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Monday, February 16, 2015

THE OTHER BAND OF BROTHERS

"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers"
Its the next day.  Yesterday, at high noon, Frank Miller and his gang rode into Hadleyville to kill Marshall Will Kane for arresting Frank and sending him to the gallows.  Saved by a legal technicality, Frank returned to fulfill his vow to kill Kane.  Kane, with the help of his lovely Quaker and pacifist bride Amy managed to stop and kill the gang, saving the town from their vengeance.
Now, the town leaders have had a meeting, and they call Marshall Kane into the church building.
"Will I think you all know how much we appreciate your work as marshall for Hadleyville, and how you stood up for law and order," began Judge Mettrick.  The other men all nodded and murmured their agreement.
"Thank you sir," replied Will.  Never a man of many words, he was unsure what the council wanted, and would much rather have been back in the arms of his very appreciative and proud wife.
"And we think you've done a good job for a long time in the office of marshall.  Its because of this that we think you should step down, take some time off."
Kane gazed at the men's smiling faces.  Some of them seemed a bit forced.
"For your good, you see, you and your young bride.  We all know how Mrs Kane felt about the whole... ordeal yesterday."
In the silence that followed, dust drifted across the sunbeams coming through the plain glass of the church windows.  In the distance, the sound of Cooper building coffins for the gunmen echoed in the valley around Hadleyville.
"Perhaps you might want to visit family, you know.  Travel a bit.  You never did take that honeymoon," prompted Mayor Henderson.
"You have a way of making a man feel unwelcome," said Kane, quietly.
"Its not that, its just... this town has seen enough violence, you understand?" Harvey Pell said.  He still was bitter that he'd never been chosen as Marshall, and quit as deputy when Kane wouldn't leave and let him take over.
"We'd just like to be a nice peaceful community and, well you kind of remind people of the troubles we've had.  And that gun you use so well."
"And often," added Mayor Henderson.
"Will, let's put our cards on the table," said Judge Mettrick.  "We'd like to move on from the past, become a more modern town.  This town has no future with gunmen in it, and well, Kane, you sort of remind us of that past we want to move away from."
"There never would have been this recent trouble anyway if you'd not stirred it up, Kane," said Mayor Henderson, head bowed, staring at the table in front of him.  "You have to admit that, those men wouldn't have come to our town in the first place if not for you."
Kane looked at the trio of men opposite him and wordless, stood up and walked to the door.  He turned on a heel slowly, unpinned his star, and threw it onto the table the men sat at, contept etched on his features.
Just outside the door, the man who'd preceded him as marshall, now aged and grizzled, was leaning against the wall.  "You made them hold their manhoods cheap," was all he said.
At the end of the actual film High Noon, Kane throws his star in the dust at the feet of the townsfolk in contempt at their cowardice and fury at having his wife have to betray her faith to help him because none of the men in the town would.  But this is a very plausible and likely alternate ending.  It happened in the old west more than a few times: the very men most heroic and necessary to save people were turned on.  The very skill they displayed to save them was too frightening to have around, and the memories of the blood shed too unwelcome.
In the magnificent Shakespeare play Henry V, the king makes his famous "St Crispin's Day Speech" in which he tells his men that their few numbers actually are to their advantage and glory: 
If we are mark'd to die, we are e'now
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
...
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
He makes the case well: die here, and few have died... but live and win, and the few become heroes for all time, honored and held high as brave above all others.  The phrase "band of brothers" comes directly from this speech and was so beautifully and perfectly used in both the Stephen Ambrose book and the HBO miniseries about the men of Easy Company.
Yet there's the reverse of the medal, as it were.  The opposite side of the coin.  Those men who at home feeling weak and less for not having been part of that band of brothers, unless they are truly noble and good, unless they are men of virtue and honor... they'll be a bit resentful and angry.
Every hero reminds a coward of his nature.  Every great deed makes those who held back look smaller and lesser.  And a small man is often unable to bear this comparison.
Which is why we have someone such as Michael Moore attacking a soldier such as Chris Kyle.  "Coward," Moore called him.  Racist, others did.  Terrorist, murderer.  By comparison someone like a soldier putting his life on the line to save others and do deeds of greatness make the mean and the small clearly so by contrast.  In the dim twilight and haze of ordinary life, such "men without chests" as CS Lewis puts it can seem ordinary or even great in their own way.  But when the stark light of danger, crisis, and disaster shine, the truth is clearly seen.
There are a few responses one can have to this revelation: grow up, grow better, mature, become stronger and better men is one.  Run and hide until the trouble goes away is another.  And go on the offensive to attack those who make you look bad is a third.  And this is increasingly common today, particularly when you can hide away at a keyboard and strike without fear of retaliation.
A tweet, a blog post, a facebook comment and you've struck back at those who make you feel small.  You can gain a following, and feel important, meaningful, less cowardly and pathetic.  Michael Moore went on to imply he was the better man because he tried to prevent the Iraq war entirely.  Why, imagine how many lives would have been saved!
We live in a time when the victims are blamed regularly, when the alternative is to stand up and fight.  Within hours of 9/11, some stood up and cried "well we had it coming, after all!"  
"How dare we fight back against aggressors and terrorists," they said.  "All that does is make them angry."  I might get hurt too, they whimpered to themselves.
This reaction isn't uncommon or new.  The noise, frequency, and regularity of it is unusual, though.  In the past, people who were willing to stand up and shout their cowardice and hate for the heroic and noble were rare and usually insane.  They might feel or think it, but they would keep it to themselves, justly fearing reaction.  
Today they feel safe with the bravery of being out of range.  Anyone can be bold when they fear no retaliation.  Attacking the safe target is never bold or courageous, it is cowardly and comfortable.  Fighting on the internet with a keyboard is comforting and easy.
Its a sure sign of a decayed, safe, and easy culture when people have to try so very hard to find offense such as men sitting with their legs too far apart on a subway train.  But it is also a sign of a culture's collapse of virtue and honor when the craven are celebrated and the heroic attacked.
Part of the reason that a film such as American Sniper is so vilified by some is that it reminds people of what true bravery and difficulty is, of how some stand taller than the rest of us.  Some cannot bear that knowledge.  I've not seen the film.  I am very confident that most of the critics of the movie have not, either.  All they hate is what they beleive it represents and means for them.
But that's simply one symbol of the culture we live in today, one example.  It is not isolated or unique, only clear and easy to identify.  Because those who dare, make those who don't, hold their manhoods cheap.  And they outnumber the brave and the bold.

