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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Just Finished Reading: Berserker Man by Fred Saberhagen

Millennia ago in a distant part of the Galaxy a war was waged by implacable enemies. One of the alien races produced what it saw as the ultimate weapon that would finally ensure them total victory. They created advanced machines capable of independent thought and fitted with awesome capabilities for destruction. Long after the death of both adversaries the remaining sentient races who fight them call them Berserkers.

Mankind has been at war with the Berserkers for centuries and are slowly losing the fight. In an act of desperation they devise a super weapon of their own – the ultimate human/machine hybrid. But the person capable of assuming this mantel as mankind’s saviour is a rare creature indeed. Searching among the teeming billions a perfect match is finally found…. in the form of an 11 year old boy. Unfortunately for him the Berserkers know of his existence too.

The Berserkers are great enemies. Evil machines bent on the destruction of all life wherever it is found. They are clever opponents as well as powerful ones and provide a impressive foil for human capabilities – and not just in the military dimension. Like my other favourite ‘bad guys’ the Borg and the Replicators they can be resisted but not (generally) defeated. They test us against the basic forces of death itself.

Berserker Man was apparently the final chapter in the Berserker series and was, maybe because of that, slightly disappointing. Concentrating on the development of the ultimate human warrior rather than the anticipated space combat its slant was more metaphysical than military. Competently written I certainly enjoyed it enough to race through it in three short days. Reasonable.

Monday, January 28, 2008

These Are a Few of my Favourite Things:

1) Hard Cheese – especially mature Cheddar, Lancashire and Red Leicester
2) Vanilla – both the smell and the taste in ice cream and the much missed vanilla coke
3) Brilliant blue skies – something we don’t get a lot of during some winters.
4) Books and book shops – my signature addiction
5) Movies – especially at the cinema
6) Music – just about all types with only a few exceptions.
7) Computer games – particularly Real-Time Strategy
8) History – especially Ancient at the moment but also the 19th Century
9) Science – there are some areas I know very little about (such as Chemistry) and most Maths just leaves me cold but I do enjoy reading about physics and biology. Quantum Physics in particular makes my head spin in a most enjoyable way.
10) Art – I far prefer representational art (where what you see is fairly close to reality) but I have seen some modern art I actually liked. I don’t really have any favourite artists but I much prefer portraits to landscapes (which strangely is the opposite of what I like to take photographs of).
11) Debate – I love to argue with people.
12) My own bed – always a great pleasure when I get back from somewhere strange.
13) Long hot baths – a luxury in today’s instant gratification culture.
14) The nape of a woman’s neck.
15) Film Noir
16) Cats
17) T-shirts – I have literally hundreds of them.
18) Philosophy – my current obsession (see 4 and 11)
19) The colour blue (see 3) though in recent years I’ve developed a fondness for red and green too.
20) The motoring show Top Gear – though I have never driven a car, never learnt how to drive and have no real interest in any car related activity.
21) Cartoons – especially shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy.
22) Bugs Bunny
23) Red heads.
24) Conifers
25) A rugged coastline with waves crashing on a rocky shoreline.
26) Classical piano and Classical guitar.
27) The female singing voice regardless of musical genre.
28) Google
29) Hot Chocolate
30) My Sister.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Christianity - is it all Greek to us?

By Giles Fraser for Ekklesia

15 Jan 2008

The famous opening of the Gospel of St John — “In the beginning was the Word” - always reminds me that when the early Church spoke about the Word of God, it did not mean the Bible, it meant Jesus. Jesus was the Word — in Greek, the logos. It is a remarkable term, for it draws into the heart of the Gospel a whole world of associations that derive from Greek philosophy. The idea of the logos makes reference not only to the eternal Word that hovered over the waters at the beginning of time (or, at least, at the beginning of Genesis, which the opening of St John parallels); but also, and quite deliberately, to the philosophy of Stoicism and middle-Platonism, in which the idea of the logos was widely employed.

Early Christian intellectuals, especially Justin Martyr and Origen, drew heavily on the philosophy of the logos to explain the mystery of the incarnation: how Jesus Christ could be both fully God and fully human. For them, the logos, or eternal divine wisdom, was like a mediating principle, connecting both into one. Yet something else was going on, too. Early Christianity had a cultural inferiority complex. Snooty Roman intellectuals looked down on the religion of a peasant from Galilee and the idea of God born in a cow shed. They sneered at the shoddy Greek of the New Testament. As Christianity spread deeper into the Roman world, it had to contend more and more with this intellectual snobbery. Theologians such as Justin and Origen were keen to show that Christianity could hold its own in the academy. Logos philosophy was perfect. It explained the incarnation, and claimed intellectual respectability, showing that Christians could think like the Greeks.

