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Watch the clip first.

I don’t know what is weirder:  1) the fact that Glenn Beck, in the face of a question he could not answer, screamed at a caller and called her a pinhead,  2) the fact that after the fact he watched the video and defended his actions repeatedly, essentially saying that in the face of the kind of stupidity displayed by the caller the only appropriate response is to do exactly what he did, or   3)  the fact that Bill O’Reilly was set up as being the voice of rational response, tempering Beck’s flair and calling him to account.

Beck’s rage-filled refusal to engage in rational discourse is, honestly, not really what disturbs me the most.  I don’t particularly care what Glenn Beck thinks–it doesn’t have a whole lot of meaning to me.  What does disturb me is that millions of people all over the country ardently believe that Glenn Beck can do no wrong and have seemingly given him a blank check; many have taken rank behind him and hail him as a prophetic leader.  Indeed, many people I know and love believe this.  I am disturbed by the celebration of vitriolic reactionism to dialogue, by the co-opting of historical movements based on informed and rational (and sometimes heated) dialogue (Samuel Adams and the objection to taxation without representation) to perpetuate a loose, disconnected, and largely irrational socio-political agenda.

Most significantly, I am deeply disturbed by the linking of Christianity with the political right.  While I understand that many Christians are conservatives, it is also true that many are not, and creating an identity of one’s political affiliation and one’s theological doctrine and praxis is something that I cannot abide.  I ardently deny that such an identity exists, except in the rhetoric of those who find it convenient to link the two.  I view this approach to politics as a way of using the Christian Church for a political purpose.  It is relegating the person of Christ as a means to accomplish a political end.  It is making the King of Kings a political pawn and having him serve our political agenda, instead of us serving Him and His agenda of the reclamation of the world from sin, death, and dysfunction.

Those who love and honor Jesus Christ must throw down any political idols, whether they might be the Republican party or Barack Obama.  We must put people and people’s institutions in their proper place: subservient to King Jesus.

Why are conservatives and many Christians so afraid?  We do not need to be.

15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales;
he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.

17 Before him all the nations are as nothing;
they are regarded by him as worthless
and less than nothing.

22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.

23 He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.

24 No sooner are they planted,
no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

25 “To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.

–Isaiah 40

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Every now and then I read an article in the news that is so disturbing to me that I find I can’t speak.  Let me preface this post by saying that I am extremely interested in technology.  I am completing a graduate degree in media studies.  I just finished an article on video gaming.  But I also am an unapologetic bibliophile.  I love books.  I love that they are filled with ideas of all kinds.  I love the way they smell and the feel of a heavy book in my hand. I like having them around me–on the shelves in my house and in my study.

It seems that a certain prep school called Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, has decided that books are simply outdated and therefore, they have given away their 20,000 volume collection and are replacing it with a cafe, computer lab, and flat screen TVs.

I’m aghast and honestly, I can’t really communicate what I feel–sadness, outrage, and incredulity, are all there in varied proportions.  I’ll leave you the link to the full article  here and finally leave you with the very germane introduction to Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death (which I highly recommend).  I’ve included his entire introduction below:

hollow

“We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.

But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another – slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions”. In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.”
— Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)

Remembering 9-11?

When I got into my car this morning and drove the blessedly short commute to work that I have, I listened to NPR and was reminded that today is Friday, September 11th.  I hadn’t realized the date until I got in the car and turned on the radio.

The 9-11 remember phenomenon is fascinating, compelling, and slightly troubling to me.  I listened to person after person tell me that I should never forget 9-11.  The buzz phrase is, of course, “Never forget.”  Now I want to be clear: I am in not necessarily proposing that we do forget about it and move on; I recognize that remembering a trauma can be extremely cathartic, both personally and collectively, and there are good reasons for remembering various disasters.  What I would like to see, though, is more context for the call to remember 9-11.  People walk around today telling each other to “never forget”, but the obvious question to be begged is “Why?”  If we do not have a goal in mind for our remembering–a purpose for working through the trauma and remembering it–a deliberateness to our exercise of memory, then we will not deploy the emotions that are stirred up by that memory to any particular action and there will be nothing more political in our actions than merely saying, “never forget” to one another.

What concerns me about this lack of focus to the enterprise of remembering is that if we evoke emotions through remembering but then do not deploy them in any deliberate enterprise, we are all worked up with nothing to do.  It is very easy for people to provide unhelpful opportunities to do something with all that emotion by suggesting that we deploy it toward something divisive or hateful.  Some might (and have) suggested that we adopt attitudes of exclusion toward Arabs or Americans of Arab descent.  Some might (and have) suggested that all Muslims must, by nature of the fact that they are Muslims, hate Americans and be violent people.  This kind of rhetorical hijacking of our emotions to convince people of a specific (and racist) agenda is deplorable and all too common.  Some organizations, newscasters, and individuals love to argue through an appeal to fear, and this tactic works very well.  There is a tremendous opportunity on the anniversary of 9-11 to stimulate people’s fear and use the (appropriate) emotions of sadness and loss that are already there from the memorial of this event to try to convince people of positions and policies that we might never consider in March or around Christmastime.  But on September 11, when we remember the towers burning and falling, when we remember the national unity surrounding the disaster and the outrage that many Americans felt, it is easier to convince people to do things they might not do when the emotions of sadness, anger, and loss aren’t as strong.

So my suggestion is not to stop telling each other to “Never forget.”  Rather, my suggestion is to not stop at a catchy phrase that can go on a bumper sticker, but continue the thought on.  Tell each other what it is that we should never forget, and most importantly, tell each other why.  Use the memories and the emotions, both collective and individual, that are dredged up every anniversary of this disaster to fuel a deliberate introspection of our beliefs.  Reject the attempt of others to work you up into a person who is responding only to the emotions, and instead couple them with reason and time.  The national defense policies or the immigration policies or the political philosophies I support should be as reasonable in February or June as they are on September 11.

If they are not, then the damage done by September 11 goes far beyond destroying airplanes and skyscrapers.  Then the damage is to our own reason, to our own freedom of thought, and the act of terrorism goes even further by convincing us to subjugate ourselves to our own emotions and hold ourselves as slaves to our impulses.  What is a bomb compared to that?  A bomb cannot destroy our ability to reason, our character, or our personal or national dignity.  Surrender to the whimsy of our emotions can.

In the spring of 2008, hordes of people descended on the city of San Francisco for a gathering that some might call a trade expo.  This term is slightly misleading, because the Web 2.0 Expo is not necessarily focused on a single trade or segment of the media industry like other media industry trade expos like Cinema Expo or ComicCon.  Instead, the Web 2.0 Expo is intended to bring people from all kinds of media together to form connections and to essentially try to approach the new web 2.0 with more strategy and thought for design than occurred in the design and implementation of the original Internet.  The 2008 San Francisco expo is the second expo that has happened, and although almost every kind of media is represented in the attendees, it is billed as a place for the “builders of the next generation web: designers, developers, entrepreneurs, marketers, business strategists, and venture capitalists, people who have experiences to share and a passion for learning” (Web 2.0 Expo 2008).  The language on the expo’s website is optimistic and vague, calling for attendees to come and “immerse yourself in the Web 2.0 experience.”  Although the bulk of the expo centers around connecting people in various media industries to each other in an effort to increase the connectivity of Internet industry and infrastructure designers and therefore usher in a new era of Internet design and function, the event also boasts many different speakers from various areas of industry.  It was in this context of trade show and not academic conference that Clay Shirky took the stage to speak. Shirky is a writer for both academic forums and industry trade magazines, as well as popular periodicals.  He also serves as a consultant with many world-class organizations and companies like the BBC, Library of Congress, and Nokia, working to help them understand how to make better use of decentralized technologies (like wireless networks, peer-to-peer, etc.).  He also teaches at NYU’s graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program.

Shirky’s address, which has now been transcribed and has blazed across the digital landscape through the viral means of blog comments and mail lists, was entitled “Gin, Television, and Social Surplus.”  Shirky began the speech by referring to the early industrial revolution and the opinion of an unnamed British historian that gin was a coping mechanism for the urban British who had been put together with so many other people due to the growth of the cities because of industrial growth.  This historian believed that because of the suddenness of this transformation from rural to urban life, one way society coped was to turn to gin for a generation. Only after this period of collective confusion and angst passed, he argues, did British society manage to come up with many of the institutions the industrial revolution is known for producing.  But Shirky makes a jump here to his first key observation: “that real development was dependant on people start[ing to think] of [people living together in such densities] as a vast civic surplus, one they could design for rather than dissipate.” The process that Shirky believes he has identified is that first the fundamental change to social and cultural structures that were comfortable and familiar left people feeling as if they were living in a crisis, and they found coping mechanisms to manage their discomfort with the unfamiliar.  Once society became more comfortable with the change to their cultural structures, they began to see possibilities for these new structures and for the change itself instead of seeing only liabilities.

This picture is certainly a quick and dirty cultural analysis of how cultural revolutions work, and although almost all of the nuanced meaning is lost in the simplification (he does not reference class at all, a tremendously influential factor in the industrial revolution), Shirky is content to oversimplify things so that his main point stands out: he is primarily concerned with describing and exploring the collective power of a society and how the society navigates cultural revolutions.  He is particularly interested in how society manages to do these things in new ways using new tools, and he uses a term to describe the collective cognitive potential of a society: cognitive surplus.  This is a term that attempts to identify and define any potential for doing things that lies beyond what we need to do in order to survive.  Going to work, making or finding food, cleaning the house, and caring for and educating children are not part of this idea of a cognitive surplus; rather, they are simply the meeting of needs.  The collective time, energy, and cognitive power that exists beyond the time given to meeting needs is called cognitive surplus.  Going to a movie, dropping off children to soccer lessons, writing a blog, and planning a gourmet meal or a date are all activities that we do to fill up our free time.  If we had a much longer work week and therefore less free time, then our cognitive surplus would be a good deal less.

Shirky not only identifies all leisure time (even if it is filled with activity) as something of cultural interest, he labels it a surplus of cognition.  This surplus language implies that we have a resource that is available to us, and this language invites questions like “what is being done now with the surplus?  How is it being used?  Are there more strategic ways to use it?  Who controls it?”  The language Shirky uses begs these questions in a way that merely using the term “leisure time” does not.  It assigns value to the time and mental potential of an individual or a collective of individuals, and the very nature of this phrasing hints at a responsibility people have to use time in constructive ways.

Although some of Shirky’s assumptions are simplistic, like his view of television viewing as merely passive, his concept of cognitive surplus is compelling and can be useful in describing and understanding how knowledge communities function and employ human energy to projects.  Calling this human energy labor is neither accurate nor helpful, for cognitive surplus is an altogether different thing than labor.  Labor carries much political and cultural context with it, but does not accurately describe the work and play being done by people on their computers after they get home from work and log on to their chat group or their wiki, or contribute to any number of projects that run across traditional boundary lines of class, gender, ethnicity, or politics.

Shirky implicitly argues that while cognitive surplus has been a constant in all societies, in the United States it really began to expand after World War II, when a growing GDP per capita and a more universal 5 day work week began an unprecedented growth of leisure time.  He argues that we began to fill that surplus, in large part, by watching television.  His obvious disdain for watching television is made abundantly clear in his article, and although his dismissiveness of television watching and his categorization of it as inherently passive is, at best, a gross oversimplification, it does not undermine the idea of cognitive surplus.  While Shirky categorizes television watching as a mechanism that has served, in part, to help society cope with extreme and unprecedented change in social structures, he also believes that society is starting to become used to these social structures and is attempting to see the cognitive surplus society possesses “as an asset rather than a crisis.”  This is, perhaps, an unfair categorization of the situation, since the tools society is using to begin to deploy this cognitive surplus in new and strategic ways has only recently been discovered in the Internet and the myriad new media like blogs, listservs, mailing lists, and wikis.  While we may have found and begun to deploy media that are inherently more active or political for the average user than network television, we need not criticize ourselves for not possessing the tools to do what we can now.  The question that needs to be asked is the question that Shirky eventually asks after the detour through his snarky complaint about the worthlessness of television: “If we carve out a little bit of the cognitive surplus and deploy it [in any place that a user or viewer has been served up a passive or canned experience], could we make good things happen?”  Indeed we can, and we are.  Media that includes the viewer and allows them to be part of the creative process is media that gives an expressive and constructive use to cognitive surplus.  Editing wikipedia, posting to a blog, creating a video response to a video game website, or contributing to a community discussion board conversation about neighborhood crime prevention are all various activities to utilize cognitive surplus in some creative or expressive way.

It is an old and tired thing to say that new media and things like wikis are fundamentally changing our ideas about authority.  But when I read the article on Wikipedia by Stacy Shiff, I was interested.  When I read the editor’s note, I was struck.  I was struck by not only how, in any setting other than an electronic one (and only some at that), what this 24 year old Ryan Jordan, a community manager for Wikia, did would be considered not only deceitful, but would be considered gross misrepresentation for a political end–to give credibility to Wikipedia.  I think I was surprised by the fact that I simply trusted the information that was given without thinking–an amateur mistake, but also one that a lot of people make, including the author of the story, until it later came out that this was not true.

