Sunday, 16 June 2019

A kind of horror

Hi everyone,

I haven't blogged in ages, it feels.  In part that's been due to work: the boss has been away and every weekend I've been committed with either volunteering or the farm.  I'll spare you a diary post because they're always kinda boring and just an excuse for a bunch of photos.  What's really news?  Well, I fell off the semi-monastic bandwagon the other week after a major case eventually fell over.  Both I and my assistant felt a bit flat after that as we'd become fond of the client and had thrown everything we could at the file until there were no cards left to play.  As a result, self respect has taken a bit of a beating lately.  And I've become fond of praying as much as I can of the liturgy of the hours.

And what a crappy time to chose to fall down on the job.  A recent case in the Court of Appeal was a good example of the contagious deterioration of our age.  In Best v The Queen [2019] VSCA 124 the Court noted that -

In early July 2017, the victim ... Samantha Hurst, met the applicant through mutual friends. At an early stage during the relationship, Samantha told the applicant that she was 13 years of age.
The applicant and Samantha engaged in sexual intercourse about one week after they first met. Thereafter, they would meet together three or four times each week. During the period of their relationship, they engaged in sexual intercourse on approximately thirty occasions, which occurred both at the applicant’s home and in his vehicle. That conduct constituted the offence that was the subject of charge.
On 18 August 2017, Samantha attended the Ballarat Community Health Centre. She undertook a pregnancy test that was positive. Subsequently, she gave birth to a baby boy who she has raised with the assistance of her mother. On 23 August 2017, the applicant was arrested and interviewed for the offences that related to Samantha Hurst. During the interview, he admitted having sex with Samantha. When he was asked how old she was, he said ’14, 13 maybe, I’m not sure’. When asked whether he was aware that it was illegal to have had sex with Samantha, he said ‘It’s not right’.

This case bookends with Gillespie v The Queen [2018] VSCA 151, also from the Court of Appeal -
The charged offending took place between 1 April 2012 and 6 May 2014 when the complainant was aged between 12 and 14. The appellant is 24 years older than the complainant and at the time of the offending was married with three children. …
In 2011 the appellant commenced a sexual relationship with the complainant. They had sexual intercourse with each other once a week, more than 20 times, and never used a condom. The complainant had not previously had sexual intercourse. The indictment specified three acts of intercourse. The first was in the appellant’s bedroom when the complainant was 12 years old. The second was in the appellant’s car during the school holidays when the complainant was in Year 8. The third occasion resulted in the conception of a child. DNA evidence provided strong support for the complainant being the father of that child. …
On 6 May 2014 the appellant gave birth to the complainant’s child.
And then this weekend, the following piece of human garbage showed up in my Twitterfeed -

Happily, this account has now been suspended.

I find myself sitting here in a state of dumb despair that the world has seemingly come to this, where even the gravest of crimes, and even of defective behaviours, are held to no higher standard than that of the criminal law.  The law is, of course, to be obeyed.  But shouldn't people, somehow, be restrained by the thought that something is not just a criminal offence, but profoundly immoral?

I don't have any easy answers, but I think a world that reduces all morality to "love is love" has gone profoundly astray.  As the author of 2 Peter 2:18-19 says -
For, talking empty bombast, they seduce with licentious desires of the flesh those who have barely escaped from people who live in error. They promise them freedom, though they themselves are slaves of corruption, for a person is a slave of whatever overcomes him.
Surely people are better than Mr Best and Ms Gillespie?  Or are they Everyman with better (or at least different) opportunities.  I don't know.  But I feel a kind of horror at the world being inflicted on my daughters.  I just wish I knew how to make it a better place for them.

Friday, 3 May 2019

Compensation Vocation

My twitter feed is nothing if not diverse.  One of the feeds I’ve been especially enjoying lately is that of a young postulant describing her life in the convent.  She certainly loves her calling, and her posts got me to thinking whether I could be doing something more with my own life.

This in turn got me to thinking about vocations.  I know for sure that I have no calling to the priesthood.  But, I’ve always had fondness for the monastic life.  My honours thesis was written on St Bernard of Clairvaux.  The austerity of the Cistercians has a remarkable appeal.  There is, actually, a Cistercian abbey a bit over an hour from where I live.  Nevertheless, there’s not a lot of point exploring the cloister while my darling daughters are still young. The monastic life is unpaid, and there's never a good time to leave your kids high-and-dry.

(To digress: can you imagine St Bernard of Clairvaux with a twitter account?  If you can't read a collection of his letters.  He’d have been incapable of shutting up and probably a pretty savage troll)

And then it crossed my mind that maybe what I’m doing now is my vocation.  That is, maybe being a worker's compensation lawyer really is what God has called me to do.

Hear me out.

