The Plan: My Final GINO Review

Writing a host of reviews of bad shows you don’t like requires a certain amount of creativity. How do you moan, complain, and whine without sounding like you’re moaning, complaining, and whining?

With GINO, the simplest way to do that was to highlight the absurdity of the series’ central claim, reiterated at the beginning of the first two seasons’ spate of episodes:

They have a plan…

Over at the SciFi.com bulletin board, my avatar has a graphic that reads, “The Cylon Plan Explained: 1. Blow everything up. 2. Breed with the radioactive leftovers. 3. Make them love you and/or steal their ovaries. 4. Admit you made a mistake. 5. Find Earth. Repeat.”

It was such an easy target. With each episode, it became clear that there was no plan, either for the Cylons or the series. The sense of betrayal among hardcore GINOids is widespread, due to the fact that many still believed until the final turd floated across their screens earlier this year. But many held out hope that The Plan, Jane Espensen’s attempt to retcon coherence onto the manifestly slipshod series, would somehow redeem the abject failure of the finale, whose smell still lingers.

You be the judge.

Here’s the Cylon plan explained:

Step 1. Kill everybody.

That’s it. One stop shop. Kill, kill, kill. My plan is far more complex – and interesting, too. Why didn’t they hire me? Jerks.

Everyone who enjoyed this show – and even those of us who didn’t – expected much, much more. We all imagined wild, Machiavellian behind-the-scenes schemes that would make sense out of nonsense. Because if The Plan of the GINO Cylons was identical to that of the TOS Cylons – KILL EVERYONE! – then you have to account for the Cylons’ complete incompetence in fulfilling the plan.

And that’s what this show is about – Cylon incompetence.

Two separate Quantum Leap Cylons spend two hours showing up between clips of old episodes whining about how inept their footsoldiers are. The goal was to kill all humans, and the footage showing the destruction of the Colonies showed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of basestars in a truly eye-popping effects sequence showing the assault on the colonies. Apparently, only a couple of those bastestars could ever be bothered to be deployed against the fleet at any given time. But not to worry: a handful of slutty, conflicted Cylons are in the fleet, and each botches their jobs worse than the one before.

The Plan is a retcon, all right: it retcons the Cylons as unmasked Imperial Stormtroopers incapable of shooting in a straight line.

The Plan also answers questions that no one was asking. How did the Cylon 6/Shelley Godfry get off Galactica in Season 1? Well, in the original episode, it was mysterious and evocative that she disappeared just as Baltar’s in-head #6 reappeared. The two seemed mystically linked, and it implied there was a grand scheme at work.

With The Plan, we already know that Shelley Godfry had nothing to do with the in-head Six, so we discover that she escaped by being shoved out of an airlock by Quantum Leap Guy while a different Six ran up ahead in a bleached wig.

Neat. (Is this a revelation to anyone?)

We learn nothing of substance, and close to 50% of this show is old footage. We do see some topless waitresses, though. THAT’S something they clearly wanted to show on broadcast television but couldn’t. I’d rather have had consistency instead of porn, but I’m just an old prude that way.

I didn’t think it possible, but this movie actually makes GINO even less appealing, less interesting, and less lamented.

Rest in peace, GINO. Or not. Just rest. Rest forever.

You’re done.

Galactica and GINO – The Stallion Summation

Tomorrow, The Plan, the final piece of the pile that is GINO – i.e. Galactica In Name Only, will be released to the public. For whatever reason, I decided to watch the entire series from beginning to end.

It wasn’t very good.

I will very likely watch The Plan, too, as I’m a completist, and I want to have, on record, my review of the entire wretched project. In addition, nasty review are more fun to write than nice ones.

In the meantime, I reproduce my review of the entire Galactica experience, which I wrote up for the initial article for Richard Bushman’s Mormon Review. It;s a great site, and I hope to write more for it in the future. I was honored to be asked, and even more honored to be the first article published.

The subject of my article? Battlestar Galactica.

Naturally, I lifted a good chunk of what I wrote over there from what I’d written here. But I think that piece gives perhaps the broadest, most complete sense of where I stand re: Galactica, and how I’ve wasted my time in the past decade or so.

So take a look. You can read this on the Mormon Review site here, or you can jsut keep reading what’s written below.

__________

From Kolob to Kobol

A telltale sign that the day’s lesson will be doctrinally suspect is when the instructor begins, as one did at the University of Utah Institute in the fall of 1989, with the bald assertion that the lost tribes of Israel are “not on this earth.” But what makes for lousy CES instruction can be the stuff of great television, at least in theory. In practice, the TV show was Battlestar Galactica, and the greatness thereof depends entirely on your point of view.

The series debuted on September 11, 1978, hot on the heels of Star Wars mania, and critics were quick to dismiss this new space opera as a pale imitation of George Lucas’s original, which prompted Lucas himself to bring suit against the producers of the series for copyright infringement. He lost, but that doesn’t mean Galactica wasn’t lifting a good chunk of its material from other sources.

Consider the show’s premise, created by a Latter-day Saint: The human race, descended from the Lords of Kobol, is divided into twelve tribes, led by a Quorum of the Twelve, in search of the lost thirteenth tribe which settled “a shining planet known as Earth.” These people don’t get married; they are “sealed for all the eternities.” Along their journey, they meet a race of glowing, angelic super beings. “As you are, we once were,” they tell the show’s heroes. “As we are, you may become.”

Plus there are lots of killer robots and things that blow up. (Which, come to think of it, would have made the initial institute class much more interesting.)

As space opera goes, the show holds up better than its critics would have you believe. The special effects work was as good or better than anything on the big screen at the time. Even today, the practical models used look more realistic than much of the computer-generated stuff that modern audiences have come to expect. The problem was that much of the footage was recycled to save cash, so that later in the series, every ship that is shot down explodes in exactly the same manner as all previous explosions.

As far as pulp television goes, the show is a lot of fun. The cast is led by a sturdy, post-Bonanza Lorne Greene, and the performances hold up well, even if the 1970s hairstyles do not. Some of the episodes are outstanding, notably the pilot, the ones with the Lorenzo Snow-quoting angels, and a two-parter with Lloyd Bridges as an interstellar Captain Ahab. Some are mediocre, and some, like the one with Oz scarecrow Ray Bolger as an alien robot doing a soft shoe number, are just plain awful. But overall, its track record is impressive, and the show has a resonance it doesn’t earn, due largely to its theological underpinnings.

