Archive

Tag Archives: Reviews Of Books In My Collection

THE VATICAN DIARIES  A Behind-The-Scenes Look At The Power, Personalities and Politics At The Heart Of The Catholic Church

A Book Review by Anne Frandi-Coory

Vatican Diaries

 

**********************

It really is a joke that the Vatican considers itself a city state in its own right! More like a private boarding institution full of petulant school boys with eccentric masters in control of such departments as Congregation For Catholic EducationCongregation For The Causes of SaintsCongregation For The Clergy, Congregation For Institutes of Consecrated Life And Societies Of Apostolic Life etc. and where the competition for supremacy  over doctrinal matters is fierce.

What bothered me the most about the goings on in the Vatican as revealed in this book, was the total shutdown of any discussion about the thousands of cases of sexual abuse of children in USA, Australia and Ireland; the total lack of any consideration of the harm done to children by paedophile priests. The Vatican is a well-oiled machine that protects the Church at all costs, and I mean ‘all costs’!

The only noteworthy global/political stance the Vatican has taken in recent times, in my view,  was when Pope John Paul ll warned the USA of the terrible consequences if it invaded Iraq: ‘Four years earlier [George W ] Bush had dismissed Pope John Paul’s cautionary warnings about war during the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, leaving deep resentment at the Vatican. In the aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s demise, as terrorism, factional fighting and anti-Christian attacks increased, the Vatican said, essentially, “We told you so.”‘

It is truly incredulous how petty and ridiculous are the secrecy, the bitchiness, and to think this is the headquarters that directs the Catholic Faith for followers around the world! What a waste of time and money!! All the money the Catholic Church rakes in globally would surely feed the world’s poor? Instead it allows the clergy and the pope, to live in palaces, eat like kings, and be waited on day and night!

Just like Mother Teresa was a ‘cash cow’ for the Catholic Church, so too was the Legion of Christ whose Mexican founder, Marcial Maciel Degollado,  fathered several children to several different women but who the Vatican sponsored and feted because of the huge numbers of new priests flocking to his seminaries and the vast amounts of money his order collected in donations. He also embezzled millions for his own private use, and was accused of sexual abuse, but the Vatican protected him until he died.

And heresy isn’t a problem for the Catholic Church either these days, not if it brings in billions of dollars worldwide like the Lefebvrists do. This schism within the Holy Church, for which several bishops and priests were excommunicated, strongly advocates for the pre-Vatican Council ll Tridentine Rites, including the use of Latin for Mass. For this faction of Catholicism, strict Tradition is everything. It does show how little the sexual abuse of children by paedophile priests concerns the Vatican hierarchy when compared to apostasy.

The chapter in the book titled SEX   lays open the arguments within the Church about the problem of homosexuality of priests and it’s  very interesting indeed. There is little doubt that homosexual relationships between priests are condoned within the Vatican, and within parishes. In one case, a priest was caught on a hidden camera, attempting to seduce a young man on a white couch in his office!  It was a set up, and the whole affair was broadcast on Italian TV.  A few years ago, an investigation carried out by the Church,  employing expert psychiatrists, confirmed what the Church has always denied; that the Catholic priesthood is a haven for homosexuals and that teenage seminarians are the attraction. Also, research has revealed that by far the largest numbers of child abuse victims are pre-pubescent boys. One particular psychiatrist believes that celibacy is the prime cause of the fact that so many paedophiles join the priesthood. Many followers are dismayed that the Church will not soften its stance on celibacy, even though it allows its Eastern Orthodox priests to marry. One psychiatrist went so far as to advise the Vatican that allowing priests to marry would encourage more ‘socially mature’ men to become priests. The following is a significant expert opinion quoted by the author: ‘Dr Martin P Kafka, a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School, said he thought homosexuality, while not a cause of sexual abuse, was a “likely risk factor” that deserved further study. He stated that in comparison with the general population, abuse cases in the Church disproportionately involved homosexual male adults who’d molested adolescent males. The no-gay-priests faction did its best to ignore the fact that Dr Kafka had also wondered whether celibacy could also be a ‘risk factor’ in sexual abuse.  [My emphasis]

Is there a secret document emanating from the Congregation for Catholic Education, which oversees seminaries around the world, stating the Vatican’s new position on admitting homosexuals into the priesthood? Nothing has been confirmed, but… “The document’s position is negative based in part on what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says in its revised edition, that the homosexual orientation is ‘objectively disordered.’ Therefore independently of  any judgment on the homosexual person, a person of this orientation should not be admitted to the seminary and, if it is discovered later, should not be ordained.” One can’t help wondering whether the Catholic Church is no longer attracting enough priests into its fold because of the dwindling faith of its congregations or perhaps because of its restriction on the ordination of homosexuals?

This chapter also reveals the Vatican’s rules on the use of condoms and other forms of contraception, and once again I am amazed at the ridiculous pettiness of the detail of what is and isn’t allowed! For instance: “condoms are acceptable for prostitutes, because the sex they engage in is already sinful”…but some in the Vatican are concerned because that “would lead the Church to support the use of condoms for all ‘fornicators’ including sexually active teenagers.” I won’t go into the detail of the Vatican’s rules about the use of condoms for the prevention of the spread of HIV/AIDS, but they border on the utterly ludicrous!

The Vatican Diaries is a must read, especially for the faithful, because you really should know the truth of what is happening within your own Church!  It is not just a salacious exposé…John Thavis has written an engaging and at times, very funny book. He obviously has friends within the Vatican whom he trusts and admires, and he has been working as a journalist in this field for over thirty years. I did enjoy the chapters about the Vatican Museum, and the character of an irreverent priest who translated documents into Latin, and who constantly embarrassed tourists and the Vatican hierarchy who  would have dearly loved to have fired him, if he hadn’t been such a brilliant Latinist!

