Sherlock’s limitation

I have just finished reading the Dirk Gently series by Douglas Adams. They are really very good and I highly recommend them. The main idea in the series is that Dirk takes a holistic approach to detective work, stumbling along through life believing in the interconnectedness of all things. He believes this will lead him to all the clues he needs in time, wherever he choses to go and investigate, whether it be an all expenses paid trip to the Bahamas or simply following any driver who looks like they know where they are going.

It is therefore with great amusement that when reading this I happened to stumble upon a quote which sums up precisely my problem with Sherlock and his defining limitation. Here is said quote:

“What was the Sherlock Holmes principle? ‘Once you have discounted the impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’ ”

“I reject that entirely,” said Dirk sharply. “The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it which the merely improbably lacks. How often have you been presented with an apparently rational explanation of something that works in all respects other than one, which is that it is hopelessly improbable?…The first idea merely supposes that there is something we don’t know about, and…there are enough of those. The second, however, runs contrary to something fundamental and human which we do know about. We should therefore be very suspicious of it and all its specious rationality.”
― Douglas AdamsThe Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

Sherlock only works so well because he is essentially a know it all. Which makes him in the end rather dull, as his limitation is the unknown. It is not exciting to see someone solve a case by trial and error, which by eliminating all the possibilities is what Holmes is doing, though very fast and in his head. I believe it is far more thrilling for someone to assemble unconnected clues, join the dots by intuition and point out a conclusion we had not even considered in a million years. A lot of Sherlock’s cases look like this to an outsider and in my opinion, that is the far better view to hold.

Review: Noah

Before I get to my review, I think it is best to add some context. As you can see from my previous posts, I’m a guy who likes the story of Noah. Genesis is without doubt my favourite book in the Bible and Noah is one of my favourite stories in that. It’s very short I know, but it has such an epic scope. I have had thoughts about adapting it as a science fiction film myself, with the ark being a spaceship and our planet being completely destroyed.

When it was announced that there was to be a film based on the character, naturally I was curious. I followed production eagerly, fully aware that the man creating it was not a christian. His first comments on the news was that he saw Noah as a great environmentalist, which I couldn’t quite understand. Having seen it, I now get his point (and agree with it), but from the very start I knew that this was going to be someone’s reaction to Noah, not a traditional adaptation. I was still curious though, and wanted to see what makes someone who questions the Bible want to make a film about it. I kept updated with news, laughed when filming was halted by flooding and was wowed by the first trailer.

When it eventually came out (I heard of it being an option back in 2007) I was too busy to see it immediately. I therefore saw the reviews before I got to see it myself. To put it simply, they are mixed. Some love it, singing its praising for acting, scope and bold scriptwriting, while others criticised all of those things and more. Christians too were divided on what they thought of it, with some praising it, others condemning it as evil. I asked my friends on facebook, and all were negative, some of whom hadn’t even seen it. I’ve made that mistake before (see Sucker Punch here) but in short, the reactions were overwhelmingly hostile.

There have been a lot of claims that this film is unbiblical. That is a big claim, especially since the bible passage is very short. For example, in the film fallen angels help Noah build the ark.  This is not mentioned in the Bible at all, so does that make it unbiblical? I suppose it depends on your definition on what that word means. It is as unbiblical as dinosaurs are I guess, which in my opinion is not at all; they have just been left out for some reason.

After doing more research, I have found out that this is following the Jewish tradition of midrash, where they use their imaginations to fill in the blanks from stories in scripture. This is not done to set the record straight on what actually happened but to give flesh to the bones provided and see what holds up in context of the details we know.

In this light, I think the film makes a lot more sense. The director has a strong emotional resonance with the story, there is no doubt about that. He wants more than the Bible says and has spent years imagining what those look like. Coming from a Jewish background, now being an atheist, his view is not fully formed, but it has a lot of interesting questions. This is what frame of mind you should see it in. This is a film of one man’s reactions to the story which has been told as a sweet story to children in churches but when thought about as an adult has a lot more depth than simply getting all the animals onto a boat.

