This Is How It’s Done – Meet the Superhumans

My ever-patient Twitter followers have seen me banging on about this video.

It’s called Meet The Superhumans and it’s the promo for the UK’s Channel 4 coverage of the 2012 Paralympics.

I don’t mind telling you, I was completely blown away by it, and for a number of reasons.

I don’t have much truck with the whole “I’ve worked so hard to get here” schtick that most Olympics promotional stuff is full of, particularly in Australia.

Networks like to run this line that elite sport doesn’t have hundreds of millions of dollars thrown at it by adoring governments and billions more from adoring sponsors because it’s all down to the individual athlete and their lovely genes, isn’t it?

It’s poppycock of course, in all but the most obscure of sports. Professional athletes participating at an Olympic level have made a choice to be that person, participate and devote themselves to that sport because they were spotted as kids and had free trainers and free education thrown at them.

The Paralympics is very different. The athletes at the Paralympics have really had to fight – prejudice, ignorance and their own disability.

Meet the Superhumans nails that message home in a bold, uncompromising and unpatronising way. Nobody’s smiling warmly, there’s no blonde rich girl with sponsors dripping off her bitching about the 4am starts at the pool, it’s telling us the truth – these are people with a disability, not disabled people.

These Paralympians aren’t necessarily pretty but they’re not standing there asking for your pity or mithering applause. We see explosions in Iraq, car crashes, stumps. We see people routinely ignored by the corporate gloss of the Olympics.

We see people who really have had to work very hard indeed just to live, to survive. It’s awesome. I love it. It’s a fantastic job and it is abundantly clear that Channel 4 aren’t just along for the ride, the people running the coverage not only care but they understand.

It’s a huge leap forward for the promotion of the Paralympics and the portrayal of the people with a disability is refreshingly free from right-on politics or patronising back-patting.

Nice work, Channel 4. Nice work.


Richard Dawkins is Finished….Apparently

Professor Richard Dawkins is an incredibly clever man. He is a pre-eminent evolutionary biologist, with a gift for speaking and a gift for the written word. He is erudite, can be very funny and, as I have already said, he is very, very clever. He is perhaps the world’s most famous atheist and probably has made more money from his atheism than anyone. He has a pretty impressive temper and doesn’t mind going into a frothing rage in front of a television camera.

He can also be vile, abrasive, unpleasant and rude. This week he was firing away on a reasonably prominent science blog (I don’t read these things, so I am relying on the internet to tell me it is so), ripping into Rebecca Watson who calls themselves Scepchick.
Scepchick had complained about somebody asking her to his hotel room at 4am after a party. She thought it was creepy and fair enough. Dawkins didn’t think it was enough to complain about, so posted this:

Dear Muslima,

Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and … yawn … don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.

Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so …

And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.

