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I went to see James Cameron’s movie Avatar last night.

It is everything I said it would be. It is courageous greenies in touch with nature, beating back the greedy Tasmanian loggers. It is Dances With Wolves with blue indians instead of red.

It is so PC that if its head were any further up its backside it would fall over.

But the strange thing is, it doesn’t fall over.

A film should never be dismissed simply because you read in it a political message you don’t like.

This does not apply to a deliberate piece of propaganda for something evil, like Dr Goebbels’ productions, or something plain stupid, like Thelma and Louise, or something libellous, like Baz Luhrmann’s Australia.

No artistic or entertainment value can redeem a movie (or book, or other work of art) which is bad because of bad intent.

But the expression of differing political perspectives in film or other media is a good thing, and there can be films which are genuinely good, even if the message is wrong.

Avatar’s central theme is that private enterprise is BAD, and that military power which supports private enterprise is even BADDER. Between them they destroy things and will wreck the world, and what will we do then?

That is wrong. Capitalism and free trade have done more than any other politico-economic system to lift ordinary people out of poverty, to encourage the exchange of ideas, to make medical and educational facilities available to ordinary people.

Societies which are wealthy can set aside large areas of forest or mountains or reefs as reserves. Poorer countries do not have that luxury.

Despite the clumsy naivety of its political message, Avatar is a good film.

It is not all good, of course, even after you discount the preaching.

There are a few wooden moments.

But this is Hollywood. Anything less than ten embarrassing dialogue blunders, or clunky plot errors, or distracting continuity mistakes, is a strong pass.

Much of the scenery looks like it was lifted from World of Warcraft – from the Night Elves and their world tree, to the floating mountains, to the bio-luminesence of Zangarmarsh.

The story is an amalgam of great sci-fi novels – Herbert’s Dune, McCaffrey’s Pern novels, Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest, Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.

But you can’t play ‘spot the cliche’ or ‘spot the ripoff’ with Avatar as you can with Australia.

Taken as a whole, the film is original and engaging.

The story is simple, and is told without any artificial attempts to make it ‘deeper.’ You never find yourself thinking ‘What the hell is going on now?’ Every scene meshes with the next in well paced succession.

Character development is well done – vastly better than in the deeply disappointing recent Jim Carrey version of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, for example.

In Avatar, you see and understand each step of Jakes’ journey to understanding the value of the Navi and their links to the ecology of Pandora. You cannot help cheering him on when he realises his loyalties have changed, and begins to act on his new convictions.

You may be thinking, as I was much of the time, that the story is a crock of doodoo. But suspension of belief is a necessary part of enjoying fiction in any form, and Pandora is a perfectly consistent world, and believable on its own terms.

Pandora is, without question, the most detailed and perfectly realised alien world ever attempted. It works because so much care has been taken with even the most minor details of sound and visual effects. It is difficult to overstate just how good the visuals in this film are.

This is true not just of individual effects, machines and creatures, but of how different parts of the world interact with each other to form a convincing whole.

But the special effects, powerful as they are, are not what drives the film.

From begining to end, Avatar is driven by the character of Jake Sully, his growing understanding of himself, the new world around him, and ultimately, what really matters and what he needs to do.

The film’s politics are a major flaw.

Nonetheless, James Cameron deserves recognition not only for great effects, but for a solid story, solidly directed. This is a film worth seeing.

Wow! An alarming headline.

But not a very informative one, unless we are told what that intake is being tripled from and to.

Reading the small print we find that FebFast, another charity group no one has ever heard of, undertook a survey which found that:

… most respondents drink one day a week and that during the festive period that increases to three days a week. One-third of Australians consume more than 10 standard drinks a week during the festive season.

That doesn’t sound too alarming to me.

“There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the summer and the season’s festivities, but we need to be aware of how much some Australians get carried away and take celebrations to excess,” FebFast chief executive Fiona Healy said in a statement.

