24 February 2018

Gun control in Australia and the USA

Two proposals have convinced the world that the USA is going mad vis a vis gun massacres.

The BBC reported that President Trump endorses hidden guns for teachers to stop shootings inside schools. Arming teachers could prevent school shootings like that which left 17 people dead last week in Florida, he said. Trump explained that if you had a teacher who was adept at firearms, they could very well end the attack very quickly. His exact words were "Where a teacher would have a concealed gun on them, they would go for special training and they would be there, and you would no longer have a gun-free zone. A gun-free zone, to a maniac, because they are all cowards, a gun-free zone is, let's go in and let's attack."

In the second story, I cannot tell if the following newspaper article is positive ad­vertising by right wingers or biting satire by left wingers. Neil Murphy wrote in the International Business Times that a Pennsylvania church will bless gun-toting couples in a ceremony taking place just half a mile from a local elementary school. Followers of the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary Church will be blessed by spiritual leaders at their campus in Newfoundland Pennsylvania at the end of this month. Only hetero­sexual couples have been asked to take part.

Attendees are requested to bring their own semi-automatic rifles, including AR-15s and AK47s, as part of the Cosmic True Parents of Heaven, Earth and Humanity Cheon Il Guk Book of Life Registration Blessing. Those who cannot legally acquire a weapon have been asked to purchase a $700 gift voucher from a gun store.

Parents whose children attend neighbouring Wallenpaupack South Elementary School have voiced concern over the event, which comes just days after the massacre near Miami. Teenage Nikolas Cruz will be tried for killing 14 students and three adults with his legally-purchased AR-15 rifle.

Tim Elder, Unification Sanctuary's director of world missions, says that the event was planned months before the Miami school shooting and says all weapons will be securely checked by staff. According to Elder, Church teachings say assault weapons symbolise the New Testament's rod of iron passage and illustrates followers' intent and the ability to defend one's family, community and nation of Cheon Il Guk."

The Sanctuary is run by 38-year-old pastor Hyung Jin Moon, the son of Unification Church founder and self-professed messiah Sun Myung Moon. The Unification Church was founded by Moon in 1957 in Seoul, Korea using teachings from the Bible and his own family beliefs. The Unification Church off-shoot is a staunch supporter of Americans' rights bear arms and will host President Trump Thank You Dinner on Saturday — a fundraiser for Gun Owners of America.

American guns displaying national pride.
Yet in the 2013-15 period, there were 32,000 firearm deaths in the US. 
Photo credit: news.com.au


So we have established a Caulfield Anti Gun and Coffee Club for solving the gun catastrophe in the USA. Although Australia has never had much of a visible gun culture, we have had terrible mass gun murders in the past. The Milperra Bikie Massacre killed 6 bikies and one by-stander in 1984; Hoddle Street Massacre killed 7 city commuters in 1987; Queen Street Massacre killed 8 city shop­pers and workers in 1987; and worst of all, the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre that killed 35 customers in an outdoor café.

The new Australian prime minister in 1996, John Howard, headed the cons­er­vative party. In his first speech to Parliament after the Port Arthur Massacre, he called for Australian legislators to take up the vexed issue of gun control, and vowed to devote his prime ministership to the issue. In May 1996, his government unveiled the National Firearms Agreement that radically strengthened Australia’s gun laws. The NFA established a registry of all guns owned in the country and required a permit for all new firearm purchases. It totally banned all automatic and semi-automatic guns.

Illegal guns in a scrap metal yard in Sydney, 
soon after Australia's buy-back laws were passed in 1996.
Photo credit: ABC

Since many of these guns were already in circulation, the bill included a mandatory buy-back programme, which included large-scale gun confiscation and the destruction of 700,000 guns. Gun owners were compensated for the proper dollar value of the weapons seized by the state. Polls showed the new legislation was supported by 82% of the population.

Studies since 1996 reported that the new laws greatly reduced Australia’s homicide and suicide rates. And since the law’s pass­age, there has not been a single mass shooting in Australia. John Howard has described this programme as his greatest accomplishment as prime minister. 

It was not a perfect solution, however. At the Lindt Cafe Siege in 2014, 2 hostages and the gunman were shot. We saw very clearly that Australia is not immune from terrible violence, presumably caused by imported illegal guns.


The Caulfield Anti-Gun and Coffee Club recognises that the American Cons­tit­ution and its gun amendments cannot be changed without a mammoth effort at the Federal level. So instead we propose that A] 49 USA states ban guns WITHIN the borders of their states and B] all devoted gun owners be moved to Alaska, along with the weapons of their choice. C] Any current Alaskan citizens who do not approve of gun murders will be guaranteed a home and job in another state of Continental USA. Alaska is big enough to take in hundreds of thousands of gun fanatics and has the advantage of not bordering any other USA state. Sorry Canada :(

There will inevitably be issues with the underage children of those gun-loving parents who move to Alaska. Would the children be kept with aunts and grandparents in states other than Alaska, to be reunited to their parents when they reach their majority (aged 18 or 21)?