This has gotten me thinking about the nature of deception and artificiality in the online world.  There is a whole lot of scholarship about what “creative representations of the self” can do for people, or how various media are changed by it, but I started wondering about the damage that could be done, and has been done, because the web is a place where two non-complimentary things are happening at the same time: people lie all the time about their identity and activities, and the environment and mode of use online makes many people simply accept what they see or read as true, without using any critical analysis of it.  Sure, there are some that are critical of what they read, but I suppose my point comes home here: how can we get by if there is simply no agreement or adherence to honesty of any kind?  for a very long time, the world has had social rules in place that kept the whole populace from being able to do what they want to.  In short, there were ways, even if they weren’t perfect, to hold people to their word. There are much fewer, if any, of those things in place online.

A new branch of philosophy could emerge here: the ethics of the Internet.  Do ethical decisions or dilemmas change when they occur online?  Should we treat online things the same way as non-online things?  Why?  The shock of reading that someone so blatantly lied about his identity and authority shocks me, and maybe that’s an indicator of how I view authority, but I for one, am not ready to abandon authoritarian structures for a new paradigm.  I’m not a good little Cultural Studies student; I think hierarchical structures are vital for the health of society, though the people who inhabit them often go bad and need to be replaced.

For whatever reason, I had a very strong reaction to the editor’s note and to Mr. Ryan Jordan’s deception, as well as to the appalling comments by Jimmy Wales, which is worse than the offense itself.  “I regard it as a pseudonym and I don’t really have a problem with it.”

This reader has a problem with it.

The week of September 28, 1987, the Star Trek franchise boldly took its next step into a new world when Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) premiered in the United States.  It was a television show set in the 24th century, approximately 70 years after the original Star Trek series took place.  It featured a new Enterprise ship, a new crew, and was phenomenally popular.  The show’s style and rhythm was shaped by the operation of two sets of binary themes present throughout the duration of the show.  The show puts a scientific approach to the world in opposition to another approach to the world—belief and emotion.  While belief and emotion are admittedly quite different, the show tends to use them in similar ways, often grouping them together as oppositional (though not necessarily incongruous) to science. TNG posits the known value system (science) with unknown value systems (belief/emotion), creating situations of conflict that must be resolved by the Enterprise crew, not through fighting their way through, but rather by making an attempt to understand otherness.

tngcrew5

Star Trek is, of course, science-fiction, and as such it is not surprising at all that one of the bedrock themes of TNG is the importance and prominence of science.  Computers and futuristic technology are so much a part of the show that they are not explained; rather, the fact that the setting is full of advanced technology and scientific situations is simply taken for granted.  The Enterprise itself is presented not as a warship but as a vessel of exploration.  Almost every episode begins with a voiceover of the log entry of one of the officers, usually the captain, explaining that they have been sent to some unknown area of space to do some kind of scientific mission.  Science pervades the entire series like dye does yarn.

While science has perhaps the largest role as a theme and is always presented positively, it is often present with an oppositional theme of emotion or belief.  Often a resolution must occur not through scientific tools, but rather through intuition, the grasp of an emotional truth, or the acceptance of a belief.  The relationship between the two binaries is very like the relationship between melody and harmony, the science theme serving as the base element or the setting of the series, and the belief/emotion theme serving as the harmonic which, through its contrast to science, contributes to the series’ style.

These two binaries exist on multiple levels through the film, from the characters themselves to the structures of each episode.  The show has an ensemble cast: the senior officers of the Enterprise, and these characters are representative of the range between the scientific and the emotion/belief binary.  The character that most emulates science is the android Data.  He serves, not surprisingly, as science officer of the vessel and is the exemplary scientific character—systematic, logical, and powerful, both mentally and physically.  Significantly, he is incapable of feeling emotion, a fact which plays a recurring part throughout the series.  Most of the characters are a mix of the two elements, like Will Riker, the first officer, who is a passionate man with a strong work ethic and one of the most reliable characters on the show.  Captain Jean-Luc Picard is a mix of both science and emotion/belief, serving as the voice of reason and command in many situations, but often also presented as a man of passion and strong beliefs.  Moving more towards the emotion/belief side is Worf, a Klingon with a wild, barely-contained vitality and a robust grasp of his Klingon beliefs.  Often he is put in oppositional situations with a more scientific character as he was in the seventh-season episode called “Gambit”.  In this episode, Data reprimands Worf for inappropriately verbalizing his frustration with Data’s command decisions, presenting yet another instance of the oppositional binary at work through the two characters themselves.  The character that is associated most strongly with the emotion/belief theme is Troi, the ship’s counselor.  Like Data, she has an innate characteristic that allows her to be representative of the theme: she is empathic and is almost always the one to represent emotion or belief.

This oppositional binary, as a structuring element, is present on multiple levels in the series, not merely in the characters themselves.  Almost every episode in the seven-season series, with few exceptions, puts science (the familiar value system) in opposition to any other unknown value system (emotion/belief).  This often occurs through the Enterprise exploring some unknown area of space and encountering unknown life forms with new and different value systems.  This forces the Enterprise’s crew to negotiate between two value and arrive at some kind of (often uneasy) compromise or understanding.  Another way the show puts an unknown value system in contrast to the known value system of science is through plots that focus not on contact with unknown aliens, but rather on the diversity of belief within the coalition of species and races that make up the United Federation of Planets, the organization that represents civilization in the series, and the institution to which the Enterprise and her crew belong.

In a first-season episode called “Heart of Glory,” the show explores Klingon beliefs and values.  The main source of conflict in the episode comes from the Enterprise crew being forced to interact with people who hold values very different to their own, and as the episode progresses, two Klingons who have come on board attempt to hijack the ship.  Worf serves as a focal point for the episode and as the primary point of translation between the known value system of the Federation, representing exploration and systematic, logical inquiry, and the outside value system of the Klingons that emphasizes violence, passion, and honor.  Through the course of the episode the two value systems are put in tension, finally finding an uneasy negotiation through the resolution of the primary conflict: the attempted (and failed) hijacking of the ship and the restoration of order.  Most episodes in the series have a similar pattern of encountering a new life form or a known life form with a different value system, and the episode develops around the attempt to negotiate one value system with the other.

Significantly, most of the time the resolution occurs not through the direct use of science, the application of the known value system, but rather through an empathic leap of understanding of “the other” and an attempt to find common ground between the two binaries.  The fourth season episode “First Contact” is representative of this pattern.  When the Enterprise makes the first contact with a planet called Malcor III on the verge of discovering interstellar warp travel, the planet struggles to negotiate two factions of their population: those who would welcome visitors from space and those who are afraid of them and wish to take a violent posture against them based on the fear of Malcorian civilization changing unalterably as a result of the visitors’ presence.  As captain Picard talks with the Malcorian chancellor, he explains the Enterprise’s purpose in visiting the planet and offers that if the Malcorians wish them to leave, they will leave.  Ultimately, the chancellor decides that the Malcorian civilization is not ready for contact with interstellar peoples, and asks the Enterprise to leave.  It is at this point when the empathic leap of understanding is required to negotiate “the other.”  This occurs in Picard’s acquiescence to the chancellor’s wishes, despite his disappointment.  The Enterprise leaves and does not pursue relations with the planet, and negotiation between the two value systems is achieved.

The thematic binary opposition found in TNG  was and continues to be a vehicle for the culture to process and investigate the values that it holds.  Ambiguous ethical situations, moral dilemmas, and difficult interactions with “the other” are dealt with each week in new episodes, and the success of the TNG series attests to the elemental significance of the themes explored throughout the show.  Star Trek as a franchise has always contained the thematic element of stretching humanity’s capacity for understanding, and TNG is certainly aware of its thematic lineage and responsibility to maintain the same thematic patterns of the television show that came before it.  This is most evident at the beginning of every episode, when the disembodied voice of Patrick Stewart (Picard) speaks the Star Trek philosophy over the opening montage of swirling galaxies and planets, perfectly blending emotional music and imagery with the scientific setting of the series: “These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise.  It’s continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

Enterprise

These pictures and videos are completely random and have no relevance to anything.  But they’re funny.  Here’s hoping they make you laugh so hard you launch the contents of your milk glass across the room through your nasal proboscis.  Or your nose, for those particular folk.  Enjoy!

 

bunker copy

 

 

And then we got our pictures developed from our trip...

And then we got our pictures developed from our trip...

 

fail-owned-bologna-meat-fail copy

 

They never put this in Band of Brothers...

They never put this in Band of Brothers...

 

What the heck is going on here?  I'm not sure I want to know.

What the heck is going on here? I'm not sure I want to know.

I think he's played a liiiiiitle too much Zelda.

I think he's played a liiiiiitle too much Zelda.

 

So the other day I was walking around in the street with my tutu, assault rifle, and high-heeled shoes like normal, when the darnedest thing happened...

So the other day I was cross-dressing again, walking down the street with my tutu, assault rifle, and high-heeled shoes like normal, when the darnedest thing happened...

 

Me and Earl built ourselves some government mind-reading defensive helmets...

Me and Earl built ourselves some government mind-reading defensive helmets...

 

Wow.  There's nothing to say.  Nothing.

Wow. There's nothing to say. Nothing.

Thanks to failblog.org and pictureisunrelated.com for some laughs.

Shannyn Moore

Shannyn Moore

Shannyn Moore is an Alaskan blogger, and wrote a good post about the Palin/Letterman broohaha. I appreciated her even tone and the lack of ad hominems, colorful crude metaphors, and venom-coated barbs trying to disguise themselves as arguments. Check out her blog post.

I kept wanting to comment to the bloggers who were name-calling on both sides, “Let’s stick to the facts,” but people, like some animals, can work themselves up into a rabid fury and be completely unreasonable and irrational when they’re really really angry. I know, because I can do it with the best of them. This whole ridiculous incident is a great example to study if you want to learn about argumentation (what not to do), tone and its effect on arguments and believability, discretion, grace (or the lack of it), and the unspoken “party-first” mindset of so many liberals and conservatives in America who believe that the party should come first and God after.

Since when did loving your neighbor and doing good to those who hate you include slandering them, lying about them, trying to get them fired, or even trying to kill them? Jesus’ mandate doesn’t have a footnote that says, “unless they’re unfair,” or “unless you’re in an election year.”

We need to remember, America, that God is not a Republican or a Democrat, and Christianity does NOT equal Republicanism. Christ ought to be transcendent to our politics, informing but NEVER equaling, because He IS sovereign over all the world’s politics.

Isaiah 40:

10 See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power,
and his arm rules for him.
See, his reward is with him,
and his recompense accompanies him.

11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?
Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,
or weighed the mountains on the scales
and the hills in a balance?

13 Who has understood the mind [d] of the LORD,
or instructed him as his counselor?

14 Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him,
and who taught him the right way?
Who was it that taught him knowledge
or showed him the path of understanding?

15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales;
he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.

16 Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires,
nor its animals enough for burnt offerings.

17 Before him all the nations are as nothing;
they are regarded by him as worthless
and less than nothing.

18 To whom, then, will you compare God?
What image will you compare him to?

19 As for an idol, a craftsman casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and fashions silver chains for it.

20 A man too poor to present such an offering
selects wood that will not rot.
He looks for a skilled craftsman
to set up an idol that will not topple.

21 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?

22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.

23 He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.

Facebook Friending

danah boyd writes in an article entitled “Facebook’s Privacy Trainwreck: Exposure, Invasion, and Social Convergence”,

“In June 2006, a group of sociologists argued that Americans have fewer friends now than they did 20 years ago (McPherson et al., 2006). This made me wonder whether social media might be detrimental to friendship maintenance. If social information is easily available, it seems natural that people would tune in. Yet, if social information is the human equivalent of grooming, what happens when a computer provides that information asynchronously without demanding reciprocity? This conundrum pre-dates the internet. Over the last century, celebrity gossip rags have made it much easier to obsessively follow the details of celebrities’ lives, or at least those published for enquiring minds that want to know. Just because I can follow every detail of Angelina Jolie’s life does not mean that she knows that I exist. Furthermore, she has absolutely no reason to respond to me when I ask for her support.

Strangers and celebrities are one thing, but what about acquaintances and other weak ties? Studies of email have shown that the internet helps people maintain both strong and weak ties by making ongoing communication easy (Boase and Wellman,2006). Does the same argument hold when it comes to social media that allow people to follow in lieu of reciprocal communication? My hunch is that the stream of social information gives people a fake sense of intimacy with others that they do not really know that well. If this is true, it could be emotionally devastating.”

 

"If social information is the human equivalent of grooming, what happens when a computer provides that information asynchronously without demanding reciprocity?"
“If social information is the human equivalent of grooming, what happens when a computer provides that information asynchronously without demanding reciprocity?”

 

 

danah boyd is right on with this point, and I think it is a fundamental assumption made by many today that, with the advent of social networking as such a significant force in the lives of people in general and youth in particular, is very important for people to realize and deal with.  So many friendships are tended through some kind of social networking site, and these forms of media become the grid through which these relationships pass. 