The comings and goings, the antiquated white and black smoke  used to inform an anxiously waiting public about progress in the election of a new pope, are enlightening, humourous, and left me wondering why an extremely wealthy city state still used smoke signals, emitted from a belching, cough inducing stove. Oh that’s right, Tradition.

 

-Anne Frandi-Coory 31 August 2016

 

 

The Atheist Manifesto

by Michel Onfray

Born to a family of Norman farmers, Michel Onfray was abandoned by his parents to a Catholic institution from age 10 to 14. Overcoming these early hardships, Onfray graduated with a PhD in philosophy. He has written over 80 books and teaches philosophy at a French university.

Michel Onfray portrait

Michel Onfray

A friend gave me The Atheist Manifesto not long after he had finished reading Whatever Happened To  Ishtar? which I had written in 2010, a book spawned of seventeen years of an indoctrinated childhood spent in various Catholic institutions.  ‘I know you will enjoy this book’, he told me, ‘but it’s a little too intellectual for me.’  He was right; I have since read it twice.

****************************

Michel Onfray

Was Monotheism born of the sand? Two paragraphs in  Manifesto’s  preface attempt to partly answer this question:

Desert Memory: After a few hours on the trail in the Mauritanian desert, I saw an old herdsman traveling with his family. His young wife and his mother-in-law rode camels; his sons and daughters were on donkeys. The group carried with them everything essential to survival-and therefore to life. The sight of them gave me the impression that I had encountered a contemporary of Muhammad. Burning white sky, scattered, scorched trees, uprooted thorn bushes blown by the desert wind across unending vistas of orange sand…the spectacle evoked the geographical and psychological background of the Koran, in the turbulent period of camel caravans, nomad encampments, and clashing desert tribes.

I thought of the lands of Israel, Judaea, and Samaria, of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, of Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee. Places where the sun bakes men’s heads, desiccates their bodies, afflicts their souls with thirst. Places that generate a yearning for oases where water flows cool, clear and free, where the air is balmy and fragrant, where the food and drink are abundant. The afterlife suddenly struck me as a counter world invented by men exhausted and parched by their ceaseless wanderings across the dunes or up and down rocky trails baked to white heat. Monotheism was born of the sand.

Michel Onfray analyses the fanatical belief in the afterlife by followers of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The lives of these early followers of one God  were, every single day, a struggle for survival in a harsh and unforgiving climate, where death inflicted different kinds of terror in the living. Was the promise of an afterlife meant to alleviate that terror? For instance the Koran’s fantastic description of paradise: rivers of milk and wine, beautiful virgins, beds of luxurious cloth, celestial music and magnificent gardens? Why wouldn’t a man want to die and leave this endless struggle?

What better way to avoid looking at reality and inevitable death in the face, than to construct fantastical tales that the three religions are built on. And I love this from Onfray, so relevant to our 21st Century concerns over human-made Climate Change: The invention of an afterlife would not matter so much were it not purchased at so high a price: disregard of the real, hence wilful neglect of the only world there is. While religion is often at variance with immanence, with man’s inherent nature, atheism is in harmony with the earth – life’s other name.  For those of us who have given up on believing in the existence of God, saving planet earth is our passion, science our saviour.

The author tells us about the first tentative atheists, who weren’t really fully fledged atheists for one reason or another, which he outlines with some humour and sarcasm. And then along came Nietzsche! Onfray uses the sub-heading Philosophical Earthquake to describe this period  which is a perfect description of the upheaval this one man caused. But so much made sense to intelligent, thinking people!

Onfray goes on to ‘teach’ the case for atheism. He writes: Talmud and Torah, Bible and New Testament, Koran and the Hadith offer insufficient grounds for the philosopher to choose between Jewish, Christian or Muslim misogyny. Or to opt against pork and alcohol but in favour of the veil or the burka, to attend the synagogue, the temple, the church, or the mosque, all places where intelligence is ailing and where, for centuries, the faithful have practiced obedience to dogma and submission to the Law-and therefore obedience and submission to those who claim to be the elect, the envoys and the word of God. He suggests that instead of teaching monotheistic religions in schools we should be teaching atheism. He prefers the teachings of The Genealogy of Morals (1887) rather than the epistles to the Corinthians.  I happen to agree with him. Along with world conservation, less exploitation of this wonderful planet we live on!

In the chapter Towards an Atheology: Thirty centuries from the earliest texts of the Old Testament to the present day, teach us that the assertion of one God, violent , jealous, quarrelsome, intolerant and bellicose, has generated more hate, bloodshed, deaths, and brutality than it has peace…[for example] There is the Jewish fantasy of a chosen people, which vindicates colonialism, expropriation, hatred, animosity between peoples, and finally an authoritarian and armed theocracy.

The author pleads for the world to have an end to the linkage of the world’s woes to atheism:  God’s existence it seems to me, has historically generated in his name more battles, massacres, conflicts and wars than peace, serenity, brotherly love, forgiveness of sins, and tolerance. To my knowledge, no popes, princes, kings, caliphs, or emirs have excelled in the practice of virtue, so outstandingly did Moses, Paul, and Muhammad excel in murder, torture, and orgies of plunder-I call the biographies to witness. So many variations on the theme of loving one’s neighbour.

Onfray suggests that the times we live in are no longer atheist. We instead are in the midst of the era of  nihilism, which stems from the ‘turbulence of the transit zone between still very present Judeo-Christianity and timidly blooming post-Christianity…Jews, Christians and Muslims, construct for themselves, a made-to-measure morality. This implies selective borrowings (tailored to fit their needs) from their holy books in order to establish rules of play and participation by the community.’