Like all inferiority complexes, however, it led to trouble. Many of the founding theologies of the Christian Church were drawn up on the assumption that the Greeks — and that mostly means Plato — were substantially right about philosophy. As a consequence, early Christian thought is deeply impregnated with Platonism. Yet, while Plato seemed self-evidently correct to the Christian apologists of the second and third centuries, the vast majority of today’s thinkers agree that Plato was deeply mistaken, and even politically dangerous. Explaining this is something of a challenge in so short a space, which is why I intend to return to the subject from variety of angles in future columns. I believe a vital part of the intellectual task confronting today’s theologians is to unscramble our theology from Platonism. It is a tricky business. So close have they grown that attacking Plato while affirming Christianity is the intellectual equivalent of operating on conjoined twins.

[No philosophy or religion springs full grown into existence. Every ideology has antecedents and Christianity is not alone in this. Borrowing (or stealing dependent on your point of view) liberally from Greek and Roman philosophy and as well as the Pagan religions of the day it is hardly surprising that there are clear parallels between them. To many the Bible is the word of God but as the article above shows it is much more likely to be the word(s) of Plato and others like him.]

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Just Finished Reading: The Dream of Reason – A History of Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance by Anthony Gottlieb

This is the main course book for the philosophy unit I’ve just started so I had to read it. Fortunately for me it was very good and I managed to read the vast majority of it over Christmas at my Mum’s house. As you can imagine from the title it outlined the development of Western philosophy from its earliest beginnings in the Greek world. I didn’t know much about the pre-Socratics (such as Zeno of the Arrow fame) and to be honest they don’t interest me very much – being mainly concerned with mistaken interpretations of Cosmology and such. Things got more interesting in general (for me anyway) with Socrates and his two successors Plato and Aristotle. I haven’t read any Plato yet but I think that Aristotle rocks – even after being rather harsh on him in my first essay.

What I actually found most interesting was the later Hellenistic philosophers known as the Stoics and the Epicureans (and of course the Sceptics). You’ll be hearing more about them later I’m sure. The final section (which I didn’t need to read as it’s outside the timeframe we’re covering) was on the Medieval philosophers – of which their where precious few of note. All in all this was a very comprehensive (though not rushed) study of 2000 odd years of the human attempt to reason about the world and our place in it.

Gottlieb appears to really know his stuff and writes about it very well. He exhibits what can only be described as a love of his subject matter and not only manages to get this across to his readership – at least to me – but actually made me laugh out loud on more than one occasion with his sense of humour which I think must be pretty rare in historical philosophy books! This is definitely a book for the general interested reader and is, as one reviewer says, quite superb. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the history of reasonable thought.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Monsters of Our Own Making

By Rosa Brooks for the Los Angeles Times

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Happy Frankenstein Month! Yes, this month marks the 190th anniversary of the publication of “Frankenstein,” Mary Shelley’s novel about a man who dreams of reshaping humanity but ends up creating a monster. And you’re probably wondering: Just how should I observe Frankenstein Month? Hallmark seems to be slacking off here — I couldn’t find a single Frankenstein’s 190th anniversary card. Fortunately, you can still mark the occasion just by skimming the week’s newspapers, which contain an above-average number of “Oops We’ve Created a Monster!” stories from the world of foreign policy — many starring the U.S. government as a modern-day Dr. Frankenstein.

Start with this week’s big story from Pakistan. According to Tuesday’s New York Times, Islamic militant groups funded and nurtured for years by the Pakistani intelligence services — with U.S. backing, in the 1980s — are now completely out of control. The Pakistani government, which hoped to use militant groups to further its own interests in Afghanistan and the Kashmir region, now finds that the militants have instead “turned on their former handlers,” carrying out “a record number of suicide attacks last year, including some aimed directly at army and intelligence units.” Making matters worse, many analysts say that the Pakistani intelligence services are riddled with agents who support the militants and their extremist agenda. Despite this, the Bush administration continues to shower Pakistan’s military and intelligence services with aid, even as Pakistan sinks further into chaos. Long-term U.S. strategy? None. Score: Monster, 100; Frankenstein, 0.