It isn’t particularly witty or funny and despite me not being a fan of his at all (well, I wouldn’t be, he thinks I’m an idiot), I consider it beneath his usual level of communication. The patronising inverted commas are his as is the irritating correction to ‘proper’ spelling.The post is unpleasant, cranky and hyperbolic. At no point in Watson’s complaint did she compare herself to anybody in such circumstances. Empathy doesn’t appear to be Dawkins’ strong point, as though this is something that we hadn’t already worked out. Even some of his fans will accept his rhetoric is a teensy bit overblown.
Well. It kicked off something of a storm of protest across Sceptic and Atheist websites. There have been calls for boycotts of his books (no differentiation was made between his scientific texts and his ranty atheist ones), speaking engagements (again, no differentiation) and television programs.
It seems the Sceptic/Atheist community does the same thing to itself that it does to the religious community. There is some assignation of blame to reprehensible behaviour to the religion itself rather than the people in it. Dawkins was ripping into Islam, as though all Muslim women suffer the awful fate he outlined above.
It’s fascinating, I think, that any member of a particular school of thought, can be surprised about the views and approaches of someone in that same school of thought. Like the Christian church, Atheism is a, ahem, a broad church and is full of just as interesting and wide a range of characters as any religion. Dawkins is a leading light in New Atheist thinking. It also turns out he’s sarcastic and weirdly sexist.
Some Atheists paint themselves as holding a monopoly on clear and rational thinking, as Dawkins only just stops short of doing himself. The mortal pain with which some of his followers have felt over the past few days is exceptionally strange – the guy hasn’t lived up to a set of ideals they have set for him and so he must be cast in the pit of pariah, his every spoken word now derided as invalid because of his indiscretion in a blog comment.
Was he drunk? Was he high? Was he in a bad mood after a fight with Lalla? Was it jealousy or a professional disagreement with a prominent blogger who isn’t a professor at an English university so shouldn’t be as famous as she is?
Who knows? It’s not really the point.
You see, it’s interesting how we build people up to be something they aren’t. Julia Gillard was expected to deliver much in the way of what the Left were expecting from her, and she hasn’t. The asylum seeker policy is probably worse than even the Liberals, she’s still holding out on same-sex marriage and she has so far failed to soften many of the hard edges filed onto Australia under the Howard Government. Whether you agree with those agendas or not, there is much howling from the groups who wanted them and derision from the other side when they don’t happen and cries that go something along the lines of the pearler Charlie Pickering tweeted on the same-sex marriage.
‘How an atheist can be anti-gay marriage is beyond me’
Well, Charlie, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns out there. The Atheist community has climate-change sceptics, racists, rapists, misogynists, any prejudice and criminality you want to name. Atheists, just because they choose not to believe in God, do not automatically become left-leaning beams of sweetness and light. They remain human and susceptible to human foibles and frailty. And in Gillard’s case, political realities. Just like people who call themselves Christians. Funny, isn’t it, how we’re all the same when you peel back the labels.
Dawkins is a product of his time and place. He has entered his eighth decade on planet Earth, lives in the rarified atmosphere of academia and has a truckload of adoring fans who praise his every move. He thought he could get away with being a bit of a jerk (because, in my opinion, he has done so for years) and has paid the price. He’s probably slightly bewildered how he managed to get it so wrong.
Dawkins has done what most heroes do – he’s trodden in it good and proper and then, to make it worse, refused to listen to why people are upset with him. It hasn’t changed my opinion of him – I think he’s abrasive, uncouth and generally unpleasant. What it doesn’t make him is a scientist we should ignore. Christians shouldn’t be afraid of his science and even less afraid of his anti-religious dogma. Mao and Stalin with their armies and reigns of terror couldn’t stop religion, he can’t either.
(N.B . I am not comparing Dawkins to Stalin or Mao – the point I am making here is that they had far more power and might and tried to stamp out religion with violence and repression. They failed – China’s pre-Communist Era Christian population was tens of thousands, by the time of his death it was nearing a reported 50 million. Dawkins has words, books and television and apart from his terrifying temper, is otherwise a reasonable chap when not talking religion. As in not a murderous psychopath.)
I was surprised that he was so offhand about Scepchick’s incident but I was more surprised about the reaction. I think people are tiring of his constant, greying monotone about how religion is terrible. He hasn’t produced anything new on the matter, just said the same thing, over and over. I should imagine following the Dawkins tour is like touring around behind a stand-up comedian – it’s the same jokes, the same stories and the same old thing. You can go to a good church for ten years and not hear the same sermon twice.
Dawkins probably isn’t finished – the cosy, self-congratulatory atmosphere of University life will see to that, and his dedicated acolytes will return because they have nothing else to believe in. I will say I’m mightily impressed with the Atheist and sceptic communities – they treat their own like they treat those with whom they disagree. That’s the sort of consistency I can respect.

Victoria’s Offensive Language Law Changes Are Bollocks

In the fine tradition of politicians looking like they’re doing something, the new Baillieu government in Victoria has decided to fine people swearing in public on the spot. Which, let’s be honest, is different to actually being offensive.

