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the eighth day

September 11, 2011

9/11 ten years on

It remains one of those events that we can all recall where we were and what we were doing the moment we learned of it. Ten years on from those tumultuous events known popularly as 9/11, it is hard to identify any winners: Osama bin Laden is dead, and the vulnerabilities of the United States have been exposed in surprising ways. But the ramifications have been much more widely felt than in some artificial divide between so-called Islamic extremism and the democratic West. We do well to revisit that dramatic day and analyse afresh the symbolism of the event - something which has so far been difficult to do because the political sensitivities attached. Whether the distance is enough to fully appreciate the events is still a matter of conjecture, but the symbolism is so powerful, and the ramifications felt across the symbols so profound that we dare not take the opportunity for some fresh reflection.

For good reasons, the focus of 9/11 has been firmly upon the destruction of the World Trade Centre towers which dominated the New York skyline, and which tumbled so dramatically before our eyes. It is too easily forgotten that there were two other targets on that day: the Pentagon and the White House, the former suffering severe damage, but in a limited part of the building, while the attack on the White House was averted by the actions of some brave passengers aboard Flight 93. Together, these three buildings stood as symbols - pillars - of American world domination at the turn of the millennium - the political (White House), economic (World Trade Centre) and military (Pentagon) - underpinned America's status as the sole superpower of the time. The attack on these three buildings was intended to send a strong message, distorted by the total destruction of the towers and the terrible loss of life. An important symbolism is to be found in the method of these attacks: using commercial aircraft - a symbol of American freedom and mobility, turned against its three pillars with catastrophic effect, and all taking place on the date which represents the number which Americans dial in case of emergency - 911. The method employed suggested that the greatest threats to the American way of life lay within - that decay lies within - rather than externally.

Reflecting upon the changes affecting those symbols of American supremacy provide some pause for thought. America's original response was swift, and somewhat perplexing, drawing on its military supremacy with telling effect. The USA plunged into two wars, taking along other nations with it - wars from which it is finding great difficulty defining victory and thereby extracting itself; wars which were widely regarded at the time as having been pursued on dubious grounds. The long-term effect has been to stretch American military capacities to the margins, limiting their ability to respond in other areas of need. And yet perhaps the greatest effect has been felt economically. The effect of the trillion-dollar plus cost of waging these two conflicts has been to stress American financial resources to the limit, leaving the nation with limited capacity to respond not only in the immediacy of the global economic crisis of 2009, but in seeking to rebuild itself in its wake. In ten years America has moved from a healthy position of a sustainable budget in surplus to a point where both its total debt and per-capita debt ranks amongst the world's highest, with little potential for finding agreement as to how to rectify the problem. One legacy of flexing of its military might in response to 9/11 has been a significant, though not fatal, erosion of its economic might.

If the military and economic capacities of the USA have been wounded, more profound has been the impact on politics. One consequence of 9/11 is that we have inherited the black-and-white view of the world which the West generally rejects in Islamic extremism, and by which the terrorists justified their actions: the death of "infidels" being morally justified in their binary view of the world. The rising and almost unshakeable suspicion of refugees and asylum seekers has only grown in the last ten years and become an almost unquestioned tenet in political thinking. We have effectively learned to demonise the "other." A second, perhaps more far-reaching consequence has been the elevation of fear as the primary informant in debate on matters of public policy. No longer does informed debate appear in the public arena as we face global challenges of asylum seekers, or climate change for example. We find ourselves informed by slogans and accusation - reflecting the black-and-white view of all policy matters.

As much as one might find the emergence of the Tea Party in the US and its approach to public policy to be disturbing, one can empathise with their lack of confidence in existing political processes, which feeds their suspicions and fears. No longer do we find reasoned debate and consideration of the best interests of a nation paraded in its public forums, but fear, innuendo and blind partisan politics determining outcomes, to the point where the world's most significant economy is brought to the brink of defaulting on its debts without consideration of the gravity and complexity of the situation or its consequences. The increased prevalence of minority governments in Australia and around the world reflects a deep disillusionment with the partisan approach to politics which has become more prevalent in a post-9/11 world.

There is no doubt that the 9/11 attacks have left enduring scars on the political, economic and military foundations not only of the USA, but on many Western nations. Unwittingly we have opted to fight the battle on the terms dictated by the terrorists, rather than calling to a higher ideal, and a higher principle. It makes for great headlines and sells more newspapers, but at what cost in the longer term? The challenges presented to us by the events of September 11 have not been overcome ten years on. It is hard to see where the catalyst to change the present tide will emerge from.

Posted by gary at 09:28 PM | Comments (0)

September 05, 2011

Why I Support Putting a Price on Carbon

Four years ago, both major political parties in Australia presented themselves to the electorate indicating that they would institute a carbon pricing scheme. Since that time there has been much more heat than light in relation to the issue. There are good reasons and benefits to introducing such a policy which is lost in the argy-bargy of political debate at the moment. These are the reasons I support a price on carbon.

Because it is the smart thing to do
Politicians wax eloquent about the years of coal supplies which are buried beneath the surface of Australian soil, but few lament the untapped sources of clean energy which are wasted every day. Solar, wind, thermal and tidal sources of power are much more plentiful and offer a sustainable way of powering our lifestyles than the use of brown-coal-fired electricity generation. Whether you believe the climate scientists or not, it is much smarter to develop renewable and sustainable forms of power generation, and to encourage a shift in our economy towards more sustainable forms of living.

Because it is the just thing to do

That Australian action to reduce carbon emissions will only result in a miniscule reduction in overall carbon emissions in the world is an oft-cited mantra for doing nothing, while China’s rapid increase in carbon emissions is regarded as an indication of greater blame. It is forgotten that Australia remains per capita the worst emitter of carbon pollution in the world, and tenth on the list of overall polluters. While our own efforts at reduction have minimal impact on overall production, it is patently unfair to shift the responsibility to other nations whose equivalent rate of emission is much lower than ours. The flip side of defending our overall production levels is a tacit approval for other nations to raise their per capita emissions to levels equivalent to Australia. Such an approach is diabolical. We cannot expect the burden of this to fall on those who are not responsible for its production, and who are often less capable of meeting the subsequent costs.

Because we all pay anyway
There is already a cost attached to the levels of carbon emissions in our world whether it be in the decline in the air quality across our cities and into the country, in the impact on the fertility of our soil and its capacity to grow crops, or in the more catastrophic impacts of extreme weather events which appear with increasing regularity. It is barely a generation past when it was considered appropriate for companies to discharge their water by-products into rivers and waterways – a practice we rightly abhor in this day, but which seemed natural at the time. To continue to release carbon into the atmosphere changes the chemical structure of the environment, for which we are already paying the cost. To charge it at the source rather than the fruit seems more equitable. An ounce of prevention…

Because we need a catalyst for change

Many corporations (and consumers) only begin to change their behaviour when the impact is felt in the hip pocket or on the bottom line. The cost of carbon pollution is presently being paid by a more vulnerable and less responsible group of people than those whose actions directly affect it. Making such decision-makers account for the impact of their actions, or at least their contribution to the impact, is a sure way to begin the behavioural change which is necessary. At the moment the system works like a lottery, where those who pay just happen to be in the path of a major weather event. A price on carbon brings this cost back home to its genesis, and provides not only a catalyst for change, but an incentive for innovation.

People either don't seem to understand that the point of the system is to encourage behavioural change, or don’t want to acknowledge that a change is needed. The opportunity is before us now to take action which, even if it makes a miniscule contribution to overall carbon emissions in the world, can make a significant difference to the way in which our lives in Australia interact with the land on which we so much depend. It’s time to swallow some medicine which will only serve to make us all the better for it.

Posted by gary at 01:19 PM | Comments (0)

May 02, 2011

Why I can't celebrate bin Laden's death

The reported death of Osama bin Laden has saturated the news media all day. In style of this communications era, I heard via SMS. My response was minimal, if slightly saddened. I often find myself saying words at a funeral which intimate that the death of the person is the death of a part of each one of us. I'd take that one step further - our response to the death of another is indicative and formative of who we are. As I have listened to reports and responses in the hours since, I find myself ever more deeply saddened. The first words I read were those of President Obama, who lauded the American achievement. "Tonight is a testament to the greatness of our country," he said. I wondered if he really meant what he said, or even fully understood it. After all, it only took 10 years, more than one trillion dollars, the death or mutilation of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, the almost complete destruction of two countries, and the sacrifice of hard-fought freedoms, but this great nation caught its one target. Perhaps we should take the president's statement with a little hint of irony, I thought.

And then I cringed at the response of our Australian political leaders. Osama bin Laden "had been brought to justice," declared the Leader of the Opposition. Really? I thought he was dead. No court on this planet can bring justice now - at least not in the way I thought the West understood it. And our PM welcomed not only the news of bin Laden's death, but the death itself. His death is one more tragedy in a long line, bringing about neither greater peace nor security.

People rightly point to the terrorist acts which bin Laden designed and/or inspired as justification for their rejoicing in his death. The use of destructive force against other human beings is rarely, if ever justifiable. We too easily overlook the death of tens of thousands of innocent civilians, regarded as collateral damage in pursuit of a larger cause. That this justification could readily be employed by both sides and gain a supportive hearing depending on the context is a stark reminder that the line between terrorism and pursuit of justice is an indistinct one, and is shaped by where one is born on this planet. Even President Obama recently declared - unashamedly - that resorting to violence to solve an argument was inappropriate. Such a response underlines the insanity which pervades political debate about war and violence.

Ought we celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden? He was a human being created in the image of God. What motivated him remains a quandary, but in order to find the way of peace and hope, we must find our common humanity with him, and others like him. It is when we dehumanise others that it becomes easier to kill them, to regard their lives as less than our own. Al Qaeda and its supporters celebrated the deaths of those in New York on September 11. While we celebrate his death we demonstrate ourselves to be alike him in ways we would not care to admit. From the perspective of his supporters and those who loved him, such celebrations are insensitive in the same way we regarded the earlier 9/11 celebrations of his supporters.

It always intrigues me to see photos of infamous killers as babes-in-arms, innocent and hopeful, loved and embraced... it gives me pause to wonder at what transpired to shape them into cruel and sadistic killers. Osama bin Laden was such a babe-in-arms once. What life, what world, took him down the pathway which was his life? The answer to that question might give us pause for thought when we consider celebrating his death today.

Posted by gary at 08:44 PM | Comments (0)

April 27, 2011

A 6-year-old writes a letter to God. And the Archbishop of Canterbury answers

The six-year-old's letter was very simple: "To God, How did you get invented?"

The archbishop's reply:

Dear Lulu,

Your dad has sent on your letter and asked if I have any answers. It's a difficult one! But I think God might reply a bit like this -

'Dear Lulu - Nobody invented me - but lots of people discovered me and were quite surprised. They discovered me when they looked round at the world and thought it was really beautiful or really mysterious and wondered where it came from. They discovered me when they were very very quiet on their own and felt a sort of peace and love they hadn't expected.

Then they invented ideas about me - some of them sensible and some of them not very sensible. From time to time I sent them some hints - specially in the life of Jesus - to help them get closer to what I'm really like.

But there was nothing and nobody around before me to invent me. Rather like somebody who writes a story in a book, I started making up the story of the world and eventually invented human beings like you who could ask me awkward questions!'

And then he'd send you lots of love and sign off.

I know he doesn't usually write letters, so I have to do the best I can on his behalf. Lots of love from me too.

+Archbishop Rowan

Read the Times Report

Posted by gary at 02:16 PM | Comments (0)

April 08, 2011

Public Space and the Libyan Stalemate

In January this year Tunisia's authoritarian president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who had ruled the country with an iron hand for 23 years was ousted in what is now known as the Jasmine revolution. Inspired by the transformation in their regional neighbours, Egyptians took to the streets of Cairo against the rule of Hosni Mubarak, an equally dictatorial regime which exercised authority over an apparently compliant people. In just 18 days, the 30-year rule of Mubarak was at an end, and a new era dawning in Egypt. Inspired by the events of its neighbouring countries, Libyan rebels were emboldened in their desire to oust another dictatorial leader in Muammar Gaddhafi. With a reign exceeding 40 years, there was a belief that the time had come for change. Anti-government rebels launched their offensive in Benghazi, it spread to the capital Tripoli and other cities with some rapidity, feeding the belief that change was imminent. But Gaddhafi did not lie down, launching a vigorous counter-attack. When it appeared that the rebels were about to be over-run, the United Nations stepped in, authorising the imposition of a no-fly zone, which has been enforced by action which appears to exceed that mandate. At best a stale-mate has been reached, and we must ask why it is that such dramatic change in its eastern and western neighbours has failed to be replicated in Libya. What is it that has clogged the pathway to change in Libya which has seemed a highway in Tunisia, Egypt, and this week in Cote d'Ivoire?

One critical difference is the use of public space. In Tunisia and Egypt, the protests brought increasing number of citizens out into the public squares in support of change. Sometimes the consequences were nothing short of brutal and shocking - such as the self-immolation protest in Tunisia. There were at times brutal exchanges in those places, but above all there was a growing unanimity and support amongst the gathered masses that they would accept no other outcome. The use of social media has been highlighted, but its strength was demonstrated only as people were prepared to leave their private spaces and risk themselves in public. It appears that such support has been missing in Libya. There is no doubt that Gaddhafi raised the stakes significantly - clearly demonstrating his intransigence and a preparedness to exact a high toll upon his people, but he appeared to have raised the stakes to a point where many Libyans were not prepared to pay the price of change. The call upon the international community - an entirely understandable request met with a response which was founded on compassion and protection for the vulnerable - only confirmed that those who had started this movement had not counted the cost and foreseen all the possibilities. It no longer became a call for change from within. It was no longer democracy at work so much as the war machine - the power of fear and destruction - which was being employed against Gaddhafi.

And thus we have a stalemate. The moral call for change in Libya emerging from the vox populi has been replaced by the might-is-right voice. The argument cannot be advanced without significant damage to the very people whom the interventionists profess to be fighting for. Whatever the outcome, democracy will not be the winner.

The public space has proven to be the most significant space of all in regime changes around the world in recent decades. No-one can forget the collapse of the Berlin wall, the encounter in Tiananmen Square, the overthrow of the Marcos regime in the Philippines. Each of these events transpired because the people took their stance in the public space and found themselves accompanied by a growing number of their compatriots. Without violence and bloodshed, significant change emerged. We have seen similar impacts in our own nation, looking back to the Moratorium marches against the Vietnam war, the streets clogged with trams, the marches for reconciliation, and the GetUp events against Workchoices. The extent of their impact varies, but each has made their collective mark upon the public psyche, each has brought about a change in the public realm.

In this increasingly privatised age, we are wont to forget the power of the public space. It is more than getting a face in the media, it is an indication of the preparedness of the people to get out of their comfortable spaces and claim the public space again - a space that is too readily left in the hands of celebrities, politicians, and media personnel to take the lead. When large numbers of people take to the streets, we see the true democratic voice being exercised, even more so than at the ballot box come election time.

Of course we would be foolish to believe that every venture into the public space brings about the change we desire. Gaddhafi has demonstrated that there are those who will fight back, sometimes with alarming and disproportionate force. People are killed in such circumstances, but that does not mean the end of their cause. This past week we have commemorated the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Who can forget his "I have a dream" speech, its echo reverberating through time, its passion still stirring today? King - and many who joined him in the public space calling for change - paid the highest price for their efforts. But their call for change lived beyond their deaths, and continues to bring new life and new hope to today's generation.

The fear is that the Libyan stalemate will be prolonged, with escalating costs in terms of human life and human well-being in Libya, and significant funds being diverted into continuing military efforts. It is a quagmire Libya - and the world - can ill-afford. But it should serve as a reminder that privatised solutions are not always the most effective or efficient, even when the alternative cost seems potentially high.

Posted by gary at 11:10 AM | Comments (0)

April 04, 2011

Is this a case of "None so blind..."?

"We stress the importance of calm and urge all parties to reject violence and resolve differences through dialogue..."
These words were uttered by U.S. President Obama after retaliatory strikes in Afghanistan in response to a reckless act of provocation to Muslims. One might ask what the U.S. is doing in Afghanistan and Iraq if it has rejected violence as a solution?! See the full story here.

Posted by gary at 11:38 AM | Comments (0)

March 21, 2011

A Game-Change in Libya?

The intervention of the United Nations into the Libyan struggle, while welcome at one level, and a game-changer at another, will also change the nature of any victory which ensues. The struggle for change in Libya commenced as an internal struggle, not unlike others seen in recent weeks in the Middle East, most recently Egypt, where the victory was won by non-violent revolution within the powers of the people. True democratic reform has taken place because it was the voice - and actions - of the people which prevailed. Libyan citizens, encouraged by what they had seen in the neighbouring country, took up the struggle for change. The time seemed right to bring the long rule of Colonel Gaddafi to an end. However, Gaddafi not only resisted the voices, he responded with force against his people, and the people were threatened.

At one level the response of the United Nations to sanction military intervention by other nations is understandable. Gaddafi was not going to go quietly, if at all, and the cost in terms of lives was set to escalate. Having stood by and watched such brutality in other countries unfold without intervention, and with an escalating and tragic cost in lives - both in terms of number of deaths and in the number of refugees created, the argument for intervention was made, and accepted. But in so doing, the nature of the struggle has changed.

The use of such a powerful force against the Gaddafi regime, nominally in enforcement of a "no-fly zone" changed the game significantly. No longer is this simply a battle for political transformation rooted in the power of the Libyan people, it has become a battle of forces far greater. Any victory is no longer an ideological victory based in arguments for a freer and fairer Libyan society, it has been shifted into a battle based on who can unleash the greatest force for the longest time. Paradoxically, an act taken to empower the Libyan people may well undermine the very case they are trying to make - that true political power is rooted in the voice of the people, not in the tyrannical exercise of force.

If Gaddafi manages to survive this assault, his position will be strengthened, and an argument can be made that the coalition has effectively undermined the moral authority of the arguments made by the Libyan people in their rebellion. If the UN coalition succeeds in removing Gaddafi from power, there consequently exists a moral claim upon whoever assumes power in his stead, one which has laid a foundation of power which still rests upon violence. The game will have been won, but a far different game than envisaged at the outset. It is no longer only the struggle of the Libyan people, it is now a battle between Gaddafi and the world. Any victory will thus create a power vacuum, echoing problems we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. And with the additional factor in the equation - Libya's oil reserves - at the heart of Western interests, a new power struggle emerges in the wake of any regime collapse.

We may well ask about the alternatives. Should we have let this struggle play itself out as an internal struggle, just as the world allowed to happen in Cairo? Do we not believe in the power of the people's voice - democracy - enough to let this struggle continue? Is the presence of oil the real catalyst for action, or a genuine and altruistic commitment to protect the Libyan people who began this uprising and were struggling to see it through? These are complex questions. But it is of concern that we turn so readily to the use of force to solve such problems... if such actions really do solve them at all. Is the ultimate answer to all tyrants only that we have the bigger weapons? What happens if they manage to gain the upper hand?

Posted by gary at 10:47 PM | Comments (0)

August 23, 2010

This is Just Weird

Talk about a strange coalition of events. Try this one.

