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fatpie42 - LiveJournal.com

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    John Milbank of the Radical Orthodoxy movement has written a new public article. After publishing an anti-feminist tirade (requesting that we set up a new feminism biased in favour of men) on The Guardian's "comment is free", John now writes in response to an extract from Ayaan Hirsi Ali's new book on ABC.net.

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali's extract on that website is no longer available, but I was able to find a cached copy of it, which is copied under the cut. John Milbank quotes a chunk of it, so instead of posting that same chunk twice you will find it bolded in my copy of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's book extract below.

    Seeking God but finding Allah
    By Ayaan Hirsi Ali
    ABC Religion and Ethics | 30 Jul 2010


    Islam claims to be the fasting-growing religion in the world today. This expansion is achieved partly through the relatively high birth rate of Muslim societies but also through dawa, by which people are persuaded to adopt its values and outlook.

    Millions of Muslims now live in the West; clearly it's not enough to assume that the allure of the material plenty around them will sway these Muslims to relax into a Western value system of tolerance and individual rights. Some of them may, but the evidence is all around us that many will remain sympathetic to a worldview that is steeped in conspiracy theories and blames all Muslim failures on outsiders. Moreover some non-Muslims in the West will be attracted to that worldview and become converts.

    Some Westerners have a vision of Muslims as a mass of unbending, irrational, unthinking beings, incapable of calmly examining new ideas on their merit. But a Muslim's mind is just like anyone else's and is capable of absorbing new information.

    If Muslims can be helped to re-examine the bedrock ideas of Islam, they may then admit that the Prophet Muhammad's example is fallible, that not everything in the Quran is perfect or true, and that this doctrine can be adjusted so that the mental pain that comes of trying to apply it in the modern world is diminished.

    I have a theory that most Muslims are in search of a redemptive God. They believe that there is a higher power and that this higher power is the provider of morality, giving them a compass to help them distinguish between good and bad.

    Many Muslims are seeking a God or a concept of God that in my view meets the description of the Christian God. Instead they are finding Allah. They find Allah mainly because many are born in Muslim families where Allah has been the reigning deity for generations; others are converts to Islam or the children of converts.

    The Muslims who say that Allah is peaceful and compassionate simply do not know about other concepts of God, or the concepts they do have are wrong.

    They have been told that Christians have misunderstood the real God, Allah, that they are guilty of shirk (an unforgivable sin) by associating the one true God with the Holy Ghost and Jesus, a mere prophet, they argue, whom Christians wrongly put on the throne as the son of God.

    The Muslims who hear all this (and worse) about Christianity hardly ever make an attempt to find out more. Meanwhile Christians have stopped teaching people in Muslim countries because the bitter resistance from the local Muslim clergy and political elites made it harder and harder to do so.

    In short, the Muslim masses are insulated from all alternative religions.

    To change this, I have in mind a kind of spiritual competition. If Saudi Arabia invests millions of dollars in madrassas and a systematic campaign of dawa, taking advantage of all the institutions of freedom in the West, why should the Catholic Church, with its financial resources and its millions of steadfast followers, not do the same?

    I hope my friends Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens - the esteemed trinity of atheist activists in Britain and the United States - will not be dismayed by the idea of a strategic alliance between secular people and Christians, including the Roman Catholic Church.

    I concede that the idea is a little paradoxical. For centuries the proponents of the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment saw the Vatican as their archenemy. The Church persecuted and in some cases executed those it condemned as heretics. My atheist friends are right to point out that many Christians have abandoned biblical literalism only because of the constant criticism by such free-thinkers.

    It is also true that there is no shortage of misogyny in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Contempt for women is inscribed in the works of Saint Paul.

    But the modern Catholic Church is a very different and more tolerant institution. Christians in more recent times must be given some credit for heeding at least some of the critiques advanced by the thinkers of the Enlightenment.

    That very openness to criticism is what makes Christianity different from Islam.

    Nor is Christianity riven as it used to be by bitter sectarian conflicts dating back to the Reformation. Today the relationship between the Catholic Church and the mainstream Protestant denominations, the Anglicans and Episcopalians, the Presbyterians, Unitarians, and Universalists, is peaceful.

    In most of the Western world these churches and their congregations either leave one another alone or have good ecumenical relations. Finally, the Christian churches have put behind them the centuries of anti-Semitism that so stained their reputation.

    It is true that on a wide range of issues the Roman Catholic Church takes positions with which I, along with most liberals, disagree. On questions such as abortion, birth control and women priests there are deep divisions within the Western world. Many American Protestants as well as Catholics are deeply opposed to abortion, a polarizing issue particularly in the United States.

    But all these differences are matters of debate and not matters of war. Debate, however bitter, takes place within Western societies in a peaceful if sometimes heated exchange of words. The occasional madman who blows up an abortion clinic or murders physicians who provide legal treatments to women whose pregnancies are unwanted is the exception that proves the rule.

    The clash between Islam and the West is different. All possible means are used by the agents of radical Islam to defeat the West. Even though most of our attention is consumed by those Muslims who are willing to blow themselves up in the name of their religion, we cannot ignore the more subtle campaign of conversion and radicalization.

    For too long the West has sat back and allowed Islam to make a run at people who are susceptible to conversion. Sometimes I feel as if the only people in the West who really get this are Jews, who are far more exposed to the workings of radical Islam because of their contacts with the state of Israel.

    * * *

    Take a look at the institutions of the Enlightenment, the schools and universities established throughout the Western world on secular principles. To defend the values of the Enlightenment from the encroachment of Islamist thought they must wake up and see how effectively they have been infiltrated.

    Their resources are limited, and large donations from Saudi princes and Qatari sultans come with strings attached. Their curricula are increasingly politicized, and they tolerate and even encourage the rise of all kinds of anti-Enlightenment movements based on feelings of group grievance and victimhood.

    Some teachers even encourage their classes to wallow in self-flagellation over the misdeeds of Western history. Eastern, Middle Eastern and African cultures that see compromise and conciliation as manifestations of weakness interpret all this as a sign of their own impending victory: it emboldens them.

    In this clash of civilizations the West needs to criticize the cultures of men of colour too. We need to drop the ethos of relativist respect for non-Western religions and cultures if respect is simply a euphemism for appeasement.

    But we need to do more than criticize. We need - urgently - to offer an alternative message that is superior to the message of submission.

    When I'm told to be careful not to impose Western values on people who don't want them, I beg to differ.

    I was not born in the West and I did not grow up in the West. But the delight of being able once I came to the West to let my imagination run free, the pleasure of choosing whom I want to associate with, the joy of reading what I want, and the thrill of being in control of my life - in short, my freedom - is something I feel intensely as I manage to extricate myself from all the shackles and obstacles that my bloodline and my religion imposed.

    Many contemporary Western thinkers have unconsciously imbibed the toxin of appeasement with the ideas of equality and free speech. They give chairs in the most distinguished and best institutions of higher learning to apologists for Islam.

    There is no unity, no shared view of how to deal with this threat. Indeed, those of us who clearly see the threat are dismissed as alarmists.

    That is why I think we must also appeal to other, more traditional sources of ideological strength in Western society. And that must include the Christian churches. There are people in Europe and America who maintain that it is secularism that has made us defenceless against a Muslim onslaught.

    But it is not only leftists who appease Islam. Afflicted with similar pangs of white guilt, many prominent Christian theologians have also become accomplices of jihad.

    When I came to the West what I found truly amazing was the fact that believers, agnostics and unbelievers could debate with and even ridicule one another without ever resorting to violence.

    It is this right of free expression that is now under attack. And in time of war, internal feuding in the ranks - between atheists and agnostics, Christians and Jews, Protestants and Catholics - serves only to weaken the West.

    So long as we atheists and classical liberals have no effective programs of our own to defeat the spread of radical Islam, we should work with enlightened Christians who are willing to devise some. We should bury the hatchet, rearrange our priorities, and fight together against a much more dangerous common enemy.

    On 12 September, 2006, at the University of Regensburg, Germany, where he had once taught theology as a professor, Pope Benedict gave a wide-ranging lecture, titled "Faith, Reason, and the University - Memories and Reflections." In it he proclaimed that any faith in God must also obey reason; God cannot ask you to do something unreasonable, because God created reason.

    Islam, he pointed out, is not like Catholicism: it is predicated on the idea that God may overturn law and human reason. Allah may demand immoral or unreasonable behaviour, for he is all-powerful and demands absolute submission.

    In spite of the pope's invitation to dialogue with people in other cultures, his speech unleashed Muslim protests around the world, and several churches were fire-bombed: more evidence of the intolerance of criticism of Islam by Islamists.


    The pope also knows that wherever radical Islamists become a majority they oppress other faiths. In Muslim countries there is no equal competition for souls, hearts and minds, because atheists and missionaries and communities of Christians are forced to operate in an atmosphere of physical menace. And although there are plenty of mosques in Rome, not a single church is permitted in Riyadh.

    A confrontation between the values held by Islam and those of the West are inevitable. There is already a clash, and we are in some sense already at war.

    That Western civilization is superior is not simply my opinion but a reality I have experienced and continue to appreciate every day. I assume the West will win. The question is how.

    Can the various churches of Christianity help stem this rising tide of violent Islam? Can today's Christianity play a role in preserving the values of Western civilization?


    Can the Vatican join in this campaign, if not lead the way - or is it doomed to become a decorative relic, like the European royal families and the fish fork?

    Can the Established Churches of Europe heed my call - or will the cultural and moral relativists prevail, Christian leaders like the Archbishop of Canterbury, who professes to have an "understanding" attitude toward Shari'a?

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Washington, D.C. This article is an edited extract from her most recent book, Nomad (Fourth Estate, 2010).


    So, I was surprised to find that, after an introduction which I found deeply dodgy, there are some parts where John Milbank talks a bit of sense. I guess he's less likely to have an article brim-full of fail when he's discussing religion rather than feminism. Below I have bolded parts which I find particularly dodgy and, in places, I have included links which I believe aid refutation of those statements (and I shall explain those links below). Those parts I find myself agreeing with or approving of are underlined as well as bolded, because I don't feel it is fair to only point out the bad points while ignoring the better parts.


    Christianity, the Enlightenment and Islam
    By John Milbank
    ABC Religion and Ethics | 24 Aug 2010



    Ayaan Hirsi Ali doubtless shocked many of her admirers and detractors alike when she concluded her recent article on the ABC's Religion and Ethics website, "Seeking God, but finding Allah," by praising Pope Benedict XVI's stance on Islam and calling for an alliance between atheists and what she calls "enlightened Christians" in their struggle against a common foe.

    I find myself in profound agreement with certain of Ayaan's arguments, and her piece raises two issues that are absolutely critical.

    The first one concerns the triangular relationship between Christianity, the Enlightenment and Islam. As she rightly suggests, far too many Christians tend to take the simplistic stance of defending religion in general against the attacks of the new atheists.

    Yet in important ways Christianity has more in common with the Enlightenment legacy than it has with Islam. Both see the role of reason as central and both favour tolerance and open debate, whereas Islam, on the whole, is more equivocal about these values.

    In a sense, this is not surprising because both Christianity and the Enlightenment are Western phenomena. As Ayaan rightly observes, it is clear that the latter has recently influenced the former. What she greatly underrates, however, is the degree to which the former is itself the child of the latter.

    Christianity already proclaimed a universalism based upon love and the divinity of the human beyond law and custom. Far from being especially mysogynistic, Christianity is itself the sustained source of feminism, and it is evident that even St Paul played a positive role in this respect (so long as one does not absurdly imagine that he could have arrived at modern views concerning female emancipation in the first century AD).

    The Christian tradition has nurtured natural science, while so-called "biblical literalism" is itself a modern doctrine, completely unknown to the traditional orthodox faith.

    The advocacy of tolerance is also grounded in the Christian insistence on the integrity of individual conversion and the initial emergence of this faith is a world of highly pluralistic debate.

    Thus, in my judgment, Ayaan is most certainly right about certain shared emphases between Christianity and Enlightenment. And this brings me to what I regard as the second critical issue her piece raises: the lack of a level playing field between Islamic and Christian mission.

    There is no proper tolerance of Christian practice and mission in many Muslim countries and cultures, while perhaps the majority of Muslims still think that apostasy is legitimately punishable by death. No Christians take this attitude and almost no Christian polities prevent Islamic dawa or mission.

    It is also true that radical Islamists are systematically infiltrating Western educational institutions. I would agree with Ayaan that in the face of all this Christians need to take a more militant approach to mission and that, in the name of freedom, secularists should welcome such a venture.

    One can also agree with Ayaan that there is some evidence that, when faced with a genuine, well-informed choice, many Muslims, and especially women - for example in Bangladesh - find Jesus to be far more attractive and universally relevant figure that Mohammed.

    Surely she is correct that Muslims, like everyone else, need better education about other faiths and that spiritual allegiance should not be a matter of covert coercion.

    However, in terms of this "triangulation," it is imperative that Christians sometimes side with Islam rather than Enlightenment, to a far greater degree than even Ayaan allows. This is true especially with regard to the area of religious self-organisation and involvement in education and civil society.

