Saturday, December 31, 2005

Economics can’t trump the laws of thermodynamics

Or, in MoQ terms, the higher levels exist on the basis of the lower, and when the lower levels hit a boundary, so do the levels above.

The inorganic level is about physics and chemistry, geology – this is the realm of Peak Oil analysis.

The social level is the realm of human institutions – eg agricultural systems and most commercial activity.

The highest level would include the ‘laws’ of economics.

Now if Peak Oil establishes a boundary at the foundation, then it doesn’t matter what happens ‘in theory’ for the higher levels – they’re going to hit a wall.

A quote from M King Hubbert:

"The world's present industrial civilization is handicapped by the coexistence of two universal, overlapping, and incompatible intellectual systems: the accumulated knowledge of the last four centuries of the properties and interrelationships of energy; and the associated monetary culture which has evolved from folkways of prehistoric origin”.

If you listen to the economists, there is no problem – an alternative to oil will be found once the price goes up.

The physicists and geologists say: there is no alternative.

Three men are shipwrecked and washed up on a desert island, a physicist, an engineer and an economist. Once they have dried out and come to their senses, rubbed the salty grime from their eyes and looked up at their surroundings, they see that there isn’t much on their island. Lots of rocks, the occasional palm tree, a passing bird, and – miracle of miracles – a crate of tinned food. But!.. no tin opener.

Each man comes up with a way of getting the food out of the tins, appropriate to their training.

The physicist says “I know from my study of the law of gravity that if I climb that tree and drop rocks onto the tin, that the force exerted will be sufficient to split the tins, and then we can eat the food.”

The engineer says, “No, no, I’ve got a much better idea. If we use the branches of the tree as a lever we can swing rocks against the tins, and that will make things much more accurate.”

Then the economist joins in: “Hold on a second. First, let’s assume that we have a tin opener…”

Friday, December 30, 2005

All religious people are deluded

An annoying argument that I have come across too frequently, often by people deploying the grammar of salvation.

Interesting article on it here, linking to an interesting comment thread (apropos Daniel Dennett etc) here.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

I Heart Huckabees


With Isabelle Huppert, whom it was reassuring to see playing someone approaching normal. Her performance in La Pianiste was profoundly unsettling.

Half time 05/06

If you're worried by my musings about WW3, take solace in the record of my football predictions, most of which are already proven false!

Here is what I wrote, with half-time comments in italics:

Champions: Chelsea. Only question is whether they go unbeaten or not.

Beaten by ManU, but otherwise all too predictable

Order of Top 4: Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, ManU.
I think it quite possible that ManU might drop out of the top four if they have a season like last one. I also think Liverpool might come second (and be the main challengers to Chelsea in the coming seasons).

Arsenal's poor form has been the biggest surprise; they've struggled to replace Vieira and Campbell has withered. They will come back, but whether they get to 4th I'm doubtful. Liverpool will be second - and they will be the main challengers to Chelsea. I'm really impressed with Benitez. As for the Imperial Lord Ferg - ah well, for everything there is a season.

Dark Horse (ie might get into the top 4): Tottenham.

Europe: Tottenham, 'Boro.

Right on Spurs, wrong on Boro - although they will do well in the Uefa cup I think, and recover in the second half of the season.

Good seasons for Man City, Birmingham, Blackburn and Pompey.

Badly wrong on Birmingham and Pompey - and I'm most surprised about Birmingham. I thought Bruce had sorted out their defence - now they're kack. Redknapp won't be able to keep Pompey up.

Bad seasons for Newcastle (unless they get Owen), Charlton and Fulham.

Newcastle got Owen, so I think they should get a Uefa cup slot. If they sort out their defence with someone to replace Bramble they might even press for the fourth position. Right about Charlton and Fulham though.

Nothing happening at Aston Villa.

Other than a takeover. I rate O'Leary as a manager, but I wonder if he will survive.

Relegation: Wigan, WHM (shame) and WBA. Which means I pick Sunderland to survive out of those four. Those having bad seasons might have terrible seasons allowing one of those to escape.

Couldn't get more wrong, could I? Sunderland will be relegated, Wigan and WHM won't (which pleases half my family as they are WHM supporters). So who will join Sunderland? Pompey and... er.... probably WBA but I hope not... hope it's not Everton either.... that will be an interesting fight, probably going down to the wire with half a dozen teams at risk.


And what about the Burley/Woodward combination at Southampton? I think that has all the makings of a great team - if Woodward can keep his ego in check for long enough.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Singing love songs to Jesus

A few years ago I remember talking to my spiritual director about my "relationship with Jesus" which I thought was non-existent. He (wisely) said that these things balance out over time - that growth is about ascending through the Trinity, spending some time with the Father, then the Son, then the Spirit - and then doing it all again.

