Category Archives:Commentary

Giving Duncan hell

News Corp have decided that Duncan Storrar has to be taken down.

They started with a hit piece on him in The Australian earlier in the week. According to his eldest son, he’s not been a good dad, and has a history with drugs. Not content with public flagellation, News Corp want to make him suffer.

Today, Duncan got a full front page on the Herald Sun; a giant headline screaming “ABC HERO A VILLAIN”. News Corp’s latest nadir in gutter journalism.

There is nothing in the Herald Sun’s “revelations” that justifies the story on him, or a front page headline like that. Duncan has a criminal record, and a history of violence. Unsurprisingly, there are reports that he was also the victim of sexual abuse.

There are likely tens of thousands of people living in Melbourne with histories just like Duncan’s – or worse.

Why then did Duncan deserve a front page hit piece? Because he’s poor, and had the temerity to ask a question of a government MP about the 2016 budget that many people were already asking. When the MP in question embarrassed herself on live television in her response, Duncan got his 15 minutes of fame, and News Corp got a fresh target.

…and then the internet crowdfunded over $60,000 for him.

This is where I question the wisdom of crowds.

It seems like a wonderful thing to do, but Twitter has just delivered the guy into a fresh kind of hell.
A $60,000 windfall is enough to make anyone’s head spin. The dopamine rush from suddenly being handed that much money, over twice your annual income, would be immense.
What he’s not likely to be doing is stopping to think about the complications that come with it.
  1. He’s entered a new tax bracket in a single hit. It’s a $60,000 gift, which means he’s going to have to pay tax on it. He’s got a tax liability.
  2. He now has a much, much higher income than he quoted to Centrelink. So he has a Centrelink debt.
  3. Every person to whom Duncan has owed money, or think Duncan owes them something, are going to come knocking on his door with their hand out.
  4. Every self-righteous person looking for an excuse to attack Duncan has been given a box of ammunition by News Corp

For Duncan’s sake, I really hope someone quickly hooks him up with some good financial counselling, and some long term mental health assistance.

In a few months Twitter will have moved onto the next in a long list of shiny things while Duncan will still be dealing with the fallout of Twitter’s grand gesture.

Collateral damage in the culture war

On the 24th of March, Christianity Today ran a story on a change in the hiring practices of World Vision USA. World Vision is a para-church organisation that is made up of many different church denominations. Some of these churches now perform same-sex marriages, whereas others do not.

The single policy change made by WV USA was to “permit gay Christians in legal same-sex marriages to be employed.”

Unsurprisingly, American evangelicals were outraged. Many of the major talking heads waxed lyrical in interviews, on their blogs, and on Twitter about how WV USA has lost their theological moorings, and had moved outside of evangelical theology, or had allowed the “gay agenda” to destroy their ministry.

After two days of intense criticism, WV USA reversed their decision. Even so, some are still calling for the CEO’s resignation.

In their outrage, many evangelicals who were sponsoring children announced they’d no longer sponsor a child through World Vision.

Today, Jamie the Very Worst Missionary interviewed Rich Stearns, World Vision USA’s CEO, and asked him exactly how many child sponsorships had been dropped.

10,000. Ten. Thousand. Children.

Now, I’m not seeking to address the thorny issues around theology, homosexuality, and same-sex marriage here. I want to talk about the message that the American evangelical church sent to those TEN THOUSAND children.

The message you sent is “We do not love you”.

Some of you will argue “HOW DARE YOU, Warwick?? That’s NOT the message that was sent.”

I get it. You were sending a message to World Vision USA that accepting same-sex marriage (and by inference, the sin of homosexuality) was a completely unacceptable change, that it does not fly with traditional Christian doctrine, and if they were willing to accept that kind of sin and were not willing to revert their policy, then you could no longer support them.

That’s not the message that those ten thousand children got. For ten thousand children, who’ve received letters and photos from Christians sponsoring them, to the children on your fridges and mantelpieces, the sponsors of ten thousand children looked at their faces and said directly to them “Correct doctrine is more important than my relationship with you”.

Do you think a starving seven year-old in Africa or Haiti understands that?

No. The simple, powerful message you said to ten thousand children is:

“We no longer care about you. We do not love you.”

You chose to put your hate for sin ahead of the love you claimed to have for your sponsor child.

Look, I totally understand. After all, Jesus was the one who said “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you publicly and loudly declare your hate for sin.” Wait, I think it was “…that you hate the sin and love the sinner”.

Oh, I don’t know. It was something about hate, anyway.

Well done, evangelical America. Your hate has made you powerful.

