darwin

I’m not sure how “hip” this one is, except that it never seems to die off. Mainline denominations pretty much made their peace with Darwin and science decades ago. The Catholics emphasized science and discovery as being yet another facet of God’s truth—wherever truth is, God is—long ago as well. Yet for a large number or protestants, namely evangelicals and the most conservative of them, creationism remains the only “safe” and valid belief a “true” Christian can have.  *

Yet only one notable scientist stakes any real claim in creationism, or intelligent design (claimed to be different ideas yet both are largely the same thing). Michael Behe, author of  “Darwin’s Black Box” has been discredited by even his own university (Behe is a biochemist professor at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and Leheigh has stated on it’s website that  “It is our collective position that intelligent design has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally, and should not be regarded as scientific.”) Behe’s own testimony in one of the largest creationism court cases in recent history, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, was cited extensively by the Judge overseeing that case in his ruling that “intelligent design is not science but essentially religious in nature.”

The old “well it’s just a theory” argument towards evolution that is thrown out to discredit it’s teaching in classrooms ignores the fact that everything in the field of science that is strongly supported is a “theory.” Gravity is a “theory” as well. A scientific theory has become a theory through repeated experiments, fact checking, study and re-evaluation.  The Theory of Evolution has been re-evaluated and expanded in recent years through DNA studies, through further archeological discoveries and in laboratory experiments. It’s pretty much as proven as you can get, and science rarely defines anything as a permanent and unchanging “law,” because almost everything is open to further study.  So despite it being that evolution is a credible, validated science, those of the fundamentalist and evangelical fervor have gone to extremes to create their own pseudo science, labeling it intelligent design or creationism.

I recognize that there are extremists on both sides of this issue that are equally loud and equally annoying. Despite what both of these groups scream, I do insist that there is a safe, logical middle ground. Die-hard creationists believe with personal certainty that any concessions to Darwin’s science negates their faith. I read of one fundamentalist Christian preacher who claimed that without a literal 7-day creation story there could be no crucifixion of Jesus. “Without the creation story, there can be no cross,” he claimed. A very baffling deduction.  Of course you have many that think that because of Darwin, evolution, natural selection and origin of the species there can be no God. History and life becomes a series of random and meaningless events perpetuated through cause and effect and traceable back to a scientific certainty that leaves no room for a benevolent God. These folks cling to the thought that it is pure ignorance to “ignore” such scientific “fact” to hold onto an outdated and disproved perception of God.

Oddly, I’ve read one creationist claim that if you hold to the idea that ultimately there is a God responsible for kick-starting the entire thing, even if you accept every claim posited in the theory of evolution, you do in fact hold to “intelligent design.” I’m not sure if most in the I.D. camp would be so lenient, but if they are, I guess I could safely be classified with them…but I hate the term, and I reject that it is “science” even if it is truth.

To get to the heart of what I’m really concerned about here, and what’s so silly about the cause of “creationism” as it displays itself in Creation Museums and as a pseudo science taught to home-schooled evangelicals and in private fundamentalist schools, and as it is attempted to be injected into the public school system is that IT IS NOT A SCIENCE. In fact, it’s laughable that  there are people in this world that attempt to create a belief system that attempts to prove that the world is only 6,000 years old, that humans appeared on this earth in the exact form they exist in today in the very beginning and to even go so far as to convert the Hebrew creation myth of Adam and Eve into a literal historical account. Yet they do have such a right to hold to such beliefs, as well they should. Yet they should not be able to inject such thought into a science class in a public school system because the entire system is void of even a shred of actual science.

It comes down to this. Either a person can grow in faith and allow new discovery and science to compliment faith: they can live in an open door environment, with faith that grows and adapts, with eyes open. Or, a person can shut the door, cling to a particular interpretation of how things are with no room to grow or adapt. To me as a spiritual person, God is bigger than that. To me as a Christian, Christ is bigger than that. No scientific or historical discovery can alter a valid faith system built on compassion, revelation and forgiveness. If your entire faith is built on a system of innumerable claims that must be accepted unquestioningly, and that if any one aspect is every fully discredited the entire system is destroyed,  do you really have a valid faith at all? The truths that can speak to us through religious scripture, prayer and revelation have little if anything to do with testable historical facts. They have everything to do with all-encompassing faith and forward momentum of spiritual growth. To say the Adam and Eve tale is a creation myth does not negate the truth and message that may lie at the heart of it for entire groups of faith. To accept some (or much of, or even all of ) Darwin’s ideas as reliable science doesn’t take away from the possibility of God. Evolution is an incredibly involved, amazing process that is miraculous in itself. If it is the method God chose to bring life about over time, so be it. It takes nothing away from how we today experience God, faith and positive global service.  As I mentioned earlier, many feel that by embracing science’s explanations for life they no longer have to cling to a religious explanation. Such people were looking for an excuse to abandon faith and they have it, if it weren’t Darwin it would be something else. They have every right to embrace science as their only faith, yet those of us who allow science to compliment a deeper faith know that for us, science as faith only is sterile, cold and leaves much to be desired.