    With Muslims, Christians would insist that monotheism has had a positive influence upon the formation of knowledge and social organisation, in a way that atheists often fail to recognise.

    But it is also important to say that Ayaan's characterisation of Islam is far too monolithic and negative. It is doubtless true that mainstream Islam is too much permeated by a spirit of ressentiment, but this is largely the outcome of a specific history of decline, and there are significant minorities not touched by this ethos.

    And while I welcome her unusual openness to the real content of the Pope's now infamous Regensberg address, I do not believe that Benedict would himself agree that all Islamic theologies ascribe to the view that God has an entirely arbitrary will.

    This is certainly not true of many important Shi'ite and Sufi traditions, nor would it accurately describe perhaps the greatest Islamic thinkers, Ibn Arabi and Mulla Sadra. Indeed they share many things in common with great Christian thinkers like Augustine, Maximus, Aquinas and Eckhart - a fact that stems from a shared synthesis of Hebraic and neoplatonic elements.

    Ayaan appears to think that it would be better if Muslims all converted to Christianity. And yet, as a Christian theologian, I would say that, even where they do convert, they need to find their own Islamic path to Christ.

    I would also say that there is much more possibility of Muslims acknowledging the importance of reason, tolerance and debate in Islamic terms than Ayaan allows. This can occur without such Muslims necessarily feeling compelled to say that the Prophet was fallible or that the Qur'an can err, because Islamic mystical thought has many resources for stressing esoteric meanings of scripture as more important than the literal ones.

    For instance, among some interpreters of Qutb (such as in Iran) one tends to find, interestingly, a radically modern approach to the reading of the Qur'an, as well as a certain amount of openness to Sufism and to philosophy.

    In much of the wahhabi tradition, by contrast, one finds something like a parallel to Protestantism - vulgar scriptural literalism, a refusal of all sacramental mediation, a this-worldly austerity, and consequently a tendency to embrace the modern market while also refusing the modern spectacle.

    What the West needs to do, I maintain, is to encourage the growth of more mystical forms of Islam, which are also the forms that stress a religious mode of organisation that is not directly a political one, or even necessarily a legal one. What is needed, in other words, is for Islam to evolve toward an ecclesial or "church-like" mode of organisation.

    Islam possesses no "church." There are simply sacred sites, pilgrimages to them - generally without the Christian emphasis on "way stations" and the journey itself - and assemblies of individual believers who pray all at once but do not offer a liturgy nor engage in a divine mystery as do Catholic Christians.

    Likewise the imam occupies a social and legal role within a single community, but not a priest-like office within a sacred polity that has to be distinguished from a secular polity within which it is located. Islam, consequently, does not provide a trans-political vision of universal human society.

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali is unfortunately correct when she observes that the current trajectory of global Islam is not moving in the direction of such mystical and ecclesial forms of organisation, and that both secular and Christian institutions are often culpably or criminally naive in the face of this reality. Hence, I would concur that, for all the many iniquities of the State of Israel, Jews are often more alert to the dangers manifest by current Islam.

    To this extent I can understand her dismay over Archbishop Rowan Williams's remarks concerning the possibility of parallel legal jurisdictions in Britain and his broadly expressed sympathies for the role of Shari'a among Muslim communities in the West.

    For Ayaan and others, this suggests an apparent tendency on the Archbishop's part to endorse - either by words or silence - the scholarly inaccurate "Religious Studies" view of Islamic history put forward by figures like Tariq Ramadan.

    This version tries to gloss over the historical problems of Islamic origins, Muhammed's treatment of women, the expansion of Islam by unprovoked conquest, the Qur'anic legitimation of the slaughter of polytheists and religious war (including the massacre of civilians) against non-Islamic monotheists.

    Similarly passed over in silence are the Islamic genocide of Hindus on a gigantic scale, and the tendency of resentful Islamic populations to turn murderously upon their Christian neighbours once the latter are given equal status - as happened in Greece and Turkey in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

    More recently, Tariq Ramadan has praised Sudanese leaders whose record of oppression is atrocious, while Rowan Williams naively cites Malaysia as relatively tolerant (despite the fact that it does not tolerate many aspects of Christian practice and is increasingly falling into the hands of radical Islamists).

    The proper response to our present, seemingly incommensurable tensions is not to gloss over or seek to rehabilitate the past in such a dishonest way, but to analyse why exactly Islam has largely taken such a dangerous, non-mystical and often political direction in recent times.

    This surely has to do with the lamentably premature collapse of the Western colonial empires (as a consequence of the European wars) and the subsequent failure of Third World national development projects, with the connivance of neo-colonial, purely economic exploitation of poorer countries.

    Political Islam offers itself as a new international, but non-colonial, vehicle for Third World identity. Unfortunately, it also perpetuates over-simplistic accounts of the imperial past and fosters a spirit of resentful rather than self-sustaining and creative response to the ravages of Western capitalism.


    John Milbank is Professor of Religion, Politics and Ethics at the University of Nottingham.


    My Response

    John Milbank claims that there are two points on which he agrees with Ayaani Hirsi Ali. The first of these is that Christianity has been more influenced by the Enlightenment than Islam. Of course, this is true and for most of us it's a sign that Islam needs to learn from Enlightenment values. This is actually something Islam is already doing with Iranian Islamic feminism in particular being influenced quite strongly by western feminist thought. Islamic thought needs to develop. I agree and I wish more liberal Islamic thinkers the best of luck with that.

    Then, however, John decides that he wants to talk out of his backside. The Enlightenment is now no longer a reaction against Christian thought, but the inevitable result of it. John Milbank claims that Ayaan "greatly underrates" the extent to which Christianity shaped the Enlightenment, so at this point I provide a link to an article from the wonderful Andrew Copson (from the BHA) about the extent to which the benefits of our Christian heritage are  very often highly overrated:
    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).
    I also provide a link to history-spork where the relevance may be rather less obvious. This time it's a link to a snarking fest from the historians at LJ's "history-spork" dealing with the deeply anti-Catholic movie "Elizabeth: The Golden Age":

    Elizabeth: STFU. I will judge my people by their deeds, not by their beliefs.

    [info]fourth_rose: Unless they choose not to believe in the Act of Supremacy, of course.

    [info]cutecoati: I take it this is another movie whose makers failed to notice that the Enlightenment took place in the 18th century, not in the 16th.
    But perhaps I'm being unfair. Perhaps John hasn't failed to recognise that things like religious freedom were not a factor in pre-Enlightenment thought. Perhaps he has a good justification for his position.

    Sadly not...

    First of all he decides to justify it by saying that Christianity is the "sustained source of feminism". This is coming from the guy who promotes marriage with the "big strong caveman" approach:
    Marriage suspends sexual competition and distributes sexual partners equally. It still today usually protects women physically and compensates for their lesser muscular strength.
    I've seen both John Milbank and his wife. I cannot imagine him doing much physical protecting to be honest. Maybe he's useful for getting jam jars open. *shrugs* (Personally, I find my girlfriend is actually better at that sort of thing than me.)

    So my response to that is a quick link to a statement by Archbishop of Wales, Barry Morgan, apologising to women who have been denigrated by the various religious traditions, Christianity included. Sure John might well disagree, but when this is such a blatantly obvious point I think we can put this down to his bizarre understanding of what feminism is.

    There's a nice and pointless asides about how the literalism of creationism is completely unknown to Orthodox faith, which is neatly contradicted by a recent Catholic article, which I discovered via Pharyngula:
    Here's an article on catholic.org that is pure unadulterated creationism, flatly denying the facts of human evolution because it contradicts the Magisterium of the Church on original sin and our exclusive descent from Adam and Eve.

    It's unclear how this particular site is associated with the official Catholic church, but one thing should be clear: practicing Catholics seem to ignore official papal decrees fairly routinely, and there are a lot of creationist Catholics.

    Of course his main point is that religion has nurtured science; a point which has more controversies than he is letting on.

    John Milbank finally claims that tolerance in particular is encouraged by Christianity because of its insistence (I kid you not) on "the integrity of individual conversion". So yeah, at this point I provide a rather neat timeline of atrocities committed against Jews up to and including the Nazi Holocaust. Count the number of forced conversions. I think you'll find most of those are by insisted upon by Christians.

    The next point is "the lack of a fair playing field between Islam and Christianity". A clear case of fatwa envy. The gist is that many strongly Islamic countries discriminate against other religions. They discriminate against Christians and they discriminate against sects of Islam they don't like too. So what should our response be? Well presumably just keeping preachers of hatred out of the country is not enough. No, the only sensible option is to step up the amount of Christian proselytising. Clearly there isn't enough Christian doorknocking going on and "in the name of freedom" (did he really mean that) we should expect even more of it and, as secularists we "should welcome such a venture". (Meanwhile atheists who publically and explicitly, though not maliciously, express their atheism, with a bus campaign for example, are "militant" *sighs*.)

    The next bit that upsets me is the following:
    ...there is some evidence that, when faced with a genuine, well-informed choice, many Muslims, and especially women - for example in Bangladesh - find Jesus to be far more attractive and universally relevant figure that [sic] Mohammed.
    Naturally conversions occur all over the place all the time, but the idea that they convert because of "a genuine well-informed choice" rather than simply being in the right frame of mind seems dodgy. Heck, even though I think atheism makes more sense than theism, I would never stoop so low as to suggest that all a person of a certain religious background requires is to be "genuinely well-informed" and they will choose atheism.

    Apparently I am not alone as an atheist in failing to notice the "positive influence" monotheism has on "the formation of knowledge and social organisation". Sadly this may well be stooping lower than ever, since I believe this is actually an argument more commonly used by proponents of Intelligent Design theory, claiming that monotheism is responsible for the development of science and that therefore looking at objects of scientific enquiry as if they were designed by a creator will help to advance our scientific understanding. This is, of course, utter nonsense. All of it. Perhaps especially that initial premise that monotheism is somehow responsible for science.

    Science, or rather critical thinking was already beginning within Ancient Greece even though it was a polytheistic society. The Egyptians also had some rudimentary science, and many polytheitic cultures had some form of arithmetic. China too, had very early scientific thought without monotheism. If you actually search for people proposing a link between monotheism and the origins of science one of the prominent names that crops up is Rodney Stark who, in his book "Facts, Fable and Darwin", criticises the "Darwinian Crusade" and their "tactic of claiming that the only choice is between Darwin and Bible literalism".

    I have bolded a number of statements about Sufism and mysticism in Islam. What John seems to like about these forms of Islam is that they are less political. Personally, I'd share his interest in Islam becoming less political and I would admit that Sufism does so. However, it strikes me as quite dodgy when this statement comes from John Milbank who is well known for advocating that Christianity become more political. He has previously claimed that religions dominate one another in the marketplace and that there is nothing wrong with this. When he suggests that Islam become apolitical even while he encourages a political theory related to Christianity, he is presumably trying to take part in such a domination and in quite a Machiavellian way too.

    John agrees with Ayaan that Jews are in a better position to recognise the hostility of Islam because of Israel, but in spite of Israel's "many iniquities". This is deeply inconsistent. Israel is in a very specific political situation and part of that has to include Israel's "many iniquities". I am not going to say that issues with Islam as a religion can be entirely separated from issues with extreme political groups with a strong emphasis on Islam. However, I don't think being under attack by one of those extreme political groups puts you in the best position for objectivity on the issue.

    John criticises two individuals and my main issue in both cases is that we already know they are dodgy. Pointing out that they are dodgy is completely unhelpful in this matter. The first is Rowan Williams and John makes the typical error of claiming that the Archbishop of Canterbury advocated a two-tier justice system, though admittedly his original words on the matter do speak a little too highly of Malaysia where such a system currently exists. His own website makes a distinct clarification on this:
    The Archbishop made no proposals for sharia in either the lecture or the interview, and certainly did not call for its introduction as some kind of parallel jurisdiction to the civil law.

    Instead, in the interview, rather than proposing a parallel system of law, he observed that "as a matter of fact certain provisions of sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law" . When the question was put to him that: "the application of sharia in certain circumstances - if we want to achieve this cohesion and take seriously peoples' religion - seems unavoidable?", he indicated his assent.

    Tariq Ramadan meanwhile is quite extreme in his views and will not even go as far as to condemn the inhumane practice of execution by stoning:
    Why will Ramadan not simply say that stoning is a barbaric punishment and should be banned? Because, as he explained when I interviewed him for a Radio 4 documentary, the Qur’anic text that demands stoning “comes from God”.
    Exposing Tariq Ramadan is quite important because criticism of him is often equated with Islamophobic sentiment by the media and his victories are often bizarrely viewed as a victory for religious tolerance. For example, when he was sacked from a position for promoting the Iranian regime, his supporters lumped his plight together with a violent Islamophobic attack on an ordinary Muslim girl who had no connection with his cause, never mind his sacking.

    Okay, so John Milbank has correctly established that there are violent Muslim groups and dodgy apologists for Islamism. But what is he trying to demonstrate by telling us this? Well he'd recently finished telling us that "in the name of freedom" secularists should welcome a step-up in the level of proselytising by Christian groups (oh joy). Meanwhile, what he is leading up to is perhaps the most ridiculously stupid part of his essay, where he asserts how "lamentable" it is that the Empire had to break up.

