Tuesday, September 02, 2014


This is consuming me at the moment.  Be there or have four corners.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Public Art or Parasitical Waste

I hate to boast but whilst you may have been enduring the freezing winter days of the south east of Oz or the debilitating drought of NSW and Queensland,I have been traipsing around Spain being more churchy than thou.  Because I am the crappest atheist in Chrisendom, I have an enduring passion for the Passion.  There is no hymn I will not sing.  There is no Cathedral I will not visit.

The Spanish cathedral movement was an extraordinary phenomenon.  Communities that by modern standards were small and impoverished somehow managed to build the soaring gothic structures that bless the landscape throughout the nation.  They may have lived in domestic hovels but the gothic cathedrals with flying buttresses, ornate side chapels, dazzling woodwork, some good and some corny art were the communities' jewels.  The Spanish cathedrals seem to be the most consistently luminous.  Remember, Spain was the super power of the fifteenth century.  Enriched by New World gold, the leaders augmented that by sucking an estimated 30% of their people's resources.  It led to an outrageous confection of creativity.  And it wasn't just the cathedrals.  In every tiny hill top village we visted, there were substantial churches with huge ceilings, golden ornamentation and classy carvings and art.

The resources required must have been onerous, particularly given that those funding the ventures knew that they would never live to see the completion of these projects.  It was faith writ large.

The rational reaction of an unbeliever when confronted with this apparent excess is to rail against it.  Indeed the Reformation was driven by the costs of medieval faith.  Surely I must damn the priests as vain parasites and the buildings as wasteful white elephants?  But I hesitate for several reasons.

First, it seems that the majority of the community at the time appeared to appreciate the wonder of their creations.  Indeed without a blinding faith, I wonder if they would have been built.  But they were and were probably the sole high cultural experience for people of that ancient time.  Of course the cathedral and church movement exacerbated poverty.  But it was the major source of public art.  Moreover, the buildings were more than just places of worship and extravagance.  They were meeting houses and gathering places.  They were social glue.

Secondly, they had other social functions such as communal endeavour and unity through shared purpose.

Finally, these buildings and thei contents were a gift for future generations.  The creators knowingly built these things for their progeny.  Lives were short and so they looked a future where these wondrous buildings would be.their legacy.  And what a legacy they are.  They speak of a time when completely different views about faith, death communal obligation and art prevailed.  The heritage and the tales they tell are powerful.

So it is no surprise I feel thanks and wonder as my Spanish  cathedral crawl proceeds.  They literally are awesome.

What do you think?

Am I being too soft on the clergy or did they give their own and future generations a great gift??

Is the art dated corny crap or a luminous lesson for us today?

Is it possible that only faith could have driven such creativity??

Over to you guys...

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Carbon Tax is not a Tax

This blog is about faith in certain religious facts.  But the sacred is of course, not the only area where faith is necessary.  We are required to have faith in our car mechanic, our doctor and of course our governments. 
I have chosen a small issue to illustrate how mistakes and lies run our lives.  For those of us who cannot believe God, I say there are many other areas where faith is not well rewarded.
The toxic tax is not a tax
There is a whopper of a mistake that has bought down two Prime Ministers, changed a government and transfixed Australia for several years now – the alleged Carbon Tax.  The Carbon Tax, however, is not a tax.  On this error, Australian governments have been made or broken.  A former Prime Minister has been inaccurately portrayed as a liar.  And this week this blunder has consumed our political life.
The regulation of carbon emissions depends on two things: the price of emissions (P) and the quantity (Q) of emissions.  Since the dawn of human history, carbon could be emitted for free (P=0) and so Q was high.  As with most things, there is an inverse relationship between P and Q.  The lower the P is the more Q there is demanded.  Thus, we can regulate carbon by attacking either P or Q.  One could tax emissions which would cause the P to rise and then cause the Q of carbon to decline.  Or one could control the Q of carbon emissions which would lead the P to rise.  Limiting Q is what an emissions trading scheme (ETS) does and is not a tax.  An ETS limits the quantity and says nothing explicit about the price. 
The difference between attacking the P (tax) and Q (ETS) is both real and political.  The real difference is to do with certainty and flexibility.  An ETS gives a government certainty on the emissions heading into the atmosphere.  Q is set by the government through the carbon pollution cap.  This is set by the government and so the government has certainty on Q.  The corporations don’t get certainty but they do get flexibility to trade for more units.   A tax reverses these attributes.  Corporations get certainty from a tax for they can know how much they will have to pay whereas the government does not get certainty for it is always unclear how much corporations will lower their Q as a result of a higher P.  But the most important difference between a tax and an ETS is political.  The “T word” produces an odium in Western democracies that has profound, even toxic, political implications.
The Australian scheme introduced in the Clean Energy Act 2011 is not a tax.  In its essence it regulates Q not P.  For example the biggest taxpayer, the electricity generator GDF Suez, lodged carbon units with the quantity of 25.8 million carbon units in 2012-13.  It is all about Q (James Bond would be rapt).
For the first years, the cost of exceeding the allocated quantity by the 500 regulated corporations is fixed and this makes the scheme look a little tax like.  But in its essence the Clean Energy Act is an ETS for it restricts Q and for a short time fixes the cost of exceeding the carbon units allotted by the scheme.  (An addition myopically insisted on by the Greens)  It is not a tax because of its Q oriented essence even if the price of exceeding Q is fixed for a short time.  It is not even correct to call it a short term tax/ETS hybrid.  It is driven by carbon Q and therefore is not a tax on P.
So when Clive Palmer and others say that they want to scrap the tax and look at an ETS they are talking nonsense.  We have an ETS already.
Political discourse inevitably is conducted with many bungles informing debate.  The world is complex and mistakes are common.  The mislabeling of the Clean Energy Act as a tax is a howler.  On this misunderstanding has swung the fate of a few governments.  We need to understand once and for all that this tax is not a tax.
And what do we learn about the theory of knowledge (epistemology)?  I think we learn that flawed knowledge flowers when knowledge is difficult or hard to obtain.  We don’t know about being dead so there is much faith in all sorts of weird but consoling ideas.  The economics of a difficult subject like the pricing of carbon is inaccessible and so complete crap dominates debate.
What is your view?
Do you agree that faith flowers when the facts are hard to get?
Is faith in the political debate as irrational as belief in God?
Do you agree that we have a carbon trading scheme already or am I wrong or just pedantic?
Over to you guys…

