Friday, May 28, 2010

This blog crossed over the 3000 page view mark on December 19, 2009. As of today, (surely aided somewhat by my reading of old posts) the number stands at 4112. But not bad for a blog that has spent most of its existence dormant!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Star Trek: The Next Generation has been everywhere; Sy Fy Channel has been showing it, as has BBC America and WGN America. (And Local 46.) During its 7ish year run from 1987-94, it set the stage for a revival of a franchise, gaining the grudging respect--and then undying loyalty--of the Trek faithful. I am a Trekkie, through and through. I could just be a nerd, but I rather think that a good story (and uniquely a science-fiction story) can help us to see things we didn't understand or can't talk about. I've recently seen a couple of episodes of the show that really got me thinking.

"The Wounded"--A former captain of the USS Rutledge, ("Ben Maxwell", played by Bob Gunton, Jr. of "The Shawshank Redemption" fame) has been forcibly attacking and destroying Cardassian ships, in contravention of the Federation's nearly-minted peace treaty with Cardassia. The USS Enterprise has been sent to stop Maxwell and his new ship, the USS Phoenix, from destroying any more vessels. As it turns out, Lt. Commander Miles O'Brien, the Transporter Chief of the Enterprise, served on the Rutledge under Maxwell as his tactical officer. They fought against the Cardassians in the war, and were present at the colony at Setlik III, where a massacre of civilians took place (which included Maxwell's family) at the hands of the Cardassians. Upon finding Maxwell, Captain Picard hears Maxwell's claim that the Cardassians are re-arming and preparing to attack Federation settlements. Tasked however with stopping Maxwell, Picard rejects Maxwell's plea to consider his evidence, and is nearly forced to fire upon the Phoenix, until O'Brien covertly beams aboard and convinces Maxwell to stand down. Meanwhile, Picard confronts the Cardassians with the evidence that Maxwell had been correct. Picard warns the Cardassian captain that only his belief in peace and his duty prevented him from attacking Cardassian ships as Maxwell had.

"The Pegasus"--The Enterprise is called to a rendevous with the USS Crazy Horse, carrying Admiral Eric Pressman, who had been Executive Officer Will Riker's first commanding officer prior to Riker's time aboard the Enterprise. Pressman informs everyone that the USS Pegasus was not lost, as was believed, but has been found intact. Because Pressman's old ship was a prototype carrying advanced technology not in wide use, the Enterprise is ordered to salvage or destroy the Pegasus to prevent it from falling into Romulan hands. Finding the Pegasus in a system of asteroids, Picard is distressed at the evasiveness of Riker and Pressman as to the nature of the loss of the Pegasus. Before arriving to attempt retrieving the ship, Picard learns of a classified report detailing a mutiny aboard the Pegasus before her loss. Riker declines comment. Riker and Pressman beam over to the Pegasus, where a secret experiment is found intact. We learn that Pressman's desire to continue the experiment led to the mutiny. Riker had supported his captain twelve years prior, but in light of the fact that the experiment was and is illegal, Riker declines to assist in the restarting of that experiment. Meanwhile, the Romulans trap the Enterprise inside the asteroid containing the Pegasus. It oddly appears lodged partly inside the asteroid. With no option of escape otherwise, Riker reveals the nature of what the Pegasus was carrying: a prototype of a Federation cloaking device, which the Federation had promised not to develop in the Treaty of Algeron, signed with the Romulans some 60 years prior. A cloaking device, which would normally make a ship simply invisible to the eye and most sensors, has been improved upon in this case: it allows a ship to pass through matter while also invisible. The crew adapts the cloak to the Enterprise, and they use it to escape the asteroid. Upon their escape, Picard places Pressman under arrest. Riker places himself under arrest for having supported Pressman previously.

What I appreciate most about these episodes and these characters is that it isn't hard to sympathize with either of the men or their positions. The Treaty of Algeron might well have been a mistake, as naturally, the Romulans declined to apply the cloaking prohibition to themselves. The old warrior Maxwell knows not to trust the old enemy, and he was right. Each man got in the obligatory "Bureaucrats don't know what's really going on" line, and the principled "liberals" in each situation must face the real possibility that their good faith may be betrayed. Both Enterprise officers must wrestle with the loyalty they feel toward their wayward captains (though it should be noted, Maxwell is about a million times more likable than Pressman). Before we get too high and mighty about past mistakes real or imagined in American foreign policy, let's remember that while outcomes may be less than desirable, rationales far from beyond question, and morality ambiguous (if not plain wrong) the errors people make in such weighty matters, if not defensible, are understandable. [This is just a CYA operation, because you voted for Bush, and your supposed anti-war president has doubled down in Afghanistan.--ed.] Maybe. But interesting nonetheless.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

