Ranking Three Summer 2010 Action Movies


First Place: Knight and Day

Second Place: SALT

Third Place: The Expendables

Knight and Day are a romantic duo. Salt is a solo maverick. The Expendables? They’re a team . . . sorta. Neither Knight and Day nor The Expendables is serious; but Knight and Day is funny, and The Expendables isn’t. Knight and Day entertains on many levels, and has something for most audiences. The Expendables entertains on pretty much one frequency—violent action peppered with salty language.

Salt is less memorable weeks after seeing it, but engaging at the time. There are real surprises that swing this movie into the range of genuine suspense.

There is one salvageable line in The Expendables: “I’m Buddha; he’s Pest.” Sylvester Stallone is a smart guy, and he could have (should have) written and directed a better movie than this. The abiding question for audiences will be, “How old can you be and still do action figures?”

Most important prop in:

My choice of best actor for these three movies may surprise: Mickey O’Rourke, in . . . The Expendables. And it’s not because I’m a big O’Rourke fan. I’d have to confess to being more of an Angelina Jolie fan, though Cameron Diaz is pretty endearing opposite Tom Cruz. And Tom Cruz is the funniest he’s been, without stepping out of character, in Knight and Day.

Women can stay home from The Expendables, unless they really want to see what grown—and old—men look like playing the good bad guys against the odds. I will say that I’d rank The Expendables over Ghost Rider, which somehow comes to mind for comparison purposes. Go figure. The Expendables is more of a contemporary version of Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. ‘Nuff said?

What is it about them philosophers?


Voltaire and Diderot at the Cafe Procope

Do philosophers today

know what they say;

or do they conspire

to make us tire

of frumpery and fog,

to feel like a cog

and slip a gear

from some primal fear

that every word

is genuinely dear

—or simply absurd?

– RDG

Oprah on My Mind


Winfrey on the first national broadcast of The...

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Time Warner was at my house today to troubleshoot instability and speed problems with our internet connectivity. After the fix, we tested the speed at speakeasy.net and speedtest.net. The technician then suggested that I open YouTube for a real world test.

I cranked up the ole’ YouTube and the first thing that popped up was a six-minute video titled “The Church of Oprah Exposed.” We watched the whole thing.

It reminded me of a lecture I heard a few weeks ago by a Christian woman with a far more sophisticated exposé of Oprah’s religion.

Then I was reminded that I had agreed to review a book called “O” God: A Dialogue on Truth and Oprah’s Spirituality, by Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett.

The most limited encounter with Oprah reveals at least the following few facts:

  1. The turning point in Oprah’s spiritual odyssey was when, as a young woman, she heard the preacher in her Baptist church speak of God as “a jealous God.” Until that moment, she says, she was pretty traditional in her Christian beliefs. But the idea that God was jealous offended her sensibilities, and off she went in search of a new form of spirituality.
  2. Eventually, Oprah concluded that spirituality is not about belief but about experience. You would think that she has no definite religious beliefs, but that she only expounds on spiritual technologies that bring people together. She does, however, assert that God is in everything. From this she divines many other “truths.”
  3. Oprah uses her media venues for the overt dissemination of her religious notions. Oprah is an evangelist, with an evangelist’s fervor. You might say that she’s the single most successful “television evangelist.”
  4. Oprah emphatically denies the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, and extols the wisdom of Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now and A New Earth. The Power of Now, published in 2004, just now has 1,166 customer reviews at Amazon.com, and boasts 4 and 1/2 stars and an Amazon Bestseller Rank of 263. A New Earth garners 4 stars, 1531 customer reviews, and a Bestseller Rank of 370.

Oprah enjoys enormous popularity and her influence in the lives of individuals is considerable. There clearly is a need for sober reflection on Oprah’s significance as a spiritual guru.

Even cursory exposure to her teachings is unsettling. Her claim that religious or spiritual reality is not really about believing anything is self-defeating, since the technologies she promotes are rooted in certain definite beliefs. By denying the significance to true belief, Oprah takes the important role of evidence off the table and promises a set of attractive experiences. Meanwhile, her avid disciples or “fans,” if you prefer) abandon their more traditional beliefs, or try somehow to line them up with the principles of “the power of now.”

