You've found Father McKenzie. But are you really looking for Eleanor Rigby?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Dust gets in your spell-checker

The previously-observed, already-high degree of Stephen King/ Phillip Pullman convergence [*] has grown even higher of late. King writes about "The Good Man" and "the Man Jesus", so... what does Pullman title his latest novel? The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. I've not seen such shameless pilfering since Peter Jackson directed The Menacing Shadow of the Past (2001), Always Two Towers, There Are - No More, No Less (2002) and The Revenge of the King (2003), stealing from George Lucas the idea of having a respected Scandinavian actor speak the line "What does your heart tell you?" with a straight face. Having said that, ever since Doctor Who Season 2, Pullman has been much more sinned against than sinning in the pilfering department, so surely he's entitled to do likewise unto others and thus restore the cosmic balance.

Intriguingly, something about Pullman's Bultmannish new Anne-Rice-channels-Joseph-Smith pastiche seems to cloud the minds of the proof-readers:

'Like many atheists, the novelist Philip Pullman has emphatic and complicated religious beliefs. Pullman used His Dark Materials, his masterpiece trilogy, to deliver a savage beating to the Catholic Church (the thinly disguised "Magesterium" [sic] in the novels)...'
- David Plotz, "The Gospel According to Philip: Philip Pullman tries to repair the most sacred story ever written," Slate (2 May 2010).

... But unfortunately those dumb fundoes in Harry-Potter-burning flyover country won't appreciate Pullman's literary genius, because their too alliterate. Maybe Slate better install Firefox spell-checker in time for installment #627 of its "How Dumb Is Sarah Palin?!" series.

But let's not single out the Kinsley Report to pick on. Even The Australian itself has succumbed to Spectres munching on the brain cells, as the Millar told his tale:

'... Uncannily, in his new book Pullman seems to have been at work on the specific charges laid against the Vatican hierarchy. One wonders if Geoffrey Robinson [sic], the Australian human rights barrister preparing the case for Hitchens and Dawkins, will be able to put it any better than the speech Pullman scripted for "Good Man" Jesus, arguing against the establishment of a church in his name: "Any priest who wants to indulge his secret appetites, his greed, his lust, his cruelty, will find himself like a wolf in a field of lambs where the shepherd is bound and gagged and blinded... and his little victims will cry to heaven for pity, and their tears will wet his hands, and he'll wipe them on his robe and press them together piously and cast his eyes upwards".'
- Bruce Millar, "Double take," The Weekend Australian (1-2 May 2010), Review pp 4-5.

Great quote, by the way. It seems that Pullman - after so zealously thwacking the stuffing out of Inter-Testamental Judaism in His Dark Materials - has lately realised that this "Christianity" thingumajig offers a much more topical, and therefore more appealing, target for his neo-Voltairean pen. (We await with keen interest the Great Questioner's forthcoming The Charlatan and Impostor Muhammad Exposed and Refuted, due in late 2013 or early 2014, dependent on publishing schedules.) So Pullman is now zeroing in on one of Christianity's chief weaknesses, as previously noted by Nietzsche and Marx: that the Sermon on the Mount constitutes unilateral disarmament by the exploited, ordering them to turn the other cheek to their exploiters rather than resisting them. Vide GK Chesterton's Jake Halket, the radical trade union leader who confronts Father Brown in "The Ghost of Gideon Wise" (1926):
[Someone] had uttered some casual and conventional phrase about "Heaven forbid" something or other, and this was quite enough to set Jake off with a torrent of profanity. "'Heaven forbid'! and that's about all it bally well does do," he said. "Heaven never does anything but forbid this, that and the other; forbids us to strike, and forbids us to fight, and forbids us to shoot the damned usurers and blood-suckers where they sit. Why doesn't Heaven forbid them something for a bit? Why don't the damned priests and parsons stand up and tell the truth about those brutes for a change?..."
The word "Christian" appears, I think, exactly twice in the Dark Materials trilogy and there are no references to Jesus at all that I remember. Many of PP's Christian critics have viewed this as an implicit admission by him that Jesus won't fit into his imaginary universe, and that this is a flaw in his theology. Yet this seems too easy. How hard would it have been for one of the rebel Angels to tell Will or Lyra something like:"There was another angel, two thousand years ago, whom the Authority loved dearly, even like his own son. Yet when this angel sought to intercede and plead for mercy on the humans' behalf, the Authority had him tortured to death on a cross. And then promoted Metatron as regent in his place." Bang! Then at one blow, you've made Pullman's God even nastier and more malevolent than the Christian God. (You've made him, in fact, into the Arian/ Jehovah's Witness God). Pullman would have deflected the "But what about a merciful, humble Jesus?" counter-argument using a variant of Rita Brock's and Brian McLaren's " cosmic child abuse" interpretation. So Pullman could have: why didn't he? Was he saving his ammunition for this book instead?

