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Michael JR Jose (the UK)

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Stalin (Pocket Biographies)
Stalin (Pocket Biographies)
by Harold Shukman
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars STALIN, HEART OF STEEL, 7 Jan 2008
Harold Shukman is a professional historian, an Emeritus fellow of St. Anthony's College, Oxford University and a prolific author of major works on Rasputin, Stalin, Trotsky, and is an expert on the communist-socialist period of Russia in general. This 110-page work, published in 1999, is highly readable and covers its complex material with expert balance, selecting and compressing the extremely rich detail and competing interpretations (held to an absolute minimum) with ease. The overall impression is very factual and objective, the author's attitude to the man Stalin confined to very brief comment on pages 1 and 98. All in all this is an ideal introduction to the man and the period, suitable for GCSE students, first year undergraduates, or the interested layman. Mr Shukman all but ignores the complexities of Soviet economic disasters, but this would require a much larger book. (Anyone interested in a selection of basics would do well to try `Basic Economics' by Thomas Sowell, professor of economics at Stanford University, a book which is an veritable education in itself. Anyone interested in professional analysis covering the period of Lenin's NEP to the point of Soviet collapse, by two top Soviet economists, would do well to consult `The Turning Point' by Shmelev & Popov (English translation, 1989).) It should also be borne in mind that the large bulk of previously secret archive materials of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (terminated: 1989) is still being declassified and carefully studied, so the fact that reports of these atrocities apparently get worse as the 21st century progresses is simply due to the process of the full truth taking time to get its boots on. In 2005 an analysis of the Soviet Gulag (concentration camps) gave a tally of 43 million Russians killed: 30 million died in the camps, 13 million died in the freezing transport trains en route. A good summary of the period of East German socialist tyranny has yet to come to my attention, but the 2006 German film on DVD `The Lives of Others' (Das Leben der Anderen) will do if you want a dramatic sample of life behind the Iron Curtain under der Stasi.

Although the books in this series can seem expensive on a cost per page basis, it is the quality that counts, and as a fast overview they represent good value. This book on Stalin makes an interesting comparison to another in the series: `Mao Zedong' by Delia Davin. This is especially instructive in revealing some of the Soviet dominance of China in the twentieth century, which killed millions of peasants there too. But what really burns me is that socialists are so holier-than-thou.

Chronology (birth of Stalin 1878, to death 1953)

1. Introduction
Thumbnail sketch of his career, as the `outstanding mediocrity'

2. Beginnings
1878- : Georgia, home and education; Lenin and Trotsky; early criminal tendencies

3. Party worker
1903- : armed bank robbery; journalism; Bolsheviks and Mensheviks vie for party control

4. Power
1914- : war and Revolution; Molotov; the Red Guard, state and party apparatus set up, Cheka secret police; German-Soviet peace pact made at Brest-Litovsk in 1918 at huge cost to Russia

Photographs: including his police mug-shot and one with an unpopular former colleague airbrushed out (the Marxist approach to history!)

5. Lenin's Heir
1918- : Lenin orders murder of Tsar and his family; Lenin's NEP (New Economic Policy); The Red Terror, Orthodox churches and priests destroyed, Stalin and Trotsky clash; peasant farmers suffer State collectivisation; Lenin dies; Trotsky deported; Stalin rules)

6. The Great Turn
1929- : kulak farmers resist State robbery of grain for the cities and are dekulakised by Stalin (class warfare!); millions starve or are killed by the NKVD secret police; first Five Year Plan for industrialisation; economists face firing squad for pointing out flaws in plans; Stalin's private life)

7. Stalin the Executioner
The 1930s: State and party purges of opponents; the `Big Lie' re-writes history from Marxist view; Stalin aspires to become a god; law courts controlled by party; powers of NKVD secret police enlarged; Trotsky assassinated in 1940, in Mexico by NKVD using the `ice pick to the head' technique; 7 million enemies of the State shot; Moscow underground Metro opens - so it's not all bad then)

8. The Nation Revived
1939- : Nazism and Stalinism - mutually hostile but similar in many ways; Hitler and Stalin make secret pact to allow USSR to annex Polish, Ukrainian, and Baltic territory; Hitler invades USSR in 1941; war excuses any degree of Soviet tyranny over its own people; church partly restored to boost national feeling; Churchill declares existence of the `Iron Curtain' in 1946; communist party purge - 2000 shot in Leningrad; paranoia affects his judgement, retreats from public exposure; targets Jews to create a scapegoat; dies 1953; his top henchman Beria is executed by the new rulers

Russian memories today are short and selective - many hanker for the basics provided for all by Stalin but forget the starvations, fear of the Gulag, and injustice of the secret police.

Notes (chapter references to more academic works and sources)

Bibliography (main general sources, some by insiders, eg Molotov and Trotsky)

So: people aren't equal, you can't make them equal, and it's wrong to try.

Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism
Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism
by Joshua Muravchik
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

9 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars PROPERTY IS GOOD, BUT PROPER COFFEE'S BETTER, 29 Aug 2007
Opposing socialism as I do, and advocating the property rights of the person, free market small state government, and individual liberty, I found this well-written and sympathetic book most enlightening. I have tried it on double-dyed socialists, who find it sobering. Stanford economist Professor Thomas Sowell remarks: `It is hard to find a book on the history of socialism that is either readable or accurate...[this] is both...It is a great read'. And as I find it hard to find a readable book on socialism itself, let alone its history, this book will do for both. (For the hardier soul I have added a few titles of further reading along these lines below. The one by Professor Sowell is quite easy going and more a backgrounder than a stance on socialism.)

The religious title of the book is indicative, the author states on page one line one: `Socialism was the faith in which I was raised.' It quotes Moses Hess, `A Communist Confession of Faith', 1846 - a prophet of little profit - fortelling `this heaven on earth'. Socialism is a faith, with its bibles, practised religiously, intended as a road from superstition to inevitable rational scientific enlightenment, final freedom from the chains of church dogma.

The author is of Russian Jewish background, not hostile in tone, baptised into his socialist birth-faith, but converted in his thirties. He is a kind critic, and all the more effective for that. The first chapter `Prologue: Changing Faiths', pages 3-6, forms a useful abstract of the book in three pages, but belies the detail and coherence of the whole. The skill of this author is in pulling together highly detailed and disparate insider accounts of real existent socialist entities and relating the truth to the propagandist picture we have been shown. He is no iconoclast, more a sort of political undertaker with printer's ink as embalming fluid. The epilogue on the Socialism of the Israeli kibbutz is an eye-opener, and all the more touching for the intimate details of the young mothers and children who suffered it. The tale of Tanzania is a sad chapter of hope poured down a gutter.

Let's face it. Reality is right-wing, property is progress. Entrepreneurism is good. Buying and selling benefits both parties, or they would not trade. Profit is proper, losses are Nature's way of saying, `Do something else'. People are not equal, you can't make them equal, and it is wrong to try. The Barking Bolshevik Club cannot see it because they do not want to - it's against their religion.

Prologue: Changing Faiths
1. Conspiracy of Equals: Babeuf, blood and revolution, France
2. New Harmony: Owen, UK exports damp-squib socialism to USA, sorry guys
3. Scientific Socialism: Engels & co., all scientists they!
4. Theoretical wrangles: Bernstein doubts Marx, Lenin ahoy

5. Lenin seizes power and people die, Russia
6. Fascism: Mussolini - socialista fascisti, und Socialisten Realpolitik
7. Social Democracy: Atlee, UK
8. Ujamaa: Nyerere, Tanzania

9. Unions: Gompers and Meany, USA - an eye-opener this chapter
10. Perestroika and Modernisation: Deng and Gorbachev, China/USSR
11. The Party of Business: Blair redefines social democracy, sends out the troops

Kibbutzim kebab, Israel

These chapters and headings sell the book short. There is far more drawing of connections between the topics than would be understood at a glance. The apparent lack of comment on China is only apparent. The index reveals dozens of references to grimness that was and is Chinese communism and its influence on the world events. The China-Tanzania link is particularly revealing, and explains why Tanzania, the great African `benign' socialist experiment shambled on for so long. I was shocked by so many of these chapters, but the chapter on the well-intentioned obtuseness of Tanzanian socialism left me open-mouthed: being colonised by the UK was ten times better than being colonised by interfering socialists from the world over. Skip the theoreticals in chapter 4 if you are in any type of hurry. The recipe for socialist crumble with propaganda custard seems to have been shared by so many amateur cooks the world round. After having poisoned so many the wonder is that it is still not universally regarded as toadstool pie and gravy today.

If this book is light anywhere it is in the economics, which it does not claim to cover. Further reading may be found in 1) `The Turning Point - Revitalizing the Soviet Economy', (1989) by Shmelev and Popov, two senior Soviet economists. The professionally detailed insider account of the slow death-in-life demise of Russia after the 1917 Revolution. Reckless industrialisation and - the clue is in the title - formation of the `Union of Soviet Socialist Republics', an entity of no less world-dominating intentions than Adolf Hitler, which took just one human lifetime (1917-1989) to buckle at the knees and collapse in the Soviet slums. 2) `Basic Economics', by Thomas Sowell. A sanity-enhancer. 3) `The Gulag Archipelago' by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. A grim aperient. 4) `The Counter-Revolution of Science' by F.A. Hayek (especially part two). First part, a tough read. Genesis of positivism and scientism. Second part, historical analysis of the genesis of socialism and sociology. Comte, etc, easier reading.