Oprah believes that Jesus Christ was not the unique savior of the world. That’s a pretty fundamental belief. It’s no use denying that she has control beliefs. The question is whether her beliefs are adequately grounded in evidence and whether her beliefs are true.

Here are some suggested principles for evaluating Oprah’s claims, or anyone else’s for that matter (including the preacher at your neighborhood church):

  1. If she denies that beliefs are important to her spiritual outlook, she’s being dishonest, or else she has deceived herself.
  2. If experience is promoted over truth, then there is no way to gauge the validity of the experience. Does it connect with reality, or is it a counterfeit of reality?
  3. If Oprah’s entire odyssey in the direction of a New Age religion was prompted by an altogether naive understanding of the claim that God is a jealous God, then expect the rest of her perspective to be riddled with equally naive holes.
  4. If you accept Oprah’s claim that Christianity can be harmonized with Oprah’s gospel, then count yourself a convert from Christianity to something that isn’t Christianity.
  5. If Oprah has made herself wealthy and politically influential, take special care to examine her claims, lest you be snookered by a media pro taking selfish advantage of others who aren’t sure what they believe.
  6. If Oprah’s success is owing to her media skills, then understand that she is no more credible than any other television evangelist who is known solely as a public persona.
  7. If you’re going to read Eckhart Tolle’s books, check each of his claims against reasonable standards of truth and evidence.
  8. If Oprah and Tolle make statements about what Jesus really taught, or what the Bible really means, take care to examine their statements for yourself to see if their interpretations are accurate.
  9. If you’re a Christian, check the fundamental claims of Christianity against reasonable standards of truth and evidence.
  10. Whatever it is you belief about the things that matter most, check your beliefs against reasonable standards of truth and evidence.

Using “Google Sites” for a Course Project


Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

Today TOMD73’s blog has a post that explores the possibility of using blog assignments as part of a course.

I did something very like this with a class of about 75 university students, mostly juniors and sophomores.

Instead of calling it a blog, I called it a website. I had all of them use the Google website app so that (1) everyone was required to follow the same steps and (2) they could very easily create access to each other without “going public.”

With so many students, I formed the group into teams. Students would comment on the websites of those in their team. I gave very specific instructions about the kinds of comments they were to make, and explained that the quality of their comments would be a variable in their final grade evaluation.

Building a website of 5-7 linked pages was the major course project. Students could select their own topics, with two provisos: (1) the topic had to be related to the course topic; (2) I had to approve their selection.

Class met weekly. Each week students were given a series of steps to be completed by the next class period. These steps moved them gradually to completion of their website projects by the end of the semester.

The course was a philosophy of religion course for non-philosophy majors, with special focus on the New Atheism.

Many of the students produced excellent websites that they could be proud to make available to the public.

On the whole, I was pleased with the results. Most difficulties related to the size of the class. This type of assignment would have been much easier for me to manage with fewer students.

Here are some of the more significant challenges I encountered:

  1. Mastering the technology so that I knew what I was asking of the students and so that I could explain it to even the most technologically timid.
  2. Getting teams to work with so many students. There was considerable troubleshooting early on while students were learning the steps to get up and running. But more important, some students simply didn’t participate. I hadn’t counted on this since they were required to. This complicated things for the conscientious students, since part of their assignment was to respond to the comments they received.
  3. Helping the students work within a template of 5-7 pages that would do justice to their topics. Creating website pages differs from writing a paper. Developing and linking ideas is handled differently. Ideally, a decision to create a website rather than to write a paper should be grounded in the conviction that a website better serves the purposes of the project—especially because of the way material can be packaged (e.g., audio and visual tools can be included, and convenient links to other valuable items can be made).
  4. This project required more assistance from me than many other assignments. The student-teacher ratio made this a challenge. But one advantage is that I did get better acquainted with many of the students.
  5. Grading these assignments proved to be time intensive. This isn’t a bad thing. But you need to expect this when planning a course that includes this type of project.

