Sunday, February 27, 2005

God, Without the Soul Crushing Tyrany

Cory Doctorow found this essay by Will Shetterly, which says everything about Science fiction/Fantasy writing's relationship to religion that I've been wanting to say, but couldn't. I tried, but every time, it devolved into a rant about the imbecility and intolerance of Conservative Christians attitudes towards Literature of the Imagination (see, I still can't even just link to it without pulling a punch or two):
I was an atheist, but in my teens, I craved some form of enlightenment. I tried drugs and found they only made me happy to sit in the dark. I tried Theravada Buddhism and found that my problem with formal religion encompasses all formal religions. I thought I had outgrown religion, but the truth is that my need for revelation was answered in the literature of speculation, fantasy and science fiction, the genres that test unlikely propositions in stories.

Those stories gave me new myths. While the passion of Jesus, the trials of Job, and the tolerance of the Golden Rule only made me think about the hypocrisy of conservative Christians, I felt the sacrifice of Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, the suffering of Winston Smith in 1984, and the respect for difference in Star Trek's Prime Directive. I read Isaac Asimov and Zenna Henderson and knew that all people should live as equals, sharing wealth and knowledge. I read J.R.R. Tolkien and Ursula K. Le Guin and knew I should strive to do good, no matter the obstacles.

If I had been a different kind of reader, I might have found meaning on a different shelf of the library. All stories are implicitly spiritual, whether they're about Philip Marlowe seeking a murderer, Elizabeth Bennet seeking love, or Dorothy seeking Oz. Every genre has its metaphor: Mysteries are about truth. Romances are about love. Fantasy and science fiction are about wonder and purpose. By putting people into impossible circumstances, they ask, "Who are we? Why are we here?"

These implicitly spiritual stories, just as explicitly spiritual ones, can be divided into parables and fables. Mysteries and romances, like Jesus' stories about servants, are meant to be plausible. Because the stories could be true, we can learn from Sherlock Holmes, Scarlet O'Hara, or the Good Samaritan. But fantasy and science fiction, like the stories about Jesus' miracles or divine birth, are meant to be implausible. By asking us to consider something outside our experience, like traveling in time, becoming a monster, or turning water into wine, they ask us to throw off our preconceptions and see the world as if we had never seen it before. Because it's impossible for a story to occur in our world, we know that it's about something more than its details, and we can learn from Santa Claus, Superman, or the Son of God.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Shamanstvo!

It started with a snow storm, both a real fluffy white one outside and a metaphorical storm of words, falling form my head. Thursday morning, I woke to find it snowing and the university closed. This was perfect, as I wanted to get a little writing done that day. And boy, did I. I wrote nearly ten pages of the new version of the story I've been working on.

For those keeping track at home, this is the story about the immortal King, with the conniving but not too bright descendants who are trying to kill him. I had finished the first draft of this longish short story last month and been rolling ideas around in my head, trying to figure out how to improve it. It was good but it lacked something. Kevin read the draft and over Thai food, we had a long discussion about that elusive quality that makes stories great rather then just a mildly amusing way to waste a few minutes or hours. Nabokov called this quality shamanstvo, the "enchanter quality." We decided it was a mixture of wonder at the strange and horrific beauty of the world and an attempt to bottle the ineffable.

Tuesday, The Mouse Empire released Miyazaki's animated masterpiece, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind on DVD. I saw this movie as a child, while living in Cuba. I couldn't have been more than ten years old at the most but sitting there in that amphitheater, watching Nausicca and the giant Aum and the Toxic Jungle, it was the perfect example of an artist who had successfully bottled shamanstvo. That movie has stuck with me ever since. I saw it once more, edited all to hell on VHS as a teenager but still, loved the film. In fact, me talking about it was what inspired my wife to buy for me as birthday present, sight unseen, a copy of Princess Mononoke. We've both been huge Miyazaki fans ever since.

And what all this has to do with my story is this: Tuesday night, I watched Nausicaa and remembered the awe. I thought about it all the next day, and dreamed Wednesday night of fungus and wonder and the death of humankind.