But reality is often stranger than fiction. Consider the political situation presently being faced in Australia. A national election on Saturday has failed to deliver any party with an outright majority. Granted, that is de rigeur for Italian politics, but rather unusual in an Australian climate. The situation is made more complex by the fact that balance of power in the two houses of parliament are held by different ends of the political spectrum. The lower house, which forms the government of the day, has three independents from the political right who will ultimately determine who has the first opportunity to form government. These rural politicians are generally conservative in their views. In the Upper House, on the other hand, the balance of power falls to the Greens, who are at the left of the political spectrum (arguably the only party in Australia - with seats in parliament - who is on the left). Consider the challenge to be faced by a minority government: to have legislation which meets the demands of the three independent right-leaning MHRs on the one hand, and the Green left-leaning Senators on the other.

Sounds like a recipe for healthy government. Goodbye slogans, hello meaningful debate!


Sometimes the weird outcomes are the most productive~! (but time will tell...)

Posted by gary at 04:34 PM | Comments (0)

June 01, 2010

BP Ad from 1999

BP 1999.jpg

Posted by gary at 09:43 AM | Comments (0)

November 09, 2009

In the wrong game?

Here I thought that God was interested in helping the poor, but Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein reckons that it is the banks who are doing God's work by helping companies raise money.

I wonder what Bible Mr Blankfein is getting that from? Maybe he's better at raising money and rewarding executives than he is at interpreting scripture...

Posted by gary at 04:10 PM | Comments (0)

March 27, 2009

What's in a Name?

The number of people in Britain with surnames like Cockshott, Balls, Death and Shufflebottom has declined by up to 75 per cent in the last century.

A study found the number of people with the name Cock shrank to 785 last year from 3,211 in 1881, those called Balls fell to 1,299 from 2,904 and the number of Deaths were reduced to 605 from 1,133.

People named Smellie decreased by 70 per cent, Dafts by 51 per cent, Gotobeds by 42 per cent, Shufflebottoms by 40 per cent, and Cockshotts by 34 per cent, said Richard Webber, visiting professor of geography at King's College in London.

"If you find the [absolute] number goes down, it's either because they changed their names or they emigrated," Professor Webber, author of the study, said.

He said that in many cases, people probably changed their surnames as they came to be regarded as in bad taste.

"It's because the meaning of words can change. Take the name Daft - that as a term for a stupid is a relatively recent innovation."

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Daft meant "mild" or "meek" in Old English, whereas it means "foolish" today.

"That's why there are names which people think aren't really very pleasant names and you wonder why they persisted as long as they did."

Professor Webber, whose work can be seen on the website mapyourname.com, got his data for 2008 from credit card firm Experian and mapping service Geowise. He then compared it with the census of 1881.

Webber also discovered that the most popular names in Britain have not changed over the past 127 years.

Last year, Smith, Jones, Williams, Brown, Taylor and Davies held the top five spots, in exactly the same order as they did a century ago.

Professor Webber also found that between 1996 and 2008, the names Zhang, Wang, and Yang and experienced the fastest growth. Zhang rose by 4,719 per cent, while Wang grew by 2,225 per cent.

- Reuters

Posted by gary at 12:09 AM | Comments (0)

February 27, 2009

Are executive salaries part of our present problem?

We have been constantly reminded that one of the main reasons for high executive remuneration is the need to attract and retain world class leadership in our corporations. Consequently we have seen annual remuneration spiralling above $10m per annum in many of our largest corporations. Such packages not only mark significant reward for expertise, they create significant pressure on executives to produce results commensurate with their remuneration. To demonstrate to shareholders (and possibly to themselves) that they are worth such compensation, there is a subtle pressure to make changes in order to improve profitability, increase growth rates and shareholder returns. And quickly. It is quite feasible to recognise the pressure towards short-term thinking for quick improvement in a corporations reported fortunes. With the average rate of turnover less than five years, what benefit is there in working on developments which will have significant long-term benefits? What incentive is there to adopt short- and medium-term pain in order to set up a business for decades to come? The pressure to justify the remuneration creates an environment where it is beneficial to sacrifice long-term creative thinking for short-term creative restructure, and has perhaps encouraged increased risk-taking. It explains why so few companies are ahead of the curve when it comes to carbon emissions. Why it is easier to close an operation in Australia because costs are cheaper overseas. The bottom line in this year's report is more important than the well-being of the workers or the country in which you sell.
The pressures on business executives are immense and worthy of recognition and reward. But have we created extra (counter-productive) pressure by rewarding at the levels which have been evident in recent years?

Posted by gary at 10:25 PM | Comments (0)

February 03, 2009

Economic Realities and Opportunities

In the lifetime of most people there has never been the depth of economic instability which is in evidence today. Seismic shifts in economic activity in every sector are apparent as we see the unwinding of an economic boom which has lasted nearly two decades. Governments are working furiously in the hope to prevent this turning into another depression. The Australian government is still operating under the belief that it can stop the recession and prevent the falling in house and other asset prices. When you remember that the ultimate catalyst for this economic downturn (I use the term advisedly) was the collapse of the house of cards which propped up share and house prices in the USA – ill-secured debt. A perfunctory perusal of graphs showing the shift in share prices, house prices and household wealth over the last 60 years shows that we had long abandoned any attachment to the long-term trend line. But… such trend lines cannot be ignored unless there has been a quantum shift in the economy, such as happened during the industrial revolution. Such a shift is not yet evident, although the emergence of environmentally-sensitive technologies might be the basis of one (though not yet).
No Western government whose citizens have experienced this asset bubble will be able to escape its unwinding in this downturn. Long-term relationships are evidence of a deep-seated connection between the price of assets and absolute wealth. This bubble was created by profligate use of debt, which has ultimately been its undoing, and cannot be left behind until the debt has worked its way out of the system, either by repayment (unlikely in many cases) or in declared losses by corporations carrying the debt. No economic stimulus package can escape this reality.
So what are governments to do?
In the best interests of the country, the governments should invest in the next generation of infrastructure. In Australia, the targets are obvious: solar technology, public transport infrastructure, education, and communications are clearly areas of underinvestment which would benefit from government investment, which would not only provide employment in the present, but would also lay out a foundation for a more environmentally friendly and efficient future. We don’t need further tax cuts to be spent on plasma and LCD TVs. We need to move our economy away from dependence upon coal, iron ore exports and uranium to prop up (I use the term loosely) our current account. Let’s get ahead of the game. The country’s budgetary position is better placed than most to auspice such development at the moment.
The next two to three years will be difficult as the economy absorbs the realities being unwound. Now is the time to shift the paradigm. Now is the time to recognise opportunities. While companies are dealing with a shifting economy, let them factor in a serious carbon trading scheme, and let households be encouraged to invest in solar technology and water capture and recycling.
We dare not prop up industries and companies which we would be better off without in the long-term. Our task is not to maintain what is, but to facilitate what will be.
I fear, however, that our governments will squander the opportunity, to the detriment of us all.

Posted by gary at 03:39 PM | Comments (0)

January 23, 2009

Benediction at Inauguration

Text of the benediction by Rev. Joseph Lowery during President Barack Obama's inauguration, as transcribed by CQ Transcriptions:

___

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, thou, who has brought us thus far along the way, thou, who has by thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path we pray, lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee, lest our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee.

Shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand true to thee, oh God, and true to our native land.

We truly give thanks for the glorious experience we've shared this day.

We pray now, oh Lord, for your blessing upon thy servant Barack Obama, the 44th president of these United States, his family and his administration.

He has come to this high office at a low moment in the national, and indeed the global, fiscal climate. But because we know you got the whole world in your hands, we pray for not only our nation, but for the community of nations.

Our faith does not shrink though pressed by the flood of mortal ills.

For we know that, Lord, you are able and you're willing to work through faithful leadership to restore stability, mend our brokenness, heal our wounds, and deliver us from the exploitation of the poor, of the least of these, and from favoritism toward the rich, the elite of these.

We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our 44th president, to inspire our nation to believe that yes we can work together to achieve a more perfect union.

And while we have sown the seeds of greed — the wind of greed and corruption, and even as we reap the whirlwind of social and economic disruption, we seek forgiveness and we come in a spirit of unity and solidarity to commit our support to our president by our willingness to make sacrifices, to respect your creation, to turn to each other and not on each other.

And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.

And as we leave this mountain top, help us to hold on to the spirit of fellowship and the oneness of our family. Let us take that power back to our homes, our workplaces, our churches, our temples, our mosques, or wherever we seek your will.

Bless President Barack, First Lady Michelle. Look over our little angelic Sasha and Malia.

We go now to walk together as children, pledging that we won't get weary in the difficult days ahead. We know you will not leave us alone.

With your hands of power and your heart of love, help us then, now, Lord, to work for that day when nations shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors, when every man and every woman shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid, when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around ... when yellow will be mellow ... when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen.

Posted by gary at 10:03 AM | Comments (0)

Transcript of Inaugural Poem

Elizabeth Alexander, a professor at Yale University, wrote the inaugural poem for Barack Obama. Below is a transcription of her poem, provided by CQ Transcriptwire:

JANUARY 20, 2009

Praise song for the day.

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching
each others' eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is
noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our
ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole
in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons
on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, "Take out your
pencils. Begin."

We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or
declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then
others who said, "I need to see what's on the other side; I know there's
something better down the road."

We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we
cannot yet see.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the
dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,
picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering
edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every
hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by "Love thy neighbor as thy self."

Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial,
national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to
preempt grievance.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any
sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp -- praise song for walking
forward in that light.

Posted by gary at 10:01 AM | Comments (0)

January 22, 2009

President Obama's Inauguration Address

This not only makes interesting and inspiring reading, it also reveals much of the rhythm, meter and style of his oratory. Let us pray that the reality lives up to the oratory.


January 21, 2009

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our healthcare is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land -- a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America -- they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted -- for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things -- some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions -- that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act -- not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise healthcare's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions -- who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them -- that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works -- whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day -- because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control -- and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart -- not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort -- even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West -- know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment -- a moment that will define a generation -- it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job, which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends -- hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism -- these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence -- the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed -- why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world ... that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive ... that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back, nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

source: Los Angeles Times

Posted by gary at 09:57 AM | Comments (0)

November 06, 2008

A Seminal Moment in History?

It is not often that one can identify seminal moments in history as they are unfolding, but yesterday was one of those days. The election of Barack Obama as President of the United States of America breaks down arguably one of the most significant barriers in the USA, at the same time as inviting us into a new paradigm of political thinking. Given that Obama is only one of five blacks elected to the Senate in its history, his elevation to the Whitehouse is an astonishing leap forward. And in doing so, Obama has inspired average punters in ways not seen on the political landscape in a generation.
Obama's victory speech last night was masterful in its rhetoric. At times he sounded like the archetypal black preacher in the pulpit. He has brought to the main stage of American culture something that has existed across a broad subculture. Yet for me, the seminal moment emerged from his description of the experience of the 106-year-old Georgian woman, who has emerged from a society in which there were two reasons why she was not able to vote - being a woman, and because of the colour of her skin - into a society where she can vote for a black president. In this vignette, Obama cast his view forward a century and asked what society his daughters might experience if they were to live to such an age. This rare sense of vision and perspective is perhaps the most encouraging of all his calls. Politicians rarely look past the next election, and many seem not to think further than the next opinion poll, and we suffer short-term thinking in so many costly ways. For a leader to ask us to imagine the world in 100 years is to free us from terminal thinking of impossibility, and to free us from immediate responsibility for its fulfilment, but at the same time to energise our imaginations and therefore shape our perspective in ways which begin the transformation.
Time will tell whether Obama makes a good president, although when using his predecessor as a point of comparison, it will be difficult to imagine him not being an improvement. He has, however, set lofty ideals which will be hard to match. He does come to office at a time of deep turmoil and radical reassessment. This should play into the hands of a reformer as the case for change does not need to be strongly made. The question being asked in these tumultuous economic times is, "what change is most needed?" By pointing to high ideals, Obama at least has invited us to look beyond our own self-interest and to consider the interests of our planet, and to reconsider what we value as important.
And importantly, Obama brings to the office of the President a unique perspective amongst Presidents. He brings the perspective of the underside of history, of the marginalised and oppressed voices. While not himself a son of slavery, he has lived as one of a class whose history, ideals, suffering, and imagery has not been central to the experience of its leadership, let alone decision-making, Perhaps here we need to honour the leadership offered by George W Bush, who has recognised the gifts and talents of Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice and in some small way provided a model to the American people which depicts capable black leadership... a legacy on which Obama has built.
In recent times, seminal moments in history might well have occurred more regularly, but yesterday will stand as a beacon in marking a cultural shift which cannot be turned back. Whether it marks a shift in other ways for the USA and the world will be learned in the unfolding of the years ahead. The seeds of hope and of a different future were on display yesterday, and I pray that these seeds bear fruit.

Posted by gary at 09:27 AM | Comments (0)

October 20, 2008

The Economic Crisis

"Is it possible for someone to please explain in simple English with simple examples how this crisis came to be?" Here at Crikey, we like to help. So we bring you without further ado, the first (and possibly last) episode of the Wall Street crisis explained. The first instalment is brought to you by fellow Crikey reader Tony Stott, and is titled, The parable of the stock market and the monkeys:

Tony Stott writes: Once upon a time in a village, a man appeared and announced to the villagers that he would buy monkeys for $10 each. The villagers seeing that there were many monkeys around, went out to the forest, and started catching them. The man bought thousands at $10 and as supply started to diminish, the villagers stopped their effort. He further announced that he would now buy at $20. This renewed the efforts of the villagers and they started catching monkeys again.

Soon the supply diminished even further and people started going back to their farms. The offer increased to $25 each and the supply of monkeys became so little that it was an effort to even see a monkey, let alone catch it! The man now announced that he would buy monkeys at $50! However, since he had to go to the city on some business, his assistant would now buy on behalf of him. In the absence of the man, the assistant told the villagers.

"Look at all these monkeys in the big cage that the man has collected. I will sell them to you at $35 and when the man returns from the city, you can sell them to him for $50 each."

The villagers rounded up with all their savings and bought all the monkeys. Then they never saw the man, nor his assistant again, only monkeys everywhere!

Now you have a better understanding of how the stock market works.

Posted by gary at 11:39 AM | Comments (0)

August 28, 2008

High Petrol Price Savings!

Australian road fatality figures are down 11.6% across the first seven months of 2008 accelerating a downward trend which has been evident over recent years. Could this be attributable to changed driving habits as a result of higher petrol prices?
American trauma statistics back this thesis up even further, where road fatalities fell by 22.1% in March and 17.9% in April - the latest figures available, but which appear to be continuing through May and June. WHilst some of this might be attributable to a lowering in the distance travelled, it is more likely that the greater proportion is attributable to improved driving habits to increase fuel economy.
Which raises an interesting economic question. If fatalities are down this much, how much reduction in serious injury is also evident, with what saving in health costs? Dare it be suggested that higher fuel costs might actually be cheaper overall for the economy, even if not for individuals within it?

Posted by gary at 11:38 AM | Comments (0)

August 08, 2008

Countries or Corporations?

Quote worth pondering:

We can't let little countries screw around with big companies like this - companies that have made big investments around the world.

- a Chevron lobbyist, who asked not to be identified, speaking about a lawsuit brought on behalf of thousands of Indigenous Ecuadorian peasants over the dumping of billions of gallons of toxic oil wastes into their region's rivers and streams. Chevron is pressuring the Bush administration to eliminate special trade preferences for Ecuador if its government doesn't quash the case.
(Source: Newsweek)

Posted by gary at 10:28 AM | Comments (0)

July 10, 2008

The Voice of Fear

The suggestion that we should begin a carbon trading scheme in Australia in 2010 has set the voices of fear alight, once again proving the difficulty of conducting serious and mature political debate in this country. What is most disappointing is hearing the Victorian Premier, John Brumby, starting to forecast electricity shortages even before the complete debate about the scheme has got into first gear. The news report last night forecast shortages this coming summer, which is pure nonsense. How can a non-existent emissions trading scheme in the summer of 2008-2009 result in shortages of supply? I am unsure whether this fear-mongering is an interpretation placed by a reporter over the Premier's remarks, but it underlines the sense of disappointment in the moral fibre of our leadership when they start playing on short-term fears. It is the type of politics we hoped to have seen the last of for some time in the wake of the defeat of the Howard government, which was masterful in such politics.
While the science of global warming has much to both commend and question, there is no doubt that in terms of the health of the planet we are entering into uncharted waters. Instead of crying "Wolf!" or doing the Chicken Little act: "The Sky is Falling!" perhaps we would hope that our leadership might point to the opportunities for innovative and creative solutions to the identified problem of increased carbon emissions. Alas, it seems that we would rather play fear and avoid responsibilities.
In Australia it is hard to justify the absence of a serious effort at solar power and other forms of renewable energy. Instead of playing fear, we should be positioning our state and nation to be at the forefront of renewable energy. So we might have to let brown coal - in such abundant supply - remain in the ground for a longer period. What loss is there if we can develop new export industries which have a healthier contribution to the planet?
It remains to be seen whether the Federal Government has the guts to do the hard work. They'll be peppered with fear on all sides.

Posted by gary at 02:41 PM | Comments (0)

April 01, 2008

The power of a signature

...poignant message from Amnesty International

With thanks to Stan for drawing my attention to it!

Posted by gary at 11:31 PM | Comments (0)

February 14, 2008

Sorry Day Prayer

I posted this prayer yesterday on heardaboutthisone. I reproduce it here today alongside the text of the apology delivered yesterday by the Australian Government to the Stolen Generations. This prayer was written for Sorry Day, reflecting concern for the plight of Indigenous Australians.

Almighty and loving God, you who created ALL people in your image,
Lead us to seek your compassion as we listen to the stories of our past.
You gave your only Son, Jesus, who died and rose again so that sins will be forgiven.
We place before you the pain and anguish of dispossession of land, language, lore, culture and family kinship that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have experienced.
We live in faith that all people will rise from the depths of despair and hopelessness.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families have endured the pain and loss of loved ones, through the separation of children from their families.
We are sorry and ask God's forgiveness.
Touch the hearts of the broken, homeless and inflicted and heal their spirits.
In your mercy and compassion walk with us as we continue our journey of healing to create a future that is just and equitable.
Lord, you are our hope.
Amen.

Posted by gary at 07:10 AM | Comments (0)

Text of the Apology to The Stolen Generations

This is the full text of the apology delivered in Parliament yesterday by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd:

Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations - this blemished chapter in our nation's history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.

Let us pray that the apology will be received by all in the spirit in which it is intended. Let us pray that it will result in our Aboriginal brothers and sisters being able to experience a sense of the closing of a dark chapter of their history, and the healing and release of past hurts and memories. Pray that the apology will release in our nation a fresh spirit of hope and the ability to now look to a future as one people and to work together towards the removal on any injustices, real or perceived, that still exist, until equality is not only spoken of, but also evident in the practical realities of everyday life.

