Video Rental Review: Daybreakers

I love Ethan Hawke.  I love him so much.  Ethan Hawke is so dreamy.  He also picks some of the most interesting genre films to star in.  He began to build his status as a genre legend with Gattaca.  But lately he’s just been hitting it out of the park in genre film.  There’s Predestination, to be discussed in a later podcast, and then there is Daybreakers.  I love Daybreakers.  It takes the concept of a vampire and turns it into a conceit for a dystopic scifi film.  It’s a film about decadent western society.  It’s a film about our dependence on coffee.  It’s a film about oil.  But most importantly, it’s a film about one individual’s search for redemption.

Daybreakers follows Ethan Hawke’s character, a conflicted vampire who never drinks human blood and is searching for a cure to vampirism 0r a formula for fake blood that will keep vampires from deteriorating into their more horrific form in the wake of a dwindling supply of real blood.

His brother is in the military, whose primary task is to go out and hunt down humans in order to be brought back and bled dry by the multinational corporation in charge of both the military and the blood supply.

Through a series of unfortunate events, these brothers are pitted against each other in Hawke’s search for answers and for healing.  The movie largely plays as an allegory for abuse of the environment, but it also can be seen as a vehicle for the discussion of the ethics of eating animals.

Ethan Hawke’s journey alone is worth the price of admission here, let alone the really interesting performance by Willem Defoe.

Tune in every Monday Wednesday and Friday for more posts.  This Wednesday I will be talking about how to play Pokemon Go safely and ethically.

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Video Rental Reviews: The Europa Report

This is part of a continuing feature where I rent old or out of the way movies from Family Video or watch them on Netflix and then review them for you.  This will be a curated list.  Few of these films will be movies I didn’t enjoy, but I look forwad to your feedback on these reviews.

A movie that I enjoyed (perhaps quite a bit more than its 2-star netflix rating gives it) on Netflix is the Europa Report.  It’s another one of these scifi films that’s cheap enough to make on an indie budget because it all takes place inside a capsule.  Now, I’ll say this.  Don’t watch The Europa Report unless you’re in the mood for something a little bleak.

The movie opens showing that we are seeing mission footage from a disastrous mission, the first mission of its kind, in which humanity was sent to investigate one of Jupiter’s moons for evidence of life.  The tone of this movie is very understated.  You don’t fall into the issue that some movies have that put a bunch of actors in a box, where their whole lives are melodramatic and they’re always shouting at each other and on the brink of a fist fight.  These are professionals who are on a mission.  You get an understated sadness after a valuable crew member dies and an air of depression comes from the crew.  They argue about the mission from time to time, but reasonably and like scientists.

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But there are some really interesting acting choices throughout the film.  There is a point in which a character (pictured above) is in grave danger and the performance is perfectly given to be ambiguous.  In an earlier scene you get terror and sadness, but at a later reveal it turns out to be something else.

I was surprised how much I liked this movie.  If you have the attention span to watch a movie that’s a little slow developing, it will pay off.  The characters are believable, and the journey is worth the watch.  There are a few plot issues, moments where you would think a team of astronauts wouldn’t do the thing that furthers the plot.

But if you’re in the mood for something sad and depressing, or you just like scifi, this movie is definitely worth a watch.

Science Standards, Philosophy Education, and Cross-Cutting Concepts

The next generation science standards are out.  These standards include a number of things besides mere knowledge of scientific facts.  These are called cross-cutting concepts.  Cross-cutting concepts are the things related to the practice of science that are not strictly science facts to learn.

The thing is, many of these cross-cutting concepts don’t end up being especially scientific.  The cross-cutting concepts involve things like “engage in argument from evidence” and “critically read a text,” etc.  They also involve teaching the students a particular philosophy of science.  One is to be taught a realist interpretation of the findings of science, among other things.

It is my contention that, if the things recommended in the next generation science standards are real goals we should have for high school students, then we should teach philosophy courses at the high school level.

