Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Excellent but abbreviated (Greenbelt 2010)

Defending the BBC

Bishop Nick saying good and interesting things here. From a conservative point of view, what most strikes me is the confusion inherent in (what seems to be) the Tory perspective of seeking to get rid of the BBC in favour of "market forces". This is idolatry of the first order, and actually a very good example of what conservatism is against - the destruction of an organic, entrenched, idiosyncratic, local and national institution in favour of some half-baked intellectual scheme and theory. I think there are problems with the BBC - not least bubble thinking - but it needs to be defended from the depradations of the Jacobins.

Ah - forgot that I've written on this before (at more length).

PS I was looking for a .gif of 'I love BBC' to stick on my sidebar, but can't find one. Any hints?

Law Abiding Citizen

Came close to being absolutely brilliant, but a weak ending (not the _very_ end, but the whole denouement) let it down. 4/5

The Hurt Locker

Interesting, absorbing character study, but narratively flabby. 4/5


OK - I'm back, and I'm happy :o)
Here's some things that I've enjoyed reading whilst on holiday:
A snatch of old song (or, why I might take up scything)
The dimensions of things (eg Pakistan flood)
Nine challenges of alternative energy
Biblical Christianity is bankrupt
How to save the music industry
Why we shouldn't be afraid of fear
A philosophical look at penal substitution
How much is left?
Why Green Wizards will get us nowhere (or: Transition vs JMG - a good example of where there is more in common than there is separating)

That'll do for now.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Quote of the day

I've long agreed with William Gibson that, in a technologically-driven culture like ours, "the future is already here - it is just unevenly distributed." In other words, if you want to know what society will be like in ten years time, look at what the technological people are doing now. (Handily, that'll also tell you what the church will be like in fifty years time.)

From here, via - originally - here.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Good but not great - though the character is quite interesting, and could go somewhere in a sequel. 'Jason Bourne as a girl'? Pretty much. 3.5/5

Knight and Day

Perfect summer action/date movie. 4/5

Some brief thoughts about that 'mosque'

It is proposed to build an Islamic centre, including a mosque, at a site in close proximity to 'Ground Zero' in New York.

- All sides agree that this is perfectly legal; that's not really the issue.
- The issue is whether it is morally right or sensible for this to take place.
- Much fuss about 'causing offence' - I tend to think that being offended is a sin and this isn't a solid ground for anything righteous.
- IF (and it's a big IF) there is a desire for triumphalism behind the establishment of this centre then it should be opposed, not on grounds of it being offensive, but on the grounds that the war against the khawarij continues, and it makes no sense to gift a propaganda victory to the enemy.
- If, however, the development of the centre is straightforward and above board then I see no reason to oppose it.

My two pennies, for what they're worth.
BTW I enjoy political cartoons - here's some that I thought were 'on point':

The sin of being offended

Is it ever right for a Christian to be offended? I believe not – and I’d like to explain why.

I believe that the degree of our ‘offense taking’ is the degree to which we remain to be converted to the gospel.

A key word in the Gospels is skandalon, a word that is translated differently in different places, sometimes straightforwardly as scandal, sometimes as offence, sometimes as 'stumbling-block'. Here are some examples:

Mt 11.6 - "blessed is the one who takes no offence at me" - ie is not scandalised by Jesus
1 Corinthians 1.23 - the stumbling block - crucial Christian concept (compare Ps 118.22 (quoted in Mk 12.10/Lk 20) Isaiah 8.12-15, 1 Peter 2 4-10)
Mt 5.29 - if your right eye causes you to sin, literally 'if your eye causes you to be scandalised' pluck it out
Mt 9.42 - whoever causes one of these little ones to be scandalised....
Jn 16.1 - "these things I have told you so that you will not be scandalised" (go astray)
Jn 6.53-61 - teaching about communion - "Does this offend you?" - communion shares in the scandal of the cross

The problem with skandalon – the taking of offence – is that it is an expression of worldly values. Scandal is contagious and reproduces itself across a society, forming a major way in which a society polices its own customs. It is 'the way of the world', and remember: the Satan, the ‘lord of this world’ is that force which seeks to reproduce scandal, the taking of offence – for it is in the shared nature of the offence taking that social solidarity is affirmed and reinforced.

