Friday, August 20, 2010

The Philosophical case agaisnt the Pittsburgh Steelers

When discussions of Greatest American football franchises come up the Pittsburgh Steelers are usually thrown right to the top of the list. The belief that the Steelers are the greatest football Franchise in NFL history is common today and not generally shared by actual sports writers and critics. There is no consensus as to which Franchise is the Greatest. The Green Bay Packers seem to be the Team most often placed at the top of the heap, and after them usually the Dallas Cowboys. The reasons for this are simple: Lombardi and Landry are two of the most influential coaches of all time and in their respective teams created unshakeable dynasties. Also Green Bay has the most NFL Championships (11) and three Super Bowls. The Cowboys have appeared in the most Super Bowls (8) and are tied for second place with the most Super Bowl wins with the San Francisco 49ers (5). The Chicago Bears and New York Giants are also frequently cited above the Steelers. But more so than that is that the Cowboys and Packers have been consistently among the best, most competitive franchises throughout their entire histories.

But Steeler fanatics will retort that the Steelers still have the most Super Bowls, which makes them the Greatest Franchise in NFL history.

This claim is very problematic. It excludes any other criteria of greatness a franchise could possibly have. It is impossible for the Steelers to be considered the Greatest NFL franchise for one simple fact: for 37 years they may as well not have existed in the NFL at all. The Steelers were founded in 1933. The Dallas Cowboys were founded in 1960. Consistent competitiveness should be much higher criteria for Greatness, and it in fact is with most experts. There are other reasons one could mention for why the Steelers cannot be the greatest in NFL history but the real problem still remains that the original argument is flawed.

Let’s turn the typical Steeler case into a syllogism.

P1: The Franchise with the most Super Bowl Wins is the greatest in NFL history

P2: The Steelers have the won the Most Super Bowls

C: The Steelers are the greatest Franchise in NFL history

This argument seems obviously flawed because it is taking the Super Bowl era and imposing that over all of NFL history. The continued success of the Green Bay Packers over all of NFL history shows them to clearly be miles ahead of the Steelers. Also proportionally the Cowboys are way ahead of the Steelers, taking into account that they have been consistently competitive throughout their entire history with nothing coming close to a 37 year slump. In order to help the Steeler fan out lets change the argument a bit.

P1: The Franchise with the most Super Bowl Wins is the greatest in Super Bowl history

P2: The Steelers have won the Most Super Bowls

C: The Steelers are the greatest Franchise in Super Bowl history

This argument is not so obviously flawed. In Super Bowl History the Packers have only won half as many Super Bowls as the Steelers. The Bears have only won 1 and the Giants have also only won half as many as the Steelers. And the Cowboys have not won as many. If P1 is in fact true than the Packers, Bears (et al) years of success before Super Bowl History mean nothing and the Steelers 37 years of mediocrity also mean nothing.

But the argument still comes to a faulty conclusion, because premise 1 is false.

Premise 1 has to be considered false due to its implications. If P1 is in fact true than whatever team currently has the most Super Bowls is the greatest Franchise in Super Bowl history. This cannot possibly be true.
To demonstrate why this cannot be true let’s look at some potential candidates to take over for the Steelers.

The 49ers and Cowboys are in second place. If either one of them wins two more Super Bowls and the Steelers do not win anymore then either the 49ers or the Cowboys will in fact be the Greatest Franchise in Super Bowl history.

Now let’s look at the Cowboys first. I am a Cowboy Fanatic. I already think that the Cowboys are in fact the Greatest Franchise in Super Bowl History. But if they in fact did win two more Super Bowls it would be undeniable to even Steelers Fan (especially since this is their logic, not mine). Even people who hate the Cowboys would have to admit that they are in fact the greatest.

This is not so for the 49ers. The 49ers have generally been a mediocre Team throughout their history. The 49ers were only a great franchise for 15 years. 15 years of the entire Super Bowl era is not enough to make you the greatest franchise in Super Bowl History. Even with 7 Super Bowls. The rest of those years of mediocrity will hold you back. It’s intuitively obvious. What else is intuitively obvious is that even if the 49ers won another Super Bowl they would not be equal with the Steelers for greatest Team in Super Bowl history. The Steelers would still be greater. They have had continual success over multiple decades and the 49ers have not.