Posted by gary at 07:07 AM | Comments (0)

February 13, 2008

Apology to the Stolen Generations

I found tears welling in my eyes this morning as I listened to the broadcast of proceedings from Parliament House in Canberra as the final preparations for the delivery of the apology from the Australian Government to the Stolen Generations was made. It was a moment of both relief and thankfulness that this well-overdue apology was made, and a platform laid for moving forward in a spirit of honesty and cooperation.
Indigenous Australia has suffered greatly from European Settlement, not just with the Stolen Generations but began with the creeping assumption of land from them, depriving them of livelihood, sacred sites and freedom of movement. The treatment meted out to Aboriginal peoples has been a scar on this nation’s history, one kept hidden for too long. The release of the “Bringing them Home” report in 1997 for the first time openly detailed the impact of policies which endured during my own schooling years, not to mention the continuing approach which comes at high cost to Indigenous Australia.
Today, some sense of pride was restored for me: pride in our political institutions and pride in our national character, a pride which will always be tinged with a sense of shame that it took so long to acknowledge what our country has done. I long to see the day when not only a mace sits in parliament – a symbolic reminder of the power of the speaker, but a symbol of the Indigenous heritage of our land sits alongside it, so that Parliament will never sit with its eyes unable to see the Indigenous people of this land.
Let me adapt a line from the second verse of the Australian National Anthem: “With courage let us NOW combine to Advance Australia fare”

Posted by gary at 01:50 PM | Comments (0)

November 27, 2007

Philip Adams on the Election outcome

Adams goes a long way to explaining the sense of relief which accompanied the election outcome for me in this blog post from The Australian.

SPARE me the sentimental tosh about John Howard. Here’s why his departure is a joyous occasion.

The scene: The Great Hall at the University of Sydney. The grand opening of a conference for the Centre for the Mind. Crowds have gathered to see Nelson Mandela cut the ribbon. As chairman of the advisory board it is my duty to welcome our patron, the Prime Minister. That long-time opponent of sanctions against apartheid South Africa will then welcome Mandela. When I complain bitterly about my chore, the vice-chancellor murmurs, “Protocol.”

A last-minute phone call from a protocol officer in the PM’s department.

“Do you really want to introduce the PM?” he asks.

“Of course I bloody well don’t!”

“Yes, it would be a bit hypocritical.”

“Not as hypocritical as the PM introducing Mandela.”

The resolution? The VC will introduce Howard. I’ll move the vote of thanks. When I explain the change, Mandela isn’t fussed but asks me: “How’s Paul Keating getting on?”

This backstage kerfuffle is nothing to Malcolm Fraser’s loud performance in front of the gathering dignitaries, including the PM. He tells of a crisis early in his prime ministership involving Vietnamese close to the Australian embassy. They are understandably desperate to be allowed into this country. Fraser phones Gough Whitlam, who agrees they should be welcomed. “So did my entire cabinet, except for one person. Guess who!” And he points the finger at Howard.

The scene: John Laws’s 2UE studio in 1988. Anticipating One Nation by many years, Howard warns the nation of the dangers of Asian immigration. So outraged is the response to his statement that Howard loses his job as Opposition leader a year later.

The scene: A new prime minister manipulates Hansonism in the mid to late 1990s. Forget dog-whistle politics. In a campaign as deafening as any air raid siren, Howard declares war on multiculturalism and political correctness. White Australia rises from its grave. Bigotry is unleashed via an epidemic of racist graffiti, schoolyard attacks and shock-jock broadcasting. Thanks to the main parties’ accommodation of One Nation, Australian racism is world news.

The scene: A few thousand refugees flee the Taliban and Saddam Hussein in 2001. Howard brands them queue jumpers, illegals and has cohorts hint that they’re terrorists. The Tampa sails into view and our detention of decent people in concentration camps becomes an international disgrace. Kim Beazley rolls over. The ALP is complicit in this political pornography, this immense stunt. Kids overboard. The Australian Navy is appalled by what it’s ordered to do. More than 350 die on the SievX. All this wins Howard another term.

The scene: 9/11. Howard jumps the queue to sign up for the misconceived war on terror and the horror story of the Iraq invasion. Immense numbers of Iraqis are killed. We are complicit in hundreds of thousands of deaths, in Abu Ghraib, in torture, in rendition. It isn’t democracy that blossoms in the Middle East. It’s terrorism. To this day Howard insists that the fiasco of Iraq is a success.

The scene: Guantanamo Bay. Howard permits the monstrous treatment of David Hicks.

The scene: The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission prepares Bringing Them Home, the tragic account of the stolen generations. Before publication date in 1997, Howard’s bovver boys not only deride the document but slander Ronald Wilson. Historical revisionism kicks in. Reconciliation is rejected. The black-white divide deepens. Quadrant crows. Pauline Hanson is pleased.

The scene: The Kelly gang - the husbands of retiring member Jackie Kelly and her would-be replacement - are caught distributing a piece of crap designed to press the hot buttons on anti-Muslim bigotry. We’re told this attempt to throw fuel on the world’s most inflammatory issue is a prank. The PM promptly denies any knowledge of this dirtiest of dirty tricks, yet it sits within the culture of bigotry he has encouraged over many years.

The scene: As the election gains pace, Howard’s immigration minister Kevin Andrews targets the alleged criminality of Sudanese refugees and immigrants. Deja vu all over again.

The scene: A few days before the election, Howard is asked to list his proudest achievements. Right up front he says the destruction of - yes - political correctness.

Is Howard a bigot? His support of apartheid South Africa, his long-term indifference to the issues of Aboriginal Australia, his exploitation of the refugee issue and his on-the-record hostility to Asian immigration would suggest so. Or is he a main-chancer, a cunning manipulator of other people’s fears and racism? If the latter, isn’t that morally worse? That’s why I’m not shedding tears at Howard’s departure. Because his fondness for the Menzies era involved the revival of too many aspects of White Australia. No other modern PM on either side of politics would have touched it with a barge pole.

Posted by gary at 11:41 AM | Comments (0)

October 18, 2007

Bury me with...

British charity Age Concern, which promotes the interests of elderly people, polled more than 100,000 of its customers and found that being buried with their pet's ashes was the most common funeral rite request. However, some of the other requests represent an interesting fear.

The top eight requests were:
1. To be cremated with their pet's ashes;
2. To have a mobile phone in the coffin;
3. To ensure they are dead;
4. For a mirror to be held over the face to check for signs of breathing;
5. To be cremated naked;
6. To be buried in their own garden;
7. To be buried with their teeth in;
8. To be buried with all their savings.

Number eight suggests that there are still those who want to argue that you can take it with you.

Me? Do what you want with my body when I'm gone, as I'm not going to have much use for it!!

ABC news

Posted by gary at 12:23 PM | Comments (0)

October 11, 2007

Latest on Dawn Rowan

The latest news is not encouraging: http://dawnrowandocuments.blogspot.com/

Posted by gary at 04:35 PM | Comments (0)

October 04, 2007

Burma

Burma's generals have brought their brutal iron hand down on peaceful monks and protesters -- but in response, a massive global outcry is gathering pace. The roar of global public opinion is being heard in hundreds of protests outside Chinese and Burmese embassies, people round the world wearing the monks' color red, and on the internet - where our petition has exploded to over 200,000 signers in just 72 hours.

People power can win this. Burma's powerful sponsor China can halt the crackdown, if it believes that its international reputation and the 2008 Olympics in Beijing depend on it. To convince the Chinese government and other key countries, Avaaz is launching a major global and Asian ad campaign on Wednesday, including full page ads in the Financial Times and other newspapers, that will deliver our message and the number of signers. We need 1 million voices to be the global roar that will get China's attention. If every one of us forwards this email to just 20 friends, we'll reach our target in the next 72 hours. Please sign the petition at the link below - if you haven't already - and forward this message to everyone you care about:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/stand_with_burma/t.php

The pressure is working - already, there are signs of splits in the Burmese Army, as some soldiers refuse to attack their own people. The brutal top General, Than Shwe, has reportedly moved his family out of the country – he must fear his rule may crumble.

The Burmese people are showing incredible courage in the face of horror. We're broadcasting updates on our effort over the radio into Burma itself – telling the people that growing numbers of us stand with them. Let's do everything we can to help them – we have hours, not days, to do it. Please sign the petition and forward this email to at least 20 friends right now. Scroll down our petition page for details of times and events to join in the massive wave of demonstrations happening around the world at Burmese and Chinese embassies.

A support rally is planned for this Saturday at noon in Melbourne (Federation Square). I will be conducting a wedding at that time, otherwise I would be there.

Posted by gary at 12:32 PM | Comments (0)

September 24, 2007

The Sinister Story Behind Chocolate

This story might be regarded as bad news for those chocaholics among us...

originally published in The Age, September 18, 2007

Chocolate is regarded as a treat, a sweet luxury often given as a gift. But that is only part of its story. The rest is more sinister. Two hundred years after the British Empire abolished the slave trade, nearly half the world's chocolate is made from cocoa grown in Ivory Coast, West Africa, where tens of thousands of children are forced to work on plantations as slaves.

A 2002 study estimated that at least 284,000 children were trapped in forced labour in the West African cocoa industry, the majority of these — some 200,000 — were to be found in Ivory Coast. Even the most conservative estimates, including those by the chocolate companies themselves, concede that the number of chocolate slaves is at least 12,000.

These children are forced to apply pesticides without protective clothing and to work for up to 12 hours a day on the plantations for little or no pay. Their toil helps the giant chocolate makers produce the chocolate we find on the shelves of our stores.

Parliamentarian and social justice crusader William Wilberforce, whose life-long crusade resulted in the abolition of the slave trade — which then formed a critical part of the economic foundations of the British Empire — would be horrified. A recent feature film, Amazing Grace, heralds Wilberforce's crusade to free the slaves, yet the tragedy is that more people are ensnared in slavery today than in the entire 400 years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Human trafficking generates $A37 billion annually and enslaves at least 12 million around the globe. Some estimates even put the number of people enslaved as high as 27 million. And the epicentre of today's slave trade is in Australia's backyard — South-East Asia.

The tragic nature of this industry is evident when you realise that the average age of a girl locked in sexual slavery in South-East Asia is 12 or 13.

However complex this trade in people, it is inescapable that there is a strong and foundational link between poverty and modern-day slavery. People who are poor are more vulnerable. We can't fight slavery without fighting poverty.

Overseas aid is critical to developing better public justice systems but it is also important in providing livelihoods for emancipated slaves.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, people trafficking is the world's fastest-growing crime, already bigger than the international drug trade and second only to the illegal buying and selling of arms.

But action is being taken. Stop The Traffik, the organisation I founded three years ago, now has more than 600 member organisations in 60 countries around the globe determined to raise awareness of the problem and to demand action at all levels to bring it to an end. One of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal is as consumers. In 2000, the chief executives of the major chocolate makers were hauled before the US Senate and a bill was proposed that would require the chocolate industry to certify all their chocolate as "slave-free".

The cocoa industry successfully lobbied against this, arguing that the supply chain for cocoa was complex, with middlemen buying the beans and mixing them before selling them on to conglomerate buyers.

But such major companies control the market and they can determine under what conditions they buy their cocoa beans. Unless the industry can guarantee that our chocolate is not made from beans picked by trafficked children, then we will never make progress. Industry must be able to tell people which farms beans are from and must guarantee no trafficked labour.

Consumers for their part should buy chocolate only from those companies that give this guarantee. It is a practical way we can all contribute to today's crusade to end modern-day slavery.

Human trafficking is a global problem that requires a global response. At the end of his life William Wilberforce referred to the battle against slavery as "unfinished business". Today, working together, we can complete the task.

Steve Chalke is founder of the global Stop The Traffik campaign.

Posted by gary at 04:05 PM | Comments (0)

September 14, 2007

World Vision's Triennial Council

Jim Wallis makes some interesting and encouraging reports on the most recent World Vision triennial council in Singapore.

A World of Hope (by Jim Wallis)

Last week I had the great blessing of participating in World Vision’s Triennial Council held in Singapore. It drew together almost 500 people—World Vision’s country directors and many staff, board chairs, and members from every region of the world, as well as the international board of directors who will guide and govern what has become the largest relief and development organization in the world. World Vision has grown enormously, especially in the last several years, and is seeking to determine its future direction. The organization serves 100 million people in almost 100 countries, with 23,000 staff members and an annual budget of $2 billion. It was indeed a privilege to deliver the opening and closing addresses and to have many opportunities to interact with this extraordinary and significant group of people each day of the conference.

I saw an organization in the dynamic process of moving from alleviation to transformation. I felt the passion of an international community of humanitarian faith-based workers who care deeply about the poorest children of the world, and who clearly yearn to embrace a God of justice, not merely a God of charity. That was the call they responded to in Singapore. The response was especially powerful from those from the global South, where the churches are growing dramatically and the conditions of life for so many have forced the people of God to address the issues of global justice.

The response of World Vision to the Asian tsunami was especially impressive, along with so many other places where natural disasters and human conflicts have caused so much suffering over the last three years. But we talked about how the greatest “disaster” in the world today is the very structure of the global order itself, and how disasters such as the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina only serve to reveal these underlying injustices. If we are to be faithful to the biblical vision, we must judge those global structures to be unjust.

Organizations such as World Vision have the choice of merely being the beneficiaries of the guilt of the developed world in serving the victims of an unjust global order, or they can serve the poor in a way that shines a spotlight on global injustice and the moral imperative for transformation. It is more and more clear that World Vision desires to make the second choice. Many from the global South told me they had never heard an American speak this way, but the Americans at Singapore were also clearly in sync with the need for World Vision’s prophetic vocation.

We must be Christians first, the World Vision delegates strongly affirmed, and citizens of nations and members of tribes second. Today, globalization seems to have an inevitable logic, but no comparable ethic. But international bodies such as World Vision, which know no geopolitical boundaries, could help create the ethics and values that globalization now lacks.

World Vision now has three organizational pillars: relief, development, and advocacy. Advocacy is the newest and most controversial pillar, but the imperative to deal with the root causes of human suffering, with the injustice that leads to disaster for so many, and with the policies of nations and international organizations that obstruct real solutions to poverty, has developed a real momentum within the organization. And rather than just becoming another lobby group, their deepest response was to the vocation of “changing the wind” of international politics and priorities.

“World Vision changed this week,” many people said to me as I departed. We could all feel it. It seemed that what has been growing within the organization for some time took a great leap forward during those days in Singapore, and there is no turning back. World Vision will not just be a collector of a guilty, affluent world’s donations to sponsor poor children, but rather a catalyst to help build a global movement for spiritual and social transformation. World Vision’s size, influence, and credibility positions the organization very well to be a prophetic leader in that movement for justice on the global stage that speaks truth to power—not just as a service provider when disaster strikes.

On the last day we spoke about a biblical theology of hope in a world of pain, and how hope, backed by faith, was the key to bringing about the global sea changes we desperately need. The choice today is less between belief and secularism, but between hope and cynicism. The theme of the final day was “A World of Hope,” and what I saw and felt at World Vision’s Singapore Triennial Council made me very hopeful indeed.

Posted by gary at 07:58 AM | Comments (0)

Sav Rocca's "Welcome to NFL"

This commentator has obviously never seen an AFL (Aussie Rules) game! Watch how Rocca just brushes it off as inconsequential...

Posted by gary at 12:02 AM | Comments (0)

September 13, 2007

Chaser APEC stunt


Posted by gary at 06:28 PM | Comments (0)

September 12, 2007

Dawn Rowan Update

The Australian Government continues to pursue Dawn Rowan to bankruptcy, not responding to any pleas made on Dawn Rowan's behalf. Minister Mal Brough, who has responsibility for the case, is stonewalling in the face of thousands of submissions. Today Tonight in Adelaide included an update on August 23, the night before Dawn's most recent court appearance. This is the first video.

The second video is an updated report from Adelaide's Today Tonight on August 24, detailing the surprising response from Dawn in court.

Visit http://dawnrowansaga.blogspot.com/ for regular updates. Write to Minister Brough to make your submission on Dawn's behalf.

Posted by gary at 05:15 PM | Comments (0)

August 28, 2007

Assimilation lives!

Sorry - rant coming...

The recent changes to laws relating to Indigenous communities has been a hotly debated issue, as the Federal Government has moved to quell what it claims is an epidemic of child abuse. The government has assumed control of all Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, including the removal of land rights and the scrapping of the permit system which allowed Indigenous communities to control who had access to their land. Whilst acknowledging the existence of problems in many (not all) Indigenous communities, one has to be suspicious of a return to the paternalistic policies of bygone eras. Surely we can trust Indigenous people to work through the issues, properly supported by the government, rather than simply told what to do.

But the real agenda was released today when the PM declared that the only way forward for Indigenous people was assimilation:
"We have a simple aim and that is whilst respecting the special place of Indigenous people in the history and the life of this country, their future can only be as part of the mainstream of the Australian community," he said, reported in an ABC news item. This is simply appalling - a declared return to the type of cultural imperialism which has left a series of messes around the world, not least of all most recently in Iraq. Whilst the Western way of life offers many positives, there are serious downsides (which unsurprisingly our PM refuses to acknowledge: climate and environmental issues amongst the prime)

It's time we recognised that cultures are not morally neutral. There are good and bad elements in every culture. Pretending that our Western culture is perfect - or better in every way - exhibits a blindness of fatal proportions. Unfortunately the cost will fall most heavily on our Indigenous peoples and the lands they (now) own.

Indigenous Australians have survived in this land far longer than we, who would not ourselves have survived but for the wisdom of the Indigenous people. We've created many of these problems, let's help and support these communities in resolving the issues in their own ways - in ways which give proper respect to their culture.

Posted by gary at 07:55 PM | Comments (0)

August 18, 2007

The Continuing Dawn Rowan Saga

Let me encourage you to act in support of Dawn Rowan, whose full story can be found here. Dawn is subject to bankruptcy proceedings by the Federal Government arising from an action to (successfully) defend herself against baseless claims made in a government report. Dawn is the pioneer of the Women's Shelter movement in South Australia.

An update from a supporter reads:
Thanks everyone for the email/postcard/letter/personal campaigns you
have waged to contact Federal parliamentarians on Dawn's behalf. Let's keep those contacts happening.

The ball is now apparently in the court of Senator Nick Minchin. Here's his email address: why not contact him as soon as you've read this?

Philip Ruddock has replied with form-letters to those who sent letters or postcards. I don't think anyone's yet heard from Mal Brough, or the PM, or Peter Costello. Parliament sits again in a week's time, so hopefully there'll be some personal lobbying happening then. [Parliament is now sitting]

One or two have mentioned a rumour going around Adelaide about Dawn's
alleged refusal to negotiate a settlement with the Commonwealth. See her Blog for an answer to that falsehood:

Last week in the South Australian Upper House Greens senator Mark
Parnell asked the SA Attorney-General a question about Dawn's case. It's here: and I've put it on to Dawn's Blog.

Dawn goes to Adelaide for her next bankruptcy hearing on 24th August.
Can Adelaide friends be there to support her? Thanks.

Posted by gary at 05:12 PM | Comments (0)

August 08, 2007

Should they license parents?

I found myself asking this question when reading the following news report:

A New Zealand couple is looking to call their newborn son Superman - but only because their chosen name of 4Real has been rejected by the government registry. The couple originally decided on the name because when they saw the ultrasound they decided that their son was "for real". I only wish that the boy's parents were. I'm sure he's going to thank them profusely when he hits the playground, whatever his parents finally settle on.... "Superman!!! Are you for real?!"

I have some friends who adopted an overseas child, and received a certificate to prove that they were competent parents before the adoption went through. This NZ couple is putting forward a good argument for spreading the net wider. Just because a couple can procreate doesn't make them sane, sensible and reasonable people!