I'm getting to know Jesus a bit more - largely thanks to James Alison - but also thanks to exposure to some nice friendly evangelicals - a number of whom even pay me the courtesy of reading my blog (smooch) - who have definitely 'loosened me up'.

So much so that my Christmas morning sermon concluded with Matt Redman's 'Heart of Worship', which was really good

"I'm coming back to the heart of worship
And it's all about You
All about You, Jesus
I'm sorry Lord for the thing I've made it
When it's all about You
It's all about You Jesus"

It took my mother-in-law, commenting favourably on these words, to point out something that should have been obvious to my Anglo-Catholic heart. What is the point of being the Bride of Christ if you cannot sing love songs to your beloved?

Innocence after Peak Oil

Some thoughts prompted by the readings today for the Feast of Holy Innocents (Mt 2 and 1 Cor 1)

A couple of years ago, Rowan Williams preached on these texts and made the point that sometimes our wisdom has perverse consequences – in this instance, the Three Wise Men have set off a chain of events leading to the slaughter of all the male infants in and around Bethlehem. For once, I’m not convinced that Rowan has the right interpretation, however right that specific point might otherwise be.

In Scripture, wisdom as such is not a problem – and for the three it is certainly not a problem as it is how they are enabled to follow God’s will – so long as it is made distinct from the wisdom of the world. This is what follows from Paul’s arguments in 1 Corinthians 1. God has taken what the world despises and used it to shame the the strong – the structures of what the world values have been overturned – and so the Christian follows the one executed in shame, for that symbolises the arrival of the Kingdom. Yet that Kingdom, whilst rejecting worldly wisdom, is itself the rule by Wisdom, Sophia, the one who plays at the feet of God when the world is created.

This is the Word through which all things are created, and as such the one whom we are to follow. Consequently, we are to be in this world as He was to the Father from the beginning – playing at his feet. Consider a child opening up carefully wrapped presents at Christmas time – no care for what is being torn – simply a joy in what is being discovered. This is how we are to be.

Yet how can we do that in the face of the reckless hate displayed by such as Herod? For his actions have hardly vanished from our world. We are still surrounded by tragedy – how can we retain our child-like joy when the child-like are abused all around us?

We are to be perfect as our father in heaven is perfect – which Christ teaches us in the context of saying that God sends rain upon the just and the unjust. In other words we are not to judge. We are to forgive our brother seven times seven times. We are not to be scandalised by the evil that we see – and it is only by avoiding scandal that we are enabled to retain our humanity. We are called to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves – in other words we are to look clearly at the nature of the world we live in, with all its horror and the slaughter of innocents – yet we are not to give in to a despair, a weary cynicism, a bitterness which poisons all life. We are to love the world as the Father loved it, and as his Son loved us.

For to let go of the innocence – to take offence at the evildoer, to not love them – this is the Sin against the Holy Spirit, this is the refusal of forgiveness which destroys human community.

The perspective which Peak Oil opens out for us offers a vision of tremendous human suffering – the consequences of accident and malice, human greed and need – and the pressure to lose our innocence, to give in to the fantasies of the ‘die-off’ crowd and prepare for the apocalypse with relish – it is in this situation that our innocence is most essential. It is the retention of our innocence – our refusal to be scandalised by human wickedness – this is the struggle for our faith in the coming years.

Heavenly Father,
whose children suffered at the hands of Herod,
though they had done no wrong:
by the suffering of your Son
and by the innocence of our lives
frustrate all evil designs
and establish your reign of justice and peace;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.
(the collect for the Feast of Holy Innocents)

The real purpose of the Da Vinci Code

This was clearly the real reason why God allowed the Da Vinci Code to be written. (A very readable book - as is his Angels and Demons - but utter nonsense. See Tom Wright on it here.)

Saturday, December 24, 2005

And the darkness comprehendeth it not

Someone said to me the other day (possibly quoting Washington Irving?) that you need a small child to teach you the meaning of Christmas.

This is true.

You also need one (or, better, two) to distract a father from his pessimistic preoccupations.

I wish you all a blessed feast of the Incarnation of our Saviour.

(Time to wrap some presents)

Some grounds for post-Peak optimism

There are lots of depressing things to ponder. There are also some grounds for optimism about the long term future of our civilisation.

