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September 19th 2009
Our house is gradually coming together with the introduction today of TV and broadband. I've been writing a few diary entries while offline, so I'll put them up on here on (approximately) consecutive days. I'm afraid the first is on a rather solemn topic:

Once, when I was telling people about my faith at University, I was told that Christianity is all about sin. It isn't. It is all about God, all about reconciliation, all about love – but I can see where the guy was coming from, because Christianity recognises sin where the world sometimes doesn't. And I'm going to keep using the word 'sin' rather than 'crime' throughout this, for which I make no apology, even if it is an unpopular word these days. Anyhow, we're generally all reading from the same page when it comes to the likes of theft, murder and violence, but not when it comes to alcohol, sex or, well, God.
Broadly speaking, that covers two categories of sin; those that the majority recognise as wrong and those that they don't (and I'm not for a moment suggesting that Christians don't commit sins in both areas, despite recognising the wrongness of our actions). But there is another distinction within the first category; sins that we would commit if they weren't sinful, and those that we wouldn't. Let me explain. Theft is wrong, and we would pretty much all agree with that. Other people have things that we want, and the reason we don't steal them is that it is wrong (both because the action is intrinsically wrong, and because of the pain caused to the victim). Much though we might want to own the desired object, our morality means we don't. Similarly, murder - there may be some people we would prefer weren't alive (perhaps for inheritance reasons, or simply dislike), but we don't murder them because it is wrong.
I am oversimplifying, of course – there is also the fear of punishment if we are caught, and perhaps subtler reasons – but when these sins are committed, it is generally a triumph of selfishness over morality. So we are left with the sins that we would not commit even if they were not sinful. The obvious one, which I've mentioned before, is paedophilia – acting on such desire is sinful. It is also disgusting, which is altogether different... it is, indeed, a sin that the majority of us would not commit even if it were not sinful. If no one got hurt, if it were not immoral, we would still never do it. There are other such sins.
This all brings me on to the unspeakably horrific sins committed by two young boys to two other young boys, which have been in the newspapers this week. I do not want to dwell on the actions themselves, and if you haven't heard any detail I recommend staying ignorant. Suffice it to say that it was barbaric and cruel, and hard to think about without tears.
What I'm trying to say is that, while it is easy to dismiss the culprits as being evil, there are further questions that need to be asked. Yes, their actions were sinful and they have shown an almost total absence of morality. But that alone doesn't explain it, as I cannot comprehend anyone wanting to commit those sins – it is far more than immorality, it shows completely diseased, inhuman minds. The crimes must and will be punished (and here I use 'crime' rather than 'sin', as man is only really set up to punish the former), but what of their minds? Heaven knows I'm not a bleeding-hearted liberal but we – or, at least, those qualified on our behalf – must try to find out how it came to be that these boys wanted to do the things they did. That isn't going easy on them, it's not showing them undue leniency, as by definition their minds are not punishable. To try and understand is not, in any way at all, to condone.
There are, of course, parallels with the case of Jamie Bulger. The two young culprits in that case are now free, and by all reports underwent a favourable transformation while incarcerated. They served prison sentences for their crimes – rightly so – and, alongside this, professionals tried to understand their reasons; to understand their minds. Only by understanding could they effect change. In this recent case, we already know their parents were not present in any meaningful sense of the word. Indeed, it appears that what they did was worse than neglect. That starts to explain, and it is my fervent hope that fuller understanding will be reached so that the culprits themselves can change while they serve their time. It is also my fervent hope – and in both cases, I must confess that the hope is weaker than I would like – that the victims can recover psychologically. Almost everyone – and I probably include myself – would give more importance to the victims' minds than the culprits'. All the same, I hope for both.

September 20th 2009
As with the last entry, I wrote this a while ago, so some of it isn't up to date. Forgive me.