Next door in Afghanistan, six years after we “liberated” the Afghans from the Taliban yoke, Frankenstein re-enactments are also taking place. Tuesday’s Washington Post fronted a major story about the deteriorating situation: “After more than six years of coalition warfare in Afghanistan, NATO is a bundle of frayed nerves and tension over nearly every aspect of the conflict.” Warlords — some supported by us — control many Afghan regions, the Taliban is resurgent and a new “Taliban offensive [is] expected in the spring, along with another record opium poppy crop.” Suicide bombings are up by 30%, and there are signs that Al Qaeda is regrouping.On Wednesday, this newspaper reported that the death rate for U.S. troops in Afghanistan was higher in 2007 than ever before. Defense Secretary Robert Gates now predicts a need for at least 7,500 additional troops in Afghanistan. And — though we’ve already found reason to regret our 1980s policy of arming the Afghan militants who later became the Taliban (we liked them when they were fighting the Soviets) — the U.S. is now contemplating arming additional southern Afghan tribes to help fight the resurgent Taliban. Exit strategy? None. Score: Monster ahead, eroding early gains by Frankenstein.

Then there’s Iraq. Deaths are thankfully down somewhat, but the lack of political progress has left a tenuous, still-violent stalemate, sustainable only if U.S. troops remain indefinitely. On Tuesday, Iraq’s defense minister said Iraq couldn’t provide internal security until at least 2012 and wouldn’t be able to defend its borders until at least 2018. Iraq was supposed to be a beacon of peace, democracy and stability. Instead, it turned into a recruiting beacon for Islamic militants, a black hole for taxpayer dollars and a quagmire for our troops. Even our apparent successes have bred new problems. Arming local tribal and religious leaders has undermined efforts to strengthen Iraq’s fragile central government, and Iraq’s greatest success story — the relatively stable Kurdish region in the north — has been marred by escalating conflict with Turkey over claimed Iraqi havens for Turkish rebels. This week, Turkey bombed targets inside Iraq for the fourth time in a month. In Iraq as elsewhere, we have no exit strategy; the monsters we created continue to run rings around us.

So here’s my proposal: Let’s join together to mark Frankenstein Month, a national period of reflection on foreign policy hubris and unintended consequences. President Bush has established National Mentoring Month, National Farm-City Week and Great Outdoors Month — so why not Frankenstein Month? Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein built his monster out of body parts pilfered from corpses, and the monsters created by our reckless foreign policies also reek of the charnel house. Of course, in Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein is tormented by guilt when he realizes what a horror he has unwittingly unleashed on the world, and he tries desperately to undo the damage he’s done. There might be some lessons here for the White House.

[Whilst we are in the unfortunate position of fighting monsters we created in years gone by maybe we should also be giving some attention to the monsters we are creating today. Because sooner or later those monsters will come looking for us with payback on their minds. We should really be thinking about getting out of the monster making business before they come knocking at our front door - again.]

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Just Finished Reading: Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield

This was the tale of the battle of Thermopylae – arguable one of if not the most important battles in Western history - where the 300 Spartans and their other Greek allies fought the combined armies of Persia (rumoured to be as many as 2 million men) for three days. Told from the point of view of a surviving Helot slave it related events leading up to the battle as well as the awful reality of hoplite warfare itself. Often brutally bloody but brimming with dark humour – as well as an impressive amount of swearing – this was a very well written piece of work.

Pressfield had obviously put a great deal of time and effort in making this book as accurate as possible. Speaking to experts in the field he put together a believable world and populated it with real historical characters and others to bring alive a long dead age of heroes and the Gods they worshiped. Although he did not shirk from the harsh realities of the time and place the author presented the Spartans in a highly sympathetic way as the admirable warrior elite of their day. Though ruthless by today’s standards Sparta was in many ways ahead of its time in its treatment of women and the treatment of its citizens. But like every other city state of the time it had a huge slave population with everything that entailed.

This was an immensely enjoyable book. If you liked (or in my case loved) the movie 300 you will most certainly like this book. Gripping, moving, exciting and heart wrenching it is almost guaranteed to start a love affair with the Ancient world that you may not recover from. An excellent novel and highly recommended.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Losing our religion?

