Thursday, 28 July 2011

Bruce Cockburn's Small Source of Comfort

I'm loving Bruce Cockburn's new CD, Small Source of Comfort.  I don't think I've ever heard a Cockburn album that I didn't like. 

For those unfortunate enough not to have heard of Cockburn, he is a Canadian singer-songwriter who first became famous in the 1970s with a brand of folk-tinged music and beautiful poetic lyrics dealing with spiritual and political themes.  Over the years he has branched out musically, taking on elements of electric rock-n-roll, jazz, soul and world music.  He is a passionate world citizen, travelling not in a superstar musician cocoon but with his eyes and heart open, and lots of his songs are inspired by visits to the world's trouble spots.


It's five years since his last effort, Life Short, Call Now.  He comments in the sleeve notes to Small Source of Comfort, presumably with tongue firmly in cheek, that after that largely acoustic effort he had planned to do something "electric and noisy, with gongs and jackhammers and fiercely distorted guitars."  The best laid plans.  This is possibly his most laid-back album since the 1970s, with spare arrangements, quiet reflective tunes and lots of space for his guitar.

That's fine by me, although a little depressing.  Cockburn is a good guitarist in a way that makes bad guitarists like me wonder why we bother. His unusual chord structures, intricate guitar parts and mastery of rhythm make for instant recognition, as does his weary, ironic voice.  And what can I say about the lyrics?  Just beautiful. This time he is less combative than ususal, more reflective, like this.

I feel these serpents of desire
ripple my skin like ropes of fire
all I ever wanted all along
was to be the "you" in somebody's song.

Or this one

Silver rain sings dancing rhyme
sunlight on blue water
rocky shores grown soft with moss
catches all our laughter
and it sends us back without its edge
to strengthen us anew
that we may walk within these walls
and share our gifts with you.

After 30 albums you would think there wouldn't be any surprising new directions, and there aren't really.  Nonetheless one song made my ears prick up in a new way for its sheer absurd daring.  It's called Call Me Rose, and it's inspired by George Bush's attempts to rehabilitate Richard Nixon's memory.  Cockburn undoubtedly has higher moral standards than Bush, and wonders what it would take to truly rehabilitate Nixon.  Perhaps a second life as a poor woman, learning what it's really like to struggle?

My name was Richard Nixon only now I'm a girl
you wouldn't know it but I used to be the king of the world
compared to last time I look like I've hit the skids
living in the project with my two little kids
it's not what I would of chose
now you have to call me Rose

I was boss of bosses the last time around
I lived by cunning and ambition unbound
the suckers said they'd stand behind me right or wrong
as if they thought that hubris was the mark of the stong
I was an arrogant man
but now I've got it in hand
it's not what I would have chose
now you have to call me Rose


My name was Richard Nixon only now I am a girl
you wouldn't know it but I used to be the king of the world
I'm back here learning what it is to be poor
to have no power but the strength to endure
I'll perform my penance well
maybe the memoir will sell

it's not what I would of chose
now you have to call me Rose

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Making the News

News Limited has been in the news itself, and some, over the past couple of weeks as a result of The News of the World's large-scale hacking of mobile phones.  As if there was previously any doubt that the ethics of News's tabloid empire were hopelessly flawed.  A set of newspapers that earns its revenue by hounding and exploiting celebrities is only just marginally less sad than a society that buys these newspapers in huge numbers.

However, there is more to News's ethical problems than just invasions of privacy, and they extend beyond the realms of tabloid journalism.  The front page headline of today's Weekend Australian  is a good (or should I say awful?) example.

Business turns up the heat on ALP

And in smaller type above the bold heading: "Thought bubble" policies criticised.

The body of the article reports comments by Ziggy Switkowski  (former Telstra CEO and soon to be Suncorp chairperson), Lindsay Maxsted (Transurban and Westpac chairperson) and John Macfarlane (Deutche Bank executive chairperson).  All of them criticise the current Commonwealth Government for lack of leadership and lack of long-term policies, with Switkowski citing the NBN and the Carbon Tax as examples of "thought bubble" policies that are not fully worked through.