Teaching students how to reason and reason well from evidence is something that is primarily and ideally the office of a philosopher.  This is why logic and basic reasoning classes are taught in philosophy departments.  Philosophers are familiar with the kinds of reasoning that need to be taught and the problems people encounter in reasoning.  Further, philosophy instruction in high school would uniquely position the philosophy teachers to teach the aspects of the philosophy of science that science teachers might simply give uncritically or teach without knowing the significant debates in the area.

High school education should include philosophical education.

Peace be with you.
-JS

Roman Reigns Vs. John Cena: The Death of Superman

I’ve only recently gotten back into wrestling.  It’s a super fun serial melodrama that includes death defying stunts.  It’s often a morality tale with good struggling against evil with good finally winning in the end.

This all brings us to John Cena and Roman Reigns.  John Cena, in the wrestling world, is basically superman.  And everyone hates him.  A lot of people kind of hate him (less so now), for the same reason that they hate superman.  As explained by Max Landis:

People hate John Cena because he’s a squeaky clean good guy that always wins. There’s never any tension.  This is where Roman Reigns comes in.  Roman Reigns, in some ways, has been booked in much the same way.  That is, Roman Reigns has been booked as an unbeatable guy where his matches have almost no tension because he always wins.  However, the difference with Roman Reigns is that Roman Reigns’ character isn’t that much of a good guy.  The character is morphing into this pure destructive force that isn’t good or evil but is just a monster that destroys WWE wrestlers.

This is why my ultimate fantasy booking is Roman Reigns Vs. John Cena at (maybe the next? Maybe in another year?) Wrestlemania.  Roman Reigns and John Cena should do the Death of Superman.  John Cena comes back and does the Open U.S. title challenge on Smackdown and beats everyone.  This keeps John Cena occupied and away from the drama with Roman Reigns.

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We keep Roman Reigns a quasi-heel (after the wellness policy violation we can now make him a full heal).  Roman Reigns continues to be an unstoppable force in WWE.  This can take as long as you like.  Roman Reign will go up against every babyface in the company.  He already beat A.J. Styles (and literally everyone else he’s gone in a feud with).  Over the next year (or even 2) we let Roman Reigns destroy everything.  We let (and you an skip a few sentences if these names mean nothing to you) Roman Reigns get into a feud with Seth Rollins and beat him.  We let Roman Reigns get into a feud with Dean Ambrose.  We give Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins together a chance to get into a triple threat match for the title.  Roman Reigns always comes out on top.

Roman Reigns can get into a feud with Kevin Owens, with Cesaro, and with Sammy Zayn.  We let Sammy Zayn go last and let them have an epic fight where Zayn comes so near to defeating Reigns that Reigns’ win is the most devastating of all.

This parallels the run up to the Death of Superman in the comics.  In the comics, Superman got too powerful, so the comics created doomsday.  Doomsday is just an instrument of destruction.  He tears through the justice league.  He goes up against them, and all that’s left in the end is Superman.  It’s up to Superman to stop Doomsday.  Superman goes up against Doomsday in an epic fight and they simultaneously land killing blows on each other.

So I think that the WWE should do Superman vs. Doomsday with John Cena and Roman Reigns.  Leading up to a Wrestlemania we call attention to the unbeatable Roman Reigns.  Reigns is put in the Royal Rumble at slot 1 and wins the whole thing.  Shane McMahon, or some other babyface, calls attention to the way Roman Reigns has been and how bad it is and makes the match between John Cena and Roman Reigns.  Maybe Shane fights Reigns and loses which leads to the making of the match.

John Cena and Roman Reigns fight a number of times leading up to Wrestlemania, with John Cena losing each match.  We’ve built the tension for the lead up to Wrestlemania, where John Cena will fight Roman Reigns.  The WWE’s Superman will fight WWE’s Doomsday at Wrestlemania for the WWE world heavyweight title.  The end of the match is a simultaneous superman punch and some other move by Cena and Wrestlemania ends with Cena and Reigns lying on the ground, perhaps being brought out of the stadium on stretchers.

