Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Why I Admire Matt Dillahunty

Right at the beginning of becoming more outspoken as an atheist I happened across YouTube videos of a public access TV show out of Austin, Texas. It was called 'The Atheist Experience'. It's a call-in show where the hosts take calls, usually from theists, and answer them. If you're reading my blog, it's likely because you follow me on twitter. If you follow me on twitter, you've almost undoubtedly already hear of The Atheist Experience! 

In case you haven't, there's a bunch of hosts, with two on each episode, on a rotating basis. The host who immediately stuck out for me was Matt Dillahunty. 

I immediately liked how he went about it. He was relentless and so forthright. I admired how he'd stop callers at the very first fallacy, even if it were only halfway through their sentence. And he knew his stuff. He could reference the bible without having to look up passages. He had a counter for everything theists would call up with. 

I've since seen him do various debates and he always brings that same relentless logic when sharing the stage with a theist. He didn't drop any confidence or self-assured attitude. But he never appears arrogant. 

In 2010 I was lucky enough to not only meet Matt, but spend 10 days with him when he, AronRa and Seth Andrews came to Australia for the 'Unholy Trinity' tour. They did presentations in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne. He was a pleasure to be with and I suffered none of that 'don't meet your heroes' fallout. 

I met him at Sydney airport, when I flew in from New Zealand, landing about an hour after I flew in from Melbourne. We were picked up by a guy named Tim. I introduced myself as Donovan (you know, given that's my name!) we shook hands and then Tim drove us to our accommodation. I knew Matt followed me on twitter, but I didn't know if he'd paid much attention. The next day he said 'Donovan, if you'd told me you were Mr Oz Atheist I'd have known you!'. I'm surprised when anyone outside twitter knowns me by my twitter handled, but to have Matt Dillahunty - the person who, more than anyone else, is the reason Mr Oz Atheist is even a thing - say that was quite a moment. 

The 10 days I got to spend with Matt were great. We drank tequila, checked out stars, went to a casino, went to Australia zoo walked around Brisbane, walked around Sydney, and walked around my home city of Melbourne, which Matt said was his favourite Australian city. He liked the 'vibe'. I should add there was a whole bunch of people who did these things too! Including my partner for the Melbourne stuff. It wasn't like it was just Matt and me! :D

I liked that despite being in Australia as a 'celebrity' he was so down to earth. We were talking one night and I'd told him about his influence on me being a vocal atheist and how I was excited to meet him. He thanked me and said 'but I hope now you just think I'm just someone who's good to hangout with' (he may not have said 'hangout'). And I did. I enjoyed spending time with 'Matt' not necessarily 'Matt Dillahunty off The Atheist Experience'. 

He has, more than once, invited me to his house (should I ever be able to get to Austin), even saying he'd pick me up from the airport. I'd love to have him show me around his hometown as I was show him around mine. 

And that is why I admire Matt Dillahunty. 

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Why I Admire Stephen King

It would have been early 1988, when I was 14, going on 15, that we received a pamphlet from Doubleday book club in our letterbox. I had a look and I was promised two extremely discounted books (maybe 80% off?) for simply saying 'I'd like two books'. 

Well that was the large print. The fine print said I had to then pay full price for some books. I think it was a selected book each month and you had to opt out, rather than in, if you didn't want it. Anyway, that's not really the point of this story. 

I don't know which was the second book I chose, but I will always remember the first. 

Stephen King's The Tommyknockers. I did the thing you're always told not to do...I judged a book by its cover. I think I'd heard of Stephen by then but I wasn't much of a reader at that point. But the cover of The Tommyknockers piqued my interest and I could have my own copy for just a couple of dollars. So I bought it, read it...and was hooked for life. 

I've since collected every Stephen King book I can afford. Many I have two copies of because the US version and the UK version usually have different covers. 

King had humble beginnings, being raised, with his brother, by his mother alone, after their father left when Stephen was just two years old. His father said he was going to buy a pack of cigarettes, but never returned. 

Jump a few decades and Stephen King has now sold over 350 million books, putting him in the top 4 english language writers of all time. 

I admire his determination and persistence. He would supplement his income by selling short stories to men's magazine, whilst working/trying to find work as a teacher. He was once fined $250 for driving over a traffic cone, paying the fine with a $250 cheque he received for his story 'The Raft'. (Originally called The Float'). 

When he did find teaching work, he would get home and write late into the night. He's a wonderful example of working hard to achieve your goals. 

He abandoned his manuscript for Carrie, before being encouraged by his wife, Tabitha, to complete it. He sold it for $2,500. Later selling the paperback rights for $400,000. It was his first of over 50 published novels. Stories have it that he gave Tabitha the news by buying her a much needed hair dryer. She told him they couldn't afford it. He smiled, and told her they could. I hope this story is true! 

He still writes every day. Telling an interviewer once that he didn't write on Christmas or Thanks Giving, just so he didn't seem too weird. 