Their comments are hardly surprising although I'm a little mystified as to how the NBN and Carbon Tax are either short term or poorly thought through.  We all know which Australian political leader is most inclined to emit thought bubbles.  Still, these men are entitled to their opinions and that's not what worries me here.

If you read the article with even a small amount of attention (i.e. if you look beyond the predictably government-bashing headline) you will see that the report is based on the proceedings of  The Australian and Deutche Bank Business Leaders Forum.  Yes, you read that right, the Australian has based its lead story on an event it organised itself.  It set the platform and the agenda, decided who to invite, then reported the results on the front page in bold type.  The Australian is no longer reporting the news, it is now manufacturing it.

A number of Labor Government ministers have said they believe News has an explicit policy of working to bring down the Gillard government.  News executives strenuously deny this.  Policy or not it seems to be what they are doing.  They have shifted from being observers and commentators on Australian politics to being active, partisan participants.

News controls two thirds of Australia's daily newspapers and has cornered the market in some states.  Lachlan Murdoch is also chairperson of Channel 10.  That's a lot of control over information to be held by a partisan player.  News has a lot of resources to throw at this - it's a global media conglomerate the scale of which rivals that of the Australian government itself.  And of course, even though its origins are Australian, its interests are primarily in the USA and Europe.  There is no necessary alignment between the interests of News Limited and those of anybody in Australia, never mind ordinary Australians.

So in a sense, phone hacking is just a distraction.  We do need an inquiry into Australian media ownership, but not because there might be hacking here.  We need to ask ourselves, do we want the information we get controlled by a company that is so profundly ethically compromised?

Friday, 22 July 2011

The F***-Up Theory of History

I'm in the middle of reading Iain M Banks' latest Culture novel, Surface Detail.  As usual its a wonderful piece of space opera, with action that sprawls across planetary systems, species and real and virtual worlds.  There are wheels within wheels, nothing is necessarily as it seems, and the technology is incredible.

Much of the action takes place in what is called the Tsungarial Disk, a ring of supposedly abandoned ancient machines surrounding a gas giant planet.  Two of the main characters approach the disk, intent on skullduggery.

Veppers smiled thinly at the alien.... "Why did they build all these? Why so many? What was the point?"

"Insurance, possibly," Bettlescroy said. "Defence. You build the means to build the fleets rather than build the fleets themselves, the means of production being inherently less threatening to one's neighbours than the means of destruction. It still makes people think twice about tangling with you." The little alien paused. "Though it has to be said that those inclined to the fuck-up theory of history maintain that the Disk has no such planned purpose and is essentially the result of something between a minor Monopathic Hegemonising Event and an instance of colossal military over-ordering." It shrugged. "Who is to say?"

I definitely subscribe to the fuck-up theory of history.  Given that the Culture is basically Western society writ large (very large) it's not hard to see ourselves in this description.  What was the Treaty of Versailles but a huge stuff-up that paved the way for the second World War?  What was the dropping of the warheads on Hiroshima and Nagasaki but a stuff-up brought on by US fear of the Russians?  What is Al Qaeda but a colossal mistake by the CIA and the Pakistani intelligence service?

It's often said that those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.  It's also been said that the one thing we learn from history is that we never learn from history.  Perhaps we should change that.  The one thing we learn from history is this - stop fucking things up!

Monday, 18 July 2011

The Good Samaritan

In previous posts I've talked about Jesus' inaugural sermon in Nazareth, where he reinterprets the Kingdom of God to include Israel's enemies; and the story of the cleansing of the Temple, in which Jesus symbolically clears the Court of the Gentiles for their expected influx.  In Luke 10:25-37 we find a story that reinforces these themes in a different way.

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

This is one of the best-known of Jesus' parables, and the term "Good Samaritan" has entered our wider culture as a term for someone who helps people in need.

