Archive for the ‘Life Musings’ Category

How the Woke Cancelled Wumbus

June 1, 2021
Wum is for Wumbus, my high spouting whale who lives high on a hill.

Everyone knows How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

But have you heard How the Woke Cancelled Wumbus?

Among other Seussisms, “A Chinaman who eats with sticks” (from And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street), was recently declared to be offensive.

On March 2nd 2021, Dr. Seuss Enterprises issued this statement:

Today, on Dr. Seuss’s Birthday, Dr. Seuss Enterprises celebrates reading and also our mission of supporting all children and families with messages of hope, inspiration, inclusion, and friendship.

We are committed to action.  To that end, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, working with a panel of experts, including educators, reviewed our catalog of titles and made the decision last year to cease publication and licensing of the following titles: And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry StreetIf I Ran the Zoo, McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super!, and The Cat’s Quizzer.  These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.

Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’s catalog represents and supports all communities and families.

These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.

Hmm…

You have to admit though: that Wumbus high on the hill from On Beyond Zebra! looks pretty happy.

Land rights for gay whales anyone?

A Chinaman who eats with sticks… A big magician doing tricks…

No-one uses chopsticks anymore, right?

What about the “big” magician?

Should robust magicians everywhere suddenly be up in arms as they recall their traumatic childhood being force-read Dr Seuss?

In his recent article And then they came for ON BEYOND ZEBRA!, the American linguist John McWhorter said:

The book is not only entertaining but educational, in ways that a linguist like me especially values. It gently gets across the key fact that our letters only approximately reflect the language we actually speak. Note, for example, that there is no way to indicate with an isolated letter, or even a group of letters, the sound of u in put – if you don’t see it in the word itself, no other approximation works: oughooeueugh … see how nothing works? English has 26 letters to about 43 sounds, and Zebra introduces the idea, in its goofy way, that there could theoretically be more letters. 

But now we are to see the book as some kind of controversial contraband, and why? Specifically, on one page a man of no delineated race (and thus we would declare him “white,” I assume) is riding a kind of camel and has a mustache. A building in the background seems like, if anything (which it isn’t) some kind of pagoda. The man has the billowy pantaloons we would associate with an “Arab.”

I understand, formally, the idea that this picture signals that this is a Middle Easterner. However, I cannot be honest with myself and view it as a “stereotype.” In no way does this picture ridicule the man (or the animal), and in fact, the camel is a special kind (called a Spazzim) with elaborate horns that carry assorted objects which if anything make this man a mid-twentieth century homeowner.

SPAZZ is a letter I use to spell Spazzim, a beast who belongs to the Nazzim of Bazzim. Handy for travelling. That’s why he has ‘im.

I don’t know whether Dr. Seuss Enterprises felt pressure from within or without, but the action to which it has committed itself is an example of political correctness having reached dizzying new heights lately as the word woke has become part of our language.

Wokeness speaks to a keen awareness of social and racial injustice. We hear calls to “stay angry, stay woke”. The derivation is from African vernacular meaning that someone was sleeping but now is awake (“I was sleeping but now I’m woke“).

It’s not at all impossible to relate to such an awakening…

But with wokeness has come cancel culture.

Books from Dr. Seuss, along with other classics, are being cancelled.

Now, I lean pretty far left politically and ideologically. I’m a Green voting vegan atheist. I support freedom of speech, expression, and belief.

But it is arguably precisely these things that are under threat by cancel culture!

It reminds me of the Catholic Church’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum (index of forbidden books), the Nazi book burnings, and Ray Bradbury’s Sci-Fi story Fahrenheit 451.

To be fair, in the case of Dr Seuss, cancelled in practice just means: no longer being sold, not banned, but there are still books being banned, even if only in some countries.

Nevertheless, I think we have to resist a new index of forbidden books, no matter what form it takes.

Besides, if you did want to cultivate such an index, why on earth would you stop with modern classics?

Why not go after writings about (or by?) the vindictive, jealous, zealous god of the Old Testament, to name just one holy book?

Unless you think that burning witches or stoning adulterers or killing children if they’re disrespectful or slavery or drowning most of the world’s population are acceptable acts?

