Our dear friend and regular contributor Richard Ember from Texas is very fond of ranting and raving to us that CNN is a hopelessly biased bunch of left wingers who make no more attempt to be even handed in their media coverage than, say, Faux News.

He may or may not be right. Opinions are divided.

On one thing, though, surely, we can all agree.

Their copywriting is a miracle of clarity and precision.

  

So today, beavering away at the coal-face of capitalist society, we took a break to have a laugh about pushy parents – you know the type, the ones always lurking in the wings at performances – usually artistic, thespian or sporting – abusing the world from the sidelines, photobombing their famous kids, cheering over-enthusiastically and generally making a public arse of themselves as they live vicariously through their offspring.

What, someone pondered, was the right name for a collection of such people? Was there a collective noun for these horrible folks?

Someone else suggested A Smother of Parents, which had us all giggling with its appropriateness. So spread the word. A Smother of Parents. Let’s see if we can get it popularised!

murder_of_crowsCollective Nouns are a bit of a thing of ours. We all know “A Murder of Crows”, of course – that’s a favourite – but did you also know that it’s an Unkindness of Ravens?

Don’t know what the Corvus ever did to offend everyone.

Maybe the genus is on the nose because Ravens became forever associated with the Tower of London and the bloodthirsty goings on there, and Crows are carrion feeders, of course, so, you know, just generally, “ugh”.

But then again some of their close relations get off a little more easily. Jackdaws – well, they’re “A Clattering” – and Rooks are the wonderful “Parliament” of Rooks, which perfectly reflects the racket generated by a rookery. The same noun is often applied to Owls, by the way. One can surmise the former is because of the mindless noise generated across the benches, and the latter a reflection of the supposed wisdom of owls.

Some as less well known, and quite obscure. Did you know those guys caterwauling in the back alley are called a “Cluster” of cats? No idea why. Or that a group of Peacocks are (quite perfectly) called an “Ostentation”? It’s a Charm of Finches, which surely reflects their melodic chirping, but why is it a Knot of Toads? And what on earth is a “Neverthriving” of jugglers when it’s at home?

Brief_History_of_Wood-engraving_Wynkyn_de_Worde_Fishing

A group of monks seen together (in England at least) has been known since 1486 as “An Abominable Sight of Monks”, from The Book of Saint Albans (or Boke of Seynt Albans), a compilation of matters relating to the interests of the time of a gentleman. It is also known by titles that are more accurate, such as The Book of Hawking, Hunting, and Blasing of Arms. This edition credits the book, or at least the part on hunting, to Juliana Berners as there is an attribution at the end of the 1486 edition reading: “Explicit Dam Julyans Barnes in her boke of huntyng.” It contains three essays, on hawking, hunting, and heraldry. It became popular, and went through many editions, quickly acquiring an additional essay on angling. 

Interestingly, the section on heraldry contains many coats-of-arms printed in six colours (including black ink and the white of the page), and was the first colour printing ever carried out in England. Dame Juliana Berners (or Barnes or Bernes) was believed to have been the prioress of Sopwell Priory near St Albans but the book is in fact a metrical form of much older matter, going back at least to the reign of the ill-fated Edward II of England (1283-1327), and written in French: the Le Art de Venerie of the huntsman Guillaume Twici.

Anyhow, apart from the marvellous “Abominable Sight” of monks, the book contains, appended, a large list of special collective nouns for animals, such as “gaggle of geese” and the like. Amongst these are numerous humorous collective nouns for different professions, such as a “Diligence of Messengers”, a “Melody of Harpers”, a “Blast of Hunters”, “a Subtlety of Sergeants”, “a Gaggle of Women”, and a “Superfluity of Nuns”.

Sometimes there are multiple collective nouns for one item, reflecting the fact that different parts of Britain developed languages that remained quite separate until the middle ages, and thereafter continued with strong local dialects (some of which persist to this day). Thus a “Congregation of Plovers” can also rightly be termed a “band”, a “flight”, a “leash”, a “stand” or a “wing”.

Dabblers

Dabbling or Dopping Ducks, taking a break from Paddling

Ducks are even more complicated. The very obvious but nonetheless charming “Paddling” of ducks (which should only be used when ducks are actually in the water, apparently) is nevertheless contested by supporters of “badelynge” (an old Saxon word for paddling, perhaps, that has survived only in this context?), a “flush”, a “brace”, a “bunch”, a “dabbling”, a “dopping”, (possibly a corruption of dipping?), a “plump”, a “raft”, a “safe”, a “skein”, a “sword, a “string” or a “team”. Phew.

On the same bit of lake you might also spot a “Whiteness of Swans”, which is a very ancient name, also expressed as a “whiting”.

And it would be wrong of us, given our geographic location, not to remind everyone in the northern hemisphere that it’s a “Mob of Kangaroos”. And for other southern hemisphere types, it’s nice to remember that it’s “A Stubbornness of Rhinoceroses”. And for our Indian readers, don’t forget it’s an “Ambush of Tigers”. Your life may depend on it.

So what’s YOUR favourite Collective Noun, Dear Reader? Do please let us know.

And what’s your suggestion of the best possible Collective Noun for … Collective Nouns? We’ll dream up a prize for the best idea!

Just leave a comment in the box below:-) And if you like the blog, please subscribe – find the box top left of the page.

