tag:mullins.id.au,2013:/posts MICHAEL MULLINS' TINY LETTER 2021-06-22T21:18:27Z tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1703506 2021-06-14T23:13:38Z 2021-06-22T21:18:27Z How do I know I'm still a Catholic?

On Sunday I went to Canberra and enjoyed a semi-regular walk with a friend from my days training to be a Jesuit priest.

We both left the Jesuits a little more than 30 years ago, and I think it's true to say that each of us walked away from the practice but not the positive humanitarian values of Catholicism.

I won't hesitate to identify as 'Catholic' when I complete the Census form later this year. But I studiously avoid participation in the life of the Church because it triggers a form of PTSD related to obedience.

So how do I know I'm still a Catholic?

For a long time I wasn't sure how to answer that question. But some time last year I stumbled across the English Catholic weekly publication The Tablet in the Readly electronic newsstand.

The Tablet

As I did many years ago, I now read it from cover to cover and can find interest in almost every article. I'm able to identify with the concerns and the lines of enquiry and particular curiosities of many of the writers. That's what tells me I am still a Catholic.

The Tablet has been published for 180 years and is part of a genre of news and culture reviews that also includes the New Statesman and The Spectator. It is proudly independent and is tolerated by many church leaders even though it does not hesitate to criticise the Church.

This week's cover story looks at Boris Johnson's recent Catholic marriage, which was 'conducted after due process and entirely within the laws of the land and of the Catholic Church'. It argues that Catholic teaching on marriage is full of anomalies and inconsistencies, and that those who were angered because they felt the Church gave the British PM special treatment denied them, are sadly mistaken.

Another article sees a path for the affirmation of transgender women through an analogy with transubstantiation, which is the Catholic teaching that bread and wine are changed into Christ's body and blood substantially - not symbolically - during the eucharistic part of the Mass.

It asks: 'Could we think of transgender as in some sense analogical to transubstantiation - not capable of scientific proof, but constituting a real presence which is different from the material appearance?'

It seems The Tablet can always find a sweet spot that is captive neither to ideology hostile to religion nor the entrenched obstinacy of many religious leaders.

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tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1699908 2021-06-06T22:33:36Z 2021-06-06T22:33:36Z Wingham remains strong after fires and floods

Often on a Saturday morning I'll walk to the nearby Carriageworks farmers market. I will usually buy meat from Linga Longa Farm, which is located about 350km north of Sydney in the Manning River Valley just outside Wingham.

I am always impressed with their commitment to the seven hour round trip that enables city dwellers to enjoy fresh unprocessed meat direct from the farm. It is a pleasure to support them.

I hope that their business model makes them profitable because they've had to face a lot of adversity in recent times. They could not come to Carriageworks for more than a month because they were restocking and rebuilding fences after the destruction caused by the floods earlier this year. That was after the horror bushfires they suffered in late 2019.

Old Butcher Shop

I'd hardly heard of Wingham until I started buying meat from Linga Longa. But I became curious about the town and decided to make it the destination of my day trip by train from Sydney yesterday. I spent ten hours in the train and two and a half hours roaming the town on foot.

The highlight was the Wingham Museum, which friends had told me about. It is recognised as one of the finest museums in regional Australia, a fitting counterpart to Sydney's Powerhouse and other museums of applied arts and sciences. It was opened in 1968 in an old commercial building by the renowned aviatrix Nancy Bird-Walton.

Dairying

There are many stories of pioneers of the district. Painted on the side of the museum's building is a portrait of the Irish-born pastoralist Isabella Mary Kelly, who purchased her property in 1838 and ran it with the help of eight convicts.

She was a noted horse woman who 'often stayed overnight in the bush with her loaded gun and brandy flask'. But she was disliked by some of the men of the district, who resented a woman who was unmarried and did 'men's work'. She was known to have a temper and would not allow men to stand over her.

Isabella Mary Kelly

So in 1851 her house was mysteriously burned down while she was away on business. Later forged documents saw her falsely imprisoned in Sydney's Darlinghurst Gaol. But, according to the display notes at the museum, she overcame the humiliation and adversity to remain strong.

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tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1691679 2021-05-17T03:43:21Z 2021-05-17T03:43:21Z Present moment mysticism I'm writing this from the Palace Hotel in the declining but always fascinating far west NSW mining town of Broken Hill, which is subject to extreme temperatures because of its location in semi-desert country. I was here in January 2019 when it was in the mid 40s. This morning the mercury got down to 2.2 degrees.

Palace Hotel Broken Hill

Tomorrow I will appreciate the many transitions in the landscape during my 13 hour trip back to Sydney on the Outback Explorer train, after being away for ten days.

My first stop was Melbourne, before taking the 130 year old Overland train journey to Adelaide, where I stayed for six nights before boarding the NSW railway bus to Broken Hill through the mostly arid countryside of South Australia's mid-north.

Adelaide to Broken Hill Bus

I had a few important reasons to visit Adelaide. I wished to spend a day with a cousin whose existence I discovered only about 15 years ago. I also wanted to catch up with a work colleague from 30 years ago. But what was most pressing was the landmark Clarice Beckett exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia, as it was due to close yesterday.

Beckett, who lived from 1887 to 1935, is one of Australia's most important modernist painters. Like most Australians I'd never heard of her. But my attention was drawn to her work when I read a review of the show by the Sydney Morning Herald's famously grumpy art critic John McDonald.

Clarice Beckett Sunset from Black Rock

He said: 'It’s not often I feel the urge to visit the same show on three successive days, but Clarice Beckett: The Present Moment at the Art Gallery of South Australia, is one of those rare, inexhaustible exhibitions.'

I saw it twice, and I've joined the waiting list for the catalogue, which is being reprinted after selling out. It turns out that they've postponed its closing by a week and extended the daily opening times.

Viewing her paintings, what resonated with me in particular was the setting of the majority of them not far from her longtime residence in the beachside Melbourne suburb of Beaumaris. I grew up in country Victoria but my family went to the neighbouring beach suburb of Black Rock several times, for seaside summer holidays.

Clarice Beckett Summer Fields

I was also interested in the spirituality that underlies the paintings. The exhibition notes describe Beckett as a 'visionary mystic' who was 'receptive to international trends in science, literature, philosophy and spiritualism'.

Beckett would often rise at 4:00 am and walk up to five kilometres from her home to capture the effect of the early morning sea mists. The creator of the musical soundtrack to the exhibition writes of solitude as the central inspiration for her track choices, as she sought to contribute to the creation of 'an intimate space for viewers to contemplate The Present Moment.'

Beckett never travelled beyond Victoria, though she did some of her most renowned paintings during the six months she spent at Naringal Station in the state's Western District. As I sat in the bus travelling through arid regions of South Australia's mid-north yesterday, I wondered what she would have made of them.

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tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1686882 2021-05-03T23:11:26Z 2021-05-03T23:11:27Z The film festival that never ends Last weekend saw my Mubi film previewing job come to an end. The streaming company had paid me a small amount of money to look for technical imperfections in a total of 358 films over the past four years.

At one stage I had a larger role with Mubi, creating English subtitles for English language films. But for the most part I was a member of a community of around 30 amateur previewers. Last week my contact notified me that they'd decided to move the preview tasks inhouse.

