25/05: Hello... Is this thing on?
Well, damn, but I can’t tell. Wiretap technology these days, it’s light years from what it used ta be. None of those annoying clicks, none of that errant static on the line suggesting now might not be the time to talk to your ‘guy’ about the ‘product’…
So maybe you’re getting this, maybe you aren’t, but just in case you are listening, no, I’m not growing anything. Or rather, I’m not growing anything but clover… Yeah, some grass, too, but it’s the stuff meant for walking on—yes, the stuff genetically designed to die in the middle of July despite your doing everything in your power up to and including giving mouth to mouth to each and every withering brown blade in turn—and damn, but the neighbours are starting to worry about me (‘What’s he doing in the middle of the lawn with his head in the weeds? He’s been there a while… Should we call 911?’).
Okay, yeah, full disclosure, now that you mention it, I’m really not just growing grass and clover… In fact, ‘growing’ is a euphemism in the case of the grass. I prefer to think of it more as ‘feeding dried-out grass seed to the hungry songbirds’. And I’m also growing dandielions, wood sorrel, maple saplings, and a whole lot of other things that keep sneaking in when I’m not looking. But I’m pretty sure none of them are much for street value.
My point is, yes, I bought a buncha timers and sprinklers and thingies at the hardware store, but no, this is not an attempt to diversify into clandestine pharmaceutical agriculture. It’s just that I have two kids, a job, I’m getting old, and having small, programmable widgets on the hose outlets see to the business each morning of firing up the soaker hoses so that the newly-repaired patches of lawn can go ahead and die without my assistance is just sensible, at this point.
(And before anyone excessively fashionable and environmentally sensible brings it up, yes, we are planning on moving away from the classic lawn shortly—at least on one exposure—and toward vegetation more appropriate to Ottawa’s new summer climate—like, say, cacti—but it just didn’t quite seem feasible yet this year. And I am at least using as-efficient-as-is-practical soaker hoses, and setting those timers for dusk, all in the interest of keeping the water draw at least halfway responsible, anyway.)
23/05: Sex is icky. Or so we hear.
My earlier comments on who’s got the high ground between hack novelists and the various Christian sects are here, for what it’s worth, and I’ve got little to add to that. That’s not really my subject today, nor what amused me most about Falwell’s comments.
The most amusing thing here, if you ask me, is more Falwell’s views of the notion that his magical Messiah might have actually got married, had kids. His quibble there is, apparently, and I quote:
“When you question the integrity and morality of Christ, you take it a level beyond questioning his deity,” Falwell said.
—Falwell not a fan of Code, on newsadvance.comHeh. Right. ‘Cos, you know, it’s immoral to get married and have kids… Or somethin’…
So I guess Falwell’s taking a page from the ‘Better to marry than to burn… but not much’ book penned by ole’ man Paul all these years ago. And it’s a nice little reminder, isn’t it, of the actual mindset we’re dealing with here? It’s not just that they think all sex outside marriage and for the purposes of procreation is bad—which, hey, you’d think would be irrational and extreme enough, all on its own. Nope. They think that variety of sex is bad, too. Yes, even sex between married people planning on having kids.* And if it were practical, apparently, we must presume they’d try to outlaw that, too.
Now and then, I read something like this, and I find myself thinking the real problem with this bunch—Falwell, Paul—the lot of them—and thus much of the religion associated with them—is they live and lived their entire lives as frightened little boys embarrassed by their own biology—and never quite matured past the ‘Girls have cooties’ stage of social and intellectual development.
*Yep, a perfectly orthodox biblical view, if you’re reading Paul.
16/05: Erm... Right
More frequently, it approaches the hilariously oblique. My current winners for technical advice in the ‘I’m not sure how that helps, exactly’ category, and the ‘gratuitous sexual references’ category, respectively, are:
Sometimes, when I think of a cello vibrato, I envision two parallel walls about 3 feet apart. I see a weightless ball thrown against one wall. It immediately bounces back to the second wall, which in turn sends it back to the first wall. I have a feeling this could go on for years…
—Phyllis Young, via Tim Janof, on The Internet Cello Society’s page…erm… okaaaay… I can see the ball… Ver’ nice. Now what?
And then, of course, we have:
I have heard of one teacher who even uses male sexual imagery to get the motion down. I will leave this to your imagination. Ahem.
