Monday, October 30, 2006
At its simplest, Samhain was a celebration of community, a celebration that included members of the community both living and dead. I see in that a shadow of the communion we have in Christ, not just with believers around the world today, but with the entire church triumphant, which spans not only space but time as well. If Christ is the Resurrection and the Life, as he himself attests, our communion includes believers who have died over the two millenia since Christ, and those who awaited his coming.
Jack-o'-lanterns (originally carved in turnips or other similarly sized Old World vegetables) were meant as a ward against evil spirits. As I explained to Rachel today -- and as Evangeline chimed in, since she's familiar with my thinking -- Christ is the one who puts evil spirits to flight, once and for all. So when we carve a jack-o'-lantern, we do it as a statement of faith that Christ has defeated Satan, that Light has triumphed over darkness, and even though autumn is the dying season, we have no need to fear death.
The druids also wore costumes to lead evil spirits away from the towns and villages -- a commendable willingness to embrace self-sacrifice if needed -- by appearing in their costumes to be something other than what they were. And as my girls see it, the Halloween costume functions on two levels: one, it's a game of Let's Pretend, where they look like a witch, Spider-man, or Buzz Lightyear; but two, when we put on acts of righteousness, or we garb ourselves in Christ, God looks at us and sees only his son and his righteousness, not our sins.
Trick-or-treating? The Celts would leave offerings of food and drink out for the spirits of their departed loved ones, to make them feel welcome. Practically speaking, this was a way of ensuring that the needier members of the community would have food and drink in the coming weeks. I hope to perpetuate that attitude in later years by taking the girls to Elijah's Promise when Halloween isn't on a school night; in the meantime, I also remind that that the search for candy brings fleeting pleasure, but the search for Truth brings lasting joy.
Like any of our other holiday traditions, there is no meaning intrinsic in our Halloween customs beyond what we give them. I really don't understand why evangelicals prefer to live in fear that having fun trick-or-treating or carving faces in a pumpkin is going to set their children on the road to perdition.
At their simplest and most basic, these are harmless and essentially fun distractions when the weather starts getting cold; but when we take the same attitude toward them that Paul took toward actual idolatry on Mars Hill, we can find ourselves involved in the community surrounding us rather than deliberately isolated from it, and we can teach our children some valuable spiritual lessons that will serve them in good stead in situations that have nothing to do with a Superman costume.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Picture the beginning where boy meets girl. We'll call this Point A. A little over the X-axis and a little farther up on the Y-axis is when they fall in love. We'll call this Point B. A little more to the right, a little farther up, they get serious and become a couple.
Once you calculate the slope, you can find other points on the line: the first time they kiss, when they meet one another's parents, when they marry and so on. It's so simple and so straightforward, it's a linear progression,
It was like that for me and my wife. We met Homecoming weekend at my alma mater in fall 1994, a little more than two years after I had graduated. Point A.
We bumped into each other a few more times over the course of the school year, mostly because I lived in the city where the college was located, and the following June our relationship had its proper beginning as a romantic one. Point B. Three years later we married, and now here we are.
Of course it's not that simple. I never realized just what into forming that linear progression until a friend of mine spelled it out recently, My friend Liadan is gay, and only recently found a romantic partner. Here are her observations:
Before all this happened, I had no idea that relationships between two people would involve so much strategy and networking on the part of so many other people. It struck me during all this how... social dating is. It's not just about the two people involved; all these social connections are intertwined based on who knows who and what their relation to each other is. It's hard for me to conceptualize, being someone who builds friendships one by one, but there it is in all its six-degrees-of-separation glory: society.
In this sense, gay marriage bans can be constructed as an attempt to exclude gay people and their relationships from the community, partly to delegitimize them, since relationships outside the general social network and the auspices of legal obligation can be seen as less "real", and partly to make it harder for them to exist at all-- I wouldn't have known Iris even existed were it not for the people I knew that did know her, and it wouldn't have gotten to even this tentative stage were it not for the encouragement and social support of my friends. (I was frequently threatened with bodily harm for being
waffly on sending the invitations.)
I didn't meet the woman who would be my wife until I was 24. During the long years before then, people reassured me I just hadn't met the right woman yet, and obviously that's true. I just never considered the social network that was required for meeting her.
Let's break this down. I didn't just happen to be at my alma mater that Homecoming weekend. I was there specifically because of social connections I had made in college that I was planning to draw on that evening. I was visiting a chapter meeting of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students because of a social network I had built in college. When none of the people I knew arrived, I stuck around because of a tenuous relationship I'd established with one student who was there.
Secondly, I continued to return to campus that academic year because of the ties I had there as an alumnus and as a former member of a social organization on campus. In fact it was because of Kirby House that I returned to campus as often as I did, and continued to come into contact with Natasha, who was friends with two of the new Kirbs I had met independently and hit it off with.
The third point of contact was an explicitly social event, organized by an acquaintance of mine who invited me. Her roommate was friends with Natasha, and invited her. And lastly of course a friend of mine pushed me to take the risk and ask her on a date.
It was this vast web of social contacts that made our relationship possible, a web where heterosexual relationships are accepted as the norm. We didn't just meet and become attached. We had a social network facilitating the relatonship at every step of the way, deliberately or not, and providing us with repeated opportunities to interact and then to pursue a romantic relationship with one another.
And realizing all the advantages that even I had at my disposal for finding a romantic life partner, I suddenly have a sense of what the absence of such a network would mean to a gay person like Liadan.
Liadan has a network of friends, but in networks where being gay is considered abnormal, immoral or weird, finding someone to be with can be a problem. People who assume that you're straight won't make a point of introducing you to their single gay friend whom they also assume is straight.
