Wolf Of Wall Street Review

The cult of capitalism will die this way; first as comedy and then as farce. But it will feel like it takes forever.

It is not even close to the greatest Scorcese has done but that makes this obscene, stylish and finely acted film something that could be damn impressive in the long-term.

Like, even longer than the never-ending running time.

Your Correspondent, You buy until you die.

One Quote Review: The Son

The Son is a novel by Philipp Meyer which charts the generations of a family of Texan cattle barons. It is about the rise and fall of the American empire, the illusion of civilization, the legacy of family and maybe fate. It is a grand epic that gallops along and is worth your time.

A recurring theme in my conversation with my supervisor and my colleagues in Aberdeen has been the meaning of names. Yesterday, my dear office-mate preached a fantastic sermon in his church where he talked about the way that God’s naming of people is an expression of his gracious authority. My supervisor is working on a commentary on Genesis in which I think he might have very interesting things to say about what it means that Moses tells us that God brought the animals before Adam to be named.

And in The Son, we find this musing on the way that the Cherokee named their young and renamed them.

A child was not named by his parents, but by a relative or a famous person in the tribe; maybe for a deed that person had done, maybe for an object that struck their fancy. If a particular name was not serving well, the child might be renamed; for instance, Charges the Enemy had been a small and timid child and it was thought that giving him a braver name might cure these problems, which it had. Some people in the tribe were renamed a second or third time in adult life, if their friends and family found something more interesting to call them. The owner of the German captive Yellow Hair, whose birth name was Six Deer, was renamed Lazy Feet as a teenager, which stuck to him the rest of his life. Toshaway’s son Fat Wolf was so named because his namer had seen a very fat wolf the previous night, and being an interesting sight and not a bad name it had stuck. Toshaway’s name meant Bright Button, which had also stuck with him since birth, but that seemed a strange thing to call him so I thought of him as Toshaway. Spanish-sounding names were also common, though they often had no particular meaning—Pizon, Escuté, Concho—there was a warrior named Hisoo-ancho who had been captured at the age of seven or eight, whose Christian name was Jesus Sanchez, and, as that was all he would answer to, that was what he was called.

Your Correspondent, Has got a cave full of bats in his skull

Best Films I Saw In 2013

There are certain fancypants film reviewers who tell you that 2013 was a vintage year for the cinema. I haven’t seen Her, The Act of Killing, 12 Years a Slave or Pain and Gain so maybe I am judging too fast. But there were many weeks my Cineworld megapass card stayed firmly in my wallet because all there was to watch was yet more crappy horror movies or tedious childrens’ cartoons. But there were a handful of fantastic films that continue to linger with me.

The Way Way Back
This is probably the movie that Wife-unit and I enjoyed the most during the year. It has everything you want in a summer movie, except giant robots who fight in the sea. Sam Rockwell’s performance is effortlessly brilliant as ever. The supporting cast is stellar. And the fundamental story is true and funny and heart-warming. I wrote about it earlier here.

This is the most Oscar-worthy film I saw this year. I already rambled extensively about it here, but for me this isn’t about special effects and action, although it is gloriously tense. Continuing on from Children of Men, the director Alfonso Cuarón has produced a profound spiritual reflection. This time, the film is about prayer. Or at least, that’s what I’m saying.


Mud is another film about multi-generational friendship between men. But this is much darker. Much more like Stand By Me than the Station Agent. It is a story about a boat caught up in some trees and a man who wants to make it up with the lady he loves. The best ones are always straightforward, right?

Elefante Blanco
To remind you that I am a real life intellectual poser, here is a subtitled film about priests trying to make a difference. The priests are really good friends; maybe there is a theme developing here? Here is more extensive waffle on the topic.

To The Wonder
So on top of being an intellectual poser, I’m a pretentious wanker too because while everyone else thought this was an extended perfume commercial, I was convinced that it was a profound reflection on ministry, doubt, faith and love, as well was being proof that I was right all along by telling you all that Rachel McAdams is a brilliant actress. You probably will hate it, but I could re-watch it constantly. Here’s more pretentious buffoonery on the topic.

Other movies that were really good include Nebraska, Saving Mr. Banks, Captain Philips, Les Miserables, Star Trek Into Darkness, Blackfish, Rush, and perhaps most especially, Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Your Correspondent, Has got kind of a big personality, with his flashy clothes and his Woody Allen swagger.

