Archive for February, 2009

How Can I Miss You if You Don’t Leave?

February 18, 2009

Some people are worried that the proposed $500,000 salary cap for executives of banks that receive Federal bailout money will cause a drain of top talent from the financial sector.  

This brief article notes that salaries in the financial services sector have generally been on par with other professions, with two exceptions – the decade of the 1920’s (right before the Great Depression), and the two decades prior to our current economic meltdown.  
So in other words, when salaries in the financial services sector were allowed to fluctuate wildly out of line with professionals in other areas, the result was that the country/world was plunged into massive depression (ok, recession for those of you still unconvinced of what we’re in or about to enter into).  
Maybe I’m missing something, but why are we sad if these people now choose to go elsewhere?  The current economic debacle happened on their watch.  They were being paid outrageous amounts of money, and the net result was to run the system into the ground to line their own pockets and the pockets of their investors.  Sorry, but I can’t say I’ll be sorry to see all of this ‘talent’ move into other arenas.  Maybe they can all become lawyers and devastate the legal profession just as effectively.  I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be providing a lawyer bailout program – so maybe this could be a win-win situation after all!

What Makes Something Realistic?

February 17, 2009

So Bristol Palin doesn’t feel that abstinence is very realistic.  

In an interview that she allegedly agreed to in order to encourage other teens to think twice about having sex, she flatly contradicts her intent.  If it isn’t reasonable to expect teens to be abstinent, then why bother giving an interview to help encourage them to be abstinent?  Which is it?  Granted, you’re only 18, and so your reasoning skills are (hopefully) not at their most developed point.  But even an 18-year old should be able to see that her stated purpose for the interview is being sabotaged by her own assessment of the reasonableness of her goal.
So what makes something realistic?  Why is it unrealistic to expect that kids shouldn’t have sex?  Is it an unrealistic expectation of parents and adults and culture in general?  Or is it unrealistic to the kids themselves?  This seems to be what she’s saying.  This seems to be the crux of the contradiction.  Palin apparently wants to affirm the idea that kids shouldn’t be having sex, and yet as a kid herself, she doesn’t find this expectation realistic.  Which means, I’m assuming that she feels kids don’t have options, resources, and support systems to help them successfully make the best choice to abstain from sexual behavior.  Apparently, she feels that kids don’t really have an alternative – sex is just inevitable, and the best that can be hoped for is damage control/avoidance.
First off, we have to understand that this apparently wasn’t always the case.  There was a time within not-so-distant memory when there were certainly kids who were having sex, but these were the minority, and not only were they in the minority, they were viewed with varying degrees of social stigma.  It wasn’t behavior to be emulated, no matter how much people may have felt the urge to participate in it.  I highly doubt that the sexual urges of young teens have grown any stronger, relatively speaking.  But clearly, it’s a lot easier to act on those urges now, without a cultural reinforcement to the contrary among teens themselves.  In other words, once upon a time, culture viewed underage sex as impermissible.  Parents felt this way.  Educators felt this way.  Politicians felt this way.  The result of such a unified front that this sort of behavior was unacceptable and not to be tolerated resulted in a youth subculture which assimilated these attitudes.  Kids were horny, I have no doubt.  But they also understood that they couldn’t act on this impulse, that they could and must find ways of dealing with hormonal impulses, other than simply acting on them.  Those who chose not to conform in this way were socially stigmatized, both by their peers as well as by the larger culture.  Culture acted as a reinforcement on a certain type of behavior.
Culture continues to fulfill that role, but now in a 180 degree opposite direction.  Oh sure, we all officially poo-poo the idea of kids having sex.  But if you look at how our culture speaks to kids, how it helps to create and reinforce their own subculture (much as they would undoubtedly argue that their subculture is their own!), we see a different story.  The assumption is now not only that kids are going to have sex – that they can’t restrain themselves – but oftentimes that they shouldn’t restrain themselves.  Sexuality is seen as something that is a right of teens just as much as it is of adults, and the only issue is whether or not teens have the same tools available (contraceptives, abortion on demand) that adults do in order to most safely and enjoyable indulge their impulses.  To that end, public schools distribute condoms, and legislatures push for privacy rights for teens so that mom & dad don’t need to know that they ever had an abortion.  
The assumption behind all of this is that sex is good – always.  Only the logical side-effects of sex are bad – unplanned pregnancy & veneral diseases.  If we simply eliminate the bad side-effects, then kids can (and should) enjoy all the pleasures of sex-on-demand that their parents have grown to expect.   No wonder Palin doesn’t think abstinence is realistic.  Our culture as a whole thinks it’s unrealistic.  That it’s an imposition, an unnecessary limitation on the behavior of folks who we won’t let drink or vote.  Apparently those are serious things with serious repercussions that need to be carefully guarded.  Sex on the other hand, is just sex.  And it’s always good.  Or is it? 
We can feign indignation over Bristol Palin’s pregnancy, and over the current situation where sexual behavior is an expected part of teen behavior – expected first by those allegedly entrusted to protect these kids, and therefore by the kids themselves.  But we’re just blowing hot air unless we’re willing to examine what we tell our kids through media, through fashion, through the way we live our own lives, and through our own refusal as adults to demand changes in our culture.  We need to quit exploiting and promoting the Cult of Youth that our culture has created, and quit assuming that the experiences of three or four generations of youth are to be considered the norm and representative of how youth should always be – ignoring the many generations of youth that preceded them with very different guidelines.  
We need to assure Bristol and the many other kids in our country that abstinence is realistic, but first we need to start acting like the moral guardians that we as parents and grandparents are supposed to be.  Otherwise, Bristol’s assessment will stand.  The kids are all right, but we need to provide them a cultural environment where they can live in an all right way.  

