Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Do you remember a time when you believed the hype?

About 20 years ago I was in a church youth group. I was in it for most of my teens. We used to go to all kinds of events geared at young people. Some were low-key, some were huge. Some had all kinds of weird cultish things going on. One I went to had a performance by Cliff Richard (who was alright, to be fair).

One of the things we were constantly told by the people running these sort of shows was that God had ‘great plans’ for our generation. That there was a generation ‘rising up’ who were going to be ‘history makers’ and all that sort of stuff. Deeply spiritual, prophectic leaders were going to emerge and all kinds of God stuff was going to happen. Even, maybe, whisper it in case you scare it away, but ‘revival’ might break out!

I’d forgotten all about those promises until today whan I saw this tweet from Krish Kandiah, who works for the Evangelical Alliance and blogs interestingly about stuff.

There it is again – a generation on from my ‘rising generation’, it seems there is a new generation rising. Krish wants to disciple them, which you could cynically regard as code for ‘tell them how to conform to established patterns of orthodox Christian thought’.

But it made me think of my own generation and what happened to us. Okay, a good few members of my youth group have gone on to become committed members of churches, some even as elders or pastors or whatever. But the revival never came and now it seems we aren’t going to be the generation that brings it in. That mantle has been passed on.

Maybe it will keep getting passed on. Maybe ‘rising generation’ is a label that we use because we don’t want to admit that we grew up and stopped believing the hype. When we wandered into sticky theological treacle, when the marriages that people kept themselves pure for started to break down, when we stopped seeing through dark glasses and actually began to realise that churches were led by fallible, human people, and the book we trusted in was fallible and human too, then maybe we stopped being the generation that would shake the world.

When our friends died of cancer despite our prayers and God wouldn’t or couldn’t – or all we can be sure of is that God didn’t – step in and spare them that horrible death, then maybe something died in us.

Not hope, but hype.

We were never the rising generation – that expectation put on us was unfair and untrue. We were just one more in a line of generations who remain faithful despite failure.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Word of the week: obesogenic

I saw this in a blog post about public health that was talking about McDonalds and other companies posing as responsible corporations while still selling tons of their "obesogenic and dentally challenging" products.

I'm not sure who coined the word, but whoever it was deserves a 'Well done!'

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

“No, George, no! Bad director, bad!”

I have mixed feelings about the news that the Star Wars movies are going to be re-released in super-duper 3D. Firstly, I don’t really care about 3D. But the main problem is George Lucas’ penchant for mucking around with Star Wars.

My feeling that Lucas should leave it alone started with the Special Edition of Return of the Jedi. I know many fanboys will shudder at the thought of the original release of ROTJ – ‘Brrr, Ewoks!’ But, at the risk of ruining my own credibility, I quite liked the Ewoks.

I wasn’t too bothered about the first two Special Editions. Having never seen the movies in the cinema before, it was quite fun. Yes, the extra CGI creatures, including Jabba, in A New Hope looked clunky and obvious, but I could live with that. And it had Boba Fett breaking the fourth wall. What’s not to like? Although, there was, of course, the whole 'Han shot first' thing. That was a pretty bad call.

Not much changed on Empire either. But for the Special Ed of Jedi, Lucas went off-piste with his ‘improvements’. Firstly he messed up the great song in Jabba’s Palace by Sy Snootles by adding in an annoying jumping around creature called Yuzzum. And then he bodged the ending by cutting away from the celebrations on Endor to show a crowd on the Imperial capital planet Coruscant puling down a statue of the Emperor.

It was an awkward and idiotic way to introduce the first ever shots of Coruscant and it messed up the post-film storylines that have been laid down with Lucas’ guiding direction. In the books, starting with Heir to the Empire, it takes 8 years for the Alliance to finally ‘liberate’ Coruscant from the remnants of the Empire. Lucas just binned all that for the sake of a scene that added nothing to the film.