Best of Album 2013

While I am heartened that JM is trying to kickstart a blogging renaissance in Ireland, I don’t know if my dozen faithful readers will ever get the service they deserve from Creideamh. After all, I can’t let any of my startlingly original research go out into the public because then it might be disseminated and I won’t get appropriate credit for it in academic journals, while delivering papers at conferences or chatting up girls in nightclubs.

The best use of the blog at this point in the web’s development seems to be as a venue to extend real life conversations. So when I blog quotes from books, I’m really looking forward to sitting down with Declan Kelly over coffee and when I write about shoes for poor children, I’m trying to make sense of my ramblings for Josh. Similarly, tomorrow I might have time to write about films I saw in 2013 and that is in response to a conversation I had with a friend who prudently remains blogless.

But here, instead of giving you a run down of my terrifically hip music listening (dominated in the last month by Christmas.FM and before that by replayed R.E.M. and Hold Steady albums), I shall share with you my mixtape.

Best of cover 2013

In my circle of friends, the Best Of project rotates around the following rules:

    1) Playlists cannot exceed 80 minutes.
    2) Playlists can be as short as you like.
    3) Songs can be from any era but they have to be new for you in 2013.
    4) Artists can be repeated, numerous songs can be taken from the same album.
    5) Any and all genres are welcome, although the less evangelical Christian death metal one can fit on a CD, the happier we’ll all be.
    6) Track listing, specially designed covers, annotated explanations for which songs have appeared and why are encouraged but not in any way necessary.

See how acclimatised I have become to Britain? Everything is more fun with rules!

The album can be downloaded from here.

Each number on the list links to a version of the particular song.

1. Arcade Fire – Normal Person: Lots of people were disappointed by the new Arcade Fire album, including important and relevant cultural commentators such as Noel Gallagher. I think the complaints about it being indulgent are well placed, but some of these songs get deep inside my ears and crucially, make me want to do jittery David Byrne style dancing all around the living room. This song starts the album because it has just that effect. Plus it begins with Win asking, “Do you like rock music? I don’t know if I do?”

2. Vampire Weekend – Unbelievers: The whiteness of this album is firmly established in track 2. Having begun with a Montreal based art collective, I move on to everyone’s favoured recipient of intellectual scoffing. Scoff away my friends, but the third Vampire Weekend also manages to make you want to scoot around the kitchen in your socks. This song is a sort of atheist musing on Pascal’s wager, which is fairly ambitious compared to the average hipster hit single.

3. Dawes – Hey Lover: Moving to Aberdeen has been a tough transition for Wife-Unit and I. The great consolation to me has been the friends I have made. One of the recurring themes running through these songs is how my Aberdonian friends have turned me on to entirely new loads of music. For my first meeting with my PhD supervisor, he took me out for coffee and told me to take a month to just read novels. He also told me about this band. I love this song, even though it requires considerable translation for it to apply to my life. With lyrics like “And when did I decide to grow this beard and gut?”, you really have to stretch it to see what relevance it has for me? After all, I still can’t grow a beard…

4. Trampled By Turtles – Where Is My Mind: At that same meeting, my supervisor introduced me to Tyler Atkinson. Tyler has sadly moved back to America but his music recommendations leave him a fine legacy in the Concrete Bunker. He told me about Trampled By Turtles, who have many fine songs that are not Pixies covers, but when a Pixies cover is better than the original, that has to be recognised in a best-of.

5. Josh Garrels – Rabbit & The Bear: Josh Garrels is the rarest of things; a Christian songwriter I am not ashamed to love. The man is prone to penning lyrics of real beauty and wit. As I read through boring, boring books about the history of the Irish economy, this Francis of Assisi style musing on the beauty of God’s creation always induced a smile. Forgive me while I get preachy (a mode I am in repeatedly on this Best Of) but there is no more beautiful thing to contemplate than that coming Kingdom “Where every creature sings ‘Oh Lord, you rescued us all!'”

6. Gungor – Beautiful Things: And I suppose whatever vestige of coolness has now just drained away because I have followed up one contemporary Christian track with another. Gungor are a bit of a phenomenon in the Christian world but I just discovered them this year. Again, they are renowned for writing songs that Christians aren’t utterly embarrassed to be found listening. Perhaps we should just get over ourselves? But this song passes the test for a song about God that bears re-listening. For one thing, it is about God, not just a projection of our feelings. And while there are more basic and more important things to say about God, the repetition of the truth that He makes beautiful things is a good one. Sing it to yourself while you brush your teeth and before long, you’ll know how to pray.

