Archive for January, 2009

What is Science’s Rightful Place?

January 22, 2009

Whatever it is, President Obama thinks that science has been displaced from it, and is in need of reinstatement.

What is the rightful place of science?  Isn’t science a tool for exploring the world around us?  A system of inquiry and curiosity about the natural world?  In which case, has science been displaced from this role?  Isn’t this the very role it fills?
If the rightful place of science is, as the address intimates, problem-solving and providing new solutions to old problems, isn’t this something that it already does?  Doesn’t science perform these functions already?  Considerable research continues to be done on a plethora of topics.  While the findings of science may not always be adopted, this hardly would seem to mean that science is not fulfilling it’s role, does it?  
Obama links the reinstatement of science foremost with the medical arena, raising healthcare “quality” while reducing costs.  I wonder how he envisions science doing this in ways that are not already engaged in?  I would be tempted to infer that this is particularly pointing towards removing limitations on stem-cell research and associated funding, allowing science to move ahead with the destruction of human life, in the hopes that we can conveniently benefit from the deaths of others too weak to defend themselves.  
Of course, I don’t think President Obama would describe things in quite those words.  But then again, he’s already stated that these sorts of issues are well beyond his pay grade.  Perhaps science is supposed to make the call on these sorts of things, and this is the place that science should rightfully occupy?

What Was *Your* Virginity Worth?

January 21, 2009

Was it worth close to $5 million dollars to you?  How about to your partner?  Perhaps you should have been a bit more pragmatic about things.

Pragmatism would appear to be a quality Natalie Dylan has in spades.  Ms. Dylan, a 22-year old San Diego woman, is auctioning off her virginity with the assistance of a Nevada brothel.  She plans to put herself through graduate school.  She holds an undergraduate degree in Women’s Studies, and plans to pursue graduate work in Marriage and Family therapy. 
Am I the only one that see immense irony in that?  
Ms. Dylan has registered surprise at the level of interest her offer has generated.  She muses that virginity isn’t that highly prized any longer, so why the big to-do?  After all, her older sister was able to finance her studies by working for just a few weeks in one of Nevada’s brothels.  Ms. Dylan is simply going about the same business from a different angle – one that promises to earn her considerably more than her older sister made.  Now that public interest is accelerating, there are potential movie offers coming in to Ms. Dylan, who has indicated that if she can make at least $1 million dollars through movie and/or book contracts, she wouldn’t necessarily feel compelled to go through with the sex.
But Ms. Dylan apparently has some flawed conceptions, regardless of what she was taught in her Women’s Studies.  Apparently, virginity does have a rather high value attached to it.  And virginity that could also garner some publicity for the ‘lucky’ bidder might seem to be additionally enticing.  If people – including Ms. Dylan – value virginity so highly, should we be surprised at this outbreak of bidding fervor?
It’s funny to watch the press attempting to report on this.  After all, for many people this raises some pretty itchy ethical considerations.  Prostitution, after all, is illegal outside of specific counties in Nevada.  The practice of selling sex for money – while ancient no doubt – is also one that has been consistently repudiated by our culture as, at the very least, inappropriate.  It has been theoretically glamorized and glorified in movies such as Pretty Woman, but really, what that movie ultimately glamorized and glorified was true love – and the monogamous behavior associated with it.  As outdated and old fashioned as certain academic and feminist thinkers may wish to dub it, virginity and monogamous behavior are still culturally understood to be the ideal.  It’s just that people are better rationalizing to themselves the fact that they don’t choose to live up to it.
I wonder if Ms. Dylan would be equally pragmatic about a counter-offer – a multi-million dollar offer for her to remain a virgin until marriage?  Virginity is something that Ms. Dylan apparently places some value on herself, else she most likely would have made different choices by this point in her life.  The question for her – and for us – is whether or not the value of virginity can compete with cold, hard cash.  
Capitalism would seem to say no, it can’t – and shouldn’t.  I wonder how many of her former – and future – professors would agree with her actions?  I wonder how many graduate schools would happily accept a woman who has pushed the envelope – if not outright violated – some of our most vigorous cultural standards?  How comfortable would you be receiving marriage ‘therapy’ from a woman who had sold her body to go to school?  Is she going to insist that the winner of the auction not be married?  Ms. Dylan appears to be playing things very close to the chest as far as her selection criteria.  
Would you attempt to talk Ms. Dylan out of this course of action?  Or is she a hero for feminists everywhere?

