April 16, 2008

Here we go again, part MCMLXXXIV

Fred notes the story of the hospital in Orlando, Florida where apparently a window was recently Jesified. He wants to know who you see in this image:

Image of Christ in glass

My vote goes to the Green Arrow:

The Green Arrow

On the brighter side, since it's a Seventh-day Adventist hospital, it's a fair guess that hordes of Roman Catholic faithful won't be inundating the prayer garden with candles and other Jesus Junk - what with Sunday worship being the Mark of the Beast, and all.

April 14, 2008

FridayMonday in the wild: April 14, 2008

Way back in time, about when I first hit my stride as a blogger, it was my weekly habit to post a weekly "Friday in the Wild," highlighting the best reading I had seen in the blogosphere in the previous seven days. I felt it was a good way to encourage others to read blogs I also found interesting, and it was a decent way to wrap up a week in case I didn't have anything to say over the weekend.  Now that I'm starting to get back into the habit of regular (or at least semi-regular) posting again, I think it's time to start this again. Only this time, I'm starting the week this way, rather than ending it. For now.

Some of these stories might be a little old by now, but who cares?

When I teach Sunday school, contextualizing means I take my passage and explain the historical, social, political, or literary circumstances that surround its writing: pointing out, for example, that to understand the book of Jeremiah properly, it is necessary to know the following:

  • Jeremiah's ministry was to Judah about 100 years after the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel.
  • In his lifetime, Judah had five kings, all of whom were deposed or destroyed by foreign powers.
  • Israel was then a vassal state of the declining empire of Assyria.
  • To counter the rising threat of the Babylonian empire, the Hebrews were forging political alliances with old enemies such as Egypt.
  • The patriotic Jeremiah saw, firsthand, the destruction of his nation at the hands of Babylon in 586 BC.

Contextualization also involves bridging the historical and cultural gap between his day and ours: what similar circumstances are there between 6th-century BC Judah and 21st-century Canada that make the ministry of the prophet relevant to us?

However, Phil Johnson points out that contextualization means something quite different in our postmodern age:

In the early 1970s, left-leaning missiologists made contextualization into a religious shibboleth. They also turned the dictionary definition of the word inside out. They weren't talking about studying or explaining biblical truth in its own context; instead, what they wanted to do was adapt and stylize religious ideas and symbols to fit into the cultural context of their target audience - namely oppressed and marginalized people groups.

It wasn't long before hip, young evangelicals discovered and embraced the basic concept, and then franchised it. Instead of targeting impoverished and downtrodden people, however, they turned contextualization into a tool for attracting Yuppies.

[Read Context and Contextualization]

While this article is somewhat older (there's no way I can claim something published nearly a month ago is a highlight of my week!), it was the start of a series on Acts 17: Paul's apologetic before the Areopagus in Athens. Today, Phil closed off the series with a post on "charitableness," the definition of which will look familiar to anyone who's had to endure the works of Brian McLaren and friends:

"Charitableness" (the postmodern substitute for charity) is something altogether different. It's a broad-minded, insouciantly tolerant, unrelenting goodwill toward practically every conceivable opinion. Its twin virtue - often labeled "epistemic humility' - is a cool refusal to hold any firm and settled convictions. These cardinal postmodern moral values are both seasoned with blithe indifference to the dangers of heresy.

[Read Paul and Charitableness]

You can also read the entire series in one fell swoop. Good stuff.

John Piper posted C. S. Lewis' five rules of writing for children. While I've never read this list, as a professional communicator I have always tried to achieve the same goals, though not always successfully.

Suzanne of Big Blue Wave comments on a recent challenge to pro-life bloggers by feminist bloggers opposing Bill C-484, to "[f]ind one reputatable [sic], established organization working against violence against women that publicly endorses this bill."  When I first heard of this, I saw it as a good example of the so-called No True Scotsman fallacy: the ones issuing the challenge are most likely the arbiters of what constitutes a "reputatable [sic], established organization."  Suzanne says as much herself:

This "dare" by the feminists is ideologically motivated. They're trying to pretend that the feminists who are dominant in among those who combat women's violence are the arbiters of what is and is not in the best interests of women.

[Read The Only People for Whom C-484 is About Abortion are Feminists]

The best reason to support C-484 is not that "reputatable [sic], established organizations" also support it; it's because in addition to the harm to her own person, an expectant mother who is assaulted until she miscarries, or murdered, loses something very valuable to her. The increased severity of the punishment ought to be proportional to the increased severity of the crime.

Finally, Jay at the venerable LTI Blog has this to say about the Robert Latimer case recently back in the news:

Mark [Pickup] published the trial evidence that Tracy was not miserable all of the time and actually enjoyed life as reported by her own mother in a communication book. This is the same mother that characterized her daughter’s life as torturous meaningless suffering at the trial of her husband. Mark reports that Robert Latimer considered poisoning Tracy or shooting her in the head before deciding to gas her to death during his two weeks of planning the murder. Finally, Mark expresses the “uncharitable” opinion that Tracy’s disabilities did not define her value as a human being and that her father was wrong to murder her. . . .

Hey Latimer-heads, Robert Latimer decided that Tracy’s life was not worth the trouble and pain her living caused him and he killed her. He murdered his daughter and that is not heroic. Murder is not mercy. If you are too morally confused to see that, then I pray that you never find yourself an expendable inconvenience in another’s eyes. You may suddenly see the inherent danger in the precedent Latimer is now trying to set.

[Read Undisputed Fact: Robert Latimer is a Murderer]

Mark Pickup's original post may be found at HumanLifeMatters for reference.

On the search engine front

Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it: Awhile back, I remarked that the weird search hits seemed to have disappeared.  I spoke too soon.  Here are some of the ways that people have found help (I hope) on this site, and if not, it's an opportunity to make snide remarks about them.

So until Friday (or maybe next Friday), Share and Enjoy.

April 09, 2008

And now . . . this - Apr. 9/08

Um . . . silence pollution?

A bill intended to protect blind people and other pedestrians from the dangers posed by quiet cars will be introduced Wednesday in Congress.

The measure would require the Transportation Department to establish safety standards for hybrids and other vehicles that make little discernible noise, including an audible means for alerting people that cars are nearby.

[Full Text]

Great! After 100 years of the automobile, we finally invent a silent car, and we're immediately forced by law to make it make loud "putt, putt" noises. Or maybe car owners should hire some sort of flagman, like the kind that had to walk in front of horseless carriages?

Everything's bigger in Texas


The brightest light on Earth now shines in a laboratory in Texas, one which will enable scientists to create a tabletop star. . . .

The laser is brighter than sunlight on the surface of the sun, but it only lasts for an instant, a 10th of a trillionth of a second (0.0000000000001 second). This is the key to the laser's power - it delivers modest energy in a microscopic unit of time.

[Full Text]

But avoid staring directly into the beam . . . unless you like watching your eyeballs evaporate and float away.

Yes, Arkansas . . . anyone surprised?

Arkansas' marriage-age crisis is over. A law that mistakenly allowed anyone - even toddlers - to marry with parental permission was repealed by a measure signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Mike Beebe, ending months of embarrassment for the state and confusion for county clerks.

Lawmakers didn't realize until after the end of last year's regular session that a law they approved, intended to establish 18 as the minimum age for marriage, instead removed the minimum age to marry entirely. An extraneous "not" in the bill allowed anyone who was not pregnant to marry at any age with permission.

The bill read: "In order for a person who is younger than eighteen (18) years of age and who is not pregnant to obtain a marriage license, the person must provide the county clerk with evidence of parental consent to the marriage."

[Full Text]

Yeah, I blew a lot of tests in school by forgetting the stupid minus sign, too. Hey, I'm an editor - let's discuss rates.

OK, one more. It's been awhile.

Good thing it wasn't a stoat

A New Zealand man has been accused of assault with prickly weapon - a hedgehog. Police allege that William Singalargh picked up the hedgehog and threw it several yards to hit a 15-year-old boy in the North Island east coast town of Whakatane on Feb. 9. . . .

Worst Ending Ever for a news story:

While using a hedgehog as a weapon in an assault is uncommon, Jenkins said, "People often get charged with assault for throwing things at other people."

[Full Text]

Yeah, words fail me too.

April 06, 2008

Charlton Heston (1923-2008)

No sooner do I finish writing about the anniversary of my favourite science-fiction movie, than to learn that the star of another favourite has passed away.

Charlton Heston starred in many great epics, SF and otherwise - including Bible epics such as The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur (for which he won the Best Actor Oscar for 1959), historical drama such as Khartoum, and lesser SF classics such as Soylent Green and The Omega Man (one of three film adaptations of Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend). In recent years my favourite film in which he appeared was Kenneth Branagh's incredible 1996 adaptation of Hamlet, in which Heston had a cameo as one of the players in the acting troupe.

But for me, the essential Charlton Heston role was as the misanthropic astronaut Taylor in 1968's Planet of the Apes.

In later years, Heston was probably better known for his conservative political activity, such as the presidency of the National Rifle Association, than his acting. Nonetheless, Hollywood has lost yet another of its legends. Rest in peace, Mr. Heston.

To infinity and beyond!

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the theatrical release of the seminal "quintessential good science-fiction movie," 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Director Stanley Kubrick collaborated with legendary SF novelist Arthur C. Clarke to create this film. Kubrick died in 2000, shortly after the completion of his final feature, Eyes Wide Shut. Sadly, Clarke, too, died only a few weeks ago, at the ripe old age of 90. Clarke was the last of the "Big Three" giants of SF, being predeceased by Robert A. Heinlein in 1988 and Isaac Asimov in 1992. (Understandably these were the first three SF authors I started reading as an early teen, as well.)

Viewers have been polarized by 2001, either finding it intensely profound or intensely boring. The latter find the plot boring or incomprehensible - primarily because the meaning of the action isn't spoon-fed to the audience, nor is it punctuated with violence or explosions. 2001 is one of those rare SF movies that simply requires you to think about what you are seeing. And in a sense the movie is less to be analyzed than simply experienced. Giant habitats float in space! Men walk on the ceiling! Spaceships fly to the farthest reaches of space! Like the Odyssey of Homer, 2001 is an epic that shows wonders and marvels its viewers have never seen.

2001 opens four million years in the past, with a tribe of cavemen who discover that a mysterious rectangular black monolith has been deposited in their midst. The seemingly intelligent monolith begins to teach them the use of tools, culminating in the tribe fighting off a rival tribe with bone clubs.

Flash forward to the year 2001, when American astronauts living on the moon discover another monolith buried 40 feet beneath the surface. When the sun's rays touch it for the first time, It transmits a radio signal to the planet Jupiter. An expedition, comprising astronauts David Bowman (Keir Dullea), Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood), and three scientists in hibernation, is sent to Jupiter on the spacecraft Discovery to investigate. En route, the ship's artificial intelligence, HAL 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain), becomes erratic, then psychotic when Bowman and Poole consider shutting him down. When HAL kills Poole, Bowman is left to deal with the murderous computer and learn the connection between Jupiter and the monolith.

Or, as I like to encapsulate the plot in a nutshell: 2001 is the story of mankind's evolution being directed by god-like aliens, as told by an author who doesn't believe in God.

It is now 2008, of course, and I am sitting in my earthbound basement, typing this article up on my 2003-vintage desktop PC, which isn't feeling very conversational. (Fortunately, on the other hand, it isn't trying to kill me, either.) Needless to say, as a predictive work, 2001 wasn't particularly successful. For example:.

  • No doubt the future looked a lot brighter in 1968, when NASA was on the brink of putting men on the moon. Had the space program continued at the same fervent pace as it did during the height of the space race, we could well have had giant hotels in orbit and passenger flights to the moon by now. As it is, however, we haven't set foot on the moon in well over 30 years; indeed, we haven't even left low-earth orbit, and the closest we've come to orbiting Hiltons is the rotating crew of the International Space Station.
  • 2001 showed people in space solving the problem of zero gravity by walking on Velcro shoes that kept their feet on the floor (or walls or ceilings). Now that we actually have people living in space (albeit very few), as we've seen endless times on the news, zero gravity isn't a problem: astronauts have simply learned to float from place to place.
  • Kubrick and Clarke didn't foresee the microcomputer revolution or distributed networking. The computing paradigm of their day was timesharing on a powerful, central mainframe; hence HAL 9000 pervades Discovery and controls its every operation.
  • For that matter, they were over-optimistic about HAL's life cycle: he was supposedly brought online in 1992. How many 10-year-old computers are still state-of-the-art?
  • They didn't see the end of the Soviet Union and the Cold War in the early 1990s, which rendered the political tension of 2001 obsolete.
  • How could they have predicted the bombing of Flight 103 over Lockerbie that ultimately led to the demise of Pan Am World Airlines, or the breakup of the telephone company in the early 1980s? Pan Am will never fly us into space; nor, when we get there, will we find a Bell video phone booth.

But even if 2001 failed as prediction, it is nonetheless prophetic. It seems to me that the primary theme of 2001 is not godlike aliens, or homicidal computers or even the Wonderful World of the Future. Rather, it is a warning about the dehumanizing effect of over-reliance on technology. The invisible aliens gave prehistoric man knowledge of tools so he could hunt for food; instead he learned to use it to kill other men. With HAL running Discovery, Bowman and Poole are practically only caretakers - indeed, since HAL is capable of carrying the mission out himself, they are redundant. The most "human" character is the machine, and it takes a fight for his own survival to break Bowman out of his complacency.

2001 stands as the milestone in cinematic science fiction. No more would space travel be attempted in unlikely chrome-plated rocket ships piloted by foil-clad spacemen armed with Art Deco ray guns. Alien beings weren't scaly, antennaed green monsters in foam suits anymore. Kubrick and Clarke went to great lengths to inject realism into the way their subject matter was portrayed. Douglas Trumbull's visual effects made their vision take shape; he later went on to make movie magic in other groundbreaking SF features such as Silent Running, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and, of course, Blade Runner.

I could say much more about 2001, but it will have to wait until later this year: I plan on blogging extensively on my list of favourite SF films - something I've been planning to do for many moons.