Christians, particularly Catholics, know all too well, religious concepts of ‘purity’, and how it relates to sex, and we can mostly thank Paul of Tarsus/St Paul for that! The dichotomy of the female, whore/virgin, is still constantly preached as Canon Law by an ancient and all-male Vatican. The author delves into this topic with relish, and coming from a background of a childhood in Catholic institutions, I could relate to these chapters intimately.

Onfray explains that  Muslims share many of their fixations on purity with Jews; all food must be ritually prepared. Why the absolute prohibition of the consumption of pork, but not camel meat? Even on that matter, there is much disagreement. Some suggest the pig was emblematic of certain unpleasant memories of Roman legions, others believe it was the pig’s omnivorous diet, its consummation of public refuse. I have also read of another theory: the squeals of the pig as it was led to slaughter, was too reminiscent of the darkest days of sacrificial slaughtering of children in attempts to appease more ancient gods. The rituals connected to the cleansing of the body are rational, especially for life in the desert. The author explains in detail the similar ritualistic rules for respect of one’s body and bodily hygiene.

I found the chapter entitled Bonfires of the Intelligence; producing the holy books, particularly interesting. Onfray: The three monotheisms are seen as the religions of the book-but their three books are far from mutually supportive… Naturally they all preach brotherly love. Thus from the very start it seems to appear beyond reproach to our brethren of the Abrahamic religions. None of these books is a work of revelation. Who would have done the revealing? Their pages no more descend from heaven than those of Persian fables or Icelandic sagas.

The Torah is not as old as tradition claims; Moses is improbable. Yahweh dictated nothing-and in any case, Moses could not have written what Yahweh said unless he wrote in hieroglyphics, since the Hebrew script did not exist in the time of Moses. None of the evangelists personally knew Jesus. The testamental canon arose from later political decisions, particularly those reached when Eusebius of Caesarea, mandated by the emperor Constantine, assembled a corpus stitched together from twenty-seven versions of the New Testament in the first half of the fourth century. The apocryphal writings are more numerous than those that constitute the New Testament proper.

Muhammad did not write the Koran. Indeed, that book did not exist until twenty-five years after his death. The second source for Muslim authority, the Hadith, saw the light of day in the ninth century, two centuries after the Prophet’s death. Hence we must infer the very active presence of men in the shadows of these three Gods.

Science does not sit well within the three monotheistic religions, and the author discusses this at length and in detail. If they do embrace science, it is usually to enhance their dogma and this instrumentalisation of science  ‘subjects reason to domestic and theocratic uses’. For example, one Hadith indeed celebrates the quest for scientific knowledge as far afield as China, but always in the logic of its instrumentalisation via religion, never for the human ideal of social progress. The Catholic religion impeded the forward march of Western civilisation, inflicting on it, incalculable damage.

Then there is the female problem that the religions of the book have in common. Only mothers and wives are venerated. Judeo-Christianity promotes the idea that Eve was an afterthought, made from Adam’s rib; ‘an inferior cut off the prime beef, a humble spare rib‘.  She appears in the Koran as Adam’s wife but the fact that she is never named is revealing, because, as Onfray says, ‘the unnamed is unnameable.’

The ridiculous tenets of these three religions engender the worst kind of hypocrisy because we are all too human. The possibility of sex divorced from conception, and thus of sex alone, of pure sexuality-that is absolute evil. For the monotheist there can be no more hideous oxymoron than a barren, sterile woman! In the name of this same principle the three monotheisms condemn homosexuals to death…For his part, Paul of Tarsus saw in the solitary male the perils of lust, adultery and free sexuality. Hence given the impossibility of chastity, his endorsement of marriage –the least objectionable justification for the libido.

Onfray discusses at length the barbaric mutilation of female and male genitalia, practiced by monotheistic religions and their literature abounds in references to the extinction of libido and the destruction of desire. Onfray refers to them as ‘variations on the theme of castration’. From what I’ve read and seen on world news every day, none of these religions is achieving the total sexual control over their adherents that they initially set out to achieve. Catholic paedophile priests, Muslim child marriages, polygamy, Jewish paedophilia, to name a few.

All three religions have burnt books, whole libraries, whole towns, citizens, mosques, temples, churches, synagogues, slaughtered millions, and all for what or who? What God? There is no archaeological proof Jesus existed. The author covers this period in Christianity’s history in depth, with all of its subterfuges.

In the chapter headed Selective Exploitation of the Texts, Onfray writes:

Everyone knows of monotheism’s three books, but very few know their dates of origin, their authors, or the ups and downs attendant on establishing the three texts-the absolutely final, immutable texts. For the Torah, Old Testament, New Testament, and Koran took an unthinkably long time to emerge from history and claim that their texts issued from God alone, that they had no need to explain themselves to those who entered their prayer temples armed only with faith, unburdened of reason and intelligence. Considering Muhammad was illiterate it is ridiculous to believe that he wrote the Koran as God dictated it. And let’s be clear, there were several Korans from different periods which were merged into one, hundreds of years after Muhammad’s death!

We do not possess an official date of birth for the worship of one God…Jean Soler insists on the neighbourhood of the fourth and third century BCE-in other words very late…but the family line is very clear: the Jews invented it to ensure the coherence, cohesion and existence of their small, threatened people. The mythology they fashioned engendered belief in a warrior God, a fighter, blood thirsty, aggressive, a war leader highly effective at mobilising a people without a land. The myth of a chosen people thereafter blessed with a destiny.

Of that labour of invention, several thousand pages of canonical text survive-very few considering their worldwide influence over the course of more than twenty centuries. The Old Testament boasts a total of 3,500 pages, the New Testament 900 pages, the Koran 750, that is, little more than 5000 pages in which everything and its opposite is said once and for all. In each of these three founding texts, contradictions abound and Onfray gives us many examples of these.

