Friday, December 27, 2013

Star Trek: This Side of Paradise: Leila and the Tragic Spock

    One of my favorite Star Trek episodes was this Side of Paradise, which aired in Season 1, and perhaps more than any other defined Spock's character.   I started thinking about this episode after watching the new internet series Star Trek Continues.   How challenging it must be to play characters that others took to very high levels, especially the character of Spock.  

    In this episode, the Enterprise encounter an earth colony that had become infected with an alien spore, which made them physically healthy but which made them lose their desire to serve the Federation.

    Most importantly, Mr. Spock is re-introduced to Leila Kalomi, the only woman he ever loved.  They had first met at the Academy.  Mr Spock's stoic, emotionless demeanor prevented him from ever declaring his love for her.  Yet Leila apparently could see through Spock's outer shell and recognize beautiful inner qualities that no one else could see.  After all, Spock is one of the most truly noble and good characters in the universe. Leila continued to be in love with him, even after joining the Omicron Ceti III Colony led by Elias Sandoval.   

Because of the effect of the spores, Spock's emotional defenses are removed and he realizes for the first time how deeply in love he is with Leila.  

    Leonard Nimoy is brilliant as Spock.  It should be recalled that Spock's character was not formed instantaneously with the first show.  Rather there were a huge number of acting decisions that needed to be made.  What was Star Trek, anyway? Was it a kid's show?   Was the pointy eared alien character going to be a sideshow freak, or what?  

In the Star Trek pilot,  Spock was more like other members of the crew, displaying emotions.  He is shown here amusing himself with musical alien flora.   

     Ironically, Nimoy himself famously despaired of the ridiculousness of Spock, and only decades later realized that his legacy will be as one of the greatest actors in history.  Far from a mere children's fantasy, I believe that Star Trek will be regarded by future generations as a prophetic vision of the progression of the human spirit.

     I am quite sure that if we manage to avoid blowing our selves up, one day humans will leave the galaxy, and those colonist astronauts  will all have seen Star Trek. They may not recall their Shakespeare, but they will be intimately familiar with their Roddenberry.  

     Nimoy's sensitive portrayal reveals Spock's inner self, and how his life has been spent denying himself the ability to feel human emotions.  As he attempted to explain to Leila, "If there are self-made purgatories, then we all have to live in them. Mine can be no worse than someone else's."

To me Spock's repressed feelings are almost a metaphor for adolescence.   Perhaps for that reason we find it easy to identify with Spock and his terrible aloneness.

Nimoy's show of emotion was almost shocking to those of us who had become accustomed to Spock as an emotionless alien up to that point in the show. Yet when Kirk is able to return Spock to "normal," we can see that Spock is not totally comfortable with the result.  Part of him longs to return to state of being afflicted with the spores. But his friend Kirk seems oblivious to Spock's pain, concentrating only on the immediate task at hand. 

     Leila was played by Jill Ireland who tragically passed away years before her time due to cancer. Her performance was brilliant, playing a character that defied, um, logic, almost to the same extent as Nimoy's Spock. Consider a beautiful young PhD falling in love with an emotionless alien, and managing to live without male companionship for years until meeting the same alien again halfway across the galaxy.  The odds against this are so high that they could only be overcome by television scriptwriters.   

Moreover, in the script Leila was supposed to have been Hawaiian, whereas Jill was a fair skinned blonde with an English accent.   Nevertheless, she turned out to be perfect for the role. 

Jill Ireland was totally convincing in professing (Leila's) love for Spock, despite the fact that Spock was utterly incapable of returning it. Likewise we feel her pain when she realizes ultimately that she has lost Spock again.  We can completely understand Spock's love for the intelligent, scientifically oriented yet very sensitive woman who supplies the emotion that Spock desperately lacks.  

     I'm glad that they didn't make Leila too overtly sexy, like many of the half naked women that populate the Star Trek universe.  In this case, Jill's portrayal of a highly intellectual and sensitive young woman was perfect as the lost love of Mr. Spock. 

     At the end of the show, Spock admits that the entire experience at Omicron Ceti III was quite unsettling and yet memorable.  "I have little to say about it, Captain, except that for the first time in my life...I was happy."

     We are left to ponder how that must have felt. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

In Defense of Biblical Barbarism

        Many American Christians are perplexed that God seems to act in a very unenlightened way in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament.  Why, this backward God seems to be against 21st Century American morals concerning homosexuality!  And what is to be made of the Israelites receiving Divine permission to invade Canann and to kill all the Canaanites?

     Some assume that since God is good, it must indeed be a good thing to exterminate Canaanites, pull out the hair of non-Jewish women and persecute homosexuals.  Others assume that since these actions appear evil, and God is not capable of evil, then the Bible must be wrong.  

     However, the Village believes that neither interpretative method (or hermaneutic, if you prefer) is at all on the right track.   Not at all.

        Let us ask what the Bible is.  Bible is Greek for "book"  and the "Testament" is literally the testimony of those who have gone before us.  Thus the Bible testifies to what happened.  It does not claim to be some kind of rule book, nor can one assume that the ancient Israelites are to be held up as some sort of shining example for the rest of us to follow.  After all, the Bible and especially the Old Testament was created when the world was still barbaric and scarcely civilized at all.  To put it bluntly, if the ancient Israelites jumped in a lake, does that mean that modern Christians  have a moral duty to jump in a lake too?  Obviously not!

     In fact, we are supposed to learn from some of the events and especially the mistakes that are recorded in the Bible, rather than repeat them over and over and over.   

    The needs of an ancient barbaric people may very well differ from the needs of 21st Century America.  In an ancient barbaric society it was vitally important to win wars and even to annihilate the opposition if possible.  This requires a growing population.  With the average life expectancy of about forty, it was vitally important for girls to begin having children at the onset of puberty and to continue doing so for the rest of her life. This may have been vital to the survival of a barbaric society in the year 1000 BC, but it is alien to our thinking today.  Hence girls were married as soon as possible, usually when they were in their early teens (see West, Ancient Israelite Marriage Customs).  

