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fatpie42 -

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    The blogger at "Atheist Revolution" recently discovered the case of Harry Taylor who was arrested for consistently leaving insulting cartoons in an airport prayer room. This is what his reaction was:

    According to the BBC News, a 59 year-old "militant atheist" received a six-month suspended sentence for leaving posters of religious figures in sexual poses in a prayer room at Liverpool John Lennon Airport. He left these images on three different occasions in 2008, causing great distress in the airport chaplain (Yeah, I'm not sure why an airport would have a chaplain either).

    What I find most significant about this case, aside from the fact that it occurred in the UK are the following:

    * The man was found guilty by a jury of his peers "of causing religiously aggravated intentional harassment, alarm or distress."
    * The posters were cartoon drawings, the content of which, as described in the BBC report, sounds almost exactly like the sorts of images I've seen on atheist t-shirts for sale at countless websites. In fact, I'm reasonably sure that the drawing above was one of them.
    Yes, airports have chaplains. One reason for this is, naturally, so they can cater for people using the prayer room. There are other reasons related to comforting the bereaved when bodies are sent back from war zones or helping out when large numbers of passengers are going on pilgrimage. Could the airport manage without the chaplaincy there? Yeah, I suspect so. But that doesn't mean we should be shocked to see it there in the first place.

    So one of the significant things about the case was that the guy was harassing people. Indeed, very significant.
    The other significant thing is that these images are sometimes found on t-shirts. All very well, some people have obscene t-shirts, but this guy wasn't simply wearing the images on his t-shirt. He was leaving them in a prayer room with the intention to intimidate and harass.
    Evidently, posting cartoons that someone in Liverpool considers "religiously offensive" in public can earn one a six-month prison sentence (suspended for two years), 100 hours of community service, and a small fine. And to think that I've always wanted to visit that part of the UK!
    The issue here is whether it counts as "in public". Of course, the detail he was missing was that Harry Taylor is a repeat offender and in the past he has left things in Churches, which are much more obviously not public. Now mentioning this case isn't so surprising. The case made quite a stir when the news broke a while back and there's a rather apt response from Paul Sims if you click here.

    Certainly my problem here is not the opening post, so much as the comments underneath. They seem to find it impossible to understand that there's difference between "freedom to speak" and "freedom to harass":
    "No matter what you say or do, you are bound to offend someone - no one has a sense of humor anymore. To start determining what is offensive to whom is complete waste of time.Just the idea of an airport cahplain or a private prayer room is extremely offensive to me, BTW."

    When I pointed out that in the UK the Westboro Baptist Church wouldn't be allowed groups to picket funerals I was told that they like having their funerals picketed:
    "The problem is that once you start letting the authorities decide what is free speech and what isn't you've got some serious problems.

    "I'd rather have the Westboro kooks have their say. Then we at least know who the crazies are."
    "Yelling about fags at funerals is religious expression - that's how they see it. "
    "I want the Westboro crazies to be able to picket funerals without being arrested.... Why? Because I know that American atheists would be the first group to be silenced in the absence of legal protections. "

    I'll tell you why we'd ban the Westboro Baptist Church from picketing funerals. Because every time they did it, the police would have to be present to stop retaliation. The number of police required would have to be large because its not a matter of worrying about a few crazies. The protest itself is specifically aimed to provoke. We aren't about to spend a huge amount of money so that the police can protect their right to harass and offend. In short: harassment isn't protected in the UK.

    So why are people desperate to protect the right to harass in the US? What am I missing?

    Also the fact that the prayer room is open for use by people of all faiths and none confuses them:
    "If airports have chapels, I demand atheists get their own room where they can watch Dawkins on youtube and drink cocktails."
    It's like talking to children who get upset that there's a mother's day and a father's day, but no children's day.... Nearly every room is a watch Dawkins on youtube and drink cocktails room! :p

    Cross posted to atheist_snark

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    Let me make very clear why I am posting this.

    Rape happens in situations where someone is in a position of power over someone else and feels like they can get away with expressing their power in this way. There are people who want to express their power in this disgusting way all over the place. The difference within some religious groups is that there is a feeling that criticism of prominent members undermines the divine authority behind that group's teachings. If a teacher in a state school was accused of rape, on the other hand, it is more often recognised as necessary to investigate. In this latter situation the concern is more that an unscrupulous figure might remain in the school than that their actions might cast doubt on the organisation as a whole. Also, parents don't feel themselves to be members of the school in the same way they might consider themselves members of a Church or of a religious community, so as outsiders they feel more able to judge.

    Within a religious group people can feel that others know better than them and that they are not in a position to judge, especially if they are young. The religion makes claims to be able to change people for the better and the limits of the prison system are readily apparent, so they may find themselves thinking that their religious community is actually the best place for this person to remain. Believing that the rape took place might even be viewed by adults as undermining the claims of the religion, because its a clear sign that the people in the upper eschalons of that group are not significantly more moral people than those outside. There may be a view that getting the police involved will bring shame to the group and prevent others from coming to them to be "saved".

    ... In many ways, this doesn't sound so different from the mentality involved in domestic abuse cases. But I digress....

    Marx noted that religion utilises social control, Freud noted that religion utilises psychological control, Nietzsche noted that religion involves unacknowledged and dodgy power drives, and I think all three of these issues can be found in the following article:

    Woman: I was afraid to tell of rape

    She was silenced in earlier case, she says


    While being kept in seclusion at her pastor's Concord home in 1997, Tina Anderson, then 15, was too afraid of the reaction from members of her church to tell the police she had been raped and impregnated by another parishioner, she said in an interview with the Monitor.

    Anderson, now 28 and living in Arizona, said Trinity Baptist Church members had told her not to report an earlier case in which she had been molested by a convicted sex offender who was also a member of the congregation, so she expected them to do the same if she told them she had been raped.

    "They told me that to be a good Christian, I need to forgive, forget and move on in my life," she said. "And they told me that a good Christian doesn't press charges on another good Christian."

    This month the police charged Ernest Willis, 51, of Gilford with raping Anderson twice in 1997. Then-Pastor Chuck Phelps, who now preaches at a church in Indianapolis, said he made the police aware of the rape allegation less than a day after he learned about it but that investigators never asked him for help. The police said they investigated but were not able to find Anderson. They closed the case, leaving it unsolved for 13 years.

    The Monitor generally does not name victims of sexual assault but made an exception at Anderson's request.

    "I felt very ashamed and dirty, and I felt like it was my fault," Anderson said. "I didn't think that if I told anybody that anything would happen anyway."

    Growing up, Anderson said, a family member molested her and beat her and her brother with a belt to "show us who was boss." When the man was imprisoned for an unrelated sex crime, Anderson, then 13, said she felt comfortable enough to tell church members that she, too, had been a victim. But she said church members told her to keep quiet.

    Anderson said Phelps directed her to visit the man in state prison to offer her forgiveness.

    "He said if I didn't forgive him and give him forgiveness, then I would get bitter," she said. "It's just kind of how things at the church go. The woman is blamed for everything."

    At the state prison in Concord, Anderson said she was forced to confront the man with her mother. "It was horrible," she said. "It was awful."

    Anderson never reported the allegation to the police, and the man was not charged with assaulting her.

    Over the next two years, she confided in Willis, a Trinity parishioner, who offered emotional support, she said. Anderson began babysitting for two of his children.

    "I had gotten very close to the (Willis) family," Anderson said. "At Trinity, your whole world revolves around the church and the people who are in the church, so those are really the only people you have contact with."

    But according to Anderson, Willis raped her twice when she was 15 - once at her home and once in the parking lot of a Concord business during a driving lesson. Those allegations are the basis of the criminal charges the police have filed against Willis. Several months later, Anderson realized she was pregnant.

    Anderson confided in her mother, who called Phelps for help. Anderson said Phelps removed her from Trinity's Bible school. "I was told that I was a bad influence," she said. "I was told I was going to have to go up before the church."


    In a meeting at her home with Phelps, his wife and Anderson's mother, Anderson said she was told by Phelps that she'd be kept in a "prophet's chamber" at the Phelpses' Concord home until she could be relocated.

    The chamber, which Phelps said is simply a name for a guest room above the garage, was set off from the rest of the house by a separate stairway. It had windows, a bathroom and, according to Phelps, a television and phone. He said it was also used to host traveling ministers.

    "I just know that they made me stay at their house, and I wasn't allowed to see any of my friends or talk to anybody," Anderson said. "I had to stay there until they shipped me away."

    Phelps said Anderson stayed at several homes of church members, mostly during the day and not overnight, because "her mother asked that someone watch over her so she could continue her job." He said Anderson wasn't locked away.

    Anderson said she can't remember how soon she was flown to Colorado to live with another family. Phelps said it was at least two to four weeks.

    "I respected the mother's wishes," he said. "Tina did not want to be alone in her home. Her mother had to work. So her mother was looking for someone who could look over her daughter in a time of crisis. Numerous families in the city of Concord provided that service for her, all of us anticipating an arrest to come shortly. None did."

    A Colorado family, whom Phelps had met while he was a pastor there, agreed to home-school Anderson. Phelps said this came at the request of Anderson's mother, who did not want her unsupervised or at a public school.

    Before she left for Colorado, Anderson said, she was made to stand before the church to ask forgiveness for getting pregnant. She said it was a form of church discipline. "I was completely humiliated," she said. "I felt like my life was over."

    Phelps read a single-page letter written for Anderson apologizing for allowing herself to get in a compromising situation and getting pregnant. Church members were then asked to come forward to offer their forgiveness, Anderson said. Willis also had to apologize for cheating on his wife. "They said, 'We forgive you for getting pregnant,' " she said. "It felt stupid, it just felt wrong."

    Phelps said this wasn't a case of the church disciplining Anderson. Instead, it was a chance for the congregation to help Anderson.

    "Church discipline is the removal of a person from the assembly," Phelps said. "This was not that. This was a chance for people in the church assembly to embrace her, and they did."

    Anderson said that after she moved to Colorado, a minister there asked her to write a letter to Willis's wife, apologizing for abusing her trust by having sex with her husband. Church members there monitored her phone calls and didn't allow her to be with people her own age, she said.

    Anderson said two church members were with her when she gave birth in March 1998. At Phelps's urging, Anderson said, she gave her baby girl up for adoption.

    She continued to be home-schooled until what would have been her senior year, when she returned to Concord for about six months. She lived with her mother again and attended Trinity, sitting in the same pews as Willis. Anderson's mother remains a member of Trinity today.

    Anderson left Concord to attend a Baptist college in Wisconsin. She is now married and has since given birth to three more children. She stays in touch with her first-born's adoptive parents.

    In a public statement last week, Trinity Baptist Church echoed Phelps's version of events, saying there were multiple documented calls made to the Concord Police Department to report the rape and the names of those involved, including Willis.

    "Trinity Baptist Church was the first to report this crime in 1997 as well as the only one to give repeated reminders to the Concord Police Department. We continue to be committed to assisting in the investigation in any way possible," the church said.

    Anderson said she wasn't aware of attempts by others to contact the police.

    "I don't really have anything to say to any of them right now," she said. "I think my mind is just so overwhelmed with everything."

    CORRECTION: The original version of this story misstated who directed Anderson to write a letter of apology to Willis's wife. It was a pastor in Colorado.





