Thursday, 23 August 2012

Did Han know what a parsec was?

If you've seen the original Star Wars you may recall the (in)famous line where Han Solo boasts about the speed of the Millenium Falcon:
Han Solo: Han Solo. I'm captain of the Millennium Falcon. Chewie here tells me you're lookin' for passage to the Alderaan system? 
Obi-Wan: Yes indeed, if it's a fast ship. 
Han Solo: Fast ship? You've never heard of the Millennium Falcon? 
Obi-Wan: Should I have? 
Han Solo: It's the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs. I've outrun Imperial starships. Not the local bulk cruisers mind you, I'm talking about the big Corellian ships now. She's fast enough for you old man.
Now, it doesn't take much of a physicist to tell you that a parsec is a measurement not of time, but of distance. A light year is a distance measured as the distance light can travel in one year. A parsec is approximately 3.26 light years (that's around 19 trillion miles). So is Han being dense?

Well, the Star Wars Expanded Universe writers concluded not, and developed an explanation where the Kessel Run is a smuggler's route from the mining planet of Kessel that skirts a cluster of black holes called the Maw. The faster the ship, the closer you can skirt to the Maw, and therefore the shorter the distance, hence parsecs. This explanation quickly became canonical and until recently I assumed it was correct.

Until I read Darths & Droids a few days ago. If you haven't seen it, it's an excellent webcomic that imagines a world where Star Wars exists as nothing more than a D&D-style game master's imagination, and the events of the movies are reinterpreted as the actions of a group of role-playing friends. According to the annotation on this one, in the original script, Obi-Wan was supposed to treat Han's claim with derision, as it showed he didn't know what he was talking about.
It really was just a heap of junk after all. Who knew? Source.
Apparently a minor change, but when you think about it, it makes a big difference to the character. He's always portrayed as a slightly reckless but fundamentally competent character, whilst the Falcon was not much to look at but was genuinely fast. Yet in the original script, Han started out as a bit of an idiot (although he's clearly supposed to have matured by the Empire Strikes Back), and perhaps the Falcon was really no more than a heap of junk without even speed as a redeeming feature.

Crazy stuff. I'm not going to lie, my world was temporarily rocked. It rather changes the interpretation put on it by just about every content creator since, simply because Alec Guinness didn't portray quite enough derision.

Is hope good or bad?

Recently I've watched both The Shawshank Redemption (for the first time) and The Hunger Games (again). They are, of course, two completely different films - the former is about Andy Dufresne who is sentenced, wrongly, to life imprisonment and his experiences inside and, ultimately his desire to be free; the latter about a society in which rural districts are kept in poverty by the ruling Capitol who use an annual televised death match contested by young 'tributes' from each district as a tool to punish the districts for their past rebellion and keep them in line.

However, watching them so close together, I was struck by one theme in particular that they have in common - hope.

It comes out very strongly towards the end of The Shawshank Redemption in a conversation between Andy (Tim Robbins) and Red (Morgan Freeman):

Andy Dufresne: That's the beauty of music. They can't get that from you... Haven't you ever felt that way about music? 
Red: I played a mean harmonica as a younger man. Lost interest in it though. Didn't make much sense in here. 
Andy Dufresne: Here's where it makes the most sense. You need it so you don't forget. 
Red: Forget? 
Andy Dufresne: Forget that... there are places in this world that aren't made out of stone. That there's something inside... that they can't get to, that they can't touch. That's yours. 
Red: What're you talking about? 
Andy Dufresne: Hope.
 Andy recognises the power of hope, but Red also points out the danger of hope in a later conversation, when Andy's hopes of acquittal have been crushed:
Red: Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. 
A similar sentiment is expressed by President Snow to the Head Gamemaker Seneca Crane, as events in this year's games are starting to provoke unrest in the outlying districts:
President Snow: Hope, it is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective, a lot of hope is dangerous. A spark is fine, as long as it's contained. 
Seneca Crane: [confused] So... 
President Snow: So, contain it! 
President Snow & Seneca Crane. Good facial hair, but it won't end well. Source.
All three men understand that the hope of a better future is a powerful thing to have inside of you. Andy sees it as a force that can make you strong against all opposition. Red, on the other hand, recognises the danger of uncertain hope - hope that does not come to fruition will ultimately crush you into a depression worse than anything experienced by those who just accept that their life isn't going to get any better. Snow identifies the power of that hope as a tool that can keep people in line - it is more powerful than fear, because it comes from within rather than being imposed from outside. But what is the nature of the hope that these men talk about? The final lines of The Shawshank Redemption are quite telling:
Red: [narrating] I find I'm so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it's the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.
Morgan Freeman, Tim Robbins fom Shawshank Sedemption
Red & Andy meet for the first time. Source.
It is an uncertain hope, a wish that things will turn out the way they want. In the end, Andy uses his hope as a drive to escape, fleecing the crooked warden in the process. His hope is fulfilled, but what if he had been caught at the end? What if he hadn't got away? I imagine the depression would have driven him to suicidal despair.

The apostle Paul recognises the futility of false hope:
32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised,
“Let us eat and drink,
    for tomorrow we die.”
  - 1 Corinthians 15:32 (NIV) 
An uncertain hope is a dangerous thing, it can turn on you, destroy you. But that's not the kind of hope that Paul talks about:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. - Romans 5:1-5 (NIV) 
 The Christian does not have a vague, wishful hope of Heaven and future glory. No, the Christian's hope is sure and certain. We do not put our hope and trust in the things of this world to satisfy us, but rather, looking forward we know that God will resurrect the dead and give us new, imperishable bodies and bring us to Heaven. Why? Because Jesus has already accomplished the victory - the result is certain!

