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May 25, 2011

New technology - New Language

A response to Bill Keller's concerns about communications technology.

Anyone who has received a message which reads "Tnx. CUL8r" or been rebuked for yelling in an email written in capital letters knows that new communication technologies are more than a simple medium of communication: they are a new language altogether. And, as Bill Keller points out, this new language brings with it a new culture, with its own mix of skills and rules for engagement. While Keller rues the loss of familiar skills (some long since diminished), his half-glass empty response fails to embrace new and demanding challenges to which this new language will be required to respond (and for which we will require some new language!)

For those who grew up in earlier eras and now thrive on skills which were the bread and butter of their time, the diminution of emphasis on selective skills is often lamented. But good analysis tells us that today's children will be working in ten years in occupations which are not even thought of as yet. And they will be facing challenges of which we presently have but a hint.

Developments in technology and in science have laid many challenges at our feet over the last twenty years with which we are still grappling. DNA, Assisted Reproductive Technologies, cloning, stem cells, and genetic engineering are just a handful of the technologies which have birthed a new language and a new set of moral, ethical and cultural issues which previous generations could barely imagine. Throw into the mix the potential of cybernetics, nanotechnology, transgenics and artificial intelligence, the fundamental question of what it is to be human is laid bare before us alongside the challenging ethical and social challenges, echoing Keller's final (and perhaps most important) concern. The ability to gather information and synthesise insights of disparate and rapidly-evolving fields will be a far more valuable skill than the capacity to recite entire texts.

It is easy - and almost traditional - to deride the younger generation for their apparent shallowness. Blaming short attention spans associated with digital technology may be an easy target, but we do well to remember that the exponential rate of growth in available knowledge - generating more information in the past 18 months than has previously been available in the entire history of humanity - demands that new thinking require quick assessment and assimilation/rejection. We should also ask ourselves whether is it realistic to expect teenagers to gather the sufficient combination of information, experience and worldview to fully comprehend and shape the environment in which the world now finds itself. Sixty-five years on from Hiroshima and we still haven't resolved the nuclear question, yet we are prepared to deride a generation's learning in relation to technology which is less than a decade old. Are we being fair?

Assuredly social media has changed the rules of engagement. No longer do we meet people face-to-face as often, or for as many reasons as previous generations did. On the other hand, social media enables interaction with a larger and potentially more culturally-diverse group of people than when we were limited to neighbourhood engagement. Granted, much of what transpires as "updates" is meaningless dross and faux camaraderie, but in this year alone we have seen significant social change - the so-called "Arab Spring" - largely facilitated by this very media.

But Keller has hit on an important point, every step of progress is accompanied by a sense of loss, whether it be loss of ability to recall large reams of data, loss of community as we once knew it or, more simply, a loss of innocence. The challenge for educators and community leaders is to evaluate the trade-off, and provide support for values and infrastructure which needs to be retained or reshaped. We cannot turn back the clock, or seek to close off access to such technology. Education, society, and its laws is forever chasing technology into the future.

We need to be clear about what we expect from different forms of media. I do not complain when a comic book contains no deep political or social analysis, nor when I fail to gain a laugh from a serious work on psychology or technology. Keller's expectations of Twitter are - in part - a case of unrealistic expectations. In noting that serious responses to his tweet "TwitterMakesYouStupid. Discuss" utilised a different media to respond, Keller highlights the limitations of Twitter, rather than the stupidity of its subscribers, or the impact of using it. Were it the only form of communication available for serious discourse, we might have cause for concern. In a similar way, its penchant for being a distraction is something to be noted. It is a mark of maturity that we learn as users to control the technology, and not be at its constant beck and call. Early indications of the impact on brain structure and function, while a pointer to change, still presents us with uncertain implications, in the same way that its social impact is still seeking understanding.

It is an easy thing to fear that which we do not know - and we do not know where this revolution in social media will take us - but that has never stood in the way of exploring new ways of being, and new ideas for development in the past. We feel and think our way into a future which is only partially able to be predicted, and for which the consequences of present actions are never fully clear. But as long as the questions are able to be raised - in whatever form of media available to us - the prospects are improved.

And of course, without SMS, how would I ever know what brand of cereal I was meant to buy!? Many an opportunity for marital disharmony has been averted... but perhaps this only serves to prove Keller's point about memory.

Posted by gary at 02:45 PM | Comments (0)

May 17, 2011

The Sound of Scratching in the Ceiling

As I sat in the kitchen supping a late-night hot drink, the sound of scratching overhead announced the unmistakeable presence of a possum in the ceiling. I pause long enough to acknowledge the sound and announce its presence to the family before returning to the drink and the book I was reading. It was an experience not unlike the previous week's budget and the reply speech - I lifted my eyes long enough to acknowledge them before resuming what I was doing. The distinct lack of any narrative, let alone an inspirational or aspirational one, relegated the budget speech and the reply to the recycling bin and the back of our minds before the week was out. All that remained was that unmistakeable scratching in the ceiling, annoying but ultimately meaningless.

The budget was delivered without any connection to a narrative, failing to ignite passion, resonance or ownership through a story about who we are as Australians, or who we are becoming. I took a quick mental survey of Australian history and brought to mind a sample of narratives which are deeply engrained in our national psyche, which our political leaders could have drawn upon for inspiring us to their grand plans.

Much of our early Australian iconic imagery is marked by the willingness to rise up in the face of adversity - often in the face of the establishment - to bring about change and the emergence of a fairer society. The Eureka rebellion is an enduring image of a small band of Australians standing up for an important principle, leaving a hallmark of justice which still stands as a powerfully evocating symbol in our day. In a different way we similarly look back with romance upon many of our Bushranger legends, preferring to lean on the side of fighters for justice and equality against an unfair establishment over against the lawless rebels they could so easily be painted. Over time this morphed into the loveable larrikin image, epitomised in, but not limited to movie character Crocodile Dundee, whose knockabout and casual approach, with its running commentary on establishment, takes the world by storm. Without taking ourselves too seriously, we can still show the world a better way of being and doing.

The turn of the twentieth century brought the enduring narrative of a nation riding on the Sheep's Back, resonant in the ballads Click Go the Shears, and the enduring Waltzing Matilda. These stories remind us that we are a nation born of the land, and built with blood sweat and tears. We overcame the obstacles of the land, in particular its harsh and often unforgiving climate, to forge a new nation.

The legend of the ANZAC, born on the shores of Gallipoli in 1915 has endured as one of the most important symbols of our nation, adapting to new generations and new situations. That it was a moment of defeat on the battlefield is less important than its capacity to represent enduring and key qualities to succeeding generations: sacrifice, and mateship, and boldness as we seek to forge our identity as individuals and as a nation. The ANZAC legend has risen to a place of pre-eminence among all Australian narratives in recent years, but its focus remains squarely on history - to remind us of the need for gratitude for those who have gone before.

As the post war years of building and construction unfolded, the dream of owning our own home was symbolised in the Quarter-Acre block, often partnered with the Hills Hoist and Victa motor-mower. These symbols - paraded at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics - became emblems of our egalitarianism. The Great Australian Dream came to be regarded as the right for all, a story which has faded and now directly challenged in the pursuit of higher-density housing, and as the impact of negative gearing pushes the dream out of the reach of many.

One of my favourite narratives is the much-maligned Tall Poppy Syndrome. I believe it to represent one of our most precious attributes. Popularly understood as our capacity to pull down successful people, it proves itself to be much more selective and strategic. Not all successful people find themselves subject to this, as memorials to Lionel Rose this past week have attested. The Tall Poppy Syndrome represents the Australian capacity to bring back to earth successful people who have lost touch with their roots - or worse - turned their back on them. Australians have never resented the success of its own on the national or world stage - unless and until we sense that the individual has lost contact or turned their back on their heritage. As we have moved away from the ideal of an egalitarian society, we see this characteristic less.

Being a small country in terms of population, it has always given us great joy to see one of our own leading the world on the sporting stage. Black Caviar's catapulting itself onto the top of the world rankings has raised the interest of many Australians in the sport, bringing to mind the feats of another great horse, Phar Lap. We have all held our collective breath with Greg Norman in his quest to conquer the great golf tournaments of the US, and when Australia II finally lifted the Americas Cup from the US. The feats of The Don are legend, not just as a cricketer, but as an Australian icon, his domination against all comers. Sporting heroes remain an enduring symbol of our ability and perseverance.

Donald Horne's The Lucky Country birthed a mantra of good fortune which paradoxically undermined the challenge he articulated. In popular terms it articulates the belief that we are destined for good fortune, in contrast to Horne's warning that we not squander the opportunity afforded us by the riches of our land. It has, in many ways, inspired a lethargy and complacency which, in times like the present, allow us to be satisfied with what we have and not strive for even better.

And herein, perhaps, lies the core of the problem facing our political leaders: we have never developed a sustainable narrative of success. Our celebrations of triumph on the international sporting stage have that mark of the upstart about them - that we a young nation with a small and remote population are able to triumph over seasoned adversaries reminds the world of our presence and capabilities. The celebrations still have that air of the younger child beating an older sibling in the back yard… less a sense of we have made it, but that we are capable of punching beyond our wait. In a similar way the Lucky Country imagery retains a deep sense of Horne's irony, even though we deploy it in denial of that.

But the last two decades have taken Australia on a long ride of economic growth and success. Even as the rest of the world ground to a long and deep pause, our economy merely slowed, retaining a resilience and resourcefulness which gave flexibility to respond. And now that this moment has passed, politicians find themselves unable to articulate a story to carry us - to inspire us - on to the next stage. Some might point to the single moment when Kevin Rudd lead the parliament in an apology to the stolen generations, but it withered on the vine as a symbol of the future. It is with a deep sense of angst that the only narrative we find lingering is one we would rather deny - the xenophobic Australia, encountered most keenly by early immigrants from non-English background, who endured the cruel taunts - and more - of early Australians. In the dog-whistling which accompanies political posturing on refugees (more accurately, refugees arriving by boat) there is a not-too-subtle nod and wink to the racist tendencies which have long marked the experience of new immigrants, and of Indigenous Australians, conveniently masked by the relatively harmonious nature of Australian society. We celebrate many of the benefits of this cultural diversity whilst still managing to impugn the character and motives of many recent immigrant communities. There is a good story to be told here which is drowned out by the dog-whistling.

And so we find ourselves mired in the present moment. Our political leaders apparently aren't able to fashion a story to lead us into the future - it surely can't be obtained through opinion polls and group samples. It requires an ability to lift the eyes of the people to a future worthy of our aspirations and energies, one which is attractive enough, and within the realms of possibility that we can all be motivated towards paying the price of achieving it. As long as we continue to think small, and seek only to offer small targets (which are quickly fired upon), the hope of such a narrative emerging are small, quelled and quenched by a media and an opposition which reward point-scoring in relation to minor things - of which they are being supplied in plenty.

Many of the narratives outlined above have periodically found their way into the political narrative. Some of them were historically more readily associated with one side of the political spectrum or the other. But they have all, bar the ANZAC legend, largely disappeared from our political discourse. Narrative itself seems to have disappeared. Both sides of politics seem to have given up on the idea of a unifying story which leads us into the future.

Can such a dream be born in the midst of plenty? Is there someone who can raise our eyes to a future which fulfils our sense of destiny and purpose? Or must we wait for such moments of injustice that inspired Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech? Or times of desperation such as inspired Churchill's "We shall fight them on the beaches" oration. Only JFK's vision of putting a man on the moon stands out as a narrative born of possibility and hope - of attaining something significant out of prosperity. Without a vision and a narrative which calls us to be what we CAN be we will find ourselves wallowing in the mire of petty nitpicking and naysaying. For which we will all be the losers. We wait to be inspired to lend our full creativity and ingenuity, along with a preparedness to pay the price to a future worth striving for. Until such a passionate cry emerges, the sound of budgets and leaders will, like the possum in my roof, distract me for a moment before I return to what I was doing, to what we have always been doing.

Posted by gary at 02:11 PM | Comments (0)

April 09, 2011

We have nothing to fear... but truth itself

On a wall in our home hangs a painting which always draws comment from visitors - a striking sunset bouncing its light across the waves at the beach. It was painted by my wife at the age of 15. Her teacher's response was curt: "I'm glad you've got that out of your system, now get onto some real painting," (by which she meant abstract). It took some years for my wife to regain her confidence.

A friend who is now a university professor still vividly recalls the day he went to enrol in his first post-year 12 course. The person taking the enrolment looked at his grade and turned to a colleague, asking out loud, "Do I have to accept students with these results?" A few years later that same person sought to recruit my friend into his research lab, without success.

A young lass in her first season of basketball is told by her school coach that she'll never amount to anything, and is left on the sidelines for whole games when there was opportunity to give her time on court without jeopardising the team's chances. She hung on through the season and began to flourish under another coach in the ensuing years.

On my way out of school one afternoon a mother pulled me aside and informed me that her child had been told by the teacher that her parents were going to hell if they didn't go to church.

These four events are alike in every respect bar one: no-one seriously suggests that we should refrain from teaching art or encouraging students to take on challenges in education or sport because some teachers have performed badly. But to listen to many of the complaints about religious education in schools is to encounter this type of thinking underpinning the desire to banish it from our schools.

In every educational pursuit there are two questions that need to be addressed: what is the purpose of teaching a particular field of study and what are the qualifications of those who teach? Age-appropriate instruction by qualified staff is important at every level of education, and should introduce students to various fields of learning in the hope of awakening a thirst for further knowledge, alongside the need to prepare students to live as part of the human community. There is an unfortunate arrogance amongst those who would banish religious education which mirrors the very attitude which is despised in the worst of religious education: the belief that they are right and beyond question. The arguments are not primarily about quality of teaching, nor about its purpose, but about the right to be taught at all.

There is an interesting paradox at work here: this attitude which seeks to drive religious education from schools is the same attitude which drives parents to choose an education which is entirely framed within a Christian religious cultural framework: it is a fear of the truth. If we truly are committed to the quest for truth, and are convinced that our perceptions of truth are accurate, then what is there to fear? Questions can be raised and addressed, and students better equipped to deal with an error they have explored and resolved in their own minds. Instead we find the inherent insecurities of both extremes, fearful that their particular world-view and value system might have chinks in its armour exposed by engagement with difference. When a child comes home from school and reports beliefs and truths which run counter to those of the parents, there are two responses: to sit and dialogue with the child to assist growth in understanding of difference and to firm the reasons behind the familial belief, or to rail at the school for allowing one's child to be exposed to 'alien' ideas. The latter attitude is not uncommon to parents within faith communities and to those who express no faith.

Religious endeavour, at its core, is a response to the numinous: a recognition that there is still more to life than we have learned or experienced. While prone to magical thinking, the religious quest at its best seeks to address deeper questions of meaning and purpose, and inspire a sense of awe and wonder that flows from the unique life that we experience in this small corner of a vast universe. It is humbling to know that even if we were to draw on the entire fountain of human knowledge, we will still encounter mystery and unknown: huge gaps in our understanding remain, even while we are eating into those gaps. And we know that many mysteries will endure and multiply.

I recall a discussion with a geneticist not long after the completion of the human genome project and its accompanying observation that over 80% of our DNA was "junk." I queried this classification, suggesting that perhaps it serves a purpose which was yet to be discovered. My concerns were largely dismissed at the time. I was therefore interested to read recently of a geneticist who has made it his work to undo the notion of "junk DNA" arguing that it is only "junk" because we have yet to identify the purpose it serves. All fields of human endeavour are prone to over-extend their knowledge and the certainty with which it can be held. Many truths held dear today were once thought to be impossible. And there will be scientific and other certainties we hold today which we will need to discard in the future. No one seriously suggests that we dismiss the scientific endeavour for this learning curve.

Arguments that religious instruction should be excluded on the basis of freedom of choice are also misguided. We do not offer freedom of choice by taking away the very materials upon which such choice rests. Instead we provide a safe space for exploration and discovery, guided by those who have taken the learning journey already, and who are trained and equipped to aid others in beginning that journey. That there are those who have breached guidelines for teaching is important to address, but immaterial in this discussion. A teacher who has allegedly punished his grade one and two students with physical violence does not bring cries for the removal of these grades from our schools. Rather we seek to ensure that proper standards of behaviour are enforced for all staff.

Those who suggest that religion is based on myths and fallacies deny the basic tenets of epistemology which underpin every knowledge system. The recognition of the use and abuse of power in history of religion does not validate the same use and abuse of power against religion. It is ultimately ill-befitting the secular state which values open dialogue and discovery.

And an argument for a secular education cannot be sustained on the notion of a value-free education. Such a beast does not exist. Every epistemology and world-view, including atheism and agnosticism, promulgates implicit and explicit values. Indeed, every field of human knowledge prioritises certain information and processes above others, and therefore creates its own value system. The purpose of education in such an environment should not only include the desire to equip children in the three Rs, but to teach them to evaluate and discern truth amongst competing and sometimes complementary world-views. With access to the Internet only expected to increase as they grow, the ability to discern and sift and evaluate are important skills to learn across a range of human endeavours.

Should education provide only a narrow focus on selected beliefs, how are we to prepare students to live in a world where the place of religious organisations and institutions in both society and its economy is significant: contributing the bulk of volunteers, underpinning a significant percentage of the helping professions, let alone institutions for aid, development, and social and community service. The commitment of religion to global justice itself is significant enough to warrant engagement by students with it alongside other educational and motivational paradigms.

And then we need to remind ourselves that our children will grow up as natives of the global village, where governments and societies around the world find their basis in religious beliefs and practices. To enter dialogue from a place of ignorance, or to champion change without respecting the traditions out of which such societies and cultures have emerged is to guarantee failure and risk escalating violence and conflict.

The notion of a secular state is not one where religion has no part, but a society in which no particular religion or belief - sacred or secular - is imposed upon its citizens by the government. The provision of religious education in schools - regardless of the faith taught - does not breach that notion. Well done, it can serve to strengthen its fabric. But we do need to acknowledge there are clear problems in the system which require further thought and response.

The zeal with which opponents of religious education in schools have pursued their case has a distinct flavour to it. In most cases its basic premise is self-defeating because it implies a claim to complete knowledge which is so despised in the religion they depict. An implicit claim to total knowledge which denies any truth in all religions is arrogant and unbecoming. (We would do well to remember - on both sides of this debate - that the push for a universal education has its grounds in religious movements which refused to let class and breeding be the determinant of opportunity.)

Would it not be better to explore how best to introduce such learning to students and establish the frameworks for best practice? We are all beneficiaries if we are able to respectfully dialogue about our differences from a position of understanding rather than of ignorance, or of bad experience.

Posted by gary at 11:19 AM | Comments (0)

April 03, 2011

Religious Education in Schools?

The question of religious education in schools is undoubtedly an emotive issue. Revelations that religious education is apparently not the optional curriculum component in Victorian schools that had been widely assumed has sparked levels of concern ranging from moderate to outrageous. The notion that Victoria's status as a secular state automatically precludes religious education, however, is both ill-conceived and wrong-headed. There are many valid reasons to include religious education as an essential component of a good education.