As these relationships pass through this grid, the computer provides personal information about someone else (or a lot of someones) and feeds it to the user.  This can definitely have the effect of bringing a certain degree of emotional connection without any reciprocation: exactly the same effect as following a celebrity in the tabloids. 

I think that the implications of social networking on relationships is just beginning to be understood.  

Facebook 1

A few days ago I received a forwarded email from a relative of mine. It was an email from an organization that was drawing attention to an editorial article in the Russian tabloid Pravda. This article, written by Stanislav Mishin, was entitled “American Capitalism Gone with a Whimper.” Its point was, frankly, rather alarmist and it was condemning the Obama administration’s policies and goals as Marxist and socialist. The subtext was something like, “America should listen to the Russian people who are, as one, warning the Americans to stop making socialist policy decisions. We’ve been through this and we know best, but the arrogant Americans think they can handle flirting with disaster.” That was the content of the email, but the way this forwarded piece of Russian tabloid writing was framed was more interesting to me. It was sent out by Timothy Plan, a financial institution based in Florida. It also had a note from Art Ally, President of The Timothy Plan. It reads, “Never in a million years would I have dreamed that we would have to go to an article in the Russian newspaper Pravda to get the truth about what is happening in America. It is a little long but well worth the read. Thanks to Don Wildmon, President, American Family Association.”

Then there was an attached note from Don Wildmon, President of the American Family Association. It reads: “For years I have refused to use words such as Marxism, socialism or similar words when describing our current situation. However, it is time to call a spade a spade, regardless of how those who oppose us label us. Rome is burning. The article below was written by Stanislav Mishin, a blogger and columnist for the Russian newspaper Pravda.” All of the above is the context. Now for the expression of my idea. I have been frustrated with the AFA for a while for a few reasons. Before I list them, I want to say that I respect the fact that they say they care about families. Families are good things and definitely worth striving for and even dying for. So I want to make sure that the criticism I have does not diminish the respect that I have for the cause of fortifying families.

That being said, I have two main criticisms of how the AFA has operated, and I say this as an evangelical Christian who is part of a local church and whose goal is to lead my family in a way that honors God. The first criticism is that I have noticed that the AFA sometimes blurs the truth (whether intentionally or unintentionally, I don’t know and can’t determine) or leaves facts out for their readers in order to generate the responses they want for the causes they support. The way they framed this Russian tabloid article is one small example of this. They (and Timothy Plan) framed it as a warning to America from Russia, but this is not the case at all. I wish the AFA would make more ardent attempts to be honest, and to frame issues as honestly, thoroughly, and objectively as possible. If they did this, I believe they would be a lot more successful in enacting real and lasting change. They must also stop working on a political strategy of using fear as their primary tool. It is reactive, which is never as effective as being proactive and creative, and it’s often downright untruthful. If they felt that they even needed to acknowledge this piece of tabloid editorial writing, they could have framed it as what it was: an editorial by a Russian writer. They could then pose the question to their readers, “Is this actually happening in the United States? Are Mishkin’s claims true?” This strategy invites a critical analysis of the ideas in the article, rather than the easier thing to do: a simple endorsement of an oversimplification and rationalism of the political agenda of a Russian writer with an apparently large chip on his shoulder.

The second criticism I have of AFA is even more elemental. I am confused how such an article like Mishkin’s is relevant at all to building stronger families. I believe that the agendas that the AFA chooses to struggle for are ultimately the wrong agendas. The vast majority of notices that I have seen from the AFA are political in nature, telling people of what Congress is doing or not doing, what new evil the courts are perpetrating, or decrying the Federal Communications Commission’s lack of enforcement of current decency laws.

I’m not arguing that there are times when political activism is necessary, but sitting in the middle of a secular culture crying because there are so many secular influences that can tear apart families is simply the wrong strategy. It will only breed frustration from the culture (“Who do they think they are, up on their high horse and condemning us?”), and the answer to keeping families strong is not to change the cultural climate through legislating it. Have we learned nothing from the oft-shameful history of the Church? From Prohibition? Why are we holding our culture to a standard that we, according to our own doctrinal statements, can never fulfill? Why impose a pharisaical rule on people who do not even believe in God? This is not protecting the family. This is declaring war on the culture, and lest anyone believe they are the same, they are divergent and even mutually exclusive.

Sure there may be a legal battle or two here or there, but the AFA should focus on some of the most significant threats to families and marriages, which in my opinion isn’t gay marriage or democratically-sponsored legislation. It is heterosexual divorce and the elements that cause it, like a lack of forgiveness, spousal abuse, and fathers not having the stones to be men and sacrificially care for and love their families. It is wives who care more about their image and their next fling than their kids. These things in heterosexual marriage are what I’d really love to see the AFA focus on. I would like to see them take a much more proactive stance through working with churches and other organizations to help train people how to be good parents. Instead of spending resources trying to get TV shows off the air because you don’t agree with the lifestyle that is portrayed (big shock since we live in a secular culture!), spend the resources training parents how to actually have family time without the TV on—Dads spending time with their kids in the evening—or encouraging parents to read books and learn what they believe and why so they can watch a show they may disagree with—with their children—and then have some good conversations about it with them.

The Timothy Plan is also an organization that I have some questions about. They say that they are offering “A biblical choice when it comes to investing. If you are concerned with the moral issues (abortion, pornography, anti-family entertainment, non-married lifestyles, alcohol, tobacco and gambling) that are destroying children and families you have come to the right place. The Timothy Plan® avoids investing in companies that are involved in practices contrary to Judeo-Christian principles. Our goal is to recapture traditional American values. We are America’s first pro-life, pro-family, biblically-based mutual fund group.”

My biggest question is how can you be FOR something by fundamentally defining yourself by what you DON’T do? TP asks its web page visitors if their personal finances would withstand a moral audit, and offers to do one for free. But the way they are defining moral is frighteningly similar to a political platform. I know this is shocking, but there are OTHER kinds of moral issues that are just as biblical, if not more so, than the ones listed above. When did eradicating tobacco use become a Christian cause? What about the much more important issue of paying workers fair wages? Fair wages is not mentioned in the moral statement of Timothy Plan to my knowledge, but it is very important to God. James writes a damning accusation of labor practices (think minimum wage issue or migrant worker/illegal immigrant labor practices) that went on in the first century: “You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the altars of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence.” I know this is really going to pain a lot of Christians who pride themselves on what they don’t do (see Jesus’ account of the prayer of the Pharisee in Luke 18), but a lot of Christians simply love to quote CS Lewis, for good reason, and they study his books, use his quotes in sermons, and are quite reverential of him. It might surprise some people that Jack Lewis was a chain-smoker and got together once a week with his friends (in the morning, no less!) to drink beer, have good conversation, and comment on each others’ writing. For those of you whose toes are curling right now at the though of dear old Lewis with a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other working on a draft of Chronicles of Narnia, perhaps it is time you rethought how you define yourself. Perhaps, Timothy Plan, it is time you explained to your investors what it means to be a Christian investor or a godly investor. It is not as simple as strict avoidance of traditional evils.

Hopefully you see the problem. As soon as we define ourselves as Christian investors by what we don’t do, we not only haven’t said much about ourselves except what we think is beneath us, but we have also painted ourselves into a corner. We haven’t said anything about what we are FOR—what our goals are. All we can do is keep chipping off pieces of our portfolio when we discover that this company did something we didn’t like once, or that company produced a product that some believe supported another religion. Where does this slippery slope stop?

I believe that we ought to be people of integrity, and I think part of having integrity is to think well. If those who are leading these movements refuse to submit their severely flawed rationales and policies to scrutiny, then they very well run the risk of falling into a ditch. We need Christians to be more relevant, not less, and that means that we must open our eyes and be obedient to scripture by living as lights, not expecting that our culture ought to be full of light already.

One of the big frustrations of my academic career has been my uneasy relationship with critical theory.  We both seem to have always been talking at cross-purposes.   Critical theory says, “X is really important, and we must work toward it.  Y isn’t so much important as X is.”  Meanwhile, I’m thinking to myself, “X isn’t the issue, really.  It has it’s place, but Y is the really important thing that we ought to be talking about.” 

 In general, I understand and can appreciate the endeavor of critical theory, but in particular, I am often stymied by it.  I leave the piece of reading feeling like I was just examined ruthlessly by the doctor.  Exhausted, confused, and stumbling toward the kitchen for a drink of something stiffer than milk to relax my mind, I often find myself asking, “What just happened here?”  Now, the academic community is very good at posturing, and every honest academic I’ve ever met has agreed with this statement, so I keep that in mind as I think to myself, “Am I the only one who didn’t get this?”  Or, “Am I the only one who thinks that that author actually hasn’t said anything at all?”  I don’t feel this way about all critical theory; there are a few pieces of it that I do understand (I think). 

 One of the responses that I know the reader may immediately have is that of, “Oh, sure.  The white middle-class male American isn’t a fan of critical theory’s agenda; it’s just another example of hegemonic structures resisting change.”  I know this response well because it has been leveled at me many times.  But surely, this reasoning is being remarkably assumptive?  My objection (or frustration, really, since I don’t object to most of what critical theory is trying to do), is that critical theory is built on certain assumptions that I do not automatically grant.  The most significant of these humanistic assumptions is that problems that we find in our social systems can be fixed by collective and unrelenting human effort.  Humanism and critical theory assumes that the solutions to the problems can be fixed by collective human action.  This is an assumption that I do not hold, and this is the fundamental schism between critical theory and me.  I can agree with a lot (though not all) of the observations of the problems that CT expands on, and I can even agree with some of the solutions, but the ultimate political agenda of modern cultural studies and critical theory is one that I believe is ultimately lacking.  It is missing a very important component because it starts in a different place.  Humanism and modern CT starts with humanity and the problems of humanity, but my philosophy of approach is to begin with theology proper, because if we are indeed created, then WHY we exist and WHAT we are made for (what did our creator make us for) is of primary importance; indeed, all things become secondary.  My philosophical and ethical and political views spring out of a paradigm that does not begin where I see most modern critical theory beginning, and it is this difference of alignment that I believe is responsible for the phenomenon of me feeling like CT and I are talking on two different planes that do not intersect. 

 It is for this reason that while I understand some CT, some of it I do not, but almost all of it I view as practically academic and if political, possessing little long-term staying power in terms of its potency to fix the problems of the human race.  In essence, I believe that the answers to the deep problems of human dysfunction in failed social systems, inequality, bias, and hatred cannot be ultimately solved by human effort and mobilization, but by Someone greater than ourselves.  It is there that I start my philosophical and academic investigations, for it is There that I believe the Answer lies.

A 1945 Prophet??

I am amazed by the fact that credit cards and electronic payment systems, personal computers, and the need for associative informational retrieval and search systems were talked about in 1945 by this guy.  You can read Vannevar Bush’s article “As We May Think”  in its entirety here.

 

Props to Bush...he called it!

Props to Bush...he called it!

 

 

I’m also amazed by the fact that all these things were not impossible then.  There were answers to these questions and these things could have been made with 1945 technology.  They didn’t require a technological shift.  What they did require was an infrastructure that could more cheaply produce them, the will to do it, and especially the demand to do it to get the whole ball of wax rolling.  It is significant to me that the concept behind a modern search engine like Google is not a new thing—the process and the mathematical formulas—the machines’ capacity—has been advanced significantly enough that we don’t think we’re entering codes to access specific data, but we are.  We’re entering search terms, and those are codes.  I think it’s significant to remember that retrieving information has changed and changed a whole lot, but there are fundamental concepts that have been preserved.  They are innovations, but not all innovative. 

Bush is thinking about the enterprise of not just science, but of the Academy in general.  He is thinking about the systematic study of the world and ideas.  This article, besides doing a number of other things, has humbled me by letting me see that the innovations that I think are so remarkable and show our development and application of technology to the world are perhaps not so innovative, but that we are perhaps standing on the shoulders of giants.  Even if we are merely standing on the shoulders of other people just like us, it is good to remember that the whole human enterprise of attaining knowledge is an ongoing thing.  All the things and innovations that are going on now, no matter how remarkable they seem now (or how remarkable they actually are), are pieces of a large scaffolding that mankind has almost continually been in the process of constructing.  We are not the end product of our own investigation.

For some reason, as I read this I also think of two Biblical references.  The first is the writing of the Israelite Teacher/Philosopher who wrote that “There is nothing new under the sun.”  The other is the account of the antediluvian endeavor to build a tower that reached to heaven called Babel, and the judgment that was brought against those who exercised their tower-building skills with great hubris.

By now, half the world has heard of Susan Boyle.  If you have not, stop now and watch the video of her auditioning for the show Britain’s Got Talent:

When I watched this video, it brought me to tears, which doesn’t normally happen on the rare occasion that i watch Britain’s Got Talent.  But this woman was so homely, so unassuming, so quaint,  and so unlike anyone auditioning for a world-wide broadcasted show that I immediately began to criticize her, like everyone in the audience and all 3 of the judges.  