Conclusion? We have a hope inside us that is not weak, to control us, our vulnerable, to crush us, but it is strong and guaranteed - that is the Bible's definition of hope. It's not an indefinite 'I hope it doesn't rain today', it's a certain 'I know that I will be in Heaven forever'. This hope is why Paul can say:
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. - 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV)
When all is said and done, whatever people may say, whatever may happen, however we may fail, we are secure in Christ, and He will surely bring us to glory. So take courage, and pray that God will help us to fully comprehend the implications of this.

Friday, 17 August 2012


I have decided to resurrect my old Tumblr account for all the small stuff that I want to share that doesn't seem to justify a full blog post. I shall not be using it to post hipsterish stuff, emo stuff or other such material. I may post quotes on photo backgrounds. If it's actually a good quote. Please don't judge me for that. Not for my sake you understand. For yours. It's not nice to judge.

And now I'm using Rob Bell short sentences. Better not put that on individual lines.

There you are.

I'm ready for Tumblr.

Short sentences.

Sense of meaning.

Because there are spaces in between.

And I don't fully articulate my thought.

Because I'm being impactful.

And cos you're in.

Whatever that means.

If this style of writing makes you feel uncomfortable, try to imagine it in the voice of Glad0s, then it will seem funny, rather than making you feel awkward because I'm trying to sound like a modern, trendy and relevant pastor or something.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

British National Pride

As I write, Team GB currently sits third in the medals table and, having passed our total haul from Beijing 2008, have our best tally in over 100 years.

All this success has produced a rather dramatic reaction in the British people that to some minds borders on being distinctly un-British. People publicly stating their national pride? Even comedians not mocking the Olympics for being rubbish? Winning stuff by being much better than anyone else? Mind you, winning anything in general is fairly un-British. We have always been a nation of plucky losers, supported for the effort, but not the success, with a handful of notable exceptions (Chris Boardman, Steve Redgrave, Ben Ainslie et al.). This got me wondering, has the spirit of the British people really changed that much? Are we about to become a nation of card-carrying, flag-allegiance-swearing jingoists?
Royal Mail stamp to celebrate Chris Hoy's Cycling Track Men's Keirin
Who didn't get a bit emotional watching Chris Hoy's power and refusal to be deprived of his sixth gold? He epitomises the new sense of Britain as winners, enjoy your special postage stamp and gold post box. Source: Daily Mail.
Britain has a reputation for being self-deprecating. The American migrant comedian Reginald D Hunter attributes it to the age of the country giving our humour a degree of 'maturity' that more recent innovations like America don't have yet. The Americans, he says, make fun of other people, the British make fun of themselves.
I think a lot of this comes on the back of the British Empire. Once upon a time we were a proud nation that owned the world, these days we realise that colonialism wasn't all sweetness and light and too much flag-waving is discouraged as the top of a slippery slope that leads to European domination and Nazi Germany Britain (the anagram you get from the title of this post and the reaction it produces is a prime illustration). There's also a sense that we aren't a nation overflowing with nationalism because, if we're honest, we can't, in all honestly, be that blindly proud of our country. We just aren't as great or impressive as we used to be, there are too many things wrong with Britain, too many things that are just a bit rubbish, too many things that other countries do much better than us these days. Like empires. And football.

In fact, I think football gives us an insight into where this sudden Olympian burst of national fervour has come from. To some extent it's always been there. You can see it in the way we flock out to watch the Jubilee celebrations, or the Royal Wedding, and we still flock out to support the English national team despite our only tournament victory coming in 1966. British people haven't totally given up on Britain - we wouldn't mind a reason to be proud of our country. We just need to have something that we can actually be proud of.
Jessica Ennis celebrates winning the heptathlon
We're even getting customised flags for our winners! That's confidence for you. Ennis had a lot of pressure as face of the games, but surpassed herself to win by a country mile. Source: Daily Mail.
And so to the Olympics. The opening ceremony was a roaring success, Twitter and Facebook exploded with proud (and surprised) Brits praising Danny Boyle's work. The Daily Mail was pilloried for criticising its inclusion of the NHS and what they considered an unrealistic protrayal of a politically-correct black father-white mother family (cue family photos of Olympics poster girl Jessica Ennis...). People were proud of the slightly nuts, very British presentation of British culture. And it was funny. Humour, in an opening ceremony, I know! And, honestly, I think we were also surprised that it wasn't embarrassingly rubbish, which only added to the pleasure (something that could be said of the whole Olympics so far, actually).

Then, to crown it all, we've started winning things. And not just scraping through either. Winning by noticeable distances, dominating the cycling and rowing. Winning because we're established as the best, not just as a one-off. British competitors have largely surpassed themselves, winning medals that haven't been won before, or that they weren't expected to win, or at least achieving personal bests. It's all come as rather a shock, and the whole country has been taken up with a nation-supporting enthusiasm that surpasses both the royal wedding and the Jubilee. The crowds have been deafening, even on TV. I knew people would get more excited by the Olympics once it started, but not quite this much. Total bores like Neil Morrissey have been shouted down, Britain hasn't been so united in quite some time. Andy Murray beat Roger Federer in straight sets at Wimbledon, for crying out loud.
Andy Murray Olympic gold
Even Andy Murray is officially British now. It wasn't just thrashing Roger Federer at Wimbledon or his brilliant tennis - he really wanted to win. Source: The Sun.
Sure, this national fervour won't last, although this new determination to win at the Olympics is starting to look lasting. But we will never again be the kind of country that swears allegiance to its flag, or that straight-facedly recites poems about British and Japanese opression of Singapore and our predecessors' noble struggle to throw off injustice. But then again, I think that's a good thing. It's good to have a healthy perspective on your country. But it's also healthy now and again to have something that you can really celebrate.

