Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Resurrection makes the Government more Godly

This brilliant graphic has been plucked from the web.  The religious symbolism is potent.

Well the unmarried atheist is gone from the Prime Minister’s office, much to my sadness.  And with her demise, those of us concerned with questions of faith and belief are wondering where we stand.  I reckon we of little or no faith are worse off.  There will be a bidding war for the religious vote.
But before we look at the consequences, let’s note the religious imagery that powerfully percolated through this revenge drama.  Religious imagery is embedded in the culture.  The question I always ask is what came first, the Bible stories or the human addiction to them.  We love a good revenge drama. We adore our martyrs.  We are beguiled by betrayal.  My understanding of the anthropological sources is that the human needs of a good story predate the bible. The Greek epics like the Bible, take the issues that tease and trouble us and explore them through drama.
Humans have since the dawn of time, made sense of this dangerous and confusing world with stories.  The bible cleverly caters to the adapted human fondness for stories.  Because of the Bible’s pre-eminence in our culture, we easily translate current stories into the biblical paradigm.  But the Bible is not the only source.  Shakespeare, fairy tales, musicals and other tall tales and true help us get a grip. Indeed the revenge cycles of the Greek tragedies with the inevitability of suffering help us to deal with the endless cycle of political bloodletting we have been witnessing.  Having said that, the Passion gives us characters by which we can measure our view of this drama. Here is my biblical analysis with some notes about when and where the tale diverges from the Passion.
The Resurrected Divinity is obviously K Rudd.  Resurrection is a very popular notion for it is all about second chances, especially in the face of death.  But in the Bible the resurrected Christ was clearly a much nicer person than Moon Face.  Would Jesus have so fatally undermined his own party to wreak revenge?  The consensus is that Rudd would stoop to any tactic to get back at Gillard.  I don’t think that the long suffering Jesus would have been so vengeful for a self interested cause.  Jesus threw temper tantrums and was a prima donna but Jesus was never as sinister as Mr Rudd.  The resurrected Rudd is a soiled Jesus.  But he is Jesus nonetheless.
Gillard was three years ago, a sort of Mary Magdalene but she has lost that glow long ago. During the appalling denigration leading up to her demise she was demonised as the Devil incarnate.  Her dignified exit gives her the dual quality of the Martyr/Devil.  That is the thing about complicated stories.  The players waft into and out of good roles.  Julia has a duality about her now, reviled Devil and gutsy Martyr. 
The easy one to characterise is the Judas for sale. Bill Shorten is a revolving door Judas.  After proudly knifing Rudd three years ago he at least had the sense to look tormented by this latest Judas act. Now remember that I love Judas.  When I read the Gospels, I see a man who was justly pragmatic but who was pilloried by the Gospel writers.  So when I call people Judas, it is not as denigrating as when most of the community use the term.  But is he really a Judas this time around or is he an agonised Pontius Pilate?  Remember Pontius Pilate mixed indecision with casual cruelty.  That may be Bill Shorten’s salient feature this coup.  In the last coup he was clearly Judas Iscariot (knife holder). This time he might be more Pontius Pilate.  What is your view?
The martyrs are legion.  These are those for whom resignation is preferred to opportunity: Wayne Swan, Greg Combet, Joe Ludwig, Craig Emerson and Peter Garrett (for whom Parliament seemed less enjoyable than being a rock god) are the martyrs of this yarn. 
The Sadducees or those who judged include Simon Crean and the others who led the charge in the various machinations of the government.
Well if that is the tale, what are the consequences?  We now have two main players who are proudly religious.  Expect Abbott and Rudd to strut into the pulpits of Hillsong and other religious organisations. Be prepared to choke back the vomit as they become more holier than thou. 
But it is a complicated picture.  Because Gillard was so straight about her lack of belief she had to make certain compromises.  She never hid behind any wishy washy agnosticism or that tired formula “I’m still searching”.  She was an unbeliever and never welched or wavered.  But that meant in a pluralistic society she had to placate the old religious vote. She supported religious education which I do understand. In fact I often defended her allocation of money to this cause as a necessary evil in a pluralistic world. And on gay marriage, she had to console the right wing, “Grouper Unions” which have a leadership aligned with the Catholic Church. This is the explanation for her anti gay and lesbian marriage stand. She needed to suck up to some appalling right wing unions in a way that Rudd does not.  So ironically, the godless might get some surprising policy wins with the change of leadership. But the symbols Mr Rudd will sell will be his affection for faith and those of faith.  Thus both Abbott and Rudd will promote faith even though there may be some freedom for policy wins for the godless.
What is your view on these issues?
What is the power of stories in our lives?
Using the Biblical or any other narrative, who is martyred, who is resurrected, who is a betrayer, who is a waverer and who is redeemed?
Will the change be better for the godless or the godly?
Is it bad that we have two party leaders now who are Catholic and Anglo Catholic? 
Are you as disconsolate as I am or mightily relieved that the She Devil has been expunged?
Over to you ...

