Archive for January, 2010

Was This Seat Taken?

Posted in Politics, Religion, and Society with tags , , on January 21, 2010 by Justin S. Smith

The senate seat long occupied by the late Edward (Teddy) Kennedy was just won by a Republican. It has been thirty years since Massachusetts has sent a Republican to the U.S. Senate and fifty-seven years since this seat held a Republican. Two future Presidents (John F. Kennedy and John Quincy Adams) have held this seat along with the famous Daniel Webster. But Sen. Edward Kennedy held it the longest: forty-seven years from the age of thirty to the age of seventy-seven. He was the fourth longest serving Senator of all time (third at the time of his death.)

Many liberals are, of course, very upset about this turn of events. To have the extreme liberal “Lion of the Senate” die and be replaced by a Republican, even a somewhat socially liberal Republican (he calls himself “socially conscious”) is unacceptable. I’ve seen the complaints of Kennedy’s seat being filled by a Republican and comments like “Edward Kennedy is rolling in his grave.” Well, at the risk of sounding insensitive, Ted Kennedy’s opinion, or what would have been his opinion of the new Senator from Massachusetts is about as important as Tristram Dalton’s opinion is (Mr. Dalton was the first person to hold that seat in 1789.)

Further, it should be recognized, it is not, was not ever Ted Kennedy’s seat. The seat belongs to the people of Massachusetts. The people of Massachusetts have spoken in favor of a change of style in their representation. This is the democratic part of our democratic republic. We have the ability to choose who represents us. We may vote out of anger or fear or comfort or hype or maybe information about our options, but we choose based on our own reasons and the person that gets the most votes gets the job of representing those that voted for him or her.

Democrat or Republican, what we should be happy about here is that the people our given the right to make these decisions. Before the 17th amendment was ratified in 1913, the state legislatures held the right to elect Senators. We voted for the voters. If you don’t like the Electoral College, you must love that idea. We should recognize the triumph of people being given the right to voice their anger, hope and opinions.

Also, Keith Olberman talking about the homophobic independent voters of Massachusetts voting for Brown because he is opposed to same-sex marriage needs to get over it. I would look more closely at what has been done, or has not been done, with the power that has been held by the Democratic Party over the last year as a cause for the independents voting for a Republican. The Democrats had a lot of promises to live up to, a mandate that they have been slow in answering. If I were a Democratic member of Congress, I would take this as a warning shot. When the people decide to give you power to govern, they expect you to do something with it. Every seat in the House and the Senate belongs to the people of the states that vote to fill them. That chair behind the desk in the Oval Office belongs to the people too. We invite men and women to fill them. If you are privileged to be invited to sit in one of those seats, be mindful of whom it belongs.


A Christian Nation-Part III: Founding and Re-Founding

Posted in A Christian Nation, Politics, Religion, and Society with tags , , on January 19, 2010 by Justin S. Smith

This is the fourth post of this series. If you have not read the rest of the series, please start with the Introduction here. You can then follow the links at the end of each section to arrive back here. Enjoy.

Now we come to the documents that founded this country and its government: the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. In examining these documents you will find nothing of Christianity in particular and very little of religion in general. I note here that in the gap between the Declaration and the Articles and on through the Revolutionary War’s conclusion and even up to the Constitution, the Continental Congress and later the Congress of Confederation acted in pro-Christian ways that would not in present day be tolerated. This should be noted only in light of the fact that this is pre-Constitution and that the Articles of Confederation did not endorse or prohibit this behavior. As many gaps and gray areas that exist in our Constitution with its 27 amendments, the Articles had more. But lest I move into pontification, let us move on.

The Articles of Confederation contains one mention of religion:

Article III. The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them, or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretense whatever.

This is a statement of mutual defense, a treaty of alliance perhaps. This shows that religious warfare was still common enough to be mentioned at this time and also that this was not the forming of a strong, central, federal government. It was a loose knitting of several sovereign states. A full reading of the Articles gives the impression that the primary concern of the federal government was in dealing with other nations not specific governing of the people. That is to say, this is the establishment of a weak, highly limited, fairly inactive, federal government. This is an important thing to remember that will come up again in the conclusion of this series.

