The great housing divide

We like to think of Australia as an egalitarian nation where there is a safety net for all – a system that looks after its poor and treats all with dignity and allows equality of opportunity.
But if we look a little deeper, we can see the cracks in that theory.
In one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with an economy that is largely flying high, where life expectancy has increased and unemployment is quite low, we still haven’t been able to heal Australia’s cycle of urban poverty.
The vast majority of our growth is occurring in urban areas – where nearly 90 per cent of Australians now live.
Our cities are vibrant areas but they are not easy places to live if you are poor.
We have unaffordable housing, increasingly privatised health and education, job insecurity, stagnating wages, limited health care for the most vulnerable – is Australia really the land of the fair go?
The inner city of Melbourne is now for the wealthy and the poor live out in the suburbs.
The suburbs where many of our football teams originated are no longer working class.
There is a great housing divide.
There has been a desperate lack Politicians and policy makers – successive governments – have said a great deal about what needs to be done about urban poverty. Bob Hawke once even promised to end child poverty.
But there is sadly little discussion on the subject from the power brokers.There has been a desperate lack of vision, clarity and political will.
An Anglicare Australia report on rent affordability showed how difficult it is for people on low incomes to secure urban accommodation without stress.
It found that affordable rentals were extremely limited for a single person living on any government payment. Australian singles living on an aged pension could afford 2.1 per cent of the 75,000 properties surveyed. Singles living on a disability pension could afford 0.5 per cent of the properties.

On any given night in Australia more than 100,000 people are homeless, and of these, 44,083 are under 25 years old.
There are nearly 10,000 homeless school students in Australia aged between 12 and 18 years old..
And those living rough on the streets are in real danger of losing their lives due to medical conditions acquired through being exposed to the elements.
The statistics tell only part of the story.
A few years ago, the Four Corners program asked Australian children what it was like growing up poor in the midst of pOne boy summed up his life. He said: My parents get paid on Friday right, so during the week they probably have money. But on Wednesday, Thursday or sometimes Tuesday, you know, what are we supposed to eat?”
At the age of 12, Jessica had a bleak view of her future: She said she wanted “A good job, where you get like heaps of money. I’d be a decent mum, a husband with no violence and everything, so it could be a happy family, you know, but like… that would never happen…”
It’s heart wrenching. Here we have kids with little hope for their future.
A multitude of studies tell us that children brought up in poverty have a long list of risk factors – impaired cognitive development, behavioural difficulties, poor physical health, a greater likelihood of teenage pregnancy, increased probability of drug and alcohol abuse and lower skills and aspirations.
“Poverty is like punishment for a crime you didn’t commit” — said the writer Eli Khamarov. He’s right.
No young person should grow up thinking that they can or can’t do something or be something because of where they come from.

Why religious extremists can’t succeed

A column I wrote that has been published in The Australian

“If I were God,” thundered Martin Luther, “and the world had treated me as it treated him, I would kick the wretched thing to pieces.”

The Protestant reformer might have issued a similar rant if he had lived through 2016, a year of brutal civil wars, senseless slaughter and political turmoil.

What might Luther have thought about the grotesque terror attacks inspired by Islamic State, revelations of clerical child abuse, the humanitarian crisis in Syria, the anti-migrant backlash that fuelled Brexit, the anti-­establishment populism that led to the election of Donald Trump and predictions of even more seismic change?

We live in a world of chaos, complexity and conflict that seemingly offers no comfort for our fears.

The alleged Christmas Day terror plot in Melbourne is further evidence that no place is safe in an intensely globalised environment. All cities are now potential targets for those eager to kill in the name of a cause.

And, sadly, many of the upheavals that drive our greatest fears have been perpetrated in God’s name.

According to the American fundamentalist evangelicals, God was clearly on the side of Trump, despite the winning presidential candidate’s lack of genuine ­religiosity.

According to the fundamentalist Islamic-fascist terrorists, God is the inspiration for the murder of thousands in the quest for a world caliphate.

Religious fundamentalists are sometimes said to take religion too seriously — the opposite is true. Fundamentalism has less to do with real faith than politics and power.

As Jonathan Swift explained: “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.”

Fundamentalism is not confined to any particular ideology. What all extreme fundamentalists have in common is hateful rhetoric, a theology of fear, self-righteousness, greed and hypocrisy. Fundamentalism divides the world into the “righteous” and the rest. It promotes an “us and them” mentality. We should have no qualms about condemning fundamentalism — Islamic or otherwise — for what it is: a dangerous set of ­beliefs.

The message common to the great religious traditions is the Golden Rule: all men and women are equal in God’s view, do as you would be done by, love your ­enemies, and turn the other cheek. Yet verses in holy books have been exploited by the religi­ously deranged to justify the ­destruction of those who hold different beliefs.

The Islamic terrorists wanting to justify jihad often quote a portion of the Koranic verse — the “verse of the sword” — that states: “Fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them.”

Yet the next immediate verse, the part the terrorists always ­ignore, states: “If any of the idolaters seeks of thee protection, grant him protection till he hears the words of God; then do thou convey him to his place of security.”

The terrorists who shout ­“Allahu akbar” — God is great — as they drive bomb-laden vehicles into crowds of civilians have no idea what God wants. Their evil actions are blasphemy.

As the Dalai Lama said ­recently, any person who wants to indulge in violence is no longer a genuine Muslim. They are no longer practising religion.

