Sunday, January 28, 2007

Academy Awards Nominees

The nominees for the 79th Academy Awards have been released. You can view the list here. The nominees for Best Picture are:
  • “Babel” (Paramount and Paramount Vantage) An Anonymous Content/Zeta Film/Central Films Production Alejandro González Iñárritu, Jon Kilik and Steve Golin, Producers
  • “The Departed” (Warner Bros.)A Warner Bros. Pictures Production Graham King, Producer
  • “Letters from Iwo Jima” (Warner Bros.)A DreamWorks Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures Production Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg and Robert Lorenz, Producers
  • “Little Miss Sunshine” (Fox Searchlight)A Big Beach/Bona Fide ProductionDavid T. Friendly, Peter Saraf and Marc Turtletaub, Producers
  • “The Queen” (Miramax, Pathé and Granada)A Granada ProductionAndy Harries, Christine Langan and Tracey Seaward, Producers

I haven't seen Letters from Iwo Jima yet. But out of the others, I think Babel will get it.

A couple of beautiful photos

A friend of mine sent me these two photographs recently. I thought I'd share them with you.

This one is of the Sombrero galaxy taken with an infrared camera.

And this one is of a comet taken in New Zealand. The haze in the background is caused by the bushfires in Australia.

We live in an awesome universe!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Movie Review: Miss Potter

Miss Potter is a warm-hearted biopic of Beatrix Potter (Rene Zellweger), the author of the best-selling children's stories about Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle-duck, and others. We follow her story from childhood where she shows talent for drawing and storytelling, through her frustrations with late 19th century-early 20th century British social mores, through her love relationship with her publisher Norman Warne (Ewan McGregor), and her ultimate purchase of many acres of beautiful farmland in the Lakes District where she finally marries William Heelis, a childhood acquaintance.

Beatrix Potter was a woman ahead of her time in many respects. She dreaded the fate of most women of that era - arranged marriage, social conformity, submissive and dependent female roles, class snobbery. She wanted none of it and, through her publishing and her friendship with Norman Warne and his sister, Millie Warne (Emily Watson), she struggles against all that is expected of her by her parents to become a wealthy and very successful author.

For me, Rene Zellweger was a poor choice for Beatrix Potter. She just never came across as authentic to me and appeared to find the role difficult. The rest of the cast is excellent. It's a simple story told beautifully. In some parts of the movie, Beatrix's characters are animated and interact with her to convey how intensely "real" these characters were for her. The scenery is absolutely stunning and beautifully photographed.

This is an enjoyable, lovely film that will leave you with a nice feeling and some insights into the character of a much-loved children's author.

My Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5)

Positive Review

'In every way, Miss Potter is a very beautiful thing.' - Mick LaSalle/San Francisco Chronicle

Negative Review

'Miss Potter is a grave disappointment, because it never listens out for that note. It is a soft, woolly film about a smart, unsentimental woman who did constant battle with her frustrations.' - Anthony Lane/The New Yorker

Content Advice

Brief mild language


'Creation or Evolution? Yes!' (Christianity Today)

Christianity Today magazine have published an interview by Stan Guthrie with Francis Collins, head of the Genome Project, who has also recently published a book entitled, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (Free Press, 2006). In the interview, he explains why he wrote the book:
One of the main reasons I wrote The Language of God was to try to put forward a comfortable synthesis of what science teaches us about the natural world and what faith teaches us about God. Yet it seems to be a pretty well kept secret these days that the scientific approach and the spiritual approach are compatible. I think we've allowed for too long extreme voices to dominate the stage in a way that has led many people to assume that's all there is. The thesis of my book is that there is no need for this battle. In fact, it's a destructive battle. And we as a society would be well served to recover that happy middle ground where people have been for most of human history.
You can read the whole interview here.

Movie Review: The Pursuit of Happyness

There has been a lot of hype surrounding the Gabriele Muccino's The Pursuit of Happyness. Some have suggested that Will Smith could be in line for an Oscar and the trailers I saw suggested a dramatic, heart-rending drama. In fact, The Pursuit of Happyness is a long, boring, mostly bland story of the true life Chris Gardner who had to struggle to become rich.

Chris Gardner (Will Smith) is a struggling salesman who is trying, along with his wife, Linda (Thandie Newton) to make ends meet. Linda can't take it anymore and decides to leave with Chris demanding custody of his son, Christopher (Jaden Smith). Things go from bad to worse as Chris strives to survive on the streets and provide for his 5-year-old son. Through pure tenacity, optimism, and personality, he is accepted into an internship with a stock-broker company where he has to prove himself worthy of being employed.

