Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Popes and Fears

Blurry Light StarsRetrospect is a great thing and in terms of the Pope's visit to the UK, its something that has raised quite a few questions in this neck of the universe.

The first few questions were obvious, they were raised well before the Pope had even landed and before we knew what exactly we were going to receive. The main theme was the questioning of sanctioning the Popes visit as a state visit which meant the UK tax payer paid a high price for his visit. Saying that, the pastoral events were being paid for by the Vatican through charging for tickets to those events however ticket sales were apparently slow so maybe it cost the Vatican a little too?

Just on a side note whilst talking of cost, the government departments paying out of their budget amazingly included the Department for Education (maybe for the 'Catholic' school children who undoubtedly had a say in their beliefs), the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (ermmm why?) and the Department for Energy and Climate Change (What the!?).

When the Pope did land and the visit got underway way he took to the stage and offered a hand of friendship. In my post from the time entitled 'Has the Pope forgotten the golden rule?' I asked; "a hand of friendship to whom?" With retrospect, the answer appeared to have been only to members of other faith groups and the political elite. In essence just those the Church wishes to keep onside. The liberal faithful, the secular of any religion or lack of and those without a faith based belief system were made out to be the villains of society. Sadly this is understandable given the Popes viewpoint, summed up quite elloquently in the Popes own words:

"We recognise that the church is called to be inclusive, yet never at the expense of Christian truth."

Or to put it in other terms the Church will continue to preach what would be described as Christian truths and values, which includes tolerance, but yet be intolerant or alienate/preach hate towards people because of other 'truths', which in reality are determined by a council of human beings interpreting a text full of gnomic verses and accounts. A truth strongly influenced by a book that it is reported even the Catholic Church hierarchy no longer swears by. Obviously one of the other aspects to the development of the Christian faith is the tradition that has evolved through people and society over time, and the sad truth to a fundamentalist like the Pope is that those aspects have grown to become more tolerant but what does the Pope really expect?

Within that changing society, it seems there is one thing the advisor's of the Pontiff have been taking their time to consider, religious marketing, for as well as playing their age old political game, the method of spreading ideas and belief in society has changed radically through the fast paced technological advancement and the refining of commercial marketing methodology.  Here is a rather interesting blog post about the subject of religious marketing written in 2005 by a religious individual who delves into the pros, cons and possibilities of religious marketing.

The main focus of the Pope's visit though were the big keynote speeches and they were quite refined with clearly well thought through wording, but if there is one thing that was underestimated it was the public and press's ability to pick things apart and question what we're being told. The over the top focus on the non-religious in what is meant to be a secular state (except for the spiritual peers called the Lords Spiritual, in the House of Lords) will likely only have pleased and comforted the converted. In fact, the debate which followed seems to have opened up the church to more scrutiny than it might like.

Whether it was the protests against the Popes visit and his leadership's desire to stick to what I would describe as unethical truths such as not allowing the use of condoms to protect against aids or the Vatican's view of anything or anyone non-heterosexual. Or whether it is the dialogue entered into afterwards such as Evan Harris in the Guardian who put forward his personal secular manifesto to lay to rest any misconceptions the Pope tried to assign in his state funded rants. Or even the odd lack of action given the words of "deep sorrow" regarding the child abuse scandal's within his organisation. It brought it all to the fore.

Personally, I just want to be able to live my life in a peace loving, fair and ethically sound society which values equality and tolerance of anyone's beliefs which do not break the law. A secular law which defends the rights of religious organisations and individuals and their beliefs but a law free of any one religions prejudice or favouritism, a law which takes human values from the depths of human knowledge and understanding as its foundation. Sadly the Pope would appear to see this as some aggressive this or extremist that, else he wouldn't have said what he did.

As Dave Gorman asked, "when people say 'Christian Values' " as the this Pope and previous Popes have made reference to, "do they mean values which are peculiar to Christians. And if so, what are they?"
Dave hinted that in his view these are just 'Human values' and that is the opinion I also share. If there are values specific to Christianity that persons of other religions or no religion should be forced to live by or under the influence of, then maybe someone like the Pope should tell us why - without reverting back to 'because it is' or 'because I said so' or 'because it is what I was told' or 'because it Gods way'. If they really are values of the one true faith that humanity doesn't already posses at large then they shouldn't be that hard to back up.