There’s something about Noah

bob-kelsoI’m an unashamed fan of the TV show Scrubs. In the first episode, where J.D. (the series protagonist) who is feeling completely out of his depth, feels like he’s found someone who actually cares about his emotional needs; Doctor Bob Kelso (the hospital’s administrator).

Towards the end of the episode, when J.D. is at his lowest, and seeks him out, Dr. Kelso turns to him and says “Do you realize you’re nothing but a large pair of scrubs to me?”

Over the last couple of days, I’ve read far too many reviews of Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah”, ranging from “must see” to “straight from the pit of hell”. Plenty of evangelical folks who are decrying Aronofsky as “attacking Biblical truth” (or some variation of that), but here’s the thing: there’s nothing I’ve read that indicates he set out to make a “biblical” film. He has stated in interviews that the story of Noah was a passion project for him, and he’s been working on it for several years; it also appears that he’s used sources that, with his Jewish upbringing, are familiar to him, but not to your typical evangelical audience member.

What confuses me a little, is who says “we” (as Christians) have the sole rights to the story of Noah and how it should be told? Because something is in the Bible, does that mean we somehow should get right of veto over anyone else telling the story? Why do “we” have some right to declare that any telling of the story that uses sources unfamiliar to “us” is unacceptable? That’s the thinking of empire, of those who are used to having power and control.

For a moment, let’s consider that another young filmmaker suddenly has the clout to make this movie, and make it “Biblically accurate” (whatever that actually means).

Here’s the log line: “God saves one man and his immediate family, and some animals from the world’s first and worst catastrophe!”

Sounds awesome? What a brilliant BIBLICALLY ACCURATE story!

Hold on, big fella… what caused this catastrophe?

Well… God did. He decided to destroy everything because it was all corrupted.

All? Really? The kittens? Baby goats?
What about the parents of his Noah’s daughters-in-law? How about Noah’s grandfather, Methuselah? (If you do the math, he died in the flood too – that’s biblically accurate).

Consider, if you will, a newborn baby, born that very morning as the rains started? Not long after taking its first breath, it died a horrible death, as its lungs filled with water.

You can try and gloss over the ugly truth somehow, but this was an apparently global genocide of humans and animals; everyone and everything else dies, horribly. That’s your biblically accurate story, right there. Not as cute when you take away the Sunday School flannel graphs and deal with the text.

But let’s say Hollywood greenlights our new “Biblically accurate” script. What then? If they’re going to spend a few hundred million dollars on a movie, they want to make that money back, and preferably a profit. The odds are that script isn’t going to stay “accurate” for long. See, Hollywood isn’t interested in the same things that the American evangelical church cares about. They just want to make money.

Actually, now that I think about it… then I think “better not”.

You know which movies don’t normally make money? Bad ones. (“Hello! Hudson Hawk? This is Ishtar calling…”)

What if  you had a bad film on your hands, that with the right marketing, might appeal to a particular target demographic?

Hollywood isn’t there to make Christians feel warm and fuzzy. They don’t care whether a movie is “Biblically” accurate. Actually, I suspect they’d prefer a script take few liberties, because that will get some of them up in arms, talking, blogging or yelling about the movie, which gets more attention for the movie (and likely increases the bums on seats for people who want to be able to rant about it).

When Christians are going to Hollywood to care about their feels, much like Doctor Bob Kelso the only thing Hollywood has to say to the “Christian” audience is “Do you realise you’re nothing but a large demographic to us?

Communication Shutdown

November 1st has been chosen as the date for the Communication Shutdown social media awareness campaign for people on the autism spectrum. The idea is to disconnect from Twitter and Facebook for a day to get a feeling for what it’s like for someone on the Autism spectrum.

Late last year, our son (E) was formally diagnosed as high-functioning autistic/borderline Asperger’s Syndrome (There’s some debate over where the line is drawn between a high-functioning autistic and Asperger’s Syndrome). We’ve known he was a little “different” for several years. He had certain obsessive behaviours. There were major communication issues. Refusal to wear particular items of clothing, or eat particular foods. Overreactions to loud noises. Overreactions to everything. Regular emotional meltdowns.

Random thoughts: T minus 4 days

At this point, having not yet started this process for 52 & 12, I’m already encountering some challenges. Like my energy levels.

I currently have my brother staying with me, which is great. I’m really enjoying that. However, it does mean that I’m talking a lot more than normal.

In addition, I went to church today, and made a conscious decision to actually interact with others, and not just keep my head down or make a run for the door after the service ended.

Then we went to the local shopping mall so he could find some post-Christmas bargains and our boys could spend their Christmas money.

None of these things are particularly taxing, but it seems that the combination of all of the above has left me worn out, and somewhat melancholy.