Today, Britain is justifiably proud.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Britain: Brilliant but Barmy. London 2012 Opening Ceremony

So I finally found a copy of the London 2012 Opening Ceremony online and watched it. I'd seen bits on YouTube, but I must say I was impressed. I imagine if you didn't understand any of the imagery, it might not have been as impressive as the sheer scale of Beijing 2008, but to me it was considerably better.
The flame made of copper petals brought by the teams was a nice touch. Source here.
I must admit that I've found nearly all of the opening ceremonies I've seen crushingly dull. Beijng may have been visually impressive, but it was meaningless. There were colours, acrobatics, coordination and organisation, but no spirit. Danny Boyle's Isles of Wonder performance told a potted history of British culture, introducing countless pieces of pop culture imagery in a show that did a surprisingly good job of capturing the changing nature of Britain without resorting to either pessimism, cynicism or excessive nostalgia.
The Queen with James Bond (and Corgi). Source here.
Sure, it wasn't on the scale of Bejing, but it more than made up for that in character. This excellent review from Ai Weiwei, the Chinese political problem child who designed the Bird's Nest but turned down the opening ceremony gig, hits the nail on the head. The London ceremony was a genuine attempt to reflect the things held dear by real people in a real society - not just an idealized vision of a faceless nation. This is perhaps clearest in the fact that many of the cavorting medical staff were genuine, members of the construction team formed the guard of honour for the torch, and instead of a great name lighting the torch, it was seven young athletes. Oh, and no lip syncing-children either.
The industrial construction of the rings was ingenious and spectacular. Source here.
There was also a healthy injection of humour, which was exceedingly welcome. One of the things I've found hard to swallow about previous ceremonies is the stoic commitment to straight-faced seriousness, less so here. You can hardly accuse a ceremony of excessive seriousness when the highlights are the Queen 'jumping' out of a helicopter to arrive by parachute, and the most-discussed bit on Twitter was a cameo from Mr Bean and the LSO. One Guardian reviewer deplored the Mr Bean skit, and in the process showed that he completely fails to appreciate the mood of the nation.
I was left wondering what the rest of the world must think of us now. I can only wonder what those not in on the story of Mary Poppins made of a horde of flying 1920s women with umbrellas should warding off Lord Voldemort. It makes sense though, this is the country that brought Monty Python to the world. Danny Boyle created a show that was quintessentially British in all its multi-faceted meanings, who care if the world thinks we're barmy.

And the best bit? We all expected to be completely embarrassed, but we weren't. It wasn't totally rubbish at all.
England's Green and Pleasant land. Source here.
Oh, and can I just say, British Eurosport's coverage was fantastic. Barely a word of commentary with no inane waffle. Take note, BBC.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Russell Brand on celebrity

I'm not a huge fan of Russell Brand, but I have to say, when he's in thoughtful mood he can actually be very insightful. In this interview with Jeremy Paxman I think he's very perceptive concerning the replacement of serious ideology in our society with vacuous celebrity and the desire for a narrative. Also very interesting is his assessment of the total emptiness of fame and the need for something deeper.

It's worth sticking to the end as he reveals the conclusion that we need a god. I don't know the nature of what Brand believes, but it is interesting that someone of his publicised nature should come to that conclusion.

My Tourist Year so far

Walking around Gardens by the Bay on Tuesday evening, Denise and I realised that we've done loads of Singapore's major tourist attractions this year. Normally this would work out very expensive, but there are advantages of having a friend in the civil service who can occasionally get passes and tickets for the Zoo, the Flyer, the Gardens...
So, in not particular, but roughly chronological, order, here's a quick rundown of some of the things we've done:

Sentosa Beaches

Actually, we did the Sentosa beaches twice, once the day we got engaged, and once when Jon Lee came to visit. They're manmade, and there is something a bit artificial about them, but they are attractive nonetheless, and for someone whose only visit to the 'English Riviera' was in a torrentially raining October half term, any beach with palm trees is exotic...


Sentosa Cable Car

Unfortunately none of my photos from this came out at all well, it being night. We rode the cable car out to Sentosa before I proposed on the beach, and I think it's worth doing once. The cars are much smaller than on the Singapore Flyer, only large enough for a max of four people, I think. In a way this was nicer though, because you felt less isolated from the view. A view which is worth seeing, by the way.

Universal Studios

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my three locations so far have centred around Sentosa Island. The biggest attraction there is Universal Studios. In the first part of the year we were both students and so could go on a weekday during term time. It makes a big difference. We had been before, but Battlestar Galactica was shut, Transformers hadn't opened yet, and we didn't know about half the non-ride attractions. We definitely got more out of the second visit, riding each half of Battlestar Galactica 6 times (my first coaster with inversions), Transformers about 3 times (best use of 3D I've seen, combined with the physical movement, but works best when other people are there screaming), the Mummy a couple of times (tamer than BG, but has a much scarier atmosphere to compensate), watched the Waterworld show (it's quite an impressive live stunt show) and various sundry other things. Worth looking up what times things happen before you go to make the most of it. Universal is one of the most expensive attractions here, but on a non-busy day, you can really get your money's worth.

Marina Barrage

Not strictly a tourist destination I guess, the Marina Barrage is a barrier that controls access of seawater into the marina, and is controlled by a large pump building - which has a grass roof that makes a great location for picnics, and offers a spectacular view of the Marina Bay area.

Harry Potter Exhibition

Not really any photos from this, we weren't allowed to take them inside. The exhibition was on at the Art Science Museum next to MBS, and contained just about all the movie props I could think of, in mockups of the movie sets, it was pretty cool. If you're into Harry Potter of course. Some behind the scenes material might have been nice, but as a props collection, it was pretty comprehensive. I'd love to see the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings ones though.


Back in March, we watched the musical Wicked, performed at the Grand Theater at Marina Bay Sands. I love the mall at MBS. I'd never actually shop there, it's all Prada and Armani and all that, but it makes for a very shiny, posh-looking mall, and it's nicely designed. I'm easily impressed by shiny buildings, and funky architecture, I like Orchard Road for the same reason (for English readers, read Oxford Street). The show was great, and despite being on the very back row, it was completely audible and the view was unobstructed. You couldn't see facial detail, but I think you'd have to pay a lot more for a noticeably better seat.