The political nature of the visit seemed to be reflected through the language used and the choice of those praised and those the Pontiffs words attacked. The Pope spoke of an "aggressive secularism" but in reality secularism is no threat to institutionalised religion and personal belief other than to weed out intolerance and hate which in all honesty should lead to public life being led closer to the golden rules of the values deeply entwined in most religions including his own. One thing I do know, Human values do include Christian values and the Pope need not fear other than for his organisations power granted to him by a human council rather than a Godly being (unless the College of Cardinals are hiding something).

The only thing "aggressive secularism" will damage is the influence in the halls of power in States other than his own which the church historically holds, well, that and the hurt it might personally cause members of many churches but especially the Pope due to his openly aired belief that its his job to save us from being doomed to punishment in an afterlife... even if you say no thanks. As proven by his willingness to dictate to others even if it leads to a contradiction in his faiths teachings and by proxy had led people (through fear) to act in ways which could kill them way before their time or destroy their hopes of happiness which don't impact on anyone else.

I hope the Pope does come back to the UK, and maybe he'll also come to Ireland soon. After all, freedom of speech (which I'm sure we wouldn't all enjoy in the same way inside Vatican City) opens up people and organisations to scrutiny. On the plus side his visit did seem to bring some comfort to those who have been brought up or chosen to live or following Christian or more specifically Roman Catholic beliefs and it has opened up further dialogue (obviously not with the Pope) but between people who live in the UK. Though I don't see the reasoning for the excessive cost (given people still live in poverty in the UK and the current financial climate) the visit did go a little way to bring into focus to the wider public's conscious a debate which will undoubtedly grow much larger in years to come.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Christmas starting in September, Ho Ho Yo or Ho Ho No?

Material SnowmanToken Christmas movies on cable TV stations in Summer aside, earlier in the month the first signs Christmas were crawling out of the woodwork and into plain sight pretty much on schedule compared to the first signs of Christmas last year.

It started with 2 Christmas songs played on Radio1 on Thursday 9th September as I happened to be tuned in. One played by Gregg James on the ten minute take over (so technically not his fault) - Last Christmas by Wham! The other song was a slight tounge in cheek running joke on the Scott Mills show that was encouraged by a famous generic reality show boy band, thankfully it wasn't the whole thing but Mariah Carey's version of 'All I Want For Christmas Is You' was pumped through my earphones.

That was preceded by another christmas spotting when we had to nip to Tesco at Yorkgate/City Side Mall the day before. We were looking like we'd had strokes at the time (due to our first of 2 visits to the dentists and the use of a few jabs), the numb faces weren't the shock though, for in the little entrance way where there are a few shops leading to the supermarket there is florists/seasonal shop that is already decked out as a winter wonderland with flashing xmas trees and red scented candles.

The craze of selling xmas as early as possible certainly seems a general UK commercial meme as it is also being felt in Yorkshire over the weekend where each restraunt we visited was already touting with crackers and wrapped boxes their xmas party menus. A visit to a garden center also led us to another display of festive decorations including an A3 sized felt advent calendar that was almost cute enough to buy until we saw the price.

I wonder if 50 years ago were people also being offered Christmas goods and services before the first frosts of Autumn had even arrived? Maybe the preporation of festive pickles and beverages might have to have been planned ahead a little more but surely early September is pushing the need to have a fibre optic fake tree in your house. Sure, the decidious trees native to the UK and Ireland are still pretty much fully green leafed and again its only just turned September people! September!

Even now at the end of September we're only just starting to see the first real signs of Autumn as the leaves are changing colour and the temperature drops enough to need the heating on.

Who is buying this stuff so early and why? Do the shops really get that much benifit by being the 1st to offer seasonal items so far ahead of the actual season? I just don't get it. I mean I love the festive atmosphere but I think it takes something away from a special occasion if you have a long drawn out build up where you get to sample most of the atmosphere beforehand, so for now, I'm still a Ho Ho No. Give it a month or two.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Am I the only one...