Thanks to hurtful stereotypes of gays, in fact, they might not introduce you to anyone, if they do find out that you're gay. They may even stop seeing you and either cut you out of their circle of friends, or encourage others to cut you out as well. The effect is to leave the gay person isolated and removed from the social networks that people rely on for regular day-to-day living and company.
The odds of finding a partner were in my favor just by the numbers. It's socially expected to be straight and it's also more common. Only about 6 percent of the population is gay, which means that of 100 hundred people I might have in my extended network, about 47 of them are going to be heterosexual women. In a population that same size, Liadan might have found three gay women, including the possibility that some or all of them remain in the closet.
That crowd will shrink a bit once we eliminate women who already are in relationships, but it still easily may end in the teens or twenties. Pairing off with one of them doesn't end the social network. If anything, it brings it together as two formerly separate groups grow increasingly intertwined as they interact with the new couple.
Liadan's potential matches easily could drop from three to zero. If she connects with someone and word gets out that they're a couple, their social network could grow closer. In more conservative areas, the trend is for it to get smaller as people cut off contact with them.
Now there are social networks and structures intended specifically for gays to meet one another and to socialize, but they exist as a subculture that the larger society often considers deviant and unhealthy. Until the 1970s they were illegal, and even now they may still be targeted for other social ills like drug use, depending on the biases of the police and the community.
The single gay or lesbian can look for a partner at gay bars, gay clubs or other establishments aimed at the LGBTQ community, but there are risks even without raids. If a single gay person is still in the closet, she can run afoul of her community's censure and disapproval once she is seen at a gay-friendly establishment. She could lose family, friends, social outlets like church and even her job, since many states offer no protection against wrongful termination for gay workers.
There's also an increased risk of abuse or being played. When I called Natasha and even when I first met her, there were other people around who knew her and who would watch out for her interests. Until she felt comfortable with me, there were a dozen people or more whom she could call and check with to see if I was safe or had a bad reputation. A person entering a gay bar, or visiting a club often is going to lack those resources.
In other words, not only do our social norms make it harder for gays and lesbians to find partners, we push them to find alternatives that aren't as safe, and then punish them heavily if they find a way to balance the scales. By getting together with someone they love, they risk losing social standing, good-paying jobs and the relationships they've had their whole lives with church, with family and with friends.
And the message from the churches that push this sort of ostracism is "We're doing it because we love you."
I don't know how we live with ourselves.
Copyright © 2006 by David Learn. Used with permission.
Buenas noches and good evening. [That opener got a huge appreciative chuckle from the membership, which is at least 50 percent Hispanic.] My name is David Learn, and I'm running for the school board because I'm a believer.
I'm a believer in education. I taught middle school in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and in Pennsylvania; and when my daughter missed the cutoff date for kindergarten in her district, I homeschooled her for a year rather than waste twelve months, when she was already eager to learn to read and to discover the world around her.
I'm a believer in charter schools. With their innovations in education, charter schools lead students to see the real-life value in their lessons, and they give children work that matches their ability levels, rather than leaving them frustrated or bored. Thanks to the pioneering efforts of charter schools like ours, our children are making education a lifetime journey through wonder and discovery, rather than the dreary ho-hum of one-size-fits-all schooling and the tedium of low expectations. Our public school system is better, our communities are stronger, and our state is richer, because of charter schools like this one.
And I'm a believer in Gary Barker. My older daughter is a second-grader here. I've been impressed by the commitment of her teachers to see her reach her potential, and I've been impressed by all that they've done to keep her work challenging and at her interest level. In the time that Evangeline has been a student here, I've been a regular volunteer at the school. I've helped to lead a Girl Scout troop, I've worked with students on their reading and math skills, and last year I read poetry by Edgar Allen Poe to the middle-schoolers. My daughter's teacher no longer asks me to volunteer for school activities; she takes it as a given that I'll be there.
Being on the school board of trustees simply would be the culmination of that volunteer effort. I'm under no illusions; I realize that if you elect me tonight, you'll be entrusting me to something a lot weightier than showing up this Saturday for a few hours to add a new flower bed to help improve the school grounds. It's a job that will require a hefty commitment of time and energy, and it carries with it the heavy responsibility of ensuring that all our children get the high standard of education we expect the school to provide.
I dont have an agenda that I'm setting out to accomplish if I'm elected to the board, except for this: I want our school to be the best it can be, to deliver the best education it can, in the best environment possible. If you place your trust in me and elect me to the board, I'll pursue that agenda with everything I have.
Because I'm a believer.
I thought my speech was well received; the highest praise I got was from a student I passed on my way to the bathroom, who remarked, "Nice speech." My wife told me I was one of the few candidates who actually could be heard in the back, even with the microphone, and she figures that alone will garner me a number of votes.
I won't know the results until at least tomorrow, I think. There were six seats open, with a total eleven candidates running. On the other hand, I've been down at the school so often volunteering that people I don't recognize call me by name. I also learned from Evangeline's teacher that a number of the teachers were discussing my candidacy yesterday evening, in a generally positive way. Certainly a number of them wished me well. So I probably won, and I'm not sure whether that's a good thing or a bad one.
Evangeline told me a few times that she hopes I lost. I realized this morning that she's probably serious, so I'll have to find out why.
Monday, October 23, 2006
A recent inventory of the Vatican library has turned up what scholars believe may be the none other than Autographs, the original biblical manuscripts. Even a cursory review reveals that the Bible may have undergone extensive peer editing and revision on its way toward the familiar King James text.
Among the differences in the so-called "first draft" of the Bible:
1. Adam and Eve's lawyer gets a court order to delay their eviction from Eden, citing tenant's rights.
2. When Judas returns from meeting with Caiaphas, Jesus offers to double whatever they're paying him, to keep his loyalty.
3. After his affair with Bathsheeba breaks into the open, David releases a statement saying he feels "honored" to have been the object of God's wrath and is sure the people of Israel are also uplifted by recent events.
