Sorry, but you just don’t have the Presidential Look

Sorry, but you just don’t have the Presidential Look

First up, allow me to make one thing perfectly clear. Despite the uproar about Donald Trump’s recent comments on Hillary Clinton’s appearance, there is definitely such a thing as a “presidential look”. Painful as it is for me to point this out, bald men are pretty much banned from occupying the Oval Office. In fact, Americans have only ever elected five follicularly challenged candidates to the presidency – John Adams (who was described by a contemporary as “old, querulous, bald, blind, crippled, toothless Adams”), his son John Quincy Adams (you can’t fight genes), Martin Van Buren, James Garfield and Dwight Eisenhower. That means Americans haven’t elected a chrome dome since 1956, when Eisenhower defeated the equally bald Adlai Stevenson. What a bummer that campaign must have been. Let’s face it, you need a full head of hair to be president. And a lantern jaw. And a killer smile. In the devastating after-effects of World War I, America was looking for a President to succeed the sick, drawn and exhausted Woodrow Wilson. They turned to the dashing, square-jawed (and hairy headed) Senator Warren Gamaliel Harding. His supporters declared “He looks like a president” and he subsequently won the 1920 election in a landslide, going on to become one of the country’s most inept leaders. You see, it doesn’t matter if you’re

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A parable about brotherhood on the occasion of the Presidential Debate

A parable about brotherhood on the occasion of the Presidential Debate

Once there were two brothers. The older brother was very rich. Everything he touched turned to gold. In fact, he was so rich he barely knew what to do with all his wealth. Only one thing was missing. He was childless. After many years of marriage he and his wife had been unable to conceive a child. The younger brother, although a tireless worker, had been unfortunate in life and he lived in abject poverty. But unlike his wealthy brother, he and his wife had welcomed many sons and daughters. One day, the brothers were summoned to their father’s bedside. The old man was dying. He explained he was leaving half his estate to each of them, a 50/50 share. He also added that because he didn’t want any unseemly disagreements after he was gone he had hammered a stake into his land as a way-marker to indicate the halfway point. There would be no disagreements that way. And with that he breathed his last. The brothers made the appropriate preparations for their father’s burial and then they both went home. That night the younger brother tossed in his bed. He thought. “What my father did was not fair! To grant us each half his estate when my dear brother has no children, no sons to carry on his name,

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In Praise of Eccentricity

In Praise of Eccentricity

When you were a kid did you used to have those anxiety dreams about going to school in your pajamas? Or without shoes? Well, I still have those, only my nightmares are about turning up to casual social events in a suit. It’s not that I’m anxious about drawing attention to myself (those of you who know me personally can stop nodding now). It’s more that I’m afraid of what wearing a suit represents to me: a kind of deadening, monochromed conventionality. Hey, if in your professional role you’re required to wear a suit, that’s cool. It’s not the actual piece of apparel I’m uptight about. It’s just that the older I get the more terrified I become of being straightjacketed. I genuinely fear I’m becoming a square. Did you know that the word eccentric comes from a combination of the Greek terms ek (out of) and kentron (center). When put together, ekkentros means “out of center”. The term gained currency in the late Middle Ages when astronomers like Copernicus dared to suggest that the earth was not at the center of the solar system. By claiming the earth in fact orbited the sun, Copernicus became the original eccentric. Enter Richard Beck, a professor from Abilene Christian University, who pushes the definition of eccentricity a bit further. In his book

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I am the direct beneficiary of White Privilege

I am the direct beneficiary of White Privilege

My father grew up seriously poor, but when he died over 30 years ago he owned our family home, a two-story, four-bedroom house with a pool on the side of a hill in a beachside suburb of Sydney. He had a portfolio of investments and had put me through university. To hear my dad tell it, he had dragged himself up by his bootstraps. Abandoned by his own father on the eve of the Great Depression, he was raised by a single mother in abject poverty. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he lost an arm during World War II and returned home a barely educated, physically handicapped kid with no prospects whatsoever. And yet, he made it. And he made it big! And I was the beneficiary of his hard work and graft. But, God love him, the way my dad used to tell it wasn’t the whole story. As a wounded returned serviceman, my father was entitled to a number of very generous benefits. For a start, our government gave him a medical benefits gold card (it was literally called a gold card). Every single doctor’s bill he and his family ever received was covered by the state. Every. Single. Penny. But there’s more. Veterans were entitled to no-deposit home loans on ridiculously low interest rates. Many were

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You do know the Irish same-sex marriage referendum got ugly, don’t you?

You do know the Irish same-sex marriage referendum got ugly, don’t you?

Have you heard the argument that Australians shouldn’t fear having a plebiscite on same-sex marriage because Ireland conducted a similar vote and their debate was peaceful and respectful? But is that true? A recent correspondent of mine, Richard Carson, an Irishman who ran a project that attempted to bring evangelical leaders and LGBT Christians into dialogue during their referendum, begs to differ. Here’s Richard’s reflections on the same sex marriage referendum in Ireland. He begins by asserting the campaign was awful: “The reason the campaign was awful (and why many Irish activists are currently in Australia advocating against a plebiscite) was not so much to do with a lack of civility as it was to do with a complete failure to acknowledge an intention-impact gap in what was being communicated. Pretty much every attempt to communicate on the referendum by Christians centred on talking about rather than with the LGBTI community. The concept that LGBTI Christians would be part of the New Testament ‘one-anothering’ that might engender a healthy debate never entered the radar of leaders. The idea that pasting posters on lamp-posts on your way to work each day that question whether you are an appropriate presence to children rarely struck Christian leaders as being out of place. Facebook shares were one of the biggest culprits as seemingly intelligent

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Skittles are candy. Refugees are people.

