Friday, September 25, 2015

Star Trek Continues Episode V Premier

I think it was back in the late 1960's or maybe the early 1970s that David Gerrold wrote a post mortem of the original Star Trek series. Gerrold, who wrote one of the original series most endearing episodes, "The Trouble with Tribbles" attributed the cancellation of Star Trek, at least in part to what he called a "hardening of the arteries" created by the need to have either a communicator or a transporter malfunction to prevent Scotty from beaming Kirk and the rest of the landing party back to Enterprise and prematurely ending the conflict that made an episode.

If the first five episodes of Star Trek Continues, a fan produced continuation of the original series with Vic Mignona as Kirk, Todd Haberkorn as Spock, Chuck Huber as Dr McCoy, and Christopher Doohan as Scotty, are any indication, Gerrold was wrong. In fact, he couldn't have been more wrong - There's no sign of hardening of the arteries at all. It may interest Mr. Gerrold to observe that neither the transporter nor the communicator could have changed the outcome of any of the first 5 episodes (no one actually leaves Enterprise in the first 4 episodes, and, well, they don't actually leave in episode 5 either...); yet the stories are pure Star Trek.

These new episodes are intended to continue the original series to its natural conclusion and bring the crew of Enterprise to where they appeared to be at the beginning of the first movie. The sets, costumes, and all other details of the new episodes are faithful to the original series - even down to having special fabrics made to duplicate uniforms and even the covers of the sickbay beds. The production values are higher than they were for the original. Yet amazingly, the production budget is only about half of what it cost to produce an episode in the sixties. (Of course it helps to keep costs down when the cast and crew do it for the love of their art and contribute to the show financially from their own pockets...)

I had the privilege of watching the world premier of episode V, "Divided We Stand" at the Salt Lake Comic Con this evening. True to Gene Roddenberry's vision of the series, the episode's central conflict centers around issues relevant to our world today, but set in a different time and space - a device that always provides edifying contrast which hopefully helps us to see where our true values lie.

I won't give any spoilers for those of you who may not have seen the premier tonight, but I will give you the link to the series website. The new episode should be online tomorrow (9/25/15). If you haven't seen the first four go give them a look.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Time to Rethink the State's Role in Marriage

Last Friday, Federal Judge Robert Shelby ruled that Utah's Amendment 3, defining marriage as between "one man and one woman" is unconstitutional, opening the gates for same sex marriages in Utah. Shelby and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals denied stays on the ruling, leaving the US Supreme Court as the only, and unlikely, avenue left to halt same gender marriages. Shelby's ruling specifically found that the state had failed to show that any harm would come to the state or to the heterosexual majority by allowing same gender couples to enjoy the legal benefits of marriage.

The preceding Friday, Federal Judge Clark Waddoups ruled that the Utah polygamy statute could only apply to poly-amorous families that sought to obtain more than one marriage license, essentially saying that the state cannot regulate how, or whether, people choosing to live in such arrangements cohabit.

As I have read the news articles and the associated comments, I have come to see the arguments delving into multiple areas in which marriage is defined. Or at least, contexts in which it is viewed. These contexts overlap and cause confusion, and this confusion is amplified by misunderstanding across the contextual boundaries and the deliberate blurring of these boundaries through history and in the present day. Still more confusion is created by cultural differences between different segments of our society.

Marriage can be viewed in a legal context, an economic context, a social context, a historical context, a religious/spiritual context, an emotional context, and a sexual context, and maybe more still. Ideas of marriage vary within each context, there is not even a consensus among Christians within the religious/spiritual context. Historical views are distorted, and revisionism abounds, within other contexts, making any historical analysis difficult. Confusion is especially rampant in the religious/spiritual, social, and emotional contexts.