The next sequence of disasters happened with the prequels. The Phantom Menace is almost universally derided among true fans, and yet I think it is still the best one of the three. True, it has no main protagonist. He should have toned down Jar Jar Binks a lot. Darth Maul was pre-hyped as a massive villainous character then had about three minutes of screen-time. The plotline is essentially feeble. But it’s a ‘set up’ movie – what would you expect?

There were two disasters, though. One was the ‘explanation’ of Anakin’s potentiality in the Force as being due to microscopic force-producing organisms in his blood called ‘midichlorians’ and the corresponding random decision to accord him a ‘virgin birth’ (seriously). The other was the repeated fudging of the monarchy issue. ‘Queen Amidala’ is a teenager, who has somehow been democratically elected queen. Yes, that’s right, the constitutional monarchist system of Naboo elects teenagers to positions of unquestionable power.

It’s ridiculous and has more to do with the American audience who presumably wouldn’t countenance an equation of monarchy with freedom. The USA is a republic after all and small-r republicanism matters.

The second and third prequels just built on these shaky foundations. There was no more nonsense about midichlorians, thank goodness, and Jar Jar was pensioned off to a role in the civil service. There was the godawful ‘romance’ sequence in Episode 2, and I never really got why Anakin embraced the Dark Side in Episode 3. I was expecting some kind of agonising / internal wrestling and at least a discussion about the merits of the Dark Side before he turned, but instead he seemed to have about two minutes talking about how worried he was about his pregnant wife and then went off to massacre children.

Again there was a continuity mess-up. In Return of the Jedi, Leia tells Luke she remembers their mother. Well, I doubt it, unless she was an exceptional newborn baby with facial recognition from the moment she drew breath. Because in Ep 3 Padme dies after saying her name.

By that point, I was past caring, really. As far as I’m concerned the prequels are non-canon; part of the apocrypha of the Star Wars universe, on a par with the Star Wars Holiday Special, the Marvel comic strips, the Droids cartoon series , the Ewok movie and the appearance of Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker on the Muppet Show.

But then came the release of the Special Editions onto DVD and the true evil of the prequels was revealed. For George had decided to monkey about with them again and, boy did he monkey! In the daftest and most annoying of ways!

Firstly, in the Special Edition of The Empire Strikes Back, he revoiced Boba Fett using the New Zealand twang of the actor who played Boba’s ‘father’, Jango Fett.

The thinking, presumably, is that Boba is a clone of Jango, and therefore he would sound exactly like his Dad. But, okay, some speech characteristics are probably genetic (tone, pitch etc.), accents aren’t ‘set’ genetically. It makes no sense for Boba, orphaned at a tender age, traveller of the galaxy, to have exactly the same accent as his Dad. It was a completely unnecessary change.

And then secondly, George managed to bodge the end of Jedi AGAIN! This time he replaced the ghost of Anakin Skywalker as played by Sebastian Shaw when Luke removes Darth Vader’s helmet on board the second Death Star, with the ghost of Anakin Skywalker as a young man, i.e. Hayden Christiansen, who played Anakin in Episodes 2 & 3.

There was no need for that. Maybe the thought was that having an old man next to Yoda and Obi-Wan was confusing for (stupid) kids. But Luke has never seen his father, except when he removes Vader’s helmet. How is he supposed to recognise a guy who looks about his own age?

And if you’re going to do it, why is Anakin the only one to return as a much younger version of himself? Why not replace all of Obi-Wan’s ghost scenes with footage of Ewan McGregor? It makes as much sense.

There does come a point where you begin to wonder whether George Lucas should be allowed near his own movies any more because he is slowly killing them. At what point should his underlings step in and say ‘Sir, in good conscience, we can’t allow you to exercise your ‘creativity’ on your cadre of work any more’.

‘Step away from the CGI machine, Sir. Thank you, Sir. Now, let’s leave the editing suite, and I’ll get Susan to make us a nice cup of tea...’

