Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Vern Crisler, 2013

Re: the late Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time Series: (spoiler)

After all these years, I finally finished Jordan’s masterpiece.  I was greatly influenced by Jordan, and wrote a trilogy in an attempt to imitate his style.  However, I eventually put it aside because I realized that my stories were just repeating Jordan and Tolkien’s plots and characters.  Maybe I’ll rework it sometime in the future and make it my own story.

I enjoyed the last book of WOT, A Memory of Light, but the epilogue had a rushed feel to it.  If Jordan had had more time, I’m sure each section of the epilogue would have been expanded into a whole chapter and would have become a whole book.  Then some more minor characters would have been introduced, and new threads would have started just before the end and we’d have gone into more innings — probably three more books.

BTW, I thought killing Egwene was stupid and unforgivable.  That’s what happens when a TV series goes on too long as well: they start killing off the main characters.  For that reason, WoT should have ended several books ago.  Egwene was no expendable minor character but had started out with Rand, Perrin, and Mat from the beginning.  She had gone through all sorts of trials and tribulation to become the Amyrlin Seat and there was little reason to kill her off in a fight with a relatively uninteresting character.

However, flaws and all, Jordan’s Wheel of Time series always makes for terrific reading.  He is the only truly worthy successor of Tolkien.

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Romney versus Obama

Posted: November 10, 2012 in Culture, Government, Politics

In some ways, America died on November 6, 2012.  Our Constitution has now been replaced by a “reign of witches” to use Jefferson’s phrase.  Should we despair?  Should we give up?  Should we start pandering to racial or ethnic minorities?  Have the American people abandoned the first principles of a free society?  Perhaps Jefferson can provide some perspective:

“A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to it’s true principles. It is true that in the mean time we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war & long oppressions of enormous public debt. But who can say what would be the evils of a scission [secession], and when & where they would end? Better keep together as we are. . . . If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, & then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are the stake. Better luck, therefore, to us all; and health, happiness, & friendly salutations to yourself.”  (Thomas Jefferson, Letter to John Taylor, 1798.)

Okay, so right now we are “suffering deeply in spirit” but added to our misery is having to listen to a gaggle of Liberals and Republicans using the defeat of Mitt Romney to criticize conservatives!  Mitt may have run as a conservative in order to win in the Republican primaries but he ran as a moderate during the general election.  See:

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1012/82261.html

Now, here are a few things I said this year about Mitt Romney,

[Snip: a lot of criticisms of Romney.  He is too much of an empty suit to deserve a lot of space on this blog]

Then my concluding remarks:

These are a few of the things I said leading up to and after the nomination of Romney.  During the summer, the Supreme Court came out with its ridiculous Obamacare decision, wherein a penalty was suddenly transformed into a tax by that first-class idiot John “Taney” Roberts.  At that point, the only thing I could do was hold my nose and vote for Romney as the only way, save for outright resistance, to stop this judicial travesty from taking effect.  Now all that is left is resistance.

If the Republican Party nominates another moderate to run as their presidential candidate four years from now, they will deserve to fade away as a national political party, and good riddance.  Maybe by then a conservative party will have been formed, and can pick up the pieces of whatever is left of America.

Prince Poppycock

Posted: September 14, 2010 in Culture

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WaIeDBjfPYk

Great voice, great showmanship, great talent, but he’s like a deranged version of Liberace mixed with Lady Gaga.  I think he would make a great headliner in Vegas, along with Fighting Gravity.

Not sure Jackie Evancho will win this one, but I’ve no doubt she’ll be America’s Charlotte Church.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPITHzdUUDk

What Prince Poppycock will be … I’m afraid to guess. 😉

Update, 9/14/2010

Just watched Jackie and Prince Poppycock.  I have to say that I was expecting something outrageous and entertaining from the Prince, but he was rather bland tonight.  Hopefully, he’ll learn from this that showmanship doesn’t mean playing it safe.

Jackie sang Ave Maria, and did it with grace and style.  In its own way it was just as good as, or perhaps even better than, Connie Talbot’s version.  I hope Jackie sticks with opera and doesn’t go the Charlotte Church route of singing pop.  We’ve got enough of that already.

Update 9/16/2010

I was a bit shocked that Michael Grimm won out on AGT over Jackie Evancho, and he looked shocked too when the announcement was made.  However, he’s a good singer and I guess America loves a hard luck story during these hard times and voted to give him his own Vegas show.  Somehow, Jackie Evancho does not seem to fit Vegas, and she still has many years to go to polish her spectacular voice and sing in venues proper to her talent.