Theologically, of course, the show is embarrassing, due to its tendency to sensationalize and distort LDS doctrines that are easily sensationalized and distorted. Years later, when The Godmakers presented the “Mormon Jesus” beaming down from “Starbase Kolob,” you could see Galactica as the likely source material. Producer Glen A. Larson, himself a Latter-day Saint, had no problem with borrowing LDS concepts and giving them a scientological spin.

Yet, in large part, this is why the show, which was ignominiously cancelled after a single season, still survives in the public memory. The show was overtly religious, and, like few television presentations before or since, treated matters of faith with genuine respect. In addition, the show was politically conservative. It depicted a military with more common sense than the weak, pacifist leader that ultimately doomed the human race to destruction. Like Star Trek before it, Galactica used a fantastic, surreal backdrop to wrestle with some heady philosophical issues. Yet unlike Star Trek, Galactica came out siding with the sacred, not the secular.

There has been no other series like it, before or since. That includes the second series titled Battlestar Galactica, which debuted in 2003.

The new Battlestar Galactica, reimagined from the old, was built on a foundation of contempt for what had gone before.

Ron Moore, the new producer, wrote a treatise about the new show claiming that it would essentially redefine the nature of televised science fiction. Where the old show was bright, fun, and optimistic, this show would be dark, gritty, and filled with in-your-face despair. As the show unfolded, you could almost smell the reflexive disdain for its source material in the comments of those who followed its hype but not its story. It’s impossible to read an overview of Moore’s series without a ritualistic genuflection to the idea that the original series was hokey and trite and silly and filled with all manner of limburger. So even when the new show fell woefully short, which it did often, apologists took cover behind Dirk Benedict’s dated hairstyle. At least the new show didn’t have the cornball clothes! Or the goofy backdrops! Or Lords of Kobol!

Oh, wait…

See, the dirty secret was that much of the original show’s basic mythology actually did survive into the new incarnation. And when the new show shined – and it did, on occasion, have its moments – it was following in the footsteps of its predecessor. Unfortunately, it always refused to acknowledge that that was what it was doing. It showed a military that was oppressive and corrupt, led by leaders who sounded an awful lot like George W. Bush. They showed an Iraq-like occupation perpetrated by the killer robots, with the noble humans leading a righteous insurgence. Religion was for the dumb and the demented.

The producers were demonstrably embarrassed by where they had come from. They were ever lamenting the fact that they were forced to labor under the leaden weight of the cheesy title Battlestar Galactica, which was holding them back.

That last is a provably false assertion.

The only information people who tuned in to watch the initial miniseries had was that the show was named Battlestar Galactica. That was a name with a history and not-insignificant brand equity. So the miniseries was a ratings smash. Yet when the show went to series, it lost a third of that original audience.

So who were the people who abandoned this show after the miniseries?
Wouldn’t it make sense to assume that a good chunk of them were people who liked Battlestar Galactica but recognized that this series bore scant resemblance to its namesake? As the show wore on, the ratings steadily eroded to the point where first run episodes were lower-rated than syndicated Star Trek: Enterprise reruns. Based solely on the ratings data, the show should have been cancelled after the second season, yet it endured. Why? Because the network and the producers and the intelligentsia were proud of it. They were proud of the audience they were alienating. The rubes and hicks that couldn’t see how nihilistic gloom was infinitely more sophisticated than the heroic optimism of the original series weren’t welcome. The new show mocked their religion, their politics, their morality, and wallowed in the despair that marks the absence of the things they hold dear.

The irony was that, in the end, God did it all.

Ron Moore began the series without having any understanding of where he was going. Consequently, he spent four seasons digging himself into so many deep plot holes that the only way to dig himself out was to provide the ultimate Deus ex Machina – it turns out that everything was being orchestrated by an unseen and unexplained deity figure, a god who, it turns out, “doesn’t like to be called that.” It was a cheap, shoddy end to a sour, miasmic series.

The word on the street now is that original series producer, Glen A. Larson, is attempting to bring the classic version of Galactica to the big screen. Will Mormons find it embarrassing? Probably. But if it manages to restore the basic principles that made the first show so endearing, it’ll be worth watching.

At the very least, it will give institute teachers something else to talk about.

Surf Island

The first people to use surfboards had big, long rough boards, but no one knew what surfing was really about until Big J. did it. Big J’s real name is Jack. People liked watching him go inside the wave and come out on his back soaking wet with cold salty water.

One day I’m going to be just like him. My name is Cody White. I live in Hawaii. I’ve been surfing since I was six. I’m fifteen years old now. I’ve taken on some very big waves. I can do a lot of three-sixties in the warm breeze.

One day, I was amazed when Mikey was here on the steamship looking for people with good talent for surfing. He brings them to Surf Island. He chose me to show him how good I am. The waves weren’t coming and I hate sitting on my board in the cold waters.

Mikey said, “Come on, kid. This is the last place I have to go. This is taking all day.” He walked back to the boat and said, “I haven’t won anything in my life.”

I started running over to the boat on the warm , powdery sand. I dove into the water and paddled over in my cold, drenched wetsuit. I started surfing in the little waves that the golden steamship was making. I yelled at them, saying, “I don’t care what you say! I’m coming to Surf Island!”

“No, you aren’t! This is a place for big wave surfers!”

Anyway, he did think it was entertaining, so he let down the rope ladder, and I brought up my smooth, striped wood board. The steamship’s warm floor felt good on my feet.

When we got to Surf Island, I remembered about my Big J. necklace. I got it when Jack came to Hawaii. He could just glide on the waves like the waves weren’t big.

Surf Island was awesome. There was crab, all kinds of food, and surfers. I liked the 20-foot waves. The best surfers get wiped out at Surfer Island.

Then I saw Blaze, the number one surfer.

He was throwing rough, sharp rocks at the board Jack took his final wave on. Jack took his final wave at Surf Island.

I ran up to Blaze and punched him in the back. He turned around and said, “Hey, guys, it’s Jack’s last man.” All the surfers came over to see. Then out of nowhere, I said, “I’ll take you anywhere anytime.”