Or that damning people to Hell (New Testament) because they don’t utter the right magic words is okay?

No? Well, out with a bunch of books from the Bible then too!

But what counts as harm? What counts as injustice? What should be done about it?

If you look closely, you’ll notice that cancel culture is thoroughly anthropocentric.

How ordinary. How boring. How 20th century.

Not to diminish the importance of addressing the injustices still being done to people in various parts of the world, but why stop with human injustice? Why not upgrade racism to speciesism?

Floob-Boober-Bab-Boober-Bubs: they’re no good to eat, you can’t cook ’em like steaks, but they’re handy in crossing small oceans and lakes.

It’s easy to imagine a different group of outraged people applying Seuss book bans for treating other species, even if fictional or outlandish, as things to be used. And I don’t mean Thing One and Thing Two.

Those poor old mistreated Floob-Boober-Bab-Boober-Bubs. And don’t forget that the Nazzim only has the Spazzim because he’s handy for travelling. Or how about the udder (groan; dad joke) convenience of an Umbus?

UM is for Umbus, a sort of a cow with one head and one tail. But to milk this great cow you need more than one pail.

But Seussisms encourage a playfulness with language. And the corny humour never really gets old.

All Dr Seuss characters are essentially caricatures, including the chinaman with sticks, the Spazzim, and the magician.

There will always be someone to offend in this ultra-individualistic world we’ve created.

We have to stop worrying that something we write or say might be considered offensive to some group of people in the future and instead consider writings in their historical context.

That doesn’t mean that we should set out to hurt, to deliberately offend… Of course we shouldn’t…

And of course, we should stand against harm and injustice.

Obviously…

But what’s next: no Irish jokes? No jokes that start like: a priest, a rabbi, and a buddhist monk walk into a bar…

No question should be forbidden. No topic should be taboo.

Unless you think we’re special in some sense, except to one another, irrespective of any special capabilities we may have.

And yet…

We’re better than those others in some part of the world that is not ours. Right?

We’re smarter and superior to every other species. Right?

Wrong!

We have to reimagine ourselves as being a part of nature, the very nature that we seem so keen to distance ourselves from.

Not separate from nature. Not a special creation.

On this, especially, all holy books are misguided or misinterpreted. Usually both.

We are all biased beyond belief about one thing or another.

We are all flawed in some way.

Not one of us is perfect.

We need less judgement, misdirected anger, self-righteousness certainty, talk of those other people

We need more understanding, thoughtful conversation, tolerance of difference, kindness, forgiveness…

All easier said than done, I know…

Then again…

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

(The Lorax, Dr Seuss)

Adelaide Bikeway Fail

March 28, 2021
source: ABC News

ABC News recently reported that the Adelaide City Council (ACC) voted against the installation of a separated bikeway across the CBD after years of deliberations.

The 8-3 vote taken on Tuesday night means the council will miss out on $3 million in State Government funding towards the $5.8 million project. The east-west bikeway would have gone along Franklin Street, Gawler Place and Wakefield Street, connecting with the Frome Street bikeway in the eastern side of the CBD. The State Government funding was contingent on the council approving plans for the project by the end of the month. The tight deadline led to a condensed consultation period last year that upset businesses and the Greek Orthodox community, which has a church and a bingo hall on Franklin Street. Both groups were worried about losing parking spaces.

Sigh.

Worried about losing parking spaces… How about taking a bus or a cab or dropping off a friend or elderly relative?

In an email to subscribers entitled “The Cars That Ate Adelaide”, Bike SA condemned the ACC vote.

To be fair, according to the ABC report, there is some support for a bikeway, but not in the proposed location. Then again, given the length of deliberations so far, how much longer are we likely to have to wait for agreement?

The ABC report goes on to say that ACC celebrated “driver’s month” in November to encourage shoppers back to the CBD post COVID restrictions. Then this:

The council decision came after lawyer Greg Griffin wrote to the council on behalf of businesses opposed to the bike lane.

“Everybody has had enough of this matter continually arising,” he told ABC Radio Adelaide on Tuesday.

“No-one wants this bike lane. It will have a catastrophic effect in terms of businesses on Flinders Street.”