I actually thought the contest was really between Jackie and Prince Poppycock, who will no doubt get his own Vegas show.  In any case, I loved the duet between Sarah Brightman and Jackie, who was so sweet, but I did have a sneaking desire to see Sarah Brightman sing with Prince Poppycock.  Stranger things have happened.

I do worry about kids getting fame too soon, but my main concern with young singers like Jackie (and Hollie Steel and Connie Talbot), is that they stay sane.  I don’t think Prince Poppycock has to worry about that since he’s just the opposite — he mainly needs to worry about becoming sane.

Near and Farscape

Posted: April 17, 2010 in Culture

I finished watching the Farscape series last week, including the follow up Peacekeeper Wars.  For a long time I stayed away from this series, mainly because the “aliens” made the show look rather hokey.  I was even a little worried when the two main cast members from Farscape were hired to work on the Stargate series.

I can now say that I was pleasantly surprised.  Farscape turned out to be an exciting and fun science fiction series, with interesting and novel stories about life in outer space.

Oh, there are a few problems.  There was way too much vomiting on the show.  I couldn’t watch the show while eating lunch or dinner as I wasn’t sure when they were going to serve up another gross-out scene.

And the ending of the show — spoiler alert — was spectacularly naïve.  It was a simplistic disarmament message, that people make peace, not bombs.  In reality, however, bombs are what make peace.  As Reagan held, it’s not appeasement, but peace through strength that achieves peace.  Human nature has not changed, and bullying and aggression — like the poor — will always be with us.  Weakness merely invites attack, and more verses of Kumbaya are not going to change that (except perhaps in sci-fi universes).

In addition, the writers of the show could not decide on who the bad guy was.  The first bad guy started out as a Peacekeeper named Crais, who had no problem in murdering his subordinates.  Later on, however, Crais allies himself with the main characters and is eventually treated as a sympathetic, self-sacrificing character.  Another character, Scorpio, starts out as a bad guy, but in the end turns out to be a good guy, concerned only to stave off an enemy invasion.  Finally, the Scarrans started out as scary aliens bent on dominating the galaxy, but end up as reasonable guys after all.  No need to destroy them in a final space battle.

Also, the DVD producers committed a crime against intelligibility when they failed to provide captioning for the series.  I think I only managed to make out about 30 percent of what the characters were saying.

I’m not the only one who stayed away from the show because of the puppets.  Stargate producer Brad Wright didn’t like the show either: “Maybe I didn’t give it enough of a chance because I couldn’t get past the muppet,” he once said.

The muppets, or puppets, were done by Jim Henson’s company, famous for Sesame Street (Kermit the Frog).  One of the puppets on Farscape was named Rygel (voiced by Jonathan Hardy).  The frog-like Rygel often behaved in impish and self-serving ways, but whose outlook and actions were often hilarious.  He is perhaps one of the best non-human characters on series TV.  On the other hand, the turtle-like puppet named Pilot did not add much to the show, in my opinion.  Perhaps a more human character would have worked better.  I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say it that Rygel was enough puppeteering for any show.

The Farscape story involves a Buck Rogers character who meets a motley crew of space losers, a sort of Wizard of Oz group trying to escape from alien versions of the Wicked Witch of the Galaxy.  They do so aboard a living space ship named Moya.  John Crichton, played by Ben Browder, is an astronaut who is sucked into a wormhole during a space flight and ends up in another part of the universe aboard Moya.  With the initials JC and a last name that sounds like Christ, it’s almost too obvious that Crichton will eventually play a messianic role, saving the world or universe (which he did in Peacekeeper Wars).

His companions are a former Peacekeeper, Aeryn Sun, played in a no-nonsense way by Claudia Black (the opposite of her character on Stargate), a Luxan warrior, Ka D’Argo, played by Anthony Simcoe.  Ka D’Argo looks like the Cowardly Lion run through a sieve, but is the opposite of cowardly.  A blue alien, Pa’u Zotoh Zhaan, is played by Virginia Hey, and provides a “spiritual” component to the show.  She is referred to as a “blue-ass bitch” by Rygel, and has a plant-based physiology rather than an animal physiology.  The last main character is the sexually precocious Chiana, played by Gigi Edgley.

The show was best when it avoided long arcs (two or three episode shows), and did stand-alone episodes.  The multi-episode arcs were often tiresome, while the stand-alone episodes required the writers to become more creative, and bring about novel situations.  A major strength of the show is that the special effects and weird situations never diminished the characters, but rather enhanced character development.