Then Joe came over to me and said, “Well then, who wants to see the little guy take on the champ?” Everyone started shouting and cheering.! Joe said, “Whoever takes on the biggest wave wins!”

We went out into the cold, salty ocean. I wiped out on my first try and Blaze was surfing to the beach on the smooth waves. I paddled back to the hot, sandy beach. When I go there, I fainted. I hit a rock in the ocean when I wiped out. It felt like steel.

Mikey was the lifeguard. He took me up to his house. His cousin J. was sleeping on his bed.

“Get up, you sleepyhead! This guy is hurt!”

“What happened? Did he hit a rock?”

“I don’t know, but I know he hit his head, because there’s a big scrape on his head.”

“Yep, he hit a rock, all right.”

Then suddenly I woke up in this strange place. I saw Mikey and I asked, “Who is that person over there?”

“He’s my cousin. I call him ‘J’”.

“Where’s my board?”

“It’s over by the soft, fuzzy couch.”

I remembered that face. It was Jack. I started screaming and yelled, “You’re Jack, right? Yes, you are! That’s awesome! Can you come watch me ride at the contest?”

Jack said, “I’ll ride with you, but not watch you.”

“Why not? Why didn’t you come back after that wave hit you?”

“I didn’t want to come back because all my fans would be booing at me. They only thought I was dead because my board broke and I didn’t come back.”

The next day was the contest. I was in the finals. I was stunned. I’ve never seen such a big wave in my entire life. I went into the ice cold wave and came back out with salty water all over me. Blaze tried to squirt water in my face, but he swerved right into the wave and wiped out.

“I won! I won!” The trophy shone in the sun so brightly it almost blinded me. Jack came out of the bushes and patted me on the back. I gave him the trophy and said,” Jack deserves this trophy. He could look up to anyone.”

Everyone was starting at him. They kept on asking him questions. We all gave our boards back to Joe and walked off. I can’t think of a better day. Finally, I went home and hugged my family. I had such a good time at Surf Island.

THE END

More Fun with Andrew S.

Andrew’s original is in green; my responses are in black.

Let’s look at Alma 32.

OK.

Start with 17 & 18 to find out that faith isn’t knowledge. Faith isn’t to know something. Faith isn’t having a sign.

Correct. “Now I ask, is this faith? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it.”

But here’s the deal in verse 22. 22 gives us two ‘conclusions’ that the proper LDS person should come to. 1) Believe in God. 2) Believe (or desire to believe) on his word.

Not exactly. It says that God wants us to believe and is merciful to those who do. But I’ll go with it.

How do we get there?

verse 27…But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.

So, faith is what you use from the beginning. When you have 0 successes. When you don’t know.

How is this different from the scientific method? When you have a hypothesis, you have 0 successes – you’re trying to prove something you don’t know. Science is riddled with faulty hypotheses that have been disproven.

If we go to 28, he compares the word to a seed…a seed that you had to plant by faith to check if it is true. If it is a good seed, it should check out. You might say that if it is a bad seed, it should not check out (verse 32). BUT 28 (as well as 38-39) has the loophole…by simply not having faith, you can cast the seed out by your unbelief!. So faith (even if it is a mere desire to believe) ACHIEVES the conclusion that faith wants.

Nonsense. If you “cast out the seed with your unbelief,” you cut off the experiment before you get any results. Verses 38-39 talk about people who “neglect the tree and take no thought for its nourishment.” In scientific terms, you can’t tell if something is a seed or a pebble if you don’t bother to water it.

Let’s check out 34. This is the clincher. When you gain KNOWLEDGE, your FAITH is dormant. But doesn’t that make sense?

Yes, but look closer at verse 34. Your knowledge is perfect “in that thing.” What thing? Do you have a perfect knowledge of God, his methods and purposes? Not at all. Your knowledge is perfect that, in verse 33, “the seed is good.” As verse 36 says, “neither must ye lay aside your faith, for ye have only exercised your faith to plant the seed that ye might try the experiment to know if the seed was good.” In other words, you have perfect knowledge that your faith is a good thing, so you have the necessary encouragement to continue to rely on it and help it to grow.

Again, I am not saying that religion is irrational. Rather, it is subjective. See, the about Alma 32 is that it is predicated on subjective response…what happens to *you*. Does *your* heart swell? Do *you* find the seed grows? Do *you* find your soul to enlarge? And this is why so many people believe. Because indeed, they do have such subjective responses.

I agree to the extent that it is impossible to measure subjective responses. I don’t agree that this experiment only works for some and not for others because it’s simply a reflection of your own personal preferences. Varied results, I believe, are the product of other elements being interjected into the experiment.

But the thing about subjectivity is that it differs by person…different people have different reactions. So, whereas one person might feel a swelling from the Alma 32 experiment, another might not. One might feel a “confirmation” from the Quran, or from completely different text. These spiritual confirmations are meaningful to the individual, but they do not say anything about the objective truth or falsity of the texts they espouse.

Subjectivity does not preclude truth, nor does it make it relative. Our criminal justice system goes to great lengths to ferret out the truth in the subjective, and they punish people accordingly. (Did he kill her in a frenzied moment of fury, or had he cold-bloodedly planned this out?) Subjectivity makes discerning truth difficult, because only God can perfectly know our hearts, but it doesn’t mean that there’s no truth to be found. The fact that I can’t conclusively determine why you and I respond differently to one text or another doesn’t make every text equally valid.

The issue is…where do these subjective experiences come from? Faith concludes that they are from God (whichever kind you believe in…) But we don’t have evidence of this. We have evidence that mental experiences comes from the brain. Now, whether these brain patterns still come from God is certainly possible, but since most religious people insist that we have no way of *naturally* studying and “testing” God scientifically, they by default make God inaccessible.

No, they don’t. If God were inaccessible, then no one would believe. God has set the parameters as to how access is granted, and they currently don’t include brainwave analysis. We’ve determined in this discussion that you can’t prove a negative, so the fact that you can’t measure God by means of scientific instruments proves nothing and suggests nothing. You can’t use any scientific instrument to prove how I feel about my cats unless I’m willing to tell you. (I don’t like them, BTW.) And you can’t prove anything about God unless He’s willing to tell you. (Which, I subjectively submit, He is, if you follow Alma’s experiment.)

