Sex And Violence

Judge's gavelBy coincidence the Stop Porn Culture conference and the US Supreme Court decision about violent videos came upon us at the same time. What caught our attention was that although the Supreme Court has ruled in the past that states can legally keep pornography from youngsters, it has now ruled states cannot keep violent video games from them.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the court’s majority decision in the video game case. Among other things, he wrote “Like the protected books, plays, and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas — and even social messages — through many familiar literary devices (such as characters, dialogue, plot, and music) and through features distinctive to the medium (such as the player’s interaction with the virtual world). That suffices to confer First Amendment protection.”  And later: “No doubt a State possesses legitimate power to protect children from harm… but that does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed.”

That last part did strike us as running counter to the assumptions behind the Supreme Court’s permitting a ban on, say, video depictions of  sexual acts being shown to the very young. In perhaps the most important case involving children and their access to pornography (Ashcroft vs. ACLU, 00-1293) the court ruled 8 to 1 in favor of using “community standards” as a measure for determining what material should be prohibited or regulated online.

A pornographic book or video  can also “communicate ideas — and even social messages — through many familiar literary devices (such as characters, dialogue, plot, and music)”  yet those books and videos can be restricted using “community standards.” OK, we’ll stop now and admit we’re confused. As a matter of fact, Justice Scalia does go into the difference in legal standing between pornography and depictions of violence.  Justice Scalia has never been  one of our favorite Supreme Court justices, but his opinions are always interesting to read, and if you’d like to read his opinion, please click on this link http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/10pdf/08-1448.pdf

We posted the picture below the day after the summer solstice. It’s a water color etching by William Blake called Ancient of Days. Ancient of Days is another name for God and here Blake has portrayed him as the architect of the universe. The phrase and what it calls to mind has inspired artists for generations. Blake may have had in mind these words from the Book of Daniel: I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of Days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire.Good grief! The days are getting shorter!

DARPA Wants to Put Out Fires

DARPA is the acronym for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Flames You never heard of it? It’s the central research and development organization for the United States Department of Defense. The internet is probably the best known product to come from DARPA and, in fact, what you’re using at this moment was called darpanet before it was called internet.

DARPA sponsors research in many fields, some of them scary, many of them not known to the public, even though the agency itself is not remarkably or unnecessarily secretive. One of their not-so-secretive projects is fire suppression. As it says on their web site “Fire in a combat vehicle or other confined space puts warfighters at risk.  DARPA’s Instant Fire Suppression (IFS) program seeks to establish the feasibility of a novel flame-suppression system based on destabilization of flame plasma with electromagnetic fields, acoustics, ion injection, or other novel approaches.”

In other words, they’re interested in learning how to put out fires instantly with a blast of electro-magnetism or sound. And, in fact, in response to DARPA’s challenge, scientists have had some success. In Professor George Whiteside’s lab at Harvard University this year scientists were able to snuff out a flame a foot and a half tall by directing a strong electric field at it. When you have a fire, some of the fuel is separated into positively and negatively charged particles swirling in the gas that makes up the flame. And it’s been known for a long time that a static electric field could bend flames. Instead of using a static field, Whitesides’ group used an oscillating field. They pointed a wire wand, which had a high-voltage field flowing from its tip, at a flame and the flame was shoved so far from it’s source of fuel that it instantly went out. Extinguishing a flame in a laboratory isn’t the same as putting out an uncontrolled fire in the outside world, but it’s a start. If you’d like to read more, here’s a link to an article about the experiment in Harvard Magazine.

World Naked Bike Ride

Naked Bike Ride Poster
Naked Bike Ride Poster

Well, it happened again. Portland’s World Naked Bike Ride pedaled through Portland, Oregon, this most recent June 18th. We don’t know what the count was this year, but in 2010 an estimated 13,000 riders gathered in Portland for the event. It’s part of Pedalpalooza — 200 or so “bikey fun” events. In theory, at least, the World Naked Bike Ride draws awareness to environmental issues; specifically, emissions from gasoline driven cars. And maybe it does.

World Naked Bike Ride in London
Naked Bike Ride in London

 

But as a clothing optional event it certainly draws attention to, well, naked bike riders. Nudity is legal in Portland, so long sexual activity or attempted arousal isn’t part of it. Reportedly, police suggested that bicyclists should at least wear a bicycle helmet.

 

HarperCollins vs. Libraries

Speaking of libraries, as we were in the post below this, we report the sad fact that the publishers HaperCollins has decided not to sell e-books to libraries but to rent them out. The publisher allows libraries to let an e-book circulate only 26 times before the library must again pay to rent it for another 26 times. E-book Reader If it were a conventional book, the library would buy it and allow it to circulate among library patrons until it needed to be replaced, at which point the library would buy a fresh copy. Now HaperCollins wants to sell a lot of copies to libraries, so it has decided, arbitrarily and whimsically, that the e-book wears out after it’s been read 26 times. Libraries, which are publically funded and never rich, have complained about this. One example —the Upper Hudson Library System, a consortium of libraries in New York State —  has sent a public letter to HaperCollins protesting this whacky arrangement and “will no longer purchase any e-content published by HarperCollins or any of its subsidiary publishers.” You can check out the letter sent to HarperCollins by clicking  on this link http://www.uhls.org/new/open_letter_HarperCollins.pdf

Who’s Reading Over Your Shoulder?