    Male barbarians, on the other hand, are expendable.  It is acceptable to lose males in combat as long as they kill more males for rival societies with them.  In military terms, this is known as optimizing the kill ratio, or opponent deaths divided by the losses of the society's own warriors.  It leads to a deficit in the male population, but harms the opponents more.  
      The goal was to outnumber and dominate the opposition, rather than providing fulfilling romances and sex for the members of an ancient barbaric society.   

     Moreover, the reproductive capacity of an attritted  male can be easily replaced if males are allowed to mate with multiple wives.  Indeed this was the case in Biblical times. Males were routinely permitted to take additional wives.        

     Solomon, we are told, had 700 wives and 300 concubines, hardly the ideal of one man and one woman per marriage that many of us espouse today. The one man and one woman model is not actually Biblical. 

     As incomprehensible as it may seem to modern Americans, ancient barbaric societies simply did not have a vested interest in fulfilling the romantic desires of its members, whether heterosexual or homosexual.  What they did want to ensure is the maximum reproductive rate and this is accomplished by heterosexual intercourse, beginning at the earliest possible opportunity and continuing as long as possible.  

     Hence, if we wish to adhere to the concept of marriage in the Old Testament, we should consider supporting various practices now considered barbaric, including the marriage of young girls (say age 12 to 14) to older men, especially in situations in which females out number males due to combat losses.  Multiple wives for prosperous males should certainly be supported, and definitely same-sex relationships do .  Such arrangements can probably be most stable if there is a substantial casualty rate from hand to hand combat with neighboring tribes in order to maintain a high ratio of females to males.  

    Please don't quote me out of context, but based on the needs of an ancient society, I recognize potentially valid reasons for various barbaric atrocities, including banning of homosexuality, forced marriage of adolescent females and even genocide.  

    That was simply the common sense reality of ancient life.  But is not a blueprint for modern life at all.   

    This in no way implies that modern Americans are supposed to emulate the barbaric behavior of the Israelites.  Rather, we are supposed to read the records of what they did and learn from them, not emulate them!

   The alternative is to recognize that the Bible is a living document.  I like to say that the Bible is "Divine Grace and human response."  Paul certainly suggests that spiritual growth is a process rather than a fait accompli:   "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me."

    I believe that Jesus Christ called humanity to put aside its barbaric ways, and to become more tolerant and to live our lives out of love for God rather than fear of Divine Wrath.  

      It should be obvious that we no longer need to kill our neighbors and steal their land.  Likewise we are free from the need to steal their women and force them to reproduce as often as possible.   This ancient code of conduct simply does not apply to modern life.  Hence there is a major problem if one tries to use the Biblical description of the ancient Israelites as a model for the ideal modern American.  

   Jesus Christ was sent to humanity to lead us to a more excellent way (1 Cor 12:31).  It's up to us to decide whether to follow that way, or to stay in our familiar childish ways. 

     Now, if for the moment the reader is willing to acquiesce to my suggestion that we relieve our societies from the need to act like the barbaric societies, does that mean the Bible is pro gay?  Is there some commandment that causes us to recognize the religious correctness of homosexuality.  

    I don't think it means that either.  The Bible is simply not meant to act as a simple rulebook, and thus when we try to use it as a rulebook it is like operating a machine outside of its design specifications.  It just does not work very well.   

     Hence it is presumptuous to say that any particular form of sexual conduct is necessarily sanctioned by the Bible.  Being a Christian does not entitle me to do whatever I want whenever I want to.  Personally, I find that if I pray for guidance, and study the bible I almost always receive it.  Even if that is not as simple as some simple rulebook, there are real limits, and real direction for living life is in fact provided.  

     Whatever we decide to do, it should be done with the guidance of the Holy Spirt, in which case we should expect to see some evidence of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23), which is "love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."

     So I would say that even in today's context we don't have an automatic license to do everything we want to, whether homosexual or heterosexual. We probably can not use the Bible effectively to provide simple answers about, say, supporting or opposing specific legislative actions.   The Bible does not prohibit a modern society from addressing such issues in a way that differs from ancient practice, but neither does it offer carte blanche support, either. For example, perhaps we should take the Bible out of the sexuality debate altogether. 

    In  any case, it is very dubious whether a cosmic imbalance will be righted if we return to the laws and codes of ancient Barbarism.  To some extent we can afford to be very sympathetic to the actions of the ancient barbaric peoples, but 21st Century America is not the place to re-establish them.  


Monday, December 23, 2013

Star Trek: Klingon Star Ship Kronos

   Space....the Final Conquest.  These are the Voyages of the Klingon Star Ship Kronos.  It's enduring mission:  to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly conquer where no Klingon has gone before!

     Klingon Trek is my idea for a new Star Trek show.  The premise is that,since the Klingons and Federation have signed a peace treaty, the Federation and the Empire have started some exchange programs.  In particular, the Klingon starship Imperial has a crew of mixed Klingon and Federation crewpersons, but the persons with command authority are mainly Klingon, with Federation assistants and advisors. Sometimes they work well together, and sometimes not so well. 

    Here are some samples.  I've borrowed some from past Star Treks to help you visualize what they might be like.

Klingon Characters:  Captain (Klingon male), Vice Commander (human female), Councillor (Betzoid male),  Chief Engineer (Vulcan female),  Chief Medical Officer (Deltan female),  Security Chief (Klingon female), Tactical Officer (Klingon male), 
Navigator (human male), redshirts (mostly Klingon).  

File:TOS-day of the dove klingons.png
Frankly we Klingons do not like serving with Federation crew members.  But since we have been ordered to do so, we will do so with honor and do our utmost to bring glory to the Klingon Empire.  

The highest ranking Federation Officer is based on Roddenberry's "Number One" character.  This character was rejected, probably because the studios felt that audiences of 1966 were not ready for a competent female officer.  But hey, it's been 47 years, let's let Number One finally do her job, shall we?

The Betazoid Advisor is very good at discerning the true intentions of potential adversaries and is highly ethical.  The Klingons are not totally sure whetheer they can place their trust in a mind reader, however. 