Posted by gary at 08:15 PM | Comments (0)

July 14, 2007

The Greatest Nuclear Threat?

There is a deal of concern expressed about the dangers of countries getting hold of nuclear weapons. Coupled with increasing interest in nuclear energy in Australia - widely regarded as a safer and carbon-reducing form of power generation (itself a point subject to intense debate), news of the death of an Iranian Nuclear Scientist ought to give us all pause for thought. The scientist died from poisoning with uranium hexafluoride gas at a uranium conversion facility. Such accidents raise concerns about the possibilities of another Chernobyl.
It could well be argued that there are few redeeming features for nuclear fuel, and all of them are outweighed by the potential downside. While we continue to invest energy, resources, money, and time into nuclear and oil-based energies, the renewable energy option continues to suffer - along with the entire planet - from neglect.

Posted by gary at 05:28 PM | Comments (0)

July 09, 2007

There's No Place for Hell in a Catholic School

A local Catholic school has relented after initially refusing to enrol a student in their prep class whose surname was Hell. The school was (apparently) concerned the boy would be teased. Hell could not ultimately be vanquished and now inhabits its hallowed halls!

Posted by gary at 04:12 PM | Comments (0)

June 20, 2007

The Dawn Rowan Story

I wrote of Dawn's story recently. Here is the news story presenting a more detailed account. It is split into two parts:

Part 1:


Part 2:

It is a remarkable story of the woman who pioneered the women's shelter movement, yet who has found that fighting domestic violence comes at a high cost - from unexpected places.
To find out more: http://dawnrowansaga.blogspot.com/

Posted by gary at 11:00 AM | Comments (2)

May 30, 2007

A Travesty of Justice - The Dawn Rowan Saga

The Australian Government has just spent $500,000 to bring David Hicks home from Guantanamo Bay after a trial which itself was a travesty of justice. But this is 'peanuts' compared to the millions of taxpayers' money wasted on prosecuting an innocent woman, Dawn Rowan. See http://dawnrowansaga.blogspot.com/.

She won a long-running case against the SA and Commonwealth Governments - and now they're pursuing her for costs, which will bankrupt her - and not only has she been declared innocent all through 21 years, she has been found to be the victim of some rather questionable actions by the state!

For a more detailed telling of the story, see the report from Channel 7's Today Tonight program by going to the front page of
http://jmm.aaa.net.au.

Rowland Croucher of John Mark Ministries is prepared to answer any questions you mightahave about this sorry saga and misuse of government power. Feel free to contact him:
(rccroucheroptusnet.com.au).

Posted by gary at 09:00 PM | Comments (0)

May 17, 2007

US baby gets gun permit

This beggars belief... from the ABC

He can barely walk or talk, but 11-month-old "Bubba" Ludwig is already a fully paid up member of America's firearms fraternity, with a 12-gauge Beretta shotgun and a gun permit to his name.

The shotgun was a gift from his grandfather who bought it as an heirloom for his grandson when the infant was just two-weeks-old.

The gun permit came courtesy of the Illinois state authorities last month.

Even in a country with fervent gun advocates, news of an infant owning a gun has made headlines in US newspapers.

The toddler's father, also named Howard Ludwig, applied for a Firearm Owner's Identification Card (FOID) for his son, never imagining that he would actually get one.

"I filled in the form, saying he was two feet, three inches, 20 pounds, and I included a photo of him," said Mr Ludwig, who is a columnist for the Daily Southtown, a suburban Chicago newspaper.

The 30-year-old also had his son "sign" the application form, by putting a pen in his hand and letting him write a squiggle on the paper.

"I was expecting to get a letter back telling me I was an idiot. So when I got his FOID card (permit) back I was shocked. I couldn't believe it."

In Illinois, all firearms owners must apply for a permit, or FOID, in order to legally own a firearm or ammunition but there are no age restrictions on applicants, although anyone under 21 has to get the written consent of a parent or legal guardian, according to the Illinois State Police website.

For now, the shotgun is under lock and key at the home of Howard Ludwig senior.

Grandpa Ludwig plans to keep the shotgun under wraps until "Bubba" or Howard David Ludwig gets to be a teenager, at which point he plans to take the boy out trap hunting, family members said.

- AFP

Posted by gary at 12:12 PM | Comments (2)

May 15, 2007

Quantum Changes

There are so many "givens" which in recent years have become negotiables that we are continually forced to rethink our assumptions. Does today's reporting of LG's production of a 'thin and bendable viewing panel' signal the beginning of the end for paper as we know it? Maybe the paperless office is finally on the way!

It does, however, pose a challenge for writing the shopping list and sticking it in your back pocket!

Posted by gary at 04:57 PM | Comments (0)

April 19, 2007

Clergy work satisfaction

This study concludes that clergy are the happiest and most satisfied workers in the USA. I'm not sure how this tallies with statistics on clergy burnout, and with the number of ex-clergy now in other professions. Christian ministry can be the most difficult and frustrating of all callings... at the end of the day, how does one measure or evaluate one's work? At the same time, it can also be the most fulfilling of all callings.

Posted by gary at 12:03 AM | Comments (0)

April 17, 2007

The Future of the Car?

Top speed around 200 km/h, and doesn't use any petrol. "Tank' capacity of 400 km, and looks pretty good too. The future is breaking in upon us...

Posted by gary at 08:23 AM | Comments (0)

April 06, 2007

The 1901 Predictions of a 14-year-old

Over at Paleo-Future, there is a record an excerpt of the 1901 predicitions of 14-year-old Arthur Palm about what life would look like in the year 2001. The full predictions are recorded in a book: Yesterday's Future: The Twentieth Century Begins (Voices of the Wisconsin Past).

"How it may appear a hundred years hence, when modern inventions have been carried to their highest point of development that even Edison would feel jealous of the great inventions in the year 2001. In the year 2001 you will see sky-scrapers sticking far above the clouds over 200 stories high. On the streets there will not be any room for street cars, so they will build lines way up in the air, and there will be landings fastened to the high skyscrapers, where the people will wait for the cars. The carlines will have different kinds of names and you will see the name "Manhattan Air Line" many hundreds of feet above the ground. You see air-ships and carriages fastened to balloons for the transportation of the people through the air, and you will often see collisions in the clouds. In one of the sky-scrapers on the 119 story you will see a sign, 'Old People Restored to Youth by Electricity, While You Wait.'"

The fact that people then believed in electricity as a panacea stands in contrast to the tenor of discussions about the cost to the planet of electricty generation today.

Posted by gary at 03:35 PM | Comments (0)

Looking for Jesus: Refugees in Faith

The 'back door' of the church is well-travelled, with increasing numbers turning their back on the church, but not on Jesus. Barney Zwartz reflects on this phenomenon.

Posted by gary at 03:15 PM | Comments (0)

February 23, 2007

USA: A Tale of Two Americans

Two very different Americans are arriving in Australia this week. The reception each will receive, and the messages they have for Australia, could not be more different, says Justin Whelan.

Posted by gary at 01:41 PM | Comments (0)

February 10, 2007

The End of Slavery

Friday 23 February marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. Every time we sing that well-known hymn Amazing Grace, we encapsulate this struggle. John Newton, its author, was once himself a slave trader who made a remarkable conversion to Christ. The struggle against slavery has been presented on film in a soon-to-be-released movie “Amazing Grace” which tells the story of William Wilberforce and his determination, even at the risk of life and reputation, and even with multiple attempts over a number of years, to push forward in the British Parliament the abolition, the end of slavery, no matter the cost. Despite Wilberforce’s victory so long ago, there are still over 27 million people in slavery around the world. Take a look at the movie’s web site.

And to read more of the present-day situation in relation to slavery, read Jim Wallis.

Posted by gary at 05:47 PM | Comments (0)

February 09, 2007

Jesus and Osama bin Laden 2

This little foray into advertising has created much discussion... The weekly newsletter "Soundings" from the Centre for Christian Ethics, offered the following helpful response.

Does Jesus love evangelical poster art?
by Kristine Morrison
As signs proclaiming that Jesus loves Osama adorned mainstream protestant churches this week, the deluge of media interest appeared to require some explanation. Baptist spokesperson and Director of the Centre for Christian Ethics, Rod Benson, fleshed out some or the detail in Soundings no. 45 (1 February), assuring enquirers that Jesus did in fact love Osama bin Laden and many other evildoers of our planet and our time.
It appears that it wasn't such a serious question after all. The answer was so simple. There is a seamless and uncontroversial Christian approach that claims that any human being, no matter how reprobate, has claims upon the love of God.
What then was the point of the question? I'm a sufficiently conversant participant in evangelical culture to be very clear on the point of the question. The point was to assure non-believers - the unchurched, those who are "not-yet-Christian" - that in their reflective moments they ought to banish any thoughts that they are beyond the reach of God's love because, if God can love Osama, then God can love them.
Did the poster succeed in conveying that message of unconditional love?

Well, yes, the poster was technically correct but it fell well short of answering some important human questions.
I'm glad for several reasons that the infamous poster was not displayed on the front wall of the local church I attend. First, because the question betrays an ignorance of the kinds of questions that non-believers ask themselves. Current evangelical practice relies on persuading people that they are sinners.
It is true that many modern people possess an inner anxiety. The anxiety, however, is not so much about the magnitude of evil they have committed. Society could not function if it were populated with multiple Osamas. People's consciences are much more likely to be troubled by the way they do things rather than what they do. They wake in the night not because they didn't pay their bus fare but because they were impatient or dismissive of the bus driver. They didn't necessarily do anything bad; rather, they could have done better.
Most people do not consider themselves anywhere near as bad as Osama bin Laden. This is not to say that they cannot appreciate the fact that they fall short of ideal human behaviour. The common everyday experience of human failure lies more in the realm of character than actions. The Osama question does not arise for most people, and it is therefore not an effective evangelistic approach.
The second reason I am glad this poster did not appear on our church wall is that it pays far too much attention to the perpetrator of evil and fails to appreciate the hurt of the victim. It is a pastoral faux pas on an all too public scale. When people who have been victims of abuse witness the church proclaiming happy days for the perpetrators of evil it is as though they are wounded again.
The question most likely to be occupying the minds of passers-by is, "Does Jesus love the victims of Osama?" Human suffering, whether personal or that which we see in others, is a profound stumbling block to the acceptance of Christianity. Christianity offers serious answers to the problem of human suffering but there were no pointers to these answers in this poster. The poster raised the problem of human suffering but provided no answer and gave the impression of being more interested in reconciling with the perpetrators of injustice than supporting the victims.
Third, perhaps the answer to the question of God's love for Osama is more ambiguous than it seems. We may agree that all humans are loved by God but is it possible to engage in such widespread and systematic practices of evil that a person can disqualify him or herself from being human?
Can we degrade ourselves so completely that we are no longer recognisable as humans? If a person is no longer human then is that person outside the orbit of God's love? In ordinary conversation behaviour that is good, generous and kind is described as humane, while practices that are deliberately and systematically cruel are described as beastly, animalistic or inhuman.
A modern rendition of the animalistic human is the human as machine. We describe people as machines when they appear to have lost any human feeling and they have become totally functionary beings. The idea that human beings can lose their humanity is not a totally foreign one and therefore makes the issue of God's love for bin Laden less of an open and shut case than has perhaps been demonstrated.
Poster Christianity is perilous witness. Simple truths, simply stated can be less than helpful to those with whom we desire to communicate, notwithstanding the goodwill of those who develop these posters. We can be encouraged, within our churches, that people do read our advertising signs. But we can also be challenged to consider the pastoral implication and the wisdom of using some of our available promotional material.
Not all publicity is good publicity.
Kristine Morrison is a midwife at Sydney's Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and a member of the Social Issues Committee of the Baptist Churches of NSW and ACT.

Posted by gary at 07:03 AM | Comments (0)

February 01, 2007

Jesus and Osama bin Laden

Now here's a statement to get the blood pressure up... or at least it seems so. Part of a media campaign designed by Outreach Media, Sydney Central Baptist Church placed the sign for passing traffic to read. Its impact reached Melbourne through media shock jocks in Sydney, and ultimately Andrew Bolt in Melbourne, all expressing indignation at this truth, which is at the heart of Jesus' teaching: "But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." (Matthew 5:38-44)

Jesus_Loves_Osama.jpg

You can read the exchange on Bolt's blog, where he raises such questions as "who is hell for?" (Why do we always want to condemn others to hell, and forgive ourselves so freely?)

Questions raised include:
* the relationship between love of a person and our response to their actions
* the scandalous forgiveness at the heart of the gospel
* our desire for "justice" (or is that "judgment"?)
* the impact of those who have suffered by the reported actions of bin Laden.

It does, however, underline the way in which we see love in our society... as something which must be earned.

Posted by gary at 04:48 PM | Comments (0)

January 12, 2007

Woolworths and the Drought

I always get a little nervous about programs like this: Woolworths (Safeway in Victoria) is offering to turn its profits for a whole day into drought relief. One would guess that Woolworths will simply offer the average daily profit to the cause, rather than go to the expense of calculating its profit for that particular day, so that any increase in patronage really goes to increasing the bottom line rather than to drought relief, but then again, maybe I'm too much of a cynic.
If you want to read about it directly from the Woolworths CEO, go here. I think I'll be staying at home. It sounds a little too much like the call to shop after September 11.

Now, here's a late thought. Instead of going to the Supermarket for that day, why not simply donate what you would have spent directly yourself. Then you can gain the tax deduction yourself, instead of Woolworths!

You will, of course, notice that I haven't designated the day.

Posted by gary at 01:10 PM | Comments (1)

January 08, 2007

Fighting Consumerism

Another creative way of fighting the consumerist culture in which we find ourselves immersed: this coming from San Francisco - a group calling themselves "The Compact" who decided to give up shopping for a year. Ten people, over a dinner conversation, decided to give up new clothes, gadgets, computers, car parts, mobile phones, books or music for 12 months, and captured the imagination of thousands, who have now linked up through an online discussion group.
They found some unusual responses, being called "unAmerican", and "economic terrorists". Perhaps consumerism is more of an addiction than we are prepared to admit!
Final comment belongs to one of the group members: "The real revelation is that it isn't that hard," he said. "We all have so much stuff, we could probably live for years without replacing anything. It makes you change the way you look at and appreciate the things you have. We're definitely going to continue."
Anyone game?

Posted by gary at 09:09 AM | Comments (0)

January 04, 2007

On your bike

Australians purchased more new bicycles in 2006 than cars and trucks combined, it was reported today. Seems the combination of high petrol prices, concerns about global warming, and need to get a little fitter (and of course, one can't rule out the 'better weather' which comes with a ten-year drought), sent people purchasing a new two-wheeler. I didn't read any news about what folks might be doing with the extra garage space! Of course, with a bicycle, you don't need to worry about the person in the passenger seat picking at your driving...

Posted by gary at 11:37 PM | Comments (0)

October 17, 2006

Our changing world

If you ever wondered about the rate at which events take place, head on over to view some real-time world statistics. The site uses your computer's internal clock to demonstrate the rate at which events unfold. Watching the number of births and deaths rise so quickly is one of many confronting ways to view our world.

Posted by gary at 08:26 PM | Comments (2)

October 11, 2006

Many a true thing was said in jest...

Stephen Colbert at the Whitehouse Correspondents' Association dinner.
part 1
part 2
part 3

Posted by gary at 09:57 AM | Comments (0)

June 12, 2006

Comments now working

I've had a few problems with the comments feature over recent days. This has now been fixed... (thanks Matt!) You need a typekey registration (or follow the links in the comments section to register). This has been an unfortunate but necessary switch because of spam levels. Thanks for your patience.

Posted by gary at 08:13 AM | Comments (0)

June 11, 2006

Perhaps we taught them too well...

democracy.jpg

Posted by gary at 10:43 PM | Comments (0)

May 16, 2006

It's enough to make you lose your cookies

Sesame Street has decided that Cookie monster is gay... well, no they haven't. It's even more bizarre than that. Rather Cookie Monster has repented and is no longer a glutton for cookies. Instead, in an effort to combat over-eating, Cookie Monster has been transformed into just a blue puppet that likes cookies. His trademark song has change from "C is for cookie" to "Cookies are a sometime food"!!! Can you believe it? I mean, they've totally gutted his personality! Taken away his raison d'etre!!

Let's be rational here... do we really think that children overeat simply because of Cookie Monster's obsession? Or that they will suddenly no longer desire them because of this change? My kids used to laugh at Cookie Monster, seeing him as a caricature. They never took him seriously, or sought to emulate his behaviour. I suspect that this act only shows the poverty of adult thinking, rather than the gullibility of children.

And in case you think this is a hoax, check it here.

Posted by gary at 10:53 PM | Comments (1)

May 15, 2006

Clearing up misconceptions about Christianity (2)

and for the denominational questions... original link

The time has come for some kind of crib sheet for the confused and frightened, a handy, easy-to-use reference guide for identifying some of the key denominations, terms, and concepts in Christianity.


This is intended a simple "cheat sheet" for those confused and worried about the place of Christianity in America and, to a lesser extent, the contemporary world. It's not intended to be a comprehensive guide, only to help my secular friends as they navigate the confused waters of the world's largest religion.

Let's start with some of the terms that got Goldberg confused:

Premillenialism
This is the belief among some Christians that, ever since Jan. 1, 2000, it has no longer been possible, in the words of the Prince song, "to party like it's 1999." Postmillenialists are those Christians who believe that it will always be possible to do so, while Amillenialists believe that in this context, "1999" cannot be understood literally, but must be read as an allegorical term roughly meaning "a time at which it is especially appropriate to party."

Rapture
This was a #1 hit in 1980 for Blondie (#5 in the UK), from the otherwise underwhelming "Autoamerican" album. Many Christians now concede that the then-pioneering use of rap in the song sounds a little lame in retrospect. In their best-selling series of books about the song, "Left Behind (Parallel Lines)," Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye defend the rap verse's hip references to Grandmaster Flash and Fab Five Freddy, and maintain that when Jesus returns, all believers will be united in accepting that Blondie's cover of "The Tide Is High" is better than the original.

The Pope
The Pope is the President of Christianity. He is elected every four years by the Congress of Cardinals, which is divided into the Senate and the Holy House of Representatives. As president, the pope can veto important pieces of legislation, which he tends to do. The pope is also magical, and cannot be seen with the naked eye except for one hour on Christmas Eve every year.

The Bible
The Bible was written by God as a merchandising tie-in to His blockbuster film "The Ten Commandments." Each book of the Bible is named after a person who features prominently in it, for example, the Book of Numbers, which is named after Herschel Numbers, who invented numerals. The Bible was so successful that God wrote a sequel, "Bible II: On to Rome," now generally called "The New Testament." Protestants believe the Bible is literal and exactly true in every detail except the description of the Eucharist, while Catholics are not allowed to read the Bible.

Catholics
Catholics are the New York Yankees of Christianity. They are the biggest and wealthiest team, and their owner is intensely controversial (this makes St. Francis of Assisi the Derek Jeter of Catholicism: discuss). Catholics all wear matching uniforms, and are divided into "parishes," or "squadrons," to make choosing softball teams easier. Catholics are rigidly controlled by a hidebound hierarchy that starts with priests and ends with priests' housekeepers. Catholics are not allowed to read the Bible, eat meat, or refrain from worshipping statues.

