Liberal and Conservative should be renamed…

…to Urbanist and Ruralist.

A quick look at the election results from the UK, Canada or the US shows a clear correlation between the Liberal/Conservative divide and the Urban/Rural divide.  Take a look at these maps:

A recent US electoral map, indicating population density and voting trends

Vote Density by US Counties



A recent UK electoral map.  Note the clustering of Labour voters in London, Newcastle, Birmingham, and other major cities










An electoral map from Ontario, Canada.  Again, the left-of-center votes cluster in Toronto and Hamilton, the largest cities in the area.



We should not be surprised by this.  Conservatism, in it’s classic form, arose to defend the interests of the rural land owning classes during the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution.

But beyond this, I suspect that urban dwellers and rural dwellers have very different perspectives on the world.  In a rural setting, you know the majority of people you interact with.  In an urban setting, you need to co-exist with vast numbers of strangers.  In a rural setting, tradition and social hierarchy provide consistency and predictability in your life.  In a city, agreed-upon rules and social agencies provide the same effect.

Given how much the world has changed since the 19th century, it’s surprising to me that we still define ourselves in terms of these political labels.  I consider myself both a conservative and a liberal.  I completely believe in the value of conserving social institutions that have served us well and been tested over the centuries: things like the rule of law, and clear property rights, and strong families.  And I completely believe in the importance of providing care and protection for everyone in society, regardless of wealth, race or background.

I think new labels are going to be needed.

It’s easy…

It’s easy to call yourself a Liberal.  It’s harder to be habitually generous.

It’s easy to call yourself a Conservative.  It’s harder to conserve, preserve and transmit the traditions that you love.

It’s easy to call yourself a Democrat.  It’s harder to respect the beliefs, viewpoints and experiences of your entire society.

It’s easy to call yourself an environmentalist.  It’s harder to plant a tree.

It’s easy to call yourself a pacifist.  It’s harder to be a peacemaker.

Labels are easy.  Actions are hard.

Man of Steel

Last night some I saw Man of Steel with some friends, and was reminded why I don’t go to the movies very often.

It’s not that I’m opposed to entertainment, and I certainly enjoy hanging out with the guys every bit as much as any other introvert with social anxiety and Aspergers, but I found myself very impatient with the movie.


Having to sit through 25 minutes of skin care commercials didn’t start things off well.  They were interspersed with trailers for upcoming movies dedicated to the twin proposals that (a) the quality of a story is directly proportional to the number of explosions and (b) violence is always the best way of addressing social problems.  I work hard to minimize my exposure to commercial messaging, so I don’t particularly enjoy being a captive audience.

As to the movie itself, Man of Steel had it’s good points, but these were spread thinly through two hours of rapidly re-focussing camera work swooping through exploding CGI landscapes.  I feel that something has gone wrong with the art of storytelling when witnessing an entire tower block collapse induces deja vu rather than awe, because the exact same thing has been happening more or less continuously for the previous twenty minutes.

One of my friends mentioned the Christological themes to the movie.  While there are a few visual references to Christian iconography, it’s clear that the Superman franchise draws far more on Greek mythology than Christian, and especially the story of Heracles.  Heracles, like Clark Kent, is part-human, part-divine, raised by foster parents, endowed with enormous strength and abilities, and called on to protect humanity by battling an array of monsters.  Just like Heracles’ battles with hydras and titans, Man of Steel introduces enemies that no mortal can challenge, thus requiring the intervention of the near-invincible superman.

I’m not particularly comfortable with the overt militarism that seems so popular in movies these days.  It doesn’t surprise me though.  The Pentagon’s Film Liaison Office is well known for encouraging a positive portrayal of the US military by providing support, material, and even military hardware for films that it sees as favourable to the army.  Movies such as Platoon or Apocalypse Now had to be made without such support due to the unflinching way in which they depicted armed conflict – the latter was eventually produced in the Philippines.

(Another concern of mine is the attempt by the marketers of this film to bribe Pastors to recommend it to their congregants.)

Henry Cavill does turn in a fine performance as Kent when he’s actually allowed to portray a human being.  His hitchhiking casual labourer is a genuinely sympathetic character.  But once he dons the red cape, he’s mostly upstaged by the CGI effects.

There are, fortunately, vastly better superhero stories.   The best is undoubtedly Alan Moore’s Watchmen, which not only created a whole pantheon of superheroes but actually explored the social, ethical and moral consequences of the existence of vigilantes and their complex relationship with regular society.    Moore also wrote V for Vendetta,  a scathing indictment of the conservative policies of the Thatcher goverment in the 1980s.  Another product of that era are the Judge Dredd graphic novels, which despite the appalling Stallone adaption frequently managed to be both thrilling action stories and uncomfortable looks at what happens when the police and the court system become a single entity.

(On a side note – all these graphic novels are British.  Why do US writers dream of powerful individuals protecting society from harm, whereas UK writers fret about the implications of too much concentration of power?)

My advice is to save your money and go buy a copy of the original Watchman graphic novel.  It will provide many more hours of entertainment, and every time I re-read it I’m rewarded with finding yet another nuance hidden in the background of nearly every page.








(a) uncomfortable about the whole ‘selling movie to pastors bit’

Nexus 7

I’m loving my new Nexus 7.  I’m sitting in Casa Cappuccino drinking coffee and updating my blog.  It’s a significant improvement over my old Playbook, for a number of reasons.

Firstly the on screen keyboard is better.  A physical keyboard is always going to be more efficient than a touchscreen, but I’m finding that typing seems a lot more fluid on this than the playbook.   I’m making less errors, the autocorrect is smarter, and editing existing text is easier. I’m not convinced by gesture typing yet, but with a bit of practice it could be quite handy.

