Twenty years ago, author Douglas Adams and photographer/naturalist Mark Cawardine traveled the globe in search of some of the most endangered species imaginable. This resulted in the superb book Last Chance to See, which I highly recommend, due in equal part to the extremely interesting content and the wonderful way that Douglas Adams looked at everything. I had the pleasure of experiencing it originally as an audibook read by Adams himself, which I believe increased the enjoyability immensely. He's downright hilarious. If you haven't read it, I suspect you'd like doing so.
In any case, long-time friend of Douglas Adams, Stephen Fry, has set about attempting to revisit all of the endangered species Douglas did twenty years ago in order to see how they're doing today. He's joined by none other than Mark Cawardine himself, lending an extremely knowledgeable air to the whole endeavor as he once again attempts to photograph these rare, splendid creatures. The BBC has filmed each leg of the journey, and has been broadcasting the resultant documentary, likewise entitled Last Chance to See. Thus far, it's been equal parts educational, hilarious and heartbreaking.
The programme is available via iPlayer, unless you happen to live outside the UK. If, like me, you don't actually have access to all the fine programmes the BBC airs, it can quite easily be acquired via the usual dark underbellies of the Internet to which we all frequently turn in order to acquire content that licensing issues prevent us from accessing legitimately. Three episodes have aired thus far, and it really behooves you to make the effort to track them down. You'll thank me later.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of reading Roger Ebert's eviscerating review of Ben Stein's film "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed." I hesitate to link people there, because while it does a fantastic job of pointing out the poor logic and deceptive tactics used in the film, it also carries a tone of condescension that is sure to turn off anyone who might have fallen trap to the film's dishonesty. Like most well-written screeds against the ideologies to which logic-minded people take issue, Mr. Ebert's is clearly intended to "preach to the choir," using language aimed at individuals sharing the opinions therein. Everything Mr. Ebert has to say is backed by logic and scientific evidence, but while saying it he sounds like a total asshole.
I think this one-sidedness is one of the many things keeping this ludicrous "debate" alive, ensuring that people on both sides of the issue keep fighting into the coming decades. I airquote "debate" in the previous sentence because the actual issue is extremely simple: Intelligent Design is not science, and thus doesn't belong in science classrooms. See, Science™ is a protocol devised to get to the bottom of things logically and rationally, limited to what can actually be observed and tested. That's it. No magic, no faith; just What You See is What You Get™. If you can't observe it, it can't be covered by science. If a theory cannot be backed up by testing and observation, it can't be called science.
Rather than putting effort into explaining to the layman that science is a protocol designed to attempt the determination of how things work, using ONLY WHAT CAN BE OBSERVED AND TESTED, proponents of science (who are by definition anti-ID -- not because of some hatred for religion, but because an Intelligent Designer CANNOT CURRENTLY BE OBSERVED OR TESTED FOR) feel the need to attack the misguided attempts by ID-proponents to attack the theory of evolution, and even science itself. Back and forth these attacks go, doing nothing but reaffirming what IDers already believe: that evolution is an attack on Christianity.
Unfortunately, I fear this is going to continue for a very long time. While I take issue with how the ID movement portrays science as "anti-religion," I have to admit that many of the outspoken folks trying to cry foul of Intelligent Design's methods, logic, and purpose happen to actually BE anti-religion folks, many of them of rather asshole-ish persuasion themselves. (I'm looking at you, Richard Dawkins.) I find this incredibly disheartening.
As of now, the opposition to the teaching of Intelligent Design in science classrooms is as follows: scientific theories are based upon the notion that observations and evidence overwhelmingly back them up. Intelligent Design theory posits no such testable, observable theories. All their time and energy is spent finding problems with portions of the evolution model, which, while actually pretty useful, is not the same thing as positing a theory of their own. The notion that everything was created by an intelligent force is a nice notion -- one which I happen to believe -- but it is not the same thing as a scientific theory. If you want to do science, then you have to do considerably more than just come up with a nice notion.