For those professionals who are legally entitled to use guns, such as the police, armed forces and Olympian athletes, locked training facilities must be provided across the USA.

20 February 2018

Porto in Portugal - one of the loveliest cities in Western Europe

A settlement called Portus Cale was founded on the north bank of the Duoro River in the C4th BC. But nothing much was known before Porto was recovered in 868 AD from the Moorish empire.

Sao Bento Railway Station

Prince Henry the Navigator (1394–1460) was born to English Queen Philippa and Portuguese King John I who had earlier married in Porto, creating a political alliance between Portugal and England. It was Prince Henry who, in the new Portuguese Empire, initiated the Age of Discoveries. Henry supervised the early development of Portuguese exploration and maritime trade with other continents through the exploration of Western Africa, Atlantic Ocean islands and the search for new routes. Only thus did Portugal become a sea-trade force, so it is appropriate that a statue in a park honours Prince Henry still today.

Prince Henry, the Navigator
pointing to a far-off place across the Atlantic

Once Portugal became an economic power in the age of the great geo­graph­ical discoveries (C15th – C17th), it was Porto that became the largest shipyard of the country. The town was ready for the the estab­lish­ment of Duoro’s wine region and port wine trade.

The granite streets are everywhere but focus on the grand avenue Rua das Fl­ores, once it was refurbished: its frontages now shine with restored tiles in blues and greens. The avenue is lined with stately stone facades and dominated by the town hall. Granite churches also display glazed blue and white tiles.

Of great beauty is the Capela das Almas/Chapel of Souls near the city’s main shopping street, Rua Santa Catarina. The chapel has its origin in an old chapel made of wood, built to honour Santa Catar­ina. The construction of the building that exists today dates back to the later C18th, when the Brotherhood of the Souls and the Chagas of San Francisco moved from the Monastery of Santa Clara to the Chapel of Santa Catarina. Capela das Almas’ exterior tiles, painted with scenes from the liv­es of saints, are inter-war.

Capela das Almas

Visit the Church of St Francisco, the only Gothic church in Porto; the severe, grey exterior has richly gilded, highly ornate, baroq­ue wood carvings inside. Porto’s craftsmen in 17th and early C18th were special.

Sao Bento Railway Station was built on the site of a Renaissance Benedictine monastery. Work began on the terminal in 1900, in the French Beaux Arts architectural style. São Bento mainline’s central station is one of the most beautiful in Europe, displaying 20,000 glazed azulejos-tiles that, by 1916, de­picted­ highlights of the nation’s history.

The Monastery da Serra do Pilar is a C16th former monastery is the architectural highlight of the Gaia side. Belonging to the Order of Saint Augustine, the church was made in a circular shape and was covered by a hemispheric vault and balcony. It took 72 year to com­plete because of financial difficulties and because of the polit­ic­al turmoil between Spain and Portugal.

Some fine architecture was built during the early C18th, including Clerigos Tower. Climb the Tower, the city’s most prominent land­mark; it was built by Florentine architect Nicolau Nasoni­, a man who was buried in the adjoining church. It is Porto’s best example of baroque architecture and is the tallest tower in Portugal.

Dona Maria Pia bridge, 1877
designed by Gustave Eiffel

To cross to the other side of the river, there is a choice of bridges. Dona Maria Pia, designed by Gustave Eiffel and built in 1877, is a rail­way bridge over the Portuguese northern municip­al­ities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. Another bridge, the Dom Luis I, boasts one of the biggest forged iron arches in the world.

Two water taxis cross the river as an alternative to the bridges, inspired by the design of the old rabelo cargo boats. River taxis are convenient for exploring the city on foot, with a dock at the Ribeira. The view of the city is best seen from the other side of the river, Vila Nova de Gaia, where the coloured, narrow dwellings stand out.

Douro Valley with endless vineyards

The Douro Valley is at the heart of the country’s wine industry and its namesake waterway is becoming the hottest ticket for European river cruising. These journeys take the visitor through rural idylls and rugged terrain, stopping at charming towns and villages. Discover the beauty of the Portuguese countryside during this full-day trip through the Douro Valley from Porto. Travel through sweet villages such as Pinhão, Régua and Lamego.

Book for a longer (eg 8 day) river cruise along the Douro River to see some of the most gorgeous natural scenery across Portugal, and sip on locally made port wine during a tasting session. Visit three vineyards to taste world-class wines while ad­miring scenic views from the Douro’s terraced vine yards. And have traditional lunches in the charming villages. All the major river-cruise operat­ors organise Douro trips from late March to Nov eg  Spain & Portugal Travel Connection or Euro River Cruises.

As well as drinking a LOT of port, we also enjoyed buying Claus Porto hand-crafted soaps, permeated with fragrances drawn from the Portuguese country side and hand-wrapped in Belle Epoque papers.

Portugal and Spain


On the last day in the north, en route back to Lisbon, we visited the univers­ity town of Coimbra on a day trip of cultural experiences.  Even further south we explored one of Portugal’s most holy sites Fatima. We watched people attending mass at the basilica inside the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Rosary. This was where the Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children in October 1917.

