31 October 2005

Hallowe'en

Merry Goth Christmas!

Via Pandagon, I am amused by yet another article in the "Hallowe'en candy and Harry Potter are tools of Satan" genre, from Linda Harvey.

This stuff is fish-in-a-barrel to mock. I'm gonna have to succumb to temptation on this one for a second.

And those who say that, if we sacrifice Halloween, we'd have to stop celebrating Christmas and Easter, haven't thought this through. Yes, there were originally pagan holidays near Christmas and Easter, but Christ's birth and resurrection have really re-claimed both of these, despite the commercialization. Worldwide, people know what both these holidays are about.

God has left Halloween untouched. There is no significant Christian spiritual or historical event that occurs near Oct. 31.

Huh? Ms. Harvey appears to not actually know the first thing about pagan holidays --- or, it seems, Catholic ones. If she's worried about the survival of pagan practice, she arguably has it backwards.

The names of Œster and Yule have survived, as have many of the key European pagan rituals. Folks paint eggs for Easter. For Yule, folks bring a tree into their living room and decorate it with lights, and kiss under the mistletoe for Goddess' sake.

On the other hand, most folks can't even pronounce the word Samhain, much less recognize it as a name for Hallowe'en. The word "Hallowe'en" comes from "All Hallow's Eve," the day before the Catholic All Saints' Day on 1 November. I'll grant her the pumpkins, but I'd think that from where she stands they aren't nearly as spooky as holly and mistletoe would be if she understood them. Beyond that, considering that most folks celebrate Hallowe'en with candy, beer, pirate costumes, and singularly un-frightening cartoon skeletons, it's hard to be impressed with the amount of pagan ritual observance going on out there. Unless you're the sort of Christian who thinks that anything fun equals evil, and evil equals pagan. (Or, I suppose, if you're the kind of pagan who thinks of the libations as the main event.)

Before I get started on her dread of Harry Potter, I want to get to the real reason I was struck by Ms. Harvey's essay.

Robert Anton Wilson said somewhere that he first saw a t-shirt reading "reality is just a crutch for people who cannot handle science fiction" at a speaking engagement in Kansas, and was astonished by this sign that his philosophy was more pervasive than he thought. Even midwesterners could joke about reality being ontological Silly Putty on a t-shirt.

So, too, I detect a threshhold being crossed. Harvey says:

Halloween marks and highlights the forces of darkness. It's a showcase for mediums, fortune-telling, occult beliefs, to become more and more mysteriously appealing to uninformed children, all whilst they are surrounded in today's America by the lure of "magick." We're not in Kansas anymore.
Whoa, wait a minute! Does everyone know these days that occultists spell magick with a 'k'? How can she be stone ignorant about Œster and Yule, but know that?

30 October 2005

Fever

In the last few years, I've caught a succession of bugs that have made me feel crappy enough that I do nothing for a couple of days but whip through another season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD. So this weekend makes it Season Six: Life is the Big Bad.

The writing on the show is terrific, as usual. The famous musical episode is very impressive, though I thought the last couple of numbers were not as strong as the others. The evil nerds are fun. I don't exactly recommend it as uplifting to watch when you're feeling crummy to begin with, but now I'm deep enough into it to want to finish.

With only one season of Buffy left, I'm hoping this means that I only have to get sick one more time for the rest of my life.

28 October 2005

Scandal

It looks everyone else is safe, at least for now, but we have indictment on five counts for Libby. From the Washington Post:
The vice president's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Jr., was charged Friday with obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements in the CIA leak investigation, a politically charged case that will throw a spotlight on President Bush's push to war. Libby resigned and left the White House.
This is only the first round. Investigations are ongoing. The Post explains why this matters.
Any trial would dig into the secret deliberations of Bush and his team as they built the case for war against Iraq.
There you have it. Where does the trail lead?

Consider the Clinton "scandals." It turned out that Clinton was clean when Whitewater was investigated. He did have some extramarital affairs --- and he lied under oath to hide the one with Monica Lewinsky from his family --- but tawdry as they may have been, they were all consensual, and there was no substance to allegations of sexual harassment. He didn't perjure himself to hide a crime, he did it to hide embarassment. There was nothing political, nothing about his service as President. Where does the trail lead? Nowhere.