Also the Minnesota Vikings are clearly a greater franchise than most Teams that actually have won Super Bowls, like the New Orleans Saints, St. Louis Rams, or Kansas City Chiefs. The Vikings have been one of the toughest, strongest Franchises in Super Bowl History. Yet they choke continually in Super Bowls and the Playoffs. So Super Bowl wins cannot be the single determining factor for Greatest Franchise in Super Bowl history, let alone NFL history. Sorry Steelers. You’re a great Franchise, just not number 1. The Super Bowl argument fails. There might be other ways to show that the Steelers are in fact the greatest in Super Bowl history but this is not it. And there is no way to show that they are the greatest in NFL history. That is simply not true.

Go Cowboys.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Constantine's Sword Review

This documentary came out a while ago and I’ve been meaning to watch it because I thought it would be interesting. Well it was interesting. About as interesting as a train wreck.

This is a terrible film. This is a terrible film.

Now that being said from a purely visual standpoint and storytelling standpoint this documentary is at least as good as any of Michael Moore's films or any other good quality documentary that has come out in recent years. So visually and from an editing perspective its par for the course. But the content is absolutely atrocious. (It should be noted that I believe Moore’s films to otherwise be of a very low quality as well)

I think this film is evil. I have such a big problem with this film that I am going to dedicate a serious amount of time to debunking as much of what is claimed here as I can. The theme is essentially Anti Semitism and it’s relation to the Roman Catholic Church. At least that’s the primary theme. Other agendas are put forth throughout the film; one which is particularly disturbing is that the basis of the holocaust was the Roman Catholic Church's history of Anti Semitism.

This film begs every question it could possibly beg and provides essentially zero evidence for its claims and interpretations of certain historical events. It’s based on a book by James Carroll which I will have to read in order to give put him in the best possible light and not straw man him. But if the book is anything like the movie then it’s simply historical Christian self-hating trash.

One example is how Carroll treats the relic of Christ's robe. I have no idea if the Roman church possesses the actual robe that Jesus wore but I do know that Jesus wore a robe. Carroll actually denies this. He claims that the idea that Jesus wore a robe that was gambled over comes from the Psalms and that the Roman Church inserted this into its teachings at a later time. In Psalm 22 it says "They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing." So Carroll is right that in the Psalms reference is made about gambling and garments which were connected to the Messiah.

But in Matthew 27 we find this passage: They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. "Hail, king of the Jews!" they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

So if Carroll is right then the idea which we find originally in Psalm 22 but here we find interpreted as the fulfillment of Prophecy by the Apostle Matthew was actually inserted at a later date and Jesus never wore a robe at all. This is what he claims. That the idea of Jesus’ robe is fiction which the Catholic Church invented based on Psalm 22. Apparently not on the accounts of the crucifixion that we find in the Gospels which interpret Psalm 22 as fulfilled prophecy in Jesus’ sufferings. Carroll was a Priest. He went through Seminary. How could he possibly make a statement like this and be serious? Unless he's challenging the historicity of the Gospels, but he doesn't do that. He lets a Bible scholar do that briefly at one point but he doesn't connect what that scholar says (which was a denial that the Sanhedrin wanted to put Jesus to death as a heretic) with his unsubstantiated claim that the Roman Catholic Church made up the idea of Jesus' Robe. And he also doesn't differentiate between Jesus clothes and the robe that was placed on him in order to mock his claims of Kingship. So which "robes" are his thoughts concerning? Does he think Jesus went around naked? This film is trash. Well made trash.

Now as I wrap this post up what I’m not saying is that Christians have never been anti Semitic. They have. I’m not denying that the holocaust took place or that anti Semitism is wrong. The holocaust took place. It was one of the great tragedies of all time. And it is wrong to be anti Semitic. Jews are just as valuable as all other ethnic groups and religious groups. But this film is ridiculous and at this point it looks to me like Carroll is just taking revenge on the Roman Church for disappointing him during his early days as a priest for not doing exactly what he thought they should about the Vietnam War. And this is why I think the Film is in fact evil. Not necessarily because it is confused and speaking falsehood, though that is bad, but because Carroll is trying to use the holocaust to take revenge on the church of his Childhood. That is simply sick and twisted. I will have much more to say soon.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Is Anakin Skywalker really the chosen one?