Politics around the world is influenced by and the product of different faith traditions. While we in Australia imagine clear lines of definition between politics and religion, this distinction is at best illusory, and in many parts of the world non-existent. If we are to truly educate our children to understand difference and engage in the global village, some understanding of religions and their belief systems is important. One third of the world professes Christian faith in some form, and a significant percentage of those who do not identify have been impacted by Christians belief systems and values. Understanding the source of many of these beliefs may help future generations deal with their excesses and address them from a common source.

A further 22% of the world professes Muslim faith, and many of the world's leading and emerging nations are founded on Islamic belief systems. With increased international migration, many Australian residents and citizens now base their lives on Islamic teachings. Burgeoning international trade has also brought us into closer and more regular engagement with our Islamic neighbours. Bringing down a hijab on understanding by banning religious education can only serve to heighten ignorance and further misunderstanding. It has also been highlighted in our media that many terrorist organisations claim Islamic tenets for their actions and positions. Out of ignorance we are then doomed to assuming they represent the faith accurately.

Christianity and Islam represent the belief systems of over half of the world's population. Dare we claim to educate our children well by excluding study of these faiths from our education system? The notion of a secular education and a secular society was to create an environment where freedom of religion could abound - as distinct from freedom from religion. The claim to offer an education which does not include religion is not the same as a value-free education, nor one which does not promulgate a particular belief system. All systems prioritise values, and create structures of meaning. Better to allow our students the tools to deconstruct and analyse for themselves rather than make decisions based on ignorance and prejudice.

And without moving outside of the education system itself, we should recognise that a great deal of literature and history studied by students is better understood and engaged when the socio-religious influences are acknowledge and explored. Better understanding of much of the employed imagery and metaphor emerges when its foundations in religious imagery is acknowledged. We might also ask how one can study the Second World War without some understanding of the Jewish and Christian belief systems and how they impacted Germany? What about the influence of religion upon US politics? Shakespeare is replete with biblical imagery, along with the works of many great writers. Do we forget the religious influence upon art and architecture? Upon science? Upon adventurers and other “heroes” of history? We diminish both our children and their education if we isolate religion from their educational experience.

I find myself somewhat bemused by the protectionist approach suggested by some. Education today focuses on developing skills of critical thinking and analysis, particularly in an age where all sorts of ideas and thinking is readily accessible via the internet. Is it suggested that in religious education classes students suspend these skills, and are unable to bring what is taught there to others for information and analysis? Does the authority of a religious education teacher usurp that of a parent? I struggle to believe that one R.E. teacher in one hour a week can undo the learning and skills of the rest of the school system, let alone familial and societal values reinforced in so many different ways. My experience as a teacher tells me that students have a capacity to question and challenge what they perceive to be questionable.

There are valid questions of competency which need to be clarified. Religious Education Teachers should be subject to validation and scrutiny as befits their place in the education system. But where do we draw the line? Schools regularly invite community representatives in to inform students about their work, with either an implicit or explicit expression of the values which underpin their approach, for which we require no formal accreditation or skill set. I have sat through some such presentations where it was obvious that the speaker could not communicate effectively with the students, and others where the values expressed drew some expressions of concern from staff and students alike. Clearly more effective scrutiny of religious education teachers is required than situations such as this demand. Whether the accreditation of a non-profit organisation such as ACCESS ministries is sufficient, or the establishment of a government agency to accredit across faith lines is needed ought to be a matter of public discussion and community consensus. Two issues are important: the skills and competencies of the volunteer teachers, and the protection of children from would-be predators. Systems already exist to address the latter, and I am not suggesting that this is presently inefficient. The community needs to be comfortable with the standards of teaching across all aspects of education, including religious education, and arguably greater transparency would help.

Perhaps the real issue is not that we have religious education in schools, but that it is left to volunteers and their organisations to ensure that the education of our children is well-rounded; one where all the social, epistemological, value, and educational perspectives are considered in an environment where safe critique can be undertaken with respect. Leaders who emerge from our education system without a healthy understanding of religious perspectives and a respect for those who hold them might find themselves walking unwittingly into territory which is unknown to them, but well-charted.

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

March 26, 2011

Of Broken Promises

Politicians break promises. Not much news there. We've had the 'L-A-W' tax cuts. We've learned the difference between core and non-core promises. We've enjoyed a 'never-ever' GST for ten years now. There have been workplace laws arise unannounced from the mist. And we know that "No child will ever have to live in poverty again." Both sides of politics have a long history of doing other than they promised during an election campaign. And there are times when there is good reason to do so. Circumstances, understandings and beliefs do change. So why is there such angst about the present PM's direction on carbon pollution? Her position - both at the election and at the present moment - have never been entirely unequivocal. At the election she promised no carbon tax, but expressed a commitment to a price on carbon. Now we have movement towards a price on carbon, and there is legitimate debate about whether the approach is a tax or a precursor to an ETS. There is genuine reason to believe that the anger about broken promises is confected. How else do we explain the lack of outrage which followed broken promises in this same area after the 2007 election - when both parties went to the election promising a price on carbon, only to walk away afterwards? Where the hue and cry about political integrity then? Both the present leaders were complicit - even openly supportive - in those promises.

Broken promises are primarily about trust. Each promise that is not kept erodes at the base of the relationship we share. It is a challenge faced regularly by parents in the negotiating space which young children bring to the family environment. As a parent, I was always careful in answering children's questions not to breach that trust. This can be quite tricky at times. "Is there a Santa?" is but one of those questions which places the parent in a difficult position. I preferred to be honest with my children. "Of course there's a Santa!" I would reply, "...I'm Santa!" Delivered with the appropriate sense of irony and robustness, the children would laugh and decry my claim. When the truth dawned on them and the challenge of integrity was raised, I was able to remind them of my honesty. At other times it was better to reflect back the question with another, or offer an explanation of an apparent injustice, seeking to help the child grow in understanding and maturity. To admit that I blew it, and explain why I haven't delivered on a promise might not make all things right, but often serves to strengthen the relationship.

However, keeping promises isn't always easy, or even possible. There are times when circumstances have intervened to stymie the keeping of a promise to a family member. And then there were some promises which should never have been made - those blanket, romantic assertions which are beyond the capability of anyone to deliver. "I'll never let anything happen to you..." "I'll always be here to protect you..." It is part of the growth of parents and children that the discovery of human limitations reveals the fallacy on which such promises are made. As idealistic as it might be to believe that all promises must be kept, we recognise that there are times when promises need to be broken, and even that there are times when promises are made in order to be broken. While we might readily debate the ethical principles at work, we all operate at some level or another in complicity with such an understanding.

In any case, it would deeply disturb me if we simply elected leaders to be automatons who simply and only implemented the promises they made during an election campaign. We elect our leaders on the strength of their promises and for their ability to lead. These two often exist in creative tension. Ought we have expected the Rudd government to maintain budget surpluses when the Global Financial Crisis hit? To do so would have been an abrogation of leadership, sacrificing responsible leadership on the altar of purity, and we all would have been losers. And how would we have expected leaders to respond in the wake of September 11, given that no promise had been made at the previous election about such an event. We simply cannot afford to restrict leaders to do that and only that which they had promised at the last election. Our representatives owe us their judgment, and we ought to not only expect it of them, but demand it. An opportunity to deliver our assessment will follow at the next election. Arguably the electorate did so in 2010, turning on a government lead by a person who declared climate change to be "the greatest moral challenge of our time," and then backing away from acting. But the electorate at the time did not embrace the alternate position either.

I can appreciate those who protest the government's commitment to a price of carbon when they argue the merits of the approach, but not on the basis of some confabulated sense of broken promises. The question at hand is not whether the promise delivered at the time of the election was broken - a debate which could last for years without resolution or agreement - but whether the approach adopted towards the delivery of an ETS is both needed and appropriate. The former response is at best unproductive and at worst potentially divisive. The latter allows all to air their perspective and concern and allow the community to reach some form of agreement or acceptance about the way forward. Banners of the ilk represented at yesterday's Canberra gathering are neither witty nor constructive, serving only to demean the spirit and integrity of their protest rather than to further debate or understanding, and are ill-befitting those who seek to claim the high moral ground.

Posted by gary at 08:54 AM | Comments (0)

March 25, 2011

'Unproductive burdens' still have a right to live

Here's a perspective on euthanasia that deserves to be circulated as widely as possible. It appears in today's edition of The Australian, and is written by David van Gend

THERE was a moment during the last national debate on euthanasia that deserves to be revisited by a new generation of legislators, a moment that crystallised fears that the so-called right to die would come to be felt by the frailest among us more as a "duty to die".

It was 1995 and our then governor-general, Bill Hayden, was addressing the College of Physicians during debate on the Northern Territory's euthanasia laws. The scene was significant, since the dual concern with euthanasia is the corruption of the relationship between the state and its most vulnerable citizens, and between doctors and their most vulnerable patients.

Our head of state urged doctors to support euthanasia not only as a right, but also as a positive duty towards society. He reflected on past cultures where the elderly would take their lives when their usefulness had passed, and declared of our own culture: "There is a point when the succeeding generations deserve to be disencumbered of some unproductive burdens."

The next day a retired state governor, Mark Oliphant, publicly supported Hayden's astonishing message to "unproductive burdens" that they should do the right thing by society. This is the callousing of social attitudes, the insidious pressure on the frail and demoralised, that we could expect within a culture of mercy-killing.

A year earlier in Britain, a House of Lords select committee on medical ethics completed the most thorough enquiry into euthanasia ever undertaken, and concluded in stark contrast to Hayden: "The message which society sends to vulnerable and disadvantaged people should not, however obliquely, encourage them to seek death, but should assure them of our care and support in life."

This committee began with a majority in favour of euthanasia, but ended by rejecting it as unsafe and corrupting public policy:

"It would be next to impossible to ensure that every act of euthanasia was truly voluntary. We are concerned that vulnerable people - the elderly, lonely, sick or distressed - would feel pressure, whether real or imagined, to seek early death."

Doctors have no illusions about the pressures that can be felt by vulnerable people.

One patient of mine, a woman with disabilities and minimal self-confidence, received a cruel letter from a close relative effectively telling her she should be dead, and demanding certain arrangements in her will. She then developed cancer.

Consider such family dynamics in a setting of legalised euthanasia, and ask what the "right to die" would mean to a cancer patient so isolated and intimidated.

And the public should have no illusions about the corruptibility of doctors if they are given authority to take life.

According to the Dutch government's own data, doctors in The Netherlands put to death several hundred patients a year without any explicit request, even where the patient is competent to give or withhold consent.

The Dutch officially legalised voluntary euthanasia in 2002 and some claimed that bringing euthanasia "out into the open" in this way would reduce such abuses. Not at all. The Netherlands' 2007 report on euthanasia states that the rate of patients killed "without explicit request" since legalisation in 2002 is "not significantly different from those in previous years".

And why would we expect a reduction?

Doctors who treated the law with contempt when euthanasia was illegal would be even more comfortable and relaxed about abusing the practice once it was socially approved.

Professors of psychiatry in Brisbane, Frank Varghese and Brian Kelly, warned of the impossibility of protecting patients from "the doctor's unconscious and indeed sometimes conscious wishes for the patient to die" once doctors run the state machinery of mercy-killing.

Even the assertion by euthanasia advocates that psychiatric assessment will protect patients by detecting any depression that might be marring the patient's judgment is shown to be a sham, on the available evidence from the US State of Oregon and the Northern Territory.

In Oregon, for instance, of the 49 patients who died by physician-assisted suicide in 2007 not a single patient was referred for psychiatric assessment prior to taking their lethal drug. In the NT during the period of legal euthanasia (July 1996 to March 1997) there were four deaths, all presided over by euthanasia advocate Philip Nitschke.

Psychiatrist and palliative care specialist David Kissane reviewed Nitschke's cases and made this assessment of the so-called "safeguard" of compulsory psychiatric assessment:

"Nitschke reported that all patients saw this step as a hurdle to be overcome. Alarmingly, these patients went untreated by a system preoccupied with meeting the requirements of the act's schedules rather than delivering competent medical care to depressed patients."

More than once I have urged Nitschke to study palliative medicine, to broaden his awareness of what can be done for people with advanced disease. When we look after such patients well, thoughts of euthanasia often fade. Then, in the words of one hospice patient who had asked me for euthanasia only the day before, but was now pain-free, "It's a different world, doc."

However, I would not use the argument against euthanasia that "palliative care can ease all suffering". We cannot ease all suffering in dying any more than we can ease all suffering in childbirth, even though we have made enormous progress.

Rejection of euthanasia is not dependent on perfecting palliative care for all patients.

Its rejection is on the grounds of injustice to the weak, as Kevin Andrews made clear on presenting his Euthanasia Laws Bill 1996, which overturned the NT's legislation: "The people who are most at risk are the most vulnerable, and a law which fails to protect vulnerable people will always be a bad law."

We must reject euthanasia both as a corruption of the doctor-patient relationship and as an insidious oppression of society's "unproductive burdens".

And parliament must reject the Greens' trivialisation of such a momentous issue, their proposal that five politicians on Norfolk Island or nine in the ACT assembly should have authority to transform national culture on a matter of life and death.

David van Gend is a Toowoomba GP and a senior lecturer in palliative medicine at the University of Queensland. (This article does not purport to represent the view, if any, of the university.)

Posted by gary at 09:58 AM | Comments (0)

October 10, 2010

Facebook and Faith

The proliferation of communication technologies in our day cannot be disputed, both in terms of the breadth of take-up and in terms of its penetration into almost every aspect of our social lives. Those born in the last two decades are on native turf. They have not known an unwired world, and have accepted that developing a relationship does not require physical proximity in the way previous generations formed their bonds. The presence of the telephone in every home in Australia took until the late 1960s or early 1970s, and streets were still littered with public telephones, whose purpose shifted from providing universal telephone access to a place where conversations could take place in a somewhat uninterrupted space. Public telephones have all but disappeared thanks to mobile telecommunications, first the mobile phone, then the advent of mobile internet devices.
To those who have adapted to these technologies, or who have seen their children or grandchildren take to them with alacrity, this can cause some consternation, particularly when reading about the perils of the internet, access to unfiltered information and images, and the capacity to create cyber-identities for purposes which might be regarded as malign. The information about oneself on line, particularly through social networking sites like Facebook, causes generations reared on privacy to wince.
How are we to adapt to this (un)wired world?
We need to recognise that this world is more than a communications medium - it is the harbinger of a new way of understanding our world, as well as interacting with it. It brings with it a new set of values, a new paradigm, and new language. Nowhere is this more clear than in the ways in which we understand our bodies. Whereas once we defined the body in mechanical terms, we now define it in technological terms. Health check-ups were once referred to as a tune-up, and transplants akin to replacing new parts in an engine. Now we recognise the systemic nature of our body. With developing knowledge of DNA, we talk of re-programming. Brain chemistry now speaks of neural pathways and connections. These are just two of the ways in which computer technology has shaped the ways in which we see ourselves, let alone our world.
Those who seek to adapt to this new world may make the mistake of thinking it is merely a matter of adopting new technology: create a web site, join Facebook, send an email (perhaps more appropriately, a tweet!) But this is only part of the challenge to be faced. We do not embrace the new ways of being and thinking simply by bringing a computer into the office, or joining the internet-connected generation. We need to learn a new language, a new etiquette, a new way of interacting. Reading an email requires a different set of eyes than reading a hand-written letter. A facebook status update must be read with different eyes again. We need a different judgment, a different skill set.
Much of the fear surrounding the impact of these technologies is not unlike the cross-cultural experience: not understanding the symbols, cues and language which is on the surface familiar, but substantially different. The value points, communication signals and relational cues are different.
The gospel speaks to each generation with different voices, conveying a time-honoured, eternal message. The job of translating the message into this environment, requires a rethinking, a reimagining, of the import of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and the overall work of God in the world. God who is the word, whose word became flesh, would enter the digital world in a creative and unique way. So should we.

Posted by gary at 01:49 PM | Comments (0)

September 23, 2010

Life is Messy

Life is messy. It is an illusion of childhood and adolescence that attaining adulthood means acquisition of control over one's life. Our adult life often represents the struggle to maintain this illusion in the face of a variety of events which threaten our equilibrium and prompt periodic adjustments to our plans. Some of them are ultimately welcomed and embraced, others less so.

In pastoral work I regularly encounter people in life moments where all semblance of control is lost: standing with a parent outside a surgical unit while her teenage son is undergoing surgery after an horrific car accident; sitting with family whose loved one has suffered a stroke wondering what the next few hours will hold; weeping with a woman who has been learned that breast cancer has returned and metastasised; staring into space with parents of a premature infant struggling for life; sharing parental anger when a child is diagnosed with a terminal illness. In these places any sense of control is shattered, and one's human limitations are laid bare.

It has not only been in pastoral work that I have encountered these limitations. I have watched my emaciated grandmother lying in a bed wasting away; struggled with infertility for ten years; watched my own parents battle cancer; sat by a warming tray as my 600 gram son struggle for each breath and fought against the constraints which the tubes inserted into his body represented. How I wanted their struggles to end, feeling acutely the helplessness which comes in the face of such circumstances. Something deep within me yearned for some semblance of control, an ability to step in to reduce suffering, to find a constructive way forward. To sit as one engaged in these struggles was often excruciating, but there was no escape; no place to dodge the pain. Even when not present with them, I carried the pain pulsating within.

I understand the impetus which drives the call for the legalisation of euthanasia. These are very difficult places to be - to watch someone ebbing away before our eyes, seeing our relationship dissolve as the progress of insidious disease gradually tears our loved ones away from us, stripping them of much of what we consider to be components of human dignity in adults - down to the very basics such as control of bodily functions, and ability to communicate. To sit with and speak to someone without response, all the while watching them slowly slip away from life, tears at the very fabric of our being. When final hours linger into days, sometimes stretching into weeks or excruciating months, the pain becomes more than we can bear, both for our loved one, and for ourselves. Words fail to articulate what such journeys involve, let alone mean, for those who are pressed into them. The desire to 'take control' in the face of life's last enemy offers the opportunity of at least a pyrrhic victory - a final declaration that we are in control of our own destiny. But it remains an illusion.

Early in pastoral ministry I learned an important and sobering lesson. A member of my congregation had suffered a debilitating stroke and lay uncommunicative in a hospital bed for a number of days. When she made an unexpected recovery, she expressed one of her frustrations during that time - that she had been able to hear and understand all conversations that took place around her, but was unable to respond. She was locked inside a non-responsive body. Although from the outside her humanity appeared to have been stripped away, it remained, locked away, oblivious to those around her. Her expressed fear was not that she had lost some control over her bodily functions, but that she found herself being ignored - the greatest indignity for her, to have others pretend that she was no longer there, even in her diminished and somewhat emaciated state.

