Sunday, 9 November 2014

The Berlin Wall in 1976

From an old Travel Diary.

 September, 1976.

West Berlin was a bright, sparkling modern city, neon signs flashing. We had a very short time in Berlin, two hours' sightseeing, and one hour's shopping. During the sightseeing, we saw the usual statues and large buildings, also the Soviet War Memorial (well guarded) and the Olympic Stadium. An incredible feeling - that that was where Hitler actually was.

And then of course, THE WALL.  Quite a low wall, unimpressive, with no extra markers or anything on the West Berlin side to show that if you climbed over, you would be shot dead. There were signs to warn you that you would be leaving West Berlin, and many slogans painted on the wall (about ten feet high, I suppose)  and when you could see over, there was a wide bare strip, with soldiers in pill-boxes here and there, and barbed wire, and alert-looking Alsatian dogs. And another fence further into East Germany. It did look utterly impossible to get across undetected. So many people killed there, trying to cross that narrow strip of land!

And just over the wall, too, was a little rise under which was Hitler's Bunker. The scene of so much history, Berlin,  and now how strange it would be in that bustling city - a city in the middle of a foreign and hostile country.

At 11.00 am, we left Berlin, though the Checkpoint, which took quite some time, and then the long drive through East Germany. Almost immediately after crossing the Border, we were in country-side. We didn't really see East Berlin at all - except a little over the Wall. A few small towns, but mostly emptiness, so depopulated does East Germany seem in spite of her wall.


 'Freiheit für alle' means 'Freedom for all.' 
25 years ago, the wall came down.












Monday, 3 November 2014

Islamism and its dire consequences for civilisation

PLEASE EXCUSE:  The odd spacing and changes of font size are the result of BlogSpot being uncooperative today. I have been unable to fix it. 

ISIS and all the other Islamist groups - They are enjoying unprecedented success, converts are flocking to them, and even in long-standing Islamic states, the more fundamental (and women-repressing) factions are gaining ever more influence.
And they are brutal, not merely the terrorist groups such as ISIS,  but the Islamic nations that are usually accorded the respect that any nation is granted.  But they are not civilized in the way that a Western country is civilized. 
Iran:  Typical is the story of Ghoncheh Ghavami, a British woman with Iranian citizenship who was sentenced to a year in prison for attending a men's volleyball game.  Iran was progressive in the 60s and 70s, but then reverted to brutality under the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979.  Any progress back towards civilisation since then has been minimal.

Nigeria:  The Islamist group, Boko Haram, led by Abubakar Shekau, denied the Nigerian government’s claimed peace deal, and says that the schoolgirls abducted in April this year have been married off. They ‘converted to Islam,’ he said.  Well, so would I 'convert' if the alternative was multiple rape and then death.   Shekau said he was not interested in peace, but promised ‘war, striking and killing with gun.’

Pakistan  Another terrorist bomb this morning. (3rd November, 2014)   'Credit' has been claimed by two separate Islamist groups.

And do you remember Malala Yousafzai,  shot by the Taliban for encouraging girls to seek education?  After she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year, she received vile threats. 
"Characters like Malala should know that we are not deterred by propaganda of [non-believers]. We have prepared sharp and shiny knives for the enemy of Islam," tweeted spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan. 

Religious police beating a woman.
   Afghanistan:   When the Taliban took charge in the 1990s, they forced women into burqas, a covering so severe they cannot even see properly. Trying to cross a road, for instance, would have to be a nightmare.
Even worse, women were not permitted to work or even to go out without a male escort. Remember the marches that widows staged at the time? They only wanted to eat, and to eat, they needed to work. 'We are not political;  we are hungry.'

So what happened to them?  I presume some starved, others were maybe taken in by relatives, and probably some arrested, never to be seen again.
The Taliban were forced back, but now that the US has left Afghanistan, it is only a matter of time before they return and take control. Again, women will be beaten for imagined transgressions against 'morality.'  Muslim men have always had a strange idea of morality, especially that it only applies to women.   
2002 Bali Bombing
Indonesia, 2002:  A Bali nightclub was bombed. It killed  202 people, most of them Westerners.  The culprits were apprehended, not very quickly, imprisoned, though not for as long as warranted, a few even executed, but others allowed to continue their recruitment activities while still in prison. It is almost as if the Indonesian government really doesn’t mind if a few hundred Westerners get killed now and then.  