I admire his willingness to 'give back'. He has toured the US visiting only small, independent book stores, to help them with sales. He conducts writing seminars to teach people to be better writers, he's a long time supporter of various charities, including Heifer International, an organisation that teaches sustainable farming, helps those farmers to gain access to markets, and helps empower women by teaching them leadership skills. 

With his wife they have set up the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation. Since 1986 they have been giving grants to help address the causes and consequences of social and environmental problems. (Interestingly they won't provide grants for, among other things, "renovations to churches or other religious properties or institutions"). 

It's clear that his charitable focus is on sustainability and addressing the root cause of problems, which is, I think, how it should be done. 

Finally, I admire his politics. He's clearly a left leaning person and has not been at all shy in his condemnation of Donald Trump and Trump's embarrassing presidency. A brief scroll through Stephen's twitter time line will show you all you need to know there. 

In summary, I admire Stephen's determination and persistence, his willingness to give back to his community, and his resistance to bad politicians. 

And I'm a bloody huge fan on his books! 

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Why I admire Ricky Gervais

It's no secret I'm a fan of the work of Ricky Gervais. I loved The Office since I first saw it in around 2003 or '04 (I'm not sure when it first aired in Australia.)

Since then I've followed Gervais's work closely and I always get a kick out of it. I'd say he's probably my favourite comedian ever. 

But his fame is only why I've heard of him. It's not why I admire him. There are plenty of famous people and not all of them are admirable. 

We don't really 'know' celebrities, aside from their work, unless we know them personally. In the past we got to know a little bit about them through interviews, but that was about it, and not always trustworthy. It's well known that certain magazines and newspapers simply make stuff up. 

These days it's a little different because we have for more insight into people we don't know through their social media account. 

Ricky is quite active on Twitter and it's through this and his stand up comedy that people can find out where he stands on a lot of issues. 

If you know anything about Ricky you'll know he's an atheist. I like this about him, but I'm not sure I'd say I admire it, as such. It's more an 'icing on the cake' type of thing. EG... *and* he's an atheist! 

What I admire is that he's vocal about it and *how* he's vocal about it. It shows he cares about the impact religion has. It shows he cares about science, about logic, and about reason. He likes to have a laugh with it and doesn't take any aspect of it too seriously.

This is something else I admire...he's so down to earth. As I said, I don't 'know' him, he doesn't 'know' me. We're not friends or any such thing. We're one small step from being complete fucking strangers. Despite this he's always kind and polite to me. I talk to him like he's a 'normal person' and not weirdly because he's 'off the telly' and, I'm guessing, he appreciates that.  He talks to me in DM occasionally (it's usually me commenting on his latest piece of work and him saying 'cheers mate'). When you admire someone's work it's good to be able to tell them so. Even better when it's acknowledged. 

Back in 2013 Tweeter, Blogger, Podcast host Stephen Knight (who was just tweeter GodlessSpellchecker back then) and I were asked to be on a podcast together. I suggested that we ask Ricky to join us, since Ricky had supported, publicly, both our twitter accounts. Stephen said I was welcome to try if I wanted to. I tried. Ricky agreed. Something he simply had no obligation to do, at all. I'll always remember this. Simply a lovely thing to do.

What I first admired about Ricky outside The Office was his take on fame. He made headlines for answering the question 'What would you say to someone who wants to be famous' Ricky answered 'I'd tell them to go out and kill a prostitute'. A clever answer, that went over the heads of a lot of people. He clearly dislikes fame for the sake of fame. "Celebrity" used to mean someone who was "celebrated" as in someone who's talent, whatever that may be, was acknowledged and they were revered for it. 

Today's 'celebrities' are contestants on shows such as Big Brother, before appearing on a different show with 'celebrity' in the title. They don't have the words of Shakespeare, the musical ability of Mozart, or the voice of Dame Nellie Melba (I know these are all top of the list examples) but they're famous nonetheless. 

I admire that Ricky sees this isn't a good thing. I admire that he sees his success as something he worked hard for. As he's said 'the harder I work, the luckier I seem to get'. I admire his work ethic. He's always planning something, writing something, or filming something. He works hard and is successful at what he does. I wouldn't presume to say what he doesn't or doesn't think, but it doesn't come across that he thinks he's 'better' than anyone else because of it. 

The biggest passion Ricky seems to have is his support for animals. He denounces the horrific Yulen Dog Festival - the barbaric event in China where they cook and skin dogs alive. It's truly appalling. He continually shames trophy hunters killing lions, elephants, giraffes etc.. And he clearly loves his pet cat, Ollie.

"The greatest privilege that comes with free speech is the right to use your voice for those who don't have one."
He uses his voice to raise awareness for the millions of animals that suffer at the hands of humans. 

Ricky Gervais has used his profile to raise millions of dollars in charity. He's raised money for cancer research and treatment, as well as the RSPCA and other animal welfare charities. 

