Monthly Archive: October 2004

Changed your mind?

I have been wondering recently about people casting their vote in a few days (or who have already cast their vote). Has anything caused you to change your mind about who you will be voting for? This could be applied to all office positions, but for this, I do just mean the presidential election. So I pose these questions:

Have you changed your mind from one candidate to another?
Have you changed which party you will be voting for this tome compared to 2000?
What has caused you to change your mind? Friend? Family? A Blog? News? Political Ad (I REALLY hope this isn’t the case – yes, I know not a very objective statement, so sue me)? The debates? Someone one of the candidates said? One particular platform stance? Anything else?

If you haven’t changed your mind, have your reasons for staying with the same candidate changed or been strengthened?

How do you view such things as polls that show one candidate over another and then change 20 minutes later? Have polls changed anything for you?

I am specifically interested to hear if blogs have changed anything for you. I don’t just mean blogs on modblog, but the larger blogosphere – if you pay attention to it that is.

One thing that blingking brought up which I thought was particularly important was how you read the research you do: Do you read in order to confirm your opinions or do you read to create an opinion? I find it very difficult to read many blogs that will take any piece of information and make it fit their agenda/beliefs. Research, ideally, should be done objectively and should therefore create a position – that position could strengthen your current beliefs or it could force you to re-evaluate your beliefs. To be open minded you have to be open to the idea that you may have to change. Blindly following one party is a pitfall.

Thoughts? Comments?

I suppose I could start out answering my own questions.

I have to admit that since 2000 I have changed quite a bit. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I did not vote in 2000 because I didn’t really know who to vote for. I didn’t really look into either candidate. I felt that it was better not to vote rather than vote for someone I know nothing about. Kinda stupid because I should have looked into it more. So one big change is that I have looked into it a lot more, or more specifically have been very impressed with Bush thus far (overall) and so have payed attention to this race a lot more than I ever have before.

That being said, the candidate I will be voting for this time around (Bush) has not changed. Through the campaigns my support for him has strengthened. Political ads have just pissed me off on both sides. Listening to friends and family has been good and debate there always causes one to figure out why one believes what he believes. Blogs have been really interesting in that there is a wealth of knowledge there. (That isn’t always a good thing as Postman has pointed out numerous times.) My bias does come in to play here in that I have largely only read the blogs that have supported Bush (adonai and tonyr), but I also frequent those that try to present the information in a way that makes sense and will allow the reader to make up their own mind (even if they are also biased). I have been really disappointed with the blogs that I have read on the left. They are largely just attacks on Bush and don’t really have substance. atruk, strategery, and thisishardwork have given great sources of entertainment but have had very little substance. They think that spouting out links and news articles equates to substance. They don’t seem to understand that you can take many pieces of information and make them appear to support your cause. Context is so important and many of the leftist blogs seem to ignore it and take anything they can to attack Bush. (Please note that I have only linked to Modblog users, but modblog is actually only a very small percentage of the blogs I read.)

For me it has come to this: In all my reading of blogs, news articles, listening to debates, speeches, and whatever else I have come across, Bush deserves my support. He has been the most truthful and the most realistic with what he wants to do. Kerry continues to do what ever he can to get the vote. I don’t believe anything he says especially when he promises anything and everything to everyone without raising taxes. I don’t support everything Bush does, but he is sound in his values I think. Bush has convictions (that I believe are largely correct) and he follows through with them. Kerry will just say what ever for the vote without actually remaining consistent with a large number of issues.

PS. I am also really tired of people just blindly calling people stupid for following one candidate or the other. I recognize that they are quite intelligent people who will vote either way. If you have a different focus of interest than I do you may vote a different way than I. So people that just call someone stupid or moronic for their political following is fairly ignorant. Ignorance is one thing, stupidity is another. Ignorance should be removed in order to make the most informed decision, that does not mean that I think that if ignorance is removed you will therefore believe exactly as I do. I am just suggesting that much of what I have seen as support is clouded in ignorance and THAT should be removed.

PPS. Feel free to join the discussion over at my post Calling all Conservatives and Liberals!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post is from a previous blog so the original comments no longer exist.

Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death”

This is the first version of a book review for my “Theology of Culture” class at Regent. (Yes, I know there are typos and such, as I said this was the first draft.) Unfortunately I had to cut it from over 1600 words down to 1250, that was really difficult.

This is a great book that I recommend to anyone, I also recommend Postman’s other works such as Technopoly, The End of Education, and Conscientious Objections. Postman is great at making critical remarks, although often doesn’t offer too much in the way of suggestions for change (and I don’t that is necessarily a bad thing as I think he sees himself as a social commentator, not necessarily a corrector).

Matt Jones

Regent College

October 22nd, 2004
INDS/THEO 515: The Theology of Culture
John Stackhouse
Word Count: 1659

Book Review #1
Amusing Ourselves to Death:
Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
Neil Postman

Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. New York: Penguin Books, 1985.

Neil Postman aims to show how the “Age of Show Business” has changed how public discourse has changed for the worse. In Amusing Ourselves to Death he asserts that we are living in a Huxleyan society and not an Orwellian. “Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us” (viii). The title suggests that, as Huxley did, we will be caught up in the act of watching television and not see its significance and that will kill culture. To be more specific, the subtitle brings it down to public discourse. Discourse in our society has changed throughout the years and Postman suggests that the “age of show business” through the use and prevalence of television will kill culture in the way Huxley suggests.

Postman structures his book in two main parts: Firstly he addresses the setup, historical background of how discourse has been carried out in society and how it has changed. And secondly, he delves into the topics of how television will cause us to “amuse ourselves to death.”

The just of the first part aims to show that there has been a decline in the “Age of Typography” caused by a rise in the “Age of Television” (8). Postman states, “I must, first, demonstrate how, under the governance of the printing press, discourse in America was different from what it is now – generally coherent, serious and rational; and then how, under the governance of television, it has become shriveled and absurd” (16). The five chapters of this part center on that task.

He shows that culture is connected to its conversations and its conversations are formed by the medium in which they take place. Our culture set in the frame of typography was able to use language as a means of complex argument that was pleasurable and common to many areas of the public sphere (47). Through many inventions and events culminating with the introduction of the television, the typography mindset was pushed to the periphery and “as typography moves to the periphery of our culture and television takes its place at the center, the seriousness, clarity and, above all, value of public discourse dangerously declines” (29).

The first five chapters that make up part one move logically from one to the next, setting up the framework. Chapter one shows that, as the title suggests, “The medium is the metaphor.” The medium in which we learn plays an important role because “what important ideas are convenient to express inevitable become the important content of a culture” (6). This leads to chapter two discussing the media as an epistemology. Postman asserts that “the concept of truth is intimately linked to the biases of forms of expression” (22).

He is then concerned that the epistemology of television is inferior to that of print-based epistemology and is, in fact, damaging (27). Because he feels this way, he then launches into chapter three that discusses what our culture was like in the print-based, typographic focus and then shows that mode of discourse leads to a “typographic mind” discussed in chapter four. He then, in chapter five, contrasts those two chapters to prove his assertion of chapter two that television’s epistemology is damaging. Chapter five is the lead in chapter to the larger discussion of how discourse has been damaged by television.

The second part of Postman’s book takes on the challenge of proving his premise. Chapter six discusses “not that television is entertaining but that it has made entertainment itself the natural format for the representation of all experience” (87). The nature of television does not allow complex thought to be achieved or encouraged. It is “bad” television to have a camera on someone who is thinking. This leads into how education is attempted on television but before Postman delves deeper into the discussion of education in chapter ten, he first goes into a discussion of the fragmentation of reality depicted on television and how that leads to trivialities.

“Now… This” has been used widely in television and brings with it the thought that “what one has just heard or seen has no relevance to what one is about to hear or see, or possibly to anything one is ever likely to hear or see” (99). Drama is what has become important on television, not content, thus bringing fragmentation to culture. The abundance of information that is presented means nothing because it has no context and has no bearing on our lives; we don’t actually do anything with the information. The shift of discourse from content to entertainment seemed natural and was unchallenged. Chapter eight goes to further his point that television is about entertainment and not content by looking at the specific case of televangelism. While criticizing how televangelizers work, Postman does say “what makes these television preachers the enemy of religious experience is not so much their weaknesses but the weaknesses of the medium in which they work” (117).

