A World Made by Hand (Kunstler)

Jim Kunstler is author of one of the best books about Peak Oil, and he has now written a novel set in the near future in Upper New York State – that is, a future after Peak Oil has come and gone. It’s an interesting enough book but I was always conscious of some sermonising in the background. Which, as I mostly agreed with it, I could allow just to flow through. However, it did confirm for me that my prognosis is much more optimistic than Kunstler’s. For example, I found it more than strange that there was never any reference to renewable sources of energy, especially wind and solar; also that nobody rode bicycles. I found those elements quite implausible. However, it’s a good book, and one I’d be happy to recommend to people persuaded of the analytical side of Peak Oil who wanted to explore the possible effects socially in an imaginative way.

SPCK/SSG – for beginners

For those unaware of what has been going on with SPCK bookshops, this is a collection of links which should bring you up to speed.

SPCK bookshops were last year sold to St Stephen the Great charity – based in Texas, supposedly Orthodox.

For various reasons the SPCK shops have been allowed to run down, many of them closed.

The union USDAW is taking SSG to court over various alleged malpractices.

The manager of the SPCK shop in Worcester committed suicide because of all the stresses.

SSG – as a UK charity! – have sought bankruptcy protection in the US; I understand our Charity Commission are investigating them.

An Essex cartoonist/blogger named Dave Walker – who is currently ‘cartoonist in residence’ at the Lambeth conference – reported consistently on the above for a period of 18 months. Last week he was threatened with a ‘cease and desist’ order by SSG (a man named J Mark Brewer) and he took down some 75 posts on his blog about the SPCK.

And this is where I came in – I thought this was unjust – so I recopied some of Dave’s posts on to my blog, was also served a ‘cease and desist’ order by Mr Brewer, but I’ve published it all here:

This is a list of all the bloggers who’ve been supporting Dave:

My correspondence with J Mark Brewer (updated)

I am publishing this because I believe it is in the public interest for this information to be widely known.

On 25th July I received the following e-mail:




Reverend Norton:

I have visited your web page[1] which you brazenly have set up to carry on for the “cartoon church” blog site. As such, you appear to be dedicated to the destruction of my personal reputation and that of Saint Stephen the Great/Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust. I am absolutely appalled and devastated that a member of the clergy of the Church of England would engage in such inappropriate and defamatory behavior, by what you have written as well as by what you have posted and by encouraging others to do the same.

I am dumfounded that any Christian, especially a clergyman, honestly believes that this is consistent with his faith. You would know better than I, a layman, how many places defamation is spoken against in the Holy Bible.[2]

Re-publishing the material from “cartoon church” has nothing to do with what you call “free speech.” Instead, you are invading my privacy by putting my name on your webpage, and you are defaming me. You are also interfering with the Charitable Trust’s efforts to salvage what remains of the charitable business of the Christian bookshops with scorn.

Your libel of me and your invasion of my privacy have deeply hurt me. Because of your position as a clergyman, the pain of the words on your web page is greater.

This is not right and you have gone too far.

Your statements are false and I categorically deny them – both for me and SSG/SSGCT. Many of them are defamatory per se (e.g., “. . . incompetence and injustice of the people who have taken over the SPCK chain.”)

I reiterate: am a private individual and I value my privacy. I am not a public figure and you have no right to drag my name through the mire. I do not consent and object to you invading my personal privacy by maintaining web pages about me, SSG, SSGCT, ENC Management, my brother, my wife, or my family. I do not consent to you posting blogs or enabling and encouraging others to blog us on the internet. I do not consent to you defaming me to any other party or person by “sharing” your false allegations. At this point, even were you to remove my name from your web page, my personal identity would still be clear to a majority of readers.

Legal Demands

1. I hereby demand that you cease and desist from doing any of these things any more. I specifically demand that you deactivate your webpages, websites and/or blogsites which mention me, my brother, my family, SSG and/or SSGCT IMMEDIATELY. I also demand that you not post this email, paraphrase it or refer to it in any way.

2. I hereby demand that you issue to me a retraction and apology on your webpage stating substantially the following:

I have removed from my website all of the material about Mr. Mark Brewer and the Saint Stephen the Great Charitable Trust as I have determined that it unfairly violated the personal privacy of Mr. Brewer and because it was defamatory. I acknowledge that I did not have any factual basis for any of these defamatory statements and that this is the reason for this retraction and apology.

I sincerely apologize to Mr. Brewer for the hurt I have caused to him, his family and to Saint Stephen the Great. I urge my readers to refrain from any public postings on the internet about Mr. Brewer in respect of his privacy.

I also request and urge my readers to refrain from writing or saying anything about him, his family or Saint Stephen the Great which is or reasonably could be interpreted as false or defamatory.

3. I hereby demand that you contact all persons with whom you have communicated about me or the charity, sending them the above apology with a blind-copy to myself so that I know you have complied.

If you do meet the terms and conditions set forth above and if you fail to remove the defamatory material from your website by noon GMT July 25, 2008, I will seek an injunction against you and those with whom you have collaborated in your activities. I also will take legal action against you for damages for libel. In that event, I will also subpoena all records relating to the persons whom you have allowed to post defamatory material on your website in order to add them as defendants.

Please acknowledge your receipt of this correspondence and your intent to comply with this demand by reply email.

J. Mark Brewer

[2] Exodus 20:16 – the Ninth Commandment; Psalm 101:5 – “Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour, him will I cut off: him that hath an high look and a proud heart will not I suffer.” Jesus also preached against slander; e.g., Saint Mark 7:22.