To any serious fan of Star Wars a serious question arises now that the entire saga seems to be complete. It has been 5 years since Episode III brought the series full circle and I think at this point it is finally safe to say that Lucas will not make more. Of course this is Flannel Man we’re talking about. Anything (within the limits of CGI) is theoretically possible with this filmmaker. But let’s assume that the series really is finished. The important question is whether or not Anakin really is the chosen one? We’re never given a direct answer during the series.

Lucas has publicly given an answer to this question but as with similar situations (Ridley Scott and Blade Runner) it’s almost as if the filmmaker hasn’t really understood his own work. The answer Lucas has given is that yes Anakin is the chosen one. Which I think is true but his reasoning is problematic. He thinks that because Anakin ends up killing the Emperor in Episode VI that he has brought balance to the force. But this doesn’t really make sense because of the nature of the prophecy and the metaphysics of the Star Wars universe.

The prophecy is that one day a Jedi will be born who brings balance to the force. Lucas believes that balance in the Star Wars Universe is ultimately the defeat of evil. But given that Star Wars is a dualistic and pantheistic universe balance has nothing to do with evil being defeated. In fact there is no preferential state of the force except for a harmonious one. For a westerner harmony looks like a peaceful state whereupon evil has no influence on the state of affairs. But for an Eastern religious outlook peace is simply balance, balance between good and bad. Not good and evil, not right and wrong. It’s more like rough and smooth. Or male and female. Bad isn’t evil, bad is simply that which is different from good. It’s like the difference between passion and calm. So given this metaphysic bringing balance to the force actually means making neither good nor evil the dominant force in the galaxy. It also doesn’t mean that good and evil are exactly equal juts that one doesn’t have a disproportionate amount of power over the other.

So during the Star Wars history what we find is that there used to be many Sith and many Jedi. Exactly how many of each we can’t tell from the movies. But it’s safe to say that the forces of light and darkness were pretty much equal. But at some point the Sith realized that they couldn’t sustain their order with so many dark agents. The dark side tends to create ambition in its adherents and a lack of compassion for others. This means that the Sith were always trying to kill each other in order to become more powerful. So after a major massacre the Sith decided, in order to preserve their order, that there should only be two: a master and an apprentice. That way the dark side’s tendency towards ambition could be healthily sought after, after all an apprentice should naturally take over his Master’s responsibilities. But the implications of this practice were far-reaching. It meant that the dark side of the force only had two agents utilizing its energies. This means that the dark side had fewer outlets for its power but in those outlets the dark force could be manifested more powerfully because there was more force to go around.

Of course the Jedi never instituted such a practice and their numbers probably grew from whatever they were during the golden age of equality between Sith and Jedi. After all they weren’t fighting the Sith, their only equals in combat, so less Jedi probably died on a regular basis. What this means is that the light side of the force was stretched thin across a large group of individuals. This led to a lack of control over the force because it was less concentrated in particular Jedi and spread across the entire group. We see clear evidence of this during conversations between Yoda, Obi-Wan, and Mace Windu. Particularly the scene in Episode II where they discuss how the young Jedi tend to struggle with pride and that their control over the force in general was weakening. Jedi should not struggle with pride because the light side tends to take away ambition and create contentment within its adherents. In other words the more powerful the Jedi the less prideful. But this new generation, particularly Anakin, was struggling constantly with this very thing. The only explanation for this increase in pride and ambition is that the weight of the force had lessened. The light side being spread “like butter over too much bread” was losing its effectiveness within the Jedi themselves and in turn their control over the force was slowly dissipating.

So out of this unfortunate situation comes young Anakin Skywalker. He was actually created by the will of the force. His mother conceived him without a father. His father was the force, and he was fathered in order to help the force. What other reason could the force have had to create the one but to bring itself back into balance? This is exactly what happens in every “incarnation” of Vishnu within Hindu theology. Vishnu becomes an avatar or human in order to bring balance between the forces of good and evil. But the process is cyclical. It happens over and over again. The point being ultimately that there is no good and evil, simply the one. Evil is an illusion and so is good. Balance is what is really important.