I can guarantee you that no one seriously says, “transition species don’t fossilize.”

I don’t know whether they’re serious or not, but it’s a relatively common excuse, particularly with reference to the Cambrian explosion. See here -“Perhaps there was no real ‘explosion,’ and the answer is simple that most of the Precambrian ancestors didn’t fossilize” – for starters. I could dig up more, I suppose, but I’m lazy.

No, the real problem is the environmental conditions for fossilization — it’s not the species, but where (in time and in location) they have lived that determines things. And even that isn’t said with no evidence. That is said with clear evidence of the chemical composition of various substrata of soil and the effects on fossilization.

I don’t really know what this means or how it’s relevant.

Why does the fossil record feature quick disappearances and appearances? That’s because evolution does NOT work via phyletic gradualism, which you seem to believe in and seem to think is what is “expected” of natural selection. This gradualism has been falsified. Natural selection and evolution works in a punctuated equilibrium. You can read more here: http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CC/CC201.html

I read that, and I’m familiar with “punctuated equilibrium.” All it does is acknowledge the fact that the fossil record has been brutal to Darwin’s initial concept of phyletic gradualism. The fossil record shows complex species appearing and disappearing suddenly with little to no variation. “Punctuated equilibrium” acknowledges this but provides no explanation for it, other than, “it must happen more quickly than we thought.”

Belief in “punctuated equilibrium” is an exercise in faith.

Remember that some photoreceptivity is better than none in most environments (even if rudimentary)…that is why we *do* have evidence of rudimentary photocells in more primitive species (e.g., euglenas, which you can study in HS biology). From photoreceptivity, there are plenty of places to go that provide natural advantage…for example, ability to tell direction of light. One *cannot* assume that an eye is only 1:0 in usefulness…either is or is not. That is not the case.

Even basic photoreceptivity requires a massive amount of microbiological complexity. A single cell is irreducibly complex, and natural selection and/or punctuated equilibrium provides no explanation as to how these moving parts could come together as a result of a series of accidents.

Similarly, one cannot assume that during an evolutionary process, something must be useful for the *same* thing and just progress more of the same.

Granted.

The question really is…how do we put the pieces together.

Yes. How you do it is determined by where you place your faith.

Here’s how you falsify evolution. Show a modern human in the same strata as the earliest bacteria. Find the fossil. Go.

What would that prove? What would that disprove? You can’t find a fossil with both a gopher and a toilet, either. So what? How does the absence of anything prove anything?

Falsification is showing how the explanation goes *against* the evidence. So, we know that transition species *do* fossilize (because every species is a transition species…any fossils we have are of transition species!) So, we know this is false. However, what we can say is that under certain environments, chemical composition will reduce chance to fossilize. The way to falsify this is show how these environments actually *don’t* reduce chance to fossilize (e.g., find as many fossils here as elsewhere).

This is backpedalling. You dismiss earlier the idea that anyone could seriously claim that transitional species don’t fossilize, and now you’re offering an explanation as to why transitional species don’t fossilize.

But you really have to do reading on what the theories actually say, instead of what you just think they say. A lot of this message was just correcting for the inaccuracy of your understanding of evolution.

Neat.

Blog Report

So I broke down and opened up a Twitter account. If you want to follow me, I’m at twitter.com/stallioncornell. I don’t know how or why I’ll use it, but there it is. The first few days, my updates consisted of such one-word entries as “poop” and “Clytemnestra.” If that turns you on, then sign up to see what other nonsense I’ll come up with next.

I’m quite enamored of Facebook – I enjoy connecting with people I know and seeing what they’re doing. Twitter, I don’t really get as of yet. Near as I can figure, it’s just like this blog, except every entry has to be 140 characters or less, and there are no real long-term discussions. Is there an advantage to this that I’m missing?

One thing I like, though, is I can post Twitter updates via text message. That’s so easy! Now if only there were something worthy of posting. And if anyone cared. Because I don’t. But I now have the option open. Perhaps I’ll use it effectively. (And I didn’t want Languatron to register my name over there.)

The entire Internet seems to be moving in a Facebooky direction. That is to say, every news article now allows you to “comment,” which usually means people get to facelessly rant and insult people. Blogs like this one feel like they’re a dying breed, which led me to reconsider whether I wanted to restart this at all or just focus on my Facebook page instead.

Part of the impetus for revisiting this blog was the discovery, by the lovely Mrs. Cornell, of my personal journal, which extensively covers a time period from Christmas of 1980 to May 28, 1985, with a depressed, angst-ridden rant written as a postscript in October of 1986. (I’d tear that page out if I could, but that would destroy the preceding 1985 page.)

Rereading the journal is painful in the extreme. It’s saturated with adolescent melodrama, and one would get the impression that I spent my entire adolescence well nigh unto suicidal, when such was not the case. But I didn’t write in the journal when I was feeling cheerful; I wrote when I had some drama to expunge, which makes for very turgid reading.

Some representative excerpts:

“I am not particularly attractive, and my constant stupidity is the main factor in prolonging my agony.” – August 19, 1982

“I tend to be obnoxious. I also feel like I’ve accomplished nothing. I’m extremely lazy, and everything I do is mediocre.” – October 21, 1983

“All the way home on that abominable car ride I fantasized about jumping out the door and splattering all over the freeway.” – December 24, 1983

You get the idea.

But even in the midst of that grunge, there are wonderful people and events that I had forgotten that are now recorded forever. Some more pleasant excerpts:

“We heard the Gay Men’s Choir of LA sing. They were all gay, but they sang well.” – January 23, 1983 [Note: I know this is not politically correct. I was only 14, and attitudes were quite different back then. I think it’s impressive that, while I had to derogatorily note their sexual orientation, I gave them kudos for their talent.]