Absolutely. An average of one a half drinks per day during the festive season. This outlandish festivity must be stopped.

I don’t fancy their chances in the Northern Territory, land of sweeping plains and swooning Kidmans, where no respondents to FebFast’s survey said they consumed too much alcohol.

I finally got around to seeing Baz Lurhmann’s Australia. I cannot remember ever having seen a film so offensively bad.

It is three hours of unmitigated drivel.

My mother-in-law said about half way through ‘This thing just goes on and on. It must be six hours already!’

My brother-in-law Bruce, at whose insistence we were watching it, replied ‘It’s almost over, just another half hour.’

‘Half an hour!’ shouted Bonnie, ‘I can’t sit here another minute!

We stopped for twenty minutes to let everyone catch their breath. I grabbed a very large scotch, and kept the bottle.

The movie started again. OK. I was pretty confident I could get through the next half hour without slashing my wrists.

An hour and a half later it finally dribbled to an end.

By this time Bonnie was comatose, and even Kathy, who had wanted to see it, was looking less than gruntled.

Australia is an abject collection of every movie cliche imaginable.

The overall effect is like Flying High or Scary Movie – ‘Oh, that’s from How The West Was Won’ or ‘That’s from Sixth Sense.’

But because Australia takes itself so seriously – and that is a key difference from Lurhmann’s earlier films – it doesn’t offer even the minimal amusement afforded by those other rip-off movies.

Australia is also a collection of every offensive half truth about about Australia’s history, and every offensive libel about official attitudes and policies relating to Australia’s indigenous people.

Some of the scenery is interesting, but apart from that, it is difficult to think of anything good about the movie at all.

Nicole Kidman is a competent if not brilliant actress (to be fair, she was brilliant in The Hours, a substantially less depressing film than Australia), and Hugh Jackman makes a good Wolverine or Peter Allen.

But in Australia, the limit of their expressive power is Jackman stalking about looking manly, while Kidman struts about looking concerned.

The boy who plays Nullah (Brandon Walters) is a nice looking kid, but he has only three expressions: happy, sad, and confused.

He looked confused quite frequently. He wasn’t the only one.

I am sure I looked confused almost as often as I looked bored or annoyed, depending on whether what was on screen at the  time was another gaping hole in the plot, another cattle stampede to the edge of the cliff cliche, or another malicious misrepresentation of Australia’s history.

Baz Lurhmann has produced three entertaining and original movies. How did he go so far wrong with this?

Jo Nova has put together a massive wall chart of highlights (low lights?) from the FOI file of documents and emails from Hadley.

It details more than twenty years of data fudging, bullying of scientists with alternative views, pressuring scientific journals, hijacking the peer review process, and outright lying about the evidence for anthropogenic climate change by a small cabal of well-funded public servants.

The only disappointment is that Jo repeats the furphy about the medieval church silencing sceptics. Jo is usually a careful researcher and clear thinker, so this is a little surprising.

In reality, the medieval church was the friend of science, and consistently encouraged the asking of questions and the search for truth.
 
This is one of the reasons it is the West that has been the home of science, and Western thought which has provided so many of the answers to questions about the natural world.

But that hesitation aside, Jo’s wallchart is a product of a prodigious amount of work, displayed, as always, in a clear and interesting way.

A few belated suggestions for Tiger and the plastic playmates.

Tiger:

Some women chase sports stars, or anyone who is rich and famous.

When women approach you and offer to have sex with you, this is not because they like you, care about you, or want to get to know you better.

Women want to have sex with you because you are a trophy. The purpose of a trophy is to be displayed. So don’t expect them to keep quiet about it.

You make most of your money from sponsorships – manufacturers and retailers paying you to endorse their products.

They pay you to endorse their products because the they think the public trust you, and will believe you when you say that a product is of good quality and worth buying.

But if you show that your word means nothing, even when given to the people you love, why should the public believe you when you tell them to buy a certain brand of sneakers, or car, or life insurance?

