The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

So, you agree with a fückwit…

A curious thing happened to me a few years ago. I found myself agreeing with a bunch of fückwits. Well perhaps that’s unfair. It was more like they were agreeing with me… but they were still definitely fückwits.

It was 2010, and a big year for Australia. Not only did we have our first female prime minister, we also had our first dead Catholic wizard. Meanwhile, over in nice, friendly Belgium, they already had 66 dead Catholic wizards, but they also had something that we didn’t – a nationwide ban on the burqa.

It was, at the time, an issue I hadn’t really thought about much before. I mean, like all good atheists, I had read The God Delusion, God is not Great, and The End of Faith, so obviously I was really smart and more than capable of thinking about it and coming to a sensible opinion. So I thought about it for a bit, and my opinion was that maybe, just maybe, banning the burqa could be a good thing.

My reasons were noble. Burqas are, after all, disgusting tools of misogynistic oppression, and perpetuate the idea that women are evil temptresses and men are slobbering sex-crazed idiots. They also can get pretty hot in summer, and don’t have enough pockets. And, I thought, maybe banning the burqa would send a message that those kinds of ideas are not OK. I was on their side, you see. It was for their own good.

Then I stumbled across a Facebook page, called “Ban the Burka in Australia“. And what I saw there kind of horrified me. Did you know, for example, that a burqa could be hiding Alan Jones?

Ban the Burka 1

Or that sometimes burqas walk around with no one in them at all?

Ban the Burka 2

Or that Australia is the last place on earth that allows them?

Ban the Burka 3

Or that soldiers died under our anthem to protect Christmas at school assemblies or something?

Ban the Burka 4

Then I started reading some of the comments. Comments from ordinary Australians, like me, who had genuine, ostensibly noble reasons for thinking that banning the burqa might be a good idea. Like these guys:

Ban the Burka 5

Cause “their” stupid. That says it all, really. Well, almost. Say hello, Andrew Moose:

Ban the Burka 6

Needless to say, views such as Andrew’s are repellent, and bring to mind the wise words of Ricky Gervais – ignorance may be bliss for the ignorant, but for the rest of us it’s a right fucking pain in the arse. The more comments I read, the angrier I became. How could people think this way? But then something started to slowly dawn on me, something almost as repellent as Andrew Moose – “I kind of think this way.” Sure, I didn’t want to ban the burqa because I wanted to wave my uncircumcised penis on the streets of Islamabad, but there was no escaping the fact that Andrew Moose and I were both in favour of banning the burqa. We may have been reading from a different book, but we had somehow found ourselves on the same page. And that wasn’t a nice feeling at all.

So I started thinking about it again. And I realised a few things that, in my initial haste to strike a blow against religious oppression, I hadn’t really considered before. Like people are able to make their own decisions, for example. And further ostracising an already repressed minority by locking them in their own homes perhaps isn’t the nicest thing we could do. And there are better ways to try and educate people about religious oppression. I very quickly moved from cautious, in-theory endorsement, to full-blown rejection – banning the burqa would be a colossally stupid idea. It would be like banning girls from school because you don’t want the boys to pick on them. Oh, and you’re worried that they’re bank-robbing terrorists.

In the few years since, I’ve occasionally found myself in a similar situation. For example, I used to think we should be able to burn Korans or flush consecrated Communion wafers down the toilet if we wanted to. I’ve crapped on enough already (not literally), so I won’t go into the details – suffice to say I had high-minded reasons at the time, but I no longer think we should do either of those things. Most recently, I learned that the Victorian Labor party was going to repeal a certain section of the Crimes Act that criminalised the deliberate transmission of a serious disease. That sounded to me like a reasonable thing to criminalise, so repealing it sounded like a rather silly thing to do. Then I read Bill Meuhlenberg. He also thought it was a silly thing to do, because… well… because gays. This worried me. But a little help from a friend led me to Michael Kirby’s thoughts on the matter. Guess who had the better insights on the issue – the bigoted, hypocritical, fundamentalist Christian, or the respected former High Court judge?

So what did I learn from all of this? Well, for starters, I learned that good intentions are lovely, but they don’t always compensate for shitty opinions. And that sometimes people’s feelings are more important than my noble ideals. The one thing that really struck home, however, was this.

Agreeing with a fückwit doesn’t necessarily mean you’re wrong, but it should at least make you think.

Because chances are, the fückwit hasn’t.