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Oh Please God - Extend the Child Abuse Commission.

I have just read the interim report of the Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse.  This inquiry needs to be extended.  I urge the government to stump up the extra 100 mill for the necessary extension of this landmark inquiry.
The Commissioners at work.
As the name implies, this inquiry is concerned with INSTITUTIONS.  It does not examine the individual abuser as such.  It looks at why abuse has been tolerated by institutions and how those institutions could change. 
Most of these were faith-based institutions, followed by government institutions. Of the faith-based institutions, 68 per cent were Catholic and 12 per cent were Anglican.  I am not saying that faith has a monopoly on these crimes.  Far from it as Rolf Harris demonstrates.  However, the faith based institutions were clearly over represented probably because the people in a faith owe such a strong allegiance to their church or temple.
The results of abuse are truly awful.  Almost nine in 10 participants reported impacts on their health, including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and a lack of trust in authority.  Suicide can be rife with some aggravated abusers. 
Participants also commonly reported:
•impacts on relationships, such as difficulties with trust and intimacy, and a lack of confidence with parenting;
•educational and economic impacts;
•feeling alienated from their peers and the community.
In short, abuse can destroy lives.
Most survivors had previously disclosed their abuse. On average, it took them 22 years after the onset of abuse to do so.
Most survivors reported being abused multiple times, and some spoke of multiple offenders in the same institutional setting.
Children were also sometimes moved from one place to another and abused in both places. Or they were abused at home, removed from that home and then abused elsewhere, such as in foster care.

Survivors reported that they told adults in positions of authority what was happening but those adults did nothing.
Many also reported that perpetrators were moved from one region, diocese or state to another in the wake of complaints.

Abuse happens in a variety of institutions but has occurred more frequently in some.  There is an urgent need to promote what makes an institution child safe.

The Commission received allegations of abuse in more than 1,000 institutions.  Religions top the list.

The Commission is concerned with what makes a child safe institution.  Child safe institutions begin with leadership, governance and culture. Submissions told of the importance of institutional governance for promoting child safety.

Save the Children Australia, for example, argued that:

‘... the role of governance and
management leadership in
creating a child safe organisational
culture is vital. There must be
congruence in leadership behaviour
and commitment to achieving
this. Board and Executive staff
are powerful role models and
their actions and behaviour can
send strong messages about
organisational culture, which can
motivate staff. Their advocacy
and support for child safe
organisational culture is critical.’

Some submissions argued that child safe governance involves not just leadership, but also management styles that are child friendly, open and egalitarian.

“Conversely, rigid and overly hierarchical governance disconnects those governing from regular contact with staff, parents and children. It increases the risk of child sexual abuse going undetected.  Bad institutions place more value on its own reputation than the safety of children.”  DOES THIS SOUND FAMILIAR?

Religious organisations often promote obedience and the importance of respect for the hierarchy.  Such notions call forth abuse. 

And will the Church recover?  I suspect it will.  The Church will now diminish or maybe even stop child abuse.  As the current crop of victims die out, the outrage will abate.  The Church will have learned its lesson for the next 50 to 100 years.  I am sure it will bounce back.  In the interim, this landmark study must be funded to continue until it is completed.

What is your view?

What do you think makes for a child safe institution?
Is the church contrite or is it faking contrition?
Will the church recover?
Is this a moment of grace for godlessness or do we look sleazy if we act all triumphant?
Should we continue the investigation or is enough study so far, enough?

Over to you guys….

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Why the absence?

