Wednesday, December 30, 2015

NonModern Plans for 2016

Looking ahead to 2016, I have several ideas for what I want to think about and write about on NonModern. For one thing, having tried this year to regain and maintain the discipline of posting, I will try to balance that discipline with actual content. Not just posting to post, but trying to keep things worthwhile. Some ideas I am toying with:

Continuing commentary on The Gospel of John, followed by the epistles of John.

Reviews of more television. Considering “Enterprise” and “Quantum Leap” (a Scott Bakula year?) with more new stuff of course, Doctor Who, X Files, etc.

More movie reviews, with new films and short reviews of stuff I watch throughout the year, but considering lengthier reviews of a “Top 100 NonModern Films” maybe once a month.

In addition to the New Testament commentary I have been doing, I have wanted to do some Old Testament. Rather than wait for a good time to do that, I may occasionally do both. I will likely work my way through Genesis in 2016.

As always, I will continue to interact with culture, news, and politics. And I will try to keep writing and posting poetry as the inspiration hits.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Palimpsest

(Poetry Scales 44)  

If you look closely you may see
An older text under what is me
An old story with other motivations
A sad tale with failures and recriminations
But the way I read now is wholly new
Redemption with triumph and what’s best it’s all true
Oh the flavor’s the same and some letters bleed through
But the author came and rewrote me, new draft: version two
I’ve gone from a failure of the worst sort of genre
To a work of art that shines glory on the writer.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Fargo (The Series)

A critic in one of the newspapers I’ve read, rounding up the entertainment news of the year, said of the top ten movies of the year: “Fargo season 2, all ten episodes.” I think there are more than a few who would agree with him. Certainly this is the golden age of television. Stories are being told in a way that maximizes the format, and shows the strengths it has over cinema in telling complex character-driven stories.

Both seasons of Fargo have tapped into the quality and creativity of the cinematic work that the Coen brothers excel at, and into the spirit of possibly their greatest movie. It is what I would classify as stories of hope in a hopeless world.

In each of the stories (the film, season 1, and season 2) we get a character or two who embody everything that is decent, even good, surrounded by a world full of bent characters, some outright evil but even more who just “fall into evil” through their weaknesses.

In the TV series those good characters are a family: Hank Larson, his daughter Betsy Solverson, and her daughter Molly Solverson. Like Marge in the film, they are always ready to do the right thing, and brave a world of unbelievable, but realistic horror, not without fear, but trusting in the fact that “the right thing” is always the right thing to do. In the words of Betsy, talking to a teen who has been struggling reading a lot of nihilistic literature:

Noreen Vanderslice: Camus says knowin' we're gonna die makes life absurd.

Betsy Solverson: Well, I don't know who that is. But I'm guessing he doesn't have a 6-year-old girl.

Noreen Vanderslice: He's French.

Betsy Solverson: Ugh, I don't care if he's from Mars. Nobody with any sense would say something that foolish. We're put on this earth to do a job. And each of us gets the time we get to do it. And when this life is over and you stand in front of the Lord... Well, you try tellin' him it was all some Frenchman's joke.

Each of the stories has outright evil characters, but the real contrast to the Solversons are the weakly evil characters. In season one we get Martin Freeman playing a hen-pecked man who kills his wife in a moment of exasperation. In season two it is Kirsten Dunst who hits a man with her car but decides to do nothing about it, forcing her husband to kill the wounded man and dispose of the body. In both cases the defining characteristic of these villains is that they see themselves as victims of life. They do not make hard choices and “do good,” they want an easy path to getting “the good” that life owes them. In that sense, they are the mirror held up to today’s society.

These stories are harsh and cruel, and definitely not for everybody. But, for those who can handle extreme violence in their stories, there is a beautiful message of hope in the form of some good examples amidst all the horror.


Sunday, December 27, 2015

At the Well (John 4:1-30)

(Where Jesus puts on a clinic in how to be a witness.)

The story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well is a wonderful one, because we get to see Jesus about His mission. AND, it doesn’t look much like the stereotypical approach of most evangelists/trained Christians. Jesus is not “on mission” the way we think of it. He is just being Himself.

I for one think that Jesus asks the woman for a drink because He is thirsty, not as a ploy to “save her.” However, sharing His message is as much a part of Him as the need for water, so it comes naturally, not rehearsed.

From there, Jesus just interacts with the woman. He isn’t going through a series of prepared steps, or presenting a “sales pitch.” He starts by mentioning God’s gift, Living Water. All of his other statements/replies come from what the woman says. She shows Him where she is and what her interests are. Had she not pursued the water talk, shown her spiritual curiosity, nor taken the conversation further into spiritual directions, Jesus might not have either.

When the woman misunderstands Jesus’ offer of no more thirst (and her need as well), Jesus doesn’t backtrack and explain the intricacies of the Gospel. He simply gets to the core of the issue. Sin.

People are pretty good about getting to the spiritual conversations today. We know better than to spring a question like “if you were to die today do you know where you would spend eternity?” cold turkey. We know we have to take conversations and people over into the spiritual side of things to find the seekers and the people open to spiritual truths. However, once we get there we wimp out. It quickly becomes all about how much Jesus loves you and how great life can be with Him. That does people a disservice.