Sentosa Attractions

Sentosa Island also has some other activities, of which we sampled some. Desperados is a 3D attraction where you sit on saddles and use a gun to shoot bandits on the screen. The 3D seemed slightly blurred, but it was quite fun to do once. The Extreme Log Ride was a '4D' ride where you sit in a pod and watch a 3D screen - in this case imagining that you are a log going through an implausibly risky log flume in the jungle. It was quite good, but having also experienced the excellent Transformers ride recently, which is similar, it felt less impressive. The Luge and Skyride were fun though, the Skyride is a ski-lift that takes you from the bottom of the hill high above the trees to the top, where you can then get on the Luge (which is kinda like a toboggan that you can steer and brake) and go back down. You could get up to a good speed on the Luge (fast enough to crash, as Denise discovered...), and it would be fun to do that one again.

Singapore Flyer

The Flyer is distinguished amongst ferris wheels as being the tallest in the world (slightly bigger than the London Eye). It is essentially a clone of the London Eye concept, and the view of the city and Marina Bay area from the top is great, I'd say sunset into dark is the best time to go, as the city lights are really rather nice. It's not as high as the Skypark on the top of MBS, but in some ways is better, as you have a 360 degree view, and the view include MBS. I have to say, they have done a brilliant job with the Marina Bay area, it is definitely a nice place to be.

Zoo and Night Safari

Singapore Zoo is great, cheap to get in even if you don't have a friend with a pass, and it has nearly all the animals you would expect. Definitely worth going if you're here. Just expect to sweat a lot. The Night Safari is also great, with a fun show and the tour is good. If you want photos, make sure you had a good camera though, as you can't use your flash.

East Coast Park Cycling

I haven't cycled in a long time, but East Coast Park is a really nice spot. It's a strip of land by the sea that has been landscaped and laid with a road that you can rent bikes and ride along. Apart from several wobbly moments, this was a really nice way to spend an afternoon, it was a sunny day, but the trees provided loads of shade.

Gardens by the Bay

Only recently opened, the Gardens fill a patch next to MBS to help complete the Marina Bay area. Similar to the Eden Project in the UK it has two domes of non-native environment plants as well as a large outdoor garden and a short walkway suspended from artificial supertrees that give you a view of the Gardens and the general area. Like many places in Singapore, this place works well both in the day and night. My recommendation would be: outside during daylight, also the Flower Dome during daylight (it's not well enough lit at nigh), then as the sun is going down, go into the Cloud Forest Dome and wander round there until dark, enjoy the lighting and views of the city, then try the OCBC Skyway, which offers a spectacular panorama of the whole area. People have said some negative things about the Gardens, possibly about the cost of entering the domes, we got free tickets so didn't have to worry about that :P It's very tidy and sanitized for Singapore, but it really is a lovely spot. Just don't pay $20SGD for chicken rice, I've had the stuff from Mandarin Orchard and I'm afraid that you can't tell that much difference. It's chicken and rice after all.

So there you have it, not a bad collection for 7 months. One day I'll save up for a better camera than Instagram and go round them again. There really are some beautiful spots in Singapore, and some really cool architecture.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

USA Dream Team 1992: the little I know

I'll be frank, my knowledge of basketball is incredibly limited. I didn't start even remotely following it until moving to Asia, where I found that everyone follows the NBA. That and the Premier League. I've never been that good at meeting people, but one thing I can do is learn about things that other people like so I can hold up a conversation, so I did some reading up.

I have to say though, that despite being a thoroughly bizarre sport in which teams regularly score over 100 yet only win by a margin of a few points, it also has its appeals. Sure, the first three quarters of a match seem fairly pointless to a layman like me, but the athleticism of the players is genuinely impressive. There's nothing in sport quite like seeing a player bung the ball half the length of the court to see a guy leap in the air, catch the ball, and dunk it emphatically (this is called an alley-oop for those of you who are uneducated).

So it is, with London 2012 approaching, that attention has turned to the current crop of USA players and their standing in history. They are undeniably talented - Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook aren't mugs - but Bryant can't help opening his big mouth and claim they are better than the Dream Team of the '92 Olympics.

This claim has been widely rubbished, as that team is generally regarded as being the greatest ever. If you're not familiar with this team, that's the one with Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, Clyde Drexler etc. (seriously, I'm on thin ice here, I'm not entirely sure, looking at the roster, who I should list after Jordan and Johnson...). I guess it's a bit like having a football team that included players like Pele, Messi, Maradonna, Zidane, Cantona etc. Even the Barackness Monster has stated a firm opinion that the Dream Team were better, and watching their old matches, I have to agree.

So here are some videos from happy times, when the NBA was a team sport:

And as a little bonus, here's 'Air' Jordan dunking from the free throw line. If you've ever tried to dunk, you'll know this is seriously impressive - I can't dunk from right under the hoop, and I'm not exactly short:

The Piano Guys: Excellent and clever cover songs

Recently on YouTube I discovered a group of musicians called the Piano Guys. Their general approach is to combine a piano (that travels more than most people get to!), a cello (in varying numbers through secret cloning techniques) and fantastic locations to produce cover songs and mashups that are often better than the originals. They have loads of videos online, but here are some of my favourites:

And some of their more lighthearted and inventive efforts:

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Thoughts on the John Terry racism saga

With the not guilty verdict rendered in the John Terry/Anton Ferdinand racism case, it is important that the right conclusions are drawn, and the correct future actions taken. So, in no particular order, here are some of my thoughts on the issue - feel free to add your own opinion in the comments.