This is instead of charging people with offensive language and hauling them into court only to have the charges dismissed by the magistrate in what is obviously a waste of the court’s time. Offensive language laws are long past their use-by date as the community has become more tolerant (this is different to accepting) of people swearing in public. It’s part of the social fabric and unless the surrounding language is intended to be threatening, most people just brush it off.

Many on Twitter, as usual, are blaming the moral conservatives and the evangelicals but I find it hard to see either of these groups explicitly supporting the new legislation. Basically, the new legislation is more about clearing the matter in one hit, in the same way councils do with parking fines, rather than let magistrates let the ‘offender’ off. These groups might drink a dry sherry in honour of the new laws, but unless my Aunty Betty has been writing letters (and she does), nobody is going to be all that impressed.

I think you’ll find the Victoria Police are behind it.

Baillieu wants to give Police the excuse to grab people on what is effectively a technicality. If a Police officer directs someone to do something and gets the predictable response that goes along the lines of ‘Get f***ed, pig,’ then the Police now have a marvellous excuse for grabbing the offender, fining them a couple of hundred bucks and sending them on their way after what will no doubt be a thorough search. That’s what this is all about, it’s the twenty-first century clip over the ear with added rights infringements.

If you want to blame the evangelicals (I’m not exactly sure who people think these evangelicals are) or the moral conservatives (a marvellous social caricature used as a scapegoat. Again, who are these people? Apart from Aunty Betty, I mean), go right ahead. But I think you’re missing the point. If the Police fine a hundred people on an average Saturday night in Melbourne, that’s twenty grand for the state’s coffers, or a millions bucks for a year’s worth of Saturdays. How many of those hundred people will want to take this to court? Not many. No doubt the process will be as tortuous as contesting a parking fine and that’s the point.

Worse, and far more insidious than the ad hominem argument of evangelicals/moral conservatives, is the fact that it is giving the Police a fantastic excuse to decide to search you where they previously wouldn’t bother. Police probably don’t bother with offensive language charges on their own because it sends them to court, causes endless paperwork and rarely gets past the magistrate. Those are the sorts of shenanigans nobody needs for somebody dropping an f-bomb in public. Now the Police know they’re more likely to make it stick, they’ll fine you and search you because, hey, why not while you’re already writing a ticket?

See where this is going? With a bit of luck, someone they really want to talk to will go for a bit of biffo and they’ve got them in the cells, nice and handy for assessing whether they can get them for something else.

I’m not dismissing ‘moral conservatism’ or evangelicals as a factor, but they’re not the driving force. I can’t say there’s much evidence to support the argument but it is the sort of thing Aunty Betty would do. She once rang my father early on a Sunday morning asking him to preach against a Pizza Hut slogan that went, ‘Get Stuffed.’ He told her to get stuffed, but reasonably politely, as I recall. For the record, swearing doesn’t offend me, despite my membership of the Christian church. There’s rather more going on in society to worry about people saying words to which we have attached weight for strange reasons.

Fining somebody for offensive language is remarkably stupid and is massively inconsistent. People like Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones are wilfully offensive in their on-air and written ramblings yet they never, ever swear at or to their audience. Baillieu isn’t interested in keeping the peace, he’s interested in raking in a few bucks, playing hard ball on law and order and giving Police a new motivation for collaring somebody they normally wouldn’t – or couldn’t.

I reckon that’s far worse.

The Truth Is Out – Super-Injunctions Are (Hopefully) Dead

As with Trafigura, so it was with Ryan Giggs, for Gentleman of Football. Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming named Ryan Giggs (previously known on this blog as Stupid English Footballer)(when he should have been known as Stupid Welsh Footballer, thank you commenter) in parliament as the footballer at the centre of the current super-injunction row. The vanity of a footballer who plays for the very famous Manchester United is now in serious tatters, but it was long-gone before he was actually named.