Diva

Mubi offers a variety of arthouse, classic and experimental films. You may have seen the Mubi icon on the menu of your smart TV or Apple or other streaming box. I have been a subscriber since 2011, when I owned an early streaming device called Boxee.

What I like most about Mubi is the way they curate and present one film each day and give subscribers a month to watch it. In this way they school their subscribers in film appreciation and provide the perfect antidote to many people's experience of Netflix - thousands of films available but nothing worth watching.

This Boys Life

Mubi is like a film festival that never ends. I've been a subscriber to the Sydney Film Festival since 2004, and I deliberately opt for the 'set menu' of about 33 films chosen by curators. I make a point of seeing them all and have not missed one since 2008.

Labyrinth of Cinema

I was first introduced to arthouse films back in the 1980s by a friend who was a graduate of the directors course at the Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS). He'd also trained as a sculptor at the Sydney School of Art and was much inspired by the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky's philosophy of film as 'sculpting in time'.

For many viewers, the problem with Tarkovsky is that they could not understand what was going on in his films. For me, understanding a film is always a work in progress.

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tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1683337 2021-04-25T23:10:25Z 2021-04-25T23:10:25Z Honouring infamy Yesterday I enjoyed a day trip to Bathurst, three and a half hours west of Sydney across the Blue Mountains. It is an old gold mining town that is currently experiencing rapid population growth.

Like Ballarat and Bendigo in Victoria, the wealth from gold mining gave Bathurst a legacy of impressive buildings, and today there is no shortage of cultural institutions.

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I visited the Regional Art Gallery, the Australian Fossil and Mineral Museum, and the Bathurst Rail Museum, which was opened only last year. The city once had a railway workforce of 500, including former prime minister Ben Chifley, who was an engine driver.

But because it was Anzac Day, the focal point was the Bathurst Town Square, where the war memorials are situated. There was the main memorial tower, which is famous for its bells. Yesterday they were peeling with identifiable tunes in an extended concert performance.

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But of more immediate interest to me was the Boer War Memorial. That is because, while on the train from Sydney, I had read a Peter FitzSimons opinion article in the Sun-Herald newspaper. It concerned local war criminal Peter Handcock, who is disgraced but controversially honoured there.

Strangely it reminded me of my 2018 trip to Stalin's home town of Gori in Georgia, where they honour his infamy.

Handcock was executed with Anglo-Australian Lieutenant Harry 'Breaker' Morant, after being court-martialled and convicted of committing murder while on active duty in 1902. Lord Kitchener unveiled the memorial in 1910, but apparently agreed to do so only after Handcock's name was removed from the list of heroes.

Disgraced lieutenant deserves no honour - The Sun-Herald 25 Apr 21

However Handcock's name was restored in 1964 after lobbying from his son. Yesterday the memorial was adorned with flowers, perhaps put there by his great grandson, who maintains a website to tell the family's side of the story.

Breaker Morant was brought to prominence a few years later by Bruce Beresford's 1980 Australian war drama film Breaker Morant. Beresford told film critic Father Peter Malone in 1999 that he had 'never pretended for a moment that they weren't guilty'. He expressed dismay and said he was 'amazed' that so many people mistakenly thought the film was about 'poor Australians who were framed by the Brits'.

FitzSimons has attempted to demythologise Breaker Morant through his 2020 book Breaker Morant. I hope that Bathurst locals can quietly lay aside attempts to lionise Handcock and instead focus their energies on paying tribute to their real hero Ben Chifley.

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tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1677998 2021-04-12T22:38:16Z 2021-04-12T22:38:17Z Photographs out of focus At the weekend I visited two exhibitions of blurry photographs. On Saturday it was Stuart Spence's 'Truro' at Nanda\Hobbs gallery in inner-Sydney Chippendale (first photo), and on Sunday I saw Bill Henson's travelling exhibition 'The light fades but the gods remain' at the Newcastle Regional Gallery (second).

Stuart Spence Dancer

The aesthetic which refers to deliberately out-of-focus images is known as 'bokeh'. I don't know much about the theory but I do know that I have a deeper response to a photo that is off focus or off colour or imperfect in some other way.

Perhaps we relate better to imperfect photos than perfect photos if we are aware that we are imperfect ourselves. Or it could be that the blurriness represents a state of unconsciousness in which our own unconscious feels at home. Whatever it is, I find imperfect images more deeply satisfying than those that are perfect.

henson-hero1

While I was at Nanda\Hobbs, Spence was giving a talk to a group of architecture students. He quoted Miles Davis' answer when he was asked how long it had taken him to learn the trumpet. 'Thirty years to learn it, and the rest of my life to forget it'.

For Spence, photos are 'acts of forgetting, of shutting down the monkey mind and allowing whatever the hell looks after this stuff, do what it needs to do'.

I find that as I walk around a city or some other location, the photos take themselves. Without much effort, I make images that have a deep resonance which either I can't or don't want to explain.

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On my walk after seeing the Henson exhibition, I took a photo of Wal Young House, the headquarters of the Newcastle District Bowling Association. Obviously I experienced beauty and significance in what for many would be an unremarkable 1960s building.

I think I also had an unconscious fear that it would be demolished before too long, and taking the photo was an act of love or solidarity. Sure enough, when I got home I googled Wal Young House and found a Newcastle Herald report of a proposal to put a modern indoor sports complex in its place.

vietnam woman

It takes a lot of work to achieve the artistry of a Stuart Spence or Jim Henson photograph. If I had the patience, I would probably exaggerate the colours rather than blur my Wal Young House photo. But I rarely have the commitment to give myself to such a task.

But I did about ten years ago, when I was bored on a flight back from Vietnam. The result was an image that has endured, of my fleeting acquaintance with an old woman carrying a load on her shoulders.

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tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1671829 2021-03-28T22:14:45Z 2021-03-28T22:14:45Z The joy of abstract art

Yesterday I took another trip to Canberra and found myself in the National Gallery of Australia (NGA).

For a third time I visited 'Know My Name: Australian Women Artists 1900 to Now', one of my favourite exhibitions for some time. But I gave most of my attention to the NGA's current blockbuster 'Botticelli to Van Gogh: Masterpieces from the National Gallery, London'.

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I don't enjoy the crowds - and often predictability - of blockbusters. But I saw it yesterday because I was there, and nobody passes up an easy opportunity to witness such a big event.

The Italian Renaissance painting was beautiful but didn't speak to me. The Grand Tour - the right of passage where wealthy young Englishmen would tour Continental Europe - seemed grotesque. But I very much liked some of the other parts of the exhibition including 'France and the rise of modern art'.

This section took me back to the Saturday morning art classes I did as a child at what is now the Albury TAFE. I have retained much of what I learned about this period from the teacher Mrs Smith, including the characteristics of the works of painters featured here, such as Monet, Gauguin and Cézanne (above).

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These painters departed from realistic depiction of landscapes and other objects in favour of more abstract forms, including broad brushstrokes and geometric shapes. I was fascinated by cacti as a child and Mrs Smith guided me to use broad brushstrokes to paint a Mexican desert landscape that currently hangs behind my bed (pictured).

The progression from realism to abstract in that show provided a good background for the Australian Women Artists' work in the next room (including Dorrit Black's cubist painting The Bridge from 1930, below).

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The works here held particular meaning for me, articulated here in a section of the exhibition notes:

'Abstract work is a great joy... If you can empty your mind of chatter, and just live with the work for a few minutes, you find this enormous release into a mode of thought that is beyond speech.'

