Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Time for a lighter entry than normal, I think.

Back in 1999 one of the movie review sites I visit (probably mentioned a website for a movie called The Blair Witch Project. I checked it out and was immediately hooked. I sent the page to all of my co-workers and friends with an interest in movies and saw it opening week. And i really, really enjoyed it. During the credits, though, I noticed that it was produced by a guy named Gregg Hale.

"Huh," thought I, "I had a close friend named Gregg Hale. I wish I'd kept track of him."

Like much else from those years, the thought of finsing my friend never quite took - the pressure from my aneurysm was getting severe, making me forgetful and unable to focus. If I had only known....

Gregg and I went to the Defense Language Institute together in 1985-86 where we were in class together, studying the Farsi language. We both loved Japanese food and drinking, so we hung out a lot. He introduced me to punk music and the ideological aspects of cultural dissent. He was 2-3 years older and we had a lot of fun hanging out, going to the e-club, and playing D&D. After DLI I went to the 519th at Ft. Bragg and he went to 5th Special Forces Group, also at Bragg. 5th Group eventually moved to Ft. Campbell and I lost touch. At the time my first marriage was collapsing, so I had little opportunity to track him down and, after, my illness kept me from thinking too much about anything.

Well, about 4 months ago I'm trying to track down someone else when I encounter an email address for a Gregg Hale. Not too hopeful, I dashed off an email - and it is my old friend! Very cool.

I asked, and found out, that he was, indeed, the producer of The Blair Witch Project. Super cool.

Which brings us to the meat of today's entry. Monday night my wife, who is certainly NOT a fan of horror movies, or even just scary movies, finally sat down to watch Blair Witch with me. I pop in the DVD and hit play.

She stopped actually watching the movie during the events of the second night. As the characters were preparing to camp for the fifth night, she finally demanded that I turn off the movie and leave all the lights on. I was further instructed, quote, "Tell your friend Gregg that I don't really like him much right now," end quote.

I'm pretty sure Gregg will be happy to hear that.

The story keeps on going, though. Tuesday morning at breakfast Jen is kinda' mad that I "made" her watch as much as she did. Our oldest, Jack (who is 6 years old), asked to watch the movie with me. Jen told him, "Remember how the movie Them scared you so badly? This is 100 times scarier."

Jack's eyes got really big and he asked, "Does it have ants 100 feet tall?"

While Jen tried to hide her laugh, I chimed in, "Well, you really don't see what is after the characters, you just... hear things."

Jack smiled and said, "Oh, just like Forbidden Planet. I loved the part where the Monster from the Id left those scary footprints in the sand. That was awesome."

He immediately jumped down from his chair and ran off to play "Monsters from the Id" with his brothers.

Jen and I were laughing quietly while I beamed with pride over my son's knowledge of horror and science fiction film. Even Jen was impressed, considering Jack saw Forbidden Planet only once and that was more than a year ago.

Dinner table discussions of theology, science, horror films, and science fiction. Such is life in a home full of geeks. I wouldn't trade it for NASCAR and wrestling for all the money in the world.

Sunday, May 25, 2003

Well, my final final of the semester was Friday. I spent yesterday trying to relax. I'm not very good at 'working on relaxing', so today will be much less productive, I hope.

And I am having serious trouble with the entire italics html tag in my blog. Please forgice me, but I have brain damage. Maybe I'll ask my good buddy Hjalmer to debug this page. hmmmm.

I had two interesting philosophical encounters over the past few days. Most people don't seem to have any - but they probably aren't looking! Me, I look and listen because I think that what and how we think is important and needs to be examined and discussed. Of course, my friend Gregg Hale would counter that I just like to argue. He probably has a point.

Anyway, my first issue was with a local radio personality named Todd Friel with KKMS (look up in the Twin Cities. Now, politically-liberal religiously conservative Catholic that I am, I have many problems with the far-right wing evangelical protestants of KKMS in general. But I listen to find out what people who don't think like me are talking about, something I feel is very important.

Todd is a talk-show host that I find to be a mass of contradictions; he likes to make proclamations like "Good Christians don't do x", or ""This book/movie/whatever is evil and no Christian should buy/see it", while claiming he doesn't think about theology much. He seems to really dislike the very word 'theology'.


Now, whenever you say or think things like 'this is evil', or 'this is something a Christian/Buddhist/Zoroastrian should or shouldn't so', you are engaged in theology. And most religious people know and admit this. I usually find that when someone who is religious rejects the concept of theology one of three things is going on; 1) they think 'theology' is some weird, esoteric thing like church Latin and is not part of everyday life; 2) they haven't figured out what they actually believe yet, can't detail their beliefs, and therefore avoid discussing particulars; or, 3) both A and B.

