Thursday, October 05, 2006

Samuel Johnson to Bush and Hastert

Clive Wilmer is celebrating the poet Samuel Johnson over at Carcanet Press. I find it both strangely disturbing and reassuring to know that great minds of the past have struggled with the same trends and issues that we do today. Here's something for the lesser minds in government today from Johnson's Vanity of Human Wishes

LET Observation with extensive View,
Survey Mankind, from China to Peru;
Remark each anxious Toil, each eager Strife,
And watch the busy Scenes of crowded Life;
Then say how Hope and Fear, Desire and Hate,
O'erspread with Snares the clouded Maze of Fate,
Where wav'ring Man, betray'd by vent'rous Pride,
To tread the dreary Paths without a Guide;
As treach'rous Phantoms in the Mist delude,
Shuns fancied Ills, or chases airy Good.
How rarely Reason guides the stubborn Choice,
Rules the bold Hand, or prompts the suppliant Voice,
How Nations sink, by darling Schemes oppress'd,
When Vengeance listens to the Fool's Request.
Fate wings with ev'ry Wish th'afflictive Dart,
Each Gift of Nature, and each Grace of Art,
With fatal Heat impetuous Courage glows,
With fatal Sweetness Elocution flows,
Impeachment stops the Speaker's pow'rful Breath,
And restless Fire precipitates on Death.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Oompa Loompa Pygmy Hippies

When I was a young child I was told three things about hippies by my rather conservavtive grandfather: 1) they had long hair, 2) they said "peace" a lot while waving their fingers in the peace sign formation, 3) they wanted to steal your money and make you one of them.

This was enough to make me fear hippies. In my 4 year old mind, I was convinced for some reason that hippies could seep up through the corner between the floor and the wall. With the iron clad logic of that age, I determined my best course of action was to make my older sister sleep on that side of the bed. Me, I wanted to be able to run right into my mom's rooms to escape the evil hippies.

Roald Dahl didn't seem to have a fixation on hippies. His original oompa loompas were African pygmies. These were changed to hippies by his publisher seeking to avoid controversy:

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Japanese Hooters and Toilets

My good friend, Tree Cat, tells me the Japanese know their toilets. They've gone beyond the bidet to include massage seats and a bunch of other stuff. Now they've added MP3 players.

The Japanese also know how to do Hooters with style:

I'd like the melons, the coconuts and a cup of tea, please.


This is what I live with...

Andre Cypriano

Amazing photographs of Brazil. Black and white, etherial, haunting, editorial, heart rending, breath taking.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Ghost Stations

I went to Europe a long time ago, right before the fall of the Wall. Got to go through Checkpoint Charlie and have a bunch of my hard earned money turned into valueless East German dollars. The Berlin underground was built before the wall went up with some of the stations ending up on the wrong side. These became ghost stations. Unused and cobwebby with a single armed guard stationed at the information booth. Trains didn't stop. Since the Wall came down, these stations are being used again. Eventually I'll go back to Berlin and get off at one just because it's possible again.

The London Underground is a marvel. It's a world unto itself. If you ever go to London buy an A-Z (pronounced "A to Zed") and a day pass. There are ghost stations here too, but for other reasons. Here's a site about those:

Monday, July 03, 2006

Oh Superman

The thing about gods is that they can look cruel no matter how "good" they are. I just saw Superman Returns last night. It made me so sad. It's one of the most personal portrayals of Superman I've ever encountered. He's definately a Christ figure, but not because he's a god or the Son of God. Simply because he has this tremendous ability to help others. In the movie you see him flying up to the stratosphere where he can hear the cries of all the people who are suffering at the moment. He must chose the one act out of all the possibilities to fix. Lois Lane at one point tells him that humans don't need a savior and he brings her up there and says, "but so many are calling for one". Ultimately, we find out that he understands his mission in life to that of inspiring others to work out their problems on their own.

This mission is contrasted to a few quick scenes that show us Superman as a boy first gaining some of his abilities. He's leaping over the cornfields of Kansas and you can just see how much fun this would be. Imagine being 10 years old and being able to leap hundreds of feet in the air. What fun! What innocent fun! Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all just stay in that joyful moment.