Religious extremism readily accepts hypocrisy. It pays lip service to the ideals of genuine faith but ignores them in practice.

Extremists use religion as an excuse for their hate. They may claim they are protecting religion but that’s a lie. They are really just after power and influence by any means. The truth is that the terror ­attacks on God’s creatures are ­attacks against God’s law. Some people make definite choices to commit evil and use religion as its vehicle. In extremist hands, Islam has been perverted from a personal faith into a madness that knows no constraints or boundaries.

Moderate Muslims may ­denounce the extremists but cannot ignore the fact Islamic State, although a violent perversion, is linked to their own relig­ious traditions. They must proclaim loudly that Muslims are not obliged by the Koran to ­embrace terrorist ­actions against non-Muslims. We also may ask why some Arab states are not doing more to stop Islamic State. The responsibility for deradicalisation of young Muslim men and women lies largely within Islam’s own ranks.

Fundamentalism appeals to base tendencies that can justify hatred, persecution and murder. It is a refusal of conversation, with its followers insisting that they should not be challenged or even questioned. Fundamentalism makes basic mistakes. It doesn’t understand that genuine faith cannot be enforced through fear or violence. People cannot be intimidated to believe at the point of a gun or under the threat of a bomb.

A US study this year stated that terrorism, with its reliance on bad psychology, wrong target choice and a high degree of violence, is an inefficient strategy to reach political goals. It found that terrorism was largely inefficient at disorienting people. On the contrary, the strategy of terrorism could trigger opposite reactions.

The extremists cannot win. The dark message of hatred and intolerance is one of self-deception and an erroneous sense of certainty. It is unconvincing and ultimately unsatisfying.

We live in a dangerous world where clashes of culture are a fact of life. Yet we cannot live in fear. Being unafraid amid the turmoil means coming to terms with a world that does not always have fairytale endings and still being able to see God’s supporting presence all around us.

As Mahatma Gandhi said: “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it. ­Always.”

Get angry, and the joke’s on you


A SLEEP-DEPRIVED mate woke at 3am recently to hear possums playing loudly near his carport.

Furious his sleep had been disturbed, he went outside and hurled a rock at them. It missed and shattered one of his car windows. Even more furious, he aimed a kick at his garden rockery — only to realise too late he was in bare feet.

Some of our emotions can be powerful and painful. Especially anger. You see it every day on the streets of a city that obviously has more cars than parking spots, in a culture where revenge is said to be sweet and children are taught forgiveness is for weaklings or masochists.

You sense the cold prickly blanket of anger in the gangs of youths who travel our streets looking for someone — anyone — to pass it on to.

Anger is probably the most commonly exhibited of the seven deadly sins. It’s a universal experience. Some people like being angry. But, as writer Maggie Scarg said, getting angry can sometimes be like leaping into a wonderfully responsive sportscar, gunning the motor, taking off at high speed and then discovering the brakes are out of order.

Even Jesus showed anger. He was angry at the religious leaders who cared more for religiosity than God, angry at his disciples when they tried to turn away children from his presence and furious at the merchants at the Jewish Temple. He was “deeply moved” by the pain of those he encountered.

There is certainly righteous anger. If we cannot feel anger at evil acts, or feel grieved at the seeming injustice of the world, we are not truly alive. Anger can motivate us to make the world better.

Aristotle said: “The man who gets angry at the right things and with the right people, and in the right way and at the right time and for the right length of time, is commended. But it’s not easy.”

But there’s another side to that emotion. We have all said things in anger to those we care about and then we realised we can never take back those words. We have all felt the hurt that turns to anger and sometimes we take it out on the world, on ourselves or on God. Anger and grief are not all that different.

We are all going to be unfairly treated, but the test is how we react to that. The Buddha was right. He said: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” And Confucius advised: “When anger rises, think of the consequences.”

Elvis Presley should have taken that advice. He once bought an Italian sportscar which would not start when he wanted to take it out for a spin. He pulled out a gun and shot the car three times.

During a world tour, Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst allegedly flew into a rage and threw a microphone at a lighting technician. The roadie filed a $5 million lawsuit, which Durst later settled for an undisclosed amount out of court. The name of the band’s tour? Anger Management.

A study at Duke University found 40 per cent of an average person’s anxiety is focused on things that will never happen, 30 per cent on things about the past that can’t be changed, 12 per cent on criticisms from others and only 8 per cent on real problems.

Factors leading to anger problems included nursing a grudge, preoccupation with past mistakes and self pity. The least angry were found to be those who recognised that no one gets through life without some sorrow, did not expect too much of themselves, had something bigger than themselves to believe in and cultivated a sense of humour.

When US President Abraham Lincoln had to write to someone who had irritated him, he would often write two letters. The first letter was deliberately insulting. Then, having gotten those feelings out of his system, he would tear it up and write a second letter, this one tactful and discreet.
“If you don’t want to be angry, don’t feed the habit,” he said.

News coverage makes violence more likely new study shows


A US study has found that Islamophobia is rife in the nation’s media. .And that it leads directly to violence.

The analysis shows a disturbing narrative link between Muslims and extremism, and then over-represents violent responses to politically motivated conflict.

The report, Mixed Messages: How the Media Covers “Violent Extremism” and What You Can Do About It, reviewed more than 600 news items from 20 major U.S. news outlets.

Among the key findings:

* A staggering 90 percent of coverage mention Islam, even when neither Islam nor Islamic extremism was the story’s main subject. But only 13 percent of articles mentioned Christianity, and only 4 percent of articles mentioned Judaism.