Star Trek T'Pol. Free Star Trek computer desktop wallpaper, images, pictures download
A Vulcan woman could certainly be a good engineer, and could likely figure out the inner workings of a Romulan Cloaking Device (hint:  it probably uses Apple's Operating System rather than Windows).  But let's lose the Burger King uniforms, shall we?  Yech!

Deltans have usually appeared in a Burger King uniform, but bathrobes are also used and are easier on the eyes.  In any case, I think a Deltan might be good as the Medical Officer, and the crewperson who is most uncomfortable with the course taken by the Klingons.  

The Federation Navigator and Klingon Tactical Officer are among the quickest to build up a rapport with one another.  

The younger officers are often part of the away team, and learn to cooperate in hand to hand combat (yes there is going to be sex and violence if it is my show).  Hence they build trust for one another more readily than the older officers.  In particular, the young Federation Officers like the idea of solving problems with phasers (disruptors) instead of rules and regulations.  Yeah, baby!

Orion Females are known to be prolific, yet are disciplined enough to serve well on Federation Starships.   They say no human male can resist them. I wonder how the Klingons might fare?  Stay tuned.  An Orion woman is the ship's Communications Officer (if it is my show, you can most def count on there being some green booty).  

Synopsis of Episode I

     The Klingon Starship Kronos observes that a heavily damaged Romulan starship has made a brief incursion into Klingon Space.  The Federation observers, especially the Betazoid Advisor, are quick to point out the reasons that this was in all probability unintentional and unavoidable, given that the Romulan ship was heavily damaged, likely from an encounter with the Cardassians.  They explain how several incidents were solved successfully in the past by negotiation, and strongly urge the Klingon leadership not to seek a military solution.

     This puts the Klingons in a difficult situation. They are uncomfortable at being viewed as taking orders from the Federation.   Hence, accident or not, the Klingons feel honor bound to fire upon the defenseless Romulan ship.  After all the Romulan crew should be happy to die for their planet and preserve their honor, right?  So they attack with their disruptors, and destroy it easily, much to the horror of the Federation crew members.  In addition, they are able to salvage some of the weaponry, including--amazingly enough--the latest Romulan cloaking device.  
     The Romulan High Command is not amused by this, and they send SIX Romulan warships to destroy the Imperial.  However, with the aid of information gained from examining the new Cloaking Device--partly with the aid of the Federation engineers--the crew of the Kronos is able to see through the cloaking deception.  By knowing where the Romulan warships are, the Imperial maneuvers via an end-around (a modified Picard maneuver) to fight the six Romulan starships one at a time rather than all at once.  By so doing, their superior firepower is able to completely destroy the Romulan starships, a catastrophic loss for the Romulans.   Moreover, the Kronos is now able to threaten other nearby Romulan colonies which are now undefended.   

"NOW we will negotiate,"  explains the Starship Captain to the dumfounded Federation crewpersons.  Indeed, the Klingon Captain is able to force the  Romulan High Command  to cede control of the entire region of space in return for some minor face-saving diplomatic concession. 

The Federation crew has great misgivings about the way the entire incident has been handled, but they grudgingly admire the efficiency of the Klingon way.  They also realize belatedly that by helping to install the Cloaking Device, they have become accessories to whatever wrongs might have been committed.  
   At the end of the show, Star Fleet Command commends the crewpersons for following the will of their Klingon Superiors, who after all did not violate Klingon laws,  thus preserving the union which they intend to forge.  However, the Deltan Medical Officer resigns her commission and reports to the brig rather than be a part of what the Federation and Klingon Empire are doing.  

     Just as all this is winding down, Number One asks again how the first  Romulan ship came to be in such distress in the first place.   Then the Tactical Officer interjects that a Cardassian vessel has just now been detected along the perimeter of Klingon space....

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Withering Churches

I have been to a number of churches, partly by moving a lot but also because of my desire to find a place that will be there for my family ten, twenty or even fifty years in the future. 

However, so many churches are content to lose their vitality and die.   Oh, they think they want to grow.  In particular I remember one small church that my family and I attended which was always wringing their hands about diminishing attendance. 

 They would say that church growth was very important to the congregation, but the fact of the matter is that they did almost nothing to promote it, and the numbers had been going steadily down since their heyday in the 1950s.   

    I was kind of drafted into being the Youth Director of that Church on the basis that I've been academically trained for such activities, and I was one of the young parents in the congregation?  Young?  At that time I was in my mid 40s.  Kids would normally identify better with someone that was in their 20s.  

    One time we had a big self assessment initiative, and we gave ourselves a favorable rating on how hard we were working and so on.   We hoped that our visitors would like our 19th century church music played by talented musicians, and actually quite proud that our music was not entertainment, as the bigger growing churches liked to provide.  

      I dissented mildly, not wishing to create much of a stir.  But I thought that my job could be done better by someone closer in age to the kids, and I thought our 19th century music program was not likely to appeal to newcomers, and that we needed to make better use of the internet in order to allow new people to find us, and stuff like that.  Well, people listened politely but it was clear that they thought I was from another planet.  

   But a few weeks later a visitor came to the church.  A visitor! It was then that I realized that the church had no brochures to hand out, no one set up to welcome visitors, no newcomers packets, no nothing.  We liked worrying about diminishing attendance, but were not really interested in welcoming strangers come to our church, thank you very much.  

Young people may struggle with the idea of attending church.  Attending a rock concert is an easier first step for many to make (Thank you Chad Griffith Photgraphy!).

   Frankly this is not Biblical.  Matthew 28:16-20, the Great Commission, tells us that we need to reach out and spread the Good News.   Well, ok. 

 Flash forward to another church, which was growing rapidly.  The first time we visited, the minister explained that altough church growth was great, it would certainly change in the future.  In particular the church needs to greet the next generation of worshippers, and we don't know yet how they will communicate (Twitter? Facebook? something else?) or what kind of music they will like.  "We have ten years to figure out how to minister to people who are presently ten years old!"   I thought long and hard about that one.  

     Future worshippers will  probably prefer music that oldsters like me don't especially like.  But I'll put up with it if my kids and future grandkids are coming to church.  One of my friends put it this way:  "You know, the Apostle Paul never sang The Old Rugged Cross or any of our familiar hymns.  So as long as the theological content of the hymns is sound, what's the problem?"

