30 December 2009

New tolls

Sydney and the Toll Booth

Is it me or does the toll increase every 1 January around here? When most people are out having a good time on New Year's Eve on Sydney Harbour, the state government wants to remind everyone that our money is like the beer we drink at the pub. It's only ours for a short time. Some describe it as 'on loan.' We have it for now, but it will leave us very soon. Same with our funds in our wallets. The government will have it soon enough, thank you very much.

Take the increase in the tolls. Every three months the rates can rise. They could fall. (Someone wake me up-- I was dreaming for a moment) According to the law, the rates are fixed to the CPI the Consumer Price Index.

For instance, officially, the CPI has risen 36.5 per cent in the past 10 years, but tolls on motorways have gone up by between 52 and 100 per cent during the same period. I was a mathematics teacher in my 20s, and even though the governments of the world have brought in new maths, and every student has iPods, iPhones, and computers to help gather google information, 52-100 is still much larger than 36.5. Know what I mean? So who is kidding whom?

I'm a missionary now, and yet I run a book shop, albeit non-profit in Bondi Junction for seekers and the informed. We have nearly 500 products available and we do all right. If we were not doing all right, I'd ponder, "How do I get more customers?" or "How do I attract more money/ capital for the mission?" Sensible? Sure. Maybe that's what the state government is thinking. But are they....really?

When a store like Myer or David Jones is trying to get more capital, what do they do? They have a sale! They actually discount items to attract more (long-ranged) customers and keep the loyal ones inside. Aha! Such an old idea, you would think the government would have sorted this one out long ago. But no, they tax, and punish, rather than discount. Let me explain.

It makes sense to me that when the government is trying to increase its net worth that it should actually discount the toll, drop the fees, as a means of increasing loyalty and ridership, not for a month, much like a drug dealer would hand out free drugs to get people hooked, but forever. When the Cross City Tunnel was going belly-up and needed such a bailout, the government tried this freebie, but only for a very short term. Leave the costs down. Increase ridership. Get the people using these already paid-for roads!

As it is, now that the tolls will increase again on the Lane Cove Tunnel, on the Eastern Distributor and no doubt other crossings, the government is actually punishing the very people who have been paying for this service already. Don't punish the users; bring in more users! Sensible? I think so.

Who is with me?

29 December 2009

Sherlock Holmes...action hero?

It's like reading a menu at a New Jersey diner. So much to choose from, so little time (129 minutes). A little CSI and NCIS. A little The Wrestler. Throw in characters from the original Arthur Conan Doyle. A little Butch Cassidy and Sundance. Mix in Da Vinci Code and Columbo, and you might have the movie Guy Ritchie made of Sherlock Holmes, this time around. And we shouldn't forget Indiana Jones.

Kenneth Turan and Michael Phillips didn't rave, in fact Phillips gave it 1.5 stars. Ouch. The queue at Sydney's Fox Studios yesterday went out the door; those folks don't read Chicago or Los Angeles reviews.

My head was in it, but the real thrill was the action. It was cleverly re-hashed before the hashing. In the opening sequence, Holmes is being chased and has to deduce his escape. "First point of attack, right ear," Downey whispers in voiceover. "Two, throat. Three, cracked ribs. In summary, neutralized." Clever indeed!

Ritchie is not the first to do that, but this one really works.

What doesn't work is the demon-possessed Lord Blackwood who wants to usher in a new world order a la The Illuminati and dark brotherhood. The story is contrived, oh wait, all stories are. But this one seems a little too neat and puerile. The guns go blazing, although Holmes insists that guns won't work on him. Even so, Holmes trusts his own fists to do battle in due course with the 'resurrected' villain. Not consistent.

Did I get it wrong or did the casting folks? Mark Strong looked more like Sherlock Holmes in the Conan Doyle version than did Downey, but that's a small point.

I liked the imagery of the Tower Bridge. It was in construction at the fixed time of the movie. The current website of the Bridge carries the history. It took 8 years, 5 major contractors and the relentless labour of 432 construction workers to build Tower Bridge. When it was built, Tower Bridge was the largest and most sophisticated bascule bridge ever completed ("bascule" comes from the French for "see-saw"). These bascules were operated by hydraulics, using steam to power the enormous pumping engines.

Bridges are designed to take someone from one side of a river to the other. But this movie left us all on the same side. I wanted to get to the plot, that is, the single plot, but it was so busy with subplots and subthemes and the diner menu. Still it was an entertaining side of the river to remain on, to be sure.

What works for me is the Beowulf story of evil pitted against the good, and a hero who saves the day. I doubt I'm giving away anything to those people who have yet to see the movie, by saying that there is at least one sequel waiting in the wings.