Monday, February 09, 2015

A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE: Vaccinations

"We're all going to die!!!!"

Although its been pushed to the back burner by NBC news anchor Brian Williams the topic of vaccinations has been very prominent lately.  Measles cases - a disease nearly wiped out in America - are on the rise across the country.  Other infectious diseases once controlled by vaccinations are on the rise.
There are some who are trying to make this a political issue to hurt their opponents, claiming this party or that is most responsible, but it seems to actually be unrelated to political ideology.  There seems to be a pocket in each different group that opposes vaccinations for various reasons.
The rise in popularity of not vaccinating children seems closely related to a cultural movement that began with a false and heavily discredited study done in Germany that claimed a connection between a mercury-based preservative in vaccinations and a rise in autism in children.
This wouldn't have gone anywhere, but Oprah Winfrey picked it up and featured this several times on her show, and she had a huge influence on popular culture and many, many less-than-discerning women.  Talking heads and pundits such as Jon Stewart and Bill Maher had guests on their shows and were supportive of the concept.
Now, most of these have changed their minds since, and reject the idea.  The study was trash to begin with and the preservative mentioned isn't actually in use any longer, so the entire fear was without the slightest merit. In addition, the rise in autism is a combination of a change in the diagnosis to broaden it considerably (taking in several other ailments under the umbrella, for example) and that people are less likely to cover up or keep their child's problems hidden.
But the theme stuck in parent's heads, and the horror of having an autistic child clung to them like a cold shadow, clouding judgment to this day.
On the left, people who are all about buying organic foods, eating the latest health craze fad food, and consider healthy living and exercise a religion of sorts are very skeptical of inoculating children against diseases.  You can almost exactly plot the rise of these infectious diseases with the hotspots of this kind of thinking.  Its like you can figure out where the measles cases are coming from by drawing a circle around a Whole Foods market.
On the right, there's long been a suspicion of science, scientists, and traditional medicine by some who think either that they are in opposition to religion, or that one should just trust God.  Holistic "medicine," homeopathic treatments, and herbal supplements are all heavily advertised on any right wing talk show across America: they know their demographic.
In other words: this isn't a political issue at all.  Its a fear and ignorance issue, compounded by cultural boundaries.
And part of the reason for the spread isn't related to Americans or their culture wars at all.  A huge surge of children (and their families) of illegal immigrants into the country as "refugees" was allowed by the President, and distributed around the country.  Few of these children were ever inoculated against any diseases and some were carriers.  That resulted in a combination of carriers plus unprotected kids being combined in neighborhoods, and the spread began.
Some Christians believe that God and prayer is all that is needed to heal anything, that faith is enough and further that using anything other than love and prayer is showing a lack of faith that God can heal.  They expect God to heal anything and everything by miraculous intervention.
It reminds me of an old joke that goes something like this:
There was a big flood, and Bob's home was on low ground.  He could see the water
rising.  A neighbor dropped by in his big 4 wheeler and offered Bob a ride out of the flood area, and Bob said "Oh, no I'll be fine, God will provide."
The waters kept rising, and soon, Bob was on the second floor balcony, watching his neighborhood vanish beneath the brown water.  A boat swung by offering him a ride to safety, and Bob replied "God will provide"
Finally the waters were so high, Bob was on the roof, clinging to his chimney hoping the house didn't wash away entirely.  A helicopter swung over head dropping a ladder down, and while neither side could hear each other, Bob waved the helicopter away.
Bob's house collapsed, and he drown in the flood waters.  Reaching heaven, Bob stared God right in the face and said "You promised you would provide, you said I would not have to worry, where were you?  I died!"
God patiently responded: "I sent a truck, a boat, and a helicopter.  Why didn't you take what I gave you?"
God uses means in the world, almost never miraculous, supernatural direct intervention.  Doctors, medicine, and science are all gifts from God to bring us His providence.  Those vitamins you refused to take, that doctor that could have innoculated your children, those are all God-given.  
Like anything man gets his hands on, medicine and science can be abused and misused.  Corruption, fraud, lies, and accidents can happen, but that's true about all of life in this fallen sinful earth.  We have to deal with the curse; we deserve far worse and have been given far greater than we deserve in Christ.
Refusing to take advantage of what God has given us through His providence and leading men of genius and invention to develop with medicine and science is not just foolish but wrong.  I agree often medicine is expensive and sometimes worthless.  I try to avoid doctors as much as possible, but I'll take advantage of basic reasonable care, and that's what inoculations are for.   
We have to repent of our cynical attitude toward science and our refusal to take the gifts God offers.  Science isn't anti-God and God isn't anti-science.  Science is, as the reformers said, "thinking God's thoughts after him."  It is looking closely at what God has done in the world and seeing His touch and character in the world.
Now not all of us have an anti-science attitude or have been duped by well-meaning fools such as Jenny McCarthy, Oprah Winfrey, and others.  We still need to examine our hearts and how we approach this issue.  Are we treating it as a club to attack people we hold in contempt or consider enemies?
We as Christians should always first seek to glorify God and love our neighbor, as Jesus taught us.  At the very least that means we should be first concerned with the kids getting this disease and how we can work to stop and reverse it, not how it helps "our side" or hurts "their side."  And certainly God isn't glorified when we mock and attack or belittle people for what they believe or do.
So we need to first repent of our sins, our arrogance, and our snide, snarky attitude, whatever we're guilty of.  This modern culture makes it too rewarding and easy to mock and sneer at others when we should be humble and loving.
And we need to reach out in love and service to help those in need.
Thankfully... there aren't very many in need.  You'd think with all the hype and coverage that measles was sweeping the nation and we all should build bio shelters.  The truth is, the largest outbreak of the disease is in California and it numbers about 100*.
One hundred.  The state of California has over 38,000,000 people in it.  How big is your town?  Because if you divide it by about 400,000, that's how many kids would have measles in it, by comparison.
The second largest outbreak is in Arizona.  It totals seven.
Now, every one of those kids is someone I would rather not have measles, particularly with how easy it is to prevent.  And measles is just one example of the formerly stopped infectious diseases we never had to deal with just a year or two ago, because people were getting shots.
But this isn't something to panic over or yell about.  Its a tiny number of children being infected by a miserable and uncomfortable disease that is at the same time not particularly dangerous in modern America.
So here's where I respect and lean toward the anti-doctor Christians I mentioned above. Freaking out over this is a sin, too, because we are supposed to trust God.  Trust God and use the tools and gifts he's given but trust God.  He's in charge, whatever comes to pass.  He will work things out according to His good will, toward a perfect end.
So act wisely, humbly, and lovingly while trusting God, and giving everything up to Him in prayer while working to help those around us.
*There was an outbreak of about 400 last year in Amish country where they get no vaccinations of any kind, this happens periodically even with their relatively isolated community and always has.
This is part of the Christian Response series.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

