“Prepare for more pain YOU COWARD.” That’s the 5cm-high headline on page 9 of today’s Sunday Mail. The ‘coward’ referred to is Riduan Isomuddin (aka Hambali), the suspected mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings, who’s been in Guantanamo for more than 10 years.

Increasingly, world leaders and commentators have been attaching the ‘coward’ label to suicide bombers and perpetrators of other atrocities, and I’m not sure that it’s appropriate.

Whatever one thinks of these people and their motives, and the puppeteers who pull their strings, I don’t think they’re cowards. They have to overcome their instinct for self-preservation, for one thing; and their instinctive empathy for fellow humans. Killing oneself and killing other people takes courage.

But, you may say, if a crime is committed in the name of Islam the perpetrator is promised great rewards in Paradise. True, but what if his suicide vest fails? What if he’s shot but not killed? He faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life locked up, maybe maimed, probably celibate, hoping that failure to complete his mission does not disqualify him from receiving a martyr’s prize.

And surely some of them must consider the possibility that the men who made those promises are themselves misguided – or even liars. Then they face eternity in Hell.

No. I see foolishness, I see wickedness, but I don’t see cowardice.

Does it matter what epithets we throw at them? I think it does. Unless we correctly characterise their crimes and their motivation we cannot counter them effectively.

Sorry: I can think of no suitable picture to include in this post.

Falling pregnant


I’ve been getting emails offering me help to fall pregnant. I’ve been getting others offering to help me build a chicken coop too. I’m not planning on doing either, with or without help. But the ones about falling pregnant got my strop-meter ticking.

Why do we use such negative words for things to do with love and life? People lose their virginity and fall pregnant. Surely one’s virginity is not lost, but given away in a joyous step along the avenue of life! And why should we bracket conception with falling over, falling from grace, fallen women?

I suggest that we all start using other words and phrases, for example:

  • Not “She lost her virginity” but “She attained post-virginal status.”
  • Not “She fell pregnant” but “She became an incipient life-giver.”

Fallen Woman

Incipient Life-Giver


Not as snappy perhaps, but a lot more positive. Anyone got a better idea?

Then what about ‘vagina’?  The first time I came across the word was in a Latin lesson: it’s a scabbard.  Not a pretty association.  The Malay word translates as ‘baby tunnel’.


Multiculturalism: Not Just Food and Dancing


There has been an exposé on Australian television about the extent of influence-buying that the Chinese Government has been engaged in. Evidently it includes making big donations to political parties and then exerting pressure to change policies – towards Chinese imperialism in the South China Sea for example. The donations do not come directly from the Chinese Government or the Communist Party, but through well-connected businesspeople.

Chinese students in Australia – numbering more than 46,000 at the last count – are subject to surveillance and ‘helped’ to participate in demonstrations of support for the party line. Educational and cultural institutes have been set up at tertiary institutions, financed and controlled by the Chinese Government with a plainly political agenda. Yesterday the Australian Broadcasting Corporation drew attention to ways in which the Chinese Government is using the Australian media.

When we embraced multiculturalism in the 1980s we thought it was just about accepting more ethnic diversity, having a new TV channel broadcasting in multiple languages, eating unfamiliar food and watching people dancing in the street in dragon costumes or embroidered peasant blouses. Good clean fun.

But ‘culture’ goes much deeper than that. We find ourselves confronted with halal and kosher slaughtering, female genital mutilation, forced marriages, and dealings in the spheres of business and politics that look a lot like corruption. These and other practices that make us uneasy are probably here to stay.

Sports Photography


I have very little interest in sport and not much more in photography, but my eye was caught by this photograph in the Guardian Weekly.

The surfer is Macy Callaghan, who first hopped on a board when she was 3.  She is shown winning the World Surf League Qualifying Series at Boomerang Beach. The picture was taken by Jonny Weeks.