Orthodox
For many years, American scholars believed the Orthodox were, like leprechauns, unicorns, and Eskimos, purely the product of the fanciful imaginations of medieval writers. Recent evidence leads us to tentatively conclude, however, that Eastern Orthodoxy may have somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 million adherents. Protestants tend to see the Orthodox as "Catholics with beards," while Catholics confess to a haunting sense that they are simply "Orthodox without beards."

The Protestant Reformation
This is the name historians give to a major labor dispute that erupted in Germany in 1517 when a group of monks hammered a proposed union contract to the door of the pope's house, requesting a 95 percent pay raise. The pope refused to negotiate with the monks union until it agreed to pay to have the door fixed, and the result was the world's longest-running strike. For nearly 500 years, a huge portion of Christians have been on strike from being Catholic, saying they are "justified" in their work stoppage because the pope won't expand the number of indulgences they get per year. Currently, the matter is in arbitration.

Calvinism
This theory was worked out by the French theologian and fashion designer John Calvin Klein, who argued that some people are predestined to be glamorous while others are doomed to be plain. America was founded by Calvinists, who sought to establish a country where they could pursue their belief that buckled hats were fashionable.

Fundamentalism
The belief that basic elements of play - like passing, ball handling, and defense - are the essential building blocks of a winning basketball team is generally referred to as "fundamentalism." The fundamentalists formulated their doctrine in the 1980s against the showy, heretical play of Magic Johnson's Los Angeles Lakers. Leading fundamentalist institutions include Bob Jones University and Syracuse. Larry Brown's failure to get the Knicks into the playoffs has been seen as a major setback for the cause of fundamentalism.

Baptism
Baptists are Christians who believe God can only be accessed by means of a swimming pool or, in some cases, a shallow outdoor stream. The first Baptist was John the Baptist, who was said to eat locusts and honey, although contemporary Baptists generally prefer barbecue. "Baptism" is also the term used to describe a key Christian ceremony, in which prospective members of the church are either initiated actually (Catholics, Orthodox, confused Protestants) or symbolically (Protestants, confused Catholics, religious studies professors). Catholics believe that anyone can perform a valid baptism, Orthodox believe that any Christian can, while Baptists, paradoxically, believe that only they can.

The Emerging Church
This is a term that refers to churches attended exclusively by white people in their 20s and 30s who have at least one tattoo or body piercing. Their distinguishing characteristics are a refreshing, "up to date" interpretation of Christianity, and a reluctance to directly answer questions.

The Nicene Creed
This statement of faith is the Christian Pledge of Allegiance, recited every Sunday in squadron meetings by Christians all over the globe. Adopted in the 4th century at the behest of Emperor Constantinople, it was designed to counter the influence of the Aryans, who argued that Jesus was German.

Touchdown Jesus
When professional athletes thank Jesus for helping them win a game, this is the Jesus they're referring to.

The Trinity
This is the Christian expression of God, who Christians say is personified by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Not all Christians accept this: Unitarians, Jehovah's Witnesses, and some Pentecostals reject trinitarianism, as do Muslims. Interestingly, while this does not mean Pentecostals are Muslim, it does mean that Muslims are Jehovah's Witnesses. St. Augustine famously summed up the difficulty of comprehending the Trinity when he recounted a dream in which a small boy told him he would need a bigger bucket if he wanted to bail out the ocean.

Sex
Christians are not permitted to have sex. This unpopular doctrine was formulated by Pope Lactose LX at the Council of Disney in 1439. Despite this restriction, Christians have managed to increase their ranks to the point where there are roughly 2 billion of them. Scholars attribute this to the competitive health benefits and generous "flex time" arrangements offered by Christianity.

Heaven
Heaven is a term referring to the ultimate destiny of a certain number of souls. Depending on who you listen to, heaven is either: where all of us will end up (Origen); where many of us will end up (St. Gregory of Nyssa); where some of us will end up (John Calvin); where a small portion of us have, in some sense, already ended up (John of Leyden); where precisely 144,000 of us will end up (Charles Taze Russell); or where Jack Chick will end up (Jack Chick). Theologian Belinda Carlisle once posited that "Ooh, baby, heaven is a place on earth," but explorers combing the globe have yet to confirm this.

The Devil
Although the Devil - also known as Satan, Lucifer, the Father of Lies, and, to his friends, "Hef" - is mentioned numerous times in Bible II, most Christians today are uncomfortable with belief in a literal, personal demonic entity. Instead, they prefer to think of the Devil primarily as the potential for wickedness that exists within all human beings or, in some cases, as an especially unreasonable landlord.

I hope this helps clear up some easily-made misconceptions about Christianity. If there are any questions about other doctrines or concepts, please don't hesitate to ask.

Posted by gary at 07:25 AM | Comments (0)

May 09, 2006

Trapped Miners Freed

One story has dominated news in Australia for the past two weeks: the collapsed mine shaft in Beaconsfield Tasmania which killed one miner and left two trapped nearly a kilometre underground on ANZAC Day (April 25). These two miners walked free this morning after 14 days trapped in a tiny and confined space. The scenes of jubilation in the town reverberated around the country. Broad smiles, tears flowing, hugging and cheering greeted these two men - Todd Russell and Brant Webb, who walked from the mine entrance and were ushered away by ambulance - doors opened wide for all to see and greet. They were in remarkable health and spirits for such an ordeal.

One barely-noticed aspect of their release was their first act after acknowledging the crowd with raised arms: they did what every miner does after leaving the mine shaft - take their name tag and put it back in place to indicate that they were no longer in the mine. It seems a rather trivial act. After all, there is little doubt that they were free. Hardly a soul near some form of media outlet would not know that they were no longer below surface. So why would they attend to such a mundane act?
Beaconsfield1.jpg
I imagine that it was this act which helped sustain them through some of the darkest moments. The symbolism of this act carries a unique power - it declares their freedom, and the end of their captivity. It also places their ordeal within the framework of the ordinary, declaring some sense of power over it. They left the mine not as those rescued from disaster, but as men who had completed a set task. They had even taken time to shower before reaching the surface, as I imagine they would ordinarily do at the end of a shift.

When our third child was hospitalised, his life held on a slender thread, our feelings were encapsulated in two simple images. When it was all over, were we going to celebrate his birth with a funeral or a dedication service? These two symbols declared two different futures, and depicted both our hopes and our fears in the midst of deep inner turmoil in the face of our son's fragility. The struggle would end, we imagined, with one or the other. Life or death. When I watched the two men perform this simple routine, it was this memory which came to mind.

"It was only a symbol," some might say. Yet its power can be easily understated. It is these things which sustain us in our darkest moments: dreaming of a hug and kiss from the wife; playing football on the weekend; a nice cold beer at the pub. These were some of the images to which the miners referred in their struggles underground. It was not so much the act itself, but what it represented that was important: life, freedom, release.

The footage of their first moments was played at least four times on every news service tonight. The miners made their own statements in the symbols they chose, as we all do in our own different ways.

Posted by gary at 07:55 PM | Comments (0)

May 05, 2006

Top Ten Issues Facing Families Today

Lifeway magazine has just completed release of results of its on-line survey into the Top Ten Issues Facing today's family. The results are an interesting reflection on priorities:

10. Materialism: "The placing in high regard of ownership and consumption as a family priority."

9. Balance of Work and Family: "The rising pressure to invest more of one's energy in work at the expense of family."

8. Negative Media Influences: "The growing influx of destructive images and messages into the home."

7. Lack of Communication: "The increasing abbreviation or near elimination of meaningful family member interaction."

6. Financial Pressures: "The chronic misuse of debt and/or mismanagement of financial resources."

5. Lack of Discipline: "The death of respectful behavior as a norm in our schools, churches, and families."

4. Lack of a Father Figure: "The absence of a father in the home or lack of strong participation in the family."

3. Busyness: "The participation in numerous activities crowding out quality family fellowship."

2. Divorce: "The ongoing wave of broken marriages and families both within the church and without."

1. Anti-Christian Culture: "The stripping away of Christian heritage and traditional values."

The results reflect a very insular and self-absorbed culture, inasmuch as it demonstrates Western priorities.

I wonder, however, whether the order reflects something of our misguided priorities. We think that the challenge is to be addressed first by changing the culture of the wider community, when the reality is (as reflected in issues 10 and 9) that we have - by our own choice - absorbed and owned that culture to our detriment. There is a deep interrelatedness to these articulated concerns, the solution to which can be found within the choices that we make at first. Instead we too often find the church and christians buying in (literally) to the rat-race consumptive lifestyle at the neglect of our own humanity, let alone our own faith. The coincidence of christian wellbeing with material success has disempowered us so much that we are at the mercy of advertisers who are constantly telling us that we are inadequate as a catalyst for purchasing their product. The end result is that we discover that the product does not deliver, our financial strain is worse, and we are still without a deep sense of our identity and value. We need to be able to articulate and evidence the alternative which reflects the values of Jesus and the kingdomg of God. We are too busy rendering to Caesar, it seems.

When touring the Space Needle in Seattle last week, I was stunned to hear the elevator operator (who called herself our "shuttle commander" - which made me decidedly nervous) suggesting that we visit their gift shop before leaving, whereupon she promised that "you will find the most wondrous gifts and souvenirs that you will ever find in your entire life..." and that "every gift you buy is going to bring you joy. And we're talking about joy that you can't put a price on... but we do..." Funnily enough noone else in the elevator blinked or blanched at the thought.

I wonder if we were to globalise this "top ten" and look at it from the inside out, what we might put at the top of the list?

Posted by gary at 07:08 PM | Comments (0)

May 04, 2006

Losing money ... big time!

Read last weekend that Bill Gates lost $3 billion(US!) in one day, as a result of the collapse in Microsoft's share price. Microsoft lost something like $32 billion in one day when investors marked down its share price. The reason? Because Microsoft indicated that it was prepared to take some short term pain for long term gain. All the while forecasting an increase in sales performance of over 10%! I wonder what that says about our expectations for wealth and its ability to satisfy?

The fact that Gates is worth more than something like the 30 poorest countries in the world highlights something of the challenge facing the world in terms of income distribution and access to basic life requisites. Bill and Melinda Gates have taken a substantial personal interest in health problems in the poorest countries and are making a substantial investment in addressing the challenge of Malaria, a disease for which there is no money to be made by pharmaceutical corporations, largely because the main sufferers are from these poorest nations. Over 3 million people are infected each year, of which about 500,000 die. When the Gates gave an initial donation of $30 million, the researchers were agog - it would multiply the amount of money available to researching the disease. Apparently the Gates give more money to foreign aid than the US government.

So, how does losing $3 billion in one day affect a guy like this? Well, apart from the fact that it was only a "paper" loss, it would diminish his wealth by about 2%. But then, with still over $40 billion up his sleeve, I don't think he'll have to change what he eats for breakfast - or where he decides to eat it.

Posted by gary at 10:58 AM | Comments (0)

April 23, 2006

The Benefits of Sex

It seems that a lot of research is going in to prove there are benefits to sex. I wonder what the motivation is for these? In January I noted research that demonstrated benefits for those engaged in public speaking. Today's newspaper reports that sexual intercourse can also offer protection from depression, colds, heart disease and even cancer, but its benefits are only relevant for heterosexual activity.

Of course, this begs a second question... who offers to be subjects of such research, and how honest are people about reporting?

But that's another question.

Posted by gary at 10:24 PM | Comments (0)

March 29, 2006

God's Politics

British Finance Minister and Prime-Minister-in-Waiting has warmly endorsed Jim Wallis' book God's Politics, in a bold statement which challenges the presuppositions on which much of the religious right's agenda in national politics. Jim Wallis is launching the book in Melbourne on Sunday at Melbourne Town Hall - an event I will be attending.

I don't have a problem with religious issues entering our national political agenda - goodness knows that they are writ large all over the international stage at the moment... but let's ensure that it is not used to merely prop up a narrow ideology which marginalises the poor, demonises the stranger, and diminishes our commitment to compassion, justice and truth.

Some of the great atrocities of history have been committed by well-meaning religious people, who have lost grounding in the full message of the Bible. I'm looking forward to hearing Wallis speak, and this broader conversation entering the Australian public dialogue.

Posted by gary at 03:51 PM | Comments (0)

March 06, 2006

The Real News Agenda

Here's an interesting quote which will make you skeptical about anything you hear on the nightly television news:

"This is an industry, it's a business. We exist to make money. We exist to put commercials on the air. The programming that is put on between those commercials is simply the bait we put in the mousetrap" - Ted Koppel, retiring news anchor of USAmerica's ABC network, speaking about advertising in the news business.

Posted by gary at 11:24 AM | Comments (0)

March 01, 2006

My Line is Dead

Funeral directors (we don't seem to call them undertakers any more!) have reported a rather strange trend developing: family placing mobile phones in the casket with their loved one at the time of burial. Now this could spark a plethora of comments to do with battery life, reception, and call charges, but I'll resist. It is clear that mobile phone companies are charging too little for the handsets!

But what does this say about the valued memories of a loved one: we could never talk to them because they were always on the phone? The only decent conversation we could have with them was on the phone, but never in person?

Ahh, I should have read the fine print at the bottom of the article in this morning's Age newspaper. Apparently the line has to be dead (good thing. Imagine one of these intelligent phones making its own call: "Help! I've been buried alive!" Or what recorded message would be stored on Messagebank: "You have called the casket/phone of Fred Bloggs. Fred can't take your call right now because he's dead. Leave a message after the tone and St Peter will get back to you..." Also the battery has to be removed - don't want to turn the cremation into a fireworks display - there's no-one alive to appreciate the pyrotechnics). However one has to question the IQ of the funeral director whose comments are recorded: "We don't allow the battery to remain... And we don't allow the phone to be turned on..." HELLO! NO BATTERY? HOW CAN YOU TURN ON A PHONE WHICH HAS NO BATTERY? Really!

Which brings me to the best story I've heard about additions to the casket... A very rich man died, his will leaving instructions that all his wealth was to be buried with him. When questioned about this, the son indicated he had no problems with the request. Upon further interrogation, the son indicated that he had put all his father's wealth into the casket: he had written out his personal cheque for the full amount!

Posted by gary at 08:28 AM | Comments (0)

February 26, 2006

Earn $10000 in your spare time

Security intelligence outfit iDefense Labs is offering a $10,000 reward to any hacker who finds a worm hole in Microsoft's products... Microsoft isn't all that happy about it, although the resonating open source/closed source philosophical debate may well be at the root of it all.

Yet one might pause to ask whether companies would do this in other areas, particularly in relation to another corporation's property. They may well do, but without the fanfare. Does it send the wrong message (closed source argument) or does it subject it to the most rigorous testing regime (open source argument)?

Posted by gary at 09:39 AM | Comments (0)

February 18, 2006

Leunig Controversy

Michael Leunig has never been far from controversy since the war on Iraq began. His heartache over the whole affair has been evident through many cartoons. But this controversy reached another level when a four-year-old cartoon, rejected by The Age at the time, appeared in an Iranian competition related to the Holocaust. Leunig's position is that the cartoon is anti-war, not anti-semitic. Age editor of the time, himself jewish, did not see it that way. Here is the offending cartoon (thanks to revhead).

leunig-auschwitz.jpg

The cartoon was submitted to the competition as a hoax, the offender explaining himself immediately the controversy erupted. Leunig initially suspected sinister motives, later reflecting on the whole affair. Age editor Michael Gawenda plays the racism card in his analysis of the affair.

What to make of it all? Leunig is something of a Melbourne institution, and many of his cartoons carry a strong prophetic edge, inasmuch as he is prepared to expose, critique and challenge popular culture.

The problem with this cartoon, as with those of Mohammad published by the Danish newspaper, is that many people look at them objectively, which takes the passion - and the life reality - out of it. When one names a demon, expect a reaction.

Posted by gary at 12:02 PM | Comments (0)

February 08, 2006

Danish Cartoons

The not inconsiderable reaction to the publication of cartoons depicting Mohammed has raised significant and conflicting questions, not the least of which is the contest between freedom of speech and respect for the beliefs of others. The report that most of the cartoons were ‘innocuous’ is true only from the standpoint of Western perspective. The reality is that any depiction of Mohammed us regarded as blasphemous in Islam, which makes them anything but innocuous to our Islamic friends.

Others have been quick to point out that such depictions of Jesus do not draw the same ire from the Christian community. Such has not been the case throughout history. The Reformation period is littered with stories of Christians killing others for criticising their position, or of holding a position of difference. The tolerance we trumpet so freely from the Christian perspective has not always been evident from within the walls of the church, or the West in general.

Perhaps we need to remember that our Western understanding of history is not universal. The era known in the West as ‘the enlightenment’ - in which the understanding of authority shifted from the church and social hierarchy into knowledge and logic and individual expression - was a painful one for many in the West during the time of transition. Many Islamic countries still hold to pre-enlightenment positions of authority and truth.

With the shift to a more global culture, it remains to be seen how Islam is able to accommodate to the cultural shift from the faith perspective. With authority as they have known it no longer available to them in many parts of the world, creative leadership is required. But that cannot be the only answer.

It is too easy from the standpoint of the West to adopt a position of superiority: “we are enlightened” is the logical consequence of our history. Yet we are facing the crumbling of many of our own “enlightenment” precepts: The breaking down of national borders through revolutions in international travel and migration together with the advent of communication technologies have challenged our cultural blind spots and invited us to see that there are diverse ways of seeing an issue. Emerging postmodern philosophical frameworks are now deconstructing many truths once held dear. Enlightenment’s dark spots are being exposed. While it remains to be seen where this might lead us, it still is easier to see the deficiencies in the cultures of those different. Islam has much to offer – both as a culture and as a worldview – in the conversation which our increasingly globalised world is entering. If there is an apparent fault of our commitment to ‘freedom of expression’ it is in the lack of appreciation of and respect for the value of some truths to different groups. It risks being a conversation where everything is cheap.

And we dare not avoid the economic issues behind the reaction to the Danish cartoons. Muslims in Europe are not equal in the economic stakes – their situation trails the rest, meaning that the cartoons risk being received as the bully kicking sand in the face of the downtrodden. Inasmuch as this is true, they are not to be regarded as freedom of expression but as an act of oppression.

There is considerable anger being expressed amongst Muslims and others. We need to be wary of letting our perceptions of this anger reinforce inappropriate stereotypes. For inasmuch as the Islamic world is unused to engagement in conversation with the West, so is the West equally inexperienced. We need to season this conversation with grace, respect and a grasping for understanding.

We cannot escape this increasingly multi-cultural world. As we engage with it, we need to be more than tolerant. We need to be people who seek an understanding and an appreciation of the diverse viewpoints which make up this rich tapestry which is humanity. In so doing, we will engage in conversation rather than open warfare.

Posted by gary at 05:18 PM | Comments (0)

February 07, 2006

Bono's address to the National Prayer Breakfast

I know I posted the whole text yesterday, but this speech has to be considered for its content, and its courage... Consider this little excerpt (remembering that he is addressing the President)...

Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor. In fact, the poor are where God lives.

Check Judaism. Check Islam. Check pretty much anyone.

I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill. I hope so. He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff. Maybe, maybe not. But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor.

God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them. "If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom with become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places."