I said in my previous post that it was unlikely that celebrity affairs were going to be brought up in Parliament as they were hardly in the national interest. They’re not. If Ryan Giggs is stupid enough to cheat on his wife in five-star hotels with an instantly recognisable former reality television star, that’s his own business. Giggs’ fall from grace is entirely of his own making and during his fall he managed to hit everything he could to ensure a blood corpse. Sure, it takes two to tango and Imogen Thomas must have been nuts for thinking it was a good idea, but Giggs couldn’t be bothered springing the extra cash to suppress her identity as well. The Sun newspaper’s crowd-sourcing of the legal risk has worked a treat, aided and abetted by the wonderful concept of parliamentary privilege.

It brings into sharper focus the fact that super-injunctions were being misused by celebrities who were protecting their hide, rather than the truly vulnerable. British PM David Cameron has (yawn) promised a review of privacy laws but what I’m interested in is the fact that this went from being someone protecting their privacy (however vainly) to the issue actually, genuinely, being in the national interest. It became the national interest because it once again raised the question of what the point of a super-injunction is and how are they even allowed in a society with a free press?

The facts of the super-injunction are pretty sordid and, in and of themselves, a waste of the paper and the oxygen and megabytes consumed to discuss them. We’re hardly surprised a footballer can’t keep his pants on (although one wonders about the staggering choice of using 5-star hotels, public places, in which to conduct the affair), but the fact that such unimportant information can be suppressed by a national instrument such as the court system is profoundly troubling. It’s astonishing that this stuff even reaches a court room.

The issue of whether this affair is newsworthy or not is another matter. I don’t believe it is, but millions of Sun, Daily Mail, Express and whatever other tabloid you can think of seem to think it is, as long as the woman is attractive and the celebrity famous enough. The twist, of course, is Giggs’ hypocrisy which one supposes just scrapes it into a very wide definition of news.

The founding purpose of super-injunctions appear to be lost in the mists of time but they were certainly not designed for this sort of stupidity. It seems to me they can be used for things that are just embarrassing rather than a matter of national security because separate legislation handles national secrets and security.

With the age of over-sharing via Twitter, Facebook and the open Internet, we have a terrific, anonymised way for the world to find stuff out. Giggs and his irksome ilk are now going to have to behave themselves like normal humans or wear the consequences of their transgressions. The price of their fame is that, sadly, they will be pursued by the very people and institutions that make them famous. The media gives with one hand and takes with the other. Once they tire of you or they sniff hypocrisy, you will be splashed across the pages of the national dailies, complete with judgmental commentary. Facts are optional and often invented to increase the outrage factor.

On the upside, it might stop you from cheating on our wife, embarrassing your family and making you a figure of hate and/or international ridicule. The wheels have fallen off the well-polished family-man Giggs’ wagon – well, they fell off when he basically tried to sue the entire Internet – but the hubcaps of super-injunctions themselves are lying in a ditch beside the motorway as the wheelnuts undo themselves. The centuries-old tradition of parliamentary privilege has twice destroyed the assault on the public interest that super-injunctions are.

The truth is out and the biggest, if not the first, casualty of this war is the ignoble practice of super-injunctions.

The Truth Will Always Out – Super-Injunctions Are Stupid

When I first drafted this, I had the English footballer’s name in it. I’ve taken it out and replaced it with SEF or, Stupid English Footballer. Just to cover my backside so I can go to the UK without possibly being sued. It won’t be hard for any of you to work out who this footballer is. I’ll put his real name back in when a) I get a life b) it looks like I can get away with it.

There’s a marvellous stink going on, and has been going on, over UK court orders known as superinjunctions. There’s a certain amount of schadenfreude about the whole thing because it’s hardly important, but it’s funny when a cover-up is blown.

Super-injunctions are a court order that not only forbids reporting names or facts or whatever it is the litigant is trying to hide, the order also forbids the actual reporting of the existence of the order. The first time super-injunctions became an issue was when one was raised on behalf of an oil-trading company Trafigura. Trafigura were trying to stop details coming to light about an internal report that wasn’t kind about a Cote D’Ivoire toxic dumping episode. They got caught when a question was tabled in UK Parliament under privilege, which blew the whole thing wide open. The media, unsure of the legalities of reporting it all, had an interesting few days.

