Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A Bipartisan Majority?

As has been expected for some time, Samuel Alito was confirmed today to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court. Toward the end of last week, there was talk of an attempt at a filibuster, but no one really expected that to even so much as delay the vote. In a prediction of victory last Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said that "A bipartisan majority will vote to confirm Judge Alito as Justice Alito."

At the time, there were 53 Republicans and 3 Democrats committed to voting to confirm Alito. When the final votes were counted, the numbers were 54 Republicans and 4 Democrats voting to confirm (and 1 Republican, 40 Democrats, and 1 Independent voting against).

Can someone explain to me how this lop-sided vote falls under any reasonable definition of "bipartisan"?

Monday, January 30, 2006

My Story: Logos

While I was in my second year at Montreat College, one of my best friends was the editor of the school literary magazine, called Logos. Like most such college magazines, Logos was a collection of student-written poems, prose, and photography; published once a year by the college's student body.

My friend had asked me to join her on the staff, selecting pieces to be included in the publication, and I was asked to be her successor as editor the following year. I spent quite a bit of time with her in the editing office learning how to use the editing software to do layouts, and was able to meet with the company that was to print the magazine before the final draft was sent to them for publication before Spring Break.

There was a time when the words "Spring Break" would strike fear into my heart. The year just prior to this, I had contracted "walking pneumonia" while touring with a small singing group during Spring Break, and I had to call my parents to come pick me up from Tennessee to spend the rest of Spring Break recuperating from home. By the end of that week, a blizzard had struck, stranding my fellow singers in a church in another part of Tennessee while I (now recovered) had to stay in Kentucky a few extra days, unable to return to college because of the road conditions. As it turned out, I was able to meet up with my singing group halfway back to the college, after the roads had (mostly) cleared up, only to have our bus break down some 15 miles from the campus, requiring someone from our college town to come and rescue us, getting us the rest of the way home.

But as bad as that Spring Break was, the Logos year's Spring Break was even worse.

On the Friday before we were to return to class, my editor friend suffered from a brain aneurysm. By the following morning, she had passed away, almost one month to the day before she would have turned 21. I arrived back to campus the following evening to find another friend, who had been waiting for my return, coming to me to tell me the news.

Needless to say, I was devastated. One of my other friends told me a couple of months later, after I had laughed at a particularly funny joke he had told, that he was glad to see me smile, because he was afraid for a while that I might never smile again.

With my editor friend gone, I found myself fulfilling the duties of Logos editor a bit sooner than I had expected. About a week after I got back from Spring Break, I received word from the publishing company that the fonts used for the magazine layout were printing illegibly, and that they needed me to provide them with a new computer file with different fonts by the next day.

By this time, I had already been involved in drama, and was required to be in rehearsal until about 11:00 pm that night. All I could do was make sure I had a key to the office and start the necessary font work after rehearsal was over, pulling an "all-nighter." Having arranged for this, I arrived in the office fairly late at night, put my stuff in the computer room, and went downstairs to go to the bathroom. Upon my return, I found that I had locked myself out of the office!

In a state of near-panic, I had to wake up the Resident Director of one of the dormitories to ask for a key, which he was kind enough to provide. I got back into the office, finished my font rework (making sure to include a "special thanks" to the RD while doing so!), and got to my dorm room to sleep for just a couple of hours before getting up for classes the next day. I delivered the new file on disk to the publisher the next day (this was a few years before sending such files by e-mail was practical), and the magazine finally came out after only a slight delay.

After that "crash course" in magazine editing, I figured I was ready for my proper tenure as editor the following year. Unfortunately, that year provided completely different challenges.

One such challenge was a decision I made to promote artistic integrity by adopting what I called the "e.e. cummings" rule. By this, I meant that I could not assume that apparent typographical errors or misspellings were not the original intention of the artist. While in most cases, I was able to obtain permission from each artist to make whatever grammatical changes I saw fit, this created a bit of extra work compared to what would have been the case if I had simply made the changes on my own. Still, I considered it important that the artists be given the benefit of the doubt.