Love of one’s neighbour as espoused by all three religions, was non-existent, and still does not exist in the 21st century! The Pauline texts, so useful in justifying submission to de facto authority, triggered results that went far beyond the legitimisation of wars and persecution. In the field of slavery, for example, which Christianity did no more than the other two monotheisms to deter. Indeed, in later centuries the small-scale slavery resulting from tribal raids evolved into the slave trade pure and simple, the sale and deportation of whole populations for use as chattels and beasts of burden.’

More than twenty centuries later has anything changed? Onfray:  ‘The commandments do not advocate any particular respect for one’s neighbour if he looks different, if he is not branded in the flesh by the rabbi’s knife. The non-Jew did not enjoy the same rights as members of the covenant. So that outside the confines of the book, the Other may be called on to account for himself, to be treated like an object, a thing: the goy by the Jew, the polytheist or animist by the Christian, the Christian by the Muslim, and the atheist, needless to say, by everyone.’ [My emphasis]

Onfray likens the three monotheisms to death cults. He asks ‘How can we escape the domination of [the death instinct] after so effectively killing off the life urge both within and outside of ourselves?’ Are we so terrified by the horror and void of death, that we believe in the ‘consoling fables and fictions that incite us to deny the use of our full powers?’ He posits that this ‘false world’ forces us to live in the here and now ‘buttressed by the hopes of a tinsel afterlife.’ Finally, he suggests that we are in the flux of a ‘post-Christian’ era, but that we must beware ‘religious secularism’ in which ‘the essential remains Judeo-Christian.’  He believes that the 21st Century has opened on a merciless war. On one side is a Judeo-Christian West, on the other side, a Muslim world. Monotheist religions are waging this war, and Onfray asks: Must we choose a side? There is much more to read in these chapters, but I will leave you to buy the book.

In the final chapter of MANIFESTO Onfray sums up where we are at in the fight for a genuine post-Christian secularism:

At this hour when the final battle –already lost-looms for the defence of the Enlightenment’s values against magical propositions, we must fight for a post-Christian secularism, that is to say, atheistic, militant and radically opposed to choosing between Western Judeo-Christianity and its Islamic adversary-neither Bible nor Koran. I persist in preferring philosophers to priests, imams, ayatollahs and mullahs. Rather than trust their theological hocus-pocus, I prefer to draw on alternatives to the dominant philosophical historiography: the laughers, materialists, radicals, cynics, hedonists, atheists, sensualists, voluptuaries. They know that there is only one world, and that promotion of an afterlife deprives us of the enjoyment and benefit of the only one there is. A genuinely mortal sin.

 

-Anne Frandi-Coory  18 August 2016

 

 

 

 

 

The NEAPOLITAN NOVEL quartet

by Elena Ferrante

 

Elena Ferrante

<><><><><

I have recently been introduced to Elena Ferrante novels, beginning with the Neapolitan Novel quartet: My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child There is such an unsettling and brutal honesty in Ferrante’s writing, firstly about growing up poor and female in Naples, and subsequently trying to escape that seemingly inevitable life. The novels’ narrator, Elena Greco, recalls her childhood and her brilliant friend Lila, whom she at once loves and hates, first sexual experiences, the brutal men in their lives, their dreams of escaping the ‘neighbourhood’ and the fervent hopes that they will never become their mothers. Ferrante’s exquisite writing thoroughly engages the reader through girlhood fears, first boyfriends, harsh family lives, the deep seated religious division of whore and virgin, constant threats from local bullies, men and boys, and tensions of repressed sexual desires.

The mysterious author [Ferrante’s true identity is unknown] lays bare the psychological trauma of growing up female in the south; the culture of being owned by your father and then your husband. The expectation that a girl must get married, and bear children, the resultant crushing of her intellect and her creativity. There are only two ways to escape the hardships: excel at school, and gain access to universities and a better life in Pisa, Milan or Florence, even though every move to escape the inevitable life of poverty and domestic grind is greeted with age old suspicions and hatreds by family and friends. Elena Greco is one of the lucky ones. She excels at school, goes to university in the north, eventually marries into a well known northern Italian family, but is her life really any better than that of her brilliant friend Lila, who refuses to leave Naples? Lila chose instead to marry a local boy from a powerful, wealthy family, and even though she has sold her soul for a beautiful new house and everything that money can buy, her life becomes unbearable and the inherent dangers seem to multiply.

These novels contain the story of modern Italy…about those who left and those who stayed.

I have never read four books so quickly! I read all of the books with a total enthrall…impatiently wanting to do nothing else but be involved in the lives of Elena and Lila,  right to the very end.

-Anne Frandi-Coory 1 August 2016

 

 

ASHBYGATE  

The plot to destroy Australia’s Speaker 

by Ross Jones 

 

Ashbygate

 

Tony Abbott took over the reins as Leader of the Opposition and of the Liberal National Coalition Party on 1 December 2009 and it is my personal opinion that from that day on Australian politics descended into ‘gutter politics’ in which no perceived enemy or opponent of Abbott was spared!  Abbott went on to lead the Coalition to the 2010 general election which resulted in a hung parliament.  Labor  formed  government with the help of the Greens and Independent MPs.  Abbott appears to be a vindictive and spiteful man, who  with the assistance of a large willing and supportive in-house  ‘team’ set about to undermine the Gillard Government, and consequently  destroyed  the Speaker of the House, Peter Slipper.  Abbott was re-elected as Liberal Leader unchallenged  and eventually  led  the Coalition to victory in the 2013 election  and was sworn in as the 28th Prime Minister of Australia on 18 September 2013. (Tony Abbott’s tenure as Prime Minister lasted for a year, when he was deposed by current PM Malcolm Turnbull.)