1. Food – you don’t need fertiliser to feed the present population (or something like it) – see the Cuba experience;
2. EROEI – we have established technologies that have significantly positive EROEI – notably wind and solar;
3. Waste – western society is profoundly wasteful, and there is a lot of fat that can be relatively painlessly trimmed away (have car pools for example; insulate our homes; switch lights off when we’re not in the room…);
4. Accumulated capital – the fossil fuels haven’t just been used for Christmas lights – we also have accumulated an awful lot of wealth (like electric trains, internet=telecommuting etc) and a lot of knowledge (like the importance of hygiene);
5. Finance and law – the doomer perspective that capitalism is a Ponzi scheme established by fiat money is profoundly mistaken;
6. State power – the UK has resources to significantly moderate the impact of an oil price shock, eg by lowering the very high taxes on petrol (which will minimise the immediate economic problem), and it is also financially solvent. There are also existing plans for rationing essential goods, and the experience of WW2 is a good folk memory for enabling that to happen effectively. Unfortunately these items don’t apply to the US;
7. War – the conflict over the resources will concentrate our minds very swiftly. It’ll be horrible, but working together – which the war will demand – will be the only way through. That will be a good thing;
8. God – come let us return to the Lord, for he has torn us and he will heal us.

Bach, God, atheism

Good post at Samizdata here about Bach's religious inspiration. There is also a particularly wonderful reactionary rant in the comments with which I have a great deal of sympathy.

"What was peculiar about the period c.1800-1950 was the attempt to assimilate this perceptual disorder [atheism] to the cults of democracy and materialist science-- as if methods of studying the nuts and bolts of sublunary life could somehow become an alternative to religious rituals, and as if all men (a fortiori, women) were equally fit to govern themselves and others. These top-down doctrines never captured the innermost hearts of ordinary men, and are now evaporating-- alongside much else that was 'modern' 100 years ago-- as the natural piety and humility of Man reasserts itself."

Friday, December 23, 2005

Some notes on Chomsky's 'Understanding Power'

I find Chomsky a very interesting and stimulating read. I'm glad he's around to provide his perspective, and I shall make sure I read more of him in future (I have Deterring Democracy and Manufacturing Consent on my shelves, which are next in line). I think he's particularly good at exhuming otherwise ignored malefactions by the US Government - thinking of Central America in particular, but it does go more widely. (So as someone who doesn't like state power in general, he's good at providing ammunition for the dispelling of some illusions.) I think he's particularly good on media bias, and with some quibbles (some of which he accepted in UP) I think his "Propaganda model" is basically right.

However I think that he is significantly wrong about capitalism. In particular I think his analysis is a) incoherent and naïve and b) parochial to the US.

a. The incoherence/naivete shows itself in his attribution of motives to businesses. On p391 of my copy he describes the "institutional necessity" that corporations work under as "to the extent that you have a competitive system based on private control over resources, you are forced to maximise short term gain"; on p394, as part of an analysis of how scientific research is corrupted by business patronage, he says "big corporations understand that if they want to keep making profits five years from now, there'd better be some science funded today". Both of those can't be true. Now he's being colloquial in the book, which makes it more readable, but this was just one instance of a prevalent confusion in his perspective, ie that businessmen are rapacious short-term capitalists - except for when they're rapacious long-term capitalists. I just find his comments on business processes weak, as compared to his foreign policy analysis.

b. More specifically I think that his criticisms have most force when applied to an Anglo-Saxon publicly listed company. I don't think that they're applicable to European companies/ social models, and they're definitely not applicable to Asian companies. The cheibatsu/keiretsu model, for example, is geared around the maintenance or increase of long term market share. That's very different to the maximisation of the bottom line.

Part of the underlying disagreement I have with his analysis rests upon his anthropology. A strongly left-wing analysis often minimises the role of individual choice, and in particular, it has the logical consequence of being forced to argue that most people (are forced to) choose the wrong things - whereas the anointed are free from such malign influences. I think Chomsky is guilty of this, and this is one of the key progressive/conservative debates. One of the most important disagreements flows from this: I think that he systematically underestimates the importance of individual choice and leadership. So he says "Nobody does anything on their own", and to the extent that he is describing the importance of social organisation he is
right. But I think there is a necessary role for spokesmen who can articulate a vision which inspires the movement as a whole, and that no amount of organisation can make up for the lack of such a leader. (I don't think I'm arguing for a Fuhrerprinzip here, just that "without a vision the people perish").

So: worth reading, but best consumed with added salt.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Virgin Birth

I struggle with a literal account of the Virgin Birth. Once upon a time I was 100% heretical - rejected Jesus' incarnation and divinity; resurrection was a spiritual experience; giving sight to the blind was psychosomatic etc etc. Over time and with further study all of those heresies have fallen away, leaving my questions about the Virgin Birth feeling rather lonely and missing their old friends. Yet those questions don't go away. I'm aware I'm unorthodox on this, but belief isn't volitional. In particular, I find it deeply depressing to be lining up on the same side as John Spong (nothing personal) - but I'm sure God's grace is active here as everywhere, and though I am a stubborn mule God will eventually prevail.