The Not-Dark-Enough Knight

January 19, 2009

With all the Oscar hype over this movie, I figured I ought to watch it. My take on it is not as a Batman-fanatic – I haven’t read the comic books, found the reruns of the 60’s TV series campy and silly, and haven’t seen all of the recent movie iterations. In general, I believe that the move to take Batman deeper and darker is a good one. For all of the psychological and emotional (perhaps spiritual?) angst of the Batman character (to say nothing of his nemesis’), you probably can’t go *too* deep. While that’s good conceptually, it’s bad for a movie like this, which *can* go too deep, and at times has to connive desperately to avoid doing so.

The plot was nothing particularly original. The emphasis on darkness and shadows made it difficult to watch (at least on my TV), and much of the impact of the action was blunted by not being able to actually see what is happening. The same thing is true of the voice work in the movie. I don’t think my ears (or eyes) are *that* bad yet, but there were several times I had to rewind (digitally) to try and catch what was being said. 

Philosophically the movie demonstrates the theological and philosophical conundrums of modernism and post-modernism. We can’t bring ourselves to admit that we’re as bad as we really are, and so we end up having to doctor ourselves up to make us look better than we really are. Do you want to know how desperate people look and act? You could watch this movie’s attempt to portray such a thing, or you could turn on the news, or think back to New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. Or watch Apocalypse Now (or better yet, read “Heart of Darkness”). In desperate times, people act desperate. Not everyone – but that’s hardly because people are innately good, rather, we just seem to have different breaking points of desperation. So the best we can do is fudge the truth in order to keep people from reaching the inexorable conclusion of an evolutionary/natural selection explanation for life.  We have to pretend that there are other answers while we categorically denounce them.  We have to keep our game face on, but the key players know that the game is over.

So are the forces of reckless selfishness and anarchy held at bay by the overwhelming goodness of people in general? Sorry – that’s a sales pitch I don’t buy. Case in point – see how everyone loves the Joker in this movie, and Batman is more or less an accessory? Hmmmm.

Is Heath Ledger good in this film? Sure. But is he really given the room to prove that he’s Oscar worthy? Not a chance. I would have liked to see the Joker as a more central role in this film. Although I do think that the little touch about having him give different accounts of his life history to different people is a really good touch. We don’t know the truth about the Joker. Likely, he doesn’t know it himself. How *did* he get those scars? And frankly, trying to sell me (or Harvey Dent) that the Joker is a reactionary, non-planning sort of anarchic free spirit is a complete crock, given all the elaborate planning he demonstrates throughout the entire film. 

Performances as a whole are pretty much what you’d expect. Alfred is proper and English. Aaron Eckhart turned in what I felt was a surprisingly capable performance. Batman is terse and acerbic in both of his alter egos. Rachel is pretty and clueless. Heck, pretty much everyone in this movie is pretty clueless, with the possible exception of the Joker. Which is fortunate, since the film contradicts it’s messages repeatedly throughout

Splitting Ethics

January 19, 2009

So I’m sitting here, prepared to watch The Dark Knight, since Gena is out of town, and it’s not a movie she’d be interested in watching. The kids are in bed, most of the mess from Sunday Popcorn Dinner has been dealt with.  Time to relax a bit.  