For his recent stand-up tour 'Humanity' some of the proceeds from platinum seats were donated to charity. Ricky said: 
“This scheme is taking back the thousands of pounds ticket touts make every year by giving this money to good causes instead, including great charities like the RSPCA and Macmillan Cancer Support here in the UK. It’s such a privilege that people will pay money to come and watch me perform stand-up, and I hope that fans across the world continue to recognise the positive impact that buying Platinum Tickets has on worthwhile causes.”  
Ricky Gervais works and works and works, and gives and gives and gives. He's a bit of a nutter (take a look as some behind the scenes footage filmed by Robin Ince during some of Ricky's stand up tours) but he's a good nutter. Clearly a kind and caring man who loves life and enjoys living it. 

And this is why I admire Ricky Gervais. 

PS: The major issue I have with Mr Gervais is that he's never brought a stand up tour to Australia. I told him I'd buy him a scotch if he ever found his way to Melbourne. But you know, I've spent enough money on his catalogue of work, so I think if he ever makes his way to Melbourne, he should buy me one. 

Friday, 22 June 2018

Why I admire @CherryEleven

For those of you who aren't aware, Cherry Eleven is my partner in life. As of writing we've been together for nearly seven years, and have known each other just over eight. 

We met via twitter all those years ago, thanks to our common love for the Australian football team, Collingwood.

On a side note, for those who are sports fans, but not Australian Football League fans, Collingwood is 'that' team. The one the others love to hate most. The one with the most fans, biggest crowds. Often called the most famous sporting club in the country. 

Anyway, we were both new(ish) to twitter and through Collingwood we found each other. We became friends almost instantly and just over a year later, we were a couple. 

CherryEleven is an incredibly positive person. She has an almost unfailing need to see the best of everyone. She'll often tell me that people are good, highlighting any news story where a person has put themselves as risk, or gone the 'extra mile' to help someone else. It's really uplifting to be around her. She continually 'lifts my spirits' as it were. 

That's not to say she likes everyone, always. Her love of the positive means she has no time for the negative. She often talks about removing toxic people from your life. If there's someone who's not making your life better, stop having them around. Life's too short, she says, to spend it with negative people. 

This attitude is best exampled when she said to me once, 'even if you used to like them, if someone's a negative influence, you're best off getting rid of them. You don't need that negativity in your life.' Good call. I later adapted this for a tweet. (with a bit more crassness!) 

If I had to describe CherryEleven in a single word, it would be 'fun'. Fun is her goal, fun is her objective, fun is her default state. I'm sure that when she reaches the end of what is a long, long, long, life, she'll be thinking 'I had fun.' And really, what more could you want? 

CherryEleven is a 'people pleaser'. She wants everyone around her to be happy always. This is admirable, but can also lead to a bit of indecision when she doesn't know how to get to what's best for everyone! But it means she's caring. She cares for me, she cares for my children, and she cares for those around us. She never wishes anyone any harm, she is loving and peaceful. She doesn't want to cause harm, and doesn't want harm done to her. 

She had some tough times growing up as a kid. Including being bullied and made fun of by other kids at school. To her credit though, she hasn't let this get her down. She hasn't retreated into her shell. I could completely understand if she never trusted anyone again, if she kept her fun side to herself and was quiet and shy. But she hasn't. Her happiness is too important, the fun is too important, life is too important. 

I admire her love for art. Painting, writing, acting. She has shelves and shelves of books, artwork wherever she can find a spot for it and is constantly wanting to know what movie to watch next, what concert to go to or what play to see. 

I admire her love for the Collingwood football club. I admire her love for me, I'm sure I drive her mad sometimes! I admire her love for my children.

My partner doesn't waste time on hate, isn't vindictive, isn't petty, isn't malicious. 

She is kind hearted, caring, compassionate, and passionate. She a truly wonderful human being and I love her. 

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Why I admire...

I really enjoy writing my blog but I struggle to come up with ideas. Most of what I can think of has already been done to death and about 50% of what I do start doesn't get finished because I lose track of where it was going. 

So I had an idea...writing posts about people I admire and highlighting what I admire about them. I shared this idea with my friend Godless Mom and she said it was great. So I'm doing it. The first will be out soon and from there I plan to post them regularly. 

Hope you enjoy them. :) 

Eurydice Dixon, Jill Meagher, and our savage species.

If we can ignore, for a moment, what happened in the places they found, the voyages of James Cook, and Christopher Columbus were, for their time, two of the greatest adventures humankind have ever been on. More recently it was Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins. 

Emilia Earhart flew solo across the Atlanic. In 2010 - 2011 Laura Dekker sailed solo around the world. She was 15.

Joining Armstrong and Aldrin, a further 10 people have walked on the moon. About 5,500 years ago people invented the wheel. Probably the single greatest invention of all time. In 1928 Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Davenport, Iowa, United States, invented the first loaf-at-a-time bread-slicing machine. It was the best thing since...well, for a while. 