Making Stuff Up

February 16, 2009

I was Googling this morning to try and verify a rumor that Obama is going to be visiting the high school that I went to.  Instead, I found a little exchange that occurred back in June ’08 between James Dobson and Barack Obama.  Obama is taking issue with comments that James Dobson made about Obama’s misinterpretation of Scripture.  If you prefer – like me – to refer to primary source material whenever possible, here is the transcript of the 2006 Obama speech that Dobson is critiquing.   Here is also where you can listen to Dobson’s broadcast itself.

While I hate to write about old news, this isn’t really old, per se, in that the issues that were raised remain the same.  And I think that the interchange is instructive.  Or more accurately, the interpretations of the Christian faith and the context of historical American democracy remain pertinent.  So, I’m gonna go ahead and spend a few minutes on this.  
First off, if you listen to the whole broadcast from Dobson (the applicable part begins about 15 minutes or so into the broadcast), Dobson and his co-host Tom Minnery completely misinterpret parts of Obama’s comments.  They seem to feel that he is comparing Dobson and the Rev. Al Sharpton, when in fact he is contrasting them.  Obama doesn’t seem to be saying that Dobson and Al Sharpton are somehow alike, but rather that they are quite different – and yet they both consider themselves to be devoted Christians, which leaves the difficult conundrum of having to somehow sort out how two people can be so very different – politically and theologically – and yet profess the same faith.  Obama is capitalizing on this confusion between very divergent poles of Christian thought, not attempting to paint Dobson and Sharpton with the same brush.  
However, they move on to examine Obama’s comments about the difficulty of knowing how to apply what the Bible teaches.  Obama teases that we can’t just rely on a Christian teaching – or even a Biblical teaching, because the Bible apparently offers so many ludicrous ideas on how to live.  Obama specifically references Leviticus, stating that it implies slavery is acceptable, and that it outlaws eating shellfish as an abomination.  Then he refers to Deuteronomy and the command to stone a disobedient child.  Finally, he comments that the Sermon on the Mount is so radical that the Defense Department probabaly couldn’t “survive it’s application”.  
Leviticus 25 assumes that slavery exists, as does Leviticus 19 and 22.  It’s not clear which passages Obama has in mind specifically, and it doesn’t really matter, since any of them will do.  The Bible does acknowledge that in the Old Testament theocracy of Israel, slavery existed and there were regulations about how to deal with it.  Leviticus 11:9-10 deals with the dietary restrictions of the theocracy of Israel, which among other things, ruled out shellfish as unclean.  Deuteronomy 21:20-22 deals with the necessity of stoning a drunk and disobedient son, while Deuteronomy 22:20-22 deals with stoning to death a promiscuous, unmarried daughter.  And yes, the words of the Sermon on the Mount are incredibly radical and counter cultural – both when they were spoken and still today.  If you read Matthew 5, you can’t help but come away with the realization that the Kingdom of God, and how God has ordered reality, is completely contrary to the way that sinful man insists reality must be.  Of course the Department of Defense couldn’t survive.  The fact is that nobody could – it highlights the complete brokenness that we live with, and our complete need for a savior who can empower us to live in ways that we could never aspire to on our own.  
Obama then jests that Christians aren’t reading their Bibles.  The implication is that Christians don’t really know what it says, and therefore, shouldn’t be basing their lives on applying what it teaches, or expecting their government to.  
The Bible does say all of these things.  However, Obama is using faulty logic and exegesis in order to make his point.  He assumes that a literal reading of the Bible requires a literal and equilateral application of everything it says.  However, this in fact works against a literal reading of the Bible, rather than for it.  A literal reading of the Bible requires one to be able to distinguish what the Bible is actually doing when it says something, and to recognize that not everything stated in the Bible is binding on Christians today in an equal way.  This doesn’t destroy the integrity of the Bible, rather it preserves it by understanding that the Bible is a complex compendium of books, and that those books serve different purposes.  To compare a book of poetry with a historical narrative would be poor reading and interpretative skills, as any literature teacher would tell you.  
So Obama references regulations that were in place for the people of Israel in the Old Testament – members of a theocratic geo-political entity which finally ceased to exist in AD 70 – and acts as though those provisions could still be thought to hold true for Christians today.  He does this while ignoring Acts 10:9-16, which addresses specifically the dietary restrictions of the Old Testament.  he ignores the words of Jesus at the last supper, when he declares that he is instituting a new covenant – a covenant that supersedes the Mosaic one, and that is based not on obedience to the law, but on the blood and body of Jesus himself.  If there is faulty exegesis to be evident here, it would seem to be on the part of the person who is picking out pieces of Scripture without rightly understanding them in terms of the whole of Scripture.  Folks I talk to call this “cherry picking”, except that they’re usually accusing Christians of doing this to support particular views on issues such as homosexuality and abortion.  Cherry picking isn’t sound exegesis – granted.  But it’s equally unsound when someone wants to do it to try and criticize the Bible, as when someone does it to try and defend the Bible.  