    There's a very good response to this:
    I would humbly suggest the following counterpoints:

    · The problem with decolonization was not that it happened “too fast,” but that the only state structures that had been put in place in most colonies (above all in Africa) were geared solely toward population control and the extraction of natural resources. Not surprisingly, after these structures were handed over to the locals, we got “national security states” presiding over the extraction of natural resources. The same thing would’ve happened regardless of when decolonization took place, because the Western powers never had any interest in authentically governing and developing their colonies — “purely economic exploitation” was the agenda all along, as it continues to be today.

    · The forms of Christianity that are having the most success in the Third World are not characterized by any close kinship to Enlightenment values — instead, they are largely shaped by a general Pentecostal ethos that fosters magical thinking. Even the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches are often affected by such trends. It appears that the countries where such a Pentecostal awakening is not taking place are generally those where the national security state forbids new forms of social organization from arising.
    Another writer has also noticed the issues with John's article, decrying his article as "a throwback towards the more obscene forms of Orientalism and colonial arrogance".

    Also there's another criticism of John Milbank here (on a different issue).

    And he's found on a list of University Professors who have supported 9/11 conspiracy theories.

    And if this didn't amuse you enough, here's a link to an old post of mine where I typed out a definition given by one of his Radical Orthdoxy contemporaries, Catherine Pickstock, of the concept of "transcendence".


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    John Milbank was a theology lecturer I came into contact during my degree. His Radical Orthodoxy movement apparently had a major following in academic circles, though there appeared to be very little mainstream knowledge of it. More recently he's been putting forward a number of articles into major news sources. He released a couple of articles in The Guardian's "Comment Is Free" section including one advocating "Red Toryism" (i.e. I want to vote Conservative yet still call myself a lefty) and another (which really infuriated me) advocating a new feminism biased in favour of men *facepalm*

    So what's he done now? Well it turns out he's really pleased about certain recent comments by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, but he doesn't think she quite kisses Christianity's arse enough. So he's published a new public article. this time on abc.net.

    I don't know if John Milbank mistook extracts from Ayaan Hirsi Ali's book "Nomad" for an individual article or whether he is simply treating them that way. In any case the extracts on that website are no longer available, but I was able to find a cached copy of them which you can find in my un-edited post about this along with a copy of John Milbank's reply. Click here for my original un-edited article.

    So how does John Milbank's article frustrate me? Let me count the ways....




    1. The Enlightenment was Christian...

    As she rightly suggests, far too many Christians tend to take the simplistic stance of defending religion in general against the attacks of the new atheists.

    Yet in important ways Christianity has more in common with the Enlightenment legacy than it has with Islam. Both see the role of reason as central and both favour tolerance and open debate, whereas Islam, on the whole, is more equivocal about these values.

    In a sense, this is not surprising because both Christianity and the Enlightenment are Western phenomena. As Ayaan rightly observes, it is clear that the latter has recently influenced the former. What she greatly underrates, however, is the degree to which the former is itself the child of the latter.
    There's no further explanation provided for this. It's just taken for granted. Of course the first part where he agrees with Ayaan is, admittedly, true. The most predominately Islamic areas were not influenced by the Enlightenment and, as such, Islam-as-a-whole has not taken on board the lessons of the Enlightenment to the same degree as Christianity-as-a-whole.

    The links provided above are first of all to an article by the awesome Andrew Copson noting the extent to which the influence of Christianity is actually profoundly overrated and second of all a link to an article from LJ's snarking historian's blog "history-spork" dealing with the comically anti-Catholic movie "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" and it's bizarre presumption that Elizabeth I promoted religious freedom rather than simply co-existence (i.e. she didn't advocate out-and-out slaughter of Catholics, but she did demand that they attend services that leaned closer to Protestantism in their format). Religious freedom was not a factor in pre-Enlightenment thought and the Enlightment was most certainly a reaction against Christian hierarchies. Still, in points  -  John will try to persuade us that Christianity has always had Enlightenment values at heart *groan*....


    2. Christianity is the source of feminism...

    Far from being especially mysogynistic, Christianity is itself the sustained source of feminism, and it is evident that even St Paul played a positive role in this respect (so long as one does not absurdly imagine that he could have arrived at modern views concerning female emancipation in the first century AD).
    This is coming from the guy who promotes marriage with the "big strong caveman" approach:
    Marriage suspends sexual competition and distributes sexual partners equally. It still today usually protects women physically and compensates for their lesser muscular strength.
    I've seen both John Milbank and his wife. I cannot imagine him doing much physical protecting to be honest. He might possibly be useful for getting jam jars open. *shrugs*

    The link above is Barry Morgan, Archbishop of Wales, openly apologising for the way that all religions, Christianity included, have denigrated women. That Christianity and feminism have, for much of their history, been diametrically opposed is pretty well-established.


    3. TRADITIONAL Christians are NEVER biblical literalists...

    The Christian tradition has nurtured natural science, while so-called "biblical literalism" is itself a modern doctrine, completely unknown to the traditional orthodox faith.

    The link above comes via Pharyngula who notes that as much as the Roman Catholic Church may have rejected Creationism, that doesn't seem to stop many Roman Catholics finding a loophole. The article Myers links to claims that evolution must be somewhat flawed because otherwise there could never have been a literal Adam and Eve.

    Similarly I think the idea that Adam and Eve were not thought of as literal people for much of the Church's history seems flawed. Aquinas appears to talk quite literally about Adam and the Tree of Life. And while Augustine's book on a literal reading of Genesis appears to reject Biblical literalism, that doesn't stop the (metaphorical?) fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden from being central to his theodicy.


    4. Science was nurtured by Christianity and is the direct result of monotheism.

    The claim above that science was nurtured by Christianity is added to later when John Milbank makes the following claim:
    ...it is imperative that Christians sometimes side with Islam rather than Enlightenment, to a far greater degree than even Ayaan allows. This is true especially with regard to the area of religious self-organisation and involvement in education and civil society.

    With Muslims, Christians would insist that monotheism has had a positive influence upon the formation of knowledge and social organisation, in a way that atheists often fail to recognise.
    The idea that monotheism was responsible for the development of science is actually an argument more commonly used by proponents of Intelligent Design theory. Based on that premise they insist that looking at objects of scientific enquiry as if they were designed by a creator will help to advance our scientific understanding.

    The truth is that science, or rather critical thinking, was already beginning within Ancient Greece even though it was a polytheistic society. The Egyptians also had some rudimentary science, and many polytheistic cultures had some form of arithmetic. China too, had very early scientific thought without monotheism. If you actually search for people proposing a link between monotheism and the origins of science the most prominent name that crops up is Rodney Stark who, in his book "Facts, Fable and Darwin", criticises the "Darwinian Crusade" and their "tactic of claiming that the only choice is between Darwin and Bible literalism".

    Here's an article where Rodney Stark's arguments are debunked. It also notes some rather interesting things about the history of science and the Church which seem to distinctly undermine John Milbank's assertions about the Church "nurturing" science.

    And what political issues is John advocating here? "The area of religious self-organisation." Female priests and bishops? Catholic adoption rules? Monitoring of child abuse within your organisation? If John includes all of these in his list of issues which secular bodies should be forced to stay out of, then he was right not name them explicitly. However, if he wouldn't have included all of those he could probably have done with being rather less vague about it. "Involvement in education." While I'm pretty sure John Milbank would disagree with creationism, that doesn't mean that he thinks secular bodies should be allowed to step in and stop it being taught. Presumably John doesn't want secular bodies to be able to demand sex education be taught accurately in faith schools, though once again he doesn't explicitly say this.


    5. Christians have historically been against forced conversions...

    The advocacy of tolerance is also grounded in the Christian insistence on the integrity of individual conversion and the initial emergence of this faith is a world of highly pluralistic debate.
    Just click on the link and look at the number of instances of forced conversion "insisted on" by Christians.


    6. In various theocracies and dictatorships around the world Islam has an unfair privilege. Why don't we give the same unfair privilege to Christianity in the west? (Also, Christians don't get enough opportunities to proselytise. Blah Blah Fatwa Envy Blah Blah...)
    And this brings me to what I regard as the second critical issue her piece raises: the lack of a level playing field between Islamic and Christian mission.

    There is no proper tolerance of Christian practice and mission in many Muslim countries and cultures, while perhaps the majority of Muslims still think that apostasy is legitimately punishable by death. No Christians take this attitude and almost no Christian polities prevent Islamic dawa or mission.

    It is also true that radical Islamists are systematically infiltrating Western educational institutions. I would agree with Ayaan that in the face of all this Christians need to take a more militant approach to mission and that, in the name of freedom, secularists should welcome such a venture.
    John's noticed that in certain predominately Muslim countries there is strong discrimination against Christians as well as discrimination against sects of Islam they don't like too. So what should our response be? Well presumably just keeping preachers of hatred out of the country is not enough. No, the only sensible option is to step up the amount of Christian proselytising. Clearly there isn't enough Christian doorknocking going on and "in the name of freedom" (did he really say that?) we should expect even more of it. In fact, as secularists we "should welcome such a venture". (Meanwhile atheists who publically and explicitly, though not maliciously, express their atheism, with a bus campaign for example, are "militant" *sighs*.)

    That is essentially John's main argument: "Muslims in certain countries are horribly intolerant, therefore you should let Christians proselytise the s*** out of you". It's utterly daft.


    7. Muslims will prefer Christianity if they are properly informed, whereas they tend to choose Islam because they are coerced.
    One can also agree with Ayaan that there is some evidence that, when faced with a genuine, well-informed choice, many Muslims, and especially women - for example in Bangladesh - find Jesus to be far more attractive and universally relevant figure that [sic] Mohammed.

    Surely she is correct that Muslims, like everyone else, need better education about other faiths and that spiritual allegiance should not be a matter of covert coercion.
    Once again, to put this in context, John is advocating proselytising. It strikes me as the height of arrogance to say that Muslims would choose your religion if only they were properly informed. Personally I would not wish to suggest that anyone would be an atheist just because they were properly informed. These things are often about being in the right frame of mind.


    8. Muslims ought to be apolitical mystics. Christians on the other hand...


    John makes a number of statements about Sufism and mysticism in Islam.
    For instance, among some interpreters of Qutb (such as in Iran) one tends to find, interestingly, a radically modern approach to the reading of the Qur'an, as well as a certain amount of openness to Sufism and to philosophy.
    ...
    What the West needs to do, I maintain, is to encourage the growth of more mystical forms of Islam, which are also the forms that stress a religious mode of organisation that is not directly a political one, or even necessarily a legal one.
    ...
    ...Islam has largely taken such a dangerous, non-mystical and often political direction in recent times.
    What John seems to like about these forms of Islam is that they are less political. Personally, I'd share his interest in Islam becoming less political and I would admit that Sufism does so. However, it strikes me as quite dodgy when this statement comes from John Milbank who is well known for advocating that Christianity become more political.

    He has previously claimed that religions dominate one another in the marketplace and claims that there is nothing wrong with this. When he suggests that Islam become apolitical even while he constructs Christian political theories, he is presumably trying to take part in such a domination and in quite a Machiavellian way too.


    9. Rowan Williams advocated "parallel legal jurisdictions"...
    To this extent I can understand her dismay over Archbishop Rowan Williams's remarks concerning the possibility of parallel legal jurisdictions in Britain
    Now this is just plain lazy, a quick look at Rowan Williams' own website reveals the following:
    The Archbishop made no proposals for sharia in either the lecture or the interview, and certainly did not call for its introduction as some kind of parallel jurisdiction to the civil law.

    Instead, in the interview, rather than proposing a parallel system of law, he observed that "as a matter of fact certain provisions of sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law" . When the question was put to him that: "the application of sharia in certain circumstances - if we want to achieve this cohesion and take seriously peoples' religion - seems unavoidable?", he indicated his assent.


    10. Rowan Williams and Tariq Ramadan are idiots - therefore that whole Christian proselytising scheme...
    More recently, Tariq Ramadan has praised Sudanese leaders whose record of oppression is atrocious, while Rowan Williams naively cites Malaysia as relatively tolerant (despite the fact that it does not tolerate many aspects of Christian practice and is increasingly falling into the hands of radical Islamists).
    In spite of the previous point, I'm not a big fan of Rowan Williams. He's not even remotely as liberal as he is made out to be and actually his campaigning for the right of Muslims to Sharia law is part of a wider wish to encourage freedom of conscience for religions even when it conflicts with the rights of others. (For example he wants Catholic adoption agencies to be free to discriminate against homosexuals.) And certainly John is absolutely right to note that John Milbank's original article advocating Sharia law in Britain did, albeit briefly, talk in overly positive terms about the system in Malaysia (though his article was less obviously filled with inaccuracies than this one from John Milbank). Tariq Ramadan openly advocates the cruel practice of execution by stoning, so there's no doubt that he's very dodgy. His supporters even used the plight of ordinary victims of Islamophobic attacks in order to protect Tariq Ramadan's unprofessional promotion of Iran when working for the Rotterdam City Council.