Once a person is seeking, they need to see their need. Sin has to be a part of the conversation. But once again, Jesus is so natural here. He doesn’t condemn. He merely addresses the area where the woman struggles and lets her run with it. Once again, had she glossed over the topic, or evaded, that would have likely been the end of things.

The climax comes when the woman reveals that she is awaiting the Messiah. Or at least that she is aware of His promised coming. Then Jesus reveals Himself.

At that point, the woman becomes a witness. She doesn’t even need prompting. She may not even be a follower yet. But more on that in the next section…

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Star Trek Voyager: Best and Worst Episodes

Top 20: 
20. Barge of the Dead (6.3)
19. Random Thoughts (4.10)
18. Prophecy (7.14)
17. Critical Care (7.5)
16. Latent Image (5.11)
15. Distant Origin (3.23)
14. Equinox (5.26, 6.1)
13. Hope and Fear (4.26)
12. Think Tank (5.20)
11. Night (5.1)
10. One (4.25)
9. Relativity (5.24)
8. Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy (6.4)
7. Living Witness (4.23)
6. Message in a Bottle (4.14)
5. Blink of an Eye (6.12)
4. Scorpion (3.26, 4.1)
3. Drone (5.2)
2. Projections (2.3)
1. Prototype (2.13)

Bottom 5: 
11:59 (5.23)
Threshold (2.15)
Ex Post Facto (1.8)
Year of Hell Part 2 (4.9)
The Chute (3.3)

Friday, December 25, 2015

Most Anticipated Films of 2016

This is a tough task every year. Inevitably I miss films I will love by the end of the year, and I pick some that I never end up seeing once initial buzz is out. But, here we go again:

25. “Lights Out”

24. “Alice through the Looking Glass”

23. “Suicide Squad”

22. “Knights of the Round Table”

21. “Passengers”

20. “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”

19. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”

18. “Midnight Special”

17. “The Jungle Book”

16. “The Nice Guys”

15. “A Cure for Wellness”

14. “Money Monster”

13. “The Legend of Tarzan”

12. “A Monster Calls”

11. “Captain America: Civil War”

10. “X Men Apocalypse”

9. “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”

8. “The Magnificent Seven”

7. “The BFG”

6. “Finding Dory”

5. “Star Trek Beyond”

4. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

3. “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice”

2. “Doctor Strange”

1. “Hail, Caesar”

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Star Trek Voyager (Season 7b)


Season 7a—best of list

Voyager has a couple strongish episodes at the end of its run, but it largely goes out with a whimper.

Episode 14: “Prophecy” 

This is the strongest episode of the season for me. It tackles an interesting question: prophecy, but typical of Trek post-Roddenberry, it doesn’t just dismiss it or explain it away. It presents a well-done, nuanced understanding of religion and faith. Religion as more of a political, cultural institution and faith as a matter of trust. In the end, the “fulfillment” can still be disputed, but it is valid for those who want to see it. But, the complaint would be that it is such a small scale fulfillment, why even have the prophecy?

Episode 15: “The Void” 

At this point in Trek and especially Voyager, we all know where this episode is going from the moment we see the week’s quandary. Trapped in a cage with other groups all seeking to take advantage of each other for survival? Time to learn about cooperation. This is a well done, entertaining episode, but it is basically Sesame Street.

Episodes 16,17: “Workforce” 

On the one hand, this is a unique story for Trek, but it feels so out of place I can’t decide if I like it or not. It certainly didn’t feel like it needed to be a two-parter.

Episode 18: “Human Error” 

I am always uncomfortable when Trek focuses on what people are doing in their private time on the holodeck, especially when they are doing things that they shouldn’t be doing. In an effort to make Seven even more human, they just succeeded in making her more creepy.

Episode 19: “Q2” 

I have an oversized book that purported to collect all of the telescripts for all Q episodes of Trek ever. It must have been published before this episode was created, because this is the only on missing. Not a big loss, but this isn’t a terrible story. It doesn’t really feel very Q-esque, but the lesson presented and learned is pretty solid.

Episode 20: “Author, Author” 

Towards the end, Voyager really became more and more fascinated with its “rights for A.I.” issue. It really only serves to expose the weaknesses of the concept as presented on the show. The Doctor is an unconvincing A.I. He does more than he should be capable of, which is what makes him so fun to watch. The interesting issue here is not so much the “rights” issue that was done better in “Measure of a Man” but rather the way people feel being used as source material in the Doctor’s story.

Episode 21: “Friendship One”

When this episode started I thought there was going to be a huge continuity problem with the first Trek film, but then they clarify that the probe was not that other, real Voyager from the 70s. Still, it was clearly meant to be something similar, and I can’t believe they didn’t reference that probe nor the events of the motion picture. Ultimately the interesting aspect of this story is the misguided, bitter leader. He is a comic-book level character where depth is concerned, but it is still fulfilling to see him overthrown.

Episode 22: “Natural Law” 

Right at the end we get another “Chakotay gets to play anthropologist” storyline.