—Tim Janof, from, again, The Internet Cello Society’s page…hmm. How picturesque. Thing is, the vibrato I get using this advice, well, I dunno. Kinda choppy. And the imagery isn’t working for me, either.
No, I’m afraid not. The trouble is, I keep imagining my cello saying: ‘Dude? You know that’s my neck, right?’
15/05: In praise of hack novelists
And I’ll get to it then. And until then, let’s not rush things… Though I did read the first few pages a while ago, and found myself concurring with the advice of a wise colleague who told me I was unlikely to enjoy it much:
“It’s kinda light,” he said. “And kinda obvious.”
And yeah, it kinda looked that way to me, too. And yes, this is probably a very unfair conclusion to come to, given my very brief reading, but then, I’m a very unfair person.
All that said, I’m gonna come to its defense anyway.
No, not so much on whether it’s much of a novel. More on whether it is actually some kind of dreadful, spiritually corrupting heresy, or a Satanically-inspired revisionist history spawned in the depths of Hell and unleashed upon the weary Earth to deceive the unwary. ‘Cos, apparently, that’s the concern among certain Christian types, these days.
Yep. The Catholics in particular are on about it, but there are Protestant sects jumping onto this bandwagon too. Oh, it’s a terribly deceptive book, they’re sayin’. Says stuff about their messiah which almost certainly isn’t true. Crazy stuff… Like he married this Mary Magdalene woman, in particular.
(Okay… Yes… I suppose that might qualify as a spoiler if you’re the one other guy in existence who hasn’t listened to the chanting Tiki god yet… My apologies. And, hey, listen to Papa Moai and read it already, will ya? I want to be the last holdout. It’s all about the bragging rights. Anyway….)
Funny thing they’re getting so upset about this, and funny those organizations in particular should be saying such things. Because yep, it sure does sound like Brown’s story certainly gets a few things wrong, takes a few things and exaggerates their certainty, presents some pretty wild stuff as fact. I mean, forgetting, for a moment, that this is, actually, a novel, and thus presumably may be expected to contain certain quantities of fiction.
But this is the thing: while some of that stuff in the last category (the very not-real Priory of Sion) is easily enough dismissed, some of the rest of it is on a slightly different footing.
Some of the rest of it, in fact, is really, at this point in history, not much more flakey than the now-canonical stories these ‘orthodox’ sources would like to insist are the ones you should believe… And not much more poorly supported by the evidence that remains.
The fact is, we don’t know a whole hell of a lot about what—if anything—actually happened in the alleged Earthly life of the guy the Christians now seem to feel is/was a god, a ghost, and the god’s son all at once. The fact is, the reasonably credible scholars working on that question do differ on the particulars more than a bit. And it’s quite clear there were, prior to the selection of the canon at Nicaea, a wide range of differing traditions telling different versions of the tale, and a lot of them since didn’t survive to the current day nearly as well as did the canonical versions. In the wake of all that, what went on between the god/ghost/son guy and Ms. Magdalene isn’t terribly certain, but yes, there are those fragments suggesting they may have been very good friends.
And the fact is, it doesn’t take a whole lot of research to conclude that even the synoptic gospels aren’t all quite telling the same story. So what we have now are a handful of slightly different mythologized stories of some long-dead guy’s life… Or, for that matter, Judaised retellings of an older Greek (and, earlier, Egyptian) myth—since no, not everyone even agrees there was a historical figure around 2,000 years ago in that area of the middle East who served as the spark in the tinder, and yes, they’ve got some reason to doubt it, since curiously, no one else but the Christians preserving their mythic tradition seem to have noticed him (and Google ‘Josephus’ and ‘interpolation’, if you’re still having trouble accepting this reality, thanks).*
So, finally (and getting that that funny thing), what we have here is a bunch of folk complaining about Brown’s fiction, saying hey, that stuff he’s saying is all either (a) wrong or (b) unproven…
Okay. True. So it is.
But then, so is your version, guys, remember?
Yep. And where else, I ask you, could this happen? You are currently seeing a bunch of guys jumping up to say: ‘What? He got married and settled down?! Well, that’s just silly! Everyone knows he was crucified, and then rose from the dead three days later…’
Ummm. Yeeeeah. How wacky can you get, Brown? Married. Settled down. Pshaw. What have you been smoking, dude.
Seriously, the way I see it, Brown’s really got the high ground here.
I mean, at least his fiction is shelved in fiction.