There is no doubt that a group of LNP politicians and others,   deployed a series of tactics to  undermine PM Gillard during her term of office, but this is beyond the scope of  Jones’ book  ASHBYGATE which deals solely with the destruction of Australia’s Speaker, the vital aspect of the plan to bring down Gillard’s Labor government.

Ross Jones’ book ASHBYGATE  is an account of the results of his investigation into how the Speaker was hounded from the Chair. The Speakership is the most important office in the House of Representatives. The House cannot operate without a Speaker because he/she  is the principal office holder in the House of Representatives. He/she is the House’s representative or spokesperson, the Chair of its meetings and its ‘Minister’ in respect of its support services. By all accounts, Peter Slipper was an efficient Speaker who valued his role dearly, but he also had enemies within…he had the temerity to resign from LNP to take on the role as Speaker in a Labor government. Peter Slipper and Tony Abbott were very close friends until Slipper’s  ‘betrayal’ . There wasn’t much about each’s personal life that the other didn’t know about.

Jones allows primary documents, in chronological order,  such as, emails and other correspondence, text messages, and Ashby vs Slipper court evidence,  to inform readers of the machinations that drove  the Ashbygate  saga and this gives them  the opportunity to form their own opinions about the politicians who were  involved and implicated in this sordid saga. It also gives the book validity as a valuable record of Australia’s political history.

Readers will read in the pages of ASHBYGATE   that Peter Slipper is no  paragon of virtue, and has never claimed to be.  Yes, at  times he acted foolishly, but I don’t believe he deserved the total destruction of his career and his private life which was essentially brought about by former colleagues who have themselves  much in their political histories  and private lives  to hide from scrutiny. In the end, Ashby withdrew all charges of sexual harassment against Slipper .  Slipper was cleared of all dishonesty charges relating to the fraudulent use of Commonwealth  Cabcharge dockets in 2010. Jones writes: This means the highly damaging  cases Mr Slipper had piling up against him – including claims of sexual harassment from his former media adviser, James Ashby, have been either withdrawn or  shown to have had no substance.

After reading   ASHBYGATE ,  I‘d like to pose  a few questions:

  1. Was Tony Abbott, along with his close advisers, and political colleagues,  the ‘brains’ behind  Ashbygate?  Is it conceivable that he would not have been involved given how and when the documented events took place?
  1. Was James Ashby so stressed during the short time he worked as press secretary for Peter  Slipper, not because of two or three  salacious texts and other real or imagined ‘overtures’ by Slipper, but because Ashby was unsuitable and unqualified for the position? Is there some evidence that his gay lifestyle  may have been a factor in his precarious  emotional state?
  1. Why did Peter Slipper employ Ashby, an ex DJ and strawberry farm advertising agent, for such an important role as press secretary in the first place, given Ashby’s lack of qualifications?
  1. If Peter Slipper had any case to answer, why did the Commonwealth cover the ‘shortfall between Slipper’s legal fees and the costs ultimately recovered as a result of the Rares judgement’?
  1. Why did James Ashby and Mal Brough approach Clive Palmer for funds for legal fees, which would amount to millions of dollars, in the pursuit of Slipper?  In any  event  Palmer refused, so someone  else must have assured Ashby of  financial backing; was it Christopher Pyne, as Ashby claims?
  1. Did Justice Rares make a judgment that Ashby’s sexual harassment claims were vexatious in order to protect the judge’s friends in high political places?  Would  his  finding  in favour of Ashby have led to the exposure of  Tony Abbott and other high profile politicians to a long drawn out trial, involving sworn testimony? [Vexatious litigation is legal action which is brought, regardless of its merits, solely to harass or subdue an adversary]
  1. What was the real reason Karen  Doane  sought to destroy her employer, Peter Slipper? According to her texts and emails, she was hardly ever in Slipper’s office, and spent much of the time leading up to Ashby’s public allegations,  on ‘sick’ leave?  Was Doane simply one of the most dishonest, disloyal, and laziest employees ever, or was there something more sinister in her behaviour? Whatever the reasons, she was on paid sick leave of over $1000.00 per week for years  until she finally received a huge payout of taxpayer funds in settlement for what?

In places,  ASHBYGATE  was an intense  read because of the many phone texts and emails  to work through, even allowing for the different fonts used to differentiate between the various senders and writers.  However, it is very much worth the effort. The comings and goings, the minutiae  of political office, and the effect on family life,  are intriguing . I fully realise  now,  how true is the time worn  cliché  that  ‘a week in politics is a long  time’.

There were a few minor spelling errors in the emails and texts, which may or may not have been senders’  errors, but there were also quite a number of  spelling errors in the author’s prose. Let me assure readers, that while typos  jumped out at me, they in no way detracted from what I consider to be a valuable book and a great read. Jones has obviously spent months accessing relevant documents and records, as well as  undertaking  several  interviews, in his research for this book. I congratulate him for bringing to light the story behind  Ashbygate.

I urge voters to read ASHBYGATE so they may gain insight into the actions of those politicians involved in the destruction of the Speaker of the House.

***************************************************************************

I am not an affiliate of any political party; I bought ASHBYGATE  from one of my favourite bookstores, Readings in Carlton.  I detest any form of injustice, and I believe  that  Peter Slipper has been served a great injustice.