Episode 23: “Homestead” 

I always wondered what they would do with Neelix as the series neared its end. Coincidentally, they return him to his people. Trek always strains disbelief with how chocked full of life space is, to think that a colony of Neelix’s people would just happen to be this far away from his home planet and right along their path is laughable.

Episode 24: “Renaissance Man” 

I was confused by this story, what was the point? Was the Doctor outwitting these aliens (who I have always liked when they have shown up) or showing incredibly bad judgment? Why throw this one in at the end? Were they running out of ideas and just phoning in the last few episodes?

Episodes 25, 26: “Endgame” 

Voyager suffered from an overabundance of pointless time-travel stories, and they go out with a doozy. Seems they made it home and we didn’t get to see THAT story, but Janeway thinks she could have done better so she spends ten years finding a way to get a do-over. It works, which means that she now never went back. So did the do-over ever really happen. And, this has got to be the most abrupt ending to a series ever.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Book Find: "A Christmas Carol" (Part 2)


My first copy of “A Christmas Carol” is pretty nondescript. It is small, green, and has no illustrations. But it is one of my favorite volumes in my library. I somehow convinced my mom to let me take it with me when I left home. It was given to our family by a friend a long time ago.

The only reason it is treasured is because it is old and good. It was probably published in 1909, but there is no date inscribed, so I can’t be certain. Now, old books are not really anything special. I have a lot of old books, and some even older than this volume. But old and good is nice, and “A Christmas Carol” is good. I might even call it transcendent. I sometimes think it would be nice for some of the straw we call art to continue on into eternity, as being valuable expressions of truth or beauty. I would nominate “A Christmas Carol” on both accounts.

If you haven’t read this story, do yourself the favor. There are many good (and not so good) adaptations f it, but you should have read it at least once.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Choosing God over Religious Forms (John 3:22-36)

Religious ossification is an ever-present challenge to those who follow God. I’ve seen it work this way: God moves in the life of a community, they see an awakening at an event or through a particular message or song. After that experience, the event or the song becomes sacred. When a new movement comes along, or a new message from God, they are no longer open to it because it doesn’t come in the previous form.

In some ways, the Pharisees—Jesus’ strongest opponents—were an example of this. They were born out of a movement trying to return to God. They were so concerned with obedience that they tried to prescribe correct behavior for every situation. But eventually the desire to obey God became a tradition of obeying the forms they had established.

Along comes John the Baptist, and he exposes the sin and disobedience in the culture of his day, including those in the religious traditions of the day. He called people back to purity, to repentance and obedience, to the Kingdom of God. But even in his day the ossification began to set in. As the Son of God appeared on the scene—the very Savior that John was preparing the people for—they began to question Him because He was different. How could His way be better than John’s? Wasn’t it bad that people were going to Him rather than coming to John for cleansing and preparation for the Messiah.

It sounds silly when you think of it that way. That is like not having time to run a marathon because it doesn’t fit into your preparations regiment.

But that is exactly what people of faith are constantly tempted to do. We start out seeking God, but become comfortable in the traditions and patterns that emerge in that search. So much so that we often miss God when He shows up.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Initial and Somewhat Spoilery Thoughts on Star Wars 7

Most of the early Star Wars reviews coming out say something like, “a triumph of nostalgia!” Other phrases that spring to mind are ones like “history repeats itself.” Personally, I might modify the old classic, “you can never go back” by adding, “in some ways it only gets better.”

As a fan of the originals, and a child at that time, I loved almost everything about this return to Star Wars. It knows exactly what it is and does its job perfectly. It takes the old magic, improves some of the stuff that wasn’t that great, and takes advantage of the advances in technology, largely brought about by the original film.

The story follows the same beats as the original 1977 film. If it weren’t completely dependent on the originals for both context and internal history, it could almost be seen as a reimagining. (The dependence can’t be overstated. Anyone watching this movie without having seen the original trilogy will be lost, and will miss most if not all of the humor.) In reimagining the 1977 it improves on a lot:

The acting here is light years ahead of the originals. For the most part they only lean on one actor from the first film, and that is a plus. (There is one performance here that takes me out completely when the actor is onscreen.)

The original, disjointed, double-climax from 1977—where they escape the Death Star and then come back to destroy it—is woven together with intercutting, concurrent action.

The new characters of Finn and Rey are much more compelling than either Skywalker from the previous films. Here we get resourceful, determined, conflicted, and fun instead of whiny.

And, while Abrams follows the original plot beat for beat, he doesn’t hesitate to add stuff that worked earlier, like here we get a Yoda character, and the Emperor stand-in, both of whom were not in the story in 1977.

But there is also the weaker stuff. It would be hard for a film—however high in quality and craft—to completely supersede a film as ground-breaking as Star Wars:

Darth Vader is (of course) missing. He was the villain that made the first trilogy work, and there is no worthy replacement here. Kilo Ren doesn’t measure up. Where Vader was evil and scary, Ren is vacillating, weak and—well, maybe we do have a whiny character after all.