The US is not a theocracy.  We are not the ‘new Israel’.  We are a secular state (in very much the same way that modern Israel is not the recreation of the Old Testament Israel, but is rather a new, separate, secular state).   We have benefited a great deal from the separation of church and state that our forefathers envisioned and crafted.  But we also live in a culture that now wishes to redefine separation of church and state, to actually bring about the persecutions that our forefathers sought to avoid.  
The US is founded and based on Judeo-Christian principles and assumptions.  They permeate everything in our founding documents.  The understanding that every human being has objective value that is not to be determined by other men, but only by their status as a creation of God – this is a Judeo-Christian value.  Arguments about the deistic tendencies of some of the founding fathers don’t eliminate the fact that their deism was influenced by Judeo-Christianity.  
Today, the fact remains that we are, at least on paper, a predominately Judeo-Christian nation.  Based on 2001 Census data, basically 80% of the US population identifies themselves as somehow Christian in orientation.  Self-identified Jews comprise
1.4% of the population.  Muslims compose .6% of the population.  Buddhists and Hindus together make up less than 1% of the population. Atheists and those with no stated religious persuasion make up 15% of the population.   So to say that we are a pluralistic nation is both true and untrue.  There are a variety of beliefs represented in the population, but they’re hardly to be considered equally represented.  And to insist that the foundational beliefs and understandings of our nation have to be discarded is erroneous and dangerous.  We’ve existed for over 200 years in a climate that allows multiple religions and denominations to co-exist peacefully.  That state of affairs is directly attributable to the Judeo-Christian bases of our country.  Note, for example, the religious plurality that *doesn’t* exist in many Muslim nations.  Note also the religious pluralism that *doesn’t* exist in traditionally communist and atheistic regimes.  If you want to make the case for pluralism and respect for all religions, it would seem that you can best make that case in a nation that has based it’s very creation on Judeo-Christian principles.  And it would seem that removing and expunging those principles from the public forum is a move that will only weaken the religious freedoms of everyone, rather than strengthening them.
And if you want to examine the particular Judeo-Christian understandings that Obama attempts to throw confusion on, you’ll find that, up until the 20th century, basically, there was not the plurality of understandings regarding the nature and meaning of Scripture.  That most Christians fell into what would today be called a very conservative Christian understanding.  You’d find that the confusions about the nature and intent of Scripture have primarily arisen because of very antagonistic literary and historical methods of interpretation and exegesis, which often have as their basis the assumption that what the Bible says is *not* true, and therefore it has to be studied in such a way as to demonstrate and support the presupposed non-truth of it.  Their practices of interpretation are unique, in that they are not applied to other literary documents the same way.  The result is a growing strain of Christianity that assumes the Bible is not correct – or at least not 100% correct, and therefore it can and should be dissected in order to maintain the parts that make sense to us and are convenient, while downplaying or even ignoring those parts that are most challenging, least understandable, and arguably, most critical and necessary.
Plenty of Christians are reading their Bibles, Mr. Obama.  However plenty of them also understand what you – and the liberal Christian critics – seem not to.  The Bible is not a tool.  It is not a convenient means of forwarding a social agenda.  It is not a source of rich metaphors that make our speeches more compelling.  It is not convenient simply for dealing with situations that the state is unable to address adequately.  The Bible is not a means to your ends, Mr. President, or anyone else’s other than God Himself.  And while the Bible is at times bewildering and challenging, it is these things as the Word of God that are to transform every individual heart.  It is the profoundly contrary nature of the Bible that most clearly speaks of how far we’ve fallen, and how desperately we need to be rescued and redeemed.  
President Obama’s understandings of the Scripture and the public square seem to be limited to utilizing it as a pretext for advancing social changes.  And while it can and has been used towards this end, this is never the ultimate end.  Or perhaps more accurately, the transformations that the Bible leads to are far more pervasive and life altering – both individually and communally – than anyone is fully capable of accepting and recognizing.  So long as the goal remains the preservation of the state, the Bible remains simply one tool in an arsenal of social and economic and military options.  The Bible is not concerned with the preservation of the state, because as history amply attests, the state is a transitory creature, impermanent at best.  You can’t rely on Romans 13 to engender support for the State, while ignoring the Gospels that put Romans 13 into perspective.  You don’t get to reap the benefits of Biblical metaphors, while casting aside the Savior that makes all of those metaphors work, who gives them their power and their resonance and their truth.  
I pray that President Obama will continue to struggle with the issue of faith – both his own, and that of the people that he represents.  I pray that he will inform this struggle from a broader – and more historical – understanding of the faith and the Bible, rather than simply those who seem inclined to misread Scripture to suit their personal and social and political goals.  