Amrozi smiles, Indonesian Policeman smiles.
Even while in prison, the bombers were treated more as heroes than as despicable criminals.     More information on this site:
 referring to Amrozi -
'We would like to remind you of his smiles, seen here after his capture, and the smiles he gave in the court room. We would like to remind you of the thumbs up he gave in the court room when they handed down his death sentence. He has absolutely no remorse for any of the people he murdered or maimed. We would like to remind you of the attitude of the police who arrested and questioned him. How they shook his hand in front of the cameras, the same way an important person is greeted. We would like to remind you of the smiles of the police officers, who were very happy at the media attention but clearly uncaring about Amrozi's crimes against humanity.'

Meantime, Australia gave Indonesia money to improve their hospitals, and with them, pretended that the unfortunate incident was a mere aberration.

Saudi Arabia:  On March 11, 2002, a fire at a girls' school in Mecca killed fifteen people, all young girls. They were hindered from leaving because the little girls were not sufficiently covered. I guess the poor vulnerable Muslim men might have been unreasonably tempted by the sight of school girls running from a fire.
In Saudi Arabia, the death penalty is not reserved for offences that civilised people regard as serious, but can be imposed for adultery, ‘false prophecy,’ blasphemy, and apostasy. Apostasy is when a person who was Muslim decides to be Muslim no more. 

Saudi Arabia is not the only country that would punish this 'crime' with death. It is a major reason why Islam is such a powerful religion. 

A second reason is that religious schools 'teach' by having the children repeatedly chant passages from the Koran in at attempt to learn as much as possible by rote. This is a way of making sure they don't think too much about the content. It is brainwashing.

The third reason is that the Koran features such frequent and such dreadful threats of  eternal punishment in Hell that people are reluctant to decide it is nonsense - just in case it is not.  

22:19 - 'Garments of fire have been prepared for the unbelievers. Scalding water shall be poured upon their heads, melting their skins and that which is in their belly. They shall be lashed with rods of iron.'
35:16 - 'As for the unbelievers, the fire of Hell awaits them. Death shall not deliver them, nor shall its torment ever be eased for them.'
76:1 - 'For the unbelievers We have prepared chains and fetters, and a blazing Fire.'
4:56  Those that deny Our revelations We will burn in fire. No sooner will their skins be consumed than We shall give them other skins, so that they may truly taste the scourge. Surely God is mighty and wise.

Quotes from the Quran taken from 'The Koran' translated with notes by N. J. Dawood, Penguin Books, 2006 edition.

Every now and then, I hear that 'Islam is a religion of peace.' But I've recently read through the Koran -  research for a recent book.  I do not recall much about 'peace.'  The most notable aspect are the repeated threats of terrible punishment for 'unbelievers.'

In Western countries, most of us were scarcely aware of the clash between Sunnis and Shiites. I only discovered that it was happening in our own Sydney suburbs when I went looking – one would never have known from the news on TV or even from newspapers,  (maybe if one read very, very thoroughly?)   

The scene after the shooting
Today, (3rd November, 2014)  a Shiite preacher was shot by a Sunni Islamist. In Sydney, outside his mosque. That it was even stated is something new.  It appears that the Sunni/Shiite conflict is no longer to be covered up in the media - maybe they thought it might be construed as racism.  I suspect that we are quite often denied certain news for this reason.
Many of the current religious wars started as clashes between Sunni and Shiites, but now ISIS, among others, is killing everybody - Christians, pagans,  other Sunnis.   See this site for an article about their killing of Sunni tribesmen -  -  'Public executions and mass graves: ISIS targets Sunni tribe in Iraq.'
Is this the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it? For the civilized world, is it that our policies of tolerance and 'multiculturalism' are going to mean the end of tolerance and multiculturalism?
Maybe it's time for intolerance. We should not tolerate erosion of our freedoms and we should not tolerate those men and (a few) women who are trying to destroy our way of life. We should not tolerate curbs on our freedom of speech, curbs that are scorned by those who preach hatred of us and our freedoms.
  We cannot allow fanatics to throw away civilization and take us back to the 12th Century - a new Dark Age.   