The appendices of `Heaven on Earth' give the countries of the `high tide' of Socialism in 1985. (Forget not that even in 1989 socialists of all denominations were in denial about the global crises of their faith.) Just glancing down that 1985 list of 18 officially communist countries, the largest number the world had ever suffered, is faith-building today. In 2007 I make the communists to be just two little fish. Let us hope and pray that Cuba and North Korea are free soon. And Joshua Muravchik must have the last word - `socialism's epitaph turned out to be: If you build it, they will leave.', (p.6).
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 7, 2012 12:58 PM GMT

Raising the Wind [VHS]
Raising the Wind [VHS]

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars READ AND FORGET 'EM I SAY, 5 July 2007
This review is from: Raising the Wind [VHS] (VHS Tape)
If you think this looks a bit like a 'Carry On' cast, you are wrong and right. Some of the key players are the same, but this is a sharper and pacier and funnier and not-smutty period piece which makes a good Saturday afternoon watch. The music school, the students, and the music are all very well done, and their graduations to actual orchestra players is quite superbly done. This light touch comedy, with a serious backdrop. There is a great impromptu jazz-band scene, and Kenneth Williams is at his best with snooty student one-liners. Considering that the whole budget for this type of film would now cover the cost of a Hollywood blockbuster's coffee-and-donuts budget, it just shows what can be done with acting talent and little else. One for the fans of British film and also one to inspire amateurs possessing a digital cam and miniscule budget.

Prince Caspian (The Chronicles of Narnia, Book 4)
Prince Caspian (The Chronicles of Narnia, Book 4)
by C. S. Lewis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
It is a bleak time for the Narnians of old. The talking animals are all in hiding and men who call themselves Telmarines are ruling the land. The men of Telmar are afraid of and hostile to talking animals, the dryads and hamadryads, the naiads, centaurs, dwarves, and satyrs. They fear them and have tried to destroy them. The woods are silent and the dryads sleep, dreaming of a free Narnia and better times. But the memories of old, free Narnia are alive and are passed on in secret. The nurse of Prince Caspian is just one who knows the exciting secrets of old, and there are many others. And so it happens that the young prince comes to love the old that is hidden more than the new that he will rule. But although the stories of old may feed the soul, they are dangerous to know. And that is the start of the prince's dangers and adventures. He may call on those free creatures who are in hiding, they may rally to his call, but will they be strong enough to overthrow their oppressors? He has one more magical link with the past, and he will use it at the moment of greatest need - the magical horn of Queen Susan bringing unknown help to those who use it, which has been preserved as a relic by the faithful.

The Chronicles of Narnia begin, as everyone knows, with `The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe'. This story, `Prince Caspian', is probably best read second in the sequence as it is a continuation of the original four's adventures. The High King Peter, King Edmund, Queen Susan, and Queen Lucy are summoned by magic back to Narnia to aid Prince Caspian in time of crisis. The story of `The Magician's Nephew' goes back to the beginning of Narnian time and a little earlier in our world's time to tell how Narnia was created in the first place, and it is probably best read about fifth or sixth in the sequence, but at any rate before `The Last Battle' which tells how Narnia ends and is more frightening than the rest. The best loved of all the stories is probably `The Voyage of the Dawn Treader', partly because it is the longest and richest story in the series and is supremely well written. It is very easy to read but full of interweaving plots, and thrills on land and sea, and full of hard realities like how people behave while thirsty on short water rations and no land in sight. It is the jewel of the set, and fits perfectly in the middle. Reading about prince Caspian will help set the jewel in your mind.

`Prince Caspian' is also an interesting story because it explains so much of the magic of Narnia, and gives those who wish to see an insight into politics, history (ours and Narnia's), battles, and human psychology. It is particularly revealing to see what a prince's education involves: some literature, some mathematics, some social graces, some skills in entertainment and music, some politics. Some people do not like this story because it is about a war, but it really is about what leads up to war, what happens after, and how the individuals involved all react and cope. The actual fighting is a small part of the whole, unlike a modern action film which is heavy on the fighting and light on the people. Having said that, the storyline is one of the simplest in the set as we stay almost all the time with the four children together, who quickly resume their adult roles once in Narnia. When things threaten to overwhelm the brave few, Aslan is at hand but to their surprise he is not always easy to see.

The Lives of Others [DVD] [2007]
The Lives of Others [DVD] [2007]
Dvd ~ Ulrich Mühe

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SOZIALISTEN REALPOLITIK, 14 May 2007
This is a film about the socialist notion of social engineering, and those who know best of all, the artistic set, that the soul is not engineered but is a growing thing that is fed when it hungers and given water when it thirsts. Consequently, individuals are what socialism fears most, and must oppose until reality bites and the real people who are not cloned engineered things finally rebel. And so it is that the artists, (and the priests, and the peace activists), are the most surveilled of all people in the socialist state of East Germany, just a few years before the Berlin Wall was pulled down in 1989.