Ideological-less

February 14, 2009

I was relieved to read today that our Secretary of State has vowed to carry out her duties without ideology.  As a means of breaking with the former administration, this seems rather extreme to me, though tragically not very surprising.  It’s a heck of a lot easier to take pot shots at what someone else is doing than it is to craft your own approach.    

First off, I don’t think it’s humanly possible to not have an ideology.  It’s even less possible for a nation to not have an ideology.  America has a long tradition of very specific types of ideology, centered around freedom of one sort or another, and the advancement of human political rights.  We certainly haven’t always acted on that ideology very cleanly, but it’s been an overall guiding principle.  
Secondly, making a stated goal of not having an ideology does not foster the interest of either the United States or our allies around the world.  I can guarantee that every other head of state that Ms. Clinton will interact will have very specific ideologies that they hope to act on.  We believe (as though anybody really disbelieved, regardless of what the spook reports last year claimed) that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.  That’s an expression of ideology – and Ms. Clinton will be rather chagrined to find they are far less willing to give up their ideology than she apparently is.  Russia has an ideology.  China has one.  Even France has one, I’m sure.  
We ought to have one as well.  We are even more misleading than previous administrations if we think we can pass ourselves off as not having one.  That ideology may be to ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’, but it can’t simply be ‘to not be like the last eight years’.  And if we don’t, God help us all, and help those nations that have relied on us to have one – even if it wasn’t always popular.
Listening is good.  Examining facts is good.  But these things are not adequate to represent the interests of 300  million people, and a nation that wields an incredible influence around the world, both positively and negatively.  Be honest about who we are and what we hold valuable.  Be forthright about how we intend to safegard those interests, and what friends and foes alike can expect from us.  Mistakes will continue to be made – at least until such time as mistakes become more clearly a partisan issue and less a human one.  But lead with your best foot forward – don’t lead by attempting not to take a step.  

