The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Laugh, Cry, Blow Shit Up

Ok folks – tis the season.

The season for big movie premiers, that is.

This has caused me to reflect that, when it comes to movies, I’m a man of simple tastes. Not for me is your elitist art-house crap, with its eight minute shots of some moody chick staring at a rain-spattered window. Nor am I enough of a poseur to sit through international ‘think’ pieces. Sure, it might impress the girls to be the sort of guy who spends his hard-earned on watching tribal people scratching around in grinding poverty for one hundred and forty five minutes, but you’ve got to ask yourself: what kind of girls?

No, for me, cinema is panto. I watch movies for the same reason most people drink soft drink – it’s cheap and sweet and it gets you high. A movie should be about the noise and the fury, full of attractive people doing spectacular things. You should laugh, you should cry and, if you’re me, you should get endless, simple-minded pleasure from watching shit get blown up. And it should be clever. The main objection I have to art-house is that it’s clever in exactly the wrong way. It’s all about feelings, when it should be about wit. It’s chock full of aesthetics when it should instead be brimming with spectacle.

I don’t want to see a compelling walk through someone’s psychic landscape. I’d rather watch a full-pelt run through an alien landscape. With rayguns. I’m not interested in breathtaking stills of stark, natural beauty, and long, abstract shots where nothing happens in a beautiful way for minutes at a time – ‘movies’ is short for ‘moving pictures’. Which means stuff should move.

And yes, there is a place for exploring the startling strangeness and complexity of the internal workings of the human psyche. For the stark discomfort of emotional compromise, the dirty surrender of individuality that is socialisation and the totally meaningless insanity of pain. There is definitely a place for all that stuff, and for me that place has a name.

It’s called a book.

So, this summer break, do yourselves a favour. When you’re choosing a movie, don’t try to look sophisticated or clever. And ignore your children, too. You’ll regret all the hours you spent pretending to enjoy saccharine morality tales about talking animals in your grey-haired years.

Instead, spend your eighteen dollars going to see something that you’ll actually enjoy, even – in fact, especially – if it has a stupid name and an explosion on the poster.

I AM NO LONGER AN ATHEIST. Oh wait, yes I am.

As some of you may have guessed, I am an atheist. A pretty strong atheist, too. Intellectually, I mean, not physically. I can only do about 10 push-ups.

But as strong as my atheism is, and much like my believing counterparts, I have the occasional moments of doubt. A crisis of no faith, if you will. After all, no one can be 100% confident in their beliefs 100% of the time, so every now and then I catch myself thinking, “What if I’m wrong?”.

What if I’ve missed something? Is there some argument or evidence for god that I haven’t seen or understood? Should I finally get around to reading the Book of Mormon? Do I really need 72 virgins, and if so, how will I remember all their names? Will Lord XenuNote 1 forgive me for laughing at his spaceship if give him a massage?

Thankfully, tpeople like William Lane Craig exist to help set me straight. Craig is something of a celebrity in Christian Apologetics circles – he’s always on the cover of “People (are going to hell)” magazine – as he appears to bring an air of intellectual respectability to Christian beliefs. He has everything figured out logically, you see, so Christians need not be embarrassed about believing some of the things they do. You know, like that whole Trinity thing, or angels.

Anyway, he has just penned a piece for that other bastion of intellectual respectability – Fox News – in which he lists out the five best arguments for Christianity. I was a little nervous when I sat down to read them. Would this be the moment I would have to publicly recant my atheism? How many ‘likes’ would it get on Facebook? Once I converted, who would teach me how to pick on gays and single mothers?

Let’s see what he had to say.

1
God provides the best explanation of the origin of the universe

Quick! Someone tell the physics professors!

Here Craig presents a dumbed-down version of his already dumbed-down Kalam Cosmological Argument (he is writing for Fox News, after all). If you haven’t heard it already, it goes something like this:

  1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause; and
  2. The universe had a beginning to its existence; so that must mean
  3. The universe had a cause. Ima call him ‘God’ and use him to pick on gays and single mothers.

This argument is the reason why the word ‘specious’ was invented. If you think about it for a couple of seconds, you will very quickly realise that:

  • The conclusion has been smuggled into the opening premise;
  • That premise should apply equally to God himself;
  • Even if you admit that the universe’s current form had a beginning, it in no way negates the possibility that some other form of universe existed before that;
  • Even if you admit there was a first cause, there’s no reason to assume that he’s an angry old man with a son named Jesus who hates us having fun but desperately wants us to love him.

NEXT.

2
God provides the best explanation for the fine tuning of the universe

Craig’s second argument essentially says, “We exist, so the universe must have been set up for our existence.”

