Thursday, March 30, 2006

While you still can

A charity, whose aim is to further democratic participation in the UK, has set up a website called "Write to Them". The idea is that you go to the site, type in your postcode and it not only tells you who your elected representatives are (Councillor, MSP, MP, MEP) but also enables you to e-mail them directly via the site. Added features include a guide to which issues should be addressed to which tier of representation, and the site monitors responses, exposing any lazy MP's. A related site is called "They Work For You" which tells you what your MP has been doing in parliament, their attenance and voting records, tabling of questions etc.
Democracy is a privilege not available to all, and under threat. Let's use it while we can.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Friends, Romans, Countrymen......

Young Norris (3) has shown the first signs of improvement in his hearing since late November!
In the last few days he has misheard less, and in an amazing turnaround actually turned the T.V. down - saying that it was too loud! (we have been listening to kids programme's at an incredible volume for three months!). The fact that his deafness is fluctuating is a good sign because it indicates that it is probably nothing more sinister than fluid blocking the inner ear, causing the problem. This means that even if he still needs to have surgery, the insertion of bilateral grommits could well solve the issue for him. What we really long to see, of course, is the return of the contented, co-operative boy we saw before. Still this improvement is an answer to prayer, and a great encouragement at this stage.

Goodbye, Farewell and Thanks for the Whisky

This weekend we said goodbye to some good friends who strangely want to swap THIS for THIS for at least a year. I think that our Skype software is going to be put through it's paces over the next few months. Although we'll miss their conversation, odd-humour, faith, fellowship, hill-walking trips, wisdom and their lovely little boy; every cloud has a silver lining. In this case the silver lining came in the form of an unfinished bottle of Bruichladdich which they hadn't managed to polish off before fleeing the country. They very wisely didn't waste it but found it a good home. I had forgotten what a strong, full, smooth whisky it is - definitely has to be one of the top three varieties commonly available.

As I am such a light drinker, a bottle of malt lasts me over a year - so I have to be very choosy about what I get. To my uneducated palate this has taste of sea without the mouthfull of salt that you get with Oban, has a pungent aroma like Laphroaig minus the antiseptic aftertaste, plenty of peat to savour and is nice and spicy. It's not as firey as Lagavulin, but equally doesn't cost £35 a bottle! It's as flavoursome as my other favourite, Bowmore, but smoother I think.
So, seeya then. Goodbye, farewell, and thanks for the whisky. Our prayers go with you (but the Bruichladdich stays here).

Film Notes: Slaughterhouse Five

Over the weekend I watched the film of Slaughterhouse 5, having recently read the book. I was really dissapointed with the film, and not just because it's 1972 vintage makes it seem rather dated (that's usually a positive thing in my book). The dissapointment came with the way that the film just didn't seem to capture the atmosphere or spirit of the book at all. Vonnegut himself was excised from it (either in the autobiographical introduction) or properly as Kilgore Trout, his alter-ego - but that wasn't the problem. The strength of the book isn't the narrative, its the message, pathos, and bleak whimsy that tells. The film reverses this (inevitably perhaps) and overblows the action, losing the force of the book. No where is this more apparant than in the death of Valencia Pilgrim. Where Vonnegut announces the death almost in passing, the point is to contrast it with her husbands near-death survival. The film errs by making the death a farcical extravaganza, only hinting towards the author's sense of the incident when corpse and survivor's bodies pass each other on hospital trolleys. Why the reverse-bombing of Dresden wasn't the central point of the film remains a mystery - it is certainly a key to the book.
I'll read the book again one day. As for the film- well, it's one for the archives I suppose.

What price efficiency?

Last week I listened to Law in Action on BBC Radio 4, discussing the new "Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill" about to go through parliament. The bill, designed to end red tape and speed up governmental business appears in fact to be the most significant shift in power from legeslature to executive in UK law for centuries. Presently, reform of bills already passed by parliament, can only be done by parliament. This new act would allow the government to reform bills passed by parliament in order to free parliamentary time, the goverment says. However, as well as doing so, the executive would gather to itself unprecedented and uncontrolable powers to change bills voted for by our elected representatives. The bill, naturally, has many safety features built ito it to prevent this new power being abused - but critics point out that this bill also contains within it, the mechanism for the unilateral abolition of these very safety features!
"Commentator Daniel Finkelstein ... thinks it is a nightmarish prospect that keeps him awake at night. And Cambridge Law Professor John Spencer QC says the bill would significantly weaken the power of parliament and allow the creation of an "elective dictatorship."" (from the BBC site)
My MP hasn't heard from me for a while, I think I can feel a new letter coming on. Watch this space......

