to Pat’s Mum (*Waves! Hi*) for finding this delightful photo on her travels.

kunt

OK, so is that Chinese? Japanese? Korean? We apologise for not knowing, and anyway, whatever it is, what the hell? Is English so poorly known in this neck of the woods that no one thought to, um, call it something else? And with an exclamation mark, no less!

Which set us off searching for the word, of course. We did discover that it’s an Acronymn for the Kuwait Union for New Teachers, described as a Professional and Social organisation for expat teachers.

Also has the Saudi Arabian Department (SAD KUNTs) and The Dubai Association for Teaching (DAFT KUNTs)

As the Urban Dictionary reports, “I’m a kard karrying Kunt in Dubai so I’m a Daft Kunt”.

We could not possibly comment. For other F*** Ups just put “F*** Up” in the search box top left of this page, and enjoy.

Gabby Finlayson wearing the Audrey Hepburn-style dress

Yes, according to Lone Peak High School in Utah.

Gabi Finlayson was excited to attend a dance at Lone Peak High School. The 15-year-old girl and her mom were recently in Paris and they picked out “the perfect dress”, one that was reminiscent of iconic fashion idol Audrey Hepburn.Her happiness soon turned to shame and embarrassment. Shortly after arriving at the school dance, she was approached by school officials who said her dress was too risqué. Why? Her shoulders were showing.

Finlayson says she was angry after she was forced to wear her winter coat over her dress the entire dance, she says she felt as though the school was shaming her for what some of the boys might think.

“Somehow my shoulders are sexualised,” Finlayson said. “Like it’s my responsibility to make sure the boys’ thoughts are not unclean.”

Her mom was just as incensed:

“How have we gotten to the point that we look at shoulders as if they’re somehow pornographic? As if they are this shameful thing,” Kimball said.

Right on, Mum! Seriously, are shoulders pornographic? This dress style was popularized by Audrey Hepburn in the late 1950s and early 1960s and somehow in 2015 it is considered too risqué? Yes, some people should be embarrassed by this debacle. But, be it sure isn’t Gabby Finlayson or her mom.

(Daily Kos and others)

Another triumph for the American Taliban? Or reasonable dress restriction? What do you think, Dear Reader?

childs-white-oblong-casket

We despair at the gullibility, the laziness, and the downright stupidity of “internet generation parents” who continue to think their children are more at risk from being vaccinated than they are from catching horrible – and 100% avoidable – childhood diseases.

As a result, anti-vaccine parents throughout the world, but recently noteworthily in America and Australia, are taking decisions that are killing their children – not to mention infecting other persons via their un-protected children.

Los Angeles resident Derek Bartholomaus, who runs an excellent fact-based website called “The anti-vaccine body count” is keeping count of preventable illnesses (144,886), preventable deaths (6,312), and number of autism diagnoses scientifically linked to vaccinations (0) since June 3, 2007. He admits it is hard to convince the anti-vaccination crowd, despite research that vaccination leads to autism being totally and comprehensively debunked.

“It’s really hard because it gets into the conspiracy theorist mentality,” he said. “If it were just a rational and logical discussion, there’s no debate. Vaccines are safe and effective.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Jasjit Singh, associate director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, says she has seen her share of children die from a preventable infectious diseases.

“There is nothing more heartbreaking,” she said.

Key facts

  • Measles is one of the leading causes of death among young children even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available.
  • In 2013, there were 145,700 measles deaths globally – about 400 deaths every day or 16 deaths every hour. By no means all of these were in developing countries.
  • Measles vaccination resulted in a 75% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2013 worldwide.
  • In 2013, about 84% of the world’s children received one dose of measles vaccine by their first birthday through routine health services – up from 73% in 2000.
  • During 2000-2013, measles vaccination prevented an estimated 15.6 million deaths making measles vaccine one of the best buys in public health.

Parents need to know this.

Chickenpox can leave your child scarred for life.

Measles can kill them.

Whooping cough can kill them.

Most children are infected with whooping cough by their own unvaccinated parents.

Stories that kids can be hurt by vaccines are LIES. A proportion of all children will develop autism whether they are vaccinated or not. It’s sad, but there it is. We just want everyone to consider these statistics from the World Health Organisation.

Immunization averts an estimated 2 to 3 million deaths every year from diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), and measles. Global vaccination coverage—the proportion of the world’s children who receive recommended vaccines—has remained steady for the past few years.

During 2013, about 84% (112 million) of infants worldwide received 3 doses of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP3) vaccine, protecting them against infectious diseases that can cause serious illness and disability or be fatal. By 2013, 129 countries had reached at least 90% coverage of DTP3 vaccine.

IF THESE VACCINES WERE HARMFUL AND CAUSING AUTISM, WHY IS THE WORLD NOT DROWNING IN AUTISTIC CHILDREN?

Yet as anyone with Google and three minutes to spare can read here, autism is NOT increasing.

If you know anyone NOT vaccinating their children (especially against Measles and Whooping Cough) we urge you to ask them to do so. Be prepared to back up your opinion with facts. Because it’s this simple: children’s lives are at stake.

At the Wellthisiswhatithink desk, we are old enough to have lost relatives to preventable disease within our lifetime. Forgive us, therefore, being so blunt. We’re over it. Yes, it is conceivable that there is a tiny – TINY – risk in vaccination simply because anything that is done to the human body can cause a reaction. But simply being alive is dangerous. Breathing is dangerous. The point is that we KNOW the risk from preventable diseases and it exceeds the risk from vaccination by such a large factor that we should ignore any miniscule risk and protect our children.

Did I hold my breath for an hour or two when my daughter was given her various vaccinations? Yes I did. Would I make the same decision again? Yes, 100 times out of 100.

The Abbott government - looking very tired, very quickly.

The Abbott government – looking very tired, very quickly.

We are deeply disappointed that Head Boy Tony Abbott chose to make Sir Prince Phil the Greek an “Australian Knight” for his “contribution to charity in Australia”, made during the 60 years or so since he was plucked from minor European faux-royalty obscurity to enjoy a lifetime of shooting defenceless fauna and insulting people by marrying Her Maj.

Not, we hasten to add, because such an obviously ludicrous decision reduces still further Mr Abbott’s likelihood of holding onto the top job, which is already vanishingly unlikely in our view.

Rather, because if we’re going to hand out Imperial knighthoods – in itself a daft idea for a modern country on the other side of the planet, and supposedly no longer aping England in the 1950s – then there are so many other deserving candidates. We have limited ourselves to the obvious English candidates. Sort of.