...who likes to eat soup and bread as one? I call it souper bread!

Souper Bread

Souper bread, so called because Norn girl says I can't call it soup for soup is but just one ingredient in this new meal form. She also thinks it is wrong to be able to eat the said ingredients with a fork. All I know is its my usual weekend lunch and tastes exquisite, plus it saves the mess and crumbs associated with the same meal in their separate forms - for the mess has already been created.

Nom nom!

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

A little bit more of Yorkshire

Old coastal defences at Spurn PointA whistle stop day trip (though 200 miles +) around the East Coast of Yorkshire in photo form, from Sutton Hill to Scarborough and on to Spurn Point, all from a week last Saturday but better late than never... which is still the plan for posts about our wedding last year and our honeymoon too... I will get around to it sometime soon, even if its just a photo post... like this one :)

An hour or so into the ride and my dad had us to Sutton Bank, we were looking for the car park nearest the vantage point and ended up climbing the hill, driving back down the hill then up the hill again. Not an easy feat given the hill is closed to large vehicles due to its steep and windy incline. It was worth it though as the panoramic view was pretty picturesque.

Picturesque view from Sutton Bank N.Yorks

View from Sutton Bank North Yorkshire

A while later we landed in Scarborough and my dad and I headed to the Castle and as you can tell I liked to take photos in and around it. The audio tour was pretty nifty too, it added a lot to the walk around the headland, stories of times gone by and explanations of why there were big bits missing from meter thick stone walls.

Scarborough Castle from below

Scarborough Castle wall and bayClose up of Scarborough Architecture

View from Scarborough headland North

Bird of Prey

Scarborough headland looking south

Scarborough Castle

Dramatic view of Scarborough Castle

After a ride down the front and a fridge magnet later it was on to Bridlington, home of many childhood memories but this time, filled with a ride on the waltzers and some close encounters of the bird kind.

Bridlington Seagull

Bridlington Harbour at low tide

We then made the short journey back up the coast to Flamborough Head to have a look at the lighthouse and whimp out of the walk down to the cliffs. Time as you can imagine was getting on by now, yes, that shall be our excuse!

Flamborough lighthouse

View of Flamborough cliffs from the headland

When we got going again it was to visit Hornsea but we didn't stay long, we spent almost as long staring at the wind farm on the road to Spurn Point.

Windfarm in East Yorkshire

And Spurn or Spurn Point or Spurn Head was where we made it to next. Formed by longshore drift depositing bits of the cliffs we saw earlier its quite a sight. Though a bit of a bird watchers paradise, we were more intrigued by being able to see the sea on either side of the road and having a paddle. It is certainly a sight of natural beauty even with the use as a lifeboat station and the heavy shipping passing by. Despite all that it is quite a tranquil place.
View of the Humber Estuary from Spurn head

Old lighthouse and sand bank of Spurn Point

Lifeboat station at the Spurn Point

Ship in the Humber Estuary

Old lighthouse and beach Spurn Point

The sun was starting to dip beyond Hull so we made tracks and not just in the sand blowing over the road. We had made it to the Humber Bridge just before sunset and £2.70 paid to one of the people in the toll booths and we were zipping over the 2km+ stretch of water 100ft in the air.

Humber Bridge

From the Humber Bridge we drove off into the sunset through North Lincolnshire, cut a corner of South Yorkshire and back to the early night in West Yorkshire where some fresh water to wash the sand from our feet awaited us.

Sunset from the Humber Bridge

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Has the Pope forgotten the golden rule?

Two of Northern Ireland's favourite people got together today (at a nice cost to the tax payer), the Pope and the Queen, two figure heads of religious institutions on a 'state' visit... and before long there was the Pope slagging our somewhat secular state and many people in it, the Queen being diplomatic bigged him up anyway. Today was the start of Popefest 2010 and I wasn't going to comment on it but whoever writes the Pope's speeches needs to be fired because the hand of friendship we've been offered seems to be only to his followers or other religious persons and as a tax payer and licence fee payer from my point of view it looks like I'm paying to be insulted. Hrmmm... and not just one but two insults from the pontiffs own mouth and this is only the first day!