Western civilization has given us a great deal. We live peacefully, and in the main, prosperous lives. Ours are the countries that refugees strive to enter - peaceful countries, free countries, countries with a good standard of living. 
 Muslim countries, on the other hand, are the ones who are responsible for so many of the refugees. Islam is most certainly not a peaceful religion.

 We have been very generous in taking in refugees. We have promoted tolerance and we have adopted the policy of multiculturalism - tolerating and even encouraging new immigrants to maintain the culture of their old countries, even turning a blind eye to things we find distasteful, such as the forced marriage of young girls. 
Many new immigrants have peacefully assimilated and become valuable citizens. Too many have not. They have taken, but not given.  They have assumed all the rights of their new country, but refused to assume the responsibilities.  And too many have brought their old conflicts with them.

 The Islamist threat is a real threat. It should not to be dismissed as exaggerated or unimportant because it is somewhere else far away, and it certainly should not be dismissed as 'racism.'   There are Christian fanatics as well, maybe fanatics from other religions, but they are not the threat that Islam has become. It is no longer good enough to pretend it is not happening. This is serious.  

Peace.  I hope it continues.

And to those who would kill for Allah and to bring an end to the freedoms of a civilised world,  I would remind you of a clause in the Koran:
'He that fights for God's cause fights for himself. God needs no man's help.'







Thursday, 30 October 2014

The story of Michael Redford, by DJ Bennett.

'Hamelin's Child' by DJ Bennett, was a favourite of mine from the time I first read it.  I now have the series of three books  - real books, not ebooks. They are kept in my permanent collection - those books that are worthy of reading again and again.

It has recently been featured on an excellent review site -  Book Addict Shaun.

This review tells it far better than I could, so (with permission)  I have reproduced it here.

Hamelin's Child by DJ Bennett (5/5)
Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Michael Redford died on his seventeenth birthday – the night Eddie picked him up off the street, shot him full of heroin and assaulted him.

Now he’s Mikey and he works for Joss. With streaked blond hair and a cute smile, he sleeps by day and services clients at night. Sometimes he remembers his old life, but with what he’s become now, he knows there is no return to his comfortable middle-class background.

Then he makes a friend in Lee. A child of the streets, Lee demands more from friendship than Mikey is prepared to give. But the police are closing in on them now and Mikey’s not sure anymore who he really is – streetwise Mikey or plain Michael Redford.

Hamelin’s Child was long-listed in the UK Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award. A thriller set in the seedy world of London's drug rings, this book contains strong scenes and adult material.

By Shaun, of Book Addict Shaun:

I was browsing Amazon when I came across this book. The author very kindly sent me a review copy and I couldn't wait to start it. With some glowing reviews on Amazon I started it with a bit of trepidation at what to expect. Debbie Bennett has written one hell of a story here, one that will pull at your heartstrings and have you experiencing every emotion possible as you read. At times the story becomes so difficult you almost want to put the book down, but it is just too gripping to do that. 

Michael is approached in a bar by a stranger when his girlfriend is occupied with another man, the stranger spikes Michael's drink, taking him back to a flat in the East End where he is kept prisoner, raped, shot full of heroin and sold for sex. We see Michael, or Mikey, go from a normal teenager to a drug addict, so dependent on the drug he will do anything for it. Debbie has captured the mind of the male teenager incredibly well. We really get inside Mikey's head, and start to understand his thought processes. At times he is confused and angry, coming across sometimes like an adult yet retaining that childlike vulnerability that teenagers still have. Sharing the house with a boy named Lee, Mikey wants to escape, but it isn't long before his drug addiction prevents him from doing so. His friendship with Lee starts to develop further, leaving him even more confused and angry at the things he is thinking and feeling. You do want Mikey to escape and find freedom but at the same time know that there won't be much of a story if that happens. Lee has an adult voice despite being younger than Mikey, and this isn't due to an author fault but the fact that Lee has had to grow up very fast.

Debbie writes with such knowledge about the subject of drugs and the world Mikey finds himself in that it adds a greater feeling of authenticity to the novel. Scarily so at times which left me wondering just how she knows this world so well. A look at her biography says she worked in law enforcement for 25 years. Perhaps that's where it comes from but the book feeling so real draws more emotion from you as a reader, parts of the book were read by me with a lump in my throat, my heart thumping in my chest. In the background we have Mikey's sister Kate looking for him, the only one in her family that doesn't think he ran away, she thinks there's more to it. These parts of the book I didn't enjoy as much, and found myself wanting to get back to Mikey's part of the story. Events halfway through though change drastically, meaning I was hooked on the book and simply unable to put it down.