Another case example of how television has failed to be a content filled discourse is tackled in chapter nine dealing with politics and how elections use television. “If politics is like show business [which Postman says it is], then the idea is not to pursue excellence, clarity or honesty but to appear as if you are, which is another matter altogether” (126). Postman draws similarities between politics and the commercial.

After these two case examples, Postman turns back to education and how it is negatively changed by television. That is the main problem: education is changed by television instead of education controlling television. In the “Age of Television” the classroom is starting to mimic, to become entertainment. Television is also used in the classroom, but because of the nature of the medium, very little context, nor content, is transferred. This section concludes his argument and leads to the final chapter of a “Huxleyan warning” and some suggestions. Postman warns that if it is not recognized what television does and how it should be used, culture will die. This embodies his main suggestion: ask questions. Such examples, but not limited to, are: “How do different forms of information persuade?  How do different information forms dictate the type of content that is expressed?”(160). If these questions can be discussed, it is the first step to taking back television.

Postman argued very well for his stance against television. He did say that “the problem, in any case, does not reside in what people watch. The problem is in that we watch. The solution must be found in how we watch” (160). His argument is well thought out and concise. His argument relied on the premise that in the typography type discourse, culture was well nurtured and cultivated an analytical mind. His first section proved that quite well. One example of how he proved that was the Lincoln-Douglas debates (44ff). The extensive timeframe in which the debates occurred is unthought-of in today’s culture. The only way for such in-depth events to occur would be for people to have the capacity to comprehend what was going on.

Postman also proves his point by comparing the discourse of theologians such as Edwards to that of Falwell implying that Falwell relies more on the television mindset of culture rather than the content filled discourse of the print-based. Through the foundation of what he proves about the print-based discourse, he goes on to prove that the television-based discourse does not work. Using the examples of evangelism, elections, and the more involved topic of education, Postman shows that, indeed, the use of television has negatively affected those areas. The nature of the corruption is not that people view it as being bad, but that it is seen as being good. No one seems to mind that there is very little content provided through television. What is worse is that it is changing education, if content leaves education, then there is no point. Postman sets up each of these examples and uses them to prove his point very effectively.

One thing that impressed my positively about this book was that he laid out his foundations very well. He didn’t just start showing how television is bad, he showed that what it had to say was bad because of the lack of content and fragmentation and was is direct opposition to the print-based discourse. Another than that also impressed my positively was Postman wasn’t complaining about content as a reason for the failure of television. He went much deeper in saying that it is the nature of television and that the horrible thing is that no one sees it. It is easy to complain about the content of television but until the nature and heard of what television can say (as Postman has done) the other complaints are as trivial as the information presented by television.

One thing that impressed me negatively was that Postman did not offer too many suggestions to correct the problem. His main suggestion to ask questions about what television can do and to do that through our educational system is good, but I don’t think it goes deep enough. He did recognize that telling people to get rid of their televisions would not work, but he doesn’t offer much alternative. A second thing that impressed me negatively was his assertion that in the print-based discourse “people had a sense they could control some of the contingencies in their lives” (69) more so than those of the television discourse age. While I agree that people could comprehend the cohesive information being presented to them (for example in the Lincoln-Douglas debates) I don’t think that necessarily leads to people taking action any more than people of today. If they did take action, they were more informed to do so, but I don’t feel that just because people don’t have the content because of the television medium, they act on that information any less (it will just be less informed).

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post is from a previous blog so the original comments no longer exist.

What do the polls say?

Before I get to the topic at hand, I want to mention that Greek is very difficult. Specifically Koine Greek or Biblical Greek. I am assuming that many of the forms of Greek are hard, but this is the one I am learning so it is all I can speak of. Koine is a form of Attic Greek (that itself was a branch of Ionic, one of the forms of Classic Greek). Kione is the “common” form of Greek that was spoken by the common man as it was a simplified form of classical and therefore doesn’t have some of the subtleties of its more polished predecessor. I seven weeks we have covered all the noun forms and over 66% of the words in the Bible (of course part of this is because words like “and” and “the” are used quite a bit – did you know that in Greek the definite article “the” has 24 different forms?). Anyway, it is a tough language, but I am really excited about learning it. That was quite the digressions, so if you feel like you will never have those two minutes back, I am sorry.