A FLASH OF DISAPPOINTMENT

We haven't reached peak Superhero yet, where people just get tired of the genre like they finally did westerns.  There's definitely a danger of oversaturation, where there are so many shows, movies, and games that the concept loses its charm and fascination.  This next season at least 4 new superhero TV shows are coming out, along with at least 3 major superhero releases (plus several superhero-feeling ones like Kingsmen and Ex Machina).
The Flash is one of the currently active superhero TV shows, on "the CW" and its set in the same world as Arrow. The show takes superheroes seriously instead of a joke or trying to tone them down and ignore their primary themes (like the Avengers did, stripping down most of the costumes, avoiding superhero names, secret identities, and so on).
It has some decent effects, and they've tried to keep to the ideas in the Flash comics pretty closely while "updating them" to modern viewers.  But it ultimately fails and its unfortunate, because they're trying really hard.
I'll give you one example of how the show fails.  In a show that introduced "Captain Cold" the Flash is running so fast everyone around him is standing still.  He's able to disarm the bad guys so fast they don't even know what happened, and basically beats them all (but the main bad guy gets away).  Later big bad guy shows up with an experimental cold ray gun that he gives Flash troubles with.
Here's the problem: The Flash has already just in the same episode disarmed everyone and showed he was hundreds of times faster than them, including the main bad guy.
But it gets worse.  When Captain Cold returns, he has a partner with a flamethrower called Heat Wave.  So this episode just brings up a host of problems and bad writing.  To make up for their super cold gun being stolen and used by a villain, the big scientific firm creates special shields the cops can use.  Now, where the company is getting its money, since it was basically shut down after a huge particle accelerator disaster and would have been sued 91,791,826,510,256 times is not clear, and it doesn't have to be, but I'll get back to that in a moment.
So Captain Cold appears, trying to get the Flash to fight them so they can kill him, and the cops show up.  The shields work fine, Captain Cold can't freeze them.  But wait, Heat Wave is there, and he fries cops with a flame thrower!  The cops fall back in fear and disarray, they're helpless before the two supervillains!
Now when I'm watching this, I'm confused.  Because these guys are using lethal force against a good dozen police officers, and are wearing no body armor.  They aren't trying to hide behind cover, they aren't protected in any way.  Not only that, but the cops are all bunched up holding shields up as if they're in Thermopylae and think they're Spartans.
Nobody just plugs these guys.  The cops have no guns, apparently.  They are incapable of thinking about maybe spreading out so the guy with one gun can't shoot them all easily.  They can't pull out their weapon and shoot back.  All they can do is yell and hold shields up.
So the cops are hurt and the Flash has to try to fight them, something he was avoiding because he's got bigger issues to deal with.  It just didn't make any sense at all.
And the Flash finally fights Captain Cold and Heat Wave in the streets of the city.  His tactic?  Run at them and hit them.  And why not, it worked the first time he met Captain Cold.  Remember that, up above, where he was so fast the guy was standing still, frozen in time?
Not this time.  Once again, because he has a special gun, he suddenly isn't so much slower than The Flash.  Now Flashie has to hide behind cars and dash forward between shots.  But there's two guys with special guns now, so he's just not able to get close to them!  He keeps getting hit!  Thankfully as the flash, he heals fast so it doesn't keep him down long.
In one particularly "what the---" moment, the Flash gets hit by a freeze ray, is down a moment and looks up.  Captain Cold has him in his sights.  His finger tightens on the trigger.  Is this the end of the Flash??  No!  Because before he can move an ordinary cop dude dives in from off camera with a shield and blocks the shot.  That's right, the cop can run up to the Flash and interpose his shield before the fastest man alive who can run at the speed of sound is able to react.
All through this scene, the Flash is unable to disarm them.  He can't even get close.  They keep hitting him.  This is a guy so fast he's able to easily dodge the arrows shot at him by another superhero but not ray guns.