The legal and economic contexts are somewhat unsettled as well. Marriage law concerning procreation and rearing of children and duties of support don't seem to be working very well. Twenty-nine percent of all marriages to women between 15 and 44 end in divorce within 10 years, and extrapolating from that forecasts that 43% will fail by year 15, and half over a life time. The rate at which people get married has dropped from about 8 per 1000 to about 3.4 per 1000 over the last decade. Nearly half of children born in the US are to unwed mothers. Only 42% of custodial mothers and 34.1% of custodial fathers receive all of their ordered child support; while only 72.9% of custodial mothers and 72.9% of custodial fathers receive some of their ordered support. 1.7 million adoptions generate a $14.2 billion adoption industry; many of these children from parents who cannot, or will not, raise them. Arguments that marriage protects children cannot compel in light of such trends.

When viewed solely from the economic context with concerns of rights of inheritance, shared property, or inclusion on health insurance policies, issues of gender, sexuality or plurality are irrelevant. If marriage is to be viewed as a contract between parties for mutual support or economic benefit, and such contracts engender certain rights and benefits, then denial of those rights based on membership in a specific group should not cause the denial of those rights or benefits. We cannot say to a landlord that he can only accept female tenants because he is male. How then can we tell the same man he can only enter into a contract that creates an insurable interest with a female simply because he is male without showing that there would be significant harm to society. If we are to view "marriage" as a contract, perhaps it should be just that, a written document specifying what the terms, conditions and expectations are between the parties, and who the parties are.

Moral repugnance of particular practices is not, by itself, sufficient to show harm. The current debates center on homosexuality and polygamy. Those opposed to same gender marriage find homosexuality repugnant; those opposed to polygamy find plural marriage repugnant. In both cases, the disdain comes from implied sexuality and sexual conduct. Many of these same people also find inter-racial marriage, interfaith marriage, and non-marital sexual relations repugnant, but their views cannot be the basis of laws that would prohibit such practices.  Some find views of Biblical Patriarchal marriage, in which the man "has dominion" over his wife, repugnant, while others are repulsed by the idea of Christian egalitarian marriage, in which both parties are equal. Some folks continue believe in white supremacy and find racial integration repugnant, while others believe racial integration hasn't progressed far enough. Catholics find Protestantism repugnant,while Southern Baptists find Mormonism repugnant, and Mormons hold that all other religions are "abominations before God." Which of these views should be the basis of law?

There are two conclusions that I draw from this mess:

First, that views on what marriage is and what it should be in contexts other than the legal and economic are diverse and complex; there is little likelihood that there will ever be a consensus, regardless of context.

Second, that the  legal purpose of marriage is likely obsolete: it doesn't protect children any more or ensure their support, and the other economic purposes of marriage can as easily be handled by contract law or other legal forms.

Perhaps it is time for the state to get out of the business of issuing marriage licenses and start drafting legislation that directly addresses the issues that marriage is supposed to deal with.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Elysium - A Movie Review

The gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots" has widened significantly in this distopian science fiction film. The wealthy and powerful have moved off planet to a wheeled space station called Elysium, while the less affluent remain on an overpopulated and polluted Earth that has become a global slum. Think orbital Beverly Hills vs global Watts and you'll have the picture.

Elysium has a medical technology capable of healing almost any disease or injury. Hospitals on Earth are overcrowded and patients are turned away. An industrial accident leaves Max (Matt Damon) with only a short time to live unless he can get to Elysium and gain access to the technology there, but the the folks on the space station aren't sharing. Add a love interest, Frey (Alice Braga), a power-mad politician (Jodie Foster) and a crazy Aussie thug-for-hire (Sharlto Copley) to add complications, and you have the plot. In the end Max reaches his goal, but the victory, for him is Pyrrhic.

Elysium's plot is pretty thin, predictable, and formulaic. The violence is often gratuitous, and toward the end, the motivation for it becomes unclear. The writer and director passed up significant opportunity with secondary themes; most notably, they ironically have Max raised in a Catholic orphanage, but pass up the obvious chance to explore how the religious views on life and contraception, coupled with a medical technology that can heal anything would necessarily result in an overpopulated planet.