Now, there are a couple problems with this pitch.  There is the problem of setting the right stakes and there is the problem of getting an ending where John Cena wins but he also “dies.”  Maybe there is a stipulation on the match.  Maybe there is a stipulation where Roman Reigns forfeits the title if he doesn’t win the match cleanly and the character John Cena can’t come back to Raw if he loses (or maybe John Cena makes it an I quit match, or maybe we go crazy and make John Cena “die” in the match, I’m not sure here).

Maybe I can be really self-indulgent and let John Cena “die” on Wrestlemania and do Reign of the John Cenas: John Cena Returns after this run.  But that’s another blog post.

But let me explain why this is a great idea.  This will allow John Cena and Roman Reigns to have some real drama in their lives.  This will also, if played right, come in at just the right time in Roman Reigns story to allow his defeat to be received really well.  This will also allow the WWE to weaken Reigns after this fight.  This will finally give John Cena a really deep storyline with something real to overcome.  This will also allow the WWE to say that the overpowered booking of Roman Reigns was on purpose and leading up to this amazing moment.

But anyway, I should get back to the ending of this match.  John Cena will fight Roman Reigns and it will be a great match.  The match will end with some kind of simultaneous move which will result in two (storyline) unconscious wrestlers.  Maybe carry them both out on stretchers.  The stipulations prior to the match will mean that Reigns has given up the belt, but John Cena doesn’t get the belt.  Preferably, somehow “John Cena” will not be able to move forward in the WWE for at least a long while, but also this will remove Reigns from the title picture for a good long while.  It’s a great way to end the Reigns storyline and perhaps a great way to give John Cena a break to go out and make movies and be away from the company.

Maybe in the future I’ll make a suggestion for something more self-indulgent and ridiculous.  After John Cena V. Roman Reigns: the Death of Superman, we can book John Cena in his heal turn: Reign of the John Cenas.

Tune back in every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for new stuff!

Peace be with you.
-JS

Are we Afraid of Reproducing?

It’s interesting how horror movies reflect the mores and fears of a society.  In the last several years, I’ve noticed a trend in horror movies that may point to some disturbing trends in our society.  The 80’s saw the slasher films in which students engaged in illicit sexual activity were brutally murdered, which showed a societal fear of the consequences of promiscuity and non-monogamous sex (especially understandable in the era in which AIDs arose).

But we also have a different fear that has actually been present since the 60’s.  This is the fear of children.  Have you ever been freaked out by scary babies or children in movies?  Have you noticed the creepy scenes where a zombie baby is the scariest part? This, I think reflects a fear that our society has of having children.  And its understandable to some extent, for us to be afraid in this way.  Before modern medicine, having a baby was one of the most dangerous things a woman could do.  Countless lives were saved just by the invention of forceps.

Maybe baby horror is tapping into this basic fear.  But I’m not sure this is the case with modern baby horror.  First of all, it seems that pregnancy would be the object of fear and this would manifest in our horror in some way.  But the scary thing is babies.  The scary part is actually successfully delivering the baby in scenes like this:

The baby itself is scary.  But the unrealistic nature of a zombie baby threat (or of any baby being any kind of real threat) makes me think this is something like when we decided to have evil slashers represent the dangers of promiscuity in the age of AIDS.

But there’s other things that baby horror could be.  Baby horror might just represent that babies are something which represents innocence to us, and that the thought of a possessed or zombified baby is that much more horrifying to us.  But it might also be the more scary to us because we have a latent fear of reproducing.  This would fit nicely with the change that happened as a result of the sexual revolution.  After the sexual revolution we stopped conceiving of children as a goal of sexual activity but as a dire consequence.  Perhaps our baby horror reflects this cultural shift.  I’m not sure, but this at least seems to be are reasonable interpretation of the existence of baby horror.

It’s even weirder that there is a lot of horror coming out lately that has to do with being happily married.  Anyway, what do you think is the reason we find baby horror so scary?
Let me know in the comments.

Peace be with you.
-JS

Pseudo-Dionysius’ Divine Names: Ch.4, 1-2; A Consequentialist Account Divine Goodness?