-Anne Frandi-Coory   20 May 2016

THE PLANETS  &   LONGITUDE  –  Book Reviews

I think these two great little books by Dava Sobel go together:

THE PLANETS

Dava Sobel writes about science in a way that young readers and adults alike can enjoy without constantly referring  to a dictionary or a science magazine, although I did find having a simple map of our solar system at hand, very helpful.   “If reading these pages has helped someone befriend the planets, recognising in them the stalwarts of centuries of popular culture and the inspiration for much high-minded human endeavour , then I have accomplished what I set out to do” A quote from Dava Sobel in  The Planets. She could also add: and the inspiration for much romantic poetry.

solar_system_menu

 

Although I love reading the results of  research and discovery the world of  science brings us, I am not a science buff and too much science jargon can be confusing. I recommend these books to young readers with enquiring minds and adults who don’t read science publications,  because they are enthralling to read and the author takes readers through hundreds of years of brief history with such easy to read, beautiful prose.

I have to admit to being  a little blasé about planets and space travel; I have enough going on here on planet Earth without stressing about what’s happening on Mars and Mercury.  Until I read Dava Sobel’s The Planets, that is!

This is not quite a whodunnit, but I couldn’t put the book down once I read the first couple of pages. I learned in those  first pages the names of the nine planets and their order of distance from  the sun: My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pies: Mercury Venus Earth Mars Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune Pluto  …I’m almost ashamed to admit that I didn’t know any of this before reading The Planets.

Readers will learn how planets were discovered, how they’re named and in recent years, through remarkable discoveries via  satellites, spaceships  and research stations, we have gained intricate information about the makeup of planets, and even when and how they were formed. We now know how long they take to orbit the sun, how often a planet  rotates on its own axis.  The author ventures into mythology and astrology, which adds to the fascinating stories surrounding   each planet.

Now ‘morning star’, now ‘evening star’, the bright ornament of the planet Venus plays a prelude to the rising sun, or post script to the sunset. –  Dava Sobel waxes lyrical about Venus.

Sobel tells us that Ishtar metamorphosed into Aphrodite, the Greek incarnation of love and beauty. She became the Venus of the Romans, revered by the historian Pliny for spreading a vital dew to excite the sexuality of earthly creatures…Only the Mayans and the Aztecs of Central America seem to have seen Venus as consistently male. The rhythmic  association between Venus and the Sun inspired meticulous astronomical observations and complex calendar reckoning in those cultures, as well as blood rituals to recognise the planet’s descent into the underworld and subsequent resurrection. [Obvious inspirations for gods and divine resurrections in so many religions]

But Sobel also brings us back to Earth so to speak, with the reality that is planet Venus: …some of her volcanoes may well be active. Right now, sulphurous gases hissing from Venusian fumaroles could be making their way up to the clouds above the planet, to augment them and sustain them, and thereby ensure the enduring brightness of Venus to our eyes. That fair appearance of unassailable purity once made Venus the darling of poets, whose words  still best express her effect on the night’s blue velvet – ‘a joy forever’, as Keats said , ‘ a cheering light / unto our souls’.

You’ve probably guessed that my favourite planet is Venus, and that’s because she was once thought by ancients to be Ishtar returning to the heavens. Poets wrote beautiful poetry in honour of  Venus:

Thou fair-haired angel of the evening,

Now, whilst the sun rests on the mountains, light

Thy bright torch of love; thy radiant crown

Put on, and smile upon our evening bed!

Smile on our loves, and, while thou drawest the

Blue curtains of the sky, scatter thy silver dew

On every flower that shuts its sweet eyes

In  timely  sleep. Let thy west wind sleep on

The lake; speak silence with thy glimmering eyes,

And wash the dusk with silver.

-William Blake  To The Evening Star

A reviewer for the Independent,  John Gribbin  wrote: ‘If you like your science lyrical, Sobel is the author for you.’  I can assure you though, Sobel knows her science. She is a former science journalist for the New York Times. Sobel informs us that we are very much in a golden age of spacecraft and they are on their way to Mercury, Pluto, and Mars. During  her extensive research for The Planets, the  thing  that was most surprising to Sobel, was the size discrepancy  between the Sun and the rest of the planets and she believes  that ‘really the Solar System is the Sun’. To be honest, there were many wonderful things that surprised and overawed me while  I was reading The Planets!

********************************

 LONGITUDE

Dava Sobel writes:

Here lies the real hard core difference  between latitude and longitude – beyond the superficial difference in  line direction that any child can see: The zero-degree of parallel of latitude is fixed by the laws of nature, while the zero-degree meridian of longitude shifts like the sands of time.  The difference makes finding latitude child’s play, and turns the determination of longitude, especially at sea, into an adult dilemma – one that stumped the wisest minds of the world for the better part of human history. Any sailor worth his salt could  gauge  his latitude well enough by the length of the day, or by the height of the sun or known guide stars above the horizon…the measurement of longitude meridians, in comparison, is tempered by time. To learn one’s longitude at sea, one needs to know what time it is aboard ship and also the time at the home port or another place of known longitude –at that very same moment. The two clock times enable the navigator to convert the hour difference into a geographical  separation…

Precise knowledge of the hour in two different places at once-a longitude prerequisite so easily accessible today from any pair of cheap wristwatches-was utterly unattainable up to and including the era of pendulum clocks. On the deck of a rolling ship, such clocks would slow down, or speed up, or stop running altogether. Normal changes in temperature en route from a cold country of origin to a tropical trade zone thinned or thickened a clock’s lubricating oil and made its metal parts expand or contract with equally disastrous results. A rise or fall in barometric pressure , or the subtle variations in the Earth’s gravity from one latitude to another, could also cause a clock to gain or lose time.