  1. Football has issues - I think it is fair to say that the way footballers speak to each other on the pitch is pretty appalling. Sledging takes place in many sports (it is a time-honoured tradition in cricket), but only in football is it so utterly foul-mouthed. Much has been made in the newspapers of what they like to refer to as 'industrial' language. Having had a fair bit of experience working in an 'industrial' context, I can testify that such language is common, but it is very rarely used in such an aggressive and directly abusive way - football stands apart on that. For all their 'Respect' campaign and handshakes, the FA have clearly failed to engender a sense of basic human decency in players - oh for more of the Iker Casillas spirit, who on seeing Italy suffering at 4-0 at the end of the Euro final, urged the goal-line official to tell the referee to end the match out of respect. No wonder neither Terry or Ferdinand wanted this in court - neither have appeared in a favourable light. Even if Terry was not racist, neither player has demonstrated themselves to be a paragon of virtue.
  2. This shouldn't have gone to court - This decision puzzles me. Why, of all the offences committed on a football pitch, was this one picked for trial? Why was the Suarez case not considered serious enough, and yet this one was? (Why is Terry not similarly up for assault after the second leg against Barcelona?) The FA should have dealt with this quickly, like the Suarez affair, recognising that as a sporting body, the burden of proof is not so heavy (the ICC had handed out its own spot-fixing sanctions long before the corresponding criminal trial had started). With the evidence available, it was never going to be established beyond reasonable doubt that Terry had racially abused Ferdinand - so why? All we have achieved is an undedifying opportunity for the * to compete with the letter e for 'most commonly used character'.
  3. Other victims will be more reluctant now - possibly the most serious of the repercussions from this case is that players who are already reluctant to come forward will now be even more reticent. The judge commended Ferdinand for his bravery in testifying, which is a fair comment, considering the appalling hounding he has had from members of the public. As with the Liverpool fans in the Suarez affair, people side with their team rather than wanting justice and condemning racism as they should. The FA could have dealt with this, handed Terry a sanction that he cares about (a ban to a footballer is much worse than a measly fine in this financial era) and demonstrated that racism is not to be tolerated. Out of fairness the criminal justice system requires greater proof, and therefore it was inevitable that they could not convict. It essentially boiled down to one man's word against another - and that is not enough to overturn the legal presumption of innocence (this is as it should be, but poses difficulties in cases like this). Will other players come forward knowing that they may not even see justice done?
  4. Terry's story did hang together - a lot of people came to their own conclusions before the trial on the basis of YouTube footage. Having read Terry's defence and watched the footage, it does actually make sense to me. His body language as he speaks can be interpreted as a sarcastic dismissal of an alleged accusation. Personally, I find it slightly more believable than the judge did. It is worth noting that the judge concludes that Terry did not change his story and was consistent throughout - whether it is true or not, there was not enough evidence to contradict him. People have compared this case to OJ Simpson's trial, but I don't think it's that clear-cut. I think Terry's explanation is legitimately plausible, whether it is true or not.
  5. The FA has work to do - the difficult of the FA waiting until after the trial to carry out their own work is that it may become harder to act contrary to the legal verdict. This season has made it clear that racism is not dead in football, or in the wider country - it is good in one sense that such an issue is made of this, because we do not want a return to the late 70s and early 80s. They must make sure that racism is not tolerated, but they need to go further. Football has long been worse than other sports for language used, both between players and towards officials. Perhaps miking up the ref might help - in rugby it ensures players talk to the ref in an acceptable manner. Football should enforce these things more - players can learn pretty fast when they have to!
  6. Where does this leave freedom of speech? - this is more a question than a comment. Should this even be a legal issue? Let me be clear, I think it is perfectly acceptable for the FA to forbid racist language around football grounds - every employer and professional organisation reserves the right to make codes of conduct, and I think that is right for the FA to do so. However, as a firm believer in freedom of speech, should the law of the land adjudicate on this matter? Let us assume that Terry was guilty of a racial slur - should he be legally prevented from saying it? Why has he been singled out? He was not inciting violent behaviour, he was not encouraging people to assault or discriminate against black people - it was an insult. Where is the line drawn at legally acceptable language? Should ginger hair-based insults be illegal? What about sexuality-related insults? I do not condone it by any means, but part of me is disturbed that this can become an issue for a criminal trial. As Voltaire said: 'I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it'. Thoughts? Are there things that it should not be acceptable to say? Should all things be sayable? If we legally forbid people saying things that are commonly agreed as wrong, does it open up the way to more severe censorship?
Anyway, those are my thoughts on the matter. Feel free to chip in, especially with your opinions on the last point.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Jeeves & Wooster songs

Hugh Laurie is famous for playing House, but his greatest work was undoubtedly on the excellent Jeeves & Wooster TV adaptation with Stephen Fry. Probably the funniest parts of the show are actually the new elements that show off Hugh Laurie's piano skills, as Bertie attempts to wrestle with the deeper meanings of the what he plays, whilst Jeeves attempts to be polite yet not complimentary about music he clearly disdains.
Bertie: Do you know what I look for in a song Jeeves?
Jeeves:  Er, not precisely sir, no. I have often speculated.

As an extra bonus, here are a couple of clips with Bertie & Jeeves playing together, and an excerpt of Hugh Laurie on Jools Holland playing a song from his album.

Friday, 11 May 2012

The Trinitarian God Part 5: Our mind-blowing salvation

This is the last post on my series on the Trinity, although I hope it is not my last on this subject!

In the last post I talked about the wrath of God being the response of His love to evil. I also started to talk about how out of His abounding love God does not leave us in the mess we've made, but has made a way out. He paid the price of our sin, bore the consequences, and offers us salvation freely. This is the Gospel - good news. However, a lot of people might be able to regurgitate the idea that Jesus died for our sins, to forgive us. So let's go a bit deeper into what's going on - the Trinity reveals something truly amazing.