[*] King and Pullman have similar views about organised religion: ".... God o' the Cross was just another religion which taught that love and murder were inextricably bound together... in the end, God always drank blood" ("The Little Sisters of Eluria"). Interestingly, though, while they agree that three centuries ago Everything Changed, they disagree strongly on whether the Enlightenment/ Scientific Revolution was a Good Thing. Pullman sees it as the start of humankind's war of liberation against its angelic oppressors, and the dawn of the "Republic of Heaven", while King labels it "The Age of Poisoned Thought." - ouch.

Robots and Jedi

Sell on Michael eBay!

'[US] FEDERAL regulators should address the "casino environment" on Wall Street where computerised high-frequency trading can trigger market-shaking turmoil, a US senator says. Senate Banking Committee chairman Chris Dodd pointed to the new phenomena of automatic programs - trading robots - buying and selling stock in nanoseconds as a possible cause of last week's meltdown that was felt around the world....'

- AFP, " The 'robots' that could ruin Wall Street" (10 May 2010)

Help us, Obeid/ Whan/ Kenneally! You're our only hope!

'Army reservist Christian Emmery, who turned 20 several weeks ago, is standing as Labor's candidate for the southern and far-western NSW seat of Farrer, a safe Liberal seat held by frontbencher Sussan Ley. Mr Emmery said he was single, lived with his dad in Albury and worked at the local Coles. The self-confessed Metallica fan is active on Facebook, where he lists his religious view as "Jedi"....'
- "Labor's Jedi knight Christian Emmery wants your vote," Daily Telegraph (9 May 2010).

UPDATE: And from the land of Lucas and Hamill... "Only a master of evil, D'Ath!" (Yes, that is exactly how it's pronounced in Australian). - The Senate will not sit still for this...

... while agreeing to an NYT interview that gets posted on the - what's that phrase? - "World Wide Web." Yep, that'll work

'Min Liu, a 21-year-old liberal arts student [Do conservative arts students exist? - ed] at the New School in New York City, got a FaceBook account at 17 and chronicled her college life in detail, from rooftop drinks with friends to dancing at a downtown club. Recently, though, she has had second thoughts. Concerned about her career prospects, she asked a friend to take down a photograph of her drinking and wearing a tight dress. When the woman overseeing her internship asked to join her FaceBook circle, Ms Liu agreed, but limited access to her FaceBook page. "I want people to take me seriously," she said. The conventional wisdom suggests that everyone under 30 is comfortable revealing every facet of their lives online, from their favorite pizza to most frequent sexual partners. But many members of the tell-all generation are rethinking what it means to live out loud....'
- Laura M Holson, "Tell-All Generation Learns to Keep Things Offline," New York Times (9 May 2010), p A-1.