17 February 2018

Charles Dodgson and Alice (Lidell) in Wonderland

Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll 1832-98) was born in a NW English vil­l­age, third child of Rev Charles Dodgson. As the fam­ily grew to in­clude 11 children, Charles told stor­ies to his siblings, made up games and wrote magazines with them.

After enrolling at Oxford in 1850, Dodgson became a fel­low at Christ Church College. According to the rules, fellows had to be ordained, but Dodgson ignored the ordin­ation rule and lived at the college unmarried. He was a maths lecturer and a devout deacon of the Anglican Church.

Like many Victorian bachelors, he became an “uncle” to his friends’ children, taking them out. In 1855, Dodgson’s Dean Henry Liddell arrived at Christ Church with his wife, Lorina and their first four children. As the 3 sisters grew older, Dodgson took the girls under his wing, with their parents’ blessing. In summer 1862, he took the Liddell girls on the river in Oxford and told them stories. Alice Liddell (1852-1934), then 10, was delighted that the main character shared her name and asked Dodgson to write his stories.

Dodgson wrote to Gertrude Thomson, an artist who was sketching girl­ish nymphs: "I am fond of children ex­cept boys." And "I confess I do not admire naked boys in pictures”. He took exq­uis­ite, melancholy photog­raphs of lit­tle girls. But it was Alice Liddell in particular who became his passion.

So why did the Liddells trust Dodgson with their precious daughters. I suggest a few significant reasons:

1. Harry Liddell was Dodgson’s dean and had a trusting professional relationship with him;
2. The Liddells had 9 children and were delighted when an adult offered to help keep them educated and amused;
3. Dodgson was a respectable Anglican deacon; and
4. The children loved Uncle Charles’ stories and activities.
Dodgson’s love for girls was elusive, and filled with yearn­ing. He wrote to a 10-year-old girl, thank­­ing her for her lock of hair. “I have kissed it sev­eral times - for want of having you to kiss, you know, even hair is better than nothing." There was a romantic intensity to the friendships, a hunger, of nev­er quite getting enough, want­ing more of Alice.
If the man did not ever literally shag a child, was he still culpable? Yes!! He carefully groomed the youngsters and he changed those girls’ lives forever.

The Queen of Hearts by John Tenniel
The queen was a foul-tempered monarch 
whose favourite line was “Off with their heads!"

He loved little girls, but, like Peter Pan, he couldn’t marry them. So Katie Roiphe asked if there were other famous C19th men who disliked overt adult phys­icality and who found them­selves drawn to children/teens instead.Yes! John Ruskin also fell under the spell of young girls he met, yet he couldn’t consummate his marriage to an adult woman. Anne Isba said Charles Dickens met his wife Cath­erine when she was 14; she had 10 children before being dumped for her young sister Mary (who died at 17) and the young teenage actress Nelly Ternan.

Victorian culture clearly had a very sen­timent­al view of young girls that could co-exist with disgust about adult sex!! There is no doubt that Dodgson was tor­m­ented by what HE called "the inclinat­ions of my sinful heart"; that his own thoughts were “unholy”. But Dodgson felt his er­ot­ic fascin­ation was under control; he was channelling his desires into a wild and lovely lit­er­ary univ­erse instead.

Although the camera was still new technology, in 1856 Dodgson had been an early and skilled portraitist. He found plenty of friends who wanted him to take family port­raits eg Engl­and’s poet laureate, Alfred Lord Tennyson. In total Dodgson took c3,000 photo­graphs, just over half were of child­ren, mostly dressed. Some of his portraits might offend us, but by Victorian stand­ards they were innocent. They were prais­ed as art studies, a la Julia Margaret Cameron. Yet modern critics have condemned the photos that showed his fascination with the immature female body.

One example will suffice. On the 150th anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the BBC made a documentary called The Secret World of Lewis Carroll, 2015. It expl­ored the nature of Carroll's relationship with children, and revealed a newly-discovered photograph of Alice’s elder sist­er, entirely nude. Although the picture was not 100% proven to have been Carroll’s, the uncomfortable pubescent model strong­ly suggested he was a somewhat rep­res­sed paedophile.

In 1865 a completed version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonder­land was published as a book, published with John Tenniel's unmistakable art work. Dodgson published a sequel, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, in 1871, and a long poem in 1876.

He retired from teaching mathematics in 1881, and died in 1898 aged 66. At that stage, loving little girls was still acceptable. The London Daily Graph­ic’s 1898 obituary fondly noted his affection for girls. Also in 1898, Dodgson’s nephew published a biog­r­aphy that devoted two warm chapters to Dodgson’s child friends and their kiss­ing.

Now my final questions. There is a gulf between how modern readers perceive an author and how they perceive his work. Is a good work of art, created by a bad person, tainted forever? Would you still read his stories to your children, thinking of them as classics of pure, innocent literature?

Charles Dodgson photo, self portrait, 1857

Charles Dodgson photo, Alice Lidell dressed as a beggar-maid, 1858