On to the topic at hand. Polls. What do the polls say? My answer: who cares? I have many problems with polls. As far as polling goes I think that election polls are probably the most accurate and by that, I still mean not very accurate. Depending on who you talk to the presidential polls will say different things. I have seen numerous maps that show what the polls are telling us… Bush is going to win! No wait, Kerry is going to win! No wait…

http://vodkapundit.com/archives/KerryWin.jpg

http://vodkapundit.com/archives/BushWin.jpg

http://www.electoral-vote.com/

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/vote2004/politics101/politics101_ecmap.html

http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/election-test-fl,0,1851284.flash

http://synapse.princeton.edu/~sam/pollcalc-map-undecideds-assigned.html

Got the idea? And these are just a few of the maps you can find doing a google search. What does this mean? It means that polls are completely useless. I like I said, election polling are the most accurate form of polls we have. Who do you want to win? A? B? or maybe C? Pretty cut and dry, and yet we have no consistency with the electoral college maps, predictions based on current polls and past trends just do not work. WHY BOTHER? There really is no reason to continue with this as it just makes people either feel good about themselves or feel bad and have something to complain about (yes ironic that I am complaining).

Other types of polls are even worse. Questions are often asked completely out of context and often about subjects that people don’t understand or even know about. How is that data to be explained? Even “yes” or “no” questions will not give great answers depending on how the question is asked. I always think of the “poll” – Dihydrogen oxide is a number one leading cause of death throughout the world and yet our country spends loads of money to work with this deadly chemical. Do you think this chemical should be banned?” What do you think folks?

I am reading a book by Neil Postman (that I will post a review of later) and I am reminded of some of his comments in another of his social commentaries: Technopoly. I will start with an example he poses: “Two priests who, being unsure if it was permissible to smoke and pray at the same time, wrote to the Pope for a definite answer. One priest phrased the question “Is it permissible to smoke while praying?(126)” and was told it is no, since prayer should be the focus of one’s whole attention; the other priest asked if it is permissible to pray while smoking and was told that it is, since it is always appropriate to pray.” Questions asked are of huge importance. Getting back to the specifics of polls I draw, again, on Postman’s Technopoly. Making up an example he suggests: “The latest poll indicates that 72% of the American public believes we should withdraw economic aid from Nicaragua. Of those who expressed this opinion 28% thought Nicaragua was in central Asia, 18% thought it was an island near New Zealand, and 27.4% believed that ‘Africans should help themselves,’ obviously confusing Nicaragua with Nigeria. Moreover, of those polled, 61.8% did not know that we give economic aid to Nicaragua, and 23% did not know what ‘economic aid’ means.(135)” Eventhough this is a fictitious example, you can see how it can cause problems in real world situations. The chances are, the only thing that gets reported is that 72% of Americans thing economic aid should be withdrawn. This is reasonable to assume because the other questions are genearlly not even asked.

The other issue with polls, which has already been hinted at, is that that the public is given the chance to speak and give opinions about things they know very little about. I believe people should continue learning and always seek to know more and if you have knowledge about something, please feel free to comment on it, if not, you should sit back and listen and learn but just keep quiet. This also makes me think of celebrities who know very little but have much exposure say anything about everything and people actually listen to what they have to say. The problem with this is that when people,celebrities or not, spout off about that which they don’t know it creates a problem in that it is hard to listen to anyone. If I hear 30 people, who don’t know what they are talking about go off on something it is going to be very difficult for me to listen to that 31st person, even if they really do know what they are talking about. (I have way too many run-on sentences, sorry)

This has been somewhat fragmented, but here are my concluding thoughts: Don’t listen to polls. Go and try and make a difference in things if you can and to do that you will have to become educated about things. I am glad when people in authority don’t necessarily follow polls or public opinion. Do what is right, learn about something before you comment on it. Political polls can show anything you want them to, just ask the right questions. Go vote on the 2nd, don’t pay attention to the maps.

