Hierodule


May 27, 2003

Ok, contrary to my prejudicial assumption Bruce Almighty is not simply a movie that has fun trying to be blasphemous, but was made by someone claiming to be a committed Christain. I'm not rushing to see it in theathers, but maybe video.


Its painful to see somebody who has a rapier-like wit misdirect it because he misunderstands what he lampoons. Which is what I thought reading Lileks on the Matrix Reloaded. He gets two major things wrong, and then lampoons these alleged lapses in movie logic.

He finds the deisgn of Zion implausible, based on the assumption that it was built solely by the rag-tag fugitive humans who tried to escape the machines. Um, in the Matrix movies, you should question your assumptions... Especially when the nature of Zion is revealed at the end of the film.

He also thought that the cake eaten by the girl in the Merovingian's restauraunt made her have to go to the bathroom! Uh, yeah, well, in one sense. I wonder how he'd feel when somebody tells him how he missed the nature of that scene.


May 26, 2003

Good. Somebody transcribed the dialogue between Neo and "an important character" (avoiding spoiler) from the Matrix Reloaded. Check it out if you're confused as to exactly what was said there. Some helpful comments included along with it too.


May 23, 2003

Does a market in antiquities aid preservantion or harm it? Since musuem archives are full of duplicate objects, wouldn't it be better to have them deaccessioned and sold off? Since America is a nation of immigrants, don't we have just as much right to the cultural products of the world as the natives of those countries?

All this and more in antiquity dealer Andre Emmerich's WSJ Article


May 21, 2003

Came across something interesting in David Pao's Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus. Chapter five he lines out a good case that the "travel narrative" of Acts is not so much focused on where Paul goes, as to where "The Word" goes. While Paul and co. go back and forth, here and there, we only encounter statements about "the word" going to a place once in each case. So Paul goes to Perga twice, but there is only one citation to Paul having "preached the word" there. Obviously, Paul is declaring revelation everywhere he goes, but Luke only tells us that the word is proclaimed once in a city.

What's the point? That this represents God's conquering word going out and gaining victories in various areas. The word only needs to win a victory once. Paul will return and (extending the metaphor) do some occupation work, but he's not fighting the initial battle again.

Now Pao doesn't make this point, but it seems interesting to me. Frequently the dispute between Barnabus and Paul on whether to take John Mark with them is charcaterized as how disagreements (and even splits!) within the church are "OK", since we can't be sure that Paul or Barnabas is really in the right or in the wrong here, and the gospel gets spread in more places anyhow. (This also seems like a self-serving protestant overreading to me, but whatever).

Looking at the dispute with the question of following the Word's itinerary is illuminating. In 13:4 the word of God is proclaimed in the Jewish synagogues of Salamis, with John Mark as their helper. Then they come to Paphos, and run in with the Sorceror "bar-Jesus" who opposes the Word of God that Paulus wanted to hear from Paul[us] (still don't know what to do with all the name duplication here). Then in 13:4 they sail to Perga, but John does not come. Nothing about the word of God going to Perga, but the Word is preched to great effect in Pisisdian Antioch. (13:46,49)_

Only later in 14:25 is the word said to have been preached in Perga, even though Paul and Barnabas has been there (sans John Mark) previously.

Now when the dispute arises in 15:38, Paul's reasoning is that John deserted the work in the previous trip. What the "word itinerary" analysis shows is that John Mark's desertion actually delayed the "preaching of the word" in Perga, that it wasn't able to be accomplished on the initial trip. I think this gives quite a bit of credence to a view that Paul's evaluation of Mark is a correct one. This couples up with the major contrast in descricption of Barnabas and Mark merely "sailing" for cyprus, and Paul and Silas leaving "commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord".


May 16, 2003

Thoughts on the Matrix

I appreciated that this movie manages to do something very difficult. With the premise of the Matrix being that the nature of reality was not what it seemed, the challenge of the second movie is to work within that theme without some kind of cheap "the real world is just a bigger matrix around the matrix" cop-out.

They met that challenge, although the final scene might lead you to briefly question that otherwise.

Important plot points

[SPOILERS: highlight to view]:

Neo meets with old counselor, learns that machines keep Zion going. Machines that no one really knows anything about: they just "do their purpose"

Smith has come back "infected" with the independence of Neo. He's a free Agent, not working for the Matrix. He seeks to destroy Neo (why?)

Smith can infect both programs and humans with his own programming as a brain virus. He uploads himself to a member of the resistance who then goes to the real world.

In the real world, we see the human with a knife, cutting his own hand and observing blood. This is important.