Admiral Sir John-Luc Picard of Wagga Wagga? Make it so.

Admiral Sir John-Luc Picard of Wagga Wagga? Make it so. Engage!

Sir Captain John-Luc Picard

It is far too easily forgotten that if the Captain of the Enterprise had not leapt back in time at great risk to himself, Will Riker’s stay-pressed hairdo and Deanna Troi’s lop-sided top-heavy jumpsuit, then we would not be celebrating Australia Day at all. We would, in fact, not even be Australia. Rather we would be Colony 6 Adjunct 5 of Unimatrix 7 with Borg nannites for red blood cells and one of those weird eyes that shines out beams of green light for no apparent reason. Saving Earth from the Borg? That’s a hell of lot more impressive than teaching wayward teenagers to climb trees, or whatever it is that the Dook of Edinberg’s scheme actually does. PS Yes, we know John-Luc is French, but he’s a sort of Yorkshirefied version of French, and that’s OK.

Sir Phillip “Butterfingers” Tufnell

Phil-TufnellIn the not too distant past, England’s cricket team employed a decent slow bowler (and not half bad batsman, except when playing against Shane Warne) called Phil Tufnell, who has gone on to make himself popular as a TV and radio personality in the UK. His most dramatic career moments were when as a fielder for England in Australia he dropped more catches, racked up more misfields and generally made a doofus of himself so often that he endeared himself to Aussies countrywide. Retreating to the boundary after a bowling spell, Tufnell’s mood was scarcely lightened by an inspired sledge from somewhere among the braggarts, brawlers and boozers in the MCG crowd, although he can laugh about it now. “Oi, Tufnell! Lend us your brain, we’re building an idiot,” bellowed his latest admirer. We witnessed with our own eyes at the MCG a banner being unfurled that read “Hey Phil, chuck it to us, we’ll throw it back for you”, a commentary on his less than stellar long throws back to the wicket-keeper. And when he announced his retirement from Test cricket the Australian Tuffnell Academy of Fielding announced a national day of mourning. It seems only reasonable, if we’re handing out knighthoods for Poms, that this Phil rather than Phil Windsor belatedly gets his for keeping us more entertained than most of the rest of the cricketing world put together.

divaSir Makybe Diva

Makybe Diva is a British-bred, Australian-trained thoroughbred that became the first racehorse to win the famed Melbourne Cup on three occasions: 2003, 2004, and 2005. In 2005, she also won the Cox Plate. Makybe Diva is the highest stakes-earner in Australasian horse racing history, with winnings of more than A$14 million when she retired on 1 November 2005, and is one of only five horses to have won the Cup more than once in the long history of the event, which was first run in 1861, and the only mare among the list of multiple winners, and is one of only 14 female horses (11 mares and three fillies) to have won the Cup. Yes, of course, we know that this should really mean she should be Dame Makybe Diva, not Sir Makybe Diva, but we are stretching a point. We can’t think of anything more Australian than to make a horse a Knight, especially one that made plenty of punters a sizeable packet over the years, so there it is.

Sir Edward John “Eddie” Izzard of the Death Star

Eddie Izzard is an stand-up comedian, actor and writer. His comedy style takes the form of rambling, whimsical monologue and self-referential pantomime. He is also, in our opinion, responsible for the single funniest three minutes of stand up ever written,Eddie-Izzard to wit, “There must have been a canteen on the Death Star”, a bizarre envisioning of Darth Vader heading to the Death Star canteen for lunch between blowing up planets here and there on behalf of the Evil Empire.

It was brought brilliantly to life using Lego characters as seen in the following video, which has caused more joyous weeping around computer screens than just about anything else we can think of, and thus deserves a knighthood in and of itself. Interestingly, Izzard was actually born in Aden, so although he’s of English descent (and has also resided in Northern Ireland and Wales) he’s also sort of vaguely connected to the Middle East, making him spozzingly current and topical and wow. He also likes dressing up in women’s clothing, which would just be so annoying for our current cretinous Prime Minister that it makes him a perfect choice.

And last but not least:

skippySir Skippy

For a generation, Australians have been understood by the rest of the world as a fun-loving bunch of larrikins who can talk to kangaroos.

“What’s that, Skippy? Uncle Tony has fallen down a well? We need to go get Constable Bob to rescue him? What’s that, Skip? If we don’t get there soon he might die?

I’ve got bad news for you, Skip. Mum needs us home for tea. Here, have a knighthood instead.”

So what about you, Dear Reader?

Which English-ish person or animal should have received a knighthood before Prince Phillip?

Don’t hold back.

The commonest illness on earth that turns lives into misery. Yet in many cases, we can make a huge contribution to our own recovery.

The commonest illness on earth that turns lives into misery. Yet in many cases, we can make a huge contribution to our own recovery.

At various stages in the last 56 years, I, like most people, have been prone to anxiety.

In my case, facing a dreadful crisis at one point in my life, it tipped over into full-blown Obsessional Compulsive Disorder and Depression. (Search for either of those terms on this blog for more information.)

Nowadays, perhaps with the benefit of middle aged perspective, (the clear realisation that one will survive most things and come out stronger, given time, and therefore it can be excellent practice to just to try and “roll with the punches” – indeed, the greatest gift of middle age is patience) I am less likely to fall prone to the misery of anxiety.

Perhaps, also, my brain chemistry is more stable, (it is notoriously less so for teenagers and young adults), or I have just learned to recognise anxiety faster, and deal with it more effectively.

In any event, now that I have taken the decision to be open about my own brushes with “mental illness” (which should, of course, be called “physical illness affecting the brain” – I am no more “nuts” than the next person) I am constantly meeting other people who struggle with anxiety disorders of one sort or another, and who often ask my advice when I pipe up about them.

Sadly, I am not an expert.

Or rather, I am expert in what the bloody illness feels like, but not really an expert in how to solve it.

What worked for me, or someone else, might not work for you. So I went looking for some help online, and found this excellent article from the Australian National University, which is well worth a read.

I have made the occasional comment myself in italics. The rest is from ANU. It’s chock full of good commonsense.

I hope you, or someone you know, finds it helpful.

The 10 best ever anxiety management techniques

These techniques fall into three typical clusters:

  • the physical arousal that constitutes the terror of panic
  • the ‘wired’ feelings of tension that correlate with being ‘stressed out’
  • the mental anguish of rumination – a brain that won’t stop thinking distressing thoughts

Cluster One: Physical Arousal

Distressing Physical Arousal – sympathetic arousal causes the heart thumping, pulse-racing, dizzy, tingly, shortness of breath physical symptoms, that can come out of the blue and are intolerable when not understood.