And if there is no reason for the public to believe what you say, there is no reason for sponsors to pay you to say it.

Playmates:

If you dress, walk, talk, and generally act as if you think the only important thing about you is your sexuality, don’t be surprised if some men agree with you.

This means that instead of relating to you as a person with ideas and values and perspectives worth considering, they will relate to you only with an interest in the pleasure they imagine they could get from your body, that is, as a kind of masturbation aid.

This demeans both you and them.

It also almost certainly means that while you will be appreciated as a party girl, someone to date, a good sport, you will not be a person most men would want to have a long-term relationship with, one in which you and your thoughts and feelings are valued.

And I don’t blame them.

I for one was grateful for China’s new assertiveness at Copenhagen.

I am less impressed by the combination of insecurity about its internal politics and disregard of world opinion that is increasingly evident in China’s represssion of dissent, and limiting of its citizens’ access to news sources.

The eleven year sentence imposed on 53 year old professor of literature, Liu Xiaobo, for ‘subversion’ has drawn widespread condemnation from world leaders.

This has been ignored. Chinese leaders clearly believe (and rightly) that they have more to be worried about from their own citizens than from the current rash of limp wristed leftist Western leaders.

Yemen has conflicts with Al Qaeda in the South, and Al Houthis (a Shiite separatist group) in the North.

Neither group has widespread support in Yemen. Al Qaeda is seen as a threat by the West, because it has links to terror organisations around the world. But Al Qaeda has little popular support in Yemen, and appears to have no political ambitions other than destruction of anything and any regime associated with the West, and with the US in particular.

Al Houthis has political ambitions in both Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Jumana Al Tamimi of Gulf News writes:

“Al Qaida has no popular base, no political horizon and no alternative to the existing regime. They consider the state an enemy because of its alliance with the US,” Yemeni political expert Fares Saqqaf said.

At the same time, “Al Houthis are newly formed, as their first confrontation with the state was in 2004. They are close to people, and are followers of a certain Shiite sect (Yemen is prediminantly Sunni).

Yemen is the poorest of the gulf states, with limited oil supplies, and chronic water shortages.

Without US support against Al Qaeda, and Saudi support against Al Houthis, Yemen may well be in serious trouble.

The catch is that dependence on US aid may reduce Yemen’s credibility amongst other Arab states, and may increase the likelihood of attacks in the US.

WSJ reports about the attempted bombing on a Northwest Airlines plane yesterday:

The suspect, Nigerian-national Abdul Mudallad, said he received instructions and training from al Qaeda operatives based in Yemen ahead of boarding the Detroit-bound flight Friday, according to U.S. law-enforcement officials.

These officials said they couldn’t confirm Mr. Mudallad’s claims. But the purported bombing attempt came as Yemen’s security forces intensified military operations against al Qaeda forces, with significant U.S. intelligence support.

The US has provided nearly $70 million in counter-terrorism aid to Yemen this year, compared with nothing in the previous year.

Nearly half the terror suspects currently held by the US are Yemeni nationals.

1. I had occasion to visit the regional hospital in Geraldton a couple of days ago. Staff seemed competent and concerned for their patients. So far, so good.

Ouside the main entrance was a vendng machine for syringes and needles. This is a photo of the machine, and of my $3.00 worth of needles and syringes:

Needle Vending Machine Outside Geraldton Hospital

Needle Vending Machine Outside Geraldton Hospital

Needles From Hospital Vending Machine

Needles From Hospital Vending Machine

I know there is a view that the best way to help intra-venous drug abusers is to make their drug use as easy as possible.

That is a view not well-founded in research, but it is at least motivated by good-will. Well, I assume it is. It is not clear how implementing or continuing policies which have been shown to do more harm than good can really be motivated by a desire to help, but let’s give the hospital administrators and drug policy people the benefit of the doubt.

Maybe they are so busy they don’t have time to read.

What I don’t understand is how putting a vending machine in a public place so any five year old with $3.00 can get a supply of syringes and needles is helping anyone.

