The Queen

Well, this weblog rapidly becomes a movie review site! As indicated earlier, I went to see The Queen tonight. I am glad I did, because I seriously doubt that it will be shown in Basle. It is rather, erm, English after all.

Nonetheless, it is a phenomenal film - I don't have a single complaint about it. It is high drama based on recent history, executed with the acutest care for detail imaginable, incredible casting as well as acting (dare one say Oscar?) - and yet, the movie breathes a quiet air of subdued energy & moderation. If that sounds contradictory, then it's very well, because tension is at the heart of the matter. It is all about the tension between the institution of monarchy and the person holding that position during a defining moment. And incidentally, it is about to become an epitaph for Mr Blair's time as Prime Minister, the greatest achievement of which it will have been - apart from having civilised Labour - to have been instrumental in securing the survival of the British monarchy.


Movie time

Being the royalist that I am, I hope to catch The Queen during my upcoming stay in London from Sunday to Wednesday.

But before I do, I'd like to share my view of Das Parfum with you. I am talking about the film version of Patrick Süskind's bestseller, of course. It's a serial killer crime story about Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, an 18th century Parisian X-man avant la lettre. His special power is that he has an overly acute and analytical nose, plus he is entirely devoid of any personal body odour. Thus lacking of an olfactory personality himself, he goes on to collect all possible sorts of scents, which conclusively leads him to becoming a master perfumer. However, to cure his personal deficit, he starts to compose a miraculous perfume consisting of the essence of thirteen beautiful young women, for whose survival in the scent extracting process of enfleurage he has no concern whatsoever. In this endeavour, he is inspired by his master's tale of a mythological egyptian perfume which, when released, made everyone love its wearer. Allegedly, it consisted of thirteen components, the last of which remained unknown.

While the book is well made, it struck me as overly artistic and metaphorical when I read it - so I was never really convinced. The movie however is a different story. The camera & direction are superb, the acting is fine (with the notable exception of a rather disappointing Alan Rickman); setting and atmosphere seem ingeniously authentic. The frequent heartbeats in the soundtrack did get on my nerves occasionally, though. The film is a great rendition of an essentially "German" (by way of its author) story in that it has for object the pursuit of an ideal goal without moral considerations or compassion. Süskind's "Gollum" Grenouille is completely absorbed in the banality of his wrongdoing, and we pity him for it! Not even the perfume induced mass orgies towards the end appear particularly absurd - they just put on display the penchant of the masses to be manipulated & seduced, for everyone to see.

This I think is the key deficit of the film relative to the book, and it is altering the message: The film character of Grenouille comes across as almost innocent, naïve and pitiable, whereas in the book, he is perfectly repulsive! But apart from that, the Perfume is a very entertaining and very "European" movie.



Listen to the last programme in the BBC Radio 4's series Iconoclasts. It is a panel discussion about Björn Lomborg, a.k.a. the Sceptical Environmentalist. If you wonder why this debate is conducted in the context of a series dedicated to Religion & Ethics, then I am fully with you - and so is Björn. However, if you listen to the moral outrage of his opponents who very much resent that he actually dares to question the priorities of problem solving in his Copenhagen Consensus, then you'll understand. How to approach global warming is apparently not issue accessible to rational debate, but a question of faith. Thanks to Joel for the cue!


Von Borstlingen und Schmierlingen

   Hon. Die Namen der Winzlinge auf der Walderde tönen wie aus dem Telefonbuch des Feenreichs. Hören wir einmal genau hin: Die porigen Schupplinge treffen sich mit den schuppigen Porlingen bei den zottigen Schirmlingen, dem fleischblassen Milchling und dem geselligen Nabeling und klatschen über die Rolle der Stäublinge im Streit mit dem Satans-Röhrling, der behauptet, der verdrehte Rübling mit der Rotkappe, diese Gift-Lorchel, habe dem gelbmilchenden Becherling mit der Bischofsmütze das Geheimnis verraten, dass der gemeine Felbling und der dünnfleischige Egerling den behangenen Düngerling hinter dessen Rücken einen warzigen Drüsling, einen hässlichen Dickfuss, einen gallertfleischigen Krüppelfuss, ja sogar einen natternstieligen Schleimfuss gescholten habe, was nun den Blättling, den Borstling, den Brätling, den Krempling und den Eier-Wurstling fürchterlich aufregt und den Tränen-Täubling und den wässrigen Faserling, diese beiden Zärtlinge, gar zum Weinen bringt. «Pustularia», meint der fuchsige Streifling, «wir scheren uns einen Pfifferling darum. Wir schicken den brennenden Ritterling mit der abgestutzten Keule, und der wird diesem grossen Schmierling eine Ziegenlippe hauen, so dass er glaubt, seine Totentrompete zu hören!» - Nur weg aus dem Wald, bis der Spuk mit diesen pilzigen Sonderlingen wieder vorbei ist! 