By Alister McGrath for The Telegraph


The decline in British church attendance continues. Parents who go to church are less and less likely to pass on their faith to their children. The "Decade of Evangelism" seems to have done little to reverse this trend. As many congregations grow older, there is no sign of young people queuing to fill the empty pews.

The figures hide significant variations. About 50 per cent of British church congregations are slowly dwindling - but 15 per cent are holding their own and 35 per cent are even growing. There are important surges in attendance at Christmas services, especially at cathedrals. Organised religion may be in decline, yet a concern for spirituality remains important for many. Some believe the decline in church attendance mirrors something deeper within society. Changing patterns of work and leisure are disrupting traditional Sunday worship patterns. Sociologists including Robert Putnam and Grace Davie have argued that churchgoing is to be seen as a marker of a general decline in social participation.

Many aspects of social participation, they point out, have declined at similar rates over similar periods. The latest statistics vividly demonstrate the impact of immigration on the shape of British religious life. It is widely agreed that major ethnic minority populations are more religious than British-born whites. Two years ago, who could have imagined that Catholicism would be enriched by a surge of Polish members? The statistics particularly highlight the dramatic rise of Pentecostalism, a recent and vibrant form of Protestantism now thought to have 500 million adherents. Its emphasis on religious experience, its exuberant styles of worship and its commitment to social outreach have given it a massive following among the urban poor in Asia, Latin America and Africa.

It is now a growing presence in England within the Asian and African diasporas, especially in London. The long-term impact of this development on the face of English Christianity will be considerable. The Church of England has been overtaken in attendance by Catholicism. While the Church of England can rightly point to the weight of history, the importance of cultural memory, the largest number of church buildings, and a large penumbra of nominal church members in defence of its continued status as the established church, there is clearly a problem emerging. What happens if the established church becomes a minority church? But for all Christians, the statistics raise a question of whether dwindling congregations mean a crisis of faith in Britain. The response to recent atheist works, such as Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion, suggests not.

There is a new appetite for discussion and debate about the place of faith in personal and public life. Dawkins and others have given Christianity a wake-up call, highlighting its need to demonstrate its intellectual roots and cultural relevance. So can the churches recapture the imagination of our culture? If not, many will conclude that they deserve to fade away. Never have Christian leaders been under such pressure to prove their worth to their people. We need visionary leadership. Will we find it?

[An interesting point of view I thought. Does the continuing decline in Church attendance – despite the influx of immigrant believers - reflect a decline in faith or are things rather more complex than that? Are we witnessing the death of Christianity (at least in Europe) or is the method of counting the modern faithful just too simplistic to cope with the complexity of contemporary religious practice?]

Monday, January 14, 2008

To Coin a Phrase

One of the things that interest me (sad I know) is the origin of words and phrases. I do sometimes hear or even use phrases and find myself wondering where they come from. One I have used down the years is “To give someone the whole nine yards”. Sometimes I’ve heard a variation on this of “Going the whole nine yards”. Initially I thought that this sounds like a term used in sport – maybe golf or even American football. Then some years ago I discovered that its origins are quite different.

Apparently the phrase “Give ‘em the whole nine yards” comes from the First World War. Back in those days the weapon of mass destruction was the belt fed machine gun used by both sides to deadly effect. The ammunition belts came in, you guessed it, 27 feet lengths – nine yards. So when the shout went out to give ‘em (the enemy that is) the ‘whole nine yards’ it basically meant don’t stop firing until you run out of ammunition.

Today it more usually means tell someone everything you know – give ‘em everything.

Interesting eh?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Things that Matter.

I've just added a new Blog onto my Blog list. It's called Matter - Antimatter and it mainly (though not exclusively) deals with reviews of various films, TV shows & books.

It's really good (OK, I happen to agree with much of what is said there) so please give it a visit. It's worth your time believe me.
Picture Time.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Just Finished Reading: Nightlife by Rob Thurman

Cal & his brother Niko are on the run in New York. They’re not running from the authorities though. If only it was that simple. For four years the brothers have been running from the Auphe – creatures out of millennia of human nightmare. Their target is Cal, a human-Auphe hybrid bred specifically to open a doorway and bring humanity to its knees. It’s only a matter of time before the Auphe find them and then hell will literary break loose!

This was obviously Thurman’s first book. It had that feel to it. The author was both trying too hard by throwing in everything including the kitchen sink (presumably not knowing if he was ever going to get another book published) as well as producing some very unbelievable characters and situations.