We see the same thing in the Taoist symbol of the ying and the yang. Balance between the two is the key to harmony. So then how does Anakin bring balance to the force? Well Lucas is right that when Anakin kills the emperor he has balanced the force. The force had become very unbalanced because Obi Wan and Yoda were in exile and essentially didn’t count as Jedi except in name. Whereas the emperor and Vader were still active participants in the Dark side. But by the end of Episode VI there is only 1 practicing Jedi left and he isn’t very powerful. So assuredly Luke and Leia will build up the light side again but by the time Vader dies he has in fact brought the force essentially back down to ground zero. But Vader’s work as the one started several decades before when he converted to the dark side. If what Lucas says is true and simply killing the emperor is how Anakin brings balance to the force he could have done that at any time. But this is not true. In fact if he had killed the emperor when he had the perfect opportunity to the force would’ve actually become more imbalanced because there would have been no more Sith and only the currently unhealthy Jedi. So in fact the main way in which he brings balance to the force is by betraying the Jedi and joining the emperor. Together the emperor and Anakin destroy the over saturated light side except for a few remnants. This allows the light side to regrow in a more healthy way over the next several decades which will eventually fight back against the Sith, turning Vader at the last moment and finally truly purify the force of its disproportion. And thus harmony will reign in the galaxy until that harmony is disturbed and the whole cycle will start over again.

In other words Vader’s “sins” in the prequel trilogy aren’t sins at all but desirable actions for the sake of the force. They are in fact Vader’s most significant contribution to balancing the force. And it is also interesting to note that the Emperor helps greatly with this, as he had set up the whole situation for decades.

But in this light Star Wars doesn’t seem like a very desirable story for a Christian to enjoy. The fact of the matter is that Lucas’ Characters don’t really act or believe in the Metaphysics of their universe. Yoda tells Anakin not to hold on to those who are lost in the Force. When we die nothing bad happens because we’re simply becoming one with the universe. Well then why not commit suicide? The story is riddled with the belief that the dark side isn’t just different but actually evil and should be destroyed. But for a dualist or a pantheist this is not true. There is no preferable state. Evil or good are both equally acceptable. So Lucas’ western tendencies shine through his essentially Hindu story and that’s why we gravitate towards it. Emotionally the characters aren’t Hindus, only theologically.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Tao of Film: Pure Cinema and the Christian Aesthetic Part 3

If you've never heard of Armond White read this:

Armond White, as nutty as he may seem, actually brings up some very good points. I don't think he makes very good criticisms very often but in the above linked interview he made a few interesting points about film Criticism.

1) Film Criticism, filmmaking, and their relation to maturity and age
2) The effect of the internet and television on film criticism
3) What film criticism actually is
4) Credentials or credibility in film criticism

I found these points to be very interesting, especially since I felt as though I personally could benefit from listening to him. Usually I write off Mr. White because he seems so ridiculous. But the guy is smart. His annual Better Than lists often have moments of brilliance in them and he really does have good credentials when it comes to Film Criticism. I want to deal with each of these points briefly and then go on to how it deals with the Tao of Film.

In point 1 White stated that he believes age plays a major factor in our ability to make and criticize film. Apparently in the past he has said that no one should be able to make films before they're forty. Now he gives a more modest proposal. No one should be able to do film criticism before they are thirty. If that’s true I've got five years to go before I really should be doing anything like the stuff I try to do on this blog.

I actually think the point is correct. Maturity plays an important factor in everything we do, but we can't learn without doing. I think Aristotle said something like that. So this blog is in many ways an experiment for me. I want to learn how to understand and criticize film. I have called myself a film critic and I guess that’s true in the sense that I do critique film. Whether I am any good at it or not is another question. I think if I keep at it I will become good or better than I am. I will continue to read more about cinema, watch more movies, interact with more people, gain personal experience, and an increased knowledge base from which to draw. I started this blog out of a very pretentious idea. I wanted to come up with a better top ten list of greatest films than Roger Ebert. Which to my satisfaction I did, because unlike him I used criteria and philosophy to formulate my list rather than simply my opinions. Of course my opinions shaped my criteria and reasoning but I feel that the list itself is more defensible than Ebert's because of its more solid basis. But even since coming up with that list I have already revised it, multiple times, I just haven't made those revisions public yet. One such revision is Citizen Kane. I had initially excluded it because I felt it was overrated. But what I realized was that it fit my criteria perfectly, better than some of the other films I had selected. So unless I revise my criteria Kane must go on the list.

