Monday, January 30, 2012

A New Kind of Intolerance?

Here's a story that made me sad. If you don't have time to read it, let it suffice to say that a teenaged girl,  Jessica Ahlquist, went to court against her school in order to have a banner removed from the wall -- a prayer that had been written by a former student of the school and that had hung on the wall in the place for forty-nine years -- and she won. Ahlquist is an atheist and she found the prayer offensive.

Some have labeled this girl as "evil" and others have lauded her as a champion of the ideal of "separation of church and state" that is contained in the first amendment of the United States Constitution.

I have always been mystified by people's interpretation of this short passage:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof [my italics]; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Timeline Tantrums

The latest panic is the new "timeline" thing on Facebook. If I gather correctly, this new setup will allow people to easily access one's past posts. Here's an excerpt from an article on the topic (hat tip: Dr. William Lutz):
...everyone will get the new Timeline. And here’s the important part: when you do, you’ll have just seven days to preview what’s there now, and hide anything you don’t want others to see.

In case you’re unfamiliar, the Facebook Timeline makes it far easier for you to travel back through your Facebook posts – posts which normally disappeared off your Wall and into oblivion. The posts from these previous months and years are now accessible through new navigational elements on the right-side of your screen that let you quickly travel back in time to the day you were born.

You can fill in data from your pre-Facebook years using the new status update box, which now includes support for adding a specific year and various “life events.”  These events include things like marriages, births, deaths, new jobs, trips and vacations, new homes, and other things you might want to record in the scrapbook-like Timeline.

With Timeline’s added ability to find older posts, including those from the days before your boss, grandparents, mom and dad were on Facebook, users will need to do a rapid cleanup on their profiles when the Timeline goes live.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The One Basket Rebellion

Maybe there's more somewhere else?
One of my recurring themes/annoying repeated trumpetings (depending on your perspective) has been that the biggest mistake most people make is to assume things are either simple or, at least, to assume that they are simpler than they actually are. This is most likely a result of the fact that things are bigger than we are capable of understanding, but another post on that later.

Conventional wisdom guides many of us (especially those who like to say "well, he may be smart, but does he have common sense?"). But maybe it is a time to push certain bits of conventional wisdom aside and make room for more analysis. (Or, at least, to have a little fun.)

Monday, January 23, 2012

In Defense of "Happy Holidays"

As a "word guy" I am annoyed by a lot of things people say and I have referenced a few of them on H&R. And, like a lot of you, I'm turned off by "doublespeak" and jargon and I am suspicious of anything that is considered "politically correct," not only because being politically correct seems cowardly (even though it is often kind, though more often beneficial to the speaker), but because I have learned that whatever politically correct word or phrase one picks, someone is bound to figure out a way to be offended by it; and, even if a politically correct statement is okay today, it might not be okay tomorrow.

(Think of the progress from that most atrocious of n-words (from the corrupted word "negro") to the gentler "colored" to the proudly proclaimed "black" and, eventually, to the "politicaly correct" "African American" -- a phrase, by the way, that a black college student of mine one voiced violent objection to: "If I hear one more person in this room refer to black people as African Americans, I'm going to flip." His objection was that he was black, but of West-Indian descent and that calling him African American was simply incorrect and that is was also a default disregarding of his culture. He saw, he said, no more problem being referred to as "the black guy" than he would imagine a ginger person should have with being called "the red-haired guy.")

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Great Teacher (A Parable)

The school was a great, open field. The Great Teacher watched from the sunlit hill.

Three teachers stood before his class, next to a great stack of bricks -- special bricks, that were called "facts."

The first teacher picked up a fact-brick and held it out. One at time, the students approached and took the offering from his hands. When each student was supplied, the teacher commanded: "Now, keep returning to me and put your bricks in a stack. You will make the biggest pile possible, for I will hand you many, many bricks before the sun falls."

The Great Teacher frowned.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Chump (Who is Not Me)

Once upon a time, there was a fellow (not me, you understand) who went food-shopping because his wife (not mine, you understand), who usually did the food shopping, was recuperating from knee surgery. He wasn't used to food shopping, this fellow who is absolutely not me, but he had done it before -- back in the days before kids. He (this other fellow) went into this adventure feeling pretty confident.

And he did okay, this non-Chrissian chap, in general. Sure, he got non-fat creamer instead of half-and-half. And he did get regular cheese instead of 2%. Small errors, on the whole. On the opposite end, he managed to find (after some significant searching and a silent [but energetic] imagining that he was Indiana Jones exploring the Temple of the Frozen Menace) crumbled bleu cheese; an accomplishment of which he was exceedingly proud, and after which, in silent celebration, he stood heroically for a moment, next to his shopping cart, and ran an hand iconically across the brim of his imaginary fedora.

Finally -- a reason to use this painting!
Yes, this stalwart shopping-hero did okay.