It wasn’t all bad however. Some of the dialogue was snappy; some of the jokes were actually funny and he had a reasonable feel for the visualisation of various locations. It was readable but dragged a bit in places especially towards the end (which didn’t make a whole lot of sense). Over all this book was a very average affair. I do hope he gets better though – as I’ve already bought the sequel!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Colour me Sceptical.

Those who read this Blog regularly probably see me, at least in [large?] part, as an Atheist. But my Atheism is only one aspect of a deeper philosophical position. I am at heart a Sceptic.

What this means is that I generally do not take things at their face value. I do not tend to hold entrenched beliefs about, well, anything really. I think of myself open to having my mind changed on any subject if someone can come up with facts or arguments that can convince me to change my position. This also means that I experience a great deal less pain when I am forced to abandon a ‘belief’ because I hold that all knowledge is at best provisional in the first place. I suppose that’s one reason why I consider myself to be a ‘scientist’ or at least to have a scientific mindset (not having scientific qualifications nor ever worked as a scientist).

As far as I am aware no truths are self evident. Indeed I’m not exactly sure if Truth is anything more than a concept or an aspiration. I think that we can work towards having knowledge about something but that any knowledge will be imperfect and open to being challenged. What people generally think of as Truth, hold onto as True and sometimes die for are basically beliefs about things rather than the truth about things. That being the case I contest that ideas (or Truths) are hardly worth dying for. I mean, what if you're wrong?

Of course some people say (or will say) that you can take scepticism too far and are indeed sceptical about a sceptical approach. This is a good thing. Having a basically sceptical attitude (even to having a sceptical attitude) is a healthy way to be. But is it possible to go too far though? Indeed, how far is too far where scepticism is concerned?

To show how far you can take things here’s an example: I got into a debate with some people recently about a strange sounding philosophical question: Do Other People Exist? The immediate response is – Well, of course they do! But then my scepticism kicked in and kept on going. At the end of an hour or so (I’m relentless when I get going) the other people looked at me in complete incredulity. They had started out with the belief that people as sceptical as I am could not actually exist. By the time we had partially exhausted the topic I had changed their minds. I had basically shown them that definite knowledge of other people’s existence was impossible. I went on to show that not only can we doubt that other people exist but that we can doubt that anything actually exists – including the three of us having the debate. I couldn’t help but be amused by their bemused looks. It appears that you can’t take scepticism too far after all.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Research Shows That War Isn’t Caused by Instinct

by Bill Wickersham for The Missourian

December 27, 2007

When writing or speaking on issues of war and peace, it is not unusual for pundits and others to make the case that war is due primarily to a human instinct that causes nation-states to engage in large scale warfare. Underlying that idea is the notion that human beings have pugnacious inner drives that require an outlet for aggressive behavior if they are to achieve their full potential in a highly competitive world in which people have to dominate others to guarantee their own survival. This theory is often linked to the psychologically and physiologically induced fight-flight reaction process, which provides the necessary adrenaline rush when we are aggressively confronted or personally attacked and enables us to stand and fight or, alternatively, to quickly flee the scene.

Conventional wisdom often cites this reaction as the underlying cause for the violent, deadly, large group activity called war. In 1986, an international team of biologists, psychologists, ethologists, geneticists and others adopted a statement that rejected biology as the primary cause of war. The “Seville Statement on Violence” has been endorsed by innumerable scientific and scholarly organizations around the world. The following are excerpts from its text: “It is scientifically incorrect to say that we have inherited a tendency to make war from our animal ancestors. … The fact that warfare has changed so radically over time indicates that it is a product of culture. Its biological connection is primarily through language, which makes possible the coordination of groups, the transmission of technology, and the use of tools.

“War is biologically possible, but it is not inevitable, as evidenced by its variation in occurrence and nature over time and space … It is scientifically incorrect to say that war is caused by ‘instinct’ or any single motivation. … Modern war involves institutional use of personal characteristics such as obedience, suggestibility and idealism; social skills such as language; and rational considerations such as cost-calculation, planning and information processing. The technology of modern war has exaggerated traits associated with violence both in training of combatants and in the preparation of support for war in the general population. As a result of the exaggeration, such traits are often mistaken to be the cause of war rather than the consequences of the process.”

