Say It Loud!

Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:10 am

You’ve probably heard it said before: “So why don’t moderate Muslims publicly condemn terrorism?” Turns out they do, quite a few of them, but because it’s a less sensational story it doesn’t get reported all that well.

But it begs a related question: “Why are Christians so reluctant to publicly condemn the sins and excesses of other Christians?” Why has there not been an enormous outcry from Christians about the latest Catholic child abuse revelations, and the Church’s evil attempts at misdirecting blame to homosexuals and the ‘liberal media’ rather than accepting that it’s done wrong and publicly repenting? Why aren’t Christians at the front lines in condemning the hypocrisy of a Ted Haggard, or the obscenities perpetrated by Fred Phelps and his church?

Perhaps it’s that Christians feel – in the face of the evidence – somewhat beleaguered and under threat, and it would feel like empowering their enemies to attack their friends. It may also be a side effect of sectarianism: the Protestants don’t feel like they can criticise the Catholics because of the history of fights between them, and Protestants also feel that the actions of the Catholics don’t reflect badly on them… because they make a tight distinction. And there are infinite variations of sects and cults and offshoots and denominations… with the result that people only pay attention to the sins of their own tiny corner of the Christian world. But most non-Christians tend to see all Christians as a large homogeneous group, so that the actions of one reflect on all… and the failure to stand up and condemn those actions also reflects on all.

But I would argue that the on-going scandals around the actions of Christians who make the world a worse place rather than a better one are doing more to harm Christianity and vitiate its positive effects in the world than any Dawkins or Hitchens. How are people going to convert to Christianity when their first associations when they hear of it are priests who raped hundreds of boys being covered up and protected from prosecution by the church, and moved on to new parishes with new boys and the community given no warning? And so on.

People tend to take the third commandment – the one about not taking the Lord’s name in vain – as being about blasphemy. Ireland has even recently created new laws about blasphemy. But I believe it is about taking the Lord’s name by proclaiming ourselves to be Christians – followers of Christ – and then bringing that name into disrepute by our actions. It’s as though someone decided to call himself a Lions club member and then made a habit of preying on children: he would be summarily ejected from the club for bringing its name into disrepute. In the same way, when Christians do dishonorable things, they bring God’s name into disrepute: and when other Christians are silent they implicate themselves.

As always, it’s instructive to look at what Jesus himself actually did, rather than what his purported followers say and do. What did he do? He cleaned up the Church first. He made himself a whip and went in and cleared the merchants out of the temple. (As opposed to the way the Christian church seems to have wholeheartedly climbed into bed with the most oppressive forms of robber baron capitalism in the last few decades.) His most excoriating words were reserved for the religious and political leaders of the day, whom he described as ‘tombs painted on the outside and full of death on the inside’, ‘a generation of vipers’ and a number of other choice epithets.

He got a reputation as a party animal, because he spent his time hanging out with the hookers and the drunks… and he turned their lives around and they followed him. He didn’t judge them, he showed them a better way. But the powerful who were distorting religion and using it to enrich themselves and oppress others he attacked at every opportunity.

I’m not sure I really count as a Christian any more, though I definitely see myself as a follower of Christ, but I’ll say it loud: the Church (in whichever sectarian flavours) has continued to do rotten and unconscionable things. If it’s to have a positive influence in the world, it needs to clean up its own house. And good Christians need to be willing to say loudly “Enough!”, and to state that they cannot support what’s been going on. Only when the church becomes Christ-like will it again become a positive influence in the world. It’s time to clean out the temple.


10 People with whom I would love to dine

Filed under: — Bravus @ 2:50 pm

(in no particular order)

  • Stephen Fry – British comedian, author, TV presenter, actor
  • William Gibson – Canadian-based American novelist
  • Jack Womack – American novelist
  • Dara O’Briain – England-based Irish comedian
  • Alyssa Milano – American actress
  • Tim Minchin – England-based Australian musical comedian
  • Lemmy Kilmister – American-based English musician
  • Terry Pratchett – English novelist
  • Kieran Egan – Canadian educator
  • Michael Marshall (Smith) – English novelist

There probably should be more women in my list, but I wasn’t going to just add them in a token way: I’ve tried to think of people I’d really like to talk to who have been influential on my thinking in some way… with the possible exception of Lemmy, who’s there for the stories and the sense of humor.

All of these at once would be a bit overwhelming, but I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to come up with interesting combinations or juxtapositions of 2-4 from the list… or to offer your own suggestions.


