Monday, November 06, 2006

Find Me Guilty

My wife and I were watching a movie the other night called Find Me Guilty starring Vin Diesel. It is based on the true story of Jack DiNorscio and the trial United States v. Anthony Accetturo et al, which was at the time the longest trial in U.S. history. It was the trial of members of the notorious Lucchesse crime family. DiNorscio had just been convicted of another crime and sentenced to 30 years in prison. He was given a chance to testify as a prosecution witness in order to reduce his sentence but refused. Unhappy with his lawyer, DiNorscio decided to defend himself in the RICO case.

The movie portrays DiNorscio as a funny and lovable character and it further portrays the other defendants as the heroes of the story. The telling of the story encourages you to root for DiNorscio and his pals to win the case. Then there is a very telling line from the lead prosecutor Sean Kierney, played by Linus Roache.

Kierney and his fellow lawyers are back in the office talking about how the jury is being swayed by the antics of DiNorscio. He has a long rant about how the defendants are not good people, that things are more expensive because of the corruption and ends with, “and, oh yeah, sometimes they kill people.”

It made me stop and think about how these defendants that are being painted in a positive light are guilty of fraud, embezzlement, bribery, drug trafficking, prostitution, assault, battery, rape and murder. They are not heroes or role models. I would not want any child that I know emulating them yet we glorify these types of people all the time in our entertainment. It is very easy to see that in our society good is now bad and bad is now good.

When the foundation of a building is eroded away it is not long before the rest of the structure collapses. With the erosion of our society’s foundation of values, ethics and laws how long is it before the structure of our society collapses?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

California Wildfires

I have experienced the aftereffects of a California wildfire first hand. My wife's parents live in Claremont California and the first time that I visited them was in November 2003. A large fire had ravished the mountains behind their house that October. I still have a stirring memory of looking out their back window and seeing the blackness of the charred mountain side. I have since seen those mountains in every season and their beauty is a sharp contrast from that first image. Last Christmas my wife and I went horseback riding through the mountains. The growth over the two years was beautiful but our guide told us of how the effects of the fire could still be felt.

Every time I see the reports of wildfires in California I always ask my wife how close they are to her parents’ house. Most are not that close but the latest fires are only 60 miles away. These fires were deliberately set and have so far cost the lives of five firemen. The damage to the land and wildlife cannot ever be fully measured. My wife always seems less worried about the fires than I am. While I have experienced the aftereffects of the fire, she has experienced the fires. She and her family have had to hose down their fence and roof while the fires burned in the mountains.

This first hand experience gives her a different view. It is not that she is less concerned about the fires or the ensuing devastation; it is that she knows how close the fire can be without posing an immediate threat. She also knows to be very wary and ready to act because there is a point where the fire is close enough to turn quickly and create a very dangerous situation.

Sometimes as Christians we start worrying too early about the wildfires of life getting too close. This prevents us from living and interacting with those around us as we should. We want to keep certain wildfires from getting too close which, in and of itself, is not bad. We run into a problem when keeping the wildfires at a distance prevents us from helping those in danger of the wildfires. It is a problem when we keep a distance from those that reek of the acrid smoke, those that are covered with the foul ash, and those that are blistered raw from the burns.

Firemen never fight a fire without the proper training, equipment and experience and we should do likewise. We need to get the right training, get the right tools and partner with those that have the right experience and start saving people from the wildfires of this life so that they will also be saved from the fires of the next life.

October 2003 Wildfires.
Claremont is a little more than half way from the Los Angeles arrow point to the San Bernardino arrow point. It is almost straight west from San Bernardino.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

"That's Fronk-en-shteen"

My wife and I went on a theatre-hike on Saturday at the Morton Arboretum. What is a theater-hike you ask? The best explanation is found on the Theater-Hike website:

During a theatre-hike the audience walks to different outdoor locations for each scene of a play. Theatre-Hikes has walked up to two miles during performances, sometimes less, sometimes more. Audience members sit on the ground, sit in chairs they have brought, stand and lean against trees while watching a Theatre-Hikes performance.

We had a wonderful time seeing Frankenstein. They were predicting rain, so it was overcast for the whole play which added to the overall ambience. It drizzled a bit during the final scene which was perfect. I am one of the few people that have never seen or read the original story and while this was an adaptation that did not exactly follow the original, I found the story riveting. My exposure to the Frankenstein story has been limited to Young Frankenstein. By the way, Mel Brooks is a genius.