2. I bought some very good fish and chips yesterday evening. On the shop notice board was an advertisement for the ‘Murdoch University Chiropractic Clinic.’

Murdoch University teaches chiropractic. It runs chiropractic clinics.

How is it possible to have any confidence in the academic integrity of a university which offers PhDs in quackery?

It is a bit like Oxford offering a degree in tea-leaf reading, and running a tea leaf reading booth at the local shopping mall.

The university website tells potential students:

We are excited that we are now entering a time where more emphasis can be placed upon generating research relating to chiropractic.

They could just take note of the century of existing research, which shows that the only thing chiropractic can do is provide temporary relief of some kinds of minor back pain – about the equivalent of taking two aspirin, and that other chiropractic techniques are not only useless but harmful.

The website goes on:

In September, 2006 Murdoch University School of Chiropractic was informed by the Council on Chiropractic Education Australasia Inc. that its program had become fully accredited.

So if you decide to do a course in chiropractic at Murdoch, you can be assured that the piece of paper they give you will be accepted by quacks and charlatans around the world.

Congratulations!

The election of Mary Glasspool as assistant Bishop of Los Angeles will be the end of the Anglican Communion.

Ms Glasspool is a practising lesbian who has lived for twenty years with her partner.

This election comes six years after the election of active homosexual Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire.

The unequivocal witness of the Judeo-Christian tradition over nearly four thousand years is that homosexual acts are wrong. This was the unchallenged view in the Christian church until about fifty years ago.

Conservatives say the sudden, culturally driven rejection of long-held beliefs about leadership and sexuality is not only intrinsically wrong, but makes it impossible to comunicate the faith with anny confidence. If the church now says it has been wrong about these key things for the last 2,000 years, why should anyone believe anything it says now?

Muriel Porter claims that we conservatives have talked about damage to the Anglican Communion before, and threatened to leave before before, and so can be safely ignored in any current debates.

It is true that there have been no major public splits in the Anglican Church of Australia.

It is also true that there have been dramatic declines in church attendance over the lasty thirty years.

If life expectancies had not increased by twenty years or so over the last century, Anglican churches around the country would be empty.

There are some exceptions – Sydney and its satellites. But Sydney stands outside the mainstream of the Anglican Church of Australia. That is not a criticism!

Many thousands of men and women who have been Anglicans all their lives have left in despair rather than form new semi-Anglican denominations.

If Muriel Porter means this process is likely to continue no matter how far the church strays from its moorings, then she is probably right.

Members of the Australian Defence Forces are currently deployed in the Solomon Islands, East Timor, Afghanistan, Israel and the Sinai, Sudan and Iraq, as well as in border protection around Australia.

Some 3800 Australian service men and women will be spending Christmas away from their families.

Thanks. And may God bless you and keep you safe, along with those you love.

Why do atheists insist on imposing their religious views on the rest of us?

Atheists are a tiny proportion of the population in Australia.

Seventy percent of Australians are Christians, or have some affiliation with a Christian church. Many of the rest are Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, or members of a myriad of smaller groups.

By all means let’s hear what the atheists have to say. But why should there be outrage from them when anyone else has a point of view on a matter of public policy?

On the flight from Adelaide I read bits of the Adelaide Advertiser over the shoulder of the man in the seat next to me.

There was an article by a woman I had never heard of and whose name I cannot remember, bemoaning the influence of Christianity in public life.

As examples of this nefarious influence, she pointed to the defeat of the voluntary euthanasia bill, and exemptions for religious groups from aspects of anti-discrimination legislation.

These exemptions provide, for example, that a muslim social welfare group does not have to employ a man who lives in a sexual relationship with another man, that a Jewish school does not have to employ someone who believes Jews are descended from pigs and monkeys, or that a catholic parish does not have to employ someone who thinks the pope is the anti-christ.