Another problem was far more controversial. I adopted the position that it would be unfair of me to arbitrarily refuse to print a piece that I found distasteful if the rest of my committee voted to include it. This resulted in the near-publication of a particular sestina (a kind of poem with a peculiar structure) with fairly explicit sexual references (we referred to it as the "sextina"). One of my staff (a particularly conservative elderly woman) resigned from the magazine in protest, and the "sextina" was ultimately removed from the magazine by decree of the faculty sponsor, necessitating me to find a substitute poem to insert on the now-vacant page, and informing the publisher of the late change.

This was done in short order, but I soon got a call from the publisher that, because of the particularly dark pictures that were included in that year's magazine, the ink was taking far longer to dry than normal, and that the magazines would not be shipped until the very end of the school year--after many students would have already gone home!

Through circumstances which are best left for another post to explain, I happened to be Student Body President that year, in addition to being the literary magazine editor (remember, this was a very small school of only about 400 students!). Because of quite a few budgetary crises, I had been reluctant to spend very much Student Government money that year, and ironically found the end of year looming with a budget surplus in the Student Government funds. Although I concede that there was definitely a "conflict of interest" here, the end of the year had already come, and so I decided to use that surplus to fund postage to mail the finally completed magazines to all students who could not pick up the magazine while still at school.

That year had been a bad one for student publications. The aforementioned budget cuts had caused the yearbook to cease publication that year, and the student newspaper also ceased to be published by the student body (although a similar paper, published and formally run by the English department, did begin publication). This meant that Logos was the only student publication to be published that year, a fact of which I am still proud, despite some minor guilt over the admitted conflict of interests.

Ironically, although I still have copies of Logos from before and since that year, I do not possess a copy of the magazine for which I myself was the editor. The few extra copies that remained after I mailed out copies to the entire student body were given to family members. Although I have seen my edition of Logos while visiting my grandparents, I do not have the heart to take it from them. I certainly don't need a copy to remember that time.

Friday, January 27, 2006

*sigh*

The past 24 hours have not been good ones. Mostly for reasons I either can't or won't go into here. But there's at least one item that's bothering me that is totally appropriate for this nominally Transformers-related blog.

If you follow Transformers with any enthusiasm, you probably know that the new edition of the Transformers Collectors' Club Magazine is now shipping. You probably have also seen a picture or two scanned from the magazine introducing certain toys that are due to hit the shelves in upcoming months.

And therein lies the problem.

As is well-known (if you've been following TFs) by now, Fun Publications (henceforth called "FP," these are the publishers of the Club Magazine) has specifically asked not to have such scans posted. Yet arrogant Transformers fans have been posting them left and right on the web in direct violation of these requests. I have called such people "thieves," and I do not think that word is too strong.

When I've complained about this matter on the boards, I have been treated with utter disrespect and contempt. Among other things, I (and the few others who have complained) have been told (paraphrased):
  • That's a stupid rule.
  • It's not fair that some people get to see these pictures and others don't.
  • Hasbro themselves don't really care. It's FP who's jealously protecting the scans.
  • This is the "real world," and you can't stop people from posting these pictures if they want to.
And the requests for "PMs" (Private Messages) to get the scans, circumventing message board restrictions, continue....

As the last sentence indicates, most of the moderators of the better Transformers message boards have been trying to respect the wishes of FP, and have taken down any scans or links they've found. But the damage is already done, and the sheer number of "send me a PM, please" messages indicates that there are still lots of Transformers fans who don't care about respecting FP's wishes (nor copyright laws).

