Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The New and Improved Prophet

Even as a believing Mormon, I thought it was silly the way certain figures have come to be represented over the years, from the Americanization of Jesus to the modernization of Joseph Smith. Compare:

Big nose, slightly bug-eyed, looking like the 19th century military and spiritual leader he saw himself as.

More prophet and less theocrat. Looks like a man burdened by God.

Hey, the all-American boy. Handsome, strong, clothes and features completely removed from reality. Those marketers sure can do their job.

Video Games and Values

The Supreme Court recently ruled a California law banning the selling of M-rated, violent video games to minors was unconstitutional. Justice Scalia, whom I dislike in just about every way, wrote the majority opinion.

The ruling is welcome, but the law was misguided in the first place. Almost no one thinks minors should be allowed to play violent video games. Stores already have practices in place to prevent their purchases. Even I, at 29, have to show my ID most of the time.

Also, the games, like movies and music, are "rated" so that parents know what kind of content is in them. And you know, if I had a 13-year-old boy, I would buy Call of Duty for him, or Fallout, or pretty much whatever game. Maybe not some of the really crass and vulgar ones, but those titles are fine for a teenager, if they're interested.

The reason people are worried about it is the idea that violent imagery begets violence in people. Video games must be worse because they're interactive. This is based on the false notion that we are blank slates with brains that are putty-like and adopt whatever they are exposed to. This is not so.

That's not to suggest environment can't shape us - it can and does. But generally not through mediums of entertainment, like books, movies, music, video games, and even pornography. A few people might be genetically disposed to be more affected by such things, but here's an easy test to the effect of violent games on youths: has crime risen or declined in the years since Grand Theft Auto? If violent video games were a instigator, wouldn't we see a dramatic rise in aggressiveness from the $18 billion dollar a year industry?

Instead, the effects of video games are minimal. They get blamed because they are a relatively new technology, just like people thought the Walkman was the end of conversation. The iPod, too. And how Twitter is allegedly going to make us dumb and only able to communicate in 140 characters and unable to have the attentions pans we're supposed to.

The medium is not the message. Behaviorism got it wrong. If you want to ban violent games, you would have to logically extend that to every other medium as well.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mike Hammer

That's Mike, all right. Women can't keep away from him, and he can't care less.

By happenstance, I read the new Mike Hammer book, Kiss Her Goodbye, and saw perhaps his most famous movie version, Kiss Me Deadly, this week. It was my first Mike Hammer experience, though I'm familiar with the character. The author, Mickey Spillane, is dead but another author is finishing and publishing his manuscripts. I checked out the move because a new Criterion edition is due out this week.

I'm a fan of noir and tough-minded protagonists, but Mike Hammer is too dated. His sexism and machismo have thankfully gone out of favor, and so to hear the way he describes women in terms of their physique and himself in terms of his hardness made me cringe and chuckle, respectively. The story itself is pretty interesting, but much more detail is given to Hammer's day to day gumshoe-ing rather than delving deeper into the plot. It's skimmed over in favor of Hammer's vanity.

I wasn't impressed with the earlier film, either. I liked the beginning, but it didn't really hold my interest after the first half hour or so. I finished it, but didn't really care about the story.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The God Delusion

Would it have killed him to smile?

A recent Gallup poll found that 93% of Americans believe in God. That is astounding. Such a high percentage. On what other subject do so many Americans agree? The number of people who are certain there is a God is 73%. I guess those lucky folks don't have to live by faith anymore.

What astounds me, as someone who became an empiricist nel mezzo del cammin di sua vita, is the lack of evidence for a God and yet so many people believe in their god while denying the rest - Ra, Buddha, Allah, Moloch, Baal, Zeus - and the rest of the many hundreds (maybe thousands) of Gods that were once worshiped but have know fallen out of favor.

Believers will probably tell me to look at the simple fact we exist or a baby's face and the diversity around me and tell me to deny the evidence of God. And I will. There are natural explanations for those things, biological evolution chief among them. Then maybe someone would say that a god started and guided that process. I'm still doubtful, but open to the possibility. But that god is certainly different than the God I was raised to worship, the Heavenly Father who hears and answers prayers and intervenes (and sometimes chooses to not intervene) in the lives of his children.