4. When Solomon orders that the baby be cut in half, both mothers shrug and say, 'Well, I guess we're both all right with that."
5. Elisha kills Elijah and burns the body, claiming the old prophet's mantle and "double portion" for his own. (And if anyone asks, he plans to stick with the old "a fiery chariot took my master to heaven" alibi.)
6. The whale spits Jonah out of his mouth because the old man hasn't taken a bath in weeks.
7. After destroying Sodom, God waits a few days to destroy Gomorrah, out of deference to local religious holidays.
8. Jacob, Rachel, and Leah end up on Jerry Springer: "In The Dark, They Both Looked The Same."
9. A group of ex-lepers sue Jesus for healing them because his actions have ruined their livelihood as beggars.
10. Pilate acquits Jesus for lack of evidence and finds the entire Sanhedrin in contempt of court.
11. After being raised from the dead, Lazarus berates Jesus for not coming sooner.
12. Following the death of Goliath, David gets heckled by the Coalition for Fighting Discrimination Against Really Tall People.
13. After a group of youths mock him as "baldhead," Elisha self-consciously begins combing his remaining hair over the top of his head
14. The angel's voice startles Abraham badly enough that he accidentally sacrifices Isaac anyway.
15. After Ezekiel sees the wheel of fire, he also describes how he was medically probed by aliens.
16. The walls of Jericho collapse onto Joshua and a hundred other Israelites who were standing too close.
17. Demoralized over Jesus' death, the disciples go back to being fishermen.
18. Faced with the risen Christ, Thomas believes he's having a post-traumatic nervous breakdown, and checks himself into the Betty Ford Clinic.
19. The old lady whom Jesus praised for giving away her last two pennies is kicked out of the Temple for making the Pharisees look bad and starves to death, alone and penniless, two days later.
20. Paul and Barnabas stop protesting their identification as pagan gods when the priests offer them their choice of the town virgins.
21. Noah takes a pair of unicorns on the Ark, but the cheetahs run them down and eat them.
22. Adam chews Cain out for wanting to marry his own sister.
23. At the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus hands out copies of "The Four Spiritual Laws."
24. Paul foregoes missions to the poor throughout the world; instead he goes on Imperial Television to spread the word to the wealthy, offering them prayer hankies and Shekaniah glory wallets in exchange for their faith offerings.
25. The Wise Men are detained at the border of Galilee when problems surface with their travel visas; eventually they are let through, but only after their gifts are seized by imperial agents.
And as a show of good taste, we decided not to include the following:
26. Faced with the prospect of raising a son by herself in a society that would scorn her, Mary decides to get an abortion.
Friday, October 20, 2006
That's one of the problems with the Iraq war. Everyone knows that our resources are committed, thus leaving us little clout during political negotiations.What's interesting is that Bush is finally starting to admit that a lot of his war critics are right. He's admitted that a Vietnam comparison is supportable, and now some of his generals are admitting that they're stymied by the violence in Baghdad.
As far as North Korea goes, I read one commentator yesterday who made the case that a lot of the blame should go to Beijing, which has been supporting the North Korea regime for years in tangible and intangible ways, and could bring it down in a relatively short matter of time just by allowing North Korean fugitives across its borders. The ensuing flood of refugees would throw a lot of the North's infrastructure hopelessly out of whack.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
My back is hunched over, my arms and legs are pulled in as tightly as I can manage. I want to flee, to run far away from here, but I cannot. So instead I pull myself into a ball and try to hide.
Every muscle in my body is tight and hard. Every thought is racing, looking for somewhere safe. As I talk on the phone, my hands slide all over my arms and chest, trying to relax myself and to draw out the tension before I snap. A voice in the back of my head is screaming, and all I want to do is to run as far away as I can.
What is this about? What the hell is going on?
Copyright © 2006 by David Learn. Used with permission.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
To hear my mom describe it, my dad had no idea what to do with these four squalling kids that life had dropped in his lap; still, I think he did all right. When we joined YMCA children's program Indian Guides dad was a regular volunteer; and even though he hated camping, he almost always went when we did. I don't think he knew a thing about soccer, but he became an assistant coach when he and mom made me join a soccer team in middle school. And every Sunday morning for about 10 years, he helped my brothers and me deliver newspapers on our paper routes.
My favorite thing was walking the dog with him. We did that most nights when I was in high school, and when I came home from college I would still go walk the dog with him. I did it all the way up until about two years ago, when their black Lab died of cancer. It was a great bonding experience.
These are the sorts of things I like to do with the girls, even when their help is counterproductive. It's time spent together. That makes conversation easier and more organic, and it also just plain undergirds the relationship we have. It also teaches them responsibility.
When we look for ways to add meaning and value to our lives, especially the time we spend with our children, we're asking the wrong questions. The question isn't what to do to make life meaningful, the question is, "How is my life meaningful?"
The meaning is there. It's already inherent in life, and invariably the divine meanings are expressed through and in the relationships we have here on earth.
Friday, October 13, 2006
- I have one of those superslow Dial Up connections. There are no plans to get a cable modem or DSL.
- I don't have an iPod. If I did, I probably would consider it my widescreen TV set.
- I have never burned a CD of music I downloaded from the Internet.
- At church, I often feel that the worship is too loud and hurts my ears. (I also miss the good old days when we sang hymns.)
- Not only do I lack a cell phone, I'm constantly amazed to hear the new things they can do. (Did you know that you can use them as calculators? My wife just told me.)
- Rather than buy new books, I visit the librarian.
When the conversation drifts into pop culture, though, I'm at something of a loss. I don't go see the new hot movies -- I usually wait until they come out on DVD -- so I recently was left cold when someone alluded to "Pirates of the Caribbean 2." I responded with my own allusion to "Ghostbusters 2," and unfortunately I looked like a doofus in both cases.
