Monday, 30 July 2007

All together now!


Dum de dum, dum de dum, dum de dum, DUM DE DUM,
Dum de dum, dum de dum, dum de dum, DUM DE DUM,
Dum de dum, dum de dum, dum de dum, DUM DE DUM,
Dum de dum, dum de dum, dum de dum ...

Wooo hooooooooooo, woooooooo hooooooooo,
Wooo hooo, woo woo hoo hoo he hoooooo,
He hooooo
(dum de dum, dum de dum, dum de dum, dum de dum, dum de dum)

NAAAAAAAAAAH naah naah naaaaah na na naaaah,
NAAAAAAAH na na naaaah,
NAAAAAAAH na na naaaah,
Na na naaah
(dum de dum, dum de dum, dum de dum, dum de dum, dum de dum, dum de dum)

Wooooh hooooh, wooooh hooooh, woooh hoooh, wooooh hooooh, wooooh ...

shwhrhzshrshwhrhzshrshwhrhzshrshwhrhzshrshwhrhzshrshwhrhzshr ...

Some friends recently loaned me the DVDs of the first and second series, to catch up on the episodes I've missed. As you can see, I've been enjoying the experience. But nothing has quite matched seeing the credit sequence roll for the first time, at the start of The Unquiet Dead (on an airplane, in fact), and the surprise: "Hey! It's Doctor Who!"

(I wish I could take credit for the idea of this post, but I saw it on a T-shirt once ... or at least, down as far as the "Wooo hooooo" part. And with the TARDIS bouncing along at the bottom, as on a follow-the-bouncing-ball sequence. It was a thing of joy.)

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Angels in America

I finally saw the HBO adaption of Angels in America recently: better late than never. I can see what all the fuss is about, but I must admit that the first chapter did nothing so much as place me in an ill humour. If you're thinking of seeing it, and are neither gay nor Jewish, you may run in to the same problem, but it is worth persevering past the opening instalment. And it helps to know that the original play was subtitled A Gay Fantasia on National Themes.

There are some truly glorious things about this miniseries:

Al Pacino is extraordinary as Roy Cohn --- lively and terrible and unrepentant --- and the illusionless compassion that the play expresses at the death of this monstrous man is quite moving. Much more so than the usual American TV pieties, because more realistic: and I use the term advisedly, not excluding Meryl Streep's appearance as the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg.

Joe and Harper Pitt's misery is taken seriously, and not patronised. Nor is Joe's Mormon matron of a mother.

And Jeffrey Wright as Belize. If you are going to have a designated truth-telling character, and he's going to be a camp black guy, you might as well do it in style.

But I remain unpersuaded about the angels. Like the confectionary old rabbi whose paean to the immigrant struggle opens the play, the angels are a theatrical conceit and they just don't translate convincingly to film. Not to put too fine a point on it: Emma Thompson does a better job of looking numinous when she doesn't have a silly great pair of wings stuck to her back. And as to the discussion in Heaven, and the angel's messages generally ... OK, OK: on one interpretation, these are the hallucination of a fevered AIDS sufferer, so I should probably cut the scenes some slack.

[For those with a New York Times subscription: Alessandra Stanley's reveiw of the HBO miniseries (2003/11/30) and Frank Rich's review of the theatre production, in both parts (1992/11/10) are both worth reading.]

Tuesday, 17 July 2007


In a surprisingly non-partisan op-ed piece in Tuesday's Herald, Gerard Henderson attacks the current journalistic sport of trying to catch politicians in an "embarrassing" failure of memory, in this manner: "Can you name all of the Senate candidates of your party from [some_random_State]? Your time starts now ...".

There has been a certain amount of this lately, and it serves no respectable purpose. It should just stop.

Monday, 16 July 2007

A proxy war

Like a fool, I interjected in a discussion on military chaplaincy on the Faith and Theology blog last Thursday.

I meant to raise my eyebrow at one correspondent's wholesale argument against chaplaincy --- illegitimate as a Christian ministry even if war itself were justifiable, we were told --- which seemed to cry out for contradiction. I told myself that I was thus engaging in a brief police action, in a good cause.

But now I find myself in the middle of a war-by-proxy, with Pacifism and Just War theory sponsoring the two sides. And I have no exit strategy.

There must be a moral in here somewhere.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

She is a very bad girl

Apparently Helena Bonham-Carter is playing Bellatrix Lestrange in the new Harry Potter film.

[significant pause]

Pardon me while I try to concentrate on whatever else it was I was doing ...

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Dawn will have to wait until September ...

... as stated in this press release. The other information in the previous post on this subject still holds good.

As I understand, there's no fallback period for launch after September-October: by the time Dawn would arrive in the asteroid belt following a late launch, Vesta and Ceres would be too far apart for the spacecraft to visit both of them. [I don't have an authoritative reference for that statement, but I may add one if I get time to look around online in the next week or so.] One hopes that they've cleared their slate in September, and that the weather holds.

Friday, 6 July 2007

ATLAS under construction

There are time-lapse movies of the ATLAS detector under construction on YouTube here, in one minute and two minute versions. They give a better idea of the sheer scale and complexity of the thing, than mere description does.

ATLAS, and the Large Hadron Collider project more generally, was discussed in an earlier post

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Dawn is about to depart

The Dawn spacecraft will be launched on a mission to the asteroid belt in a few days. Check it out at the Dawn website.