Wherever you stand, I’m sure this issue will keep rearing its head from time to time. Astoundingly, almost half of all Americans reject any form of Darwin and evolution as a belief they hold. Many in the science field have no room for a religious realm to their thought. Then there are the rest of us, who comfortably settle both sides into who we are and what we think. All in all, there is room for all of this in the world.

* I’m not going to make an entire article out of this, but by crediting Catholics for holding to a “where truth is, God is” mentality I can’t let it slide the huge gaffe the sitting Pope made recently. See, the last Pope, John Paul, was compassionate, progressive and intelligent. This current Pope, to keep this polite, is quite a bit more reactionary and “old school.” Recently in Africa he commented that condoms “increase the spread of AIDS.” No one, not even the Pope, should go to Africa, a continent dying of AIDS, and discourage the use of condoms. That is not an embrace of truth or God.

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kidneocon

Personal responsibility. How such a simple phrase has become such a loaded phrase.

Yesterday I was speaking with someone over an issue we agreed on in which a person was blaming a company for something that was unquestionably her own fault. I said that “people just don’t want to take responsibility for anything.” He agreed and later I kind of shuddered a bit thinking of how such a phrase has become so broad and encompassing. I do believe in personal accountability and responsibility, yet the very term has come to verbalize the belief that people are almost always fully responsible for every situation they find themselves in.

So, last night I did a double-flinch when I got around to finally seeing this 13 year old book-deal novelty character, this uber-conservative child speaking about the core values of political conservativism. Jonothan Krohn, author of “Define Conservativism,“ has video clips being bandied about all over the web, addressing CPAC and others. The speech I saw had him follow “respect for the constitution” with “personal responsibility” in a list of core conservative values. Used in this way, by the Republican party, with this mind-set, personal responsibility goes far beyond the belief I share in that one should be held accountable for one’s own choices and decisions, as well as that one should be responsible for making up for one’s own wrongs, apologizing, admitting fault, taking blame, etc. So, the “Conservative” party extends this idea to mean that big government is wrong. The government can’t help you–you have to help yourself. That’s a tent-pole in conservative thought. Yet taken to it’s logical point of tension, it’s not the governments’ responsibility to ensure you can get affordable health care, much less “free” health care provided by the government and paid for by taxes (like most other industrialized countries now do in some form). No, you should work hard enough to afford health care and health care’s price should only be kept in check as a market decision through competition (we see how well that has worked). Furthermore, if you are poor, homeless, drug addicted or prison bound, this is solely due to factors under your control and it is your fault. So prison reform is unneeded, welfare is simply an enabling method that drains cash from the “good tax payers,” heck, under Reagan even AIDS was only an individual responsibility requiring no government involvement in addressing it as a problem or offering treatment or research.

So really, does this child speaking at a conservative rally really understand the myriad tangle of factors that lead to poverty, disease, prejudice and mistreatment? Speaking from his cushy existence as a wealthy, novelty, pseudo 15-minutes-of-fame celebrity, he really has no knowledge of real world life, its problems and suffering.

That’s all I really have to say about him, I’m not going to waste space berating a flash in the pan novelty neo-con, especially one that’s a child. Looking at Coulter, Limbaugh and Palin and realize it was only a matter of time before a child was recruited to be a party face.

When it comes to personal responsibility, I feel like reclaiming the term from the conservatives. In it’s truest sense, I’m all for it and it is unquestionably noble. Take responsibility for your own mistakes, work as hard as you can to get where you’re going, admit when you are wrong. Forgive and be forgiven. Yet don’t take such a belief to the extreme that the GOP has. Sometimes people need a hand. Sometimes people need assistance to get them where they’re going. Quite often, people end up in lousy situations through no fault of their own.

Government isn’t just ‘the problem.’ Why do GOPers even bother running for and serving in office if they truly believe Government is just a problem. I assume they want to get in office to theoretically pull back power and government that a Democrat would otherwise extend. Yet it doesn’t have to be that way. Government should be able to help its people. People pay taxes for the government to take care of them in matters they can’t take care of themselves. If someone is hardworking their entire life, paying taxes and struggling to get by, the very fact that they’ve been paying taxes should ensure that if they are hurt and can no longer work they will be taken care of; when they age and must retire, they should be taken care of. Any wealthy, industrialized country when ran correctly can ensure that its citizens do not go bankrupt trying to pay for medical bills or medicine and that any hardworking and aspiring person can afford to attend a university and learn a skill or trade, to name just a couple of examples.

