Vehement but well-crafted

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The daily and detailed specifics of Donald Trump’s many stupidities are of less concern to an Australian than the threat he posoes on some big questions—especially climate change, nuclear weapons and trade. What I find fascinating is the vehement but well-crafted language used against Trump in some of America’s highly reputed papers and magazines. The New York Times and the New Yorker in particular have nailed their journalistic colors to their mastheads. Thus David Remnick at the The New Yorker:

Every morning since November 9th, you wake up and read the news and think, “This has got to be an issue of The Onion.” Because, while so much of the media, in ways subtle and broad, attempts to normalize the Trump ascendancy, while we are told that patriotism demands that we accept Trump and “give him a chance,” the President-elect acts in ways that leave even dystopian satire behind. His behavior has little to do with conservatism or libertarianism or populism; his mode is recklessness, a self-admiring belief that unpredictability is the path to national salvation. And so every day brings at least one fresh outrage … It seems almost sadistic to go on. It’s the holiday season, after all. … But, rather than fog the mind and defeat the spirit with the litany of accumulated outrages, let’s concentrate on the outrage of the day &hellip

What would you get rid of for Christmas?

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A friend of mine one taught me that rather than “giving up” things for Lent, it is better to add something—more quiet time, more prayer. Similarly, I suggest that Christmas be a time not for getting more and doing more, but a time to get rid of some unwanted stuff. For instance …

In 2009, in its series The Question The Guardian asked “What would you get rid of for Christmas?” Anglican clergyman Peter Bolton responded that he would get rid of churchmen who denounce sexual sins with a fervour they never apply to any other sin.

This is like writing a letter to Santa! Resisting with all my might the temptation to ask for the extermination of certain people who get on my nerves my mind wonders around to the big and worthy issues. Should I ask for the end of war or global warming or poverty or homelessness or child abuse? Well, yes, I should […]

I can just about understand that Christians might regard homosexual acts as sinful but what I completely fail to understand is why they get so worked up about it. I just wish that churchmen (yes, I do mean that) who get so upset about what they regard as sexual sins would get just as worked up about illegal wars, the greed that leads to global warming, or the violence done to women in the name of Christian marriage. I wish were as vociferous in their campaigning against world poverty, against nuclear weapons or the appalling treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK. Why do they seem to get more upset about people trying to love than they do about poverty, the penal system, or the exploitation of women?

So, dear Santa, please get rid of all talk from churchmen about sex unless it is a celebration of God’s wonderful gift. […] Come to think about it, though, it might be more realistic to hope for the end of poverty.

I too would get rid of Santa. If we must have a feast of gift-giving, then St Nicholas is the real deal (and in Advent, not on Christmas Day).

nicholasThe Roman Catholic Church demoted Nicholas in 1969, by making observance of his feast day optional (December 6th in the Gregorian calendar) but he is much venerated in the Orthodox tradition and held by some to be patron saint of children, thieves, bankers, prisoners, sailors, unmarried girls and pawnbrokers—as well as the nations of Greece and Russia.

In 1892, Crown Prince Nicholas of Russia travelled to Bari, in south-eastern Italy, to visit the basement of a medieval basilica, to pray where the remains of his namesake, brought to Italy in 1087, are kept. A year earlier, Nicholas had blessed the building of the trans-Siberian railway by installing an image of St Nicholas at its Pacific extreme in Vladivostok. The Bari basilica still receives many Russian pilgrims every year on St. Nicholas’ feats day by the orthodox calendar), drawn to honour the man whom Russians call Nikolai Ugodnik, Nicholas the Helper.

Bethlehem Christians claim Nicholas as their own because of a cave where the young Nicholas is said to have rested during his own pilgrimage to Bethlehem. There is a church built over the cave, scarred by fighting between Palestinians and the Israeli army. It was in Bethlehem that Nicholas heard the call to be a bishop in his native Asia Minor.

Nicholas is but a human story. Yet, if he were honoured instead of Santa, there would be still greater respect at Christmas for the Greatest Gift, Jesus the Christ.

Laissez faire aux États-Unis?

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NBC show Saturday Night Live has quite a reputation for deservedly taking the Mickey out of Donald Trum, to which Mr Trup has often replied with furious tweets.