The visit of the Pope to the UK does seem to be providing a sound byte glimpse into the real marketing campaign behind the brand smile and waves we see on TV, seemingly media training isn't able to overhaul sending an intolerant brand spokesman who is feeling threatened by a simpler and less restrictive product, aka reason. You don't need to look far into the Pope's speech to see there has been a realisation within the church that they are worried that people have realised what has been known for millennia, that ethics and morals can be found within the individual and are not based solely within participation in an institutionalised belief system.

In an opening exchange, the BBC reports that The Queen said the visit was an opportunity to "deepen the relationship" between Catholicism and the Churches of England and Scotland and also managed to praise the Catholic Church's special contribution to helping the poorest and most vulnerable around the world.

It seems like a suspiciously glowing reference from one leader of an institution that is above the democratic process to another institution which profits heavily in political sway and in the long run financially through its work with the poor and vulnerable. This might be forgiveable if it wasn't for the track record of the Church founded by a guy who never even met Jesus! Since there is a track record though, there are further questions the Catholic Church will likely never intentionally answer so I can only try and read into it.

In order to explain, take a multinational corporation, they could (and do) invest in similar projects for sililar reasons in the third world and they and the Church are not that far apart as entities. Both want a return on their investment and both sell hope for the future through their products, services and outlay. The difference being a company would get pulled up in court for being unethical if a condition of their service was likely to spread disease or to discrimiate against someone for their sexual orientation or finding its managers were abusing the public, but seemingly religious dogma has the power to circumnavigate that safeguard. If the dream means a few more have to die through aids or are driven to suicide to keep the brands image simple and clear, then so be it... so it seems.

Ethical integrity of the Church aside, we opened the doors and he gladly came to say hi and to "offer a hand of friendship"... but a hand of friendship to whom?

For some reason, this is a state visit, the UK taxpayer is paying millions for this already proven to be fallible spokesman to come to try and re-enforce beliefes which are quite frankly shockingly misguided and ill-informed. Many kind, honest people just happy to live their life as they choose are by this state visit, without choice, paying for someone to come and reinforce to others a narrow set of morals out of sync with an educated world. Is he offering a hand of friendship to those who don't share his views or has he just come to insult those people in order to rally his fans?

Which leads me onto the Popes comments of hope and ermmm hate?

I'm starting to think he has his view of secularism confused a little and was maybe just trying to state words that are opposite to his view of his own organisation:

His words: "Today, the United Kingdom strives to be a modern and multicultural society. In this challenging enterprise, may it always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate."

My proposed subtext: "Today, the Vatican City strives to be an archaic and monocultural society. In this challenging enterprise, may you let it always maintain its disrespect for those modern values and cultural expressions that the Catholic Church no longer values or even tolerates."

He likely used the word aggresive to both create a feeling of them and us, of an aggressive enemy and to have a come back to the likes of me who might criticise with what I hope might be a reasoned disagreement.

I thought that was the worst of it but sadly the Pope has managed to land an even bigger misinformed insult - tying together Atheism and Nazis, a transcript of which can be read here. Maybe just an insult if it wasn't for the fact that the Nazi's related Atheism with their Communist enemy. And to make this insult in a country where many an 'atheist/agnostic/humanist' likely took part in the war effort to defeat the Nazi's further adds to the ridiculous relationship! He failed also in his random recreation of history regarding the Nazi's to mention the inaction of the Pope of the time to even speak out against that regime. Is it maybe that Atheism like a religion is a belief or lack thereof and cannot be forced to be held or withheld so the only way to convince is to associate that belief with something that has been proven to be evil? Sadly mine and many other peoples secular schooling taught us enough to know when we hear poop.

Unsurprisingly the PR machine seems to have kicked in and the news hasn't really touched on it with the church distancing themselves from the implied connection. It didn't stop him critising the media though in a quite hypocritical manner stating that "it needed to have a greater responsibility because its opinions reach such a wide audience". LOL.