Overall, I'd rate this movie as average. Those who like violence in movies might like it, but even here, it doesn't rise to the current state-of-the art.

Friday, October 22, 2010

"Please sir, I want some more." Oliver! at the Grand Theatre

Charles Dickens' timeless classic Oliver Twist is a study in dominance and the establishment of pecking orders. It is also the story of an orphan boy who is misused, and a study in the economics of scarcity and the effectiveness of government. It would therefore be very difficult for me to see the musical adaption Oliver! and not comment. Theater, orphans, economics and government all in one!

First, the theatrical review. In keeping with the notion that a theatrical work's purpose is to entertain the audience, the standing ovation the performance received is evidence that the show has done it's job. The show was indeed entertaining, but I felt it could have been more. So, in the event that any members of the cast or production team should read this, know that you've done well, and take what follows as merely comments on how the show might have been.

Oliver's story is one of creating, or creating the illusion of, dominance of one person over another. It starts with the workhouse beedle, Mr. Bumble exerting his dominance over the orphans and paupers in the workhouse, and continues with each succeeding character in the cast, each of which attempt to exert themselves in one fashion or another over the young boy or each other. Bumble, in his pretensions, exerts himself over not only Oliver and the boys, but over the widow Corney. The undertaker and his wife fence at determining who is dominant in their relationship. Noah uses his position as the older boy to needle and pick on the young Oliver. Fagin dominates and uses his little gang, and in his mold, so does the Artful Dodger. Bill Sykes being the most domineering of them all, to the point, established in song, that even mention of his name is sufficient to command others. Only Nancy and Mr. Brownlow are excluded from this continual struggle to establish pecking order. And in each case, Oliver is at the bottom.

It is therefor crucial that each of the characters establish traits that define how they attempt to exert their dominance. Unfortunately, I thought the performance was a bit uneven in this regard.

Fagin, as a principle character, was wonderfully played, the character believable (even when the fourth wall was deliberately broken in a wonderfully comic moment). Fagin's character as the somewhat reluctant villian, uses the boys as he must, and uses his wits to avoid domination by Sykes. Yet he has a soft spot for the boys, and his villainy is not entirely of his choosing. We see Fagin as villain at least partially out of self preservation, and we see that he truly cares about his boys, and is even proud of them.

Bill Sykes was menacing and heavy as he needed to be. This character exerts his dominance by simply being meaner and more evil than any who would challenge him. Yet we also get to see that he is afraid of the hangman.

Adriene Swenson was delicious as Nancy and her voice is worth the price of admission alone. Her rendition of "As Long as He Needs Me" and it reprise completely sold me on her devotion to Sykes as well as her determination to protect Oliver.

And the young boy playing Oliver was a special treat. (I'm sorry I don't have the program before me to include actor names, but it is at home, and I am not. Perhaps I will edit later.) The innocence, gullibility and inherent nobility of the character came across naturally. This young actor has a career ahead of him.

With Bumble and Corney it is bombast and pretension. Bumble's character certainly had bombast, but the pretension was weak. With Corney, it was missing entirely, leaving her character appearing as a strumpet. Noah is the bully, using his superior size and position to intimidate Oliver (and Charlotte). My advice to the actor here is to spend more time developing character and less on trying to sound cockney. The dialog here simply did not sell me.

Musically the performance was wonderful, though the sound mix was a bit weak on Oliver. Especially during "Who Will Buy?" Oliver's voice was lost under those of the street vendors. Choreography was, well, thin, almost seeming to be an after thought in places. The set design was wonderfully abstract and simple.

