Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Simpsons Movie

So on Friday I went and participated in the grand cultural event of the summer, seeing the Simpsons Movie. I suppose one could make the case that Harry Potter has attracted more attention and the coming out of the series' seventh and final book was more of an event, but I don't think it held the attention of as many adults, since the Simpsons fan base is much broader, having been on the air since 1989. Nor has it been as long a time coming, since this movie has been planned and talked about since the middle of the 1990s.

Anyways, I went and saw a matinee showing of it at the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville. There was a line to buy tickets when I arrived (I had gotten mine before hand) yet inside in the actual theatre there was plenty of seating. I wished
there were more people, it would have made it more of an experience. Still it was not empty and when something funny happened, there was enough laughter to fill the chamber so I never found myself the lone chuckler.

I don't know what I can say about the film. I did not leave disappointed, but the sense of fulfillment I got after leaving the movie was more of a sense of closure than the feeling of having watched a great work of art, or something that had me rolling on the sticky floor the whole time. Rather it was the pleasure of seeing a part of my childhood and teenage years coming to a close, going as far as it could and doing the most with a larger block of time and a screen. Simply seeing Home hurt himself or Bart skateboard on such a giant surface was an experience in and of itself.

There were plenty of jokes, and lines that will probably creep their way into my conversations, but only with those who are devoted fans. I don't know how much they will creep into he popular culture. The animation was different, it was highly computerized, and the plot was a little over the top, but I suppose it would have to be in order to justify an hour and forty five minutes. I thing in retrospect I wished had been present were more of the secondary characters. The movie was like an early episode, basically focused on the family and everyone else having more or less the same standing. Also, the fate of Homer's pet pig, which was left open and never addressed, was something that the film should have handled better. (I suppose he survives to create an opening for a sequel?)

I was raised on the show. My father was an enthusiastic supporter of it, I remember having friends I would give synopsises of every episode to, because their parents forbade them to watch it. I was there from the start, the early stories that were Bart-centric, to the summer wondering who shot Mr. Burns, seeing countless shows, presidents, and events parodied and satirized, and trying to watch the recent seasons in honest contemplation without the bias of having seen the show's glory days.

It was the most important source of humor for me and as I suspect, most of my generation. It gave us our appreciation for satire, wit, and irony, before we even knew what these were. When we were told about them, it was the Simpsons we turned to for examples. Even for moral and philosophical lessons, it was better than anything else. My father still shows the Simpsons in his Sunday School class.

Never was there a show that was such a bonding element for a group of young people. We mastered its lines and we recited them like psalms to the great gods of humor past, to show to each other we could be funny in an emergency, we had something to say if anything else failed us. The Simpsons became like a Gideon's bible, with a list of references that could be used for any situation, good or bad. "Worst (blank) ever!" is just one example of a malleable phrase that has found its way into a variety of unexpected places.

So when I saw the film, I felt like I was watching a fitting end, a the last hit by an aging baseball player, not the explosive end, nor the triumphant return, but an adequate attempt to show that it still could make me laugh and captivate me with the microcosm of the United States that is Springfield.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

What My Kids Know About Politics

I gave my campers some surveys to fill out for another teacher who is gathering data on what gifted children in middle school/junior high know about the political system of this country and the current race for the president.

The following are real answers

Several of the surveys identified the president and vice president correctly. They also knew their parties. One person put down "Republicans :)" One person identified the vice president as "Dickweed." Some of the more creative response were Chuck Norris of the Fist of Fury Party and Martin Sheen of the "China" party.

Most of them considered the Electoral College to be the University of Virginia (UVA)

Election Day was either 7/7/07 (meaning we apparently have elected our president in secret) Christmas, March 1st, 12th of February, "the day of elections" or sometime in November.

What is the function of a political Party?

To scare people
To party politics
To rule, the world
To hurt people
To vote on popping collars
To Nominate candidates

One kid got his information about politics from his 70 year old cousin,another from Hobo Joe who lives under a bridge, and another from a magical troll

When asked if they identified with a party, a few said they were Communist, some were Kommunist, and one was a Kommunizt (a very radical branch of the party, the rules of spelling are a bourgeois oppression to them)

Is it important for citizens to vote in an election?

No, are vote don't count anyway
Vote for American Idol
Because bananas grow on trees

Where do campaign contributions come from?

Not me
Wall Mart
Money tree or troll
Hobos in DC
Print Machines

Who would you vote for in the upcomming election?

Obama all the way

In what way to political parties use the media?

To threaten people
Gangster music videos and Youtube

Have you ever voted in a mock election?