Even low levels of anxiety can cause physical tension in the jaw, neck and back as well as an emotional somatic feeling of doom or dread in the pit of the stomach, which will set off a mental search for what might be causing it.

Method 1: Manage your body.

  • Eat right
  • Avoid alcohol, nicotine, sugar and caffeine
    Certainly in excess. The temptation to self-medicate with alcohol particularly is a curse for those who suffer from anxiety, because it is an utterly transitory solution. As soon as the buzz wears off, one is just as (or often more) depressed, and now dealing with a hangover as well.The most intelligent comment I have ever heard about booze was “I used to drink to drown my sorrows. Then one day I woke up and discovered they’d learned how to swim.” However, in my experience, one or two drinks, especially in the late afternoon or early evening, can be helpful in “switching off” the day and settling down for an evening’s relaxation and a night’s rest. I am also advised that a good session on a treadmill in the spare room or at the gym has a similar relaxing effect.
  • Exercise
  • On going self care
    This needs to be active and deliberate. Looking after yourself is often the lowest priority for people with anxiety or depression. It should be the first.
  • Sleep
    I always rely on the rule “an hour before midnight is worth two after”. I have no idea if that has any scientific basis, but it’s true for me. Similarly, sleeping at the wrong time of the day (eg during daylight hours) can leave one with a sense of worthlessness, or having “wasted time”. That said, I think I am convinced that a short “Nanna Nap” (eg 30-60 mins) in the mid-late afternoon can be health-enhancing and lead to more productive evenings.
  • Consider hormonal changes

Method 2: Breathe

Breathing deeply and being aware of the process will slow down or stop the stress response.

I don’t know why this simple fact is so hard for stressed people to get hold of. Close your eyes. Decide to ignore, momentarily at least, whatever is troubling you. Breathe in, hold the breath momentarily, breathe out through your mouth. Empty your lungs. Repeat. Do it for 60 seconds and you can feel control of your emotions returning. It’s infallible.

Do the conscious, deep breathing for about 1 minute at a time, and do it when you are not stressed, at least 10-15 times per day – just do it every time you are waiting for something eg., the phone to ring, an appointment, the kettle to boil, waiting in a line etc.

Method 3: Mindful Awareness

Close your eyes and breathe; notice the body, how the intake of air feels, how the heart beats, what you can feel in the gut.

Breathe. Just breathe.

Breathe. Just breathe.

  • With eyes still closed, purposefully shift your awareness away from your body to everything you can hear or smell or feel through your skin
  • Shift awareness back and forth from your body to what’s going on around you

You will learn in a physical way that you can control what aspects of the world – internal or external – you’ll notice, giving you an internal locus of control and learning that when you can ignore physical sensations, you can overcome them.

Above all, resist the temptation to make catastrophic interpretations of events that bring on panic or worry. Keeping things “in perspective” allows you to feel more in control and mindful of the present.

Very few things are catastrophic in life, and even catastrophic things can be overcome.

Just decide to stop “blowing things out of proportion”.

Stop luxuriating in fear.

It isn’t good for you, and it never solves the problem.


Cluster Two: Tension, Stress and Dread

Many people with anxiety search frantically for the reasons behind their symptoms in the hope that they can ‘solve’ whatever problem it is,

But since much of their heightened tension isn’t about a real problem, they are actually wasting their time running around an inner maze of perpetual worry.

Even if the tension stems from psychological or other causes, there are ways to eliminate the symptoms of worry.

These methods are most helpful for diminishing chronic tension.

Method 4: Don’t listen when worry calls your name

This feeling of dread and tension comprises a state of low grade fear, which can also cause other physical symptoms, like headache, joint pain and ulcers. The feeling of dread is just the emotional manifestation of physical tension.

You must first learn that worry is a habit with a neurobiological underpinning. Then apply relaxation to counteract the tension that is building up.

Nothing real is causing it, so get rid of the symptoms, and enjoy life without them.

This ‘Don’t Listen’ method decreases the tension by combining a decision to simply ignore the voice of worry with a cue for the relaxation state.

To stop listening to the command to worry, you can say to yourself: “This is just my anxious brain firing wrong”. This is the cue to begin relaxation breathing (as described earlier) which will stop the physical sensations of dread that trigger the radar.

Method 5: Knowing, Not Showing, Anger

When you fear anger because of past experience, (which may be very real, and justified) the very feeling of anger, even though it remains unconscious, can produce anxiety, which does no good to you at all. To know you’re angry doesn’t require you to show you’re angry.

A simple technique: Next time you feel stricken with anxiety, you should sit down and write as many answers as possible to this question, “If I were angry, what might I be angry about?” Restrict answers to single words or brief phrases.

This may open the door to get some insight into the connection between your anger and your anxiety.

Method 6: Have a Little Fun

Laughing is a great way to increase good feelings and discharge tension. Getting in touch with fun and play isn’t easy for the serious, tense worrier.

A therapy goal could be simply to re-learn what you had fun doing in the past and prescribe yourself some fun.

In my experience, this can involve choosing to be around people who are fun, and spending less time with people who “bring you down”. When you are more on an even keel, you can deal with less cheerful people more easily. In the meantime, there’s good reason to avoid them. Seek out positive, gentle, funny people.


Cluster Three: The Mental Anguish of Rumination

These methods deal with the difficult problem of a brain that won’t stop thinking about distressing thoughts or where worry suffocates your mental and emotional life. These worries hum along in the background, generating tension or sick feelings, destroying concentration and diminishing the capacity to pay attention to the good things in life.

Therapy does not need to focus on any specific worry, but rather on the act of worrying itself – the following methods are the most effective in eliminating rumination.

Method 7: Turning it Off

If a ruminating brain is like an engine stuck in gear and over-heating, then slowing or stopping it gives it a chance to cool off. The goal of ‘turning it off’ is to give the ruminative mind a chance to rest and calm down.

Sit quietly with eyes closed and focus on an image of an open container ready to receive every issue on your mind. See and name each issue or worry and imagine putting it into the container.

When no more issues come to mind, ‘put a lid’ on the container and place it on a shelf or in some other out of the way place until you need to go back to get something from it.

Once you have the container on the shelf, you invite into the space that is left in your mind whatever is the most important current thought or feeling.

At night, right before sleep, invite in a peaceful or happy thought to focus on while drifting off.

Method 8: Persistent Interruption of Rumination

Ruminative worry has a life of its own, consistently interfering with every other thought in your mind.