Mr Griffin said the population of Adelaide was primarily suburban, meaning it was “very different” to European cities renowned for their bike paths such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

“Everybody has had enough”? Not me.

“No-one wants the bike lane”!? Obviously false.

“Catastrophic effect”!? Oh please! Seriously?

“Primarily suburban”? Why then do we need so many cars in the Adelaide CBD if we’re all so suburban?

This kind of talk is a kick in the guts for those of us who want to ride a bike to work and get there safely, while reducing emissions.

We need more traffic in the Adelaide CBD like each of us needs a hole in the head.

I ride an electric bike to work three or four times per week at the moment. I get two or three 22km round trips from a single charge. There’s no discernible impact on our (solar powered) electricity bill and bugger all emissions from this activity.

I tend to steer clear of the CBD when riding but the proposed bikeway would have improved safety and made me more inclined to choose such a route sometimes.

My current route is quite traffic-heavy and judging by the lack of riders in the bike lane with me, I’m one of the few people apparently stupid enough to make the regular commute on that particular route.

Adelaide’s bike infrastructure is woefully inadequate with bike lanes stopping and starting (spatially and temporally) with sickening frequency, making commuting cyclists second class citizens.

Maybe we should (one day when that’s possible again) move to a country that actually gives a shit about safe cycling and lowering emissions and something other than car culture.

Voluntary Assisted Dying in South Australia

March 10, 2021
Photo by Julia Volk on Pexels.com

Voluntary Assisted Dying (VAD) legislation is being discussed starting from March 17 in the South Australian parliament.

A little more than a year ago, my dad expressed a wish to die every day I was with him for the last week of his life. He was living in Tasmania. While there are amendments to be accepted, VAD legislation is now on the way to being passed there.

I recently took part in a discussion of VAD in South Australia at the Blackwood Uniting Church, a special meeting of the monthly philosophy group, supported by a well thought out presentation by a palliative care doctor. The consensus seemed to be support for VAD.

A cursory glance through my blog will show that I don’t believe in gods of any sort. One problem with religion in general is that it encourages people to pretend to know things they can’t possibly know, and potentially (and this is the crucial bit) base important life decisions on such belief. I’ve written elsewhere about what counts as good belief.

With respect to Christianity at least, the more liberal the denomination, the less salvation by faith thinking there is, and the more emphasis on living a good and caring life due to some notion of (a God of) love there usually is. Of course, you don’t need religion for that.

Especially given that there was a “Non-Christian but I wish to support the Group” option, I was encouraged to sign up on the Christians In Support of VAD website after the philosophy group discussion.

The more names on petitions and lists in favour of choosing a “good death”, the better.

Speaking of which, here’s one such (secular) petition. I signed that too.

Try to enjoy life now. There’s a very good chance that this is the only one you’ll get. And if your end of life scenario sucks, remember: it’s your life, not some imaginary sky fairy’s. You should get to choose, in consultation with those you care about.

Whatever you believe, the fact is that each of us was born into a life that none of us asked for.

You can choose to consider life as a gift, or to simply accept the fact of existence and embrace it. Or both, if you like.

We were not alive for 14 billion years (give or take), and we won’t be alive for even longer while the heat death of the universe plays out over trillions of years.

But we should, where possible, have some say in the manner, time, and place of our exit from life.

Anyway, let’s hope that VAD legislation is passed in SA.

Questionable church signs #4

January 17, 2021

I took this quick photo of a church sign from a distance on the way to the train, after a nice afternoon on the beach with my wife. The name is obscured to protect the innocent, so to speak, as usual.

Trust Him. Trust Him?

If 2020 is anything to go by, I’m inclined to place my bets elsewhere. A pandemic, major bush fires, earth quakes, untold suffering, personal loss…

The implication of this church sign is that God knows what’s coming. This makes Him all-seeing. Is He powerless to change the future? If so, He is not all-powerful, in which case He should consider a line of work other than Universe building.

Or did He plan to create a future in which there is suffering. If so, He is not all-good.

There are those Christians who will say that the suffering we see in the world is because of our rebellion against God. If God incarnate, in the person of Jesus Christ, died for the sins of all, and rebellion against God is a sin, then shouldn’t that be forgiven too, rather than God heaping more woes upon humanity?

