Friday, November 30, 2007

My opinion of Pullman's His Dark Materials

With the impending release of the movie version of The Golden Compass, discussing the meaning of Pullman's series seems to have become all the rage.

If you'd like to read author John C. Wright say much of this far more eloquently, go here and be sure to read the comments.

Here's my two cents:

First, many people are running around claiming that the series is not atheistic or anti-Christian at all. To which my response is: have you lost your mind?! If Pullman wants to write a series that is quite explicitly anti-God, that is his choice. But even if you don’t have a problem with Pullman accusing the Christian God of being an impostor, to pretend that Pullman’s trilogy is actually Christian is insane!

That's unimportant to me for the purposes of this post, however. My main problem with Pullman's writing is that the story, which started off so wonderfully with The Golden Compass, was whored out for the purposes of ideology by the end of The Amber Spyglass. The later part of the series is nothing but a string of broken literary promises and contrived plot-twists that make no sense in the context of the story.

  1. The Subtle Knife is the only thing that can kill the Authority, and thus Will is going to slay the Authority
  2. There will be a second War in Heaven in which the Republic of Heaven will overthrow the Authority and establish a new rule
  3. Lyra will betray someone
  4. Lyra will be the new Eve
  5. Mary will be the new serpent
  1. The Authority dies by falling out of bed
  2. They don't - the battle ends with (apparently) mutual destruction of leaders, leaving the throne of Heaven empty and powerless, despite the fact that the hierarchies of the "armies" are left almost entirely intact
  3. She doesn't
  4. She isn't
  5. She isn't
Essentially, he promised us that the climax would be Miltonian anti-heroes overthrowing a powerful and capricious God in the first 1.5 books, then delivered two confused children falling in love, kissing (subsequent sex is implied), and then being forever parted for reasons that are seemingly invented on the spot, as the actual climax.

I don't hate the series because it's anti-Christian. I really enjoyed many books that are incompatible with Christian theology. I hate this series because Philip Pullman chose to force his atheistic message into the story. Instead of making God evil, which the story demanded, Pullman made Him an impotent charlatan, which his ideology demanded.

He forced the story into an ending inconsistent with its own beginning, and for that I have a hard time forgiving him.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Book Review: Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!

I just finished reading Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! - the memoirs of Nobel-prize winning physicist Richard P. Feynman. I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone! Let's put it this way: reading it is like sitting down to have dinner with an incredibly interesting guy, who had a whole series of adventures, and happens to be a marvelous storyteller. It's presented as a series of (mostly) chronologically ordered vignettes, each of which is more amusing than the last.

Where else can you read stories about:
  • learning to crack safes by practicing on those storing the documents of the Los Alamos experiments during the war
  • pranks at MIT
  • being part of a Brazilian samba band while on sabbatical
  • drumming the music for a prize-winning ballet
  • getting an art commission from a "massage parlor" (wink-wink-nudge-nudge)
  • membership on a textbook selection committee for California, only to discover that all the books are awful - and that half the committee didn't read them anyway
  • and a whole bunch more
Seriously, read it. You'll thank me later. I hope.

Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel

Lora and I just finished watching Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel. I have just one response: ugh. The songs were well written and performed, the choreography was fun, and the moral outlook endorsed therein was positively sickening.

According to this musical, you can be a scoundrel, sleep with your employer, hang out with unsavory characters, marry an innocent young girl, beat her, and get yourself killed during an attempted robbery while she is pregnant with your child, and you can still be an okay guy who is worth loving. There is no moral opprobrium attached to the fact that he was a thief or hit his wife, and the writing even goes so far as to make those who condemn him seem stuck up and snobbish for doing so.

On top of that, this guy gets one chance to "redeem himself." He gets to come back from some theological no-mans-land for one day to help his family. He then proceeds to try to give his fifteen year old daughter a star which he pinched from said theological no-mans-land, and gets into an argument with her when she refuses to accept presents from a stranger. An argument, I might add, which ends when he strikes her! But apparently, it's possible for him to hit people without hurting them, since both his wife and daughter describe it as being 'as gentle as a kiss.' Never fear, though! He redeems himself by following her to her "graduation ceremony," at which he redeems himself by successfully exhorting her (as a disembodied voice) to listen to her graduation speaker. He then, still as a voice only, tells his wife he loved her, which apparently he had never said while alive. Redemption achieved. Fin.


Anyone who contends that moral relativism is a recent addition to Hollywood's repertoire has obviously never seen Carousel, which was released in 1956. Good grief.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

My Take on the 2008 Candidates

After reading notes by Joel Sedgeman and Ben Gaulke on the 2008 Presidential candidates, I feel strangely compelled to comment on them as well. This isn't meant to be comprehensive, so if your favorite is left off the list, this means 1) I don't know enough about them to comment coherently, or 2) I don't think they're a serious enough candidate to bother with. I'll leave it to your better judgment which are which.