There is more immoralism on Farscape than on shows such as Babylon Five, Stargate, or the earlier Star Trek franchise, but it did not have the raw amoralism of the new Battlestar Galactica.  Immoralism is to be expected on science fiction TV shows — going as far back as the days of Captain Kirk, playboy in space — but amoralism, a sort of non-awareness of moral issues, seems to be a new phenomenon.  I do not know where it comes from, other than perhaps increasing nihilism among script writers.

The main difference between Farscape and Babylon Five is that the latter has an epic background, borrowed from Tolkien’s Lord of the RingsFarscape did not have any larger purpose in mind at first but seems to have evolved in the telling, and is more like Star Trek in that regard.

Despite some problems, and the appearance of hokeyness and superficiality created by the puppets, Farscape is a science-fiction show well worth watching.  Far from diminishing the show, the puppet character Rygel almost steals it.  He is in some ways a lot like the scene-stealing character of Londo in Babylon Five.  When it comes to aliens and alien makeup, I always say less is more, and some of the characters could have done better with less.  Nevertheless, the overdone makeup and puppets shouldn’t put anyone off from watching the show.

I’m glad that Farscape’s fans petitioned producers to revive the series and give it a proper ending, as they did in the Peacekeeper Wars.  Not every show is treated this way.

Vern

Grace Amazing

Posted: February 18, 2010 in Culture, Theology

Celtic Woman really hits this one out of the ballpark:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HsCp5LG_zNE

Wikipedia has a lot of information about this song at:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazing_Grace

I did not realize that one of the verses to John Newton’s “Amazing Grace” had been taken from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin:

“When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise,
Than when we first begun.”

Judy Collins introduced a whole new generation to the song around 1970 and the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards based their popular arrangement on Collins’s version.  The Celtic Woman arrangement is based on the Guards’ version and starts off the same way.

The Wikipedia article says, “Since the 1970s, self-help books, psychology, and some modern expressions of Christianity have viewed this disparity in terms of grace being an innate quality within all people who must be inspired or strong enough to find it, something to achieve.  In contrast to Newton’s vision of wretchedness as his wilfull sin and distance from God, wretchedness has instead come to mean an obstacle of physical, social, or spiritual nature to overcome in order to achieve a state of grace, happiness, or contentment.”

There is definitely a clash of theologies going on here.  To sing “Amazing Grace” as though it were about some innate quality in man, or man’s ability to achieve a goal, is about as perpendicular to the meaning of the song as one can get.  The main point of the song is that there is nothing in us that is worthy of God’s favor, not in our lifetime, not in a million years, not ever.  And yet God still saves us.  That is what Newton thought was so amazing about grace.

It’s rather amazing in itself that people can sing the same song and have two entirely different meanings in mind.

I’m reminded of what the theologian Karl Barth said in 1934 to the “German Christians,” just before the nightmare of fascism & Nazism descended upon Germany.  He was very opposed to the “God and” theology, the idea that God needed a human contribution in the matter of salvation:

“Let me warn you now,” he said.  “If you start with God and . . . you are opening the doors to every demon.  And the charge which I raise against you, I lay before you in the words of Anselm: ”Tu non considerasti, quandi ponderis sit peccatum!  You have failed to consider the weight of sin.  And that is the sin: that man takes himself so very seriously.”  (God in Action, pp. 137ff.)

Vern

I just finished watching the re-envisioned Battlestar Galactica TV series (on DVD).  It was an exciting series, lots of action, special effects, and probably the longest chase scene in TV history.  Nevertheless, I really never liked the characters, and found the show to be troubling.  Halfway through the series – after the colonists escaped from New Caprica — I found myself rooting for the Cylons.

It’s hard to like characters who are mutinous, jihadist, immoral, genocidal, abortionist, and cowardly.  Consider the following:

  1. Commander Adama mutinied against the President of the colonies, and was never court-martialed for it, nor punished in any way.  Yet Adama had no hesitation in executing mutineers against his command later on in the series.
  2. While the colonists were on New Caprica, they engaged in terrorism, including suicide-bombing.
  3. The service men and women regularly engaged in inappropriate sexual liaisons, contrary to military codes of conduct.  For contrast, compare this with the Stargate series.
  4. The colonists had no hesitation in practicing genocide against the Cylons, even though the colonists regarded genocide as evil when practiced by the Cylons against humans.
  5. The President made abortion illegal, not because a child has a God-given natural right to life, but for pragmatic reasons – to increase the colonial population in order to avoid extinction.
  6. Near the beginning of the series, the Cylons discovered the location of Galactica and the surviving peoples of the colonies.  Some of these colonists were on faster than light ships, and others were on sub-light ships.  The new President, in an act of cowardice, abandoned the sub-light ships without even putting up a fight to defend them.  The same thing happened when the Cylons discovered the colonists on New Caprica.  Adama and Captain Apollo simply take their battleships out of danger without even trying to put up a fight.