    Other related links
    Ex-pastor says police failed in old NH rape case
    Woman: Church Covered Up My Rape as Teen
    Police: Girl raped, then relocated

    (Via ONTD_P)

    x-posted to Atheism

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    Last time I wrote about this, Conor Cunningham was just releasing his documentary "Did Darwin Kill God?" I responded to Conor Cunningham's interviews on the subject, having not yet got around to watching the documentary itself. I have since seen the documentary and can say pretty confidently that the book is, in all likelihood, a load of pointless waffle.

    Last time I checked out Conor Cunningham's arguments he was claiming that eugenics is the social consequence of Darwinism (because clearly the whole principle of killing off the weaker members of society would never have been considered prior to Darwin's theory of evolution).

    The main reasons I didn't comment on the tv documentary were firstly because it was so awful that I didn't think it was worth critiqueing and secondly because comments I found on various blogs were much more apt than I felt I could be. In the end, what would have been the point in adding another commentary about an old documentary that no one was likely to take an interest? However, now that this documentary has won an award and a new book is coming out, I feel it is necessary to express precisely why I think Cunningham's argument is load of old tripe.

    Genesis and Early Christianity

    After spending a while narrating over dramatic music, expressing the typical modern view of the debate which he wishes to discredit as well as establishing himself as both a supporter of Darwin's theory of evolution and a committed Christian (and occasionally posing), he finally gets started on some arguments. The very first point he makes is that Genesis chapter 1 and 2 contradict one another. He's quite right too. Genesis chapters 1 and 2 feature two separate accounts of the creation of the Earth. This is also true of the story of Noah. In Genesis chapter 6 Noah is simply told to collect two of every animal, but in chapter 7 the instructions are altered and instead Noah is asked to collect two of every unclean animal, but seven of every clean (or kosher) animal.

    What we're missing at this stage is why a contradiction in the Bible is supposed to tell us not to take the story literally. Sure those compiling the Bible had two versions of the Noah story, so they included both. Does that really mean that they didn't think Noah actually existed? That they thought there was no global (or at very least, highly devastating) flood in which a family was saved by divine will? Hmmm...

    Actually Cunningham's argument is that since Philo Of Alexandria and St. Augustine both encouraged a more allegorical understanding, that must therefore have been the consistent view of the majority of Christians throughout history. Needless to say, I'm not convinced. Finding backing in Philo and Augustine is handy for modern theologians, but it doesn't erase the history between them and us, nor can their words be considered without also remembering that they never had anything like the theory of evolution in mind. (Augustine believed that the Genesis story demonstrated smaller things developing into larger things, but to say that this is the same as the theory of evolution is more than a little naive.)

    Cunningham takes this moment to quickly tell us that orthodox Christianity does not say that God arbitrarily intervenes, but rather that God is always present. This is viewed as some kind of important loophole, since the idea that God is always present clearly isn't being presented as a stance whereby extraordinary miracles do not take place, but is simply a metaphysical tool to suggest that miracles are part of nature rather than over and above it. The thing is that in the actual scheme of things you still have the same result, miracles are events which defy what we'd normally expect from the workings of nature.

    Can I just take this moment to note that even with a God who works within creation, that doesn't mean that the old Church fathers didn't believe in a literal Adam and Eve (albeit perhaps not in a literal garden of Eden). The idea that nature began with a single man and woman seemed natural at the time and it wasn't until more modern times that we realised that two humans could not have sucessfully produced the human race. St. Paul compares Jesus Christ to Adam and he no more thinks of Adam as a fiction than he thinks of Jesus that way. (Perhaps that's a good place to stop that particular conversation...)

    Traditional Eastern Orthodox ikon where Jesus is featured in the Adam and Eve story. Pretty cool huh?

    Ussher and the KJV

    Naturally, like a good Catholic, Cunningham blames creationism on the protestant reformation. Having been told in an interview with a Roman Catholic priest called Father Gregory Tatum that the Bible speaks in mythological language, it seems clear to him that that this must have always been the Church's position from the very beginning. It couldn't possibly that the Church has learnt from its mistakes through things like the Copernicus and Galileo fiasco and has realised that it needs to make space in its dogma for scientific research. Let's also not forget that mythological language can only be called that now because we have a distinction between natural and supernatural. The whole idea of a contrast between mythological and literal didn't exist in the same way in the past because we did not have a whole scientific body of knowledge which sought to categorise what was possible and what was not. Today someone might have an experience with a ghost which is important regardless of whether the ghost exists or not, but if they start trying to push the importance of their experience on others the question of whether ghosts are possible becomes more relevant. In the past, the issue of whether ghosts are possible would not have been the focus since various kinds of spirits were pretty much taken for granted.

    Ghost stories and Christian mythology. What's the difference?

    So, having confirmed that creationism is all the reformation's fault, Cunningham now introduces us to James Ussher, the bishop who decided that the world was around 6000 years old.  He presents him as if he were some kind of renegade bishop rather than noting his actual title as Primate of Ireland. It becomes even more ludicrous when Cunningham says "Ussher's calculation would have remained, at best, an interesting if eccentric speculation were it not for the fact that it made it into every page of the King James Bible. The most widely read edition of the Bible for the next 300 years." So let me get this straight. His ideas would have been lost were it not for them having been published (in the KJV) and continuing to be accepted for many centuries. Wow, what a discovery. Yet apparently in spite of a young earth creationist timeline being published in every copy of the most popular English translation of the Bible Cunningham nevertheless informs us "despite this, traditional Christianity prevailed. The book of Genesis was not to be read literally."

    Admittedly, the idea that the KJV came straight from heaven is a distinctly protestant lunacy.

    Fossils In The Nineteenth Century

    Next we are told that in the nineteenth century everyone had access to fossils and were often busy collecting them. We are also told the main people discovering dinosaur remains and dating them were clergymen. Naturally these fossils were older than Ussher's dating of the Earth and thus utterly refuted his bogus timeline. This is all, of course, true.

    Unfortunately, this doesn't show that the belief in a literal creation was unheard of. In fact the Anglican clergyman who first described a dinosaur in a scientific journal, William Buckley. Buckley was himself a believer in a (literal) global flood, but he disagreed with contemporaries who viewed the fossils in a particular cave as having been washed there by flood waters. This is essentially what is missing in Cunningham's interview at the museum at this stage. He fails to notice that while their nineteenth century thinkers are happily denying a "young Earth" timeline, the possibility of an "old Earth" timeline is actually being given much more serious attention. Another prominent figure during this time was Georges Cuvier who established that certain animals had become extinct, contrary to the prevailing opinion that God would never allow this to happen. But if you were to believe Cunningham this was all a storm in a teacup and quite irrelevant to the opinions of Christians of the time. *facepalm*

    Cunningham quotes the beginning of a John Henry Newman quote which seemingly supports Darwin:

    As to the Divine Design, is it not an instance of incomprehensibly and infinitely marvellous Wisdom and Design to have given certain laws to matter millions of ages ago, which have surely and precisely worked out, in the long course of those ages, those effects which He from the first proposed. Mr. Darwin's theory need not then to be atheistical, be it true or not; it may simply be suggesting a larger idea of Divine Prescience and Skill.
    However, he misses out the following sentence:
    Perhaps your friend has got a surer clue to guide him than I have, who have never studied the question, and I do not [see] that 'the accidental evolution of organic beings' is inconsistent with divine design — It is accidental to us, not to God
    One might just as easily say this about someone spilling milk. For us the spilt milk may be accidental, but in God's plan it might have been essential. All this does is to note the issues of God's infallible foresight and metaphysical determinism. It doesn't change the fact that in the general scheme of things, the evolution of organic beings is most certainly "accidental". The idea that the creature best-suited to their environment will survive while those around them less-suited to their environment will perish is a sign of divine presience and skill shows a clear lack of understanding of evolutionary theory and perhaps it is unsurprising then that John Henry Newman admits to never having studied the question when he makes this comment. Obviously, I am not saying that John Henry Newman was a creationist, but simply that it is easy for a clergyman to insist that evolution poses no problems when he has not yet understood the theory.

    Yes, I know this image is from AIG. No, I don't have any idea what they are trying to say.

    Darwin's Atheism

    Next up, Cunningham insists that Darwin didn't lose his faith because of evolution. He's technically right. Darwin lost his faith because of the problem of suffering in nature which has taxed theologians for centuries. However, it was his study of nature when constructing his theory of evolution which led him to this particular doubt. In stating his doubts about God in relation to suffering he makes specific reference to the religious ideas surrounding "design" in nature by a divine creator:
    There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.
    While Cunningham claims that Darwin's rejection of Christianity is firmly tied to the death of his daughter, he claims to have doubted Christianity (on the basis on those supposedly allegorical myths - Darwin clearly didn't read enough Augustine *facepalm*) earlier than that when he was in his late twenties:
    DURING THESE two years [October 1836 to January 1839] I was led to think much about religion. Whilst on board the Beagle I was quite orthodox, and I remember being heartily laughed at by several of the officers (though themselves orthodox) for quoting the Bible as an unanswerable authority on some point of morality. I suppose it was the novelty of the argument that amused them. But I had gradually come, by this time, to see that the Old Testament from its manifestly false history of the world, with the Tower of Babel, the rainbow as a sign, etc., etc., and from its attributing to God the feelings of a revengeful tyrant, was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of the Hindoos, or the beliefs of any barbarian
    To back up Cunningham's personal views on this, instead of interviewing a typical historian he instead chooses to talk to Nick Spencer from the think tank Theos.

    Cunningham's proof that Darwin had not killed God (which is, of course, a pretty dodgy phrase anyway) is that
    Britain was actually more religious at the end of the ninteenth century than it was in the 1830s.
    What Cunningham seems to be forgetting is that it was at this time when the fundamentalists were beginning to rise up. The document "The Fundamentals" was written in 1910 and the sentiments contained in that volume undoubtedly preceded its publication. Interestingly George Frederick Wright, who wrote the section of "The Fundamentals" opposing evolution, was originally a supporter of Darwin's theory (nevertheless believing the humanity was an act of "special creation"). His view on this changed in 1890.

    Cunningham also notes that Darwin claimed that there was no reason why a Christian should not accept his theory of evolution. However, it was mostly Christians who would be reading the book and the last thing Darwin wanted to do was pose his theory as contradicting their faith. Naturally the theory of evolution says nothing about the initial arrival of life but simply concerns its development, so it could never rule out a God anyway, but Cunningham seems to be suggesting that it didn't ruffle any feathers either. 

    The Scopes Trial

    Cunningham voices a point from Stephen Jay Gould that the prosecutor in the Scopes Trial, William Jennings Bryan, was opposed to Evolution because it was being used to propose genetics. There does appear to be good reason to agree with this. One article sums up Gould's interpretation of the situation as follows:
    In the early 1920s, German militarists, laissez faire capitalists, and scientific eugenicists cited Darwin as support for their own questionable policies. “Survival of the fittest” became a reason to deny economic and medical support to the poor. Efforts to breed a new superior race of humans captivated thinkers on both sides of the Atlantic. Textbooks treating the subject of evolution, including the Civic Biology book used by Scopes, misunderstood Darwin’s theory and turned it into an apology for racism and forced sterilization.
    Even a website opposing the ridiculous Creationist movie "Expelled" serves to back up this point by noting a section of Darwin's "Descent Of Man" originally quoted by Bryan during the trial:
    With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick, thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. Hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.
    They note that the very next sentence undermines Ben Stein's assertions that Darwinism and Eugenics are connected:
    The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, if so urged by hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature.
    However, unlike Stein, Bryan would have been living during a period where he saw such misquotes being used all over the place. Bryan was opposing what for many people would have been a perfectly acceptable viewpoint.