The key to changing this pattern is to be persistent with your attempts to use thought stopping and thought replacement. Its important to attempt to interrupt the pattern every time you catch yourself ruminating – be aware that you’ve spent a long time establishing this pattern and it will take persistence to wear it down.

Work on having a good five minutes without worry … then another .. then a day … and so on. Be patient. Change takes time.

Thought stopping – use the command “Stop” and/or a visual image to remind yourself that you are going into an old thinking habit that just leaves you feeling uptight.

Thought replacement – substitute a reassuring, assertive or self-accepting statement after you have managed to stop the thought. You may need to develop a set of these statements that you can look at or recall from memory.

Method 9: Worry Well, but Only Once

Some worries just have to be faced head-on, and worrying about them the right way can help eliminate secondary, unnecessary worrying. When you feel that your worries are out of control try this next method:

  1. Worry through all the issues within a time limit of 10-20 mins and cover all the bases
  2. Do anything that must be done at the present time. Set a time when it’ll be necessary to think about the worry again.
  3. Write that time on a calendar.
  4. Whenever the thought pops up again say, “Stop! I already worried!” and divert your thoughts as quickly as possible to another activity – you may need to make a list of these possible diversions beforehand. Until it’s time to tackle the issue again, forget it.
    You may find, in the meantime, it quietly resolves itself.

Method 10: Learn to Plan Instead of Worry

A big difference between planning and worrying is that a good plan doesn’t need constant review.

An anxious brain, however, will reconsider a plan over and over to be sure it’s the right plan.

This is all just ruminating worry disguising itself as making a plan and then seeking constant reassurance.

It is important to learn the fundamentals of planning as it can make a big difference in calming a ruminative mind. These include:

  1. Concretely identifying the problem
  2. Listing the problem solving options
  3. Picking one of the options
  4. Writing out a plan of action
Fail to plan, and you plan to fail. Never was a truer word spoken, and especially for people who are inclined to be anxious.

Fail to plan, and you plan to fail. Never was a truer word spoken, and especially for people who are inclined to be anxious.

To be successful in this approach, you must also have learned to apply the thought-stopping/thought-replacing tools or you can turn planning into endless cycles of re-planning.

Once a plan has been made you can use the fact that you have the plan as a concrete reassurance to prevent the round-robin of ruminative re-planning.

The plan becomes part of the thought-stopping statement:

“Stop! I have a plan!”

It also helps the endless reassurance-seeking, because it provides written solutions even to problems the ruminator considers hopelessly complex.


Conclusion

These skills do require patience and determination. However, once learnt, people gain a lasting sense of their own power and competence in working actively with their own symptoms to conquer anxiety through their own efforts.

Getting control of yourself. It’s a wonderfully liberating feeling. Good luck!

In our career in the advertising business, we have spent a lot of time drooling over – prior to writing about – cars.

Car head. Car nut. Car freak. They all apply.

This work included the re-launch in Australia of the Porsche 911, which included some of the most beautiful cars imaginable.

1993 3.3 litre Porsche 911 Turbo S

1993 3.3 litre Porsche 911 Turbo S

I well remember being given one for the weekend to drive around so I could “get my head” into the brand, in preparation for the writing. In traffic approaching the freeway junction I could not help but notice the admiring glances of all around me. But by thirty seconds onto the freeway itself I knew all I needed to know, and, in fact, turned back and returned the car to the dealership. By the first flyover I was doing well over 160 kmh and hadn’t even noticed the car accelerating. Had I kept the car all weekend, I am in little doubt I would have killed myself and others.

Another personal favourite of mine of ours was when we were doing all the writing for Holden Special Vehicles (exported as Vauxhauls to the UK and Chevrolet’s to other parts of the worldf In particular, I admired the two-door HSV Coupe which revolutionised the market with its good looks as well as its performance.

2009 Holden Special Vehicles Coupe

2009 Holden Special Vehicles Coupe

During this time we coined the new slogan for HSV – “I just want one” – which we are pleased and proud to say is now one of the longest-running car slogans anywhere in the world. And it still perfectly captures the quirk nature of HSV buyers.

Anyhow, we have compiled a collection of some of the most beautiful cars that have ever been produced. We would love you to contribute your favourite, with a photo. Please click on the comments section and add in a photo, why you love the car, or a url link to a picture of it. Have fun!

Here’s our faves:

1939 BMW 328 Roadster

1939 BMW 328 Roadster, surely the most beautiful BMW ever.

1948 Jaguar XK120

The 1948 Jaguar XK120 – the owner of Jaguar said “We have created a car which is alive.”

1954 Mercedes Benz 300 SL

1954 Mercedes Benz 300 SL …

... with it's gull-win doors.

… with it’s gull-wing doors.

1958 Chevrolet Bel Air Impala Convertible - created just one year after we were born, but sadly cars didn't look like this when we were able to drive.

1958 Chevrolet Bel Air Impala Convertible – created just one year after we were born, but sadly cars didn’t look like this when we were able to drive.

Ferrari have made many beautiful cars - this 1961 250 GT California is one of our favourites, and as an interesting tit-bit, the first Ferarri ever to not have wire wheels.

Ferrari have made many beautiful cars – this 1961 250 GT California is one of our favourites.

The 2008 Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione. Frankly, it's a sexual thing.

The 2008 Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione. Frankly, it’s a sexual thing.

The Bugatti Type 57 - only three were ever made.

The Bugatti Type 57 – only three were ever made.

Quintessential Britain - the 1954 MG TF. Want.

Quintessential Britain – the 1954 MG TF. Want.

The 1930 Pierce-Arrow Model B Dual Windshield Phaeton - - just one of dozens of such cars from the period that we could have chosen.

The 1930 Pierce-Arrow Model B Dual Windshield Phaeton: just one of dozens of such cars from the period that we could have chosen.

So those are our favourites? What’s yours? Modern, antique, and everything in between.

Oh Lord. Mustn’t forget Mum’s trusty 1963 Triumph Herald that took us everywhere till it actually literally fell apart from rust. She’d never forgive us.

The smallest turning circle of any production car ever. There. you didn't know that, did you?

The smallest turning circle of any production car ever. There. you didn’t know that, did you?

There are no human beings in this world other than the taut and trim. Yeah. right.

There are no human beings in this world other than the taut and trim. Yeah. right.

 

The international phenomenon which is No Pants Day continues to grow exponentially in popularity.

Knobbly knees, pale-as-sunrise calves, cheeky buttocks and bizarre underwear. There was no shame for the thousands of commuters around the world who travelled sans trousers for the 14th No Pants Subway Ride and all its variants on Sunday.

