Festive fun

I’ve been a bit slack on the entries lately, but hey, it’s been Christmas.

Here’s a gallery of images from our festive celebrations in Edinburgh.

Hover your mouse over the image for  a quick description. Click on it to go to a page with a caption describing more about the picture and what we were doing. Click on it again to get a bigger version. I’m still working out how to get good quality images up – I think I’ve made them too small, but you can still get the idea.


Ice skating, Edinburgh Me enjoying some mulled wine Cathy enjoying her mulled wine New College, Edinburgh Edinburgh Castle Edinburgh Castle Merry Christmas! Edinburgh Castle Snow-dusted plants Edinburgh Castle, with graveyard Edinburgh Castle Old church building, Edinburgh Edinburgh Castle forecourt Me and Cathy, Edinburgh Castle forecourt The view over Edinburgh Lunch at the castle Lunch at the castle The Royal Palace Really old Edinburgh at night The Scotsman building Christmas Day The Salisbury Crags On top of the Crags


Spamalot – it’s no joke

The internet is an amazing tool, but I reckon it’s making a lot of people lazy, a view that a Nobel laureate argued in an article this week headed Net dumbs us down: Nobel prize winner.

The amount of pointless “pass it on” spam that I get from what are usually pretty intelligent people rams home the point. Does anybody stop to think about what they’re doing before they hit forward? Are people that easily emotionally manipulated?

Whether it’s a missing kid, a knee-jerk religious campaign or a high-school science project, most of these emails (and nowadays super-wall messages on Facebook) are simply hoaxes that do nothing more than clog up the internet, slowing down bandwidth and wasting people’s time.

And it’s even more infuriating when the power of the internet is right at people’s fingertips – it doesn’t take long to Google a few key words from the email to identify if it’s a hoax.

Even better, two sites I recommend are devoted to stopping these time wasters. The next time you get a “forward this if you care” email, try heading to Truth or Fiction, or alternatively Break the Chain, and do a quick search. You’ll probably find that 99 per cent of forward emails are hoaxes, and you’ll be doing a lot of people a favour by checking first.

And for the record – the Evan Trembly kid started the email himself a few years ago and is not missing, the play about Jesus and his disciples being gay is not getting made into a movie and the email is ridiculously out of date (and that’s even before we start talking about how embarrassing the message of the email is), Microsoft do not want to give you money for forwarding emails and the school science project is probably a spam organisation trying to collect email addresses.

And while I’m at it – email petitions don’t work unless they’re connected to a dedicated website. Forwarded petitions don’t do anything. Don’t add your name and forward it. Delete it.

The only emails I bother forwarding these days are from Avaaz and GetUp, two organisations that have proven their worth – and that’s only when I agree with the particular issue they’re campaigning on.

How green is your gym?

It’s interesting how being in a different context can get you thinking.

I love to keep fit – swimming, running, rollerblading, bicycle, weights, I’m into it all – but I’ve never been a big rap for gyms. They always felt a little self-obsessed, full of mirrors and people absorbed in looking cool/sexy/tough. And in the Australian context it never really made a lot of sense to go to the gym when you could just ride a bicycle to work or go for a run in the sun.

But here in Scotland it’s bloody cold and exercising outside for longer periods of time isn’t the most comfortable of options, so we took the opportunity to get cheap gym memberships using Cathy’s student discount.

And it was here, while on one of those strange cross-trainer machines that works your arms and legs at the same time while watching one of about 14 channels on your own personalised screen, that I started thinking about the environment and resources.

Along with my aversion to the image aspect of gyms, I also avoided them because I was of the mind that they were a waste of resources. Why keep forking out cash for a membership when you can buy your own gym equipment and keep fit at home? It struck me as being a much better use of resources, or in Christian parlance, a much better approach to stewardship, particularly because it meant spending less money in the long run.

But now I’m not so sure.

It struck me that if everyone who wanted to keep fit was to buy their own equipment for home use that it would take a huge amount of resources to produce it all.

At the moment I’m stumbling my way through a great book by Alastair McIntosh called Soil and Soul (the cover quotes a review that referred to it as “No Logo in a fair isle jumper”.)