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Fundamentalism and Container Deposits

Some beliefs outside the religious context are so tightly held that they mirror the devotion of religious beliefs.  I want to examine a secular belief on a small matter that attracts it own “religious” fanatics.
The idea that we all pay a deposit on drink containers is really popular amongst a slew of people from Greenpeace on the left to traditional Coalition voters on the right. But this belief, transcending as it does, Australia’s great political divide, is a bad idea.
How can I maintain such an untenable position?  We will get to the reasons later but the interesting thing about the belief in container deposit legislation (CDL) is that exemplifies the power of belief. Belief defeats logic every time.  As the great JFK observed,
“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.”
What do you say when a popular belief is wrong? I feel like I am killing Bambi. CDL has all the power of a resilient belief, nostalgia, superficial logic and a sense that believing in CDL puts one on the side of the angels.  Let me amputate the angelic wings.
When I was growing up we all loved to collect bottles and get the money. I have an acquaintance who would jump the fence of the Milk Bar, steal some bottles, walk around to the front and use the thruppenny bits to buy an Eskimo Pie for a shilling.  What a jolly jape!  It surely saved bottles from the tip and surely led to a litter free world.  But that was the world of the fifties and sixties. Now South Australia is the one state with CDL and the idea, accordingly has a state full of CDL advocates.
We live, however, in a world where packaging has gone way beyond just beverages. The idea of wrapping your fish and chips in yesterday’s newspaper is dead for marketing, health and other reasons.  Newspapers are almost dead themselves!  And there’s the rub. The worst litter is not beverages but your Maccas wrapping, your supermarket bags and your ciggie butts – not beverage containers.
We have developed industrial style responses to deal with the growth of packaging. The waste recovery and recycling systems are huge integrated and increasingly efficient.  Litter, the problem CDL aims to address, has been joined by another scourge, carbon. So policy responses on packaging must deal with both issues. For example, modern beverage containers have been light weighted to diminish carbon in both transport and manufacture.  They are unwashable if returned to the milk bar and cannot be reused. Incidentally, CDL requires you take your bottles to special depots not the local milk bar.  
All in all, it is a popular but fundamentalist idea that, like zombies, refuses to die. Partially that is because green groups fund raise on the idea and so have a financial conflict of interest.  They cannot be objective for that would undermine their fund raising campaigns. 

A green group  is now locked into the campaign against CDL and being objective could be financially damaging.  
But generally, politics is about belief and passion (with a small "p"). So using the nomenclature of religious belief we proffer these Ten Commandments about why, in a carbon constrained world, CDL is a rubbish idea. 
1. The evidence is that SA (5.36 litres per 1,000m) is dirtier than our state of Victoria (3.99 litres per 1,000m) and on that point, the whole argument about CDL should fall (Figures sourced from Keep Australia Beautiful Litter Index 2010/2011);
2. CDL was popular when glass containers could be washed and reused. This does not happen now and so CDL is an anachronism.  Rewashing is wasteful of water and would require heavy duty packaging which would lead to more intensive water usage and carbon emissions carting heavy packaging around.
3. CDL requires us to separate the waste stream into waste with a deposit and waste without and that leads to duplication of trucks going hither and yon that increases the carbon miles of waste treatment and would require a vast bureaucracy tracking down every deposit.
4. CDL was popular when there were scouts around whom in “Bob a Job Week” could take the Widow Smith's bottles away. Bob a Job is another anachronism that has disappeared with decimalization.  The volunteers to do this have disappeared too. Try getting a young person to dump their screen and go on a "bottle drive". This would lead to marginal poor doing demeaning rummaging through bins. There are no "Widow Smiths" anymore because immigration has changed the nature of Australian surnames and widows now are often happy, relieved and re partnered rather than powerless.  In fact I remember in my youth that every scout hall was littered with huge piles of bottles that were infrequently picked up (large labour cost for low value product). Selective memory of the past is misleading.
5. MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL, packaging is not just about litter but about carbon. CDL will undermine our recycling system which was nonexistent in the old days. This makes CDL a potential form of environmental vandalism. 
6. SECOND MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL, because CDL only hits part of the waste stream and misses out on the biggest litters (cigarette butts, plastic and takeaway food litter), it misses out on the main problems;
The picture shows that NONE of the litter (or may be one piece) would be covered by the CDL idea.  Litter is awful but we need to look at the whole picture not just drink bottles.  Taken from Greenpeace site on 20 June 2013