Neo visits the Merovingian. A fight ensues. Neo is cut by one of the weapons. The Merovingian declares this as evidence that neo is merely human. Ok: The Smith infected human is cutting himself because he is demonstrating to himself that he actually occupies a human body now.

Later, in the fight on the semi truck, an agent is hit by Morpheus's sword, and bleeds! Why? (The agents keep taking over the places of those on the highway who are just ordinary folks driving along. When they do so, they are occupying the program space normally reserved for the human sleepers?

Neo and the Architect:



This is the sixth Matrix there were five prior "Neos". The first Matrix was a perfect world that the human mind rejected, leading to mass death of humans. A kind of Fall from Eden situation. So Matrix 2.0 included suffering and death. But anomalies that weren't accounted for by the Architect lead to a "Neo", who was then used by the Architect to improve the program, after first destroying Zion and reseeding it. So the current Neo is the sixth.

Now that we know that Zion is part of the machine plan we can note some interesting parallels. Zion is a big tubular shape with identical living cubicles arranged around the atrium. When neo wakes up in the first movie, he is in a pod, identical to every other pod, arranged around a circular column.

Zion is kept going by automated machines that theoretically could be shut down, but can't because then Zion would have no source of water or air or power. Oh, and zion is powered by the same human batteries the other machines are.

When I went home I actually felt the same betrayal Morpheus did at learning that Zion was accounted for in the plan of the matrix as another system of Control. Some might use this to blame the filmmakers, but I think I was actually a brilliant stroke.

Still some ambiguity in the role of the Oracle. Though she directed Neo to the Architect seemingly in fulfilment of his plan she declares that Neos choice is already made, and that he simply needs to understand the reason for it. So he's already seen his choice made to save Trinity, he just needs to understand his reason for it which is, as the Architect says "hope" borne of his love for Trinity.

A Meta-matrix?

One speculation even in the first film was what if the "real world" that Morpheus woke Neo up to is just another level of the Matrix? I generally regard this as a
cheap cop-out of storytelling. Reloaded gives us no real reason to believe this. allegedly, because Neo is able to produce a "EMP" effect that stops some Machine sentinels dead in the real world, it indicates he isn't really in the real world since he should have no powers. But consider:

1. The "battery" plot point: all the humans are supposed to be power sources for the Machines. This was the most ludicrous premise of the Matrix, since humans only generate energy by consuming it. Allegedly the Filmmakers originally conceived of the humans as providing processing power for the Matrix computers, which makes more sense to me but was deemed too confusing to brainless movie audiences. Perhaps they are retconning this back in. But consider: The humans used by the machine are genetically engineered. Perhaps they can now generate some form of electric current?

Whatever the handwaving, they could be going with this. If humans can generate energy for the Matrix, why can't a special human like NEO actually generate enough energy, or energy of the right "frequency" (shades of Star Trek) to disable the machines.

2. Neo also still has all the connector points attached to his skin, which perhaps make an adequate conduit for an EMP to be transmitted out to compatible Machines.


That's all I have for now. I think I need to watch the first movie again and see this one again too.


May 12, 2003

So now the epidemic of divorce in our country has ruined Saturday morning cartoons for the rest of us. I'm not dealing with my kids for the first time in two weeks each Saturday, and my wife and I would like to plop them down in front of something entertaining while we take care of business around the house.

But no, the divorced guilt-ridden parents have to go and take their kids to amusement parks or buy them x-boxes so it no longer pays to put good animation onscreen.

[ok, the article points to major changes that cable-nicheization and the growth of Nickalodeon and Cartoon Network (which we don't get) have also wrought. So I don't blame divorce alone]


May 09, 2003

Did you know a splashproof urinal has been invented? I wonder why it hasn't been more widely adopted? [link from Straight Dope]


May 07, 2003

Ok. Now the story is that many of the Iraq museum treaures were moved out of the museum before the war to safe locations by the Iraq government, and that we know where they are but won't say yet because we don't wnat those repsoitories to get looted.

But there still may be an issue with the unaccessioned items in the vaults.


May 04, 2003

Jonathan Tweet responds to my response to his article "Yahweh as Bully"

I'll have to write up something more detailed later, but his basic point is my explanation, while interesting, is not "parsimonious" enough to his modern mind to be acceptable. I don't completely disagree, but that's because I don't think Biblical (or even ancient writers) wrote in a manner that is analyzable in a parsimonious fashion. I think this might mean Tweet is not actually claiming the writer of the Genesis story believed YHWH to be a liar, but rather his response as a reader is to say that Yahweh is a liar.

I thought Tweet was analyzing this on the level of what the writer intended, but I am disaapointed to guess he is not. Tweet wrote a roleplaying game and other works that I thought indicated a mind willing to deal with encoded storytelling, but that seems not to apply in this case.