If you're a man, you can't admit to liking romantic comedies. The phrase 'romantic comedy' immediately conjures up negative connotations rather than merely a funny film with a romantic plot. In fairness, this is not entirely undeserved, as paint-by-numbers romantic comedies are churned out one after the other, some with partially redeeming features but some with none at all. It's a shame that a genre which can produce highly enjoyable films should be synonymous with saccharine and soulless trash.
I'll be honest, my taste in films in not very manly. For me, the 'thriller' genre is a complete misnomer – there is nothing more boring than cars crashing, guns blazing and bombs exploding. I found The Bourne Supremacy vapid, paid little attention to Die Hard and was bored by... whatever that one with Denzel Washington was. They all tend to merge into one a little... though Face/Off was good. It had some clever moments.
On the other hand, I am besotted by a good love story. I also like funny stuff. Romantic comedies kinda fit. As Matthew Perry is my favourite actor, I've seen him in good (well... I like 'em) romantic comedies – Fools Rush In, The Whole Nine Yards and, above all, Three to Tango – and bad ones. That list begins with Serving Sara. Other above average entries in the genre include Notting Hill, Love Actually (some brilliant performances in that one, including Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Colin Firth and more), Just Like Heaven and Juno.
Ah, yes. Juno. There will be those who question whether it's a romantic comedy, rather classifying it as an 'indie' film... one suspects that's because it was critically acclaimed, and people don't want to be seen critically acclaiming a romcom. But it's not the only film where the lines are blurred – was Shakespeare in Love a romcom? Probably. It was also excellent. How about Shaun of the Dead? It was marketed as a zom-rom-com – the 'zom' being 'zombies' – but it was really a (very funny) comedy that happened to involve a relationship in its plot. Most romcoms, in fact, are either romantic or funny – or, more usually, neither. The real success comes when both boxes are ticked, and ticked markedly. That's why Three to Tango is fantastic (I'm gonna keep saying it), and why the Times recently remarked that When Harry Met Sally – released 20 years ago – was the last good romantic comedy. To my mind, it's let down by a weak ending, but there you go.
Then we take films like Back to the Future, which involves romance, and is very funny. Or Stardust, which is very romantic and quite often funny (Ricky Gervais is brilliant, for one). But the former is a sci-fi film and the latter is fantasy. Curious.
The dross of romantic comedies – most things featuring Sandra Bullock, Lindsay Lohan or Kate Hudson, for example – will keep attracting an audience of women, and now we have the equally poor 'bromances' from the Seth Rogen/Judd Apatow stable. These are romantic comedies for men, apparently, where fart gags are rather more important that things like, y'know, love.
Which brings me on to my biggest confusion. Why is love regarded as being only for women? After all, about half the people in the world's relationships are men, with a sizeable chunk of the male population being in love at some point in their lives. It's massively important, it is supremely important... and yet the moment romance is shown in a film, it is seen as chick-flick stuff. I was even told by the old man in the cinema that The Time Traveler's Wife (which, I'll mention in passing, I preferred to the book) was a 'girly film', as if a love story couldn't appeal to a man. I am as baffled as I am aggrieved.
The next romcom on the horizon is (500) Days of Summer, which has received glowing reports as breaking the soulless romcom trend with a spark of intelligence. Here's hoping.

September 23rd 2009
This is my last 'written offline' entry (there was another, about the West Wing, but I'm going to write an updated version soonish) so normal service will be resumed soon. By 'normal service' I don't mean weeks of inactivity, I mean the non-stop maelstrom of news, views and... crews? that you've come to know and cherish. Actually, I hope to answer James' recent question in the comment box... you know how over-excited I get when people leave comments.
But before I launch into a whinge about alcohol (oh yes, it's a good 'un today), I would be doing you a disservice if I didn't show you my latest Youtube offering. These are highlights from the last ever Dangerously Articulate show that James & I did on RaW. Enjoy.