I think Todd is more B with a bit of A along the lines of 'theology equals complexity'. Mainly, though, he joins the vast ranks of evangelicals who have strong beliefs - but don't know how to detail or defend them.

Now, before you think I'm a jerk, I don't think that only people with a developed theology are religious, or that religious people with a fuzzy theology are weak, poor cousins, etc. Far from it. But I do think that if you are going to spout off about Good and Evil and what 'good Christians' should or shouldn't do, you have an obligation to have a solid theology behind you.

Todd doesn't. And he doesn't see a problem with that. Like a lot of people I encounter, he knows what he knows and if you don't agree then you are deluded. Facts, logic, and rhetoric don't matter - he's right, you're wrong, he's moving on.

Lest you think I'm picking on poor Todd, let me assure you - I am convinced most of us (amd i include myself) think like this most of the time. Indeed, it is the only way to be productive. We don't wonder if the sun will come up in the East tomorrow, nor do we worry that the next time we turn the tap the water will flow up just this once. Making assumptions and working off preconceived notions keep sus efficient and productive. even sane.

But we can't let this stand when it comes to such issues as politics, religion, relationships, etc. We must ensure that we check our premises every now and then. And even if you are certain that you will never change your mind about something (such as my faith), you should understand it, be able to explain it, and make logical extrapolations from it.

My other encounter - well, I'll talk about that some other time, I think.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

I apologize for the scarcity of posts, but 1) its the end of the semester for me and I'm taking 20 credits (including three 300 level courses), 2) I just moved to a new home, 3) I have 4 children under the age of 7.

I've been busy.

During the move, though, something special happened. Our new place has the magic that is cable TV. Normally, I don't watch TV very much (see items #1, 2, and 3, above) but I have been watching some cartoons with the kids. Anyhoo, I was able to experience my oldest son's first encounter with the Hunting Trilogy of Chuck Jones.

The cartoons called the Hunting Trilogy are the three cartoons titled Rabbit Fire, Rabbit Seasoning, and Duck! Rabbit, Duck!. These cartoons have some importance to trivia buffs like me (they are the only three Warner Brothers cartoons to feature Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck, and Bugs Bunny together), but virtually every North American recognizes them as 'the ones where Daffy and Bugs argue that its either rabbit season or duck season'.

Now, you may be thinking to yourself "So his kid saw a cartoon; so what?"
Let me illustrate with a bit of dialogue;
After being shot by Elmer when he expected Bugs to get shot, the following exchange takes place,
Daffy: "Let's run through that again, shall we?"
Bugs: "Sure, Doc."
Daffy (dispassionately): "Its rabbit season, shoot him."
Bugs (also dispassionately): "Would you like to shoot me now or wait 'til you get home?"
Daffy: "Shoot him now, shoot him now."
Bugs: "You keep out of this, he does not have to shoot you now."
Daffy (the light dawns): "A-ha!" (looks at the camera) "Pronoun trouble"

Folks, this isn't 'just a cartoon', this is art. And I don't mean as in 'Fantasia is art', I mean this is good, important, you should learn about it in college art. Where Fantasia was created by a group of guys who wanted to 'prove' they were artists, Rabbit Seasoning and the rest were made by artists trying to make something they would love and be proud of. And the difference in how people react to Fantasia and Rabbit Seasoning shows this. All sorts of TV specials show you the sorceror's apprentice and talk about how 'important' it is. But you don't go to work and talk about fantasia with your co-workers. On the other hand, people watch Rabbit Seasoning all the time and talk about it with each other over the water cooler even though the cartoon was made in 1952. There isn't anything artificial about it, no attempt to be relevant - and that's what makes this 7 minute animated short so cool - the guys who made it just wanted to make the viewer laugh. And we have been laughing for 51 years.

If you think this stuff hasn't seeped into our culture, try this - next time you see two people arguing over some matter (in a friendly way) just interject "rabbit season!" - they'll get the reference. Or look at the movie Drive where two guys are arguing when one suddenly yells "Don't try that Bigs Bunny shit on me! I am not going to tell Elmer to shoot me!"

Or just look at my son, Jack. He laughed his head off at Daffy's spinning beak. And I suspect that 30 years or so from now while his kids are laughing at Daffy's beak, he will be laughing at the same line that gets me every time.

"Pronoun trouble".

Friday, May 02, 2003

In general, I think talk radio is a vast wasteland. Most talk radio hosts either have a too narrow focus, too skewed position, or both. If 'truth in talk radio' laws existed, most radio 'personalities' would be in jail for a loooong time.