* The media frames extremist groups as both “cunning” and “crazy” – sometimes both at the same time – suggesting violence is the only possible response, and ignoring decades of proof that nonviolent tactics like dialogue and diplomacy are more effective at ending conflicts.

* There is five times more coverage of bombings, drone strikes, and other violent response to incidents than nonviolent responses – like peace talks.

The report offers three recommendations to help advocates, journalists and readers and viewers change this narrative and bring under-reported facts to light. Specifically:

* Tell stories that highlight common humanity, especially that of historically marginalized groups – including Muslims.

* Highlight the history, complexity and root causes of politicized organized violence, without resorting to stereotypes like “crazy” or “coldly calculating’ extremists.

* Cover nonviolence and peacebuilding efforts that work instead of just military options.

“Wars on terror, extremism, or other nations do not happen by accident. Islamophobia in the media or in public discourse does not happen by accident. Both are choices. We have been able to choose to create lasting social change in the past, and make great strides forward towards peace with justice. We can do it again today,” the report concludes.

When words fail, don’t be surprised


COMPUTER boffins will tell you nothing is ever lost in cyber world.
There are indelible imprints of everything you record on computers.

Even if your computer crashes you can often — and for a hefty price — find an expert to recover the information you thought had been lost forever.

Anything you do with digital technology automatically leaves evidence for others to find — ominous news for some and comforting for others.

Our world contains at least 4500 languages. And there are clearly gender and generational differences that confuse the meanings of words in even the same languages.

It is not easy to know what someone else really means, and sometimes difficult to find the right words to sum up what we mean ourselves.

Biologist Rupert Sheldrake observed  that humankind had somewhat lost the habit of using positive words.
“We’re just bitching, cutting each other up and wallowing in our self-pity. Self-pity banishes praise.”

Then there is the special language of music and other arts: seemingly enlightening to some and unintelligible to others.

Beethoven said the silences in music were as important as the notes — and he was right.

The pauses in a rendition of his majestic fifth or ninth symphonies, in the hands of a great conductor such as Herbert Von Karajan, are eloquent reminders that sometimes what we do not say is as important as what we do say.

Of course, there is a reverse to the equation. Martin Luther King said: “In the end we will remember not so much the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Words, as vital as they are, are also often inadequate for conveying the precise character of a feeling.

A scream, or laughter can be better than a speech. It is a matter of knowing what is best at the time.


The famous speech that Nelson Mandela never gave


OUR deepest fear is not that we were inadequate. It is the realisation that we were powerful beyond measure. It was our light, not our darkness, that frightened us most.

We ask ourselves, `Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking, so that people won’t feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in all of us. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

This passage is commonly mis-attributed to Nelson Mandela’s 1994 Inaugural address, .tt actually comes from the book ‘A Return To Love’ (1992) by Marianne Williamson

Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster Not a Religion, court rules


A recent US court decision in Nebraska ruled that “that FSMism is not a ‘religion’ within the meaning of the relevant US federal statutes and constitutional jurisprudence.  It is, rather, a parody, intended to advance an argument about science, the evolution of life, and the place of religion in public education..

The court ruled that ” it is evident to the Court that FSMism is not a belief system addressing ‘deep and imponderable’ matters: it is a satirical rejoinder to a certain strain of religious argument”.

The case came about when Stephen Cavanaugh, a prisoner in the Nebraska State Penitentiary, claimed that he is “Pastafarian” – a believer in the divine Flying Spaghetti Monster who practices “FSMism.” .

The “church” has been battling to gain legal recognition around the world, with mixed success. It was formed in 2005 as a way to poke fun at efforts in Kansas public schools to teach not only evolution, but also “intelligent design” – the idea that the universe must have had a creator

Nevertheless, New Zealand on Saturday hosted the world’s first Pastafarian wedding, conducted by the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The group, which began in the US as a protest against religion encroaching into public schools, has gained legitimacy in New Zealand, where authorities recently decided it can officiate weddings.

Read more:

The beer Jesus may have sipped


JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A Jerusalem brewery has produced a craft beer with a taste it says dates back to the time of Jesus. A sip of the concoction may help explain why wine was the preferred sacred drink of the Bible.

Herzl Brewery, Israel’s smallest, took wheat that Tel Aviv University geneticists say was the strain used for beer in the Holy Land two millennia ago to produce 20 litres (five gallons) of “biblical beer.”

There’s a hint of honey and berries in the cloudy — and flat — nectar, which has a 3 percent alcohol content. The brewery made it from 5 kilos (11 pounds) of grain donated by the university, along with the other traditional ingredients hops, yeast and water.

Herzl’s owner Itai Gutman and his friends have downed most of the results of the six-month experiment. Only one bottle remains and there are no plans to make more.

“We were curious about being able to come up with the first ‘biblical’ beer,” said Gutman, whose award-winning brewery produces five contemporary labels for sale. “It’s really not the kind of flavour that has a market.”

Wine is the sacred beverage for both Judaism and Christianity, is frequently mentioned in their scriptures and figures to this day in their religious practice.

But beer likely would also have been familiar to Jesus and his disciples. It was brought over from Egypt by the ancient Israelites, according to the Jewish Museum in Munich, which is taking part in 500th anniversary celebrations of the Bavarian Beer Purity Law that regulated Germany’s brewing industry.