Our culture is a sick one because it is made up of sick people.  We love to criticize.  We love to find fault, and exploit weakness.  The shows on which Simon Cowell adjudicates are just visual symbols of that part of our culture’s heart.  I think that’s why they’re so popular–we get to hear someone say what so many are thinking about a terrible performer.  We get to see the cruelty enacted, and we get to see someone utterly destroyed in front of millions of people.  The popularity of the shows is dependent on this kind of unbridled reckless speech, and the very thing that proves it is that Simon Cowell, the most reckless speaker of the bunch, is who makes ratings go up.  He’s on the judges panel of all the shows, and the producers know that if he weren’t, the show would not make nearly as much money.  He and his barbed tongue are the draw.  The people performing are just window-dressing.  

As I sat there expecting (and hoping) for this dear woman to get up and embarrass herself on television, what actually happened was that her stunning performance highlighted what was going on inside me.  I wanted her to fail, even though I had just finished reading some scripture last week that read, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.”  (Proverbs 24:17).  This moment was a revealing one for so many people because it showed the ugliness in our hearts.  It showed that mine was enthusiastically wanting someone, not even my enemy, to fall utterly, and for no other reason than to amuse me.  

What?

Simply to amuse me?  Is my heart really that hardened?  This hard heart of mine has been shown to me before, but the problem with being shown a hard heart is that usually nobody else knows.  We don’t have to deal with it because nobody’s watching.  But God sees our hearts.  He not only sees what is, but what could be there.

I want to make a disclaimer from the beginning–I was born in Austin, Texas.  While I realize that living the first six weeks of my life in Texas doesn’t really mean much more than I left a bunch of smelly diapers and infantile tantrums in the Lone Star State to mark my birthplace, I also have to admit that whenever Texas is mentioned I have a little soft spot.  Weird, I know.  “Soft spot” and “Texas” don’t really go together.  Maybe other words go with Texas–“ego”, “hospitality” (depending on what people group you belong to), “nifty drawl”, and “spunk.”  

The current leader of the Lone Star State, Governor Rick Perry, hinted on Wednesday that Texas might someday try to actually go it alone.  Permanently.  As in secession.  Speaking to a group of…ahem…extremely excited far-right-leaning children of the plains, Perry said, in response to the crowds chanting “secession,” that if the government in Washington wasn’t going to listen to the people, why then, the people of Texas just might cut the ties and ride off into the glorious sunset of…some kind of separatory action.  

Now, I would like to point out that a whole bunch of ordinary Texans think their governor is a couple horses short of a herd, and in the face of extreme criticism from almost every segment of society, Perry has essentially said that the idiots who misconstrued the Constitution and are causing the problems today also were stupid enough to misconstrue my speech.  Then he exercised a little Newspeak and told everybody what he ACTUALLY said.  It’s very different from what every news agency has on tape, but who cares?  He’s a Texan, darn it, and he stands for things.  

What I find interesting is the scenario in which he actually had the stones to seriously insinuate that secession could be on Texas’ agenda, since the last war of secession was the bloodiest American conflict EVER.  Perry was speaking at a Tea Party rally, where people co-opted the meaning linked to the Boston Tea Party and tried to apply it in the same way to their anger at bailing out banks with taxpayer money.  They’re angry that taxes are going up.  Funny, since taxes are actually lower for the middle class under Obama, and tax increases for the richest 5% of the folks in the nation haven’t even started yet–those start in 2011.  But what could be more American than getting riled up by a demagogue and protesting things out in the street that aren’t happening?  The only thing that really tops the Tea Party is Perry’s acquiescence to the small crowds screaming for Texas to secede from the Union.  They screamed, he lapped it up, and now he’s doing a really weak backpedal.  I liked one of the many many quotes from Texans on Perry’s chosen actions: 

“Governor Perry, what you speak of is sedition. Texas may not opt out of the Union. I believe we already settled that issue in our past. I’ll be the first to take up arms when that day comes. I’m an American first and Texan second.”  -bigboxes in the comment section of a CNN article.

But of course, what’s a little sedition among friends?

Texas, get rid of that irresponsible and foolish lunatic you’ve voted into your governor’s mansion.

I’m a student at Claremont Graduate University, and in a course I’m taking this term there was a lecture and discussion on a social reformer and activist named John Commons, who did some really great things in America.  While reading some of the blog posts, I became interested in some tension that developed when it was discovered that some of John Commons’ writings and beliefs later had an influence on inspiring the eugenics movement.  The eugenics movement was a patently racist movement that believed in the possibility of improving humanity by keeping people with undesirable qualities from reproducing and encouraging reproduction among people with desirable qualities.  In this way, the evolution of humanity could be guided and self-directed.

 

What I find most interesting is not, to be totally honest, John Commons. I’m not even really all that shocked that he held racist ideas.  Many learned people did then, and many learned people today hold views that are patently racist while at the same time holding ideas that are significantly progressive toward social justice.  What interests me most is how people (readers) like us take and assimilate, through texts and images, ideas of a person to construct an image of that person and his ideas in our imaginations.  I’m guessing that we struggle through a common process when we hear of John Commons being related to the eugenics movement and believing “white races” are better suited to democracy than “tropical races.”  I, for one, immediately feel that there are two images of John Commons that somehow cannot both be true, and I notice that I have a feeling that the respect that I felt for him before I knew of his racism ought to be diminished and replaced with only criticism for his folly of racist ideology. 

 

This is the process that goes on inside my own head, but I’m pretty sure that it happens with most of us, with a lot of things, all the time, every day, in big and small ways.  I’m particularly interested in the pull that happens inside us toward division into a simple bifurcation—to fully lean to one side or the other—admiration or scorn, good or bad, truth or lies, tolerance or racism.  Since with Commons, all the information we have is from traditional texts—books, papers, etc. (and I suppose from oral texts or lectures about those traditional texts), we must undertake a complex negotiation of these texts we read with the text that has been constructed in our heads—our idea of John Commons and what his ideas mean.

 

In my own personal life, I’ve had many people who I have known as very good people, but at some point I discover that they have done something very evil—I’ve had a friend who committed murder and one who committed child molestation.  Both of those acts were horrific, but as my understanding of them was processed throughout their trials and sentencing, my conception of them did indeed change, but it did not affect everything I knew of them.  My friend who committed murder, for example (I’ll call her Becca), many times showed kindness to people and once brought me a plate of brownies just because I had never had that kind and she wanted to do something kind for me.  I had to reconcile in my head that this kind of decent act (decent in the strictest sense) could somehow co-exist in her in some way with motivations that would lead Becca to commit murder. 

 

I’m still learning this lesson and, no doubt, will be learning it deeper and deeper for the rest of my life, and I find them helpful as I wrestle with a challenge that is far less personal and emotional: trying to reconcile two different texts (John Commons A and John Commons B) into a third hybrid: John Commons C.  How does this happen? 

 

Here are two possible models: 

1) we take the old and new conceptions, which are very different from each other, and put them together, and one colors the other through completely, causing us to lose our trust in Commons’ progressive actions and view him as a fraud of social activism or at least as an ethically stunted person whose judgment cannot be trusted at all.  This is just like mixing food coloring and water: the water changes all through and one cannot then ever really “uncolor” the water. 

2) we take these two conceptions and simply let them both sit and occupy the same space—that is, the same label of John Commons in our head, and admit to the possibility that there may be contradictions—that there may be logical or ethical tensions in the different ideas, but we allow them to mix nonetheless.  This is much more like mixing two colors of pebbles into a big jar.  They are not the same, but nonetheless there they sit in the jar, and we must be willing to allow that there are two different colors in the jar at the same time, even if it offends our sense of aesthetics.  Knowing that there are these two disparate and quite contrary texts at work in my own conception of Commons is a burr in my mind; it would be much easier to understand him and compartmentalize him if I could simply say he was this or that all the way through—but it is not quite that easy.  People usually do not make it so.  But when I’m tired and want everything to be right with the world, and just want to have a hero to admire, I sure wish it were easier!

 

The whole thing pivots around being willing to allow unresolved tension to exist in the spaces in our minds—tension between one idea of someone and another.  We always have tension in our conceptions of people, and usually we simply resolve this tension by forming a new conception by somehow negotiating the two conflicting ideas in our head.  They struggle and bits of each are cut away, and bits of each are left standing.  As a result, some new conception emerges that is different. We do this all the time with all kinds of things, big as well as small, profound and superficial.  We may not know how to resolve the tensions we find, and it can be the hardest thing in the world to choose to not undergo the process of resolving those tensions, because sometimes there is no way for us to accurately resolve them.  We must sometimes choose to see both conflicting things and simply let them be—to trust that the process of resolving a good act with a murder may be beyond our capacity.  Most importantly, we are told by the Savior, “Judge not, and you will not be judged.”  I think he was talking about this exact thing.

 

Only people who God really loves can see it...

Only people who God really loves can see it...

Jesus was spotted again.  He was apparently seen in a very holy place–on a seat-cushion in a small Catholic church on the island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean.  The King of Kings, enthroned in glory, on the thing you put your butt on…um…sure.  I know he had humble beginnings and everything, but golly.  You can read about the whole thing here.

 

 

 

I think that the whole Jesus-images-on-things is being managed very poorly.  We could make a whole lot more money if we weren’t so limited–if we didn’t just limit our visions to Jesus in seat cushions, toast, oatmeal, and grilled cheese sandwiches.  Can’t we manage to create more of a spiritual aura than a day-old grilled cheese?  I have a great idea for really capitalizing on this phenomenon: let’s create images of Muhammed, Buddha, Confucius, Baha’u’llah, and Moses in random things that we want to sell in order to up their resale value and finance our new LCD 60 inch TV: your old car, used jeans, discarded computer components (you’d have to etch the image really really small).  We could have a line for all people who want to have an image in their oatmeal to adore over breakfast.  We could sell Bono on toast, and we could charge admission into our backyards to see the little image of Hitler in the dog doo.  Appropriately.

The face of Homer Simpson on a gourd.  Kept in the Secret Vatican Archives. ahem.

The face of Homer Simpson on a gourd. Kept in the Secret Vatican Archives. ahem.

 

 

 

Oh, the things we could do!  But please don’t suggest thinking too hard about it.  God forbid we use our God-given reason and scripture together to determine what is true from what is false.  Then things would be way more boring and definitely less lucrative for all of us.  

 

 

 

 

The one on the right sold for $25,000.   Almost %100 profit!  I'm in!

The one on the right sold for $25,000. I'm in!

London

I figured that I’d celebrate St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow by going to London, so I’ll be taking a short break from my blog.  But when I get back, it’s on!

Angry!

I’m frustrated today.  I’m frustrated at so many things related to our economy, as I’m sure everybody is, but I feel like there are so many things to be said and most of them are staying around the water-coolers and aren’t making it to the blogs or to the bigger news services.  In fact, practically the only place I’ve heard any of them is on The Daily Show.  (Read my post about it here.) 

 

There are, to be sure, lots of things to get angry at, but I’m frustrated by the things that aren’t in the news.  Sure, there’s the stuff Obama said this morning, which was good, but my anger goes further.

 

I’m angry that the entire country has been, for a long time, conducting itself in an orgy of spending on credit with no regard for personal fiscal responsibility.  Individuals have done this, and the government has done this.  And people have capitalized on this practice and made billions of dollars in profit.  I’m angry that almost nobody is talking publicly about the underlying root of the problem: Americans must reign in our slobbering greed and our lust to be seen as richer than we are and exercise some responsibility, some restraint, some patience.  We have a lottery mentality, a mindset that getting rich should happen to me, and someone else ought to hand me the money, as we chant our national mantra of “We have rights!”

 

I’m angry that we, individuals, will have 4 or 5 credit cards (and that’s being conservative!) and think it’s ok.  I’m angry that the government continues to spend more than it has, and everyone just grumbles and wrings their hands and says, “Well, what can you do?”  I’m angry that companies like Bank of American will target people when the come into the bank and try to sell credit cards to them—credit cards that will only hurt them and put them deeper in debt.  And tellers have quotas they must fill—quotas of selling credit cards to people who don’t need them to make a bank more money so they can give more multi-million dollar bonuses to their executives.

 

I’m angry that some people in this crisis who have been ethically corrupt and profited off of others’ misfortune are enjoying life while others desperately struggle to figure out how to pay for hospice care for their dying mother, wondering how they’ll make their house payment, even though they’ve done everything right and always paid their obligations, even at monumental personal expense, just because it’s right.  And nobody gives them an award.

 

I’m angry at the banks that have been throwing lavish parties with bailout money from taxpayers, and I’m angry that the government keeps giving them bailout money without exercising more control over the company’s operations.  I’m angry.  Angry that people who make sacrifices to pay their bills and meet their obligations are ignored, but fools who have made unwise choices and continue to do so time and time again are rewarded with bailout money with little oversight.

 The words of James in the New Testament are particularly apt today, and I cling to them:

1Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. 2Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.  6You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.”