What began as a small stunt by seven New York subway riders in 2002 has turned into a global event. The original pranksters, who formed the group Improv Everywhere, said pants were dropped and legs bared in 60 cities, including Sydney, Melbourne, London, Hong Kong and Johannesburg. On the Gold Coast, the privately-owned tram operator G:link shut it down just seconds before it was about to begin, but then that’s Queensland, where as all Aussies know the clocks are stopped at eight minutes to eight in the evening, or as we like to call it, 1952.

“It’s a celebration of silliness,” said Larry Piche, the organiser of Calgary’s No Pants Skytrain Ride. “There’s no real reason, just come out and play.”

And fair enough too. The world needs more silliness.

The premise is simple: don’t wear pants, ride the set route, and keep a straight face. But there are rules, such as being “tasteful and hygienic”, wearing “everyday” clothes from the waist up, and carrying a valid ticket.

“If questioned, you do not know any of the other pants-less riders. Tell folks that you ‘forgot to wear pants’,” organisers said on Facebook ahead of the Sydney event.

We have just one major concern.

Have all those discarding their skirts and trousers actually looked at a subway seat recently?

You know, the vomit-and-urine-soaked, chewing-gum-infested, coffee-and-coca-cola-stained subway seats we are all so used to?

As you can see from this charming video from TimeOut via YouTube, clean they ain’t.

If you can bear to watch it, the video shows clouds of dust billowing up from seats on London Underground lines as they are bashed with a rubber hammer. Testers looked at the Piccadilly, Victoria, Northern, Bakerloo, Jubilee, Central, District, Circle, Hammersmith and City, and Metropolitan lines.

Even brand new ‘S’ stock trains on the District line, rolled out over the last year, contained significant quantities of the brown dust, which is thought to be a charming concoction of dead human skin and dirt from people’s shoes. Presumably even more skin particles, now.

 

 

We really don’t think you have to have a hygiene phobia to want that extra comfort of another layer of clothing between one’s fundament and the seat. Do you?

 

Gotta love those.

Gotta love those. Classy.

 

Can anyone see anything wrong with this picture?

Can anyone see anything wrong with this picture?

Anyhow, honestly, we have other concerns.

To look at the press coverage, one would think that everyone who cheerfully dropped their daks were buffed and shaped into swoon-worthy well-muscled buttness and thighness that was crying out to be freed for world view.

Whereas we are reasonably sure that a goodly proportion of the delightfully silly people that took part are boasting hidden bits that should, at the very least, stay hidden in public.

We assure you, Dear Reader, we will not be going bare-legged (or bare anythinged)  on the train anytime soon.

Mind you. What other opportunities are there for bare-leggedness that might offer an opportunity for a good laugh without the concomitant possibilities for rampant yeast infections?

#nopantshopping. We’d like to see that.

je suis

 

No further blogs will be posted today as an act of respect for those murdered in Paris.

“If all the girls who attended Yale were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be in the least surprised.” Famous wit, author and socialite Dorothy Parker demonstrates her grasp of paraprosdokians ….

As you will know, Dear Reader, from my previous ramblings on the subject, at http://wp.me/p1LY0z-jU, a Paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way – often a pun – that causes the reader or listener to re-frame or re-interpret the first part.

It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect. For this reason, it is extremely popular among comedians and satirists. “Where there’s a will, I want to be in it,” is a famous and much-attributed paraprosdokian.

I love ‘em, and so apparently do you – so I am grateful to my good mate Scashy for this new list. Enjoy!

1. Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.

2. Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

3. I’d love to agree with you. But then again, then we’d both be wrong.

4. War does not determine who is right – only who is left.

5. Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

6. The evening news is where they begin with ‘Good Evening,’ and then proceed to tell you why it isn’t.

7. A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. On my desk, I have a work station.

8. A clear conscience is usually the sign of a poor memory.

9. There’s a fine line between cuddling and holding someone down so they can’t get away.

10. You’re never too old to learn. Often something really stupid and intended for the young.

11. To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target. (This one is especially useful in business, I have found.)

12. Change is inevitable. Except from your office vending machine.

13. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.

14. My neighbour banged on my door at 2:30am this morning. Can you believe that: 2:30am? Luckily for him I was still up playing my Bagpipes.

15. The Grim Reaper came for me last night, and I beat him off with a vacuum cleaner. Talk about Dyson with death.

16. I woke up last night to find the ghost of Gloria Gaynor standing at the foot of my bed. At first I was afraid. Then I was petrified.

17. The wife has been missing a week now. Police said to prepare for the worst. So I have been to the charity shop to get all her clothes back just in case.

18. A mate of mine recently admitted to being addicted to drinking brake fluid.   When I quizzed him on it he reckoned he could stop any time.

19. I went to the cemetery yesterday to lay some flowers on a grave.  As I was standing there I noticed four funeral guys in big black hats walking about with a coffin, Three hours later and they’re still walking about with it.  I thought to myself, , “Well, they’ve lost the plot!”

20. My daughter asked me for a pet spider for her birthday, so I went to our local pet shop and they were $70.  Blow that, I thought, I can get one cheaper off the web.

21. Statistically, six out of seven dwarves are not happy.

22. I was at an ATM yesterday when a little old lady asked if I could check her balance. So I pushed her over.

23. I start a new job in Seoul next week.  I thought it was a good Korea move.

24. I was driving this morning when I saw a roadside assistance van parked. The driver was sobbing uncontrollably and looked very miserable.  I thought to myself, ‘That guy’s heading for a breakdown.’

25. I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn’t work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.

26. Some people are like Slinkies. Not really good for anything, but you can’t help smiling when you see one tumble down the stairs.

27. Always borrow money from a pessimist. He won’t expect it back.

28. A diplomat is someone who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you will look forward to the trip.

29. Hospitality: making your guests feel like they’re at home, even if you wish they were.

30. Some cause happiness wherever they go. Others whenever they go.

31. When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Brigade usually uses water.

And perhaps my personal favourite …

32. I seem to always miss my husband. But my aim is improving.

Bushfire season has hit again, a combination of dry conditions, steady winds and plentiful fuel lying on the ground providing the perfect environment for devastating conflagrations. Worst hit have once again been the wooded, charming Adelaide Hills, scene of the deadly Ash Wednesday fires that are seared in the minds of all Aussies.

This remarkable photo shows the fire, currently running along a 238 km front, as dusk falls, the flames lighting up the early evening sky.

Terrible. Awe-inspiring. And all too real.

Terrible. Awe-inspiring. And all too real.