7. CDL sends a message that some litter is ok because it has a message that throwing away bottles is justified because you lose your deposit and that is fine by that system. That is a terrible and confusing message to send.
8. CDL would blow up the Australian Packaging Covenant which works by collaboration.  The Covenant brings packaging people into the same room as government and community and leads to big improvements in design and money for waste infrastructure.  To undermine the Covenant would be a disaster.
9. Often the packaging is less deleterious in terms of water use and carbon emission than the food or drink contained therein.  About 30% of all food gets thrown out. Sometimes more packaging (in terms of small packages or packages that stop deterioration) is less environmentally damaging than less packaging. CDL does not take this into account.
10. THIRD MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL, the expense of the CDL system would be shifted on to the food bill. I know one beverage manufacturer who adds 14.5 cents per unit on to their produce in SA. This regressive charge on families should be resisted. South Australians unwittingly pay this but in a more transparent national debate, it would be manifest. CDL would prove less efficient and fair than other systems.
If you want a more fully referenced article I have done a similar piece at 
DECLARATION: Dick Gross is affiliated with Bicycle Networks Victoria, the National Trust, the ALP, Media Alliance, Keep Australia Beautiful Victoria Inc. and the National Packaging Covenant Council. He does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. 
I have been a member of the KAB Victoria Inc. board for a few months but my views on CDL have been well known for years since the EPA report in 2003 first signaled the problems with CDL. I have years of involvement in this issue as a representative of local government predating by over a decade and a half my membership of KABV.  KABV Inc. is a tiny organisation that arose when the Victorian KAB operation almost went under and was saved by the Victorian government. My actual organisation gets no direct funding from anyone that I know of. However, other parts of the KAB national network do receive funding from the packaging industry but I have no knowledge of, control of or benefit from this funding. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Blokes are bad! The evidence mounts

Charles Saatchi - cautioned by police over the assault on his wife - like being slapped with a wet lettuce.

Well it has been a shocking couple of weeks for blokes.  We have denigrated women. We have assaulted women.  We have allegedly raped them.  The two buffoons pictured below, Howard Sattler and Piers Akerman thought that it was somehow OK to talk about rumours about the first bloke.  We men have, through our public representatives, shown ourselves to be quite odious.

Well what is your view?
Is my gender just a heart beat away from brutality?
Is my gender so insufferably hopeless that it should be marginalised?
Should all men be blamed for Corey Bernardi who links LGBTI marriage with evil?

Over to you.  I will not be blogging on this merely soliciting views.


Friday, June 07, 2013

Mind, Body, Spirit Morons

In hippy disguise at the MBS Fest. Who would know it was an undercover atheist?