In addition to these, on New Caprica, executive officer Saul Tigh took it upon himself to murder his wife Ellen because she had betrayed some of the other colonists (to save him).  This vigilantism was further seen after the colonists left New Caprica.  Some of the main characters, with the approval of the President, engaged in the murder of those who had “collaborated” with the Cylons.

Interestingly, neither Richard Hatch (original Apollo) nor Dirk Benedict (original Starbuck) liked the new series, though Hatch later reconciled himself to it and even played a recurring character on the show.  Dirk Benedict, however, never liked the show.  According to the Wikipedia entry for Benedict:

“Benedict was sharply critical of the revived series, and the changes to the story and characters.  A May 2004 article in Dreamwatch magazine, entitled ‘Starbuck: Lost in Castration’ revealed his disdain for the re-imagined series, its dark tone and its moral relativism.  Benedict said, ‘”Re-imagining”, they call it. “Un-imagining” is more accurate.  To take what once was and twist it into what never was intended.  So that a television show based on hope, spiritual faith, and family is unimagined and regurgitated as a show of despair, sexual violence and family dysfunction.’”

To me one of the biggest problems with the series is that during the final seasons, some of the main characters were turned into Cylons.  (Spoiler alert, if you haven’t seen it yet.)  I thought it was pretty stupid to turn Colonel Tigh and the Chief into Cylons.  It was bad enough that the writers had done it to Boomer earlier on, or changed Starbuck from a man into a woman.  But they really “fracked up” the story line when they turned main characters into Cylons.  They had a lot of explaining to do, as the switch created a lot of anachronisms in the narrative.

For instance, the Chief and his wife Cally had a child.  Since it later turned out that the Chief is a Cylon, the baby would have been half-human, half-Cylon.   At a certain point Cally is killed by one of the other Cylons, then the Doctor later tells the Chief  his son is not really his own child but was the product of an earlier liaison between Cally and someone else (a non-Cylon).  The Chief seems to take it in stride, as if it were nothing at all to give up one’s son to another man.

The writers came up with this silly resolution for the simple reason that they already had a half-human, half-Cylon child, Hera.  Having another half-human, half-Cylon child would detract from Hera.  Of course, if the writers had selected more plausible characters as the final five Cylons – and the Chief was certainly not a plausible selection for the part — there would have been no reason to get rid of the boy, or have the Chief react so non-chalantly to losing custody.

I wonder whether a gay agenda was at work in selecting the final five Cylons.  The obvious moral of the arc was that humans had to learn to live with Cylons, to get over their prejudices and intolerance toward Cylons.  One of the major goals of the gay rights agenda is to convince people that the gay lifestyle is the same as skin color or gender.  In this way, perversion can be turned into a civil right.  Maybe I’m just imagining it but whenever the TV or movie industry begins to talk about tolerance, it makes me wonder whether the sheep should get nervous.

Another bit of silliness is that the writers turned the 13th tribe into Cylons!  Thus, when the colonists found the planet called “Earth” they discovered it had been populated by Cylons.  In the original show, the members of the 13th tribe were considered “brothers of man.”  Why the new show chose to make them all Cylons is inexplicable.  It was just another meaningless attack on the canon.

I was also greatly annoyed at the decision to scrap all the ships and technology of the colonial fleet, flying them into the sun.  This deliberate rejection of progress and turn to the “simpler life” or to primitivism represents the romantic, agrarian view that technology and civilization are threats to human enlightenment and survival.

For me, such simpler life thinking would mark the beginning of a new Dark Age – and that’s apparently what ensued on New Earth.

As I said, this is a fast-paced and exciting series to watch, but you might want to watch the old series, too, to get a better appreciation for, and perspective on, the legend of Battlestar Galactica.

Vern

On Christmas Haters

Posted: December 17, 2009 in Culture, Theology

It’s too bad that during the Christmas season we have the usual cranks and crackpots coming out of the woodwork to bash Christmas, Christmas carols, and all the jingle and jangle of the holiday season.  It seems as though it never ends.  I don’t necessarily agree with the following two writers on everything, but they provide a good defense of the Advent celebration:

http://www.biblicalhorizons.com/miscellaneous/the-menace-of-chinese-food/

http://www.prpc-stl.org/auto_images/1071243331Defense_of_Xmas.htm

Vern