Dying Christopher Hitchens considered Christianity, new book claims


Before his death at 62, Christopher Hitchens, the -atheist and best-selling author of “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” considered becoming a Christian.

That is the provocative claim of “The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World’s Most Notorious Atheist,” a controversial new book winning both applause and scorn while underscoring, again, the divide between believers and atheists that Hitchens’ own life and work often displayed.

The author is Larry Alex Taunton, an evangelical Christian who knew Hitchens for three years and, he says, had private, unrecorded conversations with him about Christianity.

Those 2010 conversations, shortly after Hitchens was diagnosed with the esophageal cancer that would kill him 18 months later, took a serious turn.

Once, he asked Taunton if his friend understood why he, Hitchens, did not believe in God.

“His tone was marked by a sincerity that wasn’t typical of the man,” Taunton writes. “Not on this subject anyway. A lifetime of rebellion against God had brought him to a moment where he was staring into the depths of eternity, teetering on the edge of belief.”

Taunton, 48, founder of Fixed Point Foundation, an organization that defends Christianity, acknowledges in the book there are “no reports of a deathbed conversion” for Hitchens.

But Taunton writes that during the same time period, “Christopher had doubts … and those doubts led him to seek out Christians and contemplate, among other things, religious conversion.”

“At the end of his life, Christopher’s searches had brought him willingly, if secretly, to the altar,” Taunton writes at the end of the book. “Precisely what he did there, no one knows.”

The Bible is among 10 ‘most challenged’ books of 2015


(RNS) What does the Bible have in common with “Fifty Shades of Grey” or one of John Green’s best-selling young adult novels?

For the first time in nearly a decade, the Bible made the list of the American Library Association’s 10 most frequently challenged books last year.

The 2015 list was released Monday (April 11) as part of the ALA’s 2016 State of America’s Libraries report. It includes books that have drawn formal, written complaints from the public because of their content or appropriateness, according to the ALA.

The Bible, which came in at No. 6, was challenged for its “religious viewpoint,” the ALA said.

The Christian Scriptures are a “regular” among the complaints forwarded by public libraries and schools to the ALA, according to James LaRue, director of the association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. But it’s been seven years since the Bible received enough complaints to make the Top 10 list, LaRue said.

“There’s almost a little retaliatory feel to people speaking up against the Bible because they want to go on record as being opposed to Christian opposition to LGBT (issues) or Christian opposition to Islam,” he said.

But there’s “definitely” a growing number of complaints lodged about books for their “religious viewpoints,” according to the director.

Also challenged for the same reason: “I Am Jazz” by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, a picture book about a transgender child based on Jennings’ experience; “Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out” by Susan Kuklin, which follows transgender or gender-neutral teenagers through their personal acknowledgments of gender identity; “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” by Mark Haddon, a murder-mystery that drew complaints for “profanity and atheism”; and “Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan” by Jeanette Winter, about a young Afghan girl attending school under the Taliban.

That’s half the challenged list, although the ALA says only 291 of the 5,099 complaints it received between 2000 and 2009 were about religious objections. Books were most likely to be challenged in that time for sexually explicit material, offensive language or being unsuitable for the intended age group.

Norway’s dominant Lutheran Church approves gay marriage


OSLO (Reuters) — Norway’s Lutheran Church has voted in favor of allowing same-sex marriage, becoming the latest of a small but growing number of churches worldwide to do so.

Last year the French Protestant Church allowed gay marriage blessings, while the U.S. Presbyterian Church approved a change in the wording of its constitution to include same-sex marriage.

In a vote at the annual conference of the Norwegian Lutheran Church on Monday 88 delegates out of 115 in total backed same-sex marriage.


“Finally we can celebrate love independently of whom one falls in love with,” said Gard Sandaker-Nilsen, leader of the Open Public Church, a religious movement within the church that had campaigned to change the rules.

Under the new rules, priests who do not want to marry a same-sex couple will still have the right to object.

The vote by Norway’s Lutheran Church reflects increasingly liberal attitudes in wider Norwegian society to issues such as homosexuality.

Norway became the second country in the world after Denmark to allow same-sex registered partnerships in 1993. The Nordic country of 5.2 million people has allowed civil same-sex marriage since 2009.

Some 74 percent of Norwegians were members of the Lutheran Church last year, according to the national statistics agency, but that number has been declining.

Living in the middle of a riddle


The way of paradoxes is the way of truth, said  Oscar Wilde.

It’s hard to let go of our preconceptions. It’s unsettling. But we have to experiment with letting go because life is all about paradox.

Sometimes we look at ourselves and think we are worthless. Yet somehow we are precious in God’s eyes.

We know we are from this planet, but we don’t really belong here.

Poet and storyteller Steven James describes us as “skin covered spirits with hungry souls”.

We are both Hitler and Gandhi, Genghis Khan and Martin Luther King, nurse and terrorist, lover and liar.

Humility is another paradox. The moment you think you’ve finally found it, you’ve lost it.
Anyway, humility seems risky.

It’s not always clear in this world who’s on our side and who isn’t.
We don’t know the plan.

In his book Sailing Between The Stars, James urges us to embrace the spiritual paradoxes instead of trying to stuff faith into little boxes.
“Release your grip,” James advises.
“It’s humbling and exhilarating to live in the middle of a riddle.”

He points to all the stress and ugliness in the world and says we must accept there’s a lot about God’s plan we will never understand.

