27 November 2007

a war on X-mas? (on first strikes)

Posted by at 3:28 PM
I stopped at a shop to get a bite to eat today. As I sat and ate my food, some piped-in muzak played from speakers concealed somewhere in the acoustic-tile ceiling. Christmas carols.
Not only do I find Christmas carols to be a particularly insipid genre of music, but the fact that they are being pumped out into our daily activities so soon (not even a week after turkey day) causes me to roll my eyes in disbelief. After a few of these innocuous and banal songs, I was moved to comment, aloud, "It's not Christmas yet, goddammit!" I looked around, only slightly concerned about whom I might have offended with my irreverent paroxysm. A young man looked at me and nodded a smile as if in silent agreement. A trio of hip-hopper high-school kids didn't seem to have heard me at all.
No casualties, then.

But it occurs to me that heathens like me (or even those unlike me) have not declared any war on Christmas after all, despite what idiot-pundits like Bill O might think or say. It seems to me that every year the first shots are always fired by corporate America (I realize that this practice is no longer a solely American phenomenon—but then corporate Japan doesn't concern me here).

I have absolutely nothing against the Christian celebration of Christmas. In fact, I have been known to sing a carol or two for my family and friends on that holiday, something which I genuinely enjoy doing. However, I do strongly object to being bombarded by a month's worth of it. If we heathens are at war with X-mas, it is only because we are carpet-bombed on a yearly basis. We are conducting defensive maneuvers, not the other way around. Yet we hear the advocates of this avarice repeatedly accuse all who don't fall in step with their profit-scheme of unfairly discriminating against the Christian religion.

My response to this charge is to point out that the month-long anticipation has absolutely nothing to do with the Christian religion. It is nothing more than a subconscious appeal to potential consumers, a reminder that there are "X" number of days left in which to get all of our shopping done. Nothing more. If you doubt the non-religious character of this practice, ask yourself what the song "Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow" has to do with the Christian religion. Or how about "Frosty the Snowman"? All of this is made even more ludicrous by the fact that I live in the Phoenix valley, where the total accumulation of snow precipitation since the time of Jesus is less than an eigth of an inch.

What idiot-pundits perceive as a "war on X-mas" is nothing but a reaction against a calculated and (because it is areligious in nature) disingenuous and hypocritical first assault on the part of greedy financiers.

Peace on earth and good will toward men—my ass!


26 November 2007

batá Sunday . . .

Posted by at 2:47 AM

Earlier today (yesterday by now) I went over to Emilio's to pay him for a recent gig. He had one of his students over (Shane). When I got there they were working over some batá rhythms. Seeing that they were only two, I picked up the okónkolo, sat down, and joined them, figuring that batá is best learned as a set of three drums. Emilio, of course, did not object to that. It was a pleasant afternoon of batá playing.

For those who might not know, Batá are double-headed, hourglass-shaped drums that are used in traditional liturgical Orisha music. Ever hear of the religion of Santeria? (La Regla de Ocha) — Well, THAT music. They are played horizontally resting on one's lap, the smaller of the two heads always on the left side. The little drum is called the okónkolo. The mid-sized one is the itótele. And the big one is called the iyá (mother).

The Orisha traditions, originally from the Yoruba people of West Africa, were brought to the Americas (they blossomed in Cuba) via the slave trade. Each orisha (an analogue to a deity) has a specific set of rhythms, dances and iconography that are used in the ceremonial calling of "the saints" (hence the misnomer of "santeria" a name that is really just a vestige from the synchretism between that tradition and Catholicism).

By itself, the rhythmic pattern played by any one batá drum is not terribly exciting. In fact it's deceptively simple. But when each drum locks in to its individual part together with the others, the individual patterns intertwine into a gorgeous and wondrous tapestry of sound and rhythm that is very complex and electrifying. It is one of the most challenging forms of music that I've had the pleasure to study.

Okay, I'm up late painting and need to go to bed now . . .
It was a good day.


21 November 2007

quote of the day . . .

Posted by at 7:23 PM
"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift."

Albert Einstein

faith and healing ...