* Addendum: This really isn’t so much intended as a scholarly essay, as you might have guessed, so it’s a bit light on the footnotes. But if you’re curious about all this stuff, I might recommend to you for a nice, capsule discussion of the quality of evidence in this area, and various interpretations of it, the ‘God Incarnate’ chapter of Taner Edis’ The Ghost in the Universe, as the most recent I’ve read. It’s nicely put together, reasonably concise, and altogether a very good introduction to the subject. I’m also told George Albert Wells’ stuff on the subject is worthy reading, but can’t recommend it directly, yet, as it’s still in my inbox.
Oh. Right. And he was playing with some guy called Pinchas Zukerman. I hear Pinchas gets mad if you don’t mention that. Sorry, dude.
Seriously, it was impressive. Thanks to my very alert wife’s way with ticket agents, we had seats in the third row from the front, near centre, so if I’d stretched too vigourously, I could probably have knocked the bow outta the guy’s hand.
And it’s a bit scary, sitting that close to a living legend. You really don’t want to stretch. Bad way to get in the papers, that: ‘Local wanker knocks bow out of Itzhak Perlman’s hand during performance’. Ain’t like you’d ever live that headline down.
Anyway. Impressions? Ummm…
Yeah. Right. He’s Perlman. He played really incredibly diffiicult music, made it look like gravy. What am I supposed to say, exactly? That I’ve heard more passionate performances? Like you’d care. Like you’d believe me.
Seriously, they were both, as you’d expect, great. Also seriously, some of the stuff on the programme was a bit of a snooze (as in: all very fast and technical and impressive but no, actually, not terribly passionate or engaging) by my lights*, but I really, really liked the bit of Handel they threw in for an encore. At the end of that piece, several members of the audience gave out some of those spontaneous little whoops you sometimes hear at rock concerts, as the last cadence faded out, and it made perfect sense, at the time.
And as to that seriously fast and technical and impressive stuff: you know that seriously stuck-up word ‘sublime’ that sometimes gets bandied about? I think it pretty much fit, here. Moments listening to violin and viola doing this little dance, and you’re thinking: damn, that’s durn pretty, impossibly intricate, and pretty much unbelievable, overall.
Coolest thing about Perlman: serious stage presence, strangely perfect, dry comic timing. The kind of cool you can probably only develop by spending oh, your entire life under the lights. He hobbles onto stage on those canes, sits down, introduces the pieces, and the house is just cracking up. And I’ve almost no idea why it’s funny, and I’m laughing anyway.
Good stuff, that. We should probaby try to get out to performances like this more than once every few years.
*You are free to conclude from this I’m some kind of tone-deaf troglodyte, if you wish. I dunno. My reactions are always all over the map on chamber music-ish stuff. Like I said: there were several ‘wow’ moments, anyway.
10/05: Good advice
The wife of the man who died soon after he was said to have been healed by American televangelist Benny Hinn seven years ago had this bit of advice for sick people who plan to attend Hinn’s crusade this month: Visit a doctor instead.
—‘Forget Benny Hinn, go to the doctors instead’, Trinidad and Tobago ExpressRandi commented in his excellent Faith Healers a while ago how very painful it was seeing the ‘healed’ sitting around the auditorium after the Brylcreemed wonders like Popoff and his ilk had done their ‘yew aw HEALED’ schtick… apparently, it just ain’t pleasant, seeing several infirm, now effectively immobile elderly folk pathetically waiting for someone to help them to the kerb, since their crutches have been dramatically broken for the benefit of the cameras, and now, ten minutes after the show, they’re realizing they still need them.
The TV audience, of course, never sees the follow up, so that sight doesn’t normally trouble anyone but the stage crews. But here’s one for the masses, and something a bit more painful still than just getting stuck at the auditorium, while the crew unhooks the cameras and moves on: from Trinidad: a man with heart disease, kidney failure, and hypertension, dead 33 days after Hinn ‘healed’ him.
That’s good advice his wife’s giving, there*. Granted, at 61, with all that going on in your plumbing, getting yourself going again isn’t exactly going to be easy, and so I’ve a little sympathy for someone wishing some big father figure in the sky could help him out with it. But let’s face it, kids: long as long as your odds might get, having some twit with a bizarro haircut push you over on stage is not a recommended course of therapy for clearing the plaque from your arteries.