We've mapped the humane genome, we've grown a human ear on the back of a rat. We have technology that allows me to type into a computer and have you read it, wherever you are in the world, on a computer of your own. A computer that might be the small enough to fit in your hand and carry in your pocket. 

The point is we've achieved a lot as a species. The above doesn't really begin the scratch the surface of the truly amazing things humans have achieved. 

The problem is, it leads to some confusion and misunderstandings and a sense of us being far superior to what we are. 

In Tanzania in 2014, seven people were burned to death. According to this report, they were attacked by local villagers and burned to death for engaging in witchcraft. In the first four months of 2018, Saudi Arabia, the Guardian reports, executed 48 people. Half of them on non-violent drugs charges. They are beheaded using a sword. 

In the USA, a former beacon of freedom, a former 'land of opportunity', in June 2018, White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, defending the separation of children from their parents, claimed it was 'very biblical to enforce the law.' CNN reporter Brian Karem pushed Sanders on the issue of forcibly separating children from their parents.  

In what was almost an emotional plea, Karem said, to Sanders "You're a parent, don't you have any empathy? Come on, Sarah, you're a parent. Don't you have any empathy for what these people are going through? They have less than you do. Seriously, Sarah, seriously, these people have nothing.'

Sarah Huckabee Sanders refused to answer the questions and, instead, claimed that Karem was simply after more TV time. 

Hundreds of boys in south Sudan are kidnapped from their villages and forced to become child soldiers. 

Despite our amazing achievements, it's clear we are a savage and cruel species. 

In the early hours of Wednesday June 13th in Melbourne, the body of 22 year old Eurydice Dixon was found in a park by a passerby. She had been raped and murdered. She was 900 metres from her front door. 

Eurydice was an up and coming comedian. She'd finished a gig at a nearby hotel, had said goodbye to her boyfriend, and walked towards home. 

Her walk home that night brought her across the path of 19 year old Jaymes Todd. The exact details of what happened are not yet known. But Todd handed himself into the police. The Melbourne comedy community, the friends and family of Eurydice, and Melbourne as a whole, are in shock and saddened at what happened. 

On September 22nd 2012 Jill Meagher was walking home from a pub. Her walk home that night brought across the path of Adrian Bayley. He raped her, then strangled her until she died. He's not eligible for parole until 2055. 

As long as the list of achievements is, I can't help but feel the list of atrocities is longer. 

It's odd and disturbing to think the same species that can land a rover on Mars is capable of these acts of terror. The same species that can operate on an unborn baby can cause so much harm and damage to its fellow people.  

The road to ending this savagery is long, but I think it can be achieved. It's going to take a lot of time, and a lot of patience, but mostly, it's going to take a lot of eduction in things that we wouldn't expect to still be teaching in this day and age. 

In the aftermath of the Jill Meagher story and now, again, in the aftermath of the Eurydice Dixon murder, Victoria Police urged people to 'be aware of their surroundings.' 

Some think this pragmatic advice. Others see it as victim blaming. 

The problem is there's a gap between what ought to be, and what is. 

Boys ought to be able to live without being forced to become child soldiers. Families ought to be able to seek a new life and not be separated at the border of a country that prides itself on 'freedom'. 

The topic I want to focus on is this: Should women, or anyone, be able to walk home from a pub and not only not fear being raped or murdered, but actually NOT be raped and murdered? Of course. Is it always going to be safe to do that? The reality is, no, it's not. 

People will say we shouldn't have to be telling women they need to walk home with a friend, just to make sure they get home at all. And they're right, shouldn't have to. The reality, however, is that it's sometimes not safe and women walking home on their own, despite the possible danger, isn't going to make it safe. It's not going to keep the women safe. 

Had Eurydice had a friend with her, she would quite likely be alive today. 

Had Jaymes Todd not decided to rape and murder Eurydice, Eurydice would most definitely be alive today. 

I'd suggest that Jaymes Todd knew that raping and murdering someone was wrong. Had the police tweeted that morning 'don't rape and murder anyone tonight' I suspect Jaymes Todd would still have raped and murdered Eurydice Dixon that night. He handed himself into police. He knew he'd committed a crime. 

So I'm not convinced telling 'men' not to rape and murder is the answer either. Those who do it know it's wrong already. Harsher punishment isn't the answer either. As this report  finds, there's no evidence to suggest that the death penalty is a deterrent to crime. 

Where does that leave us? Well, from what I've found out, education, and shame. 

Firstly, the shame part. THIS is where men come in. Let me sidebar for a moment...

When I was a 17 year old (still a child, technically) I was working full time at a local factory. One of the 'men' (I would guess 30 years old) was talking to me about his wife. There were just the two of us in the conversation. He mentioned that sometimes when his wife gets out of line, he gives her a backhander, and then he chuckled. It made me feel horrible to hear that. But I wasn't brave enough to say anything. I said hmmm, and walked away. 

