Thursday, November 29, 2007

Two Doses of Pavarotti Pulchritude Through Youtube

Youtube has proven useful! I came across 2 absolutely stellar performances by the late classical master tenor, Luciano Pavarotti. I must share them! The first is a magnificent performance of Ave Maria, and I am uncertain of when it was done. Even an excessively saccharine supporting choir cannot harm the outstanding elegance of Pavarotti's voice. His finesse and grace throughout yields a phenomenally beautiful song. The second, Nessun Dorma, is from a 1994 Los Angeles concert. Nessun Dorma is the perfect showcase for Pavarotti's power, amazing range, and brilliant, clear tone. Happy listening!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Circus Comes to Las Vegas in the Form of the Democratic Debate

This editorial was difficult for me to write for two reasons: 1) I was asked to cover the Democratic debate and I hate political debates. 2) I had to keep it short and could not elaborate. Nevertheless, here it is.

The November Democratic debate was not unlike a three-ring circus, a veritable ring of obfuscation. I did not know whether to laugh or lament in response to the performance of the Democratic candidates. Regardless of party, political debates are not usually productive, as the questions are rarely directly addressed. The 2008 batch of democratic candidates struck a new low with their question evasion and avoided making public their true agendas, which aim to destroy what is left of the founding fathers’ legacy of a constitutional republic.

Generally, all that was accomplished was a great amount of character attacks and democratic hot-button phrase tossing such as “universal health care” and “comprehensive immigration reform”. The former means health care to the tune of Europe, where many have resorted to pulling their own teeth, and the latter is mere empty rhetoric, since no one seems to know what “comprehensive immigration reform” really is.

A real show stopper was the issue of driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants. The candidates resembled gold medal quality gymnasts, and dazzled the crowd with oratory and positional flips and twists. However, they remained unable to stick a landing by actually answering the question. Clinton did an impressive, but not surprising, full 180 degree turn from the last debate on her position. Obama in particular waffled on this question. When moderator Wolf Blitzer asked Obama to explain his position on driver’s licenses for illegals, a murky, muddled mess ensued. Obama responded after 15 seconds of qualification with “I have to make sure the people understand, the problem we have here is not driver’s licenses…so instead of being distracted by what has now become a wedge issue, let’s focus on actually solving the problem that this administration, the Bush administration, has done nothing about”. And thus, Obama fell flat.

When the question moved to Kucinich, he smugly asserted that he took issue with Wolf’s description of “people being illegal immigrants”. He followed by stating that “there aren’t any illegal human beings”. Thank you, Congressman, for that shining beacon of humanitarian prowess. However, the definition of illegal immigrant has nothing to do with a person’s essence of being. Rather, illegal modifies immigrant in defining a status that is by definition, not legal. Since these “immigrants” entered the country illegally, the term “illegal immigrant” seems to fit.

There were multitudes of other noteworthy sound bytes, such as Bill Richardson giving his response to the question of why the troop surge isn’t working. “We shouldn't be talking about body counts. One American death is too much,” said Richardson. Should we, therefore, stop defending ourselves because death is involved? War by nature makes death probable. Further, this feeble response does not even begin to answer the question, lending even more support to the hypothesis that the Democrats do not have a solution to the war in Iraq.

Another gem was John Edwards’ reference to a would-be staggering number: "35 million Americans last year went hungry. . . .This [election] is about those 35 million people who are hungry every single year." His basis for this “fact” is that the USDA issued a report which said that 35 million Americans experienced “household food insecurity”. Is this truly the same as “going hungry”? The USDA does not think so.

Any thinking American who was watching this debate could clearly see that the candidates were playing “dodge the question”. They represent a conglomeration of folks who are either maliciously manipulative, utopian and useless, sneakily socialist, or are any combination of these traits. Overall, the fact that no helpful or direct answer seems to ever come out of their mouths is very frightening indeed.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Family, Rest, and Turkey

I will be absent from the blog for slightly over a week due to a Thanksgiving trip to see family. I intend to reemerge after this annual tryptophan-induced stupor. Goodbye and happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

“Humans and Other Animals”: An Egregious Perpetuation of Ontological Error

"Humans and Other Animals" is a zoology class at Colorado State University. The title assumes agreement with its implied conclusion, that is, humans are indeed animals. This conclusion is not only false but has horrendous implications.