That was in 2009. More recently, via the medium with which the media has that most troubled relationship, a ‘list’ of other super-injunctions was released. It kicked off with The Sun reporting what are known as ‘blind’ items, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks, which on the Internet is a participation sport. Amusingly, these weren’t even super-injunctions, merely gagging orders. These gagging orders were largely taken out by celebrities to stop the papers reporting things that weren’t exactly in the national interest. The orders mostly involved preventing rutting, married footballers and the people they were rutting with, being identified. A few people were embarrassed, some liars outed and the discussion took on a (carefully worded) life of its own.

Where it got really interesting was when Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye, took legal action when he discovered that respected BBC journalist Andrew Marr had taken out a proper super-injunction to prevent details of extra-marital affairs of his own. Hislop argued that Marr’s use of a super-injunction was epic hypocrisy (my words) because Marr himself had criticised them in the past and also criticised gagging orders. Being an active and prominent journalist meant he earned the scorn of his peers and rightly so. He has since stated he feels embarrassed and uneasy about his actions. Sounds more like he’s upset he got caught.

The Internet, never mind Twitter, makes a mockery of legal jurisdictions and it’s almost impossible to police anything that’s said. It’s also worth remembering, super-injunctions and gagging orders are fabulously expensive so are not generally available to the people who would genuinely need them for reasons most of us would find acceptable.

So that’s the history lesson.

I see why some gagging orders are good, where people are actually being protected from identification (like, say the poor woman who made the mistake of bearing Arnold Schwarzenegger’s child) or made the even bigger mistake of being alone in a room with Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Neither of these women could afford gagging orders even if they were legally available. These women were wronged and yet they can’t get protection without paying huge sums to a lawyer to get it.

The marvellous thing about gagging orders taken out by desperate celebrities and craven corporations is that the only thing they are really protecting is their own vanity and their own lies. They’re a lie in themselves and I’m pretty sure there are some quite pointed conversations with the children of these celebrities. The kids have the moral high ground which would be rather uncomfortable for the alleged adult in the conversation, I would imagine.

Footlballer [SEF] made the mistake of, firstly, cheating on his wife after painting himself as a family man for years. Then he got a super-injunction. When the media, and then the Internet, gets a sniff of this sort of thing, a ton of bricks falling on these people would be a blessed release. [SEF], who is apparently good at moving a ball around a field, has decided to sue Twitter and some of its users for breaching the order. Nice try. All he’s done is make himself a household name for being a hypocrite, a cad and a liar. The brilliant @snarkyplatypus tweeted one of the best summaries of anything ever:

‘I see [SEF] has discovered the work of Barbra Streisand’

(referring to the phenomenon amusingly titled the ‘Streisand effect‘)

I’m really enjoying this discussion because it points to an absolutely fundamental fact of life – the truth will always out. The Internet has a marvellous way of smoking it out, whether through the work of Anonymous, dedicated journalists or the herd mentality of groups like 4Chan. I’m not suggesting these methods are always particularly ethical and it would be rather nicer if people didn’t get hurt on the way through, but it’s going to happen. The Sun’s blind items were pretty much a presentation to the world: ‘We know a little bit about this, you do the rest so at some point we can take the credit.’ It’s like crowd-sourcing the legal risk, in the manner of the I Am Spartacus movement on Twitter during the so-called Twitter Joke Trial.

The other interesting thing is the way the law is having trouble keeping up with how to handle these sorts of shenanigans. The Paul Chambers case is a superb example of over-reaction and the timeline of events is extraordinary . The Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Judge, compared (with a touch of hysteria) breaking these injunctions with child pornography, a reaction that’s difficult to understand (especially when the super-injunctions that have been uncovered are largely to do with personal vanity).