Finally he beats them by... moving slowly so both of them shoot him.  They are basting him with both guns at the same time - the same guns that were wounding and stunning him before, knocking him flying for some reason - and jogs slowly between them, then ducks so they shoot each other.  Cold and heat counter each other out!  They're beaten!  And for some reason this time the Flash is not frozen into a popsicle, he doesn't burst into flames.  
Why, its sciencey, the absolute cold and "absolute heat" (I'm serious, they used that to describe flame earlier in the show) counter each other out!  He's not frozen on one side and roasted on the other, he's just not hurt badly at all.
It was just... awful.  I'm just not interested in the show ever again.
Now, part of the problem is that The Flash always had lousy bad guys.  His "rogues gallery" was filled with a bunch of one-trick specialists that, written reasonably well, the Flash would beat without putting his coffee cup down.  Even a powered down Flash could easily trash most of them easily.  So the writers don't have a lot to work with here.  But this was even more egregious than usual: apparently their power level wildly varies based on situation and dramatic needs.
Its not that none of the show works.  I like how they're slowly building up Flash's powers; he doesn't start out running at light speed and vibrating through objects.  Yes, when he was "evil" under the influence of a drug he mysteriously became more powerful and could use a bunch of powers he never showed or had a clue he could use before, but generally speaking he's just starting out and not very good at what he does.  Its that the entire concept fails, the show is a confused mess.
And every superhero show that goes on television seems to follow this same pattern: attempt to update it avoiding many of the basic themes that makes up a comic book superhero (costumes, secret identities, code names, etc), and distort the character to try to appeal to modern audiences.
The problem with both of these shows is the same basic flaw: they won't go all in.  They need to pick what world setting and concept they're in and dive in face first.  Instead they try to have it two ways: the modern, realistic, sciencey setting, and the romanticized superhero fantasy setting.
For example, in The Flash, after a horrendous disaster that irradiated a huge city with unknown energy and shutting off power in the entire city, the company still exists, still has money, still is open, still can develop products at will even though it seems to consist of the owner and two technicians.  I'm serious, the entire company is 3 people in a huge building.
Now, in a comic book world, this works because you just shrug and wink at the consequences of events and don't need to show all the ins and outs.  But they are trying to portray this as the real world, so there are consequences, and they do get into problems.  Sometimes, when the plot calls for it.  Other times, there's no significance whatsoever to the events and actions the company takes.
Giving the cops shields against the bad guy isn't a bad idea, and its presented as all sciency and technological and stuff.  The cops act like real cops in a real police station, not fond of the company because its basically been nothing but trouble, and that freeze ray was their invention to begin with.  Then suddenly we're in comic book land again - and poorly written comic book land, where the cops are helpless before some dude with a raygun.
The problem for the Flash is that they're trying to write it so that comic book fans will embrace it.  Unlike Arrow, which they stripped down so far the only similarity to Green Arrow is that he wears green color and has a bow (and has the same secret identity), The Flash actually has a costume, villains with colorful names, etc.  They're not going the Avengers route where Hawkeye is never ever called by his code name, and none of them have secret ids.  They are actually trying to go with comic book themes.
But then they also try to avoid the comic booky stuff to appeal to other viewers.  And between the two you end up with a show that has too much comic book geek stuff for casual viewers, and the comic book fans are offended by how they can't seem to understand how speed would work or write it reasonably.
And in the end its an inconsistent, contrived, confused, and idiotic mess.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

