Tuesday, February 23, 2010

When spin is downright deceit.

Spin might be a new word but the presentation of the best side of the truth is hardly a new idea. Anyone involved in any communication has at some stage highlighted the aspect of the truth that best supports his or her argument. Husbands and wives have been guilty of this for generations. Historians have made careers out of their very narrow perspective on the truth. Having said that, we seem to be entering a dangerous era where spin has increasingly replaced the truth altogether and the consequences may be much greater than we imagine.

It has recently been revealed that for a number of years the Government of Greece, with the help of some very clever (and well paid) investment bankers, has been hiding their debts to satisfy the fiscal demands of being part of the EU and particularly being part of the Euro. In essence if the truth was known, Greece may never have been allowed into the Euro because the risks to everyone else were too great. Likewise the great corporate collapses of the Enron Corporation and Lehman Brothers saw a phenomenon called 'off balance sheet' - spin for assets and more often liabilities that are not publically disclosed in the companies' financial statements. In other words, the companies were lying about their financial position. Similarly the supposedly wonderful and safe Australian banks have a huge 'off balance sheet' exposure to financial products called derivatives, but we are told not to worry because they know what they are doing. Likewise statistics like unemployment and inflation, essential numbers for economic planning, have systematically been debased in the name of cost cutting and spin. Now according to many experts unemployment and inflation are both way higher than the official figures, which have been designed to make governments of all persuasions look better than they really are.

We are told that what really matters in economics is that we remain confident and thus, if a bit more spin is spun, everything will be okay. However the history of individuals, corporations and sadly, governments, is that a whole lot of very confident people, corporations and governments have gone bankrupt, because in the end creditors are eventually concerned about whether their bills are paid, not just whether those in debt feel they can pay the bills.

There comes a point where spin is not just spin, it is the downright telling of lies. And just as parents tell small children, one-day lies catch us out!

For Jesus, truth was ultimately a key to freedom. Facing the truth gives us the chance to assess problems and deal with their reality and implications. Spinning the truth seems to get us off the hook but the problem does not go away. Spin will not set us free - it will set us in a spin and eventually we will stop spinning and fall over, giddy and disorientated - and the problems will still be there! Avoiding God is also a popular pastime but His tough love, calling us to faith and repentance, is not going away. Spinning can avoid facing the truth for only so long.

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8: 3

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Confessions of a luddite

When it comes to technology I confess I am rarely riding the crest of the wave. In fact very often I am not even in the water. Okay, I confess I am often on the beach ranting like an old man about how I rather liked the old operating system, a much beloved turntable or cars actually made out of steel. However this week I am feeling exhilarated as I plunged into the surf, swam out through the breakers to reach the big waves and in a very small way have been riding the technological wave, almost alone.

Some months ago a friend convinced me that the replacement solution for my Palm Pilot was an iPod touch (an iPhone without the phone). Having been a long time member of the Apple fan club, it was easy to adopt another perfect piece of design. Thrilled with my new gadget I thought it would be good to get some speakers for home, as I am too sociable and not cool enough for those white wire things you put in your ears. Then, realizing that my much loved transistor radio had died, I had the brilliant idea to get a radio with an iPod station. And then the technological wave hit - why not an iPod station with a new digital radio? Alas I was actually ahead of the market, as most of the shops told me this phenomenon was close but not yet available. Eventually I found one that was exactly what I was looking for, but $285 was way beyond any budget I could stretch. In desperation I even looked for a second hand one on eBay (not that I have ever bought anything on eBay) and to my surprise I found a reputable phone company selling the very same product online for $160. So I ordered it and two days later I was riding the crest of the digital radio wave, with a purchase bought online. And for once the technology was better than I expected.

While many would leave God out of any discussion on technology, praising only the wonderful creativity and ingenuity of the scientists, designers and dreamers who invent this stuff and the capitalists who bring things to market, I wonder if God still deserves a mention. Our ingenuity all comes from the marvel that is life on this planet. The laws of nature, the patterns of existence, the minerals we refine, the minds that we think with and the creativity we exercise, are all gifts from God. Atheists would dispute my claim, arguing that the building blocks I thank God for are all the result of nature. Without wanting to insist on the God of creation, it is not inconsistent to affirm that for all our incredible human ingenuity, we still are completely dependent on things we have neither earned, created or willed into existence. An atheist with sight alone must still be thankful for the start we have. With faith we take a further step and praise the One who gave us life, who allowed us to stand, who sends the waves and gives us the challenge and ability to ride.

