Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bono: A Review

Bono: In Conversation with Michka AssayasBono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas by Michka Assayas

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The reason this book stands out is because Assayas doesn't keep his journalistic distance but presses into his friend and asks him the tough questions. He presses Bono on not speaking about Africa for over a decade and points out to him that colonialism in France was left-wing and championed by humanitarians. Bono doesn't really respond and dismisses the idea of irresponsible borrowing by African nations at one point but he does admit that aid created worse conditions and has propped up despots but he says that can be avoided by placing strict conditions on the money. At one point Bono says that he's not for a paternalistic attitude concerning Africa but later talks about rewards systems that sound paternalistic to me. He asks that we not see him as some wide-eyed idealist and then says we've got to starting bringing Heaven down to Earth now. Not surprisingly he's a bundle of contradictions.

At first blush it appears that he has reachable goals when it comes to charity: he explained to economist Robert Barro, and others, that the Jubilee 2000 debt cancellation was a one-time happening and would not encourage default on future debts; so why is there still a Jubilee campaign? Because not all debt was cancelled so just like all collectivists this is a plan that can never be fulfilled so these groups will never be satisfied in their social agendas and demands. One of my favorite passages is where he says that if you believe that aid is investment, that debt burden is unjust, in other words all his liberal suppositions, then the conclusion is that Africans will be able to take charge of their own destiny. Even if you follow all his rationale the conclusions don't follow from the premises. He believes that the West's treatment of Africans is the last bastion of inequality that we allow, says that we essentially have them chained to the ground, and insinuates that it is our racism that prevents us from giving more.

Bono claims that he's tired of begging for "crumbs" from the table of the rich but he sees giving almost exclusively in terms of governments-to-government transfers. He dubiously claims that a) America is at the bottom of spending on the poorest countries and b) that even if you include private philanthropy that America is still abysmally behind. In fact, in 2006 US charitable giving was $295.02 billion, which is twice as much as the next most charitable country, according to a 2006 comparison done by the Charities Aid Foundation. As percentage of GDP the US ranks 1st with 1.7% and Great Britain is 2nd at .73%.

He admits that the Sandinistas fascinated him because they were a majority and he was seeing liberation theology in practice. He was interested in socialism that didn't attempt to put down faith and used religion to inform the people of their rights. He was exploring his pacifism too and knows that Gandhi would say it is never appropriate to take up arms. He doesn't seem to know that Gandhi advocated that the Jews surrender to the Nazis in WWII, but this is a guy who praises the character of Bill Clinton at one point.

While this book contains the clearest presentation of the Gospel by Bono in any venue it still has the smirking nonsense he is known for. What is Christianity: "My understanding of the Scriptures has been made simple by the person of Christ. Christ teaches that God is love...and as much as I respond in allowing myself to be transformed by that love and acting in that love, that's my religion." Who is the Gospel of Jesus Christ for: "Jesus preached the Gospels for the poor." How to interpret the Old Testament: "the Old Testament is more of an action movie: blood, car chases, evacuations, a lot of special effects...those of us who are trying to figure out our Christian conundrum, is that the God of the Old Testament is like the journey from stern father to friend." Theological typology: "the Old Testament, it was more one of worship and awe, a vertical relationship. The New Testament, on the other hand, we look across as Jesus who looks familiar, horizontal. The combination is what makes the Cross." He's into deeds not creeds, spirituality and not religion. And like many of the topics outside of music, he holds sometimes interesting, sometimes quirky views but generally lacking wisdom or insight.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Walk On: A Review

Walk On: The Spiritual Journey Of U2Walk On: The Spiritual Journey Of U2 by Steve Stockman

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Steve Stockman, a Presbyterian minister in Belfast, is a man clearly enamored with U2. He's thought a lot about the lyrical content of the band's output and has a few interesting things to say but hagiography is what he ends up with. He does the same thing that U2 does in their own book, U2 by U2, and that is to try and position themselves in a middle ground politically. The problem with this, of course, is that there is no neutrality when staking positions and it is a ploy to be free to criticize your "right-wing fundamentalist" opponents while not having to identify yourselves as members of the Christian Left.

As I see it, there are three main problems with the book:

1. The author, like his subjects, does not understand the doctrine of two kingdoms.
2. He proposes that evangelicals have wholesale rejected U2 but offers no sourcing for this.
3. He conflates left-wing red letter Christianity with simply normal Christianity and attacks all other sources.