Thursday, I awoke to snow and spent the day writing. Friday, I played hooky and spent the day writing. Six thousand words and seventeen pages later, I finished the second draft of the story. And I'm pleased. This is something that doesn't happen often. On the rare occasion that I finish a story, I usually find that in completing it, the idea wasn't worth the time, or the finished product is Ok but needs so much work to make it not embarrassing that it's not worth it, or I've lost the desire to finish it or show it to anyone. But not this time. This is the first time I've written something that I'm proud of. Something that I think has real potential to be great. It still needs some polishing. I've got to dot the Is and cross the Ts but it's all there.

As this story is ostensibly a present for my wife, I'm not going to post it online just yet. This summer, perhaps. Though I'm seriously considering sending the story off to a publisher. So we'll see.

The only reason I wanted to write about this was as a way to try and put shamanstvo into words, to try and verbalise the feeling of finally reaching the long sought after but elusive goal of not completely failing at what I've always tried to do.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Uncurious George and the Thought Police

Anyone who doesn't think we're sliding into some nascent American version of fascism needs to read this. Everyone else who has noticed needs to read it as well. From the Fort Worth Weekly:

The war on terror, coupled with budget deficits, seems to have morphed into a war on information.

"This administration is trying to keep information from the U.S. citizens,'' said Monika Antonelli, a UNT librarian who monitors attempts to restrict government information. "When I worked in government documents at UNT, the cost of the program was [about] 20 cents per taxpayer, and it was money well spent. The Depository Library program received less funding than the budget for military bands. This is not about saving money but about stifling information.''

The latest skirmish erupted last month when Russell, at a meeting of the American Library Association in Boston, announced the federal government's 2006 budget would include money for only "50 essential titles'' for the nation's 1,250 depository libraries. Hundreds of other documents that the government for years had deposited in the nation's libraries would no longer be available except online.

The ALA and the American Association of Law Libraries said the proposal would "eliminate almost all'' of the printed material traditionally made available to libraries. The law librarians further complained that the plan "represents a major disruption to the [Federal Depository Library Program's] role of ensuring no-fee, permanent access to government information for the American public.''

[...] Others are worried that shifting the responsibility for archiving government documents from public libraries to the government itself will make political editing of information too tempting. Librarian watchdogs have already noted that at least one agency, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, appears to have deleted some documents critical of the Bush administration from its web site.

"What happens when the Bush administration wants to prevent a particular policy point of view'' from being aired? asked Arlene Weible, head of UNT's government documents department. Shifting control of information from the libraries to the government leaves the public "with less of a check'' against government abuses.

[...] But the shelves of the nation's libraries are only one front on the government war on information. Increasingly, the government is thwarting requests for public information under the Freedom of Information Act with demands for exorbitant search fees. In one recent case, People for the American Way sought records about government requests to seal records about immigrants detained after 9/11. The Justice Department initially refused the request, saying that to release information about the detainees would violate the privacy of those individuals. It later amended its response, saying it would gladly conduct a search for the records — for a fee of $372,799.

Dictators like to keep the masses ignorant of their true intentions, while blowing purple smoke up their collective asses. How many times does Bush jave to spit on the constitution before we get a clue? Does he have to install gas-powered showers in GTMO? Start rounding up gays and liberals?

I know, I know. We aren't supposed to soil the discourse by comparing Bush to Hitler. But for fuck's sake people, what's the man got to do before we call him on his fascist thought control actions, grow a little mustache?

Our own government has decided that they don't want you or me or anyone else who isn't on the Bush family Christmas Card List to know what they're planning, who they're planning on doing it to and who's getting your tax money in no-bid contracts to do it.

Luckily, there are ways to take action against this.

_________
Thanks to Lynne and Elvira for the links.

Catblogging- Snowed In Edition



Since I was home last weekened, I was able to get a whole new crop of Lucy pics. It's too bad she isn't here in Baltimore, as I'd think she'd really enjoy the six inches of snow on the ground. Perhaps next year...

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

My Little Star Wars Rant

Via Boing Boing, I found this link to a collection of still shots from Star Wars Episode III. I recommend them to anyone who, like me, is morbidly curious but doesn't want to give any more money to George Lucas.