I replied firstly in this manner:

Dear J Mark Brewer,

I acknowledge receipt of this e-mail. I shall take legal advice and make a substantive response within seven days.
Sam Norton

To which I received the response:

Thank you for your acknowledgment.
Seven days is too long for me to continue to be the victim of this outrage. You could at least have the Christian decency to take down the offending material pending your ‘legal advice.’ Will you do that or do you require that legal action force you to?
J. Mark Brewer

Houston, Texas 77056

I have this evening replied further:

Dear J Mark Brewer,
Following our earlier correspondence this is now my substantive reply to your original e-mail of 25th July 2008.
I believe that my blog contains only material which is either true or “fair comment” upon truthful matters.
If there are particular aspects of the material published on my blog which you believe to be neither true nor fair comment I am prepared to look again at specific items.
Please be aware that I consider the making public of this correspondence to be in the public interest, and that I shall share, via my blog and other media, both your original “cease and desist” request, and any subsequent correspondence.
I would assure you that I have no personal malice towards you in this regard. My concern is that an innocent man (Mr David Walker) has been victimised by your actions. Should you be willing at any point in the future to make a public apology to him, leading to him reinstating his blogposts concerning SPCK, then I shall certainly cease and desist any further writings on this affair.
You do, of course, have recourse to the secular courts of the United Kingdom if you wish to take this further in that manner. Should you wish to do so, I shall be pleased to explain my position in open court.
Yours sincerely,
Sam Norton

I have now received this reply to my above e-mail:

RE: your cease and desist request to me


Neither English nor American law permits you to engage in what you term “fair comment” with respect to a private company, nor with respect to a private individual – namely, me. Obviously the law does not allow one to cloak his conduct with such sophistry and then go about defaming someone.

Your unreasonableness in the face of my request that you stop defaming me is appalling. Your persistence in doing so without even seeking to know the truth, by talking to me for example, proves that you are in fact acting out of complete malice. Libel with malice, a malignancy of heart, is intolerable in civilized societies.

Mr. Walker is in no way a victim of anything done or not done, said or not said by me. I have no idea what you are on about in saying such a thing. I cannot fathom your judgmental presumptiveness in telling me to apologize to him.

I reiterate my demand that you stop your defamatory blogging and invasion of my privacy. If you do not, I will seek redress in the courts of the country where I live – the United States. As your solicitor will have told you, you are subject to jurisdiction here as you knowingly libeled me on the worldwide web, you know me to be a resident of the USA and you know and intend to injure me where I live in the USA.

Your solicitor also will have told you that you are subject to service of process for a suit in the United States under the Hague Convention. You will then have to answer for your conduct in the venue where you intentionally caused me harm. I hope you understand this.

Mark Brewer

Reasonable Atheism (24): Justifying language about God

There is a certain creature that English people call a cow. French people call it la vache. Doubtless other languages have other words for the same creature.

Now, does it make sense to ask the Frenchman to justify the use of ‘la vache’ to describe the cow? Imagine asking the question (in French, presumably) ‘why do you call it la vache?’!! There is no exterior logical justification for the derivation of the language. There are cows, and this is the language that we use for interacting with them.

So I want to distinguish between two sorts of justification for God-talk (theology). One sort accepts that there is something there to be discussed, and the debate is therefore about what sort of language does the best job in the discussion. Let’s call this the ‘naming God’ debate.

The second sort denies that there is anything there to be discussed at all. As Richard Dawkins puts it (in ‘God Delusion’), theology is simply ‘fairyology’ – there are no fairies at the bottom of the garden, and it’s a waste of time pursuing any conversation involving them. So lets call this the fairy-killing debate.

Now, in a post which will come along soon, I’m going to be talking about conscience, and talking about how God-language interacts with language about conscience, morals and decision making and so on. When this has come up before, eg when discussing my post about ‘what I mean when I talk about God‘ some of the responses have, it seems to me, been akin to asking the Frenchman why he uses the word ‘vache’ to talk about cows. In other words, the reality of what I am describing is not in dispute, simply the merits or demerits of using religious language to describe the phenomena. I have a lot of respect for those perspectives which recognise what is trying to be described using god-language, engages with it, points out its flaws, and then starts being linguistically creative (possibly in atheistic ways) in order to move forward. _Some_ of the discussion around the problem of evil can be like this (but most isn’t).

However, some of the criticisms have ended up obsessing over the question of whether a particular entity exists or not. In other words, the discussion has been about fairy-killing. Now, as I’ve explored elsewhere, I don’t find the fairy-killing discussions all that helpful, not least because it’s part of the logic of faith that God does not ‘exist’ in the relevant way for the discussion to make sense. That is, as the quote from Denys Turner I refer to often puts it, “in the sense in which atheists… say God ‘does not exist’, the atheist has merely arrived at the theological starting point. Theologians of the classical traditions, an Augustine, a Thomas Aquinas or a Meister Eckhart, simply agree about the disposing of idolatries, and then proceed with the proper business of doing theology.”

This distinction corresponds, I think, to the distinction between the sophisticated and the humourless atheists. The sophisticated atheist recognises what is being talked about; the humourless doesn’t.

Anyhow, this was really a ground-clearing post. Consider it a ‘clearing of the throat before speech’.

I am Legend

It took me a long while to get around to watching this as I didn’t have especially high hopes, but I was very impressed. Excellent performance from Will Smith, with a persuasive portrayal of loneliness-inducing-madness. And an orthodox message too.