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Nelson Mandela: the greatest fighter of all

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It is strange that I was in South Africa on a training visit only a matter of weeks before the release of Nelson Mandela on 11 February 1990.  I am ashamed to say that at the time I had only a vague idea of who he was and what he stood for.

Moreover, what little I did know was largely inaccurate.

Like many whites living in South Africa in the late 70s and early 80s, the only information I had concerning Nelson Mandela was that he was a "terrorist" - and an unrepentant one.  I had heard that he had been offered chances for release on the condition that he renounce violence, but these he had refused.  On this basis, his continued incarceration seemed entirely reasonable.

I first arrived in South Africa on 30 November 1976, my father (a civil engineer) having gone there for work. I was to stay a total of 8 years in an environment that can best be described as "carefully stage managed": a kind of "Stepford Wives meets Truman Show" world of stately homes, mani…

Churchyard anger: an early lesson about bullies

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It was early morning, mid-April 1971 and I was in the back seat of my parent's brand-new, shiny-white Holden Kingswood, trying to listen to Mungo Jerry's "In the Summertime" which was blasting valiantly from the tinny AM radio but losing to the road noise coming in through the open windows.

We were driving the 15 km or so down the dusty Riverina Highway from our "home town" of Finley to the "big smoke" of Berrigan.  My mother was an aspiring portrait and landscape artist, but living in the country gave her few opportunities to display her work.  The annual Berrigan Art Fair was one of these.

As I recall, back then the fair was held at a local church.  And, it being a Sunday in deeply conservative rural New South Wales, my atheist parents were naturally obliged to attend the service.
I remember quite clearly arriving at the imposing building, nestled in amongst tall trees, a paddock to one side.  As we walked in through the pipe-iron and wire gate,…

Voyages of the damned: asylum seekers and xenophobia

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It is almost exactly 74 years to the day since the end of the "Voyage of the damned" - the return of the MS St. Louis to Europe.

For those who don't know, the St. Louis, under the command of Captain Gustav Schröder, was a ship bound for Havana, Cuba in 1939, carrying 937 Jewish men, women and children to safety from Hitler's Nazi regime.  But when the St. Louis arrived, the captain and his passengers were dismayed to discover that the Cuban government had retroactively invalidated their visas as well as changed the tourist and asylum laws.  They were turned away.

Captain Schröder, a non-Jewish German, then sailed for the US, but was turned away from Florida by the coastguard.  So concerned was the captain to get his passengers to a point of safety, that even contemplated running his ship aground so as to avoid returning his passengers to Europe.  But the US coastguard prevented this (it is reported that they fired warning shots over the bow of his vessel).

Next he s…

Understanding your violent potential

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Here are a couple of videos that struck a chord with me regarding violence against women - and violence in general.  In a roundabout way, they led me to start thinking more generally about martial arts and its relationship to violence.

I've long been a fan of the actor Sir Patrick Stewart.1  In the first video below you will see him bringing all his considerable gravitas to bear on a very serious issue.  He shows himself to be a true humanist, as well as a man of great insight, wisdom and compassion.



Stewart talks about the abuse his mother and he endured at the hands of his father.  It is a most touching and revealing account of what it means to live with the constant threat and fear of physical violence.

I've included the second video below because Stewart goes one step further to reveal the most likely cause of his father's violence: untreated, chronic and severe post-traumatic stress disorder from fighting in World War II.



It is important to note that at no point does …

Misuse of Australian and UK statistics in the US gun control debate

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Introduction

I wasn't going to write any more concerning gun control, but a friend posted a link on my Facebook page to a blog featuring the dreadful video below:



The blogger asks: "What happened to gun control successes in Australia?" My Facebook friend wanted me to respond and, so to avoid having to repeat it elsewhere, I thought I'd deal with here in a comprehensive way.

And at least this time I can't be accused of "meddling in US issues" - because the statistics being misused here are not US ones but rather those of my own country and of the UK!

So let's examine what this video actually shows:

Some US network (Fox, I imagine?) reporter asks a few very disgruntled gun owners in Australia about the 1996 gun restrictions, then quotes some Australian crime "statistics" to establish a "link" between these restrictions and the general increase in crime rate in Australia.

What's wrong with that?

Well I'll say this: The vid…