Soil and Soul

In the introductory chapters, the author tells quite a few stories about his childhood on the northern Scottish islands that illustrate the communal lifestyle of village life where everybody shared everything they had, meaning there was less resources required.

It struck me that in terms of stewardship and the environment that maybe I was wrong, maybe it’s better to have one central place like a gym where everyone uses the equipment – essentially communal sharing like village life of old – meaning less equipment gets produced, minimising the use of resources.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s a greener option to go to the gym?

My thoughts moved on to other aspects of my approach to stewardship.

I shave my head regularly, so in keeping with my philosophy of minimising costs I purchased a set of clippers – why keep forking out cash when you can buy a set of clippers and cut your own hair.

But again, if everybody were to do this, that’s a hell of a lot of clippers that need to be produced using quite a lot of finite resources. If we all chose the alternative – going to the hairdresser – we’d minimise resource use, contribute to the sustaining of quite a few jobs, and probably along the way create a bit more of a sense of community by getting to know the person who’s cutting our hair at regular intervals.

So maybe when my clippers break, I might not get another set and start heading to the local barber shop. I don’t know, it’s just a few thoughts that are taking shape, but I’d be interested to hear what people think. Are there any other examples that fit what I’ve described above?

It’s worse than we thought

In the lead-up to the climate change conference in Bali, it’s been revealed that changes in our planet’s weather are more advanced and much worse than was previously thought.

A report in The Age began thus:

“CLIMATE change is already more advanced than the world realises, and tackling it will present “diabolical” policy challenges, says the head of Labor’s climate change review, Professor Ross Garnaut.”

But what’s even more staggering to me is the kicker hidden further down the article.

“Australia’s dry climate and fragile environment exposed it to bigger risks from climate change than any other developed country.” (You can read the full article here).

From some of the stuff that I’ve read, and that Cathy’s been studying, this is something of an understatement. There are predictions that large parts of rural Australia could become uninhabitable if we don’t respond to climate change in a big way, and soon.

It baffles me that so many Australians seem to have only a simple understanding of the issues. Heaps of Aussies are tree-changing and sea-changing to get closer to nature, but their very lifestyle choices could be under threat if they don’t get active about responding to climate change – and that means politically active too.

While big mining companies are ripping resources out of the ground to produce lots of stuff that we don’t need and churning emissions into the atmosphere, we happily shop with less plastic bags and buy fair trade and think we’ve done our bit for the planet (and yes, I shop with less plastic bags and buy fair trade – I’m pointing the finger at me too).

Unfortunately, sustaining our Australian way of life is going to take a lot more sacrifice than that, and I’m not sure that the majority of Australians are ready to make those choices yet. It seems that most of us live in a sheltered little urban bubble that separates us from the realities of nature – and the water crisis is only just starting to fracture that bubble a little.

I want to live in rural Victoria sometime in the future, but the way things are going I’m not sure if it’s going to be a feasible option.

Next year one of Cathy’s lecturers,  Professor Michael Northcott, is coming to Australia to do lectures and workshops about a faith-based response to climate change and the environment. It’ll be worth checking out. I’ll put more information up here when his dates are booked. It’s also worth checking out his new book, called A Moral Climate: The Ethics of Global Warming.

I’ve got no conclusion to come to here. I just know that we all have to commit to learning and responding if we want a nice place to live in the future.

Politely homeless

One of the things that’s strikingly different between Melbourne and Edinburgh are those who are homeless/marginalised.

It’s not that Edinburgh doesn’t have any homeless people – there are plenty around.

What stands out about the homeless here is how polite and reserved they are.

In Melbourne the site of somebody “coalbiting” – approaching people directly to ask for money, sometimes aggressively – is pretty much par for the course. For many people this can be quite a confronting experience, while for many homeless people it’s an accepted part of what it means to survive on the street.

But despite the obvious reality of homelessness and poverty here in Edinburgh, there’s not the same level of direct approach from people in need, and I’m trying to figure out why.

On Edinburgh’s streets, people who are homeless or marginalised tend to take up positions where numbers of people will pass by, be it main streets, thoroughfares or outside busy shops – but they do so in a quiet, passively pleading way rather than proactively pushing people for money.