What I'd really love to hear are the views the Pope holds regarding whether he believes morals and ethics are synonymous to faith alone, and if so, are they only valid if held with active participation in a Catholic Church? Also an explanation as to why he thinks secularism is somehow bad (other than to the Church's coffers) because his views so far have had a hint of the BNP's rhetoric about them in that they are intolerant and misinformed. Secularism does not infringe personal belief, it only limits a groups religions bias in state matters where it impacts on the greater society made up of every personal belief, religious or otherwise. Its not divisive, its inclusive... which is a lot more than can be said of Vatican City's 'State' Monarchy.

As my door is already open to the Jehovahs Witnesses (who incidentally never did return to my invitation) I open my door gladly to the Pontiff if he'd care to visit and answer those questions and explain himself but I fear if two JW's shunned my offer a Pope will have even less time for me, after all there are more vulnerable or worthy people to 'help' than I.

As the saying goes; what you hate the most in others may be what you hate most about yourself and maybe, just maybe, the Queen and Pope should take heed in words they claim to uphold since its a trend that spans not only their religion but those before and after. Maybe they can take heed from the golden rule that the Pope seems to have forgotten - simply to treat others as you would like to be treated - Its even there in so many words within in the bible so its about time they both read it or re-read it - whichever edition they're reading from.

On a side note, the Pope has mentioned Northern Ireland in what seemed to be a fellow big up to the Queen and all involved saying, "Your Majesty's Government and the Government of Ireland, together with the political, religious and civil leaders of Northern Ireland, have helped give birth to a peaceful resolution of the conflict there". So at least there is some common sense coming out of this meeting. If only the words he uses to insult with were as diplomatic to those he didn't meet as they are to those he did.

No doubt more to follow.

Leeds vs Swansea and the season so far

Elland Road Leeds

Less than 24 hours into our visit to Yorkshire and we were inside Elland Road to watch Leeds United take on Swansea City on the 11th September 2010. After making our way to the ground and 1 chicken balti pie later, it was up into the stand to sample the atmosphere. Slotted into the (sadly) traditionally cramped seats for someone of my height, we got ourselves comfortable to watch the game and the noise picked up.

The game got under way and Leeds were fine going forward most of the time but were pretty dodgy at the back especially when we were hit by a quick break. We got frustrated when we gave the ball away in great positions repeatedly and that indecision seemed to be reflected throughout the team when the ball came back at us. Clearing the lines was replaced by passing the ball back to Swansea. As far as Swansea go they were pretty decent, they didn't just hoof it and played some nice football at times, though maybe a little too reliant on counter attacking for their chances. Who can blame them though, it often works and it got them in front with a break away goal that came after a slip in the defence.

The 1st half went by quite quickly and it was then the queue for the toilets I should really have remembered to avoid given my years having a season ticket in the family stand. Finally escaping the toilets, it was time for the 2nd half and though not going all our way at first, the 2nd half eventually got better from a Leeds perspective after around 60 minutes. Max Gradel had looked a bit rusty but when it worked for him it paid dividends for the team and from his cross and a shot which came in we ended up getting back into the game. The momentum built up by the goal was further aided by the substitution of Watt, for as good as we know he can be (he was having one of those days) when Sam came on the side looked a bit more rounded. Throughout the game it was mainly Bradley Johnson and Luciano Becchio doing most of the grafting and their hard work paid dividends as they both ended up on the score sheet, the one goal mentioned already scored by Bradley Johnson. Deservedly so as Johnson was our main goal threat the whole game and before the goals in the 2nd half he had almost ended the first half on a fine note with a great run and shot which hit the crossbar. At 1-1 Leeds were the side on top and the pressure paid off with a barrage of shots being finished in the end by Becchio tapping in for a much deserved 2nd.

As always with only a goal in it, it got a bit nervy towards the end, not helped at all by following the Irish league via a mobile phone and hearing Glenavon had brought the score at Seaview to 5-4 and the Crues were also holding onto a 1 goal advantage... thankfully for us though it all ended well as both took the 3 points.