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tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1668883 2021-03-21T20:55:17Z 2021-03-21T20:55:18Z Sexual empathy Recently I was asked what I thought about consent, in light of the rape allegations that the Federal Government is being forced to confront.

It is difficult to answer this without preaching, and preachers on this subject often fall into hypocrisy.

But having said this, I have strong views about consent in sexual relations that I don't mind sharing.

Specifically I believe that the most important aspect of having sex is our reading of how the other person is feeling - at every moment of the encounter - and our physical and emotional response to this.

Indeed this sense of the other is integral to the pleasure we get from sex. If that's not the case for you, my advice is that it could be better to use a sex robot or a sex toy instead of a real person.

You may wonder where I get this from. It's straight from the moral teaching of the Catholic Church, which gives priority to respecting the person.

My view is that if we don't do this, we become utilitarian and start to think pragmatically about the sex act. We might consider that society is going to be better off if we lay aside that isolated consent transgression and hope that the other person gets over it. That is perhaps how the Government is playing the current allegations.

But while I believe the Catholic Church gets it right on uncompromising respect for the person, I think its leaders got catastrophically lost along the way when they decided that human reproduction had to be the basis of the Church's sexual ethics. That is, you can't have sex unless you're making babies.

To my mind, this does not sit easily with their more important principle of respect for the person, which has made its own contribution towards western society's valuing of sexual consent.

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tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1665763 2021-03-14T22:22:53Z 2021-03-14T23:19:38Z Old school ties After being re-introduced by a mutual friend, I spent a very satisfying three hours on Friday visiting a fellow student from primary school. We've lived in the same part of Sydney for 30 years but hadn't seen each other in 40.

It made me think about our lost opportunities for meaningful human connection, but also the well-intentioned but unwanted attempts of third parties to have us reconnect with our contemporaries.

A few years ago, I was annoyed by the old boys association of my Melbourne high school. They'd kept including me in invitations to their Sydney dinner events, even though I'd demonstrated my disinterest by never attending.

I was uncomfortable with the upmarket venues, the dress codes, and the culture surrounding the occasions. I indicated this when I grumpily replied to them saying that I didn't own a dinner suit and the cost of the evenings exceeded my budget. I disingenuously implied that I would attend if they changed their tune, not expecting them to do so.

Subsequently I was floored when they began holding dinners at a lowbrow club in the city with minimum dress standards. I was impressed but nevertheless have not considered attending.

A year or so later I asked to be removed from the main mailing list of the association, explaining that receiving their newsletter was for me an occasion of 'retraumatisation'.

I didn't give any detail. They responded cordially and stopped sending the communications. I did not wish to enter into dialogue with them but simply remind them that school provided a mixed or negative experience for some.

I hoped that they would be challenged to consider my view that it was more likely than not that the old boys association - as it has traditionally operated - was most likely to reinforce rather than atone for that.

My high school was an elite all boys institution. Fairly or unfairly, I associate such institutions with the kind of entitled sexist alcohol-fueled exuberance that the Federal Government is currently being forced to face up to with the rape allegations.

I always felt alienated by that culture. That is why I have become increasingly selective when I revisit those times by meeting up with old school friends. Nevertheless it's worth the effort, as I discovered on Friday.

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tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1660514 2021-03-01T23:12:09Z 2021-03-01T23:12:09Z John Howard and the culture wars Last week the ABC's Tom Switzer interviewed former Prime Minister John Howard ahead of today's 25th anniversary of his history-changing ascension to power in the 1996 Federal Election.

Listening to Howard's reflections, what struck me was his virulent opposition to an apology to the Stolen Generations. 'I didn't think one generation could apologise for the claimed misdeeds of an earlier generation.'

I've had a life-long curiosity about the 'claimed misdeeds'. As a child, I used to wonder about the Aboriginal people who vacated the land that became our farm outside Wodonga, less than 100 years before I was born.

I had one primary school teacher who taught us that there'd been tension between the original inhabitants of the land and the European settlers. But the prevailing attitude was that how the land got to be ours was not something we needed to be concerned about.

Over the years, education fed my curiosity and I came to regard the claimed misdeeds as a stain on our peace of mind about the land we inhabit, not unlike the Catholic doctrine of Original Sin.

For now, I believe that the least we can do is to inform ourselves and support the acknowledgement of country that often takes place at the beginning of meetings and events.

I like to study the Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia, and currently I'm reading Henry Reynolds' Truth-Telling: History, Sovereignty and The Uluru Statement, which was published last month.

Reynolds, who is now 82, was a young historian when I was studying Australian history at Melbourne University. This was not long after his landmark book The Other Side of the Frontier was first published in 1981.

Reynolds' arguments were rebutted by Keith Windschuttle in The Fabrication of Aboriginal History (2002), which is often credited with precipitating the 'history wars' and - by extension - the 'culture wars'.

Windschuttle was a contemporary of John Howard's at school. In 2006 Howard appointed him to the Board of the ABC, which is often recognised as Australia's premier cultural institution. Windschuttle's ideas have clearly fuelled Howard's skepticism regarding the earlier generation's 'claimed misdeeds' against the indigenous population. The culture wars - which are the major source of social and intellectual division in Australia today - have subsequently come to loom large in Howard's legacy.

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tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1657431 2021-02-23T02:05:59Z 2021-02-23T02:06:00Z Celebrating madness There have always been euphemisms to describe people living with mental illness.

In a conversation a few days ago, a friend referred to a mutual acquaintance as being ‘on the spectrum’, as if he was not like the rest of us.

In the past, these people were called lunatics and ‘put away’ in an asylum. But more recently we have come to accept - and even celebrate - the reality that we are all mad or crazy to a degree.

Indeed the tag ‘Keep Newtown Weird’ has been used - with pride - to promote the part of Sydney where I live. My neighbourhood is a lunatic asylum!

The Scream

Yesterday the Guardian reported on an inscription - ‘Can only have been painted by a madman’ - on one of the versions of Norwegian expressionist painter Edvard Munch’s famous work The Scream.

The article said that Munch is now thought to have made the marking himself after attending an 1895 meeting in which a medical student said the painting must be the work of someone who was mentally disturbed.

It quoted a curator’s belief that the inscription is ‘a combination of being ironic, but also showing his vulnerability’.

The tortured face of the person in the painting is one of the most iconic images of modern art. It is a famously eloquent depiction of the anxiety that is characteristic of the human condition.

Coincidentally, last week I watched British director Peter Watkins’ controversial 1974 docu-drama on Munch, which has been lauded as one of the best films about art of all time.

The legendary Swedish director Ingmar Bergman called it a ‘work of genius’, but the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK tried to suppress its distribution. It is remarkable that the ostracism of Munch by Norwegian polite society seems to have persisted from his time until the late 20th century.

His legacy is the now widespread acceptance that it’s OK to externalise our tortured emotional and psychological state, in art and other forms of expression. Munch’s stubborn refusal to keep his mental anguish under wraps ensured that his work would continue strike a chord with subsequent generations of citizens of the modern world.

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tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1654555 2021-02-16T01:27:36Z 2021-02-16T01:27:36Z Making Google and Facebook pay would break the Internet I’ve been following the Federal Government’s media bargaining code legislation, which could have a profound effect on the circulation of news in Australia and beyond.

