Thursday, December 27, 2012


You may have noticed that there are rather less posts in the Calvintaries series than you might expect, since I declared a M-W-F timetable for them. The truth is I have totally failed to do what I hoped and planned to do. Let's talk about why.

The first reason was a blow to my morale. When I struggled with the posts about Romans (more on why below) and missed several deadlines, I wasn't really sure how to deal with it. I had lost my momentum. I was going to break my self-imposed schedule, which would make me feel bad. The only way to avoid that feeling was to ignore the project and pretend it didn't exist. This has been a pattern in my behaviour for years.

The best way to fix this response to failure is to, upon missing that deadline, commit to getting the next thing done without reference to time. I think that this will help restore momentum (upon which I emotionally thrive) and get me over the shame of failure. Yes, even for a little blog project which like five people will ever see, I experience shame when I fail.

I struggled (struggle) with summarising Romans not because I can't understand what Calvin is saying but because I found it difficult not to simply transcribe the commentary. What I really want to do is look at what Calvin is saying about the passage, and how it relates to that passage, and why he might expound it in that particular way. Really I want to analyse Calvin's hermeneutic. This takes more time and brain power than I anticipated.

So that's why the blog has been dead. Hopefully it will regain some life in the near future. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Skyfall Is A Beautiful Mess

As an action movie experience, Skyfall works. It is exciting to watch. It is engaging. It draws you into its world and movements. It is the most visually beautiful Bond movie I have seen, and by far the best-directed of the Craig films.The theme song by Adele is beautiful and sums up the spirit of the film - but which film? Because Skyfall tries to be three different movies; and so it is totally lacking in cohesion and internal logic in both a narrative and thematic sense.

Also, there's a massive helping of misogyny to the point that I felt uncomfortable because my female friend didn't feel uncomfortable. Has she been living with this kind of stuff so long that it no longer registers? Anyway, spoilers (misogyny isn't really a spoiler).

As I said, this is a movie in three parts. There is the traditional Bond movie which holds our attention at the start and appears in brief flashes later: far-flung locations, Bond being charming and deadly, a villain with a plan that threatens the world. There is also a rather more grim movie in there about the challenges that MI-6 faces in a new world as its enemies not only proliferate but splinter, endlessly, into so many different faces that they might as well not have identities. And there is the beating heart of the movie which asserts itself most in the last quarter: the origins of both Bond and his enemy, and the dread machine of human intelligence into which they were both fed. Or into which they fed themselves - the movie is intentionally ambiguous about that point (and I can't really tell if that's a good thing).

The problem is that these three movies, these three plots, have very little to do with each other. The villain's identity as ex-MI6 rather undercuts the idea of MI6 suffering fundamentally new threats. And the intimacy which the villain shares with both Bond and M means the missing list of undercover operatives which ought to drive the plot never gets the space it needs to feel properly threatening. And as for the villain's big evil turns out to be to shoot M. Marvelous. The same M who was traveling about London in a Jaguar for much of the movie, and Jaguars are not known for their bullet-resistant properties. I understand that it is the mentality of the villain which drives this complicated plan, but the villain himself is a problem.

He's a former agent with a bone to pick with MI-6 and particularly M, who gives a brief justification of her abandonment of him. This issue is never questioned or expanded upon by any of the characters. Skyfall is content to let us know that there might be a moral issue here, but it has no interest in actually dealing with it. The brutal use of people, fed into the machine of human intelligence and gunfights that is the recent Bond movies - that goes unexamined, even though the entire motivation of the villain is to get M to examine herself. Because Rodriguez nee Silva never gets a chance to be right, he is never proved wrong and so his hatred of M lingers with the viewer longer than I think it was intended to. That Javier Bardem makes the character work at all is a testament to his talent and presence on screen.

Let's now talk about the misogyny. First of all, the easy example. Bond meets a henchwoman in Macau. Her name is Severine (though in fact the movie develops her so little I had to look up her name on Wikipedia), and she is magnetic. The self-control covering gnawing fear, the self-possession of her body language, the strange and fragile hope which she places in Bond to free her from slavery. Then she is killed by the villain to mess with Bond. Perhaps the point is that Bond failed her, that agents cannot rescue everyone who needs rescue - but this is never pointed out in any way by the movie, and in fact her quiet, senseless death is overshadowed by the arrival of Bond's backup. What should be a stirring moment was for me a waste. Why couldn't they have arrived ten seconds earlier and saved her? Why is her death so meaningless? Why is she in this movie if she has no purpose? Is she just here to look pretty and vulnerable, sleep with Bond, and then die?