So, beginning with the Democrats, who (as I'm sure most of you can guess) I have decidedly little enthusiasm for:
  1. Joe Biden: Not a serious candidate, but I agree with Ben Gaulke that he's clearly the best the Democrats have to offer. And he's got the same odds of winning the nomination that I do. If he did, though, he'd have a shot at my vote depending on who the Republicans nominated.
  2. Hillary Clinton: Clearly the prohibitive front-runner. The only serious obstacle to her nomination I can see, barring campaign suicide, is concern about the dynastic implications of having elected Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton for 20+ years. On a personal level, what I find is most of the things I hate about Bush, with few of the redeeming features. In the words of Warren Meyer, "in response to a Republican President thought to be over-reaching, secretive, and overly fond of executive power, [Democrats] seem ready to nominate Hillary Clinton, who may be one of the few people in the country more secretive and power-hungry." Between that and dreading HillaryCare II, it makes me shudder. But at least she wouldn't be a total softy when it comes to foreign relations. She's got the guts to be tough on foreign policy and the political shrewdness to force some much-needed compromises on big issues through Congress (one thing Bush has seriously lacked).
  3. Barack Obama: I feel less compelled to comment much on him, simply because it seems clear to me that his time is not yet come. He's too green (in the experience sense) to be a serious threat to Clinton. Also, a total foreign-policy dope, who believes that "aggressive personal diplomacy" is a talisman which converts unfriendly regimes to friendly ones. I don't see how that's possible, except for values of "aggressive personal diplomacy" approaching "entering negotiations with a loaded gun and an intent to use it on said unfriendly regime's leaders." And that's not particularly likely to work either, no matter how satisfying it may sound to some people. He's also caught in the tough position of being a black Democrat running for President. He's going to have trouble because he'll either be accused of being a race traitor for not being confrontational enough on race issues, or he'll simply be unelectable if he follows the Jackson/Sharpton method. It'll be a very difficult tightrope he'll have to walk to have a shot. Stupid identity politics...
  4. John Edwards: He scares me more than Clinton, because he's a populist Democrat, with a hose-the-rich flavor of politics that could have disastrous consequences if implemented. Also, not only does he want universal health-care, but he wants to make it illegal to opt out of the universal insurance system. Not okay.
General comments on the Democratic front-runners:
  1. They all, to different extents, want to "tax the rich" to pay for everything. Edwards is just more extreme about it. Unfortunately (for the Democrats), it's simply not possible to extract the amount of money they want to from "the rich," particularly not without levels of taxation that will drive them out of the country or into retirement, at which point we'll discover, much to our collective chagrin, that having doctors, lawyers, and investment bankers really does help society function.
  2. They all want to impose single-payer or single-provider health care, which I think is a profoundly bad idea for reasons I'll expound upon at a later date, if at all. If you're interested, let me know and I'll go to the trouble of articulating it.
I have fewer problems with the Republicans in general than the Democrats, but that's not to say I don't have my quibbles.
  1. Fred Thompson: His pre-campaign was great, and his real campaign has sucked. Regardless, he's my favorite of the potential nominees. He's fairly solidly planted in the leave-me-the-heck-alone branch of conservativism that I espouse. I'm a big fan of his tax plan, the best part of which is simplifying the awful mess.
  2. Mitt Romney: Don't really know enough to comment, other than to say that his politics is a little too "religious right" for my taste. I view his health-care and gun control accomplishments as Massachusetts Governor as strikes against him, as well as his newfound switch on many policy positions to those more traditionally conservative. He's a little on the slick side (in the unscrupulous-used-car-salesman sense).
  3. Mike Huckabee: He's taking up the mantle of the "compassionate conservatives," which means he'll just be expanding the size of the government on pace with what most of the Democrats would do. More government bureaucracy - just what I want. Also guilty of the greatest meaningless phrase ever, because it's either oxymoronic or tautological: "I believe in free trade, but it has to be fair trade."
  4. Rudy Giuliani: He's even more authoritarian than Bush and Clinton, and as president, he'd have nobody looking over his shoulder. I don't like that picture, even if I tend to like his policy positions. I think it's dangerous to elect someone like him to the presidency. And I have it on good authority that he's a little crazy, in an "I can do whatever I want" sort of way.
  5. John McCain: I admire his stance on the Iraq war, and he's pretty fiscally conservative, which is good, but I will never forgive him for Campaign Finance Reform. He's a sponsor of the greatest concerted effort to effectively repeal the first amendment's free speech clause since the Alien and Sedition Acts. I will stay home before I reward that with my vote.
  6. Ron Paul: He's a nutcase. Isolationism and the gold standard are neither advisable nor achievable. Give it up, man! On the other hand, his views on health care are the best I've seen, and his overarching philosophy is one I can largely support, which can hardly be said for any other candidate but Thompson.
General comments on the Republican candidates:
  1. Most of them are far too authoritarian for my taste. I realize that this is a common symptom in politicians, but Republicans seem to be trying to make it a part of the party platform. You do not need more executive powers. Shut up and go through due process like everybody else.
  2. They're pretty much all for less gun control, which I think is good, though the point may become moot depending on the outcome of the upcoming DC gun ban case.
  3. I'm also a fan (in general) of the jurists Republicans tend to nominate for the higher courts. "Living Constitution" my foot. It's "living" only in the sense that it contains a mechanism for change - amendment. They tend to do a better job of sticking near the meaning of the text than most of their Democrat-nominated counterparts.
  4. Most are in favor of cracking down on illegal immigration (even Ron Paul!). I have a hard time supporting this. Yes, they're illegal. In the same sense that jaywalking is illegal. It's not a moral thing, just an arbitrary law thing. The vast majority just want to work hard, live the American dream, and give their kids the advantage of being born in the best-off country the world has yet known. Can we really condemn them for that? We need to find a way to let more of them come in legally. We can talk about cracking down once we have a mechanism in place that allows basically anyone in legally who isn't intent on mooching off the welfare system, getting locked up in prison, or going dangerously insane.
Feel free to talk back to me in the comments. I enjoy a good (civil!) debate.

Well, here it goes. I'm going to try re-inaugurating this this thing as a vehicle by which I can write things that will:
  1. keep my far-flung network of friends somewhat apprised of events in my life
  2. give me a platform from which I can talk about whatever I happen to care about at any given moment
  3. comment on books I read, a desire which I almost invariably have
So, that's what I'm aiming for from here on out. We'll see just how far from the mark I actually hit...

I'll possibly be renaming the blog and doing some redecorating, so if you really want to see that, stay tuned.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

LOLCreashun Contest Entries

My entries for Scalzi's contest.