So yesterday I stopped in at my comic shop (the one on South Street) to see if anything interesting was out yet. It happened to be Free Comic Book Day, which is the second one of these since last year, I think, and was timed to coincide with the release of the new X-men movie. (I haven't seen the movie yet). I really didn't find much I wanted to get, even among the free comics. I did pick up a Donald Duck, since I figured my daughter might like it. I also picked up a few issues of Generations 3, a John Byrne "imaginary future history" of the Superman and Batman characters. I got Tom Strong issue 20, which seemed to have had a long delay in publication. But no League of Extraordinary Gentlemen volume 2 or new Cerebus phonebook.

On the way out I looked around for the freebie "upcoming comics" paper, but only found something called Arthur magazine, pictured at left. Alan Moore is the author of Tom Strong, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and the old Watchmen [Jordan's brief review] and Swamp Thing comics, among others.

The interview here is fascinating. I'd been aware that Moore was a) not a Christian, b) probably an atheist/agnostic, c) a drug user, but here it is revealed that since 1994, Moore has considered himself an actual magician, having been contacted (under the influence of mushrooms) by a "second-century Roman snake god called G______". I've not been following Moore's career much so this was news to me. It explained whyPromethea had become unreadable crap by issue 12 though.

I liked Promethea fairly well from its inception. It was much less turned in on itself than Tom Strong. Promethea is sort of a combination Shazam and Wonder Woman, a heroine who is an alternate form for a young woman writer, with connections to a realm called "the Immateria" which is a kind of collective unconscious of the world. Other writers had connected with Promethea in the immateria before, and each added his or her own particular twist. She runs around in skimpy armor and wields a caduceus, so she has the Greek-mythic overtones that Wonder Woman has. The first several issues set up the characters and gave us some basic introduction to the Immateria. It was obvious she was a magic-powered superhero. I found the "real-world" setting she was placed in to be fairly interesting, since Moore was positing a lot of other superheroes and a kind of "near future" alternate works of slightly higher technology and different cultural artifacts.

The characters established, Moore started doing the same kind of thing he did with Swamp Thing in American Gothic. Whereas the Swamp Thing first met with vampires, the werewolves, and ghosts, hitting all the tropes of the American horror field, Promethea started a journey of discovery (since she was a new Promethea, unestablished in her role) though the immateria learning the many-valenced symbols of magic. While somewhat intriguing, it became apparent to me that the whole series was becoming a occultist info-dump, the magical details seemingly having little to do with advancing the plot or the characters. Moore seems aware of this in his interview, saying "[I hope that] I might be providing attitudes, mental tools, ways of looking at things, that would actually be of use in these otherwise turbulent times. That's the plan. With Promethea it is entirely overt. I sometimes fear that Promethea, so far we've avoided it, I hope it doesn't degenerate into a dull lecture upon the occult. What I'm trying to do is have as much information as I can get in there and still tell an entertaining fantasy story. Obviously I'm the last person to ask whether it's succeeding. you know."

Some interesting illustrations come from the interview. I was reminded of C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters in the observation Screwtape makes of the fine line the demons walk with encouraging materialism, for while it leads to a denial of the reality of God, it means the demons make no magicians. I recall though that Screwtape expresses hope that the truth-hating tenor of our age will lead people to the occult and materialism at the same time. Moore has been so led, it seems. Speaking of his demon "G______"
the only references there are to him in the literature, which are very disparaging, are in the works of the philosopher Lucien. Lucien explains that the whole G_____ cult was an enormous fraud, and that G_____ was a glove puppet. And I've got no reason to disbelieve that whatsoever. To me, I think that's perfect. If I'm gonna have a god, I prefer it to be a complete hoax and a glove puppet because I'm not likely to start believing that glove puppet created the universe or anything dangerous like that. To me the IDEA of the god IS the god. It doesn't matter what form it takes. This is one of the problems that for me Christianity has. Christianity's got some lovely concepts! Beautiful concepts. However Christianity also insists upon the historical Jesus. If it was ever proven that Jesus didn't exist, the whole of Christianity would fall to pieces. There's no reason for it to, but it would, because they insist that this was DEFINITELY real, he was DEFINITELY born of a virgin, he DEFINITELY died on the cross, and then DEFINITELY physically ascended to Heaven.
Moore also starts out talking about the intersection of art and occultism, looking at how many occultists were also visual artists, and those (many surrealists, but also Mondrian) well known artists who were dabblers.
One of the prime occult ideas from the beginning of the last century which is also interesting because it was a scientific idea, was the notion of the fourth dimension. This became very big in science around the end of the 19th century because of the eccentric Victorian mathematicians like Edwin Abbot Abbot [...] who did the book Flatland and C. Howard Hinton [...], who published the book what is the Fourth Dimension So 'the fourth dimension' was quite a buzzword around the turn of the last century. You got this strange meeting of scientists and spiritualists because they all realized that a lot of the key phenomena in spiritualism could be completely explained if you were to simply invoke the fourth dimension. The idea of the fourth dimension could explain how you would see inside a locked box during a seance, or see inside a sealed envelope. Well in terms of the fourth dimension you just could