The equation of euthanasia with 'dying with dignity' is a distortion. As the life cycle turns, we recognise that the ageing years can often bring a shift in relationship balance, where the child becomes the parent and the parent needing the guidance and support of their children. We feel the discomfort which comes when we find ourselves taking a parental role with our own parents, and seek to do it in the most caring and dignified ways we can. When cancer or dementia begins to overtake, the nature of such parental care can even mimic that of caring for our infant children, particularly when it comes to hygiene and cleanliness. But we do not such acts to be undignified towards our infant children. We talk with them and relate to them in the process in order to build and maintain the relationship. I have seen the expert and gracious care of many palliative care nurses towards aged patients in a similar manner - actions which maintain dignity even where the body makes it more difficult without assistance.

I do not judge or condemn those find it difficult to remain present when the last days drag on. It is confronting at times to journey those last hours and days with someone we love; to know that the person shrinking before our eyes was once hale and robust, full of life and energy. To talk to someone without eliciting a response where once their witty repartee brought raucous laughter or punctured the tension evokes a deep grief which cannot be readily expressed while they still live, even less so while we are in their presence.

Ranjana Srivastana's column in The Age on Wednesday was refreshing for its honesty and humanity. As are her reported comments of the son. That death has its own timetable pushes us into uncomfortable and apparently inhuman spaces, spaces and experiences which we do not talk about enough, either about death or grief, or our own human limitations. Yet to gain the illusion of control may be to lose something at the very fabric of our being, something of our deepest selves.

I find myself asking what I would fear about a lingering death such as Sanjana describes? I identify pain levels which can only be known by those who experience them, much of which can be controlled or ameliorated with medication. I note the loss of control of bodily functions which threaten one's dignity, but which can be cared for both physically and emotionally. Then there is the slow decimation of the body, slipping into being a shadow of my (former) self. But I realise that one has to learn that by degrees as one ages in any case. And then there is the sense of being left alone to die. I realise that it is the relationships that make me who I am; the people around me who give meaning, purpose and joy to life. These are those who celebrate success with me, who chide me when I fail, who urge me on to other things, and with whom I share a similar privilege. To be human is to be remembered, to be re-membered as part of a community. This is perhaps the greatest fear to be faced, particularly for those who believe that there is no comfort in death, and no company with us through the shadow of death's valley.

There is a need to be there with a loved one in those difficult last moments not because they have anything to give to us as such, but so that we can be with them, showing that we remember, and that we care. This is the greatest gift anyone can give and receive in life. I fear that an acceptance of euthanasia may serve to undermine that gift, and therefore undermine our very humanity.

Life is messy. Let's not make it clinical.

Posted by gary at 05:43 PM | Comments (0)

June 24, 2010

What would Jesus do about economic growth?

Article from Ross Gittins printed in Fairfax papers on the weekend. Refreshing.

Should Christians support capitalism? According to a leading English layman, despite all its material benefits, capitalism as we know it contains moral flaws with serious social consequences.

I'm in no position to preach to Christians, but I'm happy to pass on the views of Dr Michael Schluter, founder of Britain's Relationships Foundation, which will be of interest to a wider audience (and can be found here.

Schluter's beef is against the failings of capitalism that arise from corporations, which have developed as its primary engine.

His starting point is the belief that God is a relational being, whose priority is not economic growth, but right relationships between humanity and himself and between human beings. Christ's injunction to ''love God and love your neighbour'' points to the priority of relational wealth over financial wealth because love is a quality of relationships.

Corporate capitalism's first moral flaw, he says, is its exclusively materialistic vision. It rests on the pursuit of business profit and personal gain. It promotes the idolising of money, which Jesus calls ''Mammon''.

''People are regarded by companies as a resource, or as a cost in the profit and loss account, devoid of relational or environmental context. So capitalism constantly has to be restrained from destroying the social capital on which it depends for its future existence,'' he says.

This focus on capital lends itself to the idolatry of wealth at a personal level, and the idolatry of economic growth at a corporate and national level. Shareholders pursue personal wealth with little knowledge of how it is generated, and senior management with scant regard for pay structures at lower levels of the company, while customers are persuaded by advertising to pursue self-gratification in its many forms.

Corporate capitalism's second moral flaw is that it offers reward without responsibility. In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus implies that gaining money through interest on a loan is ''reaping where you haven't sown''. Lenders may accept some small risk, but they accept no responsibility for how or where the money is used.

Debt finance generally results in relational distance rather than relational ''proximity'' because the lender generally has no incentive to remain engaged with, or even in regular contact with, the borrower.

In the workings of large corporations, shareholders generally have little say in decision-making. Most investors provide share capital through a financial intermediary, such as a pension fund. Often they don't know or care in which companies they hold shares. Even the financial intermediaries generally do little to influence company policy.

Perhaps, Schluter says, instead of ''no taxation without representation'' we should adopt the slogan ''no reward without responsibility, no profit without participation''.

Corporate capitalism's third moral failing arises from the limited liability of shareholders, which allows debts to be left unpaid where the company becomes insolvent. Worse, the unpaid creditors are often employees, consumers and smaller companies supplying goods and services.

Because the downside risks of borrowing are capped, while the upside risks aren't, management has been willing to borrow huge sums relative to the company's share capital and thus expand companies at a frantic pace.

In the finance sector, incentive schemes often reward risk-taking excessively on the upside with no downside penalties, reflecting the risk position of shareholders. Consequent mega-losses have to be financed by taxpayers to limit wider economic fallout.

Schluter's fourth charge against corporate capitalism is that it disconnects people from place. In the Old Testament, the jubilee laws required all rural property to be returned free to its original family owners every 50th year.

This ensured long-term rootedness in a particular place for every extended family. A byproduct was to ensure a measure of equity in the distribution of property, which ensured a broad distribution of political power.

By contrast, capitalism regards land and property as assets without relational significance. This greater flexibility and mobility undoubtedly bring material benefits. But as extended family members move away from one another, and communities become more transient, they can no longer fulfil welfare roles.

Grandparents can no longer help look after grandchildren, and responsibility for care of older people and those with disabilities falls on the state, with the costs having to be met from tax revenues.

Schluter's final charge is that corporate capitalism provides inadequate social safeguards. It has no concept of protecting the vulnerable through constraints on the market. Deregulation limits constraints on consumer credit although the devastating consequences of debt for personal health and family relationships are well known.

Deregulation ensures labour is available for hire 24 hours a day, seven days a week, whereas biblical law protected a day a week for non-work priorities including rest, worship and family.

The adverse consequences of these flaws start with family and community breakdown. ''The greater wealth of some sections of society in capitalist nations has to be set against the greater 'relational poverty' which extends to an ever greater proportion of the population. The danger is that over time these relational problems become self-reinforcing and self-replicating,'' Schluter says.

Another consequence of capitalism's failings over the longer term is a huge growth in government spending. As the number of damaged households increases, so does the size of the bureaucracy.

Government spending on welfare has reached a level many regard as unsustainable, Schluter argues, yet without it many vulnerable people would have little or no physical or emotional support.

As state agencies take over many of the roles of family and local community, they undermine the reasons why these institutions exist and thus further lower people's loyalty and commitment to them.

Schluter's conclusion is that Christians need to search urgently for a new economic order based on biblical revelation.

Ross Gittins is the economics editor at The Sydney Morning Herald and correspondent for The Age. Original source

Posted by gary at 10:13 AM | Comments (0)

January 21, 2010

Food Waste

I was aware a number of years ago when the price of bananas in Melbourne reached $12 a kilo in the wake of a North-Queensland cyclone that there had been no real shortage of bananas. Instead most were being pulped or sent to zoos because supermarkets would not stock them on the shelves due to the imperfect nature of their skins. I was appalled at the food waste on the one hand, and the assumptions about consumer behaviour on the other, which this practice represented. I had no idea of the extent of this practice until reading Chris Middendorp's article in this morning's Melbourne Age. Rather than summarise it, I reproduce it here in full. Do we really need the "perfect" fruit or vegetable?

A blight on us for a perfectly fruity fetish
Our obsession with perfect fruit is a symbol of our consumer culture and greed.
When it comes to the critical problems facing humanity, there is one issue that does not command our attention the way it should, but in its own quiet way is every bit as compelling and troublesome as climate change or the global financial crisis. It's our flagrant abuse of fruit and vegetables.
Sounds like a bit of a parody, doesn't it? But the fate of the banana, the tomato and the carrot have a lot more to do with our environmental and economic woes than many would at first suspect. How we grow, depict and treat produce in the West is a stark representation of the pernickety, self-destructive consumer society we have become.
For some years, the major supermarkets have behaved like a phalanx of door-bitches fronting exclusive nightclubs. They have decreed that the fruit and vegetables they sell must meet stringent standards of appearance, or no entry.
Although this quest for perfect-looking produce is driven by what customers want, it raises some serious agricultural, not to mention ethical, problems.
The issue has been festering for some time at the Victorian Farmers Federation, which in December doled out some home truths about consumer expectations. A frustrated Andrew Broad, the federation's president, said the expectations were unrealistic and growers were going broke.
The problem is simply stated: people only want to buy produce that looks attractive. Any fruit and veg with a few blemishes or a slightly unorthodox shape are shunned. In some cases, growers have had whole crops rejected by supermarket buyers.
The banana provides an instructive example. In Queensland, Australian Banana Growers Council chief executive Tony Heidrich recently admitted to a high level of wastage that he described as "disappointing".
A more apposite d-word would be disgraceful. At least 100,000 tonnes of bananas are deemed not attractive enough for public consumption and are sent to the shredder and buried. Unattractive fruit won't sell. Customers will only take home the perfect specimens.
This objectification of fruit satirically echoes many debates feminists have had about society's objectification of women. In the quest for some totally artificial construct of an ideal, many people are overlooking the single most important fact - that it's what's on the inside that matters.
Where is it written that wonky looking fruit isn't good for you? It is frequently remarked upon that the flavour of those perfect-looking tomatoes in the supermarket is perfectly bland. Any home gardener will tell you that a rough-looking home-grown tomato, blemished though it may be, is utterly delicious next to an insipid, store-bought example.
This is mildly amusing until you think about the implications. Fruit that fails the appearance test is rejected; thrown away or ploughed back into the ground.
This happens to up to 25 per cent of all produce.
When you consider how many people on earth are starving, and that industries are looking to minimise carbon footprints, it is totally unforgivable to throw away carefully grown and tended food just because it isn't pretty enough.
But human behaviour is often perverse. It's frequently said that what the West spends on dieting could, if re-directed, end starvation in the world. Our inexorable quest for perfection - for beautiful bodies, fabulous homes, shiny cars, breathtaking holidays, perfect meals - is largely responsible for the pollution and damage we have wreaked on earth. You don't have to be Al Gore to apprehend that our lifestyle is screwing up the planet.
It's enough to make one pessimistic. What hope is there to solve complex human problems when half the planet is so hung up on appearances that it refuses to eat food that doesn't have the right look?
It's not just the fault of supermarket managers. Until last July, the European Union had set specific cosmetic standards for most produce and oddly shaped fruit and veg were effectively banned from sale. The prohibition has been lifted largely because of the global recession, which has partially recalibrated some of our commercial decisions.
But supermarkets worldwide still insist on crazy notions of perfection and, of course, they blame us, the customer. We've asked for it. No one really knows just how much food around the world is rejected and wasted in this way. It could be billions of dollars worth each year. Is Western culture even more decadent than anyone imagined?
Under the pretext of preserving the planet's finite resources, the media and government often try to whip us into a frenzy of guilt and accountability. We're implored to get roof insulation, to invest in solar power, to recycle our rubbish, to ride a bike to work, to buy drought-resistant plants and let the lawn die. Tell it to the turnips. Until society learns to value and manage food responsibly, what's the point?

(published 21 January 2010)

Posted by gary at 02:43 PM | Comments (0)

January 19, 2010

A Falling Out

The trials and (self-inflicted) tribulations of Tiger Woods have been well documented in the media, but it was 15 minutes in Madame Tussauds in London that underlined his fall from grace to me. Of all the sporting figures on display in the waxworks, not one picture was taken with Tiger during the 15 minutes we tarried in that section. Sporting greats of the past and present all had people stop for photographs, but poor Tiger was alone. The fact that I saw people having photographs taken with Adolph Hitler in a shorter space of time says something about the fickle nature of our memories. What is it that leads us to hold people up in such high esteem on the one hand, and then abandon them when their human frailties are exposed, only to laud others whose dastardly acts bear remembering only in order that we never repeat them again?


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

January 18, 2010

In Surprising Places

Settling back into Melbourne after six weeks travelling Europe, there is now unhurried time to reflect upon the journey and upon the many experiences which were ours during that time. The distance is clearly epitomised by the difference between the last two Sundays - last night worshipping in our small community in West Melbourne was a stark contrast to the previous Sunday night in Sacre Couer, listening to the liturgy in French.

My first reflection comes from London - Westminster Abbey, in which only two scientists are found memorialised. I sat for a little while to watch the reaction of passers-by as they paused for a reality check at the name carved into the stone on the floor. One of the two scientists is an Australian, Howard Florey, who was responsible for the development of penicillin. The other, however, has been the source of much controversy within the church for nearly two hundred years: Charles Darwin. In the era in which fundamentalism has carved its voice, it is hard to imagine that Charles Darwin would be welcomed in such hallowed halls as this, and for this reason many people stopped and called to associates to come and examine the inscription. Darwin and the church have a chequered history, but not so chequered as to be outside the embrace of at least one faith community.

I wonder how many people are written off for the public profile they hold... people whose positions remained largely unexamined because of popular opinion. If Darwin's Origin of the Species was so anti-Christian, how does he end up memorialised in such a place as this? Perhaps it is more what those who came after Darwin did with his theories that shape our perceptions.

Darwin wasn't the first and won't be the last one to be misunderstood. When people challenge our perspective on the world, they are sure to be wildly opposed. Maybe even crucified.

Posted by gary at 09:49 AM | Comments (0)

July 15, 2009

What are we ministering towards?

Christine Sine raised an interesting question which I have been walking with for a number of days now:

"Don't you think that pastors and church leaders are preparing us to live in the world they inhabit not the world that most of us live in?"

Given that christians seem to be evacuating the traditional churches in large numbers, one suspects that the question isn't too far from the mark. It's not to do with the style of worship, or the language, or the furniture, but the vision of the world that is carried, and our role within it. Being in full-time ministry, much of my waking time is devoted to thinking about church and ministry matters. If I am not careful, these thoughts become framed without the backdrop of the daily realities faced by most human beings, or risk being disconnected from the issues which permeate broader culture.

Two models of ministry and spirituality come to mind: engagement and withdrawal. We generally aren't very good at melding the two. Over recent decades there has been a tendency to a spiritual activism which leads to burnout on the one hand, or an ascetic spirituality which seems disconnected from the realities of life.

Much of the language of church and faith reflects first century Palestinian realities and experience rather than 21st century society, which is both more affluent, and more globally connected. The tools of trade and the context of community and commerce are vastly different. How to love one's neighbour in a world as connected yet diverse (economically, spiritually, socially, and politically) as ours is deeply perplexing. Yet I have been to (apparently successful) church where not one mention was made of anything outside the building.

Jesus picked up and used the hands-on images of his day to depict the work of God - ploughs, pigs, lilies, mustard seeds... Not many of them resonate with our present experience, although they are somewhere within our knowledge bank. What images of the kingdom resonate in our 21st century environment, and how do they help us imagine God's ideal future? Reflecting on the Navman in my car driving experience is just one example of how we might reconsider our tools as images of God's purposes.

We cannot hope to prepare people to live in their daily world as followers of Jesus without pointing to ways in which present experiences might embody God's call. Some vision of what it means to be a christian in the 21st century workplace, community space, and retail places - amongst others - is part of today's ministry challenges.

What do you think?

Posted by gary at 01:25 PM | Comments (0)

July 10, 2009

Pope Benedict on the Global Economy

I read with interest news stories of the latest papal encyclical - it read as a breath of fresh air into a world where profit and economic growth have been slavishly served to our detriment. Then I received this wonderful summary by email this morning, so post it here, with a link at the bottom to the full encyclical, which runs to 30000 words.

As the G8 Summit begins in Italy, Pope Benedict XVI has released a new encyclical on the global economy. Despite the sometimes dense philosophical and theological language, his message is clear: The economy must be guided by the criteria of justice and the common good. It is a comprehensive document, and while I haven’t yet read the entire encyclical, from news reports and a quick skim, a number of important things stand out.

Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), is rooted in a stream of papal teaching on economic justice that goes back to 1891 with the encyclical Rerum Novarum (Of New Things). It is a far-reaching look at the relationships and issues that the global economy has created, and their impact on the world’s people.

From the beginning Benedict states his basic foundation, that “charity in truth is the principle around which the Church's social doctrine turns.” It is:

a principle that takes on practical form in the criteria that govern moral action. I would like to consider two of these in particular, of special relevance to the commitment to development in an increasingly globalized society: justice and the common good.

And, he says, those principles are both in service and involvement in the political arena.

The more we strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbours, the more effectively we love them. Every Christian is called to practice this charity, in a manner corresponding to his vocation and according to the degree of influence he wields in the pólis. This is the institutional path -- we might also call it the political path -- of charity, no less excellent and effective than the kind of charity which encounters the neighbour directly, outside the institutional mediation of the pólis.

He deals with profit, writing that while it is useful, once it “becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty.” The current economic crisis, he writes,

obliges us to re-plan our journey, to set ourselves new rules and to discover new forms of commitment. ... The crisis thus becomes an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future.

He discusses globalization, which has “led to a downsizing of social security systems as the price to be paid for seeking greater competitive advantage in the global market, with consequent grave danger for the rights of workers,” and cites how

budgetary policies, with cuts in social spending often made under pressure from international financial institutions, can leave citizens powerless in the face of old and new risks; such powerlessness is increased by the lack of effective protection on the part of workers' associations. Through the combination of social and economic change, trade union organizations experience greater difficulty in carrying out their task of representing the interests of workers, partly because governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labour unions.

The crisis of world hunger and lack of clean water lead to an affirmation that:

The right to food, like the right to water, has an important place within the pursuit of other rights, beginning with the fundamental right to life. It is therefore necessary to cultivate a public conscience that considers food and access to water as universal rights of all human beings, without distinction or discrimination.

He writes about the “pernicious effects of sin” in a market where there is a “speculative use of financial resources that yields to the temptation of seeking only short-term profit” that does not make “a real contribution to local society by helping to bring about a robust productive and social system, an essential factor for stable development.” Financiers, he says,

must rediscover the genuinely ethical foundation of their activity, so as not to abuse the sophisticated instruments which can serve to betray the interests of savers.

The encyclical also addresses the rise of global inequality, the threats to the environment – “we must recognize our grave duty to hand the earth on to future generations in such a condition that they too can worthily inhabit it and continue to cultivate it” – and the need for new solutions to the world’s energy needs. “The fact that some States, power groups, and companies hoard non-renewable energy resources represents a grave obstacle to development in poor countries,” Benedict writes.

The international community has an urgent duty to find institutional means of regulating the exploitation of non-renewable resources, involving poor countries in the process, in order to plan together for the future.