    However, none of this serves to justify Milbank's arguments. That other people are getting it wrong does not mean that you have got it right.

    11. "The lamentably premature collapse of the Western colonial empires."


    Oh yeah, you read that correctly:
    This surely has to do with the lamentably premature collapse of the Western colonial empires (as a consequence of the European wars) and the subsequent failure of Third World national development projects, with the connivance of neo-colonial, purely economic exploitation of poorer countries.
    Nothing I write will be quite as good as what has already been written in another critic's response to this:
    I would humbly suggest the following counterpoints:

    · The problem with decolonization was not that it happened “too fast,” but that the only state structures that had been put in place in most colonies (above all in Africa) were geared solely toward population control and the extraction of natural resources. Not surprisingly, after these structures were handed over to the locals, we got “national security states” presiding over the extraction of natural resources. The same thing would’ve happened regardless of when decolonization took place, because the Western powers never had any interest in authentically governing and developing their colonies — “purely economic exploitation” was the agenda all along, as it continues to be today.

    · The forms of Christianity that are having the most success in the Third World are not characterized by any close kinship to Enlightenment values — instead, they are largely shaped by a general Pentecostal ethos that fosters magical thinking. Even the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches are often affected by such trends. It appears that the countries where such a Pentecostal awakening is not taking place are generally those where the national security state forbids new forms of social organization from arising.
    Another writer has also noticed this issue with John's article, decrying his article as "a throwback towards the more obscene forms of Orientalism and colonial arrogance".

    Bits I actually agreed with


    But it is also important to say that Ayaan's characterisation of Islam is far too monolithic and negative. It is doubtless true that mainstream Islam is too much permeated by a spirit of ressentiment, but this is largely the outcome of a specific history of decline, and there are significant minorities not touched by this ethos.
    ...
    Ayaan appears to think that it would be better if Muslims all converted to Christianity. And yet, as a Christian theologian, I would say that, even where they do convert, they need to find their own Islamic path to Christ.

    I would also say that there is much more possibility of Muslims acknowledging the importance of reason, tolerance and debate in Islamic terms than Ayaan allows. This can occur without such Muslims necessarily feeling compelled to say that the Prophet was fallible or that the Qur'an can err, because Islamic mystical thought has many resources for stressing esoteric meanings of scripture as more important than the literal ones.

    Political Islam offers itself as a new international, but non-colonial, vehicle for Third World identity. Unfortunately, it also perpetuates over-simplistic accounts of the imperial past and fosters a spirit of resentful rather than self-sustaining and creative response to the ravages of Western capitalism.
    That said, in the case of this last quote while Islamic scholars might occasionally perpetuate over-simplistic accounts of their own imperial past, that hardly excuses John Milbank's rather dodgy account of the imperial past of the colonial powers.

    Some silly links


    There's another criticism of John Milbank here (on a different issue).

    And he's found on a list of University Professors who have supported 9/11 conspiracy theories.

    And if that didn't amuse you enough, here's a link to an old post of mine where I typed out a definition given by one of his Radical Orthdoxy contemporaries, Catherine Pickstock, of the concept of "transcendence".
    (Cross-posted to atheism)

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  • 09/19/10--06:46: Zone Alarm Scareware



  • Naturally when I first saw this message I was a little terrified. However, this isn't actually a virus alert. Several different people (see comments) dealing with customer services were given this identical response:

    The message you received was an alert to a particular virus threat. This alert does NOT say you have a virus, only that you need to protect yourself from it. Please disregard the message if you already have an anti-virus solution in place.
    This alone is an admission that the above image is basically an advert, however the tactics are even more underhand than that. Clicking on the buttons at the bottom send you to a webpage not only strongly suggesting that you pay for the full version of Zone Alarm, but also telling you that a number of virus detectors will not be able to find the virus they are warning you about.

    This is ludicrous scare tactics because, while the Zeus trojan is real, the strand of it they are claiming to have special virus detecting powers over is actually entirely fabricated. But how can I be so sure that they aren't talking about a real virus threat?
    While we can’t verify the validity of ZoneAlarm’s zeus threat. I can safely assume that it was a fake-one. Why? Because there’s no such thing as a Zeus with a string-ending of ‘Aoaq’. A generic zeus Trojan will be detected by anti-virus as Zeus.Zbot. But there’s no such thing as ‘aoaq’ ending. Obviously, that name was just appended to its the generic-name to make it sound like a real zeus Trojan.
    So, if you are using the free version of Zone Alarm and see the above warning, don't panic. It's scareware. Just use your normal virus and malware protection programs as usual if you feel like putting your mind at reat. This message is simply Zone Alarm making use of pop-up advertising. Annoying, but not the end of the world.

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  • 09/20/10--08:12: Sacred Space...
  • Glastonbury abbey apologises after allowing Nicolas Cage to plug film


    Ah yes, I can see why they'd be upset about Nicolas Cage being allowed into their sacred space. :P

    Ok ok, so it's to plug a movie and so presumably the issue is they didn't want their Church turned into a Hollywood advertising spot, right? Well no....
    Hollywood star broadcast live to US chat show from site thought to be King Arthur's grave

    The director of Glastonbury abbey today apologised for any offence caused after allowing the Hollywood actor Nicolas Cage to promote his new film, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, from the site said to be King Arthur's grave.

    Cage and a film crew were allowed into the abbey in the early hours of the morning so they could broadcast live to an American chat show earlier this year.

    But some local people were upset that a film featuring magic was promoted in a place important for many Christians. One resident said he was "horrified and disgusted" that the abbey had been used to sell a film "full of sorcery and black magic".
    Ok, first of all it was used for this during the early hours when no one was going to be using the Church for anything else. But yeah, I can see how there might be principle involved. Once they've been allowed to advertise their film there, how are you going to say no to the next lot of people who ask?

    What I have absolutely no sympathy for is the whole "it involves magic and magic is eeeeevil" nonsense. Firstly, it's a f***ing Disney movie! Seriously, would they spouting this nonsense if someone asked to advertise a local production of Peter Pan on their notice board?

    Secondly, your whole blooming religion is full of f***ing magic! How is Christ consumed in the bread and wine? Magic. How does God hear prayers all around the world? Magic. How does Christ's crucifixion have anything to do with human sin? Magic. The whole religion is full of magic.

    And y'know what? The people who made that movie aren't promoting magic. It's fantasy, pure and simple. They don't have spells, they have a visual effects team.

    Of course all real magicians are actors, whether they are trying to convince their audience that they can cut a person in two and then return put them back togther, or whether they are asking their audience to feel the presence of the holy spirit.




    Little side note...

    The fact that it's the possible site of King Arthur's burial is entirely irrelevant. Similar arguments were used for having Hindu deities in a major Indian mosque because it was apparently the birthplace of Ram. The chances that this was the actual burial place of King Arthur and the chances that that mosque was the birthplace of Ram are pretty similar to be honest. In the end, the issue is that right now it's a Church and if this Church has an actual congregation who are disinclined to have advertising events in their building even when no one would be using the site, then fair enough. However, "teh movie haz magicks" is a thoroughly stupid reason to get upset.

    Update:
    It seems that the Glastonbury Abbey website actually makes it very clear that the Abbey is a tourist site. It is also a ruin, so it won't have a congregation. As such, the people complaining are actually locals getting upset over what happens in a public venue, not worshippers getting upset over a private place of worship that is occasionally rented out. Any suggestions I gave earlier that these guys might actually have a leg to stand on have been wholly shot in the foot now. Also, I had not been aware that Nicolas Cage actually lives in Glastonbury.

    (x - posted to atheism)

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  • 09/20/10--14:22: Maryam Namazie and Sharia
  • This might seem like a bit of a turnaround for me. I no longer think that Sharia courts in the UK are 'no big deal'.

    That said, I stick by my assertion that there is FAR more to fear from independent Sharia courts than from Sharia courts working through arbitration with the UK justice system. As such, the decision to encourage Sharia courts to work through arbitration (meaning their rulings are overseen and checked against British law) is still preferable to independent Sharia courts and it is particularly hysterical when Islamophobes start posing the introduction of Sharia law as part of an inevitable "Islamization". In the end the people affected by Sharia courts in the UK are all Muslim.

    The individual who has convinced me that Sharia courts are still worth getting concerned over (though not hysterical mind you) is ex-Muslim secularist Maryam Namazie. She explains my point above as follows:

    There has been much controversy about Muslim arbitration tribunals, which have attracted attention because they operate as tribunals under the Arbitration Act, making their rulings binding in UK law.

    But sharia councils, which are charities, are equally harmful since their mediation differs little from arbitration. Sharia councils will frequently ask people to sign an agreement to abide by their decisions. Councils call themselves courts and the presiding imams are judges. There is neither control over the appointment of these judges nor an independent monitoring mechanism. People often do not have access to legal advice and representation. Proceedings are not recorded, nor are there any searchable legal judgements. Nor is there any real right to appeal.


    (Read the rest of the article here)


    (Maryam Namazie is also involved in a protest to save a woman from being stoned for adultery in Iran.)


    There's another good article about the problems with Sharia courts here.

    (Cross-posted to atheism)

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  • 09/21/10--12:41: When Does This Ever Happen?
  • "We now have a situation where people can walk into a bank or any other secure area wearing Mickey Mouse ears and remain unquestioned about it."

    The video starts with comments from Nicolas Sarkozy which are pretty comical, but when a spokesman said the quote above (switch "Mickey Mouse ears" for "burka") I nearly burst out laughing.

    "Hey, someone wearing a nun's habit could walk into a bank without being questioned. We better crack down on those infamous nun bank robbers!" - How the heck is that any blooming different?

    Video can be found here.
    (Via Atheist Media Blog)


    No sex and drugs, but perhaps a bit of rock n roll. We can't be having with this! :P

    Update: There's been some confusion in [info]atheism about the context. The video is the first in a series of videos featuring a debate about banning the burka. Both Sarkozy and the other guy are saying what they are saying in support of a full nationwide ban on the burka for their respective countries. - Naturally bank security measures, should they decide they need them, are a whole different matter.

    (x - posted to atheism)

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    John Milbank first notes that Ed Milliband, the new Labour leader in the UK, is actually an atheist. Something he has actually kept rather quiet. (This is by contrast to the current Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, who is now deputy Prime Minister of the coalition government and announced his atheism several months prior to the last general election.) Since Milbank is writing for an Australian audience these days he compares this with the figure of Julia Gillard. (Goodness knows why he's now writing for an Australian publication. Perhaps his suggestions about how to "improve" feminism didn't go down so well with The Guardian.)

    As per usual, John decides to name a load of different writers without giving much reason for his choices. So apparently Nietzsche, Heidegger, Carl Schmitt and Louis-Ferdinand Celine are all right-wingers who are darlings of the left-wing. Milbank follows this selection up by saying:

    Atheist, and especially nihilistic, Right-wingers can be applauded, even if their thinking requires a little radical-chic tweaking. (The exception clearly is the Catholic Schmitt. But it is not accidental that the bleakness of his vision caused him to regard politics in a more or less nihilistic light.)
    Sorry, hang on... Heidegger was also a Christian. I can only presume that John refuses to ackonwledge this because of Heidegger's well-known Nazi party membership. This is the first time I've heard of Louis-Ferdinand Celine, so I can't really comment. Apparently he wrote anti-semitic tracts but also inspired later writers such as Jean-Paul Sartre.

    As for Nietzsche's "right wing credentials", Nietzsche does have some right-wing elements. However, he's not easy to pin down. He was most certainly against anti-semitism and nationalism. While most certainly a misogynist (in the footsteps of his early inspiration Arthur Schopenhauer), he believed it important that women be educated. (Amusingly at one point Nietzsche argues that women should not be kept to the kitchen... because the kitchen is far too important to leave to women. *facepalm*) The thing to point is firstly that I have as yet to hear Nietzsche touted as an important left-wing political thinker and secondly that Nietzsche, in spite of his misogynistic views, was actually a hero for many early feminists. Nietzsche's has all sorts of unusual perspectives to offer on a variety of topics and he writes with the firm intention of starting a fight. He wants you to disagree with him. His most important contribution to the history of western thought was his demolition of oppositional binaries. Whether it was war and peace, selfishness and piety, love and hate or good and evil, Nietzsche always tried to mix everything together to get us to see the wider picture.

    Thus ends today's Nietzsche rant. On with the show...

    So who are the contrasting left wing figures? "T.S. Eliot, G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc and Joseph Ratzinger." Oh yeah, he went there. Apparently Joseph Ratzinger is a left wing figure:
    the Left bizarrely ignores the way in which they advocate an ethical critique of capitalism and propose alternatives that may be both more practical and more genuinely transformatory than the average run of Social Democratic proposals.
    Yeah, I'm sorry, when did Joseph Ratzinger outline a practical proposal to solve issues of Capitalism? Also, isn't that a bit rich coming from a Pope who is trying to canonise one of his forebearers who was prepared to make a deal with fascists rather than risk the Marxists (who really did want to oppose capitalism) making any headway?
    One can only conclude that what is really hated here is religion, along with certain moral stances that religion tends to advocate. And not just religion - more specifically Christianity, because the academic secular Left can sometimes forgive also Right-wing thematics if they derive from an Islamic source.
    Of course, this is rubbish. If there were an Islamic figure that the left was really keen on then Milbank would not have hesitated to list it above along with all the white male authors he decided to mention. He refers to "the academic secular Left". If he'd referred to the left-wing media, he might have had more ground since we recently saw how Maryam Namazie (campaigning against the stoning of a woman for adultery) was left out of a debate to which she had been invited to contribute, while two apologists for stoning were given screen time. However, he has instead decided to talk about academic figures where, unlike with his own ranting here, the opinion tends to be more nuanced.