 

In yet anther example that a loosening of the brutish theocratic rule experienced by Iran’s population is still very far from being realised, a concerted attempt to intimidate and prosecute women who choose to appear on Facebook’s Instagram app, and the creative people who work with them, has just been revealed by the BBC. All forms of cultural expression in Iran are still rigidly controlled by the State, despite the election of “moderate” Hassan Rouhani as President in 2013.

 

A woman walks down a street in Tehran, Iran (28 April 2016)

Image copyright EPA The covering of hair in public has been compulsory for women in Iran since 1979

Iran has arrested eight people working for online modelling agencies deemed to be “un-Islamic”, the prosecutor of Tehran’s cybercrimes court has said.

The arrests are part of an operation that has seen women targeted for posting photos showing them not wearing headscarves on Instagram and elsewhere.

Women in Iran have been required to cover their hair in public since 1979.

The eight unnamed people were among 170 identified by investigators as being involved in modelling online. They included 59 photographers and make-up artists, 58 models and 51 fashion salon managers and designers, according to a statement from the court.

‘Sterilising cyberspaces’

The arrests were announced by the court’s prosecutor Javad Babaei during a state television programme broadcast late on Sunday that focused on the “threats to morality and the foundation of family” posed by social media. Mr Babaei claimed modelling agencies accounted for about 20% of posts on Instagram from Iran and that they had been “making and spreading immoral and un-Islamic culture and promiscuity”.

Of the 170 people found to be involved in online modelling, 29 were warned that they were subject to criminal investigation, the prosecutor added.

“The persons who reformed their behaviour after receiving a notice did not face any judicial action, and eight out of the 29 have been arrested,” he said.

A spokesman of the Iranian Centre for Surveying and Combating Organised Cyber Crimes, Mostafa Alizadeh, said: “Sterilising popular cyberspaces is on our agenda. We carried out this plan in 2013 with Facebook, and now Instagram is the focus,” he added, saying fresh operations would begin in the coming days.

There was no immediate comment from the photo-sharing site Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.

Tay Tay's girl gang at the MTV Awards in 2015

Tay Tay’s ‘girl gang’ at the MTV Awards in 2015

 

If you’ve got more than a handful of friends, it seems you may need to kick some to the kerb as science reckons our brains can’t handle more than five besties at a time.

A study by the MIT Technology Review looked at a theory by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who noticed that there was a direct correlation between people’s brains and how many friends they have – basically the bigger your brain the bigger your friendship group and the smaller your brain, the less friends you’re bound to have.

According to Dunbar, humans are only able to have FIVE best friends, with maybe another 10 close friends, 35 acquaintances, and 100 additional contacts, due to the size of our neocortex.

And if you were having doubts about his theory, Dunbar actually tested out it out recently by examining 6 billion phone calls made by 35 million people in an anonymous European country.

“The team assumes that the frequency of calls between two individuals is a measure of the strength of their relationship,” the MIT Technology Review states. The study found that Dunbar’s estimate wasn’t too far fletched: “The average cumulative layer turns out to hold 4.1, 11.0, 29.8, and 128.9 users,” researchers found — again, that’s besties, close friends, acquaintances and “contacts” respectively.

So maybe Katy Perry and Rihanna had the right idea when they chose a girl squad of two as opposed to Tay Tay’s massive army? And who are Taylor’s best besties from among the girl gang? We think the people should be told.
We reckon we’ve got at least six friends, Dear Reader. Coz we’re really, er, you know, brainy. You know who you are.

Oh dear oh dear, Channel 9 Australia.

  
No, there isn’t a Grand Final in the #EPL. It’s a league. With no finals.

There is a Final in the F A Cup. That’s a different competition.

  
And replacing it with this doesn’t help. You don’t defeat someone 2-2.

God forbid you ever win the rights to broadcast football and have to explain the offside rule.

9 News. The only news organisation on the planet who don’t understand what just happened.

Congratulations Leicester City.

Disturbing video has emerged of police in the US reportedly removing a lesbian woman from a ladies’ room because they ‘didn’t believe she was a woman’.

The video, which was posted on Facebook, begins with police officers approaching the woman in the bathroom line and asking her to leave the facility.

She responds to their requests: “I’m a f—ing female. Do I have to tell you again?”

One of the officers answers, asking her if she has ID.

 

The officers can be heard in the video asking the woman to “get out” a number of times because she doesn’t have ID. Source: Tamara McDaniel Facebook.

Another woman in the bathroom can be heard saying ‘she’s a girl’ as the same officer repeatedly asks her to leave, telling her:

“If you’ve got no ID, get out.”

It appears that at least one of the officers places their hands on the woman as she’s being moved, before they all come to a stop in the hallway where the officers point towards the door as they again tell her to leave.

At least one of the officers appears to put his hands on the woman. Source: Tamara McDaniel Facebook

Another woman can be heard in the background saying: “So you’re saying you have to have ID to go to the bathroom?” Which seems a legitimate question, and one that authorities in America might care to answer.

Blogger Tamara McDaniel posted the video to Facebook about a week ago.

 

The video has been viewed more than 2.7 million times. Souce: Tamara McDaniel Facebook

It has the caption: “Lesbian harassed and forced to leave a public restroom because the police insist she’s a man. Is this what ‘Make America Great Again’ means? This makes me very sad and I want no part of this irrational fear.”