In which Bill Muehlenberg writes a book that is the same as his other book but with a very different title so you have no idea it’s the same as his other book

Once upon a time, Bill wrote a book. Then one day, he wanted to write another book. But writing books is hard. So he came up with the brilliant plan of writing the same book all over again, and changing not one, but two words in the title, so everyone would think it was a new book. The result is [Insert bad word] Relations – The [Insert bad word] of Homosexuality. And it’s brilliant.

Now, let me say from the outset that I haven’t read this book. But I’m going to review it anyway. Why? Because I can. And why can I? Because that’s what Bill does. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Bill, it’s that I’ll turn gay if same-sex marriage is legalised. And that cardigans are awesome. Oh and that we can make judgements on books and movies without reading or watching them. Take his review of Dinesh DiSouza’s film, America, and the book that it’s based on:

I have not seen the film as yet, and my copy of the book is still coming in the mail. But we know enough about the volume to say this: it is a stirring defence of America and a powerful critique of our current POTUS who is doing all he can to destroy America.

Or his review of Noah:

Some misguided Christians claim I must experience this film, otherwise I cannot speak to it. But I haven’t had firsthand experience of a satanic church service either – so what? There are plenty of things I can rely on others about, and/or I don’t need to experience myself.

Or his review of Cory Bernardi’s book:

Now I don’t happen to have a copy of his book as yet. But I know Cory and I know what he stands for so I can imagine pretty well the sort of stuff he says in his book.

YAAAAAAAAAAAAAY! Isn’t that handy? I can just review things without reading or watching them! Such a time saver.

Anyways, Bill’s book. It’s amazing. Kind of like carrotless-vomit, or a piece of poo shaped like a 1979 Corolla, which are both also amazing. I mean, it has footnotes. FOOTNOTES! And as everyone knows, footnotes are a sure sign that the author knows his stuff [1]. And the more footnotes an author uses [2], the better his argument [3].

The best part about the book, however, is the creative title. It’s very different to the title of his previous book, to indicate that the contents are also very different. Strained Relations – The Challenge of Homosexuality… it just has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? Oh sorry that was his first book. Strained Bumholes – The Problem with Pooftas is what I meant to say. Oh no wait that was the working title. Dangerous Attractions – The Threat of My Own Personal Fear of Being Gay is an awesome title. Or it would be, if it ever made it out of Bill’s subconscious [4]. Thaaaaat’s right, now I remember the title of the book I haven’t read that I’m reviewing [5] – Dangerous Relations – The Threat of Homosexuality.

I wonder how long it took him to come up with that title. I mean, thesauruses can be tricky [6]. I can just imagine Bill, sitting there in his study in his cardigan and brown corduroy pants, saying “Pablo! Stop massaging me and fetch me that book that tells me what words mean the same as other words! And no, you cannot put your shirt back on”. And he flicks through to “strained”, and wonders aloud… “Hmm… Tight Relations? Stiff Relations? Hmm. Pablo! What do you think of Stiff Relations?” [7]

This method appears to have worked for the actual book, too. Take this passage from Laboured Relations [8]:

Gay people are bad. They make me sad. But being a bigot makes me glad.

And now compare it to this, from Nasty Relations [9]:

Gay people are crappy. They make me unhappy. But being a fanatical religious zealot makes me dance in the streets with joy [10].

See how easy that was? And how awesome? I mean, the book practically writes itself.

Anyway, the important thing to remember is that gays are bad, and Bill needs twelve dollars and seven cents to tell you that gays are bad. If that sounds like a lot of money, that’s because it is – he tells us gays are bad every day on his blog. FOR COMPLIMENTARY.

Sorry, I meant for free. These thesauruses are tricky.

P.S. I have posted this review to Amazon. I encourage anyone who hasn’t read this book to do the same here.
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EXTENSIVE FOOTNOTES TO SHOW THAT I AM SMART
[1] Like this one.
[2] Bill uses lots.
[3] Not really, I’m being sarcastic.
[4] Cough cough… Ted Haggard.
[5] Because I can.
[6] Not for normal people though, obviously.
[7] Yes these are actual synonyms.
[8] aka Strained Relations. Laboured is a synonym for strained, see.
[9] aka Dangerous Relations. Nasty is a synonym for dangerous, see.
[10] But not in a gay way.

You know what would be better than chaplains?

If there’s one issue that highlights the contempt this government has for the people of this country and the democratic process, it’s the budget. And the treatment of asylum seekers. And the planned destruction of World Heritage areas. And the denial of anthropogenic climate change. And the NBN. And the surfboard Tony gave to Obama. Oh, and the National School Chaplaincy Program.