Monday View

This morning is dull - however you want to look at it

Sunday, March 26, 2006


Today I went here, as two of my friends were having their little baby dedicated. The dedication service was really good - giving thanks for the miracle of life in general and for little David in particular. It was a great family occasion, for them and the church too, the place was packed with their friends and relations from all over Perth and the country. I was also asked to do a talk at the service, so I based it on the previous post here contrasting thanksgiving with spoiled brathood!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Am I a spoilt brat?

One thing about young children that really annoys me, is their frequent incapacity for gratitude. Everything done for them is 'expected' and even when a cursory 'thank-you' is offered, it can appear to be ritualised behaviour, rather than the overflow of a grateful heart. Genuine appreciation of what others do has to be taught, it rarely comes spontaneously. In all honesty, who doesn't cringe, when in the street you overhear a parent offering a child some kind of treat - only to hear it being thrown back in their face. "Its the wrong one, I didn't want that one, it's not fair!"
Part of the problem is that kids learn more by observation than they do by instruction. What I tell my children to do has only a minimal impact in comparison with that of my day-by-day behaviour. And here's the problem - I have re-discovered that spiritually at least, I am a spoiled brat!
Many years ago, these words were written:

One does not have to be in agreement with all of Finney's theology (or taste in beards) to acknowledge the power of this quote! Many years ago I did as Finney suggested and sat down and wrote down every good thing I could think of that I had never thanked God for. What I thought might be a ten minute novelty turned into an afternoon of soul searching. As my sheet of paper filled up, I needed another, and another and another - and I realised that by nature I am a selfish brat. I take and take from God (who gives so generously) and allow countless blessings to be taken for granted with barely an acknowledgement - let alone heartfelt thanksgiving to my gracious creator. Sometimes I even have the audacity to complain about His provision.

If a grateful, thankful attitude is something that I need to cultivate in my children. It is something I first must nurture in myself.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Deaf Update

Little 'Norris'' hearing continues to decline. Putting him to bed the other night, I said before turning the light out, "God bless you", to which he replied, "I love you too Dad". More and more he replies to what he anticipates you have said to him.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The view from Monday

Snow still lying on the hills, although now only on higher ground. It's late March, but more snow is promised.

Birks o' Aberfeldy

The neighbours suggested taking all our children for a walk in the snow up the Birks o' Aberfeldy. We had a great afternoon, the kids were pretty well behaved, the spring sun shone through the woodland and glistened on the snow. The waterfalls looked fantastic too. Doris was riding in the pack on my back - and getting heavier and heavier with every step! However a tiring walk was followed by coffee and cake in a cafe in Aberfeldy - followed by the drive home, a beer by the fire and steaks to follow!
The photo was taken by Boris (when he was 5) last year.


On Friday night I spoke at the Chinese Christian Fellowship. It's a place that I really enjoy going to and catching up with friends there who I have known for several years. They had asked me to speak on "integrity" - so I used a text that I know well and have spoken on several times, contrasting the integrity of Barnabus with the hypocrisy of Ananias and Sapphira.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Book Notes: Slaughterhouse Five

World of the Strange

I have just finished reading Kurt Vonnegut's classic novel "Slaughterhouse Five". After having it highly recommended and it sitting on my Amazon wish-list for a few years, I have finally bought it and read it, thanks to some birthday money from my Grandma.

I have read several rather odd books in my life, and this is certainly one of them! If someone had told me that a 150-page novel could contain, autobiography, time-travel, alien abduction, war, sex, concentration camps, optometry conferences, authorial cameos, a theory of time being concurrent rather than linear, mental illness, the illusion of human free-will, and death (lots and lots of death, so it goes) all revolving around the firebombing of Dresden I would have thought them mad. Yet here it is.

In fact, madness might be exactly the point. The author appears it at times, the central character Billy Pilgrim is accused of it by his family and the narrative told without reference to the normal conventions of chronology is frequently chaotic. In fact this method of storytelling would drive anyone who delights in tidy narratives without loose ends, completely nuts! But aside from the author presenting us to himself as maybe mad, the central character likewise and the maddening effect on the uptight reader; the real madness only becomes apparent if the lense is pulled back from the individuals to see the madness of humanity - especially as demonstrated at Dresden.

Written as "rolling thunder" bombing raids flattened vast areas of North Vietnam; it was quickly seen as a powerful anti-war book, gained cult status and was made into a film in 1972. I can't imagine how any director could do justice to the constantly changing mental landscapes with which Vonnegut bombards the reader. I have heard that a remake is planned for the near future and would love to see it.