These thoughts were prompted by an interesting article here, where I disagreed with "without a Virgin Birth, it seems that the Incarnation falls by the wayside". If someone could persuade me that that was true, then I'd be more sympathetic to the VB. Yet John's gospel is by some measure the most incarnational of the four, and as John not only does not have the VB but there is even a suggestion that he is opposed to it, it seems perfectly plausible to have Incarnation without the VB.

In my memory is a letter quoted in a book on reactions to John Robinson's 'Honest to God', from a "housewife" who said (paraphrase) that she had always found it difficult to relate to Jesus because she saw him as a Superman figure, with special abilities, and therefore not all that relevant to her life. From reading Robinson she had felt able to move closer to Him.

So the key issue for me is how to reconcile the VB with full-blooded humanity. Christ has to be one of us - and I can't see how the VB allows him to be one of us. He must be one of us for 'what he has not assumed he has not healed'.

I'm aware that I'm wrong - all the other heresies have been consistently overcome through the application of theological understanding (in other words, once I've realised what is being claimed, the objections tend to dissolve). I just haven't got there yet. In so far as I 'believe' it, it is because I accept and trust the authority of the church, which has proven its truth to me in every other area. But I just don't understand it - and that drives me nuts.

Ah well. I'll keep plodding on.

Monday, December 19, 2005

What are gay men for?

Michael Vasey was a lovely man, whom I met a handful of times before his very untimely death. He sometimes asked the question, what are gay men for? Mark Vernon gives one answer here. "So what are gay men and lesbians for now? They are a reminder, in a world coloured by the cold calculations of competitiveness, that people can love one another."

World War Three by Easter

OK, time to put the pessimistic hat on for a second.

First see this.

Then see a commentary giving a particular spin on it here (a commentary I agree with, I should add).

And then add in this (and for a historical comparison, add in this).

Now consider this and this.

So - we have a few months before TSHTF. Let us use it wisely under God.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

SUV spirituality

Consider the appeal of an SUV (what we in England call ‘4X4’s or, more to the point, ‘Chelsea Tractors’).

You are strong. You are safe. You are independent and self-sufficient, accountable to no-one. If there is a collision, the other car will come off worst. You are elevated above the common herd, able to look further into the distance. You can trek across exotic locations, you can even cross the Strood when the tide is high.

The appeal of an SUV is to a particular mentality – a mentality which owes just about everything to Modern philosophy. It is the Cartesian ego transformed by the parameters of the internal combustion engine. Iris Murdoch describes it as presented by Kant:

“How recognisable, how familiar to us, is the man so beautifully portrayed in the Grundlegung, who confronted even with Christ turns away to consider the judgement of his own conscience and to hear the voice of his own reason. Stripped of the exiguous metaphysical background which Kant was prepared to allow him, this man is with us still, free, independent, lonely, powerful, rational, responsible, brave, the hero of so many novels and books of moral philosophy.” (From ‘The Sovereignty of the Good’)

This man drives an SUV, for the SUV expresses all those virtues in kinematic form. The culture which reveres these attributes calls forth in mechanical expression an embodiment of it’s own soul – and so we arrive at the crisis of our culture. We are, in James Howard Kunstler’s words, up a cul-de-sac in a cement SUV with an empty tank.

This is a spiritual problem: the roots of the crisis are spritual; the only possible solution is spiritual. Consider those virtues expressed in the SUV; consider most of all the virtue of autonomy – the independent man, accountable to none, moving off to decide by the light of his own conscience and his own reason what is good. The child of Martin Luther permanently protesting against external authority.

Now consider the voice of a Modern atheist: I do not need an external authority to tell me be to be good. I do not need to find a purpose for my life from a religious tradition. I choose my own tradition! I am the master of my destiny!

The point of a religious tradition – the definition of one perhaps – is that we are accountable to a higher authority. That authority need not be a God as understood by theistic tradition. It might simply be ‘the truth’, or – as with Plato and Aristotle – ‘the good’. The key thing is that it is not amenable to personal choice. A person is accountable, and shall give an account. The person is open to being engaged by other people who also consider themselves accountable, and that shared accountability and shared purpose provides the irreplaceable glue of human society. It is precisely that communal glue which the driver of the SUV repudiates. For the driver of the SUV must at all costs be a sovereign ego at the centre of his body – the homunculus this time, not watching a screen, but behind the wheel.