Yes, I know… Jesus died for our sins and “all we have to do” is believe in Him to have eternal life.

What if we don’t want eternal life?

And forgiveness: don’t we get that whether we ask for it or not because of what Jesus did at Calvary?

Others will say that there is a Grand Cosmic Plan that we just don’t understand.

Either way, God gets all the kudos and we are still left with the puzzle. Adding “God” to a sentence does not contribute to an explanation.

I do understand the desire to believe that there’s a plan, that all the bad things that happen somehow make sense. Especially when we lose those we care about.

But perhaps we should follow William of Ockham’s advice and not multiply entities needlessly. It all just seems too complex, too arbitrary. It has all the hallmarks of being man-made.

In any case, I much prefer questions that do not yet (and may never) have answers over answers that cannot be questioned.

The sign is right about one thing though: 2021? who knows? It should have stopped there.

Pale Blue Dot, Carl Sagan

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

Picture of mum at 2 years old and the world of 1930

January 3, 2021

Karen was looking through family history documents recently and came across this photo of my Mum at 2 years, 2 months old in 1930 with her parents Alma and Jim Melville.

My mother, Lorna Jean Benn (nee Melville) at 2 years, 2 months of age.

Other than being a beautiful photograph, what struck me was what a very different time it must have been.

The back of the postcard on which Mum’s picture appears.

I was initially planning to stop there. Being on holidays and in a contemplative mood, I began wondering what was going on in 1930, 2 years after the discovery of penicillin, 11 years after the end of the Spanish Flu, between two world wars, at the start of the decade which saw the rise of nationalism.

Thinking about the history of computing, this was the year of Christopher Morcom’s death, the young man who was so important to Alan Turing, and six years before Turing’s historic paper On Computable Numbers. In 1930, an analog computer capable of solving differential equations was created in the US by Vannevar Bush and a simple binary counter was built in the UK by C.E. Wynn-Williams. John Vincent Atanasoff completed his PhD before inventing the world’s first electronic digital computer in the late 30s. The influential Dutch computer scientist Edsger W. Dijkstra was also born in 1930.

Moving from computing to space and science history, American astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Pete Conrad were all born in 1930, as was Frank Drake, American radio astronomer and SETI pioneer. The process by which ozone is replenished in the upper atmosphere was explained by Sydney Chapman in that year, Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh, Neoprene was invented by DuPont corporation, the diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis vaccine was first used and the particle later identified as the electron neutrino was postulated by Wolfgang Pauli.

While 1930 was a very different time from 2021 in many ways, there were historical events unfolding when my mother was just a small child that have shaped our world in important ways, bringing her time and mine a little closer in a strangely comforting way.

Dad’s old Mac and DSLR photometry

September 29, 2020
Photo by Junior Teixeira on Pexels.com

After upgrading my MacBook to macOS Catalina, WINE stopped working, because 32-bit applications were no longer permitted to run. I had been using WINE to run the Windows IRIS program for image processing and DSLR photometry as part of my minimalist approach.

After my father died in January this year, his older MacBook was passed on to me. It still has Yosemite as the OS, so WINE & IRIS work fine on it!

Given all the times we spent talking about astronomy, the special time we shared watching the 2001 Leonids under a dark country sky, and the “help desk” support I tried to give him over the phone, I know that dad would approve of my use of his old computer in this way.

Certainly better than having it sit idle.

Thanks dad.

Photo by David Besh on Pexels.com

Nova in Reticulum!

July 17, 2020

Rob McNaught at Siding Spring, Coonabarabran, NSW found a magnitude 5.3 object in the constellation Reticulum on July 15 2020.

MGAB-V207’s pre-brightening magnitude was 15.8 (Johnson V). Just before I wrote this, it was designated N Ret 2020 in VSX and the AAVSO International Database.

I observed the nova at around 5:30am this morning (July 17) in 7×50 binoculars. My estimate, based upon 4.95 and 5.45 visual magnitude comparison stars, was 5.2.