There are a few reasons this bothers me:
  • Regardless of what the laws say, FP has every right to dictate how their material is to be used, and that deserves respect.
  • While the magazine is but a small part of our club membership, those of us who pay for it have a right to this exclusive content before the rest of the internet grabs it. It's not fair to us that the information is public before we even get the magazine in our own mailboxes! This detracts from the value of our membership fee, which is arguably not the greatest value to begin with.
  • There are copyright laws that prevent this sort of thing. A few folks have argued that this kind of thing falls under "fair use." To that, all I can say is that I spend a lot of time dealing with copyright matters, and while "fair use" is not a clear-cut definition, allowing for some flexibility in how potential violations are decided, I'm pretty confident that posting these scans on the internet does not fall under "fair use" by pretty much any legal definition.
  • This kind of information is made available to fans under certain conditions. If those conditions are not met, we are less likely to be granted such information in the future, and then all fans lose.
  • It violates my personal sense of "right" and "wrong."
Admittedly, this last is fairly petty. But it is, at least in part, dictated by my Christian faith, and it is not an argument I have brought up anywhere else. I am well aware that many (if not most) Transformers fans are not Christian, and I do not expect them to be persuaded by arguments based on Christian ideals. I do still expect them to have better respect for the wishes of those who have worked to make this information available to fans in the first place, even if they don't have respect for the law. It's just common decency.

But this is definitely one of those times when I'm embarrassed to call myself a Transformers fan....

Thursday, January 26, 2006

What to Say?

There's so much that's happened in the past 24-hours in the news that I feel at a loss to comment on anything. Two quick observations:

1. I'm scared to death that, with the recent Hamas victories in the Palestinian Parliament, the conservative Christian right will become even more galvanized. (I'm scared of a Hamas majority for other reasons, too, but this is actually a big deal to me.)

2. I'm tired of hearing President Bush tell me (through press conferences) that certain questionable actions he undertakes are "what the American people expect [him] to do" in order to protect the American people. Clearly, with half of the country expressing severe displeasure at his policies, he is not doing "what the American people expect him to do."

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A Failure to Reason

I've been seeing this study show up quite a bit the past few days, and I find it's implications intriguing, if a bit disturbing. In a nutshell, it says what a lot of us feel is true, anyway: that Republicans and Democrats tend not to reason through information that may oppose their own position, but simply reinforce what they already believe and ignore information that may contradict such beliefs.

I'm sure this is true of everyone to some extent or another, but I would appreciate being given more information on how people who do not closely associate with one of these two political movements would have responded to the same tests. (The link says that the sample consisted of "committed Democrats and Republicans," implying that no "neutrals" were tested.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

I have just been informed that this week (Jan. 18-25) is the "Week of Prayer for Christian Unity" as determined by the World Council of Churches.

What does it say about me (or the seminary in which I work, which supposedly is all about promoting "Christian unity") that I've never heard of this event, which apparently has been in existence since 1968?

Friday, January 20, 2006

What Message Are They Sending?

While listening to the radio this morning, I came across this article (note: requires Real Player to play) and learned that Crystal Cathedral founding pastor Robert Schuller will be stepping down from his role as Senior Pastor and passing the reigns to his son, Robert A. Schuller (who usually uses his middle initial to distinguish himself from his father, whose middle initial begins with "H"), although the elder Schuller isn't actually retiring, just yet. For more info, you can see the Crystal Cathedral's web page.

The article rightly notes that Schuller's ministry is often criticized by conservatives for its emphasis on "positive thinking," arguing that it waters down the gospel. Despite the dismissal of this idea as "sour grapes" by Craig Detweiler (a professor at Biola who I know personally, and consider to be a generally responsible apologist for progressive Christianity) in the radio article, I have some sympathies with the concern that Schuller's teaching emphasizes the good sides of Christianity while giving little attention to the dangers of sin and the need for repentance. In fact, it seems to me that Schuller reduces sin to a loss of self-esteem, rather than an act of disobedience to God. (For example, see this quote from Schuller's book Self Esteem: The New Reformation: "Sin is any act or thought that robs myself or another human being of his or her self-esteem." [p. 14]). Although Schuller has not come to this philosophy lightly, and has well-reasoned beliefs that have led him to this position, I simply cannot bring myself to agree with him.

However, I found myself more bothered by the fact that the article paid no attention to criticism from more liberal Christians. I, myself, have long been bothered by the sheer opulence displayed by the building that cost over $20 million dollars to build. Not to mention the elaborate and costly shows produced every year for Christmas and Easter.