"Red Son" is an interesting take on Superman because he's still an essentially good guy who doesn't want anyone to be hurt, and has unimpeachable moral character. He's still Superman. But because he grew up in communist Russia, he's not the Superman we remember. He still defends truth and justice, but it's no longer the American way he upholds. And in the DC Universe, that's quite a game changer.
In the comic, the adult Superman emerges into the public consciousness during the presidencies of Stalin and Eisenhower. The fear and paranoia of the Red Scare are further inflamed by this superhuman champion of communism and Soviet values. In a compelling section on the reaction in America, the comic shows people in the street terrified at the thought that a superpowered Soviet can him to watch their every move from orbit.
The conflict between the two men continues over the next 40 years or so moves along standard Superman lines, however abridged, as Luthor gets Braniac to put Stalingrad in a bottle, and creates one superpowered patriot after another, like Bizarro and the Parasite, in attempts to destroy his foe.
The story breaks down for me in the final act. Batman in this world was left an orphan when the KGB shot his parents for publishing subversive anti-Superman material. When we finally see him as an adult, Batman's absolute obsession is to bring down Superman and his Soviet system. As it continues, the comic fails to maintain the energy it had in its opening pages.
In a rare twist, Luthor does win in the end, and outsmarts not only Braniac but Superman as well. Except Superan survives as well, and manages to live long enough to see the earth's sun grow red, and hear reports from one Lex Luthor's descendants that the Earth is going to blow up because of pressure building beneath the planet's crust.
The comic was all right, but none what I would want to buy. But that's why I didn't buy it. Gotta love library cards.
With last year's leader unavailable this year because of scheduling conflicts, and myself barred from being the full-fledged troop leader, we're now in the second week of October without having a single troop meeting. I've asked two mothers of last year's Scouts if they would be interested in helping as leaders, and neither one was available.
This is frustrating, especially when you consider how much their own kids liked this.
So now I need to expand the radius of my search: ask around the school, ask at church, ask complete strangers who don't even know what Girl Scouts are but who might want to scarf a box or two of cookies, if they would like to lead the troop.
I just hope we can get it together by November. It's already too late for the regular cookie sale.
It works like this: With an employer's permission, an employee brings in a worm bin, and sets it up some place accessible. Co-workers feed the worms apple cores, uneaten lettuce and other such things. (You can also add shredded newspaper, but it's best to avoid dairy and meat products because of the smell.) As the food decays, the worms eat and reproduce. When the compost is finished, it goes home and goes into gardens, flower beds and lawns.
This isn't a joke. It's actually No. 2 on their list of ten ways to reduce, reuse and recycle at the workplace.
I'm not ready for a composting bin at work, myself, but I'm always surprised how many people throw away leaves, grass clippings, bad produce and other organic material. I grew up with a compost pile in the back yard and a successful garden that my father tended, and I've maintained that composting tradition here in my own house now that I'm an adult.
Composting just plain makes sense. Given the finite space that exists for landfills, it makes no sense to send resources into the waste stream when we can reharvest them. And make no mistake -- bad lettuce, moldy fruit and used coffee grounds are a tremendous resource. Broken down into finished compost by worms, molds and bacteria, these things make a tremendous natural fertilizer for the soil, all for free, while commercial fertilizers cost money.
We recycle paper, cans and bottles -- discarded food should go too.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Eventually the tree will creak, and there will be loud cracks from inside its trunk as the wood starts to give. I'll keep going for a while, until I reach the point of equilibrium, when the tree is perfectly balanced. After that, it's only a matter of time.
The wind will start to blow. The tree house will begin to spin. Faster and faster.
And then everything will be still. Absolutely still.
By that point, I expect, the tree house will be shattered beyond repair. If not, I have the ax, I have a stack of dry newspaper, and I have matches. That treehouse will burn, and with it will burn the frustration of every parent who has read those drivelous books to their children.
The magic will be gone, it's true, but so will be the curse: the curse of insipid little happy moralizing that everyone in the world is your friend and wants to help you; that animals are our equals and little girls can talk with them; that it's fun, safe and exciting to run into dangerous situations without telling your parents; that if you do get into trouble, a Deux ex machina will come to your rescue; and most of all, the curse that compels children to have their parents read those insult-your-intelligence books every night and then act them out
I will burn the treehouse to cinders, and I will dance around the coals until they dissolve into ash. I will urinate on the embers to put them out, and when the fire has finished, I will rake everything up, pour lighter fluid onto the pile, and light another match.
In the end, there will be nothing left but ashes. These I will put in a box and mail to Mary Pope Osborne with instructions to mix the ashes with her garden soil, plant cucumber seeds, and never, under any circumstances, send one of the resulting cucumbers to anyone within a 100-mile radius of my house.
And then I will be happy.
Copyright © 2006 by David Learn. Used with permission.
Exactly what is the plan that the Cylons are supposed to have, anyway?
In the original 1978 series, their plan was fairly straightforward. Those Cylons had been created by a lizard race and were bent on humanity's total destruction. In the new "Battlestar Galactica," the Cylons were created by humanity but rebelled, and now have agents who look human and who have infiltrated human society.
Watching the show, whatever the overreaching plan is, it's pretty clear that the Cylons actually have several different agenda where humanity is concerned, genocide being only one of them.
The big one remains genocide. That was established pretty clearly in the miniseries, where the Cylons wiped out most of the human population of the Twelve Colonies in a surprise nuclear bombardment, and then went about picking off every ship that was left until Galactica led the Colonial fleet away from the Cylons at space station Ragnar.