Though early days, QPR are the pace setters this season after their great start. Leeds have shown promise, especially since there has been no big spending (that we know of) but I don't anticipate Leeds being automatic promotion contenders or keeping up with the sides who might run away with the league. I reckon the top half of mid table will be a good finish with the playoffs our main hope. The team is competitive and the crowd will always be enough for an extra point here and there but we still aren't quite there yet defensively. Maybe that will change if the newly signed Faye can fill the defensive midfield roll I think we've been missing and if and when the injury list clears up a bit.

Since the primary goal this season is to not be relegated, so far so good. My expectations for the season are being surpassed even at this early stage and with the odd couple of bad results. I'm really hoping though that if the team can cut out some of the sloppy mistakes in terms of not clearing their lines and failing to complete simple passes in defence and across the midfield where we keep being punished then we might really have a chance to make the playoffs this season. Its not the end of the world if we don't but the team we have has the ability, its just whether they can make it happen.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Avatar: Special Edition 3D

Avatar Special Edition comes to us 9 months or so after the original edition hit our screens and I'm very happy it did because due to my wedding, honeymoon and a busy festive season, I never made it into a screening of the movie at the time. So this weekend, on one of our sporadic solo dates (where Norngirl and I head to the cinema together but go to see different films which start around the same time) I jumped at the chance to see it for the very first time.

That chance came as we made the most of what proved to be an odd day. We took ourselves along to the £4 a ticket (half the price we last paid to see a 3D movie so thought it worth a mention), 2pm matinees at Movie House Cinema in the City Side Mall (Yorkgate). Norngirl went to see 'The Switch' and I donned the 3D glasses handed to me by the staff at the door and entered James Cameron's weird and wonderful moon world of Pandora.

I wasn't too sure what to expect as I'd somehow managed to avoid reading or hearing the ins and out of the plot and don't worry, I'll try not to spoil it in case you're still in the situation I had been and are considering going to see it for the first time but suffice to say I was pleasantly surprised. So if you've not seen it yet and don't want to risk knowing more than you might want to, just stop reading here.

As it got going I was slightly worried that Avatar was going to be 3 hours of gun touting and other needless action in 3D. Although there is a fair bit of that, thankfully my worry was alleviated as the plot started to unfold and the thoughtful and imaginative concept of this sci-fi universe revealed itself. Beautifully detailed, the environment that the characters found themselves in has to be the greatest draw of the movie. I hardly blinked the whole time as my eyes were glued to the screen, only as I got that stinging sensation of dry eyes was I able to override the desire to block my view with my eye lids for more than a split second.

Sadly though, some of the characters, especially the bad guys, seem ironically one dimensional for a 3D movie, this was personified with the main villain Colonel Miles Quaritch whose character had no depth and might as well have been a robot from a bad b-movie.

Thinking about the plot itself, I'm probably not alone in thinking that it is pretty much the Star Wars trilogy meets Pocahontas. Oddly though this is not a bad mix, especially with a sprinkle of more modern scientific thinking than those two stories which pre-date it. The creatures and technology used are believable given the understanding of the environment we're provided and the science fiction doesn't seem too out there, its almost a soft venture into a new world using concepts used before but well fashioned into quite a gem. I thought the cinematography was brilliant and made up for any short comings in the character development, after all, Avatar is long enough without the need to dig deeper into the various personalities of what turns out to be plenty of characters, most of whom I can't remember the names of anyway.

As a sci-fi and environmental science nerd with a penchant for this relatively new technology in the mainstream, it was probably something I couldn't help but like. I'm very glad it was re-released as it gave me a chance to enjoy it in the way it was intended. I'm not too sure how it's charms would translate to 2D on a DVD at home as most of the enjoyment came from the sheer spectacle and taking you out of this world and into another. Avatar's tag line of 'Enter the World' does not disappoint or mislead.

Moving onto the difference between Avatar and this the special edition of Avatar; I came to read afterwards that there is 9 minutes of extra footage added such as the romantic entwining, a hunt and a death scene. Those scenes did actually stick out in my mind and do seem worth re-adding even if they are just a drop in the sea of this movie, they do probably add a little extra understanding.

Talking of the sea. It sounds like there is a sequel in the pipe line which will take us to the oceans of Pandora. Count me in for a trip to see that!


Related Posts with Thumbnails