Christianity, however, begins with the scandal of the cross. That is, in the story of Jesus we have the unmasking of this process – a scapegoat who isn’t simply a victim, but one who understands this process and who forgives those who take part in it. In other words, a victim who does not take offence. This “non-taking of offence” is central to Jesus’ entire ministry – indeed, he is regularly criticised for eating with sinners and tax collectors, and memorably criticises the religious authorities saying that the prostitutes will get to heaven before them! Through not taking offence, through not seeing religious pieties as things to be defended, Jesus changes the social dynamics and enables a non-violent reconciliation with the excluded to take place. That is the essence of the Kingdom – an unmasking of this process of scandal, scapegoating and violence, in order that a new common life, not built upon these elements, can come into being.

We are called to follow Christ's example. Thus, for a Christian, it is a sin to be offended. To take offence is to play the devil’s games, to enter into antagonism between the ‘righteous’ and the ‘unrighteous’, the ‘sinner’ and the ‘saved’. In letting go of any sense of offence, one is released from the mythological pressures embedded in all stories of ‘them and us’, and is set free to become the sort of person that God originally intended – living in peace and loving the neighbour.

This I find profoundly helpful, in terms of guiding my engagement and interest in the world. We are not to seek to preserve some sort of moral purity – that runs counter to Jesus’ own well documented practice. Nor are we to protest at being offended. After all, if God does not take offence at the murder of his Son, how can we take offence at anything milder?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Football predictions

It's a mugs game, but after last year's reasonable success, I'll stick my neck out again - although I'd emphasise that I'm much less confident of the predictions this year! Numbers in brackets are to notes at the end.

1. Chelsea (1)
2. ManU (2)
3. Man City (3)
4. Arsenal (4)
5. Liverpool (5)
6. Spurs
7. Everton
8. Villa (6)
9. Birmingham
10. Sunderland
11. Stoke
12. Fulham
13. Blackburn (7)
14. WHam
15. Wolves
16. Newcastle
17. Bolton
18. WBA (8)
19. Wigan
20. Blackpool (9)

(1) For the simple reason that I think Chelsea are significantly stronger than last year, injuries to Essien permitting.
(2) At some point the wheels on ManU will come off, but I've been tempted to write them off on many occasions before, and SAF keeps on doing the business. He'll do it again this year. I think SAF is, quite possibly, the greatest football manager ever.
(3) They'll take time to settle, but I think this year they will become a bit of a flat-track bully who will come unstuck against the top two. Next year may be different...
(4) If Arsenal sign a decent goalkeeper they will do better.
(5) Roy will get them organised, and I think he will get the best out of Joe Cole (what a muppet!)
(6) Don't see much between these next three, notwithstanding MO'N leaving, but if Spurs get a better striker on board then they will make a better go at staying in the top four.
(7) Similarly, not much between these next five, too good to go down, not good enough to go up (and I don't think Mark Hughes - who I think is good - will be able to better Roy's achievements at Fulham. It'll all be good experience for him though.)
(8) Relegation contenders - I'd far rather Bolton go down than WBA but sadly they're more likely to be higher up.
(9) The bottom two. I expect Martinez to be sacked before Christmas, and I don't expect that to help.

Collapse, part 2

Courier article, also based on my Tainter review

In my last column I briefly reviewed a book by Joseph Tainter on the collapse of civilisations. His principal argument is that societies collapse into lower levels of complexity as a direct result of decreasing marginal returns on investment. In other words, there comes a point when investing more resources into maintaining the status quo actually makes the situation worse, not better. How far Tainter is correct in this thesis is something that professionals in his field can take forward. My interest is with the implications for our present crisis, for it seems unarguable that our existing society has entered the realm of diminishing returns on investment (seen most clearly through peak oil – the Deepwater Horizon disaster can stand as the symbol for that).

Here are some thoughts about the implications of Tainter's argument, including why I come away from studying it with a sense of optimism.

To begin with, there is a trade off between efficiency and resilience; that is, the most efficient forms of complexity are the most susceptible to a sudden collapse. In contrast, those that are less efficient have deeper levels of resilience. This can actually be seen with regard to the collapse of the USSR in the 1990's, the most recent example of a civilisational collapse. As the Soviet state was incredibly inefficient, most citizens had actually developed ways of coping without the central state, especially with regard to growing their own food. This meant that they were well placed to cope with the withdrawal of central state services when the collapse came.