No matter what else Hollywood dispenses for us in 2010 and beyond, the drama is made good by the hope that we all have, in the theatre and beyond, for a saviour. A hero. A person or group or organization or company or ...someone to knock back the evil and bring in an era of peace and good will. Even an antihero is acceptable as long as the good comes to be and thrive in the new world order. Or so Hollywood says.

And we want a hero to believe in. We want good to come. None of us is as smart as Holmes or Watson. His powers to deduce were so google-speed that it made him a bit too much. I like the speed of Columbo which I think was more 1890 and Conan Doyle, but I'll adjust. After all this is Holmes 2.0 and I can't look backwards anymore. They even upgraded Irene Adler from her mental (only) powers over Holmes to an easy-on-the-eyes seductress.

So we can all use an upgrade. We can all use a bridge to help us cross to the other side. We can all use a hero to save us. Ritchie and Hollywood have that right.

Is Sherlock Holmes an action hero? That's a bit much for me. I'll take Rocky as Rocky. And Falk as Columbo.

But if you want a real action hero who really can help you cross a bridge and get to the other side; if you want a saviour who can overcome the dark brotherhood of Satan, the enemy of all things godly, then trust in Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, the real Saviour of the planet. He needed no bullets, but by his actions demonstrated God's powerful love for all people. He taught and healed and walked on water. He embodied all God wanted for humanity and had wisdom beyond Holmes 2.0. And yet, and here's the rub, he died for us. Willingly. Without sophistication. Without trickery. With one purpose in mind... to redeem us to God and get us back into relationship with Him. Awesome.

No Hollywood trickery in that. Simple. Robust. Real. And it really works. All we have to do is believe.

The sequel is in your life. What will you do with Jesus?

27 December 2009

Two views

Looking back, looking forward

It can be confusing and downright dangerous to have your eyes looking in different directions. We are designed to be almost unidirectional. Our feet and our eyes and arms and ears all face the same way. If someone contorts into a different position we think they belong in the circus.

And yet at this time of the year we review. We look back. We want to know who died in 2009. We want to know what were the best moments on TV or the funniest interviews. We look backwards.

The Melbourne Age reported today the top 10 technology stories of the year. Safeguarding the internet from the scourge of illegal pornography, gambling and criminal activity was top of the national agenda this year as Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy continued to push his proposed mandatory internet filtering scheme.

Considered a misguided policy by many, the debate took a dramatic turn in March when a list of blacklisted websites was published online. The Government forged ahead regardless of the controversy and spent much of the year trialing the filtering scheme.

Zealous policing of the internet was not confined to blacklisted websites, and child abuse charges against Chris Illingworth were finally dropped in September by Queensland Police. Illingworth was charged last year for republishing a MA15+ rated video of a man swinging a baby by its arms, but the case ran out of steam following a review by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

Another Australian who was forced to defend himself in court this year was rewarded with a $445 million windfall from Microsoft when a jury found the company had breached a patent for security software he created in the 1990s. Although Ric Richardson’s victory has since been overturned by a judge, he hopes to appeal.

Microsoft made headlines again in October for ridding the world of its universally unpopular Vista operating system, and replacing it with Windows 7. It also attempted to trump Google in the search engine wars with the release of Bing, but its internet foe fought back with a public preview of the Chrome operating system and a limited beta release of an Outlook email competitor called Wave.

Our love affair with gadgets reached dizzy new heights in 2009 with the release of the iPhone 3G S, rumours of a new tablet PC, and rise of the netbook phenomenon. This was also the year that the iPhone apps market went into overdrive, bringing us delights such as the Zippo lighter app and the CityRail timetable. Our state and federal governments cashed in on the craze after releasing a flood of new data to the public.

Google also made steady progress in its mission to dominate the smartphone sector as a number of handset makers joined the Android movement, and in October the Kindle e-book reader from Amazon finally reached our shores.

There was no shortage of action for music lovers in 2009 with video games such as Rock band and Guitar Hero sealing their place at the top of gaming charts and inspiring a new generation of spin-offs. Music piracy also made headlines with the high profile case against Pirate Bay dismaying BitTorrenters worldwide. The fight against piracy continued on our own doorstep with seven major movie studios and the Seven Network suing internet service provider iiNet for allegedly permitting customers to download movies illegally.

The social networking movement kept us very well informed this year about what our friends and colleagues were up to as Twitter reached a $1bn valuation and became the latest fad for wayward celebrities wanting to chit chat directly with fans.

A new generation of web sensations were also spawned via YouTube creating instant celebrity for the likes of the Chk Chk Boom girl and Susan Boyle, while an entire Greek wedding party became the unwitting subject of a viral email campaign. Other unfortunate social networkers also landed on the wrong side of the privacy debate when they discovered there was a downside to their newfound ability to publish all their thoughts and activities to world when taking sick leave from work.

Not to be left out of the technology race, a New Zealand toddler stumbled upon a new way to acquire excellent toys in May when he won an auction for a $15,600 digger listed on the TradeMe site.