Posted by at 2:40 PM

I've been recuperating from a medical condition for three months now. Grateful to be finally feeling better, and having promised myself that as soon as I felt enervated and focused enough I would attempt to do a few watercolors (as a kind of reward), I started working on a couple of them yesterday. I'll probably post fotos of them when they're done.

I felt like jotting down some thoughts here that I've been ruminating on during this time of convalescence.

I've come to the conclusion that most forms of medical practice rely heavily on the patient's "faith" in the efficacy of the procedures undertaken to counter his illnesses. In other words, I think that most medicine is a kind of placebo science. This point is highlighted in a short story I encountered recently (and which I included in one of my Brainstorming Simian Hour mixes—#3):

My father was a traiteur, a healer. "That's a fact," he said when I asked him about it. "It's an old, old tradition, passed on to me by Jacob Patou while he was on his deathbed. Some day, before I die, I'll pass it on to you. It's an honor to be chosen, son. It's got little to do with me or you, though; it's in His hands. And theirs—them that come to be healed. You've got to be a believer to be healed. And a believer ain't scared of what'll happen. He knows in his heart. It's in his eyes. The eyes will always tell you." . . .
I think he's essentially right. Faith of some sort is required in order for the chosen treatment to have the desired positive effect on our psyches and thus facilitate our recovery.

This, however, is part of my unique dilemma. What happens when a heathen like me is treated using means that I am inherently deeply skeptical about? Naturopathic remedies: Chinese medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic, "cranial/sacral" therapy, energy-work. My rational mind suspects all of the above to be founded on irrational superstitions and/or outright guile. This being the case, what chance does any one of these "therapies" have of being effective on one such as me?

I realize that the answer is less-than-inspiring, yet I still found myself willingly subjecting myself to some of these follies early into my malaise. Why? Because a drowning man will reach out for even the edge of a sword (as an old saying goes). But without the requisite faith, it is only an act of desperation and, ultimately, a waste of time and money.

This all reminded me of someone's comment on a blog that I read recently, where he (she?) implied that the story of Paul's healing of the town cripple (Acts 14:8–10) showed a kind of "faith" in things that had gone before. The commenter implied that the old man had "faith" in Paul's abilities as a healer, and because of this faith, he was healed. I disagree with that interpretation. As I read the story, the man had faith in being healed, not in Paul. Paul was just the travelling healer that happened to be nearby at the time. In fact, the story seems to imply that the townspeople had no idea who Paul was (they even hail him as a god when the healing has been accomplished—they obviously had no clue as to what Paul was really about).

Scientists have known for many years that the mind/body complex is a reciprocal synergistic relationship. Retaining a certain level of optimism and positivity is the crucial thing. Faith in a particular "method" is not what's needed. Faith is simply a rational trust in an outcome. I am convinced that faith has almost nothing to do with belief in things past.

Funny how thinking about one thing can spark insights into another.

What has helped me the most in this period of illness has been both a sense of acceptance of my condition and keeping as positive an outlook as possible within the limits of my humanity. Meditation helps with both.

19 November 2007

quote . . .

Posted by at 7:50 AM

"Forms and rhythms in music are never changed without producing changes in the most important political forms and ways."


11 November 2007

the synoptic meme . . . (brilliant corners)

Posted by at 4:49 PM

Over at Exploring Our Matrix, James McGrath has written a post about how our specific paradigms regarding the chronology and the inter-relationships between the synoptic gospels affect the scriptural arguments we make. He asks that anyone who understands what the synoptic problem is take a stab at describing the cathartic moment in which the paradigm congealed into a conclusive assertion —the moment in which turning a corner brought one face to face with an undeniability. In his case, the moment came while pondering the divergent stories of John the Baptizer's death.

In MY case, the thing that cememnted GMarkan priority came when I was reading some commentaries on GMk some years ago and was contemplating his use of chiasmi (some folks call them sandwiches). He uses the device many times, and each time he does, it serves to highlight some particular teaching. One night, I was examining each instance in which GMk uses one of these sandwiches, and then comparing it to its respective counterparts in GMatt and in GLk (a good three-columned synopsis is a beautiful thing).