There are some touching moments in the story enhanced by the fact that Will and Jaden Smith are actual father and son in real life. But the characters in the story are not all that engaging and the storyline seems drawn out and repetitive. The acclaim for Will Smith's acting possibly has more to do with the fact that his role is more serious than previous ones and is, therefore, noticeable. If he won an Oscar for this role, particularly when he is compared with other actors in other movies this year, I would definitely not be happy!

My Rating: *** (out of 5)

Positive Review

'The tough beauty of the picture is that it lets each viewer weigh the costs and benefits to Gardner. It's a genuinely transporting inspirational movie because it's also a cautionary tale. It doesn't downplay the hero's occasional clumsiness or pigheadedness.' - Michael Sragow/Baltimore Sun

Negative Review

'Too emotionally slick to work, too visually glib to have an impact, made by people who think grit is something that's brought in by the prop department.' - Robert Wilonski/Village Voice

Content Advice

Some language


USA: PG-13

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Does the Bible justify the burning of witches?

This entry continues a critique of Christian Morality written by Dean Dowling. You can read previous parts by clicking on the links below: Part 1: Introduction/General Comments Part 2: Does the Bible provide justification for the persecution of the Jews? Part 3: Does the Bible condone slavery?
According to Dowling, the Bible justifies the burning of witches and offers Exodus 22:18; Deuteronomy 18:10; and Galatians 5:19 as evidence. He also refers to the witch hunts of 1234-1836 and the publication of the Malleus Maleficarum in 1487 which he alleges was a handbook used by the Inquisitors to identify and deal with witches. Exodus 22:18 reads, ‘You shall not permit a female sorcerer to live.’ (NRSV) This law is part of the Old Covenant legislation designed to mark Israel off from its pagan neighbours. The Jerome Bible Commentary (Brown, Fitzmyer & Murphy 1996) makes this comment:
Common in antiquity was the effort to control superhuman powers by magic, and thus penetrate the secrets of the future, work havoc on enemies, and bring benediction on friends… Nonreligious sorcery was also proscribed in the Code of Hammurabi and by Assyrian law, both of which considered it harmful to one’s fellow man.
Read within the historical context of the Old Testament, this prohibition is quite consistent with cultures other than Israel’s. Despite the presence of this law, it is interesting to note that ‘The Bible does not record any executions of sorcerers or sorceresses’. (Radmacher, Allen & House 1997) The next verse offered by Dowling is Deuteronomy 18:10:
No one shall be found among you who makes a son or daughter pass through fire, or who practices divination, or is a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer…’ (NRSV)
The preceding verse gives the reason for this command to Israel:
When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you must not learn to imitate the abhorrent practices of those nations. (18:9, NRSV)
Although Dowling is incorrect in claiming the Bible justifies the burning (it doesn’t say how they are to be put to death) of witches (more correctly translated sorceresses), he is correct in that they were not to be tolerated in Israel. In the culture of the day, this was not unusual as we can see from other legal codes of the time. The attitude against sorcery extends into the New Testament as evidenced by Paul’s inclusion of it in a list of the ‘works of the flesh’:
Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21, NRSV, emphasis supplied)
It is important to note, however, that Paul does not advise the putting to death of sorceresses. Instead, it says they will not inherit the kingdom of God. The New Testament teaches that it is not the place of Christians to judge others. Dowling refers to the publication and use of the Malleus Maleficarum. Dowling (1996b) writes that
The infamous 1487 Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer for Witches) was the Inquisitor's handbook of questions and torture to be used by the best legal minds of the time. It had 30 reprints by 1669.
The Malleus Maleficarum is, indeed, infamous. However, it was condemned by the Inquisition four years after it was published, was a minority view, was not used by the ‘best legal minds of the time’, was supported by forged declarations, and did not represent the doctrine of the Catholic Church. Jenny Gibbons (Gibbons) has constructed this paragraph which is the popular view of the Malleus Maleficarum:
The Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches) is a detailed and accurate guide to how the Inquisition ran a Witch trial. Written by two respected inquisitors and enthusiastically endorsed by the Pope, the Malleus lay on the bench of every Witch hunter in Europe. Its detailed descriptions of sabbats and covens spread the fear of Witches throughout Europe, dramatically increasing the number of Witch trials.
Gibbons goes on to point out that every one of the sentences in this paragraph is incorrect and concludes by stating
… that the Malleus does not give an accurate picture of what Witch hunting was like. It's an extreme, radical text, and gives a very distorted view of life in the Burning Times.
Once again, Dowling has an extremely simplistic view of the Bible’s relationship to witch hunting (never mentioned in the Bible) and witch burning (never mentioned in the Bible). Nor does he do justice to the complex phenomenon of witch hunting that took place over 600 hundred years (according to Dowling). It has to be acknowledged that the witch trials were a great evil resulting in the death of many innocent women. But to suggest that the Bible is the cause of this travesty is to, once again, blur the distinction between the Bible and the way it has been misused. The Inquisition was a much more complex historical phenomenon than that and most certainly doesn’t supply an adequate basis for Dowling to conclude that the Bible is the necessary condition for all these evils. References Brown, R, Fitzmyer, J & Murphy, R 1996, The Jerome Biblical Commentary, electronic edn, Logos Research Systems. Dowling, DR 1996a, 'Christian Morality', S.A. Humanist Post, pp. 8-9. ---- 1996b, Christian Morality, Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc, viewed 9 December 2006, Gibbons, J The Malleus Maleficarum (review), viewed 16 January 2007, Radmacher, E, Allen, R & House, H 1997, The Nelson Study Bible: New King James Version, T. Nelson, Nashville.