David in the Middle

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:29 am

I say fairly often to people with whom I’m having a discussion “hey, you know I also argue with the people on the opposite side of this issue, right?” It’s true – I challenge evolutionists and creationists, Christians and atheists, left-wingers and right-wingers, and so on. I don’t think people often believe me, though.

Here’s some evidence:

Arguing with atheists about atheism and cognitive dissonance (you may have to be logged in to Facebook to read that discussion, not sure)

Arguing with Christians about the nature of God and issues of Scriptural interpretation (you’re coming in at page 19 of a looong thread, and the most interesting bits are in the next couple of pages of discussion)

So, I hope those of my friends with whom I argue, and who tend to place me in the opposite camp from them on the basis of that, will recognise that I’m actually in no camp, at least not firmly and in any way I want to argue to defend.

I don’t think I do it just to be a gadfly, or because I’m naturally contrary, or that I’m just arguing for the sake of argument. I think it’s because I’m on about what Jesus described as the ‘weighter matters’: justice, mercy and faith1. A little clarity, consistency and coherence in argument doesn’t go astray either…

  1. And no, by ‘faith’ I do not mean ‘belief in the absence of evidence, or for which evidence is actually considered a bad thing’! I mean something like ‘good faith’ or ‘faithfulness’ (in the Greyfriars Bobby sense more than the not-Tiger-Woods sense)


Ethics in School

Filed under: — Bravus @ 6:45 pm

The St James Ethics Centre has developed a non-religious course on ethics that is to be offered to students in New South Wales as an alternative to Religious Education. Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen weighed into the debate, claiming ethics without religion are impossible.

Here’s an excellent radio interview, by Philip Adams, of Simon Longstaff, director of the Ethics Centre.


Stunning Photos of the Eyjafjallajokull Volcano

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:14 pm

These are amazing: I’d never thought about lightning in ash clouds, but it makes sense – and looks great!


The Life and The Work

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:58 am

One of the things I got from our time in Canada was a deep love of the excellent Canadian band ‘The Tragically Hip’. I’ve been posting and discussing some of the songs on the William Gibson Board lately, so they’ve kind of been stuck in my head this week: and they’re all memorable and amazing. I’ve linked a few below for you to check out.

But what I particularly wanted to share was this (hour-long, so put aside some time!) interview of lead singer/songwriter Gord Downie. It’s an interview on radio but we have the video, which is helpful. The stuff about the band is good, but the bit I particularly liked was the discussion of the life. If you don’t have time to watch it all, check out 9:44 to 12:05 (‘Coke Machine Glow’ is a book of poetry Gord wrote).

The Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie on Q TV

Now, the songs:

Boots or Hearts
38 Years Old
So Hard Done By
Locked in the Trunk of a Car
Gus: The Polar Bear From Central Park


Can you point out a flaw?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:34 pm

I continue in search of a reasonable faith:

Christianity claims to make people more moral: in fact, to be the source of morality. Yet the statistics for divorce, spousal abuse, child abuse and so on are pretty much identical between Christians and the rest of the community. Christianity clearly and simply fails, in an empirically testable way, to live up to its claims. There are plenty of logical twists and tricks, like defining all those abusers out. There are also anecdotes about particular people’s lives. But the bottom line is pretty clear – in aggregate, and on the evidence, being a Christian does not increase the chance that someone is a moral person. The claim is simply false.


Invisible ______ is spotted

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:05 am

A small piece of British comedy news quiz ‘Have I Got News For You’. In this round panelists try to guess the missing word:


It’s just that fragile, and it can go away in a second

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:39 pm

Hundreds of thousands of people, making plans to fly for business or pleasure. I don’t do it all the time, but I do it enough that I take if for granted. We all do, all over the world.

And then, without warning, a volcano erupts in Iceland and shuts the whole thing down for a huge area of the world’s most mobile populations. Just like that, it’s gone… and those who are in a position to know are saying it’s unlikely to be for just a few days.

It’s a very timely reminder: we think we rule nature, but it has a million other possible ways to take away from us the things we take for granted. Some humility and some contingency planning don’t go astray… but in the long run we realise we’re pretty powerless. Can’t even send Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck to blow up a volcano in Iceland.