Difficult until you view it through the prism of legal tradition, some of it going back hundreds of years. The legal profession and the governments who make laws are grappling with the concept of a fragmented jurisdiction. You can publish a claim about someone who has taken out an order on a website not hosted within the United Kingdom and as long as you can’t be identified (or more to the point, have taken steps to ensure you aren’t), there’s nothing that can be done without a gross breach of the principles of freedom of speech (ie, blocking that webhost or in this case Twitter). I see Lord Judge’s problem, and it must be really frustrating, but find it hard to sympathise with the people who are affected (I may be labouring that point, apologies).

Bizarrely, those who try and make a deal of the fact their injunction has been breached should look to Jeremy Clarkson as a role model. It is alleged that he had a dalliance with somebody or other (one of the names that popped up was Jemima Kahn) and he has pretty much ignored it. If he had taken out the gagging order, he neutralised the PR problem by just avoiding it. It’s less interesting than smacking Piers Morgan in the face, but it had the desired effect – the media moved on to get a hold of someone else. Jemima Khan denied it, everyone else tried to scrub their brains clean of the image and that was that.

As Marr discovered, if you can be hanged on your own petard, people will go even harder to uncover the truth. The Internet loves a fight and doing something moronic like suing Twitter is a guaranteed way to send your problem supernova. I was barely aware of [SEF]’s existence until a couple of days ago, but now I know he slept with a model called Imogen Thomas (I tweeted a link to a ‘story’ run by the online Fairfax papers that critiqued the dress she wore to court this week). Now I know more than I really want to, but if he’d just worn the consequences of his actions, the Daily Mail would have done a job on him and people outside the UK wouldn’t care a jot. As it stands now, no matter how good a footballer he is, he now looks like a complete plonker. Which he is.

I guess the worst thing about super-injunctions is how they may be used. Someone commented on a TechCrunch (one of the sites I used during my research) article that, technically-speaking, Tony Blair could have taken out a super-injunction over his Iraq WMD dodginess. That doesn’t really stand up, because as Trafigura discovered, super-injunctions can be blown open under Parliamentary privilege, but as with Trafigura, the discovery of the super-injunction was serendipitous and that will keep happening. That will be why celebs like super-injunctions – their sex life isn’t in the national interest so won’t come up in Parliament. I hope not.

Attendance at Famous People School should include tattooing of this truism on their forearms: The truth will always out – even if you’re rich.

A Community Service Message For the Smug

I hate Q and A. It fills my timeline with all sorts of tat but tonight it really got up my nose as the smugness quotient bounced off the redline. I even swore on Twitter I was so furious.

The feed was full of fundamentalist atheist nonsense. The nonsense being the tired old cliches accusing Christians of all sorts of behaviour that isn’t representative of the majority, in the same way that the vast majority of atheists aren’t unbearably smug, with nothing better to do than point-score on Twitter with inflammatory remarks that are based in ‘clear and rational thinking.’ Did I mention that these people enjoy sweeping generalisations and indulging in mindless bigotry? And yelling at dark-hued kettles?

One contributor who I used to tolerate in my feed but banished because he’s too smug for words, had this little gem:

”Will the govt allow scientists into churches seeing as churches are allowed into schools?”

I don’t think I’ve ever been to a church that had a ‘no scientists’ sign on the door. In fact, my sister is a scientist and a practising Christian who, last time I looked, didn’t have to sneak in to church.

I’m also pretty sure Dr Francis Collins is allowed in to church without a single problem. I mean, he’s not that important or anything, he’s the director of the Human Genome Project. No big deal. And there are thousands, even millions of scientists like him.

Come to think of it, I don’t think the government has a policy on scientists in churches. In fact, churches let anyone in. They’re good like that.

I’m really steamed up about this. Nobody, especially in the media, really wants to know about the opinion of the average Christian on the subject of school chaplains. It’s been a tough debate so far and stunt television like Q and A becomes a platform for idiocy to triumph, and that’s on both sides. As long as it’s good television, says the ABC, we’re okay with it, screw the facts or a genuine spectrum of views.