The SUV – sport and spiritual, car and soul - symbolises all that will be left behind on the other side of Peak Oil.

Bob puts it well:

You may be a construction worker working on a home,
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome,
You might own guns and you might even own tanks,
You might be somebody's landlord, you might even own banks

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

Friday, December 16, 2005

King Kong

Watched the new Kong film this afternoon.

On the whole - worth going to the cinema for. The realisation of the great ape was greatly impressive, and, in particular, the astonishing middle section fight sequence raises the bar for any who come after.

But the 'creepy crawly' section was horrific and redundant - would belong better in a higher rated film than this (in the cinema I was sat next to a 10? year old girl taken there by her father - not sure I would want a ten year old child of mine watching men being eaten alive by maggots...)

It was also at least half an hour too long, had some serious plot lacunae (what happened to the villagers?) and a bathetic ending.

So - good to very good; not great.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Misplacing the Apocalypse

Have a (brief) look at this site. It’s a very interesting perspective, and the main point can be simply stated: the earth can only support around 1.5 billion people sustainably; the rest are being sustained by easy access to fossil fuels (something like ten calories of fossil fuels for each calorie consumed). Thus, when the fossil fuels run out (soon) most people will die; more or less swiftly, more or less horribly.

Those who buy into this perspective are called ‘doomers’, and it seems to me that a theological perspective has something to say about the subject. For what I think we have is a use of apocalyptic language (“the world is going to end!”) abstracted away from a context in which it makes coherent sense. In other words, the foundation of the 'doomer' perspective is implicitly theological - and as such is open to theological critique.

Consider what Tom Wright says on apocalyptic language (from New Testament and the People of God) “Within the mainline Jewish writings of this period, covering a wide range of styles, genres, political persuasions and theological perspectives, there is virtually no evidence that Jews were expecting the end of the space-time universe. There is abundant evidence that they knew a good metaphor when they saw one, and used cosmic imagery to bring out the full theological significance of cataclysmic socio-political events. There is almost nothing to suggest that they followed the Stoics into the belief that the world itself would come to an end; and there is almost everything to suggest that they did not.”

In other words the primary use of apocalyptic language is as a critique of the political and economic status quo, and to express a longing, and expectation, that God’s judgement upon that status quo was coming. Apocalypse was the genre adopted by the downtrodden, those who were most victimised in the present arrangements – for obviously, if you benefited from the present arrangements you wouldn’t want to see them destroyed – and God’s judgement would ‘cast down the mighty from their thrones… and scatter the proud in the imagination of their hearts’. So apocalypse is driven by, at root, a righteous indignation and hatred of an existing political or social arrangement, and a longing and expectation that God will act to re-establish justice, ie the Kingdom of God.

It seems plausible to me that the ‘doomers’ share a hatred of the present system, yet it also seems plausible to me that their position cannot be reconciled with Christianity. “So what!” might be their response "who cares what theology has to say about this - theology is a useless waste of space!" – but hang on.

To accept the ‘doomer’ framework, is to assert that there is no way out from the present crisis – and that is to go beyond what the evidence as a whole supports. The evidence is clear that there is a major problem, but to assert that, eg, civilisation will come to an abrupt end is to move from the realm of demonstrable fact (imminent absence of resources on which we presently rely) to a contestable conjecture (there is nothing that we can do to mitigate the situation). At root, then, the ‘doomer’ perspective is a denial of hope, and a denial of the possibility of redemption. It is a theological perspective, not a scientific one.

Now it may well be the truth – it’s certainly possible that human civilisation is about to press the reset button and send us back to a Hobbesian state of nature. Yet it is equally possible that what we face is, eg, a cross between the black death and the 1930s, and that, just as in those situations (bad as they were) human society negotiates the passage more or less successfully, and we continue to move forward as a species and as a civilisation.

My point is simply that we cannot know what the future holds – despite all the suggestive parallels with Easter Island – because it hasn’t happened yet. So I repeat my point – those who have a convinced ‘doomer’ perspective are making a theological assertion, not a scientific one.

Now as a theological assertion, it is open to theological critique. The heart of the assertion is the denial of hope, and therefore of meaning, and it is therefore an embrace of nihilism, the notion that nothing matters (for if we are all going to die what is the point?). Hope is absolutely central to a Christian perspective – the insistence that God is acting within the world for our redemption, and that Christ came not to condemn the world but to save it. That there is no place to which we might fall which is beyond the reach of God’s creative Act – and therefore, no situation is as bleak as a nihilist might paint it. There is always point to what we do.

“If you knew that the world was going to end tomorrow, what would you do?”

“I would plant a tree.”