Dawn will be the first spacecraft to orbit two separate bodies after leaving the earth. This is a rather difficult thing to do, and the craft can manage it using ion engines: their thrust is low but they are extremely efficient in their use of propellant (more technically: the specific impulse is very high). You leave them switched on more-or-less permanently, and after a few months you are either going like the clappers, or have climbed further out of the gravity well of the sun (or some other body) ... or both.

The targets of the Dawn mission are the two most massive asteroids, Vesta in 2011 and Ceres (now officially classified as a dwarf planet after the recent shakeup in naming) in 2015. These two are about as different as asteroids get, in their characteristics, and so if one is to choose only two targets, this pair is a good pick.

Good luck to the Dawn team ...

Monday, 2 July 2007

Rings Around Saturn

NASA's Cassini probe has been at Saturn for three years now, and the team have celebrated by putting together a slide show. Some of the captions are insufficiently detailed, but there's no quarrelling with the pictures.

(I could hope that this post will attract as many hits as the recent one whose topics included "HBO", "Mormons", and "sex" ... but it probably won't. A shame, that.)

Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Let's be honest

I just added "Christianity" to the official subtitle of this blog, as one of its prevailing concerns. Because, let's be honest: who was I kidding by omitting it?

The tendentious nature of much discussion on theo-blogs still dismays me: it sometimes dismays me when I'm engaged in such discussions. I would hope that my own contributions are reasonable, but this is for others to judge ... and it will not do to affect a distance from these discussions which is not supported by the data.

For the record, I have been known to contribute to the following theo-blogs, in roughly this order:

The Blogging Parson (Michael Jensen)

nothing new under the sun (Byron Smith)

hebel (Matt Moffitt)

Faith and Theology (Ben Myers)

My problem is usually with (some of) their interlocutors, rather than these gentlemen themselves.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

The end of the affair

In tonight's episode of Big Love (on SBS) Bill Henrickson had an affair. With his wife. Which was an affair because he is a polygamist, with two other wives who had rights to him on the relevant days, as part of their agreed rotation. Except of course that they are not legally his wives, the Mormon church (and thus Utah) having ditched polygamy in the process of making peace with the rest of the United States. So was it still wrong?

Pretty clearly yes, but to say that without also making some comment about the Henrikson family's wider behaviour is plainly inadequate. The show's writers dramatise this by depicting Bill having the affair with his first wife, rediscovering the extent of his love for her through (get this) a display of her maturity and accomplishment at an official function. "Rejoice in the wife of your youth" says the Scripture (Proverbs 5; specifically verse 18, but context is everything) and that is exactly what Bill is doing. His exhilaration with his wife is the realisation of an ideal, too little matched in real life, and this is what makes the wrongness of his behaviour so hard to admit --- what makes it something to be admitted through gritted teeth. If the affair had been with the gorgeous, immature little third wife Margene, it would instead have been "natural" in a more depressing sense.

This is intelligent drama of a rather high order, the Mormons' moralising gripes about the program notwithstanding. (It's easy for me to say that, of course: it's not my ox that is being gored.) The situation is naturally dramatic; likewise the marginal nature of most of the characters, given the strong conventions within which they are living. Bill is an independent polygamist, rather than a member of an organised group, having been turfed out of the (fictitious) Juniper Creek compound as a teenager; first wife Barb is a regular Mormon by upbringing, and has been dragged semi-willing into this lifestyle after about 10 years of regular marriage; second wife Nikki is the daughter of the compound leader, and a true believer in this sense, but has acquired an uncontrolled taste for the wider world; and Margene by her background is a stranger to any kind of settled family life, and has been sucked into the family almost by accident. One of Bill and Barb's teenage children is old enough to have critically watched all of these events unfold, and is openly opposed to plural marriage. And so on ... it's even more complicated than that, but the complexities have been rather clearly dramatised. It's well executed, in addition to being well-conceived.

I cannot speak to whether the circumstances are in any way credible, even by television standards. I have only ever been acquainted with one Mormon; with no polygamists, to my knowledge; and with only one fan of polyamory (the current secular analogue), and that rather slightly. And as a Christian rather than a Mormon, it is not as if I have a dog in this fight. There was polygamy in the patriarchal period, of course --- that was how it was --- but the Jewish Scripture narrates it with one eyebrow firmly raised, and the Christian church has never felt the need to second-guess that judgement.

But this is yet another example of the new golden age of series television in which we live. Three cheers for HBO. And if I have to pick out anyone from the stellar cast (another notable feature of these times), it must be the exquisitely odd Chloë Sevigny, who seems to know no fear whatsoever. I would not choose to be locked in a room with her, but she deserves some kind of award for the nuance that she brings to her portrayal of Nikki.

(I cannot establish a stable URL for the official response to Big Love on the website of the Mormons, or [their own name for themselves] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But if you go to their website, click on "Newsroom" on the right-hand side, and then do a search on "Big Love", you'll find it.)

Grabowsky and McGann

Paul Grabowsky and Bernie McGann played at the Sound Lounge last night (and also Friday), in an ad hoc quartet filled out with two of the Waples brothers; both nights booked out, although last night they were also letting folk in on standing-room-only tickets ... I haven't seen the place so full.

The first set was good, but the second was outstanding. It was a particular pleasure to see McGann play: at 70, and as a legend, he has absolutely nothing to prove, and his performance reflected that.

Andy and Yelena: thanks for the idea, and for the company. A great night.