In chapter 4, Pseudo-Dionysius finally gets to considering specific divine attributes.  All of Chapter 4 is devoted to making sense of the various ways in which God is called “good.” The first reason to think God is good is given in the first section of this chapter.  Pseudo-Dionysius compares the divine to the sun again:

<blockquote>Think of how it is with our sun.  It exercises no rational process, no act of choice, and by the very fact of its eistence it gives light to whatever is able to partake of its light, in its own way.  So it is with God.  Existing far above the sun, an archetype far superior to its dull  image, it sends the rays of its undivided goodness to everything with the capacity, such as this may be, to receive it.–Pseudo-Dionysius,DN4,1</blockquote>

Today I will point out two different ways to interpret Pseudo-Dinonysius’, both of which will have issues to address.  The first, and most strikingly problematic, is the suggestion that this passage gives a Consequentialist argument  for Gods goodness.  God is the cause of all the goodness in the world, and thus, by definition, God is good.  That is, on this interpretation, God is good, simply in virtue of being the cause of all of the good in the world.  That is, what is meant by goodness when it applies to God is just that he causes all of the goodness in the world.

This is deeply dissatisfying, and seems at least somewhat inconsistent with the general attitude toward our knowledge of the attributes of God expressed earlier in the divine names.  If all that goodness, on the part of the deity, amounts to is his causing good things, then we can have full and unproblematic knowledge of what P-D calls one of the most important divine attributes.  This doesn’t seem to be what Pseudo-Dionysius wants to be getting at in his text.  Further, if we are taking a consequentialist approach to justifying belief in divine goodness, P-D will have to take head-on the issue of God’s involvement with evil.  Evil exists, and presumably (on most theistic views), God has some kind of indirect causal responsibility for this evil (or at the very least allows it).  If divine goodness is going to amount to some consequentialist calculation, then we need to factor this in such a calculation.

This issue may come up eventually anyway, but it will be quite a bit worse on this view of divine goodness.  Luckily, if we take a look at the passage, we will see that the beginning of section 2 of chapter 4 we will be able see a strategy taking shape.  Pseudo-Dionysius immediately starts talking about the goodness of the angels.  I think the strategy here is to take a look at the highest goods that God is responsible for, and use these as part of an argumentative strategy to show just how good God is.  But tune in next time for further discussion of the Divine Names.

Peace be with you.
-JS

Fourth of July Post: The Wings of the Republican Party

The Wings of the Republican Party

I figured that, since it’s America’s Independence day, I should write something political.  So today I’m going to write about the different wings of the Republican Party.  The Republican Party is an interesting, and perhaps self-imploding, beast.  Donald Trump, if he can be credited with anything, has shined a spotlight on the deep divisions within the party.  So today, on this celebration of our ability to self-govern, let’s talk about something interesting about the republican party.

The people in power for the longest time in the republican party are the centrists.  The republican centrists basically have positions marginally different from the democrats in congress, but without the overarching philosophy or goal toward which to make progress.  The centrists’ biggest problem is that, unlike centrist democrats, they seem to have positions that are piecemeal.  At some times it seems that the overarching goal of centrist republicans is to keep the democrats from achieving their overarching goal of (if I’m reading them correctly) a radically egalitarian collectivist society.

But that’s just the centrist wing of the republican party.  The weird thing is that the republican party cannot be thought of as a strict continuum that can be represented with a line.  There isn’t some one view on the far right that the “extreme” ends of the party hold.  No, instead I think that the republican party should be represented with a triangle, with one point representing the centrist republicans.  One of the two extremes of the party is what I will call the protectionist wing of the party.  This is the wing that is staunchly anti-immigration, favors ‘protective’ tariffs, and seems to think that muslims are a unified block of people who hate America for her freedom.  This is one of the two extremes of the party that the republicans in washington have ignored.  This wing is the reason that Trump has done well in the party.

If there’s one thing the left has done much better than the right in America, it’s in successfully showing its ideological base that it’s committed to the same principles.  The left has continually done little things that make progress toward the ideal world that many of the more ideologically pure members of the party want to exist.  The right, instead, throws little crumbs while not communicating a coherent progress toward the goals of the extremes.  Trump, finally, has really appealed to the protectionist wing of the republican party.