What was all the more horrifying for me is how real this story felt. Walking around London, or indeed any major city in the UK you very rarely take notice of the people around you. In a club especially, or on the street outside, a man walking with a younger man and taking him down a side alley might not draw much attention. It's scary but it is also true to life. In London now there are people living the life that Michael unwittingly found himself in, and there are men preying on the vulnerable. It's a very human story, with very realistic characters not just in Mikey and Lee but in the people keeping them prisoner. Eddie, who kidnaps Mikey, and Joss, the owner of the flat the boys are prisoner in are as evil as they come. Very rarely have I felt hatred for a fictional character more than I did for these two men. It's a very thought provoking book. Mikey makes a number of choices throughout the book that aren't perhaps the ones you think he should but it makes sense because of the person he has been forced to become. It's impossible to say how you would react in this situation and you really agonise along with Mikey as he struggles to make sense of things.

More often than not you finish a book and move on to the next one. However when a story affects you as much as this one - I found myself thinking about the characters when I wasn't reading the book - it is incredibly hard to just finish it and move on. Because of how real it felt, the character of Mikey is so vivid in my mind that you almost want to reach out and help him, I am still thinking about it even now. It's hard to reccommend a book like this, does it have a particular audience? I think not. I think if people look beyond the blurb, rather than being put off I'd urge people to pick it up. It makes you grateful for your own life. It would make a parent hug their child extra tight at night and make all of us more wary of those around us when we are out and about. You only need to read the news to know stories similar to Mikey's kidnapping appear far too often.

Never once is the book predictable. You have an idea of what's going to happen and then Debbie takes you on a completely different path. The ending knocked me for six, I was speechless, sitting staring at the book long after finishing it. It's a heartbreaking ending, but one that demands you read the sequel, which is just what an author sets out to achieve. I have a review TBR which scares me, yet this book was so good I just don't think I can wait very long to continue the story. If this was a film or a TV show, the ending is so dramatic that there would be an audible silence around the room as the credits rolled. It stunned me and left me speechless and if I'm honest a bit upset. This definitely isn't a book to miss, and those that might perhaps be put off by the subject matter should totally look beyond that, and give this book a chance. 

Debbie has written other books as well, among them, one about a character in the above series - Lenny.  There is to be a second one published around Christmas - 'Ratline..'

These books are available on all the usual online sellers,
including Amazon. 
The author DJ Bennett

People who like Debbie's books, are also likely to enjoy my own Shuki Series. It is not that they are the same, or even very similar.  And yet there is something they have in common, something that is quite hard to define.  I think it is something about the way that the central character takes the reader along with him.  

'From boy of the slums to Oxford Graduate, this is the story of Shuki Bolkiah, modern day eunuch.' 


The fourth and final of the series has just been released, available in ebook or paperback from.  Each of the books is complete in itself.

Buy from online sellers such as Smashwords. Amazon and The Book Depository.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Ebola and Discrimination

Nurses and doctors who go to help treat Ebola patients are saints. I admire them enormously. So it seems a bit inconsistent that some of them think that rational quarantine measures are such an imposition on them. You would expect them to be first to want to ensure that this terrible disease is not spread.
And yet a nurse who had just returned to America after treating Ebola patients, and who was showing a fever, is threatening to sue because she was put into quarantine.  It does not fit the image of a good, even saintly person. The authorities were right to put her into quarantine. Anyone who has been treating Ebola patients, even if not ill, should go into voluntary home quarantine as a matter of course, and for three weeks.  They should certainly not go on public transport, not go to shopping centres, and quite certainly not go bowling as a returned doctor did.  (The one now being treated for Ebola.) 
Quarantine is necessary to protect all of us. It is sense. 
And limiting visas from affected countries?  That is also only sense.
And yet it has been accused of being  'Discrimination?'  
Why has discrimination become such a dirty word?  We discriminate every day when we decide to have peanut butter rather than jam for breakfast, when we choose what book to read, how to decorate our homes, what clothing to wear. We discriminate between the edible and the inedible, the attractive and the unattractive, between right and wrong.  One could not live without learning to discriminate.  We are discriminating all the time, and that is a good thing, a necessary thing.  It is not a bad thing. 
And yet, an accusation of 'Discrimination' is flung, and we  cringe and backtrack.
Ebola.  Luckily it is not spread as easily as cold and flu.  On the other hand, it is far more deadly than colds and flu, with a more than 50% mortality rate.  It is stupid to pretend that it is not worth taking seriously because the flu kills more people every year than Ebola does.
Yes, we should limit travel from affected countries, yes, we should quarantine those who return after treating Ebola patients, even when we know they are doing such a very good thing. We should discriminate;  we need to look after all of us.
 Do you need to know more about this disease?  It's easy enough to find information.  Here's one source -  a very cheap ebook I came across recently. 