My beef with George Lucas is this:

One of the fondest and earliest memories of my childhood was when I was six years old. The day I graduated from Kindergarten, my father took me out to lunch and then to see Return of the Jedi. It was the middle of the afternoon and we were practically the only people in the theater and as far as I'm concerned, we were. Like most people my age, the original Star Wars trilogy formed the foundation of our imagination. Here was a complete but not fully fleshed out world. We could take the building blocks and have endless adventures-- Wookies, droids, Jedi, Stormtroopers, you name it, we could be it. On the playground, we had it all.

In first grade, I car pooled with a friend, whose dad would narrate the Star Wars stories to us in the car. It was an exciting time, that drive to school, because Jessie's dad was a journalist and knew how to tell a good story. At least, good enough to keep two seven year olds entertained in morning traffic. (Looking back, I realize he was narrating the radio play to us, which is why it sounded so good, as it was made for telling).

Then, along comes Mr. Lucas and decides to add scenes to my childhood. The Special Edition directors cuts of the trilogy came out while I was in college. Imagine it, me and a hundred other comic book geeks going to see Star Wars on the Big Screen, just like we had when we were little. Only, this time there were added scenes and more special effects!

The special editions turned out to be like a woman who goes to a plastic surgeon for a little nip and tuck and gets talked into a boob job. She wakes up hours later with three tits and nipples all over her face. It was a disaster of epic, but surreal proportions, the full scope of which would take years for us all to realize.

In retrospect, that was the beginning of the end for me and George, because he said he'd never release the original versions of the films ever again. Here was some fat bastard, telling me that I could never see a major part of my childhood again. At the time, it wasn't that big a deal, but as I've gotten older, I've found that there are things about growing up that I miss, and watching the Star Wars movies, untainted by special editions was one of them. At the time though, I had almost forgiven Lucas for the Special Editions. I still had the originals on tape and could watch them whenever I wanted.

Then, along came Episode I. I saw that piece of crap three times, hoping that I had missed something. Darth Vader was this bratty ten year old? And what the fuck are middichlorians?! Now there's a DNA test for Jedi?

Then there was Episode II, in which Christopher Lee gets his ass whipped by a muppet and audiences the world over are subjected to the most ridiculous love story, ever.

Padme: I know our love is forbidden, Anakin, but when you told me you killed all those Sand People, well, I changed my mind. Genocide is fucking hot-- let's get married!

(And wouldn't you be just a little turned off by a mettle arm? Cybernetic limbs do not bode well for relationships. Everybody knows this, and you'd expect a former Queen and Intergalactic senator to figure it out. Name me one instance in which a character gets a robotic bodymod where things end well. OK, lieutenant Dan in Forest Gump but he doesn't count. This just highlights the fact that Padme's love for Anikan is a plot point and nothing more. It's ordained by the Lords of Continuity and without it, there'd be no Episode III-VI and wouldn't that be a shame. Here's an idea for a sort of deconstructionist Star Wars remix: Padme realizes that there's a concentrated effort on the part of someone to make her fall in love with this hamfisted whinny boy who gets his kicks murdering indigenous people on remote planets. She attempts to flee her fate but soon discovers through clues subtle and benign that the Force controlling her destiny is wielded by a bearded man who resides outside of the known universe, who controls directly the fate of everyone in her universe by manipulating a vast collection of little dolls, which he plays with, mercilessly).

It occurs to me now that the original Star Wars movies were good-- not great, just good, and were so in spite of George Lucas, not because of him. Lucas has said over the years that had he the money and resources back then, the first Star Wars movie would have been very different, more like Episodes I-III. I wish now that he had gotten the money and resources so that he could have made his bloated space turd of a movie and it would have flopped and we'd now only know Star Wars as that silly old movie from the seventies that MST3K lampooned so badly. If only.

Then, I would have had more time in my childhood to explore my own imagination, instead of having it enslaved like some coked-up actress in a gold bikini to this idiot and his pseudo-spiritual homage to bad science fiction.

_________
Edited to make a little more sense, but not much.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Remember That Vase?

The one Dick Cheney said was stolen as a result of the unruliness of war? Well, one more thing the election in Iraq didn't fix was theft of national treasures. Asia Times:

CARACAS - One million books, 10 million documents and 14,000 archaeological artifacts have been lost in the US-led invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq - the biggest cultural disaster since the descendants of Genghis Khan destroyed Baghdad in 1258, Venezuelan writer Fernando Baez told Inter Press Service (IPS).