Pardon My Indulgence

February 10, 2009

After a roughly forty-year period of downplay following Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church is beginning to actively promote plenary indulgences again.  

The topic of indulgences is one that stretches back at least a thousand years in Catholic history, but which perhaps gained the most notoriety in the early 16th century as one of the key issues that spurred Martin Luther to call for a discussion via his 95 Theses.  
The basic idea is that sins are forgiven by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Indulgences do not forgive sins.  However, since even devout Christians have a nasty habit of continuing to sin, yet are exhorted not to do so, there are consequences that must be reckoned with.  The consequences or punishments for continued sin need to be paid in full either in this life or the first part of the afterlife, in the Catholic conceptualization of Purgatory.  It is there that the justified must wait until they have adequately sanctified themselves through prayer and penitence.  However, they can be sped along on this path by others interceding on their behalf.  It’s not exactly a get-out-of-jail-free card, since they aren’t in jail, but it does assist them in reaching paradise a little bit sooner.  
The Catholic Church has promoted the idea of indulgences primarily as a means to motivate the living to greater lives of daily piety and devotion.  Indulgences are obtained by a variety of means.  Plenary indulgences eliminate all of the consequences for sins, while partial indulgences remit only – you guessed it – part of the consequences for sins.  Again, the indulgences aren’t forgiving the sins – Jesus has already done that.  But, according to Catholic teaching, that doesn’t mean that you still don’t have punishment due for your sins.  
By performing the prescribed good deeds, an individual can earn an indulgence.  The indulgence is granted by the Catholic Church, which draws on a ‘treasury of merit’ accumulated first and foremost through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but also by the pius prayers and lives of the saints.  The Church is able to dispense these blessings to those who conduct themselves properly, and the indulgences can be obtained on behalf of those who have already died, as an act of intercession.  The sale of indulgences was forbidden in the late 16th century, in response to the huge ruckus that official and unofficial representatives of the Church had generated through heavy-handed or theologically-poor sales techniques.  
Now, after 40 years or so, the Church is moving indulgences back into the limelight as a means of drawing the faithful back into more Catholic activities.  Confess and be absolved, receive communion, pray the rosary, adore the Host, or any of the other basic requirements for an indulgence.  The emphasis is on acting Catholic, and on being generous and loving to others.  
I’m all for Christians acting like Christians.  I’d love to see a heck of a lot more of that, frankly.  But I hold with Luther on this issue.  If the Church has this amazing power to deliver people from Purgatory up to heaven at any time, why the heck doesn’t it use that power equilaterally and immediately?  Why essentially hold people as metaphysical hostages in order to elicit a particular desired behavior by others?  It doesn’t add up to me.  At all.  If payment still needs to be made for our sins, then doesn’t that imply that Jesus’ work on the cross and in the open tomb wasn’t really adequate?  Doesn’t this implication lead us down the path towards the classic heresy of semipelagianism?   
It will be interesting to see how American Catholics respond to this renewed emphasis.   

