Archive for December, 2010
- 10:52: Wait … Dick Clark is still alive and kicking?
- 10:54: Train … seriously, don’t they have other songs in the repertoire?
- 11:01: And now, a cutaway to WSBTV’s coverage of Atlanta’s Peach Drop. Tangerines take to the streets in protest.
- 11:03: Local news reminds us that it’s already 2011 in places like Russia and New Zealand. Brilliant. Thanks for the info.
- 11:10: Oh man, local news is unwatchable. We have to endure this for 25 more minutes before Dick Clark’s Rockin’ Eve is back. That’s sacrilege.
- 11:18: Ok, local news until 11:30. Switching to MTV’s New Year’s show for a few minutes.
- 11:19: Ugh, some sort of Old Spice Jersey Shore skit on MTV. Society is crumbling.
- 11:20: Best Internet clips from MTV’s show — Bieber fever. Yeah, society is crumbling.
- 11:23: One of the clips featured that kid who so deftly covered Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi.”
- 11:31: OK, back to NYRE. Dick Clack, bless your soul.
- 11:32: New Kids on the Block? WTF? I thought I had thoroughly suppressed those memories.
- 11:34: About to pour up a glass of Port. It’s pretty tart.
- 11:36: Warmest New Year’s Eve in NYC was 58 degrees and the coldest was 1 degree, according to Ryan Seacrest.
- 11:38: New Kids on the Block and the Back Street Boys! Yeah, society is crumbling. OMG, I’m getting bad junior high flashbacks.
- 11:42: Ut Oh, here we go. Folks kissing in Times Square. “Please don’t go girl …”
- 11:43: “The Right Stuff. … Uh oh oh oh oh, the right stuff. …”
- 11:45: Ahh, it’s done. I was hoping for “Hangin’ Tough”
- 11:50: Jenny McCarthy? Well, it makes sense. She’s an MTV vet.
- 11:58: Bubbly ready. It’s about to be on.
- 11:59: “The energy, the magic is about to happen.” – Seacrest
Better late than never, but here is Jon Stewart’s speech from the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, held this year at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. I haven’t posted it before now because A) I wasn’t there and B) I didn’t know that Stewart would give such a substantive address. But he did. Here is the significant part of it for me:
So, why would we work together? Why would you reach across the aisle to a pumpkin assed forehead eyeball monster? If the picture of us were true, of course, our inability to solve problems would actually be quite sane and reasonable. Why would you work with Marxists actively subverting our Constitution or racists and homophobes who see no one’s humanity but their own? We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is—on the brink of catastrophe—torn by polarizing hate and how it’s a shame that we can’t work together to get things done, but the truth is we do. We work together to get things done every damn day!
The only place we don’t is here or on cable TV. But Americans don’t live here or on cable TV. Where we live our values and principles form the foundations that sustains us while we get things done, not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done. Most Americans don’t live their lives solely as Democrats, Republicans, liberals or conservatives. Americans live their lives more as people that are just a little bit late for something they have to do—often something that they do not want to do—but they do it–impossible things every day that are only made possible by the little reasonable compromises that we all make.
Look on the screen. This is where we are. This is who we are. (points to the Jumbotron screen which show traffic merging into a tunnel). These cars—that’s a schoolteacher who probably thinks his taxes are too high. He’s going to work. There’s another car-a woman with two small kids who can’t really think about anything else right now. There’s another car, (referring to the Jumbotron blowing in the wind) swinging, I don’t even know if you can see it—the lady’s in the NRA and she loves Oprah. There’s another car—an investment banker, gay, also likes Oprah. Another car’s a Latino carpenter. Another car a fundamentalist vacuum salesman. Atheist obstetrician. Mormon Jay-Z fan. But this is us. Every one of the cars that you see is filled with individuals of strong belief and principles they hold dear—often principles and beliefs in direct opposition to their fellow travelers.