    Of course, creationists have long had their own racists. When researching some key terms in a fairly old English dictionary related to an English lesson about the poem "half caste" I came across the view that the world consists of three races. This same view was recently linked with the story of Noah on a sign at a creationist-run zoo:

    Ah, education at its finest.

    However, the point here is not to start pointing moralistic fingers. The main issue when dealing with creationism and evolution is truth and on that point Cunningham knows which side to fall on. The point I wish to make here, however, is that racist ideas were (and are) being banded about by everyone, not just "Darwinists". Similarly creationist ideas were being banded about quite a bit more than Cunningham is letting on. They might not have much backing from Roman Catholic tradition, but Cunningham's argument hasn't been phrased that way. Instead he seems to be suggesting that creationism is a wholly modern issue. The reason for this stance is quite simple. Cunningham is a supporter of Radical Orthodoxy which blames the problems with theology on modernity (which it claims to be overrun by nihilism) while also suggesting that we all go back to pre-modern theological ideas. The idea that creationism is all modernity's fault ties in rather nicely with Cunningham's Radical Orthodoxy movement, but the problem is that it is simply not true.

    Finally Cunningham suggests that William Jennings Bryan had a more "sophisticated" creationism than the kind we see today because he was an "old Earth" creationist. However, as we already saw earlier, "young Earth" creationism actually came first (um.. hello? Ussher? Remember?) and the fossil discoveries during the nineteenth century served to make "old Earth creationism more common. The resurgence of YECs is partly because evolution is so much better supported. The arguments for creationism now require full-on rejection of the existing scientific consensus and, as such, the age of the Earth has gone out with the rest of the babies in the bathwater.

    Modern Creationism

    Cunningham rightly notes that modern creationism attempts to put itself forward as an alternative to science. Perhaps I should give him credit for noting that this is not terribly sophisticated. I should also probably give some credit to him for recognising how ridiculous the creationist museum is when Michael Ruse, a philosopher of biology, failed to do so.

    Oddly Cunningham doesn't think this resembles the Christianity he grew up with.


    Ultra-Dawinists like Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins claim that evolution means there cannot be a God.

    Sorry, what the hell? Let's just clear this up, he's just finished an interview with Daniel Dennett where he explains that evolution is a purely natural process where God is not involved. That, might I remind you, is Cunningham's view too! Dennett then explains that the religious view sees purpose everywhere and the theory of evolution shows us that this isn't really purpose but is simply the mechanical laws of nature. Now sure, Cunningham will want to say that God is all around him and that God has a purpose, but I don't really see that he has much reason to dismiss Dennett's basic summation of evolution.

    Also apparently Cunningham thinks the Human Genome Project has disproven Dawkins "Selfish Gene" idea. It doesn't sound like either Francis Collins or Conor Cunningham are terribly familiar with the book, which is odd since I'm fairly sure Cunningham has read it. Really odd.

    Ooooh and Michael Ruse turns up! :p

    It's the interview with Susan Blackmore about Mimetics where the show goes completely daft however. At this point I think I am best off quoting what other bloggers have written:

    Where Conor sees a real threat to "god" is with the subject of "memes" and its proponents the feared "Ultra Darwinists". Dr Susan Blackmore (one of these presumably) hove on the scene with a twinkle in her eye to discuss the subject of "memes". This was at a railway station if memory serves me correctly; perhaps to give the impression that she was in a hurry. At any rate she wasn't allowed to get very far. The conversation was obviously not going in a helpful direction.
    (Nuts And Reasons)

    The topic was memetics: the idea that ideas are replicating units that evolve as they spread from one mind to another. Memetics was originally just a thought experiment about hypothetical units of evolution analogous to genes, but was fleshed out, for example by Daniel Dennett and Sue Blackmore. Now, Sue Blackmore is great, but if Cunningham really knew the state of evolutionary thinking, he would know that she does not really represent even "ultra-Darwinists". But Cunningham drags her to Salisbury so that they can do an interview in the station car park. Brilliantly, he discovers a fatal flaw in the theory of memes -- one that he seems to think somehow has important consequences for the credibility of Richard Dawkins and the God hypothesis: if memes are true, evolution is itself a meme!
    ... so what?
    Well, think about it. If evolution is a meme, it's just a parasite in our mind, and not true! Memes destroy the truth of evolution!
    Uhm. But-
    Ultra-Darwinists have never been able to answer this problem!
    Oh ... kay.
    Cunningham clearly really does truly believe that his brain has just done something brilliant. I suspect he is correct in stating that "ultra-Darwinists" have never been able to answer the "problem", since I have difficulty believing that anyone would ever before have managed to think of it and say it out loud before noticing what an utterly and humiliatingly ridiculous thing it would be to say.
    As an aside, it is interesting to consider truth and memes. Under the theory of memetics, the idea that truth is of value would itself be a meme (and a very meritorious one). In the Selfish Gene, Dawkins talks about the need for genes to cooperate, or to put it another way, selfish genes have to be able to survive in an environment that contains many other selfish genes. Analogously, memes have to survive in an environment of other memes. Scientists, for example, host a series of memes for methods of filtering the non-true memes that might be trying to infect them. Skepticism, rationalism, logic, reason, and empiricism are memes that are also meme filters. But many people do not host them. Others fail to recognise the truth in a meme because it conflicts with false memes that they are already hosting. Some people do not even host the truth-valuing meme.

    Cotch dot net
    I know it was an hour program, but his response felt shallow. After allowing Susan Blackmore to explain her case, he argued against it in a matter of seconds - asserting that such a case is absurd and that there's no counter argument to this.

    I don't really think there's much point in reading Cunningham's book, but I've got a horrible feeling I'm going to be hearing a lot about it in the future. *groan*

    Quick irrelevant side-note:

    In my research for this I was interested discover the following note from Mrs. Darwin (annotating Charles Darwin's autobiography):
    Nothing can be said too severe upon the doctrine of everlasting punishment for disbelief—but very few now wd. call that 'Christianity,' (tho' the words are there.)

    ~If there is a problem with the information I've found in wikipedia links please correct me (and them too preferably).~

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    All you Americans who’ve been following the rants of Pat Condell on youtube with glee. If any of you are still nursing the cosy illusion that he’s not a raging xenophobe, it’s time to wake up and open your goddamn eyes.

    In case you haven’t heard, criticism of Islam in Europe is most loudly voiced by right-wing figures who are terrified of brown people. There’s Geert Wilders who wants to break the kneecaps of football hooligans (though only if they’re Moors – Oops, I mean Moroccans). There’s also a full-blown ban on minarets in Switzerland, despite the fact that the country only had two mosques with minarets, neither of which had the privilege of calling Muslims to prayer (though I’m sure the Church bells across Switzerland are freely allowed to ring). Meanwhile the well-known French misogynist pig Nicolas Sarkozy has decided to take cues from Belgium and certain areas of Germany and ban the burkha in France. While he is working his way through trophy wives and forcing his justice minister to cut her maternity leave short, apparently when it comes the burkha he’s suddenly hugely interested in female equality (as if a ban on the burkha would aid such as cause).

    In Pat Condell’s recent video he’s decided that it isn’t enough for this hysteria over Islam to be spread across the continent and he wants to export it to the United States as well. The recent plans to build a large mosque in New York had already caused a bit of a stir, but since very few people are accusing the New York Muslims of trying to destroy the American way of life, he thinks they’re being too complacent.

    The idea that a mosque might be built by a group of Muslims interested in showing good faith between people of all faiths in New York is incomprehensible to poor old Pat. The fact that many of the thousands to lose their lives on 9/11 were actually New York Muslims themselves does not seem to have entered his racist little head. He also apparently thinks that Muslims are dictating what is broadcast on Fox News. Is he losing his mind?

    Y’know I’m not a right-wing nutter myself, but I can actually see why someone might be concerned about the creation of a mosque near Ground Zero. However, I also have the good sense to realise that the politicians in New York have thought about that too. The organisation behind this scheme is called the Cordoba Initiative and the building is to be called Cordoba House. And this is because Cordoba is the city in southern Spain where Muslims built their first great mosque when Spain was part of their empire. The mosque was so beautiful that, even when the Christians drove them out, they decided to convert the mosque into a Church rather than destroy it. Perhaps this organisation has an overly romanticised view of this period of history (though it’s hard not to share such a view if you are ever lucky enough to visit the Alhambra in Granada), but their principle is undoubtedly laudable. They wish to set up a centre for New York Muslims specifically acknowledging the horror of 9/11 and their opposition to that horror. Right-wingers like Pat Condell will often ask why they don’t see any moderate Muslims opposing Islamist extremism. Well Pat, you clearly aren’t paying attention!

    Pat Condell’s rantings are thoroughly unenlightened and inconsistent. How obvious does that have to be? Pat, a whole-hearted opponent of religion, claims that Islam does not deserve that mantle. Is that a compliment? Unsurprisingly he sees Islam as less of a threat than fascism since, as a borderline BNP-supporter he fits right in with fascists. That’s why the idea of politicians encouraging tolerance and diversity rubs him the wrong way. Pat is thoroughly opposed to tolerance, rejects diversity, recoils in horror at the thought of “multiculturalism” and has little concern for the rights of Muslim women. And if he denies this, he’s a liar.

    Here in London we’ve been fortunate enough to keep out Islamophobic nonsense for the most part. Public opinion recently sided against the building of a extra-large mosque to coincide with the Olympic games and cater for the increased number of Muslims in the country during that event. This actually made good sense since there are already a fair number of mosques in London to cater for the current population and so the mega-mosque would have had little use after the Olympics were over (though what we are going to do with the Olympic stadium after the Olympics are over is an issue which has yet to be dealt with). Cordoba House in New York is very different because it is intended to cope with specifically New York Muslims. It is ensuring that Muslims in New York feel part of a community and that the aftermath of 9/11 doesn’t leave them feeling isolated from their society and disillusioned with the American dream.

    The last thing Americans need is hate-filled Islamophobic rants from Pat Condell. I’d like to tell Pat Condell and the bloggers who support him that enough is enough. And that this is one insult too far. And that his obnoxious fear mongering and slander against good and decent Muslims are getting boring.

    Peace off yourself…

    (X-Posted to Atheism)

    Transcript for the Pat Condell video I'm responding to is under the cut:

    All you Americans who’ve been following the Islamisation of Europe from afar with horrified incredulity. If any of you are still nursing the cosy illusion that it could never happen in your country, it’s time to wake up and rub those sleepy eyes because the moment of truth has arrived.

    In case you haven’t heard, there’s a plan afoot to build a 13 storey Islamic centre and mosque a few yards from Ground Zero in New York. A plan that’s been enthusiastically welcomed by politicians and civic leaders eager to show how tolerant they are at other people’s expense.

    Is it possible to be astonished but not surprised? Apparently it’s not enough that nearly 3000 innocent people had to lose their lives in a hideous act of religious mass murder, but now their memory has to be insulted as well and the religion that murdered them allowed to build a towering triumphalist mosque on the ground where they died. Is America losing its mind?