Hit Me Indy, One More Time

February 9, 2009

This wasn’t a movie that I sought out. But, it seemed the best of rather slim pickin’s at the local Redbox. Perhaps two days of raging influenza fever has softened my critical skills somewhat. So be it. I liked this movie more than I expected I would.
Lucas & Spielberg did an admirable job of keeping the genre flavoring of the original three movies. They capture the sort of serial-adventure stories that I myself have never really seen much of. High drama. Lots o’ action. And of course, the unspoken that good is going to triumph over evil. While this movie didn’t have the same ‘gee whiz’ effect on me that the first one did (I didn’t care much for the second one, and only saw the third one in the last couple of years), it was still surprisingly good entertainment.
Yes, Indy is showing his age, and that’s appropriate. I should be so vigorous at 65. Is it unbelievable? Sure. But documentary reality is hardly what you ask for when you enter a film like this. The question becomes, do they do a reasonable job of making it believable – and yes, they do.
Cate Blanchett is over the top as the villainess – but that’s expected, overdone accent and all. Karen Allen feels like she’s trying to channel the Karen Allen of 1981, which is unfortunate, as it would have been interesting to see a little more emotional development and maturity alluded to. Shia LaBeouf is a nice addition to the series, deepening the Indy mythos while providing a convenient heir should anyone wish to take up another installment. From the closing scene of the film, though, it’s clear that we shouldn’t be too convinced that this is the last one for Harrison Ford.
Harrison Ford is the driving force in this film. Everyone else is basically eye candy of one sort or another, foils for witticisms and cynicisms. But he demonstrates an increasing awareness of his accumulating years. As his dean exclaims, “We’ve reached the age where life quits giving you things and starts taking things away.” Indy is a little less cocky than he was 25 years ago, and nobody plays the reluctant or uncertain hero as well as Ford.
Politically, while the film is steeped in the Cold War hysteria of the 1950’s, it’s a hysteria none-too-distant from the War on Terror hysteria of the 2000’s. We’re slow to learn lessons from history, whether it’s the fear of Russians in the heartland, or al-Quaeda.
I find it interesting that in all of the Indy movies, the final demise of the Bad Guy is always brought about by a supernatural force. Religious forces in Indy 1-3, and now extra-dimensional beings in Indy 4. In any case, the meting out of justice is always in the hands of some greater power. Accomplishing what man cannot – or will not – do on his own, justice is delivered. Evil is crushed. While we may culturally drift in a relative morality that leaves us hamstrung in addressing core issues of good and evil, whatever powers may be beyond us have no such limitations. And oddly enough, we don’t feel as though they’re being unfair or totalitarian or unreasonable when they deliver justice. We recognize it for what it is. Meet. Right. Salutary. At all times, and in all places.
Perhaps more philosophers should watch these sorts of movies. And a fair number of theologians, too.

It’s All in the Delivery

February 6, 2009

I’m not quite sure why the pro-choice/pro-abortion folks are so upset about this, other than that it rather glaringly points out the fundamental hypocrisy of their position.

An 18-year old girl goes in for an abortion a little over halfway through her pregnancy.  Except the doctor is late, and in the meantime, because of some of the drugs she’d been given to prepare her for the abortion, she actually goes into labor and delivers the baby.  Alive.  Enter the doctor, who cuts the umbilical cord, gathers the live baby along with the placenta and afterbirth, puts the live baby in a biohazard bag with all of this other stuff, and throws it in the trash.  
End of baby.  Fortunately, not end of story.  The doctor is in some hot water right now.  And any pro-life supporter would easily understand why.  What I can’t figure out is why the pro-abortion folks are queasy.  
If the baby had remained inside the girl, the doctor would have cut it up and sucked it out and the baby would be every bit as dead as it is today.  But it would have been lauded as another advancement of women’s rights and freedoms.  But the fact that the baby – same baby mind you, in either scenario – the fact that the baby had the audacity to be born, alive, suddenly makes what the doctor did murder.  Or unethical.  
So what’s the issue?  Clearly, it’s not the developmental stage of the child.  Again, if the child had remained inside the mother, the abortion wouldn’t have generated a second thought.  The body of the child was recovered a week later, and found that the lungs had air in them – the child had been born alive and able to draw breath.  Sort of puts into jeopardy the whole argument that a baby isn’t really a baby until they’re self-sufficient (post-birth).  This baby was apparently somewhat self-sufficient at only 23 weeks.  The act of birth does not change the nature of that baby – it simply changes the baby’s environment.  No more cells were added to that child to make them truly ‘human’ in the birth process.  The exact same child that was about to be murdered as nothing more than an accretion of cells had the doctor been on time, is the exact same child that everyone agrees was done poorly by once having been born.
The fact is this situation exposes the hypocrisy of the pro-choice argument that the baby is not really a baby, but rather a collection of cells, or even a pariah organism that is unfairly sapping the mother of strength and nutrients and therefore can be disposed of as a parasite (I’m not kidding – there are illustrious thinkers and doctors who have espoused this line).  The fact is, we all know that it’s a baby inside that woman.  And simply closing our eyes and pretending that it’s not really a baby so that we can kill it when it’s inconvenient does not make that baby any less a baby.    If we aren’t willing to countenance the cold-blooded execution of that baby like so much garbage when it’s outside the mothers’ womb, how reasonable is it to argue that killing the baby is ok so long as he or she is in the womb?  It isn’t.

Hayseed?

February 6, 2009

A chart detailing the top box office stars of the early Hollywood era seems innocuous enough, right?  