So you get this surreal meeting of science and spiritualism back then, and that also had an incredible effect upon art. Picasso: he spent his youth pretty well immersed in hashish and occultism. Picasso's imagery, where you've got people with both eyes on one side of their face is actually an attempt to approximate a fourth dimensional view of a person: if you were looking at somebody from a fourth dimensional perspective, you’d be able to see the side and the front view at once. The same goes with Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase where you've got this sort of multiple image, as if the form were being projected through time as it descends the staircase.

I found it interesting is that Moore's magical interest has basically changed the direction he was going as a writer. He was much darker and more of a social critic in his pre-1994 writing. His connection of multiple dimensions has infused his writing in Tom Strong, which has recently involved heavy plotlines about parallel universe and the different Strong that inhabit them, which is nice as an homage to a less cynical time in comics, but is really hard to sustain as the focus of the work.
[I]n the '80s I kind of was seeing environmentally and politically all these long looming shadows and I felt that it was necessary to sound a wake-up call. When Margaret Thatcher has been in for a couple of years and we were starting to get riot police sent into previously peaceful urban centers, I felt that V for Vendetta was necessary. There were a lot of fascist rumblings from the far right groups over here. The future WAS uncertain. [...] So it seemed necessary then to strike a few dark chords and try and wake people up to where they were headed.

Now, from my perspective, where I thought we were headed, we're there now. We're in quote a dark space, particularly given the current international situation. And I don't think that it's any more use to ram the darkness down people's throats. I think they've had enough of that. I mean, I could carry on doing that forever, because its very easy to horrify people. [...] I could have carried on doing things that were very dark, pointing to all the things that are happening in the world now and pointing to the darkness in them.

That's not to say there aren't any political observations in my books now, but they're kind of applied with a lighter touch now. And I'm more concerned with trying to give people access to the mental tools to get them beyond this situation, not to warn them about how bad things are getting. Because, I mean a lot of people can just surrender to despair. If they had all the information, they'd go an hang themselves. And that's no good for anybody.
That's an impressively Gnostic worldview, Moore disengaging himself from even his own leftist political writing because he feels the magical worldview provides a way out of the crushing darkness he perceives in the real world. He's self-consciously Gnostic, but makes a crucial misstep in his reading of Gnosticism’s superiority to orthodox Christianity
Faith is for sissies who aren't go and look for themselves. That's my basic position. Magic is based upon gnosis. Direct knowledge. Its a kind of 'I'm from Missouri. Show me" approach, if you like. I think that gnosis is probably the original form of spirituality in mankind [...] If you look at the early Christians, the people that were allegedly around Jesus, they you can't get much more Gnostic that St. Thomas--he had to stick his hand in the wound before he was convinced!
Thus Moore turns a major indicator of the anti-Gnosticism of the Christian message and the full involvement of the story of Jesus with the real world as a signpost on the road to subjective experientialism.


May 02, 2003

Lone Xylophone has had some poignant thoughts recently, in her 4/23 and 4/29 blog entries (no working permalinks though). I don't have any great insights in response, but I found John Derbyshire's melancholy observations on the propensity for youth to squander their birthright for messes of pot and rage.

Her comments on Porteous's article in Re:Generation Quarterly are also worthwile. But I'm not sure why Porteous sees the sentiment "it's what's over the skin that counts--the surface and the image it sustains" as indicative of post-modernism. It simply seems universal. What culture or time did not use ornament to impress or awe? (I could say "shock or awe", and make a hip reference and include the body mod set in with the power tie set). What is pomo is probably what Derbyshire alludes to and Xylophone's post hints at: that the postmodernist's "skin" is one that can display a 'taste' for the marginalized and oppressed and avoid sanction from the structures of society that display 'taste' with the acoutermants of power and prestige. But the actual magrinalized society has no resources to put on display that which the bohemian might appropriate as a form of taste.


May 01, 2003

The looting of the Iraq museum was not as bad as initally reported, says the New York Times. Many objects are being retunred. Some of the returns are copies of items from the museum gift shop.

   
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