There are many sacrifices that I make for the godless and the most recent one was a trip to the Sydney Mind Body Spirit Festival (MBS Fest) at Sydney’s Darling Harbour.  The Melbourne version is on this weekend.  If these MBS Fests were to explode whilst full of the usual unvaccinated morons that attend these things, Australia’s intelligence would palpably rise.  The MBS Fest caters for the deluded, the gullible and the vulnerable. If you have half a brain, don’t go.
Why would the godless hate these nonsensical conclaves?  At the core of most godless people is not evil or cynicism.  Generally, the godless have a craving for proof.  We have a fondness for evidence based knowledge and shun beliefs and superstitions not informed by some intellectual process.  I make it sound pretentious and arrogant.  It is not that.  It is just sheer common sense and a need to feel that we are not having the wool pulled over our eyes.  The unbelievers I have encountered need evidence. We eschew the ridiculous assertion, the fairy tale and the unscientific quack.  This is important to us. 
Well if that is your predisposition stay well away from MBS Fest.  Every self tutored quack, charlatan or dope has gathered in one annoying congregation.  Every bozo with a silver bullet to enlightenment is there. 
There was “Gary the Clairvoyant Medium”. You could engage in “Equinox Astrology”.  There were many practitioners who promised that a solution, enlightenment or a cure that lies within all of us if we only just would consult them.  It was a place with a very individualistic feel about it where you can solve your own issues without a community around you.  Thus there were booths proclaiming “You Were Not Born to Suffer”, “What You Think, You Become” and “Your Wish is Your Command”.
What were some of the attributes common amongst this diverse gang of profiteers? First the profit motive masqueraded under a sense of pseudo concern for the punters. At least that is something that they picked up from Western medicine. 
Secondly, the selling technique of compliments is common. You might not believe this but I was called empathetic and sensitive at a talk on “Empaths and Highly Sensitive People.”  They got that wrong.  And there is a sense that we are all wise enough to be our own healers. “Be Your Own Psychic” was one seminar. I suppose it is simple to be something if delusion is the main (and only) skill offered.
There was a sense that simple, one line answers were proffered.  Each stall holder had a magic simple silver bullet solution to every ill.  Notwithstanding that the mind and the body are hugely complicated and different, the businesses offered one cure all be it tarot or psychic reading or astral plane travelling. Diagnosis was not necessary for everyone needed the same magic solution.
No one ever dies here. It is a world without decease for there are a variety of afterlives on offer from astral planes to spirit worlds to you name it.  It is vomit worthy.
Science was a dirty word. Folksy, natural, foreign or mysterious were the qualities of care offered.  Foreignness was especially esteemed from Japanese Reiki to Indian Yoga. Ancient pre scientific remedies are astonishingly lauded - hence the “Golden Age – The Ancient Crystal Skulls Prepare Us To Remember ‘Who We Are’ Seminar” or “Walking with the Gods and the Goddesses”.     
If ridiculous Reiki took your fancy you could attend an Empowerment Seminar the get divine healing energy in your hands (yes what a wanker).  Reiki has never been found to be efficacious for any condition by randomised clinical trials (;jsessionid=2F3B09C4253E388CBABD6C4A87F14B19.d01t04) but cancer suffers are known to seek any one promising a cure.   
Exploitation of the vulnerable is a major problem. Alternative medicine is rightly condemned for its abuse of the terminally ill.  Even the great Steve Jobs was sucked in thereby shortening his days on earth. The grieving are similarly prey to the psychics.  I went to the Psychic Reading Room and was astonished at the obvious crap peddled by these evil people and yet the crowds were baying for more.
This delusional stuff matters.  This repudiation of science is important. Perhaps it doesn’t matter if a few of these morons die earlier than they need to. In the long run, if enough of them prematurely expire it could be good for the world.  But the repudiation of evidenced based thinking threatens vaccination programs, climate change action, fair treatment of the ill, fair handling of the bereaved and any number of unpalatable or scientific truths that need to faced.  

Can you believe that such a room exists?
For the godless we need to not just condemn. We need to understand what it is about the human condition that makes us so vulnerable to these profiteers.  Why is it that the simple, mindless messages of the MBS Fest are so popular in this age of extraordinary scientific and academic achievement? Why do we look back, crave a simpler life or repudiate the achievements of scholarship.  Unlike the cures offered at the MBS Fest, these profound conundrums are complex. The malady that is the MBS Fest is easy to describe but less easy to treat.
What is your view?
·         Why do these simplistic misleading practitioners still exist?
·         Why is science now so on the nose some people believe it can be ignored on climate change, vaccination and other issues?
·         How do protect the vulnerable?
·         What is the secret of the MBS Fest? Can we atheists replicate that success?
Over to you guys...

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

My Christian Experience Continues

Just to continue my Christian experience theme, after the talk at the City Bible Forum on Thursday evening, I will be singing Christian liturgy all Saturday (8 June).  At 8 pm, my choirs South of the River and Tracey's Trailer Trash, are singing in the Melbourne International Singing Festival Concert - "The Best of the Fest Gospel Spectacular" at the Deakin (formerly BMW) Edge Theatre at Fed Square.  That comes after we sing at a gospel master class at 2 pm and I take a quick detour to St Paul's Cathedral to hear my favourite, Faure's Requiem at 5 pm. I will be more Christian than the Pope.

With this fence sitting, option covering Jewish born atheist having such a Christian liturgical experience I will need someone to pull the splinters out of my bottom.  Any volunteers?

Life, death and everything

I am speaking this Thursday about death at an event organised by the City Bible Forum!!  This is a MELBOURNE event.  The graphic above is a reference to the unspeakable nature of death.  Nice pic.

Life, death and everything: a skeptic, a psychic and a Christian discuss
Dick Gross (The Godless Gross), Greg Riley (winner of Channel 7’s ‘The One’) and Rev Ian Powell talk about death, life after death and life before death.
7pm, Thursday 6 June
Coopers Inn (282 Exhibition St)
Come and join in our free discussions. There will be plenty of opportunity for questions.
Check out the Facebook event.