Then again, the universe also seems quite keen to get rid of us, so…

NEXT.

3
God provides the best explanation of objective moral values and duties

And which god would that be, William?

NEXT.

4
God provides the best explanation for the historical facts concerning Jesus’ life, death and resurrection

According to Craig, “most historians” agree that Jesus thought he was the son of god, performed miracles, and was crucified, until a group of his lady-friends found his empty tomb, and it was discovered that he was actually alive and well and living it up on some kind of lecture tour. He then tells us that he “can think of no better explanation of these facts” than “God raised Jesus from the dead”.

Ignoring his rather generous definition of “facts”, it’s clear that William just isn’t thinking hard enough.

What if everyone just made the whole thing up?

5
God can be known and experienced

Finally, we have this:

Down through history Christians have found through Jesus a personal acquaintance with god that has transformed their lives.

Well that’s certainly true, William. Like all of these people who have claimed to be Jesus. Or Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, who not only claimed to be Jesus but that he’d been sent back to earth to kill President Obama. Or Mohammad, if you substitute “Christians” for “Muslims” and “Jesus” for “Allah”.

NEXT.

Oh. That’s all you had. I expected more.

But now that I think about it, I’m not sure why.

_____

Footnotes

  1. In Scientology, “Xenu was … the dictator of the ‘Galactic Confederacy’ who 75 million years ago brought billions of his people to Earth (then known as ‘Teegeeack’) in a DC-8-like spacecraft, stacked them around volcanoes and killed them using hydrogen bombs.” – Wikipedia (back)

I have an idea… Part 3

Yes, I know, I have been incredibly slack with this series, and even my die-hard reader has lost what little interest he feigned initially. But I am nothing if not lazy. And persistent. So I’ll give you all a quick recap, before dazzling you with Part 3 of this interminably feeble attempt at esoteric intellectualism.
_____

We learned in the previous two posts that expected values are a kind of average outcome, and, if we act rationally, we should be indifferent between two sets of outcomes with the same expected value. We also learned that the risk component of every insurance premium is calculated by considering three things:

  1. Characteristics of the life insured that affect the risk, but which they can’t control;
  2. Characteristics that affect the risk, but which they can control; and
  3. Random risks which no one can predict, or control.

Or, if you’re into catch-phrases: people are things, people do things, and shït happens. Keep that in mind, should you choose to ignore all common sense and read on.
_____

All in all, Bob has had a pretty good buck’s party. He didn’t get kicked out of the races, he managed to keep his dinner down, and when the stripper was looking for someone to incorporate into the show, he picked someone else. And now, at 2am, as he’s meandering through Kings Cross and past the throngs of tipsy, giggling, scantily-clad ladies, there’s only one thing on Bob’s mind.

Kebab. Must get kebab.

So into the kebab shop he goes. “Lamb, please. And hommus. And lettuce, tomato, taboulli, cheese, and BBQ sauce. But no onions, I might still pick up”. Suddenly, Bob is struck by an idea. An idea so brilliant, so monumentally profound, that he immediately resolves to dedicate his life to its fruition. He turns to the kebab shop owner, and with a glint in his eye, and goosebumps on his soul, he says, “Throw some calamari in there, too.”

He exits the kebab shop to rapturous applause and the awe-struck admiration of the gathering crowd. And then, from out of nowhere, some drunken moron bumps into him, and sends his epiphanous creation crashing to the ground.

As Bob stares down at the battered remains of his life’s work, but mostly the remains of the battered calamari, his supreme joy quickly evaporates. Much faster, I might add, than the BBQ sauce on the pavement, which would also evaporate, if given enough time.

So what does Bob do? Why, he does what any Aussie bloke would do when some drunken moron bumps into him. He briefly exchanges pleasantries (so that I can refer to the drunken moron as Wayne instead of “drunken moron”) and then he gives Wayne a shove. Wayne protests – it was an accident! Bob doesn’t care if it was an accident, Wayne ruined his fücking kebab. There’s a bit of yelling, and a bit more shoving, the poor kebab gets stepped on a few times, people start yelling “Fight!”, and before either of them realise what’s happening, Bob’s drunken fist is flying towards Wayne’s drunken face.

BAM!

What happens next is the subject of my grand, actuarial idea.
_____

So what does happen next?

Well as we all know, lots of things could happen next. Assuming Bob’s punch finds its mark, Wayne could now find himself in possession of anything from a bit of a headache, to a split lip, a black eye, or a broken jaw. Then again, maybe Bob’s only street fighting was as Honda on his SNES, and he only manages to hit Wayne with 100 quickly-delivered but surprisingly-gentle slaps on the arm (which, by the way, could be countered with a well-timed hadoken). Maybe he’s so drunk as to miss Wayne completely, and they end up laughing about it. Or maybe he connects, and Wayne stumbles backwards, hits the back of his head on the pavement, suffers a cerebral haemorrhage, and dies (yes, it happens).

