Friday, December 29, 2006

back online...

Just had a week of no computer after some kind of glitch destroyed one of my registry files, leaving me with a Windows XP screen saying "Click your username to log in"...but there was no username to click. Finally bit the bullet and got a professional in after a week, and he fixed it within half an hour. Oh to be tech savvy.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Birthing

By Peter Edinger (published in Pace e Bene news, December 20th 2006)
A paraphrase of the Anunciation story in Luke's gospel, chapter 1.

In these days the angel Gabriel is being sent to a galaxy called Milky Way to a young planet who is espoused to a system named Solar. The planet’s name is Earth. And the angel comes in to her and says, hail Earth, you are highly favored: the Creator is with you. Blessed are you among planets.

When Earth sees the angel, she is troubled, wondering what this may mean. The angel is saying to her, Do not be afraid, for the Creator has been gracious to you. You shall conceive and bear new life, which you shall call New Creation. Earth says, how can this be, since I don’t know anyone who has the power to bring new life into my womb?

The angel answers, The Cosmic Spirit shall come upon you, and the Creator’s love shall overshadow you, therefore that which is being born in you shall become New Creation.

And Earth is saying, let it be done to me according to your word.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


So I woke up this morning (Tuesday 19th December) thinking it was Wednesday. Chelsea even asked what day it was. Is it Tuesday, she asked? It is not, I said. It is Wednesday.

So imagine my consternation when I turn up at Chadstone to meet Kim Hammond (a 40 minute trip) and realise: I was supposed to meet him on Tuesday, not Wednesday. GASP! I check my PDA: it's registering that today is Tuesday, and that I am indeed due to meet Kim now.

We met. It was good.

You'd think the madness, then, would stop there. But did it stop there? No, it did not stop there.

Not two hours later I was once again convinced it was Wednesday. To the extent that, while still at Chadstone Shopping Centre, I rang my brother-in-law in a panic, saying "Oh no! We were supposed to meet up for lunch today! I'm still at Chadstone, and..."

"No no, that's tomorrow," he said.

"But tomorrow is Thursday and I have the Urban Seed Christmas party..."

"Today is Tuesday," he said calmly.


It was at this point that I realised that I had actually missed something I had planned to do on Tuesday: namely singing anti-sweatshop carols with Fairwear Victoria in the city. A complete mental breakdown, precipitated by my simple presence in a large shopping centre, had prevented me from doing so. How ironic.

Of course, seeing this in Borders as I waited to meet Kim didn't help. It's enough to make anyone disoriented:

But I suppose it's marginally better than this, which I saw in Kmart the other day:

So, word to the wise: today is Tuesday. Tomorrow will be Wednesday. Thursday will probably follow, but I can't be sure anymore.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

christmas in the city square

I was rather delighted to find this biblical account of the nativity up in the city square at the moment. It's entirely stainless steel and is lit up at night. You can probably vaguely make out the writing, but if you click on the pictures it'll show you a larger version.

dumpster diving

Lorien and I did our first dumpster dive last night with Ross, Ash and Barry, and it was an amazing, potentially life-changing experience.

First, to what happened: We had been meeting to catch up on post-G20 stuff, and decided to just go on the spur of the moment. We drove up the street to a supermarket one suburb over around 7:30pm. We split up, Ross and Barry going to one supermarket, Lorien, Ash and I to another.

Straightaway when we got to the dumpster, Ash was pulling out chocolates, tins of biscuits, packets of chips, tins of tomatoes, boxes of washing powder, fruit and vegetables. Everything was still in its original packaging. The guys only take stuff that's packaged (except for fruit and stuff, which is washable anyway). Most things are packaged two or three times (plastic inside plastic inside plastic) so there's no need to fear contamination.

Obviously it's not just food either, it's whatever is sold at the store the dumpster belongs to. These guys got a huge gazebo from the back of Aldi, heaps of books, a generator, and just that day, a Christmas toy that appeared not to be working. We suspected the batteries had just run out, but when we got it home, we realised the tab on the battery just hadn't been pulled out. Seriously, that simple and it works fine.

So in less than half an hour we had more food than we could all carry, every bit of it perfectly good. From one randomly chosen dumpster. And this, they said, was not a particularly good day. Saturday or Sunday is best. And after Christmas it's like...well, Christmas.