The key player is a tragic and lonely figure, a middle-high ranking Stasi (secret police) official who is a trainer of interrogators. There is a fascinating scene where he gives a lecture on how to tell whether a suspect is lying -- this in a state based and maintained on untruth. However, it is hard to like this poor fellow who has sold his soul for slightly better standard of GDR life and the privilige of being the spy rather than the spied upon. The whole film is subtexted by the stifled cry for freedom that emanates from the silent sufferers of communism. The artists are the muffled voice of the sufferers, and hence the supposed faithful socialist playwright who is the last of the artists to not be surveilled must also be monitored. After all, if he is a real playwright, he cannot be an 'engineer of the soul', a boilerplate writer. For there is no such thing: Lenin's metaphor of making people out of dead metal is a false metaphor, false and cold like his philosophy.

The Stasi spy too is lonely and cold of heart. The playwright is full of life and enjoys his relationships to the full. The Stasi spy looks on in envy at the literature the playwright enjoys (Brecht), at the actress who is his lover, and compares them in his heart to the state-provided prostitute he must enjoy for a few minutes, and the blank walls of his apartment. To his eternal credit he finds that he likes these warm-hearted subversives, and, when they do finally become outrightly subversive, he not only does not report them, but actively protects them.

The drama heightens around the writing of not a play, but an article for the West German magazine 'Stern', on the state-of-the-nation exposé concerning the frightening suicide rate in the GDR. The playwrights friend is one of the many to kill himself and go unrecorded as a suicide. The Socialist state has statistics on everything except suicide, which they stopped recording seven years before in 1977. Eventually your sins do find you out, and you will pay the price.

Wesley the Preacher
Wesley the Preacher
by John Pollock
Edition: Paperback

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ONE MAN CHANGED HISTORY, 18 Dec 2006
This review is from: Wesley the Preacher (Paperback)
This is a popular biography of a Christian leader who is credited with changing the face of eighteenth century Britain, reviving the church universal, and fundamentally improving the morals of a nation with effect to this day. Having said that, I am sure that there would be the severest repercussions if John Wesley came back and preached now what he preached then in his own pulpits. [I know I would certainly like to try it. A man who had the spine to directly preach against sloth and greed as gross sins, and instructed the faithful on not being too fat would get quite a warm response today - and that is only a small sampling from what he would get from those within the church. Then there would be the degradation of Sodom, and the idolatry of false religion for a main theme. Imagine the media response. Imagine the court case.]

That said, this is an expertly written biography on its level, the easy mistakes are avoided, the easiest of all would be to descend into anecdotalism and mythologising. It is, as the author says, a `straightforward book' and account. The other actors, especially Charles, are adequately recognised. Although every type of biography - the dry, adulatory, historical, psychological, sociological, inimical, and socialist - has been written, there is certainly space for a new general approach by someone with a broad practical understanding of all the issues. Those hostile and those friendly, and those just curious will find plenty here. His life is divided into three main parts:

Part One: Walking to glory (1703-1737)

This covers early childhood at the rectory, excellent education at Oxford in the Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, thus giving the lie of inverted snobs that those who have no training or learning (like Peter the fisherman) are God's special favorites, through to his disastrous American missionary career and flight from a kangaroo court on foot through South Carolina, and thence back to England by ship. Although he was an Anglican minister, many would say that in this phase of his career he was not a Christian: a conclusion he himself came to. A good conversation point and essay topic today. Interestingly, his social and professional incompetence with women is already evident, and caused the larger part of his troubles in America.

Part Two: In my heart and in my mouth (1738-1749)

Back in not-very-merry England he comes to faith, his heart is famously `strangely warmed' in an evening meeting that he attended most reluctantly. He began to study his Greek New Testament in greater depth, and with more light than before. He is clearly still struggling to a deeper faith, and it seems to me that a very valuable study could be written on just this phase alone, (and probably has, if only I knew it). His preaching now starts to have much greater effect and naturally he starts to experience opposition in spades, particularly we note from the church ministers who have the horrors at his `enthusiasm'. Mild apathy preferred, so to speak, so long as they feel in control. So anyone who wants to do likewise today better be ready for similar treatment, not that we don't need it desperately. Wesley proves himself a preacher and teacher of great effect, and in particular a gifted administrator, manager, systematiser, and trainer of preachers and helpers. He travels prodigously, with three main bases in England in London, Bristol, and Newcastle. These are very much underrated factors in the permanency of his success. Although he wisely and consistently asserts his desire to remain within the Anglican communion, it is increasingly obvious that he will set up a de facto church denomination by continuing with his enthusiasm and bible preaching regardless of clerical-establishment stuck-in-the-mudness. Of course, some of the bishops are Christians too, so he is not entirely alone, but he did fail to reform and revivify the corpulent organisation he so sincerely loved. Even the toughs in Walsall and Wednesbury failed to daunt him. In St. Ives, Cornwall, while preaching outdoors, he recorded that the `dread of God fell on us while I was speaking, so that I could hardly utter a word.' He had great effect there. His utter incompetence with women re-asserts itself again, and he farcically fails to get the woman who would have been perfect for him.

