Archive for the ‘Movies, Television and Entertainment’ Category

Scott Adams and Berkeley 

February 18, 2017

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, reacts to the recent unrest at his alma mater, Berkeley.

Speaking of Hitler, I’m ending my support of UC Berkeley, where I got my MBA years ago. I have been a big supporter lately, with both my time and money, but that ends today. I wish them well, but I wouldn’t feel safe or welcome on the campus. A Berkeley professor made that clear to me recently. He seems smart, so I’ll take his word for it.

I’ve decided to side with the Jewish gay immigrant who has an African-American boyfriend, not the hypnotized zombie-boys in black masks who were clubbing people who hold different points of view. I feel that’s reasonable, but I know many will disagree, and possibly try to club me to death if I walk on campus.

Adams goes on:

Yesterday I asked my most liberal, Trump-hating friend if he ever figured out why Republicans have most of the Governorships, a majority in Congress, the White House, and soon the Supreme Court. He said, “There are no easy answers.”

I submit that there are easy answers. But for many Americans, cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias hide those easy answers behind Hitler hallucinations.

I don’t know much about Scott Adams’s political views. He predicted that Donald Trump would win the election and wrote several blog posts praising Trump as a “master persuader”, but that is not the same as supporting Trump or his policies. I gather that Adams is vaguely libertarian. He is likely pro-capitalist in his economic views since he is an entrepreneur, yet he is often critical of big business in his comic strip and elsewhere. His religious views are somewhat New Agish and I do not think he considers himself a Christian, and I imagine he is culturally and socially liberal but I really don’t know and its doesn’t matter much.

What does matter is that as long as Democrats excuse the rioting at Berkeley and intolerance elsewhere, it seems likely that Scott Adams will not be voting for any Democrats, if he votes at all. I think there are quite a few people like Scott Adams who are not exactly conservative and who might not be traditional Republican voters or supporters of Donald Trump who are likely to be repulsed by such antics as the Berkeley riots and the increasing intolerant bullying and general hysteria of the left. If the Democrats and the people protesting against Trump do not calm down and explicitly denounce the use of violence by their supporters, it may cost them dearly in the next elections.

The Circus is not Coming to Town

January 28, 2017

Well, this is sad.

After 146 years, the curtain is coming down on “The Greatest Show on Earth.” The owner of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus told The Associated Press that the show will close forever in May.

The iconic American spectacle was felled by a variety of factors, company executives say. Declining attendance combined with high operating costs, along with changing public tastes and prolonged battles with animal rights groups all contributed to its demise.

“There isn’t any one thing,” said Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment. “This has been a very difficult decision for me and for the entire family.”

The company broke the news to circus employees Saturday night after shows in Orlando and Miami.

Ringling Bros. has two touring circuses this season and will perform 30 shows between now and May. Major stops include Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia, Boston and Brooklyn. The final shows will be in Providence, Rhode Island, on May 7 and in Uniondale, New York, at the Nassau County Coliseum on May 21.

To be honest, it is surprising Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus has lasted this long. There are so many entertainment options that are cheaper or more accessible and the circus really seems to be a  relic of a past time, when people were perhaps more easily entertained, or at least had longer attention spans. I gather Ringling Bros. had been in decline for some time, but the final blow seems to be the decision to end the elephant acts prompted by ongoing litigation from animal rights activists.

Feld and his daughter Juliette Feld, who is the company’s chief operating officer, acknowledged another reality that led to the closing, and it was the one thing that initially drew millions to the show: the animals. Ringling has been targeted by activists who say forcing animals to perform is cruel and unnecessary.

PETA is celebrating.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a longtime opponent of the circus, wasted no time in claiming victory.

“After 36 years of PETA protests, which have awoken the world to the plight of animals in captivity, PETA heralds the end of what has been the saddest show on earth for wild animals, and asks all other animal circuses to follow suit, as this is a sign of changing times,” Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, wrote in a statement.

I cannot see any reason why the circus couldn’t have continued their elephant acts in a humane fashion or why there could not be some compromise made in which the wild animals could perform under carefully supervised conditions, allowing audiences to have the chance to see these magnificent creatures perform. I also wonder that the animal rights activists cannot see that in many cases performing animals are cared for better than they would be in the wild where they would be subject to disease and predators. The owners of an animal act have a financial incentive to keep their animals healthy. But PETA is not interested in compromise, the jobs lost, the missing chance for future generations to see the show, or even really about the welfare of the animals. They have their own agenda and are not about to let any such considerations to get in the way.

Thanks a lot PETA. You made the clowns sad.

Thanks a lot PETA. You made the clowns sad.

It seems to me that more and more in American politics and culture, people are less interested in any sort of compromise and more interested in forcing their viewpoints and demands on others. No one seems willing to meet the other side halfway and compromise is seen as giving in to the enemy or a tactic to weaken the opponent’s resolve. Maybe this is the result of a growing tendency towards Manichean thinking in our discourse. Differences in opinions  are not simply a reflection of different values and experiences between people of good will but as part of a cosmic battle between light and darkness. If you are on the side of the angels, than it stands to reason that your opponents must be on the side of the devils. If your candidate is a lightworker than anyone who opposes him must be on the side of darkness and his candidate must be Hitler. Naturally one does not compromise when fighting the Devil. One can only oppose him.

In the meantime, if you want to see the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus, you had better get the tickets right now.

 

The Nativity According to Luke

December 20, 2016

Here is what Christmas is all about

Linus quotes from the Gospel according to Luke. There are two accounts of Jesus’s birth in the New Testament, the account that Luke gives and the account that Matthew gives. Mark ignores the question of Jesus’s birth entirely, preferring to begin with Jesus’s public ministry while John actually begins his account before the nativity and moves from there to Jesus’ career. Here is Luke’s account.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.(Luke 2:1-21)

There is a considerable amount of skepticism about the census, both on the dating and the procedure. Most skeptics regard it as extremely improbable that the Romans would make people travel here and there to register in their home towns. As a matter of fact that is just how the Romans conducted their censuses.

Every five years, each male Roman citizen had to register in Rome for the census. In this he had to declare his family, wife, children, slaves and riches. Should he fail to do this, his possessions would be confiscated and he would be sold into slavery.
But registration meant freedom. A master wishing to free his slave needed only to enter him in the censor’s list as a citizen (manumissio censu).
Throughout the entire republican era, registration in the census was the only way that a Roman could ensure that his identity and status as a citizen were recognized. Fathers registered their sons, employers their freedmen.
Primarily the census served to count the number of citizens and to assess the potential military strength and future tax revenue. Most important, the census transformed the city into a political and military community.
But the census performed a highly symbolical function. To the Romans the census made them more than a mere crowd, or barbarian rabble. It made them a populus, a people, capable of collective action.
To the Roman the census was one of the foundation stones of their civilization.

As the Roman Empire expanded and citizenship was given out to other cities in Italy and around the Mediterranean, I would imagine that every Roman citizen had to go to his native city to register. Presumably there were lists of citizens kept in major cities and in Rome. Paul claimed to be a Roman citizen at various times in Acts and you might wonder how he was able to prove it. Well, every Roman citizen had a sort of ID or diploma which would have been issued in his city.

But with the steady extension of the citizenship by individual grants to provincials isolated in peregrine communes, and with the informal settlement of large numbers of Italian immigrants in the provincial territories, a more effective means of registration became necessary. Formal documentation of the grant of citizenship to provincial soldiery appears first in 89 B.C., in the shape of a bronze tablet recording the decree of a proconsul enfranchising a unit of Spanish cavalrymen in the Social War, who are all named in a general list. Presumably each soldier received a copy. The cities of persons of higher status enfranchised by Octavian in c. 40 B.C. received a copy of a decree detailing all the privileges of their new status, while his auxiliary veterans could acquire copies of the enabling edict that enfranchised them. But it is only with the regularization of the grant of citizenship to the all time-expired auxiliaries by Claudius that a standardized document appears. This is the small bronze diptych known as the diploma civitatis, containing a brief and uniform formula conferring the Roman citizenship on the holder and his descendants, who is indicated by his name and military unit. These documents were not normally used for civilians, who received instead a copy in libellus form of the brief imperial warrant authorizing the registration of their enfranchisement in the archives at Rome.

Diplomata and libelli provided for new citizens. For the mass of the citizenry, for whom censorial registration at five-yearly intervals was an inefficient instrument, adequate provision was finally made by the creation of an official system of compulsory birth registration under the social legislation of Augustus (A.D. 4)… The Roman citizen was required to register the birth of his children within thirty days before a Roman official, and he received a wooden diptych recording the declaration, which acted as a certificate of citizenship for the child for the rest of his life. Like the military diplomata this contained the names of seven witnesses, and provided a presumptive proof of citizen status… Similarly the enfranchisement of freedmen, which depended upon a formal act, was recorded in a documentary tabella manumissionis. Citizens of diverse origins thus came to have some form of documentary evidence of their status.

Presumably Paul registered at Tarsus while he lived there. To get back to the census; obviously Joseph wasn’t a Roman citizen and Judea was under the rule of Herod, not the Romans. The census could have been a small time affair, the mention of Caesar Augustus being either an exaggeration or a long-standing policy of Augustus to encourage the provinces to conduct censuses, but conducted according to Roman norms, with every resident registering in his home town. You must not imagine, however, large crowds of people traveling to and fro. Remember that in this time most people would have lived their whole lives in the same village. Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem would have been very much an exception. The only thing really odd about this account was his taking Mary with him. There would have been no need for her to travel. As a woman, her residency would not have mattered much.

 

Women’s Chess

December 4, 2016

I am a bit confused by this article I read from PJMedia.

Sports competitors are often asked to conform to the rules of the countries they visit.

That might mean eating local cuisine or simply driving on the opposite side of the road.

For one elite chess player, embracing one country’s religious customs isn’t an option. And she may not be alone

U.S. women’s chess champion Nazi Paikidze-Barnes won’t appear at February’s world championships to be held in Tehran. Female players will be expected to wear a hijab, which is mandatory by Iranian law.

That isn’t acceptable to her:

If the venue of the championship is not changed, I will not be participating. I am deeply upset by this. I feel privileged to have qualified to represent the US at the Women’s World Chess Championship and to not be able to due to religious, sexist, and political issues is very disappointing.

Paikidze-Barnes may have company soon enough. Former Pan American champion Carla Heredia wants the 64 female players slated to participate in the event to protest the mandatory hijab garb as well.

“Sports should be free of this type of discrimination,” Heredia explained.

Nazi Paikidze-Barnes, chair of Fide’s Commission for Women’s Chess, said the hijab ruling shouldn’t be an issue. It’s a matter of respecting local culture, Polgar says, adding the dress code will apply to all players.

It’s not the question of whether or not female chess players should be required to wear the hijab when playing in Iran that confuses me, but rather why should there be such a thing as Women’s Chess, as opposed to Men’s Chess.

womensworldchamp1981

Sports and competitions involving physical prowess usual segregate between men and women. There are men’s and woman’s tennis, soccer, track and field, and so on. This segregation exists because men are generally stronger and more physically powerful than women. There are exceptions and a degree of overlap to this generalization; weaker men and stronger women, but the generalization is true enough that in any physical contest between a man and a women, the man will almost always have a decisive, and in sports an unfair, advantage. In most cases, a competition between a male athlete and a female athlete might not be interesting to watch. In mixed gender team, the female players might often be sidelined in favor of the male players who would be more able to make the goals, etc. Thus, we have men and women’s sports, to make the competitions fairer and more fun to watch.

Chess is not a contest of physical prowess but of mental ability. The difference in physical strength between men and women is entirely irrelevant in games like chess. Why should there be such a thing as Women’s Chess? It may be that there are differences between male and female cognition. There may be some element of truth in the stereotype that boys are better at math while girls have superior language skills. Even so, the mental differences between men and women are surely more subtle with a far greater degree of overlap than the physical differences. Such mental differences as may exist also do not favor one gender as much as the obvious physical differences. I do not believe that anyone would contend that one sex is generally more intelligent than the other. Even if the specific skills needed to be successful at playing chess were more common in men than in women, the disparity would surely not be so great as to require separate leagues for men and women. I don’t understand it.

 

Hamilton and Pence

November 30, 2016

I don’t need to go into a lot of detail on this bit of non-news that has somehow captured headlines. Here are the basics as reported by NPR.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence was presumably seeking a quiet night out at the theater, enjoying one of Broadway’s hottest tickets with a Friday night performance of Hamilton: An American Musical.

What he got instead was a welcome of boos and cheers from the crowd and a pointed plea from the diverse cast and crew afterwards about what they believe really makes America great.

At the curtain call, actor Brandon Victor Dixon — who plays former Vice President Aaron Burr, who infamously shot and killed Hamilton in a duel — read a statement from the cast, which is made up of largely black and Latino actors who play the white Founding Fathers.

“There’s nothing to boo here, ladies and gentlemen, nothing to boo,” Dixon said, quieting the crowd who had met Pence with a mix of jeers and cheers when he entered the theater before the show. Pence was on his way out, but Dixon urged him to pause and hear their thoughts. Dixon thanked Pence for attending and said he was welcome there.

“We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir,” Dixon said. “But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf all of us.”

The one trait that I admire about Donald Trump is that he always fights back, even when it might be more advisable to remain silent. I find this a refreshing change from Republicans who never fight when attacked. Maybe it takes someone who isn’t really a Republican to show Republicans how to hit back. Trump did overreact to this incident.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/799972624713420804

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/800298286204723200

I agree with Trump. A theater performance was not the place for this display. The audience had paid to see a musical, not listen to a political lecture. It was rude and more than a little presumptuous of the cast of Hamilton to lecture Mike Pence and the rest of us. Who do they think they are? They are entertainers. We pay them to sing and dance for us. We do not pay for them to think for us. They can think on their own time, assuming you can call what goes on in their muddled heads thinking.

The reason these advocates of tolerance felt the need to lecture Mike Pence was probably because while governor of Indiana he signed legislation designed to prevent people who have sincere religious convictions opposing same-sex “marriage” from being taken into court and losing their businesses for not wishing to participate in these sham marriages. This is simply too much for the tolerant left to bear. The apostles of tolerance and diversity couldn’t be bothered to try to understand why anyone would be reluctant to transgress their religious beliefs nor did they ever try to assuage these peoples’ reservations or come to any sort of reasonable compromise. They were bigots to be brought into line by the power of the state.

These people of the left who constantly feel the need to berate the rest of us on the basis of their moral superiority to the rest of us cretins. The truth is that they are not, in fact, morally superior to the rest of us. When you take into account their bullying, their intolerance of dissenting views along with their support of censorship against hate speech, their fawning over the worst murdering dictators, their double standards, their totalitarian propensity to politicize everything and anything and their plain nastiness, it seems to me that they are actually morally inferior to most Americans. They have very little to teach the rest of us about tolerance and diversity. They could learn a lot from the everyday decency of average Americans, if they could be trouble to learn from us instead of looking down on us.

In the meantime, while Mike Pence’s calm, dignified response was more appropriate, Trump’s overreaction was more correct. These people are not fazed by calm, dignified responses. They need to be pushed back every time they push us. Maybe some day they’ll start treating people with differing viewpoints with more respect.

Michael Moore Makes a Movie

October 28, 2016

Since I am using alliteration in the title, I really ought to add mendacious somewhere, or perhaps malicious or moronic. Anyway, Micheal Moore has been rushing to make a movie just is time to (hopefully) affect the election, as he related to me in an e-mail.

Dear fellow MoveOn member,

I’m terrified.

Despite the craziness of the past few weeks (really, months!) that should have made Donald Trump’s chances of being president laughably low, I believe he can still win. He’s ahead in Ohio and Iowa and close in a half dozen other battleground states.1,2 He can still win because his supporters are passionate. And he can still win if all of us are too complacent and don’t do EVERYTHING WE CAN DO to stop him, repudiate his politics on Election Day, and hold Republicans up and down the ballot accountable for his toxic campaign.

So I did something—I made a new movie: “Michael Moore in TrumpLand.” It’s an hour-long comedy in which I go to Ohio to talk to Trump supporters and undecided voters about why they should join me in doing what I didn’t think I’d ever do—vote for Hillary Clinton for president!

And now I need you to do something.

Pitch in to MoveOn’s United Against Hate campaign—so they can knock on 1 million doors, distribute rapid-response videos online, and throw everything but the kitchen sink into making sure we turn out progressive voters who—like many people I know—just haven’t yet committed to voting for Hillary Clinton. Will you help out by chipping in $2.70?

Yes, I’ll chip in now.

Look: There are only 15 days left, and we are fighting a creature who is the embodiment of every sexist, racist, and elitist trait rolled into one human being. Donald Trump isn’t just bad news. He’s an aggressive, erratic, and dangerous bully, who boasts about sexual assault, encourages violence at his rallies, and who is now inciting a mass revolt among his gun-toting followers should he lose.

We must beat him. And we must beat him RESOUNDINGLY.

Please, chip in $2.70 to MoveOn now.

On Election Day, we need to send a loud and clear message that the white supremacists and sexual-assault apologists who have fueled and are encouraged by Trump and his campaign are heading straight for the dustbin of history.

Are you with me on this?

Click here to chip in $2.70, or whatever you can, to MoveOn now.

Onward!

—Michael Moore

P.S. If you want to see my new movie, just click here to get it from iTunes. At my request, they’ve made it affordable for everyone. Also, MoveOn and I are working together to give voters in swing states more opportunities to see the film. Tell your friends about the movie, and then go knock on some doors or make some calls, for victory on November 8!

 

I wonder if Michael Moore has considered that if Hilary Clinton has Citizens’ United vs FEC overturned a movie like this world come under the jurisdiction of the FEC which could prohibit him from releasing it close to an election. That was in fact, the issue behind that case. Citizens’ United is a conservative non-profit organization that wanted to show an anti Hilary Clinton movie on television, but the FEC wouldn’t let them because it violated the provisions of the McCain-Feingold act which prohibits spending on “electioneering communication” by a corporation or union within sixty days of a general election. This, of course, defeats the purpose of the first amendment which was intended to protect the right of free speech, particularly political speech. Does Moore not realize that if Citizens’ United were overturned, he might not be allowed to show his movies so close to an election? Or, maybe he doesn’t believe any future campaign finance laws will apply to both sides. No one seemed to mind when he released the anti-Bush Fahrenheit 911 in order to affect the 2004 election.

I also wonder if Michael Moore is aware that most of the violence this election year seems to be directed at supporters of Trump. I have read more accounts of Trump supporters being attacked, signs being stolen, property being vandalized, than the reverse. This is not unexpected. Most Republicans, even those, like me, who dislike Trump view Hilary Clinton as “Crooked Hilary”, an immoral, corrupt woman who should not be president. You don’t necessarily hate a crooked politician or wish to attack their supporters. Trump, however, is viewed by many Democrats as “embodiment of every sexist, racist, and elitist trait rolled into one human being” who supports violence and sexual assault, not to mention the second coming of Adolf Hitler and possibly the Anti-Christ. Naturally, such an evil candidate must be stopped by any means necessary, legal or illegal.  This applies to his supporters, who after all are, “white supremacists and sexual-assault apologists who have fueled and are encouraged by Trump” who has “gun-toting followers” ready to initiate a “mass revolt” if Trump loses. It seems to me that it is people like Michael Moore who are inciting the violence by labeling their political opponents as somehow less than human. So much for civility.

161026135135-donald-trump-star-hollywood-walk-of-fame-exlarge-169

Finally, since the effort to stop Trump is so important, why didn’t Micheal Moore ask iTunes to distribute his new movie for free. He surely has enough money to cover the costs of making the movie and compensating Apple for distributing it for free. Surely Mr. Moore does not expect to make a profit from this venture. As a wise man once said, “at a certain point, you’ve made enough money”. I think Micheal Moore passed that point a long time ago.

Michael Moore's Mansion

Michael Moore’s Mansion

 

Dilbert Targeted

October 10, 2016

Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert cartoon strip, believes that he has been targeted because of his blogging about Donald Trump.

This weekend I got “shadowbanned” on Twitter. It lasted until my followers noticed and protested. Shadowbanning prevents my followers from seeing my tweets and replies, but in a way that is not obvious until you do some digging.

Why did I get shadowbanned?

Beats me.

But it was probably because I asked people to tweet me examples of Clinton supporters being violent against peaceful Trump supporters in public. I got a lot of them. It was chilling.

Late last week my Twitter feed was invaded by an army of Clinton trolls (it’s a real thing) leaving sarcastic insults and not much else on my feed. There was an obvious similarity to them, meaning it was organized.

At around the same time, a bottom-feeder at Slate wrote a hit piece on me that had nothing to do with anything. Except obviously it was politically motivated. It was so lame that I retweeted it myself. The timing of the hit piece might be a coincidence, but I stopped believing in coincidences this year.

All things considered, I had a great week. I didn’t realize I was having enough impact to get on the Clinton enemies list. I don’t think I’m supposed to be happy about any of this, but that’s not how I’m wired.

Mmm, critics. Delicious 🙂

Scott Adams has not identified himself as a Trump supporter until recently, when he decided that Clinton’s proposal for a confiscatory estate tax was sufficient reason to endorse Trump. Evidently, just writing positively about Trump’s persuasion skills was enough to get him condemned as a thought criminal. I imagine that next there will be petitions to newspapers to drop Dilbert. If Hilary Clinton gets elected, Adams may find his tax statements being audited by the IRS every year for the next four to eight years.

We are not dealing with normal people here. Whether you call them Social Justice Warriors, Politically Correct,Liberals, or Progressives, these are not sane, normal people with an interest in politics. These are fanatics. Normal people do not launch into a tirade about racial oppression and try to get a Lyft driver fired when they see a stupid hula dancer bobblehead. Normal people do not report a classmate to a Gender Bias response team when he makes a joke in his Chinese class about being handsome nor do normal, sane people prepare lists of forbidden phrases for incoming college freshmen, sorry freshpeople, or spend their time writing fake reviews for Amazon and getting people banned from social media.

These people are fanatics, bullies, digital Brownshirts who like to push people around and who are not in the least willing to act with tolerance or civility. They often say that they support diversity, and perhaps in their own way they do, but they are not interested in diversity of opinion. You cannot reason with these people or appease them. They always want more concessions. You can only stand up to them and fight them. Then, like most bullies, they will seek out easier targets.

Fortunately, Scott Adams is already a successful cartoonist and author, so it is not too difficult for him to stand up to them. It isn’t much of a loss for him if he loses speaking fees because of a perceived support for Donald Trump. Still, even those of us who are not so well situated need to stand up to these bullies and let them know that this sort of totalitarian behavior is simply unacceptable in a free country. Otherwise, we won’t be living in a free country much longer.

 

 

 

All About Mormons

September 13, 2016

The creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, have a curious relationship towards religion. They are not religious and enjoy mocking religion in their show, yet they deny being atheists and have been just as quick to make fun of the pretensions of Atheism and the New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins, and they have admitted to having  a certain curiosity and respect for religious belief. In fact, a closer look at the South Park episodes which ridicule religion shows that they are really opposed to hypocrisy or bad actions justified by religious belief.

Parker and Stone have a particular liking for Mormonism. Growing up in Colorado, right next to the Mormon promised land of Utah, they knew many Mormons and have expressed an appreciation for their politeness and niceness, even while regarding the story of Joseph Smith and Mormon beliefs as ridiculous. Their feelings about Mormonism and religion in general are expressed in the seventh season episode, “All About Mormons“.

In this episode, a Mormon family, the Harrisons, moves to South Park and one of the boys, named Gary, is in the same class as the series regulars.  The Harrisons are nice and polite and eager to befriend everyone in South Park, particularly the Marshes and while they do not want to force their religious beliefs on anyone, they are more than willing to tell their neighbors the history and beliefs of the Mormon religion and it’s prophet Joseph Smith.

The Harrisons

The Harrisons

This history is told through a series of musical flashbacks.

Stan is not impressed with their account of Joseph Smith and points out the inconsistencies and logical fallacies that suggest that Joseph Smith was simply making up his stories about the golden plates and the Angel Moroni.

"All you've got are a bunch of stories about some asswipe who read plates nobody ever saw out of a hat and then couldn't do it again when the translations were hidden!"

“All you’ve got are a bunch of stories about some asswipe who read plates nobody ever saw out of a hat and then couldn’t do it again when the translations were hidden!”

The next day Gary confronts Stan at the bus stop and explains why he is a Mormon even if the stories are a little silly.

Look, maybe us Mormons do believe in crazy stories that make absolutely no sense, and maybe Joseph Smith did make it all up, but I have a great life, and a great family, and I have the Book of Mormon to thank for that. The truth is, I don’t care if Joseph Smith made it all up, because what the church teaches now is loving your family, being nice and helping people. And even though people in this town might think that’s stupid, I still choose to believe in it. All I ever did was try to be your friend, Stan, but you’re so high and mighty you couldn’t look past my religion and just be my friend back. You’ve got a lot of growing up to do, buddy. Suck my balls.

The sentiment expressed by Gary, and presumably shared by Parker and Stone is one that I would hope if widely adopted, might promote greater tolerance and civility between persons of different faiths, and with those with no faith. Still, it doesn’t satisfy me because it ignores the question that is most important to me. It is good if the religion you follow makes you a better person, but the question I think more important is, is the religion true? Can the assertions and claims made by this particular religion be shown to be true or false?

I do not mean the metaphysical claims made by nearly all religions concerning deities or the afterlife or anything of that sort. These matters cannot be shown to be true or false this side of eternity and properly matters of faith Nor do I expect that every word of the Book of Mormon or spoken by Joseph Smith to be literally and completely true. That is a burden that even my own mainstream Christianity couldn’t bear. I do think it is fair to ask whether, in a broad sense, the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith are what they claim to be. Is the Book of Mormon really a historical record of Jewish refugees who settled in the New World? Is Joseph Smith really a prophet of the Lord who translated this account?

The answer to both questions would seem to be no. Studies of the DNA of the Native Americans show that their ancestry is almost entirely from Northern Asia or Siberia. There is no indication of any ancestors of Semitic or Middle Eastern origin. There is no archeological evidence that any of the events described in the Book of Mormon ever took place Not a single city or country named in the Book of Mormon has ever been positively located or identified, nor do any individuals named in the Book of Mormon appear in any historical record outside the Book of Mormon. In contrast, many places in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, can be located on a map and many people named in the Bible can be attested in other sources. It may well be that some of the accounts in the Bible are slanted, or even fictitious, but there is no question that there really were places like Israel, Judah, Jerusalem, or Babylon and that people like the kings and prophets of Israel, Jesus and his apostles really did exist.

As for Joseph Smith, he had something of a reputation as a con artist who practiced folk magic, specializing in money digging, or searching for lost treasure by occult means. It is possible that Smith reformed after the visions he claimed to have had, but Smith’s actions even after he founded the Mormon religion do not seem to be those of an honest man, still less a prophet.

Does it matter it there is any truth to the Book of Mormon or the story of Joseph Smith, so long as it improves people’s lives? Perhaps not, but it seems to me that a faith built on untruths is a faith built on sand rather than solid rock. I do not believe that such a faith can endure.

For my part, if it were shown that the claims of Christianity were false, I would be obliged to change religions. I could not take comfort in the idea that it does not matter whether the stories the gospels tell about Jesus are true so long as I follow the teachings in the gospels because Christianity is not based on the teachings of Jesus, or Paul, or anyone else. Buddhism could still exist even if it were shown that there was no such person as Gautama because his teachings about life and suffering stand on their own regardless whether he existed or not. The same could be true of Confucius or Socrates or many other sages. The teachings of Christ are not much different from the teachings of other sages and express the same truths common to the whole human race. The central message of Christianity is a historical one, that the man Jesus of Nazareth was God in human form who was crucified for our sins, who died and was resurrected, defeating sin and death. If Jesus were shown to have never existed or were shown to have been just an ordinary man, than I, and every other Christian, have been wasting our time. As Paul put it,

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1Cor 15:12-19)

Is this true of Mormonism? I don’t know. The family values taught by the contemporary Mormon faith certainly have little to do with the polygamous Joseph Smith. It may be that the faith is better than its founder. And yet, the family values that Mormonism teaches are, or used to be, the mainstream within the Judeo-Christian tradition. If one can have the family values without the silly stories about Joseph Smith, why bother with the silly stories? If the Mormon religion gives life meaning but is shown to be based on falsehoods, than then meaning one derives from the faith is also based upon falsehoods. I think I would rather have a faith based on truth.

Betting on the Devil

March 23, 2016

South Park is a vulgar show. The characters, especially the children, routinely use foul language. (The creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker insist that children really talk like that and that only hippies and Democrats believe children to be sweet and innocent. Judging from my own memories of childhood, I am inclined to believe that they are right.) There are crude sexual situations and toilet humor in many episodes, and more than a little violence. The show is irreverent and even blasphemous and they is nothing that Parker and Stone won’t made fun of. One might think that South Park is a show with no redeeming features at all.

I disagree. I wasn’t actually aware that South Park was still on television after nineteen seasons, since I do not get cable, but last year, I began to see praise for the nineteenth season’s take down of political correctness and I started to watch the latest episodes online. I found, to my amazement, that South Park was as funny and relevant as ever. I started to see that South Park is actually a very good show, perhaps the best on television right now. It has characters you can come to care about, interesting plots, including the multi-episode arc this season and even some well thought out lessons, for those who care to look. Despite the vulgarity, the essential values of South Park are surprisingly wholesome, even, believe it or not, Christian. This is all the more remarkable considering that Parker and Stone are agnostics.

As evidence for this startling assertion, I would like to go all the way back to the first season of South Park to an episode titled Damien. In this episode there is a new kid, named Damien attending South Park Elementary who happens to be the son of the Devil.

Damien

Damien

He is in South Park to deliver a challenge from his father to Jesus, depicted as hosting a public access cable show, Jesus and Pals. Satan wants to meet Jesus for the final confrontation in the boxing ring.

South Park Jesus

South Park Jesus

At first, all the residents of South Park are certain that Jesus will easily defeat the Devil and place bets on Jesus. Then Satan appears in South Park. While Jesus is a 135 pound weakling, Satan is a muscular 350 pounds. There seems to be no way Jesus can possibly beat Satan.

Satan

Satan

 

Everyone in South Park rushes to their bookies to change their bets to Satan winning the fight. In fact, only one person bets on Jesus. Jesus warns the residents of South Park not to bet on the Devil, but no one listens. The day of the fight arrives and the two combatants meet in the ring. Satan pounds away at Jesus, taunting Him all the while and daring Jesus to hit him. Finally Jesus manages to get a blow in and Satan is immediately knocked out, or so it seems. It turns out that Satan has thrown the fight. It was his plan to lose to Jesus all along and he was the one person who bet on Jesus to win. Satan taunts the people of South Park for their foolishness and then returns to Hell wealthier from his winnings.

This is a silly story and the portrayals of both Jesus and Satan owe more to popular culture conceptions than to Christian scripture or traditions. After all, Jesus was a carpenter by trade and his associates were working class men. He was hardly likely to be the effeminate wimp that He is all too often imagined to be. The episode does have a moral that Christians ought to consider. A lot of times, people are betting on the Devil to win.

The final conflict between the forces of good and evil is not going to be in a boxing ring and Satan is not going to take a dive. The book of Revelation is full of confusing symbolism that Christians have been arguing about for centuries, but the end is quite clear, Jesus wins.

The real Jesus

The real Jesus

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns.He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

king of kings and lord of lords.

17 And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, 18 so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and the mighty, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave,great and small.”

19 Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army. 20 But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image.The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.21 The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.

And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time. (Rev. 19:11-20:3)

When I say that there are many Christians who are betting on the Devil to win, I do not mean, of course, that there are people who believe that Satan is going to defeat Heaven and rule the universe. I am referring to a certain lack of faith that God will overcome all of our difficulties in the end. People who are worried about the economy or terrorism, or declining morals, or even their own personal problems , are, in a way, betting that the Devil is winning. We must have faith that God as the Author of history has a plan for the world and for each one of us. Whatever our personal or national difficulties, we must not lose faith that Jesus will win in the end and His will will be done. As Jesus himself has commanded us.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:25-34)

So stop worrying and betting on the Devil.

Space Seed

February 7, 2016

I have just finished watching the Star Trek Original Series episode “Space Seed“, probably one of the better episodes of the series, not least because it introduced the character of Khan Noonian Singh, one of the greatest villains of the entire Star Trek franchise and the antagonist of the best of the Star Trek movies, “The Wrath of Khan“. Ricardo Montalban‘s performance as Khan is truly wonderful, maybe the best of his career, as he portrays the villain just sympathetically enough for the viewers to admire and understand Khan while not forgetting that he is the bad guy.

uApht

Khan is presented as a compelling figure. The result of scientific efforts to improve the human race through selective breeding, and probably genetic engineering, though that technology was scarcely imagined in the 1960’s, Khan and his followers are physically and intellectually superior to normal humans. Because of this superiority, the supermen decided that they had a natural right to rule over lesser humans and their attempt to conquer the world caused a series of wars called the Eugenics Wars. Upon being revived by the crew of the Enterprise, Khan perceives that the crew is made up of unmodified, inferior humans and naturally repays Kirk’s hospitality by attempting to seize the Enterprise and embark on a new career of conquest throughout the galaxy. Khan may be a megalomaniac, but his megalomania is justified because he really is superior to everyone around him.

Towards the end of the episode, when Kirk offers to drop all charges against Khan, if Khan and his followers agree to settle the barren but habitable planet Ceti Alpha V, Khan replies by asking Kirk if he is familiar with Milton. Khan is referring to the famous line in Milton’s Paradise Lost in which Lucifer declares that it is better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven. It is an appropriate sentiment for Khan since he and Milton’s Lucifer are much alike. Both are proud, strong-willed beings who are charismatic enough leaders to inspire their subjects to follow them even to Hell, or the hellish Ceti Alpha V. Khan is superficially charming and gracious, yet like Lucifer, the arrogance, lust for power and cruelty in his nature is never far below the surface. Khan has no compunctions about suffocating the bridge crew of the Enterprise in order to capture the ship. Khan’s fate is not unlike Lucifer’s. In the course of Paradise Lost, Lucifer becomes increasingly consumed by his pride and hatred until he descends into nihilism and madness as the demonic Satan. If he cannot rule, than he will spoil and ruin Paradise and its inhabitants, Adam and Eve. By the time of the events of the Wrath of Khan, Khan has been driven mad by the wrongs that he believes that Kirk has done him. Khan no longer wants his empire but only to destroy.

It is true that Kirk and Scotty note that there were no great massacres in the territories under his control. Apparently Khan did rule with some degree of justice, yet I imagine that it was expedience rather than any moral reservations that inspired Khan. He must have been shrewd enough to realize that mass murders are counter productive in establishing an empire and since he was guided by no ideology like Communism or Nazism, but only interested in his rightful place as ruler, he had little reason to commit the horrible acts of genocide of a Hitler or Stalin. The wise farmer does not wantonly slaughter his cattle, but takes care to keep them healthy. Khan probably felt the same way about his human cattle. As Spock retorts, there was also little freedom under his rule.

khan-star-trek-ii

I wonder whether Kirk or Khan were really as familiar with Milton as they believed. It is a commonly held view that Lucifer became the ruler of Hell in Paradise Lost, but Milton was more clever than that. In fact, Milton makes it clear in the end that Satan does not rule in Hell. Because God’s sovereignty extends to every part of the universe, including Hell, Satan was as much God’s servant in Hell as he was in Heaven. Satan was lying to himself and to his demons when he said that famous line.

If Kirk really knew his Milton, he would have known the folly of letting Khan go under any circumstances. Even if Lucifer had really been the ruler of Hell, he would not have long been content. Almost as soon as Satan recovers from the fall into Hell, he escapes and makes his way to Earth and Paradise. Satan could not be satisfied with only a part of the universe, he wanted to rule it all, and if he could not have it, he wanted to destroy it. Khan’s lust for domination and power could never have been satisfied with homesteading on a barren, deserted planet. It wouldn’t take long before Khan would want more. Kirk had no way of anticipating the destruction of the planet and the events that led to the Wrath of Khan, but he surely ought to have realized that Khan would attempt to seize any star ship that stopped by Ceti Alpha V.

That might be part of the reason that The Wrath of Khan is a good movie. In the original series, Kirk and crew travel from planet to planet solving problems and making decisions and we never get to see the consequences of their actions. None of the writers anticipated Star Trek movies or any other series being made and there wasn’t much interest in writing an episode revisiting old planets when there seemed to be a whole galaxy to explore. In those days, television series had self-contained episodes and no one thought of extending a plot arc over several episodes, or an entire season. In the Wrath of Khan, and its sequels, we finally do see Kirk face the consequences of his decision, and it isn’t pleasant for him. It makes me wonder how some of Kirk’s actions in other episodes turned out, and how many other children he has running around the galaxy.


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