An absolutely brutal day, week, and year for President Obama. As a side note, I renew my objection to First Things, a Christian magazine, embedding a partisan blog within without explanation. Interacting with politics is important for Christians. But what we ought to do is set up the framework--whether biblical, philosophical, moral, etc.--by which Christians consider how they participate and vote. We ought to be wise enough not to simply slap a Scripture verse on our pet cause or causes, arrogantly note how one party or another fails to address our supposedly more enlightened understanding, and then cheerlead for one side. Politics is 1000 times more acrimonious when people "sanctify" their political participation with a rugged certitude only matched by their ignorance. There's too little a discussion of theory behind policy choices, and quite a rush to define particular policies and people as the more "Christian" of the two choices. (And we assume there are only two.) We Christians throw ill-considered brickbats at each other with the same ferocity that we throw them at our non-Christian neighbors. If that weren't bad enough, it doesn't seem like much in the way of learning or new information changes hands.
For every person who is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the GOP and a Christian, there's another who, having seen that, decides to vote opposite to be contrarian, or because they accept the caricature of them by their opponents. Why can't we say, "I give these issues these relative weights, and I weigh collective good/national purpose vs. individual liberty thus, so I vote for candidate X." If you can't imagine how someone could vote for candidate Y, if you think it's easy to decide what to do, (and whether to vote at all) you probably haven't thought about it enough. [Aren't you just congratulating yourself for overanalyzing and pretending to be above the fray, Jason?--ed.] Maybe. But all I know is, I wrote endorsements for both major party candidates at different times, flirted with a write-in, and with not voting for president. And I'm an ideologue! We lament "the lesser of two evils"; some deplore the quality of choices, believing that "the system" is producing a "race to the bottom," but the truth is, our choices reflect the quality of our discourse, the quality of our thoughtful reflection. As we grow in understanding of issues and theory, I think our struggle will only get worse. We're not going to get beyond the lesser of two evils, because our process requires compromise. Let me say that again: Our system runs on compromise. What we each must decide is which issues are non-negotiable, and why?
[The Complicating Factor: The Christian and Life Issues] Abortion and the related have long been a single-issue deal-breaker for Christians, and in some sense, rightly so. There is no more fundamental consideration than the dignity of human beings created in God's image. Abortion is a part, but so is war, euthanasia, capital punishment, torture/interrogation, and a whole host of other things. If you find someone running for president with a chance to win who speaks coherently and consistently on these issues, you let me know. And we haven't even considered the means to tackle these issues, and that relation to our liberty yet! Catholic social teaching offers a great deal of considered reflection on a whole host of issues, but I think pious Catholicism ("conservative Catholicism" offers little more than soft theonomy on some things (like homosexuality) and is in serious danger of political co-option on its strongest issue. Note to the bishops: John McCain is pro-death. George W. Bush probably was, too. You could not have credibly told me that McCain was a better choice based on what he and Obama stated, and if you made it a mortal sin to vote Obama, I would tell you to your face to stuff it. Not because I don't think the Catholic Church or any church has no right to speak on these issues; quite the contrary. But because I think it ends up a wash with either guy. Now, Obama deserves to lose for misrepresenting his actual thoughts on the matter, and the degree to which he has considered the opposite position (not at all, in its best form). But I was not troubled in the least to vote Obama even with his views. Noone has the stones to actually appoint anti-abortion justices to the Supreme Court--beyond the ones already there--(and barely to the lower courts) and Obama's actions do not in any way change what I will believe, or what I would do if I or my loved ones had to make a choice. Roe could be on the books a thousand years, and it doesn't alter the fact that a person must make a choice. Are we more coarse in our very souls because of it? Yes. Most likely. Did Obama's election make one whit of a difference in this? No. Even if he is a thin-skinned intellectual lightweight with a talent for nonsensical bloviation, he was STILL the better choice.

Monday, May 24, 2010

I Want To Be My Father's Son
I have a mentor/friend/father-figure type of person in my life now who recently wrote about losing his mother very young. Those memories and feelings are very deep and personal; I tread very lightly here. And surely losing your mother is different. Still, I lost my dad when I was young. I remember watching a TV show called "Home Improvement" where the dad, "Tim Taylor", discusses losing his father young. (Actually, this show sticks out to me because it was often funny, and because he talks about this a lot.) I remember him saying that he idolized him while he was there, and did so when he was gone. They didn't live together long enough for the son to see the flaws in his father, to be his own man, to even fight with him. I probably have an idealized image of him; then again, if he was anything like his brothers, he was a good man, so far as that is possible for man. Heck, my mother, his ex-wife, has nary a poor word to say about him. And she never did, in the seven years they were divorced while he lived. He spoke a word to his sons from beyond the grave via a poem he kept that I'll bet he meant to give us when the time was right. His widow gave it to us a few years ago, when the time was right. I've only read it once; it was too hard to do more than that. It's on my desk, hidden. It's a pretty good restatement of, "Do not worry about tomorrow..." as the Lord taught us. My brother is just like my father, or how they describe him, and definitely lives this out. He's a good man, too. We could all use some forgiveness, and we all need Jesus, whether we know it or not. But if "good man" doesn't describe most of the men in my father's family, it has no meaning. So if my father, my uncles, my brother, and whomever else are "goats" at the Resurrection (Matthew 25) by way of sin, I can live with my Lord's judgment. Who is more just than he? But I hope and trust that they are not held to account for ignorance caused by others' sin. (Like sketchy priests.) In any case, for the record, when I hear the words, "Roman Catholic Church" I do not think "Whore of Babylon who perverted the gospel." Rather, I think, "Those who, in the name of Christ, committed the bodies of my family to the ground in the hope of resurrection." Theology gets real simple when you're talking about life and death. Jesus. Forgiveness. Resurrection. Eternal life. I've got more to say, but this is all for now.