    Of course, where he is absolutely right is where he mentions the "moral" stances religion tends to advocate. By moral he is, of course, referring to things which you and I would consider thoroughly immoral. The Pope has most notably contested the UK's equality laws. The Pope's moral stances appear to be opposition to gay rights, opposition to women's rights and opposition to police inquiries into Church figures. Excuse me if I don't think any of those stances are terribly "left-wing".
    This prompts the question: can atheism sometimes be not just incidental to a political program, but lie at its very source - as Pope Bendict recently suggested on his visit to Britain?

    I think that this can indeed be true of both ostensibly Right-wing and ostensibly Left-wing programs. The Nazis tried to disenchant the world by enthroning pure material force as the only reality: in conversations Hitler admitted that even his racist rantings were but a populist gloss upon this goal.

    Stalin and Mao tried to disenchant the world by removing all traces of tradition and most traces of beauty from the world. For the problem with beauty is that it is too enigmatic and unsettling in its intimations of transcendence. Was the Cultural Revolution in China driven by socialism? Surely it was driven by a ferociously virulent and scientistic secularism.
    Yeah "scientistic". A new word has just been invented.

    What we are looking at here is the real crux of John Milbank's comments here. What he is basically saying is "the Pope is right. You atheists are all a bunch of Nazis".

    It's one more excuse to add to John Milbank's absurd campaign for "Red Toryism" (i.e. I'm support the Tories but I'm actually really liberal donchaknow?).

    At this point there's a (very) random aside about how awful Thatcher was, along with a claim that Thatcherism wasn't really compatible with religion (depsite Thatcher being a self-professed Christian).
    Given the evidence that atheism itself can become a political program and seek to enact nihilism with dire results, should we not be worried about the gradual drift of the Labour party towards atheism, despite the genuine - though varied - pieties of both Blair and Brown? 

    I would go further, and suggest that this drift towards atheism keeps exact pace with a retreat from any genuine radicalism. The party of R.H. Tawney, the party shaped by Methodism, by Anglo-Catholic socialism and the legacy of British philosophical Idealism, was a party that sought to create an entirely ethical market, whether through State intervention or (in my view more promisingly) through mutualist association.

    But the largely secular party we have today essentially agrees with the Right about the inevitably amoral character of the market, a view that is increasingly backed-up by new modes of social Darwinism.
    "New modes of social Darwinism"? What the hell is he on about?

    By the way, the idea that "atheism and secularism are nihilistic" is a common refrain in John Milbank's work. Don't you just love how his method of justifying this position to his popular (rather than academic) audience, is to note how lovely and perfect one random unsuccessful political party was?

    Let's also not forget that the "piety of Blair" apparently encouraged him that it was good idea to go to war with Iraq when we still hadn't finished our war with Afghanistan under the ridiculous pretense of weapons of mass destruction. In an interview with Michael Parkinson, Blair claimed that he asked God for guidance in this decision....

    After a while of asserting that neo-liberalism and democratic socialism are pretty much the same thing before finally asserting that what they really need is Jesus, John Milbank finally calls atheism "totalitarian". But not before insisting that only atheists would have any problem with the monarchy and a political body traditionally run by the aristocracy and of course, we're opposed to Churches (rather than simply not wanting to make use of them ourselves) and we're opposed to the family (do I really need to explain how dodgy this assertion is in view of John Milbank's "critique" of feminism?):
    A programmatic atheism is at work in the growing hostility to the Crown, to the House of Lords (which needs reform, not total mutation into a second House of Commons which would likely be a less radical body), to the Churches, to the family and to group-rights, and in favour of foxes, exclusively metropolitan life-styles and absolute value-pluralism.

    Indeed, it can sometimes appear that for sections of today's Left, as for past totalitarianisms, a naturalistic atheism is the main program. This is why political categorisation is increasingly made in terms of attitudes to sexual issues, to traditional cultures and to religious belief, rather than to issues of substantive economic justice. 'Culture wars' have come to displace older debates about just distribution.

    But the evidence of history is that the politics of atheism drifts towards a nihilism of the rule of power alone. The evidence is equally that advocacy of the sovereign power of the individual soon gives way in practice to the absolute power of the amoral market and of the sovereign State whose only purpose is itself.
    As opposed to the sovereign state of the past whose only purpose was the sovereign.



    John Milbank's full article can be found here.

    I've also cut and pasted it below for the hell of it: 

    Just months after the Australian Labor Party appointed its first openly atheist leader, the Labour Party in Britain has followed suit. The elevation of Ed Miliband - who, despite being rather evasive on the subject of religion, is a genuine atheist - provides an appropriate occasion to reflect on the relationship between atheism and the political Left.

    For some time I have noticed a curious phenomenon amongst Left-leaning academics. This concerns exactly which Right-wing thinkers are regarded in vogue, and which others are seen as lying beyond the pale. What is strange is that this divide has nothing to do with their degree of Right-wing extremism.

    To the contrary, various far-Right thinkers are virtually the darlings of many Left-wing thinkers - Nietzsche (whose Right-wing credentials have been re-affirmed by the most recent scholarship), Heidegger, Carl Schmitt, and Louis-Ferdinand Celine are the names which most spring to mind.

    Contrast this with the attitude towards a more ambivalent figure like T.S. Eliot or even with that towards figures of the radical centre like G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc and Joseph Ratzinger. Instead of adulation, we have derision.

    What lies behind this contrast? I think that it is obvious. Atheist, and especially nihilistic, Right-wingers can be applauded, even if their thinking requires a little radical-chic tweaking. (The exception clearly is the Catholic Schmitt. But it is not accidental that the bleakness of his vision caused him to regard politics in a more or less nihilistic light.)

    But when it comes to figures like Chesterton or the current Pope, the Left bizarrely ignores the way in which they advocate an ethical critique of capitalism and propose alternatives that may be both more practical and more genuinely transformatory than the average run of Social Democratic proposals.

    One can only conclude that what is really hated here is religion, along with certain moral stances that religion tends to advocate. And not just religion - more specifically Christianity, because the academic secular Left can sometimes forgive also Right-wing thematics if they derive from an Islamic source.

    This prompts the question: can atheism sometimes be not just incidental to a political program, but lie at its very source - as Pope Bendict recently suggested on his visit to Britain?

    I think that this can indeed be true of both ostensibly Right-wing and ostensibly Left-wing programs. The Nazis tried to disenchant the world by enthroning pure material force as the only reality: in conversations Hitler admitted that even his racist rantings were but a populist gloss upon this goal.

    Stalin and Mao tried to disenchant the world by removing all traces of tradition and most traces of beauty from the world. For the problem with beauty is that it is too enigmatic and unsettling in its intimations of transcendence. Was the Cultural Revolution in China driven by socialism? Surely it was driven by a ferociously virulent and scientistic secularism.

    Much more subtly, but also insidiously, Margaret Thatcher undid the last Anglican State-settlement in Britain by advocating the view that basic economic and social behaviour is egocentric and amoral. This was brilliantly argued by the atheist Jewish historian Raphael Samuel in a long article in The Guardian titled "The Terror of Brick Lane."

    But a similar comment to that made about Schmitt is in order here. Of course the Thatcherite program was supported by many religious politicians. However, we need to be attentive to the mode of theology that is involved here.
    As with Schmitt, Thatcher's was a kind of hyper-Augustiniaism which subscribes to the view that that the nature of fallen man is so depraved that he can only be regulated in worldly affairs by appeal to his baser instincts and not by appeal to higher nature.

    But this was not at all the view of Augustine himself, and it is not the official view of the Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox or Methodist churches today - not to mention both Judaism and Islam.

    Given the evidence that atheism itself can become a political program and seek to enact nihilism with dire results, should we not be worried about the gradual drift of the Labour party towards atheism, despite the genuine - though varied - pieties of both Blair and Brown?

    I would go further, and suggest that this drift towards atheism keeps exact pace with a retreat from any genuine radicalism. The party of R.H. Tawney, the party shaped by Methodism, by Anglo-Catholic socialism and the legacy of British philosophical Idealism, was a party that sought to create an entirely ethical market, whether through State intervention or (in my view more promisingly) through mutualist association.

    But the largely secular party we have today essentially agrees with the Right about the inevitably amoral character of the market, a view that is increasingly backed-up by new modes of social Darwinism.

    It is therefore evident that the new secularism involves also some degree of nihilism. In practice this means that while the neo-liberal Right thinks that the amoral market is a beast that must be set free in order to achieve a paradoxical self-control (the "hidden hand"), the social democratic Left thinks that the beast must be constantly "struggled against" by Trade Unions who are not (as in Germany) part of the power-structure, and "held-back" by State intervention and welfarism.
    One fears that this will be Ed Miliband's agenda - though one can still hope that he will rather embrace that mixture of civil society mutualism plus judicious state regulation of finance and encouragement of industry which his brother has been gradually edging towards. (It is significant that this resulted in part from the explicitly atheist David's conversations with members of the religiously-based London Citizens.)

    By contrast, the essentially negative stance towards the market of much Social Democracy, as though it was inevitably evil, ensures in the long-term that the market in its most evil aspect will become ever more entrenched. For the evidence of the past forty years is that the attempts to qualify the market seen as the enemy eventually fail.

    One should note that by regarding the market as an inevitably amoral sphere, social democracy is merely the child of Marxism, just as Ed is of Ralph Miliband, the (very fine) Marxist theorist.

    For Marxism was the first current within socialism to think of economics in entirely materialist terms and so to regard capitalism as a necessary phase of development. The Chinese Communist Party is witness to how easy it is for this to mutate into the idea of the final necessity of Capitalism after all.

    But pre-Marxist socialism was mostly religious, and the Labour Party up until recently continued this legacy. Sometimes we think of religious and moral socialism as the "soft option."

    But to the contrary, it was this legacy - inspired by Methodism, Anglicanism and Catholicism, and not by hyper-Augustinianism - which seriously hoped to render all economic practice moral. It sought a just distribution in the first place, and, prior to Anthony Crosland's revisionism in the late 1950's, not just an ameliorative "redistribution" that was entirely predicated upon the promoting of capitalist growth.

    The truth is that the differences between social democracy and neo-liberalism are in the end trivial, and that both sides have covertly to borrow from each other. This is because the worst ravages of an amoral market have to be plastered over by the State, but in the end the main game for either ideology is producing 'wealth' that is defined indifferently to questions of true human flourishing.

    It is for this reason that a secular Labour Party today tends to abandon its critique of a market where things and money dominate people ('capitalism' if you like) and defines itself instead as against all tradition and in favour of unfettered personal choice.

    A programmatic atheism is at work in the growing hostility to the Crown, to the House of Lords (which needs reform, not total mutation into a second House of Commons which would likely be a less radical body), to the Churches, to the family and to group-rights, and in favour of foxes, exclusively metropolitan life-styles and absolute value-pluralism.

    Indeed, it can sometimes appear that for sections of today's Left, as for past totalitarianisms, a naturalistic atheism is the main program. This is why political categorisation is increasingly made in terms of attitudes to sexual issues, to traditional cultures and to religious belief, rather than to issues of substantive economic justice. 'Culture wars' have come to displace older debates about just distribution.

    But the evidence of history is that the politics of atheism drifts towards a nihilism of the rule of power alone. The evidence is equally that advocacy of the sovereign power of the individual soon gives way in practice to the absolute power of the amoral market and of the sovereign State whose only purpose is itself.

    In the face of this drift of the Left towards secularism and away from radicalism, there is today a remarkable counter-tendency that is a real source of hope. This is a new tendency of religious bodies, and especially of the Catholic Church, in despair at the nihilistic drift of secular politics, more directly to articulate and enact its own political views, often outside current conventions of what counts as Right or Left.

    These views, as exampled by Benedict's encyclical Caritas in Veritate, refusal to be resigned to the notion that there is any aspect of human life where justice cannot be implemented.

    John Milbank is Professor of Religion, Politics and Ethics at the University of Nottingham. He is the author of the highly influential Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason (Wiley-Blackwell, 2nd edition, 2005) and The Future of Love: Essays in Political Theology (Cascade Books, 2009).


    Article discussed on ONTD_Political
    Article discussed on Atheism

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  • 10/01/10--15:18: Article 7
  • I saw this awesome video a fair old while ago (before I saw Arj Barker in the awesome "Flight Of The Conchords"), but it was taken down pretty much everywhere all at once. Anywhere it seems to have appeared again. It's a spoof on Buddhism and it is absolutely f***ing GENIUS! (It seems that it's more fun the more familiar you are with Buddhism. Apparently during the video you can see him turning the Dharma wheel the wrong way. I've put the lyrics below under the cut.