The video has been viewed more than 2.7 million times and has more than 6,000 likes. Quite what male policemen were doing in a Ladies toilet is less clear. They also insist on calling her “sir,” which just seems like deliberate dickishness.

Meanwhile another lesbian who was ejected from the ladies’ room at the Caliente Cab Co. in Greenwich Village filed a gender-discrimination lawsuit against the Mexican restaurant Tuesday.

Khadijah Farmer, her girlfriend and a pal dropped by the Seventh Ave. South eatery on June 24, after attending the city’s gay pride parade.

But the visit was cut short when a bouncer allegedly told Farmer while she was on the toilet that a customer had complained about a man in the ladies’ room.

“I don’t go out of my way to wear pearls and pink dresses,” Farmer said. “However, I shouldn’t have to.”

Farmer admitted she’s not “the most effeminate woman in the world,” but remains outraged that she was mistaken for a man. She said the bouncer refused to look at an identification card that identifies her as a female.

“Men and women come in all shapes and sizes,” said Farmer, 28. “I should not have been thrown out of the Caliente Cab Co.”

Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, said the restaurant didn’t show Farmer much sympathy when she complained about the incident.

“Their response was that Khadijah can have a free meal, which is the equivalent of flipping us the bird,” Silverman said.

The lawsuit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court demands that Caliente Cab Co. provide sensitivity training for its workers and seeks an unspecified amount of money.

Caliente Cab Co. fired back with a statement that denies wrongdoing and accuses Farmer of being out for money. “[Farmer] is not interested at all in getting at the truth here,” the statement said, noting that Farmer was “threatening continuous weekly protests of our business rather than expose the facts to the light of day in an appropriate forum.”

So. Yeah. If you want to take a pee in today’s USA, remember your papers.

Everyone knows Australia’s legendary reputation for things that bite, sting, chew and generally act in an anti-social manner. Great White Sharks, innumerable venomous snakes, an entire nightmare full of horrid spiders, jellyfish, even an octopus that kills people paddling in rock pools.

 

Australia's redback spider

Redback spider bites are relatively common in Australia, with around 2,000 people bitten each year.

But this one takes the, er, biscuit.

An Aussie has taken himself to hospital after a venomous redback spider bit him on the penis. Yup, you read that right.

The tradesman was using a portable toilet on a Sydney building site on Wednesday morning when he was bitten.

A spokesperson for St George Hospital confirmed that a 21-year-old man was treated for a redback bite.

The redback spider, closely related to the black widow spider, is distinguished by a long red stripe on its abdomen. And its bite causes severe pain, sweating and nausea.

The BBC spoke to the owners of the property who confirmed that the man had been bitten on the penis, as described in various media reports.

He was later discharged from hospital in a stable condition.

Although there are recorded cases of deaths from redback bites, none have occurred since the development of anti-venom in 1956.

Still, no. No thanks. Nu-uh. Nope. No.

Sometimes, we can spend a few minutes we’ll never get back just being impressed, amazed, amused. I wonder if the chap who lavished Lord knows how much time, effort, skill and money on this project knew at the start how much joy it would bring people.

Enjoy.

 

PS The owner of the train set and the home is in Queensland, Australia. Queenslanders are … er … special.

Spotted this on a friend’s Facebook page. I really admire someone – in this case Laura Buskes – who has the courage and public vulnerability to talk about important issues.

More and more I’m noticing how words like “tough” and “strong” are used as praise for people, and seen to be something to aspire to. I get it, it’s an evolutionary thing; survival of the fittest etc etc. Being strong and resilient is desired because it comes from an ability to outlive your attackers/predators/competitors.

The thing I don’t like is how we romanticise these traits over traits like vulnerability and seeking help. The amount of times I’ve seen memes that point out how “someone busier than you is at the gym right now”, or how much sleep a mother has lost but she still works, or how great it is that someone never complains about their difficult circumstances. It’s all synonymous with strength, and I get it. 

LauraOn the other hand, strength is a mask. It implies that someone is dealing with some kind of pain but they push through, alone and stoney faced. It reinforces an ideal that when things are hard we should shut up and get on with it.

We don’t cry, or seek help or give up, and those who speak up are “complainers” and they’re a nuisance.

Can you see what I’m getting at? This same ideal is extended to mental health, and sure it’s getting better, but we still carry this view that the ones who cry, who break down, who admit that life is too much are the ones who are weak. And weakness is oh so bad.

We want to do everything ourselves, we want ALL the praise and we want to prove that we are worthy of admiration, so we don’t ask for help.

I don’t want to say that strength is fake and bad, but I don’t want to look at it as the alpha quality of humans. We already know that issues of emotional suppression manifest themselves into mental illness and event violent behaviour, so why isn’t there a bigger movement to encourage vulnerability?

Talking about our problems is hard; we often can’t articulate whats wrong because we aren’t encouraged to vocalise and express our pain. We often don’t have the skills to pin point why we’re hurting because as children we were told to buck up.

We have the abilities to help each other, we have the ability to offer love and support to anyone suffering. But we shroud the issue of suffering in language that implies weakness rather than honesty and openness, so we shy away from it.

Vulnerability is not weak, it’s real and it’s what makes us human. You don’t have to be tough and cold in order to be socially respected, but you do have to create room in your heart for someone to help you mend it.

Amen.

The other great resource on this topic is the famous Ted Talk on vulnerability by Brené Brown. If you haven’t watched it, you really should. it’s one of the best Ted Talks ever. So here it is.

