America, not ‘Murica

freedom of speech

I watched an old video of Hollywood stars (Liz Taylor and Gene Kelly) leading the singing of America the Beautiful back in 1976. My son, Andrew, walked up behind me, observed what I was watching and said, “‘Murica” in what sounded to me to be something of a mocking voice.

I asked him why he said that. He said, “I don’t know, but lots of kids at school say it.” I responded, “Don’t say that. Pronounce the name of your country correctly. Tell your friends I said that. Tell them your dad said that America may be the greatest nation that has ever existed.”

I have many friends who will disagree with what I told Andrew.  They view our country as hopelessly racist, materialistic, jingoistic, and oppressive.  I acknowledge the flaws, though I would offer a defense against the more extreme charges and narratives.  Nevertheless, I am grateful every day that I was born in this country.  Of all the blessings I possess, I never underrate that one.

Update:  There’s something I feel the need to add.  Whatever you might think about the United States of America, I think it is hard to get around the high probability that the U.S. was the key factor in preserving free government in a 20th century where communism and other forms of totalitarianism were aggressive and rising.  We can all be grateful for that, too.

Yes, Everyone Should Learn about Evolution. Even If You Doubt It.

Folks on the political left seem to be less interested in arguing about actual public policies and more concerned with establishing some kind of unworthy mind on the part of their adversaries.  We’ve had the faux contraception wars and now we’ll re-litigate the Darwin controversy for the umpteenth time.  Thus, we have a smirky British journalist asking Scott Walker about evolution (with which his office has virtually nothing to do) while the governor conducts a trade mission.

But let us take the issue seriously.  To the extent that evolution has been some kind of real controversy, it has been so primarily over its treatment in the schools.  William Jennings Bryan, the former Democrat senator, secretary of state, and failed presidential candidate, pushed to keep Darwin out of the classroom.  His reasoning was laudable.  He thought that the ideas of natural selection and the survival of the fittest would have negative consequences for human society.

Should evolution be taught in schools?  I think the answer is that it really should be simply because it is by far the dominant theory.  What is the point of protecting your child from the dominant theory when they will come face to face with it in college or later on via any variety of possible encounters?  Avoiding evolution just creates a stronger front of attack somewhere further down the line.

What would be better?  Stop fighting and let science take its course.  Maybe the theory will undergo a substantial shift and maybe it won’t.  Know what you believe and why you believe it.  Teach the theory and do so fairly.  If you are concerned about communicating social, philosophical, and religious implications that don’t necessarily follow, then go ahead and mark out that territory.  As you educate children in science, educate them also in the limitations of science.  That is simply responsible.

But the way things are right now, we are too often just giving the enemies of the faith the felt pen they use for drawing gross caricatures.  Don’t avoid evolution.  Walk right past it, taking time to give it plenty of eye contact and respect.

The Bull Durham Interview and GOP Candidates

bull durham

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker attended a conference on trade in London.  Heedless of questions of relevance to the occasion, an enterprising reporter asked him for his opinion on evolution.  Walker chose to “punt” and moved on.  As a result, I am moved to go ahead and just fix this problem for everyone henceforth.

Many of us remember the film Bull Durham.  Kevin Costner plays a veteran catcher who has spent most of his career in the minor leagues.  Tim Robbins is a fireball throwing rookie who is headed to the pros.  Part of Costner’s role is to bring the rookie along.  In one memorable scene, he coaches the up and coming star on how to give an interview.  The goal is to keep the player from injuring himself, his team, and his reputation in the interview.

Given the tendency of political interviewers to try and create a sensation with questions about science, contraception, abortion, etc., it is time to coach the interview.

Here we go!

Reporter:  Do you believe in the scientific theory of evolution?

Candidate:  I understand that evolution is the dominant theory of biological development and that it enjoys tremendous respect among scientists.  Students should certainly learn about important matters such as that one in school.  As it pertains to me personally, I would just say that whatever the course of human development, I believe that we were created by God and that we have souls.  As God’s children, we have rights and dignity.  Part of the job of government is to protect those human rights.  Whatever the scientific theory is, I intend to respect the rights and dignity of my fellow human beings.

Reporter:  Do you believe in banning abortion in all cases, including with regard to rape, incest, and the life of the mother?

Candidate:  I believe that unborn human beings are still human beings with a right to life.  If the life of the mother is seriously endangered by her pregnancy, I don’t think the state should be in the position of deciding between the two.  The mother has to make that decision.  In the matters of rape and incest, I would argue that we are still talking about a human life being at stake and that we should respect that human life even if it is small and weak.  The fetus bears no guilt for the circumstances of his or her conception.  That having been said, there is much we could do to protect the unborn short of impinging upon those controversial exceptions.  We haven’t done enough.

(FULL STOP.  Please do not speculate on whether the female body shuts down conception in the instance of rape or whatever other novel idea captures your fancy.  You are a politician and not a biologist or medical professional.)

Reporter:  Do you think women should have a right to contraceptive products?

Candidate:  If you mean birth control pills and condoms, then it seems to me that women have broad commercial access to those products and they are heavily advertised.  I also note that they are not especially expensive.  If you mean that some other private party, such as an employer, should be forced to purchase those products as part of a contract for employment, then I would suggest that view is indicative of an insufficient regard for rights of conscience and religious liberty.