Two Kingdoms

At the risk of oversimplifying, the doctrine of two kingdoms is that Christ is preserving the secular kingdom on earth rather than redeeming it. This means that Christians are free to engage in the culture and politics of this earth but are not to confuse those aims with the aims of the heavenly kingdom that they will be part of when Jesus comes back to rule and reign. In contradistinction to that, Bono and U2 believe that it is their Christian duty to bring the kingdom to earth now and this is manifest in the social gospel. In 1998 Bono spoke of the appearance together of two opposing Irish politicians as "victory Jesus won" confusing peace on earth with the Gospel. Stockman follows that with "U2 believes that the Gospel...has an agenda for peacemaking and justice and a kingdom coming. They also believe that kingdom could come now on this side of eternity." The reason they believe this? A misinterpretation of the Lord's Prayer, in which Bono identifies his favorite line: Thy kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven. "Heaven on earth - now - let's have a bit of that," Bono exclaims. The Gospel (Christ's objective work on the cross to reconcile us to the Father) has nothing to do with what we do. We cannot live the Gospel. We cannot add anything to the work of Christ on our behalf. The author is cloyingly sympathetic to U2's views as he writes "[the band was] asking the Church to get out of prayer meetings and into the everyday dirt and pain of bringing the kingdom. This band believed in a kingdom coming...and they were going to run until they found what they were looking for: an earth as it is in heaven." And later he says that "Bono...longs for heaven on earth and tells his God he is tired of waiting." What I expect from a pastor is some Scriptural backing for these views but few verses are forthcoming.

Evangelical Bogeyman

On the first pages of the book it is asserted the band members' faith have been put in doubt by "the Christian press and Christians in general." The book goes on to suggest that evangelicals have caused U2 disillusionment for their concern for appearances over human suffering (pg. 5). When he writes that the band made a concious decision to deflect allegiance to conservative evangelical Christianity he fails to see this is because they are social gospel liberals who don't like being compared to people they oppose. There is no sourcing for such claims as the right-wing Church was forcing them to shut up (pg. 60), that Jublilee 2000 proof-texts from Leviticus are not taught in evangelical churches (pg. 151), or evangelicals spend a lot of time on being born again but little time on growing up (pg. 65). Stockman saves a special amount of vitriol for an editorial in Christianity Today that dared question Bono on his own record of giving and says that they shouldn't assume he doesn't give. But he assumes throughout the book that so-called evangelicals oppose U2 with nary a reason other than his conjecture.

Christian Left

One of Bono's more famous quotes is that "faith in Jesus Christ that is not aligned with social justice - that is not aligned with the poor - it's nothing." Early on the band becomes involved with Amnesty International and then later Bono starts his own advocacy group called DATA but the thread running through a lot of their work is alignment with center-left groups. Amnesty International believes that abortion is a human right and Bono himself is pro-choice, but you won't find that in this book. A stated goal of the ONE Campaign is to increase government funding for international aid programs but Bono and this author simply call this loving their neighbor. If by love you mean coercing my neighbor's government into taxing that neighbor at a higher rate so we can send his money to Africa. For a pastor to write a line of such low ecclesiology further solidifies in my mind that this book is hagiography more than anything else: "For Bono, The Edge, and Larry, the God that they met and have pilgrimaged with...is a God who is bigger than Church..." Think I'm making too much of Stockman's wagging finger? He writes "It is scandalous that in trying to switch America on to justice issues like debt relief, HIV/AIDS, and trade issues both Bono and Ali have had to prove what advantage it would be to America rather than the good idea of ridding the world of poverty, injustice, and millions of senseless deaths." He is also, apparently, on board with Bono's questionable assertion that poverty creates terrorists. In a passage of breathtaking naivete he writes "The press too have been quick to have a go at him for his do-gooding, telling him to stick to the music. Condemning someone for trying to save lives and help others is a remarkable indictment on third-millennium priorities." I haven't seen this "condemnation" he's talking about but he can't seem to understand that Bono's being criticized for being a moral scold and a public nuisance. Having millionaire rock stars hector governments into transferring more of their wealth to poor countries for the dubious notion that poor nations can achieve parity in this way is annoying to a large swath of people.

While being maddeningly biased and parroting the same insights into U2 you can find in their own book your time is much better spent in U2 by U2.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Apple Color 1.5

For quite a while now I've had an interest in both film restoration and color grading. I think the restoration bug caught me when I saw Criterion's special edition of The Third Man and saw the stunning ways that they cleaned up this old film and made the viewing experience much more pleasurable. As far as color grading (also sometimes called correction or timing) I became aware of it when I watched the special features on the Se7en DVD and also when I saw O Brother, Where Are Thou? years later.

That brings me to discovering a few weeks ago that Apple now has a professional color grading application available in their Final Cut Studio suite. I have been going through the Lynda.com training available for it and it astonishes me that a program this powerful can be used on a home PC consumer platform. The exorbitantly expensive hardware-based solutions have been pushed out by the powerful software-based systems, that now allow consumers access to this technology. Color me amazed.