-James 5:1-6

It is a sad commentary on our society (and particularly on the farces masquerading as network television news programs) when some of the most poignant criticism and analysis of the culture comes from a show that comes on right after Futurama.  This is, of course, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  

Jon Stewart and I don’t agree on everything, but we do have a lot in common, apart from our first name.  Recently he has become something of a hero to me because he has the stones to openly criticize people who are doing dumb things.  He was a guest on Crossfire in 2004 and made everyone surprisingly uncomfortable when he refused to play the role of “funny guy” and instead spoke eloquently, seriously, and critically about the role of shows like Crossfire and their journalistic and ethical duty to the public.  It was one of the best face-to-face criticisms I’ve ever seen on television.

Last week, Jon Stewart ran a piece on his comedy show criticizing the CNBC network and especially its financial programs.  Jim Cramer, former hedge fund manager and host of the show Mad Money, got uber-defensive and decided to fire back.  At a comedian.  Anybody who has ever been to see standup knows that you don’t heckle comedians unless you want your butt handed to you or force-fed to you.  And especially if it’s a comedian who is really smart and has a legitimate bone to pick with you.  And especially if he’s full of righteous anger.  

So anyway, Genius Jim decides to fire back, and CNBC gets defensive, too.  Which gives Jon Stewart more fuel to work with.  Finally, in what can only be called the sickest possible action taken by a television corporation, CNBC handed Jim Cramer to Jon Stewart to destroy, meaning Jim Cramer was a guest on The Daily Show.  In the course of this half-hour show, Jon Stewart repeatedly nailed Cramer to the wall.  He pulled out footage of things that Cramer had said that were at best morally dubious, and several times it looked like Cramer was about to break and start weeping like a little 5-year old.  The link to the entire show is here, and I highly recommend everyone watching it.  Stewart was relentless but fair, giving Cramer plenty of time to explain what he thought, but not letting him get away with anything.  

Various shows are framing this as a duel, but I appreciated it because it was a small moment of justice.  The wizard was unmasked, and though I’m sure it won’t change much, it was so satisfying to see someone who had admittedly lied over and over again get caught in his own web…on national TV.  

So for these couple of weeks, Jon Stewart is my hero.  And people can say that I ought to have a more mature hero than a comedian, but for these few weeks in America, this comedian was the most gutsy defender of the common American that we had.  Someone cared about justice this week…and he served it, if only in a small way.

If only more talk show hosts did the same!

There are sublime moments of my life that stand out in my memory: sitting all alone on the beach in Florida watching the sun rise over the sea; standing on top of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park watching an electrical storm rumble up the canyon toward me; sitting on an old bench outside in a small cloister in Westminster Abbey, breathing in the heart of Britain while sharing a half hour of silence with a small bird perched a foot and a half away; holding a hummingbird and straightening its wings out, brushing it off, and petting its head while it simply looked up at me for five full minutes before it flew away; standing  in the Greek Theatre at the University of Redlands, silently talking to God and feeling His presence pressing on the place, filling the huge bowl of earth to the brim; driving a small zodiak boat in the Bahamas with my best friend beside me at dusk in water so shallow I could get out and walk; listening to and smelling the fresh clean rain falling outside through an open window as I sat inside next to a cheerful fire; worshipping God on an open air rooftop in the metropolis of Bangkok as the sun set and shone its last light down on me and the two dozen other Christians whom I could not understand, but who were nonetheless one with me in spirit and purpose.

 

The beach in Florida at sunset

The beach in Florida at sunrise, very similar to the one I sat on--Satellite Beach, just south of here.

 

 

All of these things are real events; they happened to me, and I lived them.  But there are also many memories I have of intense beauty that never really happened to me, at least not in the same way as the above memories.  I have intense memories of things that only existed in my mind, brought there by symbols slopped on pressed wood pulp.  Experiences that I share with no one else, because no one else imagined them the same way that I did.  These experiences I lived through the pages of books and the countless hours spent devouring ideas and stories, descriptions of evil and good, ugliness and beauty, the commonplace and the royal.  And anyone who has a passion for stories and books knows exactly what I mean. 


 

cover-the-lord-of-the-rings1I just finished reading the Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings, and although they are codices of pages of symbols, they have affected me deeply.  I experienced more beauty in them than I have perhaps in my lifetime outside of the world of books.  Books and stories can take us far away, and I wonder what it is in our imaginations that is apparently so well-suited to telling stories.  We tell stories our whole lives, every day.  The function of stories is fascinating to me, but right now I’m just interested in seeing and feeling the sublime again.  And that is why picking one’s next book is such an important thing.  And if you haven’t had a beautiful moment recently, you need to pick up a well-written book and find a quiet spot, preferably with rain outside and fire inside, and a warm drink, and explore the realms of beauty that can only exist in the mind.  The joy of the experience and the after-ache of longing is the reward, and can never be diminished by the sudden jerk back into the shadow land of reality.

 

 

An interesting article from the NY Times having to do with various and sundry things related to the Pope.  Here are some excerpts:

 

“MADRID — The letter released Thursday in which Pope Benedict XVIadmitted that the Vatican had made “mistakes” in handling the case of a Holocaust-denying bishop was unprecedented in its directness, its humanity and its acknowledgment of papal fallibility.

But it also contained two sentences unique in the annals of church history.

“I have been told that consulting the information available on the Internet would have made it possible to perceive the problem early on,” Benedict wrote. “I have learned the lesson that in the future in the Holy See we will have to pay greater attention to that source of news.”

In other words: “Note to the Roman Curia: try Google.”

The Vatican, a 2,000-year-old monarchy built on the ruins of the Roman Empire and run by octogenarians, has officially recognized the demands of the 24-hour news cycle, not a 24-century one.”

 

 

Future policy in Vatican City?

Future policy in Vatican City?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another excerpt: 

“On Thursday, the Society of St. Pius X said it was ready to begin the doctrinal debates necessary for its return to full communion with the church. It conveyed the news in an e-mail message, in Latin, which instructed recipients “Ite ed vide,” or go and look, at its Web site, of course.”

 

When I want to really make my point, I always send email messages in latin.  

Don’t you?

-JMT

An interesting piece I heard on NPR today by Andrei Codrescu, an author, poet, radio correspondent, and professor at LSU Baton Rouge:

 

Andrei Codrescu

Andrei Codrescu

 

 

 

All Things Considered, March 11, 2009 · This is the age of hybrids. It isn’t just the cars — we the drivers are hybrids, too. Our bodies used to be all flesh, but now we are wired to iPods, GPS devices and the Internet.

The hybrids we drive are the hybrids we are, and it took the whole of the 20th century to mainstream the idea. The United States was always a nation of hybrids: Immigrants mixed here to make a new kind of people — a hybrid people called Americans. The 20th century, the “American century,” was the huge rush of euphoria that came from the mixing of so many differences.

This was the reality, but acknowledging it was something else: Not until the 1970s did we allow the possibility that we could accept our roots and also be Americans. The age of the hyphen was upon us: We became African-Americans, Italian-Americans, Mexican-Americans and so on.

Even Native Americans, while not hyphenated, were prefixed by “Native” to distinguish them from the Anglo-Saxons who insisted that they were just “Americans.” Hybrid reality preceded the hyphen in places like New Orleans, where mixed-race Creoles created jazz, that most American of all arts.

At the beginning of the 20th century, artists started making hybrids, and they haven’t stopped since. Collage mixed paint and newspapers, assemblage assembled diverse materials, sculptors combined steel and foam, soft and hard, rock and water. What artists did was to rid us of the pernicious notions of “purity” circulated for centuries by overanesthetized and frustrated ideologues. Artists made obvious what everyone knows: There isn’t a single human being or any living thing that isn’t a combination of things.

There are no pure races, there are no pure nations or tribes, and there are no clear lines of descent from the gods, who are themselves nothing but hybrids. Zeus even messed with animals, and the mono-God is composed of earlier gods like a psychedelic quilt.

The human urge to claim some kind of purity is a curious feature of our hybrid natures, but it’s a dead end. Ideas of race purity lead to genocide. Setting apart one’s tribe or nation ends inevitably in war. Monopolizing the engine of a moving vehicle to burn only petroleum leads to disaster. All monopolies of vision that claim to be unhybridized are doomed to a tragic end.

Happily, we’ve accepted first the hyphen, then the idea that we have more in common than what separates us. And now we have a hybrid, black and white leader, ready to drive the hybrid Americans of the 21st century to new sources of energy.

Say it out loud: I’m hybrid and I’m proud.

 

Andrei Codrescu’s website can be accessed here.

“The Media”

I hear a lot of people talking about “the media” as if it is some conglomeration of people and companies, some sort of defined entity.  I hear this term thrown around as if we all understand exactly what it means, but I think that most of us don’t.  I hear people nursing left-wing ideologies call “the media” the fundamentally ultra-conservative tool of the upper class to propagate the state’s ideological controls.  I hear ultra-conservatives on their radio shows crying out that “the media” is liberal and that there’s a conspiracy that started in a dark cavern somewhere to rend the world as we know it and set up a godless socialist state.  Even if this trope didn’t sound like it was an excerpt from a flamboyant novel about the Illuminati, I would still ask in response to any reference to “the media,” “What do you mean when you say the media?” 

 

If I ever teach media studies, I plan to forbid the use of the mere term “the media” because it is not nearly specific enough to serve as a term that is useful, even in everyday speech, and it also has far too much elasticity: it is quite easy for the term to be abused by people taking it and fitting it into their own rhetorical devices to serve their own ends, instead of being a descriptive term that is helpful.  It is so elastic that it can be used and twisted to mean almost anything in almost any context.

 

So, I propose a ban on the term “the media.”  Not a Gestapo kind of ban, with thought police running around and reporting their names to the IRS for eventual bureaucratic torture and punishment.  No, I propose that whomever wishes to do so join me in a self-imposed ban of this term from their vocabulary.  In doing so we can make our language more precise while resisting the urge to fall into singularly and unhelpful oversimplifications about our society and how it communicates.  We can acknowledge that there are many different forms of communication, and they are all in a state of extreme flux right now.

 

There are myriad different industries and technologies that are used by people, and many of these get utilized for communication, and as people begin to use a technology (essentially a communication delivery system) not merely as an oddity, but actually as a method of communication, then a medium is born.  All sorts of things are media: smoke signals, text messaging, email, corporate television, radio, satellite radio, podcasts, vodcasts, books, billboards, magazines, blogs, discussion boards, independent television stations, the independent film industry, and on and on.  To lump all of these things together into one definition is to miss the fact that different media develop to meet different communication gaps, needs, or functions in a society, and one may have little to do with the other. 

 

Let’s criticize media if it is warranted, but let us be specific in exactly what we place in our sights.  Add other words to “the media” to specify what we say and mean, and if this is a challenge for us, then let us accept the challenge as a blessing that will force us to stop making bad arguments.  Criticize network television news or discuss the eccentricities of video gaming machinima; ask about the finer points of texting or blow your stack and vent about how you think radio journalism has lost its soul.  Even better, talk about specific programs or media sites.  Talk about the decline of the LA Times, or the political bent of a particular television network or program.  Talk specifically.  With specific words.  That mean specific things.  Then we can start to begin to know what we mean when we talk to one another about media, and we can all stop pretending that we know what “the media” means.

 

What does this mean?  Nobody really knows, but at least it looks cool, and that's all that matters...

What does this mean? Nobody really knows, but at least it looks cool, and that's all that matters...

 

 

Memory is a funny thing.  I can remember the backyard of my childhood home and feel nostalgic, a sort of sweet memory that hurts.  I can also read and immerse myself in the history of World War II (as anyone who knows me well can attest to) and feel a tragic sweetness for that time.  I might wish that I could have seen those days, but those who live through them would tell me that this wish is ridiculous, and they would be right.  It was not nostalgic to live through it.  It would not satisfy my nostaligic ache to live through those days or to visit my childhood home again.  In fact, this often makes things worse—and everyone knows what it is like to not want to see something from our childhood because we know it will not feel the same.  We choose to simply keep the thing in our memory, sweet but not actualized. 

wwii-v-day-kiss

I was sitting in a coffee shop yesterday talking about this with my wife Melody, who is studying to be an archivist.  I told her that I believe that somehow there is an almost ineffable quality or feeling that we experience when dealing with archives and with memory.  I wondered what it is that we want when we long for something that is long past–something that we never experienced but have read about or heard about (like WWII), or some memory of our own that we have not visited in a long time (like an old childhood house or the feel and the memories of the neighborhood we grew up in).  We get a pang of longing, and even if the stuff we’re looking at is not our own, we often are overcome with wistful, nostalgic feelings.  Then I started wondering, what is it exactly that we’re longing for?  Because I do not long to see my childhood neighborhood again.  I know it will be different, and there have been times when I have specifically avoided going back and looking because I know it will not satisfy this desire; it will only make me sad; I will feel that the thing I wanted to see or experience is lost even more, is further away than it was before I went there.  

 

Our front yards are, painfully, never the same as we remember them if we go back to visit.

Our childhoods are, painfully, never the same as we remember them if we venture back to visit them.

 

I think that this ineffable thing that we long for is somehow related to our desire for something that is permanent, something that is outside the effects of time.  I think that this longing comes out of the human desire for transcendence.  This urge to archive or record our lives comes from a desire for immortality, or for a desire to escape our own mortality—almost the same thing, but not quite.  And our desire to know and get back permanently that which we know only in an archive (my great great grandparents, for example) is the other side of the coin; it is the desire to know permanence, to know the ineffable beauty beyond us, but it is always thwarted and turned to a bittersweet longing by the reality of our own mortality. 