God can seem illogical, unreasonable and yet somehow unmistakenly true.
The sooner we understand “the uncommon sense” of belief, the better.
“I used to think that defending my faith meant providing people with answers,” James says.
“I’m just starting to realise that it isn’t answers people typically want. Answers don’t usually satisfy us because it isn’t just our head that is hungry.
“That’s why when Jesus came, he didn’t bring answers. He brought mystery wrapped in love.”
He’s right. The foundation of Christian belief is a paradox.

Life is a journey, not a guided tour


Aldous Huxley said all great truths were obvious. Parents love their children and men and women were attracted to one another in a variety of ways, he said.

Many people were moved by nature to feel elation, awe, tenderness, gaiety, melancholy; most people were attached to their homes and nations, to the beliefs they were taught in childhood and the moral code of their tribes.

Huxley said some of the great truths were not palatable to some people.

“You shall know the truth and the truth might make you mad,” he said.

Hence the penchant for trivialising anything that seems too spiritually challenging.
We domesticate angels into stuffed toys, try to downgrade the Easter story with bunny rabbits, ignore the fact that we will all die some day and pretend that God Almighty is just the benign old man “upstairs”. Galileo thought all great truths were easy to understand once they were discovered — the point was to discover them.

It seems obvious that believing is not always about physically seeing.

Yet, many of us believe that if something cannot be touched, seen, heard, or measured in some way, it must not exist.

We can acknowledge that there are designers behind computers and aeroplanes, yet can claim that our very lives, the origins of the universe and our intricate human bodies — despite their complexity — are merely products of evolution.

We can assert that there are no absolute categories of good and evil, that all morals are merely personal, social and evolutionary constructs. But justice and mercy are clearly more than human whims.

If we believe the myth that man is God, we may assume that evolution will eventually create perfect human demi-gods. History shows that is a myth.

Or we can argue that free-thinking logic proves there is no God, and then claim our thinking is a fixed reaction of our brains governed by the laws of chemistry and physics.

It is obvious, surely, that a spiritual faith that cannot handle the truth is not worth much.

The Christian world view states that faith and logic are not opposed. Faith establishes principles from which we reason logically.

The Bible teaches that God is logical and when God declares that something is true, then it really is true.

At its core, faith is not a set of arbitrary beliefs — political or religious. It is the experience of God’s love, a love that clearly transforms people.

C.S. Lewis stated reason, authority and experience were things that faith could use to bring us the truth.

We were not put on this earth merely to make a difference in the world.

We were put on this earth to make the world different. And that requires us knowing what is true and what is not.

Songs to make you go aaargh!:


CERTAIN types of music — the nagging types — affect us like “mental mosquito bites”. They create a “cognitive itch” that can be scratched only by replaying the song in our brain. The more the brain scratches, the worse the itch.

Most of us suffer from Stuck Tune Syndrome — the  officially identified diabolical disorder that leaves us unable to get annoying songs out of our heads.

The syndrome — now believed to frequently affect most people in the Western world — has been identified and researched by Professor James Kellaris of the University of Cincinnati.

We do not have to even hear the tunes. Merely a mention of song titles such as My Sharona, Tie A Yellow Ribbon (‘Round The Old Oak Tree), Barbie Girl or Afternoon Delight can trigger an episode.

About 17 per cent of people surveyed recently said annoying tunes had dominated their brains for several days and 5 per cent said the syndrome had lasted longer than a week.

“The process may start involuntarily, as the brain detects an incongruity or something exceptional in the musical stimulus,” said Professor Kellaris.

He said a tune was more likely to stick if it contained repeated phrases or motifs, such as Queen’s We Will Rock You or the theme from Mission Impossible.

“Songs that are childlike in form are more prone to getting stuck than a Bach fugue,” said Professor Kellaris in his recent report to the Society for Consumer Psychology. He cited If You’re Happy and You Know It, which has a predictable melody repeated over and over.

Surveys by scientists have revealed a wide variety of songs tend to end up as earworms with three quarters of people reporting unique songs not experienced by others. The most common tend to be popular songs that are in the charts or are particularly well known.

One team found that Lady Gaga was the most common artist to get stuck in people’s heads, with four of her catchy pop songs being the most likely to become earworms – Alejandro, Bad Romance, Just Dance and Paparazzi.

Katy Perry’s California Girls also rated highly as the 2009 hit Hey, Soul Sister by American rock band Train.

Other surveys have reported Abba songs such as Waterloo, Changes by David Bowie or the Beatles’ Hey Jude.

Mountaineer Joe Simpson famously reported being bothered by a song he hated – Brown Girl in the Ring by Boney M – as he lay injured on a glacier in Peru. Fearing he might die, the tune played endlessly in his head, he later recalled.

A Melbourne classical musician who plays with one of the major orchestras said this week that Sheena Easton’s old hit ditty Morning Train often dominates his thoughts.

“I can be in the (orchestra) pit, getting ready to perform Beethoven or Mahler, and around my head are bouncing the words `My baby takes the morning train, he works from nine to five and then, he takes another home again . . .’

“Sometimes that tune stays with me all day. And I hate it.”

Simplicity is not the only trigger to Stuck Tune Syndrome.

Another possible component, according to research, is incongruity — a beat or lyric that defies listener expectations and incites an itch.

Professor Kellaris cites the song America from Leonard Bernstein’s musical West Side Story and Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, which each have irregular rhythms.

Syndrome sufferers used several strategies to try to rid themselves of stuck tunes.