It may have been brighter but that was my best estimate, given the seeing quality at the time, and a lack of coffee. Having said that, I’m confident that it was reasonable.

At the time of my submission to AAVSO this morning, there were 6 observations, including mine. Andrew Pearce in WA submitted his second observation (brighter) soon after mine.

This is the first bright nova since 2018! So I’m a little bit excited.

To get familiar with the field, I started with Stellarium:

and this AAVSO finder chart, which needs to be rotated by about 45 degrees anti-clockwise to match the Stellarium view:

In general, the sky was lovely this morning. After estimating the nova’s brightness, when the dawn became evident, I took this quick shot of a conjunction of the crescent Moon, Venus, and Aldebaran (alpha Tauri) low in the NE sky (1/5 sec, ISO 200, f 2.0, unprocessed) with our recently pruned walnut tree (thanks Karen!) visible at upper right:

Between the nova, satellites passing through my binocular field while observing it and the stars of Reticulum, a stray meteor, the Luna-Venus-Aldebaran conjunction, Orion rising in the east, and the general beauty of the sky, it was an uplifting start to the day.

I was again reminded that there is a hidden sky, waiting for all to see.

Variable stars and novae in particular, always reinforce to me the dynamic, constantly changing universe of which we are a small part. In what often feels like a dystopian world, especially in 2020, I find it oddly comforting that the Universe just keeps doing its thing, irrespective of us. Astronomy is a great way to get some perspective.

Animalia Commonalis: Truth, Suffering and Ethics

April 19, 2020

All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them. (Galileo Galilei)

Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth. (Buddha)

The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable. (James A. Garfield)

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. (Arthur Schopenhauer)

Why do we want so desperately to know whether there is life elsewhere in the Universe when we treat so much human and non-human life on this planet with such disdain?

blue turtles on brown sand
Photo by Jolo Diaz on Pexels.com

I’ve written briefly here about what makes homo sapiens special.

We know that species other than ours exhibit some of these qualities:

  • Problem solving
  • Sophisticated memory
  • Ability to plan
  • Tool use
  • Culture
  • Ability to act contrary to instinctive behaviour
  • Belief in gods of one sort or another

As far as we know, the last item on the list is unique to us. This could mean either that there are gods of some kind or that we have a tendency to mistake certain types of patterns for gods.

What of the second to last? We are not purely instinctive creatures. Without that, we would never have developed Science, mathematics, technology.

But there exist humans with a severe mental handicap who cannot participate in anything approaching the “lofty intellectual heights”. Neither can young children.

For children, this is only transient you say. Rightly so. Children mature.

Not so for someone with a severe mental handicap.

Perhaps questions like “what makes us special?” or “what sets us apart from other animals?” are less than useful.

Perhaps it would be better to ask instead: What do we have in common?

Animalia Commonalis popped into my head when I was writing this post. By this latin-sounding (but not real) phrase, I was trying to capture this idea: The Commonality of Animals.

Of course, there’s a continuum of complexity of animal life starting from self-replicating molecules (RNA, DNA), to viruses, bacteria, fungi, insects, reptiles, fish, birds, and mammals like us.

Just limiting ourselves to mammals, all have:

  • A common body plan. Animals as diverse as whales and bats share the same basic skeletal structure and organs.
  • An apparent desire, or at least a strong instinct, to care for their young.
  • The ability to feel pain, to suffer.

The question is not, Can they reason?, nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being? (Jeremy Bentham 1789, in An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation)

Bentham said this more than 200 years ago!

Where on this continuum from viruses to us does the ability to suffer begin? Dogs don’t pass the mirror test whereas chimps do, but few would say that a dog cannot suffer.

Do bees feel pain or is the avoidance of harmful stimuli purely mechanical with no pain response? It seems that no-one really knows the answer yet.

I’ll be honest and say that right now I’m more concerned about dealing with the more obvious and well-documented suffering of mammals, birds, and fish by our hand. The “low hanging fruit”. Even choosing not to consume one of these groups is a big win at this point. The jury is still out for me regarding insects.

Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight. (Albert Schweitzer)

Whether starting from the idea that not consuming animal products may be healthier for us, from worrying about the environment and sustainability, or from a concern for the welfare of animals other than ourselves, one can eventually be led to the realisation that what we once did only to people taken out of Africa to America and to other “civilised” countries, we are now doing to other species, but worse.

