Archive for the ‘Movies, Television and Entertainment’ Category

There is no Queen of England

August 30, 2015

One of my favorite movies is Megamind and this is my favorite scene from the movie.

 

The strange thing is that the statement made by Hal/Tighten, “There is no Queen of England” happens to be correct. There is, in fact, no such person as the Queen of England. She is as real as the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny. If that is true than who is this woman?

Queen-Elizabeth-II-

That is Her Royal Majesty Elizabeth II Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as well various former British colonies. England is, to be sure, part of the kingdom she reigns over, but England has not been an independent, sovereign nation since the Acts of Union in 1707. The United Kingdom is made up of three kingdoms, England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, and one principality, Wales united into one nation with a common government and Parliament.

England is the largest of the countries that make up the United Kingdom both in area and population and so has tended to dominate the kingdom to the point that British has largely become synonymous with English. It is the English language that is spoken throughout the British Isles while the various Celtic languages are either endangered or extinct. It is understandable, then, that the Queen of Great Britain should be referred to as simply the Queen of England.

The Kingdom of England that was united into the United Kingdom is generally held to begin with the Norman Conquest of 1066, though, of course British history stretches back to the Roman province of Britannia. Since the Conquest did mark a drastic shift in English history, culture and even language and every monarch since 1066 has been a descendant of William the Conqueror, so it seems fair enough to regard it as the establishment of the English nation as we know it today. The English language and people existed for many centuries before the coming of the Normans, however. It was the Angles and the Saxons who invaded Britain after the Romans withdrew in 410 who gave England its name and language. These Anglo-Saxon invaders either drove out or assimilated the Latin or Celtic speaking Romanized Britons. For some time, England was split into many, the traditional number is seven, petty kingdoms and subject to invasions by the Norsemen, but in the century before the Norman conquest began to be unified under the rule of Wessex, the one English kingdom that managed not to be conquered by the Vikings. The Norman Conquest unified England somewhat more firmly and while the Normans brought continental feudalism to England with its potential for disunity and English kings had some trouble keeping their barons in line, England remained a more unified state than France or Germany. In time, England grew strong enough to dominate the British Isles.

The English flag

The English flag

I referred to Wales as a principality, but that is not strictly accurate. Unlike the English and Scots, the Welsh never quite succeeded in coalescing into a unified, sovereign state and the country now known as Wales was divided into many small kingdoms or principalities after the withdrawal of the Roman legions. Although divided and apt to fight among themselves, the Welsh did manage to fend off the Anglo-Saxons, thus retaining their language and separate identity. There were various Welsh lords who were able to conquer much of Wales and receive the acknowledgement as overlord by other Welsh rulers, but such Welsh kingdoms never outlasted the lives of the first rulers.

The Normans had somewhat more success in subduing the Welsh. In 1216, the Welsh lords agreed to recognize Llywelyn the Great of Gwynedd as their Paramount Lord and King John of England gave him the title of Prince of Wales. This Principality of Wales only extended to about two-thirds of the modern Wales and the Princes of Wales were vassals of the English crown and while largely autonomous were not entirely independent. Even this limited independence was ended when England annexed Wales to the English crown in 1284. The custom of giving the heir apparent the title of Prince of Wales began in 1301. There were a number of rebellions by descendants of Welsh leaders but such rebellions were unsuccessful, but ultimately the Welsh descended Tudor, Henry VII, became King of England in 1485. His son Henry VIII united the governments and legal codes of England and Wales in 1542. Welsh nationalism has not played as prominent role in the politics of Wales as Scottish nationalism has had and there is little support for Welsh independence from Britain. Wales was granted a National Assembly with limited powers in 1999.

Welsh Flag

The Welsh Flag

The beginnings of the Kingdom of Scotland are somewhat obscure. The Romans conquered the southern part of Scotland, the lowlands, but were never able to extend their empire into the highlands. The Romans referred to the peoples North of their border as Caladonians, a term derived from a Celtic language, or  Picti, meaning the painted or tattooed ones in Latin. After the Romans withdrew from Britain there was a period of confusion and it seems that there were a number of kingdoms or tribal federations in Scotland. The word Scot is derived from Scoti, a name given to Gaelish raiders and invaders from Ireland. These Scoti gradually displaced and intermingled with the Picts and their many petty kingdoms were eventually united into the Kingdom of Alba by Kenneth MacAlpin in the ninth century. There followed a period of struggle against the Northmen and fighting for the crown by branches of the MacAlpin dynasty, but by the time of the Norman Conquest, Scotland had emerged as a rival kingdom to England.

Scotland was a good deal poorer and less populated than England and so was never really a serious threat to its southern neighbor. The Scots could raid and harass England’s northern borderlands, however, and the existence of an enemy on the Island of Britain always meant that England could never exert its full force against the French in their frequent wars. Indeed, France and Scotland were often allied together against England in what was often called the Auld Alliance. For their part, the English could invade Scotland and even conquer large parts of the kingdom but discovered that occupying a country is far more difficult than invading it. Scotland’s rugged terrain and stubborn people; even Scottish kings had difficulty controlling their subjects, soon induced the English to withdraw.

In 1371,Robert II the first of the Stewart or Stuart dynasty became King of Scotland. Robert Stuart’s great-great grandson James IV married Margaret Tudor, the daughter of Henry VII, King of England in 1503, linking the Tudor and Stuart dynasties. Their great grandson was King James VI of Scotland. As a descendant of Henry VII, James VI was the closest relative of Queen Elizabeth I of England and upon her death in 1603, James ascended to the English throne as King James I of England. Although the crowns of the two kingdoms of England and Scotland were united in the person of James VI and I in his person and in his heirs, the two kingdoms remained separate nations, each with its own Parliament, code of laws, and even state church.

The Scottish flag

The Scottish flag

The two kingdoms would have to wait a century before becoming united by the Acts of Union in 1707. Each kingdom had different reasons for desiring a united kingdom. The English were concerned that Scotland might choose a different monarch than England. James I’s grandson James II had been deposed the Glorious Revolution of 1685 by his daughter Mary I and her Dutch husband William III. William and Mary had no children and upon his death in 1702, Mary’s sister Anne became Queen. None of Queen Anne’s seventeen children survived to adulthood and since James II and his son James were Roman Catholic and so ineligible for the throne under English law, the next King of England after Anne would be George of Hanover, a great-grandson of James I. The Scottish parliament reserved the right to select its own King of Scotland so it was conceivable that the union of the two crowns could be ended as soon as Anne died. The English did not want that to happen. As for the Scots, union was desirable because Scotland had remained a poor and underdeveloped country compared to England. Since England and Scotland were separate nations the usual barriers to trade, like tariffs, were applied. Scottish nationals in England could be treated as aliens. Scottish merchants did not have full access to markets in England or England’s colonies in North America. Union with England was seen as a way to develop the Scottish economy and increase the standard of living to English levels.

Nevertheless, the Acts of Union were very unpopular in Scotland. It required clever parliamentary maneuvering, even outright bribery to get the Scottish Parliament to approve the Union. Scottish nationalism has continued to play an important part in Scottish politics. Jacobite pretenders from the Stuart family generally found considerable support in Scotland throughout the eighteenth century. More recently, there has been a growing Scottish National Party which is in favor of independence from the United Kingdom. Like Wales, Scotland was granted a Parliament with limited powers in 1999. The Scottish voters rejected independence from Great Britain in a referendum last year, but given that the Scottish National Party is the largest single party in the Scottish Parliament, it seems likely that the issue of independence will be revisited in the future. If Scotland were to become independent, they would probably retain the monarch, so the political situation in Britain would revert back to what it was before 1707, with Queen Elizabeth II of England becoming Elizabeth I of Scotland.

Last, there is the Kingdom of Ireland. Like the Welsh, the Irish never really cohered into a single kingdom. There was a High King of Ireland in the Early Middle Ages, but no high king really had much authority beyond his own realm. Such unity as existed in Ireland was destroyed after the tenth century by invading Vikings and later Normans from England. Henry II of England invaded Ireland in 1198 and made his son John Lord of Ireland. From that time the Kings of England also took the title of Lord of Ireland, whatever the Irish might have wanted, until 1542 when Henry VIII abolished the title of Lord of Ireland and proclaimed himself King of Ireland. Thus, the crowns of England and Ireland were united before the Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland, although the Crown of Ireland was an English creation. Ireland was brought into the United Kingdom by the Act of Union of 1800, making it the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

The Crown and Parliament of Ireland were creations of England for the Protestant English and Scottish settlers in Ireland. The native Irish were Catholics and generally played no part in the government of Ireland before and after the Union. By the end of the nineteenth century, reforms in the British government restored many basic rights to the Catholics of Britain and Ireland, but many Irish began to want independence from Britain. After a long and bloody struggle, the United Kingdom granted Ireland Home Rule in 1920. In 1922, Ireland became a dominion of the British Commonwealth under the name of the Irish Free State and in 1937 the Irish voted in a referendum to become completely independent from Britain as the Republic of Ireland. The six northern counties of Ireland with a Protestant majority opted to remain in the United Kingdom in 1920 and now form the region of Northern Ireland. This decision was controversial at the time, particularly among Northern Irish Catholics and Irish nationalist who wanted an undivided Ireland and remains controversial to the present day, although the violence has declined. The strong majority of the people of Northern Ireland prefer to stay in the United Kingdom and there is little chance of Northern Ireland gaining independence or joining with the the rest of Ireland. Like Scotland and Wales, Northern Ireland has a parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly, with limited powers.

Northern Irland

Northern Ireland

So, there is no Queen of England because there is no Kingdom of England. Next time you happen to meet the Queen be sure to refer to her by her proper title as Queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I’m sure she’ll appreciate it.

 

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Patrick Stewart Channels Voltaire

June 11, 2015

Voltaire is supposed to have said, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” He probably didn’t really say it but Patrick Stewart effectively did. I have read about this in various places, but here is the story at the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Actor Patrick Stewart is supporting the free speech rights of Christian bakers from northern Ireland who declined to decorate a cake with a pro-gay-marriage message.

An Irish court fined the owners of Ashers Bakery £500 for not writing the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” on a cake.

The bakery owners say they’re happy to bake a cake for anyone, but reserve the right to decline messages that are contrary to their religious beliefs.

Stewart, who is known for his roles in “Star Trek” and “X-Men,” told BBC “Newsnight” that no one should be forced to write things they disagree with.

Gay activists have been attacking Stewart for his comments.

Boldly going where few actors dare to go

Boldly going where few actors dare to go

Sadly, it has become increasingly rare in our politically correct world, with its microaggressions and trigger warnings, for anyone to adopt Voltaire’s view on permitting freedom of speech, even for those you don’t like and Patrick Stewart deserves some praise for doing so. Naturally, he was subjected to the usual criticism from the supporters of tolerance and diversity and he felt he had to clarify his position on his Facebook page.

As part of my advocacy for Amnesty International, I gave an interview on a number of subjects related to human rights, civil rights and freedom of speech. During the interview, I was asked about the Irish bakers who refused to put a message on a cake which supported marriage equality, because of their beliefs. In my view, this particular matter was not about discrimination, but rather personal freedoms and what constitutes them, including the freedom to object. Both equality and freedom of speech are fundamental rights— and this case underscores how we need to ensure one isn’t compromised in the pursuit of the other. I know many disagree with my sentiments, including the courts. I respect and understand their position, especially in this important climate where the tides of prejudices and inequality are (thankfully) turning. What I cannot respect is that some have conflated my position on this single matter to assume I’m anti-equality or that I share the personal beliefs of the bakers. Nothing, absolutely nothing, could be further from the truth. I have long championed the rights of the LGBT community, because equality should not only be, as the people of Ireland powerfully showed the world, universally embraced, but treasured.

There are a couple of things about this statement that bother me. Why does Patrick Stewart feel the need to declare his fealty to politically correct orthodoxy. I feel as if he is saying that he supports the right of thought criminals to speak freely but he is certainly not a thought criminal himself, or that he is most offended by the idea that he might be one thought of as one of those ignorant mouth-breathers who are opposed to same-sex marriage. I understand that Stewart does not want his views on this issue to be misconstrued and that he probably doesn’t intend his statement to be taken this way, but this assurance that he is on the right side gives a somewhat begrudging feel to his defense of free speech, as if he is saying he supports their right to be wrong. But, maybe I am reading too much into it.

The other thing that bothers me about Patrick Stewart’s statement is that he had to make any clarifying statement at all. I do not know precisely what his critics have been saying, but it seems that their reasoning is that the only reason that Patrick Stewart would support the right of a baker to refuse to decorate a cake with a pro gay marriage message is that he must agree with the baker. The idea that one can support the free speech even of people one disagrees with seems not to have entered into their minds. Voltaire’s statement could be left untranslated in the original French for all the good it does people like this.

Is Voltaire’s concept really so hard to grasp? Does it not ever occur to these people that defending the free speech of others is the only way to protect one’s own free speech, or that once free speech is abridged, they might be next? Do they never consider that the other side might be right but if they shout them down, they will never learn any better, or that if the other side is wrong, compelling outward compliance to orthodoxy does not persuade anyone? Perhaps they don’t think much at all.

Patrick Stewart stated that freedom of speech and equality are fundamental rights. I would say that freedom of speech is far more important. If we have freedom of speech, we can speak out about whatever changes are needed to ensure equality. Without freedom of speech, we can do nothing. The real danger here in America and throughout the West is that there seems to be an increasing number of people who either believe freedom of speech is, at best, a secondary right inferior to the struggle for social justice and equality or that freedom of speech is not a right at all. I’m glad at least one person from Hollywood is willing to publicly support the right to dissent from liberal orthodoxy. I hope others follow Stewart’s lead.

The Real O’Neals

May 18, 2015

Here is another petition that I probably won’t be signing.

If you didn’t know who Dan Savage is until today, it’s probably a good thing. But right now we need you to familiarize yourselves with one of the cruelest, most vile political activists in America.

Why? ABC plans to release a pilot sitcom based on the life of radical activist Dan Savage. Dan Savage is a hateful anti-Christian bigot.

This is a complete disgrace.

We are asking for ABC and its parent company Disney to IMMEDIATELY cancel their pilot sitcom based on the life of radical activist Dan Savage.

Don’t get me wrong. I do know who Dan Savage is. He is a nasty, bigoted piece of work who seems to believe that because some Christians have been less than Christ-like in their treatment of homosexuals, he as a homosexual activist has the right to bully Christians. Why ABC has decided to loosely base a sitcom on his life is beyond my comprehension. Here is a description of this charming project.

Well, anything remotely having to do with sex columnist and pro-gay bully Dan Savage would have to be bad, and the just-released trailer for The Real O’Neals confirms it. “The O’Neals are your typical Irish Catholic family,” the voiceover begins. Which of course means the daughter pockets what she collects for church charities, Mom and Dad are divorcing, the family priest’s vow of poverty doesn’t apply to his Lexus, and the main character, a teenage son, is gay and struggling to come out of the closet. Supposedly based on Savage’s early life, The Real O’Neals is all pretty standard religious-people-are-hypocrites lefty stuff. There are shots at Catholic theology and iconography (“I can’t come out. Have you ever met my mom? She put a statue of the Virgin Mary over the toilet so we’d remember to put the seat down.”) and lots of talk about vaginas and condoms. And it appears the whole plot comes to a very public boil at the parish bingo night. Frankly, there’s nothing new and it doesn’t look very funny, so ABC’s determination to go ahead with developing the show in the face of protest from the MRC and a host of religious groups and leaders looks like a cultural thumb in the eye.

Did I mention that Dan Savage is a nasty bigot?

Savage is a hateful anti-Christian bigot who publishes filth under the guise of “sex advice.”  Some of his greatest hits: In March Savage invited Dr. Ben Carson to “Suck my dick.” Last January, he suggested the Christian parents whose transgender teen committed suicide be charged with murder, tweeting “an example needs 2 be made.” He’s hoped Sarah Palin gets cancer, and marked the retirement of Pope Benedict’s retirement by headlining his column: “That Motherfucking Power-Hungry, Self-Aggrandized Bigot In the Stupid Fucking Hat Announces His Retirement.” Most infamously, because Savage didn’t like something Sen. Rick Santorum said about homosexuality back in 2003, he “Google-Bombed” the senator’s name in the vilest possible way.

All the same I will not support this effort to get ABC to cancel the upcoming show. If I were the sort of person who wanted to tell television networks what shows they should run, I would be a liberal. As it is, as far as I am concerned, they can run whatever garbage they please. It is unlikely I’ll be watching.

The other reason that I do not support this petition is that it will do no good. It is obvious that the executives from ABC and the other networks do not care what conservatives or Christians think or whether they are offended. In fact, from their perspective, protests from conservatives are the best possible reason to go ahead with the program. No doubt the executives at ABC are patting themselves on the back, praising their courage for standing up to the “religious right”. Also, it must have occurred to more than one person in production and promotion of the The Real O’Neals that this show isn’t really very good and will likely be cancelled before the season is over. They have probably decided that the only way to get people to watch the the show is to invoke the “banned in Boston” effect by playing up the show as a controversial program that the Christians want to censor, hoping that the progressive and the dull witted (but I repeat myself) can be encouraged to keep watching just to show those anti-gay conservatives. I would rather not play into their hands.

The best way to protest an obnoxious and offensive show like this is simply to not watch it and not give it the attention it does not deserve.

The Nativity According to Luke

December 22, 2014

The Gospel of Luke tells us what Christmas is all about

 

Linus quotes from the Gospel according to Luke.

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)

Luke is a historian of the Hellenistic school, like Herodotus or Thucydides. Although he tries to establish times and places, he is actually less interested in being precise than in understanding the meaning of the events he records. In fact, it wasn’t so easy to give exact dates in those times, given that every city and region had its own calendar and way of numbering or naming the years.

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. As a woman, her residency would not have mattered much. In the other hand, she was also of the line of David and perhaps her presence in Bethlehem might have been desirable. Again you must not imagine that Mary was on the point of giving birth as they traveled. They could have spent several weeks in Bethlehem.

 

 

Frosty

December 14, 2014

The other night I watched the Christmas classic Frosty the Snowman on television. I hope any reader is familiar with the Rankin-Bass animated production of the snowman who came to life via a magic hat. It is a silly story, but it is silly in a rather charming way and it is still entertaining.

Frosty the Snowman (TV program)

Skip Frosty Returns (TV program) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Following Frosty the Snowman, they aired Frosty Returns, a more recent production made in 1992. Rankin-Bass, producer of many Christmas shows, including Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer dissolved in 1987, so Frosty Returns was made by Broadway Video, and was not exactly a sequel to the original Frosty. It featured a snowman named Frosty,voiced by John Goodman, but all of the other characters were different, and Frosty’s personality was somewhat different.

I had never seen Frosty Returns before, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that it entirely lacked the charm of the original. It was simply silly. I actually couldn’t watch it all the way through so I will have to rely on Wikipedia to provide a summary of the plot.

The special begins with a musical number showing that Beansboro Elementary School is canceled for the day due to a seven-inch snowfall. While the adults incessantly complain about the problems snow and ice cause, the children enjoy the opportunity to play in it.

We then see Holly DeCarlo (Moss), a relatively lonely young girl and aspiring magician with only one friend, a tone-deaf, somewhat geeky character named Charles (Carter) who has a knack for climatology. While practicing a magic act with Charles, Holly’s hat blows off her head, out the window, and onto a snowman who comes to life as Frosty (Goodman), thus revealing that Holly’s hat was “that old silk hat” featured in the original song and previous adaptations.

Meanwhile, evil Mr. Twitchell (Doyle-Murray) is the inventor of “Summer Wheeze”, an aerosol spray that makes snow instantly disappear He hopes to use the product to win over the people of Beansboro so that he will be crowned King of the Beansboro Winter Carnival, apparently believing that the title will give him actual dominion over the townspeople. When one of the members of the town council voices concern about the environmental impact of the untested product, Mr. Twitchell has her dropped through a trapdoor.

To Twitchell’s delight, and Frosty’s dismay, the town of Beansboro falls head over heels for “Summer Wheeze” which makes Frosty concerned about his safety. Although many of their classmates rally for the elimination of snow, only a day after singing about its virtues, Holly and Charles take on the duties of protecting Frosty, including hiding him in a freezer and securing refuge for him in an ice castle built for the Carnival. Later, Holly gets Frosty to appear at the Winter Carnival in an attempt to persuade the townspeople to rethink their hatred of snow. Singing about the joy of winter, Frosty is unanimously declared king of the carnival. In the end, Frosty and Holly make amends with Mr. Twitchell (now realizes that he’s no match for Mother’s Nature) and let him wear the crown and cape and ride in the sled of the carnival king. Frosty must leave Beansboro, but assures Holly that he will be back someday.

Notice that the villain is an inventor who has created a product that many might consider very useful. Snow may be fun to play in but it is dangerous to drive in. Imagine how much labor could be saved by a product like Summer Wheeze, or how many lives could be saved if roads could be instantaneously cleared. Is this an example of Hollywood’s anti-capitalist bias, or promoting an environmentalist agenda? The Wikipedia article adds that, unlike the original, there is no mention of Christmas or Santa Claus in Frosty Returns. The people are celebrating a “Winter Carnival”. The Frosty song is altered to eliminate references to Frosty’s corncob pipe, and, needless to say, the new Frosty didn’t have one.

The article describes the plot as being “more political and/or socially conscious” than the original and that really is the problem. Back in 1969, Rankin-Bass wanted to make animated Christmas specials and perhaps a profit. The makers of Frosty Returns felt a need to insert socially conscious messaging. Political correct indoctrination has infected our Holiday Specials and we are all the worse for it. Imagine a Christmas show that can’t mention Christmas!

The Bubble Boy Cured

November 20, 2014

One of the funniest episodes of the sitcom Seinfeld was The Bubble Boy, which naturally featured a boy with a severe immune disorder who lived in a “bubble”. The main characters of the show; Jerry, Elaine, George and George’s girlfriend Susan are all going  on a trip to Susan’s family’s cabin with a stop along the way for Jerry to meet a young fan of his who happened to be a bubble boy. Driving in two separate cars, the group becomes separated and George and Susan arrive at the bubble boy’s house not knowing where Jerry and Elaine are or how late they might be.

 

This episode aired back in 1992 and advancing technology has rendered the premise of a party being lost and separated obsolete. In our age of ubiquitous cell phones, Jerry Seinfeld and his friends could have easily kept in touch with one another. Even better, recent advances in medical research may soon make the whole concept of keeping children with severe immune disorders in sterile environments, or bubbles, as obsolete as the iron lung or bleeding with leeches. Here is the article from Time with the good news.

Alysia Padilla-Vaccaro and Christian Vaccaro owe their daughter’s life to stem cells. Evangelina, now two, is alive today because she saved herself with her own bone marrow cells.

 

Evangelina, a twin, was born with a severe immune disorder caused by a genetic aberration that makes her vulnerable to any and all bacteria and viruses; even a simple cold could be fatal. But doctors at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Broad Stem Cell Research Center gave her a new treatment, using her own stem cells, that has essentially cured her disease. She’s one of 18 children who have been treated with the cutting-edge therapy, and the study’s leader, Dr. Donald Kohn, says that the strategy could also be used to treat other gene-based disorders such as sickle cell anemia.

Known to doctors as adenosine deaminase (ADA)-deficient severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), it’s better known as “bubble boy” disease, since children born with the genetic disorder have immune systems so weak that they need to stay in relatively clean and germ-free environments. Until Evangelina and her sister Annabella were 11 months old, “We were gowned and masked and did not go outside,” says their mother Alysia Padilla-Vaccaro. “Our children did not physically see our mouths until then because we were masked all the time. We couldn’t take them outside to take a breath of fresh air, because there is fungus in the air, and that could kill her.”

 

The only treatments for SCID are bone marrow transplants from healthy people, ideally a matched sibling; the unaffected cells can then repopulate the immune system of the baby with SCID. But despite being her twin, Annabella wasn’t a blood match for her sister, nor were her parents. Padilla-Vaccaro and her husband, Christian, were considering unrelated donors but were concerned about the risk of rejection. “We would be trying to fix one problem and getting another,” she says.

That’s when the doctors at the Children’s Hospital at Orange County, where Evangelina was diagnosed, told her parents about a stem cell trial for SCID babies at UCLA, led by Dr. Donald Kohn. “As soon as they said trial, I thought, ‘my kid is dead,” says Padilla-Vaccaro of the last resort option. But a dozen children born with other forms of SCID—in which different mutations caused the same weak immune systems—who were successfully treated by Kohn convinced the couple that the therapy was worth trying. Kohn had one spot left in the trial and was willing to hold it for Evangelina until she matured more. Born premature, she was diagnosed at six weeks old and needed more time for what was left of her immune system to catch up to weather the procedure.

When she was two months old, Evangelina was admitted to UCLA and had bone marrow drawn from her tiny hip. It contained the stem cells that go on to develop into all of the cells in the blood and immune systems. Kohn treated them with gene therapy, co-opting a modified virus to carry the healthy ADA gene so it could infect the stem cells from Evangelina’s bone marrow. The idea was that by transplanting these healthy ADA-containing cells back into Evangelina, she would soon be making her own healthy immune cells. And because they were made from her own cells, her body wouldn’t reject them.

“After the transplant of this miraculous tube of stem cells, which literally took five minutes, we had to just wait and see for a good six weeks,” says Padilla-Vaccaro. “The week after Christmas [in 2012], Dr. Kohn came in and told me, ‘It worked.’ It worked. Those words…besides the birth of my children, that day will always be the best day in my life.”

There is more about how Dr. Kohn developed his procedure.

This is truly wonderful news and I hope that the techniques used in cases like this can be used to treat or cure other genetic diseases. As Glenn Reynolds might say, faster please.

 

Felix Culpa

November 9, 2014

During the week running up to Halloween the humor site Cracked.com ran a series of articles with horror or Halloween themes, one of these being Adam Tod Brown’s 6 Compelling Reasons to Consider Switching to Satan. This was meant to be humorous, of course, but some of the reasons he gave are worth considering. Brown’s observation that some cultures do not consider a “Devil” figure to be bad was what inspired me to write a recent post on Prometheus.

It is the first reason he gives, number six on the list, that I would like to consider now.

#6. Because He’s Why You Know Things and Ask Questions

Hey! You believe the story of Adam and Eve, right? Just joking, but you at least know it, right? God makes a man and a woman, drops them into the middle of the Garden of Eden, and tells them not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. A talking serpent shows up and convinces Eve to ignore that one command and, just like that, we’re all born a bunch of filthy sinners because we possess the knowledge of good and evil, right and wrong, and all that other fun stuff.

Perfectly reasonable! Anyway, whether he was an actual serpent or not is open for debate if you don’t value your free time much, but most people agree that the “serpent” in question represents Satan. Before he came along, we were built to blindly follow God without ever questioning how or why the things around us happen.

I mean, call me whatever you want for saying it, but that doesn’t sound particularly great to me. I’d honestly rather know some things and make some decisions and, to hear the Bible tell it, Satan is the one who made that possible. Is that really such a bad thing? Well, it depends on who you ask.

Well, as a matter of fact, I do believe the story of Adam and Eve though I will not quibble over whether the story of Genesis ought to be taken literally or as a myth or whether Adam and Eve were real, individual human beings or represented the human race generally. It does not take a particularly keen observer to notice that there is something seriously awry with Homo sapiens. The story of Adam and Eve and the Fall is as good an explanation on how and why we have gone bad as any I have ever heard.

The sentiment that Adam Tod Brown expresses here is close to the theological concept of felix culpa or the fortunate fall. The idea is that it was actually a good thing that Adam and Eve sinned and fell since it led to Christ’s redemption of the human race. Several very important Christian thinkers have explored this concept, including Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas, generally in the context of God’s ability to bring good out of evil. I do not believe that the act which led to the fall could be described as being good in itself. Good did come of it, since God can always turn evil into good, but it was not the good which God originally intended for humanity. A fire fighter who rescues a child from a burning house has done a good act, but it would have been better if the house had not caught on fire. No one would think to praise an arsonist who started the fire because his act led to the heroism of the fire fighter.

But, Adam Tod Brown makes the more specific statement that thanks to the temptation of the Serpent, Adam and Eve were granted the ability to learn things and ask questions. Surely, that was a great gain for humanity. If we have fallen into sin, at least we have the consolation of gaining wisdom as compensation. Is that true? Perhaps we should look at the third chapter of Genesis for the full story.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the [c]cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”10 He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” 11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the LordGod said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 14 The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
Cursed are you more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you will go,
And dust you will eat
All the days of your life;
15 And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall [d]bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”
16 To the woman He said,
“I will greatly multiply
Your pain [e]in childbirth,
In pain you will bring forth children;
Yet your desire will be for your husband,
And he will rule over you.”

17 Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’;

Cursed is the ground because of you;
In [f]toil you will eat of it
All the days of your life.
18 “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you;
And you will eat the plants of the field;
19 By the sweat of your face
You will eat bread,
Till you return to the ground,
Because from it you were taken;
For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return.”

20 Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living.21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.

22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. 24 So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.

Painting from Manafi al-Hayawan (The Useful An...

Most depictions of Adma and Eve seem to be White. Here is something different. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Serpent promised Eve that she would be like God, knowing good and evil. She and Adam certainly learned about good and evil, but they were not made wiser or more like God. If anything, they lost the perfect communion with their Creator that they had formerly enjoyed and they had even become foolish enough to believe they could hide from God. The Serpent was lying to Eve.

The reason that we know things and can ask questions is because we have been given the faculty of reason by our Creator. This faculty was corrupted by the Fall as was every other aspect of being human. If it were not for the Fall, we would not be ignorant or simple-minded. Mind, body  and spirit would work in harmony with each other. It is possible that our thinking wouldn’t be subject to the sorts of superstitions or logical fallacies it is apt to fall into now. We would learn and discover new things not out of the necessities of survival, as is the case now, but out of the joy of learning about the good world our Creator gave us and we would have a better relationship with the One who knows all.

This is all speculation,of course. I do not and cannot know if that would really be the case, but I do know that we ought not to give the Devil credit for wisdom and knowledge he does not have, nor should we consider rebellion against our Creator to be in any sense a good act. Switching to Satan would be switching from light to darkness or knowledge to ignorance or being to nonbeing, not a good idea at all.

Talk Like a Pirate Day

September 19, 2014

Arrrr! Ahoy mateys, today be Talk Like a Pirate Day. This be the day those who be scallywags talk like true buccaneers not like lubbers.

English: Mark Summers ("Cap'n Slappy"...

English: Mark Summers (“Cap’n Slappy”) and John Baur (“Ol’ Chumbucket”), founders of Talk Like a Pirate Day. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, the pirates of the Caribbean didn’t really talk like that The real language spoken by a pirate crew would have depended on the nationality of the crew, an English crew would have spoken English, French would have spoken French, and so on. Whatever language they spoke, the crews of a pirate ship would probably have spoken a lower class sailor’s dialect, not too different from the workingmen’s speech of their native country, though with nautical jargon. Of course, the Caribbean was a melting pot of races and nationalities and I suppose pirate crews reflected that diversity. There were a number of pidgins and creoles spoken in the region, which were spoken on pirate ships and which didn’t sound much like the language we associate with pirates.

So, where did our ideas about talking like a pirate come from? Most likely from the same place most of our other ideas about pirates, Robert Louis Stevenson‘s Treasure Island. That children’s adventure story is responsible for most of ideas about pirates, buried treasure, parrots, pirate ships,pieces of eight,  the whole genre. Treasure Island is where you can find such expressions as “shiver me timbers” and “avast, matey” not to mention the dead man’s chest.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Cha...

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The actual sounds and wording what we think of as pirate language seems to have come from the actor Robert Newton who played Long John Silver in the 1950 Disney adaptation of Treasure Island. He reprised the role of  Long John Silver in an 1954 Australian film of that name. Newton also portrayed Blackbeard in Blackbeard the Pirate. Newton was originally from Dorset, in south-west England and he was educated in Cornwall. For his pirate roles, Newton opted to use an exaggerated version of his native West Country dialect with its rolling r’s or Arrrr’s. Robert Newton’s portrayals of pirates were popular enough that his speech became established as the real pirate speech in popular culture. Thus we have a Talk Like a Pirate Day in which people don’t really talk much like pirates at all.

Then again, Robert Newton’s dialect may not have been that far off. A lot of sailors came from south-west England and the region was a center of shipping and trade and it is likely that many pirates came from the region, including Blackbeard. Of course, we have no recordings of the way eighteenth century pirates or sailors spoke, so there is no way to know for sure. Still, it’s fun and we could all use some more fun in our lives.

Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest!

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!

God’s Not Dead

August 31, 2014

The other evening we attended a get together with some friends from church. We ate pizza and enjoyed one another’s company. I think I can speak for everyone by saying that a good time was had by all. For entertainment, we watched the movie God’s Not Dead, which had come out on DVD not too long ago. As is my custom, I looked up the movie on Wikipedia, etc when I got home. I was not too surprised to learn that the critics generally hated God’s Not Dead, panning it for having one dimensional caricatures as characters and ham handed messaging. I was also not too surprised to learn that it was a box office success. The fact that a film that appeals to the faith and sentiments of a large section of the American people has been described as a “surprise hit” says a lot about the disconnect between the values of the entertainment industry and the people they expect to buy their products. I doubt if any other industry that was so clueless about their potential customers would long survive.

God's_Not_Dead

There is not much to be said about the plot of God’s Not Dead that isn’t already generally known through the publicity the film has generated. A professor of philosophy, Jeffrey Radisson, played by Kevin Sorbo, demands that the students in his class write out “God is Dead” in order to receive a passing grade in his class. Every student writes the statement and signs their name except for Josh Wheaton who finds that he cannot act against his faith. Professor Radisson then demands that Josh prove the existence of God in three debates that are to take place at the end of the next three classes. The premiss may seem rather outlandish, then again maybe not. The environment on many universities does seem to be increasingly hostile to religion, particularly Christianity. The influence that causes many young Christians to lose their faith on campus may be far more subtle than depicted in God’s Not Dead, but it is there.

On the whole, I think that the criticisms leveled at God’s Not Dead are just ones. The message of  Christians being required to defend their faith is not very subtle. Professor Radisson and the other atheists in the movie are caricatures of the stereotypical angry, obnoxious atheists. However, in defense of God’s Not Dead, I have to say that its failings are not, in fact, worse than much that comes out of Hollywood. If atheists are offended by the shallow depictions of their beliefs found in God’s Not Dead, then now they know how many Christians and conservatives feel  as we sit in a theater. I also have to say that many atheists really do come across as the sort of obnoxious arrogant jerks that Kevin Sorbo plays. For the person whose exposure to atheism consists only of the writings of Richard Dawkins and the antics of internet trolls, not to mention the Freedom from Religion Foundation who seem to be deliberately trying to make atheists pariahs, Sorbo’s depiction rings true. I have also seen movies with some environmentalist or generally left-wing message presented with far less skill than God’s Not Dead.

I don’t think that the arguments presented by either Josh or Professor Radisson were very good ones. There was not enough screen time devoted to the actual debate to really develop the arguments. This is part of the reason why although I generally liked God’s Not Dead, I did feel a certain frustration while watching it. This movie was not as good as it could have been. The premise is interesting. Kevin Sorbo and the other actors were good. The production values were as high as could be expected, yet it was all somehow not quite enough. This could have been a thought-provoking movie, but it didn’t quite reach the mark. I think that most of the extraneous subplots ought to have been cut out to make a leaner, more straightforward narrative. The movie also could have done without the cameos by Willie Robertson and the Newsboys. These subplots and cameos only served as distractions. Professor Radisson ought to have been depicted in more sympathetic fashion, rather than as almost a cartoon villain. Perhaps they ought to have had him challenge Josh after a class discussion. This might have made for a more interesting movie.

God’s Not Dead is a movie worth watching but it could have been so much better.

 

Obvious Child

July 11, 2014

Obvious Child is the name of a new film which seems to be a romantic comedy exploring the lighter side of abortion. Apparently some critics like the idea while most conservatives hate it, along with the audience, whose opinion should matter most considering they are the ones who are expected to buy tickets to see the movie. Jonah Goldberg has some things to say about the wider implications of this film’s failure at the box office which I caught in his column at Real Clear Politics.

In the film Obvious Child, Jenny Slate plays Donna Stern, a stand-up comedian who specializes in making jokes about her private parts, with the occasional foray into fart humor. She is about to go onstage. Her friend offers her some encouragement: “You are going to kill it out there!”

Donna replies: “I actually have an appointment to do that tomorrow.”

Donna’s talking about her abortion appointment.

Get it? It’s funny because it’s true. Or if you’re like me, you think it’s not funny because it’s true.

Many critics think it’s funny. One dubbed it “far and away the most winning abortion-themed comedy ever made.” Of course, as an artistic genre, that’s setting the bar pretty low, like serving the best gas-station sushi in the state of Oklahoma.

Since it opened last month, the film has grossed less than $2 million. Compare that to 2007’s Juno, a brilliant film widely seen as pro-life (at least among pro-lifers), or Knocked Up, a raunchier romantic comedy also hailed by abortion foes, both of which grossed more than $140 million domestically. Obvious Child, then, seems less like the cultural watershed its friends and foes make it out to be and more like a barely successful art-house flick.

 

My late friend Andrew Breitbart liked to say that politics is downstream of culture, meaning that any truly successful political turnaround needs to start by changing popular attitudes. Adam Bellow, a storied editor of conservative books, has a similar conviction and is trying to launch a conservative revolt in the world of fiction.

I wish them great success. Still, I think there’s something missing in this ancient conversation on the right (conservatives have been making such arguments since the 1950s — if not the 1450s, with the publication of the Gutenberg Bible). Conservatives refuse to celebrate, or even notice, how much of the popular culture is on their side.

Sure, Hollywood is generally very liberal, but America isn’t. Judging by their campaign donations, Hollywood liberals are very supportive of abortion rights. But there’s a reason why sitcoms since Maude haven’t had a lot of storylines about abortion. Indeed, nearly every pregnant TV character treats her unborn child as if it’s already a human being.

The Left may be anti-military, but such movies tend to do poorly, which is why we see more pro-military films. Similarly, it’s a safe bet that Hollywood liberals loathe guns. But you wouldn’t know that by what they produce. Not many action stars save the day by quoting a poem. Most Hollywood liberals probably oppose the death penalty, yet they make lots of movies where the bad guy meets a grisly death to the cheers of the audience. The Left rolls its eyes at “family values,” but family values are at the heart of most successful sitcoms and dramas.

I think he is right, as far as it goes and certainly Hollywood is missing opportunities for profit by taking up such a position of opposition to the values of so many mainstream Americans, but I think there is a more fundamental reason why Obvious Child is not doing better at the box office. Abortion is not funny.

Abortion is a serious matter. As with most matters of life and death, it is not a subject that can be taken lightly. For people on the pro-life side, abortion is murder on a large scale and a comedy about abortion is in as much poor taste as a comedy about the Holocaust. People on the pro-choice side may not feel quite the same way about abortion, but except for a few extremists, the sort that Rush Limbaugh used to call “feminazis”, they are aware that it is a serious and controversial subject. Thus, a movie like Obvious Child which seems to treat abortion as of no greater significance then getting a pedicure, is going to offend everyone but those few extremists.

I am glad that Obvious Child is not doing well. The degeneration of our popular culture seems to be accelerating at an ever faster pace and I am glad for any sign that there are still limits to  what we are willing to watch.


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