It seems the Government is on the side of media organisations in wanting to force Google and Facebook to pay for the right to provide the public with links to content that is not theirs.

I found myself torn. On the one hand I was wanting to see Google and Facebook broken up. I didn’t want them to become more powerful than the governments which are meant to regulate them on behalf of all of us.

But on the other, I strongly believe in the right of all Internet users to freely link to the content of other users’ websites.

Having formed the opinion that Google and Facebook were destroying the Internet by their dominance, I was dismayed - but eventually heartened - to see the inventor of the Internet Tim Berners-Lee apparently siding with them, in opinion articles and his submission to the Australian Parliamentary Committee.

Likewise ‘father’ of the Internet Vint Cerf told the Committee (admittedly on behalf of his current employer Google): ‘Links are the cornerstones of open access to information online; requiring a search engine (or anyone else) to pay for them undermines one of the fundamental principles of the Internet as we know it today.’

They were affirming the basis upon which I developed the CathNews website in 1999, which still publishes links and synopses of news stories concerning the Catholic Church.

We would publish snippets of the article, with the idea that we were sending the reader to the original source and not ‘stealing’ the media organisation’s content. Of course the length of the snippets was the key factor in determining whether the content was being stolen.

I never imagined that the Australian Government might one day require us to pay to publish links to other websites.

Sometimes other Internet users would write to me to ask permission to link to our content and I would reply quite definitively that there was no need to seek permission to publish links, because that was what the internet was all about.

I remember Rupert Murdoch asserting at some point many years ago, that websites - like ours perhaps - were stealing his content. He did not acknowledge that they were also delivering him a broader audience. That remains the sticking point of his battle with Google and Facebook today.

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tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1651104 2021-02-08T00:54:32Z 2021-02-08T00:54:32Z Banks that listen to their customers

When I was a child, my father took his business from the Bank of New South Wales (now Westpac) and switched to CBC Bank (now NAB).

The Bank of New South Wales had obviously done something to incur his displeasure. But the reason - which I have never known - was less important than the reality that he had a choice and exercised it.

Loyalty to banks was a big thing. My grandfather - and probably his father - had banked with the Bank of New South Wales. I understand that in those days, banks were generally loyal to their customers.

My father’s exercise of choice could have something to do with the fact that I have accounts with 15 different banks and use many of them for different purposes. In Australia we are lucky that fees are easy to avoid if you have the time to be vigilant.

Until now my favourite bank has been the neobank 86 400. This is mainly because it is not one of the ‘Big 4’ banks, all of which had their predatory behaviour exposed by the banking Royal Commission.

Neobanks are startups with the potential to spoil the party of the Big 4. They have proper banking licences but no branches, and therefore can afford to charge almost no fees and be innovative.

They are more in touch with their customers, and 86 400 has even adopted some features I have suggested.

I told them I’d like to avoid the 3% fee most banks charge for foreign transactions (it adds 3% to the cost of items such as a subscription to the New York Times). They said they’d have to absorb what it cost them, but they did remove the charge a few months later.

The bad news is that NAB announced last month that it has acquired 86 400. NAB has tried to head off competition from neobanks with its comparatively nimble UBank division. Now the scene is set for it to close 86 400, rejuvenate Ubank and further reduce competition in the banking sector.

86 400 is currently my ‘main’ bank, so I am likely to move my activity elsewhere. The most interesting candidate in my suite of bank accounts is Bank Australia, which positions itself as an ethical bank that is owned by its customers rather than profit hungry shareholders. It commenced in 1957 as the CSIRO’s staff credit union.

So far my research suggests the ethics claim is justified. Moreover it seems they listen to their customers.

A few months ago I urged them to adopt Fitbit Pay, so that their Fitbit wearing customers can make tap and go payments with their watches. A few days ago they sent an email announcing their cards are now compatible with Fitbit Pay.

Now I will see if they will come at moving even closer to the nimble and innovative neobanks by absorbing the 3% foreign transaction charge.

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tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1647850 2021-01-31T23:41:16Z 2021-03-02T10:26:40Z A trip to outback NSW

I'm spending a few nights with a friend in the historic river town of Wentworth, at the junction of the Darling and Murray rivers in the far south western corner of NSW.

As part of our 11 day rail and road journey, we were to stay in Mildura rather than Wentworth. But that was across the Victorian border, which closed after we booked and reopened following our arrival in Wentworth. As a result, we've had the experience of a small community instead of a large provincial city.

I enjoy a mix of spontaneous and planned activities. We've had a half day tour of the Lake Mungo indigenous archaeological site planned for several months, and we're doing that later today after heavy rains caused caused it to be postponed for 48 hours.

Perry Sandhills

On our first day here we visited Orange World, where a citrus farmer named Mario takes tourists on a tractor train tour through his orchard. Although he is good humoured and obviously enjoys performing as a tour guide, life is hard. He makes only 40 cents per kilo from his oranges, so he's gradually switching to mandarins, which earn $1 per kilo.

We were the only tourists on his train, which looked to have capacity for 60 or more. That is the story of our holiday. Due to COVID-19, the motels, restaurants and other attractions have been near empty. Yesterday we were alone in our exploration of the ancient Perry Sand Hills formation near the Murray River (pictured).

It has been a pleasure to give patronage to local business owners. Yesterday I bought a scarf from a Wentworth weaver. I didn't need it but will enjoy it for its comfort, style and memory of our time here.

Surprisingly there is some optimism. We met a restaurateur who is about to open an upmarket eatery in Wentworth and did not seem too worried about the uncertain times. I hope his instinct is correct.

2BH Radio Station Broken Hill

Our previous stop was Broken Hill, to which we'd travelled from Sydney on the weekly Outback Explorer train. The highlights for us included the Silly Goat cafe, which has coffee as good as any we've tasted in Sydney. They are so proud of it that they give their patrons a 'tasting notes' card.

But sadly the business is for sale. Times are tough also for the local commercial radio station 2BH, where we struck up a conversation with the advertising manager when we went to admire the unique studio building that was built to resemble a vintage radio set (pictured).

For most of the day 2BH networks shock jocks from Sydney but they have an engaging local breakfast program where you get to hear about power blackouts, extreme weather events and listener birthdays.

After Wentworth, we're driving through a few remote semi-desert towns including Balranald and Hay, before spending two nights in Griffith before our train journey back to Sydney on Thursday.

More images at http://photos.mullins.id.au

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tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1641480 2021-01-17T23:47:42Z 2021-01-28T19:51:03Z Deplatforming ourselves The deplatforming of Donald Trump has brought this new word into prominence. Twitter, Facebook and several other social media platforms have effectively silenced the outgoing US president by suspending him from using their services.

While that is of course very significant, I’m more interested in the idea of deplatforming ourselves, which is sometimes referred to as social media ‘detox’.

I have a history of this. I was an early adopter of various forms of social media, but then just as quickly abandoned them as I became aware that they were taking over my life and exploiting my usage data.

I remember my Twitter consumption being at its peak when Julia Gillard successfully challenged Kevin Rudd for the Labor Party leadership in 2010.

Shortly afterwards, I realised that I was checking my Twitter feed whenever I had a spare moment. I marvelled at how well informed I’d become.