When the need for open-mindedness is mentioned, some Christians get very nervous, thinking it means that it requires the acceptance of any and all ideas that come along. However, this is not open-mindedness. Here's a description of open-mindedness from William Hare (2006):
Open-mindedness involves a readiness to give due consideration to relevant evidence and argument, especially when factors present in the situation tempt one to resist such consideration, with a view to increasing our awareness, understanding and appreciation, avoiding error, and reaching true and defensible conclusions. It means being critically receptive to alternative possibilities and new ideas, resisting inflexible and dogmatic attitudes, and sincerely trying to avoid whatever might suppress or distort our reflections. Open-mindedness is relevant whatever views we presently hold in the sense that we remain committed to reconsidering them in the light of new questions, doubts, and findings; and it also involves maintaining a certain outlook throughout the entire process of inquiry, whereby we remain willing to accept whatever view proves in the end to have the strongest evidential and reasoned support... To be willing to take relevant evidence and argument into account when reaching our beliefs, even if the conclusion runs counter to what we might wish to be the case or contradicts what we presently believe, is the very attitude implicit in the Socratic ideal of following the argument where it leads. We are to 'follow the argument' by refusing to rest content with our present assumptions, however certain they may appear, if further consideration seems warranted; and also by accepting whatever findings result from such inquiry and reflection even if those results are quite unwelcome.
Open-mindedness must be one of the most difficult traits to develop as a thinker because the potential exists for having to change our point of view. This is sometimes extremely traumatic, particularly when we have had an opinion or belief central to our whole existence for so many years. But unless we develop open-mindedness, we can never progress in our understanding. For Christians, who want to ensure that their understanding of God is as accurate as possible, open-mindedness allows us to acknowledge the possibility that we could be wrong about some things, that we have new things to learn, things we need to unlearn. If we are to grow in faith, open-mindedness, as described above, is essential. Otherwise we will become "frozen" where we are, dogmatic in our beliefs, and tempted to believe that we have arrived at the absolute final truth. Open-mindedness is the antidote we need for intellectual arrogance. Open-mindedness intellectual humility - a genuine acknowledgment that there is much we do not know, much to learn, and that, because of our human limitations and biases, what we do know could be wrong or imperfect. Reference Hare, W 2006, 'Why Open-Mindedness Matters', Think, no. 13, pp. 7-15.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Movie Review: Apocalypto (2006)

The plot of Mel Gibson's latest film, Apocalypto, is simple enough. The Mayan civilisation is about to collapse due to drought and the people have taken to human sacrifice in an effort to appease the sun god. Jaguar Paw's (Rudy Youngblood) village is massacred by warriors from the Aztec city about a day's journey away and he is captured, along with other men an women of his village, to be taken to the temple to be a sacrifice. A fortuitous natural event leads to avoidance of being sacrificed and, after being the victim of a cruel sport, he escapes. The rest of the movie is a thrilling chase through the forest as Jaguar Paw returns to his village to rescue his young son and pregnant wife who he has hidden in a deep pit, promising to return for them.
As an action thriller, Apocalpyto is excellent. The pace never slows, the acting by the non-professional cast is excellent and entirely believable, the photography absolutely brilliant, and the imagery of a crumbling civilisation very powerful.

