Thursday, February 22, 2007

today's AWAD quote

Profits, like sausages... are esteemed most by those who know least about what goes into them.

--Alvin Toffler, futurist and author (1928- )

"The Glove of Power" vs. "Power Glove"

This semester, I have my dream job: I get to read SF books, and then get together with other people and talk about them, and get paid for it. Oh, there are a couple things I'd change about this job if I could: 1) I'd make it permanent and 2) I'd pay myself a lot more. But really, to be paid at all for doing something you love and would do anyway...who can beat that?

One of the things we've discussed is, what is the difference between SF and fantasy literature? There are a lot of definitions floating around there proposed by critics who spend their time doing things like defining genres and getting paid for it. I guess that's their dream job. Or at least I suppose it pays the bills. But I have yet to read a definition that beats the distinction proposed by my OR friends: "When the title is 'The Glove of Power,' you know it's fantasy...when it's 'Power Glove,' it's SF."

As I child, I probably gravitated toward the fantasy end of the SF-fantasy spectrum. I read Narnia, of course, and L'Engle, and Lloyd Alexander's series, and Earthsea, McAffrey's Pern books, and a whole host of other things that were less worthy but equally enjoyable for a kid. I also read early Heinlein (Dad kept Stranger in a Strange Land out of my hands till high school) and later on Asimov. And as I got older I found myself gravitating more to SF. I still enjoy a good fantasy series, as long as the author has the sense enough to end the story well before it dies the death of a thousand wordy sequels. But it's SF that most often gets my mind going in the speculative directions I enjoy most.

I'm unsure why this is. It could perhaps simply be a personality thing, a quirk of temperament and preference. But it seems that fantasy, as genre, offers the same possibilities as a good SF story for exploring the matters that concern me most, both philosophical and socially critical. Perhaps the mode of exploration differs a bit; but in the creation of any alternate world, whether it is built on magical or technological systems of manipulating physical reality, there is the possibility of commentary on the sorry state of things as they are through the simple juxtaposition of the world of the text and the world of the reader. So why is it that I find this so much more often in SF than fantasy? Is fantasy inherently escapist? SF inherently realist?

While I'm at it, just for fun, here's a list of Heinlein novels that I read as a kid and still regularly re-read today, that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to anyone who enjoys a good SF yarn. In all of these are direct and indirect commentary on social matters such as education, sexual taboo and norms, systemic economic injustice, racial oppression, politics, gender, and religion; in all, a sense of both the potential and depravity of human beings. (Yes, depravity: I used the Presby word. I wonder why that might be.) Most of these are not terribly philosophical, except perhaps for the first, which asks some direct questions about criteria for life, sentience, and humanity.
  1. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
  2. Have Space Suit--Will Travel
  3. Sixth Column
  4. Citizen of the Galaxy
  5. Podkayne of Mars
  6. Tunnel in the Sky, Starship Troopers and Space Cadet

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

big feet

I've heard about this quiz before but never bothered to take till now. Find out how big my ecological feet are...and yours too.

Monday, February 12, 2007

how NOT to do it

Those of you interested in the religion and science stuff, don't miss this article from the New York Times (thanks to Brent who always leaves up the interesting articles in our browser for me to read).

So, this dude writes a dissertation that's "good science, great science" in paleontology, a dissertation that accepts completely and works within the current paradigm of millions of years of evolution in the fossil record...and yet personally is a young-earth creationist who sees no problem with juggling two completely incompatible paradigms in his academic and personal life.

Or should I say lives? Because, in the end, whatever this guy has, it's not a life. To be completely honest, perhaps he should have adopted a pseudonym for the dissertation and all academic work; then no one would have to deal with the utter confusion I feel when trying to apply the same nominal designation to the two lives this one bifurcated person is attempting to lead. What kind of intellectual integrity can you have, when you've only avoided lying to yourself and others by a strategy of self-induced religio-academic schizophrenia? How can what he produces be "good science," and how can what he professes be real faith?

See, people, this is just not how to do science and religion. I don't know what this guy is afraid of, but this non-solution he's adopted and trying to live with can, in my opinion, only be the result of fear. Maybe he's afraid of going to hell. Maybe he's afraid of his father and of disappointing his family. Maybe he's afraid there is no hell, and no God, and a fossil record millions of years old is a poor substitute for the security blanket of his faith, and he's not ready to give it up. Maybe he's afraid to realize that what he's got, in the end, is no kind of faith at all, really. Because if dead stuff in the ground can poof your faith away...well...what exactly is it that you think you're holding on to anyhow?

All these concerned professors interviewed in the article, with their varying opinions of this dude Marcus Ross, and their investment in "academic integrity" and institutional reputations, even the ones who know him and seem to like him and granted him a degree--none of these people see the real problem and underlying tragedy in this situation, and that is, someday this piss-poor strategy of living with contradiction is going to fail Marcus Ross, and he will be shattered, and someone is going to need to help him pick up the pieces. And what help with all these people be then? Even if they care enough about this guy to be around, none of them seem to have thought through the real issue of how religious belief intersects with science; the only ones who even address the issue seem to endorse the separatist strategy that's doomed to fail, because their only concern is that he produce "good science," despite his kooky religious convictions, regardless of the personal cost. He's gone further than I would have thought possible with this lamentable coping strategy--all the way to a Ph.D.--and the further he goes, the harder he'll fall.