In other words, these exemptions are about protecting the feelings and beliefs of others, even when when we disagree with them. Even atheists. And I agree with the writer to the extent of acknowledging that this is indeed Chrstian influence at work.

Take two minutes to do a simple thought experiment.

Consider countries where there has been a long history of Christian influence in public life.

Now think of countries under Islamic or atheist regimes.

Where are you more likely to find justice and democracy? Where are you going to be safer if you are lesbian or homosexual? Where are women’s voices more likely to be heard? Where is there a higher level of wealth, of quality education and health services?

In which direction do refugees and immigration flow? Where would you rather live?

The writer of the Adelaide Advertiser article decries the fact the Tony Abbott has called for compulsory Bible classes. She says she is happy for the Bible to be taught in schools, with other fiction.

I am not sure Tony Abbott has called for compulsory Bible classes.

What he said was that it was impossible to understand Western culture; law, music art and literature, without a knowledge of the Bible. He is right.

One of the consequences of the influence of the Bible, and of Christianity in general, is that people like the woman who wrote the Advertiser article can parrot their ill-informed and poorly thought-out opinions and expect them to be taken seriously.

And thank God for that.

It was like being back on Ansett.

On Tuesday Kathy and I travelled from American River to Geraldton.

it was a long day. Drive from American River to Penneshaw. Ferry to Cape Jervis. Drive to Adelaide. Fly to Perth. That was with Qantas, and it was OK. One of the lunch choices was chicken korma. That might have been a mistake. It was a bit smelly, in a stinky sort of way. And the elderly lady behind me kept swearing at her husband. But otherwise the flight was fine. Check-in staff were helpful, cabin staff were polite.

The flight from Perth to Geraldton was a different matter.

The young woman at the check-in counter looked and sounded as if she had several better things to do than check in passengers.

She barely spoke, other than to ask for ID, which we already had open for her.

She did manage ‘There you go’ as she dropped the boarding passes on the counter.

I asked which gate we were boarding from. ‘Just look at the screen’ she advised.

‘OK. Thanks. And where do we go from here?’ I said, not being familiar with the airport.

‘Just go through security.’

‘And which way is that?’

This was met with a deep sigh, as if passengers who did not know the airport were an appalling trial which no staff member should be expected to tolerate.

‘To your left. Look. Just go through security.’

Going through the gate, the staff who boarded guests were more interested in talking to one another than assisting passengers. You could have strolled onto the plane with a dozen sticks of dynamite wrapped around your head and the conversation would still have been about what Gerald and Tiffany did on their date last night.

We found our way across the tarmac to the plane, through a labyrinth of barricades and an occasional staff member staring into space.

The first thing that struck me when I got on the plane was the smell of urine. The toilet was near the door and smelled as if it had not been emptied any time in 2009.

I showed the stewardess my boarding pass. She looked at it as if it was a used tampon. ‘H8’ she said. Was this the standard greeting on Sky West? Or had she mistaken me for a member of some secret society like the Seven Dials?

Actually, I didn’t wonder either of those things. I had looked at my boarding pass when I was trying to work out which gate I needed to go to.

I knew H8 was my seat number. I didn’t need anyone to glare disdainfully and growl it back to me. Perhaps a ‘Good afternoon, welcome to Sky West’ or even ‘Hi, two thirds of the way down on the left’ would have been appropriate.

Then dinner arrived. There was no choice, but hey, it was food. Well, sort of.

It looked like Chicken Caesar salad. ‘Looked like’ was as close it got.

The chicken was a gluey concoction, apparently made of gristle mixed with chicken flavouring, and a streak of brown paint to make it looked as if the glue and gristle had been grilled.

There were soggy croutons, and wilted lettuce, and ‘Caesar Dressing’ in a little plastic pouch. And a stale bread roll.

I rarely drink on flights, but consoled myself with a mid strength beer.

There was a 1 inch by a half inch bar of Cadbury chocolate in the dinner box.

That was nice.

And our bags arrived in Geraldton at the same time we did. So I guess it wasn’t all bad.