C.S. Lewis wrote about this very longing, and he pointed out rightly that the longings of this kind (of which the longing related to permanence and memory is only one form) are times when our desire for God, our desire for home, our desire for transcendence is pricked by some small ray of light spilling from that Realm to our dusty, tired, and shadowed land.  The pang of sweet and terrible desire that fills our hearts when we hear a beautiful line of music, or a beautiful moment in a forest: any sublime moment is a spilling over from There to here.  Even the moment of wanting something that is not immediately attainable—the desire we feel to go back and experience life in 30’s and 40’s America, to see our ancestors and talk with them, even to see and talk with our own first father and mother before the fall—those things are real losses and will never happen, yet they point to a larger and greater Fulfillment of our desire.

It is in this poetic moment that we find ourselves taken out of time–one of the reasons why we create archives, I think.  We are able to experience a shadow of the thing we desire: to know outside of time, to always be, to be solid and unmoving, and to intimately know (experientially) things that will always be.  In the sweetness of a memory a person can linger in this twilight between the mutable and the immutable, between the temporal and the edge of the universe, between the cold hard granite reality of our own mortality and the frighteningly vast but warm infinity of the heavens: the unveiled realm of the Real, Living I Am. 

 

Who knew that something as lofty as a desire for the Immutable God could be found in a dusty archive?  Amazing.

 

Deus ex tabulinum

Deus ex tabulinum

 

 

One of my recent posts to another discussion board–my apologies for the lack of context, but it is hopefully interesting enough despite it’s contextual isolation:

 

Everyone should look like this when they try to persuade people.

Everyone should look like this when they try to persuade people.

 

 

 

“I think your remarks and observations are very interesting, and especially for me, the questions about truth.  Your distinction between truth and persuasion is well-taken; judges and juries are, in theory, supposed to sift through many different stories and testimony to try to arrive at what happened.  I like the way you put it, though—you said that “In this sense, the decision making process in the court room is not about what is legal and what is illegal, but about what sounds more true to juries and judges.”  I think that our language shows the way we frame the issue:  that people and witnesses may come and tell stories and even tell what they remember of the event, but a judge is asked to weigh these, along with the nature of people and use both reason and common sense to determine which testimony or claim is closest to the truth.  We would not speak of it thusly if somewhere, in our assumptions of the world, we did not have an understanding that there was actually something that happened, and that it happened in a certain way, and to know the way it actually happened is called knowing the truth about the event, and knowing it differently than it actually happened is called not knowing the truth.  There is a measuring rod that we assume is there, even if we cannot fully know the measuring rod—the Truth.  I believe that even if we cannot know the Truth fully, we can know it truly, meaning that we can know things that are true (Not that everything we think we know to be true actually is—we maybe in a state of mind that we call being wrong).  We cannot know the Truth in every case, nor can we know the Truth in all its fullness (how exactly did the car hit the pedestrian?  What were the motives and thoughts of the driver and the victim?  In what way did slight movements affect the outcome?)  but we can know the Truth to some degree.

 

What I firmly reject is the assertion that Truth does not exist.  I believe it does exist, and although it may not be able to be known fully, it can be known to some degree.  I believe that it is common belief and acceptance of this principle that not only allows people to implement and trust in legal systems, but also allows us to pursue justice in any degree or to get angry at injustice and take action.  I would, then, not use the term truth to describe what you did in the field of rhetoric; instead, I would use the same words Aristotle did—words like personal appeal, essential facts, conclusions, knowledge, etc. 

 

I also think that a common mode of (wrong) thinking that many people sometimes fall into (including myself) is that we may say that because, at first inspection, many different statements seem to conflict, then there must be relative truths.  While it is not my goal or intention to argue against this here, I am trying to point out that another option, that the circumstances that produced these statements and the statements themselves may possess greater nuance than we may be aware of.  I think that often people claim relative truth in a situation because it is much easier to simply accept this idea than it is to continue to investigate all the nuances of the situation, which may be more of a chore than we wish to manage.  I know that sometimes it’s more of one than I want to manage.”

The other day my illustrious co-worker and office-mate David innocuously mentioned a website that he thought was funny.  Like any hard-working and conscientious employee, I immediately took a break from the extremely difficult work I was doing to indulge in a few moments of laughs.  Several hours later the time approached 5:00 pm and I silently cursed my procrastination and not-so-silently blamed my coworker for messing up my chi for the day.  I thought I would post some links to this website, called Cracked.com, so that I can drag other people down into my own non-productivity, thus making my own self-esteem rise and therefore make myself feel better and less guilty.

My favorite things about this website are the lists they post, but more than just the mere fact that they have hilarious lists and do a little research, their writing is hilarious.  Sometimes crude, sometimes intelligent, but always funny, this website is definitely one to bookmark in my humble opinion.  Below are links to my favorite lists.  

1) in honor of Valentine’s Day, check out 5 Reasons Being Single Sucks Even More Than You Thought.  

2) You must absolutely read this:  7 Items You Won’t Believe Are Actually Legal.

 

They would have listened to Milton if he walked in with this instead of the Swingline.

They would have listened to Milton if he walked in with this instead of the Swingline.

 

 

3) The 6 Most Insane Moral Panics in American History.  I haven’t actually read this one yet, but I’m looking forward to it, and how could you not be interested in something with this title?

4)  The 5 Most Ridiculous Lies Ever Published as Non-Fiction.  

5)  The worst offenders in the category of misogynistic TV ads.  Not an endorsement; but a collection with which to marvel at our own stupidity.  8 TV Ads That Hate Women. 

I also highly recommend one of the lists about really tough soldiers, but I wont’ link directly to it here.  It’s easy to find.  

I hope you laugh as much as I did.  I think my coworkers and students probably think I’m insane due to the fact that I laughed really loudly for about 2 straight hours.  I wonder what I would do if I heard someone belly-laughing in their office for a long time. At any rate, ye be warned!  consume at work only if you’re prepared to get nothing done for the rest of the day.  And if you’re sensitive to swearing, I’d suggest skipping this website.  Their posts, while flipping hilarious, aren’t known for especially flowery speech–you know–the kind Baptists or 7th Day Adventists use in church.

On Descartes’ Optics

This is a response that I wrote to a classmate’s post on my class discussion board, but I thought I’d post it here as well just to get the brain juice-a-flowin’!  We were discussing Descartes’ scientific writings, and were talking about a section he wrote on optics:

 

I appreciate your honesty about your struggle with Descartes.  I am amazed, like many others, at how closely his ideas are to modern ones.  I suppose that in some respects, we think that we’re making such great progress with ideas, but then we find that often the classic thinkers or even the ancients are already there ready to meet us, having gotten there before us long before. 

 

I really appreciate that you pointed out a part of the reading that I marked but did not write about in my own post.  You write, “[Descartes] continues by saying that any invention that enhances sight or increases the power of sight, is among the most useful of inventions.  The example he uses is the telescope as enhancing the ability of man to view the stars.”  This idea of Descartes’ is a good one on which to linger, because it has such significant ramifications in the way Descartes describes it.  He talks about an invention enhancing sight, and uses the telescope as an example.  Marshall McLuhan, writing in the 20th century, describes any medium as an extension of ourselves.  In his book The Medium is the Massage, he says that “The wheel is an extension of the foot…the book is an extension of the eye…clothing an extension of the skin.”  I can’t help but wonder what Descartes would say if he were to see all the things that extend our sight: telescopes, satellite cameras, camera phones, electron microscopes, surveillance cameras, books, blogs, discussion boards, and even computer programs like iPhoto, which now has face recognition tools in it. 

 

I would say that you’re exactly right about the fact that the vision of our world has changed over time.  Our vision has been expanded, not just to see the night sky, but it has been extended in different modalities.  If I could have lunch with Descartes I would ask him, in light of the enormity of the expansion of our sense of sight on multiple levels, what the implications are of his claim that the senses are deceptive, and (perhaps) especially sight.  

"The book is an extension of the eye"...What else is?

"The book is an extension of the eye"...What else is?

Beware the image and the text.  Beware the text, for it can “make the weaker argument appear the stronger” (Plato’s Apology) through the enthymeme and the wily rhetoritician.  Beware also the image, because through repetition and the strength of the sense of vision, it can have a curious side effect to those who are not aware: it has the property of becoming the stronger idea in the mind while choking the weaker ideas until they become latent, just as a large tree will overwhelm the surrounding growth, covering it with its shade, until at last nothing else of strength grows under the canopy of its branches that will threaten it.

 

The most visceral examples of this phenomenon that I witness day to day is with my students, who watch movies and TV a lot and read a little, if at all.  Consequently, they do not know that the real battle of Stirling was fought on and around a bridge and was not led by someone resembling Mel Gibson in stature.  They do not know that Beowulf was an epic poem over a millennium before it was the film they watched.  They do not stop to realize that battles are fought without soundtracks, and are seldom glorious.  The little history or literature they read in their high school history class or English class (if they read it) is overwhelmed by the images they see and constantly fill their eyes with all the time.  This is not in itself a bad thing; rather it points to both the prominence of the image in our own society, or at least in the culture of the community in which I teach, and the fact that images can be accepted as valid ones simply through repetition.  They are children of fiction, and stories have become their world, but their understanding of stories does not have the transparency that might let in the contextualizing light of the rest of reality.  Their paradigm is opaque, and therefore for them is the only thing they know.  It is difficult, in this state, to make the distinction between fiction, history, narrative, politics, and anything else.  Everything blends into one thing and that thing loses its exhilaration because it is all they know.

 

This is why I want to teach freshman and sophomores in college.  I want to make a difference.  This is why I want a mead-hall. (nods to Marshall and Rich!)

 

The Form of mead-hall

The Form of mead-hall

 

 

 

Cognitive Surplus

Gin carts and cognitive surplus

Several weeks ago, I read a short transcript of a speech given by Clay Shirky at the Web 2.0 conference (thanks, Marshall!).  I enjoyed the playful style and the clarity of the speech, but most importantly I heard of the idea of cognitive surplus for the first time. 

 

You can read the article for yourself here.

cognitive-surplus

And if, after reading, you have anything to say about the article, against the article, or whatever, come back and let me know your thoughts by commenting on this blog.

In a lecture in one of my classes on Monday, Professor Charles Young (Philosophy, Claremont Graduate University) paraphrased Plato’s opinion (in response to a question) that it takes theory to have art or systematic approach to a craft (techne), which is what we might call practice.  Another student raised the question of “how do we make our practice have the nobility that the Aristotelian practice seems to have?”  I’m guessing that behind this intriguing question is an observation that practice in the days of Aristotle possessed a purity and an objectivity that we wish to have in our own practice.  There is a feeling that if we could simply frame the question or have the right setting or the right arena for our discourse and our rhetoric, our techne/craft/practice would be able to enter a discussion more purely, without as much emotional baggage as it sometimes does today.  If we could simply adhere to a colder form of logic, then our techne would be of a higher sort than it is now. 

To those who hold this idea, even if it is buried under a mass of critical theory or thrown into the corner of our minds under the old deconstructionism we have lying about or the old magazines of postmodern theory stacked on top of one another, I have a few observations.

 

First, I find this idea in myself.  I not only wish, but at times, find myself believing it to be so that there is a purity of inquiry, a detachment of the researcher, that can be attained if one is careful enough, systematic enough, logical enough, and detached enough.  I wish it to be so because if it were, inquiry and practice would be a lot cleaner and a lot easier. 

 

The idea that there can be a purity or detachment of inquiry, some kind of pure and logical detachment is, I believe, a false myth.  It is a story that we tell ourselves to serve a social purpose, namely to allow us to retract into our own research problem and leave some of the meta-research questions unanswered.  This is not always a bad thing; sometimes it is necessary because of the scope of our research and we haven’t time to discuss it.

 

All of this is not new to any graduate student, but it is easy for me, when reading any ancient text, and especially Plato or Aristotle, to find myself indulging in the belief that these ancients, and all their contemporaries, were able to discover this purity of logic, this nobility of reason and discourse, and if we could only see it and all move together that we too, could be like them. 

 

Maybe this is so, but I wonder, also, if the nobility we think we see in the ancients is real or if it is a reflection of the human desire and search for transcendence—a search to come out of ourselves and be larger than what we are; a search for eternity or Divinity.

A Brave New World…

Many people have written about the future.  Aldous Huxley and George Orwell are but two of the writers who chose to write about the dystopia, a trope that is remarkably effective in its ironic and satiric presentation of human folly.  I have recently been thinking about how people perceive evil in the world and how they believe that evil should be or will be dealt with in the future.

Some believe that evil is institutional–that is, it is found in any bureaucracy or institution and that the answer is to always oppose any institution by helping people see how their own power is being managed and how they, in fact, don’t have any power at all.  (Critical Art Ensemble)

Some believe that evil is a sort of abnormality to existence, but an uncommon one.  They believe that evil is not the normal path of the human heart, and they illogically point to beauty, art (an especially illogical thing to point to), and the deeds of great humans to somehow prove that all people are basically good, and evil is something that while tragic, does not define the human condition.  