As as I was looking at GMk 3:20–35

Then he goes home, and once again a crowd gathers, so they could not even grab a bite to eat. When his relatives heard about it, they came to get him (you see, they thought he was out of his mind).
And the scholars who had come down from Jerusalem would say, "he is under the control of Beelzebul" and, "he drives out demons in the name of the head demon!". And after calling them over, he would speak to them in riddles: "How can Satan drive out Satan?" After all, if a government is divided against itself, that government cannot endure. And if a household is divided against itself, that household won't be able to survive. So if Satan rebels against himself and is divided, he cannot endure but is done for. Noone can enter a powerful man's house and steal his belongings unless he first ties him up. Only then does he loot his house. I swear to you, all offenses and whatever blasphemies humankind might blaspheme will be forgiven them, but whoever blasphemes against the holy spirit is never ever forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin. (Remember, it was they that had started the accusation, "he is controlled by an unclean spirit.")
Then his mother and his brothers arrive. While still outside, they send in and ask for him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they say to him, "Look, your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside looking for you." In response he says to them, "my mother and brothers�who ever are they?" And looking right at those seated around him in a circle, he says, "Here are my mother and brothers. Whoever does God's will, that's my brother and sister and mother!"
**I've color-coded the form of the narrative in order to better show its "sandwich" structure.

As I was looking at this chiasmus, I came to a crossroad:
  1. If Mark is a condensation of Matthew:
    • In this story, Jesus' family is on the side of those who thought Jesus was a nut. It's clear and explicit. Not only that, in thinking that way, they also risk blaspheming against the holy spirit. No? Why would the author of GMk top this story about people thinking Jesus was crazy with this particular, very potentially subversive slice of "bread," one which, in effect, adds 'and so did his family think he was crazy too' in no uncertain terms?
    • This question leads to another: If whenever GMk uses one of these devices, it is usually to underscore some important teaching, why did this bit slip by GMatt's community?
    • Would not this addition be embarrasing or even anathema to the nascent Church?

  2. If GMatt used GMk:
    • Matthew takes out the family's thinking that Jesus was crazy or posessed—Poof!—verse gone! (And so does Luke remove it, btw.) Since very few verses that are contained in Mark are omitted by both Matt and Lk, this is indication that they simply found the idea too hard to stomach. So they delete the bit about the family thinking Jesus mad. The author of GMatt foresaw the problem this could bring and dismantled Mark's neatly composed sandwich and linked the central portion (the meat) regarding posession by Beelzebul with other material about seeking signs and unclean spirits.

This second possibilty makes infinitely more sense to me. I simply cannot rationally imagine a motive for GMk to add this scandalous portrayal of Jesus' family into the story. If this was the only bit of evidence in favor of Markan priority, it would probably be insufficient to shake a paradigm. But it's not the only evidence.

Here's another doozy:
If Mark is but a condensation of Matthew, why on earth would he omit the Sermon on the Mount (arguably Jesus' "greatest hits") . . . or the Lord's Prayer, while we're at it.

So it was my study of Markan sandwiches that, inadvertently, in combination with other data, was the determining factor in my accepting Markan priority as the best conclusion regarding that aspect of the interdependence between the synoptic gospels.

As far a "Q" goes ... I don't have an analogous certainty on that. I view both camps—proponents of Q and deniers of Q—as having pretty interesting arguments. I tend toward the existence of a Q source, but I've not yet had that moment of catharsis which convinces me of its undeniability. Perhaps this meme-thread will help.


I read the very good post over at MetaCatholic regarding this issue.
One quick note:
I would object to coming to a negative conclusion regarding Q simply based on how "irritating" the deconstruction and parsing of a merely theoretical source by its proponents can be.

That's no way to study.



05 November 2007

15th translation . . .

Posted by at 5:31 PM
I found a used copy of the New Testament in Arabic today, one more translation for my growing collection of sacred esoterica.
I've decided to use a Japanese Book of Mormon that I've had for a while as the centerpiece of an elaborate sculpture.
I actually studied Japanese for a year, so I can phonetically sound out the words—although g-sh only knows what the hell I'm saying.
Come to think of it . . . I may use this Arabic bible for another such work as well . . . . hmmm . . . . a series?