Jesus uses a rhetorical method that we see at greater length in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) in which he starts from a point of agreement with his hearers based on the Law, and then follows up by turning this law on its head.  The lawyer asks what he must do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus invites him to anwer his own question.  He does so by quoting two verses, the first from Deuteronomy 6:5, and the second from Leviticus 19:18, and Jesus fully endorses his answer : "You have answered correctly.  Do this and you will live".

This is the standard Rabbinic answer to the lawyer's question.  These two verses were seen as a summary of the whole Mosaic law.  As Jesus says in the parallel version of this story in Matthew 22, "All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."  By endorsing this view, Jesus seems to place himself securely within the Rabbinic tradition.  However, the rabbis were well aware of the difficulty of actually following these commands and they wanted to define them a little more carefully.  This is the purpose of the lawyer's follow-up question, "who is my neighbour?"

You will notice that Jesus doesn't answer this question.  The relevant Rabbinic answer goes something like this: your neighbour is your fellow Jew.  A further question follows: what if I'm not sure the person is a Jew?  The answer is that if you don't know then you can be legitimately excused.  Jesus doesn't answer this question because the problem is with the line of questioning as much as with the answer.  Instead he poses a question of his own in the form of the famous parable.

At its simplest level, the meaning of the parable is clear, and modern readers understand it well.  You should help those in need, whoever they might be.  However, there is a further level provided by the three characters Jesus places in the story.  The first two, the priest and the Levite, are not only Jews, but people whose role and duty is to interpret and enforce the Law of Moses, and to enact it in the Temple.  They should be exemplars of the Law. 

The problem for them is twofold.  Firstly, they are walking along a dangerous road and they see clear evidence of a violent robbery - they are obviously at risk and want to hurry along.  Secondly, the robbery victim has been left "half dead" - he is lying unconsious beside the road.  If he turns out to be dead they will become ritually unclean by touching him, and will not be able to carry out their sacred functions in the Temple until they have served a period of cleansing.  So they do what the Rabbinic interpretation of the law says they can - they assume he is not a Jew, and pass by.

The third character in the story is a Samaritan.  The Samaritans were people of mixed descent who lived in the area just to the north of Judea and followed (still follow to this day) a modified form of the Jewish religion, worshipping at their shrine on Mt Gerazim.  There was a long history of enmity between Samaritans and Jews, which had often escalated into violence.  This Samaritan, unencumbered by the law of the Rabbis, sees a man in need and stops to help him.  What could be more natural and straightforward?  He binds his wounds, puts him on his donkey, and arranges for his care in the nearest inn. 

By the time Jesus asks his question - "Which of the three do you think was a neighbour...?" - it is clear that there is only one possible answer - "The one who had mercy on him." 

Having the Law, at least as interpreted by the lawyers of Jesus' day (who we often mimic), does not make you more godly.  In fact, it is likely to make you less so.  The Samaritan is not merely ignorant of the Law but its active enemy.  Yet acting on his good impulse he is more godly than the priest or Levite acting from their deep knowledge of the Torah.  This is why the priests and Levites, and the temple in which they serve, will be destroyed.  This is why their place of leadership in the Kingdom of God will be taken by Gentiles, Samaritans and Jewish outcasts.  This is why they had Jesus executed.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

The Atheist Manifesto

I used to think that Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett all had a bit of a grudge against religion.  Then I read Michel Onfray's The Atheist Manifesto and changed my mind.  Dawkins and Harris are mere pussycats compared to Onfray.

Michel Onfray is a French philosopher, and I have to admit he's a random pick on my journeys in atheism.  His book has been staring at me from my library shelf since it reopened in May, so finally I brought it home and read it.  I'm not sure how our better known Anglo-American atheists view him.  He shares with them a negative, jaundiced view of religion, especially the major monotheistic religions which are the focus of this book.  On the other hand, whereas the core of their critique is scientific, grounded in the works of Charles Darwin, his is almost wholly philosophical, grounded particularly in the works of Neitzsche and Freud.

Onfray claims to have made a close study of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  If so, he has studied them in a peculiar way because what he presents is even more of a caricature than Dawkins' or Harris's.  He has failed to see any good elements of religion, while he has magnified the bad, invented extra bad things where the real ones were not bad enough, and presented a huge, very ugly paper tiger to attack with the sword of his caustic wit.