And then we come to the Articles’ conclusion:

And Whereas it hath pleased the Great Governor of the World to incline the hearts of the legislatures we respectively represent in Congress, to approve of, and to authorize us to ratify the said Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union.

Like in the Declaration, this is another appeal to an ambiguous god. Christians may look and see the God they know as the “Great Governor” mentioned, but there is nothing to prevent a Jew or Moslem to see here their deity. Now I give that all of the signers of this document can be shown historically to be tied to a Christian church. But, I submit for consideration that appeal to a general or even specific god for something or even to dedicate our works to a said deity does not make those works in any general way divine nor specifically Christian. We should also note, that while I made a point of marking deist language in the opening of the Declaration, this language is, like that at the Declaration’s conclusion, theist in that it points to a god who is active in human lives.

As previously mentioned, the Confederation Congress did act in many pro-Christian ways. They appointed Christian Chaplains for both themselves and the armed forces. They enforced Christian morals on the armed forces. They sponsored the publication of a Bible. At least twice a year during the Revolution they declared national days of thanksgiving and of prayer and fasting. These were predominantly Christian men who used their position to promote what they believed to be right. This was not only acceptable, but legal. It was not power specifically granted by the Articles, but it was not forbidden. Although we cannot call this a Christian government based on this document, based on the actions we can call it a pro-Christian government. This is an important distinction that will come up later.

Regardless of the conclusions that we draw from the Articles of Confederation, or the actions of the Confederation Congress, we must realize that the Articles are tossed when, after their six and a half years as the highest law in the land, they were replaced by the Constitution. A much more solid document that has survived more than two hundred years with 27 amendments (although #21 cancels #18, so we could say 25) mostly expressing rights of the people or extending rights previously withheld, and a couple changing some rules of government and election. What we do not see in this document is God.

There are two references to religion in the Constitution. The first appears in Article VI and the second is of course in the First Amendment. The portion of Article VI that concerns us is the third paragraph:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

 We see here government being protected from religion. From the city council member in a small town to the President of the United States, no elected official shall be subject to religious requirements in order to hold office. Now it could be argued (weakly) that it was assumed that this clause is meant only to protect the government from being taken by one sect of Christianity and that there was not a consideration or thought given to any other religion. The problem here lies with the fact that evidence can be given that these men were aware of and knew personally men of other religions. If they intended to bar these others from holding office, they would have had to word this article differently. As it is, they set a path for a secular government; not anti-religious or anti-Christian, but secular.

Full text of both documents can be found all over the Internet my favorite source is here.

 While I intended to rapidly wrap up this series with this part, I find that the First Amendment needs more attention than that would allow and so it will be handled separately in Part IV.- J.S.S.


Posted in Politics, Religion, and Society with tags , , on January 8, 2010 by Justin S. Smith

I appreciate cancer awareness campaigns. Two of my grandparents died of cancer. It is a terrible thing to watch and where early detection can help prevent this frequently long, painful march towards death, we need to get the word out. Posting your bra color on Facebook does not qualify as getting the word out. This to me is like me posting how many children I have in order to help combat abortion.

Justin S. Smith – 6

Look at it in all its informative glory. How could anyone not understand and see the power in that? By “6” I clearly indicate that I believe children are a blessing from God and therefore should not be treated as a burden and aborted. How could you not get that?

Most of the comments I saw were making fun of people wearing boring bras or posts from guys wearing various strange things or posting “commando.” So now we have successfully made cancer awareness a joke. Did the person that came up with this brilliant scheme ever visit Facebook? I like Facebook; I check mine at least daily. I like to see what is going on in various peoples’ lives. But Facebook is full of nonsense. Statuses are full of funny quotes, rants, odd thoughts, people advertising their blogs, loads of nonsensical stuff. So we think encouraging a bit of unexplained virtual exhibitionism mixed in with so much nonsense is going to help raise awareness for a deadly killer of our mothers, grandmothers, and aunts. Really?

Most people I know who got it, or figured it out thought it was stupid or worse. Stupid in that it was an unexplained color that most FB users are not going to take the time to look up and find what it means. It’s worse because I do not want, in anyway ever, to be caused to think about the underwear of my friends or family. EVER! Your bra color does not make me think of breast cancer. It makes me think “AAAHHHH! I don’t want to know that!”

