May 02, 2011

Reactions to the Death of Osama bin Laden: A Digest

Apparently this is what happens to a blog when your life is too busy to be interesting, your motivation to write is sapped by a thesis and funneled through a second blog with a more focused topic than "life in general," social networking is sucking all of the air out of the (chat)room (see this insightful post by a friend whose link in my sidebar has gone dark), and you've just begun a somewhat ambitious multi-part series (which I still think about continuing . . . fairly often).

So, what brings me back here once more? Well, it's in the title, I guess; a momentous historical event has occurred, and I am struggling to understand the reaction and formulate a response. How do I feel about this? How should I feel about this? What does it all mean? 24 hours after the first announcement, the internet has run through the full spectrum, but a minor debate is building around the spontaneous celebrations taking place across the country (both on and off-line).

This is basically a victory, and victory makes people happy, but a great deal of the jubilation seems to center on the fact of Osama's death itself. And, while we could discuss whether these kinds of emotions are "natural" to feel or "appropriate" to express, I think it is at least clear that some elements of what we are seeing are decidedly lacking in Christian charity.

Consider two video clips: one is nearly 10 years old, the other was taken last night. Maybe you think it's in rather poor taste to correlate or compare the people in these two clips, even by merely placing them in proximity with one another. Is cheering the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians the same as cheering the death of one mass murderer? No, it isn't at all. But there are perhaps certain similarities that ought to give us all pause. Perhaps. Personally, I think there is something even more significant going on here that we aren't really discussing yet, but I'll get to that in a moment.

Meanwhile, while you are (I hope) paused, here's a little light reading that has popped up on my Facebook wall feed during the past several hours. I find much of what is said in these pieces insightful, and all of it thought-provoking. A few of the authors are friends of mine, but I'll let you tease out which if you care to.

Vatican says bin Laden's death cause for reflection, not rejoicing

In the face of a man's death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred.

Dancing on the Grave of Your Enemy: An Interruption

Celebration over a death, in other words, is closely related to the bloodlust that leads to the death of innocents. It is human; that does not make it right.

In the end, the Bible tells us that God is unwilling that any should perish, that God loved his enemies so much that he died for them, that we should mourn those who do not live, even if they are our enemies.

And as much as Osama was “our Hitler,” we need to be better people than this.

The Death of Osama Bin Laden and the Christian Reaction

Violence is not the hero. Christ is the hero. Love wins, it never fails.

This death is not the depiction of God's justice. The cross is that portrait. This death will unite us in mourning and love or in revenge and hate. We can not be a people who support endeavors which consist of top priorities such as killing a particular man.

Bonhoeffer and bin Laden: Why we can't rejoice

The tragedy of our world is the evil into which we are drawn, even when we hope to remain aloof. This is why we as Christians cry for divine salvation. Human action is not enough to combat the evil that persists in our world and in our own hearts. As one commentator on Bonhoeffer has said, "Tyrannicide is sinful even if it is the least sinful option remaining."

Whether or not we can consider the murder of bin Laden as one of these extraordinary situations is certainly up for debate. But whether you believe it was necessary or gratuitous, Bonhoeffer would say to us all that "ultimate ignorance of one's own goodness or evil, together with dependence upon grace, is an essential characteristic of responsible historical action."

But what's interesting in situations such as the murder of bin Laden is that we are so sure of the goodness of our actions.

Citizenship Confusion: What did You Tweet when Osama was Killed?

For most of us (myself, at least), when historic events like this happen our first reaction is to head to Facebook or Twitter. Part of this reaction seems to be a natural and healthy desire to share an important experience with those we love or to use our online community to learn more about the event. But these gatherings on social networks that occur right after a historic event seem to also encourage us to use the event to promote ourselves. Instead of sharing a historic moment with our community, where the focus is outward towards the event and around us towards our community, we can easily shift our focus to drawing our community towards ourselves–our wit, intelligence, spirituality, politics, etc–using the event primarily as a means to our own ends.

Frat Party in the USA

But it’s a very measured relief beyond the momentary catharsis. The sudden, unexpected elimination of the perpetrator of the 9/11 crimes looks very different in the shadow of the past decade than it would have in 2002. The sudden surge of patriotism Americans are expressing so loudly and in some cases crassly tonight suggests they feel as if that decade has been somehow wiped away, as if the troubles are gone now that we’ve accomplished what we set out to accomplish in the very beginning.

I saved that one for last because, while it has a truly terrible title, I think it cuts straight to the heart of what is really going on. We just got the guy who screwed up the first decade of our bright, shiny new millennium, and now we think we can pretend that the last 10 years never happened . . . or at least like it was somehow all worth it. Because we've won now, right?

The Taliban. Afghanistan. Saddam Hussein. Iraq. The Patriot Act. Guantanamo Bay. Water-boarding. Threat levels. Airport security. And on and on and on . . . But none of that crap matters anymore, because Osama bin Laden is dead now. It's simple, it's unambiguous, it's something they can be unequivocally happy about. Except we already let him change the world.

Maybe for some people, this news turned back the clock for one night, or a couple of nights, to a time when terrorists only bombed American soil in movies and they could still walk onto a plane with a bottle of water and a Leatherman. But tomorrow they're still going to wake up in America, 2011, where our soldiers still fight and die off in the Middle East for vague and complicated reasons and children and little old ladies (and everybody else) have to get invasive pat-downs before they can go visit their relatives for Christmas.

Pardon me if I'm not filled with elation.

Posted by Jared at 09:05 PM | TrackBack

June 09, 2010

Blogging Nonviolence: WWJD?

Last time, I explained that while I hope to address the strongest pro-violence arguments directly, it only makes sense to do so in a biblical context. That is, if an argument cannot be supported biblically, or if it is contradicted by the Bible, then it has very little to bring to a discussion of Christian nonviolence. I concluded by stressing the importance of working out an understanding of what the Bible actually says about violence.

As I mentioned before, the current series was inspired by a series posted last summer by Nick Loyd. I'll be continuing my discussion with the 2nd of his series, which I encourage you to at least skim right now before meeting back here to go on. I'll assume you've read it as I proceed below: God's Character in Reverse

Jesus is Normative

So, now that we have established scripture as the definitive element of our discussion, we can establish the definitive way to read scripture, which is, as Loyd says, "through the eyes of Jesus." This isn't new to the discussion if you read the long excerpt by Richard Hays from a few posts ago. As he says near the beginning, "the New Testament's witness is finally normative. If irreconcilable tensions exist between the moral vision of the New Testament and that of particular Old Testament texts, the New Testament vision trumps the Old Testament."

In other words, whether we're talking about the character of God or the moral life of the Christian, Jesus is the gold standard. He isn't the only standard in the Bible, of course, but all other standards are measured against him. There shouldn't be anything radical about this assertion at all. If you've been a Christian in America during the last fifteen years or so, you are aware of the saturation of "What Would Jesus Do?" (or, more commonly, "WWJD") on every possible form of merchandise.

You would, I hope, be hard pressed to find a Christian who didn't acknowledge that this is what we're all about. The question is almost childishly simple (this quiz is open-book). Why, then, are we so bad at answering it correctly? I'm less interested in answering that question than I am in clearly establishing that we have been incorrect, but it might be useful to suggest some possible answers nonetheless.

The Myth of Redemptive Violence

It doesn't get any simpler than this statement by Walter Wink: "Civilization is hooked on violence." His so-called "myth of redemptive violence" ("the belief that violence saves, that war brings peace, that might makes right") is, if not the defining myth, then certainly one of the defining myths of human civilization.

Consider how many creation myths begin with murder, treachery, or rebellion. Societies arise out of violent upheaval, and govern and sustain themselves by violent means. Small wonder, then, that Jesus' lone nonviolent example, central as it is to our faith, tends to get swallowed up by thousands of years of racial memory and ongoing conditioning (affirmed over and over by Christ's Church for over a millennium and a half), with no end in sight.

That Pesky Old Testament

Now, those of you who have been having discussions with me for many years might be a little on edge, recalling some flippantly dismissive comments I might have appeared to make about the first half of the Bible in the past. Let me reassure you, at least somewhat, by noting that I intend to address this at some length later, and that my interpretive model does not seek to abandon the Old Testament, but rather to read it exclusively in the context of the New Testament.

In any case, I suppose that heading might more accurately say "Those Pesky Old Testament Readers." The Old Testament is one of the most dangerous books in the world, partly because it is a complex, ambiguous, and powerful work, and partly because most of its many readers tend to go crashing clumsily around in it without really knowing what they're doing.

Like the Israelites in Judges 21:25, everyone interprets what is right in their own eyes, cherry picking which guidelines to take seriously, and pretending that they aren't being inconsistent. What emerges, unsurprisingly, is a Bible that supports whatever your view of the world happens to be, whether you're a 13th-century pope who wants to raise an army, a 19th-century Southern plantation owner looking for cheap labor, or a 20th-century Midwestern preacher with a homophobic streak a mile wide.

The Jesus I'd Rather Know

Of course, this sort of thing isn't merely the province of Old Testament interpretation. As renowned New Testament scholar Scot McKnight explains in a recent piece for Christianity Today, "To one degree or another, we all conform Jesus to our own image." It doesn't matter if you're a conservative Tea Party protester, or a liberal advocate of social justice (will that be regular or extra Beck?), your Christ will probably be more you-like than you are Christ-like.

It's only natural that our deities should become mere extensions of ourselves. We all have sociocultural baggage to deal with, values and ideas that we are bombarded by from all sides from the moment we enter the human community. Ancient peoples imbued their gods with all sorts of undesirable human qualities. They raped, pillaged, quarreled amongst themselves, were petty and vindictive. So, when you think about it that way, maybe it isn't so strange that some of us seem to think our God is on board with all sorts of mayhem, death, and destruction. Understandable . . . but no less silly.

Log in Your Eye, Much?

"How convenient," you're thinking now. "This guy is some kind of pacifist, and suddenly Jesus is, too." Well, if you weren't thinking that, you should have been. It's a fair point. However, no, the title of this post doesn't stand for "What Would Jared Do?" (although ultimately you'll be the judge of that). I should note that I began to question my interpretation of the Bible regarding various aspects of nonviolence long before I was prepared to act accordingly. In some ways, perhaps I'm still not.

Suffice to say, though, I didn't set out to come to a particular conclusion. The conclusion just wouldn't leave me alone. Maybe this is the wrong instinct, but I feel like ending up in a place that is counter-intuitive to human nature is a good sign. In any case, I do believe that McKnight is right to find everyone guilty of re-imagining Jesus to a greater or lesser degree.

There are a few ways to make sure that your degree is lesser. Mainly, it helps to be aware of the problem. Just as I need to know my own biases when I do research, knowing about this makes it possible to compensate accordingly. And, really the only way to compensate is to go back to the source, over and over, while doing the grunt work in concordances and commentaries to make sure that you're getting it right.

According to Who?

That brings us full-circle back to the main point, so I'll conclude with a brief discussion of a passage that Loyd quoted:

"See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority." Colossians 2:8-10 (ESV)

Loyd, of course, is emphasizing the "whole fullness of the deity" bit, which is certainly key (as he explains at some length). However, I have included the context that he omitted, which strengthens the point even more. Paul is talking about the importance of staying grounded in the teachings of Christ rather than the philosophies of human tradition and "elemental spirits" (the actual Greek word here, stoicheion, means "basic principles"). What human tradition is older or principle more basic than selfish acts of violence?

Going by the biblical account alone, by the third chapter of Genesis, mankind is basically at war with his environment. By the fourth, the first murder has been committed. Two chapters later, "the earth [is] filled with violence" (Genesis 6:11). And we were just getting started. Of course, Paul isn't addressing that directly in this passage, but the general principle is clear: Live your life according to Christ, even if he contradicts your personal traditions and principles. If you're doing it right, eventually he will.

Next time we'll be taking a look at what the red letters, which we have hopefully established as the clearest, most complete biblical expression of God's character, have to say on the subject of violence. Everything so far has been mostly groundwork. It's time to start building something on it.

Posted by Jared at 01:38 AM | TrackBack

April 08, 2010

Blogging Nonviolence: The Authority of Scripture

I discovered this series, "Jesus and Nonviolence," awhile ago, and I've been anxious to call attention to it ever since. Last summer, blogger and pastor Nick Loyd published a lengthy, in-depth examination of the idea of Christian nonviolence in 14 parts (with occasional input from some special guest bloggers). However, I don't just want to link to his posts en masse and say, "Go. Read." I want to have my own conversation about them, even if it's just with myself.

My idea is to use some of his posts as a starting point for my thoughts on the subject, which I too will spread across multiple posts. However, I will begin today with my own introduction to the topic instead of a link (I would also refer you to the lengthy excerpts from important books quoted in the two posts preceding this one, and to my brief history of nonviolence in the two posts entitled "Good Company" from October 2006, accessible from the archives in the sidebar).

The Problem

I would argue that it is incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to mount or maintain a genuinely solid case for total nonviolence without somehow turning to religious doctrine for support. This ought to be extremely convenient for me, as I hope to convince fellow Christians of the moral importance of pacifism, and for them, religious doctrine is the highest possible authority (often the only authority). Strangely, though, there is a (not entirely unjustified) perception among certain nonbelievers that religion is actually the leading instigator of human violence, historically.

Many Christians seem determined to do everything they can to strengthen this perception. In fact, a large number of American Christians, both as individuals and as churches, are quite outspoken in their support of the military (by which I mean the institution, not the individual soldiers), of warfare, of capital punishment, of torture, of the right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of doing violence to anyone who threatens them or their loved ones; in short, of almost every possible form of deadly violence that one human being can commit against another (with the notable exception of abortion, their one claim to the label "pro-life").

In short, a lot of Christians would have no trouble describing themselves as "pro-violence" (to select a convenient label that encompasses any or all of the above issues), perhaps in a qualified way, but usually not. In doing this, they seem to sense no conflict with also being "pro-life," or with scripture. Why might this be the case?

Arguing for Violence

All of the forms of violence I've mentioned are very different issues from one another, and there are many strong arguments to be found on both sides. In my experience, major pro-violence arguments tend to fall into three very general, overlapping categories: pragmatism, precedent, and morality.

Arguments from pragmatism generally claim that individuals and nations must respond to violence with violence. In other words, if you try to kill me, I should try to kill you first so that I don't wind up dead. This seems rather obvious (hence, pragmatic). The primary idea is one of self-preservation, and the appeal is to logos.

Arguments from precedent rely on two things: tradition and analogy. The tradition argument relies on a history of shared values that have developed into a worldview. It can refer to nationalism, but needn't. In America, for instance, one might treat scripture and the writings of the Founding Fathers as interchangeable authorities, as they are founded on identical principles. According to this tradition, America is a Christian Nation, and is righteous and justified in acting in its own interests. That which is best for the nation, is right, and sometimes the application of violence is best for the nation.

The analogy argument imagines a scenario in which violence clearly seems to be the only option that will lead to a desirable outcome. World War II is probably the most frequently-cited source of pro-violence argument by analogy of the past 50 years. Others might include the "ticking-bomb" torture scenario. Both types of argument from precedent appeal primarily to pathos.

Finally, arguments from morality (which rely on an appeal to authority, and are thus the most likely to be supported by scripture) claim that there are times when it is a sin not to employ violence (i.e., in protecting the weak, often broadly but flexibly defined, i.e., all American civilians, no foreign civilians). One might point to the many instances in the Old Testament when God orders the Israelites to make war, even to carry out genocide, in His name, clearly showing that violence can be a moral imperative. This sort of argument represents an appeal to ethos.

Now, as I said, there is often a great deal of overlap between these different sorts of argument in actual practice. I have mentioned the example of World War II. One might easily argue that America had a moral obligation to oppose the evils of Nazism, was righteous to do so as a Christian nation, and was forced to defend itself against Imperial Japan. History shows that, by employing violence, the United States was able to stop the Holocaust and Japanese expansion and aggression. Thus, violence was the best course of action for the nation; it was morally right; it was pragmatically necessary; and it worked. For most Christians, these points are indisputable. Case closed, right? Well, not quite.

The Ultimate Authority

I've attempted to briefly outline the discussion by presenting some of the strongest and most common pro-violence arguments. If I cannot somehow answer them, then I am just wasting your time. I do not intend to address them fully yet. I am merely attempting to outline the parameters of the discussion. I would like to begin by suggesting that all of these arguments, as powerful as they are, can theoretically be overruled by scripture.

All of the arguments I have mentioned are important, but I think I can safely assume that for Christians they are only valid if they are not ultimately contradicted by the Bible. My case for Christian nonviolence must be won or lost in its pages alone. If we take the Bible message as both absolutely true and internally consistent, then its position (once you have worked out what that is) is the definitive one regardless of other considerations.

Fortunately, unlike some topics (I'm looking at you homosexuality), the Bible has a lot to say about violence. The difficulty comes in sifting through it all, seeing how (if?) it fits together, and applying it to our lives today. And that's where we'll pick things up next time.

Posted by Jared at 04:30 PM | TrackBack

December 01, 2009

The New Testament Repudiation of Violence, and What It Means

This is rather a long excerpt for me, but I started transcribing and just couldn't stop . . . really good stuff. This is roughly the final quarter of a chapter from the case studies section (part IV) of another book that was recommended to me in preparation for my paper on redemptive violence in film. I am told it is a standard seminary text. After devouring this and a few of the other chapters (the chapter on homosexuality is a refreshing balance of rigorous exegesis and compassionate but agendaless discussion), I can see why.

I have picked up after an extensive exegetical analysis of Matthew 5:38-48, followed by a systematic examination of all of the key portions of the New Testament (with some attention to the Old Testament, as well) which could be or have been interpreted to pertain to its view of Christians and violence. You can read most of it on Google Books. At this point, Hays has essentially established what the New Testament actually says on the subject. He will now discuss what we ought to do about it.

Taken on its own terms, the Old Testament obviously validates the legitimacy of armed violence by the people of God under some circumstances.

This is the point at which one of the methodological guidelines proposed in Part III must come into play: the New Testament's witness is finally normative. If the irreconcilable tensions exist between the moral vision of the New Testament and that of particular Old Testament texts, the New Testament vision trumps the Old Testament. Just as the New Testament texts render judgments superseding the Old Testament requirements of circumcision and dietary laws, [...] so also Jesus' explicit teaching and example of nonviolence reshapes our understanding of God and of the covenant community in such a way that killing enemies is no longer a justifiable option. [...]

[...] The vocation of nonviolence is not exclusively an option for exceptionally saintly individuals, nor is it a matter of individual conscience; it is fundamental to the church's identity and raison d'etre. Mainline Protestantism has usually treated this matter as though it were a question of individual moral preference, supporting the "right" of the individual conscientious objection but also generally sanctioning Christian participation in war. In light of the New Testament's call to the community as a whole to embody the teaching of Jesus, however, this position is untenable and theologically incoherent. The church is called to live as a city set on a hill, a city that lives in light of another wisdom, as a sign of God's coming kingdom. That is one reason the examples of individual "good soldiers" in the New Testament weigh negligibly in a synthetic statement of the New Testament's witness. Clearly it is possible for a Christian to be a soldier, possible for a Christian to fight. But if we ask the larger question about the vocation of the community, the New Testament witness comes clearly into focus: the community is called to the work of reconciliation and--as part of that vocation--suffering even in the face of great injustice. When the identity of the community is understood in these terms, the place of the soldier within the church can only be seen as anomalous.

[...] When the New Testament canon is read through the focal lens of the cross, Jesus' death moves to the center of attention in any reflection about ethics. The texts cannot simply be scoured for principles (the imperative of justice) or prooftexts ("I have not come to bring peace but a sword"); rather, all such principles and texts must be interpreted in light of the story of the cross. The meaning of dikaiosyne ("justice") is transfigured in light of the one Just One who exemplifies it: Christ has become our dikaiosyne (1 Cor. 1:30). When we hear Jesus' saying that he has come to bring not peace but a sword, we can hear it only within the story of a Messiah who refuses the defense of the sword and dies at the hands of a pagan state that bears the power of the sword. The whole New Testament comes rightly into focus only within this story. Whenever the New Testament is read in a way that denies the normativity of the cross for the Christian community, we can be sure that the text is out of focus.

None of the New Testament's witness makes any sense unless the nonviolent, enemy-loving community is to be vindicated by the resurrection of the dead. Death does not have the final word; in the resurrection of Jesus the power of God has triumphed over the power of violence and prefigured the redemption of all creation. The church lives in the present time as a sign of the new order that God has promised. All of the New Testament texts dealing with violence must therefore be read in this eschatological perspective. [...] Otherwise, "Turn the other cheek" becomes a mundane proverb for how to cope with conflict. But this is ridiculous: if the world is always to go on as it does now, if the logic that ultimately governs the world is the immanent logic of the rulers of this age, then the meek are the losers and their cheek-turning only invites more senseless abuse. As a mundane proverb, "Turn the other cheek" is simply bad advice. [...]

This is the place where New Testament ethics confronts a profound methodological challenge on the question of violence, because the tension is so severe between the unambiguous witness of the New Testament canon and the apparently countervailing forces of tradition, reason, and experience. [...] I set forth the guideline that extrabiblical sources stand in hermeneutical relation to the New Testament; they are not independent, counterbalancing sources of authority. That is to say, tradition, reason and experience come into place in enabling us to interpret Scripture; they cannot be used simply to overrule or dismiss the witness of Scripture. How does that guideline work itself out in normative deliberation about the problem of violence?

Although the tradition of the first three centuries was decidedly pacifist in orientation, Christian tradition from the time of Constantine to the present has pre-dominantly endorsed war, or at least justified it under certain conditions. Only a little reflection will show that the classic just war criteria (just cause, authorized by legitimate ruler, reasonable prospect of success, just means of conduct in war, and so forth) are--as Barth realized--neither derived nor derivable from the New Testament; they are formulated through a process of reasoning that draws upon natural-law traditions far more heavily than upon biblical warrants. It is not possible to use the just war tradition as a hermeneutical device for illuminating the New Testament, nor have the defenders of the tradition ordinarily even attempted to do so. Thus, despite the antiquity of the just war tradition and its fair claim to represent the historic majority position within Christian theology, it cannot stand the normative test of New Testament ethics [...] the New Testament offers no basis for ever declaring Christian participation in war "just." If that be true, then our methodological guideline insists that the church's majority tradition, however venerable, must be rejected and corrected in light of the New Testament's teaching. At the same time, the church's tradition also carries a significant and eloquent minority cloud of witnesses against violence, beginning with the New Testament writers themselves and extending through the writer of the Epistle to Diognetus, Tertullian, St. Francis of Assisi, the Anabaptists, the Quakers, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., and on into the present time. These witnesses--characteristically appealing primarily to the New Testament and the example of Jesus--have spoken out firmly against all war and killing and have declared such practices incompatible with following Jesus. Such witnesses have had a historic influence vastly disproportionate to their meager numbers, because their vision resonated so deeply with the New Testament and because their Christian witness therefore possessed such evident integrity. [...]

It is more difficult to know what to say about reason and experience on the matter of violence. On the one hand, some interpreters [...] believe that Christians are sometimes forced by the ambiguities of human historical experience to employ violence to secure the contingent peace of the civitas terrena. To do otherwise [...] is to ignore the consequences of our choices and actions (or inactions) and thus to abdicate moral responsibility for the world in which God has placed us. [...] This approach reckons very seriously with the historical fact that the social and political context for Christian moral decision has changed dramatically from the time of the New Testament writers. If the Sermon on the Mount was addressed to a marginal community outside the circle of power, its teachings cannot be directly applied in a context where Christians hold positions of power and influence, or where they constitute the majority in a democratic political order.

On the other hand, an equally serious case can be made that, on balance, history teaches that violence simply begets violence. (Inevitably, someone raises the question about World War II: What if Christians had refused to fight against Hitler? My answer is a counterquestion: What if the Christians in Germany had emphatically refused to fight for Hitler, refused to carry out the murders in concentration camps?) The long history of Christian "just wars" has wrought suffering past all telling, and there is no end in sight. As Yoder has suggested, Niebuhr's own insight about the "irony of history" ought to lead us to recognize the inadequacy of our reason to shape a world that tends toward justice through violence. Might it be that reason and sad experience could disabuse us of the hope that we can approximate God's justice through killing? According to the guideline I have proposed, reason must be healed and taught by Scripture, and our experience must be transformed by the renewing of our minds in conformity with the mind of Christ. Only thus can our warring madness be ovecome.

This would mean, practically speaking, that Christians would have to relinquish positions of power and influence insofar as the exercise of such positions becomes incompatible with the teaching and example of Jesus. This might well mean, as Hauerwas has perceived, that the church would assume a peripheral status in our culture, which is deeply committed to the necessity and glory of violence. The task of the church then would be to tell an alternative story, to train disciples in the disciplines necessary to resist the seductions of violence, to offer an alternative home for those who will not worship the Beast. If the church is to be a Scripture-shaped community, it will find itself reshaped continually into a closer resemblance to the socially marginal status of Matthew's nonviolent countercultural community. To articulate such a theological vision for the church at the end of the twentieth century may be indeed to take most seriously what experience is telling us: the secular polis has no tolerance for explicitly Christian witness and norms. It is increasingly the case in Western culture that Christians can participate in public governance only insofar as they suppress their explicitly Christian motivations. Paradoxically, the Christian community might have more impact upon the world if it were less concerned about appearing reasonable in the eyes of the world and more concerned about faithfully embodying the New Testament's teaching against violence.

Let it be said clearly, however, that the reasons for choosing Jesus' way of peacemaking are not prudential. In calculable terms, this way is sheer folly. Why do we choose the way of nonviolent love of enemies? If our reasons for that choice are shaped by the New Testament, we are motivated not by the sheer horror of war, not by the desire for saving our own skins and the skins of our children (if we are trying to save our skins, pacifism is a very poor strategy), not by some general feeling of reverence for human life, not by the naive hope that all people are really nice and will be friendly if we are friendly first. No, if our reasons for choosing nonviolence are shaped by the New Testament witness, we act in simply obedience to the God who willed that his own Son should give himself up to death on a cross. We make this choice in the hope and anticipation that God's love will finally prevail through the way of the cross, despite our inability to see how this is possible. That is the life of discipleship to which the New Testament repeatedly calls us. When the church as a community is faithful to that calling, it prefigures the peaceable kingdom of God in a world wracked by violence.

One reason that the world finds the New Testament's message of peacemaking and love of enemies incredible is that the church is so massively faithless. On the question of violence, the church is deeply compromised and committed to nationalism, violence, and idolatry. (By comparison, our problems with sexual sin are trivial.) This indictment applies alike to liberation theologies that justify violence against oppressors and to establishment Christianity that continues to play chaplain to the military-industrial complex, citing just war theory and advocating the defense of a particular nation as though that were somehow a Christian value.

Only when the church renounces the way of violence will people see what the Gospel means, because then they will see the way of Jesus reenacted in the church. Whenever God's people give up the predictable ways of violence and self-defense, they are forced to formulate imaginative new responses in particular historical settings, responses as startling as going the second mile to carry the burden of a soldier who had compelled the defenseless follower of Jesus to carry it one mile first. The exact character of these imaginative responses can be worked out only in the life of particular Christian communities; however, their common denominator will be conformity to the example of Jesus, whose own imaginative performance of enemy-love led him to the cross. If we live in obedience to Jesus' command to renounce violence, the church will become the sphere where the future of God's righteousness intersects--and challenges--the present tense of human existence. The meaning of the New Testament's teaching on violence will become evident only in communities of Jesus' followers who embody the costly way of peace.

--Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament (1996)

Hays is telling the absolute, unvarnished truth here. I simply don't see any way around it that doesn't involve either distorting the text or contorting your mind. This is what the Bible teaches. If you see things differently, feel free to explain why. Alternately, if you find it difficult to argue with anything here, but still aren't willing to concede the point, perhaps you might take a crack at explaining your own reasoning.

Posted by Jared at 02:50 PM | TrackBack

November 12, 2009

Beyond Pacifism and Just War

The new reality Jesus proclaimed was nonviolent. That much is clear, not just from the Sermon on the Mount, but from his entire life and teaching and, above all, the way he faced his death at the hands of the Powers. His was not merely a tactical or pragmatic nonviolence seized upon because nothing else would have worked against the Roman Empire's virtual monopoly on power. Rather, he saw nonviolence as a direct expression of the nature of God and of the new reality breaking into the world from God. In a New Testament passage quoted more than any other during the church's first four centuries, Jesus taught that we should love our enemies [...] nonviolence is not just a means to the realm of God. It is a quality of that realm itself. Those who live nonviolently are already manifesting the transformed reality of the divine order, even while living under the jurisdiction of the Domination System.

The early Christians saw themselves as already inaugurating the new order. So they refused to engage in war. For three centuries, no Christian author to our knowledge approved of Christian participation in battle. Such data as we have indicate that involvement in the army even in peacetime was frowned upon. The early church theologian Tertullian had pithy advice for solders who converted to Christianity: quit the army, or be martyred by the army for refusing to fight.

When the emperor Constantine forbade pagan sacrifices by the army in 321 C.E., most Christians apparently read this as removing a major objection to military service. The other objection--killing--was easily rationalized since the empire no longer waged wars of expansion [...] When the Christian church began receiving preferential treatment by the very empire that it had once so steadfastly opposed, war, which had once seemed so evil, now appeared to many to be a necessity for preserving the empire that protected the church.

Christianity's weaponless victory over the Roman Empire resulted in the weaponless victory of the empire over the gospel. A fundamental transformation occurred when the church ceased being persecuted and became instead a persecutor. Once a religion attains sufficient power in a society that the state looks to it for support, that religion must also, of necessity, join in the repression of the state's enemies. For a faith that lived from its critique of domination and its vision of a nonviolent social order, this shift was catastrophic, for it could only mean embracing and rationalizing oppression.


Violence is contrary to the gospel. But we are not always able to live up to the gospel. [...] Even so, when as individuals or nations we are unable to act nonviolently, we are not excused for our actions, nor may we attempt to justify them.

But we also cannot condemn those who in desperation resort to counterviolence against the massive violence of an unjust order. We must wish them success, even if they are still caught in the myth of redemptive violence themselves. Who knows; perhaps their victory will usher in a better society able to divest itself of some of its oppressive elements [...]

We must admit our addiction to the Myth of Redemptive Violence--an addiction every bit as tenacious and seductive as bondage to alcohol or drugs. Civilization is hooked on violence. Rational argument, therefore, is not enough to break its grip over us. We need to acknowledge our bondage and turn to a higher power for help in extricating ourselves from our trust in destructive force.

A nation may feel that it must fight in order to prevent an even greater evil. But that does not cause the lesser evil to cease being evil. Declaring a war "just" is simply a ruse to rid ourselves of guilt. But we can no more free ourselves of guilt by decree than we can declare ourselves forgiven by fiat. If we have killed, it is a sin, and only God can forgive us, not a propaganda apparatus that declares our dirty wars "just." Governments and guerrilla chiefs are not endowed with the power to absolve us from sin. Only God can do that. And God is not mocked. The whole discussion of "just" wars is sub-Christian.


Jesus' third way is coercive insofar as it forces oppressors to make choices they would rather not make. But it is nonlethal, the great advantage of which is that if we have chosen a mistaken course, our opponents are still alive to benefit from our apologies. The same exegesis that undermines the scriptural basis for traditional just-war theory also erodes the foundation of nonresistant pacifism. Jesus' teaching carries us beyond just war and pacifism, to a militant nonviolence that actualizes in the present the ethos of God's domination-free future.

History itself has been confirming the practicality of Jesus' program of late. The irony would be delicious if it were not so bitter: earnest theologians have been earnestly persuading Christians for sixteen centuries that their gospel supports violence, while massive outpourings of citizens in one officially atheist country after another recently have demonstrated the effectiveness of Jesus' teaching of nonviolence as a means of liberation.

The position proposed here affirms the pacifist heritage of nonviolence as a fundamental tenet of the gospel of God's in-breaking new order. The church cannot, then, justify any violence or war as "good" or "just." And it affirms the "violence-reduction criteria" drawn from the just-war heritage as well.


No doubt the objection may be raised that affirmation of nonviolence by the churches would be too simplistic, that ethical judgments in the real world of the Powers are far too complex to adopt a fixed ethical stance. This objection, I must confess, was one of the main reasons I resisted committing myself without reserve to nonviolence for so many years. I have slowly come to see that what the church needs most desperately is precisely such a clear-cut, unambiguous position. [...] the church's own position should be understandable by the smallest child: we oppose violence in all forms. And we do so because we reject domination.

--Walter Wink, The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millenium (1999)

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June 23, 2009

A Poor Reflection

I got the latest issue of LeTourneau's in-house news magazine in the mail yesterday, and found it fuller than usual of interesting tidbits. Among those was a blurb that mentioned that Dr. Jarstfer, who is a biology professor and serves as the dean of both Arts (which includes both departments from which I earned my degree) and Sciences, had testified before the Texas State Board of Education and recommended that critical thinking be encouraged among high school students, specifically by continuing to require that science teachers include information about weaknesses in the theory of evolution.

The single paragraph did not, of course, mention that the board ultimately voted to drop this requirement a few days later, but it did note that Jarstfer was quoted in a "Christianity Today" article about the "controversy." That blurb, and the article it cites (which can be found here), raised all sorts of conflicting thoughts and emotions for me which I shall attempt to work through here. And, yes, the title is a pun.

Of course, for starters I am always surprised whenever I see LeTourneau mentioned in any sort of larger state or national context. I am still getting used to attending a university that is widely-recognized by name, and which regularly crops up in all sorts of places (including the above article, where I was not at all surprised to find it). I hope that's not taken as a knock on LeTourneau, but let's face it . . . my undergraduate alma mater is a little fish in a big ocean.

It's probably that fact more than any other that elicited any response at all from me in regards to this issue. When an institution that I still feel so intimately connected to garners a little attention, and when that attention is so rare, I am naturally interested in the sort of attention it is getting. In this case, I have to say I'm distressed, and I feel that Dr. Jarstfer's stand reflects poorly on the university and its academic chops (which is the sort of reflection it can ill-afford). However, I remain somewhat conflicted about whether I am correct in feeling this way.

My first impulse just upon reading the blurb from LeTourneau was one of annoyance. It seemed to me that Jarstfer was attempting to "strike a blow for Creationism" (and whatever the reality, I remain convinced that the piece was crafted to give that impression). However, after skimming the "Christianity Today" article, I vascillated a bit and began to charitably consider that perhaps Dr. Jarstfer really is willing to give evolutionary theory a fair hearing and was just advocating a "good science" which is willing to question everything. Upon closer reading, not only of the article but of the several links that it includes, I have to return to my previous opinion.

This isn't about good science (although I don't know whether Jarstfer recognizes that); it's about scoring political and religious points in an increasingly destructive debate. And, in this case specifically, I'd say it's about very publicly scoring points with the university's financial base while members of the department with less acceptable views wisely keep their heads down.

Now, I can't say with any certainty precisely what Dr. Jarstfer's opinions on evolution are, or how he arrived at them, but at the very least he is guilty of keeping bad company. As the article notes, Jarstfer has signed the famous "scientific dissent from Darwinism" document which is associated with the infamous Discovery Institute. The purpose of this document is (and here I am grossly mischaracterizing its actual purpose) to create the illusion that there is significant and genuine scientific dissent to the theory of evolution. That is probably a terribly unfair accusation to make, and if I were one of the signers, I would be outraged at . . . myself. Here's why I made it:

The list of scientists that have signed off on this dissent are from all over the world. That is, most of them are from the United States, but in terms of representation, this gives the appearance of being a global list of scientists who are opposed to evolution. There are somewhere in the general neighborhood of 750 names on the list, including 2 from LeTourneau (Jarstfer and my former chemistry professor, who just retired after 40 years of teaching) and 5 from Baylor (one of whom, incidentally, teaches my Sunday school class . . . I have a great deal of respect for the guy, lest it be thought that I am displaying an unthinking bias here).

Meanwhile, the CT article links to another list. This is a list of Texan scientists (that is, scientists who are living and working in the state) who are opposed to what they (in my opinion rightly) view as a "teach the weaknesses" red herring. Part of their statement reads, "Evolution is an easily observable phenomenon and has been documented beyond any reasonable doubt." There are, as I say, only Texas scientists on this list. And it contains 1550 names, including 41 from Baylor.

Of further interest to me: There are no names from LeTourneau on the list, although I happen to know that some of the science faculty there hold opinions which would align them with this statement. I have to wonder, did they willingly choose not to sign, or do they just know better given the institution they work for? After all, LeTourneau is a Christian technical school, and there are quite a few faculty members who meet the qualifications required to sign the dissent, and yet there are only two that chose to do so.

This is pretty much pure speculation on my part, but is it possible that Jarstfer, and LeTourneau, aren't quite as favorable towards asking questions and thinking critically as they say? Feel free to note here the cheap tactic of asking a very leading question. I'm not trying to be disingenuous or slyly give the impression that this is definitely going on. I'll just conclude with option #3, presented by at the end of the CT article by Jim Nichols, biology chair and Abilene Christian. He summarizes my own position on the matter rather nicely, and that makes him the logical place to end this:

"[Petitions] too often oversimplify causes. I suspect [the curriculum debate] is really more of a political/religious showcase than something that will really affect public education. I and many others live relatively comfortably in both camps and tire from attacks from both sides. With all the real problems in the world, this is a serious waste of energy to keep beating on this topic."

Posted by Jared at 07:15 PM | TrackBack

October 06, 2008

Gee Golly Gosh Darn It, Dontchaknow

After discussing my mode of discourse about Sarah Palin, I decided I really wanted to go back and take a closer look at her discourse. I'm sitting here, a few days later, feeling fairly calm and collected. I've got a debate transcript from CNN in front of me, and I've pulled a portion for examination, which I then tweaked for accuracy against the video of the debate on YouTube. There were lots of excerpts I could have selected, certainly, but I settled on this one. I have checked it several times, but if you want to see the excerpt yourself, I've included the video at the bottom of the post. The piece in question runs from about 1:10:05 to 1:11:36. I recommend watching, just so you can absorb the full effect of her vacuous, backwoodsy perkiness.

What I'd like to basically do is walk through the segment in its entirety. This portion (like most of what she had to say) is filled with fragments, run-ons, awkward phraseology, tangents and disconnected ideas. In it, she latches onto a single word spoken by Biden, and uses it to springboard into a totally irrelevant topic. She runs with it, but flounders twice into irrelevancies. Once she does get back on track, she still manages not to say anything. In short, it is the perfect demonstration, in miniature, of Sarah Palin's mental bankruptcy and the source of my disgust.

For context, the moderator had questioned the candidates about what their presidency might look like if anything were to happen to their running mates after the election. Biden answered first, and explained the Obama policies he would follow and why. Palin went next and ended her answer with a dig at Obama's economic policies (which was, at best, questionable). Biden quickly jumped back in with an indictment of the results of Bush administration policies, and drew the all-important link between Bush and McCain. The important quote, coming about halfway through his remarks, is this: "[...] ask them whether there's a single major initiative that John McCain differs with the president on. On taxes, on Iraq, on Afghanistan, on the whole question of how to help education, on the dealing with health care."

Palin responds:

Aww, say it ain't so, Joe. There you go again pointing backwards again though. You prefaced your whole comment with the Bush administration. Now doggone it, let's look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to do for them in the future. You mentioned education and I'm glad that you did. I know that education you are passionate about and with your wife being a teacher for 30 years, and God bless her, her reward is in heaven, right? Um, I say, too, with education, America needs to be putting a lot more focus on that and our schools have got to be really ramped up in terms of the funding that they are deserving. Teachers needed to be paid more. I come from a house full of school teachers. My grandma was, my dad who is in the audience today, he's a schoolteacher, had been for many years. My brother, who I think is the best schoolteacher in the year, and here's a shout-out to all those third graders at Gladys Wood Elementary School, you get extra credit for watchin' this debate.

Education in American has been in some senses some of our states just accepted to be a little bit lax and we have got to increase the standards. No Child Left Behind was implemented. It's not doin' the job though. We need flexibility in No Child Left Behind. We need to put more of an emphasis on the profession of teaching. We need to make sure that education in either one of our agendas, I think, absolute top of the line. My kids as public school participants right now, it's near and dear to my heart. I'm very, very concerned about where we're goin' in education and we have got to ramp it up and put more attention in that arena.

She chuckles her way amiably through the first few sentences, prefacing a deflection that everyone can see coming a mile away. "Doggone it," she just wants us all to forget about what a mess the last eight years have created and how closely aligned her running mate is with the leader that brought us here. Well should she want to just laugh Biden's comments off and then ignore them. President Bush's approval rating last month was at 19%, a record low. That's lower than Truman's during the Korean War, lower than Carter's during the Iran Hostage Crisis, and even lower than Nixon's during Watergate. To honestly acknowledge the accuracy of Biden's observation (which you'll notice she does not deny) would be political death. Instead, Palin grabs ahold of the lifeline Biden has unwittingly tossed her: An in into a topic she actually thinks she knows something about.

You mentioned education and I'm glad that you did. I know that education you are passionate about and with your wife being a teacher for 30 years, and God bless her, her reward is in heaven, right?

Oh, I'll bet she's glad. I will forever wonder what she would have come up with if he hadn't mentioned it. Still, she derails herself almost immediately in an attempt to form a sentence that reminds me of watching a hamster scrabble at the walls of its aquarium without gaining any purchase. It tries to go in three directions at once, loses track of its syntax, and finally circles around into a rhetorical question.

Um, I say, too, with education, America needs to be putting a lot more focus on that and our schools have got to be really ramped up in terms of the funding that they are deserving.

She starts over again and takes another run at the topic, getting a bit further this time. We've got a crushingly obvious observation, phrased backwards (education, America should focus more on it) and followed by a run-on thought that totally fails to make any sense, leaving a sad trail of mutilated verbage in its wake. Does she mean that schools need to improve to justify the already-high level of funding? Does she mean that they deserve more funding and should get it? Does she mean anything at all? We may never know.

Teachers needed to be paid more.

But now they . . . don't? This is just the first in a string of nonsensical and disorienting tense changes: "My grandma was, my dad who is in the audience today, he's a schoolteacher, had been for many years." Ow, right? But that's nothing compared to what's coming.

My brother, who I think is the best schoolteacher in the year, and here's a shout-out to all those third graders at Gladys Wood Elementary School, you get extra credit for watchin' this debate.

This just shows that her mind isn't staying far enough ahead of her mouth to save her from dissolving into a lazy drift along the good old stream of consciousness. As one might eventually infer from that much-abused jumble of words, Palin's brother Chuck Heath teaches third grade at the above-mentioned school. Lord knows what she means by "best schoolteacher in the year," but it hardly matters. By the time she finishes leading herself down the garden path that is this whole paragraph, she has completely lost the thread of whatever it was she was trying to say (something about how teachers used to need more money, wasn't it?).

Education in American has been in some senses some of our states just accepted to be a little bit lax and we have got to increase the standards.

She limps gamely back into the fray in the next paragraph, but crashes and burns again without even leaving the tarmac. It's so outrageously stupid that it's almost clever; she seems to hint at a little apathy in American education without getting into potentially offensive specifics. Really, though, that's just one possible interpretation of a quasi-sentence-like mass that might keep a crack team of linguists and literary theorists occupied for years under different circumstances (i.e. if someone of importance who spoke with an ounce of credibility and intelligence had said it).

We need to put more of an emphasis on the profession of teaching.

After briefly navigating the treacherous, policy-filled waters of No Child Left Behind (and neglecting to mention the Bush/McCain backing of the program), Sarah "Captain Obvious" Palin sails the good ship "You Betcha" back into the more familiar territory of the blindingly self-evident. The success of this voyage emboldens her, and she decides it is safe to bring it on home.

We need to make sure that education in either one of our agendas, I think, absolute top of the line.

Whoops. Watch out for that grammatical sandbar. You might want to think about plugging that leak with a verb, or at least a complete thought.

My kids as public school participants right now, it's near and dear to my heart.

Sentence fragment ahoy! It's okay, dear. We know what you meant. Nevermind the dock, let's just get this sucker to the beach.

I'm very, very concerned about where we're goin' in education and we have got to ramp it up and put more attention in that arena.

A last, helpful swell from the direction of innocuous (but meaningless) statements that everyone can agree with brings the governor blessedly ashore and the lifeg- err, moderater hops to her aid with a quick joke. And you thought the guys on Wall Street were the only ones getting a bail-out . . .

In conclusion, I would like to reiterate my complete bafflement that anyone can listen to Palin "talk" for two minutes and not have immediate doubts about her qualifications as a mayor or governor, let alone a possible vice-president. She has charisma, certainly, but it's like a black hole behind her eyes that consumes all doubt and derision, leaving nothing but brash, unfounded confidence in its place.

I think the commentators and pundits who were waiting for her to burn out spectacularly during the debate were morons (despite her desperate flopping in the Couric interview). They are the ones who set the stage for her ghastly nonperformance to exceed expectations. Note to everyone: Just because the candidate does not suffer a nuclear meltdown in mid-sentence does not mean she performed well, or even adequately. You've got one month to realize that she needs to be sent packing. Now, go do the right thing.

Posted by Jared at 10:41 AM | TrackBack

October 02, 2008

Sarah Palin is a Yokel

She is a yokel, and a putz, and a schmuck. That may sound ridiculously harsh, but I've just watched her debate Joe Biden for an hour and a half, and experienced shooting pain stretching from my ears up into the rational portions of my brain every time she opened her mouth. Am I a Biden fan? Not particularly, but this woman is an idiot. Do we really want to vote for yet another ticket that features someone who cannot pronounce the word "nuclear?" Palin has taken folksy jargon in national politics to a whole new level.

As of now, I still have not been able to discern what ratio of Palin's rhetoric is sincere blue-collar arrogance (more on that in a moment) and how much of it is naked, cynical pandering, but I'm certain that all of it is some combination of the two. I simply do not understand the appeal to any voter of someone who refers to herself in every other sentence as "average," "middle-class," "Joe Six-pack," etc.

Why would I vote for someone who self-identifies with the typical knuckle-dragging xenophobe who spends his leisure time chugging beer on the couch? This goes back to something I've had cause to complain of before: growing American pride in the "redneck" label and all of the moronic bigotry that that label implies. When did it become uncool to be well-educated, well-spoken, and well-bred?

As to specific complaints about Palin in the debate, her statements throughout the evening only reinforced her status as a mindless McCain mouthpiece, a clueless, bumbling tool of a dying campaign. I very much doubt she could have shoe-horned in one more use of the word "maverick" if she were getting royalty payments for it. It seemed to magically morph into every part of speech at some point during her remarks: "The maverickish maverick mavericked maverickally."

With respect to the economy, she stated that the best barometer of how the economy is doing is to attend a kid's soccer game. When asked who was at fault for the sub-prime mortgage crisis, her response began, "You're darn right it was the predator lenders." I don't in any way want to downplay the complicity of pure capitalistic greed. However, starting off on that tack is offensive on two levels: On the one hand, it ignores the personal responsibility of the people who took on more debt than they could physically afford, and on the other hand it demeans their intelligence, painting them as hapless rubes who were suckered by the Wall Street snake-oil salesmen.

Throughout the debate, Palin's dialogue was littered with button-cute, country-fried buzzspeak and strangely devoid of meaningful content. So much so, in fact, that it leaves me with very little to talk about beyond a general distaste for her values, her style, and the lack of activity taking place between her ears.

In the words of a pre-debate commentator: "People making the mistake of trying to understand her unparseable constructions suffer greatly. Only by matching her smile and blank cheerfulness can one withstand the sucking black hole of unreason that is Palin attempting to communicate with words."


I despise her and her entire regular-American approach to politics with a flaming passion. It has been a blight on the nation since the days of Andrew Jackson. I'm still with Jon Stewart. I want my president to be an elitist. You don't know anything about leading the nation because you're just like the rest of us? Well, screw you. Get out of the race.

Posted by Jared at 09:33 PM | TrackBack

September 04, 2008

You Pinheads.

"Really? One of the most outrageous double standards you've ever seen?"

The media-political complex may be about to field the first female vice-president or the first African American president, but some things never change. They're all still lying sacks of . . . well, you know.

Posted by Jared at 12:18 PM | TrackBack

February 19, 2008

Christians in the Movies: 2005-2007

This was way too long to dump on Sharpton's comment section. That would be evil. Find the rest of the conversation here.

But what about in entertainment?

Well, you came to the right place. I should start with the very clear disclaimer that, as the savvy reviewers over at Christianity Today could tell you, it's a mistake to limit one's search for Truth and Love and Redemption in entertainment solely to films with Christian characters . . . but this is about how Christians themselves are portrayed, so we'll let it slide.

I should also note that, as you may already know, I firmly oppose the Michael Medved, "Hollywood vs. Religion" nonsense that posits some sort of intentional, strategic assault on our faith by the entertainment industry . . . as if it were ideologically homogenous enough to agree about anything beyond "I want my movie to make me a bundle of cash."

I decided arbitrarily to look at movies starting in 2005 . . . just to go back during the last few years. I've seen just over 200 movies produced from 2005 on, and here are some of the examples I nosed up of movies that portray Christians/Christianity, in no particular order:

Into Great Silence - A 160-minute glimpse into the spiritually full lives of the Carthusian monks in a monastery in the heart of the French Alps. Not only does it demonstrate the richness of a life devoted to the service of Christ, the film itself is a deeply spiritual experience in quiet meditation and contemplation of the Holy.

V for Vendetta - Features every anti-Christian cliche in the book, from the pedophiliac bishop to the ambitions we Christians clearly harbor for fascistic domination. Fortunately, its characters, like its source material, are pure cartoon.

Junebug - Prominently features a scene at a church potluck in a small southern town, with prayer and singing and general fellowship that feels so warm and genuine I'm still not convinced the filmmakers didn't just set up a camera during an actual church gathering and toss their actors into it. Little movie, lots of critical acclaim . . . launched the rapidly-ascending career of Amy Adams (Enchanted, Charlie Wilson's War).

Serenity - While I personally think there is more than one way to interpret Shepherd Book's statements like "I don't care what you believe, just believe," one could legitimately put it in your "wishy-washy" category. Book is, to me, a moving example of a principled and loving Christian, then again the faith he practices is an odd (and not very developed) futuristic brand . . . so maybe it shouldn't count as anything at all.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - In general, I'm steering well clear of movies that are merely symbolically linked to Christianity, but this particular story is so widely-known to have originated from within "our camp" that I feel I can legitimately toss it out there. Did a pretty tidy business at the box-office, and should allow for the production of all 6 sequels in the coming years.

Driving Lessons - The mother of the main character is a petty, vindictive, narrow-minded and extremely hypocritical caricature of a Christian (played by Laura Linney, who seems to relish such roles). The movie sucked in almost every way and was pretty much panned by audiences and critics alike.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose - Raises deep spiritual questions while casting a Catholic priest in a highly-sympathetic light as a compassionate man of faith and simultaneously featuring a Christian lawyer as a man whose faith is not based solely on blind, non-thinking acceptance.

The Da Vinci Code - My disdain for the book is no secret, and the film wasn't much better. The target of this film is clearly a fantasy version of the Catholic Church, which finds its sinister self at the center of the ultimate in ludicrous conspiracy theories.

Keeping Mum - A surprising and delightful dark British comedy which centers around the family of an Anglican minister played by none other than Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean). My favorite moment is when the minister delivers a sermon on grace that he has spent the entire film working on, only to be suddenly struck in the middle of it by a powerful action of grace on his own life that he had failed to notice until just that moment.

Jesus Camp - Hard to call this a "portrayal" I guess, since it's a documentary. The slant of the portrayal is all in the viewer . . . many Christians could watch this and cheer. Me . . . not so much with the cheering. Notable for having caught footage of Ted Haggard preaching a sermon against homosexuality just a few months before that whole gay prostitute thing blew up in his face. Anyway, this is an unflinching look at what some of us are really like.

Joyeux Noel - Features perhaps the most moving celebration of mass you'll ever see, given by an Irish minister (elsewhere shown to be a courageous and compassionate Christian) to a gathering of mortal enemies in the midst of a WWI battlefield, brought together in the peace, joy and grace represented by the birth of Christ.

Deliver Us from Evil - Again with the documentaries and the "portrayals" . . . This one's about the Catholics again. Specifically, it's about a particular priest who was moved from parish to parish by his supervisor to avoid massive scandal from all the kids he kept molesting. Not really an indictment of Christians or Christianity, though.

Amazing Grace - The story of devout Christian William Wilberforce and his lifelong struggle to end slavery in England is brought to life in this film starring Mr. Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd). Wilberforce's faith is definitely not downplayed . . . very reminiscent of Paul Scofield's portrayal of Sir Thomas More from A Man for All Seasons.

There Will Be Blood - Features a rather wild-eyed preacher who is 2 parts raving loon and 1 part slimy opportunist. While his church features baptism and a cross, it is clearly some kind of fringe cult . . . Never explicitly called Christian, I kept expecting them to pull out a bag of snakes. To the best of my memory, the name of Jesus is never even mentioned.

Lars and the Real Girl - At the center of this story is a tight-knit church community that surrounds its members with a safety net of love and support, even when they're acting really, really weird (as Lars is). (As they wonder how to deal with the Lars situation, the pastor simply asks "What would Jesus do?" and that settles the discussion.) The pastor offers relevant sermons straight from the Bible. Currently nominated for a screenplay Oscar.

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days - Nominated for Best Foreign Film a few years ago . . . tells the story of devout Christian Sophie Scholl and her courageous and principled stand against the evils of Nazi Germany which ultimately cost her her life.

Cinderella Man - The title character and his family are devout Catholics who value integrity. They are part of a church led by a priest very much invested in his congregation, which gathers about them as a family in prayer at various points.

Adam's Apples - A mean neo-Nazi gets more than he bargained for when he gets sent to Pastor Ivan for rehabilitation into society. Unable to take advantage of Ivan's trusting, happy nature, he sets out to destroy that sunny idealism instead, but will he prove to be any match for a genuine holy fool?

A lot of pastors and commentators and people who maybe go to the movies two or three times in a year like to warn us all about the evils of Hollywood and the anti-Christian agenda and God knows what. The implication being that you can't make a trip to the multiplex without running into an ad for the next blockbuster with a lousy Christian stereotype. But I'm out there, on the ground, watching that big screen like a hawk and I'm here to tell you it just ain't so. Films where Christians are bad are few and far between (far more rare than the real deal, unfortunately) and when they do show up, no one pays them much mind except the Christians waving picket signs out front.

Posted by Jared at 02:32 AM | TrackBack

January 29, 2008

Unmitigated Disaster

There were some fair questions raised in response to my last post, and it made more sense (in terms of length and content) to respond in another post. I should say first that nothing in particular "brought this on." After all, I didn't make the video, I just saw it and posted it. On a deeper level, the person who thought this was worth posting grew up going to churches where the seating consisted of metal folding chairs set up in a converted gymnasium. I can't help glancing around when I walk into an American church and wonder how much money went towards the thick carpet, stained-glass windows, padded pews and whatnot that could have gone to . . . I dunno . . . orphans in Latin America (just to pick an example completely at random).

So, if I raise these questions about relatively small amounts of money spent on churches, how much more am I going to question billions of dollars spent on funding a war? Answer: A lot. To say nothing of the fact that, with each passing day, larger and larger segments of the population are realizing this particular war was a huge mistake (that adjective is so hopelessly inadequate).

Considering your past statements of disdain for cries of "think of the children", it seems a bit odd for you to post a video essentially dedicated to that. You might say that in this case, it's a legitimate point. But sometimes, other people bringing it up have legitimate points, too.

I have two things to say: 1) My disdain for "think of the children" is limited exclusively to those who advance the cry on the basis of "protecting" the kiddies from whatever book, TV show, movie, video game, song or painting offends or threatens their touchy, loud-mouthed parents. On the one hand, I find it ludicrous that these people think such issues amount to anything worth throwing such a wall-eyed fit over, and on the other hand I find it offensive that they demand the entire world be dumbed-down, watered-down and made over to match their own narrow, hysterical worldview. The difference, to my mind, is this: That's a stupid, reactionary wingnut issue and this is a legitimate quality of life issue.

2) To be perfectly honest, as a childless young adult who is married to a teacher and is up to his ears in debt for school loans and house payments, I wasn't giving "the children" the bulk of my attention in that video. I was more struck by the number of homes and home improvements the war could have paid for by now, as well as the hundreds of thousands of college educations and teacher salaries. Sure, children are involved in some of those considerations to one degree or another, but not exclusively by any means. A far more apt phrase would be "think of the people."

This is largely an appeal to emotion. There's little in the way of facts or numbers, just "how much we spent", and "cute little kids pictures."

This is the one place where I think you're way off-base. "Little in the way of numbers"? Seriously, did we watch the same video? Sure there are pictures, and most of them even have a cute kid, but the impact is all in the numbers. This is how much we are spending on the war every day. This is exactly what we could be doing instead. This is how much more good money went after bad while you sat and watched us tell you about it. The photographs are not particularly maudlin, merely visual representations of the numbers. Does the presence of the pictures really drain all of the common sense out of the presentation of those cold, hard figures? The video didn't appeal to my heart, it appealed to my bottom line. Don't mistake passion for emotion.

How many lives have been changed for the better in Iraq? How many people live free of fear now, live better lives? All we hear about from the news is death. There's so much country there, there has to be life, too. Are you saying that American lives are more important than Iraqi lives? Haven't you taken the opposite of that idea in the past?

This is probably going to be the biggest sticking point, but I think that these are very important questions. My answer, in a nutshell, is this. I don't know how many lives we have changed for the better, or how many live free from fear . . . but the word on the street is "Not as many as have been changed for the worse and not as many as now live in fear and/or with a decreased quality of life." My research suggests that the war we have waged against the country for the past almost-five years has claimed more Iraqi lives than are attributed to the atrocities of Saddam Hussein during the previous 24 . . . to say nothing of the fact that we were directly involved in his rise to power and supplied him with his first list of human, even civilian, targets to eliminate.

As I've discussed many times, our country has failed (at a terrible cost) to learn from any of its foreign policy history of the past 60 years. We have developed an idiotic habit of ignoring long-term consequences of our actions in achieving short-term goals. I have no doubt that even after we are finally out of Iraq (if we ever pull it off), there will be fallout down the line that no one but the people in power have the slightest inkling of yet (and they are too stupid, stubborn and short-sighted to care).

Of course I'm not saying that American lives are more important than Iraqi lives. Far from it. That's why I care that estimates number Iraqi civilian casualties in the several hundreds of thousands since the invasion began. And really, what do you think we're doing with the money that is not being spent on Americans in America? Do you seriously think we're over there building schools and homes with it? We haven't even managed to bring most of the country back up to pre-war levels with regards to basic services like water, electricity and medical.

The best thing for Iraq is, and always was (stretching back to those first days in 1963 when the CIA pulled one of its famous "regime changes" that put Saddam Hussein's political party in power), that we leave it the hell alone as soon as possible and for as long as possible. Our war budget should be diverted into more peaceable channels, immediately. And you can take that to the bank.

In conclusion, have another video:

Warning: Too tired to give this a proper proof-read.

Posted by Jared at 03:34 AM | TrackBack

August 15, 2007

Obstinate Twits

I have a certain appreciation for Focus on the Family. They've produced a lot of things I've enjoyed (and also some I haven't) over the years, from their publications to their website to their radio dramas, and even some video releases. I think that (most of the time) they are one of the good public faces of evangelical Christianity, which to me means that I am generally not embarrassed to be part of the same religion as them. They are a respectable contrast to the shameful antics of, for instance, our Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells.

However, that aside, I have no respect for how Focus engages with our culture. They approach everything with a tally sheet, ready to mark down the number of swear words, negative attitudes, sex scenes (actual or implied) . . . the list goes on and on. These are potentially useful statistics for certain audiences, I suppose, but for the most part I wonder why anyone who needs to know exactly how many times someone says s*** in a movie ever goes to the movies at all.

To FotF's credit, they actually do watch/read/listen to whatever they're talking about before they discuss it, but I've gotten the feeling on more than one occasion that a review was half-written before they ever walked into the theater. There is no real discernment involved in what they do, and no, mere balance-sheet auditing of "wholesome" vs. "inappropriate" content is not an acceptable substitute for true judgment.

Well, speaking of ironic lapses in perception, a Looking Closer reader noticed something amusing and frustrating. Dr. Dobson recently distanced himself from an error in the Washington Post which stated that he approved of Harry Potter. This couldn't be further from the truth, see, because everything about Harry Potter is a danger and a detriment.

Meanwhile, in another corner of the Focus website, there is an editorial bemoaning the low value placed on "sacrificial heroes" by our "superficial culture." Contrast that with this headline from Christianity Today (a model of Christians engaging in an even-handed dialogue with culture).

And that's really all I have to say about that . . . other than to note, yet again, that anyone who still insists on ragging on Harry Potter is an obstinate twit.

Posted by Jared at 10:55 PM | TrackBack

August 06, 2007

Don't Tell Me That

So, the phone rings and a woman asks me if I can see if we have a certain movie. Well, of course I can. She wants The Bell Jar (1979). As I'm typing it in, she notes that it's also a book by Sylvia Plath (I was aware of this). Sure enough:

"Nope. We have a few copies of the book, but no movie."

"Oh, okay. Yeah, they assigned the book to my kids last Thursday and they have to have it done by Tuesday, so I'm trying to find the movie. It's ridiculous. That book is two inches thick."

Well, gee. If you'd told me that in the first place, I could have told you we didn't have it without even looking it up.

(For the record, "two inches thick" is a ludicrous claim. Our large print copy isn't that thick. The regular paperback is 288 pages long. I estimate it would take me well under 6 hours to polish off. Also, by all accounts, the movie version is a wretched adaptation. Call me vicious, but I hope those kids get caught and/or fail accordingly.)

Posted by Jared at 12:13 PM | TrackBack

June 18, 2007


I disapprove rather strongly of a lot of the library's movie acquisitions . . . most of them, actually. And it's not just because I'm a film snob, either. We scrounge the very latrines of Hollywood for our selections . . . inexcusably awful dreck like Epic Movie, Norbit, and Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector. Basically, if you ever accidentally saw a trailer and thought, "That looks like the cinematic equivalent of sucking my own brains out of my nostril through a straw while simultaneously grinding powdered glass into my eyeballs and rythmically beating the back of my head against a concrete wall" then we probably have that movie available for check-out . . . and people do, of course.

I know a lot of these people by sight. They are regulars, and they take whatever they can find so long as it will flash pretty lights up on their TV screen while they gaze in stupid wonder at the magic of the moving pictures. I have often fondly imagined a special ink stamp that I would have with me, just for them. They would have it applied to their foreheads each time they checked out, and it would say:

I'll watch anything. Try me!

I'm being overly vitriolic, I know . . . But ultimately these people are the ones responsible for the overwhelming stupid of low culture, and that is a difficult thing to forgive (as little as they may actually deserve my ire).

And, really, they aren't the ones I'm upset at today. No, all of this is a total tangent to what actually set me off. A woman, presumably an unusually stupid and clueless breed of parent, dropped our DVD copy of Epic Movie with a sticky note on the front that said "This movie is not suitable for children. It contains nudity and foul language!" There was a tacit implication buried in there that we had somehow given the impression that this was the perfect thing to plop the kiddies in front of for an evening of wholesome family entertainment. Yeah. Also, consider the following:

-Aside from various visual clues in the very nature of the images on the DVD cover itself, there was an enormous UNRATED banner plastered proudly across the front in black and red, flanked by the skull-and-crossbones.

-The back raucously proclaimed this to be the "Unrated, Uninhibited, Unbelievable Edition!"

-The very brief plot synopsis identified the movie's chief villain as "the evil White B--ch" (filtering mine).

-Special Features listed included such tasteful and varied gems as: "Breaking Wind," "How Gratuitous," "Everyone Loves Beaver: Epic Hookups," and "Epic Porn – What Would Your Porno Movie Be Called?"

So, yes, idiot. Next time you get a movie for children spend a cursory 10 seconds glancing over the cover. Maybe I won't feel the barely-controllable urge to pummel you unconscious with a DVD case.

Posted by Jared at 11:17 AM | TrackBack

April 09, 2007


I was listening to a news report on the Bott Radio Network on the way back from lunch, and I was alerted to a legislative controversy that I didn't even know existed. Frankly, I was rather shocked to hear, first that the issue in question is not a foregone conclusion that was dealt with years ago, and second that it is a source of disagreement at all.

The issue is whether to make perceived sexual orientation (specifically homosexuality) part of the already existing federal hate crimes law. What that basically means is that if someone were to, say, kill you because you're gay or because they think you're gay, it would be considered a hate crime. Cuz, see, it's a crime and the motive was hatred.

The particular report I listened to was not very informative, and I was only half paying attention when I suddenly heard the commentary. Of course, this proposal was laid at the doorstep of the gay agenda, that great blight and scourge on American society. The suggestion was made that, not only had reports of hate crimes against gays been inflated and blown out of proportion, but that perhaps a substantial number of the reported crimes had even been faked in order to garner support for the amendment.

I did a little poking around to see what it was all about, and discovered that, indeed, this bit of legislation has not been well-received in all quarters. 'Well, that's odd,' I thought. 'I wonder who would be opposed to having less hatred in the world? . . . Oh, Christians. Wait . . . what?!' It seems that Christian organizations everywhere are loudly decrying the passage of such legislation as persecution of Christians.

When a significant minority group which often falls victim to prejudice, even violent prejudice, has its chance for a little extra protection blocked by a religion that has an obvious bone to pick on the grounds that the protection offered would squelch said religion's right to defame said minority, I think even a half-wit can identify precisely who is experiencing persecution. The assertion is that this amendment is directed specifically against the Christian faith. If said issue is that big of a deal to said faith, then I would counter-assert that said faith needs to get a life.

Is it just me, or do Christians claim the most "persecution" from the groups we are most willing to persecute, discriminate against, villify, and condemn in our turn? When even we cannot be charitable to those who hate or disagree with us, I shudder to think that we may be forced to rely on the charity of the unbeliever. Our voices grow ever more shrill and demanding in their insistence that Americans be governed by our principles and our principles alone, all while framing events as an apocalyptic struggle for an entire way of life.

We blindly place our faith in ultimate victory on shakey ground like the general rightness of our cause and the supposed fundamentalist Christian origins of our system of government. Meanwhile, we burn the bridges labeled "reason" and "tolerance" and "love" that connect us to the very people we should be reaching out to. Should our faith in the system ever prove unjustified (as it seems likely to), our precious rights and values will be left completely at the mercy of those we have made our mortal enemies. Sure that's bad, but my point is that we ourselves are more than a little responsible for drawing the battle lines so recklessly and raising the stakes so impossibly high in a conflict we might not win.

Anyway, in specific terms, the chief objection is that this legislation would supposedly make it possible for anyone in America who publicly calls homosexuality a sin to be charged with a hate crime. Scary-sounding terms like "thought crime" and "police state" are being thrown around. Well, first, let's get one thing straight. These Christians aren't against a police state because they value personal freedom. They're against a police state because they don't get to be the police. They aren't fooling anyone but themselves when they say otherwise.

Aside from seeming to obscuring the issue and making us all look like Nazis, I don't know whether these claims have any potential credibility. I really don't. But here's what I do know: According to this publication on hate crimes from the Department of Justice, in order for something to be classified as a hate crime, it first has to be an actual crime i.e. "murder, non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, aggravated assault, simple assault, intimidation, arson, and destruction, damage or vandalism of property." There have been federal hate crime laws on the books for nearly 40 years. If "hate speech" were covered under these laws, wouldn't we have seen some sort of crackdown on groups like the KKK before now?

There's certainly some interesting room for discussion here, were anyone willing to breathe deeply and calm down. What is the proper balance between freedom of expression and wanton intolerance? Should hatred be illegal in its own right? I haven't really fleshed out my own ideas about this yet, but I don't see the problem here.

Meanwhile, is there any particular reason to believe that general sermonizing would be placed on the same legal footing as KKK protest marches or cross-burnings? Assuming, even for a moment, that that would be the case and that such activities would be considered hate crimes (and neither assumption seems plausible), I'm still having a hard time casting the bulk of my sympathy in the direction of the "God Hates Fags" crew or their less inflammatory bretheren.

Seriously, is our right to proclaim the sinfulness of homosexuality from the rooftops really more important than their right not to be bullied, beaten, and killed? We aren't Old Testament prophets, dispatched to lecture everyone on how naughty they are. We're supposed to be about unconditional love, and that's not what this looks like to me.

Posted by Jared at 02:26 PM | TrackBack

December 18, 2006

Milking the Sacred Cow

They are the greatest success the industry has to offer. Everything they publish is turning to gold. Their books fly off of our library shelves, and I reluctantly feed the flow of fundamentalist fiction to faithful fans fastidiously awaiting their reserved titles as they are released. Money talks, and it says that this is what Christians want to read; the work of two writers who have set Christian fiction back at least 3 decades: Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye.

It all started in 1995, when the first book in their interminable saga (Left Behind) erupted. I was 12, and I don't even remember clearly what nationally best-selling Christian fiction for adults looked like before this. Did it exist? (Frank Peretti's This Present Darkness comes to mind as an example of a big hit in the Christian world, but did it get this kind of attention? Plus, he stopped after two.)

I'm certainly aware that the school of End Times thought represented by Left Behind is nothing new (hence a great deal of its success, I'd say). And, of course, popular accounts of it aren't exactly original either . . . The subject caught fire in the United States during the early '70s, continuing through the '80s with movies (A Thief in the Night), "nonfiction" books (The Late, Great Planet Earth), and so forth.

Still, something has clearly changed, and I don't think any of the apocalyptic grist flowing out of the Christian fiction mill has spawned a franchise on the order of Left Behind. In fact, I don't believe there has been a franchise this shameless in Christian marketing history. Back at the beginning, the series was conceived as a trilogy; three books examining the rapture, tribulation, and second coming. When I began the series late in 1999, there were 6 books out with a 7th on the way and a parallel series for young adults with several published titles under its belt.

I personally read the first 10, and then I simply couldn't continue. 10 was at least 3 too many. Hey, I'll be generous . . . I was younger, but I did get some enjoyment out of them at the time. I once sprinted across a shin-to-knee-deep pool that I knew was full of scalding hot water. I started off moving so fast that I was about halfway across before I noticed how much it hurt. I couldn't turn around, I couldn't stop, and I was terrified of tripping and landing on my face, so I kept moving. I emerged from the other side with feet and lower legs as red as boiled lobster. Similarly, I used to read some things so quickly, I could go a very long way before realizing how awful they were. I also read somewhere around 50 Hardy Boys mysteries shortly before beginning this series. It wasn't until my late teens that I learned to occasionally just stop reading something.

Meanwhile, here we are at the end of 2006. Left Behind: The Kids has hit critical mass with 40 (forty!) books in its series. Left Behind appeared to have ended with book 12. Then (and my chronology on this is a bit fuzzy, but who cares?) Jenkins and LeHaye went back and wrote three prequels: The Rising, The Regime and The Rapture.

This prequel trilogy begins 27 years before Left Behind and brings its characters up to the instant the series begins. A good half of The Rapture is devoted to the experiences of the raptured and, in a shockingly ego-centric display, a sizable chunk of that concerns the equivalent of an Academy Awards ceremony in heaven. Only, instead of the best movies of the year, Christ is handing out acclaim to the greatest Christians EV4R (sic). The atmosphere of these scenes is very drippy, with billions of happy fundies drooling over the scrupulously righteous (perfect, even) lives of such (apparently) superstar giants as Billy Graham, Dr. Bill Bright, and Ken Taylor (of The Living Bible translation).

Meanwhile, amidst the publishing of the prequels, Jenkins and LaHaye both went their separate ways, each beginning a new series that would cover the End Times in an alternate universe from the one they'd created together. So far, Jenkins has a trilogy whose titles begin with the letter "s" starring a Christian James Bond, and LaHaye has a trilogy called "Babylon Rising" starring a Christian Indiana Jones. Both are obviously derivative, although LaHaye's is doubly so since Peretti has been-there-done-that a good decade and a half ago.

However, the pièces de résistance of this eschatological spread are still to come. You'd have thought that the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment would be a good place to conclude one's account of the End Times (book 12 even featured the sub-title "The End of Days"). Not so, small sage. This coming March will see the release of book 13: Kingdom Come.

The horrors of the Tribulation are over, and Jesus Christ has set up his perfect kingdom on earth. Believers all around the world enjoy a newly perfected relationship with their Lord, and the earth itself is transformed. Yet evil still lurks in the hearts of the unbelieving. As the Millennium draws to a close, the final generation of the unrepentant prepares to mount a new offensive against the Lord Himself--sparking the final and ultimate conflict from which only one side will emerge the eternal victor.

Do they seriously propose to fill an entire book with that plot? Won't it run something like:

Evil, unrepentant guy: I'm still evil and unrepentant! Victory shall be mine! God's going d-

God: *casual smite*

Evil, unrepentant guy: Smoted! Ow, my eternal soul!

The End

Are people still paying real money for this? Oh, and I did say pièces earlier. Just a few days ago, I received this book from Tech Services, ready to go out to the shelf:

The Jesus Chronicles: Book One
John's Story: The Last Eyewitness
by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye

Before the Tribulation, before the Rapture, before there was a legacy that could be left behind . . . there was Jesus. Now the authors of the phenomenal Left Behind series introduce The Jesus Chronicles, four books that individually and collectively paint a vivid portrait of the Prince of Peace told in the voices of those who knew Him best: the Gospel writers, John, Mark, Matthew, and Luke.

Yes, Jenkins and LaHaye will now be fictionalizing all four gospels. Finally, we can hear this story retold again. This is such a necessary and worthwhile effort, what with the originals being so long out of print and all. And I'm so glad that they'll be putting the story of Christ in proper perspective, as a small foreshadowing of the much grander story arch presented in the Left Behind series.

As I reflect on the literary wreckage that these two men have wrought over the past decade, I come to a deeply disturbing realization: Jenk and LaHa have an infinite of time to work with, stretching in both directions along the timeline they have created jointly, and an equal scope along an infinite number of alternate timelines which they could create separetely or together as they please. There is no reason for them to ever stop, and at this point, odds are pretty damn good that Christ will come back before they run out of Christian bestsellers.

Y'know, Dr. Olson is always talking about all the literary types she wants to meet in heaven (despite a salvation status which, for many of them, is dubious at best). Well, I think I'd like to hunt down these two guys in the sweet by-and-by . . . and just laugh and laugh and laugh.

Posted by Jared at 10:29 AM | TrackBack

October 19, 2006

You Make Me Sick

Take Four: As I listen to and observe the well-nigh incessant whining, complaining, outrageous rudeness, and (yes) even stupidity of our patrons here at the library, I am frequently tempted to blog about them. However, these occurrences are so frequent, and the specifics pass out of my memory so quickly, that it just generally doesn't happen. But seriously . . .

What is it with you people who don't wanna talk to me? You walk up and throw a stack of books and a library card at me. I start to check them out to you only to discover that they're already checked out to you. Perhaps you want to turn them in? Perhaps you'd like to renew them? I don't know . . . You didn't tell me. Sometimes you shove a driver's license in my face instead of a mysterious stack of books. What? No, really, what? I'm not a cop. I didn't just pull you over. What do you want?

Let's not kid ourselves. I know you can talk. Remember last week? When I told you you had a fine? I don't recall you having any trouble telling me off then. Did a truck happen to run over your voicebox in the meantime?

Look, I'm not asking for a friendly greeting. I don't care for small talk. Don't feel bad if you don't have a witty remark ready for me . . . Chances are I've already heard it 4 times today anyway. I understand your dilemma. Here I am, this obnoxious total stranger with whom you must establish contact in order leave with what you want. Honestly, I don't relish our fleeting interactions any more than you do. But, for both our sakes, bite the bullet and tell me exactly what you want so I can get you out of my sight that much faster. Because . . .

You make me sick.

Posted by Jared at 10:17 AM | TrackBack

October 18, 2006

What Is It With You?

Take Three: As I listen to and observe the well-nigh incessant whining, complaining, outrageous rudeness, and (yes) even stupidity of our patrons here at the library, I am frequently tempted to blog about them. However, these occurrences are so frequent, and the specifics pass out of my memory so quickly, that it just generally doesn't happen. But seriously . . .

What is it with you people who can't read? Why are you here? We're a library. What do you think we have to offer you? You stand next to the signs that say "No Cell Phones," conversing loudly with someone neither of us can see. Sometimes you do it while I'm trying to check out your books for you. You know, the ones you can't even read, you illiterate twerp. You walk right past the signs that say "All Computers are in Use" and ask me if there are any computers available. What are you going to do on the internet if you can't read? We don't allow porn on our machines.

You know what . . . new policy. You're an illiterate idiot. Get out of my library. You can come back when you're literate. Unless you're still an idiot.

You make me sick.

Posted by Jared at 10:31 AM | TrackBack

October 17, 2006

But Seriously

Take Two: As I listen to and observe the well-nigh incessant whining, complaining, outrageous rudeness, and (yes) even stupidity of our patrons here at the library, I am frequently tempted to blog about them. However, these occurrences are so frequent, and the specifics pass out of my memory so quickly, that it just generally doesn't happen. But seriously . . .

What is it with you people who don't understand me when I say, "All of the computers are taken"? No, really. They are. All of them. No, I don't have any special computers set aside for college students. Or old people. Or people with 11 fingers, people who prefer Burger King to McDonald's, or freaking Somolian refugees. No. I do not have a computer that I am saving just for you, Mr. John Q. Public, you egomaniacal freak of nature. You are not important. You are not special. You are not even very well-liked. Take a number and wait like everybody else. Or better yet, go buy your own dang computer. I promise it'll always be set aside just for you. Unless you have relatives or friends who visit you at home (which I find doubtful, at best).

You make me sick.

Posted by Jared at 10:52 AM | TrackBack

October 16, 2006

Don't Get Me Started

As I listen to and observe the well-nigh incessant whining, complaining, outrageous rudeness, and (yes) even stupidity of our patrons here at the library, I am frequently tempted to blog about them. However, these occurrences are so frequent, and the specifics pass out of my memory so quickly, that it just generally doesn't happen. But seriously . . .

What is it with you people who show up with movies that are multiple days overdue and say, "Can't you cut me some slack? I didn't even get to watch them!" Are you kidding me? No, seriously. You had a week to get those back to me, and you didn't. Now I find out that you didn't even make good use of the extra time you took. Since you obviously couldn't come up with even so much as half an hour during the past 10 days to pop down and turn them in, it's no wonder you didn't quite find the time to watch all five of them.

No, I'm not going to reward your poor time management. No, not even if you come up with more examples of just how bad you are at getting stuff done. The only real question is, "WHY DID YOU CHECK THEM OUT IN THE FIRST PLACE?!" Well, that and the ever-pressing, "Is it that everyone else in your life panders to your every need, or is your self-centered excuse-mongering entirely a product of your own pathetic lack of any sense of personal responsibility?"

You make me sick.

Posted by Jared at 10:14 AM | TrackBack

September 12, 2006

My Letter to LeTourneau (Updated)

*** Update ***

Yesterday evening I got a reply from Corey, who wound up with my e-mail. Having said that, it is almost redundant to confirm that the response was more than satisfactory. He replied respectfully to every part of my message, promised to get Rachel 4 free meal vouchers, and agreed with me and all of you in condemning the response to Rachel's original request for compensation.

He also encouraged me to be a little less . . . Well, you all saw the original e-mail, and I don't think I need to go through it with you and point out where I was fair and justified and where I was just ranting, generalizing, and taking cheap shots. However, having thanked him for all his help and promised to give a more moderate approach due consideration, I do still feel that my experiences as a student have shown me a side of LeTourneau that won't allow some occurrences to be dismissed on the grounds that those involved "have good intentions" or "want what's best for the students." So, I expanded my reply a bit with the following:

Now, as to the general tone throughout my e-mails . . . The second in particular was (obviously) composed in some haste and sent impulsively. I tossed out a general reference or two that had no place in the e-mail at all if only because of sheer irrelevance. As for the first message, had I known for sure that it would go to you, for instance, it would have been a very different e-mail because I know I can get a fair hearing and a real answer without abrasively demanding one (and I can avoid a lot of background, since you know me). Of course, whether or not my tone should ever be abrasive and demanding, regardless of the circumstances, is a good question.

Nevertheless, I am certainly aware that no employee is setting out to do a bad job, and that there are many who care deeply about the students. Without naming names, every student who has been around long enough knows the people they can go to who will do their best to resolve any problem and who will treat the students as equals in the meantime. And we also know who will be unhelpful and condescending, with responses ranging from glib and dismissive to simply curt and dismissive. Unfortunately, there are quite a number of them as well, and they occupy very important positions.

I don't know what response I would get from them in return for abrasive demands (probably a less than satisfactory one, I grant you), but I do know from past experience that politely sincere inquiries are generally met with a demeaning brush-off. Four examples of which I have personal knowledge come immediately to mind just from the past year where LeTourneau's response to something left me simply appalled.

Side-note: I didn't include any of the examples and I wrapped up the e-mail from there. However, the incidents I had in mind were:

1) In a meeting with Dr. Austin, I explained quickly but in detail the problems faced by LeTourneau history majors thanks to a very clearly inadequate number of staff members (two), rendering the major as offered by LeTourneau inferior both in terms of academic value (considering what we pay for it) and in comparison with other Universities. I didn't put it in quite those terms, I simply tried to express our rather desperate need for additional faculty. His response: "Well, accrediation only requires one history professor, so we're already exceeding that." That was it. A twelve-word response which made it exceedingly clear that his interest in the quality of our education was no deeper than his desire to make the University look good. When mediocrity brings success and acclaim, why strive for excellence, right?

2) Rachel paid a visit to the school nurse (yes, she actually found her . . . and I think she might even have been in her office at the time, but don't quote me on that) in need of medication for some sort of ailment (many of the finer details of this incident evade me at this precise moment, I'll confirm them with her later and flesh this out). The nurse, having been made aware of Rachel's asthma, the other medications she was on, and the nature of her ailment, gave her a bottle of pills to cure it. Walking out, the first thing Rachel noticed on the bottle was something to the effect of "People with asthma SHOULD NOT take these!" The entire incident raises an interesting question: When you go questing for the school nurse (no other verb adequately describes it), is it healthier not to find her?

3) As all LeTourneau students know, last semester Gary Holeman decided to impose an internet bandwidth cap of 3 GB per month on University students (if anyone jumps in with "it's not a cap!" I will stab you in the face). He was interviewed by the campus newspaper about the details surrounding said cap, and one of the questions pertained to what would happen if the limit were exceeded. Holeman's response (I should really dig for the exact quote, but most of you will remember) boiled down to pinching the offender's internet down to the equivalent of a bad modem connection. He concluded (and I paraphrase), "If someone goes over, I want them to really feel the consequences." The entire sentiment expressed here was so distressingly petty and vindictive. It was clear that Holeman regarded the cap as a punishment on evil people who would dare to use more than 3 GB in a month. Students pay a lot of money for our internets, you'd think we could use them without drawing down the wrath of an angry IT.

Holeman went on to whine in a most immature and childish fashion in the very next issue of the paper, saying that his words had been mischaracterized, that "it's not a cap, it just limits your internet" or something retarded like that, and that he was disappointed in the writers over a graph comparing LeTourneau's download limit to that of other schools (shockingly, LeTourneau was on the extreme low-end of the scale). Personally, I think he just felt betrayed because he was laboring under the false impression that the YellowJacket was a propaganda rag. Incidentally, having lived on-campus during the cap for the past 4 months, I have not noticed that the internet is much faster or better than it was before. However, on August 31st, I bled over my 3 GB by a couple of megabytes, and let me tell you, I felt the burn. Bravo, Mr. Holeman. I am completely ashamed of myself and I won't let it happen again.

4) Early last Spring someone (for God only knows what reason) stole the toilet paper dispenser out of the Village Center bathroom. Subsequently the bathroom was locked for about 2 months (supposedly out of order). This bothered me consistently for weeks until finally I went up to MSC-2 to inquire about it. As I recall, I presented the situation to Corey and asked when we could have our bathroom back. He thought that sounded reasonable enough and called Brad Bowser out and asked him about it.

I don't remember Bowser acknowledging my presence at all during the exchange, but he pretty much killed the idea of unlocking bathroom on the spot, and added words to the effect of "If they can't keep from vandalizing their bathroom I don't see why we should open it up for them." It was at that point that I realized that Bowser didn't regard the bathroom as out of order at all, but that we had been without the use of it for 2 months because we were being punished for something that anyone on campus (or, in fact, in south Longview) could have done. To paraphrase Bowser: "Oh, we can't have nice things!" The VC bathroom eventually reopened, but as of when I was last in there a few weeks ago, the toilet paper dispenser still had not been replaced.

I think each of these instances shows a level of incompetence, self-absorption, or lack of respect for students which is quite worthy of a diatribe in its own right. However, I've posted and purged myself of bitterness for the time being. I'm grateful for people like Corey that keep LeTourneau from resembling its more conservative and authoritarian bretheren. If anybody has any further fuel to throw on the fire (or water to put it out) feel free to toss in your two cents. I'm done for now. Any further dialogue with Corey will continue outside of the blog.

The original e-mail is beneath the fold.


I'm not sure where this e-mail ought to be directed, exactly. I am not totally familiar with the structure of Student Affairs, and I hear that there has been a bit of a fruit basket turnover with various positions recently, rendering the directory on LeTourneau's website inaccurate. I hope you can see that this e-mail gets to the right person or people.

My name is Jared. Last spring I graduated from LeTourneau after attending for four years. In late May, I moved into apartment 1D with Rachel Gullman, who has attended LeTourneau for three years (this is her last year). For the current academic year, Rachel wanted the same meal plan she'd had the year before (13 meals and a certain amount of flex money). However, when she requested it, she was told that somehow, by moving closer to both SAGA and the Hive and joining the married students (a group which has their own RA, RD, chaplain, and senator and which is at least the size of any residential floor on campus) she has become (of all things) a commuter.

This seemed extremely silly, for obvious reasons, but when she asked why this was the case, she was told it is because LeTourneau has no breakdown for precisely how much a meal plan costs by itself. This was so obviously a ridiculous statement (even in comparison to the random application of commuter status) that I immediately wondered what the price breakdown could show which would prompt the administration to bury it.

However, policy is policy and at the time it hardly seemed worth arguing about. Rachel had a refund of several hundred dollars on her student account, and she requested that the "lunch every day" meal plan be paid for out of that. (Funny how there is no problem computing the cost of 5 meals a week, but figuring out 13 meals a week is beyond LeTourneau's ability.) The transaction was approved and she has lunched with no problem for the past two weeks or so. Today, however, when we went to the Hive at about 1:30, Rachel's card was refused. She was told that she could have no food until the problem was fixed in SAGA. At this point, my lunch break was nearly over and I had to get back to work, so I left Rachel to get the problem fixed at SAGA and hopefully get herself some food.

The people at SAGA sent Rachel to MSC-2. The people in MSC-2 sent Rachel back to SAGA. The people in SAGA sent Rachel to Student Accounts. The people at Student Accounts told Rachel to go back to SAGA, at which point she realized that she had wasted over an hour being given the grand runaround through the hot summer sun due to a complete lack of interdepartmental communication. After she told the people at the Business Office what had happened, they told her that their system was down and to come back in 15 mintues. At this point SAGA was long closed and all hope of getting lunch was gone.

She returned after 15 mintues. The system was still down. She was told she would be called when it was back up, but didn't receive a call until a few minutes before the offices closed. The error (of course) was a clerical one within the LeTourneau system, and it is to be hoped that Rachel's meal plan will be available to her again by lunchtime tomorrow. However, tired, hungry, and sweating, Rachel had asked hours earlier if she could somehow be given a voucher or some other form of refund for the meal she had missed due to a system glitch that was in no way her fault. She was told that "It is not worth it to us to refund the meal."

To summarize: As an "on-campus commuter" (the term makes me laugh, much the way "separate but equal" does, but somehow that's what Rachel is) Rachel is given a patently false reason for why she can't purchase as many meals as "normal" students can. Within two weeks of school starting she is denied a meal due to a problem with her card; a problem which neither of us once encountered during our 7 combined years at LeTourneau as "normal" students. The perennial problem (which rivals my experiences of third-world bureaucracies for sheer incompetence) of LeTourneau's inability to communicate between departments sends Rachel on an outrageous wild goose chase which costs her a meal (which did cost us a calculable amount of money, despite LeTourneau's supposed difficulties with the numbers involved). A LeTourneau employee, representing the attitude of the University towards its students (and paying customers), declares it "not worth it to [the University]" to refund payment for goods and services never rendered due to an error made by said University.

Every student I know has some story of a similar incident that took place at some point during their time here; an incident where it suddenly became very clear that the policy-makers at this school are a lot more interested in taking our money than they are in making sure we have a fair return on it. I have a few of these stories myself. So does Rachel. College students are young and new at fending for themselves, and it is pretty easy for the University to pull stunts like these. I never really bothered to complain before because 1) the attitude of the University seems to indicate that giving student complaints fair consideration has an extremely low priority, and 2) I wasn't really interested in getting in a tussle with the people who had ultimate power over my degree. But in this case, we'd kind of like the meal we paid for (despite the University's apparent lack of concern) . . . and maybe (although I don't expect it) the real reason why married students are only eligible for commuter meal plans.




Rachel was sent this morning by Student Accounts back over to SAGA to get her card reactivated. At SAGA she was told she would have to talk to someone named Sara, who was supposedly in the back. She never showed up, and after waiting for some time Rachel had to go to class and couldn't wait anymore. It just so happens that by a strange coincidence, I know where Sara was. She wasn't on campus at all. I work at the Longview Public Library, and I happened to notice her there today at around the time when Rachel was waiting for her in SAGA. Rachel returned to SAGA later, only to be informed that her card had been activated all morning, even before she was sent to SAGA in the first place. Once again she had had her time wasted for nothing, not to mention the stress of not knowing what she was going to do for lunch.

How does anything ever get done at all on this campus? Nobody ever seems to know what's going on with anything anywhere at any time, and the people who supposedly do know are always AWOL. It's like trying to find the school nurse.

Posted by Jared at 12:17 AM | TrackBack

July 25, 2006

A Plea for Consistency

So . . . Proving once again that he is either a hypocrite or an idiot, Dubya finally vetoed his first bill the other day, essentially halting any hopes of embryonic stem cell research in the United States for the near future. The veto prompted one of the more inspired segments I've seen from The Daily Show, which I've long enjoyed. Check it out.

The president's decision in conjunction with the Jon Stewart clip has brought a line of thought to the front of my mind that has been slowly building for quite some time. However, before I get to that, here is (in a nutshell) why I (still) think our president is a total moron.

In-vitro fertilization (IVF) as practiced in fertility clinics is a way for couples to have children who would not otherwise be able to. The process produces around 16 surplus embryos which are then frozen in storage. As of a few years ago there were an estimated 400,000 of these frozen embryos in existence. The vast majority of them will eventually be discarded unless they are used for research which has the potential to save lives.

The embryos already exist. The embryos are going to be destroyed. All . . . all . . . Bush has done is to make it impossible for them to be used for any constructive purpose whatsoever. Not only that, but he and his people are throwing around terms like "murder" (which has sense been downgraded to mere "taking of human life"), implying that his veto has basically put a stop to the destruction of the embryos. Right.

Incidentally, the only argument against embryonic stem cell research that I have heard thus far which doesn't simply disintegrate under its own weight is some variation on a lack of scientific proof or lack of results in the field. Well, gee, could that possibly be because people like our Special Olympics president keep blocking the research? Results don't just appear like magic if you wait long enough, y'know.

Additionally, Tony Snow, speaking for the president, said "The president is not going to get on the slippery slope of taking something living and making it dead . . ." Look, if a frozen amalgamation of 4-10 cells counts as something living, then I'm pretty sure the president has violated his own morality if he's ever used a condom. A full load of sperm certainly has more potential to become "life" than any those embryos do right now. (If you're the visual type, pardon the mental image.)

Actually, the question of whether Bush has violated his own moral system is answered regardless. He has, does, and is . . . every single day for the past three years and four months. And this brings me to my real point. The stem cell debate is completely tangential, it was just bothering me. I have not yet fully made up my mind about when I think life begins, but I am very much pro-life. It's one of the few issues I really care about, politically, because it's the only one that really seems to matter on an eternal scale.

What's really bugging me is this: Being pro-life, the way I see pro-life, alienates me from both major political parties. Democrats are largely "pro-choice," so that's not acceptable. (I always thought it was really cute the way they had to call themselves "pro-choice" in opposition of "pro-life" cuz they couldn't very well call themselves "anti-life" or "pro-death.") But Republicans, conservatives, and most of the Christians I know who are supposedly so very "pro-life" when it comes to abortion seem to be very "anti-life" in almost every other way. They strongly support capital punishment. They're positively religious (often literally) about going to war.

Does being pro-life have any meaning whatsoever if you're only pro some life? "That is the issue before us," the president says of stem cell research, "and that is whether or not we use tax payer's money to destroy life." In this case, he has decided no. In the case of Iraq, yes. So, he only holds his staunchly pro-life views with regards to frozen cell clumps, not actual living, breathing people. Why?

To see the president stand up and say, "I think it's important to promote a culture of life. I think a hospitable society is a society where every being counts and every person matters." And then to hear him casually toss off an estimate of 30,000 Iraqi citizens killed in a war he started like he's calculating the number of jelly beans in a jar . . . I just have to stand up and shriek "Hypocrite!"

Even if Bush were right about stem cell research, he's still wrong. But he doesn't even have that right. He's just all wrong. As of this moment, "pro-life" has no significant meaning as an expression of actual human values. And I don't think that's the way it ought to be.

Posted by Jared at 10:53 PM | TrackBack

April 11, 2006

Thank God for Graduation

If you haven't seen it already, head over to this link ASAP. There you will find the final draft of LeTourneau University's Quality Enhancement Plan.

I have endeavored for the past semester and a half to comprehend just what it's all about, with little success. Everything anyone could tell me about our QEP sounded like meaningless business-speak (Christian Leadership Distinctives, anyone?). Only now, as I see the entire disastrous canker-sore that is this idea laid out before me do I truly understand:

The goal of the Quality Enhancement Plan is nothing less than the replacement of legitimate academic pursuits with pure, grade-A BS material such as the #@!$ I had to put up with from Dr. K in my capstone course last fall.

I don't understand. There are intelligent people that I like and respect on the committee that dreamed this up, including the chair. Why do they not comprehend that this is the worst idea ever?

To get specific, the QEP has basically chosen (from, apparently, several candidates) a theme for LeTourneau University. That theme is "The Five Christian Leadership Distinctives." (I can't help but wonder what the other candidates were . . . Ponies? The Bell Tower? Ingenuity?) They will now proceed to saturate us beyond the breaking point with their chosen theme.

What's that you say? We're saturated already? Plagued by the five gloopy inanities on every single syllabus and waving at us from freaking banners that blanket the campus, it's no wonder you think that. But you're wrong . . . so very wrong. Here's how. Implementation Strategies:

1) Faculty Development -- Goal 1: Faculty will increase their awareness of the five Christian Leadership Distinctives. Goal 2: Faculty will participate in professional development activities that foster the use of the Christian Leadership Distinctives in classroom instruction. Goal 3: Faculty will undergo training in the design of classroom assignments that can be incorporated into the student ePortfolio.

I weep for my professors. Truly.

2) Curricular Integration -- Goal 1: The Cornerstones course for traditional students and the Introduction to Team Learning course for nontraditional students will lay the curricular foundation for the understanding and integration of the Christian Leadership Distinctives. Goal 2: Each School offering traditional programs will identify multiple courses throughout the curriculum in selected major(s) for the integration of the Christian Leadership Distinctives. Goal 3: Students will engage in a variety of classroom activities that further their understanding of the Christian Leadership Distinctives. Goal 4: The School of Graduate and Professional studies will incorporate the Christian Leadership Distinctives into all Business courses in the online BBA core program.

This is the real kicker. Whereas before all of our teachers were required to merely slop the five limp-noodle mantras onto their syllabi, they will now be required to come up with actual classroom lesson plans that integrate them into the course teachings. For instance, Watson may now need to give a lecture on Collaborating Service in "English Literature II." Johnson may have to assign a report about Discovering Purpose in "Texas and the American West." Hood may be required to organize a group activity around Deepening Skills for "Revelation."

3) Student ePortfolios -- Goal 1: The ePortfolio will be introduced in the Cornerstones course for traditional students, and in the Introduction to Team Learning course for nontraditional students in the online BBA core program. Goal 2: Students in traditional programs will produce and continue to update their ePortfolios throughout their course of study. Goal 3: Each School offering traditional programs will identify one or two mid-level and one or two upper-level courses that will incorporate the ePortfolio. Goal 4: The School of Graduate and Professional Studies will implement the ePortfolio in each course throughout the online BBA core program.

Lest this sound like it might be a good idea, this is not about compiling a nice folder of the best papers or projects in your field which you produce during your time here. Specific upper-level courses within your major will now require you to produce additional material relating to your life goals which will then be added to your portfolio. The process begins in Cornerstones.

My Development
In the following five sections (each one corresponds to a specific Christian Leadership Distinctive) you should reflect on what you have learned. You should have a minimum of two paragraphs in each section, although most will require more length to cover both required and desired information.

Discovering Purpose:
Discuss your calling and vision as you currently understand it. First, answer the
following questions: Who has God created you to be? What has God called you to do, both corporately and individually? How can you begin to prepare for and practice that calling while you are a student at LeTourneau University? Second, based on your responses to the above questions, write a personal vision statement that is no more than two sentences in length. Third, reflect on the beliefs, values, and experiences that helped to shape your vision statement, and address the following questions: How does this vision statement give meaning and direction to your life activities? How does the process of discovering purpose, including your current understanding of your vision, shape or guide your development in each of the four Cornerstones (personal, intellectual, spiritual, and relational)?

Grounding Values:
You should include a reflection concerning your worldview, faith journey, and a discussion of the ethical values that you will use in your life. How does the process of grounding values—including your worldview, faith journey, and ethics--shape or guide your development in each of the four Cornerstones (personal, intellectual, spiritual, and relational)?

Broadening Knowledge:
Examine how you have grown personally, intellectually, spiritually, and relationally through the courses that you have been taking at LeTourneau University.

Deepening Skills:
Reflect on how courses that you have taken that apply to your major have affected your personal, intellectual, spiritual, and relational development as a professional in your discipline.

Collaborating Service:
Examine what you have learned as a result of service to the community (such as the Cornerstones service project), your church, or the campus community. How do these experiences shape or guide your personal, intellectual, spiritual, and relational development? What service activities will you investigate or become involved in while a student at LeTourneau University?

My Documents
There are three subsections to the My Documents area of the ePortfolio: personal documents, academic documents, and professional documents. In each of these three areas, you should include a section concerning your goals, strengths & assets, obstacles & challenges, and action plans. In other words, you will create a Personal Success Plan that you will include in the Personal Documents section of the ePortfolio. You will create an Academic Success Plan that you will include in the Academic Documents section of the ePortfolio. You will create a Professional Success Plan that you will include in the Professional Documents section of the ePortfolio.

There's a lot more worthy of discussion in this document (which runs to 79 pages in length), but that should be enough to get started. Please, if you are (or ever have been or ESPECIALLY ever will be) a student here, go take a look and decide what sort of response feels appropriate. Thank God I finished coursework here before this hit the fan, because I have to say, beginning a university education at a school that operates like we're about to start operating looks about as appealing as testicular cancer from where I'm sitting.


Posted by Jared at 02:54 AM | TrackBack

March 23, 2006

History, Conservative Style

I received a forwarded e-mail today, entitled "History" and subtitled "A California Lawyer's Perspective on Iraq War." I enjoy forwarded e-mails, by and large, and I thought I would share a bit of this one with my readership. I can't paste in the whole thing, because it's terribly long and there wouldn't be any room left for my own commentary.

The basic thesis amounts to this: Islam is having both an Inquisition and a Reformation right now. If the Inquisition wins, Jihadists will try to take over the world and we will have to stop them. If the Reformation wins, all trouble in the Middle East will go away. Our war in Iraq is the best chance the world has to help the Islamic Reformation win, and if we succeed in Iraq, they will win.

Plus, our only choices regarding how to handle "the Jihad" are [various choices], and the only one of those that's any good involves doing exactly what we are doing. Additionally, all you nay-sayers are wrong about the war because [various reasons]. And furthermore, you pathetic people who are complaining about [time, money, casualties] are retarded because [insert war here] was much larger and more costly, and you didn't hear our ancestors complain.

And now, a few highlights (as I feel led):

Regarding our entry into World War II after Pearl Harbor, the author (whose name happens to be Raymond Kraft) says, "It was a dicey thing. We had few allies."

Well, I suppose that's true depending on your definition of few. After all, we only had the Soviet Union, United Kingdom, China, France, Poland, Greece, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Canada, Egypt, Australia, New Zealand, India, and . . . a few others. These few, small countries against the combined might of enormous land masses like Japan (not to mention Germany and Italy). Now, this is something of a minor point to quibble with, I realize, but I include merely to illustrate the general tone of the entire piece. Our California lawyer friend plays fast and loose with adjectives and figures, and especially dates, in order to manipulate the audience. Moving on . . .

Now, one thing I always love to see whenever conservatives begin to hotly defend our outrageous actions in Iraq is the idea that we went there for the express purpose of [insert purpose that has nothing whatever to do with weapons of mass destruction here]. In this case, the author makes the incredible claim that we chose Iraq as our Middle East battlefield against the Jihad. Hmmm . . . I think the next battlefield of our choosing should be the Grand Cayman Islands. That sounds fun. Because remember, wherever we start fighting, terrorists will flock there to oppose us, and we can crush them all with one blow.

Furthermore, he states that, "It was our intention from the beginning to do just enough to enable the Iraqis to develop a representative government and their own military and police forces to provide their own security, and that is happening." Funny thing about our intention from the beginning . . . it keeps changing. Nowhere in the entire piece does the author cite our actual intention, which (of course) was a frantic hunt for nonexistent WMD. I have noted that conservatives these days take two approaches to WMD in Iraq. They are either in a state of denial, clamoring that they have to be there, somewhere (although even Dubya has given that up by now), or they just pretend that the entire intelligence fiasco never happened at all and our reasons for going in were entirely different, as in this case.

The piece really gets good, though, when Kraft starts trying to do history, attempting to show us how minor and short-term our sacrifices in Iraq are in comparison to other wars, and so forth. The dates fly thick and fast here:

Europe spent the first half of the 19th century fighting Napoleon, and from 1870 to 1945 fighting Germany . . . World War II, the war with the German and Japanese Nazis, really began with a 'whimper' in 1928. It did not begin with Pearl Harbor. It began with the Japanese invasion of China. It was a war for fourteen years before America joined it. It officially ended in 1945 - a 17 year war - and was followed by another decade of US occupation in Germany and Japan to get those countries reconstructed and running on their own again . . . a 27 year war.

Let's see . . . Napoleon came to power at the very end of 1804, was defeated at Waterloo in 1815, and spent nearly a year in-between in exile on Elba. If you're lucky, you can squeeze a 10-year "War on Napoleon" (if you will) out of that, but considering the dude was dead by 1821 . . . Well, I guess that in the grand cosmic scheme of things, ten years is approximately half of a century. Whatever.

Speaking of exaggerations, consider what he calls a 75-year war between Germany and the rest of Europe (1870-1945). I presume he is referring to the three wars Germany fought in Europe during that period: The Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), World War I (1914-1918), and World War II (1939-1945). That's eleven years of warfare out of seventy-five . . . A number far smaller than the United States has spent at war since 1941, whether you count the Cold War or not. That's hardly what you'd call a constant conflict.

Furthermore, his entire characterization of World War II is grossly inaccurate. I have never in my life seen anyone seriously place the beginning of World War II at the Japanese invasion of China in 1928. You might just as well place it with the Battle of Hastings (1066), citing the fact that somewhere in the world, someone was fighting someone else during that entire time. And experts agree that, once one side of combatants surrenders to the other side and all the peace treaties are signed, the war is over. Tacking the ten extra years of American occupation onto the end of World War II is kind of cheating . . .

And I have to say, the thought of those "Japanese Nazis" with their goosestepping and aspirations of building the master Aryan race just chills my blood. What was it they called themselves? The House of the Rising Swastika?

I have to ask, if Kraft can't get simple numbers right, and feels the need to exaggerate things that are easily refuted, what makes anyone think he's right about anything else? And, sure enough, he doesn't just get numbers wrong. He's also hopelessly confused about ideologies.

"In the 20th century, it was Western democracy vs. communism, and before that Western democracy vs. Nazism, and before that Western democracy vs. German Imperialism."

Funny thing about a few of those . . . World War I was really more a case of German Imperialism vs. Everyone Else's Imperialism, in point of fact. And if we're going to be strictly accurate, the progression was Western democracy and communism vs. Nazism/Fascism, then Western democracy vs. communism. Let's not forget who was on which side when.

There are just a few more things that I wanted to point out at random before I wrap up . . . It's difficult to give an orderly response to something that is long, chaotic, and wrong on so many levels. Kraft's ideas about "the Jihad" are obviously severely distorted, given that he seems to think it refers to a single, coherent body of extremists who are organized and rallied behind the same banner, with the same goals, etc. He repeatedly says things like, "We can surrender to the Jihad" and "If the Jihad wins" and so forth. Of course that is absurd.

Let's say I want to surrender to "terrorism" . . . where would I go and with whom would I sign a treaty? Let's say that "terrorism" wins . . . Who is that, exactly? Who is the victor, and what are they doing? The entire idea of Islamic terrorism being considered as a single entity called "the Jihad" is simply ludicrous, and (as I said), demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of the situation. In other words, it's no wonder this guy supports the war in Iraq as vital to defeating terrorists . . . he's an ignoramus who hasn't the foggiest idea what's going on over there.

To further demonstrate the absurdity of the whole idea, my friend Jonathan Wilson wrote the following document, which I found rather amusing (click to enlarge):

Anyway, one final thought before I lay the thing to rest. Kraft encouraged readers to pass his work along to students because apparently we don't know anything about history, and lack perspective and stuff, thanks to our liberal educations. Having read everything he had to say, I felt it would be wrong to just let it slide by. Near the end, Kraft says the following:

We can be defeatist peace-activists as anti-war types seem to be, and concede, surrender, to the Jihad, or we can do whatever it takes to win this war against them. The history of the world is the history of civilizational clashes, cultural clashes. All wars are about ideas, ideas about what society and civilization should be like, and the most determined always win. Those who are willing to be the most ruthless always win. The pacifists always lose, because the anti-pacifists kill them.

Yes, we pacifists are a sorry lot . . . never seem to get far, do we? Consider, for instance, the early Christians, foolishly refusing to fight back against the persecution of the Roman Empire. If memory serves, their movement was entirely stamped out by . . . oh, about 313 AD or so, and they were never heard from again. So much for passive resistance. I'm sure by now you're thinking of examples yourself . . . What about the Mennonites vs. the Nazis and, later, the communists? Who lasted longer there? Ghandi and the British Empire? Martin Luther King, Jr. and the KKK?

Conservative Christians confuse me so much sometimes . . .

Posted by Jared at 02:01 PM | TrackBack

February 12, 2006

Close Encounters of the Shallow Kind

So, I was in the mall eating lunch with Rachel today and we happened to notice a fairly large gathering of people in the central plaza. Wandering over to get a closer look, we happened upon a twisted and sickening sight: Dozens of small girls between the ages of about 6 months and 5 years dolled up in bows and frilly dresses and being paraded on a stage by their mothers as part of what was apparently an infant beauty contest.

A number of words and phrases came to mind at this point, things like shallow, irresponsible, bad parenting, and self-esteem death. There were babies who couldn't even walk, and little 'uns who could walk but obviously had no idea what was going, all being paraded about like mantlepiece ornaments.

However, I believe the scariest one of all was a small girl who couldn't have been older than five. She stepped confidently onto the stage, face completely straight, and sauntered across to the center. Turning to face the audience, she placed first one hand on her hip, then another, shifting her weight in the appropriate direction. There was nothing innocent or childlike in her movements at all. Nothing but her size differentiated her from adult beauty contestants that I've seen on TV. She was all business.

What's she going to be like by the time she hits 12? 15? 18? What about the other girls? How will they turn out, being raised by mothers who are already shoving them onto the modeling stage? The entire display was simply depressing.

Me = Disgusted

Posted by Jared at 03:21 PM | TrackBack

October 28, 2005

The Partisan Menace: A Rabbit Trail

This is the last week of guided reading and response for Intellectual History because, frankly, we've run out of history to discuss. Well, that and the fact that we have the next month to produce a 20-25 page paper on our topic of choice. With that in mind, the discussion this week was more than a bit fragmented. I, for one, had my mind on a few hundred other things, few of which had anything to do with intellectual history, but we muddled through nonetheless.

As we talked over the the emerging oppositions between Liberals and Conservatives following World War II and growing into the divisive partisan politics of the present day, I remembered a few things in particular which struck me from the reading. I come from a staunchly conservative background, but extremes make me nervous and I prefer to approach issues from a more moderate perspective. Striving after balance, I often pull farther left than I would otherwise go when I am confronted with a narrow-minded, one-sided view from the right. I haven't yet had the chance to see whether I can swing the other way, too.

And speaking of such views, most people I know (on the Right) seem to have a very strange view of what it means to be Left. My understanding of it is almost always different from their understanding. The following excerpt from a piece published in 1960 not only sums up my view of the difference between the sides very neatly, but goes on to discuss (using issues of the times) the basic problems with the Right's criticism of the Left.

The Right, among other things, means — what you are doing, celebrating society as it is, a going concern. Left means, or ought to mean, just the opposite. It means: structural criticism and reportage and theories of society, which at some point or another are focussed politically as demands and programmes. These criticisms, demands, theories, programmes are guided morally by the humanist and secular ideals of Western civilisation — above all, reason and freedom and justice. To be “Left” means to connect up cultural with political criticism, and both with demands and programmes. And it means all this inside every country of the world.

Only one more point of definition: absence of public issues there may be, but this is not due to any absence of problems or of contradictions, antagonistic and otherwise. Impersonal and structural changes have not eliminated problems or issues. Their absence from many discussions — that is an ideological condition, regulated in the first place by whether or not intellectuals detect and state problems as potential issues for probable publics, and as troubles for a variety of individuals. One indispensable means of such work on these central tasks is what can only be described as ideological analysis. To be actively Left, among other things, is to carry on just such analysis.

To take seriously the problem of the need for a political orientation is not of course to seek for A Fanatical and Apocalyptic Lever of Change, for Dogmatic Ideology, for A Startling New Rhetoric, for Treacherous Abstractions — and all the other bogeymen of the dead-enders. These are of course “the extremes,” the straw-men, the red herrings, used by our political enemies as the polar oposite of where they think they stand.

They tell us, for example, that ordinary men can’t always be political “heroes.” Who said they could? But keep looking around you and why not search out the conditions of such heroism as men do and might display? They tell us we are too “impatient,” that our “pretentious” theories are not well enough grounded. That is true, but neither are they trivial; why don’t they get to work, refuting or grounding them? They tell us we “don’t really understand” Russia — and China — today. That is true; we don’t; neither do they; we are studying it. They tell us we are “ominous” in our formulations. That is true; we do have enough imagination to be frightened = and we don’t have to hide it: we are not afraid we'll panic. They tell us we “are grinding axes.” Of course we are: we do have, among other points of view, morally grounded ones; and we are aware of them. They tell us, in their wisdom, we don’t understand that The Struggle is Without End. True: we want to change its form, its focus, its object.

To summarize: Conservatism = "What we have done in the past is good. Society should either remain this way because it's working, or (as the case may be) return to an earlier state because that worked better." It's all about moving backward in order to move forward. Conservatives tend to idealize the past. Liberalism = "Look at everything we've done wrong in the past. Look at the problems with the current system which originated in these attitudes from the past. We should change this. It's time to move forward." It's all about leaving the past behind in order to move forward. Liberals tend to focus on the negatives in the past.

There are potential problems with sticking to closely to either of these views, of course. As always, I'm pretty sure the best view lies somewhere in the middle. However, other telling aspects which I noticed from the above excerpt were "labelling" and dismissive arguments. There is a tendency among conservatives to use terms like "bleeding heart liberal" and, almost in the same breath, to call the left "too intellectual." They go on to object to all of their points on grounds which are either irrelevant or only address the topic at hand tangentially. Too often conservatives object to what they perceive are inappropriate attitudes from their liberal counterparts without examining what they are saying.

Liberals are inherently critical of the establishment, and conservatives attack them for it. I often find myself attacked, or at least "gently reprimanded," for my criticism of those who are in authority, whether it be university administration or the government. When I see something that I don't think is right, I complain that it isn't right. Some of my fellow Christians have this bizarre idea that we shouldn't try to hold our authorities accountable or criticize them in any way because God placed them in the positions they are in. They believe me to be indirectly questioning God, I suppose. Nonsense. God knows better than I do that human beings are fallible.

There was another excerpt I would have liked to discuss, and of course I must be sure to recommend that all of you go read something by Reinhold Niebuhr, a balanced and perceptive scholar of the mid-twentieth century. You can find an excerpt of his work on Wilson's blog even now. I, however, have run out of space and run out of time. That's my two cents for this week.

Posted by Jared at 12:47 PM | TrackBack

March 22, 2005

Move Over, Rigoberta

I'm not a Liberal. Really. But few people hack me off as much as Ann Coulter does. This week in Historiography we were examining opposing perspectives on post-Civil War Reconstruction, and as part of this exercise we were required to read an excerpt from The Tragic Era by Claude G. Bowers . . . a very special work indeed.

It was published in 1929, and basically it represents the dixie-centric view of Reconstruction which was dominant throughout the country until the 1960s. If you aren't sure which one I'm talking about, go read Gone With the Wind or watch the movie. Or you could watch Birth of a Nation. Either way, I'm talking about the myth of a maligned Southern aristocracy "literally being put to the torture" by unscrupulous carpetbaggers, traitorous scalawags, and ignorant freedmen in the years after the Civil War ended.

(Note: I don't contest that bad stuff went on during Reconstruction, I simply assert that Southerners understandably have a very skewed view of the period . . . but I don't really want to get into all that right now.)

At the end of class, Dr. Johnson asked for a show of hands from those in the class who claim a Southern heritage. He noted that we are not many generations removed from this perspective (I would say we aren't any generations removed, but I'll get to that in a moment) and for himself (as a Texan), he said he thanks God that he wasn't born earlier and didn't have to deal with being raised in that environment. I had to agree.

As near as I understand my family history, the ancestry runs something like this: My mother's side of the family arrived in New York (New Amsterdam at the time) from Norway sometime during the 1600s. On my dad's side, I have loads of ancestors from England who were in Virginia by the 1650s and following. Over the course of the next few centuries they migrated throughout the South: the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. Both sides of my family have elements arriving in Texas as early as the brief window (1846-1861) between Texas statehood and Texas secession. They've been Southerners for centuries.

I'm very proud of my Southern heritage, and I'm proud of my looong American heritage, as well . . . both run pretty deep. However, I'm not carried away by either. I don't get all starry-eyed about America or the South. It's history, and therefore it's cool. That's all.

Anyway, (back on topic) I wasted a great deal of time wandering around the online reviews of The Tragic Era on and then clicking around the infamous "Customers who bought this book also bought:" section. Three degrees of separation (through When in the Course of Human Events: Arguing the Case for Southern Secession and The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History) brought me directly to Coulter's latest bestselling sludgerag. Included with the book-related info were links to an interview amazon conducted with Ms. Coulter, and her answers to their "Life Quiz." They must be read to be believed.

Anyway, the online community at (one of the largest booksellers in the country) allowed me to draw a very important ideological connection here: Yesterday's Southern white supremacists are today's militantly patriotic Conservatives. These are the people who used to take serious issue with interracial marriage and universal sufferage. Now they consider you a terrorist if you say the Pledge of Allegiance in Russian or malign their precious "Dubya." They used to think our schools and restaurants and public transportation ought to be segregated. Now they think gays are subhuman. They used to lynch blacks. Now they think we should torture A-rabs.

This wasn't exactly what I started out to say, but this is what it turned into: Don't be one of these people . . . don't even look like you might be one of these people. Please. If you do, future generations will hate you just as much as recent generations hate the KKK now.

Posted by Jared at 05:25 PM | TrackBack

February 11, 2005

Wait, America has, like, a history?!

We have been studying memory in my Intro to Psych class all week, and today we had an interesting exercise which was a lot of fun. I'm kinda upset that I was a bit frazzled, rushed, and half-awake for it, but it was fun nonetheless.

Dr. Sheafer had slid into reciting the chapter . . . excuse me, "module" . . . back at us from the textbook and I in turn was sliding into a light doze when Scott (to my right) gave me a poke and informed me that we had a handout coming around. Ashley, also in the class, usually sits directly to my left but a previewer had usurped her spot and she was sitting to the right of Scott.

Anyway, the handout which appeared in front of me contained 43 numbered blanks, and after everyone had one Dr. Sheafer asked us to write the names of all the US presidents, in chronological order. Scott, Ashley, and I immediately started writing, but I heard gasps and snickering from around the classroom as Dr. Sheafer asked, "Why are you all looking at me like that? Just start writing!"

After a few minutes she asked if anyone was still writing . . . Ashley and I (didn't see any other hands go up) held up the class for an extra minute or two. I had failed to identify 10 of the presidents (grrr . . . more on that in a moment), but knew enough numbers that the ones I did have were mostly in the correct blanks. I heard the loud-mouth "history major" across the aisle proclaiming loudly that he "knew Lincoln! Lincoln freed the slaves! Lincoln is the most important! Lincoln is the 18th! I know Lincoln!" The sad thing is, he seemed to have over half the class convinced as to the correctness of his number.

Finally we were all done and Sheafer read us the correct answers so we could check ourselves. I had failed to get 4 which I actually knew (disappointing): Van Buren (#8), Arthur (#21), McKinley (#25), and Harding (#29). If I'd had more time to think . . . but that's neither here nor there. I also didn't even try to take a stab at the "period of death" during the 1830s-1850s which I haven't had straight in years. I could easily recall 4 of the 6 names, but the order eluded me completely (they are Tyler, Polk, Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan, #s 10-15 . . . in case you're curious . . . won't be forgetting them again any time soon).

My fellow "history major" across the way chimed in with a loud "Dubya!" at the names of Bush Jr. AND Sr., and let us all know that, he "is a history major, and I didn't know hardly any of those!" He seemed proud of the fact. He's done this before, as when stating that he had no idea of the significance of most of these dates: 1776, 1812, 1861, 1914, 1941. I really wish he'd shut up. When did ignorance begin to be such a source of pride? Anyway, I digress.

Then she said she would read off the list again, and she wanted those who had the names she read written in their blanks to raise their hands as she read off those names, and for everyone to keep an eye on the rest of the class and watch where lots of hands went up and so forth . . .

I'm pretty sure everyone got Washington, but immediately after that half of the hands went down and by the time we got to Jackson (#7), Ashley and I were the only ones left. Except for #9 (William Henry Harrison), I had to keep my hand down (leaving Ashley as the lone hand) until we got to Lincoln (#16). At this point, most people had their hands up again, but by the time we hit Hayes (#19) everyone except me and Ashley had dropped back out.

As Ashley's hand stayed steadily in the air throughout, you could hear running commentary around the room. The jerk across the aisle loudly accused her of having studied beforehand. And I have no idea what I appeared to be doing . . . especially during the period when I didn't have 21, 25, or 29. My hand must have looked like a frigging prarie dog. However, once we passed Harding, I was able to keep my arm raised.

When FDR (#32) came along, a few hands began to come hesitantly back up, and by the time we got to Reagan (#40) almost everyone knew what was coming. After another double-echo of "Dubya," the exercise was over. As per the predictions in our book regarding memory, a graph of class knowledge would have been largely U-shaped . . . save, of course, for the predictable rise around Lincoln. The exercise was meant to show that, when recalling lists, people tend to remember the items that come first and last, and very little out of the middle.

I thought we could have chosen a better illustration. To my mind the experiment was a surer indication of the fact that even "history majors" don't seem to know much of anything about anything anymore, and that that's just fine. I'm not really a nationalist or a patriot in any sense of the word. I can't bring myself to care more about one particular country and its people than I do about all the rest of the world combined . . . certainly not to the point of supporting infamy or idiocy for the sake of "sacred American ideals." I just happen to have learned something about the history of the country of my birth (and picked up a great deal about lots of countries I've never even visited, as well). I wonder how many rabidly and obnoxiously American LeTourneau students could say the same. Can valid, wholesome national pride truly exist in conjunction with historical ignorance? Or is it doomed to be as shallow, obnoxious, and bigoted as I believe to be?

I thought, as I wrote that last paragraph, that I was getting slightly off-track of the original purpose of this post, and I suppose that's true. But it occurs to me to say that I should dearly like to impose restrictions on ignorant patriots . . . among others. What percentage of American college students could pass the standard naturalization test? I have no idea what's on it (hmmm . . . must research), but when I see people in my Psych class who can apparently name about 4 or 5 of our presidents, at most, I begin to really wonder.

Anyway, back to the point:

*sniggers* My cousin busted up the textbook curve . . . big time. I was just surprised at how many of the presidents I remembered myself at a moment's notice after all these years (I memorized them in 4th grade). After this refresher I have them back again, and that makes me happy. And I couldn't help but think that I'd love to see the results (and teacher reaction) if I could select my own small group to test on the presidents in this manner.

Posted by Jared at 03:32 PM | TrackBack

February 08, 2005

The LeTourneau Amateur Yankee Historian Society

If you don't like rants or the venting of steam, keep on scrolling. I'm just talkin', don't nobody have to listen.

If you live in any one of the 37 continental states that is not in the south, I just might have a bone to pick with you. I have decided to declare today, February 8th, to be my own personal "I Hate Arrogant Damnyankees" Day.

I have taken this step because it has come to my attention that I truly despise non-Southern Americans who wander about complacently with their noses in the air and speak in shocked, superior tones about how scandalizing and difficult to comprehend they find the historical treatment of the African American race in our region of the country. They speak as though their lily-white ancestors, those indian-slaughtering, slavery-tolerating, immigrant-exploiting men of young America, didn't accrue a single ugly skeleton in their pristine historical closets from the moment they set foot on this continent . . . to say nothing of exploits in Europe, Asia, Africa . . .

Now I should probably clarify a few things. To begin with, yes, slavery and racism are really really really bad. I am painfully aware that we are smack in the middle of Black History Month (don't get me started) and even if we were in some distant portion of what is apparently "White History Rest-of-the-Year" I wouldn't think of making light of the plight of minorities in American history. There is almost nothing I hate worse than mindless prejudice. Which is probably why I'm so irritated at the stupidity of a certain two people in my lit class this morning.

We're studying Huck Finn right now, so of course the topic of racism reared its ugly head. And a certain non-southern type announced that he had been driving by a local high school with his Texan girlfriend, and she had pointed it out as a school that had been segregated. And he saw fit to inform us that he was stunned, not only that such a thing had taken place, but that anyone would actually admit to it.

Ummm . . .? Yes. And I'll also be pleading the fifth on the subjects of Auschwitz, the Inquisition, and the Trail of Tears. What's that look for? No one in history has ever done anything evil or wrong!

Then the guy who thinks everything literary is either allegorical or satirical spoke up, speculating that Twain was indulging in a little satire on slaves. "I mean, things weren't really this bad were they? And those people weren't really that superstitious, right?"

Seriously, this guy once asked (during a discussion of "The Outcasts of Poker Flat") whether it was allegorical since the name of the town is Poker Flat and the main character of the story is a professional gambler.

And don't even get me started on the religion of "don't steal massuh's chickens." I can't handle it right now.

Posted by Jared at 11:21 AM | TrackBack

November 16, 2004

Because They Love Me

My professors are the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human beings I know. They really are. Allow me to explain.

During the course of any given semester as an English and History double major, it is natural to expect that I would have numerous papers to write . . . And this semester has certainly been no exception. In fact, every single one of my classes requires some sort of major paper to be completed during the fall.

This is natural. This is fair. This does not cause me any bitterness at all. I signed up for this. I have no cause for complaint.

But my professors are good Christians, and they care about their students. They care about their students so much that they want them to be able to enjoy Thanksgiving break without having to worry about completing major papers . . . They know how stressful it is to write about *insert topic here* when you're stuffed to the rafters with giblets and cranberry sauce.

Side note: Ewww . . . It's stressful to think about being stuffed with giblets and cranberry sauce.

What I'm trying to say is simply this . . . three of my five teachers, out of the pure benevolence of their hearts, have decided that my papers should fall due right before my extra-long weekend . . . my lush oasis of free time . . . my tranquil island amid troubled seas . . . my comfy recliner surrounded by hard paddle-desks . . . my . . . I'm getting slightly off topic.

The point is that because three people decided to be nice to me, I have three papers to write in the next week, and I'm feeling very hated on. But, once Thanksgiving has come and gone, I will have (almost literally) nothing to do at all whatsoever. That's if I survive, of course.

If I survive . . .

Posted by Jared at 03:37 PM | TrackBack

October 28, 2004

I hate the smell of stupid in the morning . . .

. . . smells like engineers in a lit class.

We had a debate this morning in American Lit I. I'd rather not talk about it, so I'll make this part short. We were debating, more or less, the War in Iraq . . . with a twist. The class was divided into four groups, and each group had to argue from the standpoint of one of the following: Jonathan Edwards, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin. My group got stuck with Edwards. And I still don't want to talk about it . . . that isn't the point of this post.

A certain bass-ackwards mental cauliflower who was in my group (and who will remain nameless) decided to explain his view on Edwards's view on the war in the following way: "I think that if Edwards were to walk out of his house and see someone beating on someone else with a baseball bat, he wouldn't stand around wondering about purity and morality, he would just take the bat away without even thinking about it."

This was supposed to be conclusive evidence that Edwards would agree with the War in Iraq . . . and evidence that we should agree too.

I was crying on the inside.

Later, at lunch, Gallagher took the analogy and tweaked it for accuracy . . . And then I took it and ran with it some more . . . And we continued to play with it, etc. The result is the following account of what it would look like if Edwards actually agreed with the war.

Jonathan Edwards comes walking out of his house one day and sees the disgruntled circus midget who lives across the street beating a small child with a baseball bat. He also thinks he sees a shotgun tucked into the midget's pant leg (it's a sawed-off).

Side note: This called to mind the obvious "Is that a shotgun in your pants, or are you just happy to see me?"

Anyway, shotguns are illegal in that area, and Edwards expects the midget to wander into his house with it at the first opportunity and start shooting. (He, fortunately, has a sizable gun case of his own.) So he runs into his house, passes out baseball bats to his family and extended family, and then runs around the neighborhood whipping up support for his cause . . . After all, the midget has a shotgun.

A few people agree, but almost everyone (including the Neighborhood Watch Council) tells him to shut the hell up and go home. Instead, he hands out more baseball bats and everyone goes over and starts beating on the midget. Unfortunately, the little kid takes a few blows . . . alright, several blows . . . to the head. But the midget is really getting wasted.

That's the good news. The bad news is that the "shotgun" was really just a submarine sandwich that the midget was going to eat for lunch. But at least they saved the kid. Edwards leaves his oldest son in the house across the street to take care of the kid until he's old enough to take care of himself . . . but the house is still home to a few stray midgets with bats (in hiding), and the son spends the next several years getting his shins bruised.

Smooth move, "Edwards."

Posted by Jared at 12:33 PM | TrackBack

October 21, 2004

Jared is a cockeyed liar!

Hi. I wrote the following Op-Ed today in Journalism class after doing Google searches on "stolen honor" and "Sinclair + Kerry." I don't really know much about this particular controversy because I haven't been paying attention. And with that disclaimer:

John Kerry is a slimy alien from outer space, or perhaps he is just one of those evil French Arab-lovers. Either way, he hates America and especially Vietnam veterans. At least, that’s what Sinclair Broadcasting wants you to believe. That’s why they’re airing Stolen Honor in key election states across America. Stolen Honor is a 90-minute documentary that denounces Kerry as the man single-handedly responsible for the low opinion that Americans have of the Vietnam War and its veterans. In addition, Kerry is blamed for the horrible treatment that American POWs in Vietnam received at the hands of their captors.

This documentary was produced by Swift Boat Vets and POWs for Truth, an organization formed with the sole purpose of influencing the outcome of the upcoming election. And this isn’t their first big effort. A few months back, many people saw the television commercials produced by the organization (then known simply as the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth), which attempted to belittle and besmirch Senator Kerry’s service record in Vietnam. Although many of the claims made in these ads were later debunked, the damage was done, and now they are at it again.

In spite of the fact that information is already surfacing which proves many of the claims made in the documentary to be either totally false or subtly misleading, Sinclair Broadcasting has gone ahead with the airing of the program. And that has Senator Kerry’s supporters ready to gnaw their own tongues off. Still, when you go out to win an election for the highest office in the nation, a little mud-slinging here and there is only to be expected. After all, you can’t expect the opposition to endorse your candidacy. What is the real issue here?

It is simply this: The job of the news media is, and always has been, to use their power and influence in the area of communication responsibly to present the truth to the American public. When one irresponsible company like Sinclair Broadcasting compromises their journalistic integrity for the sake of a presidential election, it isn’t John Kerry or the Democratic Party that loses. The media loses, and ultimately the viewer loses as well. No matter who you’re going to vote for, that shouldn’t make anyone happy.

I had fun. Can you tell?

Posted by Jared at 04:25 PM | TrackBack

July 19, 2004

LeTourneau University, With All My Heart . . .

I hate you forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and . . .

Dear summer residents,

We have some details concerning the transition out of summer housing into fall housing. Due to our need to complete a thorough cleaning of the Honors apartments, we will need to make that space available to Facilities Services to prepare the apartments for the fall semester.

If you are living in Honors housing or Carpenter house for the fall semester, you will need to move to the Trinity halls on August 1st and then will transition back into your fall housing assignment on August 18th. We will be providing your housing assignment for that two week period in the Trinity halls. Women will be housed in ELH and men will be housed in Mabee hall.

. . . ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever.

Scholl will be leaving here on the 2nd of August to return on the 10th, and I'm flying out on the 11th to return on the 25th . . . How can they send out something like this on JULY FREAKIN' 19TH?!

Even had we known this earlier . . . I still would have hated everyone responsible, but we wouldn't have . . . We are completely moved into this apartment. We are settled in with the sort of permanency that suggests you will be living somewhere for the next full year. Boxes are unpacked and stored in the attic. Bookshelves are full. Drawers are full. Closets are full. Refrigerators and cabinets are full. Couches and chairs are placed.

In short, I expect it to take at least two (probably three) very full and tiring days to get us out of here, and another week to move us back in to how we are now.

It's not so much a question of whether to kill someone at this point . . . it's how many, and who first.

Update: (Received at 8:10 PM, July 22nd)

Hi Summer Students -

The meeting is still on tonight at 10:00 in the Village Center (I've heard that it's closed right now but I haven't been around this week to look into it, so whoever wants to come let's still meet there but prepare ourselves for flexibility).


Due to approximately 50 interrelated factors, the decision has been made NOT TO MOVE YOU OUT OF THE APARTMENTS ON AUGUST 1. In other words, everything is exactly as it was before this soap opera began (as far as Summer Housing goes).

Posted by Jared at 11:11 AM | TrackBack

June 22, 2004

AFI = Consumer Whoredom

Well, I just watched the TV event of the summer . . . The American Film Institute's top 100 movie songs countdown. I have previously seen the top 100 most heart-pounding movies, the top 100 heroes and villains, and a portion of the top 100 most passionate movies (before I got sick of that one).

I am most displeased . . . but I don't know where to begin, so I'll just register a few complaints:

-"As Time Goes By" is clearly the #1 song, but they had "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" instead. What is that?! I can't stand that song! I mean, even in spite of my dislike, I'll grant it its spot in the top 3 . . . but only as #3.

-"Rocky?!" "Eight Mile?!" The theme from "Shaft?!" "Stayin' Alive?!" "MY HEART WILL GO ON?!" What the f . . . fffff . . . freak . . .?! I wouldn't be nearly this bitter, but there wasn't a single song from "Fiddler on the Roof" in there! That is just flat out criminal. No questions asked. Someone needs to be in the hotseat over that one . . .

-On a slightly less urgent note, I was disappointed not to see "Man of Constant Sorrow" or "Twist and Shout" (as performed in Ferris Bueller) in the listing, as well.

-A disturbing chunk of the movies on the list came out of the pop culture of the two decades that I would have advised them to run screaming from in the selection of a top 100. I am speaking, of course, of the 'seventies and the 'eighties. What were they thinking?

-I got waaay sick of hearing the opinions of (most notably) Celine Dion, Hilary Duff, and Clay Aiken. Ick. The couldn't find anyone better . . .?

-On a more positive note, I was very pleased to see, (among others), such songs as "I Could Have Danced All Night," "My Favorite Things," "Buttons and Bows," "Swinging on a Star," "All That Jazz," "Mrs. Robinson," "Shall We Dance," "Que Sera, Sera" etc. The complete list can be found here.

I think their biggest problem was in choosing good songs from bad movies. I don't care how good the song is (well . . . okay . . . within reason) if the movie sucks, then it isn't a good . . . selection. There were good songs from good movies that didn't make the cut, and should have.

Now . . . Back to real life, I guess.


Posted by Jared at 10:43 PM | TrackBack

June 16, 2004

Shredding Shadowmancer

I'm really wrestling with myself here . . . I'm too smart to shoot myself in the foot on this one, but at the same time there are issues that someone is going to want to address.

First things first: I finished Shadowmancer, and it got a 36% from me. Throughout the book, I was trying to compose at least a few thoughts for some kind of coherent review, but the thing itself was so scattered that I found it quite difficult to even begin to know what to address.

Should I go after the quality of the book? It is most certainly an issue, and a big one . . . but I wasn't certain that it was the issue.

Should I address theological issues instead? Could I address theological issues without sounding like I had a double standard, and I was ignoring similair issues with Harry Potter? The fact is that I sort of do have a double standard . . . I believe that if you are going to try and do Christian fantasy (or Christian anything, be it books, movies, music, or art) you have to be held to a higher spiritual standard . . . and at least an equal standard of quality (I'm certainly not going to let you get away with writing drivel just because you're a Christian). Lest I be misinterpreted however, I don't find Harry Potter to be spiritually murky at all. I'm not letting it slip by under any lower standard.

I could pull a high quality Sunday school lesson out of any Harry Potter book in five minutes. I could also (were I so inclined) plug Satanism convincingly using only quotes from Shadowmancer. When it comes to literature (or "literature" if you prefer), almost everything is perspective.

While I tried to put my thoughts in order (and avoid flaming the thing in a review that was just me blowing off my accumulated steam) I decided to wander the internet a bit. I wanted to see what sort of information on the author and the message I could nose up, and also check out what other people thought. This book (and I'm still utterly baffled by this) was #2 on the bestseller list in England last summer, right under you-know-what (The-Book-That-Must-Not-Be-Named).

What I found shocked and surprised me, and for a few hours I even started to doubt my faith (in the existence of any intelligent human beings on this planet). I came across these three interviews with the illustrious author: G. P. Taylor, himself. You are free to read them all yourself, of course, but some of the material is redundant, and all of the important material will be quoted below.

First of all, let's take a look at Taylor's qualifications as an author (i.e. Why did this guy think he could write?):

You name Eminem as inspiring you to write. Please comment

Marshall Mathers is a very good poet - even though I don't like his cussing, I admire his use of language and his ability to communicate with so many people. As a teenager I was heavily influenced by David Bowie and know of the effect it had on my life - dyed hair - strange clothes and some odd looking girlfriends. He is still a hero and his music is a great influence on my writing especially his latest album. It was Marshall Mathers and One Shot from Eight Mile that really made me want to get the book to a larger audience - you only get one shot . . .

Now wait just one cotton-pickin' minute . . . I'm expecting him to cite C. S. Lewis and Charles Williams as his inspiration . . . perhaps Tolkien and MacDonald as well. Instead I see . . . Eminem and David Bowie?! I'm just going to keep going before I have another seizure . . .

You have said that you think that villains in children’s books are not scary enough. Do you really believe that?

Voldermort is a wimp! Lord Asriel wouldn't get out of first grade. But when it comes to wicked then even Snoop Dog better sit up and check Obadiah Demurral out - he is a mean dude and a villain with attitude.

I wanted to make my villains scary, frightening, horrible and realistic – something that would really frighten the crap of out the kids!

I'm more than slightly disturbed by this British vicar's apparent obsession with American rap "artists," but that aside . . . Just who does he think he is? Is he being serious, stupid, or deliberately inflammatory? Allow me to quote a review that I found:

"The villain, Demurral, is especially implausible because he is so utterly evil that he is almost cartoonish -- much like the Dursleys . . . in the Harry Potter books."

Let me lend the weight of personal experience to that sentiment . . . Vernon Dursley is precisely the example that comes to mind when trying to find a villain "type" to compare the sad, sorry Demurral with.

Oh, yeah . . . and that whole thing about scaring the kiddies . . . isn't that a beautiful sentiment? I mean, not that he's capable, but still . . .

Do you feel that Shadowmancer owes a debt to Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis, and historical adventures by J. Meade Falkner, Russle Thorndike,and Leon Garfield?

If I knew who they were I would say yes, but I didn't start to read until I was sixteen and got into George Orwell. Girls were reading books, so I started reading the books that they were reading to not appear thick. I started with Lord of the Flies, then 1984 and Animal Farm, then Ted Hughes poetry and Sylvia Plath. I was really flattered when one reviewer called Shadowmancer a cross between Roald Dahl and Charles Dickens

I read a couple of chapters of Tolkein but that was it. My influences come from films especially seventies American cult films like Taxi Driver and Dirty Harry.

Turns out, he really hasn't read anything . . . just enough to try and impress the ladies.

Literate? Barely. Literary? Don't make me laugh . . .

Again, I was expecting to see him referencing Narnia, Middle Earth, All Hallow's Eve . . . Maybe even stuff like Treasure Island, but . . . Dirty Harry?! I think it was at this point that tears came to my eyes.

You have been called a Christian answer to J.K. Rowling and Phillip Pullman. How do you respond?

Shadowmancer is not a Christian book, it is a book about good and evil and appeals to Jews and Muslims as well as atheists. I was ordained after youthful experiments with punk rock, druidism, the occult, and transcendental meditation. I read the Qu’ran before reading the Bible and I am just as happy to talk about the Talmud. My writing is informed as much by Judaism and Islam as it the by the Christian tradition. It is the account of an eternal truth.

I think the story resonates at a deep level, but my character Raphah is never named as Jesus, so to Jews he could be the coming Yeshua, to Christians he could be Jesus, to Muslims he could be the Prophet and to pagans he is in some ways an avenging angel.

Do you think that people feel that Shadowmancer is a Christian story?

Certainly not. I get letters from people of all faiths claiming it is about their particular way of belief. It's amazing...everyone is claiming it as their own.

It's a story which deals with issues of life, death, faith and hope in a "non-Goddy" way . . . and then people can draw their own conclusions.

Just wait . . . it gets better. Oh, and as to that last statement, I cry "Bull!" "Heavy-handed" doesn't even begin to describe it. The story "subtly suggests" religious themes like a blackjack to the back of the head subtly suggests that you fall over unconscious.

Can Jesus survive the Church?

He has survived it for 2,000 years. He works much more outside the church than within the church. I see Jesus on the street with youth workers and helping kids with AIDS, amongst prostitutes, hookers, in the police force and in schools. Of course he can survive the Church, I think he is better off without the Church.

Okay, there are certainly some worthwhile sentiments in there, I guess . . . but this guy is, after all, a vicar. What's with that last phrase? Since when is it a good idea for Church leadership to start publicly writing off the Church?

And it keeps getting better . . .

Was Jesus religious?

Was he hell! Definitely not. Anyone who tells the archbishop of the day that he is a whitewashed toilet full of dead bodies . . . that is about as unreligious as you get. Jesus was a guy who laughed, joked, fooled around, enjoyed life . . . what a wonderful man to follow.

No, Jesus was not "religious." But that is hardly the way for a vicar to go about answering that question . . . And I really hope that "fooled around" means something else in Britain.

Anyway, moving forward, here's a tidbit that certainly explained a lot to me.

It's one of those fairy stories that we occasionally hear about. Having paid an agency to critique his novel, only to be told it was the worst writing they had ever seen, [Taylor] self published the book, which due to the demands of large book chains effectively cost him 10p a copy. Through a magical chain of events, it ended up in the hands of a major publisher and now his original editions are selling for £1000 on the internet.

No comment.

When I tell him that I was amazed that Faber and the press would be so interested in what is an overtly Christian book, I am thoroughly admonished. "Its not a Christian book, I refuse to have it called that. Yes I've quoted from the Old Testament, but the Old Testament is the book of the Jew and the Muslim as well."

To further prove his point, Taylor tells me that "It has not been accepted well by Christians, I have faced blockages in the Christian press, where it certain Christian papers have refused to carry articles on it." It reminded me of Pilgrims Progress, I counter. "I'm a philistine, I've never read Pilgrims Progress."

"I know that God is alive and as a Christian and a minister he's an interesting part of my life."

A philistine indeed . . .

God is . . . "interesting?" Not "important?" "Vital?" "Quintessential?" Oooookay.

One would assume that such a successful first time novelist would have had a grand plan for the book but apparently not. "I didn't - honestly. I started to type and just finished it; I just sat down and wrote and wrote and wrote. I had no plot; it was chapter one and then off with the words and that was were we went.

It sure was! My goodness! That, at least, was expected.

"It is also written in coded language for occultists, any witch reading this would think I'm a witch, it's in there at the beginning of the book and they read it and go 'wow we know what this means, we know where this writer's coming from.'"

Really, now? Uncountable hours scouring the Internet and I've never found Rowling's much-hyped confession of being involved in genuine witchcraft and deliberately using actual spells, etc. in her books. Five minutes after I start researching Taylor, and this is what I turn up. Ohhhh, my.

"I think that the 1700s are the most important time in history, especially with Wesley and Whitfield. I think God actually had them birthed in that time for a particular reason. I think that we are coming to a time when the problems of the 1700s are resurfacing; a new enlightenment where people are now playing God, whereas in the previous enlightenment people thought that God was of no use.

"Everybody's trying to get rid of God and sanitize God out of the environment. We are in the new enlightenment and I think there will be men and women raised up to stop God being marginalized. I personally think it will be the Islamic faith who have a go, as they they're not going to take this sort of enlightenment lying down."

Wait, hold the phone . . . God had a plan for certain people during a certain time in history?! Stop the presses!

So, Judaism had its day pre-Christ, and Christianity has been dominant for, what? . . . Let's call it 1600+ years. And now, Taylor tells us, it's Islam's turn to be raised up by God and bring revival.

Ohhhh, boy.

I was having even more trouble collecting my thoughts after reading all of this stuff, so I wandered a bit in search of reviews. Mostly, I just needed to know that someone agreed with me . . . and it would be nice if they also sounded intelligent. I found a pretty nice assortment of people who were thinking exactly what I was thinking, and I was quite pleased.

It is grossly unfair to compare this author's work with Rowling and Tolkien. The aforementioned authors are geniuses, with Rowling raising the bar on "children's" books (indeed, we've seen some wonderfully written children's books that challenge children since the publication of The Sorcerer's Stone), and Tolkien single-handedly created a genre and wrote one of the great classics of the 20th century. Shadowmancer *barely* works, and only by the thinnest of margins. It has the distinct feel of a rough draft, with misplaced metaphors on virtually every page. In any fantasy, whether it is aimed at children or adults, everything within it must be credible. Emotional reactions, the good magic, the bad magic - everything. In here, there is very little that is credible, even though the author is using Christianity as the focus, differentiating only by giving the various deities and angels different names. I say that the book *barely* works because there is at least a hint of inventiveness, but even that hint of inventiveness disappears due to a distinct lack of credibility. I should care immensely for Kate and Thomas - and I don't. With the "cliffhanger", I should be excited at reading the next book in the series. Personally, I can't believe there's going to be a second book.

The "cliffhanger" that is referenced here consists of Taylor literally ceasing to write in the middle of a sentence (and practically in the middle of a thought). I had known all along that the book was 275 pages long, but I couldn't believe that it was actually over . . . I turned the page expecting to find a closing quote, or a Bible verse, or an epilogue . . . Nothing but a blank page. It was at that point that I chucked it at the most distant wall and went to lie down on the couch for a few minutes.

Take a cup full of "Harry Potter." Add a teaspoon of hokey religious thrillers, a sprinkling of Tolkien ripoffs, and a dash of the fantastical. Mix thoroughly, and heat to lukewarm. That's basically the recipe for vicar/author G.P. Taylor's debut novel "Shadowmancer," a lame and limp semi-spiritual fantasy.

Like many a fantasy villain, Obadiah Demurral wants to play God, and the corrupt vicar does so by trafficking with evil powers -- all-out sorcery and devil-worship. Enter Raphah, a mysterious man from Africa who is after a mystery amulet that will be incredibly destructive if evil people get their hands on it. (Wow, that's original)

Are our heroes going to let Demurral and the forces of evil win? Of course not. Troubled teen Thomas Barrick (who has quasi-religious visions) and his pal Kate team up with Raphah to somehow keep Demurral from becoming king of the universe with the help of that amulet. But can our heroes win out against Pyratheon (read: the devil)?

No way is religious fantasy a bad thing in itself -- after all, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien rooted their stories partly in religion. But Taylor's brand of Christianity is very watered-down, very generic, very politically-correct and VERY preachy. He lays this bland religious goo on so thickly that it's hard to read without feeling twitchy and uncomfortable.

"Riathamus [God] stands at the door of your life and knocks. If you hear his call and answer him he will share your life and live with you always," Raphah announces. It's like he's reading from a pamphlet.

Nor can you expect much in the way of character development; everyone is a symbol rather than a person. Demurral is a cackling, mustache-twirling devil-worshiper. Saintly Raphah is as dull as the proverbial ditchwater, and so are the plucky kids who accompany him. There are no shades of grey here. A flawed person either is evil, or he's just waiting to be redeemed.

One-dimensional isn't the half of it . . . I normally hate it when people say that because it's so over-used, but in this case . . . Characters do not get more flat than this.

The supposed good guy, Raphah, has mysterious powers that are very occult-like, and he turns out to be one of the "objects," but in the flesh, that the evil Demurral wants for his sorcery.

So is he an angel, a boy, a statue come to life, or what? Identities are very confusing in the story and we are never sure who several mysterious figures really are. The story is more frustrating than anything.

This particularly confused me . . . The artifact that everyone chases is never described . . . you just know that it's gold. And pretty. It is heavily implied on numerous occasions that it is the Ark of the Covenant . . . but you can carry it around in one hand. Very confusing.

There are also numerous magical objects that the characters (both good and bad) make use of when fighting each other. Some of them are good, and some of them are evil, but . . . Since when does God arm us with magic crystals for fighting off demons?

There are also several quotes from the Bible but they are given in ways that make them mean something different than they do in the Bible. Also, some of the quotes are changed from the original words or mixed with other quotes that don't go together.

This really bothered me, let me tell you. The Bible was "quoted" almost constantly . . . standing in for a good 50% of the dialogue. But it was done in very chopped and confused ways, and words were often changed. It sounds sorta Christian, but it isn't.

Example, from the random Christ figure that pops in at one point: "I will be with you always, even to the end of the time."

What the hell does that mean?! The more I think about it, the more asinine it sounds . . .

Most disturbing are several warnings and hints that Demurral could actually fight Riathamus (God) and get his power. Raphah tells Thomas and Kate that if Demurral gets the Keruvim, he could control the world and even the power of Riathamus. Later, Thomas tells Kate that Raphah told him that Demurral has a power that can call up the dead and control the wind and sea.

I mentioned this before, but it bears repeating.

I finished the book because I read some of the other reviews and thought that maybe I was missing something, maybe the author somehow pulls this off in the last 100 pages, 50 pages, even the last 10 pages, but when I closed the book, I knew I had been tricked just like all the other good people had been in the story. The evil ones lost, the good guys won and I was out the money I spent on this book. I've read in reviews (from Newsweek of all places) that this book may be the next Harry Potter - please. Harry -relax, you've got nothing to worry about.



I really did (foolishly) keep expecting him to pull something out of his hat as the book progressed that would make me understand all of the crazy hype I saw. No such luck.

Creaking plot, cardboard characters, overt evangalism, overused Bible quotes and tired cliches in the place of dialogue - Shadowmancer has nothing to recommend it, unless you're looking for a cynical laugh at the author's heavy-handed attempt at fundamentalist anti-occult propaganda.

("KIDS! Magic is DANGEROUS! Don't try this at home!!!") The sound of one or two characters - the obligatory feisty girl sidekick/token female character, for example - struggling to develop personalities is drowned out by the clanking of the plot and the chorus of hallelujahs.

If you're raising kids in the Christian faith and want good fantasy fiction for them, for goodness' sake stick to CS Lewis or even Pilgrim's Progress. Don't touch this book with a bargepole - it'll put them off for life, not to mention the dangers that the sloppy writing poses to their English grammar.

In all honesty: recommended only for punctuation-impaired fundamentalists.

I love this reviewer.

Random aside: I would like a bargepole.

For every hit there are bound to be misses. I should have known from the rather non-indicative reviews on the back of 'Shadowmancer' that this was not a book to be trusted. Two quotes do nothing but describe the book as an event. Another is a simple description of what the book is about. In fact the latter - "a magical tale of vicars and witches" - is the title of an interview with Taylor - not a review at all. One of the other quotes leaves off half way through - a very cynical maneuver - the full quote being: "The adventure unfolds at a vivid and breathless pace, but the religious symbolism is rather too fundamental and proscriptive for comfort."

Anyway, when I wrote my "midway review" of this . . . *thing* . . . a few days ago, I was fully prepared to a) be pleasantly surprised, or b) give Christian fantasy and Christian fiction and the general Christian culture that responds to them the going-over they so richly deserve. Not only does the book turn out to be not worth the effort . . . It turns out to not even be Christian!

Yeah, yeah . . . You can read it that way, and if it floats your boat, more power to you. After all, I read Harry Potter with a Christian's perspective (that's kinda what I do). But the author seems very anxious (for whatever reason) that people not mistake this for a Christian book, and I'm perfectly willing to oblige him. Trust me, my fellow believers . . . We don't want it!

Stay tuned for a long-overdue, Christian look at the Harry Potter series, coming soon.

Posted by Jared at 10:03 PM | TrackBack

June 07, 2004

The "Me" Weekly

I think my blog is trying to tell me something . . . What can I say? The little bugger has a mind of its own. Well, it has a point you know. I guess I have been a bit remiss lately . . . for no good reason in particular that I know of.

Scholl and I continue to watch at least one movie every day and my list is now up to a healthy thirty-one (we haven't watched tonight's movie yet). The List in terms of meaningless statistics:

-The average year of release for the movies we've watched is 1982. Release years on the list range from 1915 to 2004.

-The average movie length is 120.484 minutes for a total of 62.25 hours spent in front of a screen. The longest thus far is Schindler's List with a runtime of 194 minutes, and the shortest is High Noon with 85.

-The average objective rating is 39.19354839 out of 50 and the average subjective rating is 40.19354839 out of 50. The Replacements is the lowest rated movie at a total of 14%, while three movies have received perfect scores of 100% (Schindler's List, The Seventh Seal, and Rear Window).

I love gratuitous statistics. And spreadsheets are so awesome.

Anyway, as you can see, we've watched some pretty good stuff lately, on the whole. Went to see Harry Potter 3 on Saturday night with Anna, Ardith, Scholl, and Taylor and had a generally good time. Taylor was the only one of us who hadn't read the books.

I was generally caught up in the magic of the whole thing and my personal opinion was that the change in directors has definitely improved the production quality. Scholl and Anna were both a bit bothered by certain deficiencies in comparison to the book. I see their point, but PoA has (I would say) the best and most intricate plot of the five thus far and the movie's chief problem was that it was just too short to fully convey this (clocking in at a "mere" 142 minutes . . . twenty minutes shorter than the second movie, even though the book is longer by 100 pages).

Anyway, I think that production quality is up and screenwriting quality is down from the last installment. I have the first two winging their merry way in this direction from Netflix, to be watched over the weekend (in all probability). I'll let you know if I discover anything of further interest on the subject at that time . . .

As far as reading goes . . . Well, that quiz ate most of my weekend reading time when I wasn't looking. I chastised it severely, of course, but I wasn't about to go digging through quiz excrement looking for loose fragments of my . . .

No. The analogy does not carry through very well. Nevermind.

I did have time to finish Black Wolf yesterday, and I was quite pleased. Fourth in a loosely-connected series (each book by a different author, starring a different character from a noble family), it was a quality bit of escapism set in the Forgotten Realms universe (one of the main D&D campaign settings). I consider the overall quality of this series to be a cut above Salvatore's stuff set in the same universe. For one thing, I have yet to encounter an author in this series who has a pathological fear of killing off main characters (this tends to heighten the tension, making for a generally more enjoyable and less predictable plot). Of course, Salvatore wouldn't have that problem either if he hadn't made all of his characters FRIGGING OMNIPOTENT!!!

Anyway, I have (as you will see on the right) moved on to the fifth book in the series, which looks very promising thus far. Meanwhile, while I continue to read the other books, I am making special efforts to complete Shadowmancer asap. I won't lie . . . some few passages of it are really quite decent. Overall, however, I remain mystified as to how this book has done as well as it has. The chief problem . . . *thinks* . . . Well, okay, one of the chief problems I have with it (aside from his poor plotting, bad characterization, largely hackneyed writing, and pathetic attempts to scare me with a villain who behaves like a half-wit monkey child most of the time) is the blurring of the line between magic and miracle.

From a spiritual standpoint (since this book was written as an alternative to the undisguised occultism [sic] of Harry Potter and the aggressive atheism [not sic] of Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy) I would say that this is pretty much unforgivable. In spite of the mad ravings of the fundies, I am not spiritually confused by reading a Harry Potter book. For one thing, I know exactly what real world witchcraft truly is. Far more important than this, however, I realize that Harry Potter does not portray real world witchcraft . . . duh!

Shadowmancer, on the other hand, makes it very hard to keep track of precisely what the author thinks along these lines. He has set his book (supposedly a fantasy) in an actual location of the real world (albeit during a long-gone time period), which was his first mistake. By doing this, he has tied himself to real-world mechanics, and if you do that and you want to maintain a consistent Christian worldview in order to convey a message . . . well, you'd better at least stick to some form of conventional Christian thought regarding the supernatural (but don't make me go there, I beg you).

Taylor fails to do this on multiple counts. First, the pathetic bad guy I referred to earlier (Vicar and Magistrate Obadiah Demurral), often casts spells which are clearly demonic in nature . . . since he summons actual demons and sends them to possess and control his minions . . . and his methodology is classic, stereotypical, literary Satanism (he employs everything from pentagrams to blood sacrifices). However, much of the magic he makes use of is . . . well, it's weird. He summons random creatures from Celtic folklore as well as a number of pathetic Ringwraith rip-offs called "Varrigal." Seriously . . . the description of the things is straight out of Tolkien, with a bit of the "Frodo Ring-Vision" appearance (from Weathertop in the first movie) thrown in for good measure. The difference is, you can take these puny buggers out with a flintlock pistol or a rusty cutlass . . . Now, what kind of Satanically-summoned creature can be shot? Really . . .

Even worse to my mind, however, is the "good guy magic." This is chiefly wielded by the African boy, Raphah, the only true Christian to appear thus far in the story. He runs around slinging magic miracles like a D&D cleric . . . What am I supposed to make of this?

Message = "Become a Christian! We gots heap-big magicks!"

I'll need to see how it all turns out, but there is one of two possibilities here . . . Either Demurral's plan for world domination is legit, and God's omnipotent authority (yes, THE GOD) is actually under threat from this slimy little peon with his stupid magic artifacts and needs to be preserved by the lackluster efforts of three teenage basket cases, or nobody was ever under threat from anybody else and our heroes' frantic attempts to save the world were not required (thanks anyway, kids). While I will be more than a little pissed off at the waste of my time if the latter is the case, I sincerely hope that it is . . . If it ain't, we got bigger problems.

One final (for now) shot: If I pick up one more juvenile historical fiction book set anywhere between 1300-1800 and starring a grubby young teenage boy and girl who have been orphaned or otherwise come from broken homes and difficult circumstances, I am going to . . . Probably read it anyway. But I will be very upset. I swear . . . was this the only demographic doing anything during this period of history?! I think not!

Well, this post has now reached critical mass . . . I guess. In any case, I don't have anything further that I wish to discuss, rave about, or review at the present time, and I do have a number of books to finish. I will proceed to do that now.

Posted by Jared at 08:45 PM | TrackBack

February 09, 2004

Color Blind . . . or Just Blind?

Am I the only person who finds the concept of Black History Month, and most especially the way it is "observed" at LeTourneau, insulting, degrading, and generally unhelpful in improving race relations and nuking the spirit of racism that still lurks amongst us?

How much sense does it make, really? First of all, why do we have a Black History Month? Check out how it got started. Actually, I think that's kinda cool, right up until about 1976. Let's look at a few numbers . . . The current US population is approximately 13% Black, 1% Native American, 4% Asian, 14% Hispanic . . . and the rest of us are dirty Caucasians, presumably.

Why is there no Native American History Month? No Asian History Month? No Hispanic History Month? I'm not even going to bother to suggest a European History Month because . . . duh. Do we have Black History Month to emphasize a time when we pay attention to a particular minority, or what? Except that the largest minority (I thought it was until I saw the percentages up there) is the one that gets their own month. And now all the "lesser" minorities get shafted. But it's not even the largest minority anymore . . . so why? Obviously we can't have four months out of the year devoted to this sort of thing, that's ridiculous. How about Minority History Month?

Ummm . . . no. This concept promotes racism, pretty much. Why? Because it is discriminatory. Maybe you'd call it "positive" discrimination, or some such nonsense, but you're still treating people differently based on race. It's not a good thing. Why can't we have American History Month? Isn't that what we all are now? Isn't the whole "great melting pot" concept kind of indicative of the fact that America is made up of people from all races, and that no one is any better than anyone else because of it? LeTourneau provides me with the perfect example of why this is so jacked up.

What Admin thinks "Black History Emphasis Week" in Chapel says: We are racially sensitive and culturally competent because we observe PC type things.

What it actually says: God forbid we have black people speak in chapel at any other time than during February.

And the same goes for the rest of the country: "Let's have Black History Month in February because God forbid we pay any attention whatsoever to Black History during any other time of the year."

By the way, I enjoyed chapel this morning, and I think the other two chapels we have lined up this week look really great. I just think it's a shame that we have to have some kind of excuse to invite a "person of color" to speak to us in chapel. And even when we do, it must be announced loudly to one and all, "We are white, and yet we love and respect those who are of a different race and color. Watch us prove this to you during one whole week out of the year. Bask in the holy gleam of our righteous glory. Amen."

Posted by Jared at 09:13 PM | TrackBack

January 18, 2004

Williams on Church, Gandalf on New Age, and Wheeler on Crack

From War in Heaven by Charles Williams concerning church attendance:

"It is a means, one of the means. But perhaps the best for most, and for some almost the only one. I do not say that it matters greatly, but the means cannot both be and not be. If you do not use it, it is a pity to bother about it; if you do, it is a pity not to use it."

I liked that as soon as I read it, and I think that it is true. So, first of all, it's time to quit bothering about it. And by that I don't at all mean "quit bothering about church." I mean it's time to quit bothering about it, and not using it. It must either be used, and so not be bothered about, or not be used and not worried about. So, which is it going to be for the time being, and why? I don't know right this very second and I'm not getting into it right this second. It's too important, one way or the other. Oh, and if you have any pertinent thoughts on the quote, please weigh in with your opinion, by all means. Moving on . . .

Meanwhile, I've been arguing with Uncle Doug again. Of course, we both attended the LeTourneau-sponsored showing of Return of the King Friday night. It was my 6th time, and it started at 11:45, but I went, even though I had only slept four and a half hours the night before. More on all that later. Anyway, we picked it apart on the way home, randomly airing out a few complaints. And I picked it apart again with Wilson and Jenny after we got back before going up to bed. Ummm . . .

Quick, sort of side-track, note: One of Doug's big complaints was Sam. And he didn't confine his complaint to the movie version. He thinks it is utterly ridiculous and stupid for Sam to cry as much as he does and over what he cries about. He basically says, among other things, that after all Sam has been through, he would (or should) be a crusty, hardened person who can take pretty much anything. I find his machismo-laden, emotionless, cold idea of what a "real male" should be like utterly revolting. Sam is a sweet, innocent, emotional character, this is integral to who and what he is and how he acts throughout the trilogy.

Doug says that because he still cries at the drop of a hat by the end of the story, he has failed to grow as a character. Quite the contrary . . . He fairly reeks of character development. His travels bring him the insights of experience and the skills of battle, but throughout it all he manages to keep a hold on his vicious loyalty to Frodo, his self-sacrificing, giving, serving personality, and, yes, his tender-hearted emotion. This is what makes Sam so special, and totally different from any of the other three Hobbits. To retain one's innocence in the midst of all of this darkness and adversity is a wonderful thing, and says much about the stuff Sam is made of. Bah. Anyway . . . Back on track.

The subject came up again at supper last night, with Martinez. I asked then if Doug had even listened to what Gandalf says at the Grey Havens: "Not all tears are an evil," (or something like that . . . I have a hard time remembering because it's slightly different in the Spanish version I saw three times!!!). And that sent us in another direction entirely.

Doug claims he thought Gandalf was really annoying after the first movie. When I questioned this, he said that, for one, he walks around spouting New Age every which way. "What?!" says I. So, (and I almost knew that this was what was coming), he cites the afterlife speech to Pippin from RotK. Naturally, my hackles went up because that's one of my favorite speeches in the movie, and he couldn't have picked a worse line to accuse of New Age in front of me.

Rough paraphrase of the line: Death is but another path we all must take. The gray rain curtain of this world rolls back, and all is turned to silver glass. And then you see it . . . White shores. And beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.

This speaks to me in the same way as the song during the end credits (duh, they use a lot of the same words). Note what I wrote about that in my first post of December (still over at the old blog for the time being). What he's saying here, as I see it, is that this world kinda sucks. No matter how good or bad you think it is, once you die, the curtain is rolled back and what you see then compares to the world in which you were alive in the same way that gray rain compares to silver glass . . . There is no comparison. And then comes something even better. Gandalf describes Valinor, and to all intents and purposes, he's talking about Heaven. I think it's great, especially as that little hint of the music from that last song enters at that point. It's the perfect touch, and it strikes just the right note.

I think that very first sentence, about death being just another path, sends up a red flag in a lot of people's minds. Don't be stupid. That's not anywhere near as potentially wrong-headed as Dumbledore's "To the well-ordered mind, death is but the next great adventure," from Harry Potter. (And even that . . . but nevermind).

So . . . there aren't a lot of people that get out of dying. And it sure isn't the same thing as life. And it is the general direction you tend to move once you're dead. Hence, death is another (i.e. different, not the same) path (i.e. direction, way) we all (i.e. everybody experiences it) must take. Metaphorical observation, or deep, dark New Age? You decide. And be sure you pick the first one unless you really want to be an idiot. ;)

As for the description of what comes next, Doug said that first, Gandalf can't know what he is talking about because no one knows what Heaven is like . . . it's a faulty image at best, and just flat out anti-(or at least extra-)biblical theology at worst. Okay, duh. So Gandalf doesn't actually exist in our world and therefore is not describing the Christian Heaven. So sue him. That's why it's a parallel. Does he have to quote scripture about the afterlife for it to be a Christian sentiment? Second, Doug questioned the idea that Heaven is a place, saying it is just as likely to be more of a state of mind. I'm not sure what he meant by that, entirely, or if he was speculating, or if he was even saying that Heaven is a state of mind, or even if it actually is, however, I do know that that's what Buddhists and a lot of New Agers think, essentially.

Anyway, the whole conversation was extremely frustrating, and once we got beyond that, the only other thing he could think of as an example of how Gandalf is supposedly annoying throughout two entire movies was something he apparently said in "Fang-horn" forest. And Doug couldn't remember what it was . . . at all. *sigh*

Anyway, a series of unfortunate causes and effects:

Since there were six of us going to the movie that night, I drove.

And since I had actually been to Carmike 10 before, I led.

And since I therefore wanted to be sure that I made the correct turns, Doug navigated.

And since he wasn't giving me the information I really needed, I questioned him further.

And since I really can't drive and talk at the same time unless someone else in the car is watching out for me, I blew right through a red light and didn't even notice until I was almost directly under it.

If I'd stayed oblivious any longer I never would have known about it, and neither would Doug.

Except, of course, for the fact that there were four people right behind me who were perfectly willing to inform me of it once we arrived at our destination.

So, do I have any chance at all of them ever forgetting about it? Ummm . . . no. Not really. Because of this, I figure I might as well be the one to record it for posterity before someone else does.

And finally, what I consider to be a rather amusing side note: In Guatemala, as in many places in the world, a red light outside a door means that you can go there to "get some." However, in Guatemala, unlike many places, you're actually getting some tamales . . . What? What were you thinking it meant? I had just explained this to the Shadow Council a few days earlier, and as we all stepped out of the cars once we were at the theater, Moore was quick to note: "The red light doesn't mean tamales, Wheeler."

Posted by Jared at 03:14 AM | TrackBack

January 16, 2004

And while we're thinking dirty thoughts . . .

That's precisely how I feel. Dirty, I mean. Attending Shakespeare as taught by Dr. Batts is like frolicking at gun point in an oil slick. So, after staying up far too late last night reading eight pages of suggestions on how to read Shakespeare, and vomiting the info back onto a piece of paper, what do you suppose was the first thing we did in class? Let's take a pop quiz and reproduce most of the handout you just did for homework! Yay! And what do you suppose was the second thing we did? Let's go around the room and reproduce most of the handout you just did for homework, only this time we'll put it up on the whiteboard! Yay!

I don't think he'll be hearing much from me in that class. Especially after listening to most of my fellow students . . . not that I blame them you understand. I just see no way to respond to any of his questions without sounding like a well-trained circus monkey . . . that can . . . talk. Tossing the students peanuts when they answer a question correctly doesn't help, either . . . Okay, so maybe he doesn't do that. It still feels wrong. You can't speak up without somehow sounding like a teacher's pet, and that I cannot stand.

And of course when we presented our articles on Shakespeare, easily half the class joined me in mentioning the authorship issues . . . including the three people who came before me. Dr. Batts greeted the first one with, "Oh, and here we go . . ." Even had I not been watching his face I could have heard his eyes rolling (I think they need oil).

Fortunately, the three who went before me all picked on the Earl of Oxford, while I was the first to mention Marlowe. I was disappointed that no one brought up Francis Bacon, but there it is. And we all had to have a good laugh at the conspiracy theorists' expense, even though I'd much rather have fun with it. Grrr . . .

Oh, yes. Let's do a quick . . . I dunno what you'd call it. Dr. Watson and Dr. Batts both had cute little acronyms in class today. Here they are:

Watson, as a suggestion for getting a good grade on a group project: T.N.T.M.T.U. (Try Not To Mess This Up)

Batts, "updating" Aristotle's suggestions on writing good drama: K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid)

That's all you need to know, really. Plus I have reading to do (no it isn't for a class . . . yet).

Posted by Jared at 03:12 PM | TrackBack

January 09, 2004

For Incompetence and Corruption Above and Beyond the Call of Duty . . .

I just don't know whether to laugh or cry. It's not my country, so I guess I'll laugh. This news just in: The current president and vice-president, in the final days of their administration, are busy awarding each other every medal known to Guatemala. Just yesteday, Reyes Lopez (vice-president) received two more medals from Portillo: The Order of the Quetzal, Great Cross grade (they don't get any better than that, folks), and the Antonio Jose de Irisarri . . . whatever the heck that means. Among his other medals are the Distinguished Service Cross and the Military Merit Cross, first class. And no, he isn't in the army and never has been. Oh, yeah . . . this one pains me the most. I can't believe they even have a medal for this here . . . I can't imagine anyone ever receiving it except under circumstances like this: The Medal of Intellectual Merit. Ouch. . . Ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch.

Reyes Lopez has kindly reciprocated, awarding Portillo four medals in the last few months alone. I'd love to know what they are, but it doesn't say. Oh, yeah . . . and the medals cost $200 apiece. That can really add up when you consider that they've apparently given each other over 200 medals in the last four years. Yeah . . . that's about Q320,000. It is said that they are taxing the resources of the "medal makers" (I dunno exactly what to call these guys) to the limit. I'll bet . . .

The funniest part of the article is the report of the psychologist the reporter consulted, who wisely chose to remain anonymous. He states that Reyes Lopez obviously presents a classic case of narcissism, and waxes eloquent on that topic for awhile. There's a really really really great pun in the article, but unfortunately it doesn't translate. You'll just have to take my word for it . . . funny stuff. Oh, here's the link. Even if you don't know Spanish, go check out the picture. It's pretty good. Yeah, the vice-president really is that fat . . . Also this link . . . The upper left text says "For humanitarian reasons," and Reyes Lopez is saying, "Just a little help for this poor, ex-vice-president."

Posted by Jared at 01:27 PM | TrackBack

January 08, 2004

Nazi Alert!

This is by far the most childish, petulant thing I have ever heard of in my life. It's the kind of behavior I'd expect from a spoiled 3 year old, not the largest country in South America. And I'm just dying to hear da Silva's logic for his ruling . . . "Americans are acting like the Nazis, so we're going to be even worse! That'll show 'em!" Oh, and while we're talking about Nazis, let's remember where all of them escaped to after freakin' World War II was over. I guess they're a little justified, after American citizens made all of those terrorist attacks on their country last year. And since we are clearly instituting this new policy of our own specifically to spite Brazilians and only Brazilians because we hate them, that just gives them another good reason. Yeah. And a steady diet of crack, diet Pepsi, and hot fudge sundaes will extend your life by thirty years.

In conclusion, there are no sarcastic people here.

And while I'm cheerfully ranting angrily (no, that is not an oxymoron), my brother was sitting here for an hour before he'd let me on, screwing around with his stupid fantasy basketball stuff. Alright, I appreciate that some people enjoy following sports. I enjoy it too, from time to time. I can see also the appeal of a fantasy basketball competition with a group of friends . . . However, I do NOT understand why he had to sit here and refresh the freakin' window every thirty seconds in order to follow every single play of the Minnesota/Portland game, compulsively tracking every stat of every player while the game is in progress as if he thinks they'll play better so long as he's sitting here monitoring them. And, yes, that is very different from wanting to sit down in front of the TV and watch them play . . . Grrr.

I have loads of reading to do. Again. Still. As always. Whatever.

Posted by Jared at 10:24 PM | TrackBack

January 06, 2004

Latest Metaphor: Dumb as the Guatemalan School System

The following post could not be submitted last night due to Blogger deciding that it had been under a few hours of routine maintenance as of November 12th. *sigh* Anyway, without further ado:

No pressure. None at all. I just wanted you all to know that. I am not currently under any pressure or stress whatsoever. I mean, it's not like I have less than a week to teach five mathematically illiterate middle schoolers everything I know about Algebra and Algebra II, right? And it's not like if they fail the test that's coming on Monday, they'll be missing the next entire year of school (effectively putting them two years farther behind than they already are), right? Wrong. That's exactly what's going on. And it sucks. Last year 50 kids failed math (not all from the orphanage, obviously) and had to take "summer school" math, whatever they call it. When the test rolled around to see if they were back on track or not, we had a 12% pass rate.

Oh, yeah . . . and the two 7th graders are both 16 years old. And two of the 8th graders are 17, one is 18. If the 18 year old fails this test, she'll be 21 by the time she gets out of the 9th grade, provided she doesn't fail anymore classes between now and then. Basically, if they fail this math class, they fail the whole grade, and they have to retake everything. The test is, as I said, on Monday, but they get two retakes. One is in February, one is in March . . . but if they have to retake in February, the schoolyear will already have marched too far along without them and they'll have to sit out the year. Of course, if they fail all three, they'll be retaking the same grade starting next January, resulting in the loss of two years that I mentioned earlier. The system sucks, but no one seems to notice. I can't do anything about it, having no time or influence, and I can't seem to get anyone else to do anything about it, either.

My dad would do something, but math isn't his strong point, and he just doesn't get what's going on. Plus he's always running in all directions starting at 5:00 in the morning, so he just can't. Besides, the things that really need to be fixed go a lot deeper than our school. This boggles my mind, but the school is one of the best in the entire city, and possibly in the country. It's all the government's fault . . .

Anyway, as to other things, I finished that Star Wars book today. Yay. It was fair. I gave it a 79. It had some good action and some decent twists, but it was a fairly weak end to the trilogy and the last 40 pages seemed unnecessarily boring as things wound down. But whatever . . .

I wanted to include this quote in my last post, but I forgot. It's from Paradise Lost, and I thought it was interesting. Eve's, and subsequently Adam's, downfall came after she had suggested that she and Adam should spend the day working in different areas of the garden, even though an angel has just warned them of Satan's presence. When Adam reminds her of this, her argument is that even if Satan does show up, their faith is worthless anyway if it can't stand up to a little temptation. After all the Fall, Adam and Eve are sitting around berating themselves and each other, and Adam says:

Let none henceforth seek needless cause to [prove]
The Faith they owe; when earnestly they seek
Such proof, conclude, they then begin to fail.

I thought that was . . . interesting. Just like the rest of the book, in fact . . .

But anyway, I just realized that I left it and Lord of Chaos in my parents' room and they're both asleep already, so . . . suck. I'll just have to read Master and Commander for the next three hours or so. Oh, well . . . at least that's the one I most urgently need to finish. Incidentally, it is quite excellent so far. I can hardly believe when it was written . . . it almost seems to have been written 150+ years earlier. I don't know of any other historical novels that have effectively pulled that off.

Posted by Jared at 10:05 AM | TrackBack

December 27, 2003

Definitely not smarter than your average movie-going crowd . . .

I propose that the weight of a people's intelligence be measured by how they behave in a movie theater (while the measure of your own intelligence, obviously, is what movie you're sitting there watching with them). I cannot say, by this system, that Guatemalans are the biggest morons on the planet, because I have only visited movie theaters in five countries. But surely they must be among the most egregious of idiots. I swear that during the last three days of watching Return of the King I have encountered more stupid people than in the past three semesters in Longview. Some of you can confirm that this is truly saying something . . .

Total crackhead Guatemalan quote of the day (delivered in all seriousness in reference to Shelob): "Look, it's that big cockroach again!"

I know I need to supply an account of the past few days, but I feel mentally drained from having spent 10 hours sitting in darkened theaters with dozens of people who are probably medically brain-dead but are somehow still able to make lots of noise.

And tomorrow is not looking up, for the moment. I was hoping I'd get to go to the place where I can see it in English tomorrow . . . I had a pretty good plan worked out that would get the timing right nicely (there's a lot going on tomorrow) but a certain someone quashed all of my carefully laid plans with one simple phrase: "I don't want to do that." And it doesn't matter that everyone else does, because the person who said that was my dad. So that sucks. I can't make it work now . . . and there will be a lot going tomorrow morning that I really don't want to be involved in, but I'll have to be, and so on and so forth . . .

How depressing. I'm going to bed.

Posted by Jared at 08:37 PM | TrackBack

December 19, 2003

The Infinite Joys of Life at Home

This is my kind of news story. There's something highly appealing about the whole thing . . . the spirits of uneasy historical figures haunting the famous scenes of their demise. Stories like this don't appear in your local paper very often, but there are books and books of them lying about here and there, and I have been fascinated (and, in earlier days, scared sleepless) by them for as long as I've been able to read.

In other news, maybe I should just stop going to supper. Seriously. Good times for me have not, thus far, been the result of the family gathering for dinner of late. Tonight went something like this:

I'm talking to my dad about . . . something (topic unimportant) and the youngest brother is being annoying and, more importantly, loud. So I turn to him and say, "Sho!" then turn back and pick up the sentence where I left off. Brief background for the uninformed: "Sho" is essentially Guatemalan slang for "Shut Up," and I am told that it is considered by some few to be "vulgar," but no one can tell me why or by whom, so I ignore that piece of information.

So, before I say three more words, I realize that I'm getting "the look" from my dad. (Paraphrase) "We don't say that word. I'll have you writing Bible verses if you say it again."

Me: What's wrong with "sho"?

Him: Ten Bible verses . . . Do you want to pick them, or shall I?

Me: What are you talking about?

Him: You're gonna write ten Bible verses. I told you not to say that. Are you gonna pick them, or do you want me to?

Me: What the heck?

Him: Don't say the "h-word."

Me: This is stupid!

Mother: Don't say the "s-word."

At this point I'm fairly certain I looked kind of like a fish on dry land . . . I had the whole gasping for breath and mouth flopping thing going on. I was so flabbergasted I didn't have the foggiest idea what to say. Well, I take that back . . . I knew exactly what to say, but I didn't want to say it in front of the two little brothers watching the proceedings with much interest from the other side of the table.

It would have started off something like: "What do you think you're doing?!" And it would have gone downhill rapidly from there . . . but I kept my cool until I could have a private word, and the matter was dropped (for now). I'm really rather tired of being forced into situations around here that make me feel like a rebellious punk teenager. I attempted to make various points on the subject of why it was completely idiotic to forbid the use of "sho" with my mother later on, but I didn't get anywhere, of course. She ended the thing with her usual line: "Nothing I say is going to convince you because you have your opinion and you aren't going to change it, no matter what my reasons are."

The sad difference is that I try and base my opinion on reasoning that is as sound as I can get it . . . she is every bit as guilty of clinging stubbornly to an opinion in the face of all argument. A rather humorous "case-in-point" occured last night.

The house isn't insulated, like, at all because it just doesn't get that cold, and there are all sorts of minute cracks around windowsills and whatnot. The upshot of this is that when it gets really windy around this time of year, I get cold (heck, I get cold whenever and wherever . . . everybody knows that). But that's okay, because we have those little air heaters, and so on and so forth. So I'm lying on the couch reading a book, and I've got the heater up on the couch with me, at the other end so the warm air is blowing on my feet. My mom comes in and tells me she wants the thing off the couch so it won't set the house on fire. I start to tell her that that is ridiculous, it isn't going to set the house on fire because . . . And that was as far as I got because she told me to take it off, turned around, and walked out.

Now, the heater had been up there with me for over an hour at this point, so I got up and followed her, and asked her if she could please come into the living room for just a second. I had her feel the couch right in front of and directly under the heater with her own hands. It was, I will have you know, cooler than the spot I had been sitting on that whole time because the heater blows hot air only out the front, and as we all know, hot air rises . . . so the couch wasn't feeling anything, and it certainly wasn't about to burst into flame. As soon as she realized this, she said, "Well, I don't know why you need to use the heater anyway, it uses up too much electricity." And then she went and got me a blanket. And I still can't have the heater on the couch.

*beats head against wall, figuratively and literally* I admire her skill . . . it's probably where I got mine. She changed tack very swiftly, showing how versatile and (as I like to think) slippery she can be in an argument. But clearly she has her opinion, and just as clearly I can't change it even when I stick a fact in front of her that she can get the feel of with her own hands. How much less am I going to be able to convince her of something as nebulous as . . . well, anything?

But all I know is, nobody had better be assigning me Bible verses to copy . . . Hmmm . . . *looks thoughtful* He didn't say they all had to be different . . .

"Jesus wept."
"Jesus wept."
"Jesus wept."
"Jesus wept."
"Jesus wept."
"Jesus wept."
"Jesus wept."
"Jesus wept."
"Jesus wept."
"Jesus wept."

Okay, I'm done.

Posted by Jared at 10:38 PM | TrackBack

December 18, 2003

Crappy Mood

Hmmm . . . for some reason I am unable to comment on anyone's blog right now. So here's the comment I was going to post on Scholl and/or Wilson.

"We hates you all for seeing the movie before ussss!!! I am henceforth declaring war on marketing . . . at least until I've been appeased by getting to see the movie, of course. Anyway, I'm sure most of the quibbles will be taken care of by the EE. I, for one, will not have closure for another 11 months or so at least."

I'm in a really bad mood right now, and I'm not totally certain why that is. It probably has something to do with being tired and not tired. I slept until about 2:30 today, got up feeling really crappy, ate something, then fell asleep again until 6:00. I have an annoying headache niggling at the back of my forehead, waiting to break out (and the extremely loud church service in my front yard isn't helping). And I'm in one of those moods where bothering me at all means getting your head bitten off. Among the things that will bother me right now (and have in the last five minutes): staring at the computer screen over my shoulder, talking in anything other than your normal voice, any combination of my brothers engaging in their usual petty squabbling anywhere within earshot, leaving the door of this room open when coming in or going out, inviting more noise from church, mosquitoes, and the stares of curious orphanage children. Anyway, as I say . . . crappy mood.

Another contributing factor was the frustrating discussion I just had with my parents at supper. I know I will have several of these discussions while I'm here, but this was the first, and I wasn't in the mood for it. Today it was video games . . . the next time it could be anything: Harry Potter, D&D, movies . . . basically any topic that ultra-conservatives are typically seen as harping against. I just don't understand how it is that they so consistently and cleanly miss the point of everything as if it weren't even there. They don't understand, and I have repeatedly found myself incapable of making them understand. I get it, and I try to explain what I get, but the blinders stubbornly stay on. *shrugs* Oh, well . . . I knew it was coming, but like I said . . . bad timing. I'm going to go do something fun now . . . while everyone else is watching Santa Clause 2.

TIMELAPSE EDIT: During brief further "discussion" with my mother, something . . . "fun" happened.

Exact quote from my mother (I swear and kid you not, this is exactly what she said, no joke): "The proof is in the pudding."

Whereupon I literally fell to the ground, unable to prevent myself from laughing hysterically, and she got so mad that she wouldn't speak to me. Can't say I blame her, really.

Posted by Jared at 08:03 PM | TrackBack

December 15, 2003

Dateline: Good Ol' Guatemala

Hello everyone. I'm having a great time here in Guatemala, wish you all were here and all that . . . regardless of your own personal desires concerning this sentiment. Anyway, lots of stuff happening, and not much at all at the same time. I did nothing on Saturday, went to church on Sunday, bummed around at my old high school today, etc.

I'm sure more interesting things will come to my attention as time goes on, but I discovered an absolutely fantastic retarded government policy that has been instituted since I was here last, and I thought it deserved a brief blogpost. It's about the license plates. Everything is a little fuzzy (yay!), but here's what I understand:

A few months ago, the government started talking about a nice new license plate design that would be "put into circulation" or whatever, and a lot of money got funneled into the project. Well, time went by and no one saw any license plates. Suddenly, everyone is talking at once and pointing fingers and the official story seems to be that the company that was producing the license plates committed some kind of fraud and the money disappeared. The next thing you know, the wonderful new license plates come out and start getting slapped onto cars everywhere.

A few of our cars have them, I've seen numerous other cars on the streets with them as well. Almost every single "lisence plate" is hanging off of the car in shreds. They appear to be made of some especially flimsy form of cheaply laminated paper. That's quality, right there. You can't even read the number on most of them because even if they aren't ripped in several places or drooping off the back of the cars, weather damage has caused the numbers to fade. I want to meet the bureaucrat whose idea this was and shake his hand . . . maybe even hear a few words from him, on the off-chance that he has the mental capacity for intelligent speech, of course.

You know, this is what makes the "good ol' USA" so blasted boring . . . You think you've got morons up there? Think again . . .

Random observation of the day: A lot can happen in a year, and a lot can change, especially when your on-site sources aren't keeping you properly informed (assuming that "someone must have told you"). I'm not doing this year-long absence thing again. I'm thinking six months, tops, from here on in . . .

Posted by Jared at 03:53 PM | TrackBack

October 13, 2003

Concerning That One Dude From Utah . . .

Unnnnngh . . . five more minutes, please . . . *pop* I'm awake! No, not really. Why I should be this tired is a mystery to me . . . all I know is that it sucks. Sitting here in the computer lab, reading the article on Barfield, and I've fallen asleep three times. I see Scholl all but nodding off behind me . . . Ah, good. Wilson has arrived. Maybe we can stay awake now.

In any case, I realized that I had forgotten my entire purpose in relating the story from chapel this morning. I merely wanted to say that I admire and respect the kind of conviction that would lead someone to react in that manner. And I think the guy is an idiot. Would I stand up in the middle of a NOW convention and order everyone back to the kitchen? (Wait a second . . . what am I doing at a NOW convention?!) No, of course not! You just can't get away with standing up in the middle of a lecture where the vast majority of those present agree with the speaker and successfully disagree. The only advantage he can have gained is perhaps some sort of personal sense of having fulfilled his duty to Salt Lake City and a vision of himself standing, alone, battered and triumphant atop the bare, precarious, and wind-swept peak of the moral high ground . . . Bleah.

C'mon people, it was fun while it lasted (it woke ME up), but let's put a little thought into things before we leap from the heavens, shall we?

Hmmm . . . Well, I'm still awake, apparently. How about you? *poke, poke* . . . You're so rude . . .

Posted by Jared at 04:22 PM | TrackBack

September 29, 2003

Are you on drugs?

Well, I wrote this whole entry on the weekend, but it sucked, so I got rid of it. If I'm going to write something that sucks, I should at least be trying for that particular effect. Besides, this was a pretty standard weekend. Bible study, yakking until the wee hours, sleeping through most of Saturday, pretending to do work before the evening and onward RPG session, church Sunday morning, desperate attempts at homework Sunday afternoon, dinner and a movie with The Crew. The only difference thrown in this weekend was an extra movie Saturday night. And if you haven't seen 1776 yet, then go now. NOW, FOOL!

Just wait until the week starts again . . . that's when things get interesting. The big presentation for English Lit is tomorrow, there's a Bud chapel, and of course we have Inklings . . . And that's just Monday. Tuesday is coming. Did you bring your coat? (I finally went and found that and watched it, by the way. And if you have any shred of decency or common sense left, and you haven't seen it, you won't follow the link.)

Anyway, today's news from Guatemala: "Every day, more young people and adults can acquire cocaine, marijuana, crack, heroin, ecstasy and other drugs anywhere in the country."

I was under the impression that crack and cocaine were pretty much . . . never mind. I just report the news, I don't write it. What do I know, anyway? This is just about the biggest "No, duh" article I've read in awhile (barring our illustrious campus rag). It informs me that more widespread circulation of drugs is linked directly to higher use of drugs within Guatemala. It also lets us know that anyone can be a victim of taking drugs. Drugs don't discriminate by race, gender, or social status. At highest risk, surprisingly, are people between the ages of 15 and 30. And we are told that different people often have different reasons for turning to drugs.

Basically, if you've never heard the term "illegal drug" before, and don't know what it is, go look it up, then run this article through BabelFish. I'm sure you'll find it very informative. Otherwise, just click on the link and marvel at the picture. As far as I know, it's the kind of picture that doesn't generally get published (maybe not even taken) for American newspapers. Prensa Libre gets the most amazing *sic* pictures. They take snapshots of things when most people would be dropping the camera and running either towards the scene to take action, or away to get out of the line of fire. Buncha psycho Guatemalan journalist nutcases . . .

Btw, if you've ever followed my links to the Prensa site, and scrolled down, then you've probably noticed, and been annoyed by, the little pop-up which follows along beside you. If I ever get hold of a Guatemalan Marketing Dictionary I'll let you know for sure, but I'm pretty sure subtlety isn't in there. Anyway, this is the place where my mother shops for groceries every week. It's a supermarket chain which pretty much has a stranglehold on the Guatemala and El Salvador grocery business. The name is HiperPaiz (pronounced EE-pair PIE-ees), and it's the Central American equivalent of a Super WalMart . . . With about 5% of the variety.

The issue of Guatemalan marketing practices is all sorts of wonderful fun (right next to Mexican soap operas, and Hispanic local TV in general), but it will have to wait for another day. Bed time! Good night, y'all.

Posted by Jared at 01:48 AM | TrackBack

September 26, 2003

Looming English Lit Presentations and Guatemalan Anarchy

Let me start off by saying that the FRs from above have been corrected, and that I stumbled across a fun little visual while trying to find a picture to link to. So, check out that new link in yesterday's post, and read what's in the little purple box at the top of the page to find what I was running a search on (just to see what I'd turn up).

Well, after this morning's well-balanced breakfast of two chocolate donuts and a glass of Mr. Pibb ("Put it in your head"), I found my way over to MSC. This is, of course, in keeping with the morning routine on Chapel days. Anyway, while there I met with my group from English Lit I to talk more about our presentation.

Interesting group, that. Two senior MEs (from Club, no less), and a junior ME . . . and, of course, my humble sophomore English major self. Interesting group. Our presentation is to be on Sir Thomas More, and we (by which I mean "they") mostly discussed the special effects required to chop of More's head at the climax of the presentation. I believe we decided on doing it behind a white sheet, spattering gore (red water or ketchup) on the thing as the fatal blow was delivered, and rolling a bowling ball out from behind the sheet with a picture of Sir Thomas' face somehow attached. Later, during English Lit, we approached Dr. Jim Watson with the idea, just to be safe.

Direct quote from Dr. Jim Watson: "Be discreet, gentlemen. Be discreet." I think we're scrapping the gore.

Back to MSC . . . At this point I trotted back over to rejoin the usual breakfast crew. I pulled forth my print-out of the Power Point presentation for Wilson to inspect so that he could tell me that it was utter crap and go to work on suggesting improvements. He performed both duties admirably, and the presentation is, I think, much more palatable now. But I ramble . . .

Moving on, after a pleasant nap in Diff. Eq. and an even more pleasant visit to Dr. Coppinger's office with Wilson and Moore, I spent awhile on Flooders. We engaged in a delightful exercise involving comparisons between . . . Ha! I just scared the crap out of three people or so . . .

Today's news from Central America: "Senahu has no police force."

The municipality of Senahu is entirely without police right now, it looks like. The chief of police and his four officers had to run for it some days ago when a mob tried to lynch them. Apparently they were trying to apprehend an armed man (it is unclear whether the man had actually done anything). It seems that they chased him into the mayor's house, where he remained holed up, and then couldn't gain entry themselves. The mayor issued forth to yell at them, and angrily informed them that the man was his bodyguard. Somehow, he rallied an angry mob of about 550 people, and they attacked the police officers, who wisely fled the area.

Senahu is located about 155 miles north of the capital of Guatemala. It seems to be a particularly lawless region. I seem to recall that this was the place where a justice of the peace was besieged for three days inside the courthouse before a mob broke in and killed him. The police were chased out of town back then, too, and the road was blockaded so no one could get into town. I have a solution to what is appears to be a difficult problem for the Guatemalan government to solve. It involves massive amounts of ordinance. Stupid little punk municipalities need to get in line . . .

So, yeah . . . just got back from racquetball with Andy (from my floor), Uncle Doug, Martinez, and McBride. The first two games were me and Martinez vs. Andy and Uncle Doug. Andy hasn't ever played before, so Martinez and I cleaned up. Then I played against Uncle Doug . . . and Uncle Doug mopped the floor with me. These old guys . . . I tell you what . . . OW! Uncle Doug is smacking me . . . Anyway, then I played Andy twice, with predictable results.

Bible study in an hour and a half and I'm going to play video games with McBride.

Posted by Jared at 09:01 PM | TrackBack

Stupid Presidents

I set a new record today. Well, I think it's a record, anyhow. I guess someone somewhere has done better than this, most likely. If you have any pertinent information on the subject you can let me know.

Anyway, the record: 3 minutes from a sound sleep in my bed to sitting in class smiling at Dr. Woodring. Fastest turn-around ever. (Keep in mind the effort it takes to return Woodring's evil, welcome-to-my-world smile at the best of times.)

I have 5 alarm clocks, but I only use 3 or 4 on any given day. And, of course, I never get out of bed until the final alarm goes off. Today, it didn't go off. I should probably mention at this point that my final alarm is A. P. Martinez. Mr. Martinez overslept this morning as well, you see . . . No matter. I didn't miss the quiz. I shall be setting that extra alarm clock, henceforth, at a later time so that I will have a safety net. I don't think that much adrenaline would be good for my system if it started pumping a second time.

Payton's story from Speech class today (told in 3rd person omniscient for my sake):

Awhile back, Payton had a speech class on a day when the air-conditioning wasn't working, so the room was unbearably hot. He gave the class a 15 minute assignment, and they all went outside by MSC to work on it. After it had been completed, they moved into the shade up against the building and the students started taking turns speaking (I'm guessing it was one of his famous "impromptu" days).

What he didn't realize was that they were standing right in front of Fearless Leader's window. So suddenly FL comes out of his office, walks up to Payton, and puts his hand up on his shoulder in an extremely . . . "friendly" way. "Am I being protested?" he asks. Payton assured him that he wasn't being protested, and he just stood there for awhile . . . with his hand still resting (un)comfortably on Payton's shoulder.

As soon as class had finished, he went back to his office and sent FL an e-mail saying he was sorry for the disturbance. FL replied within 60 seconds, telling him it was no problem at all and he was happy to see some "real learning" for once.

Direct Quote from Col. Payton: "I wonder if he thinks there's any unreal learning going on?"

Daily Word from President Alfonso "The Chicken Man" Portillo: "The curse of power is loneliness."

The link is to an interview conducted with this great man in his hotel room at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. How shall I attack him? Let me count the ways . . . (This is a rant):

First, the quote: Where the hell does this guy get off? What, he has power? And he's talking about being cursed?! He's sitting in what is probably the most luxurious freaking hotel in America, and judging from his appearance, and the empty dishes in front of him, that baby fat ain't goin' nowhere fast. How many people are starving because of this guy?! Like, uh, millions . . .

Now, the interview: First question, "With 112 days left in your administration, what would you say your chief accomplishments have been?" Correct answer: Ripping off the public, screwing with the constitution, traveling the world, and talking like a Chicken Man. Portillo's answer: Well, uh . . . I'm sure many of the effects of my work will be seen in the future, but to name a few . . . We really helped the economy (inflation went from Q6 to the dollar up to about Q8.5 during his term). We got rid of several monopolies, namely cement, chicken, sugar, and fertilizer (can we say heavier dependency on imports?). Labor reform (yeah, that's always a plus . . . ya commie), general raises in salary (What?! See above on inflation), improvements to fiscal structure (does he even understand what he just said?), raising fiscal collection from 8 to 10% (so, does he mean higher taxes, or a larger budget deficit? I can't tell from the wording in Spanish, I'm partially guessing on the translation).

Second question, "What has been your largest problem?" Correct answer: Corruption. Portillo's answer: Corruption. Okay, he appears to have gotten this one right. Of course, we aren't meant to infer that he is talking about himself. We're supposed to have forgotten the millions of dollars he got caught stashing in a bank in Panama two years ago.

Third question, "Are you annoyed by or distanced from the written press?" This one made me laugh. He is quick, hasty in fact, in saying that he has an excellent relationship with reporters (after all, he's kind of surrounded by them, the man isn't utterly brain-dead). Then he goes on to say he has a number of fundamental disagreements with the editors and other heads of departments, but again affirms that he is not in any kind of fight with them.

Fourth question, "What has been the most disillusioning thing?" "It has been watching people betray me as the months go by. The presidency is a lonely office, even though I am always surrounded by people." *Jared plays tiniest violin in the world.* My heart bleeds for the man, it really does. Maybe someday I shall have the chance to watch his heart bleed (the gushing kind).

I realize that that last bit especially might have been a bit disturbing, but gimme a break. It was a rant, after all. There's not much else in the interview worth noting, other than a brief but amusing question concerning his weight. He apparently peaked at 197 pounds a few months ago (keep in mind, the guy is probably about 5' 6") and has since lost 20 pounds. At that height, he could probably stand to drop a bit more, but that is neither here nor there.

Ahhh . . . Late again. Bedtime. Hasta mañana, y'all.

Posted by Jared at 12:34 AM | TrackBack

September 24, 2003

Screwed-up Women

"So, the guy jumps down off of his camel, picks it up, and throws it at the charging enemies!" -Jared, talking about the ridiculous fantasy book he just finished.

The Halfling's Gem, third in the Icewind Dale Trilogy by R. A. Salvatore, is a book that should only be read by those willing to suspend their disbelief. And I am very glad to finally have the trilogy behind me. Now I can get that huge book out of my backpack and quit lugging it around everywhere. Thing was about to give me back problems . . .

I can also forge ahead with my 40+ other reading projects (and these are just the ones I have planned at the moment). I'll start small . . . I now have four books going, but one of them is the book for Inklings.

I also finished The Taming of the Shrew today. I thought at first that this play was basically a chauvinists dream, but as it grew more and more disturbing, I changed my mind. For perfect example of what I mean, please refer to the following (rather long) quote from the play. It's kind of funny. This is the Shrew herself speaking her closing monologue, lecturing her fellow women after seeing the error of her ways:

"Fie, fie! unknit that threatening unkind brow,
And dart not scornful glances from those eyes,
To wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor:
It blots thy beauty as frosts do bite the meads,
Confounds thy fame as whirlwinds shake fair buds,
And in no sense is meet or amiable.
A woman mov'd is like a fountain troubled,
Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty;
And while it is so, none so dry or thirsty
Will deign to sip or touch one drop of it.
Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper,
Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee,
And for thy maintenance commits his body
To painful labour both by sea and land,
To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,
Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe;
And craves no other tribute at thy hands
But love, fair looks, and true obedience;
Too little payment for so great a debt.
Such duty as the subject owes the prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband;
And when she's froward, peevish, sullen, sour,
And not obedient to his honest will,
What is she but a foul contending rebel,
And graceless traitor to her loving lord?
I am asham'd that women are so simple
To offer war where they should kneel for peace,
Or seek for rule, supremacy, and sway,
When they are bound to serve, love, and obey.
Why are our bodies soft, and weak, and smooth,
Unapt to toil and trouble in the world,
But that our soft conditions and our hearts
Should well agree with our external parts?
Come, come, you froward and unable worms!
My mind hath been as big as one of yours,
My heart as great, my reason haply more,
To bandy word for word and frown for frown;
But now I see our lances are but straws,
Our strength as weak, our weakness past compare,
That seeming to be most which we indeed least are.
Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot,
And place your hands below your husband's foot:
In token of which duty, if he please,
My hand is ready; may it do him ease."

Husband's reply: "Why, there's a wench! Come on, and kiss me, Kate. We'll to bed." (Act V, Sc. II)

Now, when you get the men doing this kind of thing in the plays, it's fairly comical, but when a woman (who was full of spirit and vivacity at the beginning of the play) is this cowed, it's just disturbing. My perceptions also might have something to do with witnessing the way she arrived in this state. Starved and deprived of sleep by her husband, jerked around by the nose (metaphorically speaking) . . . Wow. It was just an impressive display all around.

And now, the latest Rigoberta Menchu news . . .

Newsflash: Two Great Addle-Brains Put Heads Together

French President, Jacques "Chucklehead" Chirac, held a historic meeting with Rigoberta "The Face That Brought a Thousand Ships to a Screeching Halt" Menchu on Sunday. Chirac is said to have officially surrendered to the Guatemalan political activist, saying "I thought I'd never have to see her again after we met last year. I just couldn't take it anymore."

Jared "The Guatemalan" Wheeler called the French president yesterday to inform him that he and his organization were 100% behind this. "Just keep her," he said. "In fact, if you send her back, I'll invade."

Anyway, whatever . . . I could do that better, but I find myself in need of bed. Again. The link has a great picture of the two sitting together, but the article, I am sorry to say, is in Spanish. Reading over the Menchu archive on this site, (and there is at least one entry for every two weeks or so), I noticed one thing in particular. The woman is a menace. Half of the articles are about her announcing that she'll be suing someone new for war crimes or something. Someday, when I am president, she will have to be dealt with. And that is my anti-Menchu rant of the day. Hasta mañana, y'all.

Posted by Jared at 04:37 PM | TrackBack