Lighting. For the most part I thought the lighting was well done. The lighting designer's use of color for mood enhancement worked well. There were a couple of places where actors were in shadow that seemed inappropriate, and a couple of places where the lighting distracted the focus rather than concentrating it. Sometimes lighting needs to change because something on stage motivates it (morning, evening, sunset, lighting a lamp or flipping a wall switch, etc.) and sometimes the lighting changes because the mood of the action changes (the lighting cools when evil lurks, or warms and brightens when something wonderful happens), and sometimes the lighting changes to focus the audience on what is happening on a particular part of the stage and away from what is happening elsewhere. Some of the lighting changes seemed not to fall within any of these motivations, and were disconcerting. From a static aesthetic point of view, the entire view of the stage was wonderful, but it didn't always enhance the performance.

Overall, the Grand's production of Oliver! is worth going. They did, after all, get a standing ovation. The show runs through this Saturday, so if you haven't gone yet, you'll need to hurry.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Opinions, Errors and Lies

A friend of mine was offended by my recent post which compared many religion's acceptance of either a book or a person as being infallible with similar conduct by the German people during the rule of Hitler and the Nazi party. I had focused on the LDS religion in particular, and my friend is LDS. His comments bring up many topics for further discussion, but none more than a discussion of the difference between opinions, errors and lies.

First, for the benefit of anyone who thinks my chief beef with the LDS Church is related to the controversy over same sex marriage, let me set the record straight. I disagree with the church on this issue, but it is far from being the chief complaint I have against the LDS leadership. As those who have followed my postings over the last year are aware, I left the church over the policy of encouraging all unwed mothers to relinquish their babies to LDS Family Services so they could be placed for adoption with good, temple worthy Mormon families.

Now, back to my main topic. We all have opinions. An opinion is something we think is true or that we think is the right course of action. My friend is of the opinion that homosexuality is evil. I have a different opinion. My father in law is of the opinion that unwed mothers should relinquish. I have a different opinion. There is an old saying that goes to the effect that opinions are like armpits. We all have them and they usually stink. Opinion is not evidence, opinion is not fact. Sometimes opinions are no more than a matter of taste. I like lobster, Amy doesn't.

An opinion becomes an error when it is controverted by evidence. The opinion that all unwed mothers should relinquish is controverted by evidence that it is traumatic for the child, that it is traumatic for the mother, that it is contrary to central Christian doctrine and is totally opposed by doctrines of other faiths. I could go into a great deal of detail on the evidence controverting this particular opinion, and have elsewhere. The bibliography of my preliminary research ran to eight pages and included all of the information I could find online and from three university libraries. It has grown since. It covered both theological and secular rationals for adoption, and traced the history of adoption over 2500 years. I found absolutely zero evidence to support the claim that the child is better off. I found substantial (though biased) evidence to the contrary. My opinion is still my opinion, perhaps, but it now qualifies as a "considered" opinion.

Church and political leaders, and others who, by virtue of their positions are followed by many who would otherwise not take the time to do the research to form their own considered opinions, also have opinions. But such a leader, especially one that holds himself out as a prophet of God, and claims to speak for deity, or who is revered as such by his followers, has a responsibility to ensure that the opinions he promulgates are sound and considered. One could argue the such a person in morally obligated to ensure that his personal opinions are not intermixed with the pronouncements of deity. Which brings us to the topic of lies.

We all know the basics of what a lie is. When a person says something is a fact that is not a fact. If a used car salesman tells me that the car I'm looking at was only driven to church on Sunday by a little old lady, and it was really involved in several accidents because its teenaged owner was a bit of a reckless speed freak, then the salesman lies. If a commercial says buy product A because studies show it is good for you, when no such studies exist, the commercial lies. Am I correct in assuming that there is no basic disagreement on this premise.

If a leader esteemed a prophet proclaims his own opinion as "the will of God," such a claim is a lie. If he proclaims his personal opinion as his own but knowingly in a context where it could be considered "the word of God," then he still commits deception, even if the deception is, or at least may be, unintended. If his opinion is later controverted by evidence that shows his opinion to be error, and he fails to correct the misperception created by the error, whether because of personal gain or pride or for whatever reason, then the deception can longer be considered unintentional, and the error must be considered as a lie.