Genocide has continued as a goal ever since then. The episode "33" put the survivors through a harrowing ordeal as they would make their faster-than-light jump, only to have Cylons appear 33 minutes later, for days on end. In "Water," a Cylon sleeper agent planted a detonator in the Galactica's water tanks and blasted the primary water supply of the fleet into space.
In Season 2, a Cylon boarding party landed on the Galactica and tried to vent the entire ship into space. Once everyone on board had asphyxiated, it's expected the Cylons would have turned the Galactica's weapons on the civilian fleet and exterminated humanity once and for all. Another large-scale Cylon attack was the one that Boomer disabled with the computer virus she transmitted into the raiders. And when the Pegasus appeared halfway through Season 2, we discovered (not surprisingly) that the Cylons have been trailing the Colonial fleet for ages, and even brought along a resurrection ship so no Cylon lives were permanently lost.
That's one plan, obviously. But there's also the unusual relationship between Six and Baltar, which has led him to believe in a singular God, as opposed to the polytheistic beliefs of the other humans, and to believe that God has a special role for Baltar to play in some ineffable plan. And since Baltar and Six each have risen to positions of prominence among their own peoples, it's hardly reasonable for that plan to advance if humanity is driven to extinction.
And then there's the relationship between Helo and Boomer. She's said that the Cylons have been unable to reproduce naturally, they suspect because they are unable to love. So they went to great length to lure Helo into a relationship with Boomer, and to father a child with her. Baby Hera obviously is of tremendous importance to the Cylon plan, given the attention that her birth received, and given that we saw her at the end of Season 2.5, she'll have an important role to play in Season 3.0. And obviously that plan wouldn't work out right if the Cylons exterminate humanity. (Nor would breeding farms like the one Starbuck escaped from, since those require human females.)
But what is the plan? Do the Cylons even know the whole of it, or is it being fed to them in dribs and drabs? "Download" showed the Cylons on Caprica restoring the capital city, and it also showed a monumental revolution beginning in Cylon culture when Caprica Six and Boomer agreed to use their celebrity status to raise awareness among Cylons of humanity's better traits, particularly their capacity for love.
"Lay Down Your Burdens" took that revolution to the next order as Brother Cavil revealed that the Cylons realized they had made "a mistake" in trying to destroy the human race, followed by a second "mistake" in following the Colonial fleet. And of course that episode ended with the Cylons occupying new Caprica, presumably with the intent of helping to repair the damage they had done to human civilization. (No, I haven't seen any of Season 3.0 yet. I don't have cable TV, so I'm waiting for the next DVD set. Please don't spoil anything for me.)
Is the "benevolent occupation" of New Caprica a change in the Cylon plan, a new wrinkle in the plan that doesn't alter the end result, or was it part of the plan all along?
My best guess is that the Cylon plan is to become fully human witness the concern over reproduction, Six's talk in the first season about the renewal of the human race, and the arms smuggler's speech in the miniseries that God had chosen the Cylons to replace humanity perhaps even to become better humans than humans themselves, as seen in their desire to lift up humanity and improve its lot in New Caprica.
Part of the key to understanding Cylon nature may lie in the number of models of Cylon there are. (No, I'm serious.) The original series used twelve Colonies to invoke images of the twelve tribes of Israel, who left Egypt in search of the Promised Land. In the Israelites' case, it was Canaan, which had been promised to their ancestor Abraham 400 years earlier; in the case of the Colonials, the Promised Land is Earth.
No doubt in part because of changing sensibilities over the last 30 years, the new series has no immdiately apparent biblical significance to the number of Colonies there are. But as I've noted before it has made use of the number 12 enough that my liberal arts education has noticed: twelve Colonies (named after the Zodiac), twelve Cylon models, and 12 lords of Kobol named after the Greek gods.
It could be coincidence, but I can't help but think there's something there. With the exception of the Pegasus, whenever we've seen Six, she's been extremely sensual. In addition to her longstanding affair with Baltar, we've seen her hit on Adama and Helo. The weapons smuggler, when he resurfaced in the fleet during Season 1, made an effort to sow suspicion and doubt in Starbuck and Roslin's minds. Simon, who appeared on "The Farm," is a healer and often appeared with strong lighting in the background.
If we lean toward a mythological reading here, that gives us:
|Zeus||King of gods||n/k|
|Hera||Queen of goddesses||n/k|
|Apollo||God of light, healers||Simon|
|Observant readers will note that there are thirteen Greek|
gods listed. This is because there are various ways of depicting the
lineup of the big twelve Olympians. A matchup from deity to Cylon is
complicated by the different facets of each deity. Apollo, in addition to
being a god of light, was also a god for healers, musicians and
The other known Cylons include Boomer, the telejournalist who filmed the documentary on Galactica, the man Baltar correctly (if randomly) identified as a Cylon in the miniseries, and Brother Cavil. I'm not sure how to line them up; Boomer is a warrior type, which would make her Athena, except that she's clearly not the virginal type. I've wondered if the journalists might be Zeus and Hera, but that seems unlikely since the Cylon god is more likely Zeus, and think that's probably Baltar. Cavil just plain doesn't fit, from what I can see, which means I'm probably barking up the wrong tree.
We also have Boomer and Helo's daughter, whom they named Hera, but whom Pegasus Six said just should be called Thirteen. (Thirteen being Earth, I suppose, since Earth is the lost thirteenth colony.)
I still it's amazing how good "Battlestar Galactica" is, not just because of the original series, but also because of where it's broadcast. After all, this is the Sci-Fi Network, the same cable network that made a wreck of "Earthsea," ran "Sliders" into the ground, and once even padded out Classic Trek episodes with so many commercials that they ran about 90 minutes each.
So what is the Cylon plan? I don't know, but I am intrigued enough to keep shelling out the money for the DVDs as they become available. I'm sure that plan belongs to Universal Studios, but I'll go along with it.