I call that wishful thinking at best, and foolishness at worst.  What evil is and how it is dealt with is, I have recently seen, is one of the most significant things that can shape the set of unseen underground assumptions that lives in the catacombs of our consciousness and defines the structure that our lives, actions, and destinies will ultimately take.

More on this later, but for now, one take on what a utopia (or dystopia) might look like.  This one is particularly poignant because it is particularly perceptive of our cultural view of ourselves.    The biblical story of the tower of Babel comes to mind…

 

 

 

How do we perceive evil?  Most importantly, what is informing our understanding of this?  If we are Christians, do we go to scripture?  Or do we subject ourselves to the constantly-changing whims of the cultural imaginings about it?  For the love of all that is good, let us ground ourselves firmly in what is right.

 “8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)

Videogaming culture

I remember when I bought my first video game system in 1990.  It was a Nintendo Entertainment System, and I played Super Mario Brothers for hours at a time.  I would sit with my friends, each of us tightly gripping the controller as the 8-bit music chattered at us and we excitedly pushed plastic buttons that in turn sent signals to a simple computer which manipulated the pixels on the television screen and moved Mario toward a mushroom or away from a turtle.  I am part of a generation that grew up playing video games.  My parents’ generation, on the other hand, has had a less organic relationship with this interactive electronic medium than I have.  My friends and I would grasp a controller and intuit how to move the character on the screen or manipulate the game.  On the rare occasions when I convinced my parents to play video games with me, they would sit stiffly, awkwardly holding the controller at an odd angle while making Mario walk unsteadily towards a pit.  When Mario fell into the pit, as he inevitably would, my parents would seem shocked, as if they had been blindsided by a surprise attack.  They would usually only last one or two tries before they got tired of playing.  Then they would hand the controller back to me and I would continue to interact with the small Japanese-built computer like it was an extension of myself. 

            In fact it was.  When I played video games, my nervous system and my mind were extended.  My eyes saw obstacles, my reflexes responded, and even my adrenal glands responded to the things that I was making the television display.  Even our language teaches us that a video game is an extension of ourselves.  We speak of making a character do this or that, or we say that I won the game this morning.  In fact we did not.  We pushed buttons on a lump of plastic all morning, but we somehow feel that the former description is more truthful than the latter.  Marshall McLuhan points this concept out in The Medium is the Massage.  He writes that every medium is an extension of the body.  “The wheel…is an extension of the foot.  The book is an extension of the eye…clothing, an extension of the skin.”  Video games are extensions of many different parts of our bodies—our eyes, our legs, our arms, our nervous systems, all wrapped up together in this interactive medium. 

            Video gaming as a medium has come a long way since Pong or Super Mario Brothers.  Now video gaming is generally divided into PC gaming (games played on personal computers, whether PC or Macs) and console gaming.  The three leading consoles on the market today are Nintendo’s Wii, Sony Corporation’s Playstation 3, and Microsoft’s Xbox 360.  These platforms are in direct competition with one another, and some of the companies contract with game developers to offer some game titles for only one platform in order to corner the market on that game.  Microsoft did just that when in June 2000 it purchased Bungie Studios, a game developer that was about to release a title called Halo.  When Microsoft bought Bungie, it guaranteed that this new game would be offered exclusively on the new Xbox console system.  Halo belongs to the class of games called shooters, because the game revolves around the player manipulating a character to shoot guns and, in the case of Halo, use a variety of advanced weaponry to destroy alien armies.  One subgenre of a shooter is a first-person shooter.  These shooters are so named because the point of view that the player takes on is the point of view of the main character in the game, so the player will see what the character in the game sees, as if the player is using the television screen to look through the eyes of the character.  This results in the player being able to control the character in the game in such a way that they can make the character walk or run around the game in any direction, look up, down, or around, and respond in real time to things happening in the game, much like a virtual reality. 

When Halo was first published in November 2001, it immediately took its place as arguably the most significant product in the gaming industry and, since then, the single game that was developed by a small gaming studio called Bungie has become an extremely lucrative franchise, to date netting three games (Halo CE, Halo 2, and Halo 3), five novels, one graphic novel, and several more products in the works.  Halo offers two modes of gameplay: the campaign and multiplayer.  In the campaign, players take on the role of the Master Chief, a futuristic supersoldier whose goal is to fight alien hordes in an attempt to save the human race and all sentient beings in the galaxy.  This mode is played either by oneself or with other players who play as allies, together trying to defeat the aliens.  The multiplayer mode, on the other hand, is played with multiple players, is set in enclosed maps laden with weapons, very like gladiatorial arenas, and the players do not play with each other; they play against each other.  The goal of this mode of play is generally to gain the most kills by killing the other players’ characters.  Awards can be won for certain kinds of difficult kills or other difficult feats.  I developed a greater interest (personal and academic) in the Halo world as more games were produced, and my enjoyment of the game grew to include more things than merely winning a multiplayer match with friends. 

Halo fans are unique.  They are typically very loyal to the game and to the game’s developer, Bungie studios, and Bungie has always cultivated a cooperative relationship with its fans.  This interactive relationship has contributed significantly to the success of Halo, and a circuit of feedback and interactivity has developed between Bungie and Halo fans—between the production and the consumption of this cultural artifact.  This production/consumption circuit is admittedly only a part of what is happening culturally with Halo and with video gaming in general, but this circuit is extremely significant to the future of video gaming in general and how it functions as a medium, because video gaming is naturally an interactive medium, and as the interaction between consumers and producers speeds up, new modes of interaction and game play are created, transforming a video game into an extremely sophisticated universe in which players interact with much more than just a digital character on a screen.

            This interactivity is one of the things that makes video games such a unique medium.  As the medium has grown from its infancy throughout the last decades of the twentieth century it has become more and more sophisticated, and one of the most significant reasons for this development lies at the very heart of the medium itself, in its interactivity.  Interaction occurs in video gaming not merely between the player and the video game unit but also through the increased interaction between the producer of the product and the consumer of the product. The video game is becoming more and more interactive on multiple levels as the production/ consumption circuit integrates production with consumption faster than ever.  As the circuit’s speed progressively increases and approaches the speed of instantaneous feeding of production into consumption and back into production, it transforms the simple interactive video game into a sophisticated interactive universe.  Although this phenomenon does not happen with every video game, it does happen with some of the most innovative and popular games, the games that tend to push the boundaries of the medium and be at the front of the video gaming industry’s growth.  It is these games that are the most influential to the development of video gaming as a continually changing medium, and Halo is one of many culturally significant gaming projects that could be analyzed. 

This production/consumption circuit is driven by capitalism and creativity; the producers make a more sophisticated product in order to sell more copies of the game.  They appropriate the creativity of the consumer and subsume it into their own product, bringing it under their own control.  The consumer allows this and is even an active agent in it because as the producers exert control over representations of their product and reincorporate them into production, if they continue to make the product better, they create customer loyalty, and the customer becomes a willing participant in the process of recreating and reinventing the product.  Thus the producer uses the customer to make a better product, and the consumer relies on the producer to create a product that they will want to buy—over and over again as new versions are sold, as the circuit speeds up, and as gaming itself as a medium develops into something different and much more sophisticated than we could ever have imagined when Pong was first released by Atari in 1972.

            

I mean, did he ever really have one?  At any rate, he completely jumped over the cliff on this one.

Yes We Did!

 

November 4, 2008--200 years after the slave trade was abolished in the US

November 4, 2008--200 years after the slave trade was abolished in the US

 


 

Yes.  We finally did.

Yes. We finally did.

Mark Driscoll is the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle and a pastor I really look up to.  He’s not perfect, but he’s honest, and he doesn’t mince words when he talks about Jesus.  This blog post of his was such a refreshment for me today, when so much  blogging and public discourse is full of anger, manipulation, scheming, and divisiveness.  This blog entry reminded me that “Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they are fine dust […] Before Him all the nations are as nothing; they are regarded by Him as worthless and less than nothing” (Isaiah 40:15,17).  It was helpful to be reminded today that Jesus still reigns, and people are people, and my hope is not dependant on a political candidate, but on the one who has authority over all of this mess…Jesus.

In God We Do Not Trust

Mark Driscoll

In my years of pastoral ministry I have worked very hard to not be political. I believe that my job as a pastor is to preach and teach the Bible well so that my people make their decisions, including their voting decisions, out of their faith convictions.

This election season which has dominated the cultural conversation for many months has been particularly insightful regarding the incessant gospel thirst that abides deep in the heart of the men and women who bear God’s image. Without endorsing or maligning either political party or their respective presidential candidates, I am hopeful that a few insights from the recent election season are of help, particularly to younger evangelicals.

First, people are longing for a savior who will atone for their sins. In this election, people thirst for a savior who will atone for their economic sins of buying things they did not need with money they did not have. The result is a mountain of credit debt they cannot pay and a desperate yearning that somehow a new president will save them from economic hell.

Second, people are longing for a king who will keep them safe from terror in his kingdom. In the Old Testament the concept of a peaceable kingdom is marked by the word shalom. In shalom there is not only the absence of sin, war, strife, and suffering but also the presence of love, peace, harmony, and health. And, this thirst for shalom is so parched that every election people cannot help but naively believe that if their candidate simply wins shalom is sure to come despite sin and the curse.

The bottom line is obvious to those with gospel eyes. People are longing for Jesus, and tragically left voting for mere presidential candidates. For those whose candidate wins today there will be some months of groundless euphoric faith in that candidate and the atoning salvation that their kingdom will bring. But, in time, their supporters will see that no matter who wins the presidency, they are mere mortals prone to sin, folly, and self-interest just like all the other sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. To help extend naïve false hope as long as possible, a great enemy will be named and demonized as the one who is hindering all of the progress to atone for our sins and usher in our kingdom. If the Democrats win it will be the rich, and if the Republicans win it will be the terrorists. This diversionary trick is as old as Eve who blamed her sin on Satan rather than repenting. The lie is that it’s always someone else’s fault and we’re always the victim of sinners and never the sinner.

Speaking of repentance, sadly, no matter who wins there will be no call to personal repentance of our own personal sins which contributes to cultural suffering and decline such as our pride, gluttony, covetousness, greed, indebtedness, self-righteousness, perversion, and laziness. And, in four years we’ll do it all again and pretend that this time things will be different. Four years after that, we’ll do it yet again. And, we’ll continue driving around this cul de sac until Jesus returns, sets up his throne, and puts an end to folly once and for all.

In the meantime, I would encourage all preachers to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and repentance of personal sin. He alone can truly atone for our sins. He alone can deliver us from a real hell. He alone is our sinless and great King. And, he alone has a Shalom kingdom to offer.

Lastly, for those preachers who have gotten sidetracked for the cause of a false king and a false kingdom by making too much of the election and too little of Jesus, today is a good day to practice repentance in preparation to preach it on Sunday. Just give it some time. The thirst will remain that only Jesus can quench. So, we’ve still got work to do….until we see King Jesus and voting is done once and for all.

What Tuesday Means…

From a medical student in Evansville, Indiana, who voted early:

“For me the most moving moment came when the family in front of me, comprising probably 4 generations of voters (including an 18 year old girl voting for her first time and a 90-something hunched-over grandmother), got their turn to vote. When the old woman left the voting booth she made it about halfway to the door before collapsing in a nearby chair, where she began weeping uncontrollably. When we rushed over to help we realized that she wasn’t in trouble at all but she had not truly believed, until she left the booth, that she would ever live long enough to cast a vote for an African-American for president. Anyone who doesn’t think that African-American turnout will absolutely SHATTER every existing record is in for a very rude surprise.”

I haven’t been posting political items in this blog very much, and while this news clip is definately about the political campaign and the manic postures that are being adopted by people, I’m posting it here to point out something larger than politics.  Sound bites and aphorisms are unfortunately some of the most significant modes of discourse in the public arena, especially when it comes to politics.  There are exceptions to this, but the simple fact is that media whose goal is to get ratings will not end up answering to the public trust, but answering their advertisers.

I sincerely hope that Joe the plumber is not representative of America.  The fact that he would agree to such a vitriolic and unsubstantiated statement and then that he would refuse to come clean and say why he said it–what his reasons are, etc. is appalling and all too common today.  I would have had more respect for him if he had said that he was wrong to agree with an idea about which he knew nothing of the issues, but he did not.  He stubbornly clung to his pride, unable to see or care how such divisive, unsubstantiated, and factually incorrect comments can wound people, erode international relationships, and further propogate the impression among the world that the US cares not a whit for justice or mercy, but only for our own interests.  “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your attitudes should be the same as Christ Jesus, who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant”  (Phil 2:3-7).

I have recently been reminded that words DO have strong effects on life.  They can would deeply, but they can also help to heal.  Let us be careful, then, how we speak–about God, about each other, about politics, about people who are different than ourselves.

God Save the TSA!