“Our current hobby is harassing a radio pastor [Dr. Gene Scott] over his toll-free hotline.” – October 21, 1983

“I got two detentions from my English teacher for harassing a substitute. Brett told me to break dance, so I sat and spun on the floor in the middle of the class.” – December 1, 1983

“The Summer Olympics have begun, and the entire city is caught up in the magic of the Olympic year. My brother and cousin Steve (as well as his friend Rob A.) are taking an active part. They have signed on as official security guards for the XXIIIrd Olympiad. It keeps them off the streets.” – August 6, 1984

“The next day was my birthday. At 8:00 AM in the morning, I went to the DMV to take my driving test. Much to my paranoid mother’s chagrin, who broke into tears once while I drove the car to McDonalds, I passed with flying colors.” – August 22, 1984

“I told an overblown story of how I bumped into a stoner, was chased by the narcs, grabbed and frisked, and implicated in a drug deal due to the stoner’s small bag of marijuana in his sock. I escaped in the nick of time after lying about my name (Mike Jeffries) and what my wallet was doing in my crotch. I told the narc ‘that’s my d—, and I’d advise you not to touch it again.’ “ – Feb. 4, 1985

Perhaps not the stuff that will appear in the next Mormon Journal in the Ensign, but fun to remember.

Which is why I’m going to keep going with this blog. This has become an online journal, and its public nature will keep me from indulging in the more adolescent, embarrassing stories that make my teenage journal such a chore to read. I can’t count the number of times that I have referred back to an entry of this blog to clarify or explain my thinking.

So I’m going to press forward, undaunted. I’m game if you are.

We put our German Shephered to sleep on my birthday in 1983.

The Burden of Proof

This began as a response to Andrew S., a thoughtful commenter on my Monday post, and it got long enough to be its own blog entry. So here I am, bringing it out onto the main page.

Andrew masterfully demonstrates that atheism and theism can both include varying degrees of belief and doubt, and that agnosticism can go hand in hand with either. And then he says something quite interesting.

This gets into burdens of proof. One side is asserting something. The other is
rejecting. The burden of proof goes to the asserting side.

So let’s talk about the burden of proof for a moment.

He’s right – if the question is, “Is there a God?” then the burden of proof is on the theists.

But that’s not the question.

The question is, “Where did the universe come from?”

If you only deny that God did it, you sidestep the question. To be an intellectually consistent atheist, you have to be ready to provide an alternative theory. If you’re confident enough to dismiss God as a possibility, you have to have affirmative faith in another explanation.

Suppose, for instance, that in the middle of the night, your pick-up truck suddenly appears in my living room, leaving a path of destruction in its wake. In court, I have the burden to prove that you purposely drove it into the side of my house. But that will be pretty easy to do if you respond by saying, no, the pickup truck’s very existence is the result of random chaotic occurrences absent any manufacturer, and its presence in the living room is an accident of nature.

The problem in both instances is the same: both the universe and the pick-up truck exist. You can’t sidestep the question and say there is no pick-up truck – you have to account for how it got into my living room. The universe is far more complex and intricate than the pick-up truck, and someone who posits that there is no God involved either has to back up that assertion with facts – or rely on faith.

If there are not enough facts to conclusively demonstrate your case, you’re left with faith – faith in science, faith in chaos, faith in who knows what. But without facts, all it is is faith.

In my estimation, the idea that both the pick-up truck and the universe are the product of intelligence is a more logical conclusion.

I should note that the Book of Mormon agrees with me. As Alma replies to Korihor in Alma 30: 40-41:

And now what evidence have ye that there is no God, or that Christ cometh not? I say unto you that ye have none, save it be your word only. But, behold, I have all things as a testimony that these things are true; and ye also have all things as a testimony unto you that they are true; and will ye deny them?

Incidentally, this is one of the reasons I found Elder Holland’s Book of Mormon talk so masterful. To be intellectually consistent, if you reject the Book of Mormon as a fraud, you have to have an alternative explanation for where it came from. Yes, the church has the burden of proof to demonstrate that it’s true, but from what I can tell, the most plausible explanation for its existence is the one offered by Joseph Smith. I have yet to see a more credible alternative.

Like the pick-up truck and the universe, the Book of Mormon exists. If the question is, “Is it true?” then the faithful need to answer. But if the question is, “Where did it come from?” then both sides have to make their case. Most people just ignore or dismiss the question. They don’t offer alternatives.

I submit that atheists don’t often see the implications of what they assert. They can say “no” to the question of God’s existence, but to answer the question about why existence exists, they have to offer their own positive theory, and, to date, those theories have been sorely lacking.

Shatner’s Toupee

Despite my Yul Brynner avatar, I need to say at the outset that I have a full head of hair in real life. So I suppose I can’t really identify with the follicly impaired, and I probably have no right to say anything on this subject. But when has that stopped me before?

So here it goes:

There is nothing more masculine than baldness.

Yul Brynner was a pioneer in this area, demonstrating that baldness could actually be a babe magnet. Yul naturally had a full head of hair but shaved it off daily to give him his sleek, aerodynamic scalp. This isn’t a look that everyone can pull off, but it’s much better than trying to compensate for hair loss by artificial means.

Which leads me to my second generalization:

There is no such thing as a good toupee.

In the first place, everyone knows you’re wearing a toupee. They don’t ever match the remainder of your hair; they look wooden and don’t move naturally with the rest of your head. It’s embarrassing for everyone involved. The toupee wearer has embarrassingly announced that they’re too vain to accept their baldness, and each toupee viewer is forced to pretend that they don’t notice, which makes them feel uncomfortable, too. It’s a bad scene that’s best avoided.

Which leads me to my latest discovery – my favorite blog on the web:

The Shatner’s Toupee Blog.

William Shatner has long been an icon of mine, and his toupee history is the worst-kept secret in Hollywood. In fact, he still, to this day, refuses to admit publicly that he wears a rug. (Actually, as the blog persuasively demonstrates, he’s no longer toupeed, as he had a significant hair transplant sometime around 2000.)

The reasons for Shatner’s toupee use are actually valid. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, the baldness stigma was too much for anyone not named Yul Brynner, and it was impossible to be a leading man without a luxurious mane. (That changed by the ‘80s, when, in a cruel irony, a bald-yet-toupeed captain of the Enterprise was replaced by the bald-is-beautiful Patrick Stewart.)