    ‘Sickest Buddhist’ rap by Arj Barker

    Lady friend: Hey baby, where you at?

    Arj: I’m still at the ashram.

    Lady friend: How's it going?

    Arj: It’s going killer. The instructor just told us to do a 45 minute meditation.

    Lady friend: really?

    Arj: I nailed it in 10!

    Lady friend: No way!

    Arj: Owned!

    I’m the illest Buddhist you’ve seen.
    All the ladies wanna meditate with me.
    I look so serene when I bust a lotus,
    But i don’t have an ego so I wouldn’t even notice.

    I think of you before I think of myself.
    That’s probably why people think I’m so chill.
    But still, I’m hell of intense.
    My clothes have little bells and they smell like incense.

    It’s so dope when I focus on my breath,
    'Cause I floss all the time and I chew big red.
    I don’t smoke weed, but I burn sage by the pound.
    Wave it all around til the air turns brown.

    I’m all krunked up on kombucha and juice.
    Never heard of kama sutra? Let me introduce.
    Step into my hybrid, we'll head over to my bed.
    Sixty-four positions, I think you’re gonna like it.

    [CHORUS]
    One hand clapping, fuck that Yo. More like the sound of a one-legged standing Ohh!
    I’m blowin up the dharma like what! Cause I’m the sickest Buddhist and I’m kickin Buddha butt.
    x2

    I just went to the class for a laugh
    Maybe meet some chicks
    But as it comes to pass
    I kick ass at this pacifist shit.

    Non-attachment I just mastered it.
    You don’t believe me? You don’t think I’m peaceful?
    Step up to my face and say that bitch.
    I’ll non-attach your teeth from your lips.

    I practice compassion towards friends and enemies,
    but all these motherfuckers trying to hate on my serenity.

    [GIRLS]
    Hes’ so spiritual.
    So unmaterial.
    Almost ethereal.
    Eats organic cereal.
    His aura is so bright.
    His chakras are so tight.
    His energy is light.
    His hair is so right.
    He’s so sweet and Buddhist Unh

    Is it my Indian roots?
    My Guatemalan pair of shoes?
    My extensive collection of expensive Tibetan flutes?
    I don’t know how or why I’m so zen,
    I make the power of now look like the power of then.

    To hell with Dr Phil, Oprah and Martha,
    I chill with Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra and Siddhartha.
    Buddha taught me to be humble and kind,
    But I’m so fuckin' present I’m like ahead of my time.

    Enlightenment eludes most til they die,
    But i opened my third eye on my first try.
    Why? I don’t know I guess I’m just the bomb.
    When it comes to modesty I got it goin on.

    [CHORUS]


    Of course, as I've mentioned in the past, Buddhist rapping is not such a big break with tradition anymore.

    Another rather insightful piece of religious satire I've seen recently is a BBC tv series called Rev. There's a clip here where a charismatic preacher visits. (It's not like "Vicar of Dibley". It's more like "The Thick Of It" only with clergy rather than politicians.) You may recognise Tom Hollander from the movie "In The Loop" and Olivia Colman from the early series' of "That Mitchell and Webb Look".

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    Zero Punctuation doesn't like "Metroid: Other M". Admittedly he doesn't seem to like ANY Nintendo games anymore, but then again he's mostly pretty disinclined to actually admit to liking anything. It's actually nice to see a review for a Nintendo game which doesn't go "well it's on a Wii and it has all those silly motion control thingies dunnit?"

    I've also discovered a new blog. I've mainly just read the articles on this particular issue so far, but they write well about it and I look forward to seeing their wider scope of subject-matter in the future. Click the picture below for the blog link. :)


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  • 10/04/10--07:45: Considering Judaism


  • I'm very pleased to see that this includes the awesome David Schneider, who I first saw in various projects of Armando Iannucci such as "The Saturday Night Armistice" and "I'm Alan Partridge". (Armando more recently writes and directs "The Thick Of It".)

    Another good video from the same guy.
    Grey Guy Learns About The New World Order (other guy in the video is a comedian)

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    It's an odd thing that I've always thought that I didn't really like movies and I'm now happily contributing to an LJ community with a big focus on horror.

    Not only that but the main contributor has actually come out and said that she doesn't like it when horror movies get TOO horrid. (The main example was "30 Days of Night", a movie whose main benefit is that, though the plot in the movie is utter dross, it is very successful in making the vampires suitably horrid. Perhaps a little too successful for some.)

    I can actually understand this. The Scream movies were coming when I was first properly coming across horror and, as a result, I thought the typical view of horror fans was "I wonder how many killings there are going to be?" (A similar quote is actually found in a "League Of Gentlemen" sketch.) There was a childhood experience of very naively believing stuff I had read which claimed (1) that the Scream movies were funny, and (2) that you didn't need to have seen the first movie to enjoy the second. So I rented Scream 2 and was greeted fairly early on by a woman being stabbed visciously to death in front of a cinema audience who apparently thought that was part of the show. - Talk about culture shock... I quickly decided I didn't want to watch any more of this and switched it off.

    While horrible monsters being disgustingly brutal doesn't generally seem to be an issue for me, I did have a problem with people being disgustingly brutal. One advantage that the original Halloween has over Scream is that the killer isn't really depicted as a human being. We can accept a monster gratuitously hunting and killing and the serial killer in Halloween seems more like an animal stalking its prey than a person planning murder (interestingly, there's also not much in the way of blood in Halloween). That said, another thing I didn't like about Scream 2 was the way the lack of concern by the audience, not to mention the terrible acting and the wafer-thin characterisation.


    So yeah, bizarrely I'm probably more upset by the on the right.

    The point here is that I can understand how the feeling that a movie is just horrible can prevent it from feeling entertaining. This early experience of Scream 2 gave me the impression that this was simply what horror movies are like.

    Another feature which I thought was supposed to be typical noises was where a series of sound effects make you jump. There's a build up of noises that puts you on edge, followed by a thud, bang or other loud noise which makes you jump. I was convinced that this was the whole point of horror and considered it to be the main reason why I greatly disliked horror movies. I hated the way that it felt when a movie would send me involuntarily chucking popcorn all over myself and I couldn't understand why people would want to feel that way for fun.

    So imagine my surprise when I saw this recently:
    "[There were] a few "jump" scares, but those just annoy me rather than freak me out."

    While I was already coming to understand that not everyone enjoys horror because it makes them jump again and again, it's interesting to have it stated so bluntly.

    The first time I noticed the ploy in certain horror movies to try to make you jump was in the Sixth Sense. I wouldn't have recognised it on my own either. The actor Keith Allen (the lodger at the beginning of Danny Boyle's excellent debut and horror masterpiece "Shallow Grave") pointed out that if you do all the whistles and windy noises and violins and the like, all ending with a big bang noise, you'd jump no matter what was at the end of it. His actual words "you could have Mary Poppins opening her umbrella" and you'd still get the same terrified reaction. The proof of his words came in the American remake of The Ring where Naomi Watts opens an envelope and BANG! Afterward, as I was gathering up my spilt popcorn, I was able to reminice with shame at the knowledge that I'd almost shat myself when presented with a milipede. If anything truly demonstrated that the fear was in the sound effects and not in the actual content of the movie, THAT did. The movie quite clearly wasn't exploiting a latent fear of milipedes. It was exploiting a fear of wind, feedback, whistles and violin screechy noises which all culminated in a hiccup-curing BANG.

    The reason why the jump actually isn't central to horror is because it is irrelevant to the content of the movie. However, I cannot say that they don't freak me out. Those noises genuinely do freak me out a great deal. The problem is that there a great many movies where they don't so much contribute to the action on screen as work entirely independently of it. Shyamalan's "The Sixth Sense" and "Signs" are both guilty of it. "The Ring" has it. I think the remake of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" has it. It just generally feels to me like a sign of poor filmmaking.

    But is that fair? Isn't it found in more highly praised movies too? Movies that don't seem to do it at all would include Shallow Grave, 28 Days Later (another Danny Boyle), The Thing and Seven. Still, I'm not so sure about "The Hitcher". The tense first scene where Rutger Hauer's character turns up might definitely be said to be leading up to a jump, though it certainly doesn't seem to do so with wind noises and violins. How about In The Mouth Of Madness? Once again, it doesn't use the wind and violins screech technique. In what I would come to consider my first introduction to horror (as opposed to just being freaked out when an alien pulls off their skin in the movie "Cocoon"), I was intensely frightened by a certain early scene in the movie Aliens where Riply seems to be about to be killed by an alien bursting through her chest. Once again it doesn't use whistles, violins and screechy noises to make the effect.


    The "bad-horror-movie-within-a-movie" in the John Travolta flick "Blow Out" is clearly riffing off of Psycho.

    Of course, the classic Psycho, while well-known for featuring a violin noise, does so in a way that distinctly works with the event being portrayed. Certainly this effect was copied in the future and it may be that Pscyho inadvertently spawned this rather lazy moviemaking method. However, horror movies are about taking things and accentuating what it is about them that freaks you out. What they aren't about is re-usable gimmicks which would cause you to freak out no matter what you are watching. They aren't even about sickening you either. Sure different people have different levels of violence they can handle, but Tarantino's movies have a level of violence which many people find sickening. - It doesn't make them horror. So when I thought that the viscious gratutiously bloody murder at the beginning of Scream 2 was what horror was all about, I was wrong. When I thought that being made to jump out of my seat was what horror was all about, I was also wrong.

    Or so I currently believe. Am I right?

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    Okay, this sort of a follow up to my review of John Carpenter's episode: "Ciggerette Burns".
    In the Masters Of Horror series major horror directors are given a choice of hour-long scripts and the opportunity to impress us with a short film. I have now seen four of these: "Ciggerette Burns", "Sick Girl", "Pro-Life" and "The Black Cat".

    Ciggerette Burns

    (click image for imdb link)

    I wasn't really sure what to expect from Masters Of Horror, but this disc contained a whole bunch of trailers for other episodes. Just looking at trailers, the ones which stood out for me were a zombie film from Joe Dante and a quite absurd (silly and funny) entry from John Landis called "Deer Woman".

    It's worth noting that this is actually a later release than the deeply flawed "Ghosts Of Mars" and it bodes well for Carpenter's upcoming movie "The Ward" to see that he really hasn't lost his touch.

    While the extras on the DVD go on about "The Thing" and "Halloween", Cigarette Burns is much more akin to "In The Mouth Of Madness". In fact it's pretty much the same premise, just replace evil apocalyptic book with evil apocalyptic film reel. The idea of this is that the main protagonist is being hired to track down the last surviving print of a horror movie called "La Fin Absolue Du Monde" (The Absolute End Of The World). Yeah, very subtle I know. There's a bit of clue that things are going to get a little stranger though in the image above and I'm not going to spoil it any more than that. This is not a clone of "In The Mouth Of Madness". For one thing it's more subtle (probably due to budget constraints), so you can forget tentacled monsters (awwww!). Since Carpenter cannot throw monsters from inside the silver screen at us, the movie has to very suggestive about the power of this film and it does a great job.

    An annoying minor element which detracted from my suspension of dibelief, however, was the protagonist's attempts to speak French. Naturally his actual French is fine since it's in a script and naturally he doesn't need a good accent since he's not playing someone who is actually French. However, whenever he attempts to speak French there are points when I don't think actual French people would understand him. There's a point where I think he says that he'll be back in twenty minutes but I was left wondering "was that supposed to be 'vingt' that he said just then? It sounded like veagh." Just moments earlier we were supposed to believe that this guy was able to understand an overheard conversation in French down the telephone. I'm not convinced he could successfully give anyone his telephone number in French, never mind understand a private telephone call by fluent French speakers. Naturally this isn't terribly important, but it irritated me nonetheless.

    As you might imagine, another element which needed to change from "In The Mouth Of Madness" was the ending. Now the ending to "In The Mouth Of Madness" was absolutely brilliant and by comparison the ending to Cigarette Burns is quite disappointing. Still, it's not too bad and I have to say that this short film was light years ahead of what I'd been expecting.

    I'd give this 4.5/5



    Sick Girl


    When this first arrived I wondered why I ordered this movie in the first place. I was much more interested in the following two titles. However, looking a bit more carefully I realised that the director, Lucky McKee, is actually the director of "May" (review pending). I was very happily surprised to find that what followed was a really sweet and funny story about a woman obsessed with bugs (it's her profession btw) and her infatuation with a girl who appears to work in the same building as her. I could call this a "romantic comedy with bugs", but perhaps I'd do better to say that it felt like a Buffy episode. Like any good Buffy episode, there's a feeling of fun all the way through and there comes a point where it gets very silly indeed. I personally didn't think there was anything at all predictable about the ending (and I'll leave it at that).

    The female protagonist has often found that her girlfriends up and leave when they find out about her obsession with bugs. She decides to take the advice of her (very) straight male co-worker and avoid letting any new girlfriends know about this obsession. It's quite interesting how it's made very clear that the straight male co-worker is a pervert while the lesbians have a good healthy relationship, especially considering the views expressed by another character later on. The male co-worker's more obnoxious aspects are played for laughs, but with enough balance so we can still understand why he and the protagonist remain friends.