The DVD (which I rented from Redbox since I didn’t feel like tweaking my Netflix queue when I watched and returned Blazing Saddles on Thursday night) leads off with an anti-piracy advert.  I haven’t seen this particular one before – and it consists of dialogue between Rick and Ilsa from Casablanca, spliced together with anti-piracy interpretations.  Nothing too phenomenal here, until the last couple of splice ins, which bracket a climactic kiss between Rick and Ilsa.  
The first splice in explains that “Making time with Victor’s girl: Good” – now comes the kissing scene.  Then the following splice in reads “Pirating DVDs: Bad”.  No, nobody’s going to be earning any awards for most original script here, but it’s the implication that I found interesting.
We can flout one time-honored example of ethical behavior (faithfulness to the one you love, not seeking after another person’s man/woman), while firmly insisting adherence to another equally (don’t steal from us).  Sure, it seems tongue-in-cheek, but I’m pretty sure that whoever wrote this pithy little advert probably isn’t troubled by the disturbing inconsistency that they’re creating. 
If you can sneak behind the back of another person in order to score with their beloved, hey, no big deal.  Nobody’s the wiser, right? Nudge nudge, wink wink.  But don’t you dare even consider ripping a copy of this DVD that you’re renting, even though nobody is likely to ever find out – far less likely to find out, in fact, than the people involved in making time with another person’s girl/boyfriend, spouse, whatever.  Violating one type of ethical behavior so long as you don’t get caught is good.  Violating another one is bad.  What’s the difference?  One costs somebody money.  But cheating with another person’s guy/girl?  Hey – nobody’s losing money over that situation, right?  
For as long as there have been people, there have been amazingly uniform ideas about how we ought to interact with each other.  Ideas ultimately provided to us – hard wired in us, even – by our Creator God.  No stealing is one such idea.  No cheating on/with someone else is another.  People tweak the nuances of definitions somewhat – stealing is only bad if it’s someone from your own family/clan/tribe/nation, but stealing from someone else is ok.  Cheating is bad unless the person you’re cheating on or with is from a different family/clan/tribe/nation, for example.  But pretty much everyone has agreed that stealing in one form or another, and cheating in one form or another, are bad.  
Yet Captain Clever the scriptwriter sees no problem in ripping them apart.  Natural law, smackeral law.  All he cares about is that he’s been paid to try and convince people not to do what obviously is terribly easy to do, tempting to do, and practically impossible to get caught at – ripping DVDs.  No worries about succombing to equaly easy, tempting, and perhaps even undetectable behavior in terms of relationships.  Do your own thing.  Whatever makes you happy.
Just don’t consider trying to steal from the Media Powers-That-Be, or they’re going to open up a legal can of whoop-ass so big you’ll drown in it.  
And they might try to make time with your girl or guy, just as an added insult.

I Just Can’t Accept It

January 14, 2009

I know that I’m supposed to be tolerant of all beliefs.  But I just can’t accept them all as true.  There are some things I just can’t accept, and I struggle with that.

The woman is a highly educated professional who helps people for a living.  She is at a metaphysical crossroads of sort, the kind that often turn up when life seems to have reached or just passed a crossroad or a fork, and we’re no longer certain if we’re happy with the road we’re on – less traveled or otherwise.  
We’re taught to accept all beliefs as good and valid.  Obedient little post-modernists, we accept the teaching that truth is a matter of personal belief and perception, which of course means ultimately that there must be no truth.  One cannot hold two contradictory and opposite beliefs to be equally true.  There is no logic – unless neither one is really assumed to be true.  While this might work for a while for someone without any real sense of need for metaphysical truth, it hardly works for someone inclined to accept that there could or should be truth of a metaphysical nature, and the issue becomes sorting out what that truth is from among all the competing claims.  
This woman is honestly seeking truth, which is a lot more than many folks who claim to want the truth, so long as it matches exactly what they want it to be.  And the first truth she stumbles on is that if there is a truth out there, it can’t contradict itself.  If one account of the truth is actually true, then a contradictory account can’t also be true.  A is not non-A.   Tolerance is a fundamentally flawed replacement for love they neighbor.  

Dumb Animals?

January 13, 2009

This is just fun to watch.

Faces of the Depression/Recession II

January 12, 2009

When he walks or stands, his back is literally parallel with the floor.  He must have been a tall man, before some unknown condition or situation inexorably pushed him over into a permanent bow.  He looks up at me out of the corner of his twinkling eyes as we shake hands.  