So Shatner’s toup was born of necessity, and in the first two seasons of Star Trek, he almost defies generalization #2: his toup looks very natural, because it was applied every morning with lace, giving the appearance of a real hairline instead of a hair hat. The problem is that now that Trek has been remastered in HD, you can clearly – and distractingly – see the lace line on the top of his scalp. Something happened between Trek seasons 2 and 3, though – with the lower budgets of the final year of the original series, they didn’t seem able to spring for a decent toup. His dark and heavy rug looks much ruggier.

After Trek, Shatner’s personal fortunes were soured by unemployment and divorce, making it impossible to finance a decent wig.

All this and more is clearly documented at shatnerstoupee.blogspot.com, which is updated on an almost daily basis. You would think you’d run out of crap to say about a guy’s toupee, but they always manage to come up with something new and interesting. In addition – and this is important – they manage to do all this while maintaining genuine affection for William Shatner. The blog is free of cruelty, which is no small feat, considering how easy it would be to ridicule the subject.

I’ve added this blog to the top of my blogroll down below. I recommend you visit it often, especially if you’re thinning on top and are tempted to take Shatnerian measures to correct that.

Don’t do it!

Remember, only the manliest of men go bald.

The Invention of Lying, Atheism, and POUNDS

Over the weekend, I took the lovely Mrs. Cornell to Ricky Gervais’ latest, The Invention of Lying. I have yet to see Mr. Gervais in anything that was less than entertaining, although this came the closest. It’s a very clever conceit – Gervais plays a guy who learns how to lie in a world where dishonesty is impossible – but it goes in fairly unpredictable directions. I suppose that’s good, overall, since most movies are far too predictable, but the general basis of the film is that all religion is based on a hokey story about a man in the sky who controls everything you do. Gervais’ character makes up this lie to comfort his dying mother, but when everyone else overhears him talking about it, he more or less fashions a pop version of the Ten Commandments and writes them on the back of pizza boxes to dupe the gullible masses, who are too stupid to realize that all religion is a transparent lie.

I find that point of view confusing more than anything else.

I have long acknowledged the fact that I will never know what it is like not to be a Latter-day Saint. That is, even if I ended up leaving the church, I would always be a disaffected Latter-day Saint or a former Latter-day Saint. But everything will always be filtered through some fundamental assumptions that have been with me for as long as I’ve had memory.

So with that caveat, I can still say that I lack the faith necessary to be an atheist.

It requires a tremendous amount of confidence in the wisdom of the learned to look at the universe and assume it’s all a bizarre accident. Even the most ardent Darwinists have to acknowledge that the theory of natural selection doesn’t even come to close to explaining how and why life exists, or how it arrived in such perfect ecological balance, or why, for instance, human beings,unlike any other animals, often feel a tension between what they want and what they know is right. (C.S. Lewis cited that as the greatest proof of God’s existence.)

Now I recognize that this doesn’t necessarily prove or even suggest any given theology. One can acknowledge purpose and order and still have no faith in anyone in ancient Palestine dying for their sins. But to flagrantly deny the existential evidence of divinity in the universe strikes me as an act of monumental hubris, as well as an act of supreme faith in an incomplete science and/or in their own personal genius. It also leads to barbarism if left unchecked. (See Stalin/Hitler/Mao.)

Which leads me to POUNDS’ pertient comments on my last post.

As an agnostic, who whole-heartedly supports your decision to embrace the LDS church and its doctrines, I would appreciate your response to the following:

If you accept an all-knowing and infallible God, isn’t it possible that He has designed things so that different people will adopt different views and perceptions of Him? Or even that He prefers it that way?

That was the idea behind the finale of the Battlestar Galactica remake, where we discovered that everything was orchestrated by a God who “didn’t like to be called that.” This idea has many champions, many of whom speak of all of us “climbing up different sides of the mountain.” That is, each of us is reaching for the same thing, and all of us will get their in the end. Or, to quote Bernie Taupin: “We all make the same mistakes/We’re gonna wind up with the Man.”

Here’s my problem with it.

In no other form of human experience does sincerity create truth. That is, one can truly, sincerely believe any number of weird medical fads, but if those beliefs are not in line with how the human body actually works, then they’re useless. Or dangerous. All the doctors who bled out their patients up until the 20th Century had a different view and perception of how the human body worked, one which I assume was quite sincere. And still it was wrong.

Truth exists independent of humanity’s interpretation of it.

So whoever/whatever/whenever God is, He/She/It is. The fact that people are confused on the details doesn’t mean that each interpretation is equally valid, although I would submit that it isn’t a black and white proposition. Some religions have bigger chunks of the truth than others, and if I found a church with more truth than the one I have now, I’d join it. I think the confusion is a product of human fallibility, not divine design.

As to whether God prefers it that way, I think that’s a more interesting question. Certainly He hasn’ty taken the steps He could to settle the issue once and for all, but I think that goes to the heart of the purpose of mortal existence. Latter-day Saints posit that we lived with God before life on this earth, and we were sent here to demonstrate our ability to walk by faith, without God providing all the answers. I think He wants us to find the truth, and the multiplicity of religions demonstrate varying degrees of success in that quest.

Why would an omniscient and omnipresent deity, who is the “Creator of all
things” (Latin: ex nihilo) create or allow alternative faiths or the sense of
doubt held by those who are uncertain about the true nature of existence itself?

We’re entering very deep theological waters here, but I need to respond by saying that Mormons reject the idea of ex nihilo, or “out of nothing” creation.

Joseph Smith was all for the Law of Conservation of Mass before it was cool. He wrote, “Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the Light of Truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:29. In verse 33, he also says, “The elements are eternal.”)

So from our perspective, God’s creation involves the organizing of eternally existening elements to bring order out of chaos, not pulling something from nothing. This also means that a piece of us, independent of our bodies, has always existed and was not created out of nothing. That is the only part of us that we can truly offer to God, since everything else is His handiwork. As independent agents who are co-eternal; with God, our doubts, our weaknesses, and our misunderstandings are our own responsibilities.

Is it not possible that an all-powerful and all-knowing God WANTED diversity of
views (and faiths) that meet the needs of different people in different ways?

Yes, it is possible. But it seems unlikely to me that God would want people to believe things that are diametrically opposed to each other. The truth can be viewed from many different perspectives, certainly, but I doubt God would want us to say that black and white are the same thing.

It would seem that is just as reasonable and satisfying an explanation as the
specific beliefs on any particular religion are to its adherents.

