Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Platypus' Best of 2010

As 2010 is about to wrap up, I thought I'd wind down the year with a highlights list from 2010's Platypus of Truth:

Looking at this list, it seems that 2010's Platypus of Truth has followed the stayed tradition of mild-mannered, non-offensive, odd-ball, and mildly irrelevant literary and cultural musings.  It may not be high-traffic and exciting, but we value a little peace and quiet down at this end of Lake Internet.  So, from my mossy hole in the riverbank, I and the Platypus pronounce this year another smashing success.  Best wishes to all in 2011, and remember: the Platypus speaks Truth!

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Platypus for Liebowitz: The Platypus Reads Part LXXXV

The next installment in my "books I should have read by now" series is "A Canticle For Leibowitz."  Of the three books in this series ("The Name of the Rose," "Ender's Game," and "A Canticle For Leibowitz"), I find myself most in agreement with the world-picture presented in this book (at least in as far as I understand it in one reading).  Now this presents me with an interesting question: did I like this book best of the three simply because I found myself most in sympathy with its presentation of the world?  Ok, maybe that's a banal question, but the Kantian side of me keeps demanding that it's unvirtuous and the Foucaultian side of me keeps insinuating that it all boils down to self-interest.  Forgive me Father; I ate a lizard.

Rather than engage in therapeutic web confession, however, I think I'll take a stab at describing what I found to like about this book.

Debunking the Myth of Progress: "A Canticle For Leibowitz" reminds us that technological progress does not equal moral progress.  Man is still Man no matter the mode of artificial lighting or the mode of conveyance.  If we've used nuclear weapons once, we will use them again.

Understanding Religion as a Conservative, Not a Reactionary, Force: Ages that have bought into the Myth of Progress often chafe at the constraints of organized religion.  Utopia is always over that next ridge and the Church is holding us back.  "A Canticle For Leibowitz" reminds us that the Church has historically been a preserver and transmitter of knowledge; even a creator of Knowledge (let's remember that the Big Bang Theory was formulated in large part by a Catholic monk).  More importantly, religion has, as often as not, been a restraining voice in favor of humanity.  Progressives in any age always run the risk of being "so wrapped up in whether they could, that they don't bother to think if they should."  The Church is always criticized in each age for not bowing enough to Zeitgeist as well as criticized for being too in conformity with the Zeitgeist of the previous age.  For two thousand years, the Church has been proclaiming its message and going about its business while empires rise and fall and philosophies thunder and fade.  That kind of permanence doesn't come from an institution that simply opposes whatever's new.

History is Cyclical, but it is Not Futile: In as far as the nature of Man is fixed, so he continues to act in certain recurring patterns.  Observing this much leads to Stoic despair.  However, since the rise of monotheism, there has also been a sense that Man is going somewhere.  Merely focusing on the movement, though, has produced utopia-touting tyrannies.  Historic Christianity, however, has always emphasized both: the nature of man has not changed, and that dooms him to the same unending cycle of sin and judgement; God, however, has acted to redeem the kosmos and will bring it to a good end in spite of our collective failure.

Wow.  How's them for fighting words?  In the end, maybe that's what I like most about this book: it's cranky and curmudgeonly, and hopeful in a way that's ambivalent about the traditional fist-fights.  Like the monks of the order of Saint Leibowitz, or the Wandering Jew, it keeps going on about its mission whatever the new/old hubbub and uproar in the world is.  We spend so much time screaming at each other (and yes, side A may do that sometimes, but side B is, as every sensible person knows, always worse!), I wonder how much time we actually spend doing what we think we ought.  The vultures will eat us just the same.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Decemberween Platypus

After almost a year of utter darkness, Homestar Runner is back with a 5min 55sec Decemberween short; anastasis and all...

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Whiteboard Platypus: Scribbling Through Dante (Inferno)

*All images copyright James R. Harrington 2010

Whiteboard Platypus: Scribbling Through Dante (Purgatorio)

*All Images Copyright James R. Harrington 2010

Whiteboard Platypus: Scribbling Through Dante (Paradisio)

*All Images Copyright James R. Harrington

Shiitake No Oni!!!!!!!! (and a Platypus)

Rawr.  Ph33r teh Shr00m!

*Image Copyright James R. Harrington 2010

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

We Were Talking About Video Games

Yesterday, while trying to get traction in grappling with a discussion about the arrest of the founder of Wiki-Leaks, one of my students broke through the dead-lock with a robust and thoughtful analysis of the role of order vs. liberty in Assassin's Creed.  Three cheers for the role of the middle brow in helping make big ideas accessible!

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Out on a Limb: The Platypus Reads Part LXXXIV

Disclaimer: I try as much as possible not to be political on this blog, so please read the following post in as non-partisan a light as possible.

I'm a member of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University.  We're a close-knit bunch over at Torrey.  I like to see what my fellow chums are up to and celebrate their successes and achievements as they find their places in the wider world.  In that light, I'd like to draw attention to Jonah Goldberg's "Proud to be Right: Voices of the Next Conservative Generation."  Now, fair warning, I found much in this book to agree and disagree with.  There's plenty is this book to get your blood boiling or elicit a hearty cheer (In spite of what the name suggests, it's not strictly a party-line book).  However, I want to mention "Proud to be Right" not so much for its politics as for the fact that four out of the twenty-two contributers to this collection of essays are Torrey chums.  Considering that the essays are drawn from political conservatives of all stripes across the nation, that's no small thing.  Roughly speaking, a fifth of the book belongs to THI!

So what's my bottom line?  If you're a member or friend of the institute, and don't have any moral or political qualms about funneling a few dollars Goldberg's way, then I suggest you pick up a copy and boost the sales.  The more copies sold, the greater the prestige for these four chums and the Institute.  If the thought of giving money to Goldberg or tying the Institute up with a particular political agenda makes you queasy, borrow a copy and see what they're up to.  Even when I found myself violently disagreeing with some of the essays in this book, the writing style was always engaging and the essays a pleasure to read.  Also, you can always make sure to draw attention to chums on the Left and other political persuasions.  It's a big world out there, and there's room enough in it for each member of the Institute to find a place and begin having an impact!