The September Issue is a straight-faced documentary behind the scenes of Vogue (y'know, the fashion magazine) that is currently in cinemas. A hanger-on is heard to say of Anna Wintour; “She's the most powerful woman in the world”. Well, I'm sorry, she may be the most powerful woman in your world, but she is an almost complete non-entity in mine – the only slight impact she has had on me is that I was introduced to Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada, a film allegedly based on Ms Wintour's reign of terror.
The point is, the man who overestimated Wintour's power has minimal understanding of a world outside his own, and I think it's a problem a lot of us have. It took me a long time to come to terms with the idea that Warwick University was not, in fact, a microcosm of the world in general. Although I knew that not everyone was intelligent (well, we were relatively intelligent at Warwick. It's no Harvard) and middle class (or, in the case of Ant, small-headed) I wasn't really prepared for the wide variety of people I'd come across in post-University life, and how few of them would be similar to those I knew at Warwick.
I've mentioned that before, but I'm bringing it up now because I'm going to riff on alcohol for a bit. Frank Skinner wrote a pertinent article in the Times recently (since corroborated by India Knight disagreeing with it) querying why alcohol – and, particularly, drunkenness – plays such a significant part in British life. Skinner hasn't had a drink in many years, and I'm teetotal, so we're not really the best people to present the argument, but I want to emphasise that this is not about teetotalism. Personally I think that drinking alcohol is unnecessary, if not slightly odd, but that's not the issue here – the issue is: why do British people get drunk so often?
Skinner queried this, pointing out that it doesn't make any sense to chemically alter who we are in order to bond with others. Why do people bring themselves into a state where they aren't in control of their actions and don't remember what they've done? It seems facile to suggest – although Skinner, who has had plenty of experience in the area, does so – that people get drunk because they're not happy with who they are when sober. Never having been drunk, I literally don't understand – feel free to illuminate me.
The thing is, I didn't realise until post-Uni what a large part drunkenness plays in the lives of 'normal' people (I'm not going to delve into what 'normal' is). I had rather assumed that, around the age of 25, people just grew out of it permanently, but evidence shows me that that's not the case. It's atypical, I guess, that it wasn't till after Uni that I came across mass alcohol intake... anyways, this all hit home to me while at a comedy club the other day, where there was some observational comedy about how British people drink a lot. “You know that feeling when you've drunk so much that your lower back hurts? [laughter] Y'know, when I say that in America, or anywhere else, no one knows what I'm talking about. But over here you're all nodding knowingly.” This went over my head, but I was amazed that everyone's laughter seemed to spring from a belief that the rest of the world was weird for not drinking so much. When you think you're the only sane one, I'm afraid you're looking at things the wrong way round.
This country has a drinking problem, and the chief issue is that we don't realise we have it. It should not be standard to drink several pints of beer and forget the rest of the evening; only if you're on the inside looking out could it seem anything but strange. I guess this is true for any of the 'worlds' we inhabit – my love of Wolves, or mania regarding the correct use of apostrophes, are equally inexplicable – but few curious choices are so widely accepted, and so destructive.

September 25th 2009
As promised, I'm going to give my answer to James' question in the comment box - hope you don't mind, James...

Alright mate. As a Christian who accepts macro evolution ( I presume), at what point during our gradual evolved intelligence above our most intelligent animal cousin, do you consider God defined rules for our species which dictates certain actions as "Sins" ?
(which as you accept, are not alligned with our instictive animal understanding of imorality, and therefore includes actions which we quite rightly do not deserve judgement over) .
Also, what is your take on paedophilia which you raised. Do you feel the sexual urges themselves are sinful, or merely acting upon these urges. In either case, the act is considered a sin I presume, so do you feel there is a justification for God to have implanted these desires in such individuals, and when did this come about?
I'd be interested to know your thoughts, but I understand if you don't wish to elaborate. I enjoyed reading your page nevertheless
p.s. Yes, I am delaying studying!