It’s certainly a more reasonable view than atheism.

And, of course, that is why I am an agnostic who marvels at all the different
(“absolutist”)views which are sincerely held by so many people….. including so
many that I greatly respect.

You’re a good man, sir.

Bottom line: Wait for The Invention of Lying on Video. It’s kind of unwieldy, but it’s also got a pretty funny Pepsi joke in it.

Answering Matt’s Question

On Facebook, I posted a link to one of the best LDS Conference talks I’ve heard in many a moon. It’s Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s piece on the Book of Mormon, and it’s just as powerful on the page as it was when he delivered it live. (And his delivery was pretty powerful, indeed!)

This prompted a response from a thoughtful friend of mine named Matt, who asked the following:

Stallion, do you ever have trouble intellectually reconciling the fact that the geographical circumstance of your birth has dictated your theological belief system? i.e. if you had been born into a muslim or jewish family, you would subscribe to those belief systems, but because you were born into a Mormon family, you’re signed up for that club. Don’t you think that the Absolute Truth of the Universe transcends the random circumstances of the birth of organisms on this speck of dust floating about in space?

Good question. VERY good question. I responded by tying my faith to the Book of Mormon, citing Elder Holland’s powerful statement that if you choose to leave the church, “it must be done by crawling over or under or around the Book of Mormon to make that exit.” But that wasn’t really a direct answer to Matt’s question, and he followed up thusly:

I guess the question is: Have you made an equal effort to crawl over/under all the other religions of the world, given them equal time/thought, and judiciously decided on your current choice? You wouldn’t go to an ice-cream parlor and just order whatever flavor your family likes, would you? Anyway, thanks for indulging my questions and not being offended. I really respect your views.

And I really respect Matt enough to answer the question with a bit more depth and perspicacity.

I can remember a Sunday School class decades ago where I asked a similar question. The teacher was talking about all the confusion in the Christian world, and she numbered the totality of individual Christian sects in the thousands. I responded by asking just how likely it was that, of all the thousands of sects, all of us just happened to stumble on the only correct one. And keep in mind, this excluded all the non-Christian religions, of which there are legion, with just as many varieties and schisms as the Christians have.

And me, Stallion Cornell, I just happen to have the truth fall into my lap? Really?

This bugged me for a very long time.

I’ve recently been rereading my journal that I kept in my teens – that’s the subject of plenty of blog entries all on its own – but one recurring theme I wrote about was the nagging doubt that I was just being brainwashed, that my “faith” was all cultural nonsense, and that if I were truly courageous, I’d strike a blow for individuality and burst out of the Mormon bubble.

Part of the problem was that I had a father that had thought through many of my objections before me, and every time I tried to poke holes in the theology, I found that his counsel and explanations had too much merit for me to dismiss them offhand. But the struggle continued, and the intellectual tension between my reason and my faith was exacerbated by the melodrama of adolescence, and it only got worse with time.

A few remarkable things happened that erased the doubt and turned me into a lifelong believer.

The first was a girl I began dating right out of high school, a Catholic girl I had known since childhood who was in a singing group with me. My religion, at first, wasn’t really that big a deal in the equation, but it was interesting that, as time wore on, she took my faith more seriously than I did. I remember one occasion where she was teasing me about my adherence to the Mormon dietary code that prohibited the drinking of tea.

She was a big fan of tea, and she often taunted me for my lifelong tea teetotaling. So one night, just to spite her, I laughed and poured myself a cup. I had never even tasted tea, but I wanted to show her how cool I was, that it wasn’t really that big a deal.

As I put it to my lips, she knocked it out of my hands and onto the floor.

When I protested, she responded by saying she didn’t want to be responsible for me violating a tenet of my faith. She asked me a number of questions about the church, and I answered halfheartedly or not at all. I just didn’t want to get into it. I was also wrestling with whether or not I was going to serve as a Mormon missionary at the age of 19, which male members of my church are expected to do. I wasn’t sure where I stood, so I didn’t want to get her involved.

Then, one Sunday, without telling me, she took it upon herself to go to a Mormon church and asked if there was anyone there who could tell her more about the faith.

If you lack for attention and want people to notice you, I would suggest you do what she did.

A swarm of Mormons descended on her, and soon two young men in white shirts and bicycles were on her doorstep, teaching her the Mormon missionary discussions. I sat in on the discussions, making trouble and acting like a curmudgeon. But in spite of me, she embraced the faith, and she asked me to baptize her.

It was then that I saw my faith have practical, life-changing applications in someone else’s life, and that gave me the impetus to go and willingly serve as a missionary, the way I had always been expected to.

The problem, though, was that even with that dramatic experience, I hadn’t really settled the question in my own mind and heart. Within the first month of getting to Scotland and knocking on people’s doors, I encountered a number of remarkable people who had searched all their lives to find God and found him in places I’d never dreamed of. I spent hours talking to one dude who had climbed Mt. Ararat himself in search of Noah’s Ark. I came away from that experience more than a little shaken. Look what he had sacrificed, I said to myself, and what have I done in comparison? I’m just a spoiled kid from suburbia. Who am I to say I’m right and he’s wrong?

The tipping point was a meeting with an evangelical Christian who was young and hip and cool who looked me in the eyes and told me that the Book of Mormon was a tool of the Devil that was getting in the way of my relationship with Christ. I expressed my own doubts in that meeting, which terrified my missionary companion. We went back home and called our mission president, who drove out to see me within an hour.

That meeting, too, was life-changing.

Because I realized, at that moment, that I had been basing my faith on my opinion of others: the girl I dated, the cool evangelical, Mr. Noah’s Ark, and the mission president, who was every bit as cool and persuasive as the evangelical guy. I looked up to each of them, and I decided that if I was going to choose what I believed about the nature of the universe based on who I thought was cool, or on what my parents wanted, or anything like that, I wasn’t going to go anywhere. I needed my own faith, my own testimony, and I needed to find out how to get it.

Which leads us, full circle, to the link that started this discussion.

Joseph Smith once called the Book of Mormon the “keystone of our religion.” That is to say, everything rises and falls with its veracity. If it is what it purports to be, then Joseph Smith was, indeed, a prophet of God, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the restored New Testament church on earth today, complete with living apostles and Christ’s holy priesthood. Conversely, if it’s a fraud, then I needed to get as far away from the church as humanly possible.