Thanks Melbourne Age.

But what about you. What were your top stories for 2009? New job? Disappointment with mates in the neighbourhood? Your relatives giving you expected presents at Hanukkah? Or none at all?

Then if you really ponder what I'm saying, you cannot only look backwards and continue to go forward. You have to draw a line, look one last time behind you, then make some plans and move into 'forward' drive.

Draw inspiration from the past. Learn lessons from the past. And push on into what is next.

But we'll look at this phenomenon in the next couple blogs, I think.

For now, make a list of what you would like to fix, in your flat or in your life. Consider what disappointments you experienced and which ones you caused in 2009. And let's learn from them all.

25 December 2009

Christmas... looking like this

Originally uploaded by Odessea
Some say that Christmas should be met with barbecues and prawns, with beach side esky parties and shorts and thongs. That's the way we do it in Australia. But for many up north, this scene is more like they imagine. It's Christmas if it's snowing and cold. Culture is a funny thing. Irving Berlin, a Jew, wrote "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas" no doubt with such a scene in mind. Tree tops glisten. No sleigh bells in this MOMA shot, though.

Others make Christmas into some shopping extravaganza with ribbons and boxes and all-night wrappings to make little ones happy when they awaken, way too early on this morning. The snow is designed to calm people, but little ones with trees and hopes for reward for being nice, not naughty, well it's too much for young ones.

Presents and trinkets, tinsel on the tree and merchandising. So much goes into making the holidays, the yuletide bright.

Or does it?

What about those millions of Christians all around the globe for whom a one-time shopping experience at our mall would be unbearable. They have never seen such arenas of salesmanship. They have never had that much money in their life, which we might drop in a single spree. Those who live in sub-Saharan Africa or in country China or India, who are surviving, and barely that. They however, are very happy this time of year.

Seems they know that Jesus is the Reason for the Season. Seems they have their priorities straight.

So is Christmas about the prawns or the poor? Is it about the presents or the perspective? Don't get me wrong. I love what my wife and kids got me today. Thanks everyone! And all the while, I know, and so do they, that life is more than presents and more than tinsel. It's about family and love and the greatest gift of all.... God's gift of life in Jesus.

That's what Christmas should look like. And hey, if it helps, enjoy the snow. All of it in NYC last weekend, or in London or in Kansas.... all good.

But even then, don't miss it. It's more than weather. Life is about whether or not you have found the Eternal One.

Merry Messiah-mas.

24 December 2009

End of an era....still singing

Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o'er the plain.

I like the chorus of "Gloria" in that Christmas carol. And I like the songs of the season. Maybe you do too.

But somebody sent me this link today and it reminded me of my old days, back in the early 1970s, singing at Full Faith Church of Love in Kansas City Kansas, with Brothers Ernie, Catron, and Tom Blasco and so many others, letting loose and thanking God. I imagined then that we were singing with angels. It was early charismatic days, the choruses abounded. The clapping was thunderous in the old building on South 42nd Street.

Were angels heard on high then? Were they singing sweetly o'er the plains of Kansas? Maybe, but the chorus lent itself to merriment and I liked things that way. Sung in the key of G, you know, high enough to make us sing louder.

Now Brother Ernie is doing so. He's singing with angels in heaven. This year, Nick Willems, Oral Roberts, Frances Hunter and Billy Joe Dougherty...and so many others joined him. And hundreds, no thousands of unnamed (to us) saints arose in glory and are singing with angels.

We'll be there in due course.

For now, keep singing!
Enjoy these clips from You Tube, if you can, imagine yourself, singing along with angels, and saints from all places, in God's choir in the sky.

Click on this link God's choir

or try this sample one on too, from London Welsh Male Voice Choir in 2008

sample only

Best wishes to all for a Merry Messiah-mas, celebrating quietly or thunderously, with ancient carols or cutesy country-licked choruses, the joy of the season. Shalom.

07 December 2009

Hanukkah 2009

The lights will be lit, the dreidels spinning, the latkes frying... what a great time to be had by those who celebrate this holiday. The date roams around the December calendar, since the Jewish calendar is lunar. Each year, the holiday falls out on the 25th of Kislev, this year, that's 11 December. My family and so many others will gather worldwide to remember the holiday.

What is it we remember? The victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian Greeks, under King Antiochus Epiphanes in about 165 BCE. And the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem. And the finding of special oil, enough to last one day, but it lasted 8 days, according to the story.

Jews for Jesus will be celebrating this holiday together on 18 December, the last night, when all 9 candles are lit in Sydney. Specifically in Five Dock. For the info, check here...

Latkes, dreidels, singing, a Bible message...what else could you want?

You are most invited if you live nearby.
Celebrate with us; learn about God and his love for all people, and the desire he has for us to shine his light to the world.