    It says a lot about the people behind this scheme that they had the bad taste to build a mosque in such a place, but to describe it as a tribute to the victims is beyond bad taste and shows a profound contempt for those who died. It would be hard to imagine a more provocative gesture short of standing on their graves and burning the American flag. Yet how typical of Islam with its own hair-trigger sensitivity to the slightest imagined insult to do something so arrogant and so insensitive.

    It’s going to cost a hundred million dollars to build this thing, but nobody’s prepared to say where the money’s coming from. We do know that the Saudis fund a lot of mosque-building in the west when they’re not busy trying to stamp out free speech at the United Nations or telling Fox News what to broadcast. So I guess we’ll all be paying for it every time we start the car.

    Y’know it seems to me a much more appropriate place for a mosque would be the United Nations building itself because that organisation has become so Islamo-friendly in recent years that frankly I’m surprised it doesn’t already have a minaret.

    Y’know I’m not even American, but it makes me sick to my stomach to think that Islam is gonna to be allowed anywhere near ground zero; because 9/11 could never have happened if not for Islam and its teachings and its doctrine of Jihad and its false promise of an impossible afterlife without which none of those gullible lunatics would have been persuaded to carry out such an insane act. And also because it wasn’t just an attack on America, but on all of us in the civilised world, as were the bombings in London, in Madrid, in Bali, the shootings in Mumbai and everywhere else the religion of peace decides it doesn’t like the way people do things.

    Any religion that endorses violence is incapable of delivering spiritual enlightenment. How obvious does that have to be? And it has no right even to call itself a religion. Without the shield of religion to hide behind Islam would be banned in the civilised world as a political ideology of hate and we have no obligation to make allowances for it, any more than we do for Nazism. It’s a bigger threat to our freedom than Nazism ever was. Yes, both are totalitarian and both divide the world unnecessarily into “us” and “them”, the “pure” and the “impure” and both make no secret of their desire to exterminate the Jews. But we were all more or less on the same side against the Nazis, whereas the Islamonazis have got plenty of friends among people in the west who ought to know better. American politicians now regularly make the kind of dhimmi noises about “diversity” as an excuse for Islamisation. The same kind of thing that we’ve become so depressingly familiar with in Europe. It’s true that diversity’s been good for America. It’s been the making of that country, but American diversity has always been grounded in respect for the values, the individual liberties that make America what it is. Islam rejects those values and that’s the difference and it’s a very important difference. Islam despises what America is, it rejects everything America stands for, including freedom and diversity. And any Muslim who denies that is a liar.

    The organisation behind this scheme is called the Cordoba Initiative and the building is to be called Cordoba House. And this is because Cordoba is the city in southern Spain where Muslims built their first great mosque at the start of and as a symbol of their conquest of Spain. The Ground Zero mosque is intended to serve the same purpose in America Building mosques on conquered sacred ground is standard practice. It’s what Islam has always done to assert its supremacy and that is what’s happening here.

    And of course they know how insulting it is, how offensive it is. Are you kidding? Why do you think they chose a site so close to Ground Zero, or did you think that was just an accident? And they also know that once it’s built it will be there forever, as a permanent affront to all Americans, gloating in triumph and a major beachhead in the ongoing stealth Jihad. That how the Muslim world will see it and that’s how they’ll be encouraged to see it. And to be fair to them, that’s exactly what it will be. Confirming what they’ve always suspected, that America is a soft country, a decadent country, crippled by political correctness, confused and guilt-ridden with no backbone and no pride.

    They plan to open it next year on September 11th, the tenth anniversary of the atrocity. Is that tasteless enough for you? I’m surprised they haven’t organised a 757 fly-past. But y’know, it doesn’t have to be this way. Here in London we had a similar situation just recently where they wanted to build a gigantic mosque to overshadow the Olympic games. Public opinion put a stop to that and public opinion can put a stop to this disgraceful plan as well. And it can tell this group and the politicians who support them that enough is enough. And that this is one insult too far. And that America is a big country and there’s plenty of room for them to build their offensive mosque if they have to somewhere else. Somewhere perhaps more appropriate to the spirit of their religion. Like the Arizona desert or Death Valley

    Peace and God bless the kuffar.

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    With the aid of American-Israeli Caroline Glick, who is the deputy editor of the Jerusalem Post, the DC-based Zionist think tank Center For Security Policy has created the below video mocking the Palestinian activists involved in Monday's flotilla raid in which nine people were killed. Today the Israeli government issued an apology after its press office sent media outlets an email linking the video.

    There comes a time
    When we need to make a show
    For the world, the Web and CNN
    There's no people dying,
    so the best that we can do
    Is create the greatest bluff of all

    We must go on pretending day by day
    That in Gaza, there's crisis, hunger and plague
    Coz the billion bucks in aid won't buy their basic needs
    Like some cheese and missiles for the kids

    We'll make the world
    Abandon reason
    We'll make them all believe that the Hamas
    Is Momma Theresa
    We are peaceful travelers
    With guns and our own knives
    The truth will never find its way to your TV

    Ooooh, we'll stab them at heart
    They are soldiers, no one cares
    We are small, and we took some pictures with doves
    As Allah showed us, for facts there's no demand
    So we will always gain the upper hand

    If Islam and terror brighten up your mood
    But you worry that it may not look so good
    Well well well well don't you realize
    You just gotta call yourself
    An activist for peace and human aid

    Israeli government office links to video mocking flotilla

    By the CNN Wire Staff
    June 6, 2010 -- Updated 0245 GMT (1045 HKT)

    Jerusalem (CNN) -- The Israeli government's press division is apologizing for circulating a link to a video that mocks activists aboard a ship headed to Gaza earlier this week that was blocked by an Israeli raid.

    "Due to a misunderstanding on our part, earlier (Friday) we inadvertently issued a video link that had been sent for our perusal," according to a statement from Israel's Government Press Office, which distributed the link to media outlets.

    "It was not intended for general release," the statement said. "The contents of the video in no way represent the official policy of either the Government Press Office or of the State of Israel."

    The video, titled "We Con the World" -- set to the tune of the 1985 hit, "We are the World"-- was put together by Caroline Glick, a former member of the Israel Defense Forces and columnist for the Jerusalem Post.

    In the video, up to a dozen members of the so-called "Flotilla Choir" -- some wearing a variation of traditional Arab dress -- sing satirical verses, such as: "There's no people dying, so the best that we can do is create the biggest bluff of all."

    On her blog, Glick, who briefly appears in the video, says, "We produced a clip in English. There we feature the Turkish-Hamas 'love boat' captain, crew and passengers in a musical explanation of how they con the world."

    "We think this is an important Israeli contribution to the discussion of recent events and we hope you distribute it far and wide," she adds

    Nine Turkish citizens were killed Monday after violence erupted on one of six ships in a flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to the Palestinian Gaza Strip. A number of other people were wounded. Israel said the passengers initiated the attack; the passengers blamed the troops.

    That incident drew widespread condemnation and cast a spotlight on the dynamics of the Gaza crisis. On Saturday, Israel intercepted the final boat that was part of the flotilla, though the incident aboard the Irish-owned MV Rachel Corrie ended peacefully about 22 miles off the Gaza coast.

    Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev dismissed the the video link, saying, "The GPO sends out lots of articles. It doesn't mean they like it."

    Regev said he first noticed the video on the New York Times website.

    "I called my kids in to watch it because I thought it was funny," he said. "It is what Israelis feel. But the government has nothing to do with it. The GPO distributes non-government items, things that we think that show our side of the story."

    It was not the first time the Israeli GPO stirred controversy with its public communications on the Gaza flotilla.

    Prior to the storming of the Turkish ship, the GPO sent an e-mail to journalists sarcastically recommending that while covering "alleged humanitarian difficulties," journalists should dine at one of Gaza's few restaurants.

    "We have been told the beef stroganoff and cream of spinach soup are highly recommended," the e-mail said.

    The message included an internet link to an old promotional video for the restaurant. The e-mail drew criticism from the foreign press and pro-Palestinian activists.

    In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, GPO director Danny Seaman defended the communication, arguing that foreign media coverage of Gaza was not balanced.

    (Via Joe My God)

    Cross-posted to ONTD_P

    Unarmed people died on that flotilla. Some of them were shot five times at close range. And now they are joking about it? Seriously wtf?!?!

    (Here's a good LJ post on the flotilla situation if you are unfamiliar with the details.)

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    "Get back to Russia!"

    That's the phrase used by Eddie Izzard in his stand-up show "Unrepeatable". It's a jokey way of characterising the sort of attitude whereby people presume those who are different ought to be living somewhere else. (In his particular stand up show, he's imagining the comment being made against transvestites. No, that doesn't make any sense. That's the whole point.)

    Essentially I don't think there's ever any excuse for pointing to a long-established group of people and telling them to "get back to Russia". Of course, in the case of black people the common phrase has long been "go back to Africa" (though a friend was amused to find herself being told to "go back to London" which was an odd variation for her, not least since she's never lived in London). The case of Helen Thomas recently involved her telling Jewish inhabitants of Israel to go back to Germany or Poland.

    Looking at the actual video she begins by saying, with her face nice and close to camera: "Get the hell out of Palestine". Now she laughs after this which suggests that she knows she's said something controversial. In the clip I saw it wasn't obvious what had proceeded this, so at that point I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. She's using hyperbole perhaps?

    However, having this comment followed up with a very serious-sounding response of "where should they go?"Helen Thomas' response is to suggest Poland or Germany and then finally America or anywhere else..... It's "Get Back To Russia" all over again...

    Helen Thomas has put an "apology" on her website, but the apology is as follows (and this is the complete statement, not simply an extract):

    “I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon.”
    Now I presume I'm not the only person who considers this apology to be far too vague in regards to her actual comments.

    This has led to a recent discussion on ontd_p about whether her sacking from her current job was an unfair reaction to this. The rather interesting end of the Guardian article in the OP is this:
    It is one of those rare occasions in which one can see clearly how people in America who are willing to express anti-establishment opinions are demonised, marginalised and finally excluded from public debate.

    Did I say "people"? I mean, of course, those who are identified as liberals. Right-wing TV and radio hosts can say what they like, however outrageous. Some iconoclasts are obviously freer than others.
    Okay, good point that right-wing goons seem to be able to say what they like without repurcussions, but on the other hand I'm not sure you've thought through the reasons for this properly. When you think about it, this isn't actually much of a criticism of the decision to sack Helen Thomas at all.

    Okay think about it. Why are teabaggers able to say obnoxious things? Because they belong to a group where such attitudes are viewed as acceptable. (Though even then, a Nazi-supporter was viewed as having opinions which crossed the line and was actually accused of being there to intentionally discredit the tea party movement. So you see there is a limit.) Other right-wing figures spout their viscious views on Fox News, but while Glenn Beck can happily accuse the President of being a communist, there is also a limit on this news network as to what you can say with the Westboro Baptist Church, for example, being thoroughly condemned. Now, the difference for more liberal sources of information is that they have higher standards for what they are prepared to decry. So essentially what Roy Greenslade at the Guardian and those cheering his comments at ontd_p are doing here is criticising the Hearst newspapers for having high standards.

    Naturally there will still be room for Helen Thomas to tout her now rather less liberal viewpoint in places where it is more suited. The question is, are these the places where she will feel comfortable?

    Denouncing the liberals for not being bigoted enough reminds me of Pat Condell...