But of course, we can't. At some point we recognize the pain around us and within us and we have to make choices about it. Do we ignore it and keep jumping for our own joy? Do we become twisted and hateful, seeing other people as the problem - as Lex Luthor sees Superman? Oh, there's a wonderful scene near the end where dashing, civilized Lex shows us exactly what he learned in prison. Ah, life is prison, how do we let that shape us?

Or do we decide to act, knowing that by doing so, we are denying all the other possibilities in that moment?

And for most people, the first two options are the most understandable. The child is equally denying everyone of help. The villian is expressing our most shameful feelings. But Superman is actively denying help to the suffering because he chooses to help at all. And to all those he didn't swoop down and save in the nick of time, he appears very cruel indeed.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Where the Sun goes

Archaeologists have found an prehistoric earthwork in Wales they believe was the inspiration of Stonehenge.

From the article:
"It’s as if the builders of Stonehenge were translating an interest in the sunrise from a centuries-old burial tradition to a new religious tradition," said Burrow. "I think (the mound) tells us something about where the builders of Stonehenge got their inspiration. Bryn Celli Ddu is the only other monument in Britain to have a midsummer sunrise alignment."

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Isle of Avalon

As a practicing Pagan with an academic background, one of my greatest laments is that there are so few good books out there on Paganism. So when I find a well-researched book on a Pagan topic, I like to tell people about it.

Nicholas R. Mann's "Isle of Avalon" [Green Magic Press] is a spiritual exploration of the area around Glastonbury Tor, one of the sites considered to be a forerunner of the mythical Avalon of Arthurian legend. Mann grounds his work in modern archeology and historical understanding, but he interprets things with an eye to the religious and spiritual practices of nature-based worship. He is careful to note when he is speculating and lets the merit of his conclusions rest in the reader.

It is quite a task to integrate the Matter of Britain, the collection of legends and history that form what Mann calls "a charter for [British] nature, unity, spirituality, sovereignty, and ultimately for their destiny." That's a big job, but as Mann shows, the Matter of Britain is up to the task. And not just for the British either, but for everyone who has read the tales of the Mabinogi and King Arthur and felt a pull to something deeper than mere tales. Through the history of Glastonbury, from its beginnings in prehistory through its Christianization, Mann integrates the huge range of time and practice showing an approach to the material that allows modern readers to use this history to move forward.

This book is well written, well researched, and exhaustive in its coverage of the history and myth of the Tor.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Monks on the rampage

Libanius was a Classical orator who lived before, during and after the reign of Emperor, the last Pagan Emperor of Late Antiquity. In his Oration XXX, For The Temples, he writes to Emperor Theodosius regarding bands of monks who coursed through the countryside “like rivers in spate.” Their destruction was not only of the physical temples and shrines that dotted the countryside, but also of the people's relationship with the land.

“…by ravaging the temples, they ravage the estates, for wherever they tear out a temple from an estate, that estate is blinded and lies murdered.”

The kinds of practices we see in peoples who have maintained their contacts with the gods of their land are sustainable. I can only imagine that the kind of terror Libanius describes was the start of the Western way of dealing with the environment.

Bonnie Rideout

I read somewhere, I think in Patricia Monoghan's beautiful book Red Haired Girl From The Bog, that Irish music expresses two feelings, grief and joy. Regardless of where I got this idea from, you should do two things, read Pat's book and know that this is true.

And if you don't believe me, check out Bonnie Rideout. She's a fiddler. In one song of hers, she will break your heart and make you dance with happiness. And all you have to do is listen.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

X-Men so sad

I used to be a buyer for a comic book store, which is why I hate comics. I love the medium, in fact, it is my favorite storytelling medium. It allows for all the unmarked story elements of prose, many of film, plus there are some really amazing thing you can do with the sequential art. It is a highly compact medium, being able to tell a complex story is a fraction of the length of prose, much less film (consider that it took a mere 4 comics to tell the story of the first X-Men movie and there are 100's of X-Men comics.)

For the most part, the X-Men movies have been an exercise for me in seeing what can and cannot be converted from comics to film. Jackman's Wolverine was a nice surprise that made the whole thing bearable. By far my favorite parts of all three films has been seeing the mutants, whose powers I am embarrassingly familiar with, in motion. Wolverine claws moving under his skin, Colossus' armor flowing over his body. This had been balanced by the ridiculous, a sequence showing first Storm and then Jean Grey using their powers indicated by their blank stares at the out of scene blue screen.