     Exactly right.  If they want to sing Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing in a rock mode, who cares?  At least they are in church singing and celebrating, which is what they are supposed to do.   But I know many of my friends of withering churches are very put off by the idea.   

    I might also mention that I have been blesse to have been able to visit Seoul, Korea, home of the MEGA Mega Church.  One church I visited had seven services on Sunday, and the church was the size of a basketball arena with a full orchestra and choir, AND they had to build a second santuary next door with a closed circuit TV link to handle the overflow.   The total seating was some 30,000, and I can attest that the first service at 6 AM was FULL.  So I would have to say that it is very plausible that 200,000 people attend church there on Sunday.  

That church was Yoido Full Gospel, but it is not particularly anomalous.  The Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists and others have churches in Seoul which claim over 100,000 worshippers on a given Sunday.  

Yup, that's the way I remember it.  It's hard for me to understand why many churches prefer to wither away and don't realize that there is anything wrong with doing that.  

Kumnan Methodist Church in Seoul is also a very large church with multiple services on Sunday.   

   It's not necessarily the case that bigger is always better, but if a church is small, there had better be some reason for it.  Otherwise, the natural tendency of the church is to grow and to spread the message and the love.  

 This point was brought home to me, when one time a young man with autism got lost in a huge state nature preserve.  Well, a withering church would have said prayers for him and that would be that. Our minister did that too, but also told the congregation, "Now go find him!" And so we sent 300 people to the other side of the state to help look for him.   And find him we did! 

    That's why you have to grow, Church!  There are certain things that you simply can not accomplish without growth.  In particular, withering churches everywhere often have some kind of wonderful rationale why withering away is the best that can be hoped for.  And in some cases I'm sure that that is true. But for most of us, there are a few things that God wants us to accomplish while we are here on this earth.  And that process of fulfilling God's will leads to spreading the word and growing as an organization!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Star Trek Continues (Really!)

Star Trek Continues?  Oh YES it does!

     Somehow I found this amazing video on, the first installment of a web series called Star Trek Continues.  It's 51 minutes of a show that looks incredibly like the original show from circa 1966.  For the most part the actors not only act, but do remarkable impressions of the original cast.   Vic Mignogna has mastered Shatner's body language to an extent that is just amazing as well as his....dramatic...pauses!  

     But more importantly, the show has the look and feel of the original show.  It is a relatively low budget affair and does not spend a lot of money on special effects.  But Star Trek was never about special effects.  Rather it was a prophetic vision of the future.  There will come a time, I believe, when humanity really will start to explore the worlds around us and we will look back on these shows as something much more than entertainment.   

   Back to Star Trek.  Special kudos to Chris Doohan, who does a perfect Scotty (perhaps not surprising since James Doohan was his dad!).   I was also very impressed with Grant Imahara, who also appears on Myth Busters, who sounds exactly like George Takei's Lt Sulu.   

   We are also introduced to some new characters, notably Dr. Elise McKenna (Michele Specht, who is Vic's real life leading lady, incidentally).  

"Say, you new around here?  I'm Captain Kirk..."

    The first episode is about a character that was encountered in the original show.  The alien known as Apollo revisits the Enterprise, but has mysteriously has aged some 47 years while the Enterprise crew has been only two years removed from the first encounter, shown below.

Note:  Most actors are shorter than they appear on TV.  Can you guess which one is Apollo?

The old boy actually is very well preserved, I'd say, though under restraint in Sick Bay.  

    Apollo actually looks great (maybe he really does come from Olympus?).  I mean, when I first saw him I assumed that this show must have been shot 20 years ago, but no.  This is a 2013 production.   

Anyway, Apollo tells us that the realm that the Gods had created for themselves--a kind of Obamacare realm for the Gods--didn't actually work as well as they thought when they commissioned it, and for that reason he now wants to become human and live out his remaining days in obscurity.  

But how can he be happy to live down on the farm after being Apollo?  Can he be trusted?

Then there is the business of the mysterious extra organ he has (familiar to devotees of the original show).  Should McCoy operate on it?  He seems quite eager to slice and dice.  Maybe I have a corrupted mind, but the solemn discussion of Apollo's mysterious organ made me laugh.  It's probably just a prostate problem, gang.  

In any case, it is a fitting sequel to the original episode, and Michael Forest is fantastic in reprising his role as Apollo.   

The link to the episode appears here:  

     The show has asked independent bloggers (like me) and fans (like me and you also, hopefully) to consider contributing to the production of the next show.   This show a labor of love.  Like the original, none of the networks or even independents wanted it, but doggone it, these renegade TV actors wanted to do it, and I think it is great.    I waited 44 years for this, and so I've sent a few bucks their way.  I hope you do too. You can use the "Kirkstarter" here, and if you are a Trek blogger you can paste it on your site.  They've already made their goal, but I say let's keep the funding going! Let's get this show into syndication at least!   What the heck, set phasers to kill!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Home Alone 2 is My Favorite Holiday Movie

     Home Alone 2 is my favorite holiday movie.  I liked Home Alone when it came out circa 1990, and I thought when Home Alone 2 came out a few years, it could not possibly be as funny.  But it is, and even better, despite having the same plot and the same major characters.  
    To me the key is that Home Alone 2 was meticulously thought out, and even the most minor of characters was interesting and funny.   We can start out with the McCallister family, shown below on Christmas morning.

The McCalisters are a wacky American family.  I recognized a few of my family members in there, and I'll bet you did too!

I think Buzz was greatly played.  That would be the oafish kid in the back there, nearly as tall as weird Uncle Frank.   To me, he was the consummate big brother, who seems to make decisions for the entire family and never getting in trouble despite evil behavior that ranks up there with Hitler and Stalin.     
Kevin's mom Kate was on the one hand hilariously played by Molly Ringwald, but she was  also a very sympathetic character, terribly frightened and worried for her little lost boy, alone in New York.  Who could not identify with this great Mom?