Part Three: The world my parish (1750-1791)

Travels in Ireland, makes an absurdly mismatched marriage (has to sign a pre- nuptial

agreement that he has no control over to her fortune! Battered husband - gets dragged about by the hair!). By now his mission to `revive the obsolete doctrines and extinguished Spirit of the Church of England' is well secured. [If only someone would do the same for Methodism.] By now he is powerful enough to defy any bishop. The Calvinists and Moravians know their place too. Although he feared that England would descend into revolution, as on the continent, and in America: it did not. He is often cited as a main factor in keeping England peaceful. He supported Wilberforce and John Newton in working against slavery. Now an old man, he is preaching into his eighties, and having outlived the earlier Bishop of Exeter who so bitterly opposed him, he is invited by the current supportive bishop, John Ross, to a meal at the palace. He is universally memorialised on his death, even a secular publication such as `The Gentleman's Magazine' pays him high tribute. Who will rise in his place?

The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization
The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization
by Brian Fagan
Edition: Paperback

9 of 30 people found the following review helpful
This should be a five-star review, but I have deducted a star. First the good points. Why is this book a great achievement? Because it makes an enormously convincing case - that climate is the great under-rated driver of human pre-history (up to about 3100BC, before the invention of writing), and, with a brilliant you-can't-see-the-join sweep, moves the argument through the following historical period.

It is an engaging read. The metaphors and analogies are often good. He compares early man, who adapted and survived the constant storms of climate change, with the way that a wooden yacht rides a storm. The seas may blow at storm force, or even present a 25-metre megawave. A well-battened down yacht will bob like a cork. But, a sophisticated steel supertanker will cut through all the waves as it steams on - it is designed to ignore them, so to speak. Except of course, if a megawave catches it side on, then it will roll over. And it could just hit an iceberg, we all know it has happened. The supertanker is modern civilisation, we have aircon in our houses and cars, we turn on the lights when it gets dark. The electricity could be generated by wind turbines, coal, or nuclear power. Just so long as the lights are on. But a big enough volcano, asteroid hit, or reduced solar gain triggering an ice age? That would be our megawave: we might be rolled over.

He has such a wide sweep of the disciplines: scientific studies of ice cores and lake mud, anthropological studies of the ancient Sumerians, Egyptians, the Greeks, historians like Julius Caesar and Polybius. He is good. He knows that data from carbon dating, pollen studies, ancient written histories, geology, analyses of animal domestication, archaeological digs, and more, all have to handled with interpretive skill to make a coherent story. And the picture gets updated every time a new study rolls off the presses. I take off all my hats to him. He goes into considerable detail over the Medieval Warm Period (AD900-1300). This is important because Europe was as warm and in parts warmer then than it is today, and 21st century climatologists looking for their next tax-dollar research grant do not want you to know about it. They are willing to suppress the data and re-name it to an `anomaly', it ruins their scare-scenarios. The politicians want to sound concerned and raise your taxes too. So it's win-win for them, lose-lose for us. The Medieval Warm Period was extravagantly good for Europe, and bad for the West coast Americas, and Brian Fagan paints a fascinating diptych.

However, I come to review this book, and not to panegyricise. I do not care that his style is somewhat clichéd. I do not much mind that his unidimensional approach to climate-driven history is patently simplistic and ridiculously telescoped near the end. I can read any ordinary history, or economic history like the excellent Richard Bulliet's `The Camel and the Wheel', or Gordon & Rendsburg's `The Bible and the Ancient Near East' for an immensely better straight historical approach.

But what I object to in him in the strongest terms is what philosophers call `scientism'. (Try Mary Midgley, C.S. Lewis, John Wild, Michael Polanyi, or G.K. Chesterton for a good grab-bag of approaches to exploding this. I am coming to conclusion is better to mock it than reason with it. Dawkins is a hard-line offender on this, but there are so many others. They even start their books with stuff along the lines of, "I know I am a mere reductionist, and this is really philosophically silly, but I do not repent and recant because I know not how".) His religion and faith is science. It is belief in evolutionism, not just biological evolution. To him, other faiths (OK, let's get it out, Christianity, he cannot be that bothered to mock animists, Buddhists, or Hindus), are absurd in general. They are amusingly quaint and superstitious. His attitude to the `noble savage' of the Maya/Aztec, the Dakota Sioux, and the woadfully aggressive Celts wavers between the patronising and the politically correct multiculturally pseudo-respectful. The human sacrifice, scalping, and savage gods of the savages somehow fail to hold his attention long enough to actually write of them. (Just try watching the films `A Man Called Horse', and the sequel to get a real idea. Or read `The Epic of Gilgamesh', and the grislier bits of Greek mythology.) His equation of the beliefs of Stone Age man and the faith of builders of Gothic cathedrals is insulting, but there is more to any of them than there is to him. But modern is as modern does. He looks down on our ancestors, not at them. He is infected with what C.S. Lewis called `chronological snobbery'.