In the meantime, I'm interested in hearing anyone's thoughts as they want to share them. And if anyone wants to record the episodes and send them to me, I won't say no.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Is Baltar a Cylon? Bear with me a moment, and I think you'll agree that it does make some degree of sense, given what we know about Baltar specifically and the Cylons in general.
Everyone else in the science fiction-watching world is enjoying the third season of "Battlestar Galactica." Still, cut me some slack. Cable TV is ridiculously expensive and time-consuming. I can buy on DVD an entire season of a show that's worth watching for less than I would spend on a single month of cable. I've just finished watching Season 2.5 and have some thoughts on where the series may be headed. If I seem a little behind-the-times in some of my thoughts, remember why, and see if my ideas have any merit.
I believe we're given the first and best clue that Baltar is a Cylon as early as the miniseries itself. The morning of the Cylon attack, Six reveals both her nature and her mission to Baltar while the bombs are going off. At the end of their conversation, she pushes him down in front of her, and debris thrown by a nuclear blast hurtles through the window of his house, blowing out the windows and throwing glass and everything else into the room.
My reaction when I saw this was pretty similar to the reaction I had when I saw Bruce Willis' character in "The Sixth Sense" walking around Philadelphia after being shot in the abdomen: "Come on, there is no way he could have survived that."
So, what if Baltar didn't survive? There's no reason his consciousness couldn't have been downloaded into a new body, leaving that new body to wander around outside Caprica City in shock. (And isn't it just an amazing coincidence that Baltar in shock but not seriously injured after the attack just happened to be one of the people to find the raptor piloted by Sharon Valerii, who turned out to be a Cylon sleeper agent?) Given that the Cylons are capable of creating false memories, such as Sharon's childhood memories, he very possibly could "remember" leaving the ruins of his house and wandering outside Caprica City until good fortune brought him to Sharon and Helo.
Other points in favor of Baltar being a Cylon: his advanced knowledge of cybernetics and artificial intelligence; his ability to create a Cylon detector; his correct identification of the newscaster in the miniseries as a newscaster; his ruthless and self-serving amorality, which is most like the Cylon mentality; and of course his strange connection with Six.
The show has been deliberately vague about the nature of that connection. Baltar initially speculated that her appearances were externalized expressions of his guilt over his inadvertent role in the Cylon attack. And when Six explains that she had implanted a chip in his brain one night that allowed her to converse with him, he promptly countered that such an explanation was his own rational mind trying to resolve the impossibility of his experiences. Later, in Season 2, they switch explanations. Six tells Baltar that there's no chip in his head and that she's just a figment of his imagination, and he's so convinced that he was a chip in his head that he orders a brain scan. The scan turns up nothing inorganic in his head; still, that's no reason to discount the possibility. Since the Cylons are evidently adept at bio-organic engineering, there's no reason to believe that a Cylon chip would have to be silicon.
The biggest clue, I think, comes in the episode "Download," where we see the story for the first time from the Cylon perspective. As Caprica Six, the one who was killed in the nuclear bombardment, awakens in her new body, she is shocked to see Baltar with the Cylons standing outside the vat where she has just been activated. He never explains how this is possible, but for the remainder of the episode, it's clear that his relationship to her is virtually identical to the relationship the Ghost Six has to Baltar on the Galactica.
It's possible that the Ghost Baltar is an externalized aspect of Caprica Six's guilt over her role in the genocide. I'm sure she's come to understand him that way. But for both Caprica Six and Baltar to be affected the same way is too striking to be nothing more than coincidence. And if the distance between the Colonial fleet and Caprica has been too great for dead Cylons to download into new bodies, it's too great to carry on a form of communication that involves complex mental imaging, immediate responses, and emotion ranging through anger, sexual arousal, and condescension.
I think instead something is manipulating Baltar and Caprica Six toward a goal. Both have been maneuvered into positions of power and influence, Baltar as president of the Colonies and Caprica Six as a war hero who is able to persuade the Cylons to adopt a new approach to dealing with humans.
The Ghost Six repeatedly has spoken to Baltar about God, the plans he has, and the role Baltar will play (and is playing) in that. To some extent, Baltar has started to believe her. I'd wager a guess that the Cylon God whoever or whatever it is is the one moving the puppet strings here.
I wouldn't be surprised if the Cylon God turns out to be a Cylon (let's call it One), nor if it turned out in some way to be Baltar himself.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, incidentally, has a lower approval rating than Bush, at only 33 percent, with nearly half of all Americans believing he should resign.
As Newsweek puts it:
It's so bad that France has become Bush's closest ally.Democrats now outdistance Republicans on every single issue that could decide voters' choices come Nov. 7. In addition to winning for the first time in the Newsweek poll on the question of which party is more trusted to fight the war on terror (44 to 37 percent) and moral values (42 percent to 36 percent), the Democrats now inspire more trust than the GOP on handling Iraq (47 to 34); the economy (53 to 31); health care (57 to 24); federal spending and the deficit (53 to 29); gas and oil prices (56 to 23); and immigration (43 to 34).
Read the entire story.
Copyright © 2006 by David Learn. Used with permission.
Monday, October 09, 2006
Friday, October 06, 2006
Being a Christian is like being a pumpkin. God lifts you up, takes you in, and washes all the dirt off of you. He opens you up, touches you deep inside and scoops out all the yucky stuff, and throws it into the compost pile. Then he smashes you up, mixes you with some other ingredients, and puts you in a pie pan. Once he's done that, he tosses you into the oven for a while at 350 degrees, and when you're done cooking, he has friends over for dinner and they eat you.
This was passed on to me from another pumpkin. Now it is your turn to pass it to a pumpkin. I liked this enough to send it to all the pumpkins in my patch. Happy fall!
Copyright © 2006 by David Learn. Used with permission.