My family situation means I can devote most of my energies to work.  Possessions have very little hold over me:  I live in a single rented room in a lodging house.  I can’t imagine ever owning a house, or wanting to.  My belongings are really just my clothes, some books and a battered old car. My food intake is fairly basic: oats, vegetables, bread rolls and stuff out of tins.  The things I like best are cheap wine and good beer.  Fleshy desires are basically non-starters with me, partly by nature and partly by obligation.  My life, then, is already quite a pared-back thing.

So far, so good. I imagine some or all this could be said of quite a few people in the world. What changes it for me from a situation to a calling?

The Big Guy does.

Pope Leo XIII (image from here)

Pope Leo XIII issued Rerum Novarum in 1891.  He talked about the proper relationship of capital and labour and stated that -
wealthy owners and all masters of labor should be mindful of this - that to exercise pressure upon the indigent and the destitute for the sake of gain, and to gather one's profit out of the need of another, is condemned by all laws, human and divine. To defraud any one of wages that are his due is a great crime which cries to the avenging anger of Heaven. ... Lastly, the rich must religiously refrain from cutting down the workmen's earnings, whether by force, by fraud, or by usurious dealing; and with all the greater reason because the laboring man is, as a rule, weak and unprotected, and because his slender means should in proportion to their scantiness be accounted sacred.
A big whack of my work goes into ensuring people receive proper weekly compensation under the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013.  With some insurers (naming no names) this can require negotiating tactics that border on "demanding money with menaces".  I'd never before thought of it as work with a touch of holiness.

Sweatshop, c.1890 (Image from here)

On the plaintiff side I've almost invariably acted on "no win - no fee" terms.  That is, if the claimant does not recover compensation, my fees are waived.  This, too, seems to be approved by Rerum Novarum, inasmuch as help is provided to people who might otherwise go without:
when there is question of defending the rights of individuals, the poor and badly off have a claim to especial consideration. The richer class have many ways of shielding themselves, and stand less in need of help from the State; whereas the mass of the poor have no resources of their own to fall back upon, and must chiefly depend upon the assistance of the State. And it is for this reason that wage-earners, since they mostly belong in the mass of the needy, should be specially cared for and protected by the government.

Another big slab of my work involves ensuring workers compensation insurers pay what they are required to in terms of medical expenses.  Pope John Paul II touched on precisely this point in Laborem Exercens:
The expenses involved in health care, especially in the case of accidents at work, demand that medical assistance should be easily available for workers, and that as far as possible it should be cheap or even free of charge. ... A third sector concerns the right to ... insurance ... in case of accidents at work. Within the sphere of these principal rights, there develops a whole system of particular rights which, together with remuneration for work, determine the correct relationship between worker and employer.
The Church's teaching on matters of economics in particular or social justice in general tend to attract condemnation from my side of politics - sometimes from podcasters like Mike Spaulding and sometimes from commentators like Rush Limbaugh (who, frankly, should know better).  Well, be that as it may.  The more I think of it, the more this work really does seem to be my vocation, and the way I am being asked to serve.

I can't imagine anything I'm happier to think.

Ad maiorem Dei gloriam!

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Rejuvenation Weekend

You never realise how boring you are until you have spare time to fill in.

I'm writing this early on a Sunday afternoon.  I was hoping to facetime with Grace and Rachel, but that's fallen through as they're staying with their uncle tonight.  As they're otherwise engaged I'm at a bit of a loose end in the time I'd set aside.

I've used this weekend to rejuvenate myself a bit: I've been feeling very blah mentally at work and so this weekend has been an attempt to get my perspective back.  I started yesterday with my Red Cross phone calls (all clients well) and then drove out to Rowville to see a client about some paperwork.  I was back in Melbourne by about 1pm.

The weather was depressing and so the best place I could think of to go and apply some mental Dencorub was the National Gallery.  They currently have a stunning exhibition of Venetian glass titled "Liquid Light".  I love the frozen perfection of these pieces: like music had been made solid.


That said, I found myself imagining funny captions for the mosaic of the Last Supper.  It's masterfully done although Judas looks like he's about to start breakdancing.

The Last Supper (Venice & Murano Glass & Mosaic Co., 1880) [Image from here]
From there I went off to St Mary Star of the Sea church in West Melbourne.  It's one of the most beautiful churches in Victoria.  I don't often go there was it's a bit out of my way, but every time I do I'm glad of it.  I attended confession and set into a meditative Rosary which I'd just finished when Mass began.


Quite a long homily from the priest which made the interesting point that "Doubting Thomas" might be thought of as a type of skeptic, demanding evidence rather than taking things on faith.  To that extent, by being persuaded by what he saw himself, perhaps he was not so different to the laity who were drawn to the disciples' healing work in Acts or John of Patmos watching and recording what he was shown in Revelation.