Windpocked Sandstone

Filed under: — Bravus @ 11:16 am

There’s a bit of a poetry challenge going on at the WGB at the moment, where we’re given the first line and have to make up a poem from that: the person who provided the first line gets to judge the poems. I kinda liked how this one (the prompt was ‘Wind pocked sandstone’, and I took some liberties) came out:

Windpocked sandstone stands against
A sky streaming clouds like bits

A thousand generations
It lay beneath the green
‘neath fertile soil
Surviving, remaining
While timelapse life
Flickered by above

Before that, a million more
Forming, compacting, concreting

And before: from hard rock ground
By winds and waves and heat and cold
To sand, on the floors of forgotten seas

Now, in a (relative) blink
Dug up, cut square, stood tall
To face the wind, the acid rain
The lost-packet sky…

And in a thousand generations more
New sand, on as yet unremembered ocean


Michael Specter on the dangers of science denial

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:12 am

(not about climate)

(Have to admit, I often don’t watch videos people post: the time-lockedness bugs me. IMO this one is worth doing, so leave it until you have 20 min set aside and check it out.)




Filed under: — Bravus @ 7:42 am

In a night where I dreamed a lot, for some reason, I only remembered one fragment (because I woke up and told myself to so I could blog about it!) There was a large meal, something like Thanksgiving, and I was saying grace. I said something like “We know that for huge parts of human history there were droughts and wars and famines, there wasn’t enough to eat or it had to be snatched cold between battles. And that life is still like that for people in many parts of the world. But we’re thankful that today we have plentiful food, good company and peace to enjoy it. Amen.”

Nothing really out of the ordinary, and probably something I’d actually pray over a meal. But I woke up thinking about two points:

  1. It’s very true: we do have it extremely easy in terms of food and food security – and one of the things that should do is make us deeply, deeply grateful and thankful. It’s not something to take for granted, because it’s not, historically speaking, or even (taking the broad global view) geographically speaking, the normal condition of human life.
  2. And what do we do with that, instead of feeling grateful? We make food into medicine, and into something to feel guilty about. We diet, we count calories and carbs and measure nutrients… Instead of being a pleasure, food comes to be seen as tempter and enemy… though we do love giving in to temptation. Ironically, a more grateful approach would likely lead to a healthier relationship with food – and healthier bodies.

And this morning I thought of a third, which is maybe more controversial:

  1. In some way, the fact that people are starving elsewhere can rob us of our own enjoyment of food. And perhaps in some ways it ought to. We need to be working on it. But in other ways – without moving to the perverse pleasure some might get from knowing the level of privilege we have that others don’t – just recognising, as I said above, that good food and a full belly is really not the normal human experience ought to, again, make us grateful more than guilty.

Breakfast time.


Mercantilisation and Education

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:40 am

Businesses used to have (at least) two purposes – making the best possible ‘product’, and making money. Over the past perhaps 50 years we have seen a shift in the direction of making the cheapest, crappiest possible product and maximising shareholder return (money). This is not inevitable, it’s just an evolution in our consumerist society. We’ve also seen a strong ideological push that prefers private, user-pays approaches to things over publicly funded services and utilities. That just takes us further in the same direction: it’s all about the shareholders, and the customers get screwed as hard as possible. It’s a very odd and ultimately unsustainable way to run a society – it makes it inevitable that the rich get richer and the poor poorer, and it destroys the middle class, the engine of upward mobility and economic growth.

Now, apply those ideas to education. The notion of education as a ‘public good’ – if all citizens are well educated, the whole society prospers, both in business and in less tangible ways – is key, and it has been dramatically eroded. The valorisation of private schools at the expense of public has gone further here in Australia than in the US, but the trends are similar. It becomes about the education an individual’s parents can afford, rather than the education the society as a whole needs the person to receive. Education comes to be seen as a user-pays ‘private good’.

Doing that means we end up with a large portion of society studying in under-funded, under-resourced and depressed public schools that don’t do the best possible job of educating them (despite the sometimes heroic efforts of committed teachers). Apart from anything else, that robs society of the brains of very bright students who happen to be born on the ‘wrong side of the tracks’. It also perpetuates and enhances inequity in society.

It’s hard to imagine the way out, but passionate advocacy on the part of those of us who care is a start.

(And yes, of course the financial side of schooling should be administered well: but education is not a money-making business it’s a society-building business… the ‘triple bottom line’ would be a great addition.)


The Large Hadron Collider

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:49 am

(wrote this for another purpose elsewhere, but since I’ve alluded to the LHC here a couple of times here I thought I’d share)

I think there’s a lot of nonsense being talked about the LHC, what it is and what it does. Talk of ‘God particles’ and ‘mini-big bangs’ is journalistic license, or scientists doing a bad job of trying to popularise.