On 12 December 2016 the show lampooned some of Trump’s cabinet selections, especially that of including Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. (Pruitt has sued the EPA on climate change several times).

“Scott Pruitt is excited for the job and ready to protect us all from the environment,” Kellyanne Conway (Kate McKinnon) said in a comedy sketch.

“It’s almost like Mr. Trump appoints these people specifically to undermine the very agencies they head,” Jake Tapper (Beck Bennet) said. “Kellyanne, are these bad picks?”

“No Jake, they are not bad,” she answers. “They are alt-good.”

Unlike in earlier weeks, Trump didn’t tweet a reply.

“It’s almost like Mr. Trump appoints these people specifically to undermine the very agencies they head.” Indeed so. That’s precisely the point. Mr Trump, it would appear, along with many other Republicans and Americans generally, simply wants to remove government from people’s lives and every day affairs. That is, he wants to go back to the early C19th, where largely all government did was what we now call foreign affairs, defence, navigation, migration and trade … plus various laws that regulated personal and business relationships. NOT health care, welfare, social services, education, civil rights, economics, energy, infrastructure, housing, environment, manufacturing, technology, etc.

A novel experiment in Laissez-faire government? Interesting if it were not so potentially deadly.

Love, generosity … and competence

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On 1 December 2016, the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull spoke in Parliament for about 20 minutes to "to bid farewell to the parliament for another year." These are a few extracts:

As the parliamentary year—and, indeed, 2016—draws to a close, it is important that we come together to look back on what has been another remarkable year for our most remarkable country. The level of discourse between our political parties can be vigorous, fierce and, at times, confronting, but the fact that we can put aside our partisan differences to celebrate the year that was is one of the great features of our democracy. Australians are always most inspired—and perhaps surprised—at those moments of bipartisanship in this House. It is when we are at our best. …

We have witnessed with horror the terrorist attacks in Nice and Orlando, and suicide bombings in many countries … It has made us all the more grateful that we are such a harmonious society with people of all faiths, cultures and backgrounds living together in peace. Looking around the world, we know how rare it is, and we must never take it for granted. Australia’s strengths are our freedom, our diversity and our security. Those attributes are not mutually exclusive; rather, they are mutually reinforcing. This is not to say that we do not face challenges; regrettably, we do. …

[W]e must always be aware of what the public expects from its government, from its parliament, from its leaders. Many people are anxious about change or feel that their leaders are not listening, and we should not dismiss their concerns. …

Good leaders explain how change can improve lives, consult as they work to minimise the adverse consequences of change, and implement policies that take advantage of the opportunities that change brings, while ensuring that the most vulnerable in our society are not left behind. … Fairness and inclusion are key features of our national economic plan. …

Everything we do in this place is designed to secure the future of Australians, and we must never forget that …

It makes me so proud, as I know it makes all honourable members proud, to see the way we rally together. We are an egalitarian nation who will each other to succeed, who feel deeply the pain of a friend or neighbour when they are struck by violence or tragedy. So many people shared their stories with me so that I could be a better leader, and each one stays with me. …

Every year, we urge each other to be kinder and gentler in this place. I do not mind being labelled idealistic for hoping that we will be in 2017, but perhaps a more realistic goal is to vow to speak more plainly and with more candour to the Australian people. They are wearied of the political games, the sense that politicians say one thing and could easily mean another and that our promises are throwaway lines with the shelf life of a carton of milk. The Oxford dictionary has declared ‘post-truth’ its international word of the year, but let us do all we can to ensure post-truth politics has no place in Australia. If we promise to be bound by our words, we will be much more careful in choosing them. …

I wish the Australian people, who we represent here and who are uppermost in the minds of all we do, a very happy Christmas, safe and family-filled holidays and a 2017 filled with peace and love—love for our families and friends and, above all, for those who are lonely, isolated or brought low by poverty or illness. Whether we are of any or no faith, this is the Christmas season. The message Jesus brought was one of unconditional love. We will be at our very best when we reach out without judging … to those who most need, especially at this time, our love and our generosity.

One can only pray that Mr Turnbull and his government will move a little closer to governing with " love and generosity"— and perhaps a little competence, as well.