The Old Testament prophets cannot be bettered in their denunciation of a corrupt status quo. Listen to Hosea:

“Hear the Word of the Lord, O people of Israel;
for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land.
There is no faithfulness or kindness,
and no knowledge of God in the land.
There is swearing, lying, killing, stealing, and committing adultery;
they break all bounds and murder follows murder.
Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish,
and also the beasts of the field, and the birds of the air;
and even the fish of the sea are taken away.”

Or listen to Ezekiel:

“Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: You have been more unruly than the nations around you and have not followed my decrees or kept my laws. You have not even conformed to the standards of the nations around you. Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself am against you, Jerusalem, and I will inflict punishment on you in the sight of the nations. Because of all your detestable idols, I will do to you what I have never done before and will never do again. Therefore in your midst fathers will eat their children, and children will eat their fathers. I will inflict punishment on you and will scatter all your survivors to the winds. Therefore as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because you have defiled my sanctuary with all your vile images and detestable practices, I myself will withdraw my favor; I will not look on you with pity or spare you. A third of your people will die of the plague or perish by famine inside you; a third will fall by the sword outside your walls; and a third I will scatter to the winds and pursue with drawn sword.”

I trust that the resemblance between this language and the language and expectations of the 'doomers' is clear. Yet always with the OT prophets there is the promise of restoration, of a new heaven and a new earth. That is what the 'doomers' miss. As with Isaiah:

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD -
and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.”

It is a question of balance, and honesty. Balance in that the vision of apocalypse always offered a vision of hope for the faithful remnant, who would endure the tribulation and be brought back to a faithful and fulfilling life on the far side of the crisis. Honesty, more crucially, in that it requires an awareness of the limits to our knowledge, and therefore a consequent awareness of how far a more or less conscious perspective on the divine determines the interpretation of such evidence.

There is always hope; there are always things that we can do in the face of disaster; and at the heart of it all is the call to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly before our God. It is the absence of those virtues that has led us to the brink of disaster; it is the restoration of those virtues that will guide our people through the coming forty years in the desert.

So I say with the prophets:

Come let us return to the Lord; for He has torn us, and He will heal us.

The Terminal

A wonderful, whimsical film; interesting characters; Zeta Jones wasn't annoying; a proper ending.

I also think it will be worth watching again. There must be an interpretation of the film which emphasises vocation (called to stand and wait), whereby we will be enabled to achieve the one thing needful (a signature) but we won't necessarily be able to retain anything else - objects, loved ones (ZJ), any relationships (Gupta).

At the end I was thinking of the Truman Show, and how we have an allegory of our life on earth there. We arrive; we wait and relate; we achieve our vocation (or not); and then we go home.

I had low expectations. That might be why I enjoyed it so much.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

US/UK separation something I worry about - and then wonder whether it is worth 'worrying' about at all. But I came across this article about the breakdown of defence co-operation between the two sides and I wonder where things are headed.

The last forty years or so have seen an undoubted strengthening of the ties between the UK and mainland Europe, and, at least at a popular level (eg dance music) a recognition of what is held in common amongst Europeans vis a vis the United States. Yet it could hardly be said that US influence on the UK has been light!

I just wonder how far the coming great dislocation is going to embed the UK firmly within Europe (not necessarily the EU), and start it on a separate path to the US, and maybe even the rest of the Anglosphere - a perspective with which I have much sympathy.

Ho hum. Pointless musing redux.

Monday, December 12, 2005

It's not the end of the world - but it is serious

Excellent - and economically literate - essay on Peak Oil etc here. Looks like a site with similar interests to mine - I've just added it to my Sage list.

As I said - theologians are everywhere. The Holy Spirit must be blowing pretty hard at the moment.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Theologians in unlikely places

I didn't know that Alex Kapranos studied theology at university.


Some say you're trouble, boy
Just because you like to destroy
All the things that bring the idiots joy -
Well, what's wrong with a little destruction?

And the Kunst[?] won't talk to you
Because you kissed St Rollo Adieu
Because you robbed a supermarket or two
Well, who gives a damn about the prophets of Tesco?

That last line might be 'profits' of Tesco of course...

Thursday, December 08, 2005

From Barfield Road to Bradwell
(taking in Burgan oilfield en route)

Tesco want to build a ‘Tesco Express’ store at 1 Barfield Road. On the face of it this doesn’t seem too terrible. Let the competition commence! If Tesco can provide cheaper food to the residents of Mersea – and the residents of Mersea prefer that cheaper food to what the other local stores can provide, then so be it. It’s merely reflecting what the people want, isn’t it?