Perhaps the most provocative and controversial suggestion is his call for a reform of the United Nations that would produce a “true world political authority” and would give “poorer nations an effective voice in shared decision-making.” Such a world body would “need to be universally recognized and to be vested with the effective power” to “ensure compliance with its decisions from all parties.” That power, he suggests, could include the ability

[t]o manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration...

Near the end of the encyclical, he underlines his basic premise:

While the poor of the world continue knocking on the doors of the rich, the world of affluence runs the risk of no longer hearing those knocks, on account of a conscience that can no longer distinguish what is human.

Caritas in Veritate is well worth our careful and thoughtful study. Its richness and depth will add new insights to Catholic social teaching. The entire text is available here.

(reproduced from Sojomail 07.09.09)

Posted by gary at 08:53 AM | Comments (0)

April 02, 2009

The Stranger

A few years after I was born, my Dad met a stranger who was new to our town. From the beginning, Dad was fascinated with this enchanting newcomer and soon invited him to live with our family. The stranger was quickly accepted and was around from then on.

As I grew up, I never questioned his place in my family. In my young mind, he had a special niche. My parents were complementary instructors: Mom taught me good from evil, and Dad taught me to obey. But the stranger...he was our storyteller. He would keep us spellbound for hours on end with adventures, mysteries and comedies.
If I wanted to know anything about politics, history or science, he always knew the answers about the past, understood the present and even seemed able to predict the future! He took my family to the first major league ball game. He made me laugh, and he made me cry the stranger never stopped talking, but Dad didn't seem to mind..

Sometimes, Mom would get up quietly while the rest of us were shushing each other to listen to what he had to say, and she would go to the kitchen for peace and quiet. (I wonder now if she ever prayed for the stranger to leave.)

Dad ruled our household with certain moral convictions, but the stranger never felt obligated to honour them. Profanity, for example, was not allowed in our home... Not from us, our friends or any visitors. Our longtime visitor, however, got away with four-letter words that burned my ears and made my dad squirm and my mother blush. My Dad didn't permit the liberal use of alcohol. But the stranger encouraged us to try it on a regular Basis. He made cigarettes look cool, cigars manly and pipes distinguished.
He talked freely (much too freely!) about sex. His comments were sometimes blatant sometimes suggestive, and generally embarrassing.

I now know that my early concepts about relationships were influenced strongly by the stranger. Time after time, he opposed the values of my parents, yet he was seldom rebuked.... And NEVER asked to leave.

More than fifty years have passed since the stranger moved in with our family. He has blended right in and is not nearly as fascinating as he was at first. Still, if you could walk into my parents' den today, you would still find him sitting over in his corner, waiting for someone to listen to him talk and watch him draw his pictures.

His name?.... .. .

We just call him 'TV.'

He has a wife now....We call her 'Computer.'

Posted by gary at 11:35 AM | Comments (1)

March 10, 2009

A Changing World

Food for thought:

Posted by gary at 11:27 AM | Comments (0)

June 27, 2008

Dobson and Obama: Who is 'Deliberately Distorting'?

(from Sojourners - some interesting comments, not only on the US election, but the relationship between religion and politics in general...)
James Dobson, of Focus on the Family Action, and his senior vice president of government and public policy, Tom Minnery, used their "Focus on the Family" radio show Tuesday to criticize Barack Obama's understanding of Christian faith. In the show, they describe Obama as "deliberately distorting the Bible," "dragging biblical understanding through the gutter," "willfully trying to confuse people," and having a "fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution."

The clear purpose of the show was to attack Barack Obama. On the show, Dobson says of himself, "I'm not a reverend. I'm not a minister. I'm not a theologian. I'm not an evangelist. I'm a psychologist. I have a Ph.D. in child development." Child psychologists don't insert themselves into partisan politics in the regular way that James Dobson does and has over many years as one of the premier leaders of the Religious Right. He has spoken about how often he talked to Republican leaders -- Karl Rove, administration strategists, and even President Bush himself. This year he tried to influence the outcome of the Republican primary by saying he would never vote for John McCain or the Republicans if they nominated him, then reversed himself and said he would vote after all but didn't say for whom. But why should America care about how a child psychologist votes?

James Dobson is insinuating himself into this presidential campaign, and his attacks against his fellow Christian, Barack Obama, should be seriously scrutinized. And because the basis for his attack on Obama is the speech the Illinois senator gave at our Sojourners/Call to Renewal event in 2006 (for the record, we also had Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republicans Rick Santorum and Sam Brownback speak that year), I have decided to respond to Dobson's attacks. In most every case they are themselves clear distortions of what Obama said in that speech. I was there for the speech; Dobson was not.

I haven't endorsed a candidate, but I do defend them when they are attacked in disingenuous ways, and this is one of those cases. You can read Obama's two-year-old speech, [audio link] which was widely publicized at the time, and you can see that Dobson either didn't understand it or is deliberately distorting it. There are two major problems with Dobson's attack on Obama.

First, Dobson and Minnery's language is simply inappropriate for religious leaders to use in an already divisive political campaign. We can agree or disagree on both biblical and political viewpoints, but our language should be respectful and civil, not attacking motives and beliefs.

Second, and perhaps most important, is the role of religion in politics. Dobson alleges that Obama is saying:

I [Dobson] can't seek to pass legislation, for example, that bans partial-birth abortion because there are people in the culture who don't see that as a moral issue. And if I can't get everyone to agree with me, it is undemocratic to try to pass legislation that I find offensive to the Scripture. ... What he's trying to say here is unless everybody agrees, we have no right to fight for what we believe.

Contrary to Dobson's charge, Obama strongly defended the right and necessity of people of faith in bringing their moral agenda to the public square, and he was specifically critical of many on the left and in his own Democratic Party for being uncomfortable with religion in politics.

Obama said that religion is and always has been a fundamental and absolutely essential source of morality for the nation, but he also said that "religion has no monopoly on morality," which is a point I often make. The United States is not the Christian theocracy that people like James Dobson seem to think it should be. Political appeals, even if rooted in religious convictions, must be argued on moral grounds rather than as sectarian religious demands -- so that the people (citizens), whether religious or not, may have the capacity to hear and respond. Religious convictions must be translated into moral arguments, which must win the political debate if they are to be implemented. Religious people don't get to win just because they are religious. They, like any other citizens, have to convince their fellow citizens that what they propose is best for the common good -- for all of us, not just for the religious.

Instead of saying that Christians must accept "the lowest common denominator of morality," as Dobson accused Obama of suggesting, or that people of faith shouldn't advocate for the things their convictions suggest, Obama was saying the exact opposite -- that Christians should offer their best moral compass to the nation but then engage in the kind of democratic dialogue that religious pluralism demands. Martin Luther King Jr. perhaps did this best, with his Bible in one hand and the Constitution in the other.

One more note. I personally disagree with how both the Democrats and Republicans have treated the moral issue of abortion and am hopeful that the movement toward a serious commitment for dramatic abortion reduction will re-shape both parties' language and positions. But that is the only "bloody notion" that Dobson mentions. What about the horrible bloody war in Iraq that Dobson apparently supports, or the 30,000 children who die each day globally of poverty and disease that Dobson never mentions, or the genocides in Darfur and other places? In making abortion the single life issue in politics and elections, leaders from the Religious Right like Dobson have violated the "consistent ethic of life" that we find, for example, in Catholic social teaching.

Dobson has also fought unsuccessfully to keep the issue of the environment and climate change, which many also now regard as a "life issue," off the evangelical agenda. Older Religious Right leaders are now being passed by a new generation of young evangelicals who believe that poverty, "creation care" of the environment, human trafficking, human rights, pandemic diseases such as HIV/AIDS, and the fundamental issues of war and peace are also "religious" and "moral" issues and now a part of a much wider and deeper agenda. That new evangelical agenda is a deep threat to Dobson and the power wielded by the Religious Right for so long. It puts many evangelical votes in play this election year, especially among a new generation who are no longer captive to the Religious Right. Perhaps that is the real reason for Dobson's attack on Barack Obama.

Posted by gary at 04:18 PM | Comments (0)

January 23, 2008

Rank your gadgets

Technology is everywhere. Whether at home, in the office or on the go, gadgets and gizmos of every shape, size and ring tone constantly surround us. But which ones do you feel are truly needed? Rank your favourites and see how they compare with others.

Posted by gary at 04:30 PM | Comments (0)

December 17, 2007

Top 10 Quotes for 2007

I know the year isn't over, but that doesn't stop Time magazine from making its determination already!

Top 10 Quotes taken from
#1. "I really am not the kind of guy that sits here and says, 'Oh gosh, I'm worried about my legacy.'"
- President GEORGE W. BUSH, when asked about his falling approval numbers and mounting criticism of the Iraq War during an interview with CBS' 60 Minutes (Jan. 14, 2007)

#2. "In Iran, we don't have homosexuals, like in your country."
- MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, president of Iran, responding to a question about the treatment of gays and lesbians in Iran during a visit to Columbia University in New York City (Sept. 24, 2007)

#3. "This record is not tainted at all. At all. Period."
- San Francisco Giants slugger BARRY BONDS, after breaking Hank Aaron's Major League Baseball all-time home-run record with his 756th career homer amid rampant speculation that he has used steroids. Bonds has always denied that he ever "knowingly" used performance-enhancing substances, but he was indicted in November for allegedly lying to a federal grand jury about using them (Aug. 7, 2007)

#4. "If you didn't like Darfur, you're going to hate Baghdad."
- Gen. DAVID H. PETRAEUS, warning of the consequences of an early troop withdrawal from Iraq (Aug. 14, 2007)

#5. "This is it. This is where it all ends. End of the road. What a life it was. Some life."
- Virginia Tech gunman CHO SEUNG-HUI, in a chilling video he made and sent to NBC News before killing 32 people and committing suicide in the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history (Apr. 16, 2007)

#6. "I don't think they're piling on because I'm a woman. I think they're piling on because I'm winning."
- HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, on intensifying criticism by rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination (Nov. 2, 2007)

#7. "The planet is in distress and all of the attention is on Paris Hilton. We have to ask ourselves what is going on here?"
- AL GORE, in an interview with the British paper The Sun, before adding that he believes in 10 years it will be too late to save the planet (June 18, 2007)

#8. "I spent the better part of the past three months enduring criticism that is normally leveled at some kind of genocidal tyrant."
- RUPERT MURDOCH, News Corp. owner, on the outcry over his purchase of the Wall Street Journal (Aug. 8, 2007)

#9. "Hello, Condoleezza Rice? You have me to deal with now."
- A MASKED HAMAS GUNMAN, joking into the telephone of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after taking control of his government compound (June 15, 2007)

#10. "Why don't you just shut up?"
- KING JUAN CARLOS, of Spain, to Hugo Chavez at a summit in Chile after the Venezuelan President called former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar a fascist (Nov. 10, 2007)

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

December 01, 2007

Can't Think Now, I'm Busy

John Watson from The Age reflects on the importance of down-time:

publication date: December 1, 2007

In my lifetime, the number of Australians has doubled. When last I looked, our population was estimated at 21,150,121 and growing by one every one minute and 44 seconds. A second country has sprung up alongside the one of 10.5 million people recorded at the 1961 census, almost literally so as half of today's population is either foreign-born or born to a migrant parent. Only a minority would argue that Australia has not benefited from the resulting evolution of a more diverse, interesting and dynamic society, but it is also a more crowded country.

Australians are crowded not only by other people, but as a result of countless technological and social developments that, I suspect, have more serious implications for our collective capacity to think, create and remember. The reasons are to be found in the way the brain works, but more of the science later. Such thoughts have nagged at me since I read the writer Paul Theroux's reflections in The New York Times on "America the Overfull", in which he lamented the loss of "a country of enormous silence and ordinariness (and) empty spaces". Theroux acknowledged the seductions of nostalgia — "Yes, it is just silly and fogeyish to yearn for that simpler and smaller world of the past" — but the lost world he describes holds lessons for the creative, innovative nation that Australia aspires to be, as we have been told ad nauseam this past election year.

"I grew up in a country of sudden and consoling lulls, which gave life a kind of pattern and punctuation, unknown now," Theroux wrote. "It was typified by the somnolence of Sundays … There were empty parts of the day, of the week, of the year …" Of course, some people still see the value in setting aside such time each week in defiance of this 24/7 society. (A New Yorker cartoon by Robert Mankoff makes wonderful play of this by depicting a man bearing a briefcase and speaking into his mobile phone as he walks along a busy subway platform: "And remember, if you need anything, I'm available 24/6.")

For me, the contemporary relevance to Australia's "clever country" aspirations lies, paradoxically, in Theroux's recollections of a quieter past and, in particular, of the solitude of a long drive of the sort that we can rarely experience on today's crowded highways, even if we chose not to hop onto the next cheap and convenient commuter flight. Theroux paints the picture perfectly (although the italics are mine): "Late at night, in most places I knew, there was almost no traffic and driving, a meditative activity, could cast a spell. Behind the wheel, gliding along, I was keenly aware of being an American in America, on a road that was also metaphorical, making my way through life unhindered, developing ideas, making decisions, liberated by the flight through this darkness and silence."

When did you last have several hours of unbroken, idle contemplation to yourself? Our lives are crowded, noisier, faster, in almost every way. People, technology such as mobile phones, the internet and other mass communication, our ways of work, have all eaten into our time and space. The imperatives of productivity and efficiency demand that not a minute be wasted. Time is money. But the cost to our quality of thought is immeasurable. We are too busy to think.

This came home to me on election night, when Kevin Rudd delivered his acceptance speech from a lectern bearing the words "New Leadership. Fresh Ideas." Rudd is perhaps the most obviously intelligent politician I have met in the past two decades. Yet even he has succumbed to the pressures of running the political treadmill through a year-long campaign. Two samples from his acceptance speech illustrate how badly he lapsed into unthinking cliche, tautologies and what George Orwell memorably described in his essay, Politics and the English Language, as worn-out, "dying" metaphors.

"Today the Australian people have decided that we as a nation will move forward," Rudd began. "To plan for the future, to prepare for the future, to embrace the future and together as Australians to unite and write a new page in our nation's history." That was apparently so stirring he reprised it later, twice, in a brief speech. "It is time for a new page to be written in our nation's history. The future is too important for us not to work together to embrace the challenges of the future and to carve out our nation's destiny."

Australia's quest for a renewable energy source would be over were we able to harness the spinning of Orwell in his grave. His primary concern was not the aesthetics of language — though he valued that — but that "using stale metaphors, similes and idioms" came "at the cost of leaving your meaning vague", with "phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse". As Orwell explained, "the ready-made phrases come crowding in. They will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent — and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear."

There is evidence to show Rudd has thought deeply about issues before this year, but the same cannot be said of last Saturday night's speech. It probably seems unkind to pick on him when so many others are guilty, as Orwell wrote, of using political language "to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind". But I pick on Rudd to show that even someone of his intellect is not immune from the numbing effects of nonstop activity and stress on fresh expressions of thought. We have all experienced the impact of stress and constant interruptions on our train of thought: our computer chimes in to announce the arrival of an email; the mobile goes off for the umpteenth time; a colleague hurries across for a brief consultation. Where were we? The shadow of a thought has already slipped away.

As for taking the time to come up with considered responses to complex problems, bugger that. There's no time to spare in the worlds of business and politics. The pressure is on for instant answers that show we are "on top of the problem". We often hear references to "policy on the run", but when did any politician go into contemplative retreat to think about policy solutions? When snap judgements are demanded and given as an issue arises, is it any wonder that short-sighted policies are the result? Just for once, I'd like to hear a politician ask for time to think about a new problem.

We seem to resent allowing even academics in their "ivory towers" the time that deep thought requires. They must not be spared the demands of productivity and efficiency, not when they are funded from the public purse. Universities are in effect treated as industrial-scale idea factories, required to produce more ideas with immediate applications, and fast. Yet the way the brain works, even the best of brains needs extended quiet time to make sense of existing knowledge and then to arrive creatively at new ideas. Whether big or small, most new ideas come to us in moments of idle contemplation. The worth of original big ideas can hardly be overstated.

An insight into the forces of gravity came to Isaac Newton when he contemplated the fall of an apple from a tree. John Conduitt, Newton's assistant and husband to his niece, described the moment in his account of Newton's life: "In the year 1666 he retired again from Cambridge to his mother in Lincolnshire. Whilst he was pensively meandering in a garden it came into his thought that the power of gravity (which brought an apple from a tree to the ground) was not limited to a certain distance from earth, but that this power must extend further than was usually thought."

Newton was meandering when he experienced his flash of insight, on which he built the foundations for the next two centuries of physics. We sometimes refer to such insights as a eureka moment, in reference to Archimedes' use of the term (Greek for "I have found it") at the moment, more than two millenniums ago, when he realised that the displacement of water depended on an object's volume and density. Legend has it that he was taking a bath at the time. It is no coincidence that neither Newton nor Archimedes was working head down at their workstations when inspiration came — although years of deep thought had preceded the moment the big new idea took shape. Such flashes of insight take place in quiet contemplative moments and involve a distinctive kind of brain activity, which shows up in brain scans, as connections between existing knowledge and a new idea are made. John Howard's prime ministerial walks became a subject for parody, but it isn't just the exercise that he and most of the rest of us need. In his temporary zone of self-created silence, save for the puffing of his entourage, he gave himself time to ponder the problems he confronted, to think. What we know about brain physiology also goes a long way towards explaining the apparent amnesia that operates in modern politics and society. I have struggled to understand, for instance, how journalists who were around at the time could ask Howard why he wouldn't sign the Kyoto Protocol when his government did, to much fanfare, in 1997. Not that most Australians don't suffer similar, apparently inexplicable memory lapses in their professional and private lives. We forget significant events and the sequence in which they took place as we rush on to the next item on the agenda, the next distracting activity.

The answer again lies in brain studies that have confirmed we also need time free of distraction to store long-term memories. For any memory to last, it must be transferred from short-term memory to long-term memory, which involves a physical and chemical process to create a memory trace. The memory needs to be physically embedded by connecting new and old knowledge in the brain. That takes about half an hour, which is why concussion victims cannot recall the period preceding their injury.

Even minor mental interruptions interfere with the memory consolidation process, so we remember best when we are unhurried and undistracted by the intrusion of other thoughts or demands on us.

The greater the focus of our attention, the greater the amount of information brought into short-term memory and then transferred and retained as long-term memory.

Social distractions, lack of sleep, anxiety and stress all diminish attention and memory; conversely, being rested and relaxed improves our ability to concentrate, think and remember. Aerobic exercise is also significant because increasing the supply of oxygen to the brain improves its functioning. It's not just politicians who work long and often unsociable hours. Most of us are probably deep on the deficit side of the brain's ledger of requirements for effective thinking and memory. Earlier this year, a Human Rights Commission report found that 16 years of economic growth had left Australians wealthier but time-poor and stressed. "A truly prosperous society is one that values time as well as money," it concluded.

The crush and rush of modern life impoverishes all of us by crippling our creative capacity and diminishing our wealth of memory.