To be fair, the ministry has long since paid the cost of building the Crystal Cathedral. In fact, the cost of building the Cathedral was paid for before the Cathedral even opened, and the congregation holds no debt. In addition, the television ministry, "Hour of Power," itself takes in over $50 million dollars every year. And I'm well aware of quite a few ministries that have been funded by this income. I do not know of any terrible tales of waste or fraud. And I must remind myself that it's "not a sin to be rich," provided that one uses one's resources responsibly.

But I'm still concerned about the message that such a wealthy congregation sends. I'm concerned that an unhealthy value is placed on having lots of money, and that the health of a ministry is measured by the size of the congregation (which, in this case, is over 9,500 members). I'm troubled by the fact that the Cathedral stands in the middle of one of the richest areas of Southern California (Garden Grove, in Orange County), which historically has a terrible track record of advocating against programs that would provide aid to those less fortunate. Even if the members of Schuller's congregation themselves are more generous (and I have no reason to suggest that they are not), I'm concerned that this generosity hasn't spread to the greater community. Instead of being driven to greater activism on behalf of the poor, they see the value of having great wealth themselves. I'm convinced that this is not the message that God would have us send as Christians.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Quickie Movie Review: The Happiest Millionaire

Was chatting with my sister today, and reminded of the Disney movie The Happiest Millionaire. Often forgotten in the Disney archives because it didn't perform as well as Mary Poppins (which came out just the year before), The Happiest Millionaire was the last movie personally overseen by Walt Disney himself.

Although I'd recommend to more casual movie-watchers to skip through most of the stuff featuring the love story between the characters portrayed by John Davidson and Lesley Ann Warren (both in their first theatrical movie roles), there are parts of this movie that are extremely enjoyable. But Fred MacMurray was always fun, and if you only catch the scenes featuring Tommy Steele, it's well worth it.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Future is Here

Although the news that the Sci-Fi channel is finally going to carry the new Dr. Who is exciting, I thought that, instead of dwelling on that, I'd direct you to tfu.info, a wonderful resource for cataloging all things Transformer.

Here is an excerpt from the note signaling the New Year.
It Is The Year 2006:

Transformers Season 3 is no longer the future. Cars aren't flying, the EDC doesn't defend Earth from aliens, and we still have no idea what Blot transforms into.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Trying to be Fair

The confirmation hearings for potential Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito continue for at least another day. As should come as no surprise to pretty much anyone, Republicans are very much in favor of Alito, while Democrats are deeply suspicious of him. This is amply demonstrated by the nature of the questions that Alito receives. I only have to have the radio on for about 10 seconds, and I can tell whether the Senator asking the questions is a Republican or a Democrat, simply by the tone of the question.

While listening to (and later reading transcripts of) these hearings, I'm often frustrated by what seem to me to be unfair attacks on Judge Alito. This is not a concession I make lightly. I'm very concerned about some of the liberties that might be lost to a conservative Supreme Court ruling. However, there's something disturbing about exchanges like the one Alito had with Senator Ted Kennedy on Tuesday*, when Kennedy badgered Alito about failing to recuse himself in a case involving a group with which Alito holds mutual funds. Alito had just described the situation in his conversation with Senator Orin Hatch. Prior to accepting a Federal Appeals Court position, Alito promised to recuse himself from any case that involved certain companies, one of which was indeed involved in the case in question. While Alito expressed regret at not having recused himself in that case, which came 12 years later, he demonstrated admirably that not only did he do nothing ethically wrong in this case (and in fact, that there was still absolutely no conflict of interest involved), but showed how he far he goes above and beyond the legal requirements in order to avoid even the appearance of such conflict, altering his own office practices to ensure that such an appearance could not have occurred a second time.