7. Goat Lonesome – Measure of Things:So I mentioned Tyler Atkinson earlier. Tyler, on top of being a damn fine theologian, was also the best thing about the music scene in Aberdeen, which makes his return to the Carolinas all the more sad for us. He and his Scottish buddy made up “Goat Lonesome”, who gigged around the bars of the city. Tyler wrote his thesis on the Jewish wisdom literature we call Ecclesiastes, which among other things muses on the nature and experience of time. He does an astonishing job of compressing this 2,500 year old piece of practical philosophy into a three minute song.

8. Radiohead – Gagging Order: My brother has to work extensively in China and Japan and sometimes he comes home bearing gifts in the form of obscure releases I’ve never heard of from bands I love. This year I got this Radiohead release called Com Lag and this song is the middle of the album. For a year when society crossed some strange event horizon of anesthetized surveillance, this “Move along, there’s nothing left to see” is haunting.

9. Public Service Broadcasting – Night Mail: “Eight-thirty p.m., weekdays and Sundays, the Down Postal Special leaves Euston for Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.” So there is an elegant transition (hopefully) to this classic track from a band that composes music around sampled public education filmreels of the past. Since The Simpsons have been skewering public educational efforts for decades, we should all know by now that the point of these films (or the modern versions in the form of gory road safety advertisements and public health advertising on billboards) is not education but discipline. From Gagging Order to Night Mail, we’ve got a sort of musical journey back to where the strange world we now live in began…

10. Frightened Rabbit – State Hospital: … and this song is a portrait of how that weirdness works out in the specific place I now live. My flat is in one of the worst areas of Aberdeen. All around us we see the tangible effect of decades of neo-liberal experimentation on the working class. “A slipped disc in the spine of community … She cries on the high street just to be heard, a screaming anchor for nothing in particular.” I was alerted to Frightened Rabbit by an internet friend who maintains a blog that is worth following called Invisible Foreigner. As Scott Hutchison sings “All is not lost” as a closing refrain, this song can serve as an anthemic companion to the time I’ll live here in Tillydrone.

11. Tegan & Sara – I Was A Fool: This album is getting too heavy. Now is the time for pop music. Tegan & Sara’s very 80s inspired pop record is a triumph. After all that cod-philosophising I just did there, and the theologising before it, very little needs to be said about this song except that it is really good.

12. Miley Cyrus – Wrecking Ball: And the less said about this song, the better. I had not heard the original version and was about to put a cover by London Grammar on this album when Wife-unit advised me to go listen to the Miley version. It is a phenomenally great song. I watched the video too and it made me feel strange in a sour milk sort of way. But Taido stuck One Direction on his best of, so I’m allowed have this, ok?

Wife-unit has just heard this song and come out to lecture me, saying, “Your refusal to listen to radio means you miss out on songs like this!” Perhaps my New Year resolution should be to listen to broadcast radio?

13. The National – Sea of Love: If I stay here in the land of radio pop, trouble will find me. So now we resort back to standard middle-aged person music transmission.

14. Neko Case – Man: But if we’re going to have lots of middle-aged person’s music, let’s make it the cooler variety. Neko Case continued her impeccable career with a superb album. While the heartbreaking “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu” could have made the list, to mark a year when I have been thinking extensively about gender and the problems it represents, this is the perfect song.

15. Billy Bragg – There Will Be A Reckoning: I caught myself yesterday describing Bruce Springsteen as “America’s version of Billy Bragg.” If such a thing exists, that probably is a cardinal sin. But Bragg’s album arrived early in 2013 and probably wins the award as my favourite of the year. I could easily have thrown four of his songs on here, but I chose this one because it is true and getting truthier. The UK seems intent on devouring itself with racist fantasies. While London financiers pillage the state, the people are fed dark fairy tales of foreigners robbing their way of life. The self-fulfilling nature of these violent myths of invasion from Bulgarians, Romanians and Muslims is going to incite a conflagration. In the coming year, politicians will have to rediscover ethics or Bragg’s song will move from prophecy into history.

