Monthly Archives: November 2013

Iran must be accountable

As talks on Iran’s nuclear program we’re producing some small breakthrough, the Washington Free Beacon examined the state of five other rights demanded by the Iranian people—and not respected by their government.  Even if Iran does as the West wishes on matter nuclear, it must still be held to account for its apalling abuse of human liberties and freedoms.

There is no right of free assembly;
There is no effective right to a free trial and has been a massive surge in executions;
There is no freedom of the press.
There is no freedom of religion.

Pastor Saeed Abedini is just one of many imprisoned for the conduct of Christian worship. Iranian Christians were sentenced last month to 80 lashes for drinking wine during communion and possessing a satellite antenna. Members of the Baha’i community, a minority offshoot of Shiite Islam, have also faced persecution and violence.

The Iran authorities continue floggings and executions of minors and homosexuals and have the 3rd highest rate of capital punishment in the world. The butchering of gay and lesbian people has been particularly horrific. Iran continues frequently to execute gay men and some lesbians. It has been estimated that 4,000 lesbians and gays have been executed since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Methods of execution have included beheading, being chopped in two, stoning, burning alive, hanging and being thrown alive from a high building.

iran_hangingNothing has changed since The Times reported on 13 Nov 07 that Iranian politican Mohsen Yahyavi had told a meeting of British MPs in the UK that homosexuals deserve to be executed or tortured and possibly both. Britain is one country has regularly challenged Iran about its hangings of gays, and stonings and executions of adulterers and other alleged moral criminals. Mr Yahyavi, a member of Iran’s parliament, told the MPs that that if homosexual activity is in private there is no problem, but those in overt activity should be executed. He argued that homosexuality is against human nature and that humans are here to reproduce.

Mahmoud Asqari and Ayad Marhouni were hanged in Justice Square in Mashhad in 2005. Graphic photographs of the execution of the youths, who were under 18 when arrested, were released by the Iranian Students News Agency. President Ahmadinejad, questioned by students in New York about the executions, dodged the issue by suggesting that there were no gays in his country. “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals, like in your country”, he lied. Yet Iran is also accused of cloaking executions for homosexuality with bogus charges for more serious crimes.

Dianne Francis asked in Canada’s National Post (11 Dec 07):

Is this why Iran has no homosexuality? Think Iran’s nuclear ambitions are frightening? We now are learning that this land of lunatics run by fanatics is undertaking its own Final Solution with homosexuals.Here’s the real reason why Iran’s President Ahmadinejad could say in September at Columbia University could dodge the question of executions and say that there were no homosexuals in his society. They are killing them.


Former UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband, wrote in The Financial Times on  Why we must not take the pressure off Iran.

mouloodzadeh Mr. Makvan Mouloodzadeh was executed in Iran’s Kermanshah Central Prison at 5 a.m. on 5 December 07.He was a 21-year-old Iranian accused of committing anal rape (ighab) with other young boys when he himslef was still a child. At Mr. Mouloodzadeh’s trial, all the witnesses retracted their pre-trial testimonies, claiming to have lied to the authorities under duress. Makvan also told the court that his confession was made under coercion and pleaded not guilty. On 7 Jun 07, the Seventh District Criminal Court of Kermanshah in Western Iran found him guilty and sentenced him to death.

On the petition of Mr. Mouloodzadeh’s lawyer, the Iranian Chief Justice, Ayatollah Seyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi, nullified the death sentence on 10 Nov 07, describing the sentence as in violation of Islamic teachings, the religious decrees of high-ranking Shiite clerics, and the law of the land. The case was sent to the Special Supervision Bureau of the Iranian Justice Department, a designated group of judges responsible for reviewing and ordering retrials of flawed cases flagged by the Iranian Chief Justice. The judges defied the Chief Justice by ratifying the original ruling and ordering the execution. Neither Mr. Mouloodzadeh’s family nor his lawyer were told of the execution until after it occurred.

Whether or not the execution was technically illegal, it was utterly immoral and disgusting beyond belief.

On not being plant blind


Natalie Angier praised plants in an elegant piece in the International Herald Tribune (17 Apr 07).

Show somebody a painting of a verdant, botanically explicit forest with three elk grazing in the middle and ask what the picture is about, and the average viewer will answer, “Three elk grazing.” … What you’re unlikely to hear is anything akin to, “It’s a classic temperate mix of maple, birch and beech trees, and here’s a spectacular basswood and, whoa, an American elm that shows no sign of fungal infestation and, oh yeah, three elk and a blue jay.”

