Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The cost of defending the indefensible

Good article here - the last paragraph especially. Here's an excerpt:
Vietnam was the first war in which it cost $1 million to kill one enemy soldier.

Our alliance with the US is a pressure upon us to arm expensively and inappropriately. It is clear from what is occurring in Iraq that high-tech systems are ineffective when the enemy is elusive. We are also incompetent in the high-tech marketplace. We have submarines which after rebuilding still cannot do the job and we have obsolete navy helicopters purchased as state-of-the-art.

Without counting the surveillance and other aircraft on order, we are talking of spending $22 billion just on new fighter planes. That is enough money to save dozens of our dying country towns. We have lost many of our F111s in training crashes, and the new fighter planes cost about $US170 million apiece: should such high-tech wizardry be out of contention for a nation the size of Australia?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Fresh produce

I've become quite the keen gardener. It's all Wendell's fault. Not really interested in flowers and such, I'd much prefer to grow something useful like fruit and vegetables, and so growing fruit and vegetables is exactly what I've been doing. So imagine my delight when my zucchini plant finally yielded results a couple of weeks back. Check this fine specimen out:

Impressive, no? What a marvellous piece of produce. All by the sweat of my brow. What a fine meal that zucchini will make.

But perhaps appearances can be deceiving. Scroll down for a more accurate picture.

Yep, it's miniature. Only about 4cm long, and not getting any longer. Needless to say not too many meals will be gleaned from it. Looks like it's going into the box marked "Simon's failed fruit and vegetable projects". Along with these carrots from a few years ago:

(Actually we're doing quite nicely out of my vegetable patch now, but the tiny zucchini did amuse me)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

April 24

Many of you will be aware that in June 2007, I was involved in disrupting Operation Talisman Sabre, a series of military exercises involving over 30,000 Australian and US troops. Along with four friends (Simon Reeves, Carole Powell, Sarah Williams, Krystal Spencer), I walked onto the Samuel Hill Air Base in the Shoalwater Bay Military Area in Queensland, to invite military personnel to trade in their war games for peace games. After spending an hour and a half with the troops, we were arrested and charged with trespassing (without lawful excuse) on Commonwealth land. More information about our action can be found at

Those of you who have been following the (seemingly interminable) court processes will be relieved to know that today the four of us who pleaded not guilty received the date of our trial. We will front the Yeppoon Magistrates Court on April 24th 2008. Having already signed and submitted a formal admission of our presence on the base, we intend to argue that we had lawful excuse for doing so. While the chances of such an argument succeeding are slim, we plan to take the same spirit of transforming hopefulness, joy and peace into the courtroom that we took with us into the military zone.

If you're of the praying persuasion, please pray that the truth would be spoken and known on that day. Pray for boldness and courage, for peace and the presence of Christ in our words and actions.

For those who follow the church year, our trial date falls on the feast day of St Fidelis of Sigmaringen, who paid the ultimate price for refusing to renounce his beliefs (ironically, at the hands of my fellow Protestants). He died praying, as Jesus did, "Pardon my enemies, O Lord: blinded by passion they know not what they do." May we all, like Jesus, have the courage to renounce violence even when threatened, and learn to love and forgive our enemies.

Spare Change: my soundtrack to 2007

(Spare change refers to the fact that most of these songs are from albums I picked up for under $3, but also the theme of a broader type of change, and how I've engaged with it more deeply this year. If you want a copy, email me your address.)

It’s been quite a year – visits from John Dear, Jarrod and Harry from Peace Tree, and Ciaron O’Reilly have inspired and moved me beyond talk of nonviolence to action. The central event of peace games in the midst of war games at Talisman Sabre continues to be a formative experience as we go through the court process into 2008. But most of all this year I’ve learnt to value my family and my mobs: Julie and the girls especially, but also inspiral, Urban Seed and Brunswick Baptist.