I should add that partway through the service I noted that the paintings of the saints included one of Thomas More, the patron of lawyers.  It seemed I was on the right track!

This morning was an early start, getting down to the Albert Park Lake for the Angela Taylor Memorial Walk/Run.  This Race is over 5 or 10 kilometres and is run by the Victoria Police Blue Ribbon Foundation in honour of Constable Taylor, who was murdered in the Russell Street Bombing. Conditions were pretty well perfect - cloudy and cool, with about a thousand entrants!

I got together with the SES team and we headed out.  I was on the 10km course.  This is shorter than my usual race distance and so I really hammered it with a sprint at the end.  I finished in a time of 50m32s which is just shy of a PB for me.  Outside of medal contention but it still left me pretty happy.

Which brings me to now, back at my digs.  I've had a kind of chicken/Greek salad for lunch and I think it might be time for a little guided meditation and maybe some yoga: pace Fr Flader, I'm not persuaded either practice poses as much of a threat to my soul as burnout does to my mental health or lactic acid to my muscles.

How's your weekend?

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Blessings unexpected

I finally have a chance to look back on the season leading up to Easter.

I was determined to make Lent count this year.  I'd been feeling myself drifting a little.  The penitential season begins by reducing you to nothing - the key phrase of Ash Wednesday is "you are dust and to dust you shall return".  By extension, it is a time where you can rebuild yourself from nothingness.

I had decided to use the season for a real challenge: to purge myself of impure thoughts and deeds for the 40+ days of Lent.  This was fortified by getting to Mass at least twice a week and attending confession once a week.  I chose to keep a Lenten diary which would be separate from my day to day diary.  Reviewing it has been instructive.

Our Lady Help of Christians church, East Brunswick, Victoria, Australia
The first thing I noticed was how excited I was to be able to receive the Eucharist again.  Long time readers may recall that I had been self-excluding from communion for a year or more.  That is, I expected to fall into the sin of adultery.  Hence, no absolution and therefore no communion.  Being able to receive it again felt incredibly special.  Specifically, I felt like I really WAS part of the family again.  I think I caught an echo of what the Prodigal Son must have felt when his father welcomed him home.  If I had gained nothing else from Lent, this would have been enough.

It was, however, not the only thing I gained.  Another insight I found was how much sin, at least, where fleshly desires are concerned, stems from boredom or having unused spare time (or both).  Certainly, it was in idle moments that I found myself most sorely tempted.  On the other hand, on quite a few days my Lenten diary read "too busy to sin!" when I'd been fully occupied at work or otherwise.  In one of my Dad's favourite phrases: "an idle mind is the Devil's workshop".  And when nothing else worked, the intercession of St Agnes and St Maria Goretti never once failed me.

Skull of St Agnes (image credit: Michaelphillipr)

But wait: there's more.  Making this commitment to keep fleshly desire under control gave me an utterly unexpected clarity about my (not entirely voluntary) celibacy.  For one thing, after the first few days, I realised how freeing it was not to be under the dominion of my own body.  I realised how much safer I felt with my brain, rather than my instincts, in charge.  In the last few weeks, I came to realise how little I'd ever actually enjoyed "fleshly pursuits".  And on 17 April, I began to wonder if I might, in fact, be one of these people (this last is a good deal less interesting than it might otherwise be, given my state in life: practically, it is about as interesting as learning one has A+ type blood).

Finally, I think that at some level this feeling of committment made it possible for me to look at the tragic burning of Notre Dame cathedral with less pain than I might have otherwise had.  It is, indeed, a tragic and shattering loss, but I also found myself thinking: this is our chance to build something even more to the glory of God.

Some denominations spurn observing Lent.  This is a pity.  I can say from experience that setting yourself this challenge has brought blessings I never even knew I wanted.

Monday, 22 April 2019


Hi everyone,

Easter has finished hard.  There's the terrible bombing in Sri Lanka, for one thing, but also a tragedy closer to home: yesterday two SES members from the Port Campbell unit, who were also volunteers with Surf Life Saving Victoria, drowned while conducting a rescue at sea.  A third member of both organisations was badly hurt.

This terrible accident will hit SLSV and Port Campbell SES hard.  The SES volunteers I know seem to be feeling grieved by it - even ones like me with no connection to the Unit.

I could dress it all up in flowery words, but I don't think they'd add anything.  People have lost husbands and partners, brothers and fathers, co-workers and mates.  It's a terrible thing and that's all you can say.

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Running and Recovery

It's Sunday evening and I'm just now realising why my head hurts: I haven't had a coffee all day.  It's also 8:15pm and I don't much feel like a coffee because I also want to sleep.  I'll just press on as I am then.

It's been a busy weekend in most respects.  Saturday saw me drive up to Croydon to race in the 5km track event in the Victoria Police and Emergency Services Games.  Weather was not on my side, alas.  I got there just in time for the afternoon events to be cancelled on account of lightning.  Rotten luck!