If a 30 year old man told me that now, I'd call him a fucking criminal, tell him that he's a coward and tell him to never talk to me again. I'd then research how best to deal with that situation. I'd be wary of making the situation worse. Around one woman per week is killed by their current or former partner in Australia. I wouldn't want to make that more likely to happen. 

But the point is, it's up to men to shame and denounce other men who brag about violence towards women. It's up to men to have discussions with other men about what's acceptable and what's not. And it's not just the rape and murder we have to denounce. We need to talk to our female friends and find out what it is men are doing on a consistent basis that they don't like. Then when we hear men talking about doing that kind of thing or we SEE other men doing that kind of thing, we stand up to them. We demand they stop and denounce and shame them for doing it. We make them aware that it's 100% not acceptable. It's not acceptable if it's their partner. It's not acceptable if it's a stranger. And what we also need to do is NOT tell women that it's meaningless, or it's harmless, or it's just a bit of fun. If they don't feel that it's harmless, it's not harmless. 

There are also things we can do to make women feel safer. If you're a man getting off a train and walking to your car in the station carpark and it's the middle of peak hour, and you are, coincidentally, following a woman walking to her car...it's probably not much of a big deal. 

If you're getting off a train late at night and there's no one else around and you're coincidentally following a woman who's walking to her car...she's likely to be wary of you, if not outright frightened. You can help out here by slowing down. Tie your shoelace, walk a slightly different path, don't continually watch her, get on your phone and talk to someone. Make it clear you're NOT following here. (For the record these tips were given to me by my partner). 

The best thing men can do to ensure women are not raped and murdered is to not rape and murder them, of course. But if ANY TIME a man hears or sees another man talking about being violent towards a woman or BEING violent towards a woman, stop him and SHAME him for it. 

The other thing that needs to be done is eduction, and it needs to start early. It needs to come with sex education. Boys (AKA 'future men') need to be taught about consent, and about bodily integrity. It feels sad and unfortunate that this needs to be 'taught' and isn't just inherent knowledge, but as I pointed out, we're a savage species. On the scale of time, we're really not that far from being 'wild animals'. 

I feel we get fooled into thinking we're better than we are because of what we've achieved. It's like we get tricked into thinking our 'exceptional best' is actually our 'standard'. But we need a reality check. We NEED to understand that humankind is a species that rapes and murders. It happens in the most violent societies, and it happens in the happiest and 'safest' societies. It's kind of like the alcoholic who needs to admit they have a problem, before they can get sober. 

So we not only have to teach our young about not raping, not murdering, and about the things that make other people fearful and uncomfortable, we need to consistently reinforce these ideas and lessons, and not just in school, but as adults. We need to do it whether it's a stranger (hard) or a friend (even harder). 

For this post I searched and read about ideas to prevent rape, or reduce the instances of rape. The best article I found was this one, written in 2014 by Jessica Reed for The Guardian. It contains very good advice, and a good overall view of the situation. It points to a site called ScarleTeen as a good resource for teens to learn about sexuality. I've not yet had the chance to check that out, but I highly recommend reading the article by Jessica. 

Another site I found was HealthyPlace. It has an article titled: Rape Prevention - How to Prevent Rape. It has three tips. I won't list them here, you can read it if you wish. But I know that each of the tips is aimed at women. I had hoped tip number one was aimed at men and said 'don't rape'. (I know not all rapes are men on women, but it's the vast majority). The same article does have advice for if you are being raped. On the surface the advice seems good, but I'm no expert so I highly recommend reading it in conjunction with other sources. The Healthy Place website does have a page that lists all its references, which you can find here. It seems very thorough. 

It's a dangerous world. Maybe not as dangerous as some would have us believe, but certainly more dangerous than we'd like it to be. We can work towards getting it closer to what we want it to be, but maybe...until we get there, until the changes we need to make are showing an impact, maybe the advice from Victoria Police isn't too bad. 

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Anthony Bourdain, David Leavitt, and depression

As you've probably heard by now, much loved television chef/traveller Anthony Bourdain passed away. Sadly, he took his own life. Something that I now refer to as 'dying from Depression.' I first heard this term in the aftermath of the death of Robin Williams.

The death of Anthony Bourdain has hit many people hard. I've heard several people say he had 'the best life.' My good friend @godless_mom is a big fan of Anthony and was devastated by the news. You can read her post about it here.
There has been an outpouring of grief, as is expected when a celebrity dies. Had he been in his 80s and died of a heart attack, I'm sure the sadness would still exist, but it would different. The thing here is Anthony was a man 'on top of his game' as it were. He was successful, he was liked, and he was about to film another episode of his much loved television program.

It's a shock when this kind of news breaks.It's sad news, but not angry news. I've seen some anger directed at Anthony from a man I'd never previously heard of, called David Leavitt.