Now, lets put all of this together. If a person (or group of persons) esteemed as a prophet (or group of prophets, seers and revelators) express their personal opinions either as the will of deity or in a context where it would reasonably be construed to be such, and bases this opinion on facts which they allege to be true, but which in fact are not true, and the discrepancy is brought clearly and unambiguously to their attention and they are given an opportunity to correct the discrepancy but fail to do so, then they have lied.

They may very well believe that their opinion is correct, but to pass it off on the membership of the church as prophetic revelation, and then to base it on false information still makes it a lie. Even if they were the victims of someone else's lie (LDS Family Services would cease to exist if this lie were completely eliminated), being shown the error, their failure to correct it still leaves them as deliberate deceivers.

And so it is with the LDS Church's policy, promulgated and ratified by every church leader since 1994. And this policy, blindly followed by the uncritical mass of membership, is the impetus for my comparison with Nazi Germany. The harm to the newborn infant unnecessarily relinquished for adoption is significant enough that I consider it to be child abuse.

As I told the First Presidency in my letter, Jesus said his followers would be known by their fruits. The "fruits" of the LDS policy on adoption are iniquity beyond what I've described here. Harldy the fruits one would expect of the Lord's chosen people.

Deity as Hypothesis

Throughout history, one of the most common sources of division among peoples has been divergent views toward deity. In ancient times it was along the lines of "Our city god is better than your city god," or "Our national god is more powerful than yours." Arguments have sprung up over the number of gods, over their essence, and over the proper way to worship them.

Ancient Israel was commanded not to bow down to Ba'al or Asherah, and to "have no other gods before me." Before Constantine converted to Christianity, Christians were persecuted in Rome. Christian writings from the first two or three centuries are as concerend with denouncing dissenting views as they are with expounding truth. In early Christian times, a great dispute arose that resulted in the Nicene Creed. Among some today, those who do not adhere to this creed are considered to not be Christians. After Christianity became dominant throughout Europe, those who didn't accept Christian doctrine were imprisoned, tortured and killed. Great crusades were fought over which god was the right god to believe in. Innocent men and women were persecuted as heretics or witches, with some being put to death. The list goes on and on.

Today, the divisiveness of this question still plagues us. Christianity vs. Islam. Irish Protestants vs. Catholics, Christians vs anybody that isn't or anybody they think isn't. This is not an attitude of seeking the divine, but an arrogance in concluding that one's view of deity is the correct view, and the only correct view, and then trying to sell it -- or force it upon -- others.

This arrogance goes even further. Man is claimed to be created in the image of God. One population claims to be God's chosen people. Ancient writings are deemed infallible proof of one's arrogant belief, given to them and protected from alteration (despite evidence to the contrary) by divine will.

When I take a step back and look at it from a distance, it reminds me of children arguing in the sandbox. It seems to me that, as a race and as individuals, we'd all be better served to seek with reason and intuition than to proselytize and evangelize. Rather than propound what we think we know, it is better for us to admit what we don't know, and seek to fill in the gaps.

Let us begin by examining, from an esoteric eclectic point of view what we think we know.

One of the rules I suggested in an earlier post was to be open to alternative points of view that may not have an evidentiary basis. Following this rule we would not deny the existence of deity as the atheist does, nor would we require evidentiary "proof" of the existence of deity. But lacking concrete evidence, we cannot say that a specific deity does exist. At this point, then we have a formal hypothesis that deity exists.

My intuition and my experience lead to the conclusion that there is something which I will call, a "cosmic consciousness." I have a limited ability to communicate with this consciousness, and I am able to receive inspiration from it according to the limits of my personal consciousness. Certain practices improve my ability to communicate, others hinder. Prayer, meditation, and certain ritual practices allow me to focus my mind, especially my inner mind, on touching the consciousness.

