Thursday, April 25, 2013

Game of Thrones

Newsflash: George R.R. Martin is not the American J.R.R. Tolkien. If he is, I feel sorry for America. I suppose there is some skill in keeping a story going for so long without resolving a single plot line. How much longer can this go on? I just finished A Dance With Dragons. It's torture. It's the kind of disappointment I felt after reading a third Dan Brown novel. You know, when you discover that all of his books are the same exact plot with different character names and locations?

George, you can't just keep introducing new characters and story lines that have nothing to do with the original story lines!! Really, Robert the Strong?! Is that necessary? Was Davos Seaworth's whole freaking life story necessary to advance the story of Stannis Baratheon's campaign? Is he a foil to Melisandre? I consider myself to be a fairly astute reader, but I just don't get it. The only way I can wrap my brain around it is that this is just a soap opera with dragons and ghosts. The problem is that you can't take on something this large in scale and not have a game plan. It just slowly boils down and falls apart. It's like he has three dartboards, one with character names, location and event. Let's see... toss... thud! Bran Stark. toss... thud! at Winterfell. toss... thud! pushed out window. At first I liked the random killing off of characters, but even that has gotten old. Killing characters and adding new ones, and bringing some of the dead ones back, is not a device for transitioning to the next stage of the story. If there is a next stage to the story! C'mon, Georgie, you wrote a whole book just to fill in all the blanks that you left out of the last two books? You hack! I feel like I just ended a bad relationship and have only myself to be mad at. I knew you were trouble from the start, but I was enticed because you looked like someone I used to know that I really liked. Even though you kept disappointing me, I kept making excuses and telling myself that I could forgive your little dalliances, because underneath, that wasn't really you. There was a genius to your writing that I just hadn't come to appreciate yet, that as the story unfolded, you would reward your reader with some closure and tie up some loose ends. Nope, you just go on killing people and creating new story lines that don't contribute anything to the main story. My guess is that even if you have some plan to pull this all together in some tenth novel, you will have died before then, and left us all to wonder whatever happened to the Stark children, and the million other characters you have floating around in this book.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Reality Television revisited

Whew, there's a lot of craziness going on today. I know I promised a dissertation on the finer points of bread and wine being transformed into flesh and blood. But I thought I'd keep it a little lighter, due to the overall heaviness of the last few days.

I was having one of those shower moments. You know the one. You're standing there shampooing your hair, taking inventory of all the things you have going on that day. Then you have that moment where your consciousness completely leaves your control and takes on any direction it wants. I don't know why, but for me this happens in the shower. I guess probably because it would be dangerous if it happened while operating heavy machinery. Anyway, I came to the realization that there are three different levels of reality TV. There are three different formats also. I would call one format the "follow people around doing their everyday life": Deadliest Catch, Jersey Shore, Honey Boo Boo or whatever the hell that abomination is. The next would be the "celebrity judge format": Dancing with the Stars, America's Got Talent. Finally, there is the "cloak and dagger show" where members vote each other off, Big Brother, Survivor, etc. Those are only the format settings, however. I believe there are levels of quality of each show. I will now attempt to tell you your value as a human being based on the levels I have ascertained.

Level I: Swamp Water
-This is the show that shows the very worst of humanity. This will cover any show that has the word "Jersey" in it, has more cast members than teeth, or cameras located in bathrooms and bedrooms. If you get enjoyment from this type of program, I pray to God you don't reproduce.

Level II: Reptile Brain
-This is the show that brings you people judging a competition that they know nothing about, or that the criteria for winning is never specified, and the judges are usually D-list celebrities or has-beens. (I am looking at you, Steven Tyler. You replaced Paula Abdul. Kill yourself.) These shows usually attract those people who don't need enjoy activating any part of their brain dealing with higher processes. "I wonder who Howie is going to make fun of tonight?" is not, nor will ever be, an acceptable conversation topic.

Level III: Pets you have that aren't as smart as dogs: gerbils, hermit crabs, etc.
-This is the show where you watch other people do work. Seriously? Have Americans become so lazy and become so far removed from actually doing labor, that we have to watch other people do it for entertainment? I will admit, some of these shows are interesting for the first three maybe four episodes. Then it becomes the same show over and over again. I wonder what they're doing on the Cornelia Marie today? Oh! Their going to catch some crabs! How novel!