My biggest struggle is with the death scene. Any viewer of Star Wars saw it coming. After all, once you realize they are redoing the 1977 film beat for beat you even know who it is going to be, and when it is going to happen. However, it doesn’t have the same essence. Obi Wan and Vader were fighting. Ben was not losing, and he sacrificed himself to inspire the heroes, make himself stronger, and help the escape. In this film, the only person who doesn’t see it coming is the one who is killed and it feels a little foolish as a result. It does inspire our heroes, but it doesn’t strengthen our favorite character. He is simply dead.

All that, and this is still a fun, wonderful film. There are so many moments of humor and fan service that play perfectly on a first viewing. “What about that ship?” Everything involving Chewie. The red arm. And that last shot.

That one we have to hold out judgement on. Some are calling it the best last shot in Star Wars history. It depends entirely on episode VIII.

I hope I like this one as much on multiple viewings as I do now. Time will tell.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Book Find: "A Christmas Carol" (Part 1)

A few years ago at one of those wonderful, magical, library sales that occasionally occur, I found an old, slightly beat-up copy of “A Christmas Carol” illustrated by Ronald Searle.

“A Christmas Carol” is on a short-list of books that I am tempted to own every edition I come across (along with Dracula and That Hideous Strength) but more on that another time. In addition to being a great, brief read—ideal for reading out loud to children or family of any age—this book is wonderfully illustrated.

I need to be sure to show this and more books like it again to my artist-in-the-making children. The world needs more illustrated copies of great stories.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

"Return of the Jedi" (1983)

The message that appears to drive much of “Return of the Jedi” could be the old nature overcomes technology. And Lucas certainly shows that to a degree in many of his stories. But it fails to convince. For one thing, the Ewok victory over the Empire is a little questionable. But mostly, the trilogy is not sold on the “technology is evil” storyline. There is too much of a neutral approach to technology.

The real message of “Return” is probably what Lucas considers the overarching message of both trilogies, but it only really surfaces right at the climax of the whole saga: redemption.

Darth Vader in the original trilogy is the embodiment of evil. He is the picture of fallen, dead humanity. But at the end it is Luke’s faith that Vader can be redeemed and Vader’s fateful choice to once again side with good that saves the galaxy. It is a classic deathbed conversion, save for the fact that Vader’s death is a sacrifice that happens after he chooses to do good.

Forget the prequels and that terrible, unconvincing decent into the dark side of the Force. In the original trilogy, Vader’s redemption is a powerful reminder that it is never too late for anyone—however evil they may seem—to be saved.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Christmas Meditations on John 1:1-18

Christmas has become overwhelming. It is at times materialistic, kitschy, syrupy, and silly. It can be quite distracting. Even when that isn’t all bad—traditions can be beautiful and fun—we have to take time to refocus and get back to the basic truth.

The Christmas story at its core is the Gospel. John, unlike Matthew and Luke, doesn’t begin with the birth, but with a summary statement of the Gospel truth. He starts before time in eternity past.

When we see the cradle, we need to see the cross. So sometimes a different perspective is helpful:

I. The Christmas story is the foundational story of history. (John 1:1-5)

John begins with the self-evident, philosophical truth that God is, with a paradoxical twist:

A. Gravity and God

To claim that faith is the solace of the weak willed is akin to saying that not jumping off a cliff and flying shows weakness in the face of gravity. Like gravity, God is simply a reality. We can reject Him, but we do so to our folly. Most people in the history of the world have believed in some form of God. Here John touches on two basic reasons, one “natural,” one “spiritual”:

B. Life!

Life is the realm of God. However smart we become and however technology advances, we can never create life from non-life.

Moreover, nature can’t either. Spontaneous generation as a source of life has been disproven for centuries. Even those who hold to a gradual evolution as the source of the variety of life-forms on the planet hold to a singular event of life emerging. It only happened once, and if you pay attention, they never talk about it. It is the mythical origin-story of their faith. The Word—God—is the only true source of all life.

C. Light.

Illumination. Physically, light is a paradoxical reality. How does it exist in two states at once? However, metaphorically, light is clear. Light exposes, makes visible, plain. And where the Word is spoken of as the light of men, it always overcomes our feeble attempts to drown it out with darkness. Darkness is nothing. The Word makes our intentions and our deeds clear to be seen. He also shines light on the right way.

But John doesn’t stop here with the theoretical, philosophical idea of God:

II. The Christmas story is shocking because God broke into our mess. (John 1:9,10,14)

A. God is involved

In the Christmas story—in the Gospel—we see that God—the Word—didn’t just create the universe and leave it to run. He sustains life. He also illuminates the world. And He broke into creation with His presence.

B. The “World” in John

It is important to understand what John means by “the world.” It is not merely creation; the “everything” contained in verse two. The world is the realm of rebellious humanity; creation set in opposition to the creator. It is not hell, because God is still present and active in creation, but we are racing as fast as we can towards a hell without God.

C. Flesh

BUT. Not only did the Word invade the world in some metaphysical, abstract way that intellectuals could accept. He became flesh! This is the importance of Christmas. Some await a god to break into the world, to set things right, but God did the unexpected. He came as a baby boy, born to a poor, outcast, displaced, virgin girl, overlooked by most, celebrated by angels and the wise.

