Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Damage Control

On more than one occasion I've apologized to friends for fellow Mormons (and many of us would like to apologize to America for Harry Reid). This week is the first time I've found myself apologizing for two very misguided missionaries.

On Sunday a coworker and friend of mine (the one who built my computer) answered the door and found a couple of missionaries standing on his porch. They began (and effectively ended) their conversation with "Did you know you're being brainwashed with evolution?" Now, my friend is familiar with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and has had friendly conversations with Church missionaries in the past. I consider him to be a open-minded and thoughtful individual. However, this inept approach (and the flu he's been fighting off for a week) caused him to abruptly end the visit.

Unfortunately, these elders who were full of "zeal without knowledge" as Hugh Nibley would say, made several major mistakes:
   1) "Did you know you're being brainwashed with evolution" is an extremely confrontational question. The most natural way to answer it is defensively, whether one believes in evolution or not. Most responses would probably fall along the lines of "I don't believe in evolution at all; nobody's brainwashed me", or "evolution is well-established science, you're the one being brainwashed". Latter-day Saint elders are trained to teach with patience and the Spirit of the Lord, not shock and conflict.
   2) Evolution is not a topic that is discussed in any missionary lesson. Missionaries are supposed to discuss Jesus Christ and the restoration of the Gospel. They have books, pamphlets, and other material to guide their teaching. Particular emphasis is to be placed on elements unique to the Church. If these elders simply want to attack the theory of evolution, I have a snide, self-righteous pamphlet from the local baptist church that was left on my car windshield a few months ago.
   3) The elders' question implies a false dichotomy. A belief in the theory of evolution does not necessarily preclude religious belief (the baptist pamphlet makes this same mistake). There are many religious individuals who believe (and it has been stated by the Catholic Church) that the theory of evolution and faith in God are compatible.
   4) Contrary to the belief held by many Mormons, the idea that the theory of evolution is false is not official doctrine. In 1910 the First Presidency of the Church wrote this in the Church's official magazine, the Improvement Era:
"Whether the mortal bodies of man evolved in natural processes to present perfection, through the direction and power of God; whether the first parents of our generations, Adam and Eve, were transplanted from another sphere, with immortal tabernacles, which became corrupted through sin and the partaking of natural foods, in the process of time; whether they were born here in mortality, as other mortals have been, are questions not fully answered in the revealed word of God."
 This statement has been reconfirmed several times. When Elder Joseph Fielding Smith published his book Man: His Origin and Destiny (which is often quoted by Mormons attacking the theory of evolution), Sterling Talmage (Elder James E. Talmage's son) wrote to President David O. McKay and asked if the book represented the Church's official position. President McKay's response was that the book represented Elder Smith's opinion alone and that the Church's position remained the same as before. In other words, any Latter-day Saint that declares that the theory of evolution is false is expressing an opinion; either his or her own or that of another, even if it is that of a particular apostle. Joseph Smith himself said that unless he spoke in the name of the Lord, he was speaking on his own authority. The elders that knocked on my friend's door were therefore attempting to teach a principle that is not a doctrine of the Church.

I have to wonder how many other people those elders approached that day, attempting to teach the Gospel but starting with a confrontational question and spreading ideas that are not official doctrine. My friend was kind enough to disregard the incident, knowing that you can't judge a whole religion based on a few individuals. I persisted in apologizing, however, since the elders are in fact official representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I'm afraid that those missionaries may have encountered less understanding people that day whose opinion of the Church may have been adversely affected.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Is the Constitution Required Reading for U. S. Politicians?

The 10th amendment to the Constitution of the United States declares that:
"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
I really don't remember anything in the Constitution allowing the Federal government the amount of control over healthcare that the "Obamacare" bill gives it. None of the arguments citing the "necessary and proper" or "interstate commerce" clauses are convincing to me since the logical conclusion of such arguments is that Congress can do anything not expressly forbidden if it deems it "necessary and proper" or if it even remotely affects "interstate commerce" (see the Wickard v. Filburn decision of 1942 for the most horrific abuse of the interstate commerce clause). The 10th amendment, which gives those "powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution" to "the States respectively, or to the people",  is utterly meaningless if these two clauses were intended to be as broadly applicable as proponents of Obamacare claim.

Thus, Congress and the president have completely ignored the Constitution by signing Obamacare into law, which gives the Federal government unprecedented control over Americans' healthcare. Polls show that most Americans opposed the bill, but that should be irrelevant. Whether popular opinion is in favor of or against such a power grab, the Constitution was expressly written to limit the powers of the Federal government and to give the state governments (which are closer to the governed) more authority. However, the Federal government has been continuously stretching (and outright demolishing) its Constitutional limits, especially since the Great Depression.

Now that both the Executive and the Legislative branches have committed an act which I believe is clearly unconstitutional, I can only hope that the Judicial branch will overturn at least some of it. I suppose I shouldn't really expect that since the Supreme Court is even better known for overstepping its Constitutional bounds. Heaven help us if the states are forced to take action; we all know what happened the last time that was tried.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Even More New Albums

Those who know me may have already guessed that I'm disgusted with the House's vote on "Obamacare". Since there's nothing I can do about it other than hope that those who voted for it are utterly destroyed in the November elections, I'll post about something that makes me happier.

I've recently purchased even more mp3 albums from Amazon.com. Both are from lesser-known but very talented composers.

Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince:
The sixth Harry Potter score and the third written by someone other than John Williams. Although Williams' "Hedwig's Theme" is iconic and instantly recognizable, I felt that the rest of his music for Harry Potter was fairly mediocre. Even then, I was reluctant when Patrick Doyle was chosen to score Goblet of Fire. However, I ended up liking Doyle's score a lot more than Williams'. It was grandiose and much more appropriate for the later Harry Potter stories. Order of the Phoenix was scored by Nicholas Hooper, whose style is distinct from both Williams and Doyle, but is still very good. My particular favorite is his "Death of Sirius", which was played while Sirius Black and the various Death Eaters fought. Hooper was also chosen to score Half-Blood Prince, which is more ominous and pensive than Doyle's Goblet of Fire or Hooper's own Order of the Phoenix.

My only real complaint about Half-Blood Prince's score is the same as my complaint about Order of the Phoenix's; the tracks are horribly out of order. The second track, "In Noctem", appears to be the music played near the end of the movie, when the locations and activities of the relevant characters are established immediately prior to the movie's climax. Although this is a common practice for movie scores, it never ceases to annoy me. Not only do I listen to movie scores to enjoy the music, but also to relive the movie. It's jarring to hear the music played out of order in comparison to the movie. Some of Williams' scores are worse: one track in Jurassic Park mixes music from the movie's opening scene with music heard after the first T-rex attack, about an hour into the movie.

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein:
Speaking of Patrick Doyle; I have been looking for the score to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein for quite a while. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994) is apparently the most faithful cinematic adaptation of the original novel (although with some extensive modifications to the story near the end). Unfortunately, it's yet another R-rated movie that I haven't seen. However, I was impressed with the samples I heard on Amazon.com and was dismayed to find that the score had been discontinued for several years. Well, thanks to Amazon.com's mp3 service, many CDs that have been discontinued are now available for download.

Like Doyle's score for Goblet of Fire, Frankenstein is big, with "The Creation" being the highlight of the album. During the score's more thoughtful moments, though, the music could easily be confused for a classical work.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The End of an Era

It was nearly five years ago that Lego released building sets tied in with Star Wars: Episode III. As a gag gift, my wife bought me a Lego Jedi starfighter. This had the unfortunate side effect of starting a binge of Star Wars Lego set collecting. This habit became prohibitively expensive with the beginning of Star Wars: The Clone Wars since Lego began releasing a large number of sets tied in with the animated series. It wasn't unusual for me to be borrowing against the next month's allowance to buy Legos, leaving nothing for CDs, books, etc. (See this post for an explanation on our allowance system.)

This year, which marks the fifth anniversary of Episode III, will see a number of Revenge of the Sith "rebuilds". Rebuilds are Lego sets depicting a vehicle or scene that was released a few years ago but incorporating several improvements. I own rebuilds of Episode I and Episode II sets that were originally released before I started collecting Legos. The rebuilds are almost inevitably better than the originals, that's why I bought the rebuilds of the Y-Wing and Vader's TIE fighter, despite already owning the original sets. Since I own every Episode III set released thus far, all of this year's rebuilds are of sets I already own.

Unfortunately, this year's Episode III rebuilds made me realize that Lego will never stop making them. I would feel compelled to re-buy each set for a few cosmetic improvements or better figures. And as long as there is a Star Wars TV show on the air, there will always be new sets that I would feel the need to own. I therefore made a very difficult decision; I would end my days of actively collecting Star Wars Legos with two final sets given to me for Christmas: the Tantive IV and the Endor Battle.

I've already felt the impact of this decision. Although I still check out the latest releases, I no longer feel obligated to buy them. I'm also accumulating allowance money faster than I'm spending it; a situation I haven't been in for at least the past five years.

I still love Legos, but I'm going to have to accept life as a recovering Legoholic.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

New Albums

I blew a few bucks on Amazon.com and bought several movie scores (mp3s; I almost never buy CDs anymore). Three of the scores (Alice In Wonderland, The Wolfman, Sherlock Holmes) are from movies I haven't seen but are by composers I like. The other two are from movies I really enjoy (Coraline, King Kong).

Alice In Wonderland:
A movie I haven't seen yet, but want to. The score is by Danny Elfman, so I had to have it. The score reminds me of Elfman's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, although a bit more serious. The first track ("Alice's Theme", which is free for download at Amazon.com) is extremely catchy. The rest of the music, although good, is not particularly memorable.

I love this movie and much of the reason for that is the score. Heck, it even has a song from They Might Be Giants. The music is dreamlike and low-key, even when the scene it's attached to is pretty menacing. Like the movie, the score is downright odd (especially the wonderfully bizarre "Mice Circus"), so it's not one I'd recommend to everyone. At least not to the normal people I know.

King Kong:
This is a recreation of the score to the original King Kong (1933), one of my favorite classic movies (although I think The Most Dangerous Game (1932) may have surpassed it recently). This is a perfect example of a 1930s adventure score and is definitely a product of its time. After listening to the album a couple times through, it seems apparent that it inspired portions of John William's score for The Lost World: Jurassic Park. The track "Jungle Dance" is a classic, with the primitive natives dancing to music that's obviously being played by a full orchestra. Peter Jackson's King Kong (2005) makes fun of this, with the stage show that's performed in front of the captive Kong recreating the native dance from the original movie while using the original's music.

Sherlock Holmes:
Another movie I haven't seen yet but will see once it's out on DVD/BD. I'm a big Hans Zimmer fan so I bought the score anyway (just like I bought his score for Angels & Demons but still haven't seen it). Although much of Sherlock Holmes sounds very similar to other Zimmer scores (he has a tendency to repeat himself, as does Elfman and Williams), his use of unusual instruments, which gives the music a "gypsy-like" feel, makes this one unique. Now that I've heard the score, I'd really like to see the movie.

The Wolfman:
I haven't seen this movie, and since it's R-rated for gore and violence, I never will. That's a shame, since I really enjoy the original Wolfman (1941) (Lon Chaney Jr.'s Larry Talbot is so innocuous that it makes his unfortunate transformation all the more dramatic). However, it's yet another Danny Elfman score, so I bought it. Portions of the score remind me of Elfman's Sleepy Hollow, but a lot more low-key. It also seems like Elfman was trying to emulate Kilar's score for Bram Stoker's Dracula. "Wolf Suite Pt. 1" and "Wolf Wild #2" are definitely the highlights of this album. Unfortunately, although a good score, it wasn't quite as exciting as I had expected it to be. I was actually hoping for a little bit more of Sleepy Hollow's bombast.

Speaking of The Wolfman, for your amusement here are some other scores I own that that are from R-rated movies I've never seen:
Aliens (James Horner), Bram Stoker's Dracula (Wojciech Kilar), Braveheart (James Horner), Crimson Tide (Hans Zimmer), Gladiator (Hans Zimmer), Saving Private Ryan (John Williams), Sleepy Hollow (Danny Elfman).


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