I’m sharing this because I think it’s the ultimate sports photo. The composition, the sense of movement, the juxtaposition of colours… there’s nothing one would want to change.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, they’d have to be very well-chosen words to replace this one.

Sorry for the muted colours: it’s a scan from a newspaper.
Click on Macy’s name above to see sharper, brighter pictures



Motherhood used to be the hardest job in the world. Now it’s being a politician in a modern democracy. Their power has waned as that of corporations and lobbyists and special interest groups has waxed, but they are still blamed for everything and subjected to merciless ridicule. Worse, they are accused of dishonesty, usually not with malice but which a casual assumption that the words ‘politician’ and ‘liar’ are pretty much interchangeable.

This is both unfair and dangerous. It’s unfair because the job of a politician is to find ways to make everyone feel that their opinions have been respected and their interests served. This is impossible without saying things that are, at the very least, misleading.

And it’s dangerous because if someone is accused of an offence often enough they will start to think, “Well, if everyone thinks I’m guilty of this terrible thing I might as well be guilty of it!” Let’s call this the Suspected Spouse Syndrome. Are we training our politicians to behave dishonestly, just by letting them know that we expect it?

Hunter Gatherers at Heart


We have a tiny lemon tree in our garden – so tiny that it fits in a pot. Twelve lemons have been slowly growing on it for a very long time, turning a slightly yellower shade of green each day, and today I harvested the first one. On my way back to the house I found myself singing an old song under my breath:

To reap and sow
And plough and mow
To be a farmer’s bo-o-o-oy,
To be a farmer’s boy!

My family left the land five generations ago, but deep down I’m still a peasant. I think we all are. In Australia the atavistic memory has more to do with cattle-droving or sheep-shearing, among the white population anyway, but the difference is superficial.

Even deeper down we are hunter-gatherers still. Why else do we experience a thrill when we enter a supermarket? Why else do we stalk special offers through the undergrowth of overpriced junk food and boring staples? Why else do we mutter thanks to forgotten gods as we take the last “reduced” packet from the shelf? Why else do our eyes dart to the bottom of the receipt to see how much we’ve “saved”?

For two million years we’ve been honing skills that have served us so well that… well, we have survived. From ocean to savannah to jungle to supermarket aisle. Go, Humanity!



Children develop a sense of fairness from an early age. Hitting someone younger and weaker is unfair. Collective punishments are unfair. Paying pocket money below the going rate, determined by a survey of one’s peers, is unfair.

On Tuesday our Treasurer presented the annual budget to Parliament and announced it to be ‘a fair budget’. ‘Fair’ is now the top buzz-word in Australian politics. The trouble is that the word means different things to different people.

On the left of politics, it means taking more from the rich and distributing it to the non-rich. The exact positioning of the dividing line between the rich and the non-rich is itself a matter for debate of course. Or rather, it is left to each elector to decide which side of the line he or she sits. For most of us ‘rich’ is defined as ‘better off than me’, so policies that involve taking from the rich are generally popular.

But on the right of politics fairness involves allowing people to earn and retain as much as possible of the value of what they produce. According to the Economics textbooks, that value is represented by the wage or profit that the free market assigns. So whether one is a banker, a nurse, a soldier or a casino owner, what you receive is what you’re worth. Obviously it’s unfair to take more from the most productive members of society.

The Economics textbooks support the left-wing view too though. They point out that an extra dollar in a poor man’s pocket does him more good than it would do for a rich man, so the total wellbeing of society will always be increased by redistributing from rich to poor until perfect equality is achieved.

I would rather take ‘fair’ out of the conversation and substitute ‘pragmatic’. The rich always have to pay more (both absolutely and relatively) because, to borrow bank-robber Willie Sutton’s famous quotation, “That’s where the money is.” But the rich are also the most able to find ways to avoid and minimise taxation; or, if paying tax in Country A becomes too onerous, move to Country B.

So it’s a balancing act. Pragmatism is all. To paraphrase a line by Clint Eastwood, “Fair’s got nothin’ to do with it.”