With the parts he has imagined, there are details which contradict the Bible but I believe the film’s core holds true to the story. Aronofsky employed someone to ensure that he did just that. The contradictions to the text are always used to illustrate a point, either about humanity or about God. The story speaks of judgement and mercy, two things that are rarely covered by Hollywood.

So what did I think of it? In short, I loved it. It was simply superb and while I can see people’s objections, I thought that it was excellent filmmaking and a must watch. The acting is for the most part very good with each character coming across as fully formed, complex and believable. The story is grand in scope and mainly serves to highlight the theological ideas and questions that Aronofsky has.

What I particularly loved about it was that Noah was a real person. He has very big character flaws, something which many people have found difficult. All that we know about Noah from the Bible is that he was a man of faith, deemed righteous among his generation. This film focuses on the first part, showing a man who did amazing things without ever seeing clearly. The latter is harder to explain, as he most definitely sins. This is shown in the Bible though, when he gets drunk and naked in Genesis 9. This is shown in the closing moments of the film and it’s clear that the director has extrapolated backwards to try and explain why Noah would have turned to drink after leaving the ark.

I know that some people fear that because Noah is a more unconventional film it will turn people away from God or confuse them. I would disagree for several reasons. At the core, it is the same God being presented and I truly believe that only a few details have been changed. Secondly, this film is not intended to replace the Bible; only that is the word of God. Also, I believe that God can use a negative reaction, one of repulsion, to the parts which are not of Him to drive people away from what is wrong and closer to Him. And finally, I think that people with questions are likely to ask people about them and that conversation will have greater impact than a blockbuster ever could.

I know of another christian film released at the same time, the Son of God, an adaptation of the Bible television series for cinematic release. I’ve heard nobody talk about this, know nobody who’s seen it and only one person, a christian, who wanted to. That I imagine would most definitely falls into the safe conservative film category, something Noah would not do. This is a risky, controversial film that definitely leads to a reaction. It does not present a God that most people know, but shows them another side to the God called Creator.

I would highly recommend this film.  It is worthwhile film making that made me spend 2 hours engaging with big questions and with God. A film studio have never spent as much (a reported $125 million) on adapting a biblical story before. Even though the director was not a christian, there would have been many working on it, praying for it and hoping that this would be a success.

Please, if nothing else, give it a chance. Don’t write it off without having seen it; God can work miracles. If you’d like to watch it and live in the UK, you can currently get a 2 for 1 offer all this week if enter the code NOAH at this website and is accepted at most major cinema chains.

 

Mrs Noah and sons

Another thing that makes me ponder about Noah is what his wife did.

I can imagine things were a bit awkward in bed that night.

“I need to build a massive ark”
“Why dear?”
“God told me too. He said all men are wicked, but because I have found favour, he will save me and my family. I just have to build this boat and we won’t be destroyed by the deluge.”
“What’s a deluge?”
“Not sure exactly, but it can kill, so I don’t want to find out.”
“How are you going to pay for this ark? You promised that I could have some new sandals.”

And so on. I highly doubt she accepted it as a command straight away.

I imagine though, that there was a point where she realised her husband wasn’t going to give up. Did she at this point decide to support her husband and decide to leave her questions unanswered or did she remain critical and seek out other options? The Bible doesn’t say either way, but because we know the ending, we really want her to have had faith alongside Noah.

I don’t imagine Noah’s wife to have been a very good carpenter. She probably thought there was nothing she could ever do to help at one stage, but I doubt she stopped there. She kept looking at what was going and upon seeing what she had in her hands, she pitched in. She could have made food and drink for the workers, or kept records, or helped with making the pitch. I don’t know what her skills were, but I’m pretty sure that there were jobs she could do.

In a large venture of faith, there is a lot that needs to be done. Some tasks are visible, others are more behind the scenes, but all are worth doing. Noah was probably leading the ark building, but I imagine the whole family were involved. His sons would be aware what was going on, and I imagine that if nothing else, they prayed for success.

I hope people won’t look at my lifestory and wish I’d had faith in the crazy ideas I rejected. I’d much rather be seen as someone who tried lots and was willing to give it a go. I want to be someone who did things, not just saw them. I don’t care what it is I do, that’s not the point. I just want to be involved in something spectacular, that’s much bigger than me.