We have been deprived of the long silences in which we can interrogate our own minds and wait patiently for previously unrevealed truths to emerge. We are poorer as people for this and, ultimately, poorer as a country whose hopes for a prosperous future depend heavily on the development of human intellect in a knowledge economy.

In politics and workplaces and at home we do so many things in old ways simply because we don't have time to take stock of what we do and think of new ways that are more efficient and more economically and environmentally sustainable.

It is not only governments that run out of ideas. We can change governments, but if we truly value ideas and creativity we'd also make changes to our crowded lives. At home and at work, we should all aim to create time and space for the simple, vital act of thinking.

John Watson is a senior Age writer.

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

November 13, 2007

Movie Physics

Ever thought about the natural consequences of holding a gun that fires off thousands of rounds in a short space of time as you've watch Terminator, or some such other cinema 'classic'? What about the flash when the bullet is fired? Or perhaps the soft "phut" when a silencer is applied? Maybe your interest isn't so much to do with guns... how about that long, red laser beam? Or perhaps jumping through a plate glass window without sustaining even a little scratch?
Or, perhaps you might have worried about your car bursting into flames in an accident (preferably off a cliff, exploding at the moment of impact)?

If we learned your physics from movies, we'd be very confused people. Here to set the record straight, and to learn some basic physics, is Intuitor. Be warned, what makes good physics doesn't necessarily stand in the way of good entertainment (and vice versa). If you like The Matrix, or A.I., and use it as the foundation of a scientific education then don't worry too much about your career in science.

It makes an interesting read... and I learned something to!

Posted by gary at 05:24 PM | Comments (0)

October 17, 2007

Bob Dylan take-off

Every poster card is a palindrome... quite amazing

Posted by gary at 01:35 PM | Comments (0)

October 16, 2007

Something to blow your mind

The Right Brain vs Left Brain test ... do you see the dancer turning clockwise or anti-clockwise?

spinning lady.gif

If clockwise, then you use more of the right side of the brain and vice versa.

Most of us would see the dancer turning anti-clockwise though you can try to focus and change the direction; see if you can do it.

uses logic.............................. uses feeling
detail oriented......................... "big picture" oriented
facts rule.............................. imagination rules
words and language...................... symbols and images
present and past........................ present and future
math and science........................ philosophy & religion
can comprehend.......................... can "get it" (i.e. meaning)
knowing................................. believes
acknowledges............................ appreciates
order/pattern perception................ spatial perception
knows object name....................... knows object function
reality based........................... fantasy based
forms strategies........................ presents possibilities
practical............................... impetuous
safe.................................... risk taking

Source: Perth Now

Posted by gary at 08:42 PM | Comments (3)

August 30, 2007

Sex on Television

The first episode of a raunchy new drama(?) series aired this week in Melbourne, and has caused a deal of controversy. The series, Californication, stars David Duchovny of X-Files fame. The first episode - a mere 32 minutes in length - was punctuated by a number of sex scenes which pushed the boundaries for nudity, sexual depiction, and of good/bad taste. It's not often that I find myself agreeing with Andrew Bolt, but I do agree that some serious questions need to be raised about a society in which this can be passed off as entertainment.

The first episode begins with a Duchovny dream sequence, where he is shown entering a Catholic church and encountering a nun... a scene which quickly turns into a sexual encounter which reverts to the bedroom and 'reality' (as opposed to the dream). Bolt asks whether this would be acceptable if the woman were a Muslim - a valid question of our culture. What is it that allows people, in the name of entertainment, to effectively desecrate the central beliefs of a major section of its society? Surely in an admittedly pluralistic society we honour our differences rather than degrade them?

But even more deeply, we need to ask about a society in which sex has been equated with entertainment. Early movies allowed the imagination to play its part. The scene would close with a kiss as the bedroom door closed, then return in the morning. We did not need to witness 'the act', as our imaginations were allowed to take over. Have we lost our collective imagination, such that we have to show everything in order to demonstrate how cultured we are? It is this lack of a collective imagination which imperils our future more than anything else, as we remain locked in present realities unable to imagine alternative ways of being in the face of climate change, environmental concerns, and acts of terrorism. We spend more and more time defending what is as opposed to dreaming of and creating what might be.

And when sex passes as entertainment, we debase the very essence of our humanity, in which the greatest acts of intimacy are mere fodder for the lonely, watching, world. We yearn for deeper relationships, more meaningful community, yet find ourselves spectators of others who are paid for this purpose. The depictions are so far from reality that we are lost. Perhaps this goes some way to explaining the high levels of drug use, relationship, health and marriage breakdown and mental health problems amongst the celebrity caste - whose lives seek to echo the 'realities' they construct on the set. We long for deep intimacy with our fellow human beings, yet settle for a cheap alternative: and a horrible ruse at that.

And here's where I part company with Andrew Bolt. The television executives who bring us this are merely reflecting their viewers. These shows would not be made or aired unless there was demand for them. I haven't seen the ratings for the show, but the attention given to it guarantees many more will take a look in the coming weeks. Media executives are rarely leaders when it comes to shaping culture... they merely reflect back to the audience what is in the hearts already. We (the share owners, and the audience) demand that they bring increased audiences and increased profits - shows which we will watch, and therefore command advertising dollars. Perhaps they have read our society all too well.

The gospel offers an alternate and powerful picture of the future, one which captures our spirits and imaginations. In this future, we are invited into a level of intimacy which cannot be captured on screen or mimicked by actors. Perhaps that is its trouble... it isn't too easily marketed, and sometimes we in the church haven't been too good at demonstrating it either.

Posted by gary at 04:18 PM | Comments (0)

August 29, 2007


One of these new environmental "SMART" cars was parked out front a few days ago. It's apparently advertising a new chocolate bar, but also represents something of the spirit of our age.



Humourous, but concerning at the same time, don't you think?

Posted by gary at 11:29 AM | Comments (0)

August 23, 2007

Screen Sirens

How well do you know women in film? This montage morphs the faces of female stars of the screen from 1907 to 2007.

Posted by gary at 05:47 PM | Comments (2)

May 16, 2007

Missing Value

I recently wrote about the appearance of violin virtuoso Joshua Bell in a largely-unnoticed 'busking' performance in a subway station in Washington DC. Over 1100 people walked by a man who commands over $1000 a minute at Boston's Symphony hall, barely noticing or acknowledging the beauty they hear. I've managed to track down a video of the event.

It still prompts me to wonder how much beauty and grace escapes our notice each day.

Posted by gary at 03:19 PM | Comments (0)

May 15, 2007

Changing Planes

This puts a very different perspective on being asked to change planes...

Posted by gary at 02:08 PM | Comments (0)

May 04, 2007

In the presence of greatness

Imagine the scenario: A world-class musician playing classical pieces of music of the quality one would ordinary pay $100 for a ticket to see, yet located in the auditorium at a railway station. This virtuoso would "busk" - play in a public space for money. What response would he receive?

This is not idle speculation. The Washington Post put the public to the test at the L'Enfant Plaza on a Friday morning in the middle of rush hour. The musician: Joshua Bell, who had in recent weeks filled Boston's Symphony Hall. And he chose to play some of the most difficult yet acclaimed classical pieces of all time. Over 1000 people would pass through the area in the 45 minutes Bell was playing. How many stopped to listen? How much money did he make?

It took three minutes for the first person to stop. Another thirty seconds to receive his first donation - a single dollar from a person rushing by. In total only seven people stopped. And a total of $32 in donations was received. What does an exercise like this suggest to us about the pace of life, about our ability to recognise beauty, our willingness to pause in the presence of greatness? Or does it say something about the way things are valued - a twist on the old chestnut "if a great muso plays great music but noone listens, are they (is it) really any good?"

How often we feel neglected. That people pass us by without taking notice, giving appropriate affirmation... We are tempted to reflect on our own value in rather darker hues as a consequence. But if over 1000 people can pass by a virtuoso playing a multi-million dollar instrument with a unique skill and passion, does that diminish the player, the instrument or the music? Or does it serve to remind us that people do not always recognise and appreciate beauty and value?

You can read a detailed account of the event and reflections upon it at The Washington Post.

If you are feeling neglected today, maybe it's not you that's at fault, but a busy world unable to perceive and affirm beauty.

Posted by gary at 05:00 PM | Comments (2)

May 02, 2007

Department Store Tactics

Some interesting insights into how department stores (and supermarkets) use strategies to part you with more money than you intended when you entered the store has been posted over at The Simple Dollar. They also provide some strategies for countering this type of marketing and manipulation. You can read the detail at the Simple Dollar, but I'll offer the headlines here:
1. Shopping carts.
2. Desirable departments are far away from the entrance.
3. The toy section is far, far, far away from the entrance.
4. Impulse-oriented items are near the checkouts.
5. The most expensive versions of a product are the ones at eye height.
6. Items that aren’t on sale are sometimes placed as though they are on sale (without saying the word “sale”).
7. Commodity items (like socks) are surrounded by non-commodity items (like shirts and jeans).
8. Slickly-packaged items alternate with less slickly-packaged items.
9. Stop, stop, stop. You only add items to your cart if you stop, right? So stores are designed to maximize the number of stops you have to make
10. Staple items are placed in the middle of aisles, nonessential and overpriced items near the end.
11. Prices are chosen to make comparison math difficult.
12. Stuff in bins isn’t always a bargain.
13. High markup items are made to look prestigious.
14. The most profitable department is usually the first one you run into.
15. Restrooms and customer services are usually right by the exit or as far from the exit as possible.

And the suggestions for taking control?
1. Don’t use a shopping cart unless you need it.
2. Make a shopping list and stick to it.
3. Look at nothing but the prices and sizes.
4. Start at the back and work towards the front.
5. Always look at the bottom shelf first.
6. Don’t stop unless you’re actively selecting an item.
7. Never go by an item twice unless absolutely necessary.
8. Carry a pocket calculator - or know how to use the one on your cell phone.
9. If you don’t know for sure that it is a good deal, don’t buy because you think it is a good deal.
10. At the checkout, rethink everything you put in your cart - and don’t hesitate to hand an item to the cashier and say you changed your mind.

Posted by gary at 04:16 PM | Comments (0)

April 16, 2007

Education and the Future of Technology

Shift happens... what does this do to the world we know?

Posted by gary at 08:16 AM | Comments (0)

April 12, 2007

Hyundai Commercial

Can you believe they pulled this ad because it was considered dangerous?

Posted by gary at 06:57 PM | Comments (0)

February 15, 2007

Looking for a new church

King of the Hill goes looking for a new church...

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

February 12, 2007

The Long Now

"If we want to contribute to some sort of tenable future, we have to reach a frame of mind where it comes to seem unacceptable - gauche, uncivilised - to act in disregard of our descendants."
Brian Eno asks us to consider living in "the long now".

Posted by gary at 02:51 PM | Comments (0)

February 08, 2007

The Web is Us/ing Us

Michael Wesch has put together this presentation which not only gives some history of the way in which which information and the technological revolution has unfolded, but raising the implications for the way in which we address a range of issues.

This is a video response to Web 2.0

Posted by gary at 12:48 PM | Comments (0)

February 01, 2007

Waste Makes Taste

Statisticians suggest that over 10% of food purchased in the US is sent to waste, and that much of it reaches waste directly, without passing through any consumer hands. The practice of "freeganism" or "dumpster diving" sounds rather crass at the surface, but at a deeper level expresses something deeply counter-cultural. The video below is a CBC (Canada) segment of Ryan Beiler and his team making use out of society's discards... a wonderful gospel theme. You can read something of it over the God's Politics Blog. Freeganism has a strong community in Australia, such that it was reported in last Sunday's Herald Sun. Get a taste from the video.

Posted by gary at 02:34 PM | Comments (0)

January 31, 2007

Some fun links

Here's a link to tell you how long you can expect to live, unfortunately it won't tell you whether you will live well - that is something that is beyond statistics!

How about World statistics in real time? This includes education, water, environment, energy and health in the statistics. The rates of some statistics is mind-boggling.

And if you are wondering why Americans are more blase about their agents performing torture, check out the kill count of Jack Bauer, from the TV series 24. Seeing such rogue agents as heroes on the screen has to have an impact on the cultural psyche. I wonder what that means for Hillary Clinton (or Barack Obama) in their Presidential campaigns in the wake of Commander-in-Chief?

An eerie video of starlings in flight.

And a magnificent panorama of the Manhattan skyline (how long did they need to wait to get a clear, unpolluted sky>

The real story of How it all Began! (not!)

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

January 28, 2007

What is your most precious asset?

Was introduced recently to Fernando's Desk by a friend and have found it to be a thoughtful reflection on popular culture and theology. (And it makes me wish I could add lists of links etc to this site!) Fernando loves reviewing movies - always something which captures my attention - and made recent reference to a blog by 'the only working producer in Hollywood with a Ph D in theology,' Phil Cooke. Phil offers seven priorities for religious media professionals, which are worth pondering if you are involved in this area. I was taken, however by the comment he makes at the end of this post, which I reproduce here:
"The most valuable asset you have right now isn't money, it's time. Time is the currency of the most successful people in the world, and you can always identify influential leaders by how they value their time. This year, use 2007 to re-think your priorities, cut away the junk, and get back to the heart of the issue.
You'll never have another chance to re-live 2007, so let's invest this year in what potentially could change the world."

Good words, which don't require media fanfare for strength and power...

Posted by gary at 05:24 PM | Comments (0)

January 13, 2007

Fighting Consumerism II

Ryan Beiler has cut his food spending by searching dumpsters. Of the 500 billion dollars spent on food in the US, about 100 billion ends up in dumpsters, often outside of supermarkets as they reach their sell-by date. Beiler and others have been able to redeem much of this (still-edible) food and not only support themselves, thereby releasing their money for other causes, but also using the much-more-than-they-need gatherings to feed others. Beiler and his team's efforts were reported on a Canadian TV program, and the segment can be found on YouTube.

Posted by gary at 12:01 PM | Comments (0)

December 27, 2006

Chaos or Control?

No, this is not a reflection on Get Smart... I was reading The Forgotten Ways, and was taken by this reflection...

Seth Godin, marketing guru and generally creative dude, posted this blog recently...

Sitting behind the pilot on a tiny plane today, I was reminded how important, difficult and tedious this job is.

Pilots have to get it right every time. They have to follow a myriad of procedures. They must be calm and focused and consistent, and yes, boring. No one wants to notice the pilot.

Good pilots probably do very well in job interviews - and not just for pilot jobs. They have many of the traits that hiring managers look for. They follow instructions with an eye on detail. They don't fail (if they did, they probably wouldn't be at the interview). They show up on time.

I'm grateful there are pilots. I'm also glad I'm not one.

Here's the thing: I think (outside of the airline business, of course) that our need for pilots is diminishing, and rapidly. I think the value add of a person who carefully follows instructions and procedures keeps going down. I think the fact that pilots would do well in a job interview at your organization means your organization probably should change the way interviews get done.
We don't need pilots. We need instigators and navigators, rabble rousers and innovators. People who can't follow a checklist to save their life, but invent the future every day.
original post here.

Alan's response?
Now here is an apt comment for the church of our day if ever there was one. For far too long we have tried to over-legislate, control, stifle chaos, predict outcomes, steer decisions, etc. Church history is quite simply full of the activity of passive aggresive clerical engineers (popes, canons, rule books, denominational heavies, inquisitions, etc) and control freaks. Little wonder missional creativity and genuine innovation in modes of ecclesia have gone out the window.

It is time for the chaos freak to arise. Take your place instigators, rabble rowsers, innovators, holy rebels. This is your time to shine.

It is romantic to jump on the bandwagon and scream "Yes! We don't need pilots any more... Roll on the chaos freaks..." but we ought to be prepared to move past this dualistic notion of life where one approach is right and others wrong. We still need procedural people. I'd hate to jump into a plane piloted by a rabble rouser following random patterns. I'd probably end up jumping out of one! And I think it is foolish to consider such discipline to be the enemy of creativity and innovation. Some of the most creative artists and sportspeople spend hours in the disciplines which allow them that spontaneous creativity which we marvel on the sports court or field. They use both procedure AND creativity. The skill which makes them the greatest is knowing when to take the risks, when to try something innovative. And far from being those who don't fear failure, they are more likely to be those who fear not maximising their potential more.

Perhaps we need to shift the balance somewhat, but let's not throw out the joystick with the navigator's map.

Posted by gary at 07:31 PM | Comments (0)

December 22, 2006

Christmas Quiz

OK, so I only managed to get 3/10 on this Christmas Quiz. Good luck!

Posted by gary at 10:54 PM | Comments (0)

December 15, 2006

Giving at Christmas

A powerful yet simple message on the place of giving at Christmas... what do you give to the person who has everything?

Posted by gary at 05:22 PM | Comments (0)

December 11, 2006

Feeling Under Pressure?

"In 2005, a psychiatrist at King's College London did a study in which one group was asked to take an IQ test while doing nothing, and a second group to take an IQ test while distracted by e-mails and ringing telephones. The uninterrupted group did better by an average of ten points, which wasn't much of a surprise. What was a surprise is that the e-mailers also did worse, by an average of six points, than a group in a similar study that had been tested while stoned. That's right. Stoned. Those people were literally burned out, and they did better."

This confronting piece of information comes from an article in New Yorker Magazine, evidence which suggests that we need to place a greater emphasis and broader understanding on what it means to abuse our bodies.

Any thoughts?

Posted by gary at 03:30 PM | Comments (0)

December 10, 2006

Reclaiming Christmas

santa_jesus210.jpgA Canadian artist has made a confronting statement on his front lawn which has set neighbours in a tizz. According to The Times, Jimmy Wright, a Metchosin artist, has put an effigy of Santa Claus on a cross on his front lawn to make a statement about the orgy of consumption in the modern world.

Above Santa's head, Wright has inscribed the words 'Sumptum Fac Donec Consumptus Sis.' Roughly translated, Wright said, it means 'Shop till you drop.'

"Santa represents frivolous consumption," Wright said yesterday, standing at the foot of the cross beneath the outstretched red-suited figure. "That's all he is. He shot Jesus right out of the saddle. He's the focus of Christmas."

The idea for the work started brewing about eight months ago, said the artist. Wright started looking for wood. In early August, he bought a Santa costume. Then he called a friend who works with fabric and traded a painting for her help.

"But the final straw was looking at a report on CNN which said we will have effectively fished out the ocean. And I thought 'Oh Jesus. We're suffocating the goose that lays the natural egg. We have to stop the orgy of consumption."

Natural egg or not -- some of Wright's neighbours are deeply upset.

At the mailbox near his home, Jennifer Blair said she thought the 'statement' wasn't fair to children. Some of them catch a school bus on that corner.

"They think Santa's at the North Pole getting their toys ready, not on a pole in Metchosin," said Blair.

A family that doesn't want to spoil the magic of their seven-year-old daughter's Christmas dropped off a letter in which they called the work tasteless and gruesome.

"We drive by your house daily with our child and have been dreading the questions," wrote Dominique Lejour and Dave Harvey. "Please have some respect for others and remove your lawn ornament."