Shalom

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post is from a previous blog so the original comments no longer exist.

“Theology, Music and Time” by Jeremy Begbie

Here is my first book review at Regent. The parenthetical references refer to the page number in the book. This was really difficult in that my first draft was 1800 words and that was already somewhat slim. I had to then get it down to 1500! The guidelines were as follows: Explain title and how it relates to subject, thesis, and purpose. Set out the basic structure of the book. Evaluate the book. Two things that impressed positively and negatively. All in 1500 words! Here it is!

Matt Jones
Regent CollegeOctober 4th, 2004
INDS 500: The Christian Life (Section B)
John Stackhouse
Word Count: 1497

Book Review #1
Theology, Music and Time
Jeremy S. Begbie

Begbie, Jeremy S. Theology, Music and Time. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Jeremy Begbie, in his book, Theology, Music and Time, strives to show the connection between the three nouns in his title. He aims to show that theological understanding can come through music and its relation to time. “Here we try to show how the experience of music can serve to open up features of a distinctively theological account of created temporarily, redeemed by God in Jesus Christ, and what it means to live and with time as created creatures” (7). Begbie’s title is a straightforward assertion of his subjects with theology and music being the most important and time being the medium in which a relation is formed between the other two. His motive for this task is his “guiding conviction” that music can serve to enrich and advance theology, extending our wisdom about God, God’s relation to us and to the world at large” (3).

He structures his book under three main categories: ‘Introduction’, ‘In God’s good time’, and ‘Time to improvise’. Each of these main categories includes subcategories relating to the main theme. The introduction outlines what Begbie hopes to achieve as well as give a jumping off point into the two other main themes. The first subcategory deals with the actual capabilities of music to “say” anything. He talks about the relationship between music-making, music-hearing, and our emotions. This discussion leads into the next subcategory pertaining to the nature of time and the temporal relationship to music as “the production and reception of music deeply implicates physical realities and these realities are themselves time-laden” (31). This subcategory goes into a discussion about the past, present and future which deals with time existing and how we perceive it. Music should not be looked at as moving through time, but that time is its medium (67). The main goal of the introductory chapters is to define relationships and characteristics associated with time and briefly relate those to theology. After time is introduced, the next category naturally arises: its relation to God.

“In God’s good time” combines the nature of time with what we can learn theologically through music. The first question that arises is whether time is a good gift from God or if it is merely a threat to us. Music demonstrates that change through time does not necessarily imply chaos or a negative view of time. There has arisen a view that suggests “that because something takes time to be what it is, it is thereby of deficient value or goodness compared to that which is not subject to created time” (86). Music is in direct opposition to that and therefore cannot, in this sense, be rushed and therefore cultivates patience (87). Time is divinely created and should be looked upon as such. This talk of time as a medium takes us to the first subcategory that deals with tensions and resolutions that are created in music. “Through its layered patterns of tension and resolution, music relies for much of its effect on generating a sense of the incompleteness of the present, that not all is now given” (99). Begbie then delves into a discussion on metrical waves. Metrical waves are used to show how tensions and resolutions are patterns that occur at multiple levels (from single bars to entire pieces). “The more levels resolution involves, the greater sense of an immanent final closure” (107). Music can show that the end of something is actually a beginning of something else. The next subcategory follows from the discussion of finality and the eternity of God. Begbie goes into the next subcategory and deals with the relationship between repetition and the sacrament of the Eucharist. In music, repetition is used heavily and does not get boring because repetition is natural to music. The complexities in metrical waves through their tensions and resolutions reveal that nothing is ever exactly the same, even in repetition. This is important in the ritual of the Eucharist because we are called into something holy that should never become stagnant. The liturgical nature of repetition leads to the next main category that offers a different view of how music relates to theology.

“Time to Improvise” moves away from a highly structured view of music to that of improvisation. The three sub-sections show that the practice of musical improvisation correlate to the “theology of freedom, election and ecclesiology” (269). Areas such as giving, constraints within freedom, creativity and tradition are all crucial points in this category and subcategories.