"US and Polish soldiers are still stealing treasures today and selling them across the borders with Jordan and Kuwait, where art merchants pay up to $57,000 for a Sumerian tablet," said Baez, who was interviewed during a brief visit to Caracas. (A Sumerian tablet is pictured at right.)

The expert on the destruction of libraries has helped document the devastation of cultural and religious objects in Iraq, where the ancient Mesopotamian kingdoms of Sumer, Akkad and Babylon emerged, giving it a reputation as the birthplace of civilization.

His inventory of the destruction and his denunciations that the coalition forces are violating the Hague Convention of 1954 on the protection of cultural heritage in times of war have earned him the enmity of Washington. Baez said he was refused a visa to enter the US to take part in conferences.

In addition, he has been barred from returning to Iraq "to carry out further investigations", he added. "But it's too late, because we already have documents, footage and photos that in time will serve as evidence of the atrocities committed," said Baez, the author of The Cultural Destruction of Iraq and A Universal History of the Destruction of Books, which were published in Spanish.

I'll admit, the interview with the author that follows in the linked article is a little odd (and before anyone gets on my case about the veracity of Asia Times let me just say: CNN, bitches). Baez seems to have quite a bias against Western intellectuals-- I don't know where his claim that Nabakov burned a copy of Don Quixote came from, first I've heard of that one and Goebels may have been a philologist but it was only so he could prove his pet theories about racial purity and Arrianism. Also, Baez takes Hussein's "writing" of three books at face value-- we all know they were ghost written by hacks.

However, the overall point, that US and Coalition forces are stealing priceless artifacts and selling them on the black market needs looking into. Not that I expect it will happen. Bush and Cheney are too busy looting this country to concern themselves with our troops looting another one.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Dr Gonzo Rides No More

I rolled out of bed at four AM this morning, kissed my wife goodbye and hopped a plane back to the Nation's Capitol. 600 miles of screaming air and fog and rain to come back here and wrestle the swine, to sit in my office and read the news: Hunter S. Thompson is dead.

My world is unhinged, just a little more. And not just because of the teenaged, spanish speaking Civil War re-enactors sitting behind me on the plane, munching popcorn. Though, that is something that puts the fear into you. To stumble down the umbilical tunnel, into the belly of a 747 and see the Union Army come for this Southern boy at last... And gibbering in Spanish, no less.

A drowsy haze of careening followed. On my iPod, I listened to Jeff Tweedy sing about the ashes of American flags. It was the only thing that kept my wits intact. And now this.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is one of the most crystalline, brilliant pieces of prose ever written and I'll bare-knuckle box anyone who says otherwise. Especially if they're Republican and whine about it's drug addled jangle or Mr. Thompson's crazy eye, and how he and all us Gonzo dopeheads are somehow responsible for how we got here, to this crazy day, slipping down the slope towards Communism, Socialism, Gay marriages or whatever the hell it is we're supposed to hate this week. You know what I hate? Fascists dressed like corporate executives, selling my American Dream, driving one of my heroes to blow his brains out at his kitchen table, one February morning.

God damn you George W. Bush, you've robbed us all again.

Update: Giblets spotted the Good Doctor just hours ago, while the King of Zembla points us to his last column.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Citizens For A Whitebread World

Michael Schaub at Bookslut directs us to this little gem of a site, whose purpose is:
To inform parents and the community about poor quality literature and vulgar subject matter (profanity, sex, occultism) in graded reading assignments in the Blue Valley school district in Overland Park, KS.
And what books do the Citizens for Literary Standards in Schools not like? Well, thankfully, they've compiled a detailed list, complete with samples of the bad words and the number of times they're used (That's the sort of job every aspiring young librarian wants, counting the number of damns and hells in Catcher in the Rye). Nice of them to be so detailed about all these naughty books. I bet they didn't enjoy reading any of it all. Of course, their choices for good, wholesome books leave something to be desired, namely something contemporary, relevant and interesting. I think the newest title I saw there was Kon Tiki. Now, it's not to say that these books don't have their interesting points and aren't worth reading. But given how notoriously difficult it is to get young students interested in books, you'd think they might try finding something a little more relavant and modern than The Pilgrim's Progress or Bugles in the Afternoon. Kids these days (and all days) want to read something that relates to them and their life. Somehow, I don't think the kids of the Blue Valley School District will be all that interested in reading about some goofy Swede on raft or a schmaltzy Christian parable. But that's not really the point, is it?