Now, people are saying that Trump is showing the true nature of the party, but they ignore that there is another extreme of the republican party.  There is the libertarian wing.  To some extent due to Ron Paul and people like Barry Goldwater, there is the laissez-faire, peace-loving, private property is king, leave me alone with my guns and pot wing of the republican party.  This is a little smaller wing of the party, but an important one nonetheless.  While the republican party has been ignoring its ideological base, there has been a battle for the party’s heart going on behind the scenes.  There has been a war between these extremes.  But most right-wing ideologues fall somewhere between the libertarian and the protectionist wing of the party.

One of the great tragedies of the Trump era republican party is the perceived victory this gives for the protectionist wing of the party over the laissez-faire wing.  Hopefully this victory doesn’t taint what’s good about the republican party.  If it does, I hope that the libertarian party can become something major and America can get past the two-party system.

But that’s my opinion, for what it’s worth.  Happy Independence Day!

Peace be with you.
-JS

Good Old Fashioned Religion: Doldrums and the Sunday Obligation

There are all sorts of things we might discuss regarding the Sunday obligation.  We might discuss the source of the church’s authority to require such a thing.  We might discuss how the obligation makes sense and even discuss how a daily obligation might make sense.  But today I’m going to discuss something different I’m going to discuss how great the Sunday obligation is for spiritual doldrums.

Everyone goes through some spiritual doldrums.  You know those times where the emotional aspect of the sacraments and the religious life just aren’t there, and you just feel like you’re going through the motions a lot of the time?  The Sunday obligation functions perfectly for people in the spiritual doldrums.

Spiritual doldrums are a drag.  There are times when, emotionally, the catholic life is very fulfilling.  But there are also times that are not.  Sometimes life is just difficult and boring and it’s hard to concentrate.  Sometimes you’re just not that into it.

But your relationship with everyone you know has doldrums.  Even close friendships and marriages do so.  But this is why the sunday obligation is so good for doldrums.  Obligations allow a person to get through doldrums.

Obligations get you there.  Obligations put your butt in the seat, and make you listen.  And the Mass is a place where seat where you want to get your butt.  Further, in the context of fulfilling this obligation, you will engage in the mass.  The mass is a deeply affecting thing, but even in the absense of this special kind of affect which the mass often gives rise to the mass is first of all an act of will and an act of intellect.

In the mass we (at least those parts which we perform on our own) is primarily an act of intellect, recognizing the truths about the divine which are revealed, and it is an act of will, bringing our volitions in accord with the truths which we know with our intellect.

But if you’re not obligated to go, it’s hard or a person in the doldrums to see why they should go.  Why should I go to a thing that I’m not that into?  Why should I go and sit uncomfortably in my hippy-dippy parish that doesn’t have kneelers because they recently moved and can’t afford the incredibly expensive building project that would be required to have a proper worship space?  Why? Because you are obligated, in virtue of being a Catholic, to do so.

And how does it help? Because however little you think you get out of it, you’re getting something out of it (as long as you’re there with a willing heart) something out of it.  At worst you’re getting the sacrament.  And that’s nothing to sneeze at.  So, please fulfill your Sunday obligation.

Video Rental Reviews: 400 Days

Welcome back to the feature where I review movies and tv series that are at my local in my local video rental place.  Previously, I have reviewed 10 Cloverfield Lane and the SyFy Series 12 Monkeys.  Today I will be reviewing the indie scifi thriller called 400 Days.

First, I’m going to say this.  After your first watch of this movie you may be a little pissed off to start.  It’s sudden and difficult to understand.  But after thinking about it for a little while, I think this is intentional.  I will get to this after a brief synopsis.

400 Days is set mostly in a mocked-up spacecraft.  We are led to believe that the four astronauts we have just met are being put into the ground as a test of the effects of long-term space travel on the human mind.  There is some drama as the main psychological officer has just dumped Brandon Routh, our main spaceman.