ISIS execute 250 women and girls for refusing to become sex slaves

Mosul residents mourn the execution of women in 2015

The killings allegedly took place in Mosul, the second biggest city in Iraq, after the victims were hand-picked by militant soldiers.

The women were forced into temporary marriage, or sexual jihad, and those who refused were murdered, sometimes with their families, said Kurdish Democratic Party spokesman Said Mamuzini.

Daesh vehicles drive through Mosul. Photo: AAP

“At least 250 girls have so far been executed by the IS for refusing to accept the practice of sexual jihad, and sometimes the families of the girls were also executed for rejecting to submit to IS’s request,” Mr Mamuzini told AhlulBayt news agency.

Another official, Ghayas Surchi from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan said women were not allowed to go out alone in the city or choose their own spouse.

IS forcefully gained control of Mosul in June 2014 after the fall of the Iraqi army, but US President Barack Obama said he was positive the city would be reclaimed “eventually”.

 An Islamic State fighter holds an ISIL flag and a weapon in Mosul. Photo: Reuters

An Islamic State fighter holds an ISIL flag and a weapon in Mosul. Photo: Reuters

“My expectation is that by the end of the year, we will have created the conditions whereby Mosul will eventually fall,” Mr Obama said on Monday.

The executions echo similar killings that took place last August, when almost two dozen women from Mosul were slain for refusing sex with Islamic State soldiers.

Canadian Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in a Montreal Metro station Wednesday and took part in a random act of kindness when a person with a disability was having difficulties because of a broken down escalator.

trudeau

 

Like everything he has done so far, very classy. Note, this is not a semi-official “photo op”. The snap was taken by a passer by and posted on Twitter.

Americans are apparently so impressed with Trudeau’s leadership of his country that many are begging him to come South and run for President. Apart from that being a legal impossibility, we strongly suspect he’d have more sense.

And Liberals in the UK, still smarting from electoral near-destruction, view him as something akin to a Messiah. Especially as he took his party from third to winning a majority in one leap. A move is afoot to get him to address their autumn conference in Brighton later in the year.

Good looking, charismatic, humble, compassionate, well-educated. Little wonder women in particular find his allure almost irresistible. This is the man, remember, who almost single-handedly re-set the public debate about countries taking in Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict, and just last week spontaneously explained quantum computing to a smart-arse journalist.

His father was a remarkable man. It looks like the son is even more so.

 

FailYesterday we reported on how Facebook sometimes very obviously fails to protect individuals or groups from hate speech on its pages, even when it claims to do so.

Meanwhile, we continue to oppose racists who pop up spouting their hateful filth on otherwise reasonable threads.

Today, we were talking with the racists about the many refugees who have made a fabulous contribution to Australian society, like Michael Gawenda, one of Australia’s leading journalists and editors from Poland, Tony Le Nguyen, the Vietnamese actor and social activist, and Matur Gak, a doctor from Sudan.

When these stories were offered as evidence for the irrationality of their fear of refugees, this was the response:

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 2.07.26 pm

 

We may be mad – obsessive, quixotic, take your pick. But we are not prepared to let people assert this sort of nonsense un-challenged.

So this was our reply:

I am not sure why you would assume 95% of refugees going to Europe are male. Where do you get your facts, from? NaziOpinionsAreUs?

The United Nations has registered over 4.2 million Syrian refugees, a step in seeking asylum from other countries, and has a demographic snapshot of about half of them. Of the 2.1 million registered in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon there’s a pretty even split in gender: about 50.5% are women and 49.7% are men. For men and women, the bulk of refugees (a little under a quarter each) are between the age of 18 and 59.

It is true that in 2015 there were a surge in young men, about 62% of all migrants that have traveled to Europe in this year were men. A little under a quarter, 22%, were children and 16% were women. This is caused by two factors: firstly previous refugee flows from Syria and Iraq were heavily biased towards women, the men traveled later. Secondly, young men in 2015 were fleeing round-up forced recruitment drives for the Syrian army, and most of these young men would have been shot or made to fight their own people had they not fled.

I know you are utterly ignorant of these facts. What I don’t understand, when they are freely available on the internet by a simple Google search, is why you persist in repeating vile rubbish. Do you think you’re funny? Are you just having what passes for you as fun? Well, you say or do what you like. Most of the rest of us want to get on with building a peaceful, productive and happy country. One that the ANZACs would be proud of.

(It is Australia’s national holiday next week, to remember the Australians and New Zealanders who have fallen fighting for their country. These types often make a big play of their support for the Day. Pointing out how their opinions are exactly the crap the ANZACs were fighting against is another vital piece of agit-prop. And one they never care to answer, in our experience.)

 

The day ANZAC was most obviously co-opted by violent racists - the Cronulla riots of 2005. As the New South Wales then Returned Servicemens' League President, Don Rowe, later explained: “We were absolutely disgusted. That is the last thing that Anzac is interpreted as being. The Anzac spirit is mateship, looking after one another . . . you certainly don’t go around waving flags and call yourself an Anzac and go around belting people up. That’s totally the opposite to what Anzac is.”

The day ANZAC was most obviously co-opted by violent racists – the Cronulla riots of 2005. As the New South Wales then Returned Servicemens’ League President, Don Rowe, later explained: “We were absolutely disgusted. That is the last thing that Anzac is interpreted as being. The Anzac spirit is mateship, looking after one another . . . you certainly don’t go around waving flags and call yourself an Anzac and go around belting people up. That’s totally the opposite to what Anzac is.”