I have to admit to not knowing much about Mayan culture and I felt, as I watched the movie, that I was learning a lot. But that's one of the problems with Apocalypto. After reading a couple of online articles written by archaeologists about the movie and its relationship to Mayan culture (see Related Links), it is clear that Gibson has not been faithful to the history or culture of the Aztecs. He has collapsed events over hundreds of years into a 2+ hour film with no attempt to convey the actual history. Gibson has also modified clothing, adornment, weaponry, body markings, and rituals to cinematic effect. The impression is also given that Mayan societies were extremely brutal and violent. They did, indeed, practice human sacrifice, but apparently some of the portrayals of violence in the film exaggerate historical reality.

Mel Gibson loves his violence! Apocalypto is ruthless in portraying, up close, the bloody fights and the human sacrifices. Some have even suggested that the Gibson's violence is pornographic - a suggestion I heard in relation to Gibson's previous film, Passion of the Christ.

Apocalypto is clearly intended as a metaphor for the condition of America -- as Gibson sees it. But, as some have pointed out, he is possibly sacrificing Aztec/Mayan culture in aid of his message. Some have suggested that the dreamlike arrival of Christians at the end of the movie suggests that, for Gibson, only Christianity can be the saviour of American society. For some reason, I thought that, after the collapse of the Mayan civilisation, the real collapse was about to occur with a colonial religion taking over where the Mayans had left off! I must be getting too cynical.

As a movie, Apocalypto works well. It is exciting, engaging, suspenseful, and provocative. But if the criticisms made by scholars is true (and it seems they are), then don't go and see this movie intending to learn something historically accurate about Mayan culture and history. Apocalypto is a mixture of fact and fiction.

As Traci Ardren has stated, 'It is surely no surprise that "Apolcalypto" has very little to do with Maya culture and instead is Gibson's comment on the excesses he perceives in modern Western society. I just wish he had been honest enough to say this. Instead he has created a beautiful and disturbing portrait that satisfies his need for comment but does violence to one of the most impressive of Native American cultures.' So, watch it with caution!

My Rating: **** (out of 5)

Positive Review

'Mel Gibson is always good for a surprise, and his latest is that Apocalypto is a remarkable film. Set in the waning days of the Mayan civilization, the picture provides a trip to a place one's never been before, offering hitherto unseen sights of exceptional vividness and power.' - Todd McCarthy/Variety

Negative Review

'It's "Braveheart" without historical significance and "Passion" without spirituality, though it dabbles in both, and it represents as brazen an act of career suicide as I can recall from a star director. If he were a first-timer, he'd never work again.' - Lawrence Toppman/Charlotte Observer

Related Links

Content Advice

Sequences of graphic violence and disturbing images


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Movie Review: The Virgin Spring (1960)