It is still possible for most people in the world that a metaphysical, spiritual, philosophical truth exists. That a god exists. But it is offensive to most that God became flesh. That God the Word became Jesus Christ is too real, too narrow, too precise. It leaves no room to negotiate things on our own terms.

D. Pride

For many spiritual people, the body is a problem. It is shameful or bad or the “lesser” aspect of life. We want to rise above our flesh, we want to be like gods. At Christmas, God tells us two things about our existence: Our flesh is not the problem. God made us physical beings and He made all things good. Our bodies are not some lower state to being. Our problem is our rebellion, our sin. And we can’t fix that problem for ourselves. We need another. God had to break into the world to defeat our rebellion and the death it brings.

III. The Christmas story says we can escape the fall. (John 1:11-13)

A. Gravity and the Fall

Back to that gravity illustration. The truth is that we have all already jumped off the cliff and tried to fly on our own. As we fall we sense that something is wrong, even as falling is all we have ever known. In Christmas—in the Gospel story—God steps in and gives us a one-time offer:

B. The Choice

Those who sense that their fall is a problem, and those who are willing to trust another with their problem, can be saved from the fall. We are offered a safety net and a return to the life God intends for us. This choice is not forced on anyone, but “to as many as receive” the choice is there. We can stop falling in our own helplessness and be carried by God.

C. The Challenge of Rebellion

This is still a challenge even for the majority of humanity that believes in the reality of a god. Jesus came to His own,” the religious, the devout, of His day. Even they rejected Him. We tend to want a way out of our fall that depends upon us and our efforts, something we can do. We resent dependence. That is the essence of our rebellion, and it is the very thing that keeps us from a rescue.

But those who surrender, give up their rebellion and turn in helplessness to God and His grace and mercy, they are saved and made children of God.

IV. The Christmas story continues to grow with every life it touches. (John 1:15, 6-8)

That is the Christmas story—the Gospel. God broke into the world and lived a picture of true humanity. Everyone who surrenders and trusts in Jesus Christ—the Word of God become man, crucified for the sins of the world—is saved from sin, the fall, and death and becomes a child of God, living for Him.

The Christmas story carries on in our lives. The Gospel continues to expand and grow in ever newly written chapters. John testified of Jesus, and as Jesus’ followers that is also our task. Tell His story. Tell your chapter. God wants the Gospel to grow. New chapters are written when people hear our story, trust Jesus, and add their own encounter to the contents page.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Manliness R.I.P?

Is western culture a boy, or a girl?

In four essays in June and July of 1927 (El Sol, Madrid). Jose Ortega y Gasset explored the way age and gender drive culture. His contention was that culture swings back and forth between being obsessed or controlled by the older generations or the younger, and by men or women. For example, back when men—even young men—all wore powdered, grey or white wigs, it was a time when age was respected. People of all ages wanted to appear older. Nowadays we are clearly more of a youth-obsessed culture. Likewise, one can think of the days of the French aristocracy, when the whole court would dress extravagantly, wear makeup and wigs, and they all hung out obsessed with manners. A feminine culture.

(These essays appear in Spanish and French editions of “The Revolt of the Masses” as another essay associated with them, grouped together under the heading “Dinamica del Tiempo,” became a chapter and the driving impulse of that longer work. They are not included in the English translation, and I am unable to confirm that they have ever been translated. They are in his complete world (Obras Completas) in volume 3, starting on page 455.)

So, what are we today, masculine or feminine? One could easily argue that we are entering, or about to experience, a feminine era once again. That might seem counterintuitive given the current obsession with beards, male fashion, and the workout craze. But Ortega would argue that this is exactly what a feminine culture looks like. Men preen and peacock around precisely because they are focused on women and what women want.

The metrosexual movement, and sites like “The Art of Manliness” try to tell men how to be fashionably correct. But let’s be honest, guys, true manliness is not caring what anybody else thinks. It is about getting done what needs to be done and not focusing on looking good doing it.

A
Here is the brief NonModern guide to manliness regarding the hot button issues facing men today:

Beards: if you are fortunate enough to be able to grow a full (or at least evenly patchy) beard, you do. Laziness dictates, or at least most men have better things to do than shave every day. Shaving or trimming occurs when: A-You start to look like a cartoon character or an escaped mental patient. B-Your job requires it. Or C-It interferes with necessities like eating.

High Cut Hair: Remember back in the eighties when no one new mullets were stupid, but now we all look back and laugh at how stupid we were? The high cut, slicked back look is like that, only people are laughing at it right now. Add a big beard to the look and it is so ridiculous you have got to be in on the joke, but why would you do that?

“Man Buns”: Adding “Man” to something doesn’t make it OK. A “Man Purse” is just a purse. Why would you grow your hair out long only to ties it up so it looks short and put it all into a ball on top of your head? I am contemplating a line of pink, silk underwear that I can market as “Man Panties.” The worst is this current trend of men who don’t have enough hair for a bun but insist on tying a little “Man Bunlette” up there!