If war is not the direct result of instinct, what is it? According to the late anthropologist Margaret Mead, war is a human invention, and the abolition of large scale international violence requires a replacement invention. For the development of that new invention to be undertaken, people and their leaders must be helped to fully understand the nature and characteristics of the old invention. Only then can a new one be created. Scholars have assumed or determined numerous factors that contribute to the onset and prosecution of war. Some of those factors include: the economic benefits of war profiteering; worst-case philosophy war planning which assumes “there will always be wars and rumors of wars;” evil leaders who seek imperial conquests of other nations; mass frustration of basic human needs of large populations, some of whose members engage in systematic terrorism; strife between and within various religious communities; and several other variables. Given the variety and complexity of these factors, it would seem virtually impossible to ever achieve true peace under the rule of law with justice. Clearly such conditions will not be realized in my lifetime or that of the baby boomers. However, we can sow at least one seed of peace for our children and grandchildren.

One of the world’s finest peace theorists, the late Dr. Randall Caroline Forsberg, believed that “a single ‘modest’ change could serve as an initial step toward the abolition of war and, ultimately, the permanent abolition of war.” That single modest change would be the development of a commitment in the great majority of the world’s public “to the democratic value that violence is never morally or politically acceptable except when used in defense against violence by others who have not accepted this principle, and who have in fact initiated acts of violence.” Based on this underpinning premise, she and other colleagues have developed a creative step-by-step systematic plan for world disarmament education known as Global Action to Prevent War. Space will not permit a full explanation of how this plan relates to some of the aforementioned theoretical causes of war. However there is no question in my mind that it provides a sound basis for the initiation of the war replacement invention of which Margaret Mead spoke.

[Interesting. I remember collecting data on this subject for my first degree dissertation – which I ended up never writing. I think that there are definitely genetic/evolutionary components that make us so very good at warfare some of which are mentioned in this article. But I agree that war itself is a cultural phenomenon and because of that it is within our power to stop wars happening. As weapons get more powerful and more widespread it is in everyone’s best interests to stop wars and to find a more civilised way to resolve the inevitable conflicts that arise on a crowded world. Such a thing is surely not beyond us especially as it becomes increasingly obvious that we must end our incessant warfare before it ends us.]

Saturday, January 05, 2008

My Favourite Movies: The Bourne Trilogy.

I know that it’s kind of cheating but I thought it appropriate to mention these three movies in the same post. I must also mention that I’m not exactly a fan of Matt Damon.

I went to see The Bourne Identity because of the trailer. I must admit that I wasn’t disappointed as the movie easily made my DVD list. I have never read any of Robert Ludlum’s books so didn’t have any preconceptions which probably helped as on attempting to read the book I found it turgid in the extreme (as was the original movie which I later struggled through). What made this movie above the average was a mixture of unfolding mystery – never fully resolved in the first film – the depiction of the CIA as a Byzantine organisation at war with itself and above all else the jaw dropping fight scenes between Bourne and his almost equal adversaries. Another thing I loved about this movie was the car chase across Paris which was one of the best I’ve seen. I also liked the lack of gadgets that normally litter James Bond movies (or at least used to until his latest incarnation) instead relying on the heroes training and use of often household objects. All in all a trilling film.

The sequel The Bourne Supremacy was, in my opinion, the weakest of the three movies but still managed to make my DVD list. Starting in India it brought the still largely amnesiac Bourne out of ‘retirement’ in an attempt to clear his name and exact revenge on the killer of his girlfriend. This was a very convoluted film revolving around Bourne’s first unofficial ‘assignment’ and the theft of $20 million of CIA money. It also introduced a new character Pamela Landy (played by the superb Joan Allen) who impressed me greatly. As we had come to expect from the first movie there were the usual jaw dropping fight scenes – I particularly liked the fight between Bourne and the last surviving Treadstone agent where he basically defeated him with a rolled up magazine. Again we were left breathless by another car chase this time through the streets of Moscow. With his name cleared and his girlfriend avenged (as well as more of his memory recovered) Bourne again disappears into the night.