*Well, about the doctor, anyway. The stuff about putting yer faith in ‘Jesus Christ’ really probably ain’t much better than putting it in Hinn. One small advantage: Christ, as he is either (a) a long-dead Essene or (b) an entirely fictional and confused amalgam of birth-death-rebirth gods is significantly less likely to push you over as part of his stage show. Which is, I guess, a little safer, at least.
08/05: Writing again
I’ll leave that question with you, seeing as that particular film isn’t so much my interest in the story. Nor is it precisely cult films in general, though that’s getting warmer. Nor, strangely enough, is it the fact that they quoted Umberto Eco (on the subject of what makes a cult film), whose opinions, normally, I wouldn’t miss a chance to riff on.
No, it’s actually one Roger Ebert’s comment on the subject of ‘irony’ as certain people see it—specifically, people who see, read, and/or roll in really spectacularly bad film, fiction, or other offal utterly devoid of artistic merit, and argue somehow that this entertains them precisely because it’s so bad… and (bearing in mind, that yeah, okay, I kinda liked the film version of Tank Girl for reasons somewhat overlapping with that attitude) these are the words that rang out of the radio yesterday morning on the subject, and which I now find myself thinking need wider airing:
I’m tired of the age of irony. The age of irony is just an attitude that excuses you for consuming junk as if it were worth consuming. You know, irony is also actually just an excuse to avoid doing the heavy lifting of important art. You know, if you don’t go to see great movies, or read great books, or go to great theatre, or look at great television, then you don’t have to think about it. You can just master trivia. And then when you’re thirty-five you can sit around drinking beer with your high school buddies and shit* your life away. People who embrace irony are living in a little bubble-brained universe of lost time.
—Roger Ebert, on The Current, May 5, 2006Yeah. Fair enough, sir.
(Deletes copy of The Star Wars Holiday Special from hard drive.)
*For the record, he actually said ‘shat’ here. But I’m pretty sure that’s the past participle of what he had in mind. Figured I’d clear it up, y’know?
03/05: Required reading
It’s just strange that here on the third of May we again have an occupier of a foreign land suggesting that the solution to our difficulties is greater ruthlessness, more indiscriminate killing, deeper disinterest in the human consequences of our actions.
—PZ Myers, The Third of May, on Pharyngula…I could go on about this. But there’s only so much I haven’t said already, years ago, over and over.
So I’ll just say this—in answer to PZ’s presumably rhetorical question: two hundred years from now, no-one is going particularly to care that the men whose actions and orders lead to such suffering apparently had convinced themselves they were in the right. No one’s going to remember any bullshit pretext that this was somehow ultimately about ‘fighting terrorism’…
No. They’re going to remember precisely what you’d expect them to remember: a child, covered in blood, screaming.
02/05: Flower blogging
I still have plans to do a nice post full of photos, but that takes time I haven’t got right at this second, with cropping and sizing and colour balancing and so on and so on… So for now, I’m just sticking some daffodils in the banner.
I’m not big into anthems, not big into nationalism—though I think a sense of belonging has its place (if you’ll pardon the odd and unintentional double entendre), I’ve often suspected that nation states, as big, abstract entities, frequently do something especially unpleasant to our already occasionally dangerous natural instincts for communal behaviour. But there was something especially eerie about this performance of the anthem in particular—it was coming at me over, of course, an outdoor loudspeaker of some variety, with the nasty thin, artificial plastic harmonics you’d expect from such a device, a recording of some children’s choir, sweetly singing the French version—and the result was odd and unsettling, overall—far too Children of the Corn for my liking, thanks—something thin and bland and institutional intruding on the lovely sunlit morning. Felt a bit too much like hearing some Red Chinese marching song, echoing over Tiananmen Square.
I’ve long suspected our sense of aesthetics can be a useful early warning system for certain things—that if it sounds thin and plastic and ugly, it probably is, and it’s probably not doing anyone any good. Found myself thinking that again, this morning.
Modest, musing thought for the day: kids are impressionable, easily influenced things, really. It’s a good idea to teach ‘em what they really need to know, but their ability to learn isn’t something I like to see abused.
And piping conformity at them over loudspeakers? I think maybe the world’s had enough of that. I think it might just make their lives (and maybe ours) a little less thin and plastic and ugly if we stopped doing that so much. You want them to learn to love where they live, just open the windows, let them see the morning. Today’s was much prettier than any marching song, anyway.