Secondly, armed with Tainter's insights, the theme of diminishing returns on complexity appears to explain much of contemporary politics. In the UK for example we have over the last ten years or so seen a significant increase in the resources made available from the centre for various purposes, eg health care. Sadly, much of that new investment has gone towards increasing the level of central control, and has failed in every respect. The new coalition government's emphasis upon the 'Big Society' is, I would say, simply a recognition that the central government can no longer afford to exercise such direct control.

Thirdly, a large part of the 'green' critique of our contemporary society chimes strongly with Tainter's emphases. Underlying the idea that constant growth of the economy is a dangerous delusion is an entire vision called 'permaculture', or, sustainability. In other words, the idea is that a particular arrangement of human habits and lifestyles can be maintained over the long term, in a harmonious balance with the natural environment which supports such lifestyles. Lifestyles which take too much out of the environment are unsustainable – in other words, they will come to an end, they will collapse. What Tainter provides is a way of analysing our present activities that helps to indicate whether they are sustainable in the long run, or not.

Tainter writes that "Collapse, if and when it comes again, will be global. No longer can any individual nation collapse. World civilisation will disintegrate as a whole." It seems unarguable to me that our present form of industrial civilisation will collapse; what is not clear to me is whether it makes sense to equate 'industrial civilisation' with 'technically advanced and humane civilisation'. In particular there seems no reason why it should not be possible to shift to a 'steady-state' type of economy, which is precisely what the green movement is advocating.

The crucial point is that I do not see our existing levels of complexity as inherently desirable, rather the opposite. When the Western Roman Empire collapsed it came about after a long period of the centre increasing taxation on the periphery – the Roman elite taxing the farmers in order to sustain their own lifestyles. As might be predicted, this simply resulted in a decrease in agricultural production and the seeds of rebellion. Just as the late-Roman farmers found it in their interest to let the central structures collapse, so too might the majority of the industrialised nations find it in their interest to let the gigantic state structures, built up through the twentieth century, collapse in turn. (What future the EU?)

So why have I come away from Tainter with an optimistic outlook? The answer is that Tainter makes plain that the collapse of complexity is not necessarily a universal bane. On the contrary, whilst those most closely invested in the centralised structures do badly in a collapse, it is quite possible that the majority of a community will benefit, not least because for a long time leading up to a collapse the maintenance of the status quo had exacted an increasing burden upon ordinary citizens, through the increase of taxes and the restrictions on human freedom. The removal of a particular level of human complexity does not, of itself, lead to depopulation. It seems quite possible that the twenty-first century future will be local, resilient and humane, and without an over-bearing state recklessly absorbing and wasting scarce resources that prospect seems very attractive. Of course, getting to that point will likely be very scary...

In my next column, I'll be narrowing down the focus even more to talk about what these things might mean for Mersea.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Some books relating to the war against the khawarij

I first started to become interested in Islam whilst at theological college, when I did a term's course on it. That was then seasoned and enhanced whilst working in the East End, in a Muslim-majority area, particularly from taking sixth-form general studies lessons for the local youth. These are books that I have either read (linked through to a review where applicable) or that are on my bookshelf awaiting the right moment to be read. If I could only recommend one title for this area it would be the Habeck book, from whence comes my title. My longest discussion of these issues can be found here.

The Koran, Penguin Classics (not an easy read)
I also have a translation and commentary on the Koran by A. Yusuf Ali brought back to me from Saudi Arabia by a friend.

Muhammad, by Maxine Rodinson Standard, 'vintage' biography of Muhammad.
The Truth about Muhammad, Robert Spencer - up to date and very critical biography.

Islam, a short history, Karen Armstrong Basic, standard work.
The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), Robert Spencer. Robert Spencer giving his take (hostile).
Islam and the West, Norman Daniel Haven't read this one yet, but it seems mainstream.
The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam, Bat Ye'or - another one still to be read, but highly regarded.
The legacy of Jihad, ed. Andrew Bostom - another still to be read, academic, thorough.