16. Mavis Staples – I Like The Things About Me: Mavis Staples’ new album, produced by that chap from Wilco, is a brilliant piece of modern gospel. If There Will Be A Reckoning is a song that is true about the society in which I live, I Like The Things About Me is a song about the person I am who lives there. I like the things about me that I once despised and I am glad someone wrote a song about that.

17. Everything Everything – Don’t Try: I put Arcade Fire and Vampire Weekend on here. Now I finish with Everything Everything. If only Coldplay had released an album, I could have put the four most hateable bands around on here! Everything Everything seem to annoy a lot of people but I think they are great – smart and witty and catchy. This seems like an excellent way to end the best of. Don’t try to fight it, it will wriggle into your ear eventually.

Album can be accessed here.

Your Correspondent, He built this city on rock and roll

Long One Quote Review: Living Dolls by Natasha Walter

I spent an afternoon this week helping the wife of a classmate get set up ahead of their move into their new Aberdonian home. I was her chauffeur as she bounced around the city doing essential errands. To pass my time and to assure her that she wasn’t to feel rushed, I thought I’d bring along one of the books I was reading.

I chose to bring my Kindle because the books I was actively reading had the kind of front covers that don’t scream “Normal man sitting outside an upholstery shop” but “Uh… I think I’ll walk the long way around to avoid that man reading from what appears to either be a lurid piece of trashy erotica or an insane Catholic apocalyptic conspiracy text.”

Before I left the house, I had visions of the time I waited in the car park outside a post office while Wife-unit sent some care package somewhere. We had been re-listening to the utterly hilarious Stephen Colbert masterpiece “I Am America. And So Can You!” I found myself buckled over in the driver’s seat in a state of uncontrollable mirth as Colbert unfurled his insane satire of anti-gay marriage advocates. What I had not realised was that the windows were wide open on a hot summer day. Hence, the angry looks of dismay I received from one mother as she simultaneously looked back in scorn at me while protectively ferrying her children as far from my car as possible. Who could blame her? She had just heard Colbert’s preposterously pitch-perfect voice intone:

The biggest threat facing America today – next to socialized medicine, the Dyson vacuum cleaner, and the recumbent bicycle – is Gay Marriage.

So to avoid being the subject of car park suspicion, I left these two behind.

Book covers

As it turns out, the top book is about architecture, war and cultural memory and it was given to me by my best friend. The bottom book is about the objectification of women and it was lent to me by my wife.

I finished Living Dolls this morning and it is superb. It probably says something about the undeveloped and shallow nature of my feminism that I much prefer these journalistic accounts of the situation as it stands in society rather than intellectually creative theory.

The book has two parts. The first half of the book details what the author, Natasha Walter, describes as “The New Sexism”. This is a re-treading of a story that Christians are very familiar with. There has been a coarsening of our culture around sex, lust and embodiment that is detrimental to the opportunities afforded to women. This part of the book could be read as a companion piece to Ariel Levy’s compelling Female Chauvinist Pigs. Walter begins with the apparently superficial observation that a grand marketing push is behind the pinkization of the world in which young girls grow up. But she then considers how the roseate effect has an unhappy influence on adolescent and young adult women. In the 1970s Barbie was commonly marketed as a lab-based scientist or an astronaut or an anthropologist in the field. Today, Barbie, like the Bratz, is exclusively a pretty thing who owns high fashion, customised pets and convertibles.

So in this section Walter considers the remarkably narrow beauty obsession, the normalisation of sex work, the prevalence of emotionally denuded attitudes to sex and most convincingly, the corrosive effects of internet pornography to argue that women coming of age today are in many ways less free than their counterparts a generation ago.

One of the great things about this section is how open it is to voices different from her own. She welcomes the input of the fairly conservative Romance Academy while also constantly reminding the reader that there is some merit to the argument that sex work can be an act of emancipatory empowerment for some women. This is not at anti-pleasure shadow of second-wave feminism.

What also struck me is just how dangerous the world is for women who enter into the sex trade. Regardless of why they get involved, they are about six times more likely to be subject to violence than women in wider society. The preacher in me was hungry for a chance to read 1 Peter and preach to congregations about how this is a Gospel issue Christians must continue to work on. It is easy for us to get agitated about the plight of women who have been trafficked. Of course, that work is important and needs to be supported. But the ongoing extension of grace and comfort to the more “ordinary” women in this line of work is essential.