These ranged from “trying to get busy doing something else” or “reading out loud” to acts of desperation, such as “trying to give the tune to someone else”.

A recent UK study found Geri Halliwell’s Bag It Up and Chris de Burgh’s Lady in Red were the two most irritating songs to hear in a traffic jam.

The most pleasant were Robbie Williams Let Me Entertain You and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.

Some of the easiest songs to get stuck in your head (as used by the researchers)

Alejandro – Lady Gaga

Bad Romance – Lady Gaga

Call me Baby – Carly Rae Jepsen.

Single Ladies – Beyoncé

She Loves You – The Beatles

I Wanna Hold Your Hand – The Beatles

She Loves You – The Beatles

SOS – Rihanna

You Belong with Me – Taylor Swift

Change is the only constant


WRITER  Kurt Vonnegut said we are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.

 But he said we could be liberated. We could decide who to be and how to be. We didn’t have to conform to society’s expectations.

 Imagination forms action and shapes our character, he said. So if we want to be different, we have to think differently.

 We might have to change the people in our lives. To think outside the box, we have to get out of the box.

 We have to realise that on a street corner, our decision to turn right or left might lead us to a person or situation that could change our lives forever.

 “Lots of turns behind me and lots ahead of me,” observed George Bernard Shaw in his 50s.

 “My life, I feel, often has changed on a whim.”

 Shaw said the only man who really understood him was his tailor.
“He takes my measurements anew every time he sees me,” Shaw said.
“The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.”

 Change seems to be the only consistent thing in our lives.

 As the Buddha said, “all that is subject to arising is also subject to cessation”.
Or it should be. A friend said he’d heard a preacher boast he’d not changed his mind about anything theological for 40 years. He obviously hadn’t learned much in four decades.

 Writer William James said we might exist in the universe as dogs and cats are in libraries, seeing the books and hearing the conversation, but having little inkling of the meaning of it all. Until life’s experiences change and teach us.

God is a question, not an answer


Doubt, uncertainty and openness about God’s existence marks an honest approach, a philosopher writes.


Any honest atheist must admit that he has his doubts, that occasionally he thinks he might be wrong, that there could be a God after all — if not the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition, then a God of some kind. Nathaniel Hawthorne said of Herman Melville, “He can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief; and he is too honest and courageous not to try to do one or the other.” Dwelling in a state of doubt, uncertainty and openness about the existence of God marks an honest approach to the question.

There is no easy answer. Indeed, the question may be fundamentally unanswerable. Still, there are potentially unpleasant consequences that can arise from decisions or conclusions, and one must take responsibility for them.

Anyone who does not occasionally worry that he may be a fraud almost certainly is. Nor does the worry absolve one from the charge; one may still be a fraud, just one who rightly worries about it on occasion. Likewise, anyone who does not occasionally worry that she is wrong about the existence or nonexistence of God most likely has a fraudulent belief. Worry can make the belief or unbelief genuine, but it cannot make it correct.

People who claim certainty about God worry me, both those who believe and those who don’t believe. They do not really listen to the other side of conversations, and they are too ready to impose their views on others. It is impossible to be certain about God.

Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would say to God if it turned out there was one and he met him at judgment. Russell’s reply: “You gave us insufficient evidence.” Even believers can appreciate Russell’s response. God does not make it easy. God, if he exists, is “deus absconditus,” the hidden God. He does not show himself unambiguously to all people, and people disagree about his existence. We should all feel and express humility in the face of the question even if we think the odds are tilted heavily in favor of a particular answer. Indeed, the open-minded search for truth can unite believers and nonbelievers.

What’s the truth?


TODAY we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. There are no comparable events in history.

Days before the body of Jesus went missing, Pontius Pilate, a Roman bureaucrat stuck between a rock and a hard place, looked at Jesus standing before him and asked: ‘’What is truth’’.

No answer to the question is recorded, because Jesus probably didn’t give one. He must have thought His life and imminent death were answers enough.

Not that many understood it at the time. Even his disciples were confused. Why did He have to die?

Why didn’t he conquer the Romans and establish His kingdom on Earth? Why didn’t He just comes to the planet and say, “I love you and if you want, I’ll forgive you and you can live with Me in Heaven when you die.”

It was never going to be that easy. The grace we live in didn’t come cheap.

Good Friday reality


Psalm 22, written 1000 years before Jesus was born, describes in detail Jesus’ experience on the cross. Crucifixion will not be “invented” for another 900 years, yet Psalm 22 accurately describes what it is like to be crucified. Here are verses 12-18

My life is poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.

My heart is like wax,
melting within me.

My strength has dried up like sunbaked clay.
My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
You have laid me in the dust and left me for dead.

My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs;
an evil gang closes in on me.
They have pierced my hands and feet.

I can count every bone in my body.
My enemies stare at me and gloat.

They divide my clothes among themselves
and throw dice for my garments.

Men and women divided on religion

Gender gap in worship attendance differs between Muslim-majority and Christian-majority countries. Graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

Gender gap in worship attendance differs between Muslim-majority and Christian-majority countries. Graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

A NEW study of 192 countries finds women, particularly Christians, usually lead in religiosity worldwide.


The survey found men predominantly attend religious services in Muslim countries but women more so in Christian-dominated nations.

The overall conclusion: Women, particularly Christian, are generally more religious than men worldwide. An estimated 83 percent of women around the world identify with a faith group, compared with 80 percent of men, according to the report.