Lots of people are unhappy about chaplains. One man, Ron Williams, has put his whole life and livelihood on the line to fight against chaplains on our behalf. And Chrys Stevenson has been documenting the idiocy like nobody’s business. But, for some reason, they want to replace chaplains with qualified, secular counsellors and psychologists. Sorry guys, but with all due respect, that’s madness. MADNESS I TELL YOU!

What our vulnerable school students really need are gigolos.

Yes, you heard me – gigolos.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’ve seen the Deuce Bigalow movies, you think all gigolos own huge fish tanks and have giant wangs and have a large collection of ancient weapons. But you’re forgetting about Deuce. He was nice. He looked after all the weirdos and the bullied and the freakishly tall. Which is really what chaplaincy is all about, isn’t it? Nice people being nice and looking after people who maybe aren’t doing as well as the rest of us. Deuce was great at listening and talking and being nice and making people feel better. Sure, the other gigolo in the movie was a dïck, but that’s just your confirmation bias talking. Deuce was nice, focus on him.

But now you’re thinking something else. “Professional gigolos? In schools? That’s a recipe for disaster! They’ll just hit on all the hot schoolgirls and Marist brothers.”

This is, I admit, a real and concerning possibility. But I have the perfect solution.

All we have to do to stop gigolos being gigolos in schools is to make a rule that says they’re not allowed to be gigolos in schools. It’s genius! I’m sure Deuce will follow the rule. He’s nice. And if there’s one thing a terrified, confused, suicidal young transgender person needs, it’s a really nice skilled professional who we’ve asked nicely not to use their professional skill.

Say no to chaplains. Say no to qualified secular counsellors and psychologists. It’s time for a new program. I give you:

The National School Gigolo Program – Gigolos are nice, and we’ve asked them nicely to not be gigolos in school

And it’ll only cost you $200m.

On political correctness

I hate “political correctness”. Even the name, “political correctness”, is politically correct. We should just call it what it actually is – lying.

You see, words are important. How could I write these words and how could you read these words if words didn’t exist? You couldn’t, because neither of us would know what words were, because words would be non-existent. And non-existent things don’t exist. So, yeah, it’s pretty good that words exist.

But while the existence of words is important, the meaning of the words is also important. Actually, the meaning could be even more important than the existence. But I haven’t thought about it a lot, so I’ll just say they’re equally important, and call it a tie. Not one of those ties that you wear around your neck, obviously, because that makes no sense. Maybe I’ll call it a draw instead. A draw is like a tie. But not one of the ones you wear around your neck, obviously. See what I mean? The meaning of words is important. Things can get very confusing if you’re not clear on the meanings of words. That’s why I always use the right words for things.

Why can’t people be like me, and just say what they mean? I just want to call a spade a spade, and so should you, unless you’ve named your spade “John”, in which case you may call it “John”, although I should tell you that “Doug” is a much better name for a shovel. But whatever. The way you people dance around the truth with your silly euphemisms is just ridiculous. I think it’s time we all started being a little bit more honest.

Like when I see a woman feeding her child in public, I say “Would you mind tït-feeding that human parasite someplace else?” Imagine the confusion if I said “breastfeeding”, or “baby”. She might have thought I was asking her to stop feeding chicken to the girl from Dirty Dancing, and then she’d be confused, and I’d still be grossed out by her selfish act of infant nourishment. That’s what we call a lose-lose situation. And I much prefer win-win situations. Or win-lose situations, where I’m the winner, and you’re the loser.

And for god’s sake, don’t say “vision-impaired”, “intellectually-challenged” or “executive assistant”. Just say “blind”, “spastic” or “secretary”. Because that’s what they are. Likewise, don’t tell your wife you want to “make love”. Love isn’t made of anything, so it’s impossible to make it. Fücking isn’t impossible though, so do that instead. And don’t tell your colleagues you’re “going to the bathroom”. Not only is there almost certainly no bath at your work, but everyone knows what you’re really saying, so you might as well just say it: “I’m going to the shïtter to play Angry Turds.” Don’t say “I’m sorry for the loss of your mother”. They haven’t lost her, she’s inside that coffin over there, with a scarf covering her tracheotomy, slowly decomposing. Don’t ask your seven-year old daughter “Is it itchy down there?” Just tell her to stop scratching her cünt. Don’t say “gender-neutral”. Say “freak”. Don’t say “African-American”, “Japanese” or “Jew”. Say “nigger”, “nip” or “kyke”. And FFS, don’t say “gay”. Gay means happy. And yes, they all usually look quite happy. I can be happy too, but I’m not a faggot.