I Watched All Three Atlas Shrugged Movies: A Confession

who is john galt

Dear readers,

I feel compelled to confess something.  I watched all three Atlas Shrugged movies: Part I, Part II, and Part III.

Perhaps you will feel slightly less shocked when I tell you that I also watched almost the entire run of Chevy Chase’s short-lived late night television show, which flopped spectacularly and caused not the slightest ripple in the Letterman/Leno wars.  There is a certain stubbornness in me when it comes to these things.

It is also known that I am one of those notorious Christians who will occasionally step forth and defend Ayn Rand.  It is so fashionable to bash her as an awful thinker and a terrible novelist my contrarian instincts force me to object.  I will say again that while I disagree with the atheistic and materialistic Rand, I liked the book (other than John Galt’s 60 some-odd pages of small print speech) and think that the author makes some valid points about human freedom and achievement.

However, I have now paid my money to see Atlas Shrugged Part III.  I have a hard time understanding myself.  Why would I stick with a trilogy that has had three complete cast changes in its three iterations?  Three Dagnys.  Three Hanks.  Three Franciscos.  Three Eddies.  Apparently the individualism runs so strong in Objectivist world that we can’t keep a cast together AT ALL.  In any case, I was determined to gut it out.  And now I have.  What is the verdict on Part III?

It was so mind-bendingly terrible that I am sure I will be part of some infamous and small minority who will have seen it.  We open with Dagny Taggart’s jet crashing near the new individualist/materialist/capitalist heaven hidden in the mountains.  The next half hour seems to mostly feature John Galt (tall, handsome, gregarious, lotta hair) carrying Dagny around in his arms.  Though she improbably has basically no injuries, she (previously a fiercely independent person) tolerates being hauled about.  The interactions she has with those who have escaped to Galt’s Gulch suffer from the same problems that many depictions of heaven do.  It’s just kind of silly perfect. I almost felt as though Dorothy had awakened into some supernatural capitalist paradise (and listen, I love me some capitalism, but there are limits).  There is even a box that contains Galt’s engine, but seems to hold the glory of the Lord.  You speak an oath to open it.

There is something else I found utterly bizarre in the film.  Throughout the story, things have been going downhill fast.  And all the time, the state’s power is growing.  We seem to have dispensed with the president and instead have a bunch of non-elected men running the country like some kind of collectivist mafia.  They have all the power the law can give.  Despite that, after John Galt seizes control of a major national broadcast (and gives a speech that would rally few, I suspect), we see Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck opining about how this epic statement from Galt is moving the masses.  I’m thinking to myself, “Okay, we have an all-powerful and semi-dictatorial state, but guys like Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck are still hosting big television programs.  Huh.”

I have already spent too many words, but I need to add that Rob Morrow (of Northern Exposure) plays Hank Rearden this time around.  He has about three lines.  Worth noting, nonetheless.  Oh, and the bad guy from Clear and Present Danger (Joaquim de Almeida) plays Francisco d’Anconia.

I kind of want my money back, but free people accept caveat emptor (buyer beware) and so do I.

In Which Andrew Defeats My Attempt at Mentoring . . .

Years ago, I was present when a female federal judge visited campus to speak with students.  She gave an excellent exhortation and then agreed to take questions.  One student asked, “What advice would you give us about how to be successful?”  The judge paused and said, “I would say that you should live now in a way that respects your future self.”

Sitting in the audience and listening, I was impressed.  I had rarely heard such a good answer to that kind of question.  She elaborated, saying that the choices you make now create the life your future self has to live.  Would your future self thank you for what you did when you were 21?  Or would your future self criticize you for the problems you created or the opportunities you failed to take?

My son, Andrew, had to tell me about a bad test grade this evening.  I decided it was a good time to recycle the advice about your future self.  After explaining the idea, I asked Andrew, “So, what do you think your future self would say to you if the two of you were to meet?”  As he considered the question, I felt pretty proud of myself.

He turned to me and said, “Dad, I think my future self would say, ‘Dude, what are you doing?  You’re going to create a paradox!'”

I lose.

The Best Pastor Joke I Ever Heard

Two men were shipwrecked and managed to paddle themselves to a deserted island in the middle of the ocean.  The two men had markedly different reactions to their plight.

The first man paced back and forth.  His mind raced as he tried to think of some solution to their predicament.

The second man took his shirt off and began to sunbathe.  He gave no indication of stress.

In disbelief, the first man confronted his calm partner.  “What are you doing?  Aren’t you worried about how we’re going to get home?  We’re likely to end up as carrion for vultures!”

The second man simply responded, “I make about $100,000 a week.”

“So what?” the first man replied.  “That doesn’t count for anything where we are now.”

“Maybe you didn’t hear me,” the second man said.  “I make $100,000 a week.”

“You’re deluded, you idiot!” the first man shouted.  “Do you think you can buy your way off this island?  Do you think you can order up a seven course meal???”

“I’m also a Christian,” the second man offered.

“You think being rich and being a Christian is going to get us some supernatural help???  Are you counting on a miracle?” the first man sputtered.

“I guess I didn’t make myself clear,” the second man answered steadily.  “I make $100,000 a week and I faithfully tithe at my church.  I KNOW MY PASTOR IS GOING TO FIND ME.”

(Credit to my pastor Jordan Easley who I imagine snagged this one from the jetstream of humor.)