It's an understatement to say the plot of X-Men 3 meanders. If properly treated in comic book form, I estimate it would take at least 20 if not 30 issues. (At 3.50 a pop, the price they were at the last time I stepped foot in a comic book store, that's $70-105 or a handful of movie tickets.) And there is absolutely no reason given for why two of the bad guys were given different solutions at the end. No reason for much of any of it.

Except for Kitty Pryde and Juggernaut. Not really worth the price of admission, but like Nightcrawler's power aria in the second movie, seeing Kitty use her powers against the musclebound, mysteriously Australian Juggernaut was cool.

Cabell the lost

I finally found James Branch Cabell.

From Figures of Earth:

“Yes, but,” asked Manuel, slowly, “what is success?”
“In your deep mind, I think, that question is already answered.”
“Undoubtedly I have my notion, but it was about your notion I was asking.”
Horvendile looked grave, and yet whimsical too.
“Why, I have heard somewhere,” says he, “that at its uttermost
this success is but the strivings of an ape reft of his tail, and grown rusty at
climbing, who yet feels himself to be a symbol and the frail representative of
Omnipotence in a place that is not home.”

I love it.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

There's a reason for that ritual

I'm reading "Celtic Sacred Landscapes" by Nigel Pennick. Pennick is a great author for the modern Pagan. He's a scholar. He knows his sources. But where other scholars see a bunch of superstitious beastmen or wannabe Christians when they look at the fragmentary and inconclusive historical record, Pennick sees thoughtful, religious people. It's a nice change.

In chapter 1 he makes a statement about sacred landscape and the rituals that emerge from them in human consciousness: "[Rituals] ensure harmonious conformity of the visible world with the invisible."

This got me thinking about the Oracle of Delphi. Some of you may know that recent studies seem to indicate she was huffin' ethylene, a sweet smelling narcotic vapor, similar to what has been used at times in the last century for anesthesia.

At Delphi, the Pythia would go through some ritual steps before sitting over the sacred vent. This included things like fasting for a certain period of time. But at least once in recorded history, the Pythia was forced at sword point to give oracles immediately without ritual preparation. In the story, the Pythia goes into violent convulsions, freaks out, and sends the soldiers running in fear before she dies. (May she rest in the arms of the gods.) To modern scholars, this whole incident looks like ethylene overdose.

What is striking to me is how the ancient rituals of fasting and the practices around how the Pythia did her job, how far she was from the vent, how long she stayed, what time of day she inhaled, all seem to guard against ethylene overdose. This is certainly a case of ritual ensuring a harmonious conformity between the visible and the invisible.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Melora My Love

I just got a copy of "The Book of Arthur" by John Matthews. Matthews is one of the best of the popular Arthurian scholars and he has collected a group of tales relatively unknown to modern readers. Many were known by Malory, who pared down a larger collection of known tales to create his reknowned Morte D'Arthur. Matthews has gone back to that earlier collection and selected some of the tales he feels Malory would have put in Morte D'Arthur II. Matthews has also looked farther afield and found some really wonderful tales from Ireland and from the centuries after Malory. Altogether this book is a wonderful expansion to the better known literature for any Arthuriana buff.

Enough of Arthur. The tale that got me going is "The Story of Malora and Orlando." In this Celtic romance from the 17th century, we meet Malora, the daughter of King Arthur. She and Orlando fall in love, but it's Orlando who gets kidnapped and Malora who must do the rescuing. And a fine job she does of it as well. Maybe it's the name "Orlando" but I kept seeing Kiera Knightly as Malora. Anyway, I was really struck by how easily Malora was able to take on the masculine hero role in this romance from several centuries ago. It's a good read, I highly recommend it and the collection as a whole.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

I love arguing

I love arguing with someone who has the stamina. Presentation of potentially contradicting points of view, analysis of the other's reasoning, feedback on one's own reasoning. Adjustment, learning, appreciation for differences, bad thought processes purged by an outside perspective, good arguments tempered into better arguments.

One of my professors in college, George Lakoff, wrote in his book "Metaphors We Live By" that our culture almost consistently uses the metaphor "argument is war". We "demolish" our "opponent's" "defenses", etc.

Then he drops da bomb that made me chose Linguistics as my major... What kind of culture would we have if we used the metaphor "argument is dance"?