But I was also aware that my total wellbeing had taken a hit. I had to either moderate or effectively abandon my use of Twitter. I chose the latter, though I agree that moderation is always the best way to curb addictive behaviour.

About two years ago, I decided to work on improving my skills as a photographer by posting a photo a day on Instagram. I kept it up for a year but stopped because I didn’t like it that Instagram was part of the ecosystem of Facebook, which I’d strenuously avoided because I genuinely believed it was more evil than good.

In November 2019 I decided to remove Google from my life as far as possible. You can’t do that completely if you own an Android phone as I do. But you can try.

I googled ‘no more Google’ and found a website listing alternatives to Google. Now my googling days are over and I use the DuckDuckGo search engine and many other services that do not send my usage data to Google or Facebook.

I’ve been a constant user of Fitbit health and fitness monitoring devices for nearly six years. So I was dismayed when Google purchased Fitbit a year or so ago. I could see Google monitoring my weight and trying to sell weight loss products to me whenever it sees I’ve gained a kilo or two.

An email from the Fitbit CEO last week promised that wouldn’t happen. But the Australian regulatory body the ACCC looks like it will only be able to achieve a moratorium on such predatory practice for a limited period of time. It is about to rule after receiving submissions from members of the public including myself.

If I count podcasts, I’m still as addicted to social media as anybody I know. This morning I decided to switch off my podcast feed while I was at the gym and give my full and satisfied attention to my body’s reaction to the weights I was lifting.

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tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1638359 2021-01-10T22:34:06Z 2021-01-10T22:34:06Z The era of colonial exploitation has never ended

Yesterday I watched a 1970s fantasy documentary that sets ‘backward’ Filipinos against the more technologically advanced and superior Western nations.

Kidlat Tahimik’s Perfumed Nightmare was Sunday’s film of the day on my favourite streaming platform Mubi.

In a whimsical semi-autobiographical style, the jeepney (mini-bus) driver in a small village is mesmerised by the American dream of space travel and hi-tech industrialisation. He attends a Scouts convention where he meets a rich American who promises to take him to the US, but they first spend a year in Paris working for his bubble gum machine business.

Jeepney Driver

It’s there that he gets to identify with the traditional street market vendors, who are losing out to the spread of supermarkets. He becomes an advocate for pushback against the consumer capitalism that has so thoroughly exploited his own country. The Philippines was formally an American colony between 1898 and 1946, and informally for much longer.

The film took me back to my three month visit to the Philippines in the summer of 1983-84, where I stayed in villages with people who aspired to be part of the modern world even though they had been impoverished by the self-serving actions of the wealthy nations and their investors.

I remember being disturbed and perplexed by people rotting their teeth drinking Coke and Pepsi and feeling good about it.

I spent time with the Mindanao Development Centre, which was involved in social analysis to lobby on behalf of the poor people who were losing their livelihoods to the multinational corporations. I also visited an Australian priest - Father Brian Gore - who was jailed for emboldening sugar industry workers to assemble and fight for their rights.

I remained interested in the effect of colonialism and neocolonialism on the wellbeing of people in poorer countries. I remember travelling through Java in 2014 and visiting the museum of the 1955 Bandung Conference that sought to unite developing nations against the stranglehold of the developed world.

Then on Saturday, I bought East Timor coffee at my local Carriageworks market in Sydney. I talked with the stall holder about my work with Caritas in East Timor in 1999. She told me about establishing the development aid projects which my coffee purchase was helping to sustain.

But while individuals and small organisations from the developed world continue to do what they can for those in developing countries, the behaviour of governments is as shameful as ever.

We have the continued slashing of aid budgets. There is also the aggressive action by our Federal Government in prosecuting the whistleblower Bernard Collaery, who exposed our government’s 2004 bugging of the East Timor cabinet offices in an effort to gain an unfair advantage during negotiations for a petroleum and gas treaty.

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tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1635346 2021-01-03T21:58:44Z 2021-01-03T21:58:44Z The right amount of wine For many years I enjoyed half a bottle of wine with my evening meal. I think that’s roughly equivalent to the amount of alcohol my parents consumed while I was growing up, though they drank beer rather than wine.

Although I imagine it’s more than most of my contemporaries, I have been comfortable with that amount because I’ve never exceeded it, at least not regularly. My reasoning was that if I had more than half a bottle one night, I’d be left with less than half the next.

I know it’s always good to monitor our drug and alcohol consumption, even if it’s firmly under control. So when I received my regular blood test results about six months ago, I asked the GP if he could see signs of excess alcohol consumption.

He said no. I asked the same of my nutritionist, and she agreed.

They probably recognise the mental health benefit of drinking a modest amount of alcohol each day, and that half a bottle a day is less than what most problem drinkers consume.

Nevertheless I continued to question the half bottle. Aside from the cost - about $10 over two evenings - drinking that amount meant that my head was not clear enough for me to do any serious reading after dinner. I thought that I would like to be able to read more at that time of day.

So I decided to have a quarter of a bottle a day instead of half a bottle. That worked in that I did not notice any loss of enjoyment of the wine and I had a clearer head afterwards.

Then a few weeks later the National Health and Medical Research Council released its updated guidelines. They suggested that 10 standard drinks each week is the most we should consume if we want to reduce our risk of harm from alcohol. A standard drink is 100ml of wine - half a glass, or a little more than an eighth of a bottle.

I decided that I would try keeping to one standard drink each day. This is less than the 1.4 standard drinks allowed but it assumes I will have more when I go out.

So far it has worked, and arguably my enjoyment has increased because I’m learning to savour wine rather than drink it.

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tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1630092 2020-12-20T23:51:04Z 2020-12-20T23:51:05Z Have an evidence-based Christmas!

A week or two ago my neighbours across the street erected an inflatable decoration with the greeting 'Have a Magical Christmas!'

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I found the emphasis on magic more thought provoking than most Christmas or holiday greeting sentiments.

It affirms this as the 'silly season', suggesting that Christmas is rightfully a time to suspend our usual behaviours in order to give momentary credence to irrationality and wishful thinking.

Magic is based on illusion rather than evidence. We are briefly putting ourselves under its spell so that we can recharge the batteries of our rationality.

It is important that magic does not become the year-round norm for us - as it is for some, including leaders of some of the most powerful nation states.

When my neighbours' greeting went up, I was pleased to see the way they were highlighting the need for our annual refocus so that we can better confront the serious challenges before us.

But circumstances changed quickly and now Sydney's silly season must be suspended until the virus can be brought under control. The message has to be negated. Don't have a Magical Christmas.

Whether or how effectively the virus is brought under control is entirely dependent upon our ability to suspend silliness and keep our minds tuned and eyes open to the evidence. Instead of letting down our guard, we're to wear masks and accept mandatory mask wearing if it is decreed.

It is of course unfortunate that the deliberate emptiness of the 'silly' season is routinely conflated with what Christmas is intended to celebrate. That is the Christian believers' moment of hope for a better world that is real. Arguably this hope is something that rationality depends upon but can't itself deliver.

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tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1627567 2020-12-13T23:23:19Z 2020-12-13T23:23:19Z The Sunday Obligation lives on for a diminishing minority of Catholics

When I was growing up, practising Catholics were very aware of the requirement to attend Mass on Sundays and certain feast days that were designated 'Holy Days of Obligation'.