How are you doing, Fred
Well, I woke up this morning, so I guess I’m doing pretty good he replies with a familiar chuckle and smile.  
He was married to his first wife for probably 30 years.  He was married to his second wife for just as long.  He outlived them both, and the house he lives alone in is a testament in part to their influence.  A crystal decorative bowl with fading, brightly colored plastic flowers sits on a dusty coffee table in his front room.  I’m not sure how often the room is used.  Or when it was last used.  A collection of photo collages of his older brother are stacked to one side.  His 93-year old brother died early last year.  Fred will by 90 in another couple of weeks.
He worked most of his life for the City.  He retired.  Took a trip to look up family back in Sweden or Norway.  He’s been the Financial Secretary at our church for many years.  Nobody else really wants the job.  Fred doesn’t mind doing it.  He shoots straight, and doesn’t say much if he doesn’t have much to say.  
But today, Fred opened his home to the family of three that was sitting behind a Jack-in-the-Box a few days ago, prepared to make the best of it sleeping without a roof over their heads.  Today he invited them to live with him for a while.  Today, Fred made a decision to go above and beyond what most folks would expect of a 90-year old man.  He changed the faces of that family from dread and uncertainty, to joy and hope.  They have a new family now, where they might least have expected to find one.  
I’m humbled by the God I serve, and the miracles that He provides so wantonly that we cease to even see them as such.

Faces of the Recession/Depression

January 10, 2009

The call this afternoon was convoluted.  She needed a ride back to her family, a few blocks away, and the strong Santa Ana winds made it difficult for her to walk the distance back.  Her husband and 4-year old son were sitting behind a Jack-in-the-Box restaurant, across the street from the Motel 6 where they had been staying, until they ran out of money.

I’d talked with the family on several other occasions.  The first was months ago, when they were in a nice house with a nice truck out front, a boat and motorcycle, a garage full of things.  That was a lifetime ago.  The house is gone.  So is the boat and the motorcycle and whatever else couldn’t fit into the back of their pickup.  Until today, for the last three weeks, even the pickup and their belongings in the bed were gone.  Their belongings consisted of a couple of pillows, a few small suitcases and overnight bags, and a child car-seat.  All piled at the rear of a Jack-in-the-Box as we pulled up, the 4-year old bounding over joyfully to greet me.
If she hadn’t called, their plan was to spend the night right there, nestled up in a nook at the back of the Jack-in-the-Box, probably 100 feet from the 101Freeway.  With a 4-year old.  Extended family couldn’t – or wouldn’t – help.  Options were lacking.  Time and resources had run out.  They had no transportation, no money, no belongings, nothing left.
What do you do in the face of such overwhelming loss and need?  Whatever you can.  With whatever you have.  You pray.  And you thank God and apologize for the embarrassment of riches that you so easily take for granted.  
I’ve always wondered what it must have been like to live through the Great Depression.  I suspect strongly that I’m going to have a chance to find out.  The pain of experiencing history instead of studying it is written on faces like that family today.  

The Godfather

January 9, 2009

The role of godparent gets pretty short shrift in the church as I’ve experienced it today.