Nurses and doctors who go to help treat Ebola patients are saints.  They work in horrendous conditions, they see people die, and they know that no matter how careful they are, other medical professionals, just as careful, have become ill and died.  And yet they volunteer to do this thing. 
Maybe it is because of the horrors they have faced, that some of them relax far too much the moment they arrive home.  But they are not out of danger until clear of symptoms for two weeks, with a third week to be quite certain.  I am surprised that such good people even think of objecting to reasonable quarantine precautions.


Monday, 20 October 2014

Another crime of the Catholic Church

I used to regard Ireland as a 'Western' country -  that is, reasonably civilised.  Oh, I knew they were backward in regard to the rights to abortion and even the right to use contraception.  But by and large, I thought the country reasonably civilised. 

I should have known better. Any country that is too heavily religious is likely to have areas where they are primitive and cruel - especially when it involves women's rights.  And Ireland is heavily Catholic.  Ever heard of the operation called Symphysiotomy?  Well, neither had I until it was on the Al Jazeera news yesterday.

Symphysiotomy - the breaking of the bones of the pelvis during childbirth in order to open it wider.  It's an alternative to a Caesarean.  The perceived disadvantage of a Caesarian is that it is risky to perform too many times - no more than twice, I was told in the 1980s.  And while sometimes they would allow a 'trial of labour' after a Caesarean, most doctors thought 'Once a Caesarean, always a Caesarean' the safer option.

BUT:  This would mean only a small family of maybe two or three children, and the Catholic Church thinks a woman should have as many children as possible, whether or not her health suffers. So in Ireland, especially in Catholic private hospitals, they sometimes did one of these vile operations instead - while the woman was in labour, and without permission -  or maybe they asked the husband,  though probably not mentioning the frequency of  side effects such as incontinence, chronic backache, and a limp.

About 1,500 symphysiotomies were carried out in Ireland between 1941 and 1987, and it is alleged that there were a few even later, one even in 2005.  Probably some women who had the operation never knew what was done to them.  

  The link below takes you to an article that explains further.
There is now an ongoing complaint to the UN - 
'SOS says the performance of symphysiotomy and pubiotomy constituted torture under Article 1 of the Convention Against Torture as severe pain and suffering, both physical and mental, were intentionally inflicted on women and girls, for reasons based on discrimination – but for the fact that they were pregnant, they would not have had these abusive surgeries perpetrated upon them.'
For more information, there are other sites:  
This one is to do with a law suit:
As part of the evidence, there was this argument for the 'defence.'

[a number of senior Catholic Irish obstetricians, including some Masters of the  National Maternity Hospital were] anti­ caesarean section.  The reason for that was apparently that a woman could only be expected to  undergo a relatively limited number of operations and it was assumed that she  would probably need to have quite a few of them because it was anticipated that  a woman was going to have a lot of children. If doctors were to perform  caesarean sections more or less as required, there would come a point at which  they would have to advise a woman that she should not have any more children and  that would lead to the consequence that she might be tempted to use artificial  contraception or she might even look for sterilisation or some other means of  preventing a pregnancy. This consideration or these thoughts were sufficient to  justify the doctors’ hostility to caesarean section. This led them to be favourable to symphysiotomy… [1]
 I'd convict the sanctimonious bastards on the evidence of that alone.  How dare they subject a woman to torture in order that she might bear more children for the church!