 

Before you ask “Why bother arguing with racists?” we’ll give you the answer, because that’s easy. Racism must be opposed wherever it rears its flithy head because other people read racists’ poison and without a countervailing point of view they become convinced by it all too easily.

That’s how fascism happens.

And that’s what has happened in large parts of the American public, right now. It can happen anywhere. In any culture. Of any type.

Racism and fascism are Siamese twins, and they rise unchecked when logic, rationality and patient, evidence-based debate flies out of the window.

My father fought in a World War for six long years to protect a civilised society. We will not allow his sacrifice to be tossed away on the funeral pyre of populist bullshit, nor the efforts of millions or others.

In the last 48 hours, we have been copping some flack for our report on the asylum seeker fined for daring to try and kill himself while in detention on Nauru.

Not from sane, normal people. But from the closet (and not so closet) racist keyboard warriors who leap all over anything on social media that gives them a chance to peddle their vile crap. Sadly, we have plenty of those in Australia like everywhere else, despite our very successful multi-cultural society.

They seem to be most common on Facebook, where they lurk in the shadows like ravening beasts hidden in the electronic undergrowth with gore dripping from their bared teeth, waiting to snatch any unsuspecting sane, normal person that wanders by.

What is interesting, though, is Facebook seems to let them do it unchallenged by any sort of meaningful moderation.

Check this out from “M”. We have deleted some of his rant, on the basis that it’s just plain ignorant. The stupid is strong in him. And we’ve deleted his name, because he doesn’t need publicity from us, and he might be a bona fide nutter with an AK 47 in the garage. Yes, that’s what society has come to. But we’ve left in the bits we complained to Facebook about:

 

Max

 

Facebook claims not to tolerate racism, and hate speech. Interestingly, though, calling an entire race “Arab scum” (not relating to any actions taken by any Arabs, at all, just a blanket comment about every Arab in the world) does not contravene Facebook’s Community Guidelines.

Read that again. We have the records of the complaint made and Facebook’s response, which we strongly suspect is automated by some racism bot somewhere ion the ethersphere.

Well, we’re sorry, Facebook, but “Arab scum” and “Fuck the Arabs” SHOULD contravene your Community Guidelines. Unless you have some rational reason why not? Or you could simply scrap your Community Guidelines as meaningless.

So how about this? These are part of those much-touted Community Guidelines:

Facebook removes hate speech, which includes content that directly attacks people based on their:

  • Race,
  • Ethnicity,
  • National origin,
  • Religious affiliation,
  • Sexual orientation,
  • Sex, gender, or gender identity, or
  • Serious disabilities or diseases.

But this, apparently, did not offend those guidelines. Again, details are removed to protect the guilty.

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 11.53.09 am copy

So come on, Facebook, explain these apparent discrepancies. What is the procedure to review reports? And how on earth can you justify these decisions?

We think your users – and customers – should be told.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

mum and caitlinSo after 25 wonderful years – better years than I ever thought possible, better years than I ever dreamed I would be blessed with – you’re leaving home.

Making the big jump. He’s tall and handsome (naturally) but he’s also funny, kind, intelligent and above all humane. So thank God you made a good choice. Can’t say I’m surprised. Smart kid. Always was. Bit dreamy now and then, but head firmly screwed on. Bit like your folks, really. Funny, that.

But I hate it. I hate that I won’t hear your little feet galumphing along the corridor in the mornings. Do you know you don’t look any different waking up today to the way you did when you were two? Eyes screwed up against the light. Hair mussed up. Thump, thump, thump. Yet your face invariably lights up with a welcoming grin when you spot me. You’ll never know how your fresh smile and cheerful “Morning, Dad!” has sent me off able to deal with the day a thousand times. Or more. Just like “Nite nite, God bless, I love you” has given me more gentle sleep than any amount of whisky or meditation tapes or breathing exercises.

I hate it that you won’t always be there to sing the theme songs to the TV shows any more. I can already feel that the start of Star Trek won’t ever be the same. I don’t know who to watch Game with Thrones with any more, cause Mum can’t keep it all straight in her head and she really doesn’t enjoy it, if we’re telling the truth. I hate that your room won’t be untidy any more. I hate that the laundry won’t be full of your crap. I hate that the yard isn’t going to be full of squealing girls high on life anymore.

I am thankful we had you at home as long as we did. But I am going to miss the spontaneous road trips (so often just an excuse to stop going stir crazy on a dull day) when you and Mum seemed to be able to talk non-stop hour after hour. I will miss you both dissolving into giggles. I know I’ve never been one for rabbiting on, and sometimes I’ve even found it a bit off-putting – I do a fine line in grumpy, let’s be frank – and I often missed the joke, but I will miss the togetherness. I really will. I’m sorry I wasn’t better at that bit. What can you do?

I guess part of it is that I just hate the passing of the years. I hate that it means that I have less time left than I have already had. I hate watching your graduation knowing that it’s very likely I will never see your kids graduate. I hate that you can stay out best part of all night carousing – I’ve always been a bit of a carouser on the QT, as you know – but now about ten o’clock my eyes start closing and I can’t face the next day without hitting the sheets real soon, and I don’t want to cramp your style by suggesting we head home. I’m moving into a world of sensible middle class late-middle-aged behavior, full of people who also want to go to bed at ten o’clock, and I hate it.

