Decision Making and the Will of the People

Decision Making and the Will of the People

This week, Donald J Trump will take the oath of office of the president of the United States. A lot of people can’t believe it’s actually happening. There have been “Not My President” rallies across the country. There’s been hopeful talk that Russian hacking scandals might forestall him taking office. Some Democrats are planning to boycott the inauguration ceremony. Like it or not, Mr Trump won office fair and square. Well, according to the rules of the US electoral system. Complaining about his victory will achieve nothing. But trying to figure out how he did it might prove to be more profitable. How did a man with no experience of public office whatsoever manage to defeat a woman who was regarded by all to be one of the most qualified candidates ever to run for the presidency? What were people thinking when they voted for Donald J Trump? In the early 1970s two brilliant young academics embarked on a research project to unravel the mysteries of human decision-making. Amos Tversky (left) and Danny Kahneman were professors at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and they hoped that by revealing the mechanics of decision-making, their work could transform how individuals, corporations and governments chose which courses of action to follow. Tversky and Kahneman thought if they could transform decision-making into a kind of engineering problem, they

View Full Post

;

LIVE: the more we watch, the less we care.

LIVE: the more we watch, the less we care.

“Sony wants you to stream your whole life online.” “Show off how marvelous your life is.” “Stream your world live to Facebook using the ‘Social Live’ camera feature.” “Fill YouTube with constant videos of your cat sleeping or your baby dribbling, thanks to the new Live on YouTube app.” These are actual advertising slogans. If you use social media you’ll know live video streaming is being pushed pretty hard these days. Facebook has changed its algorithms to ensure live videos appear in your notifications and fill your newsfeed. Sony, Apple and Samsung are falling over themselves to develop the necessary products to make live streaming even easier. I expect the boffins who decide these things think that video will overtake text as the primary way we share stuff online at some time in the near future. And of course it’s pitched to us as a way of boasting about our fabulous lives. Post a vid of you arriving at a big concert, or dancing at a music festival, or sailing on the harbor, or singing along to the radio on a road-trip with friends. Everyone’s life is meant to look awesome online. Except if it’s not.   On December 30 last year, a 12-year-old girl in Georgia live streamed her own suicide after telling the world that she had been

View Full Post

;

The Opposite of Poverty is not Wealth, it’s Justice

The Opposite of Poverty is not Wealth, it’s Justice

An inflatable boat slips into a cove near Mytilene on the Greek island of Lesbos. It is packed with Syrian asylum seekers wearing orange lifejackets. They have just crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey. One of them waves a lifebuoy triumphantly to the man wading into the water to greet them. The sun is setting. The last rays of hope are receding behind the horizon. In a few moments it will be dark, and no one wants to spend a perilous night at sea in a small craft. The UN worker or government official holds his hands high to greet them. They’ve made it! They are safe. Kind of. This poignant photo was taken by Aris Messinis in February, 2016, nearly a full year ago. Since that time we have heard countless reports of how miserable life is for thousands of Syrian refugees in Europe. Countries like Germany, Austria and Sweden have been remarkably generous, but many asylum seekers, including quite possibly those in this very photo, are still stuck in limbo. This week’s cold snap across Europe has only made matters worse. In Lesbos, snow blanketed the Moria refugee camp, home to more than 4,000 people, most of whom subsist in small tents. Some of those tents have collapsed under the weight of the snow. The UN has tried

View Full Post

;

When the country goes temporarily to the dogs

When the country goes temporarily to the dogs

“The fundamental cause of the trouble in the modern world today is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” – Bertrand Russell   Lord Russell wrote that back in 1933 just as Adolf Hitler was being installed as the duly elected chancellor of Germany. Benito Mussolini had been ruling Italy since 1922, and fascist dictator Franco was on the rise in Spain. Moderates like the UK’s decent leader Ramsay McDonald sought appeasement, but they were no match for Hitler’s fanaticism. Russell had put his finger on an issue of his day, but he had also voiced a timeless truth. Fanatics are always so certain of themselves, while wiser people, aware of various possible solutions to any problem, struggle with self-doubt. The latter know that immigration policy in a globalized world is complex and vexing. They know that overhauling an entrenched system of cronyism and lobbying in modern politics will take time, tact and resolution. But fanatics can just chant “Build that wall!” and “Lock her up!” and “Drain the swamp!” And they do so with great gusto and confidence. They seem so… to use Russell’s term, cocksure. It’s the same in the church. Some of us believe we need to do the work of developing a detailed and compassionate biblical response to issues like gender roles

View Full Post

;

Yep, meaningful public discourse is dead.