According to Peter H. Raven, director of the Missouri Botanical Garden, many of us suffer from an insidious condition called “plant blindness.” We barely notice plants, can rarely identify them and find them incomparably inert. Do you think that you will ever see a coma as vegetative as a tree? “Animals are much more vivid to the average person than plants are,” Raven said, “and some people aren’t even sure that plants are alive.”

In the northern Spring, the article urges us to “venture outside and check out the world through nature’s rose-colored glasses-and the daffodil, cherry blossom, dogwood and lupine ones, too. If this view doesn’t move you, you’re pushing up daisies. Angier goes on to describe how plants are the basis of “virtually all life on earth”. “The most important chemical reaction on earth is photosynthesis,”

You don’t need much encouragement to notice plants from where I sit. Our courtyard, tended by James, is crammed full of roses, as well as camellias, gardenias, and other things. There are two parks just a few metres from our apartment and our street is lined with tall oaks and other trees. Maples are slowly growing outside my study window and I can see Black Mountain in the distance, covered with native bushland-we are fortunate to live where we do. The Australian National Botanic Gardens are not far away.

I notice plants, a lot; I’m frustrated by knowing the names of so few of them. Inner Canberra is a good place for plant lovers to live. We thoroughly enjoyed all manner of plants on our recent American journey.  But we were glad to see elk, as well.

Howard’s dog whistle

Howard’s dog whistle is still being heavily used by Tony Abbott.

johnhowarddogwhistle(Image from: 101 uses for a John

“Howard is whistling in wind”, by Paul Syvret The Courier-Mail 17 April 07

Dog whistles are clever devices. They emit a high-pitched tone beyond the range of human hearing, but one that dogs’ more sensitive ears can easily detect. In short, they send a message only to those pre-programmed to receive and respond.

Prime Minister John Howard has quite a collection of these whistles—finely tuned instruments designed to bore into the brains of certain sections of the Australian voting public. If you listen hard right now you can just hear them—a discordant tweeting noise at the very fringe of the political spectrum. There’s a special whistle for whipping up fear of trade unions, another for multiculturalism, one for “the Aboriginal industry” and an orchestra of whistles for summoning forth fear and votes over national security and immigration.

They are Howard’s alarm and divide tools. The latest inharmonious tune coming from the wind section in Howard’s Government is an oldie but a goodie-a classic hit from the past decade of our discontent.

Immigration is always a favourite, with the fear and unease used to justify humanitarian abominations such as children locked behind razor wire and asylum seekers processed at God-forsaken gulags such as the detention centre on Nauru. We’ve already heard the number about the nasty illegal immigrants who toss children overboard, we’ve played the tune about the armada of asylum seekers sailing through our northern waters, and we’ve sung the song about the ingrate “towel-heads” who refuse to assimilate into our culture.

Now the variant is the faceless hordes of disease-ridden dispossessed who want to come here and spread their sickness. It is only Howard and our brave Immigration and Customs officials standing between Australia and the Grim Reaper. We’re talking AIDS here—or more specifically those people living with the human immune-deficiency virus, or HIV. Last week, Howard argued that HIV-positive people should be banned from migrating to Australia in all but the most exceptional of circumstances. “My initial reaction is no (they should not be allowed in),” he said. “There may be some humanitarian considerations that could temper that in certain cases but prima facie, no.” …

It’s the dog whistle, you see.

Captain Phillips

Captain PhillipsIn Santa Barbara, nearing the end of our American sojourn, we saw Captain Philips, with Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi — both of them fine actors.

The film offers much to ponder. Stephanie Paulsell writes in Christian Century (14 Nov 13):