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    Nosferatu (1922)

    In an earlier post I made my decisions about my favourite films of each year and recognised that, when it comes to earlier decades, I've not really seen much. I was interested to check out Nosferatu because it's actually from as early as the twenties. Sadly I'm not inclined to view it as a classic. Rather like Metropolis, I found it extremely slow moving and dull and I'm inclined to suggest that I just don't get silent movies. Perhaps I'm just a philistine. However, unlike Metropolis, which I could quite appreciate and which did a reasonable job of holding my attention, I could barely keep my eyes open during Nosferatu. My biggest criticism of Werner Herzog's remake had been the rather overly giggly minion of Dracula, but he's portrayed no differently in the original. Meanwhile Herzog's reimagining is ten times more visually impressive and fifty times more engaging.


    M (1931)

    Of all the entries in my favourite movies of the year/decade, the two most irritating entries were UHF for 1989 (which appears to have been a bit of a bad year - and I really do love that movie, as daft as it may be) and King Kong for 1930s. While King Kong is certainly a classic, the dialogue is a little dodgy. So I am glad to say that it has now been quite thoroughly superceded by Fritz Lang's 1930s black and white classic "M". The central plot is that a child murderer is terrorising the area. The actual murderer is hammed up a bit too much, but nonsecateur points out that this was as the silent era was only just ending, so we shouldn't be so surprised to see performances a little over-emphasised. Certainly it's not really any more hammed up than Anthony Hopkins in Silence Of The Lambs really. Also the way the story develops is quite surprising, it's good fun and, unlike with King Kong, the dialogue isn't cringeworthy. An absolute classic that draws you in and regularly surprises.


    Halloween (1978)

    A long time ago a series of "spoof" horror movies was released known as "Scream", "Scream 2" and eventually also "Scream 3". I was given the impression that "Scream 2" was supposed to be funny, that it was funnier than the original in the series and that it wasn't really necessary to see the first one beforehand. I quickly discovered that this was a mistake when the first scene to the movie featured a girl being brutally stabbed to death several times before bleeding to death in front of a cinema audience. Yuck! I came to be told that "Scream" and "Scream 2" were meant to be spoofing the "slasher" genre whereby a murderer picks off people one-by-one. The slasher genre was exemplified by series such as "Friday The Thirteenth", "Nightmare On Elm Street" and "Halloween".

    I'd seen Jason X (which, unlike the disgusting Scream 2, actually was funny - and featured a cameo from David Cronenberg lol!). Still I wasn't under the impression after all this time that I'd actually be interested in slasher movies. Still, in my endeavour to see every movie by John Carpenter, it seemed necessary to see Halloween at some stage. Oddly Halloween is supposed to be the movie which started off this genre in the first place. Watching it, I couldn't really see what Wes Anderson could have needed to make fun of which had not been done already. John Carpenter's original feature is quite playful, such as when mysterious noises down the phone turn out to be a friend chewing rather than the set-up for a brutal killing. Also an interesting feature is that we aren't expected to empathise with the killer. Michael is utterly dehumanised, making this essentially a monster movie with a masked human being taking the place of the monster. It must be admitted that there is the unfortunate cliche of the mid-twenties adults who are inexplicably still in high school and the dialogue is a bit dodgy in places, but there are some very nice touches nonetheless. Also, John Carpenter doesn't feel the need to make the murders overly gratuituous. The tension is in full force, but Michael only seems to require one fatal blow to take people out rather than the brutal stabbings again and again which I was treated to at the beginning of Scream 2.

    All in all, it wasn't perfect. Some better dialogue amongst the "high school seniors" (yeah right) would have gone a long way. Also, while they had their moments, the characters could have been given a little more depth. Still, all in all it was pretty good fun.


    Christine (1983)

    An adaptation of a Stephen King novel (which I haven't read). It takes its time setting things up and we begin in high school with, once again, a whole bunch of people who clearly shouldn't be in high school anymore. Still, the characters are well formed and the plot moves well. The protagonist is living with puritanical parents but in an act of rebellion he buys a clapped out old car and decides to fix her up. This gives him a sense of worth and he clearly goes through a change in character as a result, but it's not just his parents who think that his car isn't as good for him as we might initially have thought. There's some great moments when we see what the car Christine is capable of. However, unlike Christine herself, there's something unpolished about the movie. Great fun nonetheless.


    The Hunt For Red October (1990)

    I had heard that this was supposed to be good and I'm afraid it struck me as rather cliched. I'm sure people who were familiar with this when it came out will be inclined to say "so what did you expect", but I was actually expecting an old classic, not a worn out cheese fest. The suggestion that Sean Connery is supposed to be Russian (okay, Lithuanian, problem solved eh?) is particularly amusing, especially when Alec Baldwin does an impression of him (which is, of course, supposed to be an impression of the Lithuanian Sean Connery is playing, not of the well-known Scottish actor himself). While watching we couldn't help but start singing "America... Fuck Yeah!" (from the movie Team America). I couldn't help but feel that this was huge waste of talent (not just Sean Connery, but also Sam Neil and Tim Curry). Meh.


    eXistenZ (1999)

    David Cronenberg does a science fiction movie about video games. It starts off with some compelling ideas. In a future where computer games are all-immersive a good game designer can provide experiences which can border on spiritual. Game designers are superstars and adoring fans can consider their gaming experiences life-changing. However, there are also reactionary figures and in the first section of the movie a celebrity game designer is attacked by a gun made entirely out of flesh and bone which fires teeth. So perhaps it's not surprising that the anti-gaming group are using non-technological methods, except that this doesn't distinguish them from the gamers whose games machines are also organic like an animal. It's with this set-up that Cronenberg is able to make us understand playing a game as a much more natural biological experience and this sets "eXistenZ" apart from Mamoru Oshii's "Avalon". Sadly another way it is set apart is in its ridulously contrived plot and totally unappealing gaming experience (why are they working on a conveyor belt in a trout farm???). Despite some interesting ideas towards the beginning there's no real plot to speak of and it never really comes together. The whole movie becomes too much style over substance and, especially with this coming out during the same year as The Matrix, the theme of "do you really know what is real" felt particularly cliched.


    Ghosts Of Mars (2001)

    John Carpenter does aliens on Mars and unfortunately the biggest problem is that it's neither terribly exciting nor particularly intelligent. Apparently the society on Mars in the future is a matriarchy, though in the scheme of things this seems to make very little actual difference (though I suppose we should be grateful for this since apparently heterosexuality amongst women is also supposed to be quite rare in this future society *rolls eyes*).

    Basically the bad guys are the reavers from Firefly. Yes, this came first, but in Firefly they are sensible enough not to make alien posession the explanation for the reavers' decision to self-mutilate and slaughter. The movie is fun enough if you think of it as popcorn fodder and don't let your expectations get too high. This is currently John Carpenter's latest movie to be released, so here's hoping that The Ward is an improvement when it comes out.


    The Hurt Locker (2008)

    Rewatching this one after all the hype and it still stands up just as well as before. Sure, people with any experience of working in the military have noted that it is utterly ludicrous, however Hurt Locker does for bomb disposal teams what Die Hard does for police officers. Sure it's not true to life, but that's why it's a movie. Meanwhile there's less of the us vs them condescension of local Iraqis such as can be found in even something as left-wing as Green Zone. The Hurt Locker features compelling characters, entertaining action, not to mention a decent soundtrack and some quite awesome cameos. Check it out!


    Still Walking (2008)

    Yet another blooming movie about a typical family meet-up where absolutely nothing happens. I had this already with Summer Hours. Yes, the acting is great. Yes, it's realistic. The problem is that the last thing I want from my movie-watching experience is a realistic experience of a typical family meet-up where they are all nice to one another but there's tensions under the surface. I watch movies to escape from this kind of thing. There's enough of it in real life thankyouohsoverymuch. Yeah sure, we don't have the situation in Summer Hours where someone is whining about things which blatantly don't matter and expecting us to do so too, however it's still never terribly obvious why we should care about what is happening and I just didn't.


    Public Enemies (2009)

    I was never terribly sure why this had received such bad reviews. Plenty of people had seemed rather non-plussed by it. Anyway, my parents had recorded it off the tv and we checked out the beginning, only to discover that it starts very well indeed. John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) breaks out of prison (that happens early enough that I think it's fair enough to reveal it) and it's a very exciting set-up. Meanwhile Christian Bale is quickly introduced as the ruthless lawman who is planning to take Dillinger down. Still, as the movie goes on things are a little lacking in tension or surprises and, perhaps most importantly, the ending fails to tie things together in a particularly satisfying way. I must admit I found myself wondering later on whether I had actually seen it to the end, because I never got the impression that the movie had properly ended. It wasn't a bad movie. There was no lack of decent acting or events to keep things interesting. Unfortunately the movie as a whole was somehow rather less than satisfying.


    Green Zone (2010)

    Saw this at the cinema quite a while ago and didn't really feel able to judge back then. Basically I wanted it to be good and it actually starts out really well. The problem is firstly that the twist is rather covoluted (which, to be fair, was never too much of a problem in the Bourne movies), but secondly that the final chase scene (which happens on foot) is too long, boring and ends with a rather stupid anti-climax. It's fun enough and probably worth watching, but there's significant flaws - particularly in the second half.


    Television Reviews:

    Margaret Thatcher: The Long WalkTo Finchley (2008)

    A very playful and silly imagining of Thatcher's rise to power in the face of a party which wasn't terribly interested in giving positions to female ministers and was in a habit of giving preference to war veterans. I'm sure I missed a lot of references, since many little bits are foreshadowing Maggie's later life as prime minister. Still it was really good fun and did a good job of keeping the audience interested. Quite incredible is the performance of Andrea Riseborough in the title role, which makes me wonder what she might have been like if she had stayed in role of Annie in "Being Human" rather than being replaced by Lenora Crichlow.


    Margaret (2009)

    Brought out around the same time as TLWTF, but instead being a little more serious when tackling Margaret Thatcher's fall from power. Maggie is unsurprisingly played brilliantly by the legendary Lindsey Duncan. Sadly it's all a little too inevitable. Some flashbacks to Maggie's initial entry into the role of prime minister help to keep things interesting and the portrayal of a very devious John Major is simply superb, but in the end this doesn't really do much more than recount events rather than telling us anything terribly important about Margaret Thatcher herself. I've come out of both tv dramas about Margaret Thatcher without really feeling like I know what made her such a controversial figure. Still, I do feel like I know a lot more about her character and while this wasn't quite as fun as TLWTF, there's no doubting that it was superbly executed.


    Going Postal (2010)

    The third of the live-action Discworld adaptations so far promises the return of Andrew Sachs (who many will remember from his days as Manuel in Fawlty Towers) and the return of Jeff from Coupling (Richard Coyle) in the starring role. Charles Dance is called upon to play the diplomatically malevolent, democratically selected dictator of Ankh-Morpork - the Patrician (there's one man and one vote, so the Patrician's got the vote because he's the man). This certainly has all the charm of its predecessors and Terry Pratchett pulls off yet another neat little cameo. There is one unfortunate scene where it appears that the ex-conman in the central role should be somehow more guilt-ridden over leading someone to start smoking than for causing a man to lose his livelihood with fears that his family may starve. Still, the film comes together well and it always strikes me as remarkable how effortlessly these features have made it appear to bring such a bizarre universe as that of the Discworld novels to life. (Certainly the cartoons seemed to have limited success, with the adaptation of the hilarious Wyrd Sisters seeming distinctly humourless.) I must say that I don't think they've yet managed to surpass the triumph of Hogfather, but that set the bar very high indeed.