1. Something Beautiful – Sinead O’Connor
I picked this up for $3 at a primary school fete. It was an advanced copy of her new album Theology, in which she basically appropriates a bunch of Psalms and sings them out of her own experience. Now I’m not much one for worship songs, but this one captures it pretty much perfectly – not just the usual ‘divine ego-boosting’, but an acknowledgement of our own brokenness, and lament for the brokenness of the world, and the final cry of “Who’ll dress their wounds?” which becomes the exhortation to be “something beautiful”. It’s Sinead’s response to the events following 9/11 and you can’t help but hear the heartbreaking agony when she sings the outro.

I wanna make
Something beautiful
For you and from you
To show you
To show you
I adore you…

They dress the wounds of my poor people
As though they're nothing
Saying "peace, peace"
When there's no peace

And in their want
Who'll dress their wounds?…

2. The Tallest Man, the Broadest Shoulders Pt 1 – The Great Frontier Pt II: Come To Me With Only Playthings Now – Sufjan Stevens
I’d been hearing about Sufjan Stevens and Illinoise since 2005 when Thom Morgan was banging on about him, but I managed to hold out on hearing him until this year. The first time I heard this song was when I sat down on the plane to return to Yeppoon for our first court appearance, and I fell in love with it immediately. Partly because it’s unlike anything I’d heard before – the arrangements are so delightfully lush, and it’s more like soundtrack music than just your average pop song.

I count the days the Great Frontier
Forgiving, faced the seventh year
I stand in awe of gratefulness
I can and call forgetfulness

And when I, and when I call
The Patient, the Patient fall
The Spirit, the Carpenter
Invites us to be with her

3. The Hard Road (Restrung) – Hilltop Hoods with Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
When I take kids on an Urban Seed walk, we always finish up with a reflection on the time, with a slide show set to a groovy, contemporary (but relevant) song. For years, it’s been Joel Turner’s These Kids, until this year began and we all said that if we heard These Kids once more, we’d have to do something rather unpleasant to Joel Turner (and most of his Modern Day Poets). So we found another song. And now, after a whole year of it, I’d like to do something unpleasant to the Hilltop Hoods.

Bail me out, a failure out once again,
Next weekend, bail me out, drunk again,
And I never will forgive myself,
For putting you through all that hell,
I went from high school dropout to factory labourer,
Slave to the clock until four, went from sleeping on the floor,
To being out on tour, now no stopping me,
I’ll finish with a bang like Kurt Cobains biography.

Going down the hard road, down the hard road,
Don’t know where I’ve been, and don’t know where to go its like,
Going down the hard road, down the hard road,
Don’t know where I’ve been.

4. Cowboys – Counting Crows
This album’s not out until next year, but since they’ve delayed the release of the album for six months (and because I’ve listened to it enough this year), I reserve the right to release this song right about now. It’s a return to form for what has been my favourite band for many years now.

I’ll wait for you where Saturday’s a memory
And Sunday comes to gather me
Into the arms of God who’ll welcome me
Because I believe…Oh I believe…

And I know I could look at anyone but you now
I could fall into the eyes of anyone but you now
So come on, come on, come on, come on,
Come on through now…

This is a list of what I should have been but I’m not

5. Times Like These – Jack Johnson
The night before we went into the military base we stayed at a local’s house. His support of us was totally amazing, not just giving us a place to sleep, but feeding us too. And then, just because he somehow knew, he put on Jack Johnson. And now Jack Johnson will always be that moment in my mind of perfect hospitality and the way God sometimes makes her presence so clear when you most need it.

There will always be stop and go and fast and slow
And action reaction and sticks and stones and broken bones
Those for peace and those for war
And God bless these ones not those ones but these ones

Make times like these and times like those
What will be will be and so it goes

6. Close to Me – The Cure
Picked up the Cure’s best of album for just $2 at Savers, and it’s been on regular rotation. Close to Me got more airplay than most.

But if I had your faith
Then I could make it safe and clean
If only I was sure
That my head on the door was a dream

I've waited hours for this
I've made myself so sick
I wish I'd stayed asleep today
I never thought this day would end
I never thought tonight could ever be
This close to me

7. Eve of Destruction – Screaming Jets
A sensational cover of a Barry McGuire song written in 1965, this could just as easily have been written last week. Great protest song.