Visitors to Critical Pages typically enjoy libraries and book stores. So we should warn you that our Congress recently voted to allow the government to search bookstore and library records of people who are not suspected of criminal acts or terrorism.

Spy
Your Government Spy
To be precise, Congress merely allowed the government to continue doing what it’s been doing since 2001 when the Patriot Act was first passed. It came up for reauthorization and Congress reauthorized the whole damn thing, even those parts which invade the privacy of ordinary non-criminal citizens. So if you take out a library book, or buy a book at a bookstore, you might keep that in mind. Maybe you’d like to read about Islamic religious law, or about the safety features of US nuclear power plants, or US railways, or interesting sexual preferences, or AIDS, or impotence in older men or pregnancy problems of older women. And maybe you would have liked to think that those concerns were your own very private business, not open to your government.

Neither the House nor the Senate spent much time considering amendments to the Patriot reauthorization bill, and it passed both chambers handily. Continue reading

Whatever happened to “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!”?

The US recovery from the recession has stalled and Congress seems not to have noticed. Maybe you noticed, because you’re one of the unemployed. If so, it’s doubtless cold comfort for you to know there are more than 13.9 million other men and women in the same dump.

Unemployed workers
Unemployed Workers

Almost half the unemployed have been looking for a job for more than six
months, and about a third have been looking for work for more than a year. And if you’ve been looking for more than a year, the chances are you’ll be among the last to be hired. That’s the way it goes in today’s cruel labor market. Because so many workers are idle, employers can pick an choose and they prefer workers whose skills haven’t gotten rusty.

Meanwhile, the Republican dominated House of Representatives is calling loudly for cuts in government spending and in taxes. This is the same Republican party that took over the House a few months ago, saying that “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!” were their top priority. It’s strange that lawmakers who say they want to provide jobs should be crying to amputate the federal budget and slash taxes. In fact, it’s bizarre, because doing that will bring not jobs but more unemployment while at the same time reducing the ability of the government to provide for the unemployed.

Municipalities and states cannot perform the kind of deficit spending carried out by the federal government. As a consequence, the recession has compelled cities and states to lay off workers – clerks, firemen, policemen, engineers, school teachers, and so forth. To immediately slash federal spending means that the US would reduce the already reduced flow of money to the already impoverished states, and at the same time fire US government workers, adding even more to the number of unemployed. Continue reading

“The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”

You probably know  about Sarah Palin’s novel misinterpretation of Paul Revere’s ride – the famous gallop he made through the countryside to warn the militias, the Minute Men, that the British were coming. According to Palen, Paul Revere rode through Boston warning the British that “they weren’t going to be taking away our arms.” In addition to giving comics another opportunity to skewer the irrepressible Sarah, her remarks have drawn attention to the ride and to Longfellow’s poem about it.

Paul Revere's Ride
Paul Revere's Ride

“The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” is a wonderful poem to memorize and to recite. It’s an exciting, colorful narrative and the lines go at a great gallop — yes, yes, we know it’s a romanticized rehearsal of the facts, but it’s still a great, rousing poem with many memorable passages. And what’s wrong with a burst of rousing rhymed patriotism? Let’s enjoy this.

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,–
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”

Then he said “Good-night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide. Continue reading

Original Sin, Predestination and Other Cool Concepts

There’s a variety of opinions knocking about at Critical Pages, even when we’re reduced to a solitary person at the computer keyboard. The post about what fruit grew on the tree of knowledge in the garden of Eden led to thoughts about the Fall (not the fall season, dummy, the Fall theologians speak of, the Fall of humankind when Adam and Eve ate that amazingly educational fruit, giving rise to Original Sin and other cool concepts.) One of our colleagues said, I’m dying to know how that Tree of Knowledge turns out.  I just can’t see anything good coming of it. And that’s a widely shared view.

But another friend had this to say. In my opinion, the story of Adam and Eve does turn out well. I think it’s about the coming of human consciousness, coming of the ability to parse good and evil, the coming of shame and guilt and mortality, all that, philosophy. The Garden, paradise, is the animal kingdom where birth is painless, and life is not all that stressful, and you don’t have to wear any clothes. To be thrown out of Paradise is to start to have to deal with all the human problems, deal with human questions like why are we here, and why don’t my kids call… And once you are thrown out of paradise, you can’t go back. The ratchet has clicked. Anyway, there’s an angel with a big sword blocking the way to the tree of life.

St. Thomas Aquinas
St. Thomas Aquinas

Interestingly, this is also a widely shared view — well, I mean, shared by St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas and others of similar character.  The Fall was an immediate disaster, but ultimately it brought about the redemption embodied in Christ. O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem. Or, as we say in English: O happy fault (or sin) that merited such and so great a redeemer.  And theologians today, even those writing in English, still refer to this idea as felix culpa, the fortunate fall, the happy sin.

Jonathan Edwards
Johnathan Edwards

In Adam’s Fall / We sinned all says the Puritan rhyme. Indeed, the Puritan concept of predestination asserts that, due to Adam’s sin of disobedience, each and every one of us should be destined to hell. But God, foreseeing this, created his son Jesus to be crucified, his punishment on the cross being a sacrifice to redeem a portion of those destined to hell. And, says the Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards, if God chooses you to go to heaven, you get there, no matter what you do on earth. Unfortunately, the same doctrine means that if you’re slated for hell, you’ll go there no matter how well you behave.

OK, we’ve gone far enough with this! Let’s get on to something simple,  like national unemployment or how to balance the budget.