Clothes: If you can manage to dress like a grown-up, you are doing well.  Anything anyone else thinks is not your concern. But shorts on men over forty who aren’t working out? No. And, hats are awesome, but once again if you are a grown man, wear grown man hats.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Doctor Who 9.12 "Hell Bent"

In a nutshell, “Hell Bent” brought a disappointing season to a fittingly disappointing close, but left things hopeful going forward.

“Doctor Who” has a shaky history with season-long arcs. Historically they simply didn’t do it. One of the few examples was season 16 in the Tom Baker era. The through-line was a bit of a tack-on to otherwise independent stories. So, it felt extraneous, but the benefit was that the stories were allowed to stand on their own. Some were good, some were… not.

Since Who returned in 2005, that has been the approach favored by most seasons, especially during Davies time. Stories did their own thing, but teasers were thrown in here and there that paid off in the finale. When Moffat took over, he made the season arc a bigger part of things and that has increasingly dominated more stories in each season. This has become more of a problem, culminating in a rather shaky season 12, ever since Clara came along.

In the past I have complained that she was more of a plot device than a character. Some people complained that this current season finale cheapened her death a couple episodes ago. The real problem was that Clara was never allowed to be a fully developed character, she was always a function of the season-arc-plots. When her death came along it was supposed to be a moving moment, but it felt contrived. For one thing her death was stupid and unnecessary, but also because we never really connected with her.

The list of problems in “Hell Bent” is extensive. A few examples:

People say it was a triumph for feminism. While the end was arguably good for girls, the moment where a male Time Lord regenerates into a female cheapens the sexes as I have argued before.

The Doctor comes off quite deranged in this story. The reveal that he suffered through billions of years simply to get Clara back may sound like a huge testament to their relationship, but it feels more like an inability on his part to overcome an obstacle.

When Gallifrey finally makes its return to the series, it is a letdown. It feels small and frankly like a terrible place to live.

On the good side of things, we had a collection of fan service moments: the original Tardis design is nice. The return of a sonic screwdriver is a welcome relief after the stupid shades. The novel approach to removing a companion is great. Don’t kill them, trap them or erase their memory of the Doctor. Remove his memory of them. Now that was really good.

Here’s hoping things get back to great as soon as the Christmas special!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Book Find: "In der Nacht vor dem Fest"

Another find this year that I have been excited about is this German edition of “The Night before Christmas.” I am not really a huge fan of the poem, but it is one of the more recognized and traditional elements of my favorite season.

This edition is special for a couple of reasons. First, the German translation is really really good. It is hard to keep an idea intact while maintain the poetic structure and rhyme. Erich Kästner does just that. And he is the main reason I initially grabbed the book. Kästner is the most recognized and beloved author from my adoptive city, Dresden. For those unfamiliar with his work, he is known best to English audiences for his novel that was adapted into “The Parent Trap” by Disney. His most famous work is “Emil and the Detectives.”

Then there are the illustrations. Robert Ingpen is an illustrator I have had my eye on for a few years. He has a series of oversized classic children’s books that he has beautifully illustrated. I would own several if they weren’t so expensive. Look him up on the internet. In this volume, I get an affordable edition of his art.

I immediately went out to buy several copies of this book to gift this season, but discovered quickly that they are a challenge to find. A new book this year, they have sold out and are unavailable to order. So, if you see one in the store you might scoop one (or more) up.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Quark

(Poetry Scales 45)  

Vee don’t just eat yogurt
Vee alzo eat Quark
Eats a leetle like zour cream
Only eats more stark
On zecond sott seers no comparing
Quark ees Quark
Und unless youf been to Germany
About such things, you are een zee dark

Monday, December 7, 2015

Trading Condemnation for Love (John 3:16-21)

In the next paragraph—perhaps the most recognized of the New Testament—we see that God’s love is what drives His mission, and it is what drives His people. But we also see a lot more, in the less recognized part of the passage.

Jesus didn’t come to judge the world, He came to save. Judgement has already happened even if formal judgement hasn’t yet been pronounced. The world is not a neutral place where Jesus came to save some and condemn others. The world stands condemned. We have all rebelled. This is why John writes here that anyone who trusts Jesus will escape judgement (as they no longer belong to the world) but anyone who is of the world and has rejected God is already judged.

The evidence abounds. That is why the world hates the light. It shines and exposes the deeds that condemn. We all recognize our condition, even as many attempt to deny, ignore or justify themselves. But some—those who are willing to trust, to throw themselves on God’s mercy—escape that judgement. Their sentence has been carried out and served by Another.

And there we see the love of God. Even while we were justly condemned and awaiting sentence, God sent His beloved Son to die in our place. Once we accept this love and realize its implications, we no longer belong to the world. We are now bound to, dependent on, and shaped by that love as we live in the world, carrying on the mission of God.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Star Trek Voyager (Season 7a)



Season 6b—Season 7a

One can really sense that things are winding down for Voyager. And yet, as with other Trak shows, these “weaker” episodes still have a lot to say. In some ways they are more focused than past stories:

Episode 1: “Unimatrix Zero Part 2” 

Well, except for this conclusion perhaps. Once the shock of seeing Janeway, Tuvok, and Torres assimilated in last season’s cliffhanger wears off this episode feels like a wait for the inevitable status quo to reemerge. Was anyone ever concerned that those characters would really die or remain Borg? Such shocks don’t really work in Trek anymore.