Maturity is partly being able to simply put things in perspective, and that perspective is usually about ourselves.

So while I disagree with White about the exact age I think he's probably right. Age and maturity are important. I don't really have either; this blog should help me to get there. As a Christian and an aspiring philosopher/theologian the same is true. Maturity and humility go hand and hand with any kind of serious growth that we make as humans. But particularly intellectual and existential endeavors.

In point 2 White makes the case that the internet has really finally killed film criticism (something which has been lamented by every generation of film critics in some way or another). Obviously he doesn't mean that film critics don't exist anymore just that now anybody can start up a blog and start acting like a film critic. That’s exactly what I did. I actually think he's right about this too. It takes restraint to act like an intellectual when there is accountability such as a University of Peer reviewed journals. But it takes even more restraint when you are accountable to no one. And most people on the internet don't think restraint is involved at all. That’s the whole point: letting yourself out, no apologies, to the whole world.

He believes that Roger Ebert really killed film criticism when he started his television back when Siskel was still with us. The show was pretty easy on most films and mostly existed to simply make film criticism more public. It was a pretty easy going show for the most part. Ebert and Siskel were pretty easy on most films and ultimately just said whether or not they liked the film or thought it was entertaining. That really isn't film criticism. It’s just having a conversation on TV between two guys who know more about film than their viewers.

But regardless similar things were said about books when they first became a "thing" centuries ago. Supposedly anybody could write a book and then their ideas would be respected and spread throughout the world regardless of their credentials. But what we found was that bad books written by idiots generally weren't as influential. It’s actually gotten worse today because there is such a massive amount of literature written by so many different people with varying credentials.

But generally speaking the good books seem to last. And on the internet the good blogs seem to do better than the bad blogs. People really don't generally listen to everything they read. Well at least not all people. So I think the internet has just complicated the issue. Of course White thinks that the issue really is that people in general feel as though they don't need to listen to Film Critics. That everybody can be a film critic and nobody is really an expert. But this problem isn't just confined to film or the internet. This is a general attitude that comes essentially from bad understandings of the Reformation. The gradual privatization of belief has led people to believe that they can have whatever beliefs they want. By virtue of the fact that this or that opinion of this or that movie is my opinion means it’s a valuable opinion, because its mine and not yours. And you can't criticize my opinion because opinions can't be wrong.

But here we find that there is a real distinction between a reviewer and a film critic. Most people can't intelligently discuss everything. There are a few who can understand multiple fields of knowledge but many of us have to pick and choose what we will be in the know about. I have chosen Film, Philosophy, Theology, and to a lesser extent sports (really just American Football). On one of those topics I am very good. Get me talking about make up or farm machinery and I won't know anything. So the reviewer performs a public service giving a semi informed opinion so that people either will be encouraged or hindered from seeing a particular film. It’s not really an academic pursuit. Most of the time Armond White is hard to understand anyway. He makes references to all sorts of things in his reviews, from politics to history to other obscure films.

But now we've gotten into number 3. What is Film Criticism? It is taking Film seriously. It is being hard on movies. It is attempting to understand and explain film. Film Criticism is much different from film reviewing although many of the same things happen in both places. To review a film is basically to perform a public function or economic service. It is to be a kind of watchdog over Hollywood for the people. Armond White claims that this also isn't going on, but that the film "reviewers" are really just super fans that are in league with Hollywood.

But Film Criticism is to seriously and intellectually evaluate cinema. This is much harder than simply saying I liked it. It takes time, effort, talent, and intelligence. Which leads us to number 4. Credibility. You really can't just jump off the street and start a blog and expect people to listen to you. I don't expect people to listen to me. But to seriously understand cinema requires theoretical and critical skills. It requires exegetical and historical knowledge. It’s much more than simply saying I love Casablanca. Allot of Scholarship has been done about that film, as is true of most great movies.