It’s a circus, usually with a panel half-filled with nutbags like Eric Abetz who are called upon to defend people who really rather he didn’t. It shouldn’t be called Q and A it should be called Black and White, because on this weekly dumptruck full of bile there’s no room for moderates unless they drag Waleed Aly on the panel for everyone to swoon over.

…and breathe.

A friend once called me a ‘raging egalitarian’ and I like to think that people who disagree with me (and he disagrees with me quite strongly on the subject of God) can see that I am like most Christians.

We don’t scoff at the idea of atheism, as though the poor holder of that belief is mentally ill.

We don’t judge people based on the particular sins they might commit. We don’t tell someone who has confided in us that they should ‘turn or burn’ or ‘God hates fags’ (a grotesque and plainly wrong assertion) and leave it at that. To characterise the entire chaplaincy community as mindless, judgemental dunderheads, whether you agree with their presence in schools or not, is deeply unfair. Even those who work for Access are not Paddison-clones.

Like many of the chaplains who have been (undeservedly) in the firing line all week, we show compassion, empathy and try and put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. Sin is sin – if Christians were ‘unable to talk to people who have lifestyles they consider sinful’ we’d never talk to anybody. We couldn’t order a coffee in a cafe, form meaningful relationships with anybody or do anything ever because none of us is perfect.

What kind of witness would it be if Jesus had said, ‘And if you could not talk to people who sin, that’d be a great way to preach love and kindness’? Brush up on the story of Zuccheus, Mary Magadalene and the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet. And on that last one, remind yourself of how he treated those who regarded themselves as sinless (and, if you ever do run into someone who calls themselves a Christian and does fit the stereotype, that’s the way to remind them they’re in the wrong. Tell them I sent you because I sure as hell would want the same thing done to me if I ever turned into one of those). He stopped a woman from being stoned, it’s a reasonably famous story, Google it. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

If I were a chaplain and a gay teenager came and spoke to me about their troubles, I’d listen and if I could, I’d help. Christians don’t deny compassion and charity to anyone they consider ‘sinful’ or disagree with them and there’s a really important reason for that:

Most Christians consider themselves as sinful as the person they’re talking to. Which puts them in absolutely no position to judge. Some don’t take that view, but most do. I know that’s a terrible blow to the smug groupthink, but as the militants are always so keen to remind the faith-heads, letting reality get in the way of a good story just sucks.

And in that position, where I felt I couldn’t help, I would try and point them to somebody who could, with apologies for being unable to help. Like most chaplains (see that word? Most), like most people, I don’t understand the torment of somebody who is confused about their sexuality, dreading they might be gay or what else they may go through because they are. I don’t know. I’ll probably get flayed alive for ‘dreading’ but as I say, I don’t know. I get being gay is hard if only just because other people can be deeply unpleasant about it.

The incredible bigotry I see on Twitter during Q and A might just be a small, smug, subsection of the community. I hope so.

Because smugness is banal, empty and intellectually bankrupt.

I’ve already covered what I think of the school chaplaincy program here which should give you a fair idea that I’m not blindly defending the presence of chaplains in schools. I suppose I’m defending my faith and my right to have it as well as the right of others to choose not to have it.

It’d be really nice if we could all get along and actually talk stuff through instead of howling at each other…

…says the guy who’s just spent forty minutes writing a howling blog post…

Australian Budget 2011: Part Deux

A few days ago I blushed when a few influential Twitterblatherers picked up on my post moaning about the Opposition’s ‘response’ to the budget.

Since then there’s been a lot of talk about the invented New Urban Poor so suddenly beloved of News Ltd. papers and tabloid TV journalism. I’ve spent the rest of the week saying snarky things on Twitter and trying to come to terms with the idea that somebody on nearly three times the average wage can seriously be considered to need Government welfare.