Episode 2: “Imperfection” 

The somewhat humdrum plot of Seven’s tech wearing out is put to good use in an ethical conundrum. Is it OK for one person to risk their well-being for the sake of another? Well, once you spell it out like that I guess this is a little bit of a silly episode.

Episode 3: “Drive” 

One never ceases to be amazed at (a) how full of life and culture the vastness of space is in Trek, and (b) how willing the Voyager crew is to play with others on their long way home. Here, Paris gets to indulge his love of fast vehicles in a space race. Along the way his relationship with Torres is tested and political intrigue in the form of space-terrorists is dealt with.

Episode 4: “Repression” 

Trek meets the Manchurian Candidate, and 1950s era cinema. The atmosphere of this episode is very well handled, even if the story is rather predictable. Today this story resonates rather well as radicalized religion is an ever-more present reality.

Episode 5: “Critical Care” 

The Doctor is stolen and sold to a culture where Obamacare has become the norm. In all seriousness it is a good parable-via-hyperbole about how bureaucratic practices quickly lose the ability to maintain the common sense that they were developed to ease.

Episode 6: “Inside Man” 

We all know the frustration of seeing hero worship aimed at ill deserving or even bad people. In this story the Doctor has reason to suspect another hologram that supposedly was sent to help the ship speed home more quickly. Since such stories are always set up this way we know that the hero is a bad guy, but it is still fun to see the characters figure the deception out and save the day. It is always wise to tread carefully in new relationships and dole trust out in small doses.

Episode 7: “Body and Soul” 

We have finally arrived at the classic sci-fi trope of the body swap. Surprisingly, Jeri Ryan is not just an attractive woman in a cat-suit, and she pulls off acting enough like Robert Picardo to make this episode convincing. So, two of our favorite characters get to play around in comical situations. Yeah!

Episode 8: “Nightingale” 

Harry Kim wants the power of command. He wants it so much, in fact , that he shows enough lack of judgement to make me think he might not need it again. One of the key qualities of great leadership in my book is that it should be thrust upon people with great potential and not sought out by people who crave it. Sort of like that parable of Jesus about party seating arrangements.

Episodes 9 & 10: “Flesh and Blood” 

Voyager continues its obsession with AI, and it continues to break under the constraints of disbelief suspension because Voyager has failed to give us “real” AI characters. Is this just another example in pop culture of “Selma envy”?

Episode 11: “Shattered” 

A fun story that harkens back to many of Voyagers past adventures; a nostalgia ride of sorts. That said, this example of time travel is so outrageous it is hard to begin to articulate just how implausible it is. Try to brainlessly enjoy. There is a message here too though, even if it was handled better in TNGs “Tapestry.”

Episode 12: “Lineage” 

Torres and Paris are about to have a daughter, and Torres once again gets to show us some realistic struggles as a character. Her own childhood struggles with being different cause her to nearly become a monster parent, attempting to customize a “perfect” child. This is a struggle that anyone who went through adolescence facing having a child go through the same awkwardness can identify with.

Episode 13: “Repentance” 

This episode is a perfect example of the power of science fiction. A damaged ship of criminals on route to execution are rescued by Voyager. The ship must then transport them to their destination (the Prime Directive and all). Along the way two fascinating scenarios unfold: (a) Neelix discovers that some of the prisoners are likely victims of racial profiling. (b) The Doctor tries to save another of the prisoners after a beating and inadvertently cures him of psychopathy. The way these two situations unfold, coupled with the strange justice system of the alien culture make for a thought provoking episode.

Friday, December 4, 2015

"The Empire Strikes Back" (1980)

“Empire” tends to be the undisputed best of the Star Wars movies. It certainly has the best structure, acting, moments, direction, etc. And, it has the moment that singlehandedly takes this from a great trilogy to one of the most important in pop culture. “No, I am your father.” Wow. What a moment!

(Also, the best argument that fictional works need to be consumed in the order they were created, not following internal chronology. I mourn for the generation that has come to “Empire” and to that big reveal and simply had to shrug their shoulders. In a spoiler-shy culture you would think people like Lucas would know better. This also applies to other series like the Narnia books.)

However, in addition to all of the above, “Empire” is also the most religious, or at least spiritual of the films. And where one could try to make the argument that “Star Wars” was open enough to include Christian ideas, here we see that things are clearly not of that bent.

“Star Wars” established that the force was impersonal, but here that is made clearer. It is truly just a power akin to gravity or movement. And it is neutral. In the Star Wars universe evil is a thing. It is not simply the absence of good, it is good’s opposing power, and to hear Yoda speak, it is more powerful than good. Therein lies the real danger for Luke. He is not just learning how to wield goodness, he is playing with a power that more readily lends itself to evil.

Now, in imaginary worlds it is fine to play with ideas. And there are even lessons to be learned here that can help us in the real world. But it is also helpful to understand where a fictional work differs from reality. Some people struggle with that to varying degrees. On one end there are already people who have worldviews that are more similar to Star Wars, like Buddhists, Zoroastrians (are there any of those left?), and some Gnostics. Then there are those post-seculars who—looking to religious forms not for truth but rather meaning—find new imaginary structures as good as any other and opt to adopt the religion of Star Wars for themselves.