Among the findings:

  • In 61 of 192 countries studied, women are more likely than men to claim a religious identity. “There’s not always a huge difference but when there is a difference, it always favors women,” said Hackett.
  • The nones — people with no self-identified religious affiliation — are more likely to be men: 55 percent to 45 percent for women.
  • Religiosity lessens among Christian women as they move up the economic ladder

Palm Sunday paradox


A FRIEND of mine prefers Palm Sunday to the other Easter days. He remembers the celebratory festive experience of all those palm fronds decorating his church when he was a kid.

“It was a glimpse of what the world should be, remembering the crowds that greeted Jesus as he rode in triumph into Jerusalem on a donkey,” he said.

“Then in a week it all changes and the same mob that waved palms and shouted Hosanna is calling for Jesus’ death. It is disconcerting because it shows how fickle we are as human beings – one minute adoring and the next full of hate”.

My friend understands the reality. He knows you can’t have Palm Sunday without it being followed by the terrible events of Good Friday. And you can’t have Good Friday without acknowledging the resurrection of Easter Sunday.

It’s all about paradox. Supposed triumph turns into apparent tragedy and is followed by a genuine triumph.

Pastor Bill Hybels said those lining the streets of old Jerusalem probably had different reasons for waving those palms. Some were political activists; they’d heard Jesus had supernatural power, and they wanted him to use it to free Israel from Roman rule. Others had loved ones who were sick or dying. They waved branches, hoping for physical healing. Some were onlookers merely looking for something to do, while others were genuine followers who wished Jesus would establish himself as an earthly king.

“Jesus was the only one in the parade who knew why he was going to Jerusalem – to die,” said Hybels. “He had a mission, while everyone else had an agenda.”

What’s a sacred space?

I KNOW a woman who describes her old wooden kitchen table as “sacred space”. It is here that friends gather over coffee to talk of deep things, to be comforted in times of crisis and to pray.

She said a sacred place was where you can “find yourself again and again”

I have a Christian friend who detests entering a church but can spend hours contemplating and talking with God on his “holy place” – a mountain overlooking a beach. It is here that he says he has deeply felt the transcendent.

Sacred places have exerted a mysterious attraction on billions of people around the world since ancient times.

Our human inclination may be to say that either everything is sacred or nothing is.
In this country where symbols of the profane far outnumber the sacred and churches have become merely physical structures, many people are more likely to list “sacred sites” as war memorials, some Aboriginal areas and maybe even the MCG.

An internet survey of what people consider sacred inspired answers including liberty, love, freedom, dogs, music, sex, beauty and football. One person’s sacredness is another’s commonplace.

For Indigenous Australians, all of the Earth as sacred. Some places are viewed as having special qualities but the land as a whole is the core of spirituality. The Aboriginals understand what writer Phillip Yancey calls the interconnectedness of all life

Human cultures have always sought the bridge between humanity and
something that lies outside the material world. We all grapple with understanding that the sacred permeates every experience and that portals to sacredness and many and varied.

Jesus, the greatest artist of them all, said the sacred was all around us.
According to the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas, Jesus was asked by the disciples: “When will the kingdom come?” Jesus said: “It will not come if you look for it. Nor can you say ‘it is here’ or ‘it is there’. For the kingdom of the Father is already spread out over the Earth. but people don’t see it.”


World’s Largest Virtual Hallelujah Chorus

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is back with an epic performance yet.–  the 360-member choir released a video featuring a powerful rendition of George Frideric Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus..

What made this performance special is that the choir was joined by more than 2000 additional voices — a virtual chorus of students, celebrities, politicians and vocalists from around the world.

Participants were asked to send organizers videos of themselves singing one of the four parts of the chorus (soprano, alto, tenor or bass). The videos came from places as far away as Brazil, Russia and Kiribati. The diverse chorus includes the “country group Firefly, actor Donny Osmond, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and choirs of several Christian denominations from around the world.



Will God save us from Donald Trump?


Religion News Service has an interesting commentary on Donald Trump and his future.

It states: “Given Trump’s manifest moral-psychological problems, and the increasing danger he poses to the Republic, both intensifying in proportion to the positive and negative attention he is receiving, how long will it be until divine justice prevails and he is finally brought low?

“Has God created the kind of world in which tyrants are defeated?

“Is there a divinely given structure to the universe in which tyranny, just of its own nature, burns itself out?

“Does the good and just God of the universe intervene in human history to bring tyrants down?

“These kinds of questions arise in every context in which tyranny arises. It could be a setting as simple as a family, school or workplace, or as complex as a city, state or nation.

“Driven by any number or combination of inner demons, this person dominates, bullies and harms those he is supposed to serve. The greater his power, the greater the harm he does. For a time, no one seems able to stop him, despite many prayers and profound suffering.

“But so often, in the end, tyrants are destroyed.”

Read more here:


Bangladesh Revives Case To Drop Islam As State Religion


LEGAL action to drop Islam as Bangladesh’s state religion has been revived after 28 years, and the High Court has agreed to hear the case later this month.

Bangladesh’s 1971 constitution originally declared all religions were equal in the eyes of the state. However, military ruler Hussain Mohammad Ershad amended it in 1988 to make Islam the state religion.

The hearing comes after a slew of attacks against the country’s minority populations, including Hindus, Christians and Shi’ite Muslims.

Some of the attacks, including the killing of a Hindu priest, have been claimed by ISIS. The militant group has also said it was behind the killings of a Japanese citizen, an Italian aid worker and a policeman.