If you get a chance, check out one of the walking plays at the Morton Arboretum. So far we have also seen Moby Dick and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. They are going to be performing The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, which was written by Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum, this winter and we are making plans on going.

I have included a few pictures from the hike, some are blurry because of the low light. I have one from each scene and you can notice the different backgrounds for each scene.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Andy Warhol the Philosopher

Andy Warhol once said, "It's the movies that have really been running things in America ever since they were invented. They show you what to do, how to do it, when to do it, how to feel about it, and how to look how you feel about it."

Does Hollywood reflect society or does society reflect Hollywood? Here are a couple of articles that are very interesting in this regards. They are both a little bit older, but they are still very relevant.

Entertainment Media - does it lead or follow society? from makes an excellent point. Dr. Michael Suman, coordinator of The Center for Communications Policy at the University of California at Los Angeles makes an excellent point that it is more than just what we see in the media:
The media in Japan is more violent that it is in the United States. But notice the factor such as the structure of the family. In the United States, 30% of children are born out of wedlock. Among African Americans the figure is up to 70%. Compare that with Japan where the figure is about 1%. Teenage pregnancy rates are directly related to that. In the United States, the teenage pregnancy rates are 16 times what they are in Japan. And if you look at Japanese society, the rates of violent crime are much lower than they are in the United States. Murder rates and rates of rape are 1/10th to 1/20th of what they are in the United States. Just blaming film and television for all these problems is much too simplistic if we look at other cultures.

The article goes on to point out that it is not just what children see on TV that is important. What is also important is a stable family support unit that discusses and sets the standard as to what is appropriate to be watched.

According to Does TV Really Reflect Culture? on the Catholic Exchange website society says it does not care for what Hollywood shows.
Despite Hollywood's argument that television merely reflects the lives of most Americans, all evidence points to a different reality: most Americans are sick of all the sex on TV.

One survey, for example, found that 77% of respondents said there was too much sexual content on television, while another poll revealed that 71% of people thought that the more explicit portrayal of sex and nudity on television encouraged immorality.

Yet, despite the consistently high opposition to so much sexual content on television, networks are showing sex more often, not less. According to a study released by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, between 1997 and 2002 the percentage of shows with sexual content rose from 56% to 64%, and the percentage of shows depicting or strongly implying sexual intercourse doubled.

While people may say they are sick of what is shown, it's my opinion that society and Hollywood are walking hand in hand. Hollywood is always pushing the limits and society is right there encouraging and allowing them to do so. Hollywood would not be going down this path if people were not supporting it all with their money and time.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

If I Only Had a Brain

Scarecrow: “I haven't got a brain... only straw.”
Dorothy: “How can you talk if you haven't got a brain?”
Scarecrow: “I don't know... But some people without brains do an awful lot of talking... don't they?”
Dorothy: “Yes, I guess you're right.”

How appropriate. I find that to be all too true all too often. We all engage our mouths before we engage our brain at some point. I was listening to a Christian Apologetics talk show and a caller tried to make the point that all the early settlers that came to America did so in order to establish a Christian nation. The host of the show, John Snyder, who is both a Christian and a history expert, disagreed with the caller. John pointed out that many of the colonies were settled by people trying to make money. The caller replied with, “I disagree.” The caller never offered any support for his beliefs and John did a good job of naming settlements, New York for example, that were for profit rather than for Jesus.

The worst thing that someone can do is to make assertions with no support for their statements. Even if your assertion is correct and you do not offer support, someone that offers a contrary view with some support will make your argument seem weak and wrong. With some research and hard work Christians can offer a much more compelling and clear view that will win not just the hearts of people but their minds as well. Winning the mind is far more important than winning the heart. Feelings can change relatively easy, but a solid truth based decision will last. It’s the difference between building on sand and on solid rock.

We can’t be scarecrows without a brain; we need to use all of our God given abilities.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Da Bears

Its football season and the Chicago Bears are one of the top teams in the NFL this year. How sweet it is. I was spoiled as a Bears fan in the 80s. They had great teams and even won Super Bowl XX. The 85 Bears went 15-1 in the regular season and 3-0 in the post season. They won their post season games by a combined score of 90-10. Calling the Bears “dominating” that year does not even begin to describe their rule over the NFL that year.

Mike Ditka was their coach from the 1983 season through the 1992 season. He made the playoffs 7 out of 10 times, won 6 out of 12 playoff games. They were a very good team for most of those years. From the 1993 season through the 2004 season the Bears have not been so good. They made the playoffs only 2 out of 12 times and lost more games than they won under Ditka. They went from being a perennial powerhouse to a perennial outhouse.