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    I've mentioned on a number of occasions now how awesome and brilliant I think Andrew Copson from the BHA is. Thankfully his awesomeness shows no sign of slipping and recently he's provided this neat little gem about Britain's Humanist Heritage.

    Honouring our humanist heritage

    We hear a lot about Britain's 'Christian heritage'. But so many of our pioneering thinkers and artists were humanists

    Pat statements about Britain's "Christian heritage" trip easily from the lips of Christians and non-Christians alike and these claims can sometimes be ludicrously expansive. I am used to sitting on a panel with some bishop or other to be informed that – although it may surprise me – democracy, volunteering, human rights, justice, the rule of law, freedom, equality, schools and hospitals are all artefacts of our Christian heritage. And motherhood. And apple pie.

    No one can deny that Christianity has had an effect on our national culture. But there are obvious and serious flaws in such an account of British history (Christian opposition in Britain to many of these "good things" in the past for example, or the fact that pre-Christian and non-Christian societies seem to have achieved many if not all of these advances at various times without the spur of a belief in Jesus). It's a useful corrective to this overweening narrative that the theme of this year's Humanist Week is "humanist heritage".

    Men and women with humanist views have made a massive contribution to our national life and society. Did you know that the first heads of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, UN World Health Organisation, and UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation were all humanists? EM Forster is famous for his novels and the sumptuous Merchant Ivory adaptations of them, but did you know he was a lifelong humanist activist as well? The humanist Bertrand Russell is as well known as a campaigner for peace and social justice; less known are such humanist campaigners as 20th century anti-racism activist and advocate of Indian independence Fenner Brockway or Annie Besant, 19th-century campaigner against poverty and for contraception. Humanists who have made significant contributions to British science range from Charles Darwin to Brian Cox, Richard Dawkins to David King. But humanists in Britain have also made rich contributions to our artistic and literary heritage (think Thomas Hardy, John Fowles, George Eliot, Harold Pinter, Anish Kapoor) and to our intellectual heritage (Amartya Sen, A J Ayer, Karl Popper). Humanists from John Stuart Mill (anti-racist and pioneering feminist as well as the father of modern liberalism) to John Maynard Keynes to Clement Attlee demonstrate the beneficial influence of humanists on our political and social life.

    Individual humanists have been in the forefront of life-improving developments in British science, politics, social policy, and charity in Britain. But we can celebrate not just people, but organisations too. Humanist organisations in the 19th-century pioneered housing and education projects and, in the 20th century, non-directive counselling. They ran housing associations and adoption agencies. This work continues today with humanist projects in Africa and India for education and the relief of poverty and in the provision of ceremonies such as funerals, attended by over 250,000 people in the UK each year and millions worldwide – a real service to the community.

    This contemporary social action, support and work for the common good is backed up by a long British humanist heritage and we should all – humanist and non-humanist – be proud of this important strand in our shared history.

    x-posted to atheism

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    Samson And Delilah (2009)

    This is possibly one of the most boring movies I have ever seen and yet it seems to have 100% on RT. I was convinced that this must be because hardly anyone has reviewed it, but that's not so. They list 30 positive reviews. Here are some of the comments:

    Visually stunning, this impressive feature debut places an Aboriginal love on the run tale against a fascinating socio-cultural context that's little known to non-Australians.

    Non-actors Rowan McNamara and Marissa Gibson don't so much perform their roles as live out the lives of those who have been around them. Their ability to involve us and to make their characters real is astonishing.

    The surreal leitmotifs ... keep the essence alive even when the drama appears dormant.

    It's a predominantly bleak story, but never defeatist, and it stays with you.

    Thornton's film offers a unique experience set in the heart of Australia, and it surely will be a rare moviegoer who doesn't respond to the drama and humour he exposes in this tender and brutal love story.

    Okay, first of all let's deal with "visually stunning". It wasn't. It really wasn't. Nearly every scene is in the middle of the desert. It looks bleak, unappealing and generally horrid.

    Also, there's practically no dialogue. If this movie is intended to shed light on the plight of aborigines in Australia, perhaps we could have done with some explanation as to what is going on. Not only do the characters barely speak, but there is very little explanation for the events taking place.

    The suggestion in one of the comments above is that there is a simple realism about the performances. Sorry, no. Not at all my experience. What I saw seemed more surreal. There's a kidnapping at one point with absolutely no explanation of why it happened or even what happened. The same character turns up later with severe bruises on their face. In a scene mirroring that scene later on (though, once again, for no good reason) that same character is hit head-on by a car. Once again there's no explanation for this and they turn up a bit later on crutches. Presumably this one of those "leitmotifs" which apparently makes up for absolutely nothing happening for most of the movie. "Samson and Delilah" is full of events like this with absolutely no explanation and once I came to the end of the movie I felt that there was no real point to any of it.

    I'm not sure what one reviewer means when they say the movie is "bleak but not defeatist". It's certainly bleak. The substance abuse addiction, living on the streets, kidnapping and car accident are all horribly bleak. However, it's never terribly obvious why any of it is happening, so how can anyone really suggest any optimism when the cause of the problems is entirely unexplored?

    What we have here is a slow-moving, bleak, miserable, surreal, confusing and frustrating movie about a dysfunctional aboriginal couple who, for no obvious reason, decide to run away from their home and live on the streets. It ugly, pointless and I'm amazed I even bothered to watch it to the end.


    Sophie Scholl - The Final Days (2005)

    To be honest, I reckon I could have done with knowing a great deal more about what happened in the earlier days of Sophie Scholl's life. Also, the random revelation at the end that after Sophie Scholl's death there's a much bigger event whereby leaflets are dropped from the sky was annoying because I have no idea how they would have acheived it. The early events of the movie show Sophie Scholl with her brother Hans leaving piles of anti-Nazi papers all over the university campus. They are quickly caught and taken to be interrogated by the gestapo. One is given cause to wonder what the White Rose organisation could ever possibly have achieved when such a minor stunt led them to be caught instantly.

    In any case, to start with the movie seemed promising with Sophie Scholl's coolness under pressure being expertly performed by the lead actress. Sophie's personal prayers sounded like they were written for an audience (by that I mean a wider audience than simply the Almighty, of course), but then again this is hardly surprising in a movie where the intention is to emphasise the plight of the eponymous figure. Unfortunately around half way through the movie a pet peeve of mine was hit upon and I lost my ability to suspend my disbelief from then on.

    Towards the end of Sophie Scholl's interrogation by the gestapo there's a conversation about the ethics of the Nazi regime. The dialogue is apparently using actual transcripts from old gestapo records (though there will naturally be gaps). As Sophie Scholl emphasises the importance of "decency, morals and god" the gestapo official, who throughout the discussion has been very careful about what he says, suddenly shouts "God doesn't exist!" launching himself out of his chair in exasperation and desperation.

    The suggestion of the movie-makers seemed quite clear and quite obviously false. The gestapo official is sticking to a Nazi party line that God does not exist, but Sophie Scholl's claims about God and morality have moved him to sympathise with her plight. The problem? The Nazi party did not advocate atheism. Not even slightly. In fact, the party line would have been to strongly distance oneself from atheism in order not to be viewed as a communist sympathiser. Women were encouraged to focus on "Church, Cooking and Children", the uniform for Nazi soldiers featured a belt with the words "Gott Mit Uns" written on it, the Nazis quite openly emphasised their interest in "Positve Christianity" and included the Churches amongst the institutions which it was important to control.

    Certainly atheists were amongst those sent to the camps, but most often for being Marxist rather than atheist per se. It was not unheard of for Nazis to be atheists, but the scene in question would have made far more sense if the gestapo official had simply said it to dismiss what Sophie Scholl was saying and move on, rather than something shouted across the desk as if it were part of Nazi ideology and a dogmatic slogan to hide behind when one's argument faltered.

    It is noted in interviews that the director was an atheist himself. However, that does not stop him from employing cheap tactics to produce drama. The idea of a religious figure standing up to an atheistic authoritarian is a stereotype which the audience might respond to.

    Next up Sophie Scholl is introduced to her defence lawyer, who is utterly uninterested in doing any real defending. In the trial itself we are introduced to the impatient ranting judge Freisler who spends more time ridiculing the accused than actually questioning them. Even when they are allowed to speak they are quickly interrupted. The problem is that this makes it harder to understand the points where Freisler actually allows Sophie Scholl to get through a speech uninterrupted. It feels very much like the actors are waiting for each other to finish, which once again makes it hard to believe in the events onscreen.

    Before the final execution, the three members of the White Rose organisation accused of tyranny and sentenced to execution seem to be allowed to stand together in a hallway together. It's particularly odd since this looks like distinctly more freedom than one would expect to be given to prisoners within the UK, never mind in Nazi Germany. While the two men are standing unhindered by handcuffs, two elderly unarmed prison officers go to handcuff Sophie, leaving the exit door wide open. I couldn't help but wonder why the two men currently marked for death didn't take this opportunity to escape. They could even have successfully assaulted the prison guards and got Sophie out of there too. The answer seems to be that this scene is merely set up this way for dramatic effect (perhaps suggesting that no one really thought of these people as any real threat, but the system simply couldn't allow them to live). The problem with doing things for dramatic effect is that if you get it wrong people don't feel the drama, but instead feel frustrated.

    This wasn't a bad movie, but I felt there were some severe errors which ruined it for me.


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  • 06/25/10--14:26: Black Death - Movie Review
  • Hey, I've seen something at the cinema for a change. YAY!

    Black Death (2010)

    From the director of the awesome Triangle (perhaps best described as a 'time-travelling action mystery' movie) and the horror-comedy Severance, comes what Mark Kermode aptly describes as "Wicker Man gets the plague". Sean Bean and his band of well-travelled soldiers are tracking down a village which appears to be somehow immune to the ravages of the black death. They expect to find demons and necromancers and they don't intend to be merciful with them either. However, things don't all turn out as they expect and the main protagonist, a young local monk who has volunteered to act as a guide for them, turns out to be more of a wild card than expected.

    I'm still not entirely sure what the message of the film meant. Certainly there are many elements which are probably lacking in historical accuracy, but that doesn't matter because the movie is creating a mythology of its own. ([info]nonsecateur helpfully interjected that they wouldn't have burnt witches back then.... They'd have hung them. Um... thanks for that, lol!)

    This movie is likely to be a bit too unpleasant for many people. It has to be said that I'm rather squeamish myself, but fortunately the worst stuff is neatly kept offscreen. Nevertheless, what happens offscreen is implied very effectively with the intention of helping your imagination conjure up the imagery that special effects would have more difficulty acheiving.

    All director Christopher Smith's movies seem to have a mysterious element to them and make you piece things together as they go along and this is certainly no exception. The strange mythology of the movie means that when characters are considering whether the black plague is a punishment from God or an assault by the devil, the audience find themselves seriously considering these viewpoints (even a harcore atheist like myself). It's clear from the beginning that there are not going to be clear-cut heroes and villains in this piece and this moral ambiguity only becomes more entrenched as the movie proceeds.

    I'm not sure that people will be labelling it a classic, but its highly thought-provoking and well executed. The thing is that at the end, while I'd definitely say that was a good movie, I'm also wondering what to make of it. I wouldn't say that the ending was entirely unpredictable, but it certainly pulls the rug out from under you and it's difficult to know how to react.

