Category Archives: Politics

The Thin Red Line

Two films released by the Criterion Collection this week focus on men at war.  We’ll discuss Terrence Malick’s ‘The Thin Red Line’ on the next episode of The Film Talk, and below; later in the week I’ll post a piece on ‘Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence’.  These are two of the most compelling films released on DVD this year.

When I first saw Terrence Malick’s ‘The Thin Red Line’, it was the turn of the century, Bill Clinton was still in office, the Twin Towers were intact, and the film seemed to be about the past.  The distant past, to be sure: a film that begins with a reptile submerging and ends with a plant growing on a beach seems to exist a long time before we did.  The nearer past, ostensibly: it takes place in 1942 during the early Guadalcanal Campaign (although you’ll look in vain for the caption that appeared on the print I saw over a decade ago to indicate it; Malick, it seems, has had that removed from the new Criterion Collection Blu-ray and DVD release: he wants the movie to exist outside time). This is only appropriate, as it aims to be a poem about the primitive roots of violence, the lack of maturity among men who see the world only as a fight, the power of love to sustain even when it is broken, the tragedy of human beings caught in a web that they think dictates that only violence can be the path to power in this life.

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Bloody Sunday Follow-up

My ‘Bloody Sunday’ article from last week received a critical comment from a reader, and I wanted to respond.

I wrote to the commenter – Taicligh – as follows: No response to critical comments is likely to satisfy entirely either your criticism or my defensiveness ;-)  But I hope you can see my response as an opportunity to continue dialogue, rather than to shut it down.  I apologise in advance for what I’ve got wrong this time round – we are all frail and faltering, and looking toward the same light.  I hope we can keep talking.

To take each of Taicligh’s points in turn:

>wow, you’re certainly not biased.

I’m sorry that my article gave rise to such a critical response; it was not my intention to entrench division; the article was actually an attempt at expressing a broader view of things than is often seen in conversation about divided societies; one that would endorse the Bloody Sunday enquiry, respect the pain of the families, and endorse the British Prime Minister’s apology while suggesting how the context could expand beyond (and because of) this single event.  I’m sorry also that my article seemed biased and insensitive.  At the same time, I’m not sure that biases can ever be avoided in writing about something so powerful as the history of a violently divided society.  What might be better would be if we could all acknowledge our the existence of our biases, and dialogue in the knowledge that none of us has a monopoly on truth.

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Bloody Sunday’s Lessons

For 14 people in my homeland, northern Ireland — a place whose divisions are so fully on the surface that we still can’t agree what to call it (the reason I spell it with a small ‘n’) — the clocks stopped on January 30, 1972.

For their families, this week it may feel like they have finally started again. These 14 people were participating in a civil rights march that was fired upon by British soldiers. This event, known as Bloody Sunday, marked a turning point in the history of conflict among Catholic/Irish and Protestant/British.  The killings galvanized support for the IRA, the paramilitary organization dedicated to ending British governance in the six northeastern counties of the island of Ireland, and scarred the two communities — one with the grief at their loss, the other with the dehumanizing coldness that complicit parties often feel toward those whose suffering they are seeking to legitimize.

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Celtic Spirituality and Radical Activism Gathering

We’re making some final plans for the Celtic Spirituality and Radical Activism Event – a week in Northern Ireland in August, leading up to Greenbelt.  There are still some places left, but we need to make some decisions this week about numbers – so if you’re interested we need to hear from you very soon.  More details on the event here – if you’re interested in participating, let us know…

Summer Hours

Jeremie Renier, Juliette Binoche, and Charles Berling,

looking happier than they often feel in ‘Summer Hours’

The premise that underlines Olivier Assayas’ film ‘Summer Hours’ couldn’t be more unfamiliar: elderly matriarch dies, her three adult children have to decide how to split up her estate, the Musee D’Orsay gets involved because said estate includes a lot of art and objets d’art, and some teenagers have a party in the rambling French country pile that has given the family shape for a generation. The end.

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‘The End of the Line’

‘I think that man is not going to change, and the sea going to be dead, because man is crazy’. – ‘The End of the Line’ (That’s not a photo of the ‘end’ – it’s actually a picture of Ira Levin, but that’ll make sense if you read on.)

(Re-posted from The Film Talk): The first time I had a tuna sandwich I was eleven years old. It was October 1986, and my mum had cast me in a staged reading of Ira Levin’s play ‘Critic’s Choice’, in which, if memory serves, I played the 12 year old son of an unpleasant theatre reviewer, who advises his dad on how to respond to a play written by his wife that he doesn’t like. I was terrified, having neither developed a sense of being comfortable on stage, nor having had more than an hour or two to peruse Mr Levin’s script. Well, he went on to write ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and ‘The Stepford Wives’, and I went on to eat more tuna. I never really thought about where my food came from until the fair trade movement of the late 1990s convinced me to change coffee brands in a neat inverse colonisation move; and since then it seems that every five minutes there’s a new documentary about what’s wrong with the world’s supply-and-demand chains, and what to do about it. Thus far, Al Gore has made me switch off lights that I’m not using, Michael Moore has made me avoid certain banks, the Francis Brother’s ‘Black Gold’ has reinforced what I’d already become convinced of where coffee’s concerned. Now it’s Nemo’s turn. Continue reading

Obama Report Card: Important Words from Frank Schaeffer

My friend Frank Schaeffer is a passionate advocate for challenging the current state of conservative politics in the United States, and an even more passionate advocate for President Obama.  I admire deeply his personal courage in speaking up, and offering a critique of the movement he helped found.  This has come at a significant personal cost.  I’m posting below in full his most recent article, which offers a corrective to both those on the right who would denounce Obama, and those on the left who feel let down.  I think that Frank’s words below, and John Dear’s comments about Obama’s role in American empire, posted here recently both offer helpful, contrasting lenses through which to interpret this new era in American history.  I’m grateful for Frank’s reminders of Obama’s significant achievements; and I’m grateful for John’s reminders that we should not trust in princes.  Both perspectives deserve serious attention.  I’m looking forward to reading more of both of these important voices in the year to come. (BTW – Frank’s new book ‘Patience with God’ is fantastic – one of the most illuminating reading experiences of the past year.)

‘Obama Will Triumph – So Will America’, by Frank Schaeffer (Original post here)

Before he’d served even one year President Obama lost the support of the easily distracted left and engendered the white hot rage of the hate-filled right. But some of us, from all walks of life and ideological backgrounds — including this white, straight, 57-year-old, former religious right wing agitator, now progressive writer and (given my background as the son of a famous evangelical leader) this unlikely Obama supporter — are sticking with our President. Why?– because he is succeeding. We faithful Obama supporters still trust our initial impression of him as a great, good and uniquely qualified man to lead us. Obama’s steady supporters will be proved right. Obama’s critics will be remembered as easily panicked and prematurely discouraged at best and shriveled hate mongers at worst.

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