Some philosophical ones:
Al Qaeda and what it means to be Modern, John Gray - short, readable and very stimulating contrarian view.
The West and the Rest, Roger Scruton - argues that the West is distinctive and worth defending.
The Crisis of Islam, Bernard Lewis - one of the foremost commentators of Islam from a Western perspective. I need to read more of Lewis' work.
The Rage and the Pride, and, The Force of Reason, Oriana Fallaci. Fallaci is a bit bonkers, but she makes many telling points and deserves to be read more widely. I haven't read the second one yet.

On Jihad and our present war
Knowing the Enemy, Mary Habeck - I have just finished this one, and I would highly recommend it as the first one to read on this area. Measured and clear-eyed.
Celsius 7/7, Michael Gove - quite good for a politician.
Londonistan, Melanie Phillips - haven't read beyond chapter one yet, but I can guess what to expect!
Militant Islam reaches America, Daniel Pipes - one of the best books I've read; Pipes' blog is worth following.
While Europe Slept, Bruce Bawer - stimulating and outlines what is at stake.

Some terms that I think are worth understanding:
The House of War (dar al-Harb) and the House of Peace (dar al-Islam)
and of course
Jihad, but see here

I'll try and keep this post up to date.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Where the Wild Things Are

Brilliant - but slightly too long, and not completely coherent in its conclusion. Kids loved it. 4.5/5

Oxford Murders

Not sure about this one. Anything which opens with a few minutes of half-accurate exposition of Wittgenstein has to be good in my book but... I watched it with my mother-in-law who described it as flat in pacing and like a TV movie. Couldn't disagree really. 3/5

Monday, August 09, 2010

What I think about the Bible, reposted

First posted in February 2007; reposted as an answer to Paul's meme

The I-Monk interviewed himself (go read it here, it's very interesting) and I thought I’d steal the “Ten Questions About the Bible”

1. State briefly what you believe about the Bible.
Scripture contains all things necessary for salvation; it witnesses to Christ – and in Christ is eternal life. (John 5.39)

2. How is the Bible inspired?
'God-breathed' - God is the subject of the text. Also: at each stage of the process: composition; collation; reading.

3. So is the book of Judges inspired, or only the Gospels?
At what point does the valley become the mountain? God was present at the time of the Judges, the book of Judges records what the community understood of Him at that time. The understanding of the gospel writers was significantly in advance of that.

4. How is the Bible authoritative?
The Bible carries the authority given to it by the church – so, for the Church of England, it is the controlling authority, which is best understood with the help of tradition and reason.

5. Is the Bible a human book?
All books are human. There is a docetic suspicion lurking behind this question – an assumption that because something is human it cannot also bear the stamp of divinity.

6. Are there aspects of the Bible that are not divine?
All of it. And none of it. The Spirit, being the relational part of the Trinity, is what is needed for anything to become divine. It is not ‘inertly’ divine (that seems more like the Islamic understanding of the Koran).

7. Why do you call the Bible a conversation?
Because there are lots of competing voices in it. The way to read the Bible, the way for it to help you to walk in the Christian way, is to listen to the different voices and get a handle on the common subject – then you are in a position to take the conversation forward in your own life.

8. What do you believe about canonization?
Canonisation is the process by which the church discriminates between those writings which give life and those which destroy life. I trust its discernment. I also don’t see any canon as final; I think the church universal has the capacity to amend the canon, either positively or negatively.

9. Do you reject the inspiration of some books?

10. Anything else you want to say?
Inerrancy is never claimed by the Bible. It is an alien importation from the doctrines of men and represents a crippling disease in the Body of Christ.

11. is your theology “inconsistent?”
God knows.

Even if it's not explicitly a meme, I'd be very interested in other people's answers to these questions.

(Picture taken last week; chosen because you can't sail on a reflection, even if a reflection can tell you an awful lot about the original...)

Saturday, August 07, 2010


This is by way of a response to Jon who thinks I'm too harsh on Adam Smallbone and who argues "Smallbone's 'I'm tired of having to tell people what they want to hear all the time' is something that I would guess most of us think at some stage in our ministry. Moments like those have been the basis for much of the comedy in the series and, in my experience at least, seem an authentic reflection on an aspect of being in ministry. In the context of the story told in the final episode, that comment was then deliberately undercut by the writers in the denouement to the episode where he says exactly what his dying parishioner wants and needs to hear and this is restorative both for the parishioner and himself."