I for one choose not to base my direction in life on something imagined by the likes of George Lucas. Just have another look at Jar Jar Binks.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Book Find: Frohe Weihnachten: Gedichte und Gedanken zum Fest

One of the many reasons for preferring traditional, “real” books to mere electronic data on a reader is the artwork. And I understand that pictures can be transmitted electronically as well, but I somehow like nice artwork more on paper.

The story of this latest Book Find starts with a Christmas ornament. My wife and I have had a long-standing tradition of adding one ornament to our tree each year. Ever since our kids have come along we have done the same for them. Early in our marriage before we had kids we occasionally picked a Hallmark ornament. I know, that is so cheap and commercial, right? But one year, Cheryl fell in love with one of those Hallmark ones with a rabbit next to a watering can. It has always been one of her favorite ones.

Fast forward to this year. We were in a bookstore (as usual) and Cheryl found a book of Christmas poems with wonderful illustrations. One reminded us a lot of her favorite little ornament. After buying the book and looking into the illustrator, we discovered that there was no coincidence at work. The illustrator’s name is also on the bottom of the ornament!

Turns out, Marjolein Bastin is a well-known Dutch illustrator with a series of books about a certain “Vera the Mouse.” Looks like I have some more books to hunt down!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Onomatopoeia

(Poetry Scales 43

Belch burp gurgle gush
Drip flick flush plop
Ahem…
Slosh slurp slip splat
Sprinkle blurt spatter splash

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Doctor Who 9.11 "Heaven Sent"

There are a couple SciFi plot contrivances or elements that really bug me. The first is time travel. I still enjoy the idea, and tend to consume such stories, but they never add up and that is increasingly annoying. Thankfully, Doctor Who tends to keep time travel as a background element. The stories don’t tend to (or at least didn’t used to) dwell on the time travel aspect much.

Then there is transportation. I really have a problem with this mostly Star Trek concept on both a metaphysical and ontological level. In Star Trek I have to actively ignore or reimagine what happens on the transporter pad. When stories rely on the transporter for plot it really bothers me. Basically, every time someone is transported they are completely disintegrated (i.e. killed) and reformed elsewhere from new elements. Just because the new person is identical on an atomic level doesn’t convince me that they are the same person.

So, in “Heaven Sent” I knew I was in for trouble. At the end of “Face the Raven” the Doctor was transported away. We pick up the action in “Heaven Sent” with what looks like the Doctor dying and turning into a pile of sand. However, the Doctor shows up on the transporter pad so maybe it wasn’t him, right?

Later in the episode, though, the Doctor emerges from an ocean (where the floor is lined with millions of skulls, more on that later) to find his own outfit drying next to a fire. HE changes into the dry outfit and leaves his to dry. Oh no. At this point we know we are stuck in a loop.

From that point on we are subjected to the torture of a repetitive loop, more of a hell than a heaven. Questions arise:

Are we to believe that the first version of the Doctor created on the transporter pad laid his clothes out to dry and just never went back to put them on? He seriously went through everything we see in this time loop naked? Ridiculous.

This story presents the unlikely and horrific idea that, given a set of circumstances, we would always make the exact same choices, billions of times. That is deterministic to a level that challenges the most suspensive capacity of disbelief.

Did someone really look at the Brothers Grimm Story “The Shepherd Boy” and think, “That part about eternity taking forever to unfold; that is the fascinating part of the story. I am going to do a whole story about just that aspect!” Never mind the fact that “The Shepherd Boys” understanding of eternity is flawed.

The skulls are a real problem in this story. The fact that they don’t dissolve when every other part of the Doctor does, even the blood stains he leaves throughout the castle, is a contrivance that does not make sense and is only there for dramatic effect. And, after billions of years the level of skulls would surpass that water, so that eventually the Doctor would be throwing himself out of the window to his death, long before the diamond wall was worn down.

The Doctor we know would have come up with a better working plan than wearing down a harder-than-diamonds-wall with flesh. At the very least he would have taken advantage of all the shovels lying around. In fact, one could argue that the Doctor messed up and took about a billion and a half years longer than he should have to get through the puzzle of his own design. Oh, but of course this whole episode is supposed to represent overcoming the grief of the loss of Clara.

Yeah, that meaningless death where the companion was always less of a character and more of a plot device.

Stupid transporters! If only the plot hadn’t begun with such an annoying hurdle I might have been able to turn my brain off and enjoyed the as always wonderful performance from Peter Capaldi.


NonModernBlog written content is the copyrighted property of Jason Dietz. Header photos and photos in posts where indicated are the copyrighted property of Jason and Cheryl Dietz.
Promotional photos such as screenshots or posters and links to the trailers of reviewed content are the property of the companies that produced the original content and no copyright infringement is intended.
It is believed that the use of a limited number of such material for critical commentary and discussion qualifies as fair use under copyright law.

  © Blogger template Brownium by Ourblogtemplates.com 2009

Back to TOP