And really desperate to withdraw. this worries me, because achieving my list of goals requires small daily changes, consistently. When I’m in a mood like this, my tendency is to just skip the little things that day; sometimes that becomes a week, then suddenly two or three months have passed.

In spite of my enthusiasm to change my life over the next year, I fear the biggest obstacle may be … me.

Alister got Dugg

A friend of mine, Alister Cameron, got Dugg. This is something he appears to be very happy about, and in a couple of days I’ll ask him about the details to unpack the post-digg results.

The post in question was regarding Alister’s unintentional uncovering of a list of credit card numbers through Google. While I’m not terribly concerned about someone uncovering my credit card number (let’s face it, it’s hard to buy stuff on a card with no available credit), I did think about the advice he gave about searching Google for your own credit card number.

I think his suggestions are reasonable, if a little misguided. As several people have since commented (and I swear I thought of this before they left the comments!) punching your entire credit card number into Google might not be the wisest move. Apart from being transmitted in plain text, the search can be stored in your search history, and thus is stored in Google’s enormous database. Also, advising that the number is useless without a CVV2/CVC2 number is incorrect. You can still make a card-absent transaction without these numbers in many cases, but (as I understand it) it just means that if the card-holder disputes the transaction, there is a much better chance of the dispute going the card-holder’s way.

In addition, in my experience with dealing with client credit card information (I’ve had some interesting jobs), most credit cards have a two or three year expiry date. It brings the potential range of expiry dates down to 24-36 months at the outside. It’s just information I wouldn’t want to risk.

However, Alister’s advice is good, with some modifications. If you want to Google your credit card number, drop off the first four, and last four digits, enclosing the middle eight digits in quotation marks. The first four digits give away the card type (eg, 4564 is a Visa card). Removal of the last four digits renders the card number useless, even if some nefarious individual was able to guess your card type.

Thus, if your Visa card number was 4564 1234 5678 9012, you would search for “12345678” and also “1234 5678” (including the space). This logic would also hold for Alister’s advice about searching for your password – if it’s something unusual, but I don’t think I’ll be doing any password searches all the same.

Brave and Crazy

I was working away yesterday when a Twitter from Andrew Sayer popped up noting that John Ilhan (aka “Crazy John”) had died. John Ilhan was the founder of Crazy John’s Mobile Phones. He was 42, married with four kids, and a self-made multi-millionaire. I was vaguely aware of him until Monday night, when Today Tonight did a story on him, where he had “allowed them into his private life”. The last question he was asked was “Where to from here?” He wanted to become Australia’s largest telco (or something along those lines).

The first thing that popped into my head when I saw that twitter was “check The Age“. The second was the parable spoken by Jesus in Luke 12:13-21. Not as a judgement of John Ilhan (I didn’t know him personally; by all accounts I’ve read he was a good & compassionate man), but as a reflection of the things that I sought to achieve for so long. John Ilhan seemed to have had all the good things most would aspire to; a wife and four kids, he reportedly had a personal fortune of $310 million dollars, a mansion in Brighton, was fit and healthy, exercised regularly. He had a heart attack while out walking in the early morning.

I’ve spent much of my life thus far reaching for more than I have. Caught up in the collective consumerist nightmare that most of us share. John Ilhan had already achieved that through determination and hard work. I wonder if he was happy? He seemed to be during his interview on Monday night. He spoke of spending nights sleeping on the floor of his shop while he was building his business; I didn’t sleep on the floor of either of my shops, but I came close. He succeeded where I chose to walk away. His hard work paid off for him, quite handsomely.

Now he’s gone, in the prime of his life (as they say). I guess that like any bereaved partner, his wife would give anything for just a few more minutes with him. If my life were suddenly over tomorrow, what would my legacy be? Could I look back and say that I lived a life worth living? Would my family be overjoyed at the time I spent with them, or regretful at the time I didn’t?

Sadly, I think that at this point in my life the answers would not be positive. Yesterday, I read an article in Newsweek that indicated that money “bought happiness” when moving some-one from “abject poverty” to “middle-class” but beyond that, there were diminishing returns on increasing wealth vs. happiness. Society is geared towards consumerism; making us unhappy with what we have and wanting something better. At this time in my life, I want for very little. I’m trying to learn to be thankful for, and satisfied with, the things I have; and to invest my time in the relationships I have with the people around me, for they are far more valuable than mere “stuff”.

The untimely death of John Ilhan reinforces this for me. At the end, whether you believe in an afterlife or not, the only things left behind for those who we love is the time and love we have given them. The stuff we had will rust and decay, but the time we invest in others can pay dividends far beyond our lifetime.