A faith commandment

I think most christians have a favourite part of the Bible, for no logical reason, but for the simple fact that’s what clicks with you. For me it’s the book of Genesis. I love the stories of familes so different to our own, tales of pioneers who were the first to do everything. I like the narrative of the book, and particularly Noah.

I was re-reading the story again and (as often happens) I picked up on something new.

I’ve never realised how difficult it must have been to build an ark. In Chapter 6, verses 14-16 show all the structural details God gave to Noah and I guess I never really questioned how he worked with just this. For me, a guy brought up in a christian home having seen countless pictures of practically identical arks, I’ve never had to imagine what an ark looks like. Working from that image, I might in time be able to come up with something like a blueprint, but getting the ark from those instructions, not likely.

It had never clicked that although the instructions are specific, they are not complete. God hasn’t laid down exactly how He wants it to be, but He gives Noah some freedom. The size has to be sufficient for the need and only certain materials will do, but otherwise God gives Noah creative control.  There is no indication as to whether Noah had any carpentry experience, but he was almost certainly not a ship-maker. I imagine it was a big case of trial and error.

Despite all this, Noah still chose to do what God said. That choice was not a simple thought, but an active lifestyle change. He had to seek out new skills, scour the earth for animals and keep them alive, all to no specific deadline.

If that were me, I imagine my first reaction would be to pray for a clear plan. “God”, I’d say, “please show me what to do, so that I may glorify you.” I wonder if Noah did that for a bit too? I doubt he got an answer. That would probably have led to me going back to my normal life. I would have gone, “If you want me to do this, give me a clear sign of what it is.”

I don’t believe that Noah waited for that. It says in verse 22, “And Noah did everything that God had commanded him.”

This tells me two things. One, that Noah (or at least the author of Genesis, but by implication, Noah too) took these words as a command. It was a non-negotiable order, not just a suggestion that was in our best interest. It was not a picture of the sort of thing that he should do, but a direct instruction. That affected his whole attitude and gives an indication of how he reacted. A command implies that he didn’t just put it on his to do list, but it was his to-do list. A soldier is never issued 2 commands to do at once. They are given a sequence of events, to be followed straight away.

The second thing is that he did it. The story makes it clear that he built an ark, but this proves that he managed it. That means that if we get an equally obscure word, why should we dismiss it? If we haven’t got the skills required, we can always learn them.

It was 100 years after the command was received when the flood came. That is a long time to be doing something so unconventional without any proof he wasn’t wasting his time. That said, imagining the consequences of refusing is even more terrifying.

Preventing paedophiles

I read an article in the news a while back about the former lead singer of Welsh band Lostprophets being found guilty of committing various sex offences against children.

The story stunned me, as I’m sure it has others who’ve read it. Not because the guy was a celebrity, but because I felt sympathy for the guy.

I am not a paedophile, nor have I ever been. At some point in his life, that was true for Ian Watkins too. What happened to change him I don’t know. I doubt it was a sudden thing, that on one day he woke up and had sexual impulses related to children. I imagine it to have been a gradual slope down into addiction. The drink and the drugs were probably similar in that regard, like a thickening wedge.

I feel sorry for him because I believe he felt powerless to stop it. I feel sorry that he went through whatever trauma he did. I feel sorry that his fame has now been traded for infamy. I feel sorry that he will have to face people who will never forgive him. I feel sorry that he had nowhere to go for help.

Right now I feel a little powerless too. Child sex offences are in the news a lot these days, but the only solution I hear offered is a harsh punishment. We should be doing something to identify the problem at the root, before anyone gets hurt.

I know of online petitions written asking that rape be talked about in school. I think they should also talk about pedophilia. Many guys will experience sexual urges they cannot explain, why don’t schools teach people how to manage these? I admit that’s hard, but at least acknowledging that some people will have mixed up urges due to issues in their past would be useful.

Sex education for me consisted of saying what each gender has and that the men should wear a condom. In a school with a number of teenage pregnancies, I can understand why there was an unspoken assumption that people would have sex. They knew their pupils had urges to do it and that any child will break the rules to test them.