After effects:
Side-effects of Symphysiotomy
Permanent Backache
Difficulty in Walking
Extreme Pain
Bowel Problems
Psychological Effects

From this site -
For a personal account.  This woman did not know what had been done to her, look at this site:
Religion might be responsible for some good in the world, but it is also responsible for a great deal of bad.  This was just one of its crimes.



Friday, 17 October 2014

The fourth and final Shuki book

Announcing the release of the fourth and final book
of the Shuki Series:  'The Frost and the Sunshine'
Date released 17th October, 2014

The Shuki series started with 'Not a Man.'  This book won a place on the Editors' Desk on the Harper Collins Writers' Site, Authonomy, and had a favourable review by Harper Collins. 
‘Not a Man’ is an ambitious and insightful novel; it tells the story of Shuki, a young boy from the slums of Elbarada, a fictional area of Arabia, who is castrated against his will at the age of 10. Shuki’s journey is one of great trial but also incredible strength, courage, and determination, and as a hero, he is fantastic, evoking not only sympathy, but aspiration and reverence. I loved the fact that the operation which is supposed to prevent him from reaching manhood is the very thing that makes him strong and mature. The novel is written in a pared down manner; the narrative reminded me of the prose styling of Paulo Coelho: unaffected and matter-of-fact.  (this is the 1st paragraph only)

'Not a Man' was published in 2011, and now has an average rating of  4.31 on Goodreads,  with 30 five-star ratings. (5 stars is 'amazing' on Goodreads)  On, it has an average rating of 4.6 with 18 five-star reviews. (5 stars on Amazon is 'I loved it.')
It is currently rated 3rd on a list of 'Best Eunuch Books.'  (Goodreads) 
A couple of typical reviews (selected for their brevity)
I read this well into the wee small hours; I couldn't put it down. And what's more - the hallmark of something powerful and original - it has stayed with me. Shuki's story and the stories of the characters whose lives touch his are still clear in my mind a year later. That's quite a book!

Not a Man is a modern day masterpiece, and a future classic. Eloquently written, the author explores the controversial issues of sexual slavery, exploitation and abuse. Not a Man will bring tears to your eyes as you read about the very worst humanity has to offer, and the very best. Shuki is endearing, resilient, and intelligent. He's a character you can admire and cheer for.

 The book:
Shuki was a child of the slums, rejected by his family after he was taken for use as a ‘bed-boy’ by Hassanel Daoud, rich and powerful. He stayed with Hassanel rather than try and earn his own living by beggary or thievery. He would have run, though, if he’d known that he was to be castrated so that he would ‘stay beautiful.’ And after that, there was no point in running.

‘Not a Man’ is the story of Shuki’s rise from his lowly position to a man respected, an Oxford Graduate, and husband to four women whom he found starving.

 ‘The King’s Favourite’ is the story of his years with King Feroz. He rose to a position where he was able to influence the destiny of a nation.

‘To Love and To Protect’ is third in the Shuki series. Shuki Bolkiah has become an important person. His advice is valued by influential people in governments, not just that of King Feroz, but in other countries of Arabia. His wives would never be wives in anything but name, but there was Elei Daoud, who was his love. Elei wrote a book, with Shuki’s help. It was called ‘Thinking Jihad.’ Because of that book, Elei was shot dead.

 Shuki had made a vow early in his life, that he should never again leave it too late to run. It became apparent that even though he was no longer young, he was still in danger from the desires of men. But in a new place, where no-one knows him, he expects to leave that behind him. He moves his family to Australia, and this is where 'The Frost and the Sunshine' is set.


Shuki has a good life - his new home, his wives and his stepchildren, and becoming more important to him every day, young Zahu. It is hard to believe that Zahu could possibly want to stay with him when he is so much older. Surely one day, he will realise that a young woman has to suit him better than a middle-aged man.
And then Meriam comes into their lives - Meriam, daughter of Shuki's sister. Meriam, who looks so much like a youthful Shuki. She fascinates Zahu; she confuses him, and she tempts him. But she is not Shuki.
Meriam's baby is born when the frost lies heavy on the ground. But then the first rays of the sun come slanting over, and the countryside lights up. It is a promise - that bitter times might come, but one day, the sun will shine again.
'The Frost and the Sunshine' is available on most online sellers, as an ebook or as a paperback.