But wait…last year they made the playoffs and had one of the best defenses in the league. This year through 4 games the defense is even better and they have a strong offense as well. They just spanked last years NFC champion and have made football watching in Chicago a joy again.

I hope this continues to be a fun season.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Moral Foundations and Slippery Slopes

A mass grave in Germany was found with the remains of victims of Hitler’s Action T4 euthanasia plan. The philosophical ideas and support for the plan, Lebensunwertes Leben (Life unworthy of life), was base upon the book Die Freigabe der Vernichtung Lebensunwerten Lebens (Release for Annihilation of Life Unworthy of Life) written by Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche in 1920. The program was primarily carried out by Hitler’s personal physician Karl Brandt who was convicted of war crimes, crimes against humanity and membership in the SS. At his trial Brandt acknowledged recommending the use of carbon monoxide as a means of euthanizing and called it a “major advance in medical history.” Action T4 initially sterilized those deemed mentally, physically or socially unacceptable or undesirable to society. It then moved on to the killing of children that suffered from mental or physical diseases or disabilities. Finally the program killed any children or adults that were unwanted by society. Over 400,000 people were forcibly sterilized and over 200,000 people were killed because of the T4 program. The T4 program lead to the Final Solution in both ideology and technology. Read the Wikipedia articles on Action T4, Nazi Eugenics and the Final Solution. They are quite disturbing.

The morality of the Nazi party is a classic example of the problems with relativistic morality. It is used quite often to stress the importance not of morality in and of itself but of the basis for morality. The Nazi party based their morality upon what was determined to be best for society. A large factor in the decision to kill the mentally and physically disabled patients in hospitals was to free up the hospital space and staff for the soldiers wounded in the war that the Nazis had started.

Today we are seeing a similar plan being put into action in a way that is much more palatable to the general public. It is more palatable because most people will not make the connection. One of the new areas that genetic research is taking us is genetic engineering. There are a couple of processes that are noteworthy: Prenatal Diagnosis, Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis, and genetic engineering to create Designer Babies.

Prenatal Diagnosis (PD) and Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) are very similar. PD is a way to screen a baby prior to the birth. PGD screens the embryo before in vitro fertilization. They allow the early diagnosis for many genetic and other conditions that may be undesirable to the parents. Creating a Designer Baby uses the technology for PD and PGD to allow the customization of the genetic makeup of a baby. While all of the technology necessary is not yet available it is currently being developed. The website for the Center for the Study of Technology and Society lists the following reasons for wanting to do this screening and customization.

Screening embryos for high risk diseases.
Screening embryos for unknown diseases.
Selecting the sex of a baby.
Picking an embryo for its specific traits.
Genetic manipulation for therapeutic reasons.
Genetic manipulation for cosmetic reasons.

The first three reasons are being done with current technology and the last three are not yet possible. Today science is allowing society to determine which life is worthy and is unworthy of life. Sound familiar?

All these, and other related technologies, do have benefits for human life and health. I am not advocating the stopping of genetic research. The more we know about genetic diseases the better prepared we are to cure those diseases. But we do need to be careful as to how we use the knowledge that we have. We cannot follow down the path of Karl Brandt; he thought that because he figured out a relatively painless way to kill people that he was making medical progress. Curing a disease is not the same as preventing people with those diseases from living.

For more info on PGD click here and here.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Can Atheists Be Moral?

I was listening to the Radio Show podcast with John Snyder this morning with guest “Bob the Atheist.” John had him on because Bob had claimed that the Atheist point of view was skewed on the show and he wanted to set the record straight. One of the items that Bob brought up is the idea of morals. He felt that Christians think that Atheists are either amoral or immoral but he feels that Atheists can be just as moral as anyone else. I must say that he is right, to a point.

Being a Christian or an Atheist does not define or describe the general moral condition. There are many Christians that act immorally and many Atheists that act morally. And the opposite condition exists as well. Merely being a Christian does not make one a better person, in fact a Christian is still someone that is going to make mistakes and do wrong.

The issue is from where morals originate. The host, John Snyder, pointed out that morality does not come from the Bible, but from God. This is why Atheists inherently know the difference between right and wrong. From the Christian world view, all people have the Law of God written upon their heart and this accounts for the morality of people whether or not they are Christians. From the Atheists world view, morals evolved as a set of rules that society has determined will best allow society to flourish.