And if you happen to be at a funeral for a vision-impaired, intellectually-challenged, transgender, homosexual African-American executive assistant who died from smoking-induced lung cancer, and you get the urge to make love to yourself in the bathroom, just be honest and say “Well I guess that blind spastic freakish gay nigger secretary got what it deserved. I’m going to go fück myself in the pïsser.”

Sure, you might upset a few of the funeral-goers, but that’s their problem. You’re just telling the truth, and protecting your right to free speech.

And as an added bonus, I’m sure they’ll be happy to tell you to go fück yourself.

The Importance of Being Earnestly Who I Want You to Be

Hi, Norrie, my name is Tim, and I’ve been thinking about you a bit lately. Well, ever since you won the right to be recognised as neither male nor female, which is to say, the right to be yourself.

Now, you don’t know me, and I don’t know you. In fact, as far as I know, I’ve never met anyone who has grappled with gender-identity issues. So I really don’t have any idea what your life has been like. I know nothing about how difficult your childhood might have been, or how much bullying, scorn and hatred you have endured. I know nothing of the internal struggle that none of us can see, nor the external struggle that we all perpetuate.

But one of the benefits of being a heterosexual male born into a heterosexual male’s body is that I am pretty much an expert on you. No one is more qualified than me to talk about you. Not even you, Norrie.

Because I actually do know you. I read about you in the paper, see. Sorry that’s not quite true. Bill Muehlenberg read about you in the paper, and I read Bill Muehlenberg’s blog about Bill Muehlenberg reading about you in the paper. And I heard all about you on talk-back radio. And I got 84% in Year 10 Biology. And I like apples. Especially Pink Lady apples, which are tastier because they know they’re ladies. If you were an apple – good lord, what am I saying? You couldn’t be an apple, you’d just confuse everyone. Who’s ever heard of a Pink Sir-or-Lady-I-haven’t-decided-yet apple? Or a Non-gender-specific-Grandparent Smith?

But it’s not just about apples, Norrie. It’s about freedom, and Jesus, probably. Oh and the children, I’m pretty sure it’s about the children somehow. But mostly it’s about me, Norrie. Me. Did you not think about how your court case would affect me?

Up until last week, my man-brain was happy sitting in my man-body, smiling a man-smile, and thinking man-things, like “Jeez it’s awesome being a man in a man-body, which is but one of the two options available, the other being a chick with awesome boobies”. But you just had to go ruin everything, and now everything is ruined, because you ruined it. The words “man” and “woman” don’t mean anything anymore, so I have no idea what to call my mankini, which is devastating. Worse than that, anything with two options now confuses the shït out of me. The last time I drove up to a T-intersection, I went straight ahead. And if someone asks me a true or false question, I answer frue, but maybe I should answer tralse. Either way, I sound like an idiot, Norrie. What’s next? Rosé? Three-quarter pants? Dimmable lights? Labradoodles? Michael Jackson? It’s madness, Norrie. Madness.

Please stop. If not for me, then for freedom and Jesus. And apples. Oh and the children, but don’t ask me whose children, because I don’t know. Actually I’ve changed my mind. Please just stop for me. Thanks, Norrie.

Yours fruely,

Tim

Keeping it simple

I’ve been to a lot of weddings. And I went to another one on Friday. It was pretty much like all the others – the beer was cold, the canapés were warm, and the guests were hot. But as I stood chatting to new friends, waiting for the bride to arrive, a nervous tension suddenly filled the room. What’s that sound? Are people whispering? Why yes, Tim, yes they are. And the whispering is getting louder… spreading through the room like Vegemite. Which is to say, pretty quickly, but not as quickly as mayonnaise. Eventually, the whispers made their way to me, and my eyes, once bright with anticipation, were now glistening with shock and sadness – the bride wasn’t coming.

Which is just as well, because the grooms didn’t really need one.

Yes, grooms. For this wasn’t just any wedding. It was a same-sex wedding. So there wasn’t really any nervous tension. And there was no whispering, or shock, or sadness. There wasn’t even any Vegemite, but it wasn’t my party, so I shouldn’t complain. There was, however, a large group of very happy people, gathered together to celebrate with Michael and Gregory.

And as I stood there, one smiling face amongst many, I was struck by a sudden thought. This wedding was remarkable, but only for the fact that it shouldn’t be remarkable. And then I had another thought, which was also remarkable, because I rarely have two thoughts so close together.

