Sunday, March 29, 2009

Jim for Pat and Pat for Jim

Well, I don't know how Hollywood did it, but it did it.  It picked the best person imaginable to play Number Six in the AMC remake of Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner. Who's the lucky guy?  James Patrick Caviezel.

Like Patrick McGoohan, it's hard to know what James' "real" accent is, since he versatiley flips between them as needed for his roles.

And, like Patrick, he is extremely careful about what he will do as an actor.  (Patrick valiantly refused to kiss his costars, and refused to take the role of James Bond on moral grounds).  It "just so happens" that Jim's a Christian who lives out his faith.  The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) describes Mr. Caviezel this way:

"While filming High Crimes (2002), he refused to do any love scenes with on-screen wife Ashley Judd because it conflicted with his strong Catholic faith. It was also around this time when he was chosen by Mel Gibson to star as Jesus Christ in the upcoming, controversial film The Passion of the Christ (2004). The film went on to become one of the highest grossing movies of all-time and made Jim a household name.

Pretty awesome, no?

AMC has also posted each Prisoner episode online in its entirety.  Wow.

In other Prisoneresque news, a local county councilman is taking the Prisoner iconography and running with it.  His campaign slogan is "Gehrig for 2" and his signs feature the old-fashioned bike and font that will be familiar to -- a few.  Nine people out of ten will most likely ask him "What's with the bike, you weirdo?"  But that last person will smile knowingly, circle their forefinger and thumb, and salute.
    Last week I noticed Rover in an electronic ad in town.  I have contacted Gehrig's political campaign to see if that ad and his campaign are in any way connected. 

Friday, March 27, 2009

What About the Rest of Us?

A sidebar just popped up a website.  It said "Meet Attractive Christian Singles!"
This raised two questions:
1) Who decides whether the people applying are attractive or not?
2) Where do all the rest of us go?

Time's Jet Engine

Time flies.  And it doesn't have softly beating feathery wings.  It's got a jet engine.

When the car pulls away and my family's gone, I always wish I'd listened more, loved more, heard more, cared more in those few seconds that we were together.  But life's like that: it gives you little tastes of what you want so you won't forget how much better the real thing will be.

I want to be with my family now, but what I really want is to never be separated.  That's going to happen in Heaven.
I want to understand what they're saying now, and love them more and more and more.  What I really want is perfect hearing and perfect love for them.
That's going to happen in Heaven.

Thank you, Lord, for making time.  And thank you for giving it a limited supply of gas.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Why the Stones?

I was talking with a friend on Monday night about evangelism.  He's been wrestling with whether or not to stay in a student parachurch group, and recently decided to stop.  One thing he said I've been mulling over: he said that to be salt and light, you can't lose your properties.  Those properties, he said, weren't evangelizing: they were walking with God and becoming more like him. I asked him why he was separating the two.  After all, when Jesus was here in a body, he went with his disciples lots of times and they evangelized together.  Sure, it was easier then to see that Jesus was right next to you, but if He was with them often when they were witnessing, aren't we walking with God when we witness, too?  He seemed to agree with me, then.
    At another point in the conservation, my friend said that as he looks at the Code Blue Rallies, etc., he's just wondering whether he should be getting all into the conservative thing.  After all, isn't it more important to find your identity in Christ than in conservatism?  This, too, concerned me.  I told him what I'd heard back in an IWU chapel.  The speaker was saying that in the Marines, everyone is a rifleman.  After that, you have other assignments, but first and foremost you're a rifleman.  Cook?  He's not primarily a cook.  He's a rifleman who happens to be on mess duty.  Tank operator?  He's not primarily a tank operator.  He's a rifleman who happens to be on tank duty.  That's how I see my identity in Christ compared to everything else.  I'm a Christian first, and everything else is secondary.  I'm a Christian who happens to be a conservative.  But this doesn't mean I stop being a conservative, as long as it doesn't hamper my identity in Christ.
    Lately, it seems like I've been hearing an awful lot of people looking down on evangelism.  Or "evangelicals," whatever that means.  Two Sundays ago the sermon was about Jesus not being conservative or liberal.  He was "in the middle," and that's why everyone hated Him.  He wasn't like the liberals who watered down their message to be more palatable until they had no message.  And He wasn't like the conservatives, who spent all their time figuring out what was right and wrong.  Then, once they were assured they were in the right, they went around telling everyone else how wrong they were. 
    I gotta say, sitting in the audience that day, I never felt so uneasy in a church setting since I was sitting under the preacher at CBM.  The man speaking was busily judging "conservatives" as being too judgmental, and I wondered if he realized what he was saying/doing.  After the sermon was done, I turned to the guy next to me (I couldn't just sit there!) and told him how much this sermon concerned me.  The speaker hadn't even defined the words "conservative" and "liberal."  Who did he actually mean when he was talking about conservatives?  James Dobson?  The guy evidently didn't share my concern.  He just said that maybe the speaker meant "someone who holds onto old ways of doing things" when he used the word conservative.
   So I left that day still wondering who the speaker meant when he decried conservatives.  I also wondered whether he was speaking only for himself, or if the elders agreed with what he said.  My answers didn't come that day.  They came on Tuesday.
   Tuesday of last week I met with the teaching elder and his wife.  They asked about my background before I visited the church.  We chatted about lots of things, and he and his wife told me about their kids' experiences in public schools in both Canada and here.  In Canada it was so unpopular to be a Christian that no one claimed Christ unless they really had Him.  They both talked about there "always being a remnant."  Their kids were at first really excited when they moved here to the U.S., becuase on their first day of school, everybody was a Christian (or at least said they were!).  Gradually, though, their kids found that many of the people claiming Christ were no different from anyone else.  So they began to see again that "there's always a remnant."  They said that even during times when a large percentage of the population was claiming Christ, many of them were just cultural Christians.  Only a few of those saying they were Christians really cared about Christ and lived it.  He told me about a Businessmen's Revival that happened in Chicago.  He first heard about it in a class, and it was told as if it was a great thing, with businessmen getting together, praying, and getting back to God.  The meetings were even covered as front page news!   He decided to look into the story himself, and looked up the Chicago Tribune microfiche.  Lo and behold, the paper was only about 14 pages at that point, so every story started on the front page.  Everything was "front page news."  Also, within just a few weeks of all the hubbub, there was no more coverage.  The a letter came from the man who had started it.  He asked "Where'd you all go?  A few weeks ago you all were meeting here to have lunch together and pray.  And now you're not here at all!"  This proved, according to the elder, that that society was much like ours, where spirituality came and went as a fad.  He said to look at PromiseKeepers.  He asked me why it failed, and then answered his own quetsion: it went political.  He said that he believes PromiseKeepers, viewed with the mist of time, will be just like the Businessmen's Revival.  As the years pass, people will forget how it petered out.   They will talk about how spiritually awake we all were because of this great even when really it was just another fad.  As a whole, there's a remnant, and then there's people that claim Christ but don't live for him.  For men in both "awakenings," they came, they experienced, and the next time it was announced, the thought was "Well, did that.  Don't need to do that again."  (This sidenote made me very sad, because I knew how much my Dad had enjoyed PromiseKeepers, and that it was a good thing.  I guess I shouldn't have been too terribly surprised, though, at how dismissive he was, because hadn't he dismissed Rob Bell out of hand as well?)  After I told them a little bit of my history, they asked if I had more questions about the church.  I had thought about this an awful lot, and talked to Mom and Dad about it.  I asked what the church's focus was as a whole on the pro-life issue.  (A week before I'd called the two crisis pregnancy centers in town to ask what churches they recommended on the basis of support.  They gave me several names and said they had many more.  But the church I'd been visiting hadn't given for the last eight years.)
   The elder said that he and the rest of the elders were pro-life, but they didn't see it as the church's role to do things as a church-wide endeavor on abortion.  He sees the role of the church as doing things on an individual level: individually talking with people, not trying to change society as a whole.  He said that I'd probably agree with all of what they believed on the pro-life issue.  He said that he sees James Dobsob as misguided in his activism.  When the church is always out there just telling people they're doing stuff wrong, they're seen as reactionary.  (Even at that point, such an empty statement rang hollow.  Should we really care if others see us as reactionary, if we know we're doing the right thing?).  He said that a lot of people are just trying to turn back the clock to a time they think was perfect.  But really, even the 1950's aren't that kind of a period of time.  There were a lot of people claiming Christ that were just cultural Christians.  I don't remember the exact order that the following topics came up, but this was what we discussed: I told him and his wife about the "Sexuality Week" that'd been declared on campus, and that highlighted events from groups like "Ladies Loving Ladies," etc.  He calmly told me that he and his wife had seen all this sort of thing, because the sexual revolution started in their lifetimes.  He said that this sort of thing is like an engine that can't be stopped.  He said that any attempt to make a stand against it would be seen as that person trying to bring back the days of sexual tyranny, and they won't have any of it.  When he told me that "it couldn't be stopped," I knew that we were at an impasse.  I couldn't partner with people who weren't interested in partnering.  The first thought that came to my mind was William F. Buckley's quote (bless his heart!) about his standing athwart history yelling "STOP!"  I don't think I could have had a contrast any bigger than what I was hearing from this elder, and what I've heard from my parents and Scripture.
     The conversation went on, and I asked him what he thought about Wilberforce, and his steady efforts to change society -- not just on an individual level -- but on a massive scale.  God used him in politics, and he was even the best friend of the prime minister.  He was intimately involved in politics, and changing society.  His answer? "That was a different time.  He lived in a Judeo-Christian culture."  WOW.  I tried bringing him back to his previous statements about how there was always a remnant, but they were always massively outnumbered by the Christians-in-name-only.  But he casually disagreed.  He said, no, that was a Judeo-Christian country at the time.  I tried telling him about the prostitution rate (over 25% of women in a certain age were prostitutes).  I didn't want to go into the stuff about the Prince of Wales.  I sat there wondering how picture perfect a nation could be that condoned slavery.  I was having a hard time listening politely when I so utterly disagreed with what he said.  I went on to talk about how he changed the law about slavery: how he didn't let himself think that it was unstoppable.  Instead, he kept trying, kept trying, kept trying.  Isn't that the model we should follow?  That's when the wife told me the thing that crushed that leg of the conversation.  You looked across the table and said "But you are not the best friend of the Prime Minister."  (It wasn't until I was walking back that I thought of a response to this.  If Wilberforce had followed the model of having beliefs but never trying to change any laws, he never could been used by God as he was.  The one thing I did think of at the time was that if Wilberforce had come to them when he was wrestling with staying in Parliament or leaving because of his new-found faith, I really think they would have told him to leave.  Now I'm not so sure: they might have told him to stay, but wouldn't have gotten involved.  They told me that if I see a need to do things politically on campus and that kind of thing, I should go ahead.  But that's not what I was looking for.  I don't want to just go and do my own thing (okay, so yes I do, but I know I shouldn't want that!).  I want to be working with other people united for a cause and a purpose).
As an antitode to what I'd just been hearing, all the way back to campus I started naming off my heroes: Wilberforce, Dinesh D'Souza, Reagan, Solzhenitsyn, Coulter, etc.  I just did not want to fall into the way of saying "It can't be done, so why try?"  I would rather be the one that said, "I tried, and tried, and tried, and I'm going to keep trying, trying, trying!  C'mon, join me!  Let's go try again!"
      I knew I hadn't accurately conveyed how concerned I was about what they were saying.  When the teaching elder told me he wouldn't a sermon on abortion because that would politicize it, I saw clearly that my waiting for this would have gone on for a long time, but I was glad that he just said this straight up.  I really had been telling myself, "Ok, ok.  So there wasn't a worldview-focused sermon last week, or a worldview-focused class last week.  But I'm sure it'll be coming soon!"  I'm so glad I've been delivered from that delusion.  The thing that concerned me, too, was as they talked about the individual witness, I told them that for myself, I look at the world and feel totally overwhelmed.  But if I concentrate on one person, I can see something to do.  They both nodded their heads emphatically at that, and said -- yes -- you've got it!  At the time, I didn't know what to make of this.  I was agreeing, but only on some part of it.  I still saw Dobson as doing the right thing, too!  So I realized that I was being confronted with a false dichotomy. It's really not necessary to make a choice between individual conversations and mass communication for my entire life.  Yes, in a certain situation, I'll have to make a call on that, but I don't have to give up one or the other methods!  The thought that came to me when I was walking back was "Jesus' dying on the cross was a mass communication event."  That was enough to end my doubt, and realize that if Christ used both methods: talking one-on-one with a woman at a well, and stretching his arms out on a cross for everyone to see, I don't have to choose between these two methods.
      In that conversation I started out talking about, I shared that I don't see witnessing as an attempt to push my framework of ideas, my worldview,  on another person.  Oh no: as I see it, Truth (Jesus) is not at all dependent on my views and thoughts.  He continues to be Truth, even if I don't acknowledge Him.  So what am I doing when I'm witnessing?  I'm not saying "Here, take my views and try 'em on for size."  I'm saying "I know this True. I've found it, and I want you to find it, too.  Let's look for Truth together!"  I see it as loving the other person.  I mean, it's only if I don't care for someone that I won't share what I know to be true and lifegiving with them!
     As to the characterization of conservatives only caring about what's right and what's wrong, well, as a Christian that happens to be a conservative, I can tell you that I do think about that alot.  Y'know why I do?  Because God tells me to.  And I don't mean a little voice whispering in my head.  I mean a voice speaking to me through Scripture.  It's just really strange to me how these antagonstic ideas toward evangelism came up from two different sources in such a short amount of time.  Yes, yes, yes, it does matter very much how I point others to Truth.  But it matters that I point them to Truth.  I know that one of my biggest temptations is to say "I'm not going to do something if I can't do it perfectly."  But if I wait until I can witness perfectly, well, brother, it ain'ta never gonna happen.  In all the hullaballoo about conservatives, arrogance, and all that, I don't want to cast stones at the person who's showing me up, witnessing more than I am.  I want to join with that person instead. 

The Ten Year Response

You know how it is: ten years after you hear something, you find the response you might have made right then.  For example, Dr. Martin at IWU placed George Washington on a pedestal (from what I hear, quite literally: he had a bust of George in his house), and saw Abraham Lincoln as worse than Saddam Hussein.  Hmm... I wasn't very convinced until he mentioned that Marx wrote Lincoln a letter congratulating him for his revolution.  When I heard that I was horrified and began doubting the honesty of Mr. Lincoln.
     But today, fresh news.  Well, I mean, it's over two hundred years old, but it gives me a fresh perspective.  A council of the French revolutionaries elected William Wilberforce and George Washington as citizens of France. 
    Now if ever there was a dubious honor, this was it.  The Frenchies may have had their king in the Bastille at that point, or it might have come later.  In any case, who would want to be elected an honorary citizen of a country that was butchering its actual citizens?  But what were Will and George to do?  After all, they had no control over what the revolutionaries voted on!
     So, I am less hard on Abe for getting his congratulations from Marx.  The question "did he deserve it?" is still open, but the question "did he have control over it?" is closed.  I wonder what Martin would say...
    Another example of "The Ten Year Response" came today when I was listening to the radio.  Tony Evans was speaking about Esther, and how she and her maidservants prayed and fasted together before she went to the king.  "Prayed and fasted."  Hmm... I'd heard some people claim that the book of Esther glorified man because God wasn't mentioned.  I didn't know what to say at the time, but now it's clear: God is glorified through that book.  This wasn't a story of empowered woman finding her voice.  This was a story of a humble woman leaning on her God.  Wow: wish I'd realized that at the time.  But hey -- at least I realize it now!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


"The world is sleeping in the dark,
That the church can't fight, cause it's asleep in the light
How can you be so dead, when you've been so well fed?"

---Keith Green

(See the full song.)


Cliches are useful.  That's why they haven't kicked the bucket, bought the farm, or been buried six feet under.  And when it comes to the idea that "the devil is in the details," I understand what it means.  Sometimes the details wring tears out of your face like nothing else.  For example, in a paper I'm working on, I'd cited EPA maximum contaminant levels from one source, and thought I was done with it.  Oh, no, brother.  When I started converting the supposed "microgram per liter" values to molarity, I was coming up with picomolarlity-level limits.  WHAT?  I was expecting micromolarity limits!  Hmm... I doublechecked the source.  Looking at the EPA site directly, I found that the book had miscited the EPA: the actual values were in "milligrams per liter."  Well, whatcha know.
   Then, today, I was looking up the structure for iron(III)ammonium citrate.  Straightforward, right?  Ha, no.  I found it on Sigma-Aldrich and redrew it in ChemDraw.  To make sure I had it right, I checked the mass.  When I compared it to the one listed for the product, it was different by a good amount.  Whaa??  It turns out that I had faithfully copied their structure, BUT their structure didn't agree with their listed molecular weight!  Comparing their structure to ones from other websites showed that a fiesty carbon had inserted itself into Sigma's structure.  WHOOPS! 
    It's just stuff like that that makes you scratch your head (ha! gotta keep those cliches going!) and wonder what else you're missing!
    But on the bright side, it makes me happy that I didn't find it the day of my prelim when idly glancing through the pages of my report, or when a committee member does the math and figures out my egregious error.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Grow, Baby, Grow!

The problem with a "pet" research project or a research "baby" is that it only grows when you're thinking about it.  Real pets and real babies aren't like that.

I'll Have To Remember That

"Never go to bed mad. Stay up and fight." -- Phyllis Diller

Did You Just See What I Just Saw?

     While I was driving back from church this morning, I just about crashed into the car in front of me.  No: I wasn't on the cell phone.  I'd just happened to glance over at a digital billboard on the left side of the street.  What I saw there startled me so much I forgot I was driving a two ton monster!  The picture was there for all of two seconds, and then it was gone.  The next picture was back to standard advertising (a pencil erasing the word "AIDS,"), but the two second blip -- from what I could tell -- was an image from The Village.  It showed a person being attacked by Fido, their face and hand pressed tightly against It. 
    Call me crazy, but that's what I saw.  Which leaves the question "Why would anyone put that image on a billboard, with no explanation, and no knowable purpose?"  I haven't got a clue.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Festering Joy

There once was a chemist named Lester
who let his bright mind oft to fester.
When instead of a boy
he got twice the joy,
he named the pair Poly and Ester.

Better Than a Purple Crayon

Remember the book "Harold and the Purple Crayon"?  Well, I've found something even better.  With ChemDraw, you can type the name of a compound, select "Convert Name to Structure," and BINGO! your chemical structure appears before your eyes!  (Okay, okay, so it's not as if the actual compound appeared in a little glass vial.  Still!).

Friday, March 20, 2009

Brother, You're a Conservative

I just found the coolest website!  It's called "Wake Up Black America," and it's written by a guy living in Baltimore.  Here's how he describes himself:
"My name is Tyrone. I'm 33 years old. I grew up and still live in the city of Baltimore; I'm an American of African decent. Baltimore is the 16th most liberal city in America. That would explain why it's the #1 slum in the state of Maryland and the nation. I've been a registered Republican for about 6 years, and I've been a conservative longer then that."
Interest picqued?  Good.

Hey, That's My Money You're Spending!

   It's a classic line.  Gracie asks the taxman if she can list all elected officals as her dependents.
   Y'know, she's right.
    Want to make an informed decision about where to donate your hard-earned money?  Well, come April 15th, I know of a federal government that sorely desires a bailout from you.  BUT the reason I started this post is not to point out the profligacy of our American government in a vacuum, but to do so be means of contrast.  How effective are government programs?  Is there any place you can go to see the breakdown of program/administrative costs?  Is there any accountability or information link between you and the government program you've donated to?  (By the way, I realize that I'm stretching the word donation when I apply it to compulsory taxes.  But think about it: for all the disdain that some legislators rain down on Walmart shoppers, it's those same Walmart shoppers -- okay, the ones that aren't on welfare -- that are financing that legislator's lifestyle.  So put that in your pipe and smoke it, Barbara Boxer!).  Anybody out there feel a little like a forgotten man?  Anyone want to remind the Congress that all public money was once private money?
   Yeah?  Me too.
   Well, here's one way to use the money leftover after the bone-picking vultures come through.   You can quickly compare the way private charities spend their money.  Take a look at  (Hmmm... maybe a spinoff site could be called "  You can see where your money's going, and you can make informed decisions about where to send your check. 
   Doesn't it feel good to be deciding where and to whom your money goes?
   Freedom.  It can be a beautiful thing.

Your Love. Your Faithfulness... Your Light.

"Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.  Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep. O Lord, you preserve both man and beast.  How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find [fn] refuge in the shadow of your wings.  They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights.  For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light." (Psalm 36:5-9

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tricks That Glow


You can start a new line in a single Excel cell.

Also, you can select just one section of text in a pdf by holding down the OPTION key as you drag the cursor over your selected text.

You wouldn't believe the glow these two tricks have put into my life.


Yesterday, the following email came through to all the College of Medicine students.  It was sent by a local gynecologist/abortionist:

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What Do They Do?

What do all the impractical jokers do for fun?

More from E. B. White

"A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate millions... Of all targets New York has a certain clear priority. In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer might loose the lightning, New York must hold a steady, irresistible charm." (from Here is New York, 1949)

Cornell: First Openly Godless U.S. University

It was news back in its day.  Cornell University was not affiliated going to be affiliated with any denomination -- or Christianity itself for that matter! 
I stumbled across the following bit of history, describing Cornell's newborn days, and the philosophy of Cornell's first president, Andrew Dickson White:

It would offer scientific and technical education as well as humanities degrees. And it would be nonsectarian – the first major nonsectarian college in the United States. After political controversy, Cornell University was chartered in 1865. White would be its first president.

Sectarian newspapers savaged the fledgling institution, accusing it of infidelity and worse – raising such a stink that New York Governor Reuben E. Fenton refused to attend Cornell's 1868 opening ceremonies. Frustrated, White delivered a pugnacious 1869 literature indicting religion as the greatest enemy of scientific discovery. The lecture became a series of articles in a popular magazine, and became central to a growing national dialogue over whether science and religion stood inevitably in conflict.

More than two decades later, White shaped his thinking into his magnum opus, a two-volume work published in 1896 as A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. In correspondence he wrote that he intended the work to stake out a position between "such gush as [Catholic apologist John Henry] Newman's on one side and such scoffing as Ingersoll's on the other." Though White meant to depict religion as science's victim as much as the other way around, most readers thought A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom did as much as any published work, in historian Paul Carter's words, "toward routing orthodoxy in the name of science."

E.B. White Say...

"I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day."
E. B. White (author of Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little).

Who Built the House?

"At that time His voice shook the earth, but now He has promised, 'Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.'  The words "once more" indicate the removing of what can be shaken-that is, created things-so that what cannot be shaken may remain.  Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our 'God is a consuming fire.'"  Hebrews 12:26-29   I don't know about you, but when I read this, I cannot see how this in any way jives with the idea of Jesus setting up an earthly kingdom.  I am looking forward to the day when this current, sin-disfigured universe is going to be replaced.  It's going to be an awesome day when the new heavens and the new earth are revealed.  (I mean, you though an Apple showcase or an analytical conference were spectacular?  Just wait until the unveiling of the new heavens and the new earth!).
    I bought a dinky book on logic and structuring arguments.  One example looked at whether/not God created the earth.  The argument was based on the idea that every house has a builder, and so the earth must have a builder, too.  The author "disproved" this argument by pointing out the imperfections in the world.  If, the author believed, the world is imperfect, this implies an imperfect Creator God.   Since he wasn't willing to accept the idea of an imperfect God, he ruled out the idea that God created the world.
     I've been writing all over this book, because it's the other real-time method I have of responding to the author.  If he had examined his original argument more carefully, he could have come to an entirely different conclusion.
    Here's how I look at this question:
    Q: Houses seem to have elements of design.  If houses truly do have elements of design, how did the design come about? 
    A: An architect designed it.  
    Q: If a problem is found in the house, is it always, then, the architect's fault? 
    A: Oh no.  It could be, if it's a fundamental design flaw (such as too steep a staircase), but it could also be a mistake made by the contractors who took the architect's design and executed it.  For example, if the roof leaks around the chimney during the first week after construction, it's just possible that the contractors forgot to install the flashing.  Other reasons that there could be a problem with the house is that an accident or deliberate action destroyed part of it.  A car might have slid off the road and into the house, or a little kid playing with matches might have burned up part of the house.  Finally, if the house is older and has not been well-maintained, when you look at it in its current condition, you must carefully decide what characteristics of the house are due to the architect's design, and which are due to weather-wear, aging of the building materials, etc.
     This last point is what I want to emphasize.  If we looked at the burned-out shell of a house, we might be able to learn something about the architect who designed it.  But could we accuse him of neglecting to design a roof, or for using such ugly, scorched bricks?  Of course not: those characteristics of the house weren't part of the architect's blueprint; they came after the architect designed the house.
    That's how it is with God's universe, as well.  God originally made a perfect universe.  But we humans made short work of that perfection.  Adam did the first sin, and the rest of us have been following suit ever since.  Our sins have distorted the original blueprint that God had for this universe.  Sin, death, fungus, disease, tears, pills -- none of these were originally part of God's plan.  But the very fact that the world still exists after our reckless, millennium-long frat party in it is a testament to God's original, incredible design.
     So if you and I are really intent on answering the question "Did God create the world?", then we've got to know if the current condition of the world is what it's always been.
    Is this universe flawed?  Oh, buddy, yes.
    Does this imply that if there was a Creator of the universe He too would be flawed?
    No: not if the original condition of the universe was much different from what it is now.
    It boils down to four options:
1) The universe has always been what it is now.
2) The condition of the universe is changing, but there is no definite trend toward a "better" or a "worse" state.
3) The universe was at one time better than what it is now.  It is decaying.
4) The universe was at one time worse than what it is now.  It is improving.
(Of course, I haven't defined the terms "better" and "worse."  That leaves a gap about the size of Wrigley Stadium in what I'm saying here).
   What do you believe about the condition of the universe?  How does that impact the possibility that God created or did not create the universe?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Why So Long?

Why has it taken me three years to think of getting involved in CEF and pro-life ministries again?  Where's my brain been?  Where's my heart been?

Through No Virtue of Her Own

It's easier for me to explain why a failure isn't my fault.  It's harder for me to admit that some successes have nothing to do with my ability.  That's why the phrase "through no fault of my own" comes naturally to me, while I've never used the phrase "through no virtue of my own."

Naturally.  Hmmm... I don't like to admit the fact that that witch -- my old nature -- is good at cackling at all the wrong things, is good at grasping at pleasure and destroying it with her claws, and is so good at deceiving that she's deceived herself.  Then there's that new nature.  That nature that's becoming like Christ, and laughs her head off at the things that God finds funny, that holds everything gently and carefully because she realizes it's all God's, and neither deceives or is deceived. 

So which nature is going to win?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Maxing out the Bleep-o-meter

There's an epidemic on my campus.  Okay, there's several.  The one I'm talking about right now is casual cursing.  I can't tell you how many times I've heard foul language coming from students.  This happens over the smallest incidents, or over no incident at all.  I'll be walking on the Quad, and the happy, chatty people walking next to me will be dropping verbal bombs all over the place.  If these bombs created a crator whenever they hit the sod, the Quad would look like the moon and no floors would exist in any of the buildings on campus. 

The worst words you've heard take on new forms in students' mouths: any word can become a noun, verb, adjective, adjective, or the run-of-the-mill exclamation.  Call me a self-righteous prude, but I can tell you this isn't advisable from a purely pragmatic angle.

For example, now that you use a curse word to modify every word in your sentence, my verbal filter has filtered out any meaning you might have been trying to attach to that curse word.  Oh, sorry!  You weren't cursing?  You were just describing?  Sorry!  My bad!  I -- I thought you were upset!  Glad that's outta the way!

Or, if you really are upset, and you're trying to express that, now that you've used the worst word you know to describe the volleyball you missed, what word do you have left to describe the homework that's due on Thursday?  Now that you've called the ex-boyfriend that dumped you that, what are you going to call the telemarketer that calls you during the afternoon and uses up your minutes?

By passing grenades every time talk, you've lost the ability to express yourself. 

Seeing that your current vocabulary no longer expresses your true emotions, you have a couple options.

1) Take some meds to manage your anger.  That way, you won't get angry (or happy) ever again.
2) Start anger management classes.
3) Go into hysterics or blustering thunder whenever something moderately bad happens to you.  This way, your emotional fervor can go entirely into histrionics, and none of it will be wasted on mere words.
4) Continue using your five "expressive" word vocabulary, and just string your expletives along like sausages for someone else to swallow.
5) Start using the words "blankety-blank" to give your onlookers a verbal "create-your-own-adventure."
6) Invent new bad words.  Problem is, who but you is going to know they're bad?
7) INSTEAD OF PUTTING EVERYTHING YOU FEEL IS IMPORTANT IN CAPS, drop down to the smallest font you know.  If everything has three exclamation points, then nothing has three exclamation points.  Understate your emotion, and/or develop your sarcastic side.  Express your thoughts through meaningful words and multilayered expressions.  Read some Shakespeare, and by all means go to the dictionary.
8) Pray before speaking.

It's National Busybody's Day. Spill the Beans

I used to wonder how busybodies kept track of both their business and your business.  As for me, nine times out of ten I could care less about the gossip in your life.  (Sure, that last 1/10th of the case, tell, do tell!).  What I finally realized is that the busybody makes your business their business.  I mean, I suppose it becomes like any other hobby: you like it, you invest time in it, and you find out ways to get better at it.

What with Facebook, Gchat, Twitter, and other rapid, expansive sources of juicy information, I strongly believe that busybodiness is at an all-time high.

At one point in my life, I used to think it was hard to recognize busybodies.  No more.  Just start telling them something personal, and see how artfully they employ their pocket-size nutcrackers, crowbars, and wedges.  (Nutcrackers are well-timed sentences with question marks; crowbars are well-placed "Oh's"; wedges are well-worn encouraging comments.  When translated from busybody speak, these phrases mean, "Goodie-goodie: now for the morsel!")  If you can only see a blur, and you'd like to see the tool they're using on you, when you come to an interesting part in your account about the embarrassing moment on the bus when you realized your pants were inside-out, act as if you're so ashamed you just couldn't go on.  As you pause, look up and catch the expression on their face.  The suspense will be palpable for about three seconds, and then out will come the crowbar, the nutcracker, or the wedge, and you can see it in all its glory. 

Successful busybodies know how to create the semblance of a welcoming environment.  This is an environment where it's natural for you to spill the beans, tell the good part, open up, and all that stuff.  The successful busybody will never leave dead air between you, or sufficient time for you to ask the question "Should I be telling this person this?"  If you're "chatting" (they never call it "pumping") with a busybody and you start saying something juicy and catch yourself with "Should I...?" their answer will always be "Yes!"

Prepare yourself: the busybody has an almost limitless amount of patience if there's a prize at the bottom of the Cracker Jack.  You may be the worst storyteller in the world, but if your story ends with "...and that's why my great aunt's called Matilda the Hun..." they're going to hear you out.  But be aware that whatever you tell them is going to be distilled down, and passed on in draughts to whomever else finds this to be heady stuff.  If you really didn't want anyone to know that as a child you wanted to be a clown, don't go tell your closest busybody.

They're more interested than your mom in the ins and outs of your life, and give a willing and encouraging ear to your astericked sighs and your double exclamation points.  They're also uncannily good at remembering details of your life.  Better, often, than you are yourself!

Be very wary, however, of trying to get similar information out of them.  Of course, this varies by busybody, but some claim to have such uninteresting lives that there's nothing juicy they'd like to swap with you.  They just want your goodies: they don't want you to know their goodies!  (Though, to be fair, they may have such uninteresting lives that they want a slice of yours!)

As for me, I think my new hobby is going to be frustrating busybodies.  My first strategy will be to alternatively tell them true things they don't care about (you just wouldn't believe the price of papertowels in the stockroom!), and outlandish things that never happened (Hey, [name changed to protect the guility]!  Did I ever tell you about the time I dated three guys named Bill?).  This is going to be fun.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Neon gas in a tubular sign, a dot and a dash, a colon and a curve, a knuckle on a plank, a smile and a nod: isn't it amazing what can be used, when there's the desire to communicate?

Paper, email, text, call, chat: isn't it amazing what's not used, when there's no desire to communicate?

(On being contemplated by a haughty bird)

That eye.  It's fixed on me again.  Perched, she evaluates me with her head cocked to the side.  She knows how I look and what I am.  In her brooding, she has found that her looks, her thoughts, her being trump mine, and I am not worth more than a sidelong glance.  

We were born to be strangers.  What can we share?  If I am A, she is AA.  If I am AA, she is AAA.  There is nothing about me worthy of her notice.  For the fifteen seconds a day that she regards me, she regards me as the grass: useful only for harboring food.  Though she deigns to be served by me, she has no desire of my company.  If I die, someone else will bring her food, so what am I to her?  Blades fall, and so I will fall.  She will live on and be worshipped, for that is her due.  

Every eyelash stands at attention 'round her eye.  They pay homage to the piercing flash that commands more powerfully than words.  Words are extraneous.  She is more eloquent when she is silent, and her offense is voiced through deafening silence.  The initiate can read the flashes and their mocking mirth.  Mere peons cannot sustain the first onslaught, and bow their heads.  Bleeding, they marvel at the brilliance that slashes them.

I stay, head bowed.  Though she stabs me with her eyes, I will return.

God Loves Movies!

My mom recently sent me the following article, originally published by Veritas Press:
God Loves Movies

By Brian Godawa
Adapted from the Preface of the Updated and Expanded 2009 edition of Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment (IVP), available July 2009.

God loves movies. Movies are visually dramatic stories, and in the Bible, the dominant means through which God communicates His truth is visually dramatic stories-not systematic theology, not doctrinal catechism, and not rational argument. A survey of the Scriptures reveals that roughly thirty percent of the Bible is expressed through rational propositional truth and laws. Therefore, seventy percent of the Bible is story, vision, symbol and narrative.[i] Sure, God uses words, rationality and propositions to communicate his message. But modernist Christianity has neglected to understand how much more important visual imagery, drama and storytelling are to God.

Movies are a visual medium. Cinematic composition, color, light, and movement confer emotional states and embody symbolic meanings and ideas with deep effect. Consider the sense of awe at the majestic panoramic depiction of good battling evil in The Lord of the Rings. Remember the visual punch in the spiritual gut experienced through The Passion of the Christ as it incarnated the atonement imagery of Isaiah and the Gospels.

The thousands of miracles that God performed for his people in the Bible were not mere abstract propositions, but "signs and wonders," sensate visual displays of God's glory.[ii] God's own Temple was designed by Him to be a visually rich engagement of the senses as his people worshipped Him, surrounded by colors, images, pictures and statues of visual beauty.[iii] New Covenant sacraments are visual pictures of grace that are not reducible to abstract propositions.

And then there are dreams and visions: God's form of television and movies. Joseph's dreams of fat and skinny zombie cows, Ezekiel's Close Encounters with spinning wheels, Nebuchadnezzar's Terminator statue, as well as other visions given to dozens of Old and New Testament saints are all stunning high-definition, Dolby sensurround feasts for the senses as well as the spirit. God loves movies. He produced a lot of them.

The book of Revelation is a theatrical orgy of visual imagery, produced, written and directed by Jesus Christ. The images of apocalyptic horsemen, multiple-headed monsters running around killing people are more akin to a modern horror film or fantasy epic than a systematic theology or doctrinal exposition.

God also uses visual images to reveal Himself. The burning bush is just a trailer for upcoming releases. From Old to New Testament, God's favorite visual images to use for his presence seem to be thunder, lightning, clouds, smoke, and fire. Tentpole spectacular! And no blue screen CGI!

Movies are all about drama. Drama is relationship in action. It is existential rather than intellectual. As we follow characters working through their moral dilemmas and personal journeys, so we learn through them. It is one thing to rationally explain the concept of forensic justification, but the power of seeing Jean Valjean being forgiven in Les Miserables, embodies that truth existentially like no theological exposition possibly could.

Rather than merely give sermons or lectures, God often had his prophets give plays. Ezekiel was a thespian prophet. God told him to act out a battle scene as a prophecy, complete with miniatures.[iv] Then God has Ezekiel engage in the longest-running Off-Off-Broadway performance of the time in a dramatic symbolic enactment for 430 days.[v] And there were more episodes of the Ezekiel show.[vi]

Jeremiah is called "the weeping prophet." But he should have been called "the acting prophet," because so many of his prophecies were theatrical performances.[vii]  Isaiah broke the social taboos of modesty with R-rated shocking performance art as he walked around naked as a visual "sign and token" of Israel's shame.[viii]

In the New Testament, God uses the Lucas-like special visual effects of a picnic blanket from heaven filled with unclean animals to persuade Peter of the New Covenant inclusion of Gentiles. God, it seems, is the original Cecil B. DeMille. Mere words were not enough for Him. He wanted lights, camera, action!

Several books of the Bible are deliberately structured according to theatrical conventions. The books of Job and Jonah are depicted in dialogues reminiscent of ancient plays, including prologues, epilogues, and several acts. Job's friends function as the chorus of ancient theatrical performances. The book of Mark structurally resembles a Greek tragedy.[ix] God loves the visual, and God loves drama. But even more, He loves visually dramatic stories.

Movies are first and foremost stories. And so is the Bible. The Bible is the story of God's redemptive activity in history. The Bible is not a systematic theological textbook. It communicates doctrine and theology mostly through story. Storytelling draws us into truth by incarnating worldview through narrative. Creation, Fall, and Redemption, the elements of a worldview, are a narrative progression of events that can be seen in all movies.[x]

Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God mostly through parables-sensate, dramatic stories. To him, the Kingdom was far too deep and rich a truth to entrust to rational abstract propositions. He chose stories of weddings, investment bankers, unscrupulous slaves, and buried treasure over syllogisms, abstraction, systematics or dissertations. Jesus could do abstraction. He preferred not to.

Indeed, stories and parables may be a superior means of conveying theological truth than propositional logic or theological abstraction. As N.T. Wright suggests, "It would be clearly quite wrong to see these stories as mere illustrations of truths that could in principle have been articulated in a purer, more abstract form."[xi] He reminds us that theological terms like "monotheism" "are late constructs, convenient shorthands for sentences with verbs in them [narrative], and that sentences with verbs in them are the real stuff of theology, not mere childish expressions of a 'purer' abstract truth."[xii]

Kenneth E. Bailey, an expert on Middle Eastern culture, explains that "a biblical story is not simply a 'delivery system' for an idea. Rather, the story first creates a world and then invites the listener to live in that world, to take it on as part of who he or she is... In reading and studying the Bible, ancient tales are not examined merely in order to extract a theological principle or ethical model."[xiii] Theologian Kevin Vanhoozer agrees that doctrinal propositions are not "more basic" than the narrative, and in fact, fail to communicate what narrative can. He writes in his book, The Drama of Doctrine, "Narratives make story-shaped points that cannot always be paraphrased in propositional statements without losing something in translation."[xiv] If you try to scientifically dissect the parable you will kill it, and if you discard the carcass once you have your doctrine, you have discarded the heart of God.

Because of our modern western bias toward rational theological discourse, we are easily blinded to the biblical emphasis on visually dramatic stories. We downplay the visual as dangerous or irrational, while God embraces the visual as a vital to His message. We elevate rational discourse as superior and dramatic theater as too emotional or entertainment-oriented, while God elevates drama equally as part of our imago dei. We consider stories to be quaint illustrations of abstract doctrinal universal truths, while God uses stories as his dominant means of incarnating truth. God loves movies.

Brian Godawa

Brian Godawa is the screenwriter for the award-winning feature film, To End All Wars, and author of Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment.
[i] Of course, most of the propositional content and imagery is integrated with each other, so a strictly "scientific" separation is not possible. Both are necessary to God's revelation, but the sheer comparison of volume is revealing.
[ii] See Heb 2:4 Deut. 6:22; Dan. 4:1-3; Acts 14:3; 2 Cor. 12:12.
[iii] Exodus 25; 28; 1 Kings 6, 2 Chronicles 3; 4.
[iv] Ezekiel 4:1-3
[v] Ezekiel 4:4-8
[vi] See also Ezekiel 5:1-4; 12:1-11; 17-20; 37:15-23.
[vii] See Jeremiah 13:1-11;  19:1; 17:19-27; 27:1-14; 32:6-15; 43:8-13; 51:59-64.
[viii] Isaiah 20:2-4
[ix] "Theater," Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, © 1998 by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, Electronic text hypertexted and prepared by OakTree Software, Inc.Version 1.0.
[x] See Brian Godawa, Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment (Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press, 2002).
[xi] N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992), 77.
[xii] Ibid, 78.
[xiii] Kenneth E. Bailey, Jacob and the Prodigal: How Jesus Retold Israel's Story (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2003), 51.
[xiv] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 50.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Complex and Simple

"Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple." -- Dr. Seuss

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Dr. Suess, Politico

I just found a gallery with hundreds of Dr. Seuss's political cartoons.  Take a look at

He rocketh and and He rolleth

Jesus rocks and rolls: He's the cornerstone and He rolled back the stone that shut Him in His grave.

Before Hope, This

"...suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope."  Romans 5:3-4.

If an American needs hope, he needs character.  If an American needs character, he needs perseverance.  If an American needs perseverance, he needs suffering.

Winning from the Beginning

"With confidence, you have won before you have started." -- Marcus Garvey

That was the quote on my gmail account.  It made me wonder who this Marcus Garvey was.  You can find out, too.  Just visit

Sexual Health Awareness & Guidance Week

This is the email that came through to the medical school social email list this week. Anyone else feel like they're living in Babylon? The subject line of the email -- "Sexual Health Awareness & Guidance Week" -- is a misnomer. If this week was really about awareness and guidance, wouldn't students be evaluating the health risks inherent in "alternate lifestyles," and comparing the average lifetimes of homosexuals versus the rest of the population? If this week is about increasing your rate of promiscuity, is it accurate to talk as if it's all about "guidance"? If this is guidance, then it's the guidance of the blind by the blind.
And the final event takes the cake: Relay for Life. All week death-promoting functions are slated, but then, the last event is about celebrating life. This goes beyond irony. This is an act in the Theater of the Absurd.
Any ideas on how I should respond to this?

I-SHAG has been coordinated by Campus National Organization of Women, Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, LGBT Resource Center, Illini Hillel, Men Against Sexual Violence, Sexual Health Peers, UIUC Women's Resources Center and many others!

Sunday, March 8th

6:30 pm Safer Sex Workshop for L3 (Ladies Loving Ladies) LGBT Resource Center, 323 Union

Monday, March 9th

8:30am-5pm Ancient Choices Art Exhibit by Heather Ault. Remembering the Reproductive Choices of our Ancestors. Women's Resources Center 703 S. Wright St.

6-8pm I-SHAG at the Sweet Spot with the Sexual Health Peers- Stop by to receive sexual health information. Wellness Center at the ARC

8pm PRIDE General Meeting RSO serving the LGBT community and its allies. LGBT Resources Center 323 Union

8pm Savage Love LIVE! With Dan Savage Illini Rooms A & B Sponsored by IUB and LGBT Resource Center

Tuesday, March 10th

8:30am-5pm Ancient Choices Art Exhibit by Heather Ault. Remembering the Reproductive Choices of our Ancestors. Women's Resources Center 703 S. Wright St.

10am-3pm Sex Out Loud sponsored by Feminist Majority Illini Union, Room C

6:30pm-9pm Rainbow Coffeehouse. A weekly gathering place for socializing, studying, relaxing or hanging out in a queer-friendly environment. Sponsored by LGBT Resource Center. Etc. Coffeehouse at the Wesley Foundation, Southwest Corner of Green & Goodwin

8pm Sexuality & Spirituality Panel, sponsored by the Sexual Health Peers 319 Gregory Hall

8pm Birth Control Workshop at Pennsylvania Avenue Residence Halls. Presented by the Sexual Health Peers

9:15 Q: Allen Hall's discussion & support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer students and their allies. Allen Hall Conference Room

Wednesday, March 11th

8:30am-5pm Ancient Choices Art Exhibit by Heather Ault. Remembering the Reproductive Choices of our Ancestors. Women's Resources Center 703 S. Wright St.

4pm Headscarves and Hotpants: Debating Gender Equality, Secularism and Religious Freedoms in the "New Europe" International Studies Bldg. Rm 101

7pm The Price of Pleasure: pornography, sexuality & relationships. Film screening & discussion by the Women's Resources Center & Men Against Sexual Violence 112 Gregory Hall

7pm Coming Out Support Group LGBT Resources Center 323 Union

9pm Student Senate Condom Crawl, Green St.

Thursday, March 12th

8:30am-5pm Ancient Choices Art Exhibit by Heather Ault. Remembering the Reproductive Choices of our Ancestors. Women's Resources Center 703 S. Wright St.

6-8pm I-SHAG at the Sweet Spot with the Sexual Health Peers Stop by to receive sexual health information. Wellness Center at the ARC

6:00 pm I-SHAG for U and I Benefit Concert at the Canopy, Sponsored by the Sexual Health Peers

6:30 pm Color of Pride Safe, friendly environment for LGBT students of color to share, listen and express themselves. LGBT Resources Office 323 Illini Union

7pm What's Hot? What's Not? Safer-Sex program presented by the Sexual Health Peers @ Illini Hillel

7pm IUB Drag Show Illini Rooms, Illini Union Sponsored by IUB

Friday, March 13th

8:30am-5pm Ancient Choices Art Exhibit by Heather Ault. Remembering the Reproductive Choices of our Ancestors. Women's Resources Center 703 S. Wright St.

7pm Period Party! Ikenberry Commons

Relay For Life, University of Illinois Armory

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

And now for the good news...

So, I had some fun tonight.  I read some National Review (February 23, 2009 issue).  I saw an ad from the Cato Institute that warmed the ventricles of my heart:

"There is no disagreement that we need action by our government, a recovery plan that will help to jumpstart the economy."  -- President-Elect Barack Obama, January 9, 2009.

"With all due respect, Mr. President, that is not true.  Notwithstanding reports that all economists are now Keynesians and that we all support a big increase in the burden of government, we the undersigned do not believe that more government spending is a way to improve economic performance.  More government spending by Hoover and Roosevelt did not pull the United States economy out of the Great Depression in the 1930s.  More government spending did not solve Japan's 'lost decade' in the 1990s.  As such ,it is a triumph of hope over experience to believe that more government spending will help the U.S. today.  To improve the economy, policymakers should focus on reforms that remove impediments to work, saving, investment and production.  Lower tax rates and a reduction in the burden of government are the best ways of using fiscal policy to boost growth."

Below this statment are the signatures of over 100 academics who are standing together to counter the then-president-elect's hyperbole.  I got curious: were there any professors at my school that had signed on?  I started underlining the names of profs from campuses I felt in any way connected to, happy to see the names of the faithful.  And then I saw someone from my campus!  Yippee!!!!!!

I've found that it's very important to avoid The Elijah Complex, wherever you are in life.  Y'know, The Elijah Complex: the thought that you're the last one doing what should be done, the last of the faithful left in your whole (choose one: company, campus, clique).  Oh, no my friend.  You might think you're the last one, but trust God -- you aren't. 

This same issue had a list of 25 Best Conservative Movies from the last 25 years.  Here's the titles and two quotes that either made me think or almost set me rolling.  (I've put an "x" next to any title I wouldn't be interested in seeing).

1. The Lives of Others (2007)
2. The Incredibles (2004)
3. Metropolitan (1990)
4. Forrest Gump (1994) x
5. 300 (2007)
6. Groundhog Day (1993)
7. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
8. Juno (2007)
9. Blast from the Past (1999)
10. Ghostbusters (1984)
11. The Lord of the Rings (2001, 2002, 2003)
12. The Dark Knight (2008)
13. Braveheart (1995)
14. A Simple Plan (1998)
15. Red Dawn (1984)
16. Master and Commander (2003)
17. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005)
18. The Edge (1997)
19. We Were Soldiers (2002)
20. Gaataca (1997)
21. Heartbrak Ridge (1986) x
22. Brazil (1985)
23. United 93 (2006)
24. Team America: World Police (2004) x
25. Gran Torino (2008) x

The Lives of Others (2007): "'I think that this is the best movie I ever saw,' said William F. Buckley upon leaving the theater (according to his column on the film).  The tale, set in East Germany in 1984, is one part romantic drama, one part political thriller.  It chronicles life under a totalitarian regime as the Stasi secretly onitors the activities of a playwright who is suspected of harboring doubts about Communism.  Critics showered the film with praise and it won an Oscar for best foreign-language film (it's in German).  More Buckley: 'The tension mounts to heart-stopping pitch and I felt the impulse to rush out into the street and drag passerby [sic] in to watch the story unfold.'"

Master and Commander (2003) "This naval-adventure film starring Russell Crowe is based on the books of Patrick O'Brian, and here's what A. O. Scott of the New York Times said in his review: 'The Napoleonic wars that followed the French Revolution gave birth, among other things, to British conservatism, and Master and Commander, making no concessions to modern, egalitarian sensibilities, is among the most thoroughly and proudly conservative movies ever made.  It imagines the [H.M.S.] Surprise as a coherent society in which stability is underwritten by custom and every man knows his duty and his place.  I would not have been surprised to see Edmund Burke's name in the credits.'"

The Dark Knight (2008): "This film gives us a portrait of the hero as a man reviled.  In his fight against the terrorist Joker, Batman has to devise new means of surveillance, push the limits of the law, and accept the hatred of the press and public.  If that sounds reminscent of a certain former preisdent -- whose stubborn integrity kept the nation safe and turned the tide of war -- don't mention it to the mainstream media.  Our journalists know that good men are often despised by the mob; it just never seems to occur to them that they might be the mob themselves."

Ghostbusters (1984): Thsi comedy might not get Russell Kirk's endorsement as a worthy treatment of the supernatural, but you have to like a movie in which the bad guy (William Atherton at his loathsome best) is a regulation-happy buffoon from the EPA, nad the solution to a public menance comes from the private sector.  Thsi last fact is the other reason to love Ghostbusters: When Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) gets kicked out of the university lab and ponders pursuing entrepreneurial opportunities, a nervous Dr. Raymond Stanz (Dan Aykroyd) replies: 'I don't know about that.  I've worked in the private sector.  They expect results!'"

It's clear to me that I could not (unless God wants me to be) be an academic.  A while ago, my mom mentioned how wrong it was for the government to fund agencies such as the NIH and NSF.  At the time, I bristled and defended the two institutions I then saw as the cornerstones of modern science.  But, like most episodes of intense disagreement with Mom, after several weeks of reflection, I agreed with her more violently than I'd originally disagreed with her.  Science funding isn't a role the Constiution allows the federal government to take on.  So what's the deal?  And wouldn't it be great it folks could get their PhD through a private company, instead of feeding at a trough filled with money ripped from private citizens' pockets?  But sadly that's not an option right now.  What is an option is the decision to stop feeding off of "public" funds as soon as possible.

Sure, there was the Meet-the-Speaker session where the academic told us that the best-of-the-best-of-the-best go into academia.  But he offered us no proof of this beside his own personal opinion.  Come to think of it, wouldn't everyone like to think that there were in the club of the best-of-the-best-of-the-best?  Now don't get me wrong: I'm not trying to say that the best-of-the-best-of-the-best only and always go into industry.  What I am saying is that the best-of-the-best-of-the-best very likely go into both industry and academia. 

Case in point: Ralph Bader, the co-founder of the Aldrich (now Sigma-Aldrich) Chemical company.  Dr. Bader graduated from Harvard in 1950, and *horrors* entered industry, not academia.  And guess what: he was a success.  He went up against the then-monopoly of chemical supplies, and started a company with an initial investment of $250 of his own and $250 of his co-founders.  Now the company's netting billions.  Hmmm... is he just a fluke? 

In closing, I heard Dr. Bader give an acceptance speech at Pittcon on Sunday.  He echoed a thought I first heard from Solzhenitsyn: that events you often think of as being devastating often end up being the biggest blessings of your life.  As a Jewish boy of 14, Dr. Bader fled Vienna for the safety of Britain.  Just two years later, however, he was deported to Canada as a POW because his loyalties were suspect.  Naturally, he was extremely sad.  And yet, it "just so happened" that many intellectuals were also in the camp with him.  These intellectuals formed a school in the camp.  Dr. Bader took their examinations and was admitted.  He received an excellent education there, and said that were it not for this school and this chance at an education, he would never have become a Chemist.  When the time came for college, the first school he applied to were impressed at his placement exams, but then asked if he was Jewish.  When he said that he was, they told him that they were maxed out with Jewish students for the year, so would he just come back next year?  He must have been devastated, but the good news came from another school that accepted him that same year.  Zipping a few more years through his life, once he had finished his undergraduate and graduate studies, he started working at a glass company as a chemist.  He saw severe limitations in the current chemical supply pipeline.  He decided that it was time to start a company to compete with the major supplier in the field, but his boss tried to discourage him.  They're a monopoly!  You haven't got a chance!  Still, he asked his boss if he could work on a startup company when his regular work was done during the week and then on Sundays.  His boss told him he could do whatever he wanted to during his free time.  And so he started.  Later, when he was looking to expand the business, he approached a businessman and asked him to invest $25,000 in the fledgling company.  This would involve an initial $5,000 or start-up funds, and then $1,000 monthly for 20 months.  If at any time the businessman decided he didn't want to support the company any longer, he could tell them, and they would pay him back within two years.  All went well for 7 months, but the businessman decided he wasn't going to be able to recoup his money.  They paid him back -- and went on to build a billion-dollar business.

Near the end of his speech, he said that there are two leitmotifs in his life.  The first is his "A, B, C's": "Art, Bible, and Chemistry."  The second is that it really only takes a little bit to live off of.  He and his wife Isabel love helping those with most need and the ablest.

And yes, you are perfectly entitled to say that this is just one data point, and I've hardly got a trend.  But is Bader's life an outlier?  Or is it possible that good chemists sometimes choose to step out into the marketplace of industry instead of staying in the cloisters of the academy?   (And, this just occurred to me, so I'll add it here: is anyone else struck by the competitive nature of science funding, in contrast to the stifling, unrewarding, penalizing system that socialism would impose?  Can anyone imagine a world where education was set up along similar competitive lines, and both education and science funding were completely privitized?)

Thursday, March 05, 2009

It's Green, but it's also Red: An Anti-Ode to Public Transport

Y'know the zebra-stripe-painted Jeeps in the Village?  I'm starting to understand them more.
Remember #6's attempt to rent a car he could drive himself?  Yeah, I'm starting to understand that more, too.
It's all back to private versus public transportation.

In my mind, the two images these two forms of transporation evoke in my mind are:

After booking tickets for a group on Amtrak and seeing the conditions Amtrak lays down, I'm starting to understand why totalitarian regimes love public transport. 

I mean, compare a joyride in a car to a trip on Amtrak:

Private car: You can carry as many people as can fit.  It doesn't matter what their names are or if they have ID.  Only the driver needs a valid driver's license, and that's checked only if you're pulled over.
Amtrak: The names of all passengers must be submitted ahead of time if tickets are purchased in advance.  All passengers' ID will be scrutinized before boarding

Private car: Pile as much junk as you can in the car.  The only limits are physical impossibilities and your own attention and patience span.
Amtrak: You're limited to two carry-ons, not counting your

Search and seizure
Private car: Though the situation is changing rapidly (just ask my brother), a police officer can only pull you over if he has a reasonable suspicion that you are breaking the law.  The Constitution codifies the citizen's right to not have to endure unlawful search and seizure.
Amtrak: Your luggage can be randomly selected to be searched, even if there is no reason to suspect you of committing a crime.

Sure, everyday travel is easy and affordable now.  But look at how much is wrapped up in your ID, even now.  Think about how quickly our public transportation system could change, and overnight.  To limit a person's travel by public transport, a government official could confiscate or blacklist a person's ID.  And whammo.  That person could no longer travel by public transport unless they forged a new ID with suitable information.  Of course, if there was private transportation available, a person could just drive themselves somewhere else.  But what if private transportation was denied to the average citizen, and limited only to government officials?  Or if the freedom to drive was severely curtailed, with passes required to leave your hometown, and checkpoints and mandatory searches were standard fare every twenty miles along the highway?

So call me a conspiracy theorist.  It wouldn't be the first time.  But is anyone else growing uneasy about the average citizen's apathy toward random searches?  Is anyone else weirded out by the fact that at the same time that US automakers are turning bellyup, there's a sudden and "irresistible" (to borrow Calvin's term) call to public transport for the sake of the environment?*  Is anyone else troubled by the golden gleam that surrounds the phrase "gas tax"?  And sure, gas prices are cheap now, but if the government wanted to quash private transportation, what would keep them from jacking up the tax on gas to, say, $20/gallon?

Don't get me wrong.  In certain cases, public transport is great.  I love having the option to drive or to ride the train.  But did you hear the words "the option"?  That means I like freedom.  And that freedom is what threatens the stability of totalitarian regimes.  No freedom is too insignificant to crush if your heart is consumed with the politics of power.

So yes, public transport is "green."  But get this, it can also be "red."

*If these sentences describe you, consider joining The Citizens Against Compuslive Public-Transport.  As members of the environment, we stand against the abuse of the environment in the form of long-lines.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Art for Life

There's some artwork that just summons a chortle out of the depths of your soul.  That's how Chicken in Pearls was for me.  Utterly superb.