Citizens for Literary Standards in Schools isn't about teaching children about the world they live in, or how to appreciate literature. And it's especially not about developing critical thinking skills by reading challenging books. It's about indoctrination. It's about forcing children to think the way their uptight, unworldly Red State parents want them to think, forcing them to look at the world through a skewed prism of Family Values and Christian Forthrightness. Never mind that the world is a wider place, full of wild and unruly ideas and people who think differently. They don't want Bobby and Suzy Whitebread to think differently. More importantly, they don't really want Bobby or Suzy or you or me, really, to read those dirty books and think those unrestrained thoughts. As Ray Bradbury said, there's more than one way to burn a book. Or stifle a mind.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

#5

Lady Into Fox, by David Garnett.

This is a weird little book, published by those odd folks at McSweenney's. They certainly know how to design up a great little book, and not to digress, but it's simply beautiful, with nice text and lovely woodcut illustrations.

The story is an odd little fable about a man whose wife mysteriously turns into a fox. It's unsettling and not as whimsical as I had hoped but still an interesting story. Little pieces stick in your brain. I'm not sure what to make of it.

Something Good From the Tsunami

BBC News:
Archaeologists say they have discovered some stone remains from the coast close to India's famous beachfront Mahabalipuram temple in Tamil Nadu state following the 26 December tsunami.

They believe that the "structures" could be the remains of an ancient and once-flourishing port city in the area housing the famous 1200-year-old rock-hewn temple.

Three pieces of remains, which include a granite lion, were found buried in the sand after the coastline receded in the area after the tsunami struck.

"They could be part of the small seaport city which existed here before water engulfed them. They could be part of a temple or a building. We are investigating," says T Sathiamoorthy of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

Archaeologists say that the stone remains date back to 7th Century AD and are nearly 6ft tall.

They have elaborate engravings of the kind that are found in the Mahabalipuram temple.

The temple, which is a World Heritage site, represents some of the earliest-known examples of Dravidian architecture dating back to 7th Century AD.

[...]The tsunami has also washed up a 9 inch-tall bronze Buddha on the coast off Kalapakkam in the state.

"It was lying with some other objects. It must have been carried out to the sea from Burma or Thailand," says T Sathiamoorthy.
If I were inclined to mystical speculation, I would say that the arrival of the Buddha statue in the wreckage is a reminder that sometimes, out of the suffering of so many, something of value and beauty can be found.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

#4 (Out of 50 Books I've Read This Year)

A History of Reading, by Alberto Manguel. Technically, I started this one back in October but it's a long and very dense book but well worth the time and effort. Everything from a brief history of paper to anecdotes about book thieves is here, all of it providing a sense of continuity and kinship with the ever growing (or diminishing, depending on who you talk to) society of readers.

I was especially impressed with the story about how Saint Augustine found Ambrose, a fourth century patriarch, silently reading in his study one day. This was shocking to Augustine, because until then, the idea of reading silently was an alien concept. People then did not put faith in words on the printed page, only in words that they heard. This is not so surprising, when we stop to think that at the time, the world was still very much built on the oral tradition. Few could read and those who possessed the ability were usually priests and scholars whose primary duty was conveying information in an authoritative manner to everyone else. Something was only so if you heard it with your own ears.

Contrast this with today, where we only believe something if it is written down (or burning phosphor into our eyeballs) and we see what a profound effect literacy and reading in general has had on us as a civilization.

_________
Update: I realised that counting down to 1 was sort of doing it backwards so I changed the numbers around, making this book #4, which means I'm really behind. I should be averaging a book a week, which means I should be at #6 by now. I've got some catching up to do.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Den of the Invisible Whistling Octopus

Salon1 reviews the starkly contrasted legacy of H.P. Lovecraft, just in time for the much anticipated collection of his stories about to be published by Library of America:
Lovecraft's narrators routinely rave about the "hideous," "monstrous" and "blasphemous" nature of their revelations. Wilson went on, again quite reasonably, to observe, "Surely one of the primary rules for writing an effective tale of horror is never to use any of these words -- especially if you are going, at the end, to produce an invisible whistling octopus." That octopus crack is a particularly low blow, since the most celebrated of Lovecraft's stories and novels partake of what has been dubbed the Cthulhu Mythos, an alternative mythology involving an enormous and malevolent being whose tentacled head resembles a cephalopod.