Kate McCallister discovers Kevin is missing Again!!  Oh no!!!

Peter McCallister is the calm and collected straight man for the more hysterical Kate.  Don't worry, dear, we'll get him back!

   I also like Kevin's cousin (played by his real life brother, Kieran Culkin).   He captures the joy of Christmas morning.  Doesn't it seem like the youngest child is always the first one awake on Christmas morning?

"Are you nuts?!  Santa's Omnipresent!"

    Who could not love characters such as the opera-loving Bird Lady?  Or Mr. Duncan, the philanthropic toy store owner who loves to support the Children's Hospital?

The bird lady loved opera.  She also steps up to help a young boy when he gets into trouble, putting herself at great risk. 

Mr. Duncan has all the money he needs, but continues to do what he loves in order to support the Children's Hospital, a great cause.  I know real people who do things like that. 

I also admit to having a bit of a thing for the Model, an unnamed but gorgeous blonde, who encounters the bad guys on the street a time or two.  Yup, she's a New Yorker, all right.  

In New York, the models can throw a mean right cross, so watch out!

The bad guys are really really bad, but somehow we love them, too.  Merry Christmas, Harry!  Happy Hanukka, Marv!

    But to me the absolute stars among the minor characters are the desk clerks at the fabulous Plaza Hotel, with Tim Curry playing the self-important Concierge with his overdone English accent.  Keep in mind that Tim really is an English actor, playing an American with a fake English accent.  Got it?    

Tim is a genius at comical facial expressions and comedic timing.  We love to hate him, which makes it all the more fun when Kevin is able to trick him at various points in the film.  It's kind of like the Road Runner defeating the Coyote.  We don't get tired of it or at least I don't.   

Tim  also gives a few lessons about physical comedy;  for example, when he needs to crawl away from what he thinks is a gunman in the hotel (another Kevin trick!).   There are probably a hundred different ways for an actor to crawl, but Tim decided to slither, kind of like a snake (try it some time, it's not easy, but it looks very funny).  

Also watch what happens when Cedric is temporarily stunned and lies on the floor by the elevator.  Little details, but they make you laugh!

The finest idiots in New York
What kind of idiots do you have working at this hotel?

   Something else that comes across to me is that the writers and producers seem to have thought out the social implications of their work.   They realized that they might unintentionally inspire children to run away from home or to confront criminals themselves rather than alerting the authorities.  But it seems to me that they built quite a bit into the script to emphasize that Kevin's adventure was the result of an accident, and that everyone tried their best not to leave a young child alone, and likewise the confrontation with the bad guys was something that Kevin really wanted to avoid if at all possible.  

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thor 2 is a Dopey (But Fun!) Movie

I had to see Thor 2, if for no other reason that I used to like Thor comics as a kid.  In fact, when I was 8 years old,  for about two weeks I converted to the Norse religion due to Thor comics (true story).   You see, one time Thor's hammer got damaged, so he went to Pittsburgh, where they know about making metals.  I knew Pittsburgh was a real place, so I thought Thor might be real too.  

Thor interacted with real people even though he was a celebrity, kind of like NASCAR drivers do.   

I had a Thor T-Shirt and everything.  

This is the same Thor Tee Shirt design I had back in the day.  He could throw his hammer for miles, and by hanging on to it, he could fly.  I tried this by tying a rope to my Dad's hammer and throwing it, but it didn't work for me.  

Well that brings us to the Thor 2 movie. Great special effects, fantastic visually.  Individually the actors look the parts.  But together the team just does not mesh, and we fail to identify with any of the characters.  The bad guys are rotten elves from some other dimension, and we are told that there is some problem with the Nine Realms blah blah blah... But the movie just does not make us identify with any of this grandiose mythology nor does it seem very important.  In fact, I don't even remember the head bad guy's name or what he wanted other than he was bad and he was interested in the Six Realms.  Make that Nine Realms.  Yawn. 

At least Loki  looks and acts the part.  We get some teases about what makes him tick.  Still I think he would have been a better character if he would occasionally do something good rather than being in bad guy mode 100% of the time.  It's hard to understand why Thor has an affinity for his brother if Thor is always good and Loki is always bad.  On the other hand, Thor seems willfully ignorant about the extent of Loki's power, and the plot twists can occur mainly because Thor doesn't seem to take Loki's powers  of illusion seriously enough: i.e., Thor is dumb.  If it were not so, there would not be a Thor 3.
Loki is a sinister guy and has a lot of powers we didn't know about before, but Thor has known him for thousands of years, he should know better.  But he habitually forgets to keep an eye on his half brother.  Thor, you  dope!

However, the Jane Foster character is totally implausible.  In the comics, it made sense because Thor shared consciousness with mortal medical doctor Don Blake, who liked Jane.  But in the movie, there is no Don Blake, hence it doesn't make sense that Thor would be interested in Jane. I mean, compared to Jane, Sif is a goddess.  After all, she is, really!  But Thor and Sif have known each other for 2000 years and nothing happened yet, so maybe that is just not to be.  Additional proof that Thor is a dope!  

My theory is that they wanted Jane Foster to be kind of like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman--kind of kooky but very sexy and sympathetic.  Jane is kooky all right, but lacks the sophistication necessary to  have a boyfriend who is 2000 years older than her.
Jane Foster looks and acts a little like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, but with an IQ in the 200 range. But it doesn't quite work.   

Sif has the body of a Goddess because she is, in fact, a Goddess. Thor paid her no attention for thousands of years.  Thor really IS a dope.  

One of the goofiest scenes in superhero movie history comes when Jane meets Thor's mom, Frigga.  What do you say when your prospective Mother in Law is 5000 years old?  That is wacky.
"Oh let me tell you the story about when little Thor used to bring his magic hammer to Little League instead of using a wooden bat!"  "Gee, that's funny, Mrs. Odin."  "Oh, do call me Frigga!"

   The secondary characters are universally wooden, uninteresting and unmemorable.   Even Anthony Hopkins (shades of Marlon Brando's Jor El) fails to score big as Thor's Daddy.  He looks like a wimpy English actor, rather than King of the Norse Gods. Well, no wonder.  He IS a wimpy English actor.  