It should be noted that there is no diving actually necessary in dumpster diving. In fact, you don't actually need to get in the bin at all: mostly you pick out what's on top, although there's often good stuff underneath, it's usually not worth getting because either it's been there longer, or is too much effort. When you consider that there's usually too much on top to even bother digging deeper, you realise how much stuff is actually being wasted.

So I know there will be many questions running through your mind, and they were running through mine too, so I asked them:

Me: How long have you been doing this?
Barry: Five years now, all over the world.

Me: Have you ever been sick from eating this stuff?
Barry: This stuff? No. I've been sick from eating bought stuff though.

Me: So you grab it out of the bins, then take it back and clean it and stuff?
Barry: Yeah, just give it a good wash off and it's fine.

Me: Do you ever find meat?
Ash: Yeah, a lot.
Me: How can you tell if it's off or not?
Ash: How can you tell if it's off or not when it's in the fridge? You smell it, look at the colour, etc. You can always tell.
Me: I suppose you have a point.

And this, I was to learn, is a pretty big can we ever really tell? We just trust that if it's on the shelf, it's perfectly fine. Or we look at it, and we say it's not fine. If we can tell when it's in the store, why can't we tell when it's outside? So you might get home and get a surprise that it's no good, but it's no more likely to happen to them, especially with stuff that's well and truly in date.

The waste is just staggering. If you have a bag of oranges, and one of them has even a little bit of mold on it, the whole bag is thrown out in some strange kind of economic guilt-by-association. If there's a box of a dozen eggs, and one of them is cracked, the whole lot is thrown out. It's craziness.

I mean really, what is it that makes this stuff rubbish, or at least expendable? It's an economic system that puts value on certain items in relation to other items as commodities. So a dented can of diced tomatoes is often thrown out simply because its sale value has been slightly decreased, thereby decreasing the value of the other cans on the shelf. Because if they simply write them off as a loss instead of decreasing their value, they maintain an undented can's high cash value. Some things are just absolutely inexplicable as to why they were thrown out: perfectly good food and drinks and everything, not even scratched or dented or anything.

Any other questions?

Yes: is dumpster diving illegal?
Apparently the only time it could be considered illegal is if you're trespassing; and if you're asked to leave, and you do, you can't be charged with it. Most issues with the legality of it revolve around privacy and identity issues when intelligence agencies or rival companies do it to obtain information on others. But we're talking about stuff they don't want: so who cares if you take it? In fact, you're doing the stores a favour: you're reducing their waste bill by making it a longer period between having their bins emptied.

But additionally, one has to ask the question: what is worse - that people throw out this amount of perfectly good food, or that some people are willing to take it? If there were laws to protect it, what kind of law protects this kind of rampant greed, and rampant waste? Is this a law we should obey as Christians, when our loyalty is to a different empire? Shouldn't the laws rather be against this kind of waste? We should be prosecuting shops for filling rubbish tips with perfectly good items.

Think of what this is doing to the earth. In the US (and you can bet it's little different here), it's estimated 40-50% of all food is wasted. That's another entire United States that could be fed. So the only efficacious food is about half of what is produced. In a world that is running out of resources, that's an inefficiency that should not be tolerated. If you take the case of meat alone, think of all the resources being poured into these animals, bred for people to eat, only to be thrown out again and completely wasted. That's an animal's life that was taken, literally for nothing. Even just on a pragmatic, utilitarian view, it's insane - pour a massive amount of food down the animal's throat, spend years of time and effort growing it and caring for it, and then just kill it and throw it in the rubbish. Is that not blasphemous in a world where people are dying for lack of food?

The thing is though, that our economy is actually based on this kind of waste. So long as things are still being bought, in greater and greater numbers (whether by stores or individuals from the stores) the economy keeps ticking over. Our whole society is geared towards us buying more, and if that means throwing out perfectly good things, then so be it.

Of course, the argument is always advanced that stores can't sell this stuff because they're afraid of being sued. Interestingly, it's actually not the case, and is largely the result of massive, irrational scaremongering. The law protects them to an enormous degree, to the point where unless there is compelling evidence of intentional, deliberate negligence, they are not liable.

There's a really strong ethic amongst dumpster divers of leaving things as you found it too: no mess, no throwing stuff everywhere, everything must be tidy.