In a society that was still to some extent sectarian, it did not seem fair that we Catholics were compelled to go to church while Protestants were free to choose. But the Sunday Obligation was a loathsome marker of Catholic identity that you did not question.

I hated having to go to Mass and would often go by myself to an early mass, to get it over with, so that I could enjoy the rest of my Sunday.

To be fair, Sunday mass had some positives. These included its music and theatre, and the engaging craft of some of the priests. But for me, all of this was negated by the Obligation.

When I reached adulthood and developed a broader and quite significant appreciation of certain aspects of the Catholic faith, I grew out of my cultural need to honour the Sunday Obligation.

Indeed, on Sunday mornings to this day, I experience a mild sense of euphoria in being free from its yoke. I would even suggest that this signifies that I suffered from a form of PTSD associated with the Obligation.

During the pandemic, the Sunday Obligation has of course suffered something of a blow, with church authorities having to endorse the state's ban on mass attendance.

I'd hoped that this might have had a lasting effect post-pandemic, with Catholics taking responsibility for deciding on their mass attendance in general, in the way that all citizens are now taking decisions about how to act appropriately in social gatherings.

But last week, Sydney's Archbishop Anthony Fisher put paid to this in his pastoral letter 'Come Home to Mass!' He said:

'I rescind my decree of 20 March 2020 dispensing the faithful of Sydney from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and the Holy Days of Christmas and the Assumption. Under canon 1247 attendance at Mass on those days is now obligatory once again.'

Leaving the Sunday Obligation in its state of being cast aside might have usefully helped Catholic church leaders demonstrate humility in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis.

The need for this arises from the Royal Commission finding that power dynamics in institutional cultures allowed sexual abuse to flourish. But Archbishop Fisher's pastoral letter - and a similar one from the Archbishop of Hobart - has shown that they are determined to exercise a powerful grip on the lives of the faithful.

The good news is that they are fighting a losing battle, with an increasing 90 per cent majority of Catholics rejecting the Sunday Obligation.

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tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1625099 2020-12-06T21:28:17Z 2020-12-06T21:42:14Z Tattoos that heal the scars of war

On the train to Canberra yesterday, I read a newspaper review of the Ink in the Lines tattooed war veterans exhibition at the Australian War Memorial.

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I've avoided visiting the War Memorial because expert commentary I've followed depicts it as a propaganda tool in the culture wars. But I decided to see this exhibition because it seemed different. And it was.

Its focus was on veterans getting 'inked' as a way of dealing with the trauma of war, including killing and witnessing the killing of comrades.

That trauma is now referred to as PTSD, but it was originally labelled 'shell shock'. I remember my mother explaining that her father had experienced shell shock after serving in the First World War.

To me it explained why my grandfather always seemed distant, and it occurred to me that this must have had an effect on his style of parenting. I'm sure this is not uncommon.

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As depicted in the exhibition, tattoos are able to tell the stories that veterans keep to themselves because they are too painful to verbalise. This is how Elaine put it:

'A transformation’s just happened after the tattoo got put on, and it’s like an armour for me to say, "Wow. There is life after. You can recover. You just got to reach out and ask for help."'

I've never thought about getting a tattoo because it's not something that those of my generation and social grouping do. That is unlikely to change. But when I consider the scars of my years of institutional living, I can see how tattoos can help with the healing.

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tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1622703 2020-11-29T23:09:33Z 2020-11-29T23:09:34Z How not to help people who seem to be struggling

A few months ago somebody complimented me on my positivity. But I also remember another person earlier criticising me for my positivity, insisting that I didn't know what it was like to be in the dark place he was.

He rejected my constructive and rational solutions to his lamentable situation.

'You're not helping', he told me.

'How do I help?', I wondered.

Last week I read an article in The Independent in which a psychologist recalls a book that influenced her practice.

The book's author Dr Irvin Yalom was always keen to avoid diagnosis, which he argued was useful only for 'accessing a particular service'.

'You have to tailor your treatment plan to fit the actual person in front of you'.

That reminded me of the approach of the elocution teacher I had as a ten year old. I was terrible at memorising poems to recite, and I rebelled. She got me to write stories instead, and I excelled.

If her brief was to prepare me to win voice-speaking prizes at eisteddfods, she would have failed. Instead she considered it more important to help me to find my creative voice.

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Last week I also read an interview with American talk show host Trevor Noah, who has developed rapport with a white homeless man who sleeps near his TV studio.

'I remember once, when I first got here, I felt guilty. I was like, "Hey, man, can we do anything?" He said, "No…I'm fine living the way I live".'

Moreover the man challenged Noah's world view: 'He's homeless, but he'll say super-racist or sexist shit to my employees, like the women.'

'It's a really interesting dynamic. In the rules of wokeness, I don't know how it works. I don't know what the rules are.'

Noah's instinct was to immediately call out the man's racism and sexism. But he came to realise it was smarter to first understand it.

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tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1620037 2020-11-22T20:43:52Z 2020-11-22T20:43:53Z Listening to our body

Yesterday somebody I was talking to posed an important question for self-reflection: What do I find calming?

Then last night I visited a tantric masseur's blog that I discovered two years ago, about the same time as I considered the suggestion of a friend that we 'listen to our body'.

She was referring to diet, but the principle also applies to physical exercise, as well as attempts to avoid the over-thinking that can undermine our calm, and much more.

The tantric masseur is a young Frenchman named Florian. He presents himself as a life coach focusing on intuition and 'emotional presence'.

I guess intuition makes him some kind of clairvoyant, and the primacy of emotion is archetypically French. His approach is non evidence-based, unashamedly so. It's intended, as he says, to 'complement ... actual therapy'.

His English and French websites are different. On the English he talks about 'Shadow Work' allowing us to 'understand and integrate the mechanic of our emotions, our [troublesome] subconscious behaviors which repeat themselves in our life'.

Meanwhile on the French, he explains his role as a masseur: 'As I lay my hands on your body, I feel your blockages'.

He goes on to discuss the reality of 'corporal' expression and the need to listen to what our body is saying.

'Your body ... knows what it has to do. It knows [when] it needs to move, what it needs to put in order. It knows and it speaks to you, through pain, and through well-being'.

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tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1617285 2020-11-15T22:12:55Z 2020-11-15T22:12:55Z How to overcome the fear of failure

After I wrote that I'd been meditating, a relative reminded me of a previous discussion in which we both indicated we'd sworn off meditation after our earlier negative experiences of it. Mine involved a brutal power play by the novice master not long after I began my Jesuit training as an 18 year old.

After that, I always felt diminished when I attempted meditation. However in recent years I've developed the confidence to reassert myself pursuing various activities I'd struggled with earlier in life because of a power imbalance between myself and another person.

'Power imbalance' is used to describe the exploitation of one human being by another where the exploiter has significant power and influence over the exploited. It can involve the sexual gratification of clergy or politicians where the victim is a minor or a junior staff member.

But it can also be a more insidious assertion of the cultural dominance of all-powerful institutions.

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Catholic schools were infamous for having certain teachers who would try to get their students to make something of their lives by telling them they would never make something of their lives.

Some students took this as a defeat, while for others it was a challenge.

The Irish born actor Gabriel Byrne tells of overcoming the negative aspects of his Catholic schooling, to become an actor, in his memoir Walking With Ghosts. I read this last week, after getting to know him through watching all 106 episodes of the TV series In Treatment - in which he plays a therapist - as part of my lockdown routine earlier this year.