     Maybe the exception is  Dr. Selvig, who is a half-crazy scientist.  We can understand his frustration because he is the only one who knows what's going on, but he can't communicate with others because he is so eccentric that he scares normal people (can't coordinate his clothes because he is too wrapped up in physics.  I can relate).     

      Anyway, he hooks up with Jane's young interns who are just annoying rather than brilliant.
After shopping Wal-Mart on Black Friday, the professor and the two interns score big on discount toy thingamajigs.  But I'm not sure what these instruments do.  Costco has better ones, I'm sure.

     That is the central problem with the movie.  We don't connect well with the characters and we are not sympathetic with who they are and we are not interested in what they want.  I'm much more passionate about Obamacare, say, than the future of Asgard and the Seven Realms.  Er, Nine Realms. Whatever.  

     It's a movie just for special effects and some good comic relief.  It's okay to take your kids to see it, just keep your expectations low.  

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Should the US Make a Deal with Nuclear Iran?

   Articles on Iran tend to receive much less attention in the US than articles about Miley Cyrus's underwear.  But this could be one of the most important items for 2014.  

    On the one hand, US Intelligence Agencies still suffer from completely blowing the assessment of Iraq's supposed nuclear program in the 2003 time frame.  In actuality, Saddam had no facilities to actually design and construct nuclear weapons.  The Administration imagined that there might be some sort of secret laboratory with a criminal mastermind that would develop nuclear technology for weapons, much like Dr. No in James Bonds movies.  

Could a real life Dr. No have been making nuclear weapons for Saddam Hussein?  No.  

These paranoid delusions are now discredited, and the fundamentals of nuclear intelligence have been restored.  To make a nuclear bomb, a foreign country needs an entire organization to produce bomb-grade nuclear fuel; i.e., by operating high powered centrifuges running on uranium fluoride gas.  Alternatively they must have a special nuclear reactor suitable for producing plutonium.  They must also be prepared to test the nuclear weapons in special facilities with very thick radiation shielding.   Further, the military must have a delivery system, and they must train specific units on how to handle and operate the military system or systems.   It's not  just one scientist building  nuclear missiles in a secret laboratory.  

     Americans have grown weary of war with Afghanistan and Iraq, and further were disgusted with admonitions from the center-right and center-left that the US should intervene in Syria, Egypt, Libya and other places on behalf of this rebel group or that one.  

     On the other hand, the case of Iran is more dangerous.  Iran actually has centrifuges designed for producing bomb grade uranium.  We know exactly where they are located.  Israel is dead set against the Iranians having nuclear weapons, and if there is conclusive evidence that the Iranians are weaponizing, Israel will certainly destroy the centrifuges and any other facilities supporting such efforts.   The other countries, including the US, will complain and moan, but at the end of the day no one really wants Iran to have nuclear weapons.  Remember also that Iran is a mainly a Shiite country, and that most  Iranians are not Arabs at all.  So Sunni Arab nations are likely to oppose a nuclear powered Iran.  

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inspects Iranian nuclear centrifuges.
Unlike the fantasies about Iraq, Iran definitely has centrifuges suitable for enriching uranium to make bomb grade material.  

IRGC Rejects Report on Maximum Range of Iranian Missiles
Iran also has the capability to deliver nuclear weapons should the need arise.

    My take is that Iran is playing a very dangerous but highly profitable game.  As a major oil producer (about 4 million barrels per day worth), they have a vested interest in maintaining high oil prices. Every time they act irresponsibly the world oil price tends to spike upwards.  Hence they have a pragmatic reason to act crazy.   It is a good strategy to antagonize and threaten the West as much as possible, thus raising the crude oil price.  The nuclear program tends to destabilize world peace and to result in higher oil prices.  It's hard to estimate how much the fear factor is worth, but my feeling is that fears of Iran are wroth at least several dollars per barrel, or upwards of a billion dollars per year.    

All that is well and good, but the danger is that the game could get out of control.  If Israel or the US become convinced that Iran intends to create nuclear weapons, then there will be some sort of military intervention.   Israel will likely reduce Iraq's nuclear weapons facilities to piles of ruble.  

By the same token, it is certainly possible that the Iranians might come to take themselves too seriously and they might well attempt to actually make nuclear weapons, and thus necessitate the military intervention that the rest of the world hopes to avoid.  
In summary, I tend to think that the Iranians are not quite as nutty as they appear, at least for the most part.  But they are playing a very dangerous game, and if it gets out of control there may well be a real need for military intervention.    This needs to be watched very closely. 


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

No Third Term for Obama? is the proud author of this little gem. 

Say what?

Yes, you heard that right.  No third term for Obama!  Some of my otherwise normal friends are deathly afraid that President Obama is going to suspend the Constitution and run for a third or even fourth term so that he can carry out some diabolic scheme to ruin America with Obamacare or some other such thing.  

If you don't believe it, just google for Obama Third Term and see how many articles pop up.  Apparently, the Rand Paul Review (not sure if that reflects the views of Senator Paul himself),, Fox News, the Washington Post, and hundreds of others have published articles on the subject.

This is just a hallucination that the wacky right has concocted in order to avoid dealing with real issues.  According to one opinion poll, 44% of registered Republican voters believe the third term conspiracy theory ( Public Policy Polling  )  That's sad.  

I want the Republican Party back.  What happened to the people that used to support limited, but good government?  Economic growth?  Conservation?  A clean environment?

Yes that was the Republican Party back in the day.  Now it is a cesspool for conspiracy theories and insanity.  They have been driven mad by losing to Obama, and paradoxically by making him out to be some kind of demonic conspiracy, they make him more powerful.  The Republicans are completely ineffective when they start blathering about birth certificates, Muslim Communist conspiracies, a Fifth Branch of the Armed Forces, and now this, a third term for Obama.  

Well, what is going to happen is that the Tea Party and the far right are going to go nutsoidal to block this supposed candidacy (which will never never happen).  Then they will congratulate themselves for having saved America from being taken over by Obama.  But the rest of America will perceive them as idiots.  