The most astonishing part of the debate has been the traditional enemies of welfare in any form, the Liberal Party (the spiritless, I mean heartless, I mean spiritual sibling of the UK Conservatives) going in to bat for the NUP. Their idea of welfare is suggesting a grizzled billionaire install the Government’s digital set-top boxes for pensioners rather than the Government’s chosen (and flawed) method. The Liberals also seem to think that private health funds, surely the worst value for money product in Australia, and possibly the world, need to be subsidised by the taxpayers who then somehow have to wear annual double-digit increases in their contributions without having a say in it because if they don’t join before age 30, they’re penalised.

From the same Opposition who opposed the Flood Levy which hit actual poor people, the rural poor, the worst off. The same people who are refusing to outline what they would do to achieve a budget surplus (oh, puh-lease, Julia, what were you thinking?) in 2012-13 because they know it would make them extremely unpopular. The Liberal Government who attacked those who earn a third of these New Poor with the introduction of WorkChoices to ensure they earn even less and become even more dependent on Government welfare they so despised having to distribute in the first place.

If these New Urban Poor are genuinely struggling, they have only themselves to blame. It’s these people who have been relentlessly over-paying for real estate and driving up the median house price in the country’s three largest cities. Sydney’s Daily Telegraph outlined the ‘struggle’ of a family on $143,000 whose net disposable income every month (after mortgage, by the way, so their biggest ever expense was already well underway and controlled) was a ‘measly’ $3510, a figure one had to divine with some arithmetic because it wasn’t actually mentioned in the article. They would have even more if they reached the $150,000 cut-off so what on earth do they need with the $70/fortnight or whatever it is they get from the Feds on top of their other range of benefits such as the 30% that is kicked in for their private health cover?

Will they have to settle for a two-bedroom villa in Bali this year? Gasp! The shame of it all!

While that’s more-than-slightly judgemental, the sheer hypocrisy of the whole episode is literally beyond my comprehension. I’ve never been genuinely poor but for two years I lurched along on a meagre redundancy package doing menial part-time (and character-building) work for almost two years, in a depressed state, wondering if I would have to move my young family back in with a set of parents. I couldn’t even get a job shilling mobile phones. I’d worked very hard and had almost everything taken away from me during those two years. We sold everything we could.

We survived because the Government helped us out. I have been earning pretty good money ever since, just recently finished repaying the staggering debts we ran up during those two years but not once – not once – have I thought that since being employed full-time, did I deserve a single extra cent from Canberra. I still don’t own a home and don’t wish to dig myself in a mortgage hole like so many of these whining, middle-class whackers getting hives every first Tuesday of the month in case the interest rates are lifted.

I know what it’s like to one day hide in a darkened room, have just a few dollars in the bank, three maxed-out credit cards and a phone in my hand that hadn’t rung with good news for nigh-on 22 months. It did that day. I’m one of the lucky ones, one of these New Urban Poor, as it turns out.

I don’t feel poor. Because I’m not. I may not be rich either but I sure as hell am not going to satisfy the Right by participating in a class war that has no winners. There are few people in it who aren’t already losers by their own hand because they can’t save up for something or, worse, realise just how damn lucky they are.

I’m also not going to satisfy the smug sections of the Left saying $150,000 is ‘rich enough’ because, again, that’s a side of the battle that has no winners, just a huge chunk of the population looking on, wondering how this argument even got started when they can barely afford to feed their kids let alone have $3500 left over at the end of the month. Or even $3500 to start with. I reckon those people don’t give a toss about the surplus, they care about keeping their jobs and perhaps grabbing a ten dollar a week pay rise that might cover their rising power bills. I know I did.

As I said to a fellow Twitterer the other day, earning $150,000 is its own reward. A welfare-filled slap on the back from the Government is the last thing we need. Not only does it hurt well over 50% of the population, it’s stopping us from reaching the ludicrous goal of a multi-billion dollar budget surpluses which is the pathetic reason these ‘cuts’ were introduced in the first place and something the Liberals have been wanting to hear for months.