The Large Hadron Collider is simply the biggest and most powerful particle accelerator ever built. A lot has been learned about the world of subatomic particles in just the last century or less: the neutron was not even discovered until 1932.

One of my friends said ‘they used to do this stuff a lot more cheaply’. The less interesting part of the explanation is just inflation, the more interesting part is that the more deeply you probe the mysteries of the subatomic world, the more energy you need: and the LHC provides immense energies.

Basically, the LHC uses pulsed magnetic fields (generated by massive superconducting electromagnets, kept close to absolute zero by liquid helium), to accelerate protons (the ‘large hadrons’ of the title) to very close to the speed of light, and then collide them with other protons that have been spinning around the circle the other way at the same speed. (It can also do larger metal ions in a separate set of experiments.)

karl talked above about driving at ‘a fraction of the speed of light’, and of course he was. But these protons are travelling at something like 99.99% of the speed of light. According to Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity, under those circumstances the mass of the particles increases, in this case to over 7000 times the rest mass of a proton. They then collide with equally heavy protons going the same speed in the opposite direction, releasing immense amounts of energy.

The ‘mini-Big Bangs’ thing is a misnomer, but the point being made is that one of the things the LHC is doing is creating conditions like those believed (by some, heh!) to have existed a tiny fraction of a second *after* the Big Bang. The four forces we know in our universe now (strong and weak nuclear, electromagnetic and gravitational) did not exist in the very first picoseconds (actually even earlier than that) of the Big Bang, but were created at different times during the process… and the LHC is intended to allow us to better understand how those forces arise.

In particular, the Standard Model of subatomic particles struggles to explain something fairly simple: why do objects have mass? (And therefore gravitational attraction.) One theoretical prediction is the existence of a heavy particle called the Higgs boson. This particle would explain the existence of mass and gravity… but not everyone believes it exists. It can be observed (if it does exist), but only under very extreme conditions… like those offered by the LHC.

If the Higgs boson is found, the Standard Model will be supported by the evidence, and we’ll move on to explore it further. If it’s not, that model will be overturned or modified, and the search will go on.

It’s a bit hard to imagine on a human scale: protons weigh on the order of 10-27 kg.

Let me put it this way: if karl was driving at the same fraction (99.99%) of the speed of light, he would be doing 670 million miles per hour. His 1 ton car would have a mass of 7000 tons: 35 Boeing 747 jets.

Now imagine that crashing into another one going the same speed in the opposite direction…


That ‘Future Fellowship’ Application

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:33 am

Not sure whether I’ve mentioned it here, but I have on Facebook and other places. I’m currently in the process of applying to become a ‘Future Fellow1‘ funded by the Australian Research Council. That would mean that the ARC would take over paying my salary for the next 4 years to allow me to focus full time on research. I love teaching and all the other jobs I do, but life tends to end up very scattered, and there are too many days when I come home from work and Sue says “What did you do today?”, and the answer is “Bits and pieces…”

I’d also very much like to pursue the narrative approach to research that I explored in my PhD research, but one of the key ingredients in being able to do that work is the ability to spend days and weeks on end working in the school, and that just can’t happen in my current hectic teaching-research-and-service role.

I know I’ve been talking about the application a bit, mostly in terms of tasks to be done, but I thought I’d share a bit of what it’s about. The application is not specifically for a research project, it’s for me as a mid-career researcher with the potential to do excellent research, so it’s judged partly on my record and potential, partly on the ‘fit’ with UQ’s interests and research strategies, but partly on the research I plan to do, which is described here:

Title: Teaching To The Life: Science Teaching and Learning For Enhancing Student Engagement and Achievement

100 Word Summary:

This project involves working with Year 8-9 science teachers of students identified as socio-economically disadvantaged. It will support teachers’ professional learning as they draw on (1) students’ current interests and post-school aspirations, (2) knowledge about science education and about (3) working with students from disadvantaged backgrounds, with the goal of enhancing students’ engagement with science learning. This is expected to result in enhanced achievement. Lessons learned will contribute to enhancing science education outcomes for disadvantaged students, addressing systemic disadvantage and enhancing social inclusion. This will support both scientific understanding for citizens and recruitment of future scientists.

50 Word Summary for Public Release:

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds often struggle to connect the science they learn with their lives and interests. Research suggests making such connections more explicit for students will lead to enhanced engagement in science learning and increased achievement and retention of students in science – this project evaluates this suggestion.