... and that's not the only confronting aspect of the speech.

If you'd rather listen to it, it's available in mp3 and wmv format here. There's a power in the delivery not fully evident in the text.

Posted by gary at 12:51 PM | Comments (0)

February 06, 2006

Bono's Prayer Breakfast Sermon

This is a bold and challenging address. Given an opportunity to address the US President, what would you say? Would you be as bold as Bono?


If you're wondering what I'm doing here, at a prayer breakfast, well, so am I. I'm certainly not here as a man of the cloth, unless that cloth is leather. It's certainly not because I'm a rock star. Which leaves one possible explanation: I'm here because I've got a messianic complex.

Yes, it's true. And for anyone who knows me, it's hardly a revelation.

Well, I'm the first to admit that there's something unnatural...something unseemly...about rock stars mounting the pulpit and preaching at presidents, and then disappearing to their villas in the south of France. Talk about a fish out of water. It was weird enough when Jesse Helms showed up at a U2 concert...but this is really weird, isn't it?

You know, one of the things I love about this country is its separation of church and state. Although I have to say: in inviting me here, both church and state have been separated from something else completely: their mind.

Mr. President, are you sure about this?

It's very humbling and I will try to keep my homily brief. But be warned - I'm Irish.


I'd like to talk about the laws of man, here in this city where those laws are written. And I'd like to talk about higher laws. It would be great to assume that the one serves the other; that the laws of man serve these higher laws...but of course, they don't always. And I presume that, in a sense, is why you're here.

I presume the reason for this gathering is that all of us here - Muslims, Jews, Christians - all are searching our souls for how to better serve our family, our community, our nation, our God.

I know I am. Searching, I mean. And that, I suppose, is what led me here, too.

Yes, it's odd, having a rock star here - but maybe it's odder for me than for you. You see, I avoided religious people most of my life. Maybe it had something to do with having a father who was Protestant and a mother who was Catholic in a country where the line between the two was, quite literally, a battle line. Where the line between church and state was...well, a little blurry, and hard to see.

I remember how my mother would bring us to chapel on Sundays... and my father used to wait outside. One of the things that I picked up from my father and my mother was the sense that religion often gets in the way of God.

For me, at least, it got in the way. Seeing what religious people, in the name of God, did to my native land...and in this country, seeing God's second-hand car salesmen on the cable TV channels, offering indulgences for cash...in fact, all over the world, seeing the self-righteousness roll down like a mighty stream from certain corners of the religious establishment...

I must confess, I changed the channel. I wanted my MTV.

Even though I was a believer.

Perhaps because I was a believer.

I was cynical...not about God, but about God's politics. (There you are, Jim.)

Then, in 1997, a couple of eccentric, septuagenarian British Christians went and ruined my shtick - my reproachfulness. They did it by describing the millennium, the year 2000, as a Jubilee year, as an opportunity to cancel the chronic debts of the world's poorest people. They had the audacity to renew the Lord's call - and were joined by Pope John Paul II, who, from an Irish half-Catholic's point of view, may have had a more direct line to the Almighty.

'Jubilee' - why 'Jubilee'?

What was this year of Jubilee, this year of our Lord's favor?

I'd always read the scriptures, even the obscure stuff. There it was in Leviticus (25:35)...

'If your brother becomes poor,' the scriptures say, 'and cannot maintain himself...you shall maintain him.... You shall not lend him your money at interest, not give him your food for profit.'

It is such an important idea, Jubilee, that Jesus begins his ministry with this. Jesus is a young man, he's met with the rabbis, impressed everyone, people are talking. The elders say, he's a clever guy, this Jesus, but he hasn't done much...yet. He hasn't spoken in public before...

When he does, is first words are from Isaiah: 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,' he says, 'because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.' And Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord's favour, the year of Jubilee (Luke 4:18).

What he was really talking about was an era of grace - and we're still in it.

So fast-forward 2,000 years. That same thought, grace, was made incarnate - in a movement of all kinds of people. It wasn't a bless-me club... it wasn't a holy huddle. These religious guys were willing to get out in the streets, get their boots dirty, wave the placards, follow their convictions with actions...making it really hard for people like me to keep their distance. It was amazing. I almost started to like these church people.

But then my cynicism got another helping hand.

It was what Colin Powell, a five-star general, called the greatest W.M.D. of them all: a tiny little virus called AIDS. And the religious community, in large part, missed it. The ones that didn't miss it could only see it as divine retribution for bad behaviour. Even on children...even [though the] fastest growing group of HIV infections were married, faithful women.

Aha, there they go again! I thought to myself judgmentalism is back!

But in truth, I was wrong again. The church was slow but the church got busy on this the leprosy of our age.

Love was on the move.

Mercy was on the move.

God was on the move.

Moving people of all kinds to work with others they had never met, never would have cared to meet...conservative church groups hanging out with spokesmen for the gay community, all singing off the same hymn sheet on AIDS...soccer moms and quarterbacks...hip-hop stars and country stars. This is what happens when God gets on the move: crazy stuff happens!

Popes were seen wearing sunglasses!

Jesse Helms was seen with a ghetto blaster!

Crazy stuff. Evidence of the spirit.

It was breathtaking. Literally. It stopped the world in its tracks.

When churches started demonstrating on debt, governments listened - and acted. When churches starting organising, petitioning, and even - that most unholy of acts today, God forbid, lobbying...on AIDS and global health, governments listened - and acted.

I'm here today in all humility to say: you changed minds; you changed policy; you changed the world.

Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor. In fact, the poor are where God lives.

Check Judaism. Check Islam. Check pretty much anyone.

I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill. I hope so. He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff. Maybe, maybe not. But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor.

God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them. "If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom with become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places."

It's not a coincidence that in the scriptures, poverty is mentioned more than 2,100 times. It's not an accident. That's a lot of air time, 2,100 mentions. (You know, the only time Christ is judgmental is on the subject of the poor.) 'As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me' (Matthew 25:40). As I say, good news to the poor.

Here's some good news for the president. After 9/11 we were told America would have no time for the world's poor. America would be taken up with its own problems of safety. And it's true these are dangerous times, but America has not drawn the blinds and double-locked the doors.

In fact, you have doubled aid to Africa. You have tripled funding for global health. Mr. President, your emergency plan for AIDS relief and support for the Global Fund - you and Congress - have put 700,000 people onto life-saving anti-retroviral drugs and provided 8 million bed nets to protect children from malaria.

Outstanding human achievements. Counterintuitive. Historic. Be very, very proud.

But here's the bad news. From charity to justice, the good news is yet to come. There is much more to do. There's a gigantic chasm between the scale of the emergency and the scale of the response.

And finally, it's not about charity after all, is it? It's about justice.

Let me repeat that: It's not about charity, it's about justice.

And that's too bad.

Because you're good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can't afford it.

But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.

Sixty-five hundred Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity, this is about justice and equality.

Because there's no way we can look at what's happening in Africa and, if we're honest, conclude that deep down, we really accept that Africans are equal to us. Anywhere else in the world, we wouldn't accept it. Look at what happened in South East Asia with the tsunami. 150,000 lives lost to that misnomer of all misnomers, "mother nature." In Africa, 150,000 lives are lost every month. A tsunami every month. And it's a completely avoidable catastrophe.

It's annoying but justice and equality are mates. Aren't they? Justice always wants to hang out with equality. And equality is a real pain.

You know, think of those Jewish sheep-herders going to meet the Pharaoh, mud on their shoes, and the Pharaoh says, "Equal?" A preposterous idea: rich and poor are equal? And they say, "Yeah, 'equal,' that's what it says here in this book. We're all made in the image of God."

And eventually the Pharaoh says, "OK, I can accept that. I can accept the Jews - but not the blacks."

"Not the women. Not the gays. Not the Irish. No way, man."

So on we go with our journey of equality.

On we go in the pursuit of justice.

We hear that call in the ONE Campaign, a growing movement of more than 2 million Americans...Left and Right together... united in the belief that where you live should no longer determine whether you live.

We hear that call even more powerfully today, as we mourn the loss of Coretta Scott King - mother of a movement for equality, one that changed the world but is only just getting started. These issues are as alive as they ever were; they just change shape and cross the seas.

Preventing the poorest of the poor from selling their products while we sing the virtues of the free market...that's a justice issue. Holding children to ransom for the debts of their grandparents...that's a justice issue. Withholding life-saving medicines out of deference to the Office of Patents...that's a justice issue.

And while the law is what we say it is, God is not silent on the subject.

That's why I say there's the law of the land¿. And then there is a higher standard. There's the law of the land, and we can hire experts to write them so they benefit us, so the laws say it's OK to protect our agriculture but it's not OK for African farmers to do the same, to earn a living?

As the laws of man are written, that's what they say.

God will not accept that.

Mine won't, at least. Will yours?

[ pause]

I close this morning on...very...thin...ice.

This is a dangerous idea I've put on the table: my God vs. your God, their God vs. our God...vs. no God. It is very easy, in these times, to see religion as a force for division rather than unity.

And this is a town - Washington - that knows something of division.

But the reason I am here, and the reason I keep coming back to Washington, is because this is a town that is proving it can come together on behalf of what the scriptures call the least of these.

This is not a Republican idea. It is not a Democratic idea. It is not even, with all due respect, an American idea. Nor it is unique to any one faith.

'Do to others as you would have them do to you' (Luke 6:30). Jesus says that.

'Righteousness is this: that one should...give away wealth out of love for him to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and the beggars and for the emancipation of the captives.' The Koran says that (2.177).

Thus sayeth the Lord: 'Bring the homeless poor into the house, when you see the naked, cover him, then your light will break out like the dawn and your recovery will speedily spring fourth, then your Lord will be your rear guard.' The Jewish scripture says that. Isaiah 58 again.

That is a powerful incentive: 'The Lord will watch your back.' Sounds like a good deal to me, right now.

A number of years ago, I met a wise man who changed my life. In countless ways, large and small, I was always seeking the Lord's blessing. I was saying, you know, I have a new song, look after it¿. I have a family, please look after them¿. I have this crazy idea...

And this wise man said: stop.

He said, stop asking God to bless what you're doing.

Get involved in what God is doing - because it's already blessed.

Well, God, as I said, is with the poor. That, I believe, is what God is doing.

And that is what he's calling us to do.

I was amazed when I first got to this country and I learned how much some churchgoers tithe. Up to 10% of the family budget. Well, how does that compare with the federal budget, the budget for the entire American family? How much of that goes to the poorest people in the world? Less than 1%.

Mr. President, Congress, people of faith, people of America:

I want to suggest to you today that you see the flow of effective foreign assistance as tithing.... Which, to be truly meaningful, will mean an additional 1% of the federal budget tithed to the poor.

What is 1%?

1% is not merely a number on a balance sheet.

1% is the girl in Africa who gets to go to school, thanks to you. 1% is the AIDS patient who gets her medicine, thanks to you. 1% is the African entrepreneur who can start a small family business thanks to you. 1% is not redecorating presidential palaces or money flowing down a rat hole. This 1% is digging waterholes to provide clean water.

1% is a new partnership with Africa, not paternalism toward Africa, where increased assistance flows toward improved governance and initiatives with proven track records and away from boondoggles and white elephants of every description.

America gives less than 1% now. We're asking for an extra 1% to change the world. to transform millions of lives - but not just that and I say this to the military men now - to transform the way that they see us.

1% is national security, enlightened economic self-interest, and a better, safer world rolled into one. Sounds to me that in this town of deals and compromises, 1% is the best bargain around.

These goals - clean water for all; school for every child; medicine for the afflicted, an end to extreme and senseless poverty - these are not just any goals; they are the Millennium Development goals, which this country supports. And they are more than that. They are the Beatitudes for a globalised world.

Now, I'm very lucky. I don't have to sit on any budget committees. And I certainly don't have to sit where you do, Mr. President. I don't have to make the tough choices.

But I can tell you this:

To give 1% more is right. It's smart. And it's blessed.

There is a continent - Africa - being consumed by flames.

I truly believe that when the history books are written, our age will be remembered for three things: the war on terror, the digital revolution, and what we did - or did not to - to put the fire out in Africa.

History, like God, is watching what we do.

Thank you. Thank you, America, and God bless you all.

Posted by gary at 06:36 PM | Comments (0)

February 04, 2006

Stupidity comes naturally...

If you are looking for real-life stories of how dumb people can really be, check out the Bozo criminal report. It's a wonderful reminder of human creativity (to be shared alongside the Darwin Awards), although in the sense of our ability to get ourselves into trouble.

Posted by gary at 03:26 PM | Comments (0)

February 03, 2006

iPod - can you hear me?

It had to happen! It might cost an arm and a leg to replace the battery when it wears out, but you might not need to anyway... Report from ABC news today:

iPod user sues for hearing damage

A music-lover claiming to suffer from 'iPod ear' has filed suit in a US court against Apple Computer, charging that the market-leading MP3 music player damages users' hearing.

John Patterson of Louisiana filed a federal lawsuit against Apple in the Silicon Valley city of San Jose on behalf of all iPod users and demanded a civil trial, according to court documents online.

IPods have a maximum possible volume of 115 decibels, and listening at that level for just 28 seconds daily can cause hearing damage, the lawsuit charged.

The noise from a typical chain saw is reported to register 110 decibels and a jack hammer about 120 decibels.

Apple iPods are "inherently defective in design" and do not bear adequate warnings about possible hearing damage, the suit charged.

IPod packaging bears a warning about potential hearing loss if music is listened to at high volume.

However, the "ear bud" earphones sold with the iPods do not properly disperse the sound, according to the suit.

The Cupertino, California company has declined to comment, citing a policy of not discussing pending litigation.

Apple was forced to pull iPods from stores in France and upgrade them with software limiting sound output to 100 decibels, something it has not done in the United States, the lawsuit contended.

-AFP

Posted by gary at 03:27 PM | Comments (3)

January 27, 2006

Haggis can be lethal

Nasty little animals, those haggis. And now it seems that eating them is hazardous to your health. According to this morning's paper:
Scotland's national dish has been ranked alongside junk food by health officials fighting childhood obesity. They recommend children eat haggis only once a week because of its fat and salt content.
From today's Odd Spot from The Age.

Posted by gary at 09:48 PM | Comments (0)

Sex and Public Speaking

I'm not sure that this has a place in preaching courses... Seems to me it has been the cause of more problems than solutions through time... though there is a scientific basis.

Posted by gary at 09:10 PM | Comments (1)

January 18, 2006

Ready to believe anything

There is an old G K Chesterton chestnut which goes along the lines of those who refuse to believe in God will believe in almost anything. Aside from the fact that the exact quote seems to be a conflation of other things he has written, Madeleine Bunting seems to have a go at renowned atheist Richard Dawkins for such a stance, partly due to the fact that there is a belief that rational atheism should have won by now.

But you are better off reading her article.

Posted by gary at 09:31 PM | Comments (1)

January 11, 2006

What is an AFDB?

afdbhead.jpgFrom the "you've got to be joking" category: paranoia at its height!

An Aluminum Foil Deflector Beanie (AFDB) is a type of headwear that can shield your brain from most electromagnetic psychotronic mind control carriers. AFDBs are inexpensive (even free if you don't mind scrounging for thrown-out aluminium foil) and can be constructed by anyone with at least the dexterity of a chimp (maybe bonobo). This cheap and unobtrusive form of mind control protection offers real security to the masses. Not only do they protect against incoming signals, but they also block most forms of brain scanning and mind reading, keeping the secrets in your head truly secret. AFDBs are safe and operate automatically. All you do is make it and wear it and you're good to go! Plus, AFDBs are stylish and comfortable.

If you want to know how to make one, click here.

Posted by gary at 02:48 PM | Comments (0)

January 09, 2006

Be kind to vermin

Does this belong in the 'only in America' section? From the BBC web site

mouse.gifA US man threw a mouse he had found in his home onto a pile of burning leaves - only to see it run away and burn his house down.

Luciano Mares, 81, of Fort Sumner, New Mexico, found a mouse in his home and wanted to get rid of it.

"I had some leaves burning outside, so I threw it in the fire, and the mouse was on fire and ran back at the house," he said.

Though no one was injured, the house and everything in it was destroyed.

"I've seen numerous house fires, but nothing as unique as this one," Fire Department Captain Jim Lyssy said.

New Mexico has seen several major blazes after unseasonably dry and windy conditions which have destroyed 10 homes and devastated more than 53,000 acres (21,200 hectares) of land.

Posted by gary at 06:16 PM | Comments (0)

January 01, 2006

Happy (cool!) new year

The last day of 2005 brought a maximum temperature of 42.9 in Melbourne. It was the hottest December on record, and the hottest last day. The Weather Bureau had forecast 42, but one news site published the following report yesterday. I reproduce it here for its irony....

But before you read that, let me pray that 2006 is a year in which the purposes of God bear fruit in your life, and in the international relations of our world.

Shalom!


Last Update: Saturday, December 31, 2005. 3:00pm (AEDT)
Melbourne gets cool relief (clicking this link will take you to a later update)

Southerly winds have seen temperatures drop in parts of Melbourne.

The mercury has struggled to hit 30 degrees in the CBD.
Weather.jpg

At Tullamarine the temperature peaked at 37 degrees just after 11:00am AEDT.

It is now unlikely the scorcher forecast for Melbourne will happen, although it will be hot in the northern parts of the state.

The Weather Bureau's Ward Rooney says the weather will remain fine for New Year's Eve celebrations.

"It will be a balmy night," he said.

"In fact, northerlies will re-establish over Melbourne overnight, so a mild to warm night is the prospect."

Posted by gary at 10:31 AM | Comments (0)

December 30, 2005

U.S. Christians at Guantánamo's gates

David Hicks has had to become a British citizen in order to gain some hope after four years in detention in Guantánamo Bay because the Australian government refuses to advocate on his behalf. Now Christians from the US are rising up because of torture claims tacitly admitted by the Bush Administration. This place - the war on terror as a whole - stands as a blight and disgrace upon the West, particularly in the light of claims to christian faith by the key leaders involved.

Recently, a group of 25 U.S. Christians began a water-only fast and prayer vigil on Monday at the gates of the detention centre and naval base at Guantánamo Bay. The group, calling itself Witness Against Torture (many of whom are Catholic peace activists), walked 50 miles from Santiago, Cuba, to the gates of the U.S. military prison where they are seeking authorization to enter the base and meet with prisoners ¿ some 500 of which are being held on suspicion of terrorist activities. The government says the detainees are enemy combatants, not prisoners of war, and are not entitled to the same rights afforded under the Geneva Conventions.

Read more here.

Posted by gary at 04:14 PM | Comments (0)

November 06, 2005

Your Rights at Work

The Australian government is proposing the most radical overhaul of our workplaces since Federation, and is allowing only FIVE DAYS for feedback to the Senate. Public submissions must be taken into account. The following link allows you to have your opinion put to the committee investigating the legislation and seeking public feedback.

Take the opportunity to let parliament know what you think about the legislation in particular, and their commitment to democracy in general.

www.rightsatwork.com.au/campaigns/tellsenate

The full text from the web site appears in the extended entry.

Five days. Just five days of hearings. That is all the time that the Coalition has given for a Senate Inquiry to examine the biggest industrial relations changes in a hundred years. After $40m of taxpayer funded political advertising, the Government hopes the deadline for Senate submissions will slip by unnoticed. But - if we act now - we can throw a spanner in the works.