Like Dennett, he makes no attempt to refute or disprove religion.  He assumes that anyone with an ounce of intelligence can see its falsehood.  Why, then, are there so many believers?

Human credulity is beyond imagining.  Man's refusal to see the obvious, his longing for a better deal even if it is based on pure fiction, his determination to remain blind have no limits.  Far better to swallow fables, fictions, myths or fairy tales than to see reality in all its naked cruelty, forcing him to accept the obvious tragedy of existence.  Homo Sapiens wards off death by abolishing it.

Having thus disposed of religion in a few words, he can get on with what really interests him - his critique of the behaviour of organised religion.  While he takes aim at all three major monotheisms, his main target is Roman Catholic Christianity.  Over two hundred pages he circles around two main critiques, restating them again and again in slightly different clothing.

Firstly, he sees religion as the enemy of the intellect.  Since religion is obviously nonsense, its leaders can only maintain it by suppressing intellectual inquiry.  He gleefully cites example after example of the church's persecution of scientists, its anathemising of new scientific insights, its habit of proscribing or, better still, burning books which are contrary to its teachings, its destruction of great works of art in the name of religious dogma.

Secondly, he sees religion as the enemy of democracy and freedom.  He sees monotheisms as intrinsically theocratic, as always siding with tyrants and dictators.  He cites examples across the sweep of history, from the Torah's injunction to destroy the surrounding nations, through the smooth transition of the Roman Empire from persecutor of Christians to persecutor of pagans and heretics, to the Vatican's condoning of Nazi atrocities and the totalitarianism of extreme Islam. 

His bile is entertaining for a while, his pithy, bitter gallic prose and agressive certainty sweeping the reader along, seducing us into his world view.  However, by the end of this book, short though it is, it becomes wearying.  After hearing the critique of religion I wanted to know what he would offer in its place.

He is pretty clear what he doesn't offer.  The enlightenment philosopers, and particularly Kant, earn his scorn for their deism, their failure to jettison the idea of God and instead to simply remove him to a greater distance.  He is also highly critical of the tendency of atheists to mimic religion by setting up their own quasi-religious structures to promote free thought.  Dawkins take note.  And despite living in the world's most secular country he he has little time for modern secularism, which he sees as mere nihilism rather than what he regards as "true" atheism.

So what is this true atheism?  He makes a promising beginning, outlining his project for developing what he calls "atheology", mobilising disciplines as diverse as phychology, metaphysics, archaeology, history, aesthetics and of course philosophy to the task of building a truly atheist worldview.  However, he gets no further than this.  At the end of his seemingly interminable harangue he is still where he started.

Today's and tomorrow's battles require new weapons, better forged, more efficient, weapons suited to present needs.  We need yet another effort to de-Christianise the ethic, politics, and the rest.  But also to de-Christianise secularism....

I wished he would get on with the forging, but was left with the suspicion that he lacks both the fire and the iron for the task. 

So why would a Christian read such a book?  Well, I suppose for two reasons.  The first is that we are asked - in fact commanded - to love our enemies.  How can we love them if we refuse to listen to them, if we refuse to take them seriously, if we block our ears to their voices?

The second reason follows from the first.  Much of what he says is true, despite not being the whole truth or even nothing but the truth.  Christianity and Christendom, as well as Islam and Judaism, have crimes to answer for.  We have amends to make.  We have truths to face.  We need understand why people hate us.  It is too easy for us to try to sweep these things under the carpet, but God calls on us to repent, and Onfray, for all his bitterness, can help us to do so.

Monday, 11 July 2011

John Spalvins on the Carbon Tax

At last the Gillard Government has released the details of the carbon tax and we can get on with it.  Of course it's complicated.  The country's 500 largest polluters will pay $23 per tonne of carbon emitted and this cost will flow through to the wider economy in all sorts of puzzling ways, for which some people will be compensated in ways sometimes just as puzzling. 