I’m not so naive as to think that assistance programs, universal health care and free education are cheap and easy things. In the current economic state, it seems many things must wait. A recent PBS program detailing Bush showed many economists claiming that although a very “moral” issue conservative, Bush was not a fiscal conservative by any means. He let “pay as you go” expire and signed the largest Medicare bill yet, a bill costing billions per year that will never expire, a bill much more expensive than the Iraq war. Obviously the funds aren’t available to support this program, so each year we go more in debt to keep it running. And…it’s very popular with almost every senior citizen because it covers huge portions of their pharmaceutical needs (so people aren’t opposed to every form of “socialism,” even conservative elderly folks when it suits them). While watching this program I turned to my wife and commented that such a thing is indeed good, yet it needs funding to offset the debt it induces. She asked how I would suggest paying for such a thing. I still stand by my belief that the tax system should be better structured. The type of tax system wealthy folks and radio talk fans shout out as being “class warfare.” Simply put, those that earn the 25 percent lowest earnings a year should pay very little tax…they simply can’t afford to. Those in the middle 50 percent should pay a little more than they pay now, say 3 percent more per year in federal taxes. Those that are wealthy enough to fall in the top 25 percent should pay 5 to 6 percent more than what they pay now…they’ll still be making more than enough to live on and they’ll be creating a society that can afford to take care of it’s citizens. Of course I also feel there are many lines of wasteful spending on the federal budget that could be trimmed each year, I think the military and defense budget can slack off some when peaceful negations increase, you can always increase the cigarette tax, I could go on but I’m won’t.

sowell

One last point to make about recent conservative opinions and I’m done. Thomas Sowell, the syndicated op-ed columnist who spent months berating Obama during the campaign, published a piece this past Sunday in which he bemoaned recent “transgressions” of his peers for not sticking with the “foundation” of the party, the big “important” folks like Limbaugh and Coulter. He complained that John McCain’s daughter misspoke recently when she said she was embarrassed at trying to explain away Ann Coulter when dealing with non-Republican friends. Sowell complained about RNC head Michael Steele’s month old comment against Limbaugh as well. Sowell said that where other members of the party were fickle, compromising, pandering and barely conservative, folks like Limbaugh, Coulter and Palin are strong, clear, conservative voices that unify the party and require all republican support. Wow. Now, although I’m not a Republican I can handle the George Will’s and other educated old school conservatives, and I feel that middle ground can be found with such folks. Defending and encouraging Coulter is mind-blowing. Despite Sowell’s praises of journalistic integrity for Coulter, her books are so full of un-cited, misquoted, misused, and outright lies not to mention their mean-spirited and hateful tones, there is absolutely no excuse to defend her. Limbaugh is only slightly better, at least he occasionally fact checks and to my knowledge hasn’t encouraged the “raping of the earth” (as Coulter has said in those very terms) or called out the entire denomination of Episcopal as not really being Christian (again, Coulter has),but he has had his share of gaffes, lies, ignorance and hatred to spew.

I’m done with political articles for at least 2 weeks, granted that nothing ridiculous happens. Sorry.

boy_praying1

This thread of articles focuses on “hip God causes,” you know those slogans, campaigns and causes bandied about by folks that often stay ever-present, yet are noticeably cyclical as well. They tend to bubble to the surface periodically as the rallying cry for evangelicals and peripherally conservative Christians.

One that really befuddles me is “Prayer in School.” I say befuddle, because on so many levels I am confused when I hear the rallying cry over this cause. “Keep Prayer in schools!” or “Put God back in schools!” folks will shout.
My confusion arises for several reasons. One, what causes this to become the hip evangelical cause of the moment each time? Whatever the cause, it seems it has recently occurred again if online petitions, chain e-mails and the earnest hopes of semi-read scripture enthusiasts are a reliable sign.

Overwhelmingly what throws me the most, though, is wondering what exactly these folks want. I’m assuming they want statues of Jesus placed throughout all public schools, detailed and characterized exactly how they want him to look as well as full, led prayers throughout the school day, and classes interspersed with scripture reading. Well, if that’s what they want, there are private schools for that. Why they want it in a public school is completely beyond me.

The biggest point worth making here is–PRAYER CANNOT BE FORBIDDEN FROM ANY SCHOOL. Also, GOD IS STILL IN EVERY SCHOOL, PUBLIC OR PRIVATE. So what do these folks want, other than a stifling, constricting and ultimately faith harming, led and controlled, forced-upon belief system that will ultimately lead to faith rejection by many children simply out of anger they‘ll be apt to feel for being forced to embrace or acknowledge certain viewpoints.

Prayer is in school now. A student can pray at virtually any time during the day, silently and to themselves. Before class, during lunch, at assembly, or as a notable passage of scripture  called for, ceaselessly throughout the day (by the way they live and by constant faith dialogue in their minds). Want prayer that’s more than simply silent? There are very few schools in which children will be reprimanded for praying aloud before dinner at their cafeteria table with children who are voluntarily sitting with them and participating. Want a prayer or bible study group? Simply set up a VOLUNTARY after-school group to do that very thing.