I have been absent without leave. I apologise for the absence.  It has been a bit of time between posts. 

Director, Julie Edwardson (centre) takes rehearsal with the father, Richard and daughter Kat

Unforgiveable really but here is my paltry excuse.  I feel bad for my loyal and loved bloggers.
Apart from marking essays, I am engaged in a play about death.  You may recall a play reading was conducted in February and the full season will be run in September.  Here are some photos of the cast in rehearsal and in a cemetery.  The play uses poetry and music to elucidate the issues of death.
Harry is dying, his wife has just died and he is desperate to engage with his daughter Gracie, still damaged by her mum’s death. As Gracie and Harry talk, their conversation is sprinkled by excerpts from Requiems by Mozart, Verdi and Faure. Harry tries to tear Gracie from her screens to chat to her about death through the poem, Thomas Gray’s “Elegy written in a Country Churchyard” completed in 1750. He employs Dorothy Gray, Tom’s mum (herself dead 250 years) to assist. Together they unlock the nature of death for Gracie and for himself.
Death stalks the father and daughter in Death by Elegy.

The Requiems will be sung by a quartet of Emotionworks singers.  Directed by Julie Edwardson, this production will be performed in the St Kilda Uniting Church (near the corner of Chapel and Carlisle Sts) in September.  I will provide you with more propaganda closer to the event.  That is something you can believe.  Self promotion is a bit of a personal weakness as you all know.
In the interim, you may like to re-start a conversation on the issue of death.
Can atheism ever console those in grief or fearful of their own inevitable death?
Can atheism ever match the ritual and music of the Church?
Are the godless forever in fear or can they be strong in the face of the inevitable?
The father in the play is not only stalked by death but by conflict with his daughter.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Liar, Liar Pants on Fire!

The Australian Federal Budget is out and several issues trouble this godless mind.
1.       Broken Promises or Lies?
The first is the question of deceit.  When in Opposition, the Australian government made much of the broken promises of the then Labor Government.  With a righteous and seemingly misogynist hatred of Prime Minister Gillard, they identified with the more awful and aggressive activists who demanded that the lying bitch be sacked.  Regardless of the constitutional ridiculousness of this attitude, it made for an acrimonious episode in Australia political history.
Now, with no surprise in this jaded writer’s mind, the new Abbott government has broken every major promise it made in relation to new taxes and the non interference with the medical payments system, education, health, the public broadcasters and etc.  The gall of this government and its unrepentant attitude is breathtaking. 
What is the godless view on this issue?  Should we care?  All incoming governments break promises and so with this expectation in mind, I am prepared to say that many broken promises are within the expectation of normal and are thus moral save when they are so grievous and so contrary to fundamental understanding about what a new government stands for.  It that occurs then maybe the broken promises tip into the immoral.  The morality of politics is a touchy issue.  This is an arena when morality is explicitly eschewed by political practitioners and commentators since the work of Machiavelli.  In this Budget however, there is something that is so directly opposed to the reasonable view of the electors that this budget tips into the territory of the immoral.    This budget does it for me.  The promises were so cynical and so obviously going to be broken they can be seen as lies. 
The government is now trying to justify itself by creating a second lie with the fabrication of the budget emergency.  We have a low debt in low growth environment.  There is no debt emergency.  To say so is being so reckless with the truth that it feels either dishonest or the delusion of the economically illiterate.  Either way it is of dubious ethical worth.
So I feel this government Budget is immoral and led to the taking of power by a group of people who were prepared to promise anything.  It is saddening. 
2.       Frittering Money on Faith
In a budget of losers, the winners include the faith communities who have $245 million for those dodgy school chaplains.  I tolerated this in the former government because with an atheist unmarried Prime Minister, we godless had to expect in a pluralistic society some gesture to those of faith.  But this government is so nauseatingly godly that this justification does not apply.  This is an immoral waste money and the precious time of kids.  God help us.
3.       Defunding Health and Education
This may shock you.  The Federal government is deserting the funding field in Education and Health and I reckon this may be moral.  The problem in a Federation is that it is impossible to know who to blame with things fail.  If the local hospital is crook or the local school is an enemy of good education, which government do you blame?  Both are involved now in these two systems.  So it is impossible to hold governments accountable.  The system is too byzantine and complicated.  By pissing off, the Federal government will make it easier.  And given the impossibility of changing our Constitution, this radical step needs to be taken.  Of course it will lead to more indirect taxation as that responsibility goes to the States.  That would be a duplicitious way of changing the GST when the government promised this tax would not be changed.  But the constitutional simplicity gained might be worth another broken promise.  So perhaps, bearing in mind the constitutional problems of duplication, blame shifting and cost complexity in the current system, this radical step may have merit. At least Christopher Pyne gets less power.   

Was the government so reckless with the truth when promises were made that it has been immoral during the electoral and Budget processes?
Is there any excusing those Chaplains and their $245 million?
What do you think of the Constitutional justification for rudely interrupting health and education funding?