Apparently, if one is truly interested in cinema, one should watch some of the movies by Ingmar Bergman, a famous Swedish director who has been influential in film and acknowledged by people like Woody Allen and the late Robert Altman as being significant in their own development. So, I decided to sit down and watch a couple, choosing the 1957 The Seventh Seal and the 1960 The Virgin Spring. I was deeply rewarded by watching both. In this review, I would like to focus on The Virgin Spring. The Wikipedia article on Ingmar Bergman comments on the fact that '[h]is films usually deal with existential questions of mortality, loneliness, and faith.' There is no doubt about this when it comes to The Seventh Seal and The Virgin Spring. The Virgin Spring is set in 14th-century Sweden when people were living in a tension between paganism and Christianity. Herr Tor (Max von Sydow) and his wife, Mareta (Birgitta Valberg) are wealthy farmers who live an ascetic, strict Christian life. Their 15-year-old virgin daughter, Karin (Bergitta Petterson) is spoiled and privileged in contrast to Karin's "foster-sister", Ingeri (Gunnel Lindbloom) who, pregnant out of marriage, is treated with disdain and tolerated. Inderi represents the pagan side of Swedish life at the time and, because of her situation, calls on the god, Odin, to help her - a call she later believes is answered in the events that followed. One day, Karin is asked to take candles to the family's church requiring a horse ride through a forest. She convinces her mother to let her wear her special clothing, usually reserved for attending church or special events. Ingeri accompanies her. On the way, Karin is attacked, raped, and murdered by two goat-herder brothers. In an ironic twist, these goat-herders turn up at Tor and Mareta's farm seeking shelther and food. When Tor and Mareta become aware of what has happened to their daughter, Tor takes revenge but realises, at a certain point, that he has gone too far. They set out to find their daughter and, when they do, Tor experiences a profound shattering of his faith - until a miracle occurs. Near the end of the film, Torr cries out to God and says:
You see it, God, you see it. The innocent child's death and my revenge. You allowed it. I don't understand you. Yet now I beg your forgiveness. I know no other way to be reconciled with my own hands. I know no other way to live.
It's a cry that many of us make when we find ourselves in the middle of pain and suffering - when the innocent die and God seems to stand by and do nothing. And then we react, taking revenge or solving the problem only to realise we have made it worse. Then all we can do is cry out to God, admitting our inability to understand and throwing ourselves on the mercy of God and God's forgiveness. What else can we do? We know no other way to live. The Virgin Spring is superbly photographed in black and white. The acting is powerful, though perhaps not in a style that we are familiar with nowadays. The Virgin Spring is a profound morality tale that raises a whole host of questions about religion, providence, and our response to unfathomable evil. It's a haunting meditation. It won the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1960. You may not find it in your corner video store, but it is worth hunting down if you can. My Rating: **** (out of 5) Positive Review 'Although the story plays straightforwardly, greater enjoyment comes through pondering the meanings behind Bergman's symbolic tapestry.Although the story plays straightforwardly, greater enjoyment comes through pondering the meanings behind Bergman's symbolic tapestry.' - John A Nesbit/ (good discussion of some of the religious themes) Negative Review 'It is far from an easy picture to watch or entirely commend. For Mr. Bergman has stocked it with scenes of brutality that, for sheer unrestrained realism, may leave one sickened and stunned.' - Bosley Crowther/New York Times (1960) AUS: M USA: unrated

Monday, January 08, 2007

Book Review: The Interpretation of Murder (2006)

The note at the beginning of Jed Rubenfeld debut novel, The Interpretation of Murder, reads:
In 1909, Sigmund Freud, accompanied by his then disciple Carl Jung, made his one and only visit to the United States, to deliver a series of lectures on psychoanalysis at Clark University, in Worcester, Massachusetts. The honorary doctoral degree that Clark awarded him was the first public recognition Freud ever received for his work. Despite the great success of this visit, Freud always spoke, in later years, as if some trauma had befallen him in the United States. He called Americans 'savages' and blamed his sojourn there for physical ailments that afflicted him well before 1909. Freud's biographers have long puzzled over this mystery, speculating whether some unknown event in America could have led to this otherwise inexplicable reaction.
These historical facts become the springboard for Rubenfeld's crime/thriller. Set in Manhattan in 1909, Stratham Younger, a disciple of Freud, hosts Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung's visit to America for Freud's lecture series. Whilst there, a series of murders on women take place where one of them accidentally survives but suffers from amnesia and vocal paralysis caused by her trauma. Stratham Younger is drawn into the events because of his psychoanalytic skills and on the recommendation of Freud that he do so. What follows is a plot with many twists and turns and tons of surprises. The book is interesting on a number of levels. It provides an introduction to Freud's theories within the framework of a narrative - Freud and his disciples engage in conversations over various aspects of psychoanalysis as the case proceeds. There is also some fascinating historical information on Manhattan at the turn of the century, including the construction of the famous bridge - many of which have a bearing on the crime under investigation. In addition, we learn about the developing tension between Freud and Jung who later separated from Freud and developed his own psychoanalytic theories. These elements are what make The Interpretation of Murder worth reading. The plot is acceptably developed, if at times rather convoluted, but the author's weaving of fact and fiction together and what we learn transcends some of the less developed aspects of the narrative. For example, Freud is marginalised in the story - it would have been good to have his character more involved in the main plot. Overall, though, a good read that hopefully is a sign of an interesting new author. Related Links

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Event - Mick LaSalle

Imagine if everything the Religious Right believes about the End Times is true, except the Rapture doesn't take them and the antichrist turns out to be their favorite politician . . . That's the story of The Event, which will be serialized ... over the next few months.
So reads the prologue to Mick LaSalle's online serial, a new episode of which will be posted on his web site each week. Some Christians believe that Jesus will will return and they will instantly disappear and be taken to heaven - some will be taken, many will be left behind. A detailed scenario has been worked out by many believers in the Rapture popularised by books like the Left Behind series and movies. If the first episode of The Event is anything to go by, it's going to be a great read. The Rapture occurs but the right wing Christians have been left behind and all those who they thought wouldn't be have been raptured away! The nation (of America) is in total confusion as they try to work out what is going on. LaSalle's premise even has biblical precedent. The idea that God will save those who "shouldn't be" and leaves behind those who thought they'd be in the "in" group has biblical precedent. Jesus told a parable about this:

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. "Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ "Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ "And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

"Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (Mt 25:31-46, NRSV)

To read the first episode of The Event click here!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Movie Review: Blood Diamond

In parts of Africa today, the desperation to mine diamonds to fund arms results in civil war and the press-ganging of preteen children as soldiers resulting in rivers of blood being shed in the name of greed and exploitation. These diamonds are called "conflict diamonds". This is the premise around which Edward Zwick's captivating new film Blood Diamond is set. Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou) is a farmer whose village is massacred by members of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) resulting in his son being forced to become a child soldier, his wife and daughter incarcerated in a refugee camp, and Solomon slaving on a diamond field run by the RUF to fund arms deals for their cause. While Solomon is working he discovers a large pink diamond which he manages to hide. He ultimately ends up in a prison after the diamond field is attacked. Danny Archer (Leonardo de Caprio) is a ruthless ex-mercenary and diamond smuggler who, while in the same prison as Solomon, overhears a conversation that leads him to believe that Solomon has found a priceless diamond that could fund his escape from Africa and give him a new life. After arranging for himself and Solomon to be released from prison, Danny agrees to find Solomon's dispersed family for him if he will lead him to the hidden diamond and share it with him. So begins a series of horrendous events where amoral ruthlessness rules. All this is complicated by Danny's involvement with a syndicate of business men associated with a Colonel and his meeting an attractive, but equally determined, journalist (Jennifer Connelly) who helps Danny when he agrees to provide evidence of the smuggling racket he is involved in so she can write a story that truly matters. Blood Diamond is entirely predictable. But the performances of Di Caprio, Connelly, and especially Hounsou, raise this action thriller to a level that makes it definitely worth seeing. Conflict diamonds and the evil it wreaks on so many in Africa is a modern-day issue that we need to be reminded about. There are around 200,000 children in Africa today who are forced to commit atrocities that no adult should be required to perform, let alone a child. These conflict diamonds end up on the fingers of the Western world's women and we are reminded, at the end of the film, that it is in our power to refuse to buy conflict diamonds. Di Caprio is in fine form (apart from an uneven South African accent) and stays true to character throughout the entire movie. He ultimately makes a moral choice - but only because his actions have forced him to do so. The photography is excellent, showing the beauty and pain of Africa. The violence is very explicit and powerful. But, as others have noted, the real power of Blood Diamond comes when we are forced to look into the eyes of children who have lot everything including their innocence. It's a potent movie with an important theme that allows the story to drive home its message. My Rating: **** (out of 5) Positive Review 'Essentially a romantic adventure story with politics in the background--an old-fashioned movie, I suppose, but exciting and stunningly well made.' - David Denby/The New Yorker Negative Review 'Director Edward Zwick tried to make a great movie, but somewhere in the process he forgot to make a good one.' - Mick LaSalle/San Francisco Chronicle Content Advice Strong violence and language AUS: MA USA: R

Friday, January 05, 2007

Books I've Read in 2006

If you would like to see a list of every book I have read during 2006 with my rating and links to information on the book, just click here! The books are listed in the order of my rating from highest to lowest and given a score out of 10. Some of them will have reviews on my blog. You can search for a book in the search box at the top of the blog screen. The listing of a book does not mean I would necessarily recommend it. Enjoy!

Movie I've Seen in 2006

If you would like to see a list of every movie I have seen during 2006 with my rating and links to information on the movie, just click here! The movies are listed in the order of my rating from highest to lowest and given a score out of 10. Some of them will have reviews on my blog. You can search for a movie in the search box at the top of the blog screen. The listing of a movie does not mean I would necessarily recommend it. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Movie Review: Happy Feet

The family movie to see this summer is Happy Feet, a wonderful, exhilirating, inspiring animation from George Miller, the director who brought us the wonderful Babe and Mad Max.

Emperor Penguins find their partners through singing. But little Mumble is born without being able to hit a right note no matter how hard he tries. There is, however, something unique about his feet - they have rhythm and he can tap dance - although it takes a while for him to discover it. But Emperor penguins "don't dance" and so he grows up lonely on the fringe of the conformist penguin society.