So really, it’s baffling what more people want. Do they want teachers to lead students in specific Christian prayers, prayers veiled in the language and belief systems of each teachers’ specific interpretation and version of Christianity? So who decides the type of prayer and the type of language at play during such led sessions? I’m an Anglican, so my sort of prayers differ from what evangelicals, Catholics or Greek Orthodox Christians would pray. I’m a very liberal Anglican at that, so my private prayers differ from many of my fellow Anglicans in tone, expectation and method. As an Episcopal in America, I realize the public led prayers I engage in from the Book of Common Prayer will be common and known throughout the country in most Episcopal churches, yet each individual in a pew is apt to have their own interpretation, relation to and connection with what is being said as a group. Can such a view be held by elementary school children with no faith tradition or knowledge originating in their homes in regards to what these words may possibly mean to different people? Above and beyond this, what about Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews or atheist children?  Is it even remotely in the realm of fair or just that the beliefs of those children are trampled, ignored and berated, even if (perhaps especially if) they are a small minority in the otherwise “Christian“ classroom?    In short, it’s common sense that led, forced-participatory prayer can bring nothing but bad things. So, other than the acceptable and permitted types of prayer mentioned above and this bad idea, what else do the “put prayer back in school” crowd have in mind? I assume most teachers would get upset if a student stood up in the middle of class and began to loudly pray, interrupting the lesson. Does the Prayer-Power crowd want that, even though such, loud, showy, obnoxious “look at me” prayers were disparaged by even Jesus himself in scripture?

GOD IS IN ALL SCHOOLS,  as I mentioned, because God is in all, in everyone and present everywhere. God is above all and in all, external and internal, moving through and working through anyone that allows room. “Keep God in school” or “Put God back in school?” Huh? God is there already. Now, whether God is heard or followed is another question entirely, and entirely up to the individual. If parents and adults want God to thrive and move within the public school system they will teach their children to be just, peaceful, fair, tolerant, loving and compassionate. They will disparage violence, prejudice, ignorance and greed. They will teach their children the value of loving, forgiving, working to better the world and serving others. They will teach their children how to think, question, reason, evaluate, acknowledge and learn. Teachers in the schools will inspire their students to pursue truth, knowledge, education, fairness and progress.
Then God will thrive even more in the lives of students in public schools. But it starts at home, and it has nothing to do with institutionalizing a narrow and particular human crafted version of God, prayer and faith and then forcing others to accept that same version.

For those that hold and practice a sort of flat faith that is rooted in their own repetitive, unquestioning acceptance of the way they “have always done it,” those that are at the appointed place and time every Sunday, begrudgingly cut a check offering up their ten percent and have a very set and selective view of what constitutes a “moral issue” often latch onto these causes and shout for them in the honest thought that the country and the world will be a better place if changes are brought about to bring back “the good old days,” (which by the way, never existed in such an idyllic way). Yet real faith is much more than scrambling to hold onto the faith of your childhood with blind acceptance without probing it, questioning it and at times doubting it. Real faith brings its questions to the table and uses them to deepen the truth being sought. Real faith is unconcerned with superficial causes like “prayer in school,” and instead focuses on total transformation and positive global service, the type of mindset, actions and thoughts that seek to bring peace and compassion to the individual, to the society, to the country, to the world. That’s the Kingdom of God.

– Peace through Justice,
dmh2

neko_dennis_kleiman

Kelly Clarkson was the musical guest on SNL this past Saturday night. She’s not a terrible performer, and although I’m not a fan, I can tell she does have a bit of musical talent. Yet I couldn’t help thinking that SNL should have picked Neko Case to be their musical guest instead. Both Clarkson and Case have new albums to promote. Not to be overly mean to Clarkson, but the difference between these two is quite simple, and the reason  Neko’s  new “Middle Cyclone” is probably far artistically superior to Clarkson’s “All I Ever Wanted”  is because Neko sings very more authentically and creatively than Kelly.