I was reminded of the ancient desire for an encompassing view of the world while watching Paul Greengrass’s film Captain Phillips. Based on the hijacking of an American container ship by young Somali pirates and their kidnapping of the ship’s captain, the film is marked by frequent shifts of perspective. We move back and forth between the bridge of a massive container ship afloat in the Indian Ocean and the hull of the pirates’ tiny skiff as it is battered by the waves. One moment we are in the captain’s SUV, listening to his worried conversation with his wife about their children’s futures; in the next we are in a camp where Somalis live in inhuman conditions, the monotony of their days broken only by the appearance of armed men who take the young men out to sea to rob passing ships.
By insisting that we regard the events of the film from the perspective of every character, the film reaches for an encompassing view of the world’s "mad labyrinths." [Goethe] From a distance the defining image of the story is clear: a very small boat gaining on a very large one. We look down on the two boats from the sky; we see them locked in relationship on the ship’s radar screen. We realize that, long before they ever meet, the lives of the pirates and the captain were already bound together through globalized systems of power and trade.
No matter how involved we get in the particulars of this tale—wanting the captain to return safely to his family or hoping that the pirates will take the cash from the safe and leave the ship without hurting anyone—the view from above reminds us that we are watching this larger story. What we can see as we look down from the sky is that something is amiss in the way the world works. How desperate do four young men have to be to try to board a 17,000-ton ship while torrents of water rain down on them from the ship’s hoses? Why can’t they make a living as fishermen? Where are all the fish? What are the environmental effects of global trade on life along the Horn of Africa?
And where are we in this story? When the camera pulls back, giving us a view from above, we realize that the story includes us all. […]
Captain Phillips is a devastating film because the possibility of turning everything upside down seems so remote. All the characters appear trapped in their roles by forces larger than they are, and everyone moves toward a conclusion that, even though it feels inevitable, is nevertheless shocking. The larger story that the view from above accentuates—of the interdependence of power and desperation, wealth and poverty, globalization and despair—is so powerful that it feels as if no other ending could be written.

But, as Paulsell concludes, that’s not the only story.

Allelulia! Humbug!

boxOn NPR’s All Things Considered, 2 December 2004 (broadcast in Australia on ABC Newsradio), John Boykin asked, “Can the ‘Christ’ Be Kept in Christmas?” For years, the retail aspects of Christmas have overwhelmed its religious significance. Boykin shares this frustration and proposes a radical solution. He proposes making Christmas into a gift-giving secular holiday, and moving what little of Christ is left over to Easter.

I agree with his purpose, especially if all Christmas did was to mark the birth of Jesus. But it also celebrates the idea of ‘incarnation’, God come to us in human flesh—Imanuel, ‘God with us’. And for this, I would still like to be able to sing the Christmas songs and go to midnight Eucharist on Christmas eve. I’m never quite sure whether Christmas is “Allelulia!’ or ‘Bah, humbug!

Do the Canadian Mennonites have the right idea with their Buy Nothing at Christmas campaign?

The God who suffers

The recent (2013) typhoon in the Philippines, the tsunami disaster of 26 December 2004 and other similar catastrophic events provoke questions about “Why does God permit such suffering?” or “How can God exist, in the face of such evil?”

I am not sure that the early deaths of a lot of people in a flood of seawater or a terrible storm are more or less evil that that of thousands of AIDS sufferers in Africa or just one person in a city road accident. But the suffering of those left to grieve demands a response.

(Read more . . .)

We don’t have a helpful or even reasonable answer to the “why?” of suffering. But God offers solidarity with the sufferer and the oppressed. In the cross of Jesus Christ, God shares in our pain and suffering. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has achieved liberation and new creation.
Where was God when the tsumani struck? With the dead, the injured and the heartbroken.

Rudd’s tragedy

Kevin Rudd’s story in politics has the elements of a classic tragedy, expect that he is, thankfully, still living (though dead politically?). His rise was due to his own strengths and his downfall at the hand of former allies the result of his own fatal flaws.

Like so many, I had high hopes when Mr Rudd and his team were first elected in 2007. They achieved much, but there were some monumental failures as well. And way, way too much noise and sheer busyness. A calmer, more measured, approach would have been more successful, dampening down the 24-hour news cycle, not fueling it with perpetual ‘announceables’.

Just before the 2013 election, academic David Burchell wrote:

For the past seven years of our national life, he has played the role not so much of a political leader as of the central character in a literary tragedy of his own writing […] It has been the personal trajectory, and now the personal tragedy, that has held our attention – the meteor that is now plummeting to its fiery end. […]

It is impossible to forget the spirit of hope that spread across much of the nation [in 2007]. That is an achievement too often overlooked: it is rare that an individual can instil that sense of excitement in a country of such practised laconicism. And with that talent—the first sign that he could turn history to his own ends—Rudd became only the third Labor leader since the Second World War to take Labor from opposition into government. […]

It is a truth well known to the scripters of mythology: our greatest strengths are often our greatest weaknesses.