A neighbour complained to the municipality and but was told Metchosin couldn't do anything because the cross is on Wright's property.

Earlier in the afternoon, Wright had a visit from the pastor of St. Mary's Anglican Church.

"He said he had some parishioners who are concerned about it and don't know what to make of it."

Wright, who was raised a Catholic, said Christmas is very important to him, but he stopped buying presents years ago.

"I used to love Christmas, but when you think about it, I loved it for the wrong reason," laughed the 69-year-old artist. "But you learn with age."

Another thing he has learned is honesty.

"It's a funny feeling when I'm sitting in my hot tub, looking out this way, and I'm trying to make a statement to everybody to slow down on what they can consume, and I'm in a 6,400-square-foot home."
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2006

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

December 09, 2006

A Halal-bulloo

There has been quite a kerfuffle over revelations that a local McDonalds outlet has been using halal meat in its hamburgers. The outlet, situated in perhaps the most concentrated Islamic area in Melbourne, made a low-profile announcement in-store, which was picked up by the local press from where it gained more notoriety. Typical responses have ranged the gamut of expectations, from those who find it irrelevant, through to Christians who argue that it is offensive. I wonder how many people know what words are uttered over non-halal meat? Or who know what the process is by which meat is prepared to make it halal? I suspect there are those who see it in the same light as vegetarian hamburgers - that it is not, in some way, 'real' meat.
Need we be concerned about this? As one who rarely frequents The Golden Arches, I would not hesitate to eat burgers containing meat prepared in this way. The process includes stunning the animal so it feels no/less pain, and prayers being offered over it as it dies. It seems to at least offer some respect for the life of the animal which is providing food, more than I suspect would take place in conventional abbatoirs.
A deeper question it raises concerns the Westernasation of Muslims, who are being introduced to fast-food culture as a result. One chicken chain seemed to jump on the bandwagon a week later announcing that all its chickens would be halal... which can only be seen as a crude attempt to gain market share and publicity. A major critique of the West by Islam is its slavish addiction to consumption and commercialisation. The Islamic market will likely be a growing one, which seems to be part of the marketing strategy. If I were Muslim, I'd be deeply suspicious of motives.
As a Christian, does it concern me? Not in the least. As the apostle Paul wrote: "Eat anything that is sold in the meat market, without asking questions for conscience' sake; for the earth is the Lord's, and all it contains." (1 Cor 10:24-25)

Posted by gary at 12:25 PM | Comments (0)

November 17, 2006

One Man Selling His Soul

Christianity Today recently reported the unusual outcome of a story reported widely through the media - a man who offered his soul for sale on ebay. The offer was for one hour of church attendance for every $10 in the bid. Jim Henderson (no, not Kermit the Frog!) of Off the Map won the bid with $504 and asked "Mehta" to give his take on church life - the view of an outsider to the faith. While his experience was different to his expectations ('everyone would be asleep'), he found them 'entertaining' (good point or bad?!) and 'interesting', and 'developed a lot more respect for churches', particularly appreciating the atmosphere of some of the megachurches. Finding the
extras a little showy, he found the sermons strong and the preachers dynamic, especially when they brought in personal stories. One pastor told the story of his mother's decline and the comfort he drew from the Bible, which Mehta found "completely gripping... I can understand why people would be drawn to the Bible when he tells a story like that. You're really telling me how I can go back and change anything that's wrong with my life."
Impressed with the live music (something absent from the atheist conventions he attends), he found the quality of the words, however, to be another story: "I have no idea who writes the lyrics to this stuff, but it sounds like what a four-year-old could write: 'God is good. God is strong.' And repeat. And repeat. And repeat."
Christianity Today reports his observations: "The churchgoers were friendly, and, on the whole, Mehta felt welcomed. He was, however, offended by some things that were said. At a missions prayer meeting, he encountered anti-Muslim sentiment, with followers of Islam being equated with terrorists.
He also detected a definite "us vs. them" mentality.
Although Mehta doesn't think he's any closer to believing in God, the soul-selling (actually soul-renting) experiment helped him to think about faith in a different way."
Mehta has started his own website.

Posted by gary at 12:18 PM | Comments (0)


A recent on-line poll asked how people felt about megachurches (with 2,000+ in weekend attendance)? The following answers were given:
* No strong opinion, God uses many kinds of churches: 38%
* Feels like Wal-Mart, I fear impact on smaller churches: 27%
* I don't attend a megachurch, but I appreciate their ministry: 24%
* Hooray for megachurches, I attend one: 11%
What I found interesting is the fear factor present... Of course the source of a poll such as this makes results problematic...
Original source

Posted by gary at 12:06 PM | Comments (0)

November 14, 2006

Australia's Most Generous

The October issue of World Vision's Alliance magazine, contains an analysis of WVA's one million donor base, with the following interesting observations recorded:
* Lower wage earners are more generous than high income earners - the top 10 most generous towns generally exhibited an average income below $40,000
* Women give more than men, with about 65% either sponsoring a child or donating money
* 35-45 year olds are the most charitable
* The highest per capita giving comes from Victoria ($18.40 per person) compared with $13 for NSW and $10.25 for WA.
* Over 2200 sponsors are under the age of 10
* over 100 people sponsor more than 10 children.

Amongst the list of ten most generous suburbs are Toowoomba (#1), Frankston (#5) Liverpool (#8) and Campbelltown (#9).

Wonder what that does for trickle-down theory?

Posted by gary at 11:13 AM | Comments (0)

November 11, 2006

Immortal Words?

I wonder if you can identify what the following sayings have in common...

* Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.
* I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse.
* You don't understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could've been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.
* Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.
* Here's looking at you, kid.
* Go ahead, make my day.
* All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up.
* May the Force be with you.
* Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night.
* You talking to me?

If you think you know the general category, test yourself on the original source(s)....

The quotes are rated by the AFI as the top 10 quotes from movies in the first 100 years of cinema, part of the penchant for "things" of the century which the year 2000 put into train. Here are the quotes and the original film context.

* Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn. GONE WITH THE WIND 1939
* I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse. THE GODFATHER 1972
* You don't understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could've been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am. ON THE WATERFRONT 1954
* Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore. THE WIZARD OF OZ 1939
* Here's looking at you, kid. CASABLANCA 1942
* Go ahead, make my day. SUDDEN IMPACT 1983
* All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up. SUNSET BLVD. 1950
* May the Force be with you. STAR WARS 1977
* Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night. ALL ABOUT EVE 1950
* You talking to me? TAXI DRIVER 1976

Perhaps not the best known words in history, but at least some would rank up there. (How many could you identify? I could identify 7, some the speaker but not the film). I'd suggest that the words of the Lord's Prayer might be the best known - it would be hard to find someone who wouldn't know at least some part of it. What do you think?

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

November 10, 2006

Internet Use Across the World

Internet penetration varies widely around the world, with the highest penetration rates of Internet usage being in Iceland (86.8%), followed by New Zealand (76.3%), Sweden (74.9%), Portugal (74.1%) and Australia (70.7%) making up the top 5. Only 32 countries in the world have a penetration in excess of 50% of population, according to Internet World Stats. At the other end of the scale in Afghanistan and Myanmar only 0.1% of the population uses the internet, due in no small part, one would assume, to the internal strife in both countries and its impact on infrastructure. The information superhighway in such places is clearly littered with potholes.
Which raises interesting questions about this "global economy" and its impact on wealth distribution. One suggestion could be that it only allows the rich to get richer, and the poor are not helped all that much, evidence in India by its rapid economic growth over recent years, with only a 0.7% decline in those classified as 'poor'.
I don't believe that the solution is increasing access to the internet in every place, particularly as food and fresh water seems a much more basic need around the world. But we spend billions on new technology and its development each year while fresh water for everyone on the planet could reasonably be attained by much less expenditure. Perhaps free enterprise and market capitalism is not as morally neutral as we might think...

Posted by gary at 05:43 PM | Comments (0)

November 08, 2006

I'm So Postmodern - The Bedroom Philosopher

A friend passed this on to me today - thanks Maj :-)

I'm so postmodern that I just don't talk anymore,
I wear different coloured t-shirts according to my mood.

I'm so postmodern that I work from home
as a surf life saving consumer hotline.

I'm so postmodern that all my clothes are made out of sleeping bags,
I don't need pockets, I'm a pocket myself.

I'm so postmodern I go to parties I'm not invited to
and locate the vegemite and write my name on everyone.

I'm so postmodern that I write reviews for funerals,
and heckle at weddings from inside a suitcase.

I'm so postmodern I'm going to adopt a child,
and teach him how to knit, and call him Adolf Diggler.

I'm so postmodern that I breakdance in waiting rooms,
play Yahtzee in nightclubs, at three in the afternoon.

I'm so postmodern I only go on dates that last thirteen minutes,
via walky talky, while hiding under the bed.

I'm so postmodern I invite strangers to my house,
and put on a slide show of other people's nans.

I'm so postmodern I went home and typed up everything you said,
and printed it out in wingdings, and gave it back to you.

I'm so postmodern I held an art exhibition -
a Chuppa Chup stuck to a swimming cap, and no one was invited.

I'm so postmodern I make alphabet soup,
and dye it purple, and pour it on the lawn.

I'm so postmodern I request Hey Mona on karaoke,
then sing my life story to the tune of My Sharona.

I'm so postmodern I only think in palendromic haikus -
(insert palendromic haiku).

I'm so postmodern that I sit down to wee,
and stand up to poo, at job interviews.

I'm so postmodern that I dress up as Santa,
in the middle of August, and haunt golf courses.

I'm so postmodern that I cut off all my hair,
and knitted it into a beanie, and threw it off a bridge.

I'm so postmodern that I stole everyone's mail,
and cut them up into a ransom note and hid it in a thermos.

I'm so postmodern I take my leggo to the supermarket
and build my own shopping trolley, and only buy one nut.

I'm so postmodern I wrote a letter to the council -
...I think it was 'M.'

I'm so postmodern I bought a round the world plane ticket,
and stuffed my clothes with eggplant and pretended it was me.

I'm so postmodern I've got a tattoo of my pin number
in heiroglyphics on my neighbour's guide dog.

I'm so postmodern I fought my way into parliament,
and made a law banning Nuttelex, and then moved to Spain.

I'm so postmodern that I iron all my lettuce leaves,
put my shirts in the crisper - they're real crisp.

I'm so postmodern I give live mice to buskers,
dirty tea towels to the Mormons, and pavlova to crabs.

I'm so postmodern that I live in a tent,
on a platform of skateboards that's tied to a tram.

I'm so postmodern I write four thousand-word essays
on the cultural significance of party pies.

I'm so postmodern I recite Shakespeare at KFC drive thru's,
through a megaphone, in sign language.

I'm so postmodern I'm going to watch the Olympics
on a black & white TV, with the sound down.

I'm so postmodern I go to the gym after hours,
push up against the door, then cry myself to sleep.

I'm so postmodern I wrote a trilogy of novels
from the perspective of a possum that Jesus patted once.

I'm so postmodern that I marry all my friends,
soak myself in metho, and tell them that they've changed.

I'm so postmodern I bought every book written in 1963
as a reading challenge, and clogged up a waterslide.

I'm so postmodern I think I might be a god
in my undies rolling in sugar, in the carpark of a rodeo.

I'm so postmodern I prerecorded this song,
and laced a message subliminally telling Shane Porteous to buy a smock.

Posted by gary at 07:42 PM | Comments (0)

November 06, 2006

Here we go again!

Why is it that christians feel the need to come up with twee names? Now you can find any "christian and other family friendly" mp3s you like at The Godcast Network. I'd have to say that there is a significant percentage of scripture which wouldn't rate all that well under the "family-friendly" rubric...

Posted by gary at 09:20 AM | Comments (2)

October 09, 2006

Food for Thought

Cows in Europe receive a $2 per day subsidy from their governments to keep Europe's trade prices competitive. Half the world's people live on just $2 a day. Read more.
If you'd like to try living on $2 a day for a week, and help make a difference, visit The Mutunga Partnership.

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

June 17, 2006

About to turn 50

Television is about to celebrate its 50th birthday in Australia: a good time to reflect on its contribution to Australian society in particular, and to the world in general. At its best, television has opened history and knowledge to us, empowered and educated. At its worst it has served as an anasthetic to reality, losing us in the midst of inane stories and chintzy advertisements purporting to deliver us into an illusory yet promised future.

Two movies come to mind challenging our notion of television's importance, power and potential. Good Night and Good Luck details thes battles of Ed Murrow against the extremes of McCarthyism in the US in the 1950s. His speech to the Radio and News Television Directors Guild in 1958 raised a challenge which resonates today. Murrow said:

It may be that the present system, with no modifications and no experiments, can survive. Perhaps the money-making machine has some kind of built-in perpetual motion, but I do not think so. To a very considerable extent the media of mass communications in a given country reflect the political, economic and social climate in which they flourish. That is the reason ours differ from the British and French, or the Russian and Chinese. We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable and complacent. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late....

To those who say people wouldn't look; they wouldn't be interested; they're too complacent, indifferent and insulated, I can only reply: There is, in one reporter's opinion, considerable evidence against that contention. But even if they are right, what have they got to lose? Because if they are right, and this instrument is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse and insulate, then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost.

This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.

Stonewall Jackson, who knew something about the use of weapons, is reported to have said, "When war comes, you must draw the sword and throw away the scabbard." The trouble with television is that it is rusting in the scabbard during a battle for survival.

A second movie, Network, in which Howard Beale castigates his audience:

You're beginning to believe the illusions we're spinning here, you're beginning to believe that the tube is reality and your own lives are unreal. You do. Why, whatever the tube tells you: you dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube, you even think like the tube. This is mass madness, you maniacs. In God's name, you people are the real thing, WE are the illusion.

...Right now, there is a whole, an entire generation that never knew anything that didn't come out of this tube. This tube is the gospel, the ultimate revelation; this tube can make or break presidents, popes, prime ministers; this tube is the most awesome goddamn propaganda force in the whole godless world, and woe is us if it ever falls into the hands of the wrong people... when the 12th largest company in the world controls the most awesome goddamn propaganda force in the whole godless world, who knows what shit will be peddled for truth on this network?

At the age of 50, we find that the major celebrities of our time are news presenters. The death of Richard Carlton at Beaconsfield took the battle of the miners off the headlines... ironic that the one who reports the news becomes it. Politicians have realised this, and the best ones exploited it. "Reality shows" have become standard fare - we watch "Big Brother", but what are we ingesting?

Has the television been more of an asset or liability? Without a doubt, at its best, its value is beyond question. But these moments have been few and far between. We get little independent news, little bold critique of culture and politics, largely due to the need for the advertising dollar. Why bite the hand?

Where will television be in another 50 years? Will the decentralised media of the internet erode its power and centrality, or will the resources of the massive media corporations still dominate news flow? Many questions.

Can we rely on the TV to bring us the truth? How can we be sure, and where else do we look?

Posted by gary at 09:15 PM | Comments (0)

June 08, 2006

Do you know me?

Wonder if you know the following people. It is more than likely that you do, but under another name:

Rosalie Qualley
Curtis Jackson
Ellas Bates
Caryn Elaine Johnson
William Claude Dukenfield

and there's more here.

Check out your answers here.

Rosalie Qualley (full name rosalie anderson-mcdowall qualley) = Andie McDowall
Curtis Jackson = 50 cent
Ellas Bates = Bo Diddly
Caryn Elaine Johnson = Whoopi Goldberg
William Claude Dukenfield = W.C.Fields

Posted by gary at 06:13 PM | Comments (0)

June 07, 2006

Condensed Movies

With the pace of life being as it is, here is the link sent from heaven (or the other place, depending on whether you view increasing the pace of life even further as a good thing!) Watch movies in a minute! Yes, that's right - why waste hours when you can gain the thrust of the movie in sixty seconds?! Includes such classics as "You've Got Mail", "Die Hard", and "When Harry Met Sally". And who could think of a better use of time than to reduce the whole Rocky movie series to a collection of one-minute vignettes? Check it out.

Posted by gary at 01:04 PM | Comments (0)

June 01, 2006

Problems with the Da Vinci Code?

Many are concerned with debunking the fundamental tenets of Dan Brown's book, but howstuffworks tackles it at a different level - holes in the unfolding plot. Seems Mr Brown not only has trouble with history, he also has some technological troubles and problems with soap, amongst other things. Howstuff works takes a look at the technology, science, art and history of this best seller.

Posted by gary at 12:07 AM | Comments (0)

May 31, 2006

Life Speed

Over recent weeks we have been looking at th pace of life and whether we can be intentionally "slow" about different aspects. Recognising that we are caught up in a maelstrom of city life which demands greater efficiency and productivity, and relies on the "seize the day" mentality, we have been asking ourselves whether there is a cost to this restless lifestyle with its incessant calls for more/faster/better.

In the past week I came across a reference to Indian guides who said to western missionaries as they paused along a tropical trail, "We are giving time for our spirits to catch up with our bodies," and was caught up in the imagery. When we live life at such a pace, we eventually leave ourselves behind, as we aim to "keep up" with the expectations which others have created around us and for us.

We do so many things quickly now that we cannot think of one thing which we have permission to do slowly. We even have a quick nap, a quick break, and speed read. We pause for "a quick word of prayer", and a quick lunch. At speed, a rock will bounce across the surface of the water. To explore depths, speed is our enemy.

How many of us intentionally take time "for our spirits to catch up with our bodies"?

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

May 19, 2006

Truth in Advertising

Seen in Seattle a few weeks ago...
Beer Sign.jpg

Posted by gary at 09:21 PM | Comments (1)

April 28, 2006

New Question

Last time we were in Seattle, we were constantly being asked what our vision and mission were as a church. It was almost as regular as the weather reports. Now the question is "What are your key values?" I have been asked that on more occasions than I care to count. Interesting how the shift in organisational culture and framing takes place, eh? What comes next?

Posted by gary at 09:04 PM | Comments (0)

April 25, 2006

What can you do with a dog?

Walking down a Seattle street this morning I was taken by this sign... what could it mean?
Dog Bakery.jpg
Do they serve Chihuahua Croissants? German Shepherd Pie? Maybe Sausage Dog Rolls? or Collie Scrolls?
OK. OK. I'll stop the puns. But our group was wondering at the fact that 1. there was such a shop selling pastries especially for dogs, and
2. that it could sustain a shop in downtown Seattle.

That was until we stumbled across another sign and another shop...
Dog Shop1.jpg Dog Shop2.jpg

Good grief!!! Dog holidays? This set us off on a trek to find a dog travel agent. I'll let you know if we have any luck!

Posted by gary at 06:02 PM | Comments (0)

April 18, 2006

Find out what your name means

Although in ancient times names were reflective of character, we tend to choose names for different reasons in the West today. If you want to find out what your name means, click here.

Posted by gary at 10:12 AM | Comments (0)

April 13, 2006

Are we borrowing from the future?

We are living in the midst of the longest stretch of economic prosperity ever known in Australia. We have been fortunate not to have been through a recession for over 15 years. In the midst of a record sharemarket, low interest rates, lower unemployment rates, and record property prices, we have governments at state and federal level running budget surpluses in the combined order of more than ten billion dollars. All things seem to be rosy. And yet...