But all is not right in their Antarctic home - fish are a diminishing supply and the penguins are in danger of dying from hunger. The elders believe that Mumble's "uniqueness" is the cause of the fish problem because the he has made the penguin gods unhappy. But Mumble, and a few oddball friends he finds, set out to find the real reason for the fish supply running out. And Mumble's feet become central to his journey.

Happy Feet is absolutely brilliant. The scenery is stunning and realistic, the music is toe-tapping (the movie comes with a tagline warning that it may cause toe-tapping!), the characters are engaging, the story is heartwarming and inspiring, and their is an environmental message that is appropriate for our times. Memphis Wood, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Hugo Weaving, and others provide the voices and include the late Steve Irwin who plays an elephant seal.

Happy Feet is a must see on the big screen. And for the thinkers among the audience, there is a post ergo propter hoc fallacy committed by the elders of the penguin tribe (see if you can spot it). Don't miss this brilliant family movie!

My Rating: **** (out of 5)

Positive Review

'Happy Feet is not only the year's best animated movie, it's one of the year's best movies, period. Go.' - Lou Lumenick/New York Post

Negative Review

'Let's just say this is a perfect film for penguin lovers who also are devoted members of the Green party - and leave it at that.' - Chris Kaltenbach/Baltimore Sun

Content Advice

Some mild peril and rude humor


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A shocking Christian scandal - forgiveness

So many writings on religion these days point out its dangers and how bad it is for society. But here's an article with a different message - a "shocking" Christianity that chooses to forgive in the face of great suffering. Read about it here in this Christianity Today article by Stan Guthrie.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Does the Bible condone slavery?