Cheers James. Regarding your first question, I have to confess that I am very uninformed when it comes to evolution, so I'm wary of making too many outspoken statements. I know there are plenty of Christians who would outright deny macro-evolution – several close friends among them – and others who would accept it unquestioningly. I don't really fall into either camp, as I genuinely don't know much about it – basically, I don't think that blind faith is a good idea in 'science', any more than it is in 'religion'. From the little I've read, macro-evolution seems not to be as nailed-on as some would suggest, but, as I say, I've read little. There was an article in the Sunday Times, and if there's anything I'll believe – other than the Bible – it's the Sunday Times.
I'm thinking about reading Richard Dawkins' recent book on the topic – hopefully, writing on something he's qualified to talk about, he'll provide some insight. I was disappointed by the extracts from The God Delusion that I read, not so much because I disagreed with them – that much was always likely to be true – but because they seemed quite unintelligent and easily dismissed. Since Dawkins is a man who, whatever else his faults, knows his science, perhaps I will be more impressed by the evolution book. There are obvious questions when it comes to macro-evolution – what does a half-evolved eye look like? Why is man so much more advanced than any other animal, as surely a lesser level is sufficient to reproduce and survive as much as a greater? - but they have been asked before, and presumably answered.
Anyways, whatever the nitty gritty of evolution, we agree that man is vastly more intelligent than any other animal. We are able to develop supremely more complex relationships; to love; to feel grief; to choose wrong from right. And I would argue that this is not, in fact, an 'instinctive animal understanding of immorality' – I'm not sure that such a thing exists. Our beliefs of right and wrong – however accurate they may be – are not devised as a method to enhance our chances of reproduction, rather we choose to do things simply because 'they are right'. I guess that's what I was talking about a bit in the original diary entry – while we would gladly own a television, say, we don't steal it because it is wrong. Any animal would not, I reckon, note the distinction.
When Christians talk about sin, we mean things that separate us from God. So, by definition, we cannot sin without being first able to be in a relationship with God; opinion is divided among macro-evolutionist Christians when this happened (which was your original question. I've taken my time getting here) – essentially the implanting of the soul. I'm afraid I don't know enough to say what I believe precisely, but I would say that when man is able to distinguish morality as opposed to self-preservation, when he has a soul, is when he is open to sin.
As far as paedophilia goes, I'm again no expert – for different reasons – but I am confident that the urges themselves are not sinful, just as the urge to punch someone in the back of the head isn't sinful. Temptation isn't wrong – Jesus was tempted – but acting on it is, and deliberately fomenting it is too; hence Jesus saying that whoever looks at a woman with lust is committing adultery with her in his heart. I think that it is fair for God to allow these temptations; if we never wanted to do things that are wrong, we would be robots. God has given us free will, and that has to include the option to be sinful, otherwise it's not free will at all. But, if you'll permit me to quote the Bible: “...God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (I Cor. 10:13)”.
I can't really talk this much about sin without talking about the other side of the coin. We all do things that separate us from God, that push us away from Him and the relationship He wants with us. That's the reason that Jesus came to Earth, and why he died; he was swapping his perfect life for our messed up ones, and taking the punishment that a just God has to give for sin. Because of his sacrifice, we can be spotless if we turn to him – not by being somehow better than other people, or by avoiding sins, but by having our records swapped for his. That's Christianity in a nutshell.
Anyway, thanks for the comment – I know that we disagree, but it's good to exchange views. If nothing else, as a mathematician I'm always seeking truth. When we've qualified, we'll have plenty of spare time to thrash it out... and yes, I've just successfully delayed revision myself.

September 28th 2009
"Oh, you know what was great? It was wholly informal". The comment we've all made after a good party, and one that you can be assured your friends will be saying after your Windows 7 party.
What's that? You weren't planning to have a party to celebrate the launch of Windows 7 with your friends, who represent a fair gender, race and age spread despite being few in number? Is that because you're not that excited by the arrival of Windows 7, or because you weren't sure how to go about it? If it's the latter, here's a helpful video for you:


It's a useful video, but is it really telling us anything we don't already know on some level? It's a cliche, obviously, that "it's nice to be able to say throughout the party that you'll wrap it up with a great resource for any unanswered questions". But I'll never get tired of this punchline: "You have to have two computers to do a web-chatting activity!" What a party.
Till next time, folks. Keep fun.

what was I listening to?
The Very Best Of - Cat Stevens
what was I reading?
Revolution in the Head - Ian Macdonald
what was I watching?
Stardust
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