Trouble is, if that is the truth - and yes, all good art is open to multiple interepretation - but if that is the truth then, for me, the ending is denuded of all value. Let me explain.

I read the climax of the series, when Smallbone is collected by the police and taken off to do his proper work, as a moment of anagnorisis. In other words, in the midst of his drunken gropings, the overflow of self-pity and self-hatred, Smallbone is recalled to his essential vocation, a vocation expressed in ministering with truth and dignity in a sacramental fashion. In other words, there is a break with what has gone before - which, in retrospect, is seen unfavourably. That had great power for me - it is why I liked it.

If, however, Jon's analysis is true, and Smallbone is still saying 'exactly what his dying parishioner wants and needs to hear' then there is a consistency between Smallbone's behaviour leading up to this moment and what he then does. In other words, there is no anagnorisis, there is no crisis, there is no growth in self-knowledge. How dull!

The trouble is that I really could believe Jon's analysis of the writers' intention to be true. That is, I found the ending so wonderful because it undercut what had gone before, not because it was consistent with what had gone before.

Something else needs to be touched on.

The problem is that 'saying what people want to hear' is a consistent part of Smallbone's nature, and it ties in with what I see as a lack of character. A previous moment that I felt was telling was when Smallbone half-apologises to his wife that they have never had children, and the wife responds that she already has one, ie him! Perhaps they should have called the character 'Adam No-Backbone' instead.

There is all the difference in the world between refraining from speaking the truth - out of pastoral concern and sensitivity to kairos, say - and speaking what people want to hear. The one is a prudent forebearance that keeps at least one eye on the main purpose, the other is a rootless drifting in the currents of the world. It is because Smallbone had seemed to be so much of the latter kind that I found the ending so wonderful a contrast.

I would not wish to argue, either, that this is a matter of strength of character. Indeed, that is to perpetuate the most fundamental theological error in the programme. God is more than happy to make use of weak vessels to accomplish his own ends, indeed, as St Paul tells us, this is in some ways the essential point in being a Christian. Again, this is what I found so wonderful and true about the ending - a weak man being the means of divine grace.

The trouble with Smallbone is that he lacked a place to stand outside of himself, somewhere that is not comprised of (and compromised by) his own narcissism. He lacked, so it seemed to me, any sense of the otherness of God, of that power greater than himself within which he found his own true calling and nature, which loved him and enabled him to be himself - to precisely not be a false self, presenting what other people wanted to hear. I don't think it a coincidence that there was so little exploration of worship in the programme - perhaps they couldn't, as it was a comedy - yet without that, any true presentation of priesthood collapses. I often felt that the programme could have been changed into a non-religious context without any serious alterations of character being required - Smallbone could easily have been a social worker or government bureaucrat, and much of the comedy would have remained.

To put it succinctly, Smallbone had no fear of God in him. That is why I shall continue to see him as the construct of the secular, liberal elite - they have no understanding of the fear of God, no sense of it as a living (and life-giving) reality - and their presentation of the faith shares that failing. They don't understand it, therefore it doesn't exist - other than as a quaint delusion shared by the uneducated or mentally deficient. Smallbone is a nice guy, doing his best.
Forgive me, but I believe that there is more to being a Rev. than that.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The collapse of civilisations (part one)

A courier article, based on my original Tainter review

Pretty much every civilisation that has ever existed has come to an end (we can argue about China another time). Our civilisation will be no different. There has, as you might expect, been a fair bit of academic research into why this is the case. What I'd like to do in the next few articles is describe how this collapse might be understood, first in general terms with a book review; then thinking more locally, in terms of the UK and Mersea itself; finally thinking about what sort of response we might make.