And yet these millions of cars must somehow find a way to squeeze one by one into a mile long 30 foot wide tunnel carved underneath a mighty river. Carved, by the way, by people who I’m sure had their differences. And they do it. Concession by conscession. You go. Then I’ll go. You go. Then I’ll go. You go then I’ll go. Oh my God, is that an NRA sticker on your car? Is that an Obama sticker on your car? Well, that’s okay—you go and then I’ll go.
And sure, at some point there will be a selfish jerk who zips up the shoulder and cuts in at the last minute, but that individual is rare and he is scorned and not hired as an analyst.
Because we know instinctively as a people that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light we have to work together. And the truth is, there will always be darkness. And sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the promised land. Sometimes it’s just New Jersey. But we do it anyway, together.
Here is the entire video:
As we know, many of our modern traditions of Christmas (decorated trees, Santa, etc.) find their roots in pagan traditions. Specifically, the idea of Santa Claus comes from the Northern European figure known as Sinterklaas, who displayed similar features to modern day notions of Santa. And Sinterklaas is strikingly similar to the Germanic god, Odin, who traditionally rode atop rooftops (on a horse, not reindeer); donned a long, white beard; and via tradition, children would allegedly place trinkets by the chimney for Sinterklaas.
In fact, some might be surprised to find that the Old Testament actually has something to say about at least one of these pagan traditions. Here is Jeremiah 10:1-5:
1Hear ye the word which the LORD speaketh unto you, O house of Israel:
2Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.
3For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.
4They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.
5They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.
Unlike some ACLU supporters or nonbelievers, I don’t really feel the need to refer to Christmas as Xmas (Although that would be a perfectly correct abbreviation, since “X” in the Greek means “Chi,” the first letter of the word, “Christ”) or to insist on the use of “happy holidays” instead since it’s an official U.S. holiday. Jesus, of course, most certainly was not born in December, but the holiday at this point contains enough nonreligious elements of merriment, cheer and giving for anyone to enjoy.
Here’s a snippet from Wikipedia on how December 25 may have come to be adopted:
The December 25 date may have been selected by the church in Rome in the early 4th century. At this time, a church calendar was created and other holidays were also placed on solar dates: “It is cosmic symbolism…which inspired the Church leadership in Rome to elect the winter solstice, December 25, as the birthday of Christ, and the summer solstice as that of John the Baptist, supplemented by the equinoxes as their respective dates of conception. While they were aware that pagans called this day the ‘birthday’ of Sol Invictus, this did not concern them and it did not play any role in their choice of date for Christmas,” according to modern scholar S.E. Hijmans.((1))
Here is an exchange between Gail Collins and David Brooks on the topic of the true meaning of Christmas posted recently by The New York Times. In my view, in any case, the words, “Happy Holidays,” refers to the entire season between November and January, which includes Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, while “Merry Christmas” is a precise wish that someone have a pleasant day on December 25. And that’s my wish for anyone reading this site.
Merry Christmas Eve, Eve!
- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_Day [↩]
I plan to jump back on this site after I get the holidays are behind us. I’ve recently been entrenched with the aforementioned “War and Peace,” and now, I’m reading a book titled, “Nixon’s Piano,” in which Kenneth O’Reilly traces the track record of each United States president on the topic of race and how few presidents moved race relations and civil rights forward. Rather, the large majority either did all they could to ignore the problem, thus passing the buck to successors or used blacks and other minorities to secure the Southern vote. Of course, numerous early presidents from Washington to Adams to Jefferson knew the peculiar institution was unsustainable in the long run but again, deferred to later generations to actually enact meaningful change. Reluctantly, Lincoln was the man that conclusively ended slavery, but what he couldn’t end was racism, and blacks and other groups would wait another century-plus before Martin Luther King Jr., and other members of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement finally broke the chains of segregation and Jim Crow.
It’s an enticing read, and I would like to read O’Reilly’s other book on race, “Racial Matters: The FBIs Secret File on Black America” in the future.
Needless to say, I typically either spend the bulk of my free time writing and researching for this site or reading and/or playing video games like the 33-year-old teenager that I am.