In contrast, Watergate started from the particular incident of the break-in to the DNC headquarters, which was bad enough, because it was specifically about the election. But the important thing in understanding it is the trail from the crime to the cover-up of the incident, to Nixon's involvement in the coverup --- "what did the President know and when did he know it?" Which then leads inside of the Nixon White House, revealing Nixon's whole political "dirty tricks" operation. Nixon resigned to stop any more of that from being revealed. If you want to be a truly paranoid Nixon-hating lefty like me, you can speculate about what else might have turned up in that investigation: the bombings in Cambodia, his knowledge about the Kennedy assasination, or aliens in Area 51. I'm paranoid enough to suspect that there was something dirty that would have come to light, even if it wasn't something so melodramatic. But even without such speculative stuff, we know that Watergate definitely pointed toward Nixon's electoral dirty tricks. Where does the trail lead? Politics, serious enough to destroy his presidency.

How about the Valerie Plame story? This isn't about the conduct of an election campaign; the trail leads directly to the justification for the Iraq war. Libby blew Valerie Plame's cover to punish her husband Joseph Wilson for debunking Bush's claims about Iraq's nuclear program. So just as Watergate led to electoral dirty tricks, so too this will lead to Iraq intelligence dirty tricks. Since we now know that Iraq had no WMDs, and the administration, including the President himself, insisted that they did, dirt throughout the administration, about the most serious issue imaginable, is a certainty. Where does the trail lead? Lies used to justify the Iraq war. Serious. More serious than Watergate.

Everywhere

Whaddaya know. George Takei, who played Sulu on Star Trek, just came out as gay.
You know, it’s not really coming out, which suggests opening a door and stepping through. It’s more like a long, long walk through what began as a narrow corridor that starts to widen. And then some doors are open and light comes in, and there are skylights and it widens. Brad’s my partner, we’ve been together for 18 years. So, I’ve been "open," but I have not talked to the press. In that sense, maybe that’s another opening of the corridor there.
Takei is an all-around cool guy: friendly to Trek fans, still a hardworking actor, involved in civil rights and other political stuff --- not least talking about how he spent a good chunk of his childhood in an internment camp. Bravo to him for taking what is still, alas, a tough step.

Today's quote

From Warren Ellis. You may want to click through to see the illustration of the point.
$207 million to remake a flick about a giant monkey?

$207 million?

I mean, when the new Superman flick was reported to have gone to US $250 million, I assumed they were, you know, literally making Brandon Routh fly. For $207 million, you can grow your own giant fucking monkey.

NASA and ESA put satellites into orbit around Mars for less money.

I myself am looking forward to the giant monkey movie.

27 October 2005

Countdown

While we're impatiently waiting for Fitzmas, DeLong offers us a Platonic dialogue on the subject.
Glaukon: Victoria Wilson AKA Valerie Flame AKA Valerie Wilson AKA Valerie Plame AKA Valerie Plame Wilson.

Thrasymakhos: Do you understand it?

Glaukon: No. Does anybody?

Thrasymakhos: Tom Maguire might. I doubt it.

Glaukon: Well, you don't claim to understand it.

Thrasymakhos: Indeed not. But my not-understanding is at a very elevated and sophisticated level.

Glaukon: Do tell: what do you not understand?
I love Platonic dialogues!

Stories

I forget who passed this one on to me. Elie Wiesel, in The Gates of the Forest, tells this parable.
When the great Rabbi Israel Baal Shem-Tov saw misfortune threatening the Jews it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished and the misfortune averted.

Later, when his disciple, the celebrated Magid of Mezritch, had occasion, for the same reason, to intercede with heaven, he would go to the same place in the forest and say: "Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer," and again the miracle would be accomplished.

Still later, Rabbi Moshe-Leib of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say: "I do not know how to light the fire, I do not know the prayer, but I know the place and this must be sufficient." It was sufficient and the miracle was accomplished.

Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke to God: "I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story, and this must be sufficient." And it was sufficient.

God made man because he loves stories.

Read that last sentence a few times.

26 October 2005

Scandal guide

I'm hoping to find time to blog about the recent doings in the developing Rove / Plame / Wilson / Fitzgerald story. In the meantime, a few resources to help folks make sense of the recent news.

Digby clearly lays out the Plame story as of July and dKosopedia has a very thorough entry for "Valerie Plame affair"

A while ago, I wrote a post about how this reflects the ongoing feud of the CIA and State Department versus Rumsfeld's Pentagon. It's a long post, but it's the one piece of topical news analysis I've done on this blog that I'm truly proud of, so please do check it out if you don't remember it.