Yep, meaningful public discourse is dead.

Yesterday I posted a link to Meryl Streep’s Golden Globe acceptance speech on Facebook. You know, her impassioned plea for basic human decency in publc discourse. The speech that referred to how “…the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter – someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back.” The one that concluded, “When the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose.” That one. In response to my post, a self-confessed conservative groused, “…says a member of the powerful Hollywood elite whom much of America no longer trusts.” Okay, maybe it’s because I’m the brother of an intellectually disabled woman, but I was irritated. I mean, even if you’re a Trump supporter surely you can’t think the public humiliation of a person’s disability is acceptable. Ever. So I bit back. Don’t shoot the messenger, dude. Even if you don’t like Ms Streep, you’ve gotta agree with her stand. No, my Facebook friend replied, “…it’s hypocritical for Streep to say this when she publicly supports the biggest murderer of disabled babies in America (Planned Parenthood).” Several others weighed in on the discussion, pretty much making the point that on the topic being discussed (the public mockery of the powerless), Streep was right. And then something interesting

View Full Post

;

To be shaped as much as to shape

To be shaped as much as to shape

I love this image of a tree growing in a barren plaza, its root system spreading across the cement pavers. I love it, not only because it’s an image of organic life bursting forth from a pretty ugly built environment, but because the trees roots have been shaped by that very environment. They extend across the plaza, zig-zagging at the same angles as the pavers. The tree is conquering the plaza, but the plaza is shaping the tree. It’s a beautiful metaphor for the church. We too have been planted in a dry and barren place. We long to grow in a verdant forest, but we find ourselves here in this strange, broken place, trying to figure out how to be in this world, but not of it. This makes me think of the experience of those great exiles of the Old Testament – Joseph in Egypt, Daniel in Babylon, and Esther in Persia. Like us, and this tree, they too were planted in foreign soil. Literally. All three were forced to live in foreign lands and, like this tree, all three adopted many of their host cultures’ values and practices, while remaining faithful to Yahweh. They flourished like the tree, but were shaped by the contours of their captors’ cultures. Joseph, Daniel and Esther all prospered in their host

View Full Post

;

We’re cheering for Rogue One but we’re really on the Empire’s side

We’re cheering for Rogue One but we’re really on the Empire’s side

As you probably know by now, Rogue One is about a small band of rebels, part of the larger Rebel Alliance, who try to steal the design plans for a super-weapon called the Death Star. Even if you’re not that into Star Wars films (which I’m not) you’d enjoy it. It’s basically a heist movie – a ragtag bunch of compatriots, each possessing different but complementary skills, attempt to rip off an evil guy’s stuff. It’s like Oceans 11 in space. The movie’s tagline is “A rebellion built on hope.” And there’s lots of talk of hope. Because we all know that what the Rogue One crew is doing won’t defeat their enemy but will offer hope for the future for the Rebel Alliance (see Star Wars Episode IV for how all that turns out). But the Empire is all-pervasive. It has conquered the galaxy and seems invincible. The Rebel leadership is ready to capitulate. There’s simply no way to stop it. Until Jyn Erso and her plucky crew take matters into their own hands. And everyone cheers them on. After all, we hate Darth Vader and Moff Tarkin, right? But what if I told you that most of those in the cinema, munching blithely on their popcorn, were really on the side of the Empire without knowing it?   We watch films

View Full Post

;