That said, and in the spirit of annual, year-ending “Best of …” lists, here are 20 of what I consider to be my top blog posts for 2010. In no particular order:
- Jan. 13 — Haitians condemned — classy, Robertson: In light of another natural disaster, Robertson toes the Jerry Falwell line of thinking and blames people, not natural forces, for the Haiti earthquake. God 55, Humans 0.
- Feb. 25 — Talk radio echo chamber claptrap: Michael Savage gets it wrong … again.
- March 21 — Historic legislation well on its way: The most sweeping health reform bill in nearly half a century passes without a single Republican vote. Thirty-two million formerly uninsured patients will be able to get themselves checked out. Insurance companies can no longer deny sick people because of preexisting conditions. Republicans still looking for some kind of human pulse.
- March 17 — In response to Tea, Coffee parties, Kool-Aid Party emerges: In the great spirit of The Onion, I penned this faux-news piece about the newest beverage-inspired political parties. Hopefully, I can do more of this type of thing in the future.
- May 15th — 12-year-old deftly covering Lady Gaga; pop and nothingness: Greyson Chance puts some feeling behind an otherwise lifeless pop song.
- May 10th — Dave Matthews, philosophy and the GrooGrux King: The Dave Matthews Band had something to say about life and death in their latest album, a tribute to their fallen comrade, LeRoi Moore.
- June 19th — Federal suit against Arizona forthcoming: Arizona attempts to skirt federal immigration law, and the Constitution couldn’t be clearer on the matter.
- July 16th — Some reflections from New England: Thoughts from the road during my summer trip to Boston, New York and Connecticut. I will possibly have at least two similar posts next year because of an extra week of vacation.
- July 28th — Federal judge makes ruling on Arizona bill: As it turns out, a federal judge has the ability to read the Constitution’s 14th Amendment.
- Aug. 26th — Movie review: ‘Doubt‘: I don’t review movies very often, but this was one of the more interesting films I’ve seen this year. The movie explores the (special?) relationship between a Catholic priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and a schoolboy.
- Aug. 11th — Response to Apologetics IV: miracles: This is one in a series on a Christian apologetic book I read a few months ago. It’s dubbed as a handy guide for Christians to be able to thwart arguments against the Christian faith. It supplies most or all of the stock arguments for faith. I, in turn, thwart some of its more intricate “proofs.”
Sept. 1 — Open letter on problem of evil, my response: A college philosophy graduate pens an open letter to Christians regarding the problem of evil. I reply.
- Sept. 11 — NYC: two towers down but still in the game: Reflections on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attack.
- Sept. 24th — Colbert: ‘I like talking about people who don’t have any power’: In one of the more fascinating moments on Capitol Hill, comic Stephen Colbert breaks character during a hearing on immigrant labor conditions after spending a day in the fields himself.
- Oct. 6 — More battles over textbook curriculum: Texas Board of Education’s conservative spin on science curriculum.
- Oct. 11 — Apologetics VII: immortality and consciousness: Another in the apologetics series.
- Oct. 13 — Apologetics VIII: heaven, hell, free will: And another.
- Oct. 30 — Mark Levin: ‘Trust me.’ Sure.: More nonsense from another neocon radio host.
- Nov. 30 — Vick: flying high amid, in spite of critics: Having clawed himself out of the public doghouse, the Eagles quarterback may be Super Bowl bound.
- Dec. 7 — Noah’s Ark, the 21st century version: Theme park creators take it to a biblical level.
Only the expressions of the will of the Diety, not depending on time, can relate to a whole series of events that have to take place during several years or centuries; and only the Diety, acting by His will alone, not affected by any cause, can determine the direction of the movement of humanity.” — Epilogue, Part Two, Chapter VI
I’ve heard that when one completes a long, dense or engrossing piece of fiction, one feels a bit as if a best friend, or perhaps, a limb has just been lost. So it is with “War and Peace” (This links to the actual edition I own).
After completing the 1,386-page work last night, I experienced something like this. Although by the time Leo Tolstoy had gotten around to the 100-page epilogue, I admit I was quite ready for it to be over. The rather dry, theology-heavy ending only enhanced this feeling. But the next day, I felt compelled to choose which unread book in my library I was going to begin next. Not able to decide at once, today I grabbed the December 2010 edition of Forbes magazine lent to me by a co-worker, which featured a story on the now-ubiquitous WikiLeaks.org head Julian Assange.
That said, here are some thought the longest piece of fiction I’ve read to date. I’m not sure what was the longest prior to this. Perhaps “East of Eden,” “Crime and Punishment” or “The Brothers Karamazov.” All three are probably denser in language than “War and Peace,” so their 500-600 words kind of felt like 700-800 words.
Either way, for those unfamiliar with the plot details, here’s a brief summary (I offered early thoughts here).
“War and Peace” follows the lives of five Russian aristocratic families from July 1805-1820, and the most central characters are Pierre (the protagonist), Prince Andrey, Natasha, Nikolay, Marya, Count Bolkonsky, Kutuzov (the real commander-in-chief of the Russian army during that period) and Napoleon himself. The plot flips back and forth between various conversations of love, war and politics at home (in Moscow and Petersburg) between members of these families and other luminaries and back to the theater of war, in which Tolstoy, quite omnisciently, relates Napoleon’s exploits in moving toward and eventually invading Moscow to Napoleon’s retreat and the Russians reclaiming their town and their eventual normalcy. In addition to Napoleon and Kutuzov, the novel includes many characters who existed in real life.
Pierre, an orphan and the person we can most closely relate to Tolstoy himself, is the hero of the novel, and the narrative rarely strays far from his steps. Prior to being captured by the French, which had overrun Moscow, Pierre had dreamed up an idea to assassinate Napoleon. This plot was thwarted, however, when Pierre was thrown off his plan by attempting to return a lost girl to her parents. He was eventually rounded up by the French and stayed in captivity for some time. While a prisoner of war, Pierre witnessed the execution of about eight others by the French, but for some reason — Pierre and Tolstoy himself would probably say because of Providence, or simply, God — he was spared. Pierre, ever the thinker but not a very reasonable person, moves from nonbelief, to freemasonry to a more traditional belief in God near the end of the novel. Again, Pierre’s thoughts on theology seem to run parallel to that of Tolstoy himself. Pierre is later rescued by the Russian army and eventually marries and settles down with children after years of free-living, revelry and shiftlessness.
The end of the novel was my least favorite part of the book because as the narrative reaches its end, Tolstoy then begins a rather long exposition of his views on history and “the force” that moves men, armies, societies, nations and individuals. Throughout this section, and unlike some other philosophers, Tolstoy recognizes, but seems unable to accept, the very unreasonableness of life by which some men can kill each other or be led to massacre while others live lives of prosperity and peace.
The challenge readers will face with “War and Peace” is not with the language or the density of the content. I have read much more tightly packed and difficult narratives. Steinbeck and Dostoyevsky again come to mind. The challenge for readers will be mentally holding together a large cast of characters, many of which appear in one chapter and may not appear again for hundreds of pages. Sons often carry similar names as their fathers and often unrelated characters have similar names as major characters. As I said previously, and it held true throughout the rest of the book, I tended to enjoy the descriptions and movements on the battlefield more than I did the dialogue and happenings at soirées and other gatherings at the estates. That said, I suppose we could add another point to Tolstoy’s greatness: to provide themes of love and war in the same epic, thus appealing to a wider audience. Here’s more: Tolstoy’s ability to describe human emotion and the intricacies and complexities of human relationships is unmatched, and his ability to swoop the reader from the battlefield to a children’s bedroom to a P.O.W. shelter to the emperor’s chambers is stunning.
And in all the scenes of love and war, the reader, indeed, is met with the very unreasonableness that, in one town, lovers exchange enchanted glances and hold hands, and in another, soldiers burn and pillage and rend sons from fathers. All the while, the reader is asked to either accept the unreasonableness of it all as a matter of life — as I do — or defer to Tolstoy’s omnipotent “force” that governs and determines everything. And that force is God.
Here’s a spectacular waste of personal resources, human ingenuity and yes, public money: Ark Encounter. This is a planned — The New York Times calls it a “tourist attraction” — literal rebuilding of Noah’s Ark and other biblical sites, such as the Tower of Babel and walled cities, all of which are
designed to be family oriented, historically authentic, and environmentally friendly.
according to the Ark Encounter Website. Or, at least two of three.
The project, which was conjured by Answers in Genesis, has gained the promise of tax incentives by the state of Kentucky to move forward with construction. Public assistance of religiously-themed spectacles seems, by all accounts, unconstitutional.
Let’s not let that inconvenient fact stop Kentucky Gov. Steven L. Beshear, who announced the plan this week that
the arrangement posed no constitutional problem, and brushed off questions about his stand on creationism.
“The people of Kentucky didn’t elect me governor to debate religion,” he said at a news conference. “They elected me governor to create jobs.”
The Lexington Herald-Leader, Kentucky’s second-largest newspaper, criticized Mr. Beshear in an editorial for a plan that it said would result in low-wage jobs and a poor image for the state.
And the price tag? Develops say the project will cost $150 million, provide for 900 jobs and attract 1.6 million people. Of course, 900 jobs is a farthing when looking at the national jobless rate or even the number of unemployed in Kentucky, which was at 208,000 as of October of this year. Further, Answers in Genesis is soliciting donations for some $24.5 million to make the plan a reality. If only that reality were based in reality. According to the site, potential donors can give $100 bucks for a peg, $1,000 for a plank and $5,000 for a beam to construct this supposed biblically accurate (insomuch as that’s possible) ark. And lest anyone doubt it’s going to be a replica of the real thing, replete with animals heaped on animals, here is a portion of the site’s FAQ:
Are you building an actual Ark?
Yes, we are constructing a full-scale, all-wood ark based on the dimensions provided in the Bible (Genesis 6), using the long cubit, and in accordance with sound established nautical engineering practices of the era. It should become the largest timber-frame structure in the USA.
However ludicrous this plan is and while Web surfers find lots of information on the site about the Ark and the park in general, nowhere does one find an answer to this crucial question: How do project organizers justify spending $150 million on a biblical theme park when millions are starving at this moment in hundreds of countries around the world? I wonder how many mouths $150 million could feed? I wonder how many vaccines that might provide to needy folks in Africa and elsewhere? I wonder how many homeless families in America could be given shelter with that $150 million in this difficult economic climate? Where do “the least of these” fit into the plans for this theme park? Every time I see a new church go up or a new megachurch get bigger or an existing church adding an extension to its compound, I wonder: how many people’s live could be made better with those thousands of dollars? How much medical research could that have funded? How closer could we get to curing cancer, AIDS, diabetes, Lou Gehrig’s, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s?
But no. In spite of it all and no matter the cost, organizers will surely say that they must continue to push their worldview, mislead children, erect their Taj Mahal’s and call them blessings from above. This is the pretentious and contemptible message resonating from folks like Ham, Dobson, Robertson and the purveyors of this ark project. Thus, I get the distinct sense that Ken Ham and the Answers in Genesis crew have no interest in the above questions, for what does it matter if they speak to legitimate needs if peoples’ souls are bound for eternal fire, if people fail to believe in cartoonish tales of a gigantic, species-laden ark and a tower at which God magically “confounded” the world’s one language into many?
Following is a new release from Coldplay called “Christmas Lights,” and in pure Coldplay fashion, we have a subdued introductory, buildup, soaring keyboards, lots of talk about things shining and, of course, an ever ascending vocal part.
It’s an agreeable enough song. I would like more rock acts write original Christmas songs. Of course, in parts, the new video is very similar to one of Coldplay’s newer tracks, “Life in Technicolor Part ii.” I think every subsequent Coldplay video should look like an elementary school production. I think they have a good theme going.
Here are both:
“Life in Technicolor ii”