Such integrity is hard to find, regardless of political ideology. Yet Senator Kennedy tried to paint a picture of a person who broke promises (having apparently lost the opportunity to paint Alito as a person who decides on cases with which he has a personal interest). Alito pointed out not only that this was a promise made 12 years previously, but that because of the nature of the case, the issue of possible recusal did not even come up (as it does automatically in legal matters of a certain kind). Yet Kennedy pushed even harder, and continued to do so again during yesterday's session, trying to make Alito look as though he were making contradictory statements, when Alito had clearly done no such thing (the most that can be said is that Kennedy was putting Senator Hatch's words in Alito's mouth). This is not helpful, and it makes the Democrats look desperate at best.

But lest we give the other side a free pass, they've taken a few "pot shots" as well. Earlier during yesterday's session, Republican Senator Tom Coburn attacked his opponents on the issue of abortion, calling them "adamantly pro-abortion, pro-the destruction of human life today." (These comments were made in reference to Democratic Senator Richard Durbin, who changed from "pro-life" to "pro-choice" about 15 years ago. Coburn was later taken to task for making these comments in Durbin's absence.) While I know of quite a few people who do indeed favor the continued "right" of a woman to have an abortion, I don't think anyone would call themselves "pro-abortion," much less "pro-the destruction of human life." In fact, it seems pretty much everyone in politics would like to see the number of abortions go down, even if they don't hold the value of the life of the unborn child as high as others. (For my own position on this issue, I refer you to this post.)

I'm sure there are many examples that can be drawn from both sides. The ones I include here merely happen to be the ones I was able to hear on the radio while driving to work (and could later locate the online transcripts for). I tend not to care for language of a "culture war," and often criticize others who use that kind of language. But granting that concept for the moment, none of us can never win the "war" if all we can do is sound like desperate crybabies. The strength of our ideas must be better, and our arguments must be better articulated. Hopefully the tenor of the debate will improve in the hearings that remain.


*All transcript links above are to the New York Times site, which requires free registration. The full transcript for Tuesday can be found via the Washington Post, but you'll have to do considerably more scrolling to find the appropriate part. You can find the Post's full Wednesday transcript at this link. While the Post also asked me to register eventually, I was able to read more before being asked to sign in than at the Times.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Impartiality Revisited

It's Supreme Court nominee hearing time again! This time, it is Samuel Alito who is answering questions from the Senate. When John Roberts was in this position, I commented on the need for impartiality, and my desire that some conservative would acknowledge that such is not entirely possible. One certainly must make every effort to be as impartial as possible, but at some point, one's experiences or opinions must influence the justice's position.

Although current Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito is making arguments similar to now-Chief Justice Roberts that one must be impartial (seeming to imply that total impartiality is possible if only one tries hard enough), during questioning by Republican Senator Orrin Hatch yesterday morning, Alito had these comments:

...although the judiciary has a very important role to play, it's a limited role. It is not -- it should always be asking itself whether it is straying over the bounds, whether it's invading the authority of the legislature, for example, whether it is making policy judgments rather than interpreting the law.

And that has to be a constant process of reexamination on the part of the judges. And that's the role that the judiciary should play.

This language of "constant process of reexamination" is very much the kind of thing I want to see. It doesn't go as far as I'd like in saying that a person's opinions influence how one thinks about certain matters, but it's not realistic to expect that Alito and I would entirely agree on this issue (he is, after all, a staunch conservative, while I lean somewhat further to the left). But at least he acknowledges that positions must be "constantly reexamined" lest they "stray over the bounds" of what it is appropriate for the Court to do.

Then, this morning, Alito had this to say in response to a question from Senator Tom Coburn:
...when a case comes before me involving, let's say, someone who is an immigrant -- and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases -- I can't help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn't that long ago when they were in that position.

And so it's my job to apply the law. It's not my job to change the law or to bend the law to achieve any result.

But when I look at those cases, I have to say to myself, and I do say to myself, "You know, this could be your grandfather, this could be your grandmother. They were not citizens at one time, and they were people who came to this country."

When I have cases involving children, I can't help but think of my own children and think about my children being treated in the way that children may be treated in the case that's before me.