The work pulls together strands of my research over the years very nicely – there’s also some stuff on scientific visualisations involved that didn’t make it into the short summaries – and since ‘education’ is a target disciplinary area and ‘social inclusion and systematic disadvantage’ a target research area for this round, I’m fairly hopeful.

Like all these things, it needs to be submitted by April 20 and they’ll announce the outcomes in November… so you might hear more about it for the next few days, then it’ll be off the radar until (hopefully), there’s an explosion of jubilation (or a small damp squib of dejection) in November.

  1. No, no matter how it sounds, that does not mean I’m saving up for a sex change to male!


Dammit, I was trying to stay away from negative Christianity stories

Filed under: — Bravus @ 3:41 pm

It’d help with that if these #%^%@%&# even faked being sorry for the evil they do in the world:


Instead of showing contrition, they seem to prefer whinging that the world is picking on them, and comparing their ‘plight’ with that of the Jews in the 30s.

Just disgusting. God needs to get his smiting shoes on.

46 Going on 25

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:54 am

Thanks so much to all those who have wished me ‘Happy Birthday’ by email, Twitter, Facebook and on forums. I’ve tried to thank as many as possible, but the international response has been overwhelming and humbling: I don’t feel as though I deserve as many good friends as I have, but I’m delighted you’re my friends.

Me and Matt at our birthday party

We had a little family party at our place last night that was shared between me and Matt, because his birthday is the 7th and mine is the 9th. If you could see through the glare you’d see 2 candles on his mini-cake and 4.6 candles on mine. 😉

I’m 46, and some of the reflections are similar to those last year, but I guess what it comes down to is that, inside, I don’t feel 46 – or at least, I don’t feel how I’d imagined being this age would feel – I still feel pretty much as I did at 25 or so. And really, that internal, subjective feeling is all we have and all that matters – you really are only as old as you feel.

Stage of life *is* a pretty relative thing, as I was burbling about last year. When my parents were this age, 26 years ago, life expectancy in Australia was about 70. When their parents were this age it was about 60, and in 1900 it was about 55. In 1900 I’d have been an old man at 46. Current life expectancy is about 80 years in Australia, but at current rates of change it could well be considerably older by the time I’m old.

(And maybe this does all just sound like a rather pathetic scrambling after my vanished youth. 😉 All I can reiterate is that I feel good – and barely decrepit at all.)


Road Triippp!!

Filed under: — Bravus @ 9:25 pm

First I was excited – Turisas are taking a break from recording their album to do a lightning tour of Australia!

Then I was depressed – the Brisbane show happens to be the night we fly back from Malaysia, and the flight arrives after the show will be finished.

The fact that it’s in an 18+ venue in Brisbane was also a hassle: Cassie is 19 now, but my best mate Cam’s son Lachlan is 14 (I think) and we’ve been wanting to take him to a metal show for a while now. Almost all the Brisbane venues seem to be 18+.

Then I was looking wistfully at the ad in the music mag today, and saw that the Sydney show is the next night, and is in an All Ages venue. And the plan sprang from my brow fully formed: road trip!

(They’re Finnish, and he’s speaking Finnish at the start of this live video recorded in Finland, but singing in English)

Cassie, Matt and I can leave Brisbane early on the Saturday morning (day of the show, day after I get back – but Malaysia is only 2 hours different from Brisbane so I won’t be jetlagged), pick up Cam and Lachie at Lismore, about 2 hours south of here, and head on down to Sydney to the show on Saturday night.

Contacted Cam and it turns out his brother Andrew lives reasonably close to the venue, so we can crash there for the night and drive back on the Sunday. It’s close to 1000 km each way, and it’ll be a big weekend, but we’ll all get to see the show (dressing up optional, but we’re awfully tempted!)


Social Justice Christians

Filed under: — Bravus @ 12:27 pm

Perhaps balancing the scales a bit (as Paul pointed out to me in comments, my frustration with Christian hostility and hypocrisy has dominated this blog a bit recently), here’s an initative I can get behind:

Who would Jesus intern?

Filed under: — Bravus @ 8:27 am

Tony Abbott, Australia’s opposition leader, opined in a TV interview last night that Jesus would turn back asylum seekers: http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/even-jesus-christ-would-not-accept-every-asylum-seeker-says-tony-abbott/comments-e6freon6-1225850156617

Maybe Tony’s Bible is missing Matthew 25…