The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look on the murder of men. (Leonardo da Vinci)

Speciesism is just a generalisation of racism beyond the borders of homo sapiens.

In my view, along with Climate Change, Speciesism is the defining issue of our time, and we will be judged by future generations on how we responded to both.

If Climate Change is an existential crisis, Speciesism can be thought of as a battle for the collective “soul” of homo sapiens.

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated. (Mahatma Ghandi)

On Being Special

January 19, 2020
sunset person love people
source: Josh Willink (pixels.com)

I’ve had some conversations in recent times that have ended in disagreement over the question of whether members of homo sapiens are more important or special than members of other animal species.

But what do we mean by special?

Relationships with other beings, human or non-human, make the participants special to one another.

Particular things about us make us special, e.g. tool use, intelligence, culture.

The holy books of some religions and other ideological traditions often claim that humans are special, perhaps even chosen in some way.

It’s important to distinguish between these different types of special-ness.

The first type is subjective and derives from a shared history, an emotional bond. For some people, the death of an animal can be as devastating as the loss of a relative or human friend to someone else. There’s no right or wrong in that. It just is.

The second type can be tested; other species use tools, have high intelligence and some may even have their own kind of culture (e.g. humpback whales).

Although a person of faith is unlikely to agree with this, the third type must be supported by evidence, and since, as Carl Sagan reminds us, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, this is a difficult requirement to meet.

Humans are meaning creators. Relationships are central to being human and meaning is often created in relationship with others; not always, but very often; some do choose to find meaning in solitude.

My father’s health was in decline late last year and more rapidly before my eyes in the first week of 2020. However, his death on January 7 2020 has not changed my view of the special-ness of homo sapiens relative to other species.

Dad was special to me because he was, well, my father. We had an emotional connection, a shared biological and social history, a relationship spanning more than 5 decades. I am in the process of mourning his loss. This does not necessarily imply that we or members of homo sapiens in general are special in any other sense.

We are free to choose who to become. If we are special in any sense, it is due to the responsibility we have to accept the human condition and to leave the world better than we found it, irrespective of the fact that we will not be around to see our legacy.

…but what is not possible is not to choose…if I do not choose, that is still a choice. (Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism)

A Eulogy (for Dad)

January 19, 2020

IMG_4814

I gave a eulogy at my Dad’s funeral six days ago. Before the transcript of the eulogy below, I want to make some preliminary background remarks.

My father, Kelvin Benn, was born on May 14 1931 and died on January 7 2020 after recurrent bouts of pneumonia. He had emphysema and a rare blood cancer that a small fraction of patients with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma present with.

After the usual indignities of being a hospital patient, falls in and out of hospital, being on oxygen, and having intra-venous antibiotics a couple of times, Dad began eating less and became increasingly unwilling to take medications. The intention was still to try to get him well enough to be able to leave hospital and go into a nursing home. The reality is that he had lost the will to live by late 2019 and certainly by early 2020.

I spent time with Dad in hospital from January 1 to January 6. We said our goodbyes. I felt there was a good chance I would never see him again. I returned home, uncertain of his future, intending to return again soon. My wife, kids and I had a few days planned in Melbourne from January 8. I thought that if Dad’s condition deteriorated I would at least be able to get back to him (in Tasmania) at short notice. He died late in the afternoon of January 7…

My mother died in 2002 after failed heart valve replacement surgery. Dad married again in 2006. Dawn (dad’s wife) gave a eulogy followed in turn by my sister Julie and I. In the last part of the eulogy, Julie and I took turns reading short extracts from a few of my father’s short funeral sermons that resonated with both of us.

What comes through from these extracts is a focus on relationships, a requirement for personal responsibility, freedom and the necessity of choice, a consideration of the consequences of our actions, and a mandate to do good whenever possible. This resonated with my sister and I and aligns with my own philosophical position, derived from existentialism and consequentialist ethics.

It also gives me some hope for the future of our species that an atheist and a Christian can agree on so much.