And that goes down the line. When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account. When I have a case involving someone who's been subjected to discrimination because of disability, I have to think of people who I've known and admire very greatly who've had disabilities, and I've watched them struggle to overcome the barriers that society puts up often just because it doesn't think of what it's doing -- the barriers that it puts up to them.

So those are some of the experiences that have shaped me as a person.

Although Alito still contends that a judge can (and should) be totally impartial, he admits that one "can't help" but think of experiences that may connect to a case before him. And what does it mean to "take that into account" when he talks about remembering how people in his own family suffered discrimination in the past, if it is not to say that such remembering influences, in some way, his potential judgment? This seems to be a disconnect to me.

No one (to my knowledge) has asked Alito this, but I'd like to hear someone ask him: if judges are supposed to be so completely impartial, then why do certain kinds of decisions so regularly come to split decisions along the same voting lines? Usually the same 4 justices vote one way, while the other 5 justices vote another. If it's possible to be completely impartial, and we affirm (as Alito is usually careful to do) that the current justices do their jobs well, why don't the split votes at least split along different justices more regularly?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Salt and Light?

I was recently in a conversation with someone about the role of Christians in secular society. The person I was talking to used a common phrase, saying we should be "salt and light" to the non-Christians around us.

While I have heard the phrase quite a lot over the years, and have a fairly good grasp of what is meant by the term (that people might learn to accept Christ by our actions), it's not a phrase I care to use myself. This is mostly because it smacks of "Christianese," which I tend to avoid. That's not to say I disagree with the basic concept, but rather I prefer to use terms that people not steeped in Christian culture might use or understand themselves.

But that got me thinking: just where did this term come from in the first place? I looked up "salt" in my concordance, and the phrase "salt and light" does not seem to come from the Bible. Certainly, both "salt" and "light" are individually topics that the Bible discusses fairly often, but I don't see the words occurring together as a phrase. The closest I can find is Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus tells his followers "you are the salt of the world" and "you are the light of the world" in successive verses (Matthew 5:13,14). Given that my TNIV actually puts the heading "Salt and Light" above these verses, I can only assume that this passage is the root of the concept, but it's worth noting that it's a concept derived from Scripture, rather than an actual quotation.

The "salt" verse is especially odd. Jesus tells his followers that "if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?" But this is a phenomenon that simply doesn't happen. Salt's flavor is a an inextricable part of the compound NaCl. There is no frame of reference for "non-salty salt." It simply doesn't exist! Some (but oddly, not all) commentaries acknowledge this reality, and there are various ways of understanding what Jesus meant here. One suggestion is that, because saltiness is an inextricable quality of salt, Jesus' followers were to be "salt of the world" as an inextricable quality of their own being. Another possibility is that, especially in the world of first-century Palestine, impurities could find their way into salt, causing it to taste differently. This would cause the salt to be useless as a seasoning. Given that first century audiences would be unlikely (to say the least!) to understand the intrinsic qualities of the chemical compound NaCl, this latter possibility seems more likely.

Many Christians would respond to this teaching by suggesting that Christians cannot allow the influences of the outside world to make us "impure," and some have even gone so far as to sequester themselves into exclusively "Christian" communities so they won't have to worry about becoming "impure" through outside influences.

But then Jesus follows up that teaching by telling his followers that they are the "light of the world." A light is only useful if it is seen by others. And just to make sure that he is not misunderstood, Jesus goes further: "...Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on a stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others...." (Matthew 5:15-16) Sequestering ourselves is no longer an option. We have to go out into the world, and that means we risk "contamination" by the impurities out there. So we have to be at least somewhat guarded, making sure that our salt is still pure as our light shines.