This entry continues a critique of Christian Morality written by Dean Dowling. You can read previous parts by clicking on the links below:
  • Part 1: Introduction/General Comments
  • Part 2: Does the Bible provide justification for the persecution of the Jews?
The next accusation Dowling makes against the Bible is that it condones slavery. His evidence for this is, firstly, that Cruden’s Concordance contains two pages of ‘biblical references condoning slavery’. Secondly, he claims the Christian Church became the ‘largest slave owner’. Thirdly, the early Church Fathers adopted Aristotle’s view on the nature of a slave. Fourthly, Pope Paul III granted ‘all clergy the right to keep slaves’. The first thing to point out here is that all but the first piece of evidence have nothing to do directly with the Bible. Just because the early Church Fathers, the Christian Church as a whole, or the Papacy condoned and promoted slavery doesn’t necessarily mean that the Bible condones it. It may be that these individuals and organisations are misusing the Bible (once again) to bolster something immoral. Secondly, recall that Dowling has claimed that the Bible is a necessary condition of the immoralities he lists, including slavery. He contradicts this, however, by stating that the early Church Fathers adopted Aristotle’s view on the nature of a slave as ‘an inspired tool of his master.’ If Aristotle believed in and condoned slavery then it can hardly be said that the Bible is a necessary condition for slavery. In fact, ‘[s]lavery predates writing and evidence for it can be found in almost all cultures and continents. Its many origins remain unknown.’ (Slavery 2006) Clearly, people didn’t need the Bible for justifying slavery! But even if Dowling’s history is flawed, does the Bible, in fact, condone slavery? No, it doesn’t. The only biblical evidence offered by Dowling is that Cruden’s Concordance has two pages of references condoning slavery. The problem with this is that a concordance doesn’t do any more than list all the places in a book where a word occurs. It provides no commentary or analysis. So stating this fact doesn’t tell us anything and to assume that, because the word occurs in the Bible, the Bible condones slavery is naïve at best. The fact is that the Bible doesn’t condone slavery. It does, however, assume it as a cultural practice. Slavery was a common feature of cultures in biblical times. The Bible neither condones nor condemns slavery. What it does do, in some places, is provide moral guidance that, if followed, would make the lot of a slave better than commonly experienced. We will look at some of these shortly. Before that, we need to take a look at the specific biblical references that Dowling selects for his reader to consider. The first is Luke 12:42 which follows a parable Jesus told, the purpose of which is not to teach about slavery but about faithfulness using a cultural practice familiar to his audience. A similar situation occurs in Luke 17:7 where Jesus is using the behaviour of a master in relation to a slave as an analogy to teach that his disciples should not expect rewards for doing what is obligatory anyway. Matthew 18:23 is also part of a parable, the purpose of which is to teach the grace of forgiveness, not to teach anything about slavery. Dowling cites a number of sayings from Pauline literature but, once again, he doesn’t discuss them in their context or with consideration to their purpose. In 1 Corinthians 7:20-22, Paul is telling people not to be concerned about their earthly situation when they were called to be followers of God. If they were slaves, they should consider themselves to be free in the Lord. If the were free, they should consider themselves to be slaves to God. In other words, slave or not, being followers of God is what gives them their true identity. In 1 Timothy 6:1, Paul is addressing some advice to those who are already slaves, calling them to honour God within the situation they find themselves so as not to bring disrepute to God. Titus 2:10 is similar, where Paul is offering advice to a number of individuals, including slaves, exhorting them to live godly lives whatever their situation. Paul’s letter to Philemon is a plea from Paul to Philemon to treat Onesimus, a slave that had absconded, with mercy and goodwill. Paul’s letter is not about the practice of slavery but, rather, a recognition that Onesimus would suffer if Philemon treated Onesimus within the master/slave relationship permitted by the law of his day. Other Pauline texts offered by Dowling (1 Peter 2:18; Ephesians 6:5-6; Colossians 3:24) are all similar in that Paul is offering moral guidance to slaves who are living within the social structure of their day. In all of these cases, Paul’s purpose is not to comment on slavery per se, but to help slaves, who were also Christians, live godly lives under the circumstances in which they found themselves. The civil laws regarding slavery found in Exodus 21 must also be understood as providing proscriptions within the culture of the time. These proscriptions provided a safeguard against the abuses that so often accompanied these social structures and practices. All of this shows how naïve Dowling’s reading of the biblical text is. He is using the biblical material in much the same way that slave-owners used to use it – out of context to bolster up their own views. What Dowling fails to show is the way the trajectory of the biblical material is moving towards the eradication of all forms of oppression. The clearest example of this is Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:
Now before faith came, we [Israel] were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. (vv. 23-29, NRSV)
In this passage, Paul (whom Dowling accuses of being pro-slavery) preaches that, now that Christ has come, all of the barriers that divided people are demolished – Jew/Gentile, slave/free; male/female. To suggest that Paul condones slavery per se is just incorrect when he is read in the entirety of his writings. Racism, sexism, and slavery are all gone in Christ, despite the fact that they have persisted culturally. It is absolutely true that Christians, themselves, took centuries to realise the implications of Paul’s gospel. But they did eventually. As long as slavery has existed, their have been those who have worked to abolish it. The book of Exodus in the Bible describes what is perhaps the first detailed account of slave liberation (Slavery 2006). Christians, themselves, have been prominent in abolitionist causes. For example, Wikipedia describes the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade which formed in 1787 which was made up mostly of Quakers and Anglicans. This committee was instrumental in bringing about the end of slavery in Britain (Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade 2006). And, as John Coffey (2006) points out, the teachings of the Bible were central in driving the agenda to abolish slavery. He points out how
The profoundly Christian character of the abolitionist movement constitutes a serious stumbling block for secular commentators who rail against the ‘mixing of religion and politics'. Increasingly these days, secular Europeans and Americans are inclined to see religion as an essentially malign force in human affairs, one that should be excluded from public life, and securely locked away in a privatised compartment. Yet as the abolitionist movement illustrates, public religion has proved a powerful force for reform in Western society. In the last half-century, Christian churches made a vital contribution to the American Civil Rights Movement, the overthrow of Communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the fall of apartheid in South Africa. Christian charities also played a central role in the worldwide campaign for the abolition of Third World debt, giving it the biblically resonant name, Jubilee 2000.
Once again, then, we see that Dowling has provided a deeply flawed argument against the Bible and Christian morality. He constantly makes the fundamental mistake of not distinguishing the biblical text from the abuses and distortions made by those who wish to perpetrate evil. Yes, the Christian Church has erred in supporting slavery in the past. But slavery came to an end because of many Christians fighting against it on biblical principles. Dowling’s reading of the Bible and history is naïve and simplistic. Once again his argument fails dismally. References Coffey, J 2006, The abolition of the slave trade:Christian conscience and political action, The Jubilee Centre, viewed 2 January 2006, < Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, 2006, Wikimedia Foundation, viewed 2 January 2006, < Slavery, 2006, Wikipedia, viewed 9 December 2006, <

Bad science in 2006

If you have any doubt that critical thinking is still needed, read Ben Goldacre's column in Gardian Unlimited on bad science. It will inspire us, I hope, in keeping alert in 2007! You can read the article here. Happy New Year to you!