I really think Neko Case is a good point of reference for any modern aspiring singer. She has one of the absolute best voices in modern music– indie or popular. Of course, that can’t be taught. She can hit any range it seems, soaring highs and rumbling lows and she twists through each phrase and stamps it in a unique and original way. What can be taught by Neko to folks like Clarkson, Katy Perry and other numerous pop stars, who sing with good enough voices but quite often make sub-par quality songs and albums, is her conviction. She sings it like she means it. She puts herself into her songs. You know that pesky thing, lyrics? Well, that’s more than a little important. Sure, the occasional mindless tune can be fun and often even classic, but if everything you sing lacks any sort of substance whatsoever, it doesn’t matter how well you sing it, it will be forgotten. Case is fearless at approaching any topic or tone, be it straightforward autobiographical narrative or metaphorical abstract art, God, sex, death she can cover it all.  Another lesson she exemplifies in song is that it’s not always about showing off your skills at the expense of the song. Remember Whitney Houston’s cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You”? She almost destroyed the song, her version may have been a hit but it’s of very lower quality than the original simply because she goes out of her way to over-sing it, hitting each note at full throttle. Most modern pop, country and R & B singers tend to follow in that tradition, thinking that by showing off that they can hit high notes and that they have traditionally “good voices” they may have a hit…and they may, but they aren’t making art. Neko Case knows how to be both subtle and excited. She knows how to approach each word on its own terms. She knows when not to overdo something. Take “That Teenage Feeling” in which she has a perfect chorus that she builds to carefully…she only sings that chorus once, so you have to keep re-listening to the song to hear it again. Speaking of conviction in her subject, listen to “Deep Red Bells”, where Case recalls her personal teenage fears of the serial killer who stalked the interstates at that time–her fear and emotion pour into one of the most essential noir songs ever. Case is like a meld of ‘40s era jazz and blues singers, ‘50s era country stars and ‘60s era rockers, with more intensity than any modern female singer of any genre. Where comparisons display the failures of her contemporaries the most are on the most country songs of Case. “Set  Out Running” is pure Patsy Cline/Loretta Lynn-tinged Country-Soul that makes any latest hit by folks like Carrie Underwood look like complete drivel. Even in the abstract Case appears more poignant than others when they are blunt– “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood” is a faith and doubt tale that cuts to the bone. Socially conscious ? Check out “The Tigers Have Spoken” for the most heartbreaking animal rights song ever written. And if you say that her conviction is due only to her writing her own lyrics, check out some of her work with the power-pop alt-rock group The New Pornographers in which she sings other peoples songs, and sings them with feeling– “Letter From an Occupant” and “Mass Romantic,” for example.

I guess I just can’t help but think two things here. SNL, with it’s past history of showcasing great indie bands, ranging from Kings of Leon to Arcade Fire or even recently Ray Lamogntaine, well, Case should have out-ranked Kelly Clarkson, who will sell enough albums on her own. Two, someone like Neko Case deserves more widespread recognition. Her last album, 2006’s “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood” only moved 200,000 copies despite being critically hailed and beloved. Her new this month album “Middle Cyclone” is expected to move more. Being that Clarkson’s new album will move a lot of copies at places like Wal-Mart and Case’s new album will move lots of copies at the remaining small indie shops, most copies that aren’t illegally downloaded will be bought digitally through places like i-tunes. So, if you’re reading this and want real, soulful, heartfelt and convincing music, please PAY FOR and download the new “Middle Cyclone” Neko Case album and consider how great it would be if she could teach these radio fillers to actually sing. Then go back and get her past 4 albums. Peace.

mathewgoodband

I haven’t done this thread in awhile, so I’ll start with a quick recap of the past few albums I’ve mentioned here. In case you want to read them and missed them the first time around, click on the links below to read them.

1)    Billy Joel- The Stranger (posted on Nov. 21st, 2008)
2)    Johnny Cash – Blood, Sweat and Tears ( posted on Nov. 29th, 2008)
3)    Cee Lo – Cee Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections (posted on Dec. 6, 2008)

Okay, here’s the review of “Underrated and Overlooked Albums #4,”
“Beautiful Midnight” by The Matthew Good Band

“Beautiful Midnight” is a flawless and original rock album. The Matthew Good Band made several great songs before that album, and finally they built up enough credibility to book an American deal for distribution of “Midnight.” Unfortunately, MGB hasn’t followed it up with what could have been further great albums.
“Midnight” stands out for its great lyrics and their perfect delivery. Topically it’s primarly an address towards consumerism and superficiality.

“Beautiful Midnight” sets its track order up as each labeled an hour of the day—track 1, “Giant” is also 5:00 PM going through to 5:00 AM at track 13 which is “Born to Kill,“ followed by the haunting ballad  “Running for Home” which is labeled “Sun Up.”
Each song is good, with great singing, great guitar chords but what really sends each over the top is its lyrics. A deceptively beautiful seemingly love song like Giant contains somewhat dark and deep lyrics. The centerpiece of the album is “The Future is X Rated,” with it’s lyrics about a dying culture that stops seeking to explore creativity, interspersed with a bored and hardly trying adult phone line operator muffled in the background. Explorations of school violence and loss of personal accountability precede and follow “X rated” in “A Boy and His—” and “Born to Kill,” respectively.

Musically, it’s heavily post-grunge, which is hardly ever an area that provides room for much creativity, but it takes from that a solid musical rock base and adds enough Canadian alt-rock energy (think of a more vibrant and intelligent “Spiritual Machines” era Our Lady Peace) to come up with a fresh sound.

Of all albums that I loved as a senior in high school, this is one of the few that stands up today. I can take it down at least once a year and it ends up in heavy rotation for a month or two each time.
I only wish MGB had been able to follow up such an excellent album with another effort that at least came close. Yet one perfect album is better than most bands are capable of these days.