¿fin? . . . .


03 November 2007

ditty: (sung to the tune of Sam Cooke)

Posted by at 12:23 PM
I know a bit about history
Know a little biology
I get my facts from 'dem science books
Je me rappelle de le français que je étudié. . .
. . .

I was just thumbing through a paperback copy of one of the Keneth C. Davis' "Don't Know Much About . . ." series. I had previously read his "Don't Know Much About History" and found it to be a pretty good introductory outline of the players and events of American history. This one is called "Don't Know Much About the Bible". It's not bad. It pretty fairly presents the basic outline of the texts and some of the more explicit absurdities and controversial verses in a humorous way. Seems a pretty good synopsis (pardon the pun) for an "idiot's guide" type book ( it's the same genre, ¿non?).

Unfortunately, any such comprehensive condensation is bound to miss (or misrepresent) a thing or two.

For instance, this is the book's only mention of Q:
"Early Christians believed Matthew was written first and placed it first, but modern scholars now consider Mark the earlier book. Relying on literary and chronological clues, they believe the author of Matthew had read Mark, as well as the theoretical collection of Jesus' sayings called "Q." Some scholars believe Matthew was written in Palestine; others favor another early Christian center, such as Antioch in Syria sometime between 70 and 85 C.E."

This seems a huge oversimplification to me. Not only does it say essentially nothing about what Q is or why we would need a "theoretical" gospel (out of context, "Q" is but a meaningless letter), this might confuse the reader who is new to the synoptic problem, who would naturally ask, "What theoretical collection?"

Such limitations aside, it's a fun book to flip through.


02 November 2007

The Turing Test

Posted by at 1:22 AM

I love the part when someone in the audience starts cracking up over DeepBlue's corny punchline. That makes me laugh.


01 November 2007

the jumping cholla meme...

Posted by at 11:54 PM
So I got tagged with a meme by the prolific "Exploring our Matrix" blog. I don't know where this will all lead, but I'm gonna play along.

The rules are as follows:

You can leave them exactly as is.
You can delete any one question.
You can mutate either the genre, medium, or subgenre of any one question. For instance, you could change "The best time travel novel in SF/Fantasy is..." to "The best time travel novel in Westerns is...", or "The best time travel movie in SF/Fantasy is...", or "The best romance novel in SF/Fantasy is...".
You can add a completely new question of your choice to the end of the list, as long as it is still in the form "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is...".

You must have at least one question in your set, or you've gone extinct, and you must be able to answer it yourself, or you're not viable.

Then answer your possibly mutant set of questions. Please do include a link back to the blog you got them from, to simplify tracing the ancestry, and include these instructions. Finally, pass it along to any number of your fellow bloggers. Remember, though, your success as a Darwinian replicator is going to be measured by the propagation of your variants, which is going to be a function of both the interest your well-honed questions generate and the number of successful attempts at reproducing them.

My ancestors:

My great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is Metamagician and the Hellfire Club.
My great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is Flying Trilobite
My great-great-great-great-grandparent is A Blog Around the Clock
My great-great-great-grandparent is The Anterior Commissure
My great-great-grandparent is Laelaps
My great-grandparent is Quintessence of Dust
My grandparent is An Evangelical Dialogue On Evolution
My parent is Exploring Our Matrix

My answers:

  1. The best scary movie in sociopolitical dystopias is: Brazil.
  2. The best song that moves me inexplicably in 80s pop is: “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper
  3. The best classical story in Historical Fiction is: The Odyssey
  4. The most fantastic harmony of all time is found in: Todora (a polyphonic Bulgarian folk song)
  5. The most frightfully honest artist of all time is: M.C. Escher
My victims:

I'll stop there :)

post for the curious

Posted by at 1:44 PM
(for Patrick)
And for anyone else who might be genuinely interested in listening to a pretty good presentation of the mythicist case in three parts:
  1. the arguments from silence,
  2. the arguments from similarity,
  3. the arguments from ahistoricity.

Excuse the loud corybantic intro music
(Is this the time on "Sprockett" when we dance?!?)

These are all from the wonderful site.
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