First, consider what happens when Jesus comes to earth. He is God, He has been part of the intimacy and security of the Father-Son-Spirit loving family for all eternity, yet He 'contracts Himself to a span' and becomes one of His created beings - that's so mind-stretching, I can't really think of a great way to describe it. The idea of the one who created the world (see John 1) becoming a suffering, limited human being is beyond words.
But more than that, He came, the immortal, eternal, God the Son to die. He knew why He came, He knew the purpose of His coming - He came to do what no other 'god' has ever done willingly - to die. All His life, He lived, knowing His fate, and He chose it.
Our sins nailed Him to the Cross - but it is at the Cross that He won our salvation. Source here.
Now think about what happens at the Cross. The Father and the Son have been defined by their love for one another for eternity, and yet at this one point in our history, the relationship is broken, the Father turns His love away, and treats the Son, not as His obedient Son, but as an enemy - as one of those who has ruined everything - think how that must feel. I guess the closest you can get is to imagine how you would feel if the person who showed you the must love throughout your life, who had loved you unconditionally for the 70 years of your life, who you had also acted towards with nothing but selflessness and kindness turned on you and attacked you and insulted you and treated you like you had ruined their life - only much much worse. And yet that was the plan, the Son who had done nothing but obey the Father was treated like an enemy, in the exact moment He was being most obedient. And that is what it took to bring us back to God - that is what it required to make us clean and new and good. That's what your God did for you.
But it gets better than that. It's not just the extraordinary act of sacrifice to forgive us, it is the fact that now the Bible says we have been adopted into God's family. We are children of God. You know how God the Son is called God the Son? Well, the Bible says we are in God's family, 'in Christ' - which means that through Christ, we are also in the Trinity. We are no longer enemies, but we have been invited into the overflowing love of the Trinity through Jesus - we are a part of that now. Ever wonder how much God loves you? That's how much. That's also how secure you are, Christian. You are bound as tightly to God as the persons of God are to each other - God will never let you go.

No other belief in the world offers you such a God - a God who created you to love you, who is so selfless that He comes to save you, forgives you, suffers for you, does it all for you, and then invites you to share in the relationship that is part of His very being. That is why the god that philosophy and popular culture thinks of is not the God of the Bible at all. Only this God is worth worshipping, worth following, and boy does He give us a million reasons to. Wow, just wow.

Well, thank you for following this series, I hope it was encouraging. If you want more of that, phrased more eloquently than my splurging, read Denise's transcripts of or (even better) listen to these talks on the Trinity by Mike Reeves. If you read nothing else ever, outside the Bible, read these, please. I'll even beg if it helps:
The Heart-Winning God
The Loving Father
The Beautiful Son
The Heart-Melting Spirit

Prince Charles does the weather

Looks like he's inherited some of his dad's sense of humour too.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Avengers Awesomble

So Denise and I went to see the Avengers last night, and I have to say it was everything I expected it to be. If I had any criticisms it would be that they could have taken more advantage of 3D and they could have made it 3 hours long; I wanted more. Which I guess means they got it right.

The first thing they did right was getting Joss Whedon on board. He is perhaps best known for his creation of Buffy and Firefly, and is clearly someone who understands what is important in a superhero movie. His screenplay was spot on, full of clever lines, and making room for enough vs battles to satisfy a Marvel version of Tekken.

The heroes themselves are perfectly cast, and are, thankfully, continuations of the characters from their respective solo movies, and haven't been reduced to generic heroes. Mark Ruffalo is no second fiddle to Eric Norton as Dr Banner, and it's nice to see that no hero outshines the others. They have been given their roles and each gets their fair share of good lines and impressive moments. Special mention also goes to Tom Hiddlestone for turning in a more nuanced performance as antagonist Loki - his lingering jealousy adds a bit of depth to the classic 'bent on world domination' thing.

The special effects are also excellent, but whilst big, somehow never overwhelm the characters themselves. It's also nice to see responsible Captain America worrying about potential civilian casualties - usually ordinary people get forgotten in massive city-trashing action scenes.

This movie goes to show that people aren't tired of big loud special effects action films - but you need more than that to make a good film. By rigorously enforcing continuity through multi-film contracts, Marvel have constructed a believable universe with characters that we actually care about, and that makes all the difference. Michael Bay take note.

It'll be a tough act for the various sequels to follow, but Marvel have shown a sure hand so far. I just hope they can tie up some loose ends by getting Spiderman on board too, although I fear not.

Perhaps DC will get the message as well, and we'll one day see a Justice League of America movie. We can but hope.

What did you think? Have you seen it, what was your favourite part (try to avoid spoilers). Can The Dark Knight Rises top it?

Thor: Be careful what you say, Loki is my brother.
Black Widow: He killed 80 people in two days.
Thor: He's adopted.
(Seriously, I've never heard a cinema laugh that much in an action movie).

The Trinitarian God Part 4: God's wrath is good

This post is part 4 in my series on the Trinity - don't worry, we're nearly there! I hope it's as helpful to you reading as it is to me writing.

You may be wondering about the title of this post. God's wrath is often an uncomfortable subject - and I think rightly so. It's a terrible thing to be on the receiving end of. The temptation these days is often to play down the notion of God's wrath and play up God's love when we tell people about the Gospel. The problem, of course, is if we leave out wrath people don't know what they need saving from, and we end up with this sense of disconnection between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New. This simply comes from misunderstanding God, and misunderstanding the nature of love.

So I've said a lot about God being lovely, beautiful, loving, selfless and you may well be wondering how God's wrath fits into that, is it a contradiction? Sometimes people say 'God is loving, but He's also holy' (I explained in the last post why that's a tautology), or 'God is loving, but He's also just', as if God's wrath is a flip side to God - that you might get Loving God, but you might also get Angry God. But if we apply what we've already learnt - that God is love, we can see that God's wrath is a consequence of His love. If that doesn't make sense, consider again what we've already looked at. God created the universe to spread love and goodness and beauty - so when He sets Adam and Eve up in the Garden of Eden, that's the idea. So when they reject God by disobeying Him, what are they doing? They are rejecting love, goodness and beauty. But it's not just them that are affected, it's everything. Everything is ruined by sin. Sin is best characterised by acts born from selfishness and pride - rebellion against God, and therefore rejection of goodness. Sin is evil and rips the world apart. Sin is not fun and freedom, it's slavery and death.