Begbie did a very thorough job of relating time to music and theology and then using that foundation showed that there were many principles in music that can offer insight to us about the theological understanding of God. Our understanding of Jesus’ saving grace is heightened by Begbie’s discussion of tension and resolve; our understanding of the Eucharist would benefit from the musical standpoint of repetition; and our desire to give might be lacking without the arguments put forth by his discussion of improvisation. Those three theological examples are merely samples of what Begbie has been able to in this book. He was able to argue quite extensively for his position and didn’t seem to leave anything out. This is a difficult subject to make any very definite claims about as music is not something tangible. It is not possible to say “this equals that” because music is not descriptive in that manner. Begbie was aware of that and addressed it. What he did was show that there are some very direct relations that can be applied to music and theology. Begbie never asserts that music can be used as a primary authority when learning theology, what he does do very well is to show, through music, that you can learn subtle nuances, reaffirm certain theological beliefs that are held as well as gain new insight. “Examining the temporarily of music has elicited conceptual tools -ways of thinking, models, frameworks, metaphors – for exploring, clarifying and re-conceiving the dynamics of God’s world and his ways with the world” (271).

One thing that impressed me negatively was his somewhat over extensive discussion of time. As time was one of the major themes of the book it makes sense to have a formal discussion of its nature. I felt that, at times, Begbie went too far, especially in his discussion of the nature of the past, present and future. I believe his arguments would still be valid without going into details about how some people think the past and future don’t really exist in certain ways. I feel that what was most important was relating time to its divine creation and how temporality affects music. The other discussions seemed to be superfluous.

Another thing that impressed upon me negatively was that he didn’t use as many examples as I would have liked. There were many places, especially in the discussion of metrical waves that Begbie could have brought in examples from the Bible to show how they are used. He did bring up the main examples to show tension and resolve and how that relates to promise and fulfillment, but I feel he could have pulled some examples in especially to show how metrical waves have many different layers.

That being said about examples, his discussion about promise and fulfillment did impress me in quite a positive way. The nature of Biblical promises has always interested me in that they were always fulfilled but not necessarily in the way we (including the original people) thought it would. “Fulfillments, far from lessening hope for resolution, serve to heighten it” (106). Fulfilled promises in the Bible are not a final word, they are pointing to something more and that is a great thing that music alludes to. The “very conclusion in Christ, climactic and utterly decisive as it may be, also brings with it an intensification and an enrichment of the promise originally made to Abraham” (109). The tensions and resolutions throughout the Bible are very artistic and all come to the final conclusion when Jesus returns and the Kingdom of God is fully realized.

“It is because the universe is so finely tuned to produce life, but only through the process of death, that death receives from life the highest possible tribute and value – it is not possible to have life on any other terms than those of death; but where you do have death, there immediately you have the possibility of life” (92). This concept put forth by Begbie also impressed me positively. Christians live in this world where we are in the “now” but “not yet” and are continually dealing with death. Music greatly points out that through death there is new life. This is a great comfort in our daily lives when we see death around us but also eternally where we can find that promise of everlasting life through Jesus Christ. I was very glad that Begbie pointed this out as I have never related musical themes to the nature of death and new life.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post is from a previous blog so the original comments no longer exist.

Verbage? Verbiage?

I have found it funny that some of my inbound linking have come from search engines where people are looking for “Birthday card verbage” or “Thank you verbage” or something along those lines. I find this funny for a few reasons. It is interesting that my title which is supposed to represent a combination of Verbiage and Garbage actually gets external links because people often misspell Verbiage. Also, why are people searching for verbiage about a birthday card? For one, can’t you just be original and yourself? And secondly, verbiage means “An excess of words for the purpose; wordiness.” I have NEVER gotten a card where I was glad someone was wordy. I would rather it be short, sweet, and to the point, or better yet, just give me the two bucks for the card and write “happy birthday” across Washington’s face.

So the question arises: Should I change my title? Does using “verbage” just make me look silly, or is it clever enough to keep as a title?

Anyway, just a few thoughts before class.
Shalom

PS. Edgar is done with baseball :( And the darn tv stations up here didn’t play the M’s last two games. I really wanted to see “Edgar Day” oh well, maybe someone got it on tape or something. Melvin was fired today, not too surprised about that, nor am I too upset.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post is from a previous blog so the original comments no longer exist.