But the important part (at least to me) about all this is that this is a message for how Christians are to live in the world. We are called to see to our own behaviors. To borrow from another well known passage "first take the plank out of your [own] eye...." (Luke 6:42) Christians are not called to tell non-Christians how they are to act. Christian are to act in such a way that non-Christians want to become like Christians! We lead by example. If we believe (for example) that Jesus calls us to fidelity in marriage, then it's insufficient to tell people (especially non-Christians) that sex outside of marriage is wrong. We're called to lead lives of fidelity! Yet, the rate of divorce for Christians is not only no better than for average Americans, but in some cases, Christians actually divorce more often! (Disclaimer: the link does not echo my views in all respects, but I believe that the numbers cited are accurate enough) We are failing to be "salt and light" by our examples! Not only that, but by talking about such "values" so often, but failing to live up to them, we prove ourselves to be hypocrites, and non-Christians have every reason to ignore what we say.

Not only do we, as Christians tend to "talk" too much about these matters (and I have to include myself in this category, if only demonstrated by the amount of time I spend blogging....), but we tend to focus on all the wrong things! We "major in minors and minor in majors," to use a phrase I picked up ages ago. Christians often care more about whether someone watched an episode of Sex in the City (gasp!) than we do about whether we're following God's mandate to care for the poor and suffering.

If "they will know we are Christians by our love," where's the love?

Monday, January 09, 2006

New Doctor Who Guide: Children in Need Special

With the advent of new actor David Tennant playing the Doctor (the 10th!), it seems a good time to start reviewing new episodes as they come out. When the new season starts properly in the spring, these should come out a week or two after the program has originally aired, to give people who want it a chance to find and watch the episode before being spoiled on any of the details here. For those familiar with it, I will be following a format adapted from The Discontinuity Guide, which has previously been adapted by others to review novels and audio adventures. Since I have a little bit of catching up to do, I'll start out with the short post-regeneration sequence that was featured as part of the recent "Children in Need" fundraising event. Since this episode lasted all of 7 minutes, this entry will be a comparatively short one, with several items missing ("Dialogue Disasters" and "Dialogue Triumphs," for example, will be included when appropriate.). Also, if anyone finds that I've gotten something wrong, or feels that I should have added something, please feel free to let me know in a comment, and I will correct the entry. I'll have a larger entry next week when I get around to reviewing "The Christmas Invasion."

Children in Need Special

Continuity:
Links:Immediately after regenerating, the Doctor intends to take Rose to Barcelona ("The Parting of the Ways"). Rose thinks that the new Doctor might be the result of nanogenes ("The Doctor Dances"), or that he may be a Gelth ("The Unquiet Dead") or a Slitheen ("Aliens of London"/"World War III"/"Boom Town"). The new Doctor recounts his first meeting with Rose ("Rose") to prove his identity to her. The luminous gas escaping from the Doctor's mouth appears to be related to the time energies he removed from Rose which caused this regeneration ("Parting of the Ways"). As the TARDIS speeds toward Earth, the Cloister Bell sounds ("Logopolis").

Location: The TARDIS Console Room, en route to Barcelona, 5006; then en route to contemporary London at Christmastime.

Untelevised Adventures: The Doctor asks if Rose remembers "hopping for [their] lives."

The Bottom Line: In the span of less than 7 minutes, Rose is given a nice bit of characterization, and David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor holds promise, although there is little to be gleaned about his personality given the post-regeneration instability.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Pat Robertson is an Idiot

Nothing should surprise me anymore. Now Pat Robertson is trying to say that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's recent life-threatening stroke is God's punishment for the Gaza pull-out.

And, like he did with his comments on Hugo Chavez (but, oddly, not for his comments on Dover, Pennsylvania), he's already trying to backpedal with a press release on his own web site that in no way makes his position look any better.

This man knows nothing about proper Biblical interpretation (suffice it to say, the portion of the book of Joel that Robertson refers to was talking about something rather different when it pronounced judgement on those who "divided up [God's] land"), nor apparently anything about the nature of God. Does anyone still want to claim that Christians (of any stripe) should listen to him? Even the conservative White House has to denouce Robertson's remarks!