Textkasten in einem Artikel über Pilze in der heutigen NZZ


Faith, Reason, University

If the new CEO of the Roman Catholic Church, HH the pope lectures on faith and reason, everyone who is interested in either had better listen, especially since he was CIO (Chief Ideology Officer, aka Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) in his previous job.

The lecture in itself is a very comprehensive assessment of the classical dialectic relationship between Reason and Faith, setting out with a classical quotation of the byzantine emperor Manuel II. Palaeologos, demonstrating the differences between how christianity and islam think that their supreme being is related to reason. While the christian god is thought to be bound by reason, the muslim god is considered to be totally transcendental and independent of any human concepts such as reason, hence spreading the faith through the sword is thought to be legitimate.

This is my weak summary of the part of the lecture that seems to have irritated some muslim scholars. They probably haven't even read the lecture. The reactions are certainly interesting at any rate.

There's not much point in further tracing the lecture, which looks at the de-hellenisation (i.e. de-linking of christian faith and greek philosophy) in three waves since the reformation in some detail. The key point is - unsurprisingly - that the pope rejects the way in which critical rationalism has pushed back faith from the communitarian field to the individually subjective. The problem though is, IMHO, that he argues from the outcome, which he cannot accept - weil nicht sein kann, was nicht sein darf? This, IMHO again, is simply bad logic and not very convincing.


Supercritical water

This fascinating article about supercritical water (water at temperatures > 374 degrees Centigrade and pressures > 221 bar) got me to look for some movies about the supercriticality transition, which must be rather spectacular to look at. The water becomes darker and darker until it reflects all light when it becomes supercritical. Apparently, water of that state might even exist in nature, namely at the bottom of the ocean. See movies here and here. Do you know what's best? You can find stuff like that with a few keystrokes ...



I know what you're thinking, and I sympathise ... but I'd like to share a thought with you that I've picked up in a column of my preferred daily today: 9/11 is as much about what happened in NYC 5 years ago as about Satyagraha, the philosophy of non-violent resistance founded by Mohandas Gandhi in Johannesburg a hundred years ago. The Indian independence movement could have gone down a violent path very easily, too, but where would it have left everybody involved? It's too terrible to think about, and fortunately, it is mere speculation. Today's hot headed "freedom" fighters might want to learn a lesson - or not.

But regular religion is not very much about learning, since it already knows the truth. The question is just how tolerant it is towards realities that are out of line with its own perception of reality. One man's cognitive dissonance is the next man's fundamentalism. Foreign Affairs has a remarkable article about the rôle of religion in US politics in general and foreign policy in particular. The material distinctions drawn between evangelicals and fundamentalists are quite enlightening, as are the explanations for the unwaivering US support for Israel. Essential reading!


The agnostic theologian

Listen to this interesting interview with Rudolf Wehrli. This man seems to be a fascinating character: as an agnostic, he studied theology to finish with a doctorate, as he did in philosophy. Then he went into business as a consultant with McKinsey. Now he is president of the board of Gurit. He says he is driven by an insatiable curiosity, or rather curiositas, to learn new things, and he is a sceptic and a rationalist. Not many people like that around ...


Back to Finland!

Thanks to a generous contract renewal offer at my mobile phone service provider, I replaced my trusty old Motorola RAZR with a shiny new Nokia 6280 for "free" and, boy, is this thing choke full of features! It almost seems like I've jumped over a decade of evolution here, but no, it's "just" two years ...

To pimp up the phone, I also ordered a massive 2GB MiniSD card for a measly 80 Swissies. Amazing!list.blogug.ch