In Longitude, the author  takes us on an historical voyage through time, whipping up a storm of an exciting and intriguing brief history  of astronomy, navigation and clock making  at the centre of which, is the fascinating story of John Harrison the Yorkshire clock maker and his forty year battle to build the perfect time-keeper, changing sea navigation forever. She allows the ghosts of ancient seafarers  to walk through the pages…

Reading THE PLANETS  and LONGITUDE has increased my knowledge of the world around me;  the sea, the land and our solar system.  Thank you, Dava Sobel

-Anne Frandi-Coory 17 April 2016

BEAUTY Beyond Darkness

by Lilla Benigno

 

Lilla Benigno

 

 

 

Lilla's Art 2

Author and artist Lilla Benigno

 

 

 

When I had discovered my mother was Italian, I was excited because I had heard and read so much about the wonderful large Italian families where everyone loved everyone, where there was always plenty of food and laughter at big long tables. My illusions were all too soon shattered.

So when I began reading this book, I was prepared for the worst. I’d already read some of the author’s posts on Twitter and Facebook, but nothing could have prepared me for what I read within those pages.

Lilla Benigno was born in Sicily; her mother gave birth to 15 children in total, three of whom died. The family was poor, but they managed to eat fairly well. Lilla contracted polio when she was six months old. She only had one arm she could use, and she suffered muscle atrophy in both of her legs. Her lungs were also affected. She pulled herself around on the floor with her good arm. Although her parents did what they could, it was eventually decided it was in her best interests to take Lilla to a Catholic home for disabled children in Milan. She was well cared for, and for the most part, was very happy there. There was good medical care by the nuns and qualified doctors. But she rarely saw her parents; Milan was just too far away for family visits.

Lilla’s true nightmare began when the family emigrated from Sicily to Melbourne, Australia in 1970 when Lilla was 12 years old. Lilla was very happy in the care of the nuns, and she had friends there whom she loved dearly. She had her own bed and there was plenty of food. She didn’t want to leave.

 

lilla-small-248x640

Lilla Benigno at 12 years old

Life was very hard in Melbourne where her father worked long hours to pay the bills and for basic food for such a large family. Her parents were exhausted caring for 12 children on little money. The boys shared one double bed and the girls another, sleeping top and tail. Lilla bore the brunt of her father’s rages and endured sexual abuse by a family member. It finally came to a point when she could no longer stomach her father’s violence and the humiliating verbal abuse he meted out to her. Lilla was lonely and she missed her friends at the Catholic home in Milan. She eventually ran away from home to live on the streets of Melbourne. She was fifteen years old. There she descends into a world of drugs, casual sex, prostitution, and rapes. All this while wearing heavy  iron callipers on her deformed legs. She couldn’t walk far let alone run. The abuse hurled at her for being a “cripple” is heartbreaking.

In my wildest dreams, I had no idea there was an undercurrent  of rape, violence and sexual slavery right in the heart of Melbourne, namely St Kilda and Fitzroy Street at that time.

Lilla endures many months in various rehabilitation centres over her years on the streets, to combat her drug and alcohol addictions. Whenever she drank heavily, she wanted sex, and this invariably led her into very dangerous situations, many of which ended in gang rapes and sexual slavery. Through all of this, Lilla never forgets her mother and her younger siblings. Whenever she made a lot of money, she would take a taxi to her parents’ house and give most of it to her mother. The family was struggling and desperate for decent food and clothing. They had to be careful that Lilla’s father didn’t find out or come home while Lilla was there.

Lilla does meet people over time who genuinely care about her and who help her, but mostly the men who helped her wanted sex, and nothing less. Even a priest who had helped her and in whom she trusted, sexually assaulted her. It is no surprise that she ends up hating the Catholic Church and its god. She used to pray to god, but she realises her prayers don’t achieve anything, and she gives up.

Lilla gets the opportunity to move to Cairns and her life changes for the better. Her mother encourages her in the move and when she falls pregnant with her daughter, Caroline, her mother gives her the strength and support to keep her, albeit over the telephone. During these troubled times in Cairns, her mother is her lifeline. Lilla needs plenty of help to care for her baby, and she does find this in Cairns. She still suffers some dark episodes, but she ultimately finds peace and happiness with her beautiful daughter. During her former drug and alcohol haze in Melbourne she is compelled to give up a daughter and a son, whom she has never forgotten. Her mother has since died, but after growing closer to her while living on the streets of Melbourne, she believes her mother’s spirit is always with her.

Lilla Benigno is a remarkable woman. A woman who has survived so much tragedy, violence and sexual abuse to become the mother she always wanted to be, and a talented artist of some repute. And now she has published a book. I urge you to read it. You will be horrified, overwhelmed, but at the end, inspired.

BEAUTYBeyondDarkness has since been translated into Italian.

-Anne Frandi-Coory 2 May 2016

Lilla's Art

 

Visit Lilla’s Blog here:

 

 

While doing research into my Italian ancestry for my book, Whatever happened To Ishtar? I read somewhere that if you wanted to know what it was like living in 19th Century Italy, you might wish to read Village Commune by Maria Louise Ramé, otherwise known by her pseudonym, Ouida. It turned out to be very good advice. I searched for the book online and found it  in a tiny obscure USA second hand book shop. When I received what is now a prized possession, I discovered it was a First Edition published 1881!

The Commune 2

Published in 1881

My great grandparents, Aristodemo and Annunziata Frandi experienced similar hardships to those described by Ouida in Village Commune. Many young men from poor families were conscripted into the regular army to fight against the Austrians, as was Aristodemo, who came from a family of farmers. The Frandi family, by then including three young children, emigrated to New Zealand in 1876 and I now fully understand why.  Although Aristodemo talked to family about life in Italy, both of his hated time barracked with the regular army  in the far north of Italy, and his time fighting in the south of Italy with Garibaldi, I had no real understanding of just how difficult life was at that time.

I had always thought of Italy as a wonderful country, full of poetry, art, fabulous food and generous citizens. I have visited the country often and I have never been disappointed. But of course there was, and is, another side to Italy altogether.