Advent Reflection 10: Yes, Jesus WAS a refugee

Advent Reflection 10: Yes, Jesus WAS a refugee

The final entry in my series of reflections based on ten of the greatest Christmas artworks of all time. Merry Christmas to you all! 10 THE FLIGHT TO EGYPT   Artwork: Rest on the Flight to Egypt – Orazio Gentileschi, Birmingham Art Gallery Reading: Matthew 2:13-23 Reflection: This isn’t a very well known Christmas painting, but I really like it. During their escape from the murderous King Herod, the holy family rests in what looks like a derelict building. Their donkey waits on the other side of a broken wall as Joseph takes a nap and Mary feeds her child. There are dark, foreboding clouds on the horizon. The setting reinforces the appalling situation they find themselves in. Destitute, alone, and taking brief shelter in a ruin. Orazio Gentileschi’s picture is a strange composition. But it beautifully portrays the utter exhaustion of the holy family’s hurried escape from Bethlehem. They look like a modern day refugee family fleeing Aleppo. Joseph has collapsed in sheer exhaustion. Mary’s feet are dirty and she appears too tired to even cradle her hungry child, who looks furtively in our direction. Gentileschi obviously related to the refugee status of the holy family. He painted five versions of this picture. As a young painter he had become caught up in the licentious and violent world of fellow

View Full Post

;

Advent Reflection 9: How deep is your love?

Advent Reflection 9: How deep is your love?

Ten of the greatest pieces of Christian art ever created. Ten Advent reflections. A bit like the ten stations of the Christmas story. Here’s No.9. 9.  THE ADORATION OF THE MAGI   Artwork:  Adoration of the Magi – Sandro Botticelli, Uffizi Gallery, Florence Reading:  Matthew 2:7-12 Reflection: Botticelli was commissioned to paint this astonishing work in 1475 by Gaspare di Zanobi del Lama, a wealthy Italian banker connected to the Medici family. The holy family are positioned aloft in a derelict outhouse of yawning rafters on the brink of collapse. Below them, the Magi and their attendants have come bearing gifts for the Christ child. It’s a lush, dramatic, altogether beautiful nativity. That much is obvious to the uninformed viewer. What you might not know is the sly and artful way Botticelli has portrayed the images in the foreground. The three Magi are portrayed by patriarchs of the powerful Medici family. The magus kneeling before Christ and pompously touching his feet is Cosimo de’ Medici, the first of the Medici political dynasty. The second magus in the center with the red mantle is Cosimo’s son, Piero, who succeeded him as lord of Florence. And the third magus beside him is Piero’s brother Giovanni. They seem to be in conversation, perhaps disagreement. It was well known that Cosimo had intended for Giovanni to

View Full Post

;

Advent Reflection 8: Where is Jesus?

Advent Reflection 8: Where is Jesus?

My Advent devotion series, based on the 10 greatest paintings of the Christmas story ever produced. Look carefully at the painting. Read the Bible text. Read the reflection. Recite the prayer. 8. THE MAGI SEARCH FOR THE CHRIST   Artwork: The Procession of the Magi – Benozzo Gozzoli, Medici Riccardi palace, Florence Reading: Matthew 2:1-10  Reflection: The Medicis were an Italian banking family that came to exercise such supreme control over the affairs of Tuscany and Florence that they became first a political dynasty and later a royal house. Wealthy and powerful beyond all reckoning, they transformed Florence into a stunningly beautiful and excessively luxurious city of the finest architecture and art. Medici money seemed to be inexhaustible. One Medici or another was patron to Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael, Rubens, and even Galileo. Four Medicis became Pope, a host of others cardinal, and two went on to rule France. So, when in 1459 Piero de’ Medici commissioned Benozzo Gozzoli to paint a series of frescoes of the procession of the Magi, Gozzoli knew exactly which side his bread was buttered on. His painting is a monumental exercise in sucking up! Instead of depicting just three wise men riding camels in the desert, he painted 33 kings parading in a cavalcade of excess and grandeur, every one of them a

View Full Post

;

Pin It on Pinterest