James Kim OblSB

Yesterday (10 Nov 13) James became an oblate of the Jamberoo Abbey (the Benedictine Community of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple at Jamberoo NSW). Now James and I are oblates together; what a delight!

(An oblate is a lay associate who lives away from a monastery but offers her or himself to, as much as possible, live a Benedictine way of prayer, learning and work in affiliation with the monastery and its community.)

North America road trip

North America trip - North North America Trip - West
North America Trip - South

The big North America road trip. The numbers on the maps show where we planned to stay, but we visited more and had to make some changes!

Fog on the CA coast

29 August 2013: Safely arrived in San Francisco. The first day was inauspicious:  fog along the Northern California coast, but we survived a long scenic drive on the wrong side of the road. Piaci Pub and Pizzeria in Fort Bragg CA supplied  superb Italian food.


The next day was better:  near Fort Bragg. We were soon surprised to find American shopping, food, road rules, streets, buildings, etc., etc., more difficult to understand than those in Europe.


The lighthouse at Crescent City, CA, a town described by Lonely Planet as “about as charming as a wet bag of dirty laundry.” Most unkind.


We saw the famed Redwood forests … and elk, calmly resting near the road.


After a strenuous climb up the hill, delicious local beer was welcome at the Oregon Caves Chateau, where we spent a night.

Portland, Oregon was good fun after sunshine and forests, seaside and fog for three days


Absurd traffic jams kept us from seeing more of Columbia Gorge.


Mt Ranier shed its cloudy blanket for us.


We were made most welcome at Trinity Parish Episcopal Church, Seattle WA.


We saw this Elio being promoted @ $6,800 for delivery late next year. Two people:  driver in front, passenger in the back, full comforts of ordinary car, 84mpg, 100mph, 3cyl., 900cc.

The Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour, near Seattle were interesting.


Just the thing for an idyllic holiday shack in the San Juan Islands, 45 mins from Seattle.


Spectacular crossing from Anacortes WA to Sidney BC … once the fog lifted.


Pumpkin beer in Victoria! Amazingly tasty.


A lovely spot for a picnic:  French Beach, at the southernmost tip of Vancouver Island BC, with a view across the Juan de Fuca Strait to the Olympic mountains of the USA.


The Butchart Gardens, near Victoria, were magnificent, but so was the admission price!


In the past, Victoria had a reputation for false Englishness that tried to be more so than the English themselves.
That seems to be largely gone. Now it’s multicultural, with a place of honour for the First Nations.

Vancouver view

Vancouver view

The view from our 15th floor Vancouver apartment, at dawn.


Took the Sea to Sky highway as far as Squamish:
fog was a challenge to the serious sightseer, but we did see a few superb views.


Our visit to Jasper was favoured by sunshine: this is Medicine Lake in the Maligne valley.
Lots of ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ as we saw one fabulous sight upon another.

We found authentic, tasty and reasonably priced Korean food, in Jasper, in the midst of the Canadian Rockies!.


With snow falling steadily, we couldn’t see far,
but the short excursion onto the Athabasca Glacier was fun and interesting.

Very pleasant stay at Holiday Inn Canmore; dinner at Crazyweed Kitchen in Canmore..

Superb views from the summit of Sulphur Mountain, in bright sunshine the day after the first Autumn snowfall (which had experienced the previous day).


North America wildlife sightings to date:  two porpoises, two seals, a single butterfly, a small family of elk, a couple of deer, many chipmunks and squirrels, not many insects, no flies, surprisingly few birds … and newly hatched fish in a marsh near Banff fed by warm sulphurous springs. Coniferous trees sighted:  many millions.

Saw bison, elk, deer and antelope at the National Bison Refuge, near Missoula MT.

Moose Creek Cabins and Inns:  cosy and very comfortable, but contemplating the weather forecast of snow and rain in Yellowstone NP.


Falling snow decorated the trees and made the hydrothermal wonders all the more mysterious and steamy.

usa556We celebrated the second of our two days in Yellowstone NP by delighting in the colours of the thermal limestone terraces, pools and vegetation.

In Banff and Jasper, the majority of visitors we observed were Korean: in Yellowstone, the majority were Chinese. Some were quietly reflective but many were chatty noisy … just like tourists from anywhere, I daresay. Surprising to me was that in none of these great national parks did we encounter a single African American, whether visitor or staff. Curious.