Monday, January 16, 2012

More Lungs, Less Air

I'm at it again. I'm thinking about community and the on-going struggle I have regarding the concept. In short, in case you haven't read anything by me on the subject, yet, I have a rough time coming up with things that are positive as a result of community -- that is, outside of the benefit of shared work and companionship. I know these are big deals, but, then, when I start tallying up the problems that come out of community, my inner hermit peeks his long-bearded head out of the isolated cabin window and beckons.

But as a person who never closes the door on different perspectives (and who knows he has shifted on many an issue), I always question myself. A lot of times, while watching movies, I'll see scenes that make community look pretty awesome.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Cosmic Sundae

It's that time again -- time for me to step aside. Here's a wonderful piece by a fellow contributor to When Falls the Coliseum, Mr. Frank Wilson. This piece on the question of life on other planets and the question's place in both faith and in general logic is done in Frank's usual eloquent and lucid manner. He's able to shine one heck of light on certain things, and this is no exception. "Maybe," Frank ponders, "we’re the sour cherry on the sundae" that is the universe. A simply wonderful piece: The presumption that we are not alone

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Big Food

Today, my students, in a class called "Literature of Science Fiction and Fantasy," began an annual project: "The Sci-fi Invention Project. " What they have to do is to come up with an invention -- a machine of some kind -- that solves a social problem. I've gotten glasses that prevent racism; I've gotten machines that stop drunks from driving; I've gotten anti-obesity devices, anti-stupidity hats, force-fields for preventing street violence and the like.

I've also gotten a lot of machines meant to end world hunger. These devices often have to do with syntheses that result in food.

"Ions" come into play, a lot. And various waves named with Greek letters.

Well, the gist of the assignment is that the year is 2038 and the inventor has to present his or her invention to the class, which plays the part of "NECSI" -- the Neo-Earth Committee for Societal Improvements. The inventor's goal is to convince NECSI to send the invention proposal to the President, in the Green House (the name was changed, for obvious reasons, some time in the 2020s).

Monday, January 9, 2012

An Open Letter to Selfish Jackasses

Dear Young Couples of the World:

You have to start thinking. Really. 

I'm not going to hit you with my cosmic beliefs, though they are pretty firm. I'm not going to talk about religion. I'm not going to define marriage. But I am going to ask you to stop being a bunch of selfish jackasses.

You believe what you believe about marriage -- a blog post isn't going to change that. You either think marriage is sacred or you don't; and whether you believe it is meant for only certain people or whether you believe a person should be allowed to marry anyone or anything in the world, you have to start really considering one thing: commitment (especially as it relates to having babies).

Friday, January 6, 2012

That Rush/Genesis Place

Greetings! I come from the Yes/Genesis place!

This has been with me for years, so I might as well work it out. 

Years ago, I was working with a good friend on his film (to which I wrote the score). We were talking about spotting some music and, for some reason, he mentioned, with a hint of ribbing, that he didn't "come from that Yes/Genesis place."

At the time, the comment sort of whisked past me. I wasn't offended, even though I do, in fact, come from that place. I was more intrigued by the statement than anything. This friend is someone I hold in the highest esteem as a thinker and as a writer/director, so, at intervals, over the years, I have been slowly, incrementally, working out that statement.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Reaching for the Skyrim

When the novel first began to gain popularity, especially in England, there were countless articles written by people of an artistic, philosophical and literary bent. The major complaint? That the young women of England were wasting their time reading novels -- hours on end -- when they could have been doing more productive things. In short, novels were, to the lovers of poetry and philosophy and theology, the soap operas of the age -- a mindless submersion in pure entertainment. They were so full of (here every literary fiction snob across the globe retches) . . .  plot. ("'Plot" even sounds like 'clot,'" once said a black-clad grad student holding a giant wine glass.)

By the way, many novels of that time, as in today's era, stank on ice. But that is neither here nor there. The point is, today, we wish our kids would while away summer afternoons reading, instead of doing other things, like watching TV or (curse it all) playing (holds the words out at arm's-length, like a dead mouse) video games.

Monday, January 2, 2012

If You Buy A Kid an Xbox

(A children's story in the tradition of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.)
If you buy a kid an Xbox (360), the guy at the store will tell you that the old XBox games will work on it.

If you bring the Xbox (360) home, you will find the old games only work if you buy a one-hundred and thirty dollar external hard drive.

If you are a high school teacher who doesn't want to spend one-hundred-thirty more dollars (after the $375 you already spent on the game system), you will decide to hook up the old Xbox along with the Xbox 360 and the Nintendo Wii. (This will require a degree in engineering or a lifetime of experience with cords and plugs, the latter of which you fortunately have.)

After you do this, you will find out that your TV room is too small for the "Kinect" that allows game play without remote controls. For a moment you will consider whether you really need the garage that lies beyond the confining wall. You will also wonder whether you could make a small doorway into the garage, so the kids will be able to back up far enough. Your kids will suggest standing on the couch to play. You'll consider this, as well, and then get a hold of yourself.