The last in the trilogy was The Bourne Ultimatum. This cleverly starts within minutes of the previous film ending with Bourne making his was out of Moscow with the cities finest hot on his tail. Avoiding the police yet again Bourne vanishes only to reappear on reading that a British journalist has uncovered information about the operation Bourne was part of. Heading to London he meets up with the journalist only to see him killed by a CIA sniper. Deciding that the only way to be finally left alone Bourne decides to bring down the CIA covert-ops section once and for all. This I thought was the best film of the three. Both clever and knowing it referenced the first two movies wonderfully. Damon seemed to be completely wrapped up in the role and was at his believable best. You could almost see his character thinking as he calculated tactical outcomes and planned his next devastating moves. Again the fight scenes – particularly in Waterloo station when he ‘took out’ six or eight agents in a matter of seconds – just blew me away. It was also nice to see Julia Stiles (playing Nicky Parsons in all three movies) get more of a meaty role. Bourne finally recovers his full memories, completes his mission and survives after coming full circle this time in the Hudson River. Leaving some nice loose ends for the audience to chew over this was an excellent end to an excellent series of films. As a treat I watched all three almost back to back (separated by a bit of online gaming) on New Years Eve. It was a very good way to end the year.

Friday, January 04, 2008

There but for the Grace…..

I mentioned recently that I’ve been watching My So-called Life on DVD. One episode in particular prompted a memory. In it Angela Chase’s mother Patty (played by the talented Bess Armstrong) thought she had become pregnant for the third time and confided this to her husband Graham (played by the equally talented Tom Irwin). A few days later it transpired that she was mistaken and, with more than a little relief, told her husband to stop worrying about it. He then managed clearly to convey an array of emotions including relief, disappointment and a sense of loss.

Some years ago a similar situation happened to me. My then girlfriend Carol uttered those haunting words designed to drive terror into every man alive: I’m late.

After the initial shock we both put a brave face on things and attempted as much as possible to go about our normal daily routines. Three or four days later she was delighted to tell me that the panic was over and that she’d had her period. Like Graham in My So-called Life I went through a whole range of emotions. Initially I was indeed very relieved. We were at a fairly early stage in our relationship and I don’t think that either of us was looking to have children just then – indeed Carol told me from the very start that she didn’t want children (which I thought rather strange at the time). But what surprised me was that after the relief a wave of real disappointment washed over me and for a good few weeks afterwards I felt sorry that she wasn’t actually carrying my child.

Of course if she had been pregnant our lives would have been very different than they actually turned out. I wonder sometimes what being a parent would have been like. Would I have been a good father to what by now would have been an 8 year old child? It’s actually quite weird to think about it. Imagine Cyberkitten with a kitten of his own? Too weird…. Far too weird. But there but for the grace of… Fate… I almost went.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Vatican blasts "Golden Compass" as Godless and hopeless

By Philip Pullella

Dec 19, 2007

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican on Wednesday condemned the film "The Golden Compass," which some have called anti-Christian, saying it promotes a cold and hopeless world without God. In a long editorial, the Vatican newspaper l'Osservatore Romano, also slammed Philip Pullman, the bestselling author of the book on which the family fantasy movie is based.

It was the Vatican's most stinging broadside against an author and a film since it roundly condemned "The Da Vinci Code" in 2005 and 2006. "In Pullman's world, hope simply does not exist, because there is no salvation but only personal, individualistic capacity to control the situation and dominate events," the editorial said. The film, which premiered earlier this month in the United States and stars Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, is an adaptation of Pullman's acclaimed novel "Northern Lights". The Vatican newspaper said "honest" viewers would find it "devoid of any particular emotion apart from a great chill."

In the fantasy world created by Pullman's trilogy, 'His Dark Materials', the Church and its governing body the Magisterium, are linked to cruel experiments on children aimed at discovering the nature of sin and attempts to suppress facts that would undermine the Church's legitimacy and power. In the film version all references to the Church have been stripped out, with director Chris Weitz keen to avoid offending religious cinema goers. Still, some Catholic groups in the United States have called for a boycott, fearing even a diluted version of the book might draw people to read the bestselling trilogy. The Vatican newspaper said the film and Pullman's writings showed that "when man tries to eliminate God from his horizon, everything is reduced, made sad, cold and inhumane".

The U.S.-based Catholic League, a conservative group, has urged Christians not to see the movie, saying that its objective was "to bash Christianity and promote atheism" to children. The Vatican newspaper called the movie "the most anti-Christmas film possible" and said that it was "consoling" that its first weekend ticket sales were a disappointing $26 million. New Line Cinema, a unit of Time Warner Inc, had hoped the film would pull in between $30 million and $40 million. It is doing better overseas but New Line sold the foreign distribution rights to help cover the movie's cost.

[The Vatican making itself look stupid again. I guess they will never learn that these polemics against books and films only encourages people to see what all the fuss is about. Silly people.]