    Check out Black Death if you've got the stomach for it. It's a bizarre experience, but well worth your time.


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  • 06/27/10--12:20: Bullying By Catholics
  • Suppose that you own a small business. You have a small store located in one of the millions of strip malls that have become the American landscape. One day, a couple of representatives from a local Catholic church come into your store and request a few minutes of your time. They show you a picture of large sign they want you to place in your store window so it will be visible from the street. The sign displays an image of Mother Teresa and is intended to honor her 100th birthday.

    You politely decline the request, keeping your annoyance to yourself because upsetting potential customers is never wise. The Catholics thank you for your time and leave. You consider the matter closed and move on with your life.

    The next week, your are visited by a small delegation representing all the Catholic churches in your community. They make the same request, but this time, they have something else to show you. It seems that they have collected several thousand signatures in the form of a petition asking you to display their sign. They suggest, ever so subtly, that you stand to lose some customers by not honoring their request.

    Although you manage to refrain from yelling at them, you make it clear that you are not at all happy with their approach. You compare their tactics with the mafia and explain in no uncertain terms that you will not hang their religious propaganda in your store window. Again, they tell you that they appreciate your time and leave.

    The protests start a few days later. Some people stop by to tell you that they will not do business with you until you agree to hang the sign. Others assemble to picket in front of your store. Your calls to local law enforcement do not go anywhere. They have the right to assemble as long as they are not physically blocking your entrance. Your business begins to suffer.

    In case you missed it, this story is based on something happening right now in New York City on a much larger scale. Believe it or not, the Catholic church is demanding that the owner of the Empire State building, a privately owned building, light it to honor Mother Teresa. They do not care that the owner has a policy about not lighting the building for religious figures. They have collected over 40,000 signatures and taken out ads in the local papers. They intend to bully him into submission and are pulling out all the stops to do just that.

    Yeah, so as you might imagine, the Catholic League are involved. Bill Donohue shows typical fatwa envy in his insistence that Catholics need to expres their anger, but goodness me please let there not be violence!
    "I think that too many Catholics have fallen asleep at the wheel. It's time for people, the rank and file to say enough is enough. I hope it's going to be nonviolent, I wouldn't encourage violence but I know there's a lot of anger."
    Um... why were you expecting violence Bill? Sounds worryingly like wishful thinking *gulp*

    There's an interesting response from the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation where she notes that the date this is being requested is actually Women's Equality Day:
    "Do not let Women's Equality Day be supplanted by cheerleaders for the Roman Catholic Church and its antiwomen, antigay, anti-stemcell research, antiprogress doctrines.

    "Mother Teresa did not stand for women's rights — she was all about taking away women's rights: the fundamental decision of when or whether to become a mother. She used her podium relentlessly and globally to pound away at reproductive rights, including the right to contraception. She used virtually every public occasion to call for the recriminalization of abortion, and virulently opposed legalization of abortion, despite the fact that backstreet abortions are the leading cause of maternal deaths in countries outlawing abortion."

    Gaylor suggested that in addition to being Women's Equality Day, August 26 can also be celebrated as the birthdate of strong feminists and nonbelievers Barbara Ehrenreich and Zona Gale. Ehrenreich is a contemporary author and columnist; Zona Gale was the first female playwright to win a Pulitzer Prize.
    The Washington Post have an angry article noting that the Empire State Building has previously shown "communist colours" (ZOMG COMMUNIZM!) in honour of China, as well as displays supporting blue M&Ms and Mariah Carey.

    "Empire State Building lights honored COMMUNIST CHINA'S COLORS (ZOMG EMPHASIS MINE!) (left) - and hyped Mariah Carey and blue M&Ms - but will snub Mother Teresa."

    So is this a big fuss over nothing? Should they happily display Mother Teresa's image? Is she not really a religious figure at all? (Hey. Hang on, wasn't the common argument against criticisms of her underfunding her hospices and not providing clean needles precisely that we shouldn't judge her from a secular standpoint? Yet now we're conveniently supposed to treat her as a secular figure?) And is this falling on Women's Equality Day purely a coincidence or actively political?

    Even if it is not political it's highly conceivable that it is being used for political ends. Below is an advert that is apparently intended to be used in the UK this Christmas and it's already been praised as an anti-choice image by the Christian right. And are we really supposed to believe that Bill Donohue isn't petty enough to promote Mother Teresa specifically to spite women's rights groups?:

    "They have a halo round his head and you don't have a halo around the head of a blob of jelly or a cluster of cells." 
    (Head of SPUC trying to be profound. SPUC stands for Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child BTW.)

    (Cross-posted to atheism)

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    Okay, I haven't felt like I could review a videogame for a while now. Not least because I think you need to finish a game to review it... Unless it's a negative review and the game reaches a stage where it becomes impossible/pointless to proceed. But also because I couldn't be arsed. In this case, I feel like I need to write something because I can't help but feel that other reviewers on the net are missing some important details.

    So first of all let me note that I haven't played the original Dead Space. I had no idea how story-driven this game was going to be, but I kind of got used to that. (Though [info]nonsecateur recently asked which was worse: videogame dialogue or dialogue in porn - and I had a hard time defending the former. Admittedly this was not while playing DS:E, but during an early level of No More Heroes - which btw [info]tahu , asides from the clunky dialogue is every bit as awesome as you'd been hyping it up as!)

    It kinda feels like the Doom movie plot (where humans are turning into monsters from hell) turned back into a game again. It also comes off a bit like a FPS version of Eternal Darkness (a game where the characters often find themselves halluncinating things as the evil messes with their sanity). So there was plenty to like about the premise. The problem is that the story isn't actually told that well and I cannot help but think that this is probably because it expects me to be familiar with the previous game (for which this is a prequel). As such, there are all sorts of details which are undoubtedly passing me by.

    Another issue is the gameplay. I know that the game is supposed to have me shooting in the dark in order to give a sense of horror, but half the time I really cannot see what I am supposed to be shooting at. Not only that but the game seems to be judging me on how often I miss the "aliens" even though I'm often firing wildly with an automatic weapon or spraying fire with a flamethrower. Also, occasionally I'm given the option to look around (most of the game is on-rails with no option of looking from side-to-side) and there's this beeping which tells me I'm running out of time to do this. During these sections I'm convinced there's something I'm supposed to be looking for and failing, but for all I know it's just an opportunity to pick up items. Items which - I must add - are often hard to differentiate from the dim lights which are found all over the place.

    Still, there are some good ideas for an on-rails shooter. Every now and then you have to shake the wiimote to turn on a kind of torch in the darker parts of the game and that torch will need to be relit every now and then. Still, there were plenty of pretty dark bits where this wasn't available and that felt a bit odd. Another good feature was the stasis, um, balls or something... They are these shots you can fire (only a few at a time) which will freeze an enemy and give you a bit more chance to reload your guns without being overrun. Also the guns have two fire options, so short-range weapons may have a long-range function or automatic weapons may have a slow but powerful charged-up option.

    Now finally the big important issue for me here. I knew that Dead Space: Extraction was going to be short. It's an on-rails shooter. I know from experience that they aren't generally very long. Normally they work through replay value (with Ghost Sqad being an excellent example of how well this can work). Actually by on-rails shooter standards DS:E is pretty long, but this is partially due to the large amount of dialogue which interrupts the action. The bigger problem I had was that the game pretty much ends on a cliffhanger. While this cliffhanger might seem pretty good to someone familiar with the original game "Dead Space" it was completely incomprehensible to me as a player unfamiliar with that game. No, I don't have another console. When are they releasing Dead Space on the Wii? Never. Oh. Damn.

    So yeah, that was great fun for one day's gameplay. But it's left me deeply unsatisfied and rather disinclined to play "challenge mode" or play over on greater difficulty when I know that the story is never going to be properly resolved. Meh.... (Cross-posted to Nintendo Wii)

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    I mean seriously, I was not expecting this. My first response to the idea of 3D gaming was pretty similar to my response to 3D movies. Oh dear, headaches and stupid dimmed glasses. So to hear that the technology doesn't require glasses. Oh my goodness, wow.

    Anyway the Escapist has an article explaining that there's already a working 3D screen and even a playable 3D version of "Starfox64" (otherwise known as "Lylat Wars") and they also note that Sony appear to be worried since they are already trash talking the idea of 3D without glasses. (Methinks that "Based off internally conducted research, naked-eye 3D for portables does not have high precision, and at present there are limitations" translates as "we haven't worked out how they did it yet, but it's time to chuck our old glasses-wearing prototype in the trash".)

    Anyway, there's a neat little interview at E3. They aren't able to show us how 3D looks, but the interview managed to get me excited (even if it is another case of Nintendo selling me games I've already played). The representative was particularly cool and I was amazed to hear him actively suggesting that they might tweak the water temple in the Ocarina Of Time. (Seriously, how often would you expect any videogame company, Nintendo included, to admit that one of their most popular titles could do with some tweaking? Yet I'm fairly sure I wasn't alone in thinking that the water temple for adult Link in that game was a little unpolished in places.)

    Anyway, watch the interview and see what you think. I am so excited!

    Click here if embedded video won't play.

    (Cross Posted to Nintendo Wii)

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    Um... except Twilight apparently....

    (Via Filmdrunk)

    x-posted to atheism
    x-posted to moviebuffs

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    Most of the reviews in this post are for films I REALLY LIKE and this makes things difficult. I don't like giving spoilers and if I think a film is really good I try to avoid giving anyone too many clues as to what the film will be like. I generally find it's easiest to fill a review with the problematic elements and a good movie won't have so many of those.

    So, to get things started I'm going to review Highlander III because I went into it already knowing it was going to be awful.

    Highlander III

    I'd already seen this and I knew it wasn't great, but on a second watch it was even worse than I remembered. I think it probably helped that the previous time I watched it was only shortly after seeing Highlander II: The Quickening, which is possibly one of the most ridiculously stupid and awful movies in existence. After the second movie, the third couldn't help but look good by comparison.

    One scene which was quite fun was where the bad guy (who has obtained sorcery powers) mirrors the old lady in the car scene from the first movie. He takes off the steering wheel and throws it around and drives the car straight towards various obstacles which turn out to be illusory. The problem is that because he's using sorcery you eventually realise that there's no real danger at all, so it doesn't really match up to the driving into oncoming traffic and playing chicken which took place in the original movie. While the bad guy plays his part with gusto he doesn't have a good reason for speaking like Batman (deep and low scary voice) this time.

    In the first movie, the kirgan had a large gash across his throat from a previous attempt to defeat him, so his odd voice is somewhat expected. And there were all sorts of nice visual touches like that which made it stick in your mind. As well as the Kirgan's stitches across his throat he also had a sword made up on various pieces which slot together. Also the quickening effects were another aspect which looked much more impressive in the first movie than they do here.

    Also, the suggestion that oridinary mortals can decapitate immortals kinda ruins the mythology for me. The Kirgan's gash across his throat in the first movie had been with him for centuries, suggesting that while the immortals are pretty much immune to ordinary blows decapitation by a fellow immortal is somehow different. We don't really know why, but it's part of the mythology. Yet in a flashback an immortal is executed by a guillotine without a fellow immortal operating it. Surely if a guillotine can do the trick so could a chainsaw? Suddenly the immortals don't seem anything like so imposing if a typical execution can do them in. And the original movie also involved a tradition of not fighting on holy ground (somewhat solidifying the idea that the immortals are somewhat vampire-esque), but in this movie it turns out that this is optional. Yet another piece of the mythology is thus thrown out on a whim.