Would I do it again? Absolutely! It would be much easier the next time around. But it has to be the right kind of course for this to count as a suitable assignment. I especially like it that students that have excelled have something to offer the rest of the world the moment the course is over!

Why Are Academics Such Bad Writers?


Medieval illustration of a Christian scribe wr...

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“Our academic journals radiate bad writing—I store my journals on the shelf farthest from my desk to avoid the fallout.” This is Paul Silvia’s take on the modus operandi of far too many academic writers.

What is “bad writing”?

It’s writing that …

  • uses impenetrable English;
  • revels in ambiguity;
  • requires backtracking just to follow the point;
  • ensures a slight readership by the specialization of its vocabulary;
  • deploys arcane symbolism that intimidates readers;
  • can be recommended as a soporific, even to specialists in the same field.

That’s my list.

Paul Silvia believes there are three reasons for bad writing among academic authors:

1. They want to sound smart.
2. They never learned how to write well.
3. They don’t spend enough time writing.

My list would be longer and more focused:

1. They don’t know good writing from bad writing. If all they read are journal articles and academic monographs, then they’re on a steady diet of poor writing. The best writing is nourished by close reading of the best of writers, both inside and outside one’s discipline.

2. They don’t believe that good writing matters. “Academic writing gets published without concern for stylistic quality, so why bother?” There are two reasons to bother. First, the academic writer should pursue excellence, rather than what is commonplace. Second, the best writing attracts more readers. The ratio of readers to authors of journal essays is appalling. Monographs are pricey because the expected readership is low. But the best writers within a discipline, because they reward their readers with more than originality of content, are read by more people, and they are read more faithfully by people who like their writing.

3. They believe that good writing will reduce their publication prospects. More academic authors are looking for opportunities to publish in the broader market. Their prospects are dim if they can’t write with style. Those who are content to write as academics for academics should understand that quality of writing that does not compromise quality of scholarship has a better chance of publication. And for those who write for interdisciplinary journals, the need is even greater, since non-specialists will need more help in their reading and more reasons to keep on reading.

4. They confuse good writing with casual writing, or popularizing. Writing with style means one thing when writing for peers, and something else when writing to inform or persuade Joe Six-Pack. A good writer understands this and adjusts her style accordingly.

5. They don’t realize that good writing can be learned. I have three suggestions for those who wish to improve their writing style.

First, read others who write with style. Observe their practices. Notice how they employ metaphors and similes. Look for sharp and arresting turns of phrase. Study transitions from paragraph to paragraph and from section to section. Look for patterns that explain their capacity to sustain interest. Think of this as a component in the research you do for your writing projects.

Second, spend time in carefully-selected books that point the way to improved style. Books of this kind should practice what they preach. Here are a few that I recommend:

Third, write more—with deliberate attention to style. Be patient with the process. Don’t expect too much too soon. Write a little everyday.

6. They’re impatient in their writing. Writing well, with style, takes more time and effort. Many writers simply don’t want to spend the time. They’re undisciplined writers who fancy themselves sufficiently productive simply because they have countless publications to their credit.

7. They think that to be a good writer you have to be a perfectionist. Not true. What you have to be is patient, persistent, and prioritized. Only the writer with meager styling skills believes that perfectionism is required. But a practiced writer, who habitually attends to matters of style, comes to write more naturally and comfortably. I venture to say that the best stylists have the easiest time of it and have the most fun doing it.

Source:

More good reading about bad writing:

Doug’s related posts:

Other:

Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?


I discovered the music of Larry Norman through a friend in 1979. I never made it to a concert, but I’ve listened to his music for 30 years. And I’ve introduced others along the way. (I play his song “The Outlaw” in my course on Christian apologetics.)

Today I came across an interview he did with a magazine called The Wittenberg Door, published in 1976.

In the interview, Larry talks about the Jesus Movement, “Jesus Rock,” Christian music, signing autographs, being a celebrity, and having heroes. There’s a lot there for Christians to chew on today. I’m not a musician, but my world, what you might call the “Christian knowledge industry,” has its own problems with integrity.

Larry’s perspective applies at all levels of Christian engagement with culture. I encourage thoughtful consideration of what he had to say in 1976.

Note: The title of this post comes from Larry Norman’s song “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?”

The Official Larry Norman Web Site

Is Witchcraft Merely a Passing Fancy among Emerging Adults?


Buffy

As a university professor, I have a deep interest in the lives of “emerging adults” and trends occurring among them. Today, one such trend is commitment to Witchcraft.

A popular website, TeenWitch.com, claims that

Witchcraft is the fastest growing belief system in the U.S. and the second largest religion in the U.S. Witchcraft (including Wicca) passed Buddhism in 2005, passed Hinduism in 2007, passed Islam in 2008, and passed Judaism in March of 2009.

More young women than men are attracted to Witchcraft. Often, their initial introduction to the Witchcraft movement is through popular media: TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and feature films like the Harry Potter series. Initial curiosity is often fed by internet searches that put young adults in possession of more information and in contact with established members of the Witchcraft community.

Many emerging adults simply accept the neopagan interests of their peers without seeking inclusion. Others, who investigate a little more fully, lose interest quickly. But a marked number take to Witchcraft quite seriously.

The movement deserves greater attention and more sensitive understanding. It’s tied to a worldview that looks particularly attractive to a group of today’s emerging adults who seek to make sense of their experiences—disappointments, spiritual needs, loneliness, quest for meaning, social dissonance, etc.—on a deep level.

Witchcraft’s associated worldview is supported in various ways by a general culture of relativism and experience-based conviction (over rational inquiry and the assessment of evidence). I believe the Witchcraft movement has real staying power, that it will endure as the stabilizing center for many young people now being initiated into its sensibilities. In other words, it’s more than a passing fancy or form of teenage rebellion or angst.

A good place to begin understanding the movement is with a book by sociologists Helen A. Berger and Douglas Ezzy: Teenage Witches: Magical Youth and the Search for the Self. Berger and Ezzy conducted intensive interviews with self-identified witches in the U.S., Great Britain, and Australia. Their book describes their findings. It includes transcripts of several interviews.

Compared with other literature I’ve read, this book by Berger and Ezzy is most helpful as an introduction to the movement among young people. Their conclusions are tied to specific empirical data. They describe the pathways by which young witches often become committed to Witchcraft. They recount the experiences and practices of young witches, and explain the notions behind them. They relate the Witchcraft movement to broader cultural sensibilities, especially (and most helpfully) in connection with the effects of postmodernism.

(Another book to make this connection is Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion, by neopagan Michael York.)

Berger and Ezzy take care to describe the elements of an individual’s experience that dispose him or her to the blandishments of Witchcraft. They explore the ways family and friends have responded or reacted to the revelation that a son or daughter, friend or neighbor, has become a witch. And they describe how these responses have affected young people who consider themselves witches.

Berger and Ezzy are reluctant to criticize the movement, and they are remiss, I believe, in their conclusion that young adults are not injured by commitment to Witchcraft. They believe that for some young people, Witchcraft is a viable way of making sense of their world and living with greater purpose and satisfaction. They do not critically examine the worldview components of Witchcraft, in the interest of assessing their truth value. They seem themselves to be heavily influenced by relativizing tendencies in Western culture.

But their research and clear exposition have great value, whatever your view of these shortcomings. The authors are, after all, examining the movement as interested sociologists. Value judgments, whether positive or negative, are deliberately kept to a minimum. My impression is that this book could be read by emerging adults who are either fascinated with or already committed to Witchcraft, without causing them to feel misunderstood or prematurely judged.

More important, the book is an excellent entry point for parents, teachers, church leaders, and any others who are confused by the Witchcraft movement and concerned about the involvement of young people they know.

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