Second, being part of the android ecosystem means there are way more available apps than on the playbook.  The nexus 7 is a very nice portable movie viewer, for example.

Third, it’s very accessible as a development platform.  It didn’t take long for me to go through the android tutorials and write, build and deploy my first application to the device.

On the downside, I miss the smooth integration with iTunes that I’m used to on iOS devices, and I’m frustrated that Greek fonts don’t render correctly.  I love the youVersion bible application, and I wish I could switch easily between the English text and the Greek.

That said, this is definitely the nicest mobile device I’ve used so far, and is significantly cheaper than the iPad mini.  Strongly recommended.

Secret secrets

The US government commanded the phone company Verizon to secretly collect vast amounts of data about its users activities.

Furthermore, Verizon was banned from admitting the existence of this secret order.

“The court order expressly bars Verizon from disclosing to the public either the existence of the FBI’s request for its customers’ records, or the court order itself.”

I am very disturbed when anyone is ordered to do something unethical and then required to deny all knowledge of that action.  At this point I truly believe that non-compliance, even if it results in prosecution, is the ethically correct action.  To do anything else is to be complicit in the creation of a privatized secret police.  I would have a huge amount of respect for any executive who stood up in public and said “we have been ordered by the government to spy on our customers and then deny all knowledge of this program, but instead we choose honesty.  We refuse to do this.  We will inform you if we receive further secret orders.  And we will accept the consequences of our honesty if necessary.”

Imagine the power of an executive choosing to go to jail rather than become complicit in large scale espionage.  That would be someone I could respect.


“The Lord has redeemed all of us, even the atheists”

From the Pope’s address this morning:


“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

Text from page
of the Vatican Radio website

Courts Martial for Christians?

So my facebook feed this morning had a couple of folks worried about ‘the last days’ and ‘the decay of western society’

The cause?  A breathless report worrying that soldiers in the US military may be court martialed for sharing their Christian faith.

At this point I did a daring, radical thing.  I actually looked up the policy in question.  It took me all of about 30 seconds to find it: it’s freely available at  Despite being reported in some circles as being ‘unreal’ or ‘a slap in the face to the military,’ it’s actually a completely unsurprising piece of HR policy that would not be out of place in any large government agency or private enterprise.  The articles in question are as follows:

2.11. Government Neutrality Regarding Religion. Leaders at all levels must balance
constitutional protections for an individual’s free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs
and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. For example,
they must avoid the actual or apparent use of their position to promote their personal religious
beliefs to their subordinates or to extend preferential treatment for any religion…
2.12.1. All Airmen are able to choose to practice their particular religion, or subscribe to no
religious belief at all. You should confidently practice your own beliefs while respecting
others whose viewpoints differ from your own. 

A document exhorting individuals to ‘confidently practice your own beliefs while respecting others whose viewpoints differ from you own’ is hardly indicative of the downfall of western civilisation.  Unless, of course, you don’t want to respect others.  Perhaps you genuinely feel that you should be allowed to use a position of authority to extend preferential treatment to adherents of one particular sect.  Perhaps you feel that the government should be in the business of picking and choosing creeds.  Perhaps you want your government be the official arbiter of acceptable belief, practice and religous affiliation in your country.  After all, we already have examples of how well that works.

But if you are such a person, frankly you concern me far more than a well-written HR document outlining the principles of freedom of conscience and respectfulness towards others.

Anna Karenina

Anna-Karenina-Train-StationI finally got round to finishing Tolstoy’s epic novel Anna Karenina.  I can hardly do it justice in a single post.  It’s a stunning piece of work, with enormous scope, although very different in focus than War and Peace.

Tolstoy’s earlier work covered grand themes – the Napoleonic wars, the intrigues of kings and generals, invasion, devastation, and the climactic battle at Borodino. Anna Karenina, in contrast, focuses on intimate details of the lives of a group of Russian minor nobility.  They talk, they fight, they fall in love, they misunderstand each other, they argue about politics.  Some search for significance in work, or in religion, or in social enterprise.  All are self-centred to a greater or lesser degree.

Strangely, Anna herself is probably the least developed character in the book.  She is quite deliberately presented as having no redeeming features other than her beauty and charm, and no goal in life other than her own happiness.  But against the backdrop of her intense love affair, her friends and relatives all go through their own crises, and all change in one way or another.  And behind all this we are given a vividly detailed view of Russian life in the 1870s.  Trains and telegraphs are beginning to replace horses and letters.  The nobility continues to attend endless streams of operas and races and social functions.  Intellectuals wrestle with the new ideas that are sweeping Europe – new forms of art, new forms of government, tensions between liberals and conservatives, discussions about the role of the church and the state, or the relationship between the mind and the body.  Discussions that frequently feel startlingly relevant to today.  And in the background,  80 million peasants work the Russian soil, mostly oblivious to the social upheaval that is stirring around them.

Throughout the whole book, Tolstoy gently satirises artists, politicians, fashionable society, and even himself, through the character of Levin, who is obviously an author stand-in.  In fact, by the end of the book you realise that it is far more about Levin and his family than it is about Anna.  To a large extent the book serves as a vehicle for Tolstoy to express his observations on the society around him, and explore his own changing convictions.  The last section, in which Levin and his brother discuss how easy it is to manipulate society into wanting to go to war, clearly anticipates his later work, The Kingdom of God is Within You.  A book which, along with those by Clausewitz and Sun Tzu, I consider one of the three most important books on war ever written.

Anna Karenina was adapted into a movie last year.  I can’t imagine how they manage to cram the scope of this vast novel into two hours – I suspect a miniseries at least would be needed to do it justice.   It is, of course, a book of daunting length.  But I thoroughly enjoyed all the time that I spent with it.