Fire is, of course, a natural part of our Eucalypt environment, but that knowledge doesn’t make it any easier to bear, especially for the couple of dozen homeowners (so far) who have lost everything. The day of most danger will be tomorrow, Wednesday, when a cool change will bring strong winds to fan the flames before any quenching rains will help to put it out. The temperature in the south of the state is currently around 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Our thoughts and prayers are with all residents in the Hills, and with the brave men and women from all over the country who are fighting the fires.

At this time of the year, we have all the joys of Christmas (or Channukah) and the excitement of New Year’s Eve, and then the start of a whole new year. But a much darker anniversary falls about this time of the year, too.

wounded_knee_massacre

The famous Wounded Knee Massacre occurred on December 29, 1890, near Wounded Knee Creek (Lakota: Čhaŋkpé Ópi Wakpála) on the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the U.S. state of South Dakota.

On the 28th, a detachment of the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment commanded by Major Samuel M. Whitside intercepted Spotted Elk’s band of Miniconjou Lakota and 38 Hunkpapa Lakota near Porcupine Butte and escorted them five miles westward (8 km) to Wounded Knee Creek, where they made camp. The remainder of the 7th Cavalry Regiment arrived, led by Colonel James W. Forsyth and surrounded the encampment supported by four Hotchkiss guns.

On the morning of December 29, the troops went into the camp to disarm the Lakota. In summary, one version of events claims that during the process of disarming the Lakota, a deaf tribesman named Black Coyote was reluctant to give up his rifle, claiming he had paid a lot for it.

A scuffle over Black Coyote’s rifle escalated and a shot was fired which resulted in the 7th Cavalry’s opening fire indiscriminately from all sides, indiscriminately killing men, women, and children, as well as some of their own fellow soldiers. The Lakota warriors who still had weapons began shooting back at the attacking soldiers, who quickly suppressed the Lakota fire. The surviving Lakota fled, but U.S. cavalrymen pursued and killed many who were unarmed. By the time it was over, more than 200 men, women, and children of the Lakota had been killed and 51 were wounded (4 men, 47 women and children, some of whom died later) and some estimates placed the number of dead at 300. Twenty-five soldiers also died, and 39 were wounded (6 of the wounded would later die).

This was the prelude to the massacre.

The Ghost Dance

 The Ghost Dance

In the years prior to the conflict, the U.S. government had progressively seized the Lakota’s lands. The once large bison herds (a staple food for the Great Plains peoples) had been hunted to near-extinction by European settlers The native peoples now relied nearly entirely on what they could scavenge near their enforced settlements, or whatever meagre rations allowed to them from the nearby white settlers.

Wovoka

Wovoka

Promises to protect reservation lands from encroachment by settlers and gold miners were not implemented as dictated by treaty. As a result, there was unrest on the reservations.

During this time news spread among the reservations of a highly religious shaman and prophet named Wovoka, founder of the Ghost Dance religion. He had a vision that the Christian Messiah, Jesus Christ, had returned to earth in the form of a Native American. During a solar eclipse, Wovoka said the Messiah would raise all the Native American believers above the earth and the white man would disappear from Native lands, the ancestors would lead them to good hunting grounds, the buffalo herds and all the other animals would return in abundance, and the ghosts of their ancestors would return to earth — hence the word “Ghost” in “Ghost Dance.” They would then return to earth to live in peace.

All this would be brought about by performance of the “Ghost Dance.”

Lakota holy men taught that while performing the Ghost Dance, they would wear special Ghost Dance shirts as seen by another shaman Black Elk in a vision and it was propounded that the shirts had the power to repel bullets. Settler Americans were alarmed by the sight of the many Great Basin and Plains tribes performing the Ghost Dance, worried that it might be a prelude to armed attack. Among them was the US Indian Agent at the Standing Rock Agency where Lakota Chief Sitting Bull lived. US officials decided to take some of the chiefs into custody in order to quell what they called the “Messiah Craze.” The military first hoped to have showman Buffalo Bill — a friend of Sitting Bull — aid in the plan to reduce the chance of violence. But Standing Rock agent James McLaughlin overrode the military and sent the Indian police to arrest Sitting Bull. On December 15, 1890, 40 Indian policemen arrived at Sitting Bull’s house to arrest him. Crowds gathered in protest, and a shot was fired when Sitting Bull tried to pull away from his captors, killing the officer who had been holding him. Additional shots were fired, resulting in the death of Sitting Bull, eight of his supporters, and six policemen. After Sitting Bull’s death, 200 members of his Hunkpapa band, fearful of reprisals, fled Standing Rock to join Chief Spotted Elk (later to be known as “Big Foot”) and his Miniconjou band at the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation.

McGillycuddy

McGillycuddy

Spotted Elk and his band, along with 38 Hunkpapa, left the Cheyenne River Reservation on December 23 to journey to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to seek shelter with Red Cloud. Former Pine Ridge Indian agent Valentine T. McGillycuddy was asked his opinion of the ‘hostilities’ surrounding the Ghost Dance movement by General Leonard Wright Colby commander of the Nebraska National Guard. In a letter to Colby he said:

“As for the “Ghost Dance” too much attention has been paid to it. It was only the symptom or surface indication of a deep rooted, long-existing difficulty; as well treat the eruption of small pox as the disease and ignore the constitutional disease. As regards disarming the Sioux, however desirable it may appear, I consider it neither advisable, nor practicable. I fear it will result as the theoretical enforcement of prohibition in Kansas, Iowa and Dakota; you will succeed in disarming and keeping disarmed the friendly Indians because you can, and you will not succeed with the mob element because you cannot. If I were again to be an Indian Agent, and had my choice, I would take charge of 10,000 armed Sioux in preference to a like number of disarmed ones; and furthermore agree to handle that number, or the whole Sioux nation, without a white soldier. Respectfully, etc., V.T. McGillycuddy. P.S. I neglected to state that up to date there has been neither a Sioux outbreak or war. No citizen in Nebraska or Dakota has been killed, molested or can show the scratch of a pin, and no property has been destroyed off the reservation.”

McGillycuddy was by no means the only white American alarmed at the bellicose nature of Washington’s intentions, and the likelihood of conflict with a people who had been hard done by.