But I spend a lot of time listening to talk radio, nonetheless. Why? I listen to the people I disagree with most just to keep an ear on the opposition, as it were. Just as theologians are mainly responding to questions and dealing with problems, I listen to prepare for attacks and respond to questions. Just doing my part to be prepared. And besides, the research I do often teaches me new things and occasionally changes my mind [for example, my research has led me to think Mumia Jamal did kill that cop, but I also think he didn't get a fair trial. So I think he shouldn't be executed, but should spend some time in the big house].

It also makes me realize how the Catholic Church needs to make its full position on many topics much more widely known. Here is an aexample.

Yesterday I heard a local marriage counselor talking to a woman with a problem. While she was pregnant her husband started an affair with another, younger, woman. He returned to his wife when she gave birth - but now his mistress is pregnant with his child, too, and he's waffling. This is a horrible situation and the counselor mentioned that he's seen this before and has plans to deal with it in an attempt to save the marriage.

Seen this before? Church of the Holy Sepulchre, what is going on?!

But I know what's going on. A huge number of males in this society have no concepts of responsibility of the results of their sexual activity. And almost as many females concur that sex and consequences have nothin to do with each other. I refuse to refer to these adults as 'men' or 'women' because these attitudes are immature and 'men' and 'women' are words to describe mature humans.

And why should a young man feel that he should face any consequences from being sexually active? After all, birth control means that a woman can't get pregnant, right? And condoms also prevent STDs, right? Well, no - not really. A condom combined with a spermicide is (according to the FDA) about 85% effective - meaning that about 1 in 6 times the woman will get pregnant. And the FDA calculates that a condom without spermicide (the method of choice for many) can be no more than 97% effective. Indeed, the FDA calculates that a diaphragm with spermicide is statistically about as effective as withdrawal. And remember, the FDA is dealing with statistical means here - hurried young people with little experience are going to actually be in danger of slipping down to the 50% to 60% effectiveness of such sloppy birth control. But these young people expect the effectiveness to be 100% - so they really don't think about the potential consequences. And if there is a failure, then just get an abortion, right?

Again, this is ducking the responsibilities in herent in sex. After all, according to the CDC about 10% of all abortions result in immediate health complications (ranging from second-degree burns to intestinal perforations) and about one-fifth of these complications (or 2% of total abortions) are considered life threatening. That means that about 80 women are suffering life-threatening complications from abortions not every year, not evey month, but every day. And the CDC also reports that many deaths directly related to abortions are not reported as related to abortions, increasing the number of women who die as a direct result of abortion by at least 50%, to no less than 40 women a year.

Scary numbers - who wants to die because of sex? And we haven't even started talking about STDs, which are more likely to bypass contraception!

So beyond any emotional connectedness, spiritual directives, moral issues, or just plain compassion for your sexual partner, having sex instantly creates a situation where at least the woman's future is potentially at risk.Having sex is a risky business and human societies have historically recognized this and placed moral, cultural, and societal demnds on those who engage in sex.

But current society tells youngsters that sex should be and is free of all consequences as risk. Indeed, many parents oppose abstinence education because it 'doesn't work'. Actually, as everyone from the Pope to the CDC, FDA, and NOW continue to state/freely admit only abstinence is 100% effective in preventing disease and pregnancy. The only nation in Africa with a declining percentage of AIDS infection is Uganda. Its secret? Abstinence education and a strong emphasis on monogamous marriages with no infidelity. So they have a declining percentage of AIDS infection, a sharp drop in all other STDs, and a steep decline in unwed mothers and teen pregnancies. And the basic message of their abstinence program is 'if you have sex you will eventually get pregnant or catch a disease'. And it works.

Let's repeat that - teaching people that sex has consequences is shown to reduce teen pregnancies, unwed mothers, STDs, and the percentage of AIDS infection. And I do mean a declining rate of AIDS infection, which means the total number of AIDS patients is still growing, albeit slowly - I mean a declining percentage of AIDS patients, meaning the total number of infected people is going down. This information is available from Doctors without Borders and in a number of medical journals - but not the WHO, yet. Many at the UN oppose abstinence programs because it might take funding away from condom programs.

Let's repeat that, too - some want to suppress the abstinence and monogamy programs (that have been proven to work in the real world) because it might reduce the funding for condom programs (which have been proven to fail in the real world).

This is all part of a continuing pattern of people confusing the acceptance that sex has consequences with being repressed. People think that teaching others that having sex will lead to children, that abortion is inherently dangerous, or that condoms don't prevent AIDS (statistically) is somehow infringing on their 'rights'. Read the news stories about these issues and see if you can see this pattern. Or write me and tell me I'm crazy - either way, think about this. Its more important than you think.