And then Hillary Clinton will get the nomination. No third term for Obama?  Well how about a third term for the Clinton family?  That's legal, since it is Hillary who will run instead of Bill.  

We will never have any serious opposition to the Democrats as long as Republicans are lost in fantasyland.  Please wake up.    

As long as Republicans are distracted by their bizarre fantasies, they are completely ineffective at addressing the real problems that America faces.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Roy and Fran Seitz Celebration of Life

That's Roy on the left and Fran on the right, with friends in the middle.  That's kind of the way they lived.  

     Yesterday I attended a memorial service for Roy and Fran Seitz, two people in my personal Hall of Fame.  Mr. and Mrs. Seitz designed their own service, and made sure that it would be a celebration of their lives and not a gloomy service.  Well, there were some tears shed, but it was far from gloomy.  More like a scene from "It's a Wonderful Life."  The sanctuary was packed to overflowing. 

   The Seitzes, you see, touched many many people by constantly being in service for others at the Church, the Children's Home and especially its garden, the Berea Jaycees, Baldwin Wallace College, Little League and a thousand other causes and activities that we will never find out about.   Mr. Seitz served in the Army in World War 2, was an athlete, musician, coach, salesman and probably had 100 other roles that he filled. Among other things, Mr. Seitz was my baseball coach in Pony League when I was about thirteen.  Kenny Seitz was our slugging first baseman.  At that time, truth to tell, I thought I knew much more about baseball than Mr. Seitz (despite the fact that I was the worst player on the team), and I didn't much care for his coaching.  Years later, my mother started attending Berea United Methodist Church, and I reconnected with the Seitzes and to make a long story short, I understood that the Seitzes embodied the teachings of Jesus Christ as much as anyone I have ever known. You see, it wasn't just sports.  Mr. Seitz was trying to teach us about life. 

    The Seitzes influenced everyone around them, and brought people to church and to service projects of all kinds.   I can only imagine how many people helped support the Children's Home, not to mention all the kids who came to attend college under their encouraging influence.  They love to work in the kitchen, cooking dinner for Baldwin Wallace students.  Years ago the BW football team, coached by Lee Tressel, was fueled by chicken power, courtesy of Mr. Seitz.  One time they cooked 500 chickens for a fundraiser at Finney Stadium, and the cloud of smoke caused Dr. Bonds to fear that stadium was on fire and he called the fire department.  Mr Seitz threw out the first ball of football practice for some 50 plus years running.  He taught hundreds of kids at the orphanage how to plant seeds and grow their own food.   

    It was great to reconnect with Don, Ken and Gary, as well as other friends like Keith Keller, Dave Tressel, Kevin Preston and others.

    We had the opportunity to recreate one of their legendary chicken barbecues along with Mrs. Seitz's jello fruit salads.  Very simple, but about the best food I have ever tasted, served with love.  A lot of laughter, band music and some examples of Mr. Seitz's wicked jokes, courtesy of Gary.  

As with most things in life, the Seitzes did it right.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Sports Teams Should Quit Ripping Off Native Americans

Recently the Washington Redskins have been in the news again, due to problems with their unfortunate nickname. I think this may be resolvable with some simple common sense business etiquette.  

When rich white people (i.e., Dan Snyder) insist that they are not being racist, but substantial numbers of Native Americans disagree, that sort of defines a dispute along racial lines, doesn't it?  You can't say that Native Americans are being honored by the name.  At least they don't seem to feel very honored. 

I went to Miami University, which used to be called the Miami Redskins (Miami being the name of a Native American Tribe, by the way), and we changed our name to the Redhawks and nothing really terrible happened.  Similarly, the Stanford Indians decided to change their name and logo and they seem to be doing okay.

I think the litmus test for sports names and logos is that these names and logos should be licensed from a bona fide Native American tribe, along the lines that Florida State does with the Seminole nation.  If you can get a Native American tribe to stand up and agree to be honored with the title and logo with a paying license to the tribe from the team, then you would have a good case that you are not being racist.  However, when you are keeping all the money to yourself, thus stealing the rights to this intellectual property associated with a specific group of people, and turning a deaf ear to the complaints from the Native Americans, then you kind of suck.  Dan Snyder, it sucks that you claim to be honoring a group of people, using a team name and logo from them that generates millions of dollars, and as far as I know you are not sharing a penny of it with a bona fide Native American group.

Incidentally, the Washington Redskins are actually named after the Boston Tea Party participants who were disguised as Native Americans.  The team was originally the Boston Redskins before moving to Washington.  I don't think that qualifies as honoring Native Americans.  The maroon uniforms incidentally come from the old Pottsville Maroons, who moved to Boston and played there one year before becoming defunct.  But the Boston Redskins decided to stay with maroon uniforms and pay homage to the Boston Tea Party.  They were not honoring the Native Americans.  

 If I'm not mistaken, Florida State licensed its logo from the Seminole Nation.  That's the right way to do it.  This is a real logo, whereas as far as I know the Redskins logo is a fake that does not pay royalties to any legit Native American organization. 

    By the same token, the Cleveland Indians need to get a new logo.  They were named after one Alex Sockalexis, a member of the Penobscot Nation.  So far so good.  But they claim that their "Chief Wahoo" honors the Penobscots. Well, if you can get the Penobscot Nation to agree that this is so, then logically the team should be paying a logo for the use of the logo.  

Who exactly is being honored by logos like this?

    But this is just not going to happen because in fact the logo is a racist caricature and no one feels honored by it.   I think the Cleveland Indians should negotiate with the Penobscot Nation to generate a better mascot, and both the team and Penobscot Nation should share in the royalties.    
Clean this artwork up a bit, and we might have something here. Give the Penobscots a similar royalty deal that the Seminole Nation gets from Florida State.  This would definitely work, in my opinion.  

     By the same token, the Washington Redskins need to come to terms with Native American organizations.  To be sure, not all Native Americans regard "Redskins" or the team logs as offensive. In fact some Native American high schools use that phrase as a nickname for their sports teams.   

