Random Play by Graham Reid

Static and surface noise

To paraphrase John Lennon: life is what has been happening to other people while we’ve been busy making plans.

We leave tomorrow for a fortnight in the States: a trip from SanFran to Seattle and back to visit the Boeing factories, maybe catch up with cult musician Jeff Kelly in Seattle (of Green Pajamas), hopefully speak with some of the weirdos in Mt Shasta who believe inside the mountain is a race of people called Lemurians, party with our friends Bob and Mary on Vancouver Island, and much other fun besides.

The idea is to pick up stories for publication and also for my next travel book. (The first, Postcards From Elsewhere is launched on May 20 during Writers and Readers Week. More details here should you care.)

So the past weeks have been busy trying to meet writing commitments in advance, sort out some house-sitters, and make contacts in the States.

Which means news about which I might have commented on here has gone right past me.

The Tamihere thing was unravelling so fast that you’d have to be onto it on a daily basis and as I write he’s winging his way to caucus, despite being invited to take extended leave. (Nice to see he’s trotting out his kids again on the cover of today’s Herald too.)

Frankly JT, as they like to style him, strikes me as a man with serious anger and ego problems, and in that he’d be a liability in any political party. More than that however there seems to have been so much special pleading in the past days by his supporters that it makes me wonder about their attitudes to gays, women, Jews, and whomever else JT has taken, or may yet take, a swipe at. I addressed something similar in a previous blog: Brash pop and Brash politics.

If JT is speaking for these apparently voiceless people with their approval then I think we have some deep-seated and serious problems out there, but I’m inclined to think he isn’t really.

There’s something in our culture (more pronounced in Australia) that kinda likes a wide boy, and JT is certainly that: driving convictions, something about fraud, taking a golden handshake after saying he wouldn’t (that‘s called fibbing I think), down on the women-folk and poofters and so on.

He lashes out, and that’s not an attribute in a world where more clear heads are required.

But even in that world dobbing in your mates surely isn’t acceptable. Time for JT to go.

To quote from history: "You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"

Or from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy: “When you blame others, you give up your power to change.”

In other news that skidded past me: the Windsor wedding. Enough now. Yes, the bride looked lovely (Don’t they all?), and yes the groom looked like a man with a pickle up his arse (Doesn’t he always?)

But now that this sorry farce is over at least we won’t have to endure more comment from people on the street who say they should be left alone. I was always happy to leave them alone. I never want to hear about these people again until someone weens them off the public purse and teaches that ungracious Charles some manners.

Jeez, it wasn’t like the press at Klosters asked a hard question, it was simply: “Are you looking forward to your wedding?” Patsy stuff really.

Bloody people, they should have asked something like, “Are you looking forward to being a tampon?”

And finally: the late Pope and the Diana-like hysteria that surrounded his death.

I had a piece prepared about the late Pontiff’s propensity to create saints (often out of people about whom nothing or bugger-all is known) and how he presided over a declining church.

It ran in the Herald a few days after he died but, for space reasons I guess, some of it was cut and it came out rather muted.

For the record then, here are the missing bits, judge for yourself.

While the world waits for the announcement of who will succeed Pope John Paul II, there is inevitable speculation on how the late pontiff's 26 year reign will be remembered.

John Paul II headed the Catholic church for longer than any other pope in history, bar three, and many commentators will doubtless recall his stoicism and moral fortitude. He was also the frequent-flyer pope.

Others, such as Catholic writer and commentator John Cornwell, have already noted that this papacy was marked by declining membership in its traditional strongholds, and a schism has emerged between Catholicism in the First World and that in Third World countries.

In his book Breaking Faith Cornwell laced together distressing facts for the Catholic church: in the United States, a country with the world's fourth largest Catholic population, marriages before a priest have halved since the 60s, only a third attend church regularly (down from three-quarters in 1958) and ordinations into the priesthood had declined by more than two thirds.