In classic form, a Lovecraft tale begins with a narrator explaining that ordinarily he'd never impart the terrifying secrets he is about to relate, but some urgent cause compels him. Initially, apart from the occasional allusion to "unmentionable" horrors, the voice is relatively calm, authoritative and rational. Often the story is presented as a semi-scientific or semi-official report, compiled from multiple partial accounts. The story's hero encounters some mystery -- a strangely blighted plot of farmland, a friend or relative's research into bizarre and secretive religious cults, nasty goings-on among the residents of a small New England town, etc. -- and in the process of investigating it has his entire conception of the universe overthrown.

What Lovecraft's typical protagonist ultimately discovers, underneath the placid surface of conventional reality, is the existence of heretofore unknown "gods" and other less exalted but equally unpleasant beings. Important figures in the mythos include Cthulhu ("The Great Sleeper"), Yog-Sothoth ("The Lurker on the Threshold"), Shub-Niggurath ("The Black Goat of the Woods With a Thousand Young"), Hastur ("The Unspeakable One"), the ever-popular Nyarlathotep ("The Crawling Chaos") and the supreme entity, Azathoth, a "blind, idiot god," who, we are told, resides at the center of the universe where he/it "gnaws shapeless and ravenous amidst the muffled, maddening beat of vile drums and the thin, monotonous whine of accursed flutes."

Lovecraft intended this pantheon as a metaphor for mankind's harsh encounter with the mindless, mechanical universe unveiled by modern science at the turn of the century. Extensively self-educated, he took a keen interest in science (this makes the scientific passages in his stories particularly convincing) and wrote about astronomy, chemistry and other fields for newspapers and journals. "All my tales," he wrote, "are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large.
I'll admit, Lovecraft isn't the greatest prose stylist to come out of New England but he does have style, of a singular sort, and that is why he's popular. Someone once said that what makes poorly written pulp stories and movies fun is the enthusiasm of their creators. MST3K proved this: even if you can see the wires on the flying saucer, you can still enjoy the story if the people involved in creating it have an unswerving commitment to the internal reality and genuinely convey their sense of glee at their work, whistling invisible octopus be damned. And that's why fans of Lovecraft love his stories-- they are illustrative of an imagination that, like the reocurring evil fungi in his stories, is unrestrainable. They may not be the prettiest creations in the world but you'll never forget them.

_________
1. Subscription or day pass required.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Boldly Staying Where We've All Been Before

Ron Moore, the creative mind behind the new Battlestar Galactica series on the Sci-Fi channel, talks about the cancellation of Enterprise over at the BG blog. He makes an interesting point, that for the first time in about 25 years, there is currently no Star Trek movie or series in development, which gives the truefans some room to breathe and create. I suppose he's right. The fans were the ones who kept the fires burning during the late sixties and early seventies, before Trek fandom really had an identity or a voice. For better or worse, they kept interest in Star Trek alive until the execs at Paramount realized there was life (and money) to be had Out There in the stars.

The problem is, was it really worth it? Sure, TNG had its moments of glory and the first six Star Trek movies aren't too bad (though three and four have their cringe-worthy moments, flat pacing or just silly dialogue) but really, what has there been since the end of the Next Generation? DS9 took a while to catch on and is really only popular with a subset of Trek geek (and there really is such a beast) while Voyager and Enterprise were just experiments in prolonged boredom, the sort of endurance tests usually reserved for astronauts being sent into low gravity for months on end. "Sure, you can handle three months of jogging in place on the International Space Station but can you deal with the Xendi War, bitch?!"

The scary part for even faithless Trek fans like myself is the inescapable fact that at some point probably in the not too distant future, their will be another Star Trek movie, or Vygr help us, another series. One can only hope that the eggheads in command of the Enterprise actually talk to the fans and find out what they should do before committing atrocities like Chief engineer Trip and Topal's ill-fated love again. Not that I think they will listen but it'd be nice.