Well, there are certain assumptions embedded in that line of argument, and in this article I would like to tease out what I think is the most important, and why allowing Tesco to set up shop in Barfield Road would be a remarkably short-sighted and damaging decision. The story takes me via Burgan oilfield, in Kuwait.

Burgan is the second largest oilfield in the world. Two months ago the Kuwaiti authorities announced that it had passed ‘peak’ – in other words, the rate of extraction from the field had reached its limit, and would now go into decline.

This is what happens with an oilfield. When the field is discovered, the oil flows easily. Extraction builds up to a ‘peak’, and it then declines – the oil becoming harder and harder to extract – until the field is exhausted. This also applies to the amount of oil available on a world-wide scale – it will be extracted easily to begin with; it will build to a ‘peak’; and then it will decline.

But isn’t there lots of oil left? No. There isn’t as much oil as we have been told, and the issue isn’t about running out of oil so much as the consequences of a decline in production.

Official figures tell us that there is plenty of oil left in the ground, particularly the ground in the Middle East. This is based upon the published ‘reserves’ allocated to, in particular, Saudi Arabia. But those reserves are fraudulent. Imagine you had a bank account which had a £1000 in it in 1990. Since then you’ve been spending £100 a year from that account – and now, when you go to the cash machine to find out how much money you have left, you discover that there is still the very same £1000 in it that you started with. That is what the ministers of OPEC would like us to believe is the case with the ‘bank account’ of their oil reserves.

The powers that be, however, have started to realise that something is wrong. Matthew Simmons, a US investment banker, has published a detailed investigation of the Saudi Arabian oilfields and his conclusion is that – just like the Kuwaiti field – the major Saudi fields are at ‘peak’. Each year we will start getting a little less. Simmons, as well as being the leading investment banker to the US energy industry, also worked as an advisor to George W Bush from 2000-2004 – from which you may draw your own conclusions. This is also why Mr Blair wants to build a new generation of nuclear power stations – probably including one at Bradwell – because he knows that our present infrastructure, based on oil and gas, is going to be untenable in around ten years time.

So we’re hitting a ‘peak’ of oil production. Why is that a problem – surely that means there’s as much oil left as we’ve already used? It just means that as oil gets more expensive we’ll start switching to alternatives?

You can’t use nuclear power to fly a plane (it was explored in the 1950s). Nor can you use electricity. Oil hasn’t simply been an incredibly cheap source of energy for the last several decades – a virtually free source in fact – it also has some remarkably useful properties. It is dense – with the exception of uranium it is the most dense source of energy that we know – and it is easy to handle, being a liquid at normal temperatures. That’s why our transportation industry has been built up around it. ‘Peak Oil’ is only secondarily an ‘energy crisis’. It is primarily a ‘liquid fuels’ crisis – and our present economic system is based upon those liquid fuels.

In February this year the US Senate received a report on this problem (it will be much worse for the US), and the report said: “The world has never faced a problem like this. Without massive mitigation more than a decade before the fact, the problem will be pervasive and long-lasting. Previous energy transitions (wood to coal and coal to oil) were gradual and evolutionary; oil peaking will be abrupt and discontinuous." (Text of the Hirsch report available at

Which brings us back to Tesco, and Barfield Road. You see, the assumption being made to allow Tesco to come into the community here in West Mersea is that the business model is sustainable. Tesco is able to offer cheaper prices as a consequence of economies of scale – it purchases worldwide, and its purchasing power enables it to provide food cheaply. Yet it is entirely dependent upon an oil-based transport system.

The ‘peak’ of oil production will mean that the cost of oil will rise massively, and it will force businesses that depend upon transport into bankruptcy. Our transport system – and therefore our food distribution system – is based upon the ready availability of cheap oil. When that cheap oil is taken away – which it will be, on best estimates, in around five years time – then the business will fail. But in those five or so years Tesco will have hollowed out the life of our town, forcing the local businesses to fail – and then we will be a ghost town. The only prudent course for our community to take is to build up a locally based food and energy system.

Some enlightened governments have started to actively pursue this – the government of Sweden, for example, has committed that nation to going ‘off oil’ by 2020. They have realised what is at stake. Other smaller communities have started to try and reduce the risk of oil-dependency, such as the town of Kinsale (population 2000) on the south coast of Ireland. That is what we in Mersea need to do – to strengthen all the institutions in our community to enable us to withstand the crisis that is coming in our direction. To allow Tesco onto the island would be like cutting off a leg in preparation for a marathon – insane.

If you are interested in this, and would like to know more about ‘Peak Oil’ in particular, come to the Parish Church Hall on Saturday January 7th at 9:30 am. I will set out in more detail what Peak Oil involves – what it means for Mersea (Tesco and Bradwell) – and what we need to do now to prepare for it. If we plan consciously to move away from oil, then the transition to the post-oil economy need not be too painful. However if we continue as we are, and proceed blindly into the future, then may God have mercy on us all.