When isn't it a mock election

List any candidates you know for the upcomming presidential election

Me, Chuck Norris, Captain America, A Quail, Obama, Paris Hilton, Dick Cheney, Ben Nardolilli, Mc Hammer, Billy Bob Thorton

According to one survey: "Chuck Noris is running for his 5th election! He bent the rules of the Constitution!"

Apparently history as we know since 1987, if false. In reality was Chuck Norris was president and we defeated the Soviets with roundhouse kicks.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Thoughts on Atheism, Theism and Agnosticism, Part IV

I want to talk a little bit about who I think in the religion debate has the burden of proof.

I think if the debate between atheism and theism is strictly about the existence of a being called "God" or multiple beings, then it is up to the Theist to prove that such a being exists, since we are not born with any innate idea of one, and God does not automatically reveal itself to us in the way that the American landmass does. In that case, people in Africa or Eurasia could postulate about there being a landmass across the ocean and then go and find it, even if they have no direct information about it or experience of it.

However a group of atheists could not simply postulate the existence of a higher being and then find one. Travel to the top of Mount Olympus, and you will find no Gods, and look at satellite pictures of the space above the clouds, where we find no heaven. It is a much deeper question, requiring a different sort of evidence to be presented.

So what would be evidence of God's existence? If the burden of proof lies in the court of those trying to say there is exists an all powerful being who created the universe, then what would they have to produce in order to be accepted as right? I think this question is one that has not been settled in this argument between atheists and theists. Both sides need to agree to a set of criteria to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, the existence of God. This evidence would largely have to be of the miracle variety, since it would mean the suspension of all known laws of science that could easily explain away something possible giving the way that physics are known to work.

I think Bertrand Russell once said that if a voice came to him and predicted everything he was going to do exactly as it unfolded for the next twenty four hours, then he would believe in a supreme deity. Unfortunately that sort of evidence is very subject to one's individual bias, and though it make an individual atheist a theist, it would not be enough to convince the large numbers necessary to settle the debate for good, or at least the time being.

The web site Why Won't God Heal Amputees posits one sort of evidence, that if God exists and is all powerful, then he should be able to spontaneously regenerate the missing limbs of amputees. Why does this beat out curing cancer as a better proof of God's existence? because there are cases of cancer going into remission for unknown reasons, but there are no recorded cases of a lost leg or chopped off arm growing back in its entirety. Even more miraculous would be to regrow such a limb with every scar and tattoo in its proper place.

So could this work as definitive evidence? For the God that Christian Theists want, I think it is. After all, they posit a God who listens to prayers and is all loving, who rewards faith in this life and the next. If someone, say a child, who lost a limb by stepping on a land mine, something clearly not their fault, then their prayer should be heard, since I don't know anyone more religiously devout and afraid of God than children once they are told it exists, or more deserving since they are generally free of any major sin.

But it doesn't happen. It never has. though plenty of people have prayed I'm sure for their arms and legs back, and people have prayed for them, we have no cases of people regenerating their limbs. Could it happen? Yes (since it is not contradictory). And that is why it works as potential evidence for the existence of an omnibenevolent God. It has convinced me not to believe in such a being, since I have no seen its presence working separate from any explainable laws of psychology or physics.

For those who simply believe in God who is all powerful, it does not work. If such a miracle did happen, then of course one who believes in a God could always use it to support their proposition. But if such a miracle fails to happen, then they still are able to claim a defense, since they never made a claim about God answering prayers. All powerful and all loving are two separate properties, after all.

What then, is the evidence to prove God's brute existence? What is put forward are often philosophical explanations for the existence of God, which in turn make major assumptions about the nature of the universe. One important one comes up in the cosmological argument for the existence of God, the assumption the universe was created as opposed to being randomly generated, or that there was a start to it at all, versus thinking that the universe has always existed.

When one strips down the argument, this is what it boils down to, propositions about the origin of the universe. When the nature of the creator is put aside and the debate turns to there having been an act of creation, things become a little more complicated. In this area, in this debate, the burden of proof I think disappears, because all propositions about the nature of the universes start out equal. There is no talk of some being, but rather debate about philosophical properties. It becomes more about trying to convince someone that there is such a thing as cause and effect, or time, rather than the presence of absence of an invisible pink unicorn in the room.

One thing that those who believe in God have to show, not related to their burden of proof about the existence of God, is what difference God's existence makes in the world. Morality doe snot need God, and neither does science or philosophy. If the theists could show that their faith makes a difference in the world (and not form inspiring acts of charity)then I am willing to buy their propositions about the Universe, but as it is , feel that the existence or non-existence of god makes little difference except that if God exists then by definition, I could never have any free will, which might be pleasing to some.