What follows is the eulogy I gave at Dad’s funeral on January 13 at Pilgrim Uniting Church in Launceston. My theme was commonality, something we desperately need to focus more on if we are collectively to survive the decades to come.


It’s easy to focus on the differences between people. Dad and I were different in many ways. But we also had a lot in common.

We were both in The St John Ambulance Brigade from an early age, attending sporting and other community events as first aiders, and both becoming cadet sergeants.

Along with the anchor tattoo, Dad also had the S-J-A-B tattoo to prove it!

We both studied at theological college, and enjoyed having philosophical discussions.

We both took our work seriously.

Further to Julie’s comments, Dad often used to say that rights come with responsibilities. As a teenager, mostly I would just internally groan at that…

However, I’ve found myself increasingly saying this sort of thing in recent years to my kids and others, along with: “That music is too loud!”

Then one day, I realised that I had become my father. 🙂

Something I also remember as a young teenager was that if I was ever rude to my mother, out would come the belt!

Of course, those occurrences were few and far between! 😉

Dad’s work as a Uniting Church minister kept him well occupied and, as Julie noted, when he wasn’t out preaching or providing pastoral care, he was often up working late in his office, especially on Saturdays, preparing the sermon for the following day.

Even after retirement, Dawn can probably relate to Dad not straying far from the office for long periods!

Some of my favourite memories of Dad are from beach holidays in the seventies, the two of us body surfing or snorkelling.

As Julie also noted, holidays like those at Port Hughes were good times too, even if my first jetty catch was a puffer fish!

Another fond memory is from 1998, when Dad and I stayed up until the wee hours in Mallala watching a meteor shower as the Earth ploughed through the debris left by a comet.

Dad had a good sense of humour.

IMG_4740

In an email to me in 2016 he said:

“I have a few things I want to share with my GP …  Will let you know if he thinks I may not live to be 100 after all!!”

When he was in hospital recently, a measure of his wellness was the frequency of his witty remarks.

Dad gave a Probus club talk in 2015 titled “Strange Things that Happen at Funerals”. In one anecdote from that talk he says:

One day the undertaker picked me up to conduct a funeral for a man he knew, so I asked him to tell me something about him. “What was he like,” I asked. His answer stunned me: “This is the first decent thing he has done in his life,” I was told. “What about his family,” I asked. “They are all the same”, he replied. So, I thought I had better used the old, sterner burial service. Afterwards the family came up to me and said, “Lovely service, Father.” It just goes to show that you can never tell how people are going to react.

Like many fathers and sons, Dad and I had our disagreements and at times we hurt each other with words.

However, in a 2015 email exchange, in which we had disagreed on matters of belief, he said:

“Unless we are willing to be open to change, our thinking can only become stagnant. The older we get the more we realise how little we really know…or we have wasted a life. It has been a great blessing that we have always been able to be open and honest with one another.”

I’m sure there are times we could have been even more honest and open, but the point is to intend to do better.

I don’t think it would be a misrepresentation to say that Dad emphasised the social justice and pastoral care aspects of his faith.

He genuinely cared about people. The idea that “God is Love” became more important to Dad as time passed.

Julie’s daughter, Kate, recently found some of the funeral sermons Dad wrote. It seems appropriate to finish by reading some excerpts that resonated with both of us. At a time when so much of the world is divided, Dad’s words seem especially relevant.

“In our troubled world today we are witnessing what happens when over zealous people force their misguided views on others… We need to be aware of each other’s differences so that we will not make the fatal mistake of believing that we are right and God is on our side.

We come into this world and pass through it, leaving it either a happier & better place or a sadder & sorrier place. The choice is ours and so are the consequences of our choice.

Nobody else can live our life for us and nobody else can be held responsible for the way we live it. Freedom to choose & responsibility for actions are the two sides of the same coin.

Life is all about relationships and building relationships makes demands on us. Good relationships are costly. We are all far from perfect but we should always be striving to be better than we are.

As we think about somebody else’s death we cannot help thinking about our own life, and our accountability…to help people to become more loving, more forgiving, more compassionate, more honest, more understanding and more tolerant, more in tune with… one another.”

Thank you Dad for your life of service to others.