So last night, I tried the stuff the shrink told me years ago, about how the inner child feels hurt and lost and frightened when change occurs, and the adult tries to either placate it or tell it off, but what’s really needed is the rational advisor quietly trying to put things in perspective. And you know what? It helped. It’s not like you’re moving to the Moon, after all. And I’m sure we can still squeeze in a plan to watch GOT together and even occasionally a Star Trek. And now we have to work at it, instead of just stumbling over one another by default, we’ll probably have better quality time, and probably, in reality, as much time as we’ve had in recent years, anyway. We’ve always been a good team. You’ve always been a colleague and friend as well as our child. We’ll work it out. My trusted advisor assures me we will.

And I am not so old that I can’t remember how exciting it is to make your own way in the world. How the challenge thrills you down to the very heart of your soul, and how you can’t wait to make your own place with the guy you love: your own bits and pieces, artworks, chairs. Building a life together – unique, just for you, never before seen by the world. I want that for you, with all my heart. Be happy: you deserve it more than most people I know.

And yes, I know that sometime you’ll probably have a kid of your own, or maybe more, and then we’ll get wheeled in to babysit and help you grow him/her/them into another amazing generation, and you’ll always want our advice and help, and there are hundreds and thousands of happy moments to come. So what’s happening isn’t an ending, it’s a new beginning, and I get that. I really do.

Yolly and CaitlinYolly and CaitlinBut it’ll never be the same. And bringing you up was simply the goodest of good things I ever did with my life, and I really never knew it would be and then it happened and then it’s over almost as soon as it begins, and I hate that it’s ending. You don’t need us exactly like you did before. The world turns. Life goes on. And I’ll probably hate that it’s ended even while I love the new stuff, so you may as well get used to that, because you know I am nothing if not complicated, and this, I honestly think, is about the best I can do.

I never liked change at the best of times, and now the changes are so utter, so endless, so fundamental, so … final … that in unguarded moments I find myself shrinking inside. So just know, please, I am trying my best.

“Best kid.” Did I ever tell you that you amaze me?

Go on. You get out on that great big stage and knock ’em dead in the two and ninepennies.

We love you.

 

The Pacific island of Nauru

The tiny, barren island nation of Nauru holds refugees while Australia processes their asylum claims.

An Iranian asylum seeker has been fined for trying to kill himself during an attempt to move him and his daughter from an Australian-funded detention centre on the island of Nauru.

Sam Nemati, sole guardian of the eight-year-old girl, admitted the charge and was ordered to pay A$200 ($155; £109).

Mr Nemati had been in the detention centre for two years.

Australia relocates all refugees trying to reach the country by boat to Nauru and Papua New Guinea. The process is extremely controversial despite being supported by both the Liberal-National Coalition Government and Opposition Labor party.

Nauru is a small Pacific island nation about 3,000 km (1,800 miles) north-east of Australia. It was previously administered by Australia but gained independence in 1968.

Deterring a ‘Method of protest’

Prosecutors had originally sought a two-month custodial sentence for Mr Nemati, arguing that such a sentence could be used as a deterrent, as reported in Australian media.

“We are concerned that this method of protest is being used and want to stamp out this practice,” prosecutors said.

The pair moved to Nibok Lodge in January, where Mr Nemati said his daughter would have more children to play with. But authorities said they were not authorised to live there, and moved to evict the pair on 21 January.

Mr Nemati became distressed when officers began removing his belongings, and attempted to take his own life. He was taken to hospital for medical treatment before being charged and subsequently detained for two weeks in February.

Old penal code

The law against attempted suicide in Nauru is based on the 1899 Queensland Criminal Code. But while Queensland has since repealed that particular law, attempted suicide remains illegal in Nauru.

Other existing offences under the code include witchcraft, sorcery and fortune-telling.

In early February, the High Court upheld Australia’s asylum policy as legal under the country’s constitution. The ruling paved the way for around 267 people, including 37 babies, to be deported to Nauru. Despite this, huge numbers of people have protested the establishment of “concentration camps” to hold asylum seekers, pointing out that it is not illegal to seek asylum in Australia, and urged the government – as a minimum move – to bring asylum seekers to the Australian mainland.

(BBC and others)

Wellthisiswhatithink says: Just another example of the breathtaking brutality of this detention regime, which is a shame to Australia, inhumane and unsustainable. Although in general Australia has a generous refugee resettlement program by world standards, the country is extremely wealthy and can definitely afford to do more. This type of thing is ruining our international reputation.

 

Queen Elizabeth IILike most other Brits (originally, at least). and much of the rest of the world, we are full of admiration for Queen Elizabeth II as she approaches her 90th birthday, having recently become the longest-serving monarch in the country’s history.

We are not, in truth, overly in favour of the monarchy, as we are highly sceptical as to whether it really offers the economic boon that is always quoted whenever anyone questions its existence.

And though it is supposed to be non-political, it undoubtedly wields behind the scenes influence, and whether that influence is for good or ill it really should play no role in a truly democratic society.