REAL MEN COOK 27: Rice Pancakes

Some time ago I posted a recipe on making Potato Pancakes.  They are  a lot simpler than most recipes, and cook up quite nicely.  But we ran out of potatoes and I needed something to eat for breakfast.  A quick side trip here: being unable to eat many sweets makes breakfast a challenge.
So I tried something different and it worked out pretty well.  Its more or less the same recipe, but instead of grated potatoes, you start out with rice.  All you need is:
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup cooked rice
  • half small onion
  • salt
  • pepper
Chop up the small onion into small pieces, at most a half inch, but preferably smaller.  Combine everything in a bowl and mix. Take a non-stick pan, put in enough margarine or oil to cover the bottom well.  Spoon about half the mix into the pan and shape it into a nice pancake sort of round shape.
It will take a while to cook each side, but be careful.  This cooks faster than the potato pancakes, and if you get the rice too dark it turns into rocks.  You want it golden brown.  once one side is done it will turn over very easily as a single unit.  Cook both sides, then do the other half of the batch.
You can top this with sour cream (or if lactose intolerant, plain yogurt), butter/margarine, salsa, gravy, or cheese.  A few chopped up green onions would go nice too.  If you really want to, you can add syrup or jelly too but I think its actually better not sweet.  If you go the syrup route, probably leave out the pepper and onions for best results.
Inside the mix, you can vary it a bit.  Adding green peppers, hot peppers, cheese, etc all works, and its pretty darn filling.
Here's the thing: this is cheap and fast to make.  The only real hold up is cooking the rice, and that doesn't really take too terribly long.  There's no wheat in it, no flour.  The rice and eggs hold together really well without needing any.
*This is part of the Real Men Cook series.