Thus far the cosmic consciousness has not revealed any particular form, or even if it has a corporeal form, to me. In a spiritual sense, the question seems irrelevant, and possibly counter productive. My curious engineer mind wants to know how it works, and I can form theories. These theories then form mental images that I can focus on as I meditate, pray, or participate in rituals. I can also accept the models used by others as focal points.

One common model is that of the sacrificed hero god. Jesus of Nazareth, as worhshiped by modern Christians, follows this model but it is in no way unique to him. At another time we can examine the beginnings of this model. (I use the word model here, but the correct term would be mythology. Many people see mythology as "false belief" by in this context it means the central story of a religion. Typically with meaning beyond the mere recitation of events.) The sacrificed hero-god mythology appears to have originated in Egypt about 4000 years BC.

This then brings me to the end of what I am willing to say about the existence of deity. I believe there is a cosmic consciousness that I communicate with. I do not know what form it has, or if it has any form at all, and I don't see a spiritual relevance in knowing what form it has. To imply an animistic form is speculation, to imply an anthropomorphic (man-like) form is, to me, arrogant speculation. Insisting on a particular form or mythology is divisive and counter productive of a spiritual quest. In future posts we can explore the inferences that can be drawn from this position, but for now I am out of time.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Esoteric Eclecticism

It's been about a year since I had my name formally removed from the records of the LDS Church, and I'm sure that my readers, all three of you, are tired of my anti-LDS rants. So, I thought the time appropriate for me to declare what my beliefs are and where I think my spiritual path lies. Or at least where I'm headed today. Comments are welcome, but no sales pitches for your particular beliefs, please. If you're reading this on Facebook or somewhere else, please click on the appropriate link and read the full post on the actual blog.

Almost all religions I've encountered have some sort of special knowledge, or at least they claim to. Some of them keep their secrets and divulge them only to members in good standing. Some of the rituals and practices are for member eyes only, and often for good reason. If the uninitiated were to observe these practices they would not understand them, and such lack of understanding could impair their later ability to understand.

I'm not talking just about Mormon temple worship, but the practices of other societies and traditions ranging from Wicca to Rosicrucianism. Some sects of early Christianity were esoteric societies of this type, as were many of the non-Christian religions of antiquity. I believe there is much of value in seeking out these traditions, and learning these secrets. And so I have decided to call myself an Esoteric.

But I also believe that, while there is value in some, value isn't present in all. Some esoteric practices are based on supposition and superstition. Some have roots in real phenomena, but have been corrupted by misinterpretations or intentionally obscured for the personal gain of those seeking to fleece the gullible. So I reserve the right to reject any teaching or philosophy, or to reject the interpretation of one. My intention then, is to take those things I find of value and incorporate them into my practice, while leaving those that I find without value behind. So my practice will be eclectic in nature.

Hence, I will call my religious preference Esoteric Eclecticism. Any who wish to walk with me on this journey are welcome. For those whose paths diverge from mine, I wish you every success on your individual journey.

The key, and probably most important rule, of Esoteric Eclecticism is to remain open to alternative ideas and possibilities. The objective is to seek truth and enlightenment, and so it is vital to admit that none of us has truly found its ultimate form. There is no person or book that has all of the answers we seek, that we can rely on as infallible. Yet the leaders of the various sects and the holy books of various traditions do contain wisdom. It is for us to distill the wisdom from the error as the silver from the dross. We will take the wisdom of these leaders and books and apply reason and intuition to their interpretation and evaluation. We seek that which builds us up and makes us better people, that which brings us together as people and strengthens the bonds between us. We reject those teachings that divide us or that make either us or others small, insignificant, or inferior.

We differ from pure science in that we admit that there are or may be things that we cannot directly observe, that we cannot measure. We differ from the purely faith based religions in that we apply and encourage the application of reason and logic to understanding spiritual phenomena rather than accepting dogma. As we obtain new information, we are prepared and willing to change our interpretation and our views.

Hopefully my use of plural pronouns in writing this will not be in the editorial or imperial sense, but will actually include others. Please share your thoughts with me.