Earlier this year The Age reported that local government infrastructure has been run down to the tune of $6 billion. We are seeing the fruits of growing ignorance of global warming, and of the privatisation of many once-public assets. In addition we are loading up the next generation with study debts, all the while making participation in property ownership extremely difficult. We have sold off schools in areas where young people are now growing up; we prefer to offer tax cuts to the wealthy instead of investing in education at every level and public health facilities, and we continue to neglect the growing environmental pressures necessitating significant investment in sustainable technologies and renewable energy.

In the midst of economic boom times, we are neglecting to build for the future in any meaningful way, preferring to dine out on it. Yet we seem to be collectively anaesthetised against the costs we are accumulating. Our greatest fear - at least in the public conversation - is terrorism. Yet the potential for disaster within the frameworks of our current public policy is much more sinister than any potential terrorist threat. We need to take our responsibilities to the future much more seriously - and see them in much greater terms than the accumulation of sufficient superannuation to see us through retirement.

Posted by gary at 10:12 PM | Comments (0)

April 10, 2006

Being pro-life

I have heard the following description (or something similar) of the pro-life movement a number of times over recent weeks. "The pro-life movement is really pro-pregnancy. Once the child is born it is on its own. The pro-life movement is usually pro-war and disinterested in poverty, two of the greatest killers in our world."

It carries some power because it is remarkably close to the truth. What do you think?

Posted by gary at 10:05 PM | Comments (0)

April 06, 2006

Reading SMS

I Cnot BlEv dat U R unable 2 rED DIS msg. dun U spk eng?

Do you have trouble reading some of the creative shortcuts which come via SMS? It often appears as a language of its own. I laughed when sending a friend "TNX" in response to information he had provided. Seconds later my phone beeps again: "What's TNX?" was the message. As with any language, those who are familiar don't recognise the challenges it presents (think about this from a church perspective). Well, at least in relation to SMS, there is a place to solve your problem. allows you to type in an SMS message and have it converted into English, and vice versa. So if you cannot make sense of the opening sentence above, copy it, click here, and paste it into the appropriate section, et, Voila!!

Might prove handy in bookmarks, particularly if you have teenage kids!

Posted by gary at 05:53 PM | Comments (0)

April 04, 2006

Answers to everything

Answers to just about any question you like, or don't like? Try here

Posted by gary at 08:46 PM | Comments (0)

March 30, 2006

2006 AFL Ladder Prediction

Last year I made my prediction in relation to how the new football season would turn out. I made some glaring misreadings of teams, which were evident when the season ended. So, now that my relative credentials have been revealed (rather than established), let me delve into the waters of prediction once more...
1. Adelaide - misread them badly last year. Hopefully again this year ;-)
2. Geelong - well placed for a tilt at the big one. My current tip for the flag
3. West Coast - if they can keep their minds on football
4. St Kilda - still have reservations about their ability to go all the way.
5. Sydney - their strength is their team
6. Fremantle - they have different mind problems to West Coast. Could surprise.
7. Western Bulldogs - have lost Darcy already, but some real class still in the squad.
8. Richmond - had them here last year. But they are getting better every year (or at least last year!)
9. Melbourne - could go as high as fifth
10. Kangaroos - good even team, but don't think they can go all the way
11. Essendon - time for rebuilding.
12. Brisbane - injuries already taking their toll as they rebuild.
13. Collingwood - have some good players back but the engine room is still superceded by a number of seasons.
14. Port Adelaide - their theme song "We'll never stop, stop, stop, until we're top, top, top!" gives them away. They were top two years ago. And they are still coming to a stop.
15. Hawthorn - might make an early jump, but too many young bodies
16. Carlton - building for the future, and still digging the foundations

The first tip for the season? West Coast to beat St Kilda! Premiership? Geelong (at this stage) Brownlow? Deledio! (or I could toss a coin!)

Seal up the box until the end of August.

Posted by gary at 02:11 PM | Comments (2)

March 09, 2006

Think you read people well?

See how well you can guess a person's age.

Posted by gary at 01:02 PM | Comments (0)

March 06, 2006

The Simpsons come to life

This is a real hoot! As the Simpsons are about to start their 17th season (March 20 in the USA), the creators have put together a real-life version of the opening credits. The clip re-enacts the title sequence to a tee. You can view it either in small, medium or large format.

Thanks to Ken for the heads up on this one!

To read the story behind it, click here.

If you pick the blooper, let me know!

Posted by gary at 06:14 PM | Comments (0)

February 14, 2006

Being British

Apparently one of the British national daily newspapers is asking readers "what it means to be British". This may be another one of those internet legends, but the story which captures attention is this is one from a chap in Switzerland.

"Being British is about driving in a German car to an Irish pub for a Belgian beer, then travelling home, grabbing an Indian curry or a Turkish kebab on the way, to sit on Swedish furniture and watch American shows on a Japanese TV. And the most British thing of all?

"Suspicion of anything foreign".

Posted by gary at 06:18 PM | Comments (1)

February 09, 2006


It is time to elect a world leader, and your vote counts. Here are the facts about the three leading candidates:

Candidate A: Associates with crooked politicians, and consults with astrologers. He's had two mistresses and was not discrete about it. He also chain smokes and drinks 8 to 10 martinis a day.

Candidate B: Was kicked out of office twice, sleeps until noon, used opium in college and drinks a quart of whiskey every evening.

Candidate C: Is a decorated war hero. He's a vegetarian, politically conservative, doesn't smoke, drinks an occasional beer and hasn't had any extramarital affairs.

Which of these candidates would be your choice?? Make your choice, then click here.

Candidate A is Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR)
Candidate B is Winston Churchill
Candidate C is Adolph Hitler

Something to ponder on. Isn't it? What is the relationship between character and leadership? This little vignette does not tell the whole story of course, but it does remind us that leaders who appear ethically pristine may not be all they appear, and/or may not make the wisest political choices.

Posted by gary at 11:23 PM | Comments (0)

January 11, 2006

Testing your Autism Quotient

Another one of those quizzes. This one tests your "autism quotient", and while one doesn't put much store in pop-quizzes like this, it does raise some interesting questions for self-examination, which I find the value of a quiz like this.

Autism is a syndrome which results in aversion to social interaction. It is essentially a brain disorder that affects three crucial areas of development: communication, social interaction, and creative or imaginative play. For some of us, withdrawing can be exacerbated by our work or home situations. We all need to make effort to maintain and develop our social skills. Different personality types adapt much more easily than others.

Because our youngest child was born at about 24 weeks' gestation, he was vulnerable to autism, which occurs more frequently in extremely premature infants. It needs to be remembered that autism is largely a social-interactive disorder, and is not directly related to intelligence in academic areas. Many people with autistm are quite brilliant in certain spheres. You may remember the film Rain Man, the story which revolves around Dustin Hoffman's character's autism.

I have always been somewhat shy and introverted (though I know a few people who would dispute that!), and have had to work hard from time to time in this area. Being in pastoral ministry has pushed me at different times and in different ways in this area. While I rated a 15 on the quiz, I would probably have rated much higher at earlier stages of my life. This might indicate that autism is within the control of the person, but nothing could be further from the truth - therein lies one of the problems with quizzes like this: you don't wake up one day, stick your head under a pillow and become autistic. It is much more about capability than level of present function.

We were lead to think in earlier days that our son might have been autistic, but there were other physiological aspects which impacted upon his social interaction. A more social being you'd be hard-pressed to find now!

If you want to practice your social skills, there are plenty of clubs (and churches) which welcome new members and provide a place for developing new friends and meeting new people. Life's too short to waste away on one's own.

Posted by gary at 03:45 PM | Comments (6)

January 03, 2006

New Year's Panoramas

Interesting collection of panoramic photographs from around the world as people celebrated the arrival of 2006. Aside from the images available, the technology allows you to view through 360 degrees (in all directions!)

Check it out and let me know what you think.

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

December 31, 2005

Peace on Earth

What is your gut response to the question: is the world becoming increasingly violent and dangerous? This writer suggests the true answer is 'no'. But then, the perspective from which you answer might make a difference... And it might be worth pondering whether this account for personal attacks, etc.

Interesting thought, though. Perhaps with international terrorism, the shape of overall conflict is shifting. Or he might be right.


Peace on Earth? Increasingly, Yes.
By Andrew Mack

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Seen through the eyes of the media, the world appears an evermore dangerous place. Iraq is sliding toward civil war, the slaughter in Darfur appears unending, violent insurgencies are brewing in Thailand and a dozen other countries, and terrorism strikes again in Bali. It is not surprising that most people believe global violence is increasing.

However, most people, including many leading policymakers and scholars, are wrong. The reality is that, since the end of the Cold War, armed conflict and nearly all other forms of political violence have decreased. The world is far more peaceful than it was.

Why has this change attracted so little attention? In part because the global media give far more coverage to wars that start than to those that quietly end, but also because no international agency collects global or regional data on any form of political violence.

The Human Security Report, an independent study funded by five countries and published by Oxford University Press, draws on a wide range of little publicized scholarly data, plus specially commissioned research to present a portrait of global security that is sharply at odds with conventional wisdom. The report reveals that after five decades of inexorable increase, the number of armed conflicts started to fall worldwide in the early 1990s. The decline has continued.

By 2003, there were 40 percent fewer conflicts than in 1992. The deadliest conflicts -- those with 1,000 or more battle-deaths -- fell by some 80 percent. The number of genocides and other mass slaughters of civilians also dropped by 80 percent, while core human rights abuses have declined in five out of six regions of the developing world since the mid-1990s. International terrorism is the only type of political violence that has increased. Although the death toll has jumped sharply over the past three years, terrorists kill only a fraction of the number who die in wars.

What accounts for the extraordinary and counterintuitive improvement in global security over the past dozen years? The end of the Cold War, which had driven at least a third of all conflicts since World War II, appears to have been the single most critical factor.

In the late 1980s, Washington and Moscow stopped fueling "proxy wars" in the developing world, and the United Nations was liberated to play the global security role its founders intended. Freed from the paralyzing stasis of Cold War geopolitics, the Security Council initiated an unprecedented, though sometimes inchoate, explosion of international activism designed to stop ongoing wars and prevent new ones.

Other international agencies, donor governments and nongovernmental organizations also played a critical role, but it was the United Nations that took the lead, pushing a range of conflict-prevention and peace-building initiatives on a scale never before attempted. The number of U.N. peacekeeping operations and missions to prevent and stop wars have increased by more than 400 percent since the end of the Cold War. As this upsurge of international activism grew in scope and intensity through the 1990s, the number of crises, wars and genocides declined.

There have been some horrific and much publicized failures, of course -- the failures to stop genocide in Rwanda, Srebrenica and Darfur being the most egregious. But the quiet successes -- in Namibia, El Salvador, Mozambique, Eastern Slovenia, East Timor and elsewhere went largely unheralded, as did the fact that the United Nations' expertise in handling difficult missions has grown dramatically.

A major study by the Rand Corp. published this year found that U.N. peace-building operations had a two-thirds success rate. They were also surprisingly cost-effective. In fact, the United Nations spends less running 17 peace operations around the world for an entire year than the United States spends in Iraq in a single month. What the United Nations calls "peacemaking" -- using diplomacy to end wars -- has been even more successful. About half of all the peace agreements negotiated between 1946 and 2003 have been signed since the end of the Cold War.

With the Security Council often reluctant to act -- the abject failure to stop the Rwandan genocide remains a key example -- and with too many missions having been denied adequate resources, appropriate mandates or properly trained personnel, these successes are all the more remarkable.

In the wake of last month's global summit at the United Nations, many critics wrote the United Nations off as an institution so deeply flawed that it was beyond salvation. The analysis and the carefully collated data in the Human Security Report reveal something very different: an organization that, despite its failures and creaking bureaucracy, has played a critical role in enhancing global security.

The writer directs the Human Security Center at the University of British Columbia. He was director of the Strategic Planning Unit in the executive office of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan between 1998 and 2001.

Posted by gary at 10:35 AM | Comments (0)

A Christmas church service to go

With all the discussion about closing church services on Sunday (which also happened to be Christmas Day), here is one church which did so in a creative way...

...which makes me wonder whether Christmas is primarily about spending time with family... Although the message of the incarnation (is that an oxymoron?) is being spoken, is the real message about family being communicated much more powerfully?


Northshore Christian Church wants you to feel at home for Christmas Day service.

In fact, you will be at home.

Northshore's new interactive DVD kit is designed to allow the 1,500 members of the Everett church to spend more time with their families, by replacing the Sunday service with an in-home version.

christmascd.jpg"We are just so grateful that you've allowed us to come into your home on this Christmas Day," the Rev. Ken Long says in the DVD's introduction, which was filmed in his living room as he sits in a leather recliner in front of the fireplace.

A DVD Christmas might conjure up images of a family gathered around the television to watch a recorded service.

But the kit, called "Christmas Unwrapped," isn't a passive activity.

Besides viewing the disc, which includes meditative music and an abbreviated sermon, participants unroll and read tiny scrolls that describe spiritual meanings behind familiar Christmas symbols, such as candles, wreaths and candy canes. They take Communion, express thankfulness and say a Christmas prayer. The entire service takes 30 to 60 minutes.

"We're not canceling church. We're taking it out of our four walls," said Christina Bergevin, Northshore's music director, who helped create the kit.

Churches in Illinois, Tennessee and Florida also are offering DVDs in lieu of Christmas services, according to news accounts. Recordings include sermons, a drama, carols with words rolling across the screen and, in one case, a 30-minute image of a burning fireplace.

Some of the nation's largest and most prominent megachurches have canceled services Sunday, expecting smaller crowds because it is Christmas and wanting to give family time to the armies of volunteers who run the services.

Such cancellations aren't the norm in the Seattle area, where Overlake Christian Church, The City Church, Cedar Park Assembly, Antioch Bible Church, Christian Faith Center and Mars Hill Church, among other big congregations, will hold Christmas services, although some will have fewer services than normal.

All of those churches except Mars Hill will offer at least one service on Christmas Eve, anticipating high attendance and holiday visitors. Northshore, which is non-denominational, will have three services.

"We pull out all the stops on Christmas Eve," Long said. "Everyone is on deck for that. (But) we like to encourage families to be together on Christmas morning."

Although many megachurches routinely focus on services on Christmas Eve and not on Christmas Day, the issue drew attention this year because of the calendar.

The arrival of Christmas on a Sunday presents "two values, if you will, in competition with one another: the value of individual families and the value of the family of God," said Robert Drovdahl, professor of educational ministry at Seattle Pacific University.

"Churches that opted to cancel services put value on individual families," he said. "Others said, 'We value the family of God and gather as we always do on the first day of the week.' I wouldn't criticize anyone who thoughtfully weighed those two."

Long said it took more effort to create the kit than just to hold regular Sunday services. "This was a very intentional decision," he said. "It was not made because it was easier to do."

Though some churches have taken heat for canceling Christmas services, he said, Northshore promoted its alternative and received a "remarkably positive response."

The church initially produced 1,000 kits, was swamped with requests and ordered another run of 500.

Bergevin has incorporated aspects of the kit in her family's observance of Christmas for years.

"We take common cultural symbols and try to figure out the spiritual significance behind those things," she said. "It's a way for my husband and myself to share our faith with our family. It's kid-friendly."

For instance, candles originally decorated Christmas trees "as a reminder that Christ came to bring light to a dark world," a scroll reads.

These days, tree lights suggest "that galaxy of stars that shone in Bethlehem on the night of Christ's birth and that one very special star announcing his coming," another scroll reads.

"The most important thing that we can give our attention to on this Christmas is not just the symbols," Long says in his recorded sermon.

"My prayer is that we all come to that saving knowledge of Christ. ... Not just an awareness about him or a knowledge of him, but to personally understand the salvation that he brings," he continues.

Northshore member Fred Sirianni of Marysville believes the at-home service provides a non-threatening way for members to present their faith with friends and relatives who otherwise might not "darken the door of the church."

Tammy Gimbel of Lynnwood, another member, plans to open the kit when her extended family gathers on Christmas.

"We'll listen to a message from our pastor that we'd miss otherwise, right there in our front room," said Gimbel, whose background was "not steeped in the true Christmas tradition."

"For years it has been the goal in our house to celebrate the birth of Christ," she said, "but unfortunately we did not have the insight of how to truly do that. ... So for us this is a great gift and we joyfully receive it."


Posted by gary at 09:23 AM | Comments (0)

December 29, 2005

Narnia, Mel Gibson and sharing of faith

It has now been three times in recent memory that I have received news of the 'wonderful opportunity for evagelism'. It began with the release of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ", was followed by the (late) release in Australia of Luther, and came again in recent weeks with the arrival of Disney's translation of the first of C.S. Lewis's Narnia series - The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - appearing on the big screen on Boxing Day. Certainly two of these have generated significant public discussion. Gibson's tortured film certainly gained loads of attention, as has Narnia - not all of it positive. But general publicity aside, I wonder if this constant search for 'the next big thing' is really the essence of Christianity at all. Certainly everyone likes a good story, and such classics as Lewis's works have stood the test of time. And the use of modern technology to tell the story can add to its power. One wonders whether Disney might be the best sponsor of interpreting the story, mind you. Are we really welcoming the story, or being manipulated by Disney to turn around its stuttering film division?

The difficulty is that God has been known to use a donkey to get his message across, so Disney's involvement doesn't write out God being at work. The problem is not so much the desire of commercial organisations to exploit the christian market, but our gullibility in buying in to these things, often uncritically.

I will be taking my children to see the Narnia series. They have read the whole series and I will be interested in their critiques of the movie. I did see Gibson's movie, but found it improbable at many points. I found it to be an interesting but uncompelling interpretation of Jesus' Passion inasmuch as it was without context. "Luther" was an understated but powerful telling of the story of the reformation. For those with an interest in church history, it would provide some useful catalyst for understanding the Reformation.

It makes me wonder whatever happened to the simple personal relationship for sharing what Jesus means today, and the difference he can make in our lives if we let him...

Posted by gary at 02:05 PM | Comments (0)

December 16, 2005

Harry Potter - not what you think?

Harry Potter the brave, resourceful wizard, who through his sheer cunning and nerve defeats evil... that's the popular myth. But one author suggests that Harry is "no braver than his best friend, Ron Weasley, just richer and better-connected...", that "Hermione Granger, is smarter and a better student..." and that Harry's fame is merely based on his pampered jock status emanating from Quidditch.

Harry is, according to the author, "a trust-fund kid whose success at his school, Hogwarts, is largely attributable to the gifts his friends and relatives lavish upon him..."

Is Harry Potter's fame based on illusory values? Read the full article here.

Posted by gary at 10:48 AM | Comments (0)

November 24, 2005

It's all about...

In this highly egocentric culture, the ministry of the church does not remain immune. This wonderful little parody from would make an excellent introduction in discussions about worship and/or priorities.

Be warned, the parody might offend some.