They tend to sit quietly on the cold concrete with a cup or container, barely speaking but their need obvious, and wait for coins to drop in. The passivity is all the more surprising considering the fact that it’s rapidly becoming painfully cold and their need for shelter, food and clothing is so urgent.

It almost seems like the culture of homelessness has noticeable differences here. I’m yet to work out if it’s possibly a result of council bylaws that may impose strict repercussions on proactive begging, or if it’s just a reflection of the general British demeanour, which tends to be much more reserved than us loud, outgoing Aussies.

But simultaneously people seem to respond to the obvious need, with coins dropping into various receptacles with regularity.

It’s an intriguing context and if anyone has a deeper insight into what’s going on and why it’s different to Melbourne I’d be interested to hear it.

On the familiar side, it’s nice to see the Big Issue everywhere, with plenty of vendors all around Edinburgh.

For the Big Issue Australia, click here. For the Scottish version, click here.

The paradox of non-violence

OK, so here we go. Life in solo blogging land. It’s a bit strange, because I haven’t got the boundaries that are required by a mainstream newspaper website like The Age anymore, so I can get a bit more personal.

So here’s something that I’ve been pondering lately.

The other day I watched a film clip that has often excited me. Most people won’t get it, but it raises some interesting issues.

The song in question is Duality by the macabre masked men in Slipknot.

For some reason I find the inferred tension and latent violence in the song and film clip thrilling, but something about it also connects with me. It’s probably more intense than violent, but for some reason I can’t help feeling like it expresses a truth that isn’t getting expressed in other contexts.

To watch the video go here.

But here’s where the internal paradox kicks in. I’m a big believer in non-violence and non-violent transformation of societies and communities. Two of my biggest heroes are Gandhi and Martin Luther King. I’ve had low-level training in

non-violent intervention and community peacekeeping and do my best to live out the principles where possible.

So the question that keeps rolling around my head is this: Why do I passionately enjoy music that often has such an inferred anger, angst or violent edge? And even stranger still, why did I get into it more after I decided I wanted to commit to a path of Christian faith?

Before I made a serious commitment of faith, I was into mainstream easy-listening (some would say bland, insipid and unchallenging) Christian music like Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. Post-commitment, I found myself drawn to bands like Metallica, Pantera, Sepultura, Fear Factory and so on.

My MP3 is also loaded with plenty of other stuff: blues, jazz, folk, a little hip-hop (but not too much) and faith-based music like Sons Of Korah.

But maybe the last band is a bit of an insight. Sons of Korah specialise in putting the words of the psalms to music. I think that at one level heavy music expresses an aspect of human life that a lot of the psalmists also touch on – anger, frustration and despair that something’s not right with the world.

As I mentioned, metal is not the only stuff I listen to, and if it were then I think it would be a problem.

But I listen to heavy music in the context of my faith that also gives me hope that things can change – but also believing that there’s a need to name what’s broken before you can start to fix it.

I don’t see it as celebrating the darkness – just naming it. There’s something liberating about naming a problem.

But it brings me to consider another point.

Me and many of my friends are passionate about non-violence, yet will happily watch movies that involve redemptive

violence – or just violence – for entertainment, play violent video games or join the Fight Club group on Facebook.

So what’s going on with this? Is it hypocritical? Is non-violence merely aspirational but never fully achievable? Does our participation in violent forms of entertainment affirm and perpetuate a culture of violence?

These are all just thoughts and reflections quickly bashed out in the midst of trying to lock down a full-time job here in Edinburgh and I’d be interested in hearing people’s thoughts.

Please note: I haven’t got as much time to invest in the quality of these pieces at the moment, but I don’t want to leave it too long between entries either. The quality will improve over the coming weeks as I get more time.

Into the great unknown…

Well, I’ve finally let go of the umbilical cord that is my connection to The Age.

After nine years of working in the building and about 10 months of blogging, I’m now exploring the wide world of solo web-based blogging.

There will be more to come in the coming week. Stay tuned, I have many things to write about.

Until then, I have my last entry for I Love Footscray to write.