I must say it wasn't easy to get over the mental barrier of taking things from the rubbish. Just approaching it felt quite strange. Walking away though, it felt amazing, and not just at the relief of not being confronted by security. It was that a whole bunch of food was now not going to go to waste. It had been rescued - maybe even redeemed? - from the greed and irrationality of our society.

As difficult as it is to get over the mental barrier that this is stuff that's been in the bin, what I found really surprising was the feeling I had finding a couple of things that I had literally bought at the shop earlier in the day. The very same items. I literally felt like a chump, a total dupe. Here was I paying out my hard earned for stuff that the shop considered worthless. I seriously wonder how we'd feel if we knew every time we turned up at the register that the very stuff we're paying full price for is probably sitting out the back, not just able to be gleaned for nothing, but considered worthless by the store.

I'm not saying I'll be doing this every weekend, but it sure made me think about my consumer habits. How much perfectly good food is going to waste every day, and I don't know about it, let alone care? How much am I being ripped off because perfectly good stuff is being wasted? Who is really the dirty crook - the one in the dumpster or the one in the suit telling us to buy more?

Monday, December 11, 2006

A Portrait of Today: my soundtrack to 2006

So I finally finished my 2006 soundtrack, and let's hope it lives up to all expectations after last year's classic "Not a Crazy Frog in Sight" went triple platinum in just four hours (might have been due to 12 year olds simply googling 'crazy frog'). Also check out my mate NFD's* blog post on compilation albums, it's a classic. Oh, and no-one does a strikeout gag like Jules, so check out her blog post on compilation albums too.

The title for this year's album comes from track one, "now the curtain opens, on a portrait of today..."

1. Joni Mitchell – Chelsea Morning

I’m no morning person, but having a child is an incredibly joyful way to wake early. This year has seen Chelsea go from calling out to us from her cot to crawling into bed with us in the morning. Even on my most tired days, it’s a pleasure to be the first to greet her and give her a hug. So every morning is a Chelsea morning for me.

2. Hothouse Flowers – Your Love Goes On
‘Into Your Heart’ is easily my album of the year. Go buy it. Buy it now. Go on, I'll wait for you, I promise. This will still be here when you get back. Go now.

Ok, now you're back, I'll continue: I saw these guys play when they were in Melbourne earlier in the year, and it was a sensational decision. I already had their first three albums (out of five) and after the show decided I had to get their new one: and I wasn’t disappointed. This song goes along with Give it Up as my theme song for the year…an anthem to God, whose love goes on and on.

3. Little Birdy – Tonight’s the Night
Their album BigBigLove is absolute pop brilliance, despite my slowness in catching on (it was released in 2004). Katy Steele has an amazing voice. Anyway, I had their album on random on my mp3 player a lot this year. This song is a standout on a really solid album.

4. Simon and Garfunkel – Keep the Customer Satisfied
Could have included many many Simon and Garfunkel songs here – this year has seen me connect with these guys in a big way. It was on the tail end of the influences kick from last year that I picked them up. This song’s a corker.

5. Bruce Springsteen – The Ghost of Tom Joad
I started work at Urban Seed late this year and for the first time I was working alongside the marginalised of our society. We can glamorise this kind of work sometimes, but not so much when you’re actually doing it. This song is a gritty reminder of the reality for a lot of people. The line “Waiting for the time when the last shall be first and the first shall be last/In a cardboard box ‘neath the underpass…” is exactly where the rubber of faith in Jesus hits the road.

6. End of Fashion – O Yeah
Yes, this is last year’s song but I only got onto it this year and as it’s a shameless piece of pop brilliance, I’m including it.

7. Hothouse Flowers – Give it Up
Probably my song of the year. I couldn’t have been more rapt when they played it as the third song in at their show. Its simple refrain of “Give it up/ Share it out/ Help who you can/ Talk about it” and the quote that’s on my blog, “Doesn’t really matter if you’re all jumbled up inside as long as you know that love is endless and the world is wide” say it all really.

8. Crowded House – Catherine Wheels
The song I had in my head the morning I found out my Grandad had died. I woke up to my phone ringing and it was Dad saying he was gone. This song will forever remind me of the finality and sadness of that moment.

9. Counting Crows – Sister Golden Hair
This is from a Counting Crows Shim Sham Club show in 2004, a show where they muck around in a New Orleans bar getting drunk and basically doing covers of all their favourite songs. I was addicted to this song early in the year.

