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Monday, April 25, 2005

Christ the Bridegroom

This is Orthodox Great and Holy Week prior to Pascha (Easter). The Matins of Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday have a general theme, watchfulness, preparedness to receive Christ the Bridegroom when he comes.

This allusion to Matthew 25:1-13 may seem strange. The plain meaning concerns the second coming and yet here we have the reference at the beginning of Great and Holy Week. The reason becomes clear when we consider that Pascha inagurates a New Creation which is the Kingdom of God.

Our watchfulness and preparedness in Great and Holy Week is designed to enable us to enter more deeply into the paschal mystery ... for here, in the death and resurrection of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ is the Genesis and End of all things. He is the Alpha and Omega of the Cosmos, the suffering King, the wounded Healer, the Bridegroom of this Icon.

It Will Be Sadly Missed

The Mother of All Parliaments announces with great regret the passing away this year of the Spirit of Democracy. All citizens are encouraged to mourn the loss of this much loved friend.

Reliable witnesses testify not to its natural death, but rather its slow strangulation and murder. A cast of Usual Suspects has been released:-

(1) The removal of any real choice between the parties as all try to keep us happy with such evident banalities as "success for your child," "an end to crime," "a prosperous country" and so forth.
(2) The manipulation of facts and image to present a saleable commodity. This has effectively removed all the party leaders from genuine and unpredictable encounters with the public.
(3) The abolition of policy making in favour of crowd pleasing.

No flowers, donations to Fat Cats of Westminster please.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Calling Cyc!

"Open the pod bay doors, HAL." A classic quote from Kubrick's "2001 - a Space Odyssey" sets in motion the disastrous train events on board an interplanetary probe when an AI (Artificial Intelligence) computer takes over from its human pilots. The computer, HAL, judges the mission to have been compromised by its human astronauts. Such is the stuff of SF "bad machine" scenarios over decades of inspired writing ... but soon we may regard it as prophecy and not just scarey fantasy. Enter Cyc.

Cyc (pronounced "psych") is a computer knowledge base with a startling difference. It learns by interactive aggregation and common sense ... just, some would say, like a human mind. Pre-loaded with over 3 million assertions that help it explore creatively and accurately, it can actually learn more easily as it becomes more proficient. In other words, it is an evolving system. When it goes online later this year and gets plugged into the Internet, it is expected to accelerate away from us in the fast lane. (Full article here in the New Scientist).

Will Cyc ever reach the supposed "singularity" state where smarter than human intelligence takes a machine beyond the reach of its human creators? Could it ever achieve consciousness, mind? Would pulling the plug be equivalent to murder ... putting the plug back in equivalent to resurrection? Would it take steps to defend itself? A little while ago such questions might have seemed fit only for such entertaining SF films as Kubrick's masterpiece. Now, with Cyc, the scenario seems so much closer. Should we be worried?

Well, yes, I think we should be concerned. The very idea that we should create something we cannot control is a very old theme in human literature but now, in this century, we have the power to create something that might one day destroy us completely rather than merely irritate us. My guess is that we should watch Cyc and Cyc's children very, very closely.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

A New Benedict

Is the media extraordinary? First we have the making of a man's death into mawkish pseudo-reverential theatre, breathlessly accompanied by commentators many of whom couldn't give a fig for Christianity at other times; then the feeding at the buzz and the excitement of watching for the white smoke (far more entertaining than Council Tax) ... but now we have the "It's Ratzinger!" factor as these same hacks don the more traditional garb of pitting liberal against conservative and tut-tutting about condoms.

Don't get me wrong; AIDS in the developing world and the Vatican's deadly intransigence on birth control is no slight matter, but am I really supposed to take seriously the motives and accuracy of a press that will both praise and condemn in the one breath and not blink? Do the chattering classes really care about such things? Mostly not I suspect, but:- "Hey! No one puts on a show like Rome" ... and I would have to agree; but that's hardly the issue is it? The issue is how the papacy will fare and how the Roman Catholic Church will respond to its current crisis in the west.

Pope Benedict XVI seems to be saying that you hold the line and if the Church in any area shrinks; it shrinks. No one expects him to be a clone of his predecessor and such comparisons are odious but there is an admissible issue here. Pope John Paul II held the line but he had the common touch. He could reach out to people and constrain them to come in .. even if what he represented didn't appeal to all Roman Catholics and even if it didn't work in Europe. Pope Benedict XVI is not in this mould at all. There is a danger here that unless he adopts a more pastoral approach to the one he has presented so far he really will preside over the Church's final demise in this continent.

Is this God's will? How can it be? The Church perished in North Africa under the assault of Islam, not, I contend, because this was God's judgement for its sinfulness or lack or faith, but simply because human affairs prevailed against it. This is the state of the Roman Catholic Church in Europe today. Europe has left it behind with the Church clinging to a version of European Catholicism that many Catholics now find either deeply embarassing or irrelevant. Secularism has its roots in a wounded western Christianity, not in a faithless ideology as such. Still we find in Europe the deep but inchoate feeling that somehow Rome cannot be trusted. Even Eastern Europe is not immune. Reversing secularism will require more than "holding the line." It will require regaining Europe's trust and that will not easily be achieved.

Is Pope Benedict XVI up to the task? Well, with the caveat that even a Pope has limitations when leading a body of one billion people, we can only hope and pray that he is. Only time will tell. It is far too soon to tell and he certainly shouldn't be assessed on his existing track record alone. A man who defends a friend may behave differently to the one who now stands in his shoes. Let's hope so I say.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Fiction Becomes Reality in "The Village"

It's taken 6 years for fiction to become sick reality. The fictional character played by Jim Carrey in the 1998 film was to spend his life from cradle to grave on an enormous real time film set observed by millions. Now the Truman horror has become all too real in "The Village" a German "Big Brother" type show in which the filming (theoretically) never ends.

The voyeuristic appetite of celebrity obsessed western culture in which everyone craves fame has now reached its nadir. There is a deeper trend at work here I think, most accurately portrayed by the reported behaviour of the ostrich. Contemporary westerners don't want to engage with the world; they want an ersatz experience of a fake reality in which they become directors and their hapless victims dance to their pleasure. Meanwhile the real world of kings and dancers, (the one from which they are hiding,) subtly controls THEM through the bread and circuses of this mass anaesthesia. The final piece in this horror will be to hook the voyeurs themselves into this fake world by 24/7 technological immersion. You need never leave the set, never mind the participants. Meanwhile the real world is controlled by others who only wake you now and again to tell you that you should be scared, maybe of terrorism or asylum seekers or something, so that you can abdicate your political responsibility as citizens even more completely to The Protectors.

Over reacting? Well, I doubt whether I would have written this until I heard a commentator in Germany defending the show on the grounds that this is "real life" and a welcome alternative to politics. God help us!

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