The children in school today have access to porn on their phones and are sexting. Their childhood is being swapped for sexual discoveries. When I was growing it was clear that “the conversation” had to happen about when puberty hit. Nowadays that may be too late, as some children as young as five are being excluded for sexual misconduct (source: Independent).

The big question is what can we do? The answer is whatever we can. Use what’s available to you, whether that being talking to your kids, writing to your MPs or setting up better parental controls at home. If we take responsibility for this rather than passing the buck, it will improve.

“Not bad”

Not bad is the only double negative I can think of that is acceptable in the English language. Despite the grammatical problems, this is a very useful phrase, particularly when being asked “How are you?”

I find this an incredibly bizarre phrase. It is simultaneously the most personal, intimate question and the most banal and bog standard one. How you are is a very complex question and covers all parts of a person’s life. It’s usage as an introductory statement is baffling. You may as well just say “Tell me everything”.

From now on, can we just agree to say what we mean? If you want to know everything and will listen, rather than interjecting with your own stories and anecdotes, please continue as you are. But otherwise, if you just want to hear me say I’m alright so you can continue to tell me what you did this week, then please just say something that makes this clear. How about “What’ve you been up to”, as this avoids anything about my feelings.

If you continue to use unclear sentences, then I will respond with an equally ambiguous answer and use poor grammar to boot.

Slaves

She hesitated before hitting send. There was no way back and doing so could mean losing the few influential friends she had. It would make finding another job impossible and there was no guarantee that anyone would even  read it, let alone believe it. the chances of anyone acting were tiny.

There was still a chance though. This wasn’t about her, so she grit her teeth and clicked.

Maria lent back in her chair. It felt good to get it out there. Now all she had to do was wait for a response.

**********

Marcus Treadwell helped himself to a third mug of filter coffee. It was only half eleven, but he was shattered. He’d been in back to back meetings all day dealing with difficult customers.

Marcus was an employee of Simultron International, an wholesaler of automaton helpers. Their slogan was “Making work painless” and Marcus was a salesman. He worked on commission and today they were trying to cut a deal with McDonalds. The robots wouldn’t work out front of course, but they would be used to cook and clean in the kitchens.

There were five minutes to go before Marcus had to be in his next board room discussion so he decided to check his emails. He unpocketed his iPhone and found he had three new messages. One was a meeting request from his staff manager to discuss his possible promotion, which he marked as unread to deal with later. He had to focus and if he got this contract then a pay rise would be in the bag.

The second email was from a name he thought was familiar but couldn’t place. Maria Gibb was not an employee here, but that was clear from the email. It had just one sentence; Puppets not robots. Below that was an image, that was still loading. Slowly, it revealed a photograph of an eight year old Vietnamese boy wired up to a cybernetic suit.

Marcus scrolled down to see if this was a joke, but all he found was more pictures. Close ups showed the state of the poor child; tired battered and desperate for a break. He saw the company logo on the equipment.

He noticed there was an attachment as well, called Contract.doc. He started to download the file but was interrupted.

“Marcus, come on.” His boss was calling him in to the meeting. Marcus put away his phone, he’d deal with it later.

Marcus couldn’t let it go though. “Could it be true?” he thought to himself, where there children being forced to work these robots? If so, what could he do about it? He couldn’t take down a corporation this large. On the other hand, could he sell their products if there was even a chance these photos were legit?

Marcus didn’t have to worry though, as the email had already reached their clients who had stormed out. He went and joined the queue of people giving their week’s notice to HR.

——————————————————————————————————

Today is Anti Slavery day, the one day that the government has legislated to raise awareness of the real issue of trafficking. Unlike that story, it is a real issue and one that is happening all over the world. A report published yesterday shows the estimated number of people in slavery at 29.8 million.

There is a real chance that items we buy have been produced by slaves. No company would want this, but ensuring your whole supply chain is free from it is not always easy to check. This website lists some of the known products that have been produced by forced labour.

Anti-slavery day was brought in by law to raise awareness of this issue.  So, do some research into the issue, contact your MP or try to go fairtrade. I will be donating my day’s wage to an anti-slavery organisation and trying to raise awareness via facebook, twitter and this blog.

In that story, Maria is the real hero. She did something against the slavers, whereas Marcus just left them alone. What are you going to do?