Ouida’s eloquently written and absorbing stories of life in northern Italy are heart-rending. Farmers and agriculturists, whose families had lived on the land for generations, had their land taken at the whim of wealthy, corrupt government officials and were left homeless and hungry. The burgeoning Industrial Revolution needed land for factories, and dwellings for workers moving onto the countryside. Land was also needed to build mansions for wealthy officials, and for railways.

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>

The Commune

Note the prices listed for Ouida’s publications. The handwritten name and date came with the book.

 

><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>

The author connects on an emotional level with the reader, as she relates beautifully crafted, albeit harrowing, life stories.  One such story is of a young Florentine farming peasant :

He was a peasant who had been taken by conscription just as a young bullock is picked out for the shambles, and he had never understood why very well. His heart has always been with his fields, his homestead, his vines, his sweetheart. He had hated the barrack life, the dusty aimless marches, the drilling and the bullying, the weight of the knapsack and the roar of the guns; he had been a youth, ere the government had made him a machine…If the enemy had come into his country he would have held his own hamlet against them to the last gasp; but to be drafted off to Milan to wear a fool’s jacket and to eat black bread while the fields were half tilled, and the old people sore driven…no, he was not a patriot, if to be one, he must have been a contented conscript. 

 Ouida gives a vivid portrayal of the numerous Roman Catholic and other festivals:

Italian merry-making is never pretty. The sense of colour and of harmony is gone out of our people, whose forefathers were models of Leonardo and Raffaelle, and whose own limbs too, have still so often the mould of the Faun and the Discobolus. Italian merry-making has nothing of the grace and brightness of the French fairs, nor even of the picturesqueness and colour of the German feasts and frolics; even in Carnival, although there are gayety [sic] and grotesqueness, there is little grace and little good colouring. But the people enjoy themselves; enjoy themselves for the most part very harmlessly and very merrily when they forget their tax-papers, their empty stomachs, and their bankrupt shops.

Ouida writes extensively and in detail about the corruption and cronyism of government officials, and the cruelty they meted out to hapless villagers. If citizens had wealth, and were well connected, they had plenty of food and their sons escaped conscription! But peasants lived frugally off the land, and life for them was harsh and often brutal.

One of  Ouida’s famous quotes “petty laws breed great crimes” highlights her intimate knowledge and understanding of what life was like for the peasant landowner (agrario).

The commune of Vezzaja and Ghiralda, whose centre is the village of Santa Rosalia, is, like all Italian communes, supposed to enjoy an independence that is practically a legislative autonomy. So long as it contributes its quota to the Imperial taxes, the Imperial government is supposed to have nothing to do with it, and it is considered to be as free as air to govern itself. So everybody will tell you; and so inviolate is its freedom that even the prefect of its province dare not infringe upon it – or says so when he wants to get out of any trouble.

Anybody who pays five francs’ worth of taxes has a communal vote in this free government and helps to elect a body of thirty persons who in turn elect a council of seven persons, who in turn elect a a single person called a syndic, or as you would call him in English, a mayor. This distilling and condensing process sounds quite admirable in theory. Whoever has the patience to read the pages of this book will see how this system works in practice.

Now, in Vezzaja and Ghiralda the thirty persons do nothing but elect the seven persons, the seven do nothing but elect the one person, and the one person does nothing but elect his secretary; and the secretary, with two assistants dignified respectively by the titles of chancellor and conciliator, does everything in the way of worry to the public that the ingenuity of the official mind can conceive. The secretary’s duties ought to be the duties of a secretary everywhere, but by a clever individual can be brought to mean almost anything you please in the shape of local tyranny and extortion; the chancellor (cancelliere) has the task of executing every sort of unpleasantness against the public in general, and sends out his fidus Achates, the usher, all kinds of summons and warrants at his will and discretion; as for the conciliator (giudice conciliatore) his office as his name indicates, is supposed to consist in conciliation of all local feuds, disputes and debts, but as he is generally chiefly remarkable for an absolute ignorance of law and human nature, and for a general tendency to accumulate fees anywhere and anyhow, he is not usually of the use intended, [my emphasis] and rather is famous for doing what a homely phrase calls setting everybody together by the ears…Power is sweet and when you are a little clerk you love its sweetness quite as much as if you were an emperor, and maybe you love it  a good deal more.   

She elaborates further: Tyranny is a very safe amusement in this liberated country. Italian law is based on that blessing to mankind, the Code Napoleon, and the Code Napoleon is perhaps the most ingenious mechanism for human torture that the human mind has ever constructed. In the cities, its use for torment is not quite so easy, because where there are crowds there is always the fear of a riot and besides there are horrid things called newspapers , and citizens wicked enough and daring enough to write in them. But away in the country, the embellished and filtered Code Napoleon can work like a steam plough; there is nobody to appeal and nobody to appeal to. The people are timid and perplexed; they are as defenceless as the sheep in the hand of the shearer; they are frightened at the sight of the printed papers and the carabinier’s [sic} sword. There is nobody to tell them they have rights , and besides, rights are very expensive luxuries anywhere and cost as much to take care of as a carriage horse.

In Village Commune Ouida dissects the family lives of unfortunate peasants in 19th Century Italy. I believe that many of these soul destroying Italian tragedies are on a par with the famous Greek plays left to us by Aeschylus or Sophocles. There is much irony within the pages of Village Commune

There are far too many long sentences, semi-colons and commas in this book, but they take nothing away from the wit, sarcasm and  beautiful prose flowing from Ouida’s pen. I highly recommend this wonderful little book… if you can find a copy.

* *********************************************************************

Ouida's headstone.jpg

OUIDA’S headstone

**********************************************************************

-Copyright To Anne Frandi-Coory – All Rights Reserved  14 April 2016

 

 

%d bloggers like this: