Sunday, February 14, 2010

Fragments and Links 7

From time to time I group random quotes and brief reflections (generally on television and music) in a single post…like this one. It got longish. Skimming is recommended.


"I am obsolete. This must be what old people feel like…and blockbuster." –Topher - Dollhouse

“If Favre hoists the Lombardi trophy, Packers fans are going to react like someone just bought them a treadmill: abject fear, horror and confusion.” -Bill Simmons

“Today, a real naked woman is just bad porn.” – Matt Chandler[1]

“It is far better to be industriously asleep than lazily awake.” -Spurgeon

“Far too many people, Christians included, are self-centered preoccupied with their own marital problems and their attempts to engineer solutions to them. A theology of marriage can help them achieve a God centered look at the larger situation of which their marriage constitutes a small, but by no means unimportant part of the whole.” -Geoffrey Brinuket - God and Marriage[2]

I think I know why I enjoy blogs. It is because I find people so fundamentally interesting. Not so much people like Tom Cruise, whose life I could never imagine or be inspired by, but regular people. Take Stacey from Louisville for instance. She included this line in her second annual blog post on white elephant gifts[3]: “For a few fleeting moments it's as if Santa is just asking to be depantsed in the name of universally lame gift giving.” I mean, seriously, who is this person and why is she so freeking interesting?

“Much modern study of literature has simply rejected the idea that we have access to the mind or intention of a writer. The road to hell is paved with authorial intention.”[4] NT Wright - The New Testament and the People of God (p55)

OK, that is hilarious. But, it turns out that NT has a very high view of the author as the arbiter of meaning: “It remains, at least in principal, possible to know an author’s basic intention, and to know that one knows it…The philosophical tricks by which authorial intention has been dismissed from the reckoning are in the last analysis no more impressive than the well-known mathematical trick which keeps the hare in permanent pursuit.[5]” p 58

I have been into Cursive lately: “My ego’s like my stomach, it keeps sh$#ing what I feed it” Cursive - Recluse - The Ugly Organ

“I have heard it said, Evangelicals are people who approve of Billy Ghram.” –the late James Boice It is with great difficulty that most of us try to define the word evangelical. Boice did not believe this definition was sufficient. But I find it hilarious in its pragmatic functionality.

‘When I was young they didn’t have enough to teach us so we had to learn Latin.’ -Dr Strong (My professor for Intro Ecology and Evolution)

I mentioned in a previous post that Dr Strong articulated (presumably in jest) an unconventional form of the teleological argument.[6] Well he did it again near the end of the class. He suggested that if you were looking for evidence of a benevolent meddler in the natural world, one might want to consider that the only reason most large marine mammals (whales and sea lions) still exist is because of ‘the discovery of standard oil just as the whale population was about to go extinct.’[7]

There is actually a lot going on here philosophically. NT Wright would say that a historical exegesis like this totally in line with Hebrew providential monotheism. Mark Knoll (author of ‘The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind’) would argue that ‘methodological naturalism’ should be applied to history as much as it should be applied to biology. But I think it is interesting as a piece of advice (which is how I think it was offered). Prof Strong is essentially saying – “If you are going to try to make the case that there was a creative agent in life history then try to explain an actual instance of apparent benevolence in the realm of something I care about based on empirical data I can verify.”[8]

This quarter I am taking upper division ecology and have the venerable Art Shapiro (a Davis institution generally known as ‘the butterfly guy’), who I have heard described as looking as though he came in directly from morning chores on the farm (as well as far less flattering descriptions).[9] But he is one of the finest professors I have ever had. He thinks about science as narrative with characters and plot twists.[10] Plus, he THINKS about science, he doesn’t just do it. ‘The Butterfly Guy’ is one of the first science professors who seems to have actually given thought to the philosophy of science and is conversant with Popper and Khun. A few weeks ago, he sent out an e-mail that included this:

“If any of you are devout Christians wrestling with how to deal with evolution, you might like to read the Wikipedia article about Lack [11] . He wrestled with the problem throughout his career and even wrote a book about it.”

Providing Christian students with robust resources to help them negotiate the cognitive dissonance inherent in a field based on evolutionary theory not only demonstrates that he is one of the most reflective and best read scientists I have studied under, but, also, that he is one of the classiest.


I gave up on Community after two episodes. [11.5] The characters seemed clichéd and the pacing seemed poor.[12] I simply could not vest in the romantic story lines because they had not been given enough time to develop to a reasonable level. But I was encouraged to take another look at it by a Michial Farmer's facebook status, and have come to esteem it as one of best new comedies in years. If I was going to recommend a prototypical episode, it would have to be episode 9: Debate 109, which centers around a debate regarding whether humans are fundamentally good or evil.[13]

Well, we knew it was coming. Dollhouse has come to an unceremonious though at least a complete end.[14] I don’t suppose there will be a Firefly like uprising or cult following. But there were some scenes and lines worth noting in light of my previous post:

"Brain science is all about hardare and software - there is no mystical in between."

I think the undisputed best scene was Topher talking to an imprint of Topher about his crush on Summer Glau’s character.

Incidentally, another odd role for Summer. She is falling into the strangest type cast of all time (socially awkward, genius, understated hottie, who you DO NOT want to mess with). In fact, after Firefly, Teminator, and Dollhouse I was beginning to thing xkcd was right suggesting that what we are seeing was just ‘Summer being Summer’ (in the same way that Denzel Washington just plays himself in every movie he is in –except his brilliant turn in Training Day- but we don’t mind because we like Denzel) until…

…there was an epic scene in Big Bang Theory[15] that consisted of 4 nerds trying to hit on Summer (playing her self) on an Amtrak between LA and SF. She played herself as a sweet, kind, socially adept (if self forgetful) ‘normal’ girl who was as accustomed to the disproportionate romantic overtures of nerds as one could expect her to be.

Then there was this quote which I cut from my relationships talk…but it was my final cut because I love it. “You shared one room for months and you never slept with her, you could have but you didn’t, if that’s not love…” Alpha[16]

With Dollhouse going the way of Firefly[17] another show is playing with the idea of the mind/soul/body distinction. Stargate Universe[18] has a device that allows people in distant universes to take over each other’s bodies. So, stranded explorers use the device to consensually trade bodies with earth based military personnel and then proceed to use the bodies to make conjugal visits with their spouses and lovers. I found this startling. Does that strike anyone else as weird? Is this infidelity by any of the three parties (the earth wife, the earth body or the occupying husband consciousness)?[19] The producers have even made an interesting visual decision by using the actor whose mind is being represented (for audience reference) rather than the actor that the other characters are supposedly seeing. So, SG Universe is taking a firm stand on ‘what part of you is the real you.’ Interestingly, it is a dualism that both a skeptical philosophy of mind and an orthodox Christian theology would probably reject.

Amanda and I blew through Lost Season 5 in about 2 weeks. We liked the season. Once a show sets and end date, it usually gets better (See Battelstar Galactica). But there were two details in this season that I suspect might fit David Swanson category of ‘signs of life’:

First, they used one of my Favorite Caravaggio’s in the context of a discussion of doubt. Now, the dialog wasn’t that great. But that painting…that painting almost gave it the gravity it lacked. Second, Lost is a show that has always been fascinated with books. It has been a running theme that one thing everyone brings on a plane with them is a book so it is the one thing that there seems to be an abundance of (though Sawyer seems to be the only one who took advantage of them). But in the Jacob episode it shows him reading Flannery O’Connor’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge”.

This is particularly interesting given my friend JJ’s theory that the scene in which Ben Linus is deceived into killing Jacob (essentially for his hiddeness) is full of Biblical allusions – pushing the show into the realm of cosmic morality play.


Nic and Alexi taught a series on Jonathan Edwards’ resolutions. I thought this was a fantastic idea for a series and I am almost positive that I will one day steal it. But in this one of the talks he cited a debate we have enjoyed from time to time. It goes something like this: Which thinker do you wish had another decade? So many of the great ones died young and at the heart of the debate was whether or not Keirkegaard was done.[20] But, two guys we agree on are:
1. Pascal
2. Jonathan Edwards

There has been a lot of backlash about the campaign finance Supreme Court decision. It boils down to an accusation of hypocrisy. Conservatives have been whining about activist judges for years, but now that they have a majority, they are legislating to their heart’s content. I am sympathetic to this argument[21]. But I am not sure it is right. Don’t get me wrong, I HATE this ruling. I think it is just about the worst thing that could happen to our country right now. But…I am not sure the ruling is wrong constitutionally. It seems to me that the definition of a non-activist court would be the ability to make a decision that the judges themselves hate but had to make. If a justice is constantly making decisions that they feel comfortable with, they are probably legislating.

I am really enjoying the work of Jon Forman. Switchfoot gets abused for being part of the explosion of bad Christian music in the 90’s and ‘naughties.[22] But here’s the thing. They weren’t part of the problem. I am embarrassed to admit I like Switchfoot because of the cultural baggage that is associated with them and the drivel that shows up on their Pandora channel…but it doesn’t change the fact that they have made some very good music over the last decade. That said, Jon Forman’s[23] solo work (which is stripped down, lyrically focused, and just him and his guitar) is gorgeous.

I generally boycott any site that revels in celebrity gossip. So when the Tiger stuff happened, there were a lot of links that I refused to click on. But I got some of it through sports sites…and have to admit, there is part of the story that intrigues me. I couldn’t articulate it clearly until I read this correspondence in a Bill Simmons mailbag:

Q: So I was at a bar with a friend of mine the other night and naturally talk turned to Tiger. He mentioned his "Genie in a Bottle Theory." If a genie asks a guy to make three wishes that she will make come true, what would the guy say? "I want $1 billion dollars, a swimsuit model wife and the chance to play golf every day." Tiger had all that and apparently it wasn't enough to make him happy. Now I'm just depressed.
--Lee, Washington, D.C.

The Tiger story is so intriguing because it makes the case for a principle that most of us know but few of us believe: that within reason, happiness is a function of character rather than circumstance. If appetites grow at the same pace as means, contentment remains elusive.

My last post focused on our time in youth ministry in Buffalo. But while I was scanning pictures, I found two that really captured Buffalo urban life, but didn’t really fit in the last post.

Mardi Gras on Allen Street.

Of the two years we lived downtown, the city shut down twice on account of snow. Once, part of the city got 72” of snow in 24 hours.

While I am showing pictures, we had a birthday party for our youngest. The theme was the hungry caterpillar. My wife made the cake from split bunt cakes. My friend John suggested that the best thing about the cake from a nerdy, quantitative perspective is that it is fully scalable. You can just add body segments as your guest list grows.

The Power and The Glory may be the best novel I have read not written by a tortured Russian.

This post was prepared while listening to Appeal to Reason by Rise Against

[1] Chandler was suggesting that porn has become the normative sexual experience relegating natural sexual enjoyment to a perceived sub-standard experience. In a marginally related story, Chandler was very recently diagnosed with a devastating and lethal brain cancer. This is the hardest I have taken the illness someone I don’t know, but he is standing up under it. Someone tells his story here.
[2] The implication that a relationship that is an end in itself can not bear the weight of significance placed upon it. I believe this.
[3] I linked to her first one a year ago or so…but if you haven’t read it, I can not recommend it highly enough.
[4] Wright goes on to assert that in rejecting the author as control pietism and deconstructionism become surprisingly difficult to distinguish. He goes on to quip "There are some strange bed fellows in the world of literary epistemology.”
[5] I loved this analogy since I encountered Zeno’s paradox in Jr High and was befuddled by it for nearly a decade. The answer, of course, is the very genesis of Calculus. But I think Wright’s analogy here is stunningly apt.
[6] Essentially, that most fixed carbon in the earth is too diffuse to be recovered economically. This is the only thing that keeps us from suffocating ourselves…potential evidence of a benevolent creator.
[7] Blubber lamps were the way most people illuminated their homes. The market for blubber pushed every population of blubber laden marine mammals to near extinction. Just before they were wiped out, however, oil was discovered in PA, and blubber lamps were obsolete within two years, allowing populations to rebound.
[8] OK, one final Dr Strong quote: “It is an immoral world out there. We didn’t need Darwin to tell us that.”
[9] I suspect that his disheveled appearance is partly studied eccentricity, partly intentionally ordered priorities, but mostly due to the fact that he spends about 300 days per year in the field.
[10] In one of our first discussions one of the students whined ‘does he always teach like that. It is as if he is telling a story.’ Most in the room nodded. This might be the ‘oldest’ thing I have ever said, but the Univeristy is a banquet most teenagers are just not hungry enough for. Second place for 'the oldest thing I have ever said': 'When I listened to rap the artists had social consciences. It was urban poetry on purpose.' Buy me a rocking chair and a half pint of curmudgeon juice.
[11] One of the giants of mid-twentieth century ecology, who became an Anglican in mid-life. [11.5] I was predisposed to dislike it for 2 reasons. I have never been a Chevy Chase guy and, I was sick one weekend and spent 3 days watching hulu in bed...during which I saw aproximately 300 bad commercials (actually 2 bad comercials repeated 150 times each) promoting the show.
[12] In fairness, I hold that the first two episodes were formulaic and poorly paced. I do not believe Jeff cared enough about Britta in the first two episodes for me to care about their relationship. But after eight episodes, as the characters broke out of their clichéd niches like the Hulk busting out of Banner’s optimistically restrictive every day cloths and, after countless flourishes of linguistic and comedic virtuosity, I actually care..a lot.
[13] The two episodes released since I wrote this paragraph have only strengthend the argument. I cannot remember laughing that hard or being so consitently surprised by a show in a long time. Unfortunately, the entire thing rests on the relationships and character development…so it might be better to get it on Netflix than try to pick it up in the middle on Hulu.
[14] Speaking of shows that came to an unceremonious end. Amanda and I finished ‘Pushing Daisies.’ We agreed that it was one of the finest television shows in years. Only Lost has enjoyed the same level of joint affection from us. Each episode was a piece of art. Anyway, as the final episode wound down, I was bummed that we were just going to be left hanging on so many story lines, until…they rattled through a rapid fire resolution of nearly every plot line in the last 90 seconds of the show.
[15] A show with a networky feel but that is among the most consistently entertaining visual media content out there now.
[16] Alen Tudyk’s Alpha stole the show every time he was on the screen. I particularly loved the exchange between him and Echo (both of which had been imprinted with multiple personalities)
“He’s 10X the man you are and you’re like 40 guys.” –Echo
“Get over it babies…love the ones your with.” –Alpha
[17] Though the latter, indisputably, was the greater loss.
[18] I am contemplating a post of the theology of the 10 season SG-1.
[19] Also, what about VD or pregnancy?
[20] You will not find a bigger Kierkegaard fan than me, but I argue that he was done.
[21] Full disclosure: I have been accused of being a liberal on this blog. That is fair in most senses. I lean liberal on most legislative issues. But I prefer conservative courts. I want constructionist judges. Uber-legislators destroy democracy. Fundamentally, this is a hermeneutics issue. I believe in the value of an adjudicating text…as long as it is allowed to adjudicate. But as soon as men and women speak with the authority of the text but not with its content, the system is undermined. (If you are sensing a not-so-subtle parallel to other aspects of my world view…it is intentional).
[22] I am still working on that 3 part post on Christian music…but unless it gets less bitter I’m not sure I am going to post it.
[23] Jon is the front man for Switchfoot.


Teresa said...

One of my favorites from Firefly: "You have the right to kill just like anyone." (Mal to pre-coming-out-as-evil-Saffron). Also: "We are in the middle of no and where and ain't no one going to find us." Yup. I miss good Joss Whedon.

Also, I just finished teaching Anne Bradstreet and Jonathon Edwards' meditations in one of my classes and together they have brought me back to a God I can trust and understand. I had forgetten that I once knew a personal understanding of a God who offers, and values, doubt, intelligent design, and deep philosphical practices. It makes for tricky teaching though!

stanford said...

Thanks for the insights Teresa. I would love to sit in on a lecture like that. The role of doubt in faith is, in general, underestimated.

What do you recomend as a first couple works to read by Bradstreet?

JMBower said...

Great set of links/thoughts, as usual. So many times I think during the day, "hey I should blog that, but I never remember to actually do so. I need to carry around a pad and a pen, Jimmy Olson style.

Some thoughts on your thoughts:
Re: Dollhouse - Oh look, Fox has canceled another Joss Whedon show. Must be Tuesday. (That being said, I’d be more upset if I actually had gotten into the show. As much as I like Ms. Dushku for small turns in Buffy, etc., I don’t think she has the actng chops to carry a series. Good idea, execution never sold it to me. )

Re: Cursive, that has to be my favorite lines from any of their songs. I found them randomely the same way I find a lot of new music these days: sadly, I have resorted to simply asking the remaining hip folks I know what they’re listening to, then scavenge like a vulture at someone else’s kill.

Re: Community, I agree. And it’s on Hulu, which is a total bonus. I am THIS close (virtually indicating a very small distance with my thumb and forefinger) to giving up our tv service all together. All the shows we watch regularly are available online in some format.

Re: Summer Glau. You know we totally would have had a crush on her had she been available in our younger days.

Re: Lost – I agree about season 5, though we slavishly tuned in every Tuesday night instead of dvd’ing. I know the show plays heavily on the innate need to know, and the frustration of the tease, but I have come to peace with that. Or I’m a rationalizing addict. As per Jacob, I think I see where your friend is coming from. When Judas, er, I mean, Ben stabs him, he’s thrown down into the fire, and then disappears to ascend through time and speak to his loyal follower(s) (via Hurley). So let’s see, betrayed by those close to him who were turned by opposing forces, descended into fire, rose again, and had a chat with his loyal followers….hmmm…I can see how there might be slight similarities.

re: Supreme court case, I think it was the worst since Kelo v. New London, and hopefully will ignite a similar backlash. I had more to say, but can't fit it all in the comment section. I'll blog it:)

Re: caterpillar cake. One of my earliest childhood memories was of that an almost identical cake made by my mom for my sister on the occasion of her 2nd birthday. It had those sugared jelly rings for eyes. We ate it on a folding table in our driveway on a bight sunny day. Thank you for dredging up, however unintentionally, that fantastic memory. I honestly have a tear in my eye at the moment.

Re; Graham Greene, speaking of whom, “Our Man In Panama” remains one for my favorite pieces of satirical fiction ever.

stanford said...

Epic comment Justin. I love it. Thanks for the reflections and insights.

Teresa said...

I think my first recommendations for Bradstreet would be the basic poems from her first book--they give a lot of scope to the depth and character of Bradstreet herself and then, on the second or third read through, give much more. My favorites are "The Flesh and the Spirit" and "As Weary Pilgrim."