Walt's and my Tilda

'If one were casting a Hollywood film about Australian politics (an unlikely project), it would be hard to go past Philip Seymour Hoffman for the part of Kevin Rudd. (Don't you love these games?) Tony Abbott would be harder, but I think I'd go for William H Macy. George Clooney might be credibly disguised as Malcolm Turnbull and Tilda Swinton would be a natural for Julia Gillard...'- Evan Williams, The Weekend Australian (24-25 April 2010), Review p 19.
Oh, yeah, Swinton as Gillard is a no-brainer (see photo). Throughout Lion, Witch & Wardrobe I kept waiting Jadis the White Witch to start expounding on school rankings and the repeal of WorkChoices, and expecting the line " I have no children of my own" to be discreetly dropped from Anne Peacock's script.

Casting other State and Federal politicians in Baz Luhrmann's forthcoming History of the Australian-Speaking Peoples should be straightforward. Obviously, you'd cast Danny de Vito as John Howard. I mean - obviously. For Brendan Nelson, either Billy Bob with his Mr Woodcock 'do or else whoever played the President in X-Men 2. Likewise Callum Keith Rennie as Anthony Albanese; Liev Schreiber as Teevee Goneboy; Tom "Forrest Gump" Hanks as Chris Pyne; Seth Rogen as Barnaby Joyce; Eric Bana as Laurence Springborg; Humphrey Bogart as Rob Borbidge; Lance Henriksen as Bob Carr; Ian McKellen as Bob Hawke (sorry, David Field and Richard Roxburgh); Greedy Smith as Paul Keating; Gina Riley as Anna Bligh; Antonia Kidman as Paula Wriedt; Jake Gyllenhaal as Cameron Dick. No obvious matches, unfortunately, for Australia's own "Charisma" Carpenter.

But... the rest of the Evan's casting? Macy as Abbott, while Daniel Craig still draws breath? And how could anyone could go past the world's second most famous Kevin as Rudd himself?

PS: No, not Sandra Bullock as Sarah Palin. Wendy Hughes.

PPS: Robert Duvall as Fran├žois Mitterrand.

PPPS: Wm H Macy can still get a slot... as David Laws.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Deep cleavages in the societal compact

The text of this editorial is worth reproducing in full, partly to spare readers from opening a page with graphics that are definitely NSFW, but also because it's not every election that one sees John Locke quoted to defend topless "Page Three" photos against a renewed Clare Short-style ban:

SIXTEEN Page 3 Girls in all their glory represent the very image of freedom in this country. But if Labour or the Lib Dems win the election, this could be the last time they are allowed to pose together. MPs Harriet Harman and Lynne Featherstone will move swiftly to change the law and ban Page 3 forever. Our national treasures - who even enjoy the Royal seal of approval from our future King Prince Charles - will be no more. And at a stroke the very liberties that put the Great into Great Britain will be torn asunder. The radical ideas of the 17th-century philosopher John Locke helped shape our freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights and, later, America's Constitution. Lib Dem frontbencher Featherstone was cheered by women's rights activists when she declared she would "love to take on Page 3". But our Poppy said: "The basis of Lockean thought is his theory of the Contract of Government, under which all political power is a trust for the benefit of the people. His thinking underpins our ideas of national identity and society. Please don't let those who seek to ban our beauty win. Vote to save Page 3!"

- "Save these girls from dole queue", The Sun (6 May 2010).

(In classic Murdoch tabloid style, every sentence was a separate paragraph in the original. No, don't click the link to check. Take my word for it.)

(No, I found it by clicking on a headline titled "Keep These Girls Off the Dole Queue" in the "UK Elections" section of Google News. Why, what did you think?!!)

One suspects that, uncoached, "Poppy" would be more likely to free-associate "Hobbes" with "Miranda" than "Thomas", and "Locke" with the Smoke Monster, but still... If we can't rely on Prince Charles as our Supreme Arbiter of acceptable standards of sexual propriety for British women, who else is left?

PS: This is not, in fact, the only result that Google gives for "laws of england bare breast", although it doubtless gets more traffic than Sir William's Commentaries these days.