Something worthy of the Quill readers.  enjoy.

http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200811/airport-security

One of the things that intrigues me is how there are certain games that are pushing the form of traditional video gaming.  What interests me is the shift from a linear structure to a more free-form nonlinear structure.  This structure, though, is not always seen, because, at least currently, the idea of the HIDDEN is extremely significant in gaming.  There are always easter eggs (little surprises) inserted into games now, and these easter eggs have developed from mere novelties to entire subplots or backstories, portals into different modes of completing the game, complex allusions to ideas, plots, stories, or websites not in the game, etc.  In short, the possibilities and actual uses for this mode of gaming are limitless.  In order to fully explore these, one must remember that in gaming there is usually at least one linear progression (often through the plot of the campaign),

A quest through the woods hunting ring-wraiths is a linear experience.

A quest through the woods hunting ring-wraiths is a linear experience.

but also a non-linear way to experience the game.  This non-linear exploration is much more than just a new marketing tool.  It is the evidence of the way that new non-linear forms of media are changing the way we think.  

Linear along with non-linear.  

B and not-B contradicting.  But not contradicting.

 

Complex and abstract thought being explored creatively through the culturally agreed-upon lowest of all media forms–video gaming.

 

This is the moment when 2 waves collide and become a completely new wave, different from the others, containing the inertia from both,

complex linear thought--this isn't Star Trek yet.

complex linear thought--this isn

but the restrictions from neither.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A steel mill created these pellets, but now they are being used in conjunction with a video gaming blog discussion.  Disparate elements forming new cohesions and relationships.

 

The Alternate Reality Game is a significant new medium.  

 

If we could visually represent non-linear gaming relationships, they might look like this.

If we could visually represent non-linear gaming relationships, they might look like this.

 

Borland, John, and Brad King.  “Bees, ARGs, and the Birth of the Collective Detective.” Phi Kappa Phi Forum85.2 (2005): 21-24.ProQuest Research Library ProQuest. Crafton Hills College Library, Yucaipa, CA.  7 Dec. 2007 <http://proquest. umi.com/>.

This was on my friend Steve’s site, and I just couldn’t resist. They’re just so darned cute! And yet, I wonder if I would have thought they were cool when I was 9.

Complexity

The world is undergoing a revolution.  In fact, it isn’t irrational to claim that ever since the invention of the telegraph, the world has been undergoing one massive media revolution composed of many smaller revolutions.  With each extension of our bodies (as McLuhan defines a medium), we reconfigure ourselves—we reconstruct the ways our minds view reality, and this is supremely important.  

This week I’ve been thinking in particular about video games.

Video games are often left off of the list, and they have also often gotten a bad rap.  In the academy, I have often gotten the feeling that video games are seen as one of the lowest forms of entertainment—one that rots the brain, and it would be much better for one to simply read some good theory or a new novel—anything that is high culture, for goodness’ sake! Video games often get this bad rap for two reasons: the fact that they are unapologetically pop culture, and some specifically objectionable games that usually make the news (Grand Theft Auto, etc.).  

In the days of Pong, gaming was a simpler affair, and now games have much greater sophistication and greater graphics.  The goal of many of them is to feel more realistic, and those who see the video game glass as half empty usually see games as a form of the feelies or the centrifugal bumblepuppy.  There are distinct movements within gaming that point to a larger movement, and game designers and game consumers have both begun to be louder in their desire to be taken seriously as cultural contributors and as artists. 

Halo, for example, is an extremely sophisticated cultural artifact and as such speaks to issues as varied as environmentalism, humanism, globalism and globalization, the use of science, military criticism, political activism, religious extremism and violence, and technophilia.  Halo is a fascinating study for those interested in how new media work, because to understand Halo is to understand global business and economics, the cutting edge of digital art, wikis and user-based production philosophy, visual artistic expression, and most importantly, the concept of connection and communication in the 21st century. 

The nuance and sophistication of the artists who created Halo, the merciless demand of quality and subtlety required of so many of those consuming Halo, the knowing reconstitution information and product into countless re-presentations—all of these things speak to the organic quality of this piece of cultural production.  Halo, like many projects on the far forward curve of gaming production, has transcended the status of a mere toy.  It utilizes multiple media, multiple forums of expression to tell stories and create pieces of art.  The producers employ subtlety of narrative style, formal shifts and non-linear rabbit holes that keep the project expanding.  They are inventing new forms of communication.  These bricoleurs are largely the D&D nerds, the computer geeks, the people who in high school were the ones the jocks wouldn’t touch with a jousting pole.  These minds—the ones who have learned to see digital code in novels, colors in the street, philosophical material in virtual form, are the ones creating these new forms, and once again, they are largely ignored.  To be sure, they are part of the corporate gaming engine, but their enterprise is on the verge of becoming more than anyone could ever imagine even four years ago.  The way Halo—just one game, albeit the most successful console game in history—has reshaped the world speaks to the growing complexity of the culture and the desire for expression and community within the growing population of the world of those under 40. 

The world is growing, and growing restless.  Some see video games as a form of soma, but the games themselves play with the very idea artistically and reshape the conversation as it is happening.  

 

This week’s assignment: Google Halo 3.  See if what you find is representative of your conception of what video games are.  See if you can easily assimilate the meaning or complexity of the content and the form of all the hits.  Expand your view of communication, and embrace the vast panoramas that make Halo so unique.  These panoramas of structure, meaning, art, representation, and expression.

www.ilovebees.com

 

NEW MEANINGS FROM PIXELS

NEW MEANINGS FROM PIXELS

 

 

I just got back from vacation, and it was awesome.  I needed to go somewhere far away and unwind, and this totally did the trick.  The scenery was totally high-res, except for a couple really lame places that bordered on analog, but for the most part it was really nice.  My wife really liked the solitude of our trip the best, but I liked the depth of the design and the rich color palate.  It was so much better than the stuff I see at home.  

 

   

The Hotel Lockout
The Hotel Lockout

 

 

This is a picture of our hotel in the northernmost part of our trip—a lonely little place called Lockout.  The lodging was kind of Spartan, but since we only were there for two nights, it was ok. 

While we were there, we visited an archeological dig camp—get this—in the snow! and got a great shot of the moon rising and the sun setting. It had an unearthly feel to it, and it wasn’t quite as cold as it looked. 

the archeology dig camp in the snow at dusk

the archeology dig camp in the snow at dusk

 

After two nights, we went to another spot—an astronomy camp!—away from the cold.  The typical mode of transport for the region is a kind of airplane/helicopter thing they call a Pelican. This is a great shot of the one right before ours leaving the tiny shack they call an airport.

A Pelican

A Pelican

   

The local village close to the astronomy camp—very quaint.  I like how they worked the architectural style with the landscape.

The local village--beautiful view!

The local village--beautiful view!

 

 

ruined building--Mayan or Cambodian?  Not so sure...

ruined building--Mayan or Cambodian? Not so sure...

An old building we explored next to the camp.  A great place for a picnic.  Apparently you can see the remnants of both Central American and Southeast Asian style in the architectural design.  At least, that was what the brochure said.  I really can’t see it…I hope it wasn’t a tourist façade like some of the Old West towns in New Mexico and Colorado that I’ve seen.

 

This part of the trip was maybe the most exciting for me.  We were able to work with some pretty well-known astronomers and actually use the equipment there to take some photos of stars and stuff.  It was pretty cool.  You can see some of the arrays in the distance.

Astronomy array--really pleasant and reminds me of Rohan!

Astronomy array--really pleasant and reminds me of Rohan!

 

 

We got to see this new space station that was made in space, and we took some cool pictures of it. 

 

Station from a distance

Station from a distance

The station with the sun behind it

The station with the sun behind it

Closeup view

Closeup view

Extreme closeup of the surface--really cool! What these engineers come up with these days!

Extreme closeup of the surface--really cool! What these engineers come up with these days!

 

 

 

The day we left there was some kind of malfunction in the space station and there were all these fires on it—I guess they had to evacuate and everything.  But that’s this picture—the last one I got. 

 

On fire--I wonder how much this cost NASA?

On fire--I wonder how much this cost NASA?

 

 <End Program> 

Lewis and Tolkien

I’ve been on a J.R.R. Tolkien kick recently.  I often read the Lord of the Rings over the holidays; it’s sort of a wintery thing to do.  And once I’ve spent that amount of time in Middle-Earth I don’t want to leave.  I usually end up reading more and more.  I’ll read the Silmarillion and the Hobbit, but for Christmas I hit pay dirt: my wife gave me five Tolkien books.  So I began with relish.

The Eagle and Child pub in Oxford, England

Recently, I was reading Tales from the Perilous Realm, a collection of stories that were published in various places in the 30’s and 40’s, and I came upon an interesting passage.  It is well-known that Tolkien was friends with C.S. Lewis.  They were a part of a group of friends and intellectuals who called themselves the Inklings.  For many years they met weekly at a pub in Oxford called the Eagle and Child, or by those who frequent it regularly, the Bird and Baby.  It’s a pretty cool little place (the food is fantastic and the beer quite good!), and these friends would meet to talk, but also to bring their writing projects and talk about them.  They would workshop and criticize each other’s work.  It truly was a case of iron sharpening iron.

Anyway, I was reading a story called “Leaf by Niggle,” found in the book I’m finishing up.  It’s a very interesting story which was apparently a dream that Tolkien had, and when he woke up, he wrote it all down, then went back and edited it up.  He writes, “It really added a considerable attraction to walking in the country, because, as you walked, new distances opened out; so that you now had double, treble, and quadruple distances, doubly, trebly, and quadruply enchanting.  You could go on and on, and have a whole country in a garden, or in a picture (if you preferred to call it that)” (304).

The thing I find fascinating is that I think that here I have found a place where Tolkien’s ideas overlapped with Lewis’s.  Tolkien wrote this story sometime between 1939 and 1942, and it is just the sort of thing that he would bring to the pub for comments and/or criticism, or just to let his friends read it.  I think that these images of a garden that is bigger inside than outside, and a country inside a painting were things the two talked about, perhaps extensively, because they seem to have worked in to the writings of Tolkien here in “Leaf by Niggle” and into Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, written between 1949 and 1954.  In the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lucy, Edmund, and Eustace are drawn into Narnia through a picture of a ship.  They are sucked into the painting which grows and becomes larger and larger until they are in another world.  In the Last Battle, the entourage walks west and arrives at the garden on the green hill, surrounded by a hedge.  When they go inside, they find that it is bigger inside than outside, and a conversation ensues to that effect.  They talk about the fact that many things are like that: that the further in one goes, the bigger and more real things are.  They call to one another, “Farther up and further in!” and seek the center of the garden only to find Aslan himself.

I like to imagine Tolkien and Lewis sitting together, sipping their beer, reading papers, and arguing about a point of description or discussing these things in a spirited manner.  I think that that pub with those men is one of the top 5 places I would want to visit if I ever was given a time machine.  Ah, how I love ideas!

Isn’t literature grand?

At the Eagle and Child, tossing back a pint.

 

Sunday Afternoons

They say that we experience time linearly, and I suppose they’re right, to a degree.  But if time is stretched out in a line for us, then it’s lumpy, generally oriented in a line but twisting, running back on itself sometimes, and meandering along during the dullest parts of the day.  There are days that seem to slip by like a greased hummingbird.  Sometimes time feels like it’s not really moving, or that it’s almost moving backward.

I read somewhere that the new discovery is that time is a substance, like olive oil or pureed pumpkin pie filling.  While this is interesting and twists my brain, I can’t say that it actually means a whole lot to me.  Time, regardless of what it may actually BE, is compelling because of how it makes us feel and how we experience it, whether we’re philosophizing about it or noticing it waft by us on a summer evening on the porch.

Sunday melancholy afternoons are most poignant in the fall.

I like peaceful Sunday afternoons.  I don’t know why, but there’s an element of sweet sadness to them, especially in the fall.  The crisp air brings out the melancholy in the air’s autumnal bouquet.  And on those days, I tend to think of far-off things, like fairytales or people I used to know who have been gone for years, or childhood games I used to play with my sister, and then we would get so tired and our feet so full of grass cuts that we’d come into the house and have peanut butter sandwiches, applesauce, and milk for supper before getting ready for bed.  On Sunday afternoons I think of dreams that I have had before that probably won’t ever happen, or people I really miss that I probably won’t ever see again.  I think of Tommy Gronewald who I used to ride the bus with every day for two years in 6th and 7th grade, and I wonder what he’s doing.   My thoughts stray from what is and what will be (I need to go to the store, pay my bills; I’m going to have some friends over tonight) to what could have been: What if I had pursued music like I wanted to at one time?  What if I had made the decision about my job the other way?  What if I had moved to Oxford like I said I would?  Or even more fantastic wonderings: what if I had been born five hundred years ago?

I think that emotions are, to some extent, hard-wired into the rhythm of the day and night: mornings are jubilant and full of hope; late afternoons and early evenings are just made for reflection and looking back.  I think the melancholy of Sunday afternoons means something, but I don’t know what it is.

Reading the Lord of the Rings, it just so happens that I get to the chapters in Lothlorien on an autumn Sunday afternoon when the melancholy is thickest. How very appropriate.