Upon the news of Bourdain's death, Leavitt posted this:
There's so much wrong with this post. But first, I want to share what Anthony was responding too. It was David Leavitt tweeting the below after news of the bombing of the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester:

I'm sure most of you will concur with Anthony's opinion of Leavitt upon learning this. Teenagers had just died. Families had just been devastated and here was some cretin making a joke about it. Simply no class.
But back to Leavitt's tweet about Anthony.First, and to me, the most obvious issue, Leavitt is tweeting to a man who has died. Is he expecting a response from Bourdain? I honestly couldn't tell you.
he next part is the truly serious part. "Selfishly taking your own life and hurting your family and friends..." Leavitt then goes on to repeat the insult Anthony had used on Leavitt.
Here's the thing...suicide is carried out, more often than not, by people suffering major depression. Anthony Bourdain had spoken about his personal battle with it. It is clear, as it was with Robin Williams, that Anthony Bourdain died from depression. He died from a medical condition. Would David Leavitt had called Anthony 'Selfish' and a 'Steaming, gaping asshole' had Anthony died from a heart attack, from complications following surgery, or from cancer? I very much doubt it. Just one as doesn't choose to have cancer, one does not choose to have depression.
I'm sure here David would say something along the lines of 'Having depression isn't a choice, but killing yourself because of it is..." And he'd be correct. But what he'd fail to consider is this: Depression is mental ILLNESS, not mental okay-ness. Depression causes your mind to act abnormally. You convince yourself you're a failure, that everything is your fault, that life is not worth living, and the big one, that people would be better off without you. Even loved ones.
What this ignoramus, David Levitt, fails to understand is that when suicide is the result of depression, it's desperation. It's a person who is at the end of their ability to handle what's happening in their head. It's what they see is the only way to end their suffering, and, in turn, the suffering they imagine they're causing those around them.
Depression requires treatment, not condemnation. Sufferers need understanding and help, not abuse and name calling.
I know, because I'm in 'the club' and it's shit. I've briefly had what might be described as suicidal thoughts. It was fleeting, and I never put serious consideration into it, but thankfully that was 20 years ago and I sought and received help. I still suffer depression, but thoughts of suicide are banished to history. When I most recently sought help, I tweeted the following:
I would guess that David Leavitt is of the school of thought that if you're depressed, you should just get happy. Just smile, and get over it. I too thought like that once. When I was a kid. It was rooted in a complete lack of understanding of what depression is, what causes it, and how to address it. Sadly, the things we know work, don't always work.
The other issue is that Leavitt is forcing his opinion and his ideals onto those who are battling something he clearly doesn't understand, I liked the way my twitter friend @StaunchA responded to this aspect of what Leavitt said...

It's an interesting take on it and I'm not sure one I'd have thought of without the input from StaunchA. Not that I'd advocate for suicide, obviously, but I'm also a supporter of euthanasia for people suffering a terminal illness. There's something that doesn't sit will with me about demanding that people must live in suffering and distress, as long as they're living. I'd never thought of extending this to depression. I'd always want people to seek help and persist with trying to get better, but I know enough about it to know it's not 'selfish.'
In the end, it doesn't matter to Anthony Bourdain how insensitive, cruel, and ignorant Leavitt was to him. Anthony is no longer with us. But it matters to people who are battling 'The Black Dog'. The last thing we need to be doing to people with depression, whether or not they're having suicidal thoughts, is belittling them and calling them names, and making them feel even worse about themselves. There's enough misery in the world without adding to it like this.
On this note, I'd like to highlight a tweet from another twitter friend, @girlnamedBoston
Remember, if YOU choose to be kind to people, the world will be a better place for it, and as Boston says, you may save their life.
If you or someone you know is suffering depression and/or having suicidal thoughts, help is available. There are many resources online. The Wikipedia list of international suicide crisis help lines can be found here.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

My Neighbour Ken

When I was about 14 years old my family moved house and we ended up next to a man named Ken James. 

He was old already when I met him so I suspect he's not with us any more, but I hope he is. He moved away to a tiny Victorian town and we visited him a couple of times, but as always happens, time did its thing and eventually we lost contact and Ken went from being a neighbour, to a friend, to a memory. 

The house we moved into was a rental. Run down, old and not very welcoming. It was a rental and we had permission from the landlord to paint and re-carpet if we wanted. So we did and although it was never great, it was better. As an aside, after we moved out, it was torn down, and has happens in much of Melbourne's suburbs now days, a bunch of units was put up in its place. 

On our first or second night, there was a knock at the door. Mum answered. I couldn't see who it was but I could hear what was being said. A man was telling mum that it was bin night. He knew we'd just moved in and wanted to make sure we knew. Kind of him to let us know. 

After a while in the house I was having breakfast with my mum and sister. And either my sister or I mentioned that we heard someone walking up and down the hallway. We each thought it was the other. Mum hadn't heard. 

It happened more than once. None of us knew which of us it was who was walking up and down the hallway. When we had friends stay over they could hear it too. Not mum or dad though. 

We decided it must be a ghost, of course. 

Mum and Ken become friends, chatting over the fence, popping over for cups of tea and the like. One day mum said to Ken 'the kids think there's a ghost in the house'. 

His reply... 'She walks up and down the hallway at night, doesn't she'? 

Mum was, of course, surprised that he knew this detail. He explained that a previous neighbour had suffered from cancer and walking up and down the hallway offered some relief from the pain. Also she'd been a nurse and had worked specifically with children and teenagers. Which was, apparently, why all us teenagers could hear her but the adults couldn't. Her name was June.

I remember hearing the walking one night....thud thud thud thud...right to left. thud thud thud thud back the other way. 

I put my hand on my bedroom door handle to once of for all look out and see what the hell was going on. But I lost my nerve and wasn't able to go through with it. I guess I decided I didn't really want to see a ghost. 

Ken gave mum a photo of June's late husband. He was a kind of creepy looking guy. Mum put the photo on the mantle piece, it was just a little 6x4. Every time she came back into the living room the photo was face down. She'd stand it up again. 

At the same time my sister agreed with me that he was a creepy looking guy. But whereas I didn't do anything about it, she did. She put the photo face down. But every time she came back into the living room it would be standing up again. 

Mum thought June didn't like the photo and wanted it down. My sister thought June did like the photo and wanted it up. It was a couple of weeks before we all spoke about it and realised what was happening! How about that, a natural, non-ghost involved, explanation. 

I never found out what was causing the walking sound in the hallway though. But never finding out doesn't mean it was a ghost, despite Ken knowing what the 'ghost' we heard did. 

Over our time as next-door-neighbours to Ken we'd see a lot of police cars and various teenagers/young men coming and going. 

Ken's house was a 'halfway' house. A place where trouble youth would come to stay when they were going awry. They were often kids who didn't have a safe home to be in. Sometimes police would pick up someone for some kind of violation and rather than putting them into the prison system, and giving them a criminal record, they'd bring them to Ken and he'd help sort them out. 

And Ken knew what he was talking about because he'd done time in prison. A lot. 

Ken was arrested for armed robbery. I'm not sure what he robbed, but I know it was with a shotgun. He was sent to prison and once he came out he decided to focus his life on making sure other young men didn't have to go through what he went through. 

In prison for armed robbery Ken was raped. Several times. And he became a murderer. 

You see, in prison, amongst the armed robbers, rapists, and murderers there are the people *they* consider the bad guys - child abusers. The prison population couldn't abide by them. 

There was a known child abuser in Ken's section of the prison. A group of men drew straws. Shortest had to kill the child abuser. The twist being, if you drew the short straw and didn't do what was required, you'd be killed yourself. 

As you've worked out, Ken drew the short straw, and did what he had to do. 

I don't know the circumstances. I don't know the method. I don't want to. 

So here I was, living next door to an armed robbing murderer and he was one of the nicest, kindest people I've ever met. Giving back to the community for years and years by helping young men sort their lives out and avoid a life of crime and prison. 

I think sometimes we're too quick to judge each other on one act or one interaction or limited information. We see a snapshot of a person and think we now them intimately. Especially on the internet. I know I've done it, and despite this admission, I'm sure I'll do it again. 

If I told you Ken was an armed robbing murderer and nothing else about him, you'd probably fear him, and certainly not want to be his neighbour. But knowing him as I did, knowing the big picture of him and his life, I had no problem being his neighbour and some 30 years later, I still haven't forgotten him. 

There's a lot of hate in the world. A lot of it happening in the atheist community. It's not healthy and not helpful. Maybe we shouldn't be so quick to condemn. Maybe we shouldn't be so quick to hate. 

Monday, 14 August 2017

On the marriage equality plebiscite...

First of all, if anyone shares anything against marriage equality, I will unfriend you. Not because I'm antifree-speech. Free speech is about the government not locking you up for what you say. If I unfriend you, you are still free to say whatever you like on your Facebook page, or wherever you want. It also doesn't mean I'm against your right to have an opinion. If I unfriend you, you still have the right to hold whatever opinion you like on any topic.

The reason I will unfriend you is because I am entitled to choose which people I am friends with here and I choose to NOT be friends with anyone who is homophobic and pro-inequality and pro-discrimination.

I have seen some very weird defences from people who are against equality. I saw one woman say 'what about the rights of heterosexual people to keep the rights they have?' Heterosexual people WILL keep they rights they have! It's not like this change is about removing the ability of heterosexual couples to get married and giving that right exclusively to same sex couples! The same woman also said that heterosexual people should be able to keep the 'unique institution they've always had.' I found this quite sickening. Made me think of a white person not wanting to allow a black person to sit at the front of the bus.

There is no valid defence of the 'no' side when it comes to marriage equality. There is no justification for being pro-discrimination.

The marriage act was changed by the Howard government in 2004 with NO consultation and certainly no plebiscite. It doesn't need a plebiscite to change it back. All that is needed is a simple parliamentary vote to change the marriage act. It just needs to change 'a man and a woman' to 'two people'. That is all. And it would save $120 million.

I have a daughter who is gay. She is wonderful. An amazing person. I will not put up with anyone, I don't care who you are, telling me she's inferior or somehow 'different' or some kind of second class citizen. I will not put up with anyone telling me she doesn't deserve the right to marry the person with whom she is in love.

And it's not just her. I know other gay people and I support their right to marry the person they're in love with. I support this right for all the LGBTQI people in this country. How can anyone look at a person and say 'I don't think you deserve the rights I have'? The very idea goes against everything that is good about society.

The whole idea of a plebiscite on this issue is absurd. Even making it voluntary and postal means it will cost around $120 Million. I have no idea why a heterosexual person in Townsville gets to decide if a gay person in Launceston is allowed to get married. I have no idea why anyone outside a relationship gets to decide whether or not two other consenting adults are allowed to get married.

There is a glaring anomaly in the law. The remedy is a parliamentary vote for equality. Not a months long campaign where bigoted homophobes will be telling a section of the community they're not worthy of being treated equally. It is weak of the government to do this. They are meant to be leaders. They are not leading.

But the vote (at this stage) is happening. And I'll be voting yes. I hope you all (if you're an Aussie) will be voting yes. And if you plan on voting no I'm sad for how you see the world and if I find out you voted no, we will no longer be friends.

A great society fights FOR equality, not AGAINST it.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Margaret Court

Many of my Aussie friends, and those of you who aren't, but are into tennis, have probably heard of Margaret Court. 

In case you haven't, she's an intolerant, bigoted, discriminatory cretin who told QANTAS she was no longer going to fly with them because they support marriage equality. And because she's a Christian minister and follows the bible, she thinks marriage should be restricted to being between a man and a woman. 

Apparently she was also pretty good at tennis a few decades ago. 

In the wake of what was basically an attempt to blackmail QANTAS into her way of thinking, many people have called for Tennis Australia/Melbourne and Olympic Parks to rename 'Margaret Court Arena' to something else. Evonne Goolagong Arena being the most prominent suggestion (and the one that I support). 

What I've found odd out of all this is the number of people defending Margaret Court saying she's entitled to her opinion, especially given it's her religious belief. 

Odd, because no one has said she isn't. I've not seen a single person say 'she's not allowed to have that opinion'.

The people defending her right to her opinion seem to not realise that just as Margaret Court is allowed to have her opinion, and to voice it, people are allowed to voice their opinion of her opinion! 

We hear shouts of the loss of free speech...but hang on. Why does free speech extend to Margaret Court, but not to others? Why is Margaret Court entitled to an opinion that's above criticism or response? I don't understand. 

When you keep your opinion to yourself, it is free of consequence, so long as that opinion isn't guiding actions that impact others. 

But Margaret Court didn't keep her opinion to herself. She voiced it. In a newspaper. Although we recognise her right to voice it, nothing about 'free speech' says that voicing your opinion is free of consequence. Nothing in free speech says voicing your opinion removes the right of other people to comment. She made her opinion public, and people responded. This is not anti-free-speech. This is free speech at work. 

People have also defended Margaret Court's bigotry and discrimination because it's part of her faith. It's her religion. Well my question is...why the fuck does that matter? Why does a bigoted, discriminatory opinion become acceptable just because it's religiously based? Why do people think religion gets a free pass here? 

It doesn't. And it shouldn't. 

I wonder what these defenders of bigotry would be saying if Margaret Court had said that all black people are niggers and deserve to die. Extreme? Sure. But do we give it a pass just because it's an opinion? Of course not. Any opinion, once voiced publicly is up for scrutiny and up for criticism, and up for others giving their opinion on that opinion. And none of this takes away Margaret Court's right to have an outdated opinion where she thinks certain members of society should be treated as second class citizens, because of who they love, just because she happens to be stupid or gullible enough to think characters in a bronze/iron age book of myths and fairytales are real. 

As for renaming the arena. Tennis Australia released a statement saying Margaret Court's views do not align with Tennis Australia's values of equality, inclusion, and diversity. And good on them for saying so. But I think to really back this up they need to rename the venue, though I think it's under the jurisdiction of Melbourne and Olympic parks to do this. Margaret Court is entitled to her opinion, but Tennis Australia/Melbourne and Olympic Parks are not, in any way, obligated to be represented by, or supporters of someone who's views are out of touch with their own. Renaming the stadium doesn't remover her right to her opinion. She's still entitled to it, but as I already said, nothing about free speech says your opinion is consequence free. 

I think it's time to send a clear and strong message to these anti-equality people that they are out of touch. That they don't represent modern Australia. That they don't have the support of the community at large. Send the message that we're sick and tired of people thinking hurtful views deserve a free pass just because they're based in religion. Send a message that the good and decent people of Australia want same sex couples treated with respect and equality. 

Simple fact is, Margaret Court's opinion on marriage equality is outdated, backwards, discriminatory, and based on nothing but some old book. There's nothing about her opinion on marriage equality that should carry any weight in a modern and progressive society.