We need to draw national attention to the Senate Inquiry and force a major debate. Our goal is to help Australians make a record number of submissions to a Senate Inquiry over the next five days. Please click this link to send your message to the Senate Inquiry now:

www.rightsatwork.com.au/campaigns/tellsenate

The Senate Committee's job is to read every single submission from any Australian who takes the time to make one. You don't have to be an academic or a lawyer to have an opinion about how the industrial changes will affect you. You simply need to talk about your experiences in the workplace in your own words. This is your chance to communicate directly with your elected representatives, and by law, your opinion must be taken into account. That's what a Senate Inquiry is there for.

You can talk about your experience with AWA individual contracts, how you would feel negotiating directly with your boss about your pay, or how your work/family balance will be affected. Everybody's experience is valid. Even a simple paragraph relating your concerns is important to show the Committee that the Government's plans are a recipe for workplace injustice. With only five days of hearings, every submission - however short - is vital.

Please take a few minutes to visit the Rights at Work website, and use the simple form provided to tell your story. Remember to include your full name, address and phone number so your submission is valid. Click this www.rightsatwork.com.au/campaigns/tellsenate

Posted by gary at 12:21 PM | Comments (0)

November 04, 2005

Technology always runs ahead of morality and ethics...

News this week that a 15-year old boy was able to track down his (anonymous) donor-sperm biological father with no more than the internet and a couple of hundred dollars indicates how technological developments are a series of pandora's boxes. Men, whose motives we can only guess at, who donated sperm in the early days of IVF technology and who thereby sired children who they were assured they would have no connection with, have been shown to be a vulnerable group. Imagine having one (or dozens?) of children knocking at your door saying, "Hi Dad".

Of course, with the growing cohort of children born this way, this ethical dilemma was bound to emerge. Marrying an unknown half-brother or -sister increases the greater number of children sired by the same donor. (Is there a limit on the number of children one donor can sire?)

Now we are confronted with a clash of rights: the right of a donor to anonymity and the right of a child to know his biological and genetic heritage.

The notion of having a child fathered by someone else is not knew. The Levirate marriage of the OT is one example. I am sure than many rulers through the years have sired a much wider family than that which enjoys the privileges of royal heritage today.

But it does raise questions in relation to what it means to be human. Not only biologically, but socially. We are not just a collection of cells, we are part of a web of relationships which help define who we are.

Pandora's box is open in so many areas. I suppose we're so used to the chaos that we have no qualms opening still others....

Posted by gary at 07:38 PM | Comments (0)

November 03, 2005

Rosa Parks - A story in context

Interesting reflection on the broader context of Rosa Parks' actions in 1955. Not a single act in isolation, it seems....

THE REAL ROSA PARKS
Paul Rogat Loeb

We learn much from how we present our heroes. A few years ago, on Martin Luther King. Day, I was interviewed on CNN. So was Rosa Parks, by phone from Los Angeles. "We're very honored to have her," said the host. "Rosa Parks was the woman who wouldn't go to the back of the bus. She wouldn'tget up and give her seat in the white section to a white person. That set in motion the year-long bus boycott in Montgomery. It earned Rosa Parks the title of 'mother of the Civil Rights movement.'"

I was excited to hear Parks's voice and to be part of the same show. Then it occurred to me that the host's description--the story's standard rendition and one repeated even in many of her obituaries - stripped the Montgomery boycott of all of its context. Before refusing to give up her bus seat, Parks had been active for twelve years in the local NAACP chapter, serving as its secretary. The summer before her arrest, she'd had attended a ten-day training session at Tennessee's labor and civil rights organizing school, the Highlander Center, where she'd met an older generation of civil rights activists, like South Carolina teacher Septima Clark, and discussed the recent Supreme Court decision banning "separate-but-equal" schools. During this period of involvement and education, Parks had become familiar with previous challenges to segregation: Another Montgomery bus boycott, fifty years earlier, successfully eased some restrictions; a bus boycott in Baton Rouge won limited gains two years before Parks was arrested; and the previous spring, a young Montgomery woman had also refused to move to the back of the bus, causing the NAACP to consider a legal challenge until it turned out that she was unmarried and pregnant, and therefore a poor symbol for a campaign.

In short, Rosa Parks didn't make a spur-of-the-moment decision.

She didn't single-handedly give birth to the civil rights efforts, but she was part of an existing movement for change, at a time when success was far from certain. We all know Parks's name, but few of us know about Montgomery NAACP head E.D. Nixon, who served as one of her mentors and first got Martin Luther King involved. Nixon carried people's suitcases on the trains, and was active in the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the union founded by legendary civil rights activist A. Philip Randolph. He played a key role in the campaign. No one talks of him, any more than they talk of JoAnn Robinson, who taught nearby at an underfunded and segregated Black college and whose Women's Political Council distributed the initial leaflets following Parks's arrest. Without the often lonely work of people like Nixon, Randolph, and Robinson, Parks would likely have never taken her stand, and if she had, it would never have had the same impact.

This in no way diminishes the power and historical importance of Parks's refusal to give up her seat. But it reminds us that this tremendously consequential act, along with everything that followed, depended on all the humble and frustrating work that Parks and others undertook earlier on. It also reminds us that Parks's initial step of getting involved was just as courageous and critical as the stand on the bus that all of us have heard about.

People like Parks shape our models of social commitment. Yet from responses to talks I've given throughout the country, most citizens do not know the full story of her involvement. And the conventional stripped-down retelling creates a standard so impossible to meet, it may actually make it harder for us to get involved, inadvertently removing away Parks's most powerful lessons of hope.

This conventional portrayal suggests that social activists come out of nowhere, to suddenly take dramatic stands. It implies that we act with the greatest impact when we act alone, at least initially. And that change occurs instantly, as opposed to building on a series of often-invisible actions. The myth of Parks as lone activist reinforces a notion that anyone who takes a committed public stand, or at least an effective one, has to be a larger-than-life figure - someone with more time, energy, courage, vision, or knowledge than any normal person could ever possess. This belief pervades our society, in part because the media tends not to represent historical change as the work of ordinary human beings, which it almost always is.

Once we enshrine our heroes on pedestals, it becomes hard for mere mortals to measure up in our eyes. However individuals speak out, we're tempted to dismiss their motives, knowledge, and tactics as insufficiently grand or heroic. We fault them for not being in command of every fact and figure, or being able to answer every question put to them. We fault ourselves as well, for not knowing every detail, or for harboring uncertainties and doubts. We find it hard to imagine that ordinary human beings with ordinary flaws might make a critical difference in worthy social causes.

Yet those who act have their own imperfections, and ample reasons to hold back. "I think it does us all a disservice," says a young African-American activist in Atlanta named Sonya Tinsley, "when people who work for social change are presented as saints - so much more noble than the rest of us. We get a false sense that from the moment they were born they were called to act, never had doubts, were bathed in a circle of light. But I'm much more inspired learning how people succeeded despite their failings and uncertainties. It's a much less intimidating image. It makes me feel like I have a shot at changing things too." Sonya had recently attended a talk given by one of Martin Luther King's Morehouse professors, in which he mentioned how much King had struggled when he first came to college, getting only a 'C,' for example, in his first philosophy course. "I found that very inspiring, when I heard it," Sonya said, "given all that King achieved. It made me feel that just about anything was possible."

Our culture's misreading of the Rosa Parks story speaks to a more general collective amnesia, where we forget the examples that might most inspire our courage, hope, and conscience. Apart from obvious times of military conflict, most of us know next to nothing of the many battles ordinary men and women fought to preserve freedom, expand the sphere of democracy, and create a more just society. Of the abolitionist and civil rights movements, we at best recall a few key leaders--and often misread their actual stories. We know even less about the turn-of-the-century populists who challenged entrenched economic interests and fought for a "cooperative commonwealth." Who these days can describe the union movements that ended 80-hour work weeks at near-starvation wages? Who knows the origin of the social security system, now threatened by systematic attempts to privatize it? How did the women's suffrage movement spread to hundreds of communities, and gather enough strength to prevail?

As memories of these events disappear, we lose the knowledge of mechanisms that grassroots social movements have used successfully in the past to shift public sentiment and challenge entrenched institutional power. Equally lost are the means by which their participants managed to keep on and eventually prevail in circumstances at least as harsh as those we face today. Think again about the different ways one can frame Rosa Parks's historic action. In the prevailing myth, Parks decides to act almost on a whim, in isolation. She's a virgin to politics, a holy innocent. The lesson seems to be that if any of us suddenly got the urge to do something equally heroic, that would be great. Of course most of us don't, so we wait our entire lives to find the ideal moment.

Parks's real story conveys a far more empowering moral. She begins with seemingly modest steps. She goes to a meeting, and then another, helping build the community that in turn supported her path. Hesitant at first, she gains confidence as she speaks out. She keeps on despite aprofoundly uncertain context, as she and others act as best they can to challenge deeply entrenched injustices, with little certainty of results. Had she and others given up after her tenth or eleventh year of commitment, we might never have heard of Montgomery.

Parks also reminds us that even in a seemingly losing cause, one person may unknowingly inspire another, and that person yet a third, who may then go on to change the world, or at least a small corner of it. Rosa Parks's husband Raymond convinced her to attend her first NAACP meeting, the initial step on a path that brought her to that fateful day on the bus in Montgomery. But who got Raymond Parks involved? And why did that person take the trouble to do so? What experiences shaped their outlook, forged their convictions? The links in any chain of influence are too numerous, too complex to trace. But being aware that such chains exist, that we can choose to join them, and that lasting change doesn't occur in their absence, is one of the primary ways to sustain hope, especially when our actions seem too insignificant to amount to anything.

Finally, Parks's journey suggests that change is the product of deliberate, incremental action, whereby we join together to try to shape a better world. Sometimes our struggles will fail, as did many earlier efforts of Parks, her peers, and her predecessors. Other times they may bear modest fruits. And at times they will trigger a miraculous outpouring of courage and heart--as happened with her arrest and all that followed. For only when we act despite all our uncertainties and doubts do we have the chance to shape history.

Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear

Posted by gary at 09:37 PM | Comments (0)

November 01, 2005

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks was a remarkable women, and yet at the same time nothing extraordinary. Rosa died this past week, aged 92, but it was events nearly 50 years ago which pushed her name into the American and international spotlight, when she failed to give up her seat – as the law required – to a white man and move to the back of the bus which was designated for black passengers. It was the end of a long working day such that her tiredness made her hold her ground. She was fined $10 for her efforts (with an additional $4 of court costs), which ultimately sparked a thirteen month boycott of the bus system by the black population of Montgomery Alabama, and stirred one young Baptist pastor into a cause which stirred a nation. That pastor’s name was Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

How did this happen? There is no doubt that Rosa Parks was a woman concerned about the racial segregation which placed such a heavy and dehumanising burden on black Americans. But her act was neither premeditated nor orchestrated. She had no ultimate purpose in her action. She could not have foreshadowed how her act would become a catalyst and symbol for change. She was tired. Tired from a day’s work, and likely tired from a system which imposed unjust burdens on her and people like her.

Although her act has been trumpeted for its significance, Rosa had no idea at the time that this simple choice could make such a profound difference. Her simple act of sitting in one place inspired a people to take a stand for equal rights for all. It is hard to imagine a more simple and mundane act, yet it catalysed a movement which embraced a nation. This is an example of a true act of faith: a mustard seed act which produced something way out of proportion. It could neither have been planned nor conspired to bring such an unexpected outcome. Such is the ways of the gospel which gave her strength.

To be a great people of faith is not to believe in magnificent and monumental moments, but to believe that God can use the ordinary and mundane choices of our lives and impregnate them with fruitfulness beyond measure. We are not called to search for the grandstanding and defining acts, but to let our simple choices be the defining moments of our lives: to live simply and humbly. It is these acts which God blesses.

Posted by gary at 11:05 AM | Comments (0)

October 29, 2005

Is DNA foolproof?

It sounds like an open-and-shut-case. A clear DNA match is made between semen from a serious sexual assault and a blood sample from a man known to police. But he did not commit the assault. Years earlier he had received a bone marrow transplant from the real perpetrator, and in doing so, inherited some of his DNA. Cases such as this are rare, but as forensic DNA databases grow and more people undergo bone marrow transplants, the risk of a miscarriage of justice increases...

Read the rest here.

Moral: Always be prepared to question the conventional wisdom of your time.

Posted by gary at 04:49 PM | Comments (0)

October 06, 2005

Only in.... Britain!

The Breakout Trust is sending a film to every primary school in Britain after hearing of a boy who asked his teacher why Mary and Joseph named their baby boy after a swear word. The film, entitled It's a Boy! is an animated feature, which can be previewed at its web site. The strong British accents might take a bit of getting used to...

Posted by gary at 01:32 PM | Comments (0)

October 03, 2005

Jim Knight - Life Member

Congratulations to Jim Knight, longstanding member of our community (and Deacon) on his appointment to Life Membership of the Kangaroos (North Melbourne Football Club) in the AFL. Jim has served faithfully as a trainer for 25 years, and was honoured alongside club playing legends Ross Glendinning and Brent Harvey at the Best and Fairest count. Jim's modest, unassuming and caring manner is a real blessing to us, and to many.

Congratulations Jim!

Posted by gary at 09:07 PM | Comments (0)

September 30, 2005

vale M Scott Peck

Seems to be the week for deaths... M Scott Peck, author of A Different Drum and the more celebrated The Road Less Travelled, among others, passed away on September 25, aged 69.

These two books were formative in early thinking for me, with Different Drum's more communal focus a welcome shift from the implied individualism of the more popular tome. They are still an excellent read, as is his book on the afterlife: In Heaven as on Earth, which is based on the writings of an earlier author whose name escapes me right now.

Peck's bridging of traditional christianity with the non-christian reader is a hallmark of his work.

A quote from A Different Drum:

How strange that we should ordinarily feel compelled to hide our wounds when we are all wounded! Community requires the ability to expose our wounds and weaknesses to our fellow creatures. It also requires the ability to be affected by the wounds of others...But even more important is the love that arises among us when we share, both ways, our woundedness.

Posted by gary at 01:19 PM | Comments (0)

September 28, 2005

vale Don Adams (Maxwell Smart)

Death of the 1960s super-spy brought the following letter to this morning's edition of The Australian:

As kids, we all thought that Get Smart was an American comedy show, but now we suspect that it was a documentary.
(Sandra K Eckersley from Marricksville NSW)

Posted by gary at 08:59 PM | Comments (1)

September 18, 2005

Major Challenges

I have to admit to being no fan of George Bush. However, he took a couple of steps up in my esteem with his address to last week, in which he placed poverty and racism on the political agenda in the United States. It has been a sleeping issue which none have had the courage to address... the underbelly of this prosperous nation has been ruthlessly exposed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina's destruction.

From a distance, George Bush seems a naive character. His simplistic approach often leads him into dangerous territory, as with the case in Iraq. It is this simplicity which enables him to put this issue on the agenda, where all others would deem it political suicide. It is the most difficult of problems, yet the most urgent, both on the national and international agenda.

Let's hope there is the courage which leads to action.

Posted by gary at 04:24 PM | Comments (0)

September 07, 2005

1960s Retraction: God is not dead

It was in April 1966 that Time ran an article questioning whether God was dead. Last month, Newsweek ran a story outlining the resurgent spirituality and search for the transcendent which is permeating American society, at the same time reporting church attendance figures as low as 20% (an historic low). But the nature of this search for God is in its focus: not in traditional christian thinking, but in a much more experiential and eclectic field. It is not good theology that people are looking for, but experience.

Whether it be in the mainstreaming of Pentecostalism, the re-emphasis on meditation in Catholic circles, or the increased interest in previously (and in some senses still) marginal faith traditions. The current movement is much more tolerant and open to crossing previously inaccessible divides: it is not unusual for someone to report a christian background, Islamic conversion and adoption of Buddhist practices. In many cases it is holistic, exhibiting a commitment to ecological and environmental concerns. Much less concerned with "pie in the sky when I die", this spirituality bears the hallmarks of immediacy, both in experience of God and in terms of the implications for lifestyle.

There is some good food for thought here, and a grounding in many historical aspects and disciplines of faith. Evangelicalism as we have come to know it may well have impoverished us much more than we are comfortable to admit or prepared to acknowledge.

Read the article here.

Posted by gary at 07:49 PM | Comments (0)

September 03, 2005

Katrina, God and Social Morality

An article by Rabbi Michael Lerner

It didn't have to happen. And it didn't have to result in so many deaths and social chaos.

Before going down the route of spiritual analysis, let me pause for a moment of prayer and sadness for the suffering of the people of New Orleans, prayers for comfort of those who are mourning losses, and prayers for the survival of those who are still in danger. Prayer must always be accompanied by acts of tzedaka, righteousness or charity. The American Red Cross is playing the lead support role here, so you might consider donating to them: call 1 800 HELP NOW.

But this is a classic case of the law of karma, or what the Torah warns of environmental disaster unless we create a just society, or what others call watching the chickens come home to roost, or what goes around come around:

* Environmentalists are making a strong case that the escalated number and ferocity of earthquakes is a direct product of global warming, caused in large part by the reliance on fossil fuels. The persistent refusal of the U.S. to join the nations of the world in implementing the Kyoto Accords emission limits, and to impose serious pollution restrictions on the cars being sold in the US, is a major factor in global warming.

* The development for housing and commercial purposes combinded with massive oil and gas investments destroyed the natural protections from storms that the coastal wetlands has previously provided.

* Funds that were specifically allocated for New Orleans which could have been used in rebuilding levees and for storm protection were cut from the federal budget so that President Bush could use those funds to wage the war in Iraq.

* The white majority of the people of Louisiana elected Congressional representatives who enthusiastically support the war in Iraq and the Bush Administration's environmental irresponsibility. When economic devastation hit workers in northern cities over the past several decades, Louisianans voted to downsize the federal government and to let others fend for themselves. Many talked about the glories of relying on the free marketplace rather than on the "handouts" from a national government that they abhorred. Or they told the poor and the homeless in northern cities that "if they worked harder or had better habits or were smarter they'd have employment and wouldn't have to depend on others' help. Or they saw that suffering of others as "the hand of God."

And yet, the law of karma or Torah doesn't work on a one to one basis...

delivering "just rewards" to those who have been directly involved in causing evil, as JOB noted in the Bible and as we can note watching global warming play out. The terrible truth is that it is the POOR, the MOST VULNERABLE, who are the first to suffer. The wealthy built their homes on higher ground, had better information, more insurance, and more avenues of escape. So whether it is in facing the rising waters in Bangladesh or Malaysia or Lousiana and Missippi, it's going to be "the least among us" who will suffer most immediately. This is why it is inappropriate to blame the victim: because the way the world has been created, the consequences of past social injustice, war and ecological irresponsibility come to a whole planet--because from the cosmic perspective we are one, we are all interdependent-and those who suffer most are often not even those who are most culpable. Ditto with environmental cancers - it's often not the oil company executives but poor people living in proximity to the air and water polluted by corporate irresponsibility and abetted by the lawmakers who depend on corporate contributions and pay them back by imposing the weakest possible environmental regulations.