ID proponents (and Ben Stein's film) portray themselves as being "shut out" by science, that what they're doing is being ignored on the grounds that it attacks the accepted model, and that science is akin to persecution of religion. This simply isn't true. If the ID folks actually were to do the work involved in creating such a theory, doing the experimentation and observation necessary to back it up and get their work peer reviewed, it WOULD be accepted by science. Unfortunately, the main proponents of Intelligent Design Theory have no interest in doing that; they'd rather just fabricate controversy, pretending that the mean-old scientists just won't let them play because scientists hate Christians.
Sadly, it's far easier to rile up congregations and make them feel persecuted than to actually do the science they purport they're doing. By portraying evolution as anti-religion while claiming persecution at the hands of scientists, they've painted an inaccurate portrait of the "debate." People with no understanding at all of science now feel that their viewpoint ought be represented where it simply doesn't belong. This two-faced approach is nothing short of dishonest, and I personally feel that the level of dishonesty exhibited suggests that it's not just misguided, but also intentional.
I'm not sure What Jesus Would Do™, but I'm pretty darn confident that he wouldn't support lying to and misleading people in order to get them to believe the things he says.
Just got home from Bill Maher's "documentary" Religulous. Very enjoyable, but suffers from the same blight that seems to befall all theatrical "documentaries;" there's either no thesis to be found, or nothing in the meat of the film to support the stated thesis.
Much of the film does a really good job of pointing out all the silly little things that followers of various religions take for granted as being normaller than all the crazy stuff those other religions teach, largely in ways that even fervent proponents of said religions can take to heart without being too offended. Not to say that Bill Maher doesn't show off his usual level of douchebaggary, slyly making fun of people through irony to which they don't catch on. There's plenty of that in the film, some of it really funny. While adding to the enjoyment of the film, these awkward moments are often filled with pretty heavy-handed edits that really make me wonder what, exactly, it was that was really said/meant. Not sure whether what was depicted was real, but very sure that it was funny.
All in all, if one is looking for a Jackass / Da Ali G Show-style collection of disparate funny situations (possibly taken out of context) poking light-hearted fun at various tenets of the religious, one will not be disappointed with this film. This reviewer, however was left cold by both Maher's stated thesis (that religion is going to lead man to its doom) and the fact that he didn't actually use any of the film's screen time to support it. He opened and closed the film in Megiddo, talking about prophesy and mankind's inherent need to destroy itself, but everything in-between was the religious equivalent of fart jokes. Mormon underwear, Jihadist rappers, intergalactic overlords; really, the only "ha ha religion is so silly" element missing was the prophecies embedded in so-called Bible Code. But it sure was funny.
Next time, Bill, I'd suggest keeping it light-hearted; abandon your unsupported thesis and let us enjoy your religious fart jokes for what they are: really funny religious fart jokes.
For those looking for a more light-hearted, informational (and oddly more reverent) look at the various idiosyncrasies Earth's religions manifest, I'd heartily suggest checking out Australia's John Safran VS. God as well as Religulous. You won't be disappointed.
See, I never used to eat fast food. Never at all. I was lean, mean, and healthier than anyone I knew. Chicks dug me. My doctor wrote a paper on human bodily health using me as a benchmark for perfection.
Then I saw you eating all that delicious-looking food in your film Super-Size Me and everything changed. I had to have some. Then I had to have more. Now I can't go a day without eating greasy, fried, DELICIOUS food from any number of drive-thru eating establishments. The larger the portions the better. Hell yes I'd like bigger fries for just $0.39 more.
Thanks a lot,
p.s. "30 Days" is very enjoyable, even when I can see the hands of the editors shaping things according to the message you want to put forth.
I saw an interesting PBS programme over the weekend about Neanderthals, which was appropriately entitled Neanderthals.
Among other things, I learned that the word "Neanderthal" now contains a silent "h", the programme even going as far as to omit the "h" from select graphics and captions entirely (but not all of them, how curious..). They also spent time on how they now know that Neanderthals were conscious of themselves as being more "important" than other animals such as rabbits and deer, due to the fact that they actually honored their dead, burying them with items of importance. In addition, they went into all sorts of aspects of Neanderthal life, including how they were eradicated by Homo Erectus -- which you might recognize as the ancesters of modern humans.