Level IV: Primates
-This I feel is the show that actually showcases people with talent, that practice said talent, and do things that are culturally acceptable as entertainment, or where you might actually learn something. I will use So You Think You Can DanceThe Sing-Off, or something with Tony Bordain in it as my prime examples. I'm sure their are others that fit the category, but as you can probably tell, I don't watch a lot of this stuff. Now don't go patting yourself on the back that you've reached level four. You're still a big monkey.

Level V: Variety and Cooking shows
-I mean c'mon, we've had reality TV long before we coined the phrase. But seriously, I can't knock Lawrence Welk or Julia Child. They were the epitome of awesome.

Level VI: Reality
-No, not the show, actual reality. Try this. Spend some extra time trying out a new recipe... not throwing a frozen pizza in the oven. Actually have a conversation with your loved one(s). Take a walk. Go to a minor league ball game and teach yourself how to keep score. Go to Conwell-Egan's spirit nights this weekend. There is so much cool stuff out there. So Much! Stop watching other people do it.

OK, let's bring it in. Take a knee. Let's talk about the hierarchy of goods. This is the idea that pleasure can't be measured in volume or quantitatively. There are some good things that are just better than others. I've had students argue with me that they prefer McDonald's to Peter Luger's. I think that is perverse. Somewhere along the way, they broke their enjoyment-meter. Being in a loving relationship with one person is better than a terabyte of porn on your hard drive. The endorphin release from exercise is better than the artificial one from Paxil. And ultimately, a hand-selected, perfectly aged, cooked, and rested, medium-rare porterhouse cannot be trumped by a million Big Macs. Do you see what I'm getting at? I hope you do. I hope that there are people out there still who think it better to be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Christianity and Humanism

I've been promising myself that I would put Christianity through its paces, since I did give atheism a bit of a hard time a while back. It's only fair, right? The question was raised by a friend around Easter time, could Christianity exist without the resurrection? After pondering it for a while, I arrived at a resounding no. It's also one of the reasons that I don't think that secular humanism works. I always think of David Hume when I think about the possibility of separating morality from religion, "I should prefer the destruction of half the world than to risk pricking my little finger." This takes a harshly different look at a Godless world that those like Sartre and Nietzsche propose is the first step to a secular self-directed Utopia. The next obvious turn in this conversation would seem to be to now show the disparity between the moral behaviors of those that claim to believe in Christ's resurrection. I think that point has been a bit belabored and I am reticent to bore you with something that you can read to your heart's desire in the comment sections of the Huffington Post. Instead, I'd like to point out that modern Christians fail, not in their morality, but in their belief in Christ as God. I think that many people try to sit the fence between being a "believer" and a modern, enlightened thinker. I also think this leads them to not necessarily deny the divinity of Jesus, but to down play it. The common Christian attempting to exist in modern society tends to present himself as embarrassed to believe in the mystical or metaphysical parts of his religion. I feel that most "intellectual Christians" (The quotes are because I just made that up. It's not a real category of Christianity) would prefer to think of Jesus as this great teacher that set up a code of ethics for us to follow, like some Jewish Confucius. If you think the term "Jewish Confucius" is absurd, well good, that's what I was going for. I find a resurrection-less Jesus rings just as peculiar.

