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.


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.”


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.