So God's wrath is the response of love to evil. True love does nothing else. He has created a beautiful universe, and evil has ruined it and harms those who live there. Evil done by us. So God is wrathful against those who are bent on bringing evil into the world He has made - those bent on ruining it and hurting those He loves. Don Carson has pointed out that there are no repentant people in Hell - those in Hell are bent on rebellion, bent on rejecting the love of God - bent on ruining the world. If you want love without wrath, you have no love at all. If that still doesn't make sense, think for a moment about your family (children, parents, girlfriend, spouse etc.) and friends - think how you'd feel if someone threatened them, attacked them, harmed them and was determined to keep doing so - would you say 'I don't mind, that's alright, live with us anyway?' - if you did, I think you could not claim to love your family! God is ready and waiting to forgive all those who ask for it, and to make them good - but those who are determined to reject Him and ruin His world and hurt His Family - they are the ones He displays His wrath against.

God's wrath against Christ displays His love to us. Source here.
The consequence of this is that judgement is actually what we deserve - we are all rebellious and are all ruining the world. We deserve to be discarded like a burnt cake, given up as a bad lot. But because God is loving in such an amazing, spectacular way, He doesn't simply respond to our rebellion with anger - He offers us forgiveness, He offers us restoration, He offers us peace and a way back to Him and invites us into His new world of love and beauty - He offers us a way to be saved, freely, so that we don't have to have the Hell we deserve. Nno works are required, simply acknowledging that we have sinned and have made a mess of His world, and wanting to live a life of love and goodness instead - He has done all the hard work.

So when you think of God's wrath, don't just think in legal terms - as if we have broken some arbitrary laws and offended an emotionally fragile deity. Think of the God who is love, and think of the ways that humanity brings ruin and hurt to this world and to those living in it. Then think of a God who loves enough to protect those He loves from evil.

But don't stop there either, in the next post I'll talk more about the glorious, amazing redemption He offers us  freely. Why? Because He loves us.

The Trinitarian God Part 3: Selfish narcissism? No, selfless love.

This is part 3 in my series on the Trinity - I hope you will get to see how amazing God really is when you think about Him as the Bible describes Him.

In the last post I talked about God creating the universe out of a desire to share his overflowing love. I should also add something that people will often tell you in Christian circles: God created the world for His glory. So have I just contradicted myself? Is God actually less selfless than I suggested? I think when we understand God's glory correctly, then we will also understand that these two ideas are actually very very similar.

I don't know about you, but unless properly defined, the phrase God acting for 'His own glory' rings a bit false to me. It makes me think of a superbeing standing at the top of the universe shouting 'look at me, I'm magnificent'. Now, a being with the power to create the universe has that right perhaps, because he is magnificent - but it doesn't ring true with what we see Jesus is like, what God tells us to be like, and, well, the idea that God is loveable. The God that I read about in the Bible (revealed by Jesus, John 14:8-11) serves others and is humble and tells us to be the same. And one thing we know is that God is not a hypocrite. This is the consequence of, again, defining God without 'Trinity', as a single person - the god of philosophy tends to come across as either selfish or needy - either needing or demanding our praise to build up his inadequate ego.

Mike Reeves (again!) puts us straight on what God's glory is and what glorifying God means. First, an important point, glorifying God does not mean 'making God more glorious', as if He needs a reputation boost from us - He's not that desperate. Glorifying God means making His existing glory known. So what is His glory? It is His holiness - and that is what makes God who He is.
The problem here though, is that we don't really appreciate how lovely true holiness is. Holiness is often pictured in our thoughts as being austere, defined more by what we aren't and what we don't do than what we are. We often fall into the trap of thinking holiness means 'not doing x sins'. Not so.
If the Heavens declare the glory of God - does it not make sense that He is beautiful? Source here.

I'll let Reeves do the work (seriously, just read that post, he is very eloquent):
Our God is, his holiness is that he is sweet and pleasant, a fountain of overflowing love. And real godliness means becoming just like that. Knowing God we become ever more attractive, ever more warm, loving, kind, generous.
So God is holy because He is loving, beautiful, overflowing in love, in fact. It makes Him different to us, because He has none of our selfishness and viciousness. So when we seek to glorify God, we aren't boosting His ego, we are simply becoming more like Him, sharing the love that defines Him with those around us. Glorifying God is fundamentally a selfless thing for us and God. With a God like that, why would you not want His glory to be made widely known - when His glory is abounding love! (See also Colossians 3:12-14Ephesians 4:32-5:2).

Now that makes sense - it means that instead of 'mean God, nice Jesus', we have 'lovely Father, Jesus the exact image and likeness of God the Father'. If you ever think that Jesus seems nicer than God, you've got God wrong. When you look at Jesus, see Him washing His disciples' feet, dying on the Cross - you are seeing what God is truly like.

So when God works for His glory, it's not selfish because it means that God is working to show His love forth.

But it goes further than this, because maybe that phrase 'God glorifying Himself' still sounds a bit selfish to you. Read this article on Glen Scrivener's blog, and perhaps think about it a little differently. The thing you notice about the Trinity is that they never act out of self interest. The Son always acts to glorify the Father, never Himself; the Father is always acting to glorify the Son, not Himself. The Father is the great planner of the Trinity, but He doesn't plan to increase His own reputation - when I say the universe was created for the glory of God, I mean, the Father planned the whole course of history, and the course of salvation history particularly, so that we would have the opportunity to see how amazing and loving the Son is. So God doesn't flip the rules around and say 'you guys be humble cos you're created, but I'm going to be different because I'm the best', He says 'be humble, be selfless, be loving, because I am, and that's good'. Jesus is humble and selfless, not because He's acting nice because He's a man on earth, He's like that because that's what He's like. But if your god isn't Trinitarian, he can't do that - god glorifying god is selfish unless it is other-centred - and only in the Trinity is that possible.