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

2011 – year in review

I did this last year and found it fun, so here’s a look backward at 2011.


I was recruited to write an end-of-session report for a Commission that ended up a few weeks later with having lunch in the then Health Minister’s office in Cardiff Bay. I also had a wisdom tooth out and had a bad reaction to the anaesthetic that laid me up crook for most of a week.


I spent most of the month working on the report for the Commission, interspersed with a family wedding in Bournemouth, which included drink in a remarkable Victorian booze-house. I branched out onto a new social media platform and joined Twitter as me. One aspect of my migration to Twitter is my daily use of Facebook dropping to weekly, or even longer, between visits. As someone (can’t remember who) said, “Facebook feels so 2008”.


Went to an odd gig – Boothby Graffoe at Chapter Arts Centre. He was filming a DVD but that meant occasionally he’d be asked to repeat stuff if the cameramen hadn’t quite got the shot they wanted. He had to make his entrance several times. At that point I knew it was going to be a long night. I also went to my 22nd Wales football game at the Millennium Stadium. They lost, to England, 2-0.


Did my second ‘in the News’ studio slot at UCB Radio on April 1 and then went to a football match on my birthday – love it when that happens, especially as Town won 4-1. Had two round trips to Newcastle to see a poorly sister-in-law later in the month and ended up driving home on Royal Wedding Day.


Marked my first-year anniversary at the job I still sometimes think of as my ‘new’ job. A couple of weeks after that I got to travel to the exotic city of Birmingham for a conference. Spent the end of the month driving round Wales filming people – including my first ever visit to Llanidloes. Shrewsbury Town bodged the play-offs and stayed in League 2.


Summer holiday in Mull and then on the Ardnamurchan peninsular. I preferred Mull. Ardnamurchan was the wrong kind of remote for me, although the Lighthouse was cool. I also enjoyed eating lunch next to Loch Morar and wondering if Nessie’s cousin Morag would appear. (She didn’t.) On the 24th I became Uncle Jon to Joy Lindsey Matthias.


Bit of a weird month in work. One of my line managers was overseas the entire month, although I was left with plenty to get on with! Outside of work I restarted building a model railway. Updates have been infrequent of late as I have barely had time to work on the project, let alone blog about it.


Preached for the first time in Glenwood on 1 John 2 – if you don’t love people you’re not really doing it right. I had a very positive response. (Have a listen) When Mum and Dad came down for a couple of days we went to Cardiff Castle for the first time. It only took living here 16 years...

A very busy month with a particularly memorable milestone. After decades of waiting for the ‘right time’, Cathy got baptised. It was a lovely family occasion. I also travelled to the Emirates Stadium and saw Shrewsbury Town take the lead against Arsenal before eventually losing 3-1. Another great occasion, though, despite the result. And then we had a week with my family in rural Herefordshire.


I seemed to spend most of October either on the road filming or editing the masses of footage we accumulated all over Wales. I also had another live morning in the studio at UCB and ended the month with a disappointing trip to see Shrewsbury play AFC Wimbledon, the only upside of which was introducing a new person to the ‘joys’ of watching Shrewsbury Town. Went to a Bowling for Soup gig that I felt was disappointing, but really liked one of the support bands, Suburban Legends. Bought their CD and have played it repeatedly since.


My second Town ‘away’ match of the season, but the shortest trip I’ll make to see them for a while as they played Newport County in the cup. So far I’ve seen at least one match a month this season – the streak continued into December as well. Work-wise, we had two massive events on consecutive days and then later in the month I got to go to The Guardian offices for a conference.


Always a busy month, particularly with all the travelling we tend to do to see family at Christmas and all the friends we only seem to catch up with at Christmas. (We started Christmas Day in Cardiff and ended up with my folks in Shrewsbury having eaten Christmas dinner with Cathy’s folks near Gloucester.) For the first time since 2002 I went into work between Christmas and New Year. It was a bit strange.