One cannot help, by way of example, to wonder what might have occurred had avowed Nazi sympathiser Edward VIII remained on the throne to apply his influence in support of Halifax and the appeaser faction in the Conservative Party in 1939. No ascent of Churchill and an ignominious accommodation with the Nazis would have been much more likely than the stout defence of country and Empire – and subsequent defeat of fascism – that actually occurred. For a fuller discussion of the fight between Halifax and Churchill on the conduct of the war, one of the most seminal events in the whole of human history as it turned out, we recommend this Wikipedia article, which is fascinating.

And non-Brits sometimes forget we have chopped the head off a king on our way to a participatory democracy. We are by no means mindlessly adulatory to our monarchs. The approbrium heaped on future King Charles III’s head over the breakdown of his marriage with the adored Princess Diana shows how shallow the British public’s acquiescence really can be. Our monarchs really do rule at the public’s favour.

Nevertheless, one would be hard pushed to find anyone with a word of criticism of the Queen. Despite her advanced years, she maintains a punishing schedule of public engagements, (the equivalent of almost one a day), and despite having, by all accounts, something of a temper (an attribute she shares with most of her ancestors), she manages to seem to deal with almost everyone with impeccable courtesy and good humour.

She has never had a whiff of scandal anywhere in her personal life, and unquestionably is held in great affection by the vast majority of her own people, by people throughout the British Commonwealth (a push for a Republic in Australia, for example, is widely believed to be on hold while she still lives, out of respect for her personally), and ordinary folk in the world in general. He continued occupation of her throne (well, a total of eight thrones, actually) is undoubtedly the democratic will of her subjects, and that should be respected.

Which leaves us with one burning question.

If she is still on the throne ten years from now, as might well be the case, who will send her the official telegram that always goes from her to a centenarian subject on their birthday? After all, such an outcome is by no means unlikely. Her mother, it should be remembered, was mostly hale and hearty until her 102nd year.

She can hardly send one to herself, now can she?

We think the people should be told.

"And we should put all the long haired ruffians in the army, too, that'd wake em up ..."

“And we should put all the long haired ruffians in the army, too, that’d wake em up …”

One of the things that drives us into a blue billy-oh state of mouth-foaming rage is that oft-repeated moment where people cheerfully announce “I’m not a racist, but …” and then proceed to say something effortlessly racist and dumb, because you just know they’re going to say something to emphasise someone else’s perceived otherness.

So today, this made us laugh.

Actually laugh out loud, not just typing lol, but really, you know – lol.

We hope it does you, too.

 

I'm not a racist

 

PS Dear Reader – and you know who you are – the next time you feel moved to pronounce “I am not a racist, but …” you are almost certainly about to say something racist. So don’t.

“Awa’ an bile yer heid”

Welcome to Louisiana, where a privatised prison system needs its legislators to keep passing ever more lunatic penalties, to keep feeding the prison system with fodder to lock up and look after – at huge expense to the taxpayers of the State, of course. And sadly, Louisiana is just one of the more obvious offenders in this regard – the disgrace is repeated across the united States.

 

Man facing life in prison after allegedly being caught stealing $31 of chocolate bars

New Orleans resident Jacobia Grimes faces the life sentence after being charged under the Louisiana state’s habitual-offender law, which considers past offences.

New Orleans resident Jacobia Grimes faces the life sentence after being charged under the Louisiana state’s habitual-offender law, which considers past offences. The law, which has been in place for three decades, means that Grimes could potentially go to prison for 20 years to life. He has already spent nine years in prison for previous minor theft convictions.

Now you might think he’s exceptionally stupid, but the fact is that Grimes is a “quad” offender under the habitual-offender law following five previous convictions. But does he deserve to spend the rest of his life in jail for being dumb? And just as importantly, do local taxpayers deserve to feed and house him for the rest of his natural days?

According to his lawyer, those five previous convictions totalled less than $500 for incidents at Rite-Aid, Sav-A-Center, Blockbuster Video and Rouses stores.

“I just think it points to the absurdity of the multiple billing statute. They’re spending their time to lock someone up for years over $31 worth of candy. It’s ridiculous,” attorney Miles Swanson said.

 

Jacobia-Grimes-allegedly-stole-from-a-Dollar-General-store-in-New-Orleans

 

In the most recent of the convictions, Swanson said Grimes accepted a four-year jail sentence as a double offender after being caught stealing a pair of socks and trousers from a Dollar General store. Whether that sentence makes any sense either bears debating.

Swanson believes Grimes could have been charged with a state misdemeanor under a different statute, but now could potentially add to the nine years he has already spent in prison.

“It’s unconscionably excessive to threaten someone with 20 years to life for candy,” said Grimes’s other attorney Michael Kennedy.

“[But] the District Attorney is following the law as it’s written. The DA certainly had a choice. I may not agree with the choice they made, but they didn’t do anything improper.”

Louisiana has been titled the ‘world’s prison capital’ in an expose that found the US state imprisons more citizens than any other state and holds an incarceration state “nearly five times Iran’s, 13 times China’s and 20 times Germany’s.”

“The hidden engine behind the state’s well-oiled prison machine is cold, hard cash,” the Times-Picayune reported way back in 2012. Little appears to have changed.

“A majority of Louisiana inmates are housed in for-profit facilities, which must be supplied with a constant influx of human beings or a $182 million industry will go bankrupt.”

Judge Franz Zibilich

Judge Franz Zibilich

“Isn’t this a little over the top?” he said. “It’s not even funny – twenty years to life for a Snickers bar, or two or three or four.”