Skittles are candy. Refugees are people.

Let’s be clear. Donald Trump Jnr didn’t just compare Syrian refugees to skittles. He referred to them as poisoned skittles! Bearing in mind that the odds of being killed by a refugee in a terrorist attack are about 1 in more than 3.6 billion, Mr Trump’s comparison of a few poisoned skittles in a bowl of candy isn’t even close to the reality. But it’s the reductionism that I find so distressing. To reduce desperate asylum seekers to poisoned candy is just such a dehumanizing thing to do. Of course, Wrigley, the makers of Skittles jumped on it quickly releasing a statement pointing out the bleeding obvious, “Skittles are candy. Refugees are people.” Similarly (like father like son) Donald Trump Snr has routinely compared Syrian refugees to snakes, using the lyrics of a song that tells the story of a woman who takes a snake into her house to try to rehabilitate it, only to have it kill her. But it’s not just the Trumps. Last year Britain’s Daily Mail caused an outcry when it published a cartoon depicting Muslim refugees as rats. The horror, of course, is that this is exactly how Nazi Germany depicted Jews. As rats that needed to be fumigated from their nation. And then there’s the practice of referring to indigenous Australians as apes, like the racist football fan

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Is Australia mature enough for a plebiscite on same sex marriage?

Is Australia mature enough for a plebiscite on same sex marriage?

Many of my Christian friends are insisting the Australian parliament go ahead with a proposed plebiscite on same-sex marriage.   But is Australia really mature enough for a plebiscite on this matter? This week the Mercure hotel at Sydney Airport was forced to cancel an event arranged by the Australian Christian Lobby due to threats being made against their staff by pro same-sex marriage advocates. A gay lobby group waged a ferocious social media campaign against the Accor Hotel Group (owner of the Sydney Airport Mercure), which, according to some reports included making phone threats against hotel staff. On the other hand, News Corp recently published an article titled, “Why I don’t have faith in Australians ahead of the same-sex marriage plebiscite,” in which the author reports on a conversation with a woman at an anti-same sex marriage rally who referred to intersex people as “abortions of Satan” sent to confuse “good Christians”. While at a rally in support of the Safe Schools Program, the same author was accused of “protecting paedos” and called “scum”. If this is this the kind of “debate” we’re going to get during the campaign leading up to a plebiscite I’m not sure I’m ready for it. And before you say these are just extreme examples, have you ever followed the snarky and condescending Twitter

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I got arrested recently

I got arrested recently

I got arrested recently. Normally that’s not something to broadcast, but actually I was trying to get arrested precisely so I could broadcast it. I got arrested as an act of civil disobedience. You see, my country has adopted an immigration policy that’s designed to discourage refugees arriving here by boat from Indonesia. This involves using the navy to intercept leaky fishing boats full of asylum seekers and towing them back into Indonesian waters. It also includes making an example of those poor souls who do manage to slip through our maritime cordon and wash up on our coastline. Those desperate people are imprisoned in detention centres on remote islands belonging to other countries and abandoned without any hope. No future, no plans, no sense of destiny. It’s my government’s way of saying to refugees, “Let that be a lesson to you!” Except this lesson or warning is also being meted out to children, and it’s the kids who suffer the most from their incarceration. Recently, over 2000 incident reports filed by the staff of these detention centres were leaked by an anonymous whistleblower. They are a catalogue of assaults, sexual abuse, self-harm attempts, child abuse and other effects stemming from the inherently toxic living conditions there. I’ve read these reports. They describe children not only being assaulted and sexually

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Here’s to the crazy ones

Here’s to the crazy ones

Remember Apple’s now-iconic Think Different campaign back in the late 90s? It featured black-and-white footage of groundbreakers like Albert Einstein, Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King, John Lennon, Mahatma Gandhi, Pablo Picasso, and others. Who can forget that famous opening line, “Here’s to the crazy ones,” voiced by actor Richard Dreyfus. To this day there’s debate about who actually wrote the copy for the Think Different commercial. Most agree it was largely the work of Rob Siltanen, a creative director and a managing partner of the ad agency that produced it. But it included contributions by various members of his team, as well as Steve Jobs himself. In any case, the Think Different voiceover is one of the truly great pieces of advertising copy ever written: Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the

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Looking into the dark eyes of the wild Galilean

Looking into the dark eyes of the wild Galilean

A few years ago, for a BBC documentary, a forensic scientist took the skull of a first century Palestinian man and using plasticine, reconstructed his face the way they do on television crime shows like CSI. What emerged was a thick-necked, swarthy man of Middle Eastern appearance. He had a heavy brow and a round, broad nose. His eyes were the deepest brown (almost black) and his head was crowned with tight, oily, black curls. He looked not unlike an Al Qaeda operative or an ISIS fighter. The point of the exercise was to show what Jesus might have looked like if he resembled the average Galilean 2000 years ago. That plasticine face caused quite a stir at the time. Could Jesus really look so, well, Middle Eastern? We are so used to Christian religious art that depicts a feminised Jesus as blonde and blue-eyed, staring wistfully into space. These pure-as-the-driven-snow images are trying to capture his holiness and the depth of his spiritual power. In them, Jesus is crowned with halos and swathed in religious robes. But they forget that this holy one was born and lived as a typical Galilean near the modern-day border between Israel and Lebanon. Galileans were noted for being a rough and ready bunch. Surrounded and influenced by various gentile nations in Jesus’ day,

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