    All in all, this is really good fun. There's a gag regarding a Chinese restaurant the protagonist and her co-worker like which I'm silently giggling at as I remember it. The characters all feel full of life and well-developed. Then again, I'm not sure if perhaps people will view this episode as not being frightening enough. It feels creepy like a few episodes of Buffy did and while some of the effects seem a bit on the cheesy side, like with Buffy, this fits with the general sense of fun.

    5/5



    Pro-Life



    So yeah, this is the one I'd been properly looking forward to. It's another John Carpenter and with that poster (see above) how could I resist? (Besides, I needed to see this for completion's sake.) My excitement was raised by the presence of Ron Perlman as the aggressive pro-life zealot.

    The basic gist of the story is that a girl accidentally runs out into the road in front of some doctors from the local family planning clinic. She appears to be in shock, so they figure the best thing to do is to take her to the family planning clinic, since it is essentially a hospital. However, her father (played by Ron Perlman) who is actually not allowed within a certain distance of the building, is very angry to find out where his daughter is. While he's making threats from the outside, the doctors inside have found out about the pregnancy and have realised that there's something supernatural involved.

    In the end this episode turned out not to be sure where it wanted to take things. I was actually really upset by the way that the story ended in such an unjust way and the lack of justice in it does not even seem to be properly acknowledged. The film seems to trail off with "oooh, think about that for a minute" music. My view was that there wasn't enough to think of and that important things were not yet resolved.

    I'm going to include a small (but mild) SPOILER text in white below saying just what I found so unjust and why I feel it wasn't properly dealt with:
    An abortion doctor is killed in the most disgusting way. Ron Perlman's horrible character seems to get off scott free. The scriptwriters seem happy to hurt the abortion doctor, but unwilling to hurt the sick bastard pro-lifer. The "not yet resolved" thing mentioned earlier is that gitt still breathing and not even being dragged to hell. Also let's not forget that the raped girl at the centre of the story doesn't get a chance for any kind of revenge either.

    Spoiler is above in white text.


    It was really upsetting because the acting is good, the effects are good, the plot is engaging, but the unresolved issues are pretty unacceptable. It's another case of a film which works fine right up to the point where it lets you down at the end. Perhaps other people will find the ending less disappointing than I did, so your mileage may vary:
    3/5


    The Black Cat


    I was very excited to hear that this featured Stuart Gorden and Jeffrey Combs, the director and the star of the awesome "Re-Animator". Expecting it to be like Re-Animator was a big mistake. This short film is based on the works of Edgar Allen Poe. If you are a big Poe fan I think you'd love it. There were a few references to Poe's various works scattered around that I recognised, so I'd be very surprised if there weren't many more that I didn't recognise.

    Sadly my lack of familiarity of Poe may have caused me to miss something important. I didn't find this film terribly funny and I never quite felt like I understood the central character. It also featured a pet peeve of mine which was a ghostly bad guy that follows no real rules. While the perceived cause of the tragedy and general weirdness that ensues in the film is the eponymous "black cat", the film nevertheless feels very much like a ghost story. Now my problem with ghost stories is that they often suggest that if you do something for the ghost, like catch their murderer or something, the ghost will be appeased and rest in peace. Meanwhile the ghost gets to do pretty much anything it wants, especially if it does things which have some relation to its life or death. The all-powerful nature of ghosts and the arbitrary use of those powers really bugged me. Such stories will often show ghosts murdering one person, yet in another case maniacally laughing as they <i>nearly</i> kill someone else. Why did they kill one but not the other? The answer to that question is either some arbitrary answer to do with which people most offended the ghost's sensibilities or, more often, they were just lucky i.e. the all-powerful ghost wasn't feeling so all-powerful on that occasion for some reason.

    So, back to the black cat, there's a feeling that the cat is responsible for bad stuff, but the cat turns out to be pretty powerful with very little rhyme or reason to its actions. Rather than feeling a growing sense of fear or unease, I just found myself rather bored. As I have said earlier, I would probably have been a great deal more entertained if I recognised more of the references to Poe's works, but sadly it just felt like one thing happening after another with no real reason for me to care.

    2.5/5

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    English Defence League forges links with America's Tea Party

    As the far-right group marches in Leicester, details are emerging of growing contacts with extremist US groups in a 'war on Islamification"

    Mark Townsend
    The Observer, Sunday 10 October 2010



    The English Defence League, a far-right grouping aimed at combating the "Islamification" of British cities, has developed strong links with the American Tea Party movement.

    An Observer investigation has established that the EDL has made contact with anti-jihad groups within the Tea Party organisation and has invited a senior US rabbi and Tea Party activist to London this month. Rabbi Nachum Shifren, a regular speaker at Tea Party conventions, will speak about Sharia law and also discuss funding issues.

    The league has also developed links with Pamela Geller, who was influential in the protests against plans to build an Islamic cultural centre near Ground Zero. Geller, darling of the Tea Party's growing anti-Islamic wing, is advocating an alliance with the EDL. The executive director of the Stop Islamisation of America organisation, she recently met EDL leaders in New York and has defended the group's actions, despite a recent violent march in Bradford.

    Geller, who denies being anti-Muslim, said in one of her blogs: "I share the EDL's goals… We need to encourage rational, reasonable groups that oppose the Islamisation of the west."

    Devin Burghart, vice-president of the Kansas-based Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights, said: "Geller is acting as the bridge between the EDL and the Tea Party. She plays an important role in bringing Islamophobia into the Tea Party. Her stature has increased substantially inside the Tea Party ranks after the Ground Zero mosque controversy. She has gained a lot of credibility with that stuff."


    Details of the EDL's broadening aspirations came as about 1,000 supporters yesterday gathered to demonstrate in Leicester, which has a significant Muslim population. Home secretary Theresa May banned marches in the city last week but the EDL said its protest would proceed, raising fears of violence. Parts of Leicester were cordoned off to separate a counter-protest from Unite Against Fascism. Officers from 13 forces were on hand to maintain order.

    The Tea Party is expected to be an influential force in America's mid-term elections. Last month their candidate Christine O'Donnell romped to the Republican nomination in Delaware, following a stream of populist rightwing candidates who carry the movement's endorsement. Burghart says anti-Islamic tendencies have become far more marked in the grassroots organisation: "As we move farther and farther away from the Tea Party origins, that were ostensibly around debt and bail-outs, social issues like Islamophobia are replacing that anger, that vigour. The idea that there is a war between Islam and the west is becoming commonplace."

    Another Tea Party-associated grouping, the International Civil Liberties Alliance, which campaigns against Sharia law, confirmed that EDL leaders have made "contacts with members of important organisations within the American counter-jihad movement". A statement said: "It seems now that America and Europe are acting as one, and united we can never fail."

    With the Tea Party said to benefit from millions of dollars of funding from conservative foundations, experts warn an alliance between the EDL and extremist elements within the US movement could allow the English group to invest in wider recruitment and activism.

    Shifren, a Californian senate candidate, said Britain's Jewish community should rally behind the EDL: "The Jewish community is paralysed with fear, exactly what most radical Muslim agitators want. The people of England are in the forefront of this war – and it is a war. One of the purposes of this visit is to put the kibosh on the notion in the Jewish community that they cannot co-operate with the EDL, which is rubbish."

    The EDL's website relaunched briefly last week with new US links. Currently shut down for "maintenance", the site featured prominent links to a site called Atlas Shrugs, which is run by Geller, and another US-based site, Jihad Watch, which compiles negative news coverage of Islamic militancy.


    In addition, two members of the EDL leadership, a British businessman called Alan Lake who is believed to fund the group and a man known by the alias Kinana, are regular contributors to web forum 4Freedoms. The forum claims to be "organising US activities" and has links to the anti-jihad group, American Congress for Truth, which in turn has supporters within the Tea Party.

    Lake is also believed to have been in touch with a number of anti-Islamic Christian evangelical groups in the US. One posting by Lake on 4Freedoms warns that the UK of the future will start to fragment into Islamic enclaves. Lake, believed to be a principal bankroller of the EDL, which claims to be a peaceful, non-racist organisation, is understood to be keen on the possibility of setting up the UK equivalent of the Tea Party. At an event organised by the Taxpayers' Allliance last month, US Tea Party organisers outlined how the movement emerged last year, partly in protest at the US bank bail-out.

    Those present included Freedom Works and the Cato Institute, one of the Tea Party's main backers. However, Simon Richards, director of the Gloucestershire-based Freedom Association, which is looking at developing a pseudo-Tea Party movement in the UK, said he was concerned the project could be hijacked by elements such as the EDL. Nick Lowles of anti-fascist organisation Searchlight said: "The EDL is an integral part of an international campaign against Islam. While some are fighting in a cultural and political arena, the EDL are taking it to the streets. The images of the EDL allegedly taking on Muslim fundamentalists on the streets of Britain is also delighting right wing religious organisations in US."
    (Source)

    My last ONTD Post about the EDL here: (Link.)

    Last time I wrote about Pamela Geller it was in regards to her assertions that Rifqa Bary's parents were responsible for their daughter getting cancer. (Rifqa was smuggled away by a Christian group who convinced her that her Sri Lankan parents would murder her for converting to Christianity. The family originally immigrated to the the US to get medical treatment for Rifqa's eye.) (Link.)  Now in her blog her latest post contains the following nugget about EDL:
    And they say this about the EDL: "Ms. Geller went on to champion as patriotic the English Defense League, which opposes the building of mosques in Britain and whose members have been photographed wearing swastikas. (In the interview, Ms. Geller said the swastika-wearers must have been “infiltrators” trying to discredit the group.)" They don't mention that the EDL unequivocally supports Israel, waves the Israeli flag, has a Jewish division, has Hindu and Sikh members, and does have an ongoing problem with leftist infiltrators joining their rallies in order to try to discredit them by making racist or neo-Nazi statements.
    Pamela Geller also defends her BS about the ground zero mosque:
    Who's misimpressioning here? The site of the building is Ground Zero. You can have your own opinion, but you can't have your own facts. That building was hit by the landing gear from one of the planes, and destroyed. It is part of the Ground Zero attack site. And I never said that the building would solely house a prayer space. (Note "prayer space": the Times can't bring itself to call it a mosque, even though the prayer space in this building will be a mosque.)

    The building that was still in use (for Muslim prayer in fact) before the new plans to replace it, was apparently "destroyed" on 9/11 by plane debris. Also apparently this means that we should completely redefine what we mean by ground zero and start including any places hit by plane debris. (This now makes Ground Zero a site which they can arbitrarily enlarge over time as people randomly "discover" old plane debris from the event in more and more distant places. Perhaps I'm being a cynic...) (Horrible Horrible Link.) In the previous link Geller is complaining in her blog about being "misrepresented" here: (Link.)

    The article mentions Rabbi Nachum Siffren and I had never heard of him before, so I did a bit of research. He went through a period of claiming no interest in politics and trying to encourage spirituality through surfing. (Link.) However, presumably prior to this he was actually failed his probationary period as a teacher for being too racist. I have found a blog entry where someone has posted some parts from his book "Kill Your Teacher" which all seems fairly reasonable right up until the point where he starts complaining about Mexicans. (Link.) He's also been involved with a small, predominately black, anti-immigration movement who believe that the best solution to problems for black people is to deport all the Mexicans. (Link.)

    Rather annoyingly the article doesn't seem to say who Burghart is. Well he's Devin Burghart and apparently he researches white nationalist groups. Here's an article he's written. (Link.)

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  • 10/10/10--08:07: Doctor Who Humour :)

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    "The family should be left to resolve it on their own," Biondolillo said. "Or private enterprise - private companies can contact the family and say, 'We heard you were hitting your kids. Can you stop that?'"

    (Further Explanation Here)
    (Via Ms Daisy Cutter)

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    Winter's Bone (2010)
    My goodness, it's been a long wait. I'd heard that the leading female protagonist was an awesome badass (but not in the "damsel in distress + a bit of kickboxing" way), that the movie had an almost fairytale-like quality to it and that the lead actress will probably get an Oscar within the next decade. It's all true. There were high expectations for this one and I'm pleased to say it met them. This is definitely my movie of the year so far for 2010.

    I really don't want to say too much about this one. Heck, a friend had been put off the film when they heard it was about a girl searching for her father (which it kinda is). Perhaps if I mention that there's a quite important scene involving a chainsaw that will clear away any possible presumptions that this is going to be "sweet".

    An interesting thing about this movie though. We all know that Hollywood rarely hires actresses who aren't stunningly gorgeous and when the lead acress Jennifer Lawrence comes to appear in the new X-Men movie from director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, Stardust, Layer Cake) it will become very clear that she's no exception. However, it's notable that within Winter's Bone very little emphasis is put on how she looks. She's always wearing thick coats and there's a sort of griminess about the place which also extends to the cast. It's seems very clear that her part could just as easily have been played by a boy. If not, it must be added, for the strange gender dynamic which is involved here. This passes the Bechdel Test with flying colours, but while women do a lot of the talking, the patriarchy behind this rural American society is still very clear.