In Europe things aren't much better. Between 30 and 50 per cent of parishes in Western Europe have no resident priest, only a quarter of Italy's Catholic population attend church these days.

The optimistic argue the future of the faith lies in the exploding populations in Africa, South America and Asia.

But things aren't quite so rosy there either according to Cornwell: In South America the number of priests per head of the Catholic population has gone from one for every 6000, to one for every 7000 in the past two decades. Attendance at Mass stands at around 15 per cent of the population.

The late pope was aware of these trends and his efforts to counteract the decline were politically astute and might not bear fruit for decades.

Pope John Paul II has been widely referred to as ‘the saint-maker’ because of his propensity to create saints, and occasionally elevating some whose history was unknown or faith suspect.

John Paul II created more new saints -- 483 in his pontificate -- than all popes in the previous four centuries combined. And you can add to that more than 1300 created as saints-in-waiting through beatification.

Sainthood became a growth industry under John Paul II. And, as in the case of the Martyrs of Vietnam, he was sometimes a volume dealer. [There were 100 martyrs made saints by JPII in 1988]

Four years earlier John Paul II made saints of 103 priests, missionaries and lay people who died in the early days of the Church in Korea. Most were murdered during waves of persecutions in 1839, 1846 and 1867. In late 2000 he canonised 120 martyrs in China, many murdered in the Boxer Rebellion or under the Communist regime.

And later some of this was edited out:

In 98 John Paul II visited Croatia to beatify Cardinal Alojsije Stepinac who was Archbishop of Zagreb during World War II. While Stepinac took steps to protect the Jewish community toward the end of the war, he previously sat in the Ustashi Parliament -- created as a Croat puppet of Nazi Germany -- which approved a policy of extermination of the Russian Orthodox Church, gypsies and communists.

He also declared in January 42, ‘Hitler is an envoy of God'’ and oversaw a church which forcibly converted about one million Orthodox Serbs and set up concentration camps where a quarter of a million non-Roman Catholics who refused to convert were tortured and executed.

He was sentenced to 16 years imprisonment in 1946 for war crimes.

The year before Stepinac's beatification John Paul II canonised a notorious anti-Protestant priest Jan Sarkander in the Czech Republic who was executed for treason in 1620 after he brutally converted Protestants and executed those who resisted. The canonisation caused widespread anger among Czech Protestants and five evangelical church leaders due to meet the Pope at an ecumenical round table boycotted the meeting.

Then there were these concluding comments:

What is also true is, despite secular cynicism, many still feel the need to have heroic models, whether they be Diana Princess of Wales, Sir Peter Blake or football-flicker David Beckham.

Such people embody attributes many aspire to. So it is with saints. It would also be naive to diminish the part politics plays. It is well noted the canonisation of Jewish-born Carmelite nun Edith Stein who died at Auschwitz came at a time of heightened scrutiny of the Church's compliance during the Holocaust.

The announcement of the 120 Chinese martyrs in 2000 -- which included 87 native Chinese, the first ever canonised by the church -- came against the backdrop of a rapidly changing political climate in China where many Catholics attended underground churches rather than the officially sanctioned state-controlled churches which have no official connection with the Vatican.

As the rigid Vietnamese communist cadres loosened their grip in a bid for western acceptance and domestic investment the announcement of the Vietnamese martyrs was equally timely.

So it was mostly politics, church politics, really. As my Dad used to warn me: ‘God’s business is big business.’

And last night on the tele I heard that already some are clamouring to make John Paul II a saint: apparently an unidentified man was cured of cancer in 1998 after meeting with the Pope.

To which I only ask, Why did he heal just the one?

Righto, time to find the passport: If we’re in a Kinko’s and have time to spare and something weird has happened I’ll blog on, otherwise it’s just the highways and byways of the Pacific Northwest for a fortnight.

And that’s my idea of fun.

I wonder if JT will still be around when I get back?

I wonder if I’ll care?