And what is science anyway? What is this god that he so worshipfully serves? It is just a description of `How Things Work'. How do plants work? Photosynthesis. How does photosynthesis work? By the chemistry of chlorophyll and capture of the photons of the sun. How does the chemistry work? By electrons being passed around, they are atomic particles, we can calculate the energy gained and lost, and glory, glory, we make bread from the plant and digest it and then we have the energy! QED, cogito ergo sum. You get the idea. Science is about mechanisms, how things work, how the knee-bone is connected to the ankle-bone. But does he `Hear the word of the Lord'? No. He does not know what it all Means, he is all Mechanism. And scientists really are just mechanics. All his many-spendoured anthropological terminological circumlocutions and prestidigitations lead to a big round `nil points' in the point-of-it-all department. `Skias onar anthropos' - 'man is but a dream of a shadow' - so said the ancient Greek, and the ancient Hebrew asked God `What is man that thou art mindful of him?', but in truth he has yet to wake up for the first time to these things. He thinks a lot, but he is not mindful. Man can live without science, and did so for thousands of years, but he cannot live even threescore years and ten without meaning. Let us not kow-tow to Science or its priesthood, either they serve us or destroy us. Only men can rule men. Ignore the soul and you lose it.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 28, 2011 11:28 AM GMT

The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God
The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics Without God
by Weigel
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.51

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars EUROPE: ALL IS NOT LOST, YET, 13 Nov 2006
Anyone wanting a quick way to assets the general merits and intellectual muscle flexed in the book should glance at the chapter headed `Two Ideas of Freedom', contrasting the secular and sacred versions of Freedom with luminous brevity. However, the general easy-reading contemporary nature of the prose will be better gauged from the later chapter `The Cost of Boredom', which sums up why white post-Christian Europe cannot be bothered to procreate with sufficient vigour to stem its population decline, and our `postpolitical wilderness' of rule by faceless bureaucrats.

As an American theologian and the biographer of Pope John Paul II, George Weigel is well placed to speak with perspective on Europe's current problems. The main thrust of the book is a critique of atheistic secular humanism (ASH) and its many virus variants which have infected the Euro-Russian continent. The emphasis is on the 20th century, and picks up the root philosophical and cultural causes of World War I and II, and the rebellion of the `Les Soixante-Huitards' (1968 riots) with remarkably fluent and coherent reference to Western European history as far back as the High Middle Ages of Aquinas and Occam (1200-), and glancing reference much further back. The Cube is the intellectual symbol of the sterile closed-universe ASH viewpoint, the architectural colossus of 'La Grande Arche' of Paris, being an open cube of white marble and glass about 40 stories tall and 348 feet wide. The cathedral is the rather more famous church of Notre Dame, which despite its ancient complexities and beauty in spire and tower, would `fit comfortably inside the Grand Arch'. This current edition is dated 2005, and probably just missed the rioting and looting and epidemic of car-burnouts that afflicted France that year.

It is difficult to do anything like reviewing justice to this book at one reading, but one of the central themes is that `western Europe is committing a form of demographic suicide' (p.5), with a general greying of the population and coming universal pensions crisis due to a birthrate being less than the replacement rate. He might have added that Russia currently has an annual death-rate that exceeds the birthrate by 750,000, but his purpose does not extend to a proper vilification of communism. The root cause of our lack of reproductive enthusiasm is analysed to be spiritual nihilism, emptiness, and lack of purpose in life, having rejected the Christian roots of our historical culture. Its criticism of the purblind inability of the EU to see the problem, let alone grapple with it, will gladden the hearts of those who oppose this political con-trick that is the eurozone--despite the (to me) astonishing revelations he makes of the catholic Christians who were the architects of the whole scheme.

He is frequently at pains to trace the intellectual, cultural, and moral roots of western Europe (the eastern empire is sparingly but properly referenced, and not ignored as is so often the case). Recently the ruling EU elites totally refused to recognise the Christian heritage of Europe in the drafting of its 70,000 word constitutional treaty. Our roots apparently jumping from the classical civilisation of Greece and Rome to that of the humanist Enlightenment of Descartes and Kant (which merely extracted the parts it liked from Christian culture, and promptly forgot what it takes to develop and preserve them, which is a living faith in a Judaeo-Christian God.)

He invites us to contemplate a striking list of Christian scientists, artists, politicians, leaders, warriors, and philosophers--and asks us to imagine Europe [history itself, I would say. Just consider that we only discovered the gas oxygen about 225 years ago. We could not even begin to describe the chemistry of burning or human respiration before this], without their contribution. And this is a list which is so wide-ranging that it includes Milton, Mendel, Michaelangelo, Wesley and Wilberforce, while it omits Shakespeare, Isaac Newton, Handel, and dozens of others.