Among the many, many highlights in the book are the famous reverse-bombing raid in which Pilgrim travels through time backwards and watches Dresden being "un-bombed", with aeroplanes sucking the fire up into their bomb bays, compressing it into canisters to be safely dismantled in factories. There was also the savagely ironic moment which during the firestorm Billy and his German captor both spot some naked women in the showers - and for a brief moment all enmity between them is forgotten as they are united together in sheer lust. There is also the lovely take on the famous prayer of St Francis: "Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Among the things that Billy couldn't change were the past, the present and the future". The soldier executed for the theft of a teapot, while tens and tens of thousands lie all around torched by bombing is another key moment. Each death in the narrative is followed by the words "so it goes" and the inevitability of death and the lunacy of killing is mocked, whether it be murder or genocide.

Never was comedy so black and funny, or so deeply disturbing. I wonder if ebay have the 1972 DVD going cheap anywhere?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Lend Me Your Ears

Little 'Norris', my three year old - was back at the audiology clinic today. His hearing has declined significantly since his last test a few months ago. The clinic are fast-tracking him for the insertion of gromits into his ears, and if that fails hearing aids for both ears. The 'fast-track' still involves several months wait for surgery, and with his behaviour and social skills suffering - that's a long time.

Film Notes: Good Night and Good Luck

Quality T.V. and the Guantanomisation of Justice

I'm just back from the cinema, where my wife, myself and about ten other people, watched George Clooney's new film, "Good Night and Good Luck". It's the historical-biography of campaigning investigative reporter Edward R. Murrow, and his battle against McCarthyism in 1950s America. It is all dialogue, little 'action', and shot entirely in black and white.

The cultural atmosphere of the times is nicely built up, with oddities such as cigarette advertising, and company marriage policies thrown in; to compliment the obvious visual setting. The fear, suspicion, and danger of the 'witch-hunt' era is well done, as journalists battle with the military, with advertisers, media owners and most of all their own consciences as to what issues to cover. Not content to hide in the safe waters of celebrity interviews and gossip, Murrow and his team decide to tackle McCarthy through documentary TV program making.

The strain on the characters is well played, as they anticipate the reaction from the McCarthyites, in response to their challenge. David Strathairn is excellent at Murrow (above), Clooney good as his writing partner, and Frank Langella as CBS boss William Paley is brilliant. Murrow's furrow-browed monologues to camera are compelling, and are made all the more dramatic as his 'on-air' studied concentration gives way to nervous glances around the studio on completion of the pieces.

The film makes two incisive contemporary points:
It is not co-incidence that a film about the McCarthy era has been made in 2006, in the USA. As Arthur Miller sought to expose McCarthy by historical precedent in 'the Crucible'; Clooney and Co, have used Miller's target narrative as their historical precedent. One of the critical points repeated in the film was Murrow's exposure of the failure of McCarthy to adhere to constitutional principles of justice, because of the perceived imminent threat of an outside malign influence. Murrow's consistent view was that circumventing 'habeas corpus type rights', abrogates our responsibility to maintain the moral high ground, thus strengthening the position of the 'enemy'. Furthermore, it demonstrates an inability of the perpetrator to win the battle of ideas, belying an insecurity - which all the protestations to the contrary do not remove. The fact that America is now holding hundreds of 'enemy combatants' without due process of law hardly needs to be stated.

The other major attack this film wages is against the idea that television and film can do no more than entertain, and ultimately numb and insulate the population (er, that's called dumbing-down today). The fact that the film starts and finishes with excerpts from Murrow's speech at an awards ceremony in which he rails against this, is significant. The writers clearly wanted to broaden the scope of the film's impact from the civil liberties issues, and into the realm of what television is for, and what standards of excellence it should persue.

Right, I'm off to watch "Today with Des and Mel".................

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Today I bought my 3rd-ever pair of walking boots. They were a present from the wife for my birthday, but being tight, I waited until the sale before going to the mountain shop! Once again I have gone for Raichle's - not because I am driven by brand names but because they seem to be the only ones that fit my feet. My last pair lasted 9 years and took an absolute kicking - if these perform even close to as well, I'll be happy.

Best of all though, if she has bought them for me - it would be illogical if she were to try and stop me going out to the hills to use them wouldn't it?

So the constraints of logic on human behaviour are about to be put to a scientific and irrefutable test! Watch this space for results during 2006.