Posted by gary at 11:32 PM | Comments (0)

November 18, 2005

The Bubble Project

How's this for a simple project. Simply print 15,000 of these bubble stickers and place them on top of ads all over New York City. Passersby fill them in. Then go back and photograph the results.


Check out the results here.

Posted by gary at 07:18 AM | Comments (0)

November 10, 2005

Want to give your teeth some sparkle?


See enough to rot your teeth here.

Or how about putting those old keyboards to good use:


Takes the idea of a portable keyboard to a new level, eh?!

Posted by gary at 12:13 AM | Comments (0)

November 09, 2005

Your favourite Oxymoron

Ever struggle to think of an oxymoron? Here's a new classic list that will provide every oxymoron in recent history - and before - you could ever have thought of - whether out loud, or in advance, whether you are a beginner, an advanced beginner, or an expert. And you might find a few more to boot, definitely including perhaps your least favourite.

The top 20 Oxymorons are recorded as:

20. Government Organization
19. Alone Together
18. Personal Computer
17. Silent Scream
16. Living Dead
15. Same Difference
14. Taped Live
13. Plastic Glasses
12. Tight Slacks
11. Peace Force

10. Pretty Ugly
9. Head Butt
8. Working Vacation
7. Tax Return
6. Virtual Reality
5. Dodge Ram
4. Work Party
3. Jumbo Shrimp
2. Healthy Tan
1. Microsoft Works

And if that isn't enough, there's more here than you can shake a stick at... Now there's an open secret...

What's your favourite oxymoron? Congregational government??

Posted by gary at 08:53 PM | Comments (0)

November 07, 2005

Saturday Night Fever

I'm demonstrating how slow I can be, but I grabbed a copy of Saturday Night Fever on DVD recently and watched it for the first time on the weekend. No, I don't mean just the DVD - it was the first time I had watched the film from go to woe! It wasn't until I watched one of the special features that I realised why the film was so big - it brought disco into the mainstream. Well, that probably has to match the over blackness of the film's plot!

For a film that (re-?)launched two stellar careers: John Travolta and the Bee Gees, it bore a very dark plot, and the dancing, while technically very good, was not all that spectacular, save perhaps for the landmark scene when Travolta monopolises the floor. Life on the wrong side of the river in New York in the 1970s (and still today?) stands in stark contrast to the "Sex in the City" New York which tourists imagine.

Travolta's bleak life came alive on the dance floor of a Saturday night. It was his hope... his redemption... his one place of achievement. It gave him identity and purpose. Which is something of value!

Hard to watch... not a really 'entertaining' film per se, but powerful nonetheless.

Posted by gary at 10:40 PM | Comments (0)

November 06, 2005

The Worship Leader's Dictionary

Worship pastor Phil Christensen offers a humorous glossary definitions, which probably won't make it number one at Koorong or Word, but are worth a laugh... or cry, depending on whether they are real or not!!!

ALTOS and BARRITONES: (ahl-toez and behr-i-toenz) People who complain that the songs are too high until they learn to harmonize.

BALLAD SALAD: (ba'-lud sa'-lud) A worship set of quiet songs intended to foster a gentle flow of worship and meaningful encounter with the Lord. The Ballad Salad generally follows the up-tempo moments of celebration (see also Rocking the Flock).

BIG KAHUNA: (beeg’ kah-hoo’-nah) Lead Pastor whom God has placed in authority over you. Honor this man. Submit to him graciously unless he asks you to break one of the 10 Commandments.

BLACK HOLES: (blak-hoelz) The dark vacuum around people in the congregation who steadfastly refuse to connect with God during worship. Sometimes accompanied by contemptuous facial expressions. If you can intercede for these individuals during worship, do so, but otherwise avert your attention to avoid being sucked into their gravitational pull. (See also Super Novas)

BLANDED WORSHIP: (bland'-dud wur-ship') The uninspired result that comes when we approach corporate worship with the pathetic goal of avoiding any criticism.

BLENDED WORSHIP: (blend'-dud wur-ship') The astonishing result of a tapestry of praise that’s been skillfully and lovingly woven together with worship ideas from the past and present. “All Creatures of Our God and King” can flow seamlessly into “Here I Am to Worship.”

CHECK UP FROM THE NECK UP: (chek'-uhp fruhm thuh nek' uhp) Important moment during rehearsal when we lower our boundaries and get honest about how we’re really doing. Often involves prayer and teaching. (See also The Hot Seat).

CHOIR: (kwy’-ehr) A disciplined group of singers who sacrifice untold hours away from home to master the intricate details of a three-minute choral arrangement. Their performance is intended to delight and inspire a room full of listeners who, statistically, will never purchase a recording of choral music.

CHORD CHART: (kord’-chart) A document that contains lyrics and a few vague musical suggestions. May or may not indicate the proper key, time signature or even exact moment of the chord change, but it does give musicians something to look at while the song goes by. Particularly frustrating to pianists, who prefer being told exactly what to do. Ideal for guitarists. (See also Sheet Music)

DRUMMERS: (Druhm-merz) Terrific people who worship God by hitting things. Churches often keep them in Plexiglas cages.

EARLY SERVICE: (ur-lee’ surv-us’) A service in which attendees may appear zombie-like. While unnerving to worship leaders and teaching pastors alike, the event is generally harmless.

FRISBEE STYLE: A deliberate approach to worship leading in which the leader’s role is “handed off” from song to song. A good way to mentor new worship leaders.

GROOVE AND FLOURISH: (Gruev and flehr-ish') The mark of a good musician interacting with other players. His or her part should land subtly in the pocket, submitting to other musicians; this is "groove." "Flourishing" occurs when a player discovers the perfect moment to emerge from the groove with a few cool, inspiring licks.

HAND-BURGER: (hand-ber-ger’) The painful result of carrying musical gear through a narrow doorway and not paying attention.

HOT SEAT: A chair placed in the center of the room for a member of the worship team who needs prayer; the rest of the team gathers around and ministers to them. (See also Check up from the neck up.)

HUMILITY: (hew-mil-ih-tee’) The beautiful quality in a talented artist of considering others more important than him or herself. Closely associated with servanthood. Rare.

HYMNS: (himz) Historic praise music. Usually boiled down to 4-part arrangements on a single page with normal rhythmic flow extracted. Lyrics are often stunning, and many of the melodies are almost as powerful as the timeless truths they carry. These songs are infused with the heart-cry of a billion Saints and should be treated accordingly. Ignore at your own loss.

IN THE POCKET: (in thuh paw-kett’). The subtle groove created by mutually submitted musicians.

OPEN/ROOTLESS VOICINGS: A stylistic practice of both guitarists and keyboardists in which primary notes of a triad are substituted or dropped altogether to create versatile textures. Can be puzzling to newbies who briefly wonder why a C chord would contain only a D and a G.

ROCKING THE FLOCK: (Raw-keeng’ thu flawk) The effect of an up-tempo praise song on God’s people.

SEVEN-ELEVEN MUSIC: (7-11 mew’-sik) Praise songs that repeat the same seven words eleven times, or some similar configuration. These are generally enjoyed by youth, but annoying to older adults.

SHEET MUSIC: (sheet mew’-sik) A document containing detailed instructions for a musical arrangement. Perfect for keyboardists. Particularly frustrating for guitarists, who 1) hate to be told what to do and 2) usually can’t read it anyway. (See also Chord Charts)

SIGNATURE: (Sig-nuh'-chur) A musical phrase that helps define or set up a song, most often heard in the introduction. Well-known signatures include the opening 6 piano notes of "Shout to the Lord." The signature often forms the "turn-around" for the piece and the closing notes, as well.

SUPER NOVAS: (soo'-pehr noe-vuz’) People in the congregation who visibly connect with God during the worship events. Not a dependable indicator of their maturity, but impossible to miss and a joy to observe. (See also Black Holes)

THE THRONE-ZONE: (Throewn-zoewn) The place we’ll spend eternity, and therefore the place we should spend every possible moment on planet earth right now.

VIBRATO: (Vi’-brah-toe) A technique used by singers to help hide pitch problems.

What response do you have to a list like this?

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

September 26, 2005

2005 AFL Ladder Prediction - Results

Way back in March (before it all began) my son challenged me to predict the finishing positions of the football teams at end of season. I started to make a mid-season review, but didn't get it completed. However, when it all shapes up, I didn't turn out too badly, save for Adelaide's performance. I wasn't alone there, however, with some 'experts' predicting them for the wooden spoon.

You be the judge...

March Prediction. . . .Final
1. Port Adelaide . . . . . Sydney (3rd at end of regular season)
2. St Kilda . . . . . . . . . West Coast (2)
3. West Coast . . . . . . . Adelaide (1)
4. Brisbane . . . . . . . . . St Kilda (4)
5. Sydney . . . . . . . . . . Geelong (5)
6. Geelong . . . . . . . . . Port Adelaide (8)
7. Fremantle . . . . . . . . Kangaroos (5)
8. Richmond . . . . . . . . . Melbourne (7)
9. Carlton . . . . . . . . . Western Bulldogs
10. Kangaroos . . . . . . . Fremantle
11. Essendon . . . . . . . . Brisbane
12. Collingwood . . . . . . Richmond
13. Western Bulldogs . . . Essendon
14. Melbourne . . . . . . . Hawthorn
15. Adelaide . . . . . . . . Collingwood
16. Hawthorn . . . . . . . Carlton

Sydney breaks a 72-year drought to win the flag... What better result could there be if Richmond didn't win?!

Posted by gary at 10:27 AM | Comments (0)

August 12, 2005

Seasonal Rhythms

The challenge of finding a rhythm which gives life to us, and nurtures us has become increasingly perplexing. The unravelling of our connection with creation’s rhythms began with the introduction of the electric light and gathered pace when houses were equipped with central heating and cooling. We can now function without respect to the daylight hours, and program sleep around our own wishes. Here in West Melbourne I could hold a game of cricket or football at any hour of the day or night, such is the availability of light from the surrounding streets and buildings. Is it any wonder that we are pushing ourselves to the limit and beyond when the normal limitations have been removed.

But this lack of rhythm has extended to the seasons. Although some might argue the [significant] problems of global warming, the globalisation of the food economy has stripped us from our connection to our land and environment. Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, it was a sign of summer’s arrival when water melon and strawberries began to appear in the household. This week, in the depths of winter, both fruits have been consumed. What does this do, not only to our rhythms, but our connection with our environment?

The seasonal rhythms are as essential to the health of the flora and fauna as the daily ones. I stood amazed during a total eclipse when I listened to the evening sounds of the bird life appearing in the middle of the day: taking the dimming of sunlight as the cue the birds moved into the evening routines, only to reemerge in the following half hour as the eclipse passed. Some birds migrate during the colder months, fish move to different parts of the stream to spawn according to the season, and in winter months deciduous trees shed their leaves and tamp down until the spring draws out the new leaves.

With the absence of seasons so creatively constructed, how do we find rhythms in life which encourage us to slow down, draw breath, take up different challenges and responsibilities while letting go of others. The closest we approach in Melbourne is the switch between the cricket and football season, although these lines are increasingly blurred.

To find life-giving rhythms is always a challenge. In a setting where the natural environment is suppressed, even countered, we need to work hard to ensure that we aren’t simply swept along in a tide, encountering a waterfall before we recognise where the river has taken us.

Posted by gary at 04:47 PM | Comments (0)

August 09, 2005

Our ability to see what's there

New Scientist Magazine recently reported on a series of experiments which demonstrate how easy it is for us to miss the obvious. They link to a site where they have stored some of the videos they used to test and demonstrate the principle. Go and check them out - it is amazing how easily we can miss the obvious. They are sourced here.

The principles which undergird these demonstrations are employed by magicians, for example, to create an illusion.

It gives me pause to reflect on our ability to perceive reality when such obvious matters can be overlooked.

Posted by gary at 05:29 PM | Comments (0)

August 07, 2005


Tonight I held my first voice conversation over the Internet with a family member in Belgium... Amazing technology! The voice was clearer than any telephone call I have held. It was as though they were in the very next room - no, let me make that standing next to me. One can expect a fall in the costs of 'normal' phone calls as this technology becomes more available.

Beats the old... "Arrived safely stop weather fine stop wish you were here stop Can't stop long stop" of the telegrams!

Dick Tracey wrist phones will be the next gadget to take off, I suppose.

Posted by gary at 10:36 PM | Comments (0)

July 21, 2005

Media Influence

What are the key values that dominate mass media? Dr. David Walsh, author of Selling Out America's Children: How America Puts Profits before Values and What Parents Can Do, identifies six key values:
1. Happiness is found in having things.
2. Get all you can for yourself.
3. Get it all as quickly as you can.
4. Win at all costs.
5. Violence is entertaining.
6. Always seek pleasure and avoid boredom.
When children spend an average of over four hours engaged with Mass Media (internet, games, TV...) we have to pause to question who has the greatest influence over the next generation.

David Batstone reflects:

Several years ago I interviewed for Sojourners one of Australia's most favored sons, Tim Winton. Winton is a novelist who was nominated for the prestigious Booker Prize twice before he turned 40. When I interviewed Winton, he had just written Cloudstreet, perhaps his signature novel. One of the key characters in Cloudstreet is a woman who gets so fed up with her family that she takes up living in a tent in the family's backyard. I asked Winton how he conjured up the concept of the character.

To my surprise, he said that his grandmother lived in a tent in his backyard when he was growing up on the west coast of Australia. When I asked him if the neighbors thought that peculiar, he replied, "No, that was just grandma." He went on to lament that the push of media around the globe, with such narrow messages, "has squeezed all the eccentricity out of life." Winton then added with a sad voice, "Everyone just wants to be normal."

Yes, we celebrate individualism. But the truth is, I'm dying to meet an individual.

What is the response to this challenge? A simple lament and continue on as normal? How can a more balanced and a spiritual attitude to life be cultivated in this setting?

Clearly we need to make time and space away from the media with family and friends. The notion of "quality time" was used to justify minimal time with family for maximum impact. Unfortunately quality time only comes with quantity. It's often the last 10% which is the quality, and it's not easy to get there without the first 90%.

While ignoring mass media altogether is one option, our family takes the path of critical engagement. We watch movies and TV together, and critique the messages as well as the plots.

Engagement with the margins also helps to counteract the media messages related to prosperity and quality life.

Read one suggestion from David Batstone here.

Any other ideas?

Posted by gary at 02:38 PM | Comments (0)

July 19, 2005

Still Using Dial-up Internet?

If you thought were staying on track with technology simply by being connected to the internet, this might sober you up a little...

Now... if only we could type faster too!

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

June 20, 2005

Alan Cumming

Number one shooting star at the moment on Yahoo! search engine - indicator of what people are most looking for - is Alan Cumming. When told this, my initial response was "Who?" Well a quick search discovered that this young Scot has been a very busy lad, with seven movies either in pre- production, filming or post-production as I write. A busy boy.

But it begs the question: what is it that sets people off on different searches? Is there a search for "The Meaning of Life"? The search item "Mauritius" is the second biggest mover for the day. With the temperatures in Melbourne hovering around 12 C I think I might join that one.

The questions people ask, the information that we seek, is much more important than the answers. The things which move us to action, lead us to a quest, or prompt us to reflect: these are the things which shape us.

Some people treat religious texts somewhat akin to a search engine: type in our question and hope to get a simple answer. In reality the real stuff of life does not emerge in that way, but requires a willingness to search, to dialogue, to probe...

Unless of course you are a fan of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, where the meaning of life is...

Posted by gary at 02:01 PM | Comments (0)

May 31, 2005

Store Wars

Wonderful parody of Star Wars in the same vein as the Meatrix...

The movie runs for just over five minutes, and has options from dial-up through to cable. Be patient - it's worth the wait.

Posted by gary at 01:08 PM | Comments (0)

May 27, 2005


The Sudoku craze is taking off in Melbourne as both daily papers have trumpted this "new" puzzle in a dramatic launch this week. I remember doing these when I was in school. How is it that school work can suddenly be so popular?

Posted by gary at 06:20 PM | Comments (0)

March 22, 2005

2005 AFL Ladder prediction

Today my eldest C asked me to nominate my ladder for the AFL at the end of the home and away season. I'll record it here for posterity.
1. Port Adelaide (hard to go past at this stage)
2. St Kilda (perennial bridesmaid)
3. West Coast (strong midfield)
4. Brisbane (ageing, but still strong)
5. Sydney (some good up-and-coming players)
6. Geelong (could go better, but they've stolen Ottens)
7. Fremantle (just 'cos they need to)
8. Richmond (I'm ever the optimist!)
9. Carlton (Can't bring myself to let them in the top 8)
10. Kangaroos (Still not strong enough)
11. Essendon (How long can you win off Hird? Getting too old, not enough new blood)
12. Collingwood (And that's optimistic!)
13. Western Bulldogs (Slowly on the improve)
14. Melbourne (It's an odd-numbered year! --- and I had left them out inadvertently until here!)
15. Adelaide (who have they got?)
16. Hawthorn (they don't seem like too happy a team at the moment)

Seal up the box until the end of August.

Season kicks off on Thursday. First tip? Brisbane... or St Kilda!

Posted by gary at 08:59 PM | Comments (0)

March 14, 2005

Changing Melbourne

A public holiday provided opportunity to enjoy some of the sights and sounds of Melbourne with the family. And the experience was symptomatic of Melbourne’s changes: not one thing we explored existed over 20 years ago... we began with a stroll down to the City Circle tram which took us down through Melbourne’s Docklands on our way to the Melbourne Aquarium. We headed from there along the Yarra banks, crossing the river to Southgate, where we stopped for a bite to eat before crossing Yarra again (via the Princes Bridge) to Federation Square, where we enjoyed the Ian Potter Gallery of the National Gallery of Victoria, and ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image). When the kids were exhausted, we caught a water taxi back to New Quay, then walked the rest of the way home. It was a relaxing day before heading into our Movie Night.

It struck me how much our journey was symptomatic of the changes in our city, with its shift in focus from land to water, and of the wider shift in culture from fixed to fluid.

While I stated that nothing existed 20 years ago, it is only partly true: the river, the trams, the bridges, the spaces have been there for some time. Now they are being utilised, explored and experienced in new ways. While Moomba’s 50th celebrations took place, their flavour and expression reflect the changing hues of the city and its peoples.

Isn’t it the nature of life itself – to grow and change?

Posted by gary at 06:40 PM | Comments (0)

February 12, 2005

Naming Your Child

It seems that Victorian parents have been finding children's names at the local shopping precinct. The 1990s recorded a surge in the number of children bearing the names of multinational company logos: Lexus, Pepsi, Nike, Chanel and Versace, for example. While the phenomenon is not new - witness the emergence of Mercedes as a name in the 1930s, and the number of Lisa's emerging after Elvis married - the trend towards a global consumer culture has meant people calling their children after popular consumer items, including Mars and Sony.

While most names gravitated exclusively to one gender, there were the occasional variations, including a male Nike, a female Sony, and a split for Lexus, according to birth statistics.

Speaks a lot about where we find the source of identity.

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

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