He writes about how he learned acting: 'Sealed off in a windowless room, I dare to take risks. To free myself from judgment. Battle with doubt and fear of failure. Marry movement to emotion. Be brave. Be still. Trust myself. This Sisyphean pushing of a rock up a hill; slowly gaining confidence.'

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tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1614067 2020-11-08T21:50:27Z 2020-11-08T21:50:27Z News junkies who meditate As US president-elect Joe Biden's early disappointment was being reported on Wednesday afternoon, I was arriving at the home of friends at the other end of Newtown.

I mentioned the count and was stunned to hear them say they knew nothing about an election taking place. Moreover they did not seem to care when I expressed regret that the envisaged 'blue wave' had not materialised.

They explained that they did not follow the news, it seems not even on Facebook. I was meeting them for meditation, and implicit in their attitude to me was that I should calm down.

I asked how they informed themselves on how to vote when there's an election in Australia. One explained that he simply trusts and votes for the political party he favours. The other appeared unconcerned.

Earlier in the year, I was attending an event and got into discussion with two other participants. They both thought it was a good thing that Trump had got elected and shaken up the political establishment.

I was shocked but agreed that international politics could benefit from fresh blood, to hasten progress on urgent matters such as climate action. However I remained disturbed by the thought that the world's most powerful leader would leave the world a much more dangerous and less co-operative and gracious place to live when he eventually departed office.

On Wednesday evening I was in a Zoom reflection meeting. I mentioned my discovery earlier in the day that I had friends who appeared not to care about the world. Another participant, who portrayed himself as a fellow 'news junkie', was also carrying the weight of the expectation of another four years of Trump. He understood both my concern and my excess news consumption.

I sometimes joke about being a news junkie. But I do believe that we have to continually inform ourselves if we want a better world. However I have to confess that I too can cover my eyes when the news is too bad to bear. I remember doing this earlier this year when I heard that mining company Rio Tinto had blasted and destroyed the two ancient Aboriginal rock caves at Juukan Gorge in Western Australia.

Such events beg action. But not without the perspective that activities like meditation can bring, when they help to ground and protect us from excess. The paradox is that we have to close our eyes to meditate.

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tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1611068 2020-11-01T21:46:00Z 2020-11-01T21:47:21Z Saving money for good karma

On Saturday I caught a bus home from the city. Despite the rain, I got off at the stop before the one closest to my house, to ensure I paid the short journey fare and saved 68 cents. I got slightly wet but was pleased that I'd saved the money.

Yesterday I read journalist Rick Morton’s new short book On Money. It's an essay about social inequality, with reference to his own relationship with money, which could hardly be more different to mine.

Cover of Rick Morton On Money

His friends tell him he's ‘terrible with money’ and he doesn't deny that. He writes that he didn’t own a car for a month after moving to Canberra for work. But instead of catching a bus to the office every day, he spent $600 on taxis. Later he mentions paying $75 for a valet to park his car while staying at a hotel in the Sydney CBD.

Morton grew up in poverty and was never taught to save or invest. He's only now earning enough to think beyond his own basic needs. He's reached the milestone of being able to help his still financially struggling mother by providing a few comforts including a $14,000 bathroom renovation.

I was brought up quite differently, in a middle class family where we learned to save and invest for the future. I believe that some degree of financial education is the key to avoiding falling into poverty or relative poverty. My father made sure that I understood about compound interest, and the difference between good and bad debt.

Good debt is absolutely essential for maximising our investment potential. However after paying off my house, I've decided that I prefer the karma that comes with having no debt.

Leaving aside the purchase of essentials and the occasional luxury - and supporting good causes - I've come to believe that money is meant for saving more than spending. Its purpose is to provide cross-generational security, and we are its stewards. In the way that we take care of the natural environment for those who come after us.

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tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1608462 2020-10-25T20:14:37Z 2020-10-25T20:14:37Z The bastards and other unwelcome visiting forces This year one of my Melbourne University student nieces has been living in a house in Park Drive, Parkville, not far down the street from where I lived in 1980-81 while a student myself.

I have fond memories of my house companion Father Arnie Hogan, an Irish Jesuit moral theologian who'd made his life in Australia. In facing the demands of his religious superiors, he had a battle cry - Don't let the bastards get you down! - which he'd sometimes express in Latin to give it elevated status.

His sense of self-preservation came to mind a few days ago while I was listening to an interview with Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg in the podcast On Being.

She urges us to have compassion for ourselves. She was speaking about 'equanimity', which is the capacity of our hearts to stand back and see what we're being put through, by others and ourselves. It's the ability to hold these things at a distance in an attempt to avoid having them cripple us. It's keeping in check 'visiting forces' such as greed, hatred, jealousy and fear. The bastards in our lives.

Over the years, my visiting forces have included Catholic guilt and other forms of self-loathing. Fortunately they have substantially fallen away and these days I care about different things, such as respecting the people around me, and the cultural and environmental heritage of the world I live in. These sound like motherhood statements but they're real for me.

If I want to, I can catch a glimpse of my past self-loathing by going to my bookshelf and picking up one of the diaries from my tormented teenage years. However I choose not to do that. Instead my meditation is on the equanimity of my life now, even if my 'inner city elite' state of privilege puts me out of touch with many of my fellow human beings.

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tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1605740 2020-10-18T22:17:43Z 2020-10-18T23:05:19Z Respect as a crowd pleaser In August, my mother's cousin Bill contracted the coronavirus and quickly died in his Melbourne aged care residence. I'd met him only once, when I paid a visit while passing through Melbourne on my way to Gippsland last February. In fact I got to know him only in recent years, when he started reading and responding to my Tiny Letters.

What struck me was that he never took issue with any of my commentary, even though I was sure that my opinions were not his. He'd been a career public servant in the Department of Finance and remained a keen follower of news and current affairs until the end. He was a contemporary of Cardinal Pell at school and, in his emails to me, never sought to distance himself from the cardinal.

When I was young, I would make sure I knew which side of the political fence a person stood, and then judge them accordingly. But if I judge somebody these days, it's much less likely to be about ideology than the degree of respect they hold for those with opinions different to their own.

I remember spending time with an Opus Dei representative at a religious media conference some years ago. Afterwards it was disarming to admit to myself that I liked him and enjoyed his company even though we must have been poles apart ideologically. I felt respected by him and I respected him in turn. I found myself wondering what made him tick and was consciously determined not wish him ill, even if I still loathed what Opus Dei stood for.

I cherish the moments when rival politicians show empathy for each other, in comments they make or in their exchanges during media appearances.

On yesterday's ABC Insiders, Federal Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek expressed solidarity with the besieged NSW Liberal Premier Gladys Berejiklian. She said: 'I feel actually, as a human being, very personally sorry for the premier... It is hard to form and maintain relationships in our line of work.'

She rebuffed the interviewer's repeated attempts to have her endorse an attack dog newspaper commentary against Berejiklian that was written by Plibersek's Labor colleague Kristina Keneally, even though it was well argued and she probably agreed with it.

Recently I've started listening to podcasts of Ben Fordham's interviews from his 2GB breakfast radio program. Fordham replaced legendary shock jock Alan Jones earlier this year with a brief to wind down the offence levels in order to avoid public protest boycotting of the program's advertisers.