There is some interesting character work in this movie, with Dane Cook, Brandon Routh, and Tom Cavanagh making for some interesting character work.  There is a twist at the end of the first act where something seems to have gone wrong with the experiment.  This generates much of the drama for the rest of the story.  We see various things happen that stretch these individuals to the breaking point through the course of this experiment.  But there is a third act twist that I won’t ruin for you.

I think this is trying to be one of those trippy psychological thrillers which plays with your perception and then leaves you with a question.  Were the events of the movie real or were they all in the character’s minds.  It doesn’t pull it off perfectly, but oddly the last twist of the movie, although it may piss you off, will leave you wanting to watch the movie again very carefully.  Ultimately the last series of twists makes some sense, but there is still some missing in the film.

If you are a fan of the psychological thrillers this movie is worth watching.  I found it quite enjoyable despite the rage-inducing ending.  The rage will wear off and curiosity will set in.  Ultimately the story has some holes, and you’ll be left scratching your head even after the second viewing, but I still think genre (and love story) fans will get enough enjoyment out of this to drop the dollar or two it takes to watch 400 days.

Pseudo-Dionysius’ Divine Names: Chapter 3

In this part of my series I will be discussing Chapter 3 of the Divine Names. (First entry here) Chapter 3 of the Divine Names is a bit more disappointing for anyone looking for philosophical content.  In Chapter 3 Pseudo-Dionysius spends most of his time talking and bragging about his teacher Hierotheus.  But there is some interesting reflection on prayer in this chapter that is worth talking about.  Early in the chapter Pseudo-Dionysius reflects on prayer and how to make sense of it having an effect.

He suggests that before any inquiy into the divine should be preceded by “stretch[ing] ouselves prayerfully upward.”  It is here that he gives two interesting analogies to attempt to understand the power of prayer.

The problem is that we are praying to a God that is, for P-D, radically transcendent, but also radically immovable and unchanging.  So then prayer should be thought of, for P-D, as something like the dance that moved the mountain.

Have you heard this story?  A man has a house in the valley, and decides that his house is too close to the mountain.  He goes to a sage and asks him how he can move the mountain.  The sage tells him to pack his entire house up, place it on his back, and do a special dance.  The man follows these instructions and, lo and behold, the mountain is moved far from his house.  The dance: face the mountain, and take two steps backward, the one step forward and repeat.

P-D thinks of prayer much like this special dance:

<blockquote>Picture ourselves aboard a boat.  There are hawsers joining it to soe rock.  We take hold of them and pull on them, and it is as if we were dragging the rock to us when in fact we are hauling ourselves and our boat toward a rock.  And, from another point of view, when someone on the boat pushes away the rock which is on the shore he will have no effect on the rock, which stands immovable, but will make space between it and himself, and the more he pushes the greater will be the space.</blockquote>

<blockquote>That is why we must begin with a prayer before everything we do, but especially when we are about to taalk of God.  We will not pull down to ourselves that power which is both everywhere and yet nowhere, but by divine reminders and invocations we may commend ourselves to it and be joined to it.</blockquote>

The idea here is that prayer is a thing that draws us nearer to the divine.  This is by God’s power and not by ours.  We don’t harm the independence and unchangeability of God by engaging in prayer.  Instead prayer is a way of pulling ourselves closer to God.

We ought to pray before engaging in reflection on the divine nature, bringing ourselves closer to the divine light which may help us understand.

The only other thing of philosophical interest here is a view of the degree of discomfort Pseud0-Dionysius has with saying anything about God.  He would almost be Wittgensteinian about the whole thing if it weren’t for the fact of his deep confidence that the scriptures are divinely revealed and say true things about God.  This is all that is keeping Dionysius on the task of talking about the divine at all.  If Pseudo-Dionysius were to live in an age without divine revelation, he would simply prefer to pass over such things in silence.  Next time we’ll break the silence with P-D and finally get into the bulk of the theological theorizing.

Tune in every MWF for more content.

Peace be with you.
-JS

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