     But I wonder if the Redskins logo represents some real Native American tribe.  If so, they should pay a royalty for it.  If not, then it is a cheap imitation, whose main purpose was probably to avoid paying a royalty and it should be scrapped.  It may or may not be illegal, but it is unethical and needs to be stopped.  

     The NFL should get this.  It's like a company selling maroon and gold-colored football jerseys, and they change a few minor details and say that it is not infringing the Washington Redskins team logo.  Well, the NFL would take that company to court, wouldn't it?

  Pro teams should get their logos and nicknames from a bona fide Native American tribe, and legitimized by a royalty bearing license with that tribe.  THAT would be honoring a tribe.  It does not honor the tribe by ripping them off.  

    Does money solve everything?  No.  But in my opinion 99% of the mascot/nickname/logo controversy would go away if simple business etiquette were observed.  

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Is Intelligence Analysis of Syria Really Infallible?

Steve Sack / Minnesota Star Tribune, Cagle Cartoons
Steve Sack, Star Tribune.

    The Village Elliot is not impressed by Secretary Kerry's capsule summary of intelligence on the use of sarin gas in Syria.  In short this rationale is ten times weaker than the flawed rationale that led the US into Iraq. 
     What we are told is that there is physical evidence that sarin (a deadly neurotoxin) was indeed used in Syria and killed hundreds of people.  
     We are also told that the delivery system for the likely weapons originated in government controlled areas and that the target was in rebel controlled areas, and that the government undertook unspecified precautions before the delivery system was actually used.  Doesn't that prove that it was Assad who ordered the strike?

     Not to me it doesn't.  What it proves is that the local military may have been tipped off, perhaps by an informant.  

   The press reports that the Office of the Director for National Intelligence issued a report which acknowledges that the U.S. intelligence community does not know where Syria's chemical weapons are stored.  Also, there is no proof Assad ordered chemical weapons use, nor was any consideration allowed for rogue elements within the Syrian military.  This according to the Huntington Post citing two intelligence officials and two more U.S. officials.  ( ) . So there is some evidence behind President Obama's position, but it is by no means a "slam dunk" assessment.  

John Cole / Scranton Times-Tribune, Cagle Cartoons
John Cole / Scranton Times-Tribune, Cagle Cartoons

     There is no understandable motive based on the information given to date.  Assad's forces, by all accounts, were WINNING the skirmish with the rebels.  Why would they they randomly decide to use chemical weapons and invite the US and the West to support the rebels?  That would be stupid.   This part of the story makes no sense.  

     Note that there is not one group of rebels, but perhaps as many as a dozen, most of whom actually hate each other.  The most effective fighting force is said to be Al Qaeda.  Hence there are about eleven groups with a potential motive. 

     Another thing we don't know is the target of the gas.  Was it truly just a random strike on civilians at a random location? Were unarmed civilians the true targets?  Or were there some high profile persons involved?  I would like to know who the prominent persons were who were killed.  

     Moreover, the Russian KGB has gone public with their own assessment (prior to the attack) that terrorists such as Al Qaeda have chemical weapons.  They would be interested in having the government be blamed for using chemical weapons in order to trick the US into supporting their civil war efforts.  That is a potential motive.

    The US intelligence services pooh-pooh the KGB report.  However, it seems to me based on the records, the KGB is not too shabby, and the US intelligence agencies have produced major fiascos when the President leans on their advice. Beyond, that however, why would anyone doubt that Al Qaeda has chemical weapons?  And why would the US want to punish one chemical weapons holder and support another chemical weapons holder?  This rationale is so stupid that it is beyond belief.  I believe the American people should hold the President, Secretary of State and Intelligence Services accountable, and ask them to prove that Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations are free and clean of chemical weapons as precondition before even considering the mad debate of intervening on their behalf against the Syrian government. 

Nate Beeler / Columbus Dispatch, Cagle Cartoons

Nate Beeler, Columbus Dispatch

    US policymakers like Secretary Kerry claim that the evidence is clear "beyond a reasonable doubt."  Well if you're going to use courtroom language, we may as well ask what kind of trial is carried out with thousands of prosecuting attorneys and zero defense attorneys?  It's no wonder that the intelligence agencies routinely issue false threat assessments, since there are no checks on what they say.  Remember when they said that the per-capita income in Communist East Germany was higher than the per-capita income in West Germany?  What a farce!  They also failed to foresee the fall of the USSR, believing that it was all a communist plot to get America to lower its defenses.  

     More recently, of  course, they have screwed up in assessing the existence of nuclear weapons and chemical weapons in Iraq under the Saddam regime.  They are not infallible. My sense is that the analysis at the lower levels is much more thorough and evenhanded, but as it goes up the chain of command it becomes more and more slanted until it hits the cabinet level.  But at that point all common sense seems to go out the window.  

    They now want us to believe that chemical weapons are being used by Syrian President Assad, and that there are all these political moderates in Syria that can be supported with American aid and military power.  Secretary Kerry reports that three fourths of the rebels are moderates who will become US allies in due course.  Only a small number are extremists or Islamists.  Oh boy!  What exciting news!  Can I have some of these moderates over to my house for dinner?

     This despite the fact that the press reports that Al Qaeda is the most effective anti-government fighting force, and nobody has actually interviewed or even seen one of these "moderates."  In short this is complete madness, and if Secretary Kerry can be so off base in his assessment about moderates in Syria, then he may well be wrong about many other things as well, including the true function of chemical warfare in Syria.  

"Maybe 15% to 25% might be in one group or another who are what we would deem to be bad guys," Kerry said.
Something else that needs to be pointed out is that in a situation where the overwhelming majority of people hate the guts of the US, one way to strengthen Assad would be to say  something like, "Assad must go!"  Fear and loathing of the US may cause the opposite reaction from what is intended.  What exactly are we hoping will happen if we intervene in Syria?  This may be the subject of a future essay.  

For further reading:

Tal Toplin, "John Kerry: There are moderates in Syria,"  Politico 9/6/2013,  

Iraq and Weapons of Mass Destruction, National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 80 Updated - February 11, 2004, Edited by Jeffrey Richelson,  Originally posted December 20, 2002, 
Previously updated February 26, 2003.