    Add to this the poor pacing, the poor acting, Christopher Lambert being as rubbish as always and a generally amateurish feel to the whole project and you've got a seriously bad movie. Basically, after the attempt at making an interesting story went massively pear-shaped in the second movie, this third movie provides the deeply mediocre sequel that we'd normally expect. And it does a really bad job of it too.

    So why did I decide to re-watch this then? Well, some years after first watching it I was enjoying the silly but fun animated movie of "Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children". It made utterly no sense, but it looked amazing and the fight scenes were awesome. I was saying to a friend, where else are you going to find sword fights on motorcycles. His answer? Highlander III. Having re-watched the movie I have to say he entirely misremembered. I didn't see a single swordfight on motorcycles and I feel thoroughly p***ed off now. Hmmmph!


    Children Of Men

    Set in a future where there is no hope, Alfonso Cuaron adapts the P.D. James novel which imagines that humans randomly and inexplicably become unable to have children. The late Grace Jantzen, one of my favourite philosophers of religion, was quite struck by this idea that a world without birth is a world without hope. (She considered our society to be overly focussed on mortality rather than on natality i.e. the end of life rather than new beginnings. If you think about it, the pro-life movement are ironically guilty of this too. Concerned as they are more with the "death of babies" than with the conditions for growth and development in the future by those that are born.)

    So yeah, a few friends of mine didn't like it when they saw it at the cinema, but the rotten tomatoes score is really high and the movie is on several "top sci-fi movie" lists. So I felt that I really ought to go and see it and I must say, I wasn't expecting too much. Certainly I've always found Clive Owen a little overrated and I don't know about American viewers, but I thought his American accent in Sin City was appalling. (Is this just because I was too familiar with his ordinary English accent or did he really mess up there?)

    Anyway, in this case he's playing a Brit and the whole thing is set in the UK. I know that America has its own anti-immigration BS too, but I think the situation in the UK suits the story better. It also strikes me as a more subtle version of the situation in V For Vendetta where troubles are occurring elsewhere in the world and Britain declares that it will remain isolated and "superior". To name drop another philosopher, Slavoj Zizek reckons that immigrants are becoming the new underclass with countries all across Europe being quick to distance themselves from those further east. This culminates with the UK for whom anything across the English channel (i.e. the entire continent) is viewed as somehow "tainted".

    Michael Caine is brilliant as the quirky friend keeping up a lust for life alongside a healthy cynicism. Julianne Moore, on the other hand, feels out of place as the terrorist leader and the protagonist's ex-lover. It's not just that she's American, but also that even though she's supposed to be infamous and widely hated, she does not seem to worry much about hiding from the public. She's not bad, but it's not her best performance and I was expecting more from her. Much more impressive, in fact, was the performance of the midwife by Pam Ferris (who people may remember as the mean aunt at the beginning of Harry Potter 3 and you might also have been fortunate enough to see her excellent performance as Miss Trunchbull, the only good thing about the movie adaptation of Roald Dahl's "Matilda"). And of course Chiwetel Ejiofor is always awesome in everything - with this being no exception.

    What's especially impressive about this movie is the long continuous shots during the most active sequences. One such scene involves our protagonist wandering through what is, essentially, a war zone. Everything happening around him is very clear and it must have taken a huge feat of choreography to do these continuous shots.

    The exploration of this future world is done very cleverly and thoroughly. If you've seen Y Tu Mama Tambien, you'll have some clue as to what this is going to be like (only without all the sex). That said, the one thing that will most likely let you down is the ending. That isn't to say that the ending is a let-down, but that there isn't any big twist waiting for us at the end. The focus is much more on the gradual exploration of this apocalyptic future over the course of the movie than wowing us at the end.



    ZOMG that was so much fun and so ridiculously over the top. It reminded me of Peter Jackson's "Braindead" (sometimes known as "Dead Alive"). I don't even know how to be even-handed with this one. It's absolutely brilliant and Jeffrey Combs is on top hammy form as the mad scientist. One of the best horror-comedies I've ever seen.

    At the beginning I thought the central romance was going to be irritating (and the sex scene at the beginning seemed a little unnecessary).  Some might recognise Jeffrey Combs as the mad inspector from Peter Jackson's "The Frighteners". He is absolutely fantastic every moment that he's on screen.


    Return Of The Living Dead

    I didn't think anything could top the awesome silliness of "Re-Animator" and then this managed to do just that. At the very beginning of the movie a subtitle comes up to inform us that the events portrayed in the movie were all real. You can tell from that moment that this movie is going to be very tongue in cheek.

    Strangely enough this movie is the first one I have seen where the zombies actually say "brains". In fact they often say it quite well for people who are supposed to be dead. (Then again, walking around and biting people ought to be pretty difficult when you are dead too, so at least this is consistently unbelievable.) An explanation is given for the focus on brains in particular rather than just human flesh.

    I saw a metal band a few years ago called "Send More Paramedics" where the band members dress up as zombies. I hadn't realised that the band name came from this movie.

    There's one moment where the silliness means that a character called "Trash" randomly takes off all her clothes and it seems rather gratuitous, though we also have someone amusingly saying "Trash is taking off her clothes again!" Freddy's teenage (+5-10 years) friends are distinctly less entertaining than the adult characters who are often the most cowardly figures in the movie, but also try to give the impression that they have some control over what is going on.

    This is a very different horror-comedy to the others I've seen. While there are plenty of moments which are genuinely scary, this is for the most part a comedy. This is essentially a spoof of the zombie genre and it does a fantastic job. Oddly, the movie actually manages to make the zombies seem quite endearing and there's a great sense of fun throughout the movie. I finished the movie feeling very satisfied and happy, which is not the feeling you normally expect after a movie about a zombie apocalypse.


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    Oh my goodness, this is so awesome. There's a small teaser for the latest project from Studio Ghibli (Ponyo, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke). This time they are doing an anime adaptation of "The Borrowers". For anyone who doesn't remember "The Borrowers" was a series of novels for children by author Mary Norton. They were about a family of tiny people who survive by "borrowing" bits and pieces from the 'Big People'. There has been a movie adaptation before of which I shall not speak. Anyway, check this out and see what you think:

    (Via Slashfilm)

    So yeah, The Last Airbender. There's a lot of hate about this, so I'm just pointing out a few highlights. I'll start, however, with the most recent and possibly the most bizarre pieces of news on this. Apparently M Night Shymalan has decided to start making plans for a sequel. Yes you heard that, a sequel. (Yes, that was the link for the entertaining Filmdrunk piece on this.)

    “I do [have things mapped out]. The third is more ambiguous, but the second one, I’ve written a draft that I’m really happy with and is darker and richer, and it has a wonderful antagonist in it in Azula, who’s kind of like our only real, pure antagonist in the series, so I’m excited about that.”

    Well, it's not like he hasn't heard about the bad reviews....

    Have you read the reviews for Last Airbender?
    No, I haven’t.

    Well, are you aware of the reviews?
    No, actually.

    Well, for the most part, critics have not been kind. Are you just ignoring them? Will you read them this weekend? Have you just not had time?
    Are you saying that in general they didn’t dig it?

    In general, no. Roger Ebert, who liked The Happening, did not. The first line of his review is, “The Last Airbender is an agonizing experience in every category that I can think of and others still waiting to be invented.” How do you react to something like that?

    What do you expect from critics eh? Well, what comes next might surprise you. You know those programmes where fans are stopped for comments after they've just watched a movie at the cinema? And you know how they always either say they were blown away with how fantastic the movie was, say it was pretty good or, in a few cases, seem practically apologetic for not enjoying it as much as everyone else did? Well here's what people had to say after seeing the Last Airbender movie....

    (BTW apparently the movie changes the main character's name from "Ang" to "Ong".)

    Last of all I'm presuming everyone has seen this already by now: M. Night Shyamalan Finally Made A Comedy


    (Via Eris)

    X-Posted to Moviebuffs

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    A friend on LJ recently came across the following clip from the "Last Airbender" movie. I was deeply surprised by how amateurish it looked. Check it out:

    1) The dialogue: "There is Earth underneath your feet!" Um... yeah, I think they kinda knew that.
    Also, later on a soldier says "All airbenders should be dead! Kill 'em!" Cheeese!
    2) The camerawork. It essentially involves the camera circling around Aang. Sure the camera is capturing all the action well enough, but it's not terribly exciting direction.
    3) Doing a little dance!: Yeah, I'd already seen how silly the fight choreography looked and how slow the elemental attacks would be. (A gun would rather neatly kill off these guys long before they finish their little element-wielding dances.) However, I still found that Aang's first wind attack dance made me lmao.
    4) Waiting for each other to finish: After Aang finishes his speech it appears that a soldier has been waiting the whole time without any interest in stopping him from possibly starting a riot. He rather cheesily says "Are you an Airbender boy?" before giving an evil laugh and Aang's female friend Kitara seems to wait until he's finished laughing before shoving the soldier and telling the him to "leave him (Aang) alone". The soldier then follows this up by waiting quite a long time (presumably for the wind machine to warm up) before charging forward at Kitana and being countered by Aang's eponymous skills. There's a feel throughout the clip that everyone's waiting their turn and it doesn't feel natural at all.
    5) Comic relief character?: The whole scene seems deadly serious, so when Katara walks up to an armed soldier and shoves him saying "leave him alone" it's rather hard to imagine that the humour is intentional. Later, Aang's male friend Sokka seems like his comedy might possibly be intentional, but his over the top terror looks so out of place with the ultra-serious action that you can't help but feel you are laughing at the movie rather than with it. (On the plus side, I'm expecting some pretty good rifftrax from this.
    6) Amateurish: No this isn't an early rehearsal, but it sure as hell looks like it.

    (Via Sabrina_Il)
    x-posted to moviebuffs

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    IO9 announce that there's going to be a graphic novel exploring the backstory of the vampire protagonist. Apparently they come across "viscious men consumed with greed".

    A flashback involving viscious greedy men sounds somewhat familiar for those of us who've read the book. So unsurprisingly, there are several commenters saying "actually I didn't want to read a graphic novel about a boy having his genitals chopped off".

    (Un)Fortunately, since it's a prequel to the remake (titled "Let Me In") we don't need to worry about that. In this version the vampire's name has been changed from Eli to Abby. Forget that Ellie is clearly a much more common girl's name than Abby. Apparently the young vampire's lengthy history of sexual exploitation is far less important than the section of the story with the zombie. *facepalm* Needless to say that the contents of the graphic novel seem pretty irrelevant to the version of the story found in the novel (as well as that found in the original movie):

    Being forced to spend eternity as a vampire-trapped in the mind and body of a child, with slaughter the only recourse for survival-is torture enough. But when Abby finds herself faced with a ruthless real-estate tycoon willing to do anything to get at the property she and her caretaker call home, far more monstrous torments await.
    By comparison to what Eli had to deal with, that sounds pretty trivial. You know what would normally happen if someone threatened to throw them out of their home? They'd have to move somewhere else. (Probably after sucking the blood out of the real-estate tycoon or, more likely, his unfortunate lackey.) From the images provided it looks like she's going to play detective and catch a serial killer. The child vampire I read about wouldn't give a sh**.

    (Via IO9)

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