This is just another bit of “too much information” that the narcissistic world of Facebook has brought us. “Everything I do is interesting. I should update my status about that.” No you shouldn’t and not everything you do is interesting. Not everything I do is interesting. Worse is when people are bored with their own lives and still post it.

Justin S. Smith – Bored

Wow! Thanks for sharing your boredom with me. You’re currently so bored that all you can say about your status is “Bored” and I’m supposed to…what? I really do love my friends, but I frequently mumble to myself while reading FB statuses “what is wrong with him/her?”

But I’m way off topic now.

Justin S. Smith – my underwear color is none of your business, and vice versa.

Oh, and 6.

Not the Greatest Movie Ever Made.

Posted in Movie Reviews with tags , on January 7, 2010 by Justin S. Smith

Every time I decide not to write this review, someone says how great Avatar was and I am reminded by how little we ask of the creative community these days. My position: a movie is only great if a majority of the elements are great and none of the elements a weak. I will categorize the elements into 1: Visuals, 2: Sound, 3: Story, 4: Performance.

Visually Avatar was outstanding. The design of the inhabitants of Pandora was creative and interesting. The computer work was the best I have seen; good enough to make you temporarily forget that what you are seeing is essentially a very expensive, well made cartoon. The air and space ships and land vehicles used by the humans were realistic enough to help with that “suspension of disbelief” so important to sci-fi movies. The only visual criticism I have is from my wife; she says the color scheme is direct from Disney’s Pocahontas.

Sound matched well with the visuals. Good sound effects are rarely noticed. We are mostly trained to notice when something sounds wrong, not right. The score by James Horner was naturally good; he is after all still James Horner. Good movie music is also frequently unnoticed through a bulk of the film only occasionally swelling to highlight a moment, unless we’re talking about the themes of John Williams that cover a film like the score of a ballet. Horner’s score was respectfully in the background for the most part and properly supported the film.

Story is where we start to fall apart. By fall apart, I mean the soup that was made by taking a heavy broth of Dances with Wolves with bits and pieces of The Matrix, Quigley Down Under, Medicine Man and, yes, sorry, Disney’s Pocahontas was a heterogeneous stew so chunky that you could easily pull the individual elements out of each spoonful. Mr. Cameron, if you must blend in your story telling, learn to puree. To be fair, all of these movies but The Matrix are similar in theme, but the elements used were unique enough, I believe, to warrant mentioning all of them. Ty Burr of the Boston Globe says “it’s the same movie” comparing Avatar to Dances with Wolves.

The predictability of the story was also aided by heavy-handed foreshadowing. A good bit of foreshadowing will tell you what will happen without showing you the why. Maybe a bit later you will get the clues as to why the “what” must or should happen. You will then start piecing it together. Cameron manages to stack up enough “whys” before you get the “what” that the piecing together is roughly equivalent to spotting a train coming. You’re near the tracks; the ground is shaking; you here the horn blasting; the guards drop. If you’re shocked when you see the train… well, I can’t explain to you what the problem is.

Performance is a split responsibility. Great actors will deliver regardless of the director. Bad actors will be bad regardless of the director. Those in between great and bad are frequently pushed up or down based on whose directing them. Great acting directors will bring up the mediocre actors to a higher level. Consider Will Smith whose acting range was drastically improved after working with Redford in Bagger Vance. Then there are those directors who drag down the performances of their actors. Consider Samuel L. Jackson’s terrible dead-pan at the hands of George Lucas (I shudder.) Cameron is not an actor’s director, but he doesn’t necessarily drag them down either. Sigourney Weaver is the easiest of the actors to review as she has a large enough body of familiar work to know what she is capable of. She’s done better. She wasn’t terrible, nobody was terrible, but she’s definitely done better.

In short, if you plan on seeing Avatar in the theatre, do. Get the funny 3D glasses and enjoy the spectacle. The spectacle is worth seeing. If you’re looking for a good story, this one is tried and true. Expect to be blown away by what you see on screen. Do not expect to be blown away by the story, unless you’ve managed to not see any of the other movies mentioned, but even then, this is a poorly written version of the story. It is beautiful, but NOT the greatest movie ever made.