She concludes this section by arguing that the feminist movement has been epistemologically hijacked by the ideas of the marketplace. In less fancy terms, she thinks that women find it hard to act in a feminist fashion because they think almost exclusively in terms of capitalism. The truth of this is seen in how every action can be justified by the declaration “that is my choice” or “that is just her choice.” The Market trains us to see us as consumers building our own life story through the selection of this option over that option. Of course, this is sociological fantasy. No man is an island and no woman is left unaffected when women forego any concept of solidarity and see themselves as uninfluenced and uninfluencable agents finding their self actualisation, whether that is through glamour modelling, pole dancing or just extreme pursuits of socially constructed concepts of beauty.

Having built a case layer upon layer from the experience of a pink girls section and a blue boys section in a toyshop, in the second part of the book Walter further extends her argument about the dollification of society’s perspective of women by turning her attention to what she calls “The New Determinism”.

In the first section we are necessarily dealing with a sort of impressionistic discussion of a broad interpretation of societal trends. One could quibble and fight with any single point. But in this second section her targets are focused on a social movement of scientists with a particular narratival agenda. She name calls Steven Pinker and Susan Pinker, Simon Baron-Cohen and Helena Cronin as researchers who are pushing a particular story of what it means to be human whereby our nature is determined by our genes. Aided and abetted by a media only too happy to find “scientific proof” that will resolve the complex travesty of gender imbalance, these voices have created a widespread social sense that girls will be girls and boys will be boys. It’s just science.

But whether the half remembered research you draw on to come to these conclusions is neuroscientific experiments with infants or hormonal analysis of testosterone in the womb or the spectacularly stupid arguments about differing size of the corpus callosum, all of these arguments are stretched or outright bogus. In debunking this scientrific determinism, Walter doesn’t seek to propose a competing hypothesis. She is not a scientist. She just read the papers she found in the footnotes. In many cases, the claims were inflated interpolations that bordered on the fraudulent.

Now a digression might be apposite here. Steven Pinker and Helena Cronin are at the forefront of the new Atheism movement. They have a very strongly held philosophical position that sees natural selection as the key that unlocks all that we do not yet know. As their friend Daniel Dennett puts it, natural selection is, for them, a “universal solvent”. They take this agenda to their research. We all take our agenda to our research. But that agenda is never brought back into play when the research is presented and a media that seeks to perpetuate a certain idea of progress through science doesn’t have the time or nuance to bring it up either.

The reason this matters is because at base, the problem isn’t shoddy science. The problem is that this new determinism is, at base, anti-human. It is fatalism. It is dismissive of the role of human society and culture, the potential for change and transformation. It betrays a hallmark of heresy – it repudiates its own dogma. Natural selection is about the potential of all organisms to adapt. When misapplied in territory where it has no purchase, its effect is to deny the potential of humans to adapt.

Here is Walter, making her point:

In the eyes of those who subscribe to biological determinism, there is a good fit between the world as it is today and the innate aptitudes of men and women. There is no dissatisfaction, there is no frustration, there is no misfiring between our desires and our situations. Every aspect of inequality that we see today can be explained by the different genetic and hormonal make-up of men and women; if women earn less, if men have more power, if women do more domestic work, if men have more status, then this is simply the way that things are meant to be.

– Natasha Walter, Living Dolls, 209.

This is the best kind of feminism in that it is humanism. Walter has not just struck a blow for women but in so doing she has liberated men. The bullshit of determinism doesn’t just truncate who women can be. It offers non stop crap about men lacking empathy and being less verbal, it subjugates boys under ideas of masculinity that have no bearing on the full diversity of expression available to human beings. Autism is not extreme maleness. The princess is not the innate ambition of women.

But at the same time, Walter does not for a moment deny the biological grounding of gender. Her position is not “socially constructed”. Her position is not “biologically determined”. Her position is not even “nature AND nurture”. These are all models that are insufficiently adaptable to account for human beings. Instead, her intention is to encourage us to cultivate in our society the opportunity for full human flourishing. As she ends the book:

Because the dream that feminists first spoke about over two hundred years ago is still urging us on, the dream that one day women and men will be able to work and love side by side, freely, without the constraints of restrictive traditions. This dream tells us that rather than modelling themselves on the plastic charm of a pink and smiling doll, women can aim to realise their full human potential.