What I found rather disgusting was the commentary attached to it, as well as the posts that had been made below it.  What a bunch of pompous asses.  We’re sooooooo much more enlightened and encultured than those ‘hayseeds’ who made Shirley Temple and Mickey Rooney stars, aren’t we?  Maybe not so fast.  I started doing some fast Googling around this topic, and it’s interesting the sorts of things you find.  I don’t vouch that these are any more than one person’s calculations, and therefore may not be accurate – but if they *are* accurate, how much brighter are we?
According to this site, some of the top ten grossing stars of all time include Kenny Baker and Warwick Davis.  Based on monetary standards, it would seem that maybe we shouldn’t be throwing stones too quickly at those ‘hayseeds’ in the 30’s and 40’s.   Seems like our generation and theirs appreciated a movie with some height-challenged stars.  Interesting.
A year ago, this list seemed heavily tilted towards folks in the action genre, but not exclusively.  
And then I got bored.
In any event, it’s pretty easy to sit back and enjoy huge leaps in technology and computer graphics and budgets that could feed a good chunk of Africa for a long, loooong time, and mock the folks who got all of this started in many ways.  Tragically, this elitist attitude isn’t limited to cinemaphiles, but seems to be prevalent in just about every arena of thought.  We’re so much more knowledgable/spiritual/scientific/artsy/what-have-you.  
At the end of the day though, we’re still people, and people haven’t changed all that much across time and geography.  We just make better actors, apparently.

A Classic, by Any Other Name

February 5, 2009

I gave up drinking sodas (colas, pop, what have you) in the spring of 2008.  So I’m coming up on a year without having had one of the staples of my teen & young adult life – Coca-Cola.  My reasons are pretty much exclusively health related.  Once you actually learn about what is in a soda, and what it does in your body when you drink it, it’s hard to really justify a daily ritual that is so completely unhealthy.  I loved Coke – and from the time I was old enough to earn my own money, it quickly became a part of my daily life.  Living in the desert for most of my life, fountain drinks could be purchased pretty much by the gallon in cups with names like Big Gulp and Super Big Gulp.  Downing 44+ ounces of Coca Cola in a day was nothing for me.  

I don’t miss it at all, surprisingly.  Partly because my wife has converted me to drinking iced tea (and hot tea, allowing me to pretty much eliminate the desire for cafe mochas and other overpriced Starbucks-fare).  Partly because of how important it is to drink more water.  I’ve considered having a Coke from time to time, but never really felt like it was necessary.  I’d drink soda in a mixed drink, but I think my days of drinking soda as a beverage of choice are permanently gone.
But I remember vividly when Coca Cola decided that it was time to introduce a new version of their beloved soft drink.  I remember my own indignation and fury at such a monumentally stupid move – vowing to remove their signature product in order to push a new version of the product which was sweeter, tasting more like that evil alternative, Pepsi.  Fortunately, I was not alone in my anger, and the public backlash against Coca-Cola forced them to do an about face, and reintroduce the ‘original’ Coca Cola formula as the rebranded ‘Classic Coca Cola’.  Now, 24 years later, they are removing the ‘Classic’ moniker, and going back to just plain ol’ Coca Cola.  
The incident in 1985 is widely considered one of the incredibly awful marketing moves ever made.  I just remember it as part of an increasingly hazy adolescence.  I may not drink the stuff any more, but it’s a great reminder that just because something is old or been around for a while, doesn’t mean that it isn’t relevant any more, or can be easily dismissed or replaced.  In a culture obsessed with the latest and greatest, where the assumption is that whatever came before us can’t possibly be as good, or as right, or as true, it’s good to be reminded in language we can all relate to, that these assumptions are only that – assumptions.  And we all know how well those tend to work out.  

Under the Radar

February 4, 2009

This site is hosted by GoDaddy, so if that offends you, you may wish to quit reading right now.  There are a variety of Christian sites that are moving their site hosting from GoDaddy servers, due to unhappiness over GoDaddy’s racy superbowl ads.  I don’t have immediate plans to follow suit, though at some point I probably will- and when I do, it will be for similar theological reasons, not because I’ve ever been unhappy with GoDaddy’s service.  I just find the sudden reaction to be interesting.

