Tuesday, September 19, 2017

War is hell. 6.

I watched the premiere of the first episode of the new ten-part documentary The Vietnam War on PBS. I thank my mother-in-law for suggesting it.

This long interview with the directors is worth watching. The series took ten years to produce!
They claim understanding this war is key to understanding much of the division that persists in the USA today.



US readers can view the first episode here.

The New York Times review of the series is helpful and insightful.

I learnt a lot of history from the first episode, which covered the period from French colonisation to the French withdrawal, and the beginning of USA escalation. One "trivia" was how the OSS (predecessor of the CIA) originally supported Ho Chi Minh.

Several things are highlighted included the mis-calculations of the French and US, their complete underestimation of the passion and commitment of Vietnamese nationalism, mistakenly imposing a Cold war conflict perspective on a civil war and postcolonial struggle, and the lies that both sides told their people for domestic political purposes.
The metric madness of McNamara played a significant role in the self- and public- deception of US military and political leaders.

Humans have an incredible capacity to hate, to inflict brutalities on one another, to deceive, to believe what they want to believe, and to cling to power.

The most important (and painful) messages are War is Hell, there are no real winners, and people don't learn from history.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The painful division of colonial India

My wife and I enjoyed watching Viceroy's House. It chronicles the last days of British colonial rule in India and the events leading to the partition into two nations, India and Pakistan. It uses the powerful device of "upstairs downstairs", showing how the political negotiations and events happening with the Viceroy "upstairs" play out in the lives of the servants "downstairs". This effectively shows how the political decisions of the powerful bring pain and conflict to the everyday relationships of ordinary citizens.

One surprising thing, particularly given it the Indian screenwriter, was the very positive and sympathetic portrayal of Mountbatten and his wife. Others do not view them in such a way. Here is one critical review of the movie from my favourite Indian newspaper.

Friday, August 11, 2017

A hierarchy of moral choices and actions

What is the relationship between personal moral convictions and public policy?
These days public debate is often acrimonious as different groups try to "impose" their views on one another. People on both the left and the right do it.
The issue could be tax evasion, human rights, sexual harassment, abortion, swearing, smoking, hate speech, substance abuse, religious discrimination, gambling, pornography, ...

Suppose I believe that action X is morally wrong. Then I think there is a whole range of possible responses and actions I can take, moving from the private to the public.

I decide that it is my goal to personally not do X.

I tell people I am in close relationship with (e.g. family members) that I believe they should not do X.

Although I believe that X is wrong I do not publically tell others they should not do X.
This might be because I don't think I have the right or because of the relational breakdown that may occur or public ridicule or I don't think people will actually listen.

I publically state that people should not do X.

I take an activist role to raise public awareness that X is wrong.

I advocate that the government should make action X illegal.

I vote at an election solely for candidates or politics parties that want to make X illegal.

I undertake civil disobedience to try and stop people performing X. I am willing to go to jail.

I am willing to use physical force (violence) to stop people doing X. [For example, subduing a rapist].

I find this hierarchy helpful because I think it is actually what most people do, although subconsciously.

What do you think?



Saturday, June 17, 2017

Not the greatest movie of the 21st century

Normally I only post about movies that I enjoy and recommend. My son and I recently watched There will be blood.  We were motivated partly by the recommendation of the New York Times that it is the greatest movie of the 21st century (so far). The lead actor Daniel Day-Lewis won an Oscar for his performance and it has been widely acclaimed by many. Although there are dissenting voices such as Peter Walker in the Guardian who picked it as the most-overrated film.

Why don't I like it? It is slow, very long, tries too hard to be arty, and there is a complete absence of any characters with redeeming qualities.



Why does it have so much appeal to some?
Some of the scenery and cinematography is creative and engaging. It does show the emptiness of the main character as he seeks wealth and power and avoids any emotional engagement and self-reflection. There are somewhat interesting contrasts and similarity of his juxtaposition with a charlatan Pentecostal preacher. But this is only worthwhile if you like to spend almost three hours hammering home the point emotionally that the life of such people is shallow, forlorn, empty, and in the end, they come unstuck.

There are two other "great" "classic" movies that I have never been able to understand their critical acclaim: Citizen Kane and Gone with the Wind.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Why do I like Downton Abbey?

My wife and I recently watched all six seasons of Downton Abbey. For some reason, I am a little embarrassed to admit that I enjoyed it so much. Perhaps, this is because there is an element of soap opera and "wealth porn" to the show. However, what I think I actually enjoyed and valued was the history, social commentary, characters, and dialogue.

I had not appreciated before how the first world world war brought about great social change in England, particularly in the decline of the aristocracy. I was aware that the second world war also brought about a lot of change, but not the first.

The series begins about one hundred years ago, but seems a world away from today. I was particularly struck by the attitudes and prejudices about social class, unwed mothers, birth control, homosexuality, women's roles, royalty, dress, war, rape victims, the death penalty, Catholics, .....
On the one hand ninety years is a long time, but on the other hand that is the era that my parents were born in. Now (unfortunately, belatedly) I have a better appreciation of some of their values, habits, and aspirations that seemed strange or debatable to me growing up.

I felt that some of the characters were very "real" and human, reflecting a desire to often do good, yet struggling to do so and sometimes making a mess of things, as we do.

I don't envy the wealth, opulent lifestyle, and leisure of the Family. But, I do envy some of the characters witty lines, ability to guide conversations, frequent desire to be gracious, and to part on good terms with others, even those who have hurt them.

On the lighter side here are some classic lines from Cousin Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, who I came to appreciate more as a peace maker, as the series went on.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Sermon on Genesis 1 (take 2)

My sermon last week was too long and there was no time for questions.  Tomorrow, I get to give the talk again at a different congregation, Unichurch, which is mostly students and recent graduates. I have cut out material (and commentary) in this version, reducing the length by almost half.

My recommendations on background books and videos are the same as before.


Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sermon on Genesis 1-2

At our church,  a new sermon series is starting on Genesis. I was asked to give the first talk. Here is the current version of the slides.

For background, I recommend comparing and contrasting Genesis with the Babylonian creation myth the Enuma Elish, which is nicely summarised in this short video.

Another helpful short video is Science and Genesis, featuring John Polkinghorne, Alister McGrath, N.T. Wright, and others.

I have found helpful the book How to Read Genesis  by Tremper Longman.
An excellent introductory book that puts my talk in context is Exploring Science and Belief by Michael Poole.