Think of all the hate there is in Red China
Then take a look around at your own backyard
You may leave here for four days in space
And when you return it's the same old place
They’re pounding out the drums, the fright and disgrace
You can bury your dead, but don't leave a trace
Hate your next-door-neighbor but don't forget to say your grace…

Tell me over and over and over again my friend
You don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction

8. With My Hammer – Seize the Day
Following the trials and tribulations of the Pine Gap 4 was really inspiring for me, and lots of what was done early this year by the Christian Activist Network was supporting them. This song comes from the album put out to raise funds for their defence, and is itself an incredibly inspiring story about the four women who participated in the Seeds of Peace Ploughshares action, when they disabled an Indonesian warplane bound for East Timor.

With my hammer I break the chains
I will not remain in silence
I will stand and I will defend
My right to fight against violence
No prison can contain the freedom that we gain
When we move through fear

9. This Flight Tonight – Joni Mitchell
I spent a lot of time away from home this year, at least compared to usual. I swore I’d never get sick of flying, it’s too much fun, but there were some times this year when I was done with it. But this song is less about flying than it is about being away from home…from those people and places you love. There were definitely lots of times this year when I missed those I loved, especially because of the geographical distances between us. This is about sitting on the plane and thinking, “Turn this crazy bird around…I shouldn’t have got on this flight tonight…”

I’m drinking sweet champagne
Got the headphones up high
Can't numb you out
Can't drum you out of my mind
They’re playing goodbye baby, baby goodbye,
Ooh, ooh, love is blind

Starbright, starbright
You got the lovin' that I like, all right
Turn this crazy bird around
I shouldn’t have got on this flight tonight

10. Never Never Gonna Give You Up – Barry White
Picked up Barry White’s Best Of for 50 cents at a Salvos Op Shop, and it’s totally awesome. This is vintage Barry. Barry White always makes me think of my mate Anthony. Not for romantic reasons, just because when I first met Anthony at a nonviolence workshop, we were set the task of creating our ideal nonviolent community, and Anthony decided that in such a community, people would only listen to Barry White. I can see why. How can you fight with music like this?

Never, never gonna give you up
I'm never, ever gonna stop
Not the way I feel about you
Girl, I just can't live without you

I'm never ever gonna quit,
'Cause quittin' just ain't my schtick
I'm gonna stay right here with you
Do all the things you want me to

11. On This Side – Claire Bowditch
Last summer I’d been listening to a bit of Claire and was just loving how local it is. This is just a happy little tune about everyday joys. And that’s what I’ve learnt towards the end of this year – that running around furiously trying to save the world means nothing when you don’t have a healthy home life. I know that now.

It's a quiet night at home now,
Little miracles in bed
And a birdy on my windowsill,
That makes happy happen in my heard.
It's funny all the little things,
So boring to describe,
They taught my joy her roots,
And they brought my life alive.

12. Touch – Noiseworks
Corny? Heck yeah. Overearnest 80’s pop rock? You better believe it. Just let yourself go, get caught up in the soaring guitar riffs and you’ll feel it.

Another day is goin' out, yeah
A sea of faces cryin' out
With all we have today
You think we'd stop and take a look now, yeah
All I want to say
Is maybe that we should reach out

Everybody - reach out and reach out and
Reach out and touch somebody
Reach out and reach out and
Reach out and touch somebody

13. Dogs – Damien Rice
This year I decided I would make more intentional time to be alone, for my sanity. One Monday (my day off) in January I went to a park over in Northcote and laid down in the shade of a tree for an hour and just listened to music. There were certain points when I was listening to this song where it was pure bliss; you’re lost in the feelings the music evokes in you, and it’s nothing but delight.