Flashes from the news this morning: yet another full story devoted to the media-dubbed “Octo-Mom,” this time in regards to a house donated to her and her close to 20 children by Dr. Phil. She’s a media sensation, she’ll probably get a book deal and inspire others to follow her example, and folks everywhere can snarl angrily and reinforce their false stereotypes that it’s Octo-mom type folks who drain up all the welfare from the good taxpayers.

Cut to Rush Limbaugh, a clip replaying him snarling and shaking, jowls flapping as he says “ I hope the President fails!” So this is the supposed “face of the Republican party” as many have called him, “the base unifier.” This man who is the very picture of intolerance, hatefulness, divisiveness, and political ugliness. This man actually hopes the president’s policies will fail simply so he can point and shout “I was right,” regardless of the effect such a failure would have on everyone living in the country today. RNC head Michael  Steele lambasted Limbaugh in one of the few smart comments I’ve heard him make, only to retract it the following day.

Then the news cut to a roundtable of financial advisors grading Obama’s first 50 days as mediocre to poor. Each stressed that Obama focus on the economy and the economy only, refusing to admit that health care reform has anything to do with improving the economy, education improvement and increased accessibility has anything to do with the economy, and the stimulus package with spots for new jobs in the energy and construction sectors have anything to do with it either. Focusing only on Wall Street in the hopes of bouncing stock prices still leaves the other 50 percent of Americans who own not a single stock nor even an IRA or 401K ravaged by the rising cost of health care and it’s declining quality and unable to send themselves or their children to increasingly expensive schools with the hope of bettering their opportunities. Even a quick bounce will leave the stock holding 50 percent better off only in the short run because those above-mentioned factors will someday hit them just as hard as well if something isn’t done now. The first 100 days is the perfect time for a new President to cast all of their nets into the sea and see which will make a catch. Obama had kick-started the talk for health care and education reform which if successful will make long term progress, opened the door for stem cell research to make advances in health, science and technology, and placed a renewed importance on the education sector of America, thereby restoring a bit more hope to future generations. So yes, Wall Street and the economy is very important, and it will likely take the majority of Obama’s time as President to work on. So give the man time, there is no quick fix as much as we all wish there were in this scary economic environment.

Now on to the “Watchmen” Film Review.

watchmen_movie_minutemen450

First of all, “Watchmen” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons is the best graphic novel of all time and is also easily one of the top 10 best works of fiction of any kind of the twentieth century. No joke. So if you’ve never read it, read it before seeing the movie. If you have already seen the movie, go and read it now, it’s not too late. My book review of “Watchmen” as part of my “10 Examples of Comic Literature” thread is in my archives, so click on “comics” at the bottom tab and scroll way back to last summer to find it and read it if you would like to.

That being said, this movie does not live up to the book. But it does amazingly well at getting it’s points and themes across, and it does better than I ever would have imagined it possible to do. All in all, I give it a B +, an 8.5 out of 10, 4 out of 5 stars, somewhere in those mixed systems. The casting is great, it’s as if Rorschach and The Comedian stepped right out of the comic and onto the screen. Everyone does a great job. The effects are dazzling. Yes it’s long, but at 2 hours and 45 minutes it was over before I knew it, it simply sucks you right in. The ending is different than the one in the graphic novel, much to many fanboys dismay, but it gets the same point across. The effect is the same, and arguably the film’s version works much better on the big screen than the book’s would have given the time and medium at work here.
The title screen may be one of the best parts of the whole movie. While Dylan’s “The Times They Are A Changin'” plays, viewers see a summation of 40 years of major events in the Watchmen universe leading up to the 1985 setting of the film.

There are many things that simply cannot be reproduced in a film version of this story. Moore’s work was as much an example of what the comic and graphic storytelling medium is truly capable of as it was a story itself. There are so many wonderful explorations of the medium that were top notch and phenomenal just because they made you notice that such things would be impossible to do with any other medium.  Also with the length Moore had to work with, there was much more room for detail than this film has. That being said, the story-within-a-story “The Black Freighter” and the fictional autobiography “Under the Hood” sections that took place between each chapter are slated to be released as animated shorts in an upcoming straight-to-DVD release this month as “The Black Freighter.” Maybe someday there will be a directors cut DVD that interweaves them into this movie, I’d say it’s a possibility.