The other main theme is euro `Christophobia', which is detailed in many ways, from the persecutory attitude to the Catholic Professor Rocco Buttiglione in his proposed place in the EU government, to the universal demand for tolerance which includes rather madly includes rigid intolerance of any discussion of the Christian religion or its place in influencing civic society. Altogether, this adds up to the best analysis of secularism that I have ever read.

The statement of the very obvious that is the underlying theme of the themes, is that western European civilisation was built by the Catholic church. There is more balance and a gentler tone here in the treatment of the subject, but the author is generally in line with Thomas Woods book, `How the Catholic Church built Western Civilisation'. Which is well paired with this one, before or after making little difference.

The only weakness of this book is that it understates its case. It would be easy to adduce more evidence of outright damage and incoherence of ASH in our literature alone (Kafka, Samuel Beckett, Sartre, Nietzsche, Camus), and then as a whisky chaser consider the intellectual flight from science. Professor Robin Dunbar's `The Trouble with Science', published in 1995 traces the problem in Britain back at least twenty years. And is still seen in the rapid and ongoing rejection of chemistry and physics in the school system throughout, from GCSE at 16, to university graduate, a trend which is steadily shutting down departments in these subjects as I write. My second reading of this book starts right now, and I can also see how it would help one or two of my friends, with Christmas about to hove into view. Read them and pray.

Blade Runner (Remastered Directors Cut)
Blade Runner (Remastered Directors Cut)
Dvd ~ Harrison Ford
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £3.99

21 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "IT'S NOT AN EASY THING TO MEET YOUR MAKER", 4 Sep 2006
Set in a grim Los Angeles of the future, many of earth's inhabitants have migrated to other planets. Roy, the replicant leader has returned to earth, but he, like the other replicants, is scheduled to die. His four years are almost up, for him soon it will be `time to die'. The greater part of his tragedy is that he lives life hyper-aware of his death. A death which is decreed to the day by his maker. He is made by the Tyrell Corporation as a product, a being who looks human but having extra-human powers, but with sub-human emotions as he will not live long enough to build up a soul of true humanity. The Tyrell replicants are too powerful to be allowed to run loose---on earth or elsewhere---so they have a fail-safe built into them: they are designed to fail after four short years of life.

Roy is the most dangerous of all replicants, a warrior class officer, a combat model. And having fought for his owners in space battles, he has now escaped and returned to earth with a few other replicant model types to somehow extend their artificially limited lives. The police have the Blade Runners out, death squad cops who specialise in hunting renegade replicants. The replicants are hard to spot, they are tougher, smarter, and more determined than any designed before. There is even the worry that they will develop fully human emotional responses, and so become too similar to humans to tell apart.

The whole film is replete with religious signs and symbols and quotes. Lines from the bible and scriptural imagery are woven throughout. One of female replicants performs onstage with the snake `which tempted Eve'. Tyrell, the heartless genius who is the chief replicant designer, calls Roy `the prodigal son' [prodigal - a waster who returned home]. Roy says to Tyrell `It's not an easy thing to meet your maker', and in a confessional tone, `I've done questionable things'. When Roy meets Chou, the eye designer, he quotes `Fiery the angels fell, deep thunder rolled around the shores, burning with the fires of Orc' (a replicant who has read Blake's prophetic poem, `America', he deliberately misquotes). Pris, the pleasure model, says to Sebastian the geneticist, `I think Sebastian, therefore I am'. The question is, with all the human beings so flawed, so unlovely, so downright unpleasant, what is the difference between the replicant products and them? Maybe just a few more years on earth.

Mortality, humanity, time, finitude, purpose, salavation, redemption: all these and more are here. Roy is the only replicant left. He fights Dekkard, the best of the Blade Runners, fights for his life although he knows he has minutes left of his deathday. He was created to fight, so in fighting he fulfils the purpose for which he was created. He wins a few more minutes of life by stabbing his hand through with a large nail. It is impossible to ignore the symbolism. The pain clears his mind and focuses his will. The tables are turned, Dekkard is going to fall to his death. But the hand with nail is the hand he uses to grab Dekkard before he falls. He saves his life. But now for him it is indeed `time to die'. He has always known that this moment would come. The crisis is upon him: he is created to kill, but at the last he preserved life. He does not want to die alone. He last words to Dekkard are of the all beauty he has seen in his short, violent life, which are now to be lost as he passes from this world. It seems that he has won his humanity at the last. Being created to kill, at the last he found he could choose not to. The dove he holds in his hands flies up free as he loses consciousness, the last symbol impossible to miss. But Dekkard the professional killer has to live on, he has demons of his own to fight. He is still looking for happiness, and he needs a relationship above all to make his life worthwhile. There is all too little beauty, goodness, and love in his life. He knows he is still searching, but who cares?