While Fordham maintains an uncompromising shotgun interview style, he manages to treat his interview subjects with respect. This is how he ended his interview with the local MP about the troubled plan to move a heritage building to make way for construction of the new Powerhouse Museum: 'Geoff Lee, the member for Parramatta. Good guy, bad idea'.

It's pleasing that the recent audience survey showed that Fordham has maintained Alan Jones' ratings dominance. This suggests respect can be just as much of a crowd pleaser as bullying.

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tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1603276 2020-10-11T22:29:25Z 2020-10-11T22:29:26Z Neighbourhood bonding in a time of social isolation A few weeks ago, I was sitting outside my front door when a passer by smiled and said: 'You live in the best street in Sydney'.

She had a point. The street is known for its beautiful canopy of trees. It's also wide and quiet and five minutes walk to a sought after inner city alternative culture and shopping precinct.

When I arrived 27 years ago, there were still factories and warehouses. Many of the now gentrified residences were workers cottages. That's what they'd been for the hundred years or so since the street was constructed on a creek bed in the late 19th century.

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My first house was a small semi towards the top of the street. Then eight years later, I upgraded to a larger living space in a terrace twelve doors down.

During the lockdown earlier this year, I replaced the dead pot plant at my front door with a chair. Then I started sitting there most days. Like the old timer I have become while living in the street.

I didn't think it out too much. However I sense the chair placement was partly out of a desire to luxuriate in the tree canopy that I'd largely ignored all these years. But it was probably more that I wanted to be part of a neighbourhood, and it was a means to that end.

Somebody has probably written somewhere that a neighbourhood doesn't exist unless those living in it do something to make it happen. That's true.

I'm sorry to say that I spurned the neighbourhood making initiative of some people a few doors from my original house when I first arrived in the street. They invited me for a cup of tea but I politely declined out of shyness.

In the years since, that shyness has deprived me - and by extension my neighbours - of a sense of genuine neighbourhood.

But earlier this year things began to change. A couple from across the road left a packet of small Easter eggs and a nice note in our letterbox.

Then we reciprocated a month or two down the track by leaving some rhubarb compote at their front door. A while later, they accepted our invitation to afternoon tea. Now I often wave to them when I'm sitting on my chair and they're walking their dogs.

The chair has facilitated nods and eye contact and sometimes conversations with other neighbours, as well as passers by from other streets, and residents from the more densely populated warehouse conversion apartment blocks at the bottom of the street. I like to think that this year of necessary social isolation has also been for me, a time of social bonding and neighbourhood making.

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tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1600591 2020-10-04T21:48:38Z 2020-10-04T23:34:39Z Canberra gazing Yesterday I did a day trip by train to Canberra. That is something I get to enjoy a few times a year. I have the time and the means and the desire to get out of space-poor inner city Sydney, to an urban setting that is culturally alive but offers fresh air and open space in a bush setting.

Like capital cities in many countries, Canberra is an indulgence that all Australians are entitled to use but most don't. Its cultural institutions attempt to define the nation, which is important for social cohesion and the sense that we all belong. It's about continuing education, and encouragement to specify what we like and don't like about professional curators' ideas of Australian identity.

On my visits to Canberra, I sometimes catch up with a friend of nearly 40 years, which is what I did for the first couple of hours yesterday (he told me he regretted the infrequency of my Tiny Letters, hence this one). We walked nearly 10km around Lake Burley Griffin and the Molonglo River reserve, which is a nature and recreational reserve reclaimed from dairy farming. Then I spent the rest of the day at the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery of Australia.

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These two institutions, along with the National Library, are the ones I visit most, as they are a convenient 40 minute lakeside walk from the Railway Station.

The Portrait Gallery is probably my favourite. Currently there's the 'Pub Rock' exhibition of images of popular musicians from five decades from around 1960. There are depictions of groups such as Sherbet (pictured), which were very much part of my teenage years, and others such as Midnight Oil, which were less part of my formation, as their heyday was during my years of religious life rebellion against popular culture.

But there doesn't have to be a special show for me to come alive studying the regular collection's photographs and paintings of Australians whom the curators have judged notable. I guess they have to focus on the rich and famous, but the images I like most are of Australians I've never heard of. Yesterday's visit inspired me to imagine the photos from my collection I'd put in a portrait gallery of notable people from my own life.

The National Gallery is preparing for a larger exhibition opening next month, but there's the main collection and several small exhibitions. I saw some of them last time, but one titled 'The Body Electric' was new to me.

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I thought it was going to be about the female gaze at the male body as an antidote to image-making's dominance of the male gaze at the female body. It was. But it was much more than that, exploring androgyny and gender fluidity, and also ways of subverting sex consumerism.

Polly Borland (image pictured) is an Australian artist who has lived and worked in the US for many years. She has some artfully ugly images that are 'resistant to easy consumption', and - in contrast to regular pornography - they deliberately 'refuse to satisfy'. She likes to subvert the marketers' hold on our sexual desires, where '[sex is] controlling us, we're not controlling it'.

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tag:mullins.id.au,2013:Post/1564023 2020-06-24T02:55:53Z 2020-06-24T02:55:54Z The question of toppling statues
One of the readers of my last Tiny Letter emailed with a question she thought I might answer in my next. She gave me a reason to write another Tiny Letter. Perhaps others will do the same.
 
Before I answer the question, I will say that the idea of a question for the blogger reminds me of how the musician Nick Cave writes his blog The Red Hand Files. 
 
Each of his blogs is an answer to a reader question. In the most recent, a New Zealander asks: 'Do you ever look back at your anthology and wish you had been more overtly politically outspoken?’ In the previous one, there is this from the UK: 'Would you consider compiling a list of 40 books you love?’
 
The question about books had me thinking about the bookshelves in the front room of my house, in a way that answers my friend's question. 
 
As I get older, I am becoming aware that each book on my shelves is in some way a memorial to a person or moment in my life. I think this was always the case, but now it's a thing I dwell on.
 
I sometimes reposition a book to give it greater or less prominence. Authors or subjects I feel warmly about get pride of place. Those at the other end of the spectrum are relegated to a less desirable spot. 
 
There is one particular book that also has its spine reversed, to hide the title and author's name from view. Its author is my former brother in law, whose actions caused significant suffering to members of my family.
 
Why didn't I just toss the book in the bin?
 
My answer to that is also the answer to my friend's question, which incidentally was: 'I would be interested in your views re statue-toppling’.
 
It is that I want to avoid erasing all knowledge of people's misdeeds from my consciousness, because it amounts to a denial of history. 
 
In other words, it's best to preserve some memory of the anti-hero. Future generations need to know about bad deeds as well as good deeds.
 
Two years ago I visited the town of Stalin's birth in the Republic of Georgia. I was impressed that the locals refrained from toppling his statue when he fell from grace, or when they were celebrating Georgia's regaining independence from the Soviet Union. They simply moved it to a less prominent position.
 
My opposition to erasing the memory of anti-heroes also applies to place names. I have been following calls to rename Faithfull Street in Nick Cave's north-east Victorian home town of Wangaratta. It was named after a pastoralist who was involved in Aboriginal massacres in the 19th century.
 
Rather than removing Faithfull's name completely, I would prefer to see some kind of creative reversal of his honouring, such as renaming it Faithless Street.
 
What to do about Faithfull Street could be a question to put to Nick Cave.
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