Other than that, most complaints I’ve read by fanboys and critics alike are overly critical. This movie was so mixed in its reception. Film critics were almost exactly split in half in their perceptions, ranging from A + praises, like that of Roger Ebert who said you should see it multiple times, to pans and F’s from folks like Gene Shalit. Fanboys that did complain chose funny things to complain about. One I read was mad at the soundtrack — “A song like 99 Luftballoons just jerks you out of the movie, and the ‘Graduate’ song at a funeral is just funny” (to paraphrase). I have to disagree. Of course, “99 Luftballoons” isn’t my favorite song but it worked perfectly in its brief use because it was very time appropriate since it was 1985 in the film, the song is a deceptively poppy song with lyrics about nuclear war, which the story is very much about, and the scene in question was a date so it doesn’t “jerk you out of the movie.” As for “the ‘Graduate’ song,” which is “The Sound of Silence,” really works better at a funeral than it did in “The Graduate,” as much as I love that film. The rest of the film soundtrack works perfectly, from Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan to My Chemical Romance, and the score is good as well. Another fanboy complaint I read came from a guy angry that details like Ozymandas owning a pet lynx weren’t explained. Umm, he’s insanely wealthy and eccentric and thus owns a lynx, what’s to explain?

All in all, it’s a very watch-able, suspenseful, action-packed, at times disturbing and entertaining movie. Sure there are missteps, but it’s always ambitious. I think the only complaint I have is that characters who in the novel have no powers seem to be insanely powerful here (Night Owl and Silk Specter rumble through the prison destroying everything in their path with seeming ease, but hey).

So check it out if you’re considering it. It’s worth it.

It’s about time we place more emphasis on knowledge for knowledge’s sake. So many throughout the past few decades have chosen to go to college and what they would study in college and ultimately what they would do with their lives based on how much wealth they could accumulate by taking that path. What happened to an actual widespread thirst for knowledge and a hunger for truth? Shouldn’t prospective students want to know how things work, what has happened in the past, what science reveals, what psychology says about us, how people do or do not worship and how such ways differ and affect entire cultures and societies, what is going on in the world today and how such things get to their respective points? Most important of all, shouldn’t the main concerns a prospective student has before picking a potential career path be: will this work make me happy and will this work make the world around me a better place for my having done said work?

Realistically, I understand that before undertaking the massive amount of work, invested time and accumulated debt one will accept in training for a career in a college or university one should be relatively certain that there will be a valid job awaiting for having such training that also will pay enough to cover the bills and make such an investment worthy of the time it required. Yet I also know that many of us often overstate how much is “enough.” Going through college to get a job that will make 40,000 dollars a year should not be a laughable goal. So often people assume they have to make 100 grand a year or its simply not worth their time. I think its quite clear that in most areas of the country we can get by (and get by comfortably) on much less. Living in a bit more moderate of a fashion is not a wasted life.

Education should not be limited to a fine area. Many undergraduate students throughout history have complained that they had to receive such a broad and across-the-board base coursework. Someone studying to be a physicist may hate that they have to take Literature, History, Philosophy or Psychology. Someone studying to be an English teacher may often loath taking Calculus, Biology and Geography. Yet it’s often the occurrence that a student may find their passion in a completely unexpected place by taking such mandatory’s. It’s also important that the experts in every field can understand a basic level of comprehension in those “across the board” areas. I think such broad learning should be extended. Today in schools across the country there are many students who find arts and humanities slipping from the curriculum because such areas aren’t deemed as important as Math or Science in acquiring a job. Although science and math may teach you how to apply skills in many professions, arts and humanities teach you who you are and open you up to the “why” instead of just the “how.” Obama mentioned in a recent address his desire that all adults capable of taking at least one class in a higher education setting – be it in college, technical school or wherever—is a great call. That class would benefit anyone whether it served as vocational training that deepened their job knowledge or simply an educational course that taught them more about history, science or math, even if that course simply served to inspire them artistically through art, craft or writing. The point is that no education is wasteful. No knowledge is bad knowledge. The more we as a country can learn the better off we will all be. The coming generations need as much broad and specific knowledge as possible to compete in the growing global market as well as to contribute to the rest of society through scientific development, historical discovery, artist output.

Furthermore, knowledge is essential to freedom. Simply knowing and being aware of fact, possibility and truth calls oppression, whether it is oppression brought on by a ruling class, a government institution, an oppressive religious organization, a personal relationship, a societal organization or simply ignorance itself into the light. I truly feel education has the power to destroy most prejudices, stereotypes, judgments and limited viewpoints.

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There are two causes I’d like to quickly mention. Many may quite possibly be supportive of one and not the other, yet I feel both are positive things that could use any involvement they can attract. If you feel strongly enough about either enough to write a letter or an e-mail, make a phone call or do any work in its support please do so regardless of how you feel on the other issues discussed here.

First of all, there’s what Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts has done. That college’s trustees have agreed to divest from six groups over involvement with Israel’s occupation of Palestine and the violation of many human rights. This college took these steps after intensive work done by the group Students for Justice in Palestine. The Israel-Palestine issue has been at another volatile swelling point in recent months, and it will continue to recur in that way until a peaceful and just resolution is brought about.

