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Archive for May, 2015

We all have visceral instincts about others. Without literally smelling him, my senses and sensibilities signal that Cardinal George Pell, that erstwhile defender of the indefensible in the Catholic Church is a corrupt individual of the lowest (or highest?) order.

He seems thoroughly untrustworthy, and certainly willing to suborn, dare I say pell-mell, a recent witness to the Royal Commission into Child Abuse, who was allegedly abused as a child by a Catholic priest under Pell’s protection.

David Shoebridge, Greens MP in NSW Parliament, is trying again to introduce legislation to allow victims to sue the Church for damages. At present the so-called Ellis Defence protects the Church, which is deemed to be an unincorporated association with its assets held in unrelated trusts.

John Ellis failed in the High Court to overturn this outrageous rort, where the Church effectively does not exist as a legal entity with attendant responsibilities. Which is probably appropriate for an organisation dealing in the occult, but let’s them off the hook for all their gross wrongdoings.

The Church is also exempt from any form of taxation in Australia, which is handy for a wealthy fraternity (brotherhood indeed!) dedicated to serving, oh hallelujah, the poorest and disadvantaged of our abundant society, as did Jesus apparently.

Pell should be brought back from his Rome sinecure to face the Royal Commission, and finally be put under forensic legal scrutiny with serious consequences, and not just brush off any criticism as before. More power to Shoebridge, and may justice be done one day!

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As governments gather metadata on our internet communications and try to force journalists to divulge their sources, in the name of a ubiquitous and open-ended war on terror, it’s apposite to read about an early champion of freedom of the press in Regency England.

The title refers to an interesting book by Ben Wilson about William Hone, whose name has slipped from memory, but who deserves to be better known for his unsung legacy of fighting hard for freedom of speech and the press. Charles Dickens was a friend and admirer of Hone, and attended his funeral.

William honed (sorry, irresistible!) his skills as a satirist in conjunction with illustrator George Cruikshank, publishing best-selling pamphlets and books sending up corrupt political life in the fetid atmosphere of turn-of-18/19th century London. Hone was also a bookseller and journalist, who survived on his wits, and managed to feed a family of nine children and his faithful wife Sarah.

Hone eventually fell foul of the corrupt Regent, later George IV, and his minions, including the Lord Justice and Secretaries of State. They had Hone tried for contempt after he published a clever and cutting religious satire of Prince George. Hone successfully defended himself over three days of trials before a packed court in the Guildhall. Arrayed against him were nasty, prejudiced Lord Justice Ellenborough and a stacked jury, but to popular acclaim Hone won by the force of his sustained oratory and legal argument.

The story is made for film, so I hope the script is in development. An actor like Philip Seymour Hoffman would’ve been ideal for the role, but alas! Meantime, the book is a must for those interested in the history of the press. Interestingly the French Revolution and Napoleon scared the bejesus out of the English ruling class who feared revolutionary ideas and anti-monarchism creeping into England and tried to stem their influence by censorship of Hone and his contemporaries.

Actually the book title should clearly be ‘The Triumph of Laughter’.

(Thanks also to Matt C. for recommending and sending me the book)

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