The Government denies that ISIS has a presence in the Muslim-majority country of 160 million people.

People Around The World Answer The Question: ‘Who Is God?’

Who or what is God, to you?

That is the question people found themselves answering in “Street Spirituality: Who Is God,” a new video produced by National Geographic. People from 22 countries, around the world, described what God is to them in the video, and the answers ranged from “a character in a book” to “whatever feeds and gives strength to each person.”

Some people, in the video, gave answers like “love” and “everything,” which HuffPost Religion has found to be among the most common descriptors used for God.

The video is a sneak peek at a new show premiering April 3 on National Geographic Channel called, “The Story of God with Morgan Freeman.” In the show, actor Morgan Freeman, the host, travels around the globe, meets with people from different religious and cultural traditions and visits some of the world’s most famous sacred sites. Each of the show’s six episodes investigates a different subject, like miracles, the concept of evil and, of course, the many different perceptions of God.

Singing whales and crazed mice

ULYSSES S. Grant, the Civil War general and 18th President of the US, said he only knew two tunes.

“One of them is Yankee Doodle, and the other isn’t,’’ he said.

That’s sad. Music is as necessary for humankind as it is for birds. It affirms life. It reveals to us beauties we find nowhere else.

Clearly, some forms of music are universally better for us than others.

Scientists say birds, like humans, can learn music while they are still in the egg stage. And termites will apparently eat wood two times faster when listening to heavy metal.

In an experiment to discover how music would affect the ability of mice to learn new things, researchers had one group of mice listen to classical music 24 hours a day and another to heavy metal music.

They then timed the mice as they ran through mazes to see if the music affected their speed of learning.

Unfortunately, they had to cut the first experiment short because the heavy metal mice all killed one another.

In a second experiment, mice that listened to Mozart for 10 hours a day dramatically improved their maze-solving abilities, while the heavy metal mice actually became worse at solving mazes than they had been at the beginning of the experiment.

In controlled laboratory conditions, heavy metal sounds have stunted or killed plants, while other music has enhanced plant growth. Plants exposed to jazz or classical music, particularly Bach and Beethoven, have been observed to lean toward the speakers.

Music directly elicits a range of emotions. Music with a quick tempo in a major key, tend to bring about all the physical changes associated with happiness in listeners. In contrast, music with a slow tempo and minor key can inspire sadness.

One study concluded that whales, long studied for their mysterious but beautiful songs under the seas, are actually crooning music similar in content to 1950s hit rock tunes. Whales use rhythms and melodies similar to those used by humans.

Presumably then, they could be jiving to tunes like Great Balls of Fire, Wake Up, Little Susie and perhaps Splish-Splash, I Was Taking a Bath.

Hear the whales singing


The obsession with Angels


MARGARET adores angels. She has a home full of little porcelain angels, angel books, angel lapel pins, angel night-lights, angel ear-rings, CDs of angelic music and angel perfume that boasts it is “heaven scent .

She says she’s not very spiritual. She doesn’t believe in God, only angels…and kittens and flowers.

Angelmania is a modern phenomenon – and a marketer’s dream come true.
More than half of Americans, according to a recent survey, believe they are protected by a guardian angel.

In Australia, about 28 per cent believe in angels – in particular young adults and women – despite the Western world becoming increasingly secular. In fact, the present fascination may be the result of a deep spiritual malaise.

“Our society has become less and less comfortable, and people turn to supernatural means when natural ones don’t work,” says Peter Kreeft, author of A Hundred and One Questions About Angels.

“These are times of fundamental change, comparable to the Renaissance or the transition from Roman to medieval society. ”

Contemporary culture angels, like fluffy kittens, are non-threatening symbols of hope.
Indeed, the supernatural biblical beings that initially terrified the shepherds on the hills of Bethlehem 2000 years ago, and caused the likes of Moses to tremble, seem a different breed to the insipid otherworldly boy scouts embraced by the pop culture.

The Renaissance artists led the way by painting angels with feathered wings, dazzling golden haloes and white flowing robes. It is an image that has stuck

The Bible has more than 300 separate references to angels – awe-inspiring spiritual beings who delivered spiritual messages and warnings from God, and sometimes saved believers from death and serious injury.

The ancient Egyptians and Greeks also believed strongly in angelic intervention. The word angel is derived from the Greek word for messenger – angeloforos.

Angels are portrayed as extremely powerful images in the three main monotheiestic faiths of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

Judaism, in particular, has always proclaimed the power of angels in elevating the material world to higher spiritual realms, and of bringing heaven closer to the earthly existence.

All three faiths portray angels as beings linked directly to God or, in the case of fallen angels, to Satan. In Heaven, according to monotheistic belief, the angels will be lesser than us.

Why then, in an increasingly secular world, is there such a renewed interest in angels?

Part of the attraction is that you can pick your own meaning. Angels can be whatever you want them to be and although they are still somewhat religious, they are not embarrassingly so.

Gabriel Fackre of the Andover Newton Theological School in Massachusetts, blasted the pop angels.

“The reports of their presence have consistently to do with their usefulness to our needs and wishes. On the other hand, biblical angels have a priestly office, a psalmic turning of the eye of faith in the direction of the divine glory.”

The poet Daisey Verlaef said: ” You’ll meet more angels on a winding path than on a straight one.”  And so it seems.

Maybe it’s best just to keep in mind one of the New Testament’s simplest commandments: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”