So God is selfless and loving - next we'll see how that works out when we mess it all up.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Trinitarian God Part 2: The Loving Creator

This is part 2 in my series on a vital and distinctive Christian teaching: the Trinity.

Do you ever ask yourself what God was like before He created the world? Do you ever wonder why God created the world? A lot of the times when we explain the Gospel we do it in a law-centred way: 'we've broken the law and we deserve punishment', but this means that we end up talking about God as being first and foremost the law-maker. This means you end up with a god not unlike a speed camera - he enforces the law, and you may be grateful if he lets you off, but it's hard to really love him (Mike Reeves' illustration not mine!). So if God is not first the law-maker, what is He like?

Mike Reeves describes the conclusion we must draw from a singular god creating being that he is lonely! Kinda obvious when you think about it - a god who is just himself throughout all eternity doesn't actually know how to love - except maybe himself (which is called selfishness). So when he creates something he either does it because he's lonely, or because he wants to indulge himself and create a bunch of people that will be suitably impressed by his power and will therefore worship him and do what he says. He's all about self-gratification. Not a particularly attractive prospect! Yet this is the god that many people think of as being the Christian god, the Bible god. No wonder people become atheists! This is the god you get when you define god without the Trinity, the Father without the Son, without the Spirit. When atheists criticise god for being egotistical - they're often thinking of this singular idea of god and they're absolutely right. In actual fact the Bible does describe a singular being who exists to promote himself most of all - that's right, the Devil.
God creates not to show off His power, but to share His love. Source here.
Thankfully, the Bible doesn't ask us to believe in that God. The Bible asks us to believe in the Trinitarian God. That means that we don't have a lonely God, a God who doesn't know what love truly is. Rather, we have a God who has been loving from eternity past - the three persons of the Trinity love each other and serve each other - they are selfless - they're not ignorant about love, they're perfect at it! So that means that God doesn't create the world out of inadequacy or narcissism - He creates the universe out of love. In the same way that the ideal circumstance for conceiving a child is a married couple who love each other so much that they want to shower their love on another, the three persons of the Trinity love each other, if anything, too much - so they unite together out of an overflow of love and create the universe, and within the universe human beings in their image that they can relate to and love. So why did God create us? To love us. Think about that for a minute!

So God is not first and foremost a rule-maker, a cosmic dictator. God is first and foremost a lover, and He wants us to share in the happiness He enjoys. Now that's a God you can love!

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

God is not the 'god' of philosophy Part 2: The Trinity

I originally posted an article of about 3000 words that I realised that only a few people would have the inclination to read. So, obeying a rule of blogging, I'm going to repost it in more manageable chunks. This is the introduction, more to follow.

In my earlier post on the way western Philosophy approaches the question of God, I talked about the problem of starting with ourselves as the ultimate authority rather than finding out what God is like from Him. The consequence is that we don't know truly who God. He has to tell us. This means that we don't get the most important and distinctive teaching of Christianity and the vital implications of it.

These posts will talk about the Trinity. This is the teaching of the Bible that God is not a singular entity, but three persons - the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three persons who are distinct in their roles and yet equal and completely united by love and united in their purpose. Not one lump of 'god stuff' that appears in three different ways (that's called 'modalism'), but three persons. The best analogy is marriage as the Bible describes it - the idea of two people who come together as 'one flesh'. Deuteronomy 6:4 says 'the Lord is one' - but this is not 'one' meaning 'single', but 'one' meaning 'united'.

The three states of water analogy - that's modalism Source here.

This isn't polytheism either (belief in multiple gods - e.g. ancient Greece and Rome), note that the persons of the Trinity are named by their relationship to each other. God the Father is not like Zeus - Zeus would get on without the others because they are independent beings - the persons of God are more inter-dependent. If it seems hard to understand, don't worry - humans aren't trinitarian beings, so if you think you've totally got it, you probably haven't quite and a lot of erroneous understandings of the Trinity come from trying to bring it within human understanding too much. But that doesn't mean we can't get blown away by the implications of the Trinity.

You may be wondering at this point what makes this particular teaching so amazing, interesting maybe, but not setting your soul on fire (maybe it is already). Well, there are several things about God being trinitarian that makes Him absolutely wonderful, and will make you realise you never want to settle for anything less. I'll address them in each of the following posts, and hopefully you'll see how the Trinity impacts the way we think about everything in Christianity and why it is (apart from understanding salvation by Christ alone) the truth that has had the single biggest impact in my own Christian life.

Friday, 6 April 2012

The Scale of the Universe

Wow...just, wow.

I recommend starting at the bottom and working up.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Old Spice to end your day

Good old Old Spice, they understand men.

Stressful day? Now you can let it all out in a big explosion with one click of a big red button:

Go on, press it. Press it lots of times...

Sunday, 1 April 2012

April Googled

Well, today is 1st April and, as you'd expect, Google has got in on the act. You may remember previous efforts such as motion-controlled Gmail last year or the time a few years ago when YouTube Rickrolled the whole internet. Come to think of it, that was before Google owned YouTube, but never mind. It was my first exposure to internet memes (if you don't know the video it's here).
So this year we have a few treats:

Gmail has received a new smartphone upgrade; Morse code text entry. With multi-tasking capability, I must admit, I'm almost sold.

Google Maps: Quest Mode:
Just go to Google maps and switch to the Quest view to get it in classic 8-bit colour.

Youtube: the DVD collection:
Again, one that could have some mileage...

What good April Fool's jokes have you seen today? I know the English newspapers usually manage a few.

It appears I missed one. Google Chrome's multi-task mode:

Edit 2:
It appears I missed another one! Google's Really Advanced Search. It's really advanced.