At our best humans are intelligent, resourceful, creative and just plain brilliant, but the Creator God still deserves all the glory!

“... what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Psalm 8: 4-9

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Selling Our Souls

In the midst of a very busy weekend, I vegged out for a few minutes to watch a bit of sport in the form of the soon to be disappearing game we know as One Day Cricket. Cricket has been on a journey towards baseball for the last few decades and now that journey seems almost complete in the latest form of the game: 20-20. Watching One Day Cricket in February seemed a bit weird anyway, but then an advertisement really confused me.

The commentator announced the sport that was going to be coming up next weekend, which included the Winter Olympics, cricket and rugby league - all on the one day! I might have missed something, but it sounded like the rugby league game was the ‘Indigenous All Stars' versus the All Stars, which to a cynic sounded like the ‘black’ All Stars versus the ‘white’ All Stars! How weird is that! Maybe the Jamaican bobsled team can make a guest appearance at a 20-20 match at half time to hype up the crowd a bit more. Or the rugby league might consider adopting a bit more aggression with a few tips from ice hockey.

Though a long time lover of sport, I am becoming increasingly disillusioned when the sports that I love are driven not by the good of the sport, the fans or even the players, but by the pursuit of money. Cricket, like other professional sports in the past, is in very real danger of not only killing the goose that lays the golden egg, but trivializing the goose such that it morphs into a sterile duck.

Money is important and should be well managed, but somehow should not be allowed to drive, determine and set our agenda. Keeping money in perspective is always a battle. However a society that has convinced itself that God does not exist, seems accidentally intent on finding a replacement god and somehow money has a habit of thrusting itself forward to fill the vacancy. Commercialising the sales of food, clothing and housing often has a few unintended side effects but seems to work okay. Commercialising the arts, sports, medicine, education and even science often leads us into second best and at other times can lead us down paths of downright destruction. When a person sells his or her body for cash, the minority who buy and exploit revel, but the majority just weeps. When our community collectively sells our soul there are also those who make their fortunes, but overwhelmingly we are much the poorer.

What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Matthew 16: 26

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

When the mob leads you astray

Sheep have a habit of moving in a mob. They do not always travel in the wisest, surest or safest of paths, but sheep feel comfortable with the mob. When the mob moves, sheep follow. We excuse this, for after all, sheep are not very bright.

In recent years I have often heard the mob telling me things like the fact that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035 unless I installed low energy light bulbs. Well off course I have installed the light bulbs, but now I read that the mob (led by those IPCC experts) have decided the glaciers may be around for another 100 years and that the first report was based, not on a scientific report but on a newspaper article.

The mob has been bleating for years about extreme weather events. The media mob and the politician mob quoting the IPCC have argued that human carbon usage is causing more extreme weather events. This story that the mob has been telling us is so convincing because they persist in showing us pictures of extreme weather events (something that seems to happen with a fair degree of regularity). But again it now seems that the mob has admitted that the link was again not based on peer reviewed science, but was claimed by another mob, the World Wildlife Fund.

Fortunately the economic mob keep telling us that from their front the economic mess of the last few years is all fixed and if we follow their advice, which I think is to keep spending, then we will all be in green pastures for ever. Unfortunately again there seems to be a few worrying things around that the mob seems to ignore. Things like 10% unemployment in the USA, 25% of mortgage holders in the US being in negative equity, and the USA having a national debt of 12.2 trillion dollars, increasing at a rate of 3.83 billion a day. This seems to worry a few sheep but the mob is on the march again and the pressure to follow is hard to resist. In some countries like Greece, they are facing the awful prospect that the whole mob may default. In Australia our economic and politician mobs are sure that we have avoided the crisis altogether by building a new library or school hall in every school, by taking our government grants and buying a new TV, and by a whole bunch of young people buying their first home. The fact that Australian personal household debt is now higher per capita than the USA, has increased over 70% in five years and now stands at over 100% of our national GDP, is no problem to our mob because we are all climbing up the mountain together.

Finally the mob is told in all sorts of subtle and direct ways that everything is okay (apart from climate change), we have nothing to fear and that the old fashioned God stuff is irrelevant, unnecessary and just something designed to placate the mob. Well this sheep is not convinced! Maybe the mob is still in need of a good shepherd who will choose the narrow way, who will warn us of the wolves, who will call us by name and who alone will lead us into eternal green pastures.

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10: 8-11