During the descriptions of the physical attributes of Neanderthal man, I learned quite a bit about myself. See, Neanderthals had prominant noses with almost nonexistent chins, walked not quite upright (they walked with a "stoop") and had longer arms and legs than Homo Erectus. What I find interesting is that this description describes me extremely accurately. That's how I would describe myself, to a "T" (whatever the hell that means), and it is convincing enough of a description that many aspects of my life and personality were suddenly a bit clearer.
I'm now pretty sure that I actually decended more from Neanderthals than Homo Erectus, which would easily explain why I don't like people, especially crowds of them. Seeing a large crowd of Homo Erectus decendants has always evoked a fight-or-flight response from me, which I always found strange, yet now completely and utterly makes sense to me. I'm guessing that this is an instinctual residue, leftover from the time when Homo Erectus (nearly) eradicated my entire people. In addition, I've always found myself not caring a whole hill of beans what other people accept as "normal", and have opted to "go my own way" rather than to just go ahead and assimilate myself into an inexplicably foreign-seeming society. Turns out that it is actually foreign afterall.
All these years I've always been afraid at the back of my mind that you fuckers were going to kill me, which led me to think that I might be crazy. Turns out the thought is warranted, and that I'm not crazy after all.
I've already shared some of the many programs I watched during my December vacation, but one that I specifically wanted to post about eluded my memory until yesterday. The film in question is the documentary entitled Paper Clips, which is fairly charming and educational. As you can probably guess though, I have a few problems with it.
The basis of the documentary is a multi-year effort by a Southern U.S 8th grade class (I can only assume that at least some of the 8th graders were limited to a single year of the project) to collect 6 million paperclips to represent the 6 million Jews that died in Nazi concentration camps. The idea was to help the students (and clip donors) become more aware of one of the worlds most traumatic injustices, and that goal was accomplished. People from all around the world were touched by the efforts of these children, and that is really impressive. The goal of collecting 6 million clips was also accomplished -- in fact, they had to stop collecting at 11 million, deciding that they could throw in some of the non-Jew causalties to bump it up to 11 million.
The first problem I have with the film is in semantic details of the logic employed during their endeavors. Throughout the film, they kept repeating how each paper clip will represent an individual dead Jew, serving as a monument to honor their souls. That's a nice gesture, very commendable. So where did they decide to house these souls? In an actual Nazi rail car that was actually used to haul thousands to their deaths -- a trip that was unbelievably uncomfortable, being packed to the brim with over 150 cramped suffocating Jews at a time. Students kept saying, "I can't believe there were 150 people in here at one time... it's so small." Well, that's just great, now all 11 million of these souls get to spend eternity crammed in there. You think 150 was uncomfortable, imagine what you've just subjected them to. Now that's irony. Rather than just scattering them around on the floor in there, maybe they could have put some ovens in there to fill with clips as well?
The second problem I have is in the problems that had to have arisen as a result of the clip collection. Eleven million+ paperclips is a lot of them. What do you think happened to all the paper clip manufacturers that suddenly ramped up production due to the huge increase in demand? I bet they went and bought fancy Lexuses (Lexi?) in anticipation of the newly lucrative paper clip industry, only to have to sell them after the project's completion. This brings me to another problem: many of the clips came from people in the U.S government; senators, congressmen and presidents sent them clips. Who paid for those clips? Me, thats who. And you.
One thing that was neat about the documentary was that they had a special dinner during the filming where some actual living breathing holocaust survivors told stories of when they were in the camps. Sadly, the producers decided to include very little of this material, giving more time in the film to fat redneck children counting paper clips. It seems to me that the whole point of the project was to help people learn about the holocaust, what better way to help this project out than by, oh, I don't know, listening to stories from people who actually experienced it? Naw, let's just put in more redneck children counting paper clips.
In any case, Paper Clips is a pretty good little film, just try not to let your irony detectors beep too loudly while watching it.