The whole same-sex marriage ‘debate’ is really quite simple. It’s not a battle between competing ideologies. It’s not about political point-scoring. It’s not about trying to reach a middle ground that we can all be happy with. It’s not about gay and straight, left and right, liberals and conservatives, or compassionate realists and Bill Muehlenberg. It’s not about tradition, slippery slopes, or flawed science. And it sure as shït aint about Jesus.

When you strip away all the theories and theology, you’re left with just one thing.

A couple.

Two people who have had the good fortune to find a partner, but the apparent misfortune of being gay. Who tell us they’ve found love, only to be told that it’s not the right kind. Who want to stand up before their family, their friends and their country, and proclaim their love without shame or fear. That’s all it’s ever been about. Two people, in love, who want the same chance at happiness that the rest of us take for granted.

I don’t think that’s a lot to ask. Do you?

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.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

Why we should pay this Bill some attention

In my last post, I mentioned how I find Bill Muehlenberg’s blog both self-affirming and wildly amusing. What I forgot to mention is that it is also instructive.

Now, more than ever, the governing of a modern, supposedly secular democracy is a like a chess tournament, with hundreds of games being played out on a wide range of issues. In many, if not most, of these games, change-resistant conservatives are doing battle with change-embracing liberals (the literal kind, not the Tony Abbott kind). And much like an actual game of chess, knowing your opponent’s strengths, weaknesses and tactics is crucial.

Take the same-sex marriage debate, for example. When locked in a marriage equality chess match against someone like Bill Muehlenberg, it’s extremely useful knowing that he relies heavily on his Bishops, has an irrational fear of Queens, doesn’t believe in mating with a Knight, and gains a lot of confidence from the support of his mindless pawns. All of this information can be used against him, and greatly increases our chances of winning.

Understanding the way people like Bill think is therefore immeasurably important – even if it leads to the conclusion that they don’t think at all. Bill’s latest post, “On the Subject of Subjectivism”, is a perfect example.

He begins thusly:

I really like Dr Pepper. But for some odd reason, many people do not. Now, I do not think that those who dislike DP are miscreants who need to face the death penalty. I don’t even think they are in any way wrong. That is because when it comes to matters of personal taste, there really is no right and wrong. There are simply subjective preferences, likes and dislikes.

Sounds quite reasonable, doesn’t it? Maybe Bill’s not that bad after all…

But of course not everything is just a matter of subjective taste. There are many things which have objective reality whether we know it or not or like it or not. For example, there are objective truths such as: 2 + 2 = 4. This truth does not depend on your subjective feelings and tastes.

No, actually, he really is that bad.

The two quotes above highlight a very important point about the way Bill and other conservatives think. They are actually capable of deploying sensible, superficially nuanced arguments, but only as a way of backsolving to their already-held positions. The conclusion is decided first and the arguments are decided second, and if anyone comes along with an opposing argument, why, it must be the opposing argument that’s wrong, because it can’t possibly be the conclusion. And so, instead of Bill reading his own analogy and seeing it for what it really is – an obliviously ironic defence of homosexuality – we end up with something else entirely: “People can’t help their preferences, but you’re not allowed to be gay, because I know addition”. I would call it asinine, but to do so would be to do that fine word an extraordinary injustice. So I’ll just call it ironic.

Bill then decides to copy and paste 600 words from C.S. Lewis, which is notable only because it raises the average word length of the post as whole, before concluding with the following:

So as we fight the various culture wars, we must also fight the big ticket items, and in this case that means standing up for objective truth and universal right and wrong. Without that we will simply flounder and sink in the quicksand of relativism and subjectivism.

Once again, that all sounds reasonable, right? I’ll even go so far as to say that I completely agree. Moral relativism is a ridiculous concept, and if there are no objective moral truths, then pretty much anything can be justified. There’s just one problem. What happens when the source of your objectivity is itself subjective?

It’s all very well for Bill to claim he’s married to objectivity, but it’s somewhat cheapened by the fact that Christianity is his father-in-law. He would, of course, be singing a different objective tune if he’d been born in Riyadh, instead of Jebusville USA. The fact that Bill seems to be the only person who doesn’t realise this highlights another important point about how conservatives think. It is apparently impossible for them to consider the world from a different point of view.
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There will, unfortunately, always be chess matches to play, and there will always be Bill Muehlenbergs to play against. And if we want to win the game, or at least, not throw the board back in their faces, we need to remember one thing.

For people like Bill, irony and empathy just don’t compute.

Oh, and they really are terrified of Queens.