25 October 2005

2000

The Second Thousand

Honored sons and daughters of America

I don't know what to say. You may want to see what I said about the first thousand. You may want to go read some names. Or go to a vigil tomorrow night.

It's not the sex

It's the perjury.

Still speculation, mind you. The perjury, that is, not the big fat hairy lie.

The only cloud in this silver lining is that we might get Condi as VP.

24 October 2005

A hero passes

Rosa Parks
1912-2005
Civil rights mover

Let me remind you that she took her stand by refusing to stand in 1955. That's still in living memory; I had breakfast with my father Saturday, and he was twenty-six at the time she was arrested. If you look at her mugshot, you don't see an oil painting of some Historical Figure in a corset or a sunbonnet, you see a photograph of someone who wouldn't look conspicuous sitting next to you on a bus tomorrow.

A lot has changed in that very short time. It's a little hard for someone my age to entirely believe that separate entrances and segregated buses were real, but at that time most Americans never thought they would see them change ... and many Americans fought hard to keep them from changing.

I imagine that we'll get a few days of America congratulating itself for turning that part of itself around. A little bit of celebration there is a good thing — it is an achievement — but let's not break our arms patting ourselves on the back, shall we? Let's take this moment not as a marker of the justice we secured yesterday, but as a challenge for the justice that will already be overdue tomorrow. There's still lots to do.

Film school

Okay, last time, we talked about soundtrack and editing, focusing on the soundtrack. Let's do that again, only this time, let's focus on the editing.

23 October 2005

Science

It is important to read Roger Ebert's reviews of films he does not like. He gets bored of reviewing the movie, and wanders far afield into speculative territory. For instance, he sure didn't like Doom.
The monsters are still there on Mars. They are big mothers and must have awesome daily caloric requirements. How they survive, how they breathe earth atmosphere in the station and what, as carnivores, they eat and drink -- I think we can all agree these are questions deserving serious scientific study.
I am reassured that I am not the only one who wonders stuff like this.

22 October 2005

Brazil

Some things I noticed about Brazil in my short stay there:

  • Guidebooks say that Brazilians dine around 10:00 pm. Brazilians actually plan dinner for 8:00 pm. But "plan" is too strong a word --- chaos typically ensues at 8:00 pm. Thus Brazilians actually end up eating dinner around 10:00 pm.
  • São Paulo is the most bustling city I have ever seen. And I have been to the Shinjuku district of Tokyo.
  • Rio really is that beautiful. Green lumpy mountains just pop right out of the city at random.
  • No, I am not saying that Rio is beautiful because I saw a bunch of nearly-naked young women on the beach. It was not the season for that sort of thing. The beach is spectacular anyway, and I'm not even a beach kind of guy.
  • Actually, Rio is kind of a conservative town. Together with my pale skin and long hair I wore a coat and tie, as I usually do. I recognize that this is eccentric-looking even here in eccentric San Francisco, but it made me more conspicuous in Rio than I have ever been anywhere else. In São Paulo, some people gave me a second look, but in Rio lots of people stared.
  • This may have had something to do with being taken for a rock star. Really. Slipknot had played there just before I arrived, and one person actually asked me if I was in the band, and didn't seem to believe me when I denied it.
  • I'm jaded from hanging around with witches in the US. The words "witch" and "witchcraft" aren't scary for me any more. But hanging around with Brazilian witches, they refer to bruja and bruxeria, which sound pretty spooky to me!
  • When I'm King of America, when a woman sitcom-ish-ly asks if a pair of pants makes her ass look fat, she will get a trip to Brazil for three days. Women in Brazil have a false reputation for having unusually terrific figures. Not so. They just all wear very tight pants, which is much more flattering on perfectly ordinary women than most folks in the US would think.
  • When a tourist attraction is a spectacular work of art, the tourist kitch they sell at the little shops is much better.
  • The amount of Spanish that an attentive white guy in California picks up is extremely counterproductive in trying to quickly learn some conversational Portuguese, because it completely screws up your pronunciation. But one can read a lot of things.
  • The ubiquitous caipirinha is unbelievably tasty, and more alcoholic than it tastes.
  • Rio has suco (juice) stands on every corner in many districts, serving fresh juice from every fruit you can imagine and a few you cannot. We need this in the US.

Back on the air

Sorry to drop out for so long. I'm going to try to go back to daily again.