I asked two mothers if they would consider becoming troop leaders, since my sex disqualifies me from the role. I have hopes only for one of them, and not even high hopes at that.
Next is to stop goldbricking, and write a letter to the school asking for the room back. Then I have to write a general recruitment letter for the classes, to see if we can get more girls to join the troop, and send that to our council liaison so she can approve it.
And somewhere in there, I need to make calls to these parents and see if I can drum up a leader.
Sigh. I suppose it's good for me.
No, scratch that. Millar's comic, published in a single volume in 2005 by Top Cow Comics, is something it takes a twisted genius to come up with. While most of the rest of us would imagine a world where supervillains run roughshod over everyone else and decent people struggle to eke out an existence, let alone a resistance, Millar instead has generated a world order run in secret by an Illuminati of supervillains.
This strange order of things arose about 20 years ago when the supervillains in the world united with a plan: Why not team up and get rid of all the world's superheroes once and for all, and proceeded to do so.
It makes sense, once you think about it, since every superhero has a score or more of regular supervillains on their roster, many of whom (for dramatic and storytelling reasons) are more powerful than the hero himself. Batman alone has the Joker, Two-Face, Mr. Freeze, the Riddler, Bane, Poison Ivy, the Penguin, Ra's al Ghul and the entire League of Assassins, Amygdala, the Scarecrow, Mr. Zzazz, the Calendar Man ... and on and on and on. Put them all together, and he wouldn't have a chance. Same goes for Superman and any other hero you can think of.
So that's what the supervillains did, back in 1986. They either killed the superheroes, or altered the timeline so that they weren't superheroes anymore -- they were actors who had played superheroes on TV shows or in the movies, and so on. It would be as though Christopher Reeve actually were from another planet, or Adam West really were the world's greatest detective -- and yet both men were unaware of this.
The supervillains, with their foes out of the way, now ran the world, from the behind the scenes. Any time they committed a crime, they covered it up through their vast network of controls.
Once Wesley Gibson has been fully inducted into this new world, and the readers with him, the action begins. Not every supervillain is content to rule the world if no one knows about it. What's the point in ruling the world if you don't get to frighten people? So a rift emerges between the "good" supervillains and the "bad" ones, as the more psychotic ones step out of the shadows, neutralize their colleagues who have been holding them back, and everything starts to go crazy again.
Best of all is the ending, which I won't ruin for anyone who hasn't read the comic, but it's got a brutal in-your-face message to people who hate their jobs, feel their lives suck, and spend $20 picking up a trade paperback.
It's a great idea for a comic, and there are some genuinely brilliant scenes in the comic, but this isn't one I'll be reading again. It was just too crude: the sexually denigrating remarks, the runaway potty mouth, and the struggle between amoral characters and their nihilistic foes drained the book of a lot of its pleasure.
Even the pleasure and wit that do survive are tainted by the foul language. Naming characters "Fuckwit" and "Shithead" is the sort of locker room humor that schoolyard bullies enjoy; it's not the sort of thing you hope to find in your reading material, either casual or serious. And by the time the comic was over, Millar had dropped so many F-bombs, it was amazing there was anything more than a smoking crater left of the comic.
Perhaps this was meant to show how tough the characters were, or how uncouth; but without some sort of counterweight, all it left me with was a feeling of emptiness -- the story was clever enough that better writing would have made it more memorable and worth reading again.
Copyright © 2006 by David Learn. Used with permission.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
After all, didn't he resign under a cloud of scandal for sending inappropriate e-mail to congressional pages? What's the message he's trying to send here, "Don't blame me for chasing underage males; I couldn't help it, I'm gay"? If he had sent explicit messages to female pages, would he have asked his attorney to announce that he's heterosexual? Good grief.
The issue isn't that he's gay. The issue is that he allegedly was sending explicit e-mail to male pages. That's it. Trying to give this the "I'm a victim, feel sorry for me" spin is shameful, and it should be offensive to every other gay man and woman in this country, since he's essentially saying that being gay made him sexually predatory.
It seems in some ways like Foley's trying to follow the lead of former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevy, who managed to turn his resignation two years ago into "I had to resign because I'm gay" rather than "I had to resign because I used my position as New Jersey governor to grant my lover a Cabinet-level position he wasn't qualified for."
I know from the misery that some of my friends have gone through that being closeted is hell, and being open about a gay sexual orientation often isn't much better, and I'm sure that having to live in the closet -- particularly for a public figure -- is unimagineably worse. But let's not use sexual orientation as an excuse for criminal behavior. That's just an insult.
Copyright © 2006 by David Learn. Used with permission.
(Whaddya know: The Palm Beach Post agrees with me.)
Let's be fair. Superman is not exactly the most interesting superhero to read. He's invincible, he can fly, he can lift mountains, he can freeze you with his breath, hear clouds scrape together, watch cells divide, see things thousands of miles away, burn things with his heat ray vision, and see through solid objects.
His only vulnerabilities are to magic, kryptonite and fatigue poisons. That means any time he's fighting a supervillain, the fight is going to end quickly or destructively, and the action sequences in his comics are going to be melodramatic and juvenile. I recently borrowed a collection of the regular Superman titles from the library and never finished. It was awful.
By the same token, Lex Luthor usually isn't a compelling villain. He gets solid treatment from Neil Gaiman in "Black Orchid," and from time to time elsewhere as well, but he's usually little more than Richard III on Machiavellian steroids. He schemes and plots, and he avoids getting caught, because that's what he does. It's his function. Lex Luthor just enjoys power and wants to crush everybody beneath his feet because he can.
The best treatment I've ever seen of the Superman legend technically wasn't even Superman but Hyperion, a pastiche published by Marvel Comics. The second probably would be Mark Waid's treatment in "Kingdom Come." In both cases, what made the Superman character compelling was the writer's exploration of his interactions with the rest of the world, either the superpowered community in "Kingdom Come," or the nonpowered humans of "Supreme Power."
