Berlin Wall – then and now

Say what you want about print media, the New York Times come out with some freaking cool stuff on their website. Their current feature on the Berlin wall has some fantastically interactive pictures of Berlin from 1989 and today. Stop reading this and check that out, because it’s freaking cool.

The Brandenburg gate in 1989, and today
The Brandenburg gate in 1989, and today

The fall of the wall in Berlin seems to me to be one of those events that the West has a pure love for: mostly because (at least in the retelling) it is a triumph of “democracy, freedom and capitalism” over the tyranny of communism. It’s a story we can tell where we can unambiguously claim the moral high-ground. And make no mistake: this is a beautiful story: a triumph of the force of will of a people, to overthrow their oppressors. How nice it is to be sure that you’re the good guys in the story.

But I couldn’t let this opportunity go past, and while I have no ability to verify the accuracy of this story, that doesn’t change it’s worthiness. In my year 11 German class, we were studying a bit about the fall of the Berlin wall, and saw a great film: “Das Versprechen” (The Promise). In one scene they were showing the East German guards in their guard towers, while just the other side of the wall, West German propaganda was blaring from cars driving alongside. Through the loudspeaker came one of my all time favourite quotes:

“The Roman soldiers would wear red so that their enemies could never see their blood, and your soldiers wear brown pants”

Feel free to get someone to explain that to you if it doesn’t make sense at first pass.

Ken Henry: An ETS Should Hurt.

So far, the main thing occupying the minds of our business people and politicians is how we can introduce an emissions trading scheme without hurting anyone.

Henry offers the tart observation that the introduction of such schemes ”is intended to cause a significant shift in the structure of the Australian and global economies over coming decades; quite possibly the largest structural adjustment in economic history. That is the point of doing it.”

Translation: It’s meant to hurt because that’s what changes people’s behaviour. If it doesn’t hurt it won’t work.

via Ross Gittins.

Found this quote a few days ago, and thought it was a valuable insight; worth cutting through the bleating of both sides of the political aisles as they attempt to make the ETS policies hurt the least they can.

The disappointment of Rudd’s immigration compromise

””Rudd has an approval rating of 68 per cent [71 per cent in the Nielsen poll]. He has the unanimous loyalty of his caucus. He has an almost non-existent Opposition.

He is in a unique position to change the debate. Changing the way Australia deals with race would be pretty special – that’s Labor hero stuff.”

Paul Howse, quoted by Peter Hartcher.

When Kevin Rudd was promoted to opposition leader, and then voted in as Prime Minister, there was a great deal of optimism about what that might mean for Australia’s policy framework; specifically with respect to adopting a more compassionate approach, specifically after having read some very very positive things in Rudd’s essay on “Faith and Politics“. And initially it appeared that the hopefulness was justified:  there was an apology to the stolen generation, temporary protection visas were scrapped…

But this recent asylum seekers debate has seen KRudd taking a distinctly Howardly line: “I make absolutely no apology whatsoever for taking a hard line on illegal immigration to Australia.” (source) I can understand Rudd needing to tow a party line, with respect to this issue; but the tone of the rhetoric is bordering on insulting, from the same man who wrote the following:

“Another great challenge of our age is asylum seekers. The biblical injunction to care for the stranger in our midst is clear. The parable of the Good Samaritan is but one of many which deal with the matter of how we should respond to a vulnerable stranger in our midst.

That is why the government’s proposal to excise the Australian mainland from the entire Australian migration zone and to rely almost exclusively on the so-called Pacific Solution should be the cause of great ethical concern to all the Christian churches.”

I still firmly believe that Rudd, for the most part, wants to do the right thing here. But it’s one thing to write of lofty ideals while you’re the shadow foreign minister. Quite another to carry that out when you’re the guy in charge.

Album Review: “Sigh No More” from Mumford & Sons

"Sigh No More" by Mumford & Sons
"Sigh No More" by Mumford & Sons

I’ve spent the past two days marveling at this album. Having heard the first single: “Little Lion Man” – I was excited about the album from Mumford & Sons. I was expecting the raw emotion you heard in that track: not too stylistically different from the voice of a Glen Hansard. What I didn’t expect was to find an album packed full of spiritual references, alluding to some genuine struggles with faith in a similar lyrical bent to a Nick Cave type writer (though perhaps with a touch more optimism).

There’s already been a bunch of lyrics I’ve wanted to quote (and indeed have put a few up on Twitter already):

“it’s not the long walk home that will change this heart, but the welcome I receive with the restart”

“If only I had an enemy bigger than my apathy, I could have won”

“It seems that all my bridges have been burned. You say that’s exactly how this grace thing works”

“How can you love what it is you have got, when you took it from the weak hands of the poor? Liars and theives you don’t know what is in store”

“These bodies they will live, and these bodies they will die. Where you invest your love, you invest your life. ”

“Love it will not betray, dismay or enslave you it will set you free. Be more like the man you were made to be.”

