Letter from a Birmingham Jail 

512px-Recreation_of_Martin_Luther_King's_Cell_in_Birmingham_Jail_-_National_Civil_Rights_Museum_-_Downtown_Memphis_-_Tennessee_-_USATo observe Martin Luther King Day, read his classic “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”  It was written to fellow pastors who were concerned that a man of the cloth would engage in protests that would get him arrested.

The letter is interesting in itself for the case that it makes for civil disobedience, under certain very restrictive conditions.  Some of what he says will resonate with pro-lifers and religious freedom advocates.

The letter also shows how it was possible back then in 1963 to continually quote and allude to Scripture and to appeal to moral absolutes.  I don’t know if a person could do that today.  I don’t know if the Civil Rights Movement, with its moral appeal to the nation, could happen today.

Read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” after the jump. [Read more…]

Legal rights for robots as “electronic persons”

I_Robot_-_RunaroundA committee of the European Parliament has passed a measure that would give legal rights to robots, classifying them as “electronic persons.”  It also imposes obligations, such as liability for any damages they might be responsible for.  The report also says that robots must not be made so as to appear “emotionally dependent” and must have a kill switch, should they go rogue.
That the committee is thinking in science fiction terms is evident in its implementation of Isaac Asimov’s Laws of Robotics, which he developed in his I, Robot series:
  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

The committee measure says, “A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm,” while allowing robots the right to defend themselves as long as this rule is not violated.  The measure specifically says that developers must follow Asimov’s laws.

The entire European Parliament will vote on the measure in February.  For the entire document in English go here. [Read more…]

Tolkien’s newly-discovered Christmas poem

6636682381_df5f18dd00_oA Christmas poem written by J. R. R. Tolkien was recently discovered.  Entitled “Noel,” Tolkien wrote it in 1936  for a Catholic girls’ school, which printed it in the school yearbook.  Scholars stumbled upon it last year.

The poem is quite lovely, with Tolkienesque imagery combined with a strong theme of Incarnation.  I’m not sure of its copyright status, so I’ll just link to it here.

 

Photo by NerdPatrol.  Creative Commons License.

HT:  Mary Moerbe

The tragedies behind “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”

Henry_Wadsworth_Longfellow_by_Thomas_Buchanan_Read_IMG_4414Let me just let Jim Priest, writing in the Daily Oklahoman, tell it:

As Christmas carols were sung and Christmas bells rung, Henry thought back on two tremendous tragedies. His loving wife, Frances, had been fatally burned in an accident in their own home. His son, Charles, had been severely wounded in the war.

When Frances was caught up in a fire, Henry attempted to smother the flames by throwing his arms around her. He only succeeded in severely burning himself on his face, arms and hands. He was so ill from his own burns, he could not attend his wife’s funeral. He was obliged to grow a beard because he was unable to shave his burn scarred face.

Henry’s son, Charles, was the unfortunate victim of a war bullet. Permanently disabled, Henry had to care for Charles’ day-to-day needs. His double dose of death and disability blanketed Henry with despair.

At Christmas, Henry wrote in his journal, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays. I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.”

A year later at Christmas, he was still mourning when he wrote, “A merry Christmas say the children, but that is no more for me.”

Finally, the following year at Christmas, Henry decided to pour out his jumbled emotions on paper. But instead of penning an entry in his journal, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow put pen to poetry and wrote the well-recognized Christmas carol, “I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day.”

After the jump, you can read the poem that turned into a beloved Christmas carol.

[Read more…]

The Christmas stories of Connie Willis & her favorite Christmas movies

Connie Willis, MiracleConnie Willis is an award-winning science fiction author and a deft satirist of contemporary foibles.  (Read her novel Bellwether.  Never again will you take seriously fashions, trends, or being cool.)  She is also a Christian.  (For more on her biography, go here.)

She has published a collection of short stories about Christmas–gift idea!–entitled Miracles and Other Christmas Stories.   I’m reading them as part of my Advent and Christmas observance and enjoying them greatly.  Some of them are of the Miracle on 34th Street-type warm-hearted type, only funnier, others are darker but thought-provoking, and some are about the True Meaning of Christmas.

Also of value in that volume is her introduction, in which she discusses the genre and gives her favorite Christmas stories. She then discusses Christmas movies.  After a gentle critique of It’s a Wonderful Life and an illuminating reading of said Miracle on 34th Street, she gives her favorite movies, most of which you will probably never have heard of.  So we dug up three of them that I’ll tell you about after the jump. [Read more…]

Gift idea:  Christianity Today’s 2017 book awards

Christianity Today has announced its 2017 book awards.  The list of winners in all of the different categories might give you some good ideas for Christmas presents.

I like book editor Matt Reynolds’ introduction to the list.   He surveys how, thanks to the new printing press, Luther’s Reformation in 1517 was tied to the reading of books.  Reading popularized the Reformation, and the Reformation popularized reading.
[Read more…]