General Nelson Miles sent this telegram from Rapid City to General John Schofield in Washington, D.C., on December 19, 1890:

“The difficult Indian problem cannot be solved permanently at this end of the line. It requires the fulfillment of Congress of the treaty obligations that the Indians were entreated and coerced into signing. They signed away a valuable portion of their reservation, and it is now occupied by white people, for which they have received nothing.” “They understood that ample provision would be made for their support; instead, their supplies have been reduced, and much of the time they have been living on half and two-thirds rations. Their crops, as well as the crops of the white people, for two years have been almost total failures.” “The dissatisfaction is wide spread, especially among the Sioux, while the Cheyennes have been on the verge of starvation, and were forced to commit depredations to sustain life. These facts are beyond question, and the evidence is positive and sustained by thousands of witnesses.”

Spotted Elk lies dead after Wounded Knee, 1890

The Massacre

After being called to the Pine Ridge Agency, Chief Spotted Elk of the Miniconjou Lakota nation and 350 of his followers were making the slow trip to the Agency on December 28, 1890, when they were met by a 7th Cavalry detachment under Major Samuel M. Whitside southwest of Porcupine Butte. John Shangreau, a scout and interpreter who was half Sioux, advised the troopers not to disarm the Indians immediately, as it would lead to violence. So the troopers escorted the Indians about five miles westward (8 km) to Wounded Knee Creek where they told them to make camp.

Later that evening, Col. James W. Forsyth and the rest of the 7th Cavalry arrived, bringing the number of troopers at Wounded Knee to 500. By contrast, there were about 350 Indians: 230 men and 120 women and children.

The troopers surrounded Spotted Elk’s encampment and ominously set up four rapid-fire Hotchkiss-designed M1875 Mountain Guns.

At daybreak on December 29, 1890, Col. Forsyth ordered the surrender of weapons and the immediate removal of the Indians from the “zone of military operations” to awaiting trains. A search of the camp confiscated 38 rifles and more rifles were taken as the soldiers searched the Indians. None of the old men were found to be armed. But a medicine man named Yellow Bird allegedly harangued the young Lakota men who were becoming agitated by the search and this tension spread to the soldiers.

Specific details of what triggered the massacre are debated. According to some accounts, Yellow Bird began to perform the “Ghost Dance”, telling the Lakota that their “ghost shirts” were bulletproof. As tension mounted, a Lakota called Black Coyote refused to give up his rifle; he was deaf and had not understood the order. Another Indian said: “Black Coyote is deaf.” (And Black Coyote did not speak English, either.) When the soldier persisted, he said, “Stop! He cannot hear your orders!” At that moment, two soldiers seized Black Coyote from behind, and (allegedly) in the struggle, his rifle discharged. At the same moment Yellow Bird threw some dust into the air, and approximately five young Lakota men with concealed weapons threw aside their blankets and fired their rifles at Troop K of the 7th. After this initial exchange, the firing became indiscriminate.

Soldiers pose with three of the four Hotchkiss-designed M1875 Mountain Guns used at Wounded Knee. The caption on the photograph reads: “Famous Battery ‘E’ of the 1st Artillery. These brave men and the Hotchkiss guns that Big Foot’s Indians thought were toys, Together with the fighting 7th what’s left of Gen. Custer’s boys, Sent 200 Indians to that Heaven which the ghost dancer enjoys. This checked the Indian noise, and Gen. Miles with his staff Returned to Illinois.”

According to commanding Gen. Nelson A. Miles, a “scuffle occurred between one warrior who had [a] rifle in his hand and two soldiers. The rifle was discharged and a battle occurred, not only the warriors but the sick Chief Spotted Elk, and a large number of women and children who tried to escape by running and scattering over the prairie were hunted down and killed.”That the battle may have started like this is credible. But the behaviour of the Cavalry thereafter was astonishingly cruel and unnecessarily violent. dead

At first all firing was at close range; fully half the Indian men were killed or wounded before they had a chance to get off any shots.

Some of the Indians grabbed rifles from the piles of confiscated weapons and opened fire on the soldiers. With no cover, and with many of the Indians unarmed, this lasted a few minutes at most.

While the Indian warriors and soldiers were shooting at close range, other soldiers used the Hotchkiss guns against the “tipi” camp full of women and children. It is believed that many of the soldiers killed were victims of friendly fire from their own Hotchkiss guns. The Indian women and children fled the camp, seeking shelter in a nearby ravine from the crossfire. But the officers had lost all control of their men. Some of the soldiers fanned out and finished off the wounded. Others leaped onto their horses and pursued the Indians (men, women and children), in some cases for miles across the prairies.

In less than an hour, at least 150 Lakota had been killed and 50 wounded. Historian Dee Brown, in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, mentions an estimate of 300 of the original 350 having been killed or wounded and that the soldiers loaded 51 survivors (4 men and 47 women and children) onto wagons and took them to the Pine Ridge Reservation. Army casualties numbered 25 dead and 39 wounded.

Brothers, (left to right) White Lance, Joseph Horn Cloud, and Dewey Beard, all Wounded Knee survivors, members of the Miniconjou Lakota

Eyewitness accounts of the unbridled savagery of the incident are unequivocable. One survivor, Dewey Beard (Iron Hail, 1862–1955), Minneconjou Lakota survivor said:

“Then many Indians broke into the ravine; some ran up the ravine and to favorable positions for defense.”

Black Elk (1863–1950) a medicine man of Oglala Lakota said:

“I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream … the nation’s hope is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.”

American Horse (1840–1908) a Chief of the Oglala Lakota, said:

“There was a woman with an infant in her arms who was killed as she almost touched the flag of truce. A mother was shot down with her infant; the child not knowing that its mother was dead was still nursing. The women as they were fleeing with their babies were killed together, shot right through … and after most all of them had been killed a cry was made that all those who were not killed or wounded should come forth and they would be safe. Little boys … came out of their places of refuge, and as soon as they came in sight a number of soldiers surrounded them and butchered them there.”

Captain Edward S. Godfrey who commanded Company D of the Seventh Cavalry said:

“I know the men did not aim deliberately and they were greatly excited. I don’t believe they saw their sights. They fired rapidly but it seemed to me only a few seconds till there was not a living thing before us; warriors, squaws, children, ponies, and dogs … went down before that un-aimed fire.”

Hugh McGinnis of the First Battalion, Company K of the Seventh Cavalry reported:

“General Nelson A. Miles who visited the scene of carnage, following a three day blizzard, estimated that around 300 snow-shrouded forms were strewn over the countryside. He also discovered to his horror that helpless children and women with babies in their arms had been chased as far as two miles from the original scene of encounter and cut down without mercy by the troopers. Judging by the slaughter on the battlefield it was suggested that the soldiers simply went berserk. For who could explain such a merciless disregard for life? As I see it the battle was more or less a matter of spontaneous combustion, sparked by mutual distrust …”

Civilian burial party, loading victims on cart for burial

The Aftermath

When a three-day blizzard ended, the military hired civilians to bury the dead Lakota.