May I ever so humbly recommend something for Marcus Ross' reading list? Give this a try: The Shaping of Rationality by J. Wentzel van Huyssteen, and follow it up with Alone in the World: Human Uniqueness in Science and Theology. Not that I'm partial or anything, but there's a guy who gets it right. And takes paleontology a hell of a lot more seriously than does Marcus Ross.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

about Brent

Yesterday, I had a clumsy-ass day. Maybe y'all don't have those, but I do. Not every day, but often enough that these days are a phenomenon with a label. On those days I do a lot more cursing than usual. I refer to myself as 'clumsy-ass bitch,' usually more than once, because once the clumsy-ass starts happening, it's rampantly contagious and starts happening everywhere with everything.

So last night, after spilling hot soup out of my bowl down my jeans, onto my socks and slippers and all over the kitchen floor, twice, and then knocking a whole bunch of DVDs clattering down onto the floor after Clare was finally asleep in bed, it's miraculous that Brent could somehow make me laugh at myself after all that elaborate and totally sincere cussing. But he did. Just one more reason to love him.

That, and the fact that he can't hear that little sound that old people aren't supposed to be able to hear and I can.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

"it's all due to the chickpeas"

So tonight, I was grading some papers and, sorry to say, despite the extremely riveting essays I was reading, my mind wandered a bit. I was reading all these summations of Calvin's view of baptism, all of which kept mentioning that baptism is initiation into the church. It suddenly occurred to me to wonder why it was that the Church of Christ so vociferously opposes this view of baptism. Given that the basic, broad theological concern of the Churches of Christ is ecclesiology (I mean, what are we supposed to be restoring in this Restoration Movement, anyway?) it seems like, systematically speaking, one would actually expect a theology of baptism that reflects this strong ecclesiological emphasis. And yet we repudiate it. So, I wondered, why is that? At first I couldn't think of any good reason, and so I tentatively concluded that our hermeneutics had once again triumphed over any systematic impulse in our theologizing...But a few hours later, after having gone to precept and returned to my ever-present though slowly dwindling stack of exam papers, I realized that it was probably that Alexander Campbell just really hated the Calvinist doctrine of election. Baptism is the means by which one is saved in the Churches of Christ because it is the means by which one knows one is saved.

Monday, February 05, 2007


No pictures, because it's hard to see, and she's shy about it. But it's there, all rough and pointy, on the bottom, left (as you look at her, not her left). Yay!


rude sermons has a new post: the first one in months and months. All you sermon-starved readers out there, go check it out. The rest of you normal people, avoid the weirdos who read sermons in spare time.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

shake those Harding hips

I just got an email from a friend and fellow Harding alumna with these links:

See also Malibu Librarian's post, which has several additional links as well.

Ah, I remember me a time when I joined a very subversive conga line during a TMBG concert in Benson Auditorium. Yes, and sure enough, the conga line, or perhaps it was the equally subversive performance of the song "S-E-X-X-Y," got them never invited back. Bloody miracle they were invited in the first place, not being country singers. And doubly miraculous that they came! But of course no good deed goes unpunished, not even might-be-giants'.

Unfortunately for me, this little story of my alma mater, like most I suppose, leaves not just the warm fuzzies thinking of all those innocent little undergrads shakin' their hips on the Benson stage to the greater glory of God, but leaves me with a little tingly feeling of dread and dismay as well. It's not that I'm surprised by the rank hypocrisy of a school that forbids dancing while simultaneously endorsing the overblown spectacle of euphemistic choreography dubbed "Spring Sing" every year. No, that's just to be expected; part of the quirkiness of Harding life.

It's the appearance of "CABs" [Campus Activity Board] in special uniform green T-shirts that bugs me. College students deputized to enforce the kyriarchy's arbitrarily decided standards of morality. Can we think of any precedents for this move toward empowering young people as a police force against their peers? Hmmm...Dolores Umbridge's "Inquisatorial Squad" comes to mind, as do more obvious historical examples, and none of them are at all positive. Does Harding really want to be teaching its students that the most moral way to relate to the other is as adversary, watch dog, policeman? That the path to Christian living is marked by a readiness to use force in order to ensure conformity? That control over others is the moral goal of any pious Christian? That other people simply cannot be trusted to exercise good judgment over matters such as how to properly move their limbs?

CAB, IS, or any other acronym you care to add, it doesn't matter. The creation of any such organization, and the lessons it teaches, are the same, no matter what the ostensible moral concern to be enforced is. Sure, quibbling over dancing is nowhere near the level of moral seriousness that, say, racism is. But empowering one subset of people over another within a general population teaches the pernicious lessons of moral superiority, endorsement of force as a moral means to an end, and the disrespect of others.

Shake your booty down to the floor, y'all. If dancing is all it takes to be subversive, well, start small. Sooner or later your moral senses will escape the appalling damage being done to them and you'll wake up to the issues in the world that are really worth fighting for.