Leaving aside the technical details of the tax and the compensation package, about which some industries are still bleating while others are relatively relaxed, it is interesting to read the comments of former Adelaide Steamship Group Managing Director John Spalvins.  Spalvins was giving an interview to mark the 20th anniversary of Adsteam's sinking under $7b of debt.  After some gratuitous pot-shots at the Gillard Government, here's what he has to say about the carbon tax.

He said several former senior US executives were bemused about Australia's introduction of the tax. "When I am in the US -- I spend three months at least each year -- if you raise the issue of carbon tax and carbon emissions, it is a non-event. They can't believe what we are trying to do -- by taking the pain and the suffering first," he says.

"Even if you say it is an issue, why should we 22 million people lead the world of six to seven billion people, and what difference does it make if we do?"

I'm sure Julia Gillard won't be seeking economic advice from a man who lost his company $7b.  Nonetheless he sums up in a pithy way the three great fallacies peddled by those who stand to lose money in the transition to a low-carbon economy.

1. "Even if you say it's an issue..."
Enough with the climate change skepticism!  The science is clear that it's happening, and why.  There are varying views on how fast, and how drastic, the change will be.  The doubt is solely in the minds of those like Spalvins who have a vested interest in inaction.

2.  22 million out of 7 billion
Carbon tax opponents make a great deal out of our smallness and hence insignificance on the world stage.  Our 22 million people make us the 50th most populous nation in the world, with about one three hundredths of the world's population.  However, our 400,000 tonnes of annual carbon dioxide emissions make us 16th in the world, and we are 12th in emissions per capita.  We are world leaders in emissions, why not be world leaders in cutting them?

3.  "Why should we lead the world?"
Being a proud Australian I would be delighted to think we were leading the world in this or any other worthwhile endeavour.  Sadly we are not.  The European Union (responsible for 14% of world emissions) has had an emissions trading scheme in place since 2005.  New Zealand (the world's 72nd largest emitter) enacted its scheme in 2008.  And while the USA, the world's second largest emitter, has no national scheme it has a number of regional ones which between them cover areas with far more population and emissions than Australia.  We're lagging behind, people!

I'm with the Greens on this one.  I'd like to see more, and a faster transition.  However, the political difficulties are real and what we are about to have is at least a start.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

The Ocean of Song

All over the world, songwriters are beavering away every day producing new songs.  I guess most of them never see the light of day, or get heard by a small circle of people before drifting off into the sea of forgetfulness.  Occasionally, one will break the shackles of time and place and become immortal, like Amazing Grace or Knockin' on Heaven's Door.

I've been thinking about the ones in between - the ones that reach the public sphere, experience a moment of adulation, then sink beneath the waves.  What happens to these songs, and to their authors?

I somehow managed to miss Pavlov's Dog on their first time around in the mid-1970's, although I remember seeing their records in the shops - who could forget that classic cover?  It's surprising, because it's just the sort of music I would have loved at 15, with its metal-lite sounds, over-emotive lyrics and David Surkamp's ridiculously powerful falsetto. 

I recently caught up with their first two albums courtesy of various people offloading them cheap.  I've been loving them just as I would have at 15, suspending my critical faculties and enjoying the rock'n'roll energy and melodrama. 

Like most rock bands they had their moment of fame and then faded away.  I guess they still get a bit of money from occasional CD sales but on the prices I paid for mine, this wouldn't be enough for a living.  To the apparent amazement of band members someone put up a Pavlov's Dog website and it's interesting to see where the members are now - some struggling along in the music business, some working in ordinary day jobs.  In the 1970s their fame spread throughout the world, now it has shrunk to a few nostaligic fans. 

Nonetheless, like everything else you can find many of their songs on Youtube and you'll find from there that Surkamp, who wrote most of them, is still paddling furiously in his 60's, touting his worn falsetto around the world and reprising Julia to fans who are still interested if maybe not quite adoring.