I drove back to my digs with a stop on the way for groceries.  After some attending to some SES paperwork I headed down to Our Lady's for vigil Mass.  The gospel reading today was the parable of the prodigal son.  I think the thing to remember about that passage is that it says very little about what it is to be a son, but a great deal on what it is to be a father: the father saw his son at a distance, and was looking for him to come back.

Stained Glass of Pope St Pius V at Our Lady Help of Christians Church, East Brunswick, Victoria, Australia
I was utterly worn out by evening and crashed into bed at 9pm.

Today started early, getting up about 6:20am to drive to Ballarat for the Emergency Services Games half-marathon.  Conditions weren't promising, with steady drizzle and wind.  However, the course itself - the Steve Moneghetti track around Lake Wendouree - is all that you could ask for: mostly flat with some undulations.  I was getting a cramping pain in my right calf after 5kms but decided to just tough it out the rest of the way.  I didn't medal, but my time was a comfortable 16 minutes faster than I'd expected.  I was pretty happy about that.

I was back in Melbourne for a quick Facetime with the girls, who had had a fun evening playing on four-wheelers with their friends.  Lord but they were tired.  I got through the rest of my SES backlog and decided I could do with a nice recuperative walk to the Great Northern Hotel, where I could enjoy a nice recuperative pint or two and maybe some chips.  The GNH is rapidly becoming my favourite pub: not excessively noisy, wide selection of IPAs, a big beer garden and dogs are welcome.  Really, what's not to like?  I took a recent copy of Spectator and enjoyed a couple of beers and unwound a bit.

Which brings me to now.  I've had dinner and prepared this post.  I know I should write a casenote but I really want a good night's sleep, so I think I'll have a cleanup and turn in instead.  Overall it's been a satisfying weekend.

What have you been doing with your weekend?

Sunday, 17 March 2019

The laboured weekend

It's been a shorter weekend than it felt like.

Friday ended with the news of the massacre in New Zealand, with pointlessly unhelpful comments from Senator Anning, and with utterly predictable responses from the usual suspects of politics, media and entertainment.  May I predict the next few weeks?  The usual platitudes about thoughts and prayers (the last is annoying, coming from people who are unlikely ever to pray); some sort of reforms to New Zealand's gun laws; a few hackneyed editorials about toxic masculinity, and then finally back to normal in three weeks at the most.  The reaction is as clockwork as it was after the Port Arthur massacre, the killings in Aurora, Colorado and the Gillette razor commercial.  Yes, I do think all three can be grouped together, as can many other incidents great and small.  The world - or at any rate the West - has only one reaction available these days, and that is hysteria at the greatest volume possible.

As a result, when Saturday dawned I couldn't even be bothered getting out of bed and lay there until a little after 1000, which is unusual for me.  But, in the end I got my arse in gear and got up and went up the street for a 7/11 coffee.  My hair was such a straggly lank mess I covered it up with a cap and I made a mental note to get a haircut.  When I got back I set to work preparing a SMEACS briefing for the SES presence at the Festival today, of which more later.  My fairly ancient (10 year old!) laptop was struggling and had reached a point where I could type in a sentence, then go and get a glass of water, and then come back and see if the sentence I'd typed had appeared.  I struggled on for a while and then decided I was at the end of my tether and went down to JB Hi Fi and bought a new, modestly priced Lenovo.  I'm typing on it now and getting to like it more and more.  Oh yeah... and I got a haircut while I was about it.

It was a beautiful day and I was tempted to go to the beach but couldn't fit it into the plan for the day.  I settled on a run instead.  Fifteen kilometres along the Capital City Trail, which I really didn't manage at all quickly and just had to slog through it.  Post run, I went to Mass at Our Lady's and then to do laundry (in the process of which, I stepped up the road for a beer).  I ended the day drinking with a few of the housemates on the patio.

Today was an early start to oversee the SES attendance at a Festival run by Banyule Council.  There's not much I really need to say about that.  The kiddies love the little Rescue truck and they especially loved Paddy Platypus.  It was a hot day and so there was a bit of willpower required to keep going and showing our best faces.

Festival completed I came back to my digs for to put on some civvies and go to the pub for a much-needed pint of IPA.  I must have been a bit dehydrated still as it hit me fairly hard and I opted to buy a couple of stubbies to go rather than try to drive home partly wasted.

And now? I'll finish this post and go for a shower and finish the copy of Spectator I bought the other week.  I still have the deep sense of lassitude I started the weekend with.  I suppose it's still the business in New Zealand and the dreary predictability of the aftermath that's getting me down.  I might take a mental health evening at the beach tomorrow after work.  I've never found a better preventative for one's troubles than drowning them in sweat or seawater.