The Frankenstein theme is unmistakable. When God created, He created a Man who was `very good', not yet complete, not yet perfect, but without errors or flaws. The Man chose his own path, wanted to make it on his own. The world he goes on to create is so very flawed. Above all, when Man creates in his own image, he makes in his own flawed image, with the weaknesses inevitably magnified in his sub-creation. He is no substitute god, he is a tyrant and exploiter, and his creation turns angrily on his maker. So who can redeem him?

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia, Book 2)
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia, Book 2)
by C. S. Lewis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.51

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE WORLD OF NARNIA, SO LIKE HOME, 7 Aug 2006
Set early in WWII, four children are evacuated from their home in London, which is being bombed by the German airforce and rockets. They are sent to the country residence of a wise old professor. There Peter, Susan, Lucy, and Edmund find that they have `fallen on their feet' as the house and its grounds are delightful. Most amazing of all (of all the things they discover, that is), one room contains a wardrobe which may allow entry to a land called Narnia, a land of myth made alive, full of creatures of legend, and ruled by a wicked queen whose magic makes it always winter. The talking beasts have taken sides, fearful or greedy ones like the wolves have turned bad and sided with the witch. But many who seem weaker remain loyal to the memory of before the witch's rule and to the true ruler of Narnia who is Aslan the great lion. And now the coming of the four children sets in motion the fulfilment of an old prophecy which gives hope to the true Narnians, and puts fear into the heart of the witch. If the four children take all four thrones that wait empty in the castle of Cair Paravel, they will become the kings and queens of Narnia, and the witch will be thrown down. So there will be war in Narnia too.

How can four children who have escaped from one terror hope to win against a clever and cruel witch of such power? All their courage and all their strength is required, and the help of all are willing to aid them. They will need weapons magical and weapons plain. Even the sheer power of Aslan cannot be used to simply destroy the witch as it becomes clear that the magic by which he made Narnia follows the laws of deep magic, which are part of the nature of Aslan himself. Even he must obey his own nature, which in Narnia governs everything as the laws are a part of the existence of the land itself. Now the witch, for all her cleverness, does not understand magic as well as she imagines, and in her haste to capture and kill Edmund and prevent the prophecy coming true, she makes a bargain of which no-one can see where it will lead except Aslan himself.

This was written first of the seven in the Narnia series and overall it is best read first. It is the easiest to read, and a five-year old can understand the story quite well if read out by an adult. It is probably best to read `Prince Caspian' next in the series as it was written second, and all four children appear in this story. `The Magician's Nephew' was written sixth in the series, and it explains how Narnia was created, and is a superb story. But none of Peter, Susan, Lucy, or Edmund appear in it as it is before their time. Also, the language in it is somewhat harder than that in `Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe'.

The Narnia books are not allegories, this is the wrong word for them. In an allegory, each character, and often each place, stands for one other thing. The names of these characters almost always give away what they stand for. A good (in fact the best) example of an allegory is `The Pilgrim's Progress' by John Bunyan, where there are characters called `Christian' and `Hope' and `Mr Worldly Wise', and places names like `Vanity Fair' and `The Slough of Despond'. There are many others, the Greek legends, Aesop's Fables, and fairy stories often work like this. Narnia stories are magical, mythical, parallel world stories but not allegory. The characters are living characters in their own right, they do not stand `one-for-one' as things or symbols. The stories do contain symbols and meanings, but then so do all stories, or they would not be called stories. The other thing you cannot call the characters is metaphors, they live and breath and develop in their own world. All language is metaphorical. The sentence `I see what you mean', is metaphorical. A blind man can `see what you mean', it does not take eyes to `see' meaning. So, what are the Narnia books? They are a `thought experiment' in a magical world. All stories are thought experiments, or they would not be called stories. The only question is, what type?

C.S. Lewis was a Christian, was converted around the age of thirty, and he knew what stories appealed to the non-Christian as well as the Christian. He was exceptionally clever, even for an Oxford don and Cambridge professor. He knew how to appeal to `hearts and minds'. That is why these stories are so popular, they ring so true. It is easy to be attracted to the goodness of the good characters in them whoever you are and whenever you are in life's journey. The `good dreams' which the ancient Greeks captured in their myths and legends attracted him, and that is why they reappear here. The things they did not understand well are all overshadowed in the light of a greater myth, the myth of Narnia. What the Greeks saw, in part and broken up, is seen here - brighter and more full of life. More of the good, better woven together. Because we have greater light, it does not mean that they did not do as well as they could with the light they had.

It is hard to create really exciting good characters in books, often the bad characters are more exciting--many books of magical tales have dynamic villians and wishy-washy cardboard good guys (it is not so hard to think of some). C. S. Lewis is one of the greats, and the mark of it is that his good characters really are.

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