Similarly, John Byrne gave Lex Luthor probably the most compelling characterization during his run on "Man of Steel" in the 1980s. At one point in that run, Luthor's detectives and agents have assured him with almost total certainty that Superman is none other than Clark Kent, a reporter for the Daily Planet. Luthor, rather than using this discovery to crush his adversary, fires everybody from the project because it's so idiotic to assume that a man as powerful as Superman would be content to work as a newspaper reporter.
Azzarello builds on the foundation Byrne laid, by showing us exactly how Luthor views himself and Superman. In this reading, Luthor sees Superman not as a savior, hero or inspiration to the people, but as übermensch -- an alien of incalculable power, who is posing as a hero but who in fact limits human potential and who could at any point decide to rule humanity openly.
This isn't exactly new material. Writers established years ago that Luthor considers Superman a danger, believes himself to be the only person to see the danger clearly, and even imagines that he'll be hailed as a hero after he has bested Superman once and for all. The difference is that every time we see Luthor expostulate on this position, we see him driven by jealousy and fear.
Here Azzarello shows us Luthor as he sees himself: a decent man who offers humanity hope, who treats his janitor as an equal, with respect; a man who takes interest in his employees' children and their welfare; and who is welcome to sacrifice whatever it takes to show the world what a menace Superman really is.
And when he casually ruins lives, threatens a labor representative with death, and manipulates other people into committing atrocities, we see hints that it bothers him.
I enjoyed the nice touches that round out Luthor, who insists on calling his janitor by his first name, the feeling guilt and grief over the consequences of his actions, and the evident respect he has for Alfred Pennyworth and his commitment to Bruce Wayne. And I appreciated that we never got Superman's perspective on the story, but for one sentence.
But at the same time, I couldn't help but feel there were a few unexplained and needless additions to the story. Sure, it's nice to see Lex Luthor matching wits with Bruce Wayne as one businessman to another, but there's what appears to be a fight between Batman and Superman that's never explained, a decision Wayne makes to share Wayne Technologies research with Lexcorp, and an entire fifth of the comic that goes in what I presume is supposed be thematic rather than chronological order, with the result that I've read it five times and still don't quite understand the order of events or its relevance.
Despite its shortcoming, the scope of this sympathetic portrayal of Luthor is unprecedented in my experience. For that reason alone, this comic is worth reading and it deserves to be included in any Luthor bible that D.C. compiles.
Copyright © 2006 by David Learn. Used with permission.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Why is this good news? Because thyroids produce thyroglobulin, and if your thyroid has been removed, thrown out and incinerated, and then what's left is destroyed by radiation, and what's left after that is given over to a plague of locusts, you'd better not have substantial levels of thyroglobulin in your bloodstream, because if you do, that means you still have cancer cells.
And as I pointed out to Evangline, there also were no measurable amounts of Green Globulin or Hobglobulin in my blood. This is good, since I failed to develop the proportional strength, speed and agility of iodine after being bitten by a radioactive iodine this May. The jury is still out on whether I have "iodine sense," as several people have pointed out that I do seem to have the sense of iodine these days.
I'm supposed to return on Jan. 2 for another visit with the endocrinologist, who is counting on me to pay off her remaining loans for med school. The big excitement at that point will be an injection of Thyrogen, a synthetic form of the thyroid stimulation hormone that the pituitary gland produces.
I am unable to think of a decent wisecrack about Thyrogen, despite the way its name reminds me of estrogen. If you can think of one, let me know and I'll use it next time, with appropriate credit.
If for some reason Thyrogen unexpectdly stimulates any measurable thyroid activity, and my thyroglobulin levels jump afterward, I'll get a repeat experience of what happened last time. That mans another round of being unable to keep warm, having a harder time staying awake during the day, and getting phone calls from nonexistent people at six in the morning.
That is unlikely. So let's celebrate the good news in clear conscience. My thyroglobulin levels are down.
- "American Pie"
- "The Phantom of the Opera"
- "Yellow Submarine"
- "My Deliverer is Coming"
- "Awesome God"
- "Casey Jones"
- "John Henry"
- "Turn, Turn, Turn (To Everything There is a Season)"
- John Williams' score to "Superman: The Movie"
- The theme from "Spider-man"
- "Follow the Drinking Gourd"
Sunday, October 01, 2006
You see this in one of the earliest stories about Solomon. After he prays for wisdom at the start of his reign, there immediately comes the famous story of the two women each claiming to be the mother of a living boy, and each saying the other's son died during the night. Solomon gives orders to cut the boy in half, and when only one of the women protests the decision, he tags her as the child's real mother.
This was an interpersonal relationship, where Solomon displays his understanding of the human heart. Contrast that with his decision to appoint leaders in Israel who don't correspond to the 12 tribes, and you can see that his wisdom at politics was lacking in other areas than his politically expedient marriages.
Still, on the subject of wisdom, I had two interesting thoughts this weekend. The first is that both Wisdom and Folly are anthropomorphized in the book of Proverbs as women who invite listeners into a relationship with them. Wisdom, of course, brings many rewards, even though her way is sometimes hard; while Folly brings only ruin and destruction.
It struck me as an interesting reminder not only that wisdom manifests itself in the relationships we have with others, but that Wisdom herself invites us into a relationship with her, and ultimately to God, since the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
The notion of Wisdom waiting at the gates of the city, calling to people to listen to her, suggests that having wisdom is not simply a static repertoire of sayings, proverbs and interesting nuggets, but a dynamic relationship with give, take and growth; i.e, we express our own wisdom in our relationships with others, but gaining wisdom is itself fundamentally born of a relationship.