No so Andrew Durant.  He was rhythm guitarist and principal songwriter of Stars, a band in the good old Australian pub rock style best epitomised by Cold Chisel.  They had a brief moment of fame in the late 1970s and were already on the way down when Durant was diagnosed with cancer and died in 1979 at the age of 25. 

That could well have been the end of the story, but Durant obviously enjoyed more respect amongst his peers than in the wider community because in 1980 some of the cream of Australian rock music came together for a memorial concert at which they sang the bulk of his songs, including some written in the last months of his life and aired here for the first time.

Celebrity concerts can be tedious affairs as stars with oversized egos jostle for airtime.  However, in this one they seem to have submerged their egos in Durant's music, and the result is a beautiful concert, re-released on DVD in 2008. 

Not all the songs are brilliant but there are some true gems here.  The cheery Look After Yourself is actually better in the original Stars version.  That's Durant with the moustache.  On the other hand, Solitaire is given a soulful makeover by Ian Moss, while Last of the Riverboats is surely evidence that if you can just stop him screaming long enough Jimmy Barnes is a great singer. 

Of all these songs Riverboats seems to be the only one that has attained a life of its own, being added to the repertoire of various country artists.  On the other hand my personal favourite, Ocean Deep, written during Durant's last battle, may possibly only live on in this single electrifying performance led by Broderick Smith.

I'm feeling like a captain with no hull beneath my deck
Waves are pounding my proud ship to a wreck
The songs of the sirens are still ringing in my ears
I'm a weather-worn sailor feeling his years.

Turned my back on fate, but I didn't have much say
You can't ignore the weather when it's blowing you away
Threw out a lifeline and prayed that it would hold
And waited for the storm to go.

Ocean deep, time and tide won't let a sailor sleep.
Ocean never ends, like the tide I'll always roll out again.

On the distant horizon there's a golden beach
A haven for sailors, always out of my reach
As long as there's an ocean and a strong steady wind
I'll sail the seas forever, no land can lock me in.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Theodicy

Have you spent long hours agonising over the problem of suffering (which theologians call "theodicy" for some reason I'm sure I knew once)?  Well, finally Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal has provided the explanation we've all been waiting for.  Check it out, you won't be sorry.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Punishment, Deterrence, Protection

Two rather sickening stories caught my attention in yesterday's edition of The Australian.

The first concerns serial violent offender Robert John Fardon.  Fardon has a history of violent sexual assaults dating back to 1966, some against children and one against a woman with an intellectual disability.  Since 1978 he has set up a bit of a pattern - being sentenced for a crime, serving a long sentence, then committing a similar crime soon after his release.  His case was one of the triggers for Queensland to introduce indefinite detention as an option for repeat violent offenders, and this law has now been applied to him.

The second is the case of Dr Graeme Reeves, who was convicted of a serious assault after he surgically removed a woman's clitoris without her consent and without any medical need to do so.  Dr Reeves also has form, having been previous convicted of indecent assault against patients and being the subject of over 100 complaints to health authorities.  He was sentenced to a total of three and a half years in jail, of which he must serve at least two.

These cases are remarkably similar.  Both involve serious sexual assaults against defenceless people.  Both crimes are horrific and have lifelong impacts on their victims.  Both men are repeat offenders.  Yet while victims of crime organisations are rejoicing in the verdict on Fardon's case, they are appalled at the lightness of Reeves' sentence. 

Lorraine Long from the Medical Error Action Group, which helped to expose Reeves, said yesterday her "jaw dropped" at the "highly inadequate" sentence.

"There seems to be a double standard when a crime on the street becomes a misdemeanour in the surgery," she said.

"People thinking of coming forward to report their own experiences of medical malpractice must be thinking, 'What's the point?' I would have expected the sentence to be double what it was."

The victim, Carolyn DeWaegeneire, felt the same.

"Until now I thought the law was to protect the public and the people; I have now learnt otherwise," she said outside Sydney's Downing Centre Court.

"I was hoping a woman would be treated equal to a man. If a penis and scrotum had been cut off, what sentence would you give to him?"