The Christmas Island detention centre is so full that 30 illegal immigrants have transported to Melbourne. Another 35 have been taken from Christmas Island to Darwin.

When I was about 12, I asked my Mum what it meant to be grown-up. She thought for a minute as said ‘Taking responsibility for your actions.’

The importance of taking responsibility for one’s actions is probably the single principle that did most to move me away from the leftism of my university days.

It is a principle that seems completely to escape leftist politicians and activists.

For example, if you (this list from John Stone’s article ‘The Origins of the Crisis in Immigration Policy’ Quadrant December 2009):

  • Announce that illegal immigrants will not be subject to lengthy stays in detention, but will be allowed to live in the community.
  • Introduce a system of ‘Temporary Bridging Visas’ for people who have illegally overstayed the terms of their original visas.
  • Abolish Temporary Protection Visas and announce that anyone who is given refugee or Special Humanitarian Program status will be granted permannent residence, full access to welfare benefits, and the right to invite family members to live in Australia.
  • Weaken citizenship tests.
  • Announce a 24.5% increase in immigration.

Then it should come as no surprise that you have made Australia a much more attractive target for illegal immigrants and people smugglers.

There have been 54 boats this year, compared with a total of 18 in the previous six years.

The present Federal government told the world that people who arrived in Australia illegally would be treated more compassionately.

Some of those who have come to this country illegally this year have specifically said that they did so because they believed they would be more likely to succeed in obtaining permamnent residence than under the Howard government.

Yet Mr Rudd refuses to acknowledge that the massive increase in the number of illegal immigrants to Australia in the last twelve months has anything to do with the policies and announcements listed above.

This an outright refusal to accept responsibility for the consequences his actions.

Compassionate policies are those which result in a reduction of suffering. These ‘compassionate’ policies have resulted in a huge increase in suffering. And some deaths.

Genuine compassion, or even any concern whatever for the safety and well-being of others, would lead to acknowledgement that the policy changes have not worked, and the immediate implementation of plans to reduce the number of illegal immigrants.

But that would mean taking responsibility.

I guess we we can always hope.

Reader James T suggests I should have given Andrew Bolt credit for my comments on James Cameron’s film Avatar.

Proper referencing is important for one’s intellectual integrity. It is also polite.

When I write about a newspaper article or other primary source, I always reference the source, with a link if possible.

If I have already begun to think about a story, to make a notes on a news item, for example, and then come across some commentary on the same story, I will not reference that commentary unless it changes the way I think, or leads me to other information on the same subject.

But where I have been alerted to a story by another commentator, I reference the original story, and the place I first read about it.

For example, in my comments about the Daily Mail’s fact avoiding article on the relationship between fundamentalism and violence, I referenced the Daily Mail, and Robert Spencer’s Jihad Watch.

In my story about the large group of scientists who wrote to Ban Ki Moon questioning the global warming orthodoxy as a basis for for economic or environmental policy, I referenced the scientists’ website and letter, and Australian Conservative, where I had first read the story.

In the case of Avatar, my story (which was basically just an approving note about Jim Schembri’s disapproving review) appeared a couple of hours before Andrew’s similar story.

There is nothing unexpected or untoward about this.

Avatar was in the news – it was due for release in Australia the following day. It is not surprising that two conservative bloggers should comment on the politics of a highly political film the day before its release.

From Jeff Lindsay’s Darkly Dreaming Dexter:

You don’t have to take an IQ test to become a reporter. Even so, I always hope for just the smallest glimmer. And I’m always disappointed. Perhaps I saw too many blacka nd white movies as a child. I still thought the cynical world-weary drunk from the large metropolitan daily was supposed to ask an awkward question and force the investigators to re-examine the evidence.

Sadly, as Dexter notes, the the awkward questions seem only to extend to ‘How did that make you feel?’ or ‘What was she wearing at the time?’ or ‘How high, Mr Gore?’

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