UPDATE: 1/12/06 - Robertson has issued a formal apology, but it's worth noting that his belief in his misinterpretation of the book of Joel remains the same, and Robertson makes no attempt whatsoever to suggest he was actually wrong, only that his remarks were "in appropriate and insensitive." Even worse, before he even gets to the actual apology, he takes a dig at the media for not broadcasting his more positive sentiments toward Israel. One wonders if he'd even be making this attempt if his remarks hadn't cost Robertson a $50 million deal for a "Christian Heritage Center" in the heart of Israel.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Culture Clashes

I've been back from vacation for just over a day now, but my first day at work yesterday was such an exercise in "hitting the ground running" that I had little opportunity to collect my thoughts, much less get around to writing anything down. I may be a bit hit or miss for a few days yet, but at least have some ideas for future posts that will keep me going for a little bit, provided I can find the time to type them out....

For the holidays, my wife and I traveled to a couple of different places in the Midwest to visit friends and family. On the whole, it was a very enjoyable break. But there were a couple of occasions when we both felt very much out of our element.

Here in Southern CA, diversity is simply a way of life. Whether you happen to be liberal or conservative, you simply have to be able to deal with people who have different backgrounds than you do. Whether the differences are political, racial, or cultural, you simply cannot ignore the fact that people in Southern CA are diverse in many ways. This creates a bit of culture clash when I hear a statement such as when someone mentioned that all the black people in that person's experience are in jail or headed that way. Although I can't categorize such a statement as anything other than racist, I must remind myself that the person who made this statement lives in a part of the country that is almost universally white, and that it's entirely possible that he has made this generalization on the basis on what are probably only one or two black people that may well fit his description. It's still unfair in the extreme, but how is the person to know any differently? This is a person who, in most respects, is a very good person, and a positive influence on those around him. But in this area, he is clearly wrong, and has said something hateful (although he wouldn't see it as such). He is no doubt influenced by the culture in which he finds himself, which is unlikely to actively challenge such racist assumptions given the fact that there are so few people of any other race within a fairly large distance. These are people who live fairly comfortable lives in areas that have little experience with the outside world. What information they do get from the outside world usually highlights the crime and otherwise negative aspects that exist in more diverse areas. How does one challenge racist assumptions in this context?

But lest we be too ready to make allowance for people with racist ideas, I'm reminded of the tapestry we discovered on display at a flea market while visiting one of these areas (different from the area in which the above statement occurred). It proudly displayed Nazis on the march, complete with swastika flags waving. One might argue that there is some historical significance to such a tapestry, but what positive use could such a tapestry serve outside of a museum that clearly conveys the context of such a display, making clear how horrible these people were? And we really can't say that anybody in America in this day and age "doesn't know any better." That would be far too generous.

These frustrations aren't limited to issues of racism, but also involve discussions we had with several people concerning issues of politics and secular morality. What's especially frustrating about all this is how heavily tied these provincial ideas are to people's idea of Christianity. People see non-Christians acting in ways that non-Christians have no reason not to act in, and they think that this is an attack on Christianity. How are they to be told any different? Their perceptions match up rather nicely with the little slice of reality to which they have access, and their provincial religious authority figures tell them in no uncertain terms that anyone who makes any kind of allowance for non-Christians to continue to act in non-Christian ways must be "compromising" their faith, and are more concerned with "political correctness" than being faithful to God (the idea that such "compromising" people may actually have a strong sense of the need for evangelism of non-Christians, seeing them as potential converts rather than as enemies to be opposed, is completely lost on the "provincials").

In the midst of all this, I'm remind how this very frustration displays some of my own provincial bias. I take it for granted that people have to deal with these issues in a far more nuanced way in the culture in which I live. To be confronted with the fact that people in other areas simply don't think this way, and have no basis for understanding concepts that I take for granted, shows how influenced I am by the province in which I live. While I don't think that my ideas are wrong, neither do those with whom I am frustrated. On what basis do I discuss these differences with them? At best, we reach an agreement to disagree (this is the situation that seems to happen most often, thankfully). At worst, we degenerate into an argument in which relationships are damaged. I would definitely pray for greater wisdom in this matter.

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