When some Christian fundamentalists talk about these as signs of the impending doom of the planet, they are laughed off as irrational cranks. It's true that these fundamentalists see no connection between the doom and the environmental irresponsibility that the politicians they support have brought us. But nevertheless, their perception that we are living at "the end of time" can't be dismissed by those of us who know that the life support systems of this planet are increasingly "in danger" if politics continues the way it has been going, with politicians in BOTH parties capitulating regularly to the ethos of selfishness and materialism that is sustained by our corporate plunderers but is validated by the votes of ordinary citizens.

Yet the fundamentalist message is deeply misleading also, because it seems to suggest that all this is out of our hands, part of some divine scheme. But it's not. The biblical version is quite different from what they say: it insists that the choice between life and death is in our hands. After laying out the consequences of abandoning a path of justice and righteousness, the Torah makes it clear that it is up to us. CHOOSE LIFE, it tells us. That choosing of life means transforming our social system in ways that neither Democrats nor Republicans have yet been willing to consider-toward a new bottom line of love and caring, kindness and generosity, ethical and ecological responsibility, and awe and wonder at the grandeur of the universe replacing a narrow utilitarian approach to Nature. This is precisely what we have been calling for in our Interfaith organization, the Tikkun Community, and in our new project of the Tikkun Community called The Network of Spiritual Progressives. We need a New Bottom Line-a fundamental transformation of what we value in this society. We want to take that message into the public sphere, into the political parties, into the media, into the schools, into the corporations.

What too frequently happens when disasters like this hit is that everyone gets momentarily worked up about helping the victims, then a few weeks later forgets the whole thing, and rarely do we get a serious discussion (much less "follow through") about how to solve the underlying problems. Let's not let that happen again. Please join the Network of Spiritual Progressives of The Tikkun Community. For more information about our perspective, go to the Core Vision at www.tikkun.org. To Join, click here: https://www.donate.net/tikkun/basket.asp?dept_id=965&shopper_id=399435.

There is one beautiful thing that sometimes happens during these kind of emergencies: the cynical realism that teaches us that people just care about themselves, a teaching that makes most of us feel scared to be "too generous" or "too idealistic" temporarily falls away, and people are allowed to be their most generous and loving selves. When the restraints are momentarily down, there is a huge outpouring of love, generosity and kindness on the part of many Americans. People do things like this that I saw yesterday: advertising on the internet's Craig's List that they are willing to take in to their own home for many months a family that has been displaced by the floods. This kind of selflessness is something that people actually yearn to let out, but under ordinary circumstances they'd fear to do so. So watch the goodness show itself.

Not to deny that ugliness will also appear. The looting of stores in New Orleans momentarily revealed the "bottom line" of government responsibilities when the New Orleans police announced that they were going to switch policing priorities from saving lives (of the poor) to saving the property of the wealthy and the corporations from the looters. It's this kind of misplaced priorities over the course of many decades that makes some poor people (and not only poor people, but others who feel that they have a deep sense of social grievance) think (mistakenly and unjustifiably) that it makes sense to take advantage of this moment to rectify a long history of social injustice by taking from the "haves" to provide for themselves as the "have-nots." It's hard to witness this perversity on the part of both looters and police without a deep sadness of heart about the depths of depravity that reveal themselves in these moments, alongside the heights of goodness mentioned in the previous paragraph.

For me, this is a prayerful moment, entering the period just before the Jewish High Holidays (starting Oct. 3), realizing that the Jewish tradition of taking ten days of reflection, repentance and atonement is so badly needed not just by Jews but by everyone on the planet. I hope we can find a way to build this practice among secular as well as religious people, because America, indeed the whole world, so badly needs to STOP and reflect,repent and atone, and find a new way, a new path, and return to the deepest truths of love, kindness, generosity, non-violence and peace.

--Rabbi Michael Lerner
Editor, Tikkun and co-chair (with Cornel West and Sister Joan Chittister) of the Tikkun Community
Author, The Left Hand of God (forthcoming in January from HarperSanFrancisco)
RabbiLerner@tikkun.org

Posted by nick at 12:11 AM | Comments (0)

August 27, 2005

Rick Warren's Grand Vision

Is this the new Christendom? Rick Warren's Purpose-Driven passion is now extending to Rwanda, which he wants to use as a prototype for the first "purpose driven nation".

For months the clergyman has alluded in general terms to an immense volunteer effort called the PEACE plan, aimed at transforming 400,000 churches in 47 nations into centers to nurse, feed and educate the poor and even turn them into entrepreneurs. Its details remain unknown, but its Rwandan element seems to have outrun the rest. Warren says he was "looking for a small country where we could actually work on a national model," and Kagame, impressed by The Purpose-Driven Life, volunteered Rwanda in March. In July Warren and 48 other American Evangelicals, who have backgrounds in areas like health, education, micro-enterprises and justice, held intensive planning meetings with Rwandan Cabinet ministers, governors, clergy and entrepreneurs. One dinner was attended by a third of the Rwandan Parliament. Says Scott Moreau, a professor of missiology at Wheaton College in Illinois: "I've never heard of this level of cooperation in the last 100 years between any megachurch, mission agency or even a denomination and a national government."

In addition to the article's reference to Protestant and Catholic involvement in the 1993 genocide, one wonders about the cross-cultural implications of what is largely a Western approach to life. The history of christian-directed nations does not stand up well. Can one turn a successful voluntary program from another culture into a national imprint?

Posted by gary at 03:05 PM | Comments (0)

August 26, 2005

The Secret of Successful Church Ministry

Is this really gospel?

Most churches fail to make a good impression on visitors because they focus on the wrong things, according to a representative of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.... Visitors decide whether to return [to church] based on such factors as the building’s appearance and the friendliness of greeters, Hammond said.

Forget commitment to justice, mercy and righteousness. Forget the power of the gospel to transform lives. The speaker's main focus (although perhaps not his key message) is that an attractive church campus, friendly greeters, and guest parking is the essence of a good church. The more central point: "we hear the preaching of the Word of God but don't experience it" is interpreted through the grid of a smile from another. Is this what we have reduced the church to? Perhaps this explains the American search for spirituality in places other than the church.

When did the primary determinant of successful church get reduced to the number of bums on a seat on Sunday?

Posted by gary at 05:03 PM | Comments (2)

August 22, 2005

Brother Roger

The murder of Brother Roger, founder of the Taizé, community in Eastern France brings a remarkable end to a remarkable life. Brother Roger's concern for developing spirituality lead him to establish prayer groups committed to peace and reconciliation in Poland, East Germany and Hungary before the fall of communism, based in both Protestant and Catholic circles became a significant catalyst amongst younger folk for change. The Taizé prayer movement now spans the globe.

Brother Roger was also a driving force behind World Youth Day, held this week in Cologne, and recently announced as coming to Australia in 2007.

His amazing capacity to touch people across denominations and outside the traditional church makes him a unique man of God.

Posted by gary at 11:17 PM | Comments (0)

August 11, 2005

Brian McLaren.. Becoming Convergent (part 3)

The final instalment can now be read here.

Posted by gary at 11:33 PM | Comments (0)

Brian McLaren (part 2)

"Becoming Convergent" Read the continuing reflection by McLaren here. Part 3 to follow tomorrow.

Posted by gary at 05:07 PM | Comments (0)

August 10, 2005

What's Happening in the Emerging Church?

Part 1 of a three-part reflection by Brian McLaren, who seems to be "emerging" as the spokesperson of the Emerging Church movement in the US. An insightful piece - in part 1 Brian reflects on his own journey of faith.

If you don't know McLaren, his book "A New Kind of Christian" is a good place to start.

Posted by gary at 08:54 PM | Comments (2)

July 20, 2005

Resurrection of Jesus 97% probable

An Oxford professor has used logic and mathematics to conclude that it is 97% probable that Jesus was raised from the dead. I would suggest however that the key issues to examine here are not in the calculations, but in the assumptions...

Read about it here.

Posted by gary at 10:46 AM | Comments (0)

July 17, 2005

We're Not Afraid!

Great new site "We're Not Afraid!" - a wonderful pictorial blog in which people express their intention not to be intimidated by terrorism. A powerful expression of non-violent resistance. Check it out here.

Posted by gary at 10:53 PM | Comments (1)

July 15, 2005

8 More Facts to Digest Today

The Melbourne Age ran these facts on its front page on July 2. They are worth pondering:

1. 30000 children die every day from preventable diseases
2. Nearly 11 million children under the age of five die every year
3. One woman dies every minute as the result of pregnancy and childbirth
4. More than 500,000 women die in childbirth and pregnancy every year
5. 58,000 people die each day from hunger and easily preventable diseases
6. One in five children in the developing world does not have access to safe water
7. 1.3 billion people live on less than $US1 a day
8. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the world's poorest 48 nations is less than the wealth of the world's three richest people combined.

It sat alongside a major article headed: "A child dies from poverty every three seconds" and subtitled: That's how long it took you to read the headline. In the time you've taken to read this, two more have died.

I kept the paper and missed the link, but you can view the front page here

The articles appeared in relation to Live8

Posted by gary at 09:08 PM | Comments (1)

July 12, 2005

MTV Ad censured

This advertisement aired a single time on MTV before it was removed. It is a powerful reflection on our present global context. What pressures were brought to bear to expedite its removal can only be surmised.

CensuradoMTV.pps
(scanned and cleared by Norton 2005)

Posted by gary at 09:38 AM | Comments (1)

The Unholy Trinity

In the wake of events of the past week, I posted the following comment on our sign board...

Global poverty : Global warming : Global terrorism - the unholy trinity.

Posted by gary at 07:09 AM | Comments (0)

July 05, 2005

7:30 Report

To watch oneself being interviewed on television is rather disconcerting. But to watch images of your fragile son, even ones from years gone by, was an intensely emotional experience. Tonight's 7:30 Report: Is a tiny life worth saving? piece on the challenges facing infants born at the threshold of viability was well-balanced without really grappling with the depth of the issues (what can one do in six or seven minutes with such a loaded topic?) I confess to butterflies, wondering which aspects of a long interview would appear and in what context they would be set. One does not have to say the wrong thing: it is a matter of the context in which they sit which can create as many problems!

What fascinates me is that there is a focus on the initial decisions and not the ongoing impact of those decisions, as well as the experience that accompanies them. It is hard to imagine that someone could be given such power over another life and remain unchanged. To contemplate the possibility of terminating treatment of a loved one is no easy choice, yet places the power of life and death in ill-prepared hands. Such is the power of modern medicine.

Posted by gary at 10:23 PM | Comments (0)

June 21, 2005

The Problem with Church Growth

Seems like the people over at Lark News have cottoned onto some curious aspects of Church Growth conferences. The response of many pastors to a conference entitled "Bigger Church, Bigger Impact" might surprise you. It is a pressure on which I have commented earlier.

So... when you hear that there is a "huge conference of small churches" or of emerging churches, what are we really saying?

Posted by gary at 04:15 PM | Comments (0)

May 09, 2005

Encounter with Brian McLaren

May 9 is the date scheduled for a dialogue with Brian McLaren over at Tall Skinny Kiwi.

You can find the chapter I referred to in my previous post here.

Posted by gary at 02:19 PM | Comments (0)

April 06, 2005

Death of Pope John Paul II

The outpouring of emotion and reflection following the death of Pope John Paul II has been quite amazing. The volume of newspaper space, alongside the electronic media has been most positive towards the Pope. This pontiff generated an enormous reservoir of goodwill around the world, having invested a lot of time in travelling and meeting people of all backgrounds.

Which stands in stark contrast to key elements of his teaching and 'politics'. Over the length of this papacy there has been much public hand-wringing in relation to the attitude of Rome towards women, and AIDS sufferers. An increasing lament about the overall direction of the Catholic Church under this Pope's tutelage has been evident, with the increasing shift towards conservative stances.

That this has remained in the background in the public memory in the immediate aftermath of his death highlights an interesting paradox: the Pope was much-loved for his pastoral skills, but not for the content of his teaching.

This, in some sense, ought not surprise, with the increasing emphasis on relationships for their importance, over against doctrine and dogma. It is more important in contemporary eyes to be seen as a nice person than the fined nuancing of teaching.

This is not to say that teaching is not important. There are boundaries of tolerance which once approached - or even transgressed - eat into that reservoir of acceptance. But this Pope's commitment to the people has been the key point of his papacy, and that for which he is immediately remembered.

There are those in the faith communities who would lament such a shift, and others who would deny it, preferring to believe that the Pope's legacy is the doctrine (which isn't untrue). Yet clearly people want to known that you care about them first and foremost. When convinced of this they are much more likely to hear you out on other matters, and much more gracious in accepting difference.

In one sense this is the essence of Jesus' ministry. His key message "The kingdom of God" found its strongest place amongst those who encountered Jesus as loving and compassionate.

Perhaps we need to remember that purity of doctrine is much less important than the expression of love and compassion.

Posted by gary at 07:43 PM | Comments (0)

March 08, 2005

Now here's an interesting spiritual gift...

Not sure if you'll find this gift on too many surveys.

Posted by gary at 11:26 AM | Comments (0)

New monkey discovered

Bolivian Monkey
Australian scientists discovered a new species of monkey in Bolivia's Madidi National Park in 2002, and have auctioned off the naming rights in order to raise money for its protection. The auction sold the rights for $US650,000.

That we can still be finding new species in the world is amazing, given the advances in technology and science over the last century, particularly in light of the comment of Charles Duell, Commissioner of the U.S. Office of Patents in 1899, when he stated "Everything that can be invented has been invented. It is a call to openness: to recognise that we do not know all that is to be known, and still have much more to discover.

The scientists were concerned that the blonde monkey might be named "Parishiltoni"....

Posted by gary at 09:06 AM | Comments (0)

March 04, 2005

Australian Grand Prix

Melbourne is abuzz with the sounds of Formula 1 vehicles. The high-pitched buzz in the distance is somewhat akin to an approaching swarm of bees. For the past 10 years, along with many others, I have endured the gradual strangulation of access into and around the Albert Park area, which I frequent at least once a week. Perhaps it is some form of strange karma that slows down all the local traffic for three months or so: all that lost speed is absorbed into the frenetic pace of the F1 teams. I am forced to chug along at 40 km/h on the same track that these vehicles cover at 300 km/h.

Whether it is driving in the area, jogging around the lake, or utilising the facilities (our basketball competition loses this week every year), everything is pushed aside for this grand, swift, and somewhat predictable parade.

Am I bitter? I hope I don't sound so... I was grateful that last night gave me opportunity to visit my folks - something I wouldn't have been able to do if it weren't for the Grand Prix, as I would have been playing basketball.

Nothing is ever all bad ;^0

Posted by gary at 01:32 PM | Comments (0)

February 22, 2005

The Simpsons: There's Something About Marrying

Rev Homer Simpson conducts a wedding

In the latest episode of the Simpsons, shown in the US this past weekend, Homer becomes a marriage celebrant so that he can perform the wedding of a same-sex couple. Springfield changed its laws in relation to marriage in order to boost tourism. The episode was the subject of much speculation - as to which character was "coming out", and I won't reveal it here... you'll have to read the extended entry!

Conservative groups have echoed their ongoing complaints in relation to appropriate role models on television, but one has to look a little more skeptically at this episode: the matter of using gay marriage in an exploitative way, and whether the character in question underlines negative stereotypes of being gay, being just two of those drawn into focus.

Without having seen the episode, it's a bit hard to comment, but given the brilliance with which The Simpsons cuts through to give insightful cultural critique, it is likely to challenge some mainstream thinking on both sides of the argument.

WARNING! Reading the extended entry will reveal the Simpsons character who "comes out".

Patty Bouvier, Marge's sister is the one who declares her homosexuality.

If you want to read a little more click here

Posted by gary at 03:51 PM | Comments (0)

February 14, 2005

Celebrity Millionaire

Shane Warne the first winner of the million-dollar prize in Australia's 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire'? While it might be tempting to think that Warnie is not only talented on the cricket field, he was in fact partnered by Quiz King Dr Trevor Sauer. Which only goes to show that it isn't what you know but who you know that counts most. Perhaps Warnie should have been listening to more 60s music... his charitable foundation would be $500,000 richer if he had known the answer to this question:

Which song was the first of a string of number 1 hits for the Supremes?

a. Baby Love b. Stop! In the Name of Love c. Where did our love go? d. You can't hurry love

Warnie and Trev passed on the question... Click on the link below to check whether you answered correctly...

The correct answer is:

c. Where did our love go?

Posted by gary at 10:15 PM | Comments (2)

February 10, 2005

When we are ruled by fear

Even the simplest act is brought under suspicion.

Posted by gary at 01:07 PM | Comments (0)

February 08, 2005

How to Divorce your Partner

Fall in love with him/her in an internet romance

Posted by gary at 04:03 PM | Comments (0)

How to avoid the Death Penalty

Simply want to have your death penalty carried out...

It seems that Michael Ross hates being on death row (where he has been for 10 years) and wants his execution to be undertaken without delay. It is this, in part, which makes a U.S. judge want to hear more about his mental capacity, and has resulted in his scheduled execution being put on hold. In the U.S. mental illness prevents the death penalty, so Michael Ross might have to want to live in order for the state to execute him.

http://www.cnn.com/2005/LAW/01/24/connecticut.execution.ap/

Ross would be the first person executed in New England in 45 years.

Is there something absurd about this line of thinking, or is it just me?

Posted by gary at 02:37 PM | Comments (0)

February 06, 2005

Sometimes losing is winning

German boxer Max Schmeling died on Wednesday at the age of 99. Schmeling famously knocked out Joe Louis in a bout in 1936, which made him the darling of the Nazi regime. Schmeling refused to join the party but remained subject of much propaganda until a rematch in 1938 which Schmeling lost in a first round KO.

Schmeling himself declared in 1975 that he was, in hindsight, "almost happy" to have lost the second bout because of the way he would have been feted by the Nazis and inculcated into their cause. Schmeling, for his own part, did much which would have alienated the Nazi agenda, hiding two Jewish boys in 1938, maintaining a Jewish-American manager, and after the war supporting Louis financially, as they maintained an ongoing friendship.

A boxer with integrity and compassion... and a bout which, though lost, was a win.

Posted by gary at 08:25 PM | Comments (0)

February 04, 2005

Super Bowl Champions

The battle will be on this weekend in Jacksonville Florida for the title of Super Bowl XXXIX Champions, but will the real winners be the ones on the field or off it?

The official superbowl web site offers an opportunity to vote for the classic superbowl commercial of all time. Pepsi has bought into the act big time with its Super Bowl Concert series. And there are myriad links to purchase Super Bowl merchandise. Heck, they are even trotting out some NFL greats to sing in a special commercial!

In addition, networks have been sifting through commercials to ensure it is all 'squeaky clean', even deleting one which has an ordained clergyman getting excited over a new car (because it offended some people), at the same time ensuring that there is no "wardrobe malfunction" repeat of Justin Timberlake and LaToya Jackson in 2004 - Paul MacCartney will see to that! The half-time entertainment is as important as the game itself.

And I still haven't mentioned who's playing!

So who will be the Super Bowl XXXIX champions? Aside from the Patriots on the field over the Eagles, there will be more than a few people celebrating their wins!

BTW, how many Super Bowl Champions of the last decade can you remember? I'll bet you can remember last year's half time 'malfunction' though!

Posted by gary at 11:05 AM | Comments (0)

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