Let’s remember, this is a man’s life we’re dealing with here. He is not a number. He’s a person. He might be a dumb person, a poorly educated person, a foolish, feckless, stupid person, but he’s a person.

Does anyone really believe he wouldn’t be better diverted into community service/supervision, rather than locked up for 20-to-life?

Governor Edwards

Governor Edwards

The profit motive is NOT a basis for a just or workable penal system. People need to make that clear to their legislators. On February 21, 2013, current Democratic Party Governor John Bel Edwards (the only Democrat holding such office in the ‘Deep South’) announced his Gubantorial run. He said at the time that his state needs “a healthy dose of common sense and compassion for ordinary people”.

Quite. And the state’s legal system would seem to be an excellent place to start.

And let us all remember the research from all over the world that what recidivist petty thieves need is a job, active re-direction from situations (such as substance abuse) which will steer them off track, to build a sense of self esteem, to discover a purpose, and to learn personal responsibility. It’s messy, it’s not neat, it doesn’t provide the State with any sense of revenge, but it’s cheaper than incarceration, it works, and it returns value to the community.

Prison provides none of those things.

 

Retired bishop Ronald Mulkearns has died, aged 86

A former Catholic bishop accused of covering up the sexual abuse of children in Ballarat, Australia between the 1970s and 1990s has died.

Retired bishop Ronald Mulkearns died aged 86, the Catholic Church confirmed.

Last month he was asked once again to testify before a child sex abuse inquest following evidence from Cardinal George Pell.

Cardinal Pell said the bishop deceived him about the activities of notorious paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale.

Ridsdale committed more than 130 offences against young boys while working as a chaplain at Ballarat’s St Alipius school between the 1960s and the 1980s.

“I can’t nominate another bishop whose actions are so grave and inexplicable … His repeated refusal to act is, I think, absolutely extraordinary,” Cardinal Pell said of Bishop Mulkearns in March.

In February, Bishop Mulkearns told the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse he was sorry for moving paedophile priests.

“I certainly regret that I didn’t deal differently with paedophilia. We had no idea, or I had no idea, of the effects of the incidents that took place,” he said.

One suspects the Bishop’s eternal rest might not be quite as restful as he was hoping.

  

In today’s world, everyone makes much more of Christmas than Easter. It’s become a quasi-secular festival, full of joy and fun, especially for kids, and has strong echoes of earlier pagan festivals marking the middle of winter for northern hemisphere types and the summer solstice for us lot down south. But for all that, the Christmas story still resonates for many who do not consider themselves especially “religious”, with its gentle story of new life and new hope, even if many of the traditional elements of the story are actually not strictly Biblical.

But for those who truly explore the Christian story, Easter is by far the more significant celebration. In the open tomb we see the actual point of the Christ story, which is that death is a mere interruption of an eternal life, no more to be feared than any other event. This is why Christians cry out “He is Risen!” with such excitement. In Christ’s victory over death there is a triumphant answer to the most frightening and indisputible fact of all – we will all die. Every single one of us.

But if death is a mere transition to a new form of life, then one can live without that fear, even if we mourn the passing of those who have been dear to us.

We don’t die when we die. It’s a stupendous, incredible thought. It seems impossible, of course, which is why Jesus went to such lengths to impress upon those he met outside the tomb that he was a real person … a real body, not just some spectral form or spirit.

He got up and walked out of the tomb, requiring the stone to be rolled away so he could get out, in a new body, miraculously transformed from the beaten and broken one deposited in the tomb on Good Friday.

For every individual, a choice must be made as to whether the story is true, and it is a huge leap of faith, to be sure. What a staggering suggestion it is. We don’t die when we die. We live on, transfigured, healed, and contented. Quite whether this occurs at the moment of death or at some “end time” is the matter of theological debate but the essential point is the actual survival of the individual. With their own memories and experiences. It alters our whole view of the Universe. Of reality itself.

Some will say, of course, that the end of the Christ story is simply made up, a fiction to put a good gloss on the end of a social movement that was in danger of collapsing in ignominy. But without the literal truth of the story, the rest of the Christian tradition becomes meaningless. Read from beginning to end, the whole Christ story inexorably leads up to his death and rebirth. He kept it from his closest supporters – it was the most dramatic and unexpected coup de theatre. Along the way he warned them that they didn’t really understand what was going on, but also told them not to worry, because they would, one day.

And that is the ultimate message of Easter. That one day, we will all actually know what is going on. In our own death, we will be awakened to the actual truth of what the Universe is all about. No matter how stressful, how frightening, or how terrible the world may be, something better awaits us all.

As they hung on the cross, in unimaginable agony, Christ’s instinct was still to tell the world not to be scared. “Fear not,” he says to the dying thief hanging next to him, “tonight you will be with me in Paradise.” In extremis, he is still trying to reassure us of the miracle that we cannot yet see.

In two millenia of Christian theological debate, it seems that humankind can manage to argue endlessly about anything. The sterile and ultimately pointless debates about whether the bread and wine actually turn into the body and blood of Christ cost many a principled man and woman their head. Today’s endless musing over Creationism is another mindless distraction, as is our obsession with sexual niceties.

At Easter, we are given the opportunity to stop and refocus on what truly matters. Imagine if every Christian in the world turned to every other non-Christian tomorrow and said “By the way, do you know that you don’t die when you die?”

Now THAT would be Good News.