I have to admit they have a point.  It seems an extremely light sentence for a serious act of violence, especially considering that Fardon's convictions have each earned him more than ten years in prison.

You hear this a lot when it comes to sentencing.  It seems rare that a victim thinks a sentence is adequate.  I struggle with this issue myself, and I think a lot of the problem comes from the fact that for serious crimes we only have one response, imprisonment, to serve three different purposes, each of which is at play in these two cases.

Punishment
The first purpose is punishment, or revenge if you like.  Carolyn de Waegeneire wants to be avenged and you can understand why she would.  This is a principle as old as civilisation itself and we have it in the Bible - "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth".  However, before my literalist friends leap on this as a model for our legal system, remember what Jesus said.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’  But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also."

I'm not sure that Jesus meant this to be applied in a judicial setting and it would be difficult to ask this of Ms de Waegeneire, especially if she is not a follower of Christ.

The difficulty is, how do you decide what sort of punishment is proportional to the crime?  If you went with the original Biblical principle, then Dr Reeves would be condemned to have his genitals surgically removed.  This would be just, but most of us would also find it gruesome.  You wonder if this punishment would satisfy his victim, or if it would make her feel even worse. 

Our justice system puts two things in the way of this happening.  First, it puts a neutral authority between the victim and the perpetrator.  Where the victim would no doubt feel like wielding the knife herself, the judge takes a dispassionate view, and tries to decide objectively on an appropriate sentence.  Perhaps he or she sometimes gets it wrong, but at least he has all the facts before him, while we just have a short newspaper report.

Secondly, various punishments are seen as inhumane and unacceptable.  Mutilating the victim is one of these.  Dr Reeves will not be surgically altered.  Nor will Robert Fardon be subjected to violent sexual assault.  Indeed he will be in protective custody to prevent this very outcome.  As a proxy for this proportionate revenge, a judge, guided by the law, will try to calculate an equivalence between the offence and an amount of time behind bars.  It's like comparing apples with roast beef.

Deterrence
If you thought that was complicated, the waters of deterrence are so muddy as to be almost impenetrable.  The idea is that sentencing will serve as a deterrent both to the perpetrator and to others who might be thinking of committing similar crimes.  The trouble is, the deterrent factor is such an unknown.  I am deterred from committing such crimes purely by the prospect of being shamed in front of my family and friends.  For others (like Fardon himself, for instance) even a lengthy prison term doesn't seem to work.  Reeves is an unknown quantity.  While he has committed multiple offences this is his first stint behind bars. 

What effect does all this have on other potential offenders?  Deterrence assumes that people weigh up the consequences before committing an act.  This may sometimes be the case but I suspect that overall people commit crimes in the expectation that they will be able to conceal them. 

Lorraine Long's comments provide another perspective on this - what sort of sentence would provide an adequate incentive for a victim to make a complaint and go through the traumatic process of getting a conviction?  Clearly she thinks that Reeves' sentence is too short and will shield other offenders from prosecution.

Protection
The final part of sentencing is the view that the wider community should be protected from such offenders.  This is most clearly the case with Fardon's sentencing which is wholly motivated by this protective factor.  As the Queensland Attorney General Paul Lucas says:

"This appeal was never about punishing Fardon -- that was the role of the sentencing court when he originally appeared before it. This is about protecting the public."

You wonder what role this has played in Fardon's earlier sentences, and even more what role it has played in Reeves' term.  Ms De Waegeneire alludes to this in her comments but it is not clear how she thinks the law would protect her.  It would seem that public safety could be ensured by preventing Reeves from practicing medicine, since all his assaults took place under cover of medical procedures.  At least it has to be tried.  In the meantime protection has another side.  Prison brutalises people.  They often come out worse criminals than they went in.  The community is often better protected in the long run by keeping offenders out of jail altogether.  And of course there are people in jail too.  Who is protecting them?

It's all so complicated and a judge has to weigh up a lot of factors in each case.  He or she has to have the wisdom of Solomon to make the right decision and the hide of a rhino to put up with criticism afterwards.  I'm happy to leave them to it.