The seminal work in this field is 'The Collapse of Complex Civilisations' by Joseph Tainter. Tainter's work was originally published in 1988 and has the feel of a work which is establishing a new field of study. Tainter is concerned to explore what 'collapse' means, when applied to a society; how collapse happens; and, in the conclusion, to draw some possible lessons for our present situation. The first chapter is a swift survey of eighteen historical examples of collapsed societies around the world, from the Harappans to the Hohokams. This serves to introduce the field that Tainter wishes to study, and also indicates the absence of rigorous empirical investigation. This is the cue for Tainter to begin his systematic analysis. He outlines what is meant by 'collapse', describing it as "a matter of rapid substantial decline in an established level of complexity. A society that has collapsed is suddenly smaller, less differentiated and heterogeneous, and characterised by fewer specialised parts..." Then in chapter three, Tainter surveys the explanations commonly given for why a particular society collapses, finding them all more or less deficient, and saving an especial scorn for 'mystical explanations' (eg Spengler or Toynbee), about which he writes: "Mystical explanations fail totally to account scientifically for collapse. They are crippled by reliance on a biological growth analogy, by value judgements, and by explanation by reference to intangibles." In the course of this chapter he also gives a resounding declaration of the benefit of excluding value-judgements: "A scholar trained in anthropology learns early on that such valuations are scientifically inadmissible, detrimental to the cause of understanding, intellectually indefensible, and simply unfair".

Tainter then takes the best existing explanation for collapse (economic) and proceeds to develop a hypothesis to explain why complex societies might suddenly shift from a more complex to a less complex state. His thesis can be concisely stated: increasing complexity gives rise to diminishing marginal returns on investment; when those returns become negative, the society has a progressively diminishing capacity to withstand stress, and is vulnerable to collapse.

Essentially at point C3 there is no benefit from the increase of complexity (C3-C1) - hence the collapse from C3 to C1.

This thesis is built upon four working assumptions:
- human societies are problem-solving organisations;
- sociopolitical systems require energy for their maintenance;
- increased complexity carries with it increased costs per capita; and
- investment in sociopolitical complexity as a problem-solving response often reaches a point of declining marginal returns.

What happens is that, as a complex society initially develops, there is a very high return on investment in complexity - the resources made available through that adoption of complexity are far higher than are used up through the complex organisation itself. However, over time, the 'low hanging fruit' are used up, and for every increase in complexity there is a lower and lower resource return until there comes a point where simply maintaining the existing complexity has a negative impact upon available resources - in other words, the resources are more efficiently deployed through a less complex system.

Tainter gives a number of different specific and small-scale examples where this decline in marginal returns applies, for example in terms of the return on research and development investment, or medical research, but his next chapter applies the theory to understanding three different examples of collapse. The most telling example, to my mind, was that of the farmers in the latter stages of the Western Roman Empire, who were taxed more and more heavily in order to maintain the apparatus of the Roman state, and who eventually welcomed the barbarian invasions as a release from what had become Roman oppression. A Roman structure of high complexity had been viable for as long as there were increasing resources made available - and this was accomplished through conquest. However, once the limits of conquest were reached (either with the German tribes, whose relative poverty made their conquest uneconomic, or through coming up against another Empire strong enough to resist Rome, eg the Parthian) then that model of development became untenable. The accumulated resources available to Rome were drawn down, its capacity to absorb shocks to the system was eroded, and thus the collapse of that form of complexity became a matter of time. As Tainter writes, "Once a complex society enters the stage of declining marginal returns, collapse becomes a mathematical likelihood, requiring little more than sufficient passage of time to make probable an insurmountable calamity". As a complex society enters into this terminal phase, the advantages to retreating to a previously existing level of complexity become more and more obvious, and local communities start to shift their allegiance: "...a society reaches a state where the benefits available for a level of investment are no higher than those available for some lower level...Complexity at such a point is decidedly not advantageous, and the society is in danger of collapse from decomposition or external threat".

Next time, I'll start to link these generalities with the specifics that we face in England generally, and on Mersea in particular.

Clouds and silver linings

Cloud: getting a puncture on the back wheel of my motorbike on my way back from Colchester, 5 miles from home, and having to push it home.

Silver linings: all the lovely parishioners who stopped to give me practical and moral support :)

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Slap - Christos Tsiolkas

Jane Austen, with added pornography.

Let me expand slightly on that: a very interesting portrait of a small group of middle-aged, middle-class parents, and the consequences upon their lives when one of their number slaps the child of another. I might have wished for a little less crudity, but it was an absorbing read, and it raises some important issues into the light. Recommended.


Two brilliant things about that latest and last episode of Rev, which was watched late by me:
- the ending,
- the portrayal of what it is to be a fed up vicar, flopped on the sofa watching rubbish TV with beer in hand ('I feel like a remnant of an illusion that people used to believe in' - great line).

Could relate to both of those things.