    One male cast member people might recognise is John Hawkes, who I recognised straight away as the bartender from the opening scene of Rodriguez and Tarantino's joint venture: "From Dusk Til Dawn". That said, while in From Dusk Til Dawn he emphasised the comedy, in Winter's Bone he's playing a very different part here to say the least...

    I don't think there's anything to compare Winter's Bone to. I considered comparing it to "Julia", but then I realised the only real point of comparison was that both movies were awesome rather than because of any similarity of style, genre or plot. Winter's Bone plunges you into a world with unfamiliar values, strict loyalties, twisted priorities and brutal consequences. Pulls you in like nobody's business and will stick with you afterwards. (And looking back at what I've written so far, I should probably also make very clear that this is not a horror movie - in case anyone was unsure.)

    5/5


    Mother (2009)

    I wasn't sure what I would make of this one. This movie comes from the director of "The Host", a movie which had an odd mix between the dark element of the monster and the scientists studying it and the central characters who were comical, yet deep. Another Korean director, Chan-Wook Park, has been making an odd progression from dark and quirky (Oldboy) to just plain silly (I'm A Cyborg) and I worried that this might be a more general trend in Korean cinema. As such, you can imagine my concern when the opening scene presented the eponymous "Mother" figure dancing for the audience. You might also see how my concern might have grown when the early scenes depict her as trying to care for a clumsy, miguided, yet endearing son.

    Anyway, I can put your minds at rest right now that, as the movie continues, the director does not feel the need to crank up the quirkiness all the time. Also, while the dancing at the beginning might have seemed a little bizarre, it takes on a special meaning by the end of the movie.
    That's not to say, however, that the comically endearing elements we saw in the characters in "The Host" are chucked out the window.

    The movie is a murder mystery at heart and when a friend decides to help out with "questioning suspects" the movie decides to inject some comic relief into what is, by this point, becoming quite a harrowing storyline. "Mother" has a great sense of balance between humour and seriousness, ensuring that it remains entertaining without sacrificing any of its depth. Characters who actually have you going "oh for heaven's sake" at the beginning of the movie, turn out to have a great deal more to them by the end. Plot lines do not develop at all the way you'd expect.

    While I found myself spending the first 10 or 20 minutes feeling very unsure indeed about this, the movie built up to a very satisfying conclusion. The movie has a dark side to it, but it has a good soul too. I'm not sure that you could call it a happy ending, but it certainly ties things up very well.

    5/5


    Mary And Max (2009)


    I must give my whole-hearted thanks to [info]airolf  for so strongly encouraging me to see this movie. Mary and Max is an animated movie about two pen pals. A girl in Australia with an alcoholic mother who feels like a bit of a social misfit and a fourty year old autistic man in New York who similarly feels socially inept.

    As I watched this, pretty much loving every minute of it, I couldn't help but feel that this is the sort of movie that could so easily have gone spectacularly wrong. When animators decide to introduce lots of silly features, such as a single pair of pants (translation for non-Brits = "underwear") on a clothes line, they can often lose track of the film as a whole and such elements can detract from the cinematic experience. Fortunately, they get it right here and any quirky details feel nicely timed and fit in with the film's general mood.

    Another element that could have gone wrong is the mixture of sadness and comedy. I've already mentioned this in regards to the last movie but seriously, in Mary and Max it's on a knife edge! (In fact, I do wonder whether one particularly sad and climactic scene doesn't take things a little too far.) Still, once again a careful balance is maintained to an incredible degree so that, even as tragedy strikes left, right and centre, the viewer does not have to wait long before they are able to smile again (albeit with watery eyes). And the comedy is genuinely hilarious, in spite of its bittersweet nature.

    One thing which I think helps to hold the movie together is it's fantastic soundtrack. In fact when it first starts I must admit that my first reaction was "oh so THAT's where the music for all those FilmFour ads came from!" The music perfectly emphasises the combination of the movie's sense of fun and its more serious and somewhat tragic background elements.

    So, is this the best movie from 2009? Well, I think any movie was going to have a tough time unseating "A Serious Man", but this certainly makes a really good stab at it. My main issue with it is probably one particularly dark scene where the tragic side of it is pushed aside perhaps a little too easily. Still, this is picking on a very small detail for the sake of finding something to criticise at this stage and overall this is by far one of the best movies of recent years. Y'know that teary-eyed cuteness that Pixar have got so good at recently? Mary And Max not only has that same feel, but they make it look easy. :P

    5/5

    I Am Love (2009)

    I've already mentioned the wonderful Julia above (seriously go and see it, it's awesome). So when I heard that "I Am Love" was almost like a sister movie to "Julia", how could I resist? Sure, I knew that this was mainly due to both movies starring the awesome Tilda Swinton, but still, perhaps the comparison doesn't quite end there. Both movies get us inside the head of a woman dealing with difficult decisions and yearning for a change in their life. And besides, when I was obsessing over the movie "Amelie", I heard that "He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not" ("A La Folie... Pas Du Tout") seemed almost like the anti-Amelie and BOTH movies were similarly fantastic. Sadly, the pattern does not hold here.

    I Am Love is very slow moving a pretentious. It feels like the movie is ruled by the cinematographer. At one point Tilda Swinton's character is about to sit down and we are suddenly treated to a close-up of her shoes. Why? Well, because the shoes are pretty I guess. The main reason seems to be that the movie is desperate to show us every detail of the environment being filmed and considers the plot to be rather secondary by comparison.

    Tilda Swinton's character is apparently Russian. Is this relevant? I'm not really sure. She also seems to get a strange euphoria when she reads letters from her relative Elisabetta and her lesbian romance. (I had to look up on wikipedia to discover exactly how they were related. It seems Elisabetta is her daughter. *shrugs*) Meanwhile after eating a particularly good dish she finds herself falling head over heels in love with the man who cooked it and very soon they are having sex. (The cameraman's aforementioned short attention span means that we get a tour of the local areas natural beauty while the couple are doing the deed.)

    By the end of the movie I really didn't care about any of it. Tilda Swinton's character is married to a very rich man in a massive mansion and she's had an affair, so perhaps there'll be consequences, whaddayathink? In any case, nothing which happens appears to be terribly dramatic. After the credits there's a random shot inside a cave. Why? No one knows, but does anyone care?

    1/5

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    Werner Herzog has released two films in the same year and I'm not sure which of the movies was made first. One is about a corrupt police officer while the other is about an insane murderer.

    The Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call - New Orleans (2009)
    I had been waiting to see this for so long and at the start I wasn't sure whether it was going to meet expectations. It had that feeling like one thing was happening after another. The presence of Val Kilmer was a bit concerning too. However, it turned out that Val Kilmer had a relatively minor part and also, in spite of appearances, this film actually has quite a few comic elements. (Anyone who has seen "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" will undoubtedly have laughed quite a bit at Kilmer's expert comic talents. He's also pretty good as a major source of comic relief in "Willow".)

    In the featurette, Herzog claims that while people will laugh it will be an uncomfortable laugh. He's quite right, but it's not like in some dark comedies where you aren't sure whether you should laugh, but rather it's a whole-hearted guilty pleasure. You fully recognise that things are getting outrageous and you can't help but laugh at it. (This isn't like in "Julia" where you know you really shouldn't be laughing, but it's so horrible you feel you need to otherwise you'd have to cry.)

    Of course, the main star of the movie is Nicolas Cage who isn't always great (though I actually really liked him in "Lord Of War" and I know of few people who didn't love "Adaptation"), but Werner Herzog knew what he was doing when he cast Cage for this role. Nicolas Cage's character descends further and further over the course of the movie into both corruption and drugs. (He damages his back quite early on, so ordinary drugs tests would have been explained away as being related to his medication.) The drugged-up state is indicated by the regular appearance of iguanas.

    So yes, a hilariously darkly comic noir movie (set mainly in the day) with iguanas. Ooooh... and Eva Mendes. She plays a prostitute and the main love interest. She does a great job in the role of setting herself up as very much a three dimensional character and both she and Nicolas have great chemistry. The only other decent movie I've seen Eva Mendes in was "Once Upon A Time In Mexico" (alongside Johnny Depp) and she didn't really get as much chance to shine in that role. Here she really does a great, yet understated performance. (She also has great sex tape :p) Bad Lieutenant is just generally great fun. Don't miss this one!
    5/5

    My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? (2009)
    I'd been told that this film was quite odd and experimental, so I must say that I didn't really find it so odd. What it did was to portray a very odd character. One thing which was very odd about this movie was the choice in background music for many of the scenes, which I presume was intended to give us an impression of the mental states lurking within the main character. However, instead I found this rather annoying.

    I think it was probably a big mistake to make the murderer, played by Michael Shannon, into the main character. Certainly we see the police interviewing both a friend of the murderer, played by Udo Kier, and the fiancee of the murderer, played by Chloë Sevigny. However, neither of these figures is really the central character and neither is the police officer interviewing them, played by Willem Dafoe. In the end, the main way we are supposed to get to know this character is through his own actions. In the end though, I just got the impression that the guy was stark raving mad.

    There were some hints of a message to the movie. Of something that we were supposed to understand about the central murderer character. However, in the end it all felt far too superficial. When Herzog did a documentary on Timothy Treadwell, we had to be guided towards a deeper understanding of his strange delusions. In this movie they are hinted at, but Herzog doesn't seem at all sure what they say about the central figure. Shannon's murderer character is fixated on a Greek play about a man murdering his mother, but then again he also thinks that God is the "Quaker Oats" guy.

    We could probably have done with a bit more focus on the murderer's fiancee. I did not have the slightest clue why she would decide to stay with someone this bonkers. Udo Kier's character is able to explain very clearly that he saw that the murderer had theatrical talent so, as a theatre director, we can see how he would come to look fondly on him. Sevigny's character seems wholly frustrated by her relationship and also frustrated with the emotionally troubled mother.

    There's an interesting shot where Shannon's murderer character is convinced that the world is slowing down and the people around them are actually shown to move in slow motion for a moment. Then there are less interesting shots where Shannon's murderer character and a relative of his, played by Brad Dourif, stare into the camera with a dwarf in a suit standing imbetween them. So yeah, some scenes are a little weird. What's more annoying however is that none of these scenes are so exciting as those found in The Bad Lieutenant.


    While I'd love to blame Lynch for the problems with this movie, I understand that his actual involvement was pretty limited. In the end this is just a rather poorly judged movie. It's not ridiculously bizarre by any means, but I don't think it does a great job of getting us into the mind of the central murderer character, which is clearly what it was intended to do. Some might find this more entertaining than I did, so your mileage may vary. Don't expect a typical Herzog masterpiece though. It really isn't.
    3/5

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    Suspension of the Defection Process

    In April of this year, the Catholic Church modified the Code of Canon Law to remove all references to the act of formal defection, the process used by those who wish to formally renounce their membership of the Church.

    Since then, the Catholic Church in Ireland has been reflecting on the implications of this change for those who wish to leave the Catholic Church. Despite our requests for clarification, the Church have yet to reach a firm position on how or whether they will continue to accept requests for the annotation of the baptismal register.

    In recent weeks we have been contacted by an increasing number of people whose defections have not been processed, due to the limbo created by this canon law amendment.

    Because of this uncertainty, we have taken the decision to suspend the creation of declarations of defection via CountMeOut.ie from today (12th October 2010).

    In response to this, the Church in Ireland released the following statement to RTE News:

    The Holy See confirmed at the end of August that it was introducing changes to Canon Law and as a result it will no longer be possible to formally defect from the Catholic Church. This will not alter the fact that many people can defect from the Church, and continue to do so, albeit not through a formal process. This is a change that will affect the Church throughout the world. The Archdiocese of Dublin plans to maintain a register to note the expressed desire of those who wish to defect. Details will be communicated to those involved in the process when they are finalised. Last year 229 people formally defected from the Church through the Archdiocese of Dublin. 312 have done so, so far this year.
     
    Article continues here: (Source: The Irish "Count Me Out" website)
    (Via The Friendly Atheist)

    As if it wasn't hard enough to defect from the Catholic Church already. The article proceeds to explain that there are some countries where a formal document is required to avoid paying a Church Tax. There are also some requirements in relation to marriage.

    Have the number of people wishing to defect from the Church really risen so high that they find it necessary to shut down the process entirely? Have organisations like "Count Me Out" been providing for a growing need in places like Ireland in the light of certain scandals in the Church? Then again, hasn't the Church always been rather disinclined to let people leave and wasn't the decision to prevent formal defection simply inevitable?

    Removing references to defection from Canon law seems quite extreme whether looked at from the perspective of strong believers or defectors. Surely making sweeping deletions from the Canon law in relation to this issue is a little desperate?

    (x-posted to atheism)
    x-posted to [info]ontd_political 

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  • 10/23/10--18:01: Well duh!
  • Apparently Syfy have realised that people would actually prefer to see more stories about Adama doing special missions and kicking Cylon butt!



    The decision to include Adama as a young child in the Caprica spin-off always struck me as a bad idea. Adama as a little child living in fear of the mob and of (anachronistic) monotheistic terrorism is too far removed from the character we knew and loved.

    Patton Oswalt makes the reasons for this very clear with his "Jon Voigt's ballsack" argument....

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