– Walter, 238.

That vision must still excite us and command our attention.

Your Correspondent, Just a puppet, like Roland Rat or the Queen

Film Review: The Way Way Back

We can now declare that the three best films of the year deal with friendship between men. First there was the tragic Elefante Blanco. Then there was the haunting Mud. Now we have the simply charming The Way Way Back.

Sam Rockwell cements his place as the most under-rated actor going. Here he plays a character that manages a water park but also manages to be the greatest youth pastor in history, taking care of the troubled and lonely 14 year old Duncan.

That’s all you need to know. It is charming. It has Sam Rockwell. It is about a man who is a friend to a boy on the edge of manhood.

Also, while we’re at it, it has a terrifyingly convincing turn from Steve Carell and Allison Janney is even better than you are used to expecting from her. The plot is simple and uncontrived. The dialogue sparkles. It is a lovely film. Catch it in the cinema with friends before it leaves.

Your Correspondent, Wants to be a friend to all the 3s of the world.

Book Review: Mornings in Jenin

On the evening of September 12th 2001, I sat in my living room watching, like the rest of the world, the footage that would come to define the geopolitics of my adulthood. I said something too casual and too careless, like, “What can they expect, when they stride around the world pretending to be masters of the universe?”

My mother, sitting in the chair by the door to the kitchen, where she always sits, responded instantly and with unusual insistence, “I cannot understand this viewpoint I keep hearing! What has happened in America is criminal and nothing else. It is savagery! Nothing can justify it. No one deserves it.”

Through my life, reprimands from my mother have been rare and so they weigh heavy. But on that evening, the broad humanism and refusal to trade in the logic of violence that she role-modelled had a lasting impact.

After helping my wife and I move to Scotland, my mom and dad headed off on a short excursion through the Highlands, a long way round back to the ferry home. My mom left a novel for me to read. She had gotten it because it was a book-club choice. Mornings in Jenin is not a book I would buy. Sure, no one judges a book by its cover but this cover needs to be judged, a photoshopped monstrosity of a vaguely Arab little girl peeking out behind a worn-wooden door.

But I practically read it in one sitting. It made me cry constantly. Like every book that makes me cry constantly, I suspect it of not being very good. I think that if I re-read it, I will see through its manipulation. That is of course, a helpful suspicion to harbour because it closes off the possibility of me re-reading it and it affecting me just as hard a second time.

It is written by a Palestinian American, Susan Abulhawa and it tells the purely fictional tale of a family of Palestinian olive farmers who are first dispossessed in 1948 by Jewish settlers, then devastated in the 1967 war and then slowly tortured by the destiny of being refugees without protection or hope over decades in Jenin. The fiction is realistic however. And it’s great success is in rooting out the stereotypes about “terrorists” by unfolding the commitments and losses and loves and longings that lead a person to raise up arms against his oppressor.

As the chapters passed, I did find myself falling into that dreadful bogeyman of the half-educated and wanting to hear “the other side” as well. It might just speak to prejudices unearthed in me, but I suspect this is more as a result of the pervasive and generations-long attempt in my native culture to cast Islam and Muslims as outside the pale of civilization. The Jews of Israel are practically Europeans. The Muslims of Palestine are not. The Christians of Palestine are forgotten, most especially by their brothers and sisters in Christ.

I call it a dreadful bogeyman because there is no “other side” to the story. There is no plot being unfolded with purpose and narrative when peoples harbour age-old resentments and injustices and express them in violence so ungodly that with each passing page I wanted to close the book and turn to prayer. Humans are story-telling animals but some of the stories we tell are misguided, ungrounded and dangerous. You will likely gladly agree that the story about the Promised Land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob taking the form of the secular state of Israel is one such story. You likely also agree, in the staunchest terms, that the story about Arabs needing to extinguish the Jewish race from the entire region also fits this bill. These are misguided, ungrounded and dangerous stories. But other people tell them, not us.