What I really got frustrated with, however, was the continued lack of authenticity in the portrayal of the vocation, summed up when Smallbone says 'I'm tired of having to tell people what they want to hear all the time'. Throughout the series he seemed to have no moral centre, no anchor - a representation of what the liberal elites think about faith. Gah!

I've enjoyed the programme - and I'd watch another series if they made one - but I still long for a portrayal of a priest that isn't filtered through a secular mindset.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010


A very clever film, and very enjoyable, and even has an emotional punch, but... not sure. There's something not quite perfect about it (might just be that I don't like Leo very much). Perhaps the overall balance wasn't completely right. Not enough emotional substance? Perhaps I'm just being too picky - it's certainly a cut above most films.

It was also not as confusing as I had thought it was going to be, though I'd kept clear of various reviews so as not to prejudge things, which probably helped. I look forward to watching it again when it comes out on DVD.

I think - in sum - it's a contrast between two things for me - the end shot (reproduced above) which reminded me so much of the end of Tarkovsky's Mirror (no higher praise) with wonderful ambivalence - and the distraction of some of the action sequences (some were phenomenal, but the snow-battle was a distraction I feel). Hmmm. Still thinking about it - must be a good sign.

PS I think this review says it.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Three factors

A bit of a riff on my 'hate it here' post (NB newish readers should probably see this post for a bit more on the 'hate' part).

I'm not very good at discerning the timing of events - that is, I underestimate the amount of inertia in the system, and things happen much more slowly than might be expected on abstract logical grounds. That said, these are things that I see being important over the next fifteen years or so:

- first, the whole question of Islam/terrorism, and the likely political and strategic conflicts and realignments that might come about in the Middle East;
- second, the ongoing financial crisis and deflation, leading to (probably) a shift in economic power to the East;
- thirdly, crashing into resource limits, especially the peaking of the oil supply.

Now all of these three are going to interact in multiple and unpredictable ways. What I'm pretty sure about, however, is that coming out on the other side, we will be in a very different place. Which is why a lot of the prognostications that depend upon more or less 'business as usual' seem rather unreal to me.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

I hate it here (updated)

Thought I'd revisit this post from December 2006 (which I was reminded of by a conversation with Byron)

I wanted to use a blog post to write down how I see things panning out. I’ll probably re-appraise this on a regular basis, to see how my expectations are matching up with reality. I am conscious of an element of wishful thinking in the analysis – the simple truth is that I hate the way that the world is presently arranged, and I long for it to end. Maranatha!
One background assumption – I believe that humankind will not change its behaviour until it has exhausted all the alternatives. So this is pessimistic.
Point 2: the impact of a decline will spark a number of positive feedback systems, exacerbating the crisis. The positive side is that there will be some warning of what is coming, for those who can read the signs of the times. However, people will still not believe the scale of what is coming until it is too late. There will be a severe shortage of fuel throughout the West. Governments will ration it; at the bottom of the rationing heap will be the private user. Given the scale of the problem private commuting based upon fossil-fuels will cease, never to return. (This is a good thing. Kill the car! Let us be human!)
Point 3: one key positive feedback system will involve wider armed conflict throughout the world, especially in the Middle East. The key question there is whether the outcome will be an expansionist Islamist caliphate or an eventually nuclear Islamic civil war. I believe that the US/UK leadership is now actively fostering the latter. More widely, the West will outcompete the 3rd World for scarce petroleum and this will provoke die-off, especially in Africa. There are likely to be huge population flows towards the West in the coming two decades. Watch Mexico/US relations on this question, especially in the coming 18 months. Christians should also be aware of the push towards scapegoating of minorities, and be prepared to resist this.
Point 4: The solutions to global warming and peak oil are one and the same: powerdown and renewables. The most important long term question is whether and how far to continue using fossil fuels to preserve people in life, or whether we are able, in this generation, to make an effective change to a lower-energy and renewable civilisation. I do not believe that there are any cost-free options. There are many possibilities for a more peaceful transition; these are what Christians must spend their time working towards, so far as they are able and the divine grace precedes them. The princes of this world will deny them, and the world of the flesh will ignore them. The key issue is how far the angel of death is allowed to come.
BTW “I hate it here” is the title of Spider Jerusalem’s column. Spider Jerusalem is my hero.