Monday, December 05, 2005

James Alison on the Vatican's seminary statement


I've been waiting for this. Alison is wonderfully intelligent and lucid, as always.


I enjoy horror films. Somewhat bizarre tastes for a clergyman I suppose (a legacy of a secular youth) but I find them cathartic (classic horror is deeply conservative - there is a peaceful status quo; there is a violent interruption to the status quo; the violent interruption is repudiated). My taste tends more to the supernatural thriller side of things (Seven, Silence of the Lambs) than the gory schlock (Friday 13th, Elm Street) but I can enjoy most of them - particularly if I find myself in need of such catharsis (which all this preoccupation with PeakOil has definitely given me a need for). Sometimes I can get really tense and a good 'Aaaagh' is effective therapy.

So I watched 'Saw' last night. It was rather good, especially the twist at the end, which I hadn't been expecting.

Lots of 'Aaaagh'..... (grin)


This was an interesting film which I enjoyed, and which I felt was of high quality, but I came away from it thinking 'and so...?'

It was well acted throughout (good in particular to see Julia Roberts against type) but I think ultimately for a film to be satisfying for me a) it must have at least one sympathetic character to identify with - these were all more or less sociopathic, and b) there must be some sense of character development and either redemption or judgement, ie the story must cohere in the end with an archetypal shape - even if it plays with that shape, there must be reference to it. Neither of these conditions were met.

Misanthropic, but worth watching.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Love's the only engine of survival

"When they said 'repent'... I wondered what they meant"

2nd Sunday of Advent: John the Baptizer comes preaching repentance. As Cohen sings - we don't know what repentance means. So often we think of a stern moralistic preacher wagging his finger in judgement, predicting the doom of our civilisation.

Funny that, given all I've been reading up on in the last month or two.

From today's Epistle: "Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation". The thing I've been worrying about most is timing. How much time do we have to lay plans for alternative forms of life? What's the shape of the slope on the other side of Hubbert's Peak? How bad is it going to get?

"The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare"

Thing is, as Tom Wright often argues, this language is not about the prediction of heavenly events, but of the collapse of present day political structures. The 'elements' in 2 Peter are the powers that be.

There is a longing - and it is there in residual form in much secular doomsaying - for God's judgement to come and for a spectacular end to our world. That is what the Book of Revelation is about after all. Yet it is also the case that Jesus defers the expectations, for 'about that day and hour nobody knows'.

It's a displacement of our own - often deeply buried - awareness of our own sin, that is, our own awareness of how far we have fallen away from what it is to be truly human. Our culture is so profoundly inhuman, not least in the monopoly of time, and deep down we know this. We want it to end, and so we long for it to collapse, and we long for the father figure to come in and sort it all out for us. Yet we also fear such a judgement for the very same awareness of our wrongness implicates us in the wrong doing itself. So in our terror we offer up sacrifices to appease the wrath of the vengeful deity "Lord spare us".

The religious authorities recognise the power that this gives to them. They wag their finger and engender the terror. They exult in the coming judgement. They set up temples and demand sacrifice. They exist, parasitically, on the guilt and sorrow of the meek.

Into this situation comes the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It is an invitation into life, it is not a death sentence, for "He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."

Repentance - turn your life around - worship a living God - choose life - life for a community here and now, not the salvation of an individual soul at the end of time.

This offer of forgiveness comes first (like the resurrection) - no wonder they chopped off his head.

It's all about time. The living God wants us to return to him, to break our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh, to become the community that we were called out of Egypt to be - and to be a blessing to the world, to show forth God's blessing through that very same way of life which we show and which we share.

There is judgement - but it is not the judgement of a vengeful and wrathful deity. God's wrath is simply when we experience the consequences of our own actions. God's grace is when we are spared.

In the years to come we will experience the consequences of our actions (Kyrie Eleison) and many in positions of authority will seek to claim that this is the wrath of God - giving themselves authority at the same time.

Let us not believe them.

Instead, let us remember that Advent is the time for penitence (choose life!) and for hope - hope in the God of grace and love and vulnerability, revealed when he came to earth as a baby.

"With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day"

In the darkness of these days that are passing away, let us set all our hope on the mercy of Christ, and look "forward to a new heaven, and a new earth, the home of righteousness".

Friday, December 02, 2005

They're starting to realise something is up

Good article here about US politicians waking up to peakoil. Blair's move towards nuclear shows that he has realised the scale of the problem.

(hat tip to Energy Bulletin)