Yet the story that there are always two sides to any conflict and that reason and analysis can resolve such disputes is one of the misguided, ungrounded and dangerous stories we tell ourselves. It is one of the most long-lasting of our “Enlightenment” fables. We imagine that there is a logic to violence that we can make sense of. Al Quaeda tries to destroy Manhattan because America has bases all over the Middle East. America has bases all over the Middle East because the Soviet Union lay threateningly to the north. The Soviet Union needed to stand belligerently to the West because of how the White Armies invaded immediately after their glorious revolution. And on and and on and on back to Cain and Abel. The human biographies that create the contexts for ongoing violence are obscured by such abstract conceptions of history, the myth of Force A exerting itself on Force B who exerts and equal yet opposite force in return. There are not two sides to any conflict. There are as many sides as there are people involved and if you are old-fashioned like me and belive in human subjectivity and God’s sovereignty, then there is one more side too, the truth.

Mornings in Jenin might be propaganda, and it might be sentimental manipulation, and it might be guilty of a whole host of accusations critics can throw at it. But it weaves a human narrative around the inhuman violence of the Shabila massacre. That is a notable thing. It sets the history of a conflict not in objective terms but as a story about a family trying to do basic human things like raise babies, pass on wisdom and keep their word. It refuses to say the conflict is about “land” or “politics” or even “religion” since none of those things actually exist. The rose garden on the hill above Ein Hod exists. When we call that “land” we are telling a story as fictional as this novel, but more dangerous because we don’t notice the invention.

That September evening back in 2001, as we consumed unholy images that corrupted us by exhilarating us, my mom was on to something. If only Dubya had dropped in for a cup of tea. There is no logic to murder. It is the least logical thing in the world. The demonic (and I mean that most fully, literally, figuratively, all the meanings that the word holds) force of violence traps us by convincing us that our freedom is a prison. God knows the way to respond to murder and torture and military power is with empathy, prayer and a renewed hunger for peace. There is freedom in that response, that we forsake when we imagine that now They have done This to Us, the only option left is for Us to do This to Them.

Mornings in Jenin gave me a fresh insight into the prolonged injustices that the Palestinians endure. Mornings in Jenin made me fear for the future of Israel because it has stored up a hurricane of anger against it that if released, no nation could endure. Mornings in Jenin made me suspect that when the Torah speaks of sin casting a shadow over generations, it is a more realistic account of life in this world than the destructive stories of national self-interest and geopolitical ideology with which we choose to furnish our minds. I suppose when a book makes one think in so many directions and prompts one to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, the only thing you can say of it is that it is a good book.

Your Correspondent, Wonders why hedgehogs can’t just share the shrubbery.

One Line Review: The Great Gatsby

While this movie stretches the traditional definition of what a film is and it betrays a drunk disregard to the beauty of the material, it does conclusively prove that our pop music is as good as the stuff that they came up with back in the 1920s.

Your Correspondent, He is simultaneously, the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired.

One Quote Review: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

First: the sheer scope of this book, in hardback, makes an eloquent appeal for that blasted Kindle-like technology. If someone could produce one with firmware, software and a licensing approach that actually allowed people to confidently develop their libraries, it would be wonderful. This is a big, bulky book with evidence of rushed copy-editing all over the place. It is a book for bedtime reading and its actual presence as a thing mitigates against reading in that context. An ebook I could trust would be a vast improvement.

Even if the book is uncomfortable as an artefact, it reads comfortably. It starts slow and climbs sluggishly over the sense that there is not a single sympathetic character on display. But once it gets over that hill, the story gains traction and it becomes compulsive.

Saying that a book is a great story is not a backhanded compliment. This is intricately worked out. For sure, the characters are sometimes pawns to move the plot around. Worse again, they are pawns shaped to reflect social issues but underneath all the layers of shared human meaning that makes a thing like a novel possible, fundamentally we want to hear stories. The woman who made wizards interesting again makes parish politics interesting. And as social issues go, at least she seems to be suggesting that people should be more careful and patient.

There are some lovely paragraphs that stand out. This one seemed to describe the stretched but rapid hours after death quite brilliantly:

Two mornings after her husband’s death, Mary Fairbrother woke at five o’clock. She had slept in the marital bed with her twelve-year-old, Declan, who had crawled in, sobbing, shortly after midnight. He was sound asleep now, so Mary crept out of the room and went down into the kitchen to cry more freely. Every hour that passed added to her grief, because it bore her further away from the living man, and because it was a tiny foretaste of the eternity she would have to spend without him. Again and again she found herself forgetting, for the space of a heartbeat, that he was gone for ever and that she could not turn to him for comfort.

J.K. Rowling, The Casual Vacancy, p. 63

Your Correspondent, Democracy is fantastic but it is also dull.