There’s plenty more too, this is an album has anger, disappointment, love, optimism and sadness. I realise that this feels like it has shifted from being a review to more of an advertisement, but it’s probably now sufficient to just say that I love this album. But be aware little kiddies – “Little Lion Man” does have include some vocabulary best avoided in polite company. All in proper context though.

Carbon Obesity – Blog Action Day

Yesterday, October 15th was “Blog Action Day” – an event I’ve participated in before where each year bloggers around the world all write for the same cause on the same day.  This year the cause is global warming, so once again that’s an issue I’m keen to write about. Given that it’s still the 15th in some parts of the world, I figure I can sneak this one in. You should definitely check out some other blogs who are also participating at the Blog Action Day website.

In considering the issue of global warming, the immediate temptation is to think really big picture, and in so doing effectively out-source any sense of responsibility. But societal change rarely finds leadership in political leaders: rather in the gradual change that comes about through considered action from the general populous.

So as I think about my own reaction to the climate change reality, I’m struck at the paralells with our current attempts to lose weight. Both recognise that the way our lives are structured at the moment is essentially unsustainable. Both are fighting against greed and laziness. I thought I might share the closest I can come up with for a method for fighting my carbon obesity.

1. Make the big decision

For Bec and I, we’ve had enough discussions about Climate Change to recognise that we both believe that it’s a reality for the world, and that we are compelled to do something about it. Making the big decision that you want to change something about the way you’re living has to be the starting point.

2. Make millions of little decisions

Having done the easy part: deciding that you’re going to side with the good guys in the battle for societal change, there now comes the much harder part. In the same way as you make a weight-related decision every time you reject or accept the opportunity to snack on a deep fried mars bar – there are millions of decisions we make (or fail to make) that can have an impact on our carbon footprint. Some are big (our two houses since we got married were deliberately near train stations so we could use public transport as much as possible), others not so big (switching the lights off).But the bigger point is that every time you make any decision: whether a big imposition or not, you change something in your mindset. And it becomes easier to make the right choice next time

3. Journey with other people

The reason that we’ve seen relatively positive results with our latest health-kick has been that we’ve done it with my family. All of a sudden you have a group of people that you’re taking the same journey with: people you can encourage, spur on, get competitive with, etc.

So that’s my advice. Save the planet, one light switch at a time.

Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

I’ve signed up for a program to review books from Thomas Nelson, and get to keep the book in return. The first of these is Donald Miller’s “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”.

“A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” is Donald “Blue like Jazz” Miller’s latest book, and it certainly shares Miller’s free-wheeling, conversational style. Miller recounts the experience of turning his life into a movie: and the weirdness of having to make “Don” a more interesting person for film.

It’s a touch ironic that in a book centered around needing to flesh out a narrative structure: that it does feel in lots of ways that Miller is missing any real meat. Million Miles is a nice book, but if feels like having a discussion with a good friend that you haven’t seen for too long: you just keep waiting for the small talk to get deeper. There’s no question that Don Miller is a genuinely good writer, but I’ve been following his blog for a while now and I really just ended up feeling like I wasn’t sure that I was getting a lot more out of this than I would a good blog post. Perhaps he’s just a victim of being a good blogger.

If you’ve enjoyed “Blue like Jazz” and want a nice, relaxing read: this is a book for you. I was hoping for a book that would challenge me and build on some of the more profound parts of his previous books: and this didn’t do that as much as I expected. A good read, a nice book, but not exactly a life changing one, for me at least.

Do Intersexual Conditions Change The Game?

OK – today it’s just a nice quick post. Pull the pin out of the grenade, drop it and take a few steps back.

South African runner Caster Semenya has put intersexual conditions fairly firmly in the spotlight; and basically it’s not something I’d ever really considered before. But Wikipedia says that:

According to the ISNA definition above, 1 percent of live births exhibit some degree of sexual ambiguity.[67] Between 0.1% and 0.2% of live births are ambiguous enough to become the subject of specialist medical attention, including surgery to disguise their sexual ambiguity. (Source)

For my mind, the “black and white” perspective that says that homosexual relations is always sinful, is based on an assumption that gender is equally “black and white”.

So is the existence, and prevalence of such a significant degree of ambiguity around gender a game changer with respect to theological reflection on the acceptance or otherwise of homosexual relationships? Why/why not? Or put another way: who should a person like Caster be allowed to marry?

I have no answers, only questions.

Been a little down

No, pills that’s not a reference to my last post. TheGeoffRe(y)port experienced a scare this morning, here with the blog’s underlying DB appearing to be deleted. I’ve restored a new database from the backup and got most of it back, though I’m missing my last couple of posts. The import procedure appears to have done something funny with new line characters, but I’m leaving it as is for the moment until I hear back from my hosting people. If it’s coming back, then we can all breathe a sigh of relief: if not I’ll be forced to beat this back into submission.

Change to Comments Settings

Just a brief FYI – have changed my comments settings so that you have to have an approved comment before it will show up on the blog. Once your comment has been approved once, the problem goes away. Been getting a lot of spam getting through and I don’t really want to let those people win. Let me know if you’re having issues commenting.