So we’re agreed – lots of things could happen. But what will determine what actually happens? Under what circumstances would Wayne end up with a fat lip, and what might result in his death?

Answering that question is if course very difficult. No one can predict the future with absolute certainty, except maybe Dumbledore, and he’s dead. But as with all things actuarial, we can narrow the range of outcomes and assess their relative probabilities by looking at the risk factors. So let’s assume for a moment that Bob’s punch does find its mark. If our resident actuary, Joanne, could use her Casio FX82TL to freeze time at the moment of impact, how would she go about guessing the outcome?

She’d probably start with Bob, as the most obvious risk factor is Bob’s strength. And she’d quickly discover that Bob’s strength is rather impressive. He clearly lifts, bro – a lot. While copping a feel of his bicep, she also notices a tattoo that says “UFC 112 – HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION”. Hmm.

Turning her attention to Wayne, she notices that his physique is, shall we say, less impressive. In fact, it appears to be geared more towards punching out P&Ls than his fellow citizens (not that there’s anything wrong with that). His arms are, however, apparently strong enough to hold himself up on his crutches.

Having assessed the two combatants, Joanne then begins to examine their surroundings. And she discovers that, while Bob and Wayne are currently standing on a concrete pavement, they are only a few metres away from a large area of grass. Fred Nile is also stumbling out of a nearby bath house, but that’s by the by.

With her analysis now complete, Joanne realises that things aren’t looking too good for Wayne, and it seems pretty unlikely that he’ll hobble away with nothing more than a fat lip. Meanwhile, their relative physiques, the fact that Wayne is on crutches and they’re standing on concrete, means that he now has a very good chance of sustaining a serious injury – possibly life-threatening, depending on how he falls. At the very least, it’s clear that the range of outcomes would be very different if the two physiques were reversed, and they were in a jumping castle. Of course, we’d then be left with the problem of deteriorating jumping castle entry standards, but that’s an issue for another time. (Crutches and kebabs in a jumping castle. Honestly!)

As Joanne considers the situation a little further, she realises that, much like insurance, the range of outcomes really comes down to this: people are things, people do things, and shït happens.

And then it hits her: “Wow! That sounds a lot like the pithy phrase that Tim used at the beginning of this post. Also, time is still frozen, so Ima go steal a Chanel handbag.”

And she lived happily ever after. Well, at least until she turned up to work on Monday. She is an actuary, after all.

The Government We Deserve

So, the Liberal Party is in power and Tony Abbott is our Prime Minister. We’ve made our choice and now we have to live with it. It wasn’t my choice, but obviously, I was in a minority.

Politically, I’m a centrist. I believe that the right balance of free market economics, government control and regulation and social spending, etc., does not exist on either side of Australian politics. The ideal mix, to my mind, lies somewhere between our major parties.

Because of this, I do not vote along party or ideological lines. My vote lands with whomever I think  has the best grasp of what the country needs for the future, and the best, or least culpable, track record.

On this basis I have voted for Labor under Keating, Liberal under Howard (the second time, not the first) and Labor under Rudd and Gillard and Rudd again. I won’t go into why I voted the way I did, but I will explain why I emphatically did not vote for Tony Abbott.

  1. I believe a PM should be capable of coherent speech.
  2. I believe that a prospective government should enter an election with more policies than slogans.
  3. I believe that the entire asylum boat position, in Liberal’s hands, was a toxic, irrelevant sideshow that, when actioned, will endanger the lives of our naval personnel and further confirm SE Asia’s impression of us as casually racist and completely selfish.
  4. I had no faith in the Liberal line-up’s potential for engaging effectively with our regional neighbours. They had been unable to manage the minimal relationships required of an opposition, so it was logical to surmise that they would be even more diplomatically inept as a government.

So, that’s a summary of why I did not vote Liberal. Now, let’s see if events have confirmed my beliefs. Below is a wrap up of what I have seen from this government so far.

  1. The loudest policy statement made by the Liberals (stop the boats) looks like being quietly shelved. The operation has been reclassified to prevent the reporting of boat arrivals. Let’s face it – regardless of anything else, if we stop hearing about new boats, this issue will return to its real magnitude – relative insignificance to the nation at large.
  2. The Liberal Party have made a pig’s breakfast of its position on education funding. The confused and confusing, numerous and contradictory announcements on this issue confirm my suspicion that this government does not have either a greater plan or effective procedures for communicating with the public.
  3. The PM has managed to set our relations with Indonesia back twenty years with one swipe of the foot that seems permanently to occupy his mouth.
  4. Our Foreign Minister (incidentally, the very last person I would choose as a Foreign Minister in the Asia Pacific) has similarly undone nearly a decade’s careful diplomacy with China. Why? For no reason I can see other than keeping up the Liberal Party tradition of pissing off some kind of Asian every time the Foreign Minister says words.