10. Stone Temple Pilots – Interstate Love Song
On heavy rotation this year, this is an awesome song from a great grunge band at the height of Seattle’s movement. This used to remind me of my Year 11 and 12, which was the time it first came out, but now it’s just Lygon St in Brunswick, travelling to and from the city, often at half pace because of a tired battery on my mp3 player.

11. U2 – I Will Follow (Live)
I was listening to old school U2 a lot early this year in anticipation of the Vertigo tour in March. They’d been doing a whole lot of their early stuff across Europe and the US. Unfortunately 1. their tour was postponed and then 2. when they returned in November, they basically played a best of…but they did get this classic in, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Reportedly written to God after the death of Bono’s mother.

12. Johnny Cash – Folsom Prison Blues
The day I heard country and western music wafting from Chadstone HMV, I knew Johnny Cash’s legacy had hit the mainstream. Helped largely by the movie Walk the Line, his music has been popularised this year in a way I would never have dreamed possible. You can’t go past this song for a Johnny Cash classic.

13. Hothouse Flowers – Baby I Got You
Obviously one of the highlights of this year was Ella’s arrival. The first verse here works really well after spending so much of the year not knowing whether she would even be born, being up nights and days at the hospital having tests and so on. It’s easy to forget what a difficult pregnancy it was now that we have her happy and healthy. Anyway, “now I can thank myself, baby I can smile, ‘cos I got you…”

14. Midnight Oil - Don’t Wanna Be The One
Midnight Oil confirmed themselves as worthy of listening to with or without instruments when their drummer, Rob Hirst, made an impassioned speech at their induction into the ARIA Hall of Fame that included the line, “Maybe complaint rock is still being written but ignored by an industry hypnotized by 'get-famous-fast' TV shows.” When so many bands are writing songs imploring people to dance, or to fall in love or have sex (that pretty much covers life, right?), these guys write something substantial and countercultural - about stuff that matters. The second verse pretty much sums it up: “I'm an innocent bystander caught in the path/ Waiting out the back while the corporate attack/ Assaults the senses with relentless scenes of passion and delight/ I cut up all the options and went running for my life.”

Bonus track: It's a secret.

* NFD stands for not funny david. except he is,'s kind of a postmodern ironic thing. or something.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Free Christmas

Been thinking a lot about the whole Christmas spending spree thing as a reaction to a few events and campaigns going on at the moment.

My family has certainly changed and morphed in their Christmas buying patterns over the years, largely as a result of frugality rather than any particular anti-capitalist or even charitable bent (as the family grows larger, it becomes very difficult to keep up). Admittedly we now give money to charities on behalf of the person we're buying for in a Kris Kringle type arrangement, but lately I've been thinking even further. Why do we feel the need to spend money because December 25 has rolled around?

The thinking behind the charity giving seems to be this: we need to spend some money on someone else at Christmas; the other person doesn't actually need anything; therefore let's give it to someone who does need something. Now the second two movements I have few problems with, but the first strikes me as an issue. And that's the sticking point: are we just giving money to charities because a) we feel the need to spend money (presumably so we don't look like cheapskates?) and b) we'd feel guilty spending it on ourselves? I mean, I'm caricaturing here, but I'm not sure it's that far from the truth. Plus if the whole point is to give gifts to those we love, are we even doing that by spending money on others? It's almost an even cheaper way of buying for someone - just give money - thus costing us personally very little.

Obviously the points against consuming are compelling, including:

* The massive ecological and environmental tolls
* The personal financial tolls
* The social and emotional tolls of materialism
* The very different economic ethics of Jesus

The main reason for resisting the idea of de-commercialising Christmas seems to revolve around social expectations, particularly relating to wealth and generosity. To put it bluntly: if you don't buy for people, you'll look like a cheapskate. But surely Jesus ethics put us squarely at odds with our society and its expectations? I can't help thinking that we as Christians have been sucked in pretty well.

There's also often a conflation of giving with buying - we often don't consider handmade or re-gifted things as legitimate gifts because they don't cost us money. This only further goes to prove that money is absolutely the highest value in our society - and how screwed up is that?

That's why I think this is a fantastic idea. It puts some rules on what you can and can't buy, and has well thought out reasons for those rules.

So is this.

And Buy Nothing Christmas is worth checking out too.