I’ve mentioned the struggle for justice in the middle east between Israel and Palestine in passing before on this site. My mention of it here is very brief and I understand that if you don’t see the situation as being one of actual apartheid and you don’t feel that ours and many other governments have long been very partisan towards Israel in this struggle rather than being fair and open to both sides then you will no doubt find such a cause ludicrous. First and foremost, I want to reiterate that efforts like this are not anti-Semitic, prejudiced or mean-spirited. Quite often groups and individuals get angry when terms like “divestment” and “apartheid” are mentioned in regards to the Israel-Palestine situation. It is not defamation — there are Jews, Christians, Muslims and people of no faith at all living in both Israel and Palestine. To admit that Palestine is being occupied by the Israeli government and that many Palestinian people are displaced and barred from their land and from education, health and care facilities does not take aim at any race or religion. I will also say that those that support divestment and peace yet refuse to condemn tactics like suicide bombing on the behalf of Palestinian terrorists are equally in the wrong. People must recognize that wrong has been done on both sides for a long time, and justice will bring peace but only when honesty, integrity and compromise work together to treat all people with dignity. The group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is pressuring many other schools to support the cause of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) as a way of ushering in non-violent pressure on governments that violate international law and human rights. Non-violent justice is the only way all people in such situations can truly and fully be saved.

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The other cause I’m mentioning is Dina Babbitt’s art. Dina Babbitt is an artist and a holocaust survivor. She was caught by Nazi’s doing murals of things like “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” for children in a concentration camp. She feared they would kill her for such a thing but they instead transferred her to Auschwitz and kept her as an asset. Nazi’s had felt photographs of Jews and ethnic groups didn’t capture their “ugliness” and physical qualities that show their “inferiority.” Goebbels and the like felt full color painted pictures would better display such things. Ms. Babbitt painted detailed and realistic portraits of those prisoners set before her that portrayed them as nobly and humanly as art could allow—of course for a Nazi racist like Goebbels their prejudices saw in the pictures what they saw in the people themselves so they were satisfied with her work. Mrs. Babbitt knew that as long as she was working on a portrait of someone, they would be kept alive. The longer she could prolong the process the more likely they would be alive when the camp was liberated. Auschwitz was eventually liberated and Mrs. Babbitt was freed. She went on to work in art and animation for years to come.

In recent years she has been trying to get the Auschwitz paintings back. They are on display at the Auschwitz Museum and she has lobbied to have them returned to her for years—after all she painted them and never authorized their sell anywhere. She is more than happy to let the museum display high quality copies of her work, but she wants the originals to herself before she dies. Ms. Babbitt is aging and in poor health now. Comic artists, animators and civil liberty spokespersons have all written and asked the Museum to return what is rightfully hers to her. Politicians, governments and large groups of lawyers have all put work into this effort.

Granted, personal letters aren’t guaranteed to change any minds, but if you feel strongly about this and the issues that are at stake as well as the general dignity deserving of a woman like Mrs. Babbitt, who has went through so much, please send a letter or an email to the museum.

Here’s the address: muzeum@auschwitz.org.pl

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Last of all, now that I’ve mentioned two causes here’s just a general angsty complaint. Is it just me or is Wall Street and the stock market in general just incredibly fickle and apt to plummet or spike over the most random of events? It seems that in its modern form it’s just an illogical machine, but one that is unfortunately ingrained in our national economic well being. Jim Kramer, host of Mad Money on MSNBC and frequent “expert guest” on new shows abounding should perhaps just retire. His blood pressure must be through the roof and from what I gather he never gives any truly productive advice, he just adds to the general sense of unease when’s he handed a microphone. This morning on the Today show he bemoaned Obama as so drastically “radical” for such “bad times” saying that the real peoples priorities are on Wall street and Obama’s administration should do everything to strengthen it and inspire investors. Well, fickle investors who want to regain wealth would love tax cuts to huge corporations and anything else that promotes big business—outsourcing, oil money, and trickle down economics. Of course, 50 percent of people have stocks. So making such concessions in the hopes of spiking wall street would help those 50 percent regain some of their wealth for the time being. The other 50 percent of folks would be left in the cold like always. As I’ve said before, it’s time to work things in new ways and it’s time to give support to progressive plans. If these plans fail, it’ll likely be due to the constant attacks, obstruction and intentionally created unease that the GOP is doing now. Basically they’re distancing themselves from the plan, loudly speaking their opposition and trying to block it, hoping it will fail so that they can regain popularity. Rather than reverting, scaling back and narrowing his focus so that only Wall Street is focused on, Obama would merely cause temporary success for half of the population and put off real change and success for another time. If policies that can fix the ailments of modern US society can be implemented now to help all people in much better and longer lasting ways, even if it will take some time and some people will temporarily do worse than they traditionally have done (in easy speak, if rich people have to be closer to middle class for a few years so that we can create a strong and thriving middle class, lift up the lower class, and eventually build that same upper class up again, so be it).

That’s it, I’m done for now. Next up a slew of non urgent articles, starting with the next “Under-rated and Over-looked Album Review #4”