The Espionage Thing

Not a lot needs to be said about this because it’s basically a non-issue. If the Indonesians were surprised to learn about what the DSD routinely do, their intelligence services must be worse than their traffic. It’s a basic truth of international relations that you spy on your friends as much, if not more, than your enemies. The only people who this sort of thing seems to shock is the media, and I strongly suspect that they’re putting it on.

Because this state of affairs hasn’t really changed since the advent of complex civilisation, there has been a generally accepted and acceptable response for this kind of situation for roughly twenty three hundred years: disavow the operation, apologise, and then wait for the public to forget about it. We saw this strategy successfully applied by the USA, with reference to Germany, not two weeks before our situation with Indonesia arose.

So why did the PM respond in a manner exactly opposite to normal and accepted practice? Why did he acknowledge the operation and refuse to apologise (an approach so inappropriate it verges on the insane).

I don’t know. I’ve little hope of ever knowing. I just know that this is consistent with what I know of his behaviour. No talky talky, no votey votey.

The Disputed Island Issue

This is not an issue we needed to comment on. We needed to indicate whether we would comply with China’s new requirements, and that was all. What we didn’t need to do was jump straight back into volunteering moral and value judgements to a country that a) doesn’t give a shit about our values, and b) is culturally predisposed to get seriously annoyed by things we say. So what did our unnecessary opining achieve? Nothing.

The outcome of this dispute will effect us but, on a practical level, it’s simply none of our damn business. Yes, some of our closest allies are involved in the dispute, and yes, we have a keen interest in the balance of power in the Pacific, but that’s it. So, in reality, our involvement is really limited to ‘watch and wait’.

So, why did we weigh in? Beyond guessing that Liberal Party politicians believe that they have some sort of mandate to teach the rest of the world how to live, I just don’t know. But while this sort of behaviour is always going to be mysterious to me, what it definitely is not is surprising. Since the Howard era, it’s what I’ve come to expect. Another strike against voting for Tony (I vote in Warringah).

The Education Funding Thing

I don’t feel too strongly about this one as I never actually believed anything that was said about this issue. To be honest, I don’t even know enough about the Gonski recommendations to have an opinion either way.

What’s irritating me is how poorly the government communicated with us. They seem to have lost the ability to deliver anything longer than a three word slogan. I don’t believe this has anything to do with their having spent so long in opposition – I think it’s actually an indication of the value they place on meaningful communication with the public. They call it ‘not bothering us with details’. I call it contempt.

Why do Mr Abbott and co. have this contempt for our political understanding and engagement? I have no idea. But I know he has it, so I didn’t vote for him.

So, it looks like events have borne out my reasons for not voting liberal. I wonder, though, if the majority of us that did vote Liberal have had their reasoning so thoroughly vindicated. I suppose it’s possible, if their reasons went something like this:

  • I prefer to be deluded into thinking that delivering a budget surplus is the primary business of government (even though I can Google the concensus opinion of philosophy and political science on what the primary business of government actually is in about three seconds)*.
  • I believe it’s the right time to be distant and stand-offish with our regional neighbours and partners, and have therefore voted in a government with a proven track record in alienating and antagonising the whole of Asia.
  • I believe that the Australian nation is best represented both at home and abroad by a man who, whilst probably not the punch-drunk subhuman that he appears to be, lacks the communication skills required to come across as anything else.

If this was how we were thinking on election day, the vote we cast as a nation makes perfect sense. I doubt it though. I think our reasons were largely irrelevant to the issue at hand. I think the majority of Australians voted Liberal because:

  • They had a vague feeling that they’d like to see someone different in government, for no logical reason.
  • They were disgusted with Labor’s internal disunity and voted accordingly, without stopping to consider this issue’s relevance to the election
  • They were determined not to vote for Kevin, as he had suddenly transformed into a smarmy git because the Telegraph

These are the reasons I have personally heard from people. Seeing that they mostly don’t qualify as reasons at all, its unlikely that the Australian people have voted in the government that they really wanted.

Fortunately, however, Democracy ensures that we always, without fail, end up with the government that we deserve.

 

 

 

  1. *Safety/security of the people
  2. Education/Welfare of the people
  3. Promotion and facilitation of trade.