If they decide to go the route of another series, which seems likely, since that's the franchise's bread and butter, may I suggest a new Enterprise Crew aboard the E? A new captain, a whole new crew and some fresh ideas would go a long way to revitalizing the stale odor left behind by Bakula and his merry crew of mannequins. Or, if you're going to go boldly backwards once more, how about a series that captures the spirit of the old series? The adventures of Captain Christopher Pike and the crew of the Enterprise before Kirk came on board? There'd be some great dramatic tension, knowing that he's a doomed soul but it gives the writers some restrictions. They can't screw up continuity too badly, since we know what happens to Pike and we know that that young Vulcan science officer, Mr. Spock goes on to do some great things, later.

I even have an idea for your pilot episode: It's a year since the uneasy truce was made with the Klingon empire but not everyone is taking the peace so well. A rouge Commodore and his loyal crew hijack a few starfleet vessels and decide they're going to start a private war with an equally deranged Klingon commander and it's up to Captain Pike, Spock and the Enterprise gang to stop them before they insight a full blown war. There's plenty of room to maneuver there and just imagine what you could do with creative set design and special effects, what sort of polish you could get out of recreating the old bridge and sixties style futuristic look? If done right, it could be a pop art extravaganza. If done wrong, it could be kitsch hell.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Confronting the Faithful

The Guardian reviews The End of Faith, by Sam Harris:

Harris, whose background is in philosophy and neuroscience, giving him an unusually comprehensive overview of the human mind, blames the current surge of religious extremism on the fact that nominally secular societies have continued to treat certain religions as if the tenets of their faith were established fact, rather than subjective beliefs bolstered by the weight of tradition, and to allow them public platforms as long as they don't overstep the mark.

In a radical attack on the most sacred of liberal precepts - the notion of tolerance - Harris blames religious moderates for perpetuating a climate of acceptance that nurtures extremism. It is not good enough, he argues, for moderates, or even liberal atheists, to insist that governments should accommodate freedom of personal belief, because beliefs are directly responsible for actions. 'Moderates do not want to kill anyone in the name of God, but they want us to keep using the word "God" as if we knew what we were talking about.' Moderates, in any case, only arrive at their position by editing out the more unpalatable elements of their respective texts and assimiliating modern cultural developments.

He also points out that we in the West only have the luxury of indulging those who claim to have absolute knowledge about the afterlife because we have been fortunate enough to live in a society that separates church and state. Those, such as the late Stephen Jay Gould, who have encouraged a 'loving concordat' between faith and reason could not afford to do so if the church had real political influence, as is increasingly the case in Bush's America.

[...]

Yet his central argument in The End of Faith is sound: religion is the only area of human knowledge in which it is still acceptable to hold beliefs dating from antiquity and a modern society should subject those beliefs to the same principles that govern scientific, medical or geographical inquiry - particularly if they are inherently hostile to those with different ideas. It's easy to laugh at the man who believes aliens are sending him messages through his hairdryer, but we don't let him run schools or make public broadcasts as if his view were anything other than a delusion. It's less amusing that international policy is decided by men who believe that the book beside their bed was written by an invisible deity and is above doubt or questioning.

This book has been on my wishlist for a while. Looks Like I definitely need to check it out as it presents an interesting conundrum I've been wrestling with for a while.

For some reason, many atheists and agnostics feel that we must counter the lack of tolerance on the part of the Fundamentalists by being all inclusive, even of the batshit lunatics trying to stuff the Bible down our throats. The problem is only made worse by moderate and open minded Theists, who have been dodging a big shiny bullet for centuries: by refusing to confront the fundamentalists in their own ranks, they've made us do the dirty work, facing off with 31 flavors of regressive wackos while they pick lilies in the field, while still playing True Believer on Sunday Mornings. But as long as the moderate and progressive Mullahs on both sides continue to ignore and thus, silently give consent to the reign of the fundies, they are just as much to blame for the war on Culture and should be held acountable by those of us who have a vested interest in preserving Civilisation from the Religious, namely anyone who with two brain cells to rub together.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Sick Day

I've been in bed for the last two days with a pretty nasty cold. I'm feeling better now but haven't had the energy for posting or writing much (or doing anything else besides watching Barbarella on AMC). I still have a bit of a cough and a headache but otherwise, I should be back to blogging and everything else tomorrow.