TV & Fame Junkies

Halpern again:

There is also a strong correlation between how much television teenagers watch and how badly they want to become famous. One of the survey questions was “If you could push the magic button to change your life in one way, which of the following which you pick?” The options were “(a) Becoming smarter”; “(b) Becoming much bigger or stronger”; “(c) Becoming famous”; “(d) Becoming beautiful or more beautiful”; and “(e) My life doesn’t need any improving.” Among those teens who watched one hour or less of TV a day, only 15% of boys and 17% of the girls chose fame. But among those who watched five hours or more a day — and many did — 29% of boys and 37% of the girls chose fame. (12)

Keeping the Feast

This is the season of Lent, however you observe it, the time of anticipation and preparation for the horror of Good Friday and the resurrection joy of Easter. The Apostles’ Creed says that Jesus was crucified by a particular governor who ruled at a particular time, and so the Church has always marked time around Christ. It’s funny, Christians used to argue over when to observe the feast, not whether to observe it at all. If our Christian faith means anything in this world, it has to mean something about how we think about calendar and generally the Church’s drift is to not think about it. For those who do think about it, one temptation is to think of it as a reenactment which in one sense is unhelpful. If you reenact the sorrow of the apostles at the crucifixion of Jesus, you’ll be reenacting their unbelief and sinful despair, which is just something else to repent of.  More on the whole season of Lent later. For now, John Westerhoff and William Willimon have great insight on how to think of the liturgical calendar:

We must be clear that we are not engaging, in our liturgical year, in a cyclic redoing of historical events in the life of Christ which are remembered in a merely historical way. Our Church year celebrates the present reality of these events for us today. As we stated in the discussion of the Eucharist, the “remembrance” (anamnesis) of Christians is not historical recollection; rather it is remembering in the sense of remembering who we are. The Church year gives us our identity in the present, not just our memory of the past. … [Is] our worship an honest, painfully contemporary attempt to proclaim and enact the Gospel in light of what we understand to be God’s past and present dealings with us as well as God’s future purposes for us? (Liturgy Through the Life Cycle, 55)

Get in a Collision

If you didn’t hear about the debates between Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson at various locales on the east coast a few months ago, you’ll be glad to learn about the soon to be released movie Collision. I resist calling it a documentary because of the usual boredom associated with such productions. This one, however, is done by Darren Doane who has directed music videos for the likes of Jimmy Eat World. So here you have the sharpest, most colorful and witty atheist alive debating an experienced and satire-ready Christian apologist, framed and soundtracked by an MTV filmmaker. The live launch happened last week in Dallas. You can see trailers and sign up for release info at the official site.

Brain Map

Paul Allen gave us the Experience Music Project (a truly pomo building shaped like, if anything, a smashed guitar), the Allen Telescope Array that searches into deep space for extra terrestrial life, SpaceShipOne, and now the Allen Brain Institute which is trying to do the brain version of the Human Genome Project.

Jonah Lehrer writes in April’s WIRED that some unexpected and disheartening “data sets have already demonstrated that the flesh in our head is far more complicated than anyone previously imagined. The brain might look homogenous to the naked eye, but it’s actually filled with an array of cell types, each of which expresses a distinct set of genes depending on its precise location. … But the atlas has revealed a startling genetic diversity; different slabs of cortex are defined by entirely different sets of genes. The supercomputer analogy needs to be permanently retired.” It turns out the brain is far more complex than imagined,and that every new level reveals a new level with discrete regions, and of course those regions open up to more. “This is the bleak part of working at the Allen Institute: What you mostly discover is that the mind remains an immense mystery. We don’t even know what we don’t know.” Such are the difficulties of a brain cartographer.

And to add discouragement, just when you think you are getting somewhere, you remember that “the brain, after all, is a byproduct of evolution, an accumulation of genetic accidents. The data that looks so arbitrary might actually be arbitrary. If that’s the case, having a precise atlas of the rain won’t lead to  a unified theory–because such a thing can’t exist.” But if the brain is really the product of arbitrary genetic accidents, then these thoughts about the brain are nothing but more of the same, and what sense does it make to trust them? It’s amazing to watch people pull the rug out from under themselves and still think they have some cushy to sit on and grey matter to trust.

Regardless, the $100 million is not going to waste. The apparent uniqueness of individual brains is especially fascinating. It seems every brain has “a landscape of cells that has never existed beofre and never will again. … This variation is even visible at a gross anatomical level–different people have differntly shaped cortices, with differnet boundaries between anatomical regions. (This is why, for isntance, neurosurgeons hav eot painstakignly probethe cortex during surgery.) If the human atlas is like Google Maps, then every mind is its own city.”

If I could meet anyone and be anyone…

In his book Fame Junkies (Houghton Mifflin, 2007, xvi), Jake Halpern cites a survey he organized of 653 middle school students around Rochester, NY. When asked to choose from a list of famous people they’d most like to have dinner with (including “None of the above”, the girls who chose to dine opted least for George W. Bush (2.7%) and Albert Einstein (3.7%). A third place tie went to Paris Hilton and 50 (“Fitty”) Cent (15.8% each). Jesus Christ (16.8%) was second only to Jennifer Lopez (17.4%). I wonder, will a few billion people be worshiping JLo in two thousand years? How many people will have even heard of her in 50 years?

Another question inquired what job the students would most like to have. Among the five options, here are the rankings:

5. chief of a major company like General Motors (9.5%)

4. Navy Seal (9.8%)

3. United States Senator (13.6%)

2. president of a great university like Harvard or Yale (23.7)

And at number one, nearly double the percentage of the runner up:

1. personal assistant to a very famous singer or movie star (43.4%)

Now some will conclude from this something about the nature or inclinations of middle school girls. But to anyone who knows some, this speaks far more about their parents and educators.


Blog action. This is finally live. Many thanks to the friends who have gone against their better judgment and encouraged me to write.  Also, kudos to Pete Bentley for his design and John Moss for technical wizardry.

If you turned the world upside down and shook it, what would come out? How much change, assorted papers, gum wrappers, licenses to operate heavy machinery and other knacks would trickle down? I’m not sure, but I’m keeping an eye out.

This blog is titled from that row in Thessalonica when the Christians were said to have “turned the world upside down…. saying there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17:6-7). Obviously they didn’t invert things in the way their accusers said, but in a more profound way, the things that existed were shaken so that the things that could not would remain. This place where the meek inherit the planet, the mighty are brought low, the first will be last and countless other wild aspects of the gospel make everyone paying attention double-take in astonishment is my subject. Your comments are welcome.