Do not, please, tell me that this is part of the Bond movie milieu. Skyfall is not based on a Fleming novel, and even if it were there is no reason that an adaptation has to carry across misogyny and the linking of female sexuality and death. Nor ought it to contain its other strange message about gender: that women cannot be trusted in fieldwork or authoritative positions. Early in the movie Bond tells Eve that field work is not for everyone, and near the end she accepts his advice and accepts an administrative posting, becoming Moneypenny. This might fly if it was a decision she made herself, but because of Bond's blunt assessment earlier it has nasty undertones of women can't do this manly manly job. Screw you, Skyfall.

Now, I'm a Christian. I get my spiritual truth from the Bible. Let's flick to Judges chapter four, down to verse eighteen. Jael invites this guy in to her tent, gives him a drink to put him at ease, and when he's asleep hammers a tent peg through his skull. Now, this might not have been a moral thing to do. But it was certainly stone cold and I think's it pretty clear evidence - which is borne out in the world around us - that woman are just as capable of violence, and duties which involve violence, as men.

Also M is treated oddly. She tells Eve to take that shot, even though Bond is in the way. Later she gives a perfectly reasonable justification for her decision and Bond says she lost her nerve. Yes - because the heads of intelligence agencies are commonly very nervous people. The whole thing has nasty undertones of oh women are so emotional. And at the end of the movie, after M's death, she is replaced by a man. This would be no problem if it wasn't for all the weird gender roles stuff the movie had spent so much time implying. As it is, it reeks of the idea that women can't control their emotions and so can't be trusted with Important Decisions.

In summary: a beautiful movie as long you don't listen to anything anyone says.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Solomon's Story (First Draft)

I was king of Israel, and I ruled from the city of Jerusalem. I decided to spend my life studying, to become wise and understand the things that happen in this world. I studied everything that happens under the sun and none of it meant anything. It was like a dog chasing cars.

And I said to myself, "I am the wisest king my country has ever had. I know as much as anyone in the world about wisdom and knowledge." So I stuck with my study of the world. I studied madness, and folly. And I realised that my wisdom didn't mean anything, either. I was no better than a dog, still chasing those cars.

So I stopped studying and started having fun, just enjoying myself. And the fun meant nothing. Laughter got nothing done, fun got nothing done. I started drinking and acting like an idiot. If human lives were short, I might as well do whatever.

I built things. Great projects and monuments. I built more houses for myself, and vineyards, and gardens and parks with all kinds of fruit trees. I built dams and water tanks so I could water my trees. I owned slaves, and sheep, and cows: I was the richest man who had ever lived in my country. I had silver and gold and music and sex - all the things that make a man happy. And I was still wise.

I knew that it was better to be wise than be an idiot. But then I realised that I was going to die, just like an idiot; and death wasn't going to care that I was wise. So I hated all the things I had built, and all the wealth I had, because it was all going to go to someone else when I died.You can work as hard as you like but it won't last. What do people get out of all their hard work? So I hated the whole world, and I decided it meant nothing.You can't do any better than eating, drinking, and enjoying your work. But no one can enjoy anything without God.

I looked at the world and saw that in the places where it was supposed to be fair and just, it was evil. And I decided that it was like a test. A test so that humans can see that they aren't going to live forever. And who knows what happens after we die? I saw that there was no point being envious of someone else. And there wasn't any point being greedy. Nothing we have will last after we die.

So I decided the best thing anyone could do was eat and drink and enjoy their work. It's a gift from God, and people who are happy don't worry about how long they are going to live. Some people are rich, some people are poor. Some people live for a long time, some people die young. But they all go to the same place. Sometimes good people die because they are good. Sometimes evil people live for a long time because they are evil. And really, no one in the world is always a good person. God created humans to be good people but none of us are.

I realised that wisdom is better than being an idiot, and better than power. But even a wise person dies and is forgotten. There is so much to learn that no one can learn it all. The only thing you can do is to listen to God and obey his instructions. Because everything you do gets judged eventually, even the things that you do in secret.