Feb 5, 2015

Reading: Newsweek vs. The Bible, “Mid-Reputable” TV, Vaccines, Star Trek, Kendrick Lamar, Political Correctness & More

Also: The design flaws of the U.S.S. Enterprise, sci-fi background, Facebook’s inadvertent cruelty, and some bonus links.
Bible
The Good Book
Leon Brooks (Public Domain)

If you’ve read even just the opening of Kurt Eichenwald’s “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,” then you’re probably not surprised to learn that it inspired many responses from Christian circles. A particularly good one — it’s both gracious and comprehensive — came from New Testament and Early Christianity professor Michael J. Kruger. His response (part one, part two) tackles numerous aspects of Eichenwald’s article, from misleading historical claims to exegetical fallacies. As Kruger puts it, “[W]hat is stunning about this particular article is that Kurt Eichenwald begins by scolding evangelical Christians for being unaware of the facts about the Bible, and the proceeds to demonstrate a jaw-dropping ignorance of the facts about the Bible.” There’s some pretty vigorous debate in the comments, featuring Eichenwald himself.

A particularly surprising response to Eichenwald’s article came from Rachel Held Evans, who’s become famous for her own critiques of evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. She calls out Eichenwald’s lack of charity: “Most evangelicals I know, even those with whom I disagree, are devoted to trying to interpret and apply the Bible with as much wisdom and grace as possible. I may think their interpretive methods are wrongheaded (and even dangerous) at times, but I am careful of assuming they arrived at their conclusions without thought or care.”

Arrow
Oliver Queen is The Arrow

The AV Club discusses the rise of “mid-reputable” TV series like Arrow and Orphan Black. “What those shows have in common is that they have fervent followings — including among prominent TV critics, who’ve put them on their annual ‘best of television’ lists. But with the exception of Scandal (and only slightly), they’re not major players in the Emmy and Golden Globe races. And more importantly, no one expects them to be. Astute TV watchers may hope that Tatiana Maslany will get nominated for her work on Orphan Black, but they also know — or should, anyway — that it’s a longshot.” Call me a philistine, but I’d rather watch the cheesy, formulaic Arrow than a prestige title like Mad Men any day.

Karen Swallow Prior writes that, with his poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” T.S. Eliot invented the hipster. “This year also marks the 100th anniversary of one of Eliot’s most famous poems, ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,’ the work that thrust Eliot onto the modernist stage. An embodiment of turn-of-the century angst wrought by a world sucked dry by skepticism, cynicism, and industrialism, Prufrock bears striking similarities to a subculture of mostly white, urban, detached-yet-sensitive young adults at the cusp of our own century.”

Syringe
Nobody likes needles…

I’ve tried to steer clear of the ongoing vaccination debate, simply because there’s so much rancor floating around on both sides. However, this article by my friend Maralee is too good to not share. “I don’t just have my kids (and myself) vaccinated because it is best for them, but because it is best for your kids, too. It is best for the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society. It is an act of love for people I will never meet, but who share our space at the library and the grocery store and at school.”

At the end of 2014, Facebook launched their “Year in Review” service, which let users see their photos and posts from the year. However, what if you’ve had an awful year, a year where you got a divorce, lost a job… or your daughter died from cancer? Eric Meyer addresses this “inadvertent algorithmic cruelty”: “This is another aspect of designing for crisis, or maybe a better term is empathetic design. In creating this Year in Review app, there wasn’t enough thought given to cases like mine, or friends of Chloe, or anyone who had a bad year. The design is for the ideal user, the happy, upbeat, good-life user. It doesn’t take other use cases into account.”

Enterprise NCC-1701
Boldly going…

It’s one of the most iconic spaceships in all of science fiction, but the U.S.S. Enterprise has some pretty serious design flaws. “We get it. It’s fun to watch a dozen or so people get tossed around a bridge during a battle sequence — definitely more fun than just seeing a camera shake up and down while all the crew members remain safely strapped into their seats. But seriously, you’d think that after enough concussions caused by people falling out of their chairs, the Enterprise designers would just add some damn restraints. Class action lawsuit, anyone?”

Speaking of Star Trek, Max Temkin has put together a list of must-see Next Generation episodes. “My episode guide below is designed to get you through the bumpy early seasons to see what TNG looks like when it becomes more than the sum of its parts — a great ensemble, world-class writing, and science fiction that is unparalleled today.”

Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar
Jørund Føreland Pedersen (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Kendrick Lamar is too holy for the secular crowd and too secular for the Christian crowd. “But if Lamar’s secular indulgences have alienated him from a Christian audience, his Christian impulses may be a handicap with the secular crowd. The central irony of Lamar’s career is that he is a noble soul at the vanguard of a culture that rewards the ignoble — a good kid who not only survived the mad city, but got elected mayor.”

Last month, Jonathan Chait wrote a much-discussed (and much-criticized) piece about the re-emergence of political correctness among liberal/progressive types. One of the best responses came from Fredrik deBoer, a liberal who argues that many Chait critics are overlooking that he has a point. “These things aren’t hypothetical. This isn’t some thought experiment. This is where I live, where I have lived. These and many, many more depressing stories of good people pushed out and marginalized in left-wing circles because they didn’t use the proper set of social and class signals to satisfy the world of intersectional politics. So you’ll forgive me when I roll my eyes at the army of media liberals, stuffed into their narrow enclaves, responding to Chait by insisting that there is no problem here and that anyone who says there is should be considered the enemy.”

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted one of these “Reading” posts, so here are some bonus articles that I’ve been sitting on for the last few days/weeks.

My Neighbor Totoro by Hayao Miyazaki
Totoro!

Explaining how Japan became a pop culture superpower: “[I]t’s not just for the kids: Japan likes to entertain adults too. One of the strangest things about the country’s culture, which only a qualified anthropologist could explain, is how it ignores puberty. If someone was into comics or cartoons when they were 12, why wouldn’t they be when they are 14 or 40 or even 80? They might prefer more mature themes as they age, but there’s no particular need for the form to change.”

Need something in the background to help you concentrate? Why not try a 24-hour loop of engine noise from the U.S.S. Enterprise? “Samplers have never simply limited themselves to other songs — creative producers have raided whole sonic libraries and artistic contexts, with movie dialogue or iconic noises and moments often the chief choices. Yet this particular derivation steps beyond all that to focus in on the background noise of such audiovisual creations like Star Trek, Star Wars, the Alien series of movies, and Doctor Who — all of which have been sources of some of these YouTube-specific loops.”

Angry Computer Guy
Somebody didn’t like that comment…

Scott Alexander has written a thought-provoking and in-depth piece on why controversial and offensive articles get shared and re-shared, even though they often lead to more vitriol and less dialogue. “It’s not a coincidence that the worst possible flagship cases for believing rape victims are the ones that end up going viral. It’s not a coincidence that the only time we ever hear about factory farming is when somebody’s doing something that makes us almost sympathetic to it. It’s not coincidence, it’s not even happenstance, it’s enemy action… activists are irresistably incentivized to dig their own graves. And the media is irresistably incentivized to help them.”

Delroy Paulhus’ job involves peering into the darkest corners of the human psyche. “Essentially, he wants to answer a question we all may have asked: why do some people take pleasure in cruelty? Not just psychopaths and murderers — but school bullies, internet trolls and even apparently upstanding members of society such as politicians and policemen.”


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