Firstly, GoDaddy has used this type of advertising for several years.  This is not the first year that GoDaddy has aired racy Superbowl ads.  I’m not sure why Christian sites are just now beginning to take offense.  Perhaps this is just the first year that GoDaddy has a broad enough name-recognition for people to begin taking offense at it. 
Secondly, I’m hoping that these people (since Christian groups are really just  Christian individuals) are being consistent in their protests.  I’m going to assume that they are, in which case, I applaud their consistency.  It’s important to take a stand about what we find acceptable or not in our media.
Without a doubt, the advertisement focusing on double entendre about ‘enhancement’ is tacky.  However, it isn’t what I’d consider overtly sexual – other than the fact that it deals with attractive and enhanced women.  Tacky yes.  Enough to generate righteous indignation?  I guess that depends on how you define righteousness.  I can see equally tacky and indignation-inspiring images driving down the 101 freeway, or plastered over bus stops, and certainly all over TV.  Dancing With the Stars has some pretty darn risque outfits, doesn’t it?  And we won’t even start in on shows like Beverly Hills 90310 and others.  Those shows combine revealing clothing with explicitly sexual overtones and situations.  I hope that Christians are vocally boycotting these shows as well?
Augmentation certainly appears to be a more and more accepted part of our culture.  This ad parodies not just that trend, but also our obsession with sports stars and their alleged use of illegal performance enhancers.  Personally, I think it’s an interesting (and undoubtedly completely unintended) juxtaposition and question.  Why is it that we expect those with great talent to demonstrate it without artificial enhancements, yet we appear to have a far lower expectation for those  that we consider to be very beautiful?  Why is it that beauty can be accepted in a culturally enhanced fashion, but sports performance cannot?  
The second ad I find even more curious.  Danica Patrick, the Indy racer has been a GoDaddy spokesperson for several years.  She does it for the exposure and financial backing it brings to her and her racing team.  She’s an attractive woman, which I’m sure is appealing to GoDaddy.   The advertisement in question involves a college student who has a domain name with GoDaddy, and has found that he has complete control of a lot of things – such as encouraging Danica to take five showers in a day.  Or arranging for her to be joined in the shower by the attractive guidance counselor from college.  There is very little flesh shown (nudity is clearly implied), and while there is obviously a sexual purpose to the male college student’s actions in arranging this scenario, there is clearly no sexual interest on the part of either of the women involved.  The ad finishes when the tables are turned, and the women force the three students watching them to slap and otherwise injure one another in retaliation.
I found this ad to be rather refreshing.  It begins with what appears to be a predominant assumption, particularly amongst younger males (and females) who have had greater access to pornography, courtesy of the Internet.  The assumption is that women are basically sexual time bombs that just need to be activated properly.  Put into a sensual situation, the woman or women’s sexual nature will burst forth.  They lack only the proper stimulation of a male – in the commercial’s case, a voyeur college student.
But the commercial refutes this stereotype.  It refuses to play along with the porn assumptions.  Neither of the women are in the least aroused or interested in one another.  They are not simply there for the sexual enjoyment of the men watching – either the actors in the commercial, or the television viewers at home.  They take command of the situation, punishing the boys in the advertisement for their rude attempt at manipulation, and demonstrating clearly that they are not sexual dolls to be positioned for the enjoyment of men.  
Of course,the final seconds of the commercial have the damp women laying on a bed in front of a laptop – wrapped in towels and clearly enjoying – not one another, but rather their ability to gain revenge against the boys who sought to manipulate them.  They’re still damp, attractive women wrapped in towels, but there’s not a hint of the sensuality that the boys had sought to elicit and observe.  
We need to be careful to discern between how a message is presented, and what the message is.  No, the two are not completely separate things, but we need to be careful not to react just because an ad features an attractive woman.  I believe the first GoDaddy commercial was more sexually exploitive than the second, but it’s also mocking that sort of exploitation at a certain level.  The second commercial cleary refutes the attempts to exploit two attractive women for sensual enjoyment.  I would think that this would be a message that Christian groups would wish to affirm, despite the fact that it takes place in part in a shower.
When a culture is saturated in sexual imagery and exhortation, it is difficult to know when to draw the line.  I’m not sure that I would say the Christian groups pulling their sites are wrong for doing so.  Actually, I probably agree with them.  But I also think that we need to really look at what is being said, not simply who is saying it.