I’ll allow you a  moment to Google shrift, or short shrift, before we continue.
What do you mean you can’t be bothered to Google it?  Do you know what it means?  Oh good grief, here’s the link – you can at least click on a link, can’t you?  Here’s another one.  Or is your finger that tired already?  I’ll shrive you for your shiftless shriftage.  I’ll assume that you’ve shriven or shrove before we continue.  Sheesh.
I’m not sure how or why the role of godparent fell into such relative obscurity.  Granted, it’s likely that originally it was the parents themselves who acted as godparents on behalf of their infants being baptized.  But still, for a tradition of the church that can be traced roughly back to pre-Christian Judaism, you’d think we’d treat it a bit more seriously.  But heck, with all the rest of church tradition and practice that’s being tossed out the window (or already has been), I suppose it’s not surprising that this practice is going the way of the dodo – practically speaking – as well.
Traditionally, the godparent assumes responsibility for the Christian upbringing of the child.  This has come to mean that they would perform this duty if for some reason the parents were unwilling or unable to do it for themselves (which should seem odd, since you’d think that if they weren’t willing, they wouldn’t bother choosing godparents – or even baptizing the child for that matter.  But people are funny, ya know?).  
I find that nowadays people don’t really give a lot of thought to what they’re actually doing in choosing godparents, or in agreeing to be godparents.  It has become some sort of obligation thing.  I need to make this person the godparent of junior, since I’m the godparent for their child.  Or, we don’t have anyone else easily available.  Or, we like so-and-so, so we want them to be the godparents.  Or, since the role is pretty much ornamental anymore, we’ll just pick so-and-so, who’s a practicing Muslim/Jew/Atheist/Scientologist/what-have-you.  My practice is to help guide parents in choosing godparents, by at least requiring that the people they ask be Christian.  Kind of radical, I know.
On the flip side, many godparents seem confused at best as to what their role is.  Yes, you need to be at the baptism if at all possible.  Yes, you should be in the baptismal photos – or at least some of them!  But that’s not where it ends.  You’ve accepted a duty, a responsibility.  And while maybe you know for a fact that the parents are providing a Christian upbringing for Jr., that hardly means that you get to coast for the rest of your life.  You can be contributing.  You should be contributing, at least on the anniversary of the child’s baptism.  Send a card that indicates you remember their baptism and are praying for them.  Preferably, send this card because you do pray for them, don’t just say you do!  Consider sending a small gift.  Again, nothing extravagant.  A child’s picture-bible when they’re young.  Perhaps an age-appropriate devotional book when they begin to get older.  Something that will be relevant to where that child is in their growth and development both as a human being and as a child of God.  Do it on alternating years, with a card on the between years.  If you live in the same area as the child, perhaps coordinating a special dinner or get together with the family would be nice.  Something to mark the occasion.
The fact that you take the time to remember the responsibility that you pledged yourself to with that child will help reinforce with the child just what a precious and important thing baptism is.  It will hopefully encourage them to think about their baptism often, and the amazing thing that God did in that moment with just a bit of water and His Word.  In the process, it will hopefully encourage you to be taking proactive steps of discipline in terms of prayer and study of the Word.  It will hopefully remind you of your baptism.  The same with the child’s parents. The benefits seem incredibly pervasive and beautiful, for such little effort.
My wife and I are the godparents for close to half-a-dozen kids.  We haven’t been the most faithful in performing the duties we pledged to in becoming godparents, and I apologize for that to any of you reading this.  I do want us to get better, and I pray that you’ll help to keep us accountable towards that end!  

A Hearty High Ho DUH

January 8, 2009

I’m not sure what’s more frightening – to think of the amount of money spent on this study, or to think that this study was necessary in the first place, or the fact that there are those prepared to discount the findings of the study.  

If what kids watch on TV (and by extension, listen to on the radio, see at the movies, play on their iPods, etc. and so forth on) does not contribute to measurable behavioral changes, then why are we so obsessive about setting good examples for our kids?  Common wisdom, borne out of a *lot* of experience, says that kids tend to emulate and imitate.  This is part of the learning process.  Monkey see, monkey do, for you Darwinists.  If kids see mom and dad exhibiting a particular behavior, they’re going to be more likely to assume that te behaviour is acceptable for themselves.  If mom and dad aren’t around as much, and kids are watching a lot of TV, they’re going to imitate what they see on television to some degree.  Not universally, of course, and not always to the same degree.  But in addition to the idea of desensitization , we have the issue that kids – and teens still fall into this category – pick up a lot of ideas about what to think and believe and do, based on the input they receive.
We quit showing drinking on television for the most part, didn’t we?  We banned hard liquor ads on television, didn’t we?  We’ve pretty much eliminated smoking from most of our TV shows, didn’t we?  Why?  Because there was an understanding that, in part, kids that were watching this stuff were getting dangerous messages.  Why don’t we treat sex the same way?  Why would anyone feel that you can fill prime-time with shows targeting teens and involving a lot of sexual promiscuity, and there won’t be some correlation – or even causation – to be found between viewing habits and sexual activity?  Why are some people – doctors and other ‘experts’, no less – attempting to argue that this is inaccurate, or not to be trusted?
For that matter, I’d be interested in seeing studies that examined adult behavior and viewing patterns.  It might be harder to determine the direction of correlation or causality, but I’m sure that some broad generalized truths could be asserted.  And I doubt they would differ a lot from the assertions of this study.  Food for thought.  Garbage In Garbage Out.