So let's go back to Hume. He obviously wrote volumes on why morality can't be separated from belief. Interestingly enough, he was a deist. He believed in God, as much as he is a higher power, but didn't feel he was knowable in the personal sense. This is also pretty close to the beliefs of many of America's founding fathers. I think this has seasoned the way that American Christians approach Christianity. They want it to be very clean and pragmatic; something reserved for Sunday worship and the occasional alms giving, perhaps giving up something for Lent and watching the kids in a Christmas pageant. The problem is Christianity didn't start with a proscribed set of rules and rituals. Look at the Acts of the Apostles. The founding of Christianity is a messy affair. There's a lot of martyrs, schisms, heretics, and plain turmoil. I know it shocks a lot of Bible-based Christian sects, but the Church existed before the Bible! These were people that lived the teachings every day. They expected Jesus to return tomorrow, not in 2012 or some day way off in the future. Can you really imagine that the Apostles, who were hunkered down hiding from the Romans and the Sanhedrin, all the sudden decided to bust out of hiding and travel all over the world guaranteeing that they will put to death in horrible, nasty ways without being visited by the resurrected Jesus? That they decided to record stories that made them look like doubters, and traitors, and deniers, and fools? If I was going to be the founder of a made up religion, I don't think I would've painted myself in such a poor light. What I'm trying to say is that Christianity doesn't even get off the ground without the resurrection. It's miraculous and it's necessary. People will die to defend a cause, or a way of life, or their loved ones, they don't roam the world seeking death to purport an idea. You can't find it anywhere else. I dare anyone to find someone who would walk into the middle of Northern Korea and start preaching the saving power of Capitalism. Only with that glimpse into the happiness that resides in full communion with God does commitment on that level exist. Jesus taught his followers how to feel that way through his teachings. So there it is, it's not a set of morals for morality's sake, as the humanist wants you to believe, it's a prescription for feeling the ultimate joy, a way to live your life that aligns you with the life force that powers the universe. It opens one's heart to feel the fullness of love in its purest state. Speaking of communion with God, that brings me to my next post: the Eucharist and Transubstantiation... (I know, a cliff hanger. Silly right?)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


I wanted to use this space today to give props to one of the greatest wordsmiths of all time, G.K. Chesterton
I bet if I had a study like that, I could write prolific stuff too!
There are so many links to this man and to so many of the things that I find intellectually interesting, it is scary. I was first introduced to Chesterton when I was reading Bill Bryson (who incidentally is a phenomenal writer too). Chesterton converted from High Anglican to Roman Catholicism, was a fan of Aquinas, wrote exhaustively about Nietzsche, and has one of the best quotes ever:

"The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese."

Even if you have no interest in the topic on which Chesterton is writing, he does it in such a way that you are entertained beyond belief. I am actually quite perturbed that it took me until my late twenties to discover him. It should be mandatory reading in every high school in America. Seriously. His approach is so delicate, so elegant, you can't but help see his side of the story. His humor is so subtle that it dances off the pages, as opposed to smacking you in the face as we have become accustomed to with our contemporary humorists.

Just pick any random essay or article or book that he has written. It doesn't matter which one. Your life will be enriched and you will drive to my house to thank me in person for enriching your life.

Friday, April 5, 2013


I have decided that blogs are weird. I have began to pay more attention to, and reading, other people's blogs. I find there are two types of blogs. Those written by people considered to be experts in their blogging field, and then the people who tend to treat a blog like an online diary, basically chronicling their own experiences and reflecting on them. After coming to that conclusion, I decided that I must be in the latter category, as I am not recognized as a person who has expert experience in pretty much anything. Here's the rub though... My blog isn't really set up as a "share my experiences" blog either. I'm proud to say that I fit into a whole other category: blogs by people who pretend they know stuff. I can only speak from my own personal feeling as to my own blog, but everyone once in a while, paranoia creeps in. I have found myself on occasion asking those closest to me, "Do you actually read my blog? Do you actually enjoy it?" 

The problem with writing a blog of this nature is that you know you're making shit up. Don't get me wrong. I really do feel strongly about what I am writing about and I really am trying to convey a message that I think is important. My paranoia lies in the fact that I absolutely have no right to say anything to anyone about any particular topic. And it leads me to ponder if people equate reading my blog to watching the first week of American Idol. I'm not a philosopher, or a psychiatrist, or a physicist, or a theologian, or a politician, or a teacher. I don't even watch Dr. Phil. So where do I get off writing about authenticity and criticizing people for what I judge to be "bad faith" behavior? 

I always think of Nietzsche's words (and I'll paraphrase, because what kind of a sicko memorizes Nietzsche?), "Too many people will tell you to take their word as authority, I say be like me and think for yourself." I lost two weeks of my life trying to wrap my head around that aphorism. *Focus, Robert* So after some soul searching, I decided that the importance of this blog is not as a place to find advice or for me to critique the current state of the world. It is a place where I can point out the inconsistencies in life, and raise awareness. Essentially, I can live with being a faker, since I'm not claiming to have any answers, just questions to make people want to know if there is an answer.

Besides, we all know the answer is 42 anyway.