I'm talking about real evidence. Something that points to a supernatural being instead of a natural answer that requires no such thing. First hand witnesses of God are no good, unless they happened to be caught on tape. I would bet a large number of that 93% that believes in God still thinks that a person who says he has seen God (and converses with him regularly) is a kook (and yet Joseph Smith and others get a pass).

Feelings are useless as evidence, by the way. How far would a lawyer get if he based his case on a feeling rather than evidence? I get the same sensation from a movie as what I used to think was the Holy Ghost.

There's that stupid saying, "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." Actually, it is evidence of absence. Until there's evidence, we have no reason to think anything is so. Who is agnostic on the existence of unicorns, dragons, elves, fairies and Santa Claus? There is no evidence for any of those things, and none of them have a large following (except children on the last one because of stories adults tell them).

Yet so few people are agnostic or outright disbelievers in God even though there's just as much a paucity of evidence and much more plausible explanations for things people like to chalk up to a divine being.


Of course he dislikes TV. The man uses a typewriter. Older is not necessarily better, sir. Why not write longhand, then?
I've never read a David McCullough book and now I really don't care to. In an interview with Time, he was asked what he thought future generations might say or wonder about us, the same way we wonder about otherwise intelligent men who denied women the same rights as men, and owned slaves. McCullough's answer - "Why we watch so much TV."

What a lame answer to an interesting question. Is TV not worth watching when you are on it, Mr. McCullough? PBS? The evening news? A good comedy or drama? Do you never seek pleasure, Mr. McCullough? Do you think reading is inherently superior to watching? Are you a determinist who thinks that watching TV has some kind of lasting impact on our capacity to learn, socialize and behave?

There is a lot of TV that is not worth one's time, just as there are many books, hobbies, paintings, sports, pastimes, movies and whatever else that is arguably not worth one's time. Why Mr. McCullough singled out television, I do not know, but I do not think it was a worthwhile answer at all.


It's late now, I've just returned from work, and the following thought just occurred to me as I was brushing my teeth. I mention the late hour as an excuse in case it doesn't make any sense - why would God, if this life is a "test" for us to choose him again, make us out of bodies that spend a third of the day sleeping, another few hours for eating, and are susceptible to all kinds of infection? The pat, useless answer on the last one is so that we can know the bitter from the sweet.

But wasn't there some other material he could have used? Something more durable? Something that didn't require rest or continual nutrition? Just seems like a lot of the day is spent on tasks where we accomplish nothing but survive, and that if the object of our creation is to find and serve the correct god, we're not exactly machines suited to the task.

Friday, June 10, 2011


Akira Kurosawa is one of my favorite filmmakers. I've been working my way through his films the past few months. It's astonishing the influence he has had, and continues to have, not only in terms of stories, storytelling, visual and audio techniques, but specific shots. For example, today I watched a bit of Yojimbo and noticed a striking similarity between it and a scene in the first Star Wars.See below (sorry for the violent special effect):

Call it homage, I guess.

BoM musical

Just bought the soundtrack to Trey Parker and Matt Stone's Book of Mormon musical off Amazon for $2. So far it's put a big smile on my face. If I had the cash, I'd fly out to NY  to see it. But I'm sure it'll come to LA sooner or later.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Called to Serve ... Again

Every so often I dream that I have been called on a mission again. Almost always I ask myself, "Why? I've already done this. I don't want to do it again. I don't even believe in this stuff." Even so, I almost always go along.

But this time it was with a lot of guys from my high school. And that's always the best part of these dreams. The fraternity of it.

This one ended with me giving a fiery lecture on evolution from the pulpit. Not that I'm an expert in biology (or anything, for that matter), but I've been reading Dawkins lately - The Greatest Show on Earth.

The Birds

I'm a big fan of Hitchcock. I think most of his movies are sublime. I hadn't seen "The Birds" until today, when I popped it in after being unable to fall asleep.

I was surprised how much I didn't care for it. The story starts off slow, kind of builds toward the love interests, then turns into an out and out horror movie as they try to flee those eponymous birds.

We get glimpses into the lead female's life, but it doesn't say much about her. Is she bored? Is she adventurous? A little misunderstood, it seems.

And the male lead? What does he want? The "bad" girl? A quiet life? It's not clear.

Not that it matters anyway. As my eyes were glazing over the repeated information and banal dialogue, the birds attacked, and then the relationships stopped mattering. Except, I guess, that the Mother character grew to accept Tippi's character. Then it ends on a whimper, with the once violent birds, now sitting calmly.