She lives with an orange tree
The girl that does yoga
She picks the dead ones from the ground
When we come over

And she gives, I get without giving anything to me
Like a morning sun
Like a morning
Like a morning sun
Good good morning sun

14. Impossible – Screaming Jets
My song of the year. Screaming Jets were one of the big bands of my youth, but I somehow missed their strong social conscience. It’s been a theme song the whole year, getting more deeply involved in activism, often against what seems like overwhelming odds. But this song brings home to me that it’s not just about “winning”, it’s actually about the kind of person I want to be. Maybe the end result sometimes feels impossible…but I’m gonna die trying.

You can’t do much about whats gonna happen today
And you can’t do much about yesterday
You can’t say much against some angry individual
You can’t say much against the majority.

Well ain’t it like being impossible
But there ain’t no harm in trying
And I say hell man
Ain’t this like being impossible.
But I'm gonna die tryin’.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

"it's not difficult to be magical. do try to keep up!"

Totally amazing article in today's Age about it and devour it. By Barry Dickins, a playwright.
NOT long ago I was in the merry midst of very contented infants for whom I was the guest poet. Children know poetry is for them.

Sometimes I think that's all they know; but of course their wisdom is endless because they swear allegiance to Joy.

Happiness they are good at. Grief they respect. Death they write about.

The children I was with were preps at Saint John's Catholic Primary School, in Clifton Hill. How old are preps? How old is Joy?

I have no idea why they were so carefree that first morning when I started to write verses with them; it was a pretty nice day and two women teachers sat in with us.

The birds whistled to each other and I politely inquired of a pretty little girl of four or so, what she was up to?

It wasn't quite nine in the morning, and we were all sitting on the floor.

"Well," she replied casually, shielding her eyes from the sun in the bright window panes. "At 4½ you are not up to that much."

Another child, so small I nearly trod on him, looked up innocently and said: "I had no idea you were this old."

Well, I am.

We commenced to compose cartoons and draw eagles and cypress trees, that sort of thing.

One boy wept in a perfect fury because he couldn't sharpen his grey lead pencil.

These emotions are understandable in a world filled with frustrations and anguishes.

He sobbed so much his drawing paper submerged beneath his sorrows.

Later we were talking, still on the floor, where it's always best to talk because there are no levels of importance, about drugs and overdoses, for they know everything, children.

A particular North Melbourne AFL footballer had turned up drunk to train at Arden Street Oval, and the media had swooped on him — called him moronic, in fact.

"I think that his mummy should have hugged him a lot more," smiled a young pupil, resting her chin on her fingertips in the most nonchalant way imaginable.

"If she had actually hugged him more he might have been late for training; but he wouldn't have been able to do wrong."

We drew an elephant.

Lately the commentators have been writing most hatefully about the footballer Ben Cousins, calling him everything, including a drug addict and drunkard. They won't be happy until he is dead, I think; then they'll say he is tragically misunderstood.

But kids see all things differently. A tree can look like flames to them.

I asked a child last week at a school what she thought of Ben Cousins. She said she didn't think of him.

I know the reason I work so often in schools is to be taught by children.

They're the future and they trust surrealism. They're interesting. And exuberant.

Just for once it would be terrific if children called the shots, and not the experts, who aren't funny.

Children's molecular structure is comic and indestructible and they know it.

And they are not afraid to draw cancer or write about the end of the world either. Adults are often the end of it.

Each year I work at the Benalla Regional Art Gallery. They employ me to listen.

I listen to the local artists and that includes kids who draw and paint and write poems.

I then do some drawings myself and include snippets of conversations I've been involved in. It's fun. It's beautiful. So free.

Last year I met a tiny girl of three named Maeve. She was putting the final touches on an incredible sort of cabinet that was half-drawn with coloured crayons, yet some of the tiny drawers in it undid and pulled out; it was definitely magical.

I asked the child how she did it, and she grinned at me and said in a whisper, "It's not that difficult to be magical. Do try to keep up!"

I've never forgotten she said that.

Children are a better world. That is all I understand of this bewildering phase of our battered old planet.

They redeem everything that is debauched.

They are rather like perpetual flowers, children, incapable of poison.