It is widely accepted (i.e. in dictionaries and many biological textbooks) that animals are living things which respond to various stimuli in such a way as to usually produce bodily animation. I acknowledge that there are some plants which respond to stimuli with basic animation, such as the venus fly trap, but the point here is not to focus on classification of flora and fauna. As we are fully aware (at least most of us are) that we are not plants, I intend to contrast fauna with human beings. The public university is attempting to reduce mankind into a status of ontological equivalency with the animal.

What is the nature of the animal?

Animals posses tendencies that are widely accepted by those studying them. These include the strong presence of instincts as well as the capacity for varying degrees of learning through operant and classical conditioning (operant conditioning is using the punishment/consequence system, and classical conditioning is using rewards for good behavior). What is not agreed upon is the nature of certain responses which seemingly appear to be emotion.

I believe the idea that animals can "emote" is simply humans using anthropomorphism in life, or projecting a human emotion onto the animal. For example, when I used to train horses, I received a client's horse that she believed felt hate towards her. When I asked the client to show me what she meant, she got on the horse and passively asked him to move. The horse pitched a fit and refused to walk when the rider lightly tapped him with her heels (trying to get him to walk forward). The problem was diagnosed when the rider promptly stopped asking the horse (to the horse, rewarding it for its patience) and said in an exasperated voice, "You see? He hates me!"

Horses are by nature wired to preserve energy until it becomes necessary to expend it. This horse had simply learned via classical conditioning that he got a reward (rest) by being lazy and "angrily" tolerating his rider's weak taps until she inevitably gave up. The passive rider provided absolutely no reason for him to move. His "temper tantrum" was simply the result of months and months of being classically conditioned to stay at a slow pace and never being operantly conditioned (disciplined). This horse needed (and received) ample reason (operant conditioning) to move in the form of a swat on the rump, and was much better from that point on. He "hated" no one, and certainly did not "feel hate". He simply didn't feel the physical urge to move.

Animals use past information (pain, pleasure, and the associated sources) to make basic decisions in the present time. They do not reflect on experiences, feel human emotion, or consider the future. I am always careful to say that they do not have personalities, but temperaments. In short, they are not self-aware. They are one body ruled by chemical and electrical reactions.

What is the nature of the human being?

If the ontology of mankind was merely that of "a body purely under the control of here-and-now impulses made stronger by past experiences", this essay would be non-existent. In fact, reflective writing in general would be non-existent. There would be no ability to ponder things of a metaphysical and epistemological nature (among other things), as doing so would have nothing to do with our current impulses! Why on earth would we have evolved such a trait? That is, if we merely lived to survive and procreate, the ability to sit and consider abstract concepts such as the self would not be helpful. If it emerged by some fluke, it would have been selected out of the gene pool!

The best explanation for the undeniable and widespread longing for fulfillment far outside the purely physical realm is that mankind is more than just a body. We also have something that as a Christian I call a spirit (this is not to imply that non-Christians do not also recognize the spirit as such, though I would argue that they have an incorrect understanding of it). This is something the human being clearly has that the animal doesn't: a dualistic nature comprised of both body and spirit.

What are the implications of suggesting that we are animals?

If we are not any different than animals, then one of two possible philosophies (in their logical extremes) exists:

1) Animals, like people, have a dualistic nature and therefore deserve treatment equal to humans. This means it is a moral imperative (based on the golden rule) that we do not kill them, eat them, exploit them, or keep them as “pets”. (This view is not consistent with the philosophy of the unguided Darwinist [e.g. the secular university] and is likely to reflect a pantheistic worldview.)

2) Humans are not dualistic and are nothing other than more evolved animals. Therefore, we can theoretically euthanize anyone for any reason, murder unborn babies, act on sheer impulse at any time, and can feasibly experiment on other humans and eat other humans.

While the second possible philosophy is extreme, it reflects the logical progression from the Darwinist view (social Darwinism) where human beings have no purpose in life other than to survive and procreate. There is no need for or reason for the existence of a moral compass in a world such as this. Ethics are simply guidelines for effectively living the lifestyle of the survival of the fittest, if ethics exist at all. We are, like the animals, cosmic accidents and therefore live meaningless lives. For this reason physicalist (non-dualist) Darwinism leads to

Nihilism- a miserable life to lead, especially when the worldview is erroneous.

This worldview is the most common and ardently communicated one in the public schools and secular universities. “Humans and Other Animals” as a class is a lamentable tool for indoctrination into the mindset of the physicalistic Darwinist also known as (students are falsely taught) the “scientist”.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Doug Giles on How Atheists are the Lesser of Two Evils (essentially)

Doug Giles wrote a good article about how he believes the presence of watered-down pastoring in the church is far more detrimental to Christianity than is atheism. He makes an interesting comparison between the two. It is a good read, and his style is unique, witty, and smart. The gist of the argument can be summed up in this paragraph from the article:

So my advice is twofold: First, let’s continue to wrangle with the atheists. They’re only helping things by rapping our knuckles. If we embrace their verbal mace we’ll come out as better believers. Secondly, seeing that PC-riddled Christianity is more dastardly than uncut atheism, why don’t we call to account ministers who have drifted from the whole counsel of God and have substituted it for a different gospel, a different spirit, and are preaching a different motivational-type-Deepak-Chopra-Kenny G-with-a-beard-guru kind of Jesus?

I don't agree with everything he says, for example I wish that he had not been quite so crass, that he had contrasted modern cotton-candy pastors with someone like Jonathan Edwards instead of with Billy Graham (not to knock BG), and that he had not lumped the megachurch movement in with "evangelical" postmodernism, BUT we live in a fallen world. You can't have it all. ;)

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Pursuing Excellence in Speech

In the words of a famous quote which seems to have been separated from its source (likely Mark Twain), “’Tis better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt”.

We humans tend to hastily fill would-be silence with nearly anything we can muster, especially this day and age. We strive to fill the alleged void with anything and everything, regardless of its value and worth (or lack thereof). Silence and stillness has become an enemy. Have we reduced our speech to merely that of "filler material"? Deliberate speech, even going into the realm of writing, is not familiar to most, as it requires considerable effort in cultivating wisdom and discernment.

2 Corinthians 8:7 (NET Bible, emphasis mine)
But as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, and in all eagerness and in the love from us that is in you – make sure that you excel in this act of kindness too. (Paul is referring to the act of giving as the act of kindness)

The assumption Paul makes here is that Christians are actively pursuing excellence in everything. Because speech is included in everything (as painfully obvious as it may be), we see that Paul assumes Christians are actively growing in excellence in their speech! We should strive to excel by being discerning about timing and tone, meticulous with word placement and choice, and by being humble and loving in our dialogue. It is difficult to be a good witness for Christ while living as a verbal (or written) loose cannon.

To be clear, one who talks a great deal can certainly be spouting “hot air” (it pains me to say that this appears to be the most common variety), but the frequent talker can also be conveying a great deal of truth. Quantity and quality of words are not necessarily correlated, as there can be a great quantity of exceptional quality and, likewise, any combination of the two. However, one who speaks in large amounts should take great care to listen even more (James 1:19).

Further, the more we fill time with futility, the less room there is for considering profundity and for conveying gravity. In shoving meaninglessness into the void simply to have something to say, we extinguish the chance for possible meaning filling that time! In the pursuit of excellence in speech for the glory of God, we should lament futility, not partake in it.

Here are some suggestions for us all (especially me):
Listen more than you speak. (James 1:19 and Ecclesiastes 9:17)
Be attentive to both the verbal and the non-verbal communication of others.
Take longer, slower breaths, pause and pray before speaking (especially before rebutting).
Embrace silence and stillness (but not emptiness of the mind).
Study, study, study.
Seek wise counsel. (Proverbs 13:20)
Approach everything in humility!