The burial party found the deceased frozen; they were gathered up and placed in a mass grave on a hill overlooking the encampment from which some of the fire from the Hotchkiss guns originated.

It was reported that four infants were found alive, wrapped in their deceased mothers’ shawls.

In all, 84 men, 44 women, and 18 children reportedly died on the field itself, while at least seven Lakota were mortally wounded.

General Nelson Miles subsequently denounced Colonel Forsyth and relieved him of command. But a supposedly exhaustive Army Court of Inquiry convened by Miles criticised Forsyth for his tactical dispositions, but otherwise exonerated him of responsibility. The Court of Inquiry, however, was not conducted as a formal court-martial.

The Secretary of War concurred with the decision and reinstated Forsyth to command of the 7th Cavalry. Incredibly, given the bloody toll, testimony had indicated that for the most part, troops attempted to avoid non-combatant casualties. Miles continued to criticize Forsyth, whom he believed had deliberately disobeyed his commands in order to destroy the Indians. Miles promoted the conclusion that Wounded Knee was a deliberate massacre rather than a tragedy caused by poor decisions, in an effort to destroy the career of Forsyth. But these criticisms were later whitewashed and Forsyth was promoted to Major General.

The American public’s reaction to the battle at the time was generally favorable. Many non-Lakota living near the reservations interpreted the battle as the defeat of a murderous cult; others confused Ghost Dancers with Native Americans in general. That the basic white position was brutal and racist in nature is encapsulated by an editorial response to the event, in which the young newspaper editor L. Frank Baum, later the author of the much loved The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, wrote in the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer on January 3, 1891:

“The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extermination of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries, we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth. In this lies future safety for our settlers and the soldiers who are under incompetent commands. Otherwise, we may expect future years to be as full of trouble with the redskins as those have been in the past.”

There can be little doubt that Wounded Knee was part of a deliberate policy of what we would call today “ethnic cleansing”, that enjoyed widespread support.

Soon after the event, Dewey Beard, his brother Joseph Horn Cloud and others formed the Wounded Knee Survivors Association, which came to include descendants. They sought compensation from the U.S. government for the many fatalities and injured. Today the association is independent and works to preserve and protect the historic site from exploitation, and to administer any memorial erected there. As if to add insult to injury, it was not until the 1990s that a memorial to the Lakota dead was included in the National Historic Landmark.

Historically, Wounded Knee is generally considered to be the end of the collective series of conflicts between colonial and U.S. forces and American Indians, known collectively as the Indian Wars. But it was actually not the last armed conflict between Native Americans and the United States. The “Drexel Mission Fight” was an armed confrontation between Lakota warriors and the United States Army that took place on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation on December 30, 1890, on the very next day following Wounded Knee. The fight occurred on White Clay Creek approximately 15 miles north of Pine Ridge where Lakota fleeing from the continued hostile situation surrounding the massacre at Wounded Knee had set up camp. Company K of the Seventh Cavalry — the unit involved at Wounded Knee — was sent to force the Lakotas’ return to the areas they were assigned on their respective reservations. The Seventh Cavalry was pinned down in a valley by the combined Lakota forces and had to be rescued by the Ninth Cavalry, and an African American regiment nicknamed the Buffalo Soldiers.

Plenty Horses after his capture

Plenty Horses after his capture

Among the Lakota warriors was a young Brulé man from Rosebud named Plenty Horses who had recently returned from five years at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania.

A week after this fight, Plenty Horses would shoot and kill Army Lieutenant Edward W. Casey, commandant of the Cheyenne Scouts (Troop L, Eighth Cavalry). The testimony introduced at the trial of Plenty Horses helped to abrogate the legal culpability of the U.S. Army for the deaths at Wounded Knee.

For the 1890 offensive that included the Wounded Knee destruction, the United States Army awarded twenty Medals of Honor, its highest commendation. It seems the Government were keen to bolster the moral support for the Army’s actions: recently, in the governmental Nebraska State Historical Society’s Summer 1994 quarterly journal, Jerry Green construes that pre-1916 Medals of Honor were awarded more liberally than today, but also that “the number of medals does seem disproportionate when compared to those awarded for other battles.” Quantifying, he compares the three awarded for the Battle of Bear Paw Mountain’s five-day siege, to the twenty awarded for this short and one-sided action. Historian Will G. Robinson also noted that, in contrast, only three Medals of Honor were awarded among the 64,000 South Dakotans who fought for four years of World War II. In short, the medals were clearly part of the “big lie” that Wounded Knee was in any way justifiable. Native American activists have urged the medals be withdrawn, as they say they were “Medals of Dishonor”. According to Lakota tribesman William Thunder Hawk:

“The Medal of Honor is meant to reward soldiers who act heroically. But at Wounded Knee, they didn’t show heroism; they showed cruelty.”

In 2001, the National Congress of American Indians passed two resolutions condemning the Medals of Honor awards and called on the U.S. government to rescind them. Some of the citations on the medals awarded to the troopers, at Wounded Knee, state that they went in pursuit of Lakota who were trying to escape or hide. Another citation was for “conspicuous bravery in rounding up and bringing to the skirmish line a stampeded pack mule.”

The mass grave on Wounded Knee Hill

The mass grave on Wounded Knee Hill

St. John’s Episcopal Mission Church was built on Wounded Knee Hill, location of Hotchkiss guns during battle and the subsequent mass grave of Native American Dead, some survivors having been nursed in the then-new Holy Cross Mission Church. In 1903, descendants of those who died in the battle erected a monument at the gravesite. The memorial lists many of those who died at Wounded Knee along with an inscription that reads: “This monument is erected by surviving relatives and other Ogalala and Cheyenne River Sioux Indians in memory of the Chief Big Foot massacre December 29, 1890. Col. Forsyth in command of US troops. Big Foot was a great chief of the Sioux Indians. He often said, ‘I will stand in peace till my last day comes.’ He did many good and brave deeds for the white man and the red man. Many innocent women and children who knew no wrong died here.”

Beginning in 1986, the group named “Big Foot Memorial Riders” was formed to continue to honour the dead. The ceremony has attracted more participants each year and riders and their horses live with the cold weather, as well as the lack of food and water, as they retrace the path that their family members took to Wounded Knee. They carry with them a white flag to symbolize their hope for world peace, and to honour and remember the victims so that they will not be forgotten.

And it is for that reason that we reproduce the Lakota’s story today.

(Wikipedia and other sources)

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.