I just can't shake the sense that maybe it's best to go all out and just give up on the Christmas presents altogether. Then we might actually have some time and energy to focus on what's actually going on here - what we're supposed to celebrate, but actually mostly ignore, or give lip service to by turning up to church on Christmas morning.

Because what is worth celebrating more than God and humanity coming together? Or being expressed together more fully than has ever happened before or since? Our own connection to and participation in the divine?

Some detoxing might be good.

Monday, December 04, 2006

u2 - vertigo

Melbourne, November 18th

City of Blinding Lights

I Will Follow

New Years Day
Beautiful Day
Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out of
Angel of Harlem
Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own

Love and Peace Or Else
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Bullet The Blue Sky

Miss Sarajevo

Pride in the Name of Love

Where the Streets have no Name

The Fly

Mysterious Ways
With or Without You

The Saints are Coming

This was in the middle of the G20 weekend, so talk about a bizarre experience. To go from living on the street eating rice and water to the glitz and glamour of a U2 show was almost too much for my small, sleep deprived mind.

We (myself, Julie, Andrew and Jenni) arrived at about 4:50pm and started lining up, hoping that this would be early enough for us to get into the ellipse. The ellipse is the front section of general admission that only a select few are granted access to, right beside the circular catwalk that extends out from the main stage area. I thought access was randomly selected by the ticket, but apparently not: when we got in there about an hour and a bit later, everyone just ran for the front. We were some of the last people allowed in; talking to friends I saw outside the fence a little while later said they'd lined up since 2:30 in the afternoon, yet somehow had missed out. Whoops. Fate is a fickle thing. Apparently they must've come in a different (much slower) gate.

So that gave us access to the front rows, though with four of us, we didn't push it, ending up about 6 people back. Had I been by myself, I would've pushed it, but as this was Julie's first U2 experience I wanted to be with her for it.

Kanye West opened and was a bundle of energy. He's obviously a great performer, but I just don't enjoy his music. It seemed a little weird having a hip-hop guy open a U2 show, although I'll admit they've had worse openers.

By the time U2 came on, I was out on my feet. The sleep deprivation and exhaustion was catching up with me and I could barely stand. Once they came on though, all that was forgotten.

My mate Jarrod McKenna called right at the moment the opening notes of City of Blinding Lights rang out; I answered knowing there was no way we would hear each other, but that he may well be interested in hearing the song, and that when he was done he could simply hang up. He hung on for a few minutes.

It's a great show opener - the chorus just works to unite the crowd and get them jumping. In fact, the whole opening of the show was cracker - City, Vertigo, Elevation, and Follow. The tempo started to drop with New Years and never really returned, though it would've been hard to keep that level up for the whole show.

I was rapt to see Love and Peace or Else in there: it's a fantastic song, used to good effect with Bono out on the ellipse thundering away on the drums. They got a kid up on stage during Sunday Bloody Sunday, and got him to do the "No more!" bit, which was a great touch. In fact, the way they connected the social justice stuff really worked well.

The screen wasn't used nearly as well as it had been for PopMart or ZooTV, which surprised me, although it was used to good effect a few times, including to project the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Highlights: City of Blinding Lights was a great opener; in fact, the first four songs were searingly good. Miss Sarajevo was amazing - Bono doing the Pavarotti part, and just the context of the weekend with the lyrics and everything made it special. As I said, they did a sensational job of connecting their songs with social justice issues (which isn't hard given their content, but for young people who might not get the meaning behind them, it's hard to communicate that sometimes without being overly strident or overearnest). As a consequence, combining songs like Love and Peace or Else with Sunday Bloody Sunday and Pride just worked a treat. Although Bono's 'Coexist' sign (which uses the Muslim crescent for the C, the Jewish Star of David for the X, and the Christian cross for the T) struck me as the politics of low expectations. Can't we do better than co-existence?

Lowlights: Streets is normally the highlight of any show for me - the way they did it at ZooTV and PopMart was awesome with the red lights overlaid with flickering white, but they didn't do it here. The Saints Are Coming is a real disappointment - they should've ditched it for a lesser known but classic U2 song. The setlist was a little disappointing for me in my third show - I was hoping for some more obscure, or early stuff and it was basically a best of. Mind you, a U2 best of is still one of the best live shows going around, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.

Overall, a sensational show. Even a bad U2 show is better than a good day anywhere else, and this wasn't a bad U2 show by any stretch of the imagination.