I had a fairly solid intellectual appreciation for the Book of Mormon. The arguments for its authenticity carry more weight than its critics would have you believe, but at the same time, an intellectual assessment is insufficient. It’s not enough to appreciate a book. To have lifelong faith to carry you through all the crap that life dishes out, you have to encounter God.

And the Book of Mormon itself promises that God will make Himself known to you as you read and ponder its pages.

I can muster up as many good arguments as the next guy, but they don’t do any good. If you want to know how I can be so confident that what I believe is right, the only way I can answer is that, particularly through the Book of Mormon, I have felt the power of God that has given me an assurance that goes beyond words. It does not defy reason, but it is not swayed by the winds of fashion. I recognize that similar sentiments have been voiced by lunatics and worse, and I make no pretension to perfection or even a preponderance of goodness. All I can do is suggest that the only one who can tell you what God wants you to do is God Himself.

I respectfully suggest you ask Him.

The Return of Blogboy

Look, Orson Scott Card went nine months without updating his world update blog. Two months and I get a gazillion whiny comments! Come on, people! Have some faith in Blogboy!

Or don’t. Whatever.

Some behind-the-scenes info: I had hoped to have moved this blog to a bigger and better locale, but, after considerable wheeling and dealing, that is not to be. So I have a choice – let it languish forever, or see if I can start it back up and keep it going. So I have chosen B, which, if you’re familiar with the alphabet, is the second letter therein, meaning I choose choice two. Ta da!

The problem is, what should I say with my big return? There’s been so much that’s happened in the past few weeks that I’m not sure how to wrap a whole blog around it.

So let’s just begin with tidbits:

Barack Obama is essentially incompetent. I don’t think he’s evil; I don’t think he’s stupid; I don’t think he’s Bill Clinton, who was the embodiment of sleaze. But the guy has the most massive Democratic majorities in Congress since Lyndon Johnson, and he can’t accomplish anything. I think, overall, that’s a good thing, since what he wants to accomplish is statist nonsense, but it’s astonishing to me how ineffective he is.

That’s one of the reasons the Nobel Peace Prize was such a colossal embarrassment – it highlighted the fact that he’s done absolutely nothing of substance in his first year of his presidency. Add the Olympics debacle, and you have a president who is applauded more loudly even as his proposals go down in defeat. It’s truly bizarre.

The other irony is that in international affairs, Barack Obama is really no different from George W. Bush. The rhetoric is certainly different: close Gitmo! Out of Iraq! End the Bush interrogation policies! But the actions are identical. Gitmo is open and will remain so indefinitely; we’re following Bush’s slow and deliberate Iraq withdrawal timetable, and the warrantless wiretapping and interrogations continue unabated. And essentially NOBODY is calling this guy on it. Never in my lifetime has a leader’s praise been so inversely proportional to his performance.

Much has been made of the Saturday Night Live piece that mocks Obama’s do-nothing administration, which you can see here.

It’s a funny piece, but what’s even funnier is that the apologists for the guy are furious that anyone had the audacity to mock him. It requires a lot more work than people anticipated to keep giving this guy a free pass.

And now for something completely different: Even the usually-alarmist BBC has noticed that Global Warming has taken the past decade off. I’m not Al Gore – I don’t think the debate is over and that the other side should be ordered to shut up, but can we please admit that, at least since 1998. the so-called scientific consensus has gotten it staggeringly wrong? As we consider dismantling the industrial economies of the world to solve a problem that seems to be solving itself, can’t we take this staggering wrongness into account? Wouldn’t it be wise to recognize that drastic carbon taxation during the world’s largest economic crisis since World War II should be based on science that HASN’T been staggeringly wrong?

It’s all probably moot, though. Obama can only get peace prizes. He can’t get Cap and Trade passed in this environment.

Switching gears again, I’m very heartened by the fact that just about everyone recognizes that Roman Polanski is scum. The Hollywood apologists who came out early to support their fellow perv – Woody Allen supports pedophilia? Really? – have been vilified appropriately, even by such unlikely voices of reason as the New York Times and Salon.com. It demonstrates just how out-of-step Hollywood is with American values, but it also refreshingly demonstrates that America still HAS values. That’s nice to know.

I wish someone would tell that to the Glenn Becks of the world.

Glenn Beck used to be my favorite talk show host. He also used to be the most reasonable. What happened? He’s approaching Michael Savage-style levels of awfulness. I can’t listen to his whining for more than five minutes at a time. Look, I know Obama is a lefty, but he is not the end of the republic as we know it! This is NOT the end of the world. America has been through much, much worse – and we’ve been far more divided than we are now. (Anyone remember a little thing called the Civil War?) In addition, politics have been far nastier than they are today. The campaign between Jefferson and Adams was far more vicious than any political pablum the current guys can serve up. Can we please stop talking like America has collapsed, especially when Obama hasn’t really been able to do much of anything?

Speaking of disappointments, I just finished reading Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol. I quite liked The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, and I had a great time reading this latest piece up until the crushingly inadequate ending, even though it was kind of stupid. My problem with it wasn’t the stupidity – my problem was that the titular lost symbol is pretty much absolutely nothing. So as you read the book where people are risking their lives and panicking wildly that the lost symbol is about to be revealed, you kind of expect there to be some kind of lost symbol of some importance. I mean, The Da Vinci Code was ludicrous, but it was ludicrous in a fun way, and the Holy Grail really was kind of a big deal. This book is a lot like The Da Vinci Code, except that instead of the Holy Grail being the bones of Jesus’ wife, it’s a ham sandwich from 1974 with moldy bread and congealed mayonnaise. I’d advise you to skip it, or at least to go to a spoiler site and find out what the lost symbol actually is, and then decide if you want to waste hours of your life reading about people engaging in cloak-and-dagger mayhem to protect a ham sandwich. Although I had just been to Washington DC, so it was fun to see all the locales that were fresh in my brain.

So that’s it for now. I’m not sure how much of a pace I can keep up, but I’m not going to let this blog congeal like Dan Brown’s mayonnaise.

So can we stop the whiny comments now?