Driving South from Yellowstone: I was quite relaxed as James drove steadily. What had made nervous a few earlier was driving a busy ten-lane highway near Seattle at 70mph in the pre-dawn mist!


A pleasant hour at Jackson Hole National Museum Of Wildlife Art.


1 October: selfishly hoping for a resolution to the USA budget deadlock as all national parks were closed until the deadlock was resolved. We hastily prepared alternative travel plans, cancelling visits to Death Valley, Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia and adding time to our stays to Las Vegas and West Hollywood.


The classic American road trip, from anywhere to nowhere at 75mph.


Beaten-up one-dollar hat three sizes too small, from a charity shop.


Sheer magnificence: Canyonlands.

Amid the enthralled throng: Antelope Canyon.

Choosing the right road.


A Eurocopter EC-130 was a superb aircraft in which to enjoy my first-ever helicopter flight, into the Grand Canyon.

West Grand Canyon (not the National Park), which is, yes, to the West of the closed National Park on a Native American reservation. I did not expect it to be green, but it was.


Black Mountain (Mt Hesperus), watercolour by Englishman Tony Foster from his show ‘Sacred places’ at the Museum of Northern Arizona.


Thought of our great friend Joshua Park when we saw these (though, thankfully, he looks nothing like them):  Joshua trees, Yucca brevifolia,.

A long walk today took in some of the grandest places on the Strip: the Venetian is the finest and huge.


The Jockey Club was remarkable value, with our excellent apartment for under $100.


In the midst of the too-much-of-everything, Las Vegas has some fine things, for instance this chandelier by Dale Chihuly, at the Bellagio.

More curious sights along the Las Vegas Strip.


In an upscale Las Vegas arcade, we found a boutique crammed with delightful ‘Christmas’ decorations,
but not one of them was a Christian, religious or spiritual symbol
… unless you include Santa Claus who is St Nicholas in a vague sort of way.


America the Beautiful National Parks pass:  sadly of no further use to us.


“Seems it never rains in Southern California … It pours, man, it pours.” (Albert Hammond).


Glorious C12th stained glass on loan from Canterbury Cathedral, exhibited at the Getty Museum in LA.


Also at the Getty Museum, I found this Still life:  tea set (c.1781), by Jean-Etienne Liotard, intriguing, with its paradoxical depiction of messiness and informality with meticulous technique and careful composition.

Friends setUnfortunately a tour of the Warner Bros Studios wasn’t especially interesting: here we pose on the set of Friends … a show I’ve never watched.


A delightful four days with Justin, Joe and Bodo the dog!

Old Courthouse

Spanish-American influences at the Old Mission and the County Courthouse in Santa Barbara CA.


The refectory in the ‘Hearst Castle’ at San Simeon:  high art and tomato ketchup, with willow pattern tableware and sterling silver antiques.

Coastal color

The central California coastal scenery is glorious … as were the many colors of the plants covering the hills close to the sea.

Pfeiffer Beach

With the government shutdown ended, USDA workers were reopening the superb, secluded, Pfeiffer Beach (in Los Padres National Forest) just as we arrived for picnic lunch.


In San Francisco, I toasted James, who safely drove us 6,200 miles (as I took photos and attempted to navigate).

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The ocean-going tug Hercules, now on display at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, reminded me of Scuffy the red-painted tugboat, a favourite of mine as a small boy.

The San Francisco cable cars were fun to ride and the views memorable, but the queues were extraordinary and the service infrequent.


Blessed by Sunday service at Grace Cathedral.


Delighted to share dinner and conversation in person last night with Jeff Tabaco and Thom Watson.

Not many places open on Sunday, but we found a good Thai restaurant:  dark, cold and intimidating streets hide pleasant cafés and restaurants in Central San Francisco.
usa002Visited the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge in SF.

Superb authentic pizza and a classic view in the sunshine at Sausalito CA.


No, my eyes did not fool me: I did see a Melbourne W-class tram operating in San Francisco. Many are the journeys I’ve made in one of those.

Captain Phillips Gravity

Three fine movies to round off our travels, each with a masterful leading performance: Tom Hanks in ‘Captain Phillips’, Cate Blanchett in ‘Blue Jasmine’, and Sandra Bullock in ‘Gravity’.

Home, and grateful to all who helped us enjoy a fine journey.