Bob tried to make the case that it does not matter where morals originate from and all that matters is that one follows the morality of society. But he is wrong, the source of the morality really does matter.

Your source of morality ultimately determines your morality. There is a big problem with basing your morality upon natural selection, which is the foundation for the Atheists morality. Here is an excerpt from one of my previous posts:

If there are no moral absolutes that transcend nature then morality is completely defined from within natural means. So morality is solely based on what society has decided is right and wrong. These decisions can either be random, because we like it, or enlightened, it gives us the best chance for survival. Let’s take the case of Hitler and his murder of the Jews. What the atheist argues is that Hitler was wrong because we as humans, as a whole, have decided that murdering innocent people is evil and Hitler was acting outside what we have decided to be wrong and therefore we as humans needed to stop him.

We as humans decided that what Hitler was doing was wrong. Do you see a problem with this? I do.

What if we humans had decided that what Hitler was doing was not wrong? The Allies, one society, decided that Hitler was wrong and the Axis, another society, decided that he was right. What if the Axis had won WWII? Would that mean that what Hitler was doing was wrong if the Allies won the war but what he was doing was right if the Axis had won the war? I think that most people, if they look deep inside themselves and are truly honest, would say that Hitler was wrong even if no one ever decided that he was wrong and needed to be stopped.

The source of our morality ultimately determines how we act when it comes to the weakest of our world. I think that a fair number of Atheists know that it is absolutely wrong to murder and kill innocent people. They know this, not because they are amoral or immoral beings by nature, but because they are beings with the Law of God written upon their heart.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Dogs will be dogs

Hound dog mauls Elvis's teddy bear

Wookey Hole Caves is a popular vacation spot in England that was attracting a lot of kids to see its 1,000 teddy bear display. It contained numerous valuable teddy bears including Elvis’ bear Mabel that is worth $75,000. The display was so valuable that the insurance company insisted upon having the display guarded with dogs. If you think you can see what is coming next, you are probably right and smarter than those at the insurance company. Barney the guard dog was let loose in the display and made a beeline for Mabel. After almost decapitating Mabel, Barney went on a 20 minute rampage and ripped apart dozens of other teddy bears. Barney is going to be retired to a farm where he can chase chickens.

Being the owner of a dog, I sympathize with the owner of Barney the guard dog. My dog Nike throws the occasional fit and does some damage. I’ve already posted a story about her destroying my brother’s fence and a couple of other things. If there is one thing that she has destroyed more than any other, it would be stuffed animals. I gave her a plush stuffed bear to help with her separation anxiety. What you do is place the bear in your bed so that it becomes saturated with your smell, that way when you are gone the dog has a toy that smells like you.

She loves playing with the squeaker inside of them and is generally pretty good about not squeaking them late at night. We will hear the squeaker when Nike is happy, sad excited, bored, she wants attention, or almost any other time that she feels like making noise. Her favorite squeaky toys are the ones that my wife picks out. I usually buy her white bear or grey hedgehog shaped ones. On the other hand my wife prefers to get pink or baby blue toys that are shaped like purses or princess crowns and have the Barbie logo stitched on them.

Because the squeaker is a piece of plastic and floats inside the toy, Nike will eventually try to get the squeaker out. Sometimes she breaks the squeaker before getting it out and she looses interest in the toy. Other times she succeeds in getting the squeaker out. When she is done chewing the squeaker into multiple pieces, she discovers that there is another surprise inside the toy. It’s like opening a box of Cracker Jack for the prize and discovering that there are Cracker Jack inside the box as well. She discovers that there is stuffing inside. Lots of stuffing. Lots and lots and lots of stuffing. And she thinks that the stuffing must come out of the bear. Not just a little, not even a lot of the stuffing must come out, but all of the stuffing must come out.

My wife has a few dolls and stuffed animals that she would like to keep intact. Some are antiques and some just have sentimental value, but they all have some value none the less. We have decided that, when we consider the value of the items and the chance that Nike might want to pull the stuffing out of one, it would be best to keep them out of her reach. It is also why we don’t pay $75,000 for the stuffed toys that we give to Nike.

Given the nature of dogs to try and pull the stuffing out of stuffed animals I am really surprised that someone at the insurance company didn’t pause and think that using a dog in this situation might be a bad idea. It would be like asking the Cookie Monster to guard the cookie jar. Most of us either has had or knows someone that has had a tough time with an insurance company. With the astute thinking that this company showed, it makes all our insurance company struggles make perfect sense.