But if we take Movies seriously, as art and a cultural force, we won't shrink away from this daunting task. We should accept White's challenge and make Film Criticism better than it has been. We need to really study cinema.

Proposition 8 and Philosphical Issues

In light of the recent and very unsurprising overturn of Proposition 8 (the judge is gay people) I decided to create this very brief post guiding you to better minds than mine.

Here is a link to a massive discussion from Philosophia Christi (a Christian Philosophy Journal) a few years back. The entire discussion has to do with homosexuality, legality, and morality.

Passive-aggressive Tyranny

“In 1997, in her acceptance speech for an Emmy for cowriting the “coming-out” episode of Ellen, Ellen DeGeneres said, “I accept this on behalf of all people, and the teenagers out there especially, who think there is something wrong with them because they are gay. There’s nothing wrong with you. Don’t ever let anybody make you feel ashamed of who you are.”
There are many who, after hearing or reading Ellen’s speech, applauded her for her liberal sensibilities, concluding that the actress is an open and tolerant person who is merely interested in helping young people to better understand their own sexuality. If you think this way, you are mistaken. Ellen’s speech is an example of what I call “passive-aggressive tyranny.” The trick is to sound “passive” and accepting of “diversity” even though you are putting forth an aggressively partisan agenda, implying that those who disagree with you are not only stupid but harmful. In order to understand this, imagine if a conservative Christian Emmy award winner had said this: “I accept this on behalf of all people, and the teenagers out there especially,who think there is something wrong with them because they believe that human beings are made for a purpose and that purpose includes the building of community with its foundation being heterosexual monogamy. There’s nothing wrong with you. Don’t ever let anybody, especially television script writers, make you feel ashamed because of what you believe is true about reality.” Clearly this would imply that those who affirm liberal views on sexuality are wrong. An award winner who made this speech would be denounced as narrow, bigoted, and intolerant. She would never work again in Hollywood.” –Francis Beckwith

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Imitation of Christ: The Lord's Supper

"I AM the Lover of purity, the Giver of all holiness. I seek a pure heart and there is the place of My rest. Prepare for Me a large room furnished and I with My disciples will keep the Pasch with you. If you wish that I come to you and remain with you, purge out the old leaven and make clean the dwelling of your heart. Shut out the whole world with all the din of its vices. Sit as the sparrow lonely on the housetop, and think on your transgressions in bitterness of soul. Everyone who loves prepares the best and most beautiful home for his beloved, because the love of the one receiving his lover is recognized thereby. But understand that you cannot by any merit of your own make this preparation well enough, though you spend a year in doing it and think of nothing else. It is only by My goodness and grace that you are allowed to approach My table, as though a beggar were invited to dinner by a rich man and he had nothing to offer in return for the gift but to humble himself and give thanks. Do what you can and do that carefully. Receive the Body of the Lord, your beloved God Who deigns to come to you, not out of habit or necessity, but with fear, with reverence, and with love. I am He that called you. I ordered it done. I will supply what you lack. Come and receive Me. When I grant the grace of devotion, give thanks to God, not because you are worthy but because I have had mercy upon you. If you have it not and feel rather dry instead, continue in prayer, sigh and knock, and do not give up until you receive some crumb of saving grace. You have need of Me. I do not need you. You do not come to sanctify Me but I come to sanctify you and make you better. You come to be sanctified and united with Me, to receive new grace and to be aroused anew to amend. Do not neglect this grace, but prepare your heart with all care, and bring into it your Beloved. Not only should you prepare devoutly before Communion, but you should also carefully keep yourself in devotion after receiving the Sacrament. The careful custody of yourself afterward is no less necessary than the devout preparation before, for a careful afterwatch is the best preparation for obtaining greater grace. If a person lets his mind wander to external comforts, he becomes quite indisposed. Beware of much talking. Remain in seclusion and enjoy your God, for you have Him Whom all the world cannot take from you. I am He to Whom you should give yourself entirely, that from now on you may live, not in yourself, but in Me, with all cares cast away." -Thomas a Kempis