Narrow Minded Italian Catholic Conservative Peasant From Footscray

The prompts from the blog platform suggest that I introduce myself.

In short, I am several things.

Firstly, I am a Narrow Minded Italian Catholic Conservative Peasant From Footscray. I have been describing myself as that for at least the past 15 years or so.

This description might not be totally accurate.

I am probably not as narrow minded as I boast I am.

Whilst I am of Italian ancestry and reasonably fluent in Italian, I probably think more the iconoclastic way that Australians do, having been born and lived in Australia my whole life.

Nor am I particularly observant religiously, although like most people, 1600 years of Christianity being the dominant religion (‘thank you’ Emperor Theodosius) in Western Civilisation does tend to hard wire us in a particular way. (I do like to amuse myself by claiming that the dinosaurs missed the ark and that the world is just over 6000 years old.).

Peasant? Well, my parents are from peasant stock, as probably most Italian migrants in the 1950s were, and I like growing my own tomatoes in the backyard. But I am a lower middle class office worker really, with the luxury of participating in a post industrial economy. I also have a university education, and not in agriculture.

Whilst I am very personally Conservative, both culturally and socially, I am more Liberal than Conservative, and believe in individual rights and liberties and freedom of choice and conscience etc to the point where I can get quite worked up when I hear of proposals to intervene in the lives of people or to curtail our freedoms.

I also don’t live in Footscray, although I was born there (and proud of it), and lived and went to school there during my childhood and adolescence, and the Western Bulldogs (formerly known as the Footscray Football Club) is my AFL team. I do not live too far from Footscray though. I am in Avondale Heights, which is like a north western outpost of Footscray, and previously lived in Maribyrnong. But just like people from Fremantle claim that they are from Fremantle rather than from Perth, real Footscray people claim that they are from Footscray rather than from Melbourne. I suppose, historically, that it has something to do with the fact that there is quite a distance between the eastern boundary of Footscray at the Maribyrnong River, and the centre of Melbourne, and most of that two mile distance was occupied firstly by a swamp and then by a wasteland involving docks, chemical depots (where were you during the Coode Island fire in 1991?) and quarantine grounds….

Secondly, I am a postgrad dropout. That does contradict a lot of what my first description suggests I am, but we all are complex and many layered people. The MA thesis I was planning to write was about Nietzsche, Hegel and the End of History or some such, which is the sort of topic which would have been pretty passe in 1994 when I was interested in doing it. However, life gets in the way – working full time and getting a promotion at work which resulted in me focusing my energies and attention on my job meant that I did not have much left in the tank for a 30,000 word thesis. And whilst I still enjoy reading Nietzsche for his manic and frenetic style, Hegel is really boring.

As for more? I much prefer the writings of Anthony Trollope over Charles Dickens. I still enjoy re-reading my favourite Nevil Shute novels, and I occasionally re-read my copy of JRR Tolkien. I did ditch Game of Thrones about 100 pages into the first book, and don’t regret it at all. I remain very curious as to whether some of the unpublished novels of JD Salinger from his period of seclusion (I have the general impression he wrote some) will see the light of day during my lifetime, although I loathed Catcher in the Rye whilst finding his short stories fascinating.

Kangaroos actually do sometimes hop down the street….

My front verandah is one of my favourite parts of my home. Provided it is not too warm, it is a great place to sit in the evening and enjoy the end of the day.

I was sitting on it last Saturday night with one of my friends, sipping some wine (red of course – I am now over the Covid impacts on my taste), when a kangaroo hopped past my house.

It was fast, and the picket fence obscured the view, but it was definitely a kangaroo.

A few minutes later when a couple of neighbours walked by and I asked them if they had seen it, they laughed and asked if I had seen it before I had opened the wine bottle.

Not long after, the joke was on them, as other people texted them with videos of the kangaroo as it advanced further into Avondale Heights.

As one of my neighbours observed, there is a mob of 6 or 8 grey kangaroos down on the valley floor near the river, not very far from my home.

And whilst I have not seen a kangaroo hop down my actual street before, I have seen them near the river three times (counting the time over a year ago when one hit my bus near the bridge).

I find it gratifying to know that there is still a lot of native fauna not far away, even though there has been a fair bit of development close to the river in recent years.

The Problem With Pell – The Passing of A Prince of the Church

I have met George, Cardinal Pell, four times. The first was when a friend of mine, one with far greater devotion to Catholicism than I, organised for him to speak at Monash University in mid 1988.

He was a newly appointed auxiliary bishop at the time, and he spoke diffidently but firmly, like someone might speak who was still new and unused to the spotlight that would from then on be part of his life.

I do recall clearly still that he said something like “Karl Marx was a pretty nasty piece of work who usually sponged off his friend Engels instead of getting an honest job.”

The last time I met Cardinal Pell was in Rome in September 2016, when I first visited Italy, and we did lunch, organised through the auspices of that same close friend in common we had.

We spoke for almost three hours, whilst eating pasta and slowly sipping wine, and talked about many different topics – literature, business, politics, economics, history, and absent friends and acquaintances.

We shared a fondness for the writings of Evelyn Waugh, although he did see much greater value in Waugh’s out of milieu biopic about the Emperor Constantine’s mother than I did (and I will say that much as I appreciate Brideshead Revisited for its theme of repentance and redemption, I much prefer the wickedly irredeemable Decline and Fall).

But as a churchman, it would not be surprising that Helena would be preferred – it is as close to a biography of that particular saint as we are likely to see.

He also did remark on his stay in a Roman hospital in relation to his heart condition. He observed that whilst health care in Australia is probably much better, health care in Italy is probably much kinder.

My mind immediately turned back to that remark this morning, when news broke of Cardinal Pell’s death in an Italian hospital following a hip replacement operation.

Pell was a Prince of the Church, as devouter Catholics than I of an earlier generation might have said. He was both archbishop of Melbourne, and then of Sydney, and Vatican treasurer, one of the senior ministers of the Church.

But his legacy is forever shadowed, in this world at least, by the elephant in the chapel, the allegations of child sex abuse. That the High Court overturned those convictions is not going to change the opinions of those who always presumed him guilty.

Most people, like me, have never really looked closely at the evidence or the circumstances of those allegations. The people who told me they were glad to see him in gaol were mostly speaking from prejudice, a willingness to believe in the worst in him, and particularly not from the belief that he had actually done anything himself, but that he deserved to be punished for being perceived as covering up the crimes of other priests.

I have not seen a need to look at the evidence. If there is another life after this, there will be a court where there is more perfect knowledge of truth than we have here, where justice cannot be escaped. If on the other hand there is no other life than this, then was the evidence presented to the jury and then examined by the learned jurists of the High Court sufficient to establish those accusations as facts?

I’m not a lawyer, nor have I been called to serve on a jury. Nor am I am active in the Church Laity and seeking exoneration or condemnation of a Church leader. Looking at the case presented, which has ultimately been found to be insufficient, would not serve me any profitable purpose of my time.

What I will say is that whilst I did not really know George Pell, we did have some close friends in common, people who I consider to be amongst the finest and most decent people that I have ever had the privilege to know and to count as my friends. I trust those friends, and I believe in them. As their belief in the innocence of George Pell never wavered, I too believe in his innocence of charges.

May we meet again for lunch one day, in the next world. And next time, let’s drink more than just one bottle of red.

Anno Quandamque Anno Futurbus (aka I get intellectually self-indulgent about the year in review etc)

I am being a bit self indulgent with the title for this blog post, which most means something like ‘The Year That Was And The Year That Will Be’ in Latin.

[I assume I have mentioned at some point during the nigh on three and a half years life of this blog that I studied Latin for four years at the Centre for Adult Education in Flinders Lane in a vain (in both senses of the word) attempt to make up for the failings of my no-thrills state secondary schooling.]

At the start of this year, I made some vague predictions about what we would see in 2022. Two of my predictions – the outcomes of the Victorian State Election and The Australian Federal Election – were both dead on the money. But anyone could have predicted those.

The other three things I wrote about were Communist China, Irredentist Russia, and financial stuff in general. I expect that I was sufficiently vague in those that I did not get them wrong.

I must say though that I am an optimist. I was hoping that there would not be a war involving Russia, and despite that, we have got something very nasty going on in the Ukraine right now.

I am relieved that there is no war involving China. I was more worried about that, to be honest.

With money predictions, if I knew anything, I would know the six numbers to tonight’s $40 million Tattslotto draw, and then I would not have to care about any of that.

Looking at what to expect in 2023, I think I will limit myself to what might happen in the environment, China, Russia, and financial markets.

We will do nothing, or so little as to be grossly inadequate, to address environmental concerns in the coming year. I believe, despite my love for free market capitalism, that we need to give the planet the benefit of the doubt, so I am rather concerned about plastic waste, global warning, and pollution generally. I am also skeptical about herding the cats who comprise humanity in a direction where we will give up on our standards of living sufficiently to make a difference.

We will, however, talk about it a lot.

Looking at China next, I do not see an invasion of Taiwan happening. There are too many problems facing China domestically, such as the demographic time bomb, the ripple effect of its Covid policies across society and the economy, and the high likelihood that its military forces are simply not up to the task of taking on several cutting edge militaries at once.

Russia and the Ukraine war…. What can any of us say? It is sad and unnecessary, yet probably the result of policies during the Obama era to install a pro-Western Ukrainian leader which have piqued the existing paranoia of an extremely paranoid nation. You do not poke a bear with a long stick without getting it rather angry at the goat in the same cave.

I don’t think that the war is going to end until Putin either achieves his aims, dies a welcome death, or is overthrown (probably with a welcome death tossed in for good measure).

Financial markets next. I am very leery of pundits and experts telling us what is going to happen in the year to come. After all, I have inadvertently subscribed to a financial advisory newsletter which uses astrology as one of its tools for predicting the property market.

I have no idea about whether the markets will go up or down, although right now I have no spare money to invest anyway (saving for a trip to Italy), but I am inclined to just let my abundantly sized share portfolio of mostly ETFs and LICs sit for now and to harvest the dividend stream.

Interest rates going up is not a bad thing, and nor are house prices coming down – at some point there will be a happy medium where houses can become affordable for people in Gen Y and Z. My house is paid off, so I don’t really worry too much there.

And then there is Bitcoin. 18 months ago novice Gen Y investors were dipping their feet into cryptocurrency as their first ever investment outside a term deposit. How clever does that seem now? I see Bitcoin as a form of Magic Beans. It is not a Ponzi scheme, but it is very possible that some of those who sell you those Magic Beans, eg that crypto exchange which collapsed last month, are running such schemes.

Anyway, I am looking forward to many good things in the new year, not least taking a very large amount of long service leave prior to retiring young. Now I will leave you, gentle reader, and go and check whether the cheap bottles of Rose and Sauvignon Blanc in the freezer are cold yet.

Australia Soccer’s Darkest Day….

I remember, circa 1991 or 1992, during the troubles in what was then called Yugoslavia, going with a Greek friend down to South Melbourne to watch the soccer team then known as South Melbourne Hellas play against the team then known as Melbourne Croatia.

I think that the game was then in the national league, although my interest in soccer was and still in more in observing the buffoonish behaviour of members of the crowd than in what happens on the pitch.

After all, scoring happens so rarely that the game is exceedingly boring.

At one point early on the game, the Croatian team kicked a goal and the South Melbourne Hellas supporters all started chanting ‘Serbia! Serbia!’

This sort of behaviour is why, when the A-League was formed, ethnic based nomenclature and symbolism was banned from A-League clubs, leading to the formation of new clubs supposedly lacking in ethnic affiliations.

Mind you, I have been told by a now former friend who mindlessly embraced Melbourne Victory that the team’s theme song is ‘Scotland The Brave’, which shows up a degree of hypocrisy in the A-League’s efforts to stamp out ethnic identity and the related hooliganism.

This is a good moment for me to pause and inform you, gentle reader, that I consider Melbourne Victory supporters generally to be a bunch of tossers and morons, and that I marginally prefer Melbourne City, even though it is part of a sports washing conspiracy. [Of course, whether you call it Soccer or Association Football, I still consider it to be a very boring and tedious sport.]

Soccer fans held a pitch invasion during the Victory-City derby this weekend, which has been described as Australia Soccer’s darkest day. Apparently they were angry about the decision to sell the rights to host the A-League Grand Final for the next few years to Sydney, and decided to hold a protest. [Such people obviously are innumerate, and cannot appreciate that the reason for that rights sale was that the TV rights for soccer were sold so cheaply due to the lack of interest in that pathetic sport that there was a funding shortfall.]

The protest was, as expected, rather farcical, and quickly generated into a pitch invasion, rather like the soccer riot which Groundskeeper Willie led in the episode of The Simpsons where a soccer match is held in Springfield.

Which is to say that soccer in Australia can be taken as seriously as it can be on a cartoon show like The Simpsons. It is a magnet for hooliganism of all sorts, and moronic behaviour.

The CEO of one of the teams said today that life bans on the fans who participate in the pitch invasion would be insufficient punishment.

I agree. I think that both Melbourne Victory and City should be suspended from the A-League for the rest of this season as a penalty, and that they should not be readmitted to the A-League for the 2023-24 season unless they can demonstrate that they can control those pathetic losers whom they count amongst their supporters.

But you would not be surprised to see me write that. Any measure which stifles soccer in Australia sounds good to me, and I can think of heaps more.

I like a good revisionist Western…

I’m still convalescing from the Covid, and isolating is sending me mildly around the twist.

To keep me somewhat sane, I have been paying more attention to streaming TV than usual.

Which led me to start watching The English, a revisionist Western series starring Emily Blunt, an aristocratic Englishwoman setting out in the American West in 1890 on a quest for vengeance, accompanied by an Indian scout.

Once she overcomes the original shock of being in a savage land, Lady Cornelia shows herself to be no mere damsel in distress. She calmly drowns a man in a bucket in the opening episode, and then in the second episode shows that her time spent playing the games of the English country house landed gentry are portable to the West by killing an Indian bush whacker with his own bow and arrow.

In this, I am reminded of one of the early revisionist Westerns from circa 1970, a very dark and self-doubting time in US History, Soldier Blue.

Soldier Blue starred a young (and surprising beautiful) Candace Bergen as the strong willed and self reliant heroine, leading her supposed escort, the eponymous Union Army private played by Peter Strauss, through the American wilderness, right up to the horror of a massacre of unarmed Indians at the end.

It was a naked allegory for My Lai and similar atrocities committed by the US Army in Vietnam.

The English does not seem to have the same urgency of message as Soldier Blue did. The savagery of the people (mostly white) is taken for granted, and the atrocities and breeches of faith by the US Government are wearily accepted as the natural order.

But that perhaps is because in five decades a lot has happened in America and they no longer trust their governments as much as they did at the time